Archive | February, 2016

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Slow Cooker Chicken

Happy Monday! I hope you all enjoyed your weekend and for those of you in the midwest, warmer temps! Spring is in sight!! I have a wonderful recipe for you today. It’s become a favorite in our home and is healthy, delicious, and oh SO EASY!!  I discovered this great cookbook, while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Health Bridge. In a nutshell, this radio show is an East meets West discussion on overall health and medicine. The show is hosted by Dr. Pedram Shoji, a specialist in health and spirituality, whose guests are informative professionals in the field of medicine and nutrition. Abel James, who currently hosts the #1 health podcast, was a recent guest discussing his new book, The Wild Diet. After hearing a lot about the yummy recipes in the book, I had to buy it and try them out for myself. Although the book is called The Wild Diet, there really isn’t anything diet about it. It’s all about eating high quality, fresh and wholesome foods, which is what I’ve been doing all my life, thanks to a health conscious mom.  I know there are so many diets out there right now, but I don’t really follow one specific food plan. I’m pretty much an everything in moderation girl, and love to try out new recipes. This book has great meal recipes that also include desserts and delicious smoothies. He also incorporates a section on basic nutrition and how to shop for healthy food. So, enough talking- here’s the recipe. Oh and one more thing, all of these recipes can be prepped ahead of time for convenience .

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Slow-Cooker Chicken

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 (3 to 4 pound) whole chicken

1 large white or yellow onion

  1. In a small bowl, combine the paprika, cayenne, onion powder, oregano, garlic powder, black pepper, and salt.
  2. Clean the chicken and pat dry. Rub the spice mixture all over the chicken and under the skin
  3. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze if making later in the week (allow a full day for thawing in the refrigerator).
  4. Peel the onion, slice into thin rounds, and place in a storage container with a tight fitting lid for up to 1 week.
  5. Line the bottom of the slow cooker with the sliced onions.
  6. Place the chicken, breast-side up on top of the sliced onions. (No liquid is needed since the chicken will make its own juices.)
  7. Cover and cook on low for 5 to 6 hours, until the meat is falling off the bone and the skin is a little bit crisp.
  8. Plate the chicken and top with the slow-cooked onion slices, or place them on the side.

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Although sides are included in the book, I like to roast whatever vegetable is in season with diced purple fingerling or sweet potatoes. I also like to use the chicken bones to make my own broth for sipping or as a base for soup.

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Fresh roasted green beans and fingerling potatoes

Here’s a quick broth recipe:

Place chicken bones in slow-cooker and cover with water. Add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and cook on low for 12-15 hours. Strain and keep in the fridge for up to one week. You can also freeze and use at a later date.

Enjoy!

~May

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Museum of Extraordinary Things

February Book Club

It seems like forever since we have have had a book post.  I think that says something about the seeming interminable length of the month of February.  This month we have two books that are wonderfully written and one that is a super fun read (a perfect beach read for everyone soon going on Spring Break).

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

Japanes Lover

From Amazon:

Named one of the most anticipated novels of the year by New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Publishers Weekly, The Huffington Post, and more. From New York Times and internationally bestselling author Isabel Allende, an exquisitely crafted love story and multigenerational epic that sweeps from San Francisco in the present-day to Poland and the United States during the Second World War.

In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family—like thousands of other Japanese Americans—are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.

Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

Sweeping through time and spanning generations and continents, The Japanese Lover exploresquestions of identity, abandonment, redemption, and the unknowable impact of fate on our lives. Written with the same attention to historical detail and keen understanding of her characters that Isabel Allende has been known for since her landmark first novel The House of the Spirits, The Japanese Lover is a profoundly moving tribute to the constancy of the human heart in a world of unceasing change.

May’s Review: I read this book in its entirety, cozy by the fire on a cold and snowy weekend a few weeks ago. I loved every single chapter of this love story, and had a hard time putting the book down. It’s been a while since I felt this way about a book. Isabel Allende is a wonderful author, and this was one of my favorites. Although there are several relationships involved in this story, I loved the connection between the two female characters, Alma Belasco and Irina Bazili, who are decades apart in age, and yet are connected by their very tumultuous pasts, learning together to eventually come to terms with their lives. This story was so beautifully written, I almost wish I would have read it a little more slowly, to savor the author’s beautiful words.

June’s Review:  First, I have to say that Isabel Allende is one of my very favorite authors.  If you have not read her prior works, I strongly encourage you to do so.  The House Of Spirits is often considered a classic in the genre of magical realism and is so wonderfully done.  This novel, The Japanese Lover, was love for me.  The story involves several relationships that are much more complex then they appear on the surface.  This story surrounds an ugly and despicable part of American history that so many Americans know nothing about of how our government forcibly imprisoned American citizens that were of Japanese ancestry.  As many know, I read a lot of novels and usually the story is what carries me through the book.  In this novel, I am not sure what I loved more, the story or the writing.  I found myself taking pictures of pages with my phone so I could go back later and savor the words themselves.  It is such an absolute treat when you find a novel that reminds you of what excellent writing consists of  and inspirational language can be.  I highly recommend.

The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig

Cake Therapist

From Amazon:

Claire “Neely” O’Neil is a pastry chef of extraordinary talent. Every great chef can taste shimmering, elusive flavors that most of us miss, but Neely can “taste” feelings—cinnamon makes you remember; plum is pleased with itself; orange is a wake-up call. When flavor and feeling give Neely a glimpse of someone’s inner self, she can customize her creations to help that person celebrate love, overcome fear, even mourn a devastating loss.

Maybe that’s why she feels the need to go home to Millcreek Valley at a time when her life seems about to fall apart. The bakery she opens in her hometown is perfect, intimate, just what she’s always dreamed of—and yet, as she meets her new customers, Neely has a sense of secrets, some dark, some perhaps with tempting possibilities. A recurring flavor of alarming intensity signals to her perfect palate a long-ago story that must be told.

Neely has always been able to help everyone else. Getting to the end of this story may be just what she needs to help herself.

May’s Review: This was a delicious read that didn’t require too much thought. It was light, fun, and perfect for what I was in the mood for at the time. I enjoyed the main character, Claire’s ability to sense what flavors her customers needed in their cake, and there was a little mystery involving some of the residents of their small town. Of course for me, another yummy feature of the story was that it involved cake, and who doesn’t love that? Judith Fertig is coming out with a new novel this summer, about Claire and her bakery. It sounds like a perfect summer read.

June’s Review:  I really enjoyed this book.  I know I say this every time we review a book that has food in it but I usually enjoy novels where one of the characters is food.  It is a neat fact that Claire can play detective on what is going on with a person based on the flavors that come to mind.  I did really like this part and thought there was not enough of it in the book.  In addition, to the present day there is also a mystery from the past that comes into the story line.  This is a fun read that would make a good beach read.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Museum of Extraordinary Things

From Amazon:

The “spellbinding” (People, 4 stars), New York Times bestseller from the author of The Dovekeepers: an extraordinary novel about an electric and impassioned love affair—“an enchanting love story rich with history and a sense of place” (USA TODAY).

Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman and the Butterfly Girl. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance. And he ignites the heart of Coralie.

Alice Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a tender and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is, “a lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people” (The New York Times Book Review).

May’s Review: Alice Hoffman always has a beautiful way of weaving magic into her novels, which is one of the reasons why I love her books. There was a lot going on in this story and although it was dark at times and often sad, it was beautifully written. Definitely worth reading.

June’s Review:  Alice Hoffman is another of my favorite authors so I was excited to read this book.  This book is haunting.  The whole time I read this book I just felt so sad which says something about the gift of Alice Hoffman.  This is not a happy story but it is wonderful.  The setting is mysterious and unusual.  I recommend this novel.

Have a good weekend.  We hope that you will have some time to do some good reading! –May and June

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The Oscars

The Oscars or Academy Awards show is this weekend and I have a shameful secret to admit.  I don’t really like the Oscars.  Shocking!  I know.  I actually find the whole show rather boring and quite often,  I have not seen most of the movies.  And if I have seen the movies they are not usually the winners.  Maybe that says something about my taste in movies, or maybe that says something about the nominees.Oscar Award - Decor

I do love to watch the red carpet and see the fashion.  The dresses are usually beautiful.  And the jewels worn are breathtaking.  If Tiffany would like me to wear some jewelry to an event and tell everyone that it is theirs, I will gladly say yes (hint, hint). It is also fun to critique the fashion choices as if I would ever have an opportunity to walk a red carpet and choose what to wear.  But the awards show itself is often pretty boring.  The jokes fall flat, the original song nominees are performed by artists other than those that performed it in the movies, there are a lot of categories of awards for things that the average person is not privy to (although that can be a little interesting to know what goes into making a movie), and the show goes on for way too many hours.  I understand the purpose of acceptance speeches, but for those of us watching it on television, we do not have any idea who the people are that are being thanked.  Even the show’s producers want to make sure those do not go on too long and cut off the winners with some not so subtle orchestra exit music.

So even though I have trouble getting interested in the Academy Awards show, I feel like I should be interested.  I do sometimes watch the beginning of the show and sometimes tune into at the end for the Best Picture winner, so I can be in the “know” the next day.

I did look online today to see who the Best Picture nominees are for Sunday.  I wanted to know if I was really out of the loop.  It turns out this year I did see more than my usual number of nominees and here are my thoughts on the nominees:

  • The Big Short – I did see this one in the theater and was surprised by how very much I liked it.  My husband loves shows and movies about finances and the financial crises so I really went to see it with him for that reason.  Despite the somewhat somber premise of the movie, it was surprisingly entertaining and at times humorous.
  • Bridge of Spies – Another one I did see in the theater.  A based on true events spy movie set during the start of the Cold War starring Tom Hanks, how could you pass it up?  We may actually watch this one again now that it is on demand.
  • Brooklyn – Never heard of it.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road – Did not see it.  Not my cup of tea about a woman who rebels against a tyrannical leader in futuristic post apocalyptic world with the help of a group of female prisoners, a psychotic worshiper and a drifter named Max.
  • The Martian – I saw part of this movie and fell asleep.  Everyone raved about this movie.  It could be that I watched it at home on my cozy couch in my pjs, but I fell asleep when Matt Damon started making fertilized soil to grow potatoes to sustain himself until he could hopefully be rescued.  Since I have seen the jokes on the internet about how much money has been spent to save Matt Damon, I assume he was saved from Mars as well.
  • The Revenant – I saw the preview for this movie every time we went to the movies before Christmas so that should count for something.  Revenge stories are not usually a favorite of mine.  Animal stories are not a favorite of mine.  Bloody violent stories are not a favorite of mine.  So revenge stories against an animal that is bloody and violent is definitely going to be on my do not see list.
  • Room – I started to read the book and got scared and couldn’t finish it.  If the book gave me nightmares just from picturing the story in my imagination, I do not think seeing the story played out will help my ability to sleep well at night.
  • Spotlight – I have not seen this one but I think I might.  I just saw that it was released this week on demand.  It is based on the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the Catholic Church’s molestation scandal.

I will probably not be watching the Oscars on Sunday night.  Instead, I will catch up on Downton Abbey (I am seasons behind) or settle into my favorite book.  However, if you are an Oscar lover, I hope all of your favorite movies are winners.  –June

 

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Loving Molly

Well, here we are. It’s mid February – the snow has melted and we made it through another cold snap, in fact it felt like spring here in the midwest this past weekend! February seems to be that rather long bridge that connects winter to spring.  I’ve noticed the birds singing and even saw my first robin this week on my early morning walk. For most of us, other than Valentine’s Day, there isn’t a whole lot going on in February, and we’re usually grateful that it’s a short month (other than this year, leap year). February became a special month for me fourteen years ago, when we received a new addition to our family.
 
I love animals, particularly dogs.  I have had one, sometimes two at once, all my adult life, and I think it’s safe to say, dogs will be a part of my foreseeable future.  For those of you who have had these wonderful beings share your life, you know that although you love them all, there is always one that stands out from the rest, that is extra special.  My Australian  Labradoodle Molly was that dog. 
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Molly
 
 As I mentioned, the month of February is significant for many because of Valentine’s Day.  It’s the month of love, flowers, and chocolate.  For me, February is special because it’s the month my mom and I picked up our furry little girl at O’Hare International Airport.  It’s also the month that we had to say a final farewell to her, 12 years later.  Named after the Irish folk song Molly Malone, at 10 weeks old, Molly was already quite the traveler, as she made the long journey from Australia to Chicago to join our family.  Shortly after our beloved pug Otto died at the age of 12, my friend and neighbor left a newspaper clipping in my mailbox that described an up and coming breed.  At that time I was still mourning Otto and wasn’t sure I was ready for another dog.  Well, as fate would have it, five months later this beautiful pup was in my mom’s arms, driving home from the airport.  I still remember that drive so vividly.  My mom was holding her smelly little body (it was a long plane ride, after all, from the land “down-under”) wrapped in a soft towel, and every time I looked at her, she was staring at me. I was in love.  The first several days with her were wonderful.  She slept a lot, ate well, loved to be held, and was very docile.  After about a week, her true personality began to emerge. The following are the first words that came to mind when describing Molly:
 
Mouthy, mouthy, mouthy, (came into my head three times, I swear) crafty, smart, sneaky, selective hearing, stubborn, food thief, beautiful, endless energy, escape artist, amazing ball catcher, amazing frisbee catcher, amazing popcorn catcher, shoe thief, kisser, bed hog, stuffed animal thief…..etc.  Do you see where this is going??
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Molly and the girls on our wedding day
 
I could write an entire book on the shenanigans of Molly Malone.  She found her voice a few days after arriving, and never lost it. She used it so much that she actually became hoarse later in life.  She barked at everything.  If she wanted me off the phone, she barked.  When she wanted to eat, she barked.  If we sang Happy Birthday, she barked.  If we passed a neighbor on our walk and I stopped to talk, she barked until we started walking again.  I saw very quickly that this girl of mine was more than I could handle on my own, and so I sought the help of a trainer.  Molly and I went to school.  After a few weeks, the trainer strongly suggested that Molly be sent to boot camp for two weeks.  They were the most peaceful two weeks……..When it was time to bring her home, I expected Private Molly Malone to be at attention, waiting to obey my commands.  Alas, the trainer handed me her leash and told me, “Good luck with her!” I should have known I was in trouble when I entered the facility, and she was the only one barking.  
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The girls playing in the yard
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Molly loved playing catch, and could catch anything!
 
Molly loved people food and found very crafty ways of obtaining it. She was tall like a standard poodle and had very long legs so we couldn’t leave things on the counter.  I wish I had thought to set up a video surveillance camera, because to this day, I don’t know how she was able to get at the dozen donuts that were left out of her reach, or my friend’s birthday cake I baked, a loaf of bread, and the bunch of grapes in the sink (she had to go to the ER and have her stomach pumped after that one). I had only read an article on grape toxicity in dogs two weeks earlier. She even managed to drag a beef tenderloin, in it’s sealed package (thankfully), into the living room, thinking we couldn’t see her under the piano.  So happy my husband caught her before she ripped into it.  I remember being so frustrated with her that I actually picked up the phone and told Molly I was calling Quantas Airlines and buying her a one way ticket back to Australia.  She just sat there and stared at me.  I swear she was thinking “Go ahead, I dare you”. Our  family still laughs because the two words we always said to her were, “Quiet Molly!”  I miss saying that…
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 One of Molly’s quieter moments
Although Molly remained stubborn and mouthy, there was a maturity that finally occurred, and we fell into a routine and way of life that, for the most part, worked. She traveled with us and loved taking rides to Dairy Queen in the summer.  For all the naughtiness, there was a sweet side that loved to give kisses, and snuggle up when one of us was laying in bed, or reading a book.  If I was sick, she always stayed close to me. I loved her, and I know in her own Molly way, she loved me.  When Molly was eleven, we adopted a five year old labradoodle named Sawyer, who needed a family.  To this day, I still can’t believe I did that.  Molly was old and having health issues and I don’t know why I thought another dog was a good idea, especially a young male.  Sawyer is the opposite of Molly.  He is quiet, well behaved, sweet, listens (most of the time), and is a total lover. In fact, if we had gotten him as a puppy, we would have named him Romeo. We love, love, love him. Molly informed him at their first meeting that she was in charge, and he respected that.  He loved to lay next to her, and she allowed it. We even caught her giving him occasional kisses.
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Molly and Sawyer after a long walk
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Ready for Santa
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Molly chilling on Nicole’s bed
  I’m not going to go into the details of her last days with us. If you’ve ever loved a dog, you know.  Sawyer came into our life when he did because he was meant to be with us.  I was tapped on the shoulder when I saw that he needed a family, and I listened, just like I did when I read that newspaper clipping so many years ago.  We would have had a much harder time losing Molly if he wasn’t here to give us comfort.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to listen to those taps.  I miss my sweet girl, I will always miss her. Before saying goodbye, I whispered into her ear that I loved her, and thanked her for every single moment we had together. We had a very interesting journey together and she taught me so much, especially patience. I think dogs do that.  Plus they are always  happy to see us and are so forgiving of our mistakes.  
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 Molly Malone
Every morning Sawyer and I walk the same route I walked with Molly. I swear, sometimes I hear her tags jingling behind us as we walk on the path, and that gives me comfort.  I carry her in my heart.  We will never forget our Molly Malone.
          ~May
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Keeping Our Pets Healthy – Bentley’s Pet Stuff

Because we love our pets, we want to make sure they live a long healthy life so that they are around to be our companions and friends.  You may have noticed lately that there are a lot of commercials in the media discussing grain-free dog food, or pure ingredients and a lot of other buzzwords.  May and June have made a commitment to their dogs, Sawyer and Gatsby, to keep them healthy.  And since dogs do not get a choice in deciding what they are going to eat, it is up to us to feed them the most nutritious food possible.

We are fortunate to have a local natural food pet store, Bentley’s Pet Stuff, near by.  We love Bentley’s.  They started in our local community of Arlington Heights, Illinois about eight years ago.  The owner, Lisa, started the store because she recognized that dogs were being fed mainly garbage by the pet food industry.  This source of food was leading to all kinds of health problems in our pets, including allergies, infections, autoimmune conditions and cancer.  Also, it was becoming well-known that much of our dog food was made in China, and those companies through neglect or purposefully, were allowing chemicals into the foods that were causing kidney failure, and killing our four-legged friends.  So Lisa, with the help of her husband, Giovanni, took a great risk and started Bentley’s Corner Barkery to provide a retail location for people who were interested in feeding their animals nutritious food that was safe.

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June was an early customer of Bentley’s and started Gatsby on high-quality grain-free food as soon as he was brought home as a puppy.  Unfortunately, her previous golden retriever, Penelope, had a lot of health issues and died when she was only 3 1/2 years old.  And while June had fed her a higher quality food, it was not grain-free because at the time these types of food were not readily available.  Penelope’s health problems caused expensive veterinarian bills and ultimately a lot of heartache.  So when Gatsby came along, June and her husband made a commitment to spend more money on dog food, and hopefully a lot less money on vet bills.  And so far so good.  Gatsby is pretty healthy. May’s previous doodle, Molly, was not a Bentley’s customer until later in life, when she was having a lot of health issues. May wonders sometimes if her quality of life would have been better, had she discovered Bentley’s and a grain free diet a few years earlier. When May’s family adopted their doodle Sawyer, he was suffering from chronic ear infections and skin issues. They are happy to report that with the wonderful advice from Bentley’s staff, and a commitment to a grain free diet and supplements, Sawyer has not had one ear infection, and his skin has cleared up.

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(A great selection of healthy food and treats)  

   Lisa and her staff are extremely knowledgeable about the products they carry.  Lisa does a lot of research on their products and on pet nutrition in general. If your pet is having any type of health concern, and you stop in and talk to the staff, they can usually offer some solutions. Gatsby has been having a chronic skin allergy, and Lisa turned us on to a natural supplement program ( the same one that Sawyer is on that is not carried by their store), and we are seeing amazing results in the condition of his skin and decreased ear infections.  They carry no products that are made or produced in China with most products coming from the United States, Canada or Australia.   We keep going back because of that and because the customer service is amazing.  We have noticed that some of the big box pet stores are now carrying some of the dog food brands that are carried by Bentley’s, but because of the customer service, we keep going back to Bentley’s.

In addition to pet food, Bentley’s also carries high quality and fashionable leashes and collars, pet beds and toys (including stuffed ones that are less likely to be “murdered” by our furry friends).

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(They even have cute “boy” leashes and collars)

They also have a “chew” bar of every disgusting treat (according to the humans) and delicious treat (according to the dogs) you can imagine.  Trust us, you really do not want to know what animal part makes up a bully stick.

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(The chew bar)

As regular customers of Bentley’s, we are excited for them as they have continued to grow.  They now have 15 locations with more to come and also offer free delivery.  The free delivery is great if you have ever had to lug around a 30 pound bag of dog food, and you are only slightly more than 5 feet tall.  In addition, some locations offer dog walking which Gatsby loves and is used frequently by his family.

Have a good weekend.  Hope you have some sweet time for belly rubs and tennis balls. –May and June

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Two very satisfied Bentley’s customers.

 

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February Doldrums

Am I the only one that thinks February is the worst month of the year?  The weather is cold, the sky is grey and everything is ugly.  January’s snow has turned black and dirty.  I never want to see my winter coat again and I am tired of keeping track of my scarf, hat and gloves.  Everything just takes longer to accomplish.  Walking has to be done carefully with the lookout for patches of ice that threaten to slip my feet right out from me.  I look pasty and a bit squishy from staying indoors a bit too much.

So in order to soldier on until spring actually arrives (or we turn the calendar from February into March) this is what I am doing:

  • Exercise and stick to eating healthy.  Everyone tells you to combat the winter blues to do these two things but often binge watching Netflix and eating comfort foods like a big plate of homemade macaroni and cheese sounds much more appealing.  I know though that if I sacrifice the exercise and the healthy eating I will feel crappy.  So I make a point of going to the gym, attending a yoga class, meal plan with lots of lean protein and vegetables on the menu.  You will thank yourself especially if you have to put on a bathing suit in a couple of months.
  • Plan a trip.  I know many people are planning to go on a spring break trip.  Since you can’t go now at least you can do some planning, it will make you feel like you are making progress toward that vacation.  We are not taking a big spring break trip (we do not typically) but we are taking a little road trip to Nashville in April.  So we bought tickets for the Grand Ole’ Opry a couple of weekends ago.  It is a little treat to know that it will be here sooner than we know it.
  • Plan fun weekends.  My husband and I are notorious in the winter for staying in on the weekends and curling up on our big comfy family room couch with the fire in the fireplace and watching movies.  And while it is lovely it also gives you a case of cabin fever after awhile.  So we have been trying to plan at least one fun thing every weekend.  We have gone to several movies in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, planned on a dinner out, browsed a store for electronics (a new laptop for me) or furniture, and hosted my brother and his family for a little Super Bowl party.  It helps add some fun into the week when otherwise it just seems like enduring until spring.
  • Update your house.  This time of year my house starts to feel a little stale.  The Christmas decorations have long since been put away. The windows have remained firmly shut for months and because you are inside so much you start to notice your clutter more than usual.  This past weekend I cleaned up some obvious clutter (for example why were there five Bed, Bath and Beyond expired coupons sitting on my dining room pass through?).  I also have freshened up some of my decor with just some simple updates.

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(My fake peonies that I am pretending are real and a giraffe with a party hat from Target because why not?)

  • Enjoy the quiet moments.  I have taken the opportunity of this season to enjoy the quiet.  Have you noticed that winter is very quiet?  There is a certain hush to the air.  I am taking that quiet indoors as well.  I am turning off the distractions like the television and taking some time to do quiet things. I have been working on writing some fiction.  I have been reading books.
  • Buy new boots.  Finally when all else fails, buy yourself a new pair of boots.  I bought myself a new pair of winter boots a couple of weeks ago (that are not ugly) to encourage me to make it through the rest of the winter.

We have a little over a month until the first official day of spring.  I have noticed that the sun is a bit stronger (even on the frigid mornings) and that when I leave the office in the evening it is still light outside.  In the meantime, try and appreciate all there is to enjoy. –June

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(A beautiful February sunset)

 

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Meditation, Mindfulness, and Keeping it Simple

It’s Monday again, and hopefully some of you are getting a little break, enjoying an extra day off in honor of Presidents Day. Let’s face it. Life is challenging. We are constantly bombarded with sensory stimulation through our phones, texts, and emails. We are connected to people and events all over the world through social networking and although this technology is exciting, it can also be a little draining. We live in a culture that’s all about doing. We seem to operate from a never ending to-do list that keeps us moving from one activity to the next, completely missing the present moment on our quest to get ahead in life. Although we can keep up this pace for a while, at some point it becomes too much, too overwhelming, causing us to become sick when the stress causes our immune systems to weaken. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to turn it all off, and have a few minutes of peace every day?

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In my years as a yoga teacher, I’ve taught meditation classes to corporate America, college students, even the girl scouts! I’ve learned over time that no one is exempt from stress and anxiety, because it’s just human nature. However, it’s how we deal with it that matters. There has been a lot in the media about how meditation reduces stress, so I’m sure you all know that it is good for us. There have been over 600 studies that show how meditation reverses the damaging effects of stress, strengthens the immune system, develops brain potential, enhances creativity, improves academic performance in the classroom, and raises performance in the workplace.

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Nicole taking a break from studying.

So why isn’t everyone meditating?  My students always tell me that they are too busy, there’s no time, it’s too difficult, they’re not comfortable sitting on the floor with their legs crossed….blah, blah, blah.  Here’s the thing. It only takes a few minutes a day to enjoy the benefits of less stress and you can do it just about anytime, anywhere. I have meditated at my desk, on the train, in a plane, and even while walking my dog.

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Finding peace in the clouds.

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Enjoying the solitude of a winter walk

Today, I’d like to share some basic meditation tips so you too can enjoy a more productive, less stressful life.

I love Deepak Chopra’s definition of meditation. “The real purpose of meditation is actually to tune in, not to get away from it all, but to get in touch with it all.” We are always going to have thoughts, even while meditating. If there are no thoughts, we are either in a coma, or dead. It’s all about handling those random thoughts that distract us, so they don’t control our lives and prevent us from experiencing the present moment.

So, I have a little exercise for you. Find a few minutes, let’s say 3 to 5 minutes to start, everyday.  A yoga mat is not required. You can be at your desk (during a break), when you first wake up (sitting in bed), or even on public transportation. (On the train, I put my headphones on, and totally tune everyone out.) Sit with a nice straight back, uncross your legs, and rest your hands on your lap. Close your eyes and start to be aware of your breath. Begin to slow it down, and keep it even. I tell my students to concentrate on counting the breath, to keep the mind from wandering. Inhale 2, 3, 4 exhale 2, 3, 4. As you do this, your mind will start to quiet and you will feel an overall calmness in body and mind. If you become distracted by thoughts, which you will, simply acknowledge the mind chatter, whatever it is, and allow it to float away like a balloon. Don’t try to push the thoughts out because they will keep returning until you accept them. Once you let them go, come back to the count of your breath.

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Happy Frog

You will notice a difference in how you feel by practicing a few minutes everyday. If you’re interested in learning more about meditation, you can check out your local yoga studios or community colleges for more information. There are also numerous meditation apps out there to help you along (one of my favorite apps is called Simply Being). The benefits of meditation are numerous. Do your mind and body a favor by beginning your practice today.

Peace. ~May

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Love, Love, Love – Valentine’s Day

Happy Friday!! This weekend we celebrate Valentine’s Day (with all of its love), and for many of you (especially if you have school aged children), it’s a three day weekend with the Presidents Day holiday on Monday.

Did you know that (St.) Valentine’s Day is one of the most celebrated days by Americans? Every year, many of us exchange cards, candy, flowers, and gifts with our special “valentine”. Both May and June have fond memories of Valentine’s Day parties at school that included exchanging cards with our classmates, fun games, and the best part, yummy heart shaped treats. Did you ever wonder how this day of celebrating love began?

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Vintage Valentine’s Day Card

The exact history of Valentine’s Day has always been a bit of a mystery, but we do know that its roots go back to Christian and Roman times where Saint Valentine was remembered, often as a celebration of the beginning of spring, in February. Valentine’s Day wasn’t connected to romance until the 14th century, when a poet named Geoffrey Chaucer (Canterbury Tales) wrote a poem called The Parliament of Fowls, linking Valentine’s Day to love.

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Artwork by Shutterstock

Today we thought we would celebrate Valentine’s Day with all the goodies that have made the holiday what it is today. There’s nothing better than celebrating love with a little bubbly, beautiful roses, and of course, chocolate. I know Trader Joe’s always seems to be part of our happy hour, but they have the best goodies, especially when it comes to holidays. (We swear, TJ’s isn’t paying us to say this!) We found these great treats (in cute packaging), and the roses too.IMG_0041

truffles and chocolate bark

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Heart pillow courtesy of Target

May and her husband keep it simple on Valentine’s Day, although the past few years, he’s been traveling for work (including this year). Cards are exchanged ( May usually hides his in his suitcase) and there are always flowers and chocolate.  June and her husband also keep it simple with a nice bottle of champagne, sushi and a cozy evening in.  Gifts are usually simple also with flowers (he thinks he is being sneaky when he is out running “errands” early on the morning of Valentine’s Day) and cards.

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Of course Gatsby was part of the Valentine’s Day happy hour because he wants all of the love.  Also, his birthday is on Valentine’s Day, and all he wants is attention (and tennis balls).

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day weekend!  May all of you have a little love this weekend from your special people or pets. –May and June

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The Joy of Reading

Anyone who knows me, knows one of my great loves is reading.  I am a prolific reader.  In fact,  I took a challenge one year to write down every book that I read during the year, and I averaged more than one book a week.  So the question that comes up in conversation is “How do you find the time to read?”

One thing you have to know is that I always have to have a book that I am reading.  There is no downtime between books while I look for another.  I have a list of requested holds at the library usually more than 10 books long.  I do get into trouble when they all seem to come in at once (there is no way even I can read 6 books in two weeks), so I pick a few favorites from the stack, read those, return the rest and request a hold on them again.

I am fortunate that I am a fast reader.  I always have been, so it is not a skill thatI can pass along tips to you, but I can tell you about the places I read.

First, I commute on public transportation so I always have a book to read and use that time as downtime to catch up on my fun reading.  I could work or write but I need that buffer between work and home, so I tend to use the time to read.  I put on my headphones, sometimes with music and sometimes without (I use the headphones to filter out noisy people on the train) and dive in.  I occasionally run into a dilemma with my train reading when I am faced with a book that has less than 75 pages left to the end.  Do I carry two books with me in the morning for when I finish the first?  Do I just bring a new book and leave the almost finished book at home to finish later, but usually I cannot wait to know how it ends.  I have developed very strong arm muscles because of this important dilemma.

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Second, I do try to read before I go to bed.  However, often I crawl in bed when my eyes are already heavy and I only last for a page or two before the words are blurry and my eyes and I have to turn out the light.

Third, in the summer I do a lot of porch reading.  Some of my best memories of reading happened in the summer, when I had full lazy days stretched in front of me and could just lose myself in the latest “chapter” book by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary or The Secret Garden or the Little House on the Prairie books.  I think because of that I read a lot books in the summer and my favorite place to do that is on my back screen porch, with the fan lazily circulating the air and the sound of children playing and the smell of fresh cut grass permeating my nose.  In the winter, I take that reading inside to my living room couch on a quiet Sunday afternoon, where it is nice and cozy and warm.

Finally, the weirdest time and place I read is when I blow dry my hair.  This is a challenge that is not for the faint of heart because it takes some very careful coordination.  However, my hair takes forever to blow dry and I get really bored so I read to make the time pass by quicker.  The thing is, we only have a pedestal sink in our bathroom so the book is precariously balanced on the edge of the sink.  In order for the book to be held open flat, I have to find a makeshift paperweight.  If I am lucky our tube of toothpaste is pretty full and evenly squeezed out so not all the weight is at the top and I can use it to balance across the pages.  This does not always work though and the book closes on the toothpaste and the toothpaste and the book both fall on the floor and I lose my reading place.  Some mornings it is a mess.  I have also tried to use my curling iron as a makeshift paperweight but often it is too big and the cord gets in the way.  So hair drying reading is tricky at best.

Reading is really one of my great joys.  I love getting lost in a story even if its only for a few minutes.  It relaxes me.  At times it makes me laugh or cry or think.  So because of the happiness I get from reading, I squeeze it in whenever I have a moment.  Let me know if you have any other tricks for keeping on top of your reading.  –June

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A Viewing of Sensitive Skin

I recently had the opportunity to watch the first season of a new HBO Canada series, Sensitive Skin. I had read good reviews about the show and decided to check it out for myself, on Netflix. (I watched the whole season during a cold and dreary weekend.) Sensitive Skin is an adaptation of a BBC series of the same name. It’s a dark comedy that stars Kim Cattrall, who’s character Davina Jackson is very unlike her notable role as Samantha Jones, that made her famous in the HBO hit series, Sex and the City. (Also a favorite of mine.) Davina is a woman well into her fifties who is is struggling with insecurities regarding the physical and emotional journey of getting older.

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This is a show about a couple of a certain age, who is trying to transition into the next phase of life.  Their neurotic and slightly depressed son has moved out, and they have left their comfortable home in the suburbs of Toronto to move into a stark loft in the heart of the city. They realize it’s a mistake, however they try their best to make it work.

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Even though this is a mid-life crisis comedy, I love that it doesn’t follow the predictable hollywood path of hot flashes, plastic surgery, and the bored husband leaving his wife for a younger woman. It does follow the journey of a woman in her 50’s, trying to reinvent herself, and struggles to become more comfortable in her slightly older skin. Along with that, she has been with her husband Al, played by Canadian actor Don McKellar, for three decades and both are aware that they have somehow grown apart over the years and done nothing about it.

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I don’t want to give too much away, but I really enjoyed season one of this series and am looking forward to season two. It’s intelligent, fresh, funny, and unpredictable. I also feel that many women of a certain age will be able to identify with Davina’s character. The show is filmed entirely in Toronto and I actually felt like I was in the room with the characters. There are six episodes in season one and it’s definitely worth the watch.

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I hope you get a chance to check it out.

~May

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An Event with Jo Malone London

A few months ago, we attended an event at Nordstrom celebrating the new Jo Malone London scent, Mimosa and Cardamom.  Here is a little hint, if you shop at Nordstrom, get to know some of the salespeople and get added to their personal lists.  We were invited to this event because June had spent a Nordstrom gift card on some Jo Malone London cologne for herself, and the sales person added her information to her data base.  Nordstrom has wonderful perks for their customers, but you have to know how to take advantage of them, and this is one way (the other is to apply and use a Nordstrom credit card or debit card).

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If you are not familiar with Jo Malone London, it is a luxury brand specializing in cologne and other scented products. Jo Malone is a UK based fragrance designer, who’s journey with fragrance began as a florist by day, and a facialist by night. As a child, she loved to produce her own scents using flowers from her family garden, and grated soap. Her business began when the nutmeg and ginger bath oils she gave her  clients as gifts, led to more order requests. She eventually caught the eye of Estee Lauder, and the rest is fragrance history.  Many of the colognes are simple scents with the intent that they can be worn layered, to create your own individual fragrance.  Because of the high quality ingredients, these scents are not tainted with that alcohol or chemical smell that many colognes and perfumes can give off.  We have found that if you are somewhat sensitive to scents, these are easily wearable.

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The event began at the Jo Malone London counter in the Nordstrom at Oakbrook Center.  We started with a little ritual of washing our hands with their Vitamin E Body Treatment Scrub and a hand soap in a scent of our choice.  Once rinsed, we massaged our hands with a little Vitamin E Nourishing Hand Treatment.  Our hands have never felt so soft and smooth!!  The Body Treatment Scrub and Nourishing Hand Treatment is on our list of luxuries to treat ourselves sometime in the future. (They also make great gifts!)

We were then led to a private room at Nordstrom where we were served mimosas and a buffet of cheese and crackers, cookies and other sweet treats.  IMG_2894A representative from Jo Malone London gave a lovely presentation about their new scent explaining that it was to give you the feeling of traveling to the Middle East, Provence, and the Carribean.  As part of the presentation, we got to smell the individual elements that make up the scent including the tonka bean, the mimosa flower, and top notes of cardamom.  It is a lovely warm, spicy and sweet scent that has easily become a winter favorite of both May and June.

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They ended the event by distributing our favors which included a lovely Morrocan style tile as a memento of the “voyage” we just experienced. Naturally, both May and June had to treat themselves each to a bottle of the new scent.

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We both enjoy changing our fragrance with the seasons and look forward to something a little lighter as we move into the spring/summer months. Jo Malone also has a great sample kit, which is wonderful if you don’t want to commit to a large bottle. They are great for travel too. Unknown-3

Do you have a favorite scent?  Have a good weekend. –May and June

 

 

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Superbowl Appetizer

This Sunday is the big Superbowl game.  I am not a huge football fan but I am married to one.  My husband loves professional football.  His team is not playing this year (he is a Buffalo Bills fan and they have not been to the Superbowl since they lost it 4 times in a row in the 1980s, but they have his heart so he stays a fan), but we will still watch the game.  The Super Bowl is a good excuse to have a little party during a time of year when there is not much reason to get together with family and friends, and make some fun appetizers and other food.

I recently made these tasty mini taco bowls as an appetizer for a party.  I think they make a super Superbowl snack.

Mini Taco Bowls

Ingredients

1 lb. of ground beef

Taco seasoning (see below)

Grated cheddar cheese

Tostito Scoop tortilla chips

Sour cream

Diced green onion (optional)

Sliced black olives (optional)

Taco Seasoning

1 Tbsp chili powder

1 1/2 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp onion powder

1/4 tsp red chili pepper flakes

1/4 tsp oregano

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Preheat oven to 350.  Combine the ingredients to make the taco seasoning (you can also use a packet of the premade taco seasoning, but I have discovered that many of the them contain MSG and/or sugar and are higher in sodium, so I combine my own and it is really easy and much healthier).  Brown the ground beef in a skillet breaking it up into little pieces.  Once the beef is browned drain off any excess grease and add the taco seasoning and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water (you want this meat to be a little drier then you might when you make regular tacos).  Simmer the meat and the taco seasoning until the water is almost absorbed.  In the meantime, line up unbroken Scoop chips on a cookie sheet (you want the chips that are unbroken so they form a little bowl, and there are a lot of broken chips in a bag so this step can be a bit tedious).  Put a small amount of the meat in each chip (this gets a little messy and you’ll probably end up with meat that falls between the chips, and that’s ok).  Sprinkle the grated cheese on the top of each chip and put in the oven until the cheese is melted (about 10 minutes).  IMG_3449

After the chips come out garnish with sour cream, green onions and black olives as desired and serve.

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Will you be watching the Superbowl on Sunday?  Are you hosting a party or attending one?  If so, share your favorite Superbowl party dishes.  –June

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Classic Wardrobe Accessories

Last weekend, I took a little time to clean out and organize some of my wardrobe accessories. Although there were a few things that I was ready to donate, I have a couple classic staples that will always be part of my wardrobe collection. I think we all have either a celebrity or prominent figure who’s sense of style pulls us in, whether it’s classic, trendy, or even a little bohemian. For me, it’s always been Audrey Hepburn. I love her. Her beauty and elegance are classic and timeless and I’ve always been drawn to her sense of style. Her book Audrey Style graces my coffee table and she also has her own board on my Pinterest. I’m all about keeping it simple, and don’t like to be overwhelmed by my closet, so I thought it would be fun to show you some of my classic accessory must haves, that will always be part of my wardrobe collection.

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Red Lipstick

I love a bold lip with an elegant black evening dress, or even a black turtleneck and jeans. There’s so much power in red, however I think a lot of women shy away from it because they aren’t choosing the right shade for their skin tone. This is where a little help from a professional at a cosmetic counter comes in handy. There is also a trick to applying red lipstick. (I bet you didn’t know that ;)) Start with the bottom lip and apply straight from the lipstick tube. Press your lips together to get the color on the top lip. To finish, apply a little gloss to the top lip, then press your lips together again. Voila! Remember, when you do a bolder lip, you want your eye makeup to be a little more subtle. My current red lipstick of choice is by MAC.

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A Strand of Pearls

My mother gave me a beautiful strand of pearls for my high school graduation that I love and regularly wear. They add a touch of elegance when I’m a little more dressed up, but also look great with a simple t-shirt and jeans.

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Diamond Studs

These are pretty much my go to earrings. I wear them almost everyday and they look great with any outfit. No worries if you don’t want to invest in the real thing. You can find some great affordable fakes, and no one will know but you!

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Classic Hoop Earring

Hoop earrings have been around forever. I have them in many different sizes in both gold and silver. I like the smaller version with a more classic style, and larger hoops with a fun bohemian look, or even with that great black bathing suit and straw hat by the pool.

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Your Signature Scent

I love a light, fresh fragrance. For everyday, I spritz myself with  fragrances by Jo Malone. However, my signature scent for evening is Lovely, by Sarah Jessica Parker.

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Sunglasses

A look inspired by Jackie O., sunglasses are still a huge part of the fashion world. I have several pairs that I love, but right now I’m enjoying these tortoise shell aviators, by Juicy Couture.

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Umbrella

This one may seem a little strange, but have you ever been caught in the rain without one? Umbrellas have come a long way from basic black and you can get one in a size that best suits your needs. Choose something fun with a pattern or pop of color. I bought this red one on what turned into a very rainy weekend trip to New York City, with a friend.

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Classic Black Tote

This is an everywhere bag for me. It’s great for work or play and roomy enough to use for an overnight bag. I love to travel with mine too. My husband bought me this great Coach tote several years ago, and it’s pretty much my go to bag. I love it! (and him for buying it for me!)

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So that’s it. I hope you enjoyed peeking into my accessory closet. What are some of your wardrobe essentials?

~May

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