Bidding My Job Goodbye

January 18, 2012

[I wrote this personal note to the BlogHer community, and I'm cross-posting it here, to announce my departure from the best job I've ever had!]

They say all good things must come to an end, and I suppose that’s true in some ways. Next month, a major chapter of my life will wind down to a close as I shut my laptop one last time, breathe a sigh of contentment, and bid my BlogHer co-workers a heartfelt goodbye. Or, I expect I will be breathing a sigh of contentment.

It could be a sigh of fear, or apprehension, or incredulousness at my own brazen actions. You see, I drank the BlogHer Kool-Aid back in 2006, when I first started working as a conference volunteer and attended my first BlogHer event. I worked every conference after that, coming on staff in 2008. When Elisa Camahort Page first called me to tell me that BlogHer was making my volunteer role into a full-time position with the company, and then asked if I was interested in that job, my heart stopped for a moment, my eyes lit up, and I mashed my lips together to suppress an ear-to-ear smile. Like someone had just told me I won the lottery, and I was afraid I was being Punk’d. The entire reason I kept volunteering is because I had so much FUN working with Elisa and with the hundreds of speakers we’ve had over the years. And now she was asking me if I wanted to have FUN full-time! I didn’t even have to think about what my reply would be. Of course! Yes! I was pretty sure the only way BlogHer would get rid of me was to fire me, because I’d never leave on my own.

And now I am.

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I’m not moving anywhere professionally, unless you count Chief Homemaking Officer of our household. I expect I’ll be updating more often on this blog, Chirky.com, with a little of my extra time. I’m so thankful for this gift, this opportunity to fill my days by playing with and pouring into my daughter. I’m already gathering “tot school” materials for a little preschool time, and am planning to copy ideas with wild ambition and no shame from two blogs I daydream about: Princess and the Tot’s Tot School and 1+1+1=1 Rock Stars Preschool. I have high hopes that laundry won’t be in a perpetual pile on our guest room bed. I love to cook, and it will make me insanely happy to know that I’m providing homemade meals, instead of depending on take out and dining out and the few things I put together and freeze on weekends. And I know all of this may sound incredibly mundane to some: cooking and cleaning and playing, but it’s a small window in our family’s life that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

I’m thrilled about and excited for the opportunity to stay at home, but will miss my BlogHer family. I’ll miss talking with the BlogHer community every day, I’ll miss scouting speakers, I’ll miss giving input on conference sessions, I’ll miss the crazy-chaotic conferences, and I’ll especially miss my co-workers. I’ve always said that the people you work with and the spirit of the company you work for play an enormous role in your professional contentment, and with that in mind, working for BlogHer has been the best job I’ve ever had. Around the office, we’re calling my departure a “long lunch break,” because you never know if there’s an hour when I might return. And while this job has been amazing -- a dream -- my heart has been wandering in other directions, and I’m leaping after it.

2012 New Year's Resolutions

January 02, 2012

I've vacillated over whether I should post New Year's Resolutions, since they're usually out the window within the first few weeks of the new year. I failed spectacularly at my 2011 Resolutions, sometimes because they were beyond my control, and other times because having a career and being an involved parent --at least at the level of involvement I want to have-- don't really mesh.

2011 was a bittersweet year. Highlights include Roger landing an amazing new job that he loves, which alone has made a significant difference in his personal and professional outlook. In the last few months, with the help of Roger's dad, we've gotten the door trim and window trim installed in our home, and it looks fantastic. The remodel is progressing! I've been more-off-than-on attending a playgroup for the past year, whenever I can fit it into my schedule, which has been great for Rayah and me. I'm looking forward to more of that group this year! And then lurking in the shadows of the year, in a deep, cavernous pit, is the traumatic and heartbreaking loss we suffered at the end of the year, one that colored all of 2011 for me, one that I'm not sure I'll ever explore on this website.

2012 should bring a lot of change for our little family, change that we expect will make our lives less chaotic, less stressful, more a leap of faith. Below are my Top Three Resolutions for 2012...Let's see how long it takes for me to forget about them:

1. Exercise More. Beginning in February, I'll have a bit more time on my hands. I'd like to spend some of that time exercising, whether it's while pushing Rayah in her stroller, or at the gym while she plays in kidcare. I just want to move more, instead of sitting sedentary behind my computer. Thankfully, this plan will go into action in late February, after all the folks with New Year's Resolutions have forgotten their Number One Resolution. (Losing weight.)

2. Make Better Food Choices. It's not like I cook or eat super unhealthfully (Unhealthfully? Is that a word? Is it unhealthily? Maybe I should make brushing up on the English language another Resolution.) - I avoid red meat, I don't eat much fried food - but I don't eat many vegetables, and I'd like to start. For me, this can be as simple as incorporating one salad each week into our meals (don't judge!), and trolling the internet for more vegetarian menus and recipes. (If you have a tried-and-true cookbook to recommend, please do!)

3. Community Groups. No one can accuse Roger and me of making rash decisions! We "dated" churches for about a year before finding one we liked in our area. Now we're "dating" community groups within that church. We'd love to find a lifegroup where we both feel at home, and I'm pretty sure it will be one of those decisions that just feels right in our gut. Community with a small group of believers in our home church is something that's been missing from our lives, and I'm so excited to join a group and begin building those relationships.

Those are my Top Three. I could go on and on, about changes I want to see to our family, to our home, to our budget; things I want to learn to do, things I want to do with Rayah, but I kind of just want to quit while I'm ahead, and maybe re-visit this list mid-year, to see how I'm doing. That way, I'll only have a 50% chance at failing at a FEW things on my list, rather than a 100% chance of failing at a LOT of things on my list.

Annnndddd...That is how I set myself up for New Year's Resolutions success.

Norwegian Delicacies: The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

December 12, 2011

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After my husband and daughter, there are few things I love on earth more than food, in all its myriad forms: wandering grocery store aisles, discovering new eateries, spending time in my own kitchen. (And then, afterward, there are few things I love less than spending time cleaning in my own kitchen.) Baking and cookie are a labor of love for me, passed down through the generations.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions was baking cookies with my mother and grandmother, every kind of cookie you can imagine. My grandmother would have Tupperware after Tupperware piled high on her kitchen table, and when she ran out of room there, the containers of cookies would spill onto nearby chairs, counters, and the top of a nearby chest. It was insane, the number of cookies my mother and grandmother produced. In the thousands, I am sure. (And I say mother and grandmother, because most of my memories in the kitchen with them were when I was quite young; I did help some, but I did more cookie decorating and cookie eating than anything else. And it’s not even like I could get in trouble for sneaking a sweet here and there, because there were still so many left!)

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But this recipe, Norwegian Delicacies, did not come from my given family. It came from my chosen family. I had never really had anything quite like it — maybe a cross between a sugared shortbread and a crescent cookie (some call them Mexican Wedding), but with the faintest hint of coconut. My mother-in-law (Hi, Mom!) has been making Norwegian Delicacies for more than fifty years. Though her own grandmother was from Norway, this recipe actually came from a Norwegian friend. Curious, as she pointed out, considering coconut isn’t exactly local produce in Norway.

I’ve made these cookies with my mother-in-law once, but I’ve eaten them on more than one occasion, and every single time it takes all the restraint in my body not to eat the entire batch. They’re crispy, light, sweet, and delicate, and if you catch them right out of the oven, they're slightly chewy in the center.

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When I signed up for The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, I spent a lot of time mulling over which cookie to make. I wanted something unique, but also hardy enough to travel through the mail, and the more the idea tumbled around in my mind, I realized I knew exactly what I wanted to share with others, and with you. I hope you’ll find them as irresistible as I do.

NORWEGIAN DELICACIES
(Recipe from Sue Ferris, gratefully posted here with permission)

INGREDIENTS
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup original Crisco
2 cups sugar
1 cup finely grated coconut
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups sifted flour
- - -
2 cups powdered sugar

INSTRUCTIONS
Preheat your oven to 350.
1. Mix the first seven ingredients until thoroughly combined.
2. Form into 1” balls and flatten slightly.
3. Bake at 350 until light yellow and just barely golden around the edges, about 8 to 10 minutes.
4. Allow to cool 1-2 minutes on the baking sheet, then roll in powdered sugar while warm.
5. Set on a wire rack until completely cooled.

Yield: Approximately five dozen cookies.

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The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap
If you want to play along next year, sign up for the swap.


The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2011

Thank you so much to MY Secret Cookie Swappers! For the past two or three weeks, I've been sampling goodies from Alaska, New York, and Tennessee! You can read all about the delicious cookies I received here:

Happy Birthday to Me!

July 13, 2011

Today is my birthday! I am 33. To celebrate, I took Rayah for her first-ever doughnut, chocolate-glazed with sprinkles. In our household, sprinkles are REQUIRED on birthdays. That's a little rule I just made up, but which has held true for the past seven years. The doughnuts were a BIG hit, with both of us!

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Sweet Salty Snack

July 08, 2011

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I was sitting here working at my desk, minding my own business, when all of a sudden my brain said: "You need to eat marshmallows, dipped in chocolate, rolled in ground pistachios."

I don't know WHY I craved something so specific, or where this combo even came from, because I don't really ever eat marshmallows, dipped in chocolate, and then rolled in ground pistachios. In fact, I don't even really eat marshmallows dipped in chocolate. Mostly because I don't have the patience to wait for the chocolate to melt, and then to dip each individual marshmallow IN that chocolate. When I do get the urge to eat marshmallows, I've always just gone for the bag-to-hand-to-mouth method, and my brain has never complained about that before.

But when my brain speaks, I listen. Especially when I happen to have all the ingredients in my pantry. (Except I only had mini-marshmallows, not the larger version, and this is my note to self: Keep all sizes of marshmallows on hand, for future use.)

The good folks at Scharffen Berger gave me a few bars of chocolate to take home from BlogHer Food '11, so I threw a couple chunks into a microwaveable dish and it melted down so beautifully. I ground up 3 or 4 pistachios in my mortar and pestle--I'm always looking for excuses to use my mortar and pestle--and then dipped and rolled, dipped and rolled. It probably took me two minutes total to make this snack, and even less than that to eat it.

Sweet marshmallows, rolled in rich milk chocolate, and topped with salty pistachios? Yes, please!

How to Peel an Egg

July 06, 2011

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If you ever invite me to a party, please don't ask me to bring deviled eggs, or boiled eggs, or any variation of a hard egg that isn't diced and mixed among other chunky ingredients. Because I'm really, really awful at peeling eggs. I just don't understand it! There is a repertoire of YouTube videos dedicated to this art, and still! My eggs look awful, every time. (I feel like it is appropriate to note here: there are lots of video tutorials showing how to peel off each end and blow to make the egg pop out one end. That is just gross, unless I'm the only one eating the egg, because then all my saliva is getting all over each egg. And don't tell me you don't spit just a little when blowing that hard to get an egg out. You do. Everyone does.)

I've tried boiling the water, using my egg timer, simmering the water, using a stopwatch, and...well, you can see my results. See that egg to the right? The one nestled within its shell? That's so you can see how I peel off entire chunks of egg with the peel. I need help. Egg help.

Is there an easier way to peel eggs? Some secret trick that doesn't involve spitting on them? Do tell.

Defining Our Treasure

June 29, 2011

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We keep a coin jar high on a shelf in our closet. This morning I got that coin jar down and set it on the bed. Rayah sat next to me while I began counting out quarters for her, and I guess I wasn't going fast enough because she reached in, grabbed a handful of coins, slid off the bed, and then ran, laughing and shrieking toward her room.

She came back several seconds later, pennies and nickels spilling out of her little fist, to check on me. I just sat there, amused, while she slowly approached me. I grabbed her hand, and said: "Rayah, can you give me those coins?" She flung her body on the floor, crying.

"Rayah, Mommy wants to give you more valuable coins. You don't understand it now, but these quarters are worth more than those pennies. AND they're bigger, see?" I showed her one of the quarters.

She looked up at the quarter, looked at me, looked at the quarter, and beat her little fists and feet against the ground in protest. She didn't want the quarters. She wanted the pennies and nickels. And perhaps I should have just given in, perhaps I should have just let her keep those coins. But I couldn't. I'm her Mama. I want to give her so much more than she can comprehend.

So against her will, I opened her fingers and put the coins back in the jar. I scooped up the quarters, opened my hands before her, and offered her my coins instead. Tentatively, she sat up and reached for the bigger, shinier coins.

I hadn't expected to learn so much from my toddler this morning, but the whole situation reminded me of a Bible verse, Matthew 7:11, and how God desires to give us good things, if only we ask. Sometimes we hold onto things that are "good enough," and sometimes those things have to be pried out of our hands while we cry and protest, because we just can't comprehend how much better they can be if only we wait on God.

Rayah's tears dried quickly when she realized I was giving her more coins, and she happily carried them into her room, where we put them in her piggy bank. I'm looking forward to teaching her that she can trust her Mama to give her good things!

Bluebonnets!

May 27, 2011

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A few weeks ago, we found a field of bluebonnets near our home. A massive field of blue bonnets, about the size of ten football fields. In Texas, the Bluebonnet is the state flower. If you have children, it's sort of required that you take pictures of your offspring in such a field. And so we did, happily.

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I know I'm biased, but I happen to think this little girl is the most precious, beautiful little girl EVER.

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I loved watching her run through the flowers, squatting down to pick a few (Illegal in Texas! Don't tell!), and holding them up to her nose to SNIFF! SNIFF!

I never knew that one tiny little human could bring so much joy and love and FEELING into my life. I hear people say: "I don't remember my life before I had kids." That's not true for me. I remember my life well. I remember flying without a squirmy toddler on my lap, I remember running to the grocery store or to meet up with friends without worrying about nap schedules or whether I'd need to get a babysitter. I remember working an entire day without one single interruption, if I so chose. I remember movie marathons with Roger, just because we could. Life before having a child was a lot more convenient. But it was also a lot less full - I just didn't realize it at the time.

I can remember my life before I had a child, but I don't want to remember my life before Rayah. She is, magnificently, curiously, awesomely, our entire world right now.

Easter Basket Ideas For Kids

April 18, 2011

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For the past many weeks, I’ve been a bit obsessed with Easter. I’ve been reading Rayah Easter-related stories from her Bible for the past month, plus another Easter book that was a gift from a friend, and (dare I admit this?) I’ve been shopping for Easter supplies since the beginning of March. In fact, during one trip to Target, an employee told me: “You know it’s not even St. Patrick’s Day yet, right? We don’t have any Easter products in the store. I think you’re the first customer I’ve ever met who was ready for a holiday before we are!”

Maybe it’s just that I like any excuse to buy my daughter cute things.

Since I’ve been thinking about the holiday for so long, I have come up with tons of Easter basket ideas. (Or this would also be good for stocking stuffers, birthday baskets, or even “everyday I love you” gifts!) I can’t fit them ALL into my daughter’s Easter basket, so I thought I’d share the gift ideas with you – just in case you need fun ideas for kids’ Easter baskets that go beyond the ubiquitous candy and stuffed animals.

These items vary by age, but I’ve organized this list with items appropriate for younger children up top and older children down below. Where I have favorites to recommend, I have.

  • Pacifiers
  • Clothes!
  • Baby Legs
  • Teethers
  • Rattles (we loved our Winkel!)
  • DVDs (Rayah’s all-time fave are PraiseBaby videos)
  • Bath toys
  • Plush blanket
  • Boo-boo bunny or cold pad (characters are awesome)
  • Trumpette socks (boys or girls)
  • Fun, colorful sippy cups
  • Cute room accessories (like nightlights!)
  • Sunglasses (I love the sunglasses at Janie & Jack, but the Target $1 bins have some really cute styles, too!)
  • GIRLS - Hair bows and hair ties
  • BOYS - Neck ties and bow ties
  • Stickers (also great for inside Easter eggs)
  • Books
  • Bouncy balls
  • Wind-up toys (also great inside Easter eggs) (You can get these for $1-$3 at Michael’s craft stores)
  • Bubbles
  • Crayons, markers or stamps
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Silly putty, play dough (also great inside Easter eggs)
  • Sidewalk Chalk
  • Flower pot/Packet of seeds (Target $1 bins)
  • Harmonica (Rayah has this harmonica, she loves it!)
  • Flip-flops or Crocs (depending on age)
  • Toy cars (also great inside Easter eggs)
  • Mini flashlight
  • Action figures
  • Jump ropes
  • Fake tattoos (non-toxic)
  • Piggy paints (non-toxic)

Sooo…what am I missing on this list? Are there items you’ve included in Easter baskets that I’m totally overlooking? I’d love to know!!

Chocolate and Banana Popsicles

April 10, 2011

You know how some people give gifts because they want to give you something, even if they're not sure what you'd like, and how other people give gifts because they pay attention to the things you love and take particular pleasure in surprising you with things you never knew you needed? My husband is the latter kind of person, and that's how I came to own a Zoku.

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If you live in a warm climate, or if you love ice cream / popsicles, or if you have kids, or if you are a kid at heart, you should own a Zoku. (I am not being paid to say this.) (Though I'd willingly be paid, because I love this machine.) (I guess no one is going to pay me to say it after I've already said it. Ah, well.) Zoku makes instant homemade popsicles - because the unit is frozen, it only takes about 10-15 minutes per batch - which means that nearly as soon as you have a craving, you can have instant gratification. I love instant gratification.

So the other day I was thinking about my high school cafeteria. I don't know why I was thinking about this, it's really kind of a depressing thought, but my high school cafeteria had two things going for it: (1) the Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate chip cookies they sold for 25 cents each, all fresh from the oven and melty, and which to this day rank among the top 3 cookies I've ever longed for; and (2) the ice pops they sold for 35 cents. My absolute favorite were the Double Fudge Bullets.

It was Rayah's snack time, and it was the first day this Spring that Texas weather had reached 90 degrees, and I was thinking how I could totally go for a Double Fudge Bullet right about then. I remembered that my Zoku was stuffed in the back of the freezer, unused, and had been there for weeks. I spied the bananas sitting atop our fruit bowl, and I had leftover chocolate syrup from another recipe...and my plan formed, almost unintentionally. I was going to make Chocolate Banana Popsicles, and they were going to be good. And lo, it was so.

You don't have to have a Zoku to make these ice pops, but I will go on record saying that *if you do have a Zoku, making these treats will be a lot easier.* Here's how I did it:

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YOU'LL NEED:
Popsicle molds (or Zoku, frozen)
1 cup milk
1/4 cup chocolate syrup
1 banana

HOW TO PREPARE
1. Mix the milk and chocolate syrup.
NOTE: You can skip this step if you already have chocolate milk on hand. Also, I tried this recipe with both skim milk and with whole milk, and neither seemed to make a substantial difference to the popsicle's creaminess. So I'd just use whatever you have on hand.

2. Mash the banana.
NOTE: I used a mortar and pestle because I love the novelty of it, but it's a lot easier to mash the banana with a fork on the plate. If you're using a Zoku, only mash 1/2 banana at a time, so that the flesh doesn't turn brown between batches.

3. Pour chocolate milk into popsicle mold until 1/3 full. Freeze.
NOTE: Be sure to add your popsicle sticks before freezing.

4. Spoon mashed banana into popsicle mold until 2/3 full. Freeze.
NOTE: To make this easier on yourself, use either (a) two spoons: one to spoon the banana into the mold and the handle of the second to prod the banana into place around the popsicle stick; or (b) a filled decorator's bag with a tip large enough to accommodate the thick texture of mashed banana but small enough to fit between the mold and the popsicle stick. Obviously, Option B is only for Super Particular People.

5. Pour chocolate milk into your popsicle mold, until full. Freeze.

[Yields: Approximately 6 ice pops, if molds hold 1/4 cup liquid each.]

I love that I can make popsicles out of fresh ingredients! And I also love justifying it as the equivalent of "a half glass of milk and part of a banana" if I accidentally ate three in one sitting. Not that I would do that, but you know, in case it ever does happen. Ahem.

Mother made, kid approved!

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