Random Inspirations

Welcome to my blog, full of fun inspirations and insights on writing, self-publishing, and more!

Birthday Custom: Reflections on Another Year

This past weekend was my birthday–time to party, goof around, be surprised, and eat lots of chocolate. And, on a more serious note, it was time for my year-end review.

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A special message from my hubby and daughter on my birthday.

 

Every b-day, I divide my life into categories and evaluate each one honestly. This short reflective exercise not only lets me celebrate all the small victories of the previous year, it helps me to pinpoint goals for the upcoming one.

My year-end review is similar to making New Year’s Resolutions, but I find that my “resolutions” are easier to achieve because: a.) I feel more energetic and dedicated in the spring than I do at the tail end of the holiday season, and b.) The rest of the world is not making resolutions with me, so I can focus on my own goals more.

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Because reflections go so much better with chocolate-on-chocolate cake…

Interested in trying your own year-end review? Here are the categories I use, as well as some questions to ask yourself.

  • Relationships: Friends and family bring us so much color and happiness, like flowers in a garden. And, much like flowers, important relationships need constant attention and love in order to bloom. Ask yourself: Have I maintained close relationships with my family and friends? Am I in contact with my long-distance friends and family? Have I made new friends? Do I spend quality time with my kids and/or significant other, and do I tell them I love them every day?
  • Fitness: Because our bodies only work as well as we take care of them! Ask yourself: How often do I work out? What is my favorite form of exercise? If I belong to a gym, am I making the most of my membership with regular visits? Am I exploring new fitness classes? Do I eat healthy foods the majority of the time? Have I tried any new exercise regimes this year, and would I like to try something new next year?
  • Hobbies: Our “extracurricular activities” are so enriching, giving us an outlet for our creativity and passion. Ask yourself: What are my favorite hobbies, and have I practiced them this year? Have I neglected any hobbies that I used to enjoy, and if so, how can I rekindle them? Are there any new skills I would like to learn? Are there any organizations I can join to meet others who share my hobbies?
  • Spirituality: Regardless of our religious affiliations, being in touch with our spiritual side can help us to feel more tranquil and centered, enriching overall feelings of well-being. Ask yourself: If I’m religious, do I pray regularly and attend worship services? Do I practice yoga and/or meditation? When and where do I feel most at peace?
  • Career: Ask yourself: What were my proudest moments in my career this past year? What were my greatest achievements? Do I feel as though my career is bringing value to this world? What would I like to change at work, and how can I do my job better? Am I happy in my current position, or would I like to change positions and/or fields? If I’m on leave/sabbatical, when do I plan to return?

There you have it: my year-end review! The most fascinating thing about this exercise is the way the categories overlap and influence each other, leading to “Aha moments” as we reflect about them. For example, relationships with our family can influence our performance at work, and expressing ourselves through creative hobbies can lead us to feel more spiritually balanced. Sometimes, we may discover a deficiency in one of the categories that influences the others, or we might realize that great performance in a category significantly enhances the others.

Do you conduct a similar exercise around your birthday, or maybe at the start of a new year? Do you have anything to add to my review? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Throwback Thursday Poems

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged here, mostly because I’ve been focusing on motherhood posts for my Prego in San Diego blog–and all my other mom duties!

In fact, the idea for this blog came to me while I was writing this post about the Baby Rhyme Time sessions at our local library. I remembered how much I used to love writing poetry, and was suddenly flooded by memories of poems I’d written in the past. Here are 3 of my favorite throwbacks!

#tbt poems!

Four Seasons (age 8… and there’s also a song to go along with it LOL. You have to love the last “rhyme” too.)

Oh spring, oh summer, oh winter and fall,

Which is the best season of all?

I do not know because spring rains a lot,

And summer is wonderful, humid and hot.

In winter, it’s snowy. The snow falls all day.

In fall, leaves are falling, oh falling away.

These are the four seasons, all going around.

In the four seasons, you can’t wear a frown.

 

Roses (age 11…Deep stuff. 😉

Roses are beautiful

And symbolize love.

Their fragrant, colored petals

Bring happiness.

But yet, they have thorns

That can prick you when you touch them.

Somehow, roses remind me

A little of life.

You can be hurt by the thorns in life,

Yet, life is sweet when you prevail.

Your happiness is bright

As a pink rose petal.

 

Love-Matics (age 25…for the love of my life–number-based because he adores math. We’re still quoting the last four lines!)

When you are young you’re all alone

But having so much fun,

That it almost takes you by surprise

When you find the one.

Pretty soon, you’re one plus one

And over time you find

That this very special person

Has touched your heart and mind.

Day by day you fall in love

As on dates you go,

Learning more about each other

As your love begins to grow.

But one plus one will not last long

Your lives merge as they do,

And, before you know it,

You have become two.

Two people joined together

Are much stronger than 1 + 1,

For they have formed a union

That becomes second to none.

The lovers’ lives will intertwine

And join for eternity,

And soon, before you know it

They will form a family.

The lovers live in harmony

Each other they adore

And naturally, soon enough,

They add up to three or four.

At this time, the love will build

And you may wonder why.

It’s because as kids are born,

The love will multiply.

I’m so glad I am not one,

That we in love make two

Because I’ve never felt more delight

Than the day I fell for you.

There you have it… 3 fun throwback poems. Writers out there, do you write poetry? Have you ever revisited some of your previous work for laughs and nostalgia? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Back-to-School Reflections

The back-to-school season always brings a big smile to my face–and not only because our neighborhood pool is blissfully empty for quiet daytime swims with my baby girl. 😉

I adore seeing cute little kids with freshly-pressed clothes and large, earnest eyes, clutching brand-new backpacks and notebooks as they head off for a day full of learning. I also get a kick out of the middle- and high-schoolers, many of whom are trying out new looks and identities. To many of them, the beginning of the school year is a blank slate, one in which they can be anything they want to be–and to me, that’s both endearing and inspiring.

This post might seem a bit late, considering that the kids have been back for a few weeks now, but the school year is still fresh and new. Throughout September, I often find myself reminiscing about first days of school past, and I also feel more inclined to learn new things and teach others as well. And just today, I had a weird craving for an apple, just like one you’d find on the stereotypical teacher’s desk! I guess there are worse foods to crave. 😉

I guess these are enough books to last me through my September learning renaissance. ;)

I guess these are enough books to last me through my September learning renaissance. 😉

This September, I’ve been visiting the library frequently, not only to expose Xaviana to new books and fun activities like Baby Rhyme Time, but also to quest for new reading material of my own. In the process, I discovered two authors that I loooove. Suzanne Woods Fisher writes Amish fiction that combines everything I look for in a good book: excitement, adventure, romance, and faith. I also fell in love with The Lost Girls of Rome by Italian author Donato Carrisi, because I’m a huge fan of suspenseful crime dramas.

I’ve also been playing teacher for Xaviana, who is almost 11 months old and has entered this amazing phase in which she seems to learn something new every day. When we’re not playing, exercising, and climbing on everything, we do a lot of reading. I read all her books in our at home “library” every day–about 15 board books throughout the day and 3 bedtime stories at night. We also have the Bright Baby board book with colors, numbers, ABC’s, shapes, and opposites, and we go through it daily. She’s an eager little pupil, and can now tell me what cows, cats, and sheep say, show me “up” and “down” with her arms, differentiate between her “small” and “big” toy balls, and fit the elusive shapes in the correct holes of her puzzle. She loves reading time, and smiles at her favorite books, especially I Love You Through and Through, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and If Animals Kissed Good Night. Playing school has never been so much fun!

Readers out there, do you find yourself going through your own personal renaissance during the back-to-school season, even if you’re not heading back to the classroom? I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections!

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Reflections on a Month of Love

This summer was truly the “summer of love” among my friends and family; Antonio and I found ourselves invited to 5 weddings, and were able to make 3 of them. Incredibly, all of the weddings took place in August, so three out of four weekends this past month included wedding festivities!

To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than a couple in love, especially a couple just starting their lives together, full of hope and expectations for the future. It’s why all the books I write feature young people in love–and it’s also why I adore weddings.

I can’t help it: I’m a hopeless romantic, and now that I’m married, I often find myself reliving my own special day at other people’s weddings. My eyes always prickle with tears of joy as I watch the bride walk down the aisle and see her face full of happiness and anticipation. Then I shift my gaze to the groom, and marvel at the way his face lights up when the music swells and he admires his wife-to-be. I remember the way I felt as I took that joyous walk, which just intensifies the experience.

My favorite part of weddings–besides being part of the love, of course–is the way that each celebration reflects the couple’s personalities and the things they hold most dear. With that in mind, here are my reflections on the three weddings I attended this past month.

  1. Wedding #1: Small and Intimate – We kicked off the month with the destination wedding of our friends Carlo and Samar, traveling to the stunning red mesas of New Mexico. The bride and groom had planned a “white wedding” at a resort in Santa Fe, and Antonio and I were entranced not only by the beauty of the landscape and venue, but by the charming outdoor ceremony, delicious sit-down dinner, and incredibly fun group of about 30 guests. After dinner, we all went nuts dancing, and closed out the night with karaoke. We had ample time to chat with the bride, groom, and other attendees, and by the conclusion of the weekend, I’d made many new friends. Small weddings are amazing in this way; I really felt like everyone celebrated together instead of just sticking in their own little groups. IMG_0650
  2. Wedding #2: All-out Festival – Nabil and Salam’s wedding took place in Lebanon, and was a huge, traditional wedding that reminded me of a Lebanese festival. The day began with a gorgeous outdoor lunch of about 350 people, and then the guests all followed Nabil to Salam’s mountain village, where the ceremony took place. The reception was held in a castle with breathtaking views of the city of Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea. A sumptuous buffet was set up, and guests danced into the wee hours of the morning to a variety of music, but mostly Lebanese songs. As the bride and groom danced and cut the cake, huge sparklers erupted. The lights were brilliant and dazzling, but they were nothing compared to the spark in the couple’s eyes when they looked at each other. IMG_0877
  3. Wedding #3: Getting the Party Started – Eddy and Maya’s wedding also took place in Lebanon, and began with a touching ceremony in a beautiful old church, full of speeches by family and friends, as well as a sermon in Arabic. The reception was held at an amazing outdoor venue called Swan Lake. Sure enough, there was a shimmering lake with real swans, and down below, tables and a dance floor were set up. The venue sat atop a mountain, and the views of the city and sea were a sight to behold. The buffet was delicious, but the best part was the dancing. The bride and groom are a high-energy couple who love to party, and their arrival was punctuated with dance music, after which many of the guests stormed the dance floor. Antonio and I danced all night, reveling in the fun, club-like atmosphere and enjoying every moment with the bride and groom. IMG_1017

Writing about these weddings and reliving the happy memories has been such a treat for me. Readers out there, was this summer full of weddings for you, too? Do you love weddings as much as I do? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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5 Things that Motherhood Has Changed in My Writing

Difficult as it may be to believe, my little Xaviana is 9 months old, and we’ve gotten into a (slightly variable) daily routine of naptimes, playdates, outings, education, exercise, cleaning up, and–yes–writing. Currently, I’m working on book 4 of the Amish Friendships series, and I realized how much my writing has evolved since I became a mom. Here are the top 5 changes that I’ve noticed.

A day in the life of the multitasking writer-mom... Image courtesy of ocregister.com

A day in the life of the multitasking writer-mom… Image courtesy of ocregister.com

  1. The characters – Before and even during my pregnancy, I wrote YA novellas about Amish kids growing up and falling in love, with a brief foray into mermaid fantasy fiction. Now that I’ve become a mom, however, the heroes and heroines have become more mature, and most of them have children present or on the way. After all, we write what we know; despite my best efforts to separate my personal and professional lives, the changes in my own character often seep into my imaginary characters!
  2. The storylines – While family has always been a primary theme in my writing as well as life, it has become even more important since my baby girl made her appearance. Many of my Amish novellas feature young parents chasing their bobblin around, feeding them, or just describing their escapades. I’ve found that babies are an awesome literary device to add comic relief, increase tension, or bring about conflict between couples, friends, and family.
  3. The frequency of book releases – Despite my best efforts, releasing a new book every month just isn’t in the stars. Sometimes every other month doesn’t even work out, but I aim for that. It’s just the nature of the beast!
  4. The blog posts – They’re less frequent too, but the most notable change is in their content. On this blog and Prego in San Diego, my posts now center upon mom activities and balancing motherhood and writing, since these are the topics I currently find most inspiring. I also feel like my experiences will be most helpful to readers, since I’m living them now!
  5. My efficiency – This is perhaps the most positive change; I have become much more efficient at churning out content. Before Xaviana, my workdays consisted entirely of writing, but now I only have about two hours per day to write. This means that I must be laser-focused, getting “in the zone” right away so that I can optimize my limited writing time. However, like zillions of other moms before me, I’ve risen to the challenge. Woohoo!

Writer-moms out there, what changes has motherhood brought about in your writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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The Truth About Writer Moms and Deadlines

It seems as though we live our lives by deadlines, and this is a good thing. After all, they keep us focused and productive, which is essential if we ever want to move forward in our chosen professions.

Deadlines are especially important for us writers–whether we’re writing an article for a major magazine or self-publishing a novella, it’s imperative to take our craft seriously, and that means sticking to deadlines–whether they’re self-imposed or not.

I never had a problem with deadlines; during my school days, my assignments were always done on time. During my stint as a pharmacist, I would stop at nothing to make sure that people had their prescriptions ready by the promised time. When I transitioned into my career as a self-published author, I created my own deadlines. Suddenly, I didn’t have teachers or patients breathing down my neck, and I was able to be totally self-directed, which I loved.

For the first year, I churned out one new book per month, sometimes two if I released a box set, and I stuck to my deadlines religiously. When Antonio and I were blessed with our daughter last October, I set slightly less aggressive deadlines, and was able to meet them all… that is, until about a month ago when I had to ask my editor for my first-ever extension.

Even if your clock is this cool-looking, it's still reminding you of the dreaded deadline. :)

Even if your clock is this cool-looking, it’s still reminding you of the dreaded deadline. 🙂

Every muscle in my body tensed at the mere thought of an extension. I felt like I had failed–my editor, my readers, and, most of all, myself. Yet there was no way that I could’ve submitted my book by the promised date. I’d been traveling, but I’d thought I’d have plenty of opportunities to make up for lost time while Xaviana napped. However, when she began teething, her naps (i.e., my writing time) became irregular, and I just couldn’t catch up.

The good news was that I set a new deadline with my editor, and was able to meet it. I released the book, and am now hard at work on the next one–and hoping to meet the next deadline haha. Xaviana is napping well again, I’m writing, and all is right with my world. 🙂

This made me think about how work for a writer-mom is constantly evolving–just like our babies themselves. As I’ve told myself so many times, we just need to be flexible, and I suppose our deadlines have to be, too. Writer-moms (and dads) out there, what do you think? What experiences do you have with deadlines? Do you always meet them, or do you find that it’s better to keep them a bit loose sometimes? What about those of you with older kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

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Kindle Unlimited New Pages Read Policy: What Do You Think?

As of July 1st, Amazon has rolled out a brand-new policy, which affects authors with books in the Kindle Unlimited borrowing program. Check out the details here. In a nutshell, authors will receive payment based on pages read instead of number of downloads. There’s even an algorithm called Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC), which Amazon employed to determine the page count of each book.

Will we have to write books this thick to reap the benefits of the new Kindle Unlimited policy? Only time will tell ;)

Will we have to write books this thick to reap the benefits of the new Kindle Unlimited policy? Only time will tell 😉

Admittedly, I didn’t realize the new policy at first; I’d somehow missed that particular email from Amazon. When I saw my borrowed units jump well into the thousands–just in the first week of July–I was ecstatic. The news of the change burst my bubble, but once I really thought about it, I had to admit that it’s totally fair. I have removed some of my books from KDP Select, and may yank out a few more depending on how my sales are impacted–and how high they are in other markets. As always, the process of choosing where and how to publish is one of trial and error, and always being adaptable.

Authors out there, what do you think of Amazon’s new policy? Has it impacted your decision to place your books in the Kindle Unlimited borrowing program? As always, I welcome your feedback and thoughts!

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5 Things You Never Knew About Amish Shunning

I am gearing up to release Book 3 of the Amish Friendships seriesAmish Blessings: Miriam and Abram’s Book, and I can’t wait to share it with you! Look for release date giveaways on the blog and my Facebook page this week.

Here are the two cover concepts for the book. Which do you like better, LEFT or RIGHT?

Here are the cover ideas for Amish Blessings... Which do you like better?

Here are the cover ideas for Amish Blessings… Which do you like better?

This book has many unexpected twists and turns. An ex-Amish runaway young man shows up at Miriam’s bed and breakfast, and asks Abram and Miriam to keep a secret.  Unfortunately, the elders don’t like this… Is an Amish shunning in the cards for Abram and Miriam?

Amish shunning, or Meidung, is an interesting and unusual subject, so I thought I’d share a few fun (or not so fun, for a person placed in the Bann) facts about shunning with you.

Image courtesy of sodahead.com

Image courtesy of sodahead.com

  1. Shunning occurs when an individual disobeys the rules of the Amish church, and refuses to change. Adult baptized members of the church can be shunned for offenses ranging from owning an automobile to drinking alcohol.
  2. Shunning is not done to be punitive or harmful to the offender. Rather, it is done to bring about repentance and rejoining of the fold. If a shunned person repents and shows that he/she will change, that person may return to the church.
  3. Elders speak with the offender and try to persuade him or her to change before the shunning is made official (announced in church).
  4. If one member of a married couple is shunned, the couple may continue to live together, but may not engage in sexual activity.
  5. Shunned members may attend church or family gatherings, but must sit separately from everyone else.

For more interesting facts about Amish shunning, check out this website. Readers out there, what do you think of these practices? Do you think the system of shunning and repentance makes more sense than the traditional system of crime, punishment, and labeling as a “convict?” I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Writing and Kids: 5 Ways to Have Both

Shortly after I gave birth to my daughter, I wrote a blog post listing 6 essential tips for working from home with a newborn baby. The strategies I outlined worked well for me; in the past 7 and 1/2 months, I’ve released 4 books and am nearly finished with the fifth one. Of course, there have been setbacks and less productive days (and weeks), but one look into my little girl’s big, bright eyes and I realize I’m doing the right thing at the right time.

No doubt about it, balancing writing and parenthood is no easy job. However, this writer-mom combination can be immensely rewarding, and is much more common than I thought. I realized this when I went to the writing section of the library the other day and picked up a book called Writer Mama: How to Raise a Career Alongside Your Kids

This book, published in 2007, is chock-full of amazing tips and tricks on everything from identifying your writing specialty to time-management. It was written before self-publishing and eBooks were popular, and the emphasis on query letters and agents shows that. As I’ve progressed through the book, I’ve decided that writing is an even better career option for moms today, because of the flexibility that self-publishing allows.

I’ve also realized that life as a writer mom (or dad) is very individualized. Author Christina Katz’s thoughts prompted me to reflect on my own experiences balancing writing and motherhood, and I just have to share them with you.

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Here are 5 ways to balance writing and kids (okay, in my case kid. We’ll probably get to the plural form in a couple more years.)

  1. Record your inspirations – Creative story or blog post ideas come to us moms at the most random times, and sometimes those ideas have to sit for awhile before they can be transformed into brilliant prose. In Writer Mama, Katz recommends various kinds of notepads or notebooks. I keep an inspiration notebook, but I’ve also been known to send myself an email every so often if a new idea strikes when I’m out and about.
  2. Write during nap times – New moms are often told to sleep when the baby sleeps, and I agree with this–to a degree. At night, Xaviana and I sleep around the same time; my earlier bedtime (around 10 or 10:30 PM) helps me to be more alert when she’s raring to go in the morning. But daytime naps are a different story. I use those to get as much writing done as I possibly can, especially now that Xaviana is more playful and aware, and is not content to just sit there in her chair and watch me write. The nap time schedule is an ever-evolving one, and some days Xaviana naps more than others. But I’m usually able to write two chapters of my Amish book per day and one to two blog posts per week while she’s asleep.
  3. Meet other moms and babies – As Xaviana becomes interested in other babies, I’ve been attending more and more meetups and one-on-one playdates with my mommy friends. Meetup.com has been amazing, because it’s allowed me to network with other moms at exercise classes, picnics, and coffee dates. Some of us are mompreneurs, and it’s fun to bounce ideas off each other. After these events, both Xaviana and I are energized and happy, and I’m more productive for the rest of the day.
  4. Set daily and weekly goals – I find that the best way to optimize my achievements and efficiency on any given day is by setting goals the night before and writing them down. I put my daily goals in the form of a to-do list, and take pride in checking them off. However, mom-life is variable, so I don’t always meet them right away.  This brings us to #5…
  5. Don’t stress – Any time you’re freaked out about your seemingly-endless to-do list, remember how blessed you are to be able to work from home and spend time with your baby. It’s an incredible privilege and responsibility. If I don’t meet my writing quota for the day, I just remind myself to treasure the gift of work flexibility–and the irreplaceable opportunity to bond with my child–that I’ve been given.

Moms out there, how do you navigate life as a writer-mom? Writer-dads, do you face similar challenges? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Reflections on a Seattle Vacay

Last week, we visited Seattle for the first time. I’d always heard great things about this Pacific Northwest city, and wanted to see it for myself.

It turns out that the so-called “birthplace of grunge” is a lot greener and happier than I’d imagined. Although Seattle is portrayed as a rainy city, we had perfect, sunny weather for most of our trip. The climate was actually pretty similar to San Diego (highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s) during our vacation.

We stayed in a hotel downtown with a spectacular rooftop deck, and spent hours gazing out over the city and water. We could see the Space Needle from our rooftop, as well as the waterfront area and everything in between. In the mornings, the view was obscured by a layer of fog, but once it burned off, the city was clear and shimmering before us.

The view from our hotel room

The view from our hotel room

There are tons of tourist attractions there, but we prefer to stay away from things we deem “too touristy.” As a result, we hung out in fun, trendy neighborhoods like Belltown, loading up on coffee (of course! But no Starbuck’s.) and delicious food. The vibe was chill, people seemed nice and talkative, and the city was incredibly clean. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the EMP museum, with exhibits featuring various pop culture elements. We especially enjoyed the Nirvana exhibit, and the music section upstairs where patrons can play various instruments. I tapped into my inner jazz musician by composing my own piano piece over a rhythmic jazz beat, and Antonio had a field day with the guitars. We even jammed together on guitar and drums, and Xaviana pounded the keyboard. The vacation environment, coupled with the overall free-for-all feel, fueled our creativity for the week ahead, and we’ve both been super productive since our return!

Antonio plays air guitar next to the musical instrument sculpture in the EMP museum.

Antonio plays air guitar next to the musical instrument sculpture in the EMP museum.

Another favorite was Alki Beach, which we hit on our last day (and the only gray day we experienced in Seattle). The thick, low-laying clouds and light mist of rain created the perfect environment for introspection as we looked out over the water. And the fact that we found an awesome Greek-inspired fish-and-chips place, Sunfish, added to the fun. Over lunch, Antonio remarked that it was easy to forget what country we were in, and it’s true. Seattle provides such an eclectic mix of cultures and such a colorful and random environment that you could really be anywhere. During our stay, we enjoyed cuisine from all over the world: a Creole brunch, Japanese sushi, Italian dinner, American gastropub fare, and, of course, the Greek-American fusion fish.

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We left Seattle full of excitement and inspiration… Since then, Antonio has taken his energy and creativity to his brand-new job at a startup, while I’ve directed mine toward writing my upcoming book, Amish Blessings. If you haven’t been to Seattle yet, you must try it!

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