Thanking our Veterans: Today and Everyday!

Veterans DayToday is Veterans Day. A day set aside to celebrate and honor those who have worn a uniform in protection of our freedom and rights as American citizens.

When I think of the veterans I know, I realize that I am constantly surrounded by them. They are my family, my father-in-law was an Army drill sergeant, my grandfather fought in World War II. My grandfather and grandmotherThey are my close friends I consider family. Everywhere I turn I am surrounded by these selfless, strong, amazingly brave people. And I stand in awe of their decision to put their lives on hold and protect our country. Some of them fought in actual wars and I can’t imagine the invisible scars they carry from having to carry that burden. Some might not have had to go into battle but that matters not in the slightest.

When I think about our veterans I am filled with love and hope for our great country. Then I think about the abhorrent way they are treated by our country and it’s citizens. Funding issues, poor healthcare during and after their service, homelessness, lack of mental health care, lack of support by the same country and people they voluntarily fought for and protected.

Veterans Day

If they are willing to potentially give their lives for our country, the very least we can do is support them 100% and since it will take a literal act of god for our government to change enough to do it, it falls on us, the citizens who enjoy the freedom they defend, to do it.

So, I ask you this Veterans Day, to take up the cause of supporting our military men and women. They deserve it. And there are countless ways you can get involved in the smallest or biggest ways.

Look up where the closest VA is and volunteer.

Write a Thank you letter to a currently service service member

Find a way to help homeless veterans in your area

Support Wounded Warriors

These are just a few of the many many ways you can help Veterans. They deserve our support. We own them at LEAST this much. I hope that you find some way to be supportive in your community.

Veterans Day

Homemade Limoncello

With all of the insanity going on around us, I thought we might need a good homemade hootch recipe to savor. So, here it is, my Homemade Limoncello recipe and all the tips I use when making my highly sought after Limoncello.

Years ago, before I figured out sitting in a cubicle in an office after a hellacious commute wasn’t for me, I worked for a liquor distributor. It was fun, too! Aside from the terrible boss, we got tons of booze (like tons… I had a closet full of wine and liquor and gave boxes and boxes of it away when I moved out of that apartment). So the perks were pretty good even if the job was pretty crappy.

It was during this time I became really interested in infusing my own booze. Homemade hootch and infused booze became a passion of mine that still carried on to this day.

Limoncello is one of my favorites, it is also one of my specialities. I make a few batches each year and always have people asking me when it will be ready.

homemade limoncello

Well, living in the Midwest now, I left lots of people all over the country Limoncello-less, so I thought I would be generous 😉 and share my recipe and my secrets to a delicious, prefect digestive.

So let’s start with a few pointers before we dive into the nuts and bolts of making your ‘cello.

First of all I want to say that it is important to always take what you find and make it yours. Document what you did and what the outcome was so that next time you make it you can tweak, change, add, subtract until you have what YOU consider the perfect Limoncello. It will also help you create your own drinks (orangecello anyone?).

Now, it is important to realize that this is a subtle drink, mean to be consumed after dinner in shot glass or espresso sizes portions. Sipped and savored, not shot and pounded.

It is also meant to taste like… shocker, LEMONS! Not sweet like candy or even syrupy like pop.

You can use any lemons you can find, but for the best flavor, nothing beats the slightly orangey essence and subtle flavor of Meyer Lemons. If you can find organic, all the better but if not, scrub them pretty well before you zest them as you are literally using only the part that was sprayed to death with pesticides and that’s just gross.

meyer lemons

 

The liquor you use matters mostly in relation to the amount of time you are going to allow it to sit.

For example, if you want to use it more quickly (say only a few weeks or a month) after making it, use a more mild vodka. But if you are going to let it age (the way you should) nothing beats a high proof grain alcohol. I always use Everclear, but with it, you have to give it enough time to mellow out. I do no less than two months and upwards of four.

A note on the proof, though, anything less than 100 proof will most likely freeze, so make sure it’s the high proof vodka, not matter what you use.

homemade limoncello

My last tip is, that when zesting, make sure you get as little of the pith (the white part) as possible, it will make your limoncello bitter. I use either a plane grater or a simply handheld zester. Some people shave slices of the peel off, but I think that doesn’t release enough of the oil that you need to make your limoncello really really lemon-y.

Print Recipe
Homemade Limoncello
An exhaustively tested, delicious homemade limoncello recipe to wow your guests or give as gifts.
Homemade limoncello
Prep Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 2 months
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 2 months
Servings
Ingredients
Homemade limoncello
Instructions
  1. Wash the lemons well with a brush to remove any potential wax or residue.
  2. Using a zester or plane grater, zest the lemons making sure you only get the outer yellow portion and none of the white pith. Reserve the lemons for fresh juice, if desired.
  3. Put the lemons in a large mason jar and add Everclear or vodka. Place in a dark cool place like a cabinet for about two weeks, undisturbed.
  4. After two weeks, give the jar a swirl and shake to mix up the lemon peels. At this point you should see they are bleaching out and the liquid is beginning to turn a pretty bright yellow color. Wait until it seems the peels are all bleached, a few more days if not on the 14th day before moving on to the next step.
  5. Once you feel the lemon peels are tapped out, make the simple syrup, by combining the sugar and the water on a stove top and cooking until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool completely before using.
  6. Strain off the lemon peel out of the vodka and discard. Use a fine mesh strainer if it there is still sediment in the liquid, or a colander with a coffee filter or cheese cloth will work in a pinch.
  7. Add the simple syrup, once cool, to your vodka in mason jar and stir to combine (or just place lid on tightly and give it a shake)
  8. Allow to mellow in the back of your freezer for no less than 2 weeks or up to a month and a half. The longer you allow it to mellow the smoother and more delicious it will be.
  9. If you are giving as gifts, find pretty jars to put it in, but make sure they have tight-fitting secure lids. Serve Ice Cold.
Share this Recipe

Don’t get mad. Get mobile: My response to the 2016 Election

The 2016 Election was decided late last night and today was spent in utter shock and disbelief. I didn’t think it was possible, but it has happened and now we have to look forward to where we are going.

Protesters

All day long, my strong, brilliant, inspirational feminist friends have been texting, messaging, and emailing me in various states is duress and distress. From keeping distraught children home from school, to crying and depression, to starting a website to help people leave the country.

We are a passionate people. if nothing else has occurred to you in the last two years, it has to be that. Both sides, though, if we stripped away the labels of liberal or conservative are way more a like than we know. We all want what is best for our own lives, for the lives of those that we love and those around us. How those beliefs are shaped is what makes them different. Some come from a religion, other rely on reason and logic alone to guide them. But one thing is clear, we love this country and all of us want it to be great.

I had a good friend write about how she was going to promise her kids certain things and that she wondered what the world would look like when they grew up.

I, too, wondered the same thing. I write a journal to my son, that started before he was born. I write to him so that he can remember not only what was going on in the world, but what was going on in the day-to-day lives of our family.

Generally holidays and celebrations, things like that. Today’s entry was the hardest for me to write. What am I supposed to say?

I sat with an open, empty page for a long time before I wrote this, “I’m not sad. I’m not depressed. I haven’t shed a tear for my beloved country. We’re not leaving and we’re not backing down. When you read this, I hope that history has proven that I fought. That I stood up and said I will not allow hate to win.”

And I meant it.

I mean it now. I’m here to promise that I will fight.

I will choose love. And hope. And joy. And good.

I will fight for his rights. For the rights of others as I can.

Rosie the Riveter

I will show him that his mom and dad stood up. We stood side-by-side with others that didn’t look like us, pray like us or speak like us in the face of those that would otherwise tell them they are unworthy, not good enough, wrong or need to be “cured” and ‘fixed.”

I will help you understand that everyone is different and it is our differences that make us great and make this country strong. Race, color, orientation, beliefs system… there are billions of things that make each of us unique. And each of us has a right to those differences without qualification.

I’m not sad. No. I’m pissed and I hope that history shows that this election mobilized the people for REAL change. Systematic change. Substantive change that means something in real people’s lives.

So this is my charge to you, reader: DO SOMETHING.

Anything. Make a difference in your community. Volunteer. Speak up in the face of prejudice and injustice. Support those that need to be supported because the only way we are going to make it through this is together.

We are stronger together. It’s not just a campaign slogan, it’s just the plain truth.

Whatever your cause is, find a way to make a difference because our country and more importantly our world needs you.

I hope that my son is able to look back and say, “look what my mother did. She made a difference.”

I hope everyone in the future is able to look back and say, “look what they did. They made a difference.”

Don’t get sad. Don’t even get mad. Get out. DO SOMETHING.

positivity quote
[image source: D So Blu, Facebook]
Here is a quick and handy reference list to get you started. It is by no means exhaustive, just a few I found so if you’ve got a great resource, too. Comment with it or send it my way and I’ll post it. These are links to lists of groups you can get involved with:

Veterans Assistance Groups

LGBTQ Groups

Environmental Groups

Immigration-related Groups

Campaign Finance Reform Groups

Bullying Information

Inspiring Thankfulness & Gratitude: Books for Kids

13 of the Best Books on Gratitude and Giving Thanks for Kids

I am a nature lover. A lover of planet earth, of the spiritual nature of all beings and all things on this world. I love cultures and religions that champion the earth and a harmonious living within in.  So, when holidays and seasons come along that have a difficult history to jive with that, such as Thanksgiving, I always try to find a way not to be a Debbie Downer and turn it into a way to still celebrate the spirit of the holiday, while not whitewashing (literally) the bloody history behind it.

13 of the best books on gratitude for kids

Now, especially since I have a son and nieces and nephews, it is important to me to not perpetuate the popular narratives of Thanksgiving, but instead I try to focus on gratitude and being thankful in general rather than the whole “pilgrims and ‘Indians'” sat down for a happy civil meal narrative. Honor the spirit of the holiday, not necessarily the prettily wrapped up history. After all, Squanto was the only one left who survived slavery in English (and small pox) and thus knew the language and that is the reason he was able to negotiate any kind of treaty and thus a civil meal in his honor. It is even doubly important to me to not represent native peoples as caricatures of their culture, especially in the face of the tragedies going on across the country on native lands and specifically at Standing Rock.

So, I have put together a list of children’s books you can share with your little ones or classroom without any remorse, guilt, or misrepresentation. OR, just some plain cute stories about the holiday that aren’t historical at all.

1.Today I Am Grateful: Adventures in Gratitude By: Lorraine Miller

Today I am Grateful: Adventures in Gratitude

“Children can be made more grateful when the adults in their lives teach them how. Today I am Grateful is the perfect springboard for parents and educators to start helping kids see all of the goodness in their life.” —Jeffrey J. Froh, associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University

2. Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks By: John Bucchino

Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks

“In this exquisite picture book and accompanying CD recorded by Art Garfunkel, Anna-Lisa Hakkarainen’s radiant paintings bring John Bucchino’s words to life. A joyous celebration of the beauty of the seasons, the wonders of nature, and the blessings of faith, here is a gift to be treasured by children and adults of all ages.”

3. Thankful By: Eileen Hallinan

Thankful

Who doesn’t love Spinelli?! I know I sure do. “Charming rhymes and whimsical illustrations to convey the importance of being thankful for everyday blessings. Like the gardener thankful for every green sprout, and the fireman, for putting the fire out, readers are encouraged to be thankful for the many blessings they find in their lives.”

4. Let’s Be Thankful By: P K Hallinan

Let's Be Thankful

“With colourful illustrations and charming verse, this book acknowledges people, animals, and activities that bring joy to a child’s life. Parents can read this book with their children to reinforce the concept of gratitude.”

5. Gratitude Soup By: Olivia Rosewood

Gratitude Soup by Olivia Rosewood

“Violet the Purple Fairy learns how to make Gratitude Soup by thinking of all the things, people, places, and experiences that she is grateful for, putting them in an imaginary soup pot. She is able to shrink her pot of soup with her imagination, and she keeps the gratitude warm and flowing in her heart all day and all night.”

6. Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving By: Joseph BruchacSquanto's Journey

This is a close historical version of what really happened, or as close as you are going to get. It tells of Squanto’s capture, but also how the actual original Thanksgiving tradition began. “In 1620 an English ship called the Mayflower landed on the shores inhabited by the Pokanoket, and it was Squanto who welcomed the newcomers and taught them how to survive.”

7. Milly and the Macy’s Parade By: Shana Corey

Milly and the Macys Parade

“In the spirit of Miracle on 34th Street, few people know that the first parade in 1924 was organized by immigrant employees at Macy’s eager to incorporate their old-world traditions into their new American heritage.”

8. Bear Says Thanks By: Karma Wilson

Bear Says Thanks

The Bear Books are fantastic and I highly recommend all of them, so it goes without saying that I would include this one. “Bear has come up with the perfect way to say thanks—a nice big dinner! When Bear decides to throw a feast, his friends show up one by one with different platters of delicious food to share. There’s just one problem: Bear’s cupboards are bare! What is he to do?”

9. Thanks for Thanksgiving By: Julie Markes

Thanks for Thanksgiving

A perfect “spirit of thanksgiving” book! “Everyone knows that Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks—the question is, where to begin? From the turkey on the table to warm, cozy cuddles, life is full of small things and bigger pleasures. But what is most important is being able to share them with family!”

10. The Quiltmaker’s Gift By:

The Quiltmaker's Gift

A great fable story about the joy of giving and how it can change even the coldest of hearts. Really a great story.

11. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message By: Chief Jake Swamp

Giving Thanks

This is one of my favorites. “Giving Thanks is a special children’s version of the Thanksgiving Address, a message of gratitude that originated with the Native people of upstate New York and Canada and that is still spoken at ceremonial gatherings held by the Iroquois, or Six Nations”

12. The Thankful Book By: Todd Parr

The Thankful Book

Todd Parr is one that I always recommend to parents looking for great kids picture books. “The Thankful Book celebrates all the little things children can give thanks for. From everyday activities like reading and bathtime to big family meals together and special alone time between parent and child, Todd inspires readers to remember all of life’s special moments. The perfect book to treasure and share, around the holidays and throughout the year.”

13. Giving Thanks By Jonathan London

Giving Thanks

This is another one I ALWAYS recommend and is exactly what I envision Thanksgiving to be able. Finding ways to thank mother earth for her bounty and beauty. “How can a young boy ever show his gratitude for all the beauty he sees? He will learn from his father, who thanks the earth and the sky, the frogs and the crickets, the hawk and the deer, even the trees that wave their arms in the breeze. Majestic as the most beautiful autumn day and filled with glimpses of favorite woodland animals, GIVING THANKS is truly a gift to readers from nature-lover Jonathan London and master painter Gregory Manchess.”

The Best Thanksgiving Mac N Cheese

It is starting to get chilly outside, and with Halloween in our rearview mirror, it’s time to start thinking about our Thanksgiving meals! I am usually a baking and sweets kind of gal, but planning the perfect Thanksgiving meal is a think of beauty and a joy for even the most avid baker.

Thanksgiving is all about decadence. You take whatever might be your everyday, and bump it up just a notch, all in an effort to show a little bit more love and appreciation for those around you. You take your standard family dinner, and make it something special. Sharing in your community and traditions. So, it goes without saying that you should have a killer Mac and Cheese recipe in your back pocket to knock your guests off their feet. If you have a homemade Mac and Cheese go-to, put it away and replace it with THIS White Cheddar mac and cheese. A cross between Panera Bread’s and something that fell from heaven and hit every branch on the delicious tree on it’s way down, you will have your family scrambling for the last spoonful.

It’s creamy, with a subtle hint of pepper and spice from the mustard and paprika. If you want a bit of smokey-ness you can always used a smoked paprika to create an even deeper flavor.

Best Thanksgiving mac and Cheese

[image source]

You can opt to use other kinds of pasta, I just prefer to use shells because then they get filled with that deliciously creamy white gold cheese sauce. I like to make homemade mac and cheese a lot, but I save this recipe to make on special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

You can also choose different types of cheddar, I just prefer to have the tangy bite that this particular brand offers. To me, the sharper the better when it comes to cheddar!

Print Recipe
Best Thanksgiving Mac and Cheese
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large pot, on medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in flour and cook until smooth. Reduce heat and add milk, heavy cream, salt, pepper, paprika, and dry mustard. Continually whisk until smooth and bubbled begin to appear around outside of pot. It is important that you don't leave it unattended. You don't want milk to cook down too much.
  3. Reduce heat to low and add cheese. Stir until melted.
  4. Add cooked pasta, stirring until pasta is completely coated. Allow to sit to thicken and melt. Top with additional salt and pepper if desired.
  5. Devour.
Share this Recipe
 

How to Make a Book Tree for Christmas

I know I know I know… it’s not even Thanksgiving, so give it a rest with the Christmas post already. But this is just TOO cool not to get excited about. I know you’ve seen them on Pinterest and floating around the internet and if you really want to do it, it’s going to take some planning on your part (and unless you are a book hoarder like me… some serious book buying between now and then!)

So… first of all, gather all your books. I am lucky enough to have an extensive library of several thousand books and after buying the entire tree still didn’t even crack open all the boxes I had in storage (much to my husbands dismay!).

book christmas tree

The first thing i did after I collected all my books was find the largest and heaviest to start the base. I made it about 4 or 5 feet around, ensuring that it would be plenty tall.

Then you simply start stacking!

Finding the right books that will fit in your space is like a giant game of Tetris. The only piece of advance I can give is to separate books into small, medium, and large so that you can easily see what you are working with.

Note: I also have several hundred pre-1900 books that I didn’t want near the bottom (where little baby hands and dog noses might bother them), so I made sure those were used in the second half of my tree.

Book Christmas Tree

I left the middle open and just stacked closer and closer little by little and it worked it’s way in just fine.

Book Christmas Tree

After about 5 hours of stacking, I had a 5′ tall beauty of a Book Christmas tree! I wrapped some lights around it and basically just stared at it every time I could. It really made working in my office hard.

Book Christmas Tree

Book Christmas Tree

Thankful Thursday: 108 Years in the making

I am thankful for so many things, but today, especially I am thankful for fate. For having been born in an amazing city, to parents to are huge sports fans. For my father for instilling in me a competitive edge that carried on to this day.

I have to take this Thankful Thursday to say I am insanely thankful that I was able to not only watch the game with good friends, but to watch history being made mere blocks away from Wrigley Field. We screamed and jumped for joy. I lost my voice, decided to join my fellow Chicagoans in a sea of people in a trek to our Mecca, all while singing Go Cubs Go.

We hugged strangers, we cried. It was one of the most beautiful, meaning moments to have been a part of. Some people might not understand the big deal, and unless you are from Chicago, it might be hard for us to explain. But all I know is when they won, my father cried and a town was rebuilt on the backs of a team from 108 years ago. If you need a little help understanding how meaningful this is to people, take a look at this video and then see how people reacted after the win:

Here is a look at Harry Caray’s grab today:

Harry Caray's grave

I am thankful that I will get to share these memories with my son and that I got to witness it with my own eyes. There have been people who died waiting to see this. There have been people who were born AND died without seeing this. It is incredible and feelings that I will never forget.

Being able to recall things like Grandpa Rossy hitting a home run in game 7 in his last at bat ever and then watching him get carried off the field by his teammates… I am literally tearing up just typing about it.

The way the city is coming together is something that is to be celebrated, too. We’ve been waiting for a long time for this. Here are a here of my favorite things on the internet to come out of the Chicago cubs World Series win so far:

Eddie Vedder Cubs Meme

In addition to being a HUGE cubs fan, I have been literally in love with Eddie Vedder since I was 10 years old and that fact that he is so intertwined with my love of the cubs makes this even more sweet for me. When I hear and saw this video, of course I cried… again. So, I’ll leave you with this and when I’ve had a little more sleep, maybe I’ll writing something a little more coherent.

This win was for my father, who as a kid would walk down to Wrigley field with his baseball bit and wait on Waveland avenue all day long for batting practice before the game in the hopes that he would go home with a souvenir. All I have left to say is, Go Cubs Go, Fly the W and This year was finally next year.

W over Chicago skyline

[source: SportsMockery]

 

Being Brave in the Face of Death and how Organ Donation Saved My Life

You might think from the title of this post that I had a life-saving transplant and that would be a fair assumption. But I did not. I did not, but others did. Thanks to the selfless gift of my best friend and little brother, Andrew.

It is fitting that today I am going to write about being Brave as my Facebook memory was a post from 2011, a poem written by someone my mother knows about Organ and Tissue Donation.

To My Donor

You gave me life when the tide of my life was at ebb.

You gave all you had left to give

Life restored, I am forever grateful

Yet I know not who you are.

We are now a part of one another, brought together by tragedy

I shout my thanks from the silence of my mind, for I know not to whom I am speaking

I am you; you are me, as we share what you have given, unselfishly,
Without remorse.

I cradle your gift, as sacred as life itself.

Still I know not whom to thank.

So I shall continue to whisper a prayer of thanks, until we meet again
In a more perfect place, whole again.

Joseph E. Kralicek
copyright 2005

You see, back in 2009 I received a phone call from my sister, early one Sunday morning, while I was in South Carolina during graduate school, that changed my life forever. It was odd that my sister be calling that early int the morning. She calmly asked me if I was sitting down.  I wasn’t, she told me to.

Then she delivered words that echo in my head every single day, “Andrew’s been in an accident.”

My baby brother. My best friend. The idiot who was always up for doing dumb stuff if we were bored. The goof ball who never met a stranger. The protector of his friends and family, the enforcer when it was necessary, was laying in a hospital bed, 900 miles away, in a coma.

Me and my brother

Long story very, very short, he had hit his head in a pool and broken his neck. He would never recover. By the time my then fiancé and now husband arrived with my other sister who was living in North Carolina, my brother had been declared brain-dead and was only still “alive” because he was on ventilators and other machines keeping his bodily functions going.

When I walked into the hospital room where my giant of a brother lay, not fitting on the tiny hospital bed, I was enveloped by my father’s arms. Through sobs he told me he was gone.

He then explained that they had been approached about organ donation as he had registered as an organ donor with the DMV when he got his license.

Now, you see, my brother was 22 years old, 6’4″, broader shoulders, strong, football player… you couldn’t ask for a healthier more vibrant person.  In my family’s eyes, there was no question, my brother would have wanted someone else to live on because of his death.

Me and my brother at his high school football game

He was selfless and compassionate, and had the biggest heart of anyone we all knew.  Which funny enough ended up literally being the case as his heart was too large for the first two people on the top of the transplant list, so it ended up going to the third person on the list.

Our family was called brave and strong so many times over the course of the next few weeks for our difficult decision to donate my brother’s organs and tissue after his death. But the truth is, while it was a hard time, watching the casket close on him for the last time, the easiest part was making that decision. Giving the gift of life to others is exactly what he would have wanted, and I can say that without the saccharine after-taste you get when you say something like that just to be nice.

The truth of the matter was that it might have been brave to give life to those waiting for life-saving transplants, but it saved our lives, too. Losing my brother blew my family’s core nucleus into a million pieces. We were broken, might as well have been dead ourselves, too. But having that one thing, the little tiny spark of light in such a dark time was all we needed to keep us together, to literally save our lives.

me and my brother at our sister's wedding

Knowing that my brother’s heart beats in someone else’s chest and that his lungs take breath on this earth, still. It makes all the difference in the world.

So, the last time we had to be brave in the face on insurmountable times, we might have come out battered and bent, we may have been broken for a while, but our bravery and my brother’s selfless gift of life became the glue that now holds us together and bonds us to each other and to this world around us.

My final thought is this: The most important thing you could ever do is register as an organ donor. Then talk about your wishes with your family. You never know when it is your time, and if your time is up, it will help make an impossible time for your loved ones, just a tiny tiny bit easier in the end.

donate life logo

If you are looking for more information about organ and tissue donation, please visit Donate Life America and get all the facts.

How to check in with your mental health if you are having a bad day.

How to check in with your mental health if you are having a bad day.

Let’s face it… life can be hard. Stress is, unfortunately, a way of life for a lot of people. And if you are a woman, who has a career, kids, a partner, friends, a social life, hobbies, I could go on and on and on… it can be even more difficult to feel like you are “having it all.”

I, admittedly, have it “easy.” I work full-time, from home. I voluntarily put my young son in part-time day care so that he get some other kid interaction and I can get some serious work done while he is gone. So, I at least don’t have that to worry about, as much. But I still stress out over what he eats, how much TV he watches, is he getting enough protein, are his tantrums normal?

On top of mommy stress and work stress and life stress… I have had some dark events in my past that, whether I like to talk about it or not, bring anxiety creeping into my life even on the brightest and most sunny of days. High-functioning depression and mild-PTSD are no joke when it comes to your mental health and it took me a long time to not only realize that but to do anything to try to combat these mental health issues that I was having. My family isn’t the best at communicating about these types of things. We are more of a bottle it up in side and pretend it isn’t there…

And while I still *kinda* pretend it isn’t there, outwardly, inwardly I do mental health checks when I feel the anxiety or stress beginning to take over.

I start by checking in with all of my senses. Taste, touch, smell, sound, sight.

I am a very auditory person.  What I hear makes a huge difference in my mood. So, I start by making sure I am listening to either something relaxing, meditative, or soothing. I have several Pandora stations geared towards this. Not just classical stations, but I love indie folk music. It has such a calming quality about it. I am instantly in a better mood when I hear good folk music. Another great set of sounds I found comes from hang drums. If you have never listen to hang drum music – seriously, get on that.

I love this song in particular, it speaks really well to me.

Also, it has been proven that not just BEING in nature but listening to nature is SO helpful for your mental state. So, I use several different background noise sites. This one is great for nature sounds.

how to meditate in nature

And of course, if you are a Potterhead like me, you could listen to the background noises of the Gryffindor common room.

I often use meditation and breathing exercises to bring down my stress level and it is a tremendous help. You don’t need any special equipment, special spaces or even to know what you are doing! Simply close your eyes and breath deeply, keeping track of your breath. You can sit back in your chair, on the floor or with your legs up on a wall to help destress.

meditation chant

I generally do mini-meditations for 5-10 minutes at a time and find that my inner voice that is telling me bad things is MUCH more quite after a mini-destress sesh.

Working at home, I am often in my pajamas (hey, just keeping it real…) and I find that if I simply go jump in the shower and put on “real” clothes that it can work wonders for my disposition. I can often feel cut off or isolated from the rest of the world in my little hole of an office and simply being clean and freshly dressed can turn around my mental state really quickly.

shower meditation

Finally, I will brew myself a good cup of tea. Valerian root teas, chamomile, green tea… will help ease your anxious mind, putting your mental health back in check. My favorite herbal teas are Celestial Seasonings, which you can purchase at most grocery stores or on amazon here:

These are just a few of the quick things I can do, in the moment that can help from getting my mental state derailed by a bad day. Long term things are different, like keeping a gratitude journal, for instance.

I know life can get stressful, and you never know what curveballs you are going to be thrown any given day. But I hope that these few quick methods can help you get out of a mental funk or destress on a bad day.

It’s just a bad day, not a bad life!

25 Books for Christmas on the cheap!

Looking for an amazing Christmas tradition to start that won’t cost you an arm and a leg? Try this one out:

In our house we have a tradition. And given that I am a HUGE bibliophile and it is fairly safe to say that I am addicted to books, several of our traditions are centralized about… you guessed: BOOKS! And cheap books at that!

The cutest and most exciting thing about our Yule traditions are the countdown ones. I posted about my homemade, DIY Count down to christmas advent calendar last year, which is not only adorable and super fun for the kiddos every year, but we do a book a day, count down to Yule, too. I have taken to scouring used book stores and goodwills in all the towns around where I live to find cute, out of the ordinary or just plain awesome holiday themes books for my little one to open every day until Christmas day!

25 Books: A Countdown to Christmas

I started early in the year and began looking in every goodwill and used book store for Christmas and holiday books. Look until you have a total of 25 books. I especially keep an eye out for interesting, off-the-wall, different takes on classics and of course, the classics to round out my collection. It didn’t take very long, you generally find a lot of holiday books at goodwills. I’m not sure why, but I did at least. All-in-all, I spent probably less than $40 total on the books. At goodwill, children’s books are $.79 and then used book stores, children clearance books are about $1 a pop.

25 Books: A Countdown to Christmas 25 Books: A Countdown to Christmas

The next step once you have all your books is to wrap them! I am pretty easy-going in the holiday wrapping paper department so I tend to buy whatever is left at the end of the previous season and use that. So I had a collection of paper and sat down with a warm cup of coffee and went to town on my stack of books!

Then viola! You’ve got a beautiful stack of Christmas books that you little one will be THRILLED to open every day.

Christmas book tradition

We put ours under the tree and let our son pick one each day before his nap time and he loved being able to tear open a present every day.

Christmas book tradition

The trick to keeping this from getting out of control each year is to ONLY take out the holiday books for this tradition then pack them away with the Christmas decorations to bring out the next year. This way you don’t have to look for new books every year AND your little one gets to be doubly excited about seeing his or her favorite holiday books again in another year without burning out from the same old books the whole year. This allows them to get excited about them all over again every year!

1 2 3 4