Friday, January 15, 2016

Poor Man's Paella

A few weeks ago, The Husband and I went to a gourmet cooking class for a date. Judging by the romantic comedies it seemed like the thing to do ... and they were right! We had lots of fun making a Spanish dish called Paella.

Bonus: We successfully came home WITHOUT every fancy kitchenware item they had in their store.

Traditionally, paella is made with chicken, seafood, vegetables, and rice, seasoned with saffron. But what if you want the dish without the hassle and expense of getting ingredients you don't normally keep?

(I'm looking at you, saffron.)

Last night, I tried my hand at a simpler cheaper dish of like variety. The flavor wasn't quite the same without the saffron, but I just hit up Google and discovered that a dash of paprika and turmeric might have done the trick. I'll have to keep that in mind for next time! For now, here's a delicious and easy alternative.

Poor Man's Paella
(serves 6)

2 cups rice
4 cups water
Olive oil
3 chicken breasts, halved (wide and flat, rather than long and thick)
Garlic salt
1 small onion, diced
3 garlic gloves, minced
1 cup salsa
2-3 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet on medium heat. Put the rice on to boil. Brown chicken in skillet, seasoning with garlic salt and pepper to taste, and set aside. Saute onions and garlic in leftover oil. Add salsa and broth to your veggies and bring to a boil. Combine cooked rice and veggie mixture in a casserole dish and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Stir gently and place the cooked chicken on top. Bake 10 more minutes. Allow to cool a bit before serving.

I used salsa because I didn't have peppers or tomatoes on hand. (Yes, I need to go grocery shopping - don't judge.) But I'm sure that a can of diced tomatoes and a green pepper, diced, would do the trick as well. Hint: if you do end up using salsa, you might want to put closer to 2 cups of broth rather than 3 cups. I did 3 and our rice was a smidge too wet.

Serve with wine and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How I Kept My New Year's Resolution

The year 2015 was the first year ever that I successfully completed my New Year's resolution. According to Mumsie, I'm only the second person she knows who has ever done so. The first? My dad.

Like father, like daughter.

But don't despair - it's not the genes. Here are the factors that I think contribute to a successful New Year's resolution:

1) Specificity

Make the goal line very clear. Your progress should be measurable. "I want to exercise more" isn't gonna cut it. Eventually you'll convince yourself you're not making progress or rationalize some other excuse and before you know it another year has ended with broken resolutions. On the other hand, it's terribly difficult to fudge "I'm going to exercise at least 30 minutes 5 days a week". Trust me, I tried.

2) Solitude

Limit the number of goals you make. I made one resolution last year. Just one. Multiple goals - especially specific ones - will be harder to accomplish as you try to go on with your normal schedule. Inevitably, "Oh, yeah, I have to make dinner" will get in the way of "read a book a week", "play the piano an hour daily", and "translate 2 verses from the Greek daily". (This may or may not be the voice of experience.) On the bright side, once you've made a resolution stick throughout the year, it's no longer a resolution. It's a habit, and therefore part of your normal schedule. Then you can move on to your next resolution in the New Year.

3) Stubbornness

There's no real substitute for good old fashioned stubbornness. Whether you come by it naturally (thanks, Dad) or you've cultivated it, determination will get you through those times when you feel like giving up. For me, this was especially true as the year wore on. Somehow, the idea of giving up after making it 7 months really irked me.

After focusing on becoming physically fit last year, I'm looking to improve my mental/spiritual state of being this year. Turns out there's so much about the body that doesn't go well if you don't have peace of mind. To that end, I've decided to read my Bible daily and I've signed up for a daily reading plan with the YouVersion app. One week down, fifty-one to go!

What resolutions do you have?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Day in the Life of an Actress

I get one of two reactions when I tell people I am an actress. Some people freak out on me and behave as if I'm famous already and my life is all set life, red carpet events, and glamour. Others wonder aloud if I actually do anything or if I just hang out at home contributing nothing to society and leeching off my husband.

I could create a long and imaginary diatribe to combat these two equally false assumptions, but I believe the simplest solution is to tell you about my average day.

5:30am - Crawl out of bed to make and eat breakfast
6:00am - Bid goodbye to my husband, do the dishes from the previous day, start laundry
6:10am - Update my website, IMDb, and various casting websites with my newest credit, training, pictures, or videos
7:30am - Review breakdowns and submit myself for applicable roles
8:00am - Work out
9:00am - Shower (I look like a shampoo commercial. I promise.)
9:10am - Walk my dog
9:30am - Connect with other actors and filmmakers on social media; this could include asking a more experienced actor for advice or a recommendation, signing up for a new class or workshop, or just posting in acting groups about my latest booking or media
10:00am - Clean my house from top to bottom (I mean, my house is totally always this spotless. It's magic.)
11:00am - Sort through mail and balance our ledgers
12:00pm - Eat lunch while I write a blog post or a screenplay OR run errands
2:00pm - Fold the laundry and prep dinner
3:00pm - Tape an audition or two or three (Recent stats indicate actors do an average of 200 auditions before actually booking a job. Just FYI.)
4:00pm - Submit said auditions with all of the appropriate materials
5:00pm - Maintain a social media presence by posting or tweeting about my acting career
5:30pm - Eat dinner (Three meals a day? WEIRD.)
6:00pm - Go to acting class
12:00am - Stumble into bed (You can sleep when you're dead.)

I think it's painfully obvious that I classify as a normal human and a productive one at that, but maybe I don't. Maybe I don't have a normal career and I don't earn as much money as the average Jane. But maybe, just maybe, the majority of people have it all wrong. Maybe there is a higher ideal than the most respected career or the highest salary. Maybe when people either idolize or disparage my career choice it's because they recognize that I'm not merely pursuing normalcy or financial gain.

I am pursuing my dream, and I have a supportive husband and a can do attitude to boot.

It isn't easy by any means, but it would be so much better if we supported each other. A simple "good for you!" or "keep up the good work!" is a start. Taking that leap of faith to pursue your own dream is the ultimate step. Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum right now, let's change the world. Let's make dream-chasing the new normal.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Attitude for Latitude

If you've followed my blog at all, it's no secret that I haven't always had the best attitude about my career. The acting world is not an easy profession to break into, and my self esteem and hopes die more times any given week than Daniel Jackson in SG-1. (For all you non-nerds out there, that's a lot.) So it shouldn't come as a surprise to you that recently I had a meltdown and nearly gave up acting altogether.


What IS new is the unbridled passion I have for my career! But I'm getting ahead of myself....

It all started on a Monday. I was supposed to be traveling to the set of a feature film in which I had been contracted to play one of the antagonists. Instead, I was talking to the producer about how my character got written out of the script due to scheduling conflicts. I had seen it coming, but I still ended up calling my Mumsie and blubbering like a baby.

I won't bore you with the details, but that week was cluttered with similarly horrible happenings in the Worcester Shire. To give you an idea, my week ended with me attempting to make monkey bread as a pick me up and inadvertently setting our oven on fire.

I couldn't get it out of my head that maybe acting just wasn't for me. It's one thing to be rejected in an audition - that's just part of the business - but it felt like quite another to be written out of the script the day I'm supposed to be on set. To be fair, it happened to Hugh Jackman the same week, so it's not like I was in terrible company. However, as much work as it takes to get cast in the first place, I didn't want to feel like it was all for naught. I spent the whole summer looking forward to that one project, and when it was gone, I had very few prospects left. Most people who had work this summer had been cast for months already.

My brain kept churning: How many times must you fail before you give up?

I despaired for a really long time. I wasn't just casually moping. I was contemplating quitting altogether. No more films. No more theatre. No more writing. I would just go back to the soul-sucking hell that is retail.

I don't usually air my depressing moments on Facebook, but you can only call your Mumsie so many times in a week. Many people said nice and encouraging things to me, and one of my previous directors even sent me this video:

I think Will Smith is a great actor and I really enjoy watching him, but I when I saw this I sat on my couch crying and thinking that it must be easy to talk about success when you're already a household name.

(I was in a really bad place, y'all. Don't judge me.)

But over time, I started to get it.

There are exactly two options here: give up or keep going until I succeed or die. I already know that drama is my passion; I already know that I couldn't be happy doing anything else. So what was I doing, thinking of giving it up again? I have the world's best husband telling me that he'll support me in whatever I choose to do. It would be crazy NOT to pursue my dreams!

There is no in between. There is no place for half-hearted pessimistic efforts. There is no room for questioning myself when I fail. When I fall down (because you know I will), I will get up again. As many times as is necessary. Not one more, but definitely not one less. That would be the worst tragedy I could act in.

The sense of freedom I feel is amazing! I don't worry about whether or not I get the job. I learn from my mistakes and move on. I act. I have contagious fun. I encourage myself and others. I am motivated. I have no doubts. I pursue my dreams.

And I feel unstoppable.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Chicken & Rice Soup

In preparation for my move, I've been doing my best to rid my pantry of as much food as possible. This sounds like a lot of fun until you realize that you have the odd ingredient i.e. the unopened jar of cherries or a surplus of one particular item, say, 8 bulk size containers of chicken broth.

I've given up on deciding what to do with that many cherries without buying anymore groceries, but my solution for the chicken broth was chicken & rice soup. (Cause, you know, I still eat gluten free as much as possible and consequently don't do noodles.)

The last chicken soup recipe I tried was disgusting, so I decided to make up my own. The result is as follows:

Chicken & Rice Soup

2 TB olive oil
2 chicken breasts, diced
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1 TB butter
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup rice
8 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil
salt and pepper to taste

Brown chicken in olive oil and garlic salt. Set aside. Sautee onion, celery, carrots, and garlic in butter. Combine meat and veggies in large pot. Add rice, broth, and spices. Bring to boil and simmer 10-15 minutes.

Now, these are my best guesses on some of the measurements (the veggies and the spices in particular). I tend to act as if measuring cups are superfluous, so if you try this out and one of the measurements seems like too much or too little, it might be.

BUT this ended up being THE dinner conversation topic. Seriously, Allen wouldn't stop talking about how good it was. So give this recipe a try and practice up your best "Stop! (Please don't stop)"

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Legacy of a Biker

A year ago today, my Uncle Bill was killed in a motorcycle accident.

He laughed when I was cheeky and called me "gorgeous" no matter what. He let me take crazy risks in card games even when it meant we usually lost by a lot of points. He made the best fruit salad I've ever had and he wasn't above slipping us candy when Mumsie wasn't looking. He got me through my first deployment with our long phone calls. He was the best partner in crime and uncle a girl could ask for. 

I can't believe it's been a year already. 

I miss him like crazy; I've cried more about losing him than I have about anyone else - including all four of my grandparents. I'm not completely sure I am done grieving for him, but I can assure you that I am always grateful for the legacy my Uncle left me:

He expressed his love without reservation. 

He didn't dance around the bush or bashfully change the subject. He didn't think it was unmanly to talk about his feelings. He didn't feel threatened by empowering others or worry that his words might be misconstrued. He didn't make you wonder if he liked you or if he thought you were an amazing person, he let you know. He was a straight shooter.

And because of that, I have lovely messages such as this one to remember him by:
"Thank you for being you. Smart, beautiful, loving, and caring. You have become a wonderful person and woman. Prayers always for Allen for his health and welfare especially during his training and deployments. He is a really great guy. And you two together ... well, you can do anything. You make a beautiful couple. Special thank you for both of your sacrifices to protect our country. Love to you both. Love always, Uncle Bill."
And because of that, I, too, will always try to encourage and love others without reservation. Because I may not always be around to tell them so. Because other people may need to hear these words as much as I do.

I love you, too, Uncle Bill.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The One Thing That Makes a REALLY Good Story (And Why it Terrifies Me)

All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

We watched "Soylent Green" for family movie night. About ten minutes into the movie I asked after the identity of "soylent green". The sound quality wasn't the best, and I thought perhaps I, being hard of hearing, might have missed exposition. I was informed by my brother that this was not the case. I snorted, "I bet it's people."

Mumsie nearly sent me to my room.

I have always had a knack for knowing the end of the story before it's finished. I believe the cause is twofold: 1) I'm observant and notice reused plot devices and 2) as an author myself, I know how stories are structured. Whatever the case, for the sake of my husband's sanity, I've learned to hold my tongue and enjoy the movie anyway. But my standard for a REALLY good movie is an obscure plot development and resolution.

While jogging the other day, I realized that taken to its logical conclusion this standard means that the ultimate REALLY good story is my own.

Yet I can't think of a story that fills me with more trepidation. 

Will I ever become a successful actress? (I'm defining "successful" here as earning more as an actress than I'm spending as an actress.) Will my husband ever achieve his own goals? Can we see our dreams realized without sacrificing our morals or our relationship? Will we ever get kids? Will they be healthy, beautiful, and brilliant in their own right? 

This last week has been horrible. Every circumstance and happening seemed to indicate that the answer to every one of these questions is a resounding "no". And the obstacles and setbacks have not yet desisted. I am emotionally and physically drained, and I want to give up on the idea of ever trying to accomplish anything more than Netflix marathons. 

When it comes to my own story, I'd rather not be in the dark. I don't want to know what God has in store for me. I'd rather pen my own ending. I don't want to go through despair before achieving a triumphant resolution. Or worse, a tragic one. I want to skip straight to the part where I live happily ever after. 

But I know that wouldn't make a good story. And that's certainly not how reality works. 

I never really thought of God as an author before, but he is. And arguably, the best. Already, he has created billions of stories and is adding more and more every day. Each character has purpose, each plot is unique, and each story is the best possible rendition with thousands of crossovers to other stories. 

With a repertoire like that, there's no doubt that my story will be a quality one. 

There's an exhilaration in the unknown, but I dread giving up the comfort of foreknowledge. (I speak as if I had a choice!) There is so much potential for adventure and good, but there's also the possibility of tragedy and loss. I suppose there will always be scenes in which I will be afraid or despair. A relatable character usually does. But I am slowly realizing that this is acceptable. I don't have to pretend that I'm not afraid, I just have to persevere; and when I want to give up, remember that I have everything to gain but only my spirit to lose. In my heart, I think I always knew this was true, I just never had the courage to acknowledge it.

"It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going." - Samwise Gamgee, The Two Towers