Recent Book Reads, Shows, and Podcast Love!

Happy Weekend! Looking for some good reads? Here’s what I’ve been up to since March…

Reading:

I adore Alice Munro. Such an excellent short story writer.

I’m a Michael Connelly fan. Great structure, kept me reading.

I love love Elizabeth Strout. Her sentences are so gorgeous. This is sad but good.

Watching:

PBS masterpiece, John Adams, Chicago PD, Hart of Dixie (only because of Lemon Breeland!), and currently it’s Amazon’s Vikings. The battle scenes are so violent that I have to constantly close my eyes, but I’m drawn to the culture and the curiosity and clash between paganism and christianity. Also: Lagertha.

Podcast Love:

New York Times, Modern Love, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and KM Weiland’s How to Help Writers Become Authors.

And…that’s all folks! What are you reading, watching, and listening to?

Have a great weekend!

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This is How We Say Good-Bye

So, it’s all very, very good. We’ve had college in mind for 18 years. We’ve saved for it for 18 years. We didn’t really hope she’d live in the basement.

We paid for books, drove her to games and rehearsals, pushed her to work hard. We filled out the applications, did more than stress our minds out, cross our fingers and say our prayers. But geez, this is the deal? She actually LEAVES?

I’m paying for this pit in my stomach?

College.

This picture sits on my desk. This was my baby Cope starting kindergarten, just a little while ago.

I remember her so well at this age. She had a little brother and a baby sister who accompanied her to school. She wore a yellow rain jacket and Elmo backpack. On the first day of kindergarten she came home and threw a ginormous tantrum, collapsing on the couch in a deep sleep from sheer exhaustion. This would continue to happen throughout her childhood 🙂

She lives with passion, this girl.

What a privilege it has been to be her mother. There are no perfect mothers, but I have tried to be a good one. I’ve pondered: Do I regret other “opportunities” I didn’t take so I could be home more and raise children? Do I regret any of the stories read, the bedtime routines, the wake up and go to sleep times? I regret none of it. I have no greater accomplishment.

Suddenly she’s this girl: so confident and smart and compassionate and beautiful.

We had a great August. Slow days of packing and purging and sorting. What to bring to college when you have to put it on an airplane (2 carry-ons per passenger, nothing over 50lbs.)

We also had hostage-like negotiation sessions over clothes – she is always raiding my closet!A certain sister already had her room packed up before Cope left, chomping at the bit to move downstairs instead of across the hall from mom and dad.

Cope and I and flew across the country, hovering above the great Salt Lake. It was getting real.

I was that really strange mom taking photos of my grown daughter while she slept beside me. I found myself gazing at her skin and eyelashes, wondering how this thing called “TIME” works. I thought of Erma Bombeck’s poem, WHY DON’T YOU GROW UP?

Guess what? They do.

Although Utah is a desert, we went hiking and found TREES!

We stayed with my sister and family where Cope walked little Autumn to first grade. On the first day, Autumn cried and clung to Cope. Cope looked at me with big eyes and panic, mouthing, “WHAT DO I DO?”

I said: Give her a hug and kiss, I’ll see you later, and walk away.

Oh dear, I feared I would be Autumn in a few days.

We made it! She has a room key. I don’t. What the heck?

We love her dorm and roommate!

After buying out the entire local Target (when people tell you that bringing your child to college is the most expensive trip you will make – THEY ARE RIGHT. I, the tight-fisted budget mom was suddenly spending her feelings on lamps and hangers and “Honey, look at this llama lamp, do you want it for your room???! No? How about mug with your initial or how about M for Mom? Make-up? Do you want make-up? What can I buy you???”) Who was this woman???

We spent HOURS debating about room decor (Believe me, Pinterest IS NOT YOUR FRIEND). However, after agonizing over the tapestry and bedding for literally DAYS, we had just what she wanted. Bless you, Amazon, and your free Prime 2-Day shipping.

Roommates?!

“Dad, mom knows she’s not staying, right?”

We walked around campus, reliving the college years (Gregor and I met at BYU!) Cope patiently endured us.

 This is a much bigger pond than our little town…

Of course we had to get pictures with the BYU cougar. “Moooooom!” And yes, we are now completely dressed from head to toe in True Blue BYU fan gear. I’m sorry if you find me annoying for the next four years 🙂

On the bright side. The BYU bookstore has the best cinnamon gummy bears IN THE WORLD. This is not a joke. For $2.50 a bag, I’ll just eat her way through college.

On the wall in the bookstore: We went to spy on her the next day at freshman orientation (we didn’t see her). Um, is this what they mean by “helicopter parents”? Clearly, we are part of the problem.

We made up an excuse to meet up for a few minutes before our flight took off. When she came walking across campus she looked like she could be in college. Oh wait…she is?

Final hugs good-bye, in the Joseph Smith building, where Gregor really fell in love with me 🙂

And so it begins.

We left her in the capable hands of mighty Mount Timpanogus, my most favorite mountain. Can you see her lying across the top, left to right? Keep an eye on my girl, Timp.

She will, as this girl does, read. And study. And learn. She will, as BYU’s motto states: “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.”

The Class of 2017. “You Are the Y.”

Excuse me while I go get a tissue. As Gregor says, “this is the happiest sad I think I’ve ever felt.”

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Children’s Author, Jessica Lawson & a Book Giveaway!

Make sure to scroll to the bottom for a book giveaway!

One of my favorite children’s author’s, Jessica Lawson, is visiting Maisymak today with the September 5th release of her fourth book, UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE,  by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. You can add it to your Goodreads account HERE, and see it up on Amazon here.

Isn’t this gorgeous cover art by illustrator, Sonia Kretschmar?

If you haven’t read Jessica’s other books, I highly recommend them! (I especially loved WAITING FOR AUGUSTA, so apropo for the times we live in.) Jessica has an incredible grasp of language and uses such clever turns of phrases – I’ve learned a lot from this girl (she’s also the gal I credit for helping me land my own literary agent, woo hoo!)

Here’s Jess:

SEASONS OF CHANGE

by Jessica Lawson

Thank you, Amy, for having me on your blog! UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE will be released on September 5. For anyone wanting an early peek, I’m giving away one advanced reader copy. I’ll choose a winner from any comments on this post (winner will be chosen on August 28).

Autumn has always been my favorite season—it’s a time of such visible and internal changes as nature glides toward its annual sunset. Leaves burst into brilliant colors, then fade, then fall off. It’s metaphor-city for an author (and a welcome way to work cloves, cinnamon, and pumpkin-flavored anything into a story).

In UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE, my main character Minna Treat is not ready to become a teenager. She’s been raised by her uncle, who has a huge collection of parenting books. Minna’s read all of them, and she’s learned enough about the teen years to be nervous for what’s ahead. Here’s an excerpt from the book as an example:

According to the award-winning book Natural Disasters: Emergency Parenting for the Teen Years, youth and innocence were basically over once age thirteen hit, and I needed to be as self-grounded as possible to anchor myself for the “deluge of tumultuous, volatile changes ahead.” If I didn’t have complete faith and confidence in myself as a person before the clock struck TEENAGER, I’d get swept away by some kind of giant invisible flood.

Between that kind of doomsday talk and the fact that my thirteenth birthday was three months away, I felt like I was on my own personal deadline for finding out exactly who “Minna” was before the very last autumn of my childhood was over.

While I wasn’t as apprehensive about the big 1-3 as Minna is, I definitely had reservations about growing up.

At the beginning of sixth grade, I had just moved to a new state. I knew nobody and was starting middle school. I adored elementary school and mourned its ending. Kindergarten to 5th grade was a 6-year-long season in my life that was golden. Everyone started changing a bit after 5th grade. They started growing up and having new concerns that I didn’t share, and it all sort of broke my heart. I was not ready.

I resisted mainly by being myself. I did not wear trendy clothes. I wore things like solid color sweatpants with different-solid-color sweatshirts. I did not wear makeup. There was no “going with” boys for me like there was for the other girls, nor did I want that. I did not get asked to any dances and was relieved, because dancing in public seemed like something I’d rather not do.

I was incredibly shy. But while I struggled a bit socially, other areas were smooth sailing. I was good at school and good at sports and I liked to read. Those things made all the difference.

I liked my teachers and classes. My report cards were thumbs-up. Though I went on to be a Varsity soccer team starter for all four years of high school, in seventh grade, there was no girls team at my middle school. So I tried out for the boys’ team. I made it. Boys did not like being slide-tackled by a girl. Grades and sports did not win me friends. But they gave me the confidence to continue resisting the pressure to “grow up” in ways that I wasn’t ready to. Plus I was a very Late Bloomer, which gave me a natural resistance. The P-word, Puberty, did not pay me a visit until my senior year of high school. I sometimes wonder if my body was simply waiting until my heart was ready for a change in seasons.

In a way, Minna finds refuge in the advice that parenting books give her—she figures that if she knows what’s ahead, there can’t be any hurt or pain. Not to spoil things, but the parenting books do not prepare Minna for what happens in this book. Like autumn leaves shifting colors from green to red and orange and yellow and brown, change sometimes happens whether we want it to or not. Writing this book was a catharsis for me in that way. You can’t always know what lies ahead, but you can choose who is in the boat with you while you weather any storms and celebrate any sunny skies.

And now that I’ve changed from autumn metaphors to sea travel metaphors, I believe that’s my cue to end this post. Readers, do you have a favorite season of the calendar year, or a favorite season in your life?

In the weeks leading up to Gilbreth, New York’s annual AutumnFest, twelve-year-old woodcraft legacy Minna Treat is struggling with looming deadlines, an uncle trying to hide Very Bad News, and a secret personal quest. When she discovers mysterious bottle messages under one of the village’s 300-year-old bridges, she can’t help but wonder who’s leaving them, what they mean, and, most importantly
could the messages be for her?

Along with best friend Crash and a mystery-loving newcomer full of suspicious theories, Minna is determined to discover whether the bottles are miraculously leading her toward long-lost answers she’s been looking for, or drawing her into a disaster of historic proportions.

Thank you, Jess! I can’t wait to read this.

Dear readers, please leave a comment – do you have a favorite season of the calendar year, or a favorite season in your life?

Could you help an author out? Please help me share this upcoming release by hitting the share buttons on the bottom of this post – Facebook, Twitter, Email, or any other social media button you’d like.

We love supporting local and indie bookstores! (tells you your local independent bookstore based on zip code), Barnes & Noble, Amazon, 

Connect with Jessica on Facebook, Twitter, her website, and blog!

THANK YOU so much. And congratulations, Jessica!

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Pasta Makes Me Tired {and other sad food truths}

Sad, but true.

Pasta makes me very very tired.

I discovered this sad food truth after an unintended break from pasta. One evening, short on ideas for dinner, I had a big plate of spaghetti. Within a half hour I was in a pasta coma on the couch. The revelation hit me hard: wow! pasta makes me very very tired. I began to wonder – what other foods are killing my game?

Why do I always feel like I need a nap at 1? Why am I sluggish all afternoon?

The culprit? Processed foods made with white flour. It’s foods that burn quickly, have close to zero nutritional value, and contain sugar – anything that comes in a package, tube, box, or shiny wrapper.

Darn.

In high school, pasta was the superfood. We ate it daily, carbo-loaded on it before cross-country meets, soccer games, and track meets. Turns out, maybe I could have run faster on vegetables.

Through much trial and error, I know what superfoods work for ME (and I think it varies much for every individual.) I still drink lots of milk, eat yogurt, cheese, beans and lentils, and I’m definitely a carnivore. My body has no problem processing gluten, although guess what else makes me tired? Lots of bread.

Out our the bagels, waffles, pancakes, most cereals, and doughnuts for breakfast. Why? Because I need at nap by 9am! I become so, so tired. Do you ever have that brain foggy feeling after eating these types of food? It’s the sugar and cheap white flour (yes! it’s in all of the above!)

So I have a few food guidelines I try to live by:

  1. Avoid sugar. (It’s in everything packaged and processed.)
  2. Avoid processed food. (Because sugar.)
  3. Eat real food that comes from the ground.
  4. Loads of vegetables at every meal.
  5. That’s it.

Man, when I live by the above rules I feel like a superstar.

Really, I think it’s that simple.

It’s that simple and it’s that hard. I break this rule almost daily. Because…sugar! I love chocolate cake, and well, desserts in general. I love bread, pasta, pancakes, waffles, and doughnuts. But I know I don’t feel well when I eat them.

So, I try to limit treat consumption to one a day, sometime after dinner. Just a little. Not too much.

Moderation, I believe, is overrated. Many, many times, an all or nothing approach works much better for people.

Daughter Cope has proven this very well. She’s been a huge example to the rest of us: No Added Sugar. Period.

When she goes to Five Guys, she has a burger wrapped in lettuce because guess what that delicious bun has in it? SUGAR, of course. When eating at the school cafeteria I can hear her asking politely, “excuse me, does that Asian slaw have sugar in it?” I think she drove them quite mad 🙂

When we have grilled burgers, this is what hers looks like:

 No bun! She doesn’t make exceptions. She doesn’t budge. No Added Sugar. Period.

She’s learned to scrutinize all food labels. She’ll eat bread or english muffins, but only if there are zero sugar grams. This usually means the bread is expensive or homemade. The above is her birthday breakfast: egg mcmuffin and loads and loads of fruit.

Doesn’t fruit have sugar? Yes, but it’s naturally occurring. And, because it’s in its whole form, the fiber makes for slower digestion instead of acting like juice, which hits your bloodstreams the same way a bag of skittles would. So, juice is out. Whole fruits are in.

Some exceptions: pure honey and pure maple syrup. Because those occur naturally!

Cope went hardcore no sugar when she got the part of Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

After a few days without the white stuff she said, “Mom, I feel SO SO GOOD!”

She made the connection for herself. I’M A BELIEVER!

Cope had energy to do her one million school activities, keep up with her school work, and sing her heart out every day at rehearsal. Her skin was clear, her hair shiny. Best of all, she was so  pleasant 🙂 (she’s usually pleasant, but she was EVEN BETTER!) She practically bounced out of bed.

Her eyes sparkled. For real.

She didn’t have time this spring to get much exercise, but guess what happened just from avoiding sugar? She started to lose weight.

Her costume director was ticked as Cope was shedding inches off her waist after her measurements had already been taken. They kept having to take her yellow dress in! “Amy, make the girl drink whole milk! FEED HER FAT! SHE CANNOT LOSE MORE WEIGHT!”

Did you know? I’d take healthy fat over sugar any day of the week. Fat good! Sugar bad.

She looked fabulous:

Graduation. Off sugar: she totally glowed.

So. What to eat or drink for breakfast? Eggs and smoothies (mostly greens!). We feel totally wicked and have loads of morning energy!

What we’re eating for dinner all summer? Tons and tons of grilled vegetables (and usually a protein on the side like chicken, fish, or beef.)

Did you know vegetables are carbohydrates? They are our first energy source.

Don’t think you like brussel sprouts? Try THIS RECIPE NOW!

But Amy, don’t you need summer treats like ice-cream? Need? No. Want? Oh yes, believe me, we sure do. I still partake. But after being off sugar for three months, Cope had this cone and felt “so sick. I wish I hadn’t done that.” After a few weeks of withdrawal, she didn’t crave it or want it.

She eats all-natural peanut butter, tons of lettuce wraps, hummus, rice, and beans. When she needs a treat she makes this fabulous banana cocoa concoction – I’ll post!

What to pack for lunches? I still get caught in the trap of Goldfish and crackers because of convenience, but with a little planning, we can send the darlings off into the world armed with nutrition that will actually help their brains and muscles instead of putting them at a disadvantage.

One of my students used to drink a caffeinated Monster drink every morning for breakfast. He said he felt pretty good until 10 o’clock a.m. Then what? Then he went and bought another Monster or 5-Hour Energy Drink to get him to lunch time. He was just sugaring it out until collapsing from fatigue, which happened on a daily basis. Believe me, conversations were had!

The whole family has taken note from sister Cope. Every few weeks Paige goes sugar-free. And she gets fiesty about it. When repeatedly pressured to eat cookies and cupcakes on a field trip one day, she finally yelled, “You’re all going to get diabetes and DIE!”

Oh my.

But you know…cancer, obesity, diabetes, ADD, autoimmune diseases are all on the rise. Scientists are convinced that our food is largely to blame. For the first time in history, the life expectancy has dropped. In America, the land of PLENTY.

Food can be our medicine or our poison.

Let’s also get to the WHY. We don’t have scales in our home. It’s not all about weight. The reason to eat better is because of the WAY WE FEEL. Good, wholesome food makes us FEEL better. We get sick less. We have more energy to go to school, play, work, run fast, think, kick soccer balls, BE A REVOLUTION!

And yeah, it also makes us look better (which means more to teens than “you’re going to die a slow death in fifty years….”)

Skin literally glows, acne clears up (the biggest motivator for my teens). We are less moody, grumpy, and snappish. Our brains and hearts and muscles and bones are shouting THANK YOU DEAR PERSON FOR TAKING SUCH GOOD CARE OF ME!

I’m not always the best  or perfect example. I still eat too many treats, but I’m more conscious about what I buy and what I put in my mouth because I’ve recognized the connection between food and feeling. When our kids start making that connection, too, it’s pretty cool. You can inspire them, and they can motivate you.

As Habits guru, Gretchen Rubin tells us: we need accountability buddies and we need the strategy of convenience.

Simple Food Rules:

  1. Avoid sugar
  2. Avoid processed food
  3. Eat real food that comes from the ground.
  4. Loads of vegetables at every meal.
  5. That’s all.

We’ve got ONE body in this lifetime. It’s a miraculous gift. What are we going to put in it?

Chime in! Thoughts? What food truths have you discovered? What are you eating?

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Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler {delish!}

Only recently have I discovered the heavenly combination of strawberries and rhubarb. Oh my! Now I’m making up for lost time, using this family favorite peach cobbler recipe.Rhubarb’s tart and texture married with the sweet juicy strawberry…you’ve got to try this!

Last summer my friend, Tamar, gave me a tiny, and very special rhubarb plant. I stuck it in the ground and watched it grow into an enormous plant. And even better – I keep cutting stalks and they keep growing back! (Just for fun, have your kids take a bite out of the stalk…hehehe…but not the leaves!)Not to worry if you missed June’s strawberry season; this cobbluh’ was made with frozen picks from last month. It’s just as good as freshly picked! With only six simple ingredients, you can whip this up in a snap.  Bake for about an hour     Mmmm… Top with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream. Or eat it right out of the baking dish. YUM.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Cup (1 stick) of Butter
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 Cup Self-Rising Flour
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 1 Cup Raw Rhubarb (chopped)
  • 1 Cup Strawberries

Directions:

Melt butter in microwave. 

In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar, flour, and milk together. Whisk in cooled butter. Pour batter in greased pie dish. Drop cut rhubarb and strawberries into batter.

Bake at 350 for 1 hour, or until golden brown.

Happy summer!

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Finding Anne Shirley {at Prince Edward Island!}

If you haven’t read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, run to the nearest library right now – it’s a childhood classic!

Then, watch the 1984 masterpiece with Megan Follows as Anne. We all adore it – even The Professor.

For Cope’s 18th birthday we decided to take a spontaneous trip to find Anne Shirley of Prince Edward Island, a mere 10-hour journey north to Canada.

Make sure to fill every seat in the car, and wedge yourself in the back while your son practices his driving skills – it’s a real hoot! Headed north! Should we attempt Nova Scotia, as well? Make sure to have those passports readyThe 8-mile bridge across the water, from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island. We settled into a tiny little cottage a mile from the water. Wedged together and happy at all times 🙂 The sand is soft and red (like Anne’s hair!) Beautiful coast  In July, Prince Edward Island is loaded with jellyfishPaige and I got stung! It felt like a bee sting.In anticipation of finding Anne, we watched the fabulous show and played a rousing game of cards.  On July 8th, our sweet baby Cope turned 18. (Still in shock and denial.)Look! Bosom friends Diana Barry and Anne Shirley. Millions of fans visit Prince Edward Island in the hopes of finding the setting for L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables; it’s now a national park! It wasn’t crowded, but how interesting to see people from China and other countries loving Anne as much as we do.Inside the home of the real-life Green Gables, where L.M. Montgomery’s aunt and uncle lived, and the inspiration for the novels. Make sure to dress up And wear romantic hairstylesThe typewriter L.M. Montgomery used – can you imagine???

  Could this be the bridge that inspired those fabulous Anne and Gilbert scenes?

Prince Edward Island is similar to New Hampshire – but with longer winters (yikes!) The red earth grows many potatoes And lots of red hair Before leaving, make sure to find PEI’s Cows Ice-Cream, it’s mighty tasty! Alas, it was time to cross back over the other side…with another adult! We decided we would save Nova Scotia for another trip. But someday we will sail the six hours from Portland, Maine to Nova Scotia – dreamy! We crossed back onto American soil and spent the night in Bangor, Maine …where we discovered the home of Stephen King. After feasting on L.M. Montgomery, it was only fitting to visit King’s abode, don’t you think? I have a particular fascination with authors!We made a quick stop in Portland, Maine, to eat pizza by the water. Three hours later we were home sweet home after a whirlwind of a weekend.

Thinking of finding Anne Shirley? I highly recommend it!

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

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Weekly Encouragement: There Will Be an Answer, Let it Be

“Paul McCartney’s mother was a profound and calming influence in his life.

She passed away when he was only 14 years old.

Years later, in one of his darkest hours, she appeared to him in a dream. Offering wisdom only a mother could give, she said, ‘Paul…let it be.'”

And Paul wrote that famous song.

In the past few weeks I’ve repeated these words to myself, countless times. When we just don’t have the answers, it’s good to remember that someday…There Will Be an Answer, Let it Be.

And I love this Beatles cover by Gentri.

Happy Monday!

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Chocolate Fudge “Blackout” Cake (a new favorite!)

Did you know? The most popular summer recipe is CAKE. I find this surprising…over ice-cream? Unless we’re talking this cake recipe. Then I totally get it.

I rarely create an original recipe, I taste-test. King Arthur Flour made this one, the Chocolate Fudge “Blackout” Cake. As a devoted cake mix girl, it takes a lot for me to consider making a cake from scratch – especially one with three layers of different chocolate.

This one? Oh my heavens. It made me look real good.

Summer epiphany: when you’re actually home and demanding a SLOW summer, you have time to make a cake! And while time is still a precious commodity, some cakes demand to be made. THIS ONE.

Upon taking a bite, my husband, the critic of all food critics, pretty much melted into a puddle onto the floor. I’ll be making it again.

And with strawberries just coming into season, they are the perfect addition to this lusciousness.

King Arthur didn’t have strawberries in the original recipe – that’s my contribution. We like it! Also, I eliminated the optional espresso powder b/c I didn’t have it – still good! Would you like a bite? I suggest making the three different chocolates (not hard) the day before and assembling the day of – then you can relax and enjoy the cake of your labor…

Hurry up now! Before you lose your nerve…make this cake!

Chocolate Fudge “Blackout” Cake

FILLING

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

CAKE

ICING

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

Instructions

  1. To make the filling: Place the chocolate chips, salt, and sugar in a blender or food processor and pulse until finely ground.
  2. Add the egg and pulse just until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Heat the cream to just below a boil, with small bubbles forming around the edge of the saucepan (or microwave-safe bowl).
  4. Turn on the blender or processor, and slowly add the cream. Scrape down the sides of the container if necessary. Add the vanilla and pulse to blend.
  5. Pour the pudding into a shallow bowl, and refrigerate it until chilled and thickened, 2 hours to overnight. I found that overnight works best. Still not setting? Stir in gelatin.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 8″ x 2″ round cake pans. Line them with 8″ parchment circles, if desired, and grease the parchment; this step will ensure your cake’s crumble-free turnout from the pan.
  7. To make the cake: Whisk together the dry ingredients.
  8. Add the eggs, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl.
  9. Stir in the water; the batter will be thin.
  10. Pour the batter into the two prepared pans.
  11. Bake the cakes for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  12. Remove the cakes from the oven. Cool them for 15 minutes, then turn them out of the pans to cool completely on a rack.
  13. To make the icing: Combine the cream and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl or in a saucepan. Heat until the cream is steaming and showing small bubbles around the edge.
  14. Remove the chocolate/cream from the microwave or burner, and stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture becomes completely smooth, with no lighter areas remaining visible.
  15. Refrigerate the icing for 30 minutes (I went longer). Beat the chilled icing briefly, until it thickens a bit and becomes spreadable.
  16. To assemble the cake: Cut the domed tops off both cake layers; these will become your crumb coating.
  17. Place one layer on a serving plate. For best presentation, lay strips of parchment around the edge of the plate before laying the cake on top; these will catch the inevitable icing drips, and can be removed once you’re done icing the cake.
  18. Top the cake with the filling, spreading it evenly to the edges.
  19. Center the second layer of cake atop the filling.
  20. Spread the icing over the top and onto the sides of the cake.
  21. Crumble the reserved cake, and gently press it onto the top and sides of the assembled cake.
  22. Serve immediately, or within a couple of hours. For longer storage, refrigerate. This cake is best served the same day it’s made, or within 24 hours. Freeze, well-wrapped, for longer storage. You may also choose to freeze individual slices — for those times when you HAVE to have a piece of chocolate cake!

Enjoy!

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A Really S-L-O-W Summer

I’m feeling something I haven’t felt in years: the huge relief of a slow, summer day. Honestly, it makes me a bit weepy.

At the moment, my two older kids are traveling (England) and working (grounds maintenance) and the younger two are in school until June 23rd (have to admit…it’s lovely quiet!) Graduation has occurred, the class I teach is finished, and I’m feeling a lightness while taking deep breaths. And there’s that weepy thing.

This summer is needfully slow.

Two years ago we were gearing up for Europe, It was a most wonderful experience but not exactly relaxing.

Last year at this time I was sitting at my desk when my husband came home and said, “I got a phone call – want to come to the hospital with me?” We had no idea how serious it was. In fact I was a bit annoyed to be interrupted from working, to waste a trip to the hospital because surely Heather was fine and would not like all this fuss.

But Heather died. And two weeks later, Cassie left us.

It was not the summer we were expecting. I didn’t really get to my “Design Your Summer:”

Last year’s plan that went awry

You know, so much happens in a year. Life changes very very quickly. “The best laid plans of mice and men…”

Two homes were combined. We sold a gazillion things. We acquired stuff that holds a lot of years and memories. Dearest Arthur (my most wonderful father-in-law) came to live with us. My study became his room. Nelson’s room became my study. The awful basement became – a livable gathering place – and yes, Nelson has a room!

The basement last August. Nelson and Cope slept in random places for three months.

It’s been a hard year emotionally, but we did more than survive. We are good. We are doing really well (and hallelujah it’s behind us.)

And now it’s truly summer.

Because I am taking our Cope out to college in late August we are not taking our usual western trek across the United States. My children, Brynne and Paige especially, are salty about this, quite aghast, fearing I’ll make them do nothing but clean(!)

Besides one week of camp for Brynne and Nelson, we don’t have any other camps or lessons on the schedule. We have two shorter family trips planned: an ocean excursion and Acadia/Prince Edward Island.

I have goals (well, of course I do) that include:

Home and Yard:

Purge the house. The excitement I feel rivals my love of hair products. Yes, it’s that deep. I have a notebook with many notes. I’ve heard of the “40 bags in 40 days challenge” and might try that. I also have projects that need much attention like a huge garage clean-out. This year I’ve decided to pay the kids to help with huge jobs like this. Win-Win.

Yard: Tree trimming and weeding. The garden was a sad, neglected mess last summer. This summer the tomatoes are in and the peas, carrots, and lettuce is growing. Bliss. 

Reading and Writing:

Reading: I have a stack of books on the bedside table. Yea! At the moment: THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd (love it) and next up: HOURGLASS by Dani Shapiro (can’t wait!) For the girls: an hour of reading everyday – they like this plan! Maybe some math facts thrown in.

Writing: I’m working on a new novel and vow to have my really crappy first draft done by June 23rd, the last day of school! I work on it for a minimum of two hours of day, setting my buzzer and doing it as early in the day as possible. First drafts are the worst (for me, anyway). Plow through the self-doubt. Get the words on the page!

Exercise:

I feel so much better when I take care of myself (duh). Luckily, I have running and soccer buddies who make me move. Today, Maryn got me out for 5 a.m. intervals (horror!) while the sun was just coming up and guess what? Fabulous. Done by 6. Nap at 1 🙂 Lovely! Also, my upper body is getting soft and flabby. I’ve got a little routine I need to get back at.

Running! Need shoe ideas? I’ve got them 🙂

Soccer with my peeps!

Also planned: a short, daily soccer training plan for Brynne and Paige and daily excursions to our local lake. 

Trip Tuesday:

Really it’s just me, Brynne, and Paige, which is more manageable to think about. Kindof stinks to grow up and have to work. So before that happens they are going to play mini-golf with me. Or hike mountains, or pick strawberries and blueberries, or see things in New Hampshire we’ve never seen.

I plan on making a daily list for the girls that I can laminate next to their beds that includes: scriptures, prayer, make bed, ukulele or piano, tidy room, exercise, reading, summer chore. When it’s done, it’s free time! This will likely include dressing up in heels and a costume to frolick the yard with Tenny (dog), a little show to watch, and LOTS of cousin time (because the cousins are MOVING HERE!) This shall be followed by mandatory eating of lots of watermelon.

Summer Meal Planning:

One cannot eat cereal for every meal. Or maybe we can…the meal plan is something I’ve got to get a handle on. Ideas?

Of course, as slow as I want it, the days are still busy with chores and cooking and driving kids here and there, like driver’s ed three days a week for Nelson and driving him to work every morning at 6:50. There will be orthodontist and dental appointments, and a family reunion, BUT this summer feels different than last (because IT IS different!) and it’s a glorious thing.

Yes, much changes in a year. It changes over the years, too. It used to be I was actively seeking for THINGS TO DO! What could keep my kids busy? Because being in the house all day with four kids was long and torturous – they got bored, hot, cranky, and were prone to annoy me and each other. I did not feel the same glee as I do today.

But it’s a new stage of life and today it’s SLOW and wonderful.

What about you? Summer plans?

Yahoo! Happy summer to you!

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Top Ten: What I’m Loving Right Now

1. This Revlon blow dryer. It’s not hyperbole to say it’s changed by frustratingly-unruly hair life. I LOVE It. So fast and no frizz!

2. This root spray. The best part is watching Gregor’s face as I spray-paint my head. What are you doing? Found at Target (of course it was).

3. Garnier BB Cream. I’ve blogged about this before, but our relationship is going strong. With a hint of color and coverage, I ADORE this product. (Target)

4. Good quality Gardening Gloves and Mud Boots. It’s a real gardening game changer to have gloves and boots that fit and don’t give you blisters. Pay a little more and you’ll enjoy your chores more. Found in local stores & online!

5. Blister Gel Guard Band-Aids. Wow. For two kids who had bad blisters this week, these were fantastic! A boy could work all week and a girl could hike a mountain with me. Awesome product. Found everywhere! 

6. The Bullet Journal. For years I’ve been a wee bit obsessed with finding the perfect calendar system. Clearly I have problems. I’ve slowly started the bullet system, ignoring the multitude of bullet journal talent out there. Nina gives some good tutorials and is metaphorically holding my hand through this trying time.

My calendar is not a “true” bullet journal as I’m using a regular notebook – but that’s the beauty of the system! You can use whatever you want with whatever notebook and pens you like. (I also have a pen problem.)

Boho Berry and her bullet journal obsession inspires and intimidates (see below). But the bullet journal is YOUR journal. Do it your way.

7. Watercolor paper. Brynne and I have had so much fun on Sunday mornings. We pull pictures off the internet and magazines to paint. Putting a drop of water on paper, followed by a drop of paint and watching it spread…so beautiful! I’m into birds these days. Clearly, you don’t have to be an expert, just paint!

It’s been especially fun to paint and send cards

8. Shutterfly puzzles and scrapbook. I’m just tickled pink at the possibilities! This one was free, minus shipping with one of their many weekend deals.

9. Seed and Sky. I’m obsessed. These necklaces are etsy hand-painted by a gal who grew up in my little New Hampshire town. They make a great graduation, birthday, or anytime gift. My aunt has the nest (my fave!), Brynne has the fox, Cope has the compass locket. I’m drooling over the hummingbird, the bunny, the succulents! I want all. Follow on Instagram for deals!

10. Skillshare. Want to learn a skill? Like painting or watercolor or or calligraphy or design or lettering or like, anything? Try it free for two months! My current favorite is teacher Louise De Masi who is teaching me and Brynne how to paint this fox:

Well, that was fun to share. What about you? Any favorite anythings?

 

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