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.