Finding a Winter Happy Place

With Mother Nature out to destroy our fair state of Michigan with her hideous winter weather we must find solace somewhere.

In the summer you can take a walk, go have a picnic in the park, play endlessly at the park, go to the beach, sit outside of a quaint coffee shop and enjoy a lovely caffeinated beverage while pouring over a great book. And they are relatively inexpensive! Oh yes, you feel like a new you – so does your family!

In the winter none of this is possible, in the winter you experience endless weeks of cold weather, bleak washed out faces and a general feeling that your soul has been sucked out by Mother Nature. (Thanks Dear.)

Many winter activities tend to be expensive too. Want your kids to go romp around in the big inflatable play center? That will be $10. Per person. Food? $30. Per Person. Enjoy. So you find yourself scrambling to do something to let the kiddies work off some energy and you build up some strength without a money tree.

May I present to you the mall play area.

Before I became a parent I swore I would NEVER, NOT EVER, allow my perfect peanut to play in the germ pool that is the mall play area. You would want to hose your child down with purell  after the experience. But I get it now.

When your child has taken to jumping from couch to couch, has clocked loved ones in the head with blocks and is now running into a wall for 10 minutes straight screaming, you know your child has gone haywire and will need to be reset.

The baby manual never explained where that reset button is. It never told you how to manage this crazy-gone-off-the-deep-end-cabin-fever behavior. You must be resourceful.

My I present again, the mall play area. AGAIN

As long as your kid has socks, is less than 4 feet tall (they s-t-r-e-t-c-h this rule. No pun intended.) You are good to go!

A great place for them to interact with other kids, to learn how to share, to learn to be bold and actually climb the play toys versus look at them. To be mindful of their actions and cautious, experience cause and effect, as well as to let loose and get a bit sweaty and tired out for the perfect three-hour blessed nap.

Avoiding the pitfalls of banana slices in the road.

Avoiding the pitfalls of banana slices in the road.

But to make sure it’s a good experience for all involved, try not to be one of those parents. Simple things to keep in mind:

1. Don’t talk on your phone the whole time. Your child wants you to “watch me, watch me, watch me, watch me….” This is a big deal to them that they just climbed up the shredded wheat. WAY TO GO!

2. Don’t only react to the negative… “Don’t climb up that way.” “Let go of her hair!” Your child might be doing some of this to get attention. Try reacting to the good stuff too. They might like the praise better than the verbal tear down.

3. Don’t be a helicopter parent… we don’t like you. Hover, lift, hover, help, hover, hover, hover, “let me” … hover. STOP. Let your child struggle a little, maybe they could climb that banana but you keep doing it for them. How will they EVER LEARN? You gonna zip up their coat in college? Hope not, otherwise you’ll have bigger problems. Make sure the help is age-appropriate. An 18-month-old child needs more help than a 4-year-old, adjust as necessary, but for the love of God, let them breathe and experience.

4. The mall play area is not a baby sitting service. The other parents are not babysitters. Don’t leave to go check a sale at a nearby store. Don’t let your kid run all the way down the mall concourse before you notice. Bad parent, bad.

Once you get this under your belt, this happy place away from home, which is free and enjoyed by the public can become your wintertime oasis to regenerate and rejuvenate. Attend. Enjoy. Disinfect. Attend. Repeat.

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Food Gems and Other Unexpected Gourmet Finds in Grand Rapids – Part 1

We are spoiled. Spoiled rotten when it comes to great food and awesome restaurants to frequent in our fair town.

Grand Rapids Michigan has truly become a mini mecca of fantastic restaurants that are unique to our city. We have breweries like Founders just steps away from my office building (beer Fridays are a regular thing), we have fancy sea food spots like Leo’s and Spanish tapas to our hearts desire from San Chez. So naturally we come to expect excellence and can become a bit, well, snobbish about our dining experiences.

I was recently pleasantly surprised by a great dining establishment over a recent weekend. It’s nothing new, it’s not reinventing food preparation, it doesn’t strive to be the first or most famous, but the place is just plain good.

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Courtesy of the Cheshire Grill

This post is dedicated to our experience at Cheshire Grill on Plainfield.

On Friday, Valentine’s Day to be exact, Adam and I went out to lunch (upon his insistence) to Cheshire Grill. This is not a new restaurant, in fact we have passed it hundreds of times in the almost six years that we’ve lived in this neighborhood. So what tempted us to go? Adam happened to meet the owner a few days prior when the gentleman stepped into Adam’s store to buy an office phone. That’s it, that’s what did it. Fast forward to Valentine’s day, we are seated in this adorable little diner filled with “regulars.” We are not regulars, and everyone, including us is aware of it.

I proceeded to order the Stormin’ Norman, an impressively tall concoction with a juicy all-beef patty, applewood smoked bacon, raspberry coleslaw (yes, you read that correctly,) cheddar cheese, raspberry BBQ sauce (yes, it does exist,) gracefully presented on a Sun dried tomato swirl rye – which they make themselves. I overheard a patron at another table wonder how I would manage to handle my tall sandwich. I inhaled that tall meal without hesitation. It was seriously the best burger I have EVER had. That shut him up. Why was it so good? Simple, all fresh ingredients, made from scratch, including the bread. A perfect balance of crunchy, meaty, tasty, cheesy and slightly sweet result.

Adam went with the Spicy Monster. Screen shot 2014-02-20 at 10.44.05 PMHis burger was bold in flavor with a spice level that snuck up on you and punched you quickly in the mouth, it hid among its tasty layers: jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, chipotle ketchup and sriracha mayo. Adam knows better than to withhold meal samples from me, so I was able to taste test this meaty meal as well. The chipotle ketchup brought a level of smokiness while the cream sriracha mayo provided a sneaky spice that encourages lots of “beveraging.”

So what happened after this meal? Well I have talked about it ever since, we thanked the owner and told him we’d be back. And we were, that Sunday. That is when I experienced the BEST french toast (nay, french toast CAKE) I could imagine. Screen shot 2014-02-20 at 10.40.25 PMWell, how many places do you know that create a red velvet cake-like french toast that seems absolutely magical? With handmade chocolate hearts and white chocolate drizzle, dusted with powdered sugar? Adam opted for a more traditional omelette platter with a generous helping of ham and mushrooms, America fries and homemade berry jam (there are no jam packets in this place.)

Each plate was presented artistically and deliciously. Cheshire Grill, we salute you.

I Love Thee Let Me Count the Unconventional Ways

Over the years Adam and I have really gotten to know each other (numerous years of dating and over seven years of marriage is likely to do that), but I still find myself pleasantly surprised by him.

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Valentine’s Day weekend proved to reinforce the “unconventional” part of love. Adam is a wonderful spouse, he is funny, he is very smart, he takes excellent care of our mini man and last, but not least, he is handsome. Oh he has done the conventional before –  flowers, chocolates, gifts and treats for this, the most “Cupid” of the holidays. But I’d like to focus on the atypical ways that he shows me truly cares.

#1. Planning a meal out. I am a planner to my core, but I love it when someone takes the time to research some plans for us. That weekend Adam insisted we tried Cheshire Grill (it’s a cute little diner in our neighborhood that I will cover more in my next post.) I wouldn’t have ever considered it, but I was so glad he invited me there. I ate the best burger I have ever had. sigh. love.

#2. Being kind to others. Nothing is sexier than a man who is helpful and kind to others. I especially experienced this during Henry’s Valentine’s Day party at his daycare. We went there to hang out with our mini man, but Adam ended up reading to a little guy whose parents couldn’t come to the party. They read about Pete the Cat rockin’ in his shoes. sigh.

#3. Traditional acts of chivalry. Dust off your manners and suit up. Just because Adam does something traditional like open a door or pull out my chair, I am not checking my feminism at the door, in fact I don’t expect these actions all the time.  However, it’s nice to have your chair pulled out, the door opened, a helpful hand given etc. from time to time. It reminds me he cares with these small unspoken deeds.

#4. Buying a meaningful gift. Gifts are not necessary, but when they happen they are appreciated, especially when they are thoughtful. So you need to know your audience. Adam knows I love Downtown Abbey, he found an interesting book about how lives differed for servants and the families that lived upstairs. I couldn’t put it down all weekend. He also spied a Red Wings t-shirt he knew I’d love. Well done. I am now fashionable and well read.

#5. Unique and quirky signs of love. 1656084_10152336723543949_1663994258_nThis category I feel is actually most important. I have two examples here. I was getting ready for church and running behind (shocking, I know). This means no breakfast and no coffee… until I heard a knock at the door. In comes a hot, steaming cup of coffee with a ceramic lid to keep things warm and hairspray-free. YAY!

After church I wanted to visit my Dad. I didn’t really consider the fact that the cemetery doesn’t get plowed in between the grave markers so…. you will need to climb into some deep snow to visit a loved one. Yeah… we don’t own sled dogs or snow shoes. 1922404_10152337003788949_1715594149_nAdam trudged ahead in thigh-high snow in some places so I could step into his footsteps and get just a bit less snow on me. This was a win-win, I didn’t end up with as much snow, Adam was my hero and my Dad was able to witness our comedic approached pierced with my periodic screams as I’d sink too deeply.

#6. Show you care every day. Small things matter more than gifts, fancy dinners out and chocolates. Throughout the week I get to experience this kind of love, with shared bedtime reading so I am able to catch up on Downtown Abbey or have extra time to workout. I find sushi tucked away in the fridge to enjoy on a night Adam works late. The car is out of the garage, ready and warmed for my daycare drop off. Lovely, just lovely.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of love, it may work for one couple but not another. It is unique to the couple and it can be expressed through kind words, actions, thoughtfulness, a good laugh and an all-around-bit of help when it’s needed.

The Secret Life of Book Clubs…

I am part of the CCLFSMOA book club. There I said it, now I will have to kill you because the secret’s out.

But before your demise I will explain a bit because I am sure you are wondering what our rolls-off-the-tongue acronym stands for. Well it represents the ties that bind, we are the ladies of the Crazy Cat Ladies, Future Soccer Moms of America book club. Ironically enough, as our members joined we realized that we fell into one or both categories and so the name suck, unofficially, only in my head, to be honest.

Book clubs, like the human race, can be a fickle fickle thing. The member numbers might ebb and flow, the wrong books might be chosen *cough* Jacqui *cough*, but somehow we survive. Why? Because we inadvertently have a set of rules.

The first rule about book club is:

1. There is no book club. Well it wasn’t meant to be. I love books and I read them, yes, this might be a shock to people who, at most, only read cereal boxes. But in the course of reading books you find one or two you like, you like them so well you tell a friend. This friend, because she is like minded and awesome like yourself, has read it too. Next thing you know you are swilling some wine and swapping what you love and hate about the plots and characters. Easy peasy.

Screen shot 2014-02-03 at 12.58.53 PM2. Don’t recruit,  it makes you look weak and it sets up expectations. Our book club started with two people who loved the same books, I was looking for additional titles for us to read and a third friend suggested The Historian, (excellent book by the way) she said once we were done she wanted to join the conversation.

and now there were 3.

3. If in a public setting you mention your non book club book club and how much fun you are having, people will start to volunteer to join. Success! More schedules to coordinate and more titles to consider. Which is okay. This shows genuine interest in what you are doing resulting in like-minded readers joining your troops.

4. Only set the bare minimum number of rules. Rules kill fun, rule-plagued anything moderates the amount of fun you can have. Scientific fact. It’s a buzz kill no matter how much wine is shared. So we kept ours simple:

a. We rotate who coordinates the meetings – keeps things from becoming a “cheerocracy.”
Screen shot 2014-02-03 at 1.01.54 PMb. We vote, since each person brings along a unique perspective you don’t want to get stuck with only a select few choosing books. Then, if the book sucks *cough* Jaqcui and the Elegance of a Hedgehog *cough* then you aren’t always held accountable. Eventually the blame fades.
c. A book club is a social club, make sure that the places you suggest to meet are fun, have alcohol or are kid friendly (if some hapless members are toting one around *cough* me *cough*).
d. Always choose the next coordinator, unless you want your next book club meeting to be six months from now. Because that is roughly the amount of time it takes for someone to remember that you’ve all forgotten.
e. Rotate the types of books you read. For a while we were heavy up on the teen lit, it ticked some folks off. Try stepping outside of the box, biography, short stories, thriller, some teen lit, or a classic. That’s how you might discover: Empty Mansions, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Light Between Two Oceans or The Shadow of the Wind.

Beyond that, just have fun. The coordinator suggests dates, places to eat/converse, and books for consideration.

Presto! Book club accomplished.

Now forget everything I told you because the first rule of book club…