Read, Watched, Listened

I love reading just about everything (okay, you won't see any mystery or sci-fi picks on here), watching things that make me think and especially if they make me laugh, and wholeheartedly embrace the podcast. I also enjoy hearing about what other people are reading, watching, and listening. Here's my two cents worth.

I got slammed with library holds the past couple of months - it took all I had just to try to keep up! Writing up quick reviews (ha!) this time, so I can get back to the other books loaned out to me.

  How I’ve been keeping up on reading lately: surrounded by small children, blankets, and stuffed animals during our afternoon screen time break.

How I’ve been keeping up on reading lately: surrounded by small children, blankets, and stuffed animals during our afternoon screen time break.

READ

Tell Me More
This book was so. good. Kelly Corrigan is such a wonderful storyteller, and I loved how she candidly interwove stories (by turns hilarious, sad, and serious) with the twelve words and phrases she is working to use more frequently.

The Book of Essie
I was really looking forward to reading this novel, but didn’t love it. It was easy enough to read, but I guessed virtually all of the major plot points long before they were ever officially revealed (er…surprise?). It did have a satisfying ending, in a rom-com sort of way.

The Opposite of Hate
A very interesting read given the tensions of our current political and social climate. Sally Kohn (a progressive commentator on Fox and CNN - I don’t watch the news but maybe you know of her?) walks through various expressions of hate, from childhood bullying to genocide, and wrestles with the roots of hate, racism, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

Happiness
This memoir about motherhood, illness, and relationships was so beautifully written. The author’s experiences in these areas were vastly different than me own, yet I couldn’t stop reading and relating to her anyway.

Like a Mother
I would have been more fascinated by this book if I had read it during my first pregnancy. Many of the things the author discusses (how miraculous breast milk is, the fact that a fetus leaves behind cells in a mother’s body and just what the hell are they doing there anyway?) were things I already knew about, so those sorts of revelations lost their power for me. I do think this book would make a great gift for a newly pregnant or first time mom.

Inspired
Overall I loved Rachael Held Evan’s new book. The idea of looking at the Bible through the lens of storytelling — and discussing the power of storytelling itself — is such an important one. I could, however, have done without the re-telling of Biblical stories at the beginning of each chapter. They didn’t add anything to the book for me.

That Kind of Mother
I had mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, I enjoyed the writing and storytelling. On the other hand, some of the characters and plot (or lack of) didn’t do it for me. It was a story ripe for something to happen - white family adopts the baby of their black nanny after the nanny dies - but I don’t think it quite got there for me in the end.

A Spark of Light
I LOVE Jodi Picoult. Like, one of my top three all-time authors. I didn’t love this book. I may have known too much about the story already going in (see the podcast recs below), but IMO this was not her writing at it’s best. Also, as a book about a shooting/hostage situation, it was VERY TENSE, which may not have been the best choice of book to read in the last few days leading up to the midterm elections. #mybad

Glitter and Glue
A Kelly Corrigan memoir of her time nannying one summer in Australia. Her writing is interesting enough (though I don’t think this is a book I could ever read again - which is typically the hallmark of a great book to me), but what kept me interested was the narrative that came forward about her mother, and how getting away from her made her appreciate and understand her mother all the more.

WATCHED

Nanette
Watch it. Watch it now. And then do what I did and make your husband immediately watch it with you the next night. To say this is a comedy special does not do it justice. It’s a feminist, LGBTQ, #metoo manifesto.

Chef’s Table (Season 5)
You know I love this series. Watch it. Start at the beginning and watch it now. (Or at least after you’re done with Nannette.)

Lady Bird
We (or at least I) are not big movie people, so you know it’s a Big Freaking Deal when I list a movie on here. Tyson and I enjoyed this coming-of-age, mother-daughter-tensions, character-drive, drama-ish movie. It was up for a bunch of Oscars a couple years ago and it was free on Amazon Prime so win-win for us.

LISTENED

Pod Save America
I can’t believe I’ve never mentioned this one here before! These guys - former Obama staffers - deep dive into politics and the news of the week. I particularly enjoyed their recap this week of the midterm elections, where they had an insightful conversation on the meaning (or lack of meaning) of results on election night and the blue wave that was. (!!!)

For the Love
I’ve said before that while I love me some Jen Hatmaker, I’m not a huge fan of her podcast. That said, she had two STELLAR episodes recently. One with Kelly Corrigan, the other with Jodi Picoult. They were both chock full of wisdom nuggets on life and writing that I know I will come back to again.

Note: any links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links.

Morning, Again

It’s morning. Again.

I’m thirty-one years old and it really shouldn’t surprise me that it comes every day but here we are. Dark bedroom. Warm bed. Children who serve as the most functional alarm clock I’ve ever owned.

I am decidedly not a morning person. So of course the other four people in my house are. My husband, while he’d rather not get wake-up calls quite as early as we do, still has the ability to roll over and get out of bed at the first sound of a child. Unlike me, who only has the ability to roll over into a more comfortable position. For the record, I’ve never had the ability to roll over and immediately get out of bed. Snooze buttons for the win, every time.

My three kids, once they’re awake, are instantly awake. Like, ready-to-run-a-marathon awake. While I don’t even want to string a sentence together before I’ve had about twenty minutes to wash my face, change my clothes, and take those first few sips of coffee, they are ready to be up and out into the world.

I have friends with kids of similar ages to mine who actually have to physically wake their children up in the morning. What in the actual world? This is as foreign to me as living in a place without snow on Christmas. Surely these children, these places, must be mythical. I hear that eventually, in the years of teens and preteens, this might become a thing in our house, too. But for now, they are awake. Always. Instantly. Whether the sun is shining or not, whether they’ve been up late the night before or not. Six o’clock hits and they. are. up.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!

Art Time

I’m a planner by nature. Always have been, always will be. My husband and I use an app to synch our family schedule and I use another one to plan our meals and create a grocery list for the week. After a two-year hiatus, I recently caved to the purchase of a beautiful, lovely, glorious paper day planner again. I’m eyeing an enormous whiteboard calendar to fill a wall in our kitchen, to help with the question my kids ask every morning at breakfast, “Where are we going today?” Bedtime, nap time, quiet time, and wake-up time are all coordinated by the Okay to Wake clocks in each kid’s bedroom. (Well...maybe those times aren’t quite as carefully coordinated as I would like them to be.)

So it should come as no surprise to you that as a stay-at-home mom I’ve given a similar structure to the planning of our days. I thrive on routine and my own kids, like most kids, do too. They anticipate the ordering of our days: wake-up, breakfast, get ready, preschool or other activity outside the house, lunch, nap and quiet time, screen time, snack time, playtime, dinner, clean up, pajamas, bed.

Afternoon playtime can be the longest and most tedious part of our day. With a two-year old who caps out at a 60-minute nap and twin four-year olds who don’t really nap anymore, the afternoon hours from 2-5 pm can drag on as we all go slightly stir-crazy from the close proximity to each other. In the summer we find relief in gathering with neighborhood friends to go run around outside, burn off all that energy, and splash in the pool until it’s time to prep dinner. It’s these cooler months, the ones that have all too soon arrived this year, that really take a toll.

Enter: art time. Four o’clock is art hour at our house. Despite the name, it’s nothing too creative. Nothing too novel. Come 4:00 pm, whatever we’re doing, I stop and call out “It’s art time!”

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!

Pork and Green Chili Stew

I love food. Like, love food. Cooking and baking are up there in my top five favorite things. I’d say my family is lucky but really I’m just selfish - I’m kind of picky and like to eat good food myself. Unless you pay close attention to my Read, Watched, Listened posts, where I often read about food, listen to podcasts about food, or, more frequently, watch various miniseries about food, you may not know this about me. All this to say that while this never has been and never will be what you might call a “food blog”, I’m going to try adding favorite recipes of mine every once in awhile. I’d love to hear if you try any of them - and if they become one of your favorites, too!

As far as I’m concerned, soup is the perfect meal. There are variations for every mood: creamy or brothy, chunky or smooth, crock pot convenience or simmering on the stove for hours. Plus, most of them are even better accompanied by a fresh, warm loaf of crusty bread.

I come alive again as the temperatures cool down and it’s once again soup season. (Though I will try to pass off a corn chowder on you anytime the temperatures dip down below 70 in the summer.) I have to practice restraint in my meal planning from adding soup to the menu every dang night in the fall and winter.

There are three people in my house who are glad soup isn’t on the menu every night. Are anyone else’s kids resistant to everything about soup? The texture, the way everything is mixed together, the temperature, the whole soup-iness of it? Nolan will sometimes eat a little, though he tends to just make a mess more than anything. I often scramble to put something healthy on the kids’ plates when soup is on the menu for Tyson and me.

In our house, dinner is a single option. I don’t make special food for the kids if they decide to reject an entire meal. However, I don’t feel that’s super fair where soup is concerned. I already know they don’t like it, but I’m determined to make it anyway. And I don’t care to make a separate meal (which would probably consist of something like chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese) while Tyson and I eat a healthy, homemade meal of our own.

Enter: this soup. (Or stew. Whatever. As far as I’m concerned, there’s a lot of overlap here. If it’s in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, I’m all in.) It’s easy to prepare a kid-friendly meal with the ingredients from this dish. First, I braise a big pork shoulder in the oven and shred it all up. It freezes well and we can use it for multiple meals: nachos, pulled pork sandwiches, this soup again. Some pulled pork goes into this soup and some gets warmed up for the kids, which I offer up with tortillas and shredded cheese. I buy a big bag of frozen corn and heat a cup or two up in a separate pan (or in the microwave) with some butter, salt, and pepper. I may add some fruit to the kids’ plates if needed. They get pork tacos with corn and we get pork and green chili stew, with minimal extra effort from me. Win-win. I mean, I think I’m winning more, but whatever.

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On soup nights, our dinner conversations almost always go something like this:

“You guys are eating soup?”
“Yes.”
“And you like it?”
“Yes.”
“Oh. But we don’t like soup.”
“You might like it, if you tried it. Almost everything on your plate is in this soup.”
“The meat is in the soup?”
“Yes.”
“And the corn?”
“Yes.”
“And the cheese?”
“There’s some cheese on top, yes.”
“Oh. But we still don’t like it.”
*heavy sigh to resist banging my head on the table*

Sometimes I top this soup with shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Other times some sour cream.or crushed tortilla chips. Sometimes all three. If I’m lazy, it’s perfect all by itself. And nobody in our house complains if I accompany the whole meal with some cornbread muffins.

I keep promising they’ll like chicken noodle soup, because “all kids like chicken noodle!” I haven’t gotten around to making it yet, but I’m hopeful I can introduce them to the glory of soup one bowl at a time. Maybe I’m setting their expectations too high. I’ll have to report back. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying all the extra soup as leftovers. I haven’t yet found a soup or stew that doesn’t get better with age.

Pork and Green Chili Stew
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I’ve included both slow cooker and stove top instructions, in case you find yourself where I did this past Tuesday night when I opened up the recipe 45 minutes before dinnertime only to realize I was supposed to have put it in the slow cooker 8 hours ago. Whoops. Luckily it adapted perfectly to the stove. You can make this recipe your own in other ways. White beans wold make a good addition, as would shredded chicken instead of pork.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium red onion, chopped

  • 1 7-oz. can diced green chilis

  • 1 tsp. garlic powder

  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt

  • 1 tsp. cumin

  • 1 tsp. chili powder

  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

  • 1/2 tsp. oregano

  • 1 - 1 1/2 cups shredded pork shoulder

  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cubed

  • 1 cup frozen corn

  • 2 Tbsp. quick-cooking tapioca

  • 3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water

  • optional toppings: sour cream, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, crushed tortilla chips, cilantro

METHOD 1: SLOW COOKER

  • Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Give it a good stir so everything gets mixed up well and the spices are distributed evenly.

  • Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours, or high for 3-4 hours.

  • Serve with your choice of toppings, if desired, with fresh crusty bread or corn bread muffins (my kids’ preference!) on the side.

METHOD 2: STOVETOP

  • Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion and saute until soft, reducing heat if needed, 8 minutes or so.

  • In the meantime, mix all the spices together in a small dish and set aside.

  • Add the diced green chilis to the onion. Stir to combine and saute for a minute or two. Add the reserved spice mix. Give everything a good stir and let it saute for another 2-3 minutes.

  • Add the shredded pork, potatoes, and corn. Stir it around to ensure everything is evenly coated. Add the broth or water and tapioca and turn the heat to high, bringing it to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

  • Serve with your choice of toppings, if desired, with fresh crusty bread or corn bread muffins (my kids’ preference!) on the side.

The Repetition of Motherhood

I didn’t know last Thursday was going to be the one that broke me. The day that sent me, crumbling at 3:30 in the afternoon, to text a message over Voxer to my friends in pure desperation. I met this scattered tribe of writing mamas through a year-long writing course, a gift from Tyson a couple Christmases ago. This group of women turned out to be more of a gift than the actual gift of the writing workshop itself.

“This parenting thing is no joke. The kids have been so difficult lately and I’m feeling 100% completely drained by the day-in-day-out of life with kids,” I wrote, “ And then my anxiety comes out as anger so I feel even worse. I also feel behind on everything from my writing to the amount of library books on loan to me to picking outfits for our family photos to organizing every single room in my entire house. Maybe that sounds silly. Life is hard.”

+++++

The day had started off normal enough. Better, maybe, since it was the first day of the week we didn’t have to be out of the house well before 9 am. At 8 o’clock that morning I had been calm, sipping coffee that was still hot and swatting Nolan’s hand away from my egg-topped avocado toast.

“Go play!” I told him. He scampered off to join his brother and sister, though I knew he’d be back all too soon. I cleared away spoons and bowls, rinsing them off in the sink and watching soggy cereal bits swirl away. I ate my own breakfast as I cleaned; multitasking, the life of a mom. Bite of avocado toast, rinse. Sip of coffee, fill the dishwasher. Bite, sip, wipe, rinse.

My only plan for the morning was to take the kids to the park in a probably futile attempt to burn off their energy. Without a firm schedule, just for the moment, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself.

That lazy feeling was the opposite of the weekly dreams I used to have, far too often, where no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t be on time. One week it would be the airport and I was about to miss my flight. A few times it was a class at school I could never get to before the bell rang. I would forget a book and go back to my locker, over and over again, or pack a suitcase that never seemed to fill. Every time I would wake up frantic, anxious, panicked, sweating. Growing up as the kid who was always late for everything, these dreams were truly the stuff of nightmares to me. But not this morning. I took another sip of hot coffee before telling them to go upstairs and find some clothes for the day.

+++++

No specific thing actually sent me over the edge that afternoon. There was plenty of screaming and sibling battles. There was the house that looked like a hurricane (or, ahem, three) had hit every single one of its 2200 square feet from the master closet to the playroom. There were a couple of writing deadlines I couldn’t get out of my head but also couldn’t get to work on, because: children. There was the several-months-potty-trained toddler who pooped his pants enough to warrant a bath. Not just once but twice, including immediately after I sent off my plea over Voxer. I was resigned to my fate at that point as I wearily dragged him home from the park in the wagon. I wondered how badly his pants were leaking, if I would need to hose down the wagon when I got home, where all my emotions had gone. It was another day in a long series of days with the grind of working, cleaning, disciplining, and attempting to find patience for the most ordinary of things.

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I recently read it takes our brains 28 minutes after an interruption to get back on track to what we were doing before we were interrupted with the same level of productivity. Reading that, my immediate reaction was, No freaking wonder I can’t get anything done! Twenty-EIGHT minutes? As a person who feels as though she is frequently interrupted 28 times in a single minute, I’m basically doomed.

Maybe the nightly dreams of my youth are coming back to haunt me now in motherhood. I’m not missing something as momentous as a flight, as tangible as the bell to sit down for history class. Yet the continuous, fruitless repetition that now takes over my days is undeniable. I may no longer be frantically packing that suitcase, but instead corralling the shoes and jackets that take over the mudroom again, and again, and again. I’m not turning around for the umpteenth time in a crowded high school hallway to retrieve a book from my locker, but I struggle to keep my thoughts in an orderly line as my children derail them over and over with requests for the TV to be turned on, by the shrieks of another sibling squabble, to answer the question, “Where is the Earth?”, with small people showing me - “Look mom!” that a T-Rex stomps “like this” and his arms can’t touch “like this”.

+++++

My friends rallied, as they do, as I knew they would. It is hard, I’ll be praying for you, they said. I’m right there with you. Sending you love. You’re not alone. It is. So. Hard. Cheering you on! I feel emptied at the end of the day, too. It’s not silly. Being a mother is hard.

The solidarity and love as each little ping alerted me to another message pulled me through the rest of the day. I read through each little message once, twice, three times or more, each one a reminder that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t alone, that parenting every day in and out is actually hard, holy work.