This blog chronicles my life as I try to balance healthy lifestyle habits with my husband's penchant for pizza rolls and my daughter's desire to watch iCarly 8 hours a day. It contains a mostly humorous, kind, and somewhat spiritual look at everyday life and the people who live it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Green Ways to Get Rid of the Clutter

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I'm buried here in Massachusetts and not just because of the blizzard.  I'm buried in STUFF.  Christmas is over and now all of those cheerful decorations are reading as *Clutter* to me now.  With the new gifts we received some stuff has to go.

So how to get rid of the clutter and decorations without filling up a landfill or just slinging it all into a box and stuffing it into that subterranean landfill I call "storage"?

It's easy: Donate.

Here's my plan:
First I'm going to take down the Christmas decorations.  There are a lot of items that I put up this year not because I liked them but because I'd always put them up and didn't have a good reason not to do so again.  Well, my good reason has arrived!  After searching a lot of decorating blogs AND reading my new Feng Shui book, I have decided that having anything, even something seasonal, that isn't useful, beautiful, or both is a BAD IDEA.  As I take the items down I am going to give each bobble a good scrutinizing to see if it goes into the 'Storage' box or the 'Donate' box.  No need to give away family heirlooms, but really?  The shiny gold bows I bought at Big Lots 20 years ago?  No, their time has come...and gone. 


My decor wasn't quite this cluttered, but this is how it feels now!

Luckily I also took my own advice and used a lot of natural decorating so the nuts, seeds, cranberries, pinecones, and clove oranges can all be tossed into the woods to become treasures for the woodland creatures.

Now let's talk about gifts.  Anything you received this year that you know, deep in your heart of hearts, just isn't for you and yours?  Don't store it, don't *intend* to do something with it, don't let it sit somewhere until it becomes part of the landscape.  Give it away.  Do it now.  Don't feel guilty.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with moving things that are not useful and/or beautiful to you on to someone who will love them.  What if the gift was given to you by someone who will a) notice it gone; b) be hurt that you don't love it; or c) spent a lot of time/money in the purchase or creation of the gift?  Thank them.  Thank them genuinely, lovingly, and earnestly.  Then load it in your car and take it to the donation station quickly, before you lose your nerve.

As for the rest of my stuff, these last few days of the year are an excellent opportunity to donate those sweaters that I still haven't worn even though the weather has been cold for 2 months.  To get rid of those platters that I still didn't use, even though I hosted a large party on Christmas Eve.  To help my daughter rid herself of unused Wii games, and my husband and I both need to do a good book purge (though I'll confess that of all the items I donate, books are the hardest with which to part). 

And the benefits of my hard work?  HUGE!  Cleaner house, less clutter, items that really reflect my decorating taste NOW not 10 years ago, tax deductions, good example for my daughter, lightening up is good for the mind, body, and soul, less to store, more room to invite into my life those items I would like now (I have a bedroom chair in mind, more on that later), and according to Feng Shui, my Chi'i should be off the charts with all the positive energy flow.


Sorry about the blur, but you get the idea.  Breathing room!

Simplify, simplify, simplify.  I feel lighter already.

How about you?

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Luckiest Man in the World

A picture to warm you during our New England blizzard!

Happy Holidays Everyone!  I hope Santa was good to you.  I hope you recycled all your wrapping paper.  And I hope you stopped eating Christmas cookies, fudge, and eggnog just short of a diabetic coma.  I did.  Stopped, I mean.  Just short of a coma (sigh).

We went to Mass on Christmas Eve and as the choir sang and the lights were dim, and I was all snug between my husband and daughter I took a moment to look around.  I noticed that sitting just two rows in front of me was the Luckiest Man in the World.  I wondered if he knew how lucky he was.  I hope he does.

Why is he the Luckiest Man in the World?  A man I have never even met.  A man who may be dealing with all manner of crisis, financial problems, job worries, tooth decay, and aging parents?  Well, as I watched this Lucky Man, his wife put her arm on the back of the pew and encountered the back of his sweater.  So she took a moment and rubbed his back.  Then his youngest son climbed into his lap a few minutes later and began touching his face and giggling, the way babies do.  After awhile (I know it sounds weird that I've been staring at him this long, but he is right in front of me AND between me and the altar where I'm supposed to be looking and paying attention, not composing blog entries in my head...) we all stood up and his oldest son grabbed his hand and just held it for awhile.

If you have someone, anyone, any living thing at all that wants to sit with you, hold your hand, rub your back, or touch your face, you, my friend are Lucky.  Because also sitting in that church was a man, sitting alone.  No one rubbed his back. No one held his hand.  I hope his house is just filled with people crawling all over him and that church is his one chance for some "alone time" because the alternative is unbearably sad.

Do you know how Lucky you are?

Happy Holidays!
Beth

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The cure for the Hectic Holiday

I need some good-for-me-stuff that is free and won't prevent me from buttoning my jeans.  You too?  I have just what the doctor ordered:  The at-home pampering package.   Each of these ideas will take less than 1 minute to create and you already have everything you need in your pantry or linen closet.


Pampering idea #1 The Feet

Find some lotion.  Slather it on, especially on your heels and the cuticles of your toenails.  Really slather it on!  Put on cotton socks.  Let the lotion soften your feet and moisturize your nail beds.  Keep on overnight.  Don't have any lotion?  Use olive oil or almond oil.  Don't have either of those?  Use lip balm - though you probably want to think carefully before you use it on your lips after you've rubbed it on your feet...I'm just sayin'...



Pampering idea #2 The Back, Neck, and Shoulders

Fill a sock with rice, dried beans, oatmeal, buckwheat, or sand.  The sock should be about 3/4 full so there is enough room for the rice to move freely.  Add a few drops of lavendar essential oil, vanilla, grated orange or lemon peel, or peppermint extract.  Tie the end of the sock shut.  Put in your microwave for 30-60 seconds until warmed through.  Now mold your fragrant heating pad into the small of your back, over your shoulders, around your neck, or across your forehead.  Feel the relaxation that comes from applying heat directly to where your muscles/constricted blood vessels need it.  Heat again as necessary.  Don't have a sock to use?  What about the sleeve of an old shirt?  In a pinch you can use a plastic bag but be sure to put a cloth barrier between your skin and the plastic once it's been heated.

Pampering idea #3 The Face

Take 2 washcloths and get them wet.  Place one in the freezer and the second in the microwave for 20 seconds.  You can heat the washcloth for an additional 20 seconds if it's not warm enough but be careful not to make it hot.  Set a timer for 10 minutes.  Sit down.  Place the warm cloth over your face and breathe.  When the timer goes off get the other washcloth out of the freezer.  Set the timer for 10 minutes.  Sit down.  Place the cool cloth over your face and breathe.  Alternating warm and cold temperatures on the skin stimulates the immune system, rejuvenates the skin, increases blood flow, and encourages neural healing.  Always end with a cool cloth to close the pores and "rest" the skin.  This also is great for clogged sinuses.


Pampering idea #4 The Eyes

You've probably heard of using steeped, cooled tea bags over your eyes to rest them, chilled cucumber slices to reduce puffiness, and all manner of creams and unguents to reduce the appearance of fine lines...BUT... I have something even simpler.  Blinking.  Long, slow breaths coordinated with long, slow blinks.  Do it with me:  inhale for 5 seconds while opening your eyes as wide as you can.  Now exhale for 5 seconds while closing your eyes gently.  Inhale and open wide.  Exhale and close.  Are you starting to feel the moisture return to your eyes?  If not, repeat again.  And again.  Until your eyes feel moist when you close them.  A total eye rejuvenation in 15-20 seconds.  It doesn't get much cheaper than blinking.

Are you listening to music?  Drinking water?  Breathing?  Are you (occasionally) shaving your legs, wearing pretty underwear, and putting on lipstick?   If not, why not?  What could possibly be more important than your sanity and before you answer that: what can you possibly hope to get done if you are frantic, frazzled, and itching like crazy from dry skin and cracked heels?

I'm teetering on the sugar edge but not yet over, remembering to enjoy the Christmas lights we have lit both inside and out, wearing a lot of no-waist yoga pants, and cranking up the uplifting Christmas music.  I'm not stress free, but I'm not stressed out.

How about you?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Are you dreaming of a Green Christmas?

The greatest thing about going "green" during the holidays is that you can completely simplify your life, get out of doing a ton of work, save money, and blame it all on being a good steward of the planet.  Here are a few green tips that will free up your time for important things, like baking (eating) cookies, and help the planet.

1.  "Green" gift wrapping.  The best way to green up your gift wrapping is by not wrapping at all.  This is a completely new concept to me who has been weaned on a steady diet of Martha Stewart bow tutorials and the belief that the more elaborate, the better when it comes to wrapping paper.  I'm converted though.  For young children, how about setting up their gifts in fun and inviting groups?  For older children, like mine, I'm going for the Christmas morning scavenger hunt.  Instead of wrapping most of my daughter's gifts, I'm going to have them hidden around the house.  I'm spending the time I would ordinarily be wrapping making up clues for her to follow to find her gifts.  I'll still wrap a gift or two in recycled wrapping paper, but only a few instead of all of them.

2.  Green decorating means using natural items like pine garland, pine cones, acorns, strung popcorn, dried apples, cranberries, nuts, and colored candies.  Take a glass bowl, fill it with red hot candies, add in a white candle: instant candle scape and the candies will break down naturally when thrown away.   Fill a vase with candy canes (unwrapped).  Let fewer items have greater impact by using lush greens and lots of ribbon, which can be used again and again each year.

3.  E-cards.  Forget the addressing, the postage, the work, the money, and the huge carbon footprint.  Go green, send e-cards, and sit back and relax.  Think you'll miss seeing a bunch of cards hanging on the wall?  Well, me too so I'm just going to try it this year and see if I really do feel deprived.  I'm betting I won't.  Feel like you need to send a holiday letter?  Email it!  Want to give family/friends pictures of your kids?  Make an online photo album like the ones available from snapfish.com.  You can password protect them so only your family/friends can see the photos, they can order any prints they would like while still viewing the entire album.  Green, green, green.

4.  Green gift giving is easy when you make use of the online gift cards available from places like Amazon.com, and eBay.com.  You can procrastinate until the very last minute, they're always the right size, they're never out of stock, and your gift recipient is guaranteed to get something they'll want.

5.  Finally, the greenest thing we can do this year is resist the temptation to fill our families' stockings with ...junk.  I'm guilty, I have certainly picked up all sorts of little tchotchkes for my daughter, especially on impulse: tiny pads of paper with kittens on the front, cheap, chemical-infused lip glosses in 10 different flavors, plastic jewelry she's never worn, sugar-filled gum in kind of gross flavors, cheap plastic toys - I've bought it all just to "fill" the stocking.  This year I'm resisting.  I know, I know, it's easier for me because my child is almost 12 and I'm certainly not judging anyone's choices, I'm just suggesting.

I'm trying all these things this year, just to see how it goes.  I love a white Christmas, but I'm really hoping for a green one.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

What do you need this holiday season?

A lot of people may ask you what you want, but I'm asking you: What do you need?  Is it more time?  Better health?  A new haircut?  More money?  A wardrobe makeover?  A professional chef?

A new attitude?

That's what I've been needing.  Lately I've been having a pretty bad case of the Gimmes.  Oooh, gimme that new sweater!  Yes, I really need that book, gimme two.  Chocolate chip cookies?  Gimme 3 of those.  Okay, 4.

It struck me last night as I was perusing online all of the neat decorating sites, the clothing sites, the furniture sites, and the cooking sites that I hadn't stopped by one single natural health site.  Not one.  Usually my fingers can't type fast enough to google new ways to make products at home or inventive uses for baking soda.  This month's issue of Natural Health magazine has sat, unread, by my bedside covered with Pottery Barn, West Elm, Crate&Barrel, and The Sharper Image catalogs.  I had to excavate it just to see what this month's issue is about.  Must be time for a reality check.  I already have all I need to create a beautiful, healthy, balanced life for myself and my family.  I merely need to remember what is really important.  Now y'all know I'm not about to preach that perhaps this Christmas should be the year when your family donates all their gifts to a shelter and experiences the true joy of giving, perhaps that is you, but that is not me.  My daughter will happily unwrap many a gift on Christmas morn, I am however suggesting a certain detachment is needed. 


This is me now.  This is not how I want to look at Christmas.

Can balance be found during the holidays?  Can the Natural Living magazine get at least equal read-time to the Pottery Barn Catalog Holiday 2010?  I believe so and here's my plan:

When I start to feel like I need some material thing that means I need to take a break from shopping or browsing.  Time for a glass of water and some Christmas music.

If things start to feel hectic my mantra is simplify, simplify, simplify.  One or two kinds of cookies, instead of 5 or 6.  Gift cards instead of shipping presents.  Limiting holiday commitments to ensure plenty of time for sitting in front of the fire and watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas specials.

Drink water.  Drink more water.  Having to pee a lot ensures that I sit down and take a break for a moment, right?

Start out every day with a smoothie.  No matter what else happens I can load up my smoothie with lots of fruits, Omega 3s and fiber.  All that fiber will ensure more "sitting down breaks"  (I know, I know, too much information....)

Keep inspirational and/or healthy lifestyle focused reading materials in my purse and car.  That way when I have a few moments before picking up my daughter or during basketball practice I have something to read that isn't an ad circular.  Same with podcasts, I'm keeping them inspirational like The Moth Podcast, or healthy like The Nutrition Diva Podcast.  Or fun like Under Cover with Deb and Beth, one of the finest book review podcasts I've yet come across.  Not that I'm biased.

That's my plan and with three weeks left until Christmas I'm glad to have one.  What about you, what are you doing to keep yourself balanced during the holiday season?

Friday, December 3, 2010

We're living in a society here, folks...

Walking around the college campus where I work is usually quite safe.  There are many crosswalks and signs are posted absolutely everywhere letting drivers know that pedestrians have the right of way.  Cars stop, people cross, we all move on safely, it's a beautiful thing.

A couple of days ago that beautiful system broke down.  Imagine if you will a very rainy day.  I was looking adorable in my brand new trouser-cut jeans and way-too-high-and-so-uncomfortable high heeled black boots.  As I tap-tap-tapped up to the crosswalk I saw a car approaching.  The car was a fair distance away so I stepped into the street with confidence. 

I hear the car approaching.  I keep walking.  I hear the car still approaching.  Some small, very important, part of my brain registers that the car is not slowing down.  I glance over.  The car.  Is.  Coming.  I freeze for just a second before my legs remember to run.  Tap, tap, tap, tap!  My stupid-way-too-high-and-so-uncomfortable high heeled black boots are not helping me now!  The driver of the car finally registers that she is about to hit me and slams on the brakes.  She fishtails on the wet pavement and the front of the car hits me with just enough force to knock me off balance but not enough force to hurt me.  I fall to hands and knees.  My gigantic purse goes flying one way.  My gigantic bag filled with 4-inch budget binders goes flying the other.  My umbrella slips from my hand and lands on the wet pavement.

I crouch there for a moment on the ground.  Stunned.  I look up and make eye contact with the driver.  Her face registers nothing: not surprise, anxiety, guilt, regret, anger, just blankness.  Then, without exchanging a word, she drives off.

SHE DRIVES OFF!

There I was, kneeling in the middle of the street getting soaked. My heart was pounding so hard I could feel it through my coat.  I couldn't believe she just left me there!  We're living in a society here, folks, and as members we are all required to enquire about the health and wellbeing of any living creature we may hit with our old, rusty, no-anti-lock-brakes-having cars!  This is not optional! 

I didn't get a license plate number.  I don't know the make and model of the car.  I didn't file a police report and I 'm not hurt.  But I am curious: who is this woman?  What standards of behavior is she following?  And why, why for the love of mike did she not even acknowledge me? 

The good news is that I didn't even tear the knees in my new trouser cut jeans...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

How many times did someone ask you that when you were a child?  When I was 5 I lived next door to a doctor.  I decided I wanted to be a doctor.  My parents were so excited when I announced my intention that for years I answered "I want to be a doctor" just to see the delighted smiles on their faces.  With no particular talent for biology or chemistry, no money, and no clear idea of how I would go about becoming a doctor, that dream didn't materialize, but since I'm not sure if I wanted to be a doctor or simply to please my parents, it's probably a good thing I didn't invest in medical school.  I then decided I wanted to be a lawyer because I thought Susan Day looked so great on L.A. Law.  Senior burnout, marriage, and sheer apathy ensured that I never pursued law school.  After I graduated from college I simply "fell" into a job that paid well, was fairly interesting, and was reasonably satisfying.  After 9 years I had a child, quit work, and had no more sense of what I wanted to be when I grew up than I did when I was 5!

After a year of searching for the "right fit" job for me, I have finally landed in a position that appeals to my clerical sense of order (filing, stapling, collating) and my need to imbue my days with meaning beyond the satisfaction of clean bathrooms and folded laundry -- though now that I am working every day a clean bathroom or  folded laundry would definitely be welcomed!


I knew I was ready to go back to work..but to do what?

In the past year I have taught kindergarten, been a substitute first grade teacher, worked in a college bookstore, and am currently working with an at-risk group of college kids helping them navigate the tricky waters to graduation.  I help them with paperwork, make sure they are connected with the right Student Services programs, and listen to them.  Just listen.

It's been quite a winding road to figuring out what I want to be when I grow up, but, for now, I have found the right balance.  With the Big Question of What Will I Do With My Life currently answered I have had time to to focus on some of the other Big Questions:

1.  What are my financial priorities?
2.  What kinds of experiences do I want to create with my family?
3.  What traditions do I want to preserve, create, or change?
4.  How do I appropriately prioritize my friends in a life containing work and family?
5.  What am I going to wear to work tomorrow?

Rather than feeling overwhelmed by all these questions I feel rejuvenated.  I am excited to see how I will navigate the tricky waters of my life.  Some of my life is handled clerically: papers to sign, taxes to file, bills to pay, documents to file.  Other parts involve connecting my husband and daughter with the right people.  But if I'm really doing my job as a wife, mother, and friend a lot of my time is spent listening.  Just listening.

I hope you'll stay with me on this journey.  If you're feeling in the mood to listen, I've got plenty to say.  If you're feeling in the mood to entertain for the holidays, well, I've got some tips for that too on my latest podcast.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things

I've been recently inspired by a post from Deb to think about a few of my own favorite things of the season.  I've not been in a terribly "grateful" space lately as our exterior paint project (The Monster Paint Project) turned into the The Monster Contractor Search, which, when a contractor was finally secured, morphed into its current state: The Monster Rebuild Project.  The back of our house was discovered to be severely water damaged and the wood was, well, mostly gone.  Rotted away.  Underneath the wood siding was just a mess of rotted wood, wet insulation, and shredded paper.  It can be fixed.  But it ain't cheap.

So in order not to dwell on what cannot be changed I decided to turn my thoughts to all of the great stuff going on around me this season.  I no longer have a pumpkin-patch-aged-child but I went anyway.  I love pumpkin patches, nurseries, and garden centers at this particular time of year because there is just something about a fall arrangement of mums, pumpkins, gourds, maybe a scarecrow or two, that is so appealing to me.

This image from front-porch-ideas-and-more.com is stunning


I love the abundance and simplicity of this arrangement

And while I love candles all year long, the shorter days of fall seem to invite candlelight and candlescapes.  Of course I want all things to be as natural and recyclable as possible, so check out these ideas:

Mother Nature will provide you with plenty of acorns, just look down


What could be simpler or more beautiful?


I think this will be on my Thanksgiving table this year.

I am completely inspired for the front of my house, excited and confident for my tablescape.  There is only one place left to have warmth, softness, and seasonal comfort: the bedroom.  Think down and flannel and you can't go wrong.  Fluffy down, soft flannel, perhaps a chenille throw in case you want to nap on a Sunday afternoon?  Pure seasonal decadence.

It's the layering that makes this bed appear so cozy

Perhaps a few tea lights placed in hollowed-out mini pumpkins on the bedside table?  Imagine the mild, comforting smell of roasting pumpkin you will get when the candles are lit.  This is affordable luxury.  This is you connecting with the season and the passage of time.  Honoring the rhythms of the Earth.

These are a few of my favorite things.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: How Green is your Car?

Can you believe it?  Another Green Tip Tuesday?  And just when you'd given up hope forever...

Today let's talk about cars.  Over the summer we traded in my big ol' gas guzzling Saturn Outlook (16.9 mpg)

I loved this car, but the gas mileage was awful

for an itty bitty Honda Insight Hybrid (45.6 mpg). 

Obviously no 7 passenger seating here, it was a trade-off

We made the trade because the lease on the Saturn was up anyway and we were looking to buy something less expensive, smaller, and great on gas mileage.  Fortunately you don't have to trade in your old vehicle to "green up" your car.  There are actually lots of little things we can all do that make a big impact.  Most of them involve unlearning what we were taught about cars.

According to a post from Consumer's Report there were two mistakes I was making with my cars:

1.  Oil should be changed about every 3000 miles?  Nope.  That was true for cars 15 years ago, but most cars now are designed to go about 7500 miles between oil changes.  While changing the oil unnecessarily won't hurt the car, it certainly impacts the environment by adding a lot of hazardous waste (oil).  Save yourself some money and change your oil less often.

2.  You should let your engine warm up a few minutes before driving?  Absolutely not.  While my grandfather was right when he told me that, it's no longer true.  Now you are just wasting gas and adding unnecessary carbon monoxide into the air.

I further researched and found an interesting article on a government webpage (so it must be true) about keeping tires properly inflated as a way to save on gas and ensure proper braking.  Less gas = less dependance on petroleum = better for all of us.

Finally I have to mention washing your car.  My husband is a tiny bit fanatical about keeping our cars clean and he usually wants to wash them himself, by hand, in the driveway, regardless of the temperature.  Believe it or not, this is the least green way to go.

I prefer touchless so I don't have to worry about my paint being scratched

 Many car washes now recycle their water but even for those who don't most states require a proper drainage system so the dirty, soapy water doesn't go directly into the groundwater supply.  You can save a lot of water by going to a car wash instead of washing your car yourself.

Frequently I hear people say that they would love to be greener but it is so expensive.  Not true, I say!  You can use all the money you are saving on oil changes and extra gas from not idling your car to pay for your car wash and you'll still come out ahead.

My new car is silver, but it's a lot greener.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This is Real Life, folks

I know that today is Green Tip Tuesday and I will definitely provide a Green Tip in another post, but I just had to tell you about my Real Life incident.

Today I went for my well woman exam.  Like many women, I carefully groomed and prepared for this exam.  I shaved.  I lotioned.  I exfoliated.  I dressed carefully, even knowing as I did that the midwife would never even see my clothes, I couldn't help myself.  I still dressed carefully.  Upon arrival I checked in with the receptionist.  She was friendly, outgoing, and LOUD.  The entire waiting room now knows that I was there for my well woman exam, that yes, I am still at my current address [insert address here] and yes [insert phone number] is still my current phone number.  No, I haven't had any changes to my health, and yes my husband is still the insured and yes his name is still Steve. 

Hipaa laws be damned, a medical receptionist with a loud voice will out you every time.  People talk.  That's real life.

In the examining room I undressed completely, hid my underwear inside my carefully folded clothes, put on the backless robe and covered myself with the sheet.  I was ready.  The midwife enters.  We chitchat a bit.  She does a breast exam, we talk about my favorite authors, she prepares for the pelvic exam, we talk about the book I am currently reading.  Finally it's showtime (so to speak).  I'm in stirrups, she's in gloves, in goes the speculum and out comes the gas.  What????  Where did that come from?  How could my body let me down like this?  How could my intestines provide this much humiliation???  Yep, I farted.  Broke wind.  Stepped on a duck.  Cut the cheese.  Flatulated.  Ripped one, as Steve would say.  With that many names it's obviously part of our human experience, but I was sure this had never happened to me before.  With each continued press of the speculum I pass more gas.  It's completely silent (I think...) but now I am worried that it's dreadfully smelly and I just don't know it.  I'm too far away!  The midwife's face, oh help me Rhonda, her nose, is right there!  She continues to chat.  I'm at a loss for what to do: do I acknowledge the gas?  Do I excuse myself?  What if she can't tell?  Do I act as if I don't know what's happening?  Is she in danger of passing out?  Blessedly the exam ends.  The midwife's eyebrows don't appear scorched so I suppose that's a plus.  She leaves.  I dress.  I leave.

Preparation be damned, a speculum providing pressure on your intestines will out you everytime.  People have gas.  That's real life.

I still feel embarrassed.  I'd like to think I'm not the topic of much hilarity and disgust in the staff lunchroom, but I think we all know better.  And I think we can all agree that somewhere on my chart the words 'Beware of patient's flaming gas' appear.  People embarrass themselves.  That's real life.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

You can't die laughing

Laughter is essential for life

Oh I'm sure there are a whole host of emergency room doctors who right now are saying "Well, actually...." but you know what I mean.  Are you laughing enough?  Have you laughed today?  I don't mean a sardonic grimace or a sarcastic chuckle, I mean true laughter.

If not, why not?

You may have to deliberately seek out sources of humor.  Unfortunately life doesn't always mimic the sitcom where fashionably messy homes are inhabited by quick-witted and adorable members.  Sometimes life has dirty laundry, grumpy spouses, overtired children, and hormonal teenagers.

That's okay.  You can still laugh.


Books, movies, people, whatever makes you laugh is good

Yesterday, on a whim I picked up a copy of Jill Conner Browne's Sweet Potato Queen's Guide to Raising Children for Fun and Profit.   Now Jill has a whole bunch of these books and each one is funnier than the last.  I like to read them in small doses because I find that I become a bit immune to comedy if I binge on it.  It turned out to be the best thing I've done for myself in 2 weeks.  I am finding myself laughing out loud and to my surprise laughter is exactly what I needed.  The past 2 weeks have been crazy: school started, I went back to work, field hockey started and who knew field hockey would be every afternoon all afternoon ending only right smack dab in the middle of dinner time?  Certainly not me.  The laundry has been piling up, I wake at 5:30 to work out but am too keyed up with stress to go to bed before 11.  Lack of sleep and too many meals-on-the-go had me feeling off balance, short tempered, and wondering how I was going to balance it all. 

Then I picked up a book, on a whim, and started to laugh.  I forgot that I need to laugh!

Suddenly everything is okay again in my world.  I have perspective.  I feel more relaxed after laughing for a few minutes than I have after the past 2 weeks of yoga. I need to laugh.  Every day.  And I'm willing to bet, so do you.

Seek out sources of laughter everyday.  A book, a show on TV, a website, a blog, maybe even a friend who never fails to entertain.  Whatever the source, guard it well and visit it often.  If you're laughing, you're alive.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Planning a "greener" yard next spring

Believe it or not now is the perfect time to begin planning for a more earth friendly yard next spring.  Have you ever heard of xeriscaping?  Xeriscaping is landscaping in a way that reduces your dependance upon watering.  While the use of native and drought tolerant plants is nothing new, the idea of planning my yard to make the most of those plants, while still attracting butterflies and bees, was a foreign concept to me.  I thought landscaping occurred by looking at what was already in my yard, adding some stuff to it that looked good, trying not to have too many planting beds so I didn't have to mulch a lot, and calling it a day.

I didn't know I was supposed to plan.

Well now I do and here are some tips I've learned:

1.  No matter where you live many drought-resistant plants have some characteristics in common: they have leaves which are small, thick, glossy, silver gray or fuzzy.  Look for these plants at your local nursery and be sure to ask the nursery attendant for more drought resistant plants.


Creeping phlox is perennial, gorgeous, and drought resistant

2.  Use native plants.  Trying to keep a tropical plant alive in my northeastern climate would require not only a tremendous amount of work, but also a tremendous amount of water.  Forget the exotic palm trees, I'm sticking with silver dogwoods which are, you guessed it, native to the northeast.

3.  Mulch.  Me and my black thumb thought that mulch was just to make the dirt look good for the neighbors.  I didn't realize how important mulch is to retaining soil moisture, insulating plants' roots, and regulating soil temperature.  Mulch layers should be several inches thick.  Beware: colored mulch is dyed mulch so many of the benefits of the mulch are reduced by the negatives of the dye.

4.  Weed your landscape beds.  Having a lot of weeds competing for water may pull water away from your landscape plants causing you to have to water more often.

5.  Use perennials when possible.  Perennials tend to be more drought resistant by their very nature.  Use annuals sparingly because in addition to requiring more water they frequently are not as hearty and require more fertilizer, pesticides, or plant food.

6.  Consider some hardscape:  landscape walls, rocks, gravel, benches, etc., can all be beautiful additions to your planting beds and require no water at all.  I'm not saying you should fill your lawn with garden gnomes (though you'll never hear me besmirch the gnome!), just a few well chosen implements can replace plants quite nicely.


The differing sizes of rocks and mulch fill in this area nicely

If you're lucky enough to have an irrigation system it's a great idea to install a moisture-sensitive monitor so the sprinklers only run when necessary.  If you're lucky enough to have a gardener then thank your lucky stars, give him or her a refreshing glass of lemonade, and go relax.  If you're me then you'll be out there this fall digging up the poorly-placed-too-big-for-the-bed-and-in-the-wrong-place-for-sun-requirements plants and finding new homes for them.

Now go play in the dirt!

Monday, August 23, 2010

The All American Past Time

Picture courtesy of Steve's iPhone

Well, I did it.  It took me 40 years to watch the Red Sox play live at Fenway Park, but yesterday I did it.  I'm not sure I would have put this particular item on my Bucket List had I not moved to Massachusetts, but move I did, and everyone and I mean everyone here knows that you can't really call yourself a New Englander if you haven't been to Fenway.

I didn't grow up attending baseball games.  I wasn't a fan.  When we lived in Cincinnati Steve introduced me to baseball by getting us tickets a few times each year to watch  the Reds.  I didn't fall in love with baseball per se, but I fell in love with attending games.  A TV, no matter how large, cannot convey the energy, the excitement, the sheer camaraderie of being there, with the crowd, singing the silly songs, doing the 7th inning stretch, and cheering and jeering the calls of the umpire.  It's quite magical.

So after a few years of attending Reds' games we moved to Toledo, Ohio.  There I learned what it was like to attend minor league games when we went to watch the Toledo Mud Hens play.  The Mud Hens' stadium is small, the price per ticket is pretty cheap, and the there's not a bad seat in the house.  I liked it.  There wasn't quite the same energy as there had been in Cincinnati, but it was still fun.

Nothing I had experienced before quite prepared me for Fenway.  At Fenway the excitement starts about 3 blocks away from the stadium where the crowds start to gather in pubs and restaurants.  They spill out the doors onto the streets wearing Boston Red Sox caps, shirts, jackets, pants, even carrying purses and backpacks with the Red Sox logo.  As you get closer to the stadium the street vendors increase along with the crowds.  It's impossible to walk without bumping into someone, dodging a ticket scalper, or being blasted by the cries of "Game Programs!  $2 outside the park, $5 inside!  Get your programs!"  The bagpipes begin to play, security works overtime to search bags and get everybody inside, and the smell of hot dogs permeates the air.

Inside Fenway is a tribute to the old meeting the new.  Fenway Park, America's oldest ballpark, is 98 years old.  Old photos and pennants share space with new ads for Comcast Xfinity and Microsoft.  Fenway Franks, Fenway Park's official hot dogs, are sold everywhere and in mass quantities.  Dunkin' Donuts brews gallons of coffee and the beer vendors just keep 'em coming.  The seats are small and the aisles are narrow.  The stadium vendors walk up and down, up and down calling "Hot dogs, get your hot dogs!" and "Peanuts!  Salted Peanuts!"  The cotton candy, popcorn, pizza, and ice cream vendors all add their cries creating a cacophony of sounds, a heady aroma, and a dazzling display of balance and strength as they navigate the steep, crowded stairs.

If you haven't ever attended a major league sporting event, I highly recommend that you do, just once, for the experience.  40,000 people all cheering at the same time, working together to do the 'the wave', singing 'Take me out to the ballpark' during the 7th inning stretch, and clapping whenever a kid catches a foul ball is an invigorating experience. 

It's a great way to spend a day.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

She was the picture of class...

This is not the example I wish to set for my daughter

In my entire adult life I have only been in two fights that weren't with Steve.  (Fights with Steve don't count because after 19 years of marriage, numerous home improvement projects, and 8 moves tensions can run a little high...)  I am a huge confrontation wimp.  I will concede the point, back down, wimp out, tell a lie, or feign stupidity to avoid confrontation.  The only exception would be if the necessary confrontation involved defending my daughter but luckily that situation has not yet arisen.  I say all of this to paint a picture of a person who does not like to be at odds with the rest of the human population.

The first fight was 5 years ago.  It actually took place on a Catholic school playground, which makes it all the more pathetic.  I was co-leading a Girl Scout troop and was accused by the mother of a girl on another troop, let's call her Mad Mom,  of placing the "rich" girls on my troop and leaving the "poor" girls for her troop.  Since I was brand new to the area, had no friends, had no idea where most of these girls lived, what their parents made, or even who their parents were, I felt the accusation was a little unfair.  Side note: I actually was seeking out Mad Mom because I had heard she was upset with me.  I didn't know who she was so I had to ask another parent on the playground if he knew her.  Just my luck the parent I asked was Mad Mom's husband!)  It got a little heated with Mad Mom calling me a snobby b*****.  Our kids are playing just a few feet away and Mad Mom is calling me names!   The sun beat down, sweat beaded on her forehead and pooled in her impressive cleavage.  She glared down at me from her 6 inch height advantage and moved toward me to intimidate.  Her face was red with anger and her words were harsh and bitter.  Mad Mom said that she knew my "type" and that I disgusted her that I would use kids to play my snobby games.  She said "don't worry, I know what you are and I'll make sure everyone else does too."  She practically spit in my face.

She was the picture of class.

The second fight was 3 days ago.  I was at the local warehouse club waiting in line at the U Scan.  Side note: our warehouse club has discovered that if they open only one staffed checkout and then provide 5 U Scans they can herd us all to checkout our own purchases.  On this particular day  four of the U Scans all had the added benefit of their "HELP" lights blinking, something which the warehouse employees were working diligently to ignore.  No surprise here, I was in line at the one working U Scan.  I was next in line.  The woman currently checking out, let's call her Rude Woman, was talking on her cell phone while she unloaded her cart.  Side note: Rude Woman was talking on her cell phone very loudly.  She was speaking Spanish.  I have noticed that when people talk on their cell phones and don't speak English there seems to be no attempt to moderate their voices as they believe that the people around them can't understand what they are saying.  Why is it that we need to hear your conversation, whether we can understand it or not?  I don't mind the public phone use but could you practice a little volume control???  Anyway, as you can imagine, holding a cell phone in one hand and unloading your cart/checking out your purchases with the other is a slow process.  I waited.  The line behind me grew.  I waited.  One of the other U Scans actually received some employee assistance and the HELP light went out.  Some people bailed out of my line.  Others came to replace them.  We waited.  Finally the woman is done checking out.  She has all her purchases at the end of the conveyor and is reloading her cart (one handed, of course).  I step up to the U Scan.  I scan my membership card.  I scan 5 of my 7 items.  It is at this point that Rude Woman has finally finished her conversation.  She looks up.  She notices that I have begun checking out my items.  I have my daughter standing toward the end of the conveyor belt to keep our purchases from getting mixed up with Rude Woman's.  Rude Woman looks at me and says "Um, you're going to wait til I'm finished!"  I looked at the 2 remaining items in my cart.  I looked at the long line of people behind me.  I surprised myself by saying "No.  I'm not."  Rude Woman's eyes got wide.  And she lost her mind.  She began yelling at me.  She was dropping F bombs with a liberal scattering of the B word.  Her overblown lips were parted and her black lined, overly mascara-ed eyes were squinched nearly shut.  She was breathing in gasps.  She.  Was.  Mad.  Well, I was mad too.  I mean she is saying these things in front of my daughter!  I told my daughter to switch places with me (I had checked out the last 2 items while Rude Woman ranted) and to pay while I reloaded the cart.  As soon as I stepped toward her Rude Woman backed away, still spewing expletives like some demented fountain.  I loaded my cart and by the time I looked up again Rude Woman was gone in a cloud of cheap perfume, her spike heels clacking, sheer tunic over black bra swaying while her gold metallic leggings gleamed in the fluorescent lighting.

She was the picture of class.

In neither instance did I fight back.  I simply listened to what was said.  Replied that I was sorry they felt that way.  And walked away.  (Well at the warehouse club I turned away).  I didn't raise my voice.  I didn't lower my standards.  I didn't back down.  I didn't escalate the situation.  No matter the conflict, the reason, who is right or who is wrong.  It is always important to me to be:

The picture of class.  (Plus both women scared the heck out of me and would have beat me to a pulp).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Being Green While You Sleep

Image from Gaiam.com

Today the Gaiam sale catalog arrived in the mail.  Now y'all know how inspired I get from my catalogs and Gaiam is my Green inspiration that's for sure.  Looking at the gorgeous organic sheet sets (on sale!) has inspired me to make quality, organic bedding a priority.

Sleeping is meant to be a time for healing, rejuvenation, renewal, and rest.  None of those things feel compatible with inhaling toxins, absorbing chemicals, irritating the immune system, or creating allergies but that's exactly what can happen night after night if we sleep is poorly ventilated rooms with chemical-filled bedding.

Imagine if you will a more peaceful scenario: you climb into bed, a bed softened with 250-thread-count organic cotton percale sheets.  Your skin is not going to absorb any dyes or chemicals from the sheets because none were used.  Your window and your door are both open, just slightly, for proper ventilation.  Your mattress is softened and protected  by a pure wool mattress topper or pad.  Your pajamas, if you choose to wear them, are loose, cotton, and chemical free.  Aren't you feeling more relaxed already?


Wool mattress topper from Gaiam.com

My bedroom is not all organic.  My bed is wood and veneers with plenty of glue, varnish, and other toxins I'm sure.  My blankets aren't organic cotton.  My mattress happens to be organic cotton only because we had to buy a new one last year and it wasn't any more expensive than a regular kind.  I don't have the money to replace all my furniture and bedding with chemical-free options and frankly, I'm not sure I need to.  As long as my room is ventilated throughout the day and while I sleep the toxins leaching from my bed don't have a chance to build up and I don't actually touch my bedframe while sleeping.  The only thing touching my skin at night are my pajamas and my sheets (and Steve against whom a pretty good arguement could be made that with all those pizza rolls in his system he is also a source of toxins, but I digress) and since I really need to buy some new sheets anyway, why not make them organic?

It was my Gaiam catalog with any size sheets set on sale for $39.99 (http://www.gaiam.com/) that inspired me, but I've also noticed places like Target, WalMart, Lands End, LLBean, and Pottery Barn carrying organic sheet sets.  My goal is to replace my sheets with an organic option, wash them in eco-friendly detergent, and perhaps, over time, invest in some organic cotton T-shirts and boxers for sleeping. 

A restful night.  Giving my body the opportunity to rejuvenate.  Less pesticides being used on our planet.  Less dyes and chemicals being put into our drinking water, soil, and bodies.  One small step that if we all take together adds up to one big step.

Now go get a good night's sleep.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What would you do if you weren't afraid to do it?

What would you do if you weren't afraid to do it?  Would you publish a book?  Open a restaurant?  Produce a movie?  Cure a disease?  Invent something?  Did you ever set a goal that seemed like maybe you were reaching a little too high but you couldn't help yourself, you decided to reach anyway?

I did.  I do.  And I did it.  I reached.

I'd like to invite you to come along with me as I embark on my next adventure that combines 2 of my passions: reading books and talking with friends.  I'd like to invite you to listen to my podcast.

That's right, podcast.  Debbie and I have a podcast.  If you are a podcast virgin let me give you a little more information: podcasts are audio or video blogs.  Debbie and I decided to create an audio podcast where we will review books, blogs, authors, basically anything written down.  Our inaugral podcast is now live and can be found on our blog http://www.undercoverwithdebandbeth.blogspot.com/ or downloaded from iTunes.  Just type deb and beth in the search bar.

In our first podcast we review the Stephanie Plum series written by Janet Evanovich.  For our next podcast we're planning to discuss the combined works from author Stacey Ballis.  Our style is casual, the audio mix a bit amateur, the intro music probably a little dated, yet I am so proud of the overall product that I am just about bursting.  I'd love to have you listen along.  Download the podcast (it's free) and even better subscribe so you get our regular updates.

And while you're listening to us, think about your dream.  And then reach.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Let's Talk about Toothbrushes

Oops, it looks like Green Tip Tuesday is once again being held on a Wednesday.  Sorry!  My last days of summer are kind of running together a bit.  Anyway, let's talk about toothbrushes!  If you're listening to your dentist you are throwing away your old toothbrush every six months or anytime you get sick.  That could add up to a lot of waste.   Luckily, there are some greener solutions.

Powered toothbrushes only replace the toothbrush head

The first solution is to use a rechargeable powered toothbrush.  These kinds of toothbrushes have a base that can be used for years with only the toothbrush head needing to be replaced.  I use an Oral B rechargeable and absolutely love it.  My teeth feel cleaner, I know I am brushing long enough because it has a self timer that tells me when 2 minutes is up, and because I am actually brushing for 2 minutes (instead of what feels like 2 minutes!) I am more apt to do a complete job.  You do have to be careful not to press too hard on your gums or you can cause sensitivity and pain.  The toothbrush head that gets replaced still generates waste, it simply generates less waste because of its size and the fact that a complete toothbrush doesn't have to be manufactured.  Of course my toothbrush base does get plugged into the wall so there is still a carbon footprint.  Also, it can be very hard to find eco-friendly replacement heads that fit the toothbrush.


These wooden toothbrushes are natural but not made from sustainable wood sources


Recycled yogurt containers make up these toothbrushes

Another solution is to buy a toothbrush made from recycled material.  There is an eco-friendly toothbrush manufactured by Recycline, Inc. in Waltham, Massachusetts.  The toothbrush base is made from recycled yogurt containers that are supplied by Stoneyfield Farm Yogurt.  It's a great option for manual toothbrush users because you are already re-using what has been re-cycled and re-purposed.  Pristineplanet.com carries a line of eco-friendly toothbrushes that are BPA free and phthalate free.  There is only one problem that I have with these toothbrushes: price. 

As you well know from my organic butter ($4.99/lb) I definitely pay a premium for what I consider to be superior products.  HOWEVER, at roughly $7.99 per toothbrush, if you have a bad winter of colds and flu you could bankrupt yourself just buying toothbrushes.  Not to mention that these toothbrushes are not widely available in stores and so you may encounter shipping costs when buying online.  Yikes!

Having said all that, you may want to make the toothbrush investment and here is why: most toothbrushes contain BPA, acrylic, nylon, and phthlalate.  Add to this a nice toxic chemical like fluoride that will help these substances to break down and you have your average teeth brushing experience.  If you're having problems with bleeding gums, mouth sores or ulcers, any kind of mouth, throat, or lip cancers, or have a suppressed immune system it may be worthwhile to consider a natural toothbrush.  Now I suppose the argument can be made that if you're having all those above listed problems you probably want to make a lot of lifestyle changes and your toothbrush may be the least of your concerns, but why add toxins, right?

For the Average Joe who doesn't have bleeding mouth ulcers there is something else to consider: if you have a toddler that likes to chew on toothbrushes invest in an eco-friendly toothbrush.  Wash it regularly to preserve it as long as possible and don't replace it until it is gnawed completely but don't let your babies ingest all those toxins.  Why bother to invest in the BPA free water bottle and then give your baby a toothbrush to chew on?

Whatever type of toothbrush you use the really important thing is to use it regularly.  Having a clean mouth reduces air pollution and that my friends, is Green.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Surprising Areas of Waste & How to Be Greener

Being smug is fun, isn't it?  I'll admit it: as I walk around my house on freshly washed-with-vinegar floors wearing organic cotton socks that will later be washed with Earth-friendly detergent sometimes I just can't help but let that smug little smirk creep onto my face.  Oh yeah, I'm sooo much better than all those Mop-N-Glo-using-synthetic-sock-wearing-folks!  Right?  So my smug-little-self decides to take out the trash (of course a very small bag since environmental smugness and recycling go hand-in-hand) and would you looky here...Plastic baggies with zipper top, batteries, single use Keurig cups, banana peels, a peach pit, and a styrofoam meat tray all getting ready to go to the landfill.  And all completely unnecessary waste.  Perhaps I'm just a mere mortal after all...

So what are the options?  Well, what about trying this:


Most plastic bags can be recycled but they may have to go to a "special" recycling center which can be a pain to find.  I found out that the same recycling bin at my grocery store that will take the plastic grocery bags will also take sandwich style bags as long as the zipper is cut off.  I also know that some people wash and reuse their baggies.  I am  not a huge fan of this option because these bags were not made to be washed and reused.  Aside from the potential for harmful bacterial growth is the fact that the bags are breaking down with use leaching their petrochemicals into whatever you have in the bag.  The best option is to forego the bag completely and find a reusable container that will fit your needs.  This can be super challenging because who is going to pack a glass bowl in their child's lunch, right?  I have found that the reusable bags from snacktaxi (http://www.snacktaxi.com/) are a good option, as well as using recyclable plastic containers for dry goods (get a thermos if you're packing anything hot,like soup).


I keep meaning to make the investment in rechargeable batteries.  The problem is that when I remember I need batteries for something tends to be at the checkout when that conveniently placed little package of Duracells jogs my memory.   Despite all my good intentions those old batteries end up in the trash where they get to leach some good ol' heavy metals like mercury and nickel cadmium into the soil.   So if, like me, that rechargeable battery purchase hasn't materialized, be assured that it's actually getting easier to recycle batteries.  A lot of office supply stores are creating drop boxes for battery recycling, as well as bigger chain stores like WalMart.  The best information on how to recycle the battery may come from the packaging itself which frequently gives a website to go to for information.  My plan: hang a bag under the sink, label it 'Batteries', throw all the batteries in there instead of in the trash.  When the bag is full (which will take some time in most households) find a recycling center and take it there.  (Yes that solution did combine two of my favorite things: procrastinating and recycling!)


I'm guilty, guilty, guilty.  We even have the reusable Keurig insert that enables us to put coffee, tea, whatever, into the machine without using the single-use cup.  I don't believe we've ever used it.  Those little cups are so cute, convenient, have great flavors, I can't find my green chai tea in bulk, I've got dozens of reasons why I don't use the reusable cup.  None of them are Green.  The only option is for me to change my wicked ways and use the reusable filter giving the K-cup manufacturers time to develop recylable packaging.  In order to get the green chai tea I love I'm going to have to make it myself.  Here is the recipe:

1/3 c loose green tea
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cardamom

Mix the ingredients together.  If using K-cup reusable filter, put 1 TBSP into the filter, store the remainder in an airtight (glass!) container.  I like to add rice or soy milk to my brewed cup, but that's just me.  Enjoy!


Banana peels and peach pits.  If I had a compost pile these would be excellent candidates to go on that pile.  In the past I haven't felt too bad about throwing away things that will naturally break down because, well, they naturally break down.  They don't clog up landfills for years and years, they self-compost.  Unfortunately this thinking is pretty flawed.  First of all they do clog up landfills because it's not like they break down instantly, it takes time.  Secondly that plastic bag they are stored in isn't exactly breaking down quickly (if at all) either so what good does it do to have some quality compost trapped in plastic for the next millenium?  My quick fix has been to throw a lot of my peels and pits over my deck and into the woods behind my house.  (Note, I own the part I'm using as a personal landfill so no neighbors' rights are being infringed upon).  However creating a heap of rotting food in my backyard isn't exactly composting, so again, not ideal.  I looked it up and composting is actually easy!  Here's what to do:

Choose a shady spot.  Put down your green compost (coffee grounds, fruit and veggie waste,  grass clippings).  Now add your browns (twigs, branches, etc.).  Now add a little water to moisten.  Keep doing this.  Keep a shovel or pitchfork nearby to mix things up every once in a while and make sure to keep it moist.  Your compost will be ready in a few months.  Note: don't let your pile get too large or get too much sun.

Now this is rudimentary composting, at best, but it will work (according to the EPA website) and so I'm going to give it a shot.


Finally the styrofoam meat tray.  The solution to this one is easy: get your meat from the meat counter instead of what's already been packaged and put on the shelf.  You'll get exactly the amount you want, the cut you want, it's fresher, and it will be wrapped in recyclable paper, not stored in styrofoam.

See how easy it is to be Green?  (And think how unbearably smug I can be once I have accomplished all this Greenness!)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

My Summer Top 10 List

This summer has been chock full of wonderful experiences.  I seem to be in a "gratitude place" lately because I am noticing that every little thing seems to bring me joy.  Perhaps I am finally feeling at home, at peace, and settled here in Massachusetts.

I've been thinking lately about a Top 10 list: what are my 10 favorite things to do/experience this summer.  Here's what I have come up with so far:

10.  The way my house smells first thing in the morning when the windows have been open all night long and the air is still cool.

9.  Sipping Simply Lemonade.  With plenty of ice.  (Fresh squeezed would only be better if someone else was willing to squeeze it for me...)

8.  Scrunching my toes in the sand.  Not being a native New Englander, I had no idea that there were so many types of sand on beaches.  York beach in York, Maine has a course, brown sandy beach.  Hampton Beach in Hampton, New Hampshire has a soft, yellow sand.  Ogunquit Beach in Ogunquit, Maine has a soft, light brown sand.  Marblehead Beach in Salem, Massachusetts has a very rocky beach with not much sand at all.  Whatever their type, I like all beaches and scrunching my toes in all kinds of sand.

7.  Seeing the bees really working the flowers in front my house.  The previous owner planted lavendar and the bees just go crazy over the stuff.  Every day, without fail they show up to work.  I don't know much about bees but I think these bees are honey bees.  They are big and fat and can barely squeeze their bee-bodies into each flower.  They don't seem bothered by me trying to weed the area around the lavendar and other flowers and to my amazement, even with hundreds of bees around me, I've never been stung.  Thanks, bees!

6.  Freshly painted hot-pink toenails.  I rarely paint my fingernails but in the summer I like to have my toes looking cute.  Hot pink is my choice this summer.  Probably it's weird but glancing down at my cute-hot-pink-toes set against my tanned foot makes me smile.

5.  The smell of Hawaiian Tropic suntain lotion.  Probably laden with chemicals and extra artificial ingredients to make that wonderful, trademark smell, Hawaiian Tropic has it right: it just smells like summer.

4.  Eating cherries on the back deck.  Having a pit-spitting contest with my daughter to see who can spit their pit the farthest into the woods.

3.  Grilled corn on the cob.  Purchased fresh that day from the farmer's market.  With butter and salt.

2.  The sound of the ocean.  Be it crashing waves, screaming gulls, the blowing wind, or the dull roar of the surf, I find the complex sounds of the ocean to be at times calming, at times stimulating and always awe-inspiring.

1.  The smell of my daughter's hair in the summer: a potpourri of chlorine, shampoo, and sun.  I could just breathe that child in forever.  She's 11 now, so time spent hugging mom whilst I smell her hair is both short and met with horror ("Mo-om!  Why are you so weird???").  No matter.  I know what's important.


So there it is.  My Top 10 Summer Pleasures.  Any of those pleasures resonate with you?  Any pleasures to add?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

If I was filthy stinkin' rich...

What if money were no object?

Our family likes to play a game sometimes where we imagine what kind of outrageous, wonderful, quirky, and expensive items we would own if we were filthy stinkin' rich.  My daughter frequently chooses things like an iceberg complete with penguins that would swim around in our basement.  My husband likes to imagine things like our own parking garage filled with a different car for every mood.  I seem to always envision outdoor stuff like a waterfall that cascades into our multi-level inground pool.

What would you dream if you had a million dollars to spend?  A billion?  A trillion?

There was recently a man in our town who won a large lottery.  He was just a regular guy, working a regular job, and now he gets $50,000 a year for 30 years.  Not bad for a single scratch lotto ticket.  His story got me to thinking again about how much money I'd love to have if I could have any amount.  I have decided I would like to have 3 million dollars.  Here's what I'd do with the money:

I'd take the first million and pay off my home mortgage and the mortgages of my parents, brothers, sister, and in-laws.

I'd take the second million and establish education trust funds for my daughter and her 3 cousins.  These wouldn't be just college funds, they'd be education funds that would carry them from whenever their education begins to whenever it ends.  I'd give whatever was left after the funds were established as donations to schools that need it in our area.

I'd take the third million and bank it.  Invest it.  Use its interest to travel and create new experiences for myself and my family.

That's it, just 3 million.  If I won a lottery of $10 million I would still do my $3 million plan, I'd just donate more money to charity.  I wouldn't quit my very-part-time-job at the local college bookstore.  I doubt Steve would quit his job either.  We love our jobs.  We love what we do.  I wouldn't re-decorate my house or build on another wing (though I would hire professional exterior painters in a heartbeat!).  I wouldn't even change my car, though I'm sure Steve would want another car, not to replace his, but just for fun.  I wouldn't change my daughter's school, where we live, or our grocery budget.

I'd travel to see my friends and family a lot more.

I'd make sure that all of the children in my school district were eating healthy meals at school for breakfast and/or lunch.

I'd probably spend more getting my hair highlighted.

But I like my life.  While I would love to have the financial serenity of having my house paid for and a healthy chunk in the bank, I wouldn't want to actually have a different life.

What about you?  What amount would you like to have?  What would you do with your dream-money?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Don't Track Those Muddy Shoes in my House!

Shoes really do belong outside

It turns out Mom was right: it really is a bad idea to track muddy, or really any kinds of shoes, into the house.  The Asian cultures have known this for centuries and have always insisted that shoes be left at the door, but it's kind of a new phenomenon here in the west. 

There are a lot of pollutants that get stuck on the soles of our shoes: dirt, pesticides, fecal matter, and dust (which provides a wonderful biosphere environment for dust mites, mold, viruses, and germs to breed) all ride in with us whenever we walk in the door.  It's especially bad if you have carpeting which acts like a gigantic doormat sucking up all the pollutants it can from your shoes.  The problem isn't so much the gunk we track in, it's the chemicals we're forced to use to get it back out.  Carpet cleaners, bleaches, harsh chemicals, and dry cleaning (for winter coats) are regularly used throughout our homes as we try to combat all the dirt that has been drug in.

Keeping your house clean can be as simple as removing your shoes as soon as, or right before, you walk in the door.  Now for me this is a bit of a challenge.  Our home doesn't really have a foyer.  Or a mud room.  Or a convenient place to leave shoes.  We usually enter from the garage so our shoes get taken off as soon as we enter the house through the dining room.  This means that our dining room always has an empty shoe tray with 4 or 5 pairs of shoes scattered around it.  And the shoe tray always has a nice layer of sand, cut grass, and dust to make it look especially appealing, being as it's in a dining room and all.


I'd be happy if the shoes would just make it on the tray!

We have shoe racks in the hall closet but that closet is on the other side of the dining room in the non-existent foyer and so the shoes have never made the journey quite that far.  I personally have been lobbying to do away with our formal dining room and turn that space into a proper mudroom.  Since the garage and the basement both open into the dining room it's already kind of an awkward arrangement. 

My husband is not yet convinced.

This is my vision: The dining room is a perfect square so we put a big comfy chair with ottoman angled in one corner.  (We already have the chair, it lives in the basement waiting to be rediscovered).  That provides a perfect spot for putting on/taking off shoes.  Then we line the back wall with those gorgeous cubbies from Pottery Barn (or a knock off from Target, you know how I love Target), add a round rug in the center of the room and call it a day.


Is it just me or is this anyone else's idea of perfection?

My husband is not yet convinced.

I like the idea of a proper place to put all our shoes.  I like the idea of coats, backpacks, purses, umbrellas, briefcases, and lunch bags having a permanent home as well.  All of those "outdoor" items that get tossed on the floor, drug across the classroom, dropped on the floor of the car, and thrown into the corner of the office pick up a lot of dirt and germs.  Finding a spot, preferably close to where you enter your house, for these items to live means containing a lot of dirt and germs, which makes cleaning a lot easier.  It also means less wear and tear on your carpet.  Which means you'll replace your carpet less frequently.  Which means less waste going into a landfill.  Which is green.  Or you can use gentler cleaners on your hardwood floors.  Like good old vinegar and hot water.  Which is green.  And y'all know how much I like to be green!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Need relaxation therapy? Try a Pottery Barn catalog

A few days ago I went out to check the mail.  Life had been unexpectedly busy and stressful and my house was reflecting it: dishes needing to be loaded in the dishwasher, throw blankets...well...thrown about, papers on the floor where the wind had blown them, shoes absolutely everywhere but in the shoe bin, beds unmade, laundry unfolded, a life in chaos.

I wasn't so much checking the mailbox as I was fleeing the scene.

When I opened the mailbox it was there.  Nestled in among the Redplum coupons, the grocery store ads, and the oil bill.  A Pottery Barn catalog.  Just for a moment I heard the angels sing.  I pulled out the mail, tossing most of it into the recycle bin as I walked into the house.  But not the Pottery Barn catalog.  Nope, no recycling bin for you yet, my pretty.  You, my little book of magic, are going to provide me some much needed therapy.


Isn't this a peaceful scene?

I walked into the kitchen and placed the catalog in the center of the island.  I quickly unloaded the dishwasher, put away the clean dishes, then loaded it again with the dirty.  I wiped off counters and tables (being careful not to get my prized catalog wet!) and took the catalog with me to the family room.  I placed the catalog on the coffee table and went to work: I picked up the wind-strewn papers, folded the throw blankets, put the pillows and cushions back where they belong and straightened the rug.

Then Pottery Barn and I went upstairs where I quickly made beds, put dirty laundry into hampers, threw in a load, and gazed longingly at the cover of the catalog while I folded laundry.  I put the laundry away, made a cup of Bigelow's Chai Green Tea (in my beloved Keurig, of course) and then sat down to relax.  Just me and Pottery Barn.

 I enjoyed it just as much as I thought I would.  Each page filled with beautifully photographed, beautifully layered, accessorized, and clean roooms.   Pottery Barn catalog inspires me.  Just knowing those beautiful images awaited me gave me the push I needed to set my own house to rights.  After perusing through Pottery Barn I find myself looking at collections of candles and glassware in new ways.  I will arrange pillows and blankets in different groupings, mixing patterns in a way I hadn't thought of before.  I have painted picture frames, printed out my photos in black and white, covered scraps of wood with chalkboard paint or fabric, all because of things I've seen in Pottery Barn magazine.  I don't actually own a lot of Pottery Barn "stuff."  I have a few accessories, my daughter has a lot of their bedding and a desk hutch, and many, many of my paint colors through the years have been taken directly from the Benjamin Moore Pottery Barn paint deck, but for most part it is the lifestyle they are selling that I am buying, not the actual product.  (Which is probably not music to Pottery Barn's ears but I'm just tellin' the truth here).

After 30 minutes spent in my now-clean-house, sipping chai green tea and flipping through the catalog I was completely relaxed.  I got up, actually set the table for dinner, as opposed to simply putting out plates.  I used napkin rings, brought in a centerpiece of a glass bowl filled with sand, white candles, sea glass, and shells (except for the candles all found objects from the ocean).  We had a pleasant dinner, enjoyed some dumb game shows as a family, and went to bed. 

The next day I was still inspired to move some throw pillows around from different rooms when making my bed.  The day after that I hung a shelf in my bathroom that I'd been meaning to hang.  Just this morning I grouped some picture frames differently.

I spent 30 minutes with a catalog and I didn't buy anything.  But I did get a new attitude.

What inspires yet relaxes you?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Green Tip Tuesday: Hosting a "Green" Cookout

I love grilling out!

I love grilling out.  I love the smell.  I love how the food tastes.  I love the excitement that I can't help but feel about the whole process.  Until I learned a little more about cooking out I was (mistakenly) thinking that it wasn't a very "green" option.  It turns out, cooking out can be quite environmentally friendly.


This is how we used to grill out

Most important is the choice of grill.  We have a gas grill.  Up until last year we had a charcoal grill.  I thought the charcoal grill was "greener" because charcoal is a renewable resource but unfortunately the emissions are so high from burning charcoal that it apparently cancels out all the potential good.  I read here a pretty good arguement for gas grilling.  There are also electric grills.  Sadly these grills tend to not be very efficient, especially when grilling multiple food items, thus the good done by their reduced emissions is negated by the amount of energy it takes to completely cook a meal.  Finally there is lump charcoal.  Lump charcoal is free of the additives found in traditional charcoal that create the noxious emissions but it is not readily available from local sources creating the need to ship it great distances.  The transportation emissions far exceed the "good" done by using this type of energy.


Gas grilling is more environmentally friendly than charcoal grilling

The point is that unless you are choosing a raw-food-lifestyle you're going to be cooking your food in some form or fashion.  The smallest carbon footprint comes from gas grilling.  Something about grilling seems to inspire us to invite our friends and families to join us, thus making for an even greener cooking experience as more people are fed from the same amount of energy consumed.  Heating up a grill is far greener than heating up an oven.


I love veggie kabobs, especially marinated with a little Italian dressing!

Finally it's important to note the types of food being grilled.  You could go for the heart attack special: steaks, brats, burgers, hot dogs,  mayonnaise-laden potatoe salad, macaroni salad, jello "salad", some creamy cole slaw all topped off with s'mores for dessert.  You could eat that way.  I certainly have in the past.  Now I choose black bean burgers, grilled vegetables, vegetable kabobs, grilled portabella mushrooms, and grilled corn-on-the-cob.  And s'mores.  It's best not to "char" food when grilling, in fact the shorter cooking time for veggies, the better because many nutrients are destroyed by heat. 


Pineapples and apples grill up nicely

Grilling food is an excellent opportunity to try out new foods.  Not sure if you like summer squash?  What about adding it to your kabob? Haven't ever tried grilled fruit?  Well peaches are in season and they grill up beautifully, as do blueberries, blackberries, and pears.  You could even go for more nutrients and eat the fruit raw, like in strawberry shortcake.



Who am I kidding?  Grilled fruit?
I still eat the s'mores.