October 14, 2014

A Super Short Book Review: Love and Other Foreign Words

Hello friends!

I have something to report.

I have decided to cut back on blog posts for a while so I can focus my limited writing time on my fiction writing. (I've tabled the novel I was working on last fall and am focused on a children's chapter book and some picture book ideas. I hope to share some of that with you all at some point.) 

In the meantime, most of my posts will likely fall into one of two categories: short and sweet (like this one), and the more journal-like, cathartic essays that seem to rise up from inside of me when I just need to vent or think-write. 

I hope you'll continue to follow along with me. 

So here's my first short and sweet post: a Super Short Book Review:

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Fun. Light. Entertaining. A YA book and a quick-and-easy, pleasant read. Kind of like reading a John Hughes Brat Pack movie. (If you're too young to know what that means, look it up.)

Until next time, read on, folks. Read on.

October 7, 2014

My Top Ten Family Outings for the Fall

Yesterday morning I awoke to a very cold house. Then I walked to my daughter's bus stop thinking, seriously, it's freezing out here...where are my gloves?!?! I came home and looked at the calendar and was shocked to find that it was, in fact, October. When did that happen??? (I know, about a week ago.)

Looks like it's time to turn the heat on. Looks like it's time to get out the warm coats. Looks like it's time to finalize the Halloween costumes. And, it looks like it's time to fill the calendar with fun fall outings! (Woot!)

We got things rolling this weekend, with our first Fall Family Activity: a 5k charity race. We had to get the kids up in the dark (at 6am) and it was raining out! But we had so much fun. We all ran together...at 3 and 5 years old, the kids were in and out of the jogging stroller throughout the race, but they got out to run across their first finish line and get their medal...they were so proud! We had a blast! And, it provided a great teaching moment about The Four Diamond Fund charity we were supporting, about kids who are sick with cancer, and about doing something to support other people. I highly, highly recommend a charity run or walk as a fun family activity. I hope to do many more of these! I implore you to give it a try...and fall is such a great time to do it.

So what else do we have planned for the month to come? Well, here it is, my Top Ten Family Outings for the Fall:

Top Ten Family Outings for the Fall
10. Family 5k charity race (we ran The Conquer Run for the pediatric cancer charity The Four Diamond Fund)
9. Apple picking (followed by some baking fun)
8. Pumpkin patch, corn maze and hay ride
7. Fall color walk and nature scavenger hunt (we'll go to nearby nature paths to check out the leaves turning color, wade thru the creek, do a simple scavenger hunt and collect fall craft supplies like acorns and pretty leaves)
6. Hershey Park in the Dark (trick or treating and rides at the nearby Hershey Park amusement park)
5. Hershey Gardens Pumpkin Glow (trick or treating and fun decorations at the nearby Hershey Gardens...over 150 glowing jack-o-lanterns!)
4. Trick or treating in the neighborhood
3. Farmer's Market Fall Fest (you can check out any local farmer's market or community fall fest)
2. Campfire smores at Hershey Chocolate World (of course you can do smores anywhere...even the microwave, if you don't have a handy fire pit)
1. Picnic at the park (we'll pick a warmer, dry day to take a picnic lunch to a nearby park)

In addition to all of these fun family outings, I also have planned some fun, fall crafts and baking ideas. We're going to try making some fall scented play dough, some hot pumpkin cocoa and an apple crisp. We're going to create candy corn catapults and pumpkin sun catchers. And we'll do some painting and crafting with some of the things we collect on our nature walk...like acorn and leaf people. And, of course, we'll carve and paint some pumpkins. For some fun ideas for fall activities, check out my Aaaahhh Autumn board on Pinterest here: http://www.pinterest.com/amylorbach/aaaahhh-autumn/.

Until next time, go get your fall on!

October 2, 2014

From My Nightstand: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I finished this book following a marathon, late-night, hundred-page reading session (almost unheard of now that I have small children), and I found myself in awe of Erin Morgenstern's ability to imagine, create and weave together such a wonderful, wondrous tale.

Spoiler alert: I'm in love with this book.

Story telling is a craft, and when it is done well, it leaves me in awe. When I finish a book that is so well-crafted, one in which the story is so intricately woven that it surprises you all along the way and you find yourself flipping back through the pages to reread sections and marvel at the breadcrumb trail the author left you, and you followed, without even knowing it...I just marvel. When an author creates a world so detailed and believable, even when it stretches the bands of reality, that you are sucked-in and standing: living and breathing in that world...I am in wonder. And, I am a little bit in love. I find myself smitten with writers who can do this. (And actors...great example: James Spader in Blacklist. He's so good. I totally have a crush.) Erin Morgenstern does this with The Night Circus.

While The Night Circus takes place in the late-18-and-early-1900's, with it's center in London, the traveling circus venue really suspends both place and time. Morgenstern creates her own world and draws you in. In her world, there is a traveling circus that arrives without warning. It never advertises, beyond word of mouth. It simply appears, is if from no where. It stays for a few days, then is gone once again. It is called Le Cirque des Reves and it's gates open when the sun sets and close when the sun rises. It is The Night Circus.

Visitors are entranced by The Night Circus's magic. But the magic they see, the magic they sense, only scratches the surface. What they cannot comprehend is the delicate balance, the painstaking work and the competition that lives "behind the curtain" in a world that does not follow the rules of their own.

Because of the book's complexity, you must bear with Morgenstern through the early chapters as she lays the groundwork for the story. It has the potential to be a bit confusing early-on as it quickly changes time and place and perspective, introducing new characters on what seems like a whim. But she is, in fact, weaving a tapestry for you and eventually you will see the beauty of the art and no longer the individual strings of yarn.

I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. If you haven't already, check it out.

For more recommendations on what to read next, check out the Books Worth Reading tab at the top of this page and the Books tag on the list at the right, or check out my Books, Books, Books board on Pinterest here: http://www.pinterest.com/amylorbach/books-books-books/.

Until next time, happy reading.

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