March 28, 2014

Along For The Ride by Sarah Dessen…A Great Little YA Summer Read!

Here's a quick little book recommendation for you…


I recently finished Along For The Ride by Sarah Dessen-- a recommendation from my YA novel-devouring, 17 year old niece. It's my first Sarah Dessen book (she's quite prolific) and I will read more. I found this book very sweet (in a good way, not syrupy-sweet). A quick and easy read. And well written. Dessen's writing style is engaging and she has good pacing. Her characters are smart and sometimes surprising.  And, as you know, I love these YA books that take me back to the feelings of being a teenager.

Auden, our teenage protagonist who recently graduated high school, hasn't slept at night since before her parents divorced, and fills most of her time with homework and books…and lives mostly in her own head. Now she's been invited to spend the summer before college with her dad's new family in a small, quaint beach town. There she stumbles into the teenage life she's always avoided…friends, boys, and the social world. There she meets Eli. And there she finds herself suddenly sucked into her father and stepmother's shaky new world. At first her new-found engagement in the real world is an accident, but soon it becomes a purposeful quest. And soon, Auden is awakened…and sleeping at night once again.

Along For The Ride is not a never-heard-before story. But Dessen does a good job with her version of it, offering you a relaxing, enjoyable reading experience and a great little YA summer read.

P.S. I hate the cover art on this book because it does not accurately capture the characters and this really bugs me. Just sayin'.

P.P.S. I am now reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave. What a change! It is so well written, but so disturbing and depressing…haunting, really. It definitely forces you to acknowledge that your problems are truly first world problems. And, multiple times in the first 100 pages I double-checked the author's picture because I couldn't believe it was written by a man (no offense to male writers or Chris Cleave-- actually it's a compliment to Chris Cleave-- but it's written from the perspective of two women and is so well done). I am also simultaneously reading four other parenting/life books all of which I will likely share with you once I'm done because I am loving them (and being challenged by them). I wish I could take a month and let the house and all of my responsibilities go and do nothing but read. :-)

Until next time, happy reading!




March 26, 2014

Top Ten Favorite K-Cups


It's Top Ten Tuesday! Hurray! (I know it's actually Wednesday, but just go with it…)


This week's top ten list is pretty simple and straight-forward. As I'm sure you've gleaned from my blog, if you read along with any frequency, I am a coffee lover. A borderline coffee junkie. I love coffeeshops. I love coffee. I drool over a Starbuck's Nonfat Latte. And I savor a straight-up medium roast with room for cream at my local Cocoa Beanery. At home I brew with my trusty Keurig.

I drink a lot of flavored k-cups at home. Regular in the morning. Decaf in the afternoon. I top it off with half & half…and on the weekends, a little whip cream. In the coffeeshop I shake in some cinnamon too. But my husband goes no-flavor on the coffee and then adds flavored creamer (he likes the Bailey's creamers). I also drink a fair amount of tea…both iced and hot. And brew those with my Keurig as well.

We order k-cups in large quantities…giant boxes of warmth and happiness delivered to our doorstep every few months. We order mostly from Keurig.com…sometimes from Green Mountain. I also will randomly pick up boxes from Target or Bed Bath & Beyond or Macy's (one of my favorite flavors isn't available through Keurig.com…which is annoying).

Anyway, that's the long way of saying: I drink a lot of coffee and therefore may be a reputable source for k-cup recommendations. :-)

So here you go: My Top Ten Favorite K-Cups

        Top Ten Favorite K-Cups
10. Bigelow Green Tea with Pomegranate (my husband's favorite for iced tea…just brew over a big glass of ice…it's too sweet for me, but he loves it)
9. Barista Prima Decaf Italian Roast (my husband's favorite decaf) and Green Mountain Sumatran Reserve Dark Roast Extra Bold (my husband's favorite regular); he also loves Wolfgang Puck's Jamaica Me Crazy (which has a light coconut flavor)
8. Folgers Gourmet Selections Vanilla Biscotti
7. Donut Shop Decaf Medium Roast Coffee
6. Green Mountain Pumpkin Spice Light Roast Coffee
5. Twinings Decaf Earl Grey Tea
4. Celestial Seasonings Decaf Green Tea (I do this one both hot and iced)
3. Cinnabon Cinnamon Roll Light Roast Coffee
2. Green Mountain Hazelnut Decaf Light Roast Coffee
1. Gloria Jean's Macadamia Cookie Medium Roast Coffee

Let me know your favorites and I'll add them to my list to try!

Until next time, happy brewing!


March 21, 2014

Poor Man's Baked Brie: The Hot & Easy Appetizer That Looks and Tastes Like You Worked Hard

Okay folks. Have you ever had one of those "Oh Crap!" feelings that comes with the realization that not only do you need to find something to wear to a party, you also need to come up with an appetizer to bring with you? And, of course, there's no time to get it all done with the chaos of kids at your feet. (Or maybe you just don't feel like chopping and mixing…)

Well, though I can be of absolutely no help with what you should wear to the party (I have NOTHING either to wear either!), I can help with what appetizer to bring. And while I have lots of super yummy apps (the ones you eat, not the ones on your phone), this one is by far the easiest. And, absolutely every time I have ever served this dish people rave about it and ask for the recipe. When I tell them, they almost never believe me that it's this simple. But it is. And it's *that* good too. Trust me.

Before I give you the easiest (yet deliciously impressive) party appetizer recipe you'll ever have, I first must give a shout-out to the person who shared this recipe with me years ago: my dear, dear friend, Susie. A truly awesome woman and friend who I absolutely adore.

So, try this recipe, and then thank me…and Susie…for it's simple genius! Go ahead, try it. I'll wait…

*photo borrowed from shewearsmanyhats.com

Poor Man's Baked Brie
1 can crescent dough
1 block cream cheese (I use low fat because it makes me feel better about myself)
1 jar apricot preserves
Crackers and fruit for serving

Preheat your oven to the temperature recommended on the crescent dough canister (typically 350 or 375 degrees).

Roll out the crescent dough. (Note: They make crescent dough in seamless sheets now, buy that if you can. But if you can't find it, just get the one for regular crescent rolls. If you have the one for the crescent rolls, once you roll out the dough go through and pinch together the perforations because you're going to use this as a sheet of dough.)

Place your block of cream cheese in the center of the dough, then wrap the dough around the cream cheese block. If you can artfully wrap the dough around the cheese, great, make it pretty. If not, just turn the wrapped block of cheese over so the smooth side is facing up.

Then place it on an ungreased cookie sheet. Put it in the oven and bake until dough is golden brown (about 20-30 minutes depending on your oven...use the crescent dough directions as a guideline for time then just check it regularly…it will take more time than if you were just baking the crescent rolls).

Remove from oven once golden and use a spatula to move it from the cookie sheet to a serving platter. Pour the jar of apricot preserves over the top of the warm, crescent dough-wrapped, baked cheese (yep, just dump it on!), then surround it with crackers and sliced apple or pear and provide a knife for serving.

If you're feeling fancy you can: cut out a few little leaf shapes from the raw dough and put them on top for decoration (just watch them when you're baking as you may need to cover them with foil part way through so they don't burn); or you can add a few decoratively placed pecans to the top once you've poured on the preserves; or you could also add a small bunch of red grapes to the platter. And then...

Voila! A hot, delicious appetizer that is truly addictive. So good. And seriously easy.

Enjoy!

Until next time, happy partying!


March 18, 2014

Top Ten Ideas for Resolutions Right Now

Welcome back! It's Top Ten Tuesday time again!

I had planned to write a post about New Year's Resolutions sometime back around January 1, but for some reason I just couldn't get it together. I was delayed a bit in getting up and running, but I did eventually get engaged in things. I looked back over my resolutions from last year, like I always do. And I did my annual January resolution brainstorm at the coffeeshop….like I always do.


Sidebar: Here's a little peek at my perch in my current favorite writing spot, The Cocoa Beanery. These were actually taken while I was working on my resolutions back in January. At some point I will share shots of my other favorite writing locals…




But I kept wanting to spend more time with it all. It needed more thought. The thinking needed to be synthesized…simplified. And yet I never could get myself to do it. I just copied "Resolutions" from one week's to-do list to the next, never really doing anything more with it. I'm not sure why. I suppose I needed more time to play with it. Or, more likely, I needed to not be in a funk while I was working on it.

Luckily, while I do think that the new year is an excellent time to evaluate our lives--what's working and what isn't…what we want to add and what we want to subtract-- I truly believe that anytime is a good time for this kind of self-reflection. So, January, March, July, November…whatever works…whenever you're feeling inspired.

Another thing I've learned about me and resolutions is that I have a tendency to set my sights a wee bit high when it comes to resolutions…not so much by setting resolutions I can't achieve (stretch goals are good!), but by taking on more, big resolutions than may be smart to take on in one year.

But that doesn't mean that I can't have lots of good ideas! So, here are my top ten ideas for what I'm calling my "Resolutions Right Now"…because the new year doesn't have to corner the market on resolutions.

Top Ten Ideas for Resolutions Right Now


10. Schedule time to nurture dear friendships and family relationships...with visits, phone calls, texts, emails, Facebook and (gasp!) snail mail (this is especially important since I've just moved even further away from so many people that I love)
9. Be a Hands Free Family...limit screen time when together (we've already started a "screen-free time zone" from dinnertime thru the kids' bedtime for my husband and me so we stay focused on the kids and each other rather than our devices)
8. Get in at least 10,000 steps each day (I use my FitBit to keep track!)
7. Take better care of me so I can be a happy mom/wife
6. Stop multitasking. Period.
5. Plan and schedule cool activities for the kids (and for me) at home (aka: actually do some of the great stuff I pin on Pinterest)
4. Make homemade bread and homemade ice cream
3. Fun Date Nights. Enough said.
2. Write. Write. Write. (Write the blog. Write the novel. Write in my journal. I would add "Read. Read. Read." too, but that never seems to be a problem for me, so…)
1. Live from a place of abundance and gratitude and joy. (Let go of all the stuff that doesn't matter and ask myself, each day, "How do I want to remember this day? How do I want my kids to remember this day? and What is most important today?" Is it checking something off the to-do list or writing? Is it going through emails or getting down and really playing with my kids?)


Until next time, pick one thing you want to add to or subtract from your life today and make a Right Now Resolution for yourself…because, as they say, there's no time like the present!


March 14, 2014

On Turning 40…or...Oh Shit. Is This a Mid-Life Crisis?

I sat here just days away from my 40th birthday...40. For real. 40…and wrote most of this post. It is now one week after the calendar rolled over to a new decade for me and I'm coming back in to tweak the post with my new-found 40 year old wisdom. So bear with me...

Up until I turned 38, birthdays never got to me. I never felt bothered by getting older. I never really felt like I was getting older. I was the same me. The same work-in-progress. But something happened in the last few years and I found myself far more bothered by age than I am comfortable with. Especially in these last few months as this particular birthday approached.

Because it bothered me, it got me thinking about some of the things that may be playing a part in my new-found issue with getting older (and turning…gasp...40):

Actually getting older…

There is no denying that I am actually getting older. I mean 40's not exactly over-the-hill these days. 40 is the new 30 or 20 or something like that. It's mid-life, not end-of-life. But it really isn't 20. It's just not. (Which is okay, but…) Regardless of how well you take care of yourself, you're still bound to wake up with a little discomfort from time-to-time by the time you hit 40. And wrinkles start to show. And grey hair pops out. And things aren't always as…perky…as they used to be. It's kind of like puberty, but different. Your body changes in ways that can sometimes make you uncomfortable. But I suppose we adjust, just like we did when we got boobies.

Having children…later…and losing sleep

Having children--especially having children when already in my mid-30's-- aged me, physically. Photographic evidence shows that more than 5 years has gone by in the last 5 years. (Seriously. Just look at my wedding photos.) Of course I love those 5 years. I wouldn't trade those 5 years for anything, including feeling and looking younger. But still. The lack of sleep, the disturbed sleep, I've gotten since having children has to have meant the loss of a year's worth of sleep at this point. And with a 5 and 2 year old we're still getting somewhat disturbed sleep more nights than we're not.

This is not a recipe for beauty.

And the day-in, day-out rigor of raising two small children takes it's toll. Again, I LOVE IT! But it's exhausting work. And, it's 24/7. Which means it allows for limited time to focus on myself and the holy grail of "self-care." (Oh the time I used to take in the shower! Oh the luxury of taking an hour to get ready in the bathroom!) And while I wouldn't change our experience, and I think we're likely better parents (and are certainly more financially secure) having had our children later in life, I think there is a reason that we're biologically designed to have kids in our twenties. I theorize that it is physically a bit easier to do this stuff when you're a little younger. I think the body has the ability to recover faster and better from the physical toll of having and raising small children when you have them a wee-bit younger than we did. Just sayin'.

Quitting work…and being the old one out

Now, I love being a stay at home mom. And I did not love my former career (sometimes I liked it, and sometimes I hated it, but I never loved it). I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I searched for meaningful work my entire career and never found something that really inspired me…until I had kids. I truly believe that how I spend my days now is a far better use of my time than how I used to spend them when I was working. But I think quitting work may have affected how old I feel. I feel more out-of-touch and isolated than I did when I was working outside the home. My wardrobe is decidedly less polished or trendy. And, to top it off, these days I often find myself spending time with women a few years younger than me-- because those are the moms with children my kids' ages. This is in contrast to my former work world where most of the people I worked with were a few years older than me. Sometimes I feel like there is a constant reminder that I'm just a little bit old(er). (Oh, you had a cell phone in college? Yeah, we didn't have those yet when I was in school.) But maybe that's just me.

Gaining weight

Then there is weight gain. First the crazy roller coaster that is getting pregnant, carrying a child for 9 months, giving birth, recovering, nursing and losing all the weight you gained. My body spent about 5 years on that roller coaster and did not survive unscathed. I may have returned to my pre-pregnancy weight after both kids, but I did not return to my pre-pregnancy body.

Follow that with the fact that I have gained a little weight with our recent move. Ten pounds. It's not HUGE, but it's enough to make my clothes not fit quite right…or not fit at all. (Do you have any idea how annoying it is when even your pajama bottoms are just a wee-bit snugger than you'd like? I'll tell you. It's massively annoying.) And it's certainly enough to affect how I feel about how I look. I definitely think even a little extra weight ages me…mainly in how I feel. I feel older with the extra weight. So I'm working on getting rid of it, which is, of course, harder after you hit 40. Poo.

Losing my old self

And lastly, all of these things…getting older, having kids, quitting work, gaining weight…they all add up to losing a bit of the person I was 5 or 10 years ago. And I can't decide if that's okay, or not. Maybe you're supposed to shed some of your self as you age. And maybe, with some of what is shed, we should say: good riddance! (Like worrying about what other people think of us.) And maybe some of it is just temporary. Like you have to put some things on the shelf for a while when you have small children. Then, when they're a bit older, you can take those things back off the shelf...just dust them off and be on your way. Or maybe I'm not doing this right. Either way, some things have been lost, temporarily or not, and that makes me feel older.

So that's a lot of explanation and a lot of theorizing. And after I wade through all of this intellectual spewage, this is where I land:

…mostly, I think it's just me. I am letting this number get to me.

And then it hits me.

Oh shit. Is this a mid-life crisis?

This is exactly when it's supposed to happen. If I was a man I'd think about getting a divorce, buying a sporty car and dating younger women. But I am not a guy (and none of that is even remotely appealing…I'm actually thinking about biting the bullet and getting a minivan, the antithesis of a sporty car). What I am is a stay-at-home mom and housewife. A kitchen-table, coffeehouse writer. So maybe 40 freaked me out because I'm financially dependent on another person (which was a tough transition for me when it first happened). Or maybe it's because I'm hitting 40 and my life isn't quite what I envisioned it would be.

But the thing is…a lot of it is. Maybe not everything. But a lot of it. I want to be a mom. I want to be in a great marriage. I want to have a warm and cozy home. I want a great family and amazing friends. I want to be writing.

I suppose I am not as far along in many of those things as I thought I would be by 40. I expected to get married and start a family when I was a bit younger. I expected to never stop writing, rather than to take a hiatus and then come back to it much later and have to play catch-up.

Or maybe nothing is really all that out of place.

As I've spent time, off and on, over the last couple of weeks working on this post, I think I've changed how I feel about it all. Which makes me wonder if I should share this post at all. Maybe this was never really a blog post. Maybe it's always been a journal entry…just written in the wrong location. I am being reminded a lot lately that writing is how I work things out. I had forgotten that. "Writing it out" is like talking to a friend when no one is really there. Or maybe it's a bit like prayer.

Regardless, 40 doesn't seem all that bad today. All of the stuff I've written here is still true. I do still think I've aged a lot since 30 or 35. And I do still think that there are a few things in my life that need to be…tweaked a bit. But I guess what I'm saying is that that's okay.

40 is okay.

Maybe 40 will even be great if I give it the chance to be.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

So, thanks for taking this journey from conflict to acceptance…or dare I say, embracement...with me today. It may have been more of a journal entry than a blog post, but I decided to share it anyway because one of the things I've learned in my 40 years is that we are all more alike than we are different. So maybe one of you is going through something similar. And I think the feeling of "Me Too!!" is a wonderful feeling when you're struggling with something on the inside. So...

Until next time, embrace your current stage, whatever it may be, and remember: everything can be tweaked.





March 11, 2014

Top Ten Things I Wish I'd Known in My Teens


Hello and welcome to another edition of Top Ten Tuesday!

Before I get into this Tuesday's top ten topic, I first want to acknowledge a little something: Yesterday was the 2 year anniversary of the launch of MamaManagement.

Now, this is not a significant milestone to anyone but me. MamaManagement is a very small blog with a very small readership. And that's just fine with me. But this very small blog is very important to me. And this 2 year anniversary means a lot to me. It signifies that 2 years ago I decided to do something, small as it may be, just for me.

Had that happened 10 years ago, I'm not sure it would have proved to be so significant. But when you are a mom of small children, doing something that is entirely for yourself can be a big deal. MamaManagement is not for my kids or my husband. It does not get anything off my to-do list and it does not help clean my house. It does not run errands for me and it does not take care of the dog. MamaManagement is just for me. And not only is it something just for me…it is writing.

It was 2 years ago that MamaManagement allowed me to dip a toe back into the waters of writing…waters that I had all but left behind so many years ago. And for that, I am grateful. As I am grateful for my teeny-tiny readership. So thank you readers and thank you MamaManagement for giving me a place to express myself for the last two years.

Now, on to Top Ten Tuesday!

This week's top ten list is: Top Ten Things I Wish I'd Known in My Teens.

As I read YA fiction or talk to/watch my teenage nieces or think about the future teen years for my kids, it gets me thinking about what I wish I had known back then…and ultimately some of the life lessons I hope to pass on to my kids. And that leads me to this…

Top Ten Things I Wish I'd Known in My Teens
10. That I was pretty hot (and not even a little bit fat…at all).
9. That things didn't really matter as much as I thought they did. And by things I mean, well, pretty much everything. (Also, that everyone else is far more worried about themselves than they are about me.)
8. That I should trust my gut but remember that I am not invincible.
7. That learning was more important than grades and that finding the "right college for me" was more important than finding the prestigious program or big name school.
6. That popularity is stupid and the high school caste system can be ignored. (And that just because those kids are uber popular (or skinny…or pretty…or talented…or anything else) doesn't mean their lives are any better than mine…and sometimes they're worse.)
5. That finding a few great friends is all that matters.
4. That I didn't need to be perfect (and there's no such thing).
3. That I didn't need to know what I was going to do with the rest of my life by 17. And that I would only be young once…enjoy it, have fun…work hard, but not too hard.
2. That I needed to be open…to most everything.
1. That I should never give up on my dreams...even if they aren't likely to make me a lot of money or guarantee job security as an adult…(1b. There are no guarantees anyway. 1c. And while it's okay to have a back-up plan, it's not okay to let plan b takeover before plan a even had a chance.)

So there you have it.

Until next time, go follow your dreams.


March 4, 2014

Top Ten Things That Make Me Feel Like Me

Lately, I've been trying to pay a lot closer attention to the differences between my good days and my not-so-good days, noting the things that seem to make me feel good…more like me...and the things that drain me. And while it may be tough to get every single "feel good thing" into every single day, I figure that if I can try to work in as many as possible each day, I'm likely to have more of those good days and less of the bad.

So here they are, the top ten things that make me feel like me…

Top Ten Things That Make Me Feel Like Me:

10. Cuddle time with my kiddos
9. Getting creative
8. A little quiet time and/or a little afternoon nap
7. Some fresh air
6. Cuddle time with my main squeeze
5. A good cup of coffee
4. A chat with a good friend
3. Reading a good book
2. Writing
1. Working out

P.S. If that doesn't scream Introvert!, I don't know what would! Oy!


Until next time, go figure out what makes you feel good…and do more of that!