Some agendas making the rounds

Here are some agendas being pushed in the media, movies, fiction. Whether you choose to go along with them or not is your right; I just encourage you to do it consciously and not be stampeded.
  • Aliens are wonderful, advanced beings who are here to help us.
  • Cyborgs/artificial intelligence is sexy and better than humans in every way.
  • Humans are a disease that should be wiped off the planet. (This statement always seems to exclude the person making it.)
  • Everyone who disagrees with you and has different beliefs than you do is evil and deserves to be feared/hated/deported and definitely banned from speaking.
  • Conspiracies are everywhere and we are all powerless against them.
  • The greater a person’s education and intelligence, the more likely they are to go rogue and commit heinous crimes.

Forgiveness and mindfulness

My book with the new cover is done! It is live now on CreateSpace (click the picture of the cover to be taken there), and should be live on Amazon in the next few days.
 
Bunny-tails

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My book tackles three questions: why should you forgive, how can you forgive someone, and how can you live in such a way that you don’t need to forgive people?

For the first question, I give an overview of the emotional and physical ill effects of carrying grudges, anger, and resentment.

To answer the second, I give a simple three-step method for forgiving anyone. (Simple, but not always easy.) If that approach is difficult for you, I provide another even simpler way to forgive people. It can take more time, but is easier to do. It’s a sort of “set and forget” method. I call it the epiphany method.

I answer the third question by describing nine principles of living a life in which you don’t carry grudges, become resentful, and so on. Again, the principles are simple, but not necessarily easy. Some people have called my principles a mindful practice. I shy away from that term because it’s a bit of a buzzword, but I agree that it is, indeed, a mindful way of living.

I wrote this book from compassion and in a clear, practical way. It isn’t religious, in case that concerns you, and it isn’t finger-pointy. If forgiveness is for one, it is for all.

My life gave me plenty of practice at learning how to forgive and learning how not to take offense in the first place.

I hope you buy it, enjoy it, and get value from it.

Click on the image below for a link to the Amazon page: you can buy it in print and Kindle formats.

Screenwriting software

A friend and I are writing a screenplay together. This isn’t our first time writing screenplays, but it is our first time collaborating.

Of course, our first question when we began was, what are our software options?

What we were looking for:

  • Because we are Windows users, the software must run on Windows (or in a browser). Sadly for all you Mac users who came here hoping to find useful information, we excluded all Mac-only programs. Though several of these programs run on Macs and even Linux, so you might want to take a look anyway. I indicate the platforms each program runs on.
  • The ability to collaborate live and online. This is essential to us. We could have used workarounds such as putting the file into Dropbox, but we still would only have been able to work on the screenplay one person at a time.
  • Formatting
    • Software that “knows” the proper formatting and does much of it automatically.
    • The ability to print out a properly formatted screenplay.
    • The ability to create scripts for different purposes (film, TV, and so on).
  • Editing
    • The ability to create unobtrusive notes at any level, from script level to line level.
    • Autocompletion and autoformatting: if I start typing something, I want the software to make a good guess at what I want to do, and then do it (for example, typing INT. tells the software to make it a scene line; pressing a carriage return after a character’s name creates a line formatted as dialogue.)
    • Standard editing abilities such as drag and drop and spelling checking.
    • A revision history and the ability to restore anything at the line level. (I don’t mean Ctrl-Z; I mean something like revision tracking at the line level, so we could restore deleted lines much later if we decided we wanted them after all.)
  • Interface
    • A modern, readable interface. I don’t want to use something that looks like it dates back to the early days of Windows, and I don’t want to have to squint to read the text in the interface.
    • Easy navigation from scene to scene.
    • The ability to view scenes as cards and rearrange them. And to put notes on those cards.
  • Storage in the cloud or the ability to work with storage in the cloud, such as Dropbox.
  • The ability to import and export Final Draft files.
  • Reports would be nice, too.

All of the following software products have a fairly good set of our desired features. In the end, we chose WriterDuet for our working tool, and Final Draft for printing in proper format. Though it looks like we didn’t need Final Draft, since WriterDuet, like many others, outputs in Final Draft’s file format.

Three notes:

  • This post is just an overview of each product, not an exhaustive comparison, analysis, or review
  • I rounded all prices up to the nearest whole dollar; for example, Final Draft’s $249.99 became $250.
  • The asterisks refer to whether the program imports and exports Fountain files. No asterisk doesn’t mean it doesn’t; it just means I couldn’t find out whether it did. For more on Fountain, see that entry.

The contestants (in alphabetical order)

Adobe Story Free and Adobe Story Plus. Adobe Story Free is free. Adobe Story plus is $10 a month. If you have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, Adobe Story Plus is included with it. Looks awesome and has some very cool features beyond what I listed above (such as seeing a summary of the speaking and non-speaking characters in any scene). As with all Adobe products, the interface is hard to read and there’s not much you can do about it. Charcoal gray is the in thing at Adobe. (And with many web designers.) Collaboration is possible-ish (not working together, and not real time). Browser-based, so platform agnostic.

(“Agnostic” means you can run the software on any platform that supports a browser. The term arises out of the heated arguments that developers and platform users have with each other over which platform/process/software/programming language is better; those disagreements are called flame wars or religious wars. Can’t we all just get along? Anyway, if your software runs on a variety of platforms, then it is said to be agnostic.)

Amazon Storywriter. Free browser-based tool. You don’t have to be online to use it. Doesn’t look like it permits live collaboration. Looks pretty cool, though. Platform agnostic.

Celtx. The basic version is free, but it is very, very basic. If you want additional useful features, the pricing starts at $8.25 (or maybe $10) per month. Collaboration available in the paid versions. Tons of features, but for some reason, their website left me cold. Looks like Celtx is browser based (so, agnostic), but couldn’t tell for sure.

Fade In* ($50). Comes with free updates, so you pay once and you have it forever. See this handy comparison chart. Has an intriguing dialogue tuner. Doesn’t have collaboration. Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, iPad, Android versions.

Final Draft* ($250). Claims to be the industry standard, but competition is heating up. Collaboration not possible. We bought this so we could output our scripts in the proper format, but we are using WriterDuet (described below) to collaborate. When we finish, we’ll export to Final Draft format. Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad versions.

Movie Magic Screenwriter. Their claim to fame: “We are the only company to win an Academy Technical Achievement Award for screenwriting software. Movie Magic Screenwriter 6 is a preferred file format of WGA, West.” Good set of features, though the interface hasn’t left the 90s yet. I like the use of color. Windows, Mac versions.

Scrivener* ($40, and worth every penny). A word processing tool for writers, no matter what you are writing. Screenplays, novels, short stories, legal documents, nonfiction—you name it, you can do it in Scrivener. I’ve used Scrivener to write nonfiction and fiction both. I especially love the ability to easily move sections of text around. You can also store your files in the cloud (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc.), so your files are available from any device. Its screenwriting support is quite good. If you write things other than screenplays, buy Scrivener. Windows, Mac versions.

WriterDuet*. Free, with a paid “Pro” version. For the Pro version, you can subscribe for $8 a month, or pay a one-time price of $120. (Sign up for a free account to get discount offers.) We chose WriterDuet because it is the only one we found that makes it possible for us to both work on the screen live and in real time (while talking on Skype, of course). It also has many of the cool features that other products have. WriterDuet is awesome and the creator is very responsive to questions and problems. Browser-based, so platform agnostic.

A markup language

Fountain. Fountain isn’t software; instead, it’s a text-based markup language. In text-based markup languages, you use plain text to indicate formatting, and then some software to display the text in its formatted form. If you have ever edited a wiki page (while not in WYSIWYG mode), you have used a text-based markup language. With markup languages, you can write using any text editor on almost any device. (I’ve listed some text editors at the end of this post. One of them supports Fountain.) Fountain is a set of rules (called syntax) specifically for marking up your screenplay. You use an app to see your Fountain screenplay properly formatted. Or you can import your Fountain file into the major screenwriting apps. Markup languages can be a bit scary at first, but they are dead easy.

Text editors

Some excellent, free text editors:

  • AsciiDocFX. Meant for AsciiDoc files, but you could use it as a text editor. Runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
  • Atom*. I used to use TextPad, but am trying out Atom. Haven’t figured out how it supports Fountain yet, but I will. Runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
  • Brackets. Aimed at the programming crowd, but quite useful and has a ton of plugins. Runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
  • Notepad ++. Notepad++ has been around since the days of free love and daisies in rifles. (Not really, but it’s a sprightly elder.) Runs on Windows.

Some robust, customizable text editors (not free):

  • Sublime ($70), aimed at programmers but very cool for anyone else. Runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
  • TextPad ($27). Windows only.
  • UltraEdit ($80). Runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

I was not asked to write this, nor have I been compensated for this post. (If I had been, it would have been a full-on review of each product.)

How to care for your wooden cutting board

Wooden cutting boards get dry and need to be oiled regularly. Some people recommend using mineral oil because, they say, other oils will turn rancid over time. But mineral oil is a petroleum by-product, which I find undesirable for a number of reasons. And in my many years of oiling my cutting boards with natural food oils (such as almond or avocado), I have never had the oil turn rancid.

Here’s how to refresh and maintain your wooden cutting boards with non-toxic materials.

What you’ll need

You’ll need

  • Your wooden cutting board.
  • A good-quality, mild cooking oil. I prefer Chosen Food’s avocado oil, but you can also use sweet almond oil or a similar light oil. Don’t use olive oil; it is too heavy and has too strong a smell.
  • A beeswax-based furniture polish. (Here’s someone else’s recipe, though I recommend using a lighter oil, such as almond or avocado oil.)
  • A clean cloth that you don’t mind getting oily.
  • About a day’s worth of time (don’t worry, most of that time is spent waiting).

Oiling your board

  1. Coat your cutting board thoroughly on all sides with the oil. Rub it in well and make sure that no bare spots remain. You want a pretty substantial coating of oil—enough so your cutting board can absorb all that it needs. I use my bare hands and then rub the oil onto my hands, arms, and face—it’s good for my skin.
  2. Let the board sit a number of hours (overnight or up to 24 hours).
  3. When it looks like the board has absorbed as much oil as it can, wipe it down with the cloth.
  4. Apply the beeswax furniture polish. Rub it in well.
  5. Let the board sit again for one to two hours.
  6. Using the same cloth, wipe down the board.

That’s it!

Washing your board

When washing your board after using it, go ahead and use soap (or dish detergent) and hot water. Dry it immediately. If it starts to get a bit dry, apply a light coating of oil—no need to do the whole soaking/beeswax process until your board gets really dry. I usually do the long oil soak and beeswax process about every four months, but I use my cutting boards a LOT.

The process in photos

Click on each photo for a larger image. By the way, before you ask, I do not remember who created my cutting board. It was a gift. I consider it a work of art—when I first got it, I considered hanging it up on the wall. But a cutting board is made to be used, right? If you know who the artist is, or if you are the artist, please contact me and I will gladly credit the creator here.

This lovely cutting board isn’t in very bad shape, but it definitely needs oiling. Oil remoistens the internal fibers and helps your board last longer.

A slightly dry cutting board

This slightly dry cutting board can benefit from oiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After oiling, it is very shiny.

Oiled cutting board

After oiling, it’s still shiny. The shininess is good–your board has plenty to absorb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As it sits, the cutting board absorbs oil–a lot of oil if it is very dry. Here, you see the board after resting for many hours. Because it isn’t quite as shiny, that means it has absorbed a fair amount of oil.

Oiled board after resting

After resting, this board is much less shiny. It has absorbed a fair mount of oil, even though it didn’t look that dry at the start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even after being so thoroughly oiled, and sitting with the oil on it for hours, the cutting board can still have dry spots.

Oiled board with dry spot

The board was particularly dry in one spot, so it absorbed more oil there (and now looks dryer in that spot). If you want, re-oil the board and let it sit some more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wipe the extra oil off and apply the beeswax polish. The board will absorb more oil from the beeswax polish, and the beeswax provides a mild seal that holds in the oil and repels water.

Beeswaxed cutting board

I’ve now applied my beeswax furniture polish, and it is shiny again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let it sit for a few more hours, then wipe off the excess beeswax. Your board is now ready to use again. Note how the wood is darker and has a faint sheen.

The oiled and beeswaxed board is ready to use

The oiled and beeswaxed board is ready to use. It will now be easier to wash–for many tasks, you might only need to rinse it off. Of course, after cutting meat, wash it thoroughly with soap and hot water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For maintenance between oiling/polishing, apply a light amount of oil after you wash and dry your board.

Amazingly tasty yet gluten-free chocolate bourbon hazelnut pie with hazelnut crust

This recipe is my adaptation of the Pacific Pie Company’s delicious chocolate bourbon hazelnut pie recipe. The filling is already naturally gluten free (though I tweaked it just a tiny bit anyway), but I wanted to make the entire pie gluten-free so my daughter, who is avoiding gluten, could enjoy it. So I needed to use a different crust. I started with Bon Appetit’s hazelnut crust recipe and made it gluten free by using America’s Test Kitchen’s gluten-free flour blend. Then, of course, I had to modify the recipe to adjust for the gluten-free flour. If you don’t care about gluten-free, you can use Pacific Pie Company’s all-butter flour crust.

Timing: Make the hazelnut pie crust first, to the point where you start chilling it. After about ten minutes of chilling, start making the filling. You want to pour the filling into the crust while the crust is still hot and the filling is still slightly warm. Because chemistry. See my book recommendations at the end of this post if you want to learn more.

The hazelnuts: You pretty much need a food processor for this recipe, if only to chop the hazelnuts. A one-pound package of Trader Joe’s dry-roasted and unsalted hazelnuts is perfect for this recipe (leaving a few left over for tasting—purely for quality control, of course). Or you can buy raw hazelnuts and toast them yourself. The recipe assumes the latter, but of course you can leave out the toasting step if you buy roasted hazelnuts.

Makes one 9″ pie

Gluten-free hazelnut crust

3/4 cup hazelnuts
1 cup America’s Test Kitchen’s gluten-free flour blend
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons sour cream
3/4 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

  1. Chill a 9″ pie pan.
  2. If you are toasting the hazelnuts, place them on a rimmed baking sheet and toast at 325°F, stirring once, until fragrant and slightly darkened (about 8–10 minutes). Watch them like a hawk–hazelnuts go from lusciously toasty to unusably blackened in a very short amount of time. Let cool, then remove skins by rubbing hazelnuts together in a clean kitchen towel (don’t worry about some bits of skin remaining).
  3. Pulse flour, xanthan gum, sugar, salt, and hazelnuts in a food processor until the consistency of coarse meal, about five minutes. Add butter, sour cream, and vinegar to dry ingredients and pulse (or mix continuously) until the dough is holding together—just a few more minutes.
  4. Remove the dough from the food processor. Using your fingers and starting with the sides of the chilled pie pan, press dough evenly up the sides of the pie pan, and then into the bottom of pan; make it as even in thickness and as smooth as you can. Chill 20 minutes. After 10 minutes of chilling, start making the filling.
  5. After chilling, bake crust at 350° until golden but not totally cooked through, 15–20 minutes. Remove from oven.

Chocolate bourbon hazelnut filling (naturally gluten-free)

1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown rice syrup or light corn syrup
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 eggs
1/4 cup bourbon (scant; don’t yield to the temptation to put more in)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
1-1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup dark chocolate, chopped (semisweet chocolate chips are fine)
One hazelnut pie crust

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Combine sugar, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, and butter in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Let cool until barely warm. (This is important; if you get impatient, the chocolate will melt in step 4.)
  3. In a large bowl combine eggs, bourbon, vanilla, and salt. Whisk well to combine. Slowly stir in cooled sugar mixture.
  4. When the egg/sugar mixture is warmish, but not too warm, stir in hazelnuts and chocolate. If the egg/sugar mixture is not cool enough, the chocolate will melt. You don’t want that. You want the distinct bits of soft chocolate in the finished product. If you got impatient, as I did, and the chocolate melts anyway, let the filling cool some more before you pour it into the pie shell, then, after you pour the filling into the pie crust, sprinkle 1/2 cup chocolate chips on the filling.
  5. Pour filling into the still-hot pie shell.
  6. Bake 45-55 minutes until filling is set but slightly jiggly. Cool completely before serving. Really. It is much better that way, and I say this as someone who generally dives into tasty baked desserts when they are hot out of the oven. Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or just plain.

Book recommendations: gluten-free cooking

Baking is chemistry and requires knowledge of how things work in order to adjust your recipes. For example, you can’t just substitute gluten-free flour for regular flour and expect the recipe to work. I highly recommend America Test Kitchen’s two books on gluten-free cooking, The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook and The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook Volume 2. I own both books, and have made a lot of recipes from them. Every recipe I’ve tried works, and the editors tell you why they work, so you can learn how to adjust any recipe to be gluten free, as I did with the hazelnut crust in this post. If you buy through these links, I get a small affiliate’s fee, for which I thank you very much! You’re helping to keep this blog online.

Mindfulness and Relationships

I have a policy of not publicly airing my grievances about friends and family. You’ve seen others do it–complaining on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media about people they love. Posting derogatory memes and saying something about how the meme refers to a loved one. Posting shaming and embarrassing photos of their children because they are angry at their children for acting like children.

I don’t think this is a good idea.

First, it isn’t respectful to the person you are complaining about, or to the people you are complaining to. Complaining publicly makes others uncomfortable and puts them on the spot. By complaining publicly, we are inviting (or expecting) people to take sides. But what if our friends and family love us both and don’t want to take sides? If they say something to make peace, they know they will hear from the person posting the complaint. If they take sides, they anger whomever they don’t side with. Everyone loses.

Posting a public complaint also has the effect of making something that is probably temporary, or maybe not as big a deal as we might be feeling at the moment, into something more permanent, worse, and harder to recover from. Now something that was just between us and that person is suddenly shared with dozens or even hundreds of others. That makes it pretty hard to forget. Or live down later.

Another reason I don’t like to complain publicly is that, when we complain about another person, no matter how justified we might be in doing so, we are focusing our attention on the other person and not on ourselves. By doing so, we miss an opportunity to learn something positive and valuable. If we instead focus on ourselves, we can ask enlightening and helpful questions such as,

  • What am I doing to contribute to this situation?
  • What can I do to make this situation better?
  • Is there another way to see this other person’s behavior that might explain it in a more positive way? Or help me understand him/her better?
  • Can I change how I am thinking about this situation so that I am not as unhappy about it?

I talk a lot about changing your thinking in my book on forgiveness (which you can buy in print and in Kindle format on Amazon). In my book, you learn a few methods you can use to forgive anyone and anything. You also learn the nine principles of living a forgiving life. In that part of the book, I give specific, practical ways by which you can change your thinking. In short, you benefit from my lifetime of learning by getting a distilled set of principles on living mindfully. I don’t mention not complaining publicly; should I add that to the book?

My Book on Forgiveness is in Print!

The Forgiving Lifestyle: How to Forgive Everyone (Including Yourself) is finally in print and available on Amazon.com.

When I wrote this book, I made sure that everything I wrote came from a place of peace and compassion. I felt this was essential because this is, after all, a book about forgiveness.

My first readers reported that they felt like they were in a safe, comfortable place talking with me about forgiveness: what it is, why we should forgive, and how lack of forgiveness affects our health. Most importantly, they learned how to forgive. One commented that she felt this was a fantastic book that everyone needed to read. Another said that she hadn’t read another book in a year, but she read this one and was glad she did.

The book includes two methods for forgiving (one is simple, the other is even simpler). You’ll also read about the nine principles of the forgiving lifestyle. These principles are ways of thinking and responding to situations so that you are able to forgive in the moment.

Special chapters include

  • why it is important to be willing to forgive
  • how it is okay to ask for and accept help from others
  • forgiving our parents and other family members (often very hard)
  • forgiving ourselves (perhaps the hardest of all!)
  • asking for forgiveness

Please take a look, buy it if you would like to read it, and spread the word! The holidays are coming up; what better gift to give yourself and others than the gift of forgiveness?

Cover image for my book on forgiveness

The Forgiving Lifestyle: How to Forgive Everyone (Including Yourself)

How to Make Perfect Iced Tea Every Time

Here’s what you need:

  • A good-quality loose-leaf tea.
  • Adagio’s IngenuiTEA.
  • A tall glass.
  • Lots of fresh ice made from filtered water.
  1. Brew the tea in the IngenuiTEA. You’ll want to brew it stronger than usual because the process of making the iced tea will dilute it a bit.
  2. Fill the tall glass with ice as full as you can.
  3. Use the IngenuiTEA to dispense the brewed tea into the glass. Most of the ice will melt, but that’s okay.
  4. Sip and enjoy.