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Welcome to Grandma's Back Room

Grandma's Back Room is where you'll find all kinds of fun stuff, including GIVEAWAYS, REVIEWS, SPONSORED POSTS and more!

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    Review & Giveaway: "SPICED" by Dalia Jurgensen [CLOSED]

    We all know that it's best not to judge a book by its cover. When I was offered the opportunity to review "SPICED: A Pastry Chef’s True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes on in the Kitchen" by Dalia Jurgensen (Berkley Trade Paperback; $15), I should have ignored that age-old advice. Instead, I ignored the subtitle. If I had taken those words on the cover to heart, if I had judged my potential interest in the book by the subtitle, I would have known it wasn't the book for me.

    But I did seize the opportunity to review "SPICED," and I now want to note up front that my inability to like the book has absolutely nothing to do with Dalia Jurgensen's writing and everything to do with me not being able to relate to her story.

    It's not her, it's me. And I hope we can still be friends.

    For Dalia Jurgensen lives up to what she purports in that subtitle: She does indeed tell about her trials by fire on her way to becoming a pastry chef in the kitchens of some of the most acclaimed New York restaurants. And she gives the lowdown on her after-hours exploits, to a hearty degree. She also writes in detail about what really goes on in the kitchen, mostly related to there being far too much testosterone manning the stoves, ovens and more.

    Yes, Dalia Jurgensen delivers the goods promised. It just didn't interest me. Well, except for the chapter about her work testing recipes for Martha Stewart. But it was in that chapter that Ms. Jurgensen wrote of her unabashed love of grocery shopping -- a chore I hate more than cleaning the litter box -- and solidified my belief that she and I are from different worlds, different tastes, and nary the twain shall meet. I simply couldn't relate to Jurgensen or her well-written tale, no matter how hard I tried.

    That's not to say others won't relate to her and her story, possibly even love them both. I thought "SPICED" would be an interesting read because I like to cook and I like to bake. But this book is geared toward people who absolutely love to cook and love to bake ... as if their lives depended on it. And people interested in the New York City after-hours party scene. And people who enjoy insider stories of celebrities patronizing the tony eateries in which Jurgensen plied her craft. I'm just not one of those people.

    But if you are one of those people, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy "Spiced." And this is your chance to taste-test the tale for yourself. In addition to the free book for myself -- in exchange for an honest review -- Ms. Jurgensen's people also provided TWO books for me to give away to Grandma's Briefs' readers. Here are the details:


    To be entered into the drawing for a copy of "SPICED: A Pastry Chef’s True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes on in the Kitchen" by Dalia Jurgensen, comment to this post with your answer to the following question:

    What's your favorite pastry?

    Comments will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. MST Friday, April 23  and the winners announced Saturday, April 24.


    Review and Giveaway: "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday? A Mother's Guide to Sanity in Stilettos" [CLOSED]

    Laura Bennett is a hoot. She's also a popular former contestant on Project Runway (season 3; she was the pregnant one), a columnist for The Daily Beast, a clothing designer who sells her designs on QVC and writer of the Case Clothed comic strip for IVillage.

    She's also a mom. Of six. Who regularly wears stilettos.

    I know all this because I just finished reading Bennett's book, "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday? A Mother's Guide to Sanity in Stilettos," which she sent to me (for free) for review. The book goes on sale April 6.

    You don't need to be a stiletto-wearing mama to enjoy Bennett's book. Take it from this grandma who wears no heels whatsoever, ever, that there's plenty anyone and everyone can relate to in Bennett's book, much of which will drop the jaws of those moms who claim to be perfect -- or did so in the past.

    To wit: Bennett admits to having a favorite child, to fearing "man smell the way some people fear snakes or spiders" even though five of her six children are boys, to allowing her kids to play with toy guns and to curse in public, to having a "genetic predisposition" to laissez-faire parenting, and to being addicted to nicotine gum ... even though she was never a smoker.

    Bennett says the things most moms -- especially those who pretend to be perfect -- would never say outside the confines of their own journal. And I love her for that. And I love her for her honesty, even when it makes me cringe a bit.

    She's not the perfect mother and readily admits it. "I have discovered one of the great secrets to being a perfect mother: there is no such thing," she writes.

    But being imperfect doesn't mean she can't pull off poignancy. My very favorite part of the book came in the first couple of pages, where Bennett writes about the oft-ignored advice dispensed by airline flight attendants that in the event of an emergency, passengers should secure their own oxygen masks before securing those of any children who may be traveling with them.

    "The other passengers seemed to have missed her message," Bennett writes of her in-flight epiphany, "but it made such clear sense to me: provide yourself with oxygen first, or you will be of no use to your children. If you run your own life, pursuing your own successes and coping with your own failures, you won't find yourself dwelling on the missed opportunities or attempting to undo mistakes on the backs of your kids."

    Moms of all ages and stages would do well to take note.

    Throughout "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday?" Bennett has numerous such nuggets of gold tucked between the stories of her Project Runway days, life in Manhattan, the attraction boys have to their own penises and other tales of an extraordinary mom and her interesting mommyhood.

    Bennett graciously offered up a few more of those nuggets o' gold and honesty in the following Q&A I conducted with her through e-mail.

    Why did you write this book? I didn’t plan to have six kids or write a book, both kind of just happened. But when the opportunity arose, and I started putting down all my stories, and I did see a theme emerge about how I live. About how being a mother is a big part, but just one part of my life; and about how I put myself out there and try new things all the time.

    What has been the response from your kids to the book? A lot of the criticism of my book has been, what are her kids going to think when they read what she wrote about them? But I think some people forget that my kids, having grown up around me (despite rumors that they are raised by nannies as I sip champagne) have the same sense of humor that I do. We laugh at each other all the time. My kids are excited about the book and see it as an accomplishment.

    What about from your husband? My husband hasn’t read a single word of this book. Maybe he thinks it is chick lit.

    Which chapter is your favorite? My favorite chapter is the one about the place we go to on weekends, Dairy Air. It is a rundown converted barn that works, but everything is quirky and funky and just a bit off, a perfect analogy for our family.

    How often do your kids get to spend time with Grandma (your mom) and what do they do? My mom lives in Texas so she tends to come for fewer, more extended stays, for instance she will come stay for the entire summer. She tries to spend time with the kids individually, and will do exactly what each child wants to do. Last time she was here she sat thorough a movie called Ninja Assassin.  

    What kinds of things do you do for one-on-one time with your kids? I do one-on-one art projects with my kids. We sew, make sculptures out of found objects, make Claymation movies; project that take time or have to be done in stages. Hopefully I can teach them that you have to put time and effort into anything if you expect to get something out of it. Instant gratification is a big problem with kids of this generation.

    What do you hope to pass along to your children? I am positive that the most important thing I can do for my kids is to make sure they have healthy self-esteem. If they leave my house feeling confident and self-assured, I’ve done my job.

    When you're a grandma, what's one word you hope your kids will use to describe you to THEIR children? Alive.

    Do you have plans for another book? I do love writing and have a list of new stories, but I need to focus on this book right now. If it doesn’t do well, it doesn’t matter how great my ideas are for the next one.

    If your daughter told you she wanted to have six children, what would you tell her? I would be too shocked to speak.

    What would you tell a stranger asking you the same question? Having so many kids is a lot of fun, but you have to learn to let go and enjoy it.

    What's one misconception people may have of you or your lifestyle that you'd like to clear up?
    People seem to think that I am super wealthy and beyond understanding the problems of other mothers; that I am aloof and hands-off when it comes to raising my kids. Because I wear a dress and heels people think I’m fancy, but I serve Stouffers frozen lasagna and Caesar salad kits for dinner just like everyone else.

    Are you really addicted to nicotine gum? Take away my gum for one hour and see how grumpy I get.

    What kind of shoes do you think you'll be wearing once you become a grandma?
    I may have to switch from four-inch to three-inch heels, but I doubt I’ll be wearing sneakers.

    Is there anything else you'd like to add regarding your book, your kids, your life or the pursuit of the perfect handbag? This is your life; make things happen.

    "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday? A Mother's Guide to Sanity in Stilettos" from Ballantine Books is available April 6 at all your favorite bookstores, online as well as the brick-and-mortar establishments. Learn more at



    Laura Bennett has offered up two copies of "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday?" to give away to Grandma's Briefs readers. Two winners will each receive a signed and personalized copy of the book directly from Ms. Bennett. 

    How can you enter? Simply comment to the following question and you'll be entered into the drawing.

    Question: What is your all-time favorite footwear -- from your current closet or from the past? Stilettos? Keds? Slippers with puffballs on top? Let's hear it.

    Comments will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. Sunday April 11 and the winners announced Monday, April 12.


    Review and Giveaway: "Writing Home" by Cindy La Ferle [CLOSED]

    When I was a young mother, I devoured Joyce Maynard's Domestic Affairs column that ran in my daily newspaper. She was a young, hip mom and I wanted to be just like her.

    The same went for Elizabeth Berg's essays in Parent magazine. Where Maynard was unconventional and cool, Berg was sweet and traditional. The heartfelt and often poignant words from both made me feel not so alone in the sometimes solitary madness of motherhood and inspired me to create -- and cherish -- the ordinary moments that make one's home "home."

    A recent reading of "Writing Home" by Cindy La Ferle did much the same for me.

    "Writing Home" is a collection of 93 columns and essays originally published in regional newspapers and national publications as esteemed as Reader's Digest and Better Homes & Gardens' Country Garden. Cindy recently sent me a copy of "Writing Home" to review on Grandma's Briefs.

    (Note to FTC-rule watchers: The copy was free. Note to my readers: The "free" status in no way influenced my review of Cindy's book.)

    I call Cindy by her first name because I feel like I came to know her well through her essays. Like a friend, I learned what makes her tick, and -- like the best of my friends -- it's the very same things that make me tick: family and home.

    Of course, home means cooking, and in the essay titled "Baghdad and Banana Bread," one paragraph in particular resonated with me:

    Fortunately, my attitude toward food preparaton changed after my son was born and I started working from home. This change of heart had less to do with my son's preference for homemade cookies and more to do with the fact that working in the kitchen was a creative release from parenting and writing deadlines. Recipes were easier to manage than a cranky three-year-old or an unruly paragraph. Sifting flour and breaking eggs seemed soothing, almost Zen-like.

    ... tick ...

    In "Willie," Cindy relates her enjoyment of a squirrel who resides on her property and nibbles nuts right outside the window where she writes every day. I, too, love the squirrels -- including the two white ones! -- who run from tree to tree outside my windows, much to the chagrin of squirrel-hating Jim. Cindy writes:

    I've asked myself why I find this so entertaining; why I'd bother befriending a nervy little rodent when I have bigger chores on my list.

    ... tick ...

    So many of Cindy's words resonated with me that I found it difficult to choose a favorite. So I e-mailed her to ask which of the essays were her favorites. Like me, she couldn't pick just one; she chose three. Here are her choices and why she chose them:

    "October Memories" -- "One of my favorite pieces honoring my beloved dad's memory. I was in my late 30s when he died, and his loss was difficult time for me. I wrote my way through my grief."

    "Grandpa's Ferns" -- "Both a garden essay and a tribute to my Scottish immigrant grandfather."

    "Home Sweet Office" -- "A favorite because it recalls the events that led me to become a work-at-home mom. I didn't begin writing personal essays -- which are now my forte -- until this phase of my life. In retrospect, being a mother made me a better writer -- not college, not journalism school. That's why this particular piece is special to me."

    ... tick, tick, tick ...

    If family and home are what make you tick, you'll enjoy "Writing Home." It may even do for you what Maynard and Berg -- and now LaFerle -- did for me: made me feel not so alone in the sometimes solitary madness of motherhood and inspired me to create -- and cherish -- the ordinary moments that make one's home "home."

    "Writing Home" is currently available on and is distributed to bookstores by Wayne State University Press. Proceeds from new book sales are donated to organizations serving the homeless in Oakland County, Mich.



    Cindy sent me one signed copy of "Writing Home" to give away to one lucky reader of Grandma's Briefs. If you'd like to be in the running for this collection of poignant essays and columns, comment to this post with your answer to following question:

    What is one thing that defines home for you? Is it a certain scent, a special family member, a piece of furniture passed down through the family, or something else special that simply means "home"?

    Comments will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, April 1 (no fooling!) and the winner (randomly chosen by my trusty ol' BINGO ball roller) will be announced Friday, April 2.


    Review: Ecostore Lemon Cream Cleanser

    Back before the holidays made life insane, I received an e-mail from Maggie at Ecostore USA, "an extension of a 20-year-old New Zealand company that makes plant based, non-toxic Household Cleaning, Baby and Personal Care Products that contain No Nasty Chemicals." She wanted to offer me a couple free items of my choosing from Ecostore, in exchange for an honest review of the products.

    I like free products and I like being honest -- and sharing my opinion! -- so I took her up on her offer. The first item I chose was the Lemon Cream Cleanser. The website touted the cream cleanser, containing lemon verbena oil, as great for any and every surface from the kitchen to the bathroom, and its non-gritty formula made it safe for even glass stovetops.

    That's the part that got me: safe for glass stovetops.

    I bought a stove with a glass top a couple years ago. I pretty much like the thing -- boilovers are handled so much more easily when it spreads all over the stove instead of filling up the old-time pans under each burner.

    But I worry about scratching the stovetop when cleaning up burned-on messes. And although I received a bottle of cleanser with the stove, it leaves a filmy yuck on the stove top every time I use it ... no matter how much I rinse and wipe afterwards. Plus, a few recent marks have appeared that the cleanser I had couldn't get rid of:

    So I requested and promptly received the Ecostore Lemon Cream Cleanser.

    Anxious to rid my stovetop of its ugly black and brown marks, I proceeded to open the bottle. Which was a little more difficult than you'd think. But after stabbing away with a steak knife and nearly losing a finger removing the shrink wrap, I shook the bottle well, per the directions, and snapped open the cap in hopes of breathing in a lemony-fresh scent.

    Well, it smelled a little lemony ... and a lot like other household cleaners, just watered-down with a dash of lemon. But that's okay. The cleaner -- like all Ecostore products -- contains "no nasty chemicals" so I shouldn't expect a strong scent of the plant-based cleaner.

    Again, per the bottle directions for use, I squeezed the cleaner directly onto the surface. Just a smidgen, just on the black and brown marks, as you can see.

    Then, using minimal to no elbow grease, just a teensy bit of scrubbing with a soft scrubbie thingee ...

    ... the marks quickly seemed to disappear.

    So I rinsed ... and what to my wondering eyes should appear?

    No marks!

    And no yucky film that took 13 rinses to eliminate! Geez! How simple is that?

    The Ecostore Lemon Cream Cleanser gets a firm thumbs up from this grandma! It only took a bit to do a lot -- and since it came in a 12.7-ounce bottle, it's what I'll be using to clean my stovetop for quite some time.

    If you're interested in checking out the Lemon Cream Cleanser (which normally sells for $7.50 but is on sale for $4.50) or any of the other plant-based household cleaning products offered by Ecostore, visit The products are reasonably priced and shipping is always free for orders over $25. While there, sign up for the No Nasty Chemicals newsletter, available on Ecostore blog.

    (Stay tuned for my review of the second product I received from Ecostore: Herbal All Natural Ear Wash for dogs.)

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