WWII Daydreams

I typically am both listening to an audiobook while also reading something on my IPad. Not simultaneously, of course, but melding the two books oftentimes makes for some crazy daydreams. All set against the Peppa Pig cartoon theme song that I enjoy more than I will admit to my three year old. See if you can keep up.

I have been listening to Ken Follet’s trilogy and just finished his WWII book, “Winter of the World”. I also just finished reading Ruth Reichl’s book, “Delicious: A Novel”. Reichl’s book is about a fictitious culinary magazine in which a young employee finds wartime correspondence letters between a young girl in Ohio and the famous James Beard whom supposedly wrote for the magazine during WWII. Unconsciously, I managed to pick two great books that overlap in topics.

Like never before, I have come away with awe at how much people sacrificed in those austere, uncertain and violent times. It has also given me an appreciation for how far freedom has come in some ways. And it has made me curious about my roots. So my mother is sharing with me stories about her parents. I had always known my grandfather fought in WWII, but this puts it all in a new light. For instance, as I was standing at a tram stop in the middle of a Dutch city with my Dutch American daughter, I could not help but wonder what my grandfather would think about us going across town to visit our German Chinese friends. I choose to think he was proud to fight for a world in which I have such easy freedoms.

The austerity of those times strikes me too. I am trying, in my own weird way, to waste less these holidays. And, let’s be honest, with a three year old and with nursing a five month old, I am looking for any excuse to cut a few corners this holiday season. Case in point, my recipe of the week.

I did not want to waste two apples or the ridiculously expensive imported creamy Skippy peanut butter I just had to buy to use in recipes. Sounds weird I know, but I found a recipe for apple peanut butter muffins. My husband was horrified by the thought so I get them all to myself. Yippee!


Worn Out

I am just worn out. I keep telling myself how good our life is and how lucky we are, but I am just pooped. So I am truly sorry that it has been so long in between posts.

Wiglet is nearly five months old and her big sister E just turned three last month. It is all I can do to keep the moving parts clean and the refrigerator stocked. I went back to work part-time. It is very stressful in general at the office, but I find it oddly relaxing. I could fall asleep sitting at my desk with a warm cup of tea and a screen glowing in front of me. I hate pumping, but find myself looking forward to my 20 minutes of solitude in a broom closet listening to an audiobook trying to drown out the sound of my electric breast pump. I am listening to Ken Follett’s “Winter of the World”. It’s depiction of life through World War II will put your life in perspective in a heartbeat. It has given me a kick in the pants during more than one marathon nursing sessions with Wiglet or solo pity party.

Theme song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want….But if you try real hard, you might just get what you need.”

Life is full.


Nostalgia: Juggling Plates

Listening to Ann Patchett’s book of essays, “Stories of a Happy Marriage” has made me surprisingly nostalgic and left me craving certain restaurant dishes so badly that I scoured Pinterest until I found knock-off recipes. We have eaten Portillo’s Chopped Salad twice and had Maggiano’s Shrimp Aglio Olio tonight. The Cheesecake Factory may be next.

Through college, I worked at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Oakbrook Mall. That upscale outdoor shopping center teams with all of the mid-range to upscale corporate chains you can think of. Maggiano’s and The Cheesecake Factory were my favourites. And just down the road was Portillo’s. I miss the Chicago suburbs for their restaurants alone. It explains those 15 pounds I could never drop.

Like Patchett, I waitressed in my 20’s. She worked at TGI Fridays while I on the other hand waitressed at Maggiano’s. I also worked part-time at a Jewish country club and two family owned restaurants – one upscale Italian and one Irish pub. In many ways, though, waitressing at Maggiano’s educated me in far more useful ways than my Bachelors of Science ever did. What strength my degree gave to my resume, waitressing at a nicer corporate restaurant gave me in business acumen. My degree got me an interview, but my waitressing experience got me hired and moving up the international corporate ladder.

That sounds very odd, but Maggiano’s with it’s mandatory wine tastings, extensive menu exam, and free meals exposed my 20 year old self to the likes of culinary culture and etiquette I’d never seen in my small town, middle class upbringing. (How I got that job as a doe-eyed minor I will never understand.) I needed to know how to sell the dishes and wines and Maggiano’s let us taste it all for free so we could speak with authority. I had no idea at the time how rare (and smart) this is. I learned how to approach a table and keep a mandated schedule (approach the table within in 3 minutes of being seated, never ask them how they are feeling, give them your name, deliver a drink order within 5 minutes, etc.) without looking rehearsed. I learned how to take criticism from nice people having a shitty day and from shitty people having a nice day.

I am a strong believer in the service industry. It taught me how to treat people and to separate them as people from whatever piece of work or food they are delivering to me. A waitress does not make the food or prepare the drink, but they are the face for better or worse to the customer. Most people are just doing their job inside of a large machine while swirling within a variety of circumstances. I learned that I can only control my part, but I can make sure to do that part well. Most people appreciate that. The others are miserable assholes.

I thank Maggiano’s for teaching me how to navigate a menu at any restaurant and order wine without looking like a hick. It taught me how to make small talk with anyone and the all important art of smiling and nodding in a convincing enough manner to encourage conversation, but not reveal my utter lack of knowledge or interest in a topic.

It was also the first time I had ever really dealt directly with grown-ups besides those in positions of authority. I was treated like an adult with all the weight of responsibility and the pure joy of earning some serious cash if I busted my butt. I looked down on the other waiters like only a sheltered college student can. Like Patchett, most of the women were newly divorced. Most were getting back into the job market by any means possible. Like Patchett, many were artists – authors, actors, writers. I could have easily been working with Patchett which blows me away now to realize since I admire her work so much. I should google my old colleagues. Their days at the restaurant would make for some great material.

There were a lot of adult problems going on around me – infertility, infidelity, insolvency. Bus boys snorted coke in the bathroom and managers quite literally got caught with their pants down with a married waitress. My naïveté mostly sheltered me from it all. Incredulous, I did not see things happening right in front of me. And people were too decent to expose such a fragile little bird.

On My Mind: February 9

Today marks the end of Week 21 of my pregnancy and I am feeling really good. Except for the pregnancy panel on my jeans, I do not feel really feel pregnant and that is the best I can ask for at this stage. I do love feeling Wiglet move inside me, though. We had our 20 week sonogram this week. Everything looks normal which is everything I hoped for. We are having (another) girl!

Knowing the baby’s gender, seeing her in the sonogram, and feeling better than I have in months is getting me into nesting mode. For me, that means sorting and pitching. I started with E’s old baby clothes – the premise to help me keep my clothes spending on Wiglet under control. She basically only needs a few newborn-sized items since, with E, we had overestimated a newborn baby’s size and ability to spit up. I love Carter’s one piece zip up pajamas! Thanks to my mother’s upcoming visits from the US, she will bring them over for me.

Next I take on getting our spare room ready to become E’s new bedroom. I really love the idea of lofting her bed, but I am terrified of her falling out of it. In the meantime, she will stay in her crib. I see a visit to IKEA in our future.

Thanks to my new IPhone and my ever growing use of my IPad, I am reading and listening to more books. Right now, I am reading, two books – “Notes from a Blue Bike” by The Art of Simple’s Tsh Oxenreider and “A Small Fortune” by Audrey Braun. I am listening to “The Stories of a Happy Marriage” by Ann Patchett. My other recent Audible downloads have been the latest books by Tori Spelling, Billy Crystal, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sue Kidd, Malcolm Gladwell, and Anna Quindlen. I have an eclectic, mostly mainstream taste that is very loyal to a dozen or so authors. I am also a sucker for celebrity autobiographies especially if they will make me laugh.

Needless to say, I am not watching much tv, but that is mostly because I have worked my way through all of the series I follow. Ann Patchett and Tsh Oxenreider, though, are pushing me to leave the tv off and make more time for the things I always wish I had more time for. So far, Ann Patchett’s book “talks” mostly about becoming a successful writer. Writing is probably my first passion and, if I am honest with myself, the one skill I hold most dear. I would love to do it for a living, but have always stuck to my more practical, more reliable and more marketable skills – namely accounting.

Ann’s advice is basically, stop the excuses and start putting in the time. And Tsh says basically the same thing about blogging, the way I could imagine myself writing for a living. So here I am, forcing words to (web)page.

I bought Tsh’s book, what I think of as “The Blue Bike”, because of a lot of parallels I see in our lives. She has (and plans in the future to) live with her family overseas. Partly from this experience, she now values living a more simple and intentional life. These are popular catch phrases especially with the 30-40 something crowd, but I like her perspective. I do not intertwine my perspective with Christianity like Tsh does, but we were raised going to church so I understand where she is coming from. Living simply and intentionally are ideals of all religions and, in my experience, the mind, body and soul’s most contended state.

For me, living in The Netherlands means living in a house half the size I’d have in the US, but three times the price and in general having far less choice on everything from cereal to diapers to shoes to cars. Having less space and choice has forced me to live slower and more intentionally. And thanks in large part to the Internet, I can digitally access as much or as little from the world as I choose. I have my bad days, but overall I am very contend. So in the coming weeks, I plan to write about what that looks like for me and my family.

30 Day Meditation Challenge: Day 5



10 minute guided meditation with Simply Being app – listened to flowing water


It is definitely getting easier. When the woman guiding my meditation said that my ten minutes was over, my first thought was, “Wow! Already?!”

I also like the running water sound over the ocean sound I tried last time. Go figure. Maybe I am less prone to think about the beach vacation I wish I were on if I listen to just plain old running water.

Other Stuff


This week I have also made an effort to swap out my morning grande iced Americano & milk with iced sun tea. It has saved me EUR 3.10 per day and made me far less jumpy in the morning. I really enjoy the kick start of the Americano (and it’s 3 shots of espresso), but, hours later when my heart was still racing and I had an unquenchable thirst, I did not feel so great. I also noticed that, mid-afternoon, when the Americano finally wore off, I’d have a huge energy dip. It seemed to make my energy high’s higher and the low’s lower.

I am LOVING my homemade zucchini bread this week. I have been making Smitten Kitchen’s zucchini bread the last several weeks. I alternate the zucchini with shredded carrots sometimes too. I have made some substitutions that really hit the spot.


  • Skip the vanilla extract
  • Substitute half of the oil for a little more than 1/4 cup low fat vanilla yogurt
  • Use 3 teaspoons cinnamon & 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • Use the biggest round springform pan I can fine.

Listening To

Cannot get enough of Brene Brown’s seminar, “The Power of Vulnerability“. I first heard about her 2010 TED Talk and then again recently Tracy from Shutterbean was raving about Brown’s latest book to Joy the Baker on their podcast. I went to Audible.com and downloaded the longest thing I could find that Audible was offering featuring Brown (gotta get the most bang for my buck, right?!)

All I can say is- Get it, Download it, Listen to it. Brown is a great presenter even if you are only listening to her recorded. She is motivating, insightful, funny, and most of all down-to-earth. For every pitfall she tells you how to avoid, she has at least one funny true story of her own struggles.

Favorite take-away so far: Treating shame like a Gremlin.

Do you remember that movie? When you would expose those evil little monsters to the light, they would dissolve. The same goes with shame. When you name what is shaming you (to a trusted empathizer) it immediately dissolves most of the shames power over you.

Book Review: Blessings

"Blessing" Book Cover
“Blessing” Book Cover

I just finished listening to “Blessings” by Anna Quindlen. It is gut wrenchingly good. The writing has that balance that is so difficult to find today. It is so well crafted and thoughtful yet still accessible. It is a story so well written that, in the twists and turns, I had to remind myself that this was only fiction.

“Blessings” is a store about a newborn baby abandoned at the driveway of a wealthy estate owned by the Blessing Family. The caretaker, a man in his twenties, finds the newborn wrapped in a soiled flannel shirt in a flimsy cardboard box. The baby is still so new to the world that she has the stub of her umbilical cord – tied off by the barrette of her estranged mother. The man just out of prison with barely a father to speak of for himself, raises the baby as his own.

Quindlen writes about the early days of parenting as only a parent can. She accurately yet poetically describes those frantic days of trying  to understand an infant that cries for no clear reason and seems to want nothing more than to go back to whence she came. You can just picture the smiles of this baby girl and how she clasps this young father’s finger and unfurled the heart a harsh life has locked away. You are proud of the single father like a he is a friend because Quindlen develops each character so nicely.

I think what grabbed my heart the most is how she so accurately touches on what a baby does to the hearts of those around her. Quindlen describes perfectly how a baby seems to open possibility in the minds of those jaded by the world. She makes the young man want more out of life for his daughter and himself. And, for those that feel as if they have outlived their life just as the matriarch of The Blessings thinks, a baby makes you look forward to the future if for nothing more than to watch the little one take her first steps or watch the dawn of recognition in her eyes and smile.

It is beautiful to listen to and filled with enough suspense to keep me listening to it. I found myself keeping my Ipod on as I cleaned up around the house or rode my bike to the office just so I could get in a few more minutes of the story. It is one of those books you do not want to end, but cannot put down. Yes, it is sappy, but I think mothers and grandmothers in particular will like it.

I will not spoil the book for you, but will say that I think any parent will find it heart wrenchingly beautiful and accurate. I found myself hugging E a bit tighter and gazing at her a bit longer. My husband thought I was ridiculous. But if something makes you cherish your life just that much more, why not let yourself get lost in it?

Teething Tamers for Mom


E’s first tooth is coming in. At least I think that is what is happening. She is slobbering even more than usual, has rosy cheeks, is licking her bottom gums madly, her nose is running profusely, and she is very clingy. In short, she is having what I term Snotface days.

Thanks to my sister C, I started listening to the Simple Mom Podcast by Tsh Oxenreider. One of her guests made a comment that I have really been trying to keep in mind these past few days while E is teething. The guest said something to the effect that when we are with our child, he/she should be the primary focus and the other stuff (i.e. laundry, being on the internet, blogging) is secondary. She said it from the perspective, I think, that it is oftentimes really easy to feel like a child is interrupting us or throwing our daily plan out of whack. My apologies for not remembering which guest this was. I am playing catch-up on the podcast and so am listening to several back-to-back.

Well, at least for right now while E is teething, my primary focus is getting her through this milestone and anything else I can get done is a bonus. I write this also knowing that, on Monday, E goes off to daycare and I go back to work. In many regards, my daily routine can go back to normal because the daycare will help E with teething. Thankfully, E is also still sleeping through the night right now so my discomfort is relatively minimal.

What is getting Baby through teething?

I have heard from other mothers that the only thing that gets their child through teething is constant nursing. It is comforting physically and emotionally for the child. And, for some, it seems to be the only thing to get either the baby or the parents some rest. So, for the past few days, that is pretty much what I have been doing – nursing. I have also heard the same things about teething gel and baby paracetamol (Tylenol/Calpol). I am taking the two-pronged approach – also using teething gel (UK brand Calgel). And we have baby paracetamol waiting in the wings.

But what is getting me, Mama, through it?

Well, in short, my Ipod. I nurse E laying down while listening to a podcast or an audiobook. Laying down works well for both of us especially in times like these and also as she grows, gets heavier and squirms more. I mostly use a small couch in E’s nursery that converts to a double bed. It is not that we had great foresight in doing this. We just had no other place for it and getting furniture out of a narrow Dutch canal house literally requires a taking it out through the window with a crane.

My Ipod has really helped me to enjoy nursing (and pumping). It helped me get past the sometimes mind numbing boredom of it and also the feeling that I was nothing, but a nipple. Laying down and plugging in changed “E’s feedings” into ‘Me & Our Time”. And, ironically, it makes me more mindful of being there with this great little being in my life, E. I get out of my thoughts and have enough mind space to see the bigger picture that we are so lucky to have E and have been so fortunate so far with how things are unfolding with her in our lives.

So what is in my ears?

Podcasts (from iTunes)

Audiobooks (from Audible)

Currently On: Private by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro (In hindsight, this was not great for a Mom nursing since it is about serial killings of teenage girls.)

Recent Listens:

My tastes are eclectic, at best. I also listen while pumping and walking so I get through a lot of audiobooks.

Image Courtesy of Ralph Hockens