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Carrie Maldonado – Writer

Freelance writer, wordsmith, and novelist

Well readers, it’s been a while. I haven’t posted in a few weeks and have a lot to catch you up on, including but not limited to dealing with anxiety/depression around the holidays, chasing dreams, tapping out, and where have all the socks gone? However, today we’re going to talk about gingerbread. See, I’m a sucker for holiday traditions. I love the repetition, which is funny because I have probably instigated more change in my life than anyone I know (other than Dreamy). All the same, I am comforted by routines and some of my happiest childhood memories revolve around some of the things we did year after year.

Ironically, most of the things I remember happily weren’t particularly happy at at the time…like putting up the Christmas broomstick with coat hanger branches while the lights NEVER worked and my sister and I fighting and getting yelled at for fighting while we were waiting…or getting yelled at for fighting with my sister while making UBake Christmas ornaments, or cookies. Or getting in trouble for fighting about who gets to put the presents in the stockings Christmas Eve…The point being that if you do something over and over enough times, you’ll eventually convince yourself it was wonderful and have happy memories about it. It has totally worked for me (seriously, I do remember these things fondly, and we laugh about them all the time now that we’re grown up and hardly ever get yelled at for fighting anymore). I’m really hoping it works for my kids too, because so far, ‘tis the season to yell at them while they fight as I try to make happy memories, DARN IT!!

Because I have 3.5-year-old twin boys and a 5-going-on-14-year-old-girl, who have been arguing about EVERYTHING, it seemed like as good a time as any to start an ambitious holiday tradition of making our own gingerbread house from scratch and decorating it. For the last several years, I’ve bought a pre-made house from the grocery store and decorated it with Bisky but this year no one is putting #NoBen in the corner and #StopThatAiden will not be denied an opportunity to do what his beloved lord and master (Big Sis) is doing. I’ll be honest, the initial driver behind the whole ‘do-it-completely-ourselves’ thing was cost. Three pre-made ginger homes would be upwards of $30, which just seems dumb, so I combed the halls of Pinterest and found what I was looking for; a step by step tutorial on how to bake and assemble a gingerbread house.

I wasn’t intending on doing it this weekend, but after I mentioned to Bisky what I was thinking it immediately became a promise, and we didn’t have anything else to do, so I headed off to the store to get molasses and gumdrops. Below is me excitedly about to go in and spend $10 on a few things to decorate with. Next, is me after spending WAY MORE than $10 because I should not be allowed to shop ever.

The next step was cutting out the templates to make the house. This is so not my thing, I’m much more a wing-it kind of gal, but after making 12 cups of flour worth of gingerbread, I’ll be you-know-what’d if I waste it by not following all the instructions. So I constructed all my little cutouts out of nice sturdy paper (so as to avoid a similar debacle as experienced with the pumpkin-carving stencils).

Making the gingerbread required boiling molasses and sugar over the stove, which brought back traumatic memories of spilling scorching hot ‘never fail fudge’ on my arms and feet as a girl (making fudge is another tradition I remember happily, second degree burns non-withstanding), so I made sure the children stood well away from the stove. Which distressed them.

There was a scary minute when I thought the flour would never incorporate, but using all of my considerable muscle, I kneaded it all to the right consistency and Dreamy helped me roll it into the pans. It came out much thicker than I expected, which is probably good. We are much more at a sturdy cottage stage of our gingerbread architecture (and life) than elegant and refined. I cut out the pieces while warm, and eagerly awaited construction time, while all three kids whined “can we decorate, can we decorate, can we decorate, can we decorate” over and over in between fighting over who would sit where when we DID decorate, and I yelled at them to stop fighting (aww, memories being made already).

Then I had to ‘glue’ the pieces together to make the house. This is the part that everyone warned me about. The house part was okay, but I think I did something wrong because there was a 2-inch gap when I put the roof on. Then the walls started to buckle. We pressed in though, spackling where we could and using soup cans to bolster the wall. I told the kids we couldn’t decorate until the next day, which made #NoBen apoplectic, but had to be done.

The next day the ‘glue’ really had firmed up to cement-like consistency, and it appeared that our little edifice was going to stand. I carefully divvied up all the licorice, and candy canes, and gum drops so nobody would have to SHARE, and after a brief but intense argument about who would sit where, I set them loose.

I can honestly say, the experience wildly exceeded my expectations. All I was really hoping for was that they’d get to put some M&M’s on the thing before it collapsed, but we got through the whole thing and everyone was pretty pleased with the results.

And after we finished, Bisky asked if we could also please get a ‘store-bought’ house because that’s the ‘real’ tradition.

Ingrate.

What are your holiday traditions?

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In the spirit of November, and Thanksgiving (at least in the US…Canada is way ahead of the curve here), here’s why to choose gratitude.

Today when I went to make coffee, the vanilla coffee that I like so much was not where I left it. I spent a good three minutes looking for it before I found it on the other counter, where Dreamy had put it while cleaning up after dinner. Before I found it, I was convinced that he had lost it, thrown it away, or taken it to the gym NOT EVEN CARING that this is my (now) favorite kind of coffee (as of yesterday). Now I don’t know about you, but my inner child is usually a spoiled little brat who always wants her way and has temper tantrums when this doesn’t happen.

Fortunately, I have learned (actually, I’ve been taught by women wiser than me) that when I behave badly, I’m usually wrong and even if I’m not wrong I will feel like crap if I’m a jerk. And I will also need to make amends if I am to have any serenity, and it’s easier to be nice than to make amends. I laughed at myself as I went through this experience today because I would have responded much differently to this situation in the last 10, 5, and even 3 years. Here are the texts I would have sent after not finding the coffee after 2 minutes during different stages of my life and understanding of gratitude:

30-year-old me: ‘I can’t believe you took the coffee to the gym. Could you at least have ASKED if I liked that kind, or do you only care about yourself?’ (note, I was not married to Dreamy when I was 30. He was lucky enough not to have to experience THIS version of me…for the most part).

35-year-old me: ‘Would you mind bringing back the coffee? Vanilla is my favorite.’ ahem. I also would have been very proud of myself for not responding like the above.

40-year-old me: ‘Did you take the coffee to work with you?’ – said neutrally just so I would know if I should stop looking for it.

43-year-old me: Decides to wait before texting to see if there’s any other coffee at home because coffee’s coffee.

45-year-old me: That is so cool he cleaned up even though he was gone all weekend.

WOOHOO!! I seriously felt like I hit an elevated plane of existence, even though I’m well aware that I’m just being an adult and will not be receiving a hero badge for  not being a jerk.

See, I don’t know a lot, and I forget most of what I do know,  but one thing I believe to be true is that you can walk through life as an entitled jerk or happy and serene in the exact same set of circumstances. I have been on both sides of that coin and can tell you that even when I’m 100% RIGHT in my stance, choosing the entitled angry position has never brought so much as half a smidgen of peace.

People who are entitled feel like they’re owed something. They have a set of ‘shoulds’ in their mind. People SHOULD behave in a certain way. They SHOULD get this if they did that. The world is full of people who will be more than happy to remind us of our shoulds. I love the commercials that were playing day and night in California a few years back. They went something along the lines of “Did you spend an exorbitant amount of money on a house you can’t afford and now you are behind in your mortgage payments? You DESERVE to have a mortgage you can afford.” Or “You DESERVE a diamond bracelet for your birthday” or “You DESERVE to…” you get the idea.

Having expectations about what should be results in either two things. You get what you expected, and are satisfied (but not overly happy because it’s just what you expected) or you do NOT get what you expected so you are frustrated and resentful. Because of this, I work really hard at not having expectations, and life is a lot more fun.

And you know how not to be an entitled jerk?

Gratitude

Do you know it is impossible to be entitled and grateful at the same time? Think about it. If I expect my hunky husband to do the dishes every night and he does them, I’m just ‘meh’. If he does them and I think ‘how nice, he did the dishes. I’m so grateful’, I feel happy. If someone comes and tells me, ‘well, he SHOULD do the dishes. You DESERVE to have him do the dishes since you cooked. He SHOULD mop the floor too and NOT move your coffee’ then while this may be true it will also be true that I will experience much less happiness in my marriage.

We all have the power to magnify whatever we’re looking at, and we get to choose whether we look at the good or the bad. Funny thing though, is we also tend to attract the same attention back as we give. If I helpfully find all the things Dreamy is doing wrong when he cleans and helps out, he will probably not turn to me and say “Thank you so much for helping me do better. You’re the best. I love providing you opportunities to coach and instruct me because you’re so good at it”. Nope. In fact, he may even become tempted to point out the few areas where I am less than perfect. And the cycle begins.

No one was ever nagged into a happier and more loving relationship, and an attitude of gratitude goes a lot farther to create the life you want to be living than a critical eye and a sense of entitlement. I’ve been using marriage, but it works in every relationship and every circumstances – cross my heart.

I definitely need to be intentional about this, as it is still not my default nature. For example:

Entitled: Arghh…#NoBen is calling out for me at 3:15 am again. What does he want now?

Grateful: I’m glad #NoBen has the security of knowing I will be there if he calls.

Entitled: You want another story? When am I going to get five minutes to myself?

Grateful: They’re not always going to want to spend time with me, so I’m going to enjoy this while it lasts

Entitled: Why is that cashier going so slow and making comments about every single item?!!

Grateful: That’s nice that she’s taking the time to be friendly.

Entitled: Why are those people in front of me walking SO SLOWLY

There is no positive response to this one. Those people are evil and should not be allowed out in public. Possibly I will feel differently about this in five more years.

Do you have any times you could have been mean but instead were grateful and what happened? I’d love to hear about it!

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, please share the love, and let’s connect on Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook!

PS I’ve written, 10 tips on dealing with multiple (conflicting) priorities. If you’d like a free copy, just click here!

As the mother of a five-going-on-fifteen-year-old girl, I am acutely sensitive to the world that my daughter is inheriting and what that world wants to tell her about being a girl. To put this in some context, I should probably mention that I’m currently co-writing a book about the power of belief and our mindsets. The gist of it is that what we tell our subconscious about ourselves dictates our experiences in life. What are we telling our daughters about being girls and women?

The other day my daughter told me that her friend’s mom said that girls can do boy things and boys can do girl things and did I think that was true? I told her I did not think it was true because I didn’t think there were girl things or boy things. I told her there are just things, and that if a girl plays hockey, or dolls, or likes science, or cooking, or wants to be an astronaut then if a girl is the one doing them they are girl things and if a boy is the one doing them then they are boy things. She’s too young to really understand this, but I told her that the people who want there to be labels on what is a girl thing and what is a boy thing end up getting themselves and everyone else very confused about boys, girls, boy things, and girl things.

I believe this, and most of the people I associate with believe this with one significant exception…girl drama.

When I say girl drama, you all know what it means, don’t you? It means teaming up and then turning on one another. It means not sharing friends. It means making fun of people who are different. It means being ultra-competitive with other girls. It means hurting other people’s souls with our words. It means having a best friend to the exclusion of anyone else, and then suddenly being enemies with that same person. We even have a term for it – frenemies, and we laugh about it when we see our daughters as young as three and four having ‘renemies. We see all this and we nod and say ‘that’s just a girl thing’.

We are all so convinced that girl drama is a thing that I think it doesn’t even show up on our radar if boys do it, and if we ever do notice it we probably chalk it up to a one-off. Those of us who were more often the victims than the perpetrators may work to instill kindness and resiliency in our own daughters, but it’s still understood that this IS JUST HOW GIRLS ARE.

By accepting girl drama, we are planting in our daughters’ subconscious two malignant thoughts. First, that there really ARE ‘girl things’ and ‘boy things’ and second that this sociopathic behavior is acceptable…or at least unavoidable. Why? Why do we do this?

I have a lot of theories but who knows? And I don’t know that it matters. I will not successfully convince the whole world to change any more than I can convince people not to drive like jerks or walk slowly in front of me. I can try to teach  my daughter that strong girls don’t take sides or be mean, and I can hope she’s not bullied or, worse, is a bully. Unfortunately, as long as we all tacitly agree that girl drama is a thing, it will be. I used to say, and  know a lot of women who still say that they don’t like women, or would rather be friends with men because of girl drama.

Which is too bad. My most supportive relationships today are with other women. I’ve got friends in my life now who have saved my ass when it was falling off. They are loving, and tough, and don’t take crap from anyone. These women tell the truth, and want the truth in return. They have my back and I have theirs and if my whole world fell apart, I would call them and they’d be there for me, and vice versa. This is what strong women do. Yet we are all raised to think this is the exception, and the norm is that women are a bunch of self-obsessed narcissists intent on stealing each others’ clothes, jobs, and men. We grow up thinking other women are bitchy, catty, controlling, back-stabbing witches. Why? Because we’re told from kindergarten that’s how girls are and we don’t find out until we’re all grown up and able to think for ourselves that it’s not that way. If we ever do.

I wouldn’t do without my women friends today for anything, but I would have had these relationships in my life a lot sooner if I wouldn’t have been groomed to believe in girl drama.

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What about you? How does ‘girl drama’ affect you?

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, please share the love, and let’s connect on Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook!

PS I’ve written, 10 tips on dealing with multiple (conflicting) priorities. If you’d like a free copy, just click here!

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Okay, let’s have some fun!

A couple days ago I posted on Facebook my desire to collect my friends’ best and worst end results of pumpkin carving. At first it was motivated by the fact that I think Pinterest fails are hysterical. Maybe it’s because most of our projects end up in that category that I have a fondness. But then I saw some posts of some pumpkins that are like works of ART, so even though they don’t make me laugh, they are aspirational – as in, something to aspire to. Someday. Maybe.

So I will get us started:

Here are our best efforts – from completely kid designed up to stencil fail.

The 3 eyed monstrosity was G’s creation. Because she’s five, she knows everything about everything. She drew this on the pumpkin with markers. It is a girl pumpkin. The drawing had glasses, long hair, and eyelashes. I wasn’t going to touch that tantrum-in-the-making with a ten-foot pole, so I let Dreamy carve it while I scuttled off like the coward I am. He, being a man, took her at face value and carved what she SAID she wanted, not what she actually did want (you’d never know he’s been married for over thirty years total with this blatant lack of girl-whispering ability). It was deemed unacceptable – for obvious reasons.

IMG_2506#noben  just wanted a mad pumpkin. You can’t see in the pic but somehow it got lopsided so if not propped up it rolls away like something from the Evil Dead. He’s very happy with it and takes his responsibility of propping it up with a toothbrush, crayon, or spoon VERY seriously.

IMG_2503Aiden’s happy pumpkin was a stencil gone wrong. I don’t usually follow instructions but I did here and it was a you-know-what-show. The paper instantly turned to pulp so I ended up winging it. A far cry from the enticing artwork pictured on the front of the package. I’m hoping there are some pics of ones that actually worked out for comparison.

IMG_2501The one on the porch is G’s second attempt. She was so thoroughly disgusted that Tony failed to execute her vision that I let her have another try. It’s not our first time at this rodeo, so we always have a backup pumpkin, even though it’s probably bad parenting to accommodate rampant perfectionism. I call this one pumpkin surprise because it was rotten and filled with pumpkin-puke. I never knew this could happen. She drew this herself and I was so irritated with her attitude I kept the crooked things crooked. So of course she loves it!

For this to be fun, I need to hear from you! Post your worst – and your best, with the stories. This is not a contest. No voting, but you may particularly love a special pumpkin. And although I’m usually against the participation trophy in this instance we are all winners simply by not severing our fingers! Yay Mom (and Dad)!

Okay, everyone, I think you know the drill by now. I am on a quest to include all the fun things I didn’t keep in my novel Grace Group. Namely, the recipes. Now you may ask…why were there recipes in the book, or perhaps, why didn’t you keep them if you like them so much that you keep blogging about them? Grace Group is a story about Holly Matthews’ quest to find meaning and purpose in her life after she receives a fatal diagnosis. Early in the book she joins a support group for people in her situation, and they work through their problems together. Eventually there is a HUGE GIGANTIC HOLY  MOLY plot twist and the focus shifts to the afterlife, spiritual truths, redemption, and salvation.

But there are still snacks. In my original version, every chapter started with a meeting of the grief group (one of the working titles), and the snacks figured prominently because…well…I love snacks. And baking. But because of the HUGE GIGANTIC HOLY MOLY plot twist, the meeting thing didn’t work quite as well and quite frankly, the snacks were throwing off my pacing. I tried really hard to keep them, but you can’t really follow up a (literal) come to Jesus moment with brownies. At least, I can’t. But that doesn’t mean one just forgets about the brownies, either. So here are

Sandra’s heavenly (ahem) brownies.

  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 squares of unsweetened baking chocolate (or 6 TBSP cocoa and 2 additional TBSP butter)
  • Melt on a stove until combined. Don’t get involved in a book and forget to stir. It will burn and smell gross and taste grosser.
  • Add in 1 cup granulated sugar. Mix well, but it will be grainy.
  • Beat in 2 eggs. Note…you have to do this really quick because the mixture is hot and you don’t want scrambled eggs in your brownies. Yuck. If you want to do this the right way, beat the eggs in a separate bowl and drizzled the hot stuff into them to warm them up. Honestly, I just throw those suckers in and beat really fast and it almost always works out.
  • Add the best vanilla you have. One glop. Or 2 tsp or so.
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt. I like to add more when I’m going to be including the glaze and chocolate chips (more on that in a minute) to cut the sweetness a bit.
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Bake in an 8×8 (or 9×9) pan for about 25 minutes at 350. If they’re not baked enough they just taste like fudge, but don’t overcook them.

You can get really creative with these. I usually add chocololate chips and often peanut butter chips too. Pecans go great in here. Pretty much anything goes good in here. They’re more than enough BUT if you want to get extra decadent…

Just Wing it Brownie Glaze

  • Melt some butter. How much? I don’t really know…about ¼ cup I guess
  • Whisk in some cocoa until it’s the right color and then mix in the icing sugar and vanilla until it’s thick but pour-able. Add milk if you get too thick. Adjust everything to taste and slather it all over the warm brownies. Don’t you just love saying warm brownies? Sigh…

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, please share the love, and let’s connect on Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook!

PS I’ve written, 10 tips on dealing with multiple (conflicting) priorities. If you’d like a free copy, just click here!

This past weekend Dreamy, the kids, and I took off on Friday for a long weekend in a secluded cabin deep in the mountains. The idea was to totally disconnect from the busy-ness and general chaos that is part and parcel of daily life in our society (and our lives) and reconnect with the busy-ness and general chaos that is our family. We’ve been at this cabin before, in June of 2016, and many things have changed, but many have stayed the same. Both times we left feeling it was an unqualified success and in both cases that was mostly due to our ability to accept unanticipated deviations from the expected as…well, the expected.

In 2016, the boys had only been 2 for a few months. Unlike Bisky at that age, the boys were neither particularly verbal nor obedient, so preserving their lives trumped all. This was not an easy feat; first because of the hiking trails of death, where even ‘family friendly’ hikes pretty much guaranteed your instant demise if you strayed so much as a millimeter (fraction of an inch for my American friends) off the path. Considering #NoBen’s proclivity for straying FAR off the path, this was concerning. So leashes. Before that weekend, Dreamy still kind of thought leashes were something people of my genetic heritage use because we’re incompetent parents, but even he saw the wisdom in being able to yank #NoBen and #StopThatAiden from the jaws of death with one flick of his wrist. Despite all that, the only injury last year was when we were throwing rocks into the river and Bisky wound up only to misfire and hit #NoBen full force in the back of his head with a rock. At least, we assumed it was a misfire.

This year was later in the season, and the boys are 3 ½ so it was better and worse from the physical safety side. I mean, they CAN speak and listen, but that doesn’t mean they DO. And the leashes don’t fit anymore, so we had to decide if we trusted their judgment and decision-making abilities enough to go on hikes where they can get seriously hurt if they don’t listen. So OBVIOUSLY we couldn’t go hiking this year, which limited our potential for injury. Limited, but not eliminated. Where there is a will, there is a way, and #NoBen’s appetite for danger knows no bounds. Fortunately, he recovered from his marshmallow roasting injuries quickly.

IMG_2402Last year there was no connectivity at the cabin. This was great for Dreamy and I but the kids were a little kooky with no entertainment other than us. We played some epic hide and seek, and flashlight puppets, and other fun games, but there are only so many times you can watch Peppa the Pig videos without losing your mind. For Dreamy and I that number was .75. For the kids, it is still undiscovered…sort of like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. This year I was looking forward to the same, but the cabin owners invested in WiFi. I was devastated! So devastated I took to Facebook to assuage my grief. Then I started watching Dreamy’s social media use and judged him to make myself feel better. Then I decided if silent judging felt good, out loud judging would feel even better. So that was fun.

But outside that, we still played some epic hide and seek, and flashlight puppets, and other fun games, which reminds me of another major difference. This year, Bisky can read, and therefore play Apples to Apples. So another lesson I have learned is that Flying Squirrels is an appropriate or funny answer for almost any question. In case you need to know.

There were other differences. Bisky lost a tooth. After copious amounts of angsting and hyperventilating, the actual loss was anticlimactic. As in,“It’s out,” mentioned nonchalantly as Dreamy and I scrabbled desperately through the rug looking for it. Not as desperately as we scrabbled through every pocket we had looking for SOMETHING the Tooth Fairy could leave. I had Bisky convinced a coin, any coin, was all that could be expected. I really should have left it at that, but we found four quarters and it WAS her first tooth. I didn’t want her proudly producing her quarter only to have a classmate inform her how ripped off she was. It all would have been fine…except the next day the OTHER tooth fell out! So, lesson learned. If your kid has any loose teeth, carry around enough emergency cash to pay off the fairy in case you are miles away from civilization. We drove all the way into a town until we could find an ATM, and I’m not sure what Dreamy did, but all we had to give was five dollars, so the Tooth Fairy left a note that this was a one-time bonus based on losing two teeth back to back and this much money should not ever be expected again. Ever. Phew!

Overall, my biggest takeaway, is that looking at life in the rear view mirror, it really is getting better and better. There was a time not that long ago when I thought any possibility of fun vacations or any kind of getaways at all were off the table because the reality of twins is that you are at a logistical and financial disadvantage. Heck, for the first three years I didn’t feel I could safety take all three to the store alone, let alone anywhere fun. This was a breakthrough for a lot of reasons, and just one more thing to be grateful for.

What were you grateful for this week?

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, please share the love, and let’s connect on Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook!

PS I’ve written, 10 tips on dealing with multiple (conflicting) priorities. If you’d like a free copy, just click here!

Time for another recipe that was ruthlessly cut from the final draft of Grace Group. This one is one of my all time favorites, and the dessert I am most likely to bring to anything I’m invited to (assuming my kids don’t get sick or I don’t get an attack of introvert-itus and just no show). I wasn’t sure which character should get to bring the amazingly awesome Ooey Gooey cake. I kind of thought Lydia, since she’s a mother/grandmotherly type, but I’m not sure she’s worthy. Michael on the other hand, perfect, dreamy, handsome, wonderful Michael (who is apparently too good for Holly, according to one reviewer, but I’m not sure I agree) is just the sort of hunky guy who’d bring Ooey Gooey. If he baked. Fortunately, it’s all in my control so he does, and here it is.

Michael’s Ooey Gooey Cake

cake mix doctorThis is like cake and cheesecake all rolled into one. The original recipe was garnered out of a simply ingenious book called ‘The Cake Mix Doctor’ (Volume 1) that my super cool friend Tara, a forensic CSI who also is a terrific baker, told me about. The best thing about this recipe is that it’s extremely versatile in that you can start with a base and basically add anything to it. I’ve topped this with cherries, blueberries and even made a pumpkin version. I’m not crazy about the chocolate version…but I bet it would be great if you used a chocolate cake base. Just sayin’. Anyway, here’s the basics.

Crust:

1 package of vanilla or golden cake mix

½ cup butter

1 egg

Beat together until it forms a big sticky glob. Smoosh it into a 9×11 cake pan. Don’t bother washing the bowl or beaters, it’s fine.

Filling:

8 oz softened cream cheese

½ cup butter (I know, I know)

2 eggs

Vanilla (paste or liquid) – about 2 tsp

3 ¾ cup icing sugar

Whip the cream cheese until really fluffy. If you slack off here, you’ll have little lump of cream cheese in the final product which doesn’t taste bad but doesn’t look as pretty. Add butter, then eggs & vanilla, then the icing sugar.

Bake at 350 for 50 minutes. It should be golden brown, but will be jiggly when you take it out of the oven, so don’t worry.

Variations: You can add pecans or slivered almonds to the crust. If you’re adding almonds, try a bit of almond extract in the filling as well.

I like the almond one by itself, or topped with cherry pie filling. You can also add lemon if you like lemon-y things (Michael and I don’t, but it’s up to you). For the pumpkin one, I used carrot cake for the base, and mixed in about 1 cup of pureed pumpkin and all the pumpkin pie seasonings to taste. It was really good. If you really want to try the chocolate marble version, you just reserve a cup of the filling,  melt about 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips in the microwave, blend it with the reserved filling and drizzle it over the rest of the filling that’s on the crust already, using your knife to make the beautiful patterns that never work for me, but maybe you’ll have better luck. Like I said, I think the chocolate is overkill and overwhelms the cheesecake-y awesomeness, but that’s me. It might work better with a chocolate crust, but I’ve never tried.

If you try this, please email or comment on any yummy variations you try! I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, please share the love, and let’s connect on Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook!

PS I’ve written, 10 tips on dealing with multiple (conflicting) priorities. If you’d like a free copy, just click here!

My mission as a writer is to encourage and inspire others, but as a mom to three small children, a wife, and an entrepreneur for three business, sometimes things get overwhelming. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s like everything is going amazingly well, and I’m firing on all cylinders, and then BAM! the wheels start falling off. I’m usually an upbeat, laugh-in-the-face-of-pretty-much-everything kind of gal, which sometimes makes it difficult for me to admit when I’m not doing so well, or ask for help. Because I deal with pain by laughing at it, it’s hard for people to know when I’m actually not doing okay.

Yeah, sure, it would help if I told you. I get that, but I’ll be 45 in a couple weeks, so although I suppose there’s a mustard-seed-size grain of hope that I’ll get better at this, let’s just assume nope. But today I’m sharing about the down days because as someone who continually battles anxiety and perfectionism, who also wants to enjoy the stuffing out of life, I think it’s important to talk about this because a) it takes the power out of it and b) I know someone reading this is going to say ‘me too’ and it will help them knowing they’re not alone.

There are down days

Now, look. I am 100% aware that someday I will look back on this season of life wistfully, and remember when the kids were so small, and I was their everything, and I’ll wonder when I became redundant. I am aware that one day I’ll walk in the door and be met with silence and not a clamor of “MOMMY’S HOME” with pounding little feet racing to smother me in sticky kisses, sticky hugs, and sticky everything (because hello, twin boys). I KNOW the time passes too fast and I KNOW I should be enjoying every second. But.

I’m also an introvert who is abnormally sensitive to auditory stimulation (really, not joking about this part) and three kids yelling at/to me along with Dreamy (who talks REALLY loud because he’s getting a little deaf, has to shout for his job AND has to be heard above the littles) is physically painful to me.

And I’m not naming names but my life has been made a living HELL every single day for the past 6 weeks because one of my children has an abnormally high sensitivity to physical stimulation such as sock seams, sleeves, and pants, along with a lack of emotional maturity in dealing with their dissatisfaction, resulting in 45 minutes meltdowns at the top of their lungs. See the previous point for why this is problematic.

The boys are playing together so well lately, except for the inexplicable occurrences when #StopThatAiden will just walk up and take something from #NoBen for the fun of it, or they will decide to play “The Fighting Game” (which is exactly what it sounds like), which every single time erupts into shrieks, cries, and needs for banbans (bandaids).

There are down days

Anyone who’s ever started their own business knows that it’s a feast or famine cycle for about five years. Well, we are three years in and a feast would be great! We are living on faith and manna right now and although it’s been amazing for building my character and killing my unhealthy reliance on other people, places, and things for my emotional security, it also takes a lot of prayer and effort to stay in the present and enjoy the moment.

There are down days

I’ve had friends break up with me because I’m just not there for them (which is true) and I miss more playdates than I participate in because every spare second not spent with the kids is spent on work. I’m so glad I love my work. I love writing, I love consulting/coaching, and I love our gym, and I’m confidently believing in the success of all three. But man, it’s exhausting.

There are down days

Sometimes there are days when I just don’t feel like I have enough: Time, patience, creativity, energy…whatever ‘it’ is I need to get through the day, I don’t have it. Those are the days when if you ask how I’m doing, I’ll probably say ‘fine’ and rush away because if you’re nice to me I’ll just start crying because it’s SO HARD. Sometimes there are days when I’ll yell at the kids for doing stuff that’s not that bad; just kids being kids, and I’ll cry about that too because I feel so guilty and like I’ve ruined their psyches. Sometimes there are days when I’ve done everything I can to make socks okay and it doesn’t work and I have to drop off an emotionally overwrought child before they’re ready to be dropped off knowing they’re probably going to humiliate themselves, and all I can do is hope they are capable of pulling it together, but worry that they might not be. That maybe this is actually a ‘thing’ that won’t go away.

We all have down days. We all have things in the moment that are just hard, or ugly, or messy and there are also things that could happen tomorrow that are hard and ugly and messy. If we put all our problems in a big pile, I’d probably take mine back and you’d take yours, but it doesn’t make it easier. What does make it easier is talking about it, remembering that this too shall pass, and that everything will be okay. Even it’s not okay, it will still be okay.

Because, there are up days, too.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, please share the love, and let’s connect on Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook!

PS I’ve written, 10 tips on dealing with multiple (conflicting) priorities. If you’d like a free copy, just click here!

My latest novel Grace Group is the story of Holly’s journey from dying corporate drone to spiritually redeemed doer of good works (most of the time). Her transformation is initiated in a grief support group that is secretly (at least at first) facilitated by angels (yes, you heard me right). In addition to spiritual rebirth, I am also passionate about baking, fitness, encouraging other women to kick butt, pinterest fails and parenting humor and one or more of these topics always seem to find a way into my novels. In Grace Group, I spent an inordinate amount of time describing all the decadent goodies people with a limited life span can guiltlessly enjoy. Page after page I devoted to the fragrance of the cookies, the fruitiness of the pie, and which group member brought which dessert. As a writer  I just can’t resist the temptation of a long, juicy description of EVERY detail (much like every three-year -old at bedtime). Alas, descriptions make unexciting novels, so most of foodie stuff didn’t make the cut.

But like a few of my characters, the sharing of the recipes idea would just not stay dead. So, I am presenting to you in blog form some of the recipes that the grief group members brought to table, so to speak. Last week I shared Archie’s cinnamon rolls. Today, I am pleased to present Charlotte’s chocolate chip cookies. Charlotte, if you’ll recall, was one of the angels, so you know this one has to be good! If you know me…err…Charlotte, darn it….anyway, you know cookies are a big deal to me. I spent years…decades…perfecting this recipe. The problem is that it’s very, very finicky so you may have to try it a few times. The cookies I like best are soft, fluffy, and chewy. Too much flour and they’re not soft enough, but too little and they’re flat and crispy. Good luck, and enjoy!

This recipe make about 1 pan of cookies. If you want more, make it twice, and I’m not joking. Every time I’ve ever doubled this recipe it hasn’t worked out.

Real butter ½ cup

Granulated sugar ¼ cup

Light brown sugar an overflowing ½ cup

Vanilla (bean paste is best but any works, even artificial) – 3 tsp (ish…#NoBen pours the vanilla now so it’s a tossup)

1 egg (don’t forget the egg, it’s gross without it…just sayin’)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 ¾ cup flour

1 cup chocolate chips (Chipits semisweet are the best, but only available in Canada, so you’ll have to make due with whatever you can if you’re not Canadian), but they have to be semi-sweet.

Cream the butter and sugars with an electric mixer. Add vanilla and egg and beat until very fluffy. Stop using the mixer after this. Only bad people mix flour in with an electric mixer. With a wooden spoon, stir in the salt, powder and soda. Don’t taste the batter again until you add the flour, because it tastes kind of gross. But that’s okay because the flour is next. Start with 1 ½ cups and mix in. The dough should not be sticky, but not too dry. I know that’s very vague, sorry. I usually end up using 1 ¾ cups. That’s perfect UNLESS ‘someone’ put in too much vanilla, or ‘someone else’ ate too much batter before hand and then you just have to go by feel. If you have to err, it’s better to err on the side of too much flour. After that mix in the chocolate chips. I bake them at about 410F for 8 minutes and 30 seconds. Take them out when they’re golden brown.

These are awesome!!

I was recently interviewed for a podcast, and was asked if I ever feel ‘Mommy Guilt’, and how I get over it. The interviewer was just starting her motherhood journey, so I wasn’t sure how honest to be, because I just hate it when seasoned mothers act all knowing and smug as they drop hints about what a sh$!show the next phase of development is going to be. Besides, my heart went out to her. That this beautiful young mom, with a gorgeous, 3-month-old baby even knows what mommy guilt is says a lot about our culture, and the burdens we lay on moms. So what I said was “Do I feel mommy guilt? Yes, all the time. How do I get over it? I’ll let you know when that happens.” We laughed, and I suppose it helped her marginally, by letting her know that she’s not alone.

But you know how when you’re in a social exchange, and then you spend the next week replaying it over and over and analyzing what you did, what you said, and how you said it, and then castigate yourself for all the missed opportunities to say something more witty and profound? No? Just me? Well, I’ve been thinking about that mommy guilt question, and now that I’m not constrained by a time clock and having to think on my feet, I have a better answer.

There’s no such thing as Mommy Guilt. To suggest there is is doing women everywhere a disservice, because the guilt and shame we women take on as a mantle from pretty much birth is in no way restricted to mothers. We all receive it as a legacy whether we want it or not, and we owe it to ourselves, sisters, friends, mothers, and especially our daughters, to take it off, look at it, and throw it in the trash where it belongs, and when someone tries to make us take it back, we see it for what it is, and say “No thank you, I’ve had enough for now. If that’s okay with you. Sorry.” (because girls are supposed to be polite, right?).

No, there’s no mommy guilt. Instead, there is a constant, never-ending pressure on ALL of us to be the best at whatever it is we’re doing, and woe befall the woman who’s only doing ONE thing, by the way. I think it’s always been there, but it’s only gotten worse as a) our options increase and b) the doors of the world have opened so that 4 billion people can weigh in on a minute-by-minute basis about how we’re doing.

Just think about it. From the time we start preschool through adulthood, we receive the message that we have to be:

  • Smart, and particularly good at science, math, and engineering
  • Pretty, but not too pretty, because we don’t want to cause anyone to want to hurt, molest or rape us and even though it’s not our fault, what were we doing dressed that way?
  • Kind, encouraging, and a good friend, but also strong and individualistic
  • A great cook, but not because we’re girls, just because we are good cooks in addition to being highly creative and able to turn sticks and dirt into award-winning centerpieces
  • Fit, muscular, and lean, but not too focused on being thin, and above all perfectly happy with our bodies
  • Funny and highly popular with lot of friends to go on vacations and road trips with
  • Capable of serving in the military or other protective services and dying for our country

After we finish school, (and college of course, because do you know that currently more women obtain bachelor and master degrees than men?) we then need to get a lucrative and meaningful career where we make the world a better place, pay off our student loans and buy a house. And we don’t want to be too girly, so it’s good if we like sports (maybe not too much, though) and it’s also very cool if we are hard-drinking, because it’s super cute when a girl can pound back beers and shots like a guy and stay standing (and don’t worry, AA is not just for men anymore, so now that we’re catching up on the alcoholism and drug addiction rate, we can represent there, too).

The expectation is not that we excel at any one of these things, it’s that we excel at ALL of them – at the same time. And after we’ve obtained our higher education, traveled the world, and launched our career (or started a multi-million-dollar company) we may decide to get married. If we do, we need to be gorgeous brides who aren’t obsessed with their looks and who plan a perfect wedding (with wildly expensive but homey décor) but certainly aren’t ‘bridezillas’ about it or controlling in any way (because of course you can plan with military precision all the crap that goes with a perfect wedding without being the least bit controlling), and an amazing honeymoon experience that is captured and filtered perfectly for all at home to see, and who seamlessly integrate with their new families without losing their identities or clashing with their in-laws.

By this time, we’re actually somewhat numb to the pressure. It seems normal, and we’re used to having to be good (I mean, great) at EVERYTHING.  So what’s left but to have a baby? Naturally, with no drugs, and breastfeed the kids until they’re five, and never let them watch TV, or eat non-organic food, or sleep alone, or with you, or on their tummies, or on their back, or with a pillow, or all alone, and never put them down, or over-cuddle them….Mommy guilt? Face it, you’re doing it wrong by the time you take your pregnancy test. Because EVEN IF you please everyone on social media, your family, your in-laws, your friends, your church, and your co-workers (which guess what, you won’t) you’ll STILL have to do all of this while meeting the aforementioned criteria. You might think if you take some time off from your career, this would ease the pressure. If you do, you would think wrong. Because for every single thing a woman takes off the list, she is expected to make up for by ‘doubling down’ on another item on the list.

So no, there’s no mommy guilt…just a new way to feed us the guilt we’ve been eating our whole lives. How do you get over it? That’s probably another article, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes version.

  • Realize the guilt for what it is. Mass manipulation that we only have to feel if we buy into it
  • Accept, right down to behind our belly buttons (as my wonderful friend Meridith says) that we’re perfect in our imperfections (as my wonderful friend Cindy says)
  • It helps to screw something up royally, and I don’t mean go out of the house with your nails all raggedy, I mean mess up BIG TIME and not kill someone or die
  • Let people down, and say sorry
  • Be let down, and forgive
  • Miss a workout
  • Miss a social event
  • Do something because you want to, not because you should
  • Laugh
  • Admit to yourself and others that you’re not perfect, walk away from the people who are disappointed, and grab tight to the ones who say ‘Good! Me either, want some cake?’

So yes, I get guilt-bombs lobbed at me all the time, particularly as it relates to my parenting abilities and lack thereof, but I don’t hold onto it and I don’t give it to other people. I try to throw it away along with those really crappy fake eyelashes, those ‘what was I thinking’ knee-high stiletto boots (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it was more of a balance issue – literally), and the do-it-yourself kinetic sand from Pinterest that was just greasy mud. And I hope you do too.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, please share the love, and let’s connect on Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook! I’ll release the details about the podcast once it’s up.

PS I’ve written, 10 tips on dealing with multiple (conflicting) priorities. If you’d like a free copy, just click here!

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