Four Hours, One Weekday Morning

Mornings with young children can be hectic, especially if everyone has somewhere to go. This past Friday morning was one such scramble …

5:45 a.m.: “Mom!” I can’t believe Little G has woken up this early—she didn’t nap yesterday, and I thought (optimistic as always) that she’d sleep until at least 6:30. I try to snuggle her back to sleep. No such luck because, “My belly’s hungry, Mom.”

5:50 a.m.: Downstairs, in the kitchen. “Island Vanilla or Rice Krispies?” I ask Little G. “My belly’s hungry for Hershey’s kisses,” she informs me. I shake my head; we settle on Island Vanilla.

5:52 a.m.: My nine-months-pregnant belly is hungry, too. I also have some cereal. Then Little G and I snuggle on the living room couch; I can tell she’s still sleepy.

6:15 a.m.: My hubby joins us, showered. “Daddy! Let’s play.” He makes coffee and then pulls out Little G’s Little People while I shower and get dressed.

6:50 a.m.: Back downstairs (all these stairs!), I tell Little G it’s a special day at preschool: Pajama Day. “Yay!” Little G is excited to wear pajamas to preschool. We hug and kiss my hubby good-bye.

6:55 a.m.: Problem: The last pair of clean pajamas is, in fact, not clean. There’s a bit of food stuck on the top. How did I not notice this before? I try to get it off with a wipe, but the food-stuck-ness appears permanent. “Why didn’t you do my laundry, Mom?” I need some coffee.

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6:59 a.m.: I help Little G into the (clean) pajama bottoms and a clean shirt that, while not the matching pajama top, still matches. “Mom!” A tear rolls down Little G’s cheek. “This is a play shirt! I need a pajama shirt! It’s Pajama Day!”

7 a.m.: I lug myself and my big belly back upstairs (all these stairs!!!) to Little G’s bedroom. There’s a saying, “Life is my cardio.” This is true for me. I find a gray “play shirt” that Little G has never worn before, with “Dream Big!” in pink on the front. It has a sleep theme and matches her pajama bottoms. Hopefully, this will work.

7:08 a.m.: “Ooh, I love it!” Problem solved.

7:15 a.m.: I finish dressing Little G in the “Dream Big!” shirt, socks, and shoes. Comb her hair. Help her brush her teeth. Make sure her backpack is packed up with her coat, water bottle, and the two books that our family has been asked to donate to the school’s upcoming fundraiser.

7:20 a.m.: “Let’s read these books, Mom!” No, honey, we need to go. “Mom! I love Curious George! Just the George one!” I’m a book lover myself, a writer … how can I not read my daughter just one book?

7:32 a.m.: We finish reading just one book.

7:35 a.m.: Little G is buckled into her car seat, I’ve got her backpack alongside my bag in the passenger seat … man, I forgot my coffee. Just half a cup daily because I’m pregnant … don’t judge me too harshly, friends! 🙂 I hustle from the garage back to the kitchen and pour my daily four ounces into my travel mug. “Mom! Where are you?”

7:42 a.m.: I get the green arrow to make a left out of our neighborhood. It’s a rainy morning, and I drive extra carefully. “Mom, come on! It’s Pajama Day!” (You can probably imagine what I’m thinking about Pajama Day right now.)

7:56 a.m.: We arrive one minute too late for me to drop Little G off in the carpool lane out front. So with the rain pouring down, we run around the school building and into her classroom (what a sight I am, nine months pregnant and running). “It’s Pajama Day!” Little G’s teachers and classmates exclaim when we see them. Little G grins. I’m happy she’s happy. I hug and kiss her good-bye.

8:15 a.m.: Back at home, I finish writing this blog post. The only “work” I’m doing right now is updating my website with new blog posts … for your reading pleasure, of course, and also for marketing my past writing, especially my e-books. (If you haven’t checked them out yet, please do! 🙂 )

9 a.m.: I leave for my now-weekly doctor’s appointment at the South Texas Medical Center, where traffic can be crazy. But today’s my lucky day: green lights all the way!

9:18 a.m.: I’m 12 minutes early. Unbelievable.

9:22 a.m.: I begin reading last month’s issue of Food & Wine magazine. The desserts on the opening pages look good! My stomach growls; aha, I’m hungry.

9:25 a.m.: The “No Food or Drink” sign on a nearby table stares at me. I wonder if it’s serious.

9:26 a.m.: I decide it’s not. I sneak a few bites of a peanut butter granola bar—Little G’s favorite snack, so I always have some in my bag.

9:35 a.m.: Doctor’s appointment, just a smidge behind schedule—rare. Who knew reclining in medical-grade stirrups for a pelvic exam would be the most tranquil part of my Friday morning?

And that’s four hours, friends. What’s a typical weekday morning like in your home? Looking forward to hearing from you! 🙂

3 Great Cold-Weather Slow-Cooker Recipes

Baby, it’s cold outside! So why not warm up with one of these great cold-weather slow-cooker recipes? Just in time for your weekend menu planning … enjoy, friends!

Recipe No. 1: Slow-Cooker Turkey Chili

My sweet sister-in-law was the inspiration for my discovering this recipe for Slow-Cooker Turkey Chili. She made a similar dish for my brother-in-law’s birthday dinner, and everyone loved it. So I decided to try my hand at it, too, and was delighted to find this recipe from the October 2009 issue of Southern Living.

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After I cooked the turkey on the stovetop, Little G helped me add it and the remaining ingredients into our slow cooker. I couldn’t ask for a better sous chef. 🙂

Tip: If you’re running short on time, you can cook this dish in the slow cooker on low for less than six hours. You’ve already cooked the meat on the stovetop; the time in the slow cooker simply allows all the ingredients to blend together.

One more tip: The majority of the alcohol content of the beer should “cook out of” the food after about two and a half hours, according to this article. Just FYI in case the alcohol content is a concern for you or your family.

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The turkey chili wouldn’t have been complete without some semi-homemade cornbread. Luckily, HEB carries a delicious mix, Rosemary Olive Oil with Sea Salt. An excellent accompaniment to this great cold-weather slow-cooker recipe!

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Recipe No. 2: Chicken With Carrots and Potatoes

This past Sunday, some good friends came over for dinner. I was excited to try out this recipe for Chicken With Carrots and Potatoes with them, compliments of the September 2012 issue of Cooking Light Slow Cooker Tonight. Slow-cooker recipes work so well for groups—lots of food, efficiently prepared.

Earlier that day, I chopped all the veggies.

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Then around 3 p.m., I got out my nonstick skillet and slow cooker. You definitely want to brown the chicken before adding it to the slow cooker, so that it cooks faster and better. You also definitely want to use chicken thighs that are bone-in, skinned rather than boneless, skinless because the bone and skin help prevent the chicken from drying out in the slow cooker. Trust me on this one, friends—I’ve dried out boneless, skinless chicken in my slow cooker before. 🙂

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Our friends brought along Caesar salad, my favorite. And there you go: dinner! Wonderful, and not least because it was shared in friendship.

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Recipe No. 3: Crock Pot Minestrone Soup

Of the three recipes here, this one’s my favorite. I grew up in an Italian-American home, and I ❤ Italian specialties like minestrone soup. I also love vegetarian food, and you can make this recipe vegetarian—just use vegetable broth instead of chicken. Many thanks to the website (July 2014 post) for sharing this winner!

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You can use either your stovetop or slow cooker for this recipe. Because I had the time, I opted for stovetop.

I highly recommend pureeing the white beans, per the recipe, rather than adding them in whole. It’s an extra step, but the pureed beans ultimately add a wonderfully creamy texture to the soup. And be sure to cook the pasta separately, at the end, and then add it in to your soup bowl(s); otherwise, it will get soggy.

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Now, let me be honest with you: While grocery shopping for this recipe, I inexplicably forgot some key ingredients: celery, fresh parsley, and spinach. (I’m going to blame it on my nine-months-pregnant brain!) Yet the recipe still turned out awesome; my hubby will concur. This one’s truly a winner, even minus a few ingredients.

Eat well, and be well!

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Grocery Cart Psychology: What Does Yours Reveal?

On a recent HEB run, I noticed the young woman in front of Little G and me in the checkout line—as well as what was in her grocery cart. It was like looking at myself and my grocery cart, 10 years and a few stretch marks ago.

First, the lady: She appeared well-rested, toned, and unhurried in yoga pants and a coordinating top. In fact, she probably actually had just come from yoga class. Unlike myself and many other moms I know, whose love of yoga apparel stems from its comfortable, forgiving fit rather than the physical/spiritual exercise itself.

The woman finished unloading the contents of her grocery cart onto the checkout conveyor: a four-pack of bottled Frappuccino; a single serving of General Tso’s chicken from the prepared foods section; several cans of soup (organic, I think); Kind granola bars; and stuffed grape leaves.

Stuffed grape leaves. OK, there you go. I could be wrong, but if I had to guess, I’d guess the following about this early-20s “could have been me 10 years ago”: single; possibly a boyfriend; definitely no kids; lives alone or with a roommate; yuppie; eats out half the time, at least; hobbies include yoga (obvi) and reality TV (just a hunch); says yes to happy hour. (Those were the days. 🙂 )

The thing is—generally speaking—women don’t buy four-ounce containers of stuffed grape leaves if they live with or are married to a man, much less if they have children together. The majority of men, especially Texans, seem to prefer burgers, barbecue, and the like to vegetarian Mediterranean specialties such as stuffed grape leaves. And if you’ve got kids, you’re usually looking for hearty food that, fingers crossed, will last another meal.

Thus, my grocery cart …

Grocery Cart Psychology

You can see Little G up front. So immediately, my grocery cart reveals that I’m a mom. Some other “maternal giveaways” include the opened bags of multigrain pita chips and Goldfish in the back, not to mention the opened box of strawberry yogurt squeezers in the middle (letting your child snack while grocery shopping together makes the whole experience much smoother than not); two boxes of rigatoni (kids would eat pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you let them, right?); and the three-pack of heavy-duty sponges.

I never bought heavy-duty sponges before giving birth.

My grocery cart also contains a generous amount of nonperishables such as cereal, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, black beans, and marinara sauce, in family-size portions. Because I often make family-size portions of nonexotic but hearty meals like slow cooker chicken and chili. I promise there’s fresh fruit in there, too—wedged under the heavy-duty sponges and ready-to-eat salad kits. And milk. I’m a mom; of course I bought milk.

What does your grocery cart reveal about you? This is just for fun, friends. Grocery cart psychology isn’t an exact science. But I think we can make some generalizations. If your grocery cart contains the following, then possibly …

1. Hot Pockets, frozen pizza, Cap’n Crunch, milk, and beer: You’re a college student or just-graduated-from-college bachelor. You use self-checkout.

2. Hot Pockets, Campbell’s condensed soup, Life Savers, a quart of milk, the store brand of aspirin, tissues, and maybe some bananas: You’re an older bachelor—OK, much older. You use the “15 items or fewer” lane, and you have coupons for the Hot Pockets and soup.

3. Single servings of prepared foods, artisan crackers, gourmet cheese and olive oil, Mighty Leaf tea, lamb chops fresh from the meat market, and a bottle of red and bottle of white: Yuppie, similar to our yoga-practicing friend above. You know the best local restaurants, wine bars, and coffee shops. It’s fun to follow you on Twitter and live vicariously through your hashtags.

4. Strawberries, a value pack of pork chops, multiple boxes of granola bars, apple juice, and frozen chicken nuggets: Mom.

5. Random pieces of fruit, multiple packages of ground coffee or K-Cups, random boxes of frozen dinners, lanolin cream or cans of Enfamil, and diapers: New mom.

6. A grocery cart full of Chobani yogurt and bottled water: You play for the Spurs. (Occasionally, Little G and I catch a glimpse of some of the local NBA team in our HEB. This is all I ever see them buy … they must have personal chefs?)

7. Several packages of all-purpose flour, a few cartons of eggs, and an economy size package of Styrofoam cups: You work at the local bakery around the corner. (The white apron you’re still wearing is a “bakery worker giveaway,” too.) Whoever’s in charge of buying must have underestimated how busy you’d be today.

8. Two boxes of freshly baked muffins and a large container of prewashed, pre-cut fresh fruit: You work at a nearby office, and it’s your turn to bring refreshments for the weekly staff meeting.

9. Taco seasoning mix and children’s Tylenol: You’re my husband. I forgot these things yesterday, and I asked you to pick them up on your way home from work. True to form, you didn’t stray from “the list.” (How long have we known each other now? Did it really not occur to you to surprise me with some dark chocolate? I know, I know … I told you we needed taco seasoning mix and children’s Tylenol, and so that’s what you got. 🙂 )

Write Your Best Résumé: 7 Winning Tips

A friend recently asked me to edit her résumé, and I was happy to help. Before I began editing, though, I did a quick Google search for some résumé writing and editing tips. Because it never hurts to hear what others have to say, right?

Below, I share the seven tips I found to be most helpful, and which I applied to my friend’s résumé —what this Tulane University webpage calls a “word picture of the unique combination of skills and qualities you offer an employer.” Word picture: I like that.

1. Avoid writing a one-size-fits-all résumé. Monster’s Peter Vogt advises, “Employers want you to write a résumé specifically for them. They expect you to clearly show how and why you fit the position in a specific organization.” So for every job you apply for, set aside time to make specific adjustments to your résumé.

2. Bullet-point accomplishments, not job responsibilities. Both Vogt and Tulane agree on this one. These accomplishments “may be an award you received or money you saved the company. You may want to highlight a skill you developed, one which would benefit your prospective employer,” Tulane notes. For example, instead of “Monitored employee productivity to reduce operational costs,” try “Increased company-wide revenue by 15 percent by managing employee productivity.”

3. Make your “word picture” speak for itself (Tulane). What unique skills and qualities do you want your résumé to highlight? If you’re an operations manager … your prompt commitment to customers’ needs? Say: “Respond to customers’ phone calls, e-mails, and texts within 30 minutes.” If you work in public relations … your intuitive understanding of search engine optimization? Consider: “Integrate keywords in Web communications to increase online visibility by 5,000 views monthly.” Your high school English teacher may have said it best: Show, don’t tell.

4. Begin with a “career summary,” not an “objective.” According to the professional association ASME, the average hiring manager scans a résumé in only 25 seconds. So start your résumé off strong with an attention-grabbing career summary of “who you are and what you do”—rather than a clichéd objective like “Motivated professional seeking interesting position.”

For example, my career summary: “Ten years of professional experience in writing and editing. Expertise in a variety of writing styles, including AP and APA. Flair for developing content that is concise yet engaging. Communications work experience in the fields of higher education, marketing and public relations, and newspaper and magazine publishing. Energetic, organized, dependable.”

Get nearly 200 more ideas for your career summary here.

5. Use the right keywords (Daily Writing Tips). Make sure the words you use to describe your accomplishments, skills, and qualities match those included in the job description. This is especially important if your prospective employer uses technology such as keyword-searchable databases to screen job candidates. Learn more here, “Tapping the Power of Keywords to Enhance Your Résumé’s Effectiveness.”

6. Similarly, use verbs that mean something, urges David Silverman in the Harvard Business Review article “How to Write a Résumé That Doesn’t Annoy People.” Think action, short and sweet. Better yet, don’t think much at all—simply check out this article from The Muse, “185 Powerful Verbs That Will Make Your Résumé Awesome,” and choose the verbs that best fit you.

7. Lots more tips from Forbes. I love the excellent resources on Forbes, and I especially love the hundreds of helpful search results that come up when you look up “résumé writing.” So here you go, friends: everything from “Five Things Your Résumé Must Convey in 10 Seconds” to “Three Marketing Tips to Make Your Résumé Stand Out.”

Good luck getting that job!

3 Easy Recipes to Try in 2015

Along with ringing in the New Year, I wanted to try some new recipes—especially some easy ones that could become weeknight favorites. The current issue of Real Simple magazine (January 2015) provided helpful inspiration with its feature article “How to Not Make Dinner” (pages 109-117). Here are the three new, easy recipes I tried, thanks to that article.

I hope these recipes inspire you in your New Year home cooking, too!

Recipe No. 1: Shrimp and Rice Noodle Stir-Fry (page 112 of the magazine)

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I couldn’t find the exact recipe from the magazine online, but it’s similar to this one, Classic Asian Udon Noodles Stir Fry. Please note that you can use 1 tablespoon of honey instead of 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce for the sweet flavor. And, the vegetables I used were 1 cup of sugar snap peas, 1 cup of grated carrots, and 1 (15-ounce) can of baby corn, cut in half. I also used 1 pound of large cooked shrimp (peeled and deveined) and opted for 1 tablespoon of cornstarch along with 1 tablespoon of cold water rather than some sugar and chicken bouillon, per the recipe for Classic Asian Udon Noodles Stir Fry.

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This recipe is very healthy and tastes very healthy, too. Not a bad thing, but definitely add some Sriracha sauce or something if you’d like to give it some kick.

P.S. You may want to reserve some plain udon noodles for any picky eaters in your family, as I did for Little G. She has yet to fall in love with soy sauce and shrimp, but she loves noodles of all kinds. So for her, I paired some udon noodles with grated Parmesan cheese … pretty global, right? 🙂

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Recipe No. 2: French Dips (page 110 of the magazine)

Now for some easy yet decadent sandwiches! Faith Durand of the awesome website The Kitchn recommends French Dips for a satisfying weeknight meal.

All you need is 1 pound of thinly sliced roast beef, four dinner rolls, 4 cups of beef broth, 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and butter to taste (I promise, I didn’t use as much butter as pictured below!).

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What to do: Heat the beef broth to boiling; stir in the Worcestershire sauce. Turn down the heat and add the roast beef. Meanwhile, slice the rolls and toast them for just a couple of minutes in your oven broiler, on low. Butter the rolls, sandwich with the roast beef, and use the beef broth as Au Jus sauce for dipping.

My hubby also likes to add pickles to his sandwich; another add-on option is Provolone cheese, if you have it (check out this alternate recipe).

Recipe No. 3: Pierogi and Sides (page 110 of the magazine)

I can’t believe I never thought to make (frozen) pierogi before, but yes, it’s true. 🙂 What an easy weeknight dinner! Real Simple recommends serving them with coleslaw, but that’s not my favorite side, so I opted for tomato soup and Honeycrisp apples instead.

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I found these potato and Cheddar pierogi at my HEB, and sautéed them with some butter, yellow onion, scallions, and black pepper. My hubby loved this dinner. From now on, we’ll be having it regularly, especially once Baby G arrives.

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Enjoy, friends!

Real Life Can Be Messy

I’ve worked in the writing industry for nearly 10 years now, and along the way, I’ve learned that art goes hand-in-hand with text. Pictures help tell stories, make them come to life. The story can be anything from a press release to a magazine article to a business proposal—it doesn’t matter. More often than not, words need imagery for readers to say, “Aha! Got it.”

This is especially true for blog posts, including those on lifestyle and women’s blogs. (Examples: The Nest Blog and Bizzie Living.) It’s why I’ve been trying to incorporate more (and hopefully better!) pictures into my recent blog posts, particularly when I write about everyday life and family activities.

Then one afternoon earlier this week, I felt compelled to take this picture:

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Little G was sick that day, with a runny nose and cough. By lunchtime, I was tired from getting up with her several times the night before (and the night before that) to help her blow her nose. Then Little G informed me she didn’t feel like taking a nap, even though she (and I!) really could have used the rest.

You know what I thought. That’s right: “Great.” 🙂

By the end of the afternoon, you might have mistaken our living room for a landfill. And something inside me said, “Take a picture.”

Because sometimes, media ranging from blog posts to alumni newsletters to the Restoration Hardware Baby & Child Source Book can represent life in somewhat of an unreal way. Filtered, Photoshopped, staged. And sometimes we can come across these (mis?)representations on social media, too, where the pictures from family and friends may hit closer to home. (“I wish my New Year’s Eve snaps had turned out as festive as theirs!”)

So along with my recent mood-lighting-enhanced representations of writing thank-you notes in the serene evening hours, and baking Orange Dark Chocolate Blossoms as a cozy mommy-and-me activity with Little G …  moments like the above “my living room/day looks like a landfill” happen in my life, too.

Real life can be messy. And mine is no exception.

It seems that life gets messier as we get older. We have more responsibilities. More people count on us, especially our children. It also seems that we’re most needed in the messiest of moments.

For example, a sick day—never fun. But as a parent, you have to be there for that. You have to show up. And you have to show up for all the other messy moments, too. What do you think, friends?

A short time after my hubby and I got married, I started a new job, associate editor at a magazine. There were some cool perks, such as appearing on local TV shows and attending VIP events around town. Meanwhile, my hubby got a promotion. We had just closed on our first house. A family member told us, “Everything’s coming up roses for you two.”

Yes, for a while. Then Stanton’s Fortune 500 company filed for bankruptcy; he was laid off. And the cool perks at my magazine gig didn’t cover all our living expenses, so we eventually sold our first home together.

I love this quote from Oprah Winfrey: “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” It’s probably unromantic of me to share, but this is what I think about when I think about Stanton, a.k.a. my standing Saturday night date for 13 years and counting. If given the choice, yes, we’ll opt for the limo, but we have no problem with public transportation.

Life is a series of ups and downs, of building and rebuilding, of taking the cushions off of your living room couch and putting them back on again.

I think our children can learn a lot, maybe even their most meaningful lessons, from moments of messiness, too. A sick day. Seeing their mom or dad take care of them. Measure their medicine; read them their current favorite story over and over again; cuddle up to watch the same “Sofia the First” episode together. Caring, patience, unconditional love.

Runny noses, buses sometimes, topsy-turvy living rooms.

This is real life.