Want to know what it’s like to have a large family? (And, BTW, after seeing my cousin with her seven kids last week, mine doesn’t seem that big!)
Friday morning I decided to make muffins bright and early, before the kids came downstairs. The recipe ended up making 21 muffins. They aren’t huge muffins, certainly not bakery big, but pretty standard for homemade muffins.
My husband ate one, because I needed him to taste-test, even though he doesn’t usually eat breakfast at home. I am on Whole 30, so no yummy muffins for me.
Then the kids came downstairs. By the time we got them to school. they had eaten ten muffins among the four of them. So that’s 11 gone, 10 still left.
All the muffins were gone by the time my husband got up at 8:30 or so on Saturday morning. I don’t know why I ever make a single batch of anything. (Although if I had made a double batch, I’m sure no one would have liked them. See: Zucchini Muffin Debacle of 2017.)
Obviously these were a big hit in our family, and I’ll be making them again soon!
In a large bowl, whisk together oats, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl or big mixing cup, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and applesauce. Pour wet ingredients into dry ones and stir until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in chocolate chips.
Scoop batter into muffin cups, filling each cup about three-fourths full.
Bake about 18 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and tops are a little brown.
*I think whole (not lowfat or nonfat) buttermilk is the key to super delicious baked goods. I try to keep it on hand for pancakes, biscuits, cakes, and muffins. If you don't have it, you can make buttermilk with milk + lemon juice or vinegar, or just use regular milk. If you use lowfat milk, I might use oil or melted butter instead of applesauce in this recipe.
I’ve fallen a little behind here in blogging land, haven’t I? We had a wild holiday season (as is usually the case when you have many small children), and my grandma died on New Year’s Eve, so I packed up and went to Ohio for her funeral.
This week we’ve just been trying to get back in the swing of school and regular activities – just in time for the kids to be off for Martin Luther King Jr. day on Monday. Someday things might seem normal, right?
Here are the books I finished in November and December.
Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert – There were some interesting tips and topics in this book, but nothing earth-shattering for me. I definitely need to be Observing my 9-year-old daughter a little more, and I’m really trying to ask her about her friends and their relationship without automatically giving advice.
Leia is the graphic novel artist heroine of this tale, and in the first few pages finds she’s been left a souvenir of a one-night stand at a comic-book convention: she’s pregnant with Batman’s baby. Before she can even tell her family, life implodes, and she heads to south Alabama with her niece in tow to help her ailing grandmother.
Just when you think you know what’s going on, something else falls out of the sky. Do yourself a favor – never read the book blurbs. Just plunge in and enjoy the ride, especially on this great novel. It addresses family, issues of race and the South, and just felt especially relevant right now. But not without Jackson’s signature fun style and humor. She reminds me a little of a racier Jenny B. Jones.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown – I love and am always inspired by Brown’s work in vulnerability and shame. Given my attitude the last week, I probably need to pick this up and read it again. One by one, Brown outlines the characteristics of a Wholehearted life that she’s found through much research and study. It was a quicker read for me than Daring Greatly (review here), but that might be because I was dashing to finish it for a book club.
Renegades by Marissa Meyer – I initially rated this five stars, but I’ve backed down to a four, mostly because it’s not as memorable to be as I would like a 5-star book to be. I love Marissa Meyer, and her writing gets me every time. This was fast-paced and fun, a world she built where Superheroes are the government and Nova is part of a villain league. Haunted by her past, Nova will do anything to get revenge … including infiltrating the enemy. This is the first in a two-book series, and I desperately want to know what happens! But I guess I’ll have to wait another year.
All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater – Stiefvater is another author I love, and I was so excited to read this new book from her. When I tried to read it in hardcover, though, it felt off to me. I lost interest and returned it to the library without getting past page 75. But a friend in a book group suggested it on audio, and I was delighted to find it available on Hoopla, which is my favorite app for audiobooks. (My library subscribes to it, so it’s free!) The book takes place among a Mexican family living in Colorado, so the narrator’s Spanish accent and pronunciation of the names and places was helpful for me. (I didn’t have to think so hard every time I came across the name Joaquin.) And although the story has a lot of set up, once it’s there it really gains interest. I didn’t adore it like I did The Raven Boys (review here), but it was a good listen if you’re looking for an audiobook.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – Here’s the thing about this book. It’s very well-written, and the setting (Australia post World War I) was very interesting. But I would not recommend it to anyone unless they especially enjoy having their heart wrenched and dragged through the dirt. I don’t sob at many books, but I certainly did – more than once – at this one. And I felt like the book was written explicitly to destroy the reader’s emotions. (Kinda like This Is Us?)
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – I’d been working on this Pulitzer Prize-winner since late October, and finally finished near the beginning of December. I found it to be very intriguing, quite different from any other classics I’ve read. I know nothing about Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana the political figure in this book is modeled after; heck, I know basically nothing about politics.
They study this book in AP English at the school where we live, so I expect to have many interesting conversations about it with the students and faculty!
Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig – Ludwig’s debut novel could be called The Curious Case of Why Ginny Wants to Get Back to Her Birth Mother. Ginny is an autistic 13-year-old, living with her third set of “Forever Parents” but obsessed with getting back to her birth mother, even five years after she was removed from her. Her concern for her Baby Doll, left behind, baffles all of the adults around her. I felt like Ludwig did an excellent job helping us delve into the mind of Ginny and how she functioned. For me, a major Highly Sensitive Peron, I got very nervous about the book, though. There is high potential for super-sad disaster, and after reading The Light Between Oceans I was a little scared to keep reading. It made me nervous right up to the end, but I won’t forget Ginny soon. I listened to this on audio, and the narrator did an excellent job with it, too.
A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg – Often at Christmas, I just want to read something light and Christmasy, and this definitely fit the bill. It’s kind of cheesy and predictable and absolutely lovely. Really a fun read and just what I needed after All the King’s Men.
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.”)