Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to Give Up Gummy Bears Without Making Yourself Miserable

No, seriously, do not vow to completely give up cupcakes for the rest of your life.

You already know that I'm not making any New Year's resolutions this year. But maybe you're making some. They're irresistible sometimes; most of us love the idea of a clean slate, a fresh start. And yet--falling off the wagon is so common, and so disappointing. So....how can you maximize your chances of success this year, even as a busy mom with a lot of responsibilities and direct access to Goldfish crackers and gummy bears?

Back when I operated my psychotherapy practice, I spent my days helping clients with behavior change. Whether it was becoming more active to fight depression, resisting the urge to binge and purge during treatment for bulimia, or facing a feared object to overcome a phobia, my clients' issues ultimately boiled down to changing their behavior. Making new choices. Living differently. And there were certain principles I used with those clients, designed to encourage success.

If you're making any resolutions this year, try thinking about these ideas. This could be your most successful year yet! You're stronger than those gummy bears.

  • First, drop the word "resolutions," with all its loaded, can't-do-it associations, and replace it with "decisions." Decisions can be made any day, not just on New Year's, and can always be changed from "bad" to "good." Made a poor decision and ate six Oreos in spite of your weight-loss goal? Make a better one the very next moment by resisting the urge to continue down the path to sugar-overload and, instead, going for a walk or drinking a giant glass of water.
  • Pick one at a time. On January 1, it can be exciting and tempting to rehaul your entire existence and tackle every bad habit you have. You're motivated! You're fired up! But I guarantee that if you vow to improve ten--or even five--areas of your life all at once, you'll fall off the wagon. You're not a robot! Choose one behavior you want to change and work on that. When you've reached, or at least made substantial progress on, that goal, take on a new one.
  • Baby steps, people. No, your pro-health decision should not be "lose 20 lbs. by Valentine's Day" or "Swear off all junk food, forever and ever." Most of us find giant leaps much harder than small steps followed by more small steps. Break down your goal into segments, like "Lose 1 lb. this week" or even "Walk 10 minutes today," with the plan to add on as soon as you've accomplished the first part. Maybe "No more junk food, ever," should be: "This week, limit treats to one per day." I know that for me, one treat per day would be an improvement.
  • Rewards, rewards, rewards! You'd be amazed what you can do if you know you get a present each time you meet a portion of your goal. Every time you conquer a baby step, treat yourself to something. No, not the thing you're giving up. Something else. A lipstick? A new handbag? A celebrity gossip mag? (I'm not the only one who reads those, am I?) I am a huge fan of incentives for behavior change; presents to myself were the main reason I dropped my winter weight last spring. I'll gladly lose seven lbs. if I get to buy myself something guilt-free for every pound.
  • Don't let a slip become a slide. I used to repeat this one to my clients all the time. Basically, it means that, when trying to change your habits and behaviors, expect obstacles, stumbles, and mistakes. Be prepared for them. Rehearse how you'll handle them. Don't let one brownie turn into the entire pan, or one lapsed workout turn into a week of sloth. So you slipped. It doesn't have to be a headlong slide back to square one. Put it aside and move on.

All righty, mamas? Feeling good and motivated? Believe in yourself and your ability to do well. Make good decisions this year, not resolutions, and don't beat yourself up when you make a bad one by mistake.

Let me know what you've got planned, and how it goes. Most importantly, be nice to yourself and cherish another new year.

No Worries

Genevieve: I'm going to sing you one of my GREAT, great songs.

Me:
Oh, good! I love your songs. I'd better turn off the radio then, so I can hear it.

Genevieve:
Oh, don't worry, Mama! It's going to be at the top of my lungs.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Slash Your Grocery Bill in 2012

One of the ways I live frugally is by cooking and eating primarily vegetarian meals. While it's true that I have additional reasons for avoiding meat, the grocery-bill savings cannot be beat--and let's face it, these days groceries are crazy expensive.

But for those who are used to cooking and eating meat-based entrees, meatless meals can be intimidating. What do you eat instead? How do you know what to buy and cook? I recommend starting with a few easy ideas, rather than jumping immediately to lesser-known vegetarian proteins like tempeh and miso. For the simplest, and very delicious, options for money-saving, meatless cooking, read my advice at SheBudgets.com.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Resolve to Continue Eating Sugar.

So, New Year's is coming. Have you been thinking about your resolutions?

I go back and forth about New Year's resolutions, but many years I have made some sort of vow or ambitious goal. Like most people, I have a relatively shabby track record with keeping my resolutions beyond, uh, the first week in January. "Eat fewer junky snacks" just doesn't hold up when I'm running 20 or more miles per week, and, come on, aren't writers supposed to drink a lot of caffeine? It's who we are. Of course I could and probably should always make those character-improving resolutions like "Give more money to charity even though my income is miniscule because there are always people who have less than I do," and "Yell less." Or, how about the health-related ones like "Meditate every day" and "Take yoga for stress relief"?

Meh.

Two years ago, my New Year's resolution was to write the book I'd been musing on for years, one chapter a month, no matter how many children I had clinging to my knees at the time or how many times my toddler woke (me) up each night.

One year ago, my New Year's resolution was to land a book deal, and get said book out into the world beyond my hard drive.

Although I have plenty of things I am determined to do in 2012--promote the hell out of this book, for one thing, and give it the best chance at doing well that I can--I don't think I'm making any formal New Year's resolutions this year. I think I've earned a year off. I'm OK with not giving up Cheetos. I don't need to exercise more or lose any weight. I floss every night without fail. I hope my normal, daily life goes well enough that, even if I don't meditate or give up caffeine (again), I can be proud of who I am and what I'm doing each day.

Are you making resolutions this year?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stay-cation


So how are you doing? Surviving the after-Christmas rush? Or the after-Christmas doldrums? In my house, the kids are on school break, and my husband took the week off from work, so we're in full "stay-cation" mode.

There's no snow, which is a huge disappointment, because usually we spend Christmas vacation doing a lot of sledding, skating, and snowman-building, punctuated by the drinking of hot chocolate. So, oddly, our stay-at-home holiday is ending up being more expensive than usual, since we're filling our days with all sorts of fun family adventures (that cost money, unlike sledding and building snowmen). That's all right, though; even when money's tight, when you're a parent, you have to believe that the memories you're making when the family goes bowling and spends $25 for one hour and that's with a coupon are sometimes simply worth the cash outlay. For the laughs alone.

Besides bowling (which was seriously awesome; our town's family-oriented bowling alley has both bumper guards AND a portable metal "ramp," on which toddlers and small children can place their ball, and which then, with a small push, automatically guides the ball down the incline into the lane with some level of velocity--making bowling far less frustrating to the youngest and tiniest among us), we've also gone to the Eagan indoor playground, had dinner at a McDonald's (trust me, this is an adventure for us), and visited Keller Farm. And today we're going on a day trip to the well-known (but as-yet unvisited by us) Lark Toys, about 90 minutes away.

Tomorrow I think we'll stay at home and just have some quiet, relaxing playdates. You know you're a mom of young children when you consider simultaneous playdates for your 7- and 5-year-olds at your own house "quiet" and "relaxing."

Have you checked out my book's Barnes & Noble Nook page, yet? Do you want to order it for your Nook, iPad, smartphone, or computer? Maybe you should do that. Then maybe go bowling. It's super fun.

Minnesota Moms Exercise in the Cold and Snow!

I just started writing for Examiner.com, covering the Minnneapolis-area market and specializing in topics related to self-help, health, and fitness. For winter-exercise inspiration, check out my piece on outdoor fitness activities for the cold months. (Not that it's been very cold around here this year, or that we even have snow right now. But I assume it will come eventually.) Then go eat a few more Christmas cookies before you tackle those New Year's "must exercise more!" resolutions.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Day After Christmas

Amidst all the post-revelry cleaning, laundry, book-release-celebrating, and online shopping with Christmas money to catch the after-Christmas sales, I am not at all above posting a bunch of photos of my girls on Christmas, mainly for the grandmas.

As you can see, we do not do quality, nicely-posed, well-lit photography in this house. We do things fast and cheap, before the crying starts.

Sabine says, "Very funny. You annoy me."




Christmas Eve, ages 5 and 7



Presents are awesome.



Giant chocolate-glazed, chocolate- and almond-filled coffee
cake for breakfast on Christmas Day is awesome too.




Like I said, cake for breakfast = awesome.



Matching Barbie outfits. Enough said.
(Giant dollhouse in background. Santa got a good deal and,
with the help of Visa, fulfilled a dream of mine for my little girls.)


So there you have it. Consumerism, excess, credit card debt, giant desserts, mess, and the dressing of animals in hats--the very essence of Christmas.

And we loved every minute.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Morn

Yes, I made the black-and-white chocolatey glazed coffee cake for Christmas morning breakfast. (It took--among other things--several hours, three cups of flour, three eggs, a lot of chocolate, and it burned out the motor on my cheap old puny hand mixer. Santa: Next year, I really need a Kitchen Aid.)

I may also have slipped a little leftover heavy cream into my mug of coffee. I deserved it, you all. My kids were awake at 5:40 a.m.

Yet Another Easy Holiday Craft for Kids: Soap Snowman

Awww, aren't they cute?

Well, fellow parents, Christmas vacation is upon us. Or winter break, or holiday break, or whatever you call it in your school district. It all means the same thing: the kids are home for a long, long time.

I happen to love Christmas vacation, but I know it's also rife with opportunity for much fussing, sibling bickering, whining, sleep-deprivation-fueled meltdowns, and wails of, "What should I doooooo?" So in the interest of burning some daylight hours, here's another sweet holiday craft that can decorate your table all winter, if you are so inclined.

This craft is from a book called Angelina Ballerina's Christmas Crafts, which is adorable and which I highly recommend, if only for the included stickers and gift tags. No, not really! Don't buy it just for the gift tags. After all, it's a little late for those, isn't it? No, no, buy the book because it's cute, sweet, has great illustrations, and is chock-full of cute crafts, many of which transcend Christmas (so you can still use the book in January), and some of which you will actually want to do. (ha!)

Here are my paraphrased instructions:

Soap Snowman

Materials needed:

Mat or newspaper to cover your work surface
Paper plates (or other plates)
1 bar of white bar soap, such as Ivory or Jergen's, for each child making a snowman
Small bowl of water; spoons
Small twigs
Peppercorns, baking decorations, or anything else you can think of for eyes and mouth
Ribbon

Method:

Over a plate, grate the bar of soap until you have a nice pile of snow-like flakes (ADULT'S JOB ONLY). With SMALL spoonfuls of water as needed, form the grated soap into three balls to form the snowman's body. Use the water to stick the three balls together, but add only a bit of water at a time so you don't end up with melted soap or bubbles.

Gently add peppercorn or baking-decor eyes and nose, small twig arms, and a ribbon scarf. Sprinkle extra grated soap around the base of the snowman, if desired.




Saturday, December 24, 2011

Clearing Up a Few Things

My daughter says, "Please buy my mama's book! It's good."
(Why yes, I AM fine with using my children to sell books, in fact. Aren't you?)

Thanks for all the love, you guys! Truly, the outpouring of enthusiasm, excitement, and support for my just-released book has been overwhelming. Many of you have contacted me via e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook just to share in my joy, and for that I am so grateful.

I've had a few questions, though, about this whole Nook thing. I hope I can clear a few things up here. The most important thing to know is that, YES, the book will be available in other formats, including as a "regular," paper book, from other booksellers.


You do not need to own a Nook to ever buy or read my book, nor do you even have to own an e-reader of any kind (I don't!). My book was chosen by Barnes and Noble for a special Nook promotion (thanks, B&N! it's an honor!), but that just means that for the book's first month of release only, it is available through Barnes and Noble only, and through Nook only.

If you have a Nook, awesome! But if you have an iPad, that's fine too! You can read a Nook book on your iPad. You cannot, however, read a Nook book on your Kindle. But you'll be able to, eventually--in one month, in fact. And if you're a hard-core old-fashioned paper-pages book reader, like I am, do not fear! The actual, hold-in-your-hands paperback book will be for sale in one month, available everywhere.

So what I'm trying to say is, on January 26th, my book will be out in paperback form, AND as a Nook e-book, AND as an e-book for every other platform, through any bookseller you normally use to buy books. Order it online, ask for it at your favorite bookstore, whatever. January 26th, OK? I know it's hard to wait. But in the meantime you can buy the Nook book version for all the moms you know who own Nooks or iPads or Nook apps on their smartphones, and ask them to review it on the B&N site (especially if they have loads of wonderful things to say).

Is that better? Makes sense now? I hope so. You all are so lovely, so sincerely excited for me and excited to read the book--you're the best.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to each and every one of you. You have blessed my life this year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's a No-Brainer.


How can I not make this for Christmas morning? Do you see what the text says? ("Kids woke you at 5 a.m. to tear into the loot? Self-medicate with caffeine and our chocolatey double-glazed coffee cake.") It's like they've been in my house.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Came Early: The Book is Out!


Oh my goodness, lovely readers.

Remember how I told you that I'd be making a big book-related announcement on December 26th? Well, guess what? You're getting your after-Christmas present early, because the big event actually happened TODAY.

Awhile back, my publisher informed me of the thrilling news that my book, The Essential Stay-at-Home Mom Manual: How to Have a Wondrous Life Amidst Kids and Chaos, was selected by Barnes and Noble (BARNES & NOBLE, YOU ALL!) for their "NOOK First" program. This means that, for its first month of release, the book is available in electronic-book form through Barnes and Noble only, and will be marketed and promoted heavily and exclusively through B&N. (You can also buy the e-version for other e-readers, although not the Kindle. But if you have a Kindle, you could still buy the e-book to read on your computer, or on your smartphone with a NOOK app.) After the initial month, the book will be for sale as a physical, paperback book--as well as in electronic book form--not only from Barnes and Noble but anywhere you normally buy books.

The release date was slated to be 12/26, but instead, the e-book came out today. TODAY.

My book is out today. Through BARNES AND NOBLE. Who wanted to promote it exclusively for its first month of release. OMG!

Cue lots of squealing and jumping up and down with excitement.

So, do you want to see it? Click here to go to the B&N NOOK page featuring my book. Then, please, join me in some squealing and jumping up and down.

A long time ago, I told my now-book publicist Lori Culwell that I would be happy and fulfilled if I could just write this book and give it to my daughters one day when they are grown and are moms themselves. If nothing more came of my book idea than that, I would still be satisfied. And here it is, not only finished but for sale and promoted by Barnes & Noble.

Pinching myself. Christmas, indeed.

The Book is Coming

I think I need a cheerier post at the top of this blog right now. I meant to mention earlier, that there IS some good news in my house this week: it's less than one week until I get to fill you all in on the big announcement about my book! This is more than just an announcement about the new date of its release, folks, so please PLEASE check back on Monday 12/26 for the big news.

Unrelatedly, I remembered that last year at this time, I came home my daughter's Winter Sing and shoveled our patio out from under a four-foot drift of snow that had totally snowed in the door. And then the handle broke right off my shovel and I gave up. This year the ground is as bare as pre-Thanksgiving, and it looks like about mid-November here, too. So crazy!

I Don't Get Sick Often; I Just Get Sick BIG.

OMGGGGGGG. Why oh why do I feel so sick?

Yesterday I felt better for awhile. I got dressed in actual clothes, drove my daughter to and from a playdate, ran a quick errand, and did two loads of laundry. But it was all a charade. Or an illusion? A mirage? I don't know. It was a trick. Later in the day I felt as crappy as ever, and this morning? I feel even crappier than that! And today is the day of my daughters' holiday cookie parties and Winter Sings at school--the highlight of the year for them (and for me).

Let me tell you a little bit about this strange virus. First, I am sure I am no longer contagious, since I've been sick since Sunday. I'm sure whatever contagion may have been clinging to my being is long gone. And I'm not coughing, or sneezing, or anything normal and upper-respiratory like that. So I look fairly normal, albeit pale and a bit disheveled. The problem is, I feel horribly nauseous (but do not throw up, THANK GOD, because if you know me well you may recall that I have a terrible phobia of vomiting; I would rather do just about anything in the world but vomit. And I realize no one likes to vomit, but my dislike is more along the lines of hysterical. And now I think we should stop talking about it). I have no appetite whatsoever, I'm no doubt dehydrated, and am so tired and weak that when I'm feeling really bad, it is truly challenging to climb the stairs. I've been going to bed at 7 p.m. every night, but the only thing it seems to do for me is make my back ache from the many, many hours spent sleeping. Ugh!

I don't think this is influenza, since a.) I got a flu shot in mid-November; b.) I don't think influenza is a tummy bug; and c.) my friend Connie had this same virus--or a version of it--last week and recovered without any real drama. But whatever it is, I want to sock it in the face.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Writing This is Making Me Tired.

On Sunday, when this virus hit me in the space of about half an hour (seriously: one hour, fine and baking cookies with my daughters and taking them to swimming lessons; the next, unconscious on my bed after eating next to nothing for lunch), I was willing to humor it. Yesterday, I was annoyed but figured I could spare a day of cleaning and cooking and laundry and errands and writing work and Christmas preparations to lie on my bed some more, this time almost unable to move--after all Christmas was still six days away.

But today, I'm getting mad. I have gifts to wrap and holiday menus to plan and shop for; I have treats to deliver. And most important of all, I have my daughters' Christmas concerts at school tomorrow, when tomorrow is suddenly seeming very imminent.

This virus would be a great excuse to just lay around and eat Christmas cookies all day--if it weren't the type of virus that takes away one's appetite completely and leaves her eating nothing more than saltines since Sunday.

In other news, still no snow. What in the world?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Simple, Inexpensive Ways to Get Fit in 2012


So, the recession is squeezing the life out of your bank account, Christmas bills are piling up, and it's almost time to make all those New Year's resolutions about exercising regularly and getting in shape.

Lucky for you, regular exercise doesn't have to be expensive. Click over to SheBudgets.com, why don't you, and read the piece I just wrote for them about some simple, budget-friendly strategies for getting fit. You could do that for me, couldn't you? Love you.

The Week Before Christmas

I don't know if I've mentioned it here, but we've been having spring weather where I live. Yes, I know I live in MN. The place where winter usually lasts six months, and where it snowed last May Day.

It looks nothing like December outside, let alone the holidays. The snow is long gone. (Everyone here is heartbroken, and although I'm not winter's biggest fan, I do want and expect a white Christmas, had planned my girls' Christmas vacation to include plenty of skating and sledding and snowman-building and hot chocolate-drinking, so this is rather sad.) Yesterday it was 47 degrees and sunny. When I walked out of the building after my daughter's swimming lesson, I thought, Wow what a great day for a run. When I'm not injured, Sunday is a big running day for me. I always run on Sundays. The upside of a spring-like December is that it's a total bonus for outdoor runners.

On the way home, I noted how odd it was that I was not hungry, seeing as how it was 1 p.m. and I hadn't yet had lunch. Hmmm.... An hour later my hands and fingers began to ache. Hmmm....? A short while after that, my skin began to hurt. Then I became feverish and noticed that the idea of dinner was about as appealing as a brown Christmas. Damn.

I swallowed a friend's leftover Zofran, drank 4 ounces of fizzy water and ate 5 saltines, and went to bed at 7 p.m.

I didn't run. I didn't go out in the spring-like weather. And now it's the week before Christmas and I've got some sort of VIRUS.

So along with wishing for a white Christmas, I'm also wishing for a speedy recovery. Moms have things to do at this time of year, you know?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Another Easy Holiday Craft for Kids: Glittery Pine Cone Ornament


Need something else artsy and Christmasy to do with your kids this week? I've got another little craft project for you: making a Glittery Pine Cone Ornament.

If you've got evergreens in your yard (as we do), you're so set. Then you can do this spur of the moment, with little to no advance planning! That's my style of craft project. If you don't, well, procure yourself some pine cones (maybe a pre-craft nature walk is in order?); then do this project.

As you will see, pine cone ornaments are extremely simple, which makes them the perfect project for little hands. Just set the pine cone on a paper plate; put out cups of red, green, and white paint (with separate brushes for each); and let your child paint the pine cone in holiday colors.


While the paint is still wet, have your child sprinkle the pine cone with glitter (silver or gold looks especially nice, particularly with an all-white pine cone; but we had red and green, and that's lovely too) and let dry.


And tie a ribbon or string around the top, for hanging.


And there you have it. And once again, you are an awesome, fun mom. Go you!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Running After Dark: Knuckle Lights Review

Nope, I wasn't compensated for this post. These are just my sincere opinions.

Squeezing exercise into your schedule is tough when you're a mom. Whether you're home all day with kids or work outside the home, you're juggling ten million details and obligations from sun-up to sundown, which just doesn't leave time for a quick run or a long walk.

Which is why almost all my runs from October to April happen in the dark. On weekdays at least, I run when I can get a break from childcare duty--and that typically means after the sun has set. I'm clawing my way back from a persistent running injury right now, so I'm slowly getting back to my former T./Th./Sa./Sun. running schedule, which puts me outside after dark at least two days per week. And though I've done it for years, running after dark always makes me a little bit nervous. Sure, I wear a reflective vest and I run against traffic and follow all those common-sense rules and whatnot, but I've had plenty of experiences where it seems like the driver coming at me isn't pay attention and only sees me at the last minute. And I run on some very dark stretches of road, let me tell you.

So when I heard about Knuckle Lights, I was thrilled. Talk about an ingenious invention! I talked Christopher into considering them my early Christmas present, and ordered myself a pair. (I also included them on my Mama in Wonderland Holiday Gift Guide, did you see?) Because they were back-ordered at the time, the company gave me five dollars off my order, and included a free clip-on flashing light and velcro reflective arm/leg band in my box when it finally shipped; all domestic shipping is free, too.

Now that I've used them a few times, I thought my readers might find it useful to hear what I think of them; I know there are a lot of mom runners out there.

The bottom line is, they are great and I absolutely love feeling visible and secure when I'm out running in the dark. They're SUPER bright, with very long and wide beams, so you can both be seen by cars and also see the ground in front of you, which helps when you're dealing with snow and ice patches, potholes, etc. You can even "aim" one at something if you need extra info: Is that a bush on the side of the road up there, or a raccoon? They're lightweight, easy to wear/hold, and do not interfere with my gait or feel annoying while I run. I pretty much forget I'm even wearing them after a few minutes of running. (I should note that so far, I have only worn one while running, not the pair; but this is an individual issue related to what I need to hold in the other hand and carry with me when I run right now, and has nothing to do with anyone else. I'm sure I will run with both lights sometimes too, which will be even better.)

However, my Knuckle Lights aren't perfect for me. See, I have wee little mouse bones. My hands and fingers are tiny. You probably do not have wee little mouse bones, and therefore Knuckle Lights would likely fit you perfectly, but even when I pull the strap as tight as it is able to go, making the loop around my hands as small as possible, I still have to actively hold onto my Knuckle Light to keep it on my hand. Gloves help, but don't fix the problem completely. Fortunately, I'm used to carrying (small) things while I run--my keys, my phone--and this does not bother me as much as it might some. But it does bother me a little, and it's clear that Knuckle Lights would be far more awesome if I could strap them around my hands and have them stay there securely without my having to clench the straps in my palms. Like I said, though, this problem most likely does not plague very many people; if it did, I'm sure the company would make smaller straps.

The company offers a 90-day, 100% money-back returns policy, meaning that you can try out your Knuckle Lights several times before deciding if you want to keep them (awesome!). Despite the minor size issue, I'm definitely keeping mine. Like I said, these lights make me feel super secure and safe when I run, which is worth a lot when you're a runner; the beams are incredible and FAR superior to headlamps. Plus, they're very lightweight and easy to use.

I wholeheartedly recommend Knuckle Lights to any other after-dark mama runners out there, and the Knuckle Lights company is in no way compensating me for saying that (or even for writing a review). I just like them and want to support this small company that has stellar customer service and is truly invested in making runners' lives easier. If you walk or run after dark, you might want to consider getting yourself a pair, too--or asking Santa for them this year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Scarves for Mom Style

I cannot tell you how much I love this video. For one thing, I am devoted to scarves and wear them all the time. And for another, she's adorable and the video is super-cute, fun to watch, creative, and entertaining. Plus it's only a few minutes long. Highly recommend, particularly if you'd like to jazz up your mama style. (I apologize that I can't get the entire video screen to post. If this impedes you, go to one of my favorite new blogs, The Successful Woman's Guide--which is where I discovered it--and watch the video there. It's worth it!)

What's Up With the Book?

It's officially mid-December, and just in case some of you are here today wondering about my book because you missed my post last week, I just wanted to update you all.


My book release date has been pushed back a little bit. You can read about it here, and then please please please come back on December 26th--what else are you going to be doing, after all?--for some big news.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Here Comes the (Artificial) Sun

Meet my new best friend.


As many of you know, winter in the far north is NOT my best friend. In fact, it's so not my best friend that last spring my nurse practitioner advised me to get myself a light box the next time winter came around. In truth, she wanted me to buy a light box by late August or early September, which is when the angle of the sunlight starts to change up here, but that didn't happen. No matter. I have it now, and let me tell you, it was worth having to use my credit card (what else is new) to buy it.

I think the light box really works. I mean, either that or the fact that so far this year our late autumn and early winter has been relatively kind is keeping my vitamin-D-sensitive brain chemicals happy. (For instance: you know that big snowfall we got the other weekend? It just melted. All of it. And although it was about five degrees outside last Thursday evening for our town's annual Winter Walk, and our fingers and toes became numb, yesterday it was 40 degrees.)

But no, I really believe it's the light box. Because despite the warm and easy weather, it's still dark by 5 p.m., and stays that way until nearly eight in the morning, and that's just a whole lot of dark for vulnerable brains such as mine. And yet, I feel pretty good so far. However, I should note that, while the instructions state that benefits should result from a mere 15 minutes of light exposure per day, I sit by my light box for a good hour every morning--from the time I come downstairs to drink my coffee and get some work done on the computer at about 5:15 all the way through the girls' breakfast at about 6:15. Sometimes I linger until 6:30 or so, and sometimes I turn it back on later in the morning if I'm working in the kitchen, because why not? So perhaps I am mega-dosing on medical-grade UV light.

But I luuuuurve it. So don't try to get between me and my Philips GoLite. It's what's going to get me through winter in Minnesota from here on out. Mother's little helper.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Good Luck Christmas Fudge


Last weekend I made fudge. A LOT of fudge. It was for the Christmas cookie exchange, and yes, I know fudge is not a cookie. But who doesn't like fudge? Yum.

I decided to make fudge for the cookie exchange because I have this recipe, originally from my step-grandma, that makes enough fudge for a small village. I found this out years ago, when I made it for a Christmas party and afterward I still had so much left over that I didn't know what to do with it all. Other than eat it, I mean. It seemed rather efficient to make fudge for the exchange, since I needed nine dozen treats, and a batch or two of fudge would surely take a lot less time than making nine dozen cookies. (Not that I don't love to bake, because I do. But still.)

This particular fudge recipe is divine; it's that classic creamy, firm, basic fudge that your grandma made, nothing crazy like any weird flavoring or even any chopped nuts. So a few people have asked me for the recipe. And herein lies the potential problem.

This recipe was mailed to me, ten years ago, by my mom. She typed it out (typed! it was a long time ago) and there's all sorts of silly commentary and inappropriate vagueness. Now, you have to understand, this is how my mom often gives me recipes, especially longstanding family recipes. (No hard feelings, Mom!) They'll be all vague and nonchalant--her version of my grandma's Thanksgiving stuffing recipe says things like, "Then pour some boiling water over the bread cubes; but not a whole lot, because you don't want it all soupy! Just however much seems right"--or, rather than listing all ingredients at the top and then spelling out the method below, she'll write the recipe like a prose poem, with ingredients mentioned here and there in the middle of later sentences, so that you get halfway through the recipe and realize there are more things to add. (Love you, Mom!) So, this fudge recipe lists ingredients such as "the large can of evaporated milk" and "a giant Hershey bar" (the latter appended with, "I will send this in the package I am mailing to you," so that I never had to annotate what a "giant" Hershey bar really is, because it came to my door).

The large can? What? There's only one can. Is it large? It sure doesn't seem very large. In fact, it's pretty small! And "giant"? What does that mean? Is your definition of "giant" the same as mine? Who knows.

Last week, in anticipation of fudge-making, I e-mailed my mom to get some clarification. It turns out that the large can of evaporated milk is 12 ounces. And the giant Hershey bar? Eight ounces. Fortunately, the marshmallow fluff was rather specific: "a two-pint jar." OK. Fair enough.

So on Saturday I went to the grocery store to get my fudge ingredients, now satisfyingly specific. Twelve ounces. Eight-ounce bar. Two pints. That's, what, four cups? No problem.

Only....it seems that in the 30 or whatever years since my step-grandma gave this recipe to my mother, all the food companies downsized their product sizes. The evaporated milk was the same 12 ounces, but the "giant" Hershey bar is now six-point-something ounces. Actually, our store was out of the six-something ounce bars, so the next-largest size was 4.4 ounces. The marshmallow creme? Comes in seven or 13 ounce jars now. Thanks a lot, Kraft.

What to do? I had to get this right! This fudge was for the cookie exchange! In the end I figured I'd just go with rough approximations of the ingredient amounts. Eight ounces of chocolate? I'd just buy two of the 4.4-ounce bars and--bonus!--eat a little bit of each one. Thirteen ounces of marshmallow fluff? That's pretty close to 16 ounces, which is a pint, right?

So that was what I was dealing with: a recipe that not only started out completely vague, but ended up with unavailable ingredient amounts. If I was lucky, it would come out fine anyway.

In the end, in the busy grocery store aisles, I got so befuddled that I accidentally bought only half the necessary amount of marshmallow. And made the entire first batch of fudge that way before noticing. (It turned out fine, by the way.*)

So here you are: my fudge recipe (with the vague ingredient amounts clarified--but not necessarily available). Merry Christmas! Good luck!



Good Luck Christmas Fudge
makes 6 lbs.

Ingredients:

1 stick of butter or margarine
4-1/2 cups white sugar
1 12-oz. can of evaporated milk
1 12-oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 8-oz. Hershey bar (milk chocolate, no almonds), broken into pieces
2 pints (that's 32 oz. total) marshmallow creme (TWO! TWO pints! Not just one.)

In a very large pot, heat butter/margarine, sugar, and evaporated milk to a rolling boil. Keep boiling like that for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the chocolate chips and the Hershey bar pieces and stir until melted and smooth. (Do you remove the pot from the heat while you do this? I do not know. Good luck!) Add marshmallow creme and stir until blended.

Pour into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan. Put into the refrigerator, covered with foil, to set. When set, cut into 1-inch-square pieces.

**************************

* In the interest of full disclosure, I must reluctantly add that, though my first, large batch of fudge turned out great, it yielded only eight of the nine dozen necessary pieces; and when I went to make a second, half batch to finish off the project, my entire pot of fudge seized when I added the chocolate to the butter-sugar-evaporated milk mixture--which, if you've never had it happen to you before, as I hadn't before Sunday, is an absolutely crazy, nearly instantaneous occurrence, and while it happens in about two seconds flat, time sort of slows down too, like in a dream or in the moments right before you're in a car crash, and you find yourself wailing, "Nooooooooooo!" even as it's happening and you know there is no saving that pot of fudge.

I had to throw the whole thing away and give the ninth person a dozen pumpkin white chocolate-chip cookies instead. There was no way I was going to start making a third pot of fudge at that point. Not that the ninth person minded, I am sure. (FYI: I wandered around on the Internet, and it seems that most likely my butter mixture got too hot--even though I was following the recipe to the letter--and apparently this can happen in, like, 30 seconds or less.) So, anyway...seriously: GOOD LUCK.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Coming Soon: A Big Exciting Announcement

Are you ready to see the cover of my book?

Let me tell you, this totally makes up for a week of bills, medical appointments, and being the parent on glitter duty while volunteering in the second grade.

Ta-da!

Shall I teach you how to say my name?
It's TASS-uh-vuh, yo.
Accent on the first syllable. Tell your friends.


Sooooo exciting, right?! If you were here with me, I would definitely grab your hands and make you jump up and down with me, while squealing.

I know that I've been telling you, my dear and faithful readers, that my book is coming out in mid-December. But now things have been pushed back a bit. That's OK, though, because the reason for the change is SO! INCREDIBLY! EXCITING! that jumping and down and squealing won't even begin to cover it.

I'm sorry, I wish I could say more, but this is how it has to be right now. In the meantime, please come back on DECEMBER 26th for a Big Exciting Announcement about my book.

I know! How can you possibly wait? I feel the same way. But honestly, that's just a little more than two weeks from right now. You can handle that, right?

Friday, December 09, 2011

Easy Holiday Craft for Kids: Handprint Santa

This is what Genevieve and I did yesterday morning:


OK, so his beard is a little straggly. But he's cute, no?

All you need is green (or other dark-colored) construction paper; red paper for cutting into the shape of a hat; googly eyes; a glue stick; a couple of paper plates; and white, red, pink, and brown or black paint. Oh, and a brush for painting your child's hand to make the print.


First cut some red paper into the shape of a Santa hat. Have your child glue it to a piece of construction paper.

Next, have your child glue two googly eyes about a finger's width below the bottom of the Santa hat. (You want space for the hat's trim.)

Put some white washable poster paint on a paper plate, and carefully paint your child's entire palm and all five fingers white (or have your child do his or her own). Then press the handprint (upside down) beneath the googly eyes, again leaving a little space.


Have your child use his or her thumbprint to make a white pom-pom for the top of Santa's hat, and overlapping white circles for trim at the bottom.

Squeeze a small dollop each of red, pink, and brown or black paint onto another plate. Let your child use a finger to carefully dot on a red nose, pink cheeks, and brown or black mouth.

And voila! You're now an awesome, fun mom. (As if you weren't before!)

Have fun!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

More Easy Homemade Holiday Gifts


Candy canes; melted chocolate; red, green, and white nonpareils and jimmies; wax paper. This is what Genevieve and I made this morning while accidentally both wearing bright white shirts. We emerged unscathed.

I Have to Hide the Website From My Daughters.

This autumn has been the Season of Medical Appointments. Actually, I guess last summer was too, seeing as how I was constantly going to physical therapy for my nagging running injury (update: still not gone!).

But this fall has really nabbed the prize. Not even counting my daughters' pinkeye and kidney ultrasound and dental check-ups, I've been to more health professionals' offices in the past few months than I think I have been in the last year. That's what happens when you have a running injury, your hair is mysteriously falling out, your contact lens prescription changes dramatically because apparently your nearsightedness has worsened, how is that even possible?, and you're due for your flu shot, your teeth cleaning, your ob-gyn check-up, and a baseline mammogram. (You can understand why I am totally broke. Medical bills bite, you all.)

At one of these appointments--when I went in for my annual ob-gyn visit--my doctor and I were discussing the fact that all my hair is falling out. I've seen my primary care provider for this issue, have had blood work done, and have a dermatology consult next week, but it's pretty major, so naturally I was talking with my ob-gyn about it as well. Hair loss can be a stress reaction, which I've experienced before, so my doctor asked if I could consider taking a yoga class or doing any sort of formal relaxation exercises. Since we have zero money right now, signing up for an ongoing class at our town's yoga studio is out of the question, so my doctor and I were brainstorming less expensive, yet structured and formal, ways to manage stress. Hilariously, she recommended a stress management CD she had bought for her daughter at the Renaissance Fair last summer by some dude named Franko the Hypnotist.

No I am not kidding.

I joked at the time that maybe Franko had a website, and then promptly forgot all about it until the other day when I was texting with my fellow-psychologist friend Kristi about my impending baldness and thought she'd get a kick out of the idea of my doctor recommending Franko the Hypnotist. After we stopped texting, I went and Googled him, and of course I found his website. With CDs for sale. Including one called Stress Management.

And I in no way mean to insult Franko the Master Hypnotist, because to be honest I will most likely order his CD because I am totally desperate to stop my hair from falling out, but THE EYES AT THE TOP OF THAT SITE ARE SCARY, YOU ALL!

Seriously, don't you think?! Egad! Scary.

You can imagine the speed at which I e-mailed Kristi the link to this site.

But my doctor swears he's amazing. And I am in no position to doubt.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Bright Side of Winter

A couple of weeks ago, at Thanksgiving, it was so warm that I went outside in the yard with my girls without a jacket. The temp was in the 50s then, and we were very, very lucky that it was still that warm in late November.

Now it is early December, we have six inches of fluffy snow on the ground, and I just went running in 15 degree air. For the first time since last winter, I came home with a numb face. And 15 degrees? That's going to feel warm in a few weeks.

I wasn't really ready to venture out into snow and ice and 15-degree temps, seeing as how it was just recently that I was still running over bare ground on my favorite wooded trail, in long sleeves but no jacket. And yes, it was cold. But it's time to face facts; it's December in Minnesota, after all. It's the holiday season. It's definitely time for snow boots and numb faces.

As I shivered down my front walk and onto my winter running route, I just told myself that all the shivering in the cold was no doubt better for burning off my premature layer of winter flab.

Right?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Homemade Holiday Gifts


I love to give homemade treats to friends, neighbors, and other special people at holiday time. Usually the girls and I go crazy baking all our favorite Christmas cookies, and I make up some plates or tins to give away. I'm sure we'll do that too--not to mention the Christmas cookie exchange--but this year we're also making Snowflake Mix.

I got this recipe from an old holiday issue of Midwest Living (whose image I've used, above), although I'm making a few adjustments here. You really don't need an entire package of M&Ms for this recipe, for example. I mean, you may wish to use the entire package, but you may also wish to hide the unused remainder of the bag in the pantry for sudden chocolate cravings while wrapping gifts or addressing Christmas cards, or to garnish the whipped cream on a lovely mug of hot chocolate. For yourself. Alone. With your feet up.

Oh yes! The recipe. It's a festive, delicious make-it-yourself project for kids (with a parent's help, of course), and when wrapped in beribboned cellophane bags or nestled in pretty boxes, it'll be the perfect teacher gift. (It keeps up to a month in the freezer, so make it anytime and save it for the day before Christmas vacation, or whenever you choose to give it away to the saint of a teacher who skillfully manages 23 five-year-olds without raising her voice.) Julia and I made a batch yesterday afternoon, with Christmas carols on the CD player and the weekend's snowfall blanketing the landscape outside. You should, too!

Snowflake Mix
makes roughly 8 to 10 cups

Ingredients:

3 cups Corn Chex cereal
3 cups Rice Chex cereal
1 cup salted, roasted peanuts or honey-roasted peanuts
1-2 cups salted mini pretzel twists
2 12-oz. bags white chocolate morsels
1 cup red and green plain M&Ms or mint M&Ms

Lay a sheet or two of wax or parchment paper out flat on your countertop for later.

Using a very large bowl, mix together the cereals, peanuts, and pretzels. In a large glass measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl, microwave the white chocolate morsels, one bag at a time, following the melting directions that are printed on the package. Working quickly, pour melted white chocolate over snack mix and stir to coat.

Quickly pour mixture onto your wax or parchment paper, spreading it out as best you can. Before it dries, sprinkle M&Ms evenly over the mix, pressing candies gently into the mixture if possible. (Try not to get white chocolate all over the tops of M&Ms; this does not look as pretty as when the M&Ms are nice, bright, clean red and green. If this proves impossible, forget about the pressing-in part and just sprinkle the M&Ms; they'll be OK.)

Let cool and harden for 1 hour. Then break gently into chunks and either store in a well-sealed container in the fridge for up to a week or the freezer for up to a month, or distribute into gift bags or boxes to give away immediately.

Or keep it for yourself. Just don't eat it all at once.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

I May Have Under-Trained.

This week was EXHAUSTING. Proof: three nights in a row, I went to bed before 8:30 p.m.

How can life be so exhausting when both your children are in school at least part of the time? Back when my girls were babies and the only time I sat down all day was to nurse, I think I expected that by the time they were in kindergarten and second grade, life would sort of be a breeze. If I was really lucky I could finagle hanging onto this stay-at-home mom gig, and during the three hours they'd both be in school, I would restore myself so sufficiently that the rest of the time would feel like a walk in the park. (Ha! Sometimes it literally is a walk in the park! But I digress.)

Just another instance of having no clue whatsoever, before it happens to you.

I love my life--a LOT. I don't want it to change. (Well, the money thing, that could change. Not being able to pay your bills is one of the things that is surprisingly exhausting.) It's a really fun life, something I was reminded of yesterday as I hosted a kids' playgroup/mom's coffee at my house and got to socialize with some of my very favorite people in the world (I've got some really smart, funny, interesting mom friends, I tell you). In between feeding small children and checking on playroom crashing noises and keeping the toddler away from the markers, we had a really nice time chatting and drinking coffee. But this week my life really wiped me out. My last scheduled obligation yesterday, a playdate at our house with my 7-year-old daughter's best school friend, ended at 7:30 last night....after which I walked immediately to my bed and went to sleep. At 8 p.m. And slept straight till five this morning. That's nine hours of sleep, people. I don't think I've gotten nine of hours of sleep since I was pregnant with daughter number one. For those keeping track at home, that's NEARLY A DECADE AGO.

As I got up this morning and brewed myself some extra-strong coffee, I realized that at-home mothering now is just a different kind of marathon. It's no longer the nursing and spoon-feeding every morsel and diapering and trying to get the baby to nap and dragging everybody out the door for playgroup with a giant diaper bag and a carseat over one arm--ha! remember those days, fellow moms? or are you still living them? I confess a burst of nostalgia. No, now the marathon involves volunteering at the elementary school and arranging playdates and being responsible for more external obligations and events--not just the daily household minutia of naps and feedings. For many of us it involves juggling some sort of work, whether it be part-time or at-home or whatever--with the timing of the school bus and the errands and homework supervision.

I've always said motherhood is a marathon. And for some people, I suppose that phrase must imply something horrible, torturous, insane. But remember? I'm a runner. I always wanted to run a marathon. This is mine. It's tiring. But it's worth every step. And my daughters are up now, so here we go again.

Go Team Mom! You can do it. We all can.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Short, Busy Days

Sorry for the infrequent writing here; this week has been super busy! I think it's just coming off the holiday break and all. My kids are back at school this week of course, with the usual homework and school commitments, and I will be volunteering in both their classrooms--up until now it's just been the kindergarten room--for the first time this week (continuing weekly for the rest of the year). Combine that with bringing my kids and myself to dentist and doctor appointments, starting to address the Christmas cards, hosting a little get-together for moms and kids, decorating the house for the holidays, and catching up on grocery shopping and cooking and baking, and....well, no time to blog. Which is probably fine because I don't have that much to say.

The things that fill my life and use up my concentration these days are things that are not unique--in fact, they may be ones you struggle with, too: not enough money to pay the bills, myriad health problems, challenging child behavior. Nothing new, nothing special. But I have noticed that they really take it out of me, physically. I've been more tired this week than I have in a long time--the kind of tired that isn't about a bad mood or frustration, but just about the day having taken every ounce of energy out of you.

So I'm trying to focus on the SUPER! EXCITING! parts of December--i.e., my BOOK COMING OUT SOON (wheeee!!!!), and the fun of experiencing the holidays with my daughters.

How are you doing, as we jump headlong into December? Busy, crazy, excited, calm? Keep me posted.