Tuesday, August 12, 2014

9-10 August

This summer has been a really cool one. The nights have often dipped into the fifties, and many days have just barely hit 80 degrees. Humidity has been low, the sun and breeze abundant. This summer has been perfect. 

I expect I might feel differently if I spent the year looking forward to long days at the beach,  Corona in hand, reading fluffy novels and relaxing. If my house had central air conditioning. If I didn't travel in a party of four dependents and a double stroller (I love my double, but after flying adult solo to almost every soccer practice and game this summer, I am so tired of loading it in and out of the van...). And I love wearing shorts with long sleeve tops sans sweat. If this is summer, it can go on forever.

But the season is beginning to change. The insects sound different, more insistent. Fallen maple leaves have scattered themselves across the driveway, summer green giving way to tinges of red and yellow. A hint of sadness is in the air, a hint that gains strength when the clouds momentarily drift between sun and earth, or when the air grows still just before dusk.

I was contemplating these things on Saturday, when we came across a bunch of children's Christmas books on sale at the local library. At 25 cents a pop, I snapped up twelve of them. The plan is to put them away until December, and then incorporate them into our Christmas preparations. 

In some strange way, finding those books gave a counterpoint to the melancholy of summer's waning. Thoughts of white twinkling lights, the subtle scent of evergreen, bright warmth against the cold, strong spicy beer, the ever new joy of Emmanuel.  And suddenly that gnaw of imminent decay had lost its bite. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer Legs and Keeping Up Appearances

I bet you were thinking that this was a post about leg lifts, squats, and lunges. 


It's about skin. Leg skin and feet skin, to be exact. Let me let you in on a secret: highly groomed women discomfit me. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that I discomfit me in the presence of such women. I mean, I'm sure that the objective for said women's attention to personal grooming has nothing to do with me and my comfort. But I digress. 

I'm not particularly scruffy, it's just that being well groomed is a never ending battle. My feet look awesome today - smooth, nails painted. And next week.... Ugh, chipped polish. A little rough around the heels. And let's not even talk about shaving (at least not yet). In my mind, having a good hair / outfit / makeup / smooth legs / attractive feet type of presentation is the equivalent of the man at the circus who spins all the plates at the same time. And damn, parenting toddlers and infants is already like herding cats. The complexity of these mixed metaphors is itself an accurate portrayal of the reality, I think. 

And despite the pink background on this blog, I am not a "girly girl."  I would rather drink a cocktail and read a book in the bathtub than exfoliate, depilate, or any other -ate. Unless it is just plain eating, and if that's the case, then I'll take my calories in liquid form, as per above.

I know what you're thinking, "Mary, this is not a gender issue. You are just lazy." Yes, yes, I am that, too, and I admit it. 

So I ask:

What's a busy, slightly lazy girl to do?!

Well, I've discovered a few inexpensive and relatively quick, easy ways to keep up appearances.

Skip the lotion and go straight for the body cream. Lotion and body cream are both composed of water and oil; their difference lies in the proportion of each. Body cream has a higher content of oil, and therefore is a more concentrated (read: effective and longer lasting) moisturizer.  Smooth some on your legs, arms, and feet after every shower when pores are still dilated from the warm water.

Use petroleum jelly (also known by the most common brand name Vaseline) on the roughest, driest spots. While body cream is an emollient (meaning it moisturizes and smoothes), petroleum jelly also effectively traps moisture within the skin and prevents it from evaporating.  Smooth it on elbows and knees. Spread liberally on rough feet, put on pair of socks, go to bed and awake the next day with significantly softer feet. A small tub of the stuff is around a dollar at the grocery store, so go wild.

Use a pumice stone every day for a few seconds in the shower, concentrating especially on the heels. It may take more time at first, especially if your feet are very dry and cracked, but once things are under control this is all it really takes for maintenance.  And don't spend much on a pumice stone; find them at the dollar store for a dollar (surprise!). Replace as necessary, when you start to notice decreased efficacy.

Use a scrub before shaving your legs (just rub, rinse, and then go ahead with your regular shaving cream). The salt or sugar grains exfoliate the skin and the oil in the scrub moisturizes it. The result is a closer shave and smoother, softer skin. You can easily make scrubs from in the kitchen ingredients (check out these recipes) or buy it pre-made. I recently won a scrub from this company in a giveaway (which it turns out, is owned and operated by a former college mate, small world!), and it is the best scrub I've ever tried. For real.

Keep a cocoa lotion bar handy for quick fixes. A lotion bar is a solid, concentrated, quick way to deliver moisture and protection to irritated skin. Rub the bar over the effected area and the warmth of your skin melts just the right amount of emollients onto the spot.  I think we have all had the experience of realizing at the last minute that our hands or knees or elbows or heels are super dry and/or ashy. I keep this lotion bar in my bag for just such moments.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

2-3 August


Can you believe it's August already?!

What's new for you? 

We've been spending a lot of time outside. Playing at the playground. Soccer practices and games. Scootering at the river, and running. Yes, I've started running again, or more accurately, run-walking. It's hard to keep the pace consistent when I've got a babe and three little scootering fools in tow, but its still enjoyable. I don't keep track of pace, time, or distance. I just want to enjoy the exertion of it and the pleasure of the process rather than turning it into a competition (with myself).  

I used to be hardcore and crazy when it came to exercise; I've avoided "working out" for five years because I'm so wary of getting sucked back into unhealthy attitudes. Maybe it's a blessing that the kids force me to be flexible... You can't get too competitive when you are constantly stopping to pick up acorns and other "treasures" ("Mom, look at this chapstick I found." The chapstick that was actually a used tampon. Even in the cleanest park, a mom has always got to be on her toes!)

In addition to our fitness endeavors, we've been enjoying the flavors of the season - fresh cherries, apricots, peaches and nectarines. Watching nature up close: a robin built a nest, laid her eggs, hatched her young, and raised them up to flying age all in a hanging basket on the porch. Life is truly amazing. 

Also, there have been some less fun activities, like trying to save the book collection that got too damp in the basement. Not wet, just damp. The process of removing the mildew from so many books is so overwhelming that I wept. Maybe more than once. I've realized that the collection of books that I love needs to be severely culled. There are just too many to thoroughly dry and de- mildew. Sigh.

Have a great week!

Look, me in florals. I do get out of the all black now and again. And I still look the same :)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Laura Recommends

Since today is Friday, I thought it would be appropriate to share this guest post from our good friend Laura. If spring is the time of love, then surely weekends are the time of movies. Said no poet ever. But you catch my drift.

I don’t know if it’s something to do with summertime or what, but these days all I want from a movie is a good laugh. I want to be entertained, I want to feel good, I want to be distracted from the stresses of everyday life. But I don’t find myself laughing if a movie is dumb or too slapsticky, or too too vulgar. So, if you feel like some lighthearted cinema, here are some suggestions spanning the last three decades:

1. Green Card
“In order to retain her beautiful rent-controlled Manhattan apartment, a beautiful, socially-conscious American woman (Andie MacDowell) has to be married, so she decides to marry a burly French composer (Gerard Depardieu), who is eager to earn a green card so he can stay and work in America.” 
Why don’t they make romantic comedies like this anymore? Maybe it’s just my massive girl crush on Andie MacDowell, but I found this a charming little story. (Also, early 1990s cinema is an interesting history-of-fashion lesson. Shapeless, ankle-length jumpers—did you know they actually were fashionable at one time?)

2. Girl Most Likely
One of many in the painful-reunion-of-dysfunctional-family-members genre, this one is much better than most of its peers. The film is guilty of some casting sins that are my pet peeves: the actress who plays the mom is only fifteen years older than the actress playing her daughter, and the same “mom” is only six years older than the “younger man” she is dating. Nevertheless, Kristen Wiig, Matt Dillon, and Annette Bening all are perfect in their roles, I think. The ending is goofy and implausible but hilarious and perfect and warmed my heart.

3. What to Expect When You’re Expecting
I wasn’t going to bother this one because it got horrible reviews. But then a very smart friend of mine recommended it, pointing out how it touched on huge life events she had been through—pregnancy, birth, infertility, adoption, miscarriage . . . . It’s all very lighthearted but still sensitive. It’s pretty goofy at times, but man, Chris Rock is so so funny (and, in this movie, you won’t have to wash your ears out with soap after watching him).

4. Mean Girls
This has become a quasi-classic but I only recently saw it. High school movies are kind of like sci fi to little, home-schooled me. Thrilling and terrifying and intriguing at the same time. All those cliques! Where would I have fit in? I like to think I would have been at least a band geek, but I’d probably be one of the Girls Who Eat Their Feelings. I’m making this sound depressing, but really, it’s funny and clever and ends on an upbeat note. Plus: Tina Fey wrote the screenplay, and co-starred along with Amy Poehler. What’s not to love?

5. Sixteen Candles
Speaking of high school flicks, can you belief this one came out thirty years ago? Thirty years??!! Was I the last one on earth to watch this? If not, I recommend it. It is filled with teenagers obsessing about sex. Still, there’s something innocent about it compared to more recent high-school themed movies (for instance, Easy A and Brick). It’s a fun blast from the past with a classic, oft-imitated romantic ending with Hollywood’s most perfect hunk.

6. It’s Complicated
Meryl Streep is so classy and wonderful and funny, playing a woman who finds herself in an affair with the loser she divorced long ago. Alec Baldwin is . . . well, his character brings several words to the tip of my tongue but I shan’t write them on Mary’s classy blog. Anyway, he plays a guy you love to hate. It made me gasp and cringe but mostly it made me laugh.

And with that, I wish you many laugh-filled evenings!

Laura is a Catholic Christian, a mother, a part-time lawyer, and a recovering overthinker. She writes monthly here at Atelier on books and culture, and blogs regularly at This Felicitous Life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kids Outdoor Eating Area Reveal

Reveal is such a dramatic word... Today I want to give you a peek at the kid friendly outdoor eating area that I have been working on. Once the weather permits, the kids and I eat outside a lot. A lot. And we spend a great deal of time in the backyard in general. Warm weather is fleeting in Buffalo, so we really try to make the most of it.

Most of our outdoor furniture is of the hand me down variety:  a collection of [those ubiquitous] plastic chairs, in dingy white, two glass topped tables, one in brown metal, the other a dark green, and two metal chairs, also dark green, with tan and green cushions. Each piece is sturdy, it just not that appealing to look at.

Some of the furniture on a drop cloth in the driveway awaiting painting. I should have gotten a better "before."

I wanted to use what a had and not a lot of $$ to create a functional space for the kids. I wanted something that is attractive, durable, and easy to keep clean, with extra emphasis on easy to keep clean. Kids are messy, and I'm tired of being frustrated over dirty cushions. 

You might remember that I took a can of Krylon Fusion paint to a couple of chairs and a little metal table last year (here). I was pleased with the result, so I decided to attack the rest of the furniture this year. The Krylon wasn't on sale (like last time), so I went with what was - this Rustoleum Painter's Touch 2X Ultra Cover (Paint + Primer). And it turns out that I like it better than the Krylon Fusion. It has a nice glossy finish, and it does give really nice coverage (though I don't know if its exactly the 1 = 2 can coverage that is promised on the packaging). And another plus? The only prep needed is a quick wash with soapy water, and a bit of air drying.

I used "Seaside" and "Real Orange" on the chairs, and "White" on the table. 

The centerpiece is a mint plant potted in a plastic receptacle (intended to be a small waste can) from the dollar store. I punched holes in the bottom for drainage. The kids planted fast sprouting arugula seeds in the caps from the paint cans, which we'll soon transplant to the garden. And all four objects are gathered together on a thrifted metal tray, which allows for easy removal in the event we need more space. Everything on the table is edible and non-shatterable (a word?).

The bright colors go nicely with the kids' plastic Ikea dinnerware. Add some thrifted clothe napkins and mismatched silverware (the 18/10 stays in the house!), and it's a kid friendly place to eat!

When the meal is done, we just hose the table and chairs down.

Not only do the kids eat here, they also color, paint, use play-do, read books, and do puzzles. So again, spray paint for the win!

And a final note... I couldn't have done this project if my good sis Liz wasn't there to help with the kiddos. Thank you, Liz! Also, you may have noticed that not all of the furniture is accounted for. More to come!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

De Pomiane in Ten Minutes

Today I'm linking up with Jessica for What We're Reading Wednesday. The book? French Cooking in Ten Minutes: Adapting to the Rhythm of Modern Life by Edouard de Pomiane.

I love this little book, and I think that I would get along swimmingly with the author, were he still alive (sadly, he passed away over fifty years ago).  De Pomiane's writing style is conversational, yet clear, witty, yet kind. You feel he has faith in your taste and abilities, no matter how inexperienced you may be. While de Pomiane's background as a doctor and scientist is apparent in his methodical approach and his faith in process, he refuses to reduce cookery and consumption to cookery and consumption.

And that brings me to my favorite thing about this book. It's really about more than French cooking, and you can profit from it even if you never prepare a single recipe from it's pages. It's a reminder: that meals are for nourishment and delight, that anyone can cook, that life is beautiful. Let me share with you one of my favorite passages, where the author describes what one ought to do following the stress free, quick, and delicious meal one has just prepared and consumed:
Fill your cup with the hot coffee... Lean back in your armchair and put your feet up. Light a cigarette. Take a nice long puff, then blow the smoke to the ceiling. Enjoy the coffee's aroma, take a long sip. Close your eyes. Think about that second puff, that second sip - you're rich!
And if that is all a little too esoteric for you, here are a few concepts that make this book a practical gem.

Courses: At the time of publication (1930, but maybe still?), French habit was to compose each meal with four or five small courses. While I personally love meals that have courses, I don't serve them at my house. In my mind, courses equal waitstaff and chefs. De Pomiane outlines how the cook pressed for time can plan, prepare, and serve just such a meal with a minimum of difficulty.

Cooking Methods: De Pomiane outlines the basics. He lists three cooking methods that can be accomplished quickly, and explains a bit about what is happening and why. He gives the reader an understanding, rather than just a process. And this is his modus operandi throughout the book. I think most of us have had a sauce turn out lumpy or an egg curdle and turned to takeout none the wiser for our failure. None of that with the good monsieur. If you fail, there is a reason, and he does his best to make sure that you understand why.

The Master Recipe: I recommend reading the book from Introduction to finish, all the way through. De Pomiane doesn't designate it as such, but he often starts each section with a master recipe that can be used, built upon, or modified. The cook is an artist and masterpieces start with basics. I love this concept, because it gives the novice cook an invaluable starting point rather than a deluge of recipes that can't be remembered.

So there, I think you will love this book even if you don't particularly care for French cuisine or such foreign wonders as Honeycomb Tripe with Tomato Sauce or Breaded Pigs Ears. De Pomiane wouldn't judge you, for as he says, "If you're not convinced, do as you like. After all, that's the best way to enjoy what you're eating."

Monday, July 14, 2014


Happy Monday, everyone! I know the weekend just ended but I'm already craving a break. I've been on a "doing" kick lately. We've painted tons of outdoor furniture: six chairs, two tables, and some other stuff.  The finished product is an outdoor eating area that is totally kid friendly. I can't wait to share the finished product sometime soon!

I've also been refurbishing a dresser. This is my first attempt to redo a piece of wooden furniture. I'll be honest - I put it off because it intimidated me, but it really hasn't been awful so far. My forearms and triceps are burning from using a hand sander, but the dresser is shaping up nicely. As is my wimpy upper body. Or so I tell myself.

As bigger projects are accomplished, the smaller stuff has been falling by the wayside. My room is a mess and dinners lately have been simple. Very simple. And I'm sure that everyone will heave a sigh of relief when they see me finally putting the paint away. But hey, isn't this what the long days of summer are for?

After Mass. All motion. Motion and joy.
Sorting linens before summer guests arrive. And now they've come and gone. 
Sticky. Sweaty. Summertime.
Driveway time. I read and the kids scooter. Scooter on, little ones.
Anyone else addicted to spray paint?  Once I start, I can't stop...