P.S. The Launch of The Mommy Bookshelf

Welcome to the end of April. I am still trying to figure out where this month has gone. I believe it was lost to the land of coffee and little sleep. As I mentioned last week, I have been quite busy recently. Besides keeping up with an increasingly active, curious, and sleep resistant little one, I have been working on some new writing projects and trying to get in a lot of reading. Which leads me to this announcement…Tomorrow I am launching an exciting new website! I have been working on this for a while now and I am thrilled to be putting it out there for all the world to see. It’s called The Mommy Bookshelf. I have always been an avid reader, but since having a child, I don’t have as much time to do so. And I figured I was probably not the only one that feels this way. After scouring the internet, I came to realize that there are lots of book review sites and many mommy blogs, but really none that combine the two. Thus, the birth of The Mommy Bookshelf. It is a book review website geared towards moms who, like myself, love to read but just can’t devote as much time to books as they used to. We have very little time to ourselves and who wants to waste that time on bad books? The site is split into two, just like a bookcase in a home with children: the Upper Shelves (Adult and YA books for moms and other adults) and the Lower Shelves (Picture Books for the kiddos). Each week I will add a new book to each shelf with a summary, review, and even a Mommy Readability Rating. So if you want to read all about what I’m reading and get my thoughts on the good and bad and everything in between, tune in! I’m really looking forward to sharing my reading journey with others and I hope to be able to help moms find quality books to fill whatever free time they can get. And speaking of free time, the baby has woken, so mine is officially over for now. Until nap time, farewell all…

TYBC

P.S. Memories in Ashes

This was initially going to be a very different post. I had most of the writing completed, apologizing for my recent absence from this blog and letting you all know what I’ve been up to and what new projects are on the horizon. But those announcements will have to wait. Because yesterday, while out on a walk to clear my head and get a break from the writing desk, I got a phone call from my mother.

“Are you listening to the news?” she asked. My mind quickly rushed to what loved ones were where and what could be happening in those locations. “Notre Dame is on fire!”

My first response was, “the school?” I have several friends who went to the university and my mother’s love of their women’s basketball team is quite strong, so I would understand her worry.

“No,” she said. “The cathedral. In Paris.” My initial reaction was tepid. I listened to her explain what she had heard had happened so far and how she was feeling about it. She and my father lived in Europe when they were first married and I know she has many fond memories of Paris and Notre Dame in particular. With my father’s passing, the loss of major monuments in their life together are understandably tough for her.

The phone call ended and I continued on my walk for a short distance before it really hit me. Notre Dame was burning! I quickly opened the news on my phone and the pictures I saw punched me in the gut. A flood of my past came crashing down around me as the dam that had previously been in place, separating the then from the now, the one that had held strong throughout the whole phone conversation, collapsed. And as I continued my walk, I cried. Paris is not just a special place for my mother. It holds a great deal of meaning for me as well. I have deep connections to many spots within the city and Notre Dame itself is a particularly poignant landmark in my memories.

Paris is known as The City of Love, and that is how I will always think of it. It was my city of so many firsts and the epitome of romance for the young woman that I was, walking the streets hand-in-hand with the one who defined true love to my younger self. The summer we spent together was something the hopelessly romantic me that I was could only have previously dreamed of. It had an end, as all things eventually do, which was colored with all the drama of inexperienced passion and immature notions of love. But its reality in that moment is something that I remember fondly, albeit with less regularity with each passing year. But when a blazing fire rips that place and time out of memory and into the present, it’s hard to suppress all the emotions that come with it.

When I got home from my walk, I looked through some pictures from that European summer. There was him. And there was us. And there was Notre Dame in all it’s glory. A beautiful backdrop to the story I was living then. The beginning of the journey to the life I am living now. I hurt for the people of Paris who watched as a steadfast center of their world and present lives burned. And I ache for those of us whose memories have now been tinged with the ashes of Notre Dame.

TYBC

P.S. Work vs. A Present Life

In our modern, fast-paced world, it is the goal of many enlightened individuals to become more mindful, more present in the present. There is article after article, book after book, podcast after podcast telling us how to focus on the moment we’re in, release the past and not worry about the future. To truly enjoy life, to have the most meaningful life, we are to follow these steps and reap the benefits. Give up the distractions, they tell us, and you will be successful in this endeavor. An admirable and worthy endeavor indeed. However, I wonder if it is one that is truly plausible for the writer (or possibly anyone who deals in a creative line of work). For it seems, to be a successful writer, you must escape the moment you are in so that you may access the world you are trying to create and interact with the characters that you are attempting to develop. Can you truly be present in the here and now if you are working on producing a there and other? This is something I struggle with as a writer in trying to also lead a meaningful, present life.

In addition to this, I now have another reason to want to stay in this moment. I am now raising a child. A child who is growing, moving, living, changing with each passing moment. Parents of children who are grown and gone will tell you to “enjoy every moment” and remind you that “these days will be gone before you know it”. So, I want to be here, stay here, appreciate who he is right now before that version of him is gone. This makes the work of writing all the more difficult (on top of the fact that he is now crawling and is therefore either all over me and my keyboard or getting into something that necessitates my leaving the work to stop some form of impending trouble). So that leaves me with nap time, the only still time, as my time to escape into the world of writing. But should these also be my moments to focus on that mindfulness that is suggested in order for me to achieve the ideal presence in this life? When can I find time to escape in order to do the work? It is a question I continue to ponder. For now, I need to cut this short…the present needs my attention.

The Baking Challenge: March Madness is upon us and, if your household is anything like mine, that means this past weekend was completely filled with basketball. And all that game watching requires some good snacks. I decided to take this opportunity to continue the expansion of my baking repertoire with soft pretzels. The recipe was quite simple and fairly quick to put together (it was nice only having to wait minutes rather than hours for things to rise). And after twisting the little guys into their iconic shape and a quick boil in the baking soda bath, into the oven they went. The house smelled increasingly delicious and the pretzels emerged perfectly browned. And to top it all off, they tasted amazing! It was the perfect treat to eat during what turned out to be a rather nail-biting game. So, I ended the weekend with a new favorite quick bake and a not-too-terribly-injured bracket.

TYBC

P.S. Regrets and Inspiration

In a book I was reading recently, one of the characters commented that he doesn’t have regrets, as he felt regrets come from a place of sadness. Things are done and over, and being sad about them is fruitless. It was a simple piece of dialogue in the story, but it really resonated with me. Lately, certain events have led me to examine some things in my past that could be considered regrets. And while I would like to think myself in line with the aforementioned character, not carrying regrets, there are some moments that still linger with doubt and hesitation for me. And for a while they were causing sadness. Personally, I would not want to be anywhere else than exactly where I am, with the people I am with. However, academically and professionally, there are some routes I may have wanted to take and should have but didn’t. But then that begs the question… If I had changed even the slightest of things regarding those paths, would the end result of my personal journey be different? Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect would tell us yes. That’s not a risk I would want to take and, realistically, not one I can. I can’t just go back and do things differently. But what if someone could?

This is where my thoughts of the past and feelings of regret have led to inspiration. For even though I cannot go back and change the past, I can write characters who can. I can create a world where this regret-fueled time travel is possible. And so, through them, I can start a new story. I have always found writing to be quite therapeutic, journaling or writing pieces of memoir or creative non-fiction. But this time, I am going to explore writing fiction as therapy. I’m hoping through this exercise to not only produce a powerful and thought-provoking piece of writing, but also to help myself work though some of the emotions that have been bogging me down as of late. Along with my notions of regret, this new writing endeavor has led me on a new reading journey as well. My experience with time-travel in literature is quite minimal and so I have begun to dive into the sci-fi genre (one I have not explored much in my reading) in order to get a solid understand of how other authors have approached the subject. So far, I have found it quite interesting how each individual has put their own mark on the concept. I find myself questioning some methods and admiring others, taking from each ideas of how I could make it my own. And so, a new writing journey begins. I am excited to see down which path these characters lead me.

The Baking Challenge: Happy belated St. Patrick’s Day to you all! I hope everyone enjoyed a day filled with the Irish spirit. I married into a strong Irish family and was recently given the family recipe for Irish Soda Bread (written down by my husband’s aunt off the top of her head, a skill of recollection I wish I had for some of my favorite recipes). So, for this week, my new bake was to try out this family tradition. And since my husband has always praised his aunt’s bread, I knew the judging of the finished product would be tough. The mixing and baking were pretty simple and straightforward (I was, however, quite surprised to find there is no actual baking soda in the soda bread). I don’t think my dough was quite wet enough though and the loaf came out a bit underdone as I hadn’t shaped it as it should have been, but the taste was pretty spot on. My husband may have even said he liked my crust better (this may have been due to my heavy-handedness with the unquantified amount of melted butter applied at the end of baking). So I would definitely consider this a semi-success and I look forward to improving upon it next year.

TYBC

P.S. A Day of Love at the Library

Happy belated Valentine’s Day to you all! I hope each of you got to spend some time that day with the person or persons you love. Not only did I get to spend some time on Valentine’s Day with the people I love, but also the things I love. Books!

Neither my husband nor I have ever really made a big deal about Valentine’s Day. It’s just not that important of a holiday to us. A simple dinner at home and a nice bottle of wine will suffice. And, ever since our first Valentine’s Day when we had just started dating, we decided that we would use the day to exchange books with one another. It makes perfect sense to me as I have always loved books. Why not give them as gifts on the day of love?

This year, I continued that tradition of books on Valentine’s Day as me and my new little love spent the afternoon at the library, one of the most romantic places in the world. Regardless of what a library looks like inside or out, it is filled with stories of love and stories that are loved. Some of the greatest romances ever recorded are within the walls of your library. And some of the most cherished memories of loved ones have been established around books. So what better place to go on a day of love than the library? We wandered the stacks, pulling out a few titles here and there to glance through and then carried on. I read my son some of my favorite lines and he seemed to appreciate them, until the “romance” of it all sent him off to an early nap. We then ventured back home with a new pile of books checked out for the week.

And the day ended with a nice dinner, a bottle of delicious wine, my two loves, and a book. I don’t think there could be any better way to celebrate love. I hope you all find a little way to celebrate the love in your life each day.

The Baking Challenge: Vegetables and chocolate typically don’t sound like a great combination. Memories of an early misadventure I had in dessert creation comes to mind (let’s just say carrots are not a good replacement for strawberries when it comes to chocolate dipping). However, I had heard good things about chocolate zucchini bread and, with two large zucchinis delivered in our produce box this week, I thought I would give it a try. I baked it, wrapped it up, and took it with us on our fun little camping get away this weekend. Unfortunately, I found the whole endeavor to be a waste of perfectly good zucchini and perfectly good chocolate. The loaf turned out to be just an average tasting chocolate cake. You really couldn’t taste or feel the zucchini at all. And it was actually a little dry, despite the recipe’s promise of “extreme moistness”. I have much better chocolate cake recipes and so I think I will stick to those in the future and leave the zucchini to the veggie dishes.

TYBC

P.S. Enough with “Am I doing enough?”

“Am I doing enough?” It’s a question I ask quite frequently in most parts of my life. As a mother, a writer, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, am I doing enough? As the first two take up the majority of my time right now (we’ll throw the third one in for good measure) it’s typically where I currently focus most of my concern with this question. As a mother, am I doing enough with my son to nurture him properly? Am I reading to him enough? Are we listening to enough music or too much? Is there enough quiet time? Do I hold him enough? Do I give him enough alone time? Do I talk to him enough and give him enough time to respond in his own way? Do we get out enough? Do we do enough activities that will stimulate him physically and mentally? Am I doing enough?

When it comes to writing, the main question is am I writing enough? Am I getting enough words on the page? And within those words are there enough good words? In addition, am I doing enough to hone my craft? Am I reading enough? Studying the art of writing enough? Going to enough writers’ events and exposing myself to the world of writing? And, when it comes to the book I’ve already written, am I doing enough marketing to get enough sales?

Outside of this, am I doing enough to maintain all the important relationships in my life? Am I contacting the people I need to contact enough? Do we talk enough? About the important stuff and not just the superficial? Am I doing enough to show the people I love how I feel? And then, a relationship that is seemingly often pushed to the background, am I doing enough for myself? Enough to stay healthy, fit, and strong? Physically, mentally, and emotionally? Am I helping myself enough so that I can be enough in the other areas of my life?

That’s a lot of questions! Just asking them becomes so overwhelming that one has no energy to figure out, let alone act on, the answers. So, I’ve decided to say, “Enough!” Enough to doubting whether I’m doing enough. No more wasting my time worrying. I’m doing my best and that’s all I can ask of myself. Some days “my best” might be better than other days, but every day, I am determined to allow myself to feel that it is enough. And with that, I will go forward in life, a little less worried and more focused on the moment, enjoying all that I have and all that I am. And, in the words of the wonderful Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton: “I could be enough, And we could be enough, That would be enough”.

The Baking Challenge: Marzipan seems to be one of those things that people either love or hate. I had never used it in my baking before, and so I thought I would give it a try this week in making a Marzipan Swirl Tart. A delicious cookie crust, rich chocolate and marzipan swirl filling, what’s not to like? And with a simple baking of the crust and chilling of the completed tart, it was a fairly easy and successful project. And quite a delectable dessert. I might even guess it could sway a few of those marzipan haters in the other direction.

TYBC

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P.S. Falling In Love With Bad Coffee

Yesterday afternoon, I needed some coffee. It had been a slow morning and I was determined to be at least somewhat productive. And I knew, to achieve this, and outlast the baby who decided now was the perfect time to try out the whole “crying for no reason” thing, I would need a strong caffeine boost. But it had to be something quick and easy. No messing around with the French press and, due to the pouring rain outside, a quick walk to the Starbucks down the street was not an option. However, in our kitchen cabinet, there was one lone satchel of instant coffee. So, I flipped the switch on the electric kettle, dumped the dry grounds into my cup, and in moments I was back at my desk with a sleeping baby draped across my lap (having finally tired himself out), coffee in hand, and ready to get some writing done. I took a long sip of the coffee and then I remembered just how bad the instant stuff really was. Instant coffee in general is not the best and this one in particular wasn’t the best of not the best. And, after spending the past few months spoiling myself with the good stuff (shout out to Philz Coffee!) I had forgotten what these little satchels were like. But then, I took another sip. And another, sitting back to enjoy this terrible, wonderful coffee.

To me, the taste of this particular bad coffee is the taste of falling in love. Madly, deeply, no-turning-back in love. These little satchels of instant coffee are the ones that my husband and I have stuffed by the handful into our packs for every backpacking and camping trip we’ve had together. We drank this coffee before some of our early morning hikes when we first started dating. We drank this coffee during our trip to Hawaii just before getting engaged, as we hiked across New Zealand on our honeymoon, as we explored the beauty of Iceland. And we drank this coffee on our last camping trip just before we welcomed this baby that was now sleeping soundly in my lap. And through it all, I was falling in love. Even after marrying the man of my dreams, every adventure we share shows me something new to love about him. I am so grateful that I was able to find someone who is equally excited about exploring the world, about putting one foot in front of the other and conquering the toughest of trails. The big adventures and the small, I cherish every one I’ve taken with him. And through it all, there’s been this terrible coffee. So bitterly perfect. So, I take another sip and dive into my writing, relishing in the memories, and continued state, of falling in love.

The Baking Challenge: This week I made another bread. Rosemary bread. Not only was this the first time I made this recipe, but I also got to use my new favorite kitchen toy…the Instant Pot! Now, I don’t want to turn this into a long advertisement for the Instant Pot, but just as a quick note, it is an amazing device. I received it as a Christmas present and, while initially weary of having to deal with learning how to use another new gadget, I have come to love this appliance. I honestly use it three to four times a week. It has already saved me hours that I have been able to put to better use. And, in this instance, it saved me heaps of time once more. The original recipe for this bread required over ten hours of letting the dough rise. With the Instant Pot, the dough was ready for the oven after just four. Plus 45-minutes of baking and we had delicious Rosemary bread on the dinner table. The house smelled amazing and it was a perfect warm treat on a very cold evening. I would definitely make this one again.

TYBC