The first Christmas we were married, Mr. V and I spent alone in Nashville. We went and saw family over Thanksgiving, and planned on seeing more a little after Christmas. But at the time – I was a very tender 22 years old! – it felt devastating. I didn’t have any vacation time for my job, though, because I had just started on November 1. So it just was.
I cried in my cubicle, and then we moved on.
I planned a special Christmas Eve dinner. It’s legend in my nuclear family that the first Christmas Eve my parents were married, my mom made Cornish game hens for my dad. Every couple of years, she would repeat the tradition. I just knew that the pork tenderloin I planned on roasting would be that recipe for our family for years to come.
I followed Paula Deen’s recipe exactly, including the root vegetables, despite the fact that I’d never actually eaten or touched a rutabaga or turnip. I think I made a pie. We went to church at 5:30 and I thought I’d have plenty of time to roast the pork after we got back from the service to have a late dinner. (I vaguely remember this time when I wasn’t worried about feeding small children.)
But I kept looking at the pork, and it was hardly cooked. An hour … an hour and a half … why wasn’t it cooking like Paula swore to me it would?
Well, it turns out, that was because I didn’t know the difference between a pork loin and a tenderloin. I was expecting a huge roast to be magically done in an hour. I think after two hours or so, we were able to saw off the very ends to eat with our turnips. (Ick. I do not like turnips. Or parsnips.)
If you use actual pork tenderloin, this is a fairly simple but incredibly tasty dish. Marinate for a couple hours or overnight, toss in a dish, and roast it for awhile. The cinnamon-flecked meat is great with some roasted veggies and a salad. I roasted carrots and sweet potatoes around the meat, and it worked out great.
Asian-inspired marinade gives this pork the perfect balance of sweet and salty. Adapted from Paula Deen.
about 1 1/2 lbs. pork tenderloin
1/4 c. soy sauce
2 T red wine or a splash of red wine vinegar
1 T brown sugar
1 T honey
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp. minced ginger or 1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 green onions, sliced, white and light green parts
In a measuring cup or bowl, whisk together soy sauce, red wine, brown sugar, honey, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and onions. Place the pork in a gallon-sized zipper bag and pour marinade over it. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
Preheat oven to 350F. Place pork on a baking sheet. Surround with vegetables tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic if desired. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until pork reaches an internal temperature of 145F. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
Thank you, eShakti, for sending me a dress. No other compensation was received for this post.
I don’t dress up very often.
I might put on a dress for church – mostly because I like very feminine clothes – but I’m just as likely to wear jeans and boots to Sunday service. My husband and I don’t go out very often, but when we do, it’s the same casual dresses and skirts. And that’s fine.
But now I need somewhere fancy to go.
eShakti, a company I’ve worked with before, e-mailed me and asked if I wanted to participate in their “Look as Good as You Feel, Feel as Good as You Look” campaign. I’ve said no to almost every sponsor the last year or so, but I really do adore eShakti and what they do. They offer affordable, really amazingly well-made, gorgeous clothes that are customized to you (and me)!
I have a very, very hard time shopping for dresses. My chest is very large, my waist is short, I am on the shorter side (5’3″), and right now I’m teetering on the plus size/not plus edge. I absolutely have no problem with my size and shape – it’s me! – but my body type does make it harder to find clothes that fit well and make me feel great. I’ve also lost about 25 pounds this year, so my clothes are starting not to fit, and I want to replace them with pieces I adore.
The exact dress I chose doesn’t appear to be available any longer, but it was very similar to this Leaf Wool Embellished Tulle Layer Poplin Dress ($59.95). I love the greenish underlay, which is one of my favorite colors. I have green eyes, so wearing green definitely makes them pop.
I know I don’t love cap sleeves on me, though, so I asked to have the sleeves altered to elbow-length. I submitted that change along with my measurements rather than a size to eShakti, and they sent this dress right to my door! The customization is $9.95 per garment, which I think is very reasonable to have something made to measurements. The shipping time is 13-17 days, so if you order something now, you can still have it in plenty of time for Christmas parties and New Year’s fetes.
The feel of the fabric, the little snap pieces that allow me to hang up this boatneck easily, and the gorgeous packaging all come together to make me feel like a princess going to a ball.
I truly do not work with very many companies, but I vouch for eShakti 100%. If I do lose more weight, I intend to have this dress altered, too (but I bet it will cost me more than $10!).
October is a month that always seems to fly by for me. The weather, the football, fall break, and then for our family, zooming into birthdays (three!) and Halloween activities at the end of the month.
And thus, I’m just nuts. So here are two months of book reviews I needed to catch up on!
Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty – I listened to about half of the audiobook of this on a trip in July, and finally managed to finish it in September. (I tend to neglect audiobooks for podcasts!) The narration was good, and it was fun to listen to the Australian accent. This was Moriarty’s first book. It doesn’t have the great mystery aspect of her other books, although it does lay out a dramatic event in the beginning and then backtrack to get there. The story of adult, triplet sisters trying to make it through their everyday lives really is riveting. As with most of Moriarty’s works, a good beach read or chicklit with substance.
The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz – Professional cook and baker Lebovitz moves abroad to Paris, and recounts his adjustments to life in the City of Lights (and the city of tiny kitchens and refrigerators). Lighthearted and wry, with great recipes. I really want to try his Chicken Mole.
Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo – Stay with Me is Adebayo’s debut novel, but you wouldn’t know it. It’s gloriously lyrical and a peek into Nigerian culture. It’s also the story of a marriage: Yejiede and Akin see themselves as a modern couple in 1980s Nigeria; they want a child, desperately, but they don’t want to go to the cultural norm of polygamy. So Yejiede is aghast when a woman shows up and is introduced as Akin’s second wife.
The anguish Yejiede goes through, mentally, bodily, to have a child and then beyond, is fleshed out in this short novel. The military coup that takes place reflects the battle of the marriage. I know that sounds dramatic, but whatever. I thought it was a great book by a young talent.
Reading People by Anne Bogel – I’ve really enjoyed discovering more about my personality in the last several years. I feel like I understand myself; some of the oddities I’ve always thought were quirks no one understood turn out to be pretty normal for an HSP INFP. (That would be Highly Sensitive Person, and INFP is my Meyers-Briggs type.) Anne’s first book outlines several personality frameworks, making them easier to understand and filling in with personal stories and anecdotes. This book is really one-of-a-kind, and I thought it was super helpful and interesting! If you’re at all interested in personality typing, you really should get yourself a copy. I especially loved digging into the cognitive functions of Meyers-Briggs, which I don’t know a lot about.
(I was provided with a copy of this book from Anne’s team at What Should I Read Next, as a former guest of the podcast.)
The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian – It’s almost strange how much the story lines of this book and Rabbit Cake are basically the same: the mother is a sleepwalker and disappears, presumed dead; two daughters with a large age gap and a father are left behind to sort things out. But where Rabbit Cake gives us a quirky ride with the younger daughter, Bohjalian presents his dark tale through Lianna, the older daughter. Bohjalian is such a great, intense writer that I will pretty much read anything he publishes. But this was definitely not my favorite of his. This and his last book (The Guest Room) both have a heavy focus on sex, which I didn’t enjoy. Lianna isn’t very likeable, and I didn’t feel invested in her story. I need some likeable character, and I didn’t find one here. This was a solid three stars for me: good writing but the story line didn’t grab me.
Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker – When I was starting this post, I tried to figure out why I had what looked like a gap in my October reading. I knew I had abandoned two books, but it still seemed like a long time! Then I realized it’s because I had read this book again. The first time, I listened to it on audio. And please let me tell you, it’s 100% worth it to find the audiobook. (It’s on Hoopla, if your library uses that service.) Jen reads it herself, and her asides to the listener and voice quivers when she reads something touching made me feel like she was reading it just to me. But because we were going to talk about it in a new book club, I wanted to highlight up a paper copy. I reread it in hard copy, and it’s one I think I will go back to many times. I love her thoughts on parenting, marriage, extended family, Jesus, and food. As a mom to four wild things, it helps to hear someone whose been through the trenches and made it out alive and slightly sane.
So recommend this. Let me know if you read or listen to it!
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham – This YA novel gives us two stories: that of Rowan, a 17-year-old biracial student who finds a skeleton buried in her backyard, and Will, a 17-year-old in 1921, who has to face the intense segregation that seems to be coming to a boil in his city of Tulsa. It’s a quick read with a thought-provoking story, super relevant, and brings to light a historical event I think most of us had no clue about. Worth the read.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – Ng (Everything I Never Told You) again writes about family drama in a way that sucks you right into the story. The wealthy Richardson family (two working parents and four stairstep children) has everything going for them except the outlandish behavior of the youngest daughter, Izzy. When Mrs. Richardson rents out a house to a single mother and teenage daughter, Izzy seems to find a place to land, while the new neighbor, Pearl, finds her place at the Richardson home. All this sets up the real part of the story – the family members having to choose sides about a court case that hits them all close to home.
The first 100 pages are a little slow to get going, but the payoff is well worth it. (And I loved that this took place in the 90s, when I was in high school – it helped make the children extra-relatable for me.)
A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner – At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to follow the story lines in this novel, Meissner’s latest. There was a present-day character. There were women on the ship of war brides. There was Annaliese’s war story. There was Simone’s war story. And these all seemed to be sprinkled through, going back and forth in time. And – oh yeah – there were ghosts, too.
But it does come together in a very interesting and readable premise. While the ending is kind of odd, it was all certainly fascinating and something different. If you want a shake of the supernatural with your World War II drama, you might like this book. Meissner is a new author to me, but I’m definitely going to check out some of her backlist.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green – I realize what I am going to say here is going to be a Super Unpopular Opinion, so please stop reading if you can’t handle that.
I loved The Fault in Our Stars. I really liked Green’s book Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I thought Green did an excellent job portraying OCD through his main character. But I didn’t buy the romance at all. I didn’t understand why they liked each other. I felt basically nothing for either of them. The most interesting relationship is definitely between the main character, Aza, and her best friend, Daisy.
Suffice to say, I was pretty disappointed in this one. I think that’s allowed. Just didn’t fill my expectations of a Green novel.
So with those 1300 words, that was my reading for September and October. You can log this post as a novel on your GoodReads. 😉 What have you been reading lately?
I’ve been packing and sharing bento-style lunch boxes for my kids for over three years now. Every time I share a picture on Facebook or Instagram, I get a lot of, “Can you come make my lunch?” “How do you do this?”
If you know me at all, you know I wouldn’t do it unless it were pretty easy.
I love getting a little creative with my kids’ lunches, and they truly seem to appreciate it. I’m not great at many parenting things (playing on the floor, for example), but I love food and I want my kids to like good foods, too.
We’re working on that. They are all fairly picky eaters, which I’m sure you can tell from these lunch pictures.
My lunches certainly aren’t all healthy or homemade foods. They are just foods my kids will eat, the best I can do, with a little dose of fun.
So I’ve put together this PDF with pictures of 60 of our lunches, outlining what’s in each one, links to recipes if the items are homemade, and some how-to recipes throughout. They are all packed in either a PlanetBox Rover or a BentoGo Kids box. It also has a recipe index, links to all the tools I use in packing lunches, and a letter from me that might answer some of your questions.
And I’m giving it to you for free, because I want you all to be able to pack great lunches, too! I hope this will be a resource you can peek at if you are lacking in lunch box inspiration and just need a fresh idea that won’t take long to throw together.
Click here to open the PDF! (If you want to download and open in Adobe, you may need to right-click and pick “download linked file.”)
August was such a great reading month for me! All of these books were at least four stars, and two were five-star books for me on Goodreads.
What Falls from the Sky by Esther Emery – This memoir follows Emery as she chooses to take a year without the Internet: no e-mail, texting, blogging, or even using a debit card. She has just moved to Boston with her husband and kids after a major marital rift and leaving a theatre career. Esther’s raw emotions definitely spring off the page as she discovers the art of writing letters, how to bake bread, contemplates her odd childhood, and reconnects with God and her late mother’s memory.
I didn’t come away ready to give up the online world myself (or move to a yurt, like Esther and her family have), but it definitely gave me a lot to think on and desiring more quiet. A really beautiful book that speaks to our modern age. (I also love that the events of this book happened quite a few years ago; I don’t think she was performing the experiment just to get a book deal.)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – You may have heard the premise of this timely book: teenager Starr is with one of her best friends, Khalil, when they are pulled over by a white police officer and Khalil, unarmed, is shot and killed. In the aftermath, Starr tries to make sense of her two worlds: the projects where she lives and the wealthy school where she and her brother are two of a handful of minorities.
The book is gritty but feels so real, and I think it’s an important one for those of who are who privileged, white people to read especially. It’s YA, but if your kids are going to read it do be warned there is a lot of language and some sexual content.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui – This graphic memoir explores Bui’s family history: her parents’ growing-up years in Vietnam, their marriage and the young years of Bui and her siblings, and how they all fled to America in the midst of conflict in Vietnam. There is still a lot I don’t understand about the history of Vietnam, but Bui’s drawings and writings both illuminated the grief and hope of the times. I found the way Bui wove her current situation as a parent with reflections on her own parents’ parenting to be skillful and thoughtful.
Trajectory by Richard Russo – Trajectory is Russo’s latest work, a collection of four short stories. I am not generally a short-story reader, but I liked that these are longer, about 75 pages each, giving time to know the characters and get the feel of the story. I loved how the first three felt slightly connected – like a minor character from the previous story morphed into someone in the next tale. (Although the fourth one didn’t have that connection, so maybe it was coincidental?) I found “Voice,” the third story, to be the most provocative.
Russo’s writing is just so darn good. The only one of his books I have read is Bridge of Sighs, but I think I’m going to need to dig into his other works. There’s a reason he is a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Beartown by Frederick Backman – Y’all, this book broke my heart into little pieces. (That might be a theme this month. Nothing light here.) It’s another way-too-relevant read for right now. If you’ve read A Man Called Ove, you know Backman is a masterful writer. He uses the same voice in Beartown, but a much more serious tone. You think this book is about hockey in a small town. And it is. But it’s also about small-town thinking, growing up, secrets, and the politics of wealth and privilege. So much good here, although it’s certainly not easy to read certain events in the book. Five stars all the way.
The boys are back in town … or, in our case, the girls.
For six years, my husband has been a dorm parent in a boys’ dorm at the private high school where he teaches and we live. We were in one dorm for a year; and then, when we moved into our last apartment, another dorm for five. I LOVED those boys – and still do, of course. We knew at the end of last year with us moving it was likely my husband would be assigned to a different dorm. And he was. A girls’ dorm.
Most of my part in dorm parenting has been baking for the boys. It brings me a lot of joy, and I think it helps them feel a little more like school is home. I was a little hesitant about the girls’ dorm, wondering if they would eat like the boys do. I have been assured from every side that yes, they do.
So now I have 40 high-school daughters. And they wiped this platter clean the other night. Mr. V said one even said she doesn’t usually love chocolate, but she really liked this cake!
We’re living in a house now, so we’re not in the dorm with the kids, which is kind of weird after six years of being in one. But we’re still on campus and eating in the dining hall and trying to love these kids like our own. So I’ll still be baking up a storm!
Slightly adapted from Barbara Bakes. I love bundt cakes because they are so easy to serve and don't require as much frosting (I am not huge on frosting), but you could also bake this as a 9x13 or a layer cake, adjusting the time.
1 c. (2 sticks) butter
5 T cocoa powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup water
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. chocolate chips
1 T honey or corn syrup
3 T heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a bundt pan with cooking spray with flour and set aside.
In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together butter (cut into slices), cocoa powder, salt, and water. Cook until the butter is melted, stirring, and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and baking soda. Add half of the butter mixture and stir until well blended. Add the remaining butter mixture and stir until uniform. Stir in sour cream and vanilla until uniform.
Pour the mixture into the prepared bundt pan. Bake 35-40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack or platter to cool completely.
Put chocolate chips into a microwave-safe measuring cup. Add honey or corn syrup and heavy cream on top. Microwave 30 second on high power, then stir together until the chocolate is smooth. If it will not all melt, give it another 15 seconds or so. (Do NOT add more heavy cream once the chocolate is hot; it will make it seize up.) Drizzle or spoon over top of the cake and let set.