Friday, April 29, 2011

Wedding Day

This morning's gorgeous festivities got me thinking...
I'm glad I'm not the only bride who makes a squinchy, pinchy face when she's nervous :).
What a beautiful day in every way!
Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Making Me Happy Right Now...

1) Deco Desire Candles smell of ripe mangoes, coconut and peaches, but in the most subtle and non-fruity way.  I've been burning one before bed and pretending I am falling asleep in a tropical paradise. Mine was a lovely gift from a lovely lady... thank you!
2) Dr. Hauschka Quince Day Cream = best lightweight daily moisturizer EVER (and I do not say this lightly).
3) Terranoble Sauvignon Blanc, found on the $7.99 shelf at Whole Foods, but tastes like it should be out with the good stuff in the fancy section.
4) Mrs. Meyer's Lavender Countertop Spray makes me actually enjoy constantly wiping down the kitchen counters.  How twisted is that?
5) My favorite new food blogger crush, The Yummy Mummy; love her gorgeous photography, clean recipes, and Santa Barbara lifestyle.
6) Her post about Royal Wedding Viewing Parties inspired me to make homemade flaky currant scones for tomorrow morning.  You won't see me with Union Jack cupcakes or wearing anything other than yoga pants manana, but one of these scones and a strong cup of English Breakfast tea sounded just about perfect for gawking at Kate's dress and the rest of the hullabaloo.
7) Warmer days mean spending hours at the park with him:
Life just doesn't get any sweeter than a kid on a bike.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yes to Carrots

When it comes to beauty, like so many women, I am a product junkie.  And like most women, I have some favorite go-to brands: Fresh, Origins, and Jurlique to name few.  I used to also be a severe Kiehl's addict, but I'm on a new mission to use only all natural, paraben-free beauty products and unfortunately Kiehl's doesn't fit the bill on that one.  The other three brands listed above share a commitment to all natural beauty products, but they also share an ability to drain your wallet completely within moments of setting foot in their stores.  Since I'm also on a mission to reign in my beauty budget, I'm now on a hunt for the true holy grail of products: they must be green, they must be effective and true to their promise, they must be affordable to boot and they must pass my smell test.  I have a powerful nose, and I hate fake smells, which many bargain products resort to using in an effort to keep costs down.  Anything cloying and overly perfume-y or redolent of fake citrus loses me immediately.  This is why I'm thrilled to announce my new jackpot find in the world of affordable natural beauty products: Yes to Carrots.
I'm sure YTC is old news to many of you, and to you I say, why didn't you tell me about this sooner?!  Widely available at everywhere from Target to Whole Foods, made with organic products and totally paraben free, and extremely easy on the wallet (I'm talking $7.99 for a bottle that looks like it will last about two months), Yes to Carrots Pampering Conditioner is a winner.  I have dry, thick, curly, tangly hair, and this works as well, if not better, than my beloved Bumble and Bumble at a fraction of the cost, and with a much more earth-friendly ingredient list.  Best of all, YTC passes the smell test with flying colors; the thick, rich conditioner smells earthy and fresh, like something you'd pick up at a fabulous salon, not across from the toilet paper aisle at Target.  I haven't tried any of their other products yet, but I certainly will in the future, and will report back when I do.  They also contribute a portion of their profits to support sustainable agriculture.  Win, win and win.
What's your favorite affordable, green beauty product?
Do tell.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Relinquishing Perfection

I've always enjoyed the writing of Stephanie Klein.  A self-deprecating, perfectionist Jew from New York with a foodie fixation, a crafty streak, and a constant quest to lose five more pounds, I find her hilariously relatable.  She also has published two books and raised twins to the ripe age of four without any major mishaps, so I've looked up to her as well.  This morning, while I sipped coffee, I popped in on her blog to see what was new, and found a post called "When Passover Leads to It's Over".  Long story short, her attempt to host Seder on short notice while simultaneously helping her husband with a work project leads to what appears to be the beginning of the end of their marriage.  It is beyond sad that she airs all this on a blog, and that she and her husband get into it in her comments section, going after each other for perceived slights and personality flaws, but the fine print was where I really found the teachable moment in this public airing of grievances.

Stephanie's Seder plan includes making a scratch strawberry-rhubarb compote, fresh whip cream, four desserts, two kinds of meat, and something called "Matzoh Harvest Stuffing" (you lost me at Matzoh + Stuffing -- roll that stuff into balls or fry it with some eggs or leave it be -- it is not meant to be anything but the dry cracker it is IMHO); she needs homemade Hagaddahs and special place settings and pink tulips.  I love the spirit behind all this festive planning, but when she realized on Sunday night that Passover was Monday, not Tuesday, I think she should have scaled back.  Even if you aren't Jewish and are saying "Haggad-what?" right now, you can see where I am going here, and this is a lesson that is really hitting home for me right now: the relentless quest for perfection is nothing but an elaborate, tuilp-bedecked way of creating a spirit-crushing prison for yourself.   Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves and our families is step back, take a breath, and let. it. go.

We live in a world of illusions, where people like Martha convince us that if we don't create our own found-object wreaths and homemade fruit compotes for every season, we are somehow not a total woman.  We're meant to be successful in business, on top of our personal health and fitness, and simultaneously uber-creative, making above-average homes and memories for our children and spouses.  We've taken the highest expectations of women from the last five decades and rolled them into one unrealistic ball for the new millennium, where we all supposed to be some June Cleaver-Gloria Steinum-Diane Von Furstenburg-Martha Stewart-Bethenny Frankel hybrid, managing it all with a smile on our face, and something tasty in the oven.  No wonder we are the most medicated, numbed generation in history, totally overwhelmed at every turn.  There is only one way to put a stop to this cycle, and it is to firmly look into all of these expectations and say ENOUGH.

For me, April has been a month of really taking this lesson about relinquishing the quest for perfection to heart.  This month was beyond packed: house guests, travel, a best friend's wedding, a sister's shower, and many holidays to celebrate.  All of these things are joyful, but can easily turn south if unrealistic expectations are pressed upon them.  There was a time when I would have beaten myself to a pulp if every one of these events didn't go off without a flaw and without me exceeding expectations all around.  I've lived a life where I've been exceptionally good at creating my own prisons, and so it is a real milestone for me to move away from this and just focus on what is truly important.

So the house was full of dog hair tumbleweeds and my mother-in-law got the stomach flu during her visit; we also tore all over Boston with the little man and had a blast, watching chick flicks together and spending quality time (and shout out to her: she was an absolute trooper about catching our virulent flu strain).   So I was exceptionally pale and still in possession of about ten pounds of so-called "baby weight" standing next to my friend at her wedding (not my original plan);  I was there to hold her hand while she had her make-up done, and feed her protein bars when her blood sugar was low and really be present and participate in the day.  So my charoset was pretty average and not-at-all gourmet, and we had to leave the Seder before even eating it anyway as the little guy was melting down and ready for bed; we spent time with favorite family friends and got a to-go package of matzoh ball soup which we ate on the couch in front of the Daily Show (which was kind of perfect in its own way).  And for Easter?  We planned a three-item menu that practically cooked itself.  So there.  By dialing down expectations and anticipating and embracing imperfection, I'm finding I'm enjoying life so, so much more.

My wish for our generation of women is that we all break out of these prisons imposed on us by society and ourselves, let go of the need to have everything be just so, and settle for good enough.  I think there is a fear that if we do this, we are selling ourselves out for a life of mediocrity. I'm starting to firmly believe that this is not so.  Only through accepting and embracing the flaws of life do we open ourselves up to experience the totality of it all.  The moments of truest perfection lie in the embrace of the imperfect.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Riding the Bridesmaid Train

We returned to Boston late last Monday night from my dear friend's wedding in Brooklyn.  On Friday, family began arriving in Boston to celebrate my youngest sister's bridal shower.  The last ten days or so have been a blur of beautiful spring flowers, bubbly drinks, and smiling, tearful toasts interspersed with manic highway driving, housecleaning and dog grooming, and sprinkled with airport runs, and many a sustaining espresso and greasy egg sandwich. 

I wish I had captured more of both of these events on film to share, but I was blissfully living in the moment, tearing up the dance floor with the husband at the wedding, and gleefully downing mojito shots with the gals on Saturday night to send my sister off in a properly festive manner.  Today, I exhale, make charoset for twenty-five, and attend a Passover seder.

What better way to cap off this many days of utter debauchery than to enter the season of holidays celebrating relocation and rebirth (two of my favorite pastimes)?  I'll be back soon with tales to tell and recipes to share.  For now, please excuse me, I have a dozen apples to peel and grate.
Lots of springtime love, SMJ

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Week In Photos

Oh, hello there. 
How has a week flown by since my last post?  
Things have been all kinds of busy.  I've been...
Loving that spring has finally arrived in Boston.
Chasing this guy and his fire engine around every park in town.
Helping this gal get married!  Loving her pre-wedding yoga and SportsCenter routine, Andy Cohen tee and "something blue" heels.  It has taken me three full days to even approach recovery from this blessed event.  Now THAT was a party!  Mazel Mr. & Mrs B!
Dealing with a wee bit of property crime.  I mean, really, who does this to a car with a carseat in it?  Bad, bad karma!
And baking peanut butter mini-muffins.  Because what could be more comforting on a rainy day?
What have you been up to?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Playing Cupboards

The husband and I have a little kitchen tradition we call "playing cupboards."  This is when we avoid a trip to the grocery as long as possible, using what we have on hand to make creative dinners and clean up our fridge and pantry.  In this game, you can score extra "cupboards points" by using strange ingredients that have been around a long time (I'm talking to you, dusty can of Trader Joe's bamboo shoots), and we've created some real classics over the years.
Getting creative with food prep + "toddler management".
We're having a total cupboards week this week.  We hosted family at our home last week, and stocked the fridge during their visit.  My mother-in-law and I went on a Supermarket Sweep-style shopping trip to Whole Foods with the little guy, and came away with some really phenomenal picks.  I love when someone else shops your regular grocery with fresh eyes!  She picked a new brand of amazing organic coffee which I love, and all kinds of great finds from WF's epic antipasti bar.  Fun!

When everyone departed on Sunday, we had not quite a proper week's worth of groceries on hand, but also all kinds of great ingredients with which to play some fierce rounds of cupboards.  And since we're headed out of town this weekend starting on Friday, we thought this was the perfect week to try and make it through without a run to the grocery store.  I picked up milk and bananas yesterday, and other than that, it's cupboards city.

Monday night, we were truly exhausted from a late night and long day, so I quickly boiled a pot of capellini, threw in some random broccoli florets to cook with the pasta, and chopped what remained of our antipasti feast: roasted garlic, roasted tomatoes and marinated giant white beans.  I tossed this with the drained pasta and broccoli, a hearty glug of olive oil, and some salt and fresh ground pepper.  We had a gorgeous, fresh, healthy, colorful dish on the table in minutes.  We ate too quickly and exhaustedly for photos, but trust me when I say it was beautiful and very spring-y. Cupboards points for moi!
On Tuesday, I was eyeing a leftover side dish of roasted sweet potatoes and sweet onions, some frozen cooked heirloom kidney beans my mom had brought us, and some tomatoes and scallions that were rounding the bend.  Burrito night!  I chopped all the tomatoes and scallions with three cloves of garlic, and sauteed them until they were melting.  Then I stirred in the sweet potato mix and beans, turned the heat to low, and added Mexican seasonings (cumin, cayenne, oregano).  The whole mix cooked down into a savory-sweet burrito filling, using languishing tortillas and the end of a block of cheddar and jar of salsa for toppings (bonus!).
Tonight?  I'm looking at a block of tofu, the end of the broccoli and some peanut butter and thinking I can make something delicious happen.  I love the way playing cupboards calls upon your ingenuity, and saves you a bit of time and cash in the process.  Win-win-win!  I'm sure everyone does some version of this with what is on hand in their kitchen... 
What is your favorite cupboards creation?
Could my creativity be bouncing back? Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Update

You may have noticed that I have not been posting as regularly as usual lately.  I thought I'd give you an update as to what is going on with me and why I've been a bit MIA.

First, let me set the scene.  All things going on in my life right now are set against a backdrop of sleep deprivation.  Our weeks of the flu set the little guy off his sleep schedule, and this made for a series of sleepless nights all in a row, which I've found one doesn't instantly bounce back from... it takes some time to build a good foundation of functional sleep when you get too far in deficit.   And while I've mostly kept my insomnia at bay with a mix of herbal remedies found at Whole Foods (more on this in another post) and good old-fashioned deep breathing, I'm still by no means a person who falls asleep in the evening and wakes up in the morning, refreshed.  Even on my best nights, I'm up at least once or twice, most recently to see if that sound I heard coming from the baby's room is the onset of another episode of violent puking, or rather just him shuffling around in his sleep.

And then there are The Dudes.  Do you remember back in February when a bunch of guys in their twenties moved in upstairs?  Things could be worse, I suppose, but it has been a really tough adjustment for me to live with so much ambient noise.  If they were throwing wild parties every night, we'd have some recourse, but as it is, they are just living in their space, but living like people in their twenties: playing music till 1am, walking around heavily till 2am, drinking and talking (loudly) on the back porch until 3am.  They're not blaring the music, or tap dancing, and they don't have a barking dog, plus they warn us when they're going to have a real throwdown of a party (so what if it is on a weekend when we have long-standing plans for friends with kids to come stay with us, which we then have to cancel and leave town for fear of the whole family being kept up all night), even with all of this, I know it could be worse.  We just live in an old building with thin walls, and when the bass only stops thumping at 1am and your kid wakes up at 5:30am... well, you do the math... this does not for a rested mama make. Between flus and dudes, I'm working with a maybe six-week deficit on good, restful, high quality sleep.   So, there's that...

Then there is the daily schedule now, dominated still by a very active toddler, and my twin searches for daycare and work (aka, chicken and egg).  I can summarize these elements in three swift bullet points:
  • Toddler: is a skilled climber, curious and mischievous and must be watched at nearly every moment for reasons of both safety and comedy.  I've given myself a daily "Sesame Clause" wherein I buy myself an hour to accomplish things while he hangs with Elmo, but beyond this and his one to two hour nap, I'm on duty roughly 6am-6pm daily.  I love every blessed minute of it, and wouldn't trade it for anything, but it takes a lot of energy, and other than the occasional auntie drop-by and the two hours of rock-star parenting my husband somehow manages to pull off nightly after he gets home and despite his own frenetic schedule, it is all mama all the time.  It's a lot, and I'm not afraid to admit it.  People with more than 2 or 3 kids, I tip my hat to you.  Seriously.
  • Daycare: hard to know what to look for when I don't yet have a job, yet once I get an offer, I'll need to pull the trigger on some sort of arrangement within a week or two, presumably.  I was spoiled in Vermont by the lack of choices (ironic, I know, but deciding between 2 or 3 places is a whole lot easier than deciding between 20 or 30) and the quality and availability of the choices that existed... no waitlists, open green spaces, loving caregivers, reasonable prices... I didn't know how good I had it.  I now find myself looking all over metro-Boston, and have yet to find one place that doesn't have a pretty fatal flaw or two.  Places based out of trailers, old storefronts and apartments barely beyond the level of the husband's college frat house (no offense, boys) charge a monthly fee as much or more than our rent.  I have yet to walk away from a place thinking, "Wow, what a great fit!  And worth every penny!"  Plus, even the worst of the worst places seems to have a months long waiting list.  I have faith I'll find something, but there's an agita associated with this search that is hard to quite describe.  This is an energy suck to say the least.
  • Job Hunt: it is tough out there, people.  I have a really diverse skill set, and when I find that right match, I know it is going to be fulfilling and energizing to be back in the work force.  In the meantime, despite some good phone interviews, nothing has panned out yet, and there seem to be a lot of people going for every possible job on the market.  It is slow going, and I'm feeling the pressure inherent in that, coupled with a love for my current job as a mom that is distracting to the focus of my hunt (see: bullet point one re: time for drafting brilliant cover letters and following up doggedly on leads).
As my job hunt has been slow, the husband has taken on more work to compensate for my lack of it, and so I've been upping my domestic game to spare him those chores with his epic work schedule.  It is a pretty old school arrangement at the moment, with me holding down the fort at home.  From the first dish dirtied in the morning, to the last sock thrown in the hamper at night, I'm on it.  And I'm cool with that, but by the time I hit start on the dishwasher come 8pm, I'm rarely in a sit down and blog it out kind of place.  I'm in more of rendezvous briefly with my boyfriend, Jon Stewart, then snuggle down into bed ASAP kind of place. And this is of course made 100 times worse by the aforementioned bad sleep cycle we're in at the moment.  It is all so cyclical, and cycles were made to be broken.

In the meantime, in the rare instances of the day where I find myself in a quiet moment, I'm usually busting out cover letters, or calling daycares, or tending to household chores, or stealing a needed nap in the case of some of those worst weeks of the flu.  We've had visitors and short trips out of town to make.  I'm in a wedding this weekend!  I'm still trying to find the time to run the pond and hit the odd yoga class, plus sneak out for an ever so sanity-saving chat with one of my best Boston gals here and there.  In short, the days and weeks are flowing by, and I've been without the time and spirit to really give SMJ my best creative energy.

I hope this doesn't come off as a litany of complaints, because it is not.  I just feel you're on this adventure with me, and had to give you the legit debrief as the month begins.  I'm actual feeling rather grounded and content, all things considered.  Just a bit busy, tired, and not terribly creative in the cooking and blogging realm of things.  I've been kind of dialing it in for both (let's just say, there's been a lot of pizza involved).  Something's gotta give, and in this case, it is my creative juices.

I need a muse, and I think her name is Spring.  Every lighter, warmer day seems to signal a shift and an impending newness that I know will carry us with it.  Until then, thanks for stopping by, even when there isn't a new post up, and thanks to all who came around for the Hayfork giveaway as well.  Your reading and commenting means more than you could know!
What do you turn to for creative inspiration?
With this guy around, I'm easily distracted...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hayfork Winners!

Happy Friday!
I used the Random Integer Generator at to pick two winners of the Hayfork Wine Giveaway.
#20 Kelly is getting a bottle of Hayfork's 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and
#22 Ali G will receive the 2008 Petite Sirah!
Ladies, please send me your shipping info to sweetmamajane@gmail, and Haley and I will get your bottles right out to you.
Thanks everyone for playing, and for signing up for Hayfork's mailing list
Thanks to Haley and Erik for sharing the goods, and happy weekend to all!