4.30.2008

Mother's Day Ideas

*Mom, don't read this one, okay? Your gift may or may not be shown here. Fine, alright, read it, but then let me know if you have any specific requests.
I love shopping for Mother's Day. Even though my Mom is pretty impossible to shop for. She never wants or needs anything. Infuriating. (I love you, Mom!)
But Mother's Day should be the easiest holiday to find presents. If you're shopping for a relatively new mother, then all she really wants is the gift of time. Make her breakfast, clean the house, and take the kid(s) for the day. Allow her to do whatever it is that makes her happy - take a long bath, go for a run, go out with girlfriends, get a manicure, whatever. If you're shopping for a more seasoned mother, then a specific gift may be in order, but it's still all about indulgence.
Of course, what direction you choose to go depends entirely on your mom and her particular tastes and interests. But here are some suggestions that may get you thinking.

Yummy: Chocolates, Tea
Pamper: Spa gift certificate, Bath/Body Items (Burt's Bees, Aveda)
Entertain: Books, Music, Movies

4.29.2008

Juno, Little Miss Sunshine

Don't you hate it when you want to see a movie and everyone keeps telling you how good it is? Even worse, when they keep quoting lines at you, or telling you the funny parts? I hate this! Especially now, since going to the theater very often is a thing of the past, I am often the last one to see a movie, which means I have to hear everyone's opinion first. On the positive side, this has kept me from seeing movies I might've seen based on the previews, but after hearing all the bad opinions, I didn't waste my time. I do my best to block it out, though. I like going into movies with no expectations - I sit back and let them entertain me.


To that end, I won't go into details on these two movies. We just watched Juno last weekend, and let's just say I highly recommend it. (As an aside, I think I would be friends with Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman if I knew them. He always cracks me up - I can't see him any more without thinking of his character on "Dodgeball". And she just seems like a really nice and down-to-earth person. Of course, I'm basing this on talk-show and magazine interviews, but still.)

On Amazon, they grouped Juno with Little Miss Sunshine, and I was reminded of how much I liked that movie. Made me almost get out of my seat with laughter at the end. But don't think about that when you see the movie. Just sit back and enjoy!

4.27.2008

Sunday Cooking - Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

I have gotten into a habit of doing some cooking on Sundays. I usually make a more involved dinner - anything that takes longer than 30 minutes is reserved for Sundays - and I also make some items for the week. Sometimes it's a frittata (the little boy does well with eggs and doesn't seem to mind veggies this way - here and here are a couple sample recipes), sometimes it's a freezable item such as veggie fritters, meatballs, or chicken apple bites. And sometimes it's muffins or bread. Making a bread is great, because it's a good snack for the boy and a good portable breakfast for K and me. Often it's Banana Bread, but I decided to try something different this time: Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread. For some reason, I can't find the recipe online, so I thought I'd post the recipe manually. It's from Cooking Light, my favorite cooking magazine.



Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

1/4 C. sugar

3 T. vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 C. applesauce

2 C. all-purpose flour

2 T. unsweetened cocoa

1 1/4 t. baking soda

1 t. ground cinnamon

1/4 t. salt

1 1/2 C. finely shredded zucchini (about 1 medium)

1/2 C. semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place first 3 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at low speed until well blended. Stir in applesauce. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating just until moist. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips. Spoon batter into a 9×5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack, then remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Yield: 16 servings (yeah, right!)

4.26.2008

I Love Boston - Fenway anthem

I received this email from my sister last Fall, but I recently ran across it when cleaning out my inbox. It made me cry and smile all over again. Click the link at the bottom to see what I mean.


"Talk About Taking A Village. On Disabilities Awareness Day, in a baseball stadium (Fenway Park - Boston), on what I can only describe a perfect day, is an excellent example of the old saying 'It takes a Village'. This man with autism, who was chosen to sing the national anthem, got a case of the giggles half way through. Listen to what the crowd does to support him."

Just another reason why I love Boston!

4.25.2008

The Weepies

I have quite a bit of what my husband likes to call "sad bastard" music. Most of it isn't sad, but a lot of low-key or indie music ends up with that tag. Anyway, with a name like The Weepies, you'd expect this to fit that bill, but it doesn't. (At least I don't think so - I haven't gotten K's opinion.) I discovered this band a couple years ago, and I was excited to see that they have a new CD. Thanks to an iTunes gift card received for my birthday (Thanks, Em!), I bought it, and I'm really enjoying it. It's not sad at all - it's actually very quirky bubbly music. If you haven't listened to The Weepies before, give them a listen.

Donations Bag

Okay, so mine doesn't look all Martha and everything, but I reuse a shopping bag and designate it as a collector of donations. As we identify clothes, shoes, or other items that we no longer need/want, I put it in the bag. When it's full, I schedule a pickup by the Vietnam Veteran's Association. Details are in this post. They come to your house, pick it up, and leave a form to be filed away for next year's taxes. (Bonus points: write down your estimated value before you file.) Couldn't be easier! (There are lots of other places to give - I believe Red Cross will also pick up - and of course there's your local shelter or goodwill.)

The key is to designate a place for these items and to do it as you come across things you don't need any longer, thus avoiding the "big purge" we all tend to do once or twice a year.

4.24.2008

Shoes and Online Shopping

Aren't these shoes cute? Flirty and summery. I suppose I could buy them, and buy an outfit to match, but I won't. It's just not my style. I am not a shoe buyer. (I am pretty sure my husband owns more shoes than I do.) Actually, I'm not much of a shopper at all. But I will see somebody wearing these shoes with a cute summery skirt and blouse, and I will notice how cute they are and secretly wish I had enough style to wear things like this.

These are the shoes I ended up buying. I needed a pair of weekend "slip on and go" shoes. Although I'm not much of a shopper, we all must buy things occasionally, and I am a huge fan of online shopping. Almost all of the little boy's clothes were bought online from Old Navy. And I must put in a plug for Piper Lime. Piper Lime not only has free shipping, but also free exchanges/returns. I recently ordered shoes and had to return them, because they were too big. It cost me nothing, and they even called to let me know that they had been received. Good customer service on top of everything. Call me a loyal customer now. (But then, as I said before, I'm not a shoe shopper, so not sure they'll get much business from me. So I'm sharing this with my friends.)

4.23.2008

Eat Sheet

I've been attempting to simplify some of my daily and weekly chores, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, that includes planning ahead for grocery-shopping trips. I use a notepad similar to this one (Thanks, Em!) to plan out the weekly menu, and I add the ingredients to the grocery list at the same time. You can find this one here. (Obviously you could do the same thing with your own notebook or pad of paper. Martha Stewart would tell you to make your own notebook out of paper that's only been used on one side, but we don't all have time to be Martha.)

For inspiration, I have a recipe box of old-standbys, I keep a binder with recipes from Cooking Light or Bon Appetit, and I have a number of cookbooks that have earmarked pages. I also enjoy looking online, particularly when I have a specific ingredient I'd like to use. (Cooking Light - My Recipe, Epicurious, or even Real Simple or Martha Stewart, are often used.)

20-30 minutes over the weekend is all it usually takes to plan it out. It is so nice not to have to think about what to do for dinner every night. I also make sure to plan for leftovers - they can take the stress out of a particularly busy day or make a good lunch that I can bring to work.

*Here's another example of a pad - this one is perforated between the menu and list, which allows you to take the list with you to the store while keeping your menu in your kitchen!

Morning routine

"Joy is the feeling of grinning on the inside."
- Dr. Melba Colgrove


I woke up happy this morning. I usually wake up groggy on a good day, downright cranky on most. I've always been the kind of person that has to ease into the day. But today, for some reason, I woke up before the alarm and was ready to start the day. Having a few minutes to lie in bed before having to get up was nice. Peaceful and quiet, except the birds singing.

Our normal morning routine involves getting up pretty early, so that we're ready before Aaron wakes up. Lately, however, the boy has been calling for us (in other words, crying) as soon as he hears us stirring. Add to that the fact that he seems to want no one but Mom lately, and it makes for a difficult morning.

But today was good. We were able to get showered, dressed, and ready to go - even had the boy's oatmeal cooked - before getting him out of bed. When we walked in his room, he was standing in his crib, smiling at us. He ate all his oatmeal and raspberries, even practicing with his spoon. And when Kevin asked for a hug before leaving, he walked over and gave him a hug and kiss with a smile. He didn't really want to stop playing to let me put clothes on him, but I managed to distract him with a book, and he looked gorgeous in his bull t-shirt he got in Spain. We sang (okay, I sang, and he danced) our car song as we headed out the door...

Now that's a way to greet the day!

4.22.2008

Earth Day

This one made me giggle, thinking of last night, when I dumped about a pound of sand out of A's sneakers...
I've finally jumped on the no-bag bandwagon, so I guess I can categorize myself as a hip, environmentally savvy old lady now...

4.20.2008

This Week's Menu

As always, I love finding easy weeknight recipes. Here's what I'm trying this week:

Curried Chicken Legs with Carrots and Rice
(Except I added potatoes to the chicken and carrots to make it a one-dish meal)

Panko Breaded Fish Sticks
Snow peas
Rice

Creamy Goat Cheese Pasta with Roasted Asparagus
(I've made this one before, and it's super easy and very tasty!)
Salad
Dinner Rolls

And then thank goodness for leftovers to fill in on busy nights!

Spa Day

I had the most lovely Sunday afternoon. I met a good friend of mine for lunch, deciding to indulge in a mimosa and a mashed potato-stuffed omelet. Mmmmmmm...

We then went to this fabulous spa. As soon as we hit the door, we immediately relaxed. It's that kind of place. Every smell and sound is focused on your peace of mind. It's fantastic. My wonderful husband got me a gift certificate for my birthday, and C decided that an indulgence was in order, having a small baby at home. Here's a description of our treatment:

Inspired by lavender fields in Provence, our luxurious signature treatment begins with a sea salt scrub mixed with whole lavender buds to thoroughly exfoliate and polish the entire body. After your glowing new skin is unveiled, you are enveloped in a rich, revitalizing lavender cream. Enjoy a relaxing scalp and foot massage while your body drinks in the moisture and antioxidants. The finishing touch is a refreshing lavender mist. Pure bliss!

What a heavenly way to spend an afternoon. Ahhhhhhhh....

4.18.2008

Way to go, Sis!

I am so inspired by passionate people who live their lives thoughtfully and make choices that are in line with their values. My younger sister, Emily, is among them. Over the last several years, she has become an huge advocate for being friendly to our environment, and she has made changes in her lifestyle to reflect this. Check her out in a headlining article in her local newpaper, along with her boyfriend, David.

Not only are they "green", but they're politically active as well. Take a look at another recent article in the newspaper, highlighting David's activism.

And on top of that, they run road races all the time to support specific causes and to keep healthy.

You guys are amazing!

4.17.2008

Three Love Stories

There is a sappy girl who likes love stories inside me, and good period movies bring her out. Here are a few favorites. The first two are recent ones. Atonement is a gorgeous movie. It is also sad, but let's focus on the beauty. If you haven't seen it, please read the book first. Books are always better. It was probably my favorite book I read last year. But the movie is great, and it really is rare that I can say I enjoyed a movie nearly as much as the book. The acting is wonderful and everything about the movie is beautiful.

I love this movie. I've watched Pride & Prejudice several times now, and it just gets me very time. My only complaint is the silly giggly younger Bennett sisters, but I suppose they were meant to be annoying. Keira Knightley is perfect as Elizabeth Bennett, and I don't even know the actor who played Mr. Darcy, but he was pretty perfect as well. He has a very sexy, smoldering seriousness about him. This probably isn't one you can talk the man in your life to watch - or maybe you can, who knows - but if you ever find yourself alone or with a girlfriend, wanting to watch something sweet and romantic, pick this one up.

And if you like these, I'd also recommend Sense & Sensibility. I guess it shows my age to say that I remember watching this at the theater in college with my sister. I adore Kate Winslet and the end makes me cry tears of joy.

4.16.2008

Songs that make me want to dance

Here's a somewhat random mix of songs that make me turn up the volume and dance around the room. It's a pretty upbeat mix, but I threw my wedding song on there for good measure. Frank is still good for dancing, but you might want a partner for that one!

4.15.2008

Embrace DVR

I am not quick to embrace new technology. I didn't have a CD player until college, I was one of the last people I knew to get a cell phone, and I honestly have no desire to have an iPhone. That said, I am learning to appreciate the benefits of technology. I mean, look at me - I'm blogging! I also adore my iPod and at least now acknowledge the usefulness of having a cell phone (although I don't use it much). My favorite new technology, though, has to be DVR. I was slow to adopt this one, too, insisting that it was a waste of money. If there was something on TV I really wanted to watch, then I'd be home for it. On a rare occasion, maybe I'd set the VCR and tape a show. And I didn't really mind the commercials - it gave me a chance to hit the fridge or talk to the person next to me.

Then I had a baby. As all parents know, this means that my schedule was turned upside down. I lost the luxury of being able to sit on the couch at 8 or 9PM and watch a favorite show without interruption. So we got DVR through our cable company, and I immediately said, "Oh my gosh why did we wait so long to get this and how did I ever live without it!?!"

I honestly thought DVR was for people who watched a lot of TV; but I've found that I actually watch less, and I can be more selective about what I watch. If I have time to watch a little TV, I can watch shows I want to watch instead of the incessant flipping through bad show after bad show. And now I can plan my TV-watching around my life instead of the other way around, which is of course the way it should be. I can get all my nightly chores done and then start my show when I am fully ready to relax and enjoy it. Finding this little bit of "me-time" during my weekdays has become crucial to maintaining my sanity as a mom. Sometimes a mug of ice cream and 20 minutes of Jon Stewart is all it takes.

Some of my current favorites: The Daily Show (Jon Stewart), The Colbert Report, Lost, House, Heroes, Damages, 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights

4.14.2008

Be Optimistic

"An optimist is the human personification of spring." ~Susan J. Bissonette

I'm a pessimist. But not really. I mean, I was born with natural tendencies to
be pessimistic. If I don't work at it, I fall back into that rut of looking at the world in a negative way. However, I am living proof that optimism can be a learned trait. I've learned to be optimistic. It requires a daily focus on the positive things in life, which is part of the reason why I started blogging. As I think about what to put out here, I'm focusing on things that make me happy. Here are some of the ways to practice being optimistic:

1) Smile. Even when you're not in the mood. Someone will smile back, and it helps, I swear. The other way to think about it is: Act as if. If you act like you're happy, soon you'll realize that you are happy.
2) Take credit. When something goes well, don't think "I just got lucky". Take credit for the things that are going well in your life. You made it happen.
3) Don't compare. Don't read fashion (most women's) magazines. It's just too easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to people. People who you think are skinnier, or prettier, or richer, or more creative, or... Instead, focus on how fantastically wonderful you are. Because you are.
4) Give yourself a break. Every now and then, I just need to be crabby. I can't help it. It takes energy to do all the above things, and sometimes I need a break. So if you fall into that pessimistic black hole, you can have a beer and hang out for a bit, as long as you know how to get back out.

The First Spring Day

"The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month." ~Henry Van Dyke

Spring is here! Spring is here! The daffodils are blooming, and I got to wear short sleeves for the first time on Saturday. (For all you southerners, please stop laughing and just be happy for me.)

4.12.2008

Bedroom



One more room to show off. It is certainly much-improved, and I love the new paint color, but I'm afraid it only highlights how ugly our navy comforter is. We are on the look-out for a nice comforter/quilt/duvet that will help complete our look - so far we've had no luck. Let me know if you see anything that will fit!

4.11.2008

Susan Sargent

Want to see some pretty things? Check out Susan Sargent. Some of the items are pretty expensive, but I just love looking at them. I especially love the rugs and chairs, but I love the smaller things, too, like lamps and pillows. She isn't afraid of using bold colors, and yet the rooms can still be so elegant.

4.10.2008

Use It Up!

In an effort to continue to reduce our level of "stuff" and to waste less, I've decided to impose the following rule: I am not allowed to buy more of something until I've used it up. I am particularly thinking of bath items. I have several bottles of partially used lotions, body wash, bath bubbles/salts... So I am not going to buy any more until all of them are gone. I also often buy shampoo and conditioner at the same time, when really I only needed the conditioner, so I end up with a stash of shampoos. No more! This concept can be applied to all sorts of items, of course. Lotion is just where I'm starting.

I also try to do this every now and then with groceries. Instead of planning my menu and then making my grocery list, I will look at what I already have in my cabinet and try to build a menu using the things I already have.

I did a google search for "use it up" and found a similar entry on Unclutterer. Of course this isn't an original idea. But that doesn't mean it's not a good one. Use it up!

4.09.2008

Spring Fever


"It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"
~ Mark Twain

Loud Boys

I usually love singing along with my girls in the morning, but every now and then, it feels good to yell with the boys. Here's the lineup of songs that played on the radio during my morning commute. I screamed and sang and I am pumped up to start the day!






Beastie Boys - So Watcha Want
Silversun Pickups - Lazy Eye
Pearl Jam - I Got ID
Social Distortion - Ring of Fire
Foo Fighters - Best of You
Puddle of Mudd - She Hates Me
Green Day - American Idiot
Muse - Starlight
Dropkick Murphys - I'm Shipping Up to Boston

4.07.2008

Go Green - Beer

Okay, so you've said that you already turn off your lights, unplug your chargers, take short showers, use cold water in your washer, etc. You're ready for something more. Here's something else to think about.

Whenever someone says "buy local", it seems that most people tend to think of produce. And yes, we should all absolutely be trying to support our local farms and buying in-season produce as often as we can. But try expanding the "buy local" concept to other things you buy. For example...beer.

Drinking local micro-brews is not only more eco-friendly, but they also quite frankly taste better than most of the national brands. Yes, there are some good international beers, but try to save those for when you're on vacation. There are tons of very good choices close to home. I am lucky enough to live in New England, which has an abundance of good-quality beers. Some of my favorites include: Long Trail (VT), Gritty's (ME), Geary's (NH), Wachusett (MA), Otter Creek (VT) - and OC actually also has a very nice organic beer! Several of these companies are also very "green" themselves. Check out Long Trail's site as an example. Yes, I'm lucky. But most regions of the country have decent micro-brews. Check some out, find some favorites, and leave the Coors Light on the shelf next time.

Last beer tip for this week: Order draft when you're in a bar and save the bottle. Here is the tip from Ideal Bite: It also has links to sites where you can search for your own local beers.

Dining Room

I don't really have a good "before" picture to show, but trust me - this is a vast improvement! This room is already a nice place to be, and now we just need a couple finishing touches. I love the bowl my sister got me from Turkey on the buffet. We also put a couple plants back in the window. Just need a vase of flowers on the table and a picture on the wall. Ahhhhh...

4.04.2008

Once

You've probably heard the music from "Once" at this point, at least the Oscar-winning song, "Falling Slowly". If you haven't seen the movie, I'd recommend it. The music is touching and beautiful, and the story is simple and sweet. It's the kind of movie that makes you smile, long after the movie ends. And if you haven't heard the music, give it a listen. The entire soundtrack is great, and the artists, Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova (or Glen's band, The Frames), have other CDs that are worth a listen as well.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


One of my goals is to reduce the amount of "stuff" we have in the house, especially stuff we never use. It just ends up cluttering closets and rooms. I regularly give piles of things to the VVA (Vietnam Veterans of America). Not only is it a good cause, it's tax-deductible, and they come and pick up your stuff! They accept just about everything (clothes, shoes, dishes, toys, appliances, curtains, even jewelry or cosmetics). Here's the Donation Program Site for more information.


Here's another way to clear your space. Do you have stuff that you don't ever use but think nobody would want? Don't throw it away! Go to Freecycle, offer it up, and chances are, someone will want what you're offering. Seriously. Extra potting soil, or packing peanuts, or moving boxes, old halloween costumes, anything. I was able to freecycle a box of empty baby-food jars last year. You also never know what you might find out there - people in my network regularly offer up kids clothes, furniture, exercise equipment... Not that I need more stuff.

4.03.2008

Pandora

As I mentioned previously, I am a sucker for girls with guitars. I love a lot of music, actually, and I love finding new music. Since becoming a mom, I haven't been able to spend as much time listening to and finding new music, and it's something that I miss. My sister is fabulous at providing me with new artists to check out, though, and she just passed along a very cool music site. It's called Pandora. Check it out! Basically, you put in the name of an artist or song that you like, and it plays a "radio" station for you that consists of music with similar styles. It's a great way to find new artists you may like but haven't heard of, but it's also just a great radio station to turn on when you're making dinner or hanging around the house.

The Full Monty

K and I were channel-surfing the other night, and we caught the last 15 minutes of The Full Monty. Have you seen this movie? It's such a good movie, and it makes me giggle and happy-cry every time. If you haven't seen it, put it on your list for the next time you're headed to the video store and can't seem to find anything worth watching. If you have seen it, I bet it's been several years, so put it on your list for the next time you're headed to the video store and can't seem to find anything worth watching.

4.02.2008

Tift Merritt

I have a soft place in my heart for girls with guitars. They inspire me to make music. I love listening to their words and singing out loud with them. (I love a lot of boys with guitars, too, but I can't sing with them in quite the same way.) One of those girls is Tift Merritt. I just got her latest CD, Another Country, for my birthday, and I've spent the last week replaying it over and over in my car. It's been my "sing on the way to work" music, and I've enjoyed starting my days that way. I will admit that her previous album, Tambourine, will probably always be my favorite, but I love this one too.

My favorite song on the CD is #7, entitled "I Know What I'm Looking For Now". I particularly like this verse:

Everyone’s looking, they’re not sure at what,
Holding onto illusions like it’s all that they got,
Putting a mystery where a mystery is not,
Can you tell me why?
When you can light up a stranger just passing by,
Start revolutions with the glint in your eye,
Sing Hallelujah with a breath or a sigh
And still know the way home.
I know what I’m looking for now.

4.01.2008

Pretty bathrooms


I actually hesitated to put the "before" shots out here, because I like keeping this site pretty, but it is good to remind ourselves of just how far we've come. Our old house is slowly but surely becoming a home...

Discussion Divas

As my brother once told me, we should strive to know "everything about something and something about everything". Well, of course this is a lofty goal, and I often find myself a bit overwhelmed. There's just too much going on in the world to stay on top of everything, and too much going on at home to spend a lot of time trying to stay informed. I do my best, watching the news occasionally, listening to NPR, and of course Jon Stewart helps. :-) I recently found a cool web site that allows you to sign up for a weekly newsletter. It focuses on one topic each week, and it summarizes the bigger picture of what's going on. For example, last week's topic was "China's Torch", and it talked about some of the dynamics leading up to the China games, including renewed violence and protests calling for Tibet's independence from China and how Beijing got the Summer Olympics to begin with. I've enjoyed getting the newsletters, and they only take a couple minutes to read. Check it out at http://www.discussiondivas.com/
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