The Versatile Blogger Award

Well, I’d like to thank the Academy… I mean Stephicakes, one of the most recent jewels I’ve found in my blog surfing, for nominating me for this award. It is good to know that someone I enjoy reading enjoys reading my work as well. And not only enjoys reading it, but thinks I am versatile in my choice/style of writing topics. This is not the first time I’ve received this nomination, but, not knowing how seriously to take it and always being a bit leery of the facebook-type fill-in-the-blank and pass-it-along publicity stunts, I never followed through. But since I felt flattered when I received it then, as I do now, I figured I’d flatter a few other people and pass it along. So here goes:

The rules for accepting this award are as follows:

1. Thank the award-givers and link back to them in your post.

2. Share 7 things about yourself.

3. Pass this award along to 15 other bloggers.

4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

Seven Things About Myself:

1.) I am hopelessly in love with three men at the same time! Scandalous, I know! OK, I’ll admit it, two of them are men-in-the-making… but still. Anyone who has read any of my blog probably knows that I’m referring to my hubby and my two boys, the second of which is scheduled to make his debut in only a few short weeks. I ADORE being a mother, even if I’m not always very good at it. It has been one of the most fulfilling (and dang difficult) endeavors I have ever undertaken. And the lessons I have learned in the process are often the topics of this blog.

2.) I aspire to one day be a published author. I know, I know… what consistent and dedicated blogger doesn’t? I’m not entirely sure that I will accomplish this goal some day, but it would be amazing and wonderful if I did. I hope to write children’s books primarily and am constantly toying with new ideas.

3.) One of my biggest motivators in writing this blog (or one day attempting to get published) is the desire to leave a written legacy to my children and grandchildren. To pass on tidbits of wisdom and humility, humor and beauty, and small vignettes of what life looked like when I was young (OK, maybe not so young anymore, but youngER).

4.) Although it is a significant battle sometimes, I REFUSE to give in to cynicism. I prefer instead to believe the best of people and let them continually surprise me; to not always plan for the worst case scenario, but rather the best; and to not let the things that so easily bog us down take a more prominent seat to those that are quietly beautiful.

5.) I LOVE shopping! More specifically bargain hunting. I can’t really explain it, but it gives me a rush of satisfaction and relieves stress in ways very little else can.

6.) I adore cooking and frequently create my own recipes. I see it as a creative outlet, building dishes that are unique and interesting and satisfying out of sometimes surprising ingredients. I rarely use, or perhaps I should say follow, a recipe unless it’s as a springboard for ideas or to remind myself of something lovely I created in the past. My cooking is experimental and, although not all of these experiments are a success, I like to share the ones that are with you, my faithful readers. I imagine that you all jump to cook my most recent recipe post as soon as it comes up, and although I know this is probably not the case, a girl can dream, right ;)

7.) I host a book club once a month that has proven to be an excellent outlet for intellectually stimulating adult conversation that does not center around family and children and everyday life. It has also kept me consistently reading new and surprising books – something that has always been very important for my development both as a person and as a writer.

8.) BONUS tidbit – Although I love being a mother, I HATE being pregnant. Perhaps this is only relevant to me right now because I am enormous and uncomfortable, but it’s true. I also know many of you would gasp and think, “Pregnancy is beautiful and magical, etc. Enjoy every minute!” To those people I want to say, “You are very lucky if that was your experience, and more power to you! Pop out as many kids as you please and embrace the magic!” But for me, this will most likely be my last pregnancy.

So there are just a few things about me you may have already known, or perhaps you didn’t. This is definitely not a comprehensive list, nor is it written in any particular order other than the order in which they popped into my mind. If you are intrigued and would like to know more about me, keep reading . . . I am certainly not shy or private in my writing.

As far as who I’d like to pass this award on to, here is an incomplete list. I don’t want to pick 15 simply because I have to, so I’m picking the ones that I actually consistently read and am personally inspired by:

Life As I Know It – a blog about the many hats of a mom.

Broadside – a blog by a writer in NY who’s life inspires me and whose writing is always intriguing.

Doodlemum – a charming sketch blog that always hits very close to home.

Pomp And Circumstance – a design AND fashion blog, how can you beat that?

Utterly Smitten – tidbits of design and daily life.

The Cotton Boll Conspiracy – a history blog with anecdotes about history that are often surprising.

Redesigning Sarah – a design blog that is always beautiful and a great source for inspiration.

Xanax or Running Shoes? – an honest take on life as a working mom.

Chai Thoughts – my friend’s beautiful blog about life, photography, family, and inspiration.

Dear Photograph – I can’t even summarize this one. You must go check it out.

Jeeze, Julia! – a delightfully whimsical view into one woman’s life and style.

2 Sleeping Babies – a friend’s blog about motherhood and all that it entails.

With a Little Pixie Magic – another friend’s blog who writes about a little of everything in life that just takes a little magic.

Hope you find all of these blogs as intriguing as I do, and show everyone a little love while you’re there!

Advertisements

The Real Cost of Cheap

Today I found myself ruminating on the ideas of durability and quality versus availability and cheapness. We come across this dilemma rather frequently in our daily lives. Something breaks or wears out and we are faced with the decision of whether to spend a little now and pretty much guarantee that we’ll spend it again in the not so distant future, or spend a bit more now for a quality item that we know will stand the test of time. In the long-term, of course it’s a better investment to opt for quality, but who has the extra money to spend? If things break around our house, usually it’s not part of the planned budget and too often, cheap is the only option. But sometimes I wonder, why is cheap an option at all?  It never used to be. If a craftsman built something, they built it to last. They took pride in what they had made. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it had to be any more expensive to make. It it was just made with care rather than the understanding (and often the hope) that the buyer would most likely chuck it in a few years and buy a new one. Plastic and prefab have since replaced wood and steel. Machines have replaced hands. And because there is such a dramatic difference in quality, there ought to be a significant difference in price, right? Even if it didn’t really cost that much more to make. And no one seems to consider the fact that all of these products that are made to be discarded and replaced year after year end up in landfills and never biodegrade.

But what is the solution if you can’t afford the quality that used to be affordable and now seems to be elite? My solution is usually to search for second-hand or slightly damaged or refurbished items that still, despite their age or scratch-n-dent appearance, stand out against their cheap counterparts as objects of beauty and enhanced functionality. And, this way, I also reduce waste by buying things that others have discarded or no longer need. For instance, our coffee maker broke this week. A problem that needed to be remedied ASAP, since it was creating very crabby parents in the morning. But for the last decade, it seems, I have been buying a new coffee maker every couple of years because that’s about as long as the $30-$40 machines last. And I was tired of this cycle. Particularly because, when I was growing up, we had the same coffee maker for at least a decade because it was made to last, it was a Bunn. But I certainly didn’t want to spend $200-$300 dollars on a new coffee maker. (Let me rephrase that, I wanted to, but I have MANY higher priorities for that kind of money.) Even though the five machines I’ve already bought over the last 10 year (at approximately $45 a piece) add up to the same amount and created 5 times the waste! So I searched Overstock and Craigslist and Amazon‘s used sellers and found an Amazon warehouse deal of a new Bunn coffee maker in perfect condition but with damaged packaging for $65 – only $20 more than I would’ve spent on a cheap one that I’d have to replace again in a couple of years. Score!

Another example of this is my son’s tricycle. You can find any number of cheap plastic tricycles and big wheels out there whose plastic cracks, colors fade, and seats fall off within a couple of years. Or you could spend a hundred dollars on a nice steel, Radio Flyer Trike that will last through every single one of your children. But I don’t spend that kind of money on my toddler very easily. So I found one on Craigslist for $15 whose owner’s only son “never really liked it that much and barely rode it.” Sold!

So, let this encourage you to seek out quality and stop encouraging the production and sale of goods that we know are made to be quickly replaced. Even if you have to cut some corners or bruise your pride a little bit to get it, it will be well worth it in the long run. And, who knows, we might just change the ideals of our society in the process!

Out With the Old, In With the New!

In a season marked by the giving and receiving of gifts, I am overcome today by a need to purge and clean as all the new stuff enters my house with no place to live and every closet and cupboard filled to capacity. Which begs the question – if we have to get rid of old stuff to make room for new stuff, how much stuff do we really need? Are we cultivating an attitude of simplicity and gratitude in ourselves and our children? Or one of excess and extravagance? Now, as I have mentioned before in a couple of posts, I don’t thing that gift giving is purely about satisfying needs. If it was, we would all get Hoovers and underwear for Christmas. Instead, giving gifts is a physical demonstration of the thoughtfulness that emanates from love. If our holiday gifts showed such thoughtfulness and were messages of caring and love, than they were a success and a worthy investment. If, however, they were just an accumulation of things because it’s the time of year to accumulate things, than they were a waste.

All that being said, I am grateful for the motivation and incentive to cleanse my house and my cupboards of unnecessary clutter. It has been a long time in the making. My boss once shared with us at a company luncheon that he and his wife make it a habit to go through their things once a year and get rid of anything that they hadn’t used in the previous year. Having lived in the same place for the last 3.5 years and never purged or rearranged, I’ve been drawn to this idea ever since he shared it. I’m sure my fire is fueled by nesting instincts as well, since Baby No. 2 will be making his début in 4.5 months. But regardless of the reason, nesting or staleness or Christmas, the time for “spring” cleaning has arrived and began today in earnest. I only made it through part of one room but already the pile marked for garage sale is substantial. Although I am exhausted and know I have a LONG way to go, this pile of no longer needed/wanted junk (or treasures to garage sale customers) makes me very happy. It is the beginning of greater order, more space, and enhanced simplicity. It is an opportunity to make some money from things we don’t need and benefit those who do. It is a change, no matter how small, that makes our home more livable. We’ll see how far I get in the coming weeks before the fire dies.

Finding the Perfect Gifts for Manly Men

Being someone who very much appreciates a thoughtful and personal gift, one that I know the giver bought out of a sense of love and connection, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to find these types of gifts for others. Especially for those I most care about. I want to find something that doesn’t just say, “I had to get you a gift, so here’s something kind of nice,” but rather, “I’ve been thinking and brainstorming for months to come up with something that I thought would be special to you and here’s what I’ve discovered.” This is why, for many of my holiday gifts, I opt for homemade. Because it is as much about the thought, preparation, and time investment as it is about the thing given. But for my Hubby, I ruminate for ages trying to come up with unique ideas that will speak to him –  things he will enjoy and not just end up as one more item gathering dust in a closet. This year I find myself a bit stumped. The trouble with Jonathan is that his most passionate interests are very specialized and VERY expensive. They are things I could not buy for him even if I could afford them because I don’t know enough about them to get the right thing. And yet they are the things he most wants. So half the time I feel like I ought to just give him the money to go buy his own gifts. But everything about that seems wrong to me. Contrary to the idea and purpose of thoughtful gift giving. So I brainstorm and search and ponder. This year’s searching has left me feeling… baffled. If you Google or Amazon search “gift ideas for men,” you get the most incredibly long list of complete crap.  Most of it associated with smoking, drinking, golf, and dirty, fifth-grade humor. Is this how our society views men? As juvenile, lazy partiers? (You can see this sentiment echoed in many popular sitcoms, where the male is the buffoon, the comic relief, the dufus, always in need of the woman to fix his blunders. What a shame. But this is an entirely separate blog post for a later date.)

All of these "gift ideas for men" were in the top 15 when I ran a search by that name in Amazon!

I don’t know about you all, but my man is worth far more than these types of kitschy, generalized assumptions about ignorant men. And I want him to know it when I hand him his gifts. So while trying to find other sources of inspiration, I decided to email the author of a blog that he follows and admires called The Art of Manlinesswhich reminds men that, even in today’s hyper-sensitive, feminist society, it is OK to be strong and manly and virtuous. I told him in my email that my husband was inspired by what he wrote to be a better man and that I, as well as many of his readers, might appreciate some manly suggestions for gifts this holiday season. He responded the same day with some thoughts and ideas as well as links to the gift lists he published for the last three years. It was very helpful and, I am happy to say, I think I have solved my quandary for my man’s presents this year. Since I appreciated his help so much, I decided to send his suggestions on to you. Hopefully you will find them as helpful as I did.

The Art of Manliness 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

The Art of Manliness 2009 Holiday Gift Guide

The Art of Manliness 2010 Holiday Gift Guide

Is it Kitsch or a Catch?

As a pseudo-artist myself, surrounded by a community of artists, I have traditionally found kitsch rather hard to stomach. Especially in large doses. However, yesterday, as I spent the afternoon perusing the many, MANY booths at the Canton Flea Market, I felt a certain solidarity with the community of craftsmen there and the simple, unassuming humanity that was exhibited in even the lowliest of their wares.

Sometimes it was the most ridiculous, the most kitschy of all the displays that made me stop and smile. That brought to mind images of country farmhouses and family gatherings. They were, perhaps, not as justifiably artistic as “real” art, but they were homey and comfortable, silly and nostalgic.

Maybe I am losing my standards in my old age, but I had more fun photographing these amazing examples of Americana surrounded by funnel cake trucks and snow cone stands, than I would have had in a stuffy gallery quietly making judgements about the authenticity of an abstract modern work (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

There was also something amazing about seeing an entire community come together to create something so immense. Every street anywhere near the downtown square was lined with booths and booths of craftsmen selling their wares. Proud of their merchandise because it stood apart from all the Made-in-China, Big-Box stuff we buy everyday and fill our houses with.

Customers and vendors alike partook in the frenzy of people eager to find something to give during the holidays that was not like everything else they already have. Something unique and hand-made. And kitsch or no, it was lovely.

And what did I bring home from this festival of craftsmanship, you may ask? I found three little gems that made me very happy:

Hand-made wooden toys! (And yes, I did buy my 2 1/2-year-old son a gun, and he LOVES it!)

A vegetable peeler hand-made in Switzerland, that I succumbed to buy after a very good salesman gave me a demonstration ;)

And a very long string of freshwater pearls that I could not resist at their $10 price tag.

And on the long walk back to my car, I couldn’t help but take this photo which demonstrated the intense southern-ness of the town in which the market took place. I don’t even know what chitterlings are, but I’m kind of afraid to ask.

Bon appetite and happy shopping!