No Surprises

I will just be Shining here

till Darkness finds you wandering.

We both know the time is near —

soon or in the following.

Our light and dark’ll meet again

along a further fateful junction:

A mighty magnetic pull,

a sudden snare of bond–

Dazed, then rapt in laughter,

we’ll surge our way beyond.

by: Nancy O’Brien

Perfect Cutout Cookies!


This is, by far, the best one I’ve used — tastes great and makes perfect cutouts. Enjoy!

1.5 sticks of butter, softened
1 cup of sugar
1 egg
2.5 cups of flour

Roll out in between plastic wrap until it’s around 1/8 (for a crispier cookie) and 1/4 (for a softer cookie) inches thick and then put it in the fridge for 30 minutes or the freezer for 15 minutes. Cut out the cookies and then bake at 350 until the edges start to turn golden. This usually takes between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on thickness.


This Kind of Girl: Inspired by Lena Dunham

I just finished reading a book for my book club. It is one I would not have picked to read since I’ve never seen the show, GIRLS. I’ve heard it’s good, though, and I hope to one day tune in. Her book is entitled Not That Kind of Girl, and in it she discusses a number of her life experiences, which are plenty for a young woman in her twenties. I related to her in many ways, and not at all in others. However, I’m so glad I read it. It inspired me to think about who I am and my own experiences, and what I’d say if I were to write such a book. Obviously, there are no publishers knocking down my door asking me to write such a thing, but hey. I can pretend.

I learned from Lena Dunham’s book that my life, thoughts, and experiences might not be all that unique and that women likely have a lot more in common than we think we do. We just don’t talk about certain details from the life experience. Her book was shocking in that it was so personal and so detailed and about subjects we don’t discuss with “polite” company, but in a number of instances, they are things that we should discuss. We should discuss the time we put ourselves in a bad situation. We should discuss the time we were sexually assaulted. We should discuss our fears and anxieties. We should discuss the douche bags we let ourselves date and why. We should discuss the time post college when we worked a crappy job and wondered who the heck we are and what it all means. I applaud her honesty and authenticity.

Writing from a place of inspiration here, I’d like to share a personal reflection of my own. In my effort to lose my ego and focus on self-acceptance and love, I’m going to throw some of my “flaws” out there in this blog post. And I’m not talking about the flaws that make people cringe. I’m talking about the job interview flaws. You know, the one that answers the dreaded question, “What is your weakness?” The one the interviewer expects to really be a strength. Because I’ve been learning lately that some of the things about me that I have considered flaws are really just me, and they are indeed strengths and gifts. I just need to see them as such. Here goes. Hoping for writing catharsis here.

1. I am dramatic. Silver lining: I’m in touch with my feelings, and I truly LIVE this life. As a child, I really got into pretend play. I remember playing with my twin brother outside one day, and we decided to play chase around the house in a game of “cops and robbers.” We were about five. I vividly recall that I was the robber running for my life as my brother, the cop, ran after me. I was so into this game that I actually became the robber, and I was truly afraid — my adrenaline was pumping. I was sure I’d lost him, and I just knew he thought I was hiding behind the tree as I found myself hiding behind a bush by the front door. I was wrong. The cop had found me, and I was toast.

The moment I saw that cop, I screamed. It was no pretend scream, but a real, “Oh my God. My life is over” kind of scream. It was so dramatic that my brother had to stop and say, “Nancy, it’s okay. It’s just me. We’re only pretending.” A few years later, I remember wanting to be Annie. I remember assuming that because I had acting talent and red hair, I should play her on Broadway. I won the school talent show in the third grade for singing “I Can’t Say No” from Oklahoma, so, obviously, the next step was Broadway. I recall trying out for the big fifth grade play and wanting the lead so badly I could taste it. We were going to do Babes in Toyland. I worked hard the week before, coming up with the perfect song to sing for the tryout, and I gave it my all, and I did.

I remember the next day at school, my friends weren’t talking to me. It hurt, and I didn’t understand. So, I approached the one that had been the most chilly while we were on the playground. She said, “I just think you should give someone else a chance.” Well, I guess I had nailed that tryout! It turned out that I did get the lead, but so did she. We split it (I performed for the evening performances, and she performed in the day performances), and suddenly, we were friends again. Once I hit puberty a couple of years later, I lost interest in Broadway and plays. I think I had some new insecurities related to my sudden new body, but that is for another post. What I’m trying to say here is that I was born with a flair for drama (thanks to my mother), and I do sometimes make mountains of molehills, but I will say that it doesn’t just mean I have a zest for life. I truly care, and when my heart is into something, it matters to me on a deep level. I don’t half-ass the things and people to which I commit myself. All in.

2. I’m a Goody Goody. Silver lining: My friendships are true and authentic. I love being around people. I love people. I love to laugh and goof off. I like to make people laugh until their sides hurt. I like to indulge in a little alcohol to relax me, but I like to stop it there. My body hates excessive drinking. I don’t get crazy and happy after a few drinks, but instead my body gets sleepy, dizzy, and sick. Not worth it. I learned this in college, and have been totally fine with this reality. But even well before college, middle and high school, I knew I was not going to be the “party girl.” I wanted to be because I liked to laugh and have fun. But it just wasn’t in the cards. I was always well-liked, for the most part, but rarely was I invited to a party that parents weren’t aware of. I was often called “sweet” by the people who didn’t know me very well. A description, by the way, that I hate this very day. The good news is that I avoided disappointing my parents because of this, but I often felt left out of some fun and excitement. But guess what? The real friends I had who sat with me while I cried over a boy… The real friends I made young who knew all about my crazy family and forgave me when I said something stupid or mean… The real friends who spent holidays with my family and I spent with theirs… The real friends who helped me laugh at myself and called me out on my b.s… They are still my friends today, and that matters more than those missed parties. I am finding as an adult mom that I’m still considered a goody goody, but I have some amazing people in my life and deep, deep friendships that I wouldn’t trade for all the partying in the world.

3. I am not interestingly mysterious. Silver lining: I’m open, honest, and real. You know that cool girl in school who everyone wants to know so they can know her secret of how to be so confident? Yeah. That was never me. I say what I feel and what’s on my mind. I don’t pretend. Everyone has insecurities. Some hide them, while others just name them. That’s me. I don’t pretend (unless I’m playing cops and robbers or Annie, of course), because what’s the point? Some people embrace this “flaw” and appreciate it, while it makes others uncomfortable. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve. In high school, I remember that this didn’t always work so well in social settings, particularly when it involved my hormonal imbalances. If I felt insecure about something, I said it. If something hurt my feelings, I said it. If I liked a boy, I told someone. No mystery here. Ever. Even if I tried to seem mysterious, people would see through me. That is how strong this “flaw” of mine is. And, believe me, in the dating world, it didn’t work all that well in my favor either. If I really liked a guy I was dating, it was doomed. If I liked him okay, it lasted longer. I thank my lucky stars every day that my husband appreciated my openness and honesty, as well as my admiration of him and that he admired me in return. It truly is a miracle. Anyway, this “flaw” turns some people off. But I like to think that for those it doesn’t turn off, well, I have found my people. “Oh, you feel that way, too? You’re real as well and don’t put up any bullshit fronts that you are confident and perfect? Let’s be friends forever!”

4. I am sensitive. Silver lining: I am compassionate. I recall crying when I saw a dead deer on the road as a child. I recall seeing the movie Rocky II with my family and crying over Apollo’s death, not only in the movie, but in the restaurant after we saw the movie, and my parents thinking I was insane because “it was just a movie.” I remember thinking, “Yeah, but it was real to me, and I’m sure someone somewhere has died like that.” I recall just being sad for people I didn’t even know, just because I saw they were sad. It would affect me. It still does. My feelings get hurt easily, and I’ve been called “sensitive” before after someone has said something rude or cruel. The name calling should have gone in the other direction in those cases, but it’s important to mention that when discussing this “flaw” of mine. Reading news stories is not smart for me because I take in the pain of those suffering from the situation that made the news. I went through this recently upon reading about a horrific child abuse case that resulted in the death of a three-year-old boy. I cried and lost sleep over it. How could this have happened? But you know what? As much as I’d love to let stories about other people’s pain roll off my back or the insults directed at me roll off my back as well (I’ll keep working on that last one), I’m glad I have empathy for others and a sense of justice. Sensitive and compassionate people change the world and make it a better place. Not a flaw.

I know there are more “flaws” I could share, but I will stop there. I think there is a fine line between improving ourselves and accepting/appreciating ourselves for who we are. For this post, I’ve given love to the latter and think I’m coming close to knowing the difference between the two. I’ll never be an insensitive, mysterious, practical-minded party girl, and that is okay! 🙂

So, what are your “flaws” that are really gifts?

How the Internet is turning today’s parents into freaks

I had a “moment” this week after reading so much information online about parenting the “right” way according to “experts.” I realized I’m tired of trying to keep up with all the new research and decided I just want to follow my instincts and keep on loving my kids and believing in them. In other words, I’ve chosen faith over fear. Anyway, this is what I wrote:

Picture it: 1994. Jennifer, a stay-at-home mom, wakes up, makes a cup of coffee and attends to her children. If the phone rings, she either picks it up or lets the answering machine get it. If the message sounds urgent, she picks up, but otherwise, she just focuses on her kids and feeds them what is reasonable – plain ole’ wheat toast, regular ole’ eggs, Kellogg’s cereal, regular ole’ 2% milk – pretty much whatever the kids ask for (within reason). After breakfast, she breaks up fights if needed and gets the kids off to school. She drives home with a to do list that includes laundry, a nail appointment, and a leisurely jog to get those endorphins going, and she might even make time to find out if Eden and Cruz will get back together on her soap opera before making dinner.

Later, the kids come home from school, and she gives them grapes and graham crackers and lets them play outside for a bit before having them work on homework (or they watch tv for a bit if the weather is bad), because she knows that childhood is a time for play, relaxation, and exploration. No guilt. She’s just following what feels right to her. Later, if the kids have a homework question, she helps them and then encourages them to keep doing their best. Those kids are in their 20’s now and doing just fine overall. Some are rocket scientists, attorneys, and doctors, while others are managers at McDonald’s, mechanics, and jobless residents in their parents’  basements. All of them are, in one way or another, trying to find their way like the rest of us did in our 20’s.

Now, picture it (and it shouldn’t be too hard): 2014 (the Internet age). Meet stay-at-home mom Monica. She wakes up, checks Facebook and reads two blog posts from her Facebook news feed – one about rear-facing car seats (She thinks, “Oh, crap! I moved my tall kid around when he turned 18 months old!”), and the other post about why Montessori education is the only way to raise self-sufficient and confident human beings (She thinks, “Oh, crap! I have always felt strongly about traditional preschool and went that route. Have I been wrong? Are they going to fail at life?!”). The kids come in and say they’re hungry, so she goes into the kitchen and strictly offers only food that is organic, paleo, super, sugarless, saltless, and packed with protein and probiotics – all of which she has heard about from numerous blog posts sent, again, through social media. The kids cry for a bowl of rice crispies, but Monica sticks to her plan out of fear of destroying her children’s bodies. After swallowing their bland breakfast, the kids begin fighting, and she remembers the article she read yesterday about why it’s best to teach kids to work these issues out on their own and the other one she read a few days ago about why one shouldn’t teach her kids to share since it will spread the message that whenever a kid wants something, he or she should expect to get it rather than teaching them to wait their turn.

Somehow, Monica gets the children out the door and to school. She drives home feeling guilty that she forgot to move the car seat back to the backwards-facing position before leaving for school and that she might have been a little too stern about breakfast and a little too laid back about the fighting since little Suzie got the short end of the stick in the fight, as usual.

She arrives home and attaches her Fitbit and makes sure to train for her triathlon coming up and then stops to buy kale at the store for a snack later. The kids come home from school, and she has a plate of homemade kale chips on the table ready for them to devour. While they eat, she checks her Facebook app and reads about the harmful effects of a parent checking her phone and shuts it off with feelings of guilt for checking it right then, and she wonders if she’s ruined her relationships with her kids for all the other times she has checked her phone in front of them.

She then loads the kids into the car (and moves that car seat around) for their respective and super important extra-curricular activities, and while she waits for them, she reads another article that popped up on her news feed about a mom who says “no” to screen time for her kids because she wants to see their eyes light up at every possible chance. Monica sighs and wonders if that mom ever cooks or takes care of any household chores. Later, she stays up with the kids until midnight helping them with their homework since Suzie’s friend’s mom posted a photo on Facebook of the beautiful project “they” had finished “together”. Monica then feels afraid of Suzie going to school with something a child would actually make and “helps” her make something that could be a display item in a craft store. She then falls asleep clutching her book she heard about from a Facebook friend about how to get your child into an Ivy League school, because she feels that the next 10 years before they apply to college are going to make or break the path to a successful life for them.

It is an over-achieving, information-overload fest out there in cyber space these days, and it is hard to picture what sort of effect today’s Internet will have on the kids when they are grown in about 20 years, but one thing is certain. The effect on us parents is going to be pretty hellacious if we keep falling into the trap that is the illusion of human perfection. I imagine that if I’m feeling exhausted with all of the information out there crowding up my brain, it is going to have a negative effect on my children.

After today, I’m finished clicking those posts that somehow draw me in because I either want to be validated in that I’m doing a decent job as a parent, or I’m hoping to receive some advice to make this job easier and better for my kids. More often than not, my reading the posts do neither. When I might have felt like I’m doing a decent job as a mom before I read the post, I finish reading and question it all since the author’s point of view is different from mine, and she must have perfect kids since she’s writing about why her way is the best way, right? Well, wrong. The author is a completely different person with different children and a completely different set of experiences in life, and chances are pretty high that her kids are willful and difficult, too, because well, they are human beings (who, by the way, by nature, are imperfect).

Now, I know there is indeed a bright side to social media. I do greatly appreciate informative and helpful “tips” to make my life easier, and I’m all about life hacks and inspiration, and I admit that I have received valuable advice by way of social media. In fact, those things and my connections are why I still use Facebook. But I’m finding that in this day and age when it seems like everyone is trying to over-achieve in every area of life, including parenthood, social media can be less than helpful. In fact, it can drive us all bonkers. I’m only four years into this parenting gig, and I’m ready for a month-long soma holiday from all the pressure.

I can’t help wondering lately who it is we are trying to impress. Our parents? The Jones’s? Ourselves? Each other? Why the competition? And why the obsession with perfection? What happened to the obsession with raising good and decent people who love life and live it with grace and a sense of humor? Why can’t we compete in those areas?

So, yeah. I’m finished with the rat race before my kids are old enough to feel like they have to join in. Instead, I’m going to focus on following my reliable instincts (rather than my fears) and living out the most valuable aspect of parenting: loving on, believing in, and enjoying my kids.

Who knows?  Maybe by my letting go of the perfection illusion and believing in my kids, they’ll become healthy, happy, and confident (Dare I say almost perfect?).

Southern Comfort

Lately, I miss home.

Of course, I love where I live. I can list a thousand reasons why I’m glad we moved here. I wouldn’t change it, but there are many things I miss about the South, and the food is definitely one of them. Even though the food here is amazing with all of its outstanding ethnic restaurants, I just wish I could place an Old Hickory House in our neighborhood and put it right next to a Waffle House. Of course, I also miss the friendliness from strangers, the “How’s your mama?” inquiries, and the numerous people with their large families dressed in their “Sunday best” at restaurants at noon on Sundays. Although there are drawbacks to the South, which I won’t go into, it is so much a part of me, and I don’t ever want to forget it. So, here is tonight’s Southern meal – with recipes and photos.

Menu: Brunswick Stew, Southern-style Spinach, Cornbread  Dessert: Peach Cobbler

Brunswick Stew

Many people out where we live have never heard of it. This is shocking. Did you know there is a controversial debate among Southerners about where this stew originated? Those who live in Brunswick, Georgia swear it came from there, while those in Brunswick County, Virginia swear it was created in their home town. The reason there is an argument at all? Because it is deeee-licious!

First, cook up some chicken and shred it.


Then, heat the oil in a large pot and add the onions and celery. Saute it over medium heat until soft. Add the ground meat and brown it. Do not drain, but if you must, don’t drain it all. Tonight, I chose ground beef since that is what I had on hand.


Add, chicken broth, ketchup, a can of diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, a dash of ground mustard, a dash of red pepper flakes, frozen or fresh vegetables, and the barbecue sauce. Tonight, I used this kind from Trader Joe’s:


At this point, your stew should look like this:


Simmer, stirring occasionally for two hours. Feel free to add more barbecue sauce and/or salt and pepper. However you like it. YUMMY!

Brunswick Stew Recipe (taken from a few recipes I found on the Internet and then modified over time by yours truly):


  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 Cup chopped onion
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef (or 1/2 lb ground pork and 1/2 lb ground beef)
  • 1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
  • 1/4 Cup ketchup
  • 1/4 Cup BBQ Sauce
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans chicken broth
  • 1 8oz can tomato sauce
  • Frozen vegetable medley or fresh (eyeball it)
  • Dash of ground mustard
  • Dash of red pepper flakes

Method of Preparation:

Heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and sauté until soft. Add ground meats and brown. Do not drain. Add everything else and cook for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. Add more barbecue sauce and salt/pepper to taste. Enjoy!



This recipe came from Cup 4 Cup (a gluten free flour). For those not familiar, for our family, “gluten free” means that the product is free of wheat, and our son is allergic to wheat, which means he would end up in the ER if he ate it, so we aren’t on a fad-diet health kick. We absolutely must buy gluten free products.

Anyway, here are the ingredients:


Here is the recipe, which can be found at Because I don’t like it too sweet, I used 1/3 Cup of sugar rather than 2/3, and it was soooo perfect.


  • 1 Cup cornmeal
  • 1 Cup Cup4Cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 Cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/3 Cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Cup milk

Method of Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Butter an 8×8 baking dish.
  3. Combine melted butter and sugar together. Add in eggs and whisk to combine. Add in milk and whisk.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda.
  5. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and put batter into buttered baking dish.
  6. Bake in oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until done.


Peach Cobbler

Oh, how I love this dessert. The hot cobbler mixed with the cold vanilla ice cream… Heavenly. You will be amazed at how easy this recipe is.

First, melt a stick of butter in a 9×13 pan. Yes, that’s a lot of butter.


Then, mix up the Cup4Cup flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, beaten egg, and milk. Pour it on top of the melted butter. No need to stir!


Drain two cans of peaches halfway and pour 1 can and half of the other over the top. Sprinkle with cinnamon on top. And yes, that’s a lot of butter.


Put it in the oven and bake for 50 minutes to an hour, and enjoy the heavenly smell that is sure to fill up your home. But be sure to hold onto your oven mitts so that you have them when it’s ready! 🙂



Peach Cobbler Recipe:


  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 Cup)
  • 1 Cup flour (Cup4Cup for us)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 Cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Cup milk
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2 1/2 Cup canned sliced peaches (but one could use fresh fruit, too, of course!)

Method of Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Melt butter in a 9 x 13 pan.
  3. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, milk, and egg, and pour over butter. No stirring necessary.
  4. Drain the peaches about halfway, and pour those evenly over the flour/sugar/egg/milk mixture. Again, no stirring necessary. Sprinkle a little bit of sugar and cinnamon on top, if desired.
  5. Bake in oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Serve with vanilla ice cream.



To my sons: I hope that when you read this in 2030, you also have a love of the South as well as of the native country of your grandparents. I also hope you have a love of your own home and of the food from each place. They all represent all that you are and in all of your uniqueness!

Lots of Love,