Sunday, November 30, 2014

Our Kindness Elves Have Arrived!!

Kindness Elf Ideas
Say hello to Jingle and Jerry, Jack the Elf's much nicer cousins (even if Jerry looks a little grumpy).
So you guys already know how I feel about the Elf on the Shelf. Not. a. fan. And so, when a friend posted about the Kindness Elves, an alternative to the Elf on the Shelf, on her page, I really wanted to try them out. I immediately sent away to the North Pole and ordered two elves, cousins of our old elf, Jack, who was becoming more and more insufferable as the years went along.

These two jolly gentlemen left the girls two notes. The first serves as a sort of introduction.


Here's what it says: Dearest Maggie and Sophia, We are so excited that your mom sent to the North Pole and asked to have us delivered expressly to you! Hold the boat. First things first! Our names are Jingle and Jerry. We are Jack the Elf's cousins. We're a little different though. We are good elves who love to help and notice kindness in others. You know what kindness is, right? We've been sent to share this kind of love and magic with you at Christmastime. Because love and magic and kindness are what Christmas is all about. So .... here's what you do. We'll leave a note every morning in your Advent calendar tree with something nice and fun to do for the day. We hope you love us as much as we already love you. P.S. Enjoy the candies. ~Jingle and Jerry

The other note awaits opening. I can't wait until they get up in the morning. I really do think they are going to love doing these little acts of kindness. Especially since candy sweetens the deal;). A/J


Day 1.





Friday, November 28, 2014

Beloved Christmas Books {Guest Blog}

Good morning, everyone! So, we can now officially set our sights on Christmas, right? On that note, I guest-blogged over at Beauty Through Imperfection this week about my favorite Christmas books for kids. Stop by Paula's blog for a visit, comment with your favorite book, and add some new books to our reading list:)!! I love finding books I've missed over the years.

Favorite Christmas Books

On another note, are you Black Friday shopping? The girls and I are getting ready to shower up and hit the stores for a little while, after a hardy lunch. I'm so glad I decided not to go last night. Not interested in the least this year in being up all night. Some stores here opened at 4:00 on Thanksgiving. 4:00!! That's sacrilegious. Have a great day:)!! A/J

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I Survived My First 5K

Guys. I just had to stop by and tell you that I survived today (see my post yesterday if you're curious about what I mean.) I more than survived. I exceeded my expectations and ran it in 31 minutes and 41 seconds. I consider that a great personal victory. And I've been on a runner's high all day that really helped me enjoy a holiday when I usually feel tired, sluggish, and just all-around ugh. If a Turkey Trot comes your way next year, you should totally try it! Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!! I hope you had a great one:). A/J

Pops and I at the starting line. Holy cow, it was cold.

Me at the finish. I'm taking this picture the next time I go shopping for blush. And yes, that is frost on my hat. 

Pops at the finish line. I think he thought he was being arrested.

We both gave it a thumbs up!! We'll be back next year!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This is your heart, it's alive; It's pumpin' blood ...

In exactly 12 hours (it really is 9:00 PM here), I will be shooting off like a rocket from the starting line. Well, actually, I will probably be crawling along at the pace of a strutting turkey, but I'll still be putting one foot in front of the other in a running fashion.

My Dad and I are running our first 5Ks tomorrow. On Thanksgiving morning. Because that seems like the perfect time to run your first real race.



Turkey Trot
Trot it like it's hot; Trot it like it's hot.

To be honest, I'm pretty nervous. I am planning to run the entire thing if it kills me. If nothing else, it will get my blood pumping first thing in the morning on Turkey Day, clearing out the arteries for the onslaught of bad foods (and beverages;)) I will most likely consume later. I just hope I don't finish last.

Here's the thing though. I've been complaining all week about my Dad signing me up for this thing. But, underneath it all, I'm excited. I think it will feel great to be outside, in the cold, first thing in the morning. To see the city with my feet pounding along on the pavement, the music pumping through my headphones. Here's what will be playing. I think it's appropriate.

Hey heart, on the road again, moving on, forward
Sticks and stones won't break the bones
They're in the car, on the highway
It's so magical, feeling, that no one's got a hold
You're a catalyst to your own happiness you know
This is your heart, it's alive
It's pumpin' blood
It's your heart, it's alive
It's pumpin' blood
And the whole wide world is whistling.
("Pumpin' Blood" by NONONO)
 
If nothing else, I bought myself a brand-new pair of sweet-ass leggings to make the whole thing worth it. Wish me luck;). A/J



My Favorite Cookie Recipe: Little Twists

The snow is falling gently for the first time outside, and it seems like, being also the night before Thanksgiving, a perfect day to bake. I'm re-sharing this post from last year about my favorite cookies to make around the holidays, in case you are also so inclined. Enjoy!
~~

Via Spoonful. According to the site, "Rugelach (the word is Yiddish for "little twists") is a
popular Hanukkah pastry that's perfect for any holiday brunch.
Get your kids in on the preparation -- they'll love rolling out the
claylike dough and spreading the goopy, fruity filling."

When I was a kid, there was nothing I loved more than my grandmother's apricot rolls: the dough had a tang, the apricot preserves were so sweet. I could eat a million of them. Last week, our neighbors invited us over for a Hanukkah dinner, and the hostess made these delicious cookies that reminded me so much of my grandmother's my eyes welled up a little. I am going to try to make them today (I really hate to bake, actually, even though I love to cook; I think it's the unwieldy mess that comes with baking). These cookies are worth all the fuss.

(Adapted from Epicurious.com)

Ingredients

Dough:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 6 ounces chilled cream cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Filling:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 12 tablespoons cherry preserves or jam 
  • 8 tablespoons dried tart cherries
  • 8 tablespoons miniature semisweet chocolate chips 
To make the dough, follow these steps:
Blend flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add butter and cream cheese and pulse until dough begins to clump together. Press the dough into a ball. After dividing the dough into four equal parts, flatten each part into a disk. Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate 2 hours. (Let soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)

Next, put it all together:
For these cookies, I use a silpat mat. You should too; you will thank me. They tend to get pretty messy and the pans are a nightmare to clean without it. Mix sugar and cinnamon in small bowl. Roll out 1 disk of dough on a floured surface to a circle (the dough should be about a quarter-inch thick all around). Spread cherry preserves over dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons dried cherries, then 2 tablespoons chocolate chips, and 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar. Press filling firmly to adhere to dough.

Cut the dough round into 8 equal wedges (like a pizza - I use a pizza cutter to do it). Starting at wide end of each wedge, roll up tightly (I'll be honest here; this takes some practice. It can be hard to get the dough to roll just so, but you will get it over time). Arrange the cookies, small-tip side down, on the prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart. Repeat with the remaining dough , preserves, dried cherries, chocolate chips, and cinnamon sugar (if there's cinnamon sugar left, use it to make the Pioneer Woman's cinnamon toast). Place baking sheet in freezer 30 minutes.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Brush cookies lightly with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar (if you want - not an obligation). Bake frozen cookies until golden brown (you really have to watch them to see how your oven cooks - they can take anywhere between 25 and 40 minutes). Transfer cookies to racks and cool completely. (Can be made ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week or freeze up to 1 month.)

Bake your little hearts out. ~Alice
 
 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Statement Sweaters and the Best Pair of Tights You Will Ever Purchase

I am obsessed this fall with sweaters that make a statement, literally. I am working my way through purchasing the entire line of loquacious toppers at the Loft Outlet as we speak. The next up on the list is the "Dream" one.



Merci Sweater from Loft
My sweater is saying "Thanks for stopping by the Skull!"

I love these sweaters so damn much, I even bought my two-month old niece one. She needed it.


Bonjour Sweater Janie and Jack
Janie and Jack Bonjour Sweater
Once I finish it up at Loft, it's on to this Foxy sweater and its friends at Tar-jay.




Fox Sweater from Target
Foxy Statement Sweater from Target
While we're shopping, let me tell you about my favorite pair of no-fail, go-to every time tights, since we are entering tight season. Here's the thing about tights. The bastards can end up around your knees in a heartbeat, and then you're stuck walking around like Gumby or, if you're like my sister in law, cutting the top off and holding up the legs with rubber bands (true story).

These tights will not fail you. And they are cheap!! They are from Express - the Body Shaping Full Tight in Black. You. are. welcome. You will love them.

Express Body Shaping Full Tight
What's your favorite sweater this Fall? Do tell. A/J

Taking Stock

As the last remnants of a vibrant fall wither away into winter, I'm left thinking. What do I want to happen next? Am I happy with my life the way it currently stands? What do I want to change?

Hmmmm......
Here's the thing. I get bored very easily and love constant "newness," but I also very much like routines and am, at heart, a creature of habit. In other words, I like to eat the same thing for breakfast every morning (peanut-butter toast), park in the same spot in the garage (Forbes, Level 5, center in front of the chain), and sit in the same chair for an hour or so every night before I go to bed (with a glass or two of wine), but throughout the day, I want to experience new things, read new books, see new places, eat new foods, wander through new stores and city streets. I want to explore and then come home.

These last few years, my husband and I have been knocked off the intended course of things, career-wise. The next few years promise more change. I have one final year left on my 5-year contract before I will, most likely, lose my job due to constraints on hiring practices at the university where I currently work. This is most depressing, since I love my job and I think I am damn good at doing it. The only upside to this is that maybe it will force me to do something new and different that will help me to grow as a benefit.

So, in short, I want permanence, stability, and comfort at the same time I want risk and change and a new "spring." Does anyone else feel like this? Do you feel like you've really landed where you are supposed to be in life or do you, like me, still feel suspended in the air? A/J

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why I Hate the Elf on the Shelf ...

They're baaa-ack (you know who I'm talking about, fellow Elf on the Shelf haters). And in honor of their return, I'm re-sharing this post from last year about why I so dislike the little gremlins. I'm so sorry if you like them. I just can't do it. PS This year we're going to welcome Kindness Elves into our home instead. You can read more about them here.

----



Why I Hate the Elf on the Shelf
Stop looking at me, elf. Via

I'm just going to go ahead and put this out there. I hate the elf on the shelf. I hate his shenanigans (which require me to have to come up with thirty-odd days of ridiculousness, such as Jack the Elf drives the choo-choo train, Jack the Elf poops Hershey kisses, and Jack the Elf spills flour all over the kitchen counters and then writes his name in it - after which, I then have to clean up Jack the Elf's mess because the little jerk can't do it himself). The last thing I feel like doing in mid-December after grading stacks and stacks of student papers is brainstorming a new elfish scheme every ... single ... night, because God knows you can't repeat yourself or then the kids think Jack the Elf has fallen victim to Alzheimer's or dementia.

Or, I get the lovely morning wake-up call of "Mo-ooooommm, Jack didn't move AGAIN." To which I reply, "Oh, honey, Jack's legs are just really tired after running back and forth to the North Pole to report on your behavior. Plus he has something BIG planned for tomorrow" (all the while thinking, Jack the Elf shouldn't have had that extra glass of wine last night. Oooooppps). On that note, I am thoroughly on to the fact that my oldest kid has been thoroughly on to this game from about day 5. I think she just wants Jack to come back out of his closet so she can torture me. She's been asking "When's Jack going to get here?" since Thanksgiving night, while I, on the other hand, have been continuously griping about the stupid elves like an old-timer complaining about Black Friday turning into Black Wednesday: "Goddamn elf on the shelf. Who came up with this crap? A man no doubt, because I don't see any fathers knocking each other over to join the elf movement. I'm paying $35 for my own headache, not to mention all of the elfy paraphernalia I have to buy."

Finally, the Elf on the Shelf might be the creepiest toy invented in the last fifty years. Just look in his eyes. You can see it. Underneath that smirky smile is a Chucky just waiting for his chance. I know one of these mornings I am going to wake up to that elf sitting on my chest staring at my face, smiling the most sinister smile since Bela Lugosi's Dracula.

So, to all you moms who love the elves, more power to you. I, on the other hand, am sincerely hoping that the little creeps go the way of the Mon-Chi-Chi and Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots ... and fast. A/J

Friday, November 21, 2014

5 Fun #DIY Ways to Deck the Halls for the Holidays

Here are 5 of our favorite DIY Christmas decorating projects from the Skull from last year. Have fun! Share pics if you do any of them. We love to see your work! A/J



How To Make Nail Polish Ornaments
How to Make Nail-Polish Christmas Ornaments
Decorated Stairs Christmas
Ornamenting the Stairs. Simple Project. Big Payoff!
Cookies for Santa Plate
This "Cookies for Santa" plate we re-created from Rook No. 17 last year. Such a great project. My sis-in-law loved it:))!!
Fresh Pine Garland
How to Make Fresh Pine Garland for the Craft-Challenged Girls (PS, check your local tree-sellers. They will often give you the pine-clippings for free!).


Alternative Christmas Trees Stars
A Christmas Tree with Exploding Stars. The post you'll read if you click on the link doesn't say a lot about how to recreate this, actually, but it's a meaningful post, so I'm linking it. I bought the stars at Michael's. And I stuck them on the wall with teacher's putty. The others I hung as I saw fit, and I used white lights on the tree.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Books I Plan to Read over Christmas Break

These are the books on my reading list for the Christmas break. I cannot wait to get started!

I've been holding off on this one, because I want to read it so bad. It's interesting though; I really don't care for Dunham's point of view sometimes. But I admire her bravado. Can't wait to read it.
I'll be teaching a dark fairy tales course in the spring. Gretel and the Dark, by Eliza Granville, seems like the perfect way to shift gears.
I read some Picoult over the summer (The Storyteller), and liked it very much as an escapist read. I've decided to try another.
I saw this one at Target last night (about Edgar Allan Poe's wife and a mistress). It looks interesting.
Four books seems doable, right? What are you planning to read over the holiday? A/J

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The 12 Gifts of Christmas: A New Family Tradition

This year, I've come to the realization (which makes me feel a bit bad about the state of things in my household, actually) that my children do not need anything. I'm being perfectly honest here. They don't need more clothes. New shoes. New jackets. New toys. New electronics. A big fat nada.

My kids tend to get whatever their hearts desire. If we don't get it for them, their grandparents do. Now, I realize that it is a tremendous blessing to be able to give one's children everything they desire. Don't get me wrong. I do feel, however, that the amassing of mass quantities of goods also leads to a tremendous sense of entitlement and a lack of valuation of the things they thought they absolutely had to have. Consider the current state of our playroom.

I'm not alone in this. I'm positive of it.
So, here's what I'm doing this year to start scaling back our Christmas. In years past, I would go hog wild at Christmas time, buying a ton of presents. I wanted to give them everything I thought they wanted, but I also felt pressured to have a gorgeous array of gifts under the tree. First of all, I'm not going Black Friday shopping. I have in the past, and I have pegged it as kicking off the feeding frenzy of holiday gifting. I'm going to spend the day with my family, as it was intended.

Here's the second thing. I explained to the girls last night that this year we are going to try something new. They get to make a list of twelve "things." Two of the things can be bigger presents. One can be an experience - like spending the day in the "big city," going to a play, a special dance workshop, etc. One should be a new book that they really, really want to read. The other eight should be smaller things they really, really desire.


Simplifying Christmas
It breaks down like this.
Here's what I'm hoping.  First, it gets my kids to think about what they really would like to have and what they would value, since they only get to pick so many things. Second, it automatically makes the number of presents I have to buy even (something I always struggle with having two kids). Third, there's less I have to wrap. Ha! All joking aside, I think it will be fun for them to make a list that requires some thought, rather than just listing off EVERY SINGLE THING they saw in the past year that they would like to have (we're then going to take them to Macy's and mail them off to Santa next week while I'm off for Thanksgiving break). Of course, I will also probably throw in a few surprises so that Christmas morning is still fun and has a magical element of the unexpected - there's always the stockings to fill!

Oh, and we are going to do the Kindness Elves tradition this year. You guys know how I feel about that damned elf (and in case you don't, here's a post explaining exactly what I think about that little jerk). What ways are you cutting back this year, if you are? A/J




Monday, November 17, 2014

My Christmas Wish List 2014

Here's what's on my Christmas list this year (hint, hint husband;)). What's on yours?? A/J


This "Sunday Funday" Drapey Graphic tee from Old Navy.
I have wanted a copy of this book for a long, long time. I love the cover image, which shapeshifts from McQueen's face to a skull depending on how you turn the book. You can find a copy here.
This lovely little globe (for only $14.99!!) from the Threshold collection at Target. I love the black background and gold base. It would look perfect in my living room.  
I'd like about 8 more pairs of these Victoria's Secret Knockout Tight  pants, especially in the capris. They are the best workout pants I've ever come across - and I've tried many.


I'm a huge fan of the Loft skinny jean of late. Huge (Imagine Kit DeLuca speaking here). I want some more.
My current yoga mat is beat (you can read more about why I love it here). I need a new inspirational yoga mat. I like this one.
This jacket from Rosegal looks so incredibly snuggly. I have to have it.
While we're at it, I'll also take this draped-front faux leather jacket from Kut. Only $53 right now!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thanksgiving Dresses from Blu Pony Vintage

I think this Thanksgiving, I'd like to dress my girls in a mash-up of Laura Ingalls Wilder/Molly from the musical Annie. Alas, I think Maggie is now to old to play dress-up doll for me, but aren't these dresses cute??




Visit Blu Pony Vintage for more dresses like this. Their clothes (and the styling of them) are absolutely adorable. A/J

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why Everyone Should Re-Read the Books You Were Forced to Read When You Were a Teenager

You remember reading all of those books in high school you absolutely hated? When I was in my junior or senior year of high school, I don't remember which, I had to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I slogged through it, but I recall hating this book with every single fiber of my being. I mean, I reviled it. I didn't understand its humor. I didn't understand much of the political environment in which it was embroiled. I hated the fact that women/girls didn't seem to come off extremely well in the books' pages. I thought Huck was a pretty horrible character, and Tom Sawyer ... don't even get me started on him.

Via
And then, I read the book as a college junior. It was only a few years later. I really wasn't all that much more worldly. But on the second go around, I loved the book. I thought it was uproariously funny. I was pierced by both its humor and its humanity (I still hated the last several chapters, I have to say, but for very different reasons than why I didn't like the book when I was in high school. And I still didn't like Tom, but I came around to Huck).

What I'm getting at here is that everyone should re-read the books that we were forced to read when we were young, even if we developed an appreciation of those books at the time and especially if we hated them. Because as an adult, we will most likely love, revile, or appreciate those books for very different reasons.

Here's what is on my list of books to be re-read in the new light of my advancing age (hey, I will be 40 in a few years). Oh, and let me know what books you hated in high school. I'll put them on my reading list;). A/J

Maureen Corrigan's book on Gatsby's appeal has really made me want to return to this high-school classic and reopen its pages. I read it when I was probably a junior in high school, and I enjoyed it. But I don't think I got it. I also re-read it in preparation for my field exams for my doctorate, but that reading was so swift and so pressured that I don't think I enjoyed it or thought about it as much as I could have. 
I just started re-reading this book last night, which I read during my first semester of graduate school. I loved the beginning of the book, but if I'm being completely honest here, I never finished it. I will now. 
I didn't much care for Holden, the main character in Catcher, when I was a teenage girl. Maybe I'll be more sympathetic now? Or maybe I'll despise him even more?
Don't even get me started on Billy. We spent months and months on this book (that's what it seemed like anyway). My teacher loved it. She could not understand why we didn't. Why we were so recalcitrant in our dislike. I now understand where she was coming from, so I'll give it a second chance. 
This is a book I adored as a teenager. I want to go back and see if I adore it just as much now. 
Here's another one that I despised in high school. I just could not identify with it. I'm ready to give it another chance.
One thought, we apparently didn't read many books by women in my high school. I'm shocked. Not.



Friday, November 7, 2014

12 Days of Healthy Holiday Recipes from BMoore Healthy

Betsy's Peanut Butter Chocolate "Cookies"
My friend and fellow blogger Betsy, from BMoore Healthy, is running a great pay-what-you-can program filled with healthy recipes that give your favorite holiday dishes, as she puts it, a bit of "healthy swagger." We could all stand to treat our bodies a little better around the holidays, right? Head on over and sign up!! Oh, and she's giving away this cute Christmas Keepsake Planner from One Swell Studio to one lucky winner from the group.



Hope some of you join me over at Betsy's blog! I'm already signed up. Oh, and while you're at it, you should follow her on Instagram. Her kids are the cutest. Oh, and follow me too;).

A/J

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Family Dinner #giveaway (One of Our Favorite Books at the Skull)

Don't worry, be happy.  
I cherish the Family Dinner. I love watching the girls' faces light up when they talk about their day. I love when my husband and I laugh at something ridiculous one of the girls does.

In her cookbook The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time, Laurie David argues that this underplayed event is actually crucial to our sense of connectivity as a family. AND she argues that we should have fun doing it (the book is peppered with great games to play with your kids, poems and stories to read, thought-provoking quotes to use as conversation starters - as you can tell, I seriously adore this book. There's also a great companion website to the book here, featuring recipes, stories to share, and a blog).


Laurie David's The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time. The game here is "Name Your Sandwich." 
A few months ago, inspired by David's book, we made up I Love You Day. We decorated the table with a red tablecloth and candy hearts, I made Red Roasted Sausage and Blappleberry Pie, and we all made each other I Love You Hearts. We cut the hearts out of regular paper, and on each heart, each family member had to draw one of the other family members and then write why he or she loved that person.

This girl has great cutting technique AND hair.
Besides the fact that I look like a giant crab flipping people the bird, this is pretty cute. 
My husband's were the best. 
A special dinner doesn't have to be perfect, neat, planned out way in advance, with gourmet food. It just has to be special and memorable. Have fun dreaming up your own family dinners (and be sure to enter to win David's book below)! A/J


Be Happy, Live in Love, Love Me

a Rafflecopter giveaway