Wednesday, December 31, 2008

All New

New snow is falling, drifting quietly on this, the last day of a tumultuous year. The New Year is now only hours away--minutes away in Tokyo. New hopes take shape in the hearts and minds of so many.

On this day, we pause, we reflect and we celebrate.


Happy New Year, Mamas! May it bring you much love, laughter and abundant joy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Widow Cliquot

Most of you know that I'm a sucker for a good story about a strong woman who succeeds against the odds. Most of you don't know, however, that I'm also a big fan of a crystal flute filled with a sparkling French brut, especially at this time of year.

Imagine my elation when I found this book review in Sunday's New York Times, praising Tilar J. Mazzeo's latest literary cocktail, "The Widow Cliquot." It's the story of the woman behind the ubiquitous bottle of bubbly with the yellow label: Veuve (widow) Cliquot.

Widowed at the tender age of 27, Mme. Cliquot took over her late husband's successful winery and, with a business acumen that Donald Trump would envy, created the world's first Champagne Empire. Sneaking her bubbly around naval blockades, winning the heart of the Russian Czar and the loyalty of the London clubgoers, Mme. Cliquot created a tradition and a name that have spanned centuries. Not bad, for a 19th century widow.

So, as you pop those corks tomorrow and those tiny bubbles tickle your nose, raise a glass to the Widow Cliquot. And while you're at it, take a bit of her advice as well: "One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity."

You Say You Want A Resolution

Reading yesterday's crisp, wry and very funny piece by Guy Trebay in the New York Times Fashion and Style section got me thinking. I don't make New Year's resolutions. I've never participated in the seasonal, fantastic, champagne-fueled promise-making at year's end. There's much about myself that could use changing, don't get me wrong. I've just failed to see the effectiveness of swearing an oath of self-improvement en masse.

But this year, I choose to fly in the face of my own reluctance and Mr. Trebay's understandable--and witty--scepticism. This year, I have some promises that just might merit taking the leap and drinking that holiday punch once and for all.

For 2009, I resolve:

To give myself a big, fat break. To stop measuring myself against so many unrealistic benchmarks, choosing instead, to delight in my imperfections.

To laugh more. And louder.

To make sure the people that I love have no room for doubt just how much they mean to me, and how lost I'd be without them.

To commit multiple, creative acts of charity regularly. And to teach my daughter the joy of doing so.

To live free of judgement--as much as possible--judgement of myself, my friends, my family, and the person in the car in front of me driving 10 miles an hour under the speed limit.

To embrace the joy of each morning, even when it begins with a sharp, irritated "Mommy!" over the monitor at 4:30 am.

To live the miracle of every day that is given to me, because I never know when my luck will finally run out.

I know. It isn't an easy list. It might not even be particularly realistic. But this year, I think I have some things that are worth reaching for, some things that matter. All this at far less a cost than my underused gym membership.

Friday, December 26, 2008

So Long, 2008.

This year has been a wild ride, to say the least. Marked by spectacular economic collapses, crippling oil prices (Remember paying more than $4.00 a gallon this summer? I sure do.), increased hunger, and more toxic products, 2008 will not find many who will mourn its passing.

And yet, as we turn back to view the path we have just traveled, rays of light emerge from behind so many dark clouds: An historic election, which shattered glass ceilings, shredded prejudices and catapulted us into the 21st century; record-breaking, inspiring physical achievement; and an inclination toward charity (even if my evidence is only anecdotal), despite a perilous economic landscape.

Looking ahead to 2009, much is uncertain. Will the economy get worse before it gets better? Will the new president be as effective as millions have hoped? Will we surface from these depths and begin to breathe freely again?

No one knows, of course. But there is always reason to hope. Reason to hope because we've come this far already. Reason to hope because, this holiday season, every time I tried to put a few dollars into the familiar red canister next to the bell-ringing volunteer, I had to wiggle and shove the money into a full-to-capacity bucket. Reason to hope because hope feels so much better than despair. Reason to hope because we are intrepid.

As we close the casket on 2008, we must do so without eulogizing. In stead, we should enumerate our hopes for the infant New Year. We must invest ourselves in the future because you never know what's just around the corner. Let's close this door already, so we can climb through that open window.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Very Merry







Wishing all of you wonderful readers bountiful blessings of the season! May we bring peace and love to one another and do our best to spread joy and hope.

1. Hand stitched "Peace" ornament, offered by pillowhappy at Etsy.

2. Hand stamped bronze clay "Hope" dove ornament, from Kvossdesigns, at Etsy.

3. "Joy" photograph, from JenniferDennisPotter's Etsy shop.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Soundtrack

This is it. The Christmas anticipation around our house has reached a fever pitch, the likes of which I haven't seen since I was drafting my own letters to Santa. Fueled by winter's blustery, scene stealing entrance (and a fair amount of holiday baking), my daughter can barely contain her joy and expectation. Even if she isn't exactly sure of what it is she's waiting for.

As with other holidays, we have our preferred soundtrack painting a musical backdrop for our fun. This Christmas, we're loving:

1. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) U2
2. Christmas Blues Eric Clapton & John Popper
3. St. Nicholas Sheryl Cormier & Cajun Sounds
4. Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer The Temptations
5. Happy Christmas John & Yoko
6. Do They Know It's Christmas? Band Aid (I know, I know.)
7. Silver Bells Stevie Wonder
8. White Christmas Los Reyes
9. Oh Holy Night Traci Chapman (Possibly my very favorite version.)
10. What Child Is This Dan Crary (Gorgeous acoustic guitar.)
11. Gabriel's Message Sting

Fa la la la la, Mamas! Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 22, 2008

She's Crafty

Have a house full of little ones this week on Winter break? Looking for a few last minute gifts? Keep the kids busy with some of these great DIY ornament ideas.

These beaded ornaments are simple and cute. They'd also dress up your already wrapped packages. Find out how to make your own over at the crafty Plum Pudding.



Elegant and easy to make, these doves will dress up any tree. Find out how to make them yourself over at mint.


Domestic diva Martha Stewart delights with this sweet button wreath. Directions here.




Domino Magazine offers up these darling snowflakes. Find out how to make them here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter Wonderland

We're bracing for the winter storm all the news outlets are so enthusiastically predicting. They assure us that, by this evening, we'll be snowed in for sure. While the "snow event" will not likely be as dramatic as the meteorologists would have us think, my little one and I will, nevertheless, use the weather as an excuse to have a snuggly, winter day at home.

In honor of the first true snowstorm of the season, we will: bake Christmas cookies and decorate them with abandon; curl up with some good books; break out the paints, brushes and sponges and get to work on some inspired art; make our very own Rudolph; and, at some point this afternoon, we'll probably settle our brains for a long winter's nap.

Happy Winter Friday, Mamas! Have a festive weekend.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Little Bites

Have a mini gourmet at home? Or perhaps a picky eater you'd like to reform? A kiddie cookbook is the perfect gift!

A few I like:

Kids in the Kitchen, a Gooseberry Patch gem. In addition to the yummy meals, this book will instruct your little one on the art of cooking up some crafty recipes as well, like DIY play goop and face paint.


Kids' Fun and Healthy Cookbook, from DK publishing. This one's a must for the picky eater. It doesn't just teach kids how to cook healthy food, it teaches them why.

The Kid's Cookbook, from Williams-Sonoma. It's spiral bound and full of great photos and greater tips for budding chefs.


The Everything Kid's Cookbook, by Sandra K. Nissenberg, chock full of all the classics, from pasta to pizza and cookies to cupcakes.


As I was preparing this post, I came across a terrific list of "foodie fiction" over at eensies. Check it out!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Reading

We're knee-deep in holiday reading around our house. And truly, what's better than snuggling up with a great book and your little one on your lap while snow falls, glittering and silent, outside? Not much, in my opinion.


Here are a few of our favorites:

Because my little one is half French (and because I miss Paris, desperately) Madeline's Christmas, by Ludwig Bemelmans.


It's Jane Chapman's adorable illustrations that have turned us into repeat-readers of Karma Wilson's sweet, rhyming story Bear Stays Up For Christmas.



I've always been a fan of Dickens. His classic A Christmas Carol is the perfect way to introduce Dickens to a new generation, especially when it is a version as beautifully illustrated as this one, with moody, mysterious illustrations by P.J. Lynch.


We love just about everything Robert Sabuda does, and his pop-up version of the eternal Night Before Christmas is no exception.


We're also still enjoying Olivia's previous pick of the week, The Polar Express by the prolific and talented Chris Van Allsburg.


And, of course, there's this week's pick, The Nutcracker, by E.T.A. Hoffman, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shopping Guides

CNN reports this morning that millions of you have not yet begun your holiday shopping! Tick, tock people!

If you're looking for a special little something and you're on a budget, Cookie's got a great list of 25 gifts for under $25, and they haven't left out anyone.


Or what about some pretty, handmade Etsy items? Here's a little list of some of my favorites, also all under $25.

Like this gorgeous cowl from JustessDesign.



Or, for the romantic on your list, this dreamy Parisian photo from SnappyChic.



For your Tiny Dancer, from DanburyLane.


Or these elegant hammered silver and green grossular garnet earrings from jdeandrade. (Alright, they're over the price limit, but barely.)


Happy hunting!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Perfect Gift

Still have some people on your holiday shopping list that you just haven't found the right gift for? Look no further. There's a movement afoot to encourage us give "better" this year, to give with a purpose, to "Redefine Christmas." Redefine Christmas is an organization with a clear message: "It's not about reinventing the holiday. It's about changing the way we look at gift giving and receiving. It's taking money we usually spend on obligatory gifts with little meaning, and creating gifts of charity that give in multiple ways, to the receiver, the giver, and people who truly need."

This year, more than ever, people are in need. With our collective generosity, we can make things a little better for millions of women, men and children. And we can do it all in our pajamas, sitting at our computers.

Redefine Christmas also helps you spread the message to your friends and family that, this year, you want a gift that's always the right size, always in style and that you never need to return.

You can also check out Changing the Present and Just Give, sites that make it easy for you to make Christmas wishes come true.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Good Mother

Yesterday's New York Times column by Judith Warner hit me like a small bag of bricks. She's a terrific writer and often she uses her skills to examine motherhood in its current, 21st century incarnation. Yesterday, she shot straight to the heart of an issue that has plagued me from the moment a tiny plus sign appeared on the plastic stick: How do I do this without screwing up?

Like Warner (and many, many other Mamas I know) I have an inner voice who is constantly observing--and criticizing--my mothering skills in action. Daily, the voice will admonish me: Why did you say that? You need to be more patient! And, sometimes, You're a lousy mom. It's hard to be present for your kid (or anything else) when you're busy berating yourself for the dozens of ways you've "screwed up" on a given day.

Warner has written extensively on the idea of "enmeshment parenting" and how damaging it is to our children when we can't separate ourselves and our identities from them. This particular affliction, I think, is greatly amplified within the mother/daughter relationship. There is so much that informs this relationship, more than most of us probably realize.

By wanting (needing?) our daughters to be smarter/happier/more successful/all-around better than we are, we do them a double disservice. Firstly, we deny them the chance to become who they are, independent of us. They should and will become whole, separate people, not just superlative versions of ourselves.

Secondly--and perhaps most importantly--our self-directed criticism, which is, almost without exception, overly harsh and unfair, denies our daughters the opportunity to find their own, positive, healthy ways to identify with us. By pointing out to them all the ways which we screw up and all the ways in which they are--or should be--better than we are, we're introducing them to that inner voice, the eternal critic. When we ignore our daily successes, when we give our "mistakes" more attention, we fit our daughters with the same lens through which to view themselves: a negative one.

As Warner so perfectly put it, "If your dream of yourself is a bit of a nightmare, you owe it to your kids to let it go." Indeed, if we want our daughters to clearly see the wonderful, beautiful people we know they are, then we need to start seeing the good in ourselves.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

TV Free Snow Day

Cookie Magazine has a terrific online exclusive right now, outlining all kinds of TV-free ways for your kids to have fun. From green crafts (recycled Rudolph anyone?) to instructions for building a terrarium (I loved those when I was a kid), Cookie has mapped out hours of creative fun for you and your kids that doesn't involve a minute of channel surfing. Don't miss their list of indoor games and activities for when you get snowed in or their comprehensive list of the best children's books, organized by age group.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Picky, Picky

I have multiple picky eaters in my extended family. And while I'm not going to out anyone here, (you know who you are), I am proud to say that my 2 1/2 year-old daughter is not among this group. She's actually a lot of fun to eat with because she'll try anything and, more often than not, she'll like it.

But I know that many, many parents struggle at mealtime to produce something healthy that their kids will actually eat. Meals end up being a source of frustration, rather than a chance to spend time together as a family.

And what happens when picky eaters grow up? Tara Parker-Pope's New York Times blog, Well, answered that question yesterday: They become picky adult eaters. Parker-Pope interviewed author, educator and reformed picky eater Jill Bloomfield. Bloomfield describes overcoming her gastronomical handicap as "not impossible, but difficult." It was more than just embarrassment (disapproving looks from colleagues at restaurants) that caused her to change her ways; it was also the ramifications her eating habits had on her health. She has high cholesterol.

Bloomfield's solution? Learn to cook. She has and since then, she hasn't looked back. Now she's writing books aimed at getting kids involved in food preparation and empowering them to make better food choices. She offers up some tasty recipes as well, like the Chickpea and Couscous Salad in the article. It's a process, undoing the damage of unchecked picky eating. But Bloomfield is living proof that it can happen.

So hand your picky eater a paring knife and get cooking.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Baby It's Cold Outside

A few ideas to warm up a lovely lady on your list.





Toggle armwarmers from Urban Outfitters.






Alpaca convertible mittens from DebzCreations on Etsy.




Diamond snow poncho from Anthropologie. (Psst! It's on sale!)



Grey wool cowl from Urbanknit's Etsy shop.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Wrap it Up

CNN's homepage this morning is no surprise: 67 percent of their poll respondents are cutting back on holiday spending this year. This Mama is certainly pinching pennies this Christmas.


But scroll down CNN's homepage a bit and you'll find a great list of resourceful gift wrap tips from the very clever Real Simple. With great ideas like using newspaper, fabric remnants and even dishtowels as gift wrap, this list could save you some real cash. It's also a great way to green up your giving.

Another favorite gift wrap money saver around my house: I use my little one's penchant for painting to pretty up my presents. Her ubiquitous drawings and paintings make lovely--and heartwarming--gift wrap, no matter the recipient.

Friday, December 5, 2008

C'mon Get Happy

A new report in the British Medical Journal (as reported by Time) asserts that happiness is as contagious as a virus. These scientists (from Harvard and the University of California at San Diego) studied "5,000 people and their nearly 50,000 social ties" and determined that happiness spreads and that its ripple effects spread out to three degrees of separation from the original happy individual.

This is, in my view, big news. "Viral happiness" can be a powerful, joy-spreading tool in our families and our communities, especially in uncertain times. No matter how bleak things appear, if we look hard enough, we can usually find something that makes us happy: a hug from our kids, a great song on the radio, or the morning sunshine flooding through the windows the way it's doing at my house right now. The light is bright and winter white. It's almost blinding if I move my chair just a little to the right. It's a glorious, hopeful, beautiful light that makes me very happy, indeed.

I hope you catch my disease this morning, and then get out there and spread it around.

Happy Friday

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cafe Johnsonia

I recently stumbled upon this delicious blog, Cafe Johnsonia. Written by the talented and inspired Lindsey Johnson, this blog is brimming with scrumptious-ness! Just check out this recipe for Linzer Sable Cookies.

I wish we lived in the same time zone! I would totally try to score an invitation to dinner at her house.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Now You're Cooking

As Tara Parker-Pope points out on her New York Times blog, Well, challenging economic times mean that people eat out less and cook at home more. So, she's compiled multiple lists of new and noteworthy cookbooks that would make great gifts this holiday. Happily, she links out to a "Top Ten Cookbooks of 2008" list from NPR, which includes the intriguing The Spice Merchant's Daughter: Recipes and Simple Spice Blends for the American Kitchen, by Christina Arokiasamy. Browse through this eclectic collection of epicurean delights. You'll find something for everyone from the novice to the Cordon Bleu.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Jingle Bell Budget

In case anyone missed it, the National Bureau of Economic Research has announced that the U.S. is officially in a recession. Happy Holidays.

As we navigate the most expensive month of the year in this climate of economic uncertainty, the going can get a little rough.

The video below is an interview with Jennifer Openshaw--a MarketWatch columnist--from WSJ.com. She outlines some ideas of how to manage the holiday season in the midst of economic distress. Surprisingly, Americans are expected to spend close to $800.00 each on gifts this year, a figure higher than last year's estimate. Openshaw's advice? Cut that number in half. Then cut it in half again. Then, stick to your budget.


Monday, December 1, 2008

No Sweat

Listening to the local NPR station this morning, I heard about a great online resource for holiday shopping. It's a shopping guide compiled by SweatFree.org, an organization dedicated to promoting products made in "good working conditions"--not sweat shops. The guide includes links to companies that make everything from clothing to sporting goods. So as you get ready to point and click your way through Cyber Monday, take a minute to browse the guide and see if you can't find a gift that you'll feel great about giving.