Happy New Year

Happy New Year's Eve to you and yours.  We have a pretty low key New Year's Eve lined up for tonight; a plateful of homemade pierogis (courtesy of yours truly), a chilled bottle of pink champagne, and a sweet baby cozy in her crib.  We have a lot to be thankful for in 2014.

Happy New Year!  Cheers to all the goodness ahead in 2015!



Quote of the Week

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~ T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

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Dinner Last Night: Pan Roasted Steak with Creamed Kale

I ripped this recipe from my Real Simple magazine over a month ago, and it's been taunting me ever since, as if to say "make me, make me" every time I glimpse it lying there watchful on the counter.  Well, I finally did make it, and creamed kale might just be the next great way to eat your veggies!  We cheated and went with a pre-marinated steak from Trader Joe's, but the creamed kale and cannellini bean concoction was a stellar (and might I add, healthy) side, one I will definitely be making again!

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2014 Goals Recap

2014 went by in a blur…My daughter started the year at just 4 months of age, and is now just on the cusp of her 16 month birthday.  In this short expanse of time, she's changed and flourished before our eyes.  Milestone after milestone of laughter, babbling chatter, and messy hair-in-your-face smiles later, here we are at the dawn of a new calendar year.

These were my goals for 2014, here's my own critical review of how I did…

+ Maintain balance
I feel like this will be a goal of mine for the rest of my life, as I think it merits a weekly, if not daily reminder.  Balance is essential, and to "have it all," balance is everything.  Ultimately, I think I've done a pretty good job at balancing my home life, my work, my time with my husband, family, and friends.  Heading back to work in January was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.  I had a bit of a mini-emotional breakdown in the few days before I was slated to return to teaching.   And now, 12 months later, after the start of a new school year, I pride myself on the balance I have established between work and home, being a mother and a 1st grade teacher, because in all honesty, it definitely did not occur overnight.  I think, what I've most importantly learned is that everything in life ebbs and flows, there are times when the schedule is brimming with obligations, when a million little loose ends need tying up, but there are also times of lulling calm. I invest my time much differently now than I ever did prior to life as a parent.  My time is more valuable than it's ever been, but I recognize this now in a way that I couldn't have understood in my previous life.  

+ Explore and discover
We venture to a few destinations in 2014: Bozeman, Montana; Ojai, California; Los Angeles, California; and Kona, Hawaii - all with a baby.  However, what I truly meant by this goal was to see life through my daughter's eyes, and I think we did our very best at that, putting down the camera to enjoy the moment of discovery in actuality.  I want to be able to say I lived my life in the present, not just through a snippet of film I witnessed live behind a screen.

+ Meal Planning
Yes!  Hoo-rah!  I even posted about it here.

+ Be active
Well this goal I admit, I wasn't the best at achieving.  Returning to work full time, with a baby - now toddler - is exhausting, especially when my full time job is corralling, listening to, and teaching 26 eager, curious, and exuberant first graders.  That and a bout of the flu, followed by pneumonia in late October which sidelined me from any activity for a month didn't help.  But now I'm just making excuses.  This will be a goal for 2015, you can bet on it…

+ Unplug, write letters, call friends
I tried on this one. I wish I could say "I tried my best," but frankly, that isn't true.  It is hard to unplug.  While I'd prefer reading blogs to social media such as Twitter or Facebook, I have a strange attraction to instagram, I truly enjoy viewing photos of friends near and far.  As much as I've tried to limit my own "screen time," until after my daughter goes to bed, it is a challenge, and I need to remind myself to unplug often.  Not helping in this department, my work email syncs on my phone, which frequently has me reading a message from a parent, student, or colleague after hours more than I'd like.  However, with written correspondence, I think I have upped my ante, especially with my sister moving to Spain for the year, I have even more reason to write letters.  I've made a conscious effort to send photos and cards to my in-laws and my husband's family in Michigan, updating them with visuals of our daughter's growth. 

So…all in all, not too bad.  What are your goals for 2015?

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Uncommon Stocking Stuffers & A Giveaway

In search of the perfect, yet uncommon gift for that special someone?  Here are some uncommon stocking stuffers I sought out for my family and friends...
Deluxe empanada fork.
(Or in my case, pierogi fork).  My Christmas kitchen pick!  My husband's side of the family is Polish and pierogis, galumki (stuffed cabbage), and kapusta (sauerkraut) are the staple of Christmas dinner when we celebrate with his family.  This fork is ideal since it crimps the edges of empanadas, pierogis, and piroshkys alike!  
For my husband, who appreciates the value of fresh herbs, especially as we've sadly tossed a few recent bunches of cilantro after they turned slimy in their plastic bag.  This baby allows herbs to keep their stems immersed in water for hydration, helping retain the true flavors and textures needed for cooking.  
For that friend (or sister…) who soaks up all the oil and vinegar when you're out to eat.  Now she can replicate restaurant quality infused oils at home to serve with freshly baked (er…bought) bread!   Bonus: no pan, sautéing, or clean up required!
For that friend channeling their inner Julia Child or Ina Garten, bringing the best of Barefoot Contessa into your own kitchen.  Because who doesn't love butter…am I right?
For my mom, who'd always prefer lemon water over ice if it was available.  These little guys would definitely add a little pep to summertime lemonade or iced tea.  Meyer lemon ice anyone?

* * *

Today's giveaway is from Uncommon Goods, the shop where you can find any of these fabulous kitchen items featured above.   

All of these Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers featured can be found at Uncommon Goods, based out of Brooklyn, New York.  Most of the products available Uncommon Goods are made in the USA, half are handmade, and and one third are recycled and/or upcycled materials.  Part of their company mission is a great respect for the integrity of the creative individual and a responsibility to impact the world in a positive way.  Also, $1 of any purchases are donated to a non-profit of your choice.  Since Uncommon Goods' founding in 1999, their Better to Give program has donated just shy of $1,000,000!

Today they're offering a $25 gift card.  TO ENTER: visit Uncommon Goods and leave a comment below stating your favorite item.  Here's a selection of gifts under $50! A winner will be chosen at random NEXT Sunday.  Good luck! 

* * *

* Thank you to Uncommon Goods for sponsoring this post.  And thank you for supporting the companies that support this blog.
images/uncommongoods

Movie Night: Inside Out

Normally, I wait to see animated movies once they've been released to DVD, especially with movies being so spendy these days (anyone remember the $3 matinee??)  However, this new Pixar movie, Inside Out looks like it might be theater-worthy.  I laughed out loud watching this preview!  It comes out Summer 2015.  What do you think?

Home Alone at the Symphony

Is watching Home Alone one of your holiday traditions?  Even years later, this movie reminds me of Christmas, the music, the cheeky one-liners, "ya filthy animal," and all.  Here's a new way to see a holiday oldie but goodie,  watch Home Alone while the San Francisco symphony performs the accompanying score.  Here's a preview…

Weeknight Baking: Ginger Pear Skillet Cake

I may have found my favorite new holiday dessert - and surprise, it doesn't contain a hint a peppermint! For my annual girls Christmas get-together, I made this Ginger Pear Skillet Cake.  I had good intentions to start baking right after work, but after dinner, R's bedtime routine, a show, and my daily blog roll, suddenly it was 9:00.  So, rather than lay my head to sleep around 9:30 per usual, I channeled my inner Martha-Stewart-elf and baked.  Thankfully my first attempt was a success.  

This cake is quite dense, but the ginger-clove-nutmeggy yumminess is palatable and makes your kitchen smell divine!   First, I wasn't able to scrounge up our trusty old skillet, probably still in some unmarked box somewhere in our new house, but a pie pan worked just fine.  Second, the recipe calls for fresh ginger, which I rarely have on hand, so I just added a few dashes more of powdered ginger, seemed to do the trick.  Last, the recipe claims 60 minutes for baking - which was not the case for me, closer to 1:15 or 1:20 (and my oven runs hot).  I did cover with foil for the last 20 or so minutes as to not scorch the pear topping.  I used Bosc pears per the recipe's suggestion, and they held up nicely  atop the finished product.  My friends seemed to like it and even asked for the recipe which is always a good sign, right?  

Happy eating!

Christmas Decor

This year, now that we are settled in our new, cozy home, Christmas decorating is so much more meaningful and exciting!  Last year, we had just moved into a condo as a way station between selling our previous house and moving into a new home.  In the midst of unpacking, organizing, and caring for a 3-month old, I was reluctant to buy hang decorations for fear of putting unwanted holes in the walls, but now, my decorating enthusiasm is palpable!  Here are some of my favorite decorations for 2014.
map of the North Pole postcards by Rifle Paper Co.
print from how the grinch stole christmas

What Christmas decor are you eyeing this season?

Fall Favorites: TJ's dark chocolate covered peppermint Joe Joe's

Have you had these?  Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered peppermint Joe Joe's.  It's all the flavors of Christmas wrapped up in one delicious chocolatey-pepperminty bite.  As I was searching for images of this coveted cookie, I even spied someone selling them on Amazon!  Talk about marking up a holiday product!  This is one of my favorite store bought cookies of the season, now let's see if any are left on the shelf at my next grocery adventure...

image/flickr

Giraffes in Danger

A news article popped up on my Facebook feed the other day, and I can't seem to get it out of my mind, the title read "Giraffes in Danger of Extinction."  As a result of poaching and habitat loss, giraffe populations across Africa are dropping at a rapid rate.  They called it "a silent extinction," stating "numbers have gone down from 140,000 to fewer than 80,000 today."  Isn't that terrible?  According to the article, poaching is a significant problem, as a giraffe is a relatively easy kill to hunters, and can yield a substantial amount of meat and resources to local tribes.

I have always regarded giraffes as beautiful, majestic animals.  The hopeful travel bug in me has always imagined that one day I'll Africa, and have the opportunity to see a giraffe in its natural habitat.  I sincerely hope my family and I have will still have that opportunity years from now.

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Holiday Cards Are Here!

Tis the season for...holiday cards!  I don't know about you, but I'm taking full advantage of the Cyber Monday deals and steals over at Tiny Prints - 40% off holiday cards, using the code CYBER40 through 12/2. And, if you are up late tonight, add the code FLASH1202 and you'll save an extra 10% on your order. Sweet! I am thankful that in an age when everything is becoming digital, people still find the time to craft and mail out holiday cards.  It makes me happy.  Here are some of my favorites
 

For our friends and family - I guess you'll just have to wait and see which one we selected for our 2014 holiday cards when the mail arrives!

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cards c/o tinyprints



Quote of the Week


Fall Favorites: Pantry Spice Candle

With December upon us, and in the interest of matching the season, "fall favorites" will become "winter favorites." Yes, I know, technically it's still fall, but it's frigid and icy here and Christmas lights are sprouting up by the minute, so we're calling it Winter!

This Yankee Candle, Simply Home edition in the scent "pantry spice," is all of my favorite fall scents wrapped up into one; cinnamon, cloves, crackling fire, maybe even a wisp of nutmeg and sugar cookie?  It is amazing - truly.  I used to buy the large 3-wicked candles from Bath and Body Works, but after being lit for an hour or so the scent became smothering and too strong.  This candle keeps that warm, pleasant, and mild cozy vibe consistently, no crazy glade plug in effects over here.  All you need is one and its sultry scent will weave its way through your entire abode.  

image/kohls

Fall Favorites: White Chocolate Dipped Brown Butter Ginger Cookies with Pistachios

Realizing I'm falling a little behind on my promised "Fall Favorites" posts, I figured I'd better punch out a few before Winter descends.  These cookies popped up on my blog roll the other day and I was instantly captivated.  How could you not?  White chocolate dipped brown butter ginger cookies with pistachios.  They're long in the name and I'll bet in flavor as well.  Wouldn't this be the perfect cookie to bring to a fall gathering?  Feel free to bring a batch by my house anytime!


Happy Thanksgiving

"Be present in all things and thankful for all things."
~ Maya Angelou

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Side Dish Only Thanksgiving

Could you do a without a turkey on Thanksgiving?  I read a family's story of their side-dish-only Thanksgiving and I was intrigued.  Honestly, while I do enjoy a good turkey on T-Day, it is definitely not my favorite thing on the menu.  I don't know if I could ever convince my family to jump on this bandwagon, but I thought it was an interesting concept.  Cheers to more mashed potatoes, cranberries, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and beyond!  Oh, and don't forget a few heaping helpings of apple pie…

Would you do a side-dish only Thanksgiving?  Do tell...

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Dinner Last Night: Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

I've tried a few slow cooker chicken tikka masala recipes through the years - and this is the one to beat! Flavored with a handful of fragrant Indian spices, the dish really shines.  If making this for a crowd, your guests would never know their sumptuous meal was made via crockpot!  I served mine over my favorite coconut rice and a heaping handful of cilantro for a bit of color and freshness.  All in all - an easy but delicious weeknight meal.  Indulge yourself!

image and recipe/thekitchn

The Pie Project - #1 Apple Cranberry Crumble Pie

And I'm off to a good start - made my first pie!  Apple Cranberry Crumble Pie a la Joy the Baker.  I followed her directions to a T, and the pie turned out flavorful and delicious.  This was my practice pie - we had a group of friends over Sunday afternoon to watch the Seahawks game, so I used the opportunity to test the recipe on my girlfriends before making it for my family at Thanksgiving.   

A few changes I'll make before baking again; cut the apple slices a tad thinner, as there were a few slices that were a little too crunchy for my taste, and add more cornstarch, as the base of my pie was a little soupy.  But otherwise - another win for Joy the Baker.  

image/recipe via joythebaker

Cinderella

I'm not typically one for remakes, but Disney's new version of Cinderella looks pretty good!

The Pie Project

In an effort to up my game as a baker and make a mark on this year's Thanksgiving, I've decided to learn how to make perfect pie crust.  Challenge accepted.  "Have you ever made a pie before?" one might ask...  The answer is, "well yes," I've made pie crust here and there through the years, but not without painstakingly flipping back and forth from a cookbook to my floury surface, fingers sticky with dough, to ensure I don't miss a crucial step.  This is my goal - to become such an "expert" at pie crust, the recipe is no longer necessary - it'll be all from memory.  So, here goes,"The Pie Project."  Make 30 pies.  Not giving myself a deadline, as I'm trying to be realistic as I currently have a full time job and an active 14-month old, among the rest of my life.  But I'm inspired.  And excited.

So...what should my first pie be?  I was thinking about this...

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Emoi Emoi

A while ago, I was contacted by Emoi Emoi, a chic online French boutique specializing in comfortable and cozy maternity and nursing wear.  While I'm neither nursing nor pregnant at present,  I still can still vouch for and attest from experience that convenience, comfort are essential when it comes to maternity and nursing wear, and a hint of style never hurt anyone, right?  Especially during those early days when you're feeling far from glamorous...

  The "Maman Poule" shirt, (which is unfortunately, they no longer carry).  Though here are some of their new sweatshirts, and if they're anything like the tees,  the softest fabric ever!  Here are some sweatshirts that are similar.  1 point for comfort!  Also, I liked this shirt for its French translation of "Mother Hen" quite fitting as we often refer to her as "Grumpy Goose" when she's fussy.  Plus it's a glamorous step up from the ratty t-shirts I often wore when nursing.  1 point for convenience and style!
My special delivery was wrapped in the cutest "packaging," a charming reusable tote. 
 Isn't this the cutest? Love the message too...
Check out Emoi Emoi for cozy, comfy maternity and nursing attire.  Here are a few of my favorites from the sight that I'm bookmarking for future reference. 


shirt c/o emoi emoi

Recovering from Sickness

After almost two weeks of sickness (yes, two weeks)…first the non-flu virus (that felt and looked exactly like the flu), following by walking pneumonia…I am ready to be healthy again.  I haven't been this sick in a long, long time, and frankly, I'm utterly exhausting.  Here are some things that helped me slowly putter through these long, ill-feeling days.

+ Property Brothers, No Reservations, and Gilmore Girls among others streaming on Netflix, LOVE!

+ My new BFF, lemon-lime Gatorade.  We had a love/hate relationship during middle school track, but I'm now a believer again.

+ Holiday catalogs.  Hours entertainment perusing the latest holiday decor of Pottery Barn Kids, Restoration Hardware, Crate and Barrel, among others.

+ Urgent care.  Gotta hand to to clinics you can walk in and be serviced right away, no appointment necessary.

+ My amazing husband who has gone above and beyond as Super Dad, assuming every responsibility and more, as I was quarantined to my dungeon (...I mean basement).

+ Yankee Candle "Pantry Spice."  While my strong antibiotics have made me nauseous at every consumption, this is one of the few smells that didn't send me reeling.  

+ Homemade soup and bread from friends - thank you Liv!

+ My mom, who let me spend the night at her house for a night and took care of me like I was back in elementary school.  

Moral of the story: stay healthy out there, pneumonia is no fun!


Serial

Are you a podcast listener?  If so, you need to add this one to your queue.  Serial is This American Life's first spinoff.  Instead of a different episode every week, each week holds a new chapter in the true story of the disappearance and murder of Hae Min Lee in 1999.  It listens like an episode of Law and Order. Narrator, Sara Koenig, is impassioned about this cause, and as the listener, you encounter details of the case piece by piece, bit by bit, encouraging you to form your own opinions and ideas about who is truly at fault.  Check it out!

Soup Sundays

Want to know what I've been up to this past week?  Having the flu!  Bleh!  Technically my flu test was negative, but all of my symptoms: fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, full body aches and pains are also flu symptoms, in addition to the fact that I started showing symptoms the same day as my flu shot.  So...I'm calling this kettle black.  

Anyway…before I came down with this bout of illness, I had made a big pot of the Pioneer Woman's Perfect Potato Soup.  This really is the perfect fall soup, ideal for making on a Sunday night for dinner, to be easily reheated for lunch throughout the week.  While the chopping is a bit cumbersome, the finished product is worth all of your dicing efforts.
 
And fortunately, I did get to eat at least one bowl of this before resorting to a saltine cracker and Gatorade diet by necessity.

Stay healthy out there.  And flu (non-flu virus) free.

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image2/pioneerwoman

Dinner Last Night: Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

NOTE: Please excuse that there is no delightful corresponding image to match this recipe.  I tried googling a few, but none looked quite like the final product of this particular recipe so I opted for a fall spread instead.  :)

Dinner last night was another success from Dinner: The Playbook, Easy Homemade Mac and Cheese.  Now I've made all kinds of mac and cheese in my day, and I pretty much appreciate all of them, from the boxed Kraft of babysitters past to the kind with a homemade roux.  This was easily one of the quickest versions I've found, while still tasting pretty good, ideal for a weeknight dinner with kids.

Easy Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
Total Time: 45 minutes
Ingredients:
  • 1 pound whole wheat tubular pasta (I used penne)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/4 cup grated Cheddar
  • 1 1/4 cup grated Gruyere
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 cup milk, warmed in a saucepan or microwave if possible
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs (Jenny suggests mixing in crumbled potato chips, but I opted for just breadcrumbs)
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Prepare the pasta according to package directions and drain.
  3. Grease a medium-large baking dish with butter.
  4. In a large bowl, toss together pasta and cheeses, reserving about 1/2 cup of cheese. 
  5. Add pasta/cheese mixture to baking dish and pour warmed milk all over.
  6. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and reserved cheese.
  7. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until top is golden and sides are bubbly.
This left us with a good amount of leftovers. 
recipe/dinnertheplaybook

Friday Link Love

+ perhaps the best pumpkin concoction I've heard of this fall

+ the "original" moscow mule recipe (so they say)

+ grain-free granola that promises to be delicious

+ hearing nothing but good things about this book

+ kind of obsessed with these fancified book covers of the classic

+ pumpkin carving tips for the rest of us

+ if I were very pregnant around Halloween, I'd be wearing this

+ eyeballing this chunky, cozy sweater for cold nights (in heather loden)


+ a rustic fall centerpiece for Thanksgiving


+ cute and simple, identifying onesie

image/potterandfinch


Cookbook Crush: Homemade Decadence

So I bit the bullet and bought Joy the Baker's new cookbook, Homemade Decadence on Amazon pre-order.  Yes, I couldn't even wait until it's actual release.  OMG you guys, this cookbook is awesome.  I love reading a cookbook like an actual book, cover to cover, reading the food "chapters," in sequence in addition to the little blurbs and notations that give you insight into the baker/chef's vision.  

This cookbook is seriously mouth-water inducing.  Some favorites from my first reading: for brunch: whole wheat, peach, and fresh sage scones, sour cream coffee cake with brown butter glaze, and roasted-potato breakfast nachos (hello, yum!)…Sweets: chocolate-malted oatmeal cookies with salted peanuts; dark chocolate, pistachio, and smoked sea salt cookies….Pies and Cakes: apple pie with cheddar-bacon crust, and of course, the cookbook cover's chocolate-peanut butter pretzel layer cake.  YUM!

 I might have to cook and bake my way through this Julie & Julia style. For real.

image/amazon

Fall Favorites: Pumpkick Beer

In honor of my favorite season, I'm starting a new series to document all of my favorite fall recipes, products, and such.  First up - New Belgium Pumpkick Beer.  This was an impulse buy at the grocery store, and boy am I glad!  This beer tastes like fall…for real!  Or to quote the website, "an unexpected kick of cranberry juice brightens this spiced season ale…plenty of pumpkin juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, a touch of lemongrass that send your taste buds sailing."  Enough said.

image/newbelgium

Dinner Last Night: Quinoa Enchilada Bake

Yes to easy, but still delicious weeknight meals.  In the mood for Mexican, I saw this little ditty and it caught my eye, Quinoa Enchilada Bake.  Quinoa is the healthier alternative to tortillas in this dish, but packs the protein and fiber, so a win-win all around.  Even my husband who hasn't enthusiastically jumped on the quinoa bandwagon was a fan.  This also made for spectacular leftovers.

image and recipe via damn delicious

What's Right In the World

Truth.  It's been a stressful week at work.  Deadlines.  Politics and policy.  Accountability.  Sigh.  We've all been there.  So when I took a moment to watch this amazing time-lapse video I found on a friend's feed, I felt myself exhale audibly.  And I remembered, this is what's right with the world.  That places like this exist.  That beauty like this exists.  After another contented breath, I remind myself that my silly little problems at work are just that - silly little problems.  During the duration of this video, I felt my little stresses slowly float away as I remember what's truly important in my life, and the beauty around me.

P.S. Doesn't this make you want to go to Norway?

Quote of the Week

"Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy." 
~ Anne Frank



Weekend Baking: Coconut Oil Pumpkin Bread

Hello fall!  The season of pumpkin everything is upon us - hooray!  I generally stock up on canned pumpkin puree this time of year, so when the inclination to whip up a pumpkin inspired dish hits, I'm ready!  I came across this recipe for coconut oil pumpkin bread while perusing my blogs and it caught my eye, as coconut oil is maj these days.  It.  Is. Awesome.  Hands down the best pumpkin bread I've ever made, and possibly the best I've ever tasted.  Moist, flavorful, baked perfectly.  Boom.  

image and recipe via gimme some oven

Dinner Last Night: Chipotle Chicken Chili

Fall is in full swing, though it still feels like Indian summer around these parts.  Just in time to kick off a new season, I've found my new favorite chili recipe - Chipotle Chicken Chili a la the the Pioneer Woman.  It is phenomenal - pretty amazing what a little chipotle pepper can do. 

Quote of the Week

Saw this on another blog and think it's a pretty great motto.  
Going to try and subscribe to this wholeheartedly.  Who's with me?