Month

January 2015

Skip the Chocolates, Toss the Flowers and Head to Boston for Some XO this Valentine’s Day

 Treat your someone special to a Valentine they’ll never forget; book a vacation or staycation in Boston. Too much work? Not at all;  we have your itinerary set, you just have to make the reservations, buy the tickets and get yourself into the city.

Stay at the Ames Hotel where their XO special is just oozing romance. Your room,  a corner or deluxe king , is modern in decor, with elegant touches. Enjoy the  “Sexy Shower” with your someone special (these large scale glass showers give you full view of the room). Pack light as The Ames has everything you need to get intimate in their  “Intimacy Kit”.  After  you’ve made use of your room, refuel with your complimentary box of artisanal chocolates from EH Chocolatier.  

Ames Hotel Room
Ames Hotel Room

 Please your lady outside of your room with a little shopping utilizing the included “Because I Love You” gift card for $75 to Alex and Ani. Top it off with a little refresh when you take advantage of the professional make-up application that comes with your stay at the Katrina Hess Studio

While she gets pretty, he heads off for a  luxurious hot towel shave at Ball and Buck.  This barber shop is housed within men’s wear store making it the ideal place to buy something to wear when you’re not in your room.

Make your way back to the Ames Hotel for a late lunch, or light snack and the two complimentary cocktails that await at King St. Tavern. Spend a little more time in your room before heading off for a romantic dinner at the  Hungry Eye where a cozy spot is standard. The $200 per couple price is a steal for the menu they have planned.

Chef Jody Adams at Boston Wine Expo 2014
Chef Jody Adams at Boston Wine Expo 2014

 

When Valentine’s Day comes to an end, hold off on heading home. Instead spend a the afternoon at  the Seaport World Trade Center  where the Boston Wine Expo will be making a splash on the wine world. Enjoy the two stages of chef demonstrations and  sample great wines from around the world, just be sure to add a seminar to your itinerary because these “classes” are informative and fun.
Need more ideas, check out my Boston articles and lists on 10best.
-Hint, hint hubby. XO, Jess

Full Day Kindergarten- For a Fee

Deciding between full and half day kindergarten can send any level-headed adult into a tailspin. And I’m one of those who went off the deep end.

When the thick envelope of forms required for enrolling my son into our public kindergarten arrived I got giddy. Truly giddy. He loves school and I know he’ll be the king of kindergarten.  But let’s be honest, mostly I was excited because I’d avoid the expense of preschool for two (which would clock in somewhere around $10k, for 3 hours, a few days a week).

When I looked at my “options”  I was slapped in the face by figures as outlandish as those of our optional private preschool. My first thought, how can they charge for public school? Our school system, like many others, has found the loophole (a full day option is a requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act), and offers full day kindergarten as a choice, so the system does not have to cover the full cost of the additional time. Saving them lots of money while parents are forced to shell it out.

Did I want to pay for public school to gain a few extra classroom hours that clearly are not that important in our district since they’re offering a choice and not transitioning to a full day only model like many area schools?

My head began to swirl with questions:

  • Is my frugality a bad reason to choose half day?
  • Will half day kindergarten mean no chance at going Ivy?
  • Will my son feel like he’s not as smart because he doesn’t go to school all day and some of his friends do?
  • Will he have friends he already knows in his half day class?
  • Is the transition to a full day in first grade going to be a struggle?
  • Will he be on par with full day peers the following year and for years to come?

Once I stopped downing copious amounts of wine and ranting to my husband about the injustice of the paid public school. When I stopped fantasizing about writing a bill, starting a charter school, or asking who we sue to eliminate such an income based inequity in our public education system, I began to explore the difference between the two programs.

A former teacher myself, I started with my teacher friends, all of whom assured me that if I were working full time that full day kindergarten would be ideal. But I’m not, so their thoughts were all the same: do what worked best for my son and our finances.

Then I consulted the educational expert on my son- his preschool teacher; she has taken the time to get to know, nurture and love my child. This woman is my hero; her opinion the gold standard in my eyes. When she talks, I listen because wisdom pours from her mouth.

She knows pre-k kids better than anyone I’ve ever met, and she’s honest.  A kick ass combination in a women who influences kindergarten plans. Honestly, I often think about calling her for advice on weekends.

So, when we sat down to chat about the possibility of the impending academic doom I was associating with half day preschool, I found myself calm for the first time in days.

We talked about my son, and his needs. He’s a good student, social, without any identified special needs. He could listen more and talk less; he often rushes through his work; he needs constant feedback to feel he’s doing ok; he likes hands on activities and he loves to play outside; he’s almost reading. He’s ahead of many peers.

Pacing is the prime difference between full and half day kindergarten, and he picks things up quickly, and does not require a slower pace.

What I held onto from that chat was this, he’ll be fine, no matter what choice I make.

I’m 99% sure he’ll head off to free half day kindergarten in the fall, along with many of his friends who have a parent at home. I’m 95% sure I’m ok with half day kindergarten, and 100% sure my family is happy to hold on to the more than $4k for the few additional hours he’d have in the classroom. I know he’ll thrive as long as he puts forth the effort needed to succeed.

I’ll use the extra time to let him do things he loves after school for this one last year. He’ll have time and energy for skiing, skating and swimming; he can try something new, have playdates, and just run around outside. He can be a kid and enjoy it, because let’s face it, we’re cooped up and on a clock most of our lives, why rush it if you don’t have to?

Even though I’m doing what works for my kid and my family; I still believe there’s an inequity associated with paid kindergarten. I believe public school systems should not offer extras for those who can pay, but rather only one choice that’s covered by our taxes. Strong unions are needed to push for funding of full day programs, and eliminating paid options in general education.

Although I partially pick half day out of principal, ultimately, I come to this decision as a stay at home mom/freelance writer with no need for traditional hours of childcare.

“Learn as if you were to live forever.”-Mahatma Gandhi

I Survived Soul Cycle…

AND I LOVED IT!

Being a former Division 1 college athlete, people assume I can handle any form of physical activity but that is just not the case anymore.  I was a D1 hockey player- in a previous life.  Now, I am a mom that has an enduring back injury and let’s be honest, the only physical activity I’ve gotten in the last 18 months is running after my kids.

A few weeks back when Jess asked if I wanted to accompany her for a day at Chestnut Hill Square, I assumed our day would involve shopping and eating, so I happily accepted.  It wasn’t until the night before that she told me the logistics of our day and what was first on our agenda:  SOUL CYCLE.  I had never done a spinning class before, let alone made use of my $200/month gym membership in the past 18 months, but I didn’t want to wuss out, especially since the rest of the day was right up my lazy alley.   I motivated myself, by repeating this mantra, “it’s only 45 minutes of a kid-free day of fun”.

While we were waiting for the class before ours to finish, I was sizing up all the women that were waiting for the doors to open (something I used to do in my competitive days to see what I was up against).  OMG!  They were in amazing shape.  These women looked like they were Cross Fit fanatics who compete regularly in muscle man competitions. The definition of every muscle clearly visible all over their bodies.  I was intimidated, and that’s when my nerves set in.

Upon entering the room, I saw bike on top of bike on top of bike, which I guess is standard for any spinning class (again, first timer).  All I could imagine was, falling off the bike and landing right on the woman next to me. Then began to imagine being carried out in a stretcher if my back goes out. The class at a standstill. The hard bodied women surrounding me staring, annoyed that I was ruining their triathlon training. The instructor announcing my incompetence over the mic. I was anticipating failure and humiliation as the lights went off, the music began and the door closed.  Too late to turn back now.

The instructor began the class by saying the only thing that is going to keep you from challenging yourself is your mind.  And there it was, I had talked myself out of this class before I even got on the bike.  I decided to turn it around, instead of I can’t, I started telling myself I CAN DO THIS.  My worries started to fade away and I began having fun.  The instructor was energetic, the music was exciting, my adrenaline was rushing and I felt great!

It wasn’t until late in the class when I started getting tired. And once my body started getting tired, my mind started doubting I could tackle Soul Cycle.  Then the instructor jumped off her bike and broke into a sequence of karate kicks and punches in front of the class. This woman was a ninja!  Instead of giving up, her inspiration brought the competitive Division 1 hockey player me to the forefront,  my imaginary cape went on, I got my second wind, and I knew I was going to rock Soul Cycle just like all those fit bitches ( I say that out of envy and admiration) surrounding me.

As the class was coming to an end, I felt disappointed rather than relieved.  I felt amazing, I was covered in sweat and loving every moment of it.  Not only did I get a full body workout, but I challenged my mind and realized I am still capable of tackling a physical challenge.  It was the best fitness class that I had ever done.  Mind, body and soul, this matriarch was on top of the world.

I survived Soul Cycle, loved it and can’t wait to go back. That gym membership however, remains unused…

-Just one chick cycling her soul out, Thia

Warming Winter Soup for a Snowy Day

When you’re a New Englander there are winter days when you can’t leave the house. Like today, when hurricane Juno is rocking the Northeast and those of us in the Boston area are getting pummeled with 3′ of snow accompanied by high winds. Driving is impossible and the only option for escape is to snow shoe to our neighbor’s house armed with some serious plates of ready to share, homemade, comfort food.

Inspired by a recent 10best Boston Mexican restaurant list, I  whipped up a “just in case the power goes out” slow cooker Mexican chicken soup. Simple and satisfying, this soup will warm you from the inside.

Start by chopping an onion, carrot, and pepper (color of choice) then sauteing vegetables before adding to the slow cooker. Add 2 cooked, chopped or shredded chicken breasts into the slow cooker along with one 32 oz container of chicken stock and a 15 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes with the juices.

Mexican chicken soup
Mexican chicken soup

Season with a tablespoon of cumin, 2 tablespoons of chili powder, 2 cloves of garlic, salt and pepper.If you like it spicy toss in a can of chopped green chiles or a chipotle pepper or two. Slow cook on low overnight  (6 hours on low is plenty), then add a can of rinsed black beans and let sit in the pot on warm until ready to serve.

Spoon into serving bowls and top with a sprinkle of cheese, chopped avocado, cilantro, a dollop of sour cream and crushed tortilla chips and dig in throughout the day.

 

 

 

 

DIY Superhero Dressers That Pack a Punch

Dresser Finished with ChalkWhat does a DIY decorator do when her  super hero fanatic four year old suggests a Pottery Barn catalog page as the theme for his new room? Saves some money and makes it for much less, that’s how!

Let’s face it, kids change their mind as often as some folks change their underwear so investing boku bucks on high end decor is almost like burning your hard earned cash. A quick trip to IKEA and the local Home Depot and I was in business for hundreds less.

Follow a few simple steps and you can easily replicate this look.

Step 1: Purchase Dressers

I chose:

http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/50221419/

http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/10221421/

But any unfinished, or reclaimed dresser  you choose will work for this project.

Supplies needed for Steps 2-4:

  • Paint primer/sealer (I really like Kilz premium because it is low odor, dries fast and is a great stain blocker)
  • Sand paper
  • Black Chalkboard paint
  • Mini Roller Frame and Cover that is lint free and leaves a smooth finish (I use Purdy White Dove Jumbo Mini Rollers and they come in a 2 pack)
  • Plastic or metal tray for the paint

Step 2:

Assemble the IKEA dresser according to the manual with the exception of the knobs.  Paint Dresser Wetthose separately and then attach to the dresser once everything is dry.  If you already have an assembled dresser, skip this step.

Step 3:

Once your furniture is assembled, run your hand over the bureau and take a piece of sandpaper to sand down any areas that feels rough to the touch.  This will ensure a smooth surface that will be much easier to paint on.

Step 4:

Use the paint primer to apply 1 coat to the dresser frame.  I primed the outside of the dresser frame, skipping the inside.  With the drawers out of the dresser, I primed each drawer’s exterior as well as the knobs.

Waiting 1 hour between coats, I repeated the primer application for a total of 2 coats to guarantee it will withstand the inevitable bumps and scrapes when my kids transform into their favorite superhero.

***Penny Pincher Tip***Drawer

When I am finished using a roller, I always wrap it in a big Ziploc bag or depending on the size of the roller, a small garbage bag so that it is airtight and stays moist so it won’t dry out.  This is great when you need to do some touch ups with the same color.

Step 5:

Once  the paint has fully dried, apply  the chalkboard paint to the outside dresser frame, drawers and knobs.  Again,  wait an hour in between coats to ensure that it is dry. Then, apply a second and maybe a third (as I did) coat to cover any areas that you may have missed to guarantee a uniform look for your finished product.

Once you complete this step, wait at least 3 days until writing on it with chalk.  This will allow the time needed to fully adhere to the wood surface of the bureau.

List of supplies for Step 6 (these can be purchased at any craft store):

  • Acrylic paint
  • Matte acrylic sealer/finish (aerosol)

Step 6:

Now for the best part- incorporating a little Superhero into the dresser. Utilizing the quick changing knobs of the dresser (simply unscrew and voila you can create a whole new look when their interests shift) I gave my son the Superhero look he wanted.Painted knobs remix

A simple Google search led me to the emblems for the superheros that my son loves, which I then painted by hand with acrylic paint.  I used Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, Captain American and Spiderman.  Once they were completed, I waited  two days to ensure they were dry, sealed the knobs with a matte acrylic sealer/finish, allowed that to dry another 2 days then screwed the knobs onto the dresser in a mix & match pattern. I labeled his drawers with what’s inside and left some chalk in his room so he can get crafty on the sides.

***Safety Tip***

Always make sure you spray the matte acrylic sealer/finish in a well ventilated place, I usually do this step outside and then I wait about a minute and take it into my garage to dry.

Total cost to do this project = approximately $275

Ear to ear smile on my son’s face when I revealed the finished product = Amazing Matriarchs 1, Villains 0.

 

LASH L’AMOUR = INSTANT (EYE) APPEAL

Interior of Lash L'Amour

When I met Cynthia Tsang, owner of Lash L’Amour, I was curious about her lash spa, and a bit skeptical. I could not see how false lashes would be worth the time for application, the bi-weekly touch ups, be comfortable, look natural or fit my lifestyle, or work with my sensitive eyes. I stashed her card amongst the others I had built up in my wallet and waited before reaching out. I attended the opening party of her Newbury Street location, watched a friend get a half hour sample of lashes, and quizzed both my friend and the lash technician endlessly about every step of the process. But I saw an instant transformation- a brightness to my friend’s eyes that made me envious of her expertly applied false lashes. I promptly reached out to Cynthia and set up an appointment.

Entering Lash L’Amour’s second floor, Newbury Street, location I was greeted not only by Cynthia, but also by a gorgeous spa atmosphere that welcomed relaxation. The waiting area is one that I could sit in to escape my everyday for hours and the lash room, lined with beds adorned with plush silver and purple linens, was ready to comfort me.

lash extension prep

Cynthia treated me to the lash experience herself and explained the process to me as she applied my lashes; she applied enough to make a noticeable difference, but not too many lashes that I looked overdone. She explained the training process to me and how she occasionally has to let a trainee go because she expects her lash technicians to be as expert in lash application as she is, ensuring every customer receives expert service.  Entering thinking this would be a one time thing, I left with another appointment to fill in any that had fallen out (lashes come out as your natural lashes do- in 2-4 weeks and not at the same time), and an addiction to lash extensions.

I looked amazing, my blue/green eyes popped in a way they only normally do with a heavy handed application of make-up. A pony tail, BB Cream and sweats was all I needed to get noticed. My son’s preschool teacher commented on how great I lookA healthy dose of extensions from Lash L'Amoured; my husband asked how much make-up I applied; my mother offered to babysit so I could continue this indulgence. But most importantly, I felt beautiful, something I had not felt in quite a while without a quite a bit of effort.

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