Hello there!

If this is your first visit here, please go to my blog's new home, here. You will find more updated posts and if you are lucky, I might just be running a giveaway :-)

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XO, Elisa

P.S. This blog's comment are now closed. One more reason to visit me on WP ;-)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Unlikely Housewife vs. Shopaholic

I have just read the last book in the Shop-a-holic series by Sophie Kinsella, (the best book of the series IMO). While I found Rebecca funny in a "she reminds me of my best friend but not myself" way, which is a peculiar feeling of relief and smugness, there are definitely some things I share with her, which undoubtedly frustrate my husband (or at least leave him perplexed) as much as they did hers. As much as I consider myself fairly gender neutral, I do believe some of these things are specific to women and are a total mystery to most men:

1. That while on a road trip, half the fun is stopping along the way at "curiosity" markets, any kind of little boutique that isn't part of a chain (hence specific to the area being visited - hello, local culture) and most stores with a "sales" sign on the window. So what if we arrive a bit later? The journey is not just about the destination, you know.

2. The appeal of the following items (and why you must have at least some, and add more to your collection on a regular basis): charm bracelets, bangles, everyday bags, special occasion bags, cute everyday shoes, awesome special occasion shoes.

3. How it can take days, or even weeks, to find the perfect outfit and accessories for a special occasion.

4. Why it's fun to try on clothes, shoes, jewellery with your best friend, even if neither of you is planning to buy any.

5. How you can have a full closet and still retain the right to say "I have nothing to wear for this!"

6. How hearing the shop assistant call you "ma'am" after an afternoon of great shopping can totally kill your buzz.

7. Why it is totally acceptable to wear killer-but-fabulous heels.

8. How one can spend 45 minutes inside Sephora and still come out and say "I didn't get to browse properly".

9. Why on Earth an 8-year old girl could prefer going to Sephora than going to Toys-R-Us.

10. How come that "shop till you drop" sounds like heaven to me but like a nightmare to him, despite the fact that my "dropping point" comes several hours after his. And how doing it in a fabulous outfit (as opposed to tennis shoes and "comfy clothes") is half the fun. And that combining the above with sales season closely resembles a religious experience.

Now, based on that most of you reading will think that I am a total flake. However I can tell you there are also several points that make me very much unlike Rebecca Brandon (né Bloomwood) on which my husband and I agree:

1. That if the choice is between paying the phone bill and buying that very cute cashmere sweter on sale, the phone bill comes first.

2. That ignoring a problem doesn't make it disappear (be it credit card bills or a disagreement with your best friend/husband/etc).

3. That it isn't a good idea to own several different store-specific credit cards.

4. That it's never a good idea to go to sleep at night while still mad at each other after a fight.

And in closing, something we FINALLY agree on:
5. That while surprises are lovely, it is better to pick a less-surprising but sure-to-be-liked item from someone's wishlist, than risk by gifting something that has never been mentioned.

Yes, I'm aware that one list has 10 points and the other only 5, but hey, balance and relationships are always a work in progress, aren't they? There's always room for improvement.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Here friend, have some stinky bread

Last week dh came home from the office and plopped a goo-filled ziploc bag on the counter, and handed me a sheet of paper. He said our friend R. send it for me. A little grossed out, I started reading the instructions for Amish Friendship Bread. Two things became apparent to me:
1. This was sort of like chain-mail, except you can't make it disappear by pressing Ctrl+D. Sure, I could throw it away, but that would be bad Karma.
2. There was no way this was an Amish recipe (read further to see why I came to this conclusion).
3. I'd have to make the damn bread.

Here is a chronicle of my Amish Bread progress:
Day 1: more than happy to follow recommendation to do nothing - I'm happy to touch the stuff as little as possible.

Day 2: mushed the bag.

Day 3: mushed the bag.

Day 4: started mushing the bag, caught a whiff of an acidic smell coming from it, re-read instruction sheet which reassured me not to worry because "it's normal for batter to rise, bubble and ferment". Yuck.

Day 5: mushed the bag, wondered if this whole process is at all sanitary - are we all going to get food poisoning from this concotion that's fermenting on my counter?

Day 6: added milk, flour and sugar and mushed the bag - added only about 1/4 of recommended quantity (read further to know why).

Day 7: mushed the bag, tried to fight the nausea caused by the smell.

Day 8: mushed the bag, decided to Google "Amish Friendship Bread" and got about 700 pages of results. Wondered if I was the only one in the universe not know about this. Then Googled "Amish Friendship Bread, gross" and got about 40 pages. Felt better about being grossed out by this thoughful token of friendship as I was obviously not the only one.

Day 9: mushed bag. Dreading backing bread tomorrow. But then, at least it'll be over and there won't be any more mushing.

Day 10: armed with a gas mask, poured contents of bag in glass bowl and added milk, sugar and flour. Only added about 1/4 of recommended amount - no way I'm spreading this pestering concotion by forcing it on my friends! Surely that is as thoughful (if not more) as actually sharing this.

Proceeded to put other needed ingredients on the counter: eggs, milk, flour, apple sauce, seems pretty straightforward up until the last ingredient on the list... instant vanilla pudding?!?

Now, that just seems wrong for so many reasons. Surely Amish have no packaged instant vanilla pudding in their pantries. So this recipe is an urban legend. An urban junk food legend. Is there a Snoop-type website for stuff like this?

Back to Google, this time in search of an alternative recipe. Found it! (Also found recipe for , despite warning that "only the Amish know how to create the starter" - I told you it was an urban legend!)

Opened all windows, mixed ingredients, baked bread.

Gotta admit, it smelled pretty good while it was baking. Which prompted me to ignore my fear of food poisoning and taste some (never could resist freshly baked bread!). It tastes ok actually - on the other hand, pretty much anything will taste good with when you add that much sugar to it.

In closing: 10 days of mushing smelly goo for a not-so-special result means I am NOT likely to repeat the experiment. If you see someone coming towards you with a ziploc bag filled with goo RUN!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Oh Boston, how I love thee

Just got back from last night. Could there be a more gorgeous town on the East Coast? I'm just 30 minutes outside of Manhattan (yes, yes, I'm a Westchester mom, so sue me), yet I am totally in love with Boston.

We first went to Boston in late February, but it was so cold that we coulnd't walk around at all, and ended up spending time at the hotel pool and around various kids' hangouts like the Boston Children's Museum, as well as driving around to see famous Boston spots from the car - not what we had planned. So I have been gently suggesting (some might say "bugging", but we woulnd't would we?) to dh that we go back once the weather got warmer, because it really seemed like a lovely town.

So a few weeks ago my lovely husband surprised me with hotel reservations in Cambridge for Memorial Day weekend - he's a total pearl, I know. Told ya he's the real Prince Charming!

Anyway, we were there for 2 and half days, and I would have loved to stay another week! Yesterday afternoon we were walking around in Newbury Street, after having spent an hour or so chilling at the so the girls could run around a bit; they were enjoying an ice cream and I was enjoying the lovely brownstones turned into cafés and boutiques, and dh asked "So - have we gotten Boston out of our system?" to which I replied "Of course not - this is a great place".

And it's true! A city with such character, nice architecture and monuments, cultural hot spots like awesome museums and galleries, great boutiques and stores, great restaurants, and still easy to navigate both on foot and by car - what's better than that?

Also, they have lots of stuff for kids: this weekend alone there were: a kyte festival, an outdoor entertainment festival, Earth Fest 2008 (with an entire section dedicated to kids) and of course the standbys liked the Children's Museum, the playground at Boston Common, movie theaters (Kung Fu Panda is running!) and so on. We were lucky enought catch the Outdoor Performer Festival - all around Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market all you could see was crowds gathered around some very talented dancers, singers, contorsionists and other entertainers, and even more food stalls, balloons and market stands than usual. It was really fun, and the girls had a blast!

If you are ever on the East Coast, a visit to Boston is a must.
If you are travelling with children, here are my recommendations:
1. try to visit in late spring or summer
2. get the Boston Eyewitness Travel Guide, which is the best I think. I adore bookstores so I didn't complain after sitting on the floor of the Travel section in Barnes & Nobles for a few hours browsing through the city guides, but I woulnd't recommend it to everyone - you might get sick of it and grab the first one you see. This is definitely the best one, I also got one for our trip to D.C..
3. A few days before your trip, visit Boston Mamas, where you can find lots of child-related resources for Boston and surroundings: a Calendar of activities, shows, etc happening during your stay, including stuff to do if the weather isn't nice or if you just want to lay low; listings for great stores, boutiques and fabulous restaurants and bakeries; and if you are actually moving there, Boston Mamas is the perfect place to find local parents, so you and your tot can make new friends!

Friday, May 16, 2008

5 Things I've learned since becoming a mom

1. Yoga is very applicable to motherhood: the breathing especially will help during labor and later on it will help you to keep your head from exploding when you find your toddler using your most expensive face product to draw on the kitchen window.

2. Breastfeeding isn't an effective birth control method - however a screaming infant who doesn't sleep more than 30 minutes in a row is a VERY effective one.

3. Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but a homemade gift certificate for "daily showers for the next 3 months guaranteed" is also a great push present.

4. People who criticize me for leaving such a big age gap between my two daughters (6 1/2 years) are usually childless, have only one child and aren't sure about having another one, or have much bigger issues to handle with their own children.

5. My husband is the real Prince Charming.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Brunch in a crunch

Belated Happy Mother's Day to everyone! (well, just moms really)

The challenge of this past weekend: organizing a made-from-scratch packed with healthy foods while being away most of Saturday.

I LOVE brunches. They are easy, because you have a bunch of food and everyone just picks what they like and eats as much or as little as they want. There is a lot less fussing about: no getting up to serve seconds or get the next course, no risk of serving something your guests don't like after slaving over the stove for hours... in other words, much more relaxed.

The trick is doing your homework. In the week before a brunch I like to browse through some of my cookbooks to find the right recipes. I pick several ones based on season, guests, etc and then I start narrowing them down, because I tend to make way too much food. (Please, I'm Italian, of course I make too much food - not having enough food is an Italian hostess' nightmare!)

For this particular brunch, some of the friends I invited have food allergies so I wanted to make sure I served foods that everyone could eat without worrying about the ingredients. Battling with food allergies is really a pain in the butt. Imagine going out with your family and having to avoid all baked goods, all entrées containing dairy, all creamy salad dressings, all coffee drinks containing dairy, ice cream parlors... it really narrows down your choices and you can never really relax when eating out unless you are in one of those somewhat uncommon restaurants that cook allergen-free (or at least mark their menu items with symbols of allergens). I really like this family, they are wonderful people and I have been looking forward to having them over, so it was very important to me that they could totally relax and eat whatever they felt like during brunch.

So for that purpose, I browsed through the following cookbooks:
- Recipes for Dairy-Free Living
- The Whole Foods Allergy cookbook

and then of course I had my current favorite dessert cookbooks on hand:
- Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World
- Baking with Agave Nectar

I have a list of basics I usually like to serve for brunch, varying some of the recipes - however that list had to be modified to fit the allergen-free bill. I also wanted things I could make either the day before or the morning of the brunch so I could sit and eat with everyone else, so I decided to serve:
- fresh fruit
- coffee, teas, juice, water, white wine
- jams, buttery spread
- spelt muffins, spelt bread (my friend brought home-made cinnamon buns)
- organic cold cuts, smoked salmon
- creamy scrambled eggs with chives
- Waldorf salad
- my vegan quiche (you can find the recipe here)
- for dessert: agave-sweetened vegan cupcakes (I can hear you say yuck all the way here, you miscreants.... but these are so good and rich I promise you'll eat your hat as well as my cupcakes if you ever taste them!)

Next: make a shopping list based on the dishes I wanted to serve and shop for the ingredients (ok, dh shopped).

Little twist: I wasn't going to be home on Saturday for most of the day... On Saturday I went to the event (the one in New York). I had been looking forward to the event and purchased my ticket back in March so I didn't want to give it up for brunch prep. I looked at the recipes and decided what I should do on Saturday night and what on Sunday night.

I got home on Saturday around 5.30, greeted my family, thanked my lovely husband for holding the fort on his own so I could have some "me time", took a shower and got started. This is the Saturday night list:
- bake cupcakes
- bake muffins
- let cool, make dinner
- ice cupcakes
- cook chicken (for salad)
- steam broccoli and cook potatoed (for quiche)

And this is what was left to do on Sunday:
- prepare salad dressing, slice fruits & veg (for Waldorf Salad)
- sautee veggies, mash potatoes, assemble quiche (you can find the recipe here)
- slice the fruit, assemble fruit platter
- brew coffee, boil water for tea (I like to fill a thermos pitcher for brunches)
- prepare deli meat platter
- make eggs
- prepare the table

Of course I had to also fit in taking a shower and getting ready and also some last-minute cleaning (it is me, afterall).

Anyway, the brunch was lovely, we had fun, we chilled, everybody enjoyed the food and we were also lucky with the weather, so the kids could play outside afterwards. Then we went back in and had coffee and dessert.

Have I mentioned how much I love brunches?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

When Stella is Around, no glass is half-full... not for long at least

I never pictured myself having just one child, not after having Sarah. I also never pictured myself with four or five, but I always thought I’d end up with two or three—I think it was just a given that we’d have another child. After all, Sarah was such a little bucket of joy and giggles that it just seemed natural that one day we’d want another one of these wonderful creatures. Sarah was cute, friendly, smiled a lot, slept fairly well, was never super fussy about food, was affectionate and played nicely both alone and with other children—in other words, she was the kind of child who inspired other people to have children of their own.

It took me a few years before I was ready to have a second child though—no matter how lovely and low-maintenance your child is, parenting is still a lot of work, particularly for first time parents; and in my case, I had given up my career to have Sarah, so I was determined to enjoy her first years in full, never missing a moment, a “first,” participating to everything she did. (I know, it sound a little obsessive, so sue me.)

Then when Sarah was six she started school and all of a sudden she seemed so grown up. She started writing, reading, learning math, and had a bunch of friends she wanted to do stuff with. She definitely wasn’t my baby anymore. To my surprise, I didn’t mourn that—I didn’t feel like I had missed anything, so although I felt like the years had flown by, I was ok with it and welcomed the change. As part of it, I accepted a part-time job at a friend’s firm two days a week—Sarah was in school until 4 p.m., then she spent a couple of hours with her grandma until my husband and I got home around 7 p.m. She seemed to really enjoy this time with her grandma and never had a problem with this arrangement, and I found that I thrived by making myself useful outside the house. It was a welcome change to be reminded of my talents that weren’t related to parenting, almost as if I rediscovered my value as a person, because I was useful not just at home, but to the outside worlds, too! (Or at least part of it.) I started enjoying my time at home more, too. And gradually, I found that I was ready to have another child. My husband was on board of course, he had been ready for years!

What happened next influenced not only our plans but also our lives in the months that followed: my wonderful, beloved mother in law found out that her cancer had returned with a vengeance. I stopped working, both because she couldn’t baby-sit regularly while doing her cures and because I wanted to be there for her, to help her, cook for her if needed and just spend time together. After several months she lost her fight with cancer, but not before she taught us one more lesson about courage, love, and strength. It was such a blessing to have her in our lives, that I consider myself lucky for that, even though it makes me sad that she was taken away so early.

We decided to celebrate her life with life, and started trying for a baby. I got pregnant right away and had a wonderful pregnancy, despite having to move to another town in my first trimester. When we found out we were having another girl, Sarah was incredibly happy and excited about having a little sister! And she was even more excited when Stella was born.
From the very beginning, Stella was different from Sarah: she was more vocal, more interested in food (including nursing) and we seemed to share a very special bond. I still don’t know why that is, but Stella is really a Mommy girl.

Fast-forward to now: Stella is almost two years old. She has her own personality, very charming but also stubborn, very affectionate but also sometimes clingy, and though it all, absolutely hilarious. She is a talker, she imitates everything and everyone, giggles, plays jokes and makes it impossible to be mad at her when she does something she shouldn’t. And that is the unfortunate thing: that happens A LOT. Stella is constantly emptying bags, boxes, baskets, and cabinets; if she can get into the pantry she can make a serious mess, what with all the jars of nuts, spices, sea salt, and pasta, and she pulls DVDs and CDs off the shelf and throws them on the floor several times a week (it used to be several times A DAY, so I am busy counting my blessings—as well as my few still-intact CD cases).

This morning, I got sidetracked checking my e-mail. Sarah was on a school trip and all of a sudden I felt like I should check the list we had received from the teacher because I had the feeling I had forgotten to give her something important (for the record, I had not, she had all she needed). I was logging off when I realized that Stella had left the office when I was opening my e-mail and she had been quiet since (just about three minutes). As mothers of toddlers know, this is never a good sign. I got up, and ran to the living room (where she had already emptied my expensive anti-cellulite cream over the sofa earlier this morning)—not there. So without checking the bedrooms, I went into the kitchen, and there she was, sitting on the floor and spreading some kind of white powder all over. The only sound I could make was “oh,” I was surprised that she had gotten hold of—what was that? flour? Confectioner’s sugar? Then I took a few steps forward, and I knew. It wasn’t powder, it was a very thick cream, the Weleda diaper cream , to be exact, spread over one-third of my kitchen floor and on some of the chairs (and of course all over Stella’s clothes and hair).

How, how did she open it? And where did she get it? While I carried Stella off to take a bath and then proceeded to clean up the sticky, fatty, thick cream I was brainstorming, trying to figure out where she got the diaper cream—was there one in the kitchen for some reason? But that’s not the point—the point is that if it’s someplace she can climb on (table, chair, sofa or any piece of furniture near one of the above) or reach by standing on her tippytoes (she has grown so much, my baby!) or by reaching into a cabinet (again—how, how does she open them?) then it’s not safe. Not for her, for whatever she will empty out—because while Sarah was undoubtedly a great climber, Stella is resourceful—well at least that’s a quality that will come in handy in her life.So when I am about to tear my hair out and try to figure out how to take the cellulite cream off the sofa covers or the diaper cream off the chair cushions and from between the floor tiles, I can tell myself that these are learning experiences and that she is getting smarter because of it. If you don’t think that’s true, please don’t tell me.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Do you FLY?

Just because I am an unlikely housewife, doesn't mean I haven't tried to embrace it. I have been trying for years!

Every now and then I get a burst of renewed motivation to become a domestic goddess. Afterall, I tell myself, I'm well organized elsewhere (almost anal-retentive, in fact), a good cook and a decent hostess. Surely I must have it in me to go full circle and become an all-around domestic goddess!?

When this happens, it's like I'm on a mission - something that less-than-vaguely recalls going on a new diet: I find a system that sounds like just the thing for me, get the book, read it cover to cover, get all excited, start, then somewhere between the first week and the second (if I even get that far) I realize that it doesn't really work for me.

Feng shui was the exception: I stuck with that for a couple of months, and my house never looked better - afterall, what better motivation to clean house than to think you are bringing in more money, more love, more friends, better health? I finally felt useful, yay!

Sadly, it only lasted as long as I thought black hat feng shui was the way to go. When I found out that it was a "Westernized, simplistic version of the doctrine that only vaguely resembles the real thing" (as one poo-pooing feng shui practitioner put it) I lost all motivation. I looked into the real thing, but it was way too complicated and it totally turned me off.

I kept hearing about the , so I gave it a try. But it just didn't do it for me. First of all, I lived in Switzerland at the time so the messages arrived at weird times for me. But even without the time zone issue, all the reminders were kind of getting on my nerves already after only a few days. Add to that the fact that she recommends you start your day by "putting on your shoes", (which is a blasphemy in Switzerland, where wearing outside shoes in the house it's frowned upon for hygiene reasons) and I really didn't feel like I could use it.

However many people swear by it, and through the years I tried another couple of times, to no avail. The last time, I decided maybe buying the book was a better way to go, so I got my copy of Sink Reflections, by Marla Cilley, the FLYLady. The book is much more helpful than the e-mails IMO, and I definitely got something out of it. Plus it's always there so you can always give it another go :-)
There were some things I didn't like, i.e. the somewhat abundant religious references, which are an instant turnoff for me generally speaking - but overall the book is helpful so I'm not disappointed.

This is the stuff I got out of it that I think I can use:
- make a list of daily chores: the bare minimum to do every day
- make a list of weekly chores: this list should include things like dusting, vacuuming and changing the bedsheets, but no in-depth cleaning
- divide the house in areas and dedicate 1 week a month to each area; every day spend a little time in that area (in addition to the daily chores)
- make checklists of things that need to be done in the area so you have a guideline and can spend your little time there constructively
- keep all your lists, checklists, areas etc in a binder, somewhere that's easily accessible
- use a timer to help you do things faster: for instance give yourself 15 minutes to unload and re-load the dishwasher
- when you need to do "emergency cleaning" (like when you are expecting visitors and the place is a mess) work for 45 minutes, using your timer and making mini-projects, and rest for 15 minutes every hour; also, change area every so often to avoid "area burnout" and to make sure you spend some time everywhere
- don't hold on to stuff: make sure you regularly get rid of anything that is broken or simply not being used

The daily vs. weekly, zones, checklists, binder and de-cluttering I already had from my "feng shui period", but the rest is new to me and very good IMO. My favourite thing I think is the concept of "hot spot": you know those pesky areas that just seem to attract clutter? Come on, think: every house has them. For us it's the coffee table, the office desk and the pillows under the bay window in the kitchen. Marla recommends that you hit your hot spots regularly to make sure they are clutter-free.

Now, onto the hard part: actually DOING the stuff. Right now I'm still at the "emergency cleaning" stage, and trying to implement dailies.
I tell you, it's really like yo-yo dieting: if you are an all-or-nothing person, the plan either fits you perfectly or it's just extremely hard to keep motivated to follow it.

I was wondering if I might get more out of the book that inspired Marla Cilley, Sidetracked Home Executives, when I read this review:
"If you are a SHE because you're a frozen perfectionist, someone who never cleans because you don't have time to do it RIGHT, this is not the book for you. The card-file is wonderful - except that I'm entirely capable of spending the next 6 months making sure I've got the file system perfect without ever actually doing any of the stuff on it."
Boy, that sure sounds like me. I guess I'll stick with what I have!
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