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Shopping Small with #SmallBizSaturday #ShopSmall and Finding Happiness with @MissBritt

Yesterday we babysat Sandy’s two little ones, and I did what any responsible wife and parent would do, and ditched my husband with all those kids and did a little shopping for Small Business Saturday (to his credit, he’s much more patient than I am, so he’s probably the better babysitter anyway. Also he said the kids were all good.)

My first stop was the Simple Sugars HQ in Sharpsburg which hosted an open house for a Small Biz Saturday shopping event.  You may remember Simple Sugars from ABC’s Shark Tank.  They are a lovely local company who manufactures all natural sugar scrubs.  I’ve never used scrubs before, and I picked up their Grapefruit scrub a few months back, and was an instant devotee.

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I enjoyed chatting with Simple Sugars founder Lani Lazzeri about the various scrubs, the business, and Simple Sugar’s plans for the future.  I’ve been eyeing the Simple Sugars Collection pack, and hoped to pick it up on Saturday, but it is only being sold online (helloooo Cyber Monday purchase).  So since I could not pick up that at the time, I treated myself to a green tea facial scrub, almond body scrub, and pumpkin body scrub for the time being. I also picked up some gifts for others, but no pics here, don’t want to ruin the surprise!

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My next stop was Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery in Millvale for, what else, macarons!  The macaron trend is still going strong and I’ve made it a priority to eat every macaron I can get my grubby little hands on.  In my humble expert opinion, Jean-Marc and Zia Custom Desserts tie for the best macarons in the ‘burgh (although due to the scale of Zia’s small business, you cannot order a mixed dozen of flavors).

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I picked up a dozen macarons plus some croissants.  Although it was very painful to share, I did share these macarons with Sandy, and thereby both made her happy and did not saddle myself with the sugar-laden guilt that comes with eating an entire dozen of macarons myself in one sitting.

Next stop up was Wild Card in Lawrenceville.  Small Biz Saturday was in full swing in Wild Card, the shop was hoppin.

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I picked up some more great gifts which I wish I could show you because they are so darn clever, but again, that ruins the surprise. You’ll have to stop in to Wild Card yourself to examine their marvelous wares.

I’ve spent a lot of time in pajamas over the last few days and have done a lot of for-fun reading.  The pace of work has been, shall we say, like trying to sprint through an entire marathon.  A brief break was in order. Can I really afford such a break right now? Probably not. But it was necessary because December shows no sign of slowing down.  I’ve been suffering a persistent case of the Sunday Night Grumpies lately.  You know, that feeling of dread for the following work day.  And it has not limited itself to Sunday.  I have given this feeling more headspace than I should.  And finally I sat down to really examine what is going on.  The result: I need to adjust my attitude.  These bad feelings are not to be blamed on my workspace itself.  Work is busy, but that is what this field of law is like, and being busy is a good problem to have.  My coworkers and superiors are good people to work with.  I’m treated fairly and paid fairly.  Most of my stress is actually caused by one very demanding and very difficult client.  And goodness knows I’m not going to be able to change this client’s behavior.  The only way I’m going to change the stress this client is causing me is if I stop letting this client stress me out.  I need to let it go.

I am not good at letting things go.  I tell myself “let it go” and do all kinds of deep breathing and yoga classes, but still I let whatever is stressing me persist in having a foothold in a tiny little corner of my mind.  Letting go of stressors does have a flipping-a-lightswitch quality to it.  I experienced that a few years back when I came to the realization after many yoga classes, runs, bottles of wine and bars of chocolate failed to diminish my stress for me, that I am only going to get rid of stress if I decide to let go of it.  Making that decision is the first step, and a big one. But the real work comes in with the thousands of little decisions you have to make every day, in doing little things where you refuse to give worry headspace, and make all those individual little decisions to push stress out.  These little decisions are much harder to actually make than to execute.  The easy path is to accept the stress and feel miserable.  It is a lot harder to focus on the health of your headspace, and make all those decisions to keep it clear of clutter.

My miserable attitude made clear that I needed a refresher on the legwork of getting rid of stress.  I downloaded An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness a few months ago, but had not yet started it.  This was the perfect time.

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I have gotten to know Britt through Propelle and Creative Mornings events, and she is quite a lovely person.  I have chatted with her briefly about her book, but all I really knew about it was that it talks about “happiness.”  I figured that since I was not feeling very happy, this was a good place to start with adjusting my attitude.  I’m about halfway through this book, and it is a perfect guide for the space I’m in.  Just like me, when Britt is frustrated, she tends to take the “nuclear option,” which is so counterproductive on so many levels. This book is not kitten pictures and other cute happy things (although those do make me happy).  Rather, this book breaks down the elements of attitude that lead to happiness, and articulates the roadmaps for the kinds of decisions you need to make for you to adjust your attitude and make your own happiness.  Britt does not tell you what to do.  Far from it.  Instead she articulates the tools that we need, but often cannot see, that will enable the reader to forge their own path to happiness.  Exactly what I need for my attitude adjustment.

I’ve spent Thanksgiving Weekend doing a lot of reading, and am feeling more relaxed, and thanks to the roadmaps I’ve been working on from Brit’s book, I am on my way to feeling less stressed (massage and yoga wouldn’t hurt, though).  I have a positive attitude about returning to the office tomorrow, and am fired up to work hard and work well.

Hope you found time for a little breathing space this weekend!

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Thursday Mix: Things on my Brain Today

  • This week wins. As in it has demonstrated itself to be victorious over me.  I have been crazy, crazy tired. Not just sluggish, I’m talking bone tired. Can’t keep my eyes open tired. Physically falling asleep tired. Yesterday I got back from Erie at like 4pm and immediately fell asleep tired.  Then I remembered how many friends have newborns right now, and they are experiencing that kind of tired, except when I’m tired like that, I can hand my kid an iPad, stick her in her bed, and go take my own darn nap. So even though I’ve been tahred, I love my life, because napping is an actual possibility.
  • I saw Pitch Perfect not too long ago, and I kind of love it. It even made me love “Party in the USA.”  I wanted to hate this movie, but I just can’t, because it’s so fun.
  • I’ve figured out what Pinterest is useful for– It fills that “shopping spree” urge.  Like I get almost the exact same kind of satisfaction pinning all the things I want to buy, as I do from buying them (it’s the picking out process that’s so addicting for me, once the thing has arrived, the thrill is worn off).  Pinning is curbing my shopping appetite, which is very very helpful, given the aspirations of Mr. Beez and I of getting a house that actually has air conditioning in the next few years.
  • Baby Beez’s birthday is next week. She’ll be 3. What a big girl! We’re not doing a party this year, because she’s 3, and really doesn’t understand parties. But she’ll have a birthday cake, and we’re going on a little ride on the Gateway Clipper with the Orange Chair Blog family and Mr. Beez’ parents.  Baby Beez loves all kinds of methods of transportation, so I think a boat ride will be just the right kind of little celebration for her.
  • I’ve been a stupid stupid weekend warrior lately.  My anticipated training schedule (that I made myself) for the EQT 10 miler race in November was too much mileage, too fast. I ended up with terrible, crippling calf cramps.  And then I’ve stupidly persisted in these significantly longer runs on the weekends, that leave me essentially hobbled until Wednesday the following week.  I’m trying to be smart and train in a way that builds distance but doesn’t hurt me, so now I’m doing a mix of running and walking. Generally I walk 0.25 miles, run 0.75 miles, but I mix up that proportion depending on how I feel.  Given that I walked 7.5 miles last weekend alone, I’m confident that as long as I continue training with the goal of increasing distance, and am open to mixing up walking with running, I’ll be able to finish the 10 miles by November.  It may not be fast, it may be a lot of walking, but I’ll get across the finish line. I’d rather actually run the whole thing, but it is what it is, and I need to focus on being healthy, strong and not trying to push my body beyond what it can safely do.
  • I am simultaneously reading a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, world’s wost book (The Host by Stephanie Meyer) and an absolutely excellent book (The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling).  I have no idea why I’m continuing with the awful book.  I like the general idea behind the story, but it’s just awful writing, and I’ve come this far, I guess I kind of feel like I might as well finish it. Ugh it is so bad.
  • Holiday weekend coming up! What’s going on with yinz guys?
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Last Day in Prague: And the Good Lord Invented Beer.

Last Day in Prague: And the Good Lord Invented Beer.

Seriously, I don’t understand how the Czechs are so tiny skinny.  You know what I’ve done during this trip: Ate ice cream. Ate pork. Ate potatoes. Drank beer.  Ate more pork and potatoes. Drank Sekt (champagne).  I walked around a lot, but it takes a LOT of walking to burn off pork & potatoes.  Our hotel doesn’t have a gym (few European hotels do) and forget running on Pragues narrow, cobblestoned pedestrian-hell streets.  So, no I am not looking forward to my next Weight Watchers weigh in.  But after a week of potatoes and pig, a juice cleanse is starting to actually sound appealing (actually just GREEN things are sounding appealing)…so maybe there’s a little spark of hope.

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I can’t say I’m a beer connoisseur, but I’m also not a total noob when it comes to these fine malted beverages.  The Brewery Tour we selected was just the right level of engagement for us old ladies.  We certainly are in no shape for an all-nighter pub crawl, but we wanted to try out the delicious beers that the Czechs are so famous for, and learning a little never hurts (because we are dorks).

This afternoon we were the only two who signed up, so it was just us and our guide, Tom.  Tom is from England and is a homebrewing hobbyist, so he knew plenty about the brewing process.  He gave a thoughtful overview, answered our questions well and was also good at guiding us through the qualities and flavors of the individual beers.  The nice thing about this tour was that he didn’t just take us to a bar and give us different beers.  We specifically went to microbreweries that do not distribute their beers, so the beers we were tasting were completely unique to those microbreweries and could not be bought anywhere else.  Not only was the beer unique, it was super fresh, not having to go through various methods of preservation for shipment.

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The biggest surprise of the day were the flavored beers at the first microbrewery we went to (the name was in Czech so it was something like U KZSKYUKZSKYCZ).  The nettle beer (green, in the back) was as awful as it sounds.  But there was a banana-wheat bear that was very light and lovely.  I do not usually like banana flavored things  because they usually taste like nasty banana flavored Runts candy, but this beer was very nice.

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Even my mom, who is not much of a beer drinker, enjoyed the tour and found she actually has a taste for dark beer.  After the tour, we finished our day in true Czech fashion: eating lots of potatoes.

Completely unrelated but totally necessary public service announcement: Go read Brilliance by Marcus Sarkey.  I read that whole thing start-to-finished in the last 24 hours and could NOT put it down.  It’s a lot like X-men, The Hunger Games, Divergent, that sort of people with special skills and the world is at war and dystopian future kind of stuff. It’s great.  Bonus– if you are an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow it for free through the Kindle Lending Library. Do it.

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Summer Reading: The Books I’ll be Hiding In During Vacation

Summer Reading: The Books I’ll be Hiding In During Vacation

I clung tight to my paperbacks and resisted the e-reader craze for a long time, until I realized that the Kindle Fire is BACKLIT and that means not having to fuss with a nightlight, which is more convenient for me and also does not disturb Mr. Beez when he’s trying to sleep.  My Kindle Fire is also absolutely perfect for vacation because books are HEAVY.  The Fire means I can bring a whole library in one little device.

Part of my pre-vacation preparations involves thoroughly considering what books I want to read on vacation.  I like books that pull you into their story, that are fast paced and an escape for reality.  I love dark, dramatic books.  I also love humor.  I have broad tastes, but whatever I read, I don’t want it to involve all that much thinking.  Vacation reading is for fun, not to exercise my neurons.

Here’s what I’m bringing with me this vacation:

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Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto (it’s my book club book this month, and I’m actually about halfway through).

Opera and terrorism make strange bedfellows, yet in this novel they complement each other nicely. At a birthday party for Japanese industrialist Mr. Hosokawa somewhere in South America, famous American soprano Roxanne Coss is just finishing her recital in the Vice President’s home when armed terrorists appear, intending to take the President hostage. However, he is not there, so instead they hold the international businesspeople and diplomats at the party, releasing all the women except Roxanne. Captors and their prisoners settle into a strange domesticity, with the opera diva captivating them all as she does her daily practicing. Soon romantic liaisons develop with the hopeless intensity found in many opera plots. Patchett (The Patron Saint of Liars) balances terrorism, love, and music nicely here.








lets explore diabetesDavid Sedaris’ newest work: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.

A guy walks into a bar car and…

From here the story could take many turns. When this guy is David Sedaris, the possibilities are endless, but the result is always the same: he will both delight you with twists of humor and intelligence and leave you deeply moved.

Sedaris remembers his father’s dinnertime attire (shirtsleeves and underpants), his first colonoscopy (remarkably pleasant), and the time he considered buying the skeleton of a murdered Pygmy.

With Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris shows once again why his work has been called “hilarious, elegant, and surprisingly moving” (Washington Post).








the darlingsChristina Alger’s The Darlings.

A Bonfire of the Vanities for our times, by an author who “knows her way around 21st-century wealth and power” (The Wall Street Journal)
Since he married Merrill Darling, daughter of billionaire financier Carter Darling, attorney Paul Ross has grown accustomed to all the luxuries of Park Avenue. But a tragic event is about to catapult the Darling family into the middle of a massive financial investigation and a red-hot scandal. Suddenly, Paul must decide where his loyalties really lie.

Debut novelist Cristina Alger is a former analyst at Goldman Sachs, an attorney, and the daughter of a Wall Street financier. Drawing on her unique insider’s perspective, Alger gives us an irresistible glimpse into the highest echelons of New York society—and a fast-paced thriller of epic proportions that powerfully echoes Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children and reads like a fictional Too Big to Fail.
 







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Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean At the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman’s intent was simple: to write a short story. What he ended up with instead was The Ocean at the of the Lane–his first adult novel since Anansi Boys came out in 2005, and a narrative so thoughtful and thrilling that it’s as difficult to stop reading as it was for Gaiman to stop writing. Forty years ago, our narrator, who was then a seven-year-old boy, unwittingly discovered a neighboring family’s supernatural secret. What happens next is an imaginative romp through otherwordly adventure that could only come from Gaiman’s magical mind. Childhood innocence is tested and transcended as we see what getting between ancient, mystic forces can cost, as well as what can be gained from the power of true friendship. The result is a captivating tale that is equal parts sweet, sad, and spooky
 

 
What is on your reading list this summer?

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Blast from the Past: Cookbooks Every Vegetarian Kitchen Needs

Blast from the Past: Cookbooks Every Vegetarian Kitchen Needs

Originally posted on August 17, 2011

I was a vegetarian for several years, but when I got pregnant with Baby Beez, I wanted to eat Uncle Sam’s Subs ALL DAY EVERY DAY, and vegetarianism went out the window. I would like to go back to vegetarianism, but the one of the keys to being a veggie and not getting bored and not getting fat is to cook at home and make a variety of different things (as opposed to, say baguettes and brie all day every day, which although delicious, isn’t ideal). I haven’t been able to cook nearly as much as I’d like lately, but when I DID have time to do all that cooking, these were the tools in my arsenal:

Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson. Not surprisingly, a lot of the recipes in here are soups and stews, but she does branch out with some entrees, desserts, and appetizers. Robertson includes some easy preparation tips for using the slow cooker that really helps bring out flavors. The recipes are all very diverse– this is not a set of variations on the same bean soup. My favorite recipes are the Maple Baked Beans (ok, so baked beans do not sound exciting, but they are really delicious), and the In a Hurry Vegetable Curry.

The Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. This is a vegan cookbook, but you don’t have to be a vegan to LOVE it. A lot of vegetarian cookbooks are stuck in a pasta and cheese rut, and I sometimes feel like vegan cooking spends too much time trying to impersonate meat and dairy. This cookbook doesn’t waste its time on “fake” recipes. It focuses on beans, grains, and vegetables, and deliciously so. It runs the full dining gamut, an encyclopedia of vegan dining with a recipe for every occasion. It also includes very helpful cooking tips that will equip you with skills for creating your own delicious vegan recipes. Although the authors probably wouldn’t be too keen on this, I often make these recipes “non-vegan” by using regular milk instead of soymilk, butter instead of soy margarine, etc, because those are the ingredients I already have in the house. The recipes turn out just fine with the substitutes. My favorite recipes include the Seitanic Red and White Bean Jambalaya, and the Plaintain and Pinto Stew.

Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook is the vegetarian hippie bible, and not surprisingly it’s in the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame. It contains lots of casseroles and easy bakes that easily feed a full family, and also freeze very well. My favorite recipes are Cauliflower Mushroom Marranca (sooooo good) and Scheherazade Casserole.

Olive Trees and Honey by Gil Marks. This is a Jewish cookbook, but it’s not all blintzes and matzoh balls. We Jews are all over the world, and so is this cookbook. The recipes are from all over Europe, and there are a number of recipes out of Africa and India as well. The variety is impressive. My favorite parts of the book are the descriptions of the background and traditions surrounding each dish, as well as different variations on the recipes based on the flavors of different countries. There are also very informative sections about Jewish history and traditions, Jewish cooking traditions in different countries, and the qualities of different spices. Sephardic Leek and Cheese Casserole and Noodle Kugel are amongst my many, many favorite recipes in this collection.

What are your kitchen cookbook staples?