Monthly Archives: July 2015

Turn iPhone into Personal Hotspot

Have you seen this commercial where the group of kids get into the Chevy Malibu and are able to play on their devices due to the built in WiFi?  While I am not a fan of having devices raise my children, I am absolutely all for them when it comes to long distance travel.

We were on our 1st road trip today as a family since I am not a huge road trip fan.  Aria kept on asking “Are we there yet?” while every few minutes I heard Avani get frustrated to not have an internet connection.  After thinking about that commercial, I was thinking that our 1 year old car will be technologically behind as we assume most cars will have the wifi built in in a few years.  Then I remembered that you can make your iPhone a personal hotspot.  A hotspot provides a connection to devices with in a small range so they can connect to the internet through your cellular plan.  I thought it was a some what complicated process so I told the girls that I would have to research it and have it ready for the way back.  Luckily, Anjay actually already knew how and it was incredibly easy.

  1. Go to the settings on your iPhone.
  2. Choose Cellular and turn on Personal Hotspot.  Be sure to add a password for the wifi connection.IMG_9134
  3. On your device, go setting and select the iPhone from settings – wifi.
  4. Type in your password and you are ready to go!  Once a device is connected it will show the status on your cell phone.IMG_9135

 

Surprisingly, there are no apps to download and takes less than one minute. Quick solution to having devices without cellular connection.  It works so well, that I continued to use the hotspot to write this post!

Zucchini Mini Muffins

Aria is definitely my most difficult eater and she loves to pick out all the vegetables that she can see in her food.  Since Anjay was traveling last night, I decided to cater to the girls. I wanted them to get involved in the process of selection and also the cooking.  I decided on following this recipe for Zucchini Muffins.

6 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/3 cups)
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2/3 cup shredded zucchini (about 1 medium zucchini) $$
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted $
2 tablespoons 1% low-fat milk $$
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through allspice) in a large bowl. Combine zucchini and next 5 ingredients (through egg) in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Add zucchini mixture to flour mixture, stirring batter just until combined. Divide batter evenly among 24 miniature muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of muffins comes out clean.

There was a ton of “that is disgusting” and “there is no way I am eating those” but I told them we wouldn’t make them unless they promised to eat one each.  We didn’t have any vanilla so we exchanged it for maple and I cut the amount in half just to be safe.  During the process the batter got very difficult to mix and there was still flour not mixed so we had to add more milk.

 Guess what, they loved them!!!  Even took them to school for lunch the next day to tell their friends all about it.

Akash wanted to get in there too!!

Pottery Barn Style at Ikea Prices

I pride myself on my bargain shopping skills.  I hate spending more when you can get the same thing for less. While I am not an extreme couponer at the grocery store, everything else is game on!

When the time came around to update my daughter to a big girl room, I had a really hard time finding just the right thing.  We finally found the perfect furniture, Pottery Barn’s Hampton Tower Storage Bed, but the price tag  of over $3500 was overwhelming.

Pottery Barn Hampton Tower Storage Bed
Pottery Barn Hampton Tower Storage Bed

I just couldn’t stomach spending that type of money on my little girl, even if it was a birthday present.  Inspired by the pottery barn look, I pieced together Ikea Hemnes Living Room Furniture and Overstock Inspire Q Platform Bed to get an even better look for 30% of the PB Cost.

Ikea Hemnes Living Room with Inspire Q Bed
Ikea Hemnes Living Room with Inspire Q Bed

I decided to switch out the bed headboard to something with a little more sophistication.  That way if we decided to get rid of the unit around it, it would still be a beautiful piece on it’s own.IMG_7011Finally, added lots of inspirational and motivating messages.IMG_7082

 

To accessorize we used PB Teen Zig and Zag Duvet Cover, Crinkle Puff Sham, and Hi-Light Clip Lamp.  The wall decor and plaques you can get for 50% at Hobby Lobby every other week.  The throw pillow and baskets were from Home Goods.

Next time you fall in love with a look, but don’t want to pay the price tag, achieve the same look for less.

  • Be flexible, it doesn’t have to be exact.  You can find similar pieces that will give it the same feel.
  • Find the large pieces for less while the buy the original  for the smaller accessories.  That way you still achieve the style you were looking for.
  • If you are set on the piece, be patient.  Wait for a sale, look for an outlet center, or try ebay.

What are some of the best bargains you have found?  Please share.

Back Up Your Photos to “The Cloud”

On July 4, 1998 my parents’ house burned down.  I drove home with my friend to a huge, beautiful, pink, and orange cloud in the sky. I only realized it’s source as I drove closer.  Luckily my family all made it out safe but whatever didn’t burn was lost to soot and water damage.  The next day we were instructed to carefully try to collect any possessions that we wanted to try to salvage.  The only thing that was worth saving was an armful of photo albums.

Photo album saved from house fire in 1998.
Photo album saved from house fire in 1998.

1998 was before the digital picture era.  “The Cloud” didn’t’ even exist.  The only way to save my memories was take the soot covered albums and be grateful that it wasn’t worse.  Luckily times have changed.  Everything is now digital and there are simple ways to preserve your data.

As a mom, my pictures are even more important to me as they are the chronicles of my children’s lives.  The majority of pictures are taken on my phone like everyone else.  I also have my DSLR SD cards and old photos that are on CDs from the early 2000s.  If my house were to burn down today and the only copy I had of those pictures were destroyed, I would be absolutely crushed.

“The Cloud” changes all that.  If you ever heard people talk about it, “The Cloud” is a big company’s data center where you can store all of your data.  As a Windows user, I choose OneDrive.   OneDrive, iCloud, Dropbox and Google Drive are all the same thing.  Just different companies with different plans and features.  Microsoft not only stores your data, but they also have another back up of your data at another geographic location just incase. I would also recommend keeping a local back up also just in case.

Now, not only am I backing up all the pictures from my phone but I am also backing up everything else.  My most precious commodities are safe.  What is really neat is now I can actually access all the pictures, including the DSLR and old pictures, and show them to someone on my phone!IMG_9121

Follow these simple steps to protect your precious commodities too:

  1. Sign up for OneDrive.  It is free and you get 15GB just for signing up.  You can buy more data storage if you need it
  2. Download the App to your cell phone
  3. Sign into the app and turn ON the setting to back up the camera.IMG_9122
  4. If you want to also get access to your iphone pictures on your PC or add other files to OneDrive, download OneDrive to your PC.
  5. You will now have your files synced between your PC and the cloud.  You can add files to OneDrive through Windows Explorer.One Drive in Windows Explorer

 

Synchronized Play Dates

I am determined that they are going to be best friends as they grow up.

FJ1A8902e2
My daughters – 21 months apart, ages 6 and 8.

However right now the fighting is non-stop.  Who gets to use the pink duct tape.  Who gets to sit by Nana.  Who gets to use the bathroom first. No topic is unworthy of a brawl. The newest argument is about who gets more/longer play dates.

I  never was very good at organizing play dates.  I really was hoping to live in a house with loads of kids visible from our yard so no pre-planning needed.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  I work full time, run all of my errands during the weekends, and don’t feel comfortable leaving my kids with people I don’t know well.  After a few years of passively boycotting organized play dates, I felt like my kids were being left out and not forming the relationships other kids were.  So I got on board and started reaching out to parents. Easy enough, my kids were having play dates.

Then came the comparisons.  How come Aria gets to see her friend every Tuesday after gymnastics?  How come Avani gets her friend over for the whole day?  How come Aria has 2 playdates and I haven’t had one.  Great. Now just planning a play date wasn’t enough, I had to give birth to synchronized play dates.

When I only organize a play date for one child, it always ends up with problems.  I know what you are thinking.  There are too many helicopter parents, kids are spoiled these days, they should just take turns, and kids should be able to figure it out.  The problem is not just the “injustice” they feel if one gets a friend over and the other does not.  The problem is that the fighting actually increases when a 3rd child is in the mix.  Someone feels left out, bored, or there are not enough of whatever to go around.  I sometimes wonder if I should just not let the other child play with them at all?  Honestly it can be a nightmare.

Synchronized Play Dates are when you organize a play date for both children at the exact same time.  They are much more difficult to organize than just a single play date.  The end result is 4 happy little ones and very little fighting.

  • Find a friend available for both children
  • Try to make the times line up
  • Coordinate pick ups and drop offs
  • Potentially, have a bunch of little ones running around screaming in your house!IMG_6980

I hope this is a phase and it too shall pass.  Right now, it is the only way I get some “peace” while my kids get to play with their friends.  How do you deal with close siblings and their friends?  Please share in the comments below.

Beyond Granite for Countertops

When renovating, there are a million and one choices to make.  One of the choices with a big impact and big price tag is your counter top selection.  Your selection will not only impact the style of your space but also the maintenance involved.  If you have ever tried to buy or sell a house, you have undoubtedly read “granite countertops” on a listingTruth is, there are many more options, some arguably better, than just granite.

Quartz is an engineered material made of chunks of stone mixed in with resin and other coloring.  It is now the leading material used in kitchen and baths when designed by a professional designer.  It is virtually maintenance free requiring no sealing and does not stain or scratch.   Quartz comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns whether you like solid, speckles or sparkles.  Previous complaints were that it looked to man made but new designs and patterns can closely mimic natural stone.   Quartz falls right in the middle of granite and marble in regards to price.  Quartz is #1 my recommendation for functionality and value.

Marble White Quartz
Plain Quartz Countertops

Quartzite is a very hard metamorphic rock that originated as sandstone. Through a process of high heating and pressurization sandstone is transformed into Quartzite. When heated, individual quartz pieces recrystallize giving it a beautiful and decorative sparkling pattern. Quartzite is beautiful and comes in some gorgeous whites and cool colors, while it is stain resistant, it can scratch and chip.  This material does require regular annual sealing which can cost a few hundred dollars.

Quartzite

Granite is still a top player in the market.  It is a natural stone that is heat resistant, stain resistant, and scratch resistant.  Keep in mind that resistant does not mean that it can not, just more durable than other materials.  Since it is a natural stone, there is a lot of variation which can also make things tricky when it comes to matching up seams.  There are a variety of colors but no pure whites.  You can get granite in both polished for a sleek look or honed for matte.  This material does require regular annual sealing.

Venetian Gold Granite

Marble stone is formed from limestone, superheated to form its unique crystalline structure.  Marble countertop surfaces are timeless with their classic beauty and elegance. If you are looking for a surface to sustain through the ages, this natural stone countertop material is perfect for you. Its naturally cool temperature is pleasing for cooking as well as keeping any workspaces temperature controlled.  Marble countertops do  stain and scratch which is known as “patina”.  Homeowners who own marble tops learn to embrace the patina as part of the beauty.  This material does require regular annual sealing.

Calcutta Gold Marble

There are many more options that are not as popular but offer a beauty of their own:

Soapstone
Wood Butcher Block
Stainless Steel

 

I Want My Baby Back Baby Back Ribs

I have fond memories of going to Chili’s as a kid with my family and LOVING the baby back ribs.  I never thought I, someone who hardly knows how to turn on the oven, would be attempting to make them.  Surprisingly they are really easy.

When I figured out that I wanted to start cooking, I knew just the person to help me out.  Except for the fact that she lives 750 miles away, my sister in law, Shivani, was perfect to help me with this.  She has an adorable little baby boy too, Adi, who was born last Thanksgiving.  She understands the need for quick meals and most importantly KNOWS HOW TO COOK.  I love the few dishes I have had the pleasure to try.  My husband Anjay has texted me pictures of the food she has made for him when on business trips so I know he approves as well.

master chef

She sent me a few recipes which I will be trying and sharing as well but pointed me towards this slow cooker recipe for ribs.

Slow Cooker BBQ Ribs
Author: Melissa @ No. 2 Pencil
Recipe type: Dinner
Prep time:  
Cook time:  
Total time:  
Serves: 2-4
Slow Cooker BBQ Ribs
Ingredients
  • Baby back pork ribs – about 2.75 pounds
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • All-purpose steak seasoning or salt and pepper to taste
  • 1½ cups of BBQ sauce of choice
Instructions
  1. Season ribs and place in slow cooker with meaty part facing wall of slow cooker.
  2. Pour BBQ sauce over ribs and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
  3. Serve warm with additional BBQ sauce.
  4. Optional step: Broil ribs, in oven, on high for about 5 minutes after removing from slow cooker.
Anjay picked up the pork ribs from Aldi.  I was all ready to get started and he asked me if I wanted him to take off the fat.  Well, I didn’t know you were supposed to do that!  So sure, go ahead, and then in all honesty he ended up doing most of the work.   According to Shivani, we were team building, so its OK. 🙂
raw meat
Once we trimmed the fat, we added the seasoning and brown sugar splenda.  We had Hamburger Seasoning on hand so decided to use that.mccormick  Seasoned Ribs
We did need much more BBQ sauce then described in the recipe, probably more like 2 cups and really you need the full bottle so we had to open a 2nd.
BBQ Sauce
Finally, you stick it in the slow cooker and try to get it to stand up with the meaty side facing the outside.  We could not get it to stay up, probably because we cut it in half and maybe we shouldn’t have, so it kept falling down.  As an extra step, she told me to add some jalapenos on top to spice things up.  Let them sit for 7 hours.  If you are able to put them on the grill (weather permitting) to char, otherwise it is not needed.  Serve hot.
pre cooked

They were delicious!  We served them up with fries just like I remember eating them at Chilis and I loved them.  Thanks Shivani!

Ready to eat ribs

Show Your Husband You Love Him

Recently, I was out on a girl’s night with my husband’s sisters and cousins in Atlanta.  I told them a joke that I tell my girls all the time.  In the beginning, mommy’s heart belonged completely to Daddy, 100%.  Then when my oldest Avani was born, she instantly captured my whole heart.  When Aria came along they had to share it 50-50.  Finally the adorable rascal was born and they are now all down to 33.3333.  Boy do they like to argue about that .00001!  Of course the question was  how come your husband doesn’t get any of your heart anymore?

Beyond the joke, it raised the topic of making sure your husband knows he is a priority for you.  So I wondered, how do you actually do that?  I don’t think many of them had thought about the question, but we came up with a few:

  • Ask him how his day was
  • Make time for just the 2 of you, i.e. date nights and vacations
  • Be interested in his hobbies

At the end of the day, the one thing that was a reoccurring theme from all 5 of them was preparing his favorite home cooked meal for him.  Now mind you, I did remind them all that we are now in 2015 but that didn’t seem to matter.  The consensus was that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

Since I still haven’t mastered my way around the kitchen here are some others I have learned along the way:

  • Remind each other how you two fell in love in the first place
  • Appreciate him for all the things he does, and not what he doesn’t do
  • Encourage him to participate in raising and making decisions for the kids.  Even as simple as helping them get dressed.
  • Encourage him follow his dreams.  No matter the risk or reward, the happiness achieved is worth more.

IMG_6804

Even after 15 years with Anjay and 12 years of marriage, I still can’t claim to know it all.  Everyday is a new challenge and we have our struggles like everyone else but we haven’t killed each other yet !  Here is a list of 50 ways to show your husband you love him from some real experts, nuturingmarriage.org.

How do you show your husband you love him?  Do you think that the idea of cooking for him is old-fashioned?  Share your comments below.  Don’t forget to subscribe!

Trials and Tribulations of a Picky Eater

5:00pm – I finish up work and often it is just me and the little ones.

5:30pm – Time to start putting dinner on the table.  I have always believed in eating dinner together as a family, around the table with no distractions.  I do believe it is one of the most important things you can do for your kids.

6:00pm – Most of us are finishing up and starting to clean up.

6:30pm – Everything is cleaned up and we would be ready to continue….except there is one member of our family still sitting at the table who has barely touched her food yet.    My daughter, Aria, is sitting at the kitchen table eating ant size pieces, talking, and looking around.

6:40 pm – I sit back down with Aria to encourage her to eat her food.

6:45pm – I have lost my patience and now yelling at Aria to finish her dinner.

6:50 pm –  She has eaten 1/8 of her dinner and crying about not getting dessert.

7:00pm – She has eaten the minimally acceptable amount and puts her dishes away.  I never force her to clean her plate.  I believe that can lead to weight issues that many women in my family struggle with.  She tries to shove a whole brownie down in 2 minutes for dessert before I even had a chance to say anything.

8:00 pm – She is in the fridge, trying to figure out what she can get away with eating.

Unfortunately this is the what happens in my house 50% of the time.  I wish I was writing a blog about the magic solution to get those picky eaters to eat but I am still looking for it.  We have tried many different methods.  I thought she would grow out of it eventually like my older daughter, Avani, did.

When Avani was 2 she started to get picky about what she ate.  Eventually, we purchased some Nestle Dibs to use as a reward.  The rule was simple.   Eat 5 bites of your dinner, get a dib.  She loved chocolate so she ate it.  It was simple and it worked.  To this day, she’ll try just about anything that isn’t spicy and likes 90% of what she tries.

Aria started getting picky right around the same time, age 2.  Of course we tried the EXACT same thing.  While Aria loved chocolate even more than Avani, she would forgo the Dibs and still not eat.  Our house rule has always been that you could only eat what was served on the table.  I figured it was a phase, she was healthy, she made up with a big breakfast, and she seemed fine.

2 years went by and right before her 4th birthday, I told her that we would be implementing a new rule.  She no longer could just bypass dessert, she HAD to try 3 bites of something new before she could get up from the dinner table.  And so the extremely long dinner routine started.  By far, this has been the most effective rule to date however she is about to turn 7 in a few weeks and it is still a daily struggle after 5 years.

Here are the different methods we have tried and what our results have been.

  1. No dessert without eating your dinner – this got us nowhere fast with our stubborn one.  She was happy to not eat dessert and also not eat dinner.
  2. Proportioned dessert if you try 3 bites of something new – This has by far been the most successful but still a struggle.  It makes her at least try the food, knowing that she doesn’t have to eat much of it.  We end up at the table for over an hour.  She has found several foods that she likes that she had absolutely refused to try previously.  We eat a variety of ethnicities at our house so she has found she like Falafel, Thai Curry, Baby Corn and Turkey Meatballs to name a few (all available at Trader Joe’s).
  3. Adding a time limit – At this point, we have been sitting at the table for over an hour for several years.  I decided that we needed to implement a time limit so that she had to try what’s on the table (plus a decent amount of food in general) in less than 35 minutes.  This really hasn’t achieved anything more than a whole lot of tears.
  4. Hiding vegetables in meals – There were several ones that looked promising here.  Zucchini muffins were a hit but for entrees, she would pick apart the meal and even scrap off all the sauce of the lasagna until it was plain.
  5. Offer plain oatmeal in lieu of any meal – This is one my sister in law suggested to me recently and we are now starting to try out.  Using this tactic, we don’t force her to eat anything she doesn’t want to.  The idea being that she will eventually get sick of Oatmeal and decide to start eating other things.
  6. Get kids involved in the process – Aria actually really enjoys helping out in the kitchen.  I have been able to get her to take a few bites of a food that she put her own hard work into by having her participate from step one.  Even something GREEN!!!

Now the worst part is that she also has enlarged tonsils so if she really doesn’t like it (broccoli fits into this category) she will start gagging and even start vomiting.  Needless to say, I don’t make her try the broccoli.

If you are dealing with a picky eater like I am, my heart goes out to you!  Have you found that magic solution?  Please share what has worked and hasn’t worked for your kids. 

Digitally Design a Picture Wall

A beautiful way to display your favorite art and pictures is on a well laid out picture wall.  Personally I love having my walls filled with pictures of the things that matter to me the most, my children.  It gives personality to a home and tells a story.

According to my husband, we have too many pictures on our walls.  He also wanted to bedazzle our entire kitchen take all feedback cautiously.  If you are anything like me, you have thousands of pictures digitally saved but not printed out.  Worse yet, still only on your phone.  Half the challenge is figuring out which pictures to print out and which size to print them. In order to determine how a group of pictures will look together on the wall, you can easily simulate the picture wall digitally.  If you have a PC, you already have the software you need; PAINT!  Photoshop and other software packages that offers layers are much better if you have them.  If you don’t and don’t want to bother installing anything, Paint will do the trick.

Open Paint from Windows and turn rulers on by selecting View –  Rulers.  You do want to draw things to scale to see how things will look together.  I found using 1 inch = 10 pixels works well.  If there is enough interest, I will put together a video to show you how this is done step by step.   Please comment on the post and let me know!

If you already have frames selected measure the outside of the frame and make rectangles for each frame.   If you don’t, then go straight to picking pictures.  I had already picked out the Pottery Barn Studio Wall Easel system with discounted frames from the craft store.  You can also layout the frames on the floor to see if you can find the right layout before adding them to the design. option 1 picture wall Option 1 Option 2 Option 2

Once you have added determined the right layout,  it is time to start selecting pictures.  For each picture you are considering use Windows Snipping Tool, also already installed, copy the picture and paste it into Paint.  Resize the rectangle until it is to scale of your wall.  You want to look at the wall as a whole and not as individual pictures.  Move frames around until you find a design that appeals to you. add picture to option 1 Just by looking at my wall digitally, I quickly realized that my layouts were too crowded for the space and needed to be scaled down.  I had to remove half the frames and reduce the overall size before I found the perfect design. Final Picture Wall Once I was comfortable that the right pictures were the correct size, I could purchase appropriate frames if needed.  I am ready to print my pictures!  If you aren’t using a wall easel, put down wrapping paper on the floor and put the frames on top.  Trace the outline of each frame onto the wrapping paper.  Remove the frames and transfer the wrapping paper to the wall, secured with painters tape.  Hang the frames directly into the traced boxes and you can easily rip out the wrapping paper after the frames are up.

Picture Wall

IMG_6757

Here is an example of how I used the same method on a different wall:

kitchen picture wall2

kitchen picture wall actual