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2015: A Year of Living Cooperatively with the @EastEndCoop #shoplocal

I’m down to the wire with making my New Year’s Resolution, but aren’t I always?

Last year, I resolved to Make Every Action an Expression of My Authentic Self. Did I achieve that? Maybe. It’s hard to gauge. And honestly, by springtime I forgot that was my resolution (today I had to search my blog to find last year’s resolution post, because I had no idea what it was.) But in general, throughout 2014 I’ve done a better job of leading my life in directions that feel meaningful to me. I’ve said yes to opportunities that fit right, I’ve said no to opportunities that do not. I’ve resisted taking on projects merely because they are expected of me, and have devoted my energies fully and enthusiastically to projects that are meaningful. That’s about all you can expect.

In this coming year, our family is making a resolution together: 2015 will be our year of shopping cooperatively. We will do all our grocery shopping at the East End Food Co-Op. Mr. Beez has been on the board of directors of the Co-Op for years. While we shop there as often as is convenient, it hasn’t ever been our primary grocery store. This is because I’m the one in charge of groceries, and I shop at whatever grocery store is closest or otherwise is the easiest choice at the moment. Mr. Beez and I have talked about needing to shop more regularly at the co-op. We believe in its mission. Mr. Beez, especially, is a true co-op believer. He goes to co-op conferences, he enthusiastically visits other co-ops around the country when we travel.

So in 2015, we’re co-op’ing it all the way! And if you haven’t been there for a while, you should join us for a visit. It’s not all wheat germ, hemp milk and teff (although they do have those things), they’ve also got a mean gourmet cheese section, local meats, and yes they carry Jeni’s. What else could I ask for?

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A Holiday Break of Sorts and final countdown to my @CMNHospitals goal for @RunDisney

A Holiday Break of Sorts and final countdown to my @CMNHospitals goal for @RunDisney

January 2 is my deadline for my Children’s Miracle Network fundraising goal for the 2015 RunDisney Glass Slipper Challenge! I’ve raised over $1,050 toward the $1,200 goal…ONLY $150 TO GO! CLICK ANYWHERE ON THIS PARAGRAPH TO GO TO MY FUNDRAISING PAGE!  Help me cross the finish line!!! PS– if you sponsor me, I’ll put your name on my running pance for the half marathon princess run! Yinz are absolutely the best, for SRS.

Despite my complaints that real grown-up life no longer has a winter break, things have been noticeably quieter around these parts for the last week. I’ve spent a fair amount of time hanging out with family, reading books, and best of all napping. SO many naps. It’s been lovely. You’d think I’ve had used this time to finally get together our belated Holiday letter…but it’s already late, so what’s a few more days later, when I can use this time for glorious glorious naps instead.

We wound up last week’s Toronto trip with a stop at Mystic Muffin. It’s a local favorite, known for its friendly owner, Elias, and the amazing apple cake he bakes. It was such a laid back, cool place. We had a great time chatting with Elias about how he came from Lebanon as a refugee and ultimately settled down in Canada, and about his sweet little daughter. The breakfast bagels were great and the buttery, sweet apple cake did not disappoint. This place was the best.

Mystic Muffin

#1 Apple Cake Fan

#1 Apple Cake Fan


On the long drive home, we listened to Serial (LOVE IT) and made a couple quick stops at wineries in Niagara-On-the-Lake. I did my best to keep Baby Beez occupied with my phone as we sampled a few wines and stocked up for the long, cold winter ahead.

I found about 300 of these on my phone by the end of the afternoon.

I found about 300 of these on my phone by the end of the afternoon.


We stopped first at Caroline Cellars, a homey and friendly favorite, to pick up some of their French Revolution marechal foch blend. Our second stop was Stratus, which has a cool modern vibe, and easily the most gorgeous tasting room I’ve eve seen. Our third and final stop was Jackson-Triggs which easily won me over as my favorite of the trip with its selection of multiple kinds of bubbly, both white and red.Jackson-Triggs

My mom came in to visit the day after we returned from our trip, and it’s been a laid back Christmas season. Baby Beez enjoyed ripping into the remainder of her Hanukkah presents and getting to show her grandma how she lights the Hanukkah candles.

Hanukkah Box

Since Mr. Beez’ family is Catholic, we spend Christmas at their house, and Santa even visits Baby Beez there. So basically, she’s the most spoiled kid ever. This was the first Christmas since Mr. Beez’ mother passed away, so the whole thing was a bit different and sad. Grandma was always in charge of Santa’s complete disregard for limits when it came to presents, and since I took over the Santa responsibilities, this year was more modest. I can’t say Baby Beez noticed the difference though. She did get her GoGo Pet pup, and was THRILLED.

Gogo Pup

Baby Beez

We continued the holiday spirit on Friday with a visit to the Nutcracker. On the way there, Baby Beez told us all the story of the Nutcracker. Her ballet teacher had been talking about it with the class, but I suspect Baby Beez added her own interpretation. According to her, in the Nutcracker: “The girl throws her shoe and kills the mices and then the Nutcracker grows and kills them with its butt, and then they get married.”

The Nutcracker

We also went to see Annie over the weekend. We intended to see it on Christmas, but with our foo comas and multiple naps, we decided to skip it for the time being. Instead we went this weekend. It was absolutely fantastic. The music is just as fun and catchy as the original movie (and play) with a modern twist to it. Baby Beez sang the songs nonstop afterward, and it was nice for her to be singing something that (for once) does not get on my nerves.

ANNIE

Let me tell ya, IT’S A HARD KNOCK LIFE, YINZ. Especially if you are 4. She looks all cute and cheerful in those pictures, but she’s been ridiculously difficult over the last couple of days. Even at the movies, where she is usually very well behaved, she was kind of a nightmare. Maybe it was lack of sleep, maybe it’s just a change in schedule, maybe it’s the lack of outdoor time. Who knows. But I’m ready to get back in our normal routine.

So that’s all for now yinz. Back in the office tomorrow, but luckily the courts aren’t chomping at the bit to get back to work, so it should be pretty easy going for the next week or so. Hope yinz all had a lovely holiday and are gearing up for a fun New Year!


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Moar Eats and Sights in Toronto

Moar Eats and Sights in Toronto

I asked Baby Beez this morning what her favorite thing is about our trip to Toronto, and she announced “EATING ALL THE FOOD!” Because she’s my kid. Obvs. I initially thought of writing a post for each day we’re on our trip, but drawing out our weekend might be completely torturous to my readers, because one weekend really is not that exciting. Also, we’re winding down our visit, Mr. Beez and I are sipping some beers while watching Gone Girl while Baby Beez is sleeping, so why not sit down and write a spell. The focus of our trip has been (1) eating things, and (2) looking at things. It’s been going very well.

St Lawrence Market

The #1 destination for our trip was St Lawrence Market, and we were definitely not disappointed. I had failed to do any research on the shops themselves before arriving, but my foodie spidey-sense was on point, and we beelined it to the first bakery we saw was Carousel Bakery, which just happens to be THE place to go for the Toronto signature dish, peameal bacon on a bun. Yes, pls.

Carousel Bakery

Donut for her, peabacon on bun for me

We continued wandering around, enjoying all kinds of tasty things, like a cafe au lait made from freshly-roasted coffee, sausage from the Ukranian store, allllll of the cheese-stuffed antipasti and delicious, buttery chocolate chunk shortbread.

Coffee Roaster

Ukranian Store

Antipasti

Chocolate Chunk Shortbread

all the cheese

Have you ever seen more beautiful words?

Have you ever seen more beautiful words?


I treated myself to a facial during the day. Mr. Beez stayed back at the room with Baby Beez. He fell asleep, during which time she took advantage of the situation and unwrapped all the Hanukkah presents we had brought for her. I told her she wasn’t in trouble, but we were just disappointed that we didn’t get to see her open them (and also she’d have to wait til we get back to Pittsburgh for any more presents.) She got all big and teary-eyed and said “I tried to wait!” I just wish we had a camera in the room, so we could have seen her “trying” to wait.

We went to the Hockey Hall of fame, and by “Went To” I mean “Stood in front of and took a picture.” We’re not really into hockey, or sports in general. But our hotel was right next to the hall of fame, and everyone else was taking pictures in front of the sign, so why not? If we come back when Baby Beez is older, and she actually WANTS to go there, I can show her this picture and tell her she’s already been there, and get myself out of that one for sure.


Hockey Hall of Fame

Our big touristy adventure for the day was going to the CN Tower, which was pretty neat and provides a lovely view. Baby Beez is apparently not afraid of heights in the least, because she just loved looking out the windows.

Taking pictures with her toy camera

Taking pictures with her toy camera



CN Tower

CN Tower

The thing with traveling with a 4 year old is that you only get about 2.5 hours of doing things until she starts absolutely losing her mind. Because she’s 4. And that’s what 4 year olds do. So we try to make the most of those 2.5 hours, and know that it’s all going to unravel afterward, so it’ll be time for us ALL to go back for a nap.

Toronto has an AMAZING food scene, and we were lucky enough to line up a sitter so we could go out for a grown-up dinner with friends whom we have not seen in way too long.  Not wanting to miss an opportunity to Rent the Runway, I got myself dressed up!

Rent the Runway Lela Rose Floating Flowers

We went to Beast, in the King West neighborhood, and had a great time sampling its inventive, locally focused menu. My favorite dishes were the first two pictured below, the simple but amazing cava + oysters, and the stuffed pasta that I can’t remember more details about, other than it being fantastic.  All of the dishes were great, but those two were my absolute favorite.

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

As much as I would have LOVED to return to St. Lawrence Market and eat my face off AGAIN, it is sadly closed on Sunday and Monday.  Mr. Beez ended up getting tied up with work, so Baby Beez and I explored the City together. First things first, snacking Canadian-style at Tim Horton’s.

Tim Horton's

Next up, trolley tour!! It was very cold out, but it was a nice way for us to see the city (and conveniently fit within the 2.5 hour window of my child behaving like a human, instead of a gremlin).

Bus Tour

Of course, afterward a nap was NECESSARY. And did serve us well. Then we were off to Eaton Centre to wander around the mall. Because when we go on vacation, my child begs to go to (1) the playground, and (2) the mall. Next year, we’ll vacation in the suburbs. But to keep this little one occupied, we did let her pick out a toy at the Disney Store. She passed over the princesses, and picked out Eve from Wall-E, so we were extra-pleased. I must say, the mall WAS decorated in a lovely way for the holidays, and it was a nice night out wandering around together.

Eaton Centre

Tonight, I ordered the kid to go to bed at a reasonable time (she ignored me, she’s laying on the couch and sneaking goldfish crackers), and Mr. Beez and I are up watching Gone Girl and sipping some beers. And you know what, movies and beers, that’s a nice night.

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Go North, Beez Family!!

Go North, Beez Family!!

Sometime in the Autumn, I hit a funk where it was clear that I NEEDED A VACATION. Not even a long vacation, just a little trip away, just to have some fun and (if all went according to plan) take a brief break from work. Smart people in Pittsburgh head south to where it is nice and warm. We are not smart, and we only had 4 days for this trip, so we went north, to see our friends in the land of moose and maple syrup. Mr. Beez had fond childhood memories of visiting Toronto around Christmas, and I had only visited Toronto once in my freshman year of college, and barely remember the place. Plus, hotel points=free lodging= yes pls. So Toronto, it was.

Our plan was to get on the road at 6am, but due to various work commitments for both Mr. Beez and I, we didn’t even get around to packing until 11pm the night before. We ended up waking up at a reasonable time and getting on the road by 7:30….so still early, just not as early as we hoped.We had our road “reading” all picked out. World War Z was a super fun book and was perfect pick, both Mr. Beez and I enjoyed it. (Note: We’ve got Serial all teed up to listen to on the drive back).  And then some idiot truck river got himself in a major accident on the highway causing a MAJOR traffic backup. It took us 2 hours to get to Wexford. It usually takes about 30 minutes.

truck accident

FINALLY we made it out of the Pittsburgh metro area. We did hit a couple more spots of traffic, but FINALLY Toronto was in sight!

CN Tower

Our plan for the first evening there was to visit Toronto’s famed Christmas Market in the Distillery District. It rivals the Christmas markets in Europe, and has been rated one of the World’s 10 Best Christmas Markets by Fodor’s Travel.

Toronto Christmas Market

Toronto Christmas Market

It really is a lovely and large Christmas Market, but everyone else in the Toronto Metro area apparently planned to go that night, too, and it was PACKED. Mr. Beez and I would rather sit and stare at a wall than be in a crowd, and crowded areas are even less navigable with a hungry 4 year old, so after about 20 minutes we called it a day and went searching for some food that did not involve standing in line.

I don’t know how people managed to travel or find anything before there was Yelp. I mean, I have vague memories of studying abroad in 2002 and lugging around a big ol’ travel book, but if I still had to do that today, I wouldn’t get to see anything cool, because I cannot get my act together to pre-plan our outings. We were leaving the Christmas Market, were hungry, and THANK YOU Yelp, found a well-rated Thai place nearby, Mengrai Thai.  Chef Sasi has won all kinds of awards and accolades, and we were very happy with the delicious and creative menu. The space is unique and comfy, the service quick and attentive. My favorite thing about the menu is that they have 4-course price fixe options, and they do not require everyone at the table to pick the price fixe. This meant I was able to get my price fixe, Mr. Beez picked out a couple of individual things on the menu he wanted, and Baby Beez ate steamed rice and deep-fried shrimp, as you do when you’re 4.

Mengrai Thai appetizer platter

Price fixe appetizer platter, ALL FOR ME.

Pumpkin Soup & Tempura Vegetables

Tofu with Cashews

Mr. Beez and I were both pleased to observe that our orders were chock full of fresh, delicious veggies. Lots of broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and all kinds of good things. After spending a day in the car, mostly eating carbs and salt, it’s nice to finish the day with a meal full of colors and flavors.

sticky rice and ice cream

My meal was completed with a dessert of mango sticky rice and green tea ice cream. While I’d describe most of the rest of the meal as a solid Thai option, the kind of place I’d have on speed dial for take-out if I lived nearby, this dessert stood out as awesome. There is something about rice based desserts that sounds disgusting to me, but this sticky rice was the perfect texture and flavor, and the green tea ice cream was fabulous. Loved it.

I’ll be sharing the remainder of our trip soon. We’re on our last night here, and plan to make a few stops in Niagara-on-the-Lake and make our way back to Pittsburgh. The time just zoomed by this weekend, and more than anything, I’ve noticed just how many zillions of things there are to do in Toronto. It genuinely has all the options and excitement of New York, with far fewer headaches and at a much better price point. We’re already talking about coming to visit again soon, because there are so many more things we still want to do.

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December in a house of blue, white and silver

We don’t do any of that Elf on the Shelf nonsense. Not because I hate all things fun (which I do), or because I am lazy (which I am), but because I am Jewish. I admittedly grew up as one of those “lucky” kids, because my Dad is Catholic, so I got Hanukkah presents (eight days of socks!) and Christmas presents. Nonethless, I’m still not really into the holidays. I’m not a total Grinch. I love cookies, and I have a proper appreciation of A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, the John Denver with the Muppets Christmas Album and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” But that’s about as far as it goes. The holidays aren’t really my thing.

When Alex asked if I’d be willing to host the Pittsburgh blogger holiday cookie swap he was arranging, I said “sure!” …mostly because I knew that I would be the beneficiary of additional leftover cookies. But in the day or so before the event, I realized I was an odd selection for host, because literally the only holiday decorations in my house are the Hanukkah gel window stickies I bought my kid at Target to bribe her to act like a somewhat civilized human being.

The cookie swap was this weekend, and it went swimmingly. With all the cookies and joy and fun and sparkling wine, no one even mentioned my lack of decor. Success!

This year is going to be a weird holiday season for us. Due to the aforementioned Catholic dad, I grew up every year having a Christmas tree at his house. During my college and law school years, I did not have any Christmas tree, but I didn’t have anything else either, so I didn’t even notice. When Mr. Beez and I got serious, I expected him to have a Christmas tree. He had no such intention, because although he personally is not Jewish, “we” are Jewish, our (later to come) family would be Jewish, and we have a Jewish house. So no Christmas tree.

We spend Christmas with his parents. They have a tree, and holly decorations and a ham. Santa visits Baby Beez at her Grandma and Poppy’s house. She has a stocking there. But Christmas, really, was his mom’s thing. She did the decorating, the shopping, and a lot of the cooking. She passed away in October. This Christmas is going to be a big change. It’s too much for Baby Beez to lose her Grandma and Santa in one year. I did the shopping (of course, nowhere near as extravagant as when Grandma was in charge). We’re changing up the menu. Instead of ham, we’ll make prime rib for dinner (which is my Dad’s tradition). And on Christmas evening, we’ll hit up the movies and get some Chinese food, as a nod to Jewish tradition.

This afternoon, I got my act together on the one Hanukkah tradition from my childhood that really “makes” the holidays for me. The Hanukkah box. Here’s the idea: when you have Christmas, you have a Christmas tree to put presents under. When you have Hanukkah, you have to put the presents somewhere, so we wrap a box in paper and put them there. It’s the Hanukkah box. Past years, I’ve used the largest cardboard box I can find sitting around. This year, I decided that I’m sick of trying to line the inside of a stupid box with wrapping paper (an obnoxious task), so I wanted to buy a Rubbermaid type box, and wrap it once and use it year after year. We’ll just put it in the garage in the off season. Baby Beez and I also picked up a bunch of overpriced bows at Target to add a little extra flair (seriously, I spent about $40 on bows today. What is wrong with me?)

hanukkah box

Tonight, our Hanukkah box went live. It’s early enough that we can briefly admire it before the holiday starts on Tuesday evening, but it’s not sitting around long enough that its temptation becomes unbearable for the small person. Also, I’m happy to say that in contrast to past years’ too-small boxes, where gifts were spilling over all over the place, this Rubbermaid behemoth was just right.