Billenkoek

netherlandsSo I lived for almost two years in the Netherlands and Belgium and learned the Dutch language, which is full of delights. Today’s delight is billenkoek.

Now koek means cake. A koekje (small cake) is a cookie. Boterkoek is butter cake, this delicious sweet, to-die-for Dutch version of shortbread.

So what does billen mean?

Back in the day when I’d visit various Dutchies (the people, not political territories), they’d always ask if I was thirsty. And very frequently when I’d ask for water, someone would say, “Water? The frogs wash their billen in that.”

Billen means bum as in behind, butt, buttocks. Bil is singular, one half of the full billen, if you will.

So what do you think a billenkoek is?

No, not that.

It’s a spanking.

“Honey, you’ll clean the dishes, or you’re going to get a little bum cake. What will it be?”

Gotta love the Dutch.

Good Stuff! Savory Thai, Planters Medley, Everest, The Arrival

I love finding little, non-chain restaurants with excellent, reasonably priced food. And I just found another one this week. It’s called Savory Thai, and it’s on 182 W Center Street in Orem, UT.

Oh, baby. If you decide to go, you are in for a treat. We ate there in celebration of my third daughter’s call to do missionary work in the middle and western Pennsylvania area (go Steelers, Amish, and “yous all”).

I learned to love Thai food because it’s so close to Indonesian food. And I learned to love that because I lived in the city of Nijmegen in the Netherlands for five months and in Amersfoort, which is maybe an hour away, for seven. In Nijmegen, I lived in the attic of a row house with a series of missionary companions. In Amersfoort, I lived in a spare bedroom with another series of companions. Both homes were owned by Indonesian grandmothers who cooked one or two Indonesian meals a day for us. Think about that—home cooked Indonesian food every day. It was marvelous. When I came back to the States, Indonesian restaurants were few and far between, but to my delight I found that the Thai cuisine is very close, and so that became my stand in.

If you’ve never had Thai food, it’s kind of like Chinese, but it’s got curries, so it’s a little like Indian as well, but that doesn’t describe it either because it has its own separate taste that’s entirely wonderful.

This place is in a little strip of stores. It’s small enough that you could drive right past and never know it existed. But when you walk in, you’ll see that they know how to make a good first impression. It’s clean, smells good, and the host is friendly, but these guys go farther than that. You’ll notice, of all things, the menu cover. Instead of handing out some flimsy paper or laminated thing, they hand out these thick menus covered in what looks like some kind of leather. It gives a feel of permanence, of solidity, as if the restaurant has been there for years (it’s two months old). But of course we weren’t there for menus or friendly servers. We were there for the food. And we were not disappointed.

I can happily report that their green curry (spicy), pineapple curry, massaman curry (a lovely peanuty sauce), orange chicken, chicken cashew, fried rice, and pad Thai were all excellent. They use no MSG, cook it fresh, and keep it reasonably priced, $8-$10 per dish. I can promise you that we’ll be back.

If you’re in the area and want some great food, stop at Savory Thai.

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I love almonds and have been for many years a big fan of the W?nderful brand bags of roasted and salted almonds you can find in Sam’s Club. However, this last week, I came across something new from Planters called their Almond Lover’s Medley, which is a blend of four different varieties of almonds, dry roasted and unsalted. It includes the Marcona, Nonpareil, Fritz, and Butte-padres, which is the variety used in the W?nderful bags. I can report that this mix from Planters is delicious. The differences in taste and texture between the varieties is subtle, but real. And I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them unsalted. If you love nuts, you’ll want to give this blend a try.

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I did not want to watch a movie about climbing Mt. Everest. Everest? Were you kidding me? I couldn’t think of anything more boring, but this is what my daughters wanted, and it was Thanksgiving weekend, and so we watched Everest, the 2015 movie.

I am happy to report that it ended up being a great, disaster thriller, based on a true story, which was captured in the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I cared about the characters, was on pins and needles during great portions, and exclaimed out loud during a number of tense parts. And after all that sweating, the story made me think about the things we do and how to prioritize when life is on the line.

If you like stories about survival, you’ll love this. If you don’t, I still think there’s a good shot you’ll really enjoy it.

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My wife is a sport. We were in the big city to watch a movie with our youngest daughter who is in high school. Our daughter, with her teenage brain, had the wild idea of a double-feature. My original man brain thought that sounded capital—how long had it been since we’d squandered five or six hours watching movies! The wise man brain didn’t think it was a very practical idea, and suggested it would be much better to do a double-feature next week we we could start at three in the afternoon. But the wise man brain was outnumbered and soon succumbed. And then all of the crazy brains ganged up on my wife, who graciously relented, and so we watch The Arrival and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and got home at like 1:30 am.

As for Fantastic Beasts, if you like Harry Potter stuff, you’ll love it. If you’re not mad for Harry Potter, it’s not going to rock your world (although you still might have a good time). Enough said.

What about The Arrival?

This is a movie about the arrival of aliens, but it’s not a shoot-em-up like Independence Day or War of the Worlds. It’s more like Contact, the one with Jodie Foster. It’s a film that makes you think and is for those who are willing to be a little patient. If you can slow down and just enjoy the film, I think you’ll end up loving it because it’s about far more than meeting mysterious creatures. It ends up being about the choices a woman makes about her family. If you go and give it the space it needs, I guarantee you’ll chat about it and savor it afterwards.

I won’t tell you anything more because you’ll only understand what’s going on in the woman’s life when you get to the last fourth of the movie, and I don’t want to spoil the delicious revelation for you. So just know that the alien tech and the alien themselves are strange and mysterious and cool, but that this movie is about so much more.

If you liked Contact or even Inception (sans the frustrating non-ending), you’ll love this.

Peak

peakbyandersericssonHow many pushups can you do in a row?

10, 20? Could you do 100?

And you’d have to be a freak if you could do 500 in a row, right?

Well, no.

You’d just be human.

In 1980 Minoru Yoshida of Japan did 10,057 pushups nonstop.

In 1993 Charles Servizio of the good old USA did 46,001 pushups in 21 hours and 21 minutes.

In 2016 David Escojido of the USA did 2,298 pushup in 1 hour.

You might think that these folks must be oddities. They must be gifted. They must have some weird thing in their DNA allowing them to do these things.

But you’d be wrong.

None of these people were born that way. In fact, what researchers are finding is that most of the folks that we think are prodigies—folks like Mozart, Tiger Woods, chess masters who can play 20 games at once without even looking at a board—the biggest thing that separates them from the rest of us isn’t DNA.

Anders Ericsson, a researcher at Florida State University, has spent the last 30 years studying what gives experts their edge. And he reveals in Peak: The New Science of Expertise that he and other researchers have found that while there are some physical traits like height and size that definitely make a difference in some physical activities (notice how all the top gymnasts are short), what really sets people apart is how much of a certain type of practice they’ve done.

Not just practice, but a certain type of practice.

Practicing “hard” doesn’t do much for you. Putting in a lot of hours doesn’t do much either. Instead, you need to practice in a way that has been shown to lead people to actually improve their performance. You still have to put in a lot of time practicing—there is no shortcut—but only the type of practice he explains in the book seems to lead to the increase of performance.

Is he saying that anyone can do anything?

No. When I first looked into his research, one of my big issues was that it seemed he was claiming anyone could do anything with 10,000 hours of practice.
But he’s not saying that.

Is he saying genetics has no influence?

It can, but what he’s found is that it doesn’t have the role we normally think of when we think of top performance. And, most importantly, we place artificial limits on ourselves by thinking people are born to this or that activity.

There is far too much to post here. What you need to know is that what he shares in this book is fascinating, compelling, and surprising. I’ve been training people for over thirty years. And I found myself enlightened. If you’re at all interested in education, or getting better at some activity (from parenting to golf), or helping your kids get better, you’ll want to read this book. Highly recommended.

New presentation materials

Super Author Kristan Higgins

Super Author Kristan Higgins

The RWA conference was a blast. It was a wonderful time to hook up with writing friends, to make new ones, and to listen to insights and advice from folks who are selling tons of books.

Brenda Novak, whose latest book hit #48 on the USA Today list,  gave a great presentation on generating emotion in the reader.

RaeAnne Thayne, whose book is currently the #5 best selling book in the USA this week, shared lots of helpful tips on ways to make this your most productive year ever.

Kristan Higgins, whose latest book hit #20 on the USA Today list, gave a presentation on the role and delights of secondary characters and how to use them. She also gave a humorous and insightful keynote speech about one of the most satisfying reasons to tell stories–to help others.

Lynn Kurland’s presentation on world building was short, but sometimes short is more powerful. I came away remembering that one key to great world building is remembering that nobody will care much about the world if they don’t care for the characters!

There were others presenting, but I wasn’t able to attend. I’m sure they were equally good. I had a great time.

I promised those that attended my presentations that I would post the PDFs here. Enjoy!

Make Them Beg for More — Triggers and Delay

The Story Setup

Learn from some amazing authors this October 7th and 8th in Layton, Utah

brendanovakThe Utah chapter of the Romance Writers Association is holding a writing conference on October 7th and 8th at the Davis Conference Center in Layton, Utah where FIVE New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors will sharing key insights into writing stories. I’m talking about:

  • Brenda Novak
  • Kristan Higgins
  • Dean Wesley Smith
  • Raeanne Thayne
  • Lynn Kurland

If you write stories and want an opportunity to learn from some major pros, then you will want to be at this event.

If you’re not a romance writer, you might be tempted to think that the topics won’t apply to you. Don’t be fooled. Story is story. And these storytellers are pleasing huge numbers of readers.

I will be there. I have two presentations. But I can tell you that when I’m not sharing what I’ve prepared, I’m going to be in the sessions listening to these superstars.

I hope to see you there.