How Women Respond to Stress Differently Than Men

My friend Hailey shared an article with me about a UCLA study on how women respond to stress. Apparently, stress tests have traditionally been performed on men, who typically respond to stress with a fight-or-flight mechanism. But at UCLA, researchers performed stress tests on women and found women respond differently. Instead of fight-or-flight, women respond to stress by “tending or befriending” — they comfort or parent the people around them, or talk with a best friend or trusted family member. I thought it was so interesting and it confirmed how important friendships really are to women. As if I needed more reason to be on the phone all day. Hahaha!

Start A Holiday Journal — The Easiest Most Satisfying Tradition You’ll Ever Find

I have no memory where the idea came from, but my husband and I started a Holiday Journal during our first Christmas together, and we use it each year to write a couple of pages of summary about Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. If I have any ideas for next year, like a new Christmas book I’d like to add to our collection, I’ll include those as well. Sometimes the kids add drawings or their own notes. As with all my grand ideas, I’m not always consistent — last year the Christmas journal never even made it out of the box. But usually it does. And now that some of the kids are old enough to write, they’re helping the tradition stay alive. Anyway. Writing my notes this year made me think about how I measure and evaluate Christmas: -Stress level -Success of the annual Christmas recital -How Christmasy the house smelled -How the Christmas tree looked (meaning: was I happy with the decorations) -Quantity of peppermint bark & wassail consumed -Kids faces on Christmas morning This year will go down as happy on all measures. I especially loved our tree — knowing I had lots of vintage wrapping at my disposal, my friend brought me boxes and boxes of vintage glass balls that she found when she bought a very old house. The pure vintageness was totally awesome. How do you measure the Holidays?
2017 Update: It’s been 10 years since I wrote this post, but our holiday journal is still going strong. With so many writers in the house, the reports get longer and longer each year. (Which is wonderful!) A delightful part of our holidays has become looking back at earlier reports and remembering together. I highly recommend this tradition. It’s easy, stress-free, low-cost (or free if you have a spare journal), doesn’t take much time, and provides huge satisfaction. Start this year! P.S. — Beautiful leather journal.

A Simple Way to Help Kids Make New Year’s Resolutions

Once a month, Ben and I hold interviews with each of the kids — well, right now, it’s really just the older 3. We try to get a sense of how they’re feeling about life in 4 areas: physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. We have a journal set aside where we keep notes from the interviews. As the year changes, we use the same notebook to record our kids resolutions. Yesterday was resolution day. To help my kids get started thinking about the coming year, they get a short reminder (read: lecture) about what resolutions are for — to become better people. Then, I offer them prompter questions to get them started: This year, I want to learn: __________ I want to read: __________ I want to make: __________ I want to visit: __________ I want to change: __________ (The change prompt is supposed to help you think of something like a bad habit you’d like to get rid of.) I want to be better at: __________ Most of all I want: __________ The notebook is also wonderful for the kids to see how much they’re growing and changing. Olive who is 5, was laughing at how unsophisticated she was at age 3. See for yourself: Olive’s 2005 resolutions: I want to learn: ballet I want to read: Aurora coloring book I want to make: Snow White or Aurora out of clay I want to change: my pink nightgown to purple I want to visit: Grandma Most of all I want: a Belle dress with a headband, gloves and slippers Olive’s 2007 resolutions: I want to learn: ballet, again I want to read: all kinds of books I want to make: a playdough horse I want to change: (she couldn’t think of anything she wanted to change) I want to visit: Emily Dowdle (a neighbor) Most of all I want: an Ariel barbie As I was looking through the notebook yesterday, I was embarrassed how few interviews we managed in 2006. Which leads me to my first resolution… P.S. — Find more family traditions in the Design Mom book

Our Christmas Recital Party Favors

Here are pics of the party favors from the Christmas recital.

I used mulling spices from The Mills Company. The tin can was nice, but I didn’t love the label, so I used the berry imagery I loved from the invitations to repackage.

I wasn’t totally positive about numbers, so I wrapped up lovely soaps from Honey Hill Farm as back-up in case I ran out of mulling spices.

When Ralph Asked About Santa Claus

My oldest, Ralph, has grown up a little too much over the last few weeks. First, he’s home from school with a cold this morning, and he took advantage of that fact to have a reality-of-Santa Claus-discussion. He’s now officially in the know. To welcome him to the club, we offered to let him eat Santa’s cookies and the reindeer veggies. Second, 2 weeks ago on the way to Cub Scouts, he asked Ben about a scene from The Christmas Story movie. He wanted to know what the bad word is that Ralphie says when he’s helping his Dad change the tire. So Ben told him straight up what it was. Ben asked if he’d ever heard it before and Ralph said no. Then Ben told him that if Ralph ever hears it spoken, the speaker is behaving poorly and Ralph should be unimpressed. And, made it clear that Dad knows all the ugly words and is unintimidated by them. I was delighted with how Ben handled it and delighted Ralph would come to Ben with the question. But still felt my heart constrict at the thought of the word getting rolled around in my son’s head. The picture above was taken on the very day I started this blog — only a few months ago — when he didn’t know the f-word and still believed in Santa. Sigh. How have you handled the outing of Santa? Or the swear word lo-down? And speaking of innocence, I love these pictures my mom posted of my Dad & Santa in 1946 and 1949 at age 4 and 7:

Sibling to Sibling Christmas Gifts

  There are lots of different ways to approach Sibling Christmas Gifts and I’m still figuring out which one works for the Blairs. My friend Juliane, a mother of 5, sends $20 with each child to the PTA holiday boutique and all sibling gifts have to be bought there and then within that budget. She ends up with a lot of kitsch, but her kids feel totally empowered and the whole thing is done in an afternoon. My sister-in-law Erin’s sister Meghan, who also has a big family, has each child pick one item, say a box of band-aids, and then choose the perfect box of band-aids for each brother or sister. And, from what I understand, a dad I admire named Roger, would take each child on a shopping date the week before Christmas, specifically to pick out and buy sibling gifts. My sister-in-law Lisa and her husband Mark, parents of 6, have helped their children make amazing gifts for each other every year. Two brothers might work on one project for two other brothers. They’ve made and given a jousting set, a high jump set, soccer goals and a zip line among other cool projects. So we don’t really have a system yet, but I got it in my head on Saturday, that with my older kids artsy-crafty tendencies, we should really make the gifts and so far it has been awesome. Sunday the kids worked on baby Betty’s gifts. Maude made a bracelet from Sculpey beads and jingle bells — which will be endlessly entertaining for Betty. Ralph made a bib from some corduroy fabric we had. And Olive also made a bib from a vintage handtowel I was looking to recycle. All 3 gifts turned out super-cute. Yesterday, Ralph was home from school with a cold, so we worked on the rest of the gifts he’ll give: Romper Stompers (from big coffee can size cans) for Olive which he painted and tied pink polka-dot ribbons to. A hat and mitten set for Maude from an old red wool sweater of Ben’s — we made a huge wool yarn puff ball for the top and the set is super-cute. A snow globe with some plastic farm animals for Oscar. Maude made glittery soap for Olive yesterday while Olive was at a playdate. She’ll work on a hat and mittens for Ralph from another old sweater and dragon mittens for Oscar when we can get the boys out of the house. Olive made stacks of recycled crayons for Ralph and Maude last night and we’ll work on a felt board story for Oscar tonight. Oscar and Betty are too young and will follow Meghan’s plan. Oscar will give new toothbrushes. Betty will give Band-Aids. Up to this point it’s been fun and no stress and required zero errands for supplies. And I’m vowing right now, if it does get stressful, we’ll stop where we are in the gift making and head to Target. How do you handle sibling gifts?

8th Annual Blair Christmas Recital

I LOVE our annual Christmas Recital. It started when we were pretty newly married, and it occurred to us how many of our friends happened to be excellent musicians, so why not host a Christmas party where everyone performs? The trained musicians perform something impressive and the rest of us perform something. Else. There has been a banjo. There has been an accordian. There was a reading featuring things overheard while window shopping in the city. And another reading of David Sedaris. There was a choreographed dance involving a dog and santa hat. There was a rap. There is usually lots of group singing, because if you haven’t come prepared, you get to pick a carol for everybody to sing together.

It is wonderful to see friends show off talents I never knew existed. And because I’m not an exclusive sort of person, we try to host it as close to Christmas as possible. That way, we can invite everybody who might be remotely interested — way more people than we can actually fit into the house — knowing that half of them will end up leaving town for the holidays.

We’ve held it every year but last year, when I was too darn morning sick to care. And this year, for the first time, we are holding the recital at a wonderful friend’s house, because it’s outgrown our own clumsy space.

Ben and I always give the first performance. We’re pretty bad, but we try to do a real piece — something involving some harmony. Even though we practice, our performance is usually unimpressive. This (hopefully) gives the party a well-if-they-can-stumble-through-that-performance-our-song-will-be-a-piece-of-cake feel.

I’m so looking forward to this party. And so delighted Julie and Bill offered to host it in their beautiful home.

Photo Shoot with Maude for Westchester Magazine

I was interviewed this week about Design Mom by a local magazine, Westchester Parent, and they asked for a photo. Lucky for me, I have access to very talented photographers. In this case, Travis Stratford of Studio Case hooked me up with some great shots. The Stratfords even let me stage the shot on their super-fine sofa. We originally settled on the second one, but I really like how Maude’s feet come into focus on the first one. So I sent it instead. A little too avante garde? What say you? And how do you like that it’s a total Mac shout out? Thank you, Travis and Sara!!

How Many Christmas Gifts for Kids: Different Approaches

My sister-in-law Traci has a really smart Christmas gift rule that we’ve tried to adopt: each child gets something to read, something to wear and something to play with. This is supposed to prevent me from going overboard and it mostly works. But I manage to make a lot of exceptions. -For example, Christmas PJs don’t count as the something to wear. -For example, everything in their stockings is also exempted from the rule. -For example, if the thing to-play-with isn’t BIG (read: doesn’t make a big Christmas Morning Statement under the tree — like a bike or a dollhouse or huge Lego set), then I tend to compensate with a few medium size gifts. -For example, the siblings also exchange gifts which means 4 more presents each, which I mostly shop for because my kids are pretty young. -For example, Grandmas and Grandpas still send gifts, or money to buy gifts. And so do aunts and uncles. This is all lovely, but my kids end up with way too much under the tree. Not that they complain. And frankly, I love to see their faces when they open something they love. Plus, as I mentioned before, there are so many pretty things out there, and I get such a kick out of finding them. . . So my question is: what are your best solutions for keeping the holiday excess in check?

Election Day

Vote today. Then, make sure your kids know you voted today. Let them wear red-white & blue so they can feel like they’re taking part. Get a “My mom voted today” sticker they can wear. I love election day. Extra love to my Sister and Brother-in-Law (the original blogging Politician) who are both on the ballot today!

What to Do With a Dysfunctional Fireplace

So Josh and Erin have a beautiful fireplace in their apartment, complete with marble panels and a carved wood mantle. Really, really pretty. But it’s dysfunctional. The flue (sp?) doesn’t work, has never worked, and has no plans for working in the future. We can’t ignore it because it’s the first thing you see when you come into their house. So to make it feel warm and cozy this winter, this is my solution: We’re going to stack some really beautiful aspen logs in the fireplace. Then we’ll mark the tops of the logs in about 12 places and use a neighbor’s drill press to make 1.25″ wide x 1″ deep holes at the marks. We’ll put an inexpensive but nice-looking candle in each hole and the whole thing should give a pretty good glow without needing a functional flue — or requiring the sometimes difficult task of building a fire. I like this solution because it’s good-looking and feels like a fire without being cheesy. I like that it’s inexpensive and easy to replace if it gets too worn. And I like the candles I found. I like the shape and I like that they’re kind of industrial. I especially like that you can get them in bulk. Because for this to really work, Erin and Josh need to feel like they can light this up as often as they want and they’re not going to run out of candles. The goal is to have their house ready by Thanksgiving. Wish me luck. And if anyone finds similar candles at a better price, please let me know.

Oscar Discovered Pacifiers

My 3 older kids all liked pacifiers for their first few months of life. Then, they discovered their thumbs and abandoned the pacifiers. But Oscar broke the mold. He didn’t like pacifiers and he didn’t suck his thumb.

Until Betty arrived.

A few weeks ago, he started taking her pacifier right from her mouth as a kind of joke. Then he experimented with chewing it for a few days. Then he figured out what it was good for. And now he’s completely addicted and I have to track down 2 pacis all day long. Oscar will be 2 in January — just the age where you want to introduce a highly addictive comfort object.

New Couch and Permanent Marker

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been working with my brother and sister-in-law to design their home and it has been so fun. It’s really coming together — only a few accent pieces to go. The major items we added were a new sofa and area rug. The very ones featured in the pic above from CB2. Last Tuesday, about a week after the sofa was delivered, I got a call from Erin and her voice was shaking. Apparently, her darling 2 year old (really, he’s darling) had just written all over the couch with Sharpies.  I immediately called everyone I knew with microsuede furniture and had them call Erin with cleaning instructions and the instructions were universal: just scrub it. Just scrub and scrub and scrub and it will come out. Amazingly, it worked. There is no sign of the Sharpie. I was there and participated in the scrubbing and am a witness that microsuede is the ultimate “family” fabric. I am way impressed.

Wellies Wisdom

Yesterday, I was dropping off my neighbor Tania’s two-year-old son after preschool and commented on his super-awesome wellies.  Very wise Tania mentioned she bought them a size too big — not so he could wear them an extra year, but because then they were easier to put on and he could do it himself. And because he can do it himself, he likes putting on those boots. She doesn’t need to tie laces (she has a baby to hold) and he feels accomplished and is happy.

Pimp My Ride — Family Edition

Remember I mentioned we wanted to sell the Eurovan? Well, we haven’t had the heart to do it — especially now that our awesome road trip reminded me that the VW is actually designed for awesome roadtrips. What in the world are we going to replace it with? Plus, I think it’s a really good candidate for Pimp My Ride. In the last episode I watched, the Pimp My Ride team installed a snow maker on the car, three different TV screens in the dashboard, and also TV screens on the mudflaps. Awesome. For sure they can handle my requests. This is what I want done to our Eurovan: -Replace the 5 rear seats with a curved bench that seats 6 (we always need an extra seatbelt for a guest/playdate). The bench would start where the back, passenger-side bench starts, but then curve around until it meets the driver’s seat. This would be amazing. It would eliminate front row/back row arguments and there would be super easy access from the side door for me to climb in and buckle everyone quickly. We only have one sliding side door, and the bench would block a potential second side door, but I don’t mind. The bench would be so great. -The curved bench also needs to convert to a bed when needed. -The curved bench needs to be easily removed so we can have pure, unadulterated cargo space as needed. -Each seat on the bench should have it’s own cubby/basket attached underneath, but not touching the floor to make for easier vacuuming. The cubbies should be easily removeable for cleaning out. -In two or three seats on the bench there should be built-in carseats that are safe for 1-year-olds and up (like volvos) that can convert to regular seats. Imagine: no more installing car seats! -In front of the curved bench there would be a table that stores flush with the floor and sets up with one hand — the kids could eat or play games or do homework here. -All ashtrays and existing pockets for stuff should be eliminated so that there’s nowhere for apple cores to hide and no hard-to-reach places to clean. Streamline. -There should be a Dustbuster port that charges as the van runs, so it’s ready anytime. -I don’t want a fridge in the car, but there should be cupholders in the bench that have a cooling button. -TV screens installed in the seatbacks of the 2 front seats. -Some kind of media station that accomodates DVDs, iPods, cds, tapes, GPS — with no visible wires. -wifi access. -Surfaces should be easy to maintain. Leather on the seats, maybe rubber flooring. -A built-in diaper wipes compartment near the bench that’s easy to restock. -Armorall wipes compartment in the dash (Ben likes to Armorall the car when he’s at red lights.) -A garbage compartment that fits standard size garbage liners. And has a place to store garbage liners. -Auto lift gate. -Auto side door. -Auto windows in the rear. -Car kit with first aid, tools, chains, cables, blanket, etc. that stores neatly out of the way. -TV screens on the mudflaps. What do you think? Is the Eurovan reality show material?

Caught in a Snowstorm

Last Thursday at 11:00pm we called our hotel in Toronto to let them know we would be getting in at about 1:00am instead of midnight and to ask them to hold the room because we were driving through a surprise snow storm. A half an hour later, at 11:30pm all traffic stopped ahead of us. We didn’t move another inch until 7:00 the next morning, when one by one, each car dug itself out of two feet of snow that fell during the night, and headed down the freeway. The storm was so isolated that by the time we came to Niagara — a few minutes away from Buffalo — the only sign of the storm was the snow on our VW. You can read more about the storm here.

Stories at Night

We have a wonderful Halloween tradition we’ve practiced for the last 4 or 5 years: For bedtime stories in October we gather in the living room, light spooky candles and read scary stories in the flickering light. At the end of the stories each child gets to blow out a candle. I can’t believe how much my kids look forward to this ritual. And I do too. Bedtime stories around our house can get a little out of control — sometimes filling an hour or more and eating up that precious evening worktime — and our October tradition helps me reign things in without being a mean mom. We’ve attempted to do something similar, in November with Thanksgiving stories and in December with Christmas stories, and met with limited success. What is it about October? Our Halloween story collection is quite small and added to irregularly, so we supplement with library books. Some books we like: Pumpkin Moonshine, Jeb Scarecrow’s Pumpkin Patch, The Spider and the Fly, and In a Dark, Dark Wood.  

Halloween Costumes

What to be for Halloween is a year-round topic of conversation at our house. The ideas change week by week. Sometimes hour by hour. I have to enforce a drop dead decision date of October 10th, after which no costume changes are allowed, so that I have time to get everything together.

When they were younger I loved coordinating their costumes. When it was just Ralph and Maude they were Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. When it was Ralph, Maude & Olive it was The 3 Bears (Papa, Mama and Baby). Now that’s a no go. We’re all a little too opinionated around here. Last year it was Frankenstein, A Pumpkin, Belle (as in Beauty & the Beast) and A Lion.

This year Ralph wants to be a candy bar. He’s thinking Butterfinger, but he wants to make it spooky by changing it to Blooderfinger. That, or he wants to be a mad scientist. Maude wants to be a warrior from Mulan. Olive wants to be Ariel (as in the Little Mermaid). Thankfully, Oscar and Betty don’t care yet.

Why I heart Ben Today

Yesterday Ben dropped home after teaching his first class of the semester. He was just grabbing some lunch before heading off to work at SmartNoise. I was on the phone with my sister Sara and she said, “Tell Ben I’m angry because he hasn’t posted in so long. I check every day.” I told Ben, and he looked up from his plate of spaghetti to say, “A lot of people are angry.” And now remembering it makes me happy today.

What to Wear to 2nd Grade

It’s Maude’s turn. The composition above is only an approximation because I couldn’t find pictures of the exact items. But this captures the look and feel of what she’ll be wearing on the first day of school. The tee will be worn under the blouse. The jacket is just in case it’s cold. The sneakers are super cute, navy with pink accents. I love dark sneakers for my kids because they stay looking better longer. Her hair will be in 2 braids. Jacket by Old Navy. Tee by Old Navy. Blouse by Gymboree. Cropped Trousers by Boden. Socks by Gap. Shoes by Puma.
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