September 30, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting, Making Life A Little Easier

Soccer is a great sport. It is fast paced, with lead changes occurring nearly every five seconds as someone new wins the next 50-50 ball. It is a game of skill, strategy, and stamina. It is an all-out battle for the ball, within legal limits of course, and it is played in every weather condition except lightning.

Which is great if you happen to live in Hawaii or southern California.

It’s not so great if you happen to live in Seattle, one of the rainiest places in the United States.

I spent the weekend on the soccer fields watching my sons play in pouring rain and wind so brutal it inverted my umbrella five times, knocked down several branches off our trees, and had me resetting all the clocks in the house when we finally returned home.

But there was no lightning, so the games carried on.

The players were frozen, soaked through to the bone. UnderArmour, hats, and mittens did nothing to keep out the cold or the wet, but at least they could run around to try and stay warm. We had no such luxury. We stood there on the sidelines, valiantly cheering on our team as the cold wind froze our hands to the handles of our umbrellas. When I caught myself doing squats on the sidelines to stay warm (and embarrassing my children to no end), I realized it was way past time to pull out my real soccer-watching gear.

Here are my tips for staying warm—but not necessarily stylish—during the wet fall and winter sports season:

  • Layer: wear an UnderArmour or a turtle neck beneath a long sleeved shirt or sweatshirt.
  • Layer some more: long johns under a pair of pants are great for those really cold days.
  • Consider a hat: a baseball cap, a ski cap, or the hood of your jacket can do wonders to keep the heat in.
  • If your hat doesn’t cover your ears, you will need ear muffs.
  • A warm, waterproof, knee-length raincoat is a must.
  • So are waterproof, knee-high rain boots and thick socks, especially when you have to traverse grass fields.
  • Wear a nice cozy scarf around your neck to keep those icy winds from slipping beneath your raincoat.
  • Mittens are a necessity: nice, cozy, super warm mittens that give you enough flexibility to grip your umbrella and a hand warmer.
  • For those extra cold days, I stick a toe warmer into each rain boot too.
  • Bring some sort of handheld electronic device that can direct you to the nearest Starbucks for the hot beverage of your (and you children’s) choice after the game.
  • Keep a towel in the car to dry off wet, muddy bodies before they trash your car.
  • If it’s a long drive home, pack a change of clothes for your athlete and their siblings who thought it was fun to dash about in the rain without their raincoats—for about 15 minutes—after which they complained about being cold for the next 45 minutes.

If you have any tips for staying warm and dry during the fall and winter outdoor sports season, please share! After this weekend, I might need to step up my game a bit.


September 27, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

On Sunday we attended The Northwest Chocolate Festival held in Seattle’s Convention Center. It covered two floors: the bottom floor held workshops conducted by Northwest’s premier chocolatiers, while the top floor was crammed with vendors offering—yes, it’s true!—free samples of their artisan chocolates. Well, hello!

We skipped the workshops because a) we didn’t have enough time; b) I had four boys with 0 attention span in tow; and c) there were free samples upstairs! And there really were…lots of them.

La Chatelaine Chocolat Co. had the best salted caramels, and I know because I tried them all.

The Troubadour Baker booth laden with cookies looked divine, but alas, they didn’t give samples of those. Instead, we had a heyday sampling their sugars by dipping a toothpick in water and then dipping it in Turkish Hot Chocolate Mix, Chai Sugar, or Not Just Cinnamon Sugar. What a fun way to sample sugar, and it was effective too. I bought the Not Just Cinnamon Sugar because it was so good, and when the vendor explained that I could use it on French toast, I nearly swooned with just the thought of it.

Intrigue had one of the nicest workers there. I tried the Jamaican Hot Chocolate Truffle even after she warned me it was hot due to the inclusion of habanero chilis. It was delicious…until my mouth caught on fire. I turned back to the worker, and bless her heart, there she was with a toothpick loaded up with a Basil truffle designed to soothe my mouth, and I didn’t even have to ask! (The Basil chocolate was delicious, by the way.) Plus they had cute T-shirts and if you go online, they offer some fantastic classes, like a Flavor Exploration Class and a Truffle Making Class, both of which include wine and truffles…yum!

Cocotutti had some of the most beautiful chocolates there: little squares dusted with colored iridescence. Their Liquid Vanilla Caramel was divine. They had a lot of other intriguing flavors as well, but honestly, after my first taste of the Liquid Vanilla Caramel, why wouldn’t I keep sneaking samples of that same flavor?

Forte Chocolates had the most exotic flavors in their Savory chocolate line. The Gusto line included flavors like Rosemary & Sea Salt in White Chocolate and Lemon & Pepper in White Chocolate, which were absolutely delicious. (I bought one of each.) I sampled the Balsamic Vinegar in White Chocolate with a great amount of trepidation, but it was fantastic. (I bought that one too…they were having a special.) In fact, I convinced a fellow cautious chocolate festival attendee to try it too, but I have no idea what he thought because I ducked back to sneak another sample of the Lemon & Pepper: chocolate samples wait for no one.

Brevin’s had some of the most intriguing fudge flavors I’d ever heard of, like Maple Bacon, Firecracker (with habanero peppers), Merlot, and Orange Cream. My favorite was the Lemon Cheesecake. Who knew you could make a lemon fudge?

Divine had the best ginger-flavored chocolate of the day. Their bar was a 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger and Orange that was a wonderful blend of creamy chocolate and chewy pieces of ginger and orange…and I don’t even like the combination of orange and chocolate!

Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate had several things going for it: a Bronze Medal in Single Origin Dark 72% Belize Toledo, a delicious Black Fig chocolate bar, and the coolest business cards: little coasters!

Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery was a fun booth! We got to sample their sauces, including a delicious Vanilla & Butter Caramel Sauce. We also tasted their Smoked Chocolate Chips, about which I can only say…huh. They are known for their molten chocolate cakes in tiny mason jars that they would cook up for you right there at the festival in a mere 15 minutes!

My favorite chocolate bar of the day was Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Company’s Mexican Style Cinn-Chili, a cinnamon-chili chocolate with granulated sugar that gave it a bit of a crunch. Naturally, they had sold out of their chocolate bars and only had samples left, so I decided it was fair to have more than one sample. They have some other exotic flavors online, like Buttermilk White Salt & Pepper and Bourbon Nib Brittle. If these don’t sound like your traditional Northwest flavors, it’s because they’re not: they came all the way from Tennessee!

I am already planning next year’s visit. I will hit all the vendors again, but next time I’d like to attend a couple of workshops too, and I’d love to get a hold of the list of award winners and do a taste test myself of the gold, silver, and bronze medalists. In the meantime, I have the chocolate I bought to entertain myself with, plus the links to all the online shops. I think I’ll survive the year just fine.



September 25, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting

The beginning of every school year is a crazy time. The kids have to adjust to new teachers, new classrooms, and new friends, and their stamina for learning has ebbed over the summer. At the end of the first week of school, my kids were exhausted.

I was exhausted too from writing checks, filling out paperwork, attending curriculum nights, and trying to wrap my head around their new schedules and responsibilities.

On the first Friday of the school year, after only a four-day week, I flomped down on the couch, turned on the TV, and zoned out entirely. I had a ton of work to do to get ready for a new year of Explore Art, but it was going to have to wait. Two of my three kids had homework assignments they needed to work on over the weekend, but those would have to wait too. They flomped down on the couch by me and we all lounged around like sloths, happy to have the night off.

But I’m an adult, and I knew I had an entire weekend of soccer games to attend, so as the sun gradually sank lower in the sky, I hauled myself up into a seated position, powered up my laptop, and slowly started to work.

A few minutes later, my youngest got off the couch, gathered up some markers and paper and set up a little work station right by me, using our coffee table as his desk. Without me saying a single word, he began his homework assignment that wasn’t due until Monday.

A few minutes after that, my oldest started wandering around the house with a pair of scissors. The next time I saw him, he was carrying a glue stick. Then I heard his voice from the other room asking where we kept the photo paper for the printer. He had started working on his own homework assignment…without me saying a single word.

My middle son, who was homework-free for the weekend, played quietly by himself and didn’t distract anyone from their work…without me saying a single word.

How did that happen, and how can I make that happen on a daily basis?

Was it because I was modeling a great work ethic?

Was it a reverse psychology event? Since I had told them they didn’t have to do any work, they naturally they chose to do the opposite?

Was it because I gave them free time to unwind a bit first, which I can’t do during the busy after school afternoons that are filled with soccer practices and homework?

Or were there supernatural forces in play that won’t reconvene in that exact manner for another 57 years?

I have no idea, but I enjoyed that Friday night quite a bit.

Here’s to a school year filled with homework nights like that one!


September 19, 2013 in Book Reviews, Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender is a haunting, mystical tale of a young girl, Rose Edelstein, who discovers on her 9th birthday that she has the ability to taste the feelings of the person who makes the food she eats. Unfortunately, her first experience of this trait is while eating her mother’s lemon chocolate cake. The taste of the hollowness, emptiness, and overwhelming sadness in her mother is much more than a 9-year-old is able to deal with.

In time, Rose learns to hone her gift, identifying whether the oranges she tastes are from California or Florida, which state the eggs in the dish came from, and whether or not the baker was angry when he made a particular batch of chocolate chip cookies.

Tasting all these emotions is overwhelming for Rose, so she tends towards a diet of processed foods made in factories, comfortingly devoid of emotion. This is especially necessary when she considers the secret her mother is hiding and the extent to which her older brother’s detachment from the world will go.

I love the premise of a girl who can taste emotions in food, and the descriptions of the ingredients in the dishes she eats and the people who made them are fascinating, sad, disturbing, and even uplifting at times. There is a mystical quality to Bender’s writing, much like Alice Hoffman, and she weaves you so completely into her spell that you are willing to believe anything she says…almost. (From a writing standpoint, I wish I could have heard how she pitched this novel to her agent. There’s one plot point that I can’t imagine her agent saying anything other than “Umm…come again?”) Nevertheless, I found this book to be engaging. If you are a foodie, the idea that emotions can be conveyed through food isn’t too much of a stretch, and I love how Rose becomes willing to use her gift to help others in the end after a lifetime of trying to run away from it.

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Baumeister is a series of vignettes about the characters that attend Lillian’s monthly Monday night cooking class. Everyone comes to the class with their own secret sadness, but through food and the camaraderie of cooking, their burdens are eased, friendships are forged, and even a romance brews.

The descriptions of the cooking process and the dishes they create are nothing short of sublime. I wanted to climb right into the pages and start chopping and sampling right alongside the characters. The problem I had was that nothing really happened in the book. There isn’t so much of a plot as there is a series of character studies. It was almost like reading a number of short biographies about people I liked. It would be a great summer read for a foodie: a light and enjoyable watermelon and argula salad that tastes good, but won’t fill you up too much.


September 16, 2013 in Book Reviews

I am always on the lookout for a good book to read. I seek out recommendations from friends and family, I scour the book sections of Entertainment Weekly, US Weekly, and Oprah magazine, and I read the book reviews my favorite book bloggers post. (To those of you who are thinking that the last thing I need is another book to read after my splurge at Powell’s Bookstore, you couldn’t be more wrong.) Somewhere along the way, I came across 100 One-Night Reads: A Book Lover’s Guide by David C. Major and John S. Major. I couldn’t decide which was more exciting: the idea of 100 great book ideas, the fact that each one could be read in only one night, or that I checked it out from the library and got to read it for free!

For starters, I suspect that the Majors’ definition of “one night” is a bit different than my own. My kids go to bed at 9:00pm and I’m in bed by 10:00pm, meaning my night is 1 hour long (although I can read more during the day). They do make such a disclaimer in their introduction, noting that for some books the “one night” might extend into the wee hours, but even on the best night I doubt that I could finish The Hobbit in its entirety in one night. Nevertheless, I was willing to give them some slack on this point in exchange for some great book ideas…and they did deliver on that.

For each book, they included a synopsis of the plot, a brief review, a reason why that particular book made their list, an author bio, and even some other recommendations by the same author that would be enjoyable, although those may take more than one night to read. It’s an informative page-and-a-half of insight into each novel, making it easy for me to decide which books I had a burning desire to read and which ones I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Some books were classics, like The Hobbit, Charlotte’s Web, and Around the World in Eighty Days. Some were books I had never heard of before by authors I knew, like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (at the top of my list!) and Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (which is told entirely through a monologue to the protagonist’s psychiatrist, which sounds like an intriguing format). And some were books by authors I had never heard of before, like Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road, a memoir composed of letters chronicling the deepening 20-year friendship between Helene, a New York writer, and her reserved London bookseller. (I cannot wait to read this one.)

The books are arranged in an index according to genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Memoir, etc, to help you further narrow down your search, although I suggest perusing them all. I don’t consider myself a big memoir fan (although I’ve read two in the past two weeks and am about to start another. Perhaps I need to rethink my position on memoir.), but 84 Charing Cross Road sounds too charming to pass up.

If your looking for something new and different to read, you can’t go wrong with this book that you can easily read in only one night!

Need more ideas that are way out of the box? The June 2013 issue of Real Simple had an article listing the Top 50 Books That Will Change Your Life. The list was compiled by the asking renowned authors what book they had read in their life that moved them most. It is quite an eclectic list containing every genre you can think of, like Apartments for the Affluent: A Historical Survey of Buildings in New York that caused no end of inspiration for interior designer and author Alexa Hampton.

I’m rather intrigued by David Allen’s selection The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which explores the reason why we procrastinate about the most important things in our lives. The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson has author Cristina Garcia singing its praises. She describes this book told in verse as a “portrait of an artistic winged red monster who falls in love, suffers a disastrous romance, travels to South America, and becomes a photographer.” Sounds out there, doesn’t it? Needless to say, it’s on my list, especially when she adds that it is both funny and heartbreaking, a combination I can’t resist.

Now that I have all these great book ideas, I do believe the time has come to start reading them. Let the adventure begin!


September 12, 2013 in Book Reviews, Tales of Inspiration

There is a reason I was an Animal Physiology major and a Psychology minor in college: I am fascinated by how the human body works and what happens when something goes wrong. I find it astonishing that with the number of mutations and alterations that can happen on a genetic  and cellular level, a human baby is born healthy at all, let alone the millions of healthy babies born all over the world on any given day.

So when I was wandering the aisles of Target recently, it was a no-brainer for me to pick up the newest Target Book Club pick (which was 20% off!) called Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan.

Susannah Cahalan was a bright, young 24-year-old writer for the New York Post when out of the blue she became obsessed with a non-existent bedbug problem in her apartment (paranoia), developed symptoms that sounded suspiciously like mono although she tested negative for the virus, found lights so bright they were painful (photophobia), began having uncontrollable crying spells, and ultimately had a seizure. Ensconced in a hospital bed in the epileptic section of the hospital, every test they gave her came back negative. As time progressed and her symptoms became frighteningly worse, there was one thought that crossed everyone’s mind: perhaps she was more suited for being in the psychiatric section of the hospital instead.

Was she going crazy or was there something physically wrong with her? That is the question that Susannah’s parents and boyfriend fought every single day, refusing to believe they had lost her to mental illness. That is the question various doctors battled with, until one doctor stepped in, asked the right questions, and finally saved her life.

This is an extraordinary tale of the diagnosis of a rare and scary disease, the support of her family, and Susannah’s fight to get her life and her sense of self back following a harrowing month where she lost everything to madness and which she doesn’t remember at all.

There is a nice juxtaposition between her personal struggle and the science of her disease, which she has meticulously researched and clearly explained. Even if you’re not a science junkie, this is definitely worth the read.

If that’s not enough amazing science for you, check out The Atlantic’s “The Mystery of the Second Skeleton“ by Carl Zimmer. It is a fascinating exploration of a disease I had never heard of before: fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP). It is an extremely rare condition where the body systematically grows a second skeleton that fuses to the original skeleton and the joints, thus preventing movement. New bone growth is triggered by trauma, so surgical intervention to remove the new bones to free up the joints only makes the condition worse.

What is fascinating is the process by which doctors have finally isolated the mutated gene that causes the disease and how they are looking at it in two different ways. Obviously, the ultimate goal is a treatment for FOP, but they are also seeking to harness this bone growth for use in patients who are born missing a bone or to help with osteoporosis.

The human body is amazing, and so are the doctors and scientists with the patience and perseverence to sift through 20,000 individual genes to find “the one,” and to think beyond only curing the disease and into how they can use this mutation to help others.

I hope Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan and “The Mystery of the Second Skeleton” by Carl Zimmer satisfy your science fix for the week. As for me, my appetite has only been whetted. I sense an Oliver Sacks book in my near future!






September 9, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)


 Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies

If I had to pick, I’d say my favorite cookie is oatmeal chocolate chip. But not just any oatmeal chocolate chip cookie will do: I prefer mine crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and generously loaded with chocolate chips. In other words, my grandmother’s recipe.

I try other cookies on occasion, just to shake things up a bit, but none of them match the texture or the flavor of my grandmother’s cookies. Until now, perhaps? Thanks to the Recipe Girl Lori Lange, I was introduced to this genius of a guide about the ingredients that make up chocolate chip cookies and the results they impart to the cookie over at Tessa’s blog Handle the Heat.

Using Nestle’s Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe as her base, she systematically altered one ingredient at a time to see what effect it would have on the final result. She tested the difference between using baking soda and baking powder, the difference between granulated and brown sugar, room temperature butter vs melted butter, and even what happens if you chill the dough first for 24 hours. Isn’t this fantastic?

Now when I try a new recipe and it doesn’t match what my idea of a chocolate chip cookie is, I can tweak it! Thanks to Tessa’s guide, I know that I am a fan of cookies with brown sugar and that use a combination of both baking soda and baking powder.

She then went on to explore different flours, baking sheets, and butter vs shortening and their effects on the final cookie in Part 2 of her Guide.

One day while I was making my grandmother’s recipe, I realized I didn’t have enough shortening, so I opted for a half-and-half solution using shortening and butter. The resulting cookie was out of this world. Now I know why: the shortening creates the crispy outside with the chewy inside that I like, but the butter provides a boost of flavor. And that was an accidental find! Imagine what I can do now with my chocolate chip cookie recipes using Tessa’s Guide…the possibilities are deliciously endless.

Here are some chocolate chip cookie recipes for you to try and tweak to your heart’s content:

RecipeGirl’s Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies: At the top of my list!

Joy The Baker’s Chewy Molasses Chocolate Chip Cookies: I do love a molasses cookie, and these sound divine.

Two Peas and Their Pod’s Zucchini Applesauce Oatmeal Cookies: I just made these and they are delicious and, I like to think, healthy with the zucchini and applesauce. I consider them granola bars with chocolate chips and the texture of a muffin.

The New York Times’ Chocolate Chip Cookie: Where refrigerating the cookie dough before baking really comes into action.

Two Peas and Their Pod’s Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies: A must try…and soon!

What kind of chocolate chip cookie is your favorite?






September 5, 2013 in Book Reviews

If you are married with kids who have just gone back to school and are wondering what to do with yourself, I have the answer. If you’re single, or have no kids, or are just looking for something to entertain yourself with as the hot summer days slide into crisp fall nights, I have the answer for you too. The answer is this: read The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty.

Set in Australia, this novel is told from the perspective of three different women:

Cecilia is a stay-at-home mom with three girls, active in her children’s school, running her own very successful Tupperware business, and keeping her husband and daughters well fed and on track with all their activities. In other words, she is leading a similar life to the one me and my friends. Except she accidentally finds a letter hidden in a shoe box in the attic addressed in this manner:

For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick

To be opened only in the event of my death.

Should she open it even though her husband is still very much alive? What could possibly be contained in this envelope? Does she really want to know? And can she afford not to know?

I love that this dilemma is plopped right into the daily life of someone who could be me. I love that the author has her pondering the ramifications of opening or not opening the letter as she shuttles her daughters to soccer practice and speech therapy. It grounds the seriousness of her decision into the reality of an ordinary, everyday life, which makes the contents of the letter and the reveal of her husband’s secret (and it’s a doozy) all the more devastating.

Tess, on the other hand, doesn’t read about her husband’s secret. He tells her, calmly and apologetically while sitting around a conference table in the business she, her husband, and her cousin have built themselves. Her life with her husband and her career are blown apart in an instant. She takes her son and runs back home to her mom and the little town she grew up in to figure out what she’s going to do next.

And then there is Rachel: a grandmother, a widow, an acquaintance of Cecilia’s, and still mourning the inexplicable loss of her daughter at the age of 16.

How the lives of these three women come together and how they deal with the secrets they are given is at the heart of this novel, but the fact that it feels like any of these things could happen to any of us is its soul.

Go out and read this gem of a novel, and then let me know what you think!




September 2, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting, Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

Last week I ventured out of the safety of my community and headed into the “real world” to deal with my car, which was making three separate odd noises. Because my dealer was out of rental cars, I was at the mercy of the car rental employees at Enterprise to shuttle me back and forth between the dealer and their rental site in order to get a loaner car. I had two different drivers: one when I dropped my car off on Tuesday, a young woman fresh out of college, and a slightly older (but by no means old) gentleman when I picked my car up on Friday.

I sat in the passenger seat in my tank top, shorts, and flip flops, while they were dressed in smart business attire, so I can hardly blame them for asking me the same question: “Do you have the day off?” What was surprising was that I had no idea how to answer that question.

Do stay-at-home moms have days off? And if we do, why am I spending my day off dealing with car problems instead of hunkering down at a spa?

On the one hand, every day is a “day off” for me. I don’t punch a clock, report to a boss, or get promoted. I can wear what I want, schedule my appointments with more flexibility (sort of), and if my kids have hit the wall with schoolwork, sports, and social activities, I can declare a “down day” where we spend the whole day at home doing nothing.

On the other hand, I never have a day off. I am on call 24/7. In some ways, my kids are my bosses, and they are not shy about letting me know when I fall down on the job. (“Mom! You were supposed to wash my soccer uniform!”) Even when I declare a “down day,” I still have to do laundry, make all the meals, take care of injuries, and referee disputes.

According to Business Insider:

“If a stay-at-home mom was ever handed a pink slip, dad would have to hire a nanny, a driver, a cook, a janitor, a psychologist, a laundry-machine operator, and a myriad of other professionals for the odd jobs moms do on a daily basis. calculation found that after all the various duties are added up, stay-at-home moms put in 94.7 hours in a typical workweek, and it would cost $112,962 a year to replace her.”

And yet, from an employment standpoint, I have every day off.

As a mom, my day is chopped up into pieces. I am crazy busy early in the morning getting my kids ready for school and once they’re off, I take that time to clean up the house from the morning rush. But then I might have a bit of down time, if I don’t happen to be volunteering at the school, grocery shopping, paying bills, prepping dinner, folding laundry, or picking up something someone desperately needs from Target.

Once the kids are out of school, I have no down time at all. We are hopping with homework, sports, music lessons, dinner, and mini temper tantrums from children complaining that they have no time to play. (I hear you, kids. Believe me, I hear you.) But after dinner and before bedtime, I might have a couple of minutes to sit on the couch with my kids and watch an episode of Full House in syndication. And certainly once the kids go to bed, if I can stay awake that late, I have some quiet time to myself.

So while I might not have days off per se, I do have moments off within my days where I can sit and read, or watch TV for a few minutes, or even take a tiny nap.

Maybe that’s the answer I should have given to the Enterprise employees: I don’t have days off, but I have moments off…and this moment when I am dealing with a broken car does not count as one of them.