Good morning, lovelies! How are you today? I hope you're basking in the sunshine and drinking coffee.
When I started this blog, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to write about (or maybe it's more accurate to say I worried that I wanted to write about ALL of the things, and that the blog would just become a scattered mess. That might have happened, but it no longer concerns me.) But one thing I didn't think about was how often I'd want to write about books I was reading, because I want to enjoy the great writing that's enriching my days. So, thanks to my dear friend Jenny (who can be considered a co-creator of this blog for all the good tips she's given along the way) I went back through my older posts and added a "reading" category, so you can easily locate book suggestions if you find yourself in search of your next great read. And, today I'm going to talk about some of my favorite books of all time, plus a few that I've read lately. Because summertime and reading go together like...mornings and coffee. (If you can't tell, I just finished my coffee and I'm a little sad about it. Sorry you had to come along on that ride.)
Books for Summertime (Or really....anytime.)
I. Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert
I'm not going to include Eat, Pray, Love on this list because I assume everyone on the planet has already gotten the memo on that one, but if you enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert's voice in that book you'll also love Committed. What I loved about this book was its thoughtful examination of the institution of marriage--both historically in Western culture and looking at other cultures around the world--woven in with Gilbert's lovable story-telling about her own preparation for marriage. I've read this book a handful of times, and I think it's an important one. If you don't love Liz Gilbert and you don't love thinking critically about social institutions...move along.
II. Bread and Butter, by Michelle Wildgen
I read this book over a year ago and will admit that I don't remember the plot terribly clearly, but what I do remember is the rich, beautiful language the author uses to describe the food and the characters. I read this novel on the bus going to and from work at the law firm, and I always had a hard time putting it down. It will also inspire you to seek out more interesting and delicious meals, which is a plus for me.
III. Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty.
I've written before about how much I love Liane Moriarty's work, but this list wouldn't be complete without including her again. I realized recently why I love her books so much: she's got so much talent in creating characters who you feel close to, that her books make me understand humans better. You know when you have a friend that goes through something, and by observing that situation in someone you're close to, you understand it better? That's how I feel about her stories. They make me think about complex emotional experiences in ways I couldn't imagine on my own, and I'm always left thinking about her characters for weeks after I finish the novel.
IV. Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
Do you need to laugh until you cry? This is your book. It's a quick one (I read it on a plane ride) but it is belly-aching hilarious. It's a collection of quote and stories curated by a twenty-something guy, about things his father has said and done. If you need a lighthearted mood-lifter, buy this one.
V. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
After finishing My Grandmothe Asked Me To Tell you She's Sorry (another excellent novel by Backman) I turned to A Man Called Ove. Backman is a captivating writer who has the "it" factor that makes you want to keep reading and reading, and this book did not disappoint. It's about an elderly man named Ove, who's a little bit of a curmudgeon. I don't want to give away much more than that, but trust me on this one--it's worth your time.
VI. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I'll be honest: this is objectively a fantastic book. The writing is excellent, the plot is well-constructed, and the World War II setting is both beautiful and terrifying in equal measure. Did you sense the "but" coming? Here it is: this book is a little dense. I tend to gravitate towards writing that's easy for me to consume--I love to sit down and read 100 pages of a book at a time, and I dislike books where I have to re-read paragraphs two or three times in the first ten pages, until I acclimate to the language. As you can tell from my style of writing on this blog, I prefer to read (and write) like I speak. So this book is going on the list because it's excellent--it really is. Once I got used to the writing style I truly loved it, and I'm sure you won't be disappointed (plus, if my other suggestions are not your style, this one might be more your speed). But if you're looking for something light and quick and easy, this isn't your jam.
That's all for today--I'd love to hear your recommendations for books I should read! I'm adding to my collection every week or two these days and making a point of reading every night before bed, so suggestions are gladly accepted!
You guys--last night, Glennon came to town and it was just as good as I hoped it would be. If you haven't heard me rave about Glennon Doyle Melton (and her blog Momastery, and her book Carry On Warrior) you can acquaint yourself with my fangirl-ness in this post. But, more importantly, you should just acquaint yourself with Glennon, because she is the freaking best. So, last night I drove myself to East Ridge High School in Woodbury along with a thousand other women to geek out over this wise and insightful soul packaged in a pixie-sized body, wearing cowboy boots. I mean, come on.
I am sometimes disappointed to hear my favorite authors speak, because their voice or tone doesn't match what I heard in my mind when I read their work. But G is a truly talented speaker, and hearing her tell her story in person wasn't disappointing in any way. There were several stories and ideas she shared that really struck me, but the one I want to share happened right at the end of the night. At the very end, the floor was open for people to walk up to microphones near the stage and ask questions. And the last question was something like this: "Glennon, I know that you have a very strong Christian faith, and I'm wondering how you maintain that faith while still having a very liberal outlook and being accepting of people who are living in opposition to Christian views." And Glennon laughed and threw her head back and slid into her chair and said, "That question is so telling. I love that question. 'How are you a Christian and you still love people?'" And everyone laughed, and she went on to say that she loves Jesus ("I mean, I worship the guy") and that one of the many things she loves about Jesus is that he spent his time on earth finding the people who power has forgotten and religion is leaving out, and he "took all of those people and said, 'let's have dinner. You are my favorites.'" And in Jesus' time, those people were lepers and prostitutes and tax collectors, but these days you might find they're refugees, and the LGBT community, and addicts. And Glennon explained that she wants to have dinner with those people, and she wants them to cook. And more than anything, she explained, the trick is that you need to get close to the people that you think of as "other" because the point of true Christianity is that there is no other. (I'll pause here to say that I don't really consider myself a Christian, but I am wholeheartedly on board with this brand of Christianity and I endorse this idea completely.) And in order to realize that there is no other, there is only us, and we, one needs to get close to the people that one fears. Because if you actually get close to someone that you fear and you don't understand, it becomes much easier to love them. And to see them as similar to yourself. As part of the us, instead of part of the them. And for Glennon, the people that she fears the most are conservative Christians and she's noticed that God keeps pushing more of those people toward her so she can try to fear them less. (Amen, sister. Amen, amen, amen.) I may have blown her some kisses at that point, I really can't say for sure.
So, I love Glennon. Easily, and without reservation. And I'll work on loving the woman who felt the need to ask her that question. What's life without a little challenge?
I'm wishing all of you a wonderful start to your weeks--I have grand aspirations of posting a delicious barbecue meatball recipe in the near future. I made them for friends on Friday night and I've been savoring the leftovers ever since, but I made the mistake of not taking any photos of the recipe. So I'll just have to make them again...what a tragedy.
Love you all.
Today marks one year of marriage to my partner in life, business, and other assorted mischief. On this day last year we spent a lot of time laughing, smiling until our cheeks hurt, hugging our families and friends, and trying to soak it all in. In the year since our wedding a lot has changed--we moved into our forever house, I started a new job, our teensy puppy turned into a full-grown fluffball, and our little family all got a little older and a little wiser.
As a recovering control freak, I tend to look back on memories and think about what I didn't know at that time. When I think of us on our wedding day, I think about the fact that a huge career transition was right around the corner for me, and that neither of us knew that was coming or how it would change our lives. I think about the fact that we didn't know where our next home would be, even though we probably walked by it with Chewy on our walks to Lake Calhoun. When we got married, Dan was in the middle of his first year as a realtor. Things were going well, but we still didn't know what his career looked like or what to expect. I didn't know that we would buy three more rental properties in the next year (though Dan probably did). I didn't know how happily we would settle into the routine of being married, and how sweet the next year could be, even with all of its chaos and heartache.
If I read this post a year from now, I know I will be thinking of things that are right around the corner but we don't know it yet. I have no doubt there will be both happy and sad things on that list. But, whether I like it or not, it's good that I don't know what's coming my way. That's how this adventure works. I do know that Dan will be by my side through the next year of ups and downs, and God willing for many decades to come. And I'm grateful for that.
Who wants to cook when it's this hot outside?! Seriously, who?? Present yourselves, rascals!
I haven't been cooking as much because I'm very interested in fast, microwaveable options when I don't want to heat up my kitchen with the oven (or I'm just busy enjoying the nice weather and then suddenly it's dinner time and I haven't started cooking). Also, it's Father's Day, which means I was whipping up a pancake feast this morning. And that left very little energy for any more cooking today. But this salad is delicious, and fast, and perfect for a hot summer day. The four Bs are Bacon, Brussels sprouts, Beets, and Balsamic vinaigrette. The smokiness of the bacon is a great balance for the tart balsamic, and the warm, subtle sweetness of the beets and brussels sprouts really just round the whole thing out so nicely. I just polished one off for lunch, and the leftovers will be lunch at work on Monday and Tuesday! Enjoy!
1 small package bacon (I used Applegate turkey bacon but you could also use regular bacon)
About 2 cups brussels sprouts, cooked and chopped
About 2 cups beets, sliced (I use the vaccuum-sealed pre-cooked beets that you can buy at most grocery stores, shown below)
Your favorite balsamic vinaigrette (mine also had rosemary in it and that was delicious, so if yours doesn't I can recommend throwing a little rosemary into this, too).
1. Lay your bacon flat in a skillet and turn on your burner to medium heat.
2. While your bacon is cooking, slice up your brussels sprouts (I used some leftover from lunch yesterday) and your beets (I used these from Trader Joe's, I also like the Love Beets brand that you can buy at Costco).
You're going for a hash consistency with your beets and brussels, so slice them about like so.
3. When your bacon is browned to your liking, remove it from your skillet. If you used regular bacon and have a lot of fat left in there, drain most of it out (leave a little behind, but you don't need a pool). I didn't drain anything because I used turkey bacon.
4. Add your beets and brussels to your skillet with the bacon remnants and turn your burner up to medium-high. Your veggies are already cooked so this is just to let them caramelize, warm up, and get some of that good bacon flavor on them. Let them hang out in the pan for 3-5 minutes, and stir them around a few times during the process.
5. While that's happening, slice or crumble your bacon and fill a big bowl with your favorite salad greens.
6. Once the beets and brussels have some nice caramelized color and you're starting to get worried about burning, take them off the heat. Scoop some beets and brussels over your field greens, sprinkle an ample amount of bacon over the top, and drizzle with balsamic.
Enjoy, and happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!
One of the best compliments I've ever received came to me during my first round of performance evaluations at the law firm (not a place one expects to receive the best compliments, I should note). A partner who I respect immensely started his review with the statement: "Hanna is someone who gets things done." I strongly considered copying and enlarging that sentence and putting it somewhere I would see it every day, because it made me so happy. And it's true: if a thing needs to be accomplished and it is within the realm of possibility to accomplish that thing, I'm just the girl for the job. I take pride in that. It's who I strive to be. But the trick is that I often have quite a lot of things to get done. And when it comes down to accomplishing tasks that no one is paying me to finish or counting on me to get done, it's hard to find the right motivators.
I've been thinking about this lately when it comes to fitness. I was a great at team sports in high school because showing up to practice every day and following instructions was totally in my wheelhouse. I'm good at running consistently when I'm training for races because I know that running a race you didn't properly train for suuuucks, and the race gives me a deadline I have to stick to. I've gotten great at staying motivated to eat well, because I know I'll feel crappy if I eat unhealthy foods (or foods that disagree with my stomach) and the repeated nausea and indigestion I've experienced as I tested and re-tested the theories about what foods were best for me have become strong negative motivators. But what I'm not great at is maintaining everyday fitness and sticking to any sort of exercise plan when I'm not formally training for a race. And that's disappointing, because when I am training for a race (and don't have time for much exercise that isn't running) I'm always thinking about all the other types of exercise I'd like to try if I wasn't so caught up with running--weight training, bodyweight and agility work, etc. I fantasize about all the different things I'm going to try as soon as my race is finished while I pound out the miles, and then, when the race is over, I go back to working out a few times a week and being disappointed that my fitness level dropped so quickly. I lift weights...here and there. Not as part of a coordinated plan, and not always effectively.
I recently joined a beach body challenge group that's run by a friend from college who has become a beach body coach. (For those of you who don't know, beach body is a company that has put out a lot of at-home workout DVDs you've probably heard of: P90X, Insanity, Hip Hop Abs, 21 Day Fix, etc.) The challenge group includes women who are doing beach body workouts and trying to eat well, and it's goal is community and accountability (checking in when you do a workout, motivating and supporting each other, asking questions and looking for help when you need it). I'm excited about this because it gives me an external motivator to be consistent with my workouts, and I'm excited to check out some of the beach body workouts and see how I feel after I do them for a few weeks. I like the idea of having workouts that can be done in my living room on demand whenever I want them, and I know the workouts can be very effective (if you're curious, look up Fit and Funky on Instagram--real name Danielle Natoni--she's a beach body trainer who works out 30 minutes a day in her living room and is super strong and fit. She posts videos of her daily workouts and she's just right there next to her couch gettin' it done, with her cat watching along from the corner.)
Stay tuned to hear more about beach body over the next few weeks--tonight I tried a P90X plyometrics circuit that completely kicked my butt (a little bit because I came down with a cold a few days ago, but mostly because of the out of shape thing) and there are lots more workouts that I'm looking forward to trying throughout the month. Hopefully switching it up and being part of an accountability group will help me uncover that elusive motivation. If you've got better ideas, I'm all ears.
On days like today, the darkness and despair feel so heavy and so sticky that they threaten to grab hold of the ankles of every living creature and drag us down into the depths. Down into the places where we fear each other, and blame each other, and hate each other. I can't lend any insight or profound wisdom to lighten the load of yet another unimaginable tragedy. My words and prayers will not comfort the families that will never hug their loved ones again. My visceral outrage at the reaction he-who-shall-not-be-named has offered will not heal the deep divides our country is suffering. All I can say is that times like these, where we are hurt and angry and afraid, make it even harder to turn to one another with love. And they are the most important times to love each other anyway. When we are worried, when we are terrified, when we are furious. When we are celebrating, when we are proud, when we are victorious. When we are lost, when we are confused, when we are uncomfortable. The question we must ask ourselves it "what is the most loving thing I could do?" and then--and this is the hard part--we should do that. I love you all.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about online community and social media. There are two semi-conflicting truths to this topic that both resonate deeply with me: 1) we need to stop staring at our phones all the time and remember to connect in person, in the moment we’re in right now, with each other and our surroundings and ourselves; and 2) the ability to connect with like-minded people all over the world, and to access information at your fingertips that was only available through extensive research and education twenty years ago, is phenomenal. The ability to quickly and easily understand any topic simply by typing a question into my phone is mind-blowing. Is this food paleo? Is this grain gluten free? What is MCT oil? What is intermittent fasting? What does proper burpee form look like? How do I improve my push-ups? What are the best bodyweight strength training moves? What can I make with the four things that are left in my fridge? If Google was a real live person I would give her the best birthday gifts.
Since starting Cocoa & Cotton I’ve made more of a conscious effort to find people online who are interested in nutrition, fitness, and overall wellness, and making those connections has profoundly influenced me. I wouldn’t have known about the Women’s Strength Summit if it weren’t for following Stupid Easy Paleo on Instagram, nor would I have discovered her podcast Harder to Kill Radio. Both of those things have inspired positive change in my life, and helped me to think about what makes me healthiest and happiest (in ways I wouldn't have considered if I hadn't virtually connected with a like-minded person offering their experience to the interwebs). Following cooking enthusiasts gives me recipe ideas, and connecting with real food advocates inspires me to continue my own wellness journey. Following fitness experts gives me ideas for switching up my workouts, and inspiration to reach new goals and explore new fitness arenas. I have friends from different times in my life that I don’t keep up with in person, but I truly love seeing their posts, and I celebrate their milestones and happy moments through Facebook and Instagram. Those connections are real, and they matter to me. But the call to step back from social media and to be mindful and present in the moment also resonates with me. I know that scrolling through feeds is a time-suck, and I don’t want that to take away from other things that I value—like reading, giving my family undivided attention, and being mindful and still every once in a while.
I don’t find this balance easy, but I think for me the best step is to consciously note that I don’t need to open a social media app on my phone every time there’s a spare moment—just breaking the habit of reaching for that screen as a reflex goes a long way in reducing the “extra” use of social media that I want to avoid, but still allows me to make the conscious choice to check in with my digital network and stay connected when I want to. My newest online venture is connecting with a Beach Body community through an old friend from college--she is a BB coach now, and I'm joining her upcoming challenge group to connect with other women that are interested in accountability, increased fitness, and better overall health. And I'm stoked about it! I could talk endlessly with people who are interested in improving wellness, especially about their personal stories and their ideas for how to make strides in living healthfully.
What do you think about social media? Too much of a distraction from normal life, or amazing tool for connecting with your people? You can cop out like I did and say both. This is a safe space.
Escaping into a really great book has been a hallmark of summer since I was a kid. I have great memories of swinging in the hammock in my parents’ backyard on summer afternoons, reading Harry Potter and Pippi Longstocking and everything Roald Dahl ever wrote. And yes, I love reading year-round, but there’s something about summer that just demands a good book. Lucky for you, I’ve found a fantastic one. It’s called My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman. This book manages to combine magical childhood fantasy with poignant and serious moments, all wrapped in a witty and somehow lighthearted package. It’s well-written and honestly difficult to put down—I have to force myself to close the book and turn out the light each night just to avoid falling asleep on my desk the next day. Backman also wrote A Man Called Ove, which is sitting in my mini-library and next up on my reading list. If you’re looking for a lovely book to dive into on your next free afternoon, pick up My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. And then tell me how much you loved it, because you will.
It's the WEEKEND!!! This week's version of FUF is coming a little later in the day then normal, but it's going to be action-packed. You guys, I am just the happiest camper these days. The last few years I've really realized how much the seasons affect my mood--by the end of winter the lack of sunlight and endless supply of cold, dreary days just wears me down. And then, the spring and summer come and it feels like a damned miracle. Minneapolis is SO beautiful in the summer, and we are falling more in love with our new neighborhood every day. The cotton candy sunsets on the lake, the peonies blooming in all of our neighbors' yards, everyone biking and walking and running and smiling big ear-to-ear smiles. I am fueled up by all of the things. Ready to hear about them? Great. I knew I liked you.
I. Not Being in High School
This week marks ten years since I graduated from high school! I actually ended up back at my old high school this week to talk to a class about healthcare careers. And you know what that reminded me? How GREAT it is to not be in high school! Don't get me wrong--my high school is great, and I had a fun time there, but being an adult wins. In every way. Hearing the students yelling questions about where they're supposed to sit in class, and what projects need to be done when, and why did I get points off on my worksheet, and why can't I wear my headphones during the guest speaker's presentation, and...it's just good to be an adult.
II. Primal Fuel Protein Powder
I'm not a big fan of protein powder--generally I think it doesn't taste great, and it upsets my stomach sometimes. But THIS stuff. This stuff is like a milkshake. Except that it's dairy free and barely has any sugar (I have no idea how they make it taste so good, but there's lots of coconut fat in there). I'm adding a few servings a week to supplement some protein while I work on building more muscle. It's my new favorite dessert, and I LOVE dessert.
III. Cheering at Track Meets
Kell is running track these days and he's great at it. But even better than that, he loves it SO much. The smile on his face after his races is just solid gold. And you know what else? Track is the best sport to watch--you get to sit outside on nice sunny days, the events go pretty quickly, and you don't have to know any rules to follow along. Track gets two solid thumbs up from me. Kelly's mom ran track in high school and college so she's coaching his team and she's obviously passed some talent down through the gene pool.
IV. All. The. Smoothies.
In the summer, I actually want to eat smoothies for every single meal. I still just have them for breakfast (with eggs) but I want to have them for everything always. There's lots more fresh, ripe fruit around to throw in and switch things up, and a big delicious smoothie just pairs perfectly with a sunshine-y morning and birds chirping outside.
V. Minneapolis, My Pretty Pretty City.
Just look at this beauty.
There are so many more ways to enjoy Minneapolis when the weather is nice. We're biking around the lakes, we're kayaking across them, we're climbing hills and sitting on our patio and discovering all of these gorgeous little corners of the city that we didn't even know existed. We walked through the rose gardens at Lake Harriet last night and found a little peace garden that's either new, or improved, or we just somehow hadn't seen it the dozens of time we'd been there before. It has a little waterfall and some pebbled walking paths and it's gorgeous. It's so easy to be active because everything we want to do is outside--I'm sore from working in the garden (embarrassing but true) and we walk three or four miles on a nice night, or bike the chain of lakes. It's the happiest sort of exercise.
Enjoy your weekends, kids! I've also been reading some great books, but I'll save that for a post next week. Maybe I'll even get wild and cook something interesting. You never can tell.