Archive | 2016

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Classic Christmas Books

Christmas is just a day away,  and if you’re looking for a fun last minute gift, how about a classic Christmas story?  There are so many wonderful books that bring back such feelings of nostalgia for Christmases gone by, and among our favorites are How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss, Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a perennial favorite for both the book and the television special.  As with all Dr. Seuss books, the rhymes make it a fun read aloud book.  The Grinch is so evil and conniving in the beginning.  Making his little dog wear that big antler and haul the sled, stealing all of the Who’s presents and food.  But whose eyes don’t get a little misty when the Grinch’s small heart grows three sizes the day he discovers the true meaning of Christmas? This was a favorite of ours as children, and May enjoyed reading this one to her boys during the holidays.

Polar Express  This is a sweet and magical story about a little boy who takes a journey to the North Pole on a train called The Polar Express. He, along with other children all in their pajamas, visit Santa and his elves as Santa prepares to deliver presents on Christmas Eve.  The book has wonderful illustrations and will appeal to readers both young and old. “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”

Little Women is a book that all little girls should read and this is a beautiful edition.  The book tells the story of the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, whose father is away serving as a chaplain in the Civil War.  The sisters have many sacrifices to make because of the war but find ways to entertain themselves through performing plays written by Jo, celebrating Christmas, doing charitable works and getting to know their neighbor Laurie.  The book is a true tearjerker.

This book holds a special place in our hearts.  In fact, June was named after the character Beth. May still keeps her original book she received as a young girl on her shelf.

We hope you have a joyous and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  We will see you in 2017! ~May and June

Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see. The Polar Express

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Christmas Table Centerpieces

Are you hosting the holidays this year? One way to make your Christmas dinner parties a little more festive, is to decorate your dining table with a centerpiece.  Your table is an easy surface to dress up with holiday cheer and it gives your guests something pretty to look at.  If you do not have a centerpiece yet (and Christmas Eve is only 4 days away), you can easily make one with items you probably already have at home.

I always change up my centerpiece from year to year.  I wouldn’t want my guests to get bored looking at the same thing every Christmas.  Because I like to change it up, I do not spend much money on a centerpiece and usually make one myself.  Also, because my dining room table is fairly small and when we have more than 6 for dinner we have to add a leaf, the centerpiece needs to be uncomplicated and moveable.  I also like to put a small centerpiece on my counter height table in the kitchen.  But, once again it needs to be moveable since the table often gets converted to a work space.

This year, I made two centerpieces with items I had around the house and in my boxes of Christmas decorations.  After the holidays, they can be quickly disassembled and used for another purpose next year.

For my dining room, I used a long wood bowl I had bought from Target last fall.  To the bowl I added glittered and frosted pinecones which I found at Joann’s.  Finally, I added some bottlebrush forest animal ornaments and bottlebrush trees to create a wintry magical forest scene.

For my kitchen, I used an old tarnished silver shrimp platter that I received as an “antique” from some family member.  On the larger part of the platter I placed a wreath that has paper feathers with a little bit of glitter.  Because there was a gap between the inner part of the wreath and the platter I placed some of those frosted pinecones in the center ring.  I then added a candle votive in the smaller attached bowl above the platter.

Together these centerpieces probably took me half an hour to make.  Plus, I spent no money because I had all of the supplies in my house.   After they were put together I thought they were a little weird and funky, but I like weird and funky.  What makes them unique is they are one of a kind and only temporary, so if I decide they are a little too strange, we never have to see them again.  So, if you are looking for a centerpiece, search around your house.  In the past I have used containers filled with ornaments, battery operated fairy lights, old christmas cards, my collection of miniature Christmas trees, candy canes, fresh greenery, lots of candles and various table runners.   Have fun! If you need inspiration you can check out Pinterest but don’t get too caught up in perfection.   It’s a wonderful opportunity to be creative and any imperfections make it unique and special.

I hope all of your Christmas preparations are almost done and that you get to relax and enjoy your decorations and the spirit of the holidays. And, if you are looking for more things to decorate, you can always decorate your dog.  -June

Christmas is too sparkly.  Said no one ever.

 

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Thoughts on the Holidays

Wow! There is no questioning it, winter is here. Last weekend, we experienced our first major snowfall here in the Midwest. For me, Sunday was the perfect day to stay in and bake Christmas cookies. With the snow piling up outside my window, holiday music playing in the background, and my cookie sheets lined up across the counter, I mixed, measured, rolled out dough, and baked all the cookies I would need for family and friends this year. The warm sugary smells in the house were intoxicating, and as always, I couldn’t resist sampling the sweet inventory.

While looking for some ribbon for my cookie gifts, I came across a box which held forgotten family photos, and as I sifted through the memories, I uncovered many from Christmas’ past. My cookies forgotten for the moment, I brought the box upstairs and before I knew it, I was sitting on the floor next to our Christmas tree, surrounded by memories. Many of the snapshots made me smile, and some, while still sweet, forced a lump in my throat thinking about family members no longer with us. I started to line the photos up according to the time they were taken, enjoying the story that I was being told about my family, and how we all have changed and grown over the years.

From my dad playing Santa Claus for his grandchildren- and grand dog – to making gingerbread houses with the girls, seeing the Macy’s Christmas tree every year, ice skating at Millennium Park and enjoying a pizza dinner afterwards, and of course all of us sitting around the dining room table on Christmas night, playing a mean game of Taboo or Balderdash while nibbling on leftover goodies from the cookie tray, Christmas was always a special time.

I have to admit, as I looked back, I felt a little nostalgic. It’s funny how a photo can propel you back in time to moments long forgotten, and yet it somehow feels like it all just happened yesterday. And now, our once full house has been reduced to a busy seventeen year old, who has been flapping her wings in anticipation of her flight to college in the fall, eager to leave our nest. The house is much more quiet.

As I sat in the glow of the tree, with the aroma of my recently baked cookies still warming our home, I was reminded that although our Christmas traditions have shifted and changed with our evolving family, the spirits of those no longer with us along with the beauty, peace, and love of the season can never be lost. As the years pass, I am learning to keep my focus more on enjoying my family, and less on the superficial details of what Christmas should look like. There is something to be said for keeping it simple. I am grateful for my family, and although we can’t all always be together, our bond is strong. Despite the fact that there has been much discord in the world we live in, today, let us all try to love without judgment, and enjoy each other’s company this holiday season.

As I write this, it is early morning and there is a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. I’m enjoying a cup of coffee, the quiet of the house, and the beautiful lights on our Christmas tree where several ornaments made by my grandmother and me have been carefully hung. Our oldest daughter is home from college, my weary husband is home from his business travels, and they are all (including our pup) still tucked in their beds, with what I hope are visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.

Merry Christmas! ~May

Time was with most of us, when Christmas Day, encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and everyone round the Christmas fire, and make the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete.” ~ Charles Dickens

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Peppermint Bark

A Sweet Holiday Gift – Peppermint Bark

Since this is the time of year for gift giving, we thought it would be fun to give the gift of a sweet holiday treat. Homemade peppermint bark! May does a lot of baking during the holidays and has always given tins of homemade cookies as gifts to family and friends. However, if you’re not a baker, or don’t have the time to bake, we have a great DIY that is fun, festive, doesn’t take a lot of time, and most importantly-it’s delicious!  You can make this with your kids or with a friend. May and June spent a few hours in May’s kitchen last week making these great little gifts.

INGREDIENTS -PEPPERMINT BARK

DIRECTIONS

  1. Line a 9×12 pan with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the dark chocolate (use the method you prefer, either double boiler, or microwave – cook 30 seconds in a heat-proof bowl, stir and repeat until you have a smooth consistency.
  3. Pour the melted dark chocolate on the parchment paper, spread the chocolate out until it is about 1/3″ thick. You can do this by hitting the pan on the countertop repeatedly, or maybe you could use a spatula to spread the chocolate.

4. Melt the white chocolate, using the steps above. After the chocolate is smooth, pour it on top of the dark chocolate – trying to make the layers the same thickness. (it’s best to do this step while the white chocolate is still very soft — I’ve had them separate when I broke them into pieces, I think the layers “stick” together better if the white chocolate has not hardened).

5. Unwrap the starlite mints, or peppermints of your choice and put them into a heavy duty ziplock bag. Using a hammer or meat tenderizer – crush the mints then, while the white chocolate is still melted sprinkle on top.

6. Let the chocolates harden in the refrigerator for 2 hours, then break the candy into pieces. This needs to be stored in the refrgerator if you live in a warm/humid climate.

Since the peppermint bark is so pretty and festive, we thought some simple clear packaging would look best. You can wrap the peppermint bark in cellophane and finish it off with a cute bow, or place it in a mason jar and decorate the lid. We also tied on some cute ornaments which can be hung on the gift recipient’s tree.

We hope you have a great weekend and if you’re in the Midwest, stay warm. ~ May and June

“Baking and love go hand in hand, for as one bakes a tasty treat and fills the room with its sweet aroma, the true joy is to take what has been made and share it with another.” 
― Heather Wolf

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Getting Everything Done

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” -Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

It is that time of year again.  The time where you feel like you can barely catch your breath as you hurry from one thing to another.  As of today, there is only about 10 days until the Christmas weekend.  I don’t know about you, but I am starting to get worried about getting everything done in time.

I have a million Christmas chores that still need to be finished.  I have a little bit of shopping, cookie baking, some decorating, meals to plan and cook, and gift wrapping.  And that does not include social events to attend and year-end work deadlines that are rapidly approaching.

While part of getting everything done is just sheer fortitude, I do have a few tips that I use to finish it all, without losing my mind in the meantime.

Make Lists.  I am a big believer in the power of a list.  Once you put it on the list you can save your brain energy for more important things other than remembering to buy Scotch tape the next time you go to Target.  I keep several different lists this time of year.  Also, my lists are always written on paper and not on my phone.  The physical act of writing it down helps me remember my shorthand notes and also helps me remember that I have a list.

I often will make a list of things I need to do like the one above, listing holiday baking, gift wrapping and decorating.  I always make a Christmas shopping list.  My Christmas shopping list is organized by the person I have to buy a gift for.  I simply write the person’s name down along with my gift idea for them.  If I know which online site I want to use or brick-and-mortar store I want to visit for that particular gift I write that down as well.   After the gift is purchased, I cross the person off of my list.  I can then easily figure out what gifts I have left to purchase.

Plan Meals.  Planning weekday meals is important this time of year, so you have something that you can throw together, especially if you get home late.  It also keeps you feeling good to tackle all of your to-do items and prevents some of the dreaded regret come January 1.

In addition to planning regular meals, there is the planning of the holiday meals that you are hosting or the item you need to bring to a party.  Because time is precious right now, you do not want to go to the grocery store multiple times and the list of unusual ingredients makes it very easy to forget one critical item for a recipe.  To stay organized, I write down my whole menu for a holiday meal that I am hosting, including the main course, sides, drinks, dessert and even any extra items such as festive napkins or plates.  I then get out my recipes for each of the dishes and read them carefully, writing down on my grocery list any items I need to buy.  If I am not sure whether I have an item, I write it on my grocery list with a little star next to it and check the pantry or refrigerator for those items before I go to the store.  If I have the item already I simply cross it off the list.

The day before the hosted meal, I once again look at my overall meal plan and figure out if there are any items I can make ahead of time.  For Christmas Eve, our meal is our family’s tradition of steaks on the grill with a few new additions.  So I almost always make Olive Cheese Bread by The Pioneer Woman (this is delicious but has probably a million calories so we only eat it maybe this one time of year).  The cheese topping for the Olive Cheese Bread can be made the day ahead and put in the refrigerator, so I will do that and then just place it on the counter a couple of hours before I want to spread it on the bread.

The day before,  you may want to put the leaf in the table and make sure someone is bringing extra chairs.  As a funny side, we host a lot of family parties but own no folding chairs so someone always has to bring some.  I guess we need to invest in some of those.  Some people like to set the table the day before.  I tend not to do that because it gives me the heebie jeebies of unclean dishes by the day of the party, but I do try to set it before my guests arrive.

Group Errands Together.  Let’s face it, traffic around stores is terrible this time of year.  If you can, try and do errands to several different stores in the same area at the same time.  When I do errands, I like to go out once and get them all done before I go home.  Sometimes, this is impossible to do especially if you are trying to do errands after work.  However, if you can group together as many as possible, you will save yourself the aggravation from having to be in the same traffic more than once.

Also, if you can do errands early in the morning or later at night and during the week the crowds will be smaller.  I try to go grocery shopping early on Friday mornings.  The lines are short (including at the deli where there is always a wait), there are less people running into you with their grocery carts, and you can breathe a little easier.

Make it Fun.  These Christmas chores are supposed to be fun.  This is a one-time-of-year thing and I look forward to a lot of it.  So figure out how to make it fun.  When I wrap gifts, I put them all in one place and get out all of the supplies (paper, tape, tags, scissors and ribbon).  I then put on a Christmas movie, like Elf or Fred Claus, and get wrapping.  Watching the movie makes the chore a little easier.

For Christmas baking, my mom comes over and we bake cookies together in my tiniest of kitchens.  We listen to Christmas music and as the day wanes, enjoy a glass of wine.  Even if we only have a couple of hours for baking, we have fun doing it.  And she helps me do my dishes so double win for me!

Take Time For Yourself.  It is so easy when your to-do-list gets long, to not put yourself on that list.  This is not the time to forget about your well being.  Make time to go to the gym.  Definitely do yoga.  Take a walk and look at Christmas lights.  Go to church.  Just sit and be in front of a crackling fire in your fireplace with the Christmas tree casting the only light in your living room.  Sip that glass of wine while you watch the snow fall.  And most importantly, be with the people that matter the most to you.  That is the joy and spirit of Christmas.

Good luck with your to-do-list!  And remember Christmas will be here even if some things are undone.  –June

Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.

Lights please.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo the angel of the Lord came down upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.”

That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. -Linus “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

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Holiday Baking

During the holiday season, you can almost always find me spending my free time in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies. As a child, I loved helping my mom and grandma bake cookies, and for several days, I was dusted in flour. I continued the tradition with my children as well, and smile at the memory of my flour coated boys standing on their step stool decorating snowmen and reindeer. It must be genetic. The warm aroma of cinnamon, molasses, butter, and sugar fills the house which is such a treat on cold winter evenings.  Although I occasionally toss in a new recipe here and there, my family has their favorites and for the most part, we stick to our familiar cookie playbook.

This year, however, I decided to add a new recipe to our repertoire. I love to watch cooking shows and recently, Giada De Laurentiis baked a pan of almond biscotti. Biscotti are an Italian almond biscuit which are twice baked, oblong, and with their crunchy texture, they are ideal for dunking into your favorite hot beverage. They are not overly sweet which makes them a perfect holiday treat if you’re having guests for tea, or just want a little afternoon pick me up. They are also a great cookie for gift giving. I have always loved them, but they are a little drier than most cookies, which can take a little getting used to.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cornmeal

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

3/4 cup coarsely chopped whole almonds

18 ounces white or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, beat sugar and eggs with an electric mixture until pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Mix in flour and beat until just blended. The dough will be sticky. Stir in almonds. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

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Divide the dough evenly into 2 equal mounds and place on prepared baking sheet. With moist hands, space dough evenly apart and form into 2 ( 9 by 3 inch) logs.

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Bake for 35 minutes until lightly browned. Cool for 5 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise into 3/4 inch thick diagonal slices. Arrange the biscotti cut side down on the same baking sheet. Bake until the cookies are pale golden, 20- 25 minutes.

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Let cool completely. Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the pan does not touch the water. Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Dip the end of each biscotti in the chocolate. Transfer the dipped biscotti to a wire rack, set over a baking sheet, until the chocolate has hardened. Store in airtight container.

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These are such a pretty addition to your holiday cookie tray. Enjoy!

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~May

“First we’ll make snow angels for two hours, then we’ll go ice skating, then we’ll eat a whole roll of Tollhouse Cookie-dough as fast as we can, and then we’ll snuggle.” Elf

 

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Our Favorite Target Stocking Stuffers

Does Santa fill stockings at your house?  At our homes, stockings are always a fun little treat after opening presents under the Christmas tree.  And since all good things come in small packages, you never know what fun surprise you may find.

Recently, we took a trip to Target to search for great stocking stuffers. When you are the Christmas shopper in the family,  you know that by the time you get to the stocking stuffers, you are exhausted and just want to to be done with the whole Christmas shopping experience, instead of being creative.  So, hopefully some of these items we picked out will be helpful to you too.

img_4881Let’s face it, every stocking needs a little candy. We also found  a cute winter hat, flannel pajama pants, a festive Star Wars t-shirt, a small book and a classic movie. These are all fun little items perfect for a child.

img_4884If you are shopping for a girl or woman, cosmetics like nail polish or tinted lip balm are always a good option.  How about a sparkly wristlet, necklace or a new phone case?  Hand sanitizer of course is a practical choice, especially during our current cold and flu season.  We also loved these cute little printed socks (in fact both May and June bought those pink sheep socks for themselves).

img_4880The dollar section at Target has a great selection of stocking stuffers that won’t break your budget.

img_4887img_4889Small toys for kids such as Hot Wheel cars or Star Wars figures fill out a stocking nicely.

img_4888And for those of you who remember playing Oregon trail on your school’s lone computer with terrible graphics such as little “v’s” for bullets, you can now buy a card game version of Oregon Trail for the whole family to play.

We hope you are finished, or nearing the end of your Christmas list.  Have a good weekend. –May and June

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there. -Clement Clarke Moore

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First Snow

First Snowfall

If you have read here for any amount of time, you know that I am not a fan of winter.  It is my least favorite season.  It is so cold I walk around with my shoulders around my ears like earrings.  I miss the sun and I have a tendency to get a little depressed.  However, I do appreciate and look forward to the beauty of the first snowfall.

This last Sunday we had our first snowfall in Chicago.  The weathermen were predicting one to two inches.  We got 7 inches!  I would like to have that job where I can be so wrong, but still remain employed.  Being a Sunday, it was a perfect day for snow.  We had nowhere we had to be, no work, no commitments and we could just stay close to home and enjoy it with no aggravation.

During our morning walk, Gatsby was not so sure about the snow.  He walked with an expression on his face that made me think that his brain was thinking “Oh no! Not this again.”

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But later he got into the snow by enjoying a little self-inflicted snow rubdown and catching snowballs thrown by me.

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It was a beautiful snowfall.  Big wet flakes that coated every surface with a white fluffy covering.  From my windows it looked like a snowglobe outside.  And once outside, the earth was hushed in a blanket of white.

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The snow made the Christmas lights shimmering and diffused that seemed to make the whole tree glow from within.

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It was a time to breathe in the peace of the night.  A small deserved moment in an otherwise busy world.  –June

Everything is magical when it snows, everything looks pretty. – Lorelei Gilmore

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Breathing Through the Holidays

Breathing Through the Holidays

For many of us, the holiday season is a time filled with decorating our homes, hanging twinkle lights, baking cookies, cocktail parties, school functions, final exams, work functions, travel, family, gift buying, wrapping presents, and of course gift giving. Whew!! That’s in addition to our already full schedules of work, family, and activities. Needless to say, it’s a lot.

Have you ever noticed when you are rushed or stressed, your breath changes? Well it does, and not for the better. It becomes shorter and more shallow so our normal relaxed breath, which is deep and even, becomes compromised leaving our inhalations longer than our exhalations. This increases stress and makes us more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, even panic attacks. We become unbalanced.

There is, however, a solution that will bring some much needed serenity to your central nervous system, and you don’t even need a yoga teacher! The practice of 2-to-1 breathing (exhalation is twice as long as inhalation) is a simple breathing technique that helps regulate the motion of the lungs, quieting the body’s nervous system, bringing a sense of peace and tranquility to our overstressed mind, body, and yes- spirit. This is a technique that can be done anytime, anywhere. To get started, sit comfortably with your head, neck, and trunk of your body aligned. If it helps, close your eyes and begin to tune into the movement of your breath, feeling its soft touch at your nostrils. Be aware of the cool touch of the inhalation, and the warm touch of the exhalation. I teach my students to place one hand on the belly, and one hand on the chest so you can actually feel the breath gently moving into your palm at the abdomen.

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Your inhalation moves to the count of 4, and your exhalation to the count of 4. When you are ready, begin to adjust your breath so you are inhaling to the count of 2, and exhaling to the count of 3. The breath may feel a little odd at first, but don’t give up. By simply giving a little more attention to the exhalation, you will notice a difference in how you feel in a very short period of time. After exhaling to the count of three for a bit, extend the breath just a little bit more to the count of 4.  Sometimes, I practice this breath at my desk, or laying on my back in bed if I am having trouble sleeping. I’ve even done this breathing technique while stuck in traffic!

This is a great practice to do for 3 to 5 minutes everyday, to reduce stress. You can also do it at bedtime to help unwind after a long day. Simply lay on your back with your palms on your upper belly, and feel your breath move into and out of your palms, paying attention to and extending your exhalation. It only takes a few minutes and you will feel calmer and more relaxed.

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I love this girl!! She is always willing to be my model, even when it is freezing cold outside!!

Have a great week! ~May

When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace. ~Author Unknown

 

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Holiday Sidewalks

City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks Dressed in Holiday Style……

Now that Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday are behind us and the holiday season is in full swing, we encourage all of you to check out your local community and see what’s happening during this festive month.  Almost every town these days dresses up their trees, parks, and storefronts in celebration of the holidays. It’s a great opportunity to get together with family, friends, and neighbors to do a little Christmas shopping, enjoy the lights, and perhaps even sit on Santa’s lap. And while we all enjoy the festive Christmas light displays of the big city, sometimes in the hustle and bustle of December, it is difficult to take a whole day to visit.

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Beautifully lit streets.

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A festive storefront

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Beautifully decorated trees dressing a restaurant entrance

There is something so charming about strolling down the streets of a small town at Christmas time. You almost feel like you’re in a beloved holiday movie, such as It’s a Wonderful Life. Of course the evening isn’t complete without sharing a meal and toasting the upcoming holiday.

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June always gets talked into posing but she loved the alley of Christmas lights

This year May and June decided to stay close to home by visiting downtown Arlington Heights, Illinois to enjoy a holiday happy hour, and do a little Christmas shopping. The weather was cold and windy, so we bundled up and enjoyed walking down the beautifully lit streets and nearby park, and we even found a few gifts. We both are big supporters of local businesses. The stores are unique, friendly, and you can always find something for that special someone on your list. And by supporting your local businesses you keep your local community vibrant, and hopefully attract even more businesses you can enjoy.  Chances are, you’ll also probably run into someone you know. Some stores are keeping longer hours this month too, which is nice for those last minute gifts on your Christmas list.

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A streetscape that should be in the movies

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This is Santa’s tree farm

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Our town’s North School Park wishing everyone a wonderful season

We were able to get in the holiday spirit with all of the Christmas lights (and the glass of prosecco probably helped too) all without going too far from home.  And once we had enough Christmas spirit, we were both able to arrive home in ten minutes, and get tucked warmly in our pajamas.  Have a good weekend! –May and June

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful –Norman Vincent Peale

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Christmas Lights and My Aspiration to be Clark Griswold

The weekend after Thanksgiving is always our time to put up the outdoor Christmas lights.  I know some of you take advantage of the nicer weather and do it before Thanksgiving, however I do implore you not to turn them on until all of the turkey leftovers have been put away, and the last plate is washed and dried.  One holiday at a time please.  The week before Thanksgiving I act as the Christmas light police.  I yell at people (with my car windows rolled up, of course) to turn off their lights until after Thanksgiving dinner.  Next year I am threatening to hand out violations to those that break my imposed law.

Despite being a stickler for the rules, I love Christmas lights.  The warmth and cheery glow brightens up the darkest days of winter, giving every neighborhood a festive spirit.  Our neighborhood is particularly sparkly because each house places a small Christmas tree, decorated with those old-fashioned big bulb multi-colored light strings, on their front lawn near the road.  I love driving around the neighborhood viewing everyone’s creative displays of Christmas lights, and I especially love driving up to my house after work, and seeing it all lit up.  It is much more welcoming than a dark unlit house.  As a child of the late 1970s and early 1980s, we missed these glowing displays.  It was un-American and unpatriotic to hang outdoor Christmas lights.  We were in the midst of a so-called energy crisis resulting in the loss of this display of spirit.  With the development of LED lights and I guess the resolution of the energy crisis, Christmas lights are back in a big way.

My attitude toward Christmas lights is the more the merrier, but in a tasteful way (if that makes any sense).  Apparently my love of Christmas lights is genetic.  My grandma always loved the glitz, tinsel and glitter of Christmas.  However, for a long time she did not have outdoor Christmas lights, although I think she always wanted them.  When she was quite elderly, she cajoled my dad and brothers into hanging up outdoor lights for her.  You could tell by the way she asked that this was not a whim, but something she had been planning for a while and was just waiting for our visit at Thanksgiving.  The lights she picked were of course muti-colored and they may have even blinked as well.  She also wanted icicle lights, but they were out of  the budget she had set.  So, after a trip to Wal-Mart to buy the lights, my dad and brothers went out on ladders with staple guns in hand to outline the fascia of her front porch all the way to the roof peak, so that it formed a lit up triangle.  And because my grandma couldn’t get on the ladder, and it was a small town in the Ozarks where year-around Christmas lights seem acceptable, she just left them up.  Each year at Christmas she was able to enjoy them (and who knows, maybe she turned them on in July sometimes too).

The best scene in the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is when Clark is decorating his house for Christmas.  Those were a lot of lights he put on the house, enough to blind the neighbors and make the electric company turn on the nuclear power reserves.  While my house does not look like the Griswold’s (I probably wouldn’t mind if it did but I am trying to stay tasteful), we do have our Clark Griswold moments with our Christmas lights.  Poor Clark did all that work and then could not figure out why the lights would not turn on for his big moment, until it was discovered that a light switch in the garage needed to be turned on.

  • Every year we have to wait until our fall yard cleanup is completed before we can start our light display.  One year we made the mistake of not waiting and put up our little Christmas tree in the front yard complete with lights.  Somehow the yard crew weed whacked our tree, cutting the string of Christmas lights, rendering them unusable.
  • We are pretty good about testing out all of our lights strings a week or two before we are going to put them up.  However, it does not matter.  We test and they work and then when we actually go to put them on the shrubs and trees, half of them do not work.  I think it is the work of some mischievous elves.  This means that we take at least one or more trips to the home improvement store during the process to buy more lights or an extension cord or a plug or some other necessity.  Inevitably, the project gets extended by at least an hour or more.
  • Last year we finished to find that on Sunday morning, some animal had eaten through the bottom of two of the light nets on the hedges.  I guess rather than simply pushing under the nets, the easier path was to eat through them.  I’m just happy that we did not find an electrocuted possum among the Christmas lights.
  • Despite staking the little lawn Christmas tree well into the ground, every year we have at least one storm that blows it over.  A few years ago a combination of a wet, warm, and windy December caused the tree to blow over several times.  We happened to see a neighbor sneaking over to fix our tree one morning.  It was nice he did that and even better, it did not blow over anymore that year.
  • We have one electric circuit that most of our kitchen appliances (the stove, the microwave, the coffee pot, the toaster, any other small electric appliance), all of the kitchen lights, the garage lights and conveniently the outlet where the Christmas lights plug in, all feed into.  This means that we blow that circuit several times during the month our lights are on.  Then my husband has to run out into the backyard, sometimes through the snow, to reset the Christmas lights after he has fixed the circuit.  This is especially inconvenient when you have guests for dinner and you have to turn off all of the kitchen lights and all the other appliances just so you can steam some broccoli and have the Christmas lights stay on.  We may have corrected the problem this year with a new outdoor outlet connected to a different circuit.
  • Finally, we always get rainy weather at the end of November and beginning of December, which I guess is better than snow.  The problem is a heavy rain storms trips our gfci outlet so that the lights will not turn on.  I guess it is a good safety feature so we don’t have to worry about electricity running in a wet yard, but it was disappointing when I came home last night, expecting to see my festive lit-up house, but instead just saw darkness because of the rain.

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(My house in a previous year.  The rain last night meant no lights and no picture opportunity)

Even though our house may not be as bright as the Griswold’s, it sure is pretty and we have our moments to talk about. –June

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev’ry store,
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.
Sure it’s Christmas, once a-more – Johnny Mathis
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As My Son Turns 30

I hope you all had a wonderful and filling Thanksgiving weekend, enjoying time with family and friends. In addition to celebrating the holiday, we had a milestone birthday in our family yesterday as my oldest son, Danny, turned 30. As I am writing this, I still can’t believe that I have a child who is 30 years old!! How can that be when I myself just turned 30? I feel like for me, 30 was yesterday, and although the reflection in the mirror tells a different story, my mind and spirit still feel young, too young to have a child that age. Thanksgiving has always been special for me because after being a week late and enduring a very long labor, Danny finally greeted this world 30 years ago, on Thanksgiving morning. There are certain memories we moms carry with us about the birth of our children. I remember with Danny the television was on in the labor room, and the same Sports Illustrated commercial with Dick Butkus in a tuxedo with a red bowtie kept playing over and over again. I was about to lose my mind when the nurse finally wheeled me out of the room. Of course the moment you hold your child in your arms for the first time, all else is forgotten. It is a feeling you carry with you all your life. There isn’t a love like it.

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So, here we are…I was thinking about the advice I could give as the mom of a 30 year old. As a parent, we always have our own experiences that we are more than happy to share with our children because not only are we older, which our children are always more than happy to point out, we are so much wiser. Remember the eye roll our younger selves gave our parents when they were so kindly offering their advice? My advice to you – listen to them! They are always right!

30 is a wonderful age to reflect on how far you’ve come, and where you still want to go. You are truly an adult at 30. You have had your 20’s to get to know yourself a bit better and are now starting to feel more comfortable in your own skin. You are beginning to gain your own experience and wisdom, and you are not so concerned about pleasing others.

30 is a time in your life when you begin to let go of the people you don’t feel connected to, and truly cherish the ones you do. You may have a smaller group of friends, but they are like family.

At 30, you are still ambitious, but start to release the tight grip you have on how you think your life should be, and find happiness in what your life is. You begin to see that life truly is a journey to experience, and your journey will be much easier if you are flexible, and able to adapt to what is ahead of you.

When I was in my 30’s, I was given the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and it’s All Small Stuff, by Richard Carlson. It’s such a wonderful little book about not letting the little things in life make you crazy. So Danny, check your mailbox this week! You will refer to this little gem often and it will always be on your bookshelf.

As a parent, our biggest hope is that our children are happy. Son, as you move into your 30’s, try to always see the cup half full, live in the present moment – there is always something beautiful to witness when you do that – always try to do the next right thing, never lose your sense of humor because it will save you in your darkest moments, be kind, laugh, love, and know that you are loved. Life is always going to throw you curve balls, but it’s how you deal with them that count. Breathe….. And of course, know that your parents are always here for free advice, if you should need it.

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~May XOXO

Thirty was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms with the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult. -C.S. Lewis

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Meditation

Giving Thanks. A Meditation

Here we are, it is the week of Thanksgiving and if you’re hosting like me, your menu is set, your shopping is done, with the food prepping about to begin. This is the first year my mom and I won’t be cooking together, now that she has moved south. Our family has gotten a little smaller, but we are still looking forward to spending time together.

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For years, I have taught a special yoga class the week of Thanksgiving, de-stressing with Yin Yoga, and ending class with a gratitude meditation. I would like to share that meditation with you today. Even though this is a week of food and family, we have to remember to take time for ourselves as well. This meditation takes just a few minutes, and it is a wonderful way to feel centered and grounded for the holiday weekend.

Find a quiet space where you can be alone for a few minutes. Sit comfortably with your head, neck, and spine in alignment. You don’t have to be cross legged on the floor if that is not comfortable. A simple straight back chair will work just fine. You can do this with a partner and take turns reading it, record it, or simply read it first, then close your eyes and allow yourself to be filled with gratitude and love.

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As you breathe, gently relax and allow all thoughts to slowly subside from your mind.  As you focus on your breathing, tell yourself that you are now open and ready to remove any blocks to your  understanding. You are now ready and willing to become aware of all the good that already exists in your life, all that you have, all that you possess. For a moment, think about how truly thankful you are for the people you love. Allow yourself to feel the emotion of gratitude deeply. Think about all of the things you love about them and take a moment to reflect upon how they express their love to you. Feel grateful for their presence in your life.

Now, shift your consciousness to your body. Allow your thoughts to focus on this wonderful machine and how well it serves you everyday. Thank your body for enabling you to live out this lifetime. If your body is in pain, be thankful for the lesson that pain is teaching you. Then release it and be pain free.

Shifting your consciousness once again, allow yourself to feel fully thankful for your mind. You have the wonderful gift of thought and reason. Remember how good it feels to figure out solutions to problems, or help someone else through theirs. Feel the joy for this amazing ability, and be grateful. 

Finally, if you so desire, shift your consciousness to your spiritual self by being grateful for your connection to the God within you. Ask to be reminded that we are magnificent beings that are living out this lifetime to learn, grow, and express love on Earth. Be grateful for this life and all that comes along with it. Be grateful for feeling unconditional love and allow this divine energy to be part of your consciousness, always. 

Now, take a deep breath or two, and slowly open your eyes.

June and I would like to share a few things we are grateful for this Thanksgiving.

June– I have a tendency to focus on the problems and deficiencies in life, rather than all of the good that I have.  So, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time for me to consciously appreciate my life and all of its blessings.  This year I am very thankful for my husband who puts up with, at times, my crabbiness and unhappiness, who supports and cheers me on to work toward my dreams, who makes me laugh with his corny sense of humor, loves me without condition and who is my favorite friend and teammate as we move forward with an adventure we never planned, but are excited for the next chapter to come.  I am thankful for Gatsby who is always there with a cold nose and a warm heart, who will always accept pets and retrieve tennis balls, who steals my socks to entice me to chase him, who has me so well trained that I can read his mind and provides love, always unconditionally.  I am thankful for my mom and my brothers and all of the extra people they have brought into my life, for the fun times that we have shared and for the times we have leaned on each other.  I am thankful for my mother-in-law and all of those additional siblings I got who treat me as part of the family and not as an “in-law.”  I am thankful for all of those loved ones who are not able to join us for Thanksgiving, for whatever the reason, but especially my dad who taught me that family was the most important priority, championed all of my successes and was there always when things didn’t quite go as planned.   I am thankful for May who is my partner and fellow writer, who reads my texts in the early hours of the morning, who brainstorms with me, suffers through pilates and yoga alongside me and is the sister I always wanted.  I am thankful for my house that is cool in the summer and warm in the winter, for a closet with clothes to pick from, plenty of books to read and a soft bed to sleep.  I am thankful for food to always fill my grocery cart, a reliable car and a safe neighborhood.  I am thankful for my health and the health of all of my loved ones.  And I am thankful that while life does not always go according to my plan, I know that there is a plan greater than myself and one that is usually better than I could ever imagine.

May– This has been a year of ups and downs, twists and turns, and even a few surprises. This is my first Thanksgiving without my dad, and though I miss him terribly, he is in my heart and I will always be grateful for the love and encouragement that he gave to my brother and me. I am so incredibly grateful for all the wonderful support our family was given during the difficult moments. There aren’t enough words to express how much it meant to all of us. I truly have the most wonderful friends. I am grateful for my husband, you are my best friend and my rock. Our journey together is about to go down a new and exciting road and there is no one I would rather share this adventure with….buckle up!! I am thankful for my kids who always keep life interesting, sometimes a little too interesting. All I can say is thank God we all have a good sense of humor!  My mom, there are no words. She amazes me everyday.  I am thankful for my brother and his family who will be with us on Thanksgiving. Of course I have to mention our dog Sawyer, who sneaks into bed with us every morning and wakes us up with wet kisses, always greets me when I come home, and patiently waits at the door for his morning walk.  I am so grateful for my blogging buddy, partner in crime, fellow book lover, shopping pal, friend, and true soul sister, June. Who would have thought a shared yoga class would lead to this? I love this ride that we are on and can’t wait to see where it leads. Everyday I am grateful to have the ability to start over, to appreciate the present moment, and to see the beauty that is all around us. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a deep breath, and letting it go.

We wish you all blessed Thanksgiving filled with family, food, gratitude, and love.

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~May and June

“What if, today, we were grateful for everything?” Charlie Brown

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Our Yogi Gift Guide

Our Yogi Gift Guide

One of the benefits of the beautiful practice of yoga, is you don’t need extensive equipment to participate.  A  yoga mat, comfortable clothes, and you’re set. You don’t even need shoes!  So, with that being said, what do you do if you have a yogi on your Christmas shopping list?  Well, as yogis ourselves, we’ve discovered a few items along the way that has enriched our practice, and we’d like to share them with you too.

Yoga Mat Bag

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If your yogi has her own mat, it is nice to have a bag to carry the mat to class.  There are many yoga mat bags out there, some of which are fairly basic.  However, if your yogi doesn’t want to be burdened with a mat bag and a purse, or walks or bikes to yoga class, then we have the bag for you.  Aurorae Yoga makes a sling yoga backpack that is fantastic.  Aurorae Yoga kindly provided us with one bag to try out and after we received it, May realized that she owns the same bag and uses it quite frequently.  June had never tried out the bag and was amazed at its usefulness. There is a spot for your yoga mat, your water bottle, a blanket or towel, personal items such as your phone, keys and even a hole to thread your earbuds.  June is now in love with this bag and plans to use it frequently (assuming she can remember to take her yoga mat to class even when she has to step right over it).  May received her backpack as a gift from her husband several years ago, and loves it. She’s biked and walked to her classes with it, plus it carries everything she needs.  It’s the perfect gift for your favorite yoga instructor!

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Yoga Mat

Every yogi loves a new yoga mat and there are many different styles out there.  Because a yogi develops an almost personal relationship with her mat, as it represents peace for at least an hour,  it’s important to select one that is her favorite color or has a pretty design.  Both May and June regularly use Gaiam mats.  They are reasonably priced,  have enough grip, and are light to carry.  Plus, many of them are quite beautiful.

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Yoga Socks

Gaiam also carries great yoga socks which are perfect for colder days. You can wear them at the beginning of your practice until your feet are warmed up, or wear them for your entire class. They have no-slip bottoms, increasing balance and stability and come in several fun colors.

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Yoga Mat Towel

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If your yogi practices a hot style of yoga, then a yoga mat towel may be the perfect gift.  During hot yoga, the yoga mat often gets slippery because your yogi is working up a sweat.  A yoga mat towel can help grip the yoga mat.  Even if your yogi does not practice hot yoga, sometimes summertime yoga gets pretty sweaty, and they may appreciate a mat towel.  Aurorae Yoga also sent us their yoga mat towel to try out.  The towel is soft and longer than the average yoga mat.  June thought this would be a great gift for a yogi who travels a lot.  If  your yogi has ever had to practice yoga in a hotel room with gosh-knows-what on the carpet, it is important to have a clean space to practice.  Hotel room towels are too short and schlepping a yoga mat on a plane is rather inconvenient, this towel would easily fit in a suitcase and is a long enough to keep your face or feet off of the carpet.

Flip Flops

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If you’re looking for cute and comfy footwear to get you to and from your yoga class, we suggest you try a pair of Aurorae Yoga flip flops. Made from recycled yoga mats, these flip flops come in a variety of colors and will fit easily into your yoga bag. Oh, and we discovered they are great for pedicures too!

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Yoga Leggings

We yogis can’t seem to have enough leggings and there are so many styles, patterns, and colors to chose from!  Zella Activewear from Nordstrom has a wonderful assortment of leggings and yoga pants for every body. They fit well, are comfortable, and if you’re a bit vertically challenged, the Zella midi works as a full length yoga pant. They tend to go on sale pretty regularly too.

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June is wearing the Zella “Live In”  midi legging in Green Balsam

 Yoga Poncho

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Another great gift for that special yogi in your life is the Breathe and Believe Poncho, by Lucy. It comes in grey and navy and is the perfect cover up for relaxation at the end of class and heading out on a fall day. This item is great for yoga, or running a few errands.

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Sacred Space

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If you know a yogi with a home practice, perhaps the perfect gift is a little statue, great for a desk, coffee table, or sacred space. We loved this Lucky Elephant from Viva Terra. Viva Terra has beautiful home inspired decor from around the world, and is eco-friendly. We noticed some early bird sales starting as well, so check them out. Both May and June have a Himalayan Rock Salt Lamp in their home, and love it. Probably the most well-known benefit – and why the majority of people use them – is due to their incredible power to remove dust, pollen, cigarette smoke, and other contaminants from the air. This is only one of the many benefits of these lamps.  Plus, they look beautiful on a desk or end table. Amazon has a nice variety of these unique little lights.

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Of course a gift that is always welcomed, is a gift certificate to a favorite yoga studio or maybe a private class or two with an instructor. You can check a studio near you for details.

We hope we made finding that perfect gift for the yogi in your life a little easier. Have a wonderful weekend.

~Namaste. May and June

Peace. Love. Yoga.

P.S.  Aurorae Yoga kindly provided us with some of the products included in our yogi gift guide, however, all of our opinions are our own.

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Planning

Do You Plan or Do You Fly By The Seat of Your Pants?

Last Saturday, yoga class was a modified Ashtanga class. For those who do not know, Ashtanga is a style of yoga that is a set series of poses done in strict compliance with the yoga teachings of the person who developed the style. There are no variations permitted. It is a very physical practice with lots of planks, chaturanga and downward dogs. I have to admit that this is not my favorite style of yoga. I respond much better to a bit more free-flowing form, where allowances are made for every student in the class to do what is comfortable but yet challenging to her. Fortunately, this style of yoga is only in my teacher’s repertoire every so often and she teaches a modified form that allows us to make certain adjustments, when it gets a bit too challenging.
As May and I were leaving class, we were both commenting on how that is not our favorite style and we really prefer when the class is a bit more free flowing, without the rules of Ashtanga. I figured that for me, my whole life tends to be very regimented (I spend most of my days tracking my time in 6 minute increments) so when I am participating in a fun activity to remove my mental stress, I like one that does not have any rules. This got me to thinking, are you a planner or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I tend to be a planner more than a fly by the seat of my pants kind of gal. I usually have my days fairly planned out. However, that schedule is really just so that I get things done. With juggling a full-time job, writing posts, working on blog business, social commitments, errands and household chores, if I did not have a schedule, it simply would not all get done. But even in that scheduling and routine, I have some flexibility. For example, I usually make a little meal plan for the week when writing out my grocery list. I only go grocery shopping once a week (there is nothing worse than getting off of the train and have to not only figure out what to make for dinner, but go and buy the ingredients for dinner), so by making a meal plan I know that we have the groceries needed to make meals. Rarely, do I really make all of the meals on the “meal plan”, nor make them in the order provided. So every night it is a little bit fly by the seat of our pants as to what we are going to eat for dinner, based on the groceries in the house.

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(My meal plan and grocery list for next week)

While I tend to plan my days, I really enjoy my days that are more or less fly by the seat of my pants. Some of my most fun days in memory are when it did not follow a plan, and just resulted spontaneously. There was the time my husband decided at 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon to buy tickets for a Blackhawks playoff hockey game for that night. There was the Saturday years ago when I went with a couple of friends to the mall to find one thing and we ended up shopping a good part of the day, seeing the Harry Potter movie, and then having dinner. None of that was planned, in fact I was supposed to be home putting in billable hours, and none of it was all that unusual, but it was a memorable day because it was totally unplanned.

I also tend to write spontaneously.  May often gets distressing texts from me on Tuesday afternoon saying “I don’t know what to write about for tomorrow.”  Somehow or other I always find a post in me to write.  I do much better writing by the seat of my pants because I just let the words flow instead of belaboring them.  And I have always written this way.  In school, I would quickly write a draft of a paper.  I would then go back and revise and edit the next day, but unless inspiration had struck me another way in the meantime, my paper was just polished at that point and not rewritten.

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(She is not a chicken with her head cut off because she has her head.  But she is missing other body parts)

I think my planning and scheduling is all for self-preservation because otherwise I would be running around like a chicken with my head cut off. However, if I had a choice I think I would be more flexible and more fly by the seat of my pants. This is apparent in how I spend my free time. I do plan to go to a yoga class at a certain time but I like it when class is a more open structure. I love to have hours during the weekend that is unstructured time and I can do whatever suits my fancy, whether it is reading, writing, going for a walk, hanging out with my husband or friends. I guess I am a closet “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser” who is a planner only by necessity.

The truth is if you spend all of your days scheduled and planned out, you miss out on some really amazing life moments.  I am going to try to be more of that closet “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser” and a little less of the planned and routined me.  Are you a planner or are you a “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser”? –June

Life is what happens to us while we are making plans. -Allen Saunders

 

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By the Light of the Moon

By the Light of the Moon

This month we have experienced the largest, closest, and brightest moon since 1948! Hopefully, there are clear skies where you are, and you can take a few moments to go outside and bask in its lovely glow.  Many cultures honor the moon as a manifestation of the divine feminine energy.  As the solar energy is masculine, warm, active, and outwardly focused, the lunar energy is cool, calm, and focused inward.  Although our lives tend to revolve around the heat and movement associated with the sun, as the moon rises in the evening we are reminded to slow down and listen to our inner voice. This is a time for quiet and introspection.

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Those of you who practice yoga are familiar with the Sun Salutations, but did you know there is also a Moon Salutation? As our days grow shorter, I personally find this practice beneficial toward the end of my day. Although you can practice this at anytime, it’s a lovely sequence to practice outside under the moon, or inside near a window where you can experience the moon’s glow. I like to practice four rounds, one for each season. I suggest you listen to your body, and decide what is best for you and repeat the following sequence as desired. This sequence is just one variation of a moon salutation, demonstrated by Alyssa.

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Begin at the top of your mat with your thumbs at your heart. Inhale raising your arms overhead. Touch your thumbs to your heart and exhale as you fold forward. Palms are on your mat. You can bend your knees if you’re unable to touch the floor.

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Step your left leg back to a lunge and gently place your left knee on your mat with your fingertips on the floor. Feel grounded as you inhale lifting your palms up to prayer over your head. Exhale and release your hands back to your mat.

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Step your right leg back to downward facing dog. Breathe…. Inhale and release both knees to the floor in tabletop pose.

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Exhale to child’s pose.

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Inhale back to tabletop pose, then extend one leg back at a time to upward facing dog with the tops of your feet resting on your mat.

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Exhale and press back to downward facing dog.

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Step your right foot forward between your hands and rest your left knee on the floor. Inhale raising your arms palms together overhead.

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Exhale lowering your arms to the floor and step the left leg forward relaxing into a forward bend.

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Inhale to a standing position bringing your arms overhead, and exhale bringing your thumbs back to you heart.  Close your eyes and be aware of how calm you feel in body, breath, and mind. On your next round, extend your right leg back to lunge.

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Namaste. ~ May

Tell me the story about how the sun loved the moon so much, he died every night to let her breathe.

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Early Holiday Gift Guide

Our Early Holiday Gift Guide

Wow, not to scare everyone but Christmas is a little over 6 weeks away!  That means that our lives will soon be even busier than they are now.  We thought it would be fun to put together a Holiday Gift Guide, for you early shoppers or even for you to refer to when you are out shopping at the eleventh hour.  The items on this list are goodies that we have received as gifts and love, or that we have given as gifts and are loved by the recipient, or they may appear on our own Christmas list this year.

Smeg Retro Electric Tea Kettle

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June got this electric teakettle in a pretty pastel green last year for Christmas. Don’t worry girls, the teakettle was on her Christmas list, so her husband was not in trouble for buying her an appliance as a gift.  The teakettle is really cute sitting on the kitchen counter, heats water quickly and at a good temperature for making tea or other hot drinks.  Plus, it turns itself off when the water is hot, so no annoying whistle that you have to quickly address before it hurts your ears and the ears of your dog.  May is coveting the teakettle and it is now appearing on her Christmas list this year.  So, think about it for yourself or a favorite tea lover.

Bobbi Brown Lip Gloss Set

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Bobbi Brown always has some great gift sets including this lip gloss set.  The colors are very wearable all year-round.  The lip gloss is not overly sticky or heavy and is pretty long-wearing.  June often buys herself this as a “Christmas” present.  This would be perfect for a best girlfriend who likes lip color options.

Bombas Socks

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We both love Bombas socks. We discovered them on GMA’s Deals and Steals and can’t say enough about them.  They are great with your athletic shoes for your morning walk or workout, plus they come in invisibles which we love to wear with a ballet flat or our favorite pair of shoes. The socks not only don’t show, but they won’t slip off your heel either. This is a great stocking stuffer for men, women, and kids.

Southern Firefly Candles

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This is a wonderful family owned company who set out to create a candle line that captures the elegant charm of the south. Their products are made from natural soy wax with double cotton wicks, and contain no dyes or additives. Their packaging is made from recyclable materials and their glass containers can be repurposed once the candle burns down. There are so many fragrances to choose from, and if you’re not sure you’re going to like a particular fragrance, they will send you a sample. June also discovered these on GMA Deals and Steals.  Her favorite fragrances are the Orange Clove, a nice warm scent perfect for fall and winter, and the Grapefruit Mangosteen, a lighter citrus scent.  She has reordered both, and has given them as gifts.  June is excited to try some of the other scents including some of the seasonal options, and has Holiday Cheer ready for burning after Thanksgiving.  May is definitely going to put these on her gift giving list this year, and may just buy one for herself.

North Face Fleece Pullover

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Now, we haven’t forgotten about the guys in your life. Does anyone find them exceptionally hard to buy for?  Both May and June purchased North Face fleece pullovers for their husbands a few years ago. It’s the perfect gift for cold winter nights inside, or as an extra layer on frosty days outside, or if your guy is hotblooded, he can wear it outside on really cold evenings.  May always knows winter isn’t far off, when her husband is wearing his on chilly weekend mornings. June bought one for her husband because he likes lighter outerwear, but then he left it in the gift box for over a year and a half.  He is weird about trying new clothing and likes to wear the same items, even replacing old items with identical new items.  However, now that he has tried it he wears it all the time.  It’s a good thing June likes it on him, because it will probably be one of the only coats she sees on him for the foreseeable future.  They come in an assortment of colors, plus Nordstrom gift wraps and ships for free.

Jo Malone Fragrance

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Jo Malone has a lovely little fragrance gift set perfect for that special friend, mother, or daughter. The set includes two fragrances and a hand wash. May has been wearing Jo Malone fragrances for years, and often gives this little sampler as a gift during the holidays. Don’t wait too long to purchase though, they can go quickly and once this sample sells out, it’s gone until next year.  Thanks to May, June also wears Jo Malone fragrances.  Because they are a bit of a splurge, she often puts a scent on her Christmas list.  This year she is considering the new scent Basil & Neroli.

Pipcorn

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Pipcorn was founded by a brother and sister team, Jeff and Jen Martin. Their popcorn is all natural, gluten free, non GMO, vegan, and made from whole grain. They are made in small batches, and hand seasoned in your choice of rosemary, kettle, truffle, and sea salt. You can purchase a gift pack for that special popcorn lover on your gift list. They are all delicious, but the truffle is amazing!

Kendra Scott

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Of course we couldn’t finish our Christmas gift list without a piece of jewelry. Lately, we’ve been loving the great pieces by Kendra Scott. This is a great success story about a woman who started her jewelry line with only $500 dollars, three months after her first son was born. Kendra custom designs natural stones into unique necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings. Prices vary and you can often find discounts online. The company is based out of Austin, Texas but Chicago does have a store in the Bloomingdales building, on Michigan Avenue. Both May and June have some lovely pieces that we enjoy wearing.

We hope our gift guide was helpful if you’re looking for that special gift this holiday season.

Have a great weekend. ~May and June

One of the nice things about Christmas is that you can make people forget the past with a present.” ~ Author Unknown

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Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

This past Sunday, the clocks fell back an hour, so we are now done with daylight savings time for about 5 months.  This means that the sun sets very early and the overall, daylight is short.  Today in Chicago, the sunrise is to occur at 6:30 am and sunset at 4:35 pm, giving us a little over 10 hours of daylight.  By the winter solstice on December 21, sunrise is to occur at 7:15 am and sunset at 4:23 pm, giving us only 9 hours and 7 minutes of daylight.  Add in the cloudiness and dreariness of winter with freezing temperatures and frozen precipitation, and those of us who live here are prime candidates for seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

I have always suffered a bit of the blues in winter, but the winter of 2013-2014 put me over the edge.  That was a horrible winter. It kept snowing and snowing and snowing.  The piled up snow along the sides at the end of the driveway were much taller than me. We had 26 days between December and February where the thermometer reading was below zero.  Going anywhere was a chore and took every ounce of energy.  I wore what felt like 50 pounds of clothing, my eyelashes woud freeze, and I had to leap snow piles on city street corners and slip slide on unshoveled sidewalks to get to the office.  It seemed like spring would never arrive.  I remember being at the grocery store the first Friday in May (yes, May!), and it was snowing outside.  My mood and energy level that winter were abysmal.  Because of that, I did a little research and read up on a condition called seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is related to the change of seasons.  It generally begins and ends around the same time every year.  For most people it begins in the fall, continues through the winter, and ends in the spring.  For a minority they have the opposite and it begins in the spring and continues through the summer.  While people with SAD may exhibit the general signs of depression such as feeling blue and having low energy, there are some specific symptoms of Fall-Winter SAD including irritability, hypersensitivity to rejection, leaden feeling in the arms and legs, oversleeping, craving carbohydrates and weight gain.

The experts think Winter-Fall SAD is caused by the lack of sunlight, which changes our circadian rhythms, can drop serotonin levels, and alter our melatonin levels.  It’s interesting because I have always been sensitive to light.  I remember as a child trying to go to bed at 8:00 pm in the summer and I could not sleep for anything because it was still light out.  I also require a room that is completely dark to sleep, which means no cracks of light through the curtains, no glowing clocks or other light-up devices.  When I travel this often means a towel over a microwave, DVD player or alarm clock in the hotel room.  So given my sensitivity to light, it is not surprising that I have a sensitivity when there is not enough light.

Interestingly, one of the risk factors for developing SAD is living far from the equator.  Other risk factors include being female, age (younger people actually develop it more frequently), a family history, and having clinical depression or bipolar.

I generally notice that my symptoms start in late September or October as the daylight gets shorter, the angle of the sun changes, and it gets colder outside.  Once the time changes back to standard time, I really notice the symptoms because I rarely see the sun.  When I left the office this week a little after 5:00, the moon accompanied me on my walk to the train.  While mild in the fall, I can suffer greatly in January and February.  In February, I often feel as if I am white knuckling it just to get through the day.  However, once March comes and the daylight is noticeably longer and daylight savings time returns, I notice a huge improvement in my mood and overall energy level.

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(My morning train ride in the dark)

Because I have realized this about myself, and talked to a few professionals about it, I try to get ahead of it in September and set up some techniques to help me throughout the winter.  If you think you suffer from Fall-Winter SAD, you should definitely talk to a professional if you are feeling depressed, and whether your symptoms are severe or mild, here are some things that might help:

Light Therapy.  Light therapy involves sitting in front of a special light box so you are exposed to bright light.  The light therapy mimics the outdoor light, so it tricks your brain and causes changes to your brain chemicals to improve mood.  This is usually the first line of treatment for SAD and interestingly one I have not tried yet.  This year, maybe this week even, I am ordering a light therapy box.  You can find them for a reasonable price on Amazon.  This is the one I am looking at:

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Supplements.  There are supplements that you can take to help offset some of the symptoms of SAD.  I started back up with my Vitamin D supplement in September.  Those of us living in northern climates are often deficient in our Vitamin D because we do not get enough sunlight, especially during the winter.  However, even if you live in a more temperate climate or for us northerners wear sunscreen in the summer, you may still have deficient Vitamin D levels.  In order for your body to make Vitamin D, large amounts of bare skin have to be exposed to the sun when it is high in the sky.  So get your levels checked.  Vitamin D is important for strong bones and a healthy immune system.  According to the Cleveland Clinic there are also studies that indicate that Vitamin D can help certain cancers and autoimmune conditions.  Vitamin D can also also help fight depression.  I have found a great Vitamin D through a natural health practitioner that is water soluble, which means it is difficult to take too much because your body gets rid of what it doesn’t need.  This means no gastrointestinal problems from starting a Vitamin D regimen.

Through that same practitioner, I also was introduced to a supplement called Tao in a Bottle by Dragon Herbs.  It is an anti-stress supplement that contains the same chemical found in green tea.  The supplement relaxes you without making you sleepy.  I have found that this a great help with the symptoms of SAD as it makes me less irritable and sad.

I have also read that melatonin supplements may help as well, but I have not tried them.

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Exercise.  Exercise is always a mood elevator that releases endorphins.  Also, if you struggle with weight gain in the winter (which makes you more depressed), exercise can help keep the pounds off.  I always find that moving my body whether through a hard interval training class, yoga, pilates or even a walk, makes my mood better.

Maintain Healthy Eating Habits.  I try and eat a diet of protein, healthy fats and vegetables and avoid most sugar and carbohydrates.  However, SAD makes you crave all of the carbs and sugar.   And eating carbs and sugar makes me feel yucky.  So try and maintain the same healthy eating habits all year-round.  It gets tough with the holidays.  So during that time I become ever more vigilant when it is just a regular day and try and stick closely to my usual diet and avoid treats.  If you are looking for guidance the book The Whole30:  A 30 Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom is great.  I would hold off on doing a Whole 30 until after the holidays because it is hard and involves cooking everything but it is a good way to control the sugar, carb and overall comfort food cravings.

Get Outside.  Even if it is cold, get outside at some point during the day, preferably when there is light.  Unfortunately, I do not always get to do this.  Around the winter solstice, I am going to the office in the dark and coming home in the dark, so I do not get outside during daylight much.  However, as long as the weather is moderate my husband and I still and try and give Gatsby at least a short walk after work.  And on the weekend we take Gatsby on a longer walk during the day when we can see the icy spots.  Even when its cold, the fresh air feels refreshing and clears your sluggish brain.

Take a Vacation.  If you can afford it, take a vacation at some point in the winter.  This tip is often elusive for me.  It’s hard to get away both from a time and money perspective.  However, my husband and I did discuss it last February when I was not doing super great, and we agreed that this year we will look into it if even if for just a long weekend.  Also, May is going to be in South Carolina for about 6 weeks this winter, so I may get away to visit her and also do some May Meets June business.  For me a winter vacation means going someplace warm.  However, if you are a skier I am sure that type of vacation can help with symptoms since you are outside and active.

And when worse comes to worse, remember that Spring always shows up!  Let me know if you have any good techniques for coping with SAD or the winter blues. –June

 

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn. -Hal Borland

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Living in Color

Living in Color

We just experienced an absolutely gorgeous weekend here in the midwest. With temperatures in the middle 60’s and bright sunshine playing off the changing leaves, the colors have been magnificent. Rich shades of red, orange and gold combined with the still green grass and blue skies. How is it not a spiritual experience?

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I have always been a visual person and I love color, especially the colors found in nature. They are so vibrant and mingle beautifully with each other, no matter the season. Whenever I’m feeling stuck on a color scheme, or just feeling plain stuck, I can walk out my door, and get all the inspiration I need. In fact my inspiration for today’s post came from simply being in my yard.

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Although we closed up the pool, the warm fall temperatures have delayed us from putting away our outdoor furniture a few more weeks, so we can enjoy sitting and just being, surrounded by the lovely fall landscape. I can still hear the chirps from the few birds that have remained in the area, my wind chimes are playing a soft song in the light breeze, and the leaves from our backyard trees are gently floating to the ground like raindrops all around me. I feel at peace.

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Enjoying the outdoors is always a nice escape from the news, especially with this being the eve of election day. I’ve grown weary of the insults, drama, and overall tone of not just our candidates, but our country in general, and being out in nature this past weekend was just what my body, mind, and spirit needed. Of course, the Cubs winning the World Series last week was the best distraction from our current political climate.

There is something so calming about this time of year. Even though the sun is shining and it’s warm, the breeze against my skin is cool, and I feel comfort from my cozy cardigan over my shoulders. The sun is on an angle now, and the light in the yard isn’t quite the same as it was during the summer months, yet it still gives me warmth. And the colors, those beautiful jewel toned colors are all around me and my eyes can’t help but stare and be grateful for the surrounding beauty.

So, if you’re sitting in a windowless office right now, or in your car, or on the train, make sure you take just a moment today to step outside, take a few deep breaths, feel the sun on your face, and appreciate the beauty around you. It may be as simple as looking up at the bright blue sky.

Have a wonderful week, and don’t forget to vote.

~May

It looked like the world was covered in a cobbler crust of brown sugar and cinnamon.” 
― Sarah Addison AllenFirst Frost

 

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Our Dogs and their Black and White Enemy

Our Dogs and their Black and White Enemy

This is such a lovely time of year. We have been enjoying the beautiful colors and warm temperatures which have been perfect for evening walks with our four legged family members. The sun is setting earlier these days which means our walks are a little darker and unfortunately, at times, stinkier. Let’s be honest, we all know that smell, especially this time of year. It sometimes lingers in the air when we leave our homes first thing in the morning, or as we swerve around the pungent and somewhat flattened  little bodies on the road. We usually don’t give it much thought other than knowing that unmistakable odor.

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Now as kids, we loved Pepe le Pew. He was cute, funny, and who could resist his charming French accent? I’m sure we wouldn’t feel the same way if we could have actually smelled him through our T.V. sets, while watching Saturday morning cartoons. If you own a dog, there’s a good chance that you have had a one-on-one encounter with the dreaded black and white.  If you haven’t, consider yourself extremely lucky.

May was one of those lucky pet owners. Her doodle Molly would go out at night, do her business as close to the house as possible, and come right back inside. During her twelve years in this world, not one encounter with this smelly creature. Sawyer, well he hasn’t been so lucky. Three weeks ago he had another direct hit, his third in three years. What is it about dogs and skunks? And why is it always right in the face? And since we’re talking about them, what purpose do skunks serve other than stinking things up?  Our backyard is Sawyer’s domain. He loves to spend warm afternoons and evenings outside watching over his kingdom, or lurking in the bushes waiting…..

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Sawyer says, “Those skunks better stay out of this yard. I’m on duty here.”

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Do you see him?

You would think that after his first rumble, he would have learned his lesson. Unfortunately, no. So, as his loving owners who do not want to give him another skunk bath, and continue to smell the invisible beast clinging to him, us, and our house for months, we have taken matters into our own hands. First of all, this is a great product to have around in case you or your pet get skunked.

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You can order it on Amazon or pick it up at your local pet store. It works well for that initial punch before getting your dog to the groomer for a skunk bath. Now, for the next few weeks, until our black and white enemy goes into hibernation, we are going on patrol before letting Sawyer out before bed. We take a high powered flashlight to the yard, sweeping every nook and cranny and clap loudly to scare off potential intruders. Then Sawyer comes out under our watchful eye and high beam, he takes his final potty break for the evening, and in he goes.  Does he like this? Absolutely not, but it’s peace of mind for us, and really that’s all that matters.

Fortunately for June, her Gatsby is a bit of chicken, but he too has had a couple of encounters with the skunk.  As a puppy he got an indirect hit (probably because he ran as fast as he could away from it) and then a couple of years ago a glancing blow on the side of the face and neck.  Of course we did not realize this until he came flying in the house, terrified.  Skunk smell on the side of the road while pungent is fleeting.  When the smell is in the house and on your dog, it is so much stronger, almost a burnt smell, along with the skunk stink.

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I’m scared of skunks (and the dark and Buffalo Bills football games)!

So out to the back patio we went for a little bath with the hose and a flashlight.  But first a quick Google search on how to remove skunk smell, from your dog.  We now keep the ingredients for this remedy in the house in case of an emergency.

1 quart hydrogen peroxide

1/4 cup baking soda

1 teaspoon Dawn dish detergent

Some tips too.  Keep this mixture out of your dog’s eyes, nose and mouth.  Only wash the affected area of your dog.  Skunk spray is oily (hence the Dawn dish detergent) and if you shampoo your whole dog it may just spread the skunk oil over his entire body.  Our groomer actually told us to apply the above like a paste to the affected area before wetting him down.  And because Gatsby is a golden retriever and a double-coated dog, the stink is even harder to remove so a few baths (and time) are recommended.

June and her husband also have taken measures to avoid the skunks, if at all possible.  Because our walks are often now when it is dark outside, we have really loud conversations (sorry neighbors if you get to hear our discussions about work, politics, or family dynamics), we walk in the middle of the street (of course keeping a close eye for cars), and we scan the surrounding yards and bushes.  We often see skunks in the yards on our walks but if they hear us they usually run the other way, but we also wear athletic shoes in case we have to make a run for it!  Gatsby also wears a light on his collar, which is in part to give us light to see, and also because he is afraid to walk in the dark (I told you he was a big chicken).

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Guarding the yard for skunks?

If you have skunks in your yard, make sure you do not have grubs in your grass.  Grubs are the skunks favorite meal.  Also, you can buy fox urine granules that you sprinkle around areas of the yard where skunks like to hang out.  We have an overgrown weed garden in the back near our shed which seems to be a favorite skunk pathway, so we apply the granules there and have actually seen them turn and walk the other way.  You can buy them at a hardware store like Ace.  Finally, because we seem to think animals can understand English, June often yells outside “Any skunks out there?” and when there is no answer figures it is safe (hee hee).  And June’s husband, frequently reminds Gatsby that skunks are are not his friends.

Hope these tips help if your four-legged family member has a run-in with a skunk.  While they sure look pretty their scent is only one that a mother can love.  Have a good weekend –May and June

“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”
Author: Abraham Lincoln

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