Saturday, December 22, 2012

What Makes a House a Home

When I was a kid, we moved a lot. We were not a military family, we just moved. It was all I knew, but nonetheless by the time I was around 10, I became wary of never fully unpacking our belongings or feeling settled. I started feeling jealous of my friends who had known each other since kindergarten. If there was ever a place that truly felt like home to me, it was my grandparents' house. This was my first home, where my mom brought me from the hospital, and where I always felt welcome and comfortable. I'm not really sure why I always thought of that house as my true childhood home. Maybe it was because my grandparents were always happy to have me there, maybe it was because I felt the tug of my roots, being in the house where my mom and aunts and uncles grew up. Or maybe it was simply because I spent the biggest chunk of my childhood there, broken up into short and long term living arrangements and a multitude of sleepovers and long summer days while my mom was at work. Whatever it was, I'm grateful that I had that experience of feeling at home, even when I never really felt that way anyplace else we lived.

I grew up and got married and wanted nothing more than to have a home and a family and to be settled. As it turned out, the first house Chris and I bought together was our home for nine years, the longest I have ever lived anyplace. I remember when we first moved in, waking up in my new bedroom and laying in bed, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood through the open windows, and feeling the blissful contentment of truly being home. I joyfully relished picking out paint colors and spending hours upon hours scraping wallpaper and ripping up old carpeting. This was our home, and we could do whatever we wanted! Chris and I would come home from our full time jobs and work our butts off late into the night, and we loved it. I felt blessed to finally be where I had wanted to be my whole life. For families looking to find their own first home, a website like might prove to be extremely helpful.

A year later we had our first baby, and bringing our daughter to that house from the hospital cemented my feelings of being home. We became parents in that house. I lovingly stenciled the nursery walls and shopped for perfect curtains, wanting and maybe even needing to dig my nails in deeper and push our new family roots down, down, down. I worked hard to permeate our rooms with Bethany's presence, leaving her toys and books and little shoes in every room of our house, making it her home too. Then she started crawling and claimed it for her own, seizing every opportunity to remove all the contents from the kitchen cupboards and climbing right in to make herself at home. As it should be.

Before long, Connor and Lucy joined our family and claimed their stake in our home too. With every new addition, the house shrunk while at the same time, becoming even more of a home. What made it that way? Maybe it was the preschool art projects taped to the walls, maybe it was the pencil marks on the kitchen wall, documenting the growth of each child. Maybe it was the birthday parties and Easter basket searches, or the tumbles down the basement stairs and scraped knees on the driveway.

Our blood, sweat, and tears went into that house. We experienced some pretty extreme highs and lows while living there. Eventually we found ourselves needing to move, for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which was the impending arrival of another new addition. We had never intended to live there forever, and now we were truly outgrowing our humble abode. I felt uneasy leaving the place I had worked so hard to make my own true home, where I became a mom and watched my babies take their first steps. I was afraid I would never feel that again, that a house was my home.

We scrambled to find our next nest, in the hopes of being settled in before baby number four made her appearance. I stubbornly held tight to a certain list of requirements, a few deals fell through, and so it was that we finally spent the first night as a family in our new house just five days before we welcomed Mathilda into our lives. Chris had labored tirelessly to get this new house ready for us, while I packed and shuttled kids back and forth to school and myself to prenatal doctor appointments. Moving was different this time around. I was unable to help as much. There was a lot of stress involved, and a lot of pressure. We were overextended and had little people counting on us. Nonetheless, the excitement found me, and the new house started to feel like home.

Now we've been here for three and a half years and it is undoubtedly home. I wonder, will we stay here forever, or at least until the kids are all graduated? Our kids are bigger now and I feel the growing roots even stronger here, as friendships and traditions develop and grow. Yet the blueprint of my own upbringing influences me, and the pull of wanderlust is sometimes hard to resist. I grew up going, going, going. I hated it then, but at times find myself missing it now. What is best for our kids? Because that is the question that seems to matter most. But life is unpredictable. Opportunities and obstacles will help determine where we end up, guided ultimately by our choices and priorities.

The important thing though, is that we will be home wherever we are. When we are together, we are home.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What I Want for My Children

Christmas is right around the corner, and I have to admit that we love spoiling our kids at Christmastime. Every year we say we're going to cut it way back, and we sort of do. But no matter what, we try to make it amazing for them. This year is no exception, and I cannot wait to see their excitement on Christmas morning. With four kids, plus the gifts that Chris and I exchange, our living room will be pretty insane. While that's all well and good and incredibly fun, what I want for my kids goes far beyond material possessions and a room full of wrapped gifts.


               Beautiful memories

I feel the bone crushing weight of the world on my shoulders, to provide all of this for them, and so much more. I want them to have what I didn't have, what I did have, and what I hope to have someday. I want to open their eyes to the world around them, and make sure they know that their place in it is more than just that of a casual observer.

I want them to remember to enjoy life, to set lofty, improbable goals, and to remain vulnerable. Vulnerability allows us to love deeply and freely, without worrying about what tomorrow may bring. When we build walls to protect ourselves, we keep people out and prevent ourselves from growing.

I want them to fall down 100 times and get back up 101 times. I want them to let their tears flow and to never hold back their laughter. I want them to do what they fear and to love with wild abandon. Heartbreak and failure may come, but have we lived fully if we have not experienced both? Let your hearts break open, my babies, it means that they are bursting with love. Where love is, more will grow. You have taught me that.

I want them to hold success in their hands, whatever that may mean to each of them individually; to breathe it in and relish its essence. I want them to understand that their lives are malleable, that they can change so much, but that some things are out of their control. I want them to not lose sleep over those things that they cannot change.

I want them to apologize and forgive. I want them to never doubt my love, and to know that I'm so sorry for all the times I screwed up, for my mistakes, miscalculations, and angry outbursts.

Of course, this is an incomplete list. It's only the tip of the iceberg, really. I think it's fair to say that I want the world for my children, the parts that can't be ordered on Amazon or picked up from Target. Christmas will be fun, and they will love all of their presents. But when the gifts have all been opened and the wrappings are in the trash, I hope all of the other intangible things are what they cherish most and remember most clearly. That magic of waking up early and quivering with excitement.  The joy of giving. The flood of love and gratitude. The knowledge that someone knows them and loves them so well and so dearly, and has noticed them and paid enough attention to them to choose just the right gifts. The warm tingly feeling of togetherness and sharing.

All of these things I want for my children, more than anything that can be bought. Some they will have to earn and find for themselves, but I hope more than anything that I'm setting them on the right path so that they can do just that.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

JAWS (Just Add Water System) Review

I'm not gonna lie - cleaning is not my favorite. Clean I love, but the process of getting there? Ugh. Tedious, boring, overwhelming. I try to delegate as much as possible, both to help me out and to teach my kids about being responsible and the importance of working together and helping each other. Don't go thinking I'm just being lazy, because believe me, in many or most instances, it would be way easier and less trouble if I just did the task myself. Also, I'd really rather they didn't work with cleaning products that contain harsh chemicals. Lucky thing I heard of JAWS cleaning products!

JAWS stands for Just Add Water System, because you literally do add water. When you buy a bottle of JAWS, you get an empty spray bottle, with two little vials of concentrate attached to the bottle. All you do is fill the bottle with water, put in a vial of concentrate, shake gently and watch the water turn a pretty jewel tone. Lucy loved helping me do the mixing. I love that the vials are attached to the bottle, so when I run out and it's time to mix up some more, I don't have to go searching, trying to remember where I put the extra one. Because that's about how organized I am.

I received the JAWS Glass and Hard Surface Cleaner, JAWS Multi-Purpose Cleaner/Degreaser, JAWS Bathroom Cleaner/Deodorizer, and JAWS Disinfectant Cleaner/Degreaser for review. When the box arrived, it was so light because all the bottles were empty. Way to save on shipping costs!

2 of my JAWS cleansers...Mattie especially likes the purple!

The bottom line? We've been using all four of these products throughout the house and love them all. They work well, they don't have a strong chemical odor, and I feel safe letting my kids use them, without worrying that they're going to A) pass out from the fumes, B) accidentally spray bleach in their eyes, or C) ruin their clothing. The bottles spray nicely, with a soft mist (I hate those hard streams from other bottles!), the cleaners smell pleasant, and I'm happy with the results. I will for sure buy refills and keep using JAWS cleaning products. I think this is such an innovative product, and wish other cleaning supply companies would follow suit. Why start fresh with a brand new plastic spray bottle every time? That's so wasteful, especially when something so much more earth-friendly is possible and available. It takes less than a minute to mix up the cleanser, and it is literally as easy as can be.

I highly recommend the JAWS line of cleaning products! I'm so glad I had the opportunity to try them out & share with you guys! And don't forget, my JAWS giveaway is going strong for a few more days, so head over and enter to win your own set of four JAWS cleansers!

JAWS Giveaway

I received a set of four JAWS products for review purposes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

So What! Wednesday

Time for So What! Wednesday! what...

I have so much to do which is basically making me want to do nothing but curl up on the couch with a good book and a comfy blanket. Or maybe a cuddly 3-year old.

I stayed up way last night, to ALMOST finish Christmas cards. Then I had to take a nap this morning because I was pretty useless.

Mattie is still wearing a hat 24/7. Seriously, should I be concerned? Chris thinks her hair is going to start falling out. I have had minimal success getting her to take a few 5 minute breaks throughout the day, and sometimes it falls off while she's sleeping.

Christmas is in TWO WEEKS!!! WTH? It always sneaks up on me like that.

My knee has been really hurting me, but I still have to prepare for my 5K on Sunday. I'm taking today off, and I plan on taking Saturday off. Hopefully I don't make it worse, but

I have to leave here in a few minutes to pick my kids up from school, and neither Mathilda nor I are dressed yet. Time to get soon as I get this post published!

I feel like the biggest slacker blogger lately. I go through bouts of falling asleep as soon as as I sit down in front of the computer at night, and of being unable to concentrate with Mathilda's constant chatter during the day. Sometimes you just have to sit on the floor and do a puzzle, you know? Or go to the "beach" (aka the living room picture window) for a picnic. Or sit and stare at you to-do list, willing yourself some motivation.

I finally put music on my iPod a few days ago. I have had my iPod for a couple years now, and had absolutely no music on it. I was desperate when I started running outside last week. Because running with no music is about the most boring thing ever. And almost every song I put on it is a free Christmas download from Amazon. So what? It does the trick!

One of my oldest friends just had her first baby Monday and I can't wait to meet him! Even though I know I will be insanely jealous and want my own baby as soon as I hold him.

I have this weird thing about doing at least 10 So What! things every week. Maybe Mattie gets that OCD thing from her mother.

What are you saying So What! to this week?

What I'm Loving Wednesday

 This week I'm trying a new link-up with This Kind of Love!

Eggnog  I love eggnog, and I don't even spike it. I was really excited when I saw the sign up at McDonald's: Eggnog Milkshakes. So I went through the drive-thru after parent-teacher conferences last week, for a treat for the kids, and I have to say I was disappointed. Milkshakes are one of the few things I like at McD's, and I thought I had these in the past & loved them. But blech, it wasn't very good. However! I still finished it. AND we got some eggnog & vanilla ice cream for home, so I've been making eggnog milkshakes myself and they are sublime. Even with low fat eggnog. The other night I made an oven pancake for dinner (breakfast for dinner) and used eggnog in place of the milk. It came out really good, although for some reason I can no longer get my oven pancakes to stay puffed up. French toast with eggnog is good too.

Starbucks Salted Caramel Mocha  I usually go for frozen frou-frou coffee drinks, yes, even in the winter. But something about salted caramel called to me and connected with me on a deeper level, so of course I had to try it. And the rest is history. I only allow myself to splurge on delicious coffee drinks a couple times a month, so when I do it has to count, you know? This one is worth the cost, both monetary and caloric.

Land's End sleeping bag coat  Land's End sends me multiple emails a day it seems, with their latest deals and whatnot. So after opening one of them last week and clicking through to the site, I started browsing the coats...and found one I loved. And it was on sale for 1/2 off. And I had a coupon code for 40% off one item. And shipping was free for purchases over a certain amount. I did what any self-respecting 37-year old woman would do...I called my mom and asked her if she wanted to buy it for me for Christmas. She said it could be my early birthday present. I  hurriedly ordered, and good thing too because the price increased by about $30 within a matter of hours, and now it is gone from the site, so I can only assume it's sold out. I call it my sleeping bag coat because it's a full length down coat, all puffy and cushy and soft and cuddly. It has fleecy pockets and fleecy cuffs and a warm hood. And it's purple, because Mattie wanted me to have a purple coat. Love it. Here's the deal rundown, in case you're interested. Probably not, but just skip on by if that's the case.

Regular price: $197
Sale price: $97
40% off any item code
Gift card Land's End sent us last year after some ridiculous ordering mishap that didn't even cost us anything
Final price: $40 (not taking into account $2.42 from Ebates and Shop Your Way Rewards points, so really more like $35!)

Raspberry ketones  Losing weight is extremely difficult for me. I mean, maybe some people can drastically change their diets and quadruple their workout time and at least lose 5 pounds to show for it. But not me. I'm not a calorie counter, and I can't starve myself either. Chris heard about raspberry ketones, and I did too thanks to numerous spam messages on Facebook and in my email account. But he actually looked into them and went to the health food store & bought some. They are endorsed by Dr. Oz, and if he's good enough for Oprah then he's good enough for me. Anyway, I've been taking them and I have noticed a huge difference. As I've mentioned before, I don't typically weigh myself. I did today, but it's been so long that I can't remember what I weighed before. I'm pretty sure I've dropped about 10 pounds. More importantly, my clothes fit better and Chris can't stop telling me how great I look. Is it truly the raspberry ketones that's helping me slim down? That's hard to say for certain, but I'm not quitting them anytime soon.

Couch25K  I've told you all about my love for the couch25K app in a previous post. But I'm actually close to conquering it, so I have to mention it again. So far, I'm through week 8/day 1, and I plan on finishing the program by the end of the week. Because...I've officially registered for my very first 5K! It's on Sunday, and I don't feel totally ready, but my good friend wants to do a 5K with me before she has surgery next month, so I decided to jump in with two feet. Remember Shelly, I warned you that I am slooooooow!

Christmas shopping  I get all giddy buying presents for people, especially my kids. I keep coming up with more and more ideas for them, but Chris is going to kill me if I don't stop soon. So I will. Soon.

JAWS cleaning products  I got these to review and haven't actually reviewed them yet (post coming soon!), but I love them! The thing I love best about them  is that they're non-toxic. Right now I'm running a giveaway, so you can have a chance to win your own set of JAWS (which stands for Just Add Water System) products!

My new clipboard  We had our preschool board Christmas dinner last week, and our VP surprised us each with an adorable clipboard that she made. There is just something about a clipboard that makes me feel totally important. Plus, look how cute it is!

Basketball games Bethany played in her first basketball game of the season last weekend and it was a riveting game, right down to the last second. Who knew 5th/6th grade basketball could be so exciting?? Well, I did actually since she played last year too. But I love going to the games and watching how much these girls progress and improve. I've never been into sports, but apparently as long as my offspring is involved, I love watching!

Report cards  Bethany, Connor, and Lucy had fabulous report cards this term. This is really no shocker because they always do well in school, but I'm very proud of them. I went to conferences for Connor & Lucy last week, and their teachers had only wonderful things to say about them. (Bethany's conferences were a few weeks ago & also went very well.) I'm especially proud of how well Bethany is adapting to middle school. She's a busy gal, sometimes not getting home from her activities until after 8 pm, but she has been great about sitting down to do her homework as soon as she gets home, studying, and doing extra credit whenever possible. Her final grades were 5 As and 1 B+, in computers...which cracks me up because she is pretty much a computer whiz. Okay, done bragging ;-)

Hummus Hard to believe that this time last year, I despised hummus. But when I switched to a vegetarian diet several months ago I started trying, or re-trying, lots of foods that I never use to eat. One day I was at a party and put a little scoop of hummus on my plate...and loved it. And now I eat it all the time. Go figure.

What are you loving right now?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

ENDED Giveaway! Sesame Street Live, Ends 12/10!


Because I love Sesame Street Live, and I'm so excited to be seeing the show with Mathilda in 2013, I want to offer you another chance to win a family four-pack of tickets! The tickets will be for the opening night performance, on January 24, 2013 at the Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit. Use the link below to enter! It's easy, cross my heart!

Mark your calendar for a musical event like no other—monsters making music! Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Big Bird and all their Sesame Street friends are taking to the Fox Theatre stage to share their love of music in Sesame Street Live "Elmo Makes Music" for 41 performances from Thursday, Jan. 24 through Monday, Feb. 18.

New this year, families can come one hour early to move and groove with some of Sesame Street's favorite fuzzy monsters. Imagine your child popping up in Oscar's trash can or visiting Elmo's World. Don't miss a single picture-perfect moment because you never know who'll make an appearance! The new interactive pre-show activities are FREE with each Sesame Street Live ticket and opens one hour prior to every performance.

Register here to win a Family Four Pack of tickets to the opening night!

This is a quick giveaway - the winner will be announced on Monday, December 10!

If you don't win this time, don't worry, you can still save!

Save $3 on tickets with Promo Code:®ionid=402

If you don't live in the Detroit area, and you'd like to know when Elmo is coming to YOUR town, go to for more information!

Good luck!

If you've seen a Sesame Street Live performance in the past, tell me which one in the comments!

Disclaimer: I will receive tickets to Sesame Street Live in exchange for sharing this information with you. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review: What Daddy Did Today by Walter Wally

We read so much around here. Right now I have several books going. One I read on my Kindle while I'm at the gym, a couple other self-improvement type books that I'm in the process of, one I'm reading for an upcoming review, yet another I'm reading to Bethany and Connor, and also one that I'm reading to Lucy and Mathilda. On top of those, I usually read several books to Mathilda and Lucy daily. We have tons of books at our house, even taking into consideration the three big boxes full of children's books that I recently donated. Plus we go to the library often, and typically  have a couple dozen library books hanging around too. I will be so sad when the day comes that my kids don't want me to read to them anymore. I love kids' books! I can't imagine a day when I don't have an excuse to read them on a daily basis.

I was thrilled when author Walter Wally asked me to review his book, What Daddy Did Today: A Father's Bedtime Story. He sent me a beautiful hardcover edition, and I read it to my little girls at bedtime last night. It occurred to me that maybe Chris should read it to them, but he wasn't home and I had to get on with things. So I will suggest he read it to them another night this week.

What Daddy Did Today is a fun book about what dad does when he leaves for work in the morning. I love that it's written from the dad's perspective, because that's not all that common. The book is silly and whimsical, with colorful illustrations on every page. The prose is simple and rhythmical, and had Lucy and Mattie giggling and engrossed. I don't know if Walter is a daddy, but if he is, I bet his kids are treated to awesome bedtime stories on a nightly basis!

This book will be staying on the book shelf next to Lucy's bed, where our bedtime books reside for easy access. Mattie is looking at it right now and asking me to read it to her again...duty calls!

I received a copy of What Daddy Did Today for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney

I have been harping quite a bit about Jeff Kinney and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series lately, pretty much because I feel awfully cool that I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet him a couple weeks ago. You can read about that experience HERE and HERE. And then come back and read my review of book #7 in the Wimpy Kid series, The Third Wheel.

Connor started reading the Wimpy Kid books back in first grade. He's in fourth grade now, and still into them. Bethany is in sixth grade, and she enjoys them too. Connor has read most of them multiple times. These are books that have the rare power to transcend age groups, enjoying great popularity with both elementary school and middle school kids. In case you're unfamiliar with the series, the books are basically a combination of comic book and regular book. They are funny in that particular way that certain things are hilarious to kids, and meanwhile the parents are scratching their heads and saying, "Huh? What did I miss?" That's because most of us have forgotten what it's like to be young, laughing about diarrhea jokes and utterly convinced that urban legends are the real deal. Not that I don't find the Wimpy Kid books to be funny, because I absolutely do. But not quite in the same snorting laugh sort of way that my 9-year old does.

When I met Jeff, I told him that he had an obvious rapport with 12-year old kids. I said 12 because Greg, the main character in the series, is 12 years old. (Actually, don't quote me on that; he is in middle school, so he's got to be 12-ish.) But what I really meant was more like kids ages 5-13, because that's the approximate age-range of Jeff's core audience*. They get his humor because he gets them. What an awesome gift. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books got Connor interested in reading. If you have a kid who just doesn't care much about reading, I highly recommend any of these to help spark an interest. I'm a reader, always have been, and I consider that to be quite an endorsement. I truly believe Jeff's work has encouraged many a kid to get into reading. Like Judy Blume, Jeff has the uncanny ability to authentically relate to his readers.

I read The Third Wheel in one sitting, start to finish. Connor read it in a day. It's fun, compelling, and peppered with many illustrations, which make it a quick read. This book was highly anticipated, as were the other books in the series. We ordered it ahead of time from Scholastic, and Connor received it at school the day it came out. The parents I've talked to about it say their kids read it in just a day or two also. I love that kids get so into these books. It's not a video game or an Apple product. It requires sitting quietly with no electronic distractions. And they get so excited about it!

As far as the story...well, I always hate to give away too much. Let's just say Greg Heffley is up to more of his awkward middle school shenanigans. I laughed out loud. Poor Greg. All he wants is a date for the Valentine's Day dance. When your kid is done reading this book, read it for yourself. Or read it together. Laughter is good for the soul, and you'll have something to discuss at the dinner table that won't involve cheerful pleading on your part. (Can't you remember anything you did at school today? Anything at all?)

*I have no stats to back this up, it's just me making assumptions based on what I've observed personally and what I hear from teachers.

I received a copy of The Third Wheel for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

So What! Wednesday

So What Wednesday

Time to link up for So What! Wednesday! So what...

...Mathilda has been off the hook crazy lately. Sometimes in a good, funny way...and sometimes in a very naughty way. This child wears me down, let me tell ya! In the past week she has had a knock down screaming fit at ballet, and at preschool drop off (she loves both!), ran away from me at the library, the drug store, and the post office, and has been in time out almost more often than not. And, in case you were wondering, she is still going strong with the hat obsession.

...I'm running out of space to stash Christmas gifts.

...I think one of the reasons I love doing most of my Christmas shopping online is because it makes me so dang happy to get packages in the mail.

...It annoys me to no end that so many pieces are missing from our games. One cherry from Hi Ho Cherry-O. An earring from Pretty Pretty Princess. Several game pieces from Trouble. I would say that half of those pieces are in this house somewhere, and the other half were thrown out because somebody found them on the floor and didn't know what they were.

...Amazon is sort of like Pinterest for me. Whenever I think of something I want, or see something cool that the kids would like, I run over to Amazon and add it to my shopping cart so I don't forget.

...I felt compelled to eat the last of the Cinnamon Chex so the kids wouldn't fight over it in the morning.

...I think I'm going to sign up for my first 5K, even though I have not yet finished my Couch25K program, and have never run 3.1 miles. And if I have to walk part way, it will not count toward my bucket list.

...I can't find my one and only pair of yoga pants. This is driving me crazy, because where could they possibly be?  On days I'm going to the gym, I like to be dressed for it when I drop the kids off at school. And I'm not willing to drop them off in shorts or capris, so I end up having to change at the gym. Annoying!

...Lucy got her own library card last week and she was about the happiest little clam I ever saw.

...I feel guilty every time I see a Salvation Army bell ringer because I never have cash on me.

What are you saying So What! to?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cherished Holiday Memories

As a child, Christmas seemed to sparkle with magic and excitement. Our long standing tradition was to spend Christmas Eve with my mom's family, which included my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Now, as an adult, I realize how hectic Christmas Eve always was for my mom, as she often had to work before the big party, and had to also make time to get things ready at our house for Christmas morning. But it was definitely one of my favorite and most anticipated days of the year. My memories of Christmas Eve are the embodiment of everything my family use to be, years ago, before our lives all went in different directions. We got together and ate and opened presents and just enjoyed being together. Those were good times; some of the best of my childhood.

My own kids have had a very different Christmas experience, in many ways. A long time ago, Chris and I decided to make Christmas Eve and Christmas Day low-key, relaxed days. We didn't want to drag our babies all over the place, making the holidays nothing more than a relay race unintentionally designed to exhaust and overwhelm them. Because we had (and still have) the only grandchildren on all sides, we were in the enviable position of being able to call the shots. Ever since, we have more or less followed a "you come to us" guideline. We wanted the focus to be on the six of us being together, and anyone was welcome to come and enjoy the holidays with us. The past couple years we have been going to Chris's dad's house for Christmas Eve dinner, but even though it's not at our house, it is a very relaxed affair. So we don't have the hustle and bustle of big family get togethers, like I loved so much as a child. But we have our own brand of fun and it works for us.

On Christmas Eve, when we get home from my father-in-law's, we watch a Christmas movie in our basement theater. Elf if always my pick. We put cookies and milk out for Santa. After the kids go to bed, I put together a French toast casserole for the morning, and Chris and I finish up our wrapping, sometimes watching a movie while we wrap. For this portion of the evening, my choice is always Love Actually. Sometimes we go to church, and when we do I prefer to do it on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning, the kids have to come straight to our room to wake us up, before they go off snooping under the tree. I pop the French toast casserole in the oven, and we begin our slow-paced exchange of gifts. There is no gleeful, chaotic digging into the presents. Gifts are doled out one at a time. We open one and notice it and appreciate it before moving on to the next. It takes awhile this way, but we're in no hurry because we're not going anywhere. Throughout the day we have visitors; maybe for breakfast, maybe for lunch, maybe for dinner, or maybe for all three. Chris and I un-package toys, and we all hang out and enjoy our new stuff. It's sort of a lazy, sanguine day, and there's always a few who never even change out of their pajamas. I hope that when they're all grown up, our kids will look back at the Christmases of their youth and remember them sparkling with magic too.

Because I don't have the very best memory, I rely heavily on photographs to help keep my memories fresh and vibrant. Pictures are my memory insurance! I know I'm not alone, so I'd like to tell you about YesVideo. Have you heard of this company? They help people preserve their memories by transferring media to DVD, including old movies, slides, videos, and film. YesVideo also transfers HD video to Blu-ray. Now all of your memories from past and present can be on the same format, easy to access and enjoy anytime! You can either snail mail your media to YesVideo, or you can drop it off at one of four major retailers, including Walmart. Wouldn't this be a wonderful Christmas gift? Please note that Walmart's Christmas deadline has passed (it was December 3), but I know many families have their get togethers after December 25, so it's still worth looking into! And this would be cool enough to be a belated holiday gift. You could print a certificate or letter, letting your gift recipient know that you're making something special for them, but it's not quite ready yet.

To keep up to date on the latest news from YesVideo, follow them on Twitter and Facebook.


Disclaimer: This post has been sponsored by YesVideo. All opinions are my own.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Jeff Kinney Interview - for Real This Time

Something about life has been making it difficult for me to blog lately. Too much to do, too distracted. Anyway, I know I left you hanging with the Jeff Kinney interview last week...therefore, I present, The Continuation.

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, hanging out in a hotel lobby, hoping to recognize one of Jeff Kinney's peeps so as not to disappoint my kids, who already told everyone they know that we were going to Jeff Kinney's hotel to interview him. How was I going to recognize one of Jeff's peeps when the only thing I knew was the first name of one of them? Well, thankfully it all worked out beautifully. Before long, someone came down for breakfast wearing a Wimpy Kid t-shirt. Danielle and I hustled over and introduced ourselves, and whatta you know? It was Jason, the very person we were supposed to be meeting up with. And? He had NO IDEA WE WERE COMING. Gulp. But. He was incredibly gracious and took the situation in stride. It was obviously a busy morning, and there was a lot going on, but Jason did not skip a beat. He invited us to sit with him while we waited for Jeff to come down, and assured us that they would definitely make time for us to talk with Jeff. The schedule was tight, so we quickly devised a plan. I would have a few minutes with Jeff at the hotel, before he left for his book signing. Danielle would ride on the tour bus to the book store, with all of our children, and have her chance to talk to Jeff during the ride. Yes, I let my kids ride on a tour bus full of people I had never met until that morning, without me. I don't let them drink caffeinated pop, but hang out with perfect strangers? Why not! It was such a fun opportunity, there was no way I was going to let a little stranger danger get in the way.

Since I had never formally interviewed anyone, I thought it would be best to turn to the real experts. I contacted Connor's fourth grade teacher and Bethany's sixth grade Language Arts teacher, and invited them to get input from their students. The result was a few dozen questions that Jeff Kinney's fans had for him, which Bethany and Connor went through and condensed the night before the interview (there were a lot of duplicates).

When Jeff finally came down to the lobby, I knew he was tired and had a really long day ahead of him. Nonetheless, he was as smiley and friendly as I could have hoped for, and happily posed for pictures and indulged the inquiring minds of Bethany and Connor and their peers (and me). And, I should add, pretended not to notice my non-existent interview skills.

Jeff has two little boys, ages 7 and 10, and doesn't get to see them very often while partaking of this hectic book tour. They use to tour with him, but this time around the schedule just doesn't allow, and with very little wiggle room for fun and relaxation, it wouldn't be enjoyable for the kids. On the plus side, Jeff does get to travel all over the place meeting his adoring fans. And that's something. But it's not being with his kids, which I can't imagine, and I give him a lot of credit for being so friendly to bloggers AND fans when probably all he wants to do is hop a plane to home and be with his family.


Some of the questions I posed to Jeff, and his answers (paraphrased, in italics):

Do you plan on writing more Wimpy Kid books? If so, how many, and when will the next one be out?

Yes, probably three more, with the next one likely coming out November 2013.

Do you have a favorite Wimpy Kid book?

Yes, the latest in the series, The Third Wheel, is his favorite.

Do you ever see yourself writing anything other than Wimpy Kid books?

Yes, that will probably happen sometimes in the not too distant future.

(Side note: see how agreeable Jeff is?)

Do you write daily or have a regular writing routine?

No! Jeff said he goes through periods of intense brainstorming, thinking, and writing that last several months. He said he'd be heading into one soon, and that he expected it to last until about March. When he's not touring and thinking about what to write about, Jeff's day job is game developer for Poptropica (Connor's favorite website).

What inspired you to become a writer?

Originally, Jeff aspired to be a newspaper cartoonist. That didn't pan out as he'd hoped, so he came up with the idea to put his cartoons into books. Jeff spent years developing his ideas for the Wimpy Kid series before the first book was published.

What is your favorite author or book, from your childhood and now.

As a kid, Jeff enjoyed books such as Freckle Juice and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, both by Judy Blume. When he was a little older, a favorite was Tolkien's The Hobbit.  Nowadays, Jeff is loving the Game of Thrones series, by George R. R. Martin. 

(Side note: must read this Game of Thrones I keep hearing of.)

What's your favorite food? (Hey! Kids want to know this stuff!)

Jeff went with fried chicken as his favorite food of the moment.

How tall are you? (Like I said, kids want to know...)

Well, my notes are cryptic, and Bethany, who was supposed to be recording the interview, only got about 45 seconds of it. I wrote down 6'11", but I'm fairly certain I meant 6'1". I mean, I would have realized had I been interviewing a giant, right? Hmm. We'll go with 6'1".

I mentioned at one point to Jeff that he seems to have quite a rapport with the 12-year old mind set. Hopefully he didn't find that offensive, because I truly meant it as a sincere compliment. The older I become, the more difficult it becomes to "get it", from my kids' perspective. Staying in touch with your younger self...that's a good thing. Especially for a parent and a children's author.


When the bus arrived, everybody else filed on board and I drove to the book store to meet them. Bethany and Connor got to chat with Jeff a little, and Bethany was happy she was able to ask Jeff the one question that she was simply dying to know the answer to. For the record, Jeff Kinney's favorite princess is Ariel. You heard it here. Connor wanted to know what the next book will be about, which Jeff neatly side stepped by feeding Connor a juicy tidbit (the cover will be lime green) without actually answering the question. I'm going to assume that's because he doesn't know yet. Then he tried distracting Connor by bragging about how good he is at talking with his mouth full, which Connor had to admit was true considering that Jeff was eating his breakfast throughout the bus ride, while talking to everyone.* However, as if that would make Connor forget his question? But Connor didn't mind. I mean, he got to ride on a bus with his favorite author. Everything else was just gravy.


At the book store, I snapped a few more pictures and Jeff signed a stack of books for us before we headed back to the real world. I can't stress enough how nice and accommodating Jeff and his people (especially Jason) were. I am so appreciative for this wonderful opportunity, and because of their kindness, the day turned out to be memorable in the very best way. Huge thanks to everyone who helped make this day happen for us, and to Danielle for her willingness to take a couple extra kids on the bus with her.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Tour Bus

Soon, I'm not even bothering with pretending to know when, I will have my review of The Third Wheel up.

*Keep in mind, I wasn't on the bus. This is what I gleaned from my kids. Maybe Jeff wasn't trying to distract Connor, maybe he wasn't bragging, maybe he wasn't even talking with his mouth full.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review: Paternity Test by Michael Lowenthal

I love when I start a book and don't really know what I'm about to get myself into. Somehow it happened that I skipped the description and was happily clueless when I first cracked open The Paternity Test, by Michael Lowenthal, and dove in. I never do that, which must be a testament to my exhaustion of late, however I'm glad I deviated from my norm. Obviously, the title offers a clue. But it's not what you might think.

There is a love triangle, but an unconventional one to say the least. The story is about becoming parents, but the real focus is on the relationship between the parents, and not on parenting or babies. I hate to give away too much, because it was fun to read without knowing the basis of the story. In fact, I may have already said too much.

Written ever so poetically, The Paternity Test delves into the complexities of long term relationships; what makes them tick and what has the power to make them implode. Anyone who has ever made a conscious decision to become a parent probably recalls that heady feeling of ohmyGOD I'm doing this, I'm doing this, I'm doing this, and the associated, overwhelming euphoria, coupled with can't-turn-back-now panic. Lowenthal captures that with his beautifully, realistically flawed characters. But he goes much further. And then, what comes next? Now that the decision is made, what becomes of the couple? Is it possible for them to remain essentially the same, or are they inevitable drawn into the tide of change? Furthermore, what happens when procreating isn't as simple as A+B=C? There are so many variables, so many possibilities.

I recommend The Paternity Test, as an off the beaten track love story, a humanistic view of how people connect to one another when they are unexpectedly tossed into the flow of life together, a recounting of how people stay together and break apart...change and stay the same.

Holiday Happenings in the D

If you're looking for something festive to do in the Metro Detroit area this holiday season, you definitely have a lot of fun choices available! Here's a little sampling, although I'm sure there are many more. Please share if you know of a holiday event in the area that isn't listed here!

  • Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad  Crossroads Village is a historical museum, kind of like Greenfield Village, but on a smaller scale. For the holidays, everything is decked out in Christmas lights. Don't miss the train ride! Kids can visit Santa and a lot more. Located in Flint, Crossroads Village is only about 12 miles from Birch Run. That could mean a perfect opportunity to get a little shopping done too! We went last weekend and had a wonderful time! Look for a separate blog post coming up soon. What you need to know: Christmas in the Village dates and times: November 30, December 1-2, 7-9, 14-16, 19-23, & 26-30; 4:00-9:30 PM. Train departures: 5:00, 5:50, 6:40, 7:30, and sometimes (if needed) 8:20, 9:10, and 10:00 PM. Additionally, Mondays in December plus Christmas Eve, the Village is open for drive-thru only, to see all the beautiful lights, from 5:00-9:00 PM, at a rate of $5 per vehicle (no buses). Village/Train Combo tickets: range from $10-13 (2 & under are FREE). Village only admission available, but you really don't want to visit during the holidays without riding the train!
  • Noel Night The other night, Chris's cousin mentioned she and her family were going downtown for Noel Night this weekend, and it sounded really cool so I came home and looked it up. I was so surprised when I found that this is the 40th year and I had never even heard of it! Here's the scoop, as far as I understand it. Taking place in Detroit's Midtown Cultural Center, Noel Night is a sort of giant holiday open house and extravaganza. Places like the DIA, the Detroit Historical Center, and the Michigan Science Center open their doors for FREE, with Santa visits all around. The streets are filled with family holiday craft activities, Christmas sing-a-longs, performances, and horse and carriage rides. How fun does this sound?? I was working on Chris to go, but unfortunately Bethany has a foot injury and I don't think walking around downtown for hours would help. What you need to know: Noel night is happening this Saturday, December 1st, from 5:00-9:30 PM. Most activities will be between Cass and John R and Kirby and Willis, with free shuttle service between venues. I'm sure there are costs associated with some activities (and don't forget parking!), but it sounds like there is quite a bit of fun to be had for FREE. Check out the website for more information, including a map with shuttle routes and venue locations.
  • Redford Theatre An historical Detroit movie house, the Redford Theatre offers several holiday happenings in the coming weeks, including showings of A Christmas Story and White Christmas. Santa will there for both of these events, and live organ music is played 30 minutes before showtime. What you need to know: Dates & Times: A Christmas Story, November 30 @ 8:00 PM, December 1 @ 2:00 PM & 8:00 PM; White Christmas, December 14 @ 8:00 PM, December 15 @ 2:00 PM & 8:00 PM. Tickets are $4.00 each, or Living Social is currently running a great deal: $6 for 2 tickets, a small drink, a small popcorn, and a small candy. For more information, including location and parking, visit the website. The Redford Theatre is cash only.
  • Warren Symphony Orchestra - Scrooge If some live Christmas music will help get you in the holiday spirit (and it will!), check out this local orchestra's holiday production, both orchestral and choral, taking place at Macomb Center for the Performing Arts. What you need to know: Date & Time: December 9 @ 3:00 PM. Tickets: $23/Adults, $20/Seniors, $10/College students, Kids (grade 12 & under) FREE (music to my ears!).
  • Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village An historical Christmas spectacular, complete with strolling carolers, ice skating, fireworks, and much more, this is a very popular event that sells out, so get your tickets now if you're interested! We went back when we were the parents of two, and had a wonderful time. In fact, we've been wanting to do it again ever since, but we haven't gotten around to it yet. What you need to know: Dates & Times: December 1, 7, 14, 16, 18-23, & 26-27, from 6:30 to 10:00 PM. December 8 & December 15 are already sold out! Tickets: Adults (13 & up) $20/$17 members, Kids (5-12) $15/$12.75 members, 4 & under are FREE. Parking is $5. Dining packages available. Keep in mind that this is a crowded event, and Greenfield Village is huge, so a lot of walking is involved.
  • The Henry Ford Museum If freezing your fanny off outdoors isn't your thing, consider visiting The Henry Ford Museum during the holidays for some indoor fun. Visit with Santa and enjoy the lovely holiday decorations. While you're there, you can also see The Polar Express at the IMAX theater. What you need to know: Hours: 9:30-5 daily, closed on Christmas. Santa is at the museum from now until December 24. Tickets: Museum admission is free for members, $17 for adults (13-61), $15 for seniors (62 & up), kids (5-12) $12.50, 4 & under are FREE. IMAX - check website for showtimes, Adults (13-61) $13.75/$11.75 members, Seniors (62+) $12.75/$11 members, Kids (2-12) $9.75/$8.25 members, under 2 are FREE if sitting on a lap.
  • Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical  This was probably my very favorite Christmas special when I was a kid, and although my kids have seen it on DVD and television many times (both the original and new versions), I'm excited for them to see this live production at the Detroit Opera House this year! What you need to know: Dates & Times: December 18-30, Tuesdays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sunday evenings at 6:00 PM, Saturday matinees at 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM, Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM, AND special weekday matinees on 12/20, 12/26, & 12/27 at 1:00 PM. Ticket prices vary, please see the website for more info. Please note that babies in arms will NOT be permitted!
Obviously, this is an incomplete list, mostly consisting of things we have done in the past or plan on doing this year. I'll also throw out a couple favorite Santa haunts, in addition to the ones listed above. My favorite mall Santa is at the Somerset Collection. We haven't gone in a few years, but I know in the past they did timed slots for Santa visits. I'm assuming they're still doing this? This means get there early to reserve your spot, and then plan on hours of shopping and lunch before you get your turn. But  the pictures are really great! For a Santa visit in a really beautiful setting, consider the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores. In years past, they had a children's tea and then Santa visits in the adorable children's cottage. It doesn't look like they're doing that this year, but on the website it says a trip to Santa's Workshop is free with museum admittance. Santa is there on Saturdays through Christmas, from 10-4. Additionally, there are hands-on activities in the Workshop Tuesday-Sunday.

Again, please tell us if you know of other holiday events going on! My December calendar is pretty packed, but I might be persuaded to squeeze a couple more things in!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

So What! Wednesday

So What Wednesday

Once again, I'm linking up with Shannon at Life After I "Dew" to say So What!

...The past 2 nights I went to bed super early. Like before 10 o'clock. That, for me, is unheard of.

...Mathilda missed preschool yesterday because I literally could not wake her up. I stopped short of dumping ice water on her head, because I figured she must've needed her sleep. She was, after all, up half the night the night before, crying for unknown reasons. Some things never change.

...Maybe I should be concerned about Mathilda's OCD ways? It started with an obsession with skirts, and then the hat (still going strong), and now it's sandals. Yes, it's almost December and my child is wearing sandals everyday. With socks, people. As long as it's not snowing or raining and she's not playing outside, I'm letting it slide.

...The 12-year old me would be horrified to see the 37-year old me, shamelessly decked out in cold weather gear. I think it would have killed me (or at least that's what I thought back then...) to wear socks or gloves at age 12, let alone a hat, a scarf, and boots.. All that matters is warmth. Everything else is irrelevant.

...I picked up an awesome Black Friday deal online, for in-store pick-up. And now I'm having nothing but trouble. The help desk told me to cancel my order and place it again. When I pointed out that then I would miss the 50% off savings, he was stymied. Now I have to wait 3-5 days for a resolution. I love online shopping, but some stores are clearly not properly equipped.

...The batteries in my mouse are dying. Rather than walk down to the basement and get fresh batteries, I've been taking them out and swapping them back and forth every five minutes. For some reason this works, and, even more mind boggling, I am finding it to be an acceptable solution.

...For the first time ever, I didn't eat turkey on Thanksgiving. And? I didn't miss it. I've always liked the other stuff more anyway.

...I made 2 loaves of banana bread yesterday afternoon, and already one loaf and half of the other is gone. And I LOVE when that happens!

...Bethany hurt her ankle over a week ago, and I was hoping it would get better with a week off basketball and dance for the holiday. No such luck. Doctor's appointment this afternoon.

...Raspberry ketones work. Seriously. This is NOT a spam message. Holy crap. I'm wearing a pair of jeans my friend gave me over a year ago that I could never get on until last week. And they're not even tight! I don't weigh myself, so I don't know numbers, except in terms of clothing sizes. Right now, my favorite number is 6. So either the raspberry ketones are working, or I coincidentally got a tape worm right about the same time I started taking them. Just for the record, I work out too, & eat fairly healthy.

What are you saying So What! to this week?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

ENDED Giveaway! Thunderstruck Combo Pack

I've never been a sporty girl, but there's something about a good sports movie that has the power to make me wish I was. They just make me feel all tingly with vicarious team spirit, you know?

To celebrate the December 4th release of Thunderstruck, starring NBA star Kevin Durant, on DVD and Blu-ray, I'm giving away one Thunderstruck combo pack, which includes the DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download! To enter, just use the Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: The prize will be provided by Warner Bros.

Prequel to the Jeff Kinney Interview

I had the most exciting opportunity last week, to meet a real live CELEBRITY. I've mentioned it a little here and on the Facebook page, but here's the deal.

I belong to a Facebook group for Michigan bloggers, where someone with connections offered the chance to review the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, The Third Wheel, by Jeff Kinney. Hello! Me! Me! Me! I had already bought the book for Connor, ordering it in advance from Scholastic. But, what the hey. I still wanted in. This person also offered the opportunity to attend a Jeff Kinney book signing. I'm in! Yes, yes, yes! It was at a book store on a Monday morning, and I could bring my kids. I'm there, right?

So...I emailed the proper people to confirm everything, and got an email from a PR lady giving me the deets. Then she said that if we were "early risers" (ahem) then we were welcome to meet Jeff at his hotel for a "more formal interview."

Well, we are not early risers, but for one day? We could manage. I am also not an "interviewer"* by any means, but for this one time? I could do it! I HAD to do it! We're talking about Connor's favorite author. I mean, I can't imagine if I had been in 4th grade and my mom said let's go meet Judy Blume at her hotel and interview her!

Just a word here about stepping out of the box, and leaving our comfort zones. Interviewing a famous person was FAR out of my comfort zone. But I felt compelled to do it, so I did. I felt like this was something my kids would remember forever, and I had to do it for them. And for me. Because, you know that quote about doing the thing you're afraid to do, that I'm too lazy to look up right now but that some famous person said? Famous quotes are usually famous for a reason...because they resonate with people and they MEAN something. And I happen to believe that it is important to do that which you fear, for reasons of personal development, etc. etc.


Lucy opted out of meeting Jeff Kinney, although she is a fan. I think the getting up at 5:00 AM thing threw her off. And there was no way I was bringing Mattie because she doesn't like when I talk to anyone in her presence, as evidenced by the fact that she tends to get right up in my face and speak OVER me and whomever I happen to be speaking to. I didn't think that would be conducive to an interview. So it was just Bethany, Connor, and me, waking up in the dark and driving 25 miles in the soupy fog to meet Jeff Kinney at his hotel.

There was a problem, a little problem. My PR contact told me to call a certain person when I got to the hotel to let him know I was there. But...she didn't give me his number. I tried to contact her & get the number, but I had no luck. I knew of one other blogger who would be there, and we communicated via Facebook and text and decided we'd just show up and hope for the best. (Shout out to Danielle of Blossom Bunkhouse, notorious for her "controversial" Elf on the Shelf genius).

We got to the hotel, with only a first name and no phone number, and the desk clerk appeared to not even know that Jeff Kinney was staying in the hotel. So we sat down in the lobby and waited. I'm not quite sure what we were waiting for, but we knew that at some point Jeff Kinney would be coming downstairs and leaving for his book signing. Of course, he could have been all clandestine and left through a more discrete door. But we were Hoping for the Best.

What happened next? I know you're DYING to know. But in the meantime, don't forget to enter my Diary of a Wimpy Kid book giveaway! The winner gets to choose any book from the series! And if you just can't wait, head over to Amazon, where you can buy The Third Wheel ** for only 7 bucks! What a great Christmas gift!

*Forgive the quotation mark overload. Sometimes, I just have to do it.

**Affiliate link. Forgive me again.

A Generation of Techies

Last year, Chris and the kids made a movie to give to grandparents as a Christmas gift. It wasn't your typical cutesie grandchildren singing Christmas carols sort of thing. Which, if you know my husband, shouldn't come as a surprise. Actually, the whole thing was Connor's idea. He came up with a crazy idea for a video, and Chris said, "let's do it!" All four of the kids were in it, and Chris filmed and edited. It was a unique gift, that's for sure, and everyone got a big laugh out of it. They'll probably never forget the Christmas they were introduced to Pregnant Ninja.

Chris has been making nutty movies since I've known him, and now our kids are carrying on the tradition. Connor and Bethany love making videos as a hobby, just like their dad. Bethany does fashion and beauty tutorials (she's 11, just FYI), and Connor likes creating stop action Lego movies. When Bethany and her friends get together, they make music videos. It seems like everyone has a device that easily records video nowadays, and the evidence is on You Tube. Video editing software is becoming more user friendly, and turning video production literally into child's play. Of course it can get as complicated as you like, but making a video that looks good and has cool effects isn't as difficult as one might think. Cyberlink makes photo and video editing software that helps you get some pretty awesome results. Check for Cyberlink updates for up to the minute multimedia software.

I'm married to a techie, so my kids are kind of techie by association and heritage. Whether it's music or movies or the latest television or blu ray player, our family is usually pretty knowledgeable. I'm not quite as tech savvy as my husband (he might venture to say that's an understatement), but I enjoy the benefits of technology and I love gadgets and photo editing. I'm not sure if the kids are planning a new movie for this year's Christmas, but if they are, maybe it would be a good time to familiarize myself with the video editing aspect a little more. Or...I could just leave it to Chris.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Repurposed Halloween Candy

Don't tell me I'm the only one who still has some lingering Halloween candy laying around the house? I know I'm not, and I know that you're probably wishing you had sold it to the local dentist's buy-back program when you had the chance. For weeks our bowl shamelessly graced the kitchen counter, until Chris had the decency to bag up the dregs and toss them in the pantry. I've repeatedly vowed to throw it out - even BEFORE all the good stuff was long gone - but I haven't done it yet. I have tossed a handful here and there, carefully burying it in the trash to avoid unwanted confrontation with the little people of the house, and the rest is going soon. Tomorrow? Sounds good.

If you, like me, have an aversion to throwing out perfectly good (fill in the blank), then here are a few ideas for what to do with your leftover Halloween candy.

  • Movie snacks  I hid the small bags of M&Ms in the cupboard for future visits to the movie theater. Skittles, Reese's Pieces, and anything else that's bite size & in a bag would also be good choices for the movie stash.
  • Baking needs The Hershey bars went into my baking cupboard. I can shred them or chop them up as cookie add-ins or cake toppings.
  • School lunches Chips, pretzels, fruit snacks, and Rice Krispy Treats were used as special lunch box treats. 
  • Freeze it I put the mini Snickers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on cookie sheets and froze them. When they were good and frozen, I took them out (a little at a time to avoid melting), chopped them up, and put them back in the freezer. They can be used for ice cream sundae toppings or for baking.
  • Frosting  I'll admit I haven't yet been brave enough to try this, but I have found recipes for Laffy Taffy frosting while browsing the internet. If you have tried this, let me know! I'd love to know if it's worth making.
  • Make cookies I decided to add some of my frozen chopped up Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to a batch of peanut butter cookies. They were a big hit!  
Do you have something different to do with your Halloween candy? And by the way, I'm really glad the good stuff is now gone and I can get on with my mostly candy-free existence!

For my Peanut Butter Cup peanut butter cookies, I just followed the recipe on the Crisco package and stirred about 1 3/4 cups of chopped, frozen peanut butter cups into the dough. I'm sure this would work with any peanut butter cookie recipe.

Frozen chopped up Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

Ready to be mixed into the dough

Ready to go to the cookie sheets

The delicious finished product
Crisco peanut butter cookie recipe

Banking for Dummies

My knowledge of any and all things financial is embarrassingly negligent. In other words, I know basically nothing about things like various types of bank accounts, investments, stocks, bonds, interest, and anything else having to do with the world of banks, finances, or money. Although I've heard of things like chemical mergers and acquisitions, my first hand experience and knowledge about the topic is non-existent. What makes a bank a chemical investment bank? How do the terms "chemical" and "bank" even belong in the same sentence? I decided to try to find the answers to these questions, but that ended up not being quite as clear cut as I hoped. Sometimes the internet is fickle like that. Maybe it would have been better to ask a real live person who knows about banking matters instead of counting on the trusty World Wide Web.

From what I can understand, chemical banks are those that have expert knowledge in the field of chemicals. I never really thought about how pervasive chemicals are in our daily lives, in their various manifestations. There are the food related chemicals, such as additives and flavors. Then there's the agricultural field, which includes chemicals in fertilizers and who knows what else. Surfactants found in cleaning and personal hygiene products would also be included, as well as lots of other things, like biofuels, paints, inks, and much more. Okay, apparently chemicals are all around us. And that means there are lots of corporations dealing with chemicals. And corporations of all kinds have banking needs, so I suppose it makes sense that there are banks dedicated to servicing the chemical industry. A bank offering chemical advisory knowledge would obviously be a good fit for a corporation manufacturing and selling chemicals.

Banks such as The Valance Group staff experts in the field who have specialized knowledge and training that general bankers typically wouldn't have. I'm sort of having an "a-ha" moment! Clarity is a beautiful thing. Although, don't get me wrong, I'm still 99% clueless.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Family Vacation Destination: Martha's Vineyard

In Cape Cod with my cousin, circa 1996

A few years before we got hitched, Chris and I vacationed in Cape Cod with my mom and my cousin. We spent two weeks in July exploring Boston, Cape Cod, and Martha's Vineyard. That vacation is one I think of often, and hope to repeat with Chris and the kids some day. I loved being able to drive up and down the coast, walking around the little towns, hanging out at beaches, and feeling a connection with American presidents, since Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard in particular, is a known holiday hot spot for Commanders in Chief. One chilly day we spent out on the ocean whale watching, and another day we took a ferry to Martha's Vineyard for the day. Martha's Vineyard was beautiful, and I was intrigued by its history. At the time I remember thinking it would be nice to dedicate a full vacation to the island itself. Maybe it's time I look into Marthas Vineyard accomodations, and see what is available for families.

One thing I clearly recall from that vacation is that the weather was far milder than I expected. I can understand why local residents escape the heat of the city for the Cape, although it is actually only about an hour outside of Boston. There were days when it was too cool to swim in the ocean, and once we ended up buying sweatshirts while we were out because we weren't dressed quite warm enough. However, the beaches were beautiful, and we spent many hours exploring tide pools and sitting around bon fires late into the night. I can imagine how much my beach-loving kids would enjoy playing in the sand and the salt water.

I enjoy family vacations that encompass simple pleasures, and while exciting theme parks are fun too, sometimes just hanging out and relishing the company of loved ones and our natural surroundings is even more gratifying. In our family, we love beach vacations. We do not require something "to do" 24/7, and are perfectly content packing some snacks, beach towels, and sand toys and laying around the beach for lazy stretches of several hours. In fact, some of my happiest memories with my kids involve just laying around the beach, doing nothing much. What more do we need than sunshine, a place to swim, and sand to play in? The kids enjoy finding treasures - rocks, shells, aquatic life-, burying each other in the sand, trying to catch fish with nets and buckets, and of course endless swimming, floating, and boogie boarding.

For us, the appeal of a Martha's Vineyard vacation would be alternating between building sand castles and walking down the street for an ice cream cone; window shopping at unique touristy shops and watching sunsets on the beach; taking long walks and dozing on the warm sand. Simple, easy things like this make the best memories, and are good for the soul. I think island vacations are especially awesome. There is just something decadent about being isolated on a beautiful island, with nothing to do but joyfully appreciate everything around you.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. However, all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

So What! Wednesday

Life After I "Dew"

So What! So What! So What!

I had the teeniest little zit on my face the other day. So small. I could only see it when I got all up in the mirror's face. And yet. I cannot stand to have a zit on my face. So I had to pick it. And I couldn't get it (it was pretty miniscule after all). So I picked it some more. And now? I have a freaking mess on my face that I have to hide with gobs of cover up. Why oh why do I do this to myself?

I took my kids to meet Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney the other day, and I figure I can get a lot of leverage out of that for a long time. Like this: I might make you eat brown bread, but I let you ride a tour bus full of strangers so you could talk to Jeff Kinney while he ate his breakfast! So THERE!

Mathilda wears a hat 24/7. She only takes it off to take a bath, brush her hair, or, if necessary, to get dressed/undressed. This means, if you're following, she wears a hat to preschool, to ballet class, to sleep in, and everything in between. She's a tad OCD. But she's 3, and this won't last forever, and this is one battle I'm not taking on.

I love that I can still sneak in some Christmas shopping when Mathilda is with me. This won't last much longer, so I'm taking full advantage while I can.

I wish my kids didn't have school today.

Sometimes it's hard to tell if a hermit crab is dead or alive. I sure hope we're not losing another one. Crossing my fingers that he's molting!

Yesterday the kids had no after school activities and I let them just be kids and hang out. They did their homework, but I didn't heckle them to do chores. Chris was not so happy with that decision. The house suffered, so maybe he's right?

I'm doing so well with my Christmas shopping! I have a whole bunch done already, and have a pretty good idea of the other things I need to get. Maybe there won't be any last minute running around this year?

We were invited to Thanksgiving dinner at my cousin's house, and she assured me that we don't need to bring anything. I actually think...we're not going to bring anything. I don't know, maybe I'll change my mind after all.

I'm really glad I don't have to cook Thanksgiving dinner. Have I mentioned that I'm not all that fond of cooking?

I refuse to listen to Christmas music until Friday. Then it's ON.

What are you saying So What! to this week?

ENDED Giveaway! JAWS Cleaning Products!

For awhile, I've been reading about JAWS online. No, the JAWS I'm talking about has nothing to do with giant sharks or unfortunate diving incidents. It stands for Just Add Water System, and it consists of non-toxic, eco-friendly cleaning products.

JAWS cleaning products

The cleaners come with an extra cartridge, so when the bottle is empty you can just fill it with tap water and insert the refill cartridge. After that, you can just buy refill cartridges, saving on the plastic waste of purchasing new bottles.

From now until November 25, Michigan Hiller's stores are running a BOGO sale on JAWS. The regular price is $4.99 a bottle (includes a refill cartridge) for JAWS Glass and Hard Surface Cleaner, JAWS Multi-Purpose Cleaner/Degreaser, and JAWS Bathroom Cleaner/Deodorizer; and $5.79 a bottle (again, including a refill cartridge) for the JAWS Disinfectant Cleaner/Degreaser.

While I'm anxiously awaiting delivery of my very own JAWS products, hoping they'll help keep me motivated to clean this holiday season, I'm also offering you the opportunity to try JAWS for yourself! One lucky winner will receive a set of all four JAWS cleaners!

As soon as I get mine and have a chance to use them for a few days, I'll post a review. In the meantime, use the Rafflecopter form to enter! Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

In exchange for hosting this giveaway and writing a product review, I will be receiving a complimentary set of JAWS products. All opinions are my own.

Learning the Ropes in Blogging

Even after years of blogging, much of the jargon and technical aspects of my "art" are lost on me. Although I feel that I have accomplished quite a bit, not being all that tech savvy, I certainly have quite a bit to learn. Just when I think I have things figured out, something disappears from my blog. For example, my little row of connect with me buttons (social media, email, RSS) that was at the top of my right side bar is gone. I don't understand where they have gone. When I go into my page layout, they are there. When I view my blog, they are not there. They use to be there. But they are apparently lost in cyber space. And I don't even begin to know how to figure out how to make them appear again.

Although blogging has been around for awhile and has become pretty widespread, I still feel that bloggers are kind of internet pioneers, picking our way along the trail and figuring things out as we go. One of these things I don't get, but probably should make an effort to understand, is how to effectively build a mobile audience with my blog. Do I need a joomla mobile plugin on my blog? What does that mouthful even mean? Um, I'm not quite sure, actually. I do know that more and more people are on the go, and they're multi-tasking, and they're accessing websites via mobile devices more than ever. What I don't know is whether my blog is optimally equipped for mobile devices.

I try to look this stuff up online, and my eyes start to glaze over. Can you say information overload? Maybe it's just a matter of time before blogging becomes a college curriculum of its own. I know my local community college offers a few classes on topics like SEO (I'm utterly clueless here too), so maybe it's time to look into them.

If you're a blogger, how do you keep up to date on everything going on in the tech world?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Awesome Deal on Ecomom - Act Fast!

I am all about finding awesome deals for the holidays, and today I found one I have to share with you!

Ecomom is a cool website with all kind of eco-friendly products, including Melissa and Doug toys. They have a lot more than just toys though, so even if you're not shopping for kids, you should still look into this offer!

Okay, here goes.

First, if you don't have an account with Plum District, then use this LINK to set up an account now.

Then, if you don't have an account with Ebates (and you really need one!) go over there and set up an account.

Okay, now you're ready to rock and roll!
  • Sign into your Ebates account
  • Find the link for Plum District & click on it
  • Go to the Ecomom deal and snag $20 for $40 worth of merchandise (I believe this deal expires 11/23)
  • Head over to Ecomom & shop to your heart's content...because not only can you use the voucher you just bought, Ecomom is also running a spectacular deal: $20 off orders $50-$99, $40 off orders $100-199, and $80 off orders $200+ (November 19-November 25).
  • Your Ecomom discount will automatically be factored in.
  • Free shipping on orders $50 and up, which is figured in BEFORE your discount is applied
  • Start the check-out process & when prompted, register (do NOT check out as a guest!)
  • After you are registered and enter your credit card info, there will be an option to go back and add gift certificates. Click on the link, and you'll THEN be able to add your voucher code from Plum District. You'll see your total will be adjusted right away.
  • Continue with your order. You may have to sign in again and then enter your credit card number again. Don't worry - your credit card wasn't charged before!

Ecomom GREEN Friday discounts!

My order total was $106.
Ecomom discount: $40
Plum District voucher: $40 (paid $20)
Ecomom total, after discount & voucher applied: $26
Total paid for $106 worth of Christmas presents: $46 ($26 on Ecomom + $20 on Plum District)

Two of these items I was going to buy anyway from Amazon, for $30 total. They were in my cart, and I was about to order when I saw this Ecomom deal on Facebook. For an extra $16, I got 5 more gifts. Everything I ordered was Melissa and Doug, but like I mentioned - there are LOTS of other things on Ecomom - from household cleansers to nursing accessories and MORE!

In case you're interested, here is a rundown of what I got. Nobody tell Lucy & Mattie!

  1. Melissa & Doug Single Puzzle Rack - $12.99
  2. Melissa & Doug Ice Cream Parlor Set - $30
  3. Melissa & Doug Flip to Win Hangman - $12.99
  4. Melissa & Doug Wooden Princess Stamp set - $9.99
  5. Melissa & Doug See Inside Numbers Peg Puzzle - $7.99
  6. Melissa & Doug Self Correcting Alphabet Letter Puzzle - $12.99
  7. Melissa & Doug Grocery Basket - $19.99
From Amazon, my usual go-to website for online shopping, I would have paid about $90 for the exact same order. That's a pretty good savings as far as I'm concerned! Remember, you must have at least $60 worth of stuff in your cart in order to take full advantage of the Plum District voucher and the Ecomom discount, plus your ORIGINAL (before any discount) total must be over $50 to qualify for free shipping.

Thanks go out to Hip2Save for writing about this deal!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links!