Holiday Giveaway: 100 Days of Real Food Fast & Fabulous

Photo provided by Lisa Leake

Photo provided by Lisa Leake

It's the most wonderful, hustle and bustle time of the year. 

Our family is feeling like we've barely had time to pack away our Halloween costumes, before donning our ugly Christmas sweaters to decorate the tree. 

It's all good, though. Holiday get togethers and doing our best to make the season more about giving than receiving means we'll be spending a lot more time in the kitchen in the coming weeks: making our own meals and preparing treats and food to share with others. This week there's a potluck and a girl on a mission to make something sweet for our neighbours penciled into the family calendar.

With four growing kids, the kitchen is already the highest traffic area in our home. If we don't look for ways to be efficient with shopping and meal planning, we start to slip into a pattern of cobbled together meals that don't fuel us the way we need to be fuelled to get through our hectic schedule. Oh, and we get on each other's nerves when all of us are bumbling around in the kitchen foraging for food!

During the week, I am the primary kitchen person. Most nights, it's just me and a couple of the kids at the table. Plates of dinner for the rest of the crew wait for their later arrival. And that was an important decision for our family. It can be all-too-easy to get into a fend for yourself groove when the whole family isn't able to eat together. It happened a lot when the kids were small and I was on my own for meal prep. Once they were older, and I could spend more time in the kitchen, I started to make some serious changes. The first thing to change was the mindset that I didn't need to prepare a family meal if we weren't eating together. Now that we have our routine of setting aside plates for latecomers, I'm more likely to prepare a well-rounded meal. On the weekends, my husband takes over in the kitchen and we do our very best to make sure all six of us are at the same table on one of those nights. 

I'm not going to pretend it comes easily. It's work to come up with ideas and to plan for pulling meals together around our schedule. I rely (heavily) on inspiration from others. And one of the cookbooks and blogs that really works for our family is 100 Days of Real Food and now the newest cookbook in the series 100 Days of Real Food Fast & Fabulous. I stumbled upon Lisa's Instagram feed last year, and I was hooked. 

These recipes meet all my requirements for family meals: quick, user-friendly, real ingredients (that are easy to find in the grocery store and are often already in my kitchen). 

The newest cookbook (which I'm working my way through) has 100 recipes and includes a lunch box section which has some great ideas for grown up and pint-sized lunches. She also provides gluten-free and nut-free options in the recipes. And did I mention easy? I was amazed by the five minute jars of overnight oats the kids could grab in the mornings. And the dinners really are fast and fabulous, I'm not exaggerating! 

EASY FISH TACOS. Photo provided by Lisa Leake

EASY FISH TACOS. Photo provided by Lisa Leake

Like I was saying, the kids are older now. I can spend more time in the kitchen while they're busy doing other things. But here's the kicker: they are also old enough to start pulling their own weight when it comes to feeding themselves and the rest of the family. My husband likes to remind me (often) that he was preparing dinner for his whole family at least once a week by the time he was 10, and I'm doing my best to let go of my need to control the kitchen. The recipes and ideas in this cookbook are completely tween and teen friendly, so no more excuses for any of us. There are going to be some more changes in the new year when it comes to meals. 

I'm so happy with this new cookbook that I'd like to give one away to a lucky reader, so you too can head into the busiest time of year with the best tools to feed your family (and anyone else who you happen to be spending time with over the holidays). 

If you are a Canadian resident, you can enter below. Thanks and good luck!

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this post, but I was generously gifted a copy of the new cookbook 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous by Lisa. I love this book so much (and I think you will, too) that I bought another copy to give away to one of you!



How To Find Books Your Kids Will Read

Lined up at midnight for the  Harry Potter  release. He finished it the next day.

Lined up at midnight for the Harry Potter release. He finished it the next day.

There is nothing that gets me into my minivan and pulling out of the driveway faster than a refrigerator without eggs or a kid who has "nothing to read".

All four of my kids are readers, but my twelve-year-old son is an avid reader. He's exactly like me and one of his uncles at the same age: buried inside a book whenever possible. When he gets desperate (after he's already re-read his own collection for the billionth time and can't take it anymore) he'll wander into his sisters' rooms in search of anything that has a cover and some words.

He reads the newspaper on the weekends and the back of cereal boxes and yogurt containers in the morning. And as much as I'd like to keep adding to his humongous collection, I haven't been able to find a money or book tree anywhere (we do buy series that all the kids will read and everyone in the family gets books for birthdays and Christmas). So whenever there's a plea for more books, I go from library to library hoping they've ordered new ones.

Today, I stopped in on my lunch hour and it was quiet. There's a humour series a friend of mine had mentioned, and I asked the librarian at the information desk if it was available. I do my best to stay current about what kids are reading, and I also rely on word-of-mouth from other parents. But there is so much out there, and I often wonder if I'm missing out on books that would really appeal to their individual interests. Of course, each of the kids has a preference for book style and it's hard to keep tabs on all those genres.

The librarian looked at me, took in the fact I was there on my own and then asked if I had a few moments to spare. She proceeded to teach me the best way to find books my kids would read. My tried-and-true method has always been to set the kids loose with a basket, so they can choose their own books.

This time, I sat down at the computer with a very skilled librarian and learned about databases and Read Alike lists. GAME CHANGER. See also: RABBIT HOLE.

I'm always skimming articles about best book series and I read the book review section of the weekend paper looking for suggestions, but it all ends up cluttered in my to-do list. Read alike lists are so easy to use and something the kids can do themselves.

I also learned about the hidden resources on our library's web page. Did you know many communities purchase access to specialized databases?

Go over to your library's homepage and look for digital resources. And then look for databases and/or research. Scroll through and look for links related to kids. For example, our library has provided the community with access to the Novelist K8 database, which can be searched by age group, genres, sub-types and (this is the best) categories like "funny & gross". To access the database, you do need to enter through a library or school.

Before I left the library yesterday, I was handed a pile of new books to bring home (already knowing they would appeal to the kind of humour he appreciates) and some lists of other books to explore when he's ready. The librarian also put a hold on the humour series I had originally come in to find, and I'll be receiving a call when they're ready to be picked up.

If you have a reader in your home (or if you are looking for books for yourself), go introduce yourself to a librarian.

Seriously, they are wizards in disguise.



Stealing Time


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We always put music on when we’re in the kitchen. And I’m standing at the stove singing along to a song, when I catch a flash of movement from my youngest child, who’s having breakfast at the table.

She’s still in her pajamas, because our mornings together are slow. Everyone else has left for work and school. She’s swinging her legs in time to the music, and I realize she has the only pair of feet in our family that can’t reach the floor. 

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I've been thinking about time a lot lately. And often, resentment will ride in on those thoughts. I feel resentment about the weight I gave to time and how much of myself I gave away to counting it and wishing it would pick up its pace. Those were the early days of motherhood for me—when I wore time like a heavy coat that was two sizes too big.

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I knew it wasn’t the way I was supposed to feel. But first time motherhood was hard. Convincing myself I could make it to the next stage was hard. Enjoying my baby was hard.

When they put her into my arms for the first time, I felt like I had been thrown overboard, and I spent those early months flailing as though I had forgotten how to swim. I used all my energy to swim against the current, because I was convinced it would take me to the shore—where I would find solid ground to stand on.

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And now so much further into my mothering, with experience and loss behind me, I resent time for how light and careless it seems. Like a balloon that's been let go on a windy day, I'm always on my toes reaching for it and trying to bring it back to me. To hold onto it more tightly. To hold onto the people who I want to share it with more tightly. 

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I’m so glad those feet can’t reach the floor. As I stand and watch them swing, I can hardly remember the version of myself that was convinced what was coming would be better than what was already there.

I’m not needed in the same ways these days. I’m still caring for my children, of course, but I spend a lot more time as a spectator than as a participant in their day-to-day lives. I am finally standing on that shore. And they are swimming towards their own horizons without me.

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These are passages from an essay I submitted to an anthology of stories by mothers for mothers, recently published by my talented colleagues Shannon Day-Cheung and Tara Wilson at Tipsy Squirrel Press. My story appears along with many other heartwarming and hilarious essays about motherhood, written by a collection of mothers asked to reflect on moments from their own journeys.

I was honoured to be asked and glad to be able to lend my voice, because I know the value of being part of a greater story. We are all writing our own chapters, after all. We can celebrate our differences and our sameness and read one another's chapters and take from them what we need. 

Martinis & Motherhood is now available on Amazon (Canada, US, UK) and on Kindle

And I'm giving a copy away to one of my lucky readers (Canadian, US, or UK only please). 

Enter below before July 31, 2015 to win!



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My Top 10 Books (so far...)


{Photo credit: Goodreads}

If you're going to ask a person to create a list of their dearest friends, there has to be enough space to talk about each one and to share how they influenced and impacted your life. 

I was terribly shy as a child and a good book was often a good friend. I still end each day with a few chapters. Reading is like oxygen for me. 

So when I was tagged (a few times) in the Facebook 10 Most Influential Books meme, I had to sit on it for a couple of weeks. I left a piece of paper on my desk and started jotting down titles when they came to me. 

Let me tell you, there are far more than 10 books on that page. 

I was the kid who got in trouble for reading at the table, who spent hours in my room on a sunny Saturday reading a book, who looked forward to wandering the aisles at the library.

I have always been the kind of reader that feels the story and becomes intimately connected to the characters in a well-written book. And many of them have stayed with me long after I read the last page.

Here they are:

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: My grade two teacher read this book to us in class, and I felt such a wave of empathy and connection to that tree. It was one of the first books I added to my children's collection, and I hope it will stay with them too.

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: I was intrigued by the unexpected friendship in this story and the hope it gave me for my own awkward social skills. I remember sitting on my bedroom floor and sobbing for the characters. It was the first time I realized a book could touch you enough to make you cry. 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: This book was so well written and its story so well told that I felt like I was in it. I fell in love with its characters and Twain's ability to take me somewhere I had never been.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller: We read this play in grade 10 and I loved it more than all the Shakespeare I had ever/would ever read. I felt for Willy the way I did for the Giving Tree. I went back and read it again and again.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Most of my high school years were very uncomfortable. I was fascinated by the dynamics of an uncivilized group of children and the wrath they could unfurl upon one another. At that time in my life, it felt very relatable. 

The Diviners by Margaret Laurence: I wrote an independent study on this novel for my grade 12 English class and the teacher held me back after class and told me she was giving to fail me unless I confessed to where I had found the "cheat notes" for the book (since she wasn't aware any existed). The words and ideas were all mine (no internet back then, folks)—that's how much Laurence inspired me. I bought all of her novels with my part-time job money and finished them by the end of that summer. Laurence also led me to Carol Shields and Alice Munro (whose writing has also influenced me greatly). 

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera: This book was given to me by a friend with whom I shared complicated feelings. So before reading it, there was already a weight of emotion attached to it. But Kundera's writing made me feel like I was reading the words to a love song or sonnet. This novel is a beautiful unveiling of the complexities of the human experience. 

The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis: This book was also a gift from a friend, who thought I would appreciate the writing. I did, indeed. Much like Death of a Salesman, Amis is brilliant in his portrayal of the underdog (who I've always had a thing for). I loved every single page.



{Photo credit: Goodreads}

Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: I picked this book up from a display. I liked the cover, I liked that it was written about China. It has since become a treasured part of my library. Written about the friendship between two girls, who are one another's "old sames", it spoke directly to my heart and connected me to my own history

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: I read this series (at the speed of light) before becoming a parent and it reignited my childhood imagination in the most wonderful way. This series—with all its magic—was a sneak peek of how wonderful it would be to share books with my children and watch their imaginations light up. My oldest daughter has read the series over 20 times and really felt a connection to its characters.  

What about you? Which books have you been inspired by so far (because we know there are so many more waiting to be read). I'd love to hear about them.

For my favourite children's books, you can read my post here.  



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