"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
_ William Morris
, 19th century craftsman, designer, writer

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reflections From the Kiddie Pool

With a slightly peeling nose, red shorts and aviator sunglasses, my sixteen-year-old son Dylan looks every inch the lifeguard he is, and a few days ago, he made his first, dramatic rescue --in the baby pool.

 The water in the round, two-foot pool was rough that day as the toddlers splashed and created a whirling vortex by joining forces and walking round-and-round in the same direction. Tobias a good-natured little kid with curly red hair and cherubic blue eyes had abandoned the kickboard he usually carries and was trailing a small boat beside him as he circled. He walked faster and faster, zooming the boat through the chop with one chubby hand. As his sturdy little legs navigated the growing current he began to lose his balance. The toddler windmilled his arms, which lifted his feet off the bottom and tipped him forward face down into the water -where he stayed. Since Tobias is a regular, all the lifeguards know he hates to get his face wet (hence the constant kickboard) -but the more he windmilled the more horizontal he got.

Dylan hopped into the pool in water up to his knees, righted Tobias and set him on the side to catch his breath. "Mom," he told me, "if he just would have put his legs down and stood up he would have been fine. He could stand." The problem is, in the excitement and rush of the current, he forgot. Wow. How many times has that happened to me?
It struck me that sometimes we grown ups might forget to "stand" when things start going sideways in our own lives; when the current of whatever we are caught up in gets the best of us and fear takes over -when, maybe it's not as deep as we think. 

For me, it's usually my friends, my family and my faith (not necessarily in that order) who come to the rescue, lift me up and set me straight. I am grateful for the lifeguards who watch over me and give me the strength and the confidence to wade back in and try again.
After a brief interlude poolside, Tobias bravely got back into the water and resumed boating. I like to think I would do the same. The sun was shining, the lifeguard was on duty and all was right with the world.

Good luck today, be safe out there, and remember not to run on the pool deck. I hear the lifeguard is a real stickler...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

BlogHer Countdown

Do you know the way to San Jose?...

Right about now thousands of bloggers are pondering that exact question. Well, that, and also what to wear. It's time for the 10th annual BlogHer Conference, this year being held in the techie heart of Silicon Valley. 

It's a circling of the laptops, a pilgrimage of the tribe, a search for shared truths, knowledge...and just maybe commercial sponsorship and book deals. Fingers crossed.

Personally, for my own maiden voyage to the blogging center of the universe, I am hoping to learn how to make my "share" buttons bigger and enjoy what I am sure will be a hilarious and insightful keynote address by blogger and author, Jenny Lawson (pictured here) AKA, The Bloggess. No pressure, Jenny. 
In preparation, I have uploaded this year's BlogHer app on my phone, perused the Blogher Guide, confirmed reservations and read reviews of previous conferences by bloggers who have been there, done that. From what I can surmise, it appears what was once a cozy get together of like-minded cyber souls has morphed into something bigger, shinier and arguably more powerful. Since none of us really hanker for sweeping change of any sort, reviews of the upgraded event are mixed.
To combat the clique-ishness and sense of overwhelm that invades most established conferences, BlogHer has ramped up opportunities for Skype meet-and-greets with other attendees in advance, and initiated a BlogHer Buddy System -designed to pair up new initiates with veteran conference goers.

Since my natural tendency veers toward introvert, I initially thought I would adopt a default, lone wolf approach -until I read the bios of a few of the volunteer Buddies: Patricia A. Patton is the blogger behind Boomer Wizdom, a trained linguist who once sold wild salmon burgers on the Jersey Shore and recently launched the website OnlineGrannies.com for "modern grandmothers"; Mona Darling from Darling Propaganda spent 20 years as a dominatrix before become a mommy blogger and life coach; Ananda Leek of Digital Sisterhood is a former lawyer who now describes her mission as, "Empowering U2BU through creativity coaching, Reiki, self-care, social media, volunteerism, and yoga.” And Alexandra Rosas of Good Day Regular People, is a first generation American who has performed as a national storyteller with TheMoth, and is the Grand StorySLAM champion for Milwaukee.
Who wouldn't want to meet these people?
I immediately checked out their blogs, signed up for their Twitter feeds -and plan on stalking them, seeking them out, at "chat groups" on site at the conference. Watch for selfies here...
Bottom line, it should be interesting. Do I know the way to San Jose? Yes. The question I most look forward to answering, however, is where will I go from there?

Stay tuned -and follow my progress on Twitter @ThsAmericanHome. Wish me luck peeps! Bigger buttons here I come!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Life's a Beach: Sandcastles

 It's July 22 have you built a sandcastle yet?

If not, there's still time to grab a shovel, a bucket and head to the beach.

When you do, pack sunscreen and a few tips I learned from Bruno, a professional sandcastle craftsman (really!) who plies his trade at a Caribbean resort. Some people have all the luck...On the day I took these photos, Bruno was actually on his own vacation in Rockport, Massachusetts and without his regular tools -but still willing to entertain an enthusiastic audience.
 Bruno's Beach Building Tips:
1. Have fun!
2. Keep the sand damp with hoses (when available), buckets of water or spray bottles. The moisture helps pack the sand and keep it molded in shape.
 3. A sturdy shovel is essential! He dug the sand into high, dense piles before beginning to carve. The stairs were made using the edge of the shovel, and the windows using the pointy tip.
 4. Let your imagination go!

 5. Use a garden rake as a finishing tool to create a 'frame' for the masterpiece. A simple step makes a big difference!
6. When possible build it far enough away from the tide that your kingdom will endure -at least for a little while...
 7. Finally, sign your artwork!
8. Then sit back and enjoy the view, you are officially summer royalty.

Friday, July 18, 2014

New Bookazine: Organize! Back-to-School

 My newest bookazine, Organize! Back-to-School has finally hit store shelves! Woohooo!
(After weeks of research, interviews and writing --seeing it come together never gets old!)

Organize! Back-to-School features tips and advice from organizational pros, teachers, health and wellness specialists, educational experts and authorities on a wide variety of kid stuff. It's designed to be a guide for getting your student (and yourself!) ready for a successful new school year from Pre-school through college.
My favorite part of writing a bookazine (or any project) is the people I meet in the process and this journey was no exception. I have found that it is usually the busiest, most successful and professional experts who are willing to share their time and expertise to speak with me. I know you'll meet my new friends when you pick up a copy of Organize! but many of them have books, blogs, podcasts and great Twitter followings of their own.  Not to mention, they're just plain awesome. 

To go behind the scenes check out: Karen Bantuveris at VolunteerSpot.com; Joshua Becker on his blog, Becoming Minimalist; Dr. Nancy Berk through her book or her radio show, Whine at 9; teacher Susan Case on her blog, Kindergarten Basics; Eddy Chavey AKA Mr. Breakfast on his website by the same name; Donna Goldberg via her book or her website, Organized Student; Kristen Howton on her clever blog, Rage Against the Minivan; Katie Hurley in her upcoming book or blog, Practical Katie; Kathy Jenkins at TheOrganizingTutor.com; Leslie Josel on her website Order Out of Chaos; Katie Norris on her blog, Mommy With Selective Memory; Maureen Owens on her website Organized by Owens; Mary Pankiewicz on her website Clutter Free & Organized; Debbie Pincus on her website; Steve Pines at the Education Industry Association; Dr. Roland Rotz on his website; Janice Russell at Minding Your Matters; Heidi Shulz on her website, Heidi Shulz; Helene Segura at Living Order; Geralin Thomas on her blog and website, Metropolitan Organizing; author Jim Trelease on his website; and the Manners Lady, Judi Vankevich at The Manners Club.

Several of the amazing educators I spoke with don't have blogs or websites to visit, but I was thankful and tremendously inspired by the dedication, commitment and A+ advice from veteran teachers: Michelle Martin, Nancy Lopez, Patsy Sarmiento, DeAnna Shelton, Danielle VanDivort, and Lisa Kilcourse. You rock!
In addition to the pros whose expertise informed the content, the whole shebang would not have come together without the amazing (and patient) editing skills of Susan Elkin; the sharp eye of copy editor Laurie Lieb; photo researcher Livy Sandro; editorial consultant Barbara Stewart; and 22 MediaWorks president and creative director Lary Rosenblatt. I feel privileged and blessed to have been a part of such a winning team and an inspiring project. 
 I asked a total stranger to take this...okay, crazy lady...I may have scared her.
Right next to Beach Horses...of course.
See you at the news stand! I'll be the one lingering and rearranging the bookazines...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Picnic Perfect: Chocolate Stuffed Raspberries

Last weekend, we were invited to go to the Hollywood Bowl with friends and I offered to bring dessert. I needed something picnic-friendly and crowd pleasing (easy would be a huge plus!): enter Chocolate Stuffed Raspberries!

They were such a hit I thought I would recycle my post from 2012 and re-share the "recipe" - a word I use loosely since it only has two ingredients. 
 Since raspberries are currently in season and at their plumpest, juiciest and most affordable -promise me you will try this immediately

Directions: Wash berries and pat dry with paper towel. Insert a chocolate chip (or two if you've got big berries!...I like big berries and I cannot lie...). Voila! Done -and kids love them too -in fact, they love to help...which is great as long as they don't eat as they go...
 To get fancy, use white or dark chocolate chips to add variety.

 (* If you happen to be counting Weight Watcher points, 1 Tablespoon of chocolate chips (approx. 25 chips) = 2 points. Raspberries 0. Score!) 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Flea Market Friday: Faithful Roots

Santa Monica, California designer Britta Schneider transforms fencing masks, rotary phones, birdcages and vintage mechanical doo-dads into one-of-a-kind light fixtures for her company Faithful Roots. You  name it, Schneider makes a light out of it. Think: repurposed teapot, postal scale, vintage catcher's mask, auto jacks and more. I discovered her line of tailored antiques last month at the Long Beach Antiques and Collectibles Market

It was definitely a light bulb moment.

If you can't make it to a Southern California market, check out her bright ideas on Etsy.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Field Trip: Endeavor

This week we are lucky to have our teenage nephew in town from Massachusetts and I have been scheming as to how I can score points as the cool aunt...not an easy feat when he has seven additional, awesome aunts who have set the bar ridiculously high. Enter, Endeavor, one of the retired orbiters of NASA's space shuttle program.

Fast food lunch AND and a space ship!

Located in the California Science Center in Los Angeles, the shuttle is housed in a giant hanger (otherwise known as the Samuel Oschin Pavilion) and flanked by American flags, historic memorobilia, the obligatory gift shop, and even a cool video-game style simulator that allows you to try your hand at landing the airship --just like the pilots did.
We visited on a weekday afternoon to avoid the large groups of summer camp kids touring in the morning and bought tickets to see an IMAX movie in the adjacent theater which allowed us to enter the Endeavor exhibit without a timed reservation. Score!
 Before entering the pavilion, we passed through the companion exhibit, Endeavor: The California Story which showcased things like the "Space Potty" (complete with video demonstration!); tires from Endeavour flight STS-134 that you are encouraged to touch; the shuttle galley kitchen; and the actual mission control area (formally called the
Rocketdyne Operations Support Center) which monitored every space shuttle launch, from the first to the last, from right here in Southern California.

My favorite part of the companion exhibit was the time lapse video showing the shuttle descending for its final landing, then making its way through the streets of Los Angeles to the hanger. I was suprised at how moving (no pun intended) it was to watch.  
Although I can't speak for the two teens I had in tow, actually seeing the shuttle in the pavilion for the first time was, in every sense of the word, awesome.

Informative, friendly docents were on hand to answer questions and amaze us with fun facts like:
Each solid rocket booster held 1.1 million pounds of fuel.
The Endeavor entered the Earth's atmosphere and came in for its final landing without any fuel. Biggest. Glider. Ever.
The front cockpit area was where all seven of the astronauts lived. Sort of ironic to feel cramped in space...geeky humor showing. I digress.
 Bottom line: visit later in the day for smaller crowds; if time permits see an IMAX show first for easy access; definitely chat up the docents; and bring the kids --you never know what will inspire them to reach for the stars.

For information on Space Shuttle Endeavor Reservations, click here.
As for me, I may not be up for Aunt of the Year...but as of yesterday, I may be the front runner in the niche category for Space-iest...hmmmm.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Field Trip: Woodstock...the other one

When you think of Woodstock, images of tie dye and peace signs, long hair, short skirts and the Summer of Love usually spring to mind...

However, last summer on a roadtrip through the Green Mountain State we had a different kind of Woodstock experience: Woodstock, Vermont.

Approximately 166 miles and a world away from the 1970s music festival by the same name, this charming New England town was all traditional East Coast elegance and Yankee spirit.
If it looks like stepping into a movie set, you wouldn't be far off...the picturesque town was the location for the movie adaptation of Peter Straub’s 1979 best-selling horror novel,  Ghost Story. Personally, I see it as the perfect backdrop for a romantic comedy...any screenwriters out there?
I call this house...
The Woodstock Inn & Resort looked gorgeous (below), but I was too chicken to actually walk in with my little camera and start snapping... I have heard from friends that it is a wonderful place to stay (and it looks like it would be). Golf, spa, pool, spring biking and a raquet and fitness club. Natch. Pick me.

The inn recently added a "Kitchen Garden Package" that allows guests to meet with the Master Gardener, get a tour of the garden and receive a horticultural session. The lessons change with the season.
 The Woodstock Middle Bridge.
 Cute shops, antique stores, restaurants and cafes lined the center of town. Perfect for my rom-com fantasy...
 In the large green space in the center of town, across the street from the inn, a farmer's market was going on.
...Of course, like any good rom-com everybody went home happy. Cue the catchy theme song.

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