Yesterday was an emotional day watching the graphic footage of The Boston Marathon explosion. Our hearts go out to the victims. So many of us cried while watching our TV sets last night.
If you need something to lighten your mood today, there’s a new comic book out for cat lovers and lovers of cat lovers. The adorable feline cartoon character Simon now has a kitten. Check out the book Simon’s Cat in Kitten Chaos by Simon Tofield and get a look at the funny video below.
“I’m so thrilled to get to talk a bit about my new young adult novel My Life After Now, as the book deals with a subject that affects us all but has gone largely ignored in YA literature thus far – HIV. My Life After Now is the story of Lucy Moore, a sixteen-year-old aspiring theater star who has a series of really bad days and decides she needs to vacate her life for a night. So she goes out drinking with her two best friends and ends up making a pretty huge mistake – she goes home with a man she just met. One month later, Lucy learns she is HIV-positive.
HIV/AIDS education has always been important to me – as a young child, I had a family member who died from AIDS, but no one really explained to me what that meant. My parents, like so many others, felt HIV/AIDS was an “adult” issue and therefore not something to worry their children with. But children understand more than I think we give them credit for sometimes. They have questions, so why not give them answers?
And I believe it’s especially important right now to talk about HIV/AIDS with our children because young people (ages 13-29) have accounted for nearly 40 percent of all new HIV cases in the U.S. in recent years. And that number is only increasing.
As a high schooler in the late nineties, I joined an organization called STARS (Students Teaching AIDS Reduction Strategies). We visited different schools and opened up the dialogue about HIV/AIDS – from talking with kindergartners about not touching other people’s blood, all the way up through discussing safe sex with high school seniors. I like to think that just that small introduction to the HIV/AIDS conversation helped those students make better choices in their own lives.
Over the past ten years or so, we as a society haven’t been talking about HIV/AIDS as much as we used to, probably because, thanks to medication, people aren’t dying from it as frequently. But the fact is, the contraction rate has not slowed down, and there is still no cure. When a close friend of mine tested positive, I knew I wanted to do something to help get the conversation going again. Thus My Life After Now was born.
There is hope, though – recently a two-year-old in Mississippi who was born with HIV was deemed “functionally cured” of the virus after being put on an aggressive treatment plan shortly after birth. But until all people, young and old alike, are rid of this disease, the best way to combat it is to keep our children educated, and stopping it before it starts. I truly believe understanding the realities of the virus – and debunking the myths – is half the battle.
Though My Life After Now is fiction (complete with a romance!), there is some great information included in the back of the book for teens, including an HIV/AIDS facts sheet and a list of testing and counseling resources. There is also a reader discussion guide, which I hope will help spark many lively discussions about the book and its subject matter.
The new cookbook, The Yummy Mummy Kitchen by popular blogger Marina Delio, will absolutely make you hungry. The elegant photos are luscious–some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. (And I nearly died over the gorgeous tables, dishes, place mats and napkins.) The recipes are geared to families, but they’re not just for kids. Marina cooks for highly varied and sophisticated palettes. Her dishes are easy-ish with a doable number of ingredients. All of them are pretty and flavorful enough to serve to guests. Her children are very lucky–they get grape and rosemary flat bread and sugared blueberry goat cheese crostinis for snacks!
I asked her one important question: How do you get kids to eat such a wide variety of foods–especially veggies? Marina told me: ”I’ve found many ways to get kids to eat their veggies. One tip is simply to expect that your children will eat most vegetables, and serve them frequently. It can take time for children to accept new foods, so keep putting them on their plates and incorporating them as the stars of the meal. Often it helps to cook small vegetables into kid-approved dishes instead of piling them on the side. For example, most kids love a mild chili, cheesy calzone, lasagna, pasta, or enchiladas. All of these dishes are easy to create in a plant-based way. Get excited and say, ‘Isn’t this gorgeous? Look at all the colors!’ The bonus of cooking this way is that you only have to cook one dish at dinnertime, rather than a main dish and a veggie side. It can be hard to switch kids from hot dogs to colorful healthy dinners, but in the long run they will thank you for it. Don’t offer alternatives at dinnertime and your children will eventually accept and enjoy the healthier dinners you’re serving.”
Marina was also kind enough to pick two of her favorites from The Yummy Mummy Kitchen and share them with us. I definitely see her Green Enchiladas and Grilled Shrimp and Corn Salad in our future.
Green Enchiladas Serves 4 to 6
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
5 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup cooked brown rice
1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 cups mild tomatillo green salsa, fresh or jarred
½ cup half and half
6 (9-inch) flour or brown-rice tortillas
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese, Monterey Jack, cheddar, Colby, or a blend
1 avocado, chopped, for garnish
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 lime, cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and toss until just wilted. Remove from the heat and transfer the spinach to a medium bowl. To the spinach add the beans, rice, mushrooms, cilantro, and goat cheese. Gently toss to combine.
In another medium bowl, stir together the salsa and half and half. Pour half of the salsa mixture into an
11 × 7-inch baking dish. Fill the tortillas with 1 cup of filling each and roll up. Place the filled tortillas seam side down in the baking dish. Pour the remaining half of the salsa mixture over the enchiladas. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes.
Cool slightly. Garnish with avocado, cilantro, and lime.
Grilled Shrimp and Corn Salad Serves 4 to 6
1 pound large peeled, deveined shrimp
1 ounce tequila
Juice of 2 limes
3 ears of corn, husks removed
2 heads romaine lettuce, chopped
½ cup black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, sliced
¼ cup favorite salad dressing
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Sliced lime, for garnish
Tortilla chips (optional)
Thread the shrimp on skewers and place in a baking dish. Coat with tequila and lime juice and marinate 15 minutes. Oil and preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Brush the corn with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the shrimp and corn on the grill and grill about 3 minutes per side until cooked through. Cool slightly. Remove the shrimp from skewers and slice the kernels off the cobs.
In a large bowl, toss the lettuce with the beans, tomatoes, avocado, and dressing. Arrange grilled shrimp and corn on top and garnish with cilantro and lime. Serve with tortilla chips, if desired.
I love my job! I was invited to sit down with actress and screenwriter Nia Vardalos–the writer and actress from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She was so friendly and gracious and nice. She hugged me when we said hello. Then we sat down in New York City to talk about her amazing new book, Instant Mom.
With her trademark wit and warmth, she detailed her journey from Hollywood success to infertility and eventually adoption through the foster care system. She talked candidly to me about her 10 IVF treatments, the day her daughter arrived, how she does it all and what she’s working on next (a new movie!).
Here’s the scoop from our chat:
KK: Did you really have just a few days before your daughter arrived at your house? NV: I had 14 hours.We got the call (from foster care) at 11:30 p.m., and she was there the next morning. Ian (Ian Gomez from Cougar Town) went that morning and got everything and by late afternoon, she was there. She was almost 3 years old.
KK: You write that the transition was hard for her–can you tell me about that? NV: Even though her brain and body were not formed, her emotions fully were. She came with a full set of personality and pain and feelings of betrayal. My biggest job now (Ilaria is 8) is that she knows that she was not abandoned. Two people who did not stay together chose to do the right thing and place her in foster care, and that’s a good thing.
KK: You unveiled yourself, in a way, for My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But you unveil yourself in a different way for this book. NV: Tula is obviously an extension of me, but that screenplay is mostly made up. But the base is from my real marriage–my husband (Ian Gomez) got baptized. But this book, it’s all real. We’ve already gotten calls about making this a movie. It’s already started. But I think it makes a better book because the words are exactly how I want to describe it. So once again, I’m just staying in the moment. I’m not thinking about it. I’m just trying to get through the interviews without crying.
KK: You went through so many hard years. How did you keep going after 10 IVFs? NV: The years of infertility… I felt so alone. My advice is not to stop what you’re doing. Instead, I think that each person knows when it’s time to keep going. And there are so many successful IVF stories.You know when you’re in a relationship with a bad boyfriend? You take it and take it and take it. Until one day you sit down and tell your girlfriend, and you hear it for the first time, that’s how I felt when I sat down with the adoption facilitator. When I said what I’d been through, that’s when I realized it. That’s when I also knew the best thing I could do is take some time off and process it. That’s the best thing I did that led me to my daughter.
KK: Did the press ask you nosey baby questions? NV: Constantly and just when you least expect it. One guy I remember saying to me at a party, ‘Yeah, my wife and I were just talking, now that you got skinny, there’s no that you’re going to get fat with a baby. You’re going to hire some kid to have it, huh?’ His wife went on to say crazy things, too. I would’ve traded all the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding for the simple chance to have a baby. It was a terrible time to go through it. Now, I wouldn’t trade one minute of it because it led me to my real daughter. I’m at peace with it, and that’s why I can talk about it without crying.
KK: Did Ilaria read this book? NV: I don’t think she’s going to read this book until she’s about 16 or so. Because there are adult topics in it. From the infertility to the victim crying in my front yard.
KK: Was it hard to write about the horrifying attack you experienced in your front yard? NV: Women have this thing where we feel like we can’t exhale because then the other shoe will drop. That is a fact, whenever you think, ‘Now I’m done,’ something else happens. That’s why I kept this part in. If anyone was going to exhale, it would be me after the adoption was finalized. And then that peacefulness was taken away from me by a selfish stranger. It happened very soon after the adoption was finalized. I kept it in because people need to carry pepper spray and look behind them when they’re on the street.
KK: Tell me about your lovely babysitter, Anna. NV: She’s our babysitter, and Carmen became our housekeeper. They come about two or three hours a day about three or four days a week. I acknowledge it because I don’t like when actresses pretend they do it all on their own. Come on, you don’t make your own pesto, your chef did! So I’m just saying out loud, the whole ‘Can we have it all?’ Well, sure–with some help.
KK: What do you think is the one message you want to get out overall? NV: The thing that touched me the most was the kindness and compassion of women. The mothers I met at the park who had children the same age as mine and saw the dismayed and confused look in my eyes as a new mom of a 3-year-old were so comforting and welcoming for me. They never dug for secrets, but they were curious and kind. That’s how I realized by the end of the book that we’re all Instant Moms. None of us are prepared for this. The uniqueness of my story is that I had an almost 3-year-old child furious at us that she was living with us on Day 2 and sleeping only on two-minute increments.
KK: I heard you’re donating the profits for this book.
NV: The money will go directly to people trying to adopt or people who need help to defray the costs. I found an orphanage in another country, I met the man who runs it, and I’m going to give them some money. That’s what we decided. We’re going to just share the proceeds.
KK: What are you working on now? NV: As soon as I finished Instant Mom, I was proofing it, recording the audiobook, and then I started writing a script for Paramount. Then I flew to New York City to film an episode of SVU. Ian was off from Cougar Town, so he told me to get out. I came for 10 days. I went back to Los Angeles and turned in the script. It’s for Paramount, and it’s called Leftovers. It’s an anti-romantic comedy romantic comedy. I’m trying to fill the large dearth of films out there for men and women who are single and are happy about it. It’s about all of the myths we’ve been fed, and are they for us or not? Usually not. If everything goes according to schedule, it would be out in about a year. I’m starring in it and producing.
KK: You’re super busy! NV: I always wonder, does something have to give. And I think, ‘Yeah, a little bit.’ So what if I gained six pounds, let it go. Who cares? If I didn’t return that mom’s text about a playdate, that’s okay. I think I just allowed myself to be much more fallible than I did before. The only thing I won’t do, is I won’t hand in a script late. I am on time!
Nia is very easy to love, and I wish her much success with her new book and movie. Check out Instant Mom. It’s great for anyone who has been through infertility–or knows someone who has.
My fiction pick of the month: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. If you want an enlightening and beautiful read, this is it. The author describes her book in detail below, but here’s my rundown: In a sweeping, well-researched tale that spans from 1929 to the present day, two women–both orphans–try to find their way in a harsh world. Expertly woven together, the main characters Niamh (pronounced Neeve) and Molly are fascinating and unique as they complement each other. I adored the history, latched onto the sadness and felt redeemed by resourcefulness and hopefulness. Christina’s writing is lovely, and the pace is perfect. Pick up the book at Target, where it’s an April selection or do what I did: Download it on Audible. The narrator of Orphan Train, Jessica Almasy, does an incredible read. Listening to Almasy’s rendition of this book–so vivid and emotional–was as much fun as getting swept away by an Oscar-winning movie.
But enough from me. Here’s what the talented and lovely author (she lives in my town) has to say about Orphan Train.
KK: In three sentences, how would you describe your book? CBK: Set in present-day Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train highlights the real-life story of the trains that between 1854 and 1929 carried thousands of abandoned children from the East Coast to the Midwest. It’s the story of two women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and a troubled teen with one last chance at redemption. As they get to know each other, they find unlikely common ground and together are able to undo the emotional knots of their troubled pasts.
KK: What turned you on to the idea of writing about orphans? CBK: Years ago I read an article about my husband’s grandfather, who had been orphaned along with his five siblings and sent on a train to North Dakota. I’d never heard of the orphan trains, and was appalled to learn that the children who rode them were as young as two. As the mother of three young boys, I couldn’t imagine what that would’ve been like! So I began to do the research to find out.
KK: Orphan Train is so beautifully written, and the characters are inspiring. What message would you like your readers to take away from Orphan Train? CBK: Many train riders were ashamed of this part of their past, and carried the secret of it for decades, and sometimes until they died. I think that the main message of my novel is that shame and secrecy can keep us from becoming our full selves. It’s not until we speak up that we can move past the pain and step forward.
KK: What advice do you have for moms who want to take on–and finish–a dream project like a book? CBK: The writer Anne Lamott tells a story about when she was a kid and her little brother was overwhelmed by a school project about birds. Their father’s gentle advice: “Just take it bird by bird, buddy.” That’s useful to remember. You can write a draft of a book in a year if you write a page a day. The secret is not to get overwhelmed by the big picture. Set yourself concrete goals (in my case, four pages a day or 20 pages a week) and try to stick to them. Yes, this is easier said than done!
See how great it is–check out Orphan Train’s book trailer below.