September 23, 2012

Activity Sticks...for kid activities, date nights or me time...this is an AWESOME idea for everyone!

Activity Sticks. I love this idea! I'll just get that out of the way from the start.

It's so versatile. Anyone can use these.

Looking to mix things up a bit in some area of your life? Activity Sticks may be just the thing for you. Want to try new, fun activities with the kids, but gotten stuck in a rut? Try Activity Sticks. Want to do something different for date night, but gotten stuck in the "What do you want to do? I don't know, what do you want to do? I guess we'll just go to dinner." rut? Try Activity Sticks. Want to mix up your workouts for better results and less boredom? Try Activity Sticks.

The examples I'll show here are specific to young kid activities, but you can do this for kids of any age, for yourself, or for you and your partner.

First, here's what you need: a jar or other container (I used a washed-out Ball canning jar. But you could use a cup, a mug, a small vase, a small bucket or whatever else you can find around the house.), a pack of craft sticks or popsicle sticks (I found mine at JoAnns. They came in a pack of 75 and are called "Woodsies."), an extra-fine Sharpie or other thin-tipped marker, and a slew of ideas...I recommend Pinterest for idea generation, but you can also do some brainstorming of your own, ask friends, look at books, and just plain Google it. If you're looking for activity ideas for preschool-age kids, please take a look at the activity sticks I show here, and check out my "kid craft and activities" and "kiddos" Pinterest pin boards.

Now that you have your supplies, generate a list of activities for whatever area of life you're creating the jar for...kid activities, date night ideas, me time ideas, family outings, new workout challenges, books to read, craft projects, whatever. Then use your Sharpie to write one idea on a craft stick. Repeat this until you have at least 20-30 ideas...or as many as you want. Then label your jar and put the activity sticks in the jar.

Now, sit the jar out somewhere that you will see it regularly, like the kitchen counter, and come up with a plan for when and how you'll use the sticks. My plan is to have my daughter select a stick from the activity jar at the beginning of each week, for something for us to do on a non-school day (for us, that's Wednesday and Friday) that week. That way, if there are supplies to get or preparations to make prior to the activity, we have a couple of days to work that in. Plus, it gives us something to look forward to during the week.

I recommend writing your plan in your planner, or putting a reminder on your smartphone, or whatever will keep you honest. I'm writing a reminder in my planner on every Sunday, so Portia and I don't forget to pick a stick that day; and, so I will remember to find the time in our schedule to do the activity sometime that week. Also, once you have a plan, remember that it's good to go "off plan" too. So if your plan is to do something new every Wednesday, but on a random Saturday you feel like doing something new, by all means, pick a stick and have at it!

Now, make sure you explain the activity sticks and your plan to all those involved (the kids, your spouse, whoever). Get everyone excited about the idea and ask for their input on activities to add to the jar.

As you begin doing activities from your jar, you can manage your pool of activity sticks however you want. You may want to put them right back in the jar if the activity was a hit, and you may want to get rid of it if it wasn't (remember to recycle your sticks by painting over the old activity and writing a new one on them if you don't want to do the activity again). Or, you may choose to shelve activities for a while once they've been done, and reintroduce them to the jar in a few months.

And don't forget to add new activities to the jar periodically...whenever you come across a fun idea, or on a schedule. I like to mine my Pinterest activity board once every few weeks to add new activity sticks to the mix. And don't be afraid to add seasonal activities like apple picking, a Christmas craft, sledding, or a visit to the botanical gardens. I suggest using a different color stick, a different color Sharpie, or adding a colored dot to the end of the stick to make seasonal activities easily discernible from the rest. Then, make a point to select some seasonal activity sticks during that season, and just remove those sticks from the jar when the season is over (so you don't pull out "Make a snowman" in June).

That's it! I think this is the coolest idea and it's one I hope to apply to other areas of my life, like managing my "to read" book list, putting together date night ideas for my husband and me, and selecting the next craft/activity for me...maybe I'll even do a workout jar!

This approach does two very important things for me. It cuts through the everyday busyness and forces me to do new things so we don't get stuck in a rut. And it takes away the sometimes paralyzing decision-making process. You know the one. When we can't decide what to do next so we end up doing nothing...or we do the same-old thing rather than trying something new. The activity jar cures that. And that is cool. That is totally worth it.

So go try it. And let me know how YOU use the idea.

Now, I have an alphabet scavenger hunt to set up, so I gotta go!

September 21, 2012

She's Crafty...Fun DIY Hair Accessories

What do you get when you combine trips to the dollar store and hobby lobby, a glue gun and a mom with daughter who's goin' girlie-girl? Fun DIY hair accessories, of course!

These are SO easy! I randomly picked stuff up for them over the last few weeks, whenever I saw something I liked (or thought Portia would like), then fired up the glue gun the other day during nap/quiet time, and viola!

I found the headbands in a three pack at the dollar store and the barrettes and hairbands were amongst things we already had on-hand. The accent pieces I collected from Hobby Lobby and JoAnns amongst the buttons and scrapbooking accessories. Most things were attached with the glue gun...for a few items, like the cupcake buttons, I used matching embroidery floss to tie them to the hair ties.

So easy. So fun. Minimal time and money investment. And Portia loves them! Can't beat that with a stick!

Alright now, go get your crafty on!

September 18, 2012

This Week In Food...Simple, Gourmet Sandwiches

What can be easier than sandwiches for dinner? Not much. But you can only cycle in grilled cheese so often. And I have trouble counting a PB&J as a real dinner. But THESE sandwiches are a different story. They are still pretty easy, but they are super yummy and a touch more "restaurant sophisticated" so they feel like a real meal. They are Simple, Gourmet Sandwiches. Pair them with soup or salad or maybe some sweet potato fries and you've got yourself some dinner!

Pear-Walnut Sandwiches
1/2 c. tub-style cream cheese
8 slices cinnamon-raisin bread, toasted (or any other good, bakery bread; it doesn't have to be a sweet bread, this is great on sour dough too!)
2 tbsp chopped walnuts, toasted
2 Bartlett pears, cored and thinly sliced
1 c. alfalfa sprouts

Spread 4 slices of toasted bread with cream cheese. Top with chopped, toasted walnuts, pear slices and alfalfa sprouts. Then top with remaining bread slices. Slice and serve.

Grilled Ham and Mango Quesadillas
1/2 c. mango chutney
4 8-inch multigrain or whole wheat tortillas
8 oz. shaved deli ham
1/2 c. crumbed queso fresco (you can use slices too)
handfull of chopped green onions, optional
Cooking spray

Spread mango chutney over half of each tortilla. Then top each evenly with ham and cheese and sprinkle with chopped green onions, if desired (I made them without the green onions). Fold tortillas in half. Spray outside of tortilla with cooking spray. Place quesadillas in a preheated pan or grill rack coated in cooking spray. Grill 2-3 minutes on each side or until tortilla is golden and cheese melts. Slice and serve.

Prosciutto, Fontina and Fig Paninis
8 slices crusty italian bread
4 oz. thin sliced prosciutto
1 1/4 c. shredded fontina cheese
1/2 c. baby arugula leaves
1/4 c. fig preserves
Cooking spray

Preheat panini grill or pan on stove. Top each of 4 bread slices evenly with prosciutto, fontina and arugula. Spread fig preserves over 1 side of each of the remaining slices of bread and top sandwiches. Coat outside of sandwiches with cooking spray and place on grill or in pan. Cook 3-4 mins. in panini grill, or about 3 mins. on each side in pan, or until bread is golden and cheese is melted. Slice and serve.

Blue Cheese and Pear Sandwiches
4 slices peasant bread (or other good bread)
Cooking spray
1 1/3 c. coarsely shopped watercress
2 tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 medium pears, thinly sliced (I like Bartlett)
1/2 c. crumbled blue cheese

Preheat broiler. Please slices of bread on baking sheet. Coat each slice with cooking spray. Broil 2 mins. or until lightly toasted. Combine watercress, olive oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl and toss gently. Place pear slices evenly on bread slices and top with blue cheese. Broil 2-3 mins. or until cheese melts. Remove from oven and top with watercress mixture. Serve immediately. (Note: I promise you that the watercress prepared this way is absolutely wonderful and totally worth the effort!)

Until next time...Happy Cooking!

(All recipes from Cooking Light.)

September 16, 2012

A Few Fragrances I'm Loving Right Now

I love yummy smells. The freshly mowed grass of summer. Orange blossoms in the spring. The burning leaves of fall. Cookies baking on a winter afternoon. Coffee brewing on a chilly Sunday morning. Laundry warm and fresh from the dryer. Mmmmmmmm.

I am drawn to yummy smells, which makes me a sucker for things like scented candles and perfumes. But I'm very picky about the scents I surround myself with. Nothing too strong. Nothing too far from nature. Nothing thick or cloying. Nothing "perfume-y."

In that vein, I have recently come across some scents that I really enjoy...and in a form that I am currently loving: the rollerball perfume-- small, inexpensive, portable, and easy to apply without ever accidentally overdoing it. So, I thought I'd share...

These are my newest finds. I came across them in a cute little shop in Sutton's Bay, MI, called The Happy Woman, while on vacation. They are by The Beehive. My current everyday favorite is Lulu Lemondrop. It is a warm and delicious scent with the sweetness of honey and the freshness of lemon. It is light and subtle, but stays with you and simply makes you smell cuddly-able. The other Beehive scent I love will be for fall/winter: Honey Blossom. It has a little more depth and strength, with a warm scent the equivalent of a cozy sweater. Just lovely.

These two I've been wearing for a while. Fresh Sugar Lemon is all kinds of awesome and makes a great everyday scent, especially in the warmer months. It is super light and fresh and smells just like the name: a sugar-sweetened lemon. Love it (and so does my husband, who got it for me for Christmas). And Clean Warm Cotton smells exactly like freshly washed laundry. If you love the smell of laundry detergents and fabric softeners then you will love this. As you move, all day long, you'll get a gentle waft of fresh laundry. It's sublime.

And, finally, Let Them Eat Cake by Tokyomilk. I found this one in a cute little shop in Southern Pines, NC, while on vacation this spring. And, Oh. My. Goodness. You will smell so divine while wearing this that people will want to hug you all day long (or at least I would). It smells warm and yummy like fresh-from-the-oven cake, without being overly sweet or vanilla-y. Truly edible.

So those are a few of my favorite scents right now. Check them out, if they sound good to you, and maybe you'll find something that you love too. They're a low-risk investment, at less than $20 a pop for the rollerballs...totally worth it.

Until next time, live well and smell good.

September 9, 2012

A Few Good Beauty Product Finds

One of the things I love to do is share with others the great things that I find. Great recipes. Great books. Great services. Great products. Whatever. Need a fabulous carpet cleaner in the Cleveland-Akron area? Let me know, because I have a fantastic one! Need a good dip to bring to a party? I've got a recipe for you. Need something to read on vacation? Tell me what you like and I can recommend a good read.

That being said, I thought I'd periodically share some products with you that I think are wonderful and that you might enjoy as well. So, I thought I'd do just that today...think of me as Oprah, and these are a few of my favorite things...except that most of my favorite things are relatively cheap and can be found at places like Target or Amazon...and, except that I'm not really even close to being like Oprah...but, I still have favorite things too. (Oh, and don't get too excited. I am not giving away free stuff at the end of this post. Yet another way I am not like Oprah. Too bad.)

Yes To face care products. If you have not seen the Yes To products around yet, you can check them out at Target (in the natural beauty products aisle, near Burt's Bees, a brand I also love). I am a huge lover of this brand overall, and, specifically, of their face washes. I have three different versions for different uses and different times of year.

The Yes To Tomatoes daily face scrub is a wonderful everyday exfoliator. I used to only exfoliate once a week (when I remembered), and I never really used salicylic acid products because I have dry skin, not acne problems. But earlier this year I had a facial and the esthetician told me that as we age our skin doesn't exfoliate itself as well as it used to, so we can end up with dull, dry skin and clogged pores from the un-sloughed-off skin cells. So she recommended regular exfoliation and salicylic acid. And that's when I tried this Yes To Tomatoes product for the first time. Love it!

The Yes To Blueberries face wash is great for winter. It's very gentle and creamy. Great for drier, parched skin. And the Yes To Cucumbers soothing cleanser is perfect for summer (or year-round if you have oilier skin). Both of these are gentle too, so they're worth a try even if you have slightly sensitive skin. Plus, the Yes To products are natural beauty products--which means no parabens, no petroleum and no phthalates...all bad stuff for you and the environment. This is really important to me. I've work hard to find great natural products for me, for the kids, and for our household. (To learn more about the Yes To products, go to

One more wonderful natural beauty product for you...

Aura Cacia Sweet Almond Oil. This one is not as easy to find in-store, unless you have a good natural foods store nearby. But you can order it online. I've found if I watch the prices on Amazon, I can get it much cheaper (think $11 versus $17 for 16 oz.) and just include it when I'm ordering other things so that I get free shipping too.

This is my everyday body moisturizer. I have always been a lotion junkie (as anyone who has every been in my bathroom can attest to!). I slather it on everyday, head to toe. And I love to find ones that work great and smell good too. But I stumbled across this oil when I was pregnant and looking for some serious moisture. I smooth this on all-over, at the end of my shower (while my skin's still wet) everyday, and no longer need body lotions. It locks in the moisture before I towel off and leaves my skin smooth and soft. It's especially wonderful in the winter. And it's unscented, so it doesn't compete with your perfume. (Though if you want a scent, all you need to do is add a few drops of a favorite essential oil, like lavender, and you're all set!)

So those are a few of my favorite things. Who knows, maybe you'll like them too!

Until next time, stay beautiful, Beautiful.

September 7, 2012

This Week In Food...Zesty Spinach Soup!

Here's a quick and easy soup that's as good in the summer as it is in the winter...and it's a great way to use up that spinach you got at the farmer's market last weekend and haven't yet used!

I don't know how you feel about the idea of spinach soup, but this soup tastes more like chicken broth, onion and potatoes than it does spinach-- which has a surprising mild flavor in soup, so don't worry about being overpowered by spinach flavor. The spinach does, however, make it a really pretty shade of green and packs an excellent health punch.

Trust me, this soup is so easy and so good, you really should give it a try...

Zesty Spinach Soup (from Cooking Light)
2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 c. chopped onion (1 small onion)
2-4 c. vegetable broth
1 c. 1/2-inch diced Yukon gold potato (I just select a mid-sized potato and dice it-- cleaned, but skin on-- and throw the whole thing need to really measure)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 pkg fresh baby spinach (about 6 oz)
1/2 c. reduced fat sour cream, plus additional for topping
1 tsp lemon zest

Heat oil in large sauce pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and saute for about 3 mins. Add broth, potato, salt and pepper. Make sure broth covers potatoes completely. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 8 mins. or until potato is very tender, stirring occasionally. Add spinach, cover and cook 2 mins. or until spinach wilts. Place half of the soup and 1/4 c. sour cream in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into bowl and repeat with remainder of soup and another 1/4 c. sour cream. Pour into bowls and serve with a dollop of sour cream and 1/4 tsp of lemon zest sprinkled on top. (You can just zest your lemon right over the bowls...don't skip this step, though. The lemon zest adds the perfect, refreshing zip to the soup!)

Serve this with a nice crusty bread and maybe a side of fresh fruit or a small salad. (It's also good with lots of oyster crackers tossed in.) Enjoy!

And, as always, happy cooking!