Travel Often

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” — Rosalia de Castro

Love Deeply, but Laugh Along the Way

"Happiness is only real when shared." - Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

View Marriage as an Adventure

"Love is a flower which turns into fruit at marriage." ~Finnish Proverb

Fuel your body with GOOD (It's the only one you get)

He who has health has hope; and he who has hope has everything. - Arabian Proverb

Open your Soul to Motherhood

A Grand Adventure is About to Begin - Winnie the Pooh

A New Kind of Love is Born

Mothers hold their children's hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Healthy Salmon Surprise

Sorry it's taken me awhile to get a food post up here. Before we left for Mexico, I grabbed a couple magazines and mixed together pieces of healthy recipes to come up with a really delicious salmon dinner! Here it is below. It was super quick too and we both woke up feeling really good after eating this!

Salmon Surprise
serves 2

2 wild salmon fillets
1 bunch of asparagus
1 carton of grape tomatoes
1 can of chick peas (drained and rinsed)...I would have used cannellini beans instead if I had some lying around.
1 jar of already prepared pesto
1 lemon
1 bundle of basil
olive oil

1. Heat 1 TBS of olive oil in a large skillet. Salt and pepper salmon (to taste) and put in pan. Cook 3 minutes each side. Heat sauce pan with splash of olive oil and water. Throw asparagus in and cover.

2. Remove salmon and put on plates. Add a couple drops of olive oil to skillet Cut tomatoes in half. Dump can of chick peas, 1 TBS of prepared pesto, lemon juice, pepper to taste and tomatoes in bowl. Stir and mix. Heat on skillet for few minutes and use another tablespoon of pesto sauce. Stir. Top with fresh basil. Spoon mixture on salmon and side with asparagus.

Karl's reaction: This is really good!! Oh yah, babe!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Power of Friday

Can I say, "Thank God it's Friday (TGIF)"? What a week. Here's the latest going down in my life  - in no particular order or according to awesomeness.

1. After a looong travel day on Sunday: PHX to IAH, layover in Houston, then IAH to MSP...oh, not to mention a passenger on both flights suffering from either the worst hangover of her life, heat stroke or the flu, we managed to survive (Karl barely) and came home to find a letter from Karl's association. In short (and the nicer version), we have to put Karl's place up for sale. We must face the truth. We both have feared long enough thanks to the amount of "stuff" that still remains in it and the fact we have no room in our current town home. We're just going to have to accept our loss and move on with one house. I've been spending every second writing, so cleaning has been the last thing on my mind. That all changes this weekend. And this is why I'm going to happy hour tonight.

2. Will it ever stop snowing!? I thought by the end of March (or at least last year), Minnesota warms up a little. I saw geese frozen in the pond by our place yesterday morning (my car showed 11 degrees). I thought I was going to cry. The poor lil guys couldn't move!!! On a positive note, I think Karl and I will try to snowshoe once more...that is, if we get his place cleaned out first.

3. I received two requests for my full manuscript and a partial from some really awesome literary agencies! As in, they are so awesome I danced when I read all three of their emails. They are the three I really, really want and like. Of course I had to go out and buy some of the books of authors they represent. I am so excited and my patience is truly being tested right now. I also became a finalist in the 250-word SHOW ME THE VOICE writing contest!! Cool, huh? There were around 135 writers and 20 of us were picked! I'm excited to see if I get picked as one of the top three by the agent reviewing them. More to come next week.

4. Karl and I are confirmation mentors again this year during the Lenten Season. I have the coolest 8th grader ever! Sometimes I think we 'adults' get so busy, we forget to be silly and young. Our ages are really just numbers and we need to remember to laugh and be fearless like we were in 8th grade! Maren's bringing lots of joy to my life right now. The book we're reading this year is the book of Hebrews. Something I need to read because it's a reminder to TRUST and RELAX. God has our back. He knows us better than anyone. And God doesn't create duds as people. He creates some kick ass people. Time to shine!!! And I haven't felt stronger about that last phrase than this week.

5. Tis the season for weddings! Everyone who knows me knows I LOVE WEDDINGS. How about three in a row come the month of May? Whoa! One in Chicago. One in Milwaukee. And one in Shakopee. Throw in a handful of baby showers and I'm sure life will get crazy. And I wonder why my summers go so fast....

6. Remember that New Year's resolution I had earlier this year? It went something like, "This year I will stop biting my nails"? Yeah... That's a no-go. I seriously need help. Is there nail biters anonymous somewhere? I watch people's faces fall in horror when they catch glimpse of my nasty habit. Ugh!! Help!

7. After watching The Biggest Loser last night on DVR, I started thinking back to an entry I wrote in the Star Trib. The blog was about Making Our Dreams a Reality. I believe it's possible. And it starts from within. Look at the contestants at the beginning of the season on Loser. They're so unhappy and so lost. But once their transformation starts, they grow so much inside. See what getting healthy does for people physically and mentally? When you continually push forward and listen to those voices inside, things happen. Amazing things.

On that note... If you can dream it, you can do it.  - Walt Disney

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Good Query Letter

Is it really about the query letter? Is less really more? I will be the first to answer YES to both of these.

A month ago I sent out my first query to about ten or so agents. Sadly, my query was long. As in, I had to resize to 11-point font Times New Roman to get it all on one page. Even though I liked it and everyone who proofed it seemed to like, I still wasn't sure of it. Something in my gut kept second guessing everything. And by last Friday, I had seven rejections and one 'yes' for a full. However, the query I sent to the 'yes' agent was an abbreviated version of the one I had sent the rest of the agents. The reason for that? I had a published author look at it and she was like..."umm, too long. This is a synopsis not a query..." And she helped me shorten. Hello, Christie. That should've been your first big hint.

I took a week and a half off from sending queries because I attended the Midwest Fiction Writers Meeting and learned pointers from some great women (and men) and was really skeptical of my query afterwards. I was totally impressed by this group. I didn't know what to expect or who would be there. Yet, I felt super comfortable and VERY welcome, which was pretty sweet. One gal, Amanda Carlson, came up to me after the meeting and gave me her name and website. Of course, an hour later I was following her on Twitter and reading every bit of information on her website. I emailed her a brief summary of my query and my one-sentence pitch. She responded with, "Not a big enough hook. You need to make it tighter."

Yet, the right words weren't coming and everything I wrote looked goofy. After a quick vacation (and much needed break) to Arizona and hiking up a monstrous mountain (twice), I had time to think and clear my head. I was putting too much pressure on making everything perfect. It's my darn Type-A personality - I love perfection. The most important lesson was I needed to write for me again. I just needed to let my own voice out and think like an agent. What busy person wants to thumb through a million query letters over a page long. Hook them and get to the point. I know as a graphic designer, I like white space. As a manager, I look for personality. It's easy to teach someone skills, but nearly impossible to train someone to get a personality!! For heaven's sake Twitter gives me 140 characters and when I'm optimizing our web pages at work, I have 60 characters to make our company searchable with a few keywords.

On the plane ride back, I was inspired and the words came. The difference: my latest query is about 250 words and I - AM - CONFIDENT sending it! So yesterday I sent out seven queries. Today two. In 30 minutes from sending one of them out yesterday, I had a request for a full. Today, two hours later, I had a request for the first 50 pages and a synopsis. Plus, my awesome crit pal, Julie Lindsey, had an inspirational post on her blog about 'getting some cheerleaders'. It totally motivated me to stay focused on my dream!

Also if you've been reading my blog, you'll see I entered another writing contest. I had to write the first 250 words of my manuscript. I realized after I posted and didn't get picked for the 312-words writing contest, something was missing and maybe I needed to rework my first chapter. And thanks to both contests, I was able to see that. So I revised. I don't know the results of the 250-word contest yet, but I can tell you I love my new Chapter One and the agent who requested my full yesterday read the first three chapters and wrote, "I'd be delighted to read your full manuscript."

Yesssssssssssss!!! I screamed. This learning stuff is fun. Oh, writing, how I love you!!!!!!!

Watch out Black Mountain! Here we come!! (Cave Creek, Arizona)

Reached the top!! Booyah! We don't mess around!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Show Me the Voice Contest

I'm participating in another writing contest! Over the years I've been somewhat lucky at winning things. Let's see, I've won a vacuum, a bunch of expensive perfume (I guessed the right amount of gumballs), a diamond ring, the Bride Wars writing competition at Mall of America, a month of free town home association dues... But getting an agent to look over my stuff will be one of the greatest prizes of all if it gets me that much closer to becoming a published author!!!

With that said, below is the first 250 words of my manuscript! You'll see some changes from the last contest I was in (first 312 words). I realized how important those first few paragraphs are when it comes to getting a manuscript reviewed and did some revising. Here goes nothing!  Please feel free to critique. It'll only help me get better.

Want to play? Participate in Show me the Voice.

Name: Christie Koester
Title: Wanted: Groom for My $100K Wedding
Genre: Women's Fiction/Contemporary Romance

I rest my head against the bathroom's mahogany door, inhaling freedom. The aroma of Ivory soap and sweet pea awaken memories of being a little girl, twirling in a wedding gown ten sizes too big in Gram’s pink powder room, my best friend Tony drowning in Gramp’s blue suit. And the promise he made.

“Promise my ass,” I mumble and swallow the last bit of hope as I make my way over to the vanity. If only I had my BlackBerry, I could tweet instead…

Streaks of mascara and eyeliner run down my cheeks like mud on a rain-infused windshield. Instead of taking fingers to my cheeks like wipers, I allow my hands to thaw under a waterfall of hot water, leaving dark watermarks over my cobalt blue bridesmaid dress. Will Tammy throw a fit? I’ve never met such a demanding bride; one who marries my best friend.

The sound of a woman’s voice causes me to jump. “If you’re going to have your wedding in January, you might as well go to Mexico. Not Minnesota.”

I’m surprised by the smile growing on my face and crane my neck in the direction of the stalls. She’s right.

“What Tony and Tammy needed to do was sign up for the big trend wedding that one magazine is giving away. I hear it being advertised all the time on the radio,” adds another matter-of-factly. “If I’m not mistaken, I think it’s a seventy-five thousand dollar wedding too.”

I freeze. Wait. What?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oh, Cancer...How I hate thee....

Cancer. Ugh, how I despise you.

Even the word sounds cold. Who gave it this title anyway? Isn't it an astrological sign? Can it really mean two completely different things?

I don't know about anyone else, but I feel like cancer is closing in. And what I mean by this is I feel like it's everywhere. Who doesn't know someone who has or had cancer? Was it like this back in the day?

I read an alarming statistic on Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG website. "28 million people live with cancer."

My grandma's sister was diagnosed in October with pancreatic cancer. On Thursday (just eight months later) she lost her life. A friend of ours rushed to the altar to make sure her dad could walk her down the aisle. She lost him to cancer a couple years later and just heard the devastating news her mom has stage four lung cancer. My friend's dad - a wrestler in the Olympics - was diagnosed with cancer. Yes, the Olympics. Please, someone explain this to me. He passed away two years ago. I guess we could bring up Lance Armstrong too. How can an elite athlete, someone so healthy, get sick? And then there's my college friend. Her personal story shook me to the core. Being only twenty-something at the time, she found out her mom had breast cancer. Her mom lost her battle, followed by her dad just nine months later. Say what? How does one go on?

These are all horrible, heart-wrenching stories. And of our travel buddies and dear friends, Erin Youngerberg, found out back in late October she has malignant melanoma (read her blog here). She is 32. A kid! Last week she learned she has stage 4 melanoma in her lungs. I am so mad right now. Why? Why God? Why her? Why now? Why does this have to happen? 

My friend Erin's blog about Malignant Melanoma
It makes me more determined than ever to find a cure or at least become more aware of ways to prevent it. I feel like cancer isn't going away, it's becoming a topic tossed around at the dinner table.

"Oh, yeah, just found out so-and-so has cancer..."

This scares me. It shouldn't be this way. When is it going to stop? When is it going to leave us alone?

At night my brain runs a mile a minute. Why is cancer becoming more prevalent in today's world? Is it genes? Is it the toxins in the environment and our food? Is it all the hormones we digest in meats and milk? Are we too stressed? Are we doing too much too fast and wearing our bodies out? Do we need to slow down? Does it have to do with the fact 60 percent of the US population is overweight? Is it cell phones and time spent on computers and standing next to printers and fax machines? Or didn't doctors know how to diagnose some cancers properly twenty years ago and with the latest technology they can today? Someone needs to explain this to me!

As I was whining to my trainer at Life Time Fitness how fearful I am of cancer, he suggested I check out a book. He said it'll open my eyes and steer me in the right direction at least. It's called Cracking the Metabolic Code, 9 Keys to Optimal Health by Dr James Lavalle. But what does this have to do with cancer, I wondered? I went to the website and read the product review and was intrigued...

Doctors traditionally prescribe a pill for every ill. But for most people, these single solutions don't work. The truth is, most chronic health problems, including stubborn weight gain, unbeatable fatigue, intestinal distress, high blood pressure, creeping cholesterol, and high blood sugar, are not found in simply one organ, but in several parts of the body (often times in twos and threes). This is the result of years of slow, subtle challenges to your metabolism, which is as unique as you are. Your lifestyle habits, stress level, prescription drug use, and relationships, as well as the genes you inherit and the environment in which you live-in effect, the sum total of your life experience up to this day-determine your personal metabolism and, in turn, your current state of health.  

So I'm hoping to read it soon and report back. Or if any of you have read it, please fill me in. In the meantime, sign up to help find a cure on

"Friends warm you with their presence, trust you with their secrets, and remember you in their prayer."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cheese and Quinoa-Stuffed Red Pepper

This meal has some serious healthy foods in it and tastes delicious!

Cheese and Quinoa-Stuffed Red Pepper
serves 4
(found in Shape January 2011)

1 cup dry quinoa (I used the Bob's Red Mill Organic brand) - we're talking 7 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber in 1/4 cup of this stuff!
4 large red bell peppers (red peppers have a significantly higher level of nutrients than green and contain lycopene, which is a carotene that helps to protect against cancer and heart disease)
1 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole red onion minced
1/4 tsp minced garlic (you could probably use more)
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 bushel of fresh spinach
1 container sliced white button mushrooms
2 tsp Italian herb seasoning
1 cup finely shredded cheddar

I also used 1 lb ground beef because my husband likes his meat. However, the quinoa has plenty of protein in it!

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place quinoa and 2 cups of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until all water is absorbed. Set aside and keep covered.
2. Cut tops off red bell peppers and remove seeds and membranes. Keep the peppers whole.
3. Heat a medium skillet on medium-high; add olive oil. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add garlic, carrots, spinach, mushrooms, and seasoning and saute until veggies are slightly tender, about 4 minutes. (this is when I also cooked the ground beef)
4. Transfer sauteed vegetables to a bowl. Mix in cooked quinoa and gently fold in cheddar. Fill pepper with the mixture.
5. Place in baking dish and bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until pepper is slightly charred. Serve warm or at room temp
6. I garnished with cilantro!

Karl's opinion: "This is pretty good!"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

312 Words of My Manuscript

312 Words Birthday Bash!

I'm participating in a fun little birthday party event from the ever-so-awesome Gabriela Lessa (Happy Birthday!) from my critique group. Not only are we celebrating her, she wants everyone in on her party! Yes, she's that cool. She asked authors and writers alike to post the first 312 words of their manuscript on his or her blog. Today she'll review by going to each participant's blog. The top 12 winners get critiques from an awesome agent: Lora Rivera of Claire Gerus Literary Agency!!! How exciting, right?  So below is the first 312 words of my manuscript Wanted: Groom for my $100K Wedding. No less. No more. For everyone else, let me know if I have you hooked or if you're ready to take a snooze.

Title: Wanted: Groom for My $100K Wedding
Genre: Women's Fiction/Contemporary Romance
Status: Completed and querying!

First 312 words below....

Eyes fixate on the eighteen of us the moment we stumble in, frozen and sober. I force a cough. Anything is better than the glares tallying at record speed on the hundreds of guests’ faces. Their overwhelming reaction transforms the hairs on the back of my neck into cactus needles, and the experience serves to emphasize what I’ve been feeling most of the day: singled out. Empty beer bottles spill over the open bar and a handful of servers slouch in the corner of the grand hall, defeated. To a degree, I’m okay with the ring bearer wailing at the top of his lungs. Can’t the DJ play some music?

If only I had my BlackBerry, I could tweet instead…

A quick glance over my shoulder, with a clear shot of the narrow hallway, I spot an escape route—restrooms. Since our grand entrance no one appears near or around my safety net. And it’s only a matter of time before guests circle the bride and groom and start asking questions.

Frostbite manifests over my skin thanks to the short, cobalt blue bridesmaid dress and slingback heels I’ve been forced to wear in January. I continue coughing and dodge away quietly for cover.

Every muscle from my curvy backside pushes the lavish, oak door shut and I rest my head against it, inhaling freedom. The scents of fresh ivory and sweet pea fills the air and awakens memories of being a little girl, twirling in a wedding gown ten sizes too big in Gram’s pink powder room, my best friend Tony drowning in Gramps’ blue suit. And the promise he made.

The sound of a woman’s voice causes me to jump. “Who allows a caterer to run out of food at a wedding?”

As I make my way over to the vanity, three sets of shoes shuffle within the row of stalls.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Star Tribune Blog - Destination: Second Chances

My latest Star Tribune Blog on our trip to Mexico, and giving it another chance! Let me know what you think.

Destination: Second Chances


Chicken and Pasta in Peanut Sauce

Chicken and Pasta in Peanut Sauce
serves 4
(found on Better Homes and Garden Recipe Center)

8 oz thin whole wheat spaghetti
1 bunch of broccolini
1 medium red sweet pepper
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (I bought a rotisserie chicken)
salt and ground pepper (optional)
1 TBS olive oil
1/2 cup bottled peanut sauce
crushed red pepper (optional)

1. In a Dutch oven cook pasta according to package directions, adding broccolini and sweet pepper during the last two minutes of cooking. Drain. Return to Dutch oven and set.

2. Meanwhile, break apart rotisserie chicken and add to pasta and vegetables. Add peanut sauce. Sprinkle with red pepper.

Karl's thoughts: "Spicy, but I really like this! Yum, babe!"

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Request for a Full!!!

The email came on Friday. "Kim is interested in seeing your full manuscript."

Now picture complete silence. My mouth dropping, eyes wide as saucers and complete panic rushing through my blood.

There was more to the email but that sentence was all I read before immediately calling my husband. I don't know what I said to him. I think I panted in the phone for awhile before making sense.

I was walking into Rainbow Foods, checking my BlackBerry (again) and almost passed out when the email came through. So I turned around and sat back in my car. My heart stopped. It really did. I felt it. A bunch of texts came through. Tears stung my eyes when my husband wrote, "no matter what happens, I'm proud of you." Who could top that? Nothing. Yes, he's amazing.

The first time I received a request for a follow-up email from my three-sentence pitch was in Wal-Mart while I bought groceries the week before.

Are you noticing a pattern here? I like food. And I guess I like to grocery shop. And Kim must know this. Ha. I could hear noises like never before. I felt like I was swimming in green beans and tomatoes. They were all I could focus on, and my breathing. For a second I thought I was back snorkeling in Mexico, listening to each sharp breath.

I stared at the blurry shopping list in my hands. Nothing made sense. What was produce again? How many onions? An old war vet raised his brows and smiled at me at least five times as I spun in circles wondering what the hell I was doing. I threw things in my cart. Went up and down the same aisle at least four times. Then I started talking to myself out loud. I'm sure I looked manic.

And for a second, for a split second, I felt it. A dream coming true. And I wanted to grab it and keep it. I wanted it to be mine forever. I've never been so close!!! All the dreaming, hard work, focus and determination were worth a tiny taste of knowing what this could really feel like. And I want it even more. I want this. I'm going to get there. And I've never been more sure of anything in my life (well, besides marrying my love Karl).

I could have floated out of the store. I wanted to keep the 'high' more than anything. I wanted to bottle the moment, knowing it would disappear faster than a damn blink.

My hands shook. My stomach ached. I needed to get away. And I forgot half the groceries.

Then just as fast as the pure joy and glory washed over me, doubt, worry and fear started to sneak in. I tried pushing it away. But it wreaked havoc on my stomach. And I can't figure out if I ate too much whole wheat pasta or if it was the overkill of asparagus...or nerves....lots and lots of them...

Is my stuff good enough?
Will it be exactly what she's looking for?
Will I hear..."yes"! or will it be "no"?
Will this be my only chance?
Will I become a 'published' author?
Will I be able to make my dream come true?

I don't know. It's all I can think about. And this is one of those times I wish I could fast forward into the future and know the outcome so I can prepare my emotions. But I can't. This is the story of life. I can bust my ass. I can research, learn and keep on writing. But only God knows and this is what makes each day precious. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. I guess it's what we do after that, that really defines us.

Here's to dreaming!

All that's worth cherishing, begins in the heart - Suzane Chapin

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Healthy Greek Chicken Surprise

Roasted Chicken with Olives, Feta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
serves 4
(recipe found in Fitness Magazine September 2010)

3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 4-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup pitted chopped Kalamata olives (about 10)
1/4 cup crumbled feta
3/4 cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
2 cups cooked whole-wheat orzo

1. Preheat oven to 375. Spread the oil over the bottom of a shallow roasting pan.
2. Place the chicken in the pan and season the top of each breast with the oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Top chicken with the olives, feta and sun-dried tomatoes. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
3. Serve chicken with the orzo. (This needs flavor...I suggest lemon juice and pine nuts)

Karl's reaction: "Whoa...I think I bought the extra large sun-dried tomatoes! Still, it's good! Chicken is super tender."