The Short List: March

Even though we just marked the third anniversary of living in our home, we’re still learning a lot about the house. This especially holds true for the trees and plants that were here long before us. I’ve been making lots of walks about the back yard this spring, to check on how the various shrubs, plants and bulbs we planted in our big landscaping overhaul last year fared over the winter. I might be a very hands-off parent, but when it comes to things I spent money on and planted in the ground? I tend to helicopter. We lost a few small shrubs, mostly due to the dog as opposed to the elements, but overall things are looking good and spring has definitely sprung.

For as much as I pay attention to what’s blooming, I seem to have completely ignored something right under my nose. Perhaps it’s because for most of the year this big shrub, which sits just off our deck and steps from the back door, is nothing much to look at, really. It’s just a round, kind of boring bush. It grows right next to our grill, and I can’t tell you how many times each summer I stand there staring vacantly into its large green leaves. I had no idea what it was, and didn’t really care to know.

One day last fall I looked out onto the porch and smiled. Seemingly overnight, the nondescript bush had transformed into nature’s version of candy corn.

Witch Hazel Shrub in Fall

Had it done this every year? Or had I simply been to distracted to notice? And then late this winter, when the air hinted at spring but frost and the occasional snow were still making appearances, it sprouted these wispy, ribbonlike blooms. Again, how did I miss this show?

Untitled

It turns out it’s a witch hazel. And now that I know its name and the beauty it brings to my spring and fall days, you can bet I won’t ignore it any longer. Beyond helicopter parenting my plants, here are a few other things I’ve been into this month:

Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links.

Watching:

The kids and I tried Fuller House, but we just couldn’t get into it. Eli, having never watched the original series, didn’t understand it all. Elena and I missed the original feel of the show, and didn’t care for the new plot’s edgier topics. I am, however, thrilled to have HBO’s Togetherness back.  (I just learned it won’t be renewed for a third season, which is super disappointing.) And I’m trying to enjoy each and every episode of The Good Wife during this final season. I normally hate courtroom dramas, but I have loved that show from day one.

When Breath Becomes Air

I just finished two books within days of starting them: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and After You by Jojo Moyes. Look for full reviews in the next couple of weeks, but they were both very good. I’m off to the library this afternoon to replenish my stack of reads. For now I’ve got a fun YA book on my Kindle called This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. On the non-fiction side of things I’m slowly making my way through Love the House You’re In by Paige Rien and Hands Free Life by Rachel Macy Stafford. Eli and I just started Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins. It feels like our last several read-aloud have been full of rodents, so I think I’ll make sure our book features only people – no talking animals!

Loving:

These Dolce Vita booties were a total impulse buy when I was in NYC. I stopped into a Steve Madden store looking for something completely different, but the sales girl insisted I try these on. They were marked down to $39 from $200 – it would be a tragedy if I passed them up, she said. And so instead of sensible flats I walked away with heels. The crazy thing? I want to wear them all the time, and they keep showing up online when I’m not expecting it. Like in an outfit I’d pinned weeks earlier.

Or on The Mom Edit (my favorite resource for all things fashion). It’s like we were meant to be together!

Surfing:

I couldn’t agree more with “Why Parents of Teens Should Really Read YA.” I try to read at least one young adult book a month (I even picked one for my book club to read). Not only does it provide opportunities for great discussions and bonding with my own teen, there’s just some really amazing reads out there that you’ll miss if you dismiss the genre. If you’ve never picked up a YA book since you’re own YA days, get in touch and I’ll be happy to help you pick out something.

Speaking of young adults, I really appreciated this list of suggestions on how to raise happy teens. I think teens (especially girls) get a bad rap. They’re angry, moody, entitled and disrespectful, right? Sure, we have our days. But for the most part I love having a teenager in the house.

Drink up! Turns out that glass of red wine could good for weight loss. That’s my kind of diet!

What’s on your short list of favorite things right now?

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My Favorite Online Resources for Pretty Much Everything

When it comes to living in this digital age, it can feel like a modern-day Dickens novel:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness … we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …”

We have access to so much information (The best!), and yet how do we sift through all of it to get what we need? (The worst!) How do we figure out which resources to trust and which are full of nonsense? We have everything at our fingertips, and yet when we really need help, answers, advice or inspiration, it can feel like nothing quite fits.

The internet is obviously not one-size-fits-all, and I can’t claim that I’ve got it all figured out. However I do feel as if over the years I’ve been able to curate a list of trusted sources on the internet. I’m able to rely on these sites for the areas of my life in which I most often seek information. I recommend them so often to so many different people I thought it would be handy to have them all in once place.

As a reader, I hope you find at least one resource in this post that makes your information-loaded life just a little easier or brighter. I’ve included a brief description of why I love the particular site, as well as a link to an example of the kind of useful information that makes them so wonderful. And if you happen to stumble on this post and you’re responsible for creating the great content on the resources listed below? Thank you so very much! You make my life easier and brighter! Enjoy.

The best online resources for media, travel, fashion, food and home. These are my favorite places to turn online for advice and inspiration.

WHO I TURN TO ON THE INTERNET FOR ADVICE ON:

Movies, Shows, Apps & Media for Kids

Common Sense Media: I’ve been using this site for years, and it’s never let me down. Wondering if that latest release in theaters is too scary for kindergartners? Have fond memories of The Goonies, but wonder if language could be an issue? Search movie titles on Common Sense Media and they’ll give you detailed information on it all: consumerism, sex, violence, language and more. I’ve also used it to check out video games before purchasing them for Eli. Beyond reviews, the site is also a wealth of information and inspiration for how you can use media wisely in your family. I don’t subscribe to many newsletters, but I do receive the newsletter from CSM and almost always find something relevant and useful.

Example: The New Guide to Managing Media for Tweens and Teens

Books (For Kids)

Brightly: This lovely site, launched last year in partnership with Penguin Random House, is another bright spot in my inbox. The site is full of advice, inspiration and book recommendations to help parents grow lifelong readers. Whether you’re the parent of a toddler or a teen, you’ll find something of interest here. I’m always finding titles, old and new, to add to Elena and Eli’s reading lists. I especially enjoy the Brightly newsletter. Not only does it link to new content on the site (and you can tailor the newsletter for the age and stage of your own readers), but they always include some interesting links from around the web.

Example: 10 Books for Kids Who Only Want to Read Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Books (For Grownups)

Modern Mrs. Darcy: I’m relatively late to the MMD bandwagon, but now that I’m on it I wonder how I lived without her! I’m a big fan of Anne Bogel’s book recommendations for sure, but I love her writing about life and motherhood as well. Her site is very well organized, and her reviews are thorough and extremely helpful. I also highly recommend her new podcast, What Should I Read Next? It’s always entertaining and down-to-earth, and it never fails to send me to my To Be Read List to add yet another title.

Example: 11 Books That Are Better in the Spring

MomAdvice: You can find all kinds of great content on Amy Allen Clark’s blog, but for years she’s been my go-to resource for book recommendations. If she gives something 5 stars I know I need to read it! Amy reads lots of new releases, many before they’re published, so if you like to stay on top of the latest reads you’ll especially appreciate her reviews. I also enjoy her interviews with authors and tips for getting more reading time in a busy life.

Example: February 2016 Must-Reads

Travel

Pinterest: I know that it seems as if Pinterest would be a classic information-overload trap, however I find it extremely useful in planning trips. I can’t think of any other online resource where you can find so many unique resources for travel, whether it’s across the world or in your own city. My tip is to use keywords judiciously when searching. For example, instead of typing in “New York City,” type “New York City with Kids,” or “3 days in New York City,” or “Where to eat in Chinatown.” That will help both narrow down your results as well as home in on what’s most important in your travel experience. I always advise that you search as specific as possible, and if that doesn’t get the results you want then broaden your search.

Example: My Pinterest boards, of course! (I recently organized my travel boards to make them easier to search.)

Trip Advisor: I always turn to Trip Advisor when researching hotels and restaurants. I love all the filters: you can search by location, amenities, best for families, cost and more. Once you have your search parameters set you can sort them by their ranking or price. I don’t typically book my hotels through the site (I’ve always been able to get the same deal or better by calling the hotel directly), but it helps narrow down the choices to my top few and then I go from there. You can also search your destination for top restaurants and things to do. I find the reviews on Trip Advisor to be very thorough and helpful.

Fashion Advice

The Mom Edit: Fashion blogs are tough, and so very personal. Everyone’s style, life circumstances, age, budget and body size are so different, making it impossible to say one fashion site is THE one for you. I’ve subscribed to dozens, and this is the only one that’s stayed. I think that’s because Shana uses a team of moms as contributors, meaning you’ve got several different body types and styles to pick from. Sure, there’s plenty of stuff on here I would never wear, but the Mom Edit team often gives me ideas for ways to wear what I already have or ideas of a few pieces I could add that would take my style up a notch. The Dressing Room Selfies posts are my absolute favorites. (FYI, if you’re looking for Capsule Wardrobe inspiration, Mom Advice has that covered really well.)

Example: Athleta Dressing Room Selfies

Cooking

America’s Test Kitchen: I wrote a round-up post last year about why I make dinner and how I use different resources to make meal planning and meal prep easier. These suggestions were featured in that post, along with some others. I did want to post a quick update on America’s Test Kitchen. I recently received a full subscription to the website (Disclosure: I’m an affiliate.) and it’s been a game-changer. I still love and will never give up my cookbooks, but having the entire ATK archive in one place? Fantastic. If you’re looking for a huge resource of well-researched recipes in just about every category you can imagine, ATK is your one-stop shop. Consider me a life-time subscriber.

The Kitchn: The recipes on The Kitchn are top notch as well, but I also appreciate the extras on the site: tips on kitchen organization, meal planning, and just general advice on all things food related.

Example: How I Use Google Sheets for Grocery Shopping

Serious Eats: Serious Eats, despite the name, doesn’t take itself as seriously as ATK or The Kitchn. That doesn’t mean I don’t pin at least 20 recipes a month from their site! As I mentioned in my New York City post, their city food guides are fantastic, too. I especially love anything written by J. Kenzi Lopez-Alt for The Food Lab Series. Many of his well-researched recipes have become Meal-Plan All-Stars.

Example: Bar-Style Tortilla Pizza

Home Management and Design

Apartment Therapy: Apartment Therapy is also the home of The Kitchn, and I love them both for their clean, concise articles. There’s a ton of content on AT, and I probably only read less than 25% of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not adding value to my home life. They’ll often run a series of posts that are helpful in cleaning and organizing your home, such as the January Cure. I appreciate that they feature real homes that people of all walks of life live in, which gives me practical and useful inspiration for my own home.

Example: Living Room Geometry: the Basics of a Well-Balanced Room

Design Mom: I mentioned Design Mom in one of my book review posts, after reading Gabrielle Blair’s book How to Live With Kids: a Room-by-Room Guide. Like Mom Advice, Gabrielle’s blog is so much more than one thing (in this case, design), but this is an area where her content really shines for me. Her weekly series “Living With Kids” is always so interesting! I hate to pigeonhole this blog into one category, as I save and use the information from so many of her posts in my daily life … it’s a good one.

Example: Living With Kids

It’s your turn! Tell me about a resource you consistently turn to on the Internet and how it’s most helpful in your life.

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The Short List: January

Gas starter wood burning fireplace

Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links.

We’ve lived in our house going on three years this March. Up until November, we’d never used the fireplace. It had gas logs installed, and we hadn’t a clue how to operate them, or if it was even safe to do so. So we ignored them, and the fireplace became a dusty cobweb receptacle. This past year, we got a hankering for fires. I blame our Ohio friend, Mike. Whenever we stay at his house in the winter, he has a fire going. His living room is just about the coziest place imaginable. We had a fireplace and masonry company come out, take out the gas logs and install a wood burning gas starter. It’s all the ease of gas with the pleasure of a crackling, wood burning fire. You just turn the gas on and ignite the burner bar under the logs, wait for the kindling to catch fire, and then turn off the gas. We’ve been using it often, and it’s making this Midwest winter bearable. (Indianapolis readers, if you have any fireplace or masonry needs I highly recommend Chimney and Masonry Outfitters.)

Whether you’re sitting by your own roaring fire, cozied up with candles, or simply basking in the glow of your computer, here’s what I’ve been into this month.

Watching:

Last week my mom treated my sister and I to dinner and a movie for my birthday. We saw “Brooklyn,” and I can’t stop raving about it to anyone who will listen. It’s nominated for the Best Picture in this year’s Oscars. Saoirse Ronan, who plays the lead role, is nominated for Best Actress. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love with the characters, and you’ll be so glad you saw it!

Elena and I have watched this about a billion times, and we laugh just as hard every time. “Nice, Ron.”

Reading:

Later this week I’ll share my picks for the 2016 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. I was in a bit of a slump in December, trying to slodge through some books I wasn’t loving. My 2016 reading resolution is to stop reading books I don’t like! Seems obvious, but I have a hard time giving up on a book. The good news is I’m off to a good start this year now that I’m done with those books.

I’m listening to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and absolutely loving it. I’m so close to the end and I’m having a hard time putting it down when listening isn’t an option! It came highly recommended by several trusted sources, and all of them raved about the audio version. It’s narrated by none other than Wil Wheaton, who is perfection for the character of Wade.

I kind of slacked off in requesting and reading advanced reading copies from Netgalley, and it’s something I want to get back into this year. I tend to read a lot of books that have been out a while. In 2016 I want to read a more balanced mix of new and older titles. I’d also love to be able to give you guys a heads up on new books I think you’ll enjoy. I’m about halfway through Liar by Rob Roberge (available February 9). I’ll let you know what I think!

On the non-fiction front I’m reading Brené Brown’s Rising Strong. I found her earlier book, Daring Greatly, to be both throught-provoking and inspiring. I have high hopes for this title.

Eli and I are reading Daniel Pinkwater’s The Hoboken Chicken Emergency. It’s almost as old as me (1977), but I’ve never read it. Early reports from Eli are good: it’s very silly, and he’s belly-laughed through multiple scenes.

Loving:

For Christmas Mike and the kids got me a Kindle. For years I didn’t think I wanted one. I’m not a book buyer, and I love the sensation of a book in my hands. Two things happened that made me reconsider. One: all the Netgalley titles are delivered electronically. I’ve been reading them on the Kindle app, which is fine, but I really hate reading on my phone or iPad in bed. The glow messes with me, and I’m too tempted to check Instagram one more time before turning out the light. Two: I discovered that I could borrow ebooks from my library, and many times the most popular titles are available as ebooks more quickly than the hard copies. Nearly a month in and I’m happy to report that I love my Kindle. It’s great for nighttime reading, and it’s so small that it’s easier to toss in my purse than lugging around a book. And because I always have the Kindle or my phone (with the Kindle app) available, I have something available to read no matter where I am.

State of Indiana Beer Cap Map

The other gift I’m loving is my birthday gift from Mike and the kids: an Indiana beer cap map! I’ve been fighting a cold and haven’t done much drinking since the beginning of the year, but I can’t wait to start filling it up with beer caps. Maybe you can help with a beer cap dilemma that’s been on my mind. Do I only fill it with Indiana beers? Or is it cool to add cool caps from beers I love, no matter where they’re brewed?

Surfing:

As President Obama’s final term comes to a close, I can’t help sharing these images of him interacting with kids. No matter your politics, I think they’ll make you smile.

Are your teens on Snapchat? I wouldn’t allow Elena to have an account until very recently. We had a long discussion about why she wanted it and how she would use it, and I came to see it in a different light. Shortly after I gave the app the green light, I read this article on why kids love Snapchat and felt even better about my decision.

Made up words that perfectly describe your everyday life. As a matter of fact, I just woke up from a napcident.

What’s on your short list of favorite things right now?

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