September 30, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons...

My Sweet Cooper

I know I should be writing a real blog post right now. Something useful like a recipe or a craft. I have a book recommendation more than half written, but I just can't bring myself to finish it right now. Both kids are at school. I'm in one of my favorite writing spaces. I have a nice cup of hot coffee inches from my right hand. I even got a good table today.

But it's gray and foggy outside. And it's been a rough month for me. I'm feeling a little blue. My eyes and my body feel heavy and tired. And, I guess I have blogger's block. I think I have too much "life stuff" swimming around in my brain today. I can't seem to clear it away to make room for anything else. So today you get a journal entry instead of a real blog post...

So here's my laundry list for the month: my grandfather passed away; my sweet 9 year old dog, Cooper, has been having some problems and we just discovered he has a cancerous tumor in his bladder; and I had some X-rays done and found out I have degenerative arthritis in my neck. Plus my daughter is not loving kindergarten-- she doesn't think it's fun, she hasn't made any good friends yet, and she's not feeling challenged. ("Challenged" is my word, an example of her words would be: "I want to do REAL math, Mom. This isn't math, this is counting. I've been counting since I was three." Said with the sarcastic tone of a fifteen year old.) She also wants to know why they don't learn science in kindergarten.

This has all left me feeling sad and old and like I've failed my child on educational choices and my dog on love and attention.

I know. I know. Wallow. Wallow. Wallow. Cry me a river.

I know I live a charmed, blessed life. I know I live on easy street. I promise, I know this.

But cut me a little slack, just for a day or two.

Tomorrow, Cooper is scheduled for surgery. If the cancer hasn't spread, he stands a good chance of recovery. But we won't know anything until they go in there. I am dreading tomorrow. I don't want the bad news, so I don't want to know anything at all. I would like to stick my head in the sand until it all has passed. Please let him be okay. Please let me have a second chance to give this little guy (who is forth in line behind two kids and a husband for my love and attention) more love and attention. Who will I take my nighttime walks with if he's not there?

Friday I have my first physical therapy appointment to see what we can do for my neck/back. It's hard to hear the word "arthritis" the same year you're forced to face the number "forty". I feel SO old. And it's not like you can fix arthritis. All you can do is "manage" it. The doctor said the good news is that once the two bones in my spine fuse together, I should be in less pain. With a little loss of mobility. (This doesn't sound like good news to me.) I imagine myself hunched and frail with a walker.

And Thursday I have a meeting scheduled with my daughter and her teacher. I gave my daughter two choices when she complained to me about school again last week: we can talk with your teacher together and try to make changes at school, or we can start working on math and science at home (we already work on reading). She asked if we could do both. So we got some math workbooks and a cool science book from the library. And I've been on Pinterest looking for projects. Now, we're going to talk with her teacher about what we can do to make her school experience better. I'm trying to work within the system first. If that doesn't work, I will have to look at other options. Unfortunately I haven't found any good private school options less than 45-minutes-to-an-hour away. Why didn't I look deeper into schools before we chose our house?

Oh, and, I think about death a lot more since my grandfather's passing. This can be a bit depressing.

So, dear diary, there you have it. My September. What's a gal to do?

Of course I will pull myself up by my bootstraps and ride on. I will take Cooper to the vet tomorrow and I will get through whatever happens with him as best I can. I will listen to the physical therapist and do good things for my neck. And I will figure out what's best for my daughter's education. And life will go on. And I will be smiling again soon.

But maybe I'll give myself today. Just today. To be glum.

Then tomorrow, I'll bake cookies.

Until next time...When life gives you lemons...make a batch of lemon cookies...and eat them all. Maybe share a few. But let's be honest, there aren't that many cookies because you ate most of the batter.

And it was good.



September 23, 2014

Top Ten Things I Love to Fill My Day With



There is this wonderful little children's picture book that you may have heard of, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A guide to Daily Happiness for Kids, by Carol McCloud. I think this is a wonderful book for kids (of any age) and adults alike. (Check it out here, if you haven't already: Have You Filled a Bucket Today?) The basic idea in the book is this: We all carry with us an invisible bucket in which we tote our happy thoughts and feelings. Our bucket is filled when others say and do nice things for us, as well as when we do and say nice things for others. When we are hurtful to others we dip into their bucket (and ours) and take away some of those good feelings. When our bucket is full, we feel happy. When our bucket is empty, we feel sad. So, when you do and say nice things to other people you fill both their bucket and your own. Lesson: Make filling people's buckets a daily goal and everyone will be happier.

I love this concept, and think it's so true, but I like to take that idea one step further with this: you can also fill your own bucket when you say and do nice things for yourself and when you fill your day with the things (and people) you love. This idea is especially important for those of us who spend so much of our time caring for others' needs and sometimes forget our own. It is also important for those who sometimes mistreat themselves with negative self-talk...that nasty habit definitely dips into our bucket and takes away some happy. And it stands to reason that the fuller our bucket, the more our day is filled with happy, the more able we are to share the happy and fill other people's buckets.

Now, these concepts aren't exactly groundbreakingly new. I'm relatively confident that you already knew that doing/saying nice things for/to others and yourself increased the overall happiness level for everyone involved. But, do you make it an intention each day? Do you start your day with the goal of seeking out ways to bring a smile to someone else's face? And how about your own? Can we all make it a goal to bring on the happy?

...Because I'm happy. Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof....

So, really, this week's top ten list is simply a reminder for all of us to stop for a moment and remind ourselves of the things we love, the things that bring us joy, the things that fill our hearts and our buckets, the things we can do for ourselves to increase the happy...and then make sure we fill our days with those things. So here's a list of The Top Ten Things I Love to Fill My Day With. If I can get most of these things into each and every day, well, then, life is pretty good.

Top Ten Things I Love to Fill My Day With
10. Good books
9. Good coffee
8. Good food
7. Good wine
6. Good friends
5. Good sleep
4. Good conversation
3. Good music
2. Good laughter
1. Good lovin', good hugs and good cuddles with my babies


Until next time, go fill your day with the good stuff. And then share the happy with others. Fill your kids' buckets. Fill your spouse's bucket. Fill your neighbor's bucket. Fill the checkout clerk's bucket. Fill the person on the street's bucket. And fill your bucket.


September 18, 2014

From My Soup Pot: Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice Soup

First, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who read my post last week about by grandfather and shared your thoughts and sympathies with me. I really appreciate it. It was a tough week, but we came together as a family and had a love-filled send-off for my Papa. He will be remembered fondly and greatly missed.

And then, as it should, life has a way of going on...

So, today I realized that it's been a little while since I shared a recipe. And as the weather starts to get a little cooler I always find myself inspired to make more homemade soup. I tried this new, delicious recipe yesterday and everyone enjoyed it so much that I thought I'd share it with all of you. Thanks to www.cookingclassy.com for sharing it with me!

So, here you go...

photo from cooking classy.com

Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice Soup
1 c. uncooked wild rice blend (I used Lundberg's Wild Blend Rice)
1 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped carrot
1 c. chopped celery
7 tbsp butter, sliced and divided
1 clove garlic, minced (or 1/2 tsp minced garlic)
5 c. low sodium chicken broth
1/4 tsp each dried thyme, marjoram, sage and rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. half & half (or heavy cream)
1 tsp lemon zest

Prepare rice according to package directions. (If you use Lundberg's wild rice blend, note that it takes almost an hour to prepare, so make sure that you allow enough time for this. You can either start the rice and then halfway through it's cook time start the soup, or you can prepare it in advance. You can even prep it and put it in the fridge the day before. I just made it earlier in the day when I chopped my veggies so I could just throw the whole thing together quickly before dinnertime.)

Then, in a large pot or dutch oven, melt 1 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and celery and sauté until slightly tender, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Then add chicken broth, thyme, marjoram, sage and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I used 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper). Increase heat to medium-high, add raw chicken breasts and bring mixture to a boil. Cover pot with lid and allow to boil for about 12 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken to cutting board and shred (or chop) into small, bite-size pieces. Meanwhile, reduce heat to low and add cooked rice. Then add shredded chicken back into soup.

In a separate, medium saucepan, melt remaining 6 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook 1 1/2 minutes, whisking constantly. Then, while whisking, slowly pour the milk into the butter-flour mixture. Cook mixture, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Add mixture to the soup and stir to incorporate. Continue cooking soup for a few minutes to allow it to thicken. Then adjust consistency as desired by thinning with additional chicken broth. Stir in half and half or heavy cream and lemon zest. Season with additional salt and pepper as desired.

Serve warm with fresh bread (I served it with sour dough).

There you have it! Delish! We all loved it...my 5 year old said it was the best soup ever! And I plan to enjoy leftovers for lunch today :-) I highly recommend!

Until next time, happy cooking!






September 13, 2014

In Loving Memory of My Papa

My Papa & Grandma at my aunt's wedding circa 1975.
Don't they look marvelous.

I lay in bed just an hour after hanging up the phone with my mother. Just an hour after shedding tears on my husband's shoulder. Just an hour after hearing the news of my Papa's passing. Once my mind has quieted a bit. Once my brain has made its to-do lists...the appointments that must be moved, the teachers that must be notified, the outfits that must be found, the drive home that must be driven. Once I've flitted onto the topic of how to tell the children that their Great Papa has died...only to flit away again.

That is when the memories come.

I don't think of the last few years. I don't think of the older, more frail and more distant Papa I've visited of late. No, I think of My Papa. It is like slowly wandering through a photo album. I take my time. I linger with each image, each memory and the feelings it brings with it.

I remember my Papa as a big man. With a broad chest and large, strong hands. And a booming voice.

I remember holding those large hands and dancing with him. I remember balancing my little girl feet on his big man shoes and swaying to the music.

I remember him, important, behind his desk in his office at the business he owned, coming 'round the desk and swooping me up into his strong arms to say hello. I remember him holding me up so I could copy my hands and face on the copy machines at the office.

I remember witnessing his generosity to people all around him...tipping extra, helping people start their own businesses, showing a kinship with those less fortunate than himself. I remember him as a self-made man and a serviceman in every sense of the word: a navy veteran who served our country, a man who started his career servicing cash registers, and a man who showed his love for others through acts of service.

I remember him taking my grandmother's face in both of his hands and kissing her sweetly on the lips. I remember him eating all the delicious food she made and always complementing her on her cooking. I remember her saying, "David!" A lot.

I remember him doing a cannonball into the backyard pool.

I remember him yelling at the TV during University of Michigan football games. I remember him waking us up with their fight song blaring from the speakers. I remember him tailgating before football games...I can still hear his voice booming, "Go blue!"

I remember him pulling the big "M Go Blue" van into our driveway. I remember the van stuffed with presents at Christmas time. I remember him, hair disheveled, light brown slippers and track suit on on Christmas morning, clapping with delight over the presents we opened.

I remember him working shirtless in our backyard, helping my dad lay a brick patio.

I remember him mowing the lawn and raking and weeding and walking through his property checking on the fruit trees. I remember him up ladders and in sheds and with a pool skimmer in his hand.

I remember him in a sport coat and slacks with a drink in his hand surrounded by friends at a party.

I remember the feeling he gave me as a kid: the unconditional love and awe of a grandparent. I remember the bear hugs and the wet kisses. I remember so much.

Then I begin to imagine.

I don't know what happens when we die. I don't presume to understand. But the idea of being greeted by our loved ones who have gone before us brings me great comfort. So I imagine My Papa...who was also a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a friend...I imagine him being greeted as he crosses over. I imagine him as he was in mid-life, the way I really remember him. I imagine him taking my beloved grandmother's face in his big hands and giving her the biggest kiss. I imagine their old dog, Kelly, jumping on his leg, tail wagging, as he reaches down to scratch her head. I imagine him swooping his daughter, Sue, into his once-again-strong arms and crying with a heart so filled-to-overflowing with joy. I imagine all the hugs and handshakes and pats on the back. I imagine him surrounded by love. And then I imagine him filling everyone in on all that they've missed. I imagine him showing pictures from his wallet of the great-grandkids to my Grandma and telling stories of everyone's successes and struggles. And, finally, I imagine him walking through the fruit trees at the back of his property on a beautiful summer's evening as the sun begins to set. There is no pain, no old age, only peace and contentment. And he is that big, broad-chested, strong man with the booming voice once again.


I share this in loving memory of my most amazing Papa, David Hoffman. You will live on in our hearts and our memories and our children. I love you.

David J. Hoffman
July 19, 1925 - September 9, 2014

A Navy Man

Papa with his daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter

Playing with his great grandson

September 11, 2014

Love for Lydia and The Conquer Run

How do I show support for a neighbor family whose daughter has Leukemia?


A few months ago I heard through the grapevine that one of our neighbors' children had been diagnosed with Leukemia. Since we had only recently moved to the neighborhood from out-of-state, I had only met this "down the street" neighbor a couple of times. At the time, amongst the sea of all the new people we had met since moving, I couldn't even remember their kids' names...and I only remembered the mom's name because she works at the same company as my husband.

I now know. Her name is Lydia. She is 2 years old. And she has an older brother named Owen.

When I heard this news, I felt small. Small because I knew there was nothing that I could really do to fix anything for them. Small because I wanted so badly to be helpful, but I didn't know where to start. Small because my introvertedness kept me from marching right over to their house and taking action in some way. Small because my heart broke for them, it ached in my chest every time I thought of their little girl's pain and how insanely hard it all must be as a parent. Small because I thought of their struggles often, but did nothing. I would plan elaborate "helping measures" in my head while I walked the dog through our neighborhood at night. But I never carried them out.

What do you do? What's appropriate from a neighbor you barely know and never see? What's helpful? What's wanted instead of annoying? Should I cook them dinner and bring it over? Should I offer to clean their kitchen or watch their son? Should I pay for and send a cleaning lady over? Should I randomly drop off baked goods? Should I offer to run errands for them? I asked myself these questions over and over again. And I am so, so ashamed to admit that I still did nothing.

Finally, a small opportunity presented itself. Finally, I have a small, small way to show our support...and hopefully open the door for offering help in any way that's useful. There is a charity 5k run the first weekend in October. It's called The Conquer Run. It benefits The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital (where little Lydia is being treated). The organization provides support to pediatric cancer patients treated at Hershey Medical Center: financial help to families, support services such as social work and music therapy, and a significant amount of funds to pediatric cancer research. Because of The Four Diamond Fund, I learned, our neighbors will not pay one penny of medical bills for their daughter's treatment--they cover everything insurance does not.

Which I think is absolutely amazing.

So we've signed up the whole family to run the race. And we've joined our neighbor's race team and we've ordered Team Love For Lydia t'shirts and bracelets. And we're donating to the The Four Diamonds Fund.

It's not much, I realize. But I hope that it shows some support, some solidarity. I hope these actions just begin to radiate the feelings of loving support I have in my heart...despite the fact that I've done nothing to really show it yet. And I hope that it's just the beginning. I hope the race is a starting point for me to come out of my shell and let these neighbors know that I am here to help in any way I can...and that there are other parents, just a few houses away, who are thinking of them and hurting for them and cheering for them...I hope they know that they are not totally alone.


If you're interested in donating to The Four Diamonds Fund and supporting us in this run, you can follow the link below to donate:

http://fourdiamonds.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=5323

And, if you're interested in reading more about Lydia's story, you can check out her parent's blog about the experience on the Caring Bridge website through this link:

http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/loveforlydia2

And if you have any thoughts on how I can help our neighbors during this incredibly difficult time, I would love to hear your ideas.

Thanks in advance.

Until next time, hug your kids and find a way to show some support for a charity close to your heart (or for The Four Diamond Fund).



September 9, 2014

Top Ten Favorite Smells

It's Top Ten Tuesday, people! You know you missed it this summer! How did any of us survive without my random top ten lists? It is one of the great mysteries. But you need not suffer any longer. The ages-old wisdom is back. And I thought I'd kick-off this season's top ten lists with one that's extra random...my Top Ten Favorite Smells. I know, I'm so weird. But here you go...


Top Ten Favorite Smells
10. Farm-fresh, ripe fruits...like red, ripe strawberries warmed by the sun, or perfectly ripe peaches
9. Fresh lavender and rosemary in the garden...just lean in and...aaaahhhhh
8. Fresh laundry, warm from the dryer
7. Baby (you know what I mean)
6. Freshly cut grass
5. Aveda salons (Shampure smells divine)
4. Mirepoix (cooking onions, carrots and celery in butter...the start of so many good things to eat, makes the whole house smell divine)
3. Brewing coffee
2. Baking bread and baking cookies
1. Fresh from the bath and jammied children (bury your nose in their little necks...so sweet)

Other things I used to love the smell of...

...rubber cement (Remember that stuff? Do they even make it anymore? I used to love that smell.)
...white out (Oh the days of painting white out on your paper to correct mistakes...I am so old.)
...pumping gasoline fumes (Makes me think of sitting in the back of the family car with the windows down while dad pumped gas.)
...pool chlorine on my skin (Reminds me of summers as a kid...my skin permanently smelled like that for three months each year.)
...and old-school suntan lotion (You know, that coconutty, Coppertoney smell that just captures "summer" and "beach" in your memory.)
...ooh, and remember Love's Baby Soft perfume? It would probably make me gag now, but I loved it when I was a kid.

I'm slightly concerned by my former love of chemical fumes. That's probably not good...and possibly explains some of my weirdness. Hmmm.

I also noticed that many of my current favorite smells are food...which also explains a few things.

Tell me, what's your favorite smell?

Until next time, go sniff some yummy stuff. :-)



September 4, 2014

Slather Your Body in a G&T

Okay, so, in actuality, that would result in an unpleasant stickiness. So, instead, try this:

It's Weleda's Citrus Hydrating Body Lotion.

I picked this up at a little "green products" shop while on vacation in Northern Michigan (I had forgotten to pack my body lotion for the trip). And though the scent is actually called "Citrus," I would say it's more accurately described as "Tangueray and Tonic with Lime." I went through a phase in my 20's where this was my drink of choice when out socializing with friends at the bar. And now, many (many) years later, every time I slather on this lotion I am smelling those G&T's on a rooftop bar in the summer. What a lovely little memory. It's also a great, light body moisturizer. (I really do love it...smell and all.) And it's all natural, which I love.

Until next time, find a product with a scent that takes you to a happy place...and go there.