Friday, February 27, 2009

Bursting With Excitement for Twilight Fans Everywhere!

I am wrapping up the final book in the Twilight series. I just haven't wanted it to end, which is why I have been savoring these last few pages. This will be the end of some of my best reading in a long time. If you would have told me that I would be sitting on the edge of my seat reading a young adult vampire novel, I would have laughed at you. I have never been into the vampire books or anything that would resemble this genre before, but I somehow got sucked in. It is a book series that transcends generations and all my mom friends are equally as excited about these books as myself!

And this is why I am bursting with excitement to announce to you today that I am partnering up with Walmart on a very exclusive and exciting project. I am going to be hosting a BlogTalkRadio show with Taylor Lautner, AKA Jacob, on a very special interview while they are on location for the second film ("New Moon"). I will be co-hosting this on the “Stardish Radio” program March 9, 2009 at 9 pm (EST). Speaking from the set of The Twilight Saga’s New Moon, Taylor will take questions from fans “logged in” to BlogTalkRadio with host Jo Ann Kubasek (Stardish Radio) and myself. I will definitely be updating you as details arise about this exclusive interview and I hope you can be a part of this with me!

Walmart has launched a Twilight site for you to get the scoop on the DVD release, e-bites (instead of e-vites) that you can use to host your own movie party at home, and loads of exclusive fan gear at really affordable prices. Walmart plans to give fans thirsting for more Twilight a good reason to be at its 24-hour stores late Friday evening, Mar. 20 as they await the midnight DVD movie release. Among store activities will be ideas and products for fans looking to host their own Twilight viewing party. And, especially for Twilight super fans, Walmart has reserved special exclusive Twilight gifts for those first 50 fans in line to purchase the DVD movie at each 24-hour store.

In addition, customers can visit the Twilight pages on to see new behind-the-scenes movie footage and to download a widget that tests their knowledge daily with Twilight story trivia.

Many of the Eleven Moms will be offering exclusive fan gear gift packs and other great Twilight giveaways. I know we are all equally excited about this fun program and getting to be part of this fun adventure with the movie!

And if you haven't read the books, perhaps you will now!

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Free & Fun Resources for Book Lovers

The coffee tray was assembled with all the necessary items for a good cup of coffee.

I gathered a stack of books from my bookshelves that I was not planning to read right now and books that I had read and truly loved.

Our fearless book club leader, Jessica, suggested a book swap for the month. I offered to host our book gathering and couldn't wait to see what everyone brought. We piled the books on the table, we shared what we thought about our respective stacks, and we sipped some coffee. Everyone left with a bag full of new books and not a dime was spent. It was like going to the library, but no one will fine me if I don't get it read in three weeks time. As a busy mom, this is exactly the type of book activity that I was game for.

If you don't have some friends to swap books with, here are a few book resources that I have gathered for the book lovers of the world:

GoodReads or Shelfari- I use GoodReads to keep track of all of the things that I am reading or plan to read. I am not good about remembering the books I have read or that I would like to read in the future. This site helps me keep track of my impressions of books and keep my bookshelves fully stocked with the books I am really interested in reading. I love to keep a pad of paper with me in my purse or make notes into my cell phone when I am at the bookstore so if I happen upon a book I am interested in, I can jot down a note so I can pick it up at my local library.

BookCrossing- This site offers a fun way for you to clear out your bookshelves. The idea is simple, but so fun. Just put a tag within your book to track it and release your book into the wild, which just means leave it somewhere where someone else can find it (coffee shops, doctor's offices, schools, etc.). When someone finds a book with a BookCrossing ID number in it, they can enter that code into the site and report where the book has moved to. It is a fun way to track where your books have traveled and see how far they can go.

Library Elf- This program helps you keep track of your library materials so you won't get socked with late fees. Elf is an Internet-based tool for keeping track of what's due, overdue and ready for pickup. Reminders are sent when the user wants it -- before items are due (up to seven days advance notice, weekly notice or everyday reminders). For my local friends, South Bend is not currently participating, but the Elkhart Library is. The basic membership to Library Elf is free.

Frugal Reader, Paperback Swap, & Bookmooch- Just three of many sites where you can exchange books for free. You simply sign up for a membership and list the books on your bookshelf. You can then browse the books from other members and make a request to receive a book. When you are done with the book, you can list it back on the site or keep the book. New members start out usually with credits to get started on exchanging books. The more you ship and share, the more credits you recive to get more books.

Bookins- This is another great site where you can not only swap books, but also movies. Their system will automatically arrange for shipments from you to one member and from a third member back to you, and so on. You never have to contact anyone, there is no bidding, and there are no hassles of dealing with different traders and personalities for each exchange. The shipping charges are always a flat $4.49 for the service. You can keep what you get or exchange it again when you are done.

SwapSimple- This is a site where you can list textbooks, books, games or DVDs. Begin by listing what you have to be available to others. Right when you list an item, they will figure out what it's current market value is, and award you 20% of it's value up front for your use. You get the remaining 80% when you send your item to another swapper. This means you can list items, and get items immediately!

Amazon's Free Kindle Downloads- For those that have moved towards the electronic books, Amazon has books available to download for free through February 28th. Be sure to snag these books and save!

Of course, the ultimate in free resources for book lovers is your local library. Be sure to check the Resources page on your library's website and see what tools you might be overlooking. My library card comes with free passes to local museums, online memberships to many research tools, even iPods and audio book downloads right to my iPod!

Do you use any of these resources for your reading? Feel free to share your own resources that you have discovered that could help your fellow book lover out!

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Gorgeously Green: Green Your Personal Care

We are ready to tackle the second chapter in the Gorgeously Green book for discussion. In the first chapter, we discussed setting an intention towards doing the right thing and today we will discuss greening our personal care items.

I honestly wish that this was not the second chapter in the book and I hope that I won't scare anyone off from this discussion. I think it would have been great to work our way up to personal care, but I know that this is an important topic that needs addressing.

Are all of my personal care items green? No. I am very interested in heading more towards this direction though so I want to share with you some of the tips from the book and from other bloggers on how to begin greening your personal care routine.

There are seven deadly sins and seven ingredients that consumers should be on high alert for, according to the Environmental Working Group. Here are the ingredients that you do not want in your personal care products.

1. Coal tar- used in dandruff shampoos and anti-itch creams
2. Fragrance- This word is used to mask hundreds of ingredients, including phthalates
3. Hydroquinone- Fund in skin lighteners and facial moisturizers
4. Aluminum- Often used in eye shadow as a color additive and used in deodorants
5. Triclosan- Used in antibacterial products including soap, toothpaste, and cosmetics
6. P-Phenylenediamine- Found in hair dye
7. Lead & Mercury- Lead can appear in toothpaste. Mercury is found in a cosmetic perservative called thimerosol.

To check the products that you already have, you can check the Cosmetic Safety Database and perform a search by product, ingredient, or even company.

The author suggests chucking out any products with those seven ingredients listed and just using up the rest of the stuff you have and making wiser choices the next time you buy products. You can download a handy cheat sheet to help you on your next trip to the drugstore. Print this out and keep it in your purse!

What are some alternatives and green choices you can make towards your beauty regime? The author lists some online resources for buying green cosmetics, but I prefer to take a more frugal approach towards this category.

1. DIY Beauty- I love to make my own beauty products because it saves me money and also happens to be more environmentally friendly. I have listed the recipes that I use here and would highly recommend trying some of these. Want to give an environmentally-friendly and fun gift? DIY Beauty can be shared with others too. I am planning to put together some sugar scrubs to give as gifts for birthdays this year.
2. Replace Facial Cleansers With Oil-I have been thinking of replacing my facial cleaners with the oil cleansing method. I have been reading other bloggers who are trying the same thing and it makes sense to me. I have extremely dry skin, fragrances and chemicals easily irritate me, and I would love to take a more natural approach towards caring for my skin.
3. Go Shampoo Free- This is something else I find quite fascinating and have read a lot about. I actually have wavy hair and read "Curly Girl," (which I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone with curly hair) and it had suggested only shampooing once a week. This blog entry will explain how to transition towards going shampoo-free, a very interesting idea indeed! That would certainly help save you some money and I have heard that it really helps with the greasy hair syndrome.
4. Epsom Salts- These are AMAZING and can be found at all of the dollar stores. I use Epsom Salts for everything and I also mix up my bath salts to give as gifts. You can mix these with a few drops of lavender essential oil and it makes the most soothing bath ever. I also use these to soak my feet in. What you might not know about these is that they stimulate serotonin which helps to elevate your moods. and that a soak in these can also lower your blood pressure, alleviate headaches, and flush toxins from your body. All that for a dollar a box- you can't beat it!
5. Feminine Products- I switched to the Diva Cup (bought new in the box off of eBay) and it is fabulous and has replaced this category altogether. I would highly recommend this product or their Luna Pads to replace your feminine products.
6. Deodorant- I can't picture getting rid of this. Sorry! The author recommends Dr. Hauschka's Roll On as a great substitution ($19.95). She mentioned that she had tried the crystal and it did not work for her.
7. Shorter Showers- Well, if you aren't shampooing your hair or washing your face, you might as well take a shorter shower. Crunchy Domestic Goddess is posing a five minute shower challenge to help conserve water. Check it out!
8. Green Your Baby- Make sure to check this Parent's Buying Guide for information caring for your little ones and how to chose safe products for them. You can also check out our article on cloth diapering your little one to help green your routine a little more!

Sound Off: What are some green choice you have made towards your personal care items? Any products or recipes you could recommend?

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Next Book for Discussion... Gorgeously Green

There was some interest in exploring another book together and there has also been some interest in discussing more green ideas on the site. I thought I would pair the two and we could work our way through the book, "Gorgeously Green," by Sophie Uliano.

I received this book from Harper Collins and I really liked the ideas and the message that you could begin starting your green journey with just one simple change. I think many people are scared of the total overhaul process, but we could all make a few simple changes to better our earth for ourselves and for our children.

We can start our discussion next week, but maybe you might like to put a hold on this book at your local library? In the meantime, the author has set up a website and a Gorgeously Green Girls Club that you can join to help teach you simple steps towards an earth-friendly life.

I want this to be a fun and friendly discussion. I know that not everyone is going to be on the same page with a lot of this stuff, but I want this to be a supportive place where you can share freely without judgment! Remember, many of us are still learning and exploring our green sides.

I am looking forward to a great discussion!

Sound Off: What earth-friendly ideas are you really interested in exploring? What changes have you already made in your own life?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Creating Morning Rituals

Today is going to be our last day in the book, "How Did I Get So Busy." We have had such a great discussion from this book and I feel like I have made a lot of positive changes by sharing through this format and from encouragement from you. It has definitely been a positive transformation for me and I hope that you have gotten as much from it as I have.

For those of you who are just joining in on the series, we began with a busy bee quiz, questioned our reasons for being busy, had a discussion about technology and how it can intrude into our life, talked about self-care (or lack thereof), discussed our exercise routines (or lack thereof), taming our tech habits, and breaking the procrastination habits. There are many more chapters in the book so I hope that you can check this out from your library or can purchase a copy. I have heard from many of you who have gotten the book so I hope it will continue to benefit you.

Today we are going to discuss our morning routines and rituals. I have read other bloggers who have some really great morning routines, but I will admit that I am not a morning person and carving time for rituals has been something I think about, but don't do. I will say that I have added some workout time to my mornings, after I drop my son off at preschool, and I have also been doing a morning walk with Emily on warmer days.

These are the suggestions from the author on ways that you can incorporate some rituals into your day:

1. Write a vision of your ideal morning. The author actually says she has a list of seven things that she wants to do every morning. She suggests writing a list down of the things you would like out of your own morning and putting this in a place where you will see it each day- on the fridge door, inside a medicine cabinet, next to your alarm clock. This list will help remind you of what your ideal morning would look like. I have seen moms take this a step further and have an ideal day written up for themselves and their children too.

2. Estimate how much time each morning ritual will take you. With all of our goals, we are encouraged to start small and work our way up. Begin with small things that won't take a lot of time and build your routine up from there.

3. Identify a simple way to connect with loved ones in the morning. It can be a hug and a kiss for your kids, joining your child for breakfast each day so that you have special time together, or exercising with your spouse. Use this time to connect with the people you love most and see if it starts your days out a little better.

4. Choose things you truly want to do, not what you "should" do. Don't do things you think you have to do, you need to do things, "that will truly nourish you and help you create the kind of life you believe is possible."

5. Test your habits- and adjust them. If your routine isn't working for you, don't be afraid to switch it around. Continually tweak the routine until you have something you are really happy with.

In this chapter, the author focuses on ways to end your day as well. I have found that I am better about how I end my day then how I begin it though so this section really stuck with me.

Sound Off: I am interested to hear if you have a morning ritual that works for you? What are your mornings like? Do you struggle with a morning routine too?

MomAdvice Sound Off: Did you enjoy this book series? Would you like to work through another book together? What topics/books are of interest to you right now?

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Taming the Tech Habits

I can tell you one of the reasons that I often feel overwhelmed is because of my tech habits. A quick login to my email account can set my day into a tailspin- a review that needs posting, an article that needs writing, a page that needs editing- I have suddenly lost an hour of my day.

Even if you don't have a website or blog, reading other people's websites and blogs can take up a great deal of your time. Reading feeds definitely made things a little easier for me, but I made it harder on myself by subscribing to a gazillion feeds since I was saving so much time. See how your tech habits can spiral out of control? I am trying to follow my own commandments for blogging and not allow my blog to rule my life, but it can be hard.

In our book, "How Did I Get So Busy?" by Valorie Burton, she offers some suggestions for taming your tech habits and getting your life back:

1. Make email unobtrusive. This is something that I had to do in my own house. My computer used to ding at me when email had arrived and I would run into the office to check my account right that very minute. I ended up spending a lot of unnecessary time running in there for junk and spam mail which was time that would have served me better by spending it with my family. The author recommends turning the audible features OFF.

2. Open & respond at specific times. Set specific times that you will check email and give yourself a specific period of time in which to respond. Begin by prioritizing the messages by reading the titles and dealing with those emails first.

3. Set "no email" periods. Create periods of time in your day where you make email off limits- after 8 PM, Sunday afternoons, while on vacation, or when you need to focus on a specific project.

4. Have "no technology" periods. Don't allow technology to intrude in times where it is not welcome. Keep things like cell phones, email, and television out of your life during certain times where you feel it is important for you to be unplugged. I personally loved this idea from Ohmystinkinheck, where Heather suggests making the family members turn in their cell phones and set them to the off.

5. Respond in the moment. Even if you aren't addressing your messages right away, it is thoughtful to send a message to let the recipient know that you have received the message and a promise that you will get to it when you can.

6. Delete the message once it has been handled. Know how many messages I have in my inbox right now? You are going to gasp, but that is okay because I can't hear you. 8,000. No typos, there are 8,000 messages in my account. You can see why this would be tough for me! The author suggests keeping your inbox as clutter free as possible to help free your mind from being bombarded by the sheer volume of your old messages. Maybe this is a reason why I feel stressed when I open my inbox?

7. Tame your Blackberry habit. If people know that you will answer their messages immediately, they will begin to expect it and will take advantage of it. You will attract more requests, demands, and messages than ever.

Sound Off: What do you struggle with on this list? Are there are solutions listed here that could help you tame your own tech habits?

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

You Knew It Was Coming....Exercise & You

Oh, you just knew that this chapter was upon us after our frank discussion about self-care. I just want you to know that I am not just being Miss Preachy and I promise you that I am making serious changes with the help of this book. The changes I am seeing in myself are making me a much happier mommy.

Here are some things I have been working towards:

1. In the evenings, I am doing something quiet like knitting, reading, or spending time with my husband. I am trying to slow down in the evenings instead of running around for no reason. The same is applying to our daytime routine as well. I am trying to focus on the kids doing more stuff at home with me and less running around. Less running around= less money spent!
2. I replaced some things that needed replacing. Without going into details, I recruited my best girlfriend to go shopping with me and I finally forked over the money and threw out items that needed replacing. It was huge- like, a HUGE deal.
3. I made appointments and kept them. I visited my chiropractor, got my medical massage, kept a follow-up exam with my doctor, and went to my annual. I should be just about perfect after all of that.
4. I am purging a ton of stuff out of our house- three carloads so far! This stuff has been weighing me down and needed to go. It is mostly clothing, but I have been adding items little by little, as I see it, to the trunk and then taking a load over to the Goodwill each day. This is so good for my emotional well-being and it is creating more space in our home too!

Today we are going to talk about exercise or the lack of exercise in our lives. Since I have had Emily, I have not been exercising, and I can give you excuse after excuse for why I have not been engaging in regular exercise. It usually starts with, "I am so busy..." I am petite and people can't necessarily tell that I don't exercise regularly, but I am sluggish by midday and my body isn't toned anymore. I have back problems and regular exercise would really benefit this, but I always have an excuse for why I can't do it. Really, there are a hundred reasons why I SHOULD exercise and a hundred reasons why I DON'T exercise.

In the book, "How Did I Get So Busy?" the author offers these suggestions for making exercise a regular routine in your life.

1. Give yourself a range of success. Just as the author recommended in the self-care chapter, she reminds us that we don't have to do everything perfect. Make a goal, but don't beat yourself up if your goal was six days of exercise and you only managed three. Make three days a minimum goal for yourself and do the best you can and make it something that works for you.

2. Make it quick and convenient. Try aiming for just thirty minute sessions and do what fits best with your schedule. If going to the gym doesn't work for you right now, stick to a workout DVD. If you can't manage either, try a brisk walk around your neighborhood. Whatever you do, make it something that is easily doable and can be done in a short period of time.

3. Multi-task when you exercise. No, the author isn't suggesting we do our bills, but to use this time to meditate or listen to music to make the experience more enjoyable.

4. Take a class, form a group, or get a trainer. If you liked the idea of setting up appointments for self-care, this might be a great idea for you. She suggests making an appointment with a workout buddy or friend to help keep you motivated. Your workout buddy could even by your child, spouse, or another family member- whatever will help too keep you motivated.

5. Make a plan you'll actually follow. Start small, build your confidence, and be consistent.

6. If you fail, try again. She quotes Winston Churchill who said, "Success is the ability to move from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm." Don't beat yourself up, but be honest with yourself. Keep trying and don't give up.

7. Start your day with exercise. Stop trying to squeeze it in when you have a full schedule and make it your routine when you wake up. Before you go to bed, put your workout clothes, shoes, and a bottle of water right next to the alarm clock. When you wake up, slip on your workout gear and head out the door for a brisk walk, pop in your favorite workout tape, or find an open area in your house to do a few sets of your favorite exercise. Use this time as your planning time, quiet time, or "me" time and enjoy energy all day long.

Sound Off: Do you make exercise a priority in your life? How have you worked this into your schedule?

Follow-Up Sound Off: Did you do something to care for yourself this week? Report back and let me know if our discussion helped you at all!

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Friday, April 25, 2008

My Ultimate Downfall: Self-Care

Here are some things I need to admit before I begin discussing self-care:

1. I do not keep my appointments when it comes to my own health care- doctor visits, the hairdresser, annual visits, dentist visits, chiropractor care, or vision exams. This has usually been because I don't want to take both my children to these visits or because I feel like these appointments can wait. It is rare though that I ever reschedule anything for my children. For myself, it is a regular occurrence.

2. I do not regularly engage in things that are just for me other than social commitments. I struggle with making time to do hobbies I enjoy, doing any regular reading, or indulging in time for quiet reflection for myself.

3. I am pretty good about buying clothes for myself, but I struggle with feeling worthy enough to spend money on myself. This is because I feel that oftentimes the money is better allocated to my children, our house, my spouse, or food. It has gotten to the point that items for myself that have needed replacing seem like "spending urges" rather than the simple fact that sometimes I actually have a need to replace it.

4. At times I feel that engaging in self-care and doing things for myself is selfish and indulgent.

Now do you want to take advice from someone like me? As I have plowed my way through the chapters in our book for discussion ("How Did I Get So Busy," By Valorie Burton), I had to pause for a moment as I approached the chapters on self-care. In some ways, I feel like I do really well. I do things often with my mom's group and I try to make time with my closest friends and sister, but these times are often filled with busyness and chasing after kids. While sometimes, during these visits, I get a break, I am not doing things to care for myself during these times. I realize that this is something I really and truly need to work on.

Valorie offers these tips for shifting to a self-care lifestyle:

1. Make a decision to change your life. This is the first time in any life-changing process and she encourages you to want to make that change.

2. Clarify what is no longer acceptable. Shifting from a life of self-care might mean shifting away from a life of busyness. Make a list of what is unacceptable to you in your current lifestyle and what must go in order for you to make the shift to this new life.

3. Clarify what makes you feel well cared for. What really makes you feel cared for? Is it being pampered, cared for, and nourished emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Write down what comes to mind.

4. Make self-care easy. The author suggests making self-care easy and scheduling it into your day just as you would anything else. Set up appointments on the same day of each week or each month so that you can incorporate it easily into your schedule. You could also make it easier by making items that help nourish you easier to access. For example, a foot soak is my favorite thing to do so grouping all of these items together in an accessible spot and scheduling it every Friday (which I used to do each Friday and then lapsed on because I was "too busy") would make it a scheduled and easy task for me to indulge in.

5. Practice until it becomes a way of life. Refuse to compromise on your self-care and practice, practice, practice doing it. It is okay if you don't do it perfectly, but make an effort to make self-care a priority in your life.

6. Notice how much easier it is to do what needs to be done when you live a self-care lifestyle. Incorporating self-care will help give you the energy and the foundation to better handle challenges that come your way. Self-care prevents those feelings of being burnt-out because you will now have a cushion to soften the blow.

The challenge with this lesson and chapter is to make a decision to adopt a self-care lifestyle. From this lifestyle, you will automatically eliminate a lifestyle of busyness.

My personal commitment:

1. I am going to schedule my chiropractor appointments regularly again and I am going to schedule and KEEP my dentist & eye exam appointments.

2. I am going to try to do (at least) one nice thing for myself each week- spending time reading, knitting, exercising, or something to pamper myself. It will not necessarily be things that I am spending money on, but it will be a special treat that I don't often engage in.

3. I will work harder on buying things for myself when I need them. If I hear of a person (like a someone-who-shall-remain-nameless type of person) who needs new underwear and she thinks it is a "silly expenditure," I will encourage her to go and spend some money on herself because that is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. And, yes, it has been that bad and that ridiculous for that person and shame on her.

4. I will not use my personal finances as an excuse to not take care of myself, unless that is really and truly true. We do have money for the things I need to care for myself and I will use those resources if they are needed. This doesn't mean going to a spa resort for a weekend, but it might mean getting my hair trimmed or having my teeth cleaned.

These might seem like minor commitments, but I want you to know that this is a huge commitment for me. I want to be strong in body and mind, but I can't be if I don't take care of myself. This might require me to work less on the site so that I can make time to make this a priority, but I also feel that if I had this time that I might have more energy and even more creativity to draw from.

Sound Off: It is safe to admit it, do you struggle with caring for yourself? What is one commitment you could make towards your self-care? What is one thing that you really miss doing for yourself since you became a mom?

(P.S.- It is not selfish, it is self-care and you deserve it!)

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I Am Busy, But Why?

I cracked open this book and was prepared to learn how to manage my time better. In my head, I had envisioned all of the ways that I could manage my day in a more effective way. For example, I could get up by four in the morning, like other bloggers I read, and start my day off with a brisk bit of exercise, breakfast, and some really hard work before my children get up. Then I could reserve their naps for time to catch up on the house, laundry, and bills. Then I could spend the afternoon cooking and catering to everyone's needs. And then I could collapse into utter oblivion...because I don't know how people get up at four in the morning. Or five in the morning. Heck, six sounds too early to me. We can see the beginnings of why I don't manage my time well. I am a late riser and I require oodles of sleep. Sleep has trumped a lot of things in my life and I just can't picture me being a real go-getter in the morning.

As I begin to read though, one of the first things the book said was that it "was not a book on time-management, it was a book on not being busy." Did you feel a chill in the air like I did? What? Not be BUSY? But this is my life. No, I want a book that is going to teach me that busyness is good and perfectly acceptable, but that I just need to manage my busyness more effectively.

That is when I realized how deeply rooted my problem had become. The author says, "I valued achievement more highly than joy, which led to speeding toward the finish line of every project, goal, or task without regard for the gift the journey. I had bought into the belief that taking on more work, projects, or activities validated my worth, abilities, and potential. Certainly there is nothing wrong with being industrious, but beware when busyness becomes a self-esteem substitute."

Yes, I am admitting that feeling busy makes me feel important and I get a high from it. It feels good to be validated by others and to offer my opinions and insights. I think that this really started when I became an at-home mom and it felt good to hear that other grown-ups respected what I had to say and that I had a valuable opinion. Being pooped on and peed on certainly wasn't making me feel good, but if I had a full calendar...well, I was popular! If my schedule was jam-packed, this proved that I had friends, and lots of them!

But could I possibly build any meaningful friendships if I am only able to pencil my friends in once a month? Did anyone ever get all of me if all I was thinking about was the next engagement or the next thing I had to do? I am realizing how bad this really is.

The author suggests making a new declaration that you can work towards while working through her book.

Declaration of My Personal Lifestyle
1. I only engage in activities that reflect what really matters to me.
2. I take all of my vacation time every year.
3. I make a heart-to-heart connection every day with someone I care about.
4. I honor my body's need for rest.
5. I have fun at least once a week.
6. I eat at regular intervals and at a slow pace.
7. I find enjoyable ways to exercise at least three times per week.
8. I do not allow technology to consume my time, but use it to maximize my time.
9. I say no to activities that do not pass my "personal priority test."
10. I listen to my inner voice when making decisions.

Just looking at this list, I can tell you exactly what is going to be a problem for me. #1,6,7,8,9, & 10. I don't eat like I should, I don't exercise regularly, I can't say no, my computer is a major time sucker, and I rethink my inner voice all of the time to please others.

What things on this list would be hard for you? Where do you struggle when it comes to busyness? Here's a tough one...does busyness boost your self-esteem? (You can sign in anonymously as always!)

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"How Did I Get So Busy?" (A Busy Bee Quiz)

I can't begin to tell you how much I have appreciated your feedback on what I should do with this blog and website. I think going away last week, returning to an overwhelming amount to do, and the feeling that I can't possibly keep up was eating away at me. I always feel I should be a positive example to people, but sometimes I need to show the more human side of myself. I have read all of your comments and emails and they mean so much. Maybe I just needed to hear that it was going to be fine if I didn't have something fresh and new every single day. I worry about the loss in traffic and readers, when I should worry more about the priorities in my own life.

Here is to a new direction and a new outlook on time management. As encouraged by you, I am going to try and explore better time management and share with you my journey in this. I am struggling with my day and I know other people must struggle with this too. There is just so much to do and we only have so many hours in the day. Where do we start? How do we manage our days better so that we can get things done without the feelings of being tapped out?

I found a book at the library called, "How Did I Get So Busy?" by Valorie Burton. This book is a 28-day plan to "free your time, reclaim your schedule, and reconnect with what matters most." Ironically, the book caught my eye when I was looking for something else, and I just knew I needed to grab it. I plan to read this and share about reclaiming some of my time and encourage you to pick up the book too! Check and see if you can get it at your local library.

The very first section has a test to see how busy you are. Give yourself 1 point for each statement that you identify with:

Too Busy Test

I feel as though I am constantly trying to catch up at work.
I feel as though I am constantly trying to catch up with personal responsibilities.
My life feels out of balance.
My breathing right now is shallow.
I am regularly late to appointments and scheduled activities.
There's rarely a break in my schedule.
My shoulders are not relaxed right now.
I eat lunch at my desk at least once per week.
I sometimes work straight through lunch.
I have not had a vacation longer than seven days in the last year.
A seven day vacation? I have never had one of those.
I have not gotten together with friends for fun and conversation in over a month.
Keeping up with household chores is a struggle because of time constraints.
I am dissatisfied with the amount of quality time I am able to spend with my spouse or significant other.
I am dissatisfied with the amount of quality time I am able to spend with my child.
I don't take time to exercise.
I resent the things I do for family or friends because I have little or no time for myself.
The fuel light in my car has come on at some point in the last two months because I have not had time to fill it up.
My mail is piled up because I haven't had time to open or sort it.
I have missed paying a bill on time in the last three months because I was too busy to notice the due date had passed.
I sometimes run out of socks, jeans, or other laundry items because I haven't had time to do the laundry.
I don't have time to write thank-you notes.
My to-do list rarely gets completely checked off for the day.
I work late more than once per week.
At least once per week, I skip meals because I am too busy.

How Busy Are You?

1-5 Points- Busy
Your schedule is challenging at times, but you are managing to get by. A few small changes will make a big difference towards helping you to take complete control of your time.

6-10 Points- Too Busy
Either life is becoming increasingly too busy for you, or you've been managing to get by but are starting to lose control. By taking action over these next 28 days, you can finally take charge of your schedule and decrease the stress that has been building.

11-16 Points- Too Busy & Frustrated
Life has been hectic for awhile and if you don't slow down soon and become more intentional about where and how you focus your time, you will soon burn out. It is essential that you begin to take steps now so you can get your life back.

17-25 Points- Out of Control
From the author, "I understand. I've been there. And it's possible for you to transform how you live so that your schedule is aligned with what's most important to you. It may require some big changes, but remember that change is about making choices."

I am looking forward to diving in on the first chapter of this. Time management is a tough issue for me and not one I have ever mastered. I have little sleep and exist a lot on my coffee addiction. I don't exercise, I don't take that great of care for myself, I sometimes feel as though I am "coasting" when it comes to managing the house and housework. I basically do as little as I have to do right now to keep up with this side business and that isn't what my intentions were in the beginning. It is comforting to know that I am not alone and here I am, exposing myself to you (in a totally G-Rated kind of way!)

My score was a 17 on this quiz. I am wondering if I am alone? Where are you at on this quiz?

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Thank You Writers Strike Part II

Oh, it is feeling so good to get back to reading. Last time I checked in, I had been rediscovering my love of reading and I am continuing to develop my hobby more this month...thanks to all of your amazing recommendations! I added everything to my Good Reads list (thanks to my friend Jessica for sharing this site with me) and now I feel an added sense of accomplishment because I can move things that I have read to different categories and rate them. I just love that!

Several of you recommended starting the Stephenie Meyer's series so I thought I would give it a shot. I am not really into vampire books or anything like that, but it came highly recommended by you so I put a hold on it at the library. I am SO glad I did! I started with the first book in the series (of course), "Twilight." The plot was moving pretty slow for me in the beginning, but then it picked up about halfway through and the ending was such a shocker that I ran downstairs and put a hold on the next two books. I would agree that even if young adult fiction and vampire books don't sound appealing to you, that this book crosses those genres and it equals just really great reading. I stayed up until 12:30 one night so I could finish it and find out how it would end. I should have known it would be a giant cliffhanger since it is a series book, but I was thrilled to have finished it. A big thank you to everyone who recommended these! I am looking forward to reading the next two and I thank you for being so tired because I can't put them down.

The next book I read was, "The Sky Isn't Visible From Here," by Felicia Sullivan. I don't usually read memoirs so this was a little bit out-of-the-box for me, but I am so glad I read this. All I kept thinking was how I am always so worried that something I might do could potentially screw up my kids for the rest of their life and her story just put everything in perspective for me as a mother. I am not saying that I am a perfect mom, but this story just showed how strong the human spirit is and how we can overcome things in our childhood and turn out to be really great matter what type of childhood or family we might come from. I will admit, this book was hard to read. Who wants to read about abuse being inflicted upon a child or a mother that puts her addictions ahead of her child over and over again? It was a challenge for me as a mother to read a story like this, but I felt better for having read it. An interview with the author offers a lovely incentive too so I am grateful I read it so I could share her story with you! So inspiring!I also read, "One for the Money" by Janet Evanovich. Again, this is not normally my genre, but everyone kept talking about these books so I thought I would give it a shot. This series is awesome! I put the second and third one on hold at our library and picked those up this week. These were suspenseful, but also made me laugh out loud a lot. I think I was starting to annoy my husband at night since I would burst into laughter randomly while he was trying to sleep. Oh well! He knew he married a quirky bookworm when he met me. These books are so much fun!
I got my hands on an advance copy of, "Party Basics for New Nesters" By Maria McBride. This book is amazing and offers tutorials and projects for making your home a place to entertain in. The book is intended for newlyweds, but I think it is an excellent book for anyone who has trouble with entertaining. Many of the projects in it were thrifty and could be put together using items from thrift stores & yard sales so I really appreciated that element about it. I also loved the basics for how to set a table, how to press your table linens, how to arrange flowers, and what tools you need to have a party where you offer mixed drinks. I really enjoyed the basic recipes that this book offered too. I will admit that some of the projects were a little difficult for someone who isn't crafty or good in the kitchen, but my overall feel of this book was that it contained great elements that I could add to make my home more inviting to my guests. Two thumbs up! A great gift to give to a new bride or as a housewarming gift to friends! It looks like this one will hit the bookshelves on March 11th!Not to be outdone by all of these good reads, we also watched (for the first time) The Jason Bourne Collection. We actually got all three movies at the library and each night we watched one movie. Ryan's cousin had recommended this series to us and I thought we would give it a try. This was not in my normal genre of movies, but I could have eaten this up with a spoon. I was hanging on the edge of my seat, I jumped a few times at some unexpected parts, and my husband and I kept murmuring, "Now that was awesome! " over and over and over again. I am so glad that we watched them right in a row too. I am bad about remembering stuff from one movie to the next so this helped me a lot. If you haven't watched these, get them! So great!

My husband also discovered something really great for me! Direct TV customers can watch the whole first season of, "The Tudors" on their free channel. I am not sure how long they will be airing it, but I am DVR'ing it and watching the episodes in the evening. I don't know if other stations offer this, but those free channels can be great for watching shows on the expanded cable. I know what they are hoping is that you will get hooked and start ordering Showtime or HBO, but I am just going to enjoy the free stuff and then wait for the DVD to come out for the next season. I love historical fiction and this series is amazing. They have edited it and said you have to subscribe to the channel to get the full-on action or whatever. Works for me!

Sound Off: Tell me what you are reading and watching this month?

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Check It Out: The Sky Isn't Visible From Here

It was an honor and a privilege to have received a copy of, "The Sky Isn't Visible From Here," by Felicia Sullivan. I emailed Felicia and thanked her for two sleepless nights where I could not sleep because I was thinking about her book too much. I also, very boldly, asked if she would let me do an interview with her after I finished the book. I was pleasantly surprised when she said she would welcome the opportunity to share with our readers, and I am so happy to share it with you.

"The Sky Isn't Visible From Here," is Felicia's memoir of her childhood. It is the story of the neglect and abuse that is inflicted upon her by a mother who is heavily addicted to cocaine, and then a journey through her own addiction and recovery.

Felicia lived through experiences that no child should ever have to go through and then later battled her own demons with drug abuse later in her life. Now in recovery, she shares her personal story of overcoming abuse and, in the end, she shows you the strong and resilient woman she truly has become because of her difficult past.

Your memoir shared a shocking story of abuse and neglect that was inflicted upon you by your mother. How difficult was it to write about such a personal experience and how were you able to cope with reliving it through your writing?

When I embarked on this journey, I thought it would be an impossible one. For years the concept of people knowing about my past terrified me. I thought I would be judged because of my humble background, the fact that my mother was a drug addict. I felt as if I would be judged not for the person I was, but for the environment from which I came.

However, over the past few years, the most amazing thing has happened. Once I let go of the burden of shame and finally mourned losing my mother, it became easier for me to tell people the truth. My mother always told me that vulnerability is a weakness, a disease, and for the great portion of my life I wasn’t actually able to cry (unless I was drunk), and when I finally let my guard down, when I was finally honest with myself and with my friends, something entirely magical happened. All of these incredibly supportive friends emerged, and they listened and supported me without judgment. And this made crafting this book easier because I knew I had a supportive family behind me, even when I’m reliving horrific events or hearing my mother’s voice in my hair. The love and support of my father and friends made this journey easier.

In one scene in the book, you share that your mother rips up some of your stories in a rage and it seems that you are always writing or talking about being a writer. Was this your ultimate goal? Did you see this as a way to get out of the poverty you were living in?

That’s a wonderful question, although I can assure you that a career in writing alone doesn’t afford you a fabulous lifestyle! As a child books were my escape. I would sit on my fire escape after finishing one of the many books I devoured, and dream of cities, countries, characters– places and people markedly different from the ones who inhabited my Brooklyn neighborhood.

My mother’s voice was always the loudest sound and I often felt silenced growing up in her wake. Writing gave me a means of communication when there was none. I could shout! I could cry! I could be angry at the world and everyone in it. And committing these events, my life lived to paper, made inconceivable events that much more vivid and real.

Someone asked me if I didn’t have the upbringing that I did, would I still write books? I thought about that for a while and responded that I would indeed be a writer although perhaps my work wouldn’t be so dark.

Your mother never calls you by your real name in the book and only calls you “Lisa.” In some ways did it feel like you were telling Lisa’s story? Do you feel like Lisa no longer exists now that you have detached yourself from your mother?

Oddly enough, you are one of the very few to ask me about this, and it’s such an integral part of the book!!! How does one find their identity when one has no family history? When a parent routinely gives you different answers for all the same questions? When the person you are is different than the person you want to be? For me, my memoir isn’t about embracing one identity over another, rather I see this story as my journey in realizing that the woman I am today is due, in part, to the life I lived with my mother and her distorted half-truths, but that’s merely a fraction of who I am. My book celebrates the fact that my mother is no longer my “author” (as she so often claimed), while I sit silent taking dictation.

The most painful stories to read were times where your mother was using you to get what she wanted, and it is often repeated over and over again. Would you say that this is one of the worst things that your mother did to you?

One of the cruelest things a parent can do is deprive their child of that small span of time when the world is simple, beautiful and utterly innocent – before time passes and the child grows into a teenager and begins to question this terrific fiction. I never knew this time, and the worst thing I can think of my mother having done to me is this: she stole my childhood from me.

Was writing the story of your life therapeutic for you in any way? Are you now able to close a chapter on your relationship with your mother?

Absolutely! Although, I’m afraid that writing this book has made my view of her and my upbringing more complex. When I started Sky I viewed my relationship with my mother in definitive black and white terms – I didn’t love her and I was never going to forgive her for stealing my childhood from me, for always putting herself before me, for choosing men over me. Meanwhile I had also been drinking heavily, continuing my decade-long affair with alcohol. However, over the past year, I got sober and have had the advantage of clarity that sobriety can bring, to wholly understand our relationship in a way that I couldn’t have before. It was as if I had been sleeping for a long time and I suddenly woke up.

I don’t forgive my mother for the choices she made but I now understand why she made them. As an addict your choice will always be the drug. And part of me feels an unbelievable amount of sorrow for her – a single parent who never had it easy, a woman who lacked role models and support. It was us against the world, and it was a war she always had to win, but soon grew tired of fighting. Drugs made the land mines, and their inevitable explosions, easier to bear. However, my refrain is this: before the drugs she had a choice and she always chose her over me.

And as I grow older, I get a twinge of sadness when I hear friends talk about their meddling, overprotective mothers – stalwart, lovable women who are their very best friends. I ache for that maternal figure and guide, and although professional mentors, a terrific father, and friends who have served as my surrogate family, comfort me, there is nothing like that intimate mother-daughter relationship. So while I don’t miss my mother, I long for the idea of one.

I understand that memoirs are often very difficult to get published. Did you have any difficulties getting your story published or heard by others?

Not really. I’m privileged to say that my path to publication hasn’t been a difficult one. What’s proved more taxing is publication itself – more difficult than I had anticipated.

What has been the most surprising thing to you about writing this book?

I could actually write Sky and not fall to pieces.

Do you wonder if your mother has read the story?

I do wonder if she’s alive, if she’s living in New York, has read my book. But I’m more focused on the here and the now: my well-being and sobriety. I’m focused on cultivating healthy relationships and strengthening existing ones. I’m focused on being a present and loving friend, daughter, significant other.

What would you hope others to gain by reading your life story?

I wrote this book as a testament to my strength, as a celebration of my survival and recovery, to demonstrate that alternative families are possible, and that love – the most sacred of emotions – is not unconditional. I hope, really hope, that people take comfort in shared experience, and be inspired to live their best life. I also hope that it makes wonderful parents hug their children a little tighter, and, for children who have tenuous, dysfunctional relationships with their parents: you don’t have to carry their shame for it’s possible to create a new family if your current incarnation is an altogether too painful one.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m very excited about returning to fiction!!! Ideas are brewing for a novel tentatively titled Women and Children First. It’s a satire of our technologically evolved, access-hungry society. I tell people it’s White Noise meets American Psycho without all the gore.

For more information about Felicia Sullivan and her book tour, please visit her amazing blog!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thank You Writers Strike!

The shows on television have been so boring and all of my television watching has come to a standstill since the writers strike. But instead of moping about the television, I started turning into some new shows and have reignited my love for a hobby that I once lost... reading!

I kept blaming my kids for my lack of reading when I should have blaming my own lack of motivation and laziness. Why read when I can flip on the television? It just seemed so much easier. Since nothing has been on television though, I flipped my remote back to reading.

It has become an evening ritual for me. I curl up into my glider chair and escape for the evening with a little snack. Candles are lit in my room, a comfy pillow behind my back, my feet propped on the ottoman, a warm quilt wrapping in me... and I crack the binding to my library book. Do you hear that? Sweet silence! The children are in bed and the only sound that I am hearing is the flipping of the pages.

First to get read was my first James Patterson book. I know, I know...I have just not found his material all that engaging, but I could not put down, "The Quickie." And lest you think I am reading pornographic material, as my husband eyes danced over the title and I confessed my addiction to porn just for kicks, this book is less about that and more about a thrilling witnessed murder that happens quickly and takes over a detective's life. Why would that take over her life? Why, her lover was murdered by her husband and she is put in charge of the case. Oh, it was a thrill ride that reminded me a lot of one of my favorite thrillers, "Derailed," by James Siegel (that got turned into a sub par movie that did little justice to the book) and I hung onto the roller coaster ride for two days. It literally took me two evenings to flip through and I could not put it down. My mother-in-law read it (as did a bunch of the people she worked with!) and she had the same experience as me. She has read other Jame Patterson books though and said none were as good as this so she said I made a good first choice. If you are looking for a quick mommy read, this is it!
The next book I read was also out of my normal genre, but it was so good that I could not put it down. "Heart Sick" by Chelsea Cain reminded me a lot of, "Silence of the Lambs." Instead of a male serial killer though, a detective is tracking a female serial killer. She is on a killing spree and ends the spree with her last victim...the detective. Instead of killing him though she tortures him and then lets him go, knowing that she is going to prison forever. The detective can't understand why she has let him go and it tortures him more because he doesn't know why. Apparently, this is the first book in the series and I am looking forward to more novels to come. If you don't have the stomach for stuff like this though, I wouldn't recommend it. Like I said, this is not my normal genre, but I just found the premise of the book to be quite fascinating.
I also finished, "The Time Traveler's Wife," by Audrey Niffenegger. This has been a book that I have wanted to read for a long time, but had never set aside the time to read it. I am so glad that I waited though because I don't know if I could have appreciated this book as much as I did now. This has to be one of the best books I have ever read. It is about a man who time travels, but not in a science fiction kind of way. He is born with a condition that causes him to time travel and he arrives to all of his destinations completely naked, starving, and with no money. He has to become resourceful and find ways to eat and live when he travels to these new destinations. Who he comes to visit often though ends up being his future wife at different stages in her life and they form a friendship and then later fall in love. I don't want to give too much away, but I noticed that it is being made into a film and I am hoping it does more justice to the book than other films I have seen in the past. Without giving anything away, my husband came into our room to see me bawling like a baby...dripping nose, mascara running, hiccuping....the whole works. I am rarely moved by a book in this way, but this book did it for me. If you haven't read it run, run, run to the library and get it.

I got an early release copy of "The Sweet Potato Queens' Guide to Raising Children for Fun & Profit," but hadn't had a chance to sit down and read this until now. I really love the Sweet Potato Queen books and have been a big fan of Jill's for a long time now. Unfortunately, this book wasn't half as good as her first couple of novels. There are some funny parts in it, but it wasn't what I had been hoping for. There are some great recipes in it though that are full of butter and calories- yum!

Now I am starting the Janet Evanovich books and of course I had to start with, "One for the Money." I have been wanting to read these for awhile now and I am looking forward to reading the entire series. The good part about starting a series late though is that you don't have to wait for the new releases to come out to finish. I think she is up to book thirteen so that gives me plenty of reading material to get me started.

Sound Off:
What books have you read lately- anything you could recommend? I am going to have to hit our library again soon so I would love some new suggestions!



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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Interview with THE Jessica Seinfeld

I shared in an entry last week, my true love for the new cookbook, "Deceptively Delicious" by Jessica Seinfeld. You may have doubted my opinion on how awesome it really is, but now Oprah has given her golden seal of approval and this little seal gives Mrs. Seinfeld an instant hit on the bestseller list. Jessica appeared yesterday on Oprah's show and discussed her recipes and ideas for getting her children to eat healthy.

Last week, I had discussed interviewing Jessica with her publisher, Harper Collins. When I saw she was on the show yesterday, I was really worried that she might become too busy to share with me her experience with writing the book. Who can compete with a successful interview on Oprah?

Lucky for me, Jessica is truly a class act and had emailed me the answers to all my questions this morning. I was so incredibly excited and I hope that you will enjoy this interview with her as much as I enjoyed asking all of my questions.

Question & Answers with Jessica Seinfeld

Pardon if I gush a bit, but I adore your new book! Is this something that you have wanted to do for a long time? What/who inspired you to create this book?

I wish I could say there was a thoughtful and grand plan behind this book! The truth is that it came from desperation. Hiding vegetables in my children’s food was the only way I could get through mealtimes without arguments and stress. My children were certainly the motivation – their refusal to eat vegetables was the problem that had to be solved - but my inspiration was my own mother and grandmother. They were both working mothers who managed to put home cooked meals on the table every night. They taught me how to cut corners, prepare efficient and healthy meals in under 20 minutes, which is now the model I replicate in my own home. Now it’s a way of life.

Has healthy eating always been important to you or was this a new lifestyle change since children?

I grew up with a very health conscious mother, who has shopped at farm stands and food co-ops since I can remember. Eating healthy foods has always been second nature to me - it’s how I was raised. But I’m also desperately concerned about what I read about child obesity and related diseases and illnesses in this country. I became determined not only to not take care of my own kids, but to try to be part of a broader solution to a growing problem.

What is your biggest challenge with getting your children to eat healthy? How did you overcome this challenge?

The biggest problem I face daily is the prevalence of junk food that seems to follow all kids everywhere they go. I have to be vigilant and firm, but it’s hard to compete sometimes. Even if you can manage to avoid fast food and get to the grocery store, many supermarkets try to rope you into buying foods that have no nutritional value.

There’s a few things I do to try to cope.

- I won’t bring home food I don’t want my children to eat - chips, candy, sugared drinks. It sounds obvious, but the habits I set at home tend to get followed by my kids when they’re at school or playing with friends.

- I bake healthy treats. I’m not anti-treats – in fact, I have a sweet-tooth. But there’s no reason why great tasting cookies and brownies can’t be laden with things that are good for kids.

- I try to be smarter than the supermarket marketing executives. I shop carefully, read labels, and look for whole grains and non-processed food.

- Puree, puree, puree.

As a mom who is on the go a lot, what are some of your suggestions for getting your kids to eat healthy when you are running from activity to activity?

I try to always keep my purse stocked with food that’s healthy and balanced and never get stuck with hungry kids and limited options. That’s when bad food decisions get made. Being a mobile health-food store has it’s down side, of course - the crushed-up oat bran pretzels and string cheese wrappers at the bottom of my purse don’t exactly make me so fabulous - but at least I know my kids are getting a good snack.

If you could pick one thing that you want moms to walk away with, from reading your book, what would it be?

What you feed your kids matters. Don’t give up on yourself or them. You can have peaceful, healthy and delicious meals, and you can also never say, “eat your vegetables” again. With an ounce of preparation and the will to change, anyone can do it.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Deceptively Delicious- A MUST For Healthy Eating

I was able to get my hands on an advance copy of the new cookbook, "Deceptively Delicious" and I would recommend either checking this book out from the library or buying a copy when the book is released (set release date of October 5th).

If you haven't heard the buzz about this book, author Jessica Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld's better half) shares smart ways to sneak veggies and fruit into your children's diet. As a mother of three children, she knows how difficult it is to get your kids to eat their fruits & veggies so she shares a technique for pureeing these foods and mixing them into fun recipes. Everything from dip to breads to donuts...all of her dishes contain an element of healthy eating with sneak attacks from the four food groups.

It is smartly written and beautifully designed. Included are tips for creating all of your purees, how to stock a healthy pantry, and easy nutritional guidelines for children. She even shares her family's opinion on the dishes with cute little retro pictures of each of them (even Jerry!)

The idea is very simple- fill your children's foods with the good things in life so that they can live a long and healthy life!

I am looking forward to adding some of her recipes to my next menu planner and am looking forward to trying some of her puree techniques on my children. My kids are pretty smart, but maybe I can fool them! If the pictures are any indication of how good these dishes taste, I know they will enjoy them throughly.

Many thanks to Harper Collins and Jessica for giving us this sneak peek into such a cool cookbook! We wish Mrs. Sienfeld much luck with the launch of her book and look forward to trying her dishes in our kitchen!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Check It Out: An American Hedge Fund by Timothy Sykes

Timothy Sykes sent me an advance copy of his new book, "An American Hedge Fund" for review. We were so thrilled to have our review included in his new book. We wish the author much success with his book launch and hope that you can get an opportunity to check this book out!

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to play the stock market? In, “An American Hedge Fund” Timothy Sykes takes you on a roller coaster of ups and downs, sharing his wild experience of how he was able to make two million dollars as a stock operator and by creating a hedge fund.

Timothy takes you on the journey from the beginning, sharing his passion for making money quickly at the tender age of twelve. With hopes of making money with his baseball collection and then trying his hand at stringing tennis rackets to make some extra cash, Timothy always possessed a desire to make money fast and had the entrepreneurial spirit to make it happen.

While his classmates were making dates and planning for their prom, Timothy was dreaming of investing money and winning the stock market game. With his $12,415 Bar Mitzvah money, he was able to turn this sum of money into $1.65 million dollars in the course of just four years, all while finishing his high school career and beginning his college career at Tufts University.

Timothy shows how his good research and great gut instinct gave him the skills to know which companies to invest in and when to pull that money out. He shows how he was able to obtain his financial success, but also is wise enough to share his mistakes and what he wishes he would have done differently when looking back upon his youth.

I loved this book for a number of reasons, but the one thing that I really appreciated about Timothy’s story was that playing the stock market was a game for him, not necessarily that he wanted to be wealthy. He seemed to enjoy the thrill of investing and winning the game, but did not seem to be trying to achieve great wealth or notoriety. For him, investing was a fun hobby and his parents supported his dreams, but also wanted him to stay grounded and levelheaded about his fame and fortune.

This really struck a chord with me in my own financial journey. For me, saving money isn’t necessarily because I have to, but it is a game for me to see how much I can save by making changes in my life. It is not necessarily that I have to make my own bread, for example, but when crunching figures I find deep satisfaction in knowing how much I could save by making that small change in my life. For me, it is about saving money and the satisfaction I get from keeping money in my account. For Timothy, it is about how he can take that money and make that money grow by making wise financial investments.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in seeing how to work the stock market and also how one young man was able to turn a small investment into an amazing career as a millionaire hedge fund manager.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Check It Out: Playful Reading by Carolyn Munson-Benson

I just got back from the library this evening and I have been searching for great books that would foster a love for reading in my son. I am addicted to reading and I attribute that to my trips to the library with my father. He always was reading and it made me want to read too. As far as I can remember, I have had a true love of reading and that is why it is such a priority in our house.

I found an excellent book called, "Playful Reading: Positive, Fun Ways to Build the Bond Between Preschoolers, Books & You" by Carolyn Munson-Benson, that was exactly what I had been looking for.

In this book, the author shares great books for preschoolers (including a short synopsis about what they are about) and then she shares activities and recipes you can use to go along with the book that you are reading.

My son's favorite book in the world is, "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?" by Jane Yolen. In fact, he loved that book so much that we created art for his room out of the book jackets. I decided to look up this book and see what the author had suggested. Here were some of her ideas for this book:

- Return to the illustrations and together find letters that spell out the name of each featured dinosaur. You will see the letters on items such as a wall pennant, a line of alphabet blocks and a bed's headboard.

- For fun, act out the meaning of verbs such as mope, moan, sulk, or demonstrate for the child how readers can find the exact meaning of a word by looking it up in a dictionary.

- Talk about your favorite dinosaurs and their reactions in the book.

- Turn inexpensive plastic dinosaurs into props that stimulate use and growth of language. Print their names on index cards and make a museum. You can also make a landscape backdrop for the dinosaurs out of boxes, crayons and construction paper.

- Have the child arrange the dinosaurs by size, type, and number. Then have them group them by similar characteristics (e.g. meat eater) or in groups of their own kind.

- Let your child tell stories about the dinosaurs, but don't be shocked by gory or gross stories because this is developmentally normal.

- Visit a museum and learn more about the dinosaurs.

This is just one example of the great activities and books that have been chosen for this book. I am writing down a lot of notes for this book, which might mean that it would be a nice addition to our own family library.

I plan to do the dinosaur story with our son this week and incorporate some of the activities. I also thought Michelle, from Scribbit, had a great idea for chiseling artifacts that might be a fun assignment to go along with our story.

Sound Off: What is your child's favorite book? Do you have any books that you could recommend for helping your child learn to read or developing a love of reading in them?

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Parenting Magazine Editors Share the Baby Must-Haves

The editors at Parenting Magazine have recently come out with a new book called, "Baby Must-Haves: The Essential Guide To Everything From Cribs to Bibs" and wanted to know if I would be interested in reviewing their new book.

This book would be a great guide for a new mom or for an expecting mother because it covers everything your baby would/could need and what items are just a plain waste of money. Included is information on the best stroller, what every mom should keep in her medicine cabinet, how to outfit your nursery, and the essential safety gear that moms will need. They also have mom tips, from the real-life mom experts, on things that they have done that have made their lives easier.

I got the opportunity to interview the editors about their new book and here are some of my questions that I thought our readers might find helpful.

When it comes time to outfit the nursery, what is the one item that you feel it is a good idea to splurge on? Do you have any recommendations for where to purchase this item or what brands you feel confident in going with?

A Baby’s crib should be a safe haven—a place where she can sleep or play comfortably, without any dangers of getting hurt. This is one necessity that moms shouldn’t feel guilty about splurging on, as the child will use it every day (several times a day!) for the first couple of years (it’s not time for a toddler bed until your child is 35” tall, or the top of the side rail is below mid-chest level).

Many of our Mom-Tested retailers, such as Babies ‘R’ Us ( and Buy Buy Baby (, feature countless styles of cribs that meet moms’ highest standards – safety, solid construction, durability and sleek design.

One brand that gets high marks for quality is Pottery Barn Kids ( The “Kendall Crib” ($599) is available in a wide range of baby-safe finishes and combines style, functionality and the highest safety standards. Built of solid pine, the crib can be converted into a toddler bed. This allows mom to truly create a room that grows with the child, and justifies the splurge.

One mom in our survey raved about the durability of her Babee Tenda Crib ( A mother of five, she attests the crib is just as sturdy for her youngest child as it was for her first. Another tip? Always splurge for a new mattress.

- When moms find the glider of their dreams but debate over splurging on the matching ottoman, it may be worth it: Elevating the legs can help take pressure off the back, especially while nursing. And besides, it just feels good!

Most ottomans sold as accessories to specific gliders also glide, making it easy to keep that gentle movement going. Expect to pay around $200 for an ottoman.

What are some items that parents tend to buy that they really don't need? Are there any good substitutions for these items?

- Organic bedding and clothing have gotten a lot of press lately. They may be better for the environment, but you don’t need them—some organic fabrics, like wool, can actually irritate delicate skin. Just stick with 100 percent cotton that’s soft and lightweight.

- You’ll spend a small fortune on bottle sterilizer contraptions that steam-clean bottles, nipples, pacifiers and such, but tossing those things into the dishwasher and setting it to “heat dry” will kill germs just as effectively and so will boiling them for a few minutes on the stove. Save the bucks for a date night instead!

- Several companies are turning out infant tubs that come with spray attachments—but they are pricey and tend not to work very well. A plastic pitcher or cup is just fine for rinsing.

You feature tips from real moms in your book. What is one of the best "Mom Tips" that you have received?

While there were a number of really useful “Mom Tips” featured in the book, three of our favorites are:

• Buy a car seat for each car: Once it’s positioned correctly, you’ll never want to take it out again. Spending the extra money will save lots of time and annoyance for everyone. (Pg 151)

• In the store, see if you can lower the crib rail with one hand (which you’ll need to do if you’re holding your baby). Also, make sure it raises and lowers silently so you’ll be able to move it without waking a sleeping baby! (Pg 14)

• When making up the crib, layer on two crib sheets, with a plastic mattress cover/liner in between. That way, if your baby spits up or has a leaky diaper in the night, you can just strip off the top layer without having to change the whole bed.

When it comes time to give baby gifts to your friends and family, what are some frugal baby gifts that are always a hit?

-Brilliant Basics™ Snap-Lock® Beads by Fisher-Price are only approximately $5. Snap them together and pull them apart, over and over again. Babies love repetitive play, and these brightly-colored beads offer stimulating fun while strengthening developing skills. There's even a bright, shiny surprise with rattling beads inside!

-A number of moms in our survey swore that teddy bears that make womb noises (like a heartbeat) soothed even the fussiest newborns. Check out the super soft and cuddly Womb Sounds Bear, approximately $20, available at Target.

- Ocean Wonders Aquarium by Fisher-Price ($30). For many moms, this is just dreamy! The crib toy resembles a small aquarium, in which sea creatures swim calmly in sync with mesmerizing aquatic sounds and music.

- Changing a crib sheet can be a challenge: You practically have to lift the entire mattress out of the bed to get the sheet on. This gift could come to the rescue: The Quick Zip Crib Sheet from ($33) a fitted sheet with a rectangular panel that zips on and off for laundering

With September being Baby Safety Month, what is one of the most overlooked areas in a home? Can you offer some inexpensive solutions for keeping your little ones safe?

The best way to approach childproofing is both room-by-room, and age-by-age. Ensure that you cover every room in the home by getting down at kid’s-eye level, going through your entire house looking for potential hazards. Moms should repeat this process as the child grows: What's dangerous for a crawler will be different than what's dangerous for a walker.
Some Mom-Tested products to try:

• KidCo Adhesive Mount Magnet Lock Starter Set ($16; A magnetic key gives you—but not your child—easy access to cabinets and drawers.

• First Alert’s Tundra Fire Suppressant ($20; This compact fire extinguisher will put out small household fires, including cooking oil flare-ups.

• Summer Infant’s Turtle Spout Protector ($5; Moms and babies alike love this adorable way to protect from bumps and scalds during bath time.

What are the top three items that every mom should have in her medicine cabinet?

1) Thermometer

It is important to have a thermometer that is both accurate and easy to use; especially in the first 3 months when even a slight fever could be serious. A rectal thermometer is the most reliable. As neither mom nor infant will be pleased with the task of sticking one in baby’s bottom, opt for a digital one that registers quickly and is fail safe.
Try the Timex Acrobat Bendable Thermometer with Indiglo rectal thermometer for $16.

2) Pain and fever relievers

Simply; your choices are acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). Parenting suggests that you keep both as each one has its pros and cons:

Acetaminophen is gentler on the stomach and can be given to newborns, but only lasts about 4 hours.

Ibuprofen lasts about 6 to 8 hours and may be a more effective fever-reducer, but is only approved for babies 6 months and older.

It is fine to use generic brands of both, as long as they are labeled for infants or children. Of course, check with your child's pediatrician before giving her any medication. A great mom tip? Check out the Web sites for particular drugstore products. Many offer printable coupons, often for at least a dollar.

3) Rehydrating solution

These are drinks that can help to replace fluids in a child who has been vomiting or had severe diarrhea. The most popular, Pedialyte, comes in liters, single serving sizes and freezer pops.

Sound Off: What do you think is the most useless baby item? What are you glad you splurged on?

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Check it Out: Women & Money

I just finished reading the book, "Women & Money" by Suze Orman. Reading it is really an understatement...I actually devoured it in one sitting.

I don't know why I have never been that keen on Suze Orman. I seem to be more drawn to Mary Hunt & Dave Ramsey's writings, but I saw this book and figured it might be worth my time to read it.

It was definitely worth my time, as we have been contemplating writing a will for some time, but just have not had the financial means to tackle this. I would really like to have all of this in place, in the event that something should happen to us, but paying a lawyer is just not in the equation for us right now.

Suze Orman recognizes that many people can't afford to have this paperwork in order and offers her own will planning software, available on her website for a mere $13.50! The software (according to her website) includes:

  • An easy-to-answer questionnaire that will automatically
    select the correct must-have documents for you
  • Audio and visual explanations taking you paragraph by
    paragraph through the four must-have documents
  • 10 electronic guidebooks, that cover all aspects of your financial life
  • Free automatic updates, so your documents will always be current (Internet access required)

It’s like having your own financial planner and personal trust attorney at your fingertips!

  • Personalize – Fill in the questionnaire, and the program will automatically select and populate all the essential documents to fit your unique situation.
  • Print – Listen to or read a step-by-step explanation of what you need to know. Then print out the relevant documents.
  • Protect – To complete the process, follow the instructions that print out with your documents. (In some cases, forms will need to be witnessed and notarized.) Then store them in a safe place.
I am planning to try out this software for our family and get these documents taken care of. There is nothing more frightening than knowing that our financial documents are not in order and this could jeopardize the financial future for our children.

We are in our late twenties and pray that nothing ever happens to us. Unfortunately, life is uncertain and it is important to do this for our children and for our own peace of mind.

Other than that, much of the advice given was to teach women how to understand money and all of the financial terminology and accounts that should go with it. She encourages women to start taking action and has a five month plan to get your finances back in order. Some of it I skimmed over, as it related more to a woman who is in the work force, but a lot of it applied to me.

Her encouragement to save money was taken a step further because she partnered with Ameritrade to get women to open an account and start a nest egg for their future. You will need to actually purchase the book to get the code needed to activate this offer, but with the book cost being under twenty dollars, it would be worth it to make the investment.

If you set up an account between now and 03/31/2008 and automatically deposit a minimum of $50 each month into the account, after twelve months the Ameritrade company will deposit a $100 into the account to reward you for your saving.

I have yet to establish a nest egg for myself, another worrying factor for me. I am not working so I do not have the benefit of a 401K or a paycheck coming to me. I am not sure how long I will be staying home, but I would like to be proactive about my finances and get something established for myself sooner rather than later.

I am wondering how many of you have a nest egg for yourself? How many of you have a will in place for your family? Are these financial matters taken care of or are you sitting around worrying about them too?

I hope you will check out this book. It is a great read for all women and has a great plan for getting your financial life back in order!

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Check It Out: The Dangerous Book for Boys

A cross between a Boy Scout’s trusty guide and a throwback to the old days of really cool encyclopedias, “The Dangerous Book for Boys” by Conn & Hal Iggulden is a wonderful book for any boy in your life. The book is meant to be a handbook for boys, guiding them on all the cool things every boy should know about. With sections devoted towards making paper airplanes, how to skip stones, how to tie knots, and answers on questions about the world, this book offers a wealth of knowledge for every little boy.

My favorite part about this guide to a boy’s life is just the feeling of nostalgia that one gets from reading it. The pictures and design of the book give it such timeless beauty and the photographs and diagrams for making things create a great reference book for little boys.

There was a time where fathers taught their sons how to do many of the things listed in this book, but it seems the digital world and the fast pace times have changed things a lot. It is now considered dangerous to give our sons a pocket knife, in these troubled times, and the Dangerous Book for Boys brings you back to the days where your father went fishing & hunting with you, taught you all about the world around you, and bonded with their child in that good old-fashioned way.

The book contains a guide book on the different types of trees and bugs, with a picture guide that explains about each of these living things. There are great guides on building things too on things such as tree houses, batteries, & periscopes.

Upon your son completing each stage in the book, he can pick up his free printable badges at their website.

You can also read an interview with the author and read more about the idea for the book here.

I wonder what good old-fashioned things your husbands do with your sons. Do they camp together? Fish? Hunt for critters? Share what fun father & son activities go around in your home!

Once again, many thanks to Harper Collins for giving us the opportunity to review such a great book! It is a wonderful addition to our son’s book collection and one that I think he will enjoy for years and years to come!

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why Being Thankful is So Important

I just began the greatest book called, “For the Love of Letters” by Samara O’Shea. It is a guide to the art of letter writing and I am totally in love with this book already. The book is filled with ideas for writing every kind of letter you can imagine- an apology, a letter of thankfulness, a message of sympathy…any kind of letter you could ever dream of is in this book.

Growing up I never had a choice about writing letters of thanks for things that we received in our life. It was always ingrained in us that writing a thank you letter was just essential. Only those who are thankful and express their gratitude can graciously receive something else in their life.

As I have grown up though, the written word has been disappearing. Letters have been replaced by digital media and cell phones. Why take the time to write a letter when you can just shoot off a quick email and get on with your life? I imagine that this is going to be one of those things that I will have to work extra hard on with my children, as text messaging and chatting in code has replaced the formality of actually penning a response.

One of the most practical reasons for being thankful is because the act of being thankful makes people want to give to you again. And again. And again. A handwritten note, a special phone call to thank someone for something they have given you, a small token of gratitude for what they do for you- this is not only thoughtful, but also a necessary part of your life.

One example of a time of gratitude in my life was when we were expecting our second child. When we found out we were having a little girl, I was so thrilled, but I also knew that many of our boy things would have to be replaced by little girl items. I had that nervous feeling about our finances and how we were going to swing an entire new wardrobe. I knew that we could make it work, but I also knew that starting over can be pretty expensive. Cue the windfall of clothing. Do you hear it? People from all over started just giving me things. I had a girlfriend who loaned me her daughter’s entire wardrobe for the first year. Then I got that nervous feeling again. Cue another windfall of clothing from someone that was a friend of our family, and feel that sense of relief again.

When my grandmother brought over a bag of clothing from someone who didn’t really even know me personally, I wept. I was so touched that someone would give us so much and not even ask for anything in return. I called her as soon as she left and thanked her, blubbering the whole time. I asked what I could do for her- if I could offer her a gift card or a sum of money. She did not want anything from me, but thanked me for calling. I sat down and penned a note to her and thanked her family for what they did and sent off a couple of handmade hair bows to her daughters. It was a small gesture compared to the enormous gesture she offered me, but it made a positive impression. She later told my grandmother how nice it was to give to someone who was so appreciative and that she planned to give us her children’s clothing as her daughters outgrew them.

Had I just took the clothes with an open hand and never sent her a note of gratitude; I would not have received anything again from her. She would probably give the clothes to someone else, someone who would have acted like they cared & appreciated what she was doing for them.

I see this often in my life, and I try to keep this in the back of my mind.

Writing a letter of gratitude is also a great, great thing when you work from home and are trying to build your business. When someone sends you something or does something for you in your business, you should always send them a note of gratitude. It leaves the other person with a positive impression of you and also makes them want to do more for you in the future. Imagine that you are laying bricks for a pathway to your house and each letter is one of those bricks. That pathway will eventually lead you to many great things. Those positive connections will be wonderful for references or networking in your home business, or serve you well when you return to the workplace.

Have you ever received a letter that you never forgot? Do you still write letters to people in your life?

I hope you can check out this book! Not only is it a beautiful book for your coffee table, it is also a great guide to pulling off a letter of thankfulness or any other type of letter you can imagine!

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