Eat. Drink. Be Merry.

GatherinGrace NathaliesNotes

Gather with Grace

Dec 15, 2015

By NATHALIE HARDY | Yamhill Valley News-Register

First published in Winter 2015 Roots to Roofs

Given my history of meal mishaps, small kitchen fires and fondue party fails, I'm an unlikely candidate for trying to sell others on the blessings of holiday gatherings. Nonetheless, I intend to try my best to convince you to invite people into your home to partake at your table.

My parents owned and operated two restaurants while I was growing up, but I picked up little in the way of practical skills. In fact, I was once fired over my poor potato peeling practices.

It may, or may not have had something to do with a tenuous mother-daughter relationship at the time. It's hard to say. 

My mother is a gourmet cook.When I was dating my husband, I think that gave him the wrong idea, as I am decidedly not.

I am, however, enthusiastic about all endeavors that have to do with people and hospitality. And in the world of adults, that ends up requiring the care and feeding of people. 

So while my mom sets a lovely table with a delicious spread of food, while I set off smoke alarms preparing things that turn out nothing like the pictures posted on Pinterest, we have one thing in common — a love of making people feel warm and welcome.

This time of year, all the sage advice suggests saying "no" more often so we can focus on saying "yes" to "what really matters." So, what, exactly, is it that really matters? 

In my mind, there isn't much that rates above taking care of one another, and one significant way to do that is to extend an invitation to share a meal. That is a concrete way to meet a basic human need of connection and a gracious way to live out love.

No gourmet cooking is required to be gracious and welcoming. I've invited plenty of people to my house with these words: "Hey, I'm trying a new recipe and it might be totally gross. Want to come? Bring some bread for back up." 

And people come.

Sometimes we have a good laugh, served with a lot of bread and butter, as we eye the smoldering dish I just proved wasn't fail-proof after all. And we nourish something more than our bellies in those moments.

Showing up for each other and being remembered nourishes our spirits. I think that is a gift worth spreading, and savoring.

I have had friends and relatives who discouraged me from hosting such things due to my stained carpets and chair cushions. But here's the thing: We don't have that kind of time, you guys. If you have friends and relatives who care more about the shape of your chairs and carpets than they do the spirit of your company, forgive them and move on.

If it's you holding back from inviting people into your home because of peeling paint or mis-matched furniture, consider getting off the sidelines of your life. It's a short life, this one, so gather in — and with — grace. 

In my years of hosting people, despite all the obvious reasons not to, I've learned a few things that might be helpful to others lacking the Kelly Ripaesque picture-perfect life.

First, you have to start somewhere. So, just do it.

An easy dinner to host is a potato bar.

But the first time I had a large group of people over for dinner, I didn't realize how long it takes to cook potatoes. I must say, we were pretty hungry by the time the pizza arrived. 

Ergo, my first tip is to always have a back-up plan. It'll free you up to try new things without starving your friends out. (You know you're supposed to poke holes in potatoes before baking them right? Yeah, me too).

Also, pay attention to words in recipes like "meanwhile" and "stir constantly." If something requires constant stirring, it's too needy and you should probably break up and pick something else to serve. 

Another essential piece of advice: People often ask, "What can I bring?" Let them bring something. Please.

And don't just say, "Oh, whatever you want." Be specific.

Say, "How about something for dessert?" Or say, "Salad would be great." And you might add, "Bring your own bread." Beverages work for that, too. 

Whatever your main dish ends up looking like, put it on the table with no apologies. Think of it as a manners experiment.

Should you fall for the old lie that lasagna is easy to make, you might end up with oddly curled noodles on the top layer, because nowhere in the instructions does it say there should be no noodles on that layer. Not to worry. Just flip it upside down, add a topping of cheese and sprinkle with some sprigs of parsley. 

Sprigs of any herb make things look more appetizing. And they suggest you know what you're doing. It's also good to remember that cheese makes everything better. 

Speaking of cheese, keep a wheel of brie in your fridge. Part of being hospitable is being able to serve up some food on short notice, without making anyone feel awkward.

Add some crushed nuts and brown sugar on top of the brie, pop it in the oven and you'll have an amazing appetizer.

Just add bread. Or crackers. Or spoons.

Oh, and one last tip: Never use the oven to store anything. Just don't. Even if you tell everyone else in the house that's what you're doing, the fire will always be your fault. 

I know it's amazing that I haven't been hired to write for Better Homes and Gardens. But lucky for us, that leaves me more time to put all this advice into my next book: Not like the Picture.

Finally, remember that mealtime mishaps make for great memories. Like the time my gourmet cook mom helped host a pig roast back in the early 70s.

I'm not sure how they remember it so vividly, since members of this gathering of Slovak immigrants were in high spirits, so to speak, and on empty stomachs. Yet the stories of the night, and the pig that didn't cook, haver persisted for decades.  

One day we will laugh about the time I set the lentils on fire while trying to approximate a candle display I found on Pinterest. Actually, I already am. 

For my next trick, stop by some time. And bring the bread. 

Happy gathering!

 

To “like me” like me, find me on Facebook at Nathalie’s Notes, on Twitter or on Pinterest. I’m a prolific pinner on deadline. Just sayin’. Also? If you want to make a writer friend smile, please subscribe below AND if you liked this post – share it with your friends!

Nathalie Hardy recently published her first book, “Raising the Hardy Boys: They Said There Would Be Bon-Bons” available at local bookstores and online. Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two little boys and a husband who understands deadlines come before dusting. To contact her, visit www.nathaliesnotes.com.

Her second book “Merry is Optional” was just published by Ridenbaugh Press and is available on Amazon. For more ideas and tips for holiday fun, with or without an elf, visit www.nathaliesnotes.com.


To Elf his own, a manifesto of sorts

To Elf his own

 Hey haters!Here's the thing...

Dec 2, 2015

By NATHALIE HARDY | Yamhill Valley News-Register

Raising the Hardy Boys

While many holiday gatherings have been seasoned with heated conversations over foreign policy, arguments about presidential candidates and a debate or two over the best way to baste a turkey, I’ve already gone a few rounds defending my practice of, and passion for, elfing.

If you’re anywhere near social media, you’ve heard of Elf on the Shelf. It’s this slightly creepy looking, pint-sized phenomenon bringing merriness to some families, and madness to others.

In short, the elf arrives sometime before Christmas and appears in new places, serving as Santa’s little narc.

That NSA-esque approach isn’t my thing, so our scout elf is on the lookout for good deeds. He also provides an element of mischief and merriness as he pulls little pranks, like putting miniature marshmallows in the kids’ oatmeal, or cues up the DVD player with a Christmas movie when we thought we were watching “Wild Kratts” for the millionth time. 

It started as a self-published book a decade ago by a mother and her two daughters. The trio never dreamed their little vision would dance in the heads of children and Target CEOs everywhere.

And, as is the case with everything in America, Elf on the Shelf is controversial. 

Not as much as, say, the subject of Syrian refugees, but it’s right up there as a first world problem blown out of proportion. 

Some say: Too commercial!

Oddly, it’s also a massive self-published success story in a country that often cheers on ingenuity. But, apparently, there is a limit to how much success we can tolerate someone having, especially if, God forbid, it brings joy. 

Others insist: It’s not really a tradition!

Says who? I mean, what exactly makes something a tradition? 

A tradition, as I understand it, is something cultivated and passed on from one generation to the next. 

Still others prefer not to be haunted by the doll, because it’s creepy, like clowns. I’ll give them that.

There’s actually a name for a true fear of elves: fayophobia. For those suffering from this condition, I suggest staying off social media or temporarily hiding your elfing friends because as far as I’m concerned, it’s time to hum Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.” 

And the one anti-elf stance I struggle with the most: “It’s just another thing parents feel pressured to do.” 

The challenge for me is not that others don’t want to do it. I get it. Some of you bake. I do not. Because I hate that. My problem is specifically with people who project their own insecurities or priorities onto me, and instead of simply opting out, they mock people like me who have fun with the little sprite.

I’m no stranger to insecurity; in fact, a few years ago, I fell prey to something I no longer tolerate: elf-shaming. I will never insist that to love me is to love the elf. However, to love me is to stop mocking me for the joy it brings to us simply because it’s not your thing. 

To elf their own, do it or don’t, but I would never tell a mama who doesn’t elf that she’s lazy, so why is OK for those who don’t get into elfing to suggest I have too much time on my hands? Or, as I often hear, that I’m trying to be a “unicorn” mom portraying a perfect life on social media. 

Here’s the truth: using that little elf as an avenue for intentionally creating joyful moments has gotten myself and my family through some of our darkest seasons. Not because I’m pretending difficulties don’t exist, but because in spite of them, it is our right to choose love, to live intentionally and to create our own joy. 

Yes, it is more work to incorporate our elf’s antics into an already busy season. As enamored as I am with our elf Finn, about three days into his arrival, I’m getting out of bed at midnight, muttering an alliterative expletive because I forgot to do something with him.

This is how I discovered Finn’s special feat of traveling all the way to the North Pole and settling back into place without looking like he even moved. I know, it’s amazing.

In nearly eight years of writing this column, the most feedback I’ve received was a couple years ago after my first article on Finn. Most of it was positive. But then, there were these deeply disturbing insults and mocking at my expense. I let the hating get under my admittedly porous skin. 

I elfed in private for a couple seasons, protecting those who didn’t wish to see this sort of thing blowing up their feeds. 

This year, though, I’m making up for lost time. You see, I’ve got my eye on the clock of my boys’ childhood. 

I see the writing on the wall in my older son’s sly grin and twinkling eyes. This season of magic is coming to an end for him. Soon, he will be one of us, the joy makers. I’m not wasting any more of the time I have left. 

Oh, about creating traditions? As I prepared for shenanigans with Finnegan to begin, imagine my surprise when I found him already peeking from a stocking hung in my room. 

Just like that, a tradition is born. 

So, my dear elf-hating friends, I get it. Hide me, un-friend me, do what you must to survive, because for the rest of us, it’s open season for Elf on the Shelf and I’m not holding back to spare anyone the suffering of our joy.

#sorrynotsorry. 

 

(If you liked this column, feel free to share the love with your friends, I’d love to hear what you think! Unless it’s that I have “too much time on my hands” because: no.)

Nathalie Hardy recently published her first book, “Raising the Hardy Boys: They Said There Would Be Bon-Bons” available at local bookstores and online. Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two little boys and a husband who understands deadlines come before dusting. To contact her, visit www.nathaliesnotes.com.

Her second book “Merry is Optional” was just published by Ridenbaugh Press and is available on Amazon. For more ideas and tips for holiday fun, with or without an elf, visit www.nathaliesnotes.com.

To “like me” like me, find me on Facebook at Nathalie’s Notes, on Twitter or on Pinterest. I’m a prolific pinner on deadline. Just sayin’.


Brain matter and other fun facts

 

get things done

First, some housekeeping – figuratively I mean: in response to my coming out column there’ve been some interesting comments and questions, I totally plan to follow up on those I promise – pinky swear even.

But also it’s been kinda crickets from some corners of my life so to answer the conversation I’m having in my head with some of you, I should probably just throw out there that I haven’t been, like, on the bathroom floor doing smack or anything. This whole 12-step thing for me is mental/sanity recovery dealing with habits and patterns formed a long time ago which no longer serve me but I kinda thought I was stuck with them. Turns out? Nope. So, it’s actually good-ish news minus the awkward, uncomfy parts.

All that is just, you know, fyi to whom it may concern, remotely interest or disappoint in a high stakes schadenfreude* situation.

But more on that another time because today I’m writing about what might be the manual to help me conquer the world do some actual housekeeping, write my book and stop being all angsty all the time.

A friend loaned me her copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done after I asked about her lists. Because I am a noticer, of lists and other things.

Also, I’m an asker. There are all these questions I’m supposed to ask for my job, and then there are the ones I ask just because I want to know. Anyway, this friend is one of those people who makes “it” look easy but I knew there had to be a method to her keeping the madness at bay. She was all:

Nathalie, meet David Allen.

Hello David, if you happen to be a self-Googler. It’s okay if you are. Really, it is. We all do it. Don’t we?

Dear David Allen … totally stoked to read your book. Let me know if you need a blogger to document their journey from pre-David Allen to post David-Allen introduction. Love, Nathalie

Anyway, just flipping through the book I felt compelled to highlight and star pages but that’s not cool so I ordered my own copy.

This book jumped ahead of so many other books in my “to read” pile … because this book is going to create more time for me to read those other books, I think. Maybe. I will keep you posted.

On page xiv (two little kids people, I’m sloooow reading anymore) it says: “I’ll give you new ways to leverage those basic skills into new plateaus of effectiveness. I want to inspire you to put all this into a new behavior set that will blow your mind.”

For real, David Allen?

I want new plateaus of effectiveness. I don’t know exactly what that means for me, but I want that.

It. Is. On.

Let’s blow my mind, one paragraph at a time.

I’m kind of afraid this is going to be one of those things though where you buy the new running shoes and nothing happens because you’re supposed to, like, wear them … while you run.

So I told Matt about this great discovery and how “you have to read this! It will change. your. life. It even says so right here.” And I followed him around the driveway reading out loud from page xiv.

It will blow your mind, I say.

“I think I’ll watch it blow yours first, okay?” He’s skeptical, it seems.

Fine, be left in my dust or the bitty bits of my blown brain, whatever.

But if any of you friends want to blow your minds alongside mine, I get a few pennies here and there for anything you guys buy on Amazon through my link above Getting Things Done. 

Nathalie’s Notes:

*Do you know this word? You should know this word. It’s awesome. Knowing other languages rules because sometimes whichever one you start with lacks the capacity to say all of the things there is to say… luckily the Germans have these cool compound words that say just the right thing and they can become our adopted words, but it helps if more of us know them.

“Some German words are so long that they have a perspective.”

 – Mark Twain

Nathalie’s Notes fun fact: English is my second language, but you probably already knew that? Now I’m learning Spanish. Like, this week– Rosetta Stone lesson numero uno.

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When living the dream is no longer reality

By Nathalie Hardy | March 14, 2014 | News-Register

It’s with mixed feelings I write this column, announcing another life change for the Hardy family. I’m throwing in the towel on this whole reporter-mama business.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a fulltime reporter on the county beat, while raising two youngsters, can be done. Just not by me.

My husband and I worked over our budget. Bottom line, it’s just not penciling out for me to keep working, whether I want to or not.

It’s no secret: Journalism is a field you enter because you love the work more than the money.

Plus, if you haven’t priced daycare lately, for two full-day kids, it rivals a mortgage payment.

Who can argue with that, though? If I can’t be with them during the day, I want the best in the business keeping my boys’ minds busy and hearts happy. We were lucky to have that with our providers, Creative Kidz.

Then there are associated costs that can’t be measured. For me, one of those was being out of alignment with my core values.

In addition to dreaming about being a reporter, I always pictured myself as the kind of mom who was home after school. I imagined being able to walk my kids home, stopping to point things out along the way as we debriefed about the day.

With my job, my boss is as flexible as possible. But that flexibility is a two-way street.

I am often up way too late, or way too early, juggling calls and interviews while packing sandwiches and throwing the boys treats’ down the stairs or over the backseat in the car to keep them quiet. And all for just one, more, minute!

After nearly two years of doing my best at both, it turns out I’m not doing either one well enough to meet my own standards. So it came time to make a choice.

Going over the budget made it an easier call. Still, it’s hard to realize what you thought you wanted maybe wasn’t the best fit in the end.

A friend recently expressed disappointment in my decision. Not everyone gets what they want, she pointed out. And feminists fought for us so we didn’t have to choose between career and family.

To her first point, I say: Life doesn’t always turn out the way you pictured it, but that doesn’t mean you stop trying to create the life you want. To the second, I say: Feminists fought for a woman’s right to chose, despite the consequences of disappointing someone.

And that’s what I am doing. I am choosing to come back home to be with my boys. I plan to meet my goal of being home with them as long as I can while meeting my goal of publishing a book or two.

I recognize the first will delay the latter, but recently I realized neither will happen as long as I keep trying to maintain balance at the expense of my health and sanity.

I found an exception to George Eliot’s saying, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

My boys are only going to be this age once. If I want to be a stay-at-home mom, writing in the margins, the time for that is now.

Life requires hard choices, and my decision to leave this post to be home with my boys was not made lightly.

Not quite two years ago, I embraced an opportunity to return to the newsroom, a place I loved, to work with people I adore in a job I’d dreamed of having since I was 10 years old.

Then came that awkward moment when my dream job morphed into more of a nightmare, as I tried to balance it with my new reality with two kids, no family nearby and a husband with an equally demanding but significantly higher paying job.

I reached my breaking point on a recent snow day, one of approximately five my kids figure to have in their lifetime. Some friends stopped by as I was trying to work on a breaking story with two cagey kids in the house.

Stories will always break on snow days. It’s the nature of the job.

As much as I wanted to be able to celebrate surprise snow days with my kids, I knew my boss also needed stories done well and on time.

I realized in that moment that I too often felt my biggest blessings were a burden. I had lost the little bit of balance I had left.

“But I always wanted to be a reporter,” I whined. I was crying, the kind where there’s snot and tears.

“So, you were literally living the dream, huh?” my friend said.

Well, when you put it like that, I guess I was. And it it was as clear as the ice on the eaves that my dreams had changed with the reality.

While I’ve loved most of my time back in the newsroom, I’m at peace with my decision.

I make no guarantees, though, that the aforementioned towels are going to be fluffed and folded once I resume my stay-at-home mom status. After all, I will have to leave some margins open for writing this column, which will continue running, in addition to keeping up on my long-neglected blog at www.nathaliesnotes.com and embarking on a book project.

Contact Nathalie Hardy at nathalie@nathaliesnotes.com.


Nathalie’s Notes on “kid food”

As the calendar turned to the end of the month I realized my Raising the Hardy Boys column was due again and that means I’m really late in posting February’s column about my beef with the entire notion of “kid food.”

Some call it a soap box, I call it a passion.

I will preface this by saying I have totally handed a few french fries over the backseat, back when we used to eat in the car, but for the most part I really do try to live by these principles, at least when it comes to the boys.

Me? I’m a total hypocrite and am actually dealing with that this year. No, really Smile 

So, here are my thoughts on kid food:

http://www.newsregister.com/reprint-kid-food

And, I just couldn’t resist sharing this image that I saw on Kimberly Snyder’s blog shortly after my column ran.

Poop and Pee

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Serenity Now (plus a freebie)

 Serenity Now - freebie 
 

If you read my most recent post you know I’m done with the whole shame thing. Which means I can tell you I’ve been a self-help junkie for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been drawn to things that help me understand myself and others. I love that stuff!

Even though I love it, I’ve felt a little shy about it, like maybe there was something really wrong with me to be so attracted to that kind of thing. The other day I realized if that’s true I am so, so, so not alone since some of the books I’ve collected are best-sellers.

Which got me thinking … my personal self-help odyssey has been a journey of synchronicities where someone loaned me a book with exactly what I needed to read; or a song came on the radio making something I was mulling over click into place; or a seemingly random conversation triggered just the thought I needed to make an important decision; or a quote I read on a teabag revealed a message I needed to hear. You get the idea.

All that is to say, I’ve decided to start my own “self-help” category here to share some of my favorite quotes, books, living lessons, etc. I guess, in a sense, I’ve been doing that all along but now it’s official – I’m calling it something. And you know me, giving it a label makes it real.

The other day my beautiful friend Mel reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where George's father goes around screaming "SERENITY NOW!" whenever he needed to calm down. While screaming "SERENITY NOW!" might not work for most of us, laughing sure does.

Evoking the unlikely combination of Frank Costanza and Faith Hill, I came up with as funny reminder to myself for when I’m feeling less-than-Zen. You are welcome to copy it, print it, share it, whatever. If you like it, it’s yours.

I hope you’ll like more of that kind of thing as I work toward turning the product line of Nathalie’s Notes from my dreams to my reality.

A few ideas for how to use my first Nathalie's Notes freebie:

  • Save it as your desktop picture.
  • Print it out and frame it. Keep it or give it to a friend.
  • Paste it into your journal. (What? You don't have a journal? We need to talk.)

Here it is: View this photo

To hear Frank's "SERENITY NOW!" for yourself click