Blog Posts by Amy

  • Is a home exchange right for you?

    If you'd like a budget-friendly vacation option, and are intrigued by the idea of swapping your home with strangers or friends of friends, you should definitely give it a try. We just returned from a two-week trip to Austin, Texas, for a family reunion and to visit old friends. I went to college there, and hadn't been back in over ten years--Austin has always been one of my favorite towns, and I was eager to see it again, and experience some of my favorite haunts from my student days. It was a fun vacation, and one of the best parts was the fact that we had a real home to stay in.

    When I began planning the trip last year, I decided to try a home exchange, something I'd always been intrigued by. Though I am a devotee of Craigslist, and know people who've arranged successful house swaps on that free site, I joined a home exchange site, paid my monthly fee, and set up my profile, adding photos of our San Francisco apartment and details that might make it appealing to potential swappers.

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  • Many parents struggle with the choice of where their kids should spend their official "Pre-k year," that formative time before they enter the official school system, where they will hopefully undergo the "kindergarten readiness" training. Since my daughter was born in the fall, in California she falls into that gray area of kindergarten enrollment where she could start at 4, or wait a year, until she is nearly 6. I'm finding it's common (at least among parents I know) to keep the kids back (red-shirting, as it's jokingly called), and I'm mostly on board with that since I don't see the point of rushing Alice (or us) into the rigidity of the school year.

    Plus,enrolling in kindergarten in San Francisco involves a lottery where parents can choose 7 schools, a daunting process. And, with big changes afoot in the school system for this coming year, I thought it best to wait until we could get priority for our neighborhood schools (currently not the case here). Finally, if she has another

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  • A few ways Parisian moms have it over American moms

    I was just in Paris for a week without my 4-year-old daughter to enjoy a visit with my younger sister. She's been living there for over a year and is on her way to becoming a true expat, and I'm really thrilled for her to have the experience. Though I was there without my kid, I was fascinated by some of the differences I observed while I was there regarding how parents are treated. Of course, French women have amazing maternity benefits, longer hospital stays after giving birth, and free childcare options, as well as state-funded pre-K (not to mention free education throughout life). The French, like many Europeans, generally work fewer hours, have more vacation time, and a deeply ingrained national culture of balance in all things. Adults are expected to have time off from their children to pursue their own interests, whereas in the U.S. it seems like every parent I know (including me) is searching for that elusive balance between work, family, and self. Of course, as I watched moms

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  • Preparing for holiday travel craziness: Are you ready?

    Holiday travel is in full swing and many of us will be boarding packed planes and dealing with crowds, bad winter weather, and the other usual travel headaches. You savvy frequent fliers probably have your routines down, but I'm here to share my own little travel nightmare story--and some hard lessons learned. Some of these are going to seem really obvious, but who hasn't rushed to the airport and not given themselves time to pick up snacks, or left home without some vital object like your phone? I was prepared for long lines at security since I flew not only on the day before Thanksgiving but the "National Day of Pat-Down Protests", but honestly, security was a breeze. The real problem was a canceled flight and an unexpected night in a city not on my itinerary. Here's what happened.

    I just got back from a trip to Paris to visit my sister, and it was a wonderful adventure, and my first time away from my daughter since she was born (for more than 24 hours or so). But, everything that

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  • What's your favorite seasonal/holiday food item?

    I always get a little boost when I see the seasonal holiday grocery items start to appear on the shelves--eggnog in the festive holiday cartons (and even soy nog, a lowfat vegan option), displays of canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce, and the glistening piles of winter fruits and nuts in the produce section. For those of us lucky enough to have a Trader Joe's nearby, the holidays are a real treat--I love their marzipan stollen. I also recently discovered this yummy cinnamon yogurt at my local Whole Foods, and have been eating it with nuts and persimmons or dried cranberries every morning. I don't know if it's a strictly seasonal item or not, but to me, it really embodies the flavors of autumn. My daughter loves it too--it feels like a special treat.

    Now, I'm gearing up to make a pumpkin pie and a rich slow-cooker beef stew for the weekend, and I have cinnamon sticks to simmer and make the house smell yummy.

    What seasonal holiday items do you buy every year?

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  • I've always loved Thanksgiving and was really looking forward to it this year especially, since we moved my ailing father to the Bay Area over the summer. I figured by the time fall came around, we'd all be settled in and ready to enjoy a family gathering, and that my daughter, who is turning 4 this month, would be old enough to really understand the holidays and get a chance to be with her grandpa. He had lived in Las Vegas for many years, and though it's not that far from San Francisco, we didn't go visit him for the holidays last year (at his insistence). It's a decision I'll always regret. I thought I could make it up to him this year, but sadly, he died in early August, barely a week after his 74th birthday--of end-stage heart disease. It happened faster than we thought, and I'm missing him and am approaching the holidays I'd planned to enjoy with him with a feeling of sadness.

    So, instead of cooking the big Thanksgiving meal, which we do every other year or so, or bundling off

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  • Yesterday, my daughter and I baked pumpkin bread and muffins together for the first time. It's something I try to make every year because it reminds me of my childhood and my wonderful mom, who died in 2004, and loved to make the house smell like fall on cool days with a big batch of the stuff. I have a tattered copy of her recipe stuck on my fridge--over the years I've added to it. Sometimes, I add raisins and nuts, sometimes even chocolate chips.I texted with my youngest sister as I was prepping--we always do holiday baking when we're together and we reminisced from across the miles. We also lost our dad recently and we are trying to figure out how to forge ahead as a family without our beloved parents. So, it makes sense to me to preserve every tradition I can that links me to my past, and though I didn't set out to make it into a kid's baking extravaganza, but that's what happened.

    This isn't the first time my daughter and I have attempted to bake something together, but creating

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  • User post: Celebrating an imperfect Halloween

    This week promises to get a little crazy for many of us moms. Halloween is upon us, and I realize that I haven't done (yet again) many of the things I'd planned to do to celebrate the holiday--take my daughter to a pumpkin patch, make vintage-inspired decorations (or at least go to Michael's to get them), and plan a little party for her and her friends, complete with a preschool-appropriate haunted house. Of course, I realize this was all pretty ambitious to begin with, and I didn't really expect that it would happen--I work full time and am really not that crafty to begin with. I'm just grateful that I actually planned ahead this year and bought her costume early and don't have to do the mad scramble to find something appropriate. But, with or without any supermom ambitions, the week is shaping up to be a little nuts. Yesterday, there was cookie-decorating with her cousin and a scary-kid-movie fest (and a Sat. sleepover). Thursday, I'm bringing her to the office kid's party for the

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  • I've been reading some really interesting posts on Shine about calculating the cost of happiness (only buying things or experiences that will truly add to your life), and managing your money meaningfully. It's something I think about a lot. I'm forever trying to get better at thinking through my purchases (and also the things I scrimp on). Did the savings really add up or was it more of an inconvenience to clip coupons and spend an afternoon at Target?

    I know we're all budgeting hard these days, but admit it, sometimes spending a little extra money can make life easier--and it can pay off in the end--in peace of mind and headaches avoided. This philosophy really comes into play when I'm on vacation. Sometimes when we travel, we get so focused on saving money that we can lose the whole point of the trip in the first place--enjoyment and relaxation. I've flown at insane hours to save what ended up being maybe $40, and taken crowded rush-hour mass transit while bleary-eyed from jet lag

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  • I'm sort of joking about the life-change, but not really. Since my family moved into our Victorian San Francisco flat three years ago, I've been on a quest to make it feel like a home--a warm, cozy, serene, organized home that my husband and daughter and I can really make a life in. It's a big, drafty place with high ceilings and, being on the first floor, not a ton of natural light-so there are definite challenges. Still, there are great things about it-the character that comes with an old house, the wood floors, the view of palm trees out the front windows (to remind me I'm in California), and our lovely, family-friendly neighborhood.

    I'd long been coveting a table for my entryway-something nice to look at when I walk in after a long day, a place to put my keys and sort the mail, and maybe even put a vase of fresh flowers. I felt like if I could just tackle this one area, I'd be on my way to organizing our big, chaotic house. I'd looked through Pottery Barn catalogs (too

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