Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Word about the Work Wardrobe

I'm 31 years old.  I consider myself to be somewhat of a professional.  I don't want my clothes to scream "middle-aged-mother-struggling-to-get-laundry-done-and-trying-to-be-hip".  I do, however, want my clothes to scream "this-girl's-got-it-together-she's-young-hip-and-professional".  I work with college students, so I need to have somewhat of an air of maturity (so as not to be mistaken for a student), but I also feel compelled to look cool, and relatable to these 18-23 year olds.  And since I have a toddler who has recently mastered the skill of projectile vomiting, I need clothes that can (for the most part) be tossed in the washer with little attention to pre-treating or special care (like I really have time to turn my clothes inside-out and handwash them with special detergent).  That being said, here are three of my top suggestions for maintaining a cool, professional look (even with a slobbering monster in tow!).  Oh yeah, I also don't have an unlimited supply of money.

1. Blazers, blazers, blazers!!!!
I recently came to the realization that I have amassed quite a collection of these wardrobe powerhouses.  My best find?  A gorgeous Banana Republic blazer (with cute little pleats on the rear) at an outlet for $12.  Fits perfectly.  The beauty of blazers?  Toss one over a black t-shirt and a pair of perfectly fitted dark wash jeans for the perfect work outfit.  Wanna be a little more casual-quirky?  Trade in the black T for a vintagey graphic t-shirt.  Just make sure the blazer fits well - you'll go from fabulous to frumpy in no time if the jacket is baggy.  And you'll look a little ridiculous if you cross that fine line separating fitted from tight.  If it looks like you're about to pop a button, you may want to go up a size!

While We're on the Topic...A Note about Size
If you're like me, and have a few pounds you'd like to shed (from a recently hatched baby or one too many hot fudge sundaes or both!), DO NOT try to fit into clothes that have your ideal number on the tag.  In other words, my pre-baby body fit nicely into most size 10 clothes.  My current body?  Not a chance.  Trust me, you'll look thinner and trimmer (is that redundant?) if you ignore the number on the tag and buy what fits you.  As my friends Stacy and Clinton say, dress the body you have, not the one you want.  You're not fooling anyone into thinking you're a size 4 if you've shoved yourself into a tiny pair of pants, but have a little somethin' extra hanging over the waistband!  Muffin tops are delightful when eaten for breakfast or seen on a Seinfeld episode, but have no place on a well-dressed woman!

2. Scarves
I know that when I say "scarves", you might cringe and immediately think of your great aunt Ethel and her floral silk atrocities clasped with a giant rhinestone brooch about her neck.  I'm going in a slightly different direction.  I'm also not necessarily thinking about a chunky fuzzy knit winter staple (although those do have their place).  I have a crazy scarf collection (and I just want on a scarf buying binge last week).  I don't like to wear necklaces for some reason, but love to wear scarves, especially a nice substantial pashmina sort of neck-ccesory (do you like how I just did that clever play on words?).  I have them in solids and crazy prints, and I pretty much wear them year round.  Sometimes I go with "strictly coordinating" when selecting my neckwear, other times I choose a bold print that adds some fun (and whimsy, shall we say?) to an otherwise ho-hum outfit.  To prove to you the impact of a carefully selected scarf...last week I wore a boring outfit (khakis and black t-shirt) to work, with a vibrant, colorful scarf.  I unexpectedly had to go to Richmond to run an errand and decided to stop by the T.J Maxx (the primary enabler in my scarf addiction).  I bought a new scarf and wore it back to the office.  As soon as my co-worker saw me, she exclaimed, "You changed your outfit!".  Nope, just the scarf.  Just the scarf.

So many options!
3. A Beautiful Suit
le Suit
Now, everyone's level of professional attire is different, based on where you work, company policies, the nature of your job, etc.  While I typically don't need to be all suited up at work, there are times when a suit is appropriate - official functions, public speaking, etc.  For years, I've been wanting a nice suit.  When I first got my job, about 6 years ago, I splurged on a Target suit (the $65 was a total splurge for me then).  Recently, though, I've had a real hankering for something nice and classic, and I was ready to invest.  I got an e-mail from Banana Republic that they were having a top-secret 3-hour online-only sale - 40% off select business wear.  This was my moment. (Incidentally, if you have a favorite store, even if you can't always afford their clothes, sign up for their e-mail alerts - you can get some good deals.  Just don't sign up for too many stores, as that leads to obnoxious volumes of mail).  I seized the moment, and ordered my "Fossil" (fancy for tan) suit.  I decided to go all out - and also bought the ruffly blouse the model in the picture was wearing with it.  Even at 40% off, it was still a splurge, but a worthwhile investment.  When I finally wore the suit a few weeks to ago on a very important day at work (had to have lunch with some important folks, and introduce a guest speaker at a function with close to one thousand in attendance - and, by the way, I hate public speaking) I felt like I could take on the world! 

To be perfectly honest, clothes alone can't automatically make you confident or smart or professional, but I believe they do help you get in the mindset of being a strong woman, ready to take on anything!  So get out there - be bold, be strong, be sassy, and be a fantabulous well-dressed woman!!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Impromptu Moroccan Dinner Party!

I got a wild hare this weekend, invited some delightful friends and their baby girl over for dinner.  I hadn't really planned what we'd be eating, and didn't have a lot of helpful groceries on hand.  Made a quick dash to the store, and somehow put together a delicious Moroccan-inspired meal.  Dinner was a throwback to our annual pre-baby minications to Savannah, Georgia, and one of our all-time favorite restaurants, the Casbah
Best Restaurant Ambience...Ever.

Rockin' the Casbah in 2008

Here's what I made:
Adapted from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
1 pkg Whole Cut-up Chicken (costs a little more than a whole chicken, but it's already cut up for you!)
Salt and pepper
2 T vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped (or part of a bag of frozen chopped onions, I eyeballed it)
1 1/2 t hot paprika (I used regular paprika, but you can add some chili pepper if you want the heat)
1/2 t cardamom (happened to have this left over from my Christmas attempt to make instant chai latte mix!)
6 minced garlic cloves (I used a few big scoops of jarred, minced garlic)
3 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1 c dried apricots, cut in half
1 cinnamon stick
1 15.5 oz can chickpeas (I had these, but totally forgot to add them!)
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/4 c minced cilantro (forgot this, too)

1. Dry the chicken w/paper towels, then season w/salt and pepper.  Heat 2 t of the vegetable oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over med-high heat until just smoking.  In shifts, brown the chicken pieces on both sides until all chicken is browned.  Add chicken to the crockpot.
2. Add the remaining oil to the empty skillet and heat over medium heat until simmering.  Add onions, paprika, cardamom, and 1/4 t salt.  Cook until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook for 15 seconds.  Stir in 2 1/2 c. chicken broth, the apricots, and cinnamon stick, scraping up any browned bits.  Bring to a simmer, then pour into slow cooker.
3.Cover and cook on low for 3 hours...I didn't have that much time, so cooked it on high for about 2 hours. You were supposed to add the chickpeas after cooking for 3 hours, but I forgot.
4. I didn't actually read this step in the recipe, but here's what it said.  Luckily, I instinctively did most of this anyway!  Transfer chicken to a large serving dish.  Remove cinnamon stick.  Set slow cooker to high.  Whisk flour with remaining 1/2 c broth until smooth, then stir into the slow cooker.  Cover and continue to cook until the sauce is thickened and no longer tastes of flour.  I also added a couple tablespoons of brown sugar.

For the Side, nothin' says easy like couscous!
I used a pre-seasoned box of Near East Toasted Pine Nut Couscous.  Followed the directions on the box, then added some slivered almonds, juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon, and a heaping teaspoon of brown sugar.

To complete the Meal:
Our friends brought a fresh-baked (still warm!) loaf of whole wheat bread and a bottle of local peach wine (which complemented the sweet, fruity flavors of our meal perfectly!).

All in all, it was a pretty tasty dinner!  I'm not going to lie, the chicken took a little more advanced prep than I like - I tend to think that a good crockpot recipe should consist of the following directions: 1) Dump ingredients into crockpot. 2)Turn crockpot on. 3) Wait. 4)Eat.  But that being said, I will totally make this meal again!!!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Date Night!!!

It's official.  We've finally lined up a [non-family member] babysitter for the weekend.  I think Tony and I both know it's important to have some baby-free time, but we just haven't been very good at making that happen.  Frankly, we're usually just too busy or it's just seemed too much of a hassle to get things arranged.  Not to mention, H is at that stage where he only wants specific people around him.  He typically goes into hysterics when one of us or his favorite teachers leave the room.  Sheesh, that's a lot of drama.  So one of his favorite teachers from the day care has been offering her sitting services for some time now and we took her up on it.  I don't even know what we're going to do...I do know there is a cocktail (or two or three) in my future.  We used to go on what we jokingly referred to as "redneck dates" - O'Charley's followed by Big Lots.  Awesome, I know. 
When I talked to Miss S today, I explained that I don't even know what to do with a babysitter.  Does she come to our house, do we take him there?  How does all of this even work?  I think we got it all worked out, and so very soon, we will actually have a grown-up, baby-free date!  I'm not going to lie, having a little rugrat (even a pretty well-behaved adorable one) doesn't seem to leave a whole lot of time or energy for romance or relationship-bulding.  It's something you have to intentionally make time for.  Hopefully, this first "leave him with a sitter" experience will be great, and we can finally get around to some regular date nights.  Heck, even a trip to the grocery store together without a kid in tow could probably be enjoyable!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Things I Said I'd Never Do as a Parent #74

Use one of those kid-leash harness things, even if it's cleverly disguised as a cute little monkey backback.  I caved.  Enough said.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Things I Said I'd Never Do as a Parent #73

Okay, so I haven't really listed 72 other things I said I'd never do as a parent, but I'm sure there are plenty.  So I'm estimating this is somewhere around #73.  I remember a spirited conversation a while back (right after I found out I was preggers, actually) with two women about having your child sleep in bed with you.  Neither of the women knew I was pregnant at the time.  I was very adamently against it - as a regular occurring practice, anyway.  Sure, when a kid is scared or sick or needs some extra comfort, it seemed ok for him/her to climb in bed with mom and dad, but I had very strong feelings about that being the rule, rather than the exception.  Guess where my kid sleeps 95% of the time now?  I think the books officially refer to it as "co-sleeping", although I think that sounds a little too business-like (like being co-managers, or coworkers or something).  Others refer to it as the "family bed", but I think that just sounds weird.  Have you seen the film "Away We Go"?  It has a great scene that shows the stereotypical hippie family bed (if you're a new parent, or about to be a parent, you should totally check it out - fantastic little film!). 
That is NOT what I'm after.  I remember when he was just born and we were at our first pediatrician's appointment, the doctor very emphatically told us that baby should sleep in our bed, under any circumstances.  I nodded my head in fake agreement.  Little did he know that our first night home, we slept (if you can call it sleeping) in our bedroom with the lights on, with the little bundle cradled cozily in my arms.  Soon we were able to get him to sleep in the bassinet beside our bed, and eventually he graduated to the crib in his own room.  He did pretty well there for a few months.  We developed an unwritten policy - if he woke up any time after 4AM, we'd bring him to bed with us.  Eventually, his sleeping patterns got all jacked up, and any progress he had been making towards sleeping through the night went right out the window.  The only way he would sleep was in the bed next to me.  I found this frustrating beyond words.  He'd fall asleep in my arms, and when I would oh-so-gingerly transfer him to his crib, he's wake right up.  So here we are, all co-sleeping in our well-designed Ikea family bed.  It works.  For now.  If there's one thing I've learned over the past nearly-14 months about parenting, it's that you must be flexible and adaptable, ready for things to go exactly the opposite of how you had planned.  I realized I could try to get him to sleep in his crib, and I'd be up a million times a night OR I could let him sleep with us, and get a relatively good night's sleep.  When mom and dad have to be at work in the morning and need to at least appear alert, the need for decent sleep wins (for us, anyway).  I've also realized that nothing is permanent with children.  What works this week might be a total no-go next week.  And that's fine, we've learned to just go with it.  In related news, we have a Keurig coffee maker...it makes a killer cup of coffee (with no fuss or clean-up) in less than two minutes. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

It was the breast of times, it was the worst of times: Part I

I think that one of the most special phases of Henry's infancy has finally passed.  We are entering day four of no nursing.  It's hard for me to believe that I made it to the year mark, and beyond.  He is about 13 1/2 months old now.  My initial goal when I had him was to shoot for 9 months, anything beyond that would just be icing on the cake.  Being a breastfeeding mom for the past 13 months has been an eye-opening experience.  One of the more practical things I learned is where the best (breast?) spaces are to nurse publicly - the places that are the most accommodating for the physical act of nursing, as well as those that make a nursing mama feel less awkward (not that any mama should feel awkward or ashamed for breastfeeding in public - but lets face it, it can be a little odd to whip the ladies out in a busy food court or on the front pew of church!).  Once I got the hang of nursing in public, I noticed that when heading out with Henry, I instinctively would try to come up with every possible location on our outing that would be most conducive to public nursing.  Everyone has different comfort levels, and other mamas will probalby choose different places based on what's comfortable for them.  Before you start plotting your own breastfeeding map, check out the laws in your state/town/county - as many states now have laws that guarantee a woman's right to nurse her child in public locations.  So here, in no particular order, are four of my favorite breastfeeding spots.

Signifies a breastfeeding-friendly zone!
 Babies R' Us
Yes, they somehow convince us to spend tons of money on things we probably don't need and will only use once (peepee teepee, anyone?), but their Mother's Room is a favorite of mine.  When planning shopping excursions in Lexington, I always factored in Henry's expected feeding time, and made it a point to make it to BRU at around that time.  The quiet room (at least at our BRU) has a comfy glider and footstool, a sofa, and two nice changing tables.  While the privacy isn't absolutely essential when nursing in public, I found that I was more relaxed, that my baby was calmer, and that things were just all around peachier.  Feel bad about using the space with no intentions of shopping?  Buy a travel pack of wipes or a bottle of H20 on the way out.

Fitting Rooms
Almost all fitting rooms have a chair of some sort, and have enough room for you to park your stroller.  Sometimes, when baby is extra fussy, you really just want to shut the door to your fellow shoppers, throw modesty to the wind, and let the little guy nurse.  Again, the privacy isn't necessary (in fact, many states, including my homestate of KY, have laws that allow nursing mothers to breastfeed in public places), but sometimes everyone's calmer when mom and baby can share a moment quietly.  Two of my favorite dressing rooms are Macy's and Kohl's. 

Along the Perimeter of a Restaurant
There's less distraction for a hungry little kiddo if you're not sitting out in the middle of all of the action.  A booth feels more private, and if you can get a booth in a corner - sit on the side that is FACING the corner.  This way, your back is to most everyone else, and you'll have a little more protection should a feisty eater kick off your nursing cover (I know this from personal experience with an overzealous eater!). 

Family Restrooms/Women's Lounges/Nursing Rooms
Many shopping destinations now have family bathrooms - expanded bathrooms that often have additional seating (in addition to THE seat!).  Nicer department stores often have "Women's Lounges" attached to their restrooms - a nice seating area with plush sofas and armchairs, and all of the perfume samples a girl could want!  On a recent trip to the mall, I also noticed a "Nursing Room" in the food court!  All of these are a far cry from days when women felt they had no choice but to sit hidden away in a bathroom stall, nursing her baby.  As my cousin once told me, "I wouldn't want to eat my dinner in a public bathroom, so why should my baby have to eat there?".  So true!!!  Each of the three locations mentioned in this paragraph is some sort of extended bathroom, but with much more dignity and comfort than being trapped behind a stall door.  My specific pick?  Check out the Women's Lounge at your local Macy's.  Plus, it's a fun place to people watch!

So there are my top four nursing locales.  I was hoping for an even five, but realized that most of my outings with Henry include shopping and eating, so the above about sum it up!  One final place, that receives an honorable mention, is your car!  While it's not public - it's the perfect spot for an emergency feeding.  You can control the temperature and select your own music!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Mall Mutterer

My future???  Uh-Oh.
I guess I don't get out much by myself these days.  I went to Fayette Mall yesterday - needed to exchange some pants and do some window shopping.  I don't know the last time I was at the mall by myself.  I kept realizing that I was talking to myself - out loud.  I was quiet about it, but still!!  I caught myself muttering about all of the people I saw (you know there are always lots of crazies at the mall).  Have I always talked to myself?  Have I always been so judgmental about strangers?  I mean, I saw one lady whose hairsprayed, teased bangs would have put any 80s pageant queen to shame.  And the mother and her two daughters in front of me in the Starbuck's line had not only apparently never been to Starbuck's before, but had maybe been never been in public (hurry up and order already, I NEED my tall white mocha stat!).  I also caught myself listening in on people's conversations and then muttering to myself, "That's what she said," or "Your mother (insert what they said here)".  Perhaps it's time for a mental health evaluation??  The funny thing is that I would have carried on these same conversations had one of my best girls been with me, but they weren't with me.  I was alone...and crazy.  I also realized that I'm still using the "I just had a baby" line when trying on clothes, even though 13 months ago doesn't exactly qualify as "just had a baby".  Tha nice Banana Republic lady came to check on me in the fitting room.  I explained that the length was perfect, but the pants were a tad snug.  They didn't have the next size up, so she asked if she could see the pants on me.  I came prepared, and had on some of those thigh/waist trimmers.  They weren't working.  I timidly opened the door to this cute, petite little blonde, and I blurted out, "I'm wearing some thigh trimmers and I just had a baby!" feeling compelled to explain the beautiful pants that seemed to have sausages stuffed in them.  She insisted they would stretch a bit, that I would probably lose some weight, and that she thought they were perfect.  I agreed with her and got the pants.  After all, she gets paid the big bucks to convince people to buy clothes, right?  Anyway, all in all I had a great day at the mall.  I also almost got a margarita at the food court Mexican restaurant, but that seemed to really be pushing it.  If I was already muttering to myself, a shot of tequila certainly couldn't help the situation (although it probably couldn't have hurt it much, either!).