February 2015

Friday Inspiration

February 27, 2015

I think this rendition of the song “Hero” by a young Michigan musician named Ilia Anderson is so well done — maybe better than the original. As someone who enjoys singing (and would like to sing more!), it is definitely my inspiration today.

“Hero” (by the group Family of the Year) is the hit song from the movie Boyhood, which was up for a number of Academy Awards this year, including Best Song (though it lost out to Common and John Legend’s “Glory”). Did you watch the Oscars on Sunday? I caught some of it and was a bit bored… I hadn’t seen most of the movies that were nominated, so it was hard to root for anyone.

Most importantly, I missed the red carpet — I really watch to see those dresses! (And even the tuxes.) Did you have any favorites? I was hoping I’d catch Lupito Nyong’o in something dynamite, and she apparently didn’t disappoint, wearing a beautiful Calvin Klein dress made with thousands of real pearls (which was apparently stolen from the Los Angeles hotel afterwards, sadly).

Did you watch the Oscars? And did you see the movie Boyhood? I hope your weekend is relaxing, and I’ll see you back here next week!

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Slow Travel Tips for Rome

February 26, 2015

by Margaret Cabaniss

Rome! I’m going there! Like, next week!

Sorry, I’m a little excited about this trip (it may or may not be the thing that has kept me going through this ridiculous winter). It’s for a work conference, but the conference itself is scheduled in such a way that participants will have plenty of time to explore the city, and I. can’t. wait.

I’ve been to Rome once before, but it was only for a week in college (so, many moons ago), and all our activities were carefully orchestrated and tightly regimented — so while I saw plenty of spectacular things, I mostly went where I was led and didn’t develop any independent sense of the city. I’ll definitely go back to some of the must-see sites on this trip, of course, but I’d also really love to take more time simply to wander, experience the character of different neighborhoods — and, of course, stop in every cafe I can manage along the way.

To figure out the best way to make my wanderings not too aimless (hey, I’m still a planner at heart), I’ve been poking around various travel websites that I like for their tips and ideas. One great resource so far has been Ashley Muir Bruhn’s Italy travelogues over at Hither and Thither. Her post about her trip to Rome last summer with her husband and their two kids (3 and 6 months!) is total eye candy and a great argument for skipping the lines at major tourist attractions (a necessity in their case, with two little ones) and just…walking. Also, I basically want to eat everything she photographs.

Speaking of eating, Ashley offered a great tip for finding restaurant recommendations in another city: checking special issues of food magazines like Bon Appetit or Saveur. I imagine they’ll have much more detailed information than the one-paragraph blurbs you’d find in most travel guides — plus you’ll have a better chance of avoiding restaurants likely to be overrun with other eager travel-guide disciples. And though fresh offerings might be somewhat more limited in the winter, I’m excited to try some Roman specialties while I’m there, like cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta).

One last tip I read isn’t really research-related, but I thought it was a great idea all the same: Right before your trip (or even on the plane ride there), read a work of fiction set in the place you’re headed. A good novel can capture the feel of a place so much better than any matter-of-fact guidebook could manage. Of course, Rome’s long history already reads like a novel, so in my case, I picked up another book by Anthony Everitt, whose biographies of Augustus and Cicero are a great introduction to the early days of the Roman empire. I expect I’ll get slightly more out of my visit to the Forum on this trip than I did when I was 19.

So what about you? Do you like to prepare before a big trip, or are you more the aimless-wanderer type? Have any tips for immersing yourself in the local culture while you’re there? And most important of all: What are your must-see/visit/eat tips for Rome? I’ll be sure to try out all your advice and report back in a couple weeks!

Images: (1) danjaeger, (2) dmitri_c, (3) scholle42 


The 80/20 Principle

February 24, 2015

City Yellow Manhole
Last month, Margaret talked about Marie Kondo’s decluttering book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I finished the book right around the same time, and while I don’t wholeheartedly buy into Kondo’s method, many of her principles have stuck with me. They’ve especially come in handy lately, as B and I are embarking on a total home reorganization over the next couple of months.

Those of you who haven’t read Kondo’s book (or didn’t care for her method) might find the 80/20 Principle more useful — especially if you’re a numbers person. Have you ever heard of it? I had only come across it in the context of business; it’s also known as the Pareto Principle, named for Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. In 1906, Pareto observed that 20% of his pea pods produced 80% of the peas in his garden. He then observed that this tended to be true in other fields and industries — and so his theory was born, stating that 80% of the results will come from 20% of the input or action.

The Pareto Principle is a popular management tool, but it can be applied to every day life, too. As Mark Manson writes in his article “How to 80/20 Your Life,” there are lots of ways to do this:

For instance:

  • What are the 20% of your possessions you get the most value out of?
  • What do you spend 20% of your time doing that gives you 80% of your happiness?
  • Who are the 20% of people you’re close to who make you the happiest?
  • What are the 20% of the clothes you wear 80% of the time?
  • What’s the 20% of food you eat 80% of the time?

Chances are these are easy questions for you to answer. You’ve just never considered them before.

And once you’ve answered them, you can easily focus on increasing the efficiencies in your life. For instance, the 80% of people you spend time with who only add 20% of the pleasure in your life (spend less time with them). The 80% of crap you use 20% of the time (throw it out or sell it). The 80% of the clothes you wear 20% of the time (same thing).

Identifying the 20% of the food you eat 80% of the time will probably explain whether you keep a healthy diet or not and how healthy it is. Hey, who needs to follow a diet? Just make sure to switch to where the 20% of food you eat 80% of the time is healthy.

Since math was never my subject, my head starts spinning a bit with this, but I like the basic idea, and I think it could be helpful particularly as it relates to stuff — like clothes, personal possessions, and home items.

In Kondo language, personal efficiency is more about surrounding yourself with what sparks joy; with the 80/20 Principle, it’s more about identifying which efforts or items produce the maximum results or benefit in your life. But I’m guessing both will get you to the same place. I’ll be keeping this 80/20 rule in mind as we continue our efforts on the home front.

What do you think about the 80/20 idea? Does it ring true for you? Is it helpful?

Image: Life of Pix

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Internet Menagerie

February 23, 2015

Pic from Life of Pix Free Stock Photos
Let’s start the week with a trip around the web and some of my favorite recent finds, some serious and others light and fun. Hope you find something inspiring or interesting here and that you’ll share more of your favorites in the comments!

  • How to make your own trail mix. (Super Healthy Kids)
  • Fascinating TED talk about how childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime:

  • Have you seen the film Honor Diaries yet?

  • Dante’s Inferno Vision meets Frozen:

  • Coffee around the world. Which one are you dying to try?

 Image: from Life Of Pix 


Friday Inspiration

February 20, 2015

Smartest One In the Room
I saw this in my Facebook feed and nodded to myself. I definitely don’t like to feel intimidated or out of my league, but if I’m really interested in learning and being challenged — and I think we all should be — it’s a good thing to spend time with people who may be smarter, wiser, more talented, or more experienced than we are on a regular basis.

Are you often in rooms with lots of smart people, or does that intimate you? What kind of “smart” impresses you the most?

Have a slow weekend, stay warm, and see you next week!

Image from Grammarly 



Seasons for Teaching

February 18, 2015

Sam Ciurdar Photo
It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. These days, Lent in my life is not so much about giving up sweets or chocolate — though I do cut out treats and extras as a discipline — but addressing interior things like my attitudes, dispositions, etc. I also try to make more time for prayer and am more deliberate about giving to others. It never quite goes as planned, but I like the chance to focus on transformation.

Now that we have kids, though, what I love most about the various seasons — whether they be religious, civic, or natural — is the opportunities they give us with our daughters. Symbols, rituals, foods, and practices — things they can touch, taste, smell, see, hear — are the best ways for children to absorb different concepts and ideas.

Yesterday, for example, I made a traditional Mardi Gras king cake. My attempts at a gluten-free version completely flopped, but it was at least edible! I hid the plastic baby in the cake, and one of my daughters found it and got to wear the paper crown. It gave us a chance to talk about the tradition of the king cake, the baby Jesus, the difference between feasting and fasting, and what the season of Lent is about. I kept it simple, but it’s always neat to see them getting into it, asking questions, and sharing thoughts about what they’re experiencing.

What special seasons or traditions do you celebrate in your house? Do you use them as springboards for teaching your kids?

Image: sam ciurdar/samciurdar.com. Used with permission via Snapwire Snaps


Panna Cotta for Fat Tuesday

February 17, 2015

Panna Cotta
I made my first panna cotta yesterday! Ever since my friend Carrie shared her favorite recipe with me, I’ve been looking for an occasion to try it. With Lent starting this week, my brother and his family stopping by for a visit, and my favorite cream in the fridge, I decided it was the perfect time. The stars were aligned!

Panna cotta, an Italian cream-based dessert, always seemed intimidating to me, so I couldn’t believe how easy it was. It took no time at all. The color of mine turned out light tan, instead of a creamy white, because I had no white sugar on hand (I used honey and coconut palm sugar instead). Except for the color difference, though, you never would have known — and given I was using white dessert bowls (with smaller, clear jars for the kids), I liked the color contrast.

The only disappointment was that I didn’t have bourbon to put in it, which is what my friend Carrie uses and it blows everyone away. I did have a little Cointreau on hand, though, which did the trick just fine.

I’m sure Carrie wouldn’t mind my sharing the recipe she gave me, so here it is — a decadent dessert for Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras:

Panna Cotta 

The original recipe can be found in What’s Cooking America

  • 1 envelope of unflavored gelatin (approx. 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup milk or half and half
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream*
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 to 1 1/2 T of bourbon or liqueur you like (optional)

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup milk and let stand until the gelatin is softened. In a large saucepan, combine the heavy cream and sugar and add vanilla extract. Bring the cream just to a simmer (don’t let it boil), whisking occasionally until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat. Add the softened gelatin mixture and whisk to completely dissolve the gelatin. (The original recipe suggests straining the hot cream mixture, but I didn’t, and Carrie never does either.)

Pour into ramekins, teacups, wine glasses, Mason jars, whatever suits the occasion. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Top with shaved chocolate, a coffee bean, some fresh fruit, or whatever you like. Makes 4 to 6 servings (depending on size of the serving cups).

Many thanks to my friend Carrie for inspiring me to finally make this tasty dessert!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul 

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Friday Inspiration

February 13, 2015

I love us
Valentine’s Day always felt too commercial and sappy to warrant much of a celebration from me; about the best B and I have ever mustered up as couple was to order take out and watch a movie. There were a couple of years when we headed to a bookstore together to pick out something we thought the other would like, but it never became a tradition — probably because we’re both too fussy about what we want to read.

Ever since becoming a mom, though, I enjoy having any reason to celebrate with my kids. I’ve decided to make Valentine’s Day a time to celebrate love: the love we have for each other, for our family and friends, and God’s love for us. It’s a day that gives us another chance to talk about love: what it is, what it isn’t, being grateful for the people on our lives, what it means that God is love, etc.

The image above says exactly want I particularly want to celebrate this weekend: the love I have for my quirky, funny, slightly unconventional little family. I really do love us!

Also, since Valentine’s Day lends itself to things my girly-girls tend to love — pink and red and hearts and treats and general cuteness — I’m going to go with it a little bit for their sake. I helped S and H make some adorable little Valentine’s cards for their homeschool co-op class (they turned out so cute!), and I even made homemade chocolates for them to take to their party. (Well, they were vegan and made with raw organic cacao and coconut palm sugar, but the girls loved them, so yay!)

I guess you could say I’ve made my peace with Valentine’s Day, too.

What about you? Do you love Valentine’s Day? Hate it? Are you somewhere in between? Whether you celebrate or not, I hope you have a lovely (and love-filled) weekend!

Image: Lovely Little Snippets


by Margaret Cabaniss

Got any plans for Saturday night? I may have made my peace with Valentine’s Day, but the fancy evenings out still don’t really appeal to me — and the maitre d’s of the world back me up on this one: The crowds are insane, the food is overpriced, the service is rushed and snappy…just what you want for a romantic dinner with your one and only.

But Valentine’s Day is also my sister’s birthday, so we couldn’t let it go uncelebrated; instead, we’re inviting some friends over for a sparkling wine tasting! It seemed like the perfect fit for a joint holiday-birthday party: Sparkling wine just feels celebratory, so it instantly fancies up any party, but a low-key tasting at home means none of the hassle or expense of going out. Plus the theme works equally well for Valentine’s enthusiasts or “down with love”-types: Coupled or single, champagne is always delicious.

Our plan is pretty simple: We went to the local wine shop and asked for their recommendations for various sparkling wines at different price points, and they were happy to oblige. (If you’re looking to keep costs down, you can always ask each guest to contribute a bottle to the mix.) To make it interesting, we’ll divide people into pairs for a blind tasting and see who can tell the difference between a $6 and $60 bottle. Throw in some chocolate, and you have the makings of an excellent evening — whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, a birthday, or nothing at all.

Not sure where to start? The Kitchn has some helpful tips on navigating champagne styles, different sparkling wines for every budget, and even how to open a bottle. I’ll be raising a glass to every last one of you.

PS — More Valentine’s Day ideas: an adorable bunting, chocolate truffles, no-candy Valentines, and a last-minute gift idea.

Images: Margaret Cabaniss


Ode to the Coconut

February 10, 2015

Coconut Tree
I grew up far from the tropics, so mangoes, papayas, and similar fruits hanging on trees in the South Pacific were rare treats. When my father spotted a coconut in a grocery store, he’d bring it home, hammer a hole in it, drain out the juice, and chop the flesh up for us to eat. I loved the flavor then, but I had no idea that I’d eventually come to idolize this bulbous fruit.

The coconut has gotten a lot of exposure in recent years, thanks to health and food bloggers. Recently, it hit the big time with Starbucks’ announcement that it would begin offering coconut milk with its beverages. But most people still don’t know all you can do with this marvelous fruit:

You can eat it. There’s the shredded coconut many of us grew up with, and the raw flesh, of course, but I use coconut oil a lot in place of butter, and by itself as a supplement. I make coconut cream as a replacement for whipped cream, and my new favorite variation is coconut butter — I’ve taken to eating a tablespoon of it here and there when I’m craving something sweet. But it’s also used in sauces, desserts, and a host of other things. Which leads me to…

You can cook and bake with it. I use coconut oil to sauté vegetables and cook popcorn; in baking, I use it in place of other oils and coconut milk as a substitute for dairy. For cakes, muffins, and pancakes I use coconut flour. Do you remember the chia seed coconut milk pudding I made for breakfast a while back? Yum.

Raw Coconut
You can drink it. Smoothies, anybody? I use coconut milk in our smoothies, cereal, and oatmeal all the time. I also use coconut water in smoothies, too — especially in the summer. Drinking coconut water by itself is still growing on me, and some brands are tastier than others, but it’s one of the best ways to hydrate because it’s so high in electrolytes and potassium and low in sugar.

You can use it as a body product. I’m back to oil pulling because it makes my mouth feel cleaner and my teeth feel better, plus I hear it may help guard against viruses and bacterial infections. I’m also going to start oil cleansing soon. (I’ll write a separate post on this soon to fill you in.) I use coconut oil on my daughters’ hair and skin a lot — sometimes blended with other ingredients, like shea butter, and sometimes just by itself. It’s my go-to skincare product. I’ve also used it to remove makeup, heal children’s bum rashes, and soften callouses.

Is there anything this fruit can’t do? I bet we can run cars on it, heat our homes with it, and water money trees with it; we just don’t know it yet!

Are you a fan of coconut? What are your favorite ways to use it?

Images from free images