Archives for September 2012

Thursday Ten: Day Old Soup edition

1. So that tortilla soup I made the other night? When I didn’t read the recipe and was all eating soup at 10:30 p.m.? It was even better when I took some leftovers to work yesterday. And it even passed the smell test – my coworkers all said how good my soup smelled versus that gagging noise we make when someone has microwaved something yucky.

2. ArtPrize this year has been somewhat of a disappointment. Yes, I said it. I still have a lot to see and do and experience but so far, there have been no pieces that have moved me as in years past. And maybe that sounds ridiculous, but… when I think of previous ArtPrize years, there has ALWAYS been a piece each year that has really resonated with me for one reason or another. This year… it hasn’t happened yet.
Bridging Humanity - Edward Casagrande

3. Like this piece from 2010? I loved this so much.

4. New music this week? “Coexist” by the xx, annnnnnd as I was flipping through channels the other night, I left The Voice on (even though no Chris Mann this season) and heard someone singing “Sara Smile”. Since I was named for the song, yeah, I downloaded it.

5. In an effort to curb my expensive cappuccino habit, I’ve decided to start drinking office coffee most days. It is cost effective, yes. But oy. Not good.

6. I haven’t been to book club in so long I have no idea what they’re reading anymore. I kind of miss the fact that I had an excuse to buy a new book each month – but… I just can’t get there anymore. I guess I can read cereal boxes.

7. I cleaned the kitchen out of frustration the other day. Seemed the best way to deal with stress. Scrubbed it top to bottom. Came home the next day to The Princess making me cookies – the kitchen was trashed… but there were cookies. Tradeoffs, y’know?

8. I’ve been getting mail the past few days that says only “It’s Coming!” Uh… I’m not sure what’s coming but there are smiley faces so I will trust that it’s something good. My friends are lovely and tricky.

9. I’ve been getting rid of CDs that I purchased that only had one or two good songs on them. I don’t have the room for more STUFF I don’t need. Clutter is so tiring. I’ve ripped the one or two good songs from each disk to iTunes – and that’s why I ended up listening to “Oops! I Did It Again” last night.

10. Unintentional way to speed up running pace: Take a hyperactive labradoodle. Dang. That was rough.

Through The Kitchen Lens: Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken tortilla soup

Pssst… self. Lean in a little closer. I want to tell you something.

Are you listening?


Alrighty, self, here goes:

When you’re doing this cooking thing? I want you to READ THE RECIPE FIRST. Yes, that’s right. READ THE RECIPE. That way when you’re cooking chicken for 20 minutes and letting stuff boil and then letting something simmer for 45 minutes and letting something simmer for 30 minutes – well, it keeps you from expecting to have dinner on the table within an hour of getting home.

Also, you’ll end up taking pictures of your finished soup at ten p.m. in a dark kitchen beneath the glow of those yellowy environmentally friendly but photographically unflattering lights.

Not good.

Self, are you still listening?

Good. Something else I’ve been wanting to tell you.

When you use a recipe from Pioneer Woman, you have my permission to cut the recipe in half. Or fourths even. You’re feeding two daughters and not a full house of ranchers. You could also opt to invite twenty of your closest friends everyone you’ve ever met, and share your dinner with them.

We good? Good.


Red onion. Sharp knives.

my knife skills one to the yard. that would be weird. put the knife down.


Onions, red and green peppers, garlic. Chicken, blah blah blah.

This soup takes a LONG time, y’all. There’s a lot of simmering involved. I meant to start at 6, looked at the recipe and went, “Uh… Maybe I’ll make it after tucking in the kids and then we’ll just reheat it tomorrow.

The flavor? Incredible. Lip burning spicy-ness (I like that).

It’s easy if you have patience (I don’t).

And since I didn’t reduce the recipe, more than half of it is in storage containers in my freezer for one of the many many days I won’t feel like cooking.

Some crispy corn tortilla strips on top.

And cilantro, because YES.


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“And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world it’s best to hold hands and stick together.”
-Robert Fulghum

Yesterday, in the midst of alphabetizing my CDs and culling through the ones that just don’t seem to fit my life and my tastes anymore, I ended up with Jewel’s song “Hands” stuck in my head for about 15 minutes.

That, my friends, is about 15 minutes too long.

(Guess which CD is now in the pile for GoodWill?)

So, here I am today, fortunately without the ear worm but still kind of thinking of hands.



Happy birthday to my chosen family

It still boggles my mind to think of – the fact that some of my closest friendships were born of a stroke of luck. How I followed someone on Twitter who suggested following his colleague who later chimed up when I said, “HEY I WANT TO WALK A MARATHON” by saying, “I’m doing the Avon Walk. Join us.”

And I did.

And I drove down to Chicago that first year and forty miles later it was like I’d known Debbie and Barbara forever. In a good way.

If you don’t know ’em, Barbara is the beauty on the left. Debbie is the beauty on the right. That’s me in the middle. You know my face.


Today is Barbara’s birthday.

I love birthdays because I think it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the day someone was born – and when it’s a friend, it’s even more important. And when it’s a friend like Barbara? I couldn’t just SAY happy birthday because, man, I have words to say about her. (Also? I didn’t get a card in the mail in time because I suck a little bit.)

I have adored them both since we met, but as each year passes, the closer we become. I’m grateful that Barbara and Debbie have taken me in. They have been friends for quite some time and expanded their circle to fit me. To spend time around either of them is a blessing – especially because both Barbara and Debbie are some of the kindest people you’ll have the luck to meet ever. They have been some of my biggest supporters over the past few months and I smile when my phone buzzes with a text from either one.

Barbara – our birthday girl – is the kind of friend who will name a baby goat after you. When you tell her that this will be her high maintenance goat – she will text you back and assure you that no, this goat will be smart and funny. She will take pictures of the goat (the one you begged her to name after you) and post them on Facebook and tag you in them. And! It will make you insanely happy because DUH baby goat.

She is a breast cancer survivor who has logged MANY HUNDRED MILES walked and MANY THOUSAND DOLLARS RAISED and fights tirelessly to support the Avon Walk and increase awareness of this disease. When a friend of my family was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, Barbara offered to be available to the family so they could ask her questions or talk to her about her experiences. I admire her strength and her heart.

She is one of the many reasons why I will keep walking the Avon Walk until there’s a cure for breast cancer. Forty miles ain’t nothing but a thing with a team like ours. Sure, the blisters suck but the laughter? It’s good.


The other day, a text rattled my phone. It was Barbara. She and Debbie had spent the weekend together with their husbands and Debbie had sent me such a lovely text the day before. Barbara’s text to me said: Blood doesn’t make you family. Love does. You’re my family. Love you.

And I smiled. I was sitting at my desk at work having one of those days and her message could not have come at a better time.

Other things you may not know about Barbara:

She hates the word P-E-E (see, I spelled it out for you). She doesn’t eat sweets but she’ll eat cupcakes if my daughter makes them because she doesn’t want her to feel badly. She likes to dance with strangers along the Avon Walk course – even if the strangers are old women with whiskers. She’s the kind of person who will take your kid’s Flat Stanley for a week and then create this amazing story book all about Flat Stanley on the farm because your daughter loves animals. She’ll even get the pilot of her flight to pose for a picture with Flat Stanley. When your friends are struggling, she’ll call to make sure you know, to rally the troops so you can surround each other with love. She has gorgeous hair. Hell. She’s just gorgeous. She’ll have the refrigerator of your hotel room stocked with healthy snacks (and wine) when you arrive. It’s virtually impossible to not like her.

She has a heart that as big as hearts get.

She also is the reason I take pictures like that one up there.

(Barbara? Y-O-U-R Awesome)

She’ll know what it means.


As I typed this, I thought of the line in Stand by Me: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

There are certain friends from certain times in my life – my best friend, I met in 8th grade. Another close friend I met in science class on the first day of our freshman year of high school. I have friends I met in college that I still talk to.

But I really never anticipated that some of my closest friendships would be those that began after I turned 30. Some of these friendships are younger than a kindergartner but as much a part of my heart as any that have spanned over 20 years.

And I’m not sure why. And the thing is, I really don’t even need to know.

I’ve always surrounded myself with good people. My life is made better by these friendships.

And when you’re lucky enough to love and be loved by friends like I have, you need to be sure to let them know how much they’re appreciated.

A birthday is a good day to do that, don’t you think?

Happy Birthday, Barbara. In my head, this was far more eloquent and coherent and not such a rambly mess of goo, but sometimes I’m not eloquent or coherent, and sometimes I am goo, and somehow I think you’ll forgive me all of those things because I’ve spelled everything correctly.

I appreciate your support and your love and your friendship and your positivity and your joy and your support and your texts that make me laugh and your Sarah goat and your heart and your strength and your encouragement and your thoughtfulness and your pictures of animals and your perspective and your Debbie and your ability to distinguish between your and you’re.


(Ouch. That hurt to type.)

Happy birthday. You are my family.

Love you.

Through the Kitchen Lens: Savory Biscotti

Cheddar Parmesan Biscotti in soup

I love biscotti. Those crunchy, faintly sweet cookies are perfect for dunking in coffee or nibbling on for a slight sweets craving. I’ve made several sweeter versions: vanilla almond, some kind with coconut, and even the double double chocolate chocolate biscotti I’ve posted before.

But, I keep ripping out recipes for a savory biscotti.

Like the sweet is the perfect complement for coffee, wouldn’t savory just be a great replacement to bread with soup?

Enter: Cheddar Parmesan Biscotti, a recipe I pulled out of Cooking Light YEARS AGO and never made.

With the weather turning colder, I figured I’d try now. And then it got to the mid-seventies in temp and I thought to myself, Self? You’re making soup…TODAY? That’s not bright.

Biscotti is actually pretty easy to make. That’s the awesome thing – they taste and look like they might be a lot of work, but really? So easy. And if you don’t love baking, it’s kind of neat to make something that looks way more impressive than the amount of effort it takes.

Throw the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl


Oooh. Cheese. Extra sharp cheddar and fresh grated parmesan.

In my opinion? Not enough cheese for this recipe. I expected a stronger flavor and… not so much.

Then again, I tweaked this recipe. I cut out the sun dried tomatoes and basil  – thinking that wouldn’t be right with the soup I had selected.

Sometimes I’m not smart.


Liquid ingredients

Eggs, milk, olive oil. I didn’t show the oil in the picture. You know why? Oil isn’t pretty. Oil is oil.

Shape the dough into two logs. It certainly doesn't look yummy right now.

Baked once, and ready to be sliced and baked again.

Ready to bake again

The word biscotti actually refers to how they are cooked – twice baked. Once you pull the dough logs out of the oven and they cool slightly, you’ll slice them, tip ’em on their side and bake again. Seems a pain in the hiney, but… not really. You’ll be fine. It’s easy.


The girls didn’t like these very much. I’m kind of neutral about them. Like I said, with the tweaks I made to this recipe, it could very well be my fault that these were so boring.

But they were really boring.

And not nearly savory enough.

If you want to try them without monkeying with the recipe, I’d love to hear how it goes.

Thursday Ten: Need A New Routine edition

1. I thought that the return of school would also bring a sense of calm and routine but what I’m finding is that no. Not so much. Gymnastics eats a good chunk of the schedule after school during the week. It’s chaotic and hopefully we’ll settle in just in time for the holidays to start and the snow to fly.

2. Among the many posts I’ve seen in recent days, one of the things I’ve loved the most is having been introduced to Brandi Carlile’s “That Wasn’t Me”: do i make myself a blessing to everyone i meet?

3. Around Grand Rapids, artists are getting ready for ArtPrize and I couldn’t be happier. I am not the biggest fan of West Michigan (sorry, but I’m not) but ArtPrize makes me love it a little bit. I love the vibe of the town when it’s filled with art and people are talking about what they’re seeing and the streets are full of people (okay, that part annoys me a bit).  I’m ready to see what is in store this year. BRING ON THE ART.

4. The Princess tried to stump me with a fifth grade social studies question last night but AHA AMERIGO VESPUCCI. Can’t fool me with your homework, kid. (Okay, maybe the math)

5. There’s a certain glow the sun has when it’s rising in the morning. I kind of love it. I pulled over on my way to work to get this shot – and one of these days, on the weekend when I’m in no hurry and I’m awake insanely early for no apparent reason, I’m going to go out and shoot more.
there's a bright golden haze on the meadow

6. I make no secret about not loving summer but you know what one of the perks is of the days getting shorter? Catching a sunrise on the way to work, and soon, catching the sunset. Yeah, I hate to drive to and from work in the dark – but my porch doesn’t offer the best view of a sunrise OR sunset (Stupid houses and trees). When I’m driving, the views are amazing.

7. I am using my netbook to type this. My laptop was making some awful groan-y noises last night while I was editing photos and I know it’s a matter of needing to back up some photos and get them OFF my laptop (also, MEMORY)… That laptop is ollllld and it’s been a pain in the ass for awhile. If it was Old Yeller, I’d have taken it out back and put it out of its misery by now.

8. I finished reading Gone Girl this week for book club. OH MY GOSH. This book and The Fault in Our Stars are two of the best I’ve read in awhile. Gone Girl was suspenseful and well-written and just when I thought I knew what was coming next I was always way wrong (in the best way – it’s the worst when you can anticipate every plot turn!). The Fault In Our Stars is a young adult book but a well crafted one, and one that left me (and the two people I’ve loaned it to since) in tears.

9. I have not yet decided what I’ll be cooking up for Kitchen Through The Lens next week but want to be sure I thank those of you who are following the process and who are sharing those posts. My friend, Rachel (who is far better in the kitchen than I could hope to be) gave me an awesome shout out on her blog the other day, and I’m just glad that any one is along for this ride with me. So… thanks. And welcome. (Savory biscotti next week, maybe?)

10. Good morning, happy Thursday. Let’s go make this day magical, shall we? Have a good one!

So Small

I went to bed too late last night. I couldn’t fall asleep, my head was twirling, I was mentally writing to-do lists of things I needed to accomplish today. When I was still wide awake at one I thought about today, how I’d be sleepy, how this day would be difficult. I’d be tired.

I finally fell asleep sometime after 1 and woke up, inexplicably around 5:45 at which time I checked my phone and saw that Julie had passed away. My head has been twirling since.

I had prepared myself already for the gravity of the day – the anniversary of 9/11 always strikes me because it wasn’t until a few weeks after that awful day that I found out I was pregnant for The Princess. I must have been just days pregnant that day. I remember sitting at work in a cube farm, someone announcing that a plane had struck the World Trade Center, and I remember all of us standing in front of the televisions in the lunchroom for most of the day, watching it all happen, right in front of our eyes.

I sat on my porch with a candle. We took change to the donation stations for the Red Cross.

And last fall, I visited the Memorial in New York City, and I walked around reading the names. I wanted to touch them all, but couldn’t. I wanted to touch and read every single one of those names that surround the Memorial. I flinched each time I read the engraved “…and unborn child” descriptor after a woman’s name. I had never, until that moment, thought of that, I guess.
9/11 Memorial Site

I knew today would be full of remembrance and never-forgetting, and yeah, I knew that would be tough, but I still had stuff to deal with today. I still would have to call the town where I live to talk about property taxes and I’d still go to work and do my job and yeah yeah yeah, 9/11 but that was 11 years ago and it wouldn’t affect me.

And then I saw the news about Julie.

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Breast cancer.

I wish I could speak eloquently about it or about Julie – I feel I owe both topics more than the words I have can offer. She was vibrant and funny and a light. She was a dedicated mom.

And she was way too young.

It’s like a sucker punch when someone dies – and worse when they die so young. And you wish you could grab this disease by the shirt and shake it loose and tell it to back off, scare it into retreating, threaten it from ever touching anyone you know, anyone ever.

But you can’t.

And so this morning, I told The Princess about Julie – we’d had Frostys for Julie the other day, to send her hope and to follow her lead and to enjoy life – so my daughter knew about Julie, that Julie was fighting this ugly disease, cancer. And tears filled my eyes and my daughter put down her breakfast, and walked across the room to give me a hug and I thought to myself, “I’m so lucky to be here with my daughter’s arms wrapped around me, to be loved, for this moment.”

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I stopped for coffee on my way to work – wanting to find some separation between the news and the rest of my day.

But I still feel helpless – because all over the place today there are people who are hurting and there’s nothing anyone could do to erase it or make it better. I read some of Julie’s writing this morning, rereading something she had written months ago about the children’s story “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” and how thinking of that story was one of her strategies for coping with things that came her way. She said:

“Worry and panic and dread will swallow us up if we let it, for sure. I think most problems in life are relieved when we suck it up and deal, by doing whatever that process requires for us, for however long it takes. We can’t go over it or under it. We have to go through it.”

She also said, “Life isn’t fair, but it’s still wonderful.”

And it isn’t and it is.


My heart is heavy and I’m sitting at my desk.

This morning as I was getting out of my car, my sister pulled up next to me in the parking garage to say good morning. We work in the same building and I never see her. To see her smiling face was a boost today.

I’m not sure how you even close a post like this. If you all were here, I’d like to think that I’d wrap each one of you up in a hug and give you an extra tight squeeze and let you know you mean something to me. So that’s what I’m doing.

Close your eyes tight.

Wrap your arms around yourself.

Squeeze a bit.

There’s a hug from me.

Figured we could all use one today.

Kitchen Through the Lens: Burgers

Way to be unphotogenic, burger.

I guess I feel like I should preface this with an explanation. I mean, how can a woman be thirty-some years old and NEVER have made a burger? Seems a bit ridiculous and slightly unbelievable. BUT IT’S TRUE.

You see, for about ten years I was on a burger hiatus. No real reason. I didn’t follow a vegetarian diet. I prepared other meals with ground beef (not all good meals. This is me we’re talking about). I even made various other burger-y things (I think meatloaf is just a burger in a pan and meatballs are just…burger spheres? I don’t know. Anyway…). It wasn’t until last year in June on a LoveDrop trip on the other side of the state that we all stopped for burgers after gifting the awesome family with lots of amazing things.

It was my first in over a decade.

And it was good.

I even Instagrammed a picture of it. It was that good.

Since then, I have occasionally craved a burger. I have deliberately gone to restaurants for the purpose of consuming a burger.

But… never made one.

So, last night I googled some recipes. Yeah. Recipes.

The thing is, the burger I grew up with was just a round hockey puck of meat. Ugh. I mean, that’s all fine and good but… I don’t like ’em like that.

And there are a LOT of ways to make a burger – I even found a recipe that incorporated chopped basil into the meat (and while I love me some basil, I skipped that route).

Some minced garlic and some salt and pepper is what I decided to do. I threw them on the grill pan because I don’t really know how the barbecue grill works. They’d have been better on the grill, I think. But, such is life.

And the result was some of the most delicious, UGLIEST burgers ever (see above).

Being a burger newbie, I also kinda made them small (I could say I meant to do that and call ’em sliders, but I didn’t really mean to do that. I just don’t know what the heck I’m doing).

I added some sliced onion and some mustard and called it good (yeah, garlic AND onions). The Princess had me add cheese to hers and Pumpkin slathered her in a gruesome amount of ketchup.

And we were happy.

Next week, I will make something prettier. I couldn’t even bring myself to take a picture of raw meat because…yuck.

Saying everything and nothing

I am not a blogger who believes that just because I share some of my life with you who may be reading, that I am in fact required or at all obligated to share all of my life with you who may be reading. If anything, you should know if you don’t already that I am quite guarded and protective with myself and my life, and I keep a lot held in because there are limits to what I share.

I make no apologies for it, either.

I’ve made no secret of my stress and struggle over the past few months.

There was a time I spoke of my husband and my marriage here.

It’s been awhile.

We’ve separated. Papers have been filed.


Initially, I started writing a eulogy to the marriage thinking I’d post it here. Even in those early days, I knew that there would be no public post-mortem.

But there will be no eulogy.

Just this acknowledgement.


Life is different now and I move forward with hope. And while there are some very tough days, I think we will all be okay. My daughters are doing well. I have friends and family who have been amazing and comforting and have kept us busy.

Life is different.

But it goes on.

Thursday Ten: Back to School Edition

1. Today is day THREE of the new school year. They seem quiet okay with being back – and the bonus is that bedtimes are a little easier to enforce, especially for Pumpkin, because when the day is over she is EXHAUSTED.

2. New music this week, well… You know, you have to realize I was probably just the right age when Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” came out in the mid-90s, so when I read a review of her new album “Havoc and Bright Lights” and saw that it was on sale on Amazon (remember, iTunes – you are dead to me), I just bought it sight unseen, or….er… song unlistened? Well… there are some pretty melodies but there are some lyrics in this collection of songs that make me think, “Uh, Alanis? What are you even talking about?” So, what I’m saying is… don’t buy this album in its entirety. Take a listen, pick up a track or two and then go back to her older stuff and think fondly of loudly singing “You Oughta Know” while driving with your windows rolled down.

3. If I had known when Lisa asked me to guest post on her blog that she was moving this week, I’d have devoted my post to begging her to stay. Instead I wrote about a few of my favorite things.

4. For a short week, it has been C-R-A-Z-Y busy. Admittedly, I prefer busy to bored… but I also kinda dig the feeling of accomplishment I get when I am able to complete my whole to-do list for a day. And, yeah… that isn’t happening these days.

5. The kids and I finally made the bruschetta and served it over pasta and it was our prelude to strawberry shortcakes and whoa-my-goodness I was feeling a bit rock-starry in the kitchen that day. We were definitely right about how yummy it was – and I’m gonna call it a good start to when my Kitchen Through the Lens project takes me into the realm of making my own pasta sauce.

6. While I don’t know if my cooking is getting any better, my comfort level with making new things is certainly higher. That’s kind of awesome. (It would be more awesome if my cooking was improving too, but I’m hardly impartial.)

7. I believe in signs.

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8. Two weeks until ArtPrize!

9. I was walking past the television at work the other day and Matt Lauer was on the Today Show and suddenly the thought that flashed through my head was, He reminds me of Ben Stein. Whut? I’m not sure if there is a real resemblance or if my brain just needed coffee at that moment. What say you?

10. Wrapped up one 365 last week, started a new one. Are you in?
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