Tune-Up Before You Travel

Labor Day weekend is ahead, and like millions of individuals across the country, I will be road tripping with my girls to go visit family.  It’s funny how you can almost mark your family’s growth by your road trip habits.  Initially, we would have to make a pit stop so that I could nurse a baby.  A couple of years later, we would have to make a pit stop because we were potty training.  Then we would have to make a pit stop because I needed an excuse to break up the “Are we there yets?” with some sort of small activity.  Now?  We only make a pit stop for gas.  My girls read.  Sometimes they’ll watch a DVD or even just listen to a CD they enjoy.  They rarely ask me, “Are we there yet?” and if our destination isn’t further than an entire tank of gas, we can actually make it from point A to point B without stopping at all.  Who would’ve thunk it possible?  What has not changed since baby #1 are my road trip safety habits.  Parents.com offers the following seven safety tips before car travel, and I diligently follow all of them:

1. Go for a tune-up.  Make sure your car is in good working order. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends you have your tires, battery, belts, fluids, and air conditioner checked by a qualified mechanic.

2. Get a good night’s sleep. According to the NHTSA, driving while drowsy is a contributing factor in 100,000 accidents annually. Drive only when well rested, and switch off with another adult every few hours, if possible.

3. Give your car seat or booster seat a boost. Not sure if your car seats are installed 100 percent correctly? Eight out of 10 aren’t. Call 866-SEAT-CHECK to find a nearby location for a free safety seat inspection.  FYI – Lots of times the fire department will do this for you, the added benefit of which is the yummy eye candy (aka firemen)!

4. Gear up for safety. The NHTSA recommends packing an emergency kit that includes:

  • Water
  • Warm blankets
  • A flashlight
  • Jumper cables
  • Flares
  • Tools to change a tire
  • A fully charged cell phone
  • A first-aid kit

It’s also wise to subscribe to a roadside assistance plan — just make sure you know where to call in an emergency and what kind of assistance your policy includes.

5. Be sun smart. Equip all family members with sunblock and sunglasses — you may even want to pop hats on your little ones’ heads and invest in a sunshade for your backseat. When you leave the car, cover car seats with blankets so they don’t get too hot and burn a baby’s tender skin, and do a touch test before letting pint-size passengers pile in.

6. Scour the backseat. Make sure child safety locks are activated on windows and doors within reach of curious hands. You’ll also need to remove any poisonous substances, such as washer fluid, from your backseat. Next, look around for choking hazards — knobs that pop off easily, loose change between the seat cushions — and remove potential projectiles (hard books, toys etc.).

7. Keep the weight down. Store heavy items low in the seat wells so they won’t become projectiles during a sudden stop. For the same reason, suitcases, strollers and anything else stowed in an open cargo area should be battened down.

Safe travels, and happy Labor Day!

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Oily Bohunks Need Not Apply

My oldest daughter will be participating in Fortnightly dance classes this Fall, the first of which is in two weeks.  I’d like to say I am taking this in stride, but truthfully?  I’m not really sure I’m ready.  All of a sudden my memories of those cute little boys in her kindergarten class are taking on a new dimension.  Didn’t I catch Jack carrying her backpack for her the other day?  Why is Alex lending her all of those books?  Wasn’t she a little too excited when we ran into Henry at the grocery store?  And then I remember all of my own school dance disasters, and my fear for her is no longer just related to the boys, but to all of the socially awkward hurdles you potentially have to navigate at a social dance class.  Case in point:

Remember Farmer Ted?

But I promised myself I would match her own enthusiasm about the activity, and I promised her that if she assumed a few extra chores around the house, she could select a new dress or skirt for the occasion.  My hope is she’ll find a full suit of armor at a discount.  (Just kidding, Almost Tween)

Wish us luck as we cross yet another milestone off the list!  And yes, I know this is far more tame than the ones to come (I heard someone out there whisper “otto-mo-biiile…”). Gasp!

The Scent of a Woman

Neither my mother nor my grandmothers have “signature scents,”  and somehow, I feel a little shortchanged by their oversight.  I am at heart a sentimental fool, and I love it when a girlfriend confesses, “Oh, I still wear Shalimar.  It reminds me of my grandmother.”  I find myself wanting the same…convincing myself that Chanel #5 somehow reminds me of my mother, or that my grandmother never retired a room without traces of Creed’s White Flowers trailing behind her.

Alas, I know I am fabricating memories, and the only real solution to this sentimental void is to adopt my own signature scent.  But where to begin?  Floral?  Spicy?  Strong or subtle?  The world of perfume is vast, and I think it’s a little bit like the old “kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince” adage.  You have to try a lot of scents before you find one that really feels like you.  Fortunately, the experience is nothing so slimy as kissing reptiles or dating royalty, and I have time on my side.

I also have knights to help in my crusade.  A dear friend sent me a bottle of Jardin sur le Toit by Hermes.  The enclosure card read, “To celebrate your rooftop garden, and the three blossoms within.”  The scent is perfect, as was the sentiment attached to the gift.  I’ve worn it everyday since.

Chicken Nuggets as Nature Intended

I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda’ weirded out by store-bought chicken nuggets.  Did you ever notice that the “regular” ones are shaped like Mr. Potato Head?  And the dinosaur ones?  Pray tell, what part of the chicken exactly is shaped like a dinosaur?  When I see these in the supermarket, I have images in my head of hens with poor self-esteem going to the poultry plastic surgeon for lifts and tucks and lipo.  I know these feathered friends are not the smartest of animals, but I highly doubt they’re happy with breasts and thighs shaped like a stegosaurus.

At any rate, here’s my go-to recipe for homemade nuggets.  You can actually make these up to 24 hours ahead of time and refrigerate.  Just add five minutes or so to the bake time.

Ingredients:

2 cups Cheerios cereal (my girls like it when I use the Honey Nut variety.)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon mustard

2 tablespoons honey

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into one inch pieces.

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Preparation:

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Either spray with cooking spray or lightly grease a 13×9 inch pan.

2. Finely crush cereal (let the kids help with this part!).  Stir together the cereal, salt and pepper.  Set aside.  Then in a medium bowl, stir together the milk, honey and mustard until well blended.  Dip the chicken into the milk mixture, then coat with the cereal mixture.  Place the chicken onto the pan.  Drizzle with melted butter.

3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until crust is golden and chicken is no longer pink in center.

Serve with the kids’ favorite dipping sauces and some fruit and veggies!

Channeling Jane

I’m going to start with a confession – baring my sole via Footnotes is highly therapeutic (and inexpensive!).

I love Jane Austen.  I know, Mark Twain (another fave author of mine), despised her.  In fact, I think he said something akin to “I detest her characters,” but with all due apology to Mr. Twain, I disagree.  I enjoy Elizabeth’s wit, Darcy’s hauteur and Lydia’s woeful behavior.  Emma’s immaturity makes me laugh, and Anne Elliott’s constancy makes me cry.  I think Marianne’s journey to love is as touching as Fanny Price’s journey to self-esteem is courageous.

I once received a beautiful set of Austen’s books in hardback, and I re-read two or three at least twice a year.  With each re-read I discover something new – the books were truly a gift that keep on giving.  And just the experience of re-reading them is a self indulgence.  I look forward to a glass of wine, a cozy throw and a chapter or two after my own little heroines have gone to bed.

This is not to say my pleasure in Austen’s social commentary on English society in the 1800s is derived solely from print.  No folks, I have to really fess up now – I watch the movies too.  And I’m a harsh critic.  Anything deviating too much from the actual plot and dialogue annoys me to no end, and therefore my favorite versions of Jane’s tales on screen usually hail from the BBC.  Most of the time, I can count on the plot and dialogue to stay true, and in my experience, the BBC does a nice job of casting actors who render character portrayals that meet my “great expectations” (I know, it’s a Dickens pun, but I couldn’t resist!).

Fortunately, I don’t have to land a plane at Heathrow to get my BBC fix.  In fact, the best way to channel the BBC acually comes via B’nN.  ‘Tis true.  Barnes & Noble has an entire section of their website (and their stores) dedicated exclusively to the BBC-produced movies and television programs.  They offer the complete set of Jane Austen, which includes her lesser-known works as well as Emma, Persuasion, the Colin Firth version of Pride & Prejudice (yummy!) as well as my favorite rendition of Sense & Senibility (sorry, Hugh, you’re not it).

And just in case there are some of you who channel Twain, not Jane, there’s Poirot(mystery!), Monty Python (humor!), and Top Gear (cars!) to whet your anti-Austen whistle!

Cheerio mates!

I’d Like to File a Missing Utensils Report, Please

This morning, as I was unloading the dishwasher, it occurred to me I am down to three spoons.  I have no idea how this happened, or where the spoons went.  Lost in the dryer with the socks?  Eloped with some ne’er-do-well forks?  I’m truly perplexed by how my placesettings for 12 have dwindled to three, and since there are more than three living in my household, I guess we can never eat cereal, yogurt or ice cream all at the same time.  Perhaps there’s a diet plan in there…I’ll keep you posted.

Fortunately, Williams-Sonoma is not about to let my clan go hungry for creme brulee and oatmeal.  In honor of Labor Day, there are some great discounts to be had on their everyday, “kids will try to scoop up the goldfish with this” flatware.  Great news!  Now if I can just find my sunglasses…

If You Try Sometimes…You Get What You Need!

Not too long ago, I shared with everyone that I am the owner of a new gas grill, and so far, this relationship really seems to be taking off!  We were safe on first base mid last week with some burgers and slid into second with tasty kabobs last weekend.  I’m contemplating rounding third with a flank steak tomorrow night, but I don’t want to get labeled as “fast.” 😉

I also have to tell ya’, the grill is a nice patio accessory.  It’s shiny and new and in the early evening it reflects a glint or two of the setting sun…kind of like a pretty Van Cleef & Arpels bangle.

By some freak accident yesterday, I actually found myself alone in the early evening, and so I neglected the laundry (sshhh….don’t tell Martha Stewart!), took my current read (Keith Richards’ “Life”) and sat out back to catch the breeze and turn a few pages.  But somewhere between Exile on Main Street and Goats Head Soup, I noticed the sharp contrast between my shiny new grill and my pathetic patio furniture.  It’s kind of like the Van Cleef bangle is resting on the gnarled arm of the garden gnome.  While I appreciate a healthy amount of contrast in my decor – a new white couch atop a centuries old kilim rug, for example, this is different.  The patio situation just isn’t cutting it.  So lucky for me, summer is almost over, and whether you shop at Jason Home & Garden or Target, pretty much all patio furniture is on sale.  Well doesn’t that just “Start Me Up?!”  Were I really a lady of leisure, I would do the whole “Gimme Shelter” thing and consider a daybed and a gazebo (Which crack me up.  Do those fit under the swing set?).  But I’m a mom.  Leisure is mostly left to the five-minute drive between school drop-off and work, and so I’m taking an extra long gander at tables and chairs instead.  And there are some really attractive outdoor throw pillows available everywhere from West Elm to Etsy, so I can still get a little bit of the “lady” thing going, even without the gazebo.

And that, dear friends, is a great way to “keep me happy!” (yeah…all done with the Stones puns now).