Thursday, July 22, 2010

Serenity now, insanity later.

We just got back from what I would definitely call the most relaxing vacation I've ever had. I can't remember the last time I'd felt so relaxed. It was easy for us to go because Kaylee is so attached to all of her grandparents and practically pushes us out the door when we drop her off. We knew she'd have a great time with them, and vice versa, so we had no worries about being away.

Plus, there's something to be said about just having time as a couple and not having to worry about changing diapers or trying to deal with a breakdown over whether or not we should really watch Barney or the Wiggles or Veggie Tales. You know, the big, big, taxing, stressful life decisions that two-year-olds struggle with...

I was so excited to go out to restaurants and not have to worry about public meltdowns, bathrooms with no changing tables, or not being able to fully enjoy a meal not cooked by me while enjoying an actual intelligent, adult conversation because a certain someone was dead set on escaping the high chair and subsequently chucking crushed Saltine crackers off the table. *Deep breath*

We got to the bed and breakfast and I start settling in, unpacking, and being so delighted at the fact that, at least for a couple days, life could be a little bit like it used to be. Just the two of us.

You know how you always hear parents talking about how they finally get to go out on a date without their kids, but then all they end up talking about is the kids? I knew we'd miss Kaylee, and of course we'd think about her and talk about her, but what I didn't realize was the little things during our trip that would bring her to mind. As I unpacked, and throughout our trip, I found things.

Things like this...

Lovely golden glitter glue on the bottom of my Nikes, which (I'm willing to bet my life on this) appeared as I was trying to prevent this...

  ...from getting any worse (thats' the same golden glitter glue - on my hardwood floors).

To be honest, I left that glitter glue on my floor for a while. I actually thought it was kind of cute. But I never realized I had glitter glue on my freaking shoes until I was unpacking on our trip. That one thing brought back such a fun little memory. And let's not forget the spare (clean, of course) diaper I found in my purse or half the plastic Easter egg that was also floating around in there.

As if being away from her in itself wasn't enough to make me think about Kaylee, I had cute little things like this popping up the whole time we were gone.

So the trip was awesome, and it was a much-needed getaway because I have a hard time sitting still, and this trip reminded me how important it is to actually do just that. Sit still. Sit still and do absolutely nothing.

I even put down my book a few times when I was sitting outside, just to take it all in. All that fresh, quiet country air with cute little chirping birds...

 ...little bunny foo-foos hopping everywhere...

 ...the butterflies...

...the incredible views...

...the red adirondak chair that oh-so-badly wanted to make my home its own...

and the Jack La Lanna stair stepper placed directly beside it (wth, right???)

 ...the bellowing cows, and the far-off monsoon storms - oh, those fabulous monsoon storms with all their lightning and thunder!

But, from the moment we drove up to that cozy little place...

...I knew I better enjoy every single second while it lasted because as soon ask I got home, I'd see the laundry that hadn't been done, the bills that needed to be paid, and it would be time to referee time-outs and to be on diaper duty again. I knew the peace would be fleeting.

I braced myself when it was time to leave. I still felt relaxed, but I'd have been kidding myself if I thought it would continue once we got home. I couldn't have been reminded of that more clearly than this morning.

As soon as Kaylee walked out the door from story time at the library where she behaved perfectly, it was mere moments before I was ready to shout, "Serenity nooooow!" (Seinfeld fans, there's a treat for you at the end...) because she turned into an absolute crazy person.

Seriously. You can even ask my dear friend's five-year-old who said something to the effect of, "I don't know if she has brakes, but she sure has a gas pedal!"

While the serenity was nice while it lasted, I am glad to be back home with my little firecracker, even if the serenity is a bit lacking for the time being.

Plus, the view of the monsoons from my front porch isn't so bad, especially when I consider that what seems, at times, like insanity at home really isn't so crazy afterall. It's actually quite enjoyable.


And, for any of you who cannot get the image of past Seinfeld episodes out of your head after reading, "Serenity nooooow!" this is for you...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

There's a hole in my bucket, Dear Liza, Dear Liza.

Since I've been out of the blog world for what seems like so long, I forgot until just now that today is Writer's Workshop with Mama Kat . One of the prompts this week was to write out your bucket list - 100 things you want to do before you turn 100. I easily came up with 50 before my brain decided it was time for me to go to bed. Actually, as soon as I wrote the above sentences, I remember that I want to have a chicken coop - hence, #51, which then led to numbers 52 and 53. I'm sure I'll come up with more later. But, this is a pretty good start.

1. Learn to swim.
2. Find a type of sushi that actually tastes good.
3. Go to Italy.
4. Once I can actually swim, swim in the ocean.
5. Learn to grill food on the bbq.
6. Plant and harvest a garden.
7. Learn to drive a stick shift.
8. Get my BSW license.
9. Become an obstetrics social worker.
10. Have another baby.
11. Take my daughter to the places I grew up.
12. Ride a hot air balloon.
13. Drive a convertible.
14. Go to grad school.
15. Learn to play the violin.
16. Move to a house with a fenced in back yard that my child can actually play safely in.
17. Take a painting class (preferably a Bob Ross class - seriously)
18. Take a pottery class.
19. Read all of Barbara Kingsolver's books.
20. Ride in an authentic gondola. With an authentically handsome gondolier.
21. Find a really, really good wine that I love.
22. Become a public speaking advocate/educator for postpartum mood disorders (in the works)
23. Go to a new bed and breakfast every year.
24. Go on a horseback ride in the woods.
25. Buy a pair of totally hot pink high heels, and actually learn to walk in them. Without breaking my ankles.
26. Successfully stop biting my nails. For good.
27. Answer the door with my husband as he holds a shotgun while letting Kaylee's first boyfriend in the house to meet us for the first time.
28. Win a radio contest.
29. Adopt a family at Christmas.
30. Play bingo with old people.
31. Show my husband Mt. Rushmore when the faces are not completely covered in fog.
32. See a crazy meteor shower.
33. Watch lightning bugs.
34. Buy a buttload of lady bugs and let them go in my future garden.
35. Stay up half the night finishing my child's science fair project the night before it's due, just so I can truly appreciate what I put my own mom through.
36. Go on a weekend getaway with my very best girl friends.
37. Spend entire day. ENTIRE day at a spa. Pedi. Mani. Massage. Facial. The works.
38. Get published. In something other than Blogger or a college newspaper.
39. Own a hammock.
40. Play a game of Super Mario Bros. 3 without uttering a single cuss word.
41. Get a cat.
42. Figure out a way to not be allergic to cats.
43. Raise a happy, confident, assertive, brave little girl.
44. Touch a dolphin.
45. Introduce Kaylee to all of her great-grandparents.
46. Participate in a "Beat the Blues" walk for postpartum mood disorders awareness.
47. Go to New York City.
48. Teach Kaylee how to fish.
49. Camp at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
50. Make baking soda volcanoes with Kaylee.
51. Have a chicken coop and sell fresh eggs to my friends and family.
52. Take a self defense class.
53. Try at least one new recipe every month.

Mama's Losin' It

A summer of books

I've been zipping through books like crazy this spring and summer, and because the beautiful Angie asked, I decided to share some of my favorite books that I've read these past couple months.

If you're looking for a light, easy, very fast read and you're a fan of authors like Fannie Flagg, definitely check out Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore. I'm a huge Fannie Flagg fan. If I ever had another life, I'm pretty sure I was a Southern girl in it. I love the vernacular, the culture, the accent - all of it. This book is absolutely charming. You'll fall in love with the characters, and the writing style is just delightful. I think I read it in a single day.

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen: A Novel

I know I'm way behind the times on this one, but I just read Marley and Me. I can't see the movie because I don't want to cry. Plus, I'm big on reading the book before I see the movie. This, again, was a really easy, quick read, and it's not just a story about a dog. I just fell in love with the family in this book. I was expecting to finish the book and be all sad, but I wasn't. It's such a positive story. Loved it.

Marley & Me

 Next up? Julie and Julia. LOVED this book. Saw the movie first, actually, and I was a big fan. But, I really liked the book even better. Julie Powell is hysterical - she's one of those authors where you can tell she writes just like she talks. This book was highly entertaining and a really fun, easy read.

Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen

I mentioned a while back I was struggling with the whole concept of church (still am, but I'm making some forward strides...). I recently read If the Church were Christian, and it was very fitting for my struggles. It deal with some of my huge frustrations with the church in general, and it focused on how different church would look if people actually acted the way they supposedly believed. I didn't agree with everything in the book, but I really, really liked the overall concept, and I feel like the author made some excellent points. Very thought-provoking. It was also a really quick read - I think I read this one in a day as well.

If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus

I've recently read two books by Jennifer Weiner. Wasn't a huge fan of Good in Bed, but Little Earthquakes was definitely something to write home about. I got into the book very quickly, and I could definitely relate to it at this point in my life. It was all about adjusting to life as a new mother. It was a refreshing read.

Little Earthquakes [LITTLE EARTHQUAKES] [Mass Market Paperback]

And most recently...I've broadened my horizons into the romance novel genre. I was given the opportunity to review a new trilogy by Tessa Dare, and I'm hooked. The first in the trilogy is One Dance with a Duke, and the second one is Twice Tempted by a Rogue. While I liked the first one better, I must admit I can't wait to read the third one. I won't go into too much detail because I'll actually be reviewing the second book later this month and giving away the entire trilogy. I was expecting a bit of smut and a generic storyline. But really, the books have a few steamy scenes here and there with really good story lines, surprisingly enough.

One Dance with a Duke  Twice Tempted by a Rogue

I'm currently reading The Poisonwood Bible, and next up after that is a Philippa Gregory book.

Read any good books this summer?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Jumping back in

After a nice, long break from the blogging world, I finally decided it's time to start writing again.

I've had a lot of things that needed my attention and focus, so I chose to give the blog a bit of a rest so I could put all my energy where it really needed to be.


Making sure my child doesn't break her neck while moving the dining room chair to the back of the couch in order to show me her sweet new skill of doing a summer sault from the chair onto the couch. (And I thought putting her in gymnastics was a good idea...)

Facilitating approximately 85,276 time-outs and 46,724 tantrums - 26,000 of which were in public (terrible two's are the bees knees, folks).

Going to therapy. Oh my GOSH I am such a huge fan of therapy now. I think everyone should go. Just for fun. Seriously. My therapist can work wonders in just 50 minutes.

Reading like a fool.

Supervising my child while she dangles off the kitchen counter, hanging by her tiny little fingers.

Cooking up some delicious goodness in my kitchen.

Trying to make sure I don't turn my head long enough for Kaylee to climb up on the dining room table where she subsequently squeals and does a crazy combination of dancing and stomping.

Working, working, working. Have I mentioned I've been working my butt off?

Enjoying my little family. Dennis has a part-time job this summer, but we have had some great days together - going to the park, the zoo, Costco, whatever. It's been so nice to just relax and spend time together.

The writing bug just left me for a while. It was time for me to dig a little deeper and deal with some of my own junk. On my own. And I just didn't feel like putting it all out there.

So, I'm back. Hopefully on a more regular basis.

And, some goodies to look foward to...a guest post from Dennis in the near future, and a couple book giveaways - one of which is a fabulous romance trilogy, and the other is the new cookbook by Aviva Goldfarb which has quickly risen to the VERY top of my all-time-favorite cookbooks. Ever. So healthy, so easy, and SO yummy.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My letter to new mothers

Today, you can find me hanging out over at Katherine Stone's blog, Postpartum Progress. She's kind of a big deal.

She writes the most widely-read blog in the U.S. on postpartum depression, and she is a tenacious advocate for women who suffer from postpartum mood disorders. Katherine is a survivor of postpartum OCD, and her blog is all about promoting awareness, education, and info on the latest research, programs, and legislation.

She's fiesty and she's honest, and she is an amazingly inspirational woman who works tirelessly to shatter the stigmas that surround postpartum mood disorders.

I think I probably nearly peed my pants with excitement when she invited me to be a part of the 2010 Mother's Day Online Rally for Moms' Mental Health. It's an event in which she posts a new story every hour on the hour from survivor moms, social workers, nurses, doctors, and experts about postpartum mood disorders. Each post is a letter to new moms, and I am honored beyond words to be included with so, so many amazing women.

So, please go check it's the link to my letter to new moms - Sera: On surviving postpartum depression

And while you're there, please check out all of the other amazing stories that you will find as part of today's rally.

And may all of you mamas be ridiculously spoiled this Mother's Day. You deserve it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From sleepless nights to potty training: Reflections on my two-year journey as a mother

It's the night before my sweet little Kaylee Bug turns two years old.

I came in here to write after spending a short while with her before bed, where we read her favorite new book - Ladybug Girl, and she asked to say her "pears" (prayers) - prayers in which she frequently thanks Jesus for things like Captain Feathersword from The Wiggles, as well as other important things like candy, Costco and Grandma.

After the reading of the book (and my refusal to read the book again), the pears, and the stalling, I succumbed to her request of "Mommy yay down, too?"

So, this little mommy yayed down, too.

And, in those little moments, I realized how far we'd come in two years.

We made it through postpartum depression and anxiety, an overwhelming sense of when in the hell am I going to figure this whole motherhood thing out (answer = uh, never), very sleepless, unpredictable nights, the horror of teething, so many firsts, so many laughs and tears and holycrapIamgoingtoLOSEit moments.

We've made it through so much. And while I will always remember those really, really hard times - the belief that I would literally never sleep again, the terrifying panic and worry, the worse-than-contractions-kind-of-pain I had after giving birth, the insane sleep deprivation, the unbearable irritability, our 9-month battle with breast feeding, Kaylee's refusal to take naps for her first 12 months of life, multiple trips to the ER and a stay in the children's hospital, and did I mention the sleep deprivation? - I can honestly tell you that I don't have anywhere near the vivid imagery of those events that I did months ago. The emotional pain of those struggles fades more and more as time goes on, believe it or not, and I thank God for that.

When I look back on the last 2 years, those really sucky moments are not what stands out most to me anymore. For the longest time, I couldn't get past those haunting memories. I felt like they were so deeply etched in my mind, and for the longest time, I had a hard time believing things would get much better, or that it would ever become easier for me to look back and not have those be the most dominating memories I had of being a mother.

Will I ever completely forget what that junk was like? Oh, heck no. I will always remember how real and how difficult those days and months were. But now, I'm able to see myself as an even tougher woman for actually surviving all that. Those were bumps in the road that helped me grow, helped me learn more about myself, and helped to stir up a passion in myself to help other women who are either in that boat now or who have been there in the past.

Now, when I play that little slideshow in my head of the past 2 years, I see things like Kaylee taking her first steps in our office, and then later that night, taking more steps out in the living room after Dennis bribed her with a cookie.

I see her enjoying her first bite of cake, courtesy of my Dad.

I see her running all the way across a soccer field, just to get to the dirt border around the outside so she can play in the dirt and rocks instead of the soft grass.

I see a little girl who decided all on her own that it was time to start potty training, and who pretty much always thinks it's okay to just sit all the live long day on the toilet and "go potty more!" only to get off the toilet, state matter-of-factly, "Don't pee on da floor" and then proceed to pee on the floor.

I see her jacking a can of V8 out of the fridge and toting it around pretending to drink out of it as she walks around the house, and then saying, "Ahhhhh" after she's finished with her pretend drink.

I see a little girl who knows her ABC's and sings the Ippy Pider (Itsy Bitsy Spider) song all on her own.

I see a little girl who uttered, "Dammit!" in Wal-Mart today after I dropped a box of pasta off the shelf.

I see all the times Kaylee's face lit up each and every time Uncle Colin and Sarah came home from college after she'd gone months without seeing them.

I see my spunky little smiling, energetic, funny, smart, absolutely beautiful baby girl.

And, finally, I see myself as a damn good mother.

I no longer see a failure who still can't keep the house clean, who occasionally swears and loses my patience and struggles to stay sane some days. I no longer see a mess of a mom who never had it together.

Now I see a woman who balances a marriage, a job, friendships, family, being a mother, and trying to have some time to myself, among other things like oh, paying the bills and planning meals and countless other super-fun responsibilities.

I see a woman who still swears and loses my patience and struggles to stay sane, but now I see that as normal, rather than seeing it as a character flaw. I still don't have it together many days, and I know I will never "arrive" at a place where I'll have it all together. That'd be a load of crap. I see a mama who does her best and who realizes, more often than not, that that's all I can do.

Forget the pressure to be the perfect mother, to have a clean house, and to be Pollyanna. Screw than, man. It's just not me.

I see the way my daughter has turned out, and I know I've done okay. And I know I will do okay.

While I may not be proud of everything I do and the way I react to everything, I realize that's just fine. And I realize that my daughter needs to see that. She needs to see her mama as human. As imperfect and sometimes messy. As one in need of a daily happy pill and some time to myself, and a good, healthy dose of Grey's Anatomy once a week.

We made it.

We made it two years. And while she tries my patience like no other, she just keeps getting more fun.

Fun enough to give me the crazy notion that it's finally time to do this whole thing over again.

God help me...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The day my kid said "Dammit."

It's a day all of us parents dread. We hope and pray it won't happen to us, but deep down, we all know it's just a matter of time.

It's the day our child says their first cuss word. You swear up and down you'll watch your mouth around your child and you will not be THAT parent, the one whose child says bad words.You vow to be a better parent than that. You will always set a good example. That's what you tell yourself.

But, really - that's probably what you told yourself. Before you had kids. Because before we have kids we all swear there are certain things that we'll never allow, but then we end up allowing them anyway, because you learn to pick your battles, and you learn that while Barney may inspire you to chuck things through your picture window, he can also be your best ally when it comes to taking a shower or getting 30 minutes of quiet time to yourself when you're standing on the brink of insanity.

So, some months ago, one of us opened the hall closet only to find that a crayon had been shoved under the door such that when we opened said door, the crayon scraped a huge streak of color across our lovely hardwood floors. The adult in question uttered, "Dammit!" upon seeing the bright red streak on the floor. Pretty much immediately, Kaylee said it, too. Plain as day. Great.

Dennis tried to fool her into thinking it was "rabbit" and not "dammit" that actually came out.

Then came an oh-so-innocent sounding string of, "Dammit! Rabbit. Dammit. Dammit. Rabbit. RABBIT!"

Not exactly a redemption there, folks.

At first we really reacted to it. "No, Kaylee! We don't say that!" and on and on. We tried to correct her, but we found it actually made the situation even worse. She loved the reaction, and she'd just cock her head to the side, turn up the cuteness by about 76 notches, smile that irresistible smile and then whisper it..."Dammit?"

So, we changed gears. We consciously made the choice to become terrible parents by actually deciding to ignore her when she said it. I know! Despicable, right? If you want to take away my nomination for Mother of the Year, I'm sorry to tell you you're too late. I'm pretty sure I lost it on January 1st (dammit).

Anyway, ignoring it has seemed to work best. But, we can definitely tell when Kaylee's about to say it. She'll say, "That's a bad word! Don't say that!" And then we know a tiny little "dammit" is just around the corner.

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not writing about this because I'm all proud of my child's newly expanded vocabulary.

I'm writing about this because I'm not perfect. Dennis isn't perfect, and we don't have a perfect child. We're just doing the best we can, and if that means that our nearly-two-year-old sometimes utters "dammit" (always in perfect context, by the way...), then oh well.

We feed her. We love her. We bathe her. We play with her. We do the best we can.

And that's good enough for me.

This post is loosely based on writing prompt #4 from Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop, going on all day long over at Mama's Losin' It.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Little bit of this, little bit of that.

I hate it when so much time goes by without writing, but it's been happening more and more, and I think it's just the nature of where I'm at in life right now. There's certainly no shortage of things to write about, but I just haven't taken the time to sit down to form the thoughts into words.

Kaylee and I have been spending less time at home during the week and more time out doing things. She is just in love with the zoo (as am I), and slowly, but surely, she's getting used to sitting on the tiny benches at story time long enough to actually listen to the story. This weekend will be her first gymnastics lesson also.

She's just changing so fast that I can hardly believe she'll be two at the end of this month. She's taken it upon herself this last week or so to start using the potty, which is freaking awesome. Hellooo! Still not out of diapers, but definitely very, very interested in the potty, so that's pretty darn big. We're also back in our habit of hitting the Mommy and Me exercise class, which does wonders for my mood and my overall sense of well-being.

I'm still a Martha Stewart in training, cooking up more yummy stuff. I've got several pictures ready so I can share some new ideas with you. I'm also still loving reading, although I'm not able to get through books so fast at the moment with all that's going on.

So - nothing earth shattering going on over here. Nothing super witty to say. Just feeling the itch to write some more. That's all.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wordful Wednesday - Just one of several looks that get her out of trouble...

There are just so many things I love about this picture. Where to begin?

1. The cropping action. I busted out my sweet cropping skills on this one. So, you really have no idea how messy this room was when I took this picture. Ha!

2. The ensemble. Kaylee remains stubborn in her fashion choices. Even though this picture was taken in the morning, this is the outfit she insisted on wearing to bed the previous night. Let's discuss. Okay...we've got purple pony sweatshirt, black knit tights (which were not orginally paired together for her outfit, by the way...) and her pink and brown Sketchers. Beautiful, no? And yes, she slept in the shoes.

3. The makeup application skills. Sure, she got some makeup on her shirt. And her tights. And! But, I have to give this girl some props for her mad skills in makeup application. Would you just look at the precision of the blush on the cheekbones? Just like Mary Poppins - practically perfect in every way. Seriously. She doesn't miss a beat when she watches me put it on every morning. She knows exactly where that makeup goes, people.

3. The bedhead. Oh, the crazy bedhead. My child finally has enough hair to have crazy bedhead!

4. The look. Really, do I need to offer an explanation for why I love the look? It kept her out of timeout for getting into my makeup - little stinker...

This post is a part of Wordful Wednesday, hosted by Angie at 7 Clown Circus. Go check her out!

Fighting the blahs.

All I want to do today is just stay home, put on a marathon of Barney for Kaylee, and read a book. I started a new one last night by Jennifer Weiner called Little Earthquakes, which was a recommendation from a friend. I'm already hooked and don't want to put it down.

I'm just feeling lazy and unmotivated and not wanting to get out of my cushy robe to do much of anything. I know we all have our days like that.

But, it's sunny outside. Spring is in the air (and everything in bloom is making me want to scratch my eyes out because my allergies are ALSO in full boom). My child thrives on fresh air. I miss the girls at our Mommy and Me exercise class, and I haven't gone to the gym in ages.

So, at some point in the next 62 minutes, I'm going to wash my face, put on a dash of makeup in an attempt to hide my puffy allergy eyes, put on my workout clothes, load Kaylee up in the car, and prepare myself for getting my butt handed to me in our boot camp class for an hour

Because I know it will do both of us some good. I'll feel energized and refreshed and hopefully it will jump start my workouts again.

Plus, when I was changing Kaylee's diaper after she woke up this morning, I asked her what she wanted to do today, and said, "Go to zoo? See da bear?" And...I just can't bear to keep her cooped up in the house all day after such a cute request.

So, the gym and the zoo it is.

(Written on 3.29.10)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

iRead. iCook.

It's an understatement to say that my whole life changed when Kaylee was born. While I was navigating the waters of my early months with her, there were lots of things in my life that I let go - like daily showers, getting outside regularly, housework - the usual things that take a back burner when a new baby comes on the scene. I could only juggle so many things, and unfortunately, one of the things I dropped for several months was reading for fun.

Last year I really got back into reading, and I tried hard to always have a book going on my nightstand. Reading has always been my favorite before-bed ritual. It slows my mind down, calms me, and if I read until my eyelids become heavy and I can't keep them open any longer, I usually sleep really well.

In 2009 I read 19 books. And, while I usually tend to stick to fiction, just for the simple fact that I love getting lost in a good story - something that's totally made up, I started getting into more non-fiction books last year. Memoirs, biographies, books about health - just broadening my horizons.

So far this year, I've already read 17 books, so I know I'll surpass last year's number of books read by quite a lot. I'm continuing to try and read a good variety of books. This year it's been everything from biographies to chick lit, to adventure, to just plain fiction.

I'm so glad I eventually brought myself back to rekindle one of my very favorite past times. I find myself reading, and being so excited about the other books that I want to read, that it seems I just can't read my current book fast enough.

I'm currently on a little kick about reading about polygamy, and I'm finding it absolutely fascinating. At the bottom of this post, I'm including a link where you can view all the books I read in 2009 and all the books I've read so far in 2010. I've rated all of them, and some I've even written quick little reviews about.

I've got a couple books lined up for some blog book tours that I'll be sharing my reviews with you on (one includes a giveaway, which I'll announce tomorrow), and I also hope to highlight some of my favorite books from last year and this year.

Along with more talk of books and reading, there will be some more cooking and food talk, too. I still have a couple giveaways that I meant to include in Food Week, and I also have another food-related post I've had in the works. In addition to that, I've taken some pictures of a couple of the recipes I shared during food week - included especially for those of you who said you're visual and want pictures! And since I kicked off Food Week, I've found another recipe that we are absolutely crazy about around here, and I'll be sharing that, too.

I'm hoping that rather than having themed weeks, I'll just share stuff about books and cooking in more of an ongoing way. I didn't like being limited to talking about just food for a whole week.

So, that's that. Come back tomorrow for a review on one of my most recent reads - a copy of the book will be up for grabs for one lucky reader!

Sera's bookshelf: read

Balancing ActsBehind the Smile: My Journey Out of Postpartum DepressionHarvesting the HeartEscapeThe Hunger GamesI Was Told There'd Be Cake

More of Sera's books »
Sera Goldsmith's  book recommendations, reviews, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pickin' up where I left off

So...I definitely bit off more than I could chew with my attempt at the whole Food Week thing a couple weeks ago. Sure, I got an awesome interview with cookbook author Aviva Goldfarb, put up some fun, yummy recipes and got some great feedback from some of you on them, but two of my planned Food Week days never happened.

I had a Pampered Chef party at my house at the end of that particular week, and it was so much stinking FUN. It was the first time since Kaylee was born that I had an actual group of girl friends over for a party. It was such a wonderful feeling to have my house full of some of my closest friends and my family. So...needless to say, I spent a ton of time getting ready for that.

Then...Spring Break arrived, and Dennis had an entire week off from work. So, I neglected the blog, and I let the rest of my Food Week go down the crapper. But, I kept my family first, so that's that. We'll just pick up right here and finish things off.

So, one of the things I had planned was to share three great foodie giveaways with you all. One of them expires this Friday - as in, I must give your address to the company by THURSDAY or there will be no giveaway. I definitely dropped the ball on that one.

Right now, I'm home by myself, so I'm just going to get this particular giveaway up, and the other two will go up sometime later this week. Because - hello! I am home. BY. MYSELF.

So, be sure to check out the next post about the Fiber One gift pack that's up for grabs. Be sure to enter - your chances are probably going to be good since there's only a couple days left!

And the other topic I never posted on? Money-saving ideas, especially related to buying and eating fresh produce. That'll be up later this week, too.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How to be a rock start in your own kitchen: Part Three

Welcome to day five of Food Week on Laughing Through the Chaos - click the links below to catch up if you need to!

As we've been trying new recipes this year, we've discovered some that ended up in the trash after one bite, some that weren't bad, and some that we were just totally crazy about. The following are some of our favorites from our many new adventures in cooking. I hope you enjoy them!

Spicy Turkey Bean Chili 
Oven-Crisp Potato Wedges 
Low Fat Oatmeal Banana Bread 
Microwave Apple and Pear Crisp

How to be a rock star in your own kitchen: Part Two

 Welcome to day five of Food Week on Laughing Through the Chaos - click the links below to catch up if you need to!

On making my first "gourmet" meal...

Glaze of Glory Pork Tenderloin

This is a recipe I adapted from Gourmet magazine. The original recipe is by Paul Grimes and it included a fancy shmancy salad and some salad dressing to serve along with the pork. I never cooked that, so I'm omitting it here. I also made a slight modification to the pork tenderloin based on our family's tastes.

The first time I had this was during a girl's night at a friend's house. I bit into this juicy pork and pretty much thought I'd died and gone to heaven. It was that good. Seriously? One of THE best things I have ever tasted in my life, and it was SO easy to watch them make (I was in charge of potatoes and dessert).

I decided to brave it on my own when we had some family come and visit us in February from out of state. I don't think I've ever cooked for so many people, so I was a little nervous about it turning out right. They raved about it. They asked for the recipe, and they had seconds.

This seriously tastes like a gourmet meal you would get at a restaurant.

It goes great with the Oven-Crisp Potato Wedges and a side of steamed veggies (my personal favorites to go with this meal are asparagus and broccoli).

Dennis told me this was the best dinner I have ever made. That being said, you definitely need to try this, and I promise - it is SO easy!


For pork:

2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper (I prefer the course ground pepper)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 pork tenderloins (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 lbs total - Costco has these for a GREAT price!)
2 Tbsp. olive oil

For glaze

1 c. packed dark brown sugar (all I had was light, and it worked just fine)
2 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic (I substituted the jarred, minced garlic)
*Original recipe also listed 1 Tbsp. of Tabasco, but we omitted this ingredient


-Preheat oven to 350.
-Sit together salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon, then coat pork with spice rub.
-Heat oil in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until just beginning to smoke, then brown pork, turning, about 4 minutes total. Leave pork in skillet.
-Stir together brown sugar, garlic, and Tabasco (if you choose to add that ingredient) and pat onto top of each tenderloin. Roast in middle of oven until thermometer inserted diagonally in center of each tenderloin registers 140 degrees F, about 20 minutes. Let pork stand in skillet at room temperature 10 minutes (temperature will rise while standing).

NOTE: I did not put my skillet in the oven. I transferred the pork to one of my Pampered Chef stoneware casserole dishes. Also, at 140 degrees, the pork was still pink in the middle, so I went with the recommended internal pork temperature listed right on the meat thermometer, which - I do not presently have in front of me, so I'll just go ahead and let you refer to your own meat thermometer. Or Google. Whatever.

How to be a rock star in your own kitchen: Part One

Welcome to day five of Food Week on Laughing Through the Chaos - click the links below to catch up if you need to!

On making my first souffle...

This recipe was was one of the very first I tried after deciding to broaden my horizons with new recipes and new ingredients. I didn't even know what a "souffle" was until I saw the movie, Julie and Julia. Now, every time I see the word souffle, I hear, "I'iiiim Julia Chiiiild" in my head. I checked out the ingredients, thought it sounded like they'd taste good together, and figured the directions looked simple enough, so I gave it whirl.

The recipe says bake until "puffed and golden," but, having never made a souffle before, the high level of puffiness was pretty much freaking me out. It looked like it was about to explode all over the inside of the oven. So, I do what any novice cook does - I jumped on Google real quick, where I quickly found out that, not only is it actually a pretty big deal to make a souffle, but the crazy stuff going on in that oven was actually normal.

Anyway - apparently, souffles can be a bit tricky to make. Had I known that, I probably would have chickened out and say, "Hey, honey. Looks like it's Cheerios and toast for dinner again," but I'm so glad I was ignorant up to that point because this is one of my proudest kitchen creations EVER. I made a souffle! And it tasted amazing, and Dennis even loved it! Oh, happy day.

It's great for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner - anytime, really, and the leftovers taste great the next day.

Apple Pancake Souffle
A modification from Weight Watchers' Simply the Best : 250 Prizewinning Family Recipes


1 cup + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat flour)
3 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 c. fat-free egg substitute
2 c. skim milk (I used 2%)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. unsalted stick margarine (I used butter)
6 apples, peeled and thinly sliced (my food processor saved me a lot of time by slicing the apples for me - I also used Granny Smith apples)
3 Tbsp. firmly packed light brown sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon; make a well in the center. Add the egg stubstitute, milk and vanilla; whisk until thoroughly combined.

3. Place the margarine in a 13 x 9" baking dish; place in the oven until the margarine is melted and sizzling, about 3 minutes. Add the apples and mix gently to coat. Bake until th e apples are heated through, about 5 minutes (just an FYI, I forgot this step the first time, and it didn't make any difference at all). Pour the egg mixture over the apples; sprinkle with the brown sugar. Bake until the souffle is puffed and golden and a knife inserted int eh center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Serve at once.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chart Toppers: Top 10 food blogs & websites you don't want to miss

Welcome to day three of Food Week on Laughing Through the Chaos - click the links below to catch up if you need to!

In no particular order...

10 food blogs & websites you don't want to miss
  1. Joy the Baker
  2. A Year of Slow Cooking
  3. My First Kitchen
  4.  Pioneer Woman 
  5. Bakerella
  6. The Tasty Kitchen
  7. Stone Gable
  8. The Scramble
  9. All Recipes
  10. Hungry Girl

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Chart Toppers: my top 10 favorite cookbooks {at the moment...}

Welcome to day three of Food Week on Laughing Through the Chaos - click the links below to catch up if you need to!

Later this week I'll be bustin' out some of my favorite recipes to share with you (some new, some old), so I thought it was only appropriate that we talk about cookbooks and other places I find my recipes before we actually check out the recipes themselves. Today it's all about the cookbooks. Tomorrow I'll share my favorite food blogs, websites, and iPod/iPhone apps related to food.

I broke all these bad boys up into categories in case you're looking for something specific. I received many of my cookbooks as gifts, some I bought online, and others were borrowed from friends or checked out from the library.

When it comes to buying cookbooks, I highly recommend checking out local used bookstores or checking online for the best deals. I'd say close to 90% of the time I buy books online, I buy them on because you can get used copies in good condition for super cheap. Another great site I bought books from in college is, where you'll also find great deals on books. Or, better than paying anything, go to your library and borrow the book, or ask friends if you can peruse their cookbook collections and borrow from them.You don't need to spend a bunch of money to get good ideas for recipes.

The most special cookbook I have was given to me by mom mom as a wedding gift. She compiled recipes that have been in our family for years, got recipes from Dennis's mom that were his favorites, and she had Dennis's sister illustrate it. I remember looking through it the first time, seeing some recipes and realizing it had been years since I'd eaten some of them, but they instantly brought back great memories of my child hood and the creative ways my mom would prepare foods for us. The book itself is something I'll always treasure, with many personal touches from my mom thrown in throughout the book. It's something that I will one day add to and share with Kaylee. I just couldn't include a post about cookbooks without mentioning it.

So, here are some of my favorite cookbooks, with little tidbits about why I love each of them.


Weight Watchers' Simply the Best : 250 Prizewinning Family RecipesWomenHeart's All Heart Family Cookbookby Lisa Lillien Hungry Girl 200 Under Paperback

by Kathy Kastan and Suzanne Banfield

This is a cookbook I checked out from the library. While I didn't find a bunch of recipes that I thought our family would particularly like, I would be tempted to buy this book just for all the reference material at the beginning. The whole first part of the book lists many, many heart healthy foods and discusses the health benefits of each. I learned so much in those pages.I was fascinated by how powerful a role our food choices play in our health. There are so many foods that have been shown to prevent diseases, so it was just more motivation to continue preparing healthy meals from scratch.

by Lisa Lillien

Hands down, this is the best cookbook ever. I am absolutely in LOVE with it, and there are still oh-so-many recipes I'm dying to try but still haven't had the chance to. Every recipe in this book is under 200 calories, and the Weight Watchers Points values are also listed on the Hungry Girl website for each recipe. This book has it all. Snacks, desserts, breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizers, drinks - holy bananas, it's phenomenal. Lisa takes everybody's favorites like french toast, cinnamon rolls, cookies and cakes, and changes them up to be healthy. You'd expect them to taste nasty with so few calories, but I am in awe of how delicious and decadent her recipes are. Kaylee is crazy about the banana pancakes from this book. I make a big batch and freeze them, and they make a really quick and healthy breakfast for her. If you pay full price for any cookbook, make it be this one.

One of my coworkers let me browse through this cookbook, and I found some absolutely amazing recipes. I've done Weight Watchers in the past, and really enjoyed some of the recipes on their website, so I had high expectations and I was not disappointed with what I found in this cookbook. Again - all sorts of things from muffins to cakes, fish, soups, poultry - something for everyone. All nutrition information is listed, and since it's Weight Watchers, you know all the recipes are healthy. All too often I look through cookbooks and only find a few recipes that seem worth trying, but not this one. This is one I hope to buy soon because it is filled with so many recipes that just sound amazing!

Crock Pot/Slow Cooker
Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow CookingFix-It and Forget-It Cookbook: Feasting with Your Slow Cooker
by Stephanie O'Dea

Ok, so I don't actually own this cookbook - YET, but I want it really, really bad. You may have heard of The Crockpot Lady. She used her crockpot every day for a year, and wrote a blog to chronicle the whole thing. This is a book filled with some of those recipes. Her blog is amazing, and she includes pictures of all the ingredients and the finished product. She's a mom, so you won't find any crazy, off-the-wall ingredients, and all of her recipes are gluten-free. On her website (, she talks about how she tries to limit the amount of sodium, fat, and processed foods that she and her family consume. This is another cookbook I know you wouldn't regret buying. Her stuff is deee-licious.

by Dawn J. Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good

One of my aunts sent me this cookbook in 2005 after I'd written an email about the crock pot being my "new best friend." This book has over 800 crock pot recipes, submitted from people all over the country. Like many of my other favorite cookbooks, I love the incredible variety this one has! It's not just crock pot soups or pot roasts (although there are plenty of those recipes listed) - there's dessert, breakfast, appetizers, veggies, beverages and more. One other thing I love about the book is that there are so many variations on similar recipes that if you don't like one particular pot roast, you're bound to find another one that suits you better. There are also handy little crock pot tips throughout the entire book.
 Reference Cookbooks

Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today (Betty Crocker Books)

Dennis's mom gave us our Betty Crocker cookbook shortly before we were married. This serves as one of the main cooking references in my kitchen. If I haven't heard of a specific method of cooking before (i.e. blanching), or if I decide to be all brave and try a new vegetable, but have no idea how to cook it, I bust out Big Betty. There are handy tables that list different methods for cooking veggies, tips on selecting good produce and suggestions about how to store foods properly. The back cover has a chart for emergency substitutions if you happen to be out of a vital ingredient. I use this cookbook primarily for reference, and not so much for recipes, but it's an invaluable reference book in my kitchen as is evidenced by the many food splatters that adorn its pages.


Miracle Foods For Kids: 25 Super-Nutritious Foods to Keep Your Children in Great HealthHealthy Meals for Babies and Toddlers

by Juliette Kellow and Sunil Vijayakar

This was a Christmas gift from my mom. I've always struggled with feeding Kaylee, and she's pretty tiny, so for the longest time I worried about whether she was getting enough nutrition and if I was choosing the right foods for her. It's so important to me that I instill healthy eating habits with her at a young age. My hope is that she'll develop a love for healthy foods including a variety of fruits and veggies. But, like many kids her age, she can be picky, and she's regularly practicing her ability to say things like, "I no yike it" before she's even tried it, so I have to get creative. This book is absolutely packed with healthy recipes, menu plans for different age groups, information on why kids need certain nutrients, how you can present the same foods in different ways to try and get your kids to eat them, and of course - recipes. The book focuses on "miracle foods" - things like blueberries, kiwifruit, eggs, yogurt, sweet potatoes, avocados, etc. The book discusses how these particular foods can help our kiddos protect themselves against future heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses, as well as the immediate benefits they offer, like helping to prevent things like constipation and anemia. I think all caregivers of children can benefit immensely from this book, and it would make a great gift for expectant or new moms as well.

by Valerie Barrett

This was another gift from my mom. This book is also filled with great resource information regarding allergies and intolerances, appropriate serving sizes for children, tips on cooking, freezing and reheating homemade baby food, and even ideas for for babies who are on vegetarian diets. The book is broken into age-appropriate recipes and meal ideas for babies and toddlers at each stage of their development. The photography in this book is gorgeous and sooo cute! The tiny little kid portions and utensils are just adorable. This is another fantastic resource for anyone with kids.


Smoothies & Ice Treats

Smoothies and Ice Treats
by Lindsay Barnes and Amy Shawgo

My mom got me this cookbook a few years back at Kohl's during one of my smoothie kicks - I definitely go in spurts with the smoothies. One of the authors, Lindsay, is also a nutritionist, so the first part of the book has some basic nutrition information and discusses the health benefits of several foods. The rest of the books has a crazy variety of smoothie recipes. I'm talking everything from smoothies for athletes, for stress management, for men, women, children, breakfast, lunch, dinner - even special occasion smoothies. Love this book.

Please leave a comment tell me what your favorite cookbook is!