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Snapshots: Thinking, Reading, Doing, Snapping and Eating (November)

November 30, 2014

The days are escaping me! Every day I tell myself I’m going to sit down and write on my blog. But then life happens — client work, Sophie, family activities — and then it’s been weeks and I haven’t posted. I feel badly about this since I love this little space and all of you who have followed me through the years. I’ve always said that as long I have things to say and a space to write, I plan to keep Leah’s Thoughts alive. So rest assured, I am here! Just not here as much.

Thinking and Doing …

November always feels like a short month with lots going on. I celebrated my 39th birthday in November. And I want to thank you so much for all the lovely comments about my 39 things about me post. Since I posted the 39 things, I’ve come up with more pieces of trivia about myself. Fodder for future posts!

Sophie turned 7-years-old in November. 7, people! I started this blog just after her 2nd birthday! She’s become this little person that I love and admire so much. I need to write about all these feelings and thoughts about her growing up and how motherhood changes so much as they grow.

November also brings Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. It was even better because my sister and her family (two little boys) visited from Iowa. She and I were always close growing up since we are four years apart. I miss having her close to me, especially now that we both have kids. So I cherish the time we do get to spend together. It’s a different feeling to see your little sister — the kid who used to tease me to no end — as a mom (and a great one at that)!

This fall I’ve had the opportunity to teach a marketing and communication class at the Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising. For nine weeks, I teach second-year fashion students about all-things marketing — web marketing, public relations, advertising, social media, blogging, newspaper and feature story writing, direct mail/email. I never pictured myself as a teacher. And this gig was quite ironic because fashion is something I’m keenly aware I don’t have much of. But I have to say that I really enjoy teaching this class and interacting with the students. I’m so impressed with their writing and how they think. I’ve learned a lot from them, and about myself. I’m so glad I challenged myself with this new endeavor!

Reading …

I think this photo sums up what I’m reading (or NOT reading). My TBR pile is so big it stretches across my king-sized bed! (In other news: poor cat!)

books on the bed

I’m currently reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I’ve been waiting years to read this book, so when I found a hardback copy at Goodwill for $3, I grabbed it. He also wrote The Virgin Suicides (didn’t read) and Middlesex (loved). I just finished The Secrets She Carried by Barbara Davis. It was a bit predictable, but I enjoyed it.

Eating …

What am I eating? Thanksgiving leftovers!

thanksgiving sidesSausage and apple crockpot stuffing, creamed corn, cranberry Zinfandel sauce, Parmesan smashed potatoes, and sauteed green beans with almonds.

Snapping …

Yay for November!

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True to their personalities, Casey is looking to please me and Tess could care less what I want.

casey and tess

Sophie’s 7th birthday!

sophie is 7

Candy, color and cookbooks …IMG_8163

Sophie won an award at school for achievement in science. It was also Halloween day!

science award

There are certain authors I always hope to meet because I love all of their books. Tova Mirvis was one of those writers (The Ladies Auxiliary, The Outside World and Visible City). I was so excited to hear her speak at the San Diego Jewish Books Fair.  Tova Mirvis

Autumnal …

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So how was your Thanksgiving? Are you ready for the holidays? What are you reading, eating, cooking and doing?

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39 Questions Answered About Me and My 39 Years

November 13, 2014
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I turned 39 years old last week. To mark the occasion, I decided to write 39 things about myself. I’ll be honest with you … this was not as easy as I anticipated. I took my quest to the streets (the streets of Facebook) and asked friends to send me questions to answers. These are the answers and a few I’ve little-known facts I’ve added. By the way, the photos are a collection of random snaps I’ve taken over the years and don’t necessarily relate to this post.

IMG_22471. I’m not a big Target shopper. I know I risk being kicked out of the female/mother race entirely by this statement. I don’t browse shop; I buy with a purpose. Therefore I don’t have an overwhelming desire to spend time in Target. Bryan, on the other hand, loves browsing the aisles of Target. So he’s our designated shopper for that store.

2. I’ve never had a cavity.

3. I’m embarrassed to say that I’m 39 and still bite my nails.

4. I only own eight pairs of shoes. Too many shoes and purses overwhelm me.

5. I am an ISTJ.

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6. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a journalist or lawyer when I grew up. I guess I’m where I should be since I am a writer; and while I’m not a lawyer, the majority of my clients are attorneys or their businesses are in the law field.

7. Growing up, I always wanted to be an only child. Although I love my three sisters immensely.

8. The first time I drank was at a Halloween party my sophomore year in college. My friend and I drank Zimas (What were we thinking?!) before going to a party where my freshman crush/boyfriend would be attending with his girlfriend. I haven’t seen that guy since that party 20 years ago.

9. In the fall of 1992 (when I was 17), I volunteered for the Clinton-Gore campaign. It was such an exciting time and I remember feeling like the world was changing and I was a part of something big.

10. The hardest part about being a mom is having very little alone time to recharge. I’m an introvert, which means I NEED quiet time by myself to recharge and function. When you’re a mom – especially to an extroverted daughter – this can be challenging.

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11. The best part about being a mom is feeling so blessed and proud to be able to help shape this young person into a functioning human who will do amazing things in life. And I also like having an excuse to trick or treat again on Halloween!

12. Nails on a chalkboard to me is excess noise and clutter. I’m one of those people who can’t have the television on if nobody is watching it.

13. Despite living in San Diego, I don’t like going to the beach. I like looking at the beach. But the sand, lack of shade and no bathrooms make the beach unappealing to me.

14. What do I love about myself? The fact that I am never bored and can always find something to do. Whether it’s reading books and blogs, writing, cooking, or watching all the DVDs in my collection, I can ALWAYS find something to do.

15. I  don’t have regrets when it comes to big, life-changing things because I make decisions based on what’s best for me at the time. So when asked what is my biggest regret, it is this: not getting my picture taken with Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) when I met her in person in 2004. This may seem trivial, but I’ve berated myself for years about saying “no thank you” to the photo opp. I keep thinking how I would have framed the picture and hung it in my kitchen.

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16. I am most scared of cancer and my own untimely death. And roller-coasters (for fear they will lead to my untimely death).

17. One of my most memorable experiences was interviewing the senior writer/producer for the television show, ER, for my master’s thesis in communication. I got a drive-on reservation to the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank.

18. Deciding what my dream vacation would be is a challenge since flying makes me very anxious (see fear of untimely death). I would love to visit Europe one day (Italy and France). But I think I’d also enjoy spending time in a quiet place where I can read, write, sleep, take walks, eat delicious food, and relax.

19. If I could give my 13-year-old self some advice, it would be to avoid using credit cards unless it’s an emergency situation.

city farmers pumpkin

20. A quote that changed my perspective was from author Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle, The Morning Start, Half-Broke Horses) when she described the relationship she has with her mother. She said she doesn’t believe in the expression “forgive and forget,” but instead she  “understands.” As she explained, it’s nearly impossible to forget, and sometimes it’s not about forgiveness. But what we can do is understand a person and their behavior. I LOVE THIS!

21. Once Sophie came along, I realized I am best suited for one child for a multitude of reasons. And while so many people try to pressure you to have multiple children, I’ve never regretted the decision to only have one.

22. I am against the death penalty.

23. The best piece of advice I’ve heard is from Suze Orman who said that money gives you choices. I didn’t understand what that meant until my mid-30s, and it’s so true. If you have money you can make changes and choices to improve your life in many ways.

24. My first job was at the local Dairy Queen when I was in high school. My worst job was working as an assistant at a boutique law firm that specialized in construction defect law (I was in college).

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25. As a mom to a daughter, there are two things I want to teach Sophie. The first is the importance of being a kind person. There are so many mean kids (and people) in the world. I want her to be kind, but not a pushover. The second thing I will teach her is to be independent and always know how to take care of herself financially.

26. When I cannot sleep, I think up storylines in my head for television characters I like.

27. Some of the happiest times of my life were the three years I lived in the on-campus residence halls at San Diego State University. It was a such an amazing time of freedom, learning, trying new things, and being with friends. It was the only time in my life where I felt anything was possible.

28. The literary character I most admire is Jo March of Little Women. The character I most relate to is Esteben in Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. This is why.

29. The worst things that happened over this past year from 38 to 39 were losing my beloved Romeo, and then Bipp the cat two months later.

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30. The best thing that happened last year was, through the help of an amazing business coach and friend, I was able to find my way back to the Yellow Brick Road where I’m now in a better place professionally, financially and personally.

31. The scariest decision I’ve ever made was making the decision to leave a job I enjoyed and co-workers I loved because I knew it was time to move on. I could have easily stayed in a lucrative, secure job. Yet if I hadn’t made that leap, I wouldn’t be where I am today — owning my own business and in charge of my life on my terms.

32. The Elf on the Shelf scares the heck out of me.

33. If I had $1 million, I would pay off credit card debt and student loans, buy a new car, complete all our home-improvement projects, and hire a maid.

34. My favorite piece of jewelry is my wedding ring set. We found it at an antique store and I’ve never seen anything like it. I love it’s simplicity and the fact that it’s not an experience piece from a jewelry store.

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35. I can’t stand talking on the phone and rarely answer when it rings. If there was ever a case of, “It’s not you, it’s me,” this would be it.

36. My high school journalism (and American Literature) teacher, Mrs. Edwards, helped mold me into the writer I am today. In tenth grade, I took a journalism class with her where I learned all about newspaper writing. She taught me how to write news stories, features, reviews, OpEds, and calculate column inches. Where I wanted to be a journalist before that class, Mrs. Edwards sealed the deal for me. I spent two more years under her mentorship writing for the high school newspaper. I will never forget the complement she gave me at a year-end awards banquet. She said when I first started writing for her, I “wrote in crayon.” But by the end of the year, I was writing with a pen. Mrs. Edwards gave me that pen, and I thank her for all she did to get me where I am today.

37. My favorite carbohydrate (and also an indulgence) is a warm loaf of chewy sourdough bread with softened butter.

38. I’m celebrating my 40th birthday by saving up to get Lasik eye surgery (because I’m considered legally blind without glasses or contact lenses).

39. In my next 39 years, I hope to write a book (or two) and learn to play the guitar.

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Got more questions for me that I didn’t answer? Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll answer!

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Quick and Easy Halloween Treats

October 27, 2014

The other day I posted on Facebook a photo of some brownie bites adorned with candy pumpkins, which I made for Sophie’s school’s fall carnival bake sale. A few people asked for the recipe and commented on my “baking” skills. I put baking in quotation marks because here’s the secret: it’s more like assembling.

I have a few Halloween treats that I’ve made over the years that are super easy to make, require very little baking (if any), and are always a hit. If you’re looking for last-minute treats for work, school, or just to impress your Facebook friends, here are three of my favorites.

halloween treats collage

Pumpkin Brownie Bites
Here’s what you need for the Halloween brownie bites: pre-made bite-sized brownies (I find mine at the local grocery store), chocolate buttercream frosting, a large Ziploc bag (or pastry bag if you’re daring), candy pumpkins, and sprinkles.

brownie bites1

For the chocolate buttercream frosting, you can either make your own, buy a pre-made jar, or go to a local cake supply store and purchase it. I buy mine from Do It With Icing, a San Diego shop from which you can also place mail orders. I love this frosting! And it tastes so much better than the canned stuff. Once you have the frosting, scoop it into a large Ziploc bag and cut a tip off the corner to pipe onto the brownie bites. Then top with a candy pumpkin and Halloween-colored sprinkles.

When I made these last year, I placed the bites in these orange and white polka dot cups. This year I used mini cupcake liners.

brownie bites2

Candy Corn Cupcakes
So these candy corn cupcakes do require baking; but they’re not difficult to make. Here’s what you need: one box of yellow cake mix (and the ingredients to prepare it), orange food coloring, white buttercream frosting, candy corns, and a mini muffin tin.

Spray your mini muffin tin with non-stick spray. I don’t use liners for these because I like being able to see the two color layers. But you can always get white liners if you prefer to go that route.

Prepare the cupcake mix according to the package. Then divide the mixture in half, and add a few drops of orange food coloring to one batch. Place about 1 – 2 Tbsp. of the yellow cake mix in each cup, then add 1 – 2 Tbsp. of orange mix. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look even or pretty; as you can see, they turn out fine.

candy corn cupcake1

Bake them according to the package direction; but since they’re mini, they’ll need less time than cupcakes. My rule of thumb is to use a cake tester and pull them out of the oven when it comes out clean.

Once they’ve cooled, grab your white buttercream frosting and pipe the icing on top the same way as the brownies (and see brownie bite recipe above for how to obtain buttercream frosting). That’s how you make a yellow-orange-white candy corn cupcake. Top with a candy corn and you’re done.

candy corn cupcakes

Chocolate Cookie Candy Corn Bark
This super-sweet treat is comprised of Halloween Oreos (or in our case, Trader Joe’s Joe Joe cookies), orange or white chocolate melting candies, candy corns, and sprinkles. For the actual step-by-step instructions on how to make this very simple treat, click over to this post I wrote a few years ago. (Wasn’t Sophie little?!)

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Here’s how I packaged the bark for the school carnival bake sale. I got the cellophane bags at the cake supply store. That’s Halloween duck tape I used to seal them.

halloween bark3

Make one of these treats this week and everyone will be so impressed by your hard work!

Happy Halloween! 

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Snapshots: Thinking, Reading, Doing, Snapping and Eating (October)

October 21, 2014

The last two months have been filled with getting back into the school routine and doing fall-type of activities … although the SoCal weather has been less than autumnal lately. I know I shouldn’t complain since San Diego has near-perfect weather most of the time. But during the months of September and October, I really wish I lived in a place where the leaves change color, the temperate falls, and I can get out the coat, boots and jeans. Just two weeks ago, the temperatures were in the 90s! It’s a bit cooler now, but not what it should be for October. Maybe one day I’ll move to a place that actually has seasons. Or the California drought will end and it will actually be cool in October.

Thinking and Doing …
As you may recall from my post about de-cluttering life, we gave up cable earlier this year to cut expenses. I haven’t really missed it much, but I do occasionally miss being able to flip through the channels and find a random movie that watch or tune in to a Law and Order marathon. And now that Homeland is back on and The Newsroom is airing in November, I find myself longing to subscribe again (I WILL be strong!).

The good thing is that with Netflix and HuluPlus, I can binge-watch great shows that I didn’t tune into before. Last month I was completely obsessed with The Killing (Netflix, formerly of AMC fame). Wow, did this show suck me in! The entire four seasons were pretty much watched within a one-week period. It was fabulous. And although I’m sad it’s not returning for a fifth season, I though the series’ ending was perfect.

The other show that we’re watching now is The Good Wife. I watched a few episodes of it when it first aired in 2009, but didn’t stick with it. Now it’s become a nightly fixture on the television. I love the acting and writing on this show. SO compelling! And it’s great that it’s a network show with 23 episodes, which hopefully should keep us busy for a while.

Reading …

unseemly wifeI just finished An Unseemly Wife by E.B. Moore, which I found fascinating. Here’s the description from the publisher:

In 1867, Ruth Holtz has more blessings than she can count—a loving husband, an abundant farm, beautiful children, and the warm embrace of the Amish community. Then, the English arrive, spreading incredible stories of free land in the West and inspiring her husband to dream of a new life in Idaho.

Breaking the rules of their Order, Ruth’s husband packs up his pregnant wife and their four children and joins a wagon train heading west. Though Ruth is determined to keep separate from the English, as stricture demands, the harrowing journey soon compels her to accept help from two unlikely allies: Hortence, the preacher’s wife, and the tomboyish, teasing Sadie.

But as these new friendships lead to betrayal, what started as a quest for a brighter future ends with Ruth making unthinkable sacrifices, risking faith and family, and transforming into a woman she never imagined she’d become.

This book reminder me so much of my friend and brilliant writer Jolina Petersheim’s The Outcast and The Midwife. Without giving too much away, I loved the story of Ruth and the journey she goes on to not only discover America, but her own life.

In related news, is it odd that my two current loves are a book entitled An Unseemly Wife, and a show called The Good Wife? Hmm ….

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Eating …
My favorite go-to meal these days are these Crispy Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Slaw from Smitten Kitchen. Holy cow, are they delicious! And super easy too. I highly recommend if you’re looking for a simple, but filling and flavorful meal. Make them this week … you won’t regret it!

Snapping …
The highlights of the last few months include visiting the pumpkin patch, apple picking, and celebrating Halloween at Disneyland. Here’s a look at our fall.

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My Halloween Hound

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Enjoying apple picking in Julian, CA (apple country) in 90-degree weather. We also found cider donuts and gemstone mining. apple picking collage

Sophie’s first visit to Julian apple country (only a few weeks old) and seven years later.julian apple collage

Finding the perfect pumpkin, playing with farm animals, and navigating the straw maze at Bates Nut Farm pumpkin patch.pumpkin patch visit

So how has your fall been? What are you reading, eating, cooking and doing? What do you watch on television? Good shows to recommend? 

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Bookapalooza: My Mother’s Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story

September 24, 2014
my mothers secret

Holocaust stories are difficult for me to read. The suffering is just so unthinkable and horrific that I find myself weeping uncontrollably. I recently finished reading My Mother’s Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story by J.L. Witterick. This book also sparked tears as I turned the pages. But this time, I cried because of different feelings – those of hope and kindness.

my mothers secretInspired by a true story, My Mother’s Secret is the tale of a Polish woman named Franciszka who, along with her daughter, helped hide two Jewish families and a fleeing German soldier from the Nazis. What set this story apart from other Holocaust tales is that it’s ultimately a story about goodness in people and hope for the future.

I was so moved by the heroism of Franciszka and her daughter, Helena, and the fact that they sacrificed themselves simply because, as Franciszka said, it was the right thing to do. To quote the publisher, “My Mother’s Secret is a testament to the kindness, courage, and generosity of ordinary people who chose to be extraordinary.”

Sophie noticed me crying as I read and asked if it was a sad book. Not prepared to explain the Holocaust to a 6-year-old, I told her I was crying because the woman in the story was very kind to people who needed help. I told Sophie that there was a real time in our history when certain groups were very cruel to other groups of people, simply because those people were different from everyone else. The woman in the story helped the people in trouble by giving them a place to live when they had nowhere to go. And food when they had nothing to eat. That selflessness and kindness, I explained to Sophie, is what made me cry.

I highly recommend My Mother’s Secret, even if you do not typically read Holocaust or history books. It was a fantastic novel – based on the true story of a heroic woman – whom we can all be a bit more like.

L’Shana Tova ~ Happy New Year!

GIVEAWAY: I have one copy of My Mother’s Secret to give to one lucky reader. To be entered to win, simply leave a comment about about a book that gave you pause to think. The giveaway closes Tuesday, September 30 at 5 pm Pacific time. 

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