chocolate + paper + scissors


What's in a Name? Scissors.

In two past posts, I attempted to explain the first two parts of my blog’s name: Chocolate and Paper. (I get inspired just thinking of them!)

Today, I’d like to shed some light on scissors.

Where would any of us be without scissors?

In a literal sense, scissors keep us together around here. I use them several times throughout each day in the kitchen. They help me gently clip fraying threads on tiny green and grey sweatshirts. I can open any box or package in seconds. Just the other day, my scissors had been misplaced, and I felt as if my hands were tied behind my back! I was a lost soul, using steak knives to do a terrible job of cutting. Things just weren't the same without my scissors. (Thankfully, they returned!)

My little girl uses scissors almost every day – cutting, designing, sculpting her carefully colored papers – creating some of the most brilliant handmade art I’ve ever seen. She uses them to cut tape to hang her creations. She uses them to cut string on which to place her beads. And, with her scissors, she creates rainbow snowflakes for all seasons.

Scissors are dear to my heart because they represent so many different things. I love how scissors can be so unique in their shape, their color, their size. They help make our lives more beautiful – and they also represent creativity, making things new, helping us see things differently. They represent both the domestic part of my life and the creative part - two worlds that often intertwine, but not always.

Scissors allow us to change what is in front of us immediately. And that’s pretty powerful.

They are an icon for the beautiful world of crafting. Scissors and paper are a beautiful union.

Digitally, scissors can be used to cut our words – and allow us the beauty and magic of rearranging our thoughts to help us express ourselves a little better to the world.

Simply, scissors help shape our lives and make our world more beautiful.

As we approach the weekend, let us make a toast to the loveliest of tools.

How have scissors made your life more beautiful lately?


Welcomed home.

This past weekend, my husband and I took a trip to the Texas Hill Country in honor of our tenth wedding anniversary. Did I mention this getaway was our first experience being away from our children overnight - ever?

The entire weekend was beautiful and perfect!

One of my favorite parts of our day on Sunday? Coming home to this sign, made by our daughter:

I was told by the artist that the letters in addition to "I love you" spell out "We're having a party inside for you." Hanging on the wall adjacent to our front door, our welcome sign reminded me how much inspiration and joy these tiny little people bring me every day.

I am so thankful for tiny little hands, chunky bare feet, new sentences, practiced letters and coming home to parties thrown in Mommy and Daddy's honor!


Hello, good mornings.

Mornings have always been my favorite time of day, for at this time of day, I'm usually at my best: I write best. I think best. I feel best. I’ve always enjoyed waking up early – and first - because of the quiet time. Having time to myself is crucial to my well-being! Now that I have two little ones, I find I need my "morning time" more than ever. Not only is the quiet time nice, but I need to time to physically get ready and fueled up for the day.

When my daughter was two, she used to sing a song from "Barney," her then favorite show:

“It’s a bright new day, full of possibilities…”

(Only her version of the second part came out something like, “pool across the bilities,” which is much more fun!)

During that time of my life, I think that even Barney was trying to help me somehow.

Just recently, thanks to some real-life inspiring ladies, I’ve started a new morning routine that has really helped me get a better handle on my days (and therefore our family's days). It's now affecting the rest of my day, too, helping me with my time management one tiny step at a time.

Here are some favorite (paraphrased) tips for a good morning:

  1. Go to bed earlier – get more sleep! -Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
  2. Wake up earlier (even if it’s only 30 minutes – start small) to enjoy the mornings and harness the power of a new day. -Kat, Inspired to Action. (Her free eBook “Maximize Your Mornings” has been such a blessing and has helped me greatly. She was the catalyst who helped me restore my routine.)
  3. Wake up, and before you do anything (including reading blogs), get dressed, get your house/kitchen ready for your day. Rachel, Small Notebook; this tip is from her new e-book “Simple Blogging”
  4. Make sure you’re dressed and caffeinated before your little ones join you for the day - Amy McCready, Positive Parenting Solutions
  5. And finally, my tip: make the time for a hot shower – if only for 5 minutes. A quick shower helps me wake up and ease into my day gently.

My morning routine? I wake up around 5:15, make a cup of tea, put in some laundry, sip some tea, get the dishwasher unloaded, sip some more tea, set out dishes for breakfast, finish tea. Shower, dress. Make breakfast, wake up little ones. Sit with little ones during breakfast and/or make lunches, help little ones get ready for their day, deliver big little one to bus for kindergarten while smaller little one joins us for a morning walk...

Yes: our mornings are full. But our home does run smoothly. And we are much happier - rejoice!

Thanks to all the great ladies listed above - and all the other ladies out there I didn't mention with impeccable time management skills.

How are your mornings?



What's in a Name? Paper.

Last week, I shared my passion for chocolate.

This week, I’d like to celebrate paper!

Let us not forget about our dear friend, paper. She is the reason we know our history. She provides us with a classic way to communicate. She allows us to express our innermost thoughts and sentiments to those we love. And, we can not only brainstorm new ideas on her – but we can make beautiful creations with her!

I have loved paper since I was old enough to pick up a crayon and scribble. Once I learned to read and write, and I could do so independently and joyfully, the written word became my passion – whether through reading or writing – and has been for the last 30 years. If writing was where I began to get to know my soul, paper became a best friend who helped me get there.

I have an organic list of all things I love about paper, which I’ll be sharing with you over time. Today, however (in the interest of time), I’ll start with just 10 thoughts from my wee years:

1. Treasuring any notepads stashed in my granny’s desk or my mom’s purse + red, navy blue and green Bic marker-like pens

2. Getting very excited about new notebooks – the smaller, the better (Mead’s Steno Notebook pads were the best) and pens – to stash in my tiny purses!

3. Locating stationery at any store, hotel, restaurant, school

4. Discovering beautiful cloth-covered blank books in fourth grade, which I took everywhere!

5. Writing creative stories whenever I could, mostly at home or in the car with my family

6. Always having a left hand covered in erasable ink when writing on notebook paper

7. Starting my first scrapbook in first grade (before scrapbooking was popular)

8. Using paper to write notes to friends, doodle, fold origami – sometimes all at the same time (and getting caught passing a note in third grade)

9. Writing fictional college newspapers (ads and all!) when I was in sixth grade.

10. Always knowing I had a private, quiet place to be, regardless of where I was, as long as I had my journal.

As digital as our culture is now, paper is still present and strong – and I believe it will be for quite some time.

Paper once inspired me - and still inspires me daily.

How has paper inspired you in your past?


Weekend (or Anytime) Breakfast Casserole

This morning I woke up with an extra spring in my step, as I got 11 hours of sleep last night! After reading to our daughter last night, I stayed with her for a moment after lights-out...then woke up two hours later in the same position, glasses still on (has this ever happened to you?). So, I picked myself up and crawled into my bed...and awoke at 7:30 this morning, craving a good, hearty breakfast!

We are a family that often eats breakfast for dinner - it's easy, sometimes lighter (but not always), and pretty inexpensive: all good things. I made this Crescent Roll Breakfast Casserole from Girlfriends on the Go! A Busy Mom's Guide to Make-Ahead Meals a few Sundays ago for dinner, and it was such good comfort food. It was really delicious - and very filling. Since there were obvious ingredients that could be lightened, though, my health conscience and I decided to lighten things up a tiny bit this time.

The beauty of this simple recipe is that you could also add a ton of veggies (spinach, kale, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc.), and it would make it even tastier, colorful and healthy. My five year-old daughter has been experiencing some general picky-ness about several things as well as some If-This-Has-Vegetables-In-it-I-Won't Eat-It Syndrome lately, so I reluctantly left out the red bell pepper. After all that, she still wouldn't eat much, so, lesson learned: always keep the veggies in, people! (She gobbled it up last time, truth be told. And our son has loved every bit of it, too.)

This easy recipe will be a favorite for years to come! Thanks to Suzie Roberts for creating and sharing this recipe. I hope you enjoy it and that your weekend is just as yummy.


What's in a Name? Chocolate.

A more accurate title for today's post might be, "Why my blog is named Chocolate, Paper & Scissors" or "Chocolate, Paper & Scissors: What of it?"

I had an epiphany the other day that I should explain the name of my blog in more detail since I feel like it could have multiple interpretations.

In short, chocolate, paper and scissors are three of my very favorite things. In a literal sense, they are tools I use each day to create. In a symbolic sense, they represent three inspirational areas of my life - areas that sometimes overlap. I enjoy looking at life with both literal and symbolic glasses: things are more interesting this way.

Today, I'll begin with the first area: chocolate.

In random order, chocolate...

1. Is one of my favorite foods. It makes me happy!
2. Represents the creative side of my life...the expressive and the lovely.
3. Makes me think of cooking, which has become a necessary art (isn't that redundant?) in my life.
4. Symbolizes good health/balance. Eat a little bit each day!
5. Reminds me of special times with girlfriends.
6. Is something I like to enjoy during my alone time.
7. Represents the relaxing, the leisurely.
8. Often satisfies cravings.
9. Means savoring the delicious.
10. Symbolizes the whimsical, special and celebratory part of life.

I cook with chocolate for my family. I eat chocolate while I'm cooking for my family! It inspires me to take chances and be more creative. The color of chocolate warms me. Eating chocolate makes me feel cozy.

What foods inspire you?


Golden Cinnamon Pumpkin Bars...

I love you. You are the perfect treat. You are decadent, dense, beautiful, brown sugary-sweet and a tiny bit healthy (but no one needs to know this last'll be our secret). Won't you be mine every fall?

Fall is among us – and so are the pumpkins! We took our first trip (of many, I imagine) to a local pumpkin patch yesterday afternoon. Being surrounded by such autumn wonderfulness kept reminding me of my favorite fall treat, Golden Cinnamon Pumpkin Bars. I made a batch last week and froze half - because if I didn't freeze them, I would have eaten all of them by myself. They're perfect for a snack, dessert, and since they're whole-grain - they're great for breakfast, too. If you love pumpkin pie, you're guaranteed to love these.

I'd like to give big props to King Arthur Flour for creating this intoxicating concoction of fall flavors. And, many thanks to Anna over at Cookie Madness for posting this recipe in early 2009! I could eat any food containing pumpkin year-round, but saving these for fall make them more special – and somehow more authentic.

I've posted the recipe below, but you can view the original recipe at Anna's site here, where you'll get to read everyone's fun comments about their obsessions with pumpkin recipes. My only change is using white chocolate chips instead of nuts and cinnamon chips.

Golden Cinnamon-Pumpkin Bars

6 oz unsalted butter (168 grams)
1 1/3 cups packed light or dark brown sugar (280 grams)
1 teaspoon vanilla (5 ml)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder (3 ml)
1/2 teaspoon salt (2 ml)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (3 ml)
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ginger, ¼ teaspoon cloves, ¼ allspice)
1 egg
1 cup canned pumpkin (9.5 oz)
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour (170 grams) — weight out 170 grams white whole wheat
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 13×9 inch metal pan with cooking spray or line with foil and spray foil.

Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir in the sugar. Return the bowl to microwave and heat for another 30 seconds or just until it starts to bubble. Let cool until it’s comfortable to touch, then stir in the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and egg. When well mixed, stir in pumpkin. Add the flour, cinnamon chips and nuts or raisins and stir until mixed.

Pour into pan and bake for 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

This makes 2 dozen 2-inch bars.

I'd also like to acknowledge the lovely cake platter on which these treats rest. I received this platter as a birthday gift from my very dear friend Amy, who has impeccable taste with home goods. I was even more amazed when Amy told me that she knew the talented woman who made it! The artist? Katie Reed of Mish Mosh Design. They have beautiful creations, and among their recent selection is some precious hand-stamped jewelry that I have my eyes on...

This cake stand is, by far, my favorite piece in our home because of its versatility and beauty, so you'll probably be seeing it here many more times.

Thanks to all who contributed to this post - you ladies are great!

Now go make some pumpkin bars, sit in a pile of leaves with your loved ones, and enjoy this weekend!


Happy Birthday, Little Budsie.

Today, we celebrated the birthday of our little boy, who was born two years ago today. Two! Because he is known as the "little brother," the "baby boy," - I'm not sure I'm ready for him to grow up. But when I see his growth, his grateful heart, his personality - all the sweet things that become more defined as he gets older: I am more in love each day.

Yes, he is growing more headstrong. He runs from room to room - and when we're outside, he's in his element. Cars, trucks and trains are his game - and playing with his big sister.

Big sister was so excited for his birthday! She spent much time the other day after school wrapping his gift, writing out his card. And today, she decorated birthday cookies for him (since we'll have cake this weekend with family) - and she gave him lots of M&M's and sprinkles! It must be pretty fun to have someone take good care of him like she does.

What a lovely gift in itself, little budsie. Even when you guys have a rough day, she is still crazy about you, even if she won't admit it.

Happy Birthday!


Moments this week

It’s been a lovely week for weather in Texas: fall skies, cooler, drier air, and a breeze that always reminds me that we are not alone – and to be grateful for perfect moments.

In other ways, though, this week has had a couple of not-so-perfect moments for our family, as the stomach bug floating around made its way into our home. My sweet kindergartener, who has managed to escape catching these long-lasting bugs her first five years of life, has been bitten – and has been down and out for four days. It’s hard watching her feel so tired, not being able to keep down much of her tiny meals. How I wish I was one who was sick – so I could take hers away.

It was almost two months ago that our baby boy pushed his chair back (with his chunky legs of steel) and hit the ground – resulting in a concussion and a skull fracture. Miraculously, he was running and playing the next day, and thankfully, his young, growing body has allowed his skull to heal with time. I still shudder at the memory - it's a day I'll never forget.

And today, this same more-independent-every-day boy managed to find some allergy medication of daddy’s, which he decided to try for himself (unsupervised), which gave us another scare! I think he was quite proud that he managed to get the pill out of the pouch – but when he saw the worried look on my face, he immediately teared up. Three calls to poison control, one to our pediatrician and a quick (although unnecessary) trip to the ER, and thankfully (thankfully!) he is fine.

When we become parents, we know these moments are part of the package. Going through them, however, with teary eyes, is a different matter! Although I wish we could wrap our children in pillows and face masks around the clock, we can’t. Moments like these remind me that no parent is perfect, we can always be a little more careful, accidents do happen and that we and our children are given new chances every day: new chances to begin again, new chances to thank God for our blessings and new chances to love and squeeze our children even harder than we did the day before.

I'll let a sweet print of mine by Mary Engelbreit finish my thoughts:


Zen and the Art of Doing Laundry

When housework comes up in conversation with friends and acquaintances, more often than not, most of us (both women and men) seem to try our best at managing our homes as a family: cleaning, cooking, laundry, day-to-day cleaning, reducing clutter and keeping up with our belongings.

I will say that being married for almost ten years (this November!), and being a mother for half of this time, my husband and I have established a good division of our household tasks. And one task that I've secretly loved since my college-dorm days: doing the laundry!

It brings me joy.

Doing our family’s laundry calms me and restores a sense of peace and order in my life. It helps our household run more smoothly. It gives me a break from the day’s fast speed. If the laundry is clean, folded, put away, and everyone’s laundry baskets are empty, our house seems quieter, calmer and more lovely. On the days when my world feels like it’s spinning a bit too fast, doing the laundry brings me back down to the real, the fundamental.

(Doing the laundry also makes me feel slightly Penelope-ish, which also gives me a little natural high!)

In case you’d like to bring a little more order to your home, try some of these tips to help stay on top of laundry (but not literally, like my Bella above):

1. Try to keep your laundry room fairly clean. If you already struggle with a dislike for laundry, having a dirty or messy laundry room will make matters worse. Make it a place that’s nice to go - decorate it if you feel so inspired! We share our laundry room with our two cats, and my husband does a great job of keeping it clean. (I just do the laundry.)

2. Have plenty of baskets for sorting dirty and clean, dry clothes. I keep three large baskets in the laundry room, and each bedroom in our house has a basket. This way, there is a nearby place for every piece of dirty clothing at the end of the day. This method works well for us because clothes are often left here and there by our young children (who, some days, would rather go without altogether).

3. Try to wash a load every morning right after you wake up. I usually do this while my tea is brewing. Then, try to fold a load at some point in the day. Folding laundry is a quiet task, easy to sneak in while you’re on the floor playing with your children, on the phone, listening to a podcast, catching the news headlines, or watching your favorite show in the evening. It usually takes me 15 minutes-ish to fold a load.

4. Put all clean, folded laundry away right after you finish. If you can’t do this immediately, at least organize it by room and set the basket in the room where it belongs. If your children are old enough, they can put it away themselves. (If your children are old enough to do their own laundry, then you may want to pass these tips onto them!)

5. After putting the clean laundry away, grab the dirty laundry out of each room’s basket and throw it in the empty baskets that will be returned to the laundry room. Then, the next morning, you can begin the cycle again.

This may sound like a bit of work, but it really makes laundry such an easy task. And, you’ll find that you do get to sneak in some downtime in there – even if it’s for 15 minutes. You'll enjoy being on top of a task that can often steal a valuable 3 or 4-hour block of time otherwise.

Hopefully, you'll be at peace, something in your home will be orderly, and everyone in your house will be wearing clean clothes – even if they dirty them within 30 minutes!


And they're off!

It's a brand new season of life: school has begun! Our daughter turned five this summer and began kindergarten earlier this month. Our son, almost two, just started a part-time program this week - his first experience away from home - and from me.

"How are you doing?" friends and family ask.

It's been a bit of an emotional roller coaster, a bit hard to let go, exciting and liberating all at the same time.

I miss my girl each day she gets on the bus (the bus!), and it's very quiet in our house right now without my baby boy running around, playing cars and patting the carpet for me to come and sit with him.

The good news: they will return in the afternoon!

The other good news: they will return to a refreshed mommy.

And for that, we are all grateful!


Chocolate for your ears

I mentioned in my last post that I'm in love with podcasts. I'm also in love with my trusty little iPod Shuffle. And my iPod Shuffle is in love with podcasts, too.

It all works together quite nicely.

In case you haven't ever listened to a podcast, it's like a pre-recorded radio show. I listen to podcasts whenever I can (usually when I'm alone, since some people may find my walking around with headphones in their presence a little rude.) While I make my cup of morning tea, doing laundry, de-cluttering the house, running, driving on long distances (and, yes, sometimes I listen to them even on short distances when I'm with my children, when I need a teeny a break for myself), I listen to lovely people wax lyrical about all kinds of topics.

Not only have I learned of so many valuable resources, I've also found some friends I would have never met in the physical realm. Podcasters share their knowledge, their lives, their passions...and all the things that make them tick.

iTunes has a ton of podcasts - on virtually any topic, available at no charge (!).

Some of the voices that inspire me regularly are:

Cooking with the Moms

Grammar Girl (and, see USA Today's article about how GG "rules online"!)
Manic Mommies
Mojo Mom
Organization Station @ Home
Vicki and Jen: What Really Matters
Words to Mouth

I want to give all of the lovely podcasters total mad props for bringing me out of my world a bit. Thanks to all the amazing and talented individuals who take the time to plan and record a show weekly! I'm a better woman, a better mother, a better cook, and a better writer because of you.

So, take a trip to iTunes and see what you can find. You don't need an iPod - you can listen to any podcast on your computer. And if you find one you like, be sure to leave a review on iTunes. I know the podcasters would appreciate your words.

Happy listening!

P.S. - A word about my last post: I didn't mean to offend any of you with lovely, brand new, highly functional cell phones. Truthfully, I may be there with a new phone soon enough. I guess I'm learning that I'm not always good at adapting to change. I hope you'll love me for who I am.

P.S.S. - Apple did not have any role in this post. I'm not getting paid by them. But I wish I was.


Old-fashioned things, technology and simplicity

I’m a bit of a reluctant-to-conform-type-of-girl when it comes to some modern things, specifically very connected cell phones and my (dwindling) relationship with Facebook. (I’ll tackle Facebook another day. Or, maybe not.)

I have an old cell phone. It doesn’t have Internet. I can’t use it to check my e-mail. I can use it when I need it, however – but I don't feel overly connected to the world. I can still be in the moment with my family or friends – and get a call if I absolutely need to. It works for me and my life. It represents much more to me than just a phone. It represents a simplicity that I long to maintain in this busy life.

People often tease me about my outdated phone, with comments such as, “No WONDER it takes you so long to text!” and, “Is that a toy phone for your child?” With pink cheeks, I usually smile and throw my phone back into my bag and say something like, “It does the job.” Like my car, my philosophy with my phone is that I’m going to use it until it can be used no more.

I recently had to confront my modern cell phone non-conformism when a client (while explaining an example regarding her company's business processes) asked, “Do you have a Smartphone or an iPhone?” I, thinking I could coast pass this one without admitting I had neither, said, “Yes.” (Any cell phone is a little smart, right?) So, when she asked, “Which one?," I was cornered and had to come clean. I quickly replied, “ mean me? Oh, neither.” (Lol.)

And so, this week, sadly, my cell phone died after drowning in a minute pool of water. This makes me sad for two reasons: one, I like my old, tiny, must-scroll-through-the-letters-to-text phone. It’s tiny. I can drop it on the ground (or my son can spike it on the ground while having a tantrum in the grocery cart), and it survives. My daughter can decorate it with princess stickers. It's become part of the family.

Secondly, losing a phone means I must buy a new one. And buying technology is at the top of my list of un-favorite things to do. (Enter my husband who is my personal shopper – who loves researching products and comparison shopping more than life itself. I think he’s excited about this new project. Bless him!)

Another simple thing that I paper. Paper makes my life easier. Paper was my first true love, and now, in addition to multiple spiral notebooks, I have a trusty, large, spiral calendar that I love so much! I can decorate her with stickers, use different color ink, carry her in my large purse, write notes about my day…I love her. And yet, I still get teased when I proudly bring her to meetings, and everyone else brings their tiny, shiny technological calendars, combined with a phone and address book.

Technology is wonderful and amazing - no doubt, as long as it keeps things simple. I adore my laptop. My digital camera has become an extra limb. And I would be lost without the blogosphere and the lovely, cozy, knowledge-packed realm of podcasting that streams into my ears via my precious, tiny, magenta iPod Shuffle. All of these things make me very happy. They bring the outside world in – and educate and inspire me daily.

Technology is doing its job when we feel more relaxed in its presence. But technology's not doing its job if it steals us away from a beautiful moment or makes us resent our responsibilities. It should allow us to have more time for the things that matter most...and it should make our lives better.

What is your favorite piece of technology that makes your life easier? I'd love to hear from you.


Getting back on track with good food.

This week, I’d like to share a few things for which I am grateful:

1. Our kitchen renovation is finished! (Photos coming soon!)
2. I’m more caught up on my rest. (The power of good sleep is amazing.)
3. Order is beginning to reign again in our house, including the kitchen and my workspace.
4. Healthy and relaxing meals are returning to our table.
5. Our heavenly aromatic jasmine is blooming in our backyard (which we thought we lost after the crazy Texas freezes).
6. Our roses are in full bloom, which have been gracing us with their presence in bud vases all around our home.
7. Colds and ear infections are gone!
8. My new favorite show comes on tonight. Yippee!
9. Classical music. Norwegian trumpeters rock!
10. I’m sitting here writing this.

In honor of an informal celebration of rest, comfort and home, I have the perfect recipe that my family has recently loved: Wayne’s Beef Macaroni and Cheese.

You may be thinking that this Paula recipe doesn’t sound too heart healthy (as many of Paula’s recipes are not), but this is actually a delightfully balanced meal. It’s the perfect combination of beef, tomato sauce, macaroni, grated cheese and vegetables. Pair it with some extra veggies or salad on the side, and/or some fresh fruit, and it’s a lovely family dinner.

My only modification: add one zucchini and substitute one red bell pepper for one of the green bell peppers. If you’d like to cut out some of the animal protein, I bet that mixing together 16 ounces of kidney beans with one pound of ground beef would be nice, too. (I’ll have to try that next time!)

I hope you enjoy…and that this recipe becomes part of your family favorites. Looking forward to sharing more!


Taking care (vs. taking care of business)

Last Friday afternoon, while reading our daughter The Tale of Peter Rabbit, I fell asleep. In broad daylight, on our bench in our backyard, I completely nodded off.

I was awakened by a soft “Mommy,” which then graduated to “Mommy!! Wake up!”

In a sleepy haze, all I could think was, if only I could take a short nap...I just need 10 minutes.

And, to my surprise, our intuitive and compassionate little girl said, “Mommy, you lay down. I’ll be right back.” And before I knew it, I was being taken care of – something that hasn’t happened in a very long time. She knew exactly what I needed. I was deeply touched – almost to tears. I will never forget her gesture of making the coziest of beds for me on our bench – complete with a cushion for my ankles that hung over the armrest of the bench.

Through the lovely spring weather, the multiple hats I wear on a daily basis all came falling down. Mothering, cooking, cleaning, volunteering, freelancing, holiday preparing: my battery is (still) very near empty. I’m trying my best to recharge myself, but it hasn't happened yet. This week, very minor tasks have seemed like major projects, which means I’m ordering myself to bed extra early until I feel better again. I'm not under the weather (for which I'm so thankful), but I feel that as women, extending ourselves too much for too long is almost as damaging as getting sick. Recovery (good ol' "R and R" - rest and relaxation, as my mom calls it), therefore, is still necessary.

In case this post finds you in the same state, don’t forget to take care of yourself: get good sleep, good nutrition, a small bit of exercise, and do something for yourself this week, like giving yourself some sacred space. And, if a task comes your way that you don’t feel you can handle, just say no. When you say no to others, you say yes to your family - and yes to yourself.

…And if a special someone demands that you be taken care of, accept it and enjoy!


Slow Cooker Baked Ziti, lightened.

As I sit here typing, relishing in my yummy leftovers from last night's dinner, I'm reminded of how much I love this recipe! And I love that it cooked all day yesterday.

A few years back, my friend Liz compiled a crockpot cookbook - an informal collection of slow cooker recipes that are tried and true. Today's recipe for Baked Ziti is one of my favorites! It comes from Liz's friend Amber (whom I don't know, but to whom I'm grateful for this recipe!).

I lightened up the recipe a bit - used a lighter ricotta, ground turkey (rather than beef - although the beef version is great, too) and added some veggies into the cheese mixture. It does make a large amount - but it freezes really well.

Slow Cooker Baked Ziti

1 container (15 oz.) part-skim ricotta cheese
1 pound ground turkey
2 cups (8 oz.) mozzarella cheese, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, 1 zucchini and 1 yellow squash, all chopped
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1 box (16 oz.) ziti noodles
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 jars (approx. 25 oz. each) of tomato sauce (Newman's Own Sockarooni works well)

1. Cook ground turkey and onion in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until meat is no longer pink. Stir in seasonings to evenly coat meat; stir in pasta sauce. Set aside.

2. Mix chopped bell pepper, zucchini and squash with 1 cup mozzarella, the ricotta and parmesan in a medium bowl.

3. Spoon 2 cups of meat sauce into the lined cooker; top with 2 cups ziti. Drop half of the cheese/vegetable mixture, by rounded tablespoons, over ziti; carefully spread over ziti using back of spoon. Layer with 2 cups meat sauce, the remaining ziti and remaining cheese. Add remaining meat sauce, completely covering all the ziti and cheese.

4. Place lid on slow cooker. Cook on Low for 6 to 7 hours or on High for 4 to 5 hours or until noodles are tender.

5. Carefully remove lid to allow steam to escape. Sprinkle food with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella; let stand 10 minutes until melted.

Enjoy! Then, enjoy again...and again.


Work.Life: Blending home + work

This week, as I juggle the usual to-do, I'm adding some freelance deadlines and slowly getting the house back in order (as we're at the tail-end of our remodel) to the mix. Hence, I have a sweet and short post for you.

My March issue of Real Simple called to me from my passenger seat the other day (yes, it often rides shotgun with me so I can sneak some reading in at red stoplights...) and said, "Pick me up and read this article about secrets of a jugglng mom of three: 10 Secrets of One Unflappable Working Mother. You'll be glad you did."

Two other points:

1. All moms are working moms, and...

2. Thanks, Real Simple, for always sharing real stories about real people...and for always keepin' it real.


Comfort (us,) food: Shepherd's Pie

Have I mentioned we're in the middle of a kitchen remodel?

Since January, my husband has been plugging away, demolishing, building, rewiring, cabinet door-replacing...and we're getting closer to the end (painters come tomorrow morning at 8:30). We're both so eager to see our new digs - but most importantly, we're ready to have the house back to normal, with as much as order as possible with two young children. Most things right now are gently dusted with...well, dust (ugh), and although a place does exist for everything, not everything has seen its designated place in quite some time.

If you don't believe me, please see my workspace in the office I share with my husband:

I know. It's frightening.

When things get a bit chaotic around us (be it physical, mental or emotional chaos), I crave quiet, stability - and comfort. So, I thought the craving I've had lately would be perfect for today's recipe: Simply Delicious Shepherd's Pie. This version, created by Janice and Liz at Meal Makeover Moms, is a healthier version that will have you asking for a second helping. It's perfect for a Sunday dinner. And, it freezes well, if you'd like to freeze small portions for busy weeknights. Everyone in our family loved this = a new family classic.

Although I won't be able to make this until next week, I hope you'll be able to enjoy it sooner.

May this meal calm any chaos you're experiencing. And, just in case you need more soothing, just add brownies for dessert.

Happy weekend!


In honor of an Irish angel

Today is St. Patrick's Day. But there's someone else on my mind tonight - a very special soul - who has forever changed life for many of us. His name is Willis Daniel.

You see, Willis Daniel was born on the third of January of this year, with beautiful eyes, ten perfect fingers and ten tiny toes. He spent five weeks with his family, a mother and father and big sister so grateful to know him, see him, hold him, and love him. And on the sixth of February, Willis left this world and became an angel. In his very short life on earth, he showed many people how to be strong - and touched all those he met.

Willis is the son of a special friend of mine, a friend who embodies true strength and grace. Today, in honor of Willis and her Irish heritage, Willis's mother put together a lovely feast for the families staying in the Ronald McDonald House wing of Texas Children's Hospital. She, along with several friends, spent the day cooking a beautiful, soothing meal for families in need of some comfort during such an uncertain time.

In saying thank you to the Ronald McDonald House, her actions said to all those around her: give of yourself, think lovingly of others - and make the lives of those around you a little more beautiful. Especially those in need.

Willis's legacy lives on - and was shining brightly tonight, even brighter than the pink, purple, green and blue halls of Texas Children's Hospital.

So, little Willis, we love you. And, in my book, this day will forever be dedicated to you, sweet one.


Meal Planning: Purposeful Nutrition

Staying on top of nutrition - the fuel we give our bodies - is much easier, like many things, when you have a plan. Meal planning gives you control over what you feed yourself and your family - and helps prevent those let's-just-order-pizza-tonight nights.

One of the things I learned during my obession with Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals (five-ish years ago, pre-children) is that ordering in isn't always unhealthy. But: you can't control the ingredients you're eating, and you end up spending more than you would if you bought your own ingredients and made a recipe yourself. Cooking really doesn't have to be complicated to be good and healthy.

There are numerous resources online (just visit Google and give it a whirl) for getting tips on meal planning. And, depending on your lifestyle, you may find that planning tips you use may not work for someone else. It does take a bit of discipline, truth be told. But once you do it, you'll find it makes shopping much easier - and it makes for easier mealtimes.

Here are some of my meal-planning tips:

1. I try to pick an evening when I have some time to myself and sit down with my recipe notebooks and cookbooks.
2. I like to use one new recipe a week - and keep the other recipes tried and true.
3. To speed things along on choices, I try to choose a recipe that fits the following: a vegetarian night, a fish night, a poultry night, a lean beef night, a leftover night, a creative night (where everyone has something easy and different, or breakfast for dinner, etc.) That makes 6 nights. We usually eat out at least one night for dinner.
4. I like to make sure the meals are colorful: protein + whole grains + 1-2 veggies + 1 fruit.
5. If I have time, I usually bake a dessert on a weekend to munch on the next week.

Some great resources:

Cooking Light's online community. I've learned so much from this community! Members are constantly sharing recipes/tips and weekly menus on the message boards. I highly recommend a visit - it's really educational and entertaining. You won't want to leave!

Meal Makeover Moms. They have healthy, delish recipes and helpful planning tools on their site.

Raise Healthy Eaters. A blog dedicated to family nutrition with tons of helpful tips on meal planning - one of the best I've found.

Super Baby Food. Yes - it's a cookbook for making baby food, but it's also a crash course on good nutrition, with handy charts for good meal planning.

Meal planning = easier cooking = happier eating!



Spring is my favorite season in Texas: just-right temperatures, blue skies, bluebonnets, endless days in the backyard, hours at the park.

Happy Spring-breaking, everyone!


The Simple But Perfect Pancake

Early in our marriage, my husband and I informally established Saturday mornings as our pancake (or waffle) days. And I confess that the only way I knew how to make a pancake was to use a mix. Our old standby was a box of Reduced-Fat Bisquick, and I'll admit that that mix made some mean pancakes! (Or maybe it was the yummy chef, my husband.)

These days, I'm trying to restore our diet and serve our family the most natural foods that I can. (Remember, I'm no nutrition purist, but I am trying my best to give our family the healthiest foods I can, within reason and budget.) So, anything made from scratch is a better alternative.

Enter the non-storebought, made-from-scratch, simply perfect pancake, courtesy of the baking masters at King Arthur Flours. And when you view their recipe, you'll notice the photo where they've sprinkled on chocolate chips after pouring the batter onto the griddle = total breakfast heaven. We haven't tried this indulgence yet, but I have a feeling it's not too far off - perfect for a special occasion!

My only modification to the recipe is adding one tablespoon of ground flaxseed. (Not as sexy as chocolate chips, but adding a little Omega-3 never hurts!)

I eat them hot, right off the griddle. But the family likes butter and syrup.

...Yes. Simply perfect.


Work.Life Wednesdays

When I think of balancing - and enjoying - having a professional life in addition to being a mother of two young children at home, I see a beautiful, colorful puzzle.

While I feel like I'm always working to put the puzzle together, I've learned that the joy is in the process. But it's not easy. Some days, pieces snap together perfectly and neatly. Some days, I can't find any matching pieces. And other days, although I may try to force some pieces together, I just laugh when no pieces fit because these are the days I usually learn my biggest life lessons.

On Work.Life Wednesdays, I'm looking forward to sharing with you what I've learned about working from home over the past few years. And how to make it work well.

I look forward to sharing my journey with you.


Breastfeeding: The First Nutrition

This month, for part of my parenting focus, I'm spotlighting National Nutrition Month, a campaign implemented by the American Dietetic Association. Nutrition is the foundation of everything, regardless of our age! This year's theme is "From the Ground Up," so I thought I would kick things off by honoring breastfeeding, our first opportunity to provide our babies with wonderful nutrition. Breastfeeding not only has immense nutrition benefits for babies, but it has benefits for mothers, too!

I realize that breastfeeding is a personal choice, and not all mothers choose to or are able to do so. Regardless of the first nutrients we offer our babies, I firmly believe that we as mothers do so with tremendous love and the desire to provide the best for our babies...

If you are considering breastfeeding or have already embarked on your breastfeeding journey with a new baby, you’re well aware that a primary benefit of nursing is providing your baby with the ultimate gift: the best nutrition available.

Nothing can be better than this.

Also remember that along with feeding your milk to your new and tiny bundle, you are also selflessly giving your baby unlimited access to your body, your sleep, your hydration, your nutrition, your energy…and your time. So, taking care of yourself during the nursing stage of life is crucial. Helping the nursing mother rest and recharge should be a top priority in every breastfeeding household.

Crucial to a successful breastfeeding experience is natural, balanced nutrition, ample rest, and plenty of hydration. If your milk is to be the sole source nutrition for your infant for at least the first six months, your body must be treated like a temple. After all, the better you feel as a breastfeeding mother, the longer you’re more likely to have a successful breastfeeding experience. And, just like in other aspects of mothering, the better care your take of yourself, the more your baby will benefit.

Did you ever consider, though, that in choosing to nurse your baby, you’ve actually chosen a natural path that provides its own self care? Think of breastfeeding as Mother Nature’s gift that provides you with little added rewards for being the sole provider of nutrition for your baby.

After nursing my now 4 year-old daughter for 15 months and currently nursing my 13 month-old son, I’ve experienced many beautiful and powerful benefits of nursing, which have allowed the first year of feeding to fly by because of the ease and joy of what I like to call the “breastfeeding lifestyle.”

Although everyone’s bodies are different, a few things I’ve enjoyed while nursing are:

  • Clearer, softer, glowing skin
  • Extremely deep sleep and vivid dreams
  • Increased metabolism and appetite
  • Constant flow of oxytocin, resulting in a state of calm, rested alertness (even when sleep deprived!)
  • Priceless bonding with my babies - holding their soft hands and caressing their tiny heads…
  • Peace of mind in knowing I’m doing everything I can for my baby’s immune system and nutritional development
  • A budget-friendly and easy feeding solution, and
  • Precious pockets of quiet, mental relaxation time to sit and think or read, throughout the day and night.

As your babies get older and are on the go, and as your world gets busier, you’ll miss the restful moments of serenity that breastfeeding brings.

So, whether you’re a brand new traveler on the journey of breastfeeding with sore, achy nipples, or you’re a veteran who thinks it may be easier to switch to an alternative feeding source, be patient! Things will get easier – and you will begin to look forward to feeding times as much as your baby does. Remember all the good things that come to you and your family because of your decision to engage in nature’s most primitive feeding ritual.

Let us revel in God’s gift to mothers and babies! Always remember that breastfeeding mothers are beautiful! Lactating mamas are lovely!

And life is good.

This article originally appeared on The Motherhood Center blog, a nurturing resource for Houston mothers.


I heart hearty soups

As much as I love this time of year for our cold, crisp days and clear blue sky, it also means another thing: colds, coughs, sneezing, sore throats, repeat (three or four times!). Each time our family gets a cold, I want to do one thing: make a comforting pot of soup. Doing this usually takes some planning, but with this simple recipe for Hearty Pinto Bean-Rice Soup from The Old Farmer's Almanac, making a delicious, comforting and healthy meal was practically effortless...and made for a relaxing Sunday afternoon.

I've modified the recipe to make it heartier - the more protein, the better, with vegetarian dishes.

Hearty Pinto Bean-Rice Soup

2 T. canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups water + 4 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup brown rice
4 cups cooked pinto beans
1 large carrot, quartered and chopped
2 cups (1 jar) pasta sauce (I used a jarred Puttanesca sauce)
1/2 cup of each: frozen green beans, frozen (previously chopped) zucchini, frozen corn
2 T. low-sodium soy sauce
1 T. basil, dried
1 T. thyme, dried

Place oil into a large pot and add onion and garlic. Saute over medium heat about 5 minutes. Add rice; bring to a boil for 1 minute, then simmer for about 30 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot. Bring to a slow boil. Lower heat to simmer and cover pot. Simmer for 1 hour (or longer. Longer is better!).

We enjoyed ours topped with a sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese and a dash of soy sauce (to add some yummy umami) and some homemade cornbread.

We were so hungry that I forgot to take photos...but it was a beautiful, hearty soup that kept the whole family coming back for more. Enjoy!


Whole Wheat Cinnamon Pancakes

After getting a new pancake griddle for Christmas, I'm still on a pancake jag! My next few food posts will be focused on pancakes - the easiest, quickest way to "bake" something comforting for breakfast. Our weekends have been so busy, so Mondays have turned into our "pancake day," since our girl doesn't have school on Mondays. (I do realize that next year's approaching having-to-get-up-and-be-dressed-by-7:45 daily kindergarten routine is going to, in fact, rock our world. We're soaking up a few slow and lovely weekday mornings while we still can.)

I've tweaked the original recipe to make it a bit sweeter by adding some vanilla yogurt (rather than plain) and some molasses (good source of iron, too). Remember that T = tablespoon and t = teaspoon.


2 cups whole wheat flour
2 T. sugar
1 T. and 1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1 cup whole vanilla yogurt
2 T. molasses
1 1/2 cup nonfat milk (more to thin as needed)
4 T. canola oil (plus more for the griddle)
2 large eggs

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. In another bowl, whisk together milk, yogurt, molasses, oil and eggs.
2. Add dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. Add more milk to make batter to your liking.
3. If not using a non-stick griddle, brush oil onto preheated skillet or griddle. Use 1/4 measuring cup of batter for each pancake.
4. Cook until pancake surface begins to bubble and a few have burst, about 1 - 2 minutes. Flip and cook 1 - 2 minutes more.
5. Enjoy with a little butter and maple syrup or molasses.

Viva la pancake day!


The Happiness Project (in person!)

Last Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a book signing for Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. In town for the Mom 2.0 conference, she made time in her busy Houston schedule to jet down to the west side's sturdy, charming, indie Blue Willow Bookshop.

The intimate bookshop held a packed audience - all women - and was complete with cupcakes and flutes of champagne for all (things that make the shop owner happy, of course!).

I fell into fascination with Rubin's original Happiness Project blog (formerly at Slate) after reading one of her posts on Real Simple's blog. Her blog was a real-time chronology of her own personal "happiness project" - which she worked on for one solid year.

Rubin, a passionate NYC resident and mother of two, warmly noted that happiness means something different for each one of us; happiness is a subjective, personal topic. We all have different interests that make us happy. And in the hustle and bustle of life, many of us have forgotten how to play. We forget to do things just for fun. We're all business.

I look forward to sharing more as I read the book. In the meantime, if you're interested in learning more about Rubin and her journey, visit The Happiness Project, where she still blogs daily.

You may just be happy you did.


Looking for love behind curtained spaces

(love = big sister's night light)