Twice is Nice, Free is Fab!

My sister is having twins.  This brings the grandkid headcount in my family to eight.  Come visit us in a few years, and you should be able to catch a pretty decent 4-on-4 basketball tournament.  Of course, six of the eight grandchildren are girls, so you should also bring a tu-tu with your high-tops if you wanna’ sub in.

At any rate…what caught us all by surprise about the impending arrival of the new M&Ms is that some how, some way, we are lacking baby stuff!  Impossible, right?  I actually couldn’t believe it either, but as my sister and I sorted through our respective stashes of baby supplies to ready her nursery, it quickly became evident that three quarters of our haul is now a) no longer up to CPSC safety standards b) soiled beyond recognition from the sibs who’ve gone before and c) monogrammed with the initials of those same sibs.  Ugh!

Wish logo smallFortunately, my talented and tasteful network has once again come to the rescue.  Get this – debuting December 21, 2012, Wish Baby Registry will deck the halls of nurseries across the country with furniture, bedding, layette, gear and gifts (and yes, my family will be clicking twice on it all).  Of course the best part about this online registry is not the super cute matching baby outfits for our new Skittles, but the fact that each registrant receives a year of FREE diapers when they reach a minimum order (which is easily achievable).  I don’t want to scare my sister, but I sort of think she’s going to need the P&G truck to back into her driveway every week since she also has a toddler who’s all swaddled up.  But hey – each pamper counts, especially the free ones!  So check it out and spread the word, and don’t forget – Hoops Tourney in my driveway circa 2016.  I’ll be the one in the Converse and the tulle!

Mood Cardio

Hey there.  Do you ever just have one of those days?  A day where you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you’re feeling a little down?  A little unmotivated?  A little…something?  For me, today is that day.  I knew it the minute I woke up.  Ugh.  And I’ve done everything to fight my way through it.  I’m wearing a great pair of Prada flats (pretty pretty!).  I put on a blouse in the cheeriest color I could find (bright pink!). I’ve treated myself to an afternoon cup of coffee (in theory: zing!).  But I’m still sitting here feeling very…very…listless.

So before I leave for the day, I’m swinging one last punch at my case of the drearies, in the form of eye candy.  None of these items are cheap, or on sale, or even probably available to someone who drives a minivan and counts sea monkeys among the family pets, but they have perk up potential for sure, so join me in my mood cardio, if you please.

Parent teacher conferences with Lela:

Channeling my inner prep with Manolo:

Cooking Mac ‘n Cheese with Oscar:

(Just kidding!)

Channeling Grace:

After the kids go to bed:

Huh…maybe that worked.  Maybe I do feel a little pep in my step.  Maybe enough pep in my step to face the rest of the day…or go buy myself a lottery ticket, because clearly I need one!

Hangin’ in there…

Merry Happy!

My birthday is on Christmas.  I know.  That makes me one jolly, holy, heckuva gal, right?  But in addition to the sleigh I keep in my garage and the halo you see above my head (look carefully!), it also makes me the keeper of some great Christmas traditions.  Two of my favorites:

I always receive “Christmas Birthday” cards.  Yes, the fine folks at Hallmark and American Greetings make them, though not a lot of them, and so I often receive the same ones year after year.  My mother and my grandmother each have enclosed one with a gift every year, without fail.  I save theirs, and I love my annual perusal of that not-so-little stack of red and green birthday greetings.  Even better, I now have three girls who also delight in that not-so-little stack of “Merry Happies,” and looking through them together over a plate of Chrismas cookies is a lovely way to spend time on a December afternoon.

Next up?  Dessert.  By all means, stop by my house for Christmas dinner and indulge in your holiday favorites: turkey, ham, Christmas trimmings and what not.  But don’t go looking for gingerbread, fruitcake, apple pie, or even a candy cane for dessert.  You’ll come up empty handed.  What you’ll find instead?  Birthday cake!  The homemade kind, with enough red and green icing, sprinkles and sadly, now candles, to out-bedazzle even the Las Vegas strip.  If I’m lucky enough to be with my mom, she’ll do the baking honors (Yes, I know this is slightly unfair, she did after all have to deliver a baby on Christmas Day many years ago.  Delivering baked goods too probably violates some kind of mommy holiday labor law.).  My girls of course take over in the decorating department.  AND I JUST LOVE IT.  Maybe because I appreciate the slightly untraditional twist to the end of an otherwise traditional day.  Maybe because having my family standing around me singing feels just like Christmas should, even if what they are singing is the “Happy Birthday” song.  Maybe because I know that cake, and the fine bunch o’ ladies who make it, are the best gifts I’ll ever have under my tree.

 

Take Your Best Shot!

I do not own a camera.  Yep.  I heard that collective “gasp” out there in the blogosphere.  Admit it: your image of me as mom extraordinaire is totally blown.  I take all of my pics on my iPhone 3G, which means a) The quality of most of my pics is pretty darn pathetic by most photographic standards. b) I have no flash, and so all of my pics must either be taken outdoors on a sunny day, or in a light store.  c) I am lazy about moving my pics from my phone to my computer, and so if I ever accidentally drop my phone into the seal pen at the Lincoln Park Zoo, proving to my children 20 years from now that they did in fact have a happy childhood will be difficult.

Today, I say “no more” to this camera depraved lifestyle I lead.  I am taking a stand against my phone pic habit and embracing real photography.  And camera manufacturers everywhere are even enticing me with cute cameras in fab shades.  Case in point: a red Canon PowerShot digital camera, which would of course look adorable with these cute Prada flats.

And to show how truly committed I am to using my phone exclusively for phone calls (and texting, and GPS, and email and…) I even did a little research on how to take a good picture:

1. Get down!  Hold your camera at the subject’s eye level.

2. Before taking a picture, check the area behind your subject.  Look out for trees or poles sprouting from your subject’s head!

3. Use flash out doors.

4. Move in close and fill your picture with the subject.

5. Take some vertical pictures.  Many subjects look better!

6. Lock the focus to create a sharp picture of off-center subjects.  Here’s how you do it:

  • Center the subject.
  • Press the shutter button halfway down.
  • Re-frame your picture (while holding the shutter button halfway down).
  • Finish by pressing the shutter button all the way.

7. Move it from the middle.  Bring your picture to life simply by placing your subject off-center.  Since most cameras focus on whatever is in the middle, remember to lock the focus on your subject before re-framing the shot (see tip #6 above).

8. Know your flash’s range.  For many cameras, this is only 10 feet (or 4 steps away).

9. Watch the light!  For people pics, choose soft lighting (think cloudy day).  For scenic pics, use long shadows (think really early or really late daylight).

10. Be a director.  Add some props, rearrange your subjects or try a different viewpoint.  Hint: bringing subjects together tends to let personalities shine!

And always say “cheese!”

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

Somewhere amongst the ghosts of blogs past, I have told you fine folks that I like Liberty fabrics.  I’m retracting that statement.  I adore them.  All of those little flowers in their pretty pastel hues? They’re girly and even a little bit retro.  I go weak in the knees.  Sometimes I’ll just peruse the Liberty site and browse through the fabrics.  It’s such a guilty pleasure.  Of course every once in a while it’s also akin to torture.  Case in point?  Right now, as I type, J.Crew is featuring their “classic shirt” in a handful of Liberty prints, and I am all but sitting on my hands to prevent myself from clicking “buy” on a $150 shirt I really don’t need.  Oh where art thou Fairy Godmother?

But if I can’t, in good faith, treat myself to a full priced shirt for which I have not an inch to spare in my closet, can I treat myself to Liberty print pajamas?  There’s plenty of room in the jammie drawer…and a few are on sale…and most come with free shipping…hmmm….the struggle begins.  I love the Purple Ditzy (which is not self-referential!),  I think the Central Park Watercolor is pretty, and yep…how can anyone pass on the great shade of red in the Prospect Park (despite the hefty price tag)?  And yes ladies, I know, there is no “come hither” in these pajamas.  But let’s be honest, there isn’t any “come hither” in their college t-shirts either.  So I say find a print you love, throw ’em  on when he’s out-of-town and pick up a copy of Wuthering Heights (where there’s kind of a lot of “come hither,” if you ask me).

And in case you’re even more “liberated” than me, check out these Liberty print Doc Martens!

Fruit Fetish

My girls love fruit, and I mean they really love it.  We can go through as many as four pints of strawberries in a single day.  And that’s just the strawberries.  Don’t get me started on the flats of blueberries my neighbor brings us from Michigan, or the bags of clementines that are here one day, gone the next.  Sometimes I worry this fruit consumption is all a bit gluttonous, but I tell myself it’s all okay because we’re talking fruit, not Cheetos – right?

The good news about my girls’ eating habits is that I don’t think my little trio will ever have a vitamins A and/or C deficiency.  And I’m pretty sure they run around filled to the brim with antioxidants.  The bad news is just this: have you ever priced out what four pints of strawberries cost when they are not in season?  Holy savings account, Batman!  And so, I apologize for the recipe that is about to follow.  When not in season, this little salad can get expensive.  I recommend editing to accommodate what’s least expensive at the grocery store right now.  I also highly recommend shopping at your local farmers’ market so that at the very least, your hard earned dollars are going straight into the growers’ pockets (this is very preachy of me, and I’m sorry, but I do love to eat locally grown produce when I can).

Favorite Fruit Salad

Ingredients:

1 pint of fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

1 large peach, pitted and cut into bite-size pieces

2 plums, pitted and cut into bite-size pieces

2 kiwi fruit, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces

1 cup dark, sweet cherries, pitted and halved

1 cup honeydew melon balls or cubes

1 cup cantaloupe balls or cubes

1 cup cubed, fresh pineapple

1 cup grapes

2 containers of lowfat vanilla yogurt

Preparation:

Lightly mix all of the fruit together until well integrated.  Spoon the yogurt on top and serve.

Albert Einstein said, “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?”  I don’t know, Albert, but according to my girls, not even the dining room furniture and the musical instruments are necessary.

Bringing Home the Bacon

Last night, one of my friends attended a beer and bacon tasting.  Umm…..yum???  Ever since her description of the dessert bacon and beer pairing, I have been craving, and I mean craving, bacon.  I know.  Your cholesterol is going through the roof just reading this, and some of you are in training for Turkey Trots on Thursday.  I’m so sorry.  I just can’t help myself.

My favorite appetizer EVER is bacon with brown sugar, and I love this quick recipe from Paula Deen.  I thought I’d share in case you’re doing any entertaining this week, but let’s face it, I’m doing ZERO entertaining and I’ll make it anyway.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1/4 pound sliced bacon

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large, plastic, zip-top bag, combine brown sugar and mustard.  Add bacon and toss to coat.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  Place a cooling rack on the lined baking sheet.  Put bacon on rack and roast in oven for 20 minutes.  Let drain for a few minutes on the rack and serve.

“Mmm…bacon” – Homer Simpson

Okay Jamie Oliver, Let Me See What You’ve Got!

So the men in my office who like to cook (a lovely quality) are devoted fans of Jamie Oliver.  I’m not sure if it’s because he’s a dude, or because he owns a pair of David Beckham’s soccer shoes, or because he plays drums in a rock band, or because he is married to a model.  I’m hoping, however, that despite the extra cool points for the soccer shoes and the drumming and the model, they’re also fans because he can actually cook.  And so I’m foregoing my own tried and true pancakes-from-scratch recipe tomorrow morning to give his “Pancakes USA Style” recipe a go.  Care to join me?  Here it is:

Ingredients:

3 large eggs

1/2 cup plain flour

1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

5/8 cup of milk

a pinch of salt

Preparation:

Separate the eggs, whites into one bowl and yolks into another.  Add the flour, milk and baking powder to the yolks and mix to a smooth, thick batter.  Whisk the whites with the salt until they form stiff peaks.  Fold into the batter, it is now ready to use.

Heat a good, non-stick pan on medium heat.  Pour batter (to your preferred size – big pancakes or small) into the pan and fry for a couple of minutes, until it starts to look golden and firm.  At this point, sprinkle your chosen flavoring (see below for some great suggestions!) onto the uncooked side before loosening with a spatula and flipping the pancake over.  Continue frying until both sides are golden.  Repeat!

Jamie’s suggested flavors:

Fresh corn from the cob

Crispy bacon or pancetta

Blueberries

Bananas

Stewed apples

Grated chocolate (yummmmmm!)

Let me know what you think!  (I’ll report back to the men!)

Pack your PJs!

My girls beg for sleepovers.  Every Friday, every Saturday, as the playdates wind down in the evening, the request comes in, “Mommmmeeeeeeee……can my best-friend-in-the-whole-wide-world spend the night?  Most of the time, I say no.  I think sleepovers are highly overrated, especially since our best-friends-in-the-whole-wide-world live next door, across the street, and/or behind us and therefore we can pretty much wave to them from our windows at night anyway.  Why invite the opportunity to spend a Saturday or a Sunday with over-tired kids?

But every once in a while, I relent.  And truthfully, there are elements to a sleepover that I do love: the sound of giggling at night, the array of cute bedheads in the morning, and the way my house smells when I make homemade pancakes for everyone.  The girls and I also have a fun sleepover tradition – we make nightshirts or pillowcases to commemorate the event.  I keep a supply of super cheap men’s tees and white pillowcases on hand, and we have a healthy supply of fabric markers.  I set the girls and their buddies loose at the dining room table, and when the artwork is done, we have a) spent an hour doing something other than running wild through the house b) provided the hostess (ME!) with some time to clean up the pizza/fruit salad/lemonade/cupcake strewn kitchen and c) created fun sleepwear and accessories.

Now all you need is a glass of wine (or maybe a dose of Ambien)!

Don’t forget your bunny slippers!

A Sentence a Day

On my bedside table, you’ll find a copy of The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  In short, the book is an account of the year Gretchen spent test driving studies and theories on how to be happier.  From cleaning closets to finalizing wills to waking her girls in the morning with a song, Gretchen offers the reader dozens of insights into happiness and several suggestions on how to feel happier.

Of these suggestions, perhaps my favorite is: keep a one-sentence journal.  As a busy mom of two with a household to run and more or less a full-time job as a writer, Gretchen admits while the idea of a journal is appealing to her, she struggles to actually execute a traditional “paragraphs and pages” journal, even as a writer.  So Gretchen, in her infinite wisdom, simply started writing one sentence a day.  Perhaps it was the memory of her youngest daughter going up and down a few stairs while on a boat ride, or maybe it was her oldest daughter requesting “pajamas” (toddler-speak for parmesan) on her spaghetti.  Regardless, Gretchen’s one-sentence journal is now filled with the “sweets of her day,” it requires only a fraction of her time, and it will be a cherished memento for her family.

I of course couldn’t wait to start my own.  I relish any activity that gives me permission to set the dishes aside for two minutes to write, and taking a moment to reflect on my day, recognize the “sweets,” and put pen to paper makes me feel…yes Gretchen, you got it – happy!  And another factor in this little happiness equation?  The actual journal in which I write.  Every year for my birthday, I receive a beautiful Smythson of Bond Street diary from an English girlfriend (a tradition steeped in generosity and thoughtfulness).  I tuck a few of my favorite pictures of my children under the cover, and sometimes when I’m not too sure what I’m going to write, just a quick glance at their toothy (and in some instances toothless) grins is all it takes for me to shake hands with inspiration.

Create a one-sentence journal of your own and see whether it makes a difference in your day.  Let me know how it goes, and feel free to share some of your entries!  Mine for today:

I picked the girls up at aftercare and noticed Little Bear’s handwriting on the chalkboard.  Messages as follows:

“I love my sisters.”

“I am a very good drawer.”

“I hope mommy makes homemade pancakes for dinner.” 

Oh how tempting to hide the erasers!

Technically more than one sentence, but one perfect sentiment on which to end my day.

Happy Journaling!