Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Book Review: The Grumpy Frumpy Croissant

I love finding new books to explore with Gray- reading is something that has brought great joy and fun to my life, and I’m so happy that he enjoys books too! While the concepts of this book may be a bit advanced for him at 2, he loved seeing the funny and animated illustrations. Glad to have this book on our shelf to enjoy again and again in the years to come!

Here’s the author’s own words about her writing of the book:

A behind-the-scenes look on how my book came about

By Mona K, author of The Grumpy Frumpy Croissant

It was a Sunday afternoon in December 2019. My son and I had a ritual to stop by our favorite coffee shop before his tennis class to grab drinks and our most beloved croissant. My son got chocolate milk and I made my regular order. We both devour our croissants. I love to bake them from time to time, however the recipe does call for a lot of love and patience. As we were getting ready to sit down, I accidently spilled some coffee over my son’s croissant. A big volcano of anger erupted, and he squeezed the croissant really hard. Poor croissant lost a few pounds instantly. I enjoy meditating and try to share some techniques here and there with my son. I realized he was extremely upset, so I suggested that he leave the croissant alone and take some long deep breaths. He did that a few times and then took a big sip of the milk. He suddenly felt calm. In the meantime, Mr. Croissant seemed to have gained some of his plumpness back. That spur of the moment was Grumpy Frumpy Croissants’ birthday. My son also loves toast and scones with a lot of red jelly. I thought Croissant needed friends and so Toast and Scone were invited to the party along with Milk. I wrote the story that same day and narrated it to my son the next morning. He absolutely fell in love with the characters. In February 2020, I started looking for illustrators for the book. I interviewed and did test runs with at least eight illustrators before selecting Korey Scott. He was able to bring my story to life just as I would if I were an artist. In March, covid-19 knocked us all on our heels. The illustrations took four long months and finally I published the book in November.  I presented the book to my son on his seventh birthday in December 2020. His reaction was priceless, and he was an instant celebrity in school  the next day.  

Book Spotlight: Joyful Delicious Vegan

We’re slowly making the transistion to eating less red meat and more vegetarian, even vegan! As Q and I get older, we’re trying harder to be more heart healthy, especially given the medical history with heart disease in both of our families.

Here’s the author’s inspiration behind the book, in her own words:

We can all learn how to enjoy good health naturally at any age, and it starts in our kitchens by changing what and how we eat. With a delicious plant-based diet we feed our health and not disease. This is the most effective way to prevent or reverse heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US.  Heart disease especially impacts African American women, who are on the front line of the fight against this killer and other chronic diet related illnesses.

In Joyful, Delicious Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease I share my own story of reversing hypertension, based on current nutritional knowledge, and despite my family history. I was guided by the recommendations of two world-renowned cardiologists, who have demonstrated results with patients for many years. I show readers how to build a simple food plan around their particular needs with delicious anti-inflammatory foods, and how to develop the habit of mindful eating. There are powerful tips for success, encouragement, and staying power.

Despite the growing body of nutritional research, the mainstream medical community has been slow to integrate this knowledge in patient treatment and education. Only recently has it been introduced into modern medical training, leaving many doctors and health care providers in the dark about its effectiveness – while only offering patients costly maintenance drugs and surgical procedures, none of which offer a cure.

I want to get this message in the hands of as many people who can benefit from it as possible. I particularly want to empower those underserved by our healthcare system with the knowledge along with simple, affordable ways to prevent it, reverse it, and practice good self-care for themselves and their families. I also want to share the sheer joy of eating great healthy food, simple to make at home, that you love, and that loves you back! Whole plant-based eating is an adventure with endless possibilities to enjoy your favorite tastes and textures in healthier versions, and easily adapts to so many cultural food traditions.

This change in diet is the most powerful thing we can do as individuals to save our environment by reducing methane pollution from factory animal farming, while promoting compassion for animals. I can’t imagine a more powerful opportunity to make one change that contributes to our own health, the health of animals and of Earth itself.

Book Spotlight: Committed

CAREGIVING FOR CRAZY

Introducing: Committed: A Memoir of Madness in The Family

by Paolina Milana

Los Angeles – May 2021 – Imagine keeping a family secret about your mother’s mental illness and growing up as one of the offspring charged with “caring for crazy.” Then, to compound the horror, witnessing another version of schizophrenia as it consumes your younger sister – who you practically raised yourself, thanks to your mother’s frailty. To see Paolina Milana as an example of resilience might be the understatement of all time. 

As a 20-year-old, Paolina gets a chance to escape her circumstances by attending an out-of-state school, but the madness she tries to leave behind will not let her be as letter after letter arrives, constantly reminding her of the insanity from which she longs to break free. Making matters worse, the voices in her own head whispering words she’s not sure are normal, further her fears. “Please don’t make me be like Mamma,” she prays to a God she’s not sure is listening.

The unexpected death of her father soon after she returns home leaves Paolina in shock—becoming fully in charge of her paranoid schizophrenic mother. But it isn’t until at age 27, when her younger sister explodes in a psychotic episode, is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and must be committed, that Paolina descends into her own despair, nearly losing herself to the darkness.

Beautifully written with flourishes of handwritten letters (in Italian) from her parents, recordings of her own inner voices challenging her every move, and a heartbreaking slew of sticky notes revealing the harrowing thoughts of her sister’s delusional mind, Paolina’s epistolary memoir invites readers into her inner circle of intimate encounters with mental illness. Poignant and impactful, Committed is a story of resilience that teaches and inspires, not as a tidy narrative, but as an authentic and rare share that speaks to the struggle of staying sane despite being surrounded by madness.

BIO

Paolina Milana’s mission is to share stories that celebrate the triumph of the human spirit: To unleash the power that lies within each of us to bring about change for the better. 

Milana’s professional background is rooted in journalism where as a features writer for a major daily newspaper in the Midwest, she told the stories of other people. Then she moved to the field of PR/media and digital marketing as an executive in both corporate and non-profit environments. Given her experience in an emotionally tumultuous household where she was put in the position of caregiver to unstable family members, she is uniquely qualified to serve as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in foster care and as an empowerment and resiliency coach, using storytelling to help people reimagine their lives, write their next chapters, and become the heroes of their own journeys. 

Paolina has won awards for her writing, including her first book, The S Word, which received the National Indie Excellence Award. Her self-help picture book for adults, Seriously! Are We There Yet?!, and her holiday fiction novel, Miracle on Mall Drive both published in late 2020. Paolina is first-generation Sicilian, married, and lives on the edge of the Angeles National Forest in Southern California.

Find it here!

Languishing

That’s the word for what I’m feeling — and have been feeling- for much of the last six months or so. Part of the reason this space has been so quiet– is I honestly haven’t had much to say about anything.

Apparently, I’m not the only one– here’s a whole NY Times article about it!.

My family is well– all vaccinated! Well minus the toddler, who, somehow, is going to be 2 in May. How time flies and goes so slowly all at the same time.

We’re getting out of the house and the state soon to FINALLY introduce our son to some of the most important people in our lives who the pandemic has kept us from.

Nothing else to report, just to check in, months later, languishing still.

Book Review: Float Plan

Heartbroken by the loss of her fiancé, adventurous Anna finds a second chance at love with an Irish sailor in this riveting, emotional romance.

After a reminder goes off for the Caribbean sailing trip Anna was supposed to take with her fiancé, she impulsively goes to sea in the sailboat he left her, intending to complete the voyage alone.

But after a treacherous night’s sail, she realizes she can’t do it by herself and hires Keane, a professional sailor, to help. Much like Anna, Keane is struggling with a very different future than the one he had planned. As romance rises with the tide, they discover that it’s never too late to chart a new course.

In Trish Doller’s unforgettable Float Plan, starting over doesn’t mean letting go of your past, it means making room for your future.

My review: 4 stars.

Trigger warning: suicide.

This was just delightful and exactly the type of book I needed to kick me out of my book and winter doldrums. Though fair warning, it’ll make you want to leave right away for the Bahamas and Caribbean, but it was just enough  tropical fun and description to make me forget the frigid temps and roaring wind of New England winters. It was the right book for the moment- reminded me of travel, gave me inspiration of places to visit, and brought actual warmth when I was literally cold. It did not make me want to sail on my own sailboat though because my type of getaway involves doing very little hard work, and sailing on your own seems like a more arduous and dangerous version of camping.

Overall, the book was predictable in terms of plot and an obvious falling in love story, but it was more about the process of self-discovery and understanding her grief for Anna that progresses as the sailing journey moves ahead. There’s a bit of self-awareness and learning about Keane, but the book is written solely from Anna’s perspective. While I enjoyed this book, I would have loved more from Keane’s perspective and understanding him a bit more and that likely would have knocked this into the 5 star category.

Highly recommend for a lovely, quick read that’ll make you want to plan your first post-pandemic Caribbean adventure!

 

A Year At Home

Last night, Q and I sort of took stock of the last year at home– most of it was spent minding our little guy and watching him grow into the amazing little person he is becoming. The schedule of a baby was much needed during the early days of the pandemic, when we (laughably now) thought this would only be for a few weeks. Now, a year later, it feels like we’re slogging through a lot of our days, but we’ve also gotten into a rhythm that has been comforting too.

I know so many other folks, parents or not, feel like they are coming up against the ‘pandemic wall.’ It’s weird because the light at the end of the tunnel is there with vaccinations happening, but also it still feels like it’s SO LONG to go because there is so much uncertainty around when we’ll be able to get one. I’ve stopped even trying to guesstimate at this point.

They say routines are soothing and helpful to babies and toddlers, but it turns out they are for adults in unknown, stressful circumstances too. As I’ve said before, our circumstances are far better than a lot of people and we have a lot to be thankful for, but knowing that doesn’t lessen the stress and burdens either.

I still feel like I have no free brain space for so much- writing (obviously), looking for a new job and contemplating our move all are just things in the corners of our brain that we talk about fairly frequently, but are too afraid/unsure/worried to pull the trigger on. At the moment, I feel like my brain is focused on making sure we efficiently and effectively grocery shop when we go out and making sure we have supplies we need, as opposed to the life changes we daydream and talk about together.

We’re treading water and have been for awhile even before the pandemic. We banked on me getting a new job in a new place and came so close so many times, and it never panned out for us. That’s not lamenting on what might have been because we cannot change the outcome, and also had we moved, we may never have decided to try to have a baby and I cannot imagine our world without our little monkey.

At the moment, I think we’re very gun shy to do anything different from the routine we’ve established this past year that has kept us (knock on wood) healthy and safe. And yet…we are aching for that change. Such a weird paradox. Neither Q nor I are spontaneous or carefree enough to just DO IT. I wish we were, but we’re not those people- we’re both too pragmatic for our own good. I don’t know what it’s going to take for us to push a domino to make the other things fall into place….maybe a vaccine will help us both feel better, but I don’t know. I do know our house is slowly closing in on us and our toddler is literally staring out the window at the world wanting to explore it and see it all, as well as is doing actual laps around the house to get energy out. Thankfully the spring weather is upon us and more outside time will help the latter.

People talk about what the pandemic has taught them, about what really matters, and it’s very true. For us, it’s about our family and our friends who are family– staying away from them longer than we wanted because we want to keep them safe and be able to hug them again, and keeping our tiny family safe too. It’s brought a lot of things into focus in other ways, now we just have to find a way to capitalize on it.


Is This Thing On?

This space has been quiet because honestly, I haven’t had anything to say that isn’t being said by more prolific folks, and because I’m in such a routine of life to SURVIVE, that I couldn’t quite seem to find the mental space and energy to write.

My word for 2020 was THRIVE. Which rhymes with what everyone’s word for 2020 ended up being- SURVIVE.

2020 will be a year that will take a bit more time away from to process what actually happened. It’s hard for me to say how it effected me– I was able to stay home, safe and healthy with my little family, and am grateful that all of my people can do the same. We never had to wonder where our next meal was coming from, we had toilet paper, and each other– and isn’t that enough? The unrest of politics and our cultural upheaval in the wake of the George Floyd murder and various protests left me feeling anxious and unsure of life- even with November’s victory for Biden, I’m still waiting for the sigh of relief that I hope January 20th brings.

So did I THRIVE in 2020? I guess in the definition of the word, no, but we did THRIVE as a family, growing and prospering over the hardships of the year.

Did I accomplish any of my goals? Sort of– I achieved 3 out of 7: I read 50 books (53 exactly). We did some stuff around the house to ready it for sale, though not as much as we hoped since we didn’t exactly want various contractors coming into our space.

Q and I had exactly 2 dates in 2020: one was dinner out for my birthday, a week or two before the world shut down, and a random Saturday in November where we did some basement cleaning, took a trip to the town dump, and took a daytime nap while my mother watched the little guy. We didn’t pay off the car loan, but will be doing that next month. I didn’t donate blood, we obviously didn’t travel anywhere, and my lack of writing here is about the same amount of writing I was doing in other places.

Yet despite the bummer of the year that 2020 was, it also was sort of a bit of a gift at the same time. For 3 months I spent every day with my family and I know that’s something we’ll never replicate again ( not sure we’d want to anyway haha). It made us realize what really matters in life and got us focused on our little family. I miss friends and family like crazy and want to go back to normal badly, but I know we are incredibly grateful for the life we have and the few disruptions we experienced over the last 10 months or so.

Going into 2021 I’m cautiously optimistic about what we might be able to do– hugging our friends and family and getting our son to meet his great aunt and great grandma is pretty high on the to-do list ( as is eating in a restaurant again). We’re mostly going to take things as they come with whatever circumstances come our way. I’m not going to set a word this year, but have in mind the changes and hopes we have for our family, rooted in the love and appreciation we learned in 2020.


Book Review: Nourish

Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families–With Tips & Recipes for Bringing Health, Joy, & Connection to Your Dinner Table, an evidence-based, practical resource that explores the many benefits of a plant-based diet and provides parents with the tools they need to provide excellent and balanced nutrition to their families.

I’ve lost track of how many meals I’ve made during the pandemic, but it’s been QUITE. A. LOT. In addition to needing new ideas for meals, we’re also trying hard as a family to consume more plants and less meat. Well I’m trying, and Q just complies as long as I make him some red meat a couple of times a week, and my son just eats whatever we give him (at the moment!). I was very happy to have early access to this great cookbook which has lots of great tips and recipes for eating more plant-based food.

The book has great strategies and ideas for how to incorporate a more plant-based diet into your life. The book is divided into 4 sections- consideration, care, confidence, and connection. It looks at the health and science behind plant-based diets, explains terms, and provides information and research to back up the various claims, all of which I appreciate very much. I especially appreciate as a new mom trying to navigate food options for my son that there was a lot of information on kids and plant-based diets since there is so much information available about what does or doesn’t constitute a healthy diet and food for growing kids.

This books is more about the science and nutrition of plant-based diets than cookbook. I appreciate that it breaks down the various nutritional bits about types of food and the different nutritional needs for children as they grow. as well as understanding which foods help kids stay fuller longer. There are some recipes and meal ideas, as well as some sample menus which I’m slowly working into our meal rotation. We’ve done “meatless Monday” for a long time so it’s great to have a few more ideas to add to the rotation.

 

Buy the book!

 

I was provided an advanced copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

All opinions are my own.

We’re Actually Not All in This Together

Throughout this whole pandemic, the phrase “we’re all in this together” peeves me every time. Yes, the pandemic is a real thing around the globe that every one is dealing with, but for so many people, they either don’t believe it’s real because of our current leader in the US, don’t think it effects them because they don’t know anyone who has been effected by it, or frankly, don’t care and continue to live their lives like nothing is happening. On the other side too are people who very much know this pandemic is real because they’ve lost jobs or had to leave a job to care for children, are homeschooling kids or overseeing zoom school, or are struggling from cut wages, unemployment wages running out and so on.

This experience over the past 9 months hasn’t been catastrophic for me or my family– we are grateful and know we have privilege to be able to say that. We never once doubted about where food would come from or how we would pay bills. For a few months, we actually were doing better than before the pandemic because we weren’t spending money on much other than food and supplies, and the extra bump to Q’s unemployment check helped greatly ( as it did for so many other Americans). We both kept our jobs, even though Q was laid off and (knock on wood), are healthy, as is our family, near and far.

All that being said, this is hard. And I know I have it better than millions of other folks out there- not just for the aforementioned reasons, but also because my child is too small to know what’s going on. I think he recognized that his parents were home all the time, and then one day, I wasn’t there all day, but to the tiny human, this whole thing will be something we tell him about when he’s older. It’s been tough for the lack of opportunity to see our family, do things, and go places to expose our child to the world. I don’t think he’ll “meet” another kid until he’s well past 2 at this point, or get to go on a playground with other kids of various ages. It makes me sad the celebrations we missed this year because of covid and the trip we still haven’t been able to make so my aunt and grandmother can meet my son.

I follow the rules. I value my health and the health of all my family and friends so I’m not going to put those things at risk because of my selfish desires. It makes me incredibly angry and frustrated to think this thing could have been more controlled and buttoned up if we only had a leader who thought of others before himself. I don’t express my political or religious beliefs often, but I hope today, November 3rd, Election Day, is the start of something new. I’ve never been so anxious and worried about an election before and I know it’s a sentiment so many people share with me.

Book Review: You’re Pulling My Leg! Junior

I grew up in a game playing family. We’d play cards or Bingo at my grandparents’ house on Saturday nights, and as we got older, Scrabble and Cranium were family favorites. Q and I are known to play Phase 10 and Jenga from time to time, and I cannot wait to introduce our son to games as he gets older. I was excited to have the opportunity to review “the ultimate storytelling game” as it sounded like something we’re going to like a lot in our family.

I’m a fan of anything that gets storytelling going- that’s some of the best part of holiday and family gatherings are the memories and stories that come out. Allen Wolf wrote a fun game that is based on questions that provoke conversation, stories, jokes, and fun. He originally created it as a gift for two friends who were dating and wanted to get to know each other better.  It has an extra element of fun because many of these questions wouldn’t come up in normal conversation and part of the game is trying to figure out if someone is telling a true story or, as the title suggests, is pulling your leg. There is a game book for adults and the junior version, which I reviewed.

In the Junior version. there are fun and silly questions like “tell me about a time when you ate too much candy” or “tell me about your imaginary friend.” The game is in the easy book format so no special play devices or game sets are required, so no need to worry about losing pieces, instructions, or cards. It’s something you can play multiple times with different groups of people at different occasions because the stories are always going to be different. Even though our son is too small for this book now, I know it’s something we’ll use a lot in the future when he gets older. I’ve even asked Q some of the questions as I was reviewing it!

Check our the game website to see both versions of the book/game!

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