February 10, 2016

Fred: A Picture Book Reco

A short post today, but I felt the need to share after reading this lovely little picture book with Portia the other night:

Fred by Kaila Eunhye Seo

It is the sweetest story with a wonderful message for both kids and parents: Imaginary friends are wonderful and we shouldn't let them go as we grow. In fact, they might be even more important to keep with us as we get older. Because sometimes, no matter what your age, you need friend when no one else is around.

Plus the art is just lovely.

It makes me smile.

images pulled from Amazon

Until next time, go spend some time with an old friend, imaginary or otherwise...and happy reading!


February 3, 2016

The Winter Funk

It is January 28th and I am in full-blown winter funk.

Every year I forget how much I detest January and February. And every year, after the brief glow of the new year has worn off, I wander around in a half-asleep haze wondering why I feel so blah.

And then I remember...Oh, right, it's January.

The days are short and cold. Everyday looks just like the next. I'm now slugging through the routine that seemed a refreshing, new structure back in September. It's all I've been working on the railroad all the live-long day...

The kids and I are going stir-crazy. Okay, well, it's mostly me.

The only breaks from the routine are snow days--one is good, two is too many-- and I spend the whole time wishing they were sand days.

Can you imagine waking up one morning around February 1st to a school alert on your cell that reads SAND DAY!

Imagine looking out your window to find piles of warm sand, sunshine and lapping waves...and, if we're going to go with this delusion (and we are)...then a man named Pablo knocks on your bedroom door with a tray of hot coffee and lemon ricotta pancakes and says the kids are already fed and are doing crafts with their day camp counselor, Louisa.

But that never happens.

Like, ever.

Instead, you (and by you, I mean I) get up tired, in the dark and cold, and negotiate with little people in an effort to get them dressed and fed and out the door for school and errands and whatever.

Blah, blah, blah.

But here's the thing, I don't think my day-to-day life is all that different in January than it is in April--other than the weather and the number of hours of daylight. Yet the feeling...and my attitude...are miles apart.

They just are.

That's the thing about this time of year. It's got a few extra downs to go with the ups. But, like I said, come April it will be a different story. Which brings me to one of the main lessons I've learned since becoming a parent. A lesson that applies to life as well as childrearing.

Everything is a phase.

The bad news about this is that when things are really awesome, guess what? Phase. But the flip side is also true. When things are really crummy? Also a phase.

When Tommy is waking up every night at midnight just to chat? Phase.
When Suzy is throwing temper tantrums every time you take her to the grocery store? Phase.
When Bobby eats everything on his plate without complaint and sleeps through the night every night and never wakes before 8am? Also a phase.

But the same thing goes for life in general.

It may be true that every year I fall into a winter funk sometime in January. But it's also true that every year, somewhere around March or April, I am reborn an energetic optimist.


Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas my workouts and healthy eating disappear...and then right around December 27th, boo-ya, they're back! Every so often my husband and I start to annoy each other for a week or two...then, suddenly, we're star-crossed lovers again (then annoy, then star-crossed, then annoy, then star-crossed...lather, rinse, repeat). Sometimes I go for long stretches of infinite patience with my kids...no, I'm just kidding, I've never had that phase for more than a few days!

But I've learned that I have seasons of blue and seasons of yellow and seasons of red. And I've learned that they are nothing more than that: seasons.

What better way to combat the times when things aren't great than with the knowledge that if you just hold out a little bit longer, they will be. You know, this too shall passthe sun'll come out tomorrow, and all that good stuff.

It's my theory of Phaseology.

Something to ponder, until next time.

January 26, 2016

What I've Been Reading

Here's a little peek into what I've been reading lately...

I'm just going to leave it at that.

Until next time, go grab a great book and lose yourself in it for a while.

Happy reading, my friends.

January 11, 2016

Black Beans and Rice-- Uber Delish!

It has seriously been a while since I shared a recipe. But it's a new year and I got a new cookbook for Christmas, which means new recipes for all!

This past week I tried three recipes from my new cookbook--and all of them were good! Plus, I actually enjoyed cooking this week...which hasn't really been the case of late, so it's a truly wonderful thing!

I've done three things to try an add the joy back into my cooking. First, I've simply tried to change my attitude about it. Don't dread it. That goes a long way. Don't worry about the finish line. That means that if we eat a little later than intended, that's okay. No need to stress about it. Just try and relax.

Which brings me to number two: Listen to some music. Sometimes I put on my favorite cooking cd-- the soundtrack to the movie Chef...it is the best music to chop and stir to; sometimes I put on my headphones and strap my iPod to my arm with my running band (yes, I see the irony!). But either way, I listen to some music that I enjoy (as in, not music for the kids).

And lastly, I try to give the kids something to do to occupy them so that they are 1) not fighting and 2) not constantly bugging me for something. This last one has been only partially successful, but still...

Plus I think just being out of the holiday craziness has reduced my baseline stress level, which helps too.

I've also put a small kitchen tv on my honey wish list. I think being able to watch relaxing tv (for me) while I cook would be nice (like Ina Garten, whose show is not only an excellent cooking show but also super relaxing and fantastic to nap to (I promise not to actually nap while cooking)...it's her soothing voice, I think).

So cooking's been better. Now, my new cookbook...

I got the Forks Over Knives Cookbook from my husband for Christmas and I was super psyched! (You can find it here: Forks-Over-Knives-The-Cookbook.) I watched the Forks Over Knives documentary a few months ago and found it fascinating. (You can check it out on Netflix streaming if you have it. I highly recommend it.) And I checked out the website and many of the recipes they share there. (You can find that here: http://www.forksoverknives.com.)

I also have the original book (Forks Over Knives: The Plan) on my wish list...I'll get to that eventually.

Generally speaking, I buy into the philosophy behind the movement. Though I haven't gone whole-hog (yes, I see the irony again...love irony) with it. Like, I still do dairy and have a hard time imagining cutting that out completely...No half-n-half in my coffee? No yogurt for breakfast? No cheese?!?!? Egads! But I've followed a vegetarian diet at various times in my life and I (mostly) find it pretty easy to cut out meat.

But for now, we're just cutting back, ala Michael Pollan's approach. (If you've never read his books, like In Defense of Food and Food Rules, they are fascinating and really well written, making them super easy reads. You can find them here: http://michaelpollan.com/books/)...I'm a big fan of Michael Pollan.

That being said, you don't have to buy into the Forks Over Knives philosophy to enjoy their yummy dishes. And I make modifications to their recipes that suit me and my family, but don't necessarily follow their guidelines, which I note below. Speaking of which, I guess I ought to actually share it now, huh? Here you go...

The Uber Delish Black Beans and Rice (my version)
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and diced (or whatever onion you like)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed and diced (I only used one so it wouldn't be too spicy for my daughter...but it probably would have been okay with 2...leave the seeds in if you want more heat)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
2, 15 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup water, plus extra as needed (you could use vegetable broth)
salt and pepper to taste (I bet I used a couple of teaspoons each; add it 1/2 tsp at a time, stir and taste till you're happy with it)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1 lime
3 cups cooked Jasmati rice

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion, red pepper and jalapeƱo pepper and saute for 7-10 minutes, until cooked and browned. Add the garlic, cumin and oregano and cook for 3 more minutes. Add the black beans and 1 cup of water. Cook for 10 minutes, adding more water as needed. Season with salt and pepper, chopped cilantro and juice of one lime. Then taste it and add more salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, cilantro and/or lime juice as needed to get it to delish--this is the point where you really become the chef: taste and season, taste and season, taste and season until you love it. You decide what it needs more of to get it just right. Then serve the beans over a scoop of Jasmati rice and top with a dollop of sour cream, if desired. (That's what we did. You could also add a sprinkle of shredded cheese or some cubed up avocado. And you could serve it with some tortilla chips if that suits you.)

We had no beans left over when we were done...that's how good they were. I think I'll make 50% more next time so we can have leftovers--the beans would be delicious reheated and added to a burrito or quesadilla.

Now, for reference, here is the Forks Over Knives Recipe for Black Beans and Rice.

Forks Over Knives Recipe for Black Beans and Rice
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced (seeded for less heat)
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 1/2 tsp oregano, toasted
4 cups cooked black beans or 2, 15 oz. cans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 lime, quartered
The main differences in cooking? They cook the veggies in water and I used olive oil at the beginning. They simply garnish with cilantro and lime wedges at the end and I add the cilantro and lime juice while cooking--I think the beans really need both to taste great. And they like to toast their seasonings...I was too lazy!

So there you have it.

Until next time, happy cooking!

January 4, 2016

My 2016 Happiness Project

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to what makes me happy...and, more specifically, what does not. It is the time of year for reassessing, after all. Something about that fresh year--the blank calendar, the unmarred planner, the pristine, white days ahead. It begs the highest of intentions, doesn't it?

Well, in the best spirit of the new year's resolution, I have set before me a little project for 2016. And I've named it.

Amy's 2016 Happiness Project

It's not terribly original, I'm afraid. But it is rather descriptive.

And it has two main components: 1) Focus on joy, and 2) Be a happy failure.

The first isn't all that uncommon. It's meant to encompass bringing the focus of each day to my own joy and the joy of those around me. And it includes things like playing with the kids (and the dog) more and doing things that make me smile, like listening to music that I love and coloring and reading and writing...and relaxing. Making those sorts of things the priority rather than the things I get to when there's time.

Another way to put this is Dessert First. As an adult I've always been a "get the work done first, and then play" kind of person. And I used to think that was a good thing...aren't I so responsible?! But now I think it might not be such a good trait. Because as my responsibilities have grown (with the house and the husband and the kids and the dog and the...) so has my work load, and these days it seems like I never actually get to the play. The work is never done. And you know what they say about all work and no play...

So. Dull.

Focus on joy also means bringing a joyful perspective to the other things that fill my day. I'll give you an example: It's come to my attention of late that I've grown to dislike grocery shopping--a task that never really bothered me much before. It's gotten so bad that I actually dread my trips to the store and I rush through them as fast as I possibly can--this means it's usually a pretty miserable undertaking. And I have to do it every week. Which is no fun. It makes me wonder if an attitude change might help. If I could approach grocery shopping with a more joyful perspective (or at least a neutral one, like I used to), maybe it wouldn't be so bad. If I didn't rush through it just to get it done and get out of there. If I took my time...

Worth a try, at least.

The second component is my favorite...it is also the most difficult for me: Be a happy failure.

It has also recently come to my attention that I have rather high standards for myself. Standards that are built on the erroneous but invasive idea that if I do not perform virtually every task in my life to a level as close to perfection as possible, I am, well, a failure.

This is super depressing.

For those of you who experience a fear of failure (cloaked in the guise of perfectionism), like I do, this may sound familiar. Either you end up paralyzed by the fear so you don't even attempt the thing, or you're so driven by the fear that you do everything to the nth degree. To say this whole fear of failure thing just recently came to my attention is a lie. I've known for a long time that I have a fear of failure. What I didn't realize was how pervasive that fear was. I thought that I feared failing at big things...but really, who doesn't? Not that big of a deal, right?

But, as it turns out, I also fear failing at little things, because in my mind, failing at the little things is also failing at the big things. As in, I've failed at getting a great, healthy, home cooked meal on the table on time (not a big thing)...so I've failed at being a good wife and mom (a really big thing). That's a lot of pressure to put on planning, shopping for and cooking a meal. No wonder I don't like it.

This fear of failure (because failure is the worst thing in the world) is getting in the way of my enjoying each day to the fullest (because I'm too busy trying to do everything perfectly). If your goal is to never let anything fall through the cracks, it can get pretty exhausting. (It also means that my planner is pretty disturbing.)

So, to summarize: I'm afraid to fail because failure is the worst thing in the world.

Or is it?

It occurred to me that instead of trying to conquer my fear of failure, it might be easier (though not necessarily easy) to change my view on failure. As in, maybe failure isn't such a bad thing.

Because if striving for perfection makes me miserable and if doing things that bring me joy gets in the way of striving for perfection, then maybe I could learn to be a happy failure. Go ahead and "fail" at everyday tasks and be all the happier for it.

Sit at the table with he kids and happily color for an hour while simultaneously failing miserably at getting dinner on the table. Joyfully curl up with a good book on a cold Saturday while failing to get the laundry done when it should be done. Laugh through Trainwreck with my husband while failing to get thank you cards written in a timely fashion. Lose myself in writing my book while failing at, well, pretty much everything else.

Elizabeth Gilbert calls it, being a well-disciplined half-ass, this letting go of perfection. Done is better than good, her mother used to say. In the wise words of my dear friend, Wendy, "Just buy them more pants so you don't have to do laundry as often!" (She's so ridiculously smart, I swear.)

Sound weird? Well, yeah, I guess maybe it is--especially if you're a perfectionist. But it also just might be revolutionary for me. So I'm gonna give it go.

I suppose this means that if you're expecting anything from me...a thank you card, a hot meal, clean, folded clothes...you might be waiting a while. But you can use that time to read a good book.

Until next time, may the new year bring you great joy and happy failure!

December 2, 2015

NaNoWriMo Winner, Baby!...and what I learned from it.

It is December 2, which can only mean one thing in my world...that National Novel Writing Month has come to a close for another year. And I am psyched to report that I am a winner once again this year!! I wrote just over 50,000 words of my new novel in the 30 days of November, which is pretty freakin' awesome. Mind you, I still have probably another 20,000 words to go before the draft is done, but...still, a huge feat! And one I never would have done in that kind of time frame without NaNo. Which is why I love it.

I liken NaNoWriMo to training for a marathon once a year. For a period of time it takes over your life. Most all of your free time is dedicated to the project and you tend to annoy the people around you by talking about it all the time...which is only really interesting to other people who are doing it too (not unlike marathon training). But this is all just because it has hijacked your brain and your life.

Despite the fact that I annoy the people around me during this month and that I tend to let other responsibilities fall by the wayside and that my husband has to pick up some serious slack when I disappear to write all the time...it's still one of my favorite months of the year now.

The pressure to write can get a little crazy, especially when I hit a wall. But that's the beauty of it. Normally when I hit a wall I wallow in it for a while, maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks, maybe it derails a project entirely. But not when I'm knee-deep in NaNo. Nope, I have no choice but to plow through that stuck-point whether I like it or not if I'm going to finish. So that's what I do. I just keep writing.

Even when it sucks. Even when I know my dialog is awkward. Even when I know (as I write it) I'll probably cut the transition scene I'm writing. Even when the passion I started with wanes and I become pretty certain that everything I'm writing and have written sucks. Even when I lose entire threads in the novel and I can't remember what I named the city their all from or the name of the book I wanted to little sister to be reading in a particular scene.

I just keep writing through it all. No time to debate. No time to ponder. No time to go back and rejigger this or that. That's what editing is for. And I'm learning (painfully) that most author's first drafts are crap (just like mine). Editing is where the magic happens. But before that magic can happen, I have to vomit (sometimes painfully) that first draft onto the page. Because if I don't do that, it'll just stay this great idea in my head. And it will never see the light of day.

And maybe once I edit and rewrite and work really hard even more and the story is done, maybe it will still be crap. But maybe it won't. Maybe it'll be pretty great. And maybe it'll bring someone else some joy or make them feel less lost and alone or maybe it'll inspire them to vomit the stories from their heads onto the page. Who knows.

But I'll never know if I don't give it a go.

So, I know you're waiting for a life lesson from all of this, and here it is: If you never do the things you dream of doing...if you never create, if you never try, if you never persevere, if you never go after it and follow through, even when it's hard or uncomfortable or inconvenient, then you'll never know what you could have done and the world will never be blessed with the gifts inside of you.

It makes me wonder if we shouldn't apply the principles of NaNo to other things in our lives. Not just writing a novel, but anything, really, that you've always wanted to do or some big idea you've had. Because there's never enough time or enough money or enough...whatever.

But if you decide that it's 50,000 words of your novel in 30 days, then you'll find the time. Or if you've gotta get ready to run 26.2 miles with a bunch of other crazies, or you're going to map your entire small business plan in one month, or you're going to paint one masterpiece a day for a month, or...whatever your dream is...

We're always being told to take things slowly and break it into small, manageable pieces to make it easier to do. But maybe sometimes we really do need to go big or go home. Maybe we need to run ten miles a day or write 1667 words a day or paint a canvas a day or whatever. Maybe we need to jump in with both feet and no parachute and just go.


Until next time, go live the dream...I'll give you 30 days...ready, set, GO!

Random sidebar that I just had to share: As I write this, I am eating the baked oatmeal with apples at The Cocoa Beanery in Hershey, PA (which I get once a week for breakfast when I come here to write) and I must tell you that it is extra divine today. It's like an oatmeal cookie married an apple pie and had delicious breakfast babies. So good. Just saying...

October 27, 2015

Book Reco: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

We'll start with full disclosure: I love Rainbow Rowell. I just do. Technically, I don't know her. But after reading 3 of her novels, I kinda feel like I do. Regardless, I adore her. So, now that that's out in the open...

 Carry On is Rainbow Rowell's newest YA book. She took a brief departure from YA with Landline (which I haven't read yet), but she's back. And not only is she back to YA, but she pulled two characters from her previous book, Fangirl, (loved it!) and wrote a book about them.

What makes this even more interesting is that the characters she pulled from her book Fangirl, were actually characters in a book in Fangirl. As Rowell puts it, Carry On is "inspired by fictional fan fiction of a fictional series." Seriously.

But this part is only interesting if you've read Fangirl. And you should, too...but you don't need to to enjoy Carry On.

Here's my favorite description of the book:

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you'd expect from a Rainbow Rowell story-- but far, far more monsters.

Love that. And you know me...you're not getting anything else on the actual plot from me. You can Google that. But this is what I will tell you...

I started reading this book--as per usual, without reading the blurb-- and I was a little ho-hum in the  beginning. All was good, but not great. And I started to bum-out...was Rowell going to let me down this time?

Answer: No.

There's a moment about a quarter-to-a-third of the way into the book (you might know it when you read it) when everything shifts...when everything I had been hoping for without even realizing I'd been hoping for it happens. And I was sunk. I devoured the rest of the book in, like, two days.

And it was delicious.

Thank you, Rainbow.

What you need to know: It's a fun, easy read. Nothing too heavy. There's love and kissing, and swords and action, and magic and vampires...it's kind of a smorgasbord...but in a good way.

It's just fun.

Until next time, I bid you good reading.

P.S. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite of Rowell's books: Eleanor and Park. If you haven't read it, do. It's in my top ten of all time. I loved it.