Friday, September 7, 2012

Could've and Should've Been Great: A Review of "Lumen" Book One of The Blood Luminary Series"

What could be more fitting, for my first book review, than to examine the writing of a first time author?  Kindred spirits in a way, seeking to share our thoughts with the web-o-sphere, it seemed like the right step to take.  I chose, for this my first attempt, a book by Joseph Eastwood entitled Lumen.

As I began to read, I fell in love with the setting and the mystical powers of a mysterious island and its ihabitants.  The first few pages were packed with details that felt like elements of a favorite TV series being brought to life in a new and vivid way.  As a long time fan of "Lost", I immediately had an exceptionally clear mental image of Templar Island; a place with esoteric qualities that no one 'off island' can properly understand.  The author was off to a great start and had my attention.

Conceptually, the story is fantastic.  The main character, Daniel, is a young man whose family is lacking in wealth and social standing.  He is invited to study at a private academy for the most 'gifted' individuals on the island, despite the fact that his family is considered lower class and cannot finance his education.  It is evident that the character is destined for greatness; he is the focus of the book, clearly the protagonist, and all odds are against him.  Beyond the general framework for the main character, his pre-destined greatness, and magical interweavings- I have many issues with the book.  The idea was fantastic and I wanted this review to go differently, but full disclosure of the goods and bads of this novel must be made. So far the goods: vivid setting and interesting concept. 

The bads: I sent the author a message via his Facebook fan page detailing my concerns, which he said he would address.  Perhaps he did and Kindle did not properly notify owners of the book of the change.  I am not sure how post-publish changes are handled, but I completed my read using the first edition of Lumen. As I advanced through the book, towards the 3rd or 4th chapter, I began to stumble in my comprehension of the text.  No, the writing was not too advanced for my capabilities, it was fraught (and I mean overflowing) with typographical errors. 

The errors were so profound that I found myself needing to re-read passsages multiple times to infer the meaning.  Not only were there spelling errors and incorrect verb tense choices, but the character would be in one location in one paragraph and in the next paragraph the location changed without explanation.  Was he teleported there? Was he dreaming? Did he awake from a dream? I have no idea. 


Additionally, I felt that character development was sporadic rather than organic.  Facts were announced rather than woven into the story.  A prime example is the character of Reuben, Headmaster of the Croft Academy (aka- academy for the magically gifted).  He was 'nice' for the majority of the book.  I mean sickeningly sweet nice.  If he had alterior motives it was not clear (and did not even seem implied) that one should suspect him of such things.  In all ways he seemed to be doing things to help the main character achieve greatness.  He was at first a Dumbledore-eqsue figure.  The comparisons were hard to miss: headmaster, seemingly counselor and friend to the school underdog, lets the underdog get away with things other kids would NEVER be allowed to do.  See? Dumbledore. Right? But in the last handful of chapters he becomes something closer to Voldemort in his vain attempt to see Daniel dead or trapped for his own personal uses.

Inconsistencies and errors, in a story I desperately wanted to love, leave me feeling unsure if I will read more by this author.  I know, it could be because he's new on the scene.  However, I could not help screaming at my IPad: GET AN EDITOR!!! These are all things that need not ever happen!  Mr. Eastwood, I know you are young and eager to publish and your thoughts are so fascinating that I REALLY want to see them on electronic paper.   But I cannot put myself through reading something so full of obvious and fixable mistakes again, unless I am doing so as an editor.  I want to review books for their story- why I loved or did not love the content of the message.  I do not want to write a review about how poor your spell check was. My urging is this: create your magnificent worlds in such a way that I cannot bear to leave them, be careful, and most of all take your time.  And, if you are in need a third, fifth, or one-hundreth pair of eyes- drop me a line. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Longbranch Wannabe Chipotle-Sweet Potato Soup...mmm...

My husband loves to golf. A lot. At 37, he is one of the top competitive amateurs in the state. As such, I had the honor last week to accompany him to Marion, Il for the Illinois State Amateur of Golf. The town logo is "The Hub of the Universe". I'm not sure I found much in the way of interstellar travel, but I did find a very good restaurant one town over in Carbondale. Would you believe it if I told you that they have the best vegetarian breakfast and coffee shop you can imagine? No? I didn't believe it either, until I ate there.

Coming from an area like the suburbs of Chicago, one has a tendency to get spoiled. Not only do the burbs offer a rich variety of foods to be sampled (pita shops with divine hummus, unreal sushi, fantastic wine bars) but, hello? Chicago is right down the parking lot of an "expressway". Just down the road a ways is a city where you can't go more than a couple of blocks without finding amazing cuisine. So to hear that Carbondale, Illinois would have anything that fit into my dietary plans was a shocker. To believe it might even impress me? Nah, not a chance.

Couldn't be more wrong. Of the four days we were away we ate at "Longbranch Coffeehouse" twice, and we would have dined there more if it weren't for those damned tee times getting in the way. The second time we had the extreme fortune to eat at this little gem, the husband ordered something I would never have touched only one short year ago, Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup. I took a few bites before he had a chance to sully it with his devilish piece of gluten-y toast. To say that it was good would be a disservice. It was unreal. It was like nothing I ever ate before. It was, quite possibly, the only thing near "The Hub of the Universe" that even came close to being out of this world. The chef was good enough to list the ingredients, but for quantities I was on my own. A quick Internet search turned up something similar, but not all of the ingredients were the same. So revise and sample I did.

I chopped and sautéed and stirred and boiled until my concoction was complete. So without further ado, my interpretation of the most amazing soup I've had in a very long time. As a note, their soup was vegan and used a vegetable stock. I used chicken stock because it was on hand. As I prepared it, the recipe made 10 cups of soup that came out to a whopping 67 calories per 8 ounce bowl. See, I told you it was amazing.

Longbranch Wannabe Chipotle-Sweet Potato Soup

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon powdered ginger (of course fresh would be a milon times better)
2 Gala Apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 large Sweet Potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cups organic Chicken stock
2 cups Water
2 Chipotle Peppers (equivalent to 1 ounce- yes I pulled out the food scale for that one!)

Heat the oil in a 3 quart soup pot set over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, and ginger. Cook until soft and the onions are transparent. Add the apples, celery, and sweet potatoes; stir and cook for a few minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until vegetables are soft – about 45 minutes. Add the chipotle. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth.*
Return to the pot to keep warm.
A very special thanks to for the basis of the recipe. I made a few alterations to more closely line up with what I remember of the soup that started it all, but the quantities and general guidelines we're taken from that site.

*I was super excited to use the "soup" button on my BlendTech blender so without so much as a second thought I pulled out the BIG container and dumped in as much of the soup as I could at one time. The result was very tasty, but almost too 'baby food' in texture. When I make this soup again, which I definately will, I am going to try the good old stick blender. The soup at Longbranch had texture to it and was not the full out purée mine seemed to be. What do you think- how will you mix and mash the recipe into what will surely become one of your favorite soups of all time?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Little Miss Do-it-All

This week has been a strange one. I find myself trying to make the mental shift from all day mom, laundry washing maniac, dish doer, and head chef to all of that PLUS working woman. That's right, the new school year is upon us and I have very conflicted feelings on the issue. I like what I do, I really do. I am a teacher- and on a good day, in a good month, of a good year, I influence someone else's child.

True, my kids are in school until 1 pm and I am done with my assignment everyday by noon. Nothing to complain about, I have the best of both worlds, I know. I kiss my kids goodbye in the morning, and leave them with my husband until my mom arrives to take them to school. There is no day care and never has been. I do not have to rush them through breakfast to make it to a bus so I will not be late for work. I pick them up when their day is over and have the afternoon to do homework, play, be the mom taxi around town, and do the things I didn't do all morning. So why feel conflicted? Why feel torn about returning to this routine, that by all measures is the easiest of all my friends and the working moms I know?

The answer is fairly simple, but may prove to be unpopular to any women who may stumble upon my thoughts. The feminist movement really screwed me. I know, I know- equal pay, equal opportunity, anything he can do I can do better, blah blah blah. Because of the incredibly difficult path the women before us plowed, we now have the chance to do it all. How is that a problem you ask? It's a problem because I feel compelled to do it all- keep the house Pottery Barn catalog perfect, manage a career, drive the kiddies here - there - everywhere; do the laundry, wash the dishes, clean the house, raise the children, feed the family, oh and take care of myself once in a while too. I am SURE there are those of you out there who are just like me. We do it all not because we can, but because we feel we MUST- lest we be judged a failure by the spirits of those who came before us and fought so hard for our opportunities.

I cannot and will not argue that women should go back to the days of waiting on pins and needles for the husband to return home, to being denied access to choices on their health, to being excluded from what we deem as basic human rights. I am grateful that someone came before me and fought that fight. I only know that somewhere in reaching for basic human freedoms, we started feeling that since we can do it all- we have to do it all and do it all to perfection. Maybe that's just me and the pressure I put on myself, but I am willing to guess I'm not alone in this. Show of hands if you find yourself wondering what more you should do, because you weren't quite perfect enough in all you did today...go ahead, raise them high- I know you're out there.

Well people, here is the sad truth in my life. I'm not perfect and I actually can't do it all. My laundry takes days to put away, there are dishes in the sink when I walk into the kitchen most mornings, and the whole house is a play room. Pottery barn will not be stopping in for a photo shoot anytime in the future...ever. And herein is the conflict. There is a voice in my head that whispers, "Why isn't your house more tidy? Don't sit down to read a book after the kids go to bed- do the laundry, be efficient!" Sometimes the voice even whispers, "are you sure you've done enough for your kids today?" Bastard. How dare you question my parenting, my devotion to my children, my love? How dare I question my parenting, my devotion, my love. I know it's's there in spades.

But what's a girl to do...I say choose. Choose the most important parts of your life and do those pieces to your utmost. What is it that will make you a good mom? Is it a spotless, catalog cover, 'no toys on the floor' kind of house? It certainly is not for me. I've chosen that the most important things in my life are the happiness of my children (even if the cost is a pile of My Little Pony coloring books, boxes and boxes of crayons, and marker scribbles on what was once a very beautiful coffee table), the happiness of my marriage, and my health. That's it. The other stuff matters, but not nearly as much. And once you choose, get that handful of really important things right and know the rest will fall into place. It will, it always does. No one has ever died because they pulled their clean shirt out of a basket instead of a drawer. Who needs a coffe table when you can have a Coloring Center (the official name of the coffee table). Pottery barn is too expensive anyway. See, it all works out. In fact, I'm pretty sure my wall art is as close to perfect as it gets.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Recipes, Ramblings, and a Zest for Life

This is the life. At the pool, saving the mountain of laundry to fold after bed time (oh what a special treat), and watching the girls perfect their 'bobs'. Ah, to be 5 years old again! Nearly limitless energy to conquer the world. Anything that lay in your path can be knocked out of the way with sheer exuberance and your unique zest for life. Can you remember when that was you? Sure, our daily caffeine drip may throw us back in time for a short while, but that comes to an end all too quick and we are back here- in the now with the stress of the world and fatigue of a lifetime weighing on our backs.

Not so long ago, just over a year, I found myself thinking there was no way I would make it to 50 when I felt as bad as I did at 34. Despite having the absolute best family in existence (the kids, the husband, the dogs, the extended family...everything as perfect as it gets) there was always a woe. I couldn't get out of bed in the morning and couldn't fall asleep at night. It wasn't that I didn't want to, but that I really truly could not do it. Enter that amazing doc I mentioned in another post. It wasn't long before I was able to get out of bed without a daily struggle and life became brighter. Through a combination of daily supplements and dietary changes my life began to change and zest seemed to be waiting for me to pick it up and go.

So what did I do that really changed my life so much? I already mentioned not totally "getting" the science, but I live by a basic set of guidelines set up by Doc Fantastic, I mean Dr. Fabbi:

  1. Cow dairy causes crazy inflammation, which causes a whole host of other illnesses. Don't eat it. Don't drink it. Don't let it near my otherwise nutritious kale salad.
  2. I am prone to kidney stones comprised of calcium-oxalate, spinach is high in oxalate. (See where I'm going with this?). Don't make spinach for a salad, as a side, or in a dairy free dip; it will make more stones, which means time in the ER, time on traditional antibiotics, and time on pain killers. All that spells disaster for the vibrant glow my otherwise healthy liver was working on. (I never thought about my liver affecting my skin, but boy does it.)
  3. Glutens = trouble. Thyroids and glutens don't play nice together (not to mention the super high calorie count in all things wheat) and I have a thyroid 'thing'. Thyroid 'things' and glutens lead to weight gain, goiters, and other things that sound pretty unpleasant, so I order my burgers with a lettuce leaf bun.
That's my list. If I stay away from things on the list, I stay healthy. But what's a girl to do about, you know...eating something that tastes good? It's not as hard as everyone seems to think. Today I had pretty much the most amazing spring rolls of all time. And you will be the first to ever see the recipe! In years to come, this will be like the illusive cookie recipe everyone thinks was smuggled from the kitchen of some department store restaurant- highly saught after of course. It will be the most coveted recipe you will ever make. Lines will form around the block for the mere hope of a taste, of a bit, of a bite, of a spring roll. Either that, or you will make them once in a while, feel refreshed, and a little more like the five year old you again- world conquering zest and all.

Super Amazing - World Conquering Spring Rolls
1 rice paper spring roll skin
Pinch of shredded carrots
1/2 teaspoon green onions
Pinch basil or cilantro leaves (whichever is on hand)
1/4 ounce sea kelp noodles
1/4 ounce ground chicken *
Moisten the spring roll skin in a pan of warm water. Lay it on a plate, pile on the toppings, roll it up, eat it up. It's that simple. To make this dish all vegan, skip the chicken. Prepared as described, you are looking at about 50 calories each. If you love a little dip for your spring rolls try the one below.

Spicy Spring Roll Dip
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
2 tablespoons Tamari
Use less of this gluten free soy sauce if you don't LOVE salt as much as I do. At 70 calories for the entire recipe, use the sauce sparingly.
Ground Chicken*
1-2 poached chicken breasts
Using a food processor, chop chicken until it is very fine. That's it. Two chicken breasts will keep you stocked for nearly 20 spring rolls or can be used in other dishes as well...homemade pad Thai, or some other rice noodle dish, for example. Be sure to store in an airtight glass container. (You don't want any plastics leeching into your otherwise healthy and delicious ground chicken!)
If you are tracking your caloric intake, please don't take my word for it. Use your own calorie counting app or device to double check my values. This is what I came up with using an app called LoseIt! You can use that app- for free online, on your iPhone, or in the Android market.
Oh, and next time I make them I will Instagram a photo. They went much too fast to photograph this time around!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cows Be Damned!

Coffee. It's my daily weakness. I think we've covered that. Would you believe, before and after that solitary and vacuum sealed mug of steamy tastiness, I am up to something else? I am changing everything else about the way I approach food, living, health and my diet. Not diet as in the cabbage soup kind, but diet as in a total lifestyle change of how I approach food. Ok maybe not a whole lifestyle change- coffee is still on my daily radar. I got the medical ok for that one delicious cup and I go for it. But in the tiny office of my chiropractic internist, I was faced with a direction in January of 2011- no more cow dairy...ever. Then nearly six months ago I got another blow...apparently gluten is a many-horned devil as well.

At a time when I didn't think I could feel any worse, having been on antibiotics no less than every four weeks for 6 months, I started seeing the most amazing doctor ever. I didn't know what to expect, but knew I couldn't feel any worse than I already did. Not only was I constantly sick, but I had massive weight gain over a short period of time and couldn't lose a pound no matter what I tried, how closely I watched my food intake, or how hard I hit the gym. But it was the chronic illness that got me through her door and on a regimen of vitamins, herbs, and I don't even know what. It was chronic illness that tipped the scale in my mind: have some Swiss cheese and feel like crap everyday for the rest of my life or jump off the cow dairy train and hope for the best. I chose the latter.

What my doctor diagnosed as systemic inflammation slowly started to ease. I was sick two more times, each less awful than the time before. I became best friends with Epsom salts, cold wet socks, and a neti pot (really strange sounding I know, but the combo forms a relaxing 'decongestant' of sorts and shocks the lymphatic system into doing its job). I opted out of creamer or milk in my coffee and learned to love almond milk in my morning treat. Slowly my health improved and eventually the weight started coming off.

I am sure I've not learned everything there is to know about my health, not yet. But I do know that I can never go back. I don't know the science behind my treatment and I don't care. I feel better. I know I look younger than I did two years ago, I have more energy too. Throw into the mix a better mental outlook on life and you have me hooked on the holistic miracle that is my doctor and her medical treatment.

Now that I can't have glutens, I am learning about so many delicious foods I never knew existed before and probably would've been too afraid to try.'s out of this world! What a tasty and protein filled little dream it is as an accompaniment to pretty much anything. Almond milk, which I've already touted for its creamy deliciousness, offers more calcium than a glass of milk. And today I found, what could be completely meal-plan altering: hemp seeds! No, not the thc filled version- the protein packed, nutty flavored, smoothie thickening version. With 400 calories left in my dietary day and hunger threatening to push me over the edge, I gave in and made my way to the fridge to compile my smoothie.

Now, I have to be perfectly honest. I think I am making some great meals lately. Gluten and dairy free, packed full of flavor and high in nutritional value- what more could you want? But this smoothie was absolutely unreal. Only 266 calories later and I had a satisfied belly, no more hunger pains, and a clear sign I would make it until morning. The only problem was that the deliciousness in a glass left me wanting more because it was so delectable. Just to be kind, I will share:

Mind Blowing Smoothy of Goodness
1/2 cup vanilla almond milk
1 nectarine
1 kiwi
1 banana
1 tsp hemp seeds*
Handful of ice cubes
1/2 teaspoon Truvia or other Stevia based sweetener
Dump all ingredients into an awesome blender, smooth-i-fy, and try not to make another.
*I would like to make note that I skimped on the portion of hemp seeds I used. I wanted to keep the smoothie in my calorie range for the remaind of the day and I was yet unsure how the hemp seeds would agree with my palate. Next time I will increase the hemp seeds to at least one tablespoon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Way it is with Friends

Wouldn't you know it? Just as I expected, insight struck me when I just couldn't write. With five minutes left in swim class, parents started filtering in for the next session and that's when I heard it. The brash, uncaring, mocking voice of another mother. I found myself tempted to turn around and tell her, as rudely as she had spoken to her own children, to shut up. I had all sorts of profanity free insults to throw her way, but I kept my mouth closed. I hid behind my sunglasses, rolling my eyes at her extraordinarily unloving approach to parenting. I can't say beyond a shadow of a doubt that 'pool mom' really meant to be nasty to her children and my thoughts don't revolve around that mom in particular, but around all of us moms as a whole. The question I found myself asking as I watched the stream of parents trickle into the local pool was this, "You love your kids, but do you like them?"

You know how it is with your best friends, you choose to like them and look past their neurotic tendencies. You choose to accept them for whoever they are and stand by them regardless. What I don't understand is why more moms don't approach their kids with that same sense of acceptance and choose to 'like' being with the little people that are part them? I know the argument, 'you can't be friends with your kids.' I completely disagree. In fact, I argue that you MUST be friends with your kids. In the end they must understand that you will make the decisions to keep them safe and traveling the right path in life, but if you and your children don't have a genuine, mutual respect and caring for one another, beyond the required parent/child genetic love bond, they may turn to someone else later in life (as a friend) who will give them a lesson you may not want them taught.

I know I am not perfect. But I will strive, every day until I die, to have a bond with my children that demonstrates compassion, understanding, love, and genuine friendship. I was once told that I like my kids too much. I have never been able to comprehend that statement. How could I not like them? They are, alongside my mom and Granny (may she rest in peace), the best friends I can imagine. We do nearly everything together, we laugh together, we get frustrated together, we eat and shop together. We celebrate success and talk about how to be better next time. I tell them when they are champions and they tell me when I make a good meal. So when I hear the old saying, "I'm your mother, not your friend", I will cringe a little on the inside and repeat my alteration to that statement: "I am your mother and best friend you will ever know."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The 35 year Old and a Temper Tantrum

I love coffee. I'm not over the edge obsessed with it. I stop (on most days) with my one mug of a dreamy home brewed concoction: 1 cup coffee and 2/3 cup chocolate almond milk, in the morning. But when I get to that last sip, the one where I know my mug will be empty until I refill it in the morning, I hold back the sigh that so eagerly tries to push its way out. For I know that I must set a good example for my five year old twins. No whining, no pouting, no stomping your feet. Though on the inside I am having just about the biggest fit you can imagine. But what kind of role model would I be if I let it all out? Can you invision a 35 year old throwing her vacuum sealed coffee mug to the ground in protest of its emptiness? What would the children think? It would be bad. It would be very, very, bad. Fortunately for them (and I suppose for me) I have pretty good self-control.

It's one of the many things I am good at. Self-control, analyzing the behavior of others, parenting, having a strong opinion, putting my matter of fact thoughts on paper. Yes, I am good at all of these things. However, being the modest person I am, telling you I'm good at those things makes me feel as though I am bragging. I feel like I need to tell you all the things I am not good just to be fair. There is a pretty hefty listing some of which are: creative writing (I always wish I could write about far away places populated with magical creatures, but alas I cannot), keeping my house as organized as my mom always could, getting up early in the morning for the daybreak run that I know would make me feel awesome, singing, planning vacations. When I meet people who can do any one of those things I am in awe. I suppose we can only try to cultivate our strengths and grow from our shortfalls, I can't expect to be able to do everything perfectly, or even well.

Accepting that I can't do it all (it's probably better than none of us try), I will do the best I can and share it with you (I probably should add 'over-share' to my list of shortfalls and strengths- that could be in the eye of the beholder I suppose.) Hopefully I will be near a writing device when a moment of clarity strikes and I want to share. (Doesn't clarity usually strike when you are driving and can't write it down?) One day my thoughts on parenting, the next day a critical analysis of my latest read. Who knows that might come to me and my over friendly mind (it could be something really good!) After I've cultivated the strengths, I will do my best to keep my house orderly, be happy if I get up early once in a while for a peaceful morning run, sing along with the music anyway, and be thankful my husband plans our vacations. And of course, I will enjoy that steamy cup of coffee with a smile, looking forward to doing it all over again tomorrow.