Monday, September 30, 2013

In My Life

Though my life may seem small, short, and ordinary, I’ve seen things.

Irrational things.  Miraculous things.  Extraordinary things. 

Things that I didn’t want to see.  Things that I wish I hadn’t seen.

Things that I’m glad I saw.  Things that changed me.

I’ve seen a light in the sky that was not a star, a plane, the moon, the sun, or a planet.  It was a spotlight shone down for a few seconds, then gone.  A heavenly light switch flipped on, then off.

I’ve seen black smoke fill a house.

I’ve seen a face soften with one word, one tear, one small action.

I’ve seen a living thing die.  Our dog the day we decided to put her down instead of live the rest of her days with no treatment for her illness.



I’ve seen wounds heal over time, physical and emotional.

I’ve seen a crime happen.  A man who, while perusing the music selections in the store that I helped manage, slipped a Samantha Foxx CD out of its case and into the front of his pants so quickly that I almost doubted my own eyes.  He got away with Ms. Foxx.

I’ve seen a man gasp for breath on his next-to-last day on earth.

I’ve seen joy.  The face of my daughter on her birthday.  The smile of my son as I give him the go ahead to meet his friends.



I’ve seen injury.

I’ve seen violence.  A man punch another man in anger; siblings pull hair and pinch each other to tears.

I’ve seen love.

I’ve seen fear.



I’ve seen all of these things and more.  They are not destinations.  They are not goals.  They are things that happened, things that I just happened to catch while living this life.

You’ve probably seen them, too.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Learning To Do It All

My sister-in-law was at the store, wrangling her toddler’s stroller into the back of her van.  In an instant her five-year-old ran off through the parking lot, the apex of misbehavior that any parent worth her stripes has tattooed on her brain, and who has consistently warned her child against since he was old enough to put one foot in front of the other.

As she struggled with the small vehicle that she was muscling into her larger vehicle, along with her toddler, one eye blinking against her son’s brazen misconduct, an older lady yelled out her car window, “Learn how to parent your child!”

My sister-in-law stared in shock at the woman, who went on to harp, “Don’t look so insulted.  Your kid was going to run in front of the car!”

Completely taken aback, my sister-in-law shuffled her kids into the car, frazzled and probably a little embarrassed that a stranger not only witnessed this whole unfortunate incident, but felt the need to give her a little drive-by parenting lesson on top of it. 

When my daughter was a newborn she screamed for two hours every evening for six weeks.  She was a clock with a horrible, nerve-rattling alarm.  My husband would come home from work to a wailing baby and a wife nearly out of her mind.  I don’t even remember what our two-year-old did during these times.  He was probably parked in front of the television - I was consumed with soothing this baby.

The only thing that got her to stop screaming was a ridiculous routine that involved me moving furniture, holding her tightly against my chest, and dancing wildly around our living room to the Chicago soundtrack turned up as loud as I could stand.  It was a one-woman, one-baby Broadway dance show up in here.  No other music would calm her cries.

I can assure you that no baby book at the time advised new parents to sing the Cell Block Tango at 120 decibels to their infant as a treatment for colic.  But it worked for us, and I will never forget those memories, no matter how much I dreamed about running away just to get some peace at that time.

Parenting is hard.  We read books, go online for advice and tips, and try everything that we can think of to get things right.  But sometimes we just have to get to a place where things aren’t right but are merely manageable.  And sometimes we fail anyway.  We sit around kitchen tables with our girlfriends and lament: this child is having trouble with math, that child won’t eat vegetables, this one has a mouth like a truck driver, that one has this friend I don’t trust.  Our friends nod and commiserate.  We’re going through that, too.

Then someone says, “Have you tried this?  How about that?  This worked for us.  You should try it, too.” Your eyes glaze over at the barrage of advice that suggests flaws in your master skill set.  You can’t believe that she would think that you haven’t tried each and every thing imaginable to handle this issue.  You feel like she thinks you are less than.  You look at your friend as if she’s judging, as if she thinks she’s a better parent than you. She crossed the line.

It’s not always your friend that gives unwarranted advice about parenting.  You do it, too.  Okay, maybe you don’t.  But I have.  I do.  The result is the same; unless the other person asks for specific advice, she feels judged by your suggestions, not helped.

My sister-in-law felt judged by that woman who yelled after her in the parking lot.  Did she think that my nephew had never been told to run in the parking lot?  Is having a child who never ran in a parking lot the culmination of parenting success?

The world is so competitive.  We are all programmed to compare, to judge, to tromp on the foreheads of other people, even people we may know, just to get to the head of the line. And we are expected to fix.  Don’t sit in your mess.  Clean it up.  Make it better.  It’s so easy to tell others what to do.  It’s hard to help, even when asked.  It’s harder still to sit by and watch people do things their way instead of ours.


The trouble is – life is messy.  Some things can’t be fixed; we can just commiserate.  We can’t jump to conclusions that a parent hasn’t exhausted all options to parent better.  We can’t learn how to do everything right.  Sometimes a kid is going to run through a parking lot no matter how many times we have told them not to.  And we all need to be more understanding about that.

*******

My family at a recent wedding.

The dynamic in our family is clear
if you study the picture for a second or two.

I love this photo because it reminds me that
I have a lot to learn. I am not a perfect parent.
I don't have perfect kids.

Okay, maybe one of them is.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The First Day of Fall

During fall, the cooler weather forces the sunny easiness of summer to man up and take note of reality.  Things are going to get serious before they get hard, says fall.  I don’t care if you’ve been free to grow and blossom all summer, says fall to the trees; I am going to strip away your beauty and show everyone what you’re really made of.  It’s a little bit bossy, fall.  I usually step in line and dutifully create a routine that will work until June; work and school and extracurricular activities for kids and adults, productive weekends that leave no stone unturned, no project ignored. 

Despite the authoritativeness in the air, I acknowledged the change of season with a rebellious attitude – I woke up late, at 8am.  These days, 8am is late because I am forty and waking up then tops the list of the most dangerous things that I do, just below wearing skinny jeans with heels to the grocery store.  I thumbed my nose at fall.  I was Joan Jett in powder-blue pajama pants.

The wind was blowing, the sky was partly cloudy, and I was mischievously enjoying the decision that my husband and I had made, that we would not be spending the day at the amusement park due to a chance of rain.  We idly watched the summer end, our amusement park-planned weekend rescheduled at least twice before because something better came up.  Not that we have anything against amusement parks.  It’s just that we can think of a thousand other things we’d rather do than be at one.

So on this first day of fall, all previous scheduling was thrown out the window, and the day stretched before me as I realized I had a blog reader full of blogs to read, a pot of coffee, and little to do other than clean bathrooms, which could wait until I was good and ready.  It felt villainously indulgent.  Screw you, fall.  Summer may be over, but I am not going to surrender to your arbitrary statutes of order and routine.  Not today.

The morning flew by and at eleven o’clock I was still in my pajamas.  My husband was long gone, running unrelated errands like dropping off dry-cleaning and buying toothpaste.  He had fallen victim to fall’s demands, scurrying around like a squirrel stashing acorns in random spots on our lawn, only to be forgotten until new oak trees sprout in the spring.  The kids were hiding in the basement, aware that their own lackadaisical Saturday was in jeopardy if they made a peep or moved a muscle.  They shared my defiance towards fall.  Plus, they knew were expected to help with the bathrooms.

I didn’t mind; they were together, they were quiet, and they were getting along. No button-pushing, no whining, no calling each other out for infractions like breathing too loud or accidentally punching each other in the stomach.  I know when to leave well enough alone.  Harmonious children best clean bathrooms any day.

So there I sat, blazing through blogs like wildfire.  Eleven-thirty.  Eleven forty-five.  At once, the garage door activated; my husband was home.  At once I took in my sleep-ravaged hair, the cup of forgotten coffee at my elbow.  What am I doing?  I asked myself.  It is an unspoken rule that laziness among the lazy is acceptable; laziness among the industrious is profane.  On the first day of fall, the profanity of inactivity is unforgivable.  The guilt-by-laziness feeling bent my rebellion, compelling me to submit.  Fall was forcing its hand.

Like Flash Gordon I raced upstairs, plugged my laptop back into the power source, and haphazardly threw on some clothes.   Any semblance of hygiene was abandoned.  I ran down the hall, grabbed some rags and cleaner from the closet, and called out for the kids to come upstairs and get to work, for goodness’ sakes!  YOUR DAD’S HOME!  Spraying the bathroom cleaner against the countertop, I left them to fend for themselves.  It was not a proud moment.

But in that moment, all I could think of was that I cared not to be judged for my transgressions.  The first day of fall had won, once again.

Yeah, right.

*******

This post was inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #1:
Happy Fall!  The first day of Fall was September 22nd share something fall-related you did!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Blog Roll, Part 3: The Marrying Kind and the Bible Thumpers

Hi and thanks for reading today!  Today is the third (and final) installment of my blog roll, the collection of bloggers that I read on a regular basis.  I hope you enjoyed the other two installments, Part 1 - Most Artistic and Class Clowns, and Part 2 - The Home Ec Heroes and The Sensitive Types.  If you haven't read them yet, go ahead, click over.  And then come back here for Part 3!

The last two categories of bloggers I follow are Family & Lifestyle, and Faith.  Go ahead: find some new ones!

Category #5: Family & Lifestyle

Do you have a family?  Do you have a lifestyle?  Then this group is for you.  Now, look.  Some of these bloggers can easily fall into other categories (some are hilarious, some are heartfelt, some post recipes), but the overarching theme in all of these blogs is LIFE, whatever that looks like for them.  I like these bloggers because I can relate, which means that I use the word “relatable” a lot when describing them.  Really, is that so bad?  I don’t think so.

154 Hidden Court.  I just found MJ.  She is an at-home mom of two boys who writes about her life with eloquence and pitch-perfect descriptions that I can fully relate to.  She used to work as a bookseller, which means that she is well-read, a quality that I aspire to have but just can’t get there.  She is funny and poignant, shares memories and recipes and blog information and more.  I just love her.

all.things.fadra.  Fadra is a blogger that I’ve been following for a while.  I’ve never met her, but I feel like I do – she has just that sort of friendly personality that comes through on her blog.  Fadra writes about her life (with son and  husband), her interests, the products she uses, and the quests she goes on in a way that is very influential, kind of like that friend you have who seems to have her finger on the pulse of everything that is new and exciting.

Angie KinghornAngie is a mom, wife, former lawyer, and writer whose short stories are published in several anthologies, and she also guest writes on other blogs and I’m wondering if I’m even qualified to be writing a blurb about her blog, she’s so pro.  Her story-telling style about loss, the Tooth Fairy, and other varied family life topics are so entertaining and told with a gentle self-awareness that makes you want to read more.  Lucky duck.  You don’t have to look far to find her.

Co-Pilot Mom.  Kim’s blog focuses on her daily life with sons Captains Alpha and Bravo, and Co-Pilot Dad.  Isn’t that the cutest?  She hails from Canada and writes with a reflective style that also makes me think about similar experiences in my life.  I can usually relate, which means that what is meaningful to her is also meaningful to me, but she always seems to uncover an aspect about her subject that I have never thought of before.  Kim makes me think.  And that is a good thing.

Deborah Gilboa, MD,Dr. G.  Dr. G, a family physician from Pittsburgh, is a parenting guru who provides every kind of information possible, in every way possible (writing, video, speaking) about parenting issues that we all face.  She is a parenting expert, and her speaking engagements, TV appearances, blog, and videos all revolve around parenting topics that she, a mother of four, deals with, too.  I love her short parenting tip videos, and the email I get in my inbox every day asks “Kids Not Perfect Yet?” before tackling the next topic.  It calms my frazzled nerves that Dr. G is just one mouse click away when things with the kids get real.

Facing 40.  Poppy is a girl after my own heart when it comes to issues with getting older, fitness, being a mom, and generally living life.  As in, all of these things are realities, so get to it, and do it well, and here are some tips to get yourself in gear.  She’s a great mom (she just took her tween daughter to a mall concert, reliving her own Tiffany days), funny, warm, matter-of-fact, full of information, and confident.  I don’t know how she does it.  No, really.  I don’t.

Founding a Father.  Jimmy’s blog is from a dad’s view of raising girls, and his insights and sensitivity, not to mention deadpan delivery on topics like letting go of growing kids, conversations with his wife, and using the wisdom of Patrick Swayze movies in parenting (don’t ask.  Just go.) make me think and laugh and nod my head in agreement.  Jimmy’s blog is proof that dads really do know what’s going on, despite the overwhelming evidence at my house that they in fact do not.

Genie in a Blog.  Leigh Ann is a mom of adorable twins and one more little cherub, a wife, and a writer who writes about family life in a way that is sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and always real.  She just posted a recipe for muffins that reads like you were right in her kitchen chatting and standing idly about sipping wine that you found in her fridge while she bakes.  Because that’s how Leigh Ann is.  She is friendly, easy, and totally wouldn’t mind if you came over and drank her wine.  At least, I think she wouldn’t.

Gfunkified.  Greta chronicles her family life in this upbeat blog that shines with positivity and oh-so-cute pictures of her four sweet kids.  She does photo and writing link-ups that showcase other talented bloggers and writes about her involvement in worthy causes like the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and also shares ideas (and recipes) on living gluten-free.  She focuses on the good, the fun, and the optimistic in her daily life and I need a good dose of that on a regular basis. 

Jennifer P. Williams.  Jennifer is a wife and mom of two from Texas who shares her life stories with a lively humor and a lot of love and heart. She is truthful and straightforward – just the sort of person who you feel comfortable talking to and asking for advice, because she is confident in her abilities and just knows about things, you know?  She posts recipes, DIY tutorials, and is even starting a feature on her blog where she actually gives advice to people.  I can’t wait to see what she says.  It’ll be great, I just know it.

Just One Chick.  Jennifer lives in Brooklyn and works in New York City and makes me smile with her pictures of city life and observations about life in general.  Her posts are usually short and once in a while she’ll throw a really personal and heartfelt one in there and we get to know her just a little bit more. Sometimes she talks about NYC real estate which I find fascinating. I have no idea how I found her.  But I’m glad I did.

Lollygag Blog.  Keely is so sweet and funny, I could follow her around and listen to her spin tales on a daily basis.  Good thing she’s a blogger, because that’s what I do.  Whether tripping over her words in a conversation with a Spanish gentleman in the grocery store, or showing us how she transformed her daughters’ closet into organizational heaven, Keely brings the funny to everyday experiences with her man and her two girls, and makes me smile every time.  And her pictures!  Just follow her.

Mommy Miracles.  Laura is that friend who knows about just about everything.  She teaches you how to survive daycare, shares how she organized her home office, the birth-control benefits of moving.  And she does it in such a friendly and confident way that I will take her advice about all of it.  She also shares life with her three boys (two sons and husband) with such a relatable style that you just know that you could tell her anything and she’d respond with “girl, I KNOW.”  Okay, maybe she wouldn’t say “girl.”  But you get the picture.

Mommy of a Monster and Twins.  Natalie’s life with her small children has to be busy.  I don’t know she finds time to blog.  But she does, and she shares family outings, quick dinner recipes, gardening, and everyday stories in an easy style, you imagine she must wave her hands in the air and things get done.  But of course she doesn’t.  She shares her own struggles with depression, too, so you know she’s a real person with a real life.  She’s just a great person, and I’m so happy I know her.

My Time as Mom.  Jessica is a mom of two beautiful girls.  She homeschools.  She is a proponent of green living.  She shares delicious recipes.  She shares parenting ideas.  She’s a pole fitness enthusiast.  She takes amazing photos.  She loves cocktails - you might remember her from One Martini at a Time, which is her other blog that I introduced you to.  Yes, I follow two of her blogs.  If she had three or five or fifteen I would follow them, too.  If it’s not obvious that she is awesome just from this quick-and-dirty description, then please check out her blog(s) and see for yourself.  Because she is.

Sellabit Mum.  Tracy is a mom of three darling daughters who lives the city life in Minnesota.  She is a runner, shopper, and all-around great mom (She took her kids to see Taylor Swift.  What?) who humorously shares her family and life with us in a light, breezy way that makes you admire her for being so easy-going but of course she works very hard to make the magic happen.  I love her storytelling style that feels like she’s sitting in the room with you, probably right at your kitchen table with a steaming mug of coffee.

Sluiter Nation.  Katie is a mom and English teacher who wears her heart on her blog and openly and honestly talks about everything – the love for her 3 boys (husband and two adorable sons), teaching, writing, depression, anxiety, loss, vacations.  And that’s just the short list.  She shares pictures that will make you smile, letters to her sons that will make you cry, and general musings on the joys in life that will make you want to know her more.

Sunday Spill.  Sarah says right on her blog that she is here to bring us joy.  And she does that through her lightness, smiling children, and upbeat outlook, not mention gorgeous pictures of those incredibly adorable kids.  She conveys her life in a heartfelt style that makes you feel that all is right in the world, that even during life’s down moments, there is hope for sunny days ahead.  Who can’t use that kind of optimism?

That’s Vandy.  Brittany writes about her many interests on this wonderful blog, whether it’s making sorbet, planning a party, traveling to interesting locales (and sharing her packing secrets!), even blogging tips.  She shares her thoughts on everything from breastfeeding to bullying, and tells stories about her family.  If you’re looking for information on a topic, she’s probably written about it, and has done so in a playful manner that is informational and encouraging.  You might just learn something new, too.

The House of Hendrix.  The tagline on Allison’s blog reads “Where joy, imperfection, and grace abound.”  That alone drew me to her blog, and her thoughts on life are encouraging, humorous, and empathetic.  I can relate to her immediately on blog posts titled “6 Ways I loosened up to survive the early years of Motherhood” and “The Not-So-Perfect 1st day of school.”  I love the way she combats the issues she faces – with hope and determination to make the best out of every situation that life has to offer.

The Miss-Elaine-ous Life.  Elaine is currently on a blogging break, but don’t let that stop you from reading her blog about the life she shares with her husband and three cute kids.  She is a gifted photographer (Hello? how does she choose which pictures to frame and hang on her walls?) and writes blog posts about her days like little stories that you can’t get enough of.  Her style is upbeat, funny, and always, always warm and relatable.  She promises that she will post again.  I’ll be waiting. 

World’s Worst Moms.  Tammy’s blog is funny and self-deprecating, as evidenced by the title.  I am convinced that she’s a much better mom than the world’s worst, and the opinions and topics she covers, while sharing fun stories about her kids and family life, are interesting and important.  Whether she’s talking about how she feels about personal loss, her kids growing up, or national news events, you can be sure that you’ll come away knowing her clear views, and maybe even a different perspective you haven’t thought about before.

Category #6: Faith.

Do you have faith?  You gotta have faith.  Now I’m no George Michael, but I am a Christian.  Faith is a pretty big deal to me.  I know I don’t mention it a lot here.  I don’t have a good reason why.  One might argue that my faith must not be such a big deal if I don’t lay it out on my blog regularly.  And to that I say you have a point.  My main thing is that there are a lot of different faiths in the world and I know that mine isn’t the only one, and I don’t want to prevent anyone from relating to me just because they don’t agree with my beliefs.  My main purpose here is to share, and I am careful to share things that I think others can relate to.  And plus, I do have a separate faith blog that you are welcome to visit, anytime.

Jamie the Very WorstMissionary.  Jamie is irreverent, funny, and real.  She spent some time doing mission work in Costa Rica, and is not afraid to spell out just what being a Christian missionary looks like.  She tackles difficult topics, and is unafraid to voice her beliefs and admit when she’s wrong.  She’s also a mom, and tells stories from home that make me laugh and relate.  She isn’t perfect, but also isn’t afraid to say so.  I admire that, and always come away from her blog thoroughly entertained and informed about something new.

Jessica Clemmer –Finding My Voice.  Jessi’s blog is a mixture of family and faith, as is the case in life.  She and her husband pastor a small church, and they share the leadership duties.  That, along with raising their four children, makes her very busy and I don’t know where she squeezes out the time to write the eloquent, insightful posts that she does.  Her thoughtfulnesss and knowledge of Bible stories and verses teach me so much, and she blends this knowledge with practical applications that anybody could adopt.   Jessi is one of two bloggers on my list whom I knew first before the blog, having shared years of sons playing baseball together.  She also got me addicted to chocolate-covered pomegranates.  Isn’t it cute how I just threw her under the bus there?

thumacha.  Corie and Eric are a young couple who just recently moved with their two babies to Macha, Zambia to live as missionaries for Push the Rock, a sports ministry.  I watched Corie grow up in our church and have been encouraging, praying for, and supporting her and Eric since they decided to take their lives to this African country where Eric spent his childhood.  I started following their blog as a way to show support and stay connected to them, but I find myself waiting for new posts, because I’m so excited to see what’s next in their adventures in Macha. Plus, Corie is a really good writer, and her honesty about moving so far away from home, and the witty way she describes getting to know her new normal since they’ve been there inspires me, and makes me admire her strength and God-given faith.  I just love them, and pray for all the best for their family.

*******

You made it!  You made it to the end!  And you’re still reading!  That means so much to me.

I hope you can click over to (more than a) few blogs I’ve written about here that intrigue you, and I would love if you find some new favorites from these lists.

I’m not going to lie.  This was an extremely difficult writing exercise. I referred to each and every blog here to remind myself exactly how they came to be on my reading list in the first place.  Some, I was surprised to find, haven’t written a post in weeks or months. 

I hope I have given an accurate representation of each blog’s theme or point.  I’m a little anxious about offending someone by missing the whole point of their blog, or putting them into a category that they don’t agree with (“What do you mean, ‘Sensitive Type?’  I’m totally hilarious!”).  Some of these bloggers defy categorization and could easily fit into several themes.  I agonized over it, but in the end I feel like I gave a true perspective of each one. 

Blogs are personal business, and the people who write them are real people.  That should go without saying, but sometimes we forget that there are real people behind the words.  Being a blogger means that you open up your life to the masses, and it can be a vulnerable, scary feeling.  Even if you’re just telling jokes.

But I really appreciate all these bloggers who take their time and pour their hearts and minds and lives into their computers every day.  Because I have learned so much from them.


So there you have it.  All the blogs that I follow and read daily.  Holy crap I need a life.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Blog Roll, Part 2: The Home Ec Heroes and the Sensitive Types

Welcome back! You came back!  I am so proud of you.  Gold stars for everyone who returned after reading Wednesday’s monster containing a third of the blogs I read on a regular basis.  Wednesday I focused on Art & Design and Humor blogs, and after oohing and aahing and guffawing your way through those, I bet you’re ready for a whole new set of blogs to follow! 

So let’s get to it.  Today’s blog posts are split into two of my favorite subjects: Food and Heartfelt.  And yeah, “Heartfelt” as a category is awkward.  I guess this a good time to tell you that I’m not a professional blog categorizer.  Jeez, chill out, grammar police.

Category #3 – Food.

So I love food.  Who doesn’t?  I love new recipes, too, but more than that I love reading other people’s recipes and how they make food from those recipes.  Sometimes, very rarely, I will make those recipes in my own kitchen.  Honestly, I am more of a recipe reader than a recipe implementer, which is why I only follow a couple of food blogs.  It’s not the food bloggers fault.  I’m just not that much of a foodie, no matter how cute I look in a chef’s hat.  But you’re not here to read about how cute I think I am.  The following three blogs hold my attention regularly because they make me feel like I could be a chef, even if it’s only the hat that I’m after.

Frugal Foodie Family.  Kelly’s website is gorgeous and is all about eating well on a budget. Her recipes use ingredients that even I can find at my local warehouse market, and she provides weekly menus for dinners and how much each dinner costs.  I have not made any of her recipes but have drooled over all the pictures.  I have tried some of the wines she reviews, but I cry over them because she lives in California which is has better prices on alcoholic beverages than in my home state of Pennsylvania, which has almost prohibitively expensive prices on alcohol.

Lila’s Apron.  Comfort food, comfort food, comfort food.  If you’re into this even a little, Lila’s Apron doesn’t disappoint, and she’s funny to boot.  The last post I read, a recipe for fried green tomatoes, also included the many delicious uses for bacon fat.  And if that doesn’t get you over there then I can’t help you anymore.

One Martini at a Time.  I guess it’s telling that out of three food blogs I follow, I highlighted the wine reviews of one and the other is solely a cocktail site.  Whatever, I’m a mom.  Jessica’s cocktails are OMG AMAZING, most contain only a few ingredients, and they all look easy to make.  If you like inventive, creative cocktails that make you thirsty for vodka at ten in the morning, (apple ginger cocktail, anyone?) then go visit Jessica.  Plus her photos are among the best I’ve seen.  How does she get them that crisp and clear? 

Whew!  That was easy.  So let's keep going.

Category #4 – Heartfelt.

I have a tendency to be sensitive and reflective so it makes sense that I would follow a lot of blogs that are similar.  I do try very hard to fill my life with light and goodness and gentleness and kindness, because dark and downward navel-gazing, my go-to traits, do nothing for a person’s general mood and/or complexion.  The following bloggers showcase their thoughtful, contemplative, and kind sides, producing consistently good posts that give me the warm and fuzzies that hold me until the next wave of darkness clouds my sky.  Silver linings, people.

A Lady in France. Oh, what can I say about Jennie?  She had me at A Lady in France.  I totally began following her blog because of its name, because I love Ladies and I love France.  Like, I say “oh yes, I’ve been overseas,” but in reality I’ve only ever been to France.  Like nine times.  Anyway, Jennie published her memoir chapter by chapter a little while ago, and I got hooked on her amazing story and her poetic way of writing that makes even the darkest situations beautiful.  She takes gorgeous photos, and can make a mundane day seem otherworldly.  She has a sweet soul and a level of sensitivity and kindness that drew me to her immediately. I could go on and on, but I won’t.  I’ll leave that up to you.  Go. 

An Inch of Gray.  Anna has been recording her life in this gorgeous blog since 2008.  However, it also bears the heartrending story of the loss of her dear son Jack two years ago at age 11.  Anna’s writing today holds the pain of this loss, yet she manages to chronicle her daily life, faith, and inner musings in a clear way that allows her voice to shine.  My heart is with Anna when I read her blog, because I know her story.  I am encouraged by her strength in the face of tragedy, and am influenced by her simple style of storytelling.

Chicken Noodle Gravy.  Katie is a great writer who has an advanced degree in storytelling.  Nope, I made that up.  But she should.  Shopping mishaps, reality TV, even doing laundry warrant a well-told story, and along with the word pictures she paints, her observations and the meaning behind the telling keep me coming back.  She is working on a novel.  I can’t wait to read it.

Erin Margolin.  Erin’s name has floated around my internet consciousness for a couple of years, though I have to admit I didn’t really start following her blog until recently.  She is the co-founder of The Gay Dad Project (see below), has been published in a book, and is super sweet.  Besides this, Erin is a thoughtful and poetic writer; often her posts are reflective and emotional.  Her blog posts bring me to a place of contemplation – not a bad place to be.

Farewell Stranger. Robin is straightforward, talks openly about depression, is a survivor of post-partum depression, and even was recently featured on her local news program about it.  She writes out her feelings as a way to own them and to relate to others.  She has succeeded in this with me, and has a quiet introspective style that I love.  I could probably sit with her and have a conversation that would last for at least five pots of coffee.

Good Day, Regular People.  Alexandra is a wife and a mom of three boys, and I’ve been following her for a while now.  She draws from her life to share stories on her blog; some are funny and silly, and others are heavy with memories and reflection.  All of them – all – are written in such a style that I feel like I’m remembering them myself.  Alexandra lost her beloved mother recently, and she shares her grief, which is so, so moving. 

Grown Up, Now What?  I love the concept behind Tammy’s blog, that she is telling her life story day by day and using it to figure out who she is becoming.  Isn’t that just how life works?  Tammy shares with us her adventures in the job world, eating habit woes, and her past lives as ballroom dancer and even former wife to define who she is and brings us along for the ride.  I love how she ends each blog post asking readers how we can relate.

Holding the Distaff.  Gina reflects on life with her family made of husband and three little kids, one of whom was just born this year.  I don’t know how she finds time to blog, but she does – and does it well.  She loves her life with her littles and her man and shares it all with a grace and gentleness that is far beyond my abilities.  Reading her posts is like being warmed by a good cup of tea with two sugars.

Letters for Lucas.  Tonya writes to document her son Lucas’ life, and she describes their days and activities with an easy style that is so conversational, you almost think she is in the room with you.  She shares her parenting joys, anxieties, and milestones, all infused with the love you just know spills over to her son. And she and her husband just revealed that they are expecting baby #2, which is so exciting!  Don’t miss the post where they told Lucas about the new baby.  Seriously.  Don’t miss it.

Masala Chica.  Kiran is capital H Honest, and oh, how I appreciate that in a writer.  I love how she can’t think of any other way to live, that she writes openly about her family, her opinions, her philosophies, her affinity for The Real Housewives.  She is real.  And she is smart.  And she is responsible for Simply Om, a fair trade store for jewelry made by brands which support the jewelry-makers themselves, who live in areas that struggle socially and economically.  The jewelry she sells is beautiful, and so is Kiran. 

One-Sided Momma.  This blog reads like a dreamy novel sometimes, and that is a good thing.  I find myself pondering with OSMA the meaning of life as I gaze at her pictures and follow the inner workings of her beautiful mind as she contemplates her soft-ness, the still-raw pain of losing a beloved family member, the joys and concerns of being a mom to a couple of cuties.  And she’s funny, too, in that corner-of-the-mouth-smile sort of way that I love.

Scoops of Joy. Maureen (Mo) is optimistic, loves her son fiercely, and is currently on a blogging break.  But that doesn’t stop me from sharing her here, because she is a bright spot in the world, her hopefulness spreading across the computer screen to me even as she struggles with an ex, her fitness, her past.  She searches for and finds joy in life, a trait that I admire immensely.  The best part about her quest for joy is that she shares it, which makes all the difference.

The Gay Dad Project.  Co-founded by Erin Margolin and Amie Shea, this is a community that connects with and supports families who have had a parent come out as LGBTQ.  In a broader sense, they talk about families. The website is full of shared stories from children who have a gay parent, and what that experience is like.  I love supportive sites that connect people, and read and cry with these people as they share their love and what it was like for them as their parent came out.  The Gay Dad Project currently has a documentary in production.

The Meaning of Me.  Lisa writes about her life with Fab Hub and Kidzilla.  They are all foodies, and Lisa includes some recipes on her blog, which honestly inspire me to get creative in the kitchen and rue the day that I gave up trying to get my kids to eat a more varied diet, because her Zilla will eat just about anything.  But it’s not just a food blog.  In the midst of working, momming, cooking and picking up her CSA groceries, she shares with us, in her simple and clear way, her thoughts on just about everything that makes her who she is.  Every day is a pleasant surprise.

These Little Waves.  I started reading These Little Waves when I first started blogging, because Galit’s way with words inspired me to be a better writer.  Her posts are so polished yet easy, and somehow melodic.  Galit writes about family, being a mom, her loves, and so many other topics on several websites and her blog, and for good reason.  Galit’s voice should be heard.  By everyone.

Tread Softly.  Angela has one of those writer’s voices that is instantly calming.  I just know that when I head over to her site, any tension I might carry with me will dissipate as I read her musings on moving, life with children, running, even the books she reviews.  Her posts hold me in the moments she is describing, bringing me right there with her, seeing the beauty that she does even in the middle of everyday life circumstances.

Two Cannoli.  I have been reading Two Cannoli for a while now, and Kristin’s blog is true to her story as she shares not only her daily life with son and husband, but also parts of her past that have been painful and shaped who she is today.  Her style is that of storyteller, and her stories grip me as I read and enjoy her positive outlook and her views on the small moments and big decisions that make up a life.  Plus, she is just plain NICE.  She is just one of those bloggers that I can’t say enough how much I love, but when I try, my words are so inadequate.  Please find her.  You will love her too.

Writing, Wishing.  Alison is from Malaysia, a kick-ass photographer, and a wiz at social media, marketing, and blogging – she owns and operates Little Love Media, a social media consultancy that supports businesses (and blogs) looking to expand their social media presence.  AND the girl can write.  A mom of two little boys, she shares her daily moments, her views on being a mom, and what she learns along the way.  She is also a fierce cheerleader and encourager, and did I tell you she bakes?  Like amazing things that make me drool?  She’s pretty much the whole package.

So there you have it: the Foodies and the Moodies.  Did you know any of these blogs already?  Did you find some new ones to follow?  Well, what are you waiting for?  Click on through and start reading!  I hope you will love them as much as I do.

Come back on Monday for Part 3 and the last installment of my Blog Roll, which includes Family & Lifestyle and Faith.  And after that I’m going to take a nap.

Thanks for reading and don't forget to visit these amazing bloggers!

*******

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Blog Roll, Part 1: Most Artistic and Class Clowns

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post, humblebragging about how many blog posts I’d read recently.  Well, I wasn’t humblebragging so much as I was sharing my dedication and commitment to reading what my favorite bloggers have to say, to spread the love and comments and oh, okay.  I was bragging outright.

Anyway, that post really struck a chord with a lot of people, and one person even asked what blogs I read every day.  I was excited about the idea; after all, it would be an easy blog post – writer’s block is real, people.  But I was also a little unsure if I wanted to do that.  Would other bloggers care if I casually promoted them, unsolicited?  Would anyone be offended by being linked to me?  A conversation with some blogger friends advised me that this would be okay among most bloggers, and without the permission of any other bloggers that I follow and read, I thought I’d give it a go! 

I’m very thorough in my preparation process.

So I read 69 blogs.  It’s a lot.  In the previous blog post I said 75, but as I was compiling the list I realized that the number was less for various reasons.  But 69 is still a lot of blogs. Currently there are 62 new posts for me to read in my reader (hey girl).  And that’s just from the past two days. So things pile up pretty fast around here.  Anyway, I decided to give you a break and break the list into three parts.  I can’t believe I managed to get three blog posts out of this.  Blogging win!

Okay, so here we go.  I’ve organized them into categories for your ease of reading and because I like things to be organized into categories.  Each of the three Blog Rolls I post will contain two categories. Today’s categories are Art & Design and Humor.

Category #1: Art & Design.

In my mind, I have really good taste.  In my home, I have lots of Ikea and framed kid art.  That doesn’t stop me from knowing what’s good.

Artchoo!  I started following Jeanette when she did Craftwhack, which really was a humor blog.  Her hilarious voice and delivery held me while she transitioned to Artchoo!, which is her art and design blog geared toward kids.  She does all sorts of art projects with her kids and reviews art books and stuff that I find interesting.  Plus she’s super friendly and funny and I want her to live next door so she can do art with my kids so I don’t have to.

Cuckoo 4 Design.  Julia is a German transplant, married with two kids and has an art and design background which comes out in her home.  Her blog is new to me, and honestly, the pictures of her kitchen are what sold me on this blog.  Her decorating skills appeal to me on so many levels, and she refinishes furniture which I admire.  And gorgeous photos.  I can’t wait to read more and drool over what else she has up her sleeve.

Live, Laugh & Love. Lindsay is a cutie-pie and she talks about her life, her clothing, her husband, and their little home in which I’d like to live.  This is less an art and design blog than a lifestyle blog, but she is arty and design-y and collects mid-century modern furniture pieces which pretty much makes me jealous about everything.

Simple Dwellings. Amber, interior decorator responsible for Amber B interiors.  Amber focuses on e-designs on her blog, and she shares client projects and her ideas.  The whole site is eye-candy.  I love that she asks for reader input, as she did when she and her husband finished their basement and she was looking for a piece of art to hang.  I love when designers let us into their process.  It shows us that they are just like me, but with better-decorated homes.

Simply Modern Home. Susan is an interior designer who also provides e-design services.  Her style is simple and modern, which I love, and she is a sweet sweet sweetie who has two kids and brings gorgeousness to my computer screen every day in the form of photos and ideas for her own house or her clients’. She invites us into her ideas, and asks about our opinions. Isn’t that sweet?

Young House Love.  Sherry and John are design blog superstars.  They started Young House Love to chronicle their house transformation, and along the way became wildly popular in the home projects world.  At least I think they have.  I mean, they wrote a book and everything. And it’s no wonder.  Their DIY skills are noteworthy – they have a no-fear approach to tackling anything from toilet replacement to brick fireplace whitewashing – and fill me with awe.  Plus their design aesthetic makes me happy.

Still with me?  Good.  Let’s keep going!

Category #2: Humor. 

My favorite category of all time.  Because I think I’d be on this list.  Maybe you don’t agree.  Please keep these opinions to yourself.

Baby Sideburns.  Do you know Karen? Get to know her.  She is high-larious.  She calls her kids poop machines and gives online dating advice and routinely gets into trouble on Facebook for posting weird internet stuff.  I mean, really.  What’s the purpose of Facebook if you can’t comment on weird stuff that you find on the internet?  Plus she’s featured in at least one book.

Cannibalistic Nerd.  Carrie is funny and witty and has the best replies to comments ever.  Plus, she regularly does re-caps of old Super Friends cartoons.  You know, Super Friends from the 80s?  Go there.  You won’t regret it.

Crappy Pictures.  You might know Amber from Crappy Pictures because she has a book out now.  I don’t know how she managed to make life via MSPaint so darn funny, but she did it.  Crappy Papa, Crappy Boy, and Crappy Baby would agree, I think.

Freaky Perfect.  I started following Amy right around the time she published her last post, in July.  She’s been blogging for a while, and instead of reading her old stuff I’ve been waiting around for new posts like a big dummy.  Her writing voice reminds me of a friend who you want to have around, because she is fun and funny and smart, just like me. ::flips hair::

Ironic Mom.  Leanne also has a book out called Don’t Lick the Minivan which is awesome in title alone.  She has this great guest-blogging series (Whiteboard Wednesday) wherein guest bloggers tell a story about parenting, highlighting something they never thought they’d say to their kids.  Some recent one-liners: “We live in a pants-wearing society!” and "Please don't pee on the chickens." Try not to laugh.

Life With the Campbells. Molly is warm, witty, and wise, and that sort of person who has a wry humor about everything.  She’s been around for a while, and she’s a real writer who’s written a humor book and has won the Erma Bombeck Award for writing – twice.  Did I tell you that her husband plays the accordion?

List of the Day.  Oh, List of the Day, where would I be without your laugh-out-loud Mugshots and Found Porn of the Day?  This site is a catch-all for everything hilarious that Cary or his readers find in the world or online.  This is the funniest three minutes of my day.  Start anywhere on this site and get a face-full of funny. 

Mama’s Losin’ It! If you’ve been around my blog for a minute, you will notice that I use Mama Kat’s writing prompts faithfully each week.  I started doing them because they helped me think of topics to write about, and I keep doing them because they help me think of topics to write about.  I’ve found quite a few blogs from the writing prompt link-up, and there’s that, too.  Kat also does videos of trying out Pinterest projects and working out parenting issues, and they are always comical.  She also is a little bit sarcastic, which makes me love her all the more.

Misty’s Laws.  Misty is an actual real lawyer which ups her street cred.  I’m not really sure what that means but she’s a blogging lawyer so she must be a superhero – everyone knows how hard lawyers work if they’ve seen LA Law or Ally McBeal.  Anyway, Misty is straightforward and honest and tells great stories that involve mysterious rashes, deep-fried treats, and all the weird and wonderful people she meets.  Go to her.

MODG.  MODG is Amanda, a fiercely funny mom of two adorable babies who makes me laugh at her quick, desperate rants about anything from mom jeans to baby puke to Britney Spears.  She is a gem who has a huge following, and for good reason.  She is totally honest and OMG WHAT WAS I THINKING about being a mom to smalls, and it makes me want to invite her over for coffee so we can chat while her kids destroy my furniture.

Raising Colorado.  Zakary makes me laugh with her straightforward delivery about her life’s mishaps and family which includes two kids – one with Type 1 diabetes, one without – and a husband.  She is heavy into the blogging world in terms of conferences and speaking engagements and partnerships with some other bloggers who I follow and it’s obvious why – she rocks.  And her hair is fabulous.

Really Real Atlanta Housewife.  She watches reality TV, specifically Real Housewives shows.  I do not.  She saves me from having to watch them for entertainment value because she uses them as comic examples on how to do life.  If you don’t know what I mean, please head on over there.  Her brilliant use of GIFs is celebrated.  By me.  Oh, how I love a well-placed GIF.

The Baby is Fine.  Mo is a young new mom who is adorable but who refers to herself as an old tired worrywart.  Her view of life with a child is smack on the nose of how I viewed life with a child when I was her age, but writes it a lot better than I ever would have back then because back then I think I was seriously out of my mind.

The Bearded Iris.  Leslie calls her son Bucket Head.  She is a new Tiger Cub Den Mother.  She appropriately calls herself a Humorist: she is editor-in-chief of In the Powder Room, has a list of blog accolades, and just released a book.  She says things like “You know what would take my mind off these cramps? A big black dog all up in my biznatch.”  You will laugh until you pee your pants.  Just go.

The Dawnie Project.  Dawn is living the life in Chicago and is not afraid to share it.  She is random – today there’s a recipe for Cajun nuts, tomorrow, a picture of a Lego man in a mysterious location.  She loves live music and can draw like a champ and her conversational style makes me feel like when I read her posts, she’s talking JUST TO ME.  She also claims to have invented pancakes, which I believe.

The Reedster Speaks.  Cindy shares dialogue of conversations she has with her daughter, stories about feeding neighborhood kids, mishaps on reddit, and general life events infused with a hefty supply of humor.  I get sucked into every one of her stories, and then she sneaks in a snarky comment or three and I snot all over my computer.

What Now and Why.  Arnebya is that quiet friend who is serious and contemplative and you want to really pay attention when she speaks because you know it’s going to be good.  And then she says things like Someone should write a list on how to get your kids the things they need AND want but also teach them gratefulness and humility and you too can achieve this without shaking your ass for money” and you realize that not only is she smart and thoughtful but she is also funny in a way that kind of hits you upside the head when you’re not ready which only makes you want to hear more of what she has to say.  Please do not hesitate to follow her.

Holy crap.  That was long.  Thanks for sticking with me here.  You are a stone-cold hero.  Your mission is to visit these blogs, and follow at least five of them regularly.  That’s totally arbitrary on my part.  I just like telling people what to do.  You really should follow all of them.

Come back on Friday and I’ll share my picks for the Foodies and the Moodies!  See you then!

*******


Monday, September 16, 2013

Ominous

She closed her eyes and stepped on the scale, peering at the numbers one eye at a time.  She hadn’t seen that number in a while.  Quick math told her it was several digits above the last time she performed this particular ritual.

It hadn’t been a week since she stepped on the scale, but then again, surely it had been. The shampoo ran out that day.  Her eyes darted to the garbage can.  The empty bottle lay among the crumpled up tissues and used cotton swabs.

Defeated, she leaned against the wall as the water from the shower heated.  Steam began to rise in the small bathroom.  In the distance, she thought she could hear the strains of a familiar song: snack bags and candy wrappers crackled in a two-part harmony. 

Her weakness fit like a pair of jeans that had been shrunk in the dryer.  A few more days like the past few and they would fit her like her own skin, strangling her will and fortitude.  She sadly realized that her failing will eventually require new pants, a new identity, a whole new life.

Clouds of steam interrupted her thoughts.  The water was scalding now.  Stepping into it and out of her reverie, the tune dissipated.  As she performed the motions of the mindless task, the siren song of the candy wrappers that had led her to this moment hummed through her mind once again.

The day loomed.

*******

This exact scenario played itself out in my own bathroom as I got on the scale after a summer of failing to exercise vigilantly and employing haphazard eating habits.  I know, I have issues.  With snacks and candy, mostly.  And of late, apple crisp and brownies.  Not to mention thinking of myself as the heroine in a terrible novel.

Ugh.  I need to lock up all the food.

Is it too much to ask that they invent a bathroom scale with built in
empathy?  I mean, I’m all for brutal honesty, but when my clothes are
too tight I don’t really need my bathroom scale to tell me in hard
numbers just how many pounds tight they really are. I need a scale that
acts like a good friend who tells you that you look hot in that miniskirt
but it probably isn’t appropriate for this particular evening, and
asks if you want to join her on her all-salad diet tomorrow. 
Ah, well, it’s been fun, candy and chips. 
But back to the veggie patch for me. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Ultimate Job

When I was little I had two professions in mind for my adult life: dentist or bus driver. 

This is hilarious, because I think other people’s mouths are OMG so gross.  And although I love to drive, I’m not the best at it (evidenced by the honking I got yesterday as I pulled onto the road.  What? I looked, Service Truck.  I might have miscalculated your speed of mach 50 when I exited the ramp, and hello, get into the left lane when passing a ramp, Mario), so bus driver is out. 

I definitely didn’t announce “I’m going to be a MOM!” when I was little.

And yet here I am, all grown up, and I am a mom.  A housewife.

I don’t work for money or even do full-time volunteer work.  I stay home and take care of my family and our house.

I’ve endured many “Oh, you’re so lucky you don’t have to WORK” comments.  I never know if they’re meant to be derogatory or condescending or genuine declarations of wistful admiration. 

It doesn’t bother me.  I’ve not been one to truly care about how other people judge me, because I know that we humans are fickle creatures; as we show appreciation for something, we are also examining it to find the flaws, ready to criticize the workmanship.  The person who tells me she loves my shoes whispers to her friend later that my pants were way unflattering.

However, even though I don’t care that people might look down upon me for wasting my talents by scrubbing toilets and putting babies down for naps only to wake them up and help them with their algebra homework, ohmygoodness where did those years go, I do sometimes wish that I could somehow parlay this stay-at-home-mom gig into something that has worth in the eyes of the 7 billion other people in this world outside of these four walls.  I'm not that honorable.

Being a mom was hard when every other mom I knew was filling out job applications when their babies went to school full-time or went back to school themselves, ensuring that the gaps on their resumes were easier to explain in the future.  Why wasn’t I also doing this?  Should I be doing this?  Am I making a mistake by not getting myself back out there?

The problem was that I could never think of anything I wanted to do more than what I was doing as a mom.

I wanted to be there for every minute of my children’s lives.  I wanted to put them to sleep, snuggle them when they got up, feed them hot dogs for lunch every.single.day, bathe them, let them dress themselves in hideous ensembles and take them to the park, traverse the grocery store with them while they screamed for lollipops, lie on the couch with them and watch cartoons in the middle of the day, watch them jump through the sprinkler, ride their bikes around the block, take them to the mall and the pool and the movies, see them off to school on the bus, pick them up early for a doctor visit, decorate the house for fall while they were at school just to see their delight as they walked in the door at the end of the day. I wanted to do all of this without permission, without the thoughts of what I was missing at work worrying the back of my mind. 

I wanted this to be my work, my focus.

And I’m really good at it.  And I have found through the years that it does have worth.  It’s not paid, and I won’t even offer that being paid in hugs and kisses is worth it, because it’s not the same to me.  Honestly, I’d like a chunk of cash to show for my efforts, because they are monumental.  My work makes a difference in my family’s lives and in our home, and I’d love to make money doing it.

But I don’t.  And sometimes it does bother me.  Sometimes I do feel as if I’m wasting my talents, and the ever-widening gap on my resume alarms me, and I feel woefully behind the rest of the world in marketable skills, and by the time the kids are old enough for me to go back to work, I’ll be too old to go back to work.

But I’m also smart enough to know that even if I was a bus driver or a dentist, the ultimate jobs, I would grow restless at times.  We humans are fickle creatures. 

And I am a mom, and even though it was not on my short list of ideal professions, that is what I became when I grew up.

And I love it.



*******

This post was inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #1: Something you wanted to be when you grew up.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 2001

Twelve years ago today I was a new mom, just 28 years old.  I worked from home for a marketing research firm and divided my days between that job and taking care of our six-month-old.  We had been in our house just under a year.  Getting there was a nerve-wracking process, since we had moved after only being in our previous house for a few months, and several events happened around the move that caused us financial and emotional grief.  I hadn’t given any effort to make friends in our new town, and had very few, including the neighbors we knew a little and the girl down the street who had been my helper over the summer while I worked.

I don’t remember the details of how I felt about life in general that day.  Likely I was trying to get acclimated to a new schedule.  My son was a high-strung baby but ate and slept well.  My husband and I took zillions of pictures of him and traveled to show him off to family or hosted family at our house nearly every weekend.

Around 10:30 in the morning that day, my mother called me to tell me that the young woman who cleaned her house kept calling her to update her on the planes.  I was in the dark, had no idea what she was talking about.  I never watch TV in the daytime, never listen to the radio.  I asked her to explain.  She practically yelled in exasperation, “Andrea, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center this morning…”

I don’t remember anything else she said.  I turned on the TV and saw what the rest of the world had already known.  I was dumbfounded to see the fires, the dust.  All four planes had done their damage.  Both towers had already collapsed by the time I got to the news.  All those people, gone.

The phone rang.  It was a co-worker, asking about the project I was helping him with, wanting my portion of it now.  I asked him if he knew what was going on in our country.  He said that he did but indicated that his work was more important than me sobbing in front of the TV.  I told him he’d get the work and hung up on him.

I don’t remember if I did any more work that day.

My son was napping.  I dragged him out of bed and brought him downstairs with me, hugging him close.  He didn’t mind.  We watched the TV together as I cried, his baby-ness and innocence soothing me, keeping me on earth when I felt like I was hurtling into thin air, my body turning inside out.  I called my husband and begged him to come home.  I was sure that we were at the start of a war, expected to see gun-toting guerillas in my backyard ready to take my home, my son, my country, my life.

There was an email from my husband’s aunt who worked in Washington, D.C., asking if I had seen the news, explaining that she was trying to call her mother to let her know that she was OK.  Explained that her building was evacuated, that all the trains were shut down, that she wasn’t sure how she would get home, that she and her co-workers felt like sitting ducks.  She asked me to call her mom.  Did I call my husband’s grandmother that day?  I don’t remember.

The images of people covered in dust, the stories of people jumping from the upper levels, the shoe stores handing out shoes to people forced to walk home from the city, the unimaginable actions of the heroes that had lost their lives to save others, knowing that one of the planes went down in the part of the state where my parents live, the clean-up crews, the grieving families, the never-ending news coverage – watching Katie Couric and Matt Lauer grow more weary and more disheveled as the days and nights wore on, seeing them when I went to sleep late and when I woke up early, my husband and I sitting on our bed watching, watching, watching to see what happened and what was to come: all these details wrap up around that one day, the day that our country changed in so many ways, the dawn of the era that we now live in.

September 11, 2001: I will never forget what I was doing that day.  I am only one person from generations of others who can say the same thing about this and other historical events.  My story is only one, but it is important because I remember.  When we remember important events, we have the responsibility to teach our children about it, to honor those who served, and to remember those who were lost.


What were you doing on 9/11/01?  I’d love to hear your story.

*******



Monday, September 9, 2013

DIY Caramel Brownies

Once upon a time, I met this girl named Steph.  We hit it off immediately – kindred spirits, you know the drill.  We’d stay up late talking about life and love, or the lack of either.  We were in grad school and were total nerds.

Soon after we met, fate intervened and we parted.  We tried to keep in touch, but this was not the digital age.  There may have been written letters involved.  Time passed and our lives went in different directions.  We lost touch.

Three years later, I was married and pregnant.  In a flurry of manic and sudden grown-up activity, I sent her a Christmas card.  It found her after the holidays, being forwarded at least one time to her current address.  She wrote to me, indicating that she lived in the next town over, which was a slap in the face kick you in the gut kind of coincidence, since our original meeting place was a couple of states away.

From that moment we stayed in touch and got together a few times a year, caught up on each others’ lives and experiences. 

Steph and I have known each other for sixteen years.

I’ve always felt like we were meant to meet and then meet again for several reasons.  One day early in our reunion we got together for a meal, and Steph brought brownies.

They rocked my world.  They were the best brownies I had ever eaten, and from that day on, these brownies have gone down in our history as one of the main reasons why Steph and I became friends.  In my mind. 

And with her permission, I am sharing the recipe with YOU!

Steph’s Incredible Caramel Brownies!

First, collect your ingredients:

For the caramel layer:

50 light caramels.  A 14 oz. package will work for this.  Don’t bother to count them, unless you have a small child who is learning how to count.  Then let him/her do it.  Don’t freak out if there are only 46 in the package.  These are brownies, not chemical peptides.  I don’t even know what that is.  If you’re worried about not having 50 caramels for the recipe, just get two bags.  Jeez.  You are more OCD than I am.

Chewy, gooey, delicious.

 1/3 cup evaporated milk.  Just get the small (5 oz) can for this.  Don’t be a hero.  A small can contains 2/3 cup of evaporated milk, and you will use the other 1/3 cup later.  I know this because I Googled it.  This recipe is nothing if not capable of using up full portions of the ingredients you will need.  I am nothing if not capable of Googling things.

For the brownie:

1 box German Chocolate Cake mix.  I have to say that I have never made a German Chocolate Cake, and when I eat it there is always coconut icing on the top, which because of the sole use of coconut should make it my favorite, but I have to say I’m not a fan.  The only time I actually like German Chocolate Cake is in these brownies.  And that is about everything there is to say about that.

3/4 cup margarine or butter, melted.  Now, look.  Steph’s recipe calls for margarine.  I don’t use margarine.  We are a butter-eating family.  I have never made these brownies with margarine because we simply never have it.  I’m not sure how they’ll turn out if you use melted Country Crock or your standard-issue Fleischman’s, but the recipe calls for marg and I always use butter, so whatever.  Maybe you’re one of those people who doesn’t like either and you’ll want to use coconut oil or applesauce or mayonnaise.  I am not going to condone these behaviors but I certainly can’t stop you from using whatever kind of fat you want.  These are your brownies.  I’m just trying to make your life better here but I can’t help you if you don’t help yourself.

1/3 cup evaporated milk.  This is the other half of the can you used for the caramels.  You didn’t even have to measure it, did you?  I told you so.

1 cup chopped nuts (optional).  In my opinion, nuts are always optional.  I would make an inappropriate joke about that but non-edible nuts and food don’t mesh well in my mind.  I will say that I am not a big nutty brownie girl and these brownies are awesome without them.  I won’t say that they’re any good with them because I’ve never had them with nuts.  But if you love nuts in your brownies then get a cup of chopped nuts for this recipe.  You probably won’t be disappointed, but if we were at a picnic and I grabbed a brownie and discovered that they had nuts in them, I would be.

1 cup (6 oz. package) semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I have never seen a 6 oz. package of chocolate chips, but this recipe is pretty old so they probably don’t even make them anymore.  And to that I say good for you, chocolate chip producers, because who needs anything less than 12 oz. of chocolate chips anyway?  In our house there are always chocolate chips, which is the source of both joy and sorrow in my life.

Got your ingredients?  Good!  Next, here’s what you do.

Instructions:

Grease and flour a 13x9 pan.  I hate this step of any recipe.  I don’t use cooking spray because it says to grease and flour.  If you think cooking spray will work, do it.  And then let me know how it turns out.  But as for me and my brownies, we will grease and flour.

Combine the dry cake mix, margarine, 1/3 cup evaporated milk, and nuts.  Stir by hand until the dough holds.  You’ll know what I mean about the “dough holding” when you do it.  It will look like a soft ball.  Here’s a funny story.  The first time I made these brownies, my in-laws were visiting.  I was reading the recipe and when it said “Stir by hand” I simply put my hands in the dough and mixed it up, squishing it through my fingers.  My mother-in-law probably thought I was a maniac or gross or both, and mostly likely hoped that my hands had been washed.  Later I realized that “Stir by hand” probably just meant use a spoon or spatula and not a mixer.  I am kind of dumb sometimes.  These days I just use a spatula.

This is only half of the dough.
I get ahead of myself and forget to take pictures sometimes.
But at least you see what it means when I say "the dough holds."

Press half of the dough into the prepared pan, and bake at 350 for 6 minutes.  This part is hard; I’m not going to lie.  It’s kind of a pain because the dough will slide over your greased pan a little, and when you press it down it will press through to the bottom and you will have to cover up the bare spots on the bottom with more dough.  Just do your best and hope for success.  You are a star!  And I know what you’re thinking: bake for six minutes?  That is not enough time!  I know, it doesn’t sound like enough time.  But it is.  I would not lead you astray.

This is after the 6 minute baking time.
It's a little bit jiggly.  Just like most things around here.

Combine caramels and 1/3 cup evaporated milk in a saucepan, and cook over low heat until caramels are melted.  Stir constantly.  Probably the most charming part of this recipe is that it never says to prepare the caramels before you do anything else.  Let me be clear: you will have to unwrap 50 individually wrapped caramels for this recipe.  It will not be fun and it will take a long time.  Your fingers will be sticky.  You will want to eat them as you unwrap.  Stay strong.  If you only have one bag of them you cannot spare even one.  If you have helpers you are smart, but you also must instruct them not to eat the caramels.  Slapping little fingers who bring unwrapped caramels to their owners’ mouths is not part of this recipe, but it should be.

Unwrapping caramels is a thankless job.

Especially when you're not allowed to eat any.

High-maintenance caramels meet their demise.

When they finally submit, they will look like this.

And then this will happen.

Take the crust out after 6 minutes.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips over it.  Then, spread the caramel mixture over the chocolate chips.  Place small pieces of the remaining dough over the caramel, and carefully spread to cover the caramel.  Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes.  Things are about to get real here.  The crust will be jiggly and puffy, the chocolate chips will melt and the caramel will threaten to destroy everything.  Stay in control.  Placing the dough in pieces over this mess and then trying to cover the caramel/melted chocolate chips will make you want to rethink your life and why you are on this journey in the first place.  Then you will get it all finished and you will finally exhale, and it will look like you are about to bake a pan full of ground meat and melted cheese instead of the best brownies you will ever have in your life.  When they are finished baking they will still jiggle a little bit because one of the main ingredients is melted caramel, for goodness’ sakes.  That stuff won’t harden in the heat, silly!  I think the last batch I baked, I left them in the oven for more like 20 minutes until the edges looked done.  But whatever.  You do what you think is right.

Chocolate!

Caramel!  And dough pieces!

And spread-out dough pieces!
That look like hamburger!  With cheese!

When finished baking, set out to cool.  When brownies are still slightly warm, refrigerate for 30 minutes to set the caramel.  Cut into squares.  Let’s get serious here.  I have finished these brownies like this, but honestly what I usually do is let the pan sit on my counter for an hour or two, then I cover it and stick it in the fridge for a few hours, or even overnight.  I like to cut them when they are cold all the way through.  I cut off the edges first and then cut them into squares, especially when I’m taking them somewhere, because these brownies are not for looks and they are slightly improved in that department if you cut off the edges.  Plus they shrink quite a bit while cooling.  Remember: these are brownies, not angelfood cake.  And you know what?  Store them in the fridge while you’re at it.

Just out of the oven, they're still jiggly.
And puffy.  Don't be fooled.  They will  cool, then deflate.
It's sad, really.
Into the fridge!

Waiting to be cut. Finally, brownies that look like brownies!


And VoilĂ !  You are done.  It was a labor of love, wasn’t it?  A love that is unsurpassed, because you just made some kickin’ caramel brownies, courtesy of my friend Steph.  Except when I asked her if I could use the recipe for my blog, she admitted that it wasn’t her recipe at all, but that she got it from another friend.  Which, sigh.  I’m not the FBI, people.  I can’t track everyone down.  Just enjoy your brownies.

Yum.

It's breakfast brownie time!