Thursday, March 26, 2015


Since we moved into our 1975 split level home about a year ago, a few safety upgrades were necessary and since we found the Retract-A-Gate one large issue was solved. I want to sing some praises of the Retract-A-Gate ( to make sure all who have small children and gate needs, know how cool this product is.

Our home has a beautiful layout for kids, all save for the stairs right at the edge of the living room.

Before we moved, I had day-mares about my little boy (then 1.5) rolling down the new house living room stairs. We were coming from a home that didn't have such a prominent staircase. I googled gates, read Amazon reviews on nearly all the gates listed, and finally found a mom’s chat board with mom opinions where someone mentioned Retract-A-Gate and how much they loved it. Now, it was a little bit more costly than the cheaper tension gates, but we needed a sure thing when it came to safety, and a cheap gate was not the answer. After I took a look at their website (excellent and easy to navi-gate [get it?!]) it was an easy decision. You see, our 1975 palace has a railing that is a little wobbly, and without making major re-design decisions before moving in, or putting the pressure on to replace it (it’s not broken, just not completely static) I wanted a gate that could be installed right away and safe and, I imagined a wooden/hard gate would be impossible to affix in our situation. Enter the Retract-A-Gate!

My main concern was safety and it is amazing how the simple, smart design on this gate solves that requirement in so many different situations. It is completely safe, our 2.5 year old can't get through it or push it in a way that they could fall down the stairs. Our 4 year old can in fact open and close it, which makes things a snap when you are carrying groceries! The indestructible fabric like design (this would be great with rambunctious dogs too) makes it that the gate will give a tiny bit, which is awesome for us. You could really use this gate anywhere. Why spend money on single purpose gates. If you wanted, you could buy installation hardware for all over your house, and bring the gate to each room with you. We have the one location that we needed a gate, and have plans to make use of it in other areas (like the sliding glass doors to the pool…) once our kids are older.

 Some of the features we love are the simple design, which is easy to use but not easy enough for my little one to damage or open. It was a SNAP to install. We were pretty stressed moving into this place and needed to have the gate up right away, our son was 18 months old and did not know stair safety. I like that it doesn't call your attention visually. Most gates are big and visually distracting; the Retract-A-Gate should be called the Attracti-Gate, because it is so visually appealing.

 I also have to mention that the Retract-A-Gate company actually has customer service assistance, I felt better knowing if I needed help, it was there for me.  Big box/ websites couldn't offer that.

We will be using our gate for years to come, our third baby is just 3 months old, and we are prepared for him already!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Serve to get Served

I was at Subway last night with the hubby, I like Subway- good cheap food that doesn't clog the arteries. It also provides me a bit of a customer service social experiment opportunity almost every time we go.

Think about the environment. There are a few sandwich artists (some of them really are!) behind the glass, and usually a whole lotta people in line, hungry people. The hungry people want food fast and they can't control how much stuff is put onto their sandwiches, they have to communicate with the artists. The artists have a lot of power here- there can be an element of chincyness if they so do decide, on the flip side they can pile your sandwich high.

Last night we were in line and I noticed the lady on front of me looked a little disgruntled. She was greeted by the artist, and she flatly said "six inch ham on wheat" without making any eye contact or really acknowledging the artist. The artist repeated "ham on wheat- 12 inch?" The customer kinda barked "no- SIX INCH." I noticed the artist looked pretty bored and unengaged. I immediately recognized an opportunity to see if I can engage this person and see if the absent minded customer service was based on the artist, or the customer. So, it was our turn, he said "welcome to Subway, what would you like." I looked him in the eyes and smiled and said "how's it going?" He immediately brightened up and answered, "pretty good." The hubby ordered (as well as acknowledged the artist) and he had no problem starting his sandwich. I said that "I'll rock a six inch turkey on monterey" and he started my order just fine. He also looked more engaged. Going down the line I smiled and greeted and joked with the staff. My sandwich was great, and they were generous. They wished us a great night- unlike the customers before us, and they had smiles on their faces.

I'm not saying this is a scientifically provable theory, that being nice makes it easier to get good service. But I do believe that because I was nice to my sandwich artists, they were happy to serve us. We all ended up having an easy and great customer service experience. In everything, I try to remember that it takes two to tango. The folks out there who "always get bad service" might try being nice to get good service, after all- they are just people like we are.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ancient Bread

Hmm, picture yourself in Ancient Rome; you are sitting in the kitchen- really an area with wooden table and a large stone hearth oven. You’re sipping some newly fermented beer, waiting for your bread to finish baking. This is what it might look like when finished:

I snuck a peek at a book called “My Bread” by Jim Lahey while logging some cafĂ© time with the Hubby. Lahey has this no knead recipe that has 4 ingredients, and he claims it is the closest we can get to bread from ancient times. Of course I was intrigued. So, I copied it down and made it for myself. WOW- it was amazing. I imagine that many of you who actually read this blog have tried some of mine. It is so light and airy in the inside- even when you use wheat flour. Since my obsession started, I was gifted the book for Christmas, and I plan on working through it to try each recipe.

One thing I love about “My Bread” is that the author, Jim is all about the baking. He wants everyone to have the recipe free. I think he wrote the book for those of us who love a good bread story. His is pretty cool. His love of baking came from the (self imposed) need to impress a girl. ; )

Here is the recipe and a video link to see Jim Lahey work his magic. My voice is in italics. Enjoy!

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 10 minutes plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting¼ teaspoon instant yeast1¼ teaspoons salt
~1 5/8 cups of waterCornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water (more if needed to make it sticky), and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap (I use a tea towel- never plastic). Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees (I put mine in the micro over night).

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal (I used wheat flour and cornmeal); put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 475 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack at least one hour. Stick your ear close to the crust after it is cooling on the rack- it will crackle at you :)
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

YouTube piece on this bread:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

BPA Free Pumpkin Pie

Yes folks, it is the moment you have been waiting for. Either the moment when you don't have to worry about eating plastic (BPA) pie, or when Maega goes over the deep end (that happened a while back......) to make pie making way harder than it usually is. Well- o.k. the trade off between the extra work for a chemically free pie is totally worth it. And, in my opinion, it does taste better.

The fly in the coffee for me wasn't the pumpkin in the can, it was the evaporated milk in the can. How does one go about evaporating milk? Hmmm. Then the "Pick Your Own" website saved the day. I was looking at their recipe for pumpkin pie and noticed that someone from Europe asked how they could make evaporated milk because it isn't sold there. DING DING DING DING!!! There was my answer. It turns out, adding dry milk to low fat milk = evaporated milk.

The new process:
Cook down pumpkin (a pie pumpkin)- you can buy these at the farmers market for like $1. I bought 2 just in case, but one medium sized pumpkin should suffice. I like to cut the pumpkin into like 4 - 8 pieces (after scraping the seeds/innards out and the stringy guys off the inside) and put them skin side up in a pot with a steamer basket. Watch the water level so you don't burn the pan. When done, the pumpkin should be soft. Get the meat out of the skin and you are ready to...
Mash pumpkin- this can happen in a blender, food processor, KA food grinder (my preferred tool). If the pumpkin has any standing liquid, you should strain it. Grab some cheese cloth or something similar and tie it up in your fridge over a bowl over night. I did this for most of the pumpkin, and I froze a ton of it (in glass- not plastic). It keeps up to a year. If there isn't any liquid you are good to go.

Make pie!
You can follow the same recipe just as you would with canned pumpkin. Don't forget to use equal parts low fat milk to dry milk (whisked together) to sub the evap. milk.

Viola! BPA free pie you can feel good about. Or you can say that you were sucked into Maega Enthusiasm's propaganda against the EVIL BPA makers.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Fab(ulous)ric Napkins- Not Just For Fancy Pants’ Anymore

I am always on the quest for more "green" ways of living. As long as it fits into my lifestyle that is. I find that if I can't sustain a practice because either the people in my household wont or it is too many more steps or $$ then I will abandon the idea. However! One idea that I found really fun and intriguing was making fabric napkins. Ooops- I meant fabulous fabric napkins.

One of my BFF's was recounting her weekend to me and showed me some napkins that she had made along with her mom, and my envious meter shot through the roof. I was all "I want some" instantly. She said that it is great because they are affordable to make. You don't worry about them getting dirty and then throw them in the wash with the rest of your laundry and viola- more clean napkins. I was ALL over that- picture white on rice- that was me. The only problem is that the last time I used my sewing machine I wanted to throw it against the wall. I read the manual and then tried it myself and what I ended up with was a frustration headache. So there was my dilemma. Then, this is one of the reasons why I love my BFF, she says to me "do you want to go over to my mom's and we can teach you how to make them?" Well, I was like white on rice again folks- all over that.

Here are our beloved creations:

My hubby seems to be totally cool with it. He doesn't do the laundry, and also thinks that the tiny square of a paper napkin is insufficient, so likes the size and durability. I did laundry right before we made these and that was probably 2 weeks ago- wow, now you know how often I do laundry… and it is on the web. Hmm, oh well. We still have some napkins sitting in the drawer waiting for dinner. Ahhhhh- sweet easy green-ness. P.s. It makes dinner just a little more fun too- in a fancy way : )

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Exciting = Satisfaction

I receive this cute little newsletter from (a cutesy post-wedding website) that gives tips for relationships, features newlyweds and a lot of other stuff. In one article (7/15/09) about keeping the flame alive in your relationship, there was a study quoted from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It was about doing activities that were highly exciting and moderately comfortable and how psychologists found that there was much more satisfaction in that than doing activities that were highly pleasant and moderately exciting.
This article was timely for me, as I was starting to get sick of the same ole' routine every night and weekend. I truly think that I am a person who needs variety, after all, it is the spice of life right?
Today, I read on the Happiness Project blog that novelty and challenge bring happiness. I think the stars have aligned and a theme is emerging from all of this! Are people stuck in doing boring things that they are comfortable with?

Take that Challenge
I started to realize that I love challenges when Mike and I renovated our kitchen last Spring. Through all the hard work and frustration, I realized that I felt smart, independent and alive. This made me really happy. I love coming home to my kitchen, not only because it looks so much better, but because it reminds me of the challenge I overcame.

I'm not suggesting going home tonight and ripping your kitchen apart, but even switching up the routine night after night can be really stimulating. Just last Tuesday I went to a book signing for a bread book (Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes A Day) that my girlfriend gave to me (she is the book queen: her blog is bookish bent). It was awkward for me to go and ask questions to these people who seemed like they are bread god's, but it was fascinating to see them in real life and talk to them about their intentions. It brought a depth to the book that I wouldn't have had before. And it has pretty signatures in it now too : ) However, I sacrificed staying in my cozy home on a cold dark night, I even sacrificed eating dinner at the normal time. But I felt so awake and refreshed after going. I learned something new.
I believe that learning is so important to our happiness. Part of learning is breaking out of what we are used to and experiencing something new. Most of us learn when we are challenged.

Take Care
Something to consider though, when planning your next exciting adventure, or many little adventures, is to make sure you have time to decompress. Especially if you are planning a big event. After the kitchen, I needed to not do any home projects for at least 3 months. Even though I am desperate to finish the basement, I know that I needed to brew some more energy before jumping into that project.

So have you been thinking about something that you want to do, that you haven’t before? Go for it! Your life satisfaction index will get a nice boost.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cheers to Learning

I've been thinking about learning a lot lately, seeing as I am supposed to help people do this thing called learning. So I was looking into good quotes about learning and found some great ones. I though I'd share:

•Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere. ~Chinese Proverb

•All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind. ~Martin H. Fischer

•Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

•Learning is not a spectator sport. - D. Blocher

•Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself. ~Vilfredo Pareto

•It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it. ~Jacob Bronowski

•The biggest enemy to learning is the talking teacher. - John Holt

•When you know something, say what you know. When you don't know something, say that you don't know. That is knowledge." - Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius)

•What I hear, I forget.

What I see, I remember.

What I do, I understand.

- Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius)

•A lot of people have gone farther that they thought they could because someone else thought they could. ~Anonymous

•To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

•When the student is ready, the master appears. ~Buddhist Proverb

•I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday. ~Abraham Lincoln

•I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught. ~Winston Churchill

•Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will. ~Vernon Howard