Category Archives: family

Creating A Star Chart for Kids

We’ve needed a star chart for a long time. “Just find clip art!” someone (a teacher? therapist?) told us brightly. “Just make one!”

For tired and overwhelmed (and hey, design-challenged) parents, “just finding clip art” can be a daunting task. What clip art? Where do I find it? What do I need to put on the chart? Also, our brief experience with a potty training chart hadn’t been encouraging (not the chart’s fault).

This has, of course, come up again in a recent meeting. Last year the preschool had a neat chart they’d put together. They wouldn’t give us a copy, despite all the meetings and tuition payments and looks of defeat on our faces. Nope, we had to come up with our own.

Fast-forward a year, and we’re told the teacher might share a “home-school chart.” I started to think, again, about all the times we could use a star chart. The morning hell. The after-school routine. Bedtime bedlam. General behavior, table manners, the few small chores they have. WHERE DO WE START?? We also don’t want to have charts everywhere like some kind of maniacal control freaks. Just one small chart to start, please … but one that really meets our needs.

I hit the Internet harder than ever. And found the solution. It’s a site called GoMommyGo.com and frankly it’s kind of a noisy site. But it is extremely useful. You can either download one of the pre-made charts on the site or give the site your email (that’s right — that is all you have to do) and download your own customizable chart. Yes. For FREE you get a word document with a chart format AND a ton of clip art, organized into topics, that you might need. Everything for the morning routine! For after school! Chores! Bedtime! Prayers, washing windows, feeding the cat –you name it, there’s clip art here for you to use!

The chart we downloaded has five rows. That’s good. That’s all a kid can handle sometimes. We settled on a morning routine chart, since 1) mornings are a really hard right now and 2) if we start the day well, maybe the rest will be better?

I made and printed the chart (had already bought shiny star stickers at Staples, but you can probably get them at any drugstore or office supply store). Then we went over it with the kids. If you do something (get dressed, brush teeth) after being told only once, you get a star (you get two stars if you do it without being told). If you get ALL your stars in a day, you can have iPad time or some other child-suggested-in-advance treat after school. If you get all your stars in a week, you can have —

— “A HAMSTER!!!!!” Ben shouted.

Aw jeez no. He’d stopped mentioning it months ago but I guess he still wants one. Ugh.

“Uh, we were thinking some other kind of special treat, like an ice cream party at home, or going out for slushies, or going to see a movie,” I suggested.

“Yeah, a hamster might be after three months of all your stars,” said C.

“No, a week!” said Ben.

“Maybe three weeks,” I said.

[NOTE: SORT THIS STUFF OUT WITH YOUR SPOUSE BEFORE YOU INTRODUCE THE STAR CHART TO YOUR KIDS. Also, don’t forget that if you turned on the boiler fill valve before you started a load of laundry, make sure you TURN IT OFF before you forget all about it and come back upstairs to go over the star chart with your family, unless you really love wasting water, flooding your basement, and hauling buckets of water to drain the boiler. Trust me on this. Also, our boiler turned out to be fine — as our neighbor said, noticing me pouring five-gallon buckets of water on the lawn in the dark, “it’s like an enema for your boiler.” Yes.]

First day, Max tried hard to do everything without being told, which is pretty normal for him. Ben, on the other hand, thought he should get a star for “get dressed” even though C dressed him after we’d spent 25 minutes trying to get him out of bed, because … well, I’m not sure why he thought he should get a star for that, honestly. I still don’t.

The next day went better, as did the day after that. And tonight before bed they reminded me to print a new chart for tomorrow.

Wow. So easy. The chart, and getting them to follow it. Maybe we should also introduce a bedtime chart. The site makes it very easy to make one.

So if you think you need a star chart and don’t know where to start, try gomommygo.com (and ignore the site noise). It’s so helpful!

 

Staycation, All I Ever Wanted: Boston February Vacation Ideas

 

By now you may have heard that we in Boston are drowning in snow. There are a million places online to find out about our woes—from blogs to The New York Times to Buzzfeed—so I won’t add more. But we’ve had plenty of together-time so far, with all the million snow days. It all seemed like prep for February vacation, when we’d all be snowed in together yet again, looking out our windows at snowbanks, but at least we’d be getting the mail and cars would be allowed to drive on the roads (not sure why they’d want to; I’m finding the games of chicken, and the pulling-over-into-snowbanks, and all the terrifying blind corners in my neighborhood just a little too much).

Unlike our friends who’ve fled to Florida, California, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere, we had no plans to go away. So the kids and I brainstormed a list of things to do.

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In case you can’t read it with the addition of tonight’s added “Jump Plans” schematic (by the boys), it says:

1. Playdate with Anna. She’s somewhere warm and snow-free for the week, so that’s out.

2. Great Brook Farm. This is a cross-country ski place near here, with groomed trails over fields and through woods, and ski rentals in case your four-year-old doesn’t yet have his own XC ski gear (ahem).

3. Pinocchio. A play being put on at a local family theater. We have tickets for tomorrow.

4. Robbie. (Friend of my older son’s.)

5. Sledding. I don’t know why we don’t go sledding more except the sledding hill is almost a mile away, a touch too far for the younger one to walk to and from, and too close to justify driving.

6. Hotel pool. Doesn’t that sound nice? Going to one of the nice, warm, lovely hotel pools in town and paying a fee and swimming? On Sunday, during the fourth huge snowstorm in a row, I actually priced an overnight at one hotel that has an “atrium-style” pool. Sadly, with the trains not running and an unofficial travel ban in place, it was hard to get there except on skis, and it was just too far for Max to ski there on his own and too tricky to have to tow Ben in the sled the whole way there if sidewalks weren’t clear.

7. (not numbered) Skate at the rink (or “Scate at the ringk“).

So we started off with the weekend, all normal including the blizzard (yeah, at this point that is normal, lots of digging and snowblowing, lots of snowy children stomping into each other’s houses, etc.). Then Monday, another Monday of our homebound family. It was bitterly cold, with a wind chill advisory in place. I agreed to meet a running friend and head out to Lexington, where the bike path is beautifully plowed (they finally plowed the bike path in my town, finally, after the fourth storm). It was 3 degrees (F), with a windchill of -12 or so. Whatever. We ran six miles, then I dropped off and got a cup of coffee while she ran another four. (I’m not lazy; I’m sticking to a gentle training plan.)

I got home, ate, showered, and realized that we all needed to go do something. It wasn’t optimal to just go play outside, but we couldn’t think of any great indoor options. Once I mentioned cross-country skiing, Max was really excited and wouldn’t consider a more frostbite-avoidant trip to Legoland instead (really).

Off we went to our favorite local cross-country ski center. We weren’t worried about the cold, because we have warm stuff to wear (not trying to sound cocky, but seriously, there are places much colder than this where people are outside safely. Don’t fear the cold; dress for it). Also, it had warmed up to the teens, and the windchill was no longer so worrisome.

Ben finally took to cross-country skis and had a great time (until he got tired and then cold and then was done, in the way that four-year-olds who are hungry and fatigued are just done).

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Good thing I put sunscreen on, right?

 

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This kid! He’s awesome. They both are.

 

We were all a little cranky by the end, but at least we were outside, in the great wide world, with a sunset like the one below as we skied back to the barn. (null)

 

Today, we went to the ice rink, where my new little winter sports person had his best day ever on skates (and was happy about it!). “Mom! You go the red line, and I’ll skate to you, OK? Don’t help me!” and “Mom! Did you see? I did a twirl-around fall-down.” “Mom. You go to the blue line and don’t move. Wait for me.” Meanwhile Max was happily skating around the rink. Wait, when and how did he learn to skate?

Then some errands and a trip to the library to go up and down all the stairs and then check out a million books (and one video and one book on CD).

Tomorrow: Something active in the morning, followed by Pinocchio. 

Maybe we’ll get to a pool on Thursday and then skating again on Friday. Or maybe we’ll get to a museum. That might be a good idea, for a change of pace.

So that’s how we’re spending our February vacation. Yes, I wouldn’t mind being somewhere where we don’t need snow pants, staying in a hotel, but that’s not what’s up with us this break. We’re here, having a pretty good time, and eating plenty of unseasonal fruit (because come on, with all this snow, I feel pretty OK about winter strawberries).

 

 

 

Today Is My Birthday

Today is my birthday. I’m 43 years old.

In a former life (or alternate universe), I’d take a break from my amazing and fulfilling job and go to yoga, then out for a really good lunch (sushi, or that new ramen shop, or oooooh maybe to a Korean place), then dinner would involve lots of laughter, a platter of nachos (with a Bruins game on in the background, maybe), and a really good cake, all while reflecting on the upcoming fabulous year.

However, I am unemployed, the kids have a half-day of school (alas, no time for lunch out), and Max’s final piano lesson/recital is tonight, smack in the middle of the time we’d be having cake and such, meaning we have to postpone my birthday cake until tomorrow. And I’m fine with all of that, because I am already having an awesome day.

I woke up too early, a little hungry, with my warm snuggly teddy bear—I mean, my son Ben—by my side. He likes to climb into bed with me in the middle of the night, because he gets cold (and, um, in the summer, too, because he gets….warm?). I was going to get up soon, anyway, to work out in the frozen field next to my house, so I decided, after an hour of lying awake in bed listening to Ben and my husband breathe, that I should just get up.

The workout is from some fitness website I came across while looking for a “figure skating workout.” I recently took up skating again (if hitting the rink a few times and then spending an afternoon on a nearby frozen pond counts as “took up skating again”), and I was actually looking for (don’t laugh) YouTube videos to teach me how to do some to of the spins and jumps I could do as a kid.

Instead, I found this excellent full-body workout, which naturally I printed out, laminated, and brought to the field at dawn the other day, where I met my friend for our morning routine. This workout is a good one: I know, because by last night I hurt a lot (yeah, that is how I measure a good workout). My upper body and core really took a beating, which is great, so this morning we’re meeting at 6 a.m. to do it again (but not the single-leg rotating hops, because I am not an idiot. I’m not going to risk blowing a meniscus doing single-leg rotating hops in an uneven frozen field, for chrissake).

Also as part of today’s plan I’m going to make kimchee, because I like kimchee and haven’t made any in awhile.

Since I am still ragingly unemployed, I’ll probably also finish my holiday cards (what? It’s never too late to get mail from me, right?).

The kids have a half day today (thanks, school!), so I’m picking them up midday and taking them (and hopefully some of their friends) to the town pond for an afternoon of skating. I’ll feed the kids an early dinner, take them to the recital (where C will meet us), and then C and I will eat a late dinner while watching Louis C.K., and we’ll have birthday cake tomorrow instead.

I might take the boys out for ice cream this afternoon, though, after skating.

So that’s what’s up for my 43rd birthday, and I am most looking forward to this morning’s workout, an afternoon on the pond, and Max’s recital (in part, I confess, because it means the end of this session of piano lessons, and I believe we all need a little break from it). And tomorrow, kimchee and cake!

What do birthday celebrations look like for you these days? 

 

How We’re Spending Winter Break

I love the school my kids go to, and the teachers are really wonderful and engaged and caring, and they are kind.

One child’s teacher sent him a letter, which arrived today, thanking us for a gift and asking what he’d done over break: Had he traveled? Been to a museum or the movies? She reminded him to be ready to share his vacation fun with his class when he got back to school.

I immediately, defensively, bristled (NOTE: She’d meant the note to get him thinking about what to share about his winter break, certainly not to make us feel like we hadn’t done enough over break!). We’d done none of those things. Max had mostly wanted to stay home, playing with his little brother, especially after Christmas, when they both had exciting new Legos and other things to explore.

Many families at the school are quite wealthy (not us!). Thus we hear about sailboats and ski houses and spring break in Paris and such. When I drop off my kids in my 14-year-old Honda Civic, I am especially careful not the bump the Range Rovers and BMWs parked on either side. The letter made me think maybe every other family was having a winter break filled with travel and culture.

Then I calmed down and decided to talk this over with the boys. How had we spent our winter break?

What we’ve done so far:

1. We hosted Christmas dinner, for one thing, which involved a fair amount of planning, cleaning, shopping, and prep. My mother had come here for a few days, and my boys got to finally see my childhood Christmas ornaments, some of my mother’s childhood Christmas ornaments, plus use my parents’ wedding china and the family silver for the first time. Plus have everyone come to our house for a holiday meal, for the very first time ever. Big doin’s, indeed.

2. We made and delivered little packages of warm new socks, homemade cookies, and a tiny bit of cash (thanks, Mom!) for the people who live under the bridge. No, really. We live at the edge of town, near the subway, and several people live in the underpass. Of our various holiday charity, this was the one thing the kids got into and could relate to, because they actually see these people every time we go to the subway. Kids without toys? My kids don’t really comprehend that, so our Toys for Tots donations were just confusing to them. Warm things and treats for the people under the bridge? Max was on it.

3. We spent a few days in the woods (not continuously!). We spent a few hours with school friends in a local conservation area, and returned a few days later with friends from our old neighborhood to spend even more time exploring the woods and meadows and enjoying a picnic lunch.

4. We went ice-skating. Both boys now want lessons.

5. We went to the New England Aquarium today, an adventure involving one bus ride; six trains; lunch out; and a return to the aquarium after lunch to see the octopus, the penguin feeding, and the seal training session. Several M&Ms were given as bribes and rewards, and I didn’t totally lose my shit when the little one ran his bare hand the entire length of the handrail on both the Blue Line and the Orange Line….and then touched his hand to his face (why oh why had I left all the hand sanitizer at home??). I told him if he touched one more thing, he’d need to get an extra flu shot (yes, I did say that—and yes, it worked).

6. We saw a movie (Planes 2), but we saw it at home (thanks, Redbox!) because we are movie cheapskates and would rather spend $1 and make our own popcorn (and uncork my own wine, thanks!) (though theater movies are certainly fun, and our local ancient theater is really cool).

What’s left to do before school starts again: 

1. New Year’s Eve family party at the neighbors’, which will be an early, fun, low-key, kid-filled affair.

2. New Year’s Day dodgeball party at my friend’s house, which will be full of young childless single hungover mountaineering people and could be a total blast.

3. ?? Who knows? Will the kids go spend the night at their grandmother’s house? Will we all head north for a day of skiing?

We will know by the time the kids return to school, that’s for sure. But even if we stay here, which Max would probably be very happy to do, we’re enjoying our winter break.

 

 

Soup Time, Fall Cooking: Braun Thermometers and Henrietta’s Table [review]

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It’s my favorite time of year: Fall! And though I can’t exactly take my family out for hikes on leaf-strewn trails or go out apple-picking right now, I can still appreciate the beautiful bright colors in the trees and on the ground, and I look forward to cooking all the wonderful farm yields of the season once I’m fully back to cooking. I look forward to stocking up on pumpkins, squash, leeks, parsnips, celeriac, and potatoes.

I recently got to meet another huge fan of local, seasonal produce: Chef Peter Davis of Henrietta’s Kitchen, an outstanding local restaurant that supports local farms and really believes in good, local food. Braun Thermometers was in town for their mobile tour (more on that; read on) and had brought us all to the restaurant for their presentation.

The group of us got to go into the restaurant kitchen, where Chef Davis had tables laid out with fall vegetables: squash, leeks, roots, dark leafy greens. He selected a winter squash. Davis spoke of the importance of knowing where your food comes from (and say no to GMO!! <—he was emphatic about this). He has several local farms supply his restaurant.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

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While he spoke, he deftly split the squash in half, cleaned out the seeds, and put the squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet and into the oven. Then he pulled out an already-baked squash, peeled it, and chopped it roughly. He put the chunks into a pot, where some diced onions where already translucent in butter.

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Another Davis imperative: Stock up now on fall vegetables such as squash, bake it, chop it, and freeze it for the coming winter.

Some stock, salt and pepper, and a little cream went into the pot, too, followed by an immersion blender. Quick and easy winter squash soup!

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And then we were lead back out of the kitchen to the dining room, where we learned about the newest Braun thermometer: the No Touch Thermometer. That’s right, no more multiple swipes of the forehead, or trying to get the ear thermometer positioned just right, or even using the super-easy Behind Ear Thermometer (also made by Braun). No, now all you have to do is point the light beam at your child’s forehead and press the button and you get a reading—-which, conveniently, causes the screen to light up in green, yellow, or red, depending on temperature.

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Braun is doing a mobile tour so you can try their new thermometers. “For every temperature taken with the new Braun No touch + forehead thermometer OR the Braun ThermoScan ear thermometer, Braun will donate the dollar equivalent to the local Children’s Hospital (so if your temp is a normal 98.6 degrees F, that’ll be rounded up to $1).” The Braun mobile tour is no longer in the Boston area; it looks like they are currently out in California. To find out when their tour will be near you, follow Braun on Twitter

Back to the thermometer, though. Think about this: You don’t have to wake up your sick child to use it. You don’t even have to touch your child’s head (except to sweep hair away from the center of the forehead).

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Keep an eye out for this vehicle; get on board to support your local children’s hospital.

So you’re wondering the connection between squash soup and Braun? Winter is coming. It’s practically here. Winter is cold and flu season. Soup helps you feel better, and thermometers help take your temperature.

This is the engineer who designed this thermometer.

This is the engineer who designed this thermometer.

Naturally, we all tried these on ourselves and each other before enjoying the most excellent lunch of (you guessed it!) winter squash soup, roasted salmon with an apple vinegar reduction, little greens, and roasted pears with pumpkin ice cream. Wow.

This is harder than it looks (taking the selfie, I mean; the thermometer is very easy to use!).

Do not attempt to take this type of selfie unless you are a trained professional [blogger]. (The thermometer itself is very easy to use!)

I wasn’t going to do this, but I have to, because lunch was so good:

Roasted salmon with apple-cider reduction, roasted root vegetables, and tiny greens.

Roasted salmon with apple-cider reduction, roasted root vegetables, and tiny greens.

Roasted pears with pumpkin sorbet.

Roasted pears with pumpkin sorbet.

Oh, and in the spirit of Peter Davis, yesterday for lunch I made soup with escarole from a nearby farm, a leek from our final CSA pickup, chicken stock, carrots (also from our CSA), and white beans I’d cooked last month and put in the freezer for future use. Excellent stuff, in all.

 [Disclosure: I was hosted by Braun and Henrietta’s Table for lunch and a cooking demonstration and received a gift bag, including a thermometer. All opinions are my own.]

Family Fun Getaway: King Richard’s Faire (review)

A few weeks ago, we did something very unusual (for us) on a Saturday: We went to another world, also known as King Richard’s Faire.

We parked in an unpromising large flat field and then entered a surprisingly shady and lovely forest glade filled with people in Renaissance-era costumes, bowing to the passing Queen and offering us guidance in Elizabethan English. A man sold pickles from a cart.

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Pickle Man

With sunlight filtering down through the trees, we gazed at all the costumes. My sons had some exciting sword and battle-ax sightings. The amount and stylings of cleavage was astounding and unexpected, to be honest. And you might get some leather-boot envy while there.

We stopped by the Kids’ Cove, a quiet space where kids can get a presentation about recycling or proper princess etiquette or else just chill out and have some quiet time. We made note of this space but, surprisingly, didn’t end up returning to it. 

We watched the tiger show from afar, then made our way to the jousting fields to watch a jousting challenge. Then it was time for lunch. Many food options are available—the obligatory turkey leg, of course, but also fish and chips, a chicken caesar wrap, pad thai…

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We ate at picnic tables near a stage, where a staged and jokey sword fight kept us entertained.

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We rode the user-operated pirate ship swing, wandered over to the Mud Pit and some bawdy humor there, then made our way back to the Tiger Stage to see the hilarious Garbanzo swallow fire. And juggle fire. And invite audience participation. He had us howling with laughter, and no matter what else you do and see at King Richard’s Faire, you must not miss his show. You’re welcome.

This guy. Don't miss his show.

This guy. Don’t miss his show.

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I’m serious. Do not miss his show. 1:30 King’s Stage, 2:45 Tiger Stage. Garbanzo: Fire Breathing, Juggling, Mayhem.

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Typical sight. And our helpful guide when we first arrived.

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I love the anachronism here.

I love the anachronism here. Note the period costume and iPhone.

 

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Stop by the Fairy Cove. It’s just magical, and the fairies are fey and lovely.

What I liked best was the setting, maybe: We were spending the day outdoors, in the trees. It felt like we’d entered another reality, and I liked that. We were all slightly out of our element in a fun way. We ended up staying about five hours, much longer than I’d expected us to stay, and we could have stayed longer.

We had a great time at the fair. There’s a lot to see and do, even if you just sit in one spot and people-watch. The fair has contests every weekend, and although you’ve already missed the Cleavage Contest and the Prince and Princess Costume Contest, you can still get to:

  • Sat., Oct. 4: Royal Ink Tattoo Contest
  • Sun., Oct. 5: Men in Kilts/Ladies in Bloomers Contest
  • Sat., Oct. 11: Children’s Fairies and Pirates Costume Contest
  • Mon., Oct. 13: Celebrate Columbus Day at King Richard’s Faire
  • Sat., Oct. 18: Adult Costume/CosPlay Costume Contest

The last day of the fair this year is Sun., Oct. 19.

Details: King Richard’s Faire is in Carver, MA. Tickets are $29 for adults, $16 for kids ages 4-11. Parking is free. The fair does alcohol: beer, wine, and (I think but am not sure) mead.

It’s really like entering another world. Try it. Just writing this makes me want to go back.

Home After a Week Away

We’re home again! We were gone for almost a week, out near St. Louis, at a state park for a family wedding celebration for my niece: the niece I’d never met before! (She’s delightful!) We got to spend time with the “other side of the Mississippi” part of my husband’s family, whom we very rarely get to see. My kids were thrilled to spend some time with their grown-up guy cousins and uncle and aunt. It was wonderful to have some time with my in-laws.

Plus, we went out on a boat, swam in a lake, rode in a golf cart (fun for kids!), played with dogs, had a late-night campfire with s’mores, and I saw fresh bear prints in the woods (alas, I didn’t have my camera with me). We saw the Arch (but did not go up in it), swam in a hotel pool, and in general had an excellent trip.

Then we had a three-hour weather delay, got home at nearly 2 a.m., and the kids didn’t get to school until 11:30 a.m. Yes, that means the little one will be at school for a whole hour and a half today. We’re all tired and out of sorts and the laundry pile is up to here and the fridge is empty.

I might cheat and make pasta and meatballs tonight, but I’m also turning to my meal-planning sources hard. Why? They provide grocery lists! And tell me what to make for dinner! And offer variety! I’m sick of making the same old lunches every day, and we’re all tired of the same old dinners.

What I’m craving is a Chopped Kale and Roasted Corn Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette posted on my pal Melanie’s blog (go check it out right now—-aren’t you craving it now, too??).  I think that salad needs to happen here tonight.

Then I grabbed the free sample lunch menu (with shopping list, yay!) from MOMables, because damn if I am going to throw out one more turkey sandwich or scrape any more uneaten hummus into the trash. Maybe there’s only a few weeks of school left (yikes—only ONE week left for my older son!!), but we need some fresh ideas around here.

Next up, eMeals. I’ve posted about them before, and here too. Honestly, I haven’t been using the site as much lately. Even though they send me a weekly meal plan, and I still change it up sometimes (Mediterranean, Clean Eating, Low Calorie, Kid-Friendly), I kind of got out of the habit.

But today, I’m happy to go through my inbox, find the one from eMeals with the comforting subject line of “Your Mediterranean Plan for Two provided by eMeals” (we do the 2-person plan, usually, instead of the family plan, because I found that since half of our family consists of very small children who may or may not eat much dinner, we had too many leftovers). In a few minutes I’ll print out the menu and shopping list, and over the next week we’ll be eating Honey-Lemon Grilled Salmon, Zucchini and Tomato Pasta with Olives, and so on….with everything I need right in my kitchen, thanks to the shopping list.

(I realize I’ve said “shopping list” or “grocery list” about eight times in this post, but it’s such a lifesaver. Right now I have the energy to feed/dress/clean up the kids, keep the kitchen clean, get the laundry done, and meet my work deadlines. I don’t have time for meal planning and grocery lists. Thus, eMeals!)

So here I go. Print, work, pick up Ben from preschool, and hit the grocery store….with a little help from my online meal-planning friends (and food bloggers–because I cannot WAIT to have that kale salad!!).

You can try eMeals for 15% off. Click the picture below to save yourself time and hassle. You know you’ll probably be traveling this summer. Wouldn’t this be nice to come home to?

 

 

New Vacation Spot: North Fork of Long Island

Two years ago, some dear friends moved to Long Island for a job. It’s not often you meet people you really connect with as an entire family—not just getting along with, but actually deeply connecting with, including the children. We even camped together, in the rain! Dinners at each other’s homes, lots of time at the playground, lots of work-time together at cafes for the two of us who worked from home….and then bam, gone.

Where they live now is a long drive to visit; it’s also long to travel to if we took the ferry to their part of New York. There just seemed to be no quick and easy way to get together….until now.

This summer, we’ll meet up on the North Fork of Long Island, about three hours’ travel for each of our families. The North Fork: as in, that easternmost, northernmost point of Long Island? Formerly potato farms? What is there to do there, you ask?

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I’ll tell you: there’s a family farm where we could easily spend most of a day, beaches, great restaurants, wineries, and small towns. You’ll find beautiful countryside, friendly people, great local food, very good wine. Vineyards and farms and small shops and good restaurants and small inns and B&Bs. It’s a rural place with tiny towns where everyone knows each other. It’s beautiful there. It is wine country. And it’s family-friendly.

Plus, it’s a mere three hours or less from Boston. That’s well within the range of summer travel. I mean, we normally head three hours’ north, to the White Mountains, without batting an eye. I had no idea Long Island was so close. IMG_0461

As some of you might know from my recent social media feed, I was lucky enough to travel to the North Fork of Long Island just over a week ago, along with several other local bloggers and writers.

Getting There

We drove two hours to New London, Connecticut, and rode the Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point, New York. Cross Sound Ferry was the mastermind behind the trip as well as the chief sponsor. The fast ferry gets you to New York in a mere 40 minutes; the slower ferry ride is 80 minutes long. You can take your car on the ferry, which is a good idea, since public transportation in the North Fork is pretty minimal. (You can use bicycles to get around, or sign on with the very helpful and kind drivers of Vintage Tours, who drove us around during our trip, but a car would be really handy.)

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The ferry was quick, comfortable, and smooth. They have a fully stocked snack bar and a TV room (if you’re so inclined). Upon landing, we were taken to The Loft Restaurant for a very good lunch (and great service—one thing that really stood out was how friendly and helpful everyone was, all the local business owners). We were then whisked away to our first vineyard tour.

Wineries…and Food, and Locally Crafted Beer

Long Island is home to some fine wine country, it turns out. It’s the soil! The North Fork used to be home to potato farms, but as that grew less and less lucrative, people planted vineyards (the oldest one in the area was planted 41 years ago).

We first went to Bedell Cellars Winery. Quiz time! What was the first New York wine ever served at a U.S. Presidential Inauguration? Bedell Merlot!

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We did not taste that, but we did tour the vineyard and then, while Richard Olsen-Habic, their winemaker, told us about the winery and their sustainable winemaking methods. We got to taste several of their wines, including Voignier (which I’d never had before….floral and herbal, not quite my thing) and their Cabernet Franc (something else I’d never had before, and hello, may I taste just a little more, please? Or take some home with me?).

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We also were lucky enough to taste the Musée, which at $90 is not something I’m likely to be sipping again soon, but wow was that good. They use French oak barrels, many used but some new, and the owner explained how the different barrels of different ages affect the taste of the wine. [Sorry, what were you saying? May I have just a little more of that Musée?] The farm is sustainably managed. Bedell is an artful, lovely place, with sculptures on the grounds and lovely art within.

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That evening we went to a reception at Kontokosta Winery in Greenport. The building is gorgeous: all black and white and modern, and green. As in, LEED Gold-certified, made of recycled materials, and—thanks to the onsite windmill—the winery is off the grid for 9 months of the year. The building overlooks a meadow that ends at the ocean. We watched deer frolicking at the edge of the meadow, by the trees, as we ate and mingled.

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Ate! Yes. A local restaurant called Noah’s catered the reception. I will be going to Noah’s when I return to the North Fork. The hummus was a kicked-up with chili flakes, the crab cakes and duck sliders were incredible, filet mignon on brioche very tender, and the maple-bacon almonds? We practically fought over them. Unbelieveably good.IMG_0343

Greenport Harbor Brewing Company was there, too, with several growlers. My favorite was a double IPA, Hopnami (but I had to limit myself to a few sips—strong stuff on an empty stomach, you know?). I talked to one of the owners at length about his brewery and about running. He’s not a runner, but I was interested in the local running scene. The brewery has a second location opening up about 6 miles from their main location (currently in the firehouse in Greenport). Are you thinking what I’m thinking? A 10K? I reminded him that runners generally love beer and, if he’d get the race organized, I’d bring a pile of runners down from the Boston area. Let’s hope this works out!

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The owner of Kontokoska Winery, Michael Kontokoska, told us the history of his winery and explained the construction of the building. He’s a kindly giant of a man, smart and thoughtful. Then he invited us downstairs into the cellar to see the workings of the winery. Yes, please!

He led a small group of us downstairs for a tour. His assistant soon began clambering about on top of casks, with a thief, pulling out wine for us to taste. Heaven. And educational. For example, the new Cabernet Franc, still in steel, was bright, slightly fizzy, whereas the Cabernet Franc that had been aged in oak for a year was much softer, richer, and smoother. (I don’t speak wine, by the way, in case that’s not obvious.)

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When we reluctantly, finally, left Kontokoska and returned to town, our B&B owner, Donna, was hosting a bit of an afterparty at our B&B.Then we headed next door to Greenport Brewing Company, situated in the former fire station (which is next to the cute little building labeled “JAIL,” like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon). The brewing takes place downstairs; upstairs is a fun place to hang out and try the brews. The owners poured us half-pints of whatever we wanted to try, and we admired the ship drawings on the wall. It seemed like the whole town was hanging out there at one point!

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Accommodations

We were such a large group that various innkeepers offered us rooms, so we were at different B&Bs and inns in the area. Some are more family-friendly than others. With a few other friends (Leah of Leah’s Life: Pearls and Oysters and Christy from QuirkyFusion), I stayed at Ruby’s Cove B&B, a Victorian in the heart of Greenport. The inside, downstairs, was deep-red and felt what I’d call “old Parisian”; the chatty, sociable owner, Donna, quickly put on some Edith Piaf and offered us wine (we declined, as we were between wine tastings and had been up since the crack of dawn and had plenty of day ahead of us still). It’s a lovely place, with three guest bedrooms upstairs, two with their own bathrooms and one which has a private bathroom across the hall.

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The wide wrap-around porch is perfect for lounging (when it’s not cold and rainy out, as it was when we were there), and there are plenty of cozy spots to lounge inside, too. Donna also has a barn full of bikes her guests can use for free, but we didn’t get a chance to use these (or even check them out) during our short stay.

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Ruby’s Cove would be a great place for a getaway weekend with friends. It would not be a great place to bring a family, but there are several motels and rentable condos in the area that families can stay in (and that we’d stay in when we return with our kids and our friends). Of course, at a motel we wouldn’t get the amazing breakfast that Donna made the next morning (chicken asiago sausages handmade by a butcher an hour away, then a divine chiles relleno egg bake, followed by a large platter of French toast swimming in maple syrup and piled with fresh fruit and whipped cream). She managed to have it out for us by 8:30, but she normally doesn’t serve breakfast until 10 a.m.

Family-Friendly Attractions

We spend a morning Harbes Family Farm, which is where I knew for sure I’d be returning to the North Fork with friends and family. Harbes, a former potato farm, now grows a variety of crops, plus they have a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, an apple orchard, multiple corn mazes (ranging from easy to tricky), and an entire family area: huge sandboxes to dig in, a tractor to climb on, chicks, goats, lambs, a slide that goes through a hillside (!!), a “Secret Garden” hedge maze, a spiderweb to climb on, a bunny, and pig races. You heard me. Pig races! You can have your own races, too, pedaling small tractors around a track.

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Harbes also has cider donuts (not just in the fall—cider donuts in May!), kettle corn, flowers, and a farm stand where they sell their produce. It’s family-run, and it’s great for families. And in keeping with the North Fork theme, they have an onsite winery, too…and on the barn walls, you can see old potato harvest counts written on the walls from the 1920s and 1930s. I felt so at home there, I was sad to leave the farm.IMG_0447

In Greenport itself there’s an old wooden carousel, made in 1920 or so. We got to ride it!

IMG_0308 IMG_0301 IMG_0299We also toured the Wooden Boatworks. IMG_0281 IMG_0263 IMG_0265 IMG_0269 IMG_0270

Obviously, when we return to the North Fork, we’ll be spending most of our time at Harbes, plus riding the carousel and puttering around on the beaches (which we didn’t see on this trip). But it would also be a great getaway for an adults-only trip, visiting the vineyards, tasting the region’s wines, checking out the shops (and the lavender farm), and staying in one of the B&Bs more geared toward adults.

Interested in checking it out? You can use Long Island Weekends to help you plan your trip!

 

All opinions are my own. I was taken on this trip by Cross Sound Ferry, and all of the Long Island businesses mentioned in this post (and others not mentioned—Love Lane Kitchen, Orient by the Sea, Vintage Tours, the former Mayor of Greenport) provided goods and services for our trip (THANK YOU!!). I can’t wait to return.

 

 

 

Adding a Pop of Color to Our New Place: Giveaway!

We moved in the heart of winter. Fortunately, the weather gave us a break, but all was white and brown and dead and ice outside our windows.

Inside, we had a lot of neutrals going on, with flashes of pale greens and some blue and occasional pale yellows, as if we lived in a vernal pool. Quite soothing and nice, especially on a sunny day, but all kind of monotone. No zing.

Lucky for me, I’m a member of the Wayfair Homemakers, and Wayfair offered me a $100 gift card to add a pop of color to my home. Woooo! Where to start?

Not the bedrooms. The kids’ room has light-green bedding, blue and green painted furniture, and one red-stained chest of drawers that Max refuses to let me paint blue and green to match the other pieces. (He picked out the blue and green paints last year, but I think he wants a piece of his very own now.) Our own bedroom is a mess mix of a contemporary black headboard and nightstand, an antique dresser from C’s grandfather, and an old blue chest of drawers (mine). We don’t need a pop of color in there. Instead, we need to fold all the endless laundry that daily piles up on the bed.

Kitchen! What’s black and white and red all over? Our kitchen floor is composed of black and white tiles, big ones, which are quite striking. The fridge is enormous and white. A red kitchen cart stands at the end of one counter, under the window, and some red and white kitchen mats are on the floor. I briefly considered a lovely red appliance.

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Nice, right? Plus I could stop shredding my fingers on my box grater!

But I hate giving up counter space, no matter how much I want a food processor. And maybe the kitchen is not the room that needs the pop of color the most. Maybe it is our dining room! Maybe we need some curtains in there to offset the honey browns of the floor, table, and chairs and the dark walnut of my grandmother’s china cabinet.

 

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These would certainly give some cheery personality to our dining room!

Our living room gets the most traffic, though, and we spend the most time in there. So perking that up was the obvious choice.

Now, before we get to the “before” and “after” pictures, let me tell you: It’s not a bad space. We do need a sofa. We have this futon couch which I hate. We keep meaning to buy a proper sofa but somehow other things get in the way (races, bike rides with the kids, relaxing on weekends, daily life). Anyway. So our living room is fairly dull, overall, except for our lovely turquoise rug and the plants. Those add color but since the rest is so neutral, we need more.

Yawn.

Yawn. Somebody please help this room, soon.

 Believe me, I have a lot of ideas for this space.The black and gray curtains were kind of an emergency purchase when we first moved in, since we are now at street level with a lot of pedestrian traffic. But anyway, doesn’t this room scream for color? For floor lamps? Bright throw pillows? Something?

These could help.

Or this beautiful throw:

I went for an ottoman. Bright red. Useful as a seat, and the top turns over so it can be used as a small table. (My boys love this–they pull up their small chairs to it and use it as a snack table). We can put stuff inside it for storage.

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Notice how it picks up some red elements from my office: red file cabinet, red legs on my desk, and (you can’t see these) red curtains on the side windows.

It wakes up the room a little, don’t you think? Best of all, it has a friend coming soon. I found a chair and my friend is upholstering it in a beautiful fabric, a light cream background with oranges, reds, greens, and a touch of turquoise forming the outlines of flowers. It’s lovely. It will go in this corner when it is ready:

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My reading nook-to-be.

A hint of things to come:

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Lonely ottoman seeks chair friend…

I am giving away a $100 Wayfair gift card (in the form of a promotional code) to one lucky reader! Go ahead, brighten up your home, too! (Or, heck, get that food processor you’ve always wanted! Or some fitness equipment! They have everything!)

To Enter: Leave a comment below telling me one thing you’d like to get if you were to win the gift card. You must name the item and link to the item on Wayfair. (Obviously, are you NOT obligated to buy that particular item with your gift card, should you win!)

Good luck, and thanks for reading!

Disclosure: Wayfair provided me with a $100 gift card for this post. All opinions are my own.

Rules: No purchase necessary. By leaving a comment you agree to the rules of this sweepstakes. Each comment to this post equals one entry and must include a name and valid email address to be eligible. A comment must link to a product from Wayfair.com to be considered for this sweepstakes. One entry per household. Limited to entrants over 18 in the US and Canada, residents of Florida, New York, and Rhode Island are ineligible to enter. Contest begins at of the time of this post and ends on May 11, 2014 at 8 p.m. EST. The winner will receive a Wayfair gift card/promo code, a retail value of $100 US. The number of eligible entries received will determine the odds of winning. All comments will be numbered in the order they are received and the winner will be chosen randomly by It’s Not Like a Cat using the Random Number Generator at random.org.  Winner will be notified by email at the address given in their entry and must respond within 72 hours to receive their prize. If the winner does not respond within that time, a new winner will be chosen. The prize will be provided by Wayfair.com. It’s Not Like a Cat is not responsible for any problems with receipt of the prize. This contest is governed by the rules of Massachusetts, void where prohibited. This sweepstakes is sponsored by Wayfair LLC, 177 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA, 02115. 

Let eMeals Do Your Meal Planning–and Holiday Menus!

Listen, just a short post to remind you that meal planning can be time-sucking and tedious. Wouldn’t you rather just, mid-afternoon or at the end of the day, know what’s for dinner and — even better — know that you have all the ingredients you need to make dinner happen fast?

Every night?

eMeals is having a sale right now: 30% off! Click the link below or the link on the ad in my sidebar. Also, if you sign up now, you get a FREE holiday meal plan! Paleo Thanksgiving? No problem! Classic Thanksgiving? Sure! Clean Eating Thanksgiving? Got it!

Save 30% with code Cyber

Click the pic!

And yes, I am in the eMeals Blogger Program, and yes, I am an eMeals affiliate, meaning if you sign up through my link I get a small commission, I think. But seriously, that is not why I am encouraging this.

I’m pushing it because making dinner night after night after night after bloody night is HARD. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not great at grocery shopping unless I have a list. And if I don’t have everything on that list that I need, then midweek I find myself saying, “Oh, crud, we can’t have that or that for dinner because I forgot to buy [key ingredient].” It’s no longer a problem! In fact, last weekend, when I had to work, I printed out the list and sent my husband to the store with both children to buy the week’s worth of groceries. It’s all organized by department, so shopping was pretty easy for him—no running all over the store looking for things!

Plus, I’ve seen all the holiday meal plans. They are good. I made the kale salad the other night and it was so much better than my own kale salad! Next up is their Brussels sprouts recipe, because I love Brussels sprouts.

Try this for a holiday treat:


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Sign yourself up. Or sign up a friend. Happy no-more-thinking-about-meal-planning!