Scenes from Mother’s Day

COMMENTS: 20

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Did you know that the woman who lobbied (successfully) for the official recognition of Mother’s Day as a holiday later wished they would rescind it? Apparently she wrote that the industry around the holiday were “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations.”

Reading that made me laugh of course, thinking about the poor family members tasked with picking out peonies and making a beautiful breakfast. But I was talking with a friend of mine and found myself nodding along when she said that, in a way, Mother’s Day feels more special than a birthday: her identity is so imbued with being a mother—at least right now, when the kids are still babies—that it feels really necessary to celebrate that. And I imagine that our mothers felt that way at one point, too (if not still).

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Last-minute Mother’s Day gift (From the grocery!)

COMMENTS: 4

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Mother’s Day is this Sunday. Have you picked out a card yet? Did you remember to pick up a gift?

In case you’ve gotten behind and will be scrambling for something Saturday night, here’s an idea you can pull together in no time. In fact, everything but the card came from our local grocery!

Here’s what I included…

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Something to entertain.

Pick up a few of her favorite magazines. A nice trio might consist of fashion, home, and celebrity pop-culture, but you’ll want to tailor the choices to her to show that you’ve been paying attention.

Keep reading…

This post is sponsored by Lindt.
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Assemble Your Allies: 5 tips for a stress-free kids’ party

COMMENTS: 14

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I have it on good authority (from a 4-year-old expert), that Captain America is the coolest because he’s “the strongest human ever, has the best outfit, and he always does the right thing.”

So when that little Avenger (or explorer or princess) comes and tells you they want a character-themed party for their birthday, how do you bring that beloved vision to life while still keeping things unique and stress-free?

Here are 5 tips I’ve gleaned for throwing together something simple but special…
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A Mother’s Day Gift Guide

COMMENTS: 10

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Some ideas for Mother’s Day (it’s coming up—May 10): Whether it’s for you, your wife, your gal pal, or your mother, I hope there’s something inspiring here. (And if not, check out the last mother’s day gift guide—or even the one before that. I still stand by all of those suggestions, too.)

If she’s hooked on podcasts, she’ll appreciate these beautiful headphones. (However, if she prefers in-ear ones, consider these by Bose—the noise reduction feature is fantastic.)

Gorgeous, feminine, one-of-a-kind baskets.

Chocolate and roses: pink vanilla buttercream roses with chocolate layer cake. Yumm…

Homemade bath salts—and the promise of an hour to soak with them. (You just need Weck Jars, epsom salts, and essential oils—any scent you like.)

Luxurious new towels by Coyuchi. (I fell for these on our day-trip.)

Paintable family dolls—to make with her kids.

Everyone can use a large canvas tote. I like this striped one from West Elm. (And it’s on sale. And monogrammable.)

ceramic jar, handmade in Minnesota—because she’ll love how unique it looks.

Kumquat are symbols of prosperity. (Tasty ones.) Order her a dwarf Nagami or Fukushu tree.

Nothing says love (or “have fun”) like a giant, inflatable pool toy, right? Try the swan or the flamingo.

Something beautiful for her table.

A slim backpack that will keep her hands free without overwhelming her frame.

The Anne of Green Gables DVD boxed set: good for remembering watching it with her mother—or for watching with her daughter.

New moms would love this picnic blanket and playmat. (Note: It’s coming from France—you may need to wrap up a photo until it arrives.)

A classic: this solid copper watering can is made from a single metal tube that is bent three times and soldered onto its body. (There are lots of colors.)

And, finally (and this may be all you need): plans for the day together—and a card that says thank you, and tells her you love her.

P.S. All gift guides.

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Nostalgia (& Friday links)

COMMENTS: 14

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The final season of Mad Men starts this weekend. I have such affection for that show. Besides just feeling it has some of the best writing on television and some of the most compelling characters, I rewatched the entire first two seasons while nursing Hudson—usually horizontal—on the couch in our New York apartment. It brings me back to those warm afternoons with Hudson—slightly sweaty, breathy-little-baby-filled afternoons. So sweet. You can bet that the Kodak Carousel scene that ended the first season (perhaps my all-time favorite pitch in the show) especially got me that time around: “in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.”

I’ve loved reading all of the interviews coming out with creator Matthew Weiner and the stars of the show, in anticipation of the series’ end. And this one, with Kiernan Shipka—who plays Sally—was fun because you get to look back at how much the actress has grown up in front of us. (Isn’t she stunning?)

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I’ve also been looking back at how Hudson’s sleep patterns shifted to one nap a day. I think we’re almost there with Skyler and it’s a little confusing right now (though she’s pretty happy regardless). I’ve been pulling out my favorite baby reference books; this one is my go-to pick for sleep and sample schedules.

Some other items of note… 

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Family Dinners: Introducing New Flavors

COMMENTS: 66

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At one year, Skyler is an open-minded eater. She’ll try anything. But there are still the wrestling matches for the spoon, her spirited tests of… gravity, the “grass-is-greener” on your plate scenarios to make dinner complicated—and then there’s her three-year-old brother. We do our best to sit down together and let her try a bit of everything, but there are some meals when that’s trickier. When we, for example, order Thai food and the curry is a bit too spicy.

But I like to feel like we’re eating together, and I want to do all I can to help her become an adventurous eater. Plum Organics has new line of baby meals and their Hello Dinners have proved to be a great solution:

The ingredient list is nice and small to begin—simply some filling whole grains and vegetables—and while we can add just a bit of hot water and serve it immediately, we’ve discovered that they also make a great base for introducing new flavors.

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We’ll mix in more vegetables and protein or, in this case, some kaffir lime leaves, cilantro, and a little coconut sprinkled on top.

Skyler can feed herself and still be a part of our dinner. We can introduce her to new flavors, while still making sure she has a well-rounded meal. And honestly? She wants to grab everything! So even if she gets to try a bite of everything on our plates, I love for her to have her own dish—something more than just rice—so that we have a moment to focus on feeding ourselves.

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Check out that spoon control!

Each of the Hello Meals (there are two Hello Morning and two Hello Dinner options) have suggestions for customizing: add some chicken stock and mushrooms, stir in coconut milk or a bit of yogurt and bananas—or whatever suits you.

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It’s a winning proposition.

In fact, good news…

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Giveaway! I get to give away a Plum Organics prize bundle, including  4 boxes of Hello Meals (1 of each flavor) and 15 pouches (everything from Peach Apricot Banana to Barley, Kale, Spinach & Basil).

To enter: Leave a comment with something you’d add to one of the Hello Meals to make it your own. For example, I added raspberries and extra bananas to the Hello Morning Blueberry, Banana & Quinoa and found myself stealing bites. (Tip: Find recipes to use with Hello Meals and a $1-off coupon for Hello Meals.)

Comment by Friday, February 27 at noon PST. Good luck!

This post is sponsored by Plum Organics. Thank you for supporting Hither & Thither!

P.S. Cooking with kids.

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An evening baby shower

COMMENTS: 9

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Who says you can’t have sequins at a baby shower? My friend Emarie threw this lovely cocktail reception for her sister, Meika-Rae (and a few dozen friends and family). I stopped by to take some pictures and was so inspired by the sophisticated (but still sweet) celebration. I love that it the decor and theme would have worked for a co-ed party, as well.

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A First Birthday Gift

COMMENTS: 15

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Yesterday, Skyler turned one. Though we have a small party planned for Sunday, we of course also celebrated the day at home.

Babies don’t require much for their first birthday, but we still wanted to give her something special—something lasting, but something that she might also enjoy now. We decided on the Mini Storybook of Names and Faces by Pinhole Press. (For Hudson’s first Christmas we had made a Big Storybook of Names and Faces, and they’ve since come out with a smaller spiral format.) It’s perfect.

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You can choose twelve photos, but we kept it simple—with pictures of immediate family and, of course, Sawyer. It was fascinating to see her reaction to each picture. When she spotted Sawyer, she actually took off looking for him. While looking at her daddy (and her grandmothers), she leaned in for a wet kiss. And when she turned the page to an image of her and Hudson, she offered up her block! (I try to tell him she’s happy to share.)

I’ve paired it with some of my other favorite ideas for simple, thoughtful gifts for one year olds in your life (above):

  1. A hand-sized stuffed animal to love
  2. Their very first photo book. (As it holds 12 photos, you could also choose one photo from each of their first 12 months.)
  3. Soft leather soles for a new walker
  4. Bells for tight little grips (a sound no one will mind)
  5. A beautiful shape-sorting box (similar)
  6. A keepsake print

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P.S. Another great gift for kids, by Pinhole, and the brag books I’ve made for every Mother’s Day.

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored post. Pinhole Press has been a longtime supporter of Hither & Thither and I’ve been so happy with everything we’ve ordered from them. Their quality is wonderful and they’re a great source for gifts. 

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12 Months. Happy 1st Birthday, Skyler!

COMMENTS: 21

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I find my eyes doing a lot of brimming lately when I talk about… (wait, let me grab the kleenex)… this perfect little baby girl turning one. My emotions are, as a friend put it, right below the surface.

Nothing will particularly change when Skyler turns one today, but the marker of time feels especially bittersweet when that time—that wonderful, precious time—has gone by so fast. And our family is complete with her, so there’s that, too. Every milestone is passed with celebration, but also with a sigh: “it’s the last first.”

But it’s also just the beginning! And every day, as with the Grinch who stood watching Whoville erupt in song, our hearts grow in size. She’s just so amazing.
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Six Months Old

Decluttering & organizing (life-changing magic?)

COMMENTS: 27

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For Christmas, Aron gave me a copy of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. Like all of the people that put an article about the book on the New York Times’ most emailed-list, we had sent each other the promising piece about this little guidance book.

At one point, when we three (Aron, Hudson, and I) were living in our 550-square-foot studio in New York, we were pretty good about simplifying and decluttering. But with more space has come… more stuff! Kondo’s advice to keep “stuff” at bay? Choose what you want to keep. “[T]ake each item in one’s hand and ask ‘does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.” Perhaps what will be most life-changing of all, it suggests, is the confidence you’ll gain in your decision-making ability.

The key bits of advice throughout are bolded—which I think is one of the real strengths of the book: You could skim it, if you chose to. But I’m finding myself so compelled to read about principles of organizing. There are moments when I find myself nodding in agreement as I recognize my own faults, my own tendencies. And others where I scoff—only to read, a paragraph later, that Kondo has anticipated that reaction.

These are some of the suggestions that have resonated most: 
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Stop texting while driving. It Can Wait.

COMMENTS: 19

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Isn’t it frustrating how often knowing better doesn’t make one do better?

For example, I will feel sick if I eat that ice cream instead of dinner at 4pm. I know better. But to avoid it, I have to keep the sweet stuff out of sight.

So why is my phone still sitting beside me on the passenger seat when I drive, where the temptation to read text alerts (or worse, reply) is so strong?

Whereas the one might result in a ruined appetite and feeling of guilt, the other is a potentially deadly habit.

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In fact, just this month, the New England Journal of Medicine released a new study saying that dialing a cellphone is the most dangerous thing you can do in a car: it increases your risk of crashing or nearly crashing eight-fold.* And a lot can happen in just the moment you look at your phone. 

AT&T reached out to get me involved in their “It Can Wait” Campaign, aimed at reducing the incidence of texting and driving. And they’ve introduced me to DriveMode, their free, no-texting-while driving app that’s available on Android and, now, iOS.

I’ve been using it all week, and here’s how it works…

You can turn it on manually, or you can set it to turn on automatically whenever you drive 15mph or more (it turns off shortly after you stop). While activated, it silences incoming text message alerts and then automatically responds to incoming text messages to let whoever is trying to reach you know you’re driving. (It also allows parents with young drivers to receive a text message if the app is turned off. No getting sneaky!)

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You can customize the message. The #X in this example means “I’m pausing this texting conversation before I drive.” In fact, they’re encouraging adoption of #X as a new social shorthand. Whether you use it in social media, text or email, it lets others know you’re pausing the conversation before you drive. 

Do you reply to texts while driving? Do you look at your phone when you get an alert?

Take the pledge to stop texting and driving—and encourage others to do so as well—on itcanwait.com. Put the phone away and know that anyone trying to reach you will get the message; they’ll understand.

I know I’ve got at least three good reasons why it can wait, and they’re in that photo up top.

P.S. Last year, filmmaker Warner Herzog participated in the campaign by making the most sobering documentary about texting while driving (and that’s the right word to use, because More teens now die from texting while driving than from drinking and driving.)

*NEJM study via The Atlantic

Disclosure: While I was not compensated for my participation, I was gifted an iPhone to use with the DriveMode application. Thank you to AT&T for the opportunity to help spread the word. #ItCanWait 

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Happy Six Years, Hither & Thither!

COMMENTS: 43

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Funny thing. I wished Hither & Thither a happy sixth birthday last year, but I got ahead of myself somehow—a few years back, in fact! Someone finally corrected me. This year marks six years. The first post was a picture-less entry written by Aron, on January 19, 2009.

What I didn’t get wrong is that every year on here is worth celebrating. And it never ceases to surprise me—even as its demands ebb and flow—how much of a role Hither & Thither plays in my life now. I’m so grateful for all of the readers whom it engages—those who have come along since the start (when Aron and I were writing it together in New York) and those who just recently started reading. For me, it’s so rewarding to have such a supportive space in which to grow as a writer and a photographer, and to build a career of my own vision. But of course it’s often the conversations, the friendships made, the back & forth, that’s best of all.

Thank you, as ever, for reading. With a trademark lack of brevity, I’ve compiled a look back at this year’s highlights. I so enjoyed looking back through some of my favorite posts again; I hope you will enjoy this, too:

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Thinking about: The Tyranny of Email

COMMENTS: 16

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“Reply-all will be the death of me.” I read that somewhere the other day, perhaps on a satirical greeting card about office life? It resonated. My inbox is out of control.

And I’m not alone.

Nearly 30% of our workweek is apparently spent reading and responding to email, a figure which may or may not also take into account personal email. Over the summer I read a New York Times article enitled “End the Tyranny of 24/7 Email.” Yes, I thought, the “tyranny!” (I proudly resisted the urge to forward it to Aron, and instead told him about it over dinner.)

I’ve thought about the article, which started by describing an email policy at German automaker Daimler, many times since: “employees can set their corporate email to ‘holiday mode.’ Anyone who emails them gets an auto-reply saying the employee isn’t in, and offering contact details for an alternate, on-call staff person.” Nothing so revolutionary so far, right? But wait: “Then poof, the incoming email is deleted—so that employees don’t have to return to inboxes engorged with digital missives in their absence.” Deleted! If you need urgent help, you have someone to contact. But most people don’t.

If email lands in your inbox when you’re off work or on vacation, you’re likely to read it. One could argue that it’s on the recipient to manage his or her own time, but the article talks about shifting some of the responsibility back to the sender with talk of how over-use of “cc” often masks bad management or poor decision-making skills. (Insert image of me nodding and reading.)

The problem is the addiction-potential of email: an article in The Guardian likens it to gambling and quotes that “it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after interruption by email. So people who check their email every five minutes waste 8.5 hours a week figuring out what they were doing moments before.”

That’s right: most of us spend hours trying to remember what it was we were just doing. Every week. Yikes.

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James Hamblin, at The Atlantic‘s Video site (one of my favorite places online these days), has a humorous solution: the Cool button. His fantastic segment “Email is Ruining Us” proposes that what we need is a “like” button for email. This would cover acknowledging receipt, doling out praise, and such. It could stand-in for what would probably be a smile or even laughter. In other words, I could reply to a PR pitch with “Got it! Cool!” with a single button.

My father-in-law (I hope he won’t mind me sharing) used to reply to many emails with the phrase “Noted.” I envied his brevity and lamented to Aron, once, that as a young person (and a female one), I fear the interpretation would be less than positive should I do the same.

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Ultimately, the task of managing my inbox falls to me. I’m going to be working on unsubscribing from listservs and using more categories and rules in my inbox. And I just set up a FAQ page for the blog!

Here’s some some etiquette I wish we could all take endeavor to adopt, based on my own personal pet peeves. Ask oneself:

  • Are you forwarding items from a subscription service? That someone else could choose to subscribe to? Think twice.
  • Are you doing them a favor by sending that message? Or are you just absolving yourself from the duty of remembering to tell them later?
  • Does everyone want their email address shared? Use the Bcc field when sending a message to a large group rather than Cc.
  • Do you need a reply? If not, use the phrase FYI in the subject line. No reply saying “Got it!” required.
  • Have you given the recipient adequate time to reply before re-sending? (Re-sent press releases are enemy #1 around in my books.)
  • Have you tried Googling that?

What would you add? How do you deal with inbox tyranny? What are your pet-peeves? Spill. Get it all out.

P.S. Lest I sound like a curmudgeon, or worse a hypocrite, a caveat: I do, in fact, like getting personal emails, and I probably fail at all this myself on a regular basis. Also, more Thinking About columns.

[Photos: Top, mine; Bottom, via Huffington Post/Getty Images]

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