Monday, April 30, 2012

Rainy Days and Mondays

Today has been kind of rough, as far as Mondays go. I've been enjoying my Mondays, thanks to the Monday morning book club my friends and I have started. But...I had a really great weekend and was sad to see it end. And...I stayed up way (way...) too late Sunday night. And then I woke up to rain, which is fine by me if I can stay huddled under the covers all day with a good book and a kid or four to keep me warm and snuggly. Not so great if I have to get up and drive people to school. Blech.

Friday night I met my wonderful friend Julie at Partridge Creek, which is an outdoor mall where dogs are allowed in the stores. She introduced me to Charming Charlie, which is like Claire's for grown-ups, and I fell in love with it. The prices are fabulous and it's so much fun to look around at all the accessories. Then we walked around outside for awhile, indulged in some Starbucks deliciousness, and then walked around inside Parisian until closing time because it got to be pretty cold outside when the sun went down. Julie and I have been friends since 7th grade and I'm so grateful that we are still friends. We always have a great time, now if only we could manage to get together a little more often!

Another great thing about Friday night: I came home to no kids. While I was gone, my mom came over and picked everyone up for a sleepover at her place. The absence of my children isn't necessarily something to celebrate, but sleeping in until 11:30 Saturday morning sure is! I didn't even realize I was that tired, but I slept so soundly and didn't even stir until almost noon. Ahhh, it was glorious. I then spent quite a bit of the day being extraordinarily lazy, lounging in my pj's, entrenched in the bedroom playroom elevator world of Christian Grey, aka Mr. Fifty Shades of Grey. Actually, I was reading book 2, Fifty Shades Darker.

The kids came home for a few hours, and then it was time to take them to my mother-in-law's for a planned sleepover at her house. She agreed to keep them so I could go out with my mom to see The Smiths United (Chris's band) play. My friends Tina and Todd came too and met us there, and it was a great night of music and good conversation. I came home to a quiet house and got to sleep in again on Sunday morning! Glorious!

Sunday was a banner day in several ways. Number one: my friend came over to pick up a bunch of baby toys and paraphernalia that had been taking up a lot of space in my basement and garage. She can use the stuff, I can use the space = a win win situation.Total catharsis. I love getting rid of stuff, especially when I can pass it on to someone who can actually use it. Number two: I texted my friend Cathy and she texted me back. An incredible and rare occurrence, trust me. (love you Cathy!) Number three: late lunch at in-law's with the kids = no cooking. Bonus: Lucy finished her school project (you know, that one that I recycled last week and she had to re-do over the weekend?) while at the in-law's.

So yeah, then there was Monday morning. I was, as always, happy to go to Aimee's for book club. A few were absent due to sick family members, but we still had a good meeting. And Aimee hooked me up with hand-me-downs from her daughter, which will comprise Lucy's spring/summer wardrobe (thanks again, Aimee!). Despite the rain and the wanting badly to stay in bed, Monday started out well. The rest of the day wasn't horrible, just kind of blah. After book club, Mattie and I went to Macy's, armed with coupons and gift cards. And I couldn't find anything I really wanted. Maybe I would have had better luck if I had remembered to bring a stroller, or if I had been alone. I don't know. We came home, had lunch, and I was exhausted so I decided to take a little snooze on the couch (while Mathilda watched television on the couch beside me). I set my alarm for one hour, and then tried to fall asleep for about 55 minutes (kind of difficult with a squirmy 3-year old who refuses to take her shoes off climbing all over me), at which point I was quickly roused by an exclamation of, "Oh no! I went pee pee on the couch!" Seriously? By the time I got that cleaned up it was just about time to pick up the kids from school.

It really hasn't been a horrible day, just gloomy and tired and cranky. Good things about today: book club, cookies and fruit salad for breakfast, hand-me-downs for Lucy, and grocery shopping (only because now there's food in the house). I better get to bed, incidentally, so tomorrow is not a repeat performance of the gloomy/tired/cranky portions of the day.

Did you have a good start to your week?

Rubbermaid Hidden Recycler: We Have a Winner!

I am pleased to announce that a winner has been chosen for the Rubbermaid Hidden Recycler! Congratulations to SueSueper Sue! Hopefully you have received my email and I'll hear from you soon, so you can get your prize!

Thanks to everyone who visited MichiGal and entered the giveaway! 

I also have an update on my review of the Hidden Recycler. Although it didn't fit in my cupboard under the kitchen sink, where I really wanted it, I decided to try another cupboard and it worked! I had a whole cupboard that was just a mess of random bags, and I totally cleaned it out, organized it, and put the Hidden Recycler on the door. It's a great product and I'm glad that I figured out a way to use it!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Absentminded Professor

I have christened Lucy with a new nickname. Around these parts, she is now known as the Absentminded Professor. How did she earn this name, you might ask? Well, some Lucy antics that have gone down in the past week include:

  • Upon brushing her teeth one night, she informed me that she "couldn't remember" what she did with the top to the toothpaste. Um, the options are fairly limited, right? And you just took it off like 30 seconds ago, so what do you mean you can't remember? Silly girl! (Note: I found it the next day)
  • Upon getting ready for her bath one night, she informed me that, oops! she accidentally put her clean undies on top of the undies she had been wearing (and backwards, to boot), so she spent the entire day wearing two pair of underpants, and didn't even notice until about 7:00 p.m. when it was time to get undressed for the bath.
  • Upon tucking her in one night, I realized that her nightgown was on backwards. It looked very uncomfortable, but she hadn't even noticed.
  • Upon picking her up from school one day, I noted that her boots were on backwards, and presumably had been all day. "They feel fine, mom." Like, duh, it doesn't really matter if my shoes are on the right feet!? Worry about something important, mother!
These are just a few examples of Lucy's typical Absentminded Professor behaviors. One of my favorites is from a couple years ago. We were on vacation and had been out and about all day. At the end of the day, we were back at our hotel getting ready for bed and as Lucy was changing into her pj's she calmly proclaimed that she seemed to have forgotten to put her undies on that morning. So she spent an entire day of sightseeing while unintentionally going commando. The funniest thing is that she always just blows these episodes off, not bothered in the least by anything as meaningless as backwards (or inside out, or even sideways) clothing.

When I ask her what she did at school, the answer is almost invariably (in the sweetest voice you've ever heard), "I can't remember."  Who did you play with at recess? "I can't remember." Who did you sit with at lunch? "I can't remember." I'm sure you get the idea...

So I give her a cute new nickname, and snigger about her silly forgetfulness, and tease her a little about being the Absentminded Professor. And then...and then I get my comeuppance. Guess who put Lucy's animal project, which was due today, in with the recycling (which was picked up on Wednesday)? That's right, ME. Okay, I'm not 100% sure on that, but I couldn't find it (when I remembered, just before bedtime last night, that she needed to finish it), and I did kind of go nuts scavenging through the house for paper to fill the recycling bins to their fullest capacity. So yeah, I have to admit that's probably what happened. And then I had to email her teacher and tell her what happened. Gulp. She was very sweet and understanding about it, and is letting Lucy re-do the project this weekend. Thank goodness Lucy wasn't too upset, especially considering that she did the bulk of the project at school with her 5th grade buddy.

I'm swallowing my pride and admitting that Lucy may be sharing her nickname with her mother.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thankful Thursday

A Thing of Beauty by Michigalmom
A Thing of Beauty, a photo by Michigalmom on Flickr.

Today I am thankful for my new washer and dryer. Last week some time our dryer went kaput. We thought maybe it was just clogged up with lint, but after taking everything apart and shaking everything out we could, then sucking up the rest with the vacuum attachment, we realized that wasn't the problem because the dryer still didn't work. Considering that I do 10+ loads of laundry a week, it wasn't exactly time or cost efficient for our dryer to take over 24 hours to dry a single load of laundry. And then we figured we might as well get a new washing machine too so that they'll both be the same age. And we can hopefully save quite a bit on our water, energy, and detergent usage.

Our new set was delivered this morning. Chris got most of it set up before he left for work, and I am patiently waiting for him to get home and finish because I can't wait to get started on laundry! For one thing, I am looking forward to playing with my new toys. And there's the thing about the laundry which is taking over our house way more than usual.

We are lucky to have a nice, finished laundry room (courtesy of previous home owners), but it's always pretty trashed because of the sheer volume of laundry that I'm constantly doing. And also it's in the basement and has a door that closes so nobody has to look at it. But our new washer and dryer are so pretty, I am motivated to clean and organize their new home. I have a board dedicated to laundry room ideas on Pinterest. Maybe I can put some of them to use!

I am particularly thrilled that the new washer and dryer stack on top of each other. Now I can't keep any laundry on top of the dryer! Chris is super excited about that because that's one of his pet peeves. I'm really just glad to have some more space in the room now. I might even be able to squeeze in a small garment rack. I hang lots of stuff to dry, and let me tell you it gets pretty tricky finding places to hang it without a garment rack.

We are definitely less than thrilled to have to drop money on this right now. But it is what it is. I am so thankful that we were able to buy what we wanted, that we have a nice room to put our precious new appliances in, and that I can soon begin the process of getting caught up with the laundry (again!). I'm also grateful that I can do laundry right here at home and don't have to lug it to a laundry mat.

(I may or may not be crossing my fingers for the stove to go next.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sleep With Me?

My welcome to motherhood did not include months of sleepless nights, trying to soothe a newborn to sleep. Nope, Bethany was definitely not a cuddly baby. She cried until we put her down to sleep, in her own crib, thank you very  much. (Interestingly, she is much more cuddly  now, as a 10 and a half year old, than she was as a baby/toddler/preschooler. Making up for lost time maybe?) I gave up on nursing early on, put that baby on a schedule, and she was sleeping like a champ - 12 hours a night - very quickly. Once she started crawling, at around 6 months, she never even wanted to be held anymore. Such a busy little thing, she was.

When Connor came along, he was comparatively much more snuggly. That is, he tolerated being held and cuddled much better than Bethany. With only Bethany to compare him to, I thought I finally had myself a cuddle bear. I remember when he was about 9 months old, Chris was out of town and I coerced allowed Connor to sleep with me. This stands out in my memory because Bethany and Connor truly never slept with us (except for those very first newborn nights, getting used to being in the world). But he was also a champion sleeper from a very young age, bottle fed and on a fairly reliable schedule. He rarely fussed and was not a kid who insisted upon being held frequently. They were possibly the two easiest babies ever. At least that's how it seems now.

Then I had Lucy and Mathilda, and neither of them slept through the night until they were 18 months old. They wanted to be held all the time. They slept with us a lot. Like, a whole lot. They were, and are, about the cuddliest little girls ever. Mattie is almost 3 and at this very moment is requesting me to stop what I'm doing and cuddle her (which I will do shortly). Now I know what it's like to have snuggle muffins. While I loved having my champion sleepers, I found that I also loved cuddling with my baby girls for long hours. I found I had a patience I didn't know was in me for those frequent middle of the night wake-up calls. I wonder (and feel loads of guilt about this) if it's because I nursed both of them for so long. I wonder if I had nursed Bethany longer and nursed Connor at all (guiltguiltguilt), if they would have loved being held and cuddled like the little girls.

But this is not really a post about mommy guilt.

Last night Bethany was gone overnight at my  mother-in-law's and Connor said he didn't want to go to sleep without her. You see, they have their own bedrooms but Bethany almost always sleeps on Connor's bottom bunk (he sleeps on the top). This is not typical Connor behavior at all. He has never minded sleeping alone. He very kindly allows his sister(s) to intrude on his turf, but I'm pretty sure he would generally prefer that they didn't. So I was really surprised. Turns out that he has been having bad dreams and been a little freaked out since Friday the 13th.

Let me explain. He and Bethany were begging to watch a scary movie on Friday the 13th, since some of Bethany's friends were talking about the scary movies they would be watching that night. Chris suggested Drag Me to Hell, saying it was more funny than scary. I had never seen it, and armed with memories of myself watching Poltergeist and Nightmare on Elm Street at their ages, I went along with it. Within a few minutes it was clear they were not going to get through this movie. They were both hiding under the blanket and looked terrified, so I asked them if they wanted me to turn it off. "YES!", they both agreed. So that was a couple weeks ago, but last night was the first time Connor had said anything about having nightmares or being scared. Just like when he was a baby, he is not a complainer. He is also not very emotionally expressive, so I knew this had to be weighing on him heavily if he actually decided to talk to me about it. It was a windy night and we could hear the wind blowing around. Connor admitted he was also worried about tornadoes. I had Chris check the weather report and reassure him that there were no tornado watches or warnings in our area. I am suspecting this new fear of tornadoes has to do with watching Twister with them a couple months ago? Connor said he doesn't think so, but I think that is a little more than a coincidence. Honestly, Connor rarely gets scared by movies (that I know of!), but I'm thinking we'll stick more to the Disney, made for kids variety of movies for awhile.

Connor looked so vulnerable, worried, and frightened as he was telling me all this last night. I asked him if he would feel better if, when I was ready to go to bed for the night, I slept in his bottom bunk. And he asked if it would be okay if he slept in the bottom bunk with me. He is nine years old and this is possibly (probably) the only time he has ever asked to sleep with me. I couldn't tell him no. So an hour or two after he went to bed, I squeezed into bed with him. I feel bad that he has been so scared and never mentioned it until last night. I had a horrible night's sleep, not only because I was fighting for bed space and blankets all night, but also because Mattie was having growing pains in her legs and crying her heart out much of the night. So I was stumbling back and forth between bedrooms all night, trying to soothe her and minimize disruptions for everyone else. But I am glad Connor decided to admit he was feeling scared. And I'm glad he asked to sleep with me. His sisters loudly demand lots of attention pretty much 24/7, but he rarely does. He's so big and such a good, self-reliant kid, it's easy to forget he's only in 3rd grade. He still needs his mama and that's okay with me.

I'm happy I had the opportunity to sleep with my son. Who knows if he'll ever ask me again? That parenthood cliche about kids growing up too fast is painfully true. The next time Bethany asks to sit on my lap could be the last. The next time Mattie says, "please cuddle me a minute, Mama?" could be the last. The next time Lucy asks me to read a favorite book could be the last. One never knows. Sometimes independence shows up suddenly and unexpectedly. In the meantime, I will do my best to say "yes" as often as I can.

So What! Wednesday

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

So What! if the spiky weeds are taking over my lovely landscaping in the front yard because I haven't been able to find a pair of gardening gloves & I keep forgetting to buy some every time I go out?

So What! if my neurotic dog follows me around the house and paces and whines by the front door when I'm not home? It's nice to feel needed and loved.

So What! if I let Lucy & Mattie stay up a little later than usual last night? Bethany, Connor, & Chris were out doing fun stuff, so we had our own fun at home doing puzzles and reading books until 8:00 (instead of 7:30).

So What! if Connor asked me to sleep with him last night? I think that might be a first. 

So What! if there was no possible way I could tell Connor "no" when he asked me to sleep with him last night? He likes sleeping alone, he may never ask me again.

So What! if I was crammed in a twin bed and maybe not exactly covered completely most of the night?

So What! if I'm super geeked about the delivery of our new washer & dryer tomorrow? Not exactly what we wanted to be spending money on right now, but these things never happen at a good time, do they? 

So What! if I'm even more geeked that the new laundry ensemble stacks! How exciting is my life?!?

So What! if we let Bethany have a sleepover with her Meema (Chris's mom) on a school night?

What are you saying So What! to this week?

***Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a Rubbermaid Hidden Recycler!***

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Monday Fun Days

A few weeks ago, some friends and I started a Monday morning book club. Talk about a cure for the Monday morning doldrums! I used to dread the end of the weekend, and now I'm excited on Sunday nights because I have something fun to look forward to. We meet at my friend Aimee's house and take turns bringing something to munch on. We have established a few loose rules, but we're pretty flexible.
  • No books any of us have already read. (We already broke this one, but made an exception because it had been a really long time since they had read it).
  • No books in a series.
  • Spoiler alert! If you didn't read the book, you're still welcome to come to the meetings - just be forewarned that we aren't putting off the discussion.
  • Let everybody talk.
  • Kids are welcome.
Aimee created a Facebook page for us so that we can post questions in between meetings, and also discuss other books.

So far this is what we've done.

Discussed The Hunger Games, and how the movie compared to the book.

Read and discussed The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.


Read and discussed The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinksi

In the process of reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

A few points I'd like to make:
  • Don't discount the Young Adult genre (otherwise we'd have missed out on The Hunger Games and The Fault in Our Stars).
  • Sometimes homework assignments are fun. When we read The Next Thing on My List, we each made a bucket list and shared it at our meeting.
  • Don't discount classic literature, but acknowledge that reading it at a slower pace is probably beneficial.
  • Take advantage of the internet for discussion inspiration.
 We plan on having a movie night when we're done reading Frankenstein, to see how the movie compares to the book. I'll host that in our basement since we have a home theater set up.

Being in a book club is so right up my alley, I don't know how I waited until the age of 37 to finally be a part of one. I love reading and discussing books. I love being with like-minded people. I love having something to look forward to on Monday mornings, and catching up with my friends. We're just getting started, but already I'm hoping this book club becomes a long standing tradition. Although we'll have to make some adjustments in the summer because most of our kids are in school right now, and I think our combined 18 (almost 19) children might be a tad distracting. Not to mention a bit of a stretch on Aimee's hospitality limits.

Are you in a book club? How does your book club operate? What have you read as a group?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Trying to Live Better

I'm trying, I mean TRYING, to eat healthier and be more active. I'm striving to be better. It's not easy. The hardest thing for me is that I have a sweet tooth that just won't quit. I also have to dig really deep for motivation. I'm kind of laid back and I quickly get accustomed to not being able to breathe when my pants are buttoned. Pretty soon it's just what I'm used to and I hardly care anymore.

But I want to be healthier. I'm 37 and I want to be energetic and young for my age, not older than I actually am. I have some health issues and I don't want to accept that they're just going to get worse. My kids are young and there's a lot I want to do in my life. Stuff that requires energy and motivation and vitality and being healthy. I don't want to constantly be looking for shirts that cover my tummy and hide my back fat. That seriously gets old. During the past year I've gained quite a bit of weight so I don't have a whole lot of options in my closet at the moment.

I have written a lot about this subject, in one context or another. The difference the last couple months is that Chris has started having the same inclinations as me. He wants to be healthier too, and it's a lot easier having a partner so we can encourage each other and support each other. Together we've jumped on the vegetarian bandwagon. I'd say we've been about 95% successful with that. I have never been a huge meat eater, and becoming vegetarian has been far easier than I thought it would. I think I'll stick with it. I'm not dreaming about steak or anything, and I'm just as happy  having a veggie burger or chick'n breast as I would be having the real thing. We've been trying to increase our vegetable intake, and I can assure everyone that I've never eaten so many vegetables in my life. I never used to like vegetables, with few exceptions, but my tastes are changing and I now don't mind most vegetables. I'm putting veggies in my smoothies to get more in my diet. When I grocery shop, I buy very little crap that I know I would love to consume in one sitting (Turtle Chex Mix, anyone?).

The frustrating thing to me is that, to be honest, I don't eat that much. I do love my sweets, but I have hugely cut back on my sugar consumption. I went for quite awhile hardly exercising at all, so I get that I had a decrease in physical activity and that contributed to me gaining weight. But I started back up again a couple months ago, and combined with the going vegetarian and a decrease in eating sweets and snacking, I had hoped that would make a difference. Unfortunately, it has not. Losing weight is extremely difficult for me. Like losing 5 pounds takes Herculean effort. And I don't want to lose 5 pounds, I want to lose 20 pounds. I'm not sure that is even possible. But it's obvious that I need to kick up my efforts by a lot. I need to eat even more veggies and cut back even more on the sweets, treats, and snacks.

I don't believe in dieting because I think it's inevitable to eventually go back to previous eating habits if the goal is to only temporarily change. And that's when the weight comes right back. I also can't go hungry. I'm not simply being a wimp. Going without food for too long makes me very ill, like can't drag myself out of bed sick. I get terrible headaches that interfere with my ability to function and severe nausea. I get like this from other stuff too, like not getting enough sleep, not drinking enough water, certain smells, long exposure to bright and/or flashing lights, and running myself ragged. It's all about keeping myself in balance, and I'm beginning to realize that one thing I have to do is eat every couple hours if I want to avoid feeling like I'm at death's door. So a starvation diet is not happening for me. Instead of dieting, I need to focus on changes to my diet that I will stick with long term. Which is what I've been babbling on about.

I also need to kick my work outs into overdrive. I'm being gradual because my body doesn't like being thrown into sudden turmoil and the results can be quite unpleasant. I have a goal of running a 5K by September, and I think I have convinced Chris that we should start on the Couch to 5K program. If anyone has done this, I would love to have your input. He seems to be on board. The next step is making it a priority to find the time to work toward this goal on a daily basis. I'm hoping that having something to train for will help me.

The weight is not the most important thing to me. I want to look good and not be overly self-conscious constantly, but it's more important for me to feel good and to be healthy. I want to jump on the trampoline and chase after my kids at the play ground and give my girls a wagon ride around the block without feeling like my lungs are on fire. I want to be at low risk for heart attack and stroke and diabetes. I want to feel energetic.

So. Here I go. I'm going to keep trying.

What is your favorite kind of exercise? I love to do my hula hoop because I can read while I'm doing it. I also like to walk but not so much by myself. But I would love to have more ideas!

Friday, April 20, 2012

ENDED Rubbermaid Giveaway: Hidden Recycler

In honor of Earth Day, which is coming up this Sunday, April 22, I am reviewing the new Rubbermaid Hidden Recycler! Plus YOU will have the chance to win one too!

Living green is important every single day, and one of the main things I do in support of this beautiful planet of ours is recycle as much as I can. Where we live, we are fortunate enough to have a curb side recycling program. That means on our trash pick-up day every week, a separate truck comes around collecting our recyclables. Everyone has a bin to fill with recycle items and put at the curb with the trash on garbage day. Actually, in our family we have two bins, and most weeks they are both full. The kids all know to rinse out their yogurt containers and to put their old school papers in the recycle bin. Since we typically have so many recyclable items in a given week, it's easy for it to quickly become out of control. People get lazy about taking each thing outside. We end up with piles of stuff on the counter or next to the kitchen garbage, and bags of stuff hanging off drawer handles. To counteract the laziness factor, we decided to start keeping one of our recycle bins on the back porch, right outside the door. This has helped quite a bit. The kids don't mind taking their recyclables outside if they don't have to put on their shoes and (in the winter) coat to do it.

When Rubbermaid offered me the opportunity to try their new Hidden Recycler, I thought this would be a product that could help us even more in our recycling endeavors. The Hidden Recycler is a 5 gallon bag that attaches to the inside of your cupboard door. It is big enough to hold 36 12-ounce cans and it can even fit a milk jug. The bag is leak proof and machine washable. Sounds great, right? Anything that gets stuff off the counter is fabulous in my opinion.

The Hidden Reycler requires a little bit of assembly, but nothing too complicated. I'd say if you don't make any mistakes (like I did) it would probably take about 5 minutes to put together.

See those little plastic notches in each corner of the frame? They should be pointing DOWN. Learn from my missteps.

Here are the little notches close-up. There are four of them. The frame slides up to the top of the bag.
Here is the lid, which attaches to the cupboard door with two little hooks (included).
The framework/handle from the bag then slides into a slot on the lid. Ideally, the cupboard door should close.

The bottom line? I think this is an awesome product. It could really streamline recycling and make it much easier. However, it simply does not fit in my kitchen cupboards (boo hoo!). The included hooks are optional, and there are holes for screws, but even going that route the Hidden Recycler does not fit in our cupboard. I am really disappointed, but I'm going to find a good home for it. I'm sure someone I know has more reasonably sized cupboard doors! The product is 12.7 inches wide, but a couple inches clearance on each side is necessary as well.

I wish this was my kitchen. This could be me, strolling out to the recycle bin with my Hidden Recycler.

So, now is the part where you have the chance to win your very own Rubbermaid Hidden Recycler!

See the Rafflecopter form below to enter. Good luck!

I received a complimentary Rubbermaid Hidden Recycler for review purposes. All opinions are my own. The winner's prize will be shipped directly from Rubbermaid. 

Please note: the winner must be a resident of the U.S. or Canada!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mother Figure

This Mother's Day, I'm working with Clever Girls in support of Macy's Heart of Haiti to shine a light on the "trade, not aid" program, which provides sustainable income to Haitian artisans struggling to rebuild their lives and support their families after the 2010 earthquake.

What is Macy’s Heart of Haiti? Heart of Haiti is a “Trade, Not Aid” initiative launched by artist and social entrepreneur, Willa Shalit, The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and Macy’s. Already, Heart of Haiti has led to employment of 750 artists in Haiti, providing financial benefits for an estimated 8,500 people in the country.
Each item is a one-of-a-kind design and handmade by a Haitian master artisan from raw materials such as recycled oil drums, wrought iron, papier-mâché and stone. The collection features more than 40 home decor items including quilts, metalwork, ceramics, jewelry and paintings and is made almost entirely from recycled and sustainable items such as old cement bags, cardboard, oil drums and local gommier wood.  
Heart of Haiti products are available online at Macy’

With Grandma on my wedding day

I've been blessed with many positive role models in my life. Raised by a single mom, I am lucky that she sought the support of her own mother and sisters in raising me. These four strong women helped to shape me into the mother I am today, and I am incredibly thankful for each of them. My Grandma passed away six years ago; I miss her still and I'm saddened that she never got to meet my two littlest pumpkins. But my mom and my aunts all live within a few miles of us, and  I'm happy to say that my kids have had the chance to know them and love them as I do.

When Chris and I got married, I gained another amazing mother figure in my life. My mother-in-law welcomed me and embraced me from day one. Along with my mom, I count on her insight and advice as I raise my children. She has treated me like a daughter from the very beginning, and I am so fortunate to have yet another person in my life who has such a strong interest in my family and who loves my kids fiercely.

With my mom & mother-in-law last Mother's Day
Becoming a mother was one of the scariest and most exhilarating events of my life, and after almost 11 years it continues to be so. I don't know what I would do without my mom and the other women in my  life who have served as mother figures to me and who I now look to as additional mother figures for my babies. To the benefit of my kids, my support system has grown to include several good friends who are mothers and who I look up to, not only for advice, but also for perspective and growth opportunities. My friends are an incredible, diverse bunch. Having them in my life helps me to be open minded and encourages me to be dynamic rather than stagnant in my parenting. They are my sounding board, my litmus, and my inspiration. There's that saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and I have to agree that it certainly does help.

Thank you to Macy's Heart of Haiti for sponsoring my participation in this “Share Your Heart" promotion. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Thankful Thursday

I'm thankful for time with friends, which rejuvenates and de-stresses me.

I'm thankful for Monday morning book club, which has me eagerly looking forward to the beginning of the week, instead of dreading the end of the weekend.

I'm thankful for good books and the ability to read them, something that is easy to take for granted.

I'm thankful that the Easter candy is almost gone.

I'm thankful for Mattie's little obsessions, which currently include sleeping in ballet slippers and wearing shoes at all times.

I'm thankful that Bethany, Connor, and Lucy are like a well-oiled machine in the morning...getting ready for school like pros and never making us late.

I'm thankful that Connor enjoyed his field trip to our state capital yesterday and didn't seem to mind too much that I couldn't go with him. I'm also thankful that one of my friends was chaperoning and I knew she would call me if there were any issues (which there weren't).

I'm thankful for springtime, and watching the neighborhood explode in color as trees and flowers wake up after their long winter nap.

I'm thankful that Chris's awful mouth infection is clearing up and he's not in horrible pain anymore.

I'm thankful for the several times a day that Mattie says, "I cuddle you a minute?" and that most of the time I can drop what I'm doing to indulge her.

I'm thankful that Connor finally got a haircut the other day and that Chris had the girl cut it super short so he won't need another one for quite awhile. And now he looks like TinTin, but without that little flip in the middle.

I'm thankful that Lucy won 3rd place in the school book mark contest that she is student of the month in music, and especially that she is so excited about these achievements.

I'm thankful that my cousin was able to bring his new baby home from the hospital this week, after spending over a week in intensive care.

I'm thankful that maybe we can save our dryer, which we thought was toast & that we're really not in the mood to replace at the moment.

What are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So What! Wednesday

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

So What! if I've been staying up too late at night, reading in bed? At least I'm in bed...that's like half way to sleep, sort of.

So What! if I would pretty much rather eat at a restaurant every night, rather than go through all the trouble of cooking? The planning, the process, the clean-up - it all overwhelms me!

So What! if it makes me sad that I will never be pregnant again? I love being pregnant, especially in the summer when I can proudly wear a bathing suit and not even worry about sucking in my gut.

So What! if I'm really nervous that I agreed to be President of Mattie's preschool this fall? I can totally do this, right???

So What! if I let Mattie watch way too much television during the day? We won't get into details regarding exactly how much is too much. 

So What! if I hate that Connor is on a big field trip today without me? I didn't get picked to be chaperone and he's over an hour from home. I'm sure he's fine, just wish I could be with him.

So What! if I think I'm going to have to throw away the rest of the Easter candy very soon so that I will stop munching on it every time I pass the bowl?

So What! if I'm crazy proud of myself for not buying any clearance Easter candy at Target the other day, even though I really really wanted to? Same goes for resisting ice cream at Kroger. Must kill addiction to sweets! Way easier said than done!

So What! if I'm super looking forward to summer, yet I want these last weeks of Bethany being in elementary school to last forever?

What are you saying So What! to this week?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Summer Fun

Summer is coming, my favorite time of year. My kids have a mere 8 weeks of school left! I am probably just as excited as they are. Our vacation plans are going to take up a huge chunk of our break this year. We'll be spending a couple weeks on a beach vacation in the thumb, and then we'll be taking our epic road trip to Washington and Idaho. Hopefully we'll be able to squeeze in a couple shorter trips as well. As always, I'm ambitious and optimistic when it comes to planning. In my mind we have lots more time than we actually have to get everything done that I've been dreaming about since last summer.

Even though we'll be traveling a lot, we'll still have quite a bit of time to do all the other fun summer activities that we love. Like going to parks, visiting with friends, and staying in our pj's all day. One thing I know we'll be doing a lot of is swimming. We'll be swimming on vacation every chance we get, but we'll also be visiting local pools and my father-in-law's backyard as much as we can. Last year was great because Connor overcame his fear of the deep end and mustered up the courage to jump off the diving board, which he now loves. This year's goal will be to get Lucy swimming without a flotation device. Maybe we'll even do a couple weeks of lessons at the beginning of the summer to give her a little jump start.

Last year we got a small pool for our backyard. It's just big enough for all of us to get in and cool off, but not deep enough to do any real swimming. However, sometimes the convenience of going out the back door to cool off and play in the pool instead of having to drive someplace else to do it, just can't be beat. We haven't decided if we're going to put it up again this year. One factor to consider is the expense of keeping it going, including electricity and supplies. Doheny is an online retailer selling discounted pool supplies. If we do decide to use our little pool this summer, we will definitely look into purchasing our supplies from this website.

I am so excited to get our summer under way! Do you have any special plans for summer? Does your family love to swim? Where do you swim - in your own backyard, a local park, or a private club?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Kiss Nail Dress

Kiss Nail Dress

I'm kind of a no fuss girl. Although I like to look nice and I always wear a little make-up (blush, powder, mascara - nothing much), I don't really spend a  lot of time messing with my nails. I prefer to keep my finger nails bare because it is just too much maintenance for me to bother with polish. Plus I'm not all that handy with the nail polish brush. And I really can't stand the feeling of fake nails. But once in awhile there is a special occasion and I want to do my nails, so I suffer through with the polish, and the wiping up my mistakes with a cotton swab dipped in polish remover. Then I wince as it smudges and gets chipped within hours. And finally, I furiously scrub all the polish off when I can no longer stand to look at the mess, using many cotton balls and lots of nail polish remover.

For someone like me, who prefers not to deal with nail polish, polish remover, or fake nails, Kiss Nail Dress is a good alternative. It's basically nail shaped stickers that come in a variety of colors and patterns. A set comes with 28 different sizes of fashion strips, to accommodate both fingers and toes. Using them couldn't be simpler.

As always, following the directions carefully is very important and will have a huge part in determining your success when using this product. Start with totally clean, bare, and smooth nails. Use alcohol or nail polish remover to ensure the nails are completely clean. Then choose the right size from the three sheets of strips, and apply to your nail. Here's something pretty important that I missed: for finger nails, put the rounded side of the strip at the cuticle; for toes, put the square side of the strip at the cuticle. Put the strip very near, but not on the cuticle, and smooth it from the center. Fold the excess over the tip of your nail (if you're like me and have pretty short nails, there will probably be quite a bit of excess strip). Then used the enclosed board to file it down. The extra just comes right off when filing, so you can get a very customized fit. When you're ready to take the strips off, just peel slowly - no nail polish remover is required.

Because I'm participating in the Influenster Vox Box program, I received a set of Kiss Nail Dress to try for myself. I love the concept. I did not, however, love the leopard print that I received. So I used one to see how it works, and promptly took it off. The package says that it lasts for up to 10 days, but I did not get to test that claim. However Bethany is anxiously waiting for me to pass them on to her and I'm sure she'll have fun using them. For a special occasion, I think I would try a solid color or maybe see what other patterns are available. They are definitely easy enough for me, they look nice and smooth, and don't have the stifling feel of fake nails.

Kiss Nail Dress comes in 18 different styles and retails for approximately $6.99. For more information, visit

I received one package of Kiss Nail Dress free of charge through the Influenster Vox Box program. All opinions are my own.

In My Travel Bag: Gillette Venus & Olay Razor

Gillette Venus & Olay

The Gillette Venus and Olay five-bladed razor is exactly the kind of product of which I would typically be skeptical. It just seems too easy and too good to be true. That's why I'm so glad to have been given the opportunity to try it through the Influenster Vox Box program.

The Venus and Olay razor makes shaving simple by having the moisturizing shaving cream attached to the razor in small bars. Little bars are on each side of the blade, petrolatum on one side and glycerin on the other. Using additional shaving cream is not necessary. There is nothing complicated to do or remember - wet the razor and shave, and it automatically lathers as you shave. As I'm using this razor, it feels a little strange and doesn't seem like it's working all that well. The lather is very light and not at all what I'm accustomed to when using shaving cream or gel. But sure enough, my skin feels nice and smooth afterward. And I haven't nicked myself once, which is a fantastic selling point for me. As a bonus, my razor came with a suction cup holder for storing it in the shower. It's working out very well, and I'm glad to have a place to hang my razor when I'm done using it.

The razor has lasted me through a few weeks of fairly frequent shaving (minimum 3 times per week). The moisturizing bars are shrinking down quite a bit at this point, but the razor can still be used with some shaving cream or gel. I honestly didn't think it would last this long, so I'm really pleased. This razor would be perfect to bring along on a trip, and from now on it's going to be my go-to travel razor. Bringing shaving cream is a pain. I have to worry about leakage, plus I can never find the cap. The regular size cans are so cumbersome, but I hate to waste money on the travel size cans. The Gillette Venus and Olay razor is a great solution.

Based on how the razor has been working out for me at home, I would feel comfortable bringing it on a typical one to two week vacation. Anything longer than two weeks, and I might consider bringing along an extra cartridge or two. But for beach vacations, I shave daily. I still think one would be absolutely fine for a one week beach vacation, but anything longer than one week and I'd be safe and bring at least one extra cartridge.

With lots of summer traveling ahead of me, I'm so pleased that I was introduced to this product. The Gillette Venus and Olay razor will definitely be in my travel bag from now on.

A refillable Gillette Venus and Olay razor with one replacement retails for around $8.99 to $10.99. A three pack of refill cartridge sells for approximately $14.99 to $19.49.

By taking part in the Influenster Vox Box program, I received a Gillette Venus and Olay razor free of charge. All opinions are my own.

Friday, April 13, 2012

I'm Thankful for Baseball Games

It might be something of an understatement to mention that I'm not too into sports. I just never have been. I've never played a sport. I know nothing about sports. While I do enjoy watching my kids play whatever they're into at the moment, one would never find me willfully watching a sporting event on television. Once in awhile, though, attending a sporting event can be fun. When I was a kid, my Grandpa would occasionally take me to a Tigers game. This was in the 80's, around the time they won the World Series. Tigers roar in '84, and all that. I think what I really loved was hanging out with my Grandpa, just the two of us. And also getting to stay out late on school nights. But I remember when the Tigers won the World Series. I must have been watching the game on t.v., because we ran outside with the rest of the neighborhood - screaming and hollering and cheering for our Tigers.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be able to accompany Bethany on a school trip to a Tigers game. One hundred twenty kids from her school - members of Student Council, Safety Patrol, Community Helpers, and a few other groups, were treated to free tickets by AAA and the Tigers. We crammed into two school buses for the ride downtown and sat in the upper deck of Comerica Park. Because spring time weather is a crap shoot in Michigan, I was a little nervous about freezing, but as it turned out we had an absolutely perfect day for a ball game. The sun was shining and I actually had to take my sweater off for awhile because I was a little too warm. The organizers of the trip wisely set forth a rule that we were allowed to take the kids for snacks and bathroom breaks during the 3rd, 5th, and 7th innings. That way, we avoided constantly trudging back and forth and actually spent a lot of time in our seats, watching the game.

Going to a baseball game with a gaggle of third through fifth graders was an entirely new experience. I can sum it up by saying those kids were there to have fun. They were screaming,cheering and clapping, many of them  wearing their Tigers gear and Tigers colors (blue and orange), waving banners and chanting for their favorite players. It was a group of young Tigers fans. When music was played between innings or whenever, 90% of the kids shot out of their seats, singing along and dancing their little hearts out. I thought they'd lose their minds when the unfortunate anthem of our youth, "I'm Sexy and I Know It", came on. Girls and boys alike, these kids love to dance. When I picture my fifth grade class, I remember having lots of good times together, but somehow we seemed much  more reserved than the kids at Bethany's school. As they danced and sang, I looked around at the other parents (most of us still sitting in our seats), and I think we were all grinning from ear to ear, loving that our kids were enjoying themselves so absolutely. The cherry on top of all this fun was that it was a good game and the Tigers won.

After the game we hustled out (all the while doing my familiar 1-2-3-4 count, as I tried not to lose the four girls in my care) to wait for the buses. Outside, the kids were all too happy to donate the remainder of their spending money to street musicians and homeless people. The ride back to school was slow and loud, and by the time Bethany and I got home, I had a killer headache. But that was a small price to pay for the wonderful day I shared with Bethany and her friends.

(Because of the long day yesterday, and the killer headache, I never got around to doing my Thursday Thankful post. So please accept this as my substitute.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

So What! Wednesday

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

So What! if there are still bags of stuff all over my living room...from both of our trips we took during Spring Break? Yeah, yeah, yeah...I'll get to it...soon...

So What! if Mattie has been watching t.v. pretty much every waking moment for the last 24 hours? She was really sick with some tummy yuck yesterday, so I'm letting her be as lazy as she wants to be.

So What! if it's driving me crazy that I can't find one of our bags from our Easter weekend trip? I even went outside and looked in the trash cans because I know for absolute certain we had that bag in the van on the way home!

So What! if I steal jelly beans from the kids every chance I get? What I need to do is start throwing them away!

So What! if I'm actually sitting here eating Easter candy right now, when what I should be doing is thinking about my workout for the day, or planning healthy meals my family?

So What! if it takes me way too long to get back in the swing of things after being away from home for a few days?

So What! if I love sleeping with my snuggly little Mattie once in awhile? Although it is much preferable for the sleeping to be happening in my bed, rather than on the couch, which is where we slept last night. After the pukies yesterday I was too afraid to let her sleep up in her bedroom.

What are you saying So What! to this week?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter at the Little House in the Woods: West Branch, MI

Yesterday afternoon we returned to reality after our 2nd annual up north Easter trip. The kids had so much fun last year, that they requested we once again spend Easter at Grandpa's cabin. So Friday afternoon we took off, just the 6 of us plus Cleo, and drove north on I-75. The sun was shining in the clear blue sky, the kids were excited, and I instantly became remarkably less crabby as soon as we pulled out of our driveway. While I love to take trips, that last little bit while I'm trying valiantly to make sure everyone pees and we have adequate snacks and pillows and tooth brushes and whatever else we'll need, I tend to get a little nuts. But as soon as we're on the road, it's all good.

We drove straight to the cabin to unload, drop off Cleo, and let the kids run around outside for awhile before we went into town for pizza night at G's Pizza. "Town" is about 10 miles away. The only establishments between the cabin and town are a bar (aptly named "Bar", which we call the B Bar because the florescent "A" and "R" are perpetually burnt out), and a little party store. After dinner we did some grocery shopping and ran into Walmart to rent a couple movies from Red Box. We watched several movies over the weekend, but as best I can remember it was The Adventures of Tin Tin Friday night. After the kids were all sleeping Chris and I watched Young Adult. I dozed a little during Tin Tin, but although I thought the story line was a bit complicated for a movie geared toward kids, it was entertaining and very reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies. Young Adult was kind of maddening because Charlize Theron's character was so utterly unlikeable. But it was a good movie and I did like it - even if I did want to reach through the television and smack Charlize.

Saturday morning the kids played outside quite a bit until lunch time. Like last year, they were having a great time in the ravine. This year Lucy was brave enough to venture down there (it's pretty far down and very steep going), and they took Mathilda down with them a few times too. They were pretty much just exploring and climbing and crawling through the tunnel that goes under the road to the other side of the ravine, and generally getting really filthy. Friday night we noticed that Mirror, Mirror was playing at the local movie theater, and Lucy had been really wanting to see it. So after we had lunch at the cabin Saturday, we went back to town to see a matinee of this Snow White adaptation. It was a good clean family movie. Chris and I both said we though it would be kind of ...better. I think we were hoping for something more on the level of Enchanted or Tangled. While it didn't quite meet our expectations, it was a fun movie and we all enjoyed it. After the movie we had to go back to the grocery store because we are not far sighted enough to get all our groceries for the weekend in one trip to the store. Knowing that we had a microwave and a stove top to work with back at the cabin (the oven is out of commission), we carefully chose our pre-cooked Easter dinner selections, and whatever else we needed to get us through Monday.

The kids were bugging out for a fire, so we built a fire Saturday night, and cooked hot dogs and marshmallows outside. Then we did sparklers. It was really such a lovely day, all the way around. When we finally went inside for the night, Chris and I had our dinner - veggie burgers and salad. Then we played some cards while the kids did something...which I can't remember at the moment. Maybe they watched a movie? Probably. But what was it? Hmmm. Not sure. My memory has definitely seen better days.

Easter Sunday was a day filled with obscene amounts of candy (gag!! yet...I can't stop eating it...), playing outside, and watching another movie. This time it was Real Steel. I had never even heard of this movie, and didn't hold out much hope for a film about robot boxing. But I was pleasantly surprised - I liked it. Another good, clean family movie. There was a little mild swearing, and at least one fight scene. But all in all, it was family friendly and entertaining for all of us. We ate our Easter dinner, had another bon fire, and took a nice long drive through the woods (not necessarily in that order). Before bed we watched yet another movie - Jack and Jill. Let me emphasize that this was a kids' pick. It's that movie in which Adam Sandler plays the roles of both the main characters. I have to admit it was pretty funny. There was some gross potty  humor (which I hate), and some annoying stupid parts. But we laughed a lot, and that's a good thing.

Our weekend was restful, fun, outdoorsy (despite the number of movies we watched), and just plain wonderful. We got tons of mileage out of a couple bouncy balls from the grocery store and sticks - which are great for walking, climbing, playing war, and poking at fires. Having no internet and like 3 television channels (which took way too much work to find amongst the score of unavailable channels) is really refreshing. Between blogging, checking my Facebook and my email regularly, and whatever else I do online, I spend way too much time in virtual reality. Getting a break from that was much needed and over due. What I need is the the willpower to do a self-imposed internet cleanse regularly. I'll think about working on that.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Off The Grid - Easter 2011: West Branch, MI

This post was originally published last year, just after Easter.

Chris and I decided it would be fun to spend Easter up north this year, at his dad's hunting cabin. I am embarrassed to say it was the first time we have been there in almost 5 (!) years. 

(If you're not a Michigander, and you are by chance wondering what going "up north" means, well it just means going...up...north. We live in southeast Michigan, and the cabin is about 2 and a half hours north up I-75. The term up north is kind of vague, but as far as I'm concerned just means anything about an hour or more north of here.)

Last time we were at the cabin, I was pregnant with Lucy. Bethany was almost 5 and Connor was 3. All these years we've been saying to each other periodically, "we really should get up to the cabin this summer," or let's try to take the kids to the cabin more often," but also sort of in the back of my mind was the thought that there is really nothing to do there. My kids are pretty good at amusing themselves, but somehow the thought of sitting there in a cabin in the woods fighting the stir crazies sounded a little daunting. We had a great time last time we were there, so I'm not sure why I would have these thoughts. Chris and I used to go quite often before we had kids, and always enjoyed ourselves. Sometimes I forget the allure of doing nothing.

So anyway, everyone had a long weekend for the holiday, so we finally made the decision to just go. We can bring our dog, which is awesome because she pretty much loses her mind when she is separated from me, and I hate asking people to come over and take care of her when we're away. The cabin is actually a 2 bedroom mobile home, and it is clean and comfortable and has heat, air conditioning, and a washer and dryer. What it does not have is a television signal, cell phone coverage, or internet access. Good practice for this summer when I plan on banning our kids from t.v. and internet for the whole month of July. Depending on how it goes, maybe I'll throw in August too.

Going to the cabin with big kids turned out to be a wholly different experience. They barely wanted to come inside the entire time we were there. They played Frisbee, took the dog for walks down the dirt road, shot BB guns, and spent lots and lots of time down at the creek (more like a muddy trickle of water), something that Chris and I have never done in the 15 or so years we've been going there. Huh. Go figure, leave it to a couple of (unplugged) kids to discover the most fun thing to do up there. The creek is at the bottom of a rather steep ravine just a few yards from the cabin. The road runs over it, dividing it. So there is a tunnel under the road, going from one side of the creek to the other. Well,Bethany & Connor decided it was just about the best thing ever to climb through that tunnel repeatedly, from one side to the other. That washer and dryer sure came in handy, and I'm happy to report that the only muddy things we brought home with us are Crocs.

There was a rather...ummmm...interesting family staying just across the road from us who tried hard to keep us from sleeping all weekend by running their generator nonstop. (One of them told Chris that the city actually requires them to get a permit in order to put up an electrical pole...I mean, I can't imagine why??) But what they didn't know is that I can sleep through anything, so the joke was on them. And Chris. (sorry Chris) They also had a bunch of kids with them who saw us coming and stuck to us like glue literally until the moment we left. Aside from the fact that Chris told them over and over to go home because we were trying to have some family time darn it and they 100% ignored him, they were mostly pretty nice. There was a little boy about 5 who we later found out had "something wrong with his brain, can't remember what ya call it" (this according to his grandfather) and who knew some very interesting phrases for a child of his age (fingers crossed that one in particular went WAY over our kids' heads). Chris always manages to talk to basically everyone, so he also found out lot of other things, like they come and take water from the pump on his dad's property "all the time" and that they plan on spending the entire summer up there. Big sigh. However, the kids had fun together and that made the weekend all the more great for them. They were so filthy by the time we left, which oddly made me very happy. I was especially proud of Connor's adventurous streak making an appearance, because he tends to be extremely cautious and fearful.

Mathilda was sick, which seems to be the norm every time we go anywhere lately. This time she was up most of the night before Easter, delirious with a fever that felt scary high. She was burning up, but of course I had no thermometer or medicine. I really feared we were going to wind up in the E.R., and I worried all night about whether they are allowed to close hospitals on holidays in podunk towns. After the kids found their Easter baskets in the morning, Chris drove into town and picked up some Tylenol. After Mathilda had some medicine she started to get a bit of an appetite and seemed to be feeling much better, but nonetheless she and I spent most of the day in the cabin cuddling while everyone else played outside. She watched a few DVDs and I read The Help. Which, by the way, was fantastic.

It was a good idea we had, getting out of town and celebrating Easter up north. I think we'll do it again. The kids were even asking if we could spend Christmas there. We'll see. The Christmas tree is already there, all decorated. I'm pretty sure it never comes down.

About to enter the tunnel

We stopped at Bronner's on the way home

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spring Fever: Hocking Hills State Park

This post was originally published in 2010.

Spring Break has come and gone. We are back to the chaos of everyday life. Easter was nice, and the next day we headed south for a couple days. Our destination was Hocking Hills State Park in southeastern Ohio. I had stumbled across a website for this place while on a different site, and when I checked it out I was intrigued. As it turns out, Ohio has been hiding a region of magnificent natural wonders and I never knew about it until now.

Our drive was about five hours and fairly scenic; ie: not 100% on I-75. On the way, I received a phone call from Uncle Kevin, saying he and the boys were going to head down and check the park out too. We rented a cottage right at the State Park. It was basic, but fine. There was a full kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom with shower, a/c and heat, gas fireplace, television with approximately five channels, and a screened in porch overlooking the woods. Behind the cottages, there was a playground and a sledding hill, which Bethany and Connor enjoyed running down at top speed. Although the cottages were nothing fancy (and had very uncomfortable beds), the location couldn't have been better. The first night, we had a lovely storm that lit up the woods with every flash of lightening. The next morning, Kevin, Mason, Keenan, and their dog, Mimi, met up with us, and we headed a little ways down the road to Old Man's Cave.

We had no idea what to expect. As we started on the rustic trail we quickly entered a realm of surreal beauty. Wow! Old Man's Cave is one of several scenic areas in the state park. Basically, we walked down into a huge gorge, with many caves and waterfalls and trails. The scenery was beyond anything we could have imagined, especially considering we were in Ohio, and I am finding it difficult to put into words. Here are a couple pictures to help convey the beautiful scenery we enjoyed.

Waterfalls and other natural wonders were literally around every corner. There were hollow trees, caves, snakes, frogs, streams, even a natual whirl pool dubbed Devil's Bathtub (one of the very few signs in Old Man's Cave was placed by this dangerous pool, warning that it was nearly impossible to get out of the very deep water; however, it was completely open, with no safety rails anywhere preventing visitors from jumping into the harmless looking water). The weather was hot and summery, with a lovely warm breeze blowing through that kept us comfortable as we hiked. Several times, the kids kicked off their shoes and got right in the water. At one point, as we stood on the bank of a waterfall pool, we suddenly noticed that Connor was on the other side of the waterfall. As we wondered how he managed to get over there, our normally cautious son decided he would simly walk through the water to get back to us. Here he is, right before he stepped out, and into water that was much deeper than he anticipated.

There were some large rocks, they aren't shown in this picture, that he had the presence of mind to grab onto. He only screamed for a minute before he pulled himself out. Whew! Our little boy gave us quite a scare, but we were proud of him for being brave and keeping his head.

One of the most amazing things about this place was that there were very few modern interferences to the natural formations. Other than some basic paths, a few staircases, some minimal handrails, and a few signs, the part of Hocking Hills we saw was left as God made it. We marveled that no one was around to tell us not to go in the water, not to stray from the path, not to climb in the caves, etc. We did quite a bit of hiking, and our kids never complained of tired legs. They couldn't wait to see what they would find next. Chris remarked that Old Man's Cave was more fun than Disney; and I think it was, in its own way. At the end of our trail, there was one last waterfall, which the kids climbed and slid down. They were all soaked and filthy by the time we headed back to the car. It was one of the best days I can remember having with my family in a really long time.

After a few hours exploring Old Man's Cave, we headed back to our cottages for a bit of rest before dinner. Bethany, Connor, and Lucy hung out at Uncle Kevin's, which gave Chris and I a chance to have a short nap with Mathilda. Then all of us headed to dinner at the State Park lodge, which was very close and almost empty. One whole wall was nothing but floor to ceiling windows with spectacular views of the hills and forest. We spent our evening sitting outside by Uncle Kevin's cottage, and walking up and down the little cottage road.

The next day, Connor wanted to visit Rock House, the only true cave in Hocking Hills State Park. He really wanted to see some real bats, which unfortunately (I think?) did not happen. We drove a few miles down the road and started off on our hike. Immediately I could tell that this trail was even more primitive than Old Man's Cave. We were hiking along cliffs with no safety rails. A few times it got pretty harrowing, but our kids listened well, stuck close to the rocky walls, and made it to the cave in one piece. We had to climb up through a rock opening to get into the cave, which was slightly tricky while carrying a baby in the Baby Bjorn (me) and holding a 3-year old's hand (Chris). Hanging out in the cave for a few minutes was a good reward for our hard work, and we had some spectacular views - again with no safety rails, and some very steep cliffs.

The Rock House hike was more grueling and more dangerous, and there was definitely a lot less to see, but it was a cool adventure before we started on our long trip home. Everyone is already talking about our next trip to Hocking Hills! Had we known how amazing it was, we may have scheduled a day or two more, but it was just as well since the weather took a sharp turn for the worse.

A couple days after our return home, the kids and I headed back to the Imagination Station in Toledo with some friends. It was much more crowded than our last visit, but we still had fun at one of our favorite museums.

The last couple days of Spring Break were spent with friends. Saturday night we had dinner at a friend's house, our kids playing together while the adults talked and laughed. I can't help but think again about how fortunate our kids are. Looking back at my own childhood, I wish my mom had had such great friends to hang out wih and go on fun excursions together (even in each other's living rooms and backyards). I, too, am so lucky to have supportive friends who love doing all kinds of things. I love knowing that I can call someone to work out, go for a walk, take the kids to a park, or go to the zoo. I feel blessed, truly blessed.

Sunday afternoon, the moms went to lunch in Greektown for Cathy's birthday. We ate at Pegasus, which was very nice and the food was great. Normally, we go to the New Parthenon, which has great food and service, but Pegasus is prettier by far. After we ate, we went to the bakery for a treat. A trip to Greektown would never feel complete without a trip to the bakery. We took our desserts to the riverfront and ate outside while enjoying the view of the Detroit River. I don't think I've ever been down there, and it was so nice. Lots of people were out, enjoying the beautiful Spring day. There are many benches, and a carousel. I think the riverfront path goes right to Hart Plaza, which I haven't visited since a third grade field trip. We made plans to return with the kids this summer.

Spring is lovely, with its teasing warm days. What I don't love is the wintery weather interspersed with the warm weather. I also don't enjoy the mud, but thus far that hasn't been much of a problem this year. I love that my yard is blooming. One area at a time comes back to life, with green leaves and colorful flowers. Chris has already had to cut the grass twice.The best thing is that there is a Robin's nest right on our back porch, perched on our porch light. There are three beautiful blue eggs in it, and I hope we don't scare away the mama Robin so we can see the babies when they hatch.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Home Security

As much as my neighborhood bores me at times, I have to admit that it's not all bad to live somewhere nice and quiet. We live on a peaceful cul de sac. One of the best things about living where we live is that we feel safe here. Even though we live in a quiet, safe neighborhood, we are always careful to lock our doors and our cars and to watch over the kids when they're playing outside. I wouldn't classify us as the paranoid, over-protective types, but we're not stupid either.

I know a lot of people use companies such as Home Security Family to make their homes safer and to feel especially secure. Although we have never used a home security company, I can understand why some do. I can imagine it would give a family an added sense of security.

I am really grateful we live in a neighborhood where we feel safe letting our kids go outside to play, and that we don't ever feel nervous in our home. I am grateful we can let Bethany & Connor walk around the block, and that we're not worried about anyone stealing stuff out of our yard. But if we ever feel the need to make our home more secure, it's good to know we have options available to us.