Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tasty Tuesday -Torta Di Limoni (Lemon Cake)

I can't believe I missed a Tasty Tuesday last week. It's the first time since I started putting up recipes that I missed one, but oh is the back to school season busy! That doesn't mean that I haven't been cooking, and I have another great recipe from my trip to Italy for you. When we had our cooking class, we made an awesome lemon cake. It wasn't super heavy, but it was so delicious and refreshing. We ate a bit after dinner, then we saved the rest and ate it with fruit for breakfast the next two days. Yum!

Torta di Limoni

3 eggs
2 C plus 3 T flour
1 1/4 c sugar
1 c milk
1/2 c olive oil
3 t baking powder
Grated zest of two lemons
Juice of two lemons

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix together the eggs, milk, olive oil, and lemon zest. Beat until light and fluffy and the olive oil is fully combined. Add the flour, 3/4 c sugar, and baking powder. Mix but do not overbeat or the cake will be tough.

(Proof that this recipe is super simple? We had the guys make it - guys who have never baked a thing in their lives! And yes, they enjoyed it, much to their surprise.)

Pour into a in greased pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Juice the two lemons (you may want to do this before zesting them!) and mix with ½ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons.

After cooling five minutes, remove the cake from the pan and set on platter. Poke holes all over cake and slowly dribble lemon juice mixture so that it seeps into the cake. Enjoy!

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Foiled By A First Grader

We've officially made it through the first week of school. Little Miss has decided that she isn't a fan, and she doesn't hesitate to let me know her opinions.

Mommy, I don't like school, she announces as she gets off the bus.

Oh, Sweetie. Whyever not? I stumble and stall as I try to figure out how to mitigate this - and quickly.

Well, the day is wayyyyyyyyyy too long. And they make me work hard. And I don't like to work hard, she states quite matter of factly, like it should be obvious to everyone.

I sigh. Yes, but you have to work hard to get what you want in life, Sweet Pea. You have to work hard and study so that you can learn all the important things you need to know in life. When you have a job, there are all sorts of skills that you need that you can only learn by working hard. Doctors have to know lots about science. Engineers have to know lots about math. Geologists have to know lots of science, too. What do you want to be when you grow up? I smiled triumphantly, sure that I had the infallible argument behind me.

I want to be a bus drive when I grow up! she exclaimed excitedly.

Oh? Yeah. So much for that infallible argument. I'm still marshaling my resources on this one. Any suggestions? Other than boarding school, that is. I came up with that one all on my own.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bloggy Boot Camp: Authentic Branding

Last Saturday, I attended Bloggy Boot Camp in Chicago where there was a whole lot of information passed along in a very short time. I took as many notes as I could to share with everyone - and hope that some of it sunk in with me, too! No matter where you are in blogging, there was something good and some worthwhile reminders of what we should be doing.

Yesterday, I posted on Using Twitter, Facebook, and SEO to Build Your Audience.

The opening session was by Amy Bradley Hole (@amybhole) who spoke on authentic branding. I loved her take on it.

Some people equate branding with selling out, when it's not. Some people worry about branding because it isn't authentic. That's not what branding is. You put conscious effort and thought into how you want people to see you. That's branding. It doesn't mean you gt a big corporate logo and are fake. You just put thought and energy into what you're putting out into the world.

Five steps to thinking about your personal brand

What are my distinguishing characteristics and personality traits?
These are things that define you. I'm intellectual or I'm funny or I love to cook. They may change from time to time. You may be wrapped up in being a mother now but less so later in life.

What are my guiding principles and values?
The distinguishing characteristics are the clothes you're wearing today. You can change them as needed and over time. The things that never, ever change about you, the things that are your core beliefs that you hold dear and will never let go. Those are your guiding principles and values. It may be that you will always have a sense of humor. Or that you will always be there for a friend. Or that you will always find the bright side in life. Think about those things for yourself; what matters to you no matter what happens?

Be brutally honest with what's important to you. It won't be the same as everyone else, and that's ok. When you go outside what's critical to you, that's where you start to lose yourself or get yourself in trouble.

What is my role on the web?
this is like when you see a corporate mission statement for a corporation. What are you doing and why are you here? Maybe you are here to find the best green children's products out there. maybe you are here to make people laugh because you are such an incompetent parent. Maybe you will teach the world to cook.

Now look at that sentence or two and think about whether someone is already out there doing this. If so, you have to scratch it out and start over. There's only room for one Dooce in this world. There's only room for one mom writing about green children's products. You are an individual and are different from everyone else in the world, so quit copying other people in the world and on the web. Your blog probably isn't going to last that long or people are going to lose interest in you. You don't have to be everything to every one. Find your unique niche and your unique role and build from there.

Products these days are interchangeable. Everyone has the same product, and you can buy them anywhere now. It's the story that we buy these days. We buy the story of Burt's Bees because we like what he came up with when he needed a natural lip balm. If your content isn't fresh and original, then all you're doing is spitting out another interchangeable product on the web. If you want it to be lasting, you have to be unique, and really it's not that hard. If you really think about what your role is and get down to the core of it, there's something about you, maybe the way you write or your outlook or where you come from that makes you special.

What is my promise?
This is something you're always going to give to everyone who you ever meet in person or ever visits you on your blog or follows you on Twitter. Tiffany will always have the little blue box and little blue bag no matter what you buy, $50,000 or some little trinket. What are you going to offer every person who encounters you or your blog. Amy is going to give everyone a hard time, no matter who you are.

What is my story?
Think about everything that has happened in your life that has made you you. Think about what has happened in your life that made you want to start your blog. Where do you get your identity from? Why do you do it?

Amy has a very strong Southern identity, and it influences everything she does - from what she eats to how she talks to how she dresses. This is kind of the good, the bad and the ugly. Think about who you are and why you are.

What it comes to branding, you're going to take all these five things and the answers you come up with. Let someone else you trust take a look at it. They can tell you what you're forgetting. They can tell you if you're blowing smoke. Work on it for awhile, and you'll start to see some patterns and some things about yourself that will come up over and over again. Stop being scared of those things. Start being honest with yourself and being ok with it. We don't need to change ourselves to please everyone. Think about pleasing yourself first. That's part of creating your brand.

It's so easy to not do that because we're worried about what other people think. Listen to what people say and take it in, but don't take it to heart. You don't need to please them all.

Why is this important?
It's very important because once you have your brand and identity and know what you're about, then all the stuff like XYZ wants to sponsor me, but I don't know if it fits for me. It becomes a simple yes or no question based on who you are and your brand. You'll know if a guest post fits. You'll know if a conference is the right place for you. If it doesn't match your brand, don't feel afraid to say no. You don't have to be everything to everybody. It's ok to let someone else work with that brand. It's ok to let someone else have that advertiser. You need it to fit with you and your blog, or your readers won't get it. It needs to be there with your brand.


Focus on 2-3 things. You will walk around overwhelmed. If you try to do fifty things, you'll do them all halfway. If you pick your 2-3 things, you can do them well.

What is your take on branding? Do you have any other suggestions?

Win a Lawry's seasoning pack

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bloggy Boot Camp: Using Twitter, Facebook And SEO To Build Your Audience

Last weekend, I attended Bloggy Boot Camp in Chicago, hosted by the SITS girls. It was a great one day conference packed with lots of info to get you going and remind you of what you should be doing. I have notes from several sessions I attended, and I'm happy to share them with you. They aren't edited, as this is essentially live blogged, just ... not posted right away!

Francesca Balducci (@SITSgirls) hosted the discussion on how to use Twitter, Facebook and SEO to build your audience.

How do you jump into a conversation? You just dive in. It's like when you meet someone in a grocery store, saying hello and starting a conversation. It's not always about you. It could be asking people how they're doing, what's going on with their blog. If you remember that about social media, you will grow your network quickly, much more so than if you get on and say you're bored or talk about your bad day. People like upbeat and funny they like to be entertained. Give people a reason to talk to you. Make them interested in who they are, but give them an outlet too, a way to share what's going on.

How often do you engage?
She does not get on every day, but she can't. If you're there daily or weekly, that's fine. You can get on at midnight and talk to anybody. Make your social media work for you. You can get on every two days or once a week. If a day goes by and you aren't online, that's ok. They'll be there when you get back.

Follow me and I'll follow you
That's one way to get people interested in you. Ensure your twitter stream is active . Give them a good bio. The avatars are important. If it matches who you are in real life, it gives them a personal connection. It it's a logo or something that connects to your blog, that's fine. If you change your personal avatar a lot that's confusing to people and they may not tweet you back immediately.

If every other tweet is a link, no one is clicking over. 9:1 - for every link you put out there in the space, have 9 conversations. If you have an ad or a branded tweet, make sure there's plenty of other conversation outside that. If you are doing a giveaway, that's fine to promote it, but you don't want to annoy people. If you are reading blogs and finding things you like, it's perfectly ok to provide your recommendation with a link - the personal recommendation with your approval is different from simply tweeting link after link. It's far less irritating. (Personally, don't get me started on the Triberr issue and how I've started unfollowing people who tweet too many other links.)

If you're going to follow someone, check to see how many followers they have. If they have 30,000 they're following and they follow 10, there's probably a reason. Don't be the person who follows them because you'll regret it most likely.

Twitcleaner - manageflitter tells you the inactive users who haven't tweeted in awhile, it tells you people who are verified or have a lot of followers so you can not unfollow them. Both programs are free. They're reports that you run on your account, and it sends a DM to you when it's ready, and you can manage it then.

You want to keep a good ratio of how many you follow versus how many follow you. You don't want to follow thousands and thousands of people and have two hundred followers. She subscribes to the philosophy of not one for one. If you're a brand or somewhat spammy, you may not get a follow, but they'll see how the conversation goes, maybe 70% of the people she follows who follow them. Don't get too obsessed with them.

Management tools - you can always get on the web and use twitter.com. It's easy enough but it is difficult to watch hashtags and see your DMs and everything in one neat screen. hoot suite, tweet deck, Seismic, echo fan, etc - are all tools used to make it easier to follow various streams and lists on twitter. You can look at anyone who is @ing you in one column, the #bbcchi in another column, your DMs in a column, etc and watch them all at the same time.

In 2010 there were 106 million users on Twitter and 500 million users on Facebook. Be a listener and a reader first, then start to build your following.

You can tag someone's Facebook page: @XYZ which works great for a giveaway. SITS is doing an Epiphanie giveaway right now...

Share someone's blog post on your Facebook page. Promote guest posts. Tell your readers about a company or product that you've discovered. Ask your readers for advice.

Comment as your Facebook fan page. It's an option on your right hand side of your screen. Your personal profile won't show up on Facebook so you comment as a brand that you're building. On popular type posts on Facebook, this is another way to get your face out there.

Once you have multiple tabs, you can edit them and then drag the apps higher or lower so that they are organized how you want. Install the Static HTML: iframe tabs which will let you then create designs and elements in your settings. You can then have them navigate to a different default landing page.

If you want to do a reveal page, you can use other code for the non fan part so they see a different page, and once they click like, it will automatically go to the fan page so they feel like they received something, just for the fact that they liked you. Even a changing screen is an acknowledgement and thanks that they appreciate you.

Think about what makes you special and why they should like you. Find something that they can use and give it to them, whether it's you being funny or a quick ebook or something else entirely. And then tell them in your welcome page.


SEO stands for Search engine optimization. This works well if you are able to create a niche. IT will work on a general blog if you spend the time to really work on a post about how make butternut squash soup that is written well and has images, it can rank well.

The practice of making essentially anything on the web search engine friendly and well-ranked by search engines. It's a writing mat hod, just like newspapers, magazines, and books utilize different writing styles, so does the web.

SITS has a post about how to make a DIY bathroom mirror that is one of their top three search hits.

Once you perform well in search engines, you can grow your traffic, gain readers, grow, monetize.

If you have a domain name that is xxx.blogspot.com you don't own it. Blogger does. You can drive SEO around certain posts. Creating your own domain name is a more professional appearance, makes your URL easier to remember, helps with your branding, no one can steal your hard work or ideas because it's your domain. As you grow your site, you can grow your domain with you. If people search for Las Vegas and you own lasvegas.thesitsgirls.com, you can forward them to the SITS site. Once they have the Las Vegas, they will create sub pages. You can do the same thing for recipes or something parent related that isn't searched TOO often but is a good term, you will rank highly (e.g., biracial parenting - attendee example) and do the same thing.

Look at your blog categories to manage SEO. When you tag your posts, have something searchable - strange things won't be searched and found. When you focus on key words, google finds you more easily. When you use the key words in your title, in the first paragraph (up to several times), in the categories and the tags, you'll rank well. Find something internet friendly for your categories.

When you are building SEO on your site, look for 10 to 12 key words that define your brand and who you are in this space. Look for things that you write on frequently - if you write one or four posts on something in a year, don't try to rank in this because you won't.

Length matters in post titles. If you can say it in five words, don't say it in fifteen. It's good for Google and your readers. People know what to expect. Also, google doesn't have a sense of humor, so go for the straightforward titles and not cutesy ones. You can be creative in your posts.

Use keywords from google to help your SEO. Don't do it for every post, but the ones that you feel are SEO worthy. adwords.google.com - you want to find terms that have been searched 100,000 to 500,000 times locally. You can enter words or phrases and google will show you how competitive the term is in the space (if it's mentioned 10 times or 10,000,000 times - really hard to compete with the ones where you're competing amongst so many). You want the green box to be hardly filled or less than half filled because it's something that's manageable and you can show up organically where people aren't necessarily buying front page from google - or less likely. Then look at the local monthly searches and find where you want to use. Different people have different statistics, but this works for SITS. Don't look for terms that aren't being searched at all - if they're under 1,000, it may not be worth your time.

You want this in your first paragraph, so long as it fits organically. You also use this in your tags of images. Every picture you include in the post should have this keyword. The alt term for the images can be some of the other keywords from the search. You also want to put them in your categories and tags. Your title is another good place if it fits.

yoast is a great plug in where it lives in your site to spit back suggestions for you on your keywords rather than going to adwords each time. It's a good way to consolidate what you're doing in one plug in. You don't have to flip between screens, and it will count the number of times the term is appearing in the post, as well. Maybe you can then rework the post so the term appears more often - organically though, don't keyword stuff.

Don't be afraid to get more technical over time. Optimize URLs to reflect your key words. Claim your blog - get access to information google has on your site. Add your site to google web masters at http://google.com/webmasters - there are also tools for Yahoo and Bing to do the same thing. Meta descriptions - adding a brief and unique description to the code of each page on your blog will help search engines navigate your site. Name each pictures to add keywords to your images instead of the long numbers title that your camera assigns.

What other tips do you have to build your audience?

Win a Lawry's seasoning pack

Thursday, August 25, 2011

First Day Of School: Mom Fail

This week was our first week of school. I got the wee ones up and ready bright and early for their first day. We have a tradition that we take pictures on our front step the first day of every school year. It's so fun to look back over the years (ok, so it's only been four) and see how much they've grown. They are now taller than the door handle. Much taller.

I ushered them outside for our photo shoot, just in time before we had to leave to pick up carpool and get to school on time. I grabbed my camera as I headed out the door and got them arranged on the front porch.

I turned on my camera and looked through the lens. Oddly, I couldn't take a photo. I pulled the camera away from my eye to puzzle it out. Oh. Hmm. "Battery Exhausted" flashed away at me.

I sighed and mentally cursed myself for not having oh, I don't know checked the battery or simply charged it just in case because this was a Big Day. Grumbling, I ran inside, having the brilliant idea to simply use my point and shoot - hoping against hope that this camera had battery to spare.

Unfortunately, the point and shoot has seen better days, and the photos it now takes aren't exactly the best. Evidence?

So ummm because I wasn't satisfied, I decided to "recreate" the first day of school on the second day. Because my camera battery had now been plugged in for 24 hours and there was no way I was failing again. Do you think they'll notice in ten years that this was taken on a Mass day because Mister Man is in his full uniform and that it was therefore not truly a first day of school picture?

I sure hope not. I'm going with the same theory for when I make up errr guesstimate the information for their baby books. Someday. Eh, just sign me up for Mother Of The Year and be done with it.

Win a Lawry's seasoning pack

Saturday, August 20, 2011

This Is Their Theme Song

It's getting to be that point of the year. When we were at the pool yesterday, we discovered the pool is closing for the year this weekend. We also found out that it was the last week of summer camp in the park district. How did we find this out? Wellllll, it's possible the pool staff made an announcement on the PA system.

I'd often wondered how the lifeguards and pool staff felt about the campers. They come to the pool a few times a week for a couple hours at a time, trooping in by the dozens with a counselor or two in tow, to be released to the pool without strict supervision by the counselors. The campers were understandably a bit rowdy, and wow was it crowded. The first time they came in, I counted over 220 of them (with twenty-six counselors, a few of whom were obviously dedicated to special needs children as one on one aides). We left the pool shortly thereafter.

As 3pm approached on this last day, I found out the pool staff's true opinion.

They announced over that lovely PA system that works so effectively, "Ok campers! It's the last day of summer camp, and it's time to leave the pool. Start gathering up everything you have and go find your counselors. And as you're getting ready to go, we have a special song to play just for you!"

I wondered what song they were going to play. I remember being in high school on the last day of school where they'd play "School's Out for Summer." (That is the name of the song, right?) That said, it isn't a good fit for the last day of camp. I wracked my brains trying to think of what song they would play for the campers. Once the first few strains started up, I knew what it was....

I absolutely died laughing. Yep, I know exactly how the lifeguards and other pool staff feel about the campers now!

Enter to win a strawberries cook book
You could also win Giddy Snacks for a week - 2 winners
Win a Lawry's seasoning pack

Friday, August 19, 2011

BlogHer Book Review: The Kid

We read books for different reasons. Sometimes it's to learn, sometimes it's to escape, and sometimes purely for entertainment. There are also the books that force us to take a wide eyed view at our world and recognize that there is a world out there beyond what we see on a daily basis, as The Kid by Sapphire does. Those books aren't always easy to read, and this definitely falls into that category. I reviewed The Kid for the BlogHer Book Club, and I invite you to find out my true thoughts.

Enter to win a strawberries cook book
You could also win Giddy Snacks for a week - 2 winners
Win a Lawry's seasoning pack

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - S'mores Cookies

This past weekend, we had some friends over. On a whim, I offered to let Mister Man come up with the menu for the dinner himself. I'm not sure if it was just me being uninspired or me trying to get him to think more independently and gain some additional self-confidence, but the move paid off beautifully.

His choices? Bagel dogs, bacon and cheddar stuffed burgers, homemade sweet potato fries, and s'mores cookies. Yep, s'mores cookies. How fun was that? I've made s'mores pizza before, but not cookies. We got a little creative and riffed off an oatmeal cookie base, and they turned out awesome. I still have a couple left, but shhhh don't tell anyone!

S'mores Cookies

3/4 c butter, softened
1/4 c sugar
1 c brown sugar
1 egg
1 T honey
1 t vanilla
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
3/4 baking soda
2 c oats
1/3 c cocoa
1 1/4 c flour
1 c chocolate chips
1 c mini marshmallows
4 full size graham crackers, crumbled coarsely

Preheat the oven to 350.

Beat brown sugar, butter and granulated sugar in a bowl until lightened in color and texture, just like any other cookie. Add egg, honey, and vanilla, then beat again until well blended.

Add the salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cocoa. Mix well. Add the oats and mix on low until combined. Add the flour and mix on low again until the flour is almost gone but not completely. Stir in the chocolate chips and marshmallows.

Drop the dough onto parchment paper or sil pat covered cookie sheets. Press a small bit of graham crackers into the top of each cookie ball.

Bake the cookies 15-17 minutes, erring on the side of you think they aren't done yet. Because of the oats, they taste better slightly underdone. Once they crack on top, they're good to go. If you bake them longer, they'll be crispier once they've cooled and the oats have absorbed more of the moisture in the cookie. Let them cool on baking sheets for five minute before removing to cool on wire racks the rest of the way.

We love this new twist on s'mores, and so did our guests. Mister Man did a great job on his menu selection. He was so proud, and I was, too. We're definitely doing this again. Yum.

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Enter to win a strawberries cook book
You could also win Giddy Snacks for a week - 2 winners
Win a Lawry's seasoning pack

Monday, August 15, 2011

Where's Your Mommy?

The wee ones and I went to the pool today. It was the first time I've ever navigated the pool alone. With two small children who are both active and like doing different things in the pools, I'm generally just not comfortable without one adult per child as my ratio. While both wee ones know how to swim - and Mister Man has demonstrated his prowess by swimming twenty-five meters without touching the bottom - that doesn't mean that I'm comfortable with them much more out of arm's reach.

Granted, this is just me. I'm paranoid. I know this, and I'm ok with it. I read about kids who know how to swim still drowning. I know the story behind the two year old boy at Mister Man's school who is still in a coma after a Memorial Day pool accident. It's just the way I am. I have my rules, and they work for me - and fortunately the wee ones respect them. That's why we tested the only one adult theory. It worked wonderfully, I'm happy to report.

Not all parents go with this same theory, and I'm fine with that. For the most part. There are parents who watch from the edge of the pool rather than in it. There are parents who let the lifeguards monitor their six and seven year olds while they sit in their lounge chairs and read. While that's not what I'm comfortable with for my children, I don't judge. Generally.

Today was an exception. Twice.

A boy who couldn't be more than three or four was tiptoeing near where the wee ones were jumping into the pool from the edge and then climbing back out. The water was only three and a half feet, but I could see that the boy was on his tip-toes, holding his head back to avoid the water getting in his nose and eyes. There was no parent in site. As I looked on, giving him a wary eye and noting no adult in site, the lifeguard helped him to shallower water where he could safely stand and asked that he be sure to stay in the shallow area. Hello? Parent? Guardian? Nanny? Babysitter? Anyone? I was glad that it was a relatively cool day and the pool wasn't very crowded.

Less than a half hour later, I heard an announcement on the loudspeaker, "Will the mom of Tommy who is wearing the yellow SpongeBob swimsuit please report to the guard shack." I looked over, and I could see a little boy, maybe five but probably not (nope, not the same kid, fortunately) holding the hand of one of the lifeguards just looking forlornly towards the pool, doing his best to fight off tears. I looked around, curious to see whose child he was - as he'd obviously gotten lost and couldn't find his mom. Five minutes later, the message was repeated. No mom appeared.

Another five minutes later, the volume on the loudspeaker was turned up, and the message altered. "Will Kelly the mother of little Tommy wearing the yellow SpongeBob Squarepants swim trunks please report to the guard shack. Please." Interestingly, there was still nothing.

Really? You haven't seen your four or five year old son in, what, at least twenty minutes at this point - that's being generous and figuring he sought out a lifeguard to help find his missing mom ten minutes after he last saw her, and in all honesty, I figure he was probably happily playing for longer than that - and you aren't searching frantically for him? You aren't walking around the pool, worry hastening your footsteps as you begin to fear the worst, knowing it's been too long since you last saw your child? You aren't running to the lifeguard shack yourself begging them to help you find your missing child? You aren't alert enough to recognize your child's name, description and oh, I don't know, your own name to come sprinting to reassure your child that everything is ok?

The announcement for Kelly to please come claim poor Tommy was made a fourth time. A few minutes later, I saw a woman bending over him, dragging him back to the chair she must have finally vacated. I won't give you any stereotypes as to what she looked at, because in my mind, ignoring your child and relinquishing your parental responsibilities isn't subject to a single stereotype. She didn't appear worried to me, however. She looked angry with him, and she was dragging him by the arm, as though he'd done something wrong and embarrassed her. I turned away in disgust at this point because I realized that I'd begun judging her. I wasn't ok with her parenting choices. In my mind they'd gone too far from my own and could so easily have left her child in a dangerous situation.

And so the wee ones and I finished up our pool playdate. I hung out with them in the pool, helping them in their follow the leader game, cheering them on as they went down the slides, and monitoring them as they played in the waterfalls, jumping in and out of the pool. I recognized that it was my choice, and I was grateful for the lifeguards who are so astute so that parents can monitor at their own comfort level, which isn't mine.

And I began to reflect that at some point, I will need to back off. I will need to let them play in the pool without me standing over them, ready to grab them if they show any signs of distress. Someday I'll be bringing my book and reading in a chair, though glancing up at the end of every page to mark the wee ones visually in the pool. Not yet, but someday. But I promise that when I do, I will make sure the wee ones know where I am, and I will be listening to any and all announcements on the loudspeaker.

At what age did you give your children independence in the pool? Or when are you planning to?

Enter to win a strawberries cook book
You could also win Giddy Snacks for a week - 2 winners
about mornings and traffic) are my own.
Win a Lawry's seasoning pack

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sometimes You Gotta Go With Your Gut

I am not a morning person. If you know anything at all about me, know this. I managed to sleep through three women getting up, dressed and chatting in the morning at BlogHer this year because I was not about to face the day. That said, when I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to go do yoga on the ledge on the 103rd floor of the Sears Tower? Well, how do you say no to that?

Even though it was at 6:30 in the morning. At least it was on a Sunday, so there was no traffic to contend with - or I may have begged off. I committed, even with some of my reservations about the hour.

I was so happy to hear my GPS tell me that it truly was only 59 minutes to my destination as I headed out towards the highway. I got through the toll and there was no backup, a good sign. I was so going to be on time. As I listened to the radio list off traffic issues, there was nothing to worry about. Though there was a half marathon going on, it was in Grant Park according to the traffic person, and not going to affect me.

As I got downtown, I couldn't turn left on Jackson. There were little orange cones pushing me west. This was not the direction I wanted to head. That's ok. I turned right on Halstead, the next street to head north. As I went north, every street headed easy was blockaded and monitored by police officers. Was I missing something?

I gave up trying to go north, as there was obviously some sort of issue. I went south to try to head east. And I failed. I kept getting pushed west and south until I finally found a way to make my way east, though very south of the Sears Tower. I was no longer on time. And that zen I had for my yoga? Let's just say that it was gone.

As I made my way easy, I still couldn't go north. Anywhere. I went back across the river, tried going north and ... got stuck. Again. Seriously? If I didn't have an hour long drive back home, I might have bagged it then and there. Someone didn't want me going to this yoga. Someone was reminding me that I am not a morning person and that I could have been happily asleep in my bed.

As I kept driving, I began to notice that there were so many streets blocked off, they ran out of the blue police barricades.

In fact, they eventually ran out of even the construction barricades eventually and were reduced to simply using cones to block streets. No wonder I was having so many issues. Yeah. That race that was being run in Grant Park? Guess what, it was closing the majority of downtown! Until 11am. Oops.

By the time I had found my way as close to the Sears Tower as I was getting and walked to the lobby, I was thirty-five minutes late. Fortunately the first half hour was not actual yoga time, and amazingly the class had somehow not started before I arrived.

I found my zen. And my hamstrings. And my tight low back. I'm pretty sure that tomorrow I'll find my sore abs and an achy chest. It was awesome. I need to do yoga regularly once again. Andrea Metcalf led the class and Melisa was the host as part of her SkyDeck Ambassador role.

And the most impressive part... for me? I actually went on the Ledge. I stood 103 floors above the ground with just three inches of glass separating me from a Looney Toons like fall. Sans happy ending. I was a grabber - I had to hold onto the wall before the ledge to do get out there, but I did it!

Enter to win a strawberries cook book
You could also win Giddy Snacks for a week - 2 winners

In the interest of full disclosure, I was invited to attend a free yoga class on the Ledge at the SkyDeck of the Sears Tower. I received no compensation, nor was I asked to write about it. As always all opinions (especially about mornings and traffic) are my own.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Habits Are Hard To Break

I recently had the opportunity to drive and review a Chevy Volt. During the week I had it, I used it as much as possible, including driving friends around.

One fine Friday afternoon, a nameless friend and I were driving from an afternoon of shopping to meet our husbands for dinner. As I was driving, we chatted about the car and its features. I bemoaned the lack of chargers plug ins, and she asked for more details. As I shared my frustration with having my phone plugged into the back of the car, as opposed to the other alternative of the top of the dashboard with cords and phone hanging down from there, she nodded sympathetically.

I thought the conversation was over, driving 45 miles per hour (the speed limit, mind you) the car suddenly jerked and slowed a good twenty miles per hour. I looked briefly panicked at the dashboard to ensure there were no warning lights or engines blown or anything that I'd done to break my loaner vehicle. I hadn't.

My friend was sitting in the passenger seat, looking around her, quite perplexed. Fortunately, I figured out our problem within seconds - somehow. I'm still not sure how I figured it out.

Erm. Yeah, she'd accidentally pulled the parking brake. Which is exactly where the power cord would normally plug in. And I sorta get why. After all, the button is in that place, a parking brake isn't usually a button like that, and the button did have a "P" on it, albeit with the circles around it that denote parking brake in car symbol language. Fortunately, I'd done this myself - in the parking lot when getting familiar with the car, so I could easily and quickly press the button again to turn off the parking brake and return to normal speed.

Not quite understanding what had happened, my friend simply looked at me. "What? Why did you slam on your brakes like that? I don't see a deer or anything, and there aren't any cars in front of us..."

I burst out laughing. It was several minutes before I could explain the parking brake issue to her. She was indignant, insisting that I tell everyone that it isn't her who was stupid, it was the car. I won't judge... but I will laugh.

And umm GM, I promise, no damage was done. Promise. And it's probably not the first (or last) time this has happened. That said, I don't recommend pulling the parking brake while driving 45 miles per hour. I'm guessing it isn't part of the recommended maintenance.

Enter to win a strawberries cook book
You could also win Giddy Snacks for a week - 2 winners

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Failure Is Only In Our Minds

This summer, we've had the wee ones doing pages of their workbooks most days for several reasons. This year is the first year that both the wee ones will have nightly homework, and they need to learn how to sit down and get thing done. Plus, Little Miss's school has a huge event when school returns for those students who read and did a certain level of math over the summer.

There's another reason, though.

I was one of those kids who found everything academically came easy for me. I rarely studied because it just came to me when I needed it. My study habits were atrocious. It wasn't until I went to college and was slapped in the face with real work that I realized how much of an issue this was. That first quarter my freshman year when I pulled three Cs and an A-? Yeah. That was the end of my dream of being a psychiatrist. Actually, that dream ended eight weeks into my freshman year when I approached my advisor and told him I wanted out of my program. I was giving up guaranteed acceptance to NU's med school and a three year undergrad requirement because I already knew it wasn't for me.

Could it have been for me? Maybe if I'd learned how to work earlier. If I'd figured out how to study and grasp the knowledge at the level I needed at Northwestern. There was something else holding me back even more than my lack of study skills.

I had never failed. If I tried it, it worked. And really, that's not nearly so awesome as it sounds because no one can go through life never failing. I was thisclose to never applying for AP History in ninth grade because oh my gosh what if I wrote my three paragraph essay and then I wasn't selected for the program? I thank my lucky stars every day that a friend pushed me to apply because she was. I was selected, fortunately, and those classes were the most valuable one I took in high school.

When it came to college, I had my first taste of failure - ummm those Cs, remember? - and I freaked. I was too afraid to keep trying because I simply couldn't handle my version of failure. Instead, I just didn't try. That A- was in macroeconomics, so my major naturally turned to economics because obviously that was easier. I was all set to add poly science as another major, but those classes got too hard and it didn't come naturally, so ... I didn't try. I didn't join the equestrian team at Northwestern because I didn't think I was good enough and was afraid I'd fail. The team folded after my freshman year, and I've regretted it since. I never rushed because I was afraid I wouldn't be chosen. While that wasn't my worst decision ever, how much of a better choice would it have been had I made an informed choice based on whether I liked the sororities or not?

That mentality has taken years to get over. And there are times when I still am paralyzed and unable to do something because I don't want to fail. I'll simply procrastinate then cram at the last minute so that if I do fail, I can blame a lack of time rather than a lack of ability. Fortunately, that very rarely happens anymore, and I recognize when it does so that I can generally avoid it.

I don't want the wee ones to live life this way. I want them to struggle now and know how it feels to overcome it. I want them to know that hard work brings an awesome feeling of triumph, and I want them to cherish that feeling. I want them to learn now that failing is only in their minds. They may not do something the way they want to do it now, but that's not the end of the story. There's always an opportunity to do something different tomorrow. I only wish I'd learned that lesson as a child.

And I do see it sinking in. I see Little Miss tell me that she'll never figure something out, despair evident in her voice. I work with her, leading her down the path to figuring out the answer on her own. And when she does? Oh the joy on her face, the happiness as she practically leaps around the room dancing that she figured it out all by herself.

I figure there's no greater legacy I can give the wee ones than a sense of confidence in themselves, knowing that failure is only a moment in time and that their hard work can bring them to amazing places. And so we open up the workbook again today and do some pages, hoping that they will take this lesson with them forever.

In the interest of full disclosure, this post was inspired by "In Stitches" by Anthony Youn, M.D. It is this month's book selection for the From Left To Write book club, where we write posts inspired by the books we read rather than reviews. I was provided with a copy of this book for review purposes, but I received no compensation. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Enter to win a strawberries cook book
You could also win Giddy Snacks for a week - 2 winners

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Strawberry Goat Cheese Pizza

There are some things that I see on menus or at events where I go ummm, I think I'm just gonna skip this one or pass over. This recipe was one of them initially, but ... since I was at a strawberry event, I did feel the need to at the very least try a piece of the goat cheese pizza they served, especially since I sort of have a major love affair with goat cheese.

I'm really really glad that I did. It was so good. So so good. It's possible that I ate slightly more than my share of the pizza. I was most definitely going to repeat this one at home. The question was when... Fortunately I had a potluck to attend the next week after the strawberry event and was supposed to bring an appetizer.

Guess what I made!

I altered the recipe to some degree - of course - because I can't not do that. The original recipe made a lot of appetizers. I don't generally need that much. The way I cook and host, I tend to have a lot of variety of foods and don't need quite so much as it was going to make. I also made extra of the balsamic reduction because I do so love balsamic. That and ... even Mister Man liked the reduction, shocking!

The version posted below is my adaptation. The original recipe can be found in Strawberry Recipes for Everyday published by California Strawberries. And I actually have a copy of this cookbook to give away as soon as I put up the post on that. Annnnd post is up. Go enter the cookbook giveaway.

When I put this out at the potluck, it got a few "ummm what is this?" looks at the start. Once someone dug in and took a bite though? Let's just say it disappeared. I had more requests for this recipe than I have in a long time. My husband overheard a compliment from someone else that was over the top awesome. This is definitely one I'll make again, and not only because it's so unique.

Strawberry Goat Cheese Pizza

1/3 c hot water (not steaming, but 110 or so degrees)
1 T yeast
1/2 t sugar
1 c flour
1/2 t salt
1 T olive oil (divided)
1 T white balsamic vinegar
1/4 c "regular" balsamic vinegar
4 oz goat cheese, divided (set out 2 or slightly more to soften, keep the rest cold)
1 c strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/2 c arugula

In your bowl, add the water and sprinkle the yeast atop it. Add the sugar and 2 t of oil over it. Stir briefly, then add half the flour and stir until combined. Add the salt and mix again until it's incorporated. Add the remaining half cup of flour slowly, stopping when you have reached a good consistency (depending on humidity, you may need more or less flour - you want it not sticky but not dry). Keep mixing on low with your dough hook for five minutes until it feels soft (or knead by hand for 10 or so minutes). Let it rest, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes while you prep the remaining ingredients.

Set out 2 ounces or a little more of the goat cheese on the counter to begin softening. In a nonreactive saucepan, place the white balsamic and heat simmering until it's reduced by half. Whisk in the remaining 1 t of olive oil into the balsamic. Pour this over the hulled and quartered strawberries. Stir to ensure they're all coated, then let them sit. Reduce the balsamic the same way, simmering until it's reduced into a nice thick syrup, a little over halfway reduced (not so much that it's solid and umm burned like I may have the first time I did it because I wasn't paying attention).

Remove your dough from the bowl and roll it into the shape you desire - I like a long rectangle for this appetizer - on a lightly floured surface. The dough shouldn't be too thin, but you want the rectangle to stretch about 8x14 inches or so - rough measurements on my part. Bake in a 400 degree oven for ten or so minutes. You want the crust to just start browning.

Once removed from the oven, immediately spread the softened goat cheese on the crust to within a half inch of the edge. Do this while it's still hot, and the goat cheese will spread much more easily.

Arrange the strawberries on the goat cheese crust, not perfectly, but no clumps either. I found putting them cut side down helped in cutting the pizza later - and it looked nice, too. Bake this again for another seven or so minutes.

While the pizza is baking a second time, get your arugula ready (yes, this is really sad looking arugula. It was all I had on hand, and I was desperate. Good news, you want it to wilt a little on the hot pizza, so it was fine). I like this chiffonaded, as it makes the arugula easier to eat. To do this, simply gather your arugula together in a pile...

Then you roll it into itself so that it makes a nice log. Once you have it like this, use one hand to hold it and the other to slice it like you would a roast. This makes great ribbons and can be used for any leafy thing you want to cut quickly and prettily.

Once the pizza comes out of the oven, sprinkle it with the remaining goat cheese that you've kept cold. Just crumble it with your fingers over the pizza. If you need more, go for it! Goat cheese is yummy. Add a little black pepper atop this, then distribute the arugula.

This works to serve immediately, although it can also be held a couple hours and served room temperature or cold from the fridge. Trust me on this one. It disappeared quickly.

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Enter to win a strawberries cook book

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - The Recession Is Still In Force

We've heard a lot lately about how the recession is over and thigns are getting better. While there are many who might disagree with this from personal experience with their own finances and lives, I have a bigger piece of evidence.

Look closely.

Our poor town couldn't afford to reprint the signs from the sidewalk sale that they used last year. Look again. Do you see it?


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Baked Peaches

Yesterday was Little Miss's birthday. Tomorrow is my dad's birthday. And Sunday? My husband's birthday. No offense, guys, but I get a little birthday-ed out, especially because everyone seems to insist on having a different cake for each birthday. That's a lot of cake to eat.

I finally gave up this year and refused. My husband lost out. I didn't make him a cake, but he was totally ok with that. Why? Because I made him something else yummy - and much faster and easier. And maybe even healthier?

PS My inspiration came from Italy where we were served these one night - and I remembered that I used to make these years and years ago (before I met my husband).

Baked Peaches

5 or so peaches - slightly less than fully ripe is best
2 T butter
3 T brown sugar
1 1/2 T dark rum (or brandy or cognac or amaretto)
1/2 c Amaretti cookies (or almond cookies), crushed

Cut the peaches in half and remove the pit. Place them cut side up in a glass baking dish.

Place the cookies into a bag and proceed to crush them - a rolling pin works well. Add the brown sugar and shake until it's well mixed up.

Place the butter in the bag and smoosh it around until it's well combined. Add the rum (or other alcohol) and smoosh some more.

Place a dollop of the cookie mixture into each half of the peach.

Bake the peach halves in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until the juices are bubbling.

Serve while they're still warm (you can make it all ahead up to the baking point if you do this for company) either by themselves or with ice cream. Yum.

Have you ever heard of Amaretti cookies?

They're a really neat Italian cookie that is really super crunchy. They are tiny, which is sorta cool. You can buy them at produce stores by me. Otherwise, feel free to substitute another super crunchy almond type cookie.

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Need to get organized? Enter to win a BusyBodyBook Organizer

  © Blogger template 'Solitude' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP