11.27.2014

WHERE TO GIVE THIS THANKSGIVING + MY FAVORITE SIDE DISH


It is 1 AM. The mini apple pies have been assembled and baked and are cooling in the kitchen. The serving dishes have been washed and dried and set aside. I have five million loads of dishes to do before our guests arrive so that everybody has clean plates, but instead I've been watching Gilmore Girls all night (season two! tell me that la-la-la background singing eventually goes away?) and eating millions of frozen mini Twix bars and texting with my sister, who is about to take a red eye to NYC so she can sleep on my couch and update me on the various goings on of all the Kardashians. Yay for my sister and yay for Thanksgiving! 

I think Thanksgiving is my dark horse favorite for the holiday top five. I don't know. Parade, dog show, beige foods, maybe a bike ride through the neighborhoods later once we're no longer comatose, then scouring the corner tree lots for THE TREE OF OUR LIVES. I love this week. I even love making that dang crimson jello even though I manage to screw it up in new and different ways every blasted year. 

I was planning on sharing my favorite Thanksgiving side dish recipe in its own pretty post this morning, with pretty pictures to go along with and all kinds of elaborate step by step crap, but instead, Gilmore Girls. 

And then I was going to post another post later this evening, sort of an "I'm grateful for blah blah blah" type deal that you're used to reading by now from bloggers, plus a round up of a few of my family's favorite places to give service + donations during this time of year, but instead, Gilmore Girls.

But! Rather than admit defeat! We're just going to make this work. So. First you're going to read my thoughts on junk, and then about a few neat opportunities for holiday giving that my family have done in the past, or that I've been collecting in my inbox and researching online, and last I am going to send you off with my famous recipe for sweet potatoes. You have just enough time to include them in your menu for tomorrow! (Today!) (I am so unprepared you guys!) I don't really have a pithy name for these sweet potatoes yet. But they do involve mini marshmallows. So don't let me down!





Well, first this is what I want to tell you, is that I am a terribly lucky brat with a lot to be thankful for always, but especially this year.

This year I am grateful for fresh starts. I am grateful for recognizing when things are going in a dumb direction, and the unending capacity we have as humans for growth and renewal and for screeching on the brakes and going--wait, hold up.

I am grateful for our friends. I'm grateful for lost friends who found their way back. I am grateful for friends we see occasionally and for friends we see weekly on our standing Taco Thursday night. I am grateful for my baby's school. Oh my gosh, my baby's school. His amazing teacher, and the boys in his class (Huck is one of six kids in his class. Just six! All of them boys, all of them the sweetest in the world. Huck's teacher calls them "the fellas." Does that not make you grin till your face hurts?)

I'm so grateful for Brooklyn! And for good careers. And for the kind of family that you get giddy over seeing.

Mostly, I'm just really grateful for my boys. I have good ones. I'm so thankful for this chance I have to (sometimes poorly, I might add) juggle all of these wonderful roles that I've got. Wife, mother, lover, friend, writer, debate partner, mortal enemy, buddy, loader and unloader of the dishwasher, daughter, sister, planner, collaborator. Slow email responder. Clothes-wearer. Over-obsessive thinker.

I'm lucky to find myself in a position where I can do things, small stupid things, but things that somehow make things better. I'm grateful for the kind emails from readers, strangers but best friends at the same time, and the encouragement they so lovingly give. I'm so lucky. You know, I once got an email from a teenaged reader who said my blog helped her to stop cutting herself. It floored me. I'm floored every time I think of it. And I think of that girl and that email nearly every day. I think that if nothing else, then this whole blog is hers. It's for her. And gosh. I mean . . . gosh.

Since our thoughts naturally seem to go this way during the holidays, here are a few of our favorite places to give, both during the holidays and all year round.

Sanctuary for Families: Provides services to domestic violence victims, sex trafficking victims, and their children.

City Harvest: Helps feed the more than 1.4 million New Yorkers facing hunger each year.

Coalition for the Homeless: Providing housing, food, crisis services, job training, and youth programs to give homeless kids the support they need to keep up with their peers at school.

New York Cares Coat Drive: 'Tis the season to help keep our neighbors warm and healthy.

The ASPCA: We can't forget our furbabies.

Brooklyn Toys for Tots and The Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, for locals.

It is now 2 AM. And So. The moment you've all been waiting for  . . . The Sweet Potatoes.

Natalie's Buttermilk Sweet Potatoes 
(this title needs work)

INGREDIENTS
6-10 sweet potatoes, peeled, diced, boiled, and mashed
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsps cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
mini marshmallows

METHOD
1. Prepare your sweet potatoes, mash 'em as best as you can, no I don't have anything fancy I use a fork.
2. Add sugar, buttermilk, vanilla, cinnamon, and baking powder. Stir to combine.
3. Once cooled, add the eggs, beaten. Stir to combine. 
4. Pour potato mixture into a casserole dish and bake in a 350 F oven for 20 minutes
5. Remove from the oven and top generously with a sick amazing layer of mini marshmallows. GO FOR BROKE, YOU GUYS. Return to the oven and monitor it closely. You want to remove it as soon as the marshmallows have browned and puffed up. Sometimes this takes about 10 minutes. You can use the broiler if you want, but be prepared that will make it go a lot faster, so no bathroom breaks. (You could also kitchen torch the sucker, you fancy.)

This dish happens to be the best dish ever, and tastes particularly amazing cold, fresh from the fridge. Leftovers! Oh leftovers!

Well, I'm finished now. Hey but what kind of Thanksgiving blog post would this be if I didn't end it a la Rose-That-Is-A-Great-Name? ("So sign already!")


I mean it. Happiest to you and yours. I love you! No but I do!

11.24.2014

AROUND HERE


Only just a very quick update from these parts because I'm hosting Thanksgiving this year and all I can think about right now is not forgetting to get the buttermilk. I think this week might be the most ridiculous week in all of the year and I love it.  

// HO HO HO says 5th Avenue! I was walking around the flatiron the other day while the trees along 5th were getting suited up for the holidays. All those twinkly lights, and the cherry pickers stationed at every tree, and dodging people and weaving around strands of lights while trying to get to places. It was kind of magical, and it made me grin all afternoon. 


// Got to meet the design team at Mackage the other day. Their two lead designers were in town and had a spare hour or two and we got to meet and talk it was a huge, huge treat. Mackage is, like, the major good stuff. Brandon and I were just marveling at this the other night, how funny it is that this blog and this city somehow conspired together to create this whole new career for me, consulting with all the talented designers behind the brands that I love, talking strategy and blah blah blah. It's hard to say in an un-ridiculous way how amazingly fun it has been. My friend Lynne is going to help me come up with a title for what the hell I've been doing all this time and then I'm going to start to do it on purpose. :) Hello, accidental career, I hope you don't mind but I am going to kiss you. 


// Huck was asked to be one of the VIPs to flip the switch on the holiday lights + train show at the Bronx Botanical Gardens last weekend. Give me a break, this kid. He was thrilled down to his toes, we froze ourselves numb, he had such a good time. Brandon had to work so at the last minute it was just us two, and even though it's just us two a lot of the time, this one had a sort of significance to it. This kid is all kid now. Sometimes I'm all mom, but sometimes I'm co-conspirator. This time we were all giggles and jokes and sound effects together, and I think this is going to be one of those memories for me, you know what I mean?


// Brooklyn's been pulling out all the stops lately. This was my doing-the-dishes view the other night. I walked in for a glass of water and froze in my tracks when I saw this out the window. Obviously I decided to stay a little longer, you know, scrub up some pots or whatever. 


// The first part of our Ikea spread is in the current Ikea Live Magazine! It showed up in the post this weekend in a couple different languages, it was kind of a goofy thrill, and it made me think of the opening to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is probably horribly disrespectful to the Swedish language of me, not to mention the entire population of Sweden at large. 

PS--My cluttered wardrobe contained all of my AND Brandon's clothes, thank you, it wasn't that bad, geez. #defensivemuch ;)


Huck to take us out. 

I'd like to share one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes tomorrow, otherwise I'm mostly not here for a bit until I'm sure the yams are going to turn out right. Happy Thanksgeebing Back!

11.19.2014

STROLLER NAP SEASON!


Cold weather days are here! And allow me to be the first to wish you a Happy Nap Stroller Season! To you, and you, and youuu!

We're all in now. This is it. The high today is 34. There are no freak 70-degree weather days to hope for anymore. The sandals be gone. Whisked away to off-season storage. This year, just like every year before, we made a big afternoon of it, paying a fond farewell to our summer-weight clothes and bringing up all our winter gear. We sort through our scarves and coats, fold up our thickest socks + take inventory of our missing gloves, sort through our winter clothes, sort through our stroller's winter clothes . . . hah! Our stroller has more winter gear than all of us, probably. Rain covers, hand muffs, stroller blankets, winter foot muffs, cup holders and storage pockets and fleece linings. We make a huge mess of things when we do this, it always seems to take us a day or two to fully recover + get the house back to normal. We're not in our stroller much now that Huck is four, in school, a pretty reliable walker, and still light enough in case I have to carry him a couple dozen blocks when his "legs are broken," ;) but the colder weather is still an exciting time for me, because colder weather has always meant the return of a city mom's very best trick: the stroller nap. 

a small collection of stroller naps caught on camera . . .

Huck was never much of a napper, bless his rude little heart. He gave up his morning nap at something around 8 months, his afternoon nap at just about 14 months, and though he remained always pleasant + never missed a beat + always made up for that lost sleep during the night (dude was a reliable 13-14 hour-er), I was always jealous of that quiet pocket of dedicated "do something" time that parents of nappers seemed to get every afternoon (even if they had to be trapped at home for it to happen). But then, every winter, something about that elixir of cold air on his cheeks and warm air from his bunting at just the right time of day would often combine to result in a solid two hour nap in the middle of the afternoon, meaning I was free to do anything. ANYTHING. Take meetings with my editors at Babble, run errands, walk aimlessly around the city to sort out my thoughts, or to come back in straight away to clean the house from top to bottom while Huck napped in his parked stroller in the living room. Thank your, winter! As a parent I've loved the cold weather for this very reason. The drearier the day, the better the chance of a good, decent nap. Even now, with Huck in school and the stroller waiting patiently in the basement for the odd chance I'll need him, I still feel that familiar excitement on a miserably cold day, for the cosy sweaters under the big winter coats, for the long long walks all over the city, and nostalgia for the sleeping baby + all that under-carriage storage. ;)

a quick shot post stroller nap. sigh. huck!

The trick to a good stroller nap, and to surviving a winter in general I think, is in the proper gear. You need to be warm enough to stay toasty when outside, but not so warm that you'll suffocate once inside. I used to struggle with that balance when I was at BYU. I'd be so freezing walking between classes, and then immediately get inside and feel like I was going to combust I'd be so overly hot. The solution is, duh, the right breathable materials. (As opposed to polyester thrifted clothes from the DI I always wore back then. Oh, college.)

I've been working with The Woolmark Company this season, a fantastic textiles company based out of Australia, and during our time together I've learned a lot about Merino wool that I'd always sort of suspected just based on experience--most specifically its connection to good sleep. Merino wool makes such a great winter staple precisely for the same reason it makes such a great new baby staple--it is warm enough to retain heat in the coldest weather, but breathable enough to remain cool when the temperatures are warmer. Sleep temperature is such a key factor to a restful nap or night's sleep. I'm a total hot sleeper, I'm always fussing with sleep temperature conditions and fighting an endless battle with Brandon to let me leave the window open. :) In fact, studies have revealed a correlation between woolen bedding and quality sleep patterns, and Merino wool has been proven to increase total sleep time, promote sleep onset, and improve sleep efficiency. (-source -source and lots more good info here.) Wool is also odor resistant. That's cool.

old grainy stroller nap photo, for your pleasure :)

We've been a longtime partner with Bugaboo here at the HNJ HQ, and I've always loved working with the brand because their standards and integrity for design and function are so on point. I always know that a Bugaboo product is going to be top of the line, hard working + long lasting. Bugaboo recently partnered with The Woolmar Company to make a Merino wool stroller blanket, and sent one our way to try out. It's taken a beating already and washes up like a dream. I wore it as a scarf the other day ;).

I've become more convinced that wool is a crucial part of a parent's arsenal through this partnership--crucial for stroller naps, for bedding, for sleepwear, for wraps, for winter clothing, for crafts! Knitting! Wool is natural, renewable, biodegradable, and sustainable. (More on that here.) It's also gentle on sensitive skin, and I can vouch for that. We battle eczema with Huck every winter and whenever his immune system takes a nosedive, so I've learned to be hyperaware of the fabrics we choose and their effect on his skin. I've gotten really good at detecting wool quality by touch over the years. Good Merino wool is the opposite of scratchy. It can feel like silk or velvet, at different weights. It is a dream to work with when knitting or weaving. 

In preparing for this post I went through my old external hard drives to try and find those photos of Huck napping in his stroller, and, a million hours later, hahaha, will you look at this child?


Ah geez.
Okay. The end.

This post was sponsored by The Woolmark Company. And a special thank-you to Bugaboo for the sweet gift for being such an amazing sponsor over the years. :)

11.14.2014

GET ME DRESSED / CAPSULE 02 : VARIATIONS ON A THEME



Hey happy Friday! So here's what I'm wearing these days.

My capsule has suddenly turned very school girl-ish on me. I feel like an off-duty Hogwarts student a lot of the time. It could be the particular botch of my self-botched haircut, or the fact that I seem to have this perma-twelve face . . .  or it could be the fitted sweaters. After an entire summer of wearing oversized tees, I've been gravitating toward the fitted sweaters this season. They feel fresh and sweet.

A few readers + Instagram followers have been requesting that I do outfit posts more often this fall as I play around with this capsule idea. It makes me nervous. I don't consider myself a fashion plate by any means. Nor am I terribly symmetrical or natural-looking in photos. But, you know, some people sky dive, other people post pictures of themselves on the Internet. Who am I to judge? ;)

And so, in this post, three variations on a theme.
(If you read that in Ira Glass's voice, hey high five!)





I call it "The School Girl Theme." British, 50s Beatnik, and All American Girl Next Door, if we're choosing subheadings.





Taking outfit photos is really, really awkward for me still. Especially self-timer outfit photos when my four-year-old is looking at me funny.

So here's something I've been pondering. Is the point of a capsule to get you out of a rut? Or to better define your rut. Because I like my rut. It's cosy in here. Or maybe you try to utilize all 40 pieces by mixing and matching? You know, maximize all the style options inherent in each piece; be creative; keep things from getting boring. Personally, I haven't enjoyed any self-imposed pressure to get creative with the items I chose, and I don't know if that strategic aspect of a capsule is really for me. The limiting part is great, keeping a look simple and consistent has been really rewarding + has made me enjoy other parts of getting dressed so much more--jewelry, lipstick, shoooooooes. But the maximizing of the minimization, I don't know. That not so much.

I think what's fun about a capsule is seeing what parts of you come out of it suddenly making more sense to yourself. This whole deal has gotten me even more excited about the idea of a uniform, which is a whole other ball of lint and something I'm excited to hash out next. And it's made me rethink the fashion industry, too. You know, Coco, Anna, Karl Lagerfeld, Jenna Lyons, they all have looks. Those weirdo Olsen twins (I love those weirdo Olsen twins), there's not much of a variation there. They all work in fashion, creating clothes or promoting designers or analyzing trends and interpreting them for their own audiences, and yet, they don't really change their own overall looks much, if ever. They just sort of . . . tweak it. Variations on a theme. I suppose the more you're aware of the industry, the more you become aware of who all is making the kinds of clothes you like and how they're varying things subtly. This capsule exercise led me to appreciate my clothes on a micro level. The tiny details; the seaming, the darts, the fabric choice. It's made me think more about my mom's good friend Lisa, who is probably the most sophisticated woman I've ever known, and who owns approximately five million articles of clothing that are all completely identical: black, and drape-y. Every single one. So she literally looks exactly the same, every time I see her. She shops a lot. It is completely making sense to me now.


For instance, trench coats.



This is what I call my *starter trench.* I got it at Target a few years ago, it's made by Converse. It was thirty bucks, it came with a hood that was cute when it was up but silly and lifeless when it was down, so I snipped it out. I keep looking for another trench like this, but nicer. Better materials, lined maybe, maybe water resistant because this one is not and doesn't that negate the purpose of a trench coat? But I haven't found it yet. Many times if I'm in an area with good shops I'll swing into one, in my trench coat, to look at trench coats. The whole thing strikes me as rather indulgent and silly. I have a trench coat. But also, it is fascinating to compare all these slightly different trench coats against each other. The more trenches I try on, the more of the artistry and craft behind each design I'm able to appreciate, the more I start to understand about the fashion houses behind each design, and the more I start to understand about myself, and my relationship with my clothes.



So, uh, seen any good trench coats lately? I need a slim cut shoulder and a real good back vent. Longer than the knee, shorter than the shin. 

And now please enjoy my classy "Deep In Thought" pose. Doesn't it go nicely with the introspective theme of this post? By this point I was completely over this self-timer nonsense and Huck was getting really curious about things. Like, What are you doing, mom. This is weird. What are you looking at? So these were for his benefit. It was really funny. I don't know, I guess you had to be there.



The End.

11.11.2014

HUCK TURNS FOUR!


Oh, stop it, Huck!

Huck has the honorable distinction of having been born a Halloween baby, and as such will always have a fall-back plan in place for all his future birthday parties in case he runs out of ideas for the rest of his natural born life. :) Kid, you are welcome for that!

Having a four-year-old is a total kick in the pants. There's a lot of reverse psychology happening here, a lot of negotiation, a fair bit of misdirection, and a lot of in-advance strategizing. There's a certain song and dance about planning a four-year-old's birthday party. You have to ask just the right questions. If you make things too open-ended, pretty soon you've lost the ship. Mutiny! Anarchy! Mom overboard! Keep it to yes/no questions. Simple and/or decisions. Reward decisions that make party decorations fun with candy, and gratuitously. :)

As of six months ago, Huck was sure he wanted a second penguin party. I was a bit skeptical, of course. Six months from now he could be an entirely different person! Not to mention possibly five feet taller! Because six months to a kid is, like, a decade in dog years. Pretty soon Huck had decided he wanted a zebra party. Which is pretty much the same thing as a penguin party from the perspective of streamer selection. Huck had just made friends with a small plastic zebra named Maze and they'd become mostly inseparable. I don't know if they had a falling out or whatever, but a few weeks later he announced that he wanted a Chuck E. Cheese party instead. At first I was like, Child. But then I got really behind the idea. Total throwback, am I right? We were all super into it. Also this: "I won't have to do anything!" But of course, any parent of an almost-four-year-old knows not to take any request seriously unless it comes at zero hour, the hour at which there is no time for backing out, because all four-year-olds, given the option, will change their minds at the very last minute, just to make you scramble, and because there are no points for effort here you better be ready to make it happen! After all, a poorly executed party is far and away better than a Pinterest-worthy set up on a theme he got bored of five minutes ago. :)

I don't know, I like four-year-olds. I get it. I feel like four-year-olds and I might have a lot in common. Maturity levels or something. :)   


At zero-zero hour Huck decided he wanted a Halloween party instead, complete with Halloween costumes and Halloween candy, and balloons. And celery (?). Luckily we'd invited all his classmates at preschool to start the party here at Huck's house, just in case of just such a thing. So, flexibility! Only way to do it. :)

PS--Huck did his own lettering on his birthday banner. Can you get over that? Stud.


We finally got to employ the piñata we'd had sitting around in the kitchen for the past few months (that's a long story). 

After some last minute waffling, Huck settled on attending his party as the Pink Power Ranger. 
(For the real deal, Huck switched ninja gears and decided to go as a Ninja Turtle.) 
(You'll like that link, promise. Click on it.) 


Working on a zero-hour schedule, we did a quick Devil's food cake, decorated with glow in the dark fangs and squishy eyeballs (all from Target!), and topped off with four birthday candles propped up by four plastic skeletons. Some toy bugs strewn about for whatever, and taduh! 

The spiders on the cake were Brandon's idea. Brandon has a knack for finding theeeee perfect finishing touches for things, and these spiders were just the trick. (I almost wrote, "and these spiders took the cake!" But look, Steve.)


(We had to prop the eyeballs up on toothpicks--these were squishy eyeballs, not sticky eyeballs. Also, not edible eyeballs. I learned that one the hard way. And then made sure to warn the kids while cutting the cake after the birthday song, "THE EYEBALLS DO NOT TASTE GOOD, KIDS. DON'T DO IT.")


Now. Will you look at this.



Ah geez, Huck. 


I am not kidding here with this bit. I later asked Huck what he wished for, and he said he wanted a ninja sword, and a baby sister. Clearly I'm biased here, but you guys, this kid is such a dreamboat.

(Should he have wished for a hairbrush for his mom while he was at it? ;)



Now, four-year-olds and piñatas . . .







Bingo.

After the piñata was burst and the last of the candy had been collected, we all spilled outside to enjoy the gorgeously sunny fall afternoon at the playground up the street. And then we went home to recycle the pizza boxes. And maybe take a nap. :)


There was this moment during the party when Huck was blowing out his candles that I keep coming back to. All of Huck's friends and all of Huck's friends' parents were all huddled together around the dinner table waiting expectantly, our hands frozen in place and ready to cheer, just waiting for that last little flame to disappear into tiny wisps of smoke before erupting into applause. We were making that kind of halting "ah!--oh!--" noise as Huck blew and blew and blew into that last burning candle, and just as the flame finally went out, and just as Huck stood up tall and threw his arms in the air in triumph, out came this explosion of voices and clapping and noises, all these friends, all these kids and these grown ups, all so genuinely caring and loving and supportive of my baby, of my family . . .  it was just such a moment of real, shared joy, and tears sprung into my eyes and I realized again, just like I do every day because of mostly silly things, how we have it pretty dang good over here, and we are so so fulfilled. Because of this boy. 

My boy is just the loveliest. Huck is a magnet for every good thing in orbit in this universe. He brings all the best things with him where ever he goes. He is the light of my life, I tell you. He is such a pleasure and such a gift. I am grateful for him every day. What a seriously cool person I gave birth to. 


Happy Birthday, Huck! FOUR!!!! I sure do love you to bits.

Love, 
Your Mom
(Love your mom!)
(☝︎Inside Juliemom joke.)

*Every year for Huck's birthday we do a little recording of his lullaby, Moon River.*
(You can see a few previous years here and here, and some of the story behind it here.)
(We plan to have a really great compilation of videos put together by the time he turns 18. (SOB!))

This year we had a little help from Mindy Gledhill!


Classes things up a bit huh? :)

A quick bonus track, Anchor, my very favorite Mindy song of ever, live from our roof!


Whew! The end. 
Thanks, Minds! We love you!!
p.s. Statue of Liberty on Mindy's right, Freedom Tower on her left.
And the lovely Joe Corcoran on guitar, too. :)