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.



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.


P.S. The Inspiration of Sleeplessness

While I was pregnant, I frequently got the piece of “advice” that all soon-to-be parents get. “Sleep as much as you can now, because once baby comes, there won’t be much sleep at all.” I would smile and nod and just laugh it off. Yes, babies can keep you up at night. I knew that. But, I thought, I know what it’s like to stay up all night. I’ve been to college. I’ve pulled all-nighters and still functioned completely fine. I can handle this. Well, I quickly learned that not sleeping without a baby is one hundred percent different than not sleeping with one. The sleeplessness that comes with a baby creates a whole new kind of tired that one cannot escape from. Thankfully, and quite luckily, my baby started sleeping through the night around the five-week mark. I know this statement now has many new parents completely hating me, but he did. And, like I said, I know I am quite lucky in this matter. However, now that he is a bit older, we have stumbled into a period of sleep regression, making those lovely sleepless nights a reality once more. So, other than trying to calm a restless child, what does one do during these sleepless hours?

As a writer, I have often found the moments right before falling asleep to be a time when my mind is rushed with inspiration. Story ideas, plot hole fillers, dialogue, it all tumbles around my pillow. The timing is annoying, but it has led to some great bits of writing. So, as I now have a lot of wakeful time in an otherwise not so wakeful time, I do find myself coming upon a great deal of writing inspiration. Maybe it’s from something my son does, or a jumbled combination of words that fall from my mouth in the wee dark hours, both of which have been the spark for two manuscripts I am currently working on. On several occasions I have dropped my phone, Notes App open and ready for a quick recording of my thoughts, only to not be able to reach it as my son feeds or nears sleep. I then spend the rest of the feeding or cradling time repeating a line or rhyme over and over so as not to forget it. So, during this time of sleep regression, this is when and where I’m finding my inspiration. In the dead of night, cradling the cutest little baby. I guess this whole wakeful developmental period isn’t really the worst thing, as long as there is some coffee available during the day.

The Baking Challenge: This past Friday, I baked Stromboli for dinner. I’d never made pizza dough from scratch before, so that was a first. Pretty simple and straightforward. I’m really getting the hang of this yeast business. The filling was some of our favorite pizza toppings (sausage, mushrooms, black olives, and a whole bunch of cheese). And then just roll it all up and bake. I will say my “eyeing it” method for splitting the dough in two was a bit off, leaving us with one monster Stromboli and one littler guy, but still, both were delicious and provided two dinners and a lunch. So, still enjoying the challenge and looking for the next new bake. Maybe this week I could try something a bit sweeter.


P.S. Mary Oliver, a Natural Inspiration

Of What Surrounds Me

Whatever it is I am saying, I always
Need a leaf or a flower, if not an
Entire field. As for sky, I am wildly
In love with each day’s inventions, cool blue
Or cat gray or full
Of the ships of clouds, I simply can’t
Say whatever it is I am saying without
At least one skyful. That leaves water, a
Creek or a well, river or ocean, it has to be
There. For the heart to be there. For the pen
To be poised. For the idea to come.

-Mary Oliver

This past week, the world lost a great poet. Mary Oliver wrote beautiful lines that transformed the world she saw and inspired those who read her work. As seen in the poem above, she wrote of nature; her deep connection with the natural world and the spirituality she felt when surrounded by it.

I am drawn to Mary’s poems as this is a sentiment I can deeply relate to. Being in nature is the best way I can think of to reconnect with my spiritual self. When surrounded by nature, I feel completely connected to the bigger picture, a higher place. It is said that time in nature can reset our biological clocks, and I wholeheartedly agree. Even just a short hike through the woods can leave me feeling more at peace, focused, and centered in all aspects of life. It’s hard to hold on to superficial worries when you are surrounded by the beauty of the earth. It also reminds me to slow down and enjoy the simple things.

And, as with Mary, nature is where I find most of my inspiration. Not that I typically write about nature, but time spent there draws forth a clarity in my ideas and triggers strong writing on a myriad of topics. When my mind is feeling clogged or overwhelmed, unable to reach that creative spark, a long hike in the mountains is sure to help find it. It is almost a matter of certainty that the second I get as far as possible from any computer, pen, paper, or other method of recording my thoughts, that is when I will come up with the perfect story idea, character description, or line of dialogue. And even if it is forgotten by the time I am able to write again, there is still an energy gained that encourages an inspired writing session or two.

So yesterday morning, while on a hike in the mountains, baby in the carrier, bright eyes taking in all that surrounded him, I thought of Mary. It was a beautiful day (the skies cleared from recent rain and a lush green covering everything), one she would have appreciated but, I’m sure, seen and described in a unique way. I tried to take in things in her poetic vision and brought that home for an afternoon of peace and writing (mixed in with a heavy dose of baby vomit). But we need that contrast! As Mary has shown us, it is in the contrast, with the gray, that we can find the purest beauty that nature has to offer.

And so, I will continue to enjoy inspiration from nature for all aspects of my life and keep Mary’s words always close at hand.

The Baking Challenge: Every weekend, my husband and I enjoy a breakfast of English muffins and coffee (or tea). We have found a particular brand of muffin which we have become quite fond of and it got me wondering if I could replicate it. So, this past Friday, I went about attempting my first ever batch of English muffins. A relatively simple dough and easy bake (totally doable with a fussy baby in the background). And while their appearance and taste were not exactly like those that we typically enjoy (mostly because the type we usually have are sourdough and I have yet to venture into the realm of sourdough starters), they were English muffins and quite good in their own right. I am truly enjoying this weekly scheduled time for baking. It’s me time and brings a focus to the day. I am quite happy to have found that this is something I can continue to do as the rest of my world has become rather altered.



P.S. New Baby Steps

My son is learning to walk. And I know he will get there someday (a lot sooner than I am prepared for, I’m sure). Right now, however, he can’t even crawl. He’s got the rolling over down pretty good (when he wants to). And he’s mastered tummy time, lifting his head quite high for extended periods. But the movement part of the process eludes him. I think it’s the giant Buddha belly that’s keeping him in one place. He can’t quite get himself high enough on hands and knees to stop the belly from holding him in a teetering position (images of Garfield, post-lasagna dinner, come to mind). And at this particular moment, he’s on his back, arms and legs flailing, “stuck” beneath a cloth book that he has draped over his face, so I don’t think I need to worry about a mobile child any time soon. But, in the grand scheme of things, he is learning to walk. For that is the end goal, right? (Well, walk, then run, then become a star basketball athlete and get the full-ride scholarship to the school of his dreams and win the national championship in his freshman year…but, I digress.) Yes, the end goal, for now, is walking. And all these little advancements in movement, each success at the next step towards that first step, are all part of the learning process.

And this is where I find myself, too. Back at the beginning, learning to “walk”. Recently, I made a move in my professional/creative life to begin focusing on writing children’s books. Picture books specifically. As I have recently become a frequent reader of this genre, so too have ideas for these types of stories flooded into my mind. And so, I’m back at the start. Maybe not as completely novice as this young one on his quest toward bipedal motion. I have written a novel and, therefore, know how to put some words together to create a story. Children’s literature is, however, a whole new world when it comes to writing. There are new rules, new things to consider when drafting a story. And the idea that children’s books are easier to write than more lengthy works is a bit of a fallacy. Sure, there are less words, but that can often make it way more difficult. A lower word count makes each individual word much more important. And, if you are thinking of writing a story in rhyme, well, there is so much…and you have to…and then there’s…well, just don’t. It is much more difficult than I initially thought it would be and have quickly come to realize that it is going to take far far more time and study to create a great rhyming story than just coming up with a little jingle to sing at bedtime. So yes, I’m in the early stages, just taking those first few baby steps into this new genre and, although there have been some stumbles already, I really am enjoying it. It’s fun and I find myself getting quite excited when I sit down to write now. And, hopefully, it won’t be too much longer until I reach the “walking” of publication. (Let’s just hope it happens before the young one gets his scholarship). A baby getting a basketball scholarship! Basketball Baby! Could there be a story there?

The Baking Challenge: As you’ll recall, I have challenged myself to bake one new thing each week this year. This past Friday, I made a batch of savory British biscuits (not really the biscuit we Americans think of, light and fluffy, that come with any deep-fried southern meal or covered in gravy at any roadside diner, but more of a thin cookie type biscuit). Half of them were poppy seed and the other half were parmesan and sundried tomato. Both were quite delicious and we enjoyed them with a dinner of warm split-pea soup on a cold, rainy Friday night. I had never made these before and the recipe came from, surprise surprise, my Great British Bake-Off cookbook. Now, the challenge here with the cookbook being British was the measurements. All grams and milliliters rather than cups or derivations thereof. And really, as long as you have a kitchen scale, much easier and fewer ridiculous little cleanups. (Just another argument in the limitless list of why we as a country really should go metric.) So, a successful bake. Pretty quick and easy, a quality I really appreciate in recipes these days, and one that will definitely be repeated. Now, what to bake next?


P.S. My Baking Challenge

Along with writing, one of my lifelong interests has been baking. But I have come to find that, over the years, I’ve gotten into a rut, baking the same things over and over. Cakes? I’m your woman. Pies? I’ve got those down too. Brownies? I make a pretty mean brownie. And I’ve made pretty much every cookie there is. I love baking, find it relaxing and enjoyable, and am rather good at it too. And then came along a show called The Great British Baking Show (or The Great British Bake Off for all you UK folks out there). I know I’m a bit late to the table on this one, but I have become quite taken with it, consuming seasons within days. Ok, I’ve now finished every season on Netflix within the past two months. But through this show I started to realize how confined my baking has been. There were so many items on there I had never even heard of and many, after watching the contestants work through the challenges, had me thinking “I can do that!”

So, this year, I’ve decided to give myself the challenge of baking one new thing each Friday. One baked good, either sweet or savory, that I have never baked before. To connect it to my love of books, I have shelves of cookbooks, many of which I have barely cracked open. So, it was time to get cracking! I may have even purchased a couple more, baking specific cookbooks, for this very endeavor. And thus, the challenge began. To start it off, I decided to task myself with using something I’ve never baked with before. Yeast! I’ve made plenty of quick breads (no yeast necessary there), and have used a great recipe for beer bread (where the yeast for the bread is simply in the beer you add, no fuss required) many times. But for some reason, the mention of yeast in a recipe has always deterred me from attempt. I always felt it was too temperamental, an odd, finicky ingredient, and something I really didn’t want to bother with in the kitchen. So, why not start off this year-long enterprise by taking on this previously assumed foe?

Therefore, this past Friday, I stepped into my kitchen, whipped out my newly purchased packet of yeast, and got to work making my first ever loaf of bread. Crusty French Bread to be exact. And the experience was actually quite great. As with most of my baking in the past, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The recipe was fairly simple, a straightforward, minimal ingredient concoction I found online (here), and using the yeast was far less overwhelming than I had previously thought. I mixed together the first few things, waited for the yeast to foam (I’ve never really needed something to foam in my kitchen before, a bit odd), and then added, slowly, the flour. There were several moments of “I don’t know” and “Does this look like it’s supposed to” but, true to the recipe, I carried on. Mixed, proved, folded, waited, plopped it all in my Dutch oven, and baked. My house smelled great for hours and there was a finished product at the end.

Now, the bread didn’t turn out perfect, but it was a first attempt. And that’s what this year is about, right? (Refer to Jan 1 blog) Those little firsts with new and exciting things. The baby method! But it looked like bread and tasted like bread. A little under mixed and a little over baked, but definitely edible. And I’ll take that for a first off. And even if it wasn’t perfect, it fed my family (something I’m always proud to do with my culinary abilities) for Friday’s dinner and definitely made some tasty French Toast the next morning!

So, stay tuned for the next baking adventure and all the coming week’s new experiences in the world of writing and beyond.


P.S. Happy New Year! (2019 Edition)

2018 was a year of firsts for me. I published my first book and gave birth to my first child. A debut author and a debut mother within just months! To say it was a pretty incredible year would be quite an understatement. I find it hard to imagine that 2019 could beat it. But what I hope to do, is carry on the excitement and joy of this past year into the new year.

Watching my son begin to interact with and explore the world around him has been fascinating. And what I am constantly amazed by is his overwhelming happiness. It is truly astounding, but he is actually quite happy most of the time (a fact I try to keep quiet when speaking with other new mothers who have babies that cry all night long or scream for the entirety of every car ride). What I would like to do this year is work on incorporating that ability for happiness in my own mentality. I am usually a pretty optimistic person, but sometimes, you know…life (a feeling I faced quite frequently this past year when turning my attention to anything outside of my private life bubble). But public and national concerns aside, I will strive to find a strong level of joy in all that I do this year. Now, I’m not saying that there will be complete delight in each and every diaper change, or every writing session, but I will search for the slight moments of happiness within those times. (Note: I do understand that there is a privilege that enables this strong focus on the quest for happiness and for that privilege I am truly grateful. I am also aware that, being thus privileged, I should not waste the opportunity to take part in such a quest.)

I will also be aiming to achieve my child’s level of excitement with the world. For him, each day brings something new and with that comes the elation of learning and embarking on fresh adventures. It seems that many people I know who are bored with life or constantly feeling flat are so because they stop learning, stop trying, stop finding new things to brighten their lives. So, I’m taking the baby approach to this year. The find-something-new-and-stick-it-in-my-mouth approach. The get-up-fall-down-and-get-back-up approach. I will take every opportunity to find new things to learn, both in my professional and personal life. I will discover aspects of the world around me with which I was previously unfamiliar or have left unexplored. I expect there will be tumbles, missteps, and even complete failures. But it will be better than never having tried at all. And there you go…the happiness! And, I plan to share many of these firsts with you. This year I am recommitting myself to making these posts much more regular in making it a weekly blog. My first set challenge for the year, and one I look forward to taking on.

So, while 2019 might not be the year of grand firsts like last year, it will be the year of little firsts. The year of new experiences and, quite possibly once more, great happiness.