Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ross Dress for Less Review and $50 GC GIVEAWAY

CONGRATULATIONS #13 AS CHOSEN BY RANDOM.ORG. PLEASE RESPOND TO MY EMAIL WITHIN 72 HOURS. Thanks to everyone who participated and I hope you will enter my current giveaway!

Shopping online can be maddening sometimes. Yesterday I found the perfect gift for my mother-in-law but I missed the window to get $20 off $75 purchase by a few minutes. The promotion ended at midnight central time. Since the only time I have to shop online is after the boys go to sleep, that means I rarely make those deadlines. So I bailed on the gift in the hopes that the retailer will offer the deal again. I clicked on Cyber Monday deals for another retailer and that site had already reset to Tuesday. It's unfair that those who live in CST or EST get more time to shop than those of us on the West Coast (and yes, we have less to complain about than our friends in Hawaii). They get up at the same time so all things being equal they get better access to online deals. That is why I like to shop in actual stores. You don't have to worry about getting beat out by someone half-way across the country. I especially like to shop in stores where you know you're getting the most for your money. Ross Dress for Less is definitely one of those stores.

It's really quite ironic because even when I was one of those Easterners that had access to fabulous deals, whenever Stewart and I would come to the Bay Area to visit his parents for the holidays, I would always find my way to Ross. Shopping at Ross was one of the perks of visiting my in-laws. I still have the set of three springform cake pans that I got on one of those shopping trips. Yesterday, the boys and I had great fun going to Ross to pick up some holiday decorations. H wanted to hang stockings by the fireplace so that was first on the agenda. When I walked into the store, I was very impressed by the organization and the cleanliness of the store considering it was the holiday shopping season. All of the holiday decorations were in one area in the back of the store. We quickly found the stockings, which ranged from $5.99 to $8.99. The boys picked out the ones they liked. We looked at the other holiday gifts and decorations. They especially liked a certain pink starfish ornament, but I didn't think it would survive R's rough treatment this season (he's already broken three blown glass ornaments). There were also a ton of licensed toys of characters that H&R recognize from their television viewing on PBS and cable. Ross has a policy of not showing or discussing brand names so I can't reveal them here, but they are definitely on every kid's holiday wish list. Ross also had a great selection of children's books that I will keep in mind for the future.

For me, the quality of the merchandise together with the competitiveness of the prices for the decorations and seasonal gifts make Ross a better place for gifts than big box and department stores. If you're looking for stocking stuffers or office/hostess gifts, Ross has a variety of great gifts for $5, $10 and $20, including candles, gourmet food baskets, festive holiday serving dishes and more. The only drawback to my shopping experience was the long wait I had to check out. Granted it was a Monday morning, but there were only two cashiers open with 8-10 people waiting in each line. The amazing thing was that nobody left. I've seen people in other stores leave when wait times build up, but the value of the items they were purchasing must have convinced shoppers to stick with their purchases. Since inventory changes constantly, shoppers at Ross know that once they pass on a great deal, it will be snapped by another customer before their next visit to the store. Yesterday I went to different Ross location (find the closest one to you here) after I dropped H at school and found that store's inventory to be slightly different from the first store. So if you find something great, don't lose out! Random Mommy readers in the San Jose area will be happy to find out that there is a new location in downtown San Jose, in addition to the 46 other Ross stores in the Bay Area. Thanks to the generosity of my friends at Ross Dress for Less, one Random Mommy reader will have the opportunity to find some fantastic deals for him/herself with a $50 gift card. You can also enter to win a $500 gift card from Ross through their Facebook contest.

HOW TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:  Contest period runs from Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 5:01 PM (Pacific) until Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 11:59 PM (Pacific). Enter by leaving the name of your favorite holiday decoration, and leave your e-mail address OR sign in to comments using your Blogger ID, making sure your Blogger profile is public and includes your e-mail address.

Bonus Entries (leave a separate comment for each entry, it counts if you've done any of these so leave a comment for each one)
1) Follow me on Twitter
2) Tweet this contest (http://tinyurl.com/33w8zsn) and leave the tweet url
3) Follow my blog with Google Friend Connect by clicking on the sidebar
4) Like Ross Dress for Less on Facebook

If you don't leave a qualifying comment and your e-mail address or public Blogger profile, your entry will be disqualified. I reserve the right to extend the contest period. At the end of the contest period, I will utilize Random.org to randomly choose the winner. The winner will be contacted by e-mail and will have 72 hours to respond to my e-mail. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, the prize will go to the next place winner as decided by Random.org. This contest is open for US Residents only. A huge thank you and much appreciation to my friends at Ross Dress for Less for their generosity! Good luck!

I did not receive compensation for this post. I received a gift card to facilitate my review.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

From the Random Mommy family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving! May your day be filled with family, fun, and fiasco-free turkey. Gobble gobble!

Monday, November 22, 2010


 It's finally here, the week that signals the beginning of the holiday season in our family. Growing up, we always put up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving. It was a many hour process to drag the artificial tree out from the crawl space and then locate, untangle and put up all the lights, ornaments and garland. I'm not sure when it started in the U.S., but during high school sisters and I (and sometimes my father) started a new tradition of Black Friday shopping. I don't think the deals are as good as they were in those early days (I remember getting lots of things free with rebate), but we still go every year when we are together. Not so much for the deals but because we enjoy the ritual of the line waiting, the frenzy of the crowds, and the exhilaration of getting a gift for someone that you wouldn't normally have been able to afford.

This year, while I was thinking about my holiday gift guide, I realized that I didn't want to buy anything this year or advocate anyone else buying anything that didn't have the purpose of bettering the world or reducing clutter. This past year, through blogging and my own initiative I've been exposed to many different "green" products. Some of them are complete gimmicks (a "green" cellphone, really?) but others really have the ability to better our lives and the world. As for reducing clutter, after moving from LA to San Jose, I realized how much junk we had that we absolutely did not need. I've made it a point to get rid of goody bag plastic toys that really add no value to life (in fact they make life more difficult when kids leave them lying around and you wake up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and end up stepping on a small plastic arrow!). So without further ado, these are the items I've picked for my 2010 Holiday Gift Guide:

For Adults:
1) Fair Trade Coffee-It would probably come as a surprise to many people, but a lot of coffee plantations in West Africa and other parts of the world employ slave labor. Not just slave labor, but child slave labor. That's why it's so important to buy fair trade coffee (or at least try to get coffee sourced from South America or East Africa). My favorite is Green Mountain Fair Trade Spring Revival Blend (list price $8.49/10 oz bag). Unfortunately it's not available this time of year, so a good substitute is whole bean fair trade coffee (a few different varieties) at Fresh & Easy (locations in Southern California, AZ and NV), currently selling for $5.88/12 oz bag. This is an amazing price, less than what you would pay for "regular" beans at any supermarket! If you don't live near a Fresh & Easy, you can also find fair trade beans in the $7-10 range at your nearest Cost Plus World Market. Cost Plus World Market also has a free Explorer Club that gets you 10% off your first purchase and a free bag of coffee after every sixth bag of coffee you purchase. There are frequently deals that will make your coffee cost even less! Not only will buying fair trade coffee make you feel better about how you spend your money, it also tastes better. Giving this as a gift to someone will not only enrich their coffee drinking experience, but it's something that will better the lives of the farmers who grow it.

2) Simple Human Compost Pail-I had heard, read and seen on TV a lot about composting in the past few years but I had always thought it was a really difficult process that I didn't have time or the space to do. Part of that misconception was that I didn't really get to see it in action. After we recently moved to San Jose, I was able to observe how my mother-in-law composted all the food scraps off her table. After seeing how easy it was, I decided to give it a try when I was contacted by Simple Human to review its compost pail. I bought some biodegradable liners (optional) and started composting. Because of the Simple Human Compost Pail's integrated odorsorb™ charcoal filter, the food waste didn't smell because the filter absorbed the food odors. This was a big bonus because after we moved to San Jose, we had our own curbside garbage pick-up for the first time in our adult lives. Every other apartment and home we lived in had a garbage chute or a central garbage container so never had to worry about food waste smells in the garage. Composting definitely cuts down on that phenomenon! I also liked the large bamboo handle that makes it easy to carry out to the compost heap (which in my case is at my mother-in-law's house so having a pail with a sturdy handle that prevents spillage is absolutely essential). There's a wire ring that keeps bags neatly hidden, or you can use the compost without a bag and simply rinse out the wire ring. Lid hook allows you to hand the lid anywhere along the rim of the pail. The Simple Human Compost Pail retails for $59.99 online, but you can make that price better at Bed, Bath and Beyond locations in CT, NJ, NY, and PA by using one of the BBB 20% coupons that come in the mail. And if you register for the simplehuman email list now, you'll qualify to play their Black Friday/Cyber Monday game. Play the game and you'll receive a special gift with any purchase-up to a $200 value. Everyone is guaranteed to be a winner!

 3) Green cleaning supplies-A few years ago, my friend's mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had no family history and none of the other risk factors. One of the thoughts she had was that all the artificial chemicals her body came across may have contributed to the cancer. I thought about this and it made sense. Since then, I've made the change to all natural cleaning supplies. Out of the following two dish soaps, which once would you feel better about if your child decided to drink it?
  • Ingredient list for a leading dishwashing liquid: Water, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Pareth-23, C12-14-16 Dimethyl Amine Oxide, SD Alcohol 40-B, Undeceth-9, PPG-26, Sodium Chloride, Cyclohexanediamine, Polyacetate, Fragrance, FD&C Yellow #5, D&C Red No. 33
  • Ingredient list for Sun & Earth Ultra Dishwashing Liquid: Natural surfactants (made from coconut and vegetable oil), orange oil, aloe, preservative, water.
I think every parent would pick the second one. And I can tell you first hand, after H drank it, that it has no harmful effects! More on H's experiments below. So this Holiday Season, why not make a Green Clean gift basket for a friend, with a detailed explanation, otherwise she/he will think you are telling them to clean their home better. I did this for a friend's birthday (she recently had a scare with breast cancer), and she could tell it was because I was really concerned about her and her family's health. These products aren't much more expensive (and in most cases aren't any more expensive) than the leading non-green cleaning products, but people just think of them that way. If each of us helps another family get a little bit healthier by choosing these products, I think that really says a lot about how we care for each other as a community. It also prevents these chemicals from going down the drain and ending up in groundwater, making their ways into the cells of the plants and animals that we eat.
4) Sound of Music 45th Anniversary Blu-Ray/DVD-I'm not saying that the only things that we should buy are green or fair trade. I also think that things that cut down clutter are definitely things worth the investment. Because of this new Sound of Music Blu-ray release, I can get rid of my four previous versions of the film on DVD and VHS. Before you say, "how can it be better than all the anniversary editions that came before?" Well, the Blu-ray edition has incorporated technology that wasn't previously available so the picture quality is better than the last DVD release. Something along the lines of--you can see the blades of grass on the mountain where Maria sings the opener. Truly amazing!

Some of the bonus features of the Blu-ray include: All-New Interactive “Backlot Tour” with In-Depth Featurettes on the Songs, the Stage Show & Movie, the Film and Sound Restoration and the Real-Life von Trapp Family, Music Machine Sing Along, and Audio Commentaries with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and Director Robert Wise. If you know someone who is as much of a Sound of Music fan as I am, this would definitely make the perfect gift! The list price is $34.99, but it can be found online for as low as $19.99. You can also get a deluxe anniversary collection which includes, among other things, a hardcover book and handpainted music box for $59.99 directly from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

5) Earthbound Cook-This is my favorite cook book of the year. I've already given one as a birthday present to a friend because I love this book so much. I like it because the green tips the author Myra Goodman recommends are accessible. She recognizes that not everyone has the ability to go organic all the way and she gives tips on how you can do the most you can, like which fish you should buy farm-raised and which to buy wild-caught. I also think it's neat every time I go to Costco and buy some Earthbound Farms salad that I can make something from her book with that exact lettuce mix! This is definitely a gift that has the potential to change the recipient's life for the better forever. It has recipes from a wide array of ethnicities. I was happy to find that I had all the ingredients to make the tofu soup recipe. That rarely happens with cook books. Usually I'm missing one or more the ingredients and I lose momentum and never actually make it. This time, soup was on! I can't wait to try the stuffed cabbage recipe. For Thanksgiving, I'll be trying the squash and sweet potato recipe in place the candied yams we usually serve. Wish me luck!

For Babies and Kids:
1) Aden + Anais swaddling blanket-This is a blanket that a child can use from birth to when they leave for college and need to leave their blankie behind. I LOVE the softness and breathability of the muslin. For a summer baby, it's perfect because she can be swaddled but not suffer prickly heat. For a winter baby, it's definitely a necessity when you live in NYC apartments with no heat control and the inside temperature approaches 80 degrees or when your grandmother insists on bundling the baby in multiple layers. My boys got theirs when they were 2 and 4 and they loved them from first sight. They loved the designs and fought over who would get the car one. They use it in the car as a lap blanket and at home to pretend to be Jedi knights. The blanket is available at various price points. The four-pack my boys have is on the aden + anais website for $45. Considering most swaddling blankets are in the $10-$20 price range for one, I think this is a compelling value. But if you want just one, you can get a single blanket at 77Kids.com (American Eagle Outfitter's new kids line) for $15.

Sesame Street: Love the Earth2) Sesame Street: Love the Earth-As part of my efforts to teach H&R about being responsible while we are on this planet, I've been showing them various DVDs that promote that message. They've probably watched over ten different DVDs with different children's characters advocating "green" behavior. I've decided this one is the best one out of the bunch because this is the one that actually propelled H to action. He told me to turn off the lights while I was washing dishes so I had to wash them in the dark. He told Stewart to stop leaving the lights on everywhere because we had to save electricity. When we got down to the last quarter of the bag of Cheerios, he said, "Now can we recycle the box?" But I was not prepared for his grand experiment, which was turning off the refrigerator because it is the appliance that uses the largest amount of electricity in the home. I wasn't watching every minute of the DVD so I don't know if it was Elmo or Papa Bear who told him to do it, but he turned off the refrigerator by turning the knob inside the fridge part to zero-off position. He did this at night before he went to sleep, and I didn't find out about it till the next morning when I went to put some frozen waffles into the toaster that were no longer frozen but limp. So, if you want to give a gift to a child that really gets across the message that the Earth is a precious resource and we need to conserve energy, this DVD would be a good fit for that purpose. The DVD list price is $14.98 but it is available now on Amazon.com for $11.99. Just make sure to tell the child not to turn off the refrigerator.

3) Episencial skin care products-H has had skin issues since he was a baby. He could not get a bath every day when he was an infant because that would dry out his skin too much. I tried every baby wash and lotion out there before I finally found the perfect product for his skin. Episencial is the first and only professional-quality, all natural skincare system created specifically for the unique developing skin type of babies and kids. Free from the bad stuff like parabens, phthalates and fragrances, Episencial products are loaded with all-natural ingredients and healthy organics. Plus, these gentle, newborn safe formulas feature an exclusive skin immune complex to boost the skin’s immune functions and help the body ward off illnesses. My boys really love the bottles too. They feature Eric Carle drawings that they recognize from his books! The packaging is made of recycled and sustainable materials, and manufactured using solar power so Episencial products are good for your babies, kids and the planet! I'm definitely putting together a gift basket of these products to give at the next baby shower. The products range from $8.99 (washes) to $14.99 (sunscreen), but you can get them for less if you buy multiples through online stores like drugstore.com or diapers.com. I was lucky to get them for 50% off when they were recently on HauteLook.

Hot Potatoes: The Best of the Wiggles4) Hot Potatoes: Best of the Wiggles-Any DVD that can take the place of twelve others is definitely a "green" product in my book. H has been a Wiggles fanatic since he was 15 months old and I had him watch Wiggles marathons while I was unable to get out of bed due to morning sickness with R. He would watch for a long stretch, come back to my room to make sure I was still there and still alive, and then run back to the TV. So the Wiggles have a special place in the history of our family. Many of the DVDs have been watched so many times that they no longer work. When a kid handles DVDs, they are bound to get scratched. I tried to put them away on the highest shelves of the bookcase but this no longer worked when they figured out how to drag chairs from the dining room to get the DVDs down. I was really excited when this DVD came out this summer because it meant I could throw away all those scratched up DVDs and replace them with this one. With 35 songs and 40 minutes of bonus content, you can cook your entire Thanksgiving dinner without the kids coming out their TV trance. This is not a everyday DVD, unless you turn it off a third or half of the way in or so, but the fact it can keep a child's attention for the entire length of the DVD is definitely something worth having in your arsenal, especially should you be experiencing serious morning sickness. A friend of mine said she met another mom who doesn't let her child watch TV and thought, "You and I cannot be friends." I completely agree. TV has definitely saved my life on more than one occasion and the Wiggles have been a part of that, thanks to Jeff, Greg, Murray and Anthony (and Sam). The list price of this DVD is $14.98 but it is available for less online at various retailers.

5) HEXBUG-the only bug I will allow inside the house. I've trained my kids to be scared of bugs. I just don't want them to be picking them up and bringing them home because as I learned in my research on ants during our ant infestation problem, an ant you pick up from South America and drop into your home knows instinctively how to get back to the local ant colony and bring those ants back into your house. So no, I don't want them playing with any bugs of any kind. Of course they are boys so I feel bad that I'm depriving them of something boys love to do. I'm so glad that I was given the chance to review the HEXBUG Nano Starter Set because now that guilt is gone. I'm including this toy in my gift guide even though it has the potential of bringing in even more plastic into the house because I've discovered it doesn't require the elaborate sets that are available for purchase. I'm sure your kids have Legos or blocks of some kind. You can make your own HEXBUG habitat with those and just buy the bugs themselves. Anything that can integrate toys that are already present in the house is a great toy in my book. The boys love to make their own houses for their bug, which takes time in itself and then they love watching the bug crawl around in the habitat. Just so you know my kids aren't watching TV all day and night. You can find HEXBUG at Target, Toys R Us and Radio Shack and online on their website or on Amazon. The HEXBUG Nano by itself is available for approx. $8 and the sets go up from there.

6) Stocking Stuffers-some small items that are green/useful/socially responsible and can be used as hostess gifts, stocking stuffers or additions to care packages:
  • Qwik Shower Gym Class Wipes-portable single use disposable washcloths that can be used by teens to clean up after gym class or sports practice, moms to wipe up dirty sand feet and hands after the playground, and anyone else needing something to do a quick cleanup when a shower isn't readily available. I plan to stuff a few into my annual Christmas cookie exchange care package to a soldier in Afghanistan.  They're available for as low as 49 cents each when ordered in bulk.
  • Fair Trade Chocolate Bars-similar to the coffee plantations, many cocoa farms in West Africa also employ child slave labor. The only way to guarantee you don't support that kind of chocolate production is to buy fair trade chocolate. All Belgian chocolate is sourced from slave-free sources. Don't think that fair trade necessarily has to be expensive. Trader Joe's Belgian Chocolate bars in milk, dark, and 72% dark are sold in three packs for $1.49. I've bought these as party favors and they are delicious!
  • Plants-instead of flowers for the hostess, how about a plant that will keep on giving? A basil plant or small rosemary bush will cost less than a bouquet and will last a lot longer.
  • Gift certificates in small denominations-something like the Target gift coins can be put into stockings with the directions that some should be donated to the charity of the child's choice. There is so much that can be taught to our children during the holiday season, even by making a single deposit into the Salvation Army bucket.
Hopefully you found this helpful and perhaps you will be able to find some of these items at great prices this Black Friday, Cyber Monday and throughout the Holiday shopping season. I'm really happy because my sister is coming up from Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving (and go Black Friday shopping) with me. I will definitely be more thoughtful this year, getting only gifts that can be consumed or used up or will help in making the recipient's life healthier. Happy Thanksgiving!

I did not receive compensation for this post. I did receive some product samples to facilitate my reviews.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Don't Koreans Use Their Dishwashers?

 Today’s post is part of the From Left to Write online book club. The idea of this book club is not to write a book review but to write a post in which the blogger connects that month’s book to an experience from his/her own life. The current book is The Earthbound Cook by Myra Goodman, co-founder of Earthbound Farms.

I don't know anyone born in Korea but now living in the U.S. that actually uses their dishwasher on a regular basis. Instead, they use them to store dishes. In some cases, they don't use them for any purpose and just leave them empty. Of course they don't want them to break down so they'll run them (with nothing inside) once a month. My non-Asian friends seem to think this is odd. This post is my exploration into the reasons why this phenomenon exists. (A friend says Vietnamese people in the States don't use their dishwashers either, but I'm not qualified to guess the reasons so if you know, please share.)

I think there are two main reasons why Koreans in Korea don't have dishwashers:

1. Space. Korea is a small country roughly the size of Portugal with a population of approx. 50 million people. 10 million or so live in the Seoul metropolitan area, with approx. 92% of the entire country's population living in urban areas (facts from Wikipedia). That means apartments are small and so are kitchens. There is just not enough cabinet space to store the number of dishes that would be required to allow the use of a dishwasher. Most people still do full Korean meals three times a day. If you look at the photo on the left, you can see that this requires many many dishes. A family would not have multiple sets of these dishes to use. I point this out because I learned from The Earthbound Cook that a full dishwasher takes less energy and water than hand washing dishes. But Koreans would not be able to wait for the dishwasher to be full. Even my Korean friend who lives in Manhattan Beach, CA doesn't have the space for the number of dishes this would require. She does the full Korean meal for her in-laws every meal, every day and she washes dishes after every meal. If she didn't, she wouldn't have all the clean dishes she needs for the next meal.

In addition to the lack of space to store extra dishes in a Korean kitchen, there is also lack of space to put a dishwasher. If faced with having a dishwasher or a clothes washer, I think it's a no brainer as to why one would pick a clothes washer. (I bring this up because I noticed my cousin and my grandmother in two different Korean cities each had clothes washers installed in or next to their kitchens but no dishwasher.)

2. Cost. Like I said above, a full dishwasher takes less energy and water than hand washing dishes. A non-Korean friend (married with two kids) told me that it takes her a day or two to fill up her dishwasher. In the case of Koreans doing full Korean meals, the necessity of having to use the same dishes for the next meal probably means that the dishwasher, if it is used, would run when it is not full thus negating the energy and water cost savings. Koreans, being cheap about these kinds of things, would definitely balk at having to pay for the extra cost. It seems like everyone in Korea has the current season Louis Vuitton purse or Burberry jacket, but no one wants to spend a dime more than they have to for things that people cannot see. 

So anyone who is a first or second generation immigrant to the U.S. has no context as to how to incorporate the dishwasher into their existence. Growing up, my mother NEVER used the dishwasher. After I moved into my first apartment after graduation, I wasn't home enough to use enough dishes to use the dishwasher. In every place I lived, the dishwasher was always for storage. I could probably count on one hand the number of times I used the dishwasher in the seven apartments I lived in on the East Coast. Even after I had H, I didn't use the dishwasher since his manny washed all his dishes and bottles.

Then we moved to California. Being a stay-at-home mom meant that I had to wash a lot more dishes. Having two kids instead of just one also seemed to multiply the number of dishes and cups exponentially because for some reason, if one kid wanted a snack or drink, the other kid had to have it too even if you knew they didn't really need or want it. I would really have liked to use the dishwasher BUT...ants, ants, and more ants. I had no choice but to wash the dishes after every meal, even after we finally capitulated and got the exterminator to spray his noxious chemicals. I was paranoid that an unwashed dish would start the nightmare all over again.

Which brings me to Northern California and The Earthbound Cook. After reading that section on dishwashers, I decided to give it a try and actually used our dishwasher three days in a row. I had a one day relapse and then got back into the rhythm of putting dishes away. Once you start doing it, it becomes a habit!!! Hurray!!!! I've successfully overcome my Korean cultural indoctrination and am using my dishwasher to wash dishes instead of storage. It's amazing how a few sentences can make a change in a person's everyday life. Thank you Myra Goodman and the From Left to Write Book Club! Now I better go and start the dishwasher.

I received a free copy of The Earthbound Cook as part of the book club.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

From Left to Write Book Club Meeting to Norah Jones CD Review

Last Wednesday was the first pot luck dinner of the From Left to Write Book Club. Those of us in the Bay Area got together at co-founder Linsey's house and brought dishes from Myra Goodman's new book, The Earthbound Cook, one of this month's book club selections. I really enjoy the book because it interweaves "green" tips for living with recipes and also gives shortcuts in case you can't source the fresh ingredients she recommends. I like that non-judgmental aspect--no finger pointed saying, "naughty, naughty, must always use organic."

It was the first time leaving the boys with a babysitter since moving to San Jose. I was a bit apprehensive (the one and only babysitter we had in LA had been completely overwhelmed by them and basically we paid her to watch them watch TV), but absolutely needed to go to the meeting. Before Wednesday's event, I could count on one hand the number of in person meaningful adult conversations I've had since moving. I was the first one there and one of the latter ones to leave. It was a wonderful night of meeting new women,eating delicious food, and just getting out of the mom mode for a few hours. You can see for yourself why the meal beat eating the boys' leftover pasta, and the photos I took don't even do justice to all the fabulous dishes that the other ladies brought. I made the gruyere frittata, which was so easy and so delicious.

That afternoon while I was prepping the frittata, the doorbell rang. I opened the door and found on my doorstep Norah Jones' new album, ...Featuring Norah Jones that I had signed up to review for the One2One Network in advance of its release this Tuesday, November 16. I was so excited! It was perfect timing, I would listen to the CD on the way back and forth from the book club meeting. I NEVER get to listen to my own music in the car so it felt that all the stars were aligning for that evening. The frittata was cooked, the babysitter came on time, and I had a new Norah Jones CD to listen to on the way to a night with great writers and foodies.

The album turned out to be exactly right for the drive to the book club meeting because of rush hour traffic. Since I was driving alone, I didn't have H in the back repeatedly saying, "Don't be Mad, Don't be Sad," which he breaks into whenever we get into a traffic situation on the freeway. Featuring is a star-studded collection of Norah Jones’ musical collaborations from the past decade. Her smooth melodious voice helped keep any road rage down to a simmer, even when people cut me off or the traffic came to an abrupt stop on 880 South. The 18 songs on the album include duets with such legends as Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton, and with 21st Century icons from OutKast to the Foo Fighters. The tracks on Featuring span Norah's entire career, from one of her earliest recording sessions (a version of Roxy Music's “More Than This” with guitarist Charlie Hunter in 2001) to her most recent performance she cut with Belle and Sebastian, which will also appear on their new album. This album really has something for everyone, from blues to jazz to hip-hop. My favorite was her duet with Willie Nelson, "Baby It's Cold Outside." It reminded me of the old musicals I love and filled me with the warm and fuzzy feeling reminiscent of those classic movies. 

The music was still great, but I found Norah's soothing voice was not so perfect on the way home when I was struggling to stay awake after having eaten three plates of food and two bowls of soup. I'm looking forward to playing the CD again on my next outing without the boys. I have high hopes that that will be in the near future since Stewart came home to find the boys and the babysitter still playing, not watching TV!

The complete track list of Featuring:
1. Love Me – The Little Willies
2. Virginia Moon – The Foo Fighters featuring Norah Jones
3. Turn Them – Sean Bones featuring Norah Jones
4. Baby It’s Cold Outside – Willie Nelson featuring Norah Jones
5. Bull Rider – Norah Jones and Sasha Dobson
6. Ruler Of My Heart – Dirty Dozen Brass Band featuring Norah Jones
7. The Best Part – El Madmo
8. Take Off Your Cool – OutKast featuring Norah Jones
9. Life Is Better – Q-Tip featuring Norah Jones
10. Soon The New Day – Talib Kweli featuring Norah Jones
11. Little Lou, Prophet Jack, Ugly John – Belle & Sebastian featuring Norah Jones
12. Here We Go Again – Ray Charles featuring Norah Jones
13. Loretta – Norah Jones featuring Gillian Welch and David Rawlings
14. Dear John – Ryan Adams featuring Norah Jones
15. Creepin’ In – Norah Jones featuring Dolly Parton
16. Court & Spark – Herbie Hancock featuring Norah Jones
17. More Than This – Charlie Hunter featuring Norah Jones
18. Blue Bayou – Norah Jones featuring M. Ward

And for one last random soundbite--how cool is it that Norah Jones releases her albums on vinyl!

I did not receive compensation for this post. I received product samples to facilitate my reviews.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween 2010 Recap

Halloween started a bit later for us this year. Because of the move and the half-marathon, we missed the local mom's club party on the first weekend of October. We went to a Haunted House two weeks ago, but I didn't realize that I needed to take photos so I don't have any documentary evidence of H as superman. Our camera recently broke but I hadn't replaced it because I was planning to wait for Black Friday deals. As random strangers took photos of their kids and H at the Haunted House, I realized, "um, no, that was not going to work." I ordered a digital camera from Amazon.com that night.

Last Wednesday, I didn't know what to expect because H's school just told us that there would be a Halloween parade and party at the school that afternoon. I thought it would just be the kids parading past us in their costumes, but I should have known it would be more than that since H's school is one of those over-achiever preschools focused on academics, complete with its own art and music programs. (They learn about one new artist and composer a month, this past month they painted their own versions of the Mona Lisa.) Since we moved after the school year started, H ended up there because it was the only school with a good playground that had a spot open. We visited five preschools the day after we moved and the ones that didn't have a playground, I just kept on driving!

H and the other pre-K students performed seven songs for us as part of the Halloween parade. I was foiled in my attempt to get a good photo of H&R together by R refusing to wake up from his nap during the performances. He had no problem waking up when it was time to have cookies and ice cream at the party, though. I'm so glad H was able to celebrate Halloween at school. His previous preschool must be owned by Jehovah's Witnesses because they did not allow any celebrations at school. H's current school even had a carnival on Friday night, complete with its own Haunted House. I didn't take R through the Haunted House after having learned from his nonstop crying during the previous experience, even though it was the "Good Fairy" version of the tour. H went through three times, once by himself! 

Friday night I was able to get a good photo of them together. Saturday they both decided to be Army guys, but R again slept through the event we went to that day so I don't have any proof that he was wearing a costume. By Sunday, R decided he had had enough of the cowboy costume and ripped it off. Instead, I made him wear a Superman t-shirt over his clothes at the church Harvest Festival. I did so fearing the wrath of my sister who is always watching my actions like a hawk to make sure I don't treat No. 2 Son like a second-class citizen. Sorry Sis, R is the one who refused to cooperate!

As for me, I am DONE! I will NEVER go to another Mall/Shopping Center/Store Halloween Event as long as I live! We tried to trick or treat indoors at Valley Fair in Santa Clara because of the weather. It was absolute chaos, so much so we will never go back to that shopping center on the weekend. There is a 1 1/2 mile line on the freeway just to get off that exit every weekend, which I have never seen anywhere else for a shopping center other than on Black Friday. After the Valley Fair fiasco, H&R went trick or treating with Grandma, which they really enjoyed. Stewart never went trick or treating with his mom, but it's interesting to see what Grandma will do for her grandsons. All in all, a very fun Halloween for the boys and one set of tired-out parents. I think the past two years fulfill my quota of Halloween events for a lifetime. Next year, I will try very hard to be out of the country.

On an unrelated note, you may have noticed the new Give Health water donation widget on my sidebar. Very easy to donate, just enter your email address and they will send you an email to confirm your donation. They don't sell or use your email address for anything else. Just another way I'm trying to do my part to make this world a little better every day. Thank You and Good Night!