Monday, December 13, 2010

A Holly, Jolly Giveaway: Win a Husky Powertek Screwdriver

Hey, Y'all! Merry Christmas!

Check out the giveaway on my review blog, Belle of the Blog Reviews. The cute little Husky Powertek 13-piece screwdriver makes a great stocking stuffer!

I hope you'll enter, share the details with others, and come back often!

Good luck!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Get Ready: Contest Coming Next Week

Hey, Y'all!

On Monday, I'm going to be hosting a contest on my review blog, Belle of the Blog Reviews. The prize will make a great stocking stuffer or nice Dirty Santa gift.

So you know what to expect, here's how you'll be able to qualify once I open the contest.

1. In the comments for the contest post, tell me your funniest home improvement fiasco story. And it can totally be at the expense of your husband, dad, mom, self, or whoever caused more damage or wreaked more havoc in his or her efforts to fix, repair, or upgrade something around the house.

2. Follow my blog. 

3. Post a link on your blog, Facebook page, or via Twitter directly to the contest post.

4. Return to the comments and leave a link to the place you shared my link so I can verify.

To be clear, you must complete all four steps to be qualified.

I will choose the winner when the contest closes at 12:01 a.m. December 15. How will I choose, you ask? The story that makes me laugh the most. I know. It's purely subjective, but laughter is one of life's greatest gifts and I want to hear some funny (but true!) stories!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Battle of Evermore

The Elves have arrived! These didn't travel from Middle Earth. More like the top of the Earth. Sent down with instructions to keep children in line and report back to the chubby guy in the red suit. These darling little fellows can convert the naughtiest of children in this four week period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Our elves arrived the night before Thanksgiving and have been wreaking havoc helping keep order ever since.

They traveled with us to my mother-in-law's for Thanksgiving and since we returned home they've been sitting on their perch in our foyer keeping watch over the boys by day, and getting into all sorts of trouble by night.

So far, they've swung from my mother-in-law's chandelier, ridden on her fancy one-of-a-kind reindeer (oops!), eaten Ritz crackers, let our dog Cooper eat an entire bag of Snausages while we were out watching the Alabama-Auburn game. Since coming home, they've eaten the candy from the boys' Advent calendar, hidden in their book bags, snuck into Brendan's room and left a dollar bill,  played Beckett's guitar, and various and sundry misadventures.

Beckett is mostly oblivious to the elves and their adventures. He finds it amusing when they get up to something, but Brendan's joy at their misdeeds is palpable. He falls into fits of laughter when he sees what they've been up to while he was sleeping. And the couple of nights they've remained on their shelf, he has seemed quietly disappointed.

Honestly, I'm not sure which has been the best part for me...seeing the joy this simple Christmas ritual brings my children, or the ease with which it allows me to correct bad behavior. All I have to do is say "The elves are watching you," whenever they're yelling or messing with one another and you wouldn't believe how fast their behavior changes!

Now, I know some of y'all may think it dishonest, especially those of you who don't allow your children to believe in Santa. To me, it's a fun, harmless way to reinforce good behavior and enhance the magic of Christmas as only a child can see it.

Merry Christmas, Y'all! And happy Elfscapades!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Oh, Sister: Thank Goodness for Siblings

All this week National Public Radio has been doing a series on siblings and sibling relationships. I've really enjoyed listening to these segments. As an only child, I often find myself baffled by the interactions of siblings, especially my own two sons. And I'm fascinated by birth order. Am I more like a baby or a first-born seeing as how I am both? And what about twins and the siblings of twins? How does birth order work for them? It's all endlessly fascinating to me, but at the end of the day, I still feel like I've missed out on one of the most amazing relationships in the world by not having a sibling.

When I see my girlfriends going off to do things with their sisters, like shopping or baking during the holidays, I always feel a pang of envy. How lucky are they! As I child I was addicted to the Trixie Belden books. I longed to have a big family like Trixie's with a wise and sensible older brother to look out for me like Trixie's older brother Brian.

In reality, I was very lonely as a child, so when it came time for us to decide whether or not we wanted an only, in my heart the decision was already made. Yes, by having an only we could give him much more in terms of material possessions and opportunities in life. But what would all that be worth if our son walked through life all alone, without the ties that a sibling can give you.

I don't know that anything can compare to the shared experience siblings, especially those who are close in age, have.

My father chose not to be a part of my life and unless he's dead, he's out there. Somewhere. And somewhere out there, I most likely have siblings. Or half-siblings. Sisters or brothers who might look like me. Think like me. Sound like me. But unlike me, I hope they had, not only the love of our father and their mother, but the love of each other.

If you have a sibling, this Thanksgiving let them know how much they mean to you. If you're not close, work a little harder to get to know them. Once your parents are gone, you will only ever truly have each other and you'll be thankful then to have someone who shares the same memories and life experiences as you. Someone who can always help you remember.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas (or Winter Holiday, if you please): Dawn's 10 Holiday Survival Tips

That's right, Shawties! It's that time of year again. The one where there's never enough time or money. When all your crazy relatives set your teeth on edge and make you wish you could hole up somewhere until the whole affair is over. The one where you say, "Next year, I'll do things differently." That's right. It's Christmastime.

Now you should know going into this that I love Christmas. Flat out adore this holiday. Hands down, my favorite time of year! But, I know it's not that way for all of y'all so, inspired by TwitterMoms and Tiny Prints, I decided I would share with y'all some of the things I do to keep the hounds of stress away from my door during the holidays. 

First, though, I want to tell you about Tiny Prints. I just discovered their site via their TwitterMoms program. Tiny Prints provides stylish, modern and unique stationery from photo cards to personalized greeting cards to thank you cards and business cards. Offering exclusive designs from the nation’s top designers, easy card personalization, a powerful preview engine and top-notch customer service and paper quality, their designs have been lauded by numerous television networks, publications and celebrities. With Tiny Prints by your side the Holidays will be a cinch! They offer adorable Thanksgiving CardsChristmas CardsHanukkah Cards, and even New Years Cards. All fully customizable and personalizable.I wish I had seen this birth announcement when Beckett was born. And don't even get me started on their gorgeous Christmas cards.

Okay... Let me begin by saying that I am in no way perfect, nor do I think of myself as some sort of role model you should all try to emulate. I have my crazy-making moments. Still, there are things I do to try and keep things as calm as they can be during the holidays and I hope some of you will find my methods helpful. So, let's go...

1. Set the Mood. I work in marketing and event planning for a reason. I am tickled to death by themes and big concepts. I don't think they get much bigger than Christmas. And while I realize some folks go all out and theme Christmas, I kind of think that conceptually, sticking to the basics is the way to go here. And I would say that the same applies whether you're celebrating Channukah, Kwanza, or the Winter Solstice. You don't really need a Down Home Channukah or a Sunny Winter Solstice theme to make your holiday bright. But whatever. I digress. Whatever holiday you celebrate, do it with style. Your own style. But make the mood cheery and festive. Decorate. Play the music. Get your family into it. I start the day after Thanksgiving by pulling out my Christmas dishes and playing Christmas music. I don't always subject my family to the music that early, but it makes me happy and gets me in the spirit to do all the things I need to do. We put up our outdoor decorations Thanksgiving weekend and now that we have a December birthday in the family, the tree goes up early, too, so we can then focus on Beckett's celebration. Being surrounded by the signs and symbols of the holiday put me in a festive mood. When I start to feel stressed all I have to do is listen to Bing Crosby sing Christmas in Killarney or look at the twinkling lights on my mantelpiece to feel that sweet, joyful feeling of Christmas well-being again.

2. Make Your List. And check it twice. Just like Santa with his lists of the good and the naughty, making lists will help you get through the holidays without forgetting anything or doing anything twice. There were years when, inevitably, I would realize on the way to a holiday party or Christmas gathering that I'd forgotten to buy a hostess gift or even worse, a gift for a favored aunt. Now, I make list after list for the holidays. The Christmas Card List. The Gift List. The Menu. The Grocery Lists. The Guest List. The Chore List. The List of Things I Forgot to Add to Other Lists. It sounds tiresome, but I promise you, making lists will save you time and energy as you can see what you have accomplished and what's left to be done. You can make your lists as detailed as you want, too, in order to help you remember and accomplish even more in less time. For instance, on my gift list, I have the recipient of the gift, what they're getting, and where to buy it. Once an item is bought, I strike it from my list. If I've ordered it online, I make a note of when it should be arriving so that if it hasn't arrived by its expected delivery date, I can follow up. Just give this one a try and I believe you'll find that it changes your life. In a good way. 

3. Leftovers Are Your Friends. You'll likely spend enough time in the kitchen over the holidays creating magical holiday meals for your family and friends, making Bourbon Balls, Buckeyes, and all manner of other yummy treats. So cut yourself some slack during this period and order a pizza here and there. Or cook a big meal on Sunday and enjoy the leftovers a couple of nights. I'm a big fan of casseroles like this one

4. Set and Keep a Gift-Buying Budget. Unless you're so darned rich you buy a new boat whenever yours gets wet, then you probably need to watch your nickels and dimes this time of year. This is one place those lists I mentioned earlier can come in handy. In our family, we set a cost per gift. I get ideas from those who will receive gifts from us and figure out which items fit our budget. Next, I make a list of who will get which items and where I can find the item for the best price. This really takes some of the pressure off when I'm shopping. I'm not just running around from store to store like a chicken with its head cut off, ending up spending more than I intended just to have a gift for someone on my list. 

5. You're Only Human. I know you're used to tackling the world's problems day in and day out, but this is the holiday season and we're not talking about your normal routine. You've got school pageants, office parties, family dinners, neighborhood parties, parties with friends, church events, Christmas parades, shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, and much mistletoeing to take care of. And it's okay to say no to some of those things. It's not good for you or your family to overcommit, especially at this time of year. As each invitation comes in, sit down with your family calendar and identify any conflicts. If your heart tells you that you really, truly want to go to the event, then add it to the calendar. If you feel any sense of dread or if there is an existing conflict, politely decline the invitation, unless it is absolutely critical to your family life or career that you go. Some things you just can't get out of, but sometimes, it's simply not worth the exhaustion and disruption to go. Choose wisely, my friends.

6. Take the Best and Ignore the Rest. This holiday, you are like a duck. Not a Christmas duck, all trussed up and roasted, but a pretty little white duck, gliding along placidly. And when your critical mother or your curmudgeonly cousin come along and make waves, you're just going to keep floating along and let the water fall around you, rolling right off your back. No gripes, complaints, criticisms, or gloom and doom prognoses are going to get to you this year. These Negative Nellies in your life want you to be just as miserable as they are. So smile to yourself and go to your happy place. Focus on the joy in your own heart, the beauty in your life and wish the same for them. Find one thing you like about them and focus on that. But whatever you do, don't let them see you crack. Trust me, they will push all your buttons, especially when they don't get a reaction the first time. Just turn the tables on them. Compliment them and let your inner light shine as an example of how we should all treat one another. 

7. Be Authentically You. Why would you want to be anyone else? Okay. Nevermind. I understand that impulse. I've fought it for years. Still do sometimes. But I can only be JakeDawn. I like formal dinners and seeing my kids dressed up on the holiday whereas our family is...well, a little more casual. They prefer shorts and t-shirts (we live in the South, y'all. It might be 75 degrees on Christmas Day!). I want us to do things together like games or maybe to linger over our food and talk about something other than our kids while they're often ready just to move on to gifts as soon as we eat. That's who I am and who they are. And for a while, I tried to just fit in and go with the flow. But I was miserable. So, now, I do my thing and I'm just happy for them to do theirs. We may look like we don't belong at the same event, but so what? We're together and we find the ways to communicate and share that work in the end.

I'm just saying that if you want a big fancy feast and you're hosting, but your mama and them want to show up in blue jeans and eat off paper plates, find a compromise. You dress up and serve the food on your best Christmas china, but let them come as they are and love them for who they are. If they tease you for being different, just say, "Well that's what makes me ME and I'm happy to be ME." 

It doesn't matter that your sister spends two days making special holiday cookies with your nieces while you couldn't make a sugar cookie dough that rolls out to save your life. Figure out what you love about the holidays, what you're good at, and make it your thing. The holidays are not a competition. If you don't enjoy yourself this time of year, what's the point in it all? As my husband says to me all the time, "Everyone runs her own race." So, do your thing and be happy!

8. Breathe. And remember to take time out for your health and well-being. It's easy to let your normal self-care routines suffer during the holidays, but don't. That hour of yoga, 15 minutes of meditation, or 30 minutes at the gym (or with that Jillian Michaels video) can go a long, long way to keeping you calm while it helps balance out some of the tasty treats you'll consume this holiday. Take care of your mind and body and everything else will flow much more smoothly. 

9. Schedule Downtime. I know this sounds impossible. But I'm serious. As I said before, you cannot do it all. No one can. Plan a Saturday afternoon with no dance recitals, parties, pageants, parades, festivals, or outings other than to pick up a pizza for supper. Sit in front of your fire or in the glow of the lights from your tree or some candles. Banish the kids to their bedroom or play room or ask them to play quietly near you and read a book. Listen to some nice music. Watch a favorite holiday movie and just be still. It will do wonders for the whole family.

10. Remember the Reason for the Season. Yeah, I know. I'm a big-ole cliché spouting fool. But as dorky as that may sound, I'm dead serious. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Channukah, Kwanza, worship at the feet of Gaia, or celebrate a purely secular holiday, the Winter Holiday Season, as it were, is about more than rushing around, buying gifts that will be forgotten in a matter of weeks, if not days, and spinning yourself and those around into a frenzy. I believe we are meant to focus on our blessings (be they big or small) and think about how we can serve others at this time of year. Find ways to make your holiday celebration meaningful to you and your family in simple ways. We want our children to know that Christmas is more than the gifts they receive. This year, we'll start a new tradition, giving them each just three gifts, just like the baby Jesus received. This has made them think critically about what they want to ask for and why instead of just begging for everything they see. I've known for weeks now exactly what each child wants. Yes. Even from my almost 4-year old. You can't believe the relief I feel over that. And I'll stick to it, instead of, as in previous years, guilting myself that they weren't getting enough because their friends would get more than they did.

And instead of feeling like I have to contribute to every Angel Tree, Toys for Tots, Salvation Army, or any other charity I run across this holiday season, I've chosen one and we'll contribute to that one. The boys will help and we'll work on it as a family, in a sincere and organized fashion, instead of me running around willy-nilly giving to every charity I see. 

I just think focusing on the bigger meaning of the holiday season really provides a structure for all that we do and reduces the urge to compete with friends and neighbors or to feel like we have to do it all. 

Alright. Well, there you have my ten best tips for surviving the mad dash through the holiday season. I'd love it if y'all would add your tips to my comments. And please check out Tiny Prints and TwitterMoms where you'll find a host of other ideas for surviving the holidays. 

By the way, I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms and Tiny Prints blogging program, making me eligible to get a $75 Tiny Prints gift certificate! For more information on how you can participate, click here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Grandma's Hands

As anyone who might still be reading my blog since I haven't posted in months may have noticed, I've been writing a lot about food. Tweeting about it as well.

Being that I never intended this as a food blog, it seems a might strange.

In actuality, I'm just getting back to the roots of who I am. This journey of parenting made me lose myself in a lot of ways for a long, long time. It has changed me. And now I discover that it has carried me back to who I am and who I was.

I joined a CSA back in June. At the time I had just read The Omnivore's Dilemma and watched King Corn and I was thinking even more than usual about the foods we eat and the damage done to our environment by conventional agriculture. I thought I was joining the CSA for political reasons as much as to provide my family with healthy, locally-grown real food. And, to be honest, at $25 a week for a huge box of vegetables, it was a cost-saving initiative as well.

What I've discovered of late, as the bounty of beautiful autumn vegetables has rolled in each week, is that I really did this for myself. Okay. Maybe at the time I didn't know that. But now, this endeavor is solely for my own awakening as a cook.

Before having children, cooking was a passion for me. I loved trying new recipes, trying new foods I'd never cooked or even tasted before, and playing in the kitchen. Having children turned my once relaxing and leisurely cooking sessions into frantic, chaotic, rushed hours of crazy-making where I would burn things, cook things my children would refuse to eat, and left me in despair that I would never be able to cook a decent meal again.

Then, my children got a little older. Right around the time I joined the CSA, my kids began to be able to entertain themselves long enough for me to get a meal on the table or plan a week's worth of meals without being interrupted 27 times. My oldest also began to ask questions about what he was eating and both boys love going with me to pick up our box of veg each week. They can't wait to see what's in there. And of course, they're more excited about the grits and apples, but I know I'm making progress when my baby says of a lovely red and green striped bell pepper, "That's a beauty."

This week as I washed and chopped collard greens to freeze and sliced fresh beets to roast for dinner, I thought of my grandmother. I thought of her again as I poured freshly ground cornmeal from our farm into a bowl to make corn muffins using her recipe. These were the foods she cooked and served when I was child. Her techniques may have been different than my own, but cooking and eating these foods makes me feel close to her. I carry her in my DNA, in my heart, and in the love of cooking she instilled in me as a little girl. I learned to cook at her hand. And while she grew most of her vegetables in her own garden or bought them from farmer friends she knew personally, I still feel happy that I can teach my kids how to enjoy foods that are in season, grown nearby if not by my hand, and in the slightest way pass some of my love for my Mammy on to them.

I don't let myself think of her often. She died when I was 16 and to this day I still miss her.

Who knew a box of vegetables would help me find a way to reconnect with some of my favorite memories of her and let me find a way to celebrate her life without feeling my heart break all over again?

Whoever did, whatever power led me here, thank you for giving me back one of my favorite outlets for creating and showing love and for letting me feel so close to someone I loved so much.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Come On-A My House

I've always loved food. I've loved to cook for as long as I can remember. To this day, I remember the first meal I cooked all by myself. Swiss steak. I got the recipe out of a magazine at the hospital. I was nine and determined to take over the cooking duties when my grandmother came home from the hospital. She was 79 and had just had a heart attack. So, I learned by trial and error. That first meal, though I barely had a clue what I was doing, turned out pretty good and started a life-long love of good food and cooking that has evolved into a love of fresh, organic and locally-grown food. 

Perhaps because I am more aware of cooking healthfully and eating well, and therefore talking about it more, I've had a couple of friends ask me to give them some meal ideas. I also offered to post some recipes for some Twitter contacts as well, so here are some of my favorite recipes and quick meal ideas. Enjoy!

Cheesy Chicken Fingers

1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese crackers, crushed
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
dash paprika or cayenne pepper (optional)
1 egg
1 1/2 pounds chicken tenderloins
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.
2. Place crackers in zip-top bag and crush. Add breadcrumbs, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, cheese and shake to mix.
3. In large bowl,  beat egg. Add chicken and toss to coat.
4. Remove chicken from egg, allowing excess egg to drip off. Place chicken in bag with cracker and spice mixture; seal tightly and knead to coat.
5. Arrange chicken in single layer on baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes until golden brown and crispy.

So, that's one that's popular with my boys, although, I have to admit my husband is not a huge fan. I like it a lot for a quick, easy dinner that the kids will eat without complaint or pressure from their parents. I usually serve it with steamed broccoli or carrots, and whole grain rotini (or curly noodles as my sons call them) with butter.

Another favorite is this lemon chicken recipe. It takes an hour to cook, but it's the kind of thing, you put together in about 10 min, then pop in the oven and let cook while you mop the floor, or run the kids to soccer or dare we dream, read a book:

Lemon Pepper Chicken with Lemon Noodles

1 Whole Chicken (3 to 4 lbs)
2 Lemons
5 cloves garlic (more if you really love garlic)
1 stem fresh rosemary
1 stem fresh thyme
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Kosher or sea salt (to taste, but be careful as you'll be adding salt to the herbs, salting the cavity, and salting the skin)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 425º F.

Wash and prep chicken.
Remove the leaves of the rosemary and thyme and gently chop them. Mince 4 of the garlic cloves. Zest one lemon. Blend the garlic, lemon zest, and herbs together. Add 1 T spoon of oil, salt, and pepper to herbs and garlic.

Gently loosen skin on chicken with your fingers so that you can apply your herb mixture to the meat of the chicken. Next, cut lemons in half and squeeze juice of both lemons over the entire chicken. Place half a lemon in the cavity along with the remaining garlic clove, then add salt and pepper to cavity as well. If you have extra rosemary and thyme and want to stick a stalk of each in the cavity, go for it.

Next, use your fingers to smear the herb mixture all over the chicken underneath the skin. Be gentle, but make sure you get the rub all over for consistent flavor.

Bustle up your legs and wings and tie them with kitchen twine. (If you omit this step, it's not a big deal, but tying the legs and wings presses them up against the breast of the chicken which helps it retain more moisture. I often leave this step out, but can tell a difference in the juiciness of the bird.)

If the skin is bunched, spread it out as best you can, then drizzle remaining olive oil over the entire chicken.

Pour 1/4 cup water in roasting pan and place chicken in pan. Cover with lid and roast for 45 minutes. Remove cover and cook an additional 15 min. to allow skin to brown and chicken to finish cooking.

When chicken is done, remove and let stand 5 to 10 min. If you like you can add a little more water to the pan drippings and cook as a sort of gravy.

Lemon Noodles:

  • 1 lb.of your favorite noodles (rotini are popular here)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lemon, zested, and juiced, plus more juice if desired
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 stick salted butter, softened
Cook noodles to package directions. While pasta is cooking, mix all other ingredients except butter.  (Egg yolks should be beaten gently, but should not be frothy.) 

When pasta is done, add butter and gently toss to melt butter. (Stirring will make your pasta too chewy.) Take off heat, but while still hot, add the egg/lemon juice/cheese mixture and toss to coat pasta. 

Serve with lemon chicken.

This collard greens recipe would make a nice accompaniment. Only throw in a few shakes of crushed red pepper to really make it sing. 


I'll try to post more recipes as time allows.

Happy Eating! 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Suburbs

I feel like all the life has drained out of me.

I hate it here. In the suburbs. In this dead zone where there are few people that I feel are real human beings, not pretentious, soulless zombies.

I never wanted to live here, but that said, I do love my house. I just wish I could move it to Decatur and live next door to someone really fascinating and cool.

I guess part of my sense of isolation is the fact that my best friend in the whole world lives a million miles away and we talk on the phone, but can't see each other because neither of us can afford to travel to see the other.


Rotten mood. Rotten everything.

I'm on a downward spiral right now, which is really unfortunate.

Brendan just started second grade and he hates everything about it which makes me hate everything about it.

I will say the one positive thing is having homework daily rather than just getting a packet at the beginning of the week. I like having one thing to do every day as opposed to getting it all at once and then having to dispense over the course of the week and have Brendan argue over which sheet he wants to do, always putting off the reading and writing assignments until the last minute.

I'm going away now because I pretty much hate everything. Including myself.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

We Aren't Perfect: Postpartum Depression Confessions

Crystal, the terrific blogger over at We Aren't Perfect, has devoted the month of August to Postpartum Depression awareness. 
Each day her blog will feature a Postpartum Confession by a guest blogger writing on the topic of PPD.
I am today's featured blogger. You can see my post here.
If you or someone you love is or has been or may one day be touched by postpartum depression, I encourage you to visit Crystal's site and read these moving accounts of what it's like to move through what should be a joyful, if stressful time under the dark clouds of postpartum depression and to break free to the other side.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Hear Them All: Privilege, Poverty, and Guilt

I try to count my blessings daily. Recently I told Scott that you know you are truly blessed when you're operating at a level where you're dealing with what I call high-level problems. You know.... When you have the luxury of worrying about the fact that your son hates reading because you know you have a roof over your head and healthy food on your table every night. And trust me...I am thankful those are the problems I have to deal with. Those truly are white people problems.

And by white people, I really mean upper middle class problems.

I didn't always live my life as a fortunate son daughter, lucky enough to be able to think about these things. My childhood was spent eating pinto beans and cornbread most every night bought with the money my grandmother earned stripping tobacco. I remember going with her and doing the work myself on many an autumn weekend in freezing tobacco barns, paid something like ten cents for every hand of tobacco I tied. The little money I earned went right in with what my grandmother earned to augment my mother's meager salary and pay for our rent, groceries, clothes, medical bills, and whatever else we needed.

Although I will never forget where I came from, I choose not to dwell on it. I'd rather be thankful for the wonderful life I built for myself with my desire to leave my situation, the God-given intelligence to rise above the circumstances into which I was born, and a little luck along the way (like meeting and marrying a beautiful and brilliant man who does an amazing job of providing for his family).

Every now and then I get a big there but for the grace of God go I reminder of my roots.
Like today at Kroger.... A dark-haired young woman holding a beautiful little baby girl came up to me and my boys as I was wheeling my buggy out of the organic/natural foods section of the store, pausing to look for the $1 each Softsoap and anti-bacterial sanitizer that's usually in the center aisle.

She handed me a note written on the unlined back of an index card: "I have three babys and I lost my job. Can you help me?"

How could any mother hesitate to help? Surely that's why she chose me in a packed store. That and the fact that as I so often do with strangers, I smiled and made eye contact.

Yet, I did hesitate.
"I'm so sorry, but I don't have any cash on me," I replied to her note. I spoke the truth, but still felt guilty inside.

In broken English with what sounded like an Eastern European accent she then asked me if I could buy formula for her baby. "The kind with Lee-peel," she replied when I asked what kind.
Trying to imagine how desperate I would have to be to ask strangers at a grocery to buy formula for my little baby, I said I would and walked with her to the baby aisle. They were out of her formula, so she asked if I would buy some baby bottles and diapers.

I did, along with some wipes. While we were walking to the checkout, Brendan asked me why I was buying things for a stranger when I told him I couldn't buy the Horizon Organic Vanilla Milk because it wasn't on sale. I told him that everything in our cart with one exception (avoacados) was on sale and that I always try to buy things on sale to help save money.

As we stood in the checkout line, me unloading a buggy of grass-fed ground beef, fresh bananas and peaches, milk (not organic, but the big old gallon jug my boys drink every three days or so), three different kinds of whole grain bread, a bottle of wine,whole grain tortillas, and avocados, the woman told me she has triplets when it occurred to me to ask where her other two children were.  She said they were home with her mother.

She seemed grateful, but at the same time, she didn't carry with her the air of shame and regret that I imagine I would have felt in asking someone else to help me in that way.
I remember slinking around and wanting to hide when I was child and my grandmother used food stamps to buy our groceries. It felt humiliating.

Perhaps as a mother, you can't afford to feel ashamed when you're trying to figure out how to help your children. I don't know.

I do know that after she left I didn't feel the same sense of having committed an act of goodness that I usually do whenever I donate to charity or help someone in need. Perhaps it was guilt over having her witness my privilege while she was in need. Although, is it really privilege if it wasn't given to you? If you worked really hard to get to that point in your life and if you and your partner still work to maintain it?

Perhpas it was the vague sense I felt of being taken advantage of.... (Maybe she'd return the diapers and buy cigarettes for all I know.) Or perhaps it's just the knowledge that our society allows there to be parents and children in such need that leaves me feeling discomfited.
Whatever the root of it, I continue to feel a sense of unease and sadness regarding the situation. I feel both like I should have done more and like it shouldn't be me doing it at all, but rather her family, her church, her community, our government.

I guess in the end I know that buying some diapers and a few wet wipes, and some baby bottles really isn't going to change that woman's life and when it comes down to it that's what she really needs. A life-changing moment that turns everything around for her and her kids. A job that pays a living wage. Safe, affordable childcare. A community that cares about mothers and children and what happens to them.

In hindsight I think of all I might have done, but when you get shanghaied during a rushed trip to the market, what can you do?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. What would you have done in a similar situation?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Satellite: Please Visit We Aren't Perfect's PPD Confessional

Those of you who have read my blog for a while might remember my own experience with PPD. After my son Beckett was born, I had a really rough time. After months of feeling like I was the worst mother and wife in the world, feeling unloved, terrified, anxious, and sometimes as if I would literally burst free of my own skin, I ended up very ill physically. My kind and loving mother-in-law convinced me to talk to my who told me my immune system was shutting down due to sleep deprivation and the stress of having a newborn. But it wasn't until a few weeks later when I called him from my car, sobbing because I felt worthless and didn't think I could be a mother any more that he diagnosed me with post-partum depression and put me on Zoloft. That changed everything and in a few weeks I felt like myself again.

Crystal, over at the blog We Aren't Perfect, has also had her own experience of PPD and to help shine the light on this debilitating condition that affects anywhere from five to 25% of new mothers, she is hosting a PPD Confessional to allow other women to share their experiences with this disease. Between now and July 31, you can e-mail Crystal your story to help other women who might find themselves in your shoes.

Let your story shine a light of hope for others who walk through that dark night as you once did.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More than Words: Getting Your Kids to Embrace Summer Reading

Some parents are blessed with kids who love to read. Some of us are not so fortunate.

I never imagined it would be possible for me to produce a child who didn't love to read. I was reading on a fourth grade level when I was in Kindergarten, requiring my mom to meet with the principal, my teacher, and the school librarian to obtain permission for me to check out actual books from the library. My husband Scott skipped Kindergarten and first-grade entirely, jumping straight to second grade where he was reading on an advanced level and correcting his teacher's mistakes.

But then, our son was diagnosed with Developmental Dyspraxia, a condition that has affected his ability to read in much the same way a dyslexic might be impacted. Although he scored an "Exceeds Expectations" on the standardized reading test required for promotion to second grade in Georgia, he just absolutely hates to read because it has never come easy to him. It challenges him in a way he doesn't like.

And I've tried getting him engaged with books on topics he likes from space to reptiles. But every time I ask him to sit down and read, it's a huge battle with him telling me the book is too hard and me yelling at him in frustration that I know he can do it because he's smart and I've seen his reading scores.

So, I decided to go back to ground zero in our efforts. Clearly, my son's confidence is lagging behind his actual abilities. In order to convince him that he knows more than he thinks, we're now working on sight words again. Yesterday we sat and he did 35 sight words for me, only missing one. I couldn't believe the excitement in his face.

My plan is to go through all 200 or so sight words until he feels really confident and then go back to trying to get him to read me actual books. In the meantime, I am reading the first Harry Potter book to him. I also plan to start reading some Lloyd Alexander books to him soon. I've never read them, but someone I know recommended them, suggesting I start one and make him finish it on his own if he likes it. She says she did this with her son when he was eight and that by the end of that year, he was reading on a 10th grade level.

Once we're done with the sight word experiment, I plan to order some grade level I Can Read books. He already has a couple that Scott bought for him when he had to do a book report this year. I think he'll appreciate the idea that he can see they're on his current level and not feel intimidated. I may even trick him by getting him to read one level below his current grade just to get him reading.

How I envy those of you with children who entertain themselves by sitting quietly and reading! And those of you whose children are breezing through chapter books on their own in first grade. Appreciate how lucky you are and try not to judge too harshly those of us who have to make an extra effort to engage our children in what I think is the most pleasurable pastime of all.

*I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms blogging program to be eligible to get an "I Can Read!" book. For more information on how you can participate, click here. You can also join in a discussion with other parents about motivating your child to read on

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

It Ain't Easy Being Green: Step One Toward a Greener Kitchen

Wednesday has quickly become my favorite day of the week.
And not merely because reaching Wednesday means we're halfway to the weekend.
Nope. I love Wednesday because that's the day I get my box of fresh organic produce from the Riverview Farms CSA program. 
It's so thrilling to know I'm supporting a local farm and farm family while doing something good for the Earth. Better than that is getting a bounty of superfresh, from-the-farm, dirt still clinging to them, delicious veggies, some of which I would never buy if left to my own devices, not because they're not delicious but because of my fear of cooking vegetables I've never cooked before.
I picked up my first box last week, coming to the game a bit late. I have wanted to participate in a CSA for some time, but hesitated because of the upfront cost. After reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and watching Food, Inc.,

I decided that I had to just stop dabbling with feeding my family in a more conscious manner and really commit to it. 

We had already eliminated almost all high-fructose corn syrup and Nutrasweet. Giving up Diet Coke was a major sacrifice since Scott and I were both kind of addicted to the stuff. And giving up HFCS has meant thoroughly reading every single label and much to my children's dismay giving up much-loved breakfast cereals in favor of healthier choices. 

Joining a CSA just seemed like a good choice for us. And at just $25 a week for a huge box of organic, locally-grown veggies and fruit, it's also kind of a bargain. 

Just look at the photos here to see what last week's box contained: okra, green beans, zephyr squash, cucumbers, six ears of corn, over a quart of the sweetest blueberries I've ever tasted, two huge heads of garlic, a mix of new red and Yukon Gold potatoes, tomatoes, and fresh basil. 

I have no doubt that I had bought the same amount of organic produce at Whole Foods or in the organic section of my grocery, I would have paid well over $25 for the lot. Organic blueberries alone are $5 a pint and I can't say that I've ever even seen organic okra at either of those places. 

And even though my first thought with the okra was yuck!, I managed to find a way to cook them that was truly delicious and opened my mind to how good it could really be.

I can't wait to see what today's bounty holds and what new recipes I'll get to try as a result. I'm hoping there will be zucchini that I can use with the remainder of the corn to make a corn and zucchini salad. 

I'm also hoping for more of those crazy good blueberries.

But we'll see. That's part of the joy and excitement of belonging to CSA. There are few truly fun and good surprises left in life and for me, opening that box to see what natural bounty lies in store for me and my family is one of them.

As I work toward creating a greener kitchen, and a happier home, this is one easy change to make. And hopefully, just one of many that will result in a happier and healthier family and also make our Earth just a wee bit happier and healthier, too.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Sometimes the love my sons show for one another shames me. They have such an amazing bond with one another, despite the normal sibling rivalry they also have.

If one of them is hurt or sad, often before I can make a move to comfort, the other brother is there, holding a hand, asking what's wrong, and trying to make his brother feel better.

They constantly say "I love you" to one another, share with one another, work hard to make each other laugh. 

Frankly, I am a little envious of their relationship. I never had a sibling and their bond is so amazing, and I pray, unbreakable, that I can't help but wish I had that. How I long for a sister.

I am incredibly thankful, though, that I get to see my sons experience this.

Of course, they're not perfect. I hear my share of "NO! THAT'S MINE!!!!" and "GET OUT OF MY ROOM!" And sometimes, their bickering drives me crazy.

But their love for one another really overwhelms any sibling rivalry. 

This week Brendan went to visit his grandparents without Beckett. It was Boys' Week for the older grandsons and Beckett was deemed too young to keep up with all the activities planned for the big kids. On Monday when I dropped Brendan off, he was begging me to let Beckett go with him, saying he'd miss him. When it was time for bed that night, Beckett was sad because he was worried that Brendan wasn't sleeping at home.

Beckett has been on the verge of tears several times this week saying, "Brendan's never coming home. I miss Brendan." It's been a little heartbreaking.

Of course, today the first thing he told me was, "I don't want Brendan to come home." Then, he smiled slyly, and laughed when his dad said, "You do, too, want Brendan to come home."

I can't wait to enjoy those first few minutes when they're reunited today, when they're joyful and happy to see on another, before I hear the cries of "NO! MINE!".

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ten Thousand Words

I've spent the last two days working on articles for clients, one a magazine article for a newcomer's/relocation magazine, the other a friend's business that helps facilities streamline their recycling and sustainability efforts.

I wrote on two very distinct and different topics, learned a lot about both, and had a ball doing it. Mind you, I've been doing research for the article on my friend's business for a couple of weeks, interviewing two schools, including my alma mater, that have used her services, but only sat down yesterday afternoon and today to put all the pieces together.

After finishing both articles, and as I was writing, I just felt all jacked up. Energized. Happy. When I'm writing like that, learning new things and sharing that knowledge, I just feel as if I'm – okay, get ready for the crazy-talk – I feel as if I'm in the flow of the Universe. I feel like I'm connected, plugged in, tuned in, turned on, and right where I'm supposed to be doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

And then, I don't want to stop.

I can't believe it has taken me so long to see this and be able to articulate it. The problem is, however, that when I do that, it's hard to get anything else done. My house goes to Hell. My kids feel neglected.

Balance. I know. The magic word we all seek. My problem is, I go off on benders. I'll spend a week doing nothing but writing, tweeting, Facebooking, stopping to feed my kids, workout, eat, bathe, take my kids to play or do something so they're not totally ignored, but everything else like laundry, cleaning, etc. can just fall by the wayside until I snap out of the spell and see the mountains of laundry that threaten to topple over and bury a child.

Still, despite the warning signs, it was only today that I realized what was happening, that I was finding my groove, the place I want to be,need to be, and getting lost there. When I come up for air and try to manage the household in the way it should be managed, then I fall so far out of the vortex of joy I'm in when I'm writing consistently, that I start to feel depressed.

Maybe now that I actually see and accept what's happening I can find more of that balance. Give a little more attention to the things that need attention before they get out of hand, be that doing the laundry or writing about something I care about. And soon I believe the paid writing projects will pick up enough again that perhaps I can outsource my least favorite tasks. If only I really could hire someone to do my grocery shopping, laundry, and clean the bathrooms without breaking the bank. Oh to dream!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Something for Nothing

Feel free to check out this offer over on my new blog, Belle of the Blog Reviews.

It's a good deal.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Per BlogHer's guidelines for their bloggers writing product reviews and sharing opinions about products or vendors (potential advertisers), I am launching my own review site as a companion to Belle of the Blog. It is called Belle of the Blog Reviews, because I like to KISS.

For now I'm going to leave my older product reviews on this site, but eventually when I have a little more free time (Yeah. Like when both boys go off to college in about 14 years or so!), I'll try to roll those over to the new blog.

In the meantime, I'll be posting reviews (never paid or compensated!) of things I like and don't like. Although I won't be accepting compensation for my reviews, I will review products that I have been invited to review. I will also be having some giveaways on the blog as I have the opportunity.

I hope you'll come check it out. Sign up as a Follower so you'll get my updates. And I really hope you'll all offer your feedback about products. If I diss something you love, tell me about it. But always be nice!

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Back in January, right after I turned 40 (BTW, You probably shouldn't know this, but I'll tell you anyway... Everytime I say that, I throw up in my mouth a little...), I decided it was time to get serious about getting fit. I had been doing the Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred, but decided I needed to step it up. I loved that workout and I was seeing great results, but I needed someone, other than Scott and that mean, badgering critic in my head (Hi, Mom!), to hold me accountable.

My deep-fried hot friend Jennifer had been going to a trainer named Eric for a while and followed him from the neighborhood L.A. Fitness to his own gym. I decided that whatever she was doing was working and since she spoke so highly of him, I decided it was worth a try. The price was steep but I don't regret it for one minute.

Yes, my body is reshaping and I love that. But so is my belief in myself and what I am capable of. Some of those critical voices in my head are beginning to quiet. And I, the real me, my Inner Being - that part of me connected most closely to God - is getting louder. And she's telling those voices in my head - my mom, old boyfriends, frenemies, bad teachers, bullies – well, she's telling them to shut the fuck up!

She's telling me that I am beautiful and vibrant and yes, at 40, still young. Still relevant. Still worthy of love and joy and excitement. Still worthy of Life.

And maybe some days I have to summon that Inner Being to remind me of those things again and again and again. But her voice is getting clearer to me.

It's not just the working out. (Oh! By the way, did I mention that I benchpressed 75=lbs. today? Pretty good for a chick, as my old highschool friend Shane the football player told me today.)

I've also been meditating, though not daily. I would love to fall asleep at midnight. Wake at six a.m. and meditate for at least 15 minutes before the wee ones awoke. Sadly, that ain't happenin'.

I fall asleep by midnight most nights, but then Cooper, our beautiful, sad, sweet 14-year old puppy awakes several times in the night. Last night was the first night in ages he only got up once. I'm giving him Valerian root, but he had been off it for a couple of weeks and totally regressed to his senile behavior. With little solid sleep, I've been a mess. Then, to top it off, Beckett or both boys have been coming into our room at around 6 a.m., meaning that even if I had gotten a solid night's sleep and awoken bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6:00 a.m. like I want to do, I'd just be facing my little men telling me they were ready for their oatmeal or asking me to turn on the T.V. No time for meditation then.

Even still, when I do get to do it, while they're napping or watching a movie, I can tell it's making me feel more whole. More like a real woman capable of making tough decisions. I feel far more capable as a parent, more in tune with my own beliefs and less insecure about my parenting choices since I've been meditating.

Still, it's a practice I'd like to explore in more depth. My friend Chris, whose partner Yasuko teaches mediation at their joint venture, The Center for Remembering and Sharing, sent me a link to this article on mediation today. I found it extremely helpful. The train analogy really clicked for me.

Then there are the dietary changes. Scott and I, along with our kids by association, are also eating healthier. I've cut out almost all HFCS from our diet. The kids still get a few items that have it because there aren't really any affordable alternatives to some items and I really just am not ready to be the totally green mom who doesn't let her kids enjoy anything in life. Give me a few months.

We've also given up anything with aspartame in it, trying only to use Stevia as the only sugar alternative in our diet. Scott, too, is on the workout bandwagon and looking sexier than ever.

We're really focused on living healthy lives around here. And I'm really excited about that. My mother didn't really try at all to take care of herself. By the time she was my age she had already had a heart attack. And yes, that was partly due to the fact that she was a Type I Diabetic, but had she monitored her diet carefully and exercised and done all the things her doctors told her to do, in fact, had she gone to the doctor regularly, she could have prevented her death at 59 of ischemic cardiomyopathy.

I do not intend to leave my amazing sons motherless until they are well grown and I've seen my grandchildren. My mom essentially left me motherless at 12 when I had to start worrying about her health.

All that stinkin' thinkin' aside, I hope that soon I'll start to really notice some additional and tangible changes to all this healthy livin'. Like a little more joy. A little more love. A little more hot mama. And a whole lot less mean-woman up in my head.