How Starbucks Spring Blend Saved My Life – Or, Moving 300 Miles Away

spring stbks collage 2

I’ll always remember what we did this Spring because we moved from New Jersey to Vermont… and we only had 11 days to do it. My husband had applied and interviewed at a few different places and we were waiting to see if any of those jobs would pan out. We had already gotten permission to do a 6 month extension on our lease just in case, but once we got the offer for this job in Vermont, it was now or never. And 11 days is almost 2 weeks – totally do-able, right? I don’t think any of us actually believed we were going to go through with the move though because we didn’t pack a single box until that day.

Not only did we wait until the last minute, we also have 2 young children who made packing nearly impossible during daylight hours. I don’t know how many boxes were unpacked while I was distracted elsewhere and how many times children had to be evicted from box houses (and other newly empty structures) before I realized it was much more productive to pack after bedtime (which luckily isn’t too late at 7 pm). But even so, the adults were up until midnight or later on most nights.

It’s probably not surprising that this adventure involved A LOT of coffee. And with fortuitous timing, to say the least, I received a bag of Starbucks’ 2014 Spring Blend to sample! Unfortunately, images of us drinking the coffee would also include bleary eyes, no make-up, messy hair and ragged, not-afraid-to-get-dirty clothes which just shouldn’t be broadcast online for all of eternity. S0 instead I give you…

Oren in bookcase collage 2

But because I got the coffee sample right before all this chaos started, I can tell you that Starbucks’ 2014 Spring Blend is delicious. (By the end of the move, all I could have said was that it was hot and caffeinated). I’m not sure I tasted the chocolate or sweet orange undertones, but I was surprised that the few sips I savored were light enough for my palate, even with this blend being described as a medium body (I generally favor breakfast and other blonde blends). Even my husband, who is drawn to dark roasts, enjoyed it. Of course the one coffee we can happily share is seasonal, haha. Coffee can be stored for a long time in the freezer, right? (- looking it up now.)

Well, the day we loaded up the rental truck, New Jersey decided to punish us for leaving with monsoon rain all day and all night. (Worst move ever!!). But the following morning, like an omen of a happy future, we were greeted with nothing but sunshine. We fueled up with more coffee for the 6 hour road trip and it was blissfully uneventful. I would have loved to pair my drink with buttery shortbread and early harvest berries as Starbucks suggested, but unfortunately, as I was at the mercy of the convenience stores’ inventory, it was more like peanut M&Ms and cheese sticks. Luckily, the taste of the coffee didn’t suffer from the lack of sophistication. :)
vermont blog collage big
And now we’re in Vermont – getting to know the people and the area. Most of the trees were still bare when we arrived, but it only took about a week before birds were singing and flowers were blooming (tons of dandelions). I don’t know if my kids will remember ever living in New Jersey, but I will. I’ll remember this Spring that we moved 300 miles away. And maybe every spring hereafter, when the snow completely melts and there’s no threat of it coming back, I’ll sit on my front porch with a cup of coffee and thank god I won’t have to move again for a long, long time.

50 Reasons to Move from NJ to Vermont

This list is, in part, courtesy of my sister who started a campaign to get us to leave New Jersey shortly after her arrival in the Green Mountain State with her husband. I’ve linked to proof of my statements and other interesting factoids so click on a few if you’re curious (especially the one about the serious maple syrup pride).

Drumroll please…

  1. You can see more than 5 stars from your backyard
  2. Burlington, Vermont was named by Parenting.com as #2 in the Top 10 Best Cities for Families in 2012
  3. Ben & Jerry’s!!! (almost got the #1 spot in my list, haha)
  4. No sales tax in Vermont when ordering online (at least for now from Sephora and Amazon)
  5. Second healthiest state in the US
  6. Sugar on snow in the winter from a maple sugarhouse and…
  7. Serious maple syrup pride statewide
  8. Kid-friendly Shelburne Farms with farm animals and activities
  9. WalletHub ranked Vermont 3rd best in its list of “The Best and Worst States for Working Moms” (NJ was 15th)
  10. Kid-friendly indoor waterpark at Jay Peak Resort (indoor= instant vacation in the middle of winter!)
  11. The Northern Lights!!
  12. The Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium (got a Groupon deal for a years family membership for less than the price of regular admission for 1 trip with my family!)
  13. Rated the 5th Happiest State in the nation in 2013
  14. The Stowe Recreation Path
  15. Breweries: Magic Hat, Long Trail, Harpoon
  16. Not one but two Hot Air Balloon Festivals: Quechee and Stoweflake
  17. Montpelier, Vermont is the smallest U.S. state capital and the only one without a McDonalds.
  18. There are more than 100 covered bridges in Vermont
  19. Lake Champlain Ferries (I see the appeal, but I find it terrifying)
  20. Champ, Vermont’s own Loch Ness Monster of Lake Champlain (this is adorable though!)
  21. Billboards are illegal
  22. Vermont is the 5th most educated state of 2013 (ahead of #6 New Jersey)
  23. The Vermont high school graduation rate is roughly 90 percent – one of the highest rates in the nation. And highly rated schools overall.
  24. Leaf Peeping season
  25. Walk the trail to Quechee Gorge
  26. Cleaner air  (Fine. I guess we won’t miss the garbage smell on the way to Newark Airport)
  27. Traffic and rush hour are almost non-existent (especially when compared to NJ/NYC)
  28. About 2 hours from Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  29. Lots of farmers’ markets and artisan/craft fairs
  30. Cutest ever trick or treating event for little kids, Halloween morning on Church St.
  31. Open Community swimming pools (unlike residency-required pools in NJ too full to even accept new membership)
  32. Cut your own Christmas tree farms
  33. Movie theaters where you don’t have to buy tickets in advance
  34. The King Arthur Flour company (the bakers out there will be excited with me!)
  35. The Vermont Solar and Small Wind Incentive Program (cool)
  36. Legal same-sex marriage since Sep. 1, 2009 (I definitely want to live in an open-minded, liberal state)
  37. VT Restaurant week
  38. For my husband: fishing!
  39. No IKEA. :( Which makes anti-materialism the pro here. Kind of.
  40. It’s possible to house livestock in your backyard (my husband has always wanted chickens)
  41. Getting away from the Blue Laws in Bergen County, NJ (practically nothing is open on Sundays)
  42. Just look at these beautiful pictures (from Buzzfeed)
  43. The Green Mountain Reiki Institute (for my mom who had enormous success using Reiki in treating her migraines).
  44. Skirack’s Annual Bike Swap (one person brought in 34 bikes to swap/sell and there were a number of people with 10+!)
  45. For my husband: there IS a Five Guys in South Burlington
  46. You’ll see stories about baby moose roaming around the city in the local newspaper
  47. And the newspapers write stories about helping turtles, frogs and salamanders cross the street, if it’s safe to do so. (FYI to self: look up how to identify a snapping turtle and DO NOT TOUCH!!!)
  48. Mandatory composting
  49. Getting out of a super expensive area! Forbes magazine’s 2012 Most Expensive ZIP Codes in the United States list included 12 Bergen county municipalities in the top 500. (And in 2013, Alpine, NJ, a Bergen county city, was #8). Yikes.
  50. Your husband gets a great job offer…

We’re Moving to Vermont!!!

Terms of Bedtime Surrender

giraffe bedtime termsSometimes bedtime goes smoothly but other times my daughter claims it simply isn’t possible for her to sleep, close her eyes or even breathe without someone else in the room with her. After exhausting the classic, surefire stalling tactics: I need water, I have to go potty, my tummy is exploding (hungry), I finally got this bedtime request last night:

“Mommy, will you make a surprise for me for in the morning?”

“Will you go to sleep now if I make you a surprise?”

“Um, yes.”

“Ok, what kind of surprise?”

“I want you to draw me a picture of a giraffe. With hearts on it. And say Love Olyla.”

“I would be happy to do that for you.”

“Ok, can you do it right now? Go get the crayons and white paper and sit at the table.”

As I backed out uncertainly I said, “Ok, I’ll go right now. Good night, I love you.”

“Ok. Do it right now and I’ll go to sleep.”

She said it. And I didn’t hear another peep.

If this became a tradition and actually helped her go to bed at bed time, that would be amazing. I’m going to ask her if she wants a surprise picture next time she doesn’t want to go to sleep. Fingers crossed. (Luckily my artistic abilities don’t seem to be a deciding factor either, haha.)

I’m a Guest Blogger – E-Time Rules (in both senses)

Creative Geekery is doing a series on Screen Time Rules (how different families manage television and other forms of digital entertainment in their families) and I am so thrilled to be her first guest blogger! Come read how the ThinkerMommy family allots E-time here:

http://creative-geekery.com/family-screen-time-rules-thinkermommy-com-style/

Warning: we do sometimes exceed the AAP’s recommendations for E-time.

Random picture found on my iPhone after O had played with it

Found on my iPhone after O had played with it

A Random Question About Chickens and Snow

Ryan-ryan-chickens

The other day I started wondering what you do with your backyard chickens when it starts to snow? Do they just stay in their coop for weeks or months? If so, how do you clean it? Do they need climate control or did nature enable them to withstand the cold on their own? I mean, I do see other birds outside in nature during the winter. So many questions! But first, let me recite the specific train of thought that led me down this particular oddball path…

My husband has always dreamed about having a little farm: some chickens, a goat or two and food crops for personal use. Maybe it’s because he is the one person who took the Garden State nickname of his birthplace to heart or maybe he just EIEIO-verdosed as a kid, but the dream lives on. He’s also just a little obsessed with chickens in general; when we went to the Dominican Republic for our honeymoon, at least a quarter of the photos on our camera were of chickens. Somehow our marriage survived. :)

Ok, fast forward to a few years ago when I read an article that it’s actually totally legal to own backyard chickens in New York City and Brooklyn. That sparked a lot of research, but, in the end, nothing happened – probably because we got pregnant with our first baby (and she was way cuter than a chicken).

Then, my sister & her family moved to Vermont and bought a house with enough acreage to make keeping chickens a serious possibility and, wouldn’t you know it, they’re interested in doing so. Inevitably on visits down there, my husband and brother-in-law get to talking about chickens (and all other outdoorsy, hunting, fishing, blah, blah, stuff). On top of that, my sister has embarked on an eternal crusade to convince us to join them in the Green Mountain State permanently. After months of brainwashing, somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I must have begun to think about what our life would be as Vermonters, which would obviously involve chickens.

So, to answer the questions you didn’t know you had, apparently chickens do need heating if their coop will get below freezing. According to this article at BackyardChickens.com, if you’re on a shoestring budget, you can fill the coop with straw for hens to burrow into when it gets cold, or set up an electric heater for a small coop. They recommend at least partially covering the chicken run too to provide protection against the elements.

I also read that tolerance for snow really just depends on the personality of the hens in your flock. In this forum post, also on BackyardChickens.com (great site!), some people said their chickens walked around in 5 inches of snow with no complaints and others said their flock flat out refused to leave the coop. Really interesting!

There you have it. I hope this one day aids someone in a bar trivia game or a Jeopardy question. And for that, you are welcome. :)

beware the chickens

Future birthday gift for my husband?

Thinker Contest: Interpret That Masterpiece!!

I’ve been endlessly amused lately by my 3 year old’s long and detailed explanations of her drawings. Her art became an after hours guessing game with Daddy for a while – the ultimate how well do you know your child showdown – but he knows her too well, it was way too easy for him. I was expecting a lot more creativity, a lot more comedy. Then I realized I just needed different players for this game. (Plus I have a wonderful prize from Starbucks that I need a reason to give away!).

O drawing 2

So here’s the rules: 1. Follow me on Twitter @ThinkerMommy, 2. Follow me on Pinterest and 3. Leave a comment below with your best guess at what the drawing above depicts. The person whose comment most closely matches the description my daughter gave for this original piece of art will win. And if this guessing game turns out to be far easier than I expected and more than one person gets it “right,” I will give extra points for creativity (and/or use a random number generator) to select the winner. P.S. #1 and #2 aren’t totally required (like if you don’t have a Twitter account or you don’t use Pinterest, don’t let that stop you from entering) but please follow me on those sites otherwise, I’d really appreciate it!

The winner gets a 10 oz bag of ground Holiday Blend coffee from Starbucks and 2 stacking peppermint-striped Starbucks mugs (12oz).

Note: Only 1 bag of coffee is included in the prize - I had to sample the other one.

Note: Only 1 bag of coffee is included in the prize – I had to sample the other one.

How to Recycle Your Old Changing Table

We stopped using my daughter’s changing table around the time she started wearing pull-ups, but we kept it for months afterwards because it was working well enough as a mini dresser. The bins were easy for her to access and the socks & undies drawer underneath the pad was high enough to keep little brother from pulling everything out over & over again (his favorite game elsewhere). But that big open space on top was WAY too convenient – it was a magnet for junk, so I knew we had to get rid of it. It was also time O got a real dresser anyway – those bins were looking smaller and smaller every year. (P.S. I took the picture below after I had already started trying to peel off the reusable stickers – there used to be 2 on the drawer as you can probably tell. There was also a third bin on the top shelf – snatched by a child at picture time – and a soft green minky changing pad cover that looked really nice all together).

changing table before

The Changing Table: Before

As you may remember (and if not, click here), our changing table already went through one small transformation when we painted it white. So I was all ready to give it a touch-up and find someone else with a new baby who could use it. But once I took the pad off, I noticed that we must have exceeded the weight limit at some point because the wood base underneath the pad was totally cracked and near collapse – scary! The drawer was also in worse shape than I thought (probably from rough toddler handling), so I was resigning myself to having to throw the whole thing in the trash when my husband came up with a brilliant idea…

The Changing Table: After

The Changing Table: After

Yeah, he cut it in half; and it literally took less than 1 minute with a power saw. Now we have a brand new coffee table/ train table (which coincided well with a certain Christmas gift) which has a handy rim to prevent rolling vehicles from escaping AND storage underneath for toys. Since our previous outside-the-bedroom storage solution had been a giant tupperware bin (which you can actually see in the photo below), I was very happy with this new upcycle. The giant bin would have fit underneath the new coffee table, but we thought the smaller bins would cause less frustration (and, fingers crossed, less mess) when the kids are seeking and removing other toys. I am still on the hunt for prettier bins though – the green and blue bins we previous had there (which I like a lot more) were moved to the top of O’s new wardrobe since they match her room really well.

changing table collage

Coffee Table: hideout and butt elevator? yoga positioner?

My son obviously has other ideas about the new changing table coffee table. (And no, he didn’t fall. He crawled off the edge, positioned himself as so and stayed that way for about 5 minutes). Whatever makes him happy. :)

I was hoping to turn the top half of the changing table into something; it was too big for a doll bed, possibly a play kitchen somehow? But due to space constraints, weather too cold to work outside in, and the already damaged frame, although I was sad to do it, we had to throw out the top. However, if you do something similar and come up with a good use for the top half of your old changing table, I’d love to see it!

Until next time, Happy New Year everyone.

The First Christmas Eve You’ll Remember

xmas countdown frameChristmas Eve, AKA crunch time. Now that one of my babies is old enough to believe in Santa and all other sorts of wonderful magical things, this is our first Christmas where every little detail matters. I do not want a heartbroken child because Mommy forgot to remind her to sprinkle her bag of reindeer food outside (um, Santa sometimes comes back the next night to feed his reindeer….?). And 3 year olds are savvy; I was just asked why the Santa who was waving on the side of the road wasn’t there again the next day (He went back to the North Pole to get ready for Christmas… but sometimes he comes back to the malls for photo opps? Crap.). There are so many questions I’ve never even thought of – I can’t adequately prepare for this!!

Another reason I’m probably so concerned about everything being perfect is that I didn’t celebrate Christmas when I was a child. So besides the fact that I’m reliving my own childhood (I really really really love this holiday), there’s a ton of activities I’ve never EVER done before, even after starting to celebrate myself as an adult: leaving out cookies for Santa, reading a Christmas book the night before, packing our Santa Sack full of old toys for other little girls and boys (Santa takes it as a kind of exchange), scattering reindeer food, making and leaving out a Santa Key since we don’t have a chimney – these are all new to me too. And as if the plate wasn’t already full, we couldn’t forget the Xmas traditions my husband and I have had for years before kids: driving around to see our neighbor’s light displays, leaving cookies for our mail carrier (Mr. Mailman gets a bag decorated with LOTS of stickers this year), and playing my collection of Christmas CDs on repeat. Phew. Fingers crossed I didn’t forget anything.

xmas wrapping 2013

But really, nothing says tradition for me like procrastination. Normally I love watching presents start piling up under the tree as the advent calendar gets emptier. But this year, my youngest is teething and nothing has been safe from his jaws of doom – so we thought it better to leave all the gifts hidden as long as possible. Unfortunately, I learned it’s also pretty easy to wait/forget to wrap gifts when you know Santa is bringing them all on Christmas. Soooo… I have a lot of wrapping to do. Time to pull out the coffee!!

This year I’m going with Starbucks’ Holiday Blend. During our first taste test, my husband said (insert Jersey accent): “It tastes like coffee. It wakes me up. I like it.” Clearly it’s up to me to be more specific. If you’ve never tried the Holiday Blend, it is much more mellow and less spicy than Starbucks’ Christmas blend. The package says “Soft and Layered” and that it’s a medium roast, but to my not-so-refined taste buds, I’d say it’s similar to a breakfast blend. As I got to work, I spiked my Starbucks with hot cocoa and peppermint marshmallows – instant Christmas café au chocolat! Thank you, coffee, for keeping me going until, wow, midnight. Just a few more packages to go, but I had to take a break and write this. Don’t want to risk repetitive action injuries… (I swear this isn’t more procrastination). Now where are Santa’s cookies?

Merry Christmas!

I was lucky enough to be sent product to sample from Starbucks. However, the comments and opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. I was not paid for this blog post.

Holiday Gift Guide 2013

The best gift guides are ones that people actually purchase from right? So here’s what we’re getting and giving this Christmas:

b toys teepee blue1. Although I think a $249 play teepee from Pottery Barn Kids is beautiful, that is way more than I want to spend on a single Christmas gift for a kid under 5 years old. This version by B. toys, though, is only $39.99 and includes a star-projecting lantern inside! I’ve honestly never seen a teepee for under $100. Plus it looks like it’ll last longer than the cardboard castles and playhouse we’ve gotten in the past (although those were great to color on!).

hape-ukelele-red2. My 3 year old loves making noise… er, music. Instead of getting another electronic toy that plays automatically with the push of a button (of which she has tons), we thought this year she might enjoy something a little more individually powered. This tunable, 21″ Baltic birch & maple ukelele by Hape grows with your child if they wants to keep honing their skills. And at $29.95, it’s cheaper than most wooden guitars (in case the love is short-lived).

piggy paint orange3. This is more of a stocking stuffer, but we’re definitely getting some Piggy Paint non-toxic nail polish in Mac-n-Cheese Please – their most Vibrant, Pumpkin Orange and O’s favorite color. But, of course, there are lots more colors and sets to choose from (the Fancies and Frills set and Jingle Nail Rock sets are especially cute). I did my research and have used Piggy Paint since I was pregnant so I feel safe using their low odor, water based formula for both me and my young daughter. merida plush doll

4. I have a soft spot for all things Disney. It hasn’t completely taken hold in my children yet, but I’m pretty sure once they start watching the movies, it’s only a matter of time (of course, we may need a trip to Disneyland to cement the love, haha). In the meantime, I’m completely in love with these all-soft, 18 to 21 inch Disney character dolls. I love the large-but-not-too-large size, their creative fabric hairstyles that will never tangle, and their cuddly bodies. I’m stocking my son and daughter’s toy boxes with Woody, Rapunzel, Captain Hook, Cinderella, Flynn Rider, Merida & more. Plus frequent sales (including the Black Friday weekend prices happening now) often take these dolls from $19.95 each to under $10!!

Dyson Toy Vacuum5. Both my kids love whenever I pull out the vacuum: when they were babies, I swear the sound would put them to sleep, and when they got older, they’d crawl around the room following it, throwing a fit when I finally turned it off. My oldest has asked to help vacuum a number of times (yes, please!) but the large Dyson is hard to handle at her height. So, when I found a near identical, mini version of our red Dyson, I knew it had to be ours. This cool toy can even suck up little pieces of paper which will delight my kids. But this is just a toy, not an actual vacuum cleaner – from the reviews I’ve read, as long as you keep that in mind, it’s a pretty great gift.

6. We’ve had quite a few failures with blocks. I never bought plain wooden blocks because I’ve known too soft foam blocksmany people who’ve gotten hurt on those hard wooden corners and I was worried about them being thrown. So in my search for alternatives, first we had the set of giant Lego-like eco blocks that were impossible to separate and hard for kids under 3 to push together – oops. Then, we had the slightly smaller Lego-like blocks that refused to stick together making life frustrating for a little girl who wanted to walk around with her creations. But on a recent playdate, I found these soft foam Wonder Blocks which seemed like the answer to my prayers – no interlocking pieces and no worries about tall towers falling on someone’s head.

my pal scout7. My one year old really doesn’t need much, but he has a serious soft spot for puppies. So this year, his big gift is an oldie but a goodie: The My Pal Scout doll from Leapfrog. This toy has been around a while but it’s still on the shelves because moms and kids love it: you can customize Scout so he’ll say your child’s name and a few other fun personalized things, he sings songs, plays games and is easy to use. I hope the lullaby feature will help with naptime once Bugaboo stops nursing too. Kiwi Crate box

8. Last but not least, my daughter has an aching love of craft boxes. We already get monthly boxes from Kiwi Crate and BabbaCo but each box only lasts a few days and the months are long. So, I’ve put a few subscription sites on our Christmas wish list: M is for Monster, The Little Thinker Box and CareFree Crafts all look really promising.

Happy Black Friday shopping!

Ending Breastfeeding, Weaning Mommy

I read a lot about breastfeeding before having both my babies but I don’t remember seeing much about the weaning period beyond: “Stop when you’re ready to stop,” “Gradually decrease the number of nursing sessions,” or the less helpful, “Just breastfeed as long as possible.” Well, Bugaboo is over a year old and certainly showing no signs of stopping, but mama is ready. So what now?

We’ve been nursing before naps and at bedtime, often (unfortunately) in the middle of the night too. Skipping nursing sessions usually only works if my husband is home. If I’m holding him, Bug literally pulls the neck of my shirt to try to cram his head in, face first. In less desperate moments, he just sticks his (usually cold) hands down the neck of my shirt. I get the message loud and clear: nurse now or your shirts will never be acceptable to wear out in public again! (Yeah, he knows my kryptonite).

Sure, you say, I just need to buck up and let him cry a little. It won’t really last very long and he’ll get over it. But here’s the kicker – when I do give in and nurse my baby, my toddler actually, I always get the same reaction: his eyelids flutter, his eyes roll back a little, and he breathes out a tiny moan of total pleasure along with a deep sigh as though I’d been starving him for days and broke his fast with a 5 star dessert. He is so completely content and it’s the simplest thing I could possibly do – really I just sit there and enjoy a few minutes of uninterrupted reading time. I don’t usually feel the typical “mommy guilt,” but that does it. Why on earth would I take nursing away from him?

Because I want my boobs back, for one. Because I have a bunch of very cute non-nursing bras waiting for me. Because my son very slowly increases the pressure with his teeth so that by the end of many nursing sessions, I have four well-defined marks around my nipple. Because I’m scared he’ll still be nursing years from now (I have no problem with moms who nurse older kids, I just don’t want to do it myself). And because I want to sleep through the night for once!

It turns out none of those reasons are good enough to break the spell my son has on me, though. I still haven’t done much proactively to wean my son. I guess I’m really hoping my son will just decide on his own that he’s done with nursing and it’ll be a nice, peaceful transition. That happens sometimes, right?

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