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Religion, Politics and the Great Pumpkin

October 20, 2016

Recently Sophie came home from school and asked me an odd question.

“Mom, is it true Hillary Clinton killed four people?”

I asked her where she heard this statement. I mean, it’s not as if Sophie is a frequent viewer of Fox News or CNN, nor does she spend time perusing the Internet for news.

She said a friend asked her who she is voting for president. Sophie clarified to her friend that she herself can’t vote, but if she could, she supported Hillary Clinton. It was then the friend told Sophie that she’s voting for a murderer.

After hearing this, I decided to give Sophie some sage advice from Linus of the Peanuts fame:

There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.

I echoed Linus’ words and encouraged Sophie not to engage in those discussions, no matter who is talking about which presidential candidate.



I’m not writing this post to scold this little girl, nor am I here to bash Trump. I’m also not here to convince you to vote for Clinton (I’ve already written about my feelings about that here). And really, whether you think Clinton is shady is really none of my business.

I believe different opinions are fine. But hate is not fine. And 8-year-old calling another 8-year-old a person who supports a murderer is not okay.

I wrote this post because I’m sad for our children. In this case, elementary school kids are burdened with these feelings and discussions. I’m sad this little girl felt the need to tell Sophie she’s voting for a killer. I’m sad Sophie has to hear these things in the third grade.

Needless to say, like most of you, I cannot wait for Election Day in less than a month.


A few days later, Sophie told me the little girl brought up the subject of Hillary Clinton again. So I asked what she said to her friend.

Sophie said, “I told her, let’s not get into a conflict. Let’s not talk about this. And [my friend] agreed.”

I’m glad Linus Van Pelt’s advice could help Sophie and her friend resolve their political differences.

Monday Musings ~ October 17

October 17, 2016

Hello, Monday!


1. October in Indiana is beautiful! The leaves are turning gold and red, and the weather is cooler (especially the evenings). Fall has always been my favorite season, although  autumn in San Diego wasn’t much different than summer, spring and winter in San Diego. So now that I can experience a real fall season, I’m in heaven and enjoying every moment of it.

2. In case you missed my post on Friday, I reviewed a great writing book called Author in Progress by the writers at Writer Unboxed, one of my favorite websites. Writer Unboxed always has thought-provoking articles about the process of writing. For example, this article on why books written by women get such audience-limiting covers was fascinating and full of truth.

3. Speaking of book covers, you have to read this interview with a creative director for Penguin Classics. I had no idea how much goes into designing book covers. Fascinating stuff, including his favorite (and least favorite) book covers.

4. Loved this article about a blogger who ate all the pumpkin spice items in the grocery store, and then ranked them all. My pumpkin spice sampling has seriously lacked this season. Mainly because I haven’t been able to get my pumpkin fix since I’m over an hour away from the closest Trader Joe’s. That’s the one thing I miss about San Diego (no Trader Joe’s close by). But I did finish off a box of the pumpkin spice Cheerios and they were quite tasty.

5. Speaking of fall, remember when September meant all the television shows returned and new series premiered? I guess that’s still the case, although now there are so many great programs on cable during the year it doesn’t feel as exciting. We just finished watching “11-22-63″ on Hulu. I’m not a big fan of science fiction or fantasy, but I really liked this miniseries. I also binge-watched the first three seasons of “Rectify” — good, but not my favorite. The big surprise was “This is Us,” a new drama on NBC that I fully expected to hate because I thought it was trying to be the next “Parenthood.” But I ended up really liking it!

6. Finally, 2001 doesn’t seem that long ago … until you read these 17 things we were doing on our computers in 2001. I’d forgotten about Clippy the Paperclip in Microsoft Word, LiveJournal and waiting for videos to buffer. Ahh, so much progress in 15 years!

What’s going on in your life? What are you thinking about this Monday in October?

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Are YOU an Author in Progress?

October 14, 2016

Back in January I told you one of my goals for 2016 is to work on my novel. I achieved this to some extent. I took a class and have the first and last chapters written. I also have several scenes sketched out and different pieces written here and there.

But the reality is this: writing a novel is HARD. My struggle is two-fold: making the time to write and figuring out the “guts” of the story. I know how it starts and how it ends, but I’m kind of missing that big chunk that’s required for storytelling. The good news is I’ve come across some great resources to help me focus. One of those is Author in Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What it Really Takes to Get Published.

author-in-progresAuthor in Progress is the first book by the editor and team at Writer Unboxed, which is hands-down one of my favorite websites for writing advice. If you are not reading Writer Unboxed, go over there now and subscribe.

The book guides writers through the process of creating a novel — covering pre-writing considerations, and working through each of the most critical stages before reaching the end (and even beyond the end). It’s designed for all writers interested in producing the best book possible while evolving their own work habits, craft, and goals for themselves.

There are three main things I loved about Author in Progress. First, it covers the entire process. So many writing books focus on one specific angle (e.g. character development, starting the novel, plot, etc.). But this book covers it all. The entire first section is devoted to starting and coming up with the idea. Then there are the chapters devoted to the writing, revising and the actual book release. For me, this is all really helpful because all the resources are in one place.

The second reason I recommend Author in Progress is the variety of topics covered. I already mentioned how the book covers the processes of writing a novel. But it also contains these great point-counterpoint chapters titled “Debatable” that discuss “controversial” (dare I even call them that) topics in writing. Examples of these “Debatable” chapters include: “Do You Need an MFA?,” “Plot or Pants It?” and “Do You Need a Professional Editor?”

The third reason is the variety of voices included, with some of my favorite writers contributing chapters. My “real life” friend and wonderful writer Margaret Dilloway contributes a chapter, as does Erika Robuck, Jane Friedman, Julie Munroe Martin, Lisa Cron (I’m also reading her amazing book, Story Genius), and so many others. Do you see what I mean? These are actual, published authors who know what they’re talking about. And you get a multitude of different voices and expertise.

So if you’re even thinking of writing a novel — or perhaps you’re already working on it — I highly recommend ordering yourself a copy of Author in Progress. You won’t be disappointed!

I received a complimentary copy of Author in Progress to review for this blog. However all opinions are my own and I only endorse books I am comfortable recommending to others.









The Top Holiday Recipes on Leah’s Thoughts

October 6, 2016

Back in March, I began perusing Leah’s Thoughts and decided to curate groups of old posts from time to time, in order to give new readers a chance to see old posts. The first post was The Most Popular Blog Posts on Leah’s Thoughts. Those were the posts that received the most traffic, according to Google Analytics. Since we’re getting into the holiday baking season, I thought I’d round up my holiday recipes (and I have A LOT of recipes).

As I look back at all these old posts, I noticed how much more time I used to spend baking and photographing all my cooking adventures. I still do cook nearly every night, but I don’t blog the recipes here anymore. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s having less time, or I didn’t want this to become a food blog. Either way, looking at all these recipes inspired me to bake some fall treats. We’re hoping to go apple picking this weekend and I’ve been craving apple butter. I also bought pumpkin to make pumpkin bread and muffins.

So here you have it: A roundup of holiday recipes, starting with apples and pumpkins, of course!

apple desserts collageApple Desserts — Apple butter jam, honey apple cake and my grandmother’s apple cake

pumpkin recipe collage

Bounty of Pumpkin Desserts — Pumpkin muffins, pumpkin snickerdoodles, pumpkin praline dessert and pumpkin roulade cake

halloween treats collage

Quick and Easy Halloween Treats — Pumpkin brownie bites, candy corn mini cupcakes and candy corn bark

Thanksgiving Dishes and Desserts

Thanksgiving Dishes and Desserts — Crockpot stuffing, matzo stuffing, leak and mushroom bread pudding, Brussels sprouts with mustard sauce, Brussels sprouts with pancetta, creamed corn, butternut squash gallette, cranberry zinfandel sauce, cranberry crumb bars with mulling spices

holiday cookies

Christmas and Holiday Cookie Baking — peppermint cupcakes, chocolate kiss cookies, Christmas shortbread cherries, toffee squares, lemon truffles, chocolate candy cane cookies, sugar cookie bars, peanut butter buckeye balls, candy cane fudge, cranberry bliss bars, hidden peppermint kiss cookies, mint chocolate brownies, fantasy chocolate fudge

Hanukkah Latkes — Yukon gold potato latkes (also one of the most popular posts on this blog)

cashew chicken

Chinese New Year — Cashew chicken, steamed shu mai

cupcakeExplosion of 4th of July Desserts — Patriotic cupcakes, flag cake, red-white-blue cookie bars, patriotic cake batter ice cream, red-white-blue Jello stars

Clearly I need to get my act together and start treats for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Passover and Easter. I have dozens more recipes, including popular crockpot creations, soups and other desserts. You can check out all the recipes I’ve posted on this blog on the Cooking and Recipes page.

Happy baking and eating!







How to Road Trip With Dogs and Cats

September 29, 2016

I’m no dog whisperer. And I’m certainly not a cat queen. But I learned a thing or two this summer that I hadn’t set out to master. And that was how to drive across the country with two dogs and a cat.


As many of you know, we moved from San Diego to Terre Haute in July. Of course, the packing and saying goodbye to friends and family was stressful, but the part of it all I was most stressed about was driving my pets across country for three to four days.

Flying was not going to happen since Cody, our 3-year-old boxer/Shepard mix, was too big to fly in the cabin and there’s no way I would subject him to the baggage hold. So road trip it was!

I turned to Google and the Interwebs to see what others have done, but I didn’t find too much information that was of value. Our veterinarian was wonderful, and did give me some super helpful tips for traveling with pets, especially our cat, Tess.

In this post, I’m detailing how I prepared for the road trip, and what I learned in hopes it will help others who may need to travel across country with dogs and a cat.


The Preparations

My vet reassured me the dogs will be pretty manageable since they are content as long as they’re with their owners. Yes, they would be nervous being away from their home; but as long as I was there, they wouldn’t be too anxious. And that’s exactly what happened with Cody and Casey.

Cats, however, are a different story. Tess would require some preparation before departure day. Our vet said we need to get Tess used to thinking her crate was the safest place in the world (a feeling she clearly did not have at the time). To do this, here’s what he said to do:

1. About one to two weeks before the departure date, start Operation Move the Cat. Place the crate about a foot behind the cat’s food bowl. About twice a day, spray a dose of Feliway, a soothing cat pheromone, in the crate. The spray is designed to soothe cats and reduce stress.


2. Each day after the first, I would move the food bowl a little bit closer to the crate. And I’d continue to spray the Feliway in the crate. He also suggested spraying it around the cat’s liter box and in the car.

3. Once the bowl is directly in front of the crate, start moving the food bowl into the crate with the goal to eventually have it at the back of the crate. This would force Tess into the crate to eat, but she’s feel comfortable doing so.

I was skeptical about the process. Tess is a pretty smart cat who NOT a fan of the crate. I was sure she’d see right through this plan and go on a hunger strike to protest. But you know what? IT WORKED!


The Big Road Trip

The day before the big day, I filled our Honda CRV with the dog’s leashes, dozens of plastic bags, our large plastic bin of dog food, bag of cat food, container of dog treats, many bottles of water, their food and water bowls, and the liter box (packed the morning we left). I tried to keep things consistent, bringing their regular food and same bowls. I also packed in the car a blanket we used on the bed so they had something with the smell of home.

The dogs hopped right in the car, thinking they were just going on another car ride. Tess did meow and tried to scratch out of the crate every time we started up each day. But she calmed down fairly quickly and seemed soothed by the dogs’ presence. The three of them had the entire back seat since Sophie wanted nothing to do with the “dog car” and elected to ride with the kids in the other car.


We typically started the day around 8 a.m. and drove for about four hours. I took the dogs out on their leash and let them stretch their legs. I offered the dogs water at each stop. I tried offering water to Tess, but she wasn’t interested. In Tuscon, Arizona, we actually found a dog park, which was fun for about 15 minutes, until the 103-degree heat forced everyone back in the car. And then four to five hours later, we’d stop again for potty breaks and water.

The hardest part of driving across country with dogs and a cat was a lack of restaurants that had any type of outdoor seating. And since it was late July in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, it was way too hot to leave the animals in the car.

While I didn’t expect the pit stops to be like the trendy SoCal spots that welcomed dogs like children, I was surprised at the lack options for people traveling with pets. We were on interstate highways, and surely not the first to be making cross-country trips with dogs.

But we made do, and I was extremely grateful to my friend, Jessica, who helped me with pet duty. We’d take turns eating inside, and the other would sit in the air-conditioned car with the fur kids.


At night we stayed in La Quinta hotels, which are pet friendly. Everyone seemed to enjoy their hotel stay. I was a little worried about letting Tess out of her crate for fear she would find a place to hide and I’d never be able to get her back into the crate. But she was amazing! She came out of the crate, used her liter box, ate her food, sipped some water, and slept on the bed with me, Sophie, Casey and Cody, just like at home.

And then the next day, we did it all over again.

We spent four days on the road before arriving at our new house in Terre Haute. The vet said it would take the pets about two weeks to feel like they’re in their home again. That happened much faster once our furniture arrived.


So there you have it: how I made a road trip from California to Indiana with two dogs and a cat. I can’t say I’d want to do it all again. But in hindsight, it really wasn’t bad at all. And those long stretches where I was driving with Casey, Cody and Tess, accompanied by my music, were actually quite peaceful.

Thanks for reading this long post, which was likely either super helpful to you, or really boring. Have you ever driven across country with pets?



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