November 15, 2013

Tween Reading…The Books that Kept Me Page-Turning Earlier this Year (Part 2)

I'm baa-aack...with more tween reading reviews. Here are three more fun books for you and your tween/teen reader. Truly…don't think that just because these books are in the children's section at your local library means that they aren't for you. They are. They are lovely books. They are well written. They are enjoyable reads. And they will take you back to days gone by, when life seemed so complicated, but was, in fact, so simple. Take a trip with me. First to...

The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau
This is the first in the currently oh-so-popular literary form: the trilogy…in this case it's the first book in the Book of Ember trilogy. I have not yet read books two and three, but book one was a fun read, and I will likely pick up book two eventually.

The people of Ember have never known anything but the dark, structured world they live in. They don't know that the city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race two hundred years ago. What they do know is that the great lamps that light the city are beginning to flicker and no one knows what to do. While the rest of the city worries but carries on as if everything is normal, Lina finds part of an ancient message that she is sure holds a secret that will save the city. Now she and her friend Doon must decipher the message and find a way to save the day before the lights go out on Ember forever.

This is a dystopian future novel appropriate for a slightly younger set than the likes of The Hunger Games. Nothing scary, just suspenseful. My favorite part? Duprau does a great job of painting the picture of the city of Ember. I felt like I could really see it, like I could run the streets right along with Lina. And I love that. Fun read.

The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
The View from Saturday was a different sort of tween book than a lot of the popular ones today. There was nothing really fantastical about it: no futuristic world, no alternate universe, no magic, nothing out of the ordinary…other than maybe the kismet that brings this group of kids together.

What brought Noah, Nadia, Ethan and Julian together? How did Mrs. Olinski choose these four sixth graders for her Academic Bowl team? Intuition? Chance? Some sort of divine intervention? All that really matters is that they find their way together and as an unlikely team they are able to do amazing things…for themselves and for others.

Konigsburg does a great job weaving together four individual stories (one for each kid) into a greater story. It's an uplifting read with fun, well-drawn, quirky characters that you'll cheer for. Sweet read.

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
This is a book that I think any 8-12 year old would really enjoy. It is a cute tween version of Groundhogs Day. And I always like it when there are valuable life lessons hidden in fun reads for kids, and 11 Birthdays certainly has that.

It's Amanda's 11th birthday and she's so excited, despite the rift between her and her best friend and birthday-sharer, Leo. But the day is disastrous from start to finish, and by the time it's over she can't wait to sleep it off and wake up to a new day. But things don't go quite as she had planned. And a new day isn't exactly what she wakes up to. Now she's got to figure out what's going on and how to make it right.

11 Birthdays is a light, quick read…like Sweet Tarts for the adult brain. But for an 8-12 year old? I think it's a great choice…a delightful read.

Certainly there must be something to interest you here. And if not, maybe there will be in the next installment of the tween reading series. After all, there are more than 15 books in the series, so something's bound to click with you.

But what I'm most hoping for is that this series will inspire you to try out the tween, children's chapter books and young adult sections at your local library or bookstore. There are so many fantastic books in there just waiting to be discovered by you. They are waiting to transport you to another time and place. To give you a break from your crazy, responsible, wonderful adult life.

Take them up on it. Take the trip.

Until next time, happy reading.

November 8, 2013

Why Didn't JT Bring Sexy Back to Me?

So, folks, I have a confession.

I have been nitpicking my reflection in the bathroom mirror to a much greater degree lately than ever before. To my eyes...I look older. I look tired. I look fatter. I look paler. I have more wrinkles. My skin isn't as bright or as even as it used to be. My hair is duller and frizzier…the list goes on and on. Nothing seems up to snuff lately. Maybe it's the approaching 4…gulp…0. Maybe it's the recent move craziness. Maybe it's the last 5 years since kids entered the picture and I stopped focusing on myself. Whatever it is, I feel decidedly un-attractive. Decidedly un-sexy.

And I've been wallowing, on the inside, in these feelings for quite a while. I look at pictures from my wedding and honeymoon just 6 short years ago and think, "What happened?" "I used to be so pretty." "Look how rested I look, how radiant." "Look at my skin! My hair!"

Me, pre-wedding, no make-up, no hair did:

And I did look great. But if I remember correctly, at the time, I was worried about the couple of extra pounds I gained right in my belly just before the wedding, with all the stress of planning. Partway through my rehearsal dinner I snuck into the bathroom to finally remove a waist-cinching spanx-type thing that was causing abdominal pain while I was trying to enjoy my delicious dinner. I remember wadding it up and stuffing it in my purse and finally breathing deeply with relief.

Me, at rehearsal dinner,
happier minus spanx

It is also possible that at one point on my honeymoon I wished that I'd gotten married in my twenties so that I would have had my twenty year old body on said honeymoon. Though I also distinctly remember going to Mexico with a girlfriend in my twenties and thinking how much fatter I was than she was. I also remember thinking my 115lb high school body was fat. I look back at pictures of my teenage self now and scream to the cosmos, "WHY?!? WHY?!?" I was flippin' adorable! (Big bangs and all!)

Me, on honeymoon:
jammies+coffee+book+balcony in maui=

So here I am, knocking on the door of, well, you know, and lamenting my reflection and waxing poetic about my teenage self, my twenty-something self, my pre-kid self…wondering why JT didn't bring sexy back to me...when it hit me. Like a lead pipe to the face.

My epiphany?

Be happy with the body you've got, because in ten years it'll be the body you want.

Seriously. Stop and think about it. Unless you've experienced a major weight loss or other major transformation in the last ten years, odds are you look back fondly on your body of ten years ago. A body that, likely, you didn't fully appreciate when you were actually living in it.

I used to think this was a message for teenage girls: Love your body today. I promise you, it's beautiful. Stop picking it apart, because you cannot see it for what it is. You view it through fun-house-mirror-glasses. But I see its reality. Trust me. You're gorgeous. Everything about you is beautiful. No, your butt isn't too big/small. No your nose isn't too big/small. No your boobs are not too big/small. It's all just right. Revel in it.

But my epiphany is that this isn't a message just for teenage girls. It's a message for all girls. For all women. For all of us.

So, to every woman out there I must say this, with great urgency. To the young, the middle-aged, the old. To every single woman, please hear me now: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE WHO YOU ARE TODAY. LOVE YOUR BODY. LOVE YOUR HEART. LOVE YOUR MIND. LOVE YOUR SOUL. LOVE YOU.

Please stop saying nasty things to yourself. Please stop thinking nasty thoughts about yourself. Don't look at your reflection in the mirror and sigh ever again. Instead, appreciate both the intrinsic, innate beauty of your body and the functionality too.

On days when it's hard to adore the reflection, I focus on the function. I relish in my ability to lift and carry my two and four year olds. I love the arms that can wrap around my husband and hold him close. I love the legs and lungs that can carry me 3.1 miles of hills to the finish line.

But I'm trying really hard to love the reflection too. Every day.

Me last week in my son's room after he
napped on me for an hour and a half
Me during a family nature walk through
woods and wading in streams

No judgement. No malice. No bad hair days. Just good hair days and days I'm happy to have hair. :-)

Because when fifty is approaching, I will look back fondly upon my almost forty self. But hopefully I'll also be looking fondly upon my almost fifty self.

Until next time, go have a love fest with that beautiful reflection of yours, you gorgeous thing, you. Blow kisses to those wrinkles. Tenderly rub the buddha belly. Love on you the way you love on the other people you care for. And smile.

November 1, 2013

This Week in Soup...Another Homerun! Sweet Potato, Mushroom and Gouda Chowder

Okay, okay, I know…ANOTHER soup recipe. But you've got to ride this soup train with me because it is just so damn delicious! Seriously people, I am on a roll here. So try another soup with me and, I promise, I'll recommend some books or wax poetic about something not in my le creuset next week. Deal? Okay. So…

Sweet Potato, Mushroom and Gouda Chowder.

If you like mushrooms, this is heaven in a bowl! I kid you not. My husband, who is not a mushroom fan, liked this soup. I, who am a mushroom lover, drooled over it. (I am pretty sure I moaned while eating it.) Absolutely delicious. As good or better than anything of the like that I've had in great restaurant. Take a nice piece of crusty, fresh, bakery bread and dredge it through your bowl…oh. so. good.

Bon appe-freakin'-tit, baby.

(photo from

Sweet Potato, Mushroom and Gouda Chowder (adapted from
6 slices bacon, diced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (I used half shitakes, half button; original recipe called for cremini; use what you like)
2 large sweet potatoes (about 2 lbs.), peeled and cubed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 1/2+ cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 to 1 cup half and half
4 oz. gouda, cubed or shredded
salt and pepper to taste

In large pot or dutch oven, cook the diced bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon and set aside. Add the diced onions and mushrooms to the bacon drippings in the pot. Season with a little salt and pepper and cook until the moisture released from the mushrooms evaporates and the vegetables begin to brown, about 10 minutes. (If desired, add 1/4 cup white wine to deglaze the pan before continuing. I plan to do this next time I make this recipe, but did not this time (I only had red open! I know, tragedy!).)

Add the cubed sweet potatoes and minced garlic, stirring to combine. Add the thyme, bay leaf and stock (I think I used about 3 cups of organic chicken stock. Just eyeball-it. But make sure there's enough in the pot to cook your potatoes.) Cook until sweet potatoes are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Return most of the bacon to the pot, leaving a little extra to garnish when serving. Remove the bay leaf. Puree as much or as little of the soup as you want in a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender. (I pureed about a third of the soup in my blender.) Return the pureed soup to the pot.

Add the half and half and gouda. (I used the full cup of half and half, which added a lot of richness. Next time I'll likely add about a half cup then taste and add more as desired. I just cubed the gouda and added it to the pot. If you want it to melt faster, shred your gouda.) Simmer until the soup has heated through and the cheese is melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm, garnished with a sprinkle of bacon and a side of LOTS of yummy bakery bread. (You know I had a whole loaf of sour dough!!) Enjoy! Serves 4-6.

P.S. I will admit that this is not necessarily the most kid-friendly recipe…mushrooms are not a widely adored kid food. But my daughter did eat some of the sweet potatoes in the broth. I just picked around the mushrooms when I served hers up. Still, I'd consider this more of an adult flavor profile. So throw some chicken nuggets in the oven for the kids while this one bubbles away on the stove.

Until next time, happy cooking!