Friday, December 21, 2007

Closed for the Season

At the beginning of this week, Terry and I went away to an inn in Cape Cod for two nights. It is obviously off-season, so many restaurants and shops were "closed for the season." They do a surprisingly big business on Christmas. Our trip was beyond lovely. We relaxed, we connected, we talked, we enjoyed peace and quiet, we watched movies, we ate, we slept. We chose to go now because he had this week off. I thought it might be a nice way to start the holidays, and celebrate our 15th anniversary (in January) a little early. All that is true, however it also put me behind the eight ball with my Christmas and travel preparations.

We are leaving this morning for a 10 day trip which will involve two states and many relatives, a long car ride and a plane trip.

So I'm declaring the blog closed for the season. I am going to let the HP Photo Book contest stay open, since I wasn't going to be able to mail out anyway.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Boomama's Christmas Tour of Homes

I guess I feel the need to redeem myself after explaining why we aren't putting up a real tree this year, so I'm joining in with Boomama's Christmas Tour of Homes. In that post, I showed our outdoor decorations. Mother Nature took care of frosting the house this weekend:

Inside, I have a nice real evergreen wreath over the fireplace, a lighted garland on the mantle, and our stockings.

As I was hanging them this year, I remembered that when I bought them, Kyle was not even a twinkle in his Daddy's eye. In fact, when I bought them, I think that the idea that we would have a second child was not even the topic of the day. But I knew that we might have a second child, and I wanted them all to match, so I bought four instead of three, and I'm so glad I did. One funny thing is that each year, Amanda wants to decide which one is hers. I'm pretty much always the snowflake, but I think that the others have shifted, depending on which one Amanda wants (Santa, the reindeer, or the bear, which she has chosen this year, because his Santa hat has a bell on it).

Here is the four-foot fiber-optic tree. Doesn't that just scream Christmas spirit? I took two pictures, so that you could see the lights. I also added Thomas' blue track around the base for that traditional Christmas effect.

I love our Nativity scene. I actually saw it and my mom bought it for a wedding shower gift for us (we got married at the beginning of January). There are even a few Christmas CDs stacked behind it for mood music.

So even though I scaled back on the decorating effort this year, I'm not totally devoid of Christmas spirit. I have to admit that once I finally got the decorations up, it just felt right.

Merry Christmas from my slightly-less-decked halls to yours!

Friday, December 14, 2007

HP Photo Books

I used to scrapbook. I don't anymore. I did it as a way to chronicle our life as a family, our travels, and Amanda's first year. I got together with friends in the neighborhood at a monthly crop, and it was great.

But after I moved from there, I just never stuck with it. I needed something simpler and less costly.

HP Photobooks has a great way to manage those digital photos and put them into creative albums. You can create them right online and then print the completed pages on your own computer. They come in two sizes--5x7 or 10x13. There's even room on the back for journaling in your own handwriting if you like that aspect of scrapbooking (that was actually the part I loved best), and because you put it together yourself, you can also include some memorabelia. For all the specifications, click HERE. This video shows how it works better than I could ever explain it.

Are you still looking for Christmas gift ideas? This would be a great grandparent gift, or even something for Dad to keep on his desk at work. HP is offering a great discount of 20% off the photo books, but only until December 31st. Use this link to receive the offer.

I am giving away two of these books so that you can try it out yourself, so please leave a comment if you want to win. I'll draw a winner on Thursday, December 20 (but they will not be mailed until after Christmas because I'll be out of town). I'll ship to the U.S. or Canada.

The Pefect Cup

Yesterday while Amanda was home from school and Kyle was napping, we watched some Food Network together. Unwrapped was spotlighting Starbucks in this breakfast food episode. They showed the process that Starbucks goes through before introducing a new drink. It can take up to two years with research, design, testing and then a limited release. I recently tried the Shortbread latte, which was new to me. It does not appear on the beverage lineup on their website, so I think it's in limited release.

I actually love the pairing of a shortbread cookie with a cup of coffee, so I thought I'd try something different. Different it was. It tasted like toffee which wasn't that bad, although it was a little sweet for my tastes, but a few sips into it, I noticed something solid in it--something solid in my coffee. It was shortbread cookie crumbs. Yes, I like a piece of shortbread with my coffee. I might even be known to dunk, although crumbs are honestly a big deterrent to dunking in my opinion.

So, I wasn't a fan, but when I was trying to find out more about the drink and googled it, I did find someone who was. So, I guess it's a matter of taste. In fact, isn't coffee a big subjective entity? What might be too weak for me, is just right for someone else. I love a strong cup of coffee with half-and-half, but my husband only drinks it black. I think Duncan Donuts coffee is a bit bland and watery for my tastes (although I do like their lattes), and many people think that any Starbucks coffee is way too strong.

Actually my favorite cup of restaurant coffee would definitely be Panera. I love the current Holiday Blend. When I go to Duncan Donuts or Starbucks, I prefer a latte to their brewed coffee, but at Panera it's always a mug of coffee -- free refills, and yes, it's served in a real mug. That makes a huge difference to me. In fact, I can't even use a travel mug at home. It's gotta be a real glass coffee mug.

So I guess that's my little coffee quirk. What's yours?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Get Out While You Can

I knew that we were going to have a snowstorm today and had anticipated an early dismissal, because the snow was supposed to start around noon. I was hoping to get my last little bit of Christmas shopping done while Kyle was at preschool and Amanda was at school, but when I checked at 7 o'clock this morning, the school districts in the area had already decided to close. We were all up and at 'em by then, so since it was still dry, I decided that we should get out while we could.

We went to K Mart to buy snowpants to ensure ease in cold wet snowplay (I had been to Target last week, and they only had a bad color in Amanda's size, and the ones I bought for Kyle were too big). We also bought some tissues, milk, and brownie mix to get us through the day. It was 8:45 and there was still no snow in sight, so we treated ourselves to Panera. By 9:20, the snow was falling. It was so cold that it stuck right away. Driving home was a little slick. The kids wanted to play in it right away. We got a little snow last Friday, but this is our first real snowfall.

Last year Kyle hardly even wanted to walk in the snow, much less play in it, so I am happy to report that he has figured out that snow + trucks = fun.

We got this little bit in the first hour. After it stopped snowing, they went out and played about an hour before they had to come in to warm up. An hour later a lot more snow was coming down and they went out again. They didn't last as long that time because it was so wet. It's still snowing. It's supposed to warm up tomorrow, so I'm sure that Amanda will be back at school, but I predict a delayed opening, which is actually my favorite call. We get to chill at home for an extra 90 minutes, but we don't get an extra day tacked on the calendar.

Being cooped up today wasn't so bad, but I am glad we had a little early-morning excursion. Of course, I still have to make my shopping trip sometime.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Curing Coughs

I interrupt this winter cold season to bring you a public service announcement.

Delsym cough syrup works.

I am forever indebted to the fellow mom who shared this secret with me in the church nursery over a year ago when we were both explaining that our kids had colds a week or so ago, but the cough was still hanging on, but they weren't really still sick.

My one complaint is that because it's a 12-hour suppressant, you have to make sure you're on the right dosing schedule (7am and 7pm works for me) to get maximum benefit at nighttime and daytime. We've tried everything, and this really seems to not only quiet the cough, but prevent it from getting so deep in the chest.

Click over to Rocks in My Dryer to read more great tips on everything from cleaning, to baking, to parenting and more!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Spirit?

I've admitted to some pretty big flaws here -- laziness, poor parenting, bad fashion sense -- and they usually garner some cyber-nods of identification or some encouraging words. Brace yourself here, because I may be admitting the unforgivable here. People may be tempted to throw some cyber-tomatoes my way.

This year, we aren't putting up a Christmas tree.

Actually, this is the third year that I haven't had a Christmas tree in the last fourteen years of marriage and independent living. The first is probably forgivable by anyone. It was 1997. We didn't have any children. We had movers coming to our first home on December 23rd to pack up all of our belongings so that we could leave on December 26 to drive to our new home in Portland, Oregon. It was the sensible choice, but it did feel a little dreary that December.

The second year was two years ago. I think that the Grinch got me that year. We weren't able to get a tree the first weekend in December, and I just thought, "What's the point?" Kyle was of the age that I thought a tree might create an additional temptation that I didn't want to deal with either. I put greenery on the mantle and I bought a four-foot-tall fiber-optic tree to stand in for the real thing.

Last year we did get a tree and Amanda got the four-foot-tree in her room, and the tree fell over -- twice. That did nothing to root the love of Christmas trees in my heart.

If I had my preference, we would decorate on Thanksgiving weekend, but since we've lived here in Connecticut, we are always away from home that weekend. We also leave town for Christmas, so by December 23rd, we are gone and don't return until the end of the year. This year the first weekend of December was full with Amanda having rehearsal for her Christmas program in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday and then her program itself on Sunday. So I felt a case of the Scrooges coming on again this year. Terry joined in a bit since this last weekend, when we had planned to get the tree, was muddy due to a recent thaw, which would have made cutting down a tree a messy proposition.

So once again, we'll use the little stand-in for a real tree. I also bought a nice big real wreath that will go over the mantle. The stockings will be hung by the chimney with care, but the tree will not be trimmed. We've never done any outside decorating, but the last few times I had gone to Costco, I had been eyeing a particular decoration that I knew would be a big hit with my penguin-obsessed daughter. So on Saturday I made a sacrifice of love and went to buy them as a peace offering to make up for the lack of a tree (those of you who have gone anywhere near a Costco on a Saturday in December will understand what I mean by sacrifice). They were a hit.

I was feeling a little badly about my decision until I went to Bible study last night. The teacher challenged our to-do lists, and asked what they had to do with the birth of Jesus. Christmas card lists that reach into the triple digits are not unholy, nor are decked halls, or beautifully wrapped gifts for every person you love. But I do believe that Jesus does not want the holiday lore and tradition to steal our joy. A Christmas tree would have been a burden on my soul this year, so I'm glad I chose to do without. I'm hoping that next year we'll be able to visit a Christmas tree farm, select and cut down our own tree, bring it home and trim it while listening to Christmas music, and adore it for at least three weeks, before we have to take it down, get it out of the house, and box up all the trimmings and return them to the attic.

I have incorporated a couple of new things into the season this year. The kids and I are enjoying this special deluxe-edition of Olive, the Other Reindeer. It's such a cute story. Nine-year-old Amanda enjoys the wry story as much or more as three-year-old Kyle. There is one pop-up at the end and a few flaps that lift, and even two scratch-and-sniff pages. They are all quite durable, which is not always the case with flaps and pop-ups.

I had heard about Joni Eareckson Tada's series of books called Hymns for a Child's Heart on a Family Life podcast a month or so ago, and when I investigated, I saw that they have a Christmas hymn book. I had hoped to faithfully share a thought from them each morning with my children, and sort of have a hymn of the day. I haven't been that consistent, but the CD is a nice recording of the standard version of the songs we know and love (Amanda doesn't like some of the modern twists on my newer CDs because she can't sing along). Christmas Carols for a Kid's Heart explains the spiritual meaning and doctrine represented in these hymns on a child's level. I highly recommend this book for the season, or some of the others if you want to incorporate the study of hymns into your home, which have almost become extinct in some of our churches. If you want to hear more about what we might be missing out on, listen to Joni in the two twenty-minute podcasts.

The second thing I bought just for myself, hoping to focus in on Jesus and enhance the study of Matthew that I'm doing this year in BSF. Again, I have not been as consistent as I had hoped, but I will continue studying Immanuel: Praying the Names of God through the Christmas Season beyond the Christmas season.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It's About Time

Kyle has been completely happy and safe in his crib, but last night due to potty training related conveniences, and the fact that he is three and a half, we moved a bed into his room.

He was very excited. In fact because of the new red flannel sheets, and the chambray blue bedspread, he asked, "It's Thomas??" as he looked under where it was folded back to see if Thomas was a part of the bed spread.

In addition to the fact that I did like him in there, where he was in bed until I let him out, I had also been delaying because the idea is to move Amanda's furniture into his room. That leaves her needing some furniture. I've decided that if someone is going to get new furniture, it should be me, so some shopping and LOTS of rearranging will be necessary to pull off the complete switch. But Amanda has a twin bed on the ground that is part of a loft bed set. She had been sleeping in the one on the ground, but was happy to let Kyle have it for this next step into being a big kid.

Anyway, it went well. He has slept in beds before, so I didn't have to do all the training. He went right to sleep. I told him he couldn't get up until I got him up, unless he had to go to the bathroom (because I didn't want him roaming the halls at 5:45am). I heard him get up before 6:00am and go to the bathroom, and then he went back to bed. By 6:30, he was out of bed, but still in his room. When I went to "get him up," he asked if he could not sleep in his crib anymore (notice I have it there as a safety net), and sleep in his bed ten times. I told him he could and asked if he liked it. "Yes, it was so 'tastic." So I think we'll take the crib down this weekend.

The dog was a bit confused at the change. When I was tucking Amanda into her loft, she came in and wondered where the bed was. We've tried to convince her lately that there is more room on Amanda's bed for sleeping than ours. She usually sleeps in there for an hour or two, and then comes into our room. As I left Amanda's room, I opened the door to sleeping Kyle's room and showed her what happened to the bed. She didn't last an hour, but she tried it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Better Together

Today Kyle and I went out shopping, in a real store instead of in the world wide web. We actually went to four stores over a span of almost five hours. We both held up fine! I was able to cross many names off of my list, so the day was a success.

My friend Lee and I have figured out a secret to shopping at Costco -- go together. The last two times I've gone, she and her son William have met us there. He and Kyle sit side by side in the cart and laugh and entertain themselves, allowing for a much easier shopping experience. She and I are able to talk and enjoy ourselves, even if we are dodging people and waiting in excessively long lines. Plus, I always shop better with someone else -- they help me decide to buy something or not buy something.

And if you're wondering if we are planning more coffee dates, the answer is no.

How is your Christmas shopping coming along?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Now This is a Guy I Can Get Behind

If you think I'm talking politics, this is obviously your first time here.

I'm talking about the Jolly Old Elf.

We went to my favorite breakfast place after church on Sunday, and Santa himself paid a little visit. He went around to all the tables talking to the families who were there. He asked the kids what they wanted for Christmas, and Amanda said that she wanted a Wii. He didn't flinch. He said, "I hear that a lot. I don't know if we can fill all those orders."

She then tried for a dog. "I'm not sure about that one either," he said with no apology.

"How about a penguin?" she suggested, laughing. "Maybe a stuffed penguin???"

"Well, you're easy--a Wii to a dog to a penguin to a stuffed penguin? I'm sure you'll be happy on Christmas."

After listening to Amanda talk with him, Kyle had gone from turning his head in the opposite direction to smiling at him, so when he turned to Kyle, he said, "I want another Thomas!"

Santa looked at me and read my facial expression. "Another Thomas? All right! Now let me tell you kids one more thing. I am so sick of cookies and milk and all those baked goods. Forget that. I want a slice of pizza and a Dr. Pepper. Got that?"

Oh, yeah. Santa has good taste and a healthy dose of discernment. Forget those department store imitations. Apparently this was the real Santa.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

It's Beginning to Click a Lot Like Christmas

I hold no particular regard for Christmas shopping. I love giving gifts, especially when I've thought of something that's just perfect for someone on my list, but I have no need to hit the mall in order to feel the true Christmas spirit. In fact, battling the throngs of people, waiting in line, being unable to find the right size or the right color or the right price will just zap the spirit right out of me.

However, I do enjoy it much more when I am with my favorite shopping buddy--the Dell Inspiron (although if Santa wanted to bring me a younger hipper shopping buddy with a faster processor and more memory, I'd be willing to kick this one to the curb).

How I love internet shopping, let me count the ways:
  • Pain-free spending -- This might actually be more of a con than a pro, but even though I have to type in my credit card number, it isn't as painful to rack up those big tickets.
  • Perfect climate control -- Today I made a quick stop at TJ Maxx and the KB Toys that's going out of business in our shopping center, and it's COLD. It's below freezing and windy. Other times when I'm dressed for winter, I've almost burned up at the mall due to the heat being on too high and the crowds.
  • Instant price comparison -- I can use my tabbed browsers and instantly find out if I will get a lower price at amazon, Toys R Us, or elsewhere.
  • Easy returns -- My "receipt" is saved right online, so I don't have to keep up with all those slips of paper. Having to ship something back is sort of a pain, but many retailers such as Old Navy and Eddie Bauer allow returns in store.
  • Open all night -- I can shop unencumbered by my children any time.