My Favorite Reads of the Year

2014 was the year where I shifted the bulk of my reading material from print to web. I refuse to give up a physical book for an e-reader. Holding a book and a cup of tea is a magical combination that I refuse to give up. My husband and I are probably the only people in our town who still get a physical newspaper delivered to our home. But we are old school, and an important part of our morning routine is sending the dog outside to fetch the Wall Street Journal. We read the major headlines while enjoying our morning tea. And, we save the Friday and weekend op-ed pieces to read and debate over a long afternoon tea (Holy cow, we drink a ton of tea!).

Aside from those two forms of printed literature, 2014 has marked a significant shift for my reading habits. All of the good writers with poignant and interesting things to say aren’t just published in print anymore. I certainly love my Wall Street Journal in print form and won’t stop visiting local bookshops that sell books the good-old fashioned way, but online publishers, blogs, and websites are full of great reads too! I have started doing a significant amount of reading online. I love that I can gain easy exposure to various viewpoints and see what others are recommending.

So my friends, of all the things I read in 2014, here are some of the standout pieces…

Blog Posts:

“No Apology” – Mehreen Kasana, BlogHer.com Publishing Network

Let me make it clear to anyone expecting an apology from me: There is none. I will apologize for ISIS when every single American apologizes for the production of the War on Terror that, like the brilliant Iraqi poet Sinan Antoon says, is the production of more terror and thus, endless war. I will apologize for ISIS when every single white American apologizes for the mass incarceration of black and brown people in the United States…

“In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism” – Sarah Bessey, sarahbessey.com

Why I Love Adoption”    – Jillian Lauren, www.jillianlauren.com

I am both an adult adoptee and an adoptive mother to a beautiful firebrand of a 6-year-old boy from Ethiopia. I love adoption. I love the whole messy, rich, textured, complex world it has given me. I do not love it because it is one long Disney happy ending. Rather, I love it for the way its struggles have defined my life and made me strong. I love it for the fascinating, crazy quilt of a family it has stitched together for me.

“How to Adopt a Kid without Signing Papers” – A Pleasant House, BlogHer.com Publishing Network

Articles:

“Democracy Requires a Patriotic Education” – Donald Kagan, The Wall Street Journal

“7 years a Gentile” – Bethany Bassett, A Deeper Story

“Was Iraq worth it? It was for me” – Brian M. Welke, The Wall Street Journal

Books:

Aboke Girls: Children Abducted in Northern Uganda by Els De Temmerman

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Callahan 2015, here we come!  I am excited to see what good reads you will reveal!

Detox Green Smoothie Recipes

There is one good thing about making smoothies. Every time someone asks me what I’m making I chuckle inside thinking about the scene from the What happens in Vegas trailer, the scene where the girl (played by Cameron Diaz) tries to annoy her accidental husband into divorcing her. And a blender at 6am will do just the trick as she yells “Smoooooooothies!” to her new hubby.

I am not a juicing or smoothies-two-meals-a-day-everyday kind of girl. That is one intense lifestyle that I will leave to celebrities. For one thing, unless you have found a way to carry a juicer with your everywhere or want to stick the kale juice you pressed that morning in the fridge at work (don’t worry, I don’t think anyone will be stealing it), have you ever bought a hearty juice from a juice bar? If so, then you know what I’m talking about as you walk down the street sipping your $15 carrot apple ginger juice. Way too spendy! And secondly, call me crazy, but I like to eat real food way too much. Luckily, I still love things like quinoa, salads, vegetables, raw nuts, plain yogurt, and fruit. I don’t go too crazy all that often, but a liquid only diet for two meals a day makes me thing of feeding a teething baby or recovering from major surgery. And just an FYI, neither of those labels applies to myself.

But planning an occasional detoxification of my body with smoothies and juice for a small handful of days? I can handle that. In fact, I am excited to kick off the New Year by taking care of my body and feeling great!

My Detox rules:

  • Three meals a day of smoothies and juices made only with organic vegetables, juices (no sugar added), fruits, a handful of raw nuts, and most importantly leafy greens (yes, technically that is a vegetable).
  • Aside from these “meals,” I will only drink water and green tea.
  • Stick with it for 2-3 days

Ok, now to the good stuff! I have given most of these a spin, and have to say that they are pretty tasty. Here are some of the tasty concoctions I will be whipping up for a couple days starting on New Year’s Day.

Detox Smoothie from ZoomYummy.com

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Clear Skin Spinach Smoothie from PopSugar Fitness

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Detox Green Smoothie from TheGlitterGuide.com 

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Green Smoothie that Beats any Cleanse from MindBodyGreen.com

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Detox Green Apple Smoothie from PinchofYum.com

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Or make your own concoctions by following this simple formula as your guide….

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Holiday detox, anyone?

Around here the holidays equate to a lot of food. A. Lot. Of. Food. After multiple parties, various requested baked goods (from Tim), tons of leftovers, and the candy in our stockings, we are on sugar and junk overload.

Just to give you an idea…..

Christmas eve dinner we went out for Chinese. My husband picked one of the few places open and made us reservations.   Oh man, this place is classssssy! I’m pretty sure that it doubles as a used car lot during daylight hours. Tim and I went with my brother Dominic and Dominic’s girlfriend. We each decided to pick a dish and share family style. Everyone else laid claim to selecting all of the usual suspects – a chicken dish, a noodle dish, etc… – so when I suggested that I pick our vegetable dish, they all shot daggers out of their eyes in my direction. Whoops. Ok, deep-fried Chinese-esque prawns it is.

On Christmas, our day started off innocently enough.  Tim and I enjoyed a cup of tea at home after exchanging stockings.  Then things got messy. We headed to my parents’ where we ate cinnamon rolls slathered in cream cheese frosting, bacon (I hate bacon, so I didn’t indulge here), and strawberries.  Already full.  Then it was off to Christmas with Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, etc. and more food: Prime rib with all the fixings. Somewhere in the middle of the appetizers (which were amazing by the way!), my stomach was stuffed to the brim. By the time we got to the main course, I took a spoon full of each to taste, but oh my goodness. So. Full. After a plate full of creamy Au Gratin Potatoes, broccoli casserole, green bean casserole, homemade rolls, and salad, I would normally be in food-coma induced heaven. But that day, I was hurting!

Even though I was the person who brought dessert, we left before it was served. Stomach bursting. Waddling to front door.  I didn’t make it out of the door before my cousin asked me if I had tried the cookies she brought and how I “have to try them!” I coerced Tim into splitting one with me. They were good, I won’t lie, but my stomach can only stretch so far.  The whole rest of the night, I felt awful!  I woke up the next morning still feeling awful.  I’m pretty sure that aside from a few bites of spinach salad and a couple of strawberries everything I ate on Christmas was either a bread product, cheese, or drenched in some sort of cream sauce.

Time to detox. Kale, apple, ginger smoothie, anyone?

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I did a half day detox cleanse with smoothies full of lots of leafy greens. So I did my first two meals of the day in the form of big smoothies full of fruit and veggie goodness, but cooked a traditional dinner for the hubby’s sake – even though our dinner was fairly healthy (baked salmon with herbed quinoa and roasted brussel sprouts, in case you were curious).

With so many leftovers and junk laying around the house and a few more holiday events left to attend, I am planning a 3 day detox for the tail end of this week – after all of the holiday festivities!

Keep your eyes out tomorrow for the delicious detox smoothie recipes that I will be using to help my body recover. Consider joining in the green smoothie fun for a meal or even a day or two. You will feel soooo much better! Pinky promise.

Merry Christmas

Today is Christmas Eve.

In our house, the daylight hours are filled with family, food, wrapping paper, and Christmas logistics (How exactly do you wrap a bench?). I love the anticipation and preparations. I am usually baking something for Christmas day, taking care of last minute wrapping and errands, cleaning house, etc.

Despite the chaos, Christmas Eve is historically my favorite day of the year. The day always seems to go too quickly. It is a whirlwind of preparations and excited energy.

Before I know it, the daylight is drawing to a close, and its time to get ready for the evening’s festivities. Going out for Chinese food is a tradition my husband and I started during our first year of marriage, and it has become our annual Christmas Eve ritual.

The restaurants are always packed, and the meal always takes longer than normal. Although that may sound like a complaint, for us, it is part of the fun. We love eating in a crowded restaurant alongside other families who are participating in their own Christmas Eve traditions.

After the meal, we waddle our full bellies out of the restaurant and off to church. We get there early to snag seats, because it, too, is always crowded. I love seeing the little ones in their glittery, big bowed Christmas dresses and patent leather Mary Janes.

After a few moments of settling in, the pianist plays instrumental Christmas carols and the hustle and bustle of the day melt away. I catch my breath and take in the dimly lit church and the familiar music (Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…). Everything else from the day begins to fade, and my focus calms.

After weeks of Advent, Advent wreaths, and daily Advent devotions, in an attempt to prepare my heart for this very day, somehow amidst the chaos of the season I never feel like I quite get there.

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And then, finally, when the flame is passed and my candle is lit, the calm of the room becomes nearly palpable. Every year, it is that moment more than any other, when the true gift that we were given on Christmas becomes real. As my eyes focus on my lit candle, my heart’s anticipation for this moment is realized.  And, I soak it in.

The gift of Christmas is here once again.  Joy to the World.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Last Minute Homemade Gift Ideas

I had to run into Costco to grab one measly item and it was a zoo! I stopped on my way home from work and had to trudge across the entire parking lot in my most uncomfortable heels. Because people are crazy this time of year, my resolve for the rest of the holiday season: avoid shopping at allll costs. If that means I am giving homemade gifts to anyone on my list that may have slipped my mind, then so be it! Here are a few super simple last minute HOMEMADE gift ideas from around the web! (Click the link below each photo to access the item’s “How-To.”) Starburst Mirror (Because all items can be found at the Dollar Store!) Lace Doilies Votives (Because doilies aren’t just for grannies) Mini Succulent or Cactus Garden (Because even I can keep succulents alive) Upcycled Gilded Honey Bear Vase (Because recycling is cool and honey bears are cute) Glitter Slime (Because I challenge you to name a kid who doesn’t like slime) Sock Monkey (Because the classics are here to stay) A pretty jar full of memories (Because thoughtful gifts are the best) Glittery Gold Vases (Because glitter makes everything better) And there are always baked treats!  I love receiving tins or a box of cookies or homemade candies  It makes me feel like a professional food sampler, which if it were a real job, would be aaaamazing! After the holiday, I will share some of the handmade gifts that we gave this year. Happy gifting!

Pretty, recycled paper alternatives for wrapping holiday gifts

Now that you have shopped, its time to wrap those gifts…  Here are some cute alternatives to the usual printed paper.

And, honestly, who wouldn’t want to unwrap a gift that looks like one of these?!  (Scrooge maybe?)

The Enchanted Home
Artifact Uprising
Cosmo Cricket
Cozy Cottage Cute
Cozy Cottage Cute
Project Wedding
Moxie Fab World
Thrifty and Chic
Etsy

My thoughts on “Healthy” Candy and a recipe for “Truffles”

Love truffles?  Love super easy to make treats?  I am imagining that there were resounding “yesses” to those questions.  OK, good.  Now where do you stand on alternative sources of sugar in your candy?  For example, what if your truffles’ only source of sweetness was from well blended dates – which is also the only thing holding the truffles into their shape?  Would you still hop aboard the “healthy” truffle wagon? I ran across this recipe for Inner Goddess Chocolate Truffles from Pinch of Yum.  To make a very large understatement: I was skeptical.  I certainly love the idea of cutting down on refined sugar – especially in a season filled with a plethora of delicious sugary treats, but I do not love it when healthy foods masquerade as my favorite treats.  I am always disappointed when I bite into a “healthier” version.  Although I may nod and coffer a forced “yum,” the inner dialogue running through my head goes very differently.  Why yes, I can tell that this pumpkin bread is made with whole wheat flour and only sweetened with apple sauce.  It is bland and dense as a brick. So I will not lie and tell you that these are going to be the most decadent truffles on the planet.  They are made of all raw, whole ingredients and without any added sugar.  They are however the easiest and least messy recipe that resembles a chocolate truffle.  There is no melting or dipping of chocolate.  No ganache centers to temper.  This recipe uses just one machine: a food processor.  Simplicity and I are friends!  Good friends.

Inner Goddess Chocolate Truffles (Photo from PinchofYum.com)

Pop on over to the Pinch of Yum food blog, for the complete recipe.  These are yummy and naturally sweet, even if they aren’t really truffles. Which brings me to my second order of business: “Healthy” Candy…  When did this become a thing? When I make the conscious decision to eat a truffle, piece of candy, toffee, caramel, fudge, or a giant cookie, I am not under the impression that I am making a healthy choice.  I am expecting it to be a yummy, sweet treat that I enjoy in moderation only.  I don’t expect to be able to substitute them for hearty protein, whole grain, or broccoli.  I know that I still need to eat salad, steamed veggies, and quinoa. Since when did we need to transform treats into healthier versions?  They are never as delicious as the originals and usually just as much work.  I refuse to give up on treats full of chocolate, butter, and other delicious ingredients. My advice is to eat your veggies and still enjoy your favorite treats in moderation.