Music to Bring Us Closer

November 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Modern, Modern Living, Parenting

By Jennifer Smith


Bringing the entire family together is easier said than done. This is especially true in these modern times where computers and the Internet have all but completely taken over the lives of teenagers and young adults (and let’s face it: us parents, too). And many family-time options are costly. But music is one perfect option for bringing family together, and it doesn’t have to cost you a dime.

Consider the following ways in which music brings us closer, all of which make a case for exploring music more with your friends and family:

Learn an Instrument Yourself.  Many people feel as if they’re incapable of learning how to play music simply because they haven’t taken the time to do so yet in their lives. The fact is, however, learning to play an instrument doesn’t need to be difficult, and can be an extremely enriching and rewarding experience. You can often find big brand guitars for cheap prices by shopping the sales at your local music stores.   Lessons don’t have to expensive either. You can pursua a new interest AND spend time with your family by teaching it to them as well.


Have a Weekly Jam Session.  One of the most enjoyable aspects of learning how to play an instrument is having the opportunity to jam with other people. While family schedules can often get in the way of spending quality time at home, you can help to get your family more involved by holding a weekly jam session –every Monday night, for example. This way, you can teach your family what you’ve been learning about music, and can even invite friends over to take part in the jam. This is a fun and inexpensive way to have a truly exciting evening at home.

Encourage Your Family.  As rewarding as learning how to play music can be, it can also be an extremely frustrating experience. Those who are trying to learn a new instrument can often get discouraged throughout the process, and many decide to stop playing as a result. You should do everything possible to encourage your family members to stick with music, especially if they begin to show signs of frustration. Explain that nothing worth seeking out is easily attainable, and that music is no exception to the rule; this can be a very encouraging statement.

There is no doubt that music – be it for celebration,  expression, ambience, appreciation -has the power to bring people together.  Remember to utilize music with your family time as often as possible.


Get the Creativity Back

November 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Modern, Modern Living

By Jennifer Smith

When you were a kid you were probably encouraged to participate in creative activities ranging from drawing and painting classes in elementary school, to music and art classes in high school. However, as you’ve gotten older, you may have lost some of that creative spark simply because financial responsibilities and the need to take care of your family took over.

Making a little time in your life to do something creative is an excellent way to relieve stress and have a little fun in your downtime. Creative activities can also keep your brain active as you age, which may be an important part of preventing problems like Alzheimer’s disease, according to recent medical research.

Take Music Lessons

If you’re like most people, you would love to be able to play an instrument. Learning to play an instrument can be a great way to flex your creative muscles, and there are fortunately a lot of places to get help, like It does not matter if you choose to play the piano, guitar, violin, or a brass instrument.

All these great instruments will help you take on a rewarding and challenging hobby. With the resources of the Internet, want ads, word of mouth, and more, music lesson tips and resources.



If you are pressed for time and always feel like you have somewhere to be, but want to work a creative activity into your day, drawing may be for you. Drawing is a simple activity since it doesn’t require a lot of setup time and materials. All you need to begin drawing is a pencil and a sketch pad – if you enjoy the activity, you can invest in higher-quality art materials like charcoal, colored pencils, and archival quality paper so you can keep your drawings.

If you don’t know what to draw, just draw something in your house or purchase a basic skill book. Such books provide exercises and scenes in which you can set up household items like fruit in a basket or a vase with flowers in it.

Watercolor Painting

Watercolor painting is one of the best creative activities you can do if you are looking to relieve the stress of a busy day. Like drawing, watercolor painting is fairly simple and doesn’t require a lot of expensive materials or setup time. To start watercolor painting, all you really need is a book of watercolor paper or loose sheets of paper made specifically for watercolor painting, a set of watercolor paints, watercolor brushes, a mixing tin, and an easel. Many art supply stores even sell packages of watercolor items for low prices.

C’mon Rembrandt, we adults need our “choice time” too.  Explore your creative side again – just like when you were a kid.



Sending Holiday Cards This Year

November 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Modern, Modern Living

By Jennifer Smith


It’s that time of year again and you’ve probably been thinking about getting your holiday cards in the mail. Whether or not your family and friends admit it, they do enjoy receiving your card. Many look forward to checking the mailbox around the holidays because they often receive cards from all kinds of relatives with pictures and good wishes. This is a fun part of the holiday and it all starts with designing your card.

You don’t have to create the typical card with just a family picture and a message that says “Happy Holidays”. With the right online options, you can choose a custom template and make the card your own. The entire family can be involved and you can even include your pets in the card. Holiday cards by Invitation Box, for example, can help you create a fun and enjoyable card for everybody.

Designing the Perfect Holiday Card

Your family is very unique and you all have a personality you share. This should be a part of your card every year. The first step whenever you need to design a card is to choose the theme. This may be the most difficult part of the entire process. Most families already have a picture ready for the card, so choosing the theme is the part they struggle with, especially since there are so many choices.

The best way to choose a theme is to browse through and pick a handful that you really like. Get the kids involved and make it a family experience. This can be fun and the entire family should have some input. Narrow it down to three to five different choices and find out which one the whole family likes the most. Kids get excited when they get to help, especially the younger ones.

After you’ve chosen a theme, you can customize it a little with different colors, fonts, and the actual message of your card. All of these changes can reflect your family in personality and how you want your card to look. Just because your friends and other family members might choose a more basic theme, font, or colors, doesn’t mean you have to. Remember, this is your holiday card and you can make it look however, you want.

A few other things you may want to consider: the size of the card, whether you want to use both sides or just one, a card that folds or one of many other options. When Mom, Dad and all the kids get together and choose the card, it will be a fun experience. Making this a family tradition can also help make the card reflect your family and your family’s personality.


It’s Workin’ For Us: Project Closet Nursery!

October 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Modern, Modern Living

By Shira Gill, Simply Sorted
We have two kids now. Soooo…we decided we needed a three-bedroom. But we have a two-bedroom. We needed to make our space work for us and fast! It only took three days and under one hundred dollars to transform a spare closet into a nursery for Baby Emilie! I must say we are pretty pleased with the results and did everything on a dime. Our fabulous friend, Mahnee, sewed the quilt and curtains faster than a speeding bullet and all we bought was a cozy rug and some fabric. We are feeling very New York-y and industrious. Hooray!! PS. Please don’t judge me for putting my kid in the closet. It is only a temporary solution. She sleeps really well in there. And there’s a window…

BEFORE: A large utility closet used to be a catch-all for the vacuum cleaner, kid stuff, and to-dos. We had to relocate everything to prepare for the new nursery!

AFTER: A cozy rug, new lighting, and some handmade curtains did the trick on a dime!

We added a few toys and dolls to make it a bit cozier.

Amazing what a carpet can do to warm up a space!

Any creative uses for your closets? Share, please!


The Suitcase Challenge

August 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Modern, Modern Living

By: Shira Gill



I recently packed for a road trip to Los Angeles with the family. Our car has limited space once the four of us are packed in so I had to be selective. I packed carefully, choosing my favorite simple separates, a few shoe options, a mama bag and a hot mama bag, a few accessories, and called it a day. Everything I packed fit into one small duffle bag, and I spent the whole trip feeling like I had all I needed. Not only that –it was such a breeze getting ready each day because I only had a few options and everything went together!

It got me thinking, “what if I lived like this all the time?” When you have less stuff you also have less laundry, less time obsessing over what to wear, and less to store and organize. I encourage you to give this philosophy a try: Just for a week try living on the essentials that would fit in one suitcase. Live simply with less stuff and see how it feels.


You can find more on Shira Gill at Simply Sorted


How to Save Money on Gas

April 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Eco, Modern Living

By: Karla Wheaton


With the current tensions in Libya and other countries in the Middle East, the price of gasoline keeps going up and up. Gas prices near where I live are around $3.50 to $3.60 a gallon. This also comes at a time when many families’ budgets are already stretched to the max.

I don’t know about you, but this situation has me thinking. What can you do to save money on gas while also using less fuel to help the environment?

What can you do to your vehicle?

  • Minimize the weight you are carrying around in your car by cleaning out the extra clothes, kids’ sports equipment, and bags of items to donate to charity from your trunk.
  • Be sure to check your tire pressure regularly. Under-inflated tires can increase your fuel cost up to thirteen percent.
  • Take care of your car by keeping up with regular maintenance and changing your spark-plugs.
  • Use regular gas instead of premium. There is little difference in energy content between the two, but the premium can cost twenty to forty cents more per gallon.
  • Don’t top off your gas tank at the pump and make sure your fuel tank cap is on tight and working right.
  • Keep your luggage inside your car if possible. Using a loaded roof rack increases fuel consumption.

What can you do while driving?

  • Drive as if you don’t have brakes and be gentle with the accelerator.
  • Avoid idling. If you are waiting for someone and you’ll be parked for ten seconds or longer, turn off your car’s engine. Turning off the engine and then restarting it uses less fuel than idling for any time more than ten seconds. For every two minutes a car is idling, it uses about the same amount of fuel it takes to go about one mile. Idling is also linked to increases in asthma, allergies, heart and lung disease, and cancer.
  • Go slower up hills and faster down them.
  • Park in the first spot you find rather than driving around for another one. Also park for easy and direct departure.
  • In a hybrid, pulse and glide. How does it work? Say you are on a road and want to go sixty miles per hour. Instead of driving along at a steady sixty, you accelerate to seventy (that’s the pulse), and then coast in neutral with the engine off down to fifty (that’s the glide.) This technique can save gas with a hybrid, because you are basically using no gas at all during the glide.
  • During the colder months, “warming up your car” really only needs to take thirty seconds rather than ten minutes.
  • Don’t drive too fast. One of the biggest gasoline wasters is excess speed. Gas mileage usually decreases rapidly with speeds above fifty-five miles per hour.
  • Use the air conditioner less. It can increase fuel costs from thirteen percent up to twenty-one percent.

What sort of lifestyle changes can you make?

  • Limit your driving. Find more fun things to do closer to home. Use public transportation like the bus or a train when you can. Carpool, walk, or take your bike. Work at home if your boss will let you.
  • Find the best gas prices. The website will let you know what the prices are by town or city and then by gas station in your state. Fuel prices can vary ten percent within a few blocks.
  • If you have one close by, buy your gas from a discount store like Sam’s or Costco. It doesn’t make much sense to drive too far out of your way to get to one of these places, though.
  • Limit your purchases when prices are high. Only fill your tank up halfway when they are higher and completely fill your tank when they are lower.
  • Buy a different vehicle – a diesel, a hybrid, a smaller car, a motorcycle, a scooter, or alternative fuel cars such as those that run on biodiesel, compressed natural gas, electricity, or ethanol.
  • Instead of having two cars in your family, share one. My husband and I shared one car while we were saving up to buy our home. We saved money by paying less for insurance, car maintenance costs, taxes, and inspection fees.

Some of these tips may seem obvious, but let them serve as good reminders. Even if we can’t run out and buy a hybrid, at least there are some things that we all can do to save some money and help save the planet.

One last thought – in Europe they pay 5.64 Euro or about $7.85 per gallon for gas. Why so much? It is mostly because of taxes. Is that crazy or just really smart? Look how many more people walk, bike, or use public transportation in European countries than in the United States.



[Photo Credit: TahoeSunsets]


How to Adopt a Baby

By: Katherine Malmo

1. Talk to friends and friends of friends about their experiences.

2. Try not to get lost driving around foreign neighborhoods looking for a community center that will host the Journeys of the Love, Hope, Heart, Blessed-Child’s Dream of the Christ’s Open Adoption agency meeting.

3. Ask the social workers what programs/countries will let you adopt if you are single, over 40, in a same-sex relationship, and/or a cancer survivor.

4. Choose the agency that can answer your question.

5. Get fingerprinted, background-checked, dig up the value of your house, find pay stubs, photocopy bank statements, get friends to write references, find your dog’s vaccination records, have the pet store where you purchased your fish sign an affidavit of its health, make a list of every illness you’ve ever had, dig up the name of your third grade teacher who could verify that indeed your favorite color was lavender, make a list of your stuffed animals and their names and how well you took care of each and every one of them, and promise, that if they could talk, they would guarantee that, if given the opportunity, you’d be the bestest mother ever.

6. Ponder questions for your autobiography like, how do your parents feel about education? Resist the urge to say they hate education and schools and especially do-gooder teachers, but that they also hate puppies and kittens, rainbows and balloons. Do not say your parents are puppy-kicking balloon-poppers.

7. Invite a social worker into your home and show her that you keep your medicines locked away, your fire ladder in the baby-to-be’s room, and your floors shiny-clean.

8. Wait.

9. Wait.

10. Wait.

11. Try not to punch the social worker who says you seem really anxious about this when you’re waiting to hear from a prospective birth mother.

12. Make a spreadsheet with everything an infant could possibly need –from diaper wipes and burp cloths to gliders and strollers –while you wait.

13. Decide you’re sick of waiting and start researching other options/agencies. Find the notes from friends of friends you talked to ages ago.

14. Resist the urge to get a tiny dog or a gerbil or any other small animal that you can carry in your purse. Resist. A Chihuahua is, in fact, not a baby.

15. Find an independent facilitator. Send her your homestudy.

16. Don’t let her pressure you into a situation that isn’t right for you.

17. When she yells at you, you may want to tell her she should be ashamed. You may stop talking to her.

18. Hand the phone to your spouse when she calls a week later. She’ll tell him your baby has been born.

19. Leave a bag of dog food on the back porch and, on the way to the airport, ask your parents to come get your dog.

20. When you meet your baby, she may be wrapped in a purple hand-knit blanket and have an orange bow stuck to her head with a dab of maple syrup.

21. Spend 3 weeks in a rented condo/bachelor pad.

22. You may dream that you can’t find your baby buried in your bedding and you may wake up pulling the sheets off your bed panicked. Totally normal.

23. Go ahead and check your three giant bags and a boxed-up pack-n-play on your way home. The airline will look the other way.

24. When you get home, open your doors to your friends and family. Let them love her. Take their pictures with her. Let them celebrate. They’ve been waiting too.

25. You may run into her room while she’s sleeping to be sure she’s still breathing. Also totally normal.

26. Dress her in tiny hand-knit socks and hats. Take pictures.

27. Put her in a swing. Take a picture. Watch her crawl. Take a picture. Put a ponytail in her hair. Take a picture. Put her in the snow. Put her in the water. Lean her against the dog. Take pictures, pictures, pictures.

28. Go to the courthouse and have your picture taken with the judge who finalizes the adoption.

29. Put all these pictures in a book. Read her story to her. When she’s two she may ask who the man is in the picture at the courthouse. You’ll tell her he’s the man who said you’d be her mommy forever and ever. She just might kiss him and say Thank you!

30. You may be exhausted and, probably, very grateful you didn’t punch anyone in the face, call your parents puppy-kicking balloon-poppers, or get a tiny dog or gerbil or other small animal that could fit in your purse.

Katherine Malmo is the Norwegian-American mother of an African-American three year old who loves Curious George, Mavis Staples and cookies; and the wife of an extremely likeable software engineer with a fondness for roadside furniture and a habit of whistling in his sleep. In 2005 Katherine was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer and spent a year in treatment. These days she is cancer-free and blogs about her family, adoption, race, health and living a low-toxin life at HystericalMommyNetwork. Her book, Who in This Room, will be available in October 2011.


Modern Living: Simply Sorted

May 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Modern Living

By: Shira Gill, Personal Organizer

Modern living is hectic enough as it is, but once you introduce kids into the equation, keeping your life simple and organized can seem like an impossible dream.

As a new mom and a professional organizer, I have learned that sometimes it only takes a few minutes to see big results. Conquering the clutter will restore your energy and bring calm and balance into your life. Here are a few simple tips to get you started:

1. Refrigerator makeover!

First, toss anything that has expired or gone bad. Next, ditch the junk and replace it with healthful alternatives. Skip the soda and make spa water by filling a few glass pitchers with water, lemon and cucumber slices or fresh herbs. Instead of buying TV dinners loaded with salt and preservatives, try making a lasagna or turkey meatloaf that can be frozen in individual portions. Store nuts, veggies and fresh fruit in grab-and-go containers so you’ll have healthy snacks when you’re on the move.

2. Ready, Set…Clean!

Feeling short on time? Get the whole family involved by challenging them to a clean up race. Set your kitchen timer for 10 minutes and use the time to toss stray trash and return misplaced items to their correct homes. When the timer “dings!” everyone will be shocked at how much they were able to accomplish in such a short time. Celebrate by playing a game or indulging in a yummy dessert.

3. Mail Overload!

Use a standing file with dividers to store all incoming mail. Designate one day a week for bill paying, scheduling, and responding to invites and you’ll never have to worry about overdue notices or overlooked obligations. Recycle the trash and junk mail right away. You can also reduce junk mail by canceling unwanted catalogs and opting out of unsolicited commercial mail for five years by contacting The Direct Marketing Association. To register with DMA’s Mail Preference Service, go to

4. Important Everything Holder

Ever panicked because you can’t remember where you stowed the key to your safe deposit box or your child’s birth certificate? Take the guesswork out by creating an “important everything holder” and storing it in a safe place in your home. Mine has everything from family passports to treasured photos and my original wedding DVD. Any time I need to locate one of these crucial items, I know just where to find it.

5. Bedroom Bliss

Need a vacation but short on time and/or funds? Splurge on some fresh flowers and a scented candle and make the bed with your best set of sheets. Take a few minutes to straighten up, leaving the floors and surfaces as minimal as possible. Put on your favorite CD or iPOD play list. Your bedroom will be transformed into a chic retreat in no time. Now you just have to promise to relax!

Shira Gill is the founder of Simply Sorted and Simply Sorted Baby and keeps things tidy in the SF Bay Area. For information and to sign up for her free monthly newsletter please visit