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Reflection

New England HarborI’d like to start this post by thanking all of you for your support. I know the news I delivered last week was a bit of a shock, but as usual you gave me grace and compassion when it could’ve been just as easy to judge. Please know how much I appreciate all of your comments and wise words. I’ve read them all and they have been a great comfort. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I had so much anxiety prior to announcing the divorce. I’m not sure why it was so hard to tell you about it. I think part of it was the fear of letting you down. So many of you have stood by me during some pretty intense trials and tribulations. I wasn’t really keen on announcing another earthquake in my life.

And then another part of me didn’t want you to think less of me. Even though approximately half of all marriages end in divorce, there’s still a stigma surrounding the whole thing. And I rather liked my image as a wife and mother of four. Even if it wasn’t entirely perfect, at least it was socially acceptable.

Isn’t it funny how we get comfort from hiding behind what’s deemed socially acceptable?

The other thing I struggled with was the idea that I could influence you to make a drastic decision of your own. That my divorce would put thoughts of discontent into your own head and that’s not something I wanted for you. Because let me tell you, divorce is hard. It’s hard and it hurts.

I don’t want you to hurt and I sure as heck don’t want to be responsible for putting the idea of divorce into your head to begin with. So if you have any doubts about your marriage, don’t be quick to assume that divorce is the answer. It must be the last resort.

That pretty much sums up why I waited to tell you the news. But now that you know, I feel like I can take a full breath again. And while I know the path I’m on will most likely be bumpy for awhile, I know that things are going to be ok.

Because even in rough seas, I’m anchored by people like you who support me. People who believe in me. When you have that going for you, you can’t help but stay afloat.

My boat may be dinged up a bit, but it’s still seaworthy. Let’s see where the wind takes us, shall we?

The End and the Beginning

This post is the hardest one I’ve ever had to write in my blogging career. I’ve started it and erased it more times than I care to recall. Do you remember getting a report card that you were afraid of showing your parents? Did you ever screw something up so badly that you were afraid to be found out? Have you ever failed at something so miserably that you wished your life would just end so that you wouldn’t have to face the world?

Regardless if you’ve shared these feelings or not, that’s where I am today.

When I first started blogging, I never blogged to grow a readership. That wasn’t my intent. I just wrote because I loved it. I never imagined that I would someday have a responsibility to my readers about my life choices. Honestly, that never crossed my mind.

But as the years went on, my blog did indeed grow. Then again, so did I.

Here I am today. Looking at an ice cold pool of water. Terrified of jumping in. Can I handle the shock? Will I get used to my new normal? Will I still be accepted? You just don’t know until you jump into the pool. So here it goes…

I am no longer married.

Take a deep breath. I know this is a shock.

This didn’t just happen this week. Actually, it’s been a long time in coming.

The end of my marriage was not like most. There weren’t any screaming matches. No drama. No feuds over the normal stuff that people typically argue about. There was just a shared resignation that while it sucked, we needed to work together as a team to bring forth the best final chapter of our married lives that we could. For the sake of our children. And for the sake of our sanity.

I know you want details. I can’t give them to you. Some things need to remain private. Out of respect for my former husband and also for the sake of my children. And to be honest with you, your questions would be hard to answer because I don’t have easy answers to give.

This is what I can tell you…

I have very few regrets. Matter of fact, I would do much of it again. My former husband is exactly the father my children need. I am so thankful that he loves his children and continues to work with me to co-parent in a united way that shows our kids that we stand together in all things parenting. For that I am thankful.

As a partner, he did his best to support me in all of the ways he knew how. Did we have our problems? Absolutely, all couples do. But I can’t say that he didn’t try to meet my needs. Even when I didn’t exactly know what those needs were.

I am not an easy woman to be married to. I am wildly passionate about some things and apathetic about others. One day I am on a mission to save the world and the next I’m lucky to put the dishes in the dishwasher. I am up and down worse than the craziest roller coaster. But what cannot be argued is my passion for my family. Even if it’s splitting in half.

I firmly believe that you can have two people who are both great people but together they are not a strong couple.

That is us in a nutshell.

Two good people. But sometimes two positives do not create another positive. I should also mention that I suck at math and science. So don’t go poking holes in my theory. It’s a moot point anyway.

Will I miss him?

Absolutely.

But he will always be a part of my life. We have four children, after all. We are bound together for the rest of our days due to those four beautiful blessings that were bestowed upon us.

And after hours of discussion on how best to move forward, we both believe that civility and respect is what’s best for our children.

While I’m certain that this will come as a shock to mostly all of you, I hope you reserve judgement. Life is hard. Relationships are complicated. And a happy ending is not always guaranteed.

The final chapter of my book has not yet been written. The same is true for my former husband. My wish for both of us is a life filled with peace and joy. A life where a new day brings hope and possibility. And that both of us can look back and say what we created was good and worth the hard effort. Because in my heart, I believe that to be true. And while change is never easy, it’s a part of life. I’m ready to start living again.

A Spoonful of Sugar or Perhaps a Pound

Mexican LunchAs a concerned mom of four, I try very hard to feed my kids a nutritious diet. Sure, I write about all kinds of sweets and treats on my food blog, but I take great care to limit the junk in our daily diet. Just to prove to you that I’m not full of crap, up above you will see the lunch I made today. A masterpiece of nutrition.

Macchiato Muddy BuddiesPrior to that healthy lunch, I spent the morning working on a recipe for A Beautiful Bite. I came up with this ridiculously easy to make Macchiato Muddy Buddies recipe that I thought would be a fun snack for the kids after they had their initial healthy snack after school. Yes, I require them to eat something good like a fruit or veggie before the treats. I have enough mom guilt, thank you very much.

But when my littlest came home from school today, she announced that it was ice cream social night. Doh, I forgot about that. Actually, I blocked it out. I know the kids love it and all, but one hundred plus kids running around screaming after being pumped up on sugar is not my idea of a good time.

And then there was the special treat I made. So much for that. I couldn’t give them two sweets in one day. Once again, mom guilt.

School Ice Cream Social

School Ice Cream SocialOff to the social we went. And it went exactly as I thought it might. Lots of treats that of course thrilled the girls and enough noise to rival a sonic boom. Upon arriving home I skipped the muddy buddies and went right for a glass of wine. The idea of anything truly sweet made my brain hurt.

So nutritiously speaking, I think this day was a wash. But tomorrow is another day. A day I plan to fill with the colors of the rainbow in the form of fruits and veggies, not M&Ms. It’s all about balance and flexibility, right?

Pressing Forward

LollieI once heard someone say that if you surround yourself with people you aspire to be like, it will inspire and motivate you to achieve similar success. That notion resonated with me, so I set off to surround myself with creative people who excel at the things I’m interested in; blogging, food photography and recipe development.

I was very successful that way. Indeed, today I am not only connected with successful food bloggers, photographers and cookbook authors, I’m actually friends with them. And while this has been an amazing blessing, it’s also been a curse.

Every day when I check my Facebook feed, I’m bombarded with posts that show another amazing food picture, an announcement of a cookbook deal and stories of milestones met. And while I am sincerely happy for my friends, I can’t help but feel badly about my own progress with my personal food blogging goals.

And this is kind of hysterical if you think about it because even though I haven’t written on A Beautiful Bite in five weeks, my traffic continues to grow. It grows in spite of myself.

So what’s the deal? Why am I not writing on that site? Because I am artistically paralyzed. Try as I may, I cannot master food photography. It’s one of those things that I struggle with. Sure, my pictures aren’t awful. They are fairly decent and if I didn’t have a basis of comparison, I’d probably be rather pleased with my progress.

But because I cleaved to that notion of surrounding myself with people who excel at food photography, I can’t help but admit that it isn’t what it should be. Or what it could be if I just tried harder.

Not one to give up easily, I reached out to one of those fabulous friends on Facebook who’s always posting gorgeous pictures to ask for some guidance as to what I’m doing wrong. And being the generous type, my friend Lollie agreed to spend the day with me, teaching me how to properly use my camera.

Thank God for generous friends.

LollieLollie shoots with a Nikon while I shoot with a Canon. That doesn’t sound very different to people who don’t understand photography. But trust me, it’s a big deal. She basically had to figure out how to use my camera before she could teach me what I was doing wrong.

She even went as far as to look at my pictures on A Beautiful Bite to get a feel for what I was missing. Once again, I’m lucky to have friends who care enough to devote the time to help me.

Pound CakeBetween sips of coffee and searches on Google for Canon help, Lollie made the necessary changes to my camera settings that will help me take better photos. Oh, and she showed me the difference a tripod can make to a photo. No more handheld shots for this girl.

Pound CakeThe above image is one of the shots we took this morning. Already I can see a difference as the image is sharper and warmer in tone than the images I’ve taken previously. A major step in the right direction.

And while that is all well and good, that’s not the point of this post today. What I want to do today is encourage you.

If you are struggling with learning something new, don’t give up. I know that it’s easy to fall into that mindset that we are too old to learn a new trick. Because when I’m struggling with my camera, this is my fall back response. I’m too old to learn something new.

But whenever I start to feel that way, I remind myself of Julia Child.

Did you know that she was in her 50′s when she became the Julia that we know and admire today? Did you know that she was 37 when she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu? And that she was 49 when she published her first cookbook which was quickly followed by her television show at the age of 50?

I don’t use this example because I aspire to be famous like Julia. That is not one of my goals. What I draw from her life is the spirit of not giving up. To learn and grow every single day. Even in the face of frustration. Even if I don’t compare to my peers. Even if I can’t produce the same quality of work that my friends are producing, it’s ok.

Every day that I learn something new, it’s a step above where I was yesterday. Learning does not come easy to me when it comes to this one thing. But with each day that goes by and with the assistance of friends who truly care, I am moving forward and my skills are improving.

And even if I learn at a snail’s pace, can you imagine where this snail will be in a few years if she keeps slugging away?

How about you? Is there something that you would like to do but you find it challenging? Is there a new skill you’d like to learn but are too intimidated to try?

Hood Sour Cream Meal Makeover Cook-Off

HoodA couple of weeks ago I was invited to compete in a cook-off that required that I use Hood Sour Cream as a base ingredient for a dinner entree. And you all know how I love a cook-off. So of course I was all over that.

Hood Sour CreamI use sour cream regularly and Hood is my go to brand because I appreciate how they donate to causes I support like The Great American Milk Drive which donates milk to families who are struggling financially. It’s a great cause which I encourage you to read about. Brands that give back are worth supporting in my book.

Hood Sour Cream EventThe competition kitchen was super cool. All of the bloggers had their own work stations and access to whatever tools we needed in the kitchen. They even had people there to wash our dishes when we were done. Sadly we could not bring them home with us.

Melanie and FriendsThis competition was rather strange as I was competing against my friends. And as it turned out, it was more like a delicious dinner party than a competition. My friends are good cooks.

Sarah Hood EventHere’s Sarah having her dish recorded. Did I mention that there was a production crew? This was serious stuff. Sarah’s Sour Cream Chicken was delicious and I will be serving that to my own offspring soon.

Southwestern Pot PiesMy recipe was a Southwestern Chicken Pot Pie served up in individual servings. A big hit with my kids and popular with big people too. Recipe to follow at the end of this post.

Leah's KugelThe winning recipe of the cook-off was my friend Leah’s Sour Cream Kugel which was the cat’s meow. I love kugel. Actually, I think all of the recipes were worthy of blue ribbons. I didn’t try a dish that wasn’t wonderful at the cook-off. And I am now convinced that my friends really ought to invite me over for dinner more often.

If you are a pot pie lover, give my Southwestern Chicken Pot Pies a whirl. They are hearty and zesty. A great way to warm up on a chilly day. Great for littles and adults alike! For more dinnertime inspiration, be sure to visit Hood.com.

Southwestern Chicken Pot Pies
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup poblano peppers, roasted and chopped
½ cup chopped red pepper
½ cup corn kernels, roasted
½ cup black beans
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup Hood sour cream
1 ½ cup cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
2 Tbsp Southwestern spice (see recipe below)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 pie crust
1 egg

Southwestern Spice Blend
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp paprika
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp salt

In a large dutch oven, saute onions in butter until translucent. Add peppers, corn, black beans and cilantro. Add flour and stir to coat.

Turn heat to low and add chicken broth, sour cream and cheese. Cook until cheese is melted. Add Southwestern spice, salt, pepper and lastly, the shredded chicken. Stir to thoroughly combine.

Take off heat and spoon into individual ramekins. Top with pie crust. Lightly beat egg and brush over crust. Sprinkle a little salt over top and bake in a 350º oven until golden.

This is not a sponsored post. Hood did give me a gift card to cover my ingredients and transportation costs.

Crafting Fun with DohVinci and a Giveaway!

The Paint Bar Newbury StreetLast night the girls and I got our craft on at The Paint Bar on Newbury Street. But instead of painting, we got to try out DohVinci. Made by the makers of the classic Play-Doh modeling compound, DohVinci is a sophisticated and versatile crafting compound that’s more appealing to bigger kids who have aged out of the classic Play-Doh.

DohVinci Blogger EventThe girls and I spent the evening with other bloggers testing out the new product which was great fun. DohVinci is very different from Play-Doh. The kits come with a styler that you load with DohVinci cartridges which are filled with the colorful compounds that you use to embellish different craft projects. The DohVinci compound consistency is not the same as classic Play-Doh as it’s designed to flow out of the styler sort of like a glue gun.

DohVinciOne of the nice things about DohVinci is that it’s not complicated to use. I’m not particularly good at crafting, so I appreciated how easy it was to work with. The girls liked that they could easily control the styler and change the color cartridges. I appreciated that it wasn’t messy. The less I have to clean up after a craft, the better.

DohVinciDohVinci is a nice craft for older kids and tweens. It’s definitely more versatile than traditional Play-Doh and will certainly be appealing to the tween in your life. My girls were pretty smitten with it.

How would you like to win a package of DohVinci products for your favorite big kid? The folks from DohVinci are offering a prize package for one of my readers that consists of one DohVinci Vanity Design Kit and one Door Décor Kit. All you have to do to enter is comment on this post by leaving your first name, last initial and the state you are from. Entries must be received by Wednesday, September 17th 11:59pm ET. Good luck!

This post is not sponsored. DohVinci did provide kits for my children to use to facilitate the review. There are affiliate links in this post.

Winner!

Congrats to Mary F. from NC! You are the winner of the Walmart gift card giveaway. Please send your mailing address to melanieinthemiddle@gmail.com. Thanks to all for entering!

Sun, Sand and Lobster Rolls

Connecticut beachWell hello there. It’s been awhile since I’ve written, hasn’t it? You’ll have to forgive me because I came down with an awful cold last week. Not your regular annoying variety either. This was a full on hacking cough, yucky nose and pressure behind the eyeballs kind of thing. It knocked me on my fanny for awhile last week and I had little energy to do anything other than sleep.

I started to rally by Friday which was a really good thing because I had promised to take the girls to Connecticut to visit my girlfriend Linda for Labor Day. Aidan was busy working and Michael had other plans, so the girls and I went down to Linda’s house to celebrate the holiday weekend.

The weather was downright glorious. The perfect way to say goodbye to summer. Good friends, some fun on the beach, fresh seafood and sunshine. Lots of memories made that will hopefully tide me over until next year. Why does summer pass so quickly?

This week I have lots to share with you. So instead of writing a lengthy post today, I’m just going to share some of my favorite pictures from my weekend. I hope your Labor Day weekend was filled with happiness too.

Shannon Beach Stairs

Shannon Beach

pecan pie

Trouble

Linda Swings

Frisbee

Lobster Roll Lunch

Sunset

Lessons at the Beach

Girls at BeachGrowing up in the Midwest, I dreamed about summers on the beach. Sure, we had the Great Lakes, but in my mind that wasn’t quite the same. Not to mention my childhood home(s) were nowhere near any lake. I was landlocked in suburbia with the closest body of water located in the neighbor’s pool where I spent many days floating, planning my future life which would most likely be lived out in some quaint coastal New England town.

And while many of my childhood dreams did not come to fruition, living in the quaint coastal New England town certainly did. Some dreams become requirements and living near the ocean was a pull that I could not resist. It’s like I had a homing device that lead me to a place that I always knew would be home.

After living here far many more years than I’ve lived anywhere else, I identify myself as a New Englander. No other validation is needed because one could argue that my heart was here long before my feet were.

Now I have four kids who have been birthed in New England. And what I so desperately wanted growing up is quite literally in their own backyard. Whether they are on a school bus or just taking a ride with me to pick up a gallon of milk, the ocean is part of their daily life.

It’s either to the right of us or to the left at any given moment. Still breathtaking to me, but ordinary to them. A blasé attitude that I battle with every day, trying to teach them that not everyone has this kind of natural beauty surrounding them. That they need to stop and take this view in once in awhile, appreciating the gift that it is.

I’m not very successful with this lesson, mind you. I guess it’s hard to appreciate what you have when you are born into it. Maybe if I took them for a two week vacation back to the middle of the mitten Michigan (not near water), they would better comprehend the lesson I’m trying to teach.

Cape Cod BeachThis summer was a really good example of this lack of appreciation. I’ve asked the girls numerous times if they would like to go to the beach for the day. This is usually met with a shrug of the shoulders and a glazed over look of indifference. But yesterday I made the executive decision, packed the requisite snacks/towels/sunscreen and ordered them into the car. We were going to the beach.

With Leela off of the crutches and out of the brace, there was no reason not to go out and enjoy probably the last beautiful beach day of summer. And truth be told, I did this more for myself than I did for them. They might not appreciate the gift of living in this special place, but I still do. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t reflect on how blessed I am to live here.

Cape Cod BeachWhen we first got to the beach, the girls were a little cranky. And I’m not entirely sure why because there was no reason for their sullen mood. Quite possibly it’s the anxiety of going back to school. Or maybe it’s because I forced them away from their Minecraft session. I’m not really sure, but for the first hour they weren’t there because they wanted to be which made me wonder if this was even worth it. It’s no fun being somewhere when the majority of your party doesn’t want to be there.

But after awhile the sun and sea started to warm up their spirits. The sisters went off on a search for sea glass and met a new friend along the way. Five hours later we were the last two families on the beach. The sun was going down, a chill setting into the air, but the kids were still dancing in the waves with their new friend.

And when I announced that we absolutely had to go. No more warnings. Get into the car or you are sleeping here. They actually asked if that was an option as there is a campground onsite.

No, I said. We can come back tomorrow. Actually, we can come back any day we like. All you have to do is ask because this is ours.

On the way back home the girls were limp like noodles. Completely drained of all energy but infused with the glow of summer.

With her head leaning against the window, hair full of sand and salt, Shannon said to me “Our new friend was on vacation. She said that she never gets to see the ocean. That’s sad. I thought everyone had it.”

That lesson I’ve been hammering into their heads all of this time was finally driven home by a chance encounter with a tourist.

Parenting is interesting. As a mother I strive to teach my kids all the things that I should. To be appreciative. To be courteous. And especially to be kind. But sometimes the very best lessons in life are taught by others. And I think that those lessons are the ones most readily received.

My Weekend

Cape CodThe past weekend was rather busy. School’s starting this week and we’ve been taking care of last minute purchases that should’ve been bought weeks ago. We excelled at procrastination this summer.

All of this preparation for back to school has taken a lot of the wind from my sails. So I took a few hours off on Saturday and took a walk on the water just to center myself. This year more than any other, I’m the one who’s not looking forward to the school year starting. And this is something entirely foreign to me because I can’t remember a year that didn’t have me anticipating the arrival of that yellow bus.

This year, not so much. I’m just not ready for the homework, school projects, packing lunches and the inevitable drama that comes with having tweenagers. Not to mention, having the kids around this summer was nice for a change of pace. So much less bickering between the kids. I daresay that I’m going to miss them.

emile henryAfter my walk I took a ride over to the local thrift store. As I’ve shared before, thrift stores are wonderful for finding interesting props for food photography on the cheap. I don’t often visit them in the summertime because my area is a real tourist attraction in the summer months. You know, the ocean and all. Cape Cod brims over with people in the summertime.

So I wasn’t expecting to find much of anything. And as I scanned the shelves filled with glassware, I could tell that it was really picked over already. But you have to look closely when shopping at thrift stores because the best stuff has a way of hiding in the corners.

My first good find was a stack of three Emile Henry  ramekins. Ok, so it isn’t the normal vintage goodness that I usually hunt for, but they were marked $1.99 while they retail $36 for a set of four. Some simple math will show you that .66 per ramekin is a very good deal compared to $9 per ramekin. Score!

vintage pyrexMy other find was something that I debated with for awhile. I saw this vintage Pyrex bowl you see above when I first walked into the store and it didn’t grab me right away. It’s sort of plain and not very much to look at. Also, it’s a Pyrex mixing bowl that was originally part of a Hamilton Beach stand mixer. Not very notable.

But as I walked around the glassware, I kept coming back to this bowl. I guess I just can’t walk away from vintage Pyrex. It’s like buying a little piece of history. $1.99 worth of history that is now living in my kitchen cabinet. I am weak.

Pain D' Avignon HyannisOn Sunday Michael and I finished up his school shopping. Boys are so much easier than girls when it comes to clothing. Or at least my boys are easier than my girls. While the girls required four different stores and countless trips in and out of fitting rooms to settle on a few well accessorized outfits, I was in and out of the store in a half of an hour with Michael. God love him.

And to celebrate the end of the back to school cash hemorrhage, Michael and I had an amazing lunch in Hyannis at Pain D’ Avignon. If you ever find yourself visiting Cape Cod, I highly recommend this wonderful French cafe. They are famous for their fresh baked breads and pastries, but don’t come here just to buy a loaf of bread. Oh no, sit down and have a meal because their menu is exquisite.

I had Croque Madame which consisted of crusty country bread topped with melty cheese, black forest ham, two baked eggs and arugula. A hearty meal and priced at $8.50 which I thought was a completely fair price. So wonderful.

Michael had a monkfish sandwich which was also to die for. Tender chunks of fried monkfish stuffed into a fresh bakery roll with some kind of spicy mayo brushed on the grilled bread. Yummy.

And if you make your way down and don’t try the fries, you haven’t really been there at all. Worth the trip for the fries alone.

Pain D' Avignon HyannisOn the way out the door, Michael asked if we were planning on visiting the dessert case. Well of course, I said. One doesn’t come to a French cafe and NOT visit the dessert case.

And while I abstained from dessert, Michael did not. He picked out a blueberry lemon tart which he took to go. Not that it went far. He ate it in the parking lot.

Not a very eventful weekend, but a good one nonetheless. Now starts the 48 hours of prep required for the first week of school. Belongings to be labeled. Food for lunches to be purchased. Forms to be filled out. Damn forms. And the hours it will take to help the girls figure out which outfit they want to wear on the first day of school.

Can we go back to June?

There is an affiliate link in this post.