Tuesday, December 2, 2014

30 Days of Thankfulness: 2014 edition

1. While we were turned away from hearing President Obama speak tonight at Wayne State (there were more free tickets than seats), I am thankful for all the experiences I have been able to give my kids. Just recently we've walked across the Mackinaw Bridge with 25,000 other people, we explored Memphis from Graceland to the National Civil Rights Museum, we camped at Michigan's first state park and explored "The most beautiful place in America." I'm thankful for our adventures and looking forward to more.
2. I'm thankful for my home, where my family lives...together.

3. Today I'm thankful for lunch. I'm really needing the food AND mental break today...

4. Today I'm thankful for the opportunity to vote and for all those who sacrificed so that I could have that right. While our nation is not perfect, I think we become great when the current generation puts aside their own desires for the benefit of future generations.

5. I am so thankful for my husband. One of things I have come to appreciate more and more is that he is not the same person I married 15 years ago, or met 21 years ago. He continues to grow and learn and change. I most recently appreciate that when I went back to work full time, he has taken on much more of the parenting duties including picking the kids up from school, making dinner and supervising chores. When we lived apart, I honestly felt like a part of me was missing, so saying that life is better with Alex is a truth that I learned quite well!

6. I'm thankful for Greyson. He is so confident, which I hope he can temper with humility because that confidence attracts others to him and his ideas. I love that he is not in too much of a hurry to grow up and still has an innocence about him, still believing in Santa Claus and the Toothfairy, even though his younger brother does not (although maybe he's feigning for me, and I'm alright with that too). He is also so very helpful, you can count on him when he's needed and even when he's not he tries to lend a hand or whatever is needed.

7. I am thankful for Grant. Anyone who has hung out with him knows he has a sense of humor way beyond his 8 years and he truly enjoys making people laugh. He is such a sponge with information, soaking it up, but because he is such a goofball, people are often surprised at how smart he is. And as my "baby," he has also been the cuddler of the family.

8. I'm thankful that my kids enjoy books, and reading, and learning. We've always read together every night. We started with picture books and moved on to chapter books. We've read the classics (the Chronicles of Narnia, Mary Poppins, Henry Huggins), we've read read new books (The Wednesday Wars, Percy Jackson, The Sisters Grimm), and listened to books on CD on our endless car trips (Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has a great narration). I think the variety and depth of these books has helped to start discussions about history, politics and ideologies. And I love it when I see them pick up a book on their own, even when its not something I would have picked

9. I'm thankful for friends. While I met some great people in New Orleans, there was something so comfortable about coming home to friends who have known us 20+ years. Friends who know our quirks, who have seen the good, and offered their help during the not-so-good. I wouldn't have made it through "single parenting" without all the friends who helped out. I appreciate all of you, and while I hope you never *need* my help because your life is smooth sailing, I hope I am there to support you the way you have me.

10. I'm thankful for sunsets and sunrises. We had a gorgeous one tonight!

11. I am thankful for the many freedoms I enjoy, which therefore makes me thankful for all those who fought, sacrificed and worked to make that happen!

12. I'm thankful for my family. I come from a pretty big family that is also fairly close. I saw their love in action today at a funeral, but I've seen it so often otherwise, and on both sides. I can honestly say that I'm friends with the people in my family and I'm glad my kids grow up knowing that love.

13. I'm thankful to be living in a place with 4 seasons. The crispness of fall with the most gorgeous colors nature can paint, blankets of white snow and silence you can hear in the peacefulness of winter, springtime that roars in like a lion to make way for colorful shots of grass and flowers, summertimes that I once heard described as, "you know those magical childhood summers described in books and movies? With hot days and cool nights? Swimming and fireflies? Those actually exist in Michigan!"

14. I am so thankful for weekends. Lately my weekdays have started at 5am and go nonstop until after 9. Even though the weekends are filled with errands and chores, the slower pace is a welcomed change.
15. I'm thankful for life's annoyances. Everything that annoyed me today is something to be thankful for: the grocery shopping means my family has food for the week, the messy house means we have a place to live together, the laundry means we have clean clothes to wear! So, today I'm thankful for the annoyances.

16. I am so very thankful for the discussion groups I've been a part of. Pub Theology in New Orleans, book club and dinner & a movie in Michigan. It amazes me how a group of people can all read or see the same thing but have different views based on their own life experiences. My life has really been enriched by these interactions and I've expanded my horizons through them.

17. Working at a new job can make you reflective about past positions. I am so thankful to have had great work experiences! At Campfire, Judi took a chance on me and allowed me the experience of working on a team, organizing, planning, supervising and how to pitch in where needed. At Detroit Conference Camps I got to explore the creative side I didn't even know I had and I met so many wonderful people who were campers, volunteers, staff and supporters. And I consider how many peo...ple I worked with over those 10 years that I still consider GOOD friends. At GrowthWorks I worked with people who were definitely not in it for the money but cared enough about people to make an effort with every client, even though it was the small majority that let themselves be helped. Those people are some of the most generous I've ever known. Even at Tulane, where the work culture was isolating, I am thankful for the vast amount I learned about childhood mental health and poverty. Some people just have jobs, but I am thankful to have had learning experiences, knowledge, support, growth and friendship.

18. I'm thankful that all my rain turned into rainbows today. I left work late, but that meant I missed the traffic! The kids were supposed to have pizza at the trampoline party, but instead they were refunded the food money & Alex used that to buy Little Ceasar's for everyone

19. I'm thankful that what my kids argued about tonight was...who got to shovel snow. Because they both wanted to. For real.

20. Today I'm thankful that all things come to an end. It's been a loooooong day!
21. I'm thankful for my sister Shelly and her family. This is the 2nd time since we've moved back that they've said, "Come on vacation with us! Just bring yourselves...and maybe a sleeping bag!"
22. I'm thankful for my sister Marie. She lived with us for 4 years while going to college and has been like a 2nd mother to my kids. Since we love the same movies we are always quoting them to each other. She plans trips for us and was great at organizing a birthday trip for me to Las Vegas this year. Plus everyone is always complementing the hand-me-down clothes she sends my way!

23. I'm thankful for my brother Stanley and his family. They have always loved including my kids in activities and it has been great for Greyson to have a cousin his own age!

24. My kids received an advent calendar today and it made me think: I'm thankful for anticipation and having things to look forward to.

25. Last night my 8 year old asked, "Can we get a poinsettia? My art teacher says I'm really good at drawing them!" I am thankful for people who are encouragers.

26. I'm thankful my kids are learning how to cook and clean. Hopefully life skills will help them grow self sufficiency!

27. "This is the thanks for all that's good: home and family and friends and food."
reading This Is the Turkey.

28. "Never say no to adventures. Always say yes. Otherwise you'll lead a very dull life."
I'm thankful for all the adventures I've said yes to.
reading Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

29. I'm thankful for celebrations!
30. Out of all the days in November, this is the day that has me most thankful! My two best friends, Alex and Marie, were born on this day (of course, they were born 8 years apart!) and I am so thankful to have them in my lives!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Have kids, will travel: Memphis

My husband had a training for work scheduled in Memphis and asked if we'd like to come along. At first I was like, "What's in Memphis?" But, you know I'm always up for an adventure, so I started researching things to do with kids.

Day 1: I called this day "Water & Fire Day"
I started the day off by taking the kids to the Civic Center Plaza, which has cool fountains that spray up from the ground, so they could run around just like they were at a water park - but for free ;)
Next up we went back to the hotel pool, which was on the 10th floor and overlooked the Mississippi River, so the kids could get some serious swimming in.
After becoming waterlogged - it was time to warm up with some fire! We headed over to the Memphis Fire Museum. The downside was that we found out most of the exhibits were closed, the upside was that it was free to see what exhibits were open! The museum has since reopened, so I'd recommend checking out the updates!
We rounded out the day with a trip to the Peabody Hotel, which is known for it's duck parade at 5pm. The ducks parade out of the fountain in the lobby, go to the elevator, spend the night on the roof, then come down the next morning to swim the day away in the lobby fountain and do the whole routine over again.
We had dinner at the Blues City Café on Beale Street and I've got to say: the #1 thing I like best about Memphis is that when you say you're from Detroit, people excitedly reply, "Detroit! That's Motown!" which is a lot different from other responses I've heard around the country.  The #2 best thing about Memphis is all the live music! And there is no shortage at the restaurants, cafes and bars on Beale Street.

Day 2: Mud Island
Memphis has a super cool Island, Mud Island. You can walk over for free, but we took the monorail which also included tickets to the Mississippi River Museum. The most famous part of Mud Island is the scale model of the Mississippi River that is 5 blocks long!!! It shows a lot of detail too, including river heights and cities and other landmarks along the river's path. Definitely something to check out if you are in Memphis!
After this long walk in the sun, we headed down the street to Riverfront Bar and Grill. My kids had passed it the day before and wanted to eat there since you could eat outside overlooking the Mississippi. The food there turned out to be YUMMY!
We also toured the Gibson Guitar Factory. And got a fascinating lesson on how their guitars are made.

Day 3: Memphis Museums
So, while poking around on Pintrest, I found that the Memphis Museums offered a FREE family pass for the summer just for signing up! Their largest museum is The Pink Palace, which has a little bit of everything! Fossils, dinosaurs, skeletons, Tennessee and Memphis history, music, and more! There were hands-on exhibits for the kids and the whole museum took up the morning.
After a yummy Mexican lunch we headed to the Lichterman Nature Center, which was also under the free museum membership. There was a small visitor's center with displays and tons of walking paths. However, my kids were pooped from the morning at the museum and the hot Tennessee sun, so we stayed just long enough to get some amazing views of the American lotus pond.
Dinner was at Central BBQ, famous for giving you a ton of food!

Day 4: Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum
After being thrifty and doing free or close-to-free things all week, we splurged and went to Graceland. After living in the Detroit area for so long, and touring the homes of the auto barons from the early 1900s, I was surprised at how small, unadorned and modern Graceland was. Still it was interesting to see the place of legends and to hear more of Elvis' history. The kids demanded we add the jets to the tour, so we saw Elvis' personal airplanes, and there was also a car museum that the Detroiters in us loved.
We ate lunch at the Hard Rock Café in Memphis, yep, we were going all out on the regular tourist thing. Then we went to the National Civil Rights Museum at the site of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. What a sobering time. We've come so far, yet have so much work still to do. I would love to go back to this museum sometime when I don't have two young kids trying to hurry me through! I highly recommend visiting, but make sure you have the time to spend uninterrupted so that you can take it all in.
We ate dinner at The Kooky Canuck, because, you know Detroit isn't close enough to Canada, so we had to get Canadian cuisine while we were in Tennessee!

Day 5: The End
We only had the morning to sightsee, so we went to The Mallory-Neely House, another included in the Memphis Museums! We were the only ones there for the first tour of the day - so we got a personal tour! This house was absolutely AMAZING! So carefully preserved, thankfully because of having few owners. THIS is what I was missing when we toured Graceland. Original woodwork, stained glass, turn-of-the-last-century furnishings. I didn't take any pictures because this place because it just seemed disrespectful, so just take my advice and visit it!!!
So, after not really knowing why I'd want to go to Memphis, I've concluded that it is a WONDERFUL city, with lots to see and do. Yes, I'd visit again!  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Have kids, will travel: Northern Michigan

Lots has happened in the last few weeks! We made the 1060 mile move from New Orleans to Metro-Detroit. And in the midst of unpacking and settling my sister offered to take my kids camping. Well...since I don't have anything else to do right now, I wanted in on the fun!

Very yummy blueberry cobbler in a dutch oven
Thankfully she said, "All you need to bring is a sleeping bag," so the kids and I were off! We camped at Interlochen State Park, which I learned is the oldest state park in Michigan. We had a great time boating, fishing and cooking out, but the highlight of the trip for me was heading to Sleeping Bear Dunes, which won Good Morning America's title "The Most Beautiful Place in America" in 2001.

Since we had young children (4 between the ages 2 and 11) we only climbed the first dune at the park. Hiking the entire trail to Lake Michigan is pretty strenuous, so we just sat back and enjoyed to view while the kids went over a few hills thinking they were great adventurers!

There is more to do within the National Park system in the small town of Glen Haven. We visited the US Coast Guard museum which performs a life-saving demonstration every day at 3pm showing how they would rescue survivors of Great Lakes shipwrecks. Also, on Thursdays there is a demonstration of a Lyle gun, the only gun invented by the Army to save lives, and we were there for it! The kids also got to "help" pull it in. We visited the Blacksmith shop and saw a demonstration of techniques.

So happy to be back in Michigan and take advantage of all the natural beauty this state has to offer! As wall as the great State and National Parks!

Friday, June 20, 2014

What I learned in New Orleans

Wow, so many emotions going through me in the past two months. First I had spent a large portion of my time on job hunting, found a job I was excited for only to learn the day before I was supposed to start that my husband was offered a job in Detroit.
I always knew we were moving back, but I did not think it would happen so soon. While the kids and I have spent two years living here, Alex had been here a total of five years. I was excited and I was also nervous because I knew circumstances would leave me with the packing while solo parenting. And not just the household stuff - but Alex would not be coming back for the loading, so this time I would be packing the shed and electronics as well as any other personal things Alex was not able to get to. Don't get me wrong, he worked incredibly hard doing the most that he could before he left, but like most of life, there just wasn't enough time.
I was also surprised that in all these feelings, there was a little sadness too. I've grown a lot in New Orleans, and it was my refuge after an incredibly hard three years when my life forever changed from unexpected single-parenthood and unemployment.
In the midst of all these emotions though, there are some lessons I've learned, or that have deeper meaning to me now that I'd like to share.

Jump into life and forget the waiting place. Sometimes we are caught waiting for things to happen before we move on. Changing your surroundings can also change your perspective. I found myself saying, "What are you waiting for, just do it!" And I'm finding the more "risks" I take when I forget about waiting, the less regrets I have.

Our garden put in by Green Light New Orleans.
Do what you like. I was lucky enough to have a flexible part-time job and I got to explore my interests more. It also helped that my kids are older and we went back to being a two-parent household. I volunteered at my kids' school, I went from making cookies for Prime Time Family Reading Time to being a storyteller (reader), I volunteered at a local farm market, learned how to make more vegetable dishes from local vegetables and started composting and gardening. Again, most of these things I had been "waiting" to do and it was so gratifying to actually be able to do them and explore my interests more.

Politeness is important. Sorry, but this is going to be a little criticism of New Orleans and the South. Maybe I just don't get how to interact with people here, but can't believe how rude people are. I do know incredibly nice people, but some of the interactions I've had, at stores and in public, leave me shaking my head at just the flat-out rudeness of people. Then when I'm back in the Midwest I'm surprised at the politeness - people smiling at you, saying hello, holding the elevator. I'm leaving with a renewed resolve to be politer.

Volunteering at Second Harvest
became a family activity. 
Be there for people. This is my 3rd time moving in 3 years, two of those times cross-country. None of
those times have been paid for by our employer, which leaves me to do the packing and then is still a pretty hefty price tag. I was a single parent for three years (yes, that's what I call it when my husband comes home for a weekend once every six weeks). I've solo parented a month this time. I lost a job I loved after 10 years. I lost a job I was ambivalent toward. In all these times, I've been surprised by the people who have stepped up and helped out, or offered to help. And I've been surprised by those who haven't. I hope this makes me more aware of others. And I'm especially thankful that a byproduct of hardship can be greater empathy for others.

Payoff debt and save money. We've had some curve balls in the last 5 years and one of the things that has helped us to make better decisions is not having debt. It's frustrating that the two houses we've sold in the last two years have just barely covered moving expenses - but those are expenses that have not had to turn into further debt! This time around everything happened on short notice: putting our house up for sale, coming up with a down payment for a rental house, paying for a cross-county move and having a car die and needing a replacement. I am left wishing we had saved more money, but we were able to do fairly well with at least rearranging our finances to make things work. This is a huge reminder for me to prepare for the unexpected with savings.
We became members at the Audubon Zoo
so that we could frequent the exhibits often!

The treasure in your backyard. We got to do a lot in New Orleans. Both tourist things and off the beaten path kind of things. But the thing is - even without living in a touristy city, there are plenty of places "in your backyard" to be explored. Nature, history and culture are everywhere. Sometimes you need to dig a little, but it's always worth it!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Books & Cookies: Part 3

We just finished another Prime Time Family Reading Time at the kiddies school! You all know how much I love this program. This was our 4th session - and I was hired this session to be a "storyteller," which means I got to read the books :)

Of course, after making treats to go with the books the last two session, I suspect there would be mutiny if I did not keep that up!

The first week I made a sugar cookie bar recipe, with the homemade frosting, and decorated it as a quilt map to resemble to quilt in Sweet Clara and the Freedom quilt. I've gotta say that this recipe is my go-to when I need an easy cookie recipe. It's yummy and way less effort than rolling out sugar cookie shapes.

The second week I broke away from the dessert track I've been in and made cream cheese ball bats for Stellaluna. To make mix 1 block cream cheese with 1 cup shredded cheese and 1 chopped green onion. Roll into little balls and then roll the balls in poppy seeds. You can add green olive eyes, but honestly this was a pain the the behind to get the pimentos in, so next time I may just use black olive eyes. Then add purple/black tortilla chip wings.

The third week we read the book Enemy Pie and I made "dirt" cups. Crushed oreos, chocolate pudding, more crushed oreos and a couple of gummy worms.

For Three Cheers for Catherine the Great I made beet cookies since Catherine has borscht at her birthday celebration. Sadly my original beet cookie recipe is no longer available on-line, but this recipe is pretty close to the original.

The Bat Boy and his Violin required some baseball cookies! I used a sugar cookie recipe that came with my cookie cutters and used the frosting from the bar cookie recipe. At least one person told me this was their favorite cookie so far!

For the last week I made chewy apple cookies to go with Amelia's Road since Amelia's migrant family picks apples throughout the book. Next time I think oatmeal would be a good addition!

This session's theme was Journeys and all the books were great!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sweet Potato Chili Brownies

I ran across a recipe for Paleo Sweet Potato Brownies on Pintrest that looked yummy! But being Paleo, there were some wacky ingredients that even my local Whole Foods didn't have, so I needed to get creative with substitutions. The result turned out good and my picky eater, who I told the ingredients to, loved the brownies made with avocado and sweet potato!

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 cup sweet potato puree
  • ½ cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 4 Medjool dates, pited
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
  • Icing
  • 4 Medjool dates, pited
  • 2 packets (1.15 oz) Justin's chocolate hazelnut butter
  • ¼ cup c0coa powder
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • ½ cup full fat canned coconut milk
  1. Preheat your oven to 375F. Grease a 9” square baking pan.
  2. In the bowl of your food processor or blender, combine avocado, sweet potato puree, unsweetened applesauce, dates and vanilla and process until smooth and creamy. Add cacao powder and again, process until smooth.
  3. Add eggs, one at at time, processing until smooth between each addition.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, add flour, salt, chili powder, and baking soda and stir until well combined then add the mixture from your food processor and mix until smooth.
  5. Add pecans and mix them in.
  6. Transfer to your prepared pan. Spread batter evenly and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out almost clean.
  7. Set brownies on a wire rack to cool for 15-20 minutes then transfer to fridge to cool completely, about an hour.
  8. Prepare the icing by adding all the ingredients to the bowl of your food processor and process until smooth and creamy.
  9. Pour over brownies and spread evenly with a spatula.
  10. Place the brownies in the fridge and chill completely. Cut into squares. Store in the fridge

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


My 2012 New Year's Resolution was pretty epic: to have my family living together by the end of the year (after 2 1/2 years and 1,060 miles apart). Accomplished by July. I was told then that I should always aim high, because if I could pull that off, I could do great things. In 2013 I made the resolution to get one family photo a month. That resolution came after trying to make our Christmas card with sub par photos. That was accomplished and this year the card was much easier!

What about 2014? My main resolution is to find a job that is as awesome as I am. My last job wasn't. I was in a hurry to find a job that would be part time so I could be at home with the kids, but somewhere along the way I came to the conclusion that I had gotten a Masters degree to make copies for people with PhDs. And cruise the internet for 4 hours a day since I could finish my work easily in an hour. Not only do I need more to keep myself stimulated, the world deserves more because I am capable of more. So, now when I look at jobs I remind myself to ask, "Is this an awesome job?" because I don't need to settle. My mini-resolution is not to become dispirited in the search because my last two searches were really depressing. So far I'm doing good and it helps that I have a part-time job subbing and a stipend job with Primetime lined up. Still, if I've learned anything over the last five years, it's that things always work out. Usually not in the way we wanted or planned. BUT sometimes better, sometimes not better and always working out.
January 3, 2014
Celebration In the Oaks
City Park, New Orleans

My second resolution is to keep up with the monthly family pictures!

And my third is to lose a pound a month. With middle-age it seems I have a few pounds that weren't here a few years ago and I'd like my clothes to fit like they used to!