I’m grateful for… books

standard November 21, 2011 5 responses

I’ve always been a reader. It’s just a part of who I am. There are cases of books piled high in the garage, piles of books falling over each other in the house, and in our room, I’m creating imaginary bookshelves because I’ve run out of real shelf space.

I’ve always loved books for the escape they offered. The chance to sit in a comfy chair, crack open a cover, and travel anywhere in time or in space. Sometimes real life is just too overwhelming and it’s soothing to be able to run away.

Then again, sometimes life is so overwhelming that even books aren’t comforting. Who needs another person’s problems — even a fictional person — when you’ve got way too much on your own plate.

When life is like that I usually dive into comic anthologies. Stone Soup, Fox Trot, Baby Blues, Rose is Rose, For Better or Worse, Zits. I own a lot. I’m heartbroken that they’re publishing fewer and fewer. When my head is spinning in a million directions and I can barely form a coherent thought, jumping into a book where story bits are introduced and resolved in three or four frames? It’s just about what I can handle.

Sadly, I’ve been in that state so often this year that all my anthologies are starting to fall apart and I know them all so well that they’ve ceased to work their magic. Luckily, I’ve discovered something that works just as well.

It’s so corny, I’m almost ashamed to admit how addicted I’ve become. Heck, I’m almost ashamed to say that this is actually what I’m grateful for this week.

My new literary crack? Cozies.

I know. You don’t even know what that is. Its the newish genre that contains easy armchair mysteries. The protagonist is usually a girl who owns her own business — cupcake store, flower store, donut shop, catering business — somewhere in the first chapter she happens upon a murder, and then, with the help of her BFF or the hot guy next door, much to the chagrin of the local police force, she solves the murder after almost getting killed herself about 20 pages from the end.

I. Am. Obsessed.

I think the utter predictability of the plot line, the lack of surprise about when she’s going to run into trouble, the absolute certainty that at the perfect moment the hero is going to rush in and save the day, it’s all so incredibly soothing after a year of non-stop bad surprises being lobbed at our heads.

I am utterly grateful to the hardworking authors of these books who are pressured to put out at least a book a year. I’m grateful to Amazon for feeding my obsession through my Kindle app. And I’m grateful to my husband for pretending to not notice how often the name of the current book I’m reading changes.

Sometimes, you just need to escape. Sometimes it’s wonderful when you can escape to somewhere incredibly predictable and comforting.

In two weeks this family is diving into more chaos and uncertainty. In the face of it all I felt an overwhelming need to focus on the things that fill me with joy and gratitude, so it was with glee that I discovered that a friend is sponsoring A Week of Thanksgiving. Join me all week as I feature something (probably obscure) that fills me with gratitude.


(Yes, those are affiliate links above. Yes, if you click on them and then later buy something from Amazon I’ll get a penny or two. Thank you. It’ll help fund my obsession.)

I’m taking a real vacation

standard December 20, 2010 3 responses

The last time I took a vacation and left the computer behind was when C was a year old and M and I went to Hawaii for a friends’ wedding.

Other than a short weekend away two years ago, each of our vacations since then have been centered on family visits. Either here or away, and have been colored by me saying things like “I’m going to be off, but I can still take care of X, Y, Z while I’m gone.”

Last Christmas I spent the week putting the finishing touches on the January issue of the newspaper. This past summer I spent every morning working on things for Tiny Prints and for another job I had taken on shortly before everyone arrived in town.

Working vacations are not relaxing. They are stressful for everyone involved. The kids are frustrated because I’m not paying attention to them. M is annoyed that I have no time for him or that I’m constantly distracted. And I’m tired because I stay up way too late finishing up stuff I couldn’t do while I was enjoying quality family time during the day.

Last Christmas I was so stressed about the paper that I essentially missed the short four days my little sister was able to spend with us before having to go back to work. And for what? For nothing, because the paper didn’t end up going to press on time.

This year I’ve cleared my schedule. I’m taking care of my obligations ahead of time. I have a couple blog posts that need to go up over the next few days, but after that… I’m off. Really, really off. As in, shut off the computer, pick up a book or a doll and enjoy my family, off.

M doesn’t think I can do it.

I don’t think I can afford not to. I need this break. I need the down-time. I need to spend a week living in the real world and enjoying the things that make all the long hours and all the work worthwhile. And while I’m at it I’m going to regroup and think about the big picture. That is, if I have time in the middle of all the holiday fun.

The next Christmas hurdle

standard December 15, 2010 3 responses

I am proud to report that I’m making amazing headway on the Christmas gifts.

I’ve bought M two more presents.

Ok, ok. I also bought gifts for my nieces and nephew, my sister, and my own girls. So, you see, I’m right on track.

Now all I have to do is find some serious winter-wear for everyone because my sister keeps calling to report the current temperature in Chicago. It always takes a moment for me to realize that she’s talking about Fahrenheit and not Celsius. And then I just get scared. Because, dude? Zero or ten are scary numbers when they refer to temperatures. Especially for this little Californian family.

And in the meantime we’re doing what we would have been doing last week if I’d been better organized. Addressing these… and mailing them out to our friends and family.

I’ve been neck deep in the holiday season for well over six weeks now, but it’s finally starting to really feel like Christmas. Christmas for fun and for family rather than work. It’s going to be awesome.

Latkes, latkes, and more latkes

standard December 6, 2010 8 responses

My Hannukah goal for this year was simple: make each candlelighting evening low key and family centric and find time to make latkes at least once.

We’re only five days in, but so far we’re doing really well. We’ve had only one night fraught with tantrums bad enough that I threatened to pull the plug on all festivities. The girls pulled it together and we managed to light the candles and cuddle under a blanket to read our books just like every other night.

Our evening routine usually involves one parent doing the reading while the other parent is cooking or cleaning up in the kitchen. During Hannukah we make a point of all gathering on the couch, one big happy family, to read a few books, always ending with The Runaway Latkes, because it makes us all laugh when we read the refrain together.

Tonight our favorite book played in our favor. M and I worked on making two types of latkes, fully believing that neither child would touch them. And yet, when we sat down, both of them were willing to taste the new foods and C discovered a taste for them.

If that isn’t a Hannukah miracle, I don’t know what is.

Want to know what these miraculous latkes were? Keep scrolling…

Nigella Lawson’s Apple Latkes (As featured in the Dec 2010 Food Network Magazine)
These turned out to be something like apple fritters. They made M’s eyes roll back in his head with joy. 

Cooks Country Crispy Potato Pancakes (As featured in Cooks Country in March 2006)
These are my favorite latkes; light, tasty, and easy to make.

2 tbsp Vegetable oil
5 cups frozen shredded hash-brown potatoes
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 lrg egg
2 scallions, chopped fine
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Cooking Spray

1) Heat oven to 475 and put rack on the upper-middle spot. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with vegetable oil.
2) Place hash-browns and butter in large microwave safe bowl. Cover tightly and microwave on high until butter is melted and hash-browns are defrosted. (Abt 5-7 minutes). Stir well and cool.
3) Whisk egg, scallions, cornstarch, salt, and pepper together until thoroughly combined. Add to the hash-brown mixture and stir until incorporated. Divide mixture into 10 balls and set aside on a large plate.
4) Place oiled baking sheet in oven and heat until oil is just beginning to smoke. (Abt 6 minutes) Remove baking sheet from oven and quickly place potato balls on baking sheet. Spray each ball with cooking spray and press it down to pancake height.
5) Bake until pancakes are golden brown on the bottom – about 10 minutes. Take pan out of the oven, flip the pancakes, and bake for another 8 minutes. Enjoy with apple sauce or sour cream.