The Year of The Snake

credit BBDesigns on etsy

For the first time ever, I am making a serious concerted effort to celebrate the Chinese New Year on February 10th, 2013. Truth be told, it will have given me 41 additional days to sort our my resolutions and goals for the year. January 1st arrived much too quickly and I didn’t want to make any knee jerk resolutions. According to ‘research’ people born in the Year of the Snake are reputed to be thoughtful and wise and to approach problems rationally and logically, seldom instinctively. While I was born in the year of the dog (we can find fault with many things and are noted for our sharp tongues), this particular snake year seems to be aligned with where I’m headed.

Life Simplified continues to be a great place for me to provide shortcuts, solutions and suggestions for living a more simplified life both here, facebook & on twitter. Moving forward, for this particular year, I’m also going to share my quest to follow through on the many goals, ideas, & resolutions that I always WANT to accomplish, but somehow (always) let slide.

In no particular order…

  • Cook more.
  • Eat more Paleo or Blood Type O foods/diet.
  • Prioritize husband / couple time.
  • Find an exercise that I will do 3/week.
  • Entire family to learn basic Spanish.
  • Read 43 books (tracking on goodreads.com).
  • Watch 15 independent films.
  • Get up earlier, even if it’s 15 minutes.
  • Go to bed earlier, turn off bad TV.
  • Less screen time, more kid time.
  • Focus on positive, stay present.
Nothing like learning rocket science, but at least if it’s public, there’s more accountability. And what I’m really hoping is that this helps me direct my time as opposed to wondering where it went. What’s on your agenda for this forthcoming Chinese New Year? I’d love you to share any of your own shortcuts, solutions and suggestions for getting where you want to be! GOOD LUCK!

 

Not to be nitpicky but…

Sadie & I, treatment #2

Okay, I get it. Well we got it & now I understand it. Lice, nits – the whole works and I’m not confident that I’ll ever quit itching. After 5 days, 4 treatments and 17 loads of laundry, we’re all clear but that is something I never want to go through again. Because I didn’t get much direction from doctor or pharmacist, I’m going to save you a lot of time and tell you what worked and didn’t…for us.

  • Nix Lice treatment – it’s pesticide for your hair?!? Recommended by pediatrician, but not for me.
  • Fairy Tales Hair Care- great online video (including Step 3 which is pouring yourself a glass of wine), decent lice treatment but really like their preventive spray which I will use EVERY day for the rest of my life. All natural, organic.
  • Quit Nits – smelled the best but not most effective
  • Lice MDBEST for getting rid of lice & nits
  • Tiny teeth metal comb at drugstore, better than any ‘included’ combs
  • Use lots of clips, do very small sections, comb every direction & wipe comb every time

On the up side, I got some serious quality time with both my kids. BIG talks that might not have happened and a lot of movie watching while we literally went through each other’s hair with fine toothed combs again & again & again… (“So happy for my husband who has been travelling since the whole mess started”, said no one ever).

UPDATE 1 WEEK LATER…Apparently none of the above completely worked but Lice Busters St. Louis did. Save yourself a lot of time, laundry and frustration by contacting them first. Wish I would’ve know about Lice Busters from the beginning. Thanks Libby & Susie.

 

What’s your time worth?

In one single encounter the other day, I believe that I made a choice that would make my mother & Laura Vanderkam proud, while simultaneously embarrassing my children (always a bonus). We were in the midst of another week where we all seemed to be running, coming & going. Recently I went back to work full time after 3 years of part-time work and we are all still adjusting.

While driving my daughter to soccer practice, I noticed a lawn care truck in front of a neighbor’s house. A seemingly nice man was putting away his mower when I shamelessly accosted him and asked if he had any time to cut our grass. Typically this falls into ‘husband’ category, not that this Kentucky girl hadn’t handled a SNAPPER mower on my childhood farm for MANY years, but said husband had been dealing with his own crazy work stuff and getting home late and exhausted. Lawn care is certainly not in our budget, but at this moment when our grass had gotten to an almost embarrassing level, I decided that I could shave some money from one budget line or work a few additional hours JUST TO GET IT DONE.

My kids says that in the heat of the moment that I told Ron Busken (Busken Lawn Care) that I loved him when he agreed to the task (I’m denying it) and off we sped to soccer. Read the rest of this entry

Road Trip 2012

Two sisters, each with two kids, road trippin’ along with our mother (all in the same vehicle) who had never been to the Grand Canyon.  First, a Family Reunion followed by a Southwest journey followed by a Route 66 tour back to St. Louis. Then my kids and I headed to a second Family Reunion in Dale Hollow – Burkesville, KY & a visit to my hometown – Bardstown, KY, recently named Most Beautiful Small Town in America by Rand McNally.

Here are the stats and the highlights:

Miles traveled: 4861,  States traversed: KS, CO, UT, AZ, NM, TX, OK, MO, IN, IL, KY, TN

Hottest air temp: 112 degrees at bottom of Grand Canyon (and over 100 everyday from Phoenix to St Louis).

Coldest water temp:  48 degrees in Colorado River

Class 5+ rapids conquered on Colorado River:  3

Continental Divide crossings: 3 x over, 1 x under.

Highest elevation: 11,539 ft ( Hoosier Pass, CO)

National Forests driven through:  lost count

Most overcrowded state park: Slide Rock, Sedona, AZ

Most scenic view from hotel room: YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park, CO

Best balcony: Overlooking the Animas River at Durango Doubletree, CO

Best missed sunset: Mather Point, Grand Canyon

Favorite song:  “Old Matt Palmer’s Misfit Farm” – Bar D Chuck Wagon Singers

Drive that will make you go vegetarian:  Rte 60 between Bovina and Hereford, TX

Best upgrade: the premier car on the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Train

Favorite meals/restaurants: Brunch – L’Auberge, Sedona, AZ; Lunch – Nini’s Taqueria, Durango, CO; Late lunch – Pops, Arcadia, OK; Dinner – Plaza Bonita, Tusayan, AZ

Best beers:  Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, TX

Cheapest treat: Sno-cones at Four Corners Monument

Most random, multi-tasting stop: Eagle Ranch Pistachio Farm, NM – wine, pistachios and ice cream all before 11am

Most UFO sightings: Roswell, NM

Best dunes – White Sands National Monument, NM

Longest and most unnerving drive into a national park:  Mesa Verde, AZ

Favorite pool: Tapatio Cliffs, Phoenix, AZ

Arizona towns laying claim to inspiration for the animated movie “Cars”: 3 – Peach Springs, Seligman, and Holbrook

Most wacky or random signs:”Knives and donuts” – NM; & “Toot n Totum”  – TX

Where graffiti is encouraged: Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, TX

Nicest Welcome rest stop:  Oklahoma between Texola and Erick

Most Ironic – Having a Family Reunion in a dry county

Most Fun on a Lake – Pontoons with slides in Dale Hollow, KY

We had a great trip and if you are ever considering this journey to the Southwest , along this portion of Route 66, or Bardstown, KY let me know and I’d be happy to help.

To the right my sister and I are “just standing on a corner in Winslow, AZ…”

 

Summer Reading

Heading out of town or simply have more time to read during these longer days of summer? Here’s my TOP 10:

1. Defending Jacob by William Landay – legal thriller that SHOCKED me

2. Divergent by Veronica Roth – if you loved Hunger Games, jump into this series

3. Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs – one man, 18 months of using his own body to test and try all fitness fads, ridiculously entertaining & informative

4. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty – delicious historical fiction & USA Today‘s #1 Hot Fiction Pick for the summer

5. Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson – creepy, creepy, creepy fantastic, kept me guessing till the end

6. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson – offers a fascinating window into the year when the world began its slow slide into war. Non-fiction that reads like fiction, unbelievable.

7. The Might Have Been by Joseph Schuster – baseball story that resonates with the pull of lifelong dreams, the stings of regret, and the ways we define ourselves against uncertain twists of fate

8. Spy School by Stuart Gibbs – perfectly fun & funny for elementary & middle school boys

9. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne Valente – full of oddments, adventure, whimsy, and joy for ages 10ish and up.

10. Life if a small-town girl – For some laugh out loud uncomfortable, ridiculous reading, check out my teen angst years

 

Must See Documentaries

I’ll admit that I’ve never been a  BIG documentary fan, escapism is much more my speed but I’m becoming a bit of a convert over the past year. It started when I attended the Sundance Film Festival and was fortunate enough to see the brilliant Miss Representation directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. I consider this film, which explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence, a must see for any adult and any child over 6th grade.

Recently our family picked up Being Elmo from the library and while you can love or hate this well known muppet, you can’t help but be inspired by Kevin Clash, whose only dream was to make puppets. This documentary follows him through a series of good breaks that led him into the universe of Jim Henson and “Sesame Street,” and we even hear an eyewitness account to the day he “discovered” the Elmo character.

Currently at home, we have No Impact Man which I’m hoping will continue to move me into a less wasteful lifestyle and Page One, which grants the viewers unprecedented access to the New York Times newsroom. Last but not least is The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a documentary about branding, advertising and product placement that is financed and made possible by brands, advertising and product placement. Trust me, even the trailer is genius!

Many others have generated their must see documentaries as you can review below but l’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations as well!

Disney Tips (prior) to Trip

We just got back from an amazing (and possibly only) Disney trip so I made sure that we “did it all”. While I’m a big fan of those teary eyed SURPRISE Disney commercials, we told our kids (Cullen 12 ½, Sadie 7 ) as I wanted their input. I didn’t want this post to be 10 pages long so this first part (of 2, or 3…) will be what helped me before we walked out the door.

  • We used the (no annual fee) Chase Disney credit card so most of our trip was FREE. Room, dining plan, park passes were all covered by points that we had accrued over the last 4 ½ years.  We went through AAA to get even better deals than I found online and saved out of our monthly budget to cover our flights.
  • We chose to take kids out of school for a few days and go at an unpopular time of year. I’m not good with heat or crowds so mid-January worked perfectly well for us. There were a few rides closed for repairs or refurbishments but nothing major.
  • I’d read that pin trading was big at the parks so I went online prior to the trip and bought / bid on $1 Disney lanyards plus one ‘lot’ of 26 Disney pins ($25)  so the kids had pins to trade with cast members (employees) from the minute they walked into the parks. In the parks, this would have sent me back well over $150 and they kids really got into it. Instead of asking for things when we went into shops, they were finding employees to trade with.
  • Going online and getting a few ‘gently loved’ goodies before the trip (my son loves Stitch and my daughter Tinkerbell) can save you tons in the long run on t-shirts, backpacks, ears (got these new & personalized for 50% off-free shipping by watching Disney.com/ store), etc. A family member gave each child a $25 Disney gift card for Christmas so we were actually able to get out of the parks with out spending anything ourselves. I did a countdown of “The 12 Days of Disney” before we left and each child got a pin every morning and then I surprised them with a t-shirt and backpack on the day we left.
  • I’d recommend two web sites (if you want to pay) to join for an incredible amount of information on all things Disney – tourguidemike.com or touringplans.com. They each have different positives depending on your needs but I’d suggest at least one as it helps to guide you to the least crowded parks on which days, sample touring plans, reviews on everything and more tips and hints than you would ever need.
  • When they say make your dining reservations 180 days in advance, they aren’t kidding even in ‘low crowd’ times and especially if you want to do something special like a character meal or signature dining. You can reserve online or over the phone. There are various dining plans but we chose the Deluxe Dining Plan because of some of the specialty meals we reserved and we also wanted to sit down and eat 2/day and not be elbowing our way through counter service restaurants for chicken nuggets. While this added cost would have been over what points we had accrued, Disney offered a special for a FREE basic dining plan during January which our travel agent caught & that saved us close to $500 which put us back into our allotted points.
  • We chose to stay onsite at The Contemporary Hotel (my favorite from childhood) which allowed us to walk to The Magic Kingdom and has the monorail that comes right through the hotel, pretty cool.
  • Last but not least, read books (Peter and the Starcatchers, Swiss Family Robinson, Alice in Wonderland or rent a few Disney movies to get in the magical mood.

While all this may seem a bit overboard, saving money & having a plan were my 2 biggest priorities and all this led to a wonderfully spectacular trip. To be continued…

 

 

Obsessed with Oils

I tend to get overwhelmed about which oils to use for cooking or dressings so I was thrilled when Andrea Karim of WiseBread put together one of the most comprehensive articles on The Best Cooking Oils: For Your Heart & Wallet. It covers the gamut from extra virgin to avocado, coconut & peanut to name a few.

For further ‘research’ Vom Fass will turn anyone into an oil aficionado. Who knew that you could infuse orange, peperoncino, basil or chili to make a culinary master out of me? At your local store, you are able to sample dozens of these delicious oils in addition to a huge selection of Aged Balsamic Vinegars and Liqueurs , my favorite is the Latte Macchiato.

To finish off my oil obsession, I went in search of a fun dispenser / cruet. My top picks were from Folk Art Guild, Generate, & Red Candy.

 

Books I’m Gifting this Year

Amazing Adventures of a Nobody by Leon Logothetis. I had the pleasure of meeting Leon and taking a ride in his Kindness Cab this Fall and his book is going to my traveling sister-in-law and also my best friend who sees the good in everyone…and probably others as well – I heart this book.

White Truffles in Winter by N.M. Kelby to my Chef step-brother or his lovely wife. “This richly layered novel is based on the life of legendary chef Auguste Escoffier, who popularized French cooking methods at his restaurants at The Savoy and The Ritz at the beginning of the 20th century. Escoffier’s love for two women: the beautiful, iconic actress Sarah Bernhardt and his lovely, poetess wife, Delphine Daffis, is at the heart of this complex tale. The characters are vivid and the food — oh, the food — is delicious!” Indiebound.org

Wildwood by Colin Meloy to my hip sister (age 35) or niece (age 7) as this is a great book of wonder, danger, and magic as told by the lead singer of The Decemberists. A touching tale for anyone of any age.

 

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard to my history loving husband. “A deranged man shot President James A. Garfield, but it was his doctors who killed him”. This true story of a Civil War hero, elected to Congress in 1862 who fought for black rights & liberty, who surprisingly won the presidency amongst the most corrupt of administrations who was treated by an egomaniac doctor named Dr. Doctor with Alexander Graham Bell on the sidelines…this book competes against the best fiction out there.

The Boy Who Cried Ninja by Alex Latimer to my 3 year old nephew. If you’re going to be stuck reading a book over & over then you might as well enjoy it. Ninja takes a quirky twist on The Boy Who Cried Wolf when a boy’s excuses turn out to have an unexpected element of truth. This book makes me smile every time I read it and the illustrations are great.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh to my Mom who loves a heavy hearted story but this one retains hope among a young girl’s struggle to find her place in the world after aging out of the foster care system. Her gift for flowers and her understanding of the ‘language of flowers’ (honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love…) helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.

Good gracious, I could go on and on but I’ll wrap up with Divergent or Daughter of Smoke and Bone for my bestest who loved the Hunger Games, Leviathan for Cullen’s male teacher who taught Middle Grade World War I (and it’s knee deep in Steampunk) & Go The Fu*! to Sleep for Cindy Lou who will be a first time parent in the Spring. Merry Happy Reading!

 

Holiday Gift Ideas

As someone who revels in finding the right gift for the right person at every occasion, it’s really hard to come up with a condensed list at this time of year. So, for this post, I’m going to stick with a few favorite finds and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share books & ‘gifts that give back’ with you as well. Hopefully you’ll find something for everyone and if not, let me know! Also, take a quick look at my previous gift posts as some of my earlier favorites may be just the right one you’re looking for.