September 27, 2013

Tween Reading…The Books that Kept Me Page-Turning Earlier this Year (Part 1)

This past Spring I spent a few months consulting with our favorite children's librarian back in Hudson, Miss Beth, and reading my way through the Tween bookshelves. If she recommended it, I read it. And for the better part of 90 days I devoured 16 books…and had a ton of fun doing it!

Lesson learned: when you have a 2 and 4 year old, what better place to find your literary adventure launchpad than your local children's library? I was spending all my time there anyway! And it was much easier to peruse books for myself while keeping a watchful eye on the tots-at-play when I didn't have the leave the children's area.

Well, I've been meaning to share the fruits of my adventure with you for quite some time. And it seems there is no time like the present. So, welcome to part one of my many-part series on tween reading. I hope you enjoy this foray into the lives of 9-13 year olds as much as I did. There are some amazing authors in this genre, and I will most certainly be back to visit again soon.

And so we begin...

Eggs by Jerry Spinelli
This was the first book I read on this adventure. And what a lovely beginning it was…

David, 9, recently lost his mother to a freak accident. His father travels for work constantly, leaving him to take his anger and grief out on his grandmother. Primrose, 13, is a strong, smart girl living with an unstable, flighty mother. Despite their age difference, David and Primrose forge a tight bond within a sometimes rocky friendship, eventually helping each other deal with what is missing in their lives.

It is a beautiful, moving story about two very quirky, yet totally lovable kids. You will grow to love them both and cheer for their happy endings. Eggs is a sweet story with well-crafted prose…and it's a super quick read (as are most of the tween books). I highly recommend it. (Plus it made me love the name Primrose.)

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
Okay, so technically I think this might qualify as Young Adult fiction, depending on your library, but I read it next and loved it, so here you go…

This story is both hilarious and heartbreaking and it captures early adolescence so well you will feel like you're back in it…or at least it will stir up memories and visceral feelings from that time in your life and you will look back on that kid-you-once-were with fondness and compassion.

Steven is living the normal 13 year old's life, complete with playing drums in the jazz band, a crush on the hot girl, and an annoying younger brother…until that brother is diagnosed with leukemia, leaving Steven to attempt to navigate his new, strange world. He is, quite realistically, equal parts selfish teenager and caring champion.

It's a great read. (But you might shed a few tears.)

Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
Kevin Henkes is an amazingly talented author. He wrote one of my favorite picture books My Garden, as well as the sweet Chrysanthemum. And I've now read two of his tween books, both lovely. Olive's Ocean was next on my librarian reco list.

12 year old Martha and her family are headed to her grandmother's home in New England for their annual summer visit when the mother of her deceased classmate, Olive, arrives on her doorstep with a page from her daughter's journal. In this single page Martha learns more about the quiet Olive than she ever knew before, and finds a kinship with this girl who is already gone. At the Cape, Martha realizes that things in her life are changing: she is faced with her Grandmother's mortality, as well as her own, she watches her father struggle with his own life choices, and she stumbles awkwardly into the world of Boys.

Kevin Henkes' book isn't splashy or showy or loud. It is quiet and subtle and well-crafted. And with him you will revisit the growing pains of childhood--the anguish and heartache and confusion, as well as the freedom and awe of being 12. You should go there.

Well, that should get you started. I'll be back soon with more tween reading reviews.

Until next time, happy reading!

September 20, 2013

The Return of This Week In Food… Crockpot Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes

It's that time of year again…time for soups and stews, time for big, bubbling pots on the stove and stewing crockpots on countertops, time for homes that smell of roasting meats and veggies and simmering herbs and spices.

Ahhhhh, it's Autumn. Hurray!

And with the return of fall, and our settling into our new home and new routine, I thought it the perfect time to bring back This Week In Food! Assuming I can find where I put my pots and pans, I will get back into the kitchen and back to cooking up a storm. In the new house I have a new, HUGE island. A football field of prep space. Which is fifty shades of awesome (except when it's just more space for me to pile random crap). And a fabulous farmer's market literally across the street from my neighborhood. So there are no excuses here for not bringing on some new, fun recipes.

But, we'll start with one I actually tried last winter…enjoyed…but never got around to sharing: Crockpot Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes. I am a sucker for most anything with sweet potatoes, and I'll try anything that is vegetarian but still hearty (vegetarian flies better in my house that way). And this crockpot chili fits the bill. It is warm and yummy and perfect for a crisp fall day.

So, let's welcome fall into our homes with the savory-sweet smells of this little ditty…

photo from Real Simple

Crockpot Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes (adapted from Real Simple magazine)
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped (or 2 tsp minced garlic)
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
kosher salt and black pepper
1 28 oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 15.5 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15.5 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
sour cream, shredded cheese and tortilla chips or crackers, for serving

In a 4-to-6 quart slow cooker, combine the onion, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, cocoa, cinnamon, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Add the tomatoes (and their liquid), beans, sweet potato, and 1 cup water. Cover and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender and the chili has thickened, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours. Serve the chili with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of shredded cheese and a few tortilla chips or crackers. Enjoy!

Until next time, happy cooking and happy fall!

September 17, 2013

Running Again

This morning, while out for my morning run, I had this moment of, "Wow, I really missed this."

The sun was on the rise. It was a crisp, fall morning. I had my earbuds in and a happy song playing. Neighbors were waving as they headed out to work or taking kids to school. I hit my stride early. The soreness from yesterday's cross-training workout faded away.

And I. Was. Just. Running.

And it was good.

It has been more than 5 years since I ran regularly. It was well before my first pregnancy that I stopped. I still worked-out then, but running had lost its luster. I had run off-and-on since high school, but it was at 24, when I decided to run a marathon, that I became a runner. And though I only ran one marathon, I kept running regularly for a number of years after that, often entering 5 and 10K's.

But somewhere after 30, running fell out of favor in my workouts and other things took hold-- walking,  workout videos, the elliptical at the gym, whatever. Then when I would test the waters with a random run it would feel hard and forced so I wouldn't come back to it again for a while.

What's funny is: I missed it. Even when I thought I didn't really like running. I missed it. I even fantasized about it sometimes (which I realize is kinda weird).

Something had been triggered in me on those long marathon training runs of 9 miles and 15 miles. The time with my thoughts. Then the time with no thoughts…when I was just in-the-zone, breathing in and out, feet pounding the pavement, feeling akin to something in nature…hitting up that runner's high.

The other thing that's funny is that I never considered myself a natural runner. I don't have the build I associate with "real" runners-- even when I'm in great running shape. And I'm not a particularly fast runner-- my pace never improving from a comfortable 9-to-10-minute mile. But I ran.

I think I have always been more of a mental runner than a physical one. Running does something to my brain chemistry. Something good. Something that other workouts never quite achieved. The fresh air. The methodic, melodic, therapeutic, rhythmic thud-thud-thud-thud-thud-thud. It changes something in me.

So this morning, after a week of regular morning runs, I realized I was getting reacquainted with an old friend.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

And this made me smile.

* * *

Until next time, go find an old friend to get reacquainted with.

September 9, 2013

Healthy for the Holidays Kick-Off

Today I kicked off my own recommitment to healthy eating and regular exercise which I'm calling "Healthy for the Holidays"…or, the most apt description: "Shut Your Mouth and Move Your Butt."

As we wind down this incredibly stressful and overwhelming move and look toward establishing a new routine for our household, and as summer comes to a close and the holiday season can be seen on the horizon, it seems the perfect time to kick-off a new exercise and eating routine. (And it is MOST NEEDED! I gained considerable weight during this relocation process…and I wasn't at my healthiest before it started.)

Care to join me?

Here's the basic premise: Shut your mouth (you can talk, just quit constantly stuffing food into your pie-hole). And, move your butt (exercise, workout, walk, run, play actively with your kids…do something that makes you get off your bum and move, everyday). We've got plenty of time to establish a new, healthy routine before the holidays are upon us, so let's do it!

These are the first three steps I'm putting into action:

1. Get up and go for a 30 minute run in the morning before my husband leaves for work.
2. Use a small (salad) plate instead of a large (dinner) plate for all meals. (Portion sizes = the size of my palm; three portions per meal.)
3. Cut out snacking and all obviously junk food (like fries and candy).

I am also recommitting to daily vitamin supplements and walking the dog in the evening. And I plan to add some additional exercise activities in the afternoons with the kids..more on that later.

So that's pretty much it. Shut your mouth. Move your butt. Let's give it a try.

Until next time, shut your…well, you know.

P.S. I ran for 30 minutes at 6:30 this morning…and it was freakin' freezing outside! But I had fun checking out my new neighborhood and got some good landscaping ideas.

September 8, 2013

A New Beginning

The last three weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and fun and chaos and stress and lots and lots of driving. Hell, the last three months have been filled with all those things too.

Moving is hard.

I guess that's why it's one of the most stressful life events. (It depends on which source you consult, but it typically lands just behind death and divorce on the list.) For me, it has definitely been a roller coaster of highs--like fun outings with the kids, sweet time with friends, and bonding time with family-- and lows (which I won't go into because I'm no longer focusing on the negative; but sufficed to say there were some pretty low lows…some tears and a bit of shouting and much jaw-clenching!).

But here we are. In our new town. In our new preschool. In our new house…surrounded by boxes and unable to find many things and stalked by flies that joined the family during 8 hours of doors-wide-open whilst the movers unloaded the truck.

Here we are at a new beginning.

Though it is also a bit daunting and scary and overwhelming (and will likely have some times of loneliness once things settle down), it is fresh and clean and new. I can do anything. I can be anybody. I can make any change I've longed to make as if it has always been that way. I can shed old skins and show my shiny, new self.

In Hudson I was a new mom who struggled to stay committed to an exercise routine for more than a few months since having kids…In Hershey I am the runner and bit of a workout junkie that I was before having kids.

In Hudson I struggled to find time for myself since having kids…In Hershey I balance Mom and Me with grace and confidence (and support from my now-happy-at-work husband).

In Hershey I can let go of clutter and create the home environment I've always wanted. In Hershey I can create new, inspiring workspaces for all of us. In Hershey I can create a new weekday schedule for the me and kids. In Hershey we can explore a whole new world.

But first, I have to unpack a few boxes… :-)

Until next time, go create a clean slate in some aspect of your life where you feel you need it…after all, you don't need to move to a new town to begin anew.