Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Creating My Dream Living Room Design with La-Z-Boy

Remember the La-Z-Boy? 

A Vintage La-Z-Boy - back in style!
Photo courtesy of

My good old Grandpa, may he rest in peace, spent most of his retirement years on a La-Z-Boy that looked something like the olive green one above. I have fond memories of rushing into Grandma and Grandpa's home, and always knowing I could find Grandpa on his La-Z-Boy, reading the newspaper, eager to hear about my latest misadventures.

I was thrilled to meet THE La-Z-Boy himself this past weekend at Blogher, a huge blogging conference that I had the pleasure of attending. 

Don't you just love his sofa-inspired suit?!

Me and my Laz-Y-Boy

Mr. La-Z-Boy inspired me to check out my nearest La-Z-Boy showroom, as we are in the middle of a grand remodel of our upstairs bedrooms, bathroom, and most important, our family living room area. As we are now engaged in the full-blown bathroom remodel, I'm just starting to take notes and search out some inspiration for our living room area. 

Here's what I learned while visiting the La-Z-Boy showroom: 

La-Z-Boy recliners are still damn comfy. 

Also, and most importantly to me, I don't have to go it alone when it comes to dreaming up and bringing my dream living room area to life. As the top of my blog so clearly states, I'm a writer, a teacher, and a mom - and not a designer. I leave most furniture showrooms completely baffled and frustrated. In addition to super-helpful salespeople, La-Z-Boy offers people like me some support when it comes to designing that perfect space. 

First off, check out the La-Z-Boy 3-D Room PlannerIt helps you to easily map out your room shape (including windows and doors) and customize furniture styles and fabrics. You can also change the floorings and change the paint color! This tool alone gives me design peace of mind: I can't tell you how many times I've ordered something from a showroom only to have major buyers remorse once it landed in our home. 

The Style Finder helps you discover your style preferences. Sure, I know what I like and what I don't like, but when it comes to defining my home decor style, I was at a loss. I now know that I am a blend of Eclectic and Casual Chic - which does indeed describe me well. This tool then gave me concrete design examples of my style, and I loved every one!

Perhaps best of all, however, is that La-Z-Boy offers FREE IN-HOME DESIGN! An actual design professional will come to your home and help turn your dreams into reality...for free! I am planning on setting up my appointment as soon as the dust settles from our bathroom tear-down.

The Style Finder tool gave me this example of a room that fits my style, and I love it!

Also at Blogher, I was introduced to Kelly Edwards via La-Z-Boy, who gifted me with a signed copy of her book, The Design Cookbook Recipes for a Stylish Home

Kelly is the cohost of Design on a Dime and My Awesome Room, and presents her design tips as a collection of “recipes” that include the ingredients, proportions, and overall design aesthetics needed for a stylish room. I've already started bookmarking some of my fave ideas. 

I can't wait to begin designing my dream living room space with a little help from La-Z-Boy! Are you currently working on a home remodeling or design project? Please share in the comments below!

Disclosure: This post is NOT sponsored. All opinions are my own. I am entering for a chance to win $5000 in La-Z-Boy furniture by sharing my experience at the BlogHer conference. No compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How I'm feeling today:

Posted just because :)

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Monday, July 29, 2013

#MakesMeSmileMondays Our Visitor from Iraq

For the past ten days, we have welcomed Layla into our home, a 15-year-old young woman from Iraq, through a U.S. State Department exchange program. 

Layla has never had the chance to travel outside of Iraq before, and yet she settled quickly into our home, her home away from home, and the city of Chicago. She is excited, full of life, and eager to learn - all the essential elements for a life less ordinary.

Chiara has versed her in the world of My Little Pony and (because she has no filter) has taught her such essential English words and expressions, including "Fart", "Brain Freeze", and "Potty". 

Chiara and Layla

Layla is from Najaf, Iraq. She tells me that here in the U.S., she feels like she is in a dream, or in a movie. In Iraq, she lives with her father, who owns a salt factory, and her mother, who works long hours in airport security, and is in charge of all the cooking and cleaning and childcare of her younger sister and brother. I have so enjoyed learning about her life in Iraq, and I have appreciated her enthusiasm and warmth. Both kids have had such fun spending time with Layla, and she has brought most definitely new perspectives into our home. Tomorrow, we'll have a celebratory feast, and on Wednesday, Layla will begin the journey back home to Iraq.  

Daniel and Layla at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

I just know that Layla is going to go far and wide, and incite some big changes in Iraq and the world, with the use of her brains, determination and kindness. I wish her all the best and I look forward to following her journey!

Friday, July 26, 2013

My Un-Royal Baby Birth in London

My son Daniel was born in London, at the University College Hospital, almost 13 years ago. And though my birth experience wasn't so royal, from the first moment I held him in my arms, my son was my little Prince.

Of course, I was fairly high on Entonox when I first held him in my arms, so when my midwife handed my newborn son to me, my little burrito of a boy, wrapped in his blue blanket, I truly felt that my heart was going to burst out of my chest cavity with joy.

Did you know that Entonox, a.k.a. laughing gas, is the pain med of choice for births in the UK? When the assistant midwife wheeled in what looked like a scuba diving tank and told me to take a few deep breaths of it whenever I felt strong labor pains, I thought she was crazy. It was too late for an epidural, but a tank of laughing gas? Of course the first heavy contractions started rolling in and like a distressed scuba diver, I sucked whatever gas I could from that breathing apparatus.

Later, I came down to Earth. I was wheeled back to a recovery room. I desperately needed some rest, but there was the question of this wriggling baby in my arms. 

Hospitals in the UK are nothing like the fancy ones here in the U.S., and giving birth to my daughter 10 years later at the sparkling Prentice Women's Hospital here in Chicago was an altogether difference experience. My UK hospital experience had me parenting 100% on my own from the get-go, which was alright by me because a. I didn't know any better, and b. there was no way I was letting go of my brand new baby boy. Babies are roomed with their moms, and, in my case, my baby and I were roomed in a ward with about 20 other moms, separated only by curtains, curtains which were drawn during the day so we could all chitchat and compare birth stories over the drone of crying newborns. 

My son was born in the wee hours of early morning. By the time the sun rose, a cheery but overworked nurse told me to help myself to breakfast. She pointed to a table set up with toasters and tea kettles in the middle of the room. Too nervous to leave my son in his bedside crib I performed my first balancing act as a mom: Getting to my feet, preparing a hot tea, and buttering toast.

Then a nurse beckoned me to the baby bathing room. She drew a baby bath for my son and gently guided me on how to bathe a baby on my own. 

My husband arrived and before I knew it, it was time to leave the hospital. A midwife would be visiting my home every day for two weeks afterwards, so I felt comfortable leaving so early. I packed my small duffel bag, and hobbled away from the maternity ward, supported by my husband, who was also holding our son tightly in his arms.

It was raining outside. And since there was no limousine or police escort to  accompany us home, my husband handed me our son, and stepped onto the curb to try to hail a cab. Cabbie after cabbie refused: we lived on the far east end of London (I often remind my son to be proud that he's an East End boy), and no one wanted to lose fares by taking this poor couple so far out of central London, where there would be little chance of taking a fare back into the city. Finally, one kind cabbie agreed, albeit grudgingly.

There is one similarity between Kate Middleton and I: neither of us bothered to disguise our post-partum baby bumps the day we left the hospital with our newborns. 

Mine was an un-royal birth, but a wonderful birth: I wouldn't change a thing.


Back to School with Classrooms by Walmart

Disclosure: Special thanks to Walmart for sponsoring this post. All opinions are my own. 

It's that time of year when the lazy days of summer make way for the start of a new school year. 

Does your family have any back-to-school traditions? Here are a few to get you started: 

-In Germany, parents give their children a "Schultüte," or school cone. This giant cardboard ice cream cone is filled with back-to-school goodies. To make your own, roll and staple a large, colorful poster board into a cone shape. Decorate with stickers or markers and fill it with funky pens, erasers, bright Post-it notes, highlighters, a new pair of socks and a healthy treat or two. Even high schoolers will appreciate this token of good luck for the upcoming year.

-Surprise your child with a brand-new lunchbox, and make a date for a special grocery shopping trip to buy goods for the first couple weeks of school lunches.

-Take a first day of school photo in the same spot every year. Have your child hold up their fingers indicating what grade they're about to enter. Make the photo even more special by shopping for a special back-to-school outfit that makes your child feel confident.

-Invite over a couple of friends who will be in your child's classroom the upcoming year for an end-of-summer play date.

-Take a moment as a family to discuss goals for the upcoming school year, making sure to establish what steps will likely need to be taken to get from point A to B. Moms and Dads: this is a great time to revive your New Year's resolutions! 

-Prepare a special breakfast and make time to enjoy it as a family: Make banana pancakes and drizzle on smiley faces with chocolate syrup, gather a variety of fillings for egg white omelets (cheese, mushrooms, spinach) or prep carrot-raisin muffins the night before by freezing, then baking in the oven upon wake-up.

-Reconnect after the first day of school by heading out for a relaxing walk in the park with a stop for an ice cream treat.

Here's a new way to buy school supplies: Classrooms by Walmart. 

Check the “Cash for Schools” landing page and see if your school has signed up. 

If so, you can begin earning 4% cash back on all Walmart purchases for your school

If not, provide your school administrator with the printable “Free Cash For Your School” PDF.

If you can’t find your children’s/child’s teacher registry, it’s not a problem. Simply invite them to join Classrooms in one easy step - Click “request a list” to send an email to your teacher. 

You can also help the school of your choice earn money by redeeming eBoxTops!

With Classrooms, teachers can create a registry and build their own classroom supply list. They can then share that list with parents and never run out of school supplies. 

In turn, parents can visit the Classrooms curated school lists to get started purchasing school supplies for their kid/s. There is a list for all grades. 

How teachers can sign up 
1) Visit the Classrooms website
2) Click on “Teachers Sign up” in the top menu bar
3) Fill out the form
4) Press "Create Account" 

How parents can sign up 
1) Visit the Classrooms website
2) Click on “Parents Sign up” in the top menu bar
3) Fill out the information
4) Then Click “Sign Up”

Give Classrooms by Walmart a try and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My latest obsession: Deadwood

Upon return from our trip out West, I've become obsessed with Deadwood. I know, I know - I'm super late to the party on this one. But we don't have cable, people. Also, I didn't give Deadwood a chance in the past, since Westerns really didn't interest me. But having been fortunate enough to soak up some Wild West history, and having actually visited the town of Deadwood, I'm hooked. I've already breezed through Season 1.

Will anyone be surprised that my favorite character is Calamity Jane? Robin Weigart is simply amazing in this role. Whenever anyone asks me the infamous dinner party question - If you could invite six people, living or dead, to your dinner party, whom would you choose? - Calamity Jane is always on my invite list.

Check out Robin Weigart as Calamity Jane's best moments in Deadwood here.

Guest Post: Exploring Northern Tenerife – a family holiday to Puerto de la Cruz

Katie is the food and travel addicted blogger behind She has put together a few highlights from her recent trip to northern Tenerife with her family. You can find her on twitter at @delightsomeblog.

When the opportunity came up for me to spend a week in Puerto de la Cruz with my sister and her children, I jumped at the chance. I’ve had many holidays in Tenerife over the years, but I had never stayed in the north of the island and was eager to give it a shot.
In Tenerife, the north is a lot greener than the south, thanks to lower temperatures and more rainfall. This coupled with the abundance of package holidays to the area makes it a popular choice for families. When we arrived at the beginning of the Easter school holidays, I was pleasantly surprised to feel a warm, gentle breeze brushing my cheeks. The sky was clear, the sun was beating down and the temperature was around 18°C – a lot warmer than I had been expecting.    

Puerto de la Cruz
On day one of our holidays, we just wanted to relax and get used to our surroundings. We enjoyed a leisurely buffet breakfast before spending several hours lounging in the sunshine by the pool, and in the outdoor Jacuzzi.
The children had entirely different ideas though - and wanted to do as much as they could. Luckily, there was plenty to keep them entertained while we chilled out. They enjoyed the children’s pool, free WiFi access, games room and activities organised by the animation team. After we felt fully re-energised, we decided it was time to explore and see what Puerto de la Cruz had to offer.

Lago Martiánez
We’d heard about Lago Martiánez from friends who’d visited the year before and it looked like it would be a fun day out. This lido-like attraction was made up of one giant salt-water lake with a large fountain in the centre. Several other smaller pools – including a few children’s pools – surround it. There were plenty of sun loungers and parasols to use, which was a good thing as we could move about as we kept an eye on the kids as they jumped from pool to pool.

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Jardín Botánico
Puerto de la Cruz is known for its beautiful gardens and we decided to visit the most popular one – Jardín Botánico. We were concerned about the children getting bored and restless looking at plants and flowers but they ended up really enjoying themselves. In addition to the variety of flora, there was also a pond with turtles and goldfish, dragonflies and lizards which kept the little ones interested and happy.

Loro Parque
Without a doubt, my favourite day of the trip was the one we spent at the Loro Parque zoo. When we arrived, I took one of the free maps and was shocked at how large the park was. Even though we got there first thing in the morning, there were so many animal enclosures, shows, attractions and exhibitions at the park that I didn’t think we’d even have time to see half of it! We decided to circle our must-see places and just do our best with the rest.

The aquarium was unlike any other I’d ever visited and was made up of 12 different exhibits, some of which you could walk under. We saw everything from huge sharks and stingrays down to tiny seahorses and – the children’s favourite – clown fish which looked like Nemo. The penguin enclosure was another amazing section of the park and was home to four different species of penguin. The huge habitat is a replica of the Antarctic, complete with icebergs, salt water, freezing temperatures and genuine snow. The enclosure was protected by clear glass, so we could see the penguins swimming through the water and jumping back up onto the ice.
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 Kinderlandia was the children’s favourite section of the park and it provided us adults with time for a much-deserved break at the nearby cafe. This jungle-themed play park was packed with things for little ones of all ages to do, including bridges, slides and even a mini rollercoaster. There was a fairy popping up every now and then as well, painting children’s faces and playing games.

Dinner at Pomodoro
We were spoiled for choice when it came to dining out. Pomodoro was by far the best place we ate, in my opinion, and I wouldn’t hesitate going back the next time I return to Puerto de la Cruz. This restaurant is set into the cliff face so we were lucky enough to enjoy fantastic sea views, with the waves crashing onto the rocks beneath us, whilst we ate. As with many restaurants in the area, Pomodoro mainly served seafood – which I loved – but my sister and her children were also well catered for with plenty of other choices and a varied kids’ menu.

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When the week’s holiday was up, I really didn’t want to leave! We’d all had a wonderful time in Puerto de la Cruz and there is still so much more to see and do that I’m already planning my next visit. 

Disclosure: I received compensation for posting this guest post, which contains links. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

"The Character and Shape of Illuminated Things" by Amanda Ross-Ho

Yesterday we stumbled upon artist Amanda Ross-Ho, as she worked with a team to complete the installation of "The Character and Shape of Illuminated Things" in the Museum of Contemporary Art plaza.

I was thrilled to show my daughter a women artist in action. I love this picture above, too: it was almost as we we were watching a woman at a beauty salon, as she serenely let the world go by while artists fine-tuned her beauty.

The Character and Shape of Illuminated Things replaces one of my all-time favorite pieces of public art, MOTHERS by Martin Creed. I always told my kids that I wished I could have jumped up and grabbed onto the giant, spinning MOTHERS - if only I could reach the bottom of the letter S - every time we passed by. Note to Mr. Creed: If you could have made it a tad bit lower so mothers like myself could have jumped onto the letter S, that would have been super cool. 

It was interesting to listen today to Martin Creed describe MOTHERS (see the Youtube video below). 

Mothers must be bigger than you are. 

Mothers are the most important people in the world. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Two Fall Bicycle Tours We're Looking Forward To: The Apple Cider Century and the Pumpkin Pie Ride

This upcoming fall, we're looking forward to participating in two family-friendly bicycle tours: The Apple Cider Century and the Pumpkin Pie Ride.

The Apple Cider Century, on September 29th, is a one-day bicycle tour through one of our most beloved places to visit: the town of Three Oaks, Michigan. It's not a race: you can choose to undertake a 15, 25, 37, 50, 63, 75 or 100 mile bike tour through the beautiful rolling hills and farmlands of this corner of southwest Michigan following theBackroads Bikeways

The Pumpkin Pie Ride, on October 6th, is a 28/42/63/103-mile tour through the Starved Rock area of Illinois. It promise lots of pumpkin pie - one of my favorite fall treats!

I will be riding with Chiara in her little bikeseat on the back of my bike, and I can't wait! 

My Kia, My Summer

My son even wrangled a Jackalope this summer!
This summer has taken our family out on the road to see so many new sights and take part in so many new activities, from intense horseback rides through mountainous terrain to hiking Yellowstone National Park. My son became a National Park Jr. Ranger at both Yellowstone and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. My daughter rode a horse, stirrups fitted to her little feet, for the very first time. My son and I climbed a mountain. I challenged myself by riding a horse 4+ hours a day at the ranch we stayed on. We have already been on two camping trips, with many more to come before winter arrives; I'm looking forward to some fall camping trips this year! Now that Chiara is 3 going on 4 years old, we are able to do so much more: nap time is out the window and we don't need to carry a buggy or all the baby gear that makes travel and outdoor fun a bit harder with babies. Best of all, Chiara loves the outdoors just as much as I do, which just fills me with joy. I love experiencing travel and outdoor fun with my kids! This has been a very fun and exciting summer for our family!

That said, it's now time for a new car for our active family. We are constantly transporting bicycles, kids, friends, camping gear and even our pet sometimes. Here is my must-have list for a new car:
  • I'm looking for a compact SUV. We need a roomy car, but live in the city and I need to street park in tight spaces on a daily basis. 
  • Strong Safety Score
  • Optimal MPG
  • Comfortably seats two adults and at least three kids
  • Affordable!
And these are the things I'm wanting but not needing...
  • USB and Bluetooth connectivity
  • Heated front seats
  • Push-button start
  • Keyless entry
  • Rearview camera 
Just as I started to review my options, Kia via Clever Girls Collective contacted me asking me to write a sponsored post. I took a look at the Kia options, and the 2013 Kia Sportage seems to meet all of my need and more.

Do you have an active family, too? Are you on the market for a new car or are you happy with the car you currently own? Please share!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Health and Beauty: Two new products we love

Here are two new health and beauty products we were recently introduced to and now love.

1. Sparklehearts
Sparklehearts is the creation of two best friends, Hilary Orr & Darcy McMahon. Once they discovered that 60% of EVERYTHING you put on your skin is absorbed into your body they decided to create Sparklehearts, an all-natural make-up, bath and beauty product line that contains no parabens, no sulfates, no synthetic dyes. My daughter ADORES Sparklehearts products, and I feel better knowing that her bath and haircare products are 100% natural. The Sparklehearts gift set makes an adorable present for the little girl in your life. You can order and learn more about the product line at 

We were camping this weekend, and I was ambushed by mosquitoes. This is the first year in a long time that I have been so miserably attacked. I seriously must have at least 50 bites all over my body. Since I'm allergic to DEET, I can't use standard bug sprays, and it appears that the Michigan mosquitoes have developed a taste for skin coated in the non-DEET bug sprays that I usually use. 
Thank GOD for BeKoool's Itch Relief Patches: they effectively treat insect and poison ivy itches with clear, nearly invisible patches that are as easy as "peel and apply." Unlike current creams and gels on the market, the new BeKOOOL's Itch Relief Patch creates a protective barrier that prevents people from scratching, which can lead to further infection. I am an incorrigible mosquito bite scratcher, and these patches have helped me avoid scratching. My only beef with BeKoool is that I wish they came in at least 100 packs. Or perhaps a giant patch to wrap around my entire body. These first-of-their-kind patches have just become available at Walmart and Dollar General stores, and 

Disclosure: I was offered samples of both product lines, but I was not asked to write about the products and all opinions are my own. 

My Mini-Me

My aunts and uncles, and especially my parents, are always telling me how much my daughter looks like me. One of my dearest aunts is always telling me that she feels as if she stepped back into time and is looking at little me whenever she looks at my daughter. My parents are especially dumbstruck - they are almost spooked sometimes at both the physical and personality similarities. And whenever I show Chiara pictures of myself as a little girl, she assumes that they are pictures of herself.

Indeed we do have the same wispy hair and the same feisty-ness, and whenever I look into her big blue eyes I feel like I'm staring into my own. We like a lot of the same things, too. From food preferences (cherries! watermelon!) to what we like to do for fun (spend all day swimming at a beach) - we have a lot in common.

When I was the same age as Chiara, 3 and 1/2, my parents drove out west with my sister and I - following pretty much the same path we took just a few weeks ago. I still remember so much of my trip out west - and I do think that hitting the open road that very first time as a 3 and a 1/2 year old myself just might have inspired my extreme love of travel. 

Here is me, age 3.5 in North Dakota. 

And here is Chiara, age 3.5, in Montana, a couple of weeks ago. 

How blessed I am to have a mini-me! May she be stronger and wiser than me! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Cooking for 10 Preschoolers - Menu Ideas for lunch and two snacks for ten tots

We are so blessed to be part of not just a preschool, but a community: My 3-year-old daughter attends a preschool that is run and operated by... the parents! We do all the planning, teacher hiring and coordinating, bill paying and...lunch and snack prepping. In return, our children attend an affordable preschool in a loving, nurturing setting with ten kids and two teachers to guide them through play-based learning. I couldn't ask for a better preschool setting for my daughter.

Since the parents provide all the lunches and snacks, once or twice a month I am responsible for cooking up a lunch and two snacks for ten kids and two teachers. I actually enjoy planning and prepping this kid-friendly meal once per month, and I am relieved to know that my daughter eats home cooked meals at school. Last night as I was shopping however, and then baking muffins late at night, all I could think was, I don't know how the Duggar Family does it every day.

I will share my menus and some recipes when it's my turn to cook, month by month. Here is today's menu at my daughter's preschool:

Morning snack

  • Triple Berry Muffins - the perfect breakfast treat featuring all your favorite summer berries 
  • Plain Yogurt


  • Tomato Frittata - I modify this recipe for toddlers and use small cherry tomatoes, sliced in half. I doubled it, and made one vegetarian frittata, adding sliced ham to the other. 
  • Crustry French Baguette

Afternoon Snack 

Do you cook for your child's school on occassion? What recipes work for you?

A new friend we met at the ranch sent me these pictures yesterday.

Here is my daughter, riding a horse for the very first time with the help of one of the ranch's top notch wranglers.

And here we are, my kids and I and some other ranch kids, riding a late-evening wagon through the valley.

I really, *really* loved spending time on that magical Montana ranch.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Where We've Been: Wild Montana Skies

For the past two weeks, we've been exploring under the Wild Montana Skies.  

Montana was more amazing than I could have ever imagined. 

We had a few chance encounters with wild animals, including this bison who popped in for a visit while we were wading in a creek...

Chiara feeling a little bit iffy about the unexpected visitor

We went riding over 4 hours each day through the valleys and mountains at guest ranch located in the middle of nowhere (near the Gallatin National Forest). I was so proud of my son as I watched him gain more and more confidence on a horse. At one point, while riding through a valley, all the horses "spooked" when a clap of thunder hit out of nowhere. The horses bolted away yet my son remained calm and reigned his horse in immediately. (Another woman in our party fell off her horse during this incidence and suffered a concussion.) The skills he learned atthe equestrian camp he attended last year were truly put into practice. 

My son the cowboy, a.k.a. Lonesome Dove

I could not get the pink cowboy boots off my daughter. She loved being able to roam free and explore nature, and was just thrilled by all the sights, sounds, and creatures she encountered along the way. She  even cried in bed the night we returned to Chicago because she wanted to go back to Montana! 

Note the boots are on the wrong feet.
Stay tuned - I'll be sharing links to some articles from our fantastic trip out West soon!

Just me and my cowgirl!

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