Holiday Lara Love Style
Lego Friends Advent Calendar
Holiday Garlands
Less than a month left of my sabbatical.  It's time to write the fourth and final chapter before I return to the classroom.  Meanwhile, this is what's open in my browser, which keeps me happily procrastinating some days....

A Hello Kitty airplane?  My 6-year old self is cartwheeling.  Thanks, Melissa!

I can't get enough of this New Mexico artistry.  People are so talented.

I feel very much like this professor.  Students, I apologize for having to assign grades.  Thanks, Design Mom.

The wanderlust traveler in me wants this.

A pong traffic light?  I adore the idea of connecting with a stranger across the street.

I'm loving these hipster baby names.  Eisley might be my favorite.

I might need one of these when I choose my new word for 2015.

If you blog, you might like this blogging for books partnership.

Lil O literally counts the moments until she can open another door of her Lego advent calendar.  Best gift ever.

Simple artwork is awesome.

You know I have a thing for states.  Colorado being the top of that list.

This post inspires me to submit a children's book manuscript I've been sitting on for years.

You know my family and I love skiing.  This suit and footage is breath-taking.  Thanks, Mr. UpCyclist.

What's open in our browser?  




Brave Cooking

Gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free chocolate chips cookies

I typically have confidence in the things I do.  Cooking, though, not so much.  When Lil O in early November said she was feeling "gaggy' after she ate, I knew it was time again to pull back the reins on her nutrition.  Five years ago (before I started blogging), Lil O was gluten-, egg-, dairy-, soy-, and citrus-free.  She was also free of 23 other offenders (pineapple, coconut, rice, etc) for almost three years.  Another day, I can blog about how we identified the original 28 offending foods in the first place.  That's a blog post in itself.

After a phone appointment with her nutritionist six weeks ago and a discussion about Lil O feeling gaggy coupled with some redness under her eyes (kind of like when you are tired and have bags under your eyes. Her bags weren't dark though, but pink instead), we realized it was time to give Lil O's system a break again.  I didn't know this, but pinkish skin is a sign of inflammation in the body.

When Lil O's system goes on a break, so does my system and Mr. UpCyclist.  I don't like having food in our house that is off-limits to Lil O.  I want her to have the freedom to eat what she needs and wants.  Thus, our home is 95% gluten-, dairy-, egg-, and citrus-free at the moment.  In case you wondering, her nutritionist advised us to take out the biggie offenders only, not all 28 again.

The good news is since taking out the major offenders, Lil O isn't gaggy feeling anymore.  The pinkness has not subsided, but I am confident it will over time as her digestive and immune system heal.  Our entire family is eating more diverse foods - not carbohydrates at every single meal.

My friend, Laura, pointed out most everything I do in life, I do and I am unafraid to fail. Cooking though was the exception.  I kept running away from the kitchen because I was afraid the meal I was making wouldn't turn out or I would waste precious ingredients.   What a revelation that was!  What? I'm scared of cooking?  Sure, there are scarier things to be afraid of, but cooking?  Come on, Jen, you got this.  What's your word this year?  Brave.

So, now I am in the kitchen cooking.   This time,  I'm cooking with bravery.  I'm falling in love with failure (remember that line from my new book?).  I've asked my test subjects - Lil O and Mr. U - to be patient with me.  Some meals might be an instant hit.  Others will need tweaking.  I'm experimenting more and more.  For example, those chocolate chip cookies in the photo above are an experiment.  The cookie on the left is made with a potato-based egg replacer, since we can't have eggs right now.  The cookie on the right is made with a chia seed egg replacer.  You can see the potato-based cookie (on the left) is more smooth.  The chia seed cookie is more bumpy.  They both taste great, though I prefer the taste of the potato-based replacer.  Lil O prefers the chia seeds (which does add another level of good nutrition).   I used a flour base like this one to make the cookies.  The cookies are chocolate chip, gluten-, dairy-, and egg-free (which also makes them vegan, in case a vegan lifestyle speaks to you).  The cookies have been a big hit with everyone who has tasted them.

Years ago, I wouldn't have experimented.  I would have been concerned about the cookies being a flop and wasting ingredients.  From writing my book this fall and having so many days of what-the-bleep! writing, I've realized failure is just part of the journey.  You've got to stumble a little to get your legs under you.  But, once your legs begin to get under you, you get great stuff like this:

Last night, my mom came to town from Memphis and I cooked dinner for all of us.   I made this amazing dish with thin-sliced, roasted potatoes and lightly steamed green beans tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper.  The meal was delicious.  My mom innocently said, "You are a good cook, Jen."  What?  Is she talking to me?  The girl who struggles in the kitchen?  She most certainly was talking to me. That compliment landed in the best way.  She had no idea how I felt about being in the kitchen.  All she saw (and ate) was a totally yummy meal made by an unstressed me.

A more confident me.  A Braver me.

This time around, I'm not running away from the kitchen.  I'm inviting Lil O to cook with me more - after all, she has a lifetime of cooking ahead of her as she will need to embrace moderation for the rest of her life most likely.  I am making cooking enjoyable.  I listen to podcasts (like Serial and Elise Gets Crafty).  I catch up on shows that I enjoy (The Voice, House of DVF, and Shark Tank).  I'm keeping a list of what turns out great, what needs tweaking, and what my family and I do not enjoy (like mushy vegetables).  I'm leaning into culinary skills learned from an amazing colleague, Ken, years ago.  You should see me with a knife!  Besides totally burning some sausages the other night, my grilling skills are fairly rock solid.  I'm having faith in the kitchen, but most of all, confidence in me.


I just let out a gigantic breath.  It feels so good to admit how scared I've felt before and how much I want to improve.

Brave has found me again.  This time, Brave cooking.

What about you?




Looptworks: One Year Later

Looptworks Shaxi iPad Case

It's been a little over a year since Looptworks sent us an iPad Shaxi case to enjoy.   I wanted to give you an update in case you need a gift for someone.

You might remember Looptworks sent me a Shaxi and gave away one to an Upcycled Education reader.  How fun are they?  If you missed that blog post, you can check it out here.  It is now one year later and I must say, I am totally impressed with the Shaxi.  As you can see from the photo above, the leather (which is all upcycled; you can read more about Looptworks upcycledness here) is still looking great.  There are no stains, scratches, or anything.  And, this iPad gets used every. single. day.  I wish I was kidding, but our family loves its technology.

From the photo below, you can see the inside has received a few stains and some dirt.  But, really, I don't think any human can keep pink gorgeous suede perfectly clean.  Not, when you use the Shaxi and your iPad every. single. day.  (Ha! We need a hashtag #everysingleday).

Looptworks iPad Shaxi inside photo

Probably my favorite thing about the Shaxi is it always closes perfectly (due to its strong magnetic closure).  It always stands perfectly. We used to use a different iPad case before this one and it sometimes would topple over, which annoyed me.  This case is built rock solid.

If you need a last minute gift for someone, I would recommend Looptworks in general.  They sell bags, cases, and even tees.

What's your favorite gift this season?


PS - My first post about the Shaxi was due to the Looptworks giveaway.  This post is just me saying, they're cool - plain and simple.  I heart cool companies, don't you?

UPDATE:  Looptworks just emailed me....the Shaxi (and your entire order) is 20% with free shipping until January 1st.  Yay!  Click here for more.


Life Updated: Late Fall

Jen and family at the beach
Lil O at the beach
Jedi's birthday at the beach
Jen on date night, woot, woot!
Sandy Spring Adventure Park
In love with Jedi

I don't usually start off a blog post with so many photos, but these called to me.  Here's what I've been up to (although it is probably obvious from these photos and my Instagram feed)....

  • We snuck over to the beach for Thanksgiving and stayed at a friend's empty beach house.  When we bought our place in Colorado, we knew we'd hardly vacation anywhere else.  Five years later, it's so true.  We hardly vacation elsewhere and I miss the beach dearly.  So, we went. Totally loved it even in the cold.  Jedi celebrated his 3rd birthday on the beach, too.  How happy and strong does he look?  And Lil O squishing her eyes shut slays me.
  • Mr. UpCyclist and I went on a date on a Sunday night.  Yep.  You heard me.  On a school night. That night, I wore this simple, yet adorable sweater my teen niece gave me.  Now, tell me if this is odd.  My teen niece cleaned out her closet and gave me a bag of her hand-me-downs.  I loved all of the hand-me-downs.  Am I strange? Or does my niece have the best taste ever?  It also looks like I've been to every Imagine Dragon and Mumford & Sons concert since they began touring thanks to my four hand-me-down concert tees.  Thanks, J!
  • My first jobs in education were all on ropes courses.  You can imagine how psyched I was when Lil O, Mr. U and I hit the adventure park in Sandy Spring, Maryland.  We were there for three hours and I think we would have stayed longer if our three-hour ticket wasn't about to expire and they served lunch.   Lunch, by the way, tasted so yummy.  Do you like Cafe Rio?  I could bathe in their barbacoa.
  • My book.  Notice there are no photos of me writing.  That's because when I write, I am either completely in the zone or totally procrastinating.  Here's the good news.  My goal is to have the book proposal complete to pitch to several different agents and publishing houses in early 2015.  I am on target for that goal as the book proposal is written; it just needs to be edited.  My second goal is to have four of the eight chapters written (at least in draft form) before I return from my sabbatical in mid-January.  I have three chapters written and just one more to go to accomplish that goal.  The bad news?  There is none.  Yahooo!
  • Are you in the winter nesting mode like me?  I am not kidding when I say as soon as the sun goes down, I want to be inside our house, in my pajamas, and not leave until the next morning. I think my family agrees, especially Jedi.  Almost every night, we put him to bed around 7-7:30pm.  He is so darn cute sleeping there (on our bed), we just have to snuggle him.  Look at his face?  He's either thinking, please leave me alone or I won the lottery with this family.
I think we won the lottery with him.

What have you been up to?  Comment below or email me.  I miss catching up in this blog space.




Chatbooks with Lil O and Mr. UpCyclist

A year ago, I didn't know my college would grant me a sabbatical to write a book.  I didn't know my family would out-run a blizzard from Colorado to Maryland in a 32-hour nonstop drive.  Or my word for 2014 would be Brave.  I didn't know the summer of 2014 would be one of my favorite summers on record.  There are just so many things I couldn't predict.

But, I do know one thing.  I am thankful.  Thankful for the past year.  Thankful for my family and for my friends.  They have cheered me on with book writing, let me practice coaching them, and simply put up with me when I was no where to be found refueling.  I am thankful for my college and my amazing colleagues there who have supported my professional dreams.  I am incredibly thankful to those three above (Jedi is at their feet).   We do much laughing together and growing.  I'm also thankful for you.  You keep coming back to this blog, reading, engaging, and reaching out every once in a while.

I know you are there and for that, I say thanks.




My Favorite Line So Far

Fall in love with failure - Jen Lara

Yesterday I started Chapter 3 in my book.  Chapter 3 is all about what I call the Power Triad - growth mindedness, play, and creativity.

This line might be my favorite in the book so far:  Fall in love with failure.   I wrote that line in relation to nurturing a growth mindset.  If you can't remember what a growth mindset is, check out my posts here and here.  Dr. Carol Dweck's research on mindset is truly amazing.

Back to writing, I go.  Have a great day!



PS - My goal by the time my sabbatical ends in January is to write the first draft of four chapters (the entire book is eight chapters, plus an introduction and "Grow Yourself" activities) and to have a completed book proposal pitched to an agent/publishing company.


Big Thinking

Lil O running - Bay Bridge 10K

Nine months ago, Mr. UpCyclist asked Lil O if she wanted to do a 10K together in Annapolis, Maryland.  This 10K is a pretty special one as it goes over the famous Chesapeake Bay Bridge and has lovely views of the Chesapeake Bay - a treasure in Maryland.  Lil O agreed and seven months rolled by.

In early September, we returned home from our Colorado summer.  It was time to start training.  For seven weeks, Mr. U and Lil O ran three times a week together.  They started with just one lap around our neighborhood (which is roughly 1.3 miles) and grew from there - their longest training run was the race distance - 6.2 miles.

Mr. U and Lil O finished the Bay Bridge 10K

Jedi, the pup, trained with them every single step of the way.  He literally didn't miss a training run - that sweet dog.

Yesterday, Lil and Mr. U ran the race in a respectably time - 1 hour and 15 minutes.  They ran the entire distance without walking.  Lil O even did a cartwheel when she summited the bay bridge.

Jedi will do anything to run with Mr. U

Jedi couldn't run the actual race.  There was a no-dog policy.  But, he and I greeted Lil O and Mr. U around mile 5.5.  Jedi was elated to see them running.  In fact, I swear, he would have pulled me on my bare knees to run with them.  He was yelped and howling to get their attention.

A few friends have asked why I didn't do the race, too.  I have two thoughts about this.  First, running isn't my jam.  Sure, I trail run with Jedi, but that's just because I like forests and I have to keep up with his furry self; Jedi's an antelope in the woods.  But, second, I love the fact that Lil O and her daddy shared this special accomplishment together.  Not with me.  Not because of me.  Not anything to do with me.  It was them.

Big thinking is like that.  It isn't always about you or me.

Mr. U and Lil O thought big.  They set a goal.  They worked hard towards that goal.  They endured their fair share of sweat and tears.  And ultimately, they reached their goal together.

10K training schedule

I'll blog soon about running with kids (or doing any type of co-training with kids).  I actually think I have a few tips to share on this from being a bystander during their 7-week training.  You can see a sneak peak of their training regimen above.  I'm laughing as I just noticed the giant checkmark on the schedule.  That's Lil O's way of saying, "We did it!"

Congratulations to Lil O and Mr. UpCyclist!  I am so incredibly proud of you both.

As Michael Port writes in Think Big Manifesto (affiliate link), “Big thinking is always, always, always worth the expenditure of energy.”

I totally agree.