February 19, 2015 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Reflections on Pop Culture

Spring is just around the corner, but if you are still surrounded by winter in the Northeast or hiding away from the drizzle falling from the sky in the Northwest, it can seem like spring is never going to arrive. In the event that you need a little pick-me-up to help you ride out the days until sunshine and tulips spring forth, here are some ideas!

Jimmy Fallon

I love Jimmy Fallon, but can never stay awake long enough to catch his show when it airs. Instead, I watch the Youtube videos of his most popular spots. They’re short, so you can squeeze in a viewing even when your time is limited. Some of my favorites are the Ragtime Gals (a barbershop quartet that turns into a quintet when special guests join in), the Saved by the Bell skit, the Will Ferrell and Chad Smith Drum Off, and any one of his Lip Sync Battles. You can’t go wrong, but to start you off, try this little gem of actual phone texts from moms that had me laughing so hard I wound up in tears: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpS4rOwr02s


Brussels Sprouts

I hated Brussels sprouts growing up. I thought they tasted like bitter dirt, and so I have avoided them all my life. Recently they worked their way onto my plate at a restaurant and because I had recently been on a chocolate binge, I opted to try the noxious green vegetable for health reasons. The Brussels sprouts were chopped in half, seasoned, and cooked in a skillet, so they were crunchy instead of the steamed, mushy mess I remember from my childhood, and they tasted nothing like bitter dirt. Dare I say it: I like Brussels sprouts! Even better, my local Safeway has pre-packaged, pre-seasoned Brussels sprouts ready to toss in a skillet and serve.

Candy Bar Maker

My son got this as a Christmas present, and it has become one of our family’s favorite things to do in the kitchen. The kit comes with everything you need (except chocolate) to make decorative chocolate candy bars. You may use white, milk, or dark chocolate, or a combination if you like, and any topping you can think of. We are partial to pretzels and caramel bits or crushed candy canes. My kids are fairly generous with the sprinkles and marshmallows too. But here’s the best part: the sizes of the candy bars you can make are small, so there is a built in portion control. These candy bars are half the size of a regular candy bar or less if you use the minis. It is a really fun way to make a dessert that fits your taste buds, and while the clean up is a bit involved, at least you have something to do while you’re waiting the 20 minutes for the candy bar to harden enough to eat. (Available on Amazon)


Annie Lennox’s I Put a Spell on You at the Grammys

I did not watch the Grammys this year, but I have watched Annie Lennox’s spectacular performance of I Put a Spell on You with Hozier several times. Oh my goodness, her voice! It’s smooth like wine and perfectly controlled until she unleashes its full power and knocks you onto your feet. If you love music and great performances, this one will definitely brighten up your day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZEChv1AaOk


The Killing, Season 3

This isn’t fun viewing and it won’t brighten up anything, ever. More likely it will bring you down into a state of darkness and depression that requires a hot shower to rinse off the images of atrocities human beings inflict on each other, and themselves. However, this season is good. Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman are terrific as flawed characters who are also excellent detectives, and Season 3 ratchets up their personal stakes until they are both walking a tightrope. The suspense lies not so much in whodunit, although there is plenty of that, but in whether or not these two characters will spiral out of control or triumph over their own poor choices. These ramifications spill over into Season 4, which I have just started watching. I am not allowed to watch this series too late at night because it is so creepy and disturbing that I don’t sleep well. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this series if you are into flawed characters, detective stories, or excellent storytelling (minus the one important plot twist that was so out of character I couldn’t buy it. Come find me when you’ve finished watching and we’ll talk.). (Streaming on Netflix)

Happy Almost Spring!


February 9, 2015 in Adventures in Parenting


Someone recently asked me what it is I do all day. As a stay-at-home mom, isn’t that the million dollar question? I know I’ve had my fair share of days where I fall into bed at the end of the day, exhausted, the house a mess, piles of laundry undone or unfolded, and no food in the fridge because I’ve been so busy with my kids that I barely had time to go to the bathroom. You can’t “see” time spent with your kids in the same way you can see a freshly folded pile of laundry or a sparkling kitchen sink. Time spent with your kids is invisible, except for those rare moments when a child brings home a good report card, or remembers to hold the door open for someone, or says “I love you, Mom,” without you saying it first.

However, now that my kids are all in school, I will concede that it is fair to wonder what I do when the kids are out of the house. If you don’t count summer break, winter break, mid-winter break, spring break, holidays, teacher in-service days, half days, sick days, and early release Wednesdays, then I have roughly 23 hours a week to do whatever I want…right? Except my “free time” never seems to exist because I’m busy doing these kinds of things instead:

ME TIME: If you think “me” time involves spending a day at the spa or having lunch with my girlfriends, think again. My “me” time involves things like mammograms and other doctor appointments, haircuts, taking in the car to the mechanic, staying on top of emails, scheduling my kids’ doctors appointments, and updating our family calendars so nothing slips through the cracks.

HOUSE TIME: Cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, filling the car up with gas, paying the bills, going to the bank, and scheduling household repairs when something falls apart.

ERRAND TIME: Target for school supplies my kids have to have by tomorrow but have forgotten to tell me about it until today, Sports Authority for new socks, athletic cups, mouth guards, and new shoes because they just discovered the entire sole of their existing shoe has flopped off and they have basketball practice tonight.

VOLUNTEER TIME: If you’ve ever volunteered at your child’s school, then you know that volunteering can take on a life of its own. Even the simplest of jobs requires a trip to the store or time spent at the school, or both. If you step into a leadership role, then you’ve committed to asking yourself, multiple times, why you are working this hard and not getting paid…seriously.

SCHOOL TIME: And then there’s a little thing I like to call my Masters program, where every month I’m required to read 2-3 books and write essays on the various crafts the authors are using, write 25 pages of creative work, and read submissions to our program’s online literary journal to see if they’re worthy of being published. Like parenting, my time spent here is largely invisible. I can spend five hours writing and rewriting three pages, only to scrap them the next day and start all over again from a different angle. It takes time you can’t see to nurture the written word.

And that is what I, as a stay-at-home mom, do while my kids are in school.

(Disclaimer: Every once in awhile, when the stars align, I spend an entire school day on the couch watching daytime TV, even if I’m not sick. I am a mom 24/7. I do not get nights off, and my weekends shuttling kids back and forth to their games, birthday parties, and other activities are no weekends at all. I have to take my time off when I can.)





January 26, 2015 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

 Photo from 

Advanced Healthcare Physical Medicine

Normally I like Januarys. After the trifecta of the fall/winter holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, I enjoy the relative calm of January. It’s a time of rebirth with New Year’s Resolutions and a chance to begin new habits or embark on life changes before spring blooms and we all emerge from our cocoons pale but happy, ready to enjoy the bliss of summer. But for various reasons, my last several Januarys have, well, sucked.

In January (and into February) 2013, I watched my dad die.

In January 2014, I had full mouth gum surgery, leaving me hungry and in pain and stitches for six weeks.

This January 2015, I exercised myself into an acute lumbosacral sprain (aka back injury). Here’s what you cannot do with this type of injury:

a)     Bend over.

b)    Lift things.

c)     Sit/drive without pain.

d)    Stand without pain.

e)     Take the “good” drugs because you still have to drive your kids to soccer/basketball/lacrosse practice.

Here’s what you can do:

a)     Lie down on an ice pack.

b)    Watch daytime TV.

c)     Skip vacuuming, cleaning, laundry, and picking anything up off the floor.

d)    Eat whenever you take your over-the-counter pain meds (which is often) so you don’t get an upset stomach.

e)     Spend lots of time at the doctor’s office and in physical therapy.

The good news is I am doing much better now and have been cleared to ease back into running tomorrow…hooray! I also have the three best sons a mother could ask for. They took over the laundry, helped me with the grocery shopping (I pointed at things and they loaded the items into the cart and the car), and put my socks on for me without rolling their eyes. They worried about me while they were at school (“What will you do if you drop your phone on the floor?”) and showed me how to pick up things with my toes. They literally saved me this month, and I could not be more proud of the men they are turning into or  more grateful for their help.

The bad news is that my house is a disaster area and everything I haven’t been able to get done this month is now looming over my head like a dark cloud, ready to unleash its fury of deadlines that I’ve postponed.

While in years past I have struggled to come up with New Year’s Resolutions that I think are meaningful enough to sustain me throughout the year, this year’s resolutions came easily, albeit late:

a)     Be happy. Always find the joy regardless of my circumstances; don’t wait for it to find me.

b)    Be healthy. In exercise and in eating (no more finding comfort in a bag of Hershey’s kisses, no matter how good they taste!).

c)     Be dedicated. Whatever I choose to do (achieve, persevere, heal), give it my all.

Wishing you all a Happy, Healthy, & Dedicated 2015 and A Fabulous February!





January 6, 2015 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself, Making Life A Little Easier

 Love this “tree” from UC Davis!

It is an odd thing to leave your home the day after Christmas. After a marvelous Christmas Day, I spent December 26 packing my suitcase with books, schedules, and writing samples I had critiqued in preparation for my red-eye flight to my Winter Residency, ten days off the coast of Mystic, CT. Time was limited: between packing, laundry, and chowing down on Christmas cookies, the only Christmas cleanup I could manage was taking down the tree.

My ten-day residency was suspended in time. We were holed up on a tiny island where our days revolved around workshops, seminars, readings, and meals. We had no TV, thus no contact with the outside world, and no protection from the biting wind coming in from the sea looking for skin to slice through. It was almost as if we were living in a snow globe, an isolated world with periodic snow flurries.

When we were released back into the real world, I flew home to a house glowing brightly with Christmas lights, a fireplace lined with stockings, and Santa and snowmen decorations covering every mantle and window sill. There are still Christmas cookies in the freezer (for better or worse), and our living room is dotted with presents that have yet to be put away and stray scraps of wrapping paper that did not quite make it into the trash bag. There is a Christmas card on the counter I have yet to mail and a pile of wrapped Christmas presents I need to box up and send. (Naomi, your gift is going to be late!)

On the plane ride home, I made detailed lists of all the things I needed to do, including taking down the Christmas decorations. But now that I’m here, I am not feeling a big rush to shut the door on Christmas 2014. My Christmas season was cut short, so being surrounded by the holidays for a little longer seems fitting, and not only because it cuts down significantly on my workload.

Wishing you all an extra dose of the holiday spirit! (And maybe someday soon I’ll get to those New Year’s Resolutions.)


December 23, 2014 in Adventures in Parenting

I love Christmas! It’s my favorite holiday, which means I can get a bit carried away with baking Christmas cookies, decorating the house and the tree, and finding the perfect stocking stuffers. This year, though, on top of my Christmas preparations, I also had to juggle my reading/writing assignments for my Masters program. It wasn’t long before I realized that December was kicking my ass. Something had to give, and since it couldn’t be my homework, I was going to have to (gasp) scale back Christmas. It did not go well.

ME: Everyone pick your favorite Christmas cookie, and that’s what I’ll make.

OLDEST SON: That’s only four kinds.

ME: Yes.

OLDEST SON: Don’t we usually have seven or eight different kinds?

ME: Um, yes.

FINAL VERDICT: I made seven different kinds of cookies, but before you think I caved in to my son, this was entirely my idea. I love baking (and eating) cookies, and since I had just purchased a new Christmas cookie magazine…

ME: What do you guys think about getting a fake tree this year?

MIDDLE SON: Yes! Real trees are too much work.

OLDEST SON: That will ruin everything.

YOUNGEST SON: I’ll go with whatever the gang wants.

FINAL VERDICT: We got a real tree. Again, this was my idea. I didn’t like the fake trees: they were the wrong shape. So we got a giant real tree complete with a pine fresh smell. It took us half a day to trim the branches, cut down the trunk, carry it in, get it upright, tie it to the wall so it wouldn’t fall down (which has happened), and vacuum up the pine needles. My middle son was right: real trees are a lot of work.

ME: I am not putting all these ornaments on the tree by myself. You guys have to help.

OLDEST SON: I’ll do it.

ME: Great!

OLDEST SON: Do I have to put them all on?

ME: No!

OLDEST SON: Do you care which—

ME: No! Whatever you do will be perfect!


My 12 Days of Christmas looked like this:

12 glasses of wine

11 stores I went to that did not have the gift/size/color I was looking for

10 workshop samples critiqued

9 required books read

8 ½  foot real, beautifully decorated Christmas tree

7 kinds of cookies

6-ty minutes watching Jimmy Fallon Late Night YouTube videos instead of getting my work done (awesome!)

5 hour energy shots

4 hours spent at the movies (The Hobbit and Night at The Museum: rounding out 2 trilogies in one month)

3 hours spent dealing with !@#* Christmas lights with half the strand out

2 gifts that won’t arrive in time for Christmas

1 sick kid

With Christmas only a few days away, the end is in sight! It was a tough month, but I am now reaping the benefits of all my hard work. Now comes the fun part: enjoying quality time with my family. Wishing you and yours a very Merry and Magical Holiday Season!



December 5, 2014 in Book Reviews

If you’re looking for something different, Junot Diaz’s short story collection This Is How You Lose Her is it. Prepare to entire a different culture through the eyes of Yunior from the Dominican Republic. Poverty, violence, terrible treatment of women, sex, and racism in terms of the myriad of different skin colors and nationalities and their statuses are all exposed against the backdrop of an unrelenting search for love.

I’m warning you now: there are a lot of naughty words and thoughts in this book, and in the beginning, Yunior is not exactly likeable. In the first story The Sun, The Moon, The Stars, Yunior tells us straight up:

I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds—defensive, unscrupulous—but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. Magdalena disagrees though. She considers me a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole.”

By the end of the story, after hearing about how Yunior cheated on her and the disrespect with which he spoke about her, I tended to agree with Magdalena. But keep reading, because in the next story Nilda we see a bit of Yunior’s childhood, which sets the scene for his big brother Rafa’s fate played out in The Pura Principle. Considering the unlikability of Rafa, it is surprisingly poignant, especially in terms of how these events shaped the Yunior we first met. The next story, Invierno is a heartbreaking account of the tyranny Yunior’s father held over both his sons and his wife, preventing them from leaving their apartment for “no reason other than that’s what he wanted.” Yunior, the asshole we first met, is becomes multilayered as we learn more about him until the final story, and the best in my opinion, The Cheater’s Guide To Love, which just about breaks your heart.

The stories are not in chronological order, and one story, Otravida, Otravez does not feature Yunior. Yet they all share the vivid, unapologetic, wonderful voice of Diaz who draws us into the Dominican culture and doesn’t let go. Come dip your feet into Yunior’s world, where it is sometimes harsh, sometimes disturbing, sometimes heartbreaking, and always compelling.

(The only thing missing from this book is a glossary. I would have loved to know what some of the slang terms he used meant, particularly when it came to classifying women according to their nationality.)




December 1, 2014 in Book Reviews

The Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is a collection of 13 short stories about Olive Kitteridge, either directly or indirectly. Olive is a rich, prickly character. A retired schoolteacher with a husband and a son, she is tough, controlling, critical, and proud, but she is also loyal, kind, and capable of being hurt. We first learn about her through the eyes of her husband Henry in Pharmacy, where we see her rigidity and coldness, but that view of Olive is immediately offset by the following story Incoming Tide, where Olive’s kindness is absorbed by her former student, returning to his hometown to kill himself.

So the novel continues, exploring the happenings in the small town of Crosby, Maine where tragedies and hurts of all shapes and sizes afflict its inhabitants. Each time the prism is turned to a new set of characters, we see a new perspective of Olive, until by the end, whether you like Olive or not, it is impossible not to feel for her, particularly in the heart-wrenching Security, where all her faults in raising her son come back to haunt her during a visit with him and his new family.

I loved Olive Kitteridge. Every story is full of complex characters involved in challenging situations, both big and small. Starving finds Harmon and Daisy, a couple having an affair, embroiled in trying to rescue an anorexic girl. A Different Road follows Olive and Henry through a horrible event in a hospital restroom, and Tulips has Olive visiting the mother of a killer in order to fill the loneliness of her days. Strout’s writing is mesmerizing. She knows exactly how much to reveal and when to reveal it, so that each story is rich with both what is said and what is left up to the reader to discern. It is a slow pageturner, in that I wanted to rush ahead to see what happened, but I also wanted to slow down and savor the quality of Strout’s writing. This is one of those novels that I was sorry to see come to an end.

Luckily for me, it doesn’t have to because Olive Kitteridge is now a miniseries on HBO starring the incomparable Frances McDormand from Fargo. I am looking forward to spending more time with these unforgettable characters, especially Olive herself, who I have grown to love.


November 27, 2014 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself


1. My kids, my kids, and my kids. Always.

2. Good health, both my own and my loved ones. I am so thankful my kids are in good health and that I can still keep up with them, even with my advancing age. For those of my loved ones battling health issues, I am thankful for every day they conquer the beast, whatever it may be.

3. Good friends and family: I am thankful for every time they make me laugh, support me, bail me out of a jam, listen to me vent, and let me do the same for them.

4. Laughter: Is there anything better than the feeling of a laugh bubbling up inside of you when you least expect it?

5. Good books and the authors who write them. I read all the time, and I don’t know what kind of person I would be if I didn’t. I am thankful for every good book that pulls me and won’t let me go, and I have been lucky to read three such books in a row. Stay tuned: those book reviews are coming!

6. Good TV: How To Get Away With Murder (Best New Show), Grey’s Anatomy, The Mindy Project, The Killing, any Law and Order/SVU episode ever, Chopped, and the delightful Holiday Baking Championship, featuring bakers who compete in challenges involving baking pies, cookies, or desserts with swirls, all in the name of the holiday season. (On Food Network, Sundays at 9:00pm.)

7. Good music: My taste in music runs the gamut, although my current favorite songs are along the lines of moody acoustic guitar indie songs and Sam Smith, namely Riptide by Vance Joy, Stolen Dance by Milky Chance, I’m Not The Only One by Sam Smith, and Love Interruption by Jack White. You’re welcome.

8. Fitness instructors that recognize the inherent dangers of the upcoming holiday season and up the intensity of our workouts accordingly.

9. Naps: They are a gift, especially during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

10. Dessert: Here are some good ones just perfect for Thanksgiving and beyond.

11. You: I am thankful that you have stopped by!

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!


October 31, 2014 in Adventures in Parenting

Taking all three of my sons with me to a store, whether it be a grocery store, a clothing store, or, heaven forbid, Costco, is one of my worst nightmares. If I’m at a store, I’m usually there for a reason. I have my list and a prescribed amount of time allotted to the errand before we have to be at the next event. My kids, unfortunately, usually don’t share my agenda. They may be tagging along because it’s a stop on the way to their soccer practice, and so the minute we cross the threshold of whichever store we happen to be entering, they consider it play time.

My kids scamper down aisles and hide in the center of clothing racks. They toss in large bags of Cheetos or 6-packs of soda in my shopping cart when my back is turned. They put one of their brothers in a headlock and merrily lead him around the store, oblivious to his protests. They do all of these things because they’re bored and they know that I can’t focus on what I’m trying to do and yell at them at the same time. If you’ve ever happened to be in a store at the same time as our family, I offer my sincerest apologies now. (Except to the man at Costco who rammed me—twice—in the back of my ankles with his shopping cart and then blamed it on the behavior of my kids, who, by the way, were nowhere near us.)

It goes the other way too. Whenever my kids clamor to go to the electronic game store or a toy store or even the toy aisle at Target, I am the one bored out of my skull. Everyone drifts to their own favorite section while I park my shopping cart in a central location and lose myself in my phone, scrolling through emails and the internet. When they’re still not done, I start hurrying them along, not because we need to be anywhere necessarily, but because I’m ready to be anywhere else.

However, there is one store that makes us all happy: the Halloween store. We walk in and they instantly start stepping on all of those black triggers taped down on the floor so that a skeleton will burst out from behind a gravestone or a stationary witch while start gyrating to her own cackling screech. Then they migrate to the masks, hats, and wigs, while I browse through the decorations aisle.

“How about this costume, Mom?”

“No blood. Look at this tablecloth…it’s like a spiderweb!”

“Mom, I want this costume!”

“No weapons stuck in heads. Check out these cool shot glasses. They’re like a miniature chemistry set!”

“This is the one, Mom.”

“No intestines hanging out of your body. Do you think we should get this bag of skeleton bones? We can make him look like he’s coming out of the ground. Or did you see this toilet seat cover? It makes it look like the toilet is covered in spiders.”

There are many reasons why I love Halloween, but being able to go to a store that makes us all happy is right up there at a top.






October 14, 2014 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself, Book Reviews, On Writing

If you are a woman and a writer and you haven’t yet read A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, then you should. It is based on two papers Woolf read to the Arts Society at Newnham and Odtaa at Girton in 1928 discussing the topic of Women and Fiction. It is a large topic, and Woolf endearingly meanders around it and in it and through it until she proves her initial opinion: “…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction…”

In Woolf’s time, circumstances for women had evolved. They had the right to vote, a married woman was allowed to own her own property, and there were at least two colleges for women in England. Women were beginning to enjoy a bit of freedom. But it wasn’t always that way. Woolf takes us on a journey of the history of women by pulling various books off of her shelves and studying them. For example, Professor Trevelyan’s History of England said this:

Wife-beating was a recognized right of man, and was practiced without shame by high as well as low…Similarly, the daughter who refused to marry the gentleman of her parents’ choice was liable to be locked up, beaten and flung about the room, without any shock being inflicted on public opinion.

John Langdon Davies wrote this in his A Short History of Women:

when children cease to be altogether desirable, women cease to be altogether necessary.

It is interesting to note Woolf’s take on these comments. Why are men writing about women? Why aren’t women writing about women, or women writing about men? She traces the political and social history of women to answer these questions, and finds that despite the limitations placed on women, they still found a way to write. George Eliot and George Sand, both women, adopted male pen names. Jane Austen had no room of her own, so she had to write furtively in the common sitting room, hiding her manuscript under a piece of blotting-paper whenever visitors or servants came in.

Woolf also delves into the quality of women’s writing as compared to men. Women were limited in their scope. They didn’t travel or participate in wars or hold down jobs. What they knew was comprised primarily of interpersonal relationships as observed in their sitting rooms, which Jane Austen wrote about adeptly. But how can you compare Pride and Prejudice to Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace?

Women and women writers have come a long way since then. I am lucky to be living in a time where women are allowed to write out in the open without limitations, and yet, I still struggle. Although I have money and a room of my own in which to write, my problem is that I am never in that room.

I write at the kitchen table where I can be accessible to my kids during homework time. I write a sentence of my own, then answer a question of theirs. I write another sentence, and then correct a math sheet. I write another sentence, and then I break up an argument over something that isn’t even worth arguing about.

I write at the skate park. My kids scooter up and down ramps and bowls while I write a sentence in my notebook and then jump when I hear a sudden screech of metal slamming into concrete. I write a sentence and then cringe when I hear some of the language the older kids are using. I write a sentence and then run to the car to grab some bandages and a tube of Neosporin to fix up a skinned knee.

I’ve written in the car waiting for someone to be done with their soccer/football/lacrosse practice, on the couch during a Seahawks game, and outside on the patio because someone felt “lonely” and wanted me to watch them do tricks on the trampoline.

I am not complaining. As Virginia Woolf says:

When you reflect upon these immense privileges and length of time during which they have been enjoyed, and the fact that there must be at this moment some two thousand women capable of earning over five hundred a year in one way or another, you will agree that the excuse of lack of opportunity, training, encouragement, leisure, and money no longer holds good.

Perhaps in this day and age, a room of one’s own can be wherever it needs to be to get the writing done.