How I Write, or, Pulling a Blog Post Out of My…

beginnings

I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes kind of girl. The whole peeking around the curtain thing is exciting (please don’t read into that line, this is a family blog). I’m talking about the process, people. The artistic process.

Writing can be such a solitary practice. By nature it has to be, unless you’re one of those collaborators (lucky you). But for most of us hunched-over-screens-all-across-the-globe kind, it’s solo stuff. Which makes it doubly more fantastic to read behind-the-scenes about writers.

That’s probably why I’m totally enamored by this Writing Process series that I discovered over at one of my favorite blogs, via one of those “blog hops.” (WARNING: rambling sidebar happening now – I’m sorry, but I have a hard time getting behind the “hop” name, since for me it conjures up such a bizarre juxtaposition of frogs, bunnies, and 50s dances. But moving along…)

Inspired by this, “hop” I decided to write a bit about my own practice. Specifically, my blogging practice, because my fiction one varies, as you might expect. I’m more flexible and fancy free with blogging, which may or may not be a good thing.

So, here’s the thing about me:

I’ve never been much of a planner. In writing or life in general. I’m more of an instinct girl. Inspiration turns me on (again, not in that way, come on!). I feel a stirring, sense a seed (WHOA, no terrible puns unintended, I swear) and I go with it. Sometimes I fall on my face, other times I soar.

Like right now I’m thinking the above paragraph is a bit of a face plant, but I’m leaving it since time is of the essence. Which, ultimately, leads us to my biggest challenge in writing ANYTHING:

I have no time.

Seriously. Sometimes I don’t even let myself pee. Well, not until it’s a real emergency anyhow. I forget to eat, shower, and brush my teeth because I’m often too busy feeding, bathing, and brushing everyone else’s teeth (not my husband’s, just to clarify).

mom humor

Since I don’t have time to pee, I don’t have much time to do anything else.

So how do I write blog posts (let alone anything else)? Well. To clarify, when I say “no” time, I really mean extremely limited, and when it occurs, it can be interrupted at any moment. I write when Little Guy naps and Bunky’s at school. Both have to happen at the same time. I write when I have a babysitter, which is for about three hours one morning a week. I occasionally write at night after I wrestle LG into bed – but sometimes this doesn’t happen until 10pm. Not even kidding about that.

For example, right now it’s early evening and I’m writing this while Bunky takes a shower and Little Guy is dancing to the Frozen soundtrack. I’m standing in a corner of the kitchen (where I can see LG out of the corner of my eye since we live in an apartment) so he doesn’t see the computer because if he does, he’ll want to watch Frozen videos on it, or play Thomas the Train games (torture). Right now he’s asking me to help him because he’s spinning in circles and threatening to fall into the train table.

Thirty minutes later… okay, I’m back. It’s mere seconds until the bedtime bomb explodes so this will be brief. I quit earlier so I could dance with my two-year-old son to “Let it Go” while we both belted it out, in pale comparison to Idina Menzel’s version, but rather adorably if I say so myself.

Yet, you can see how the time thing is not on my side.

So, here’s what I do. Here’s the HOW.

I write in PIECES. A little here, a little there. It can take me weeks to write a post. Some days it’s all I can do to upload some photos.

What also helps is to THINK about my posts in advance. I do some of my best thinking in the shower (maybe because I’m alone?! Though not recently since LG has become a shower-addict). I think when I’m waiting for Bunky at school pick-up, when LG is falling asleep. Thinking helps. I can formulate my ideas, take notes on my phone, maybe even think out loud. Ever see a woman pushing a stroller talking out loud to HERSELF? Might be me. Some posts are written entirely in my head first.

It’s a piece-meal process that took some getting used to. In my early blogging days (as in almost 3 years ago!) I used to get a little OCD about finishing. I’d start a blog post and feel this NEED to finish it. And when forced, inevitably, to stop, I’d get upset. I quickly realized I’d have to change my ‘tude because my life was not going to be changing any time soon. Interruption is a parenting byproduct. To get upset by it is futile and exhausting. So, I got used to it. I started to expect it. Knowing it may take a dozen (more or less – this post took exactly 12!) little moments to make up one post, makes it easier to put the computer away when I have to.

Now, there are some times when I have a chunk of time – when the sitter comes and during LG’s naps. He will sleep at least an hour, maybe two, and sometimes if the stars are aligned, three (!). Something Bunky NEVER did, so I really and truly treasure and appreciate his nap times. I try to squeeze out every single minute of them. For writing. Dishes, laundry, and sadly, dinner planning often get sidelined. Sorry, but I have my priorities.

LG sweeping laundry

Yup. He’s “sweeping” the laundry.

When I have my block o’ time the best thing I can do is PLAN AHEAD. Meaning, THINK AHEAD. If I think about what I want to write about, what I’d like to accomplish – be it finishing a blog post or a scene in my novel – I am better equipped at making it happen. If I force myself NOT to go online (not for email, not for research if possible), I am more productive. If I make an effort NOT to look at my phone for vital texts (I don’t actually get vital texts, but sometimes I forget this), I get more done. When time is of the essence, you do all you can not to waste it. I spent a good decade or more putzing around the computer, with entire DAYS at my disposal, and even though my time is so incredibly limited (in comparison), I might actually be writing more. Crazy, but true.

It seems obvious in retrospect that this blog, Aliventures, should have made my Top 10+ list, but here are two great posts by this lovely UK writer who is also a mom. The first is about making the most of your writing time. Along the lines of what I wrote, but without all the rambling. Second, this inspiring post about whether to call yourself a writer when you’re not writing. I definitely could’ve benefited from reading this when I was too exhausted by new motherhood to think about writing, and feeling crappy because of it.

So, go forth and write (or not). Write in long luxurious stretches, or short choppy ones. Write while “hiding” in your kitchen, or compose gorgeous prose while you shower or go for a run. Steal a few minutes to jot down some notes when your boss isn’t around or your kids are watching TV.

Please, share your tips and tricks for getting those words to appear. Despite the chaos of life. I’d love to hear them.

 

Gluten Free Philadelphia Family Style

When Little Guy was just five months old, we went to Philadelphia for a long weekend. This was just a month after we FLEW to Florida to see my husband’s grandparents. The ironic thing is that this was both kids’ first flights – Bunky at age almost 4, Little Guy 4 months. 

My baby asleep on me en route to Florida.

LG asleep on me en route to Florida.

Looking back, I’m amazed at our bold travel plans with a picky and GF toddler (she was not yet four) and an infant, considering we didn’t leave our home for about a year after Bunky as born. Then again, let’s not forget about colic. Enough said.

Anyway, we had such a great time in Philadelphia that first time, we decided to go again over Bunky’s recent holiday break. One of the reasons we love Philly so much, besides the awesome Please Touch Me children’s museum, which now has a GF menu in their cafe, yay!

Hanging out with the birds by the clothesline.

Hanging out with the birds by the clothesline.

Playing some serious doctor.

Playing some serious doctor.

Little Guy, too. He really loves babies.

Little Guy really loves babies.

… and the Franklin Institute (I just love that giant beating heart), is because the city is literally crawling with gluten free dining options. There’s even a place to get a gluten free Philly Cheesesteak, because of course.

All that positive stuff said, let me be honest here – it’s HARD traveling away from home with a celiac kiddo and a GF family. Partly because we had to rely almost entirely on take-out – something we RARELY do at home. One thing I would do differently next time is find a hotel with a kitchenette. We had a fridge in our room, which helped a lot, but it wasn’t enough. Maybe because I didn’t bring enough food.

Sure, I packed cheese (2 types), a loaf of Udi’s bread, bags of pretzels (3 kinds), Pirate’s Booty (2 bags), apples, bananas, grapes, pouches of toddler food, nuts, dried cranberries, raisins (yogurt covered and plain), cereal (Honey Puffins and Koala Crisp), almond butter, and more stuff I can’t recall.

I packed about double this.

I packed at least double this. amount

I’m laughing as I type this because about ten seconds ago I genuinely believed that I didn’t bring enough, and yet – YET – clearly, there is NEVER enough. I forgot hummus and Temptee cream cheese (oh the horror! Bunky is not a fan of the city’s own brand), plus we ran out of fruit very fast. The fact is, when you have no way to cook anything, your packed stash disappears quickly. Maybe next time we’ll hit a grocery store mid way through, but that would’ve been a bit crazy considering we were only away for three days.

Thankfully there was a Starbucks in the lobby, and even though I’m a Dunkin’ Donuts girl at heart, I would have perished without my morning coffee, and they also sold fruit, yogurt, and travel size Rice Chex. Score!

I’d like to say my husband and I handled the food stress gracefully. That we laughed off Bunky’s refusal to eat eggs (eggs!?!? the only GF food on the hotel breakfast menu besides yogurt and fruit) and the fact that we were all starving by lunchtime and had to rush back to the hotel for LG’s nap while simultaneously trying to Google map the nearest GF pizza place. All this during a BLIZZARD. Plus arctic temperatures.

So, no, we didn’t handle it gracefully. Have I ever mentioned my husband’s genetic disposition to extreme grumpiness and borderline personality disorder when hungry?

angry face square

This is an understatement.

Have I ever mentioned mine?

Things took a grim turn the second night. Little Guy’s nap was extra late, and by the time he woke it was dark and the weather was a mess. After exhausting our research abilities and snapping at each other, my husband decided to order room service for us (which we tried to make GF, but I wouldn’t bet on it) and the kids ate scraps. Ha. Leftover pizza and our own food stash, but still, it was not ideal.

We survived though, and along the way found some new favorite GF places, plus revisited (several times) Franklin Fountain, an adorable and delicious old-fashioned ice cream shop. Yes, we ate ice cream in ten degree weather. Inside, though, which makes it okay.

Below is a list of the GF places that worked for us. There are about a bazillion more, which you can glimpse here.

[A quick disclaimer: Though I called ahead and checked the GF status of the following places, this is not a 100% guarantee that they will be safe for you, so you may want to do your own double checking.]

Giorgio On Pine … They have a gluten free menu and when my husband spoke to the chef during our first visit, she was well versed in gluten free safety and celiac disease. We felt very comfortable ordering from there. But not eating there, since it’s too nice and intimate of a place to bring two kids under five (in our opinion). Besides, one of our sweetest memories from our last trip was eating Giorgio on Pine’s pasta on the windowsill of our hotel room. So we did it again.

Window service. Freezing but fun.

Window service. Freezing but fun.

The pasta we ordered was Schar, and you can’t go wrong with that, but Bunky was not a big fan of the pizza, made with Still Riding brand dough. It was fine, but nothing compared to the pizza from…

Slice (oh my god, seriously delicious) … This might have been some of the BEST gluten free pizza I’ve ever had. No joke. I would totally be their best customer if they opened up a shop in Brooklyn. (Please, please!) It also passed Bunky’s very strict approval process. Phew!

Franklin Fountain … We went here twice in arctic temperatures to eat ice cream. Do I need to say more?

Thumbs up to vanilla shakes with lots of vanilla bean bits.

Thumbs up to vanilla shakes and ice cream with lots of vanilla bean bits.

This is what LG looked like waking from his nap.

This is LG wondering, where is my take-out chocolate shake?

Oh yeah, the chocolate shake was a big hit.

Now, that’s the way to wake up from a nap.

Well, yes, I do. They also opened a brand new vanilla for Bunky AND disinfected their ice cream scoop BEFORE making hers. Awesome. Plus, the employees wear these cute old-fashioned caps and aprons. Plus, they sell lots of old-fashioned candy.

Xochitl … This adorable little Mexican restaurant in Old City, Society Hill has great ambiance and delicious food. Oh, and fantastic margaritas. Thank goodness we went at 5:30 and were the first table, because Little Guy was climbing all over me and using his outside voice. But our waitress was SO nice and helpful, not only about the GF menu (pretty much everything was GF!) but also with my kids. I really can’t say enough how much I appreciate when wait staff is genuinely loving towards children.

Soy Cafe … This place seriously SAVED our lives on our way out of Philly. We were all hungry and cranky (shocking) plus a little bit sad to be leaving the city of brotherly love. Our food stash was seriously compromised. As in gone. We told a not very pleased Bunky we were getting eggs at a cool sounding place called, Green Eggs Cafe, but when we arrived there was a line out the door. Crap, we had forgotten it was Sunday. As parents of a celiac kid we had completely forgotten about the existence of brunch (so sad). Doh. My husband pulled the car over and I happened to glance out the window and saw this:

soy cafe

I just had a feeling we were golden. Soy practically means gluten free, right? Well, in this case it did! They have a hugely extensive menu filled with fresh juices, smoothies, salads, veggies, hummus, eggs, wraps, soups (including GF miso, yum!), plus gluten free muffins (banana chip, I mean, really how did they know?!) and hot chocolate, which I had promised the kids. I HIGHLY recommend dropping by if you ever find yourself in the area. The online reviews are all raves, too, so it wasn’t just a case of dire desperation. Soy Cafe truly rocks!

Now, you can’t hit everything, especially not in only three days. We didn’t get to Taffet’s this time (formerly Totes Bakery) which has a FANTASTIC stash of breads, baked goods and specialty GF foods, or to Pasanos’s, which sells delicious sounding Italian sandwiches on GF rolls (purchased from their neighbor, Taffet’s). Or the vegan bakery, Sweet Freedom, or about a dozen other places that sounded great.

Fortunately, there’s always next year.

Have you been to Philly recently? What are your favorite GF places there? 

Trifecta of Celebrations

First up, a very heartfelt thank you to all who commented and offered support on my last post about my other writing life. Hopefully by outing myself as a fiction writer on this blog, I will keep up with my goals and not slack off. Fingers crossed.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

November was a big month for us as we got to celebrate a trifecta of festivities: Little Guy’s birthday, Thanksgiving, and Chanukah. Rather than torture you with three individual posts, I’m lumping it all together.

First up, my birthday boy. I can’t believe this guy is TWO.

IMG_3211

Yet, I totally can because he is talking up a storm and can’t stop running around and dive bombing family members (leading, unfortunately, with his head). He also loves taking off all his clothes – and the clothes of EVERY single one of Bunky’s dolls. It’s really cute until he pees on the couch.

Last year I made him pumpkin muffins because that seemed like a responsible and healthy thing to do for a one-year-old. But a lot changes in a year, let me tell you. The kid still loves pumpkin, but that gourd has nothing on chocolate.

little guy second birthday cake

Everyone LOVED this cake. Courtesy of Gluten Free on a Shoestring’s Perfect Chocolate Cake. It really is perfect. Dense and rich and yet not overbearing at all. A sure thing for my chocoholic family. The fall foliage sprinkles were my favorite part.

Double thumbs up is the highest praise in our house.

Double thumbs up is the highest praise in our house. Little Guy only had one hand free.

little guy birthday cake close up

How cute is this kid? He’s totally trying to share his cake with me.

Which leads me to these leaf shaped sugar cookies I made for Thanksgiving. A GF Shoestring blog recipe. I highly HIGHLY recommend. My kids couldn’t eat them fast enough. And neither could my husband. Um, or me.

cookies close up

I frosted some with royal icing (not pictured), but it was a mistake. I’ve since realized that royal icing is more about making pretty decorations with a piping bag (which I don’t have). However, while the iced cookies didn’t look as pretty as I had hoped, no one complained as they were too busy cramming cookies into their greedy little mouths.

There was also chocolate pretzel marshmallow bark, because why not.

chocolate pretzel marshmallow bark

I jazzed up last year’s fail proof peppermint pretzel bark recipe and added mini marshmallows toward the end after the chocolate was cool. YUM.

Ariel view anyone? (Sorry, can’t help myself, it’s just so pretty.)

Oh, the lighting at my dad's house is just perfect.

Now let’s talk about PIE. Last year I made a cheesecake for my husband, but this year he requested (um, begged) for an apple pie. His absolute hand’s down favorite dessert.

My husband is a pie man.

My husband is a pie man.

I obliged because that’s the kind of awesome wife I am. Not shockingly, I went with another tried and true GF Shoestring recipe. I love Nicole Hunn’s pie crust recipe and helpful video. It’s worth mentioning that it’s the ONLY pie crust I’ve ever made from scratch (gluten and GF), but still, why mess with a sure thing? Here is one perfect looking slice. Seconds later it was gone, I’m sure.

apple pie

One of the best parts about Thanksgiving (in my opinion) is eating (a lot of) pie for breakfast the next morning. Nothing tastes as good, and for me, that pie must be pumpkin. Absolutely. No exceptions.

pumpkin pieLast year I made the mistake of attempting a graham cracker crust on my pumpkin pie. VERY bad move. The crust basically burnt to a crisp during the hour plus baking. Don’t cry for me because I ate the ENTIRE interior anyhow with a spoon. It wasn’t pretty, but it was good.

So, I stuck with the same decadent yet simple recipe as last year, but opted to make a double batch of traditional pie crusts to use for both the apple and pumpkin pie. This year I ate the whole pie, basically by myself (since my husband and daughter don’t like pumpkin pie?!?) but this time with the crust. It was DREAMY. I got a little fat. But it was worth it.

Besides the desserts, the other best part of Thanksgiving this year was the ease of it. Everyone was so chill and happy. It was hilarious watching Little Guy try to keep up with his cousin (three months younger but way faster) as they ran circles in the house. Bunky had a blast playing with the “big cousins” who are all college graduates. There was an adorable (though ear drum shattering) jam session with an electric guitar, a broken violin, a piano, and a mechanical singing Santa.

There was very little talk or anxiety over FOOD. Our kids ate our stuff, the rest of us ate their GF offerings, and we all shared dessert. Couldn’t ask for better, really.

Next up, or rather, simultaneously up, Chanukah.

Oh, Chanukah why are you so long?

Oh, Chanukah why are you so long?

The first night or two was sweet. Candles, singing dreidel songs, opening presents. But then a few days in, things started to go south. My husband grumbled about it, muttering about how at least Christmas gets it all done in one day. At first I defended my holiday, insisting how great it was to get eight nights of festivities, until it wasn’t. The truth is, one gift a night can be kind of frustrating for a kid. At least on Christmas the meh gifts get pushed aside for the great ones, but on Chanukah some nights end up being only meh – which translates to horrendous amount of whining around my house.

All that said, the last second to last night picture is pretty sweet. Bunky loves her waitress costume.

last night of chanukahI am pretty relieved it’s over, though. Until next year.

Now that I’ve got all that out of my system, I leave you with an image that will hopefully be symbolic of the rest of the season: may we all kick up our feet in green high heel shoes and relax.

little guy heelsHope you all survived November and I wish you the best of luck during December’s shenanigans. If the going gets tough, just be glad you’re not trapped in a jar like this poor lady. (Totally random and unrelated aside, but I am strangely in love with this picture.)

princess in a jar

My family will be spending Christmas in our pajamas watching movies. The kids will get one gift each, IF they’re lucky. Greedy ungrateful little boogers.

Just kidding. Mostly.

 

I’m so happy to be part of Vegetarian Mamma’s Gluten Free Friday recipe link-up! Click the badge below for more great GF recipes.

gf friday badge

Dear Betty Crocker

Dear Betty Crocker,

I’ve never written a love letter to someone I’ve never met before, and definitely not to a processed food brand (who is not even a real person!*), but there’s a first time for everything, don’t you think?

Betty Crocker impersonator.

The first official Betty Crocker impersonator circa 1936.

(*You may – or may not – be shocked to learn that BC was a character created to make women feel more comfortable about receiving baking advice from a man, reverse sexism, anyone? Nope, just the regular kind because the actual advice came from female workers at Gold Medal Flour company, but the department manager who would’ve signed it was of course a man. So, Betty Crocker was “born” in 1921. But for the purposes of this post, I shall feign ignorance of these facts.)

So Betty, while you may not be the first, or the best, but for whatever reason your gluten free box mixes (and don’t even get me started on your tubs of frosting) have saved me time and time again. The gratitude I feel for you is bigger than the list of additives on your nutritional panel. Let me explain.

When my daughter Bunky was diagnosed with celiac two and a half years ago, I was overwhelmed to say the least. But once my girl got the shine back in her eyes and gained some weight, I knew it was time to get baking again. But one look at the laundry list of GF flours – garbanzo, rice, teff, millet, tapioca, buckwheat, sorghum, and I just sorta froze up.

This is where you come in, dear pretend Betty. Before I was ready to make my own flour blends and from scratch cupcakes, some angel told me about YOU. My eyes lit up when I saw that trademark red spoon with your name written across in swirly white font and just below, the new words of my life: Gluten Free.

BC old look

Random Fact: The original signature came from a secretary who won a contest among employees and is still used today. (I’d really like to think she was adequately compensated, but you and I both know that’s probably not likely.)

betty crocker signature

Since my humble GF journey began, you have expanded your product line (smart lady, you know where the money is) to include not just yellow and chocolate cake, but brownies, chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, and even your own (nutritionally deficient but I’m sure highly effective) gluten free flour blend. You go, girl. You GO. And I love your new hip retro look these days. Pretty sweet improvement from your marketing team.

BC new look

Truth time here, Betty. You’re not exactly a health food, you know? It’s all white rice this and potato starch that, not to mention a handful of chemical thingies to keep stuff moist and Betty Crocker-ish, but still. You have saved me many a time. Birthday parties, last minute school cupcakes, rainy day blues. I say your name and it’s all good. Eggs, butter, water, mix, and bam. Instant gratification.

This beauty was made, in part, by YOU.

bunt-cake

The frosting above is not yours, but rather a homemade chocolate ganache. That said, your GF frosting tubs might even be MORE life saving than your box mixes. Now that I’m more comfortable in my GF shoes, I can whip up homemade cakes kinda quickly. I like controlling what kind of flour and how much sugar, and yada yada. But let me tell you, by the time I’m done sweating it out and doing all that work, I am usually in NO mood to contemplate a homemade frosting.

Do I really want to dirty ONE more freaking bowl? Nope. Do I want to clean out the keys, paperwork, pens, random toys, and dust bunnies out of my electric stand mixer? (The mixer is our junk drawer. Don’t judge. It’s city living, people.) Um, that would be a resounding NO. So, who saves me from despair in moments like these?

That’s right, Betty. You know who. It’s YOU.

betty crocker frosting

That frosting, let me just admit this straight up – is GOOD. Not good for you, by any means (no offense) but it’s lick it off the spoon when your kid isn’t looking GOOD. It’s dip some GF graham crackers in it GOOD. I try not to pay attention to the fact that I can’t pronounce half of the ingredients (sodium stearoyl lactylate, anyone?). Who cares when you do all the heavy lifting for me? Sure, a homemade ganache is pretty awesome, and a simple buttercream is not rocket science, but really. Who. Has. The. Time. Me? Not so much.

Yeah, Duncan Hines is in on it, too. But my loyalty lies (mostly) with you. Except for those times when I think I’m buying you and I accidentally grab DH. The packaging looks pretty similar, don’t you think? Maybe your trademark people should get on that. I just have your best interests in mind, my friend.

duncan hines

So, thank you Betty (and um, Duncan H), for making my GF life a little bit easier. Without you I’d be knee deep in dirty dishes and perpetually out of butter. You even have GF recipes on your website, and butter substitutions for those dairy compromised folks, bless your heart.

Sure, if we used you ALL the time my family would probably be obese and potentially diabetic, but all things in moderation. Right?

Love from one of your biggest GF mom fans,

Dana @ celiac kiddo

The sugar junkie gene comes at least partly from me.

Clearly, the sugar junkie gene comes at least partly from me.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who leans on Betty here and there. What is your favorite box mix? Do you feel liberated or disgusted by the bounty of GF processed foods out there? What is your favorite way to bake-cheat?