Things to Read - Blogs I'm Thankful For (Part III)

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(Other than the fact that I took these pics in November, they have absolutely nothing to do with the following post. But I like them, so just go with it.)

Just putting this out there - November has been crazy. Lots of work (awesome amazing work, as I love being invited into a family's life for an hour or so - seeing what makes them laugh and how happy they are together, hoping they'll almost forget about me for awhile and just be themselves, sort of the polar opposite of when I was a lawyer and everyone always seemed to be at their worst), but still lots of pictures, lots of editing. And then the cold came (and, for the last two days, the rain - freezing rain!). And two dogs and three kids. And Dan working even more than usual. And right before the LON party Coco attacked the couch - full-throttle with a green permanent marker - pillows, rug, everything - completely destroyed. Luckily, Target sells slipcovers (crazy expensive slipcovers, but still . . . ).

So I spent the month feeling overwhelmed and a little bit crazed, but right now I'm feeling overwhelmingly lucky for all of it - the work, the kids, this life - especially after I watched this movie with the kids and we all became really sad and thought how is this possible? HOW? And I realized I have to get over myself because really food (esp. good food) is a luxury. One that I should not take for granted.

So HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!! Thank you for reading this, thanks for following and sometimes commenting and emailing (I LOVE emails!!). And really, thanks for it all.

Anyways, on Thanksgiving, as this is the day I usually post on Things to Read, I try to write about my favorite blogs (click here for past years). This year I had big plans to make this a "pretty" post, but it's 9:30 pm on Wednesday so hyperlinks will have to do. Here goes, my new(ish) reads, and by no means all inclusive -


* Julia's Bookbag - In the last year or so, this has been my favorite find, it has books, it has photography, it has TONS of randomness, and (most importantly) is has sarcasm and an ability to laugh at oneself. I love it all. My new favorite morning read.

* Still + Life - Beautiful pictures and amazing writing. Very honest. Makes me want to curl up with a cup of tea and read the archives for hours.

* A Feteful Life - Rebecca and Suzanne have such a good eye for design, but they also don't take it too seriously. I love that their projects and suggestions are simple and yet incredibly creative. Plus they saved my party :)

* Cherish This Day - It seems a little self-indulgent to include a blog I contribute to on the list, but I feel so privileged to be in the company of such a wonderful group of photographers. And I love the weekly dose of inspiration they bring. On a similar note, I also love the group that puts together You Are My Wild, they shoot crazy good photos on that blog.

* Enjoying the Small Things - I know there are a lot of Kelly Hampton naysayers (as always happens when one become uber-famous in blogland), but I can't help admire how Kelly always nails the perfect shots (so in awe), plus this year she's really opened up about religion and life in general, which can't be easy when you have about a million followers. And I'm loving her for it.

* Bleubird Vintage - Everyone on this blog is so pretty (how do you have four kids and stay that f***ing pretty?), and everything about this blog is so pretty that I want to hate it. But I just can't. Because if the world has to have pretty people, well, at least these people seem to do a really great job at being fun too. (Plus, I find it really hard to take great product placement photos, whereas they make it look so easy (so jealous)).

* Jessica Stanley - Jessica's read.look.think feature is a must read. Seriously. MUST. READ. (though grab a glass of wine, it will take you all day).

* National Geographic Found - We are all connected. Really.

* Olivia Bee - Her photos are amazing. Absolutely amazing. And they capture a sense of nostalgia for a youth I never lived.

Okay, now go eat some turkey! Speaking of turkey, remember this? (And, seriously, how could you not remember?)

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Things to Make - Three Creative Uses for Old Photographs



Last week F asked me to start leaving notes in her lunch box. I thought lunch notes would be the height of uncool, but apparently I was wrong on this one. (By the way, have you seen this HYSTERICAL post on Pottery Barn lunches? ). So after preschool last week, T and I decided to make some lunch notes. Then I remembered - I am not an artist. How many googly hearts and exclamation marks cane one draw before feeling like a bore? (Not many, for those of you who thought this was a serious question).

But I do like to take A LOT of snapshots. Thus, we have several boxes of 4x6 photos scattered throughout the house. I decided to start writing lunch notes on the back of photos (using Sharpies). Then I ran out of things to say. Luckily, I found this site and this site. I copied several of the jokes and facts and printed them on the back of the photos.

Then the real magic occurred. T HATES to write any letters (including his name) and (sadly) his handwriting is, well, awful (how is it possible that F could read at the age of 4 and T can't even write? Something about a third child . . .). Anyways, T started signing the cards too, saying "wow, mom this is so fun, like we're playing post office." And the early afternoon moved itself along.

As you can tell by the snarkiness, I'm a little embarrassed about the cheesiness of this "things to make", but at least I didn't pay pottery barn to write notes for me, right? And F did actually ask for the notes . . .



Unlike F, P wasn't a huge fan of lunch notes (apparently 1st graders and 2nd graders do not agree on what is cool). But P did like looking at all the old photos. So one weekend, P and her best friend asked for popsicle sticks, scissors, and glue to start work on a puppet show. I was a little nervous that some cruel jokes would occur once we all became reduced to minature figures controlled by young kids, but the show was nice and tasteful (though I'm not sure it really had a plot). The girls also used photos of plants and animals to make odd "creatures", like the talking tree monster (?).



Since the whole photo theme seemed to be working out well, on a rainy day a few weeks ago I decided to cover the kitchen table with newspaper and give the kids sharpies and paint to create with (we used biocolor paints, so the colors wouldn't all blend to grey). Some of their designs turned out really awesome (F made rainbows in skies, smiley faces on bridges, etc.). But then the paint became messier and messier until it was one huge finger painting operation, which was all fine and good, but a little "much".

Any other good projects for old photographs? I thought it would be fun to make collages, but the kids still seem to prefer using magazines.


Things to Do - Land of Nod Holiday Party and 15% Discount Code


Last Thursday, I opened up my home for a a super fun "road show" party previewing Land of Nod's Christmas line. When LON first contacted me, I was elated because I love their stuff. But then I grew hesitant - I'm not exactly a party planner, my idea of a good time is pizza or bbq and a keg. So when LON started asking about my planned menu, I responded with "um, maybe Trader Joes? They sell a lot of appetizers, don't they?"

Luckily my friend Rebecca (also known as Not-So-SAHM) just started a new blog/business with her friend Suzanne called A Feteful Life, their motto is "always simple, never plain." After I saw their blog I almost screamed out "THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I NEED!!" Once they agreed to cohost, things became fun.


A Feteful Life planned our whole menu, coordinated decorations, and BUILT A CHALKBOARD FIREPLACE (seriously, isn't it the coolest thing ever?). They also styled the first floor of my house, turning the whole place into a winter wonderland. All I had to do was (1) unload boxes (lots and lots of boxes); (2) find an Xmas tree (we ended up cutting one down a tree from our backyard, as Dan has new landscaping plans for the spring); and (3) keep my kids from playing with the numerous toys that now occupied our home.

The third was NOT an easy task, eventually I caved and allowed for "gentle" play, especially from T and his friends (as adorable as John Murphy's plush-o-saurs are, they're even more adorable when engaged in dinosaur attacks). Of course, now that we've actually sampled many of Land of Nod's Christmas products, we're even more eager to purchase some for keeps.


Aren't the signs awesome? The best part about hosting this party was that at the end of the night we raffled off all of the toys (thousands of dollars worth) to our good friends (regarding the guest list, I couldn't decide who to invite, so I kept it simple - in order to receive an invitation you needed (1) small(ish) children (2) and to live within walking distance of my home).

For the raffle cards, Rebecca and Suzanne created these funny little quizzes next to the party's stuffed animals. The guests just had to fill them out and put their names in a kneatly knit storage bin (love these) - so much more fun than dropping names into a hat.


The fox sleeping bag is one of my all time favorite LON products, T sleeps in his every night (on top of his comforter).


I found it pretty challenging to keep my kids off the adorable rocking pig, but I wasn't sure the pig could carry the weight of an 8 year old.


When it came to the Where the Wild Things Are masks, I caved and let T and his friend become rabbits and tigers for awhile (they couldn't agree on who would be what, so they both became half tiger/half rabbit).


For the craft table (can you believe I had an adult party with a craft table? And people actually crafted at it. Crazy world we live in), Land of Nod sent us several crepe paper flower kits. Suzanne and Rebecca made an awesome chalkboard table runner (using craft paper) to write directions on, isn't it incredible? Click here to see how they made it (note - it's easier than you think).


Land of Nod sent all of the hosts Cottage dollhouse kits to personalize. (By the way, did I mention that several of these parties took place throughout the country last Thursday? Scroll to the bottom of this post to see the other awesome bloggers and how they decked out their digs.) Rebecca and Suzanne created a "chalkboard" house that made me want to shrink myself and move in for awhile.


As my kids are growing a little old for dollhouses (sniff, sniff, it goes so fast), I gave mine to an artist neighbor who made it look AMAZING. Then T added zoo animals because "every house needs some" (??). Anyways, just a quick shout out and thanks to Melissa! (while she builds dollhouses, her husband builds crazy beautiful real houses - check them out here).


And finally, a few pics from the party itself. The food was so yummy that we didn't have any leftovers (sadness) and everyone seemed to have a good time (so much fun watching the city folks and the Arlington folks (I still refuse to call us a "suburb", rather we're an "almost suburb") mingle). Thanks to everyone who came!!

I (of course) drank a little too much of the punch, but had a fabulous night.

Other party hosts:

*Atlanta: Joni Lay of Lay Baby Lay
*Boise: Kirsten Grove of Simply Grove
*Charleston: Chassity Evans of Look Linger Love
*Kansas City: Carrie + Morgan of Ampersand Design Studios
*Los Angeles: Kelly Lanza of Studio DIY + The Honest Company
*Nashville: Raechel Meyers of Finding My Feet
*Salt Lake City/Provo: Kirsten Krason of 6th Street Design School + Small Fry Blog
*San Francisco: Cristin Bisbee Priest of Simplified Bee + Michaela Warner of Michaela Noelle Design + Mary Heffernin of The Makery


Things to Do - Grateful List (October 2013)


* Reading Tolstoy's The Cossacks
* The New Yorker September 30, 2013 articles on "The Perfect Wife" and "Now Serving" (on Somalian Chef Ahmed Jama)
* Attending the Second City's show at the Arlington Cinema Drafthouse
* Listening to Kishi Bashi's 7" singles
* Watching Despicable Me II at the Drafthouse
* Reading David Sedaris's article on his sister's suicide (The October 29, 2013 New Yorker)
* Watching Before Midnight
* Watching old episodes of Cheers at night
* Reading The Hired Man

* Quinoa and Sourdough Salad (from Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi)

* My new fuzzy, striped cardigan from 1919 Vintage
* F and her new laser maze
* Chewy.com for dogfood delivered to your door
* Stitchfix.com (because I'm lazy)

* A rainy day at the Big Apple Circus, Luminosity
* The kids' excitement at Medieval Times
* Warm fall days at Colonial Williamsburg with Allie, her mom, and the kids
* Homewood Suites Williamsburg (wonderful customer service and they found T's lost pink sheet)
* Trick or treating at the White House
* Lunch at Union Market (Washington DC)

* T to his friend Jules after she kissed him on the cheek "Jules! Kisses are yucky!!"
* Great teacher conferences (P's good citizenship awards; F's writing)
* A rainy day dinner with the Ruizes and Vinings
* Halloween decorating with T
* T and his How to Build an A kit
* Julia and Tracie hosting the kids for a sleepover and then making us all a wonderful brunch (thank you!)
* "Let's put on some Taylor Swift, you just can't beat the classics" - P
* The girls loving cartooning class
* me - "I just wish my kids were grateful for what they have"; P - "well you're not grateful for what you have, otherwise you wouldn't wish for us to be grateful for what we have." (well played, P, well played)
* Yelling Huzzah!!
* Drinking with Allison until 3 am (so hard to have one of my best friends live so far away)


F - Natalia's birthday party, books, a great day, my family, that we have everything we need actually a little more than we need, our new puppy, art, aidan visiting, trick or treating

P - gymnastics, going to an ice skating party, going to Medieval Times, soccer practice, going out to dinner with N, reading on the Banks of Plum Creek at night, cartooning, ice skating, seeing my friends (at Silver Diner night), cuddles, the ipad, the White House

T - watching the knights fight, Q &S coming over, that we go to William Jeffreys, that we go to the playground, reading books, making cookies for F's birthday, that we go to get new Halloween decorations, farts, seeing my friends [at Silver Diner night], grandma visiting, Aidan


Things to Read - Line 135


Every once in awhile we come across a simple, gorgeous book that we just can't stop reading (over and over again), lately that book has been Line 135. I love every part of Line 135 - from the simple story about dreaming impossible things to the wonderful, fantastical illustrations that follow the train from the big city into the countryside. Perfect.


Things to Do - 12 in 12 (November 2013)

This month the 12th fell on a Tuesday (the day after P's birthday and the day after Veteran's Day). At T's preschool, for reasons I don't really need to get into, whenever the kids have a Monday off school is cancelled on Tuesday as well. So we ventured out . . .

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8:45 am - Walking the girls to school. Today marks the first truly cold morning of the season.

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9:15 am - P's grandparents gave her lots of new Monster High Dolls for her birthday. While upstairs, I notice she's displayed them on her windowsill.

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11 am - T and I spend the morning, and afternoon, with friends at The National Children's Museum (in National Harbor, MD). The boys can't stop playing with the cranes.

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noon - Still going strong at the Children's Museum, this time with the Imagination Playground set.

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1 pm - After lunch at Elevation Burger, we return to the museum, where major fires need to be put out immediately.

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2 pm - T undertakes some last minute cooking before we leave for home.

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3:30 pm - T spends an hour on the ipad while I check email and veg for awhile.

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4:30 pm - It is very important to choose the right outfit while picking your sisters up from cartooning class.

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4:45 pm - F's Cartooning classwork.

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5:15 pm - Dog walk. I love these late autumn sunsets.

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6:30 pm - For her birthday dinner (one day late), P asked to take her two best friends to Silver Diner for dinner. Luckily, we showed up for one of Silver Diner's kids' nights, with free face painting and crafts, which really made for a wonderful night. Dan and I drank some wine/beer while the girls and T created lots and lots of foam door hangers.

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7:45 pm - Finally, we leave the diner for home (and go straight to bed). T is exhausted, but continues to drive his paper car all the way through bedtime.

So that was our day, now click on over to see what Not-So-SAHM and Where the Watermelons Grow spent their Tuesday!


Things to Do - Christmas Cards & 33% Off at Pinhole Press


(Regarding the above pics, it's actually pretty difficult to take photos of photos. Rest assured that all the "noise" only occurs on my photos of the cards and not on the actual cards themselves).

A continual source of family/photographer/mom guilt is the fact that Dan and I have never sent out Christmas cards. Every year we talk about it, but procrastination sets in. Eventually the season ends. Christmas cards particularly stress me out because I feel that, as a photographer, our card should be somewhat awesome.

Anyways, in the last few years, we've noticed that more and more people have taken us off their Christmas card lists (if you do not give, you cannot receive) and last year's supply was somewhat disheartening. So this year when Pinhole Press contacted me offering free cards, I let go of the excuses and started to design.

Luckily, Pinhole Press has wonderful formats to work with (seriously gorgeous) and they print everything on high quality card stock so even my so-so photos came out looking stupendous. After much tinkering, we came up with two cards we both really loved - one that showcased me as a photographer and one that summarized our year together (complete with the big fish Dan caught). We couldn't decide so we ordered both.

And since we loved the cards so much, I kept shopping - ordering address labels with our favorite family photo from the Land of Nod photo shoot, I love how the photo wraps around the back of the envelope. And then I started making a calendar. So all in all, I went way over the "free" limit and ended up spending a lot of money. But the products are beautiful, so I'm happy.

If you haven't ordered your own cards yet, Pinhole Press is offering all No Monsters readers 33% off their holiday cards through Monday, December 2, 2013 (THIS IS AN AMAZING DEAL!!). Just use the coupon code "nomonsters". So what are you waiting for? Hurry up and shop everyone!!


Things to Do - Cherish This Day and Random Links


I know mid-November is a little late in the game for pumpkin farm pics. But this year we didn't visit Cox Farms (previously reviewed here) until the Tuesday after Halloween, their last day open.

Luckily, the weather was perfect and crowds weren't abundant. Yet again, we managed to close out the farm (which is becoming an annual tradition of ours).

For more wonderful pics, click on over to Cherish This Day to see what everyone else has been up to.

Happy Friday everyone!!


* Portraits of Cosplay Enthusiasts in their Homes - These are AWESOME!!!

* Malls in the 1980s. I can remember these times, which makes me feel ancient.

* Much loved, perfect pics of some of life's best friends. What was your favorite stuffed animal? Do you still have it?

* Ketchup Fried Rice on NPR. I'm intrigued. While I'm on the topic of food, I've wanted to check out the Little House cookbook forever, and then Melissa posted this recipe for little maple cakes and now I NEED to make some.

* Doesn't this cocktail sound delicious (and easy)?

* Russian subways now accept squats for payment.

* Nirav Patel. Wonderfulness.



Things to Read - Three Books about Living in a Foreign Land

I haven't posted on my own reading lately, mainly because I've read so many bad books in the last few months. Luckily there have been a few great books scattered throughout the awful, most of which center on living in a place very different from where one was born. I must have the travel bug (which isn't surprising).

Anyways, the following three books are all excellent. The sort of books that make you want to park yourself on the couch for a day and just lose yourself for awhile.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls - I read this months ago, but I can't stop thinking about it (I'm also somewhat stretching the definition of "foreign", but just go with it). The novel takes place during the Great Depression and the plot centers around a teenage girl, Thea, whose parents ship her off to boarding school after she commits some sort of horrible act. The book takes forever to tell you exactly what Thea did. In some ways the author overplays her hand, because when you finally learn of Thea's "bad act", you pretty much pieced something similar together about 50 to 100 pages previously. But the writing itself, especially the way the teenage narrator describes the place and the girls around her (who are so different than the people she grew up among) is positively a pleasure to read (some of my favorite quotes are over excerpted over here).

(Sidenote - I discovered this book through Julia's Book Bag, a wonderful site, hop on over and peruse for awhile).

The Cossacks - It feels pretentious to "review" Tolstoy on a mom blog, but I'm going with it, if only because I've read so much crap lately that the Cossacks came as a wonderful surprise. The novella tells the story of an upper class soldier, Dmitri Olenin, who is sent to live with the Cossacks for a year or so. Eventually Olenin comes to love the people so much that he dreams of marrying a local girl, buying a farm, and giving up "the good life." Unfortunately, the people themselves don't necessarily love him back, finding him foreign and odd. Despite being written 150 years ago, the Cossacks reads like a modern day tale - as you hear of more and more people today giving up the modern life in search of a "back to the roots" existence (and, if you remember from long ago, I'm sort of obsessed with life off the grid). In particular, Tolstoy does a fabulous job of recreating the traveler's feeling of never quite fitting in with the local people.

The Hired Man - I just read The Hired Man last week, I waited three days to finish it because I didn't want the book to end (I was also a little scared to know what the end would reveal). The Hired Man tells the story of an English family who purchases an investment property in the Croatian village of Gost, figuring that real estate values will/would escalate now that all the wars have ended. Their story is narrated by the local, hired man, Duro Kolak, whom works for them fixing up the house. Throughout the novel you learn Duro's story, as well as the town's recent history (which isn't pretty). Mainly the novel centers on how people go on and how communities continue to live and work together, after their members have committed horrible acts. It's a sad book, but the writing is so good that it is impossible not to like.

How about everyone else? What have you been reading lately?


Things to Do - F's 8th Birthday Slumber Party


For F's 8th birthday she requested a slumber party, so we talked about keeping it simple and only inviting a small, close group of her friends. And then, in a miracle wave of sisterly good cheer, F decided to let P invite some of her own friends, suggesting that this way they could all play together. So the group became larger than anticipated.

The morning of the big event F came down with a fever, so we rescheduled for the Monday night before election day (they had Tuesday off of school). That Monday was a little bittersweet because F's best friend was moving the next day to the Philippines with the Foreign Service (I love DC, but I hate how everyone leaves).

I picked all of the girls up from school on Monday and brought them to our "party room" in the backyard and so began the 18 hour celebration . . .

(I decorated the room with Land Of Nod's new Toot Sweet party decorations. When the kids were little I usually purchased low end supplies for parties (think Dollar Store), but as they grow older (and as we recycle the decorations from year to year) I've realized that a beautiful room can really make a party. The kids especially loved the cupcake carousel, every time I turned around someone had put the wheel in motion. I made the cupcakes (with love) using my ultra-fabulous recipe, my one and only "party" claim to fame).


The girls started out by decorating Land Of Nod's Make a Mask princess kit (I find that starting birthday parties off with some sort of craft project tends to help everyone bond and feel relaxed around each other). Then the girls took over my spotify account (via bluetooth speakers and an ipad) and One Direction became LOUD!! If you're wondering how to make a 2nd grade girl dance, boy bands are the answer.

I used butcher paper to create a few "autograph" walls where everyone could write birthday messages for F, which was a big success.


Eventually F blew out her candles and we came inside for a movie and sleep. Okay, so that was wishful thinking. I meant a movie, then 2 tv shows, then a lot of whispering, and finally at 11:30 pm the chattering stopped. I must note that the cutest thing ever was watching little T slumber in his little sleeping bag while surrounded by 7 giggling girls.

By midnight, I figured we were pretty much in the clear - just some of Dan's fantastic pancakes in the morning then the party would come to a close. What I did not plan on was seven wide awake girls (and one sleep deprived preschooler) ready for round 2 at 5:30 am (yes, you all read that right, 5:30!!!).


By 7:30 am they had already eaten breakfast and started asking for things to do. Luckily, LON also gave us two Artistic Collective Poster kits, which kept most of the kids entertained for another half-hour or so. And then, around 8 am, I broke out Suzy Ultman's Shrinky Dink Kit. Two kits contain 62 shrinky dinks and we managed to make each and every one. Luckily all of the dinks (is this the correct term?) come hole-punched and cut, which made it a great craft to take on with a group of children. Especially when sleep deprived.


And finally, around 10 am, the girls all left. And I drank a red bull. So goes birthday party season - one down, one to go (we host P's birthday party this weekend). (And a special thanks to Land of Nod, for gifting us the wonderful crafts and decorations!)


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