Sunday, December 16, 2007

A few of my favorite things.

With 2007 coming to an end, I wanted to take a moment to think about all of the good stuff I've discovered (or rediscovered) this year.

Electrolux Pronto Cordless Vacuum
I got this at the beginning of the year with a $100 Sears gift card my sister-in-law Bubba gave us for Christmas. Considering it's a vacuum cleaner, it's a little ridiculous how much I love it. With a dog and two cats, our house is in constant need of vacuuming. The swiffer vacuum we had before was good for the hardwoods but completely useless when it came to area rugs or carpet. I had to haul the big vacuum out every few days to get all the pet hair off the rugs which was really just a signal to the pets that they had to go and re-mark their territory with more hair. I swear - I would barely have the cord wrapped up when I'd see them rolling all over the rug, tufts of hair literally flying off their bodies. I either had to get the vacuum out again or deal with the pet hair for a few more days. I hate the vacuum. It's really heavy and hard for me to move and way too loud to use during naps. I always end up getting the cord stuck under a door or wrapped around a chair or something and almost every time I'm this close to finishing a room, I go too far and the cord flies out of the outlet and I have to stop everything and go and plug it back in. I know it's stupid but it really, really bugs me (I have similar issues with the garden hose). This is why I love my Electrolux so much. It's cordless and can be used on hardwoods and carpets! I still have to use the big guy to really get the carpets clean but now, when I see the cat rolling around on my freshly vacuumed rug, I don't want to kill her quite as much.

Frozen Berries
I've been buying big bags of frozen berries for years. When I was still working, I'd make smoothies for breakfast with yogurt, orange juice, frozen berries, a banana and protein powder. I probably had one every single morning I was pregnant. It wasn't until recently that I realized frozen berries are good for other things too. I was at my sister's house and she offered me a snack of granola with yogurt and blueberries. Frozen blueberries. She just defrosted them in hot water. Genius! Now I put them on steel cut oatmeal, yogurt, cereal and even in salads (spinach, blueberries, feta & walnuts - yum!). Liam likes to eat them straight from the freezer - he'll ask for a bowl of blueberries "cold as ice." We also really, really like them on Kashi Go-Lean frozen waffles (another really great thing I discovered this year!). I put some frozen blueberries and raspberries on the stove with a little apricot jam and orange marmalade (the just fruit kind with no sugar or fake sugar added) and cook it until it turns into what I believe would be called a compote. Stick that on top of a toasty waffle and you've got yourself a damn fine breakfast. It's so good even Liam will eat it!

(The Kashi Pilaf is really good and healthy too. We like to make it savory, mix it up with a bunch of sauteed vegetables & black beans and top it with a little salsa, sour cream, avocado and shredded cheese. It's like Q'doba but way better!)

Classical Baby
This is an amazing program that we found on HBO family when we still had HBO. We've watched it on TiVo about a million times and even bought the whole set on DVD so we could take it with us when we travelled. Unlike most kid shows, Classical Baby is not only tolerable, it's enjoyable. The whole show is music and animation - no annoying voices or sound effects - and it exposes kids to classical music, art and dance. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Now, if only I could get Liam to drop Joe from Blue's Clues and go back to Classical Baby, my life would be just about perfect.

Did you know you can find blogs on just about anything? Oh, you did? I'm the only one who is just now learning about this? Hmm. Well, that doesn't make it any less exciting! I hope to some day list all the blogs I love on my blog but I think I'll wait until the kid-in-a-candy-store excitement has worn off.

Workout DVDs
Sure the YMCA has child care but have I ever used it? Nope. No reason really, just haven't wanted to leave my crying child with a stranger while I used the elliptical machine for half an hour. Its hard enough to get motivated! I tried doing the work out plans in fitness magazines but wasn't very good at cracking the whip for myself. Ten minutes of half-assed squats is hardly going to get me in shape. Fortunately, an infomercial caught me at a weak moment and I became the proud owner of the Slim in Six workout DVDs. I was pretty embarrassed until I got them and realized, I love workout videos! I get up early before anyone else is awake (this is another awesome thing I started doing this year) and before I'm alert enough to talk myself out of it, I'm already working out. It's especially nice because the DVD can be played with or without music which means I can work out to my own mix. The play list I usually use includes Decemberists, Feist, Bloc Party, Scissor Sisters, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Tegan & Sara and Michael Jackson. I have since added to my workout DVD collection with Yoga Booty Ballet (really silly but a fun workout) & Mari Winsor Pilates (kind of boring but good for days I'm feeling extra lethargic). Waking up early and doing something for myself makes me feel more energetic and like I'm in control of my life. And, when I work out consistently, I even get a little muscle definition!

The Mall as a Playground
This ingenious idea came from Emery and I thank her dearly for it. Nashville is hot in the summer. I mean, really hot. And humid. It's the kind of hot you can't avoid unless you stay indoors with all the drapes drawn and the AC on high. Even then, it's still kind of hot. There are several weeks during the summer when it's too hot to do anything outside except go to the pool. On days we weren't in the mood to swim, we would go mall walking. At first, I thought it was going to be like walking walking but soon realized that at the mall, Liam is boss. So, I just let him lead the way and push the empty stroller behind him. We people watch and search for letters and numbers colors and Liam says hi to the old ladies in their bright white tennis shoes. Sometimes we catch a sing-a-long at Pottery Barn Kids or story time at David Kidd bookstore. There's no agenda, no where we have to go and Liam loves it. As soon as the holiday shopping frenzy is over, we'll start up again. Last time we were there, we got honked at by two old guys in rascals. That's the holiday spirit for you!

Cheap Easy Chili
I am not a huge fan of cooking (or cleaning up) so this meal is a favorite of mine.
You need:
1 onion
1 can each of:
Crushed tomatoes
Beef broth
Tomato paste (the little tiny cans)
Black Beans
Kidney Beans
Chick Peas
Some garlic, chili powder & cumin
(Be sure to read all the labels - if you're not careful you'll get kidney beans with high fructose corn syrup!) Cut up the onion and saute it with a little olive oil and a clove or two of garlic until it's nice and soft (you can add red bell pepper too if you want a little more nutrition and color). Then pour all the cans into the pot (I rinse the beans first), season as much or as little as you want (Bill adds actual chilies and stuff like that but I think it's just as good the easy way), stir everything together and cook on med-low for maybe 30 minutes until it looks like chili (I like to toss in a bunch of frozen corn toward the end). I make cornbread with extra corn (either from a box or scratch) and serve the chili with avocado, shredded cheese & sour cream. I think it tastes especially good if you put cornbread with honey on top of the chili and then mix everything together. This is such an easy, healthy, cheap meal and it makes plenty of yummy leftovers. What's not to love?

Mother's Day Out
Liam started school at Eastwood Christian Children's Center in September. Twice a week from 9-12 he gets to play on the playground, go to Kindermusik class, make art projects and interact with other kids while I get to do ANYTHING I WANT. It's like a little piece of heaven. Even when I use the break to work, it still feels like a break. When I pick him up at the end of the day and his little face lights up as he runs toward me shouting, "Mama!", it is maybe the best feeling in the whole world. This little person whom I love so dearly misses me when I'm gone. That's reason enough to leave him once in a while!

Wine in a Box
Opening a bottle of wine makes me feel a strange sense of commitment that I don't feel with other beverages. Sure, it may be a weeknight and I may be all alone watching Grey's Anatomy in my bedroom but if I've opened a bottle of wine, chances are I'm gonna see it through to the end. No sense in saving it until tomorrow - I'll probably have a wine headache from tonight and not want a glass. By the next day, it's no good anymore and I'll have to throw it out. Trying to decide between accidentally getting drunk in the middle of the week or throwing out half a bottle of wine was like Sophie's Choice or something. Well, not anymore. Ever since I found Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon and Faux Frog Pinot Noir at Woodland Wine Merchant, I can enjoy all the health benefits (and stress relief) of a glass of wine with dinner without feeling like a challenge has been thrown down. One box holds 4 bottles of wine, costs less than $30 and lasts for months once you open it. You can see how life changing this is going to be.

A few other things that greatly improved my year:

This American Life on NPR
Even though Liam protests car rides by yelling, "poor neck!" and grabbing at his seat belt like it's strangling him, I still go out of my way for long car trips just so I can listen to This American Life podcasts. Awesome stories, free downloads, David Sedaris. Need I say more?

Hair Straightener
If you're ever having one of those days where you feel like crap for no particular reason, straighten your hair. I swear, in 10 minutes you can go from Gilda Radner to Jennifer Anniston. How could that not make you feel better?

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