December 26, 2012

Happy New Year!

We woke up with a light dusting of snow on Christmas morning, which was just perfect.  We had a great day at home.   Family, food, presents... All exactly as it should be.

Today we are headed to Barcelona to visit my sister and her family.  We will celebrate the new year six hours earlier than usual.  I won't have anything posted until we return.  I hope you all have a wonderful and happy New Year!

December 25, 2012

Weekend Fun...

Our annual tradition of attending the Boston Pops holiday concert at Symphony Hall continued this past weekend.  It was Nathan's first time.  He wasn't sure at first, but when the big screen came down and he got to listen to The Snowman story, he was entranced.  Followed by a nice lunch in the city, it was a great Saturday afternoon.

The boys had their first bowling experience over the weekend.  Nathan won the last game against his parents, legitimately.  Awesome.

December 21, 2012

Josh Ritter - Joy To You Baby

Oh how I love Josh Ritter.  This is his first song from his new album, expected this Spring.  It's called "Joy To You Baby".  A sampling of the lyrics:

Joy to the city
The parking lot lights
The lion of evening
With the rain in it's eyes
Joy to the freeway
Joy to the cars
And joy to you baby, wherever you are
Tonight, tonight, tonight
Tonight, tonight, tonight

December 20, 2012

Cookie Swap!

I hosted my first cookie swap last weekend.  I invited all my women neighbors, and I'm hoping it continues to be an annual tradition.

I had a few snacks available when they first arrived.  I made butternut squash soup - this may be my new squash soup recipe - and served with a baguette and wine.  We sat around the table and got to know each other a little better.  It was very fun.  Then after a couple hours, everybody went home with 6 dozen cookies!  Awesome.

We got a nice variety, too, although mental note to ensure chocolate is more represented next year.  I made Chocolate-Walnut Cookies, shown above.  They were good, but I think everybody agreed that they'd be better if the walnuts were replaced with chocolate chunks.  I also made Ginger & Spice cookies, and they are absolutely my favorite of all the cookies represented.  I used a recipe from Fine Cooking, which isn't online, but it's very close to this one.  Best of all, they were very easy to make.

So I survived the crazy weekend.  It started with Kevin's company holiday party on Thursday night and ended on Sunday night with the cookie swap.  We had a birthday, gingerbread houses, a birthday party, and a family visit in-between.  Whew!

December 19, 2012

Recently Read

Beautiful Ruins , by Jess Walter - "The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.  And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier."
A gorgeous book.  It jumps around a lot, switching settings and styles and points of view, so it can be a little difficult to get swept away by it.  That said, I loved the story and thought it was really rewarding.

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell - Yes, I've read this one before.  But with the movie coming out, I felt compelled to pick it up again.  I didn't want Tom Hanks and Halle Berry to completely replace the images in my head.  I'm really glad I re-read it.  It was even more enjoyable the second time, perhaps because I understood the structure going in.  I was able to soak in all of the amazing details and connections between the stories.  It's a fascinating book.

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson - Every now and then, I like to pick up something in the non-fiction section.  And Astronomy remains one of my interests, ever since watching shooting stars as a kid.  Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist who has the amazing talent of being able to explain the most complex ideas to non-scientists.  He's inspiring and really fun.  This book is basically a compilation of a lot of his essays and interviews, and there is some overlap along the way.  It'd be an easy one to pick up every now and then just to read a short interview and be inspired.

December 18, 2012

Superhero Party

Well, we did it.  Another very successful birthday party.  Aaron's 6th birthday was marked by hosting seven of his friends/classmates at our home.  He requested superheroes, so that's what he got.  Here are the highlights from our very fun party!

Superhero wrist cuffs - Although there are much fancier ways of doing this, I stayed very low-maintenance and this simple craft was a huge hit with the kids.  I wasn't sure how they'd take to it, but they had a lot of fun!  Unfortunately, I don't think we got a single picture of them.  They're very easy, though.  Simply save up your toilet paper/paper towel rolls, cut off wrist-sized (about an inch shorter than a toilet paper roll) sections, cut them lengthwise, and let the kids decorate!  I had markers and lots of fun stickers available, including glittery stars and puffy stickers.   Having a craft available is especially good for the beginning of the party, while people are arriving and kids are getting comfortable in their surroundings.

Pin the Bat on the Batman - "Pin the..." is always a hit.  Last year we did the donkey old-school style, but this year it was Batman.  I gave prizes to the two closest entries.  

Batman Scavenger Hunt - This cheap little game was a huge hit as well.  Each person gets a card with four pictures of superheroes and villains.  Cards with those pictures are hidden throughout the house, and then the kids try to find the cards that match theirs.  The first person to find all four of their pictures wins!  It would be pretty easy to make your own version of this as well.  

Batman Pinata - Our last activity was an awesome Batman pinata.  Pinatas can either be fun or frustrating, since most of them are so hard to break open!  This was a pull-string version, and those too can be hit or miss.  However, it worked like a charm!  The kids lined up and each got a turn pulling a string.  The bottom flap opened up on about the 7th kid, and the goodies went flying!  It was filled with superhero stickers, tattoos, finger flashlights, lollipops, and little bags of gummy bears.  The pinata could actually be reused.  

Goodies - Every kid got a cape and mask as they arrived, and they each got to pick a little superhero book.  They got to take their loot from the piñata, and they all left with a balloon.  That's quite a haul!

Food - Pizza, popcorn, fruit salad, and cupcakes.  Perfect.  There's nothing wrong with having a little something healthy at a party - the kids loved the fruit and couldn't get enough popcorn.  

One last observation:  My son invited 3 girls and 4 boys, and I was a little worried about the girls.  I am a mother of boys, so I wasn't sure if the girls would be interested in all things superhero.  Well, I needn't worry!  They jumped right in, put on their capes and masks, and had a blast!  I did ensure that I had some gender-neutral prizes for the game winners (coloring books, art supplies, etc), and the book selection included Wonder Woman, which each girl happily picked up.  

Batman piñata and book favors

Somewhat messy presentation for these homemade cupcakes, but the on-sale superhero toppers saved the day!

Pin the bat on Batman

December 17, 2012

Sad, Anxious, and Grateful...

As I dropped off the boys at school this morning, I felt my heart climb back up into my throat and I fought back the tears that have been coming intermittently throughout the weekend.  I gave the boys hugs, told them I loved them, and watched as they went smiling and running through the doors of their schools.  I'm sure most parents had similar feelings this morning, as we all try to come to terms with the events that occurred at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut on Friday.  It makes my heart physically hurt to think of the grief those parents must be facing today.

I am heartened, as we all are, by stories of the survivors.  The immensely brave teachers who hid with their students, who smiled at them and told them they loved them, who remained calm under extraordinary stress.  I also keep thinking of a picture I saw of a group of the first responders.  It was about four or five police officers, circled in a group hug, both crying and supporting each other.  (Oh there I go...crying again.)

I liked this article in the NY Times.  The "worried thought, brave thought" seems to be a solid approach for how to cope with all these thoughts.  I definitely find myself oscillating between the two.  Thankfully, my kids are too young and insulated to worry about these things.  I am a little anxious to find out if my kindergartener hears anything at school, but I'll deal with that if it happens.  Otherwise, there's no need for him to know just yet about the evil that exists in the world, and he certainly doesn't need to know that this horrible tragedy happened on his birthday.  His 6th birthday - the same age as so many of those little victims...

I really have to stop now.  I'm going to hug my boys tight this afternoon and continue to think about and pray for the families of Newtown.  I am going to live life and celebrate birthdays and have a happy Christmas, and I will feel more grateful than ever for all I have.

December 14, 2012


Wow, the years do fly by.  My baby is six!  A few things about my gorgeous boy:

1.  His favorite colors are red, orange, and yellow.
2.  He loves a variety of foods, but his favorite may be seafood.  When I asked him what he'd like for his birthday dinner, he requested lemon spaghetti and mussels.  Okay then.  So that's what's for dinner tonight!
3.  He likes having double-breakfast.  Cereal and pancakes.  Pancakes and oatmeal.  Oatmeal and toast.  Almost always carbs, but yes double it please.
4.  His favorite TV show is Cyberchase.
5.  He has a lot of clothes but pretty much rotates three outfits.  Jeans plus his favorite t-shirts.  He is very particular about what he wears.
6.  He is reading everything he can get his hands on and doing well in school.  He's having fun, which to me is the most important thing.  His favorite part of school is Art.
7.  His favorite music this year included First Aid Kit, Alabama Shakes, and Of Monsters and Men.  The Black Keys are still #1, though.  
8.  His favorite things to draw are rainbows, space shuttles, stars, hearts, and houses.  And patterns.  Loves to make colorful patterns.
9.  He continues to ask penetrating questions.  More and more, I'm breaking out the iPad to look up answers.  He is starting to teach me as well, coming home from school with interesting facts.  Did you know the song Jingle Bells was actually written for Thanksgiving?
10.  He is an awesome big brother.  
11.  He wants to be a construction worker, baseball player, and musician (drummer) when he grows up.

Happy Birthday, sweet boy.  I love you like crazy.

December 13, 2012

Bright and Shiny...

I love the blogs that I follow and read.  Over the past few weeks, quite a few of them have expressed thoughts about how they try to keep things "real", how easy it is these days to compare ourselves to others' Facebook and blog lives.  We all know that we don't see the whole story in these online medium, and yet we can't help but compare and feel something "less than" anyway.  I mostly avoid this issue, because the people who I choose to follow do a good job of showing more than just the bright and shiny side of life.  I know that everybody has their own issues.  

I do have my areas of weakness, though.  Home tours get me.  Design Mom's "Living with Kids" series is wonderful, and there have been some beautiful and real homes, like this one from here in Massachusetts.  Stephmodo's Real Life Home series is awesome too.  The super-fancy ones in magazines and home blogs don't get me, but these do.  I look at them and get really impatient to get our house put together.  I want paintings for our walls, furniture in our living room, plants and other items on display...  But I digress.  My point was that over time, I've stopped reading any blogs that feel like they're putting on a show.  I am still drawn to optimistic people, but real thoughts from real people are way more interesting.

My own blog started with a "positives only" rule, and that's because I have always used it as a way of focusing on the good stuff of life.  It has helped me become an optimist.  Over time, though, I've allowed the real to come through.  The sleepless nights, harrowed days of working full-time with babies, the colds, the canceled plans, etc.  I still try to remain positive, but there's nothing wrong with a little acknowledgement of real life.  

And so to today.  The above sentiment is definitely true - this is my favorite time of year, but I must tell you that there is more to the story.  I am in a lot of pain!  I hurt my back last week, and it is still difficult for me to move.  It's different from my usual back issues - this being my lower back, the result of a core workout that I will never do again.  There is so much great stuff going on this week, and this weekend will be the highlight of the season, with a company holiday party tonight, Aaron's birthday tomorrow, his party on Saturday, family coming for lunch on Sunday, and hosting a cookie swap Sunday night.  Unfortunately, I'm going to have to enjoy it while wincing as I sit down or bend over.  Fingers crossed that it starts to heal soon.

December 12, 2012

Three Crafts...

1.  Captain America shield.  This one is my favorite, especially because it happened spontaneously.  Nathan asked if he could have a Captain America shield.  I happened to have a round piece of cardboard sitting in the recycling bin, so I drew the circle outlines and let him color them in with red, white and blue.  I cut out a star for him, and he glued it on.  And finally, we used a strip of cardboard to form a handle on the back.  Voila!  Captain America!  (Aaron of course then wanted one, so I cut a circle out of another box we had to make a second one.  Easy peasy.)

2.  Snowflake ornaments.  I love craft sticks.  You can do so many easy things with them.  This one did require a few separate steps.  First, the boys painted the sticks white.  Once the paint dried, they glued them together - you just form two Xs, and then glue those together to form the snowflake.  Once the glue dried, they spread glue on each stick and sprinkled them with their choice of colored glitter.  We glued a circle of ribbon to the back for a hanger.  They are a fun and sparkly addition to the tree!

3.  Colorful 3D Glue Art.  The results of this activity are shown in the three pieces on the top left above.  (As you can see, we did a lot of art last weekend.)  To create, use a piece of card stock (regular paper is too thin).  Let the kids make a swirly design with glue.  Sprinkle salt over the wet glue and tap off the excess.  Then, using droppers, let the kids put drops of colored water on the glue.  The colors will travel down the glue paths, and when colors meet, they will blend.  Easy to reinforce the primary vs. secondary colors.  You do have to be careful not to let the colored water get too messy, because blue + red + yellow makes brown!  It would be best to have a separate dropper for each color.  In the absence of that, just be careful and rinse it out every now and then.   Very fun!

December 11, 2012

An Early Christmas Present...

Kevin and I are working on filling the empty living room.  It has a built-in cabinet, which used to contain the TV.  When discussing how we should use that cabinet now that the room will no longer have a TV, I threw out the suggestion of getting a record player.  I thought it could be kind of fun to be able to play music in that room, and I'd love to be able to collect some of our favorite music on vinyl to be able to pass down to our kids.  As it turns out, record players can be very inexpensive, so we picked up a simple Sony player and got it set up this weekend.  We ventured into a local record store and had fun browsing through the stacks.  They have a big set of shelves where the records are $1 each!  Some of the newer or more popular items are more than that, but still.  I picked up three - Stevie Wonder, Carole King, and Joni Mitchell.  The boys put on blanket "dresses" and danced around the room to 'Isn't She Lovely?'.  A very nice start to our new collection.

Menu of the Week

Tomato Soup with Roast Beef, Cheddar, and Arugula Panini
Okay, so the boys didn't love this.  They are too used to soup from a can, I'm afraid.  This soup is much more delicate, and I really enjoyed it.  After several weeks without any meat besides seafood, I also enjoyed a little slice of roast beef on my sandwich.  The boys stuck to grilled cheese.  

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Artichokes, Lemon, and Goat Cheese, Rice, Sauteed Zucchini
A long-standing family favorite.

Salmon with Gingery Green Beans and Bok Choy, Rice
Super simple and delicious.  Nathan is even starting to warm up to salmon, although he ate more green beans than anything.

Tortellini with Butternut Squash,  Mushrooms, and Fontina
This was really easy and very good.  The boys asked for some tomato sauce on their pasta and wanted the veggies on the side - Nathan ate squash and Aaron ate mushrooms.  Works for me!  Kevin and I enjoyed it as written.

Poached Eggs on Garlicky Kale, Latkes, Homemade Applesauce
Well, I had to modify a bit here too, but it's good when there is flexibility.  The boys just wanted regular scrambled eggs, so they ate them with latkes and applesauce.  Aaron tried a little kale, but Nathan looked at me like I was crazy.  I liked all of it!

December 10, 2012

Weekend Recap

Another fun December weekend.  We baked and decorated more cookies - I am of the opinion that we should have an ample supply of cookies and peppermint bark in the house at all times.  We took the boys to visit Santa at the library Saturday morning.  Of course, they told Santa they wanted things that he did not get them, which poses a little conundrum, but I think they'll survive.   We watched "Home Alone", during which the boys both complained that it was too long and too scary, even though they loved it last year, and then of course afterwards they both liked retelling the funny parts.  They agree the funniest part is when the bad guys slip on the icy stairs.  

Kevin and I watched the latest Batman movie, and although it was long, it was really good.  I was pleasantly surprised by Anne Hathaway's performance as Catwoman - she was great!  A fitting end to a great trilogy.  

On Sunday, Aaron had a friend come over to play.  Actually, it was his fiancé.  He met her at preschool, and they've already decided on their honeymoon location (Puerto Rico).  They plan to spend three weeks there.  So my house was full of giggles and cuteness on Sunday afternoon.  It ended with a birthday party for Aaron and pizza for the rest of us at home.  Solid weekend fun!

Now I need to spend the week gearing up for next weekend, which is jam-packed full of fun but could be stressful if I let it.  Since I refuse to let it, I'm going to work to be as prepared as possible.  

December 7, 2012

My Favorite Music of 2012

I looked back through the music that I listened to this year, and these twenty floated to the top.  I was excited to get to see several live shows this year, including the highlight of the summer - the Newport Folk Festival.  First Aid Kit will always bring me back to Summer 2012.

My boys are still hanging on to lots of 2011 albums, including The Black Keys and Foster the People; but they've found some new favorites this year as well.  "Emmylou" by First Aid Kit, might be both their favorite song of the year as well as mine.   Other songs they love include "Ho, Hey" by the Lumineers, "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men, "Hang Loose" by Alabama Shakes, and "I Will Wait" by Mumford & Sons.

First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar
Good Old War - Come Back As Rain
Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls
Of Monsters and Men - My Head Is an Animal
The Lumineers - The Lumineers

Trampled by Turtles - Stars and Satellites
The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter
Shovels and Rope - O' Be Joyful
Tift Merritt - Traveling Alone
Sera Cahoone - Deer Creek Canyon

Jack White - Blunderbuss
Mumford & Sons - Babel
Milo Greene - Milo Greene
Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits
Ivan & Alyosha - All The Times We Had

Dr. Dog - Be The Void
Delta Spirit - Delta Spirit
Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Here
Band of Horses - Mirage Rock

What were your favorites this year?


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