Monday, January 31, 2011

Ten Things That Are So Good I Want You to Know About Them


Okay, here we go, singing the praises of products and services I absolutely would not want to live without. I’m not shilling; I have no connection to any of these except #9 and #10—and I will provide full disclosure when I get to those.

1. James Foods Caterer’s Select Chicken Pot Pie – Just discovered this fabulous product last week at my local Bi-Lo (the company tells me Ingles, Harris Teeter, and Food Lion carry their products, too). The pie provided four ample servings and costs around $8, so it’s a great value, but more importantly, it tastes like your grandmother made it! Even my son commented on the flaky, tasty crust—and he is not a man to notice things like that. Plenty of chicken, bright, plump peas and carrots, well seasoned, and went from frozen to dinner plates in an hour and a half. Not low-cal or low-fat, but it is a pie, after all! I’m keeping several in my freezer from now on.

2. Diner’s Choice Orange Herbal Tea – Found this little jewel of a bargain in Big Lots back in the fall. Amazingly, they’ve had it in stock ever since, but I live in fear that one day, I won’t be able to find it, so I’m trying to track down the manufacturer. It’s excellent tea—smells heavenly, has the perfect amount of orange flavor, and it is A DOLLAR A BOX. Yep, 18 cups of morning bliss for a buck. Sorry, Twinings; you’ve lost me as a customer for a while.

3. Jolly Time Healthy Pop Crispy White Naturally Flavored Microwave Pop Corn – I like my popcorn pure—no butter, no oil, and no (or minimal) salt. Do you know how hard that is to find? Thank you, Jolly Time, for giving me what I want. 250 calories for the entire bag (3 bags to a box), and if I add thirty seconds to the “Popcorn” setting on my microwave, virtually every kernel pops into a beautiful, white fluffy…um…whatever popcorn becomes when it’s not a kernel anymore. Bonus: Jolly Time is a family owned company and has a great website: http://www.jollytime.com/.

4. Pantene Ice Shine Shampoo – I’ve used Pantene products off and on over the years and found them to be good, if not electrifyingly different. I’ve also been known to ask women with gorgeous hair what kind of hair products they use and, very often, the answer is “Pantene.” Ironically, almost every stylist I’ve ever known condemns it as a horrible brand which will ruin your hair; not sure why unless they view it as a threat to their own ridiculously overpriced products. In any case, I bought my first bottle of Ice Shine about a year ago because the clean, clear packaging was so appealing. It is awesome shampoo—for my hair, at least—which is long and fine. People actually comment on how shiny my hair is! (Lots of other positive experiences with it reported on Epinion.) Besides being shiny, my hair also feels healthier than it ever has, and it’s easier to manage. I have a brilliant and gifted stylist (bless you, Natalie Brown!) who deserves much of that credit, but I think Ice Shine deserves some, too. So imagine my utter horror when I discovered that Pantene has discontinued this product!! Go figure. But that explains why there are bucket loads of it sitting at Big Lots; stock up, people!

5. Glad Press’n Seal Wrap – I’ve lost my religion more than once trying to put plastic wrap on a bowl of leftovers that wasn’t made of glass or CorningWare. And what’s the point of covering it with aluminum foil if you have to replace that with plastic wrap to reheat it? Press ‘n Seal is a miracle product. It saves frustration, time, and money, because it sticks to ANYTHING, instantly and easily. It even has a little stretch to it so you can eke out that extra eighth of an inch you need to seal things up tight. I am amazed how many people I talk to who don’t know about this product. Hie thee to the paper goods aisle! You and your leftovers will thank me. It comes in handy for a thousand other tasks as well; check out some creative ideas here!

6. International Delight French Vanilla Coffee Creamer – I love chai, but I refuse to pay $4+ for a cup of flavored water and a squirt of steamed milk. With this yummy stuff, I don’t have to. One tea bag, a cup of hot water, and a dollop of Delight, and I am a happy girl. They make lots of other mouthwatering flavors, but I keep coming back to this one. Other brands are not as good; accept no substitutes! Next time you’re cold, try this tasty warm-up: a packet of hot chocolate, a cup of boiling water, a splash of Kahlua, and a big dollop of IDFVCC. Happiness, thy name is hot beverage! More recipes (theirs, not mine) at http://www.internationaldelight.com/Recipes.

7. Shout Stain Remover – Other stain removers don’t work. Period. I’ve stopped experimenting. Tough stains sometimes require a second application, but I am constantly amazed at what Shout can do. I got grease spills all over the front of my favorite turquoise turtleneck last weekend (stir fry with no apron; dumb, dumb, dumb) and I was sure it was ruined. Wrong! Just like their advertising promises, I Shouted it out!

8. Blue Mountain.com – My husband once remarked that I spend more time picking out a greeting card than I do picking out a house. Yeah, well, greeting cards are important to me—but they’re not worth what most of them cost these days. Blue Mountain has a huge selection of everything from inspirational to interactive e-cards, with new ones added all the time. And if you don't think you can bring yourself to give up the real thing, you have the option to print out your cards and mail them. $10 a year lets you send unlimited cards plus gives you two additional accounts to share. My favorite features: a reminder service that lets me know when someone’s birthday is coming up, and the ability to schedule a card whenever I have time or happen to think about it, then have it delivered on the appropriate date.

9. Constant Contact – For years, I struggled with sending out my newsletters and publicity materials through e-mail. Outlook was a joke, Yahoo and I almost came to blows, and Google wasn’t much better; mail servers are simply not designed for mass mailings. Then I discovered Constant Contact, an e-mail marketing company that is specifically designed for mass mailings. Literally overnight, my life became infinitely easier. Literally. I was so impressed, I asked if I could become one of their “solution providers,” so I could help people learn how to use this wonderful service. If you send recurring mail to a mailing list of more than a hundred people, Constant Contact will make your life better overnight. It runs about $15/month, depending on the size of your mailing list; you will have SO much fun using their templates and images and features, and you will LOVE being able to track and monitor your marketing materials. If you’re interested, let me know; maybe I can get you a deal.

10. Your Daily Poem – Don’t like poetry? That’s okay; most people don’t. But will you give me sixty seconds a day for one week—that's a measly 7 minutes of your life!—to see if maybe, just maybe, imbibing a bit of poetry might actually turn out to be fun? There’s even an option for a weekly or monthly poem if you don't think you can handle a daily dose—but you’d be shocked by how many poetry-haters have grown to LOVE starting their day with Marge Piercy’s advice on what to do with excess zucchini or Shoshauna Shy’s confession that a foreign accent makes her blood sizzle like butter in a skillet. Hey, it’s free, it’s fun, there’s a comment box so if you hate the poem you get to SAY so, and you can cancel your subscription at any time, with no lip from me. How fair is that?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

THE TEN BEST THINGS EVER INVENTED FOR MOTHERS


1. Velcro – This time-saving, energy-saving, sanity-saving product was invented in 1941 by George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer who returned home after a hunting trip with his dog one day and was intrigued by all the burrs stuck to his pants and the dog’s fur. He put the burrs under a microscope, discovered their configuration of “hooks” that attached themselves to anything with fibers or hairs, and was inspired to create Velcro (from the French words velour and crochet which, in English, mean velvet and hook). George’s eventual invention is considered by many to be one of the greatest of the 20th century. Any mother who has ever tried to put sneakers on a two-year-old will agree.


2. Disposable diapers – I used cloth diapers with my first two children, convinced that only pure, white cotton cloth was appropriate for my precious babies’ bottoms. By the time Child Number Three came around, I had completely changed my mind, deciding that disposable diapers—while perhaps not the best option for the universe—were definitely the most comfortable, most hygienic, and healthiest option for my little guy. You may disagree, and that’s fine; cloth diapers did well by many centuries worth of babies. But there’s no denying that in certain circumstances—long distance travel, for example—disposable diapers make life infinitely more pleasant for everyone. Even my mother, a purist who continued to make pimiento cheese from scratch long after Kraft offered it up in a jar, sang their praises. She told me how hard it was to be on the road with a baby in the ‘40s and ‘50s. “They had what they called disposable diapers,” she said, “but they were nothing like what you have today. Mothers had a really hard time of travelling with a baby back then. This is a wonderful choice to have.” I agree.


3. Gas pumps that take credit cards – Do you wake up your sleeping child and drag him inside to pay for your gas or do you leave him in his car seat, alone and unattended, but sleeping peacefully? This is the decision I was faced with every time I bought gas in those days after station attendants had stopped coming to the car and pumping gas FOR you but before anyone came up with the brilliant idea to install credit card readers at the pump. Bless whoever that was! Maybe it was a mom.


4. Board books– As a book lover eager to share my passion for reading with my children, I learned the hard way that babies’ enthusiasm can be lethal. I saw more than a few beautiful books destroyed before I figured out that board books was the better choice for the under-5 set. No, you might not find all your favorite tales available in a board book format, but that’s okay; they’ll appreciate a good story later on, even if they haven’t had a chance to gnaw on it first.


5. Baby seats in grocery carts – Why did it take so long for this to be invented? When I think of all the years I hauled pillows and towels and car seats and belts in and out of grocery stores trying to keep my children safe and secured in a grocery cart . . .


6. Playpen – Should you leave your child in a playpen for hours at a time? Of course not. But if you have to go to the bathroom, answer the phone, deal with an emergency, catch your breath, tend to an older child, prevent a disaster, etc., a playpen is a godsend. At least until he is old enough to climb out of it, it’s a place to keep your child safe and in one place long enough for you to deal with the problem at hand.


7. Microwave – Yes, you should nurse your baby if at all possible. But if you can’t, a microwave is a blessing right up there with sliced bread and electricity (and thanks for that, too, Mr. Franklin!) when all that stands between a screaming infant and instant gratification is the temperature of the milk. We moms appreciate microwaves all the way from infancy up through those home-from-college-and-heating-up-leftovers days.


8. Camera – Yes, you were there for the moment, but years after that first birthday, that first day at school, that first dance, that first competition, those photos can transport us. A camera lets you hang on to those memories forever. Digital cameras have made that even better, because they’ve eliminated the expense of printing photos. Click away, mamas! Those moments will never come again.


9. Skype – If you’re not blessed to have your loved ones close at hand, keeping your kids connected to extended family can be a challenge. My brother-in-law was on sea duty when my nephew was born; it was months before he got to see his son. Today, moms and dads in service can tell their children good night every night, read them a bedtime story, and be there for everything from birthday parties to skinned knees thanks to the miracle of Skype. Grandparents don’t have to go months without seeing their grandchildren; they can spend a few minutes together every day. Truly a gift and a miracle when you think about all those pioneer families for whom heading west to a better life meant not seeing their families again for years at a time.


10. Libraries – Books for you, books for your child, as many as you want, and all FREE! Not only that, most libraries offer children’s story hours and special programs such as puppet shows, craft classes, and discussions that will enrich the lives of your whole family. Some of my best memories as a young mother are library outings: watching excerpts from “The Nutcracker,” listening to authors talk about their books, “petting” symphony instruments, looking at art exhibits and, best of all, coming home with armloads of books that translated into hours of quality time together each week . . .now that’s a treasure!


What inventions have you enjoyed and appreciated most as a mother?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ten Best Objects to Inspire Creativity

Here’s my new year’s commitment: a weekly top ten list on my blog. Hardly an original concept, but good discipline and, hopefully, fun for you as you see the odd and sundry streams my consciousness explores during the course of seven days. Off we go!

Ten Best Objects to Inspire Creativity

Whether for you--to sidestep a deadline, lift you out of a funk, or stimulate your muse--or for your children--when cash is limited, you don’t want to make a trip to the store, or you want to stimulate their muse—here are ten things that offer hours’ worth of entertainment:

1. A box of crayons—best served with a side of paper. My favorite crayon memory: creating a puppet show of Cinderella. I made the characters out of a white shirt box and the theatre out of a brown cardboard box; I worked on that project for days, and enjoyed it for months afterwards.

2. Pipe cleaners—I haven’t seen anyone with a pipe in thirty years, but I presume pipe cleaners still exist—for crafters, if not for pipe-smokers! Great entertainment for road trips (for passengers, not drivers), shopping trips (the kids may not even notice how long it’s taking you to try on those clothes), and those challenging too-old-for-children’s-church-but-too-young-for-the-sermon years!
3. Duct tape—There’s pretty much nothing you can’t create from duct tape. My son has made DT cell phone holders, DT shoes, DT glasses cases, DT wallets…and did you know your teen could win a cash scholarship for creating duct tape prom outfits?

4. Old magazines—Give me a magazine and I can stay busy for days. Paper dolls, collages, “found” poems, writing prompts, paper jewelry, examples of great ads, term paper topics, etc. etc. etc. Needless to say, some titles offer more potential than others. I recently flipped through a copy of Us magazine; oh, my, what a waste of a tree!

5. Fabric remnants—If you like to sew or quilt, the possibilities here are obvious, but even if you don’t, I think scraps of material can set off a maelstrom of ideas. If you have remnants of different textures (like fleece, fur, or satin), that’s even more fun. One of my sons’ pediatricians had a fabric collage of a farm covering one wall of his waiting room, with quilted white batting for clouds, beige burlap for hay, red and white gingham for the barn, etc. Even after all these years, every time I remember that wonderful mural, it makes me want to start piecing together grass and cornstalks!

6. A can of spray paint—This option is probably not good for the under 10 set, but otherwise, a can of spray paint and an ugly, worn out, or cast aside object can make for a busy and productive afternoon. Who knows what “repurposing” possibilities you might have lurking under your sink or in your garden shed?

7. A wicker basket—Any size, any style. Give it a coat of spray paint (see #6!), weave in a length of ribbon or a few silk flowers, add a few cookies, and you have a terrific gift that’s filled with lots of love. Baskets also offer great possibilities as storage containers and wall decorations.

8. Shoeboxes -- Now I tend to fill them with toys and donate them to Operation Christmas Child, but as a child, I turned them into beds for my dolls, decorated them and used them to store “special treasures,” turned them into buildings and made shoebox “villages,” glued same-size ones together to make shelving units, and created custom-decorated homes for critters ranging from frogs to baby chicks.

9. Buttons—Well, you could hunt down the garments they came from and sew them back on, but if the buttons in your button box are like mine, they’ve probably been around so long you have no idea from whence they came. Use them to make jewelry instead, or mix them with construction paper and a few scraps of #5 to create adorable greeting cards. 4-year-olds and up can string them into “button people” with shoelaces or yarn, or arrange them into pictures and glue them onto paper or cardboard.

10. A legal pad—Ah, now this is the best tool of all to get those creative juices flowing! What’s on your mind: a grocery list? Things to do today? An overdue letter to your favorite aunt? A few lines about the chat you had with your son this morning? You’d be surprised how easily the words come when you give them a chance.
My snowman, by the way, which I built Christmas Day on the rail of our deck, was inspired by a tiny little box I found rolling around among some giftwrap. I thought it looked like it had great potential as a hat. When I found a little piece of gingham ribbon a few moments later, and a leftover marker from some long-disposed of game, I knew instantly they had a new purpose in life!