Reframe Like a Dane


(Book available here) 

I promise, this post about a parenting book actually has something to do with my ruminations on writing goals. Stick with me… or just scroll down to the bold sentence. ūüôā

In The Danish Way of Parenting, authors Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Sandahl explore “what the happiest people in the world know about raising confident, capable kids.” Not surprisingly, a subtitle like that was simply irresistible to a navel-gazing, research-loving mama like me. And when I got the book from the library, I was even more thrilled. Basic principles organized around a handy-dandy¬†mnemonic device? Hurray! Shout-outs to nonfiction books I’ve already gobbled up? Woo-hoo! And lists of practical implementation steps at the end of each chapter? Lists, people! Lists! Utter euphoria.

Now, for obsessive readers of parenting literature (cough, cough, ahem) this book didn’t necessarily cover new territory. But it was a lovely synthesis of diverse research, repackaged from an interesting perspective. I especially enjoyed the introduction about recognizing our culture’s default settings. I also liked the final chapter on the Danish concept of hygge (basically, it means “coziness”).

So what does any of this have to do with writing?¬†(See, I promised I’d circle back!) Authors Alexander and Sandahl had some great things to say about the practice of reframing. While I certainly plan to use this skill in my personal life, I’m even more eager to try it out on my writer brain.

Alexander and Sandahl see reframing as an essential tool for realistic optimists, people who are in touch with reality but focus on the more positive angles. It’s not about¬†being fake, naive, or willfully blind. Instead, reframing helps us to “filter out unnecessary negative information.” It’s a life skill that can positively alter our brain chemistry and influence how we experience pain, fear, and anxiety. As the authors state,¬†“Our language is a choice, you see, and it’s crucial because it forms the frame through which we see the world” (53-56).

So¬†as I ponder my past writing history and my future writing goals, I’m trying to revise my limiting language. In doing so, I hope to also revise the negative storyline that currently defines my creative life. I won’t lie. It’s hard to be both honest¬†and hopeful. Somehow, I’ve come to equate negativity with truth. How sad is that?

Some baby steps toward reframing my writerly self-talk:

  • I like to stoke the shame with this repeated message: “I’m a terrible, lazy, and unmotivated writer.” Now I’m trying to replace it with: “I’m a busy working mom and I still make time to write.”
  • Then there’s the¬†dreaded fear that “I’ll never finish a novel.” I hear that one all the time. I should remind myself, “Look at all the freelance articles I’ve finished on deadline… and been paid to publish!”
  • The flip side of “I can’t focus” is that “I’m lucky to have so many ideas.”
  • I reject the guilt of “I should only be working on my novel right now.” I embrace the idea that “It’s wonderful¬†to pursue all of my writing interests.”

Do you use any limiting language? If so, how might you reframe it using realistic optimism? 

February Meal Plan #4: Geek Eats


(The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, Peter Bruegel the Elder, 1559)

I love Lent. Does that make me weird?

To broaden that statement: I love Lent and all the celebrations and observations that surround it. This is the time of year when my foodie tendencies and academic obsessions truly overlap.

Keep in mind that I’m a hardcore history geek. I’ve¬†got fond memories of studying the Catholic liturgical year as it evolved in medieval and early modern Europe. (No, really.) In fact, just typing that sentence makes me want to curl up with a copy of of¬†Peter Burke’s Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe.

Burke’s fabulous book covers 300 years of major social change in Europe (specifically, 1500 to 1800). He theorizes that many of the old Catholic festivals–especially carnivale right before Lent–served as social steam valves. Hierarchies temporarily overturned.¬†People from all economic classes participated together. Everyone got a day off work. Community! Relaxation! Celebration!

And then the Protestant Reformation and Industrial Revolution had to go and jack things up. (Of course, we also got mass literacy and widespread political enfranchisement out of the whole deal. So at the end of the day, I think it’s a win.)

You may be wonder what any of this has to do with menu-planning. The answer is: pancakes. That’s right. I’ll be making pancakes this Tuesday because, while I love me some 21st century rights and responsibilities, I also want a medieval sense of festivity in my life.

Pancakes are the traditional food served on Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Fat Tuesday. Why? Because pancakes use up fats and eggs that weren’t allowed during the Christian ritual fasting season of Lent (which starts¬†the following day). Check out this excellent British source¬†for more information.

As evidenced by my plans to eat pork this week, we won’t be going full vegetarian for Lent. But we will probably be eating more fish- and plant-based meals. In the near future, prepare to endure a bit more pontificating as I use history and ritual to make¬†meal-planning decisions! (Sorry in advance.)

Thank you all for enduring my nerdy history lecture! Enjoy this week’s recipes.

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Shrove Tuesday Tradition:¬†I’ll make one of these international pancake recipes from Buzzfeed or Serious Eats.

Vegetarian Meal: Pesto pasta with a yummy green salad

Fun Food: broccoli served alongside steamed saeu buchu mandu (otherwise known as shrimp and Asian chive dumplings)

The Big Easy: fried rice (in which, among other things, I plan to dump leftover Asian chives and tofu from this week’s food adventure recipe…) I never use a recipe, but if you need one to get you started, check here.

Fight Freezer Frump: pork chops with garlic-sauteed kale and apple sauce


The Seemingly Impossible Writing Goal


(Image Source) 

“This is the year that I’m finally going to finish my novel! No, really!”

I’ve been repeating this little statement to myself since, oh, about 2003. And sure, the particular manuscript in question might change. But my pattern of goal-setting… and goal-abandoning… never does.

It starts in January with a New Year’s resolution and the optimistic thought, “Surely, a fresh start will motivate me this time!” I write like gangbusters for awhile, but then my energy fizzles. I tell myself that this is understandable. After all, teaching and/or parenting takes tons of commitment and thus I can’t be expected to write during the school year.

Fast forward to the start of summer vacation and the optimistic thought, “Surely, a fresh start will motivate me this time!” Especially since this isn’t just some arbitrary fresh start indicated by a page on a calendar. No, no! This fresh start is accompanied by theoretical gobs of free time because I’m theoretically off work. (Cue another burst of enthusiastic writing.)

But this burst is also short-lived¬†because apparently I was utterly wrong before. What my writing really¬†needs is a dedicated place within a larger routine. Yes, my summertime lack of obligation is actually quite bad for me. So I recommit again in September with the optimistic thought, “Surely, a fresh start will motivate me this time!”

Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseam for 13 years now. Oh, heavens. Have I really been doing this for over a decade? Why, yes. Yes, I have.

Sigh. I think a well-worn clich√© definitely applies here: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The good news is that I’m finally ready to call off the crazy. No more telling myself that I’ll experience success if I just work harder or want it more. Clearly, that isn’t working. It’s time to break my pattern.

I’m confident I can make a change. After all, I finally won NaNoWriMo after multiple fruitless attempts. Surely I can do this, too!

Over the next few months I plan to investigate goal-setting, habit formation, and self-knowledge as the first stage of shifting my writing paradigm. I hope you’ll buckle up and join me for the ride!

February Meal Plan #3: Twice the Pork


(Image source)

Earlier this year, we ordered meat from a local farmer… half a lamb, and half a pig. It was our first time purchasing local meat and we’re still trying to figure out whether or not we’re going to do it again. On the one hand, it was a bit more expensive than buying meat at the store. On the other hand, the meat is absolutely delicious and we have several cuts that we’ve never tried before. Case in point: country ham steaks. They’re like thick, delicious bonus bacon. Yum! I’m looking forward to frying up some more this week.

Currently, our freezer’s full of expertly cut and wrapped meat. Expect a focus on pork and lamb in the next few months!

Also, I would love to hear from others who’ve also gone the local butchery route. Are you fully sold on artisan meat? Do you now do a combo of butchered and store-bought? Or did you decide to make a full return to the grocery store?

* * * * *

Fighting Freezer Frump: country ham steaks, eggs, and toast

Crockpot Meal #1: white beans with bread¬†(can’t wait to try it with local bacon!)

pizza: Pesto on top of this pizza crust, topped with goat cheese, shrimp, red onion, and sliced tomatoes

The Big Easy: Reuben sandwiches with sliced apples

Crockpot Meal #2: Zuppa Toscana with¬†green salad (and possibly bread again…)

February Meal Plan #2: Snow Days


My dog is begging you: skip the complicated meals and go play in the snow!

It’s snowing here, folks. All day, my kids have been making their snow people, snow angels, and snowballs… so, not surprisingly, I’ve also been making tons of hot cocoa. As I attempt to keep up with drying wet mittens, it occurs to me that I won’t have much energy for cooking this week. (This is doubly true now that we have a young dog, whose exuberant attempts to play in the snow must be supervised lest they¬†devolve into a game of “roll the children and steal their boots.”)

Bottom line? I’m determined to keep meals simple for the week.

Part of me wants traditional comforting winter food all week long. Another part of me knows that if I load every meal with meat and potatoes (definitely my current impulse), we’ll end up cranky from carbohydrate overload.

So here’s this week’s attempt to strike a balance between healthy and heartwarming.

Stay bundled up out there, friends!

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Special Baking Bonus – If Big Sis scores¬†a snow day, we’ll be making¬†fabulous banana bread¬†(and a big floury mess in the kitchen).

Fighting Freezer Frump #1 – slow-cooker pork loin with roasted potatoes, peas, and applesauce

Fighting Freezer Frump #2 –¬†pulled pork sandwiches with Greek rainbow salad (this link tells you how to make the salad in a mason jar for lunches… it also includes a fabulous second recipe for buffalo chicken quinoa casserole).

Vegetarian Meal – corn and cheese chowder with Dutch oven bread

Breakfast for Dinnerovernight waffles and sausage

Cookbook¬†meal – chicken with mustard and herbs¬†(I’m using a recipe from this month’s cookbook… similar recipe here) with peas, sliced fruit, and whole-wheat couscous

Making a Meme in PowerPoint

hirson-quoteCheck it out! I made my first meme! 

This quote has been on my mind a lot lately. It comes from the final monologue in La Bête, a fabulous play by David Hirson that I was lucky enough to perform in high school.

I wanted to expend as little effort as possible making the image, so I went old school.

Here’s how I made my quote meme in PowerPoint:

  1. I downloaded a stock image from Google and then inserted it as a picture to PowerPoint.
  2. I layered a text box over it and typed in the quote, then played with fonts and sizing until I was happy with the look.
  3. Then I saved “current slide only” as a JPEG.
  4. I opened up the JPEG file with my computer’s stock editing software and cropped the image until I was happy with the look. Then I saved changes

Voila! Something inspiring to stick on my Pinterest board and share with others.


February Meal Plan #1: Lambtastic!


(Photo courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s website)¬†

You aren’t going to see a lot of recipe links this week. We’ve got some abnormally busy afternoons and evenings, so I’m planning for sanity. Sure, I’d love to mix together some amazing black bean burgers from¬†homegrown, organic ingredients… but that’s certainly not going to happen when we’ve got something happening every single weeknight (plus a Sunday birthday party to boot).

Good times. Catch you next week!

* * * * *

Vegetarian Meal Рstore-bought veggie burgers with steamed broccoli and tortilla chips

Fighting Freezer Frump #1 ‚Äď pan-fried¬†lamb chops with peas and rice

Clean Eating¬†‚Äď ¬†creamy sun-dried tomato chicken with whole-wheat couscous and apple slices

Jerusalem cookbook meal¬†‚Äď open kibbeh with a green salad and sliced mango

The Big Easy¬†‚Ästchili and cornbread with honey butter