Sunday Salon … Reading Elf

That’s a photo of one of my favorite ornaments on our tree and among the oldest. I remember receiving it as a child — I’m thinking it was a gift from my grandparents, because it’s the sort of thing my Mom-Mom would have bought me as a kid — but I can’t remember how old I was. Maybe 10? Anyway, I love it. We decorated the tree on Wednesday (I had a vacation day from work).

It’s been a lazy weekend, which is fine with me. Other than grocery shopping, I haven’t done much of anything. The Girl and I had plans to go to the art museum and a craft fair yesterday, but I just needed a quiet day. I planned our meals for the week and prepped some chicken tenders for the kids’ dinners — that’s about it.

We have a mere dusting of snow outside, but nothing compared to what others have gotten. I’m planning to be a reading elf today. I need to write a review of a book I think is going to be a huge hit early next year (can’t say much about it yet) and I have to spend some time with another book for an author interview I’m doing on Tuesday. It’s a nice feeling to be heading into 2018 with several freelance assignments on tap.

This week’s reading included Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden which was everything I expected it to be — heartfelt, sad, real and honest. I’m planning a full review here on the blog soon, but one takeaway I had from this is while Promise Me, Dad is a memoir about a father’s (and a family’s) grief, first and foremost, it’s also a poignant and sobering reminder about how much we have lost as a country. While his son Beau was in treatment for aggressive glioblastoma, Joe was negotiating and managing world events in the Ukraine and Iraq. His recounting of those situations is like reading a national security brief. The depth of knowledge and understanding about the most volatile and complex regions, the familiarity and trust with global leaders … in a week that included the POSOTUS’s actions in regard to Jerusalem, it just underscores what should be apparent to any rational individual — that these fragile unprecedented times in which we live are being made even more so by the callousness and ignorance of the current regime.

And no, Joe Biden isn’t the author interview I have scheduled on Tuesday — how I wish! — but if I was so lucky, I know I’d be all full on Leslie Knope.

I could watch that Parks and Rec clip on a loop.  I love it.

Hope your Sunday is going well.

This Is How We Read (#AMonthOfFaves)

December tends to be a reflective month for many people, myself included. This year, I’m going to try and keep my blogging momentum going (thank you, #NaBloPoMo and Nonfiction November!)  by participating in the 4th annual #AMonthofFaves hosted by GirlxoxoTraveling with T and Estella’s Revenge. It’s a fun way to recap the year that was. Yes, a significant chunk of 2017 deserves to be drop-kicked to the curb, but despite such, there was some good stuff worth remembering. We’ll be posting about them each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of December — or, you know, anytime.

Today’s #AMonthofFaves is about our year in reading, a topic I usually wait until the first week in January to talk about for various reasons. I’m of the belief that it’s entirely possible for one to read one’s favorite book of the year on December 31. Consider this, then, a prologue of sorts to my annual year-end reading recap.

To date I’ve read 45 books, exceeding my 2016 total by two, a nice accomplishment. My goal is at least 50 — definitely doable. December is usually a plentiful reading month for me, given that I often have an abundance of vacation days to use up (which, thankfully, is the case this year).  More than half (27) were review books. Fiction consisted of 20 books; 21 were nonfiction. Only 9 were memoirs (would have thought that would have been higher); 3 were poetry collections and (in what might be a first) I read only one short story collection. The majority of my reading was print books, with 11 on audio.

Hints about my favorite book: it’s fiction, it was a book I reviewed for Shelf Awareness, I’ve never read the author before and I’ve written about it in previous posts. Oh — and this will give it away, for sure — it has the worst cover. I hate it. Seriously, the cover is awful, which is a goddamn shame because I haven’t seen this book discussed too much and I can’t help but think that’s one of the reasons why. It should be at the top of everyone’s best books list.

One thing that stands out to me is how much the current political and cultural climate has affected my reading this year — Ta-Nahisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power, Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions as well as Hope in the Dark are just a few titles that helped me keep some semblance of perspective and calm during what has been a tumultuous, emotional and unprecedented year. And assuming the slim possibility that the POSOTUS doesn’t get us all killed with his apparent lust for war and his obvious lovefest with Russia, “resistance reading” is likely to be a predominant theme of mine for as long as this regime is in power — so much so that I’m even contemplating hosting a “Reading the Resistance” challenge for 2018.

Here’s my first potential member, my cat Douglas, reading You’re More Powerful Than You Think by Eric Liu and writing to her elected representatives from the comfort of one of my typical reading spots, an old (broken in places) chair that used to belong to my grandparents.

 

NaBloPoMo Recap

And here it is, the last day of #NaBloPoMo! We made it, my blogging friends.

I think this is the first year where I’ve blogged every single day of November. There were certainly quite a few days when I didn’t feel like writing (I was dealing with a bad cold for more than two weeks) or was drawing a blank about what to write about. In those cases, I dusted off a post that had been lingering in Drafts. At first I felt guilty about doing so, but I usually did some editing or updating to it, so it definitely counts.

There were some positive aspects as well as some challenges with NaBloPoMo 2017.

The Challenges

One of my goals for NaBloPoMo was to reduce the number of posts in Drafts. Alas, that didn’t happen as much as I’d hoped because I currently have 235 such posts. That’s exactly one less than I started with on November 1.

Before NaBloPoMo, I had been doing well with my self-imposed rule of logging off the computer by 9 p.m. and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. That went out the window this month in exchange for staying up late and working on a post. I miss reading in bed before going to sleep; it’s such a nice little ritual (even if I only read one paragraph before falling asleep!).

And speaking of reading, all this blogging made me a bit of a slacker on that front. I only read two books in November so I need to get caught up on quite a few review and library books, especially if I’m going to make my Goodreads goal of 50 books for the year (I’m currently at 44.)

I don’t think I reduced my Facebook time by much. Maybe I’m beyond hope in that regard.

The Positives 

NaBloPoMo helped with my perfectionistic writing tendencies. There were several posts that I thought could have been better but I hit publish anyway. The Blessings of a Blue Thanksgiving was one of them, yet you seemed to like it — apparently, it resonated with so many of you.

I discovered new-to-me blogs through NaBloPoMo and re-discovered some others.

I found myself able to generate content ideas again. I found myself consciously thinking of what I should/could/wanted to blog about and kept a running list of ideas in my planner.

What’s Ahead in December? 

I won’t lie; I’m looking forward to not having to blog every day! Yet I still want to keep my posting momentum going, even with the busy-ness of the season. #AMonthofFaves will help with that — this fun way of recapping the year is back for its 4th year and is hosted on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in December by GirlxoxoTraveling with T and Estella’s Revenge .

 

 

 

 

 

Instant Pot Mexican Enchilada Lasagna (GF, V)

Allow me to introduce you to my newest favorite Instant Pot recipe … Mexican Enchilada Lasagna.

Oh, my God, you guys. Love at first bite.

I should begin by saying a few things. This recipe is modified from an Instant Pot Mexican Pizza I found at The Typical Mom which used ground turkey, olives and green onions. I substituted the plant-based protein Beyond Meat grilled chicken strips (which are gluten-free and vegetarian and my other new favorite thing!) for the turkey, regular onions for the green, and omitted the olives.  You could, of course, forego the meat substitute altogether or replace with beans or use vegetarian ground beef or … the options are kind of endless, really.

The other important thing to know is that, in addition to your Instant Pot, you’ll also need a 6″ springform pan. You could probably use an oven-proof dish of the same size. Regardless, you want to do the PIP (pot-in-pot) method with this one.

Okay, so you have your Instant Pot (obviously …) and your 6″ springform pan. Here’s what else you’ll need:

Ingredients
1 package frozen Beyond Meat grilled chicken strips (optional)
4 corn tortillas – I used the 5″ size
1 cup diced onions
10 oz. red chile enchilada sauce
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Brown grilled chicken strips in a skillet or small saucepan on the stove. Add onions and saute for approximately 2 minutes, breaking up chicken strips into chunks.  Add enchilada sauce.  (You can also do this part in the Instant Pot itself, if you’d like, but you’ll have to rinse out the IP before continuing. It seemed easier to just do this part on the stove.)

Remove from stove and set aside. Place trivet in Instant Pot and add 1½ cups water.

Spray 6″ springform pan with olive oil. Place one corn tortilla in pan, followed by 2-3 tbsps. each of enchilada sauce, chicken and onion mixture, and ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese. Continue layering until you’ve used all four tortillas. Top with additional cheese.

Place on trivet in Instant Pot and cover top of springform pan with tin foil (to prevent water from getting onto your meal).  Close lid and make sure steam valve is closed. Press Manual, high pressure, and set to 4 minutes.

(Yes, this only needs FOUR MINUTES!!!!)

Do a natural release for 10 minutes. Lift springform pan out of Instant Pot with mitts (silicone mitts work great) and place on plate. Unlock springform pan and slide enchilada onto plate.

Mine looked like this:

I know, right? SO. MUCH. CHEESE.

Cut into slices. This served my family of four with a side of rice. If using as a main dish, it probably would serve 2-3.  A salad could also work as a nice side.

The Husband, The Boy and I loved this. (The Girl, not so much. She didn’t like “how it looked.” Whatever.)

The rest of us thought it looked — and tasted — pretty damn good.

How to Instant Pot

You already know that I’m obsessed with my Instant Pot.  Chances are, you’re either giving one to someone for the holidays or you’re getting one for yourself.

It is a little intimidating at first, though, even for the most experienced of cooks. Daniel Shumski’s How to Instant Pot aims to shorten the learning curve by breaking down each function (pressure cooker, rice cooker, slow cooker, yogurt maker, steamer) into its own section.

Few cookbooks have as definitive of a subtitle as this one. Indeed, it will help you master all the functions of the one pot that will change how you cook.

More of my thoughts on How to Instant Pot can be found here, in my full review in today’s issue of Shelf Awareness. 

 

 

the blessings of a blue thanksgiving

 

Towards the end of our family’s Thanksgiving dinner, our 9 year old nephew started doodling on the paper tablecloth.

“I’m going to draw … a submarine,” he announced, followed by a necessary clarification.

“It’s really yellow, but I’m going to make it blue.”

The submarine was perched on a rainbow next to a leprechaun (“he’s really green, but I’m going to make him blue”), a cowboy (“really brown, but now blue,”), as well as a turtle, camel and dollar bill, among others.

All — you guessed it — blue.

He had no choice. All he had was a blue pen; hence, things that aren’t typically blue became such.

And with that, a little boy’s imagination summed up everything I want to remember about this Thanksgiving.


We traveled to Philadelphia this year, knowing that this Thanksgiving was going to be different than any other we had before. (Except for, of course, the Thanksgiving dinner when the husband suffered a seizure and I had to revive him on the bathroom floor.)

I’ve alluded to the Ongoing Family Situation in recent posts and have gotten permission from The Husband to share a bit more on the blog about what’s happening. My father-in-law, who is only 71, was diagnosed with dementia this spring. I know many of you have experienced this within your own families and loved ones, so you know how this horrible disease changes everything and affects everyone. We’re fortunate that my father-in-law is able to be in a long-term care facility, which, after evaluating several options, is where we gathered for Thanksgiving dinner.

We had no idea what to expect. We just knew it wasn’t going to be like anything we experienced before.

It’s really supposed to be _______ (insert blank with whatever vision we have in our heads of what Thanksgiving should be like). 

But I’m going to make it blue. 


My sister-in-law ordered a delicious dinner and brought it to the home, where our reservations were for 3 p.m. in one of the facility’s conference rooms.

We ate, and then for more than two hours, we sat around the table as we laughed and talked about old family memories. My father-in-law was, thankfully, having a really good day.

I had asked The Husband if he was OK with me taking photos. He agreed, but in the end, I didn’t take a single picture — not of the food (which I’m notorious for doing), not of the relatives, not of our nephew’s drawings on the tablecloth.

One of the things dementia does is force you to be more present in the here and now. It’s all about today, this very moment, because the future is too damn uncertain and the past is … well, gone. You can wish things to be different all you want but that’s not going to change the reality of what is.

It’s not going to make something that’s blue suddenly turn back into green.

Or whatever color you think things should be. 

So I deliberately kept my cell phone in my purse, didn’t take any photos or post any updates to Facebook.

Remember this, I told myself, in all its uncertainty and all of its sadness.

Remember how much laughter  and smiles and light and love there was, in a moment and a time when you didn’t expect there to be any.

Remember that you always, always have the power to change the color. That even if it’s different, it can still be beautiful.

Remember the blue.

Book Review: Shut Up and Run: How To Get Up, Lace Up, and Sweat with Swagger, by Robin Arzón

shut-up-and-run

Robin Arzón is badass.  Make no mistake, this woman is as fierce and strong as they come. A former lawyer turned ultramarathoner (someone who runs any distance over 26.2 miles, usually 50K and 100K events), Robin’s life is defined by running and “sweat with swagger.”

It’s a life that was nearly taken from her one night in a horrific and violent attack; she emerged determined to transform her life through health and wellness. Today, she’s the Vice President of Fitness Programming for Peloton Cycle, a motivational speaker, brand ambassador and much more.

(Oh, and she’s a Philly girl like me, which means her grit and toughness is the real deal.)

Shut Up and Run packs a lot into its 192 pages. Whether you’re a new runner (like yours truly) or someone who regularly competes in marathons, there’s something in Shut Up and Run for runners at every level — even if you’re still sitting on the couch, contemplating whether you can do this. (Spoiler Alert: you can.)

“Start before you’re ready. Today seems like a good day.” 

Robin offers her personal inspirations for running (her mother, who has MS) along with a generous helping of motivation with splashy graphics, full-color photos, and quotes. (Two of my favorites: “Regret is a heavier weight to carry than hard work — in running, life, and love,” and “Be open to getting lost so that you end up moving in the right direction.”)  There are strategies for training — whether that means a 5k or 50k race.

After reading this, even I felt like I could be an ultramarathoner — and I say this as someone who has only been running for a year and not very consistently (to put it mildly). That’s the kind of book Shut Up and Run is: one that makes you believe you have the power to do extraordinary things.

“The human body is capable of extraordinary things
that start with the choice to try.”