29 September 2013

Book Club Love

I had two goals for myself this weekend: paint my toenails and write a blog post.

I'm happy to report that my toenails are a lovely shade of autumn red. Goal one...check!

As for the blog post....well, that hasn't been so easy. The more I have to say, the less time I have to say it.

Maybe I'll just stick to something simple today. Every once in a while I get to do something really cool like hang out with super-smart ladies, drink wine, and talk about books.

Yep, it's Book Club!

What I dearly love about book club (besides the wine and brilliant women) is that it compels me to read things that I normally would never have chosen for myself. And sometimes I'm actually excited by what I discover.

This time around, the selection was The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Now, I'm not a sports enthusiast. I'm actually more of a sports un-enthusiast, if truth be told. But this novel ended up being about so much more than baseball - I grew really attached to the characters and started to really worry about them toward the end.

Here is Amazon.com's description of the novel:

"At Westish College, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league until a routine throw goes disastrously off course. In the aftermath of his error, the fates of five people are upended. Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, "The Art of Fielding is mere baseball fiction the way Moby Dick is just a fish story" (Nicholas Dawidoff). It is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others."

Pella Affenlight annoyed me, Owen Dunne delighted and amused me, and Mike Schwartz just about stole my heart. The Art of Fielding is SUCH a character-driven book, I couldn't help but love it. And my Book Club Bettys agreed: this one is a keeper!

Of course, book club is often more about getting together with friends, enjoying a delicious meal together and a glass of vino, and catching up on each other's lives than it is about the novel. But this time, at least for a little while, it was ALL about the book!

Stay tuned for our next book club selection: Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.

Goal number two...check!  Many happy returns,

Today's Gratitude List:
  • Lazy Sunday mornings
  • Trail mix
  • NPR podcasts
  • Phone calls with my best friend

17 September 2013

Happy is as Happy does...

I recently showed this pie chart to my 12th grade students. It inspired a lively conversation so I'm taking the chance that it's blog-worthy too.
What makes people happy?
Well, according to research (and the lovely pie chart above), HALF of our happiness is genetic. We each have a genetic "set point" for happiness and after every event, good or bad, we tend to return to that set point. Some people have a genetically higher set point - that's just the way they're programmed. Some people (I'm sure you know a few) just have a lower set point.
Another 40% of a person's happiness depends on what's termed "Intentional Activity."  These are the actions you choose to do that make you happy. Like blogging. Or wine-tasting. Or talking a walk on the beach.  YOU have complete control over these actions -- a refreshing thought, in my opinion (and a nice counter-balance to the genetic set point).
The final 10% - the SMALLEST wedge of the pie (I was actually kind of shocked by this)- is dependent on circumstances. These include how much money you have, your perceived image, status, and popularity, where you live, work-related issues, etc.
Only 10%....but if you ask some people what it would take to make them feel happy (or successful or fulfilled in life) they might just draw their answers from that smallest piece of the pie.
So, what makes you happy? Are you intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? Which piece of the pie are you savoring today?
Here's what's making me happy right now:
Wishing you happiness too!


Today's Gratitude List:
  • Being home earlier (from work) than expected
  • Blue, blue skies
  • Swings and slides and teeter-totters
  • Stuffed porkchops for dinner tonight!

07 September 2013

Spare Time

Newbie yearbook staffer (practicing interviewing skills): So, Ms. H, what do you do in your spare time? You know, when you're not teaching?

Me: Ha ha ha  - that's funny.


Me: Oh! That was a real question?!

Spare time? What do I do when I'm not at work? Hmmmm. Well, I'd love to be able to say that "I travel extensively" or "I volunteer at local animal shelters and food banks." I'd like to say that in my spare time "I cultivate my own organic vegetables" and "I paint watercolor landscapes." Or at the very least that "I blog regularly."

I'd like to say those things. But I can't.

What do I do when I'm not at my full time teaching gig? I'm unbelievably busy at my other full time job: being Izzy's mom. Is that time considered "spare" time? Probably not. Though it is the most IMPORTANT way I spend my time, and I get more joy and more reward out of being a mommy than I ever have at any job I've ever had.  Still, it isn't "spare" time.

There really is very little time to spare, when I think about it. Nope - I cannot spare a square of it.

So where does this leave me? Is there room for just little ol' "me" in TIME?

It's difficult at best. I'm just now learning to seize the opportunities when they occur. If I get to blog once a week - awesome! If I get to read a chapter of a good book for half an hour - hooray! Even if I just get 15 minutes to browse through Pinterest - I'm stoked. I'll take these "spares" when I can get them and relish every second.

Heaven knows they are rare.

And if I'm not traveling the world right now - or saving it - that's okay. The time I have will have to do and I'll do my best to make the most of it.

Because really, who has time to spare worrying about spare time?


Today's Gratitude List:
  • Homemade oatmeal cookies
  • A little spare time to blog :)
  • Pantry full of groceries
  • My husband's big strong arms

08 August 2013

Thirsty Thursday: Breakfast Shot

It's been a busy week around the sunflower patch! I've had out of town guests to prepare for and then entertain (and feed), followed by the cleaning up that comes after the guests leave and the restocking of the greatly diminished pantry.

Super-woman that I am, I also decided to spend six hours on Tuesday cleaning up/reorganizing my classroom in preparation for the start of the upcoming new school year. Yep, summer is (sadly) almost over!

Now, Izzy and I are packing for another quick trip to see his grandparents. One last "hurrah!" before Mommy goes back to work!

And speaking of "hurrah!" - here is an incredibly fun adult beverage to introduce to people. It's a breakfast shot (or Irish breakfast shot) that my sister and I discovered at a local pub. I loved watching my friends drink this over the weekend. The layer of flavors is really quite unique. You'd swear you were eating a bit of pancake with maple syrup (almost)!

It's simple:
In one shot glass: 2 counts Jameson Whiskey + 1 count Butterscotch Schnapps + slice of bacon
In a second (chaser) shot glass: orange juice.

Bon appetite!

01 August 2013

Thirsty Thursday: Horchata

For some strange reason, this week prompted me to take a stroll down memory lane. My first encounter with the delicious chilled rice and cinnamon beverage known as Horchata  was during a “fiesta” in my Spanish I class as a wee high school lass, many (many, many) moons ago. I loved it instantly and have had it several times since, but I’ve never tried making my own. Until now! Thanks to a recipe I found here, I was able to reproduce this cool treat relatively easily, with ingredients that were simple enough to procure from my own cupboards.
·                     1 cup long grain white rice, rinsed
·                     4 cups water
·                     2 cinnamon sticks
·                     1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, plus more for garnish
·                     1 cup skim milk
·                     1/3 cup brown sugar, plus 2-3 Tbsp to taste
·                     1 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
·                     Ice
1.      Wash and drain rice. Combine rice with cinnamon sticks in water and soak overnight in the refrigerator.
2.      After the rice has soaked for at least 8-10 hours, preferably overnight, discard the cinnamon sticks and pour rice and water into a blender. Add 1/2 tsp cinnamon and blend on low for 2-3 minutes until well blended. Pour blended rice mixture through fine mesh sieve two times and then through cheesecloth one more time to remove all gritty bits of rice.
3.      Pour strained mixture into a pitcher, add skim milk, brown sugar and vanilla and stir well to combine. Add more sugar if needed, to taste.  Best served with ice & a dash of ground cinnamon. 
Hope you enjoy!

28 July 2013


For the first time in a long time, since childhood really, I actually know my neighbors.

Well, I know five of them, which I think is a good start and quite the social record for me.

And when I say know them, I mean I know their names, their kids’ (and in some cases, their pets’) names, and some of their occupations. I know what they drive and sometimes I know when they go on vacation. I’ve even fed the above mentioned pets on said vacations.

It may not seem like much, but trust me – it’s progress.

In this day and age, when we are taught to fear strangers because “creepers” lurk around every corner, it’s become strangely difficult to get to know each other. Eye contact? What’s that?

We’ve lived here for about six years now, and I’m finally starting to feel comfortable enough to let my guard down a little. I actually smile at my neighbors, wave hello, say good morning. And astonishingly enough, they respond! Funny, isn’t it, how it usually only takes one person to reach out and extend that first gesture of friendliness?
We’re still a long way from joint barbeques and block parties, but the sense of community and social mingling is definitely growing.

I just hope it doesn’t take another six years.


Today’s Gratitude List:

·         Dandelion fluff

·         Sprigs of mint

·         An extra hour of sleep this morning!

25 July 2013

Thirsty Thursday:My Mojito

I've been practicing my mojito making skills this week in anticipation for my lovely friend, Miranda, and her family coming for a visit soon.  She told me she's been dreaming about drinking mojitos by the ocean.  What are friends for, if not to grant these kinds of wishes?
I used the recipe below and then added a few fresh raspberries for decoration/extra flavor. Can't wait to hand this refreshing beverage to my long-time gal pal!
2 Tbl. fresh lime juice
2 heaping tsp. superfine sugar
1 C crushed ice
12 fresh mint leaves + sprig for garnish
1/4 C White Rum
2 Tbl club soda
Stir together lime juice and sugar until sugar dissolves. Add 1/4 C crushed ice. Tear mint leaves in  half and add to glass. Gently stir (muddle) for about 15 seconds, then add rum, remaining ice, and club soda. Gently stir for 5 seconds and serve! 


Today's Gratitude List:
  • the shiny new kitchen faucet (and plumbers)
  • friendly neighbors (it's nice to actually know their names)
  • healthy family

20 July 2013

Less is More - Musings on Friendship

As a young girl, I ran with a whole gaggle of gal pals.  I call us a gaggle, because I’m sure that’s what we sounded like – geese, honking noisily wherever we went, disturbing the peace and tranquility that the adults favored.

At the movie theater. At the public swimming pool. The mall.

At school. In the park. Slumber parties. Roller skating rink.

There we were – all ten or twelve…or fifteen of us at once.  Chattering like sparrows. Really annoying sparrows. Sparrows that won’t shut up when you’re trying to sleep in.

Sparrows that…okay, enough with the bird analogies…


The subconscious goal, of course, was to collect as many friends as possible – the more you had, the more socially acceptable you were.  It meant you were liked, popular, and well-adjusted in all manner of social skills. It meant you were happy.

Right? Hmmmm.

Flash forward 20+ years and you’ll see my once-gaggle of friends has dwindled to measly proportions.

Three is my magic number now - three perfectly beautiful (inside and out) friends. I see no need for more. Kind acquaintances and super-sweet work colleagues are a blessing, to be sure, but when it comes to true, deep-rooted-weather-any-storm, always-there-for-me friends, I find that less is more.

In the same way that a single flower can be more beautiful than a bouquet or a piece of art more exquisite when it stands alone, friendship, for me, is far more meaningful, valuable, and intimate when shared with only a select few.

"True happiness consists not in the multitude of friends, but in their worth and choice."
- Samuel Johnston

True friendship takes a level of focus and dedication that other relationships may not require. You have to nurture it.  You have to tend to it. You have to hold back it’s hair when it’s had too much to drink and gets sick on New Year’s Eve and ends up falling asleep on your futon, fake eyelashes askew, drooling on your decorative pillows…

There are more laughs, cheers, and celebrating in the good times. More hugs, hand-holding, and (sometimes tough tell-it-like-it-is) encouragement in the bad times. I love my friends. I wouldn’t trade my magic three for a whole gaggle, flock, or brace (oops, more bird words) of others. When you find friends like these, you keep them and you keep them close.


“She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”
Toni Morrison

Many smiles and blessings of friendship,
Weekend Rewind
Linking up with Weekend Rewind
 @ Maxabella Loves

Today’s Gratitude List:

·         Greek yogurt

·         Old fashioned wooden toys for Izzy

·         Painted rocks and river walks

·         The mailman and packages of books!

18 July 2013

Thirsty Thursday: Mayan Mocha

I stumbled upon this delicious treasure last week when Izzy and I were out for our morning sea-side stroll. I usually just bundle us up and hit the sidewalks, hoping the brisk exercise will help fight off the chill of misty fog that hangs about the coastline before noon. That day, for some reason, I needed a little extra help staying warm, so I popped in to a local coffee spot and treated myself (you have no idea how rare of an occurrence this is!) to a beverage.  Scanning the menu board, my eyes lighted upon something called a "Mayan Mocha." Intrigued, and feeling rather bold and adventurous, I decided to order a small cup to go.
Whoa! What a startling wake-up call to my taste buds! As it turns out, the Mayan Mocha isn't just a mocha with a fancy name or a sprinkle of cinnamon on the top.  Oh no, friends - the Mayan Mocha is a feisty little she-devil with a stiletto kick of cayenne pepper! Wowza! Talk about getting warm -and fast!
I loved it! It's not something I could drink every day, but it was absolutely PERFECT for that drizzly morning walk on the shore.  I've looked around online for recipes and this is the closest I could find to what I had that day.  I think I'll do a bit more experimenting at home until I get it just to my liking. I can see some rainy autumn days in the horizon, with a warm blanket and a mug of Mayan mocha to warm me head to toe!
Until then, do YOU have a favorite coffee recipe or treat?
Happy drinking,

Today's Gratitude List:
Freshly polished teeth (thank you, dentist!)
Freshly polished toenails (thank you, me!)
Spices that liven up my life
Recycling trucks (yay recycling!)

16 July 2013

Bedtime Rituals

We recently traveled to northern California to visit my parents and celebrate Izzy’s first birthday.  The traveling itself was fine – he’s great in the car. He sings to himself, looks out the window, entertains himself with various baby discoveries, and SLEEPS.  I don’t know if it will always be this easy (I suspect it won’t) but, for now, road trips are a lot of fun with the kiddlet.

What’s not fun, however, is the disturbance of our normal going-to-bed routines.  The last few times we’ve gone out of town, my little guy has had a terrible time trying to get some sleep.  Consequently, so have I.
I’ve put a lot of effort, and done a lot of thinking, into the baby’s bedtime ritual. But what I’ve also come to realize is the IMPORTANCE of my OWN routine (especially now that I can almost have one again).
For Izzy, going to bed in a strange room, with strange noises outside, was cause for quite a fit. I don’t blame him. Most people prefer to sleep in their own beds with their book and nightlight and their own familiar squishy elephant pillow (er…or is that just me?).
He missed his established bedtime ritual: his bubble bath with nighttime bath wash (lavender and chamomile), his toweling off and moisturizing time (also with lavender and chamomile – the stuff really works!), his story time with mama, and that final snack of milk to send him off to the land of nod.
I have my routines too- favorite soft pajamas, a cup of tea and maybe a sugar-free cookie, and my current literary indulgence. I wash my face, brush my teeth, rub dollops of good smelling lotion (I love the Aveda lotions my sister always gives me!) into my elbows, hands, and feet. Eye cream applied under the eyes (yes, I’m of that age), satin eye mask ready on the nightstand in case Hubby comes to bed with the (annoyingly glowy) laptop, I settle in for a good night’s rest and hopefully wake refreshed in the (early) morning.
Yes, traveling does have a way of upsetting our established patterns. But, I suppose that’s the point of going somewhere different, isn’t it?  Be somewhere new, stray from the routine, stimulate and invigorate  those synapses and create some memories.

Izzy’s birthday party was a huge success, and I loved spending time with my family and friends. But, I must confess, today this gal is super grateful to be back at home, waking up in my own room, in my own purple sheets to the sound of my son happily playing in his own crib. Hooray for a good night’s sleep!

Sweet Dreams,

Today’s Gratitude List:

·         A peacefully quiet neighborhood

·         Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

·         Perfect summer weather

08 July 2013

Child's Play

I’m thoroughly enjoying this summer with my son. It’s refreshing to see the world through his eyes. Every experience is new. Grand. Awe inspiring. I guess sometimes it takes a child to put things into perspective.  He’s been here less than a year, but I think he already appreciates the universe more than most adults I know.
I’m remembering, he’s teaching me, how to play. How to find wonderment in each new thing. How a leaf or a dandelion can be a work of art. How a plane passing overhead is a thing of marvel; the sirens of a fire engine the prompt for applause.

From sandy toes and hopscotch chalk on sidewalks to play-dates at the park and magic bubbles, Izzy reminds me that life is beautiful.

I keep harking back to the time Hubby and I (before he was even Hubby) caught a performance of Our Town by Thornton Wilder up in Ashland, Oregon one summer.  I always, no matter how many times I see this play, get choked up at the end when Emily says goodbye to Grover’s Corners and the world:  “Good-by... Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking... and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee.  And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” 

Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.

Except for happy one year olds.  And their grateful mamas.

Many smiles,
Weekend Rewind
Linking up with Weekend Rewind at Maxabella Loves

Today’s Gratitude List:

·         Fresh cut grass

·         Colorful birthday wrapping paper

·         Ice tea and lemonade – ice cold

·         Pinterest recipes

01 July 2013

To What's Important

Our family currently lives on a single income – mine.  And I’m a teacher, so that income isn’t exactly huge. I’d put us somewhere in the low to mid middle-class spectrum.  

My husband stays home with our son while Mama brings home the bacon. It just made more sense this way – I’m the one with health insurance and a retirement plan. My job, after fourteen years, is pretty stable and the schedule is good (I mean, not too many jobs out there can boast of a 10 week vacation during the summer).  Of course, I really really would rather be the one at home with Izzy, but we couldn’t argue with logic on this one.

So, we budget. It isn’t always easy. We’ve learned to live frugally. We’ve learned to cut costs wherever we can. We don’t get to travel much.  When we do, it’s day trips or camping excursions, not jaunts to resorts or European getaways.

I’ve had to learn how to window shop.  I get creative with the wardrobe I have, instead of buying new stuff. I do the best I can with what I’ve got.  I make it work.

I brew my coffee and tea at home, instead of stopping at trendy coffee shops each day.  I brown-bag my lunch to work – usually a sandwich and a Greek yogurt, nothing fancy.  I use coupons at the grocery store and shop in bulk when it’s cost effective.

We don’t go out to dinner, or to the movies. Netflix and home cooked dinners are our daily specials. Happy hour means putting some Reggae or Jazz on Pandora and enjoying a glass of “Two-buck Chuck” after our almost-one year old goes to bed.

Right now, it just has to be this way. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes it puts us on edge. But, at the end of the day, we are okay.  We’ve got a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. We have good friends, good books, a lot of laughter and a lot of song.  We’ve got family and each other. We’ve got LOVE.

Here’s to what’s important.


Today’s Gratitude List:

Linking up with Mosaic Monday on
Little Red House
·         “Carpet picnics” in the living room

·         Old friends coming to visit

·         Raspberry ice tea

28 June 2013

Summer Rain

We had a bit of rain here earlier this week.  I've grown accustomed to what's called "June Gloom" around the central coast (foggy mornings that usually burn off by noon), but rain in late June was a bit unexpected. I was bummed.  I bemoaned the lack of sunshine.  I shook an angry fist at the corpulent clouds overhead.  "Well, there goes my walk!" I complained. 

Then, I looked at my small son. He starred at me quizzically as if to say, "What's wrong, Mom?" He's not yet one year old, so I can only attempt to interpret his myriad expressions - we manage, however, to have surprisingly sophisticated conversations...

But looking at his big inquisitive eyes stopped me short. What lesson was he learning from me today? Giving up and getting upset easily, pouting when something doesn't go your way, is definitely NOT something I want to teach him.  And what's a little rain, anyway?  A bit of summer drizzle?  Why should that stop us from journeying out and exploring our little world? 

So off we went! Bundled up in hoodies, we strolled through puddles, listened to birds chirp high in the trees, looked for rainbows. I even managed to snap a few photos of rain-bejeweled flowers along the way. 
Making the most out of the day you're given - now THAT'S a far better way to live! I hope my son will grow to know that, rain or shine, we ultimately make our own good days.
Many smiles,


Today's Gratitude List:
  • Neighborhood parks
  • Cookies from a friend
  • Long summer days

21 June 2013

Breaking the Fast

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.” 
 A.A. Milne
I LOVE breakfast. 
I love cooking breakfast.  I love serving breakfast.  I love eating breakfast.
It is a meal I never, EVER skip.  A day without breakfast is no day at all to me. I wake up ravenous - ready to eat the world.  "Feed me breakfast, at once!" my stomach demands. Growl, grumble, gurgle, growl.

My husband is the opposite. He can't be bothered with food upon waking.  He doesn't even want to look at food until well after 10:00 a.m. - after he's had at least one large cup of coffee and read through his emails. Then, maybe, he'll consider breakfast.

Fun fact: The English word "breakfast" comes from the idea that an involuntary "fast"occurs during the hours we sleep and that the fast is "broken" upon eating the first meal of the day. I do so love breaking my fast!
I have a sneaking suspicion that eating a hearty breakfast not only helps me maintain energy throughout the day, but also helps me maintain a healthy weight. It sets the metabolic tone for the rest of my day.  And since this girl needs to stay away from unhealthy carbs (at least in the morning), here are links to two of my current favorite breakfast recipes:
I hope this morning finds you well.  Cheers!

Today's Gratitude List:
  • Colorful pinwheels that entertain my son
  • Sunshine!
  • Fresh strawberries from the local produce stand
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