Friday, May 29, 2015

A winning combination for preschool boys

Dino-Baseball by Lisa Wheeler

Have you read any of Lisa Wheeler's Dino Sports books?  They are genius!  They combine young boys' love of sports and dinosaurs in a lyrical explanation of each sport. Some books are better than others - with an actual game being played out throughout the books. Others just throw in as much jargon as possible from the designated sport. But in general, both Christopher and I love these books.

Dino-Wrestling by Lisa Wheeler

Each book pits the meat eaters against the veggie eaters in a new sport. And each books ends with a teaser about the next sport (book) coming soon. We discovered these books in early 2014 I think, and when we read Dino-Wrestling, which has a teaser about Dino-Boarding at the end, I had to look up when that book was coming out. Not until September! I thought Christopher would forget about it. Nope. Later that year he asked again when Dino-Boarding was coming out. He's just like me. He looks forward to new books by a beloved author. It still wasn't September, but this time I put the release date on my calendar and reserved it from the library right away when it came out. Now the countdown is on for Dino-Swimming which comes out this October.

Dino-Boarding by Lisa Wheeler

That's how fun these books are! My five year old is looking forward to the next book for months. We've gotten them out of the library several times. Christopher even named Dino-Soccer as his favorite book for his birthday questions this year.

Dino-Soccer by Lisa Wheeler

I bought Dino-Soccer and Dino-Football for my nephew last Christmas. I thought it would be a fun way for my brother-in-law to share his love of those two sports with his son. And I hoped Andy would enjoy the books as much as Christopher does.

If you have a preschool boy (or girl) in your life, I highly recommend these books.

Other sports not pictured:
- Dino-Football
- Dino-Basketball
- Dino-Hockey
- Dino-Swimming (coming in October 2015)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Family vacations: a balancing act

Jim, Christopher, and I spent Memorial Day weekend camping in Chincoteague, VA with my sister and her family. They drove down from suburban Philadelphia. We flew into Baltimore, rented a car, and drove down. As I mentioned yesterday, Emily planned all of the meals, and they brought the food since we couldn't fly with a cooler. They also brought us a tent, but we packed sleeping bags, mats, and pillows along with the usual vacation essentials.

We didn't really plan anything specific to do while we were there, but we figured we'd hike and spend time at the beach. The weather was perfect, and we were able to enjoy the outdoors. However, families vacations are always a little tricky. It's a balance between activities that are fun for the kids and activities that are fun for adults. The ultimate is finding activities that are fun for everyone.

Hiking was an activity enjoyed by all, except when there were mosquitoes, but we did have some varying ideas on how hikes should go. The adults wanted to go slowly and quietly, so we might see animals. The kids wanted to run and scream. Who cares about seeing wildlife?

 Andy and Christopher running ahead on our Saturday afternoon hike.

Added bonus of hiking: I met my step goal Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

The beach was something else we all enjoyed. The kids had a blast jumping the waves and playing in the sand.

 Andy, Christopher, and Cece jumping the waves on Monday morning. Photo by Emily.

Jim and Jeff got into the fun by building Christopher into a car and Andy into a rocket ship. Jim and I got some adult time taking a nice walk alone on Monday morning while Emily and Jeff watched Christopher.

Christopher as a race car (built by Jim) on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday morning we happened upon an activity that turned out to be fun for everyone. The Assateague Lighthouse was open to the public. When Jim and I saw the sign, we really wanted to go. Emily and Jeff agreed, but I didn't think the kids would be into it. I was wrong. We hiked the 1/2 mile to the lighthouse, and Christopher was jumping up and down with excitement about climbing to the top. Andy and Christopher waited fairly patiently for a full hour for it to be our turn. (Cece had to go to the bathroom, so she and Jeff went back to the nature center. A trip that took about 45 minutes.)

Assateague Lighthouse, rebuilt in 1867.

We guessed at the number of stairs (175) and whether the kids would make it to the top by themselves (they all did). Emily and I nearly had heart attacks because the kids, especially Christopher, raced up the stairs. We had to constantly remind them to hold the railing and wait for other people coming down.

Emily, Andy, Cece, and Christopher going up the stairs. 

Family photo on top of the lighthouse. Photo by Emily.

Sunday afternoon we went for ice cream, another crowd pleaser, and then we took the kids to the parking lot of the Chincoteague Municipal Complex to ride their scooters and blow bubbles. This was a true kid activity although I did enjoy seeing Christopher improve his scooter riding throughout the weekend. And Jim played the role of Master Splinter in some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pretend play.

Andy, Cece, and Christopher on their scooters. Emily and Jeff's red Prius driving away. 

Emily and Jeff left for a little while to search the souvenir shops for a pint glass (they never found one) and to buy sunglasses for Christopher.

Christopher blowing bubbles with a "bubble jet" Jim bought.

The one adult activity (other than our brief walk on the beach) was sitting around the campfire after the kids went to bed. However, the kids didn't really cooperate on Saturday night. It was Cece and Andy's first time camping, and they'd brought flashlights. You can imagine how that went. In the end, Jeff, Emily, and I went to bed around 9:30 PM just to get the kids to go to sleep. Jim was disappointed.

Unlike Jim, I am someone who gets pleasure by watching my child (and his cousins) have fun. I often forget about the adult activities because I have fun with the kid stuff too,

We did better on Sunday night. We decided to start bedtime later, and when we put the kids down once it was fully dark, they went right to sleep. They were tired out from the day of hiking, playing at the beach, and riding their scooters. We enjoyed many beers and played electronic Catch Phrase for a couple of hours.

I had a very enjoyable weekend. Although I am not sure the same can be said for all parents taking a family vacation, including my husband.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Meal pairings: how I deal with a picky eater

This weekend we went camping with my sister and her family. We wanted to stick with simple meals that are served cold or cooked over the fire. I suggested yogurt for breakfast because that's what Christopher eats for breakfast usually. She suggested turkey/ham sandwiches for lunch. At this I had to suggest she also bring peanut butter and jelly for Christopher because he doesn't always eat turkey roll ups when I serve them to him. For dinners we decided on pudgy pie pizzas and hot dogs. I thought I might be able to get Christopher to have a hot dog, but I was pretty sure he wouldn't eat the pizza. He goes through stages of liking or disliking pizza, and they are on the outs right now.

He lived on peanut butter and jelly, cereal bars, and cheese sticks for the weekend.

I get it. I really do. I have been a picky eater my whole life. I try to be accommodating to Christopher because I was so much worse as a child. And I know that no amount of yelling or forcing him to sit at the table staring at "disgusting" food is going to make him eat something he doesn't like.

Right now the only meal that we'll all eat for dinner is tacos. 

I tried a weekly food calendar for a while. I had magnetic images of all the foods he liked (chicken nuggets, fish sticks, tacos, peanut butter and jelly, etc.), and he had to choose a different food each night of the week. We didn't really keep up with it. Sometimes we were out of a food he wanted, i.e. tacos. It just didn't really work.

My latest attempt is meal pairings. I try to cook him something that matches what Jim and I are having for dinner, so he's getting some variety. I admit I don't always keep up with it - especially as this month has gotten busy because of baseball two nights a week. But I try. It's a strategy I still believe in.

Here's how it works. If I am cooking salmon for Jim and me, then I make fish sticks for Christopher. If I cook Thai Peanut Stir Fry, then Christopher gets peanut butter and jelly. If I make chili, then I cook some of the ground beef as taco meat for Christopher. Anything chicken or pork is usually paired with chicken nuggets. It's not an exact science, and I'd like to get him to branch out a bit more - at least to eating plain cooked chicken vs. nuggets. But for now, it's working well enough.

What strategies do you have for handling a picky eater?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Raising a child with a servant's heart

I recently read J. K. Rowling's Very Good Lives after seeing it on display in the Tampa airport. I quickly took a picture of it, wondering how I could have missed a book by Rowling. I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan, and I have read all of Rowling's other books as well. Monday when I was back at my computer at work, I jumped on the library website and reserved a copy of the book.

Very Good Lives is a speech J. K. Rowling delivered at Harvard graduation in 2008. It centers around failure and imagination. However, Rowling isn't talking about the type of imagination that writers and artists have; she is referring to the ability to imagine what it is like to be in someone else's situation. I was particularly struck by this quote:

"if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped changed."

What powerful words to students graduating from college! It got me thinking about my own life and how I came to have such a strong desire to serve. I served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps for a year after college. Then I was a Girl Scout leader for 4 years in my late 20s once I realized I didn't need to wait to have my own children. And I'm a regular blood donor even though I kind of hate doing it. I want to give back to other people.

How did my parents do it? How did they foster this servant heart in me? How do I pass along this mentality to my own child? Did the church play a large part in my desire to serve? Can I teach Christopher about volunteering even though we don't go to church?

These are some of the questions that I have wrestled with. I try to teach Christopher to be grateful for all that he has in his life and thankful for the many things he has that others do not. He did give some of his books very generously to a book drive at daycare once.

I've read him books about empathy and being kind to others. One favorite is How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids. We bought our own copy after borrowing it from the library. It introduces the idea of imaging what's going on with someone else by seeing that everyone has an invisible bucket that is either filled or dipped into based on how things are going in their day.

Is 5 years old too young to start volunteering? What opportunities would be good for a 5 year old?

Certainly talking about the things I'm doing, like donating blood, is a start. But I need to find other ways for him to start serving.

One thing I've been thinking about doing with him is donating food when we grocery shop. There are barrels at our grocery store collecting non-perishable goods for the local food pantry. Maybe I should have him pick out one item to donate each time I take him shopping.

He's also been very into cleaning up the Earth since the Earth Day unit at daycare in April. Jim has been suggesting that we take along a garbage bag on our next hike. That would be service to the Earth and to others walking the same trails.

What things have you done with your young kids to give back to the community? How do you teach your children to be servants? Really, I want to know. Please comment on this blog post.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

I need to make public resolutions. Do you?

Yesterday I reviewed Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. Another thing mentioned in the book is the need for accountability. Some people, like me, need to make public resolutions to feel accountable.

I thought about starting this blog for more than a year before actually doing it. While reading Rubin's Happier at Home in March 2014, I added "start a blog?" to my list of possible changes to make myself happier. Then about a month ago I started writing down ideas for blog posts. I was thinking more seriously about the idea, and I wanted to tell someone. I knew that once I told someone I would have to actually start the blog. That's just how I am.

Several times I almost mentioned something when talking to my sister or my mom on the phone, but I didn't. I think I was looking for someone who would have a neutral reaction to the idea. I didn't want to be discouraged. A few days before starting this blog, I mentioned my idea to my brother-in-law, Adam. I'm not even sure how it came up in conversation, but finally it was out there.

I've been very low on work recently due to a recent announcement about the state of the company I work for, so after two days of searching for a blog URL, I just went to Blogger and created a blog. It was a lot simpler than I thought, and it was free. And now here we are three weeks later.

Another habit I've been meaning to get into is exercising more. Our family joined the YMCA at the end of February, so I've been trying to fit some classes into my schedule. The evening classes were working for a while, but with baseball for Christopher and my own evening plans, it's not working out this month. I've decided that the only way I'm going to get regular exercise into my schedule is to do it in the mornings. Which means getting up earlier. Ugh!

I tried to start this week, but I found that I was just too tired to get out of bed on Monday morning. My alarm went off at 5:00 AM, and I turned it off and went back to sleep. I usually go to bed early, so I know I'm getting enough sleep. Why do I feel so tired in the mornings? Caffeine, I realized. So this week I have been weaning myself off of caffeine.

I am a green tea drinker. I usually drink one cup of Tazo China Green Tips tea at home with my breakfast, and then as soon as I get to work, I have another cup. Then around 1:00 PM I have a third cup. And at 3:00 PM or so I have a fourth. (My company provides free Tazo tea.)

Monday and Tuesday I nixed the afternoon tea and only had the two cups in the morning. Then Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I only had the first morning cup. Today, none! We're going camping this weekend, and it's hard to have tea while camping since you need hot water, so I thought this would be good timing.

My plan is to start exercising in the mornings beginning on Tuesday since we'll still be away for Memorial Day on Monday. Another thing I learned from Better Than Before is that the habit of the habit is more important than the habit itself. So I've decided that rather than trying to get up at 5:00 AM right away to make it to the Y for a class, I am going to try to get up only 30 minutes early next week and just go for a quick run, walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes, or do some stretching or yoga poses.

Then the next week I'll move it back to 6:00 AM and try to get to the Y to run on the track or lift weights. Since things are slow at work right now, I don't have to rush in in the mornings, so I can gradually work my way back to 5:30 AM or even 5:00 AM if I want to make it to 5:30 AM classes at the Y. I think if I can get into the habit of exercising in the morning, I can build up to something more substantial once that routine is established.

My hope is that by the time I start a new job, exercise will be second nature, so it will be easy to fit it into my new morning schedule.

I'll give an update in a few weeks, but now that I've made a public declaration, I have to do it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

My love affair with my Crock Pot

Growing up I always hated leftovers. Now I love them. Leftovers make the perfect lunches, especially when you plan ahead. My husband and I have several Crock Pot recipes that we love, but they make more than 2 servings. Instead of packing leftovers into one large container, like I used to do, I now pack them into many single serving containers.   When I need to pack my lunch in the morning, it's very easy to pull a container out of the refrigerator and throw it into my lunch bag with an ice pack. For chili or soup, I often put some of these single serve containers into the freezer if I don't think we'll eat them all within one week.

 Leftover chili packed and ready for lunches.

Bringing a lunch is a great way to save money on food. Unless I'm going out with friends (which I do a couple times a month), it's better to just bring a lunch and heat it up at work. As an introvert I like some quiet time in the middle of the day, so I enjoy reading and eating alone in the cafeteria. A huge part of my job is meeting and talking with other people, so lunch is often my time to recharge.

Here are some of our favorite simple Crock Pot recipes.

Chili (inspired by the Pillsbury: One-Dish Meals Cookbook that I bought Jim in 2005)

2 pounds ground beef
1 pound stew beef
onion
green pepper
diced tomatoes (28 oz)
tomato soup (I use Campbell's Tomato Bisque because it has less sugar.)
tomato sauce (16 oz)
kidney beans (15 oz)
northern beans (15 oz)
taco seasoning - one packet (mild or hot) -OR- 4 tsp of this taco seasoning recipe (which I started using because it is low carb)

1. Dice the onion and green pepper - about 1/2 inch pieces.
2. Brown the ground beef with the onion and green pepper.
3. Brown the stew beef.
4. Combine everything in the Crock Pot.

5. Cook on low for 8 hours

Pork Chops with Sweet Potatoes and Apples (inspired by this recipe)

6 pork chops
1 onion
2 apples
1.5 cups of water with 4 chicken bouillon cubes
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 sweet potatoes

1. Boil the water and bouillon cubes.
2. Dice onion and put in the bottom of the Crock Pot,
3. Lay pork chops on top of onion in one layer.
4. Peel, core, and slice apples over pork chops.
5. Pour chicken broth over pork/apples/onion.
6. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon over apples.
7. Cook on low for 4 1/2 hours.
8. Peel and dice sweet potatoes into 1-inch cubes.
9. Put sweet potatoes in the Crock Pot on top of everything else.
10. Cook for an additional 1 1/2 hours.

Spicy Sausage Soup (also inspired by that same Pillsbury cookbook)

1 lb. Italian sausage (we use 1/2 mild and 1/2 hot - freeze the rest for another time)
1 c. peeled and sliced carrots
1 c. sliced celery
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups of water with 2 beef bouillon cubes
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 ½ c. water
½ tsp dried Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1 c. diced zucchini
Grated Parmesan cheese

1. Boil the water and bouillon cubes.
2. Brown sausage in large skillet.  Drain.
3. Combine beef broth, cooked sausage, and all remaining ingredients in Crock Pot, except zucchini and cheese.
4. Stir to mix.
5. Cover, cook on low for 7 to 9 hours.
6. Remove and discard bay leaf.
7. Gently stir in zucchini.
8. Cover, cook on low for 30 minutes.
9. To serve, ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with cheese.

Slow Cooker Sweet and Sour Pork

Check out this recipe.


This method of storing leftovers works well for oven baked meals as well, such as this Very Old Meatloaf recipe (Love!) and the salmon & asparagus recipes I wrote about earlier this month.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

When books inspire real life -or- a transplant's quest for close girlfriends

Before I was pregnant with Christopher, I read Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner. It's the story of three very different women who meet in prenatal yoga class and become extremely close friends. That's the dream, right?

As a transplant to Milwaukee, I don't have childhood friends, high school friends, college friends, or even family (other than Jim's) in this area, so the idea of making close friends when I got pregnant was such a romantic idea. It didn't really work out that way. For one thing, I didn't even take prenatal yoga. I did do yoga while pregnant, but it was just a normal class.

At the time Jim and I were living in a neighborhood where most people were 10 years older with elementary school age kids, so no other pregnant ladies there. And since we worked 20 miles away, we weren't really home much to see anyone else in the neighborhood except on weekends.

After Christopher was born and he started daycare, I thought maybe we'd meet other parents at daycare. But the thing with daycare is that everyone is in a hurry when dropping off and picking up, and our first daycare didn't have any family activities. Until about 3 years old, kids don't really have friends anyway, so it's not like Christopher was asking for play dates in those early years.

I started a new job when Christopher was 11 weeks old, and I went back to working full time. After a while at that job, I started making friends with my coworkers who were also moms. I found that when you have kids around the same age, conversation is easy. After three years at that company, I left with a group of 5 close girlfriends. We now have monthly Girls Nights, and they provide tremendous support and much needed time away. But...none of them live anywhere near me, so I've still been on a quest for local friends who are available for spur of the moment plans when I'm going crazy on a Sunday afternoon.

Dessert at Cheesecake Factory with some of my girls, November 2014.

When we moved in 2012, Christopher's new daycare did have family nights a few times a year, so we've met some other parents that way. And as he's gotten older and built his own friendships, I've left notes in mailboxes and orchestrated many play dates. He has a few good friends from daycare from the past couple of years, but the ultimate goal in my mind has been Kindergarten. I've been asking daycare moms for the last year or so which Kindergarten their kids would be attending, looking for something a bit longer lasting.

(Side Note: Fellow mothers of only children will understand the importance of play dates, but for those of you with more than one child, maybe you don't know how much I need play dates. Christopher can only play alone so long on the weekend before he expects Jim or I to play with him or entertain him. While we love to play with him sometimes, we also have our own stuff to get done on the weekends.)

As an introvert all of the effort I've been putting into his friendships and into finding local mommy friends has been kind of exhausting. And knowing that most of it will be for naught because our kids won't be together come September 2015 has made it even more so.

I recently read Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Love! There's a weird death plot that my husband hated hearing me talk about, but I didn't even care so much about that. For me it was all about the friendships. That started at Kindergarten orientation! I read this book at the absolute perfect time in my life. Tonight is Christopher's Kindergarten orientation. I'm probably way more excited about it than I should be, but it's the beginning of a new chapter in our lives.

Some other moms from the school who have older kids in Kindergarten now, I think, started a Facebook group for incoming Kindergarten parents, so I've connected with a few people already. There's a formal Kindergarten play date in August, but another mom and I have schedule an informal one in a couple of weeks to get our kids connected sooner. At least I'm not the only one looking forward to this milestone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Kindergarten Baseball Update

Christopher and I are both really enjoying baseball. I'm helping coach. I knew I wouldn't be able to stand by and watch. I lasted about 5 minutes at the first practice before I was out there helping. Ha. And Christopher is not taking it as seriously as I expected. Yay!

 The kids huddled up before the first game on 5/11/2015. "1, 2, 3, Marlins!"

There have been two games so far. And although we don't keep score, I think we won the first one and lost the second one. Most of the kids are doing really well, and I love cheering them on and helping them. It has been painful at times...when we're out in the field, and our kids can't make a play to save their lives. But when they do something right or make a good hit, their excitement is infectious.

Last night Christopher got to play pitcher. It's coach pitch, so the other team's coach does the actual pitching, but one of our kids stands by him/her to do the actual fielding. Other than first base, it's the only position that really gets much action. Christopher made one good play and got someone out at home plate. He was so proud.

Coach Nick writing on Christopher's game ball on 5/18/2015.

And he got the game ball for it. The coach wrote his name, the date, and the team names on the ball. So cool! I didn't realize he had done that for the last game. Christopher was so happy about being the second kid to get the game ball.

Christopher proudly holding his game ball on 5/18/2015.

So, I'm coming around to baseball. It's not as boring as I thought - although it might be if I was watching from the sidelines with Jim instead of helping coach. I barely have a second to think because I'm by the bench trying to get kids ready to bat or standing in the field trying to get them to watch the ball and get ready to catch it.

Sure there are some kids who aren't cut out for baseball. They don't have any idea what's going on, nor do they seem to want to be there. And they are trying my patience for sure!

But my kid is having a ball. And he's not crying or yelling at people, so it's all worthwhile. This woman right here is one proud Baseball Mama!

Monday, May 18, 2015

How old do you have to be to have a step counter?

Christopher asked me this question on Friday night. He's been hearing Jim and I talk a lot about our steps over the last few weeks. I got a Fitbit Zip at the end of January, and Jim got one at the end of April. We both have desk jobs, so we were looking for some motivation to move more. It's definitely working, but when Christopher asks questions like that it makes me wonder whether it's a good or a bad thing that he's noticing.

One day last week when it was cold and windy, Christopher wanted to get the mail after we got home from daycare. I had my hands loaded with stuff, so I said I'd wait in the driveway while he went to the mailbox (which is across the court from our house). It was cold! I wasn't dressed for the weather because it's supposed to be spring. I had just worked out in my head that I was being lazy and that I should go with him because it would be more exercise when he said, "You'll get more steps." in a convincing tone. Fine. I put down the stuff I was carrying and went with him to the mailbox.

Kids notice everything! Even when we don't think they're watching, they are. They're trying to figure out how to world works, what the rules are, how they fit in. I guess the message we're sending by counting our steps is that we want to get more exercise. We want to be healthy. We already talk to him about eating healthy food - getting enough protein and not eating too much sugar. So I guess this isn't much different. It just feels weird.

The whole idea of getting more steps has been a bit of a struggle for me. I have always taken the stairs at work, so to get more steps in my regular day I find that I take the long way from my desk to a meeting room, or I get up and walk around more often. As someone who values efficiency, it's hard to justify those extra steps because they take time.

Fitbit has a nice feature where you can connect with friends and challenge each other to a "Daily Showdown" (whoever gets the most steps in one day wins), a "Goal Day" (everyone who meets their daily goal wins), the "Weekend Warrior" (whoever gets the most steps for Saturday and Sunday wins), or the "Workweek Hustle" (whoever gets the most steps Monday through Friday wins). I enjoy these challenges because sometimes I need external accountability to motivate myself.

This weekend I challenge all of my Fitbit friends to the "Weekend Warrior". It worked for me. I ran 2 miles on Saturday morning at the YMCA, and I exceeded my 10,000 steps goal for both Saturday and Sunday. I got there Sunday night by walking for 45 minutes on the treadmill while watching Grey's Anatomy. Without that challenge, I might have just sat and read my book last night.

My husband, Jim, enjoys the competition aspect of the challenges. He walked over 4 miles while we were at the Y on Saturday. Then he mowed the lawn and went grocery shopping, getting over 20,000 steps on Saturday. Sunday he could have taken it easy, but he saw that our sister-in-law was catching up, so he went for a 2 hour walk on Sunday afternoon and racked up well over 10,000 steps to ensure that he won the challenge. He blew us all away with 38,000 steps for the weekend.

I think competition is part of the reason Christopher is interested in having his own Fitbit. He knows that he would get more steps than us everyday, and he has that competitive streak as well. Part of me is curious to know how many steps he gets each day, but I can't sacrifice my own step count to let him use my Fitbit for a day. Ha.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Saving money on books

I read a lot. 97 books last year. 41 books so far this year. It would cost a small fortune if I had bought all of those books, even the Kindle versions. So how do I keep from spending money on books? Aside from the more traditional method of borrowing books from friends, I have four ways.

The Public Library

New Berlin has a terrific library, and it's part of the Waukesha County library system. I go to the library about once a week, but I rarely browse. I use the online catalog to find and reserve the books on my "To Read" book list. Within a few days, the book is waiting at the library for me. I sometimes feel bad about how often I use this service.

But, one of my financial goals in 2014 was to use the library more. I had gotten lazy in 2013, and I was buying a lot of Kindle books for book club. I decided to keep track of my savings from using the library. I borrowed 78 books from the library last year - saving $618 dollar (based on the Kindle cost of those books). That's a lot of money!

Overdrive App

I recently downloaded the Overdrive app for my iPhone. With my public library account, I am able to download e-books and e-audiobooks (which I haven't done yet). The e-books either link up to my Kindle account to download to my Kindle app on my phone or download directly into the Overdrive app. I can also reserve books through this app, and they're automatically checked out to me when they become available. The only downside here is that you only get the books for 1 week at a time. You can renew them though as long as someone else hasn't reserved the book. Luckily I get through books very quickly on my phone because it's with me all the time.

Amazon No-Rush Shipping

Thanks to my mother who's had us on her Amazon Prime account for the last few years, we get free Prime shipping. But I also very often use the No-Rush free shipping. For every order that is shipped using this method, you get a $1 credit for Kindle books (among other things). So when there is a book I want to buy, usually because I know I'll want to read it again, I save up some of these credits and then buy the Kindle version.

Amazon's Kindle Book Deals

Kindle books are already cheaper than buying a paper copy, but on top of that Amazon often has sales for Kindle books. There are daily and monthly deals. I periodically browse through these deals, looking for books that are already on my "To Read" list. I also use this book deal page from one of my favorite blogs to check up on deals. Since Anne and I have similar tastes, I know it's likely for books I'd be interested in to be on her list.

Usually I combine a book deal with my No-Rush credits, so with a few Amazon orders I end up getting a free Kindle book.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review: The Heir (YA)

This review has been moved to Opinionated Book Lover.

My YA Book Club, an origin story

Two years ago tonight was the first meeting of my Young Adult Book Club. I was inspired to start this group after reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

In April 2013 I was feeling like I'd lost myself in motherhood. A couple days before my mother's birthday, I told my husband that I wanted to drive out to surprise her. I knew she didn't really have any plans, so I got up at 4 AM and drove the 9 hours to see her. I needed to get away from my life for a weekend. Sometimes you just need to see your mom. I went armed with The Happiness Project and a journal. I was on a mission to re-find myself and make my life happier.

One of the things Gretchen writes about in her book is her children's literature book club. That got me thinking. I love young adult fiction, as I have mentioned, so why not start a book club where we read only YA fiction. At the time I was in a book club with some coworkers, but the club didn't really have a theme. We rotated the book selection, and each member picked from their favorite genre. We often read non-fiction, classics, contemporary adult fiction, etc. I found that I rarely wanted to read the books that were selected.

A few days after returning from my trip, I mentioned my idea to my friend, Sarah. She was very excited about the idea. She'd been wanting to read more, and she also liked YA. Two days later I sent a Facebook message to my friend, Annie, asking if she was interested. She was. I posted about it on Facebook trying to attract additional members. A few people responded, but no one committed. We decided we would proceed with just 3 members. Why not?

We selected The Maze Runner for our first book. I think because one of us was already reading it at the time. I think it was Sarah, but I might be mis-remembering. Because both Sarah and Annie have cats (I'm allergic), and I have Christopher, we decided we'd have our meetings in a restaurant. We selected La Fuente for our first meeting.

The first meeting was nice. Sarah hadn't finished the book, so we didn't discuss it too much, but we did stay and talk for 2 hours.

During the first few months I tried to recruit other people, but now I've stopped trying. Our group is perfect the way it is. It's very intimate. We collectively choose the books, so we're never forced to read anything we really don't want to read. We choose a new restaurant for the next meeting whenever we meet, and in two years, we've only duplicated restaurants a handful of times.

We are a book club that actually reads the books, but our group is about so much more than that. As Gretchen Rubin says in her book, both men and women need close female friends to be happy. Our book club meetings are really just an excuse for much needed girl time.  And I love it!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My book review rating system

I love Goodreads. It helps me keep track of books I've already read. And more importantly, I can rate the books I've read, so I always have a list of books to recommend when someone asks. My memory is not what it once was. I got a case of baby brain when I was pregnant with Christopher, and it never went away.

Since I plan to review books on this blog, I thought it would be helpful to have a description of my Goodreads rating system. Not everyone assigns the same value to their stars, so here's what they mean to me.

5 Stars
I loved the book. I will definitely read it again. And I'll likely tell everyone I know about the book while I'm reading it and soon after finishing it. People who don't even read, i.e. my husband, will have to listen to me talk ad nauseam about this book for at least a month.
Currently 18% of my Read books on Goodreads have this rating.

4 Stars
I very much enjoyed the book. I will likely read it again. I will rush out right away and read any sequels. I will recommend it to you if you ask me about it.
Currently 38% of my Read books on Goodreads have this rating.

3 Stars
I liked the book. It was fine. I won't likely read it again (unless it's part of a series, and I need to re-read it before a reading a sequel). I won't tell you not to read it if you ask, but I wasn't really impressed by the book.
Currently 28% of my Read books on Goodreads have this rating.

2 Stars
I didn't like the book. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way, it was too slow/boring, or maybe I just didn't like the writing or the plot. If you ask, I will tell you it's not worth your time.
Currently 14% of my Read books on Goodreads have this rating.

1 Stars
I hated the book. I probably only finished it because it was a book club or I wanted to give it a bad rating. (I don't rate books that I don't finish.) Similar to 5 star books, I will tell everyone about this book because I want them to know how awful it is. I will vehemently tell you not to read it.
Currently 2% of my Read books on Goodreads have this rating.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Who asks to do chores?!

About a month before Christopher's 5th birthday, he asked if he could do chores. Umm...yeah! Sure! I told him we could start chores once he turned 5. I needed some time to think about what chores he could do, whether we'd pay him allowance, how much the allowance should be, etc. I stalled by saying I needed to talk to Daddy about it.

He asked a couple more times, so Jim and I did talk about it. I've been wanting to give him some responsibilities for a while. I thought it could help him be kinder. I thought it would make him feel more grown up. And I knew he'd love getting money even though he was asking for stickers and prizes for doing chores. I want to teach him about money. If he's responsible for buying the toys he wants (or at least paying something toward them), then maybe he'll be a little more appreciative and a little less greedy.

So Jim and I agreed on $2 per week. My suggestion. And I decided that he'd get the full allowance each week as long as he did a sufficient amount of chores. I didn't want to tie a certain amount to each chore. It would be too much work, and that's not really how the real world works anyway. In our jobs, we get paid a salary for our week's worth of work and some weeks are more productive than others.

I saw several chore chart images on Google with different categories of chores, and I really liked that idea. I've been trying to get Christopher to be more independent, so I thought adding some "care of myself" chores would make him more interested in doing personal hygiene things for himself. And let's be honest...I have a really hard time remembering to give him a bath once or twice a week, so I am hoping that making that a chore will help him remind me!


Yes, this image is correct. He didn't have a bath at all last week. He did go swimming. That kind of counts, right?

"Care of my things" seemed like the obvious category. I didn't want to make him clean his room or even his playroom. I never understood having to keep your personal space clean. If you like it messy, it should be able to be messy. And he's a pretty organized kid anyway. I did give him "pick up my toys" because I don't like when they're lying all over the house, but he hasn't really had to do this chore very often.

He's doing a great job with charging the iPad since I moved the plug into his bathroom. He uses a tooth brushing app from Dental Associates called Heroes of Hygiene. Get it for your kids! Seriously. So after he brushes his teeth at night, it's easy to plug in the iPad right there in the bathroom. And it's there in the morning, so he can start watching shows while we keep sleeping. No more waking me up to get it from downstairs because it's too scary. Yay for mommy's sleep!

Putting clothes in the hamper and carrying dishes to the sink (I thought the dishwasher would be too hard at this age) have been working well. And he's even put away the silverware from the dishwasher every time it's run in the last few weeks. I pull it all out and put it on the counter above the silverware drawer, and then he sorts it and puts it away. It doesn't really help me all that much, but it's preparation for unloading the full dishwasher as soon as he's tall enough to reach the top cabinets. Maybe by age 10? Ha.

His favorite chore, and the one he even cried over when Jim accidentally did it for him, is bringing in the garbage cans on Wednesday afternoons. He would love to take them to the curb in the morning as well, but they're too heavy when they're full.

We're on week 3 and the enthusiasm hasn't worn off quite yet. I hope it lasts! I am quite liking Christopher helping out a bit more around the house.

Do your kids do chores? What are they? Do they earn an allowance? How much?

Monday, May 11, 2015

A better approach to a monthly budget

I have Quicken for our personal finances, and I tried for many years to create a monthly budget and stick to it. I never had much success. Somehow I always found myself pulling small amounts of money out of savings to pay for something at the end of the month, usually our credit card bill. Jim and I charge everything we can throughout the month (to get points on our Southwest Airlines credit card), and then we ALWAYS pay it off at the end of the month.

At the beginning of 2014 I came up with a new system that worked beautifully all year! And into 2015. And it got us off of living paycheck to paycheck.

In August 2013 I started a new job, and I was getting paid twice a month instead of every other week. Something about the timing of my paychecks made our automatic mortgage payment a bit stressful. That was a large withdrawal from our checking account, and I never knew if there would be enough money in the account. What I decided to do was change all of our deposits to our savings account, and then pay a monthly "allowance" to our checking account. I adjusted the timing of that deposit a couple of times throughout the year before I got it just right. I needed the transfer to happen right before the credit card bill and mortgage were due.

It has worked so well! I don't ever have to think about the balance of our checking account because our allowance covers all our automatic deductions from checking, and we charge everything else. Our credit card balance does vary, but only around Christmas was it higher than the budget allowed, and because we had been under budget during other months of the year, there was some surplus in the checking account to cover it.

The other thing I did was move our emergency fund savings into a high yield online banking account. We're earning higher interest there, and it's not as easy to transfer money into our normal checking account, so the temptation to overspend is (somewhat) removed. Midway through the year I moved some of the surplus from our normal savings account into the online savings account, but I never did it during the second half of the year because I knew we'd owe money on our tax return. We ended up owing a lot because of a side job Jim had taken on last year, but because none of that money came out of the online savings account, it didn't feel like we were losing any of our savings.

Even better, with the job transitions Jim and I have gone through in the last couple of months, the timing of our new paychecks hasn't mattered as much. Because we still have some surplus in our checking and savings accounts and because of the continuation of our monthly "allowance" transfer, our finances have not been interrupted. 

For more information on how to live on last month's income, check out this article from one of my favorite blogs, The Simple Dollar.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Machines do not make babies

When my son was 4 year old, he started talking about "the machines that made me" (him). Umm. What?! I didn't really know how to respond to that statement. I wanted to set him straight but explaining where babies come from was a conversation I didn't think I'd be having for many more years. Then last summer I read this article on sex-positive parenting, and it mentioned a couple of books on reproduction. I decided to get them from the library. I read them first before reading them with Christopher. One book was way too detailed; I couldn't even read it out loud to Jim. But What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth was perfect!

Christopher and I read it together twice. And I think he finally understood that machines hadn't made him. Mommy and Daddy (more specifically an egg and a sperm) had made him. Reading it wasn't at all awkward. It was scientific. The drawings are cartoonish; they remind me of the Good News Bible from my Catholic upbringing. It shares just enough information about reproduction without getting into sex. Christopher's favorite page is the one showing a C-section. He was actually outraged that he was born vaginally and not cut out by the surgeon. He was quite jealous that his cousin, Cece, was born via C-section. And I had to tell him which of his friends and cousins was born each way. 

I am so glad I've shared this information with him. It will make the sex talk that much easier later on. I want him to have a healthy view of sex.

What I was not prepared for as an outcome of reading this book were his questions about who made the first person. Since he now knows that a sperm and an egg are required to make a baby - and that means a man and a woman - how did the first person come about? He wonders whether God made the first person. And we tell him that many people believe that. We try to explain that we believe instead in evolution, but that is an even harder concept to explain to a now 5 year old. I think this week I will be turning again to the library and books to help explain that process.

What crazy things have your kids said? What hard questions do they ask you? How do you explain more adult topics to your children?

Friday, May 8, 2015

My slight obsession with all things Austen

I love Jane Austen. Don't you? I am a little ashamed to say that I haven't read all of her books, but I love everything about them - the era, the love stories, the movies! I know most people prefer the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Not me. I am partial to the 2005 Keira Knightley rendition. The scene in the rain when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth. Wow! Love it! It's the movie I watch when I'm in an emotional funk. My husband bought me the DVD box set for Christmas in 2006 or 2007. It came with the soundtrack that I listened to at work incessantly for a while.

My second favorite Austen film is the 1996 Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow. My sister and I watched it a lot during high school. The dresses! The match making gone wrong! The fact that Clueless is based on the plot. What's not to love?

I am also a bit obsessed with Jane Austen fan fiction. Have you read any?

I read The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler years ago and loved it. I appreciate a book club with a theme (as I'll write more about another time). And I cannot resist anything with a love story. And a male character who reads Jane Austen. Check it out. The movie is pretty good too!

A few years later I read Austenland and Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale. In these books there is a resort in England where the characters go to spend a week in an Austen novel. How fun would that be?! I just rewatched the Austenland movie starring Kerri Russel a couple of nights ago. Super cheesy, but so fun.

More recently I read a couple more serious Austen spin offs. Longbourn (by Jo Baker) is the story of Pride and Prejudice told from the servants perspective. It has a Downton Abbey feel to it. I highly recommend it! And The Forgotten Sister (by Jennifer Paynter) is the story of Mary Bennet. Poor Mary has almost no part in Pride and Prejudice, so this book gives her a story. It has some crazy plot twists. It was an enjoyable read. I relate to Mary as an introvert, so I was happy to see some devote some time to thinking up some adventures for her.

Are you an Austen fan? What's your favorite Austen book, movie, or fan fiction? Please share!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Listen up, kids, networking really works!

I remember hearing about "networking" when I was in high school and thinking it was a stupid concept. Why would meeting people ever help you get a job? Wouldn't your own talents, experience, and education be enough?! Sadly, I was very, very wrong. It turns out that knowing someone on the inside of an organization does indeed make it easier to get your foot in the door.

I'm not saying that networking can get you a job. The best anyone can do is help you get an interview. Then it's up to you to impress the hiring manager. But having someone vouch for you is extremely helpful - it makes your resume stand out among the rest.

Do you use LinkedIn? I have found myself once again in the position of needing a job. As soon as I heard the news about my current company being in a state of uncertainty, as my friend Jamie says, I went on LinkedIn and updated my profile to include my recent job transition. You see, after 20 months of contracting, I was recently hired on as a permanent employee. I know that one value of LinkedIn is that recruiters use it to find new talent. I wanted those recruiters to know about my place of employment, so they would contact me when they heard the company's news. It worked, by the end of that first day I had been contacted by at least 6 recruiters.

I worked with a recruiter when I got my contracting gig, and consulting firms/staffing agencies are really nothing more than borrowing someone else's network. They can get you an interview at companies you might not be able to get into otherwise. I was once too proud to let someone else make money off of my employment. Not anymore! I know the value of good connections. Within 3 days of talking to my former recruiter, I had a phone interview scheduled. From my own online applications, I had nothing!

Another value of LinkedIn is in keeping track of your own professional network. In talking with a current coworker, I learned that she had applied to a company that sounded familiar. I pulled up my LinkedIn contacts, and sure enough I knew the hiring manager for the job she was seeking. I was able to message this former coworker and give her a heads up that my current coworker had applied for her position. She answered that she'd keep any eye out for the application and try to interview her. Hopefully my recommendation aids her in getting the interview.

LinkedIn is also helpful when trying to learn more about potential coworkers at a company you are interested in. At least in IT in the Milwaukee area, it seems like everyone knows everyone and jumps from company to company, so I have found future coworkers or bosses among the secondary contact in my network. I then reach out to my primary contacts (people I know personally) to request more information about them. I know that the interview process goes both ways. I want to make sure that the job is the right fit for me as well, and coworkers and bosses are a huge part of the job experience.

My sister, Emily, has mentioned several times that she needs me to show her how to use LinkedIn. There isn't really much to know. Fill out your work history; I have all of the bullet points from my resume plus some additional information describing various projects I have worked on. Then start connecting with people you know, just like Facebook! Connect with former coworkers, current coworkers, friends, neighbors. People in your industry are especially helpful, but you never know when you might want to change careers. Connect with people you enjoyed working with and respect, but also with people you wouldn't want to work with again. Then you can keep tabs on where they end up. It's helpful to get a feel for a company's culture based on people you know who work there.

It's a good idea to keep your LinkedIn profile (and resume) up to date all the time. You never know when you might be job hunting! I know I never expected to be looking this soon after taking a new position.

This blog is not affiliated with LinkedIn.

America's Favorite Pastime...Yawn

I never wanted my kids to play baseball. It's boring to watch (says the girl heading to a Brewers game this afternoon with her coworkers), and it's really not very good exercise. My memories of Little League softball are standing around in the outfield waiting for a ball to come my way...and of ice cream at Dairy Queen after a game.

When Christopher was 2 1/2 years old, we started introducing him to sports - baseball, soccer, football. He was a natural at baseball. He could hit the ball even at that young age. We tried a mini soccer program last summer, and he liked it for a little while. He was really into stealing the ball from other players, but baseball has always been his favorite. Our town doesn't have T-ball, so he couldn't play last summer.

Tonight is his first practice for Kindergarten baseball; a co-ed town league for kids entering Kindergarten in the fall and those already in Kindergarten this school year. He is beyond excited! He has been looking forward to tonight all week - asking every day what day tomorrow is, waiting to hear that it is Thursday.

I'll admit I have changed my tune. I am looking forward to some good laughs. The kids are going to be so bad! I'm a little concerned that Christopher is going to take it too seriously and yell at his teammates and cry when he makes mistakes.  Ok, I am A LOT concerned about that. But what I am most excited about (other than his own excitement) is that he will be on a team with other kids that will be at his school next year!

Pictures and an update to come after his first game on Monday, if it's not rained out.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I'll do anything for a little time ALONE

I am introvert. That doesn't mean I don't like people. I love people - especially the ones I actually love. What it does mean is that I need time alone to recharge. As a mother of a 5 year old, I don't get much alone time, other than my daily commute to work. On those rare occasions when I convince my husband to take Christopher somewhere (anywhere!) for even an hour on the weekend, I usually lay in the reclining chair in our sunroom and just read.

More often than not to get my much needed time to myself, I do chores outside of the house - grocery shopping, Target runs, trips to Costco, and, more recently, gardening. I hate gardening! But just like when I'm shopping alone, I am able to slip in my ear buds and listen to an audiobook. Aah.

I killed myself a couple of weekends ago weeding and then digging out this crazy out of control Russian sage that I cannot stand. It was very hard work, and I could barely walk for the next few days, but it was worth it for the time to myself. Not to mention the feeling of satisfaction when I was finished.


See that nice gaping hole there in front of those pipes? This weekend I get to fill it with a plant more to my liking...maybe a butterfly bush!

So what did I do the following day after an hour of spreading mulch and then a hike with Jim, Christopher, and Jim's brother, Adam? More gardening! This time I wasn't completely alone. Jim was helping in another part of the garden, but we both had our head phones in while Christopher was "resting" inside. We pulled out these awful, painful red bushes with thorns that were crammed right in front of the arborvitaes. Luckily, they came out pretty easily; although I ended up with two thorn-slivers in my palm. I was only wearing one glove (on my shovel hand) - dumb!


But again, it looks so great! I wish I had a before picture. And I can't wait to plant in this space this weekend as well.

How do you recharge? What do you do to get some time away from your kids?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I'm not ashamed to let a tablet babysit my child occasionally

Do you go out to eat with your preschool/school age children? Have you been to Buffalo Wild Wings? We went there recently while in Sandusky, OH for a weekend with my sister and her family. Did you know they have tablets for kids to play on while you're there?! Neither did I. My sister clued us in. How often have you gone out with friends with your kids present and realized at the end of the night that you never even talked about anything? BW3s is our new favorite restaurant. Aside from helping the kids with the apps on occasion, we actually got to have adult conversation. It was amazing!

I am from Buffalo, NY, so I am kind of a wing snob. Outside of Buffalo (other than in Florida where a lot of Buffalonians end up), it is hard to find good wings. Wings should not be breaded...just sayin'. But it is not that hard to find good Buffalo sauce, so at places like Buffalo Wild Wings, I just order something other than wings, like a chicken wrap with the Buffalo sauce. Yum! I love wraps. I ate very low carb for a couple of years, and one of the things I missed the most was wraps. Any salad is better as a wrap.

We get a babysitter a lot. We probably spend about $100 a month on babysitters, and it's worth every cent to have some time away as a couple. But on the spur of the moment, it's nice to go out to eat when you just don't feel like cooking, even if it means dragging the kiddo along. Going to Buffalo Wild Wings for a sit down meal and having a tablet to entertain Christopher while we eat is almost like a date night! We have our own iPad, which we often bring a long when we go places, but the novelty of games we don't own hasn't yet worn off for him. And, at least in Wisconsin, they serve Redd's Apple Ale. Triple score!

What restaurants do you love? What other kid-friendly places have you found?

This blog is not affiliated with Buffalo Wild Wings.

2015 Reading Challenge

Without really meaning to, I am doing Modern Mrs. Darcy's 2015 Reading Challenge.

January: A book you've been meaning to read...

I went to my Goodreads list and chose the oldest book on the To Read list. It was Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. I love Young Adult fiction.  It's my favorite genre. The books are usually short (~300 pages), there are big feelings (I'm bad with feelings in real life), and the plots are so different from my everyday life (I sometimes find it hard to read stories that could actually happen to me). Anyway, this was a sweet book. I enjoyed the alternating voices of Juli and Bryce. It was definitely a young YA novel - almost middle school, but it was a cute love story. 4 Stars

February: A book published this year...

I read Fairest by Marissa Meyer, the newest in her Lunar Chronicles series. It was a little disappointing because instead of book 4 being released, she released this back story on Queen Levana - the evil queen/step mother from Snow White, Rapunzel, and Cinderella all rolled into one. I love fairy tale re-tellings. I'll blog about that soon. I enjoyed the additional depth given to this character, but it was no where near as great as the other books in the series. I recommend starting with "Cinder" and reading through all 5 books once "Winter" comes out this fall. 4 Stars

March: A book from a genre you typically don't read...

I read A LOT and a pretty good variety. I actually Googled book genres trying to find one I don't read. The only one I could come up with was horror, but I'm kind of a wimp. I don't like scary movies. I still can't think too long about Candy Man, a movie a was forced to watch at a sleep over in 1994. I am able to watch semi-horror movies like Scream and The Ring, so when I heard about The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco, which is based on the same Japanese myth as "The Ring", I thought I might be able to handle that book.  I convinced my YA book club (more to come on that) to read it with me. They both found it disappointing because they actually like scary stuff. I loved it! It was more of an adventure story than anything else. I enjoyed the characters, and I liked the twist to make one of the evil spirits a kind of good guy. 4 Stars

April: A book from your childhood...

Anne (Modern Mrs. Darcy) says this book can be one you loved from childhood or one you knew about but never read. I picked Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. I love Lowry's The Giver, but I never read this book. I think it was assigned to a different reading level when I was in 4th or 5th grade. I remember my best friend, Brooke, reading it. I'm not sure why I never read it for fun. And...confession...I got it from the library about a month ago, but I haven't read it yet. In my defense, I had a pile of books all come in to the library at once and some of them were non-renewable (one was even a 7 day book). I will read it, and I will do it before I read my May selection.

May: A book your mother loves...

I emailed my mother explaining the challenge, and she immediately emailed and texted back that I need to read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Klein. Since this book was on my Goodreads list, I reserved it from the library right away.  I picked it up yesterday, and I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Are you doing a reading challenge this year?  What is it?

Monday, May 4, 2015

I should eat fish because fish is healthy

I have always been a picky eater. I struggle with making my son eat more variety than he wants because I was so much worse growing up. I know what it's like to hate foods or be afraid to even try something new. Just to give you an idea...I hate chocolate. Crazy, right? It's true. I don't just mean that I don't love it. I detest it! It's one of the foods I hate most in this world. I cannot even stand the smell of it. But...as I've grown older, I think I could force myself to like it. Like I've forced myself to like vegetables. But why would I?

What I did recently force myself to eat more of is fish. Hooray for aging taste buds!

About three years ago while on a cruise, I decided that I would eat fish every night for dinner. If you've ever been on a cruise, you know the food is amazing! What better place to try a new food than somewhere you know everything will be delicious. If I couldn't like fish on a cruise, then it was never going to happen. Well it did happen! After three or four nights of fish on that cruise, I went home looking for fish recipes.

I discovered that Costco sells individually frozen salmon fillets. Perfect! I Googled salmon recipes and found this Walnut Crusted Salmon recipe on Sprouted Kitchen. I should mention that I love nuts - pretty much any kind, but especially walnuts - so this was the perfect recipe for me. About a year later when my husband and I started a low carb diet, this recipe was one of the few to make the cut. It's still one of our favorites. It's so simple!

I never tried the edamame mash, but instead we pair it with this Asparagus with Sliced Almonds and Parmesan Cheese recipe my husband found on AllRecipes.com. This is another super easy recipe - only 4 ingredients. I love anything I can remember while at the grocery store, so I can pick up the ingredients spur of the moment without needing a grocery list.

And since my 5 year old won't eat either of these things, I usually cook some fish sticks as well.

What's your favorite fish recipe? Have you ever forced yourself to like a food?