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Painting Rocks and Creating Little Moments That Matter

August 10, 2017

There’s a line of dialogue from the movie “20th Century Women” that struck me when I first heard it, and continues to stay with me today. Annette Bening says to a friend of her teenage son:

“You get to see him out in the world, as a person. I never will.”

I think about this so much as Sophie — who is now a full-fledged tween turning 10 later this year — grows and matures every day. She’s no longer the kid I wrote about last year or even six months ago. She’s becoming her own person, independent and wants to make her own decisions. Her interests have changed. The clothes she picks are trendy. She likes pop music, watches YouTube and creates videos. Even the things she recently loved doing — like playing at the park — are not as fun to her as FaceTiming her friends.

This is all normal of course, and part of growing up. But as a parent, it’s a strange thing to observe — your own kid changing before your eyes; becoming her own person, independent from me. And that’s when I think about Annette Bening’s line and I realize I won’t see her as a person in the world without the lens of mom. And it makes me a little sad.

I wonder if we’ll continue to bond. How will our relationship change? How can I foster her independence while also staying close? Will I be a good mom as she gets older? I worry she won’t want to spend time with me, or do the little things and partake in traditions we always did.

So last Sunday afternoon when we had some free time, I told Sophie we were going to work on a summer list activity: paint rocks. After a few heavy sighs from Sophie and exasperation she wasn’t going to use the iPad, she went into the backyard to gather rocks while I set up the paint and brushes on the kitchen table.

And then we sat together and painted colorful rocks with designs that ranged from rainbows to mountains, and a mushroom house to a Bacon Man (Sophie’s creation). We painted and talked and laughed, and listened to Mary Chapin Carpenter. And when we finished we had a pile of beautifully-designed rocks, and feelings of happiness.

Sophie may be growing up and not wanting to spend time with me in the same way as before. But it’s moments like this I try to hold on to as they occur. She still asks (almost daily), “Which rock is your favorite?” (hers is Bacon Man, of course!). I like to think the time meant something to her, too.

The idea behind the painted rocks is to hide them in neighborhood parks for others to discover. We’ve hidden three so far, and plan to hide more. But for now, the rocks sit on the center of our kitchen table — a lovely reminder of a bonding moment between mom and daughter. I’ll take it!











Currently I’m … Giving You a “Catch-up on Life” Update

August 4, 2017

I sat down to write a blog post and realized I haven’t written a post in more than a month. So before I dive into a more traditional post, I wrote a catch-up post on what I’ve been doing lately.

Doing …

We’ve been enjoying summer and checking off items on the annual summer bucket list. Even though Sophie starts back to school next week, I still consider summer to be in full force until after Labor Day weekend. I’ll have a full post about how we did on the summer list with photos come then.

We’ve been trying to get outside as much as possible — swimming, walking and going to the park. Terre Haute has had a relatively mild summer; not quite as hot and humid as last year. We went to San Diego for a week to visit my family. Ironically it was more humid the week we were in San Diego than it has been here in Indiana.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing the last few months (clearly not on this blog). I’m excited to write regularly for two local magazines, and I’m writing several stories about life in Indiana for national publications. Stay tuned for an update on that project later.

Inspired by …

I had the pleasure of interviewing two inspiring Indiana State University graduates who started a loaded French fry food truck and ended up solving a big problem for college students in Terre Haute. I’m excited The Good Men Project published the piece, and you can read it here: College Entrepreneurs Open a Food Truck and Solve a Problem in Small Town America. One of the reasons I love Terre Haute is discovering the hidden gem stories to tell, like this one. Would love it if you check it out!

Thinking About …

Fall! I know it’s just the beginning August, but I’m already excited for the return of autumn. I started when we bought back-to-school supplies last week since Sophie starts school next week. And then I was seduced by the autumnal candle sale at Bath and Body Works. Although I refuse to burn my candle haul until September, smelling them scents make me long for the end of the month.

And of course, fall television premieres is always a good thing since I’m running out of shows to watch (see the next section of this post). And maybe it’s the “cooler-ish” weather we’ve been experiencing, but I just can’t wait for the leaves to change color and to physically and environmentally experience my favorite season.

Watching …

Oh television, how I love thee! The big hit recently was finishing “The Wire.” I never watched the show when it was on HBO in the early 2000s. I really liked the show, and can see why it’s become so acclaimed over the years. I’m already longing for the return of “Better Call Saul.” The thought of waiting almost nine months for season four makes me sad.

We are enjoying “Ozark” on Netflix. Already looking forward to season two. And I’m liking “American Crime,” which I’m watching for the first time.

I watched season one of “The Leftovers” and “Fargo.” Both were good, but not sure how much more I’ll go with “Fargo.” Just not sure if it’s my thing. So I’m almost out of shows to watch. Recommendations please!

Reading …

I’ve been making progress on my summer reading list. I loved David Carr’s The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His Own, and Joyce Maynard’s Under the Influence.

I also bought two books that were not on my list that: The Velveteen Daughter and Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy. Looking forward to starting those after I finish The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit.

Listening to …

Everyone was raving about the S-Town Podcast, so I started listening to that on the airplane ride back to Indiana. It’s pretty fascinating and hooked me in right away. It’s sometimes tough for me to find the time to listen to podcasts since I’m not in the car nearly as much as I was in San Diego. And when I run and walk the dogs, I prefer music. But when I do listen, I’m loving the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, and her sister’s new podcast, Happier in Hollywood.

Eating/Drinking …

I just made a batch of my Creamy Tomato Soup using tomatoes I picked from The Pickery, a certified organic u-pick vegetable garden here in Terre Haute. It was – quite honestly – the best batch of tomato soup I’ve ever made. I shared the soup recipe and wrote about the origins of our traditional Sunday dinner in a local magazine. Read the recipe and story here.

What’s currently going on in your life these days? Got television, books or podcast recommendations?









An Explosion of 4th of July Desserts

June 27, 2017

I’ve made many 4th of July desserts the over the years. Here’s a guide to everything from red-white-blue cupcakes to patriotic ice cream.

These cupcakes are my favorite dessert so far. I love the red, white and blue cake, and sparklers on top. You can find the recipe in this post.

cupcakeI love making flag cakes! I was inspired by the Barefoot Contessa recipe. I used her icing recipe, but the yellow cake inside is a boxed mix.

flag cake

These patriotic cookie bars are so good. I love how easy they are compared to rolling out actual sugar cookies and using cookie cutters. Here’s the recipe I used and I added some patriotic sprinkles to the batter. You can find the sprinkles at Target or a cake supply store.

cookie barsWe used to make a lot of homemade ice cream; that is before our cat knocked over the ice cream maker’s plastic cover. Now I just resort to buying it. But before that happened, Sophie and I made this patriotic cake batter ice cream. Here’s the post that has the recipe.
ice-creamI know a lot of people are not big Jello fans, but these stars are just too cute not to make. They would be a fun dessert for little kids too. Here’s the recipe. 

jello starsHave a great 4th of July!



The Summer Bucket List 2017

June 9, 2017

The official first day of summer may be a few weeks away. But since Sophie finished school on June 1, we’re in full-fledged summer mode and checking off items on the 2017 Summer Bucket List!

We’ve been making these summer lists since 2010 when Sophie was only 2-years-old! I hope she’ll continue making the summer list with me as she gets older (even if the items change a bit). It’s become such a fun tradition that we both look forward to each year.

Although we do plenty of lounging around and Sophie will attend a few weeks of new camps in Indiana, the Summer List gives us fun things to do during the weeks she’s out of school.

Here’s what’s in store for this year:

Looking for more inspiration? I recently published 25 Ways to Rock Summer Without Camps and a Big Budget on And I really like the ideas on this Summer of Kindness Bucket List.

If you’re looking for some Summer List inspiration, here’s what we’ve done in the past:

Do you make a summer bucket list? What are your summer plans?






The Summer 2017 Reading Guide (Not Your Typical List of Book)

June 6, 2017

Let me start off by saying this is not your typical summer reading list. The books in this post are not the best sellers and new release recommendations you see on every big summer reading guides on all the blogs, websites and magazines. Because really, why do we need to read about the same recommended books on every site?

My summer 2017 reading list is made up of books that are on my nightstand and in piles waiting to be read. Some of them are old books, and there are a few fairly new ones. And while they’re not all the big hits on every list, I’m excited to read some great stories by talented authors and I hope you’ll find some summer reading inspiration, too!

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance — I’ve actually already read this book, but loved it so much I couldn’t not recommend it. I wrote a pretty elaborate review of the book in my local magazine, Terre Haute Living. So click over there to read more about why this is such a phenomenal and important story.

The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His Own, David Carr — I just started read this memoir and I cannot put it down. Carr, a lifelong reporter, spent three years investigating his own life of addiction and crime, using techniques such as videotaped interviews, legal and medical records, and reporting. What results is a fascinating true story. Also, Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad) is staring in AMC’s television adaptation of the book, and I cannot wait to see how he plays Carr in this fascinating story.

The Girls, Emma Cline — This novel tells the story of Evie Boyd, who in Northern California in the late 1960s, gets caught up with a bunch of girls in the park and ends up joining a cult that is modeled after that of the famous Charles Manson. The story is fiction, but based on historical realities.

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, Micheal Finkel — I’m intrigued by this memoir of an introvert, in the true sense of the word. From Amazon: “This is the remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality—not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.”

Under the Influence, Joyce Maynard — I love anything Maynard writes. The book tells the story of Helen, who recently lost her marriage and custody of her 7-year-old son due to drinking. Now in recovery, the book follows Helen on her journey and the relationships she becomes entrenched with during her sobriety.

Lucky You, Erika Carter — This is the story of three friends, Ellie, Chloe and Rachel, all in their early twenties and trying to find their way through life in a small Arkansas college town. From Amazon: “Each is becoming unmoored in her own way. … In a remote, rural house in the Ozarks, nearly undone by boredom and the brewing tension between them, each tries to solve the conundrum of being alive.”

Delicious! Ruth ReichelDelicious! tells the story of Billie Breslin, who travels from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. She ends up discovering a hidden collection of letters written during World War II by a young girl to the legendary chef James Beard. Reichel is the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, so I’m sure the food descriptions will make me want to eat the book.

Anita, Helen Mishook, From Amazon: “When Helen left New York on a train bound for California in 1936, she was looking for a change of scene, planning to stay with her sister in Glendale and babysit her niece and nephew. But when she arrived, she found herself steeped in a world of bookies, mobsters, and a Nazi underworld that she must infiltrate on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League.” The story tells the under-told history of the American Bund, the pro-Nazi Silver Shirts, and their efforts to build a summer retreat for Hitler near the Los Angeles coast.

The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald — I loved MacDonald’s epic family saga, Fall on Your Knees. This one looks like it won’t disappoint either. From Amazon: “The optimism of the early sixties, infused with the excitement of the space race and the menace of the Cold War, is filtered through the rich imagination of high-spirited, eight-year-old Madeleine. … When a very local murder intersects with global forces, Jack must decide where his loyalties lie, and Madeleine will be forced to learn a lesson about the ambiguity of human morality — one she will only begin to understand when she carries her quest for the truth, and the killer, into adulthood twenty years later.”

Winter Garden, Kristin Hannah — Most people know Hannah from The Nightingale. But this is an earlier story about one woman’s heartbreaking story of love, loss and redemption set in World War II Russia. It’s also an intimate portrait of contemporary mothers and daughters.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel, I’m not usually a fan of science fiction or dystopian stories. But this one sounds intriguing and has good reviews. Twenty years after a deadline flu pandemic swept a city, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians called The Traveling Symphony, which dedicated itself to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But they soon encounter a violent prophet who threatens the tiny band’s existence. The story moves back and forth in time, depicting life before and after the pandemic, and a strange twist that connects all the characters and story.

The Leavers, Lisa Ko — From Amazon: “One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon—and never comes home. … With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.”

Thanks for reading this long list of book recommendations! Happy Reading!

Have you read any of these books? Are they good or bad? What are you reading this summer?





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