Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thankful Thursday

I've been so busy with the holidays and the kids being home, my blog has suffered. I should be back on track soon! In the meantime, it's Thursday and of course I have lots to be thankful for!

I'm thankful that my kids still have a few days off school.
I'm thankful that my brother-in-law is here visiting from Florida.
I'm thankful for the lovely meal we had on top of the Renaissance Center this evening at Coach Insignia, and that Mathilda was merely dancing, singing, and painting the windows with lip gloss. Screaming and crying would have been much worse. Plus she asked to go potty two times! First time going potty in a restaurant!
I'm thankful that Mathilda has now gone 2 days completely accident free!
I'm thankful that we are officially booking our weekend trip to Great Wolf Lodge.
I'm thankful for the coupons I got at the Sears checkout today, which I will be using when I return to use the remainder of my gift card.
I am thankful for all the awesome Christmas presents I received, and that my children received.
I am thankful that Connor did not freak out on the elevator going to the Coach Insignia tonight, and that in fact he ended up enjoying it. (The restaurant is on the 72nd floor, and the glass elevator offers a stunning view of the Detroit River and Windsor, Ontario.)
I am thankful that Bethany & Connor had no cavities at the dentist today!
I am thankful that the tooth fairy remembered to visit on the momentous occasion of Lucy losing her first tooth, and hoping she shows up tonight since Lucy just lost her second tooth of the week! And also thankful that the tooth fell out as it was driving me nuts seeing it wiggling around in her mouth.
I am thankful that Bethany is brave enough to ride on an airplane all by herself, since her Christmas gift from her Uncle Robby is a trip to Florida to visit him this spring.
I am thankful that Chris loves the sweater I gave him for Christmas & has already worn it a few times.
I am thankful that my children were fairly adventurous eaters at dinner tonight, and tried (and liked!) several new foods. (Lobster corn dog anyone?)

I am just bursting with thankfulness and could probably go on all night! What about you, what are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Today was a milestone kind of day for Mattie. Last night all of my babies stayed overnight at Chris's mom's, so I'm not sure how Mattie's morning went. But this is big news: from 11:00 a.m. on (when we arrived to pick up the kids), Mattie stayed D-R-Y. She has used the potty all day long!

Let me repeat that for emphasis: My daughter, Mathilda Reese, used the potty and stayed dry for the entire day!

She used the potty at Meema's house before we left. She stayed dry in the car as our 45 minute drive to visit family turned into a two-hour drive. (Let's just say that accidentally getting on the bridge to Canada is a much bigger ordeal than one might expect.) She used the potty at my dad's house, with no accidents. She stayed dry on the 45 minute drive home. She stayed dry as she slept on the couch for hours when we got home, and used the potty when she woke up.

Oh my goodness! I think this is it! My diaper-less future is so close I can taste it! I knew this day would come, but somehow it seemed like it never would. Something clicked in Mattie within the last couple of weeks, and she just suddenly decided that she wanted to use the potty. Today was such a big deal because, number one, it was her first day being accident-free, and number two, it was her first time using a real toilet (not her little potty seat) at someone else's house.

This has been quite a busy and eventful Christmas break. Basketball games, sick kids, Christmas preparations and visits, family photos (minus the parents), and potty training! I'm getting ready to book our January weekend getaway. And we still have lots more to look forward to in the next week.

I know for a lot of people in my life, 2011 has been a rough year. I have to say, it's ending pretty well for me. I've been on this crazy winning streak for one thing. Within the course of about 10 days, I won:
  1. A coupon for a free bottle of cranberry juice.
  2. A coupon for a free package of Louis Rich frozen foods.
  3. $50 cash (Paypal actually, same diff)
  4. A custom made t-shirt for a little girl
  5. A $100 Sears gift card
  6. A $50 Land's End gift card
Is that crazy nutty or what?! But there's more! Thanks to my mom, my whole family has brand new snow boots (although it has yet to snow more than a light dusting), and when our order arrived via UPS, there was an extra pair of boots in our shipment. (Don't worry, I'll be notifying the company). My family has been subject to great generosity, for which I'm so grateful. But my biggest jackpot of all is Mattie's potty training success!

No matter what, I'm ready to bid a fond farewell to 2011 and welcome the new year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Blessings

We have had a wonderfully blessed Christmas, just as we do every year. Our family is fortunate in so many ways, even though it's often easy to lose track of that on a daily basis as we go through the motions of our hectic lives. All of us have been enjoying tons of awesome new gadgets and gizmos all day long, and while that is loads of fun, what I'm most grateful for today is my beautiful, healthy family. I love being mommy to four little people, and I cherish our loud, crazy holidays together. There is shouting, shoving, kissing, hugging, dancing, singing, fighting and sharing going on every moment. At times it can get exhausting, but just when I think I can't take the chaos for one more second, the calm rolls in and everyone goes off to a different room to quietly play together, taking turns and getting along like little champs.

I try to always be cognizant of how lucky I am, that I was able to so easily become pregnant four times, to have had four pregnancies that were 90% easy-peasy, to have given birth to four perfect, healthy little babies.  I can't imagine the heartache of those who struggle with infertility. Several years ago I even looked into egg donation to help someone else experience the miracle of becoming a mother, but I believe I was already getting too old (I think 30 is typically the cut-off age). Recently I replied to an ad I saw about becoming a surrogate mother because I think maybe I could do that, knowing I was helping someone fulfill a dream of parenthood, but then I discovered that Michigan is not a "surrogate-friendly" state. Some may believe that egg donation or surrogacy would be too strange, but having a family is such a life changing and wondrous occurrence that I can understand why someone would go to any lengths to make it happen.

This past week has been tough, with all the holiday preparations, and five basketball games and two pediatrician visits thrown into the mix as well. Lucy has been sick, first with an asthma flare up and now with an ear infection, and while having a sick little one at Christmastime is no fun, I know that what I'm dealing with is nothing compared to what Chris's cousin is living with as her small daughter struggles with her recent leukemia diagnosis. I know that for 10 years we have been remarkably blessed with good health, even though there have been some bumps and worries along the road, and Chris's major scare three years ago.

As challenging as family life can be, I am so very blessed to have been given the opportunity to overcome the challenges I face. I wouldn't trade one temper tantrum, sleepless night, potty training obstacle, sassy mouth, messy bedroom, or sticky hand for anything at all. We are perfect in our imperfections.

I hope that you, too, are giving thanks for your blessings today and realizing that they are plentiful. I hope that you have spent your day with people you love and who love you, having fun and smiling and laughing a lot. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Last Minute Shopping

It's now five days until Christmas, and I still have shopping to do. Not a lot, but enough. I actually really enjoy Christmas shopping online or at my leisure, but not so much when it comes down to the wire and the pressure is on. And some people are so difficult to shop for! I'm sure you have people like this in your life, who seem to have everything and/or are just not cooperative when it comes to giving you gift ideas. Or maybe people you don't see very often, so you don't really know what they already have.

Sometimes I think the best gift is a gift card. Remember when stores used to have gift certificates? Some smaller stores still do, but I love the convenience of the gift card. The balance is kept track of for you, you can just slip it in your wallet with your credit cards, they're small and easy to use. One of the greatest things about gift cards is that they are small and can be mailed inexpensively. My grocery store sells all kinds of gift cards, which I really appreciate as a busy mom. Shoppers accumulate fuel points, which equal cents off per gallon at the affiliated gas stations, and the grocery store often has special bonuses for gift card purchases (such as triple points). Since gas is so darn expensive, every little bit helps!

I love getting gift cards because I think of it as an excuse to shop for myself, something that I don't really get to do very much. I'm always so excited when I open a card and see a gift card. Somehow it's more exciting than getting cash, which generally gets whittled away on stuff for the kids or into the bank to pay bills. I usually get one or two gift cards for Christmas, and I look forward to finding an afternoon to shop for myself and use it. Target is one of my favorite shopping destinations, so I do enjoy receiving a Target gift card. However, there are so many practical things to buy there, like laundry detergent, and of course tons of things for my kids, that I sometimes find it difficult to actually use the gift card on myself. Another favorite store of mine is Macy's, and when I receive a Macy's gift card I do tend to use most of it on myself. I like to get as much as possible out of my gift cards, so I look for bargains and do my best to stretch it and make it last. One time when I hosted a preschool board meeting at my house, one of my guests gave me a Starbucks gift card, which was fantastic! Starbucks is an occasional indulgence for me, and I choke at the price (almost $5 for a latte!? but so worth it!) every time, but receiving a gift card allows me to splurge a little without the guilt. My favorite gift card purchase ever might be my Magic Bullet, which I'll admit is pretty practical and the whole family uses it, but I love that thing! I bought it with a Kohl's gift card I received for my birthday one year, and it get used daily around here.

Once in awhile we use gift cards as stocking stuffers, and I can personally attest that it's always fun to find one in my stocking. Other people have put them in the Christmas tree for the kids to find. And receiving a gift card in the mail is always a pleasant surprise. I've noticed that some stores offer e-gift cards now, which is even better if you're like me and like to do a great deal of your shopping from the comfort of your own homeI think a lot of people feel like they're being lazy or not putting enough thought into the gift when they give a gift card. However, just think about how much you love receiving a gift card, and I'm pretty sure you'll feel better about giving them!

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Gift Cards Rock blogging program, for 6,000 My SocialMoms Rewards Points. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

So What! Wednesday

Today I'm linking up with Shannon at Life After I "Dew" for So What! Wednesday!

So What! if it's almost Christmas and my blog is still decorated for fall? I just haven't had to play around with the design, so sue me!

So What! if I stayed up way past my bedtime last night? Those Christmas cards were not going to address themselves!

So What! if most of the people on my Christmas card list probably won't be receiving their cards until after Christmas? They were just delivered last night, I'm doing my best here!

So What! if the thought of going to the post office today is making me want to puke? Why do I do these things to myself???

So What! if I think it's hilarious that my 2-year old keeps telling us that she hates Christmas and that she's on the naughty list? She also spontaneously breaks out in "Jingle Bells" several times a day, says "Merry Christmas" all the time, and keeps telling us that Santa is coming to the party (eh, what party?). This kid is a crack up.

So What! if I didn't get our trash can to the curb in time for pick up this morning? I'm actually quite ticked about this, but do they really have to come so early?

So What! if I indulged in a few (frosted) sugar cookies last night, and then had a bowl of ice cream because I got a new flavor and I just couldn't wait one more day to try it? Truthfully, my tummy is regretting that decision a little bit this morning...

So What! if I don't have a single stocking stuffer for Mathilda yet? I love doing stockings, and I'm finding all kinds of stuff that isn't even all going to fit in Bethany, Connor, & Lucy's stockings because there's so much of it, and I just can't seem to figure out what to put in Mattie's. Oh wait, I take it back. I do have one thing. One little thing. And I'll definitely get her some cookies to put in there because that's all she asked for this Christmas (well, that and mac 'n cheese). But what else??

How about you? What are you saying So What! to this week?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The College Way

My oldest child is only 10 years old, but already college discussions have begun. I think she likes to carelessly toss out remarks like, "I don't wanna go to college," just to see me squirm. I try to explain to her that in today's world, college is a necessity. I try to explain to her that our expectation of her is that she will be getting a college education. Sometimes I might even say something along the lines of, "You are going to college, and don't even think for one second that not going is an option!"

Of course I know the reality. The reality that once she graduates from high school and turns 18, we're not going to be able to drag her to college against her will. The reality that she has to want it for herself, otherwise she isn't going to get anything out of it. She's in fifth grade, so I've got seven years to convince her that she needs to go to college. We're a lot alike, Bethany and I. But this I just don't understand. I always wanted to go to college. I couldn't wait to go to college. Of course she's still young, and as long as I make sure she hangs around college-bound kids (what? I can't pick her friends either?) from now until the end of high school, hopefully common sense and positive peer pressure will carry her right into the college of her choice.

The thing is, I really think Bethany will love college. As long as she gets to live in a rowdy dorm with no one around to tell her that caffeinated beverages are bad for her and fruit roll-ups will give her cavities, she'll be good to go. As much as I love her and want her to stay right with me forever and ever, I hope she finds something she's passionate about and goes wherever she needs to go to make her dreams reality. She loves Florida and fashion, so maybe she'll look into graphic design schools in Miami. I've always wanted to visit Miami. Because, you know, it's where Dexter lives. Or maybe she'll choose some other city that I've always wanted to go to, so that I'll have a perfect excuse to go there. As she's making her decision, there will be many factors to take into account, but sadly I have to admit that none of them will be "how badly does mom want to visit __________ (insert name of random awesome city)". Think about the ocean though, Bethany, and warmth. I trudged uphill in deep snow to get to classes in Kalamazoo, so I speak from experience. I'm sure there are lots of great graphic design schools in Miami

Whatever Bethany decides to do about college and with her life in general, I will be there to guide her, support her, and advise her along the way. And then I'll get to do the same thing three more times.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Faking It Until I Believe It

My last two sort of whiny and complaining posts are proof that I need to do something to turn my frown upside down. I'm half heartedly committing myself to fake it until I believe it. What this means is that I'm going to smile and be as nice as I can to everyone, while moving forward toward Christmas acting like I'm really jolly about it. Pretty soon I will forget I'm acting and truly believe it. 

This morning I started my day off at Bethany's basketball game. It was my turn to work the concession stand, where I had a great view of Bethany scoring for the first time!! Working at the game was actually kind of fun. I like going to Bethany's games, so I'm going to resolve to have a better attitude about squeezing six games in next week amidst our holiday chaos.

After the game the kids went to my in-law's for the afternoon and I went Christmas shopping with my mom. That was fun and we had a very productive afternoon. The crowds of people didn't irritate me too badly and I think I might actually be starting to feel a tiny bit more festive (this is not the faking it part).

The best part of the day is that I don't think I changed one diaper all day long. I'm afraid to say it out loud, but I think my stubborn little potty trainer is finally starting to be seriously interested in using the potty. In fact she is up right now because she said she needed to use the potty - and she did!

Tomorrow the kids and I are going to be Christmas cookie baking fools. I have a killer headache and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done, but I know tomorrow is going to be a great day, because any day full of yummy cookies just has to be fabulous.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Don't I Deserve a Medal For This?

Earlier I wrote about my slightly bah humbug attitude this year. I was feeling down for a lot of reasons, and just generally bland about Christmas. Tonight there was a Christmas event at church that I've been taking the kids to for the past few years called Journey to Bethlehem. It's a neat way of teaching the kids the story of Jesus' birth. They decorate the halls and classrooms (there used to be a school at our church) to look like biblical scenes. A guide walks guests from room to room. In each room there are actors dressed in costume playing out the various scenes. The first one portrays Mary and Joseph as they find out about Jesus' impending birth. In the second room, a scary "Roman" dude tells everyone that under Caesar's rule they are required to register in the town of their grandfathers' birth, no matter how far away - and even with a pregnant wife. A woman in the third room tries to help guests find an inn to spend the night in during their journey. And in the fourth room is the stable with Mary and Joseph and the newborn Jesus. The props are pretty elaborate, and everyone does a great job with it. It's obvious that a lot of work goes into the whole thing. When the journey is over, there are cookies and punch and little craft projects in the gym. And of course bleachers for two-year olds to climb on and give their mothers heart attacks.

The kids look forward to it, which makes me happy because it's a nice (and free) non-commercialized Christmasy thing to do. A couple extra kids went with us, which made it more fun for the kids. And I was starting to feel a little more festive, a little more in the holiday spirit.

And then we went home, and the friends went home, and it was bedtime. I went upstairs to tuck my kids in. Let me just mention that my bedroom is not upstairs, it's the only bedroom on the first floor. So I don't spend a whole lot of time upstairs. As I approached the top of the steps, I was instantaneously annoyed by the mess I encountered. I'll spare you the details but UGH. I forgot my "sad, not mad" mantra and lost my temper. My kids got to hear their mother yelling right before bed. And I hate that. Lucy is sensitive, she was crying. I apologized for losing my temper, and got Lucy calmed down. But I feel *this* big right now (which is equal to about three quarters of an inch). That little bit of Christmas cheer I was starting to feel has fizzled and died.

Then I came downstairs and looked at my disaster area of a house which I have spent an absurd amount of time cleaning in the past week. How do I find the joy in this? The never ending battle against laundry, toys, vacuuming, dishes and everything else is bringing me down. Because no matter how much time I spend cleaning and straightening, it just keeps getting messed up. Over and over and over and over again. I know that's life, but it sort of makes me feel like I'm going to start hyperventilating because it's a claustrophobic feeling.

Somebody just give me my medal now and get it over with, please. You know, the one that says "Worst Mother in the Universe."

I'm No Scrooge, But...

I'm just not feeling Christmas this year. It seems like I say the same darn thing every year. Judging from Facebook status updates and talking to my friends, I know that I'm not alone. Is it always like this for parents? We're just so stressed out and over-scheduled (...and broke...) that it sucks all the fun out of Christmas?

I start out excited. I love shopping for my kids, and this year I got a fairly early start. But then it starts getting closer and closer to the big day, and the obligations keep piling on, and pretty soon I'm feeling sort of sick to my stomach because, well, I'm no mathematician but I'm positive there are not enough hours between now and Christmas to do everything that needs to get done.

I'm sad that my kids have to go to school through Thursday next week. I should maybe be glad about that because at least it gives me a chance to do some last minute shopping without them, and perhaps even get started on wrapping while they're in school. But I'd rather they were home next week. I'm annoyed because just yesterday Bethany's basketball coach gave us the schedule for their basketball tournament (which we just found out about on Monday), and they have SIX games next week, including one at 8:30 on a school night (she goes to bed at 9:00!) and two games on Friday (as in, the day before Christmas Eve!), the only day my kids don't have school next week, when we could have potentially done something fun and festive together. I'm stressing slightly because I'm not sure what to get for the last few people on my list. There are things I really want to do, like bake tons of cookies, that I know I'm not going to have as much time for as I'd like. And other projects I really wanted to get to which will definitely not be happening. Will it be weird if I'm making Christmas stockings and a tree skirt in January? And then all that wrapping, cleaning, and meal planning that needs to get done.

Ugh. I need to find my joie de vivre. Like stat.

What about you? Are you all psyched up for Christmas this year? Me, well I'm going to try a little harder.

ABBA You Can Dance


I love ABBA. I think my first real introduction to ABBA might have been Muriel's Wedding, the classic Australian film starring Toni Collette. The main character, Muriel, is obsessed with ABBA, and at the time I didn't really get it. Then I saw Mamma Mia, the musical, and fell in love. I've seen it more than once, and I've written about it here. It's amazing to me that someone wrote a play that fits perfectly with ABBA music. It's like they were made for each other - the music, which existed long before, and the musical. We have the soundtrack and it gets played pretty often. My kids may or may not get annoyed with me as I grab them for a twirl (or three) in the kitchen while belting out Dancing Queen. I was a little skeptical when I heard they were making a movie version of Mamma Mia, starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried. Chris and I were in Chicago a few years ago when it came out, and he was recovering from major surgery so we couldn't do a whole lot. Therefore we found ourselves in a movie theater for a double feature (Dark Night opened at the same time). And I loved it. Really loved it. They nailed it. Streep as Donna and Seyfried as Sophie - they're just perfect. The music might not be as chillingly beautiful as it can be in the live theatrical production, but nonetheless they did a great job and it's a super fun, gorgeously scenic movie.

Since I love ABBA so, so much, I was really excited to be given the opportunity to review the new Wii game, ABBA You Can Dance. Seriously, there is now a dance game featuring all ABBA music! How much awesomeness can be contained on one little game disc? A whole lot, as it turns out! If you've ever played the Just Dance games, the ABBA You Can Dance game is very similar and played in the same way. Up to four players can dance at a time to compete against each other. You can choose a song, or let the game randomly choose one for you. There are characters on the screen doing all the moves and the players copy the moves. Each move is rated as follows:
  • X - You missed a move
  • OK - You can do better!
  • Good - Nice move
  • Perfect - Awesome!
Based on your rating, you get a certain number of points. If you perform a special "Gold Move" correctly you get 500 points. But there is more to this game than just dancing along and getting points. You can even hook up a USB microphone (or two) to your Wii console and sing along to the music as you dance! Besides Play mode, there are two other modes, Musical and Karaoke. In Musical mode, you can choose your choreography and dance and sing along to a musical based on ABBA's music. For the Karaoke mode, up to two USB microphones can be connected to the Wii console to sing duets with your friends! The song lyrics are on the screen. Vocals are not scored or recorded, it's just a cool little bonus!

According to the instruction booklet that comes with the game, "The flow of your movements is sensed by the Wii Remote and compared with those of professional dancers in order to evaluate your performance precisely. The amount of energy you put in is also detected and affects your score, so give it your all!" Don't be discouraged if it takes you awhile to get the moves, this is supposed to be fun! And it takes a little getting used to. I am anything but coordinated, but even if I don't score well I still have fun playing!

I had some friends over to try out ABBA You Can Dance. We had a good time being silly and feeling our disco groove, and the disco light definitely helped create the ambiance. Pretty much everyone I know is getting sick, sick now, or just getting over being sick. So I'll be honest, we maybe could have been slightly more energetic. Even so, we enjoyed the game. I'm really looking forward to playing it with my kids soon. I think the Musical mode will be fun, and I know Bethany will dig the Karaoke mode. And since two of my friends were not familiar with the music of ABBA before trying out ABBA You Can Dance, I thought it fitting that we end our evening watching the movie Mamma Mia. I think I've converted them.

ABBA You Can Dance for Wii would make a great Christmas gift for any ABBA fan, or anyone who likes to dance, sing, and have a good time. It definitely gets my seal of approval.

Thank you to Ubisoft for sponsoring this blog post. Please  click here to learn more about Ubisoft. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Movie Party Sponsored by Oral B and MommyParties!

Look at all that loot!
Last Saturday afternoon, I took some time out of my very busy weekend to have some friends over with their kids for a movie party, courtesy of MommyParties and Oral B. My friends and I have definitely not been hanging out nearly enough, so I'm glad I had this fabulous excuse to have them over and catch up. Our kids haven't seen much of each other either, as so often happens when everyone is crazy with all of their activities and responsibilities. So they were happy to get to hang out together for a couple hours too. We have to make sure we carve out some time every now and then! Since this was a sponsored party, I received a fantastic package of mostly full size products to help facilitate my get together, including:
  • Cars II DVD
  • Popcorn
  • Popcorn containers
  • Balloons
  • Game to play with the kids
  • Toothbrush for each child
  • Full size toothpaste for each child
  • Bottle of kids mouthwash for each family
  • Package of flossers for each child
  • Sample of Disney Gummies vitamins for each child
  • Full size bottle of Disney Gummies vitamins for my family
  • Coupons for everyone
First the kids played the game, which was designed to make them think a little about how certain things are good for their teeth and some things are bad for their teeth. There were several pictures of different foods and things like toothbrushes and toothpaste, and the kids had to decide which side of the poster to stick them on: Yucky Mouth or Healthy Mouth. Then I set them up in the family room with Cars II, popcorn and other snacks while us moms hung out in the kitchen, chatting and snacking. Since various viruses and other ailments have been going around (and around...and around...), I opted to not have the kids try out any of their oral hygiene goodies at my house. No use in spreading the germs, they get enough of that at school without spitting into the same sink together.

It was a fun way to spend the afternoon. Thanks MommyParties and Oral B for making my weekend get together possible!

I received all of the items listed and pictured above for my own children and to share with my guests, free of charge, from MommyParties and Oral B.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

So What! Wednesday

I'm linking up with Shannon at Life After I "Dew" for So What! Wednesday. Go check her out, she's awesome. I might be somewhat partial because I just won one of her giveaways (I'll post about it when I get my prize!).

So What! if we have like no Christmas decorations up, besides the tree? I just can't get into it. I can't keep my house clean for more than 20 minutes, therefore I'm not exactly inspired to decorate.

So What! if I just read a book using a highlighter the whole way through? I'm a dork like that.

So What! if Christmas is in less than two weeks and I still don't have teacher gifts figured out, or even gifts for all of our parents? It'll get done, it always does.

So What! if I am sometimes compelled to read spam emails, even though I know just by looking at the title that it's spam? Sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me.

So What! if I see my little Mattie all snuggled up on the couch watching t.v., and all I want to do is cuddle up with her and forget about everything that needs to get done around here?

What are you saying So What! to this week?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stories to Warm Your Heart

If you are a fellow Michigander, you've probably heard about the Secret Santa sensation that started at a Grand Rapids area Kmart last week. A customer went to the layaway department and said she wanted to help some families pay off their bills. In total, this Secret Santa paid off $500 on the layaway bills of total strangers. She reportedly also spent $300 on merchandise for Toys for Tots during her visit to Kmart that day.

News spread, and copy cat Kmart Secret Santas starting popping up. Wednesday someone visited the same Kmart and paid off $2000 in layaway debt, and the trend has continued with an average of $150-200 being donated daily.

The Greenville, Michigan Kmart saw several layaway bills settled by total strangers. In Jackson, Michigan two men paid on about 15 layaway bills, spending a total of $500. A woman went to the Hastings, Michigan Kmart hoping to pay off every layaway in the store, but considering that the total would have been $95,000, she settled for donating $5000, which paid off the balance of 50 layaway bills. There have also been reports in Omaha; Burlington, North Carolina; and Anaheim, California of people anonymously making layaway payments for strangers. Most Secret Santas have stipulated that the layaways they help with contain toys or winter clothing, especially for children, or that they be in arrears and in danger of being returned to the shelves.

I'm happy to report that this wave of Christmas cheer reached my own neck of the woods a few days ago when a shopper in a southeast Michigan Walmart decided to pick up the $187 tab of the family behind him in line. The family was happy and grateful that a stranger randomly decided to help them out with their groceries and Christmas shopping.

Every time I read one of these stories, I start to tear up and wish I had the money to do something similar. Just today I was over at Single Dad Laughing, and read about a time that Dan and his ex-wife drove around and randomly chose houses where they would leave a plate of homemade cookies and a Christmas card with a cash gift inside. The recipients were all strangers. Dan and his wife just left the gifts on the porch, rang the bell, and ran. A much more fun version of Ding Dong Ditch, don't you agree?

Can you imagine opening up your front door and finding a card with a note from a stranger and $500 cash in it? Wouldn't that just make you feel so good that you would want to do kind things for others just for the heck of it? This is how we spread good will, love, and peace. One act at a time. It's contagious. In my heart I believe that people are good, and they want to do good things for other people. Sometimes they just need a nudge. I know everybody can't afford to go to the store and pay for the bills of strangers (heck, some of us can barely pay our own...), but you don't necessarily have to spend money to make someone's day. A kind word, a smile, a compliment, being patient with a sales clerk in training, an offer to help carry groceries or taking an extra few seconds to hold the door open for someone are all things anyone can do, things that make us feel good and help restore our faith in human kindness. 

Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." If you think the world could stand to be a little more loving and kind, I challenge you to take the first step toward making that happen. Make someone's day. It doesn't take much.

I know I've been on the receiving end of amazing generosity many, many times. Do you have any stories of random acts of kindness? Has the kindness of a stranger ever changed your life?

Review of Assassin's Creed: Revelations for XBox 360

This is a guest post by my husband, Chris, who blogs at Spoiler Free Movie Sleuth.
Product DetailsTypically not an adventure gamer, I gave Assassin's Creed: Revelations a shot. I've never played any of the other entries in the series, but from all the promotion I've seen for it, I thought I'd give it a try. Usually I'm a strict fan of first person shooters such as the Call of Duty series. So, there was a bit of a learning curve trying to get used to the controls. This is where I found my first issue with the game. The controls are extremely hard to get used to and  don't use the typical format that I've grown accustomed to. It really made the game unenjoyable for me  with the diverse amount of button pushing needed for basic game play motions. Having to use a two button combination to strafe the walls seemed like a bit much.
I appreciated all the hard work that went in to the graphics presentation of the cut scenes. They did a great job setting up the story and giving a solid background for people that hadn't played any of the previous entries.
However, the beginning scenes seemed to drag on way too long especially for a gamer that is more accustomed to the fast pace of first person shooters. Another issue was the several different types of graphics used in the cut scenes. Some are very easy on the eyes, but others seemed almost unfinished
and not polished enough for a finished product. Yet, I think they did a great job on the actual game play graphics. They flow nicely and are extremely fluid.
While I'm not a huge fan of this game, I'll give them credit for their creativity and ability to successfully introduce the series with a solid foundation in story telling. I knew nothing of this series before I played Revelations. Now, I have a basic understanding of the game's mythology. Yet, the game play controls could have used some serious work.
Thank you to Ubisoft for sponsoring this blog post. Please click here to learn more about Ubisoft. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. All opinions are my own.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Send Smartecards & Donate to Charity of Your Choice! Win 25 Credits to Get Started!

smartecardSending out Christmas cards is such a gigantic hassle that I only get to it about every other year. I do love to send cards, but by the time I get a decent picture of the kids, find a good deal online, design the cards and order them, I'm about tuckered out. But then I still have to buy stamps, address all the envelopes, and mail the cards.

If you have trouble finding the motivation to go through all that too, I just found out about something you might be interested in, called Smartecard. It's a website where you can go to design your holiday cards and email them to everyone on your list. At the same time, your purchase goes to a non-profit charitable organization. Plus, since the cards are virtual, it's environmentally sound. This is how it works.
  1. Create an account and indicate which charitable organization you would like to support.
  2. Choose your card style. Right now they're mostly limited to holiday designs, but they have plans to add lots more categories in the future, including Birthday, Friendship, and Love.
  3. Choose images. You can upload pictures from your computer and choose 3 to use in your card. If you'd like, you can include an image from your chosen non-profit, which will be provided for you.
  4. Edit the text on each picture by clicking on the picture and then clicking on the text box. Right now the editing options are pretty limited - you can't choose your font or font size, but you can move the text box around and change the color of the text. Maybe this is something they'll improve upon as they grow.
  5. Choose music. There are 21 songs to choose from, and you can listen before you choose. The music will play as your images are shown, slideshow style.
  6. Preview your card. Make sure you do this so you can see your card exactly as your recipients will see it.
  7. Name and save your card.
  8. Choose your recipients. You can import email addresses from your email account (including AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and more) or enter them manually. 
  9. Add an email subject and a message that will go in the body of your email.
  10. Send your cards. Your recipients will have the option to respond to the card with a personal message just for you, which will be delivered directly to your email. After you send the cards, you can log back into your account to see who has opened your card.
It costs $1 for each Smartecard (equal to 1 email - so if you design a card and want to send it to 10 people, for example, the total would be $10), but here's the breakdown:
  • 70% goes to your designated charity
  • 10% goes to Urban Affairs Coalition (a 501c3 organization)
  • 20% goes to Smartecard for licensing and operating costs
So not only are you saving yourself time and postage and helping the environment, you're also make a tax deductible donation to a charity of your choice. For further information and updates from Smartecard, you can connect with them on Facebook and Twitter

Thanks to Mom Select and Smartecard, I have a special giveaway to offer my readers. You can enter to win 25 Smartecard credits, which is equal to sending 25 emails. This prize is valued at $25. 
*I received Smartecard credits in exchange for writing this post. Prize will be awarded directly from Smartecard.*

Dream Destination: South America

Chile Tours

For awhile I was hooked on a Travel Channel series in which Samantha Brown journeyed throughout South America. I was transfixed by  this beautiful land on the other side of the world. Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Chile started calling my name. One of my favorite blogging families, authors of, wrote about their adventures in South American, and suddenly I was burning with a desire to hike to Machu Picchu and see it for myself. When my cousin Kimberly traveled to South American and posted pictures on Facebook (she even got to go to a seminar with a survivor of the Alive plane crash as a featured speaker & got her picture taken with him!), I became even more interested.

Perusing through information about Patagonia tours, I want to see penguins and sea lions and dolphins in their natural habitat. I want to go where Darwin himself went, through the same channels and untouched areas (even to this day). It does look cold, and the required clothing for the trip includes waterproof gloves, boots, parka, and pants. But I think I could stand it for a short time; it'd be worth it.

Certain areas of South America are at particularly high altitudes, and altitude sickness is pretty common. That sort of scares me, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that millions of other travelers have endured the altitude and lived to tell about it. And my friend Shelly thinks no one can survive a trip through South America without losing an organ or two to the black market. But I've read that the United States is considered quite dangerous by most foreigners. I guess you can't believe everything you read or see on the news, and the media likes to hype everything up to epic proportions.

Have you been to South America? Where did you go and what did you love about it?

Another Weekend Gone, But Not Forgotten

I just had the best weekend. It's always hard to get back to the grind Monday morning. But the sun is shining, Mathilda slept in and woke up happy, and Chris is home so I don't have to get Mattie all bundled up to pick Lucy up from school. As Mondays go, I can't complain. Yet.

Friday night Chris's band, The Smiths United, played at the Magic Bag in Ferndale and my in-laws babysat so I could go. My friend Shelly went with me, and we realized we haven't been out together - at night & without kids - in 11 years! That we can remember, anyway. And just an FYI, my memory ain't what it used to be. I loved hanging out with my Shelly and it's always fun to be in the middle of a packed house, all there to see my husband perform. It was a late night for us old ladies, and freezing cold, but it was a good night.

Saturday morning Bethany had a basketball game. I've missed the last couple games because I was sick, so I was happy to be able to attend this one. By myself. The kids stayed home with Chris, and I got to enjoy conversation with the other basketball moms and a nice hot Starbucks soy latte (my first & so good!) while I watched Bethany's team kick some butt. They are really good. And I'm so proud of Bethany, her playing is really improving. Really I'm proud of her just for trying something new and putting so much effort into it.

Later on, we had some friends over for a little Oral B Mommy Parties get together. I'll dedicate a whole post to that in the next couple days. But it was nice chatting with my friends while the kids played together and watched a movie.

Saturday evening Chris and the kids made a funny little video. Chris is still working on it. When it's all done maybe I'll post it. This is what my family does for fun. Makes videos. Bethany is obsessed with You Tube. She and her friends are forever creating quirky little videos. They had one that was actually getting a lot of hits, it was pretty funny. Until some jack-you-know-what tagged it as inappropriate (seriously - it was NOT - at ALL) and it disappeared from You Tube forever.

Sunday my mom took Connor shopping to get the poor kid some snow boots so that he's no longer banished to the black top everyday at recess. Then she and I took the kids to the symphony. It was a holiday concert put on by the Warren Symphony Orchestra. Besides my kids, there were probably only about 10 kids there. If that. Which blows my mind because kids are free! All the way up through high school seniors! The adult tickets were $23 each (and we could have bought them for $11 via Groupon, which I just now noticed when I visited their Facebook page - sorry mom!), but I still think this was a great bargain for a family outing. I love the symphony. I will admit it was perhaps a tad long for the kids, but they were great and I think they all liked it. Mathilda especially loved it. She kept getting up to dance, and insisting that Lucy dance with her. If Lucy didn't do exactly what she wanted, Mathilda loudly corrected her. "No Lucy! Put your arms up like this!" I'm sure the other patrons appreciated that. Since the kids were all together and dressed reasonably well, I decided it was now or never for a Christmas card photo. I took a bunch of pictures and crossed my fingers that one would be adequate, and that's about all I got. Today (yes I'm behind schedule, whatever!) I ordered my cards from Tiny Prints and I'm a little "eh" about the picture, but they're ordered & it's done, and if you get one please keep in mind it is anything but easy just to get 4 kids in the frame, let alone looking sort of in the same direction.

Just one more weekend before Christmas! I can't believe it, I always know it's coming but it still sneaks up on me nonetheless. I hope you had a good weekend too, and that you have a totally tolerable Monday!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review: Feeding the Dragon

My fourth grade teacher had spent her summer break traveling through China. It was fresh in her mind and she talked incessantly about it. My classmates and I all rolled our eyes as she would begin yet another sentence with, "In China...". Truthfully, I'm sure we all learned quite a bit about China that year. And looking back, I can now appreciate how neat it was for her to spend her vacation in such an unlikely location. Anyway, that was sort of my introduction to Chinese culture, and I suppose it planted a seed of interest in my mind.

A few years ago, my mother-in-law spent some time traveling through China while her husband was there on a business trip. Every couple days she would send me emails describing her latest adventures. When she came home, I pored over her pictures with her and listened to her stories and started to think that China sounded like a pretty cool place to visit. She described it as a trip of a lifetime, and from the sound of it, I'd have to agree with her.

When I was given the opportunity to read and review  "Feeding the Dragon" by Mary Kate Tate and Nate Tate, a brother and sister who had traveled through China together, I was intrigued. On the cover, it says, "A culinary travelogue through China with recipes," and that's exactly what this beautiful book is. The book is filled with gorgeous photographs taken by the pair as they journeyed through several Chinese provinces, searching for the perfect recipes to define each province.

Each of the more than 100 recipes included in "Feeding the Dragon" has clear directions and ingredients that can, in most cases, be found fairly easily in the U.S. There is also a list of basic Chinese cooking equipment and directions for doing things like using chopsticks and folding dumplings.

If you love Chinese food, you need this book. If you need a Christmas gift for someone who enjoys cooking, this is it. Right now it's selling for just $16.44 on Amazon (you can click on the picture above to order it now!), and this colorful, glossy-paged book is worth every penny. I'm not sure what recipe I'm going to try to make first. Maybe Danta Vanilla Custard Tarts, or Naan Flatbread, or perhaps some simple Hand-Torn Noodles. My stomach was growling as I was reading "Feeding the Dragon," and I thoroughly enjoyed the many travel journal anecdotes about each province covered in the book. While the internet is a gold mine for recipes, there is nothing like holding a book in my hands, and having it readily available on my kitchen shelf anytime I want to make one of its culinary delights. This is one I'm thrilled to add to my collection, and I highly recommend that you do the same.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thankful Thursday

Thanksgiving is obviously over, so I'm moving back to my Thursday Thankful posts.

I am thankful for cozy sweaters.
I am thankful for my heated house.
I am thankful for knee socks.
I am thankful for the remote start for my van.
I am thankful that my cough is 99% gone and I can finally sleep through the night again.
I am thankful that I think Mathilda is finally better too.
I am thankful that no kids had to stay  home from school sick today.
I am thankful for online shopping.
I am thankful for artificial, pre-lit Christmas trees. And I never in a million years thought I would ever utter such blasphemy.
I am thankful that Chris set up the Christmas tree while I was at hockey with Connor last night.
I am thankful that the sun is shining brightly today.
I am thankful that soon my babies will all be home with me for two weeks!
I am thankful for hot chocolate. With whipped cream.
I am thankful that Lucy has finally given in and agreed to be dropped off at the curb in front of school in the morning, so we no longer have to park and walk over from the next street everyday.
I am thankful that Bethany and Connor happily (more or less) take turns walking Lucy to the kindergarten door.
I am thankful for some awesome moms who have been kindly and graciously helping me out a ton with taking Bethany back and forth to catechism and basketball practice, and including her in their fun outings too.

As always, I have so much to be thankful for! What about you? What are you thankful for this week?

Can We Just Fast Forward to Next Summer?

Picnic Plus Liberty Picnic BasketTemperatures have been dropping here in Michigan. Winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves are being donned on a daily basis now. We've had a light dusting of snow, and I've been using the remote start to warm my van up every morning. It's not officially winter, but nonetheless winter has arrived. Which naturally means that I'm craving warm sunshine. And I don't mean 35 degrees and sunny, I mean 80 degrees and sunny.

I have to admit, we've had it pretty easy so far. Lots of years we've already seen some quite nasty weather by December 8th.  So far we haven't had a need to shovel or salt, and it's cold but definitely not bitter cold. Even so, I'm missing my beloved summer in more ways than one. I miss those warm, sunny days. But I also miss those long, carefree days. I miss having days on my calendar that aren't loaded with commitments. Right about now, I'd love to pack up a picnic lunch, slather my kids with sunscreen, and head to the local splash pad for the afternoon. Oh summer, I miss you. But we'll meet again before we know it. In the meantime, I  must do my best to learn to love winter.

My kids love to have indoor picnics when the weather is not cooperative for the real thing. We spread a big blanket on the floor and have snacks and goodies. I've been looking for picnic baskets because I'd like to get one for Lucy for Christmas. So far I haven't found the ideal of what I envision in my mind, which is a kid version of the one pictured above. I think she'd be tickled to have one, since she especially loves a good picnic.

Soon enough we'll be able to enjoy a real picnic again, pesky bees and all. Maybe I'll even be able to convince my husband to take his wife on a romantic two-person picnic (hint, hint!). I know my in-laws have a wine bag/picnic basket for just that purpose. I don't even drink wine, but I think that's a really great idea. Maybe they'll let us borrow it and we can get a bottle of sparkling cherry juice or something like that. Look at me, making plans for six months from now. Perhaps I should concentrate on decorating the Christmas tree first...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

MOBIBO's Download to Donate Continues With Donations to Children's Hospital of Michigan Foundation

Not long ago I posted about that MOBIBO banner that's on my right sidebar:

MOBIBO is a free app you can download for your iPhone or Smartphone. It connects to your phone's GPS system and finds local deals that are geographically close to you, wherever you may be. As you're out and about, MOBIBO will notify you on your phone when you are approaching a business that is running a deal. And get this: when you view the deal on your device, MOBIBO pays you 25 cents via Paypal! How sweet is that!? 

For a limited time, through Download to Donate, MOBIBO was donating 25 cents to Turning Point, a local shelter for abused women and children, every time anyone downloaded their app. This campaign lead to 692 downloads, which translates to $173 that was used by Turning Point to purchase Christmas gifts for children in their shelter.

While that campaign has ended, MOBIBO is still giving. From now until December 16, for every download MOBIBO will donate 25 cents to Children's Hospital of Michigan Foundation. According to the email I received about this campaign, 
"The foundation raises awareness to increase the health and well being of all children by advancing the science of pediatric health care through medical research, education, advocacy efforts and community outreach programs." 

Obviously, this is a great cause! So go ahead and download MOBIBO now on your smartphone or iPhone! It's a win-win for everybody! You can click this link for more information about Download to Donate, MOBIBO, how it works, and how YOU can help!

Join & You Could Win a $50 VISA Giftcard

Have you heard of  It's a website where you can buy or sell goods and services locally. This is how it works:
  • Sign up using this link:
  • You have the option of signing in via Facebook if you don't want to worry about remembering yet another user name and password.
  • Choose your local area. If you don't see it listed, you can add your city or the closest large city.
  • Browse the listings to see if you can fill someone's need and make some extra cash. People in your area are looking for very specific things - anything from help with moving, a personal trainer, event tickets, or duct tape (yes that was an actual request!).
  • If there's something you need, add a listing of your own, including the price you're willing to pay for it. If someone has what you need, they'll contact you right on the website.
  • If there's something you'd like to sell - from photography skills to a used television - set up an alert, including the minimum amount you'd accept, and you'll be notified if someone within 25 miles of you posts that they want what you have to offer.
  • As you're browsing the listings, if you see something you might be able to provide, click on the link and a map will pop up to give you a more specific idea of where the person is located. You can then reply to the buyer right on Zaarly.
Signing up is FREE, and if you join now, Zaarly will donate $1 to Feeding America! It's worth signing up for that alone! That equals 8 meals on behalf of local food banks!

Plus, if you create an account with Zaarly and leave me a comment with your user name, you will be entered to win a $50 VISA gift card! Awesome, right? Entries must be received by Dec 15th 11:59 EST.

So it's really simple. Just head over to Zaarly and sign up, then come back to this post and leave me a comment with your Zaarly username. Also, please make sure to leave your email address in your comment so that I can contact you if you're the lucky winner! This is so important, many people don't enter their contact information & therefore forfeit their prizes!

Let me know if you make any successful connections on Zaarly!

*I wrote this blog post for a chance to win a $100 VISA giftcard. *

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Goodbye Baby

There's a thought that I just can't shake lately. I look at Mathilda and I am blown away that this time next year she's going to be a bonafide preschooler. Right now she still has her baby looks. She's 2 and a half, but she still is a baby as far as I'm concerned. I could squeeze her chunky little legs all day long. Her skin is soft and flawless and her hair, though long, is baby-fine. She wants me to kiss all of her boo-boos, yet she squirms out of my lap and cuts our cuddles short so she can run off and do her own thing . She's a pretty good talker, but oftentimes Chris and I still need to translate. My baby girl is on the cusp of not being a baby anymore. (Now if she would just start using the potty...)

When we moved into this house two and a half years ago, Lucy was the same age that Mathilda is now (okay, 2 months older). Mathilda is starting to wear the clothes that Lucy was wearing at that time. Two and a half years is not that long. In that time, Lucy went from being my baby to being a big shot kindergartener. These thoughts are hurting my heart. I knew, when I became a parent, that my kids would grow away from me. But I couldn't have imagined how hard it would be to let them go.

Mathilda stopped sleeping in her crib over a month ago, and the garbage men took the broken and outlawed thing away a week or two ago. All of my babies slept in that crib. My grandma bought it for me when I was pregnant with Bethany. While they will always be my babies, even when they're grown and have babies of their own, a last vestige of all of their babyhoods just went out with the trash.

Watching my kids grow up is wondrous and exciting. Witnessing them become more independent is gratifying. But it's bittersweet. Maybe I need to be needed, maybe I just relish the relative simplicity of the baby and toddler stages. Yes,  in many respects it's more intense and more draining, but I love being "in it". Once they're in school, so much of their lives happen without me being right in the midst of it all. Every day, three of my kids spend hours away from me, and all I can get out of them after school are cryptic and vague comments like, "we had indoor recess," or, "we had a guest teacher," or maybe, "I have homework." I ask questions, prying information out of them, but it's not easy going. I am not the center of their world anymore, as they are mine. I can only hope that as they grow they'll continue to need me, and they'll invite me in, and let me run my fingers through their hair, smoothing their cowlicks and kissing their sweet cheeks all the while.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Under the Weather

I haven't been this sick in years. Like coughing, congested, stuffed up head kind of sick. As a child this was basically my everyday existence. But as an adult, I don't really get sick like this anymore. Today it occurred to me that I should have gone to the doctor this week. That's how often I get to the doctor - I had forgotten it was even an option. And also an indication of how cruddy I've been feeling, because I really don't like going to the doctor. 

As I've been choking and struggling to breathe, it's brought to mind memories of having severe respiratory infections or pneumonia when I was a kid. There were times I'd be laying in bed all by myself, literally gasping for breath because my airways were all blocked up with snot and mucous (lovely visual, no?), and thinking, "This is it. I'm going to die."

Bethany's been battling a cold, Lucy and Connor have coughs, and Mathilda is sick with a respiratory infection. She's on three kinds of meds, including her second course of antibiotics in two weeks since she just had an ear infection last week. On top of the antibiotic, she's on steroids and breathing treatments three times a day. My baby girl being sick and miserable is infinitely worse than being sick myself. I can't stand to hear her coughing and choking, knowing exactly how she feels. And it's maddening feeling like crap and caring for a sick kid, particularly when she doesn't sleep all night, like last night. I was thinking how odd that I'm sick like this when I haven't been in ages. But then I realized it's helping me be patient with Mathilda when the medications are making her surly and hyper, when she keeps me up all night with her fussing and wanting to cuddle, and when she is clearly feeling really yucky but can't quite express it in so many words (often resulting in frustrated tears). Because I know I'm feeling quite like Mathilda right now, and she is just a little thing who can't help herself  or communicate clearly. I don't want my girl to feel like I'm feeling, and I know she is feeling even worse. I have a new perspective, and for that I am thankful.

Now hopefully she'll get her stinky little butt to sleep soon, since she hardly slept last night and hasn't napped all day today. Which means she's so over-tired that she's totally slap happy: singing, talking about cookies, squirming around, listing all the people she loves over and over again, piling up pillows so she can climb on them and then roll off, and in general doing everything she can to prevent anybody else from getting any sleep too. With any luck we'll both be feeling better tomorrow.

How Did I Live Without a Flat Iron?

For the most part, I'm pretty low maintenance. I do use make-up on a daily basis, but my everyday make-up is so minimal and natural that I wouldn't doubt if I've been suspected of going out in public bare-faced. I would say that it takes me less than 5 minutes to put my make-up on, which consists of the following:
  • moisturizer
  • under eye concealer
  • pressed powder
  • blush
  • mascara
  • some days - eye shadow
  • if I'm going out at night - heavier blush & eye shadow and black eyeliner
I've never timed myself, but I should. I bet it's more like 3 minutes from start to finish, on a typical day when I'm not going anywhere special. 

Product Details 
I also don't like to spend a whole lot of time fussing with my hair. Sleep is way more important to me than perfect looking hair. That said, my hair tends to get a little poofy and frizzy if left unattended. If I blow dry it, brushing it the whole time, the look of it is markedly improved. I have a nifty tool that is a curling brush which dries my hair too, and I love it. It does take awhile to dry my whole head with it though, so if possible I'll let my hair air dry for awhile first. 

Product Details 
While I love my drying/curling brush, and also my blow dryer and my curling iron, my number one hair tool is my flat iron. Girls today are so lucky, because if I had had one of these babies back in high school, I never ever would have had a bad hair day. I look like I have a totally different head of hair when I use my flat iron - smooth, manageable hair. And the best part is what I can do with my bangs. 

See, for years and years I was reluctant to try having bangs again. I was reluctant because I enjoy being low-maintenance, and my hair kind of has a mind of its own. Plus I have these annoying little cowlicks right in front where the bangs go. I didn't want to have to use hairspray and spend lots of time messing with bangs to make them look natural and untouched. But when I got my haircut recently, I knew I needed to try something new, so I decided to take a chance and get the bangs. I figured the worst that could happen was I look stupid for a few months while they grow out, and I pin them back with bobby pins or something if they look like crap. The girl who did my hair is extremely talented though, because she managed to give me awesome bangs that don't annoy me in the least. And getting back to my flat iron, I discovered that even if I don't wash my hair or just want to throw it in a pony, I can flatiron my bangs and suddenly I don't look like a crazy woman with frizzed out hair. How often was I late to school because my bangs wouldn't cooperate? Now in less than a minute my bangs look great. If I flatiron all of my hair, all the better. But if I'm in a hurry, I'll just do the bangs and maybe some face framing hair and voila! I'm presentable.

How did I live without a flatiron? Do you love your flatiron too? Or do you have another hair tool that you find just as completely indispensable?