Posts tagged GU
A tri- to try in Photography


Terrific! It's Friday. What's going on this weekend? Don't let Friday the 13th get you down. Throw a superstition party and let everyone reveal their most believable superstitions (of course select your favorite Friday the 13th to watch as well). Celebrate with crepes on Saturday in honor of Bastille Day, and don't forget to head to explore some art and to pay homage to Rembrandt on his birthday (we'll be doing it!).


Here's a trifecta of awesomeness all wrapped around photography for you to try this weekend. My new camera is going to get broken over the next few days in prep for the Alt Channel class I'm taking on Tuesday with Justin Hackworth. Join me, and we'll both become pros at our DSLRs (I really do want to see all the great shots you capture of your kids! I promise).


(Not necessarily captured here.) I've got a need for some higher quality headshots/self-portraits. I am so horrible at finding a shot that I like, and I kind of find the whole process a drag. I found three simple reminders from a fellow blogger heading out to a blogging conference (where lots of photos are taken) that I want to pass on.



Have you tried this?


Angle yourself towards the camera, drop your shoulders, and lean into the camera, putting your weight slightly on your front foot.

I'm going to try it. I'll let you know how it goes. :)



Dave Cooper, talented hubs of Jen Cooper, over at Classic Play has some awesome suggestions on how to take better family photos.  

My fave is #2:

2. Let it happen naturally and capture it. Your family is a living thing that moves. You need to move as well. Capture real moments. These are so much more rewarding to look at a month from now, a year from now, 10 years from now. Have you ever heard someone say “Remember that time we all stood up from the picnic table and stood in a line and you took that picture? That was fun. We should do that again.”?

There's more goodness over at Classic Play. Go and write down all that he has to say!




I'm discovering, with my new large camera, that a strap is essential. And though I don't mind loudly publicizing Canon, I'd like to go for something more special. Bri Emery over at DesignLoveFest posted a wonderful tut on crafting your own camera strap. Have you seen it? Go check it out.


Race you to Michael's for all the supplies!!

Do you have any great photography tips you can send my way? How do you make great art and look good doing it?

Thanks for a great week! Don't forget to enter our giveaway held in conjunction with the Playful Learning. Tell your friends, too. Winners chosen on Monday!

Until soon, XOXO, MJ

Funday Fashion Monday: To the Movies

Hello friends!! Happy Monday. Were you roasting this weekend like we were?? We spent most of our time at the pool and added a nice trip to the movies as well. Brave was our family movie of choice (Have you seen it yet? What did you think?). Besides the gratuitous bear violence, I thought it was great, and I did make my children promise not to turn me into a grizzly. It made me reflect on the beautiful albeit challenging connection of mother and daughter. I feel really blessed to have that possibility twice over with my little girls.

Movies have been a part of our summer. We took a trip out to the countryside a few weeks ago to see our first family drive-in movie. I felt totally transported back to a different, simpler life, and my kiddos loved staying up, underneath the stars, to see the very colorful Madagascar 3. There are only 400 drive-ins still operating in the US, and I definitely had the sense that I was experiencing a bit of history, perched in the wide open parking lot. All in all, it was a whole lot of fun, and I highly recommend checking out a drive-in if you're anywhere near one.

So here's my relaxed, hanging-out-at-the-movies summer garb.

That shirt: Stripes say crisp, clean summer to me, and this soft tee from Loft kind of goes with everything I own (you, too?).

Those sandals: Another great flat to take you from the theater to the parking lot and even out to the concessions for a tub of popcorn. Love the color from Ruche.

Those shorts: Loft does these shorts so well. Not too short, not too long and comfy enough for lots of movement.

This necklace: I'm into long lately, and I can't resist a vintage butterfly.

That clutch: Most outings require a lot of stuff and, therefore, a big bag. Movies, not so much. The detail beading on this clutch from Target makes it feel extra special to me.

Those nails: Typically I'm a gloss, neutral kind of gal when it comes to nails, but there are so many fun summer colors out that I've been trying a few surprises. This blue from Essie makes me think ocean, and that's just about the best thought for a hot summer night. :)

Here are some pics from our trip to the drive-in. I'm sticking with the marketing and hoping to visit again soon!

I hope it's a wonderful week for you! Fun things happening around here this week with a great giveaway!! Woot, woot, I'll be announcing it tomorrow so please stay tuned.


Linked up with Join the Gossip, Sami's Shenanigans, and five30three for their weekend update bloghop.

A tri- to try

Happy Friday! It kind of feels more like Tuesday, but, hey, I'm going with it. We have plans for the pool, the sprinklers, and lots of icy drink around here for the weekend; it's going to be super hot.

I have a triad of ideas for you to discover over the for today, one for tomorrow, and one for Sunday.

Are you celebrating something this weekend? Perhaps 7/7 on Saturday or Video Game Day on Sunday? Well, even if you're not going to throw a party for either of those, here are some great ideas for frosting a cake. Kelly over at Studio DIY has some great tricks that can make even the least professional among us (pointing to myself) look ah-mazing. For little C's birthday, I disguised my lack of skill under rainbow M&Ms, and I was pretty pleased with the results and flavor.
Watercolor pencils are my new favorite art supply. They have the control of pencil and the blending ability and surprise of watercolor. When was the last time you took a sketchpad outside with some pencils or watercolors? Try it this weekend.

Undone hairdos are all the rage for summer. The messy bun, the roped pony, the loose braid–all beautiful and breezy. Anthropologie posted some great ideas for hair that shows the ease of summer. Here's M's version of a messy twist, designed and styled all by herself.
Hope you enjoyed the Tri- to Try. Wishing you all a bright weekend!


Happy Fourth of July, friends! Today we celebrate the great US of A and all of the men and women who have made all this celebrating possible.

In real life, we're headed over to a friend's house for a cookout/bouncy water slide kind of afternoon, and we'll finish it off with fireflies and fireworks in the backyard. On the blog here, I've decided to throw a pool party!!

I had an in-ground pool for two years when my family lived in a wonderful, warm climate, and I have such great memories of hot afternoons under cool water. These days I don't have the luxury of a pool in my backyard but I can still throw a great party, and I have one cooking for you!!

Louise, Mo (one of my favorite Canadians), and Jess have fired up some great recipes and fashions for you to kick back and enjoy on this beautiful day. Thank you, wonderful women, for coming over and setting the place on fire with your creativity. So, have a seat on the chaise, grab a glass of Southern Belle, check out what Mo's wearing, and be sure to grab a heaping helping of that orzo salad Jess put together.

Louise is a rockstar, and she runs the hot spot blog of Laid Off Mom. She finds greatness, creates beauty, and spins around town with her little ones with ease. She's also, "out to prove to everyone that being laid off is not the end of your life…but the beginning of a better world!!"  And she has made this delectable for us...
Catch more from Louise by following her on Twitter.

Mo is hilarious. And she also makes some great jewelry. And blogs. And teaches. Full-time. Check out her goods over at Mo' Funk Designs. She's also got some lovely pool apparel for us to look cool and collected for the fourth. Thanks for bringing your stylin' to the US, Mo (and I totally want that cover-up)!
Pool Party

Catch more from Mo by following her on Twitter!

Jess is a science educator by day, and a runner, reader, dog lover, and chef on the nights and weekends. She pretty much knows everything about everything, and she's cooked up an easy, scrumptious summer salad that I'm really looking forward to making for me. Here's Jess...

It seems the dog days of summer have arrived early this year. If you’re like me, your interest in cooking has hit a yearly low. Fortunately, all the wonderful fresh produce makes it easy to create simple, flavorful dishes, like this summer orzo salad.

I particularly love anything that allows me to incorporate farmer’s market finds and fresh herbs from my garden. This week, I was lucky enough to find some beautiful grape tomatoes, and decided to feature them as the star of a simple salad. I also decided that I would use my new favorite herb – boxwood basil.
I found this guy while shopping for herbs and veggies this spring and was immediately smitten. It tastes and smells just like a sweet basil, but the cute little leaves mean that no chopping is required! Less prep time = more time enjoying summer.

I love this salad because the light dressing really allows the flavors of the tomatoes, basil, and feta to shine through. It’s wonderful both hot and cold. It’s also very versatile. Substitute fresh mozzarella, cubed, for the feta, or add chicken or tofu to make this a more substantial main dish.
Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side.

  • 1 1/3 cup orzo
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 5 oz feta cheese
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Juice from one lemon (not pictured)
  • ½ - 1 cup fresh basil, chopped
Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain well. Wash and halve grape tomatoes. Wash and finely chop basil.

In a small bowl, combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, and lemon juice. Whisk to combine.
In a large bowl, combine orzo, feta, tomatoes, and basil. Add olive oil mixture and toss to combine.
Serve immediately if desired, or store, tightly covered, in refrigerator. Best enjoyed on a deck or patio with good friends and a glass of wine.

Yum. Yum. Yum! Thanks so much, Jess. To hear more about what Jess is cooking up follow her on Twitter.

And last but not least (there's always room for dessert), I wanted to bring the blueberry cobbler recipe featured yesterday on Grown-up Goodness for you all to enjoy with a jumbo portion of vanilla ice cream.
Loveliness!! I adore these kind of collaborations, and I just wish I could have these great ladies over for a real cookout (you would all get along so fabulously!!).

What's up for your Fourth? I'd love to hear.

Have an amazing Independence Day, friends. God bless America.


P.S. If you're interested in collaborating on something really fun, send me an email at'd be awesome to team up!!

Easy Blueberry Cobbler

Do you pick? I mean, do you pick your own fruits and veggies fresh from the farm? We live just a mile from an incredible organic blueberry farm that offers nine different varieties of blueberries, and we make 2-3 journeys every summer to pick, and pick, and pick (and eat and eat and eat).

Our kids love the experience of the multitude and expanse of bushes for as far as the eye can see. So many rows and rows of blueberry bushes are just the right amount of overwhelming goodness. As the girls have gotten older, they've grown to love the blueberry overall, also known as the strapped-on bucket to catch the motherload!

We picked for about an hour and a half and brought home a great beginning with eight pounds of fresh Spartan blueberries.

Now what to do with all of these?

C has eaten blueberries for every meal and snack since we returned so we're already two pounds done with our first batch! Thankfully we're just steps away from our next pick. My hubby makes blueberry pancakes for us every Sunday after Church. That's another two pounds that will go by quickly.

With a few of the remaining cups, I decided to try out a cobbler recipe I found from the great Pioneer Woman. Have you seen her stuff? Of course you have, she's so good. Well, about a month ago she posted her favorite summer desserts. I bookmarked and starred the post so that I could come back and enjoy when the time was right. I reimagined her blackberry cobbler for blueberries. Here is what you need.

Preheat that oven to 350. Melt a stick of butter in the microwave. In another bowl, pour out a cup of sugar and then add a cup of the self-rising floor. Whisk together to get rid of the lumps. Add 1 cup of milk (I love all the one cup measurements...super simple!!) Now pour in the melted butter and stir again.

Coat a baking pan with butter - top, bottom, and sides. Pour in the batter. Place an even distribution of berries into the batter layer. Sprinkle on a nice, even layer of 1/4 cup of sugar (or more if you'd like).

Pop it in the oven and go read your favorite blogs for a whole hour. The smells will delight you, I promise.

And this is the beauty that awaits you. Scoop out a heaping helpful and top with vanilla ice cream. Yum, yum, yum.Do you find summer a great time to bake? Or to pick fresh from the farm?

Thanks for hopping over, friends.



Funday Fashion Monday: Summer at work

Happy, happy Monday, friends! I'm ready for a great week, how about you?? Last week was a very long one, with lots of hours logged in the office for me. I am SO grateful for the wonderful ladies who sat in to offer some amazing posts. In case you missed the week of fabulousness, check out Tara's post on life in Italy, Claire's wisdom on living in Ireland, Colleen's call to action and loving our neighbors, Claire's adorable DIY, and Paige's vlog on making Photoshop patterns from your children's artwork. These ladies really brought it. And I'm humbled and honored.

Since I've been working my hiney off, I've had summer work fashion on the brain. This week we return to Funday Fashion Monday with all the beauty and simplicity you can bring to the professional arena.

I like to keep it simple for the office with great pieces that will stand the test of time and trend. My favorite pick for you is that bright pink laptop sleeve (which I own in another shade). I swear by my Skooba bag for its durability and style. Carry it as a clutch sleeve or as a handled bag! My 17" MacBook doesn't go anywhere without the Skooba to hold it all together.

Summer is all about color, and I love what I see! This amazing shade of green comes from Mod Cloth and makes a statement all by itself.

Gladiator sandals are back again, and these are styled high. Funky enough to say summer and professional enough to wear over and over.

Kate Spade makes the best iPhone cases, and this gold and white striped case has enough bling to set the week off to bright start.

Finish it off with a fun stacked ring in sherbet shades.

I'm so happy to be back with you again, and I'm ready to get back into the swing of summer!! This week holds lots of fun surprises including a pool party here on the blog to celebrate the 4th of July. You gotta see it to believe it.

Thanks for popping over friends!! It's been so great to have you here.

Living: A Call to Action

Here we are at Wednesday, friends! I hope this week's going well for you!!  We're switching gears, and I'm offering us a challenge today in the shape of this here blog post by my friend, Colleen. She is wife, mother of 5 (adorables), and a freelance writer for various online Catholic publications (phew!). You can find her on the web at Meditations of a Stay at Home Mom, where she pontificates about important things like potty training and sippy cups. And now, Miss Colleen...

When my husband, John, and I were first married, we bought a starter home in a cute little neighborhood where all the homes were practically piled on top of one another. One night, we were sitting in our living room when there was a knock on the door. It was the mother of Jane, the woman who lived across the street from us.

Jane’s mother needed a stepladder and a telephone and she asked if she could borrow ours. As my husband scrambled to find what she needed, I tried to talk to Jane’s emotionally overwrought mother. She was distracted and preoccupied and it was obvious she needed help.

“Is everything ok?” I asked her.

“Jane died a few weeks ago,” she stated simply, turning her back on me so she could look at her daughter’s now empty house.

I stood in my doorway, dumbfounded. Mosquitos buzzed at our heads and moths flocked to the dim porch light overhead.

“She died?” I repeated, softly, incredulously. “How?”

“She was diagnosed with cancer about six months ago. It came on fast and furious and the chemo and the meds weren’t much help to her. She was real sick at the end. She suffered a lot and now she’s gone,” she said as tears slid out of her eyes and down her cheeks. She sniffled quietly.
I choked down my own fresh set of water works.

How could my neighbor, a woman who lived only ten steps away from me, be sick for months and I not have a clue?

How could she have died and I not know it?

I drove by her house, admired her beautiful landscaping everyday, and she was sick? And now she’s gone?

I immediately thought about what I would have done if I had known:

  • I would have made her a meal.
  • I would have brought her fresh flowers.
  • I would have made her homemade cards and delivered them with a stack of smutty, celebrity magazines.
  • I would have done something, however small, to make this woman’s final days brighter.
But I never even knew she was ill, so I never had the opportunity.

Isn’t it strange that we live in a über technologically connected society so emotionally disconnected?

The late, great Mother Teresa said,

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty-- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
You, the person reading this right now, probably live in a neighborhood where people feel unloved.
I know I do.
America is one of the most advanced nations in the World, yet the people who live around us are dying from loneliness and lack of concern.

What are we going to do about it? Will we love our neighbors or let them die?

St. John Baptist de la Salle offers a solution, albeit challenging:

“Adapt yourself with gracious and charitable compliance to all your neighbor’s weaknesses. In particular, make a rule to hide your feelings in many inconsequential matters. Give up all bitterness toward your neighbor, no matter what. And be convinced that your neighbor is in everything better than you. This will not be difficult if you keep even a little aware of yourself. It will give you the ability to overcome your feelings of resentment. Each day look for every possible opportunity to do a kindness for those you do not like. After examining yourselves on this matter every morning, decide what you are going to do, and do it faithfully with kindness and humility.”
We aren’t called to like everybody, but we are called to love them and our neighborhoods, our communities, the people we encounter everyday, are a good place to start.

Some suggestions for serving your neighbor:

--If you’ve never met the people who live in the house next door, go introduce yourself! Today!

--The next time you make dinner, double the recipe. Attach a little note and bring it to the house next door.

--On Christmas or Easter, deliver handmade (or store bought!) cards and delicious sweets. (This is the one time of the year where it’s socially acceptable to be a Christ-bearer! Take advantage of it!)

--On Halloween or Valentine’s Day (or any other holiday!), make goodie bags and have your kids hang them from neighbors’ doors with little notes.

--Mow a neighbor’s yard just because.

--Bring fresh cut flowers or a potted plant to the house next door.

--Organize a neighbor hood potluck. Set up lawn chairs and grills, block off the streets and have everyone bring their family’s favorite dish. Give all the kids sidewalk chalk and bubbles and let them decorate the place.

--Purchase Sparklers for the kids on July 4 and invite the littles in your neighborhood to come share the fun!

----If none of the above are viable options, pray daily for your neighbor. Beg God to bless them, every day and in everyway.

What, says you, are your favorite ways to love your neighbor?

Living vicariously: Ireland

Tuesday, we're here!! And it's time for you to meet another wonderful. This is Claire, the fabulous big sis of one of my besties. She's an Irish friend I've had for many years who shares a passion for exploring design and crafting. We're living vicariously Ireland.

For the past few weeks I have been happily soaking up the joy from all the summer ideas on Pinterest and my favourite blogs. Summer picnics, frozen treats, BBQ salads, floaty dresses, outdoor weddings, birthday parties in the park, drive-in movies... Images such as this beautiful picnic scene are the kind of days I am dreaming about.

And then I remember that I live in Ireland.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are many wonderful things about living in Ireland, the 'craic', the great culture, the stunning scenery, the friendly locals, however it is also fair to say that we have a fairly complicated relationship with Summer weather.

Put simply, you are likely to need your raincoat for all but about 2 weeks of the year. I'm not saying that it rains all the time, because it doesn't, just a little of every day. We have light showers, heavy showers, every kind of shower except for Wedding and baby showers (but that is a whole other issue!). It means that only the most optimistic of party-planners are seduced by outdoor paper lanterns and luminaries, as damp paper doesn't look good in any language.

Last year I moved to live at the coast  in the most Northwest corner of Ireland, beside amazing wide golden sandy beaches, miles long. Here is my local beach on one of the ten or so days of summer we've had, truly glorious.
Today, in the middle of June, I'm looking out at driving rain and 54 degrees. My garden chairs are calling to me, bemoaning the fact that I promised them sunshine and lunches and dinners al fresco, and they have barely a dent so far.
But you know, the Irish summer makes you hopeful. There is nothing like the rush in the shops for shorts and flip-flops on the first day of sun in early May when 'exam weather' arrives to make a whole country think that this will be the year of the hot summer, just like the ones when we were kids and the sun seemed to shine all summer long. My mummy will inevitably tell me about the long range weather forecast, which promises a summer of BBQs and Vitamin D for everyone.

Then when we stop being hopeful, about the middle of July, we start being grateful. Grateful for even two sunny days in a row. Grateful for warm dry days at the beach, with hot tomato soup  after you swim in the cool Atlantic, even if the sun doesn't shine. Grateful for the beautiful green of the country and for a pub with a fire on and some nice pub grub.
And there is nothing as hopeful or as grateful for a sunny summer day as an Irish Bride! Not many people outside Ireland know that the summer weather for weddings is actually controlled by a small statue of the saint of the Child of Prague.

It is traditionally placed under a hedge the night before a wedding to ensure a dry day for the bride. Before the weddings of both my sisters there were multiple statues under multiple hedges placed by my mum's friends.. and it did work for them!

However, for those brides who do have to use their umbrellas after all, there is still gratitude. For a bright day, or that they at least got from the car to the church without the rain, and if all else fails, that the notoriously fragile neck on the Statue survived the trip under the hedge! (There are many Irish homes where a beheaded statue of the Child of Prague awaits some super glue after an over-enthusiastic game of football indoors) :)

So come to Ireland... and bring your raincoat!

And as for me, I'm off to Portugal for a week to lie on the beach where I am guaranteed a recharge of Vitamin D!

Claire xx

I wanna go!! Thanks so much for joining us, Claire. We'll see more of Miss Claire on Thursday, when she offers us a lovely DIY. How about you, friends?  Have you enjoyed an Irish summer?  XO, MJ

Living vicariously: Italy

Happy Monday, friends! How was your weekend?? Mine has been filled with work, and this week is looking like more of the same. No stress here, though, I've got rockstars filling in and taking us on a little vacation from the norm.

Kicking off an awesome week is my pal, Tara!! She's sharing all the loveliness that is ITALY here with us. She is soaking up "la bella vita" with her three adorables (look that scarf-donning cutie!) and super hubs...and doing it all with amazing style. Watch this...Here's Tara.

Photo by: Erika Saari Williams, Oscar Elnes Photography

A little over three years ago, my husband and I had the lucky opportunity move to Italy. We’ve had the time of our lives here, but we return to the US in one short month. We’ll bring many new things home with us, the most special of which is our family. Just the two of us made the flight over, but five of us will fly home; our fun twin sons are nearly three years old and our sweet daughter is eight months. We’ll also bring lots of other things—Italian home furnishings, new recipes, and many, many bottles of wine. The best things we’ll bring with us, though, are intangibles. We’ve truly been inspired by the way our Italian neighbors live, and I’d like to share three lessons that they’ve taught me in the hopes that—even without living here—they may inspire you, too.

Lesson One: People and relationships are the center of life. 

Family and friends take precedence over other obligations in my corner of Italy. I’ve observed this primary value play out in so many different ways during our time here; at the mom and pop store a couple of doors down from us (and in most of the other stores), they close the store for a day if there’s a family event going on without worrying about losing business. All around town, shopkeepers know their customers because they talk to us (more than small talk, too). And the people waiting in line while we chat? They don’t huff, they don’t puff, they don’t shift from foot to foot, impatient to pay and anxious to get out. They just wait, and sometimes they join in the conversation. When I’m walking down the street, I’m constantly stopped by people who want to coo over my children and ask me all about them. My three kids under the age of three aren’t a “handful.” They’re a blessing. We all walk away smiling. It’s a way of life here…people connect. Families and friends share meals together, lingering over the food and wine and water, and they talk. Again, even strangers who are dining in a restaurant with us will smile and share small pieces of conversation. It’s absolutely lovely.

In today’s world, there’s so much to do, and we all have various responsibilities. But we have really benefited from the pace of life here, which I think comes from the value that Italians place on people. I know that we won’t be able to replicate the exact same atmosphere everywhere we live, but I do know that we will try to remember the good that comes from putting people—not money, not things, not other obligations—first. I’ll take with me a readiness to say no to superfluous responsibilities that don’t help me honor my family, my friends, and even the strangers I meet along the way in life.

Lesson two: Look good, feel good.

We moved here when I was very pregnant with twins. I was big. My feet were swollen. What did I see when I walked out onto the street? Women (and men!) who were put together, top to bottom. No one was wearing flip flops. No one was wearing yoga pants. I was intimidated. Really, NO ONE was wearing yoga pants or flip flops. Ever. And I noticed quickly that if I did wear them, people gave me a sideways glance.
Photo by: Erika Saari Williams, Oscar Elnes Photography

The Italians who walk around my city center just seem to have this innate sense of style, and they are lovely to behold. And here I was hugely pregnant, and then a new mom of twins. You could say that initially I felt a bit resentful that in order to go out and about I had to get dressed, do my hair, and put on make-up or risk having people give me the sideways glance. But I quickly realized that the days I did get myself together, I felt much better about myself. And so I did it more often—almost every day. When I spent 15-20 minutes putting myself together physically, I felt more together mentally and emotionally. I found the time to make myself look nice during the most harried and sleep-deprived time of my life, the time when I was most susceptible to not showering and wearing stretchy pants every single day. Now I’m so thankful to the folks who would have given me a sideways glance, because it taught me that taking some time for myself could completely shape the rest of my day (and my week, month, life!). Fake it ‘til you make it, perhaps?

When I get dressed, I feel like I have it together. When I feel like I have it together, I’m more likely to do the things that actually put my life on a positive trajectory. I’m more likely to actually get my life together! It’s crazy, but if I have a cute outfit on, my hair looks presentable, and lipstick has touched my lips on that day, I’ll want to feel even better, so I’ll exercise the next morning. I’ll prioritize eating well, and I’ll keep exercising. Then I’ll have more patience with my children, I’ll get more done if I have any ongoing projects for work, and so on. Of course, not every day goes by smoothly just because I’m wearing make-up, but I’m far more likely to get into a funky mood when I’m wearing yoga pants and dirty hair. The funky mood benefits no one—not me, not my kids, not my husband. When I look good, chances are I’ll feel good, and so too will the people around me.

Lesson Three: Simplicity is best, especially when it comes to food.

My Italian neighbors embrace simplicity in life, to great effect. Their clothes are simple (if exquisitely made) but beautiful. Their vacations are simple—spend time in nature, whether it’s in the mountains or at the sea, eat well, and relax. Coffee is simple—small, strong, sometimes with milk. No decaf-soy-nonfat frappuccinos for them. Their food is simple but oh-so-delicious. Simplicity is where joy is found.

I love all of these mini-lessons, but I can say with certainty that my life and my family’s life have been changed forever by the Italian culture of food. Even before we moved here, I tried to eat well and make food from scratch using whole foods, but life here has added much to my knowledge base of how to shop for, prepare, and eat really delicious, simple food.

In my weekly visits to our fresh market (almost every Italian town has one—once or twice a week, sometimes more, merchants set up tents to sell fresh fruit and veggies, cheeses, and fish, and often lots of other things), I became friends with the owner whose fruit and veggie stand I frequented. I would go to the market with an idea of what I wanted, and she would tell me if a certain fruit or veg was good or not that week, and often she’d suggest another fruit or vegetable (usually vegetable ) that I ought to try. And then she’d tell me how to cook it and what to serve with it. As I go through the list of new produce I’ve tried in my head, I feel pretty confident saying that 90% of the new veggies.

I’ve tried have been cooked (using a couple of different methods, for differing periods of time) with olive oil, salt, and pepper. And they’ve all been delicious. From the fishmonger? I’ve bought a whole octopus, boiled it in water with celery and carrots, then made a salad out of it with potatoes, olive oil, and salt. Unexpectedly delectable. I’ve learned to make a pasticcio (what we think of as lasagna, although there are about 50 different variations up here and honestly don’t resemble American lasagnas) from fresh noodles, a cream sauce (quickly made from butter, flour, and milk), and a sautéed vegetable like spinach, mushrooms, or radicchio. Mouthwatering.

The two great commonalities of these examples? 1) They are simple—seriously. These meals don’t take a ton of time to prepare, and they’re usually right around five ingredients (plus salt and pepper). Further, they don’t require advanced cooking skills. The more often I began to cook this way, the faster and easier it becomes. Win! 2) The ingredients are in season. I know cooking in season is becoming much more popular in the US (thank goodness!), but I’ve really learned to eat seasonally here because it’s all that is available. Markets certainly don’t carry foods that aren’t right in season (I can’t even get strawberries right now—they’re only available mid-late spring, then they’re gone!), and most supermarkets don’t either. Some out-of-season foods are available frozen or canned, of course, but it’s typically not the way Italians eat, and for good reason. Foods in season taste best! My meal repertoire and our palates have grown significantly because we focus on eating what’s available.

And speaking of in season…I’ve learned how to leverage what is in season to make cooking simple food delicious (and still varied) year round. Tomatoes aren’t in season all year round, even in Italy. But in August, five kilos (that’s over 11 pounds!) of San Marzanos (to me, one of the most delicious types of tomato) costs five Euro ($7-8). The bounty is just amazing, and it inspired me to start learning how to put away foods. When you have really delicious summer produce that you’ve canned yourself (and you know what’s in it—or not—from no salt to a piece of basil to no BPA in your canning materials), it makes it far easier to make an incredibly simple, flavorful dish in the winter, even when you’re tired of squash and potatoes.

Ahhh….Italian food. I’m going to miss it. But I’ve learned that by eating in season (and by canning some foods that are so abundant and delicious in season so I can also use them out of season), it’s really quite easy to cook nourishing, wholesome foods for my family. Using simple recipes that feature few high-quality ingredients, Italians find beauty in their food. They’ve inspired me to do
the same, wherever we live.

I’m looking forward to living these lessons as we move back the USA and in the coming years, and I’ve been lucky to learn them in bella Italia. But I’m sure many of you already knew what became clear to me here. Tell me—what are your tips for making these lessons a reality in your daily lives?

What do you think, friends? Is this not the fabulous life?? XO, MJ (and Tara)

Grown-Up Goodness: Feel Good Fitness

Happy Tuesday! It's time for some more Grown-Up Goodness. Did you see last week's summer markets post? Ah, I just can't resist fresh produce straight from the farmers themselves.

What's next on your list for the summer? Are you making time to drench yourself in the gifts of the sunny season?

True confessions: I was a bit surprised at myself when I was compelled to put "running" on my list. Really? With the beautiful days of summer, I want to go running? For those of you who don't know me outside of this web home, let me say that I did not grow up as a runner/jogger/athlete. My body is not genetically engineered for such exercise, and although I would consider myself moderately fit, taking on a run for just for the joy of it has never been a part of my imagination (and I have a fabulous imagination).

However, in the early days of our relationship, hubby and I went for runs to have some time for conversation and to enjoy the beauty surrounding us. We even entered races. Well, other people raced, and I was super proud of myself for running alongside determined, well-trained, fit folks. My husband was always good enough to jog at my side. Companionship up a 4% incline is a real gift from God!

With the family and three kiddos now, it's tough to find time/money (= babysitter costs) to pair up for a jog, but on rare occasions we still get to run side by side. It takes me back to our first conversations, and it makes me feel great that we will have many more, thanks to the time we're investing in our health.

I've gotten to the point now, after two 10Ks and a handful of 5Ks under my belt, that I really enjoy running, even on my own. And summer running...on trails, on tracks, on roads and like no other.

Does summer make you want to breathe deeper and feel healthier? We find ourselves playing impromptu volleyball games and swimming, jogging out to get the mail and racing to the top of the stairs. All small activities but ones that add up to a feel good, healthy summer.

And when better to feel your best when requires us to wear less to keep cool. It's been a goal of mine for a long time to have shapely arms, and I'm working on it.

Let me leave you with this awesome, short video from a blogger friend, Janae. Check out her blog, Bring Joy for all kinds of fabulous. I find her approachable, quick fitness videos right up my alley.

What's your best way to stay fit and bask in summer? Do they go together for you?

Thanks for popping over! Meetcha' back here tomorrow for some Mommy & Daddy School.


Funday Fashion Monday: An Afternoon Out

Welcome Monday! How was the weekend, friends? Were you able to celebrate Dad a bit?

We celebrated C's birthday with her friends, and headed to the country to see our first drive-in movie theater!! It was so much fun and a wonderful way to soak in a great Father's Day.

funday fashion monday

I'm delighted for our second Funday Fashion Monday (did you see last week's apparel/gear/toys for heading to the beach?), and this week we're taking an afternoon out.

I spend summers in skirts and dresses. I know this because little L, when he saw me in pants last week said, "Mommy, why you wearing Daddy's pants? He lets you wear his pants?"

Ah, yes, so it had been over a month since my legs had been covered, and I too was feeling strange about it. Thanks for getting me back in line, L.

Summer allows for us to take great day trips - to the zoo, the park, a cute neighboring town - and summer offers the breeziest, cheery fashions. Here are my recs: 

1. This dress: In my books, symmetry is overrated. Take these fresh stripes out for a stroll.

2. That hat: I think I've pinned almost a dozen summer toppers to date. Hats, hats are everywhere for summer, and why not? Save your head from sun, fight off bad hair days, and look like that hipster you are (or want to be). The weave in this one totally caught my eye.

3. Those shoes: Sandals! The best of the summer flat. These are in a fun hue that's bright enough to be interesting but tame enough to coordinate with the rest of your closet.

4. That bag: As a momma of three, I need to be able to carry everyone's drinks, snacks, and that precious toy (that we really didn't have to bring along because now Mommy is carrying it). This woven green number is large and styled just right for an afternoon trip.

5. This bottle: Let's stay hydrated! This bottle is not made from plastic, and it has a strong gripper exterior. Let's just say you'll look like a tall glass of water drinking from this one. And your water will taste better, too.

6. That blanket: My favorite of the group. We have one just like this: waterproof, thin, portable w/strap. We use it everywhere because you never know when the moment to picnic will strike, so go ahead and slip this into your big tote.

7. Those baubbles: I love a statement piece and luckily I'm now trendy. These wooden chunky strands are just enough heft to contrast with the light and airy assymetrical.

8. That camera: Any summer afternoon out has to be well documented, no? Did I tell you that I just got one of these? I am SO excited to dig in and learn all there is to know about a DSLR. All of my photos here are from my phone (oh, I still love you) and my older point-and-shoot. I'm moving up in the photography world, and I'm ecstatic that I can upgrade the photos offered here and in my personal albums. Now to craft me up a kickin' camera strap...I feel a DIY coming on.

**Just a note on fashion/product posts. I'm not sponsored or endorsed by any of these companies. I love to window shop (my mom and I used to make this a serious hobby). I also don't want to give you the impression that Pars Caeli is about materialism or the need for "more".

Art and beauty reveal the Divine.

These posts include things that I admire and that, in large part, I've consider them good fodder for fashion conversations around the virtual water cooler. Whenever possible, I find the thriftiest (best quality) versions of great looks around. With the exception of the camera (and the dress at $65), all of these finds are well under $50.

Thanks for popping over on this wonderful Monday! Stop back this week for some summer goodness.


Grown-Up Goodness: Summer Markets

Last week we sat down as a family to make our big summer list, and it was such fun to see the kids each get excited as their creative ideas were added. I, too, love roasting marshmallows and naming the animals I see in the clouds. Summer brings out the child in me...

And yet, I had this feeling that I should have my own list. I am a mom, and it's my most beloved and amazing vocation. I am also a wife, a friend, a professional, an artist, and a little bit of a grown-up. So as we march through the weeks of summer (which are marching by so fast, aren't they?), I'll be covering my own list of must haves for the season. It's my way of holding myself accountable, to make sure that these days of warmth include some time for me to feed and nurture what I want to give back to those I love so much.

#1 Fresh Markets

Living in an area surrounding by farms, I am blessed to have the ease to hop over to a fruit stand here and a larger farmer's market over there. I smile as I drive through back streets and see the handmade carts with fresh veggies, fruits, and flowers and the inevitable can left out to collect the suggested price from drive-by customers. These markets pop up all over the place, and to me they scream summertime, small town, and all that is good in humanity.

We took a roadtrip to a charming town on the shores of Lake Michigan this weekend, and we stopped at my favorite market aptly titled, "The Summertime Market." I always look forward to pulling into the small gravel lot to see what fresh, local goodness awaits.

The entire market is housed in an indoor/outdoor space no larger than a single-car garage, but everything is displayed so well in authentic wire baskets, with used wooden crates, chalkboard signs - every detail carefully attended. It's a little aged, and a little broken, in all the best places.

We purchased an amazing red raspberry pie that left me feeling like I should capitalize its name. Definitely memorable.

Here's the market through my eyes and the filters of Instagram.

How would you finish this equation? Summer equals ____________. I'd love to hear!! Maybe I can add it to my grown-up goodness this summer.

Thanks for the visit! So happy to have you here.


P.S. If you want to experience this loveliness for yourself, visit the oh, so wonderful website.

P.P.S. Check out Stephanie's great trip to her farmer's market (and that pizza!!).

New on Mondays: Funday Fashion Monday

Hello, friends! I've missed you...happy Monday. How was your summer weekend? Mine was filled with all sorts of goodness that I can't wait to share with you.

...But before I do, did you notice that happy, little badge up there on the header? I'm all about badges these days as my 7-year old needs them ironed on (or worse yet - sewn on) her vests and backpacks. So, I decided we needed one over at Pars Caeli, too. This one is to announce all of the lovelies I'm planning for this summer of fun. Can you tell I relish summer? (Actually, Fall is my favorite - yikes, wait to you read my excitement over that one.) As a mom, I can't help but plunge into the joy of summer with my three kiddos and see it all fresh and wonder-ful through their eyes. More to tell as the week goes on, but we're kicking it off big here.

For the summer I'm switching things up for Mondays. Pattern Play Monday is converting to Funday Fashion Monday. Sandals, sundresses, hats, accessories, and more! And, yes, I'll still be challenging myself to be more pattern-rific, but we'll take some jumps around to explore and soak up all the amazing summer fashions loading up store windows.

My weekend was filled with the end of the season soccer games, dinners on the deck, a great roadtrip, and some fun by the Lake.

Are you headed to the water this summer? The most amazing things happen to my family when we reach the great wide open waves: hubby becomes a kid again and goes right for the shovel to begin the grand sandcastles, M who is sometimes hesitant and pensive grabs the closest floatation device and runs to the water, C who is a bundle of jumping energy completely calms down and spends most of the time rolling around in the sand, relaxed, and L who is designated the follower by his big sisters begins to take charge and explicate a great narrative of all he wants to accomplish in the sand. As the mom of this merry band, it's awesome to see the delightful transformation.

So, on that happy note, here are recommendations for fun family fashions at the beach...

Can we go ahead and agree that a great beach cart and sand game are accessories? Good.

If you have not played OGO sport, you need to. It's super easy and great for all ages. You bounce the puff ball back and forth on the black, bouncy interior of the disks, or you can use them as frisbees. Great for the beach or backyard.

This beach cart. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on the worldwide web looking for just the right cart to transfer our tons of stuff. Let me save you the hastle and recommend you get this one.  It doubles as a table with cup holders, and when practically everything gets sandy, it's great to have a raised surface for beverages, phones, and keys.

I loved strolling around town after the beach in this maxi from Old Navy. Pink and orange is my favorite summer combination!

This striped tote from Land's End is big and durable with stripes weathered to perfection.

Retro swim fashions always catch my eye, and this tiny polka dot has vintage charm. Go grab one from Old Navy.

And to top it off this touch of neon. I saw so many spectacular summer hats as we walked the beach today. Well done, ladies, well done. This one is a great, affordable find from Target.

What are you wearing to the beach this summer? What are you must-haves to carry your goodies?

**Not pictured: a jumbo container of watermelon. We must have drippy watermelon on every trip to the water.

Thanks for popping over! It was spectacular to have you here. See you tomorrow...wishing you a bright week.


Summer Strawberry Slush

We've been spoiled with great summer days and spectacular summer nights around here lately. The kind of days that make you want to clean your glasses because you know they're so clear and the kind of nights that are so fresh they give you a little more oxygen with every deep, beautiful breath. Sleeping with the windows open is not an all-year luxury afforded to the Midwest, and when we can, I love to take advantage of it.

Today I wanted to share with you a scrumptious fruity, easy summer adult beverage to enjoy while you read on the deck or take in the ocean breeze.
With all the U Pick strawberry farms we have around us here, I just had to take advantage of the fresh flavors.
This saves really well in the freezer, too, if you don't want to use it all in one day.

Cheers, friends! Here's to more romantic summer nights.


Summer Salsamole

Happy Tuesday, friends! I missed you all. Did you have a restful holiday weekend?

We had a fabulous three days of no alarm clocks, sprinklers and s'mores, vegetable garden planting, and good old-fashioned hanging-out-with-friends time. It was just what we all needed.

And now, to get back in to the last round of activities before the school year ends.

I had a little extra time in the kitchen this weekend, and I wanted to share with you some yumminess we put together for a sweet little BBQ/water play date with friends. I was able to shop my own herb garden to make this salsamole (it's got too many tomatoes for a traditional guacamole and too many avacados for a traditional salsa so I've named it salsamole). It's super fresh and pairs nicely with a lime salted tortilla chip.

I became acutely aware of how much I am not a food blogger as I was making this and trying to shoot attractive photos. So I'll offer the throw away line that this tastes so much better than it looks (although it looked better than it photographed, too). And I'll tell you that food photographers are geniuses.

I got this lovely recipe from a friend and adapted a few things here and there to make it just to my liking! So, here you goes...You'll need:

7 medium tomatoes (romas are awesome here, but if you can't get them, or only have big or small tomatoes, think the equivalent of seven medium tomatoes. I am a no stress ingredient kind of chef so make some good guesses, it'll still taste great.) Cut these guys up to about a 1/4 inch.

3 large ripe (Haas) avacados, diced about the same size as the tomatoes

1 1/2 c of thawed frozen corn kernels

1 T of corn oil

3 T of chopped green onions (we took our scissors out to the garden!)

1/4 c fresh cilantro (again, hooray for a short trip to the herb store for us)

1 t pickled jalapeno

1 t minced garlic

1 1/2 t salt

3 T lime juice

1/2 t cumin

1 t apple cider vinegar

(this photo is taken from inside the bowl. Be the ingredient.)

Preheat your oven to 450. Put the corn on a baking sheet and toss it with the oil. Roast, tossing once, for 7-8 minutes until golden good. Let corn cool.

Fold tomatoes, avacados, cilantro, green onion, jalapeno, and garlic. Stir in the vinegar, lime juice, vinegar, salt, cumin. Add in the cooled corn.

Cover and refrigerate. Can be made up to 24 hours ahead. Pair with a great chip and eat quickly...your family will try to gobble it up before you can get your helping. Oh wait, maybe that's just in my home. :) Happy eating.
And if tomatoes and all those vegetable aren't your thing. Well then here's to many happy s'mores.

It's beginning to look a lot like summer around here. And I love it!

Hoping you found a little bit of Heaven peeking out from around the corner this weekend...and that you keep it with you as we head back into the usual.