Monday, July 21, 2014

Cooking In...

I invited some friends over for a cookout on Saturday to christen my new deck and celebrate summer. So of course this happened...

Yes, it rained. All day long. A slow, steady, misty annoying rain. So instead of a cookout, we had a cook-in.

I borrowed my brother's margarita maker to help us get in the summertime mood. I only overflowed it once or twice before realizing I was filling it up too much. It was worth a few spills, though.

And yes, that says "Write yo name" on it. Guess who was the only person who forgot to write their name on their cup and kept losing it all night long? Yes, that would be me. I should have followed my own directions - or maybe drank fewer margaritas.

And this. This was a huge hit. A s'mores trifle with layers of brownies, graham crackers, chocolate pudding, whipped topping and marshmallow cream. And I served fruit salad in individual waffle cone-bowls. And cooked corn on the cob in the crockpot. Blame Pinterest for all that creativity.

And of course, like clockwork, the next day looked like this. Sunny, dry. Not a cloud in the sky. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Parenting 101

School is ending this week. And as I stood in line to get a salad for lunch today at Subway and looked up at the TV hanging from the ceiling there showing CNN's live coverage of yet another school shooting, I was elated thinking about that last day.

I don't usually rant about the news on here. I prefer to talk about parenting, or crafts, or anything but the news. But as scenes emerged of students running out of schools with their hands on their heads and scared parents in tears searching for news of their sons and daughters, I couldn't help but think about my kids. And the schools they go to. Everyday. And I couldn't help but think about the relief I feel with school ending for the year. Because every morning, as I drop my son off at kindergarten, I tell him I love him. And he tells me he loves me. And I ask for a kiss. And he says he doesn't want to get lipstick on him. And then I watch him excitedly pop out of the car, shut the door and run to the large doors that he heaves open with both hands. And everyday I hope he's going to have the best day ever.

And I also hope he'll be coming home.

I'm among a generation of parents that has no idea what it's like to just send your kids off to school and not worry about some sort of mass violence. My entire adult life has been marked by one school shooting after another. I wonder what it must have been like for my stay-at-home mother in the 1970s and 1980s, as we walked up the street on our three-block walk to school. Her biggest fear likely came on our way home, as many of us would cross a busy road to get to a small convenience store near school that sold cheap candy. But I doubt there was ever any real fear for us while we were in school. It was a safe place, far from the busy traffic outside or the break-ins that may have plagued my suburban neighborhood. Shootings? They didn't happen at school.

But today, they happen. All the time. At schools. Everywhere in the country. And that's frightening. My kids and their schools are no more immune to this than anywhere else. It's that fear that it could happen anywhere. Even here.

And I don't mean to sound alarmist. I know as parents we worry about everything our kids do. It could be a car accident. A rare disease. A kidnapper. Or anything. But now it's also school shootings. It never before was school shootings. But now, it is.

So each day, I tell my daughter I love her, even if she's too teenager-in-the-morning grumpy to answer me back. And I tell her to have a great day. And I swoon inside when I walk in the door after work and know that she is there, chatting with friends on her phone or doing her homework. Because I feel like we've made it another day. And that's an awful awful thing for us as American parents to have to do. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When parenting is tough...

Parenting is hard. Not all the time. There are some times when it's just silly, like Sunday morning dance parties while making pancakes. Or summer trips for ice cream and rainbow sprinkles. And lazy afternoons kicking a soccer ball around the back deck.

Then there are the other times. The times when your daughter cries for three hours straight because she didn't make the cheerleading team, and most of her friends did. Or the times when a little boy on your son's first baseball team is hogging the ball and not playing by the rules. And when you see your child's friendships fracturing for reasons they won't disclose.

Those are the tough times. It's when you carefully weigh what you say and how you react. Because when these things happen, you can almost feel it, too. You can remember being that teenager who was cut from the volleyball team. Or the elementary schooler who remembers watching others get away with things while you were obedient, and stayed behind. Or the pre-teen whose fight and subsequent loss of a best friend affected friendships for years to come. You know that heart tug of feeling like things will never get better.

So what's a parent to do in the tough times? Maybe make more trips for ice cream. And make sure there are plenty of silly times and lazy days. Because deep down you know it will get better. And somehow you've got to convince them of that, too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

You can have this, or that...

I don't always make the best choices. I mean that's what got me in this situation in the first place. So when my boot camp instructor presented our group with a 21-day challenge I thought it would be a great idea to sign up. The challenge sounded simple enough: Avoid cookies, chips, pies, cakes, white bread, sodas, fast food, chocolate and candy for 21 days. So pretty much anything that's good - avoid it for 21 days.

Day 1 was Monday. I was great. On Day 2, I was upset. So I ate Pop Tart. That night, I confronted this:

Having already had that damn Pop Tart, I figured what the hell. Might as well top it off with some cake. Or maybe a cookie. Or a scoop of ice cream. I had already blown it so why not go out big, right? Because that's what happens. When you make one poor decision, you tend to keep making them. And making them. And then it becomes easy. And then you've dug yourself a hole. So you might as well keep going. There's no turning back.

So in the 10 minutes it took for me and my family to drive to the bakery, my mind raced. What would I order? Wait, should I really order? Do I have to order? Maybe I shouldn't order? And somehow, I managed to talk some sense into myself. And when I got there I didn't order a thing. Instead, I sat there while they indulged and chatted and laughed and just enjoyed the company.

It wasn't a complete win. I mean, I did indulge in that Pop Tart earlier in the day. But I didn't let it derail me completely. I realized I had a choice. And I made the right one. And that's a little victory. A little victory that should be celebrated. Because little victories are good decisions. And good decisions lead to more good decisions. Until it becomes easy.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Making my own Mother's Day brunch

I agreed to make brunch for Mother's Day. And the night before, as I was setting the table, cleaning the house and prepping the meal, I was wondering what crazy self-hate I must secretly harbor to put myself through this stress! In between my son's baseball game, having to work a few hours on a Saturday, grocery shopping, and getting up early on Mother's Day to get to my fitness boot camp before our brunch, I didn't know if I could pull it all off. But I did! And, with a little pat on my own back, I must say that it turned out really really well.  I even squeezed in a trip to the craft store for a burlap runner and spring paper plates (I was not going to wash dishes on Mother's Day!)

Knowing I needed to keep the meal simple, I opted for two main dishes that I could put together easily and in advance. The first was French toast that I made in the crockpot. I assembled the slow cooker French toast  before I left the house this morning for boot camp, set the timer for four hours and it was perfect for our noontime brunch. (And despite the recipe calling for me to make my own bread, I used store-bought French baguettes.) It was delicious and brimming with brown sugar, butter and pecans - not exactly the best thing for my diet but perfect for company and a special occasion.

Also on the menu was a more waistline-friendly sausage and stuffing brunch bake. It was made using Italian turkey sausage, Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, liquid eggs, skim milk and low-fat shredded cheddar cheese. It was a huge hit and will definitely be something I make again - whether it's a real holiday or not.

We also had berry scones, which I made from a box mix bought at Trader Joe's, and mini angel food cakes with raspberries, blackberries and whipped cream.

So despite being the mom who had to make her own brunch on Mother's Day, I have to say that it all turned out beautifully. And I was proud of myself for being able to make it all happen - from the house cleaning to the grocery shopping and the decorations to the food. I guess my mother taught me well.

Happy Mother's Day, mom.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Is that an apple in my purse?

I took this photo of my desk at my office today. I don't usually take pictures of my desk, but this morning this veritable vignette of health struck me. I had rushed out of the house in a thunderstorm as buckets of rain poured from the sky. I didn't have time to eat breakfast, so I grabbed a banana and planned to get oatmeal or something when I got to work. I opted instead for two boiled eggs and coffee with soy milk. But then I discovered an apple in my purse. And then noticed two oranges I had left over from the day before. When I saw it all there together in one place I felt ... well... proud. This is what taking care of yourself looks like. For someone who for years would drink a latte and a sugar-laden pastry for breakfast, this is real progress.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ohio. Really.

I had a business trip to Columbus, Ohio, recently. Did you just yawn? Yeah, I thought so. I kind of did the same thing when I found out I was going to Columbus. I couldn't have been more wrong, though. I was pleasantly surprised by the city and all it had to offer. Here's a quick tour:

Columbus has a great science center called the Center of Science and Industry, or COSI for short. It was huge, and full of great exhibits that I'd love to take my family back to see.

One exhibit was all about the human body, complete with this display of X-rays, surgical demos on high-tech dummies and cool displays about cancer, pregnancy and hearing, among others.

An exhibit called "Progress" takes you back in time. This was a walk through the 1960s.

The next stop was the Columbus Zoo. I had heard rave reviews about this zoo and it did not disappoint! I was only there briefly for a dinner event and didn't even see most of it but I still loved it. The zoo reminded me more of an amusement park and it's definitely on my list of sites to return to, this time with the family!

Here's a quick peek inside the zoo at some fish we saw. I also pet a penguin (they are softer than I imagined) and saw manatees and miniature owls - up close!

You really can't visit Columbus without tasting Jenni's ice cream - at least that's what everyone told me. So I had to put it to the test. It's locally made and delicious. I found it at North Market, which was a fantastic indoor market right next to my hotel. I had the banana french toast and the goat cheese with roasted red cherries. Both were amazing - and so fresh! I highly recommend a trip to the North Market!

The market is full of fresh produce and different prepared foods. These desserts were gorgeous!

And these donuts were each as big as my hands!

The fresh breads and pastries at this store looked delicious - and smelled just as good! They had a variety of breads, scones and even homemade pop tarts. And for the record, the ice cream was the only thing I ate! I did buy a jar of strawberry salsa, which I've already dipped into. But definitely go to the North Market on an empty stomach, or with an unlimited number of Weight Watcher points ;)