I heart the Food Network

Some people watch golf. Others do yoga. Some soak in a hot bubble bath. Others enjoy a robust glass of wine. But my favorite thing to do to relax? (In the absence of a beach vacation…)

Watch the Food Network.

I’ve developed several theories about why this niche channel transports me to a state of calm and comfort. It could be the elevator music that plays softly behind each show. The rhythmic simmers, sizzles and stirs of the kitchen lulling me to happy land. But what I’ve concluded is that, yes, there is a certain ambience that accompanies my favorite cooking shows – but more importantly, there is a nostalgia that keeps me coming back for more.

It’s all about the family kitchen. A gathering place. A mecca for holidays, celebrations and intimate meals. As the heartbeat of the home, the kitchen is a place to do more than cook – but to connect. And so, the Food Network gives me that warm-fuzzy family feeling. It’s as if the TV chefs were family members, inviting me into their homes, sharing a few tips – and sending me home with a full belly and a new recipe in hand.

And in the family spirit, here are my eclectic Food TV relatives:

Mama Paula Deen

Her food is decadent and she always thinks you’re too skinny. She loves you by feeding you – with as much butter possible – and is always ready to greet you with a big hug and a pet name. “Sugar, you’re wastin’ away to nuthin! Go relax on my big, fancy, Georgian front porch and I’ll cook you up sumthin’ extra fattening.”

Yes, Mama Paula is comfort food at it’s finest.

Papa Pat Neely

Dad knows best – and when your Dad is Pat Neely, there’s going to be a lot of parties, music and Tennessee BBQ in your life. Plus, Daddy Pat owns his own BBQ joint, so the smell of smoked meat will always remind you of home.

Paula and Pat do make a cute couple, don’t they?

Auntie Ina Garten

Your fun, pretentious (but in a good way) Aunt Ina is always good for girl talk. She’ll invite you over to her house in the Hamptons, engage you in enlightened conversations about life and love – and will always have some delicious, heavy appetizers on hand. Now how bad can that be?

Oh, and best of all, she’ll always tell you how fabulous you look.

Sister Giada De Laurentiis

She’ll take you surfing. Do your make up. Teach you a little Italian. Make you dessert – and give the BEST maid of honor speech at your wedding.

Brother Bobby Flay

He beat up all your bad boyfriends when you were young and now he’s best buds with your husband. Plus, he did a Throwdown with blogging queen, Pioneer Woman.

It really would make for interesting Thanksgivings, eh? And now, I must go grocery shopping. Because in the real world, I’m the mama and I have to figure out what’s for dinner.

Finding my Roots in Cowboy Boots

I grew up traveling the world. As the toe-headed daughter of an Air Force officer, I learned my first English words in Japan. I sailed into puberty in Hawaii. I woke up to flaky, chocolate croissants in Paris on my 13th birthday — and attended Oktoberfest long before I could enjoy the heavy steins of rich, frothy beer. But no country, culture or people have inspired me like my birthplace — Texas.

As a northern friend once joked, Texas is the only state that actually “lives up to its parody.” Big hats, big boots and, most importantly, big pride. Because I’ve spent much of my life relocating (and reinventing), I found great comfort in the sense of belonging that came with being a local—a Texan—when I finally settled down here.

To walk the walk, I finally bought the right shoes—my first pair of cowboy boots. (Or are they cowgirl boots?) Either way, they’ve already molded to my feet. Funny enough, I love wearing them to the office. I prop them up on my desk and admire the juxtaposition of durable cowhide sewn together with tiny, delicate threads. The warm, caramel leather hugs my ankles as swirls of gold and peach designs wind up my calf.

At first, I wanted a pair of boots for novelty, something to wear for a night on the town or maybe to a country music concert. But what I’ve discovered is much more profound. With these boots, it’s not just about where I walk. It’s about following in the footsteps—and clinging to the no-nonsense horse sense–of past generations.

In my little corner of corporate America, it’s easy to get lost in the minutia of marketing plans and conference calls. My boots help me wade through all of that — and when needed, step over it. They give me a genuine Texas swagger, a boldness, and a soft-spoken rebellion. And at night, when I take them off and set them by the door, they remind me that I’ve gotten the job done yet another day. Even if they aren’t covered with dust from riding the range, they’re still, as my grandma called them, my work boots.

Many boot aficionados have the same pair their entire lives. And like a wrinkled, elderly face with a lifetime of laugh lines, old boots come with a story. Their nicks, scuffs, dings, and cuts add personality and charm. They just seem to get better with age. They fit better. Look better. Feel better. And I like that.

In several decades, my boots will tell a story of their own – the story of a Texan. They’ll remind me of family portraits taken in fields of Bluebonnets. Of tramping through piles of hay on my grandma’s East Texas farm. And of the time when — long, long ago — I was a young career woman with her first pair of cowboy boots.

Transitions

Maternity leave is a strange time of life.

It’s not really a vacation – where you come back to work rested and tan with sand still at the bottom of your purse. In fact, the only similar thing about maternity leave and vacation is that you come back from both looking to drop a few pounds.

And it’s not really stay-at-home-mom-land, because any schedules or regular activities and routines that begin will soon fall to the wayside once you’re back in the working world. So it’s hard to settle in fully as if it were a permanent state.

On top of that, there’s less time to sleep – but strangely more time to think about life and the direction you’re headed. What kind of mom do I want to be? What do I want for my children? How long is it socially acceptable to keep wearing my maternity jeans?

It’s one of those transitions in life that causes us to pause, reflect, and rebuild. But like many transitions, we’re often too distracted to really make the most of it. Too busy reflecting on the past, the pregnancy, the birth – and too focused on the future and what comes next.

And in the meantime, life passes. These precious moments – this “free time” of sorts – fall through our hands like grains of sand as we look to the next milestone. I use this term “we” very loosely, as it’s obvious I’m talking about me here.

I think it is the mom’s greatest challenge to just be present with her kids. To not think about the messy house, the grocery list, the laundry pile, and on… and on. But to truly just be. No cell phones. No computers. No mental to-do lists. Just right now.

After all, now is all we really have.

“The future is not in our hands. We have no power over it. We can act only today. We have a sentence in our Constitution that says: ‘We will allow the good God to make plans for the future – for yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come and we have only today to make Him known, loved and served.’ So we do not worry about the future.” – Mother Teresa

In this moment

In this moment, I have a sleeping baby on my chest. Her little butterfly eyelashes dip and curl over fat cheeks in that edible baby way that photographers love to capture. Her airy baby hair whisps and waves into a perfect perch atop her head – a soft mohawk to add a little punk rock to her perfection. Her lips, slightly parted, breathe out the sweet scent of baby and I watch her tiny body rise and fall to the rhythm of her tranquil nap. She is… peace. And it’s times like this that I want nothing more than to soak up this moment, and remember it forever.

Word of the Year

I followed a link to Lisa Leonard designs and stumbled upon this: the Word of the Year Necklace. I love this for many reasons, a few being: I love words, I love reflection – and most of all, I love the word that she has pictured on her website… grace.

Grace, the middle name of my precious second born, embodies a beautiful virtue. It is a gift that God gives us – and what we, in turn, can give each other. It is humility, compassion, respect, dignity, forgiveness, love, beauty and elegance. It is hope in moments of desperation. It is optimism in the face of fear. It is being the bigger person. And showing small acts of kindness.

I love the simple, yet profound, question that Lisa asks on her website:

What will your word be this year?