Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Quote

I read this quote today from Pope John Paul II --
"Advent keeps alive our expectation of Christ Who will come to visit us with His salvation, fully establishing His Kingdom of justice and peace. The annual evocation of the Messiah's Birth in Bethlehem renews in believers' hearts the CERTAINTY that God keeps His promises. Advent is therefore, a powerful proclamation of hope, which deeply touches our lives.

Obstacles, disputes and difficulties of various kinds burden our life and sometimes overwhelm it....It is especially at these moments that hope comes to our rescue. The Mystery of Christmas assures us that God is EMMANUEL-God with us. That is why we must never feel alone. He is close to us. He shared our pilgrimage on earth, guaranteeing us the attainment of that joy and peace to which aspire from the depths of our being."
A mission is starting this week at our parish. I probably won't be able to attend, since there's no childcare option, but the priest who will be speaking this week spoke at today's mass. The theme is Hope and Faithfulness and he reminded us all that if we live in FAITH, we cannot live in FEAR.

It's an important reminder right now for me, as we struggle (again) financially. I don't believe that living in faith means giving up. I believe that we have to do what we can to help ourselves. I do know that worrying (instead of action) is draining and depressing. I can spend my days in worry, or I can spend them in prayer and effort. At the end of the day, I will have accomplished much more if I haven't wasted time in worry.

It's a good message to start the Advent season. I worry quite a bit, and I need to work on my faithfulness. It's something I have been working on, but this is a reminder to me that I can't stop striving for more.

A Few of My Favorite Etsy Shops

I love etsy! It's a wonderful site to find wonderful home-made items and interact with some amazing people. I have a few favorite shops I thought I'd highlight today in case you're looking for gifts this holiday season.

Sister Mary Martha's shop is full of bracelets, keychains and necklaces with an amazing number of saint medals. Each item arrives with a card explaining more about the saint. I have a St. Gerard bracelet and have gifted more of her bracelets to friends. She also has an interesting blog.

Andrea of Quirky Bags has a shop full of cloth bags. She made a custom order for me of small bags for all the kids at my parent's family reunion a couple years ago and they were absolutely perfect. She is a delight to work with, and has the most interesting fabrics. She has bags in a variety of sizes to fit all your needs of shopping, gifting and toting library books. They are extremely well-made and are a much better alternative to plastic bags.

I haven't purchased anything yet from Juicy Bags, but I have my eye on 2 wallets for the boys. She uses empty Kool-Aid pouches to create wallets, gift card holders, purses and laptop bags. They are so very cute!! I follow her on twitter, so I know she also does custom work.

Those are the etsy shops on my mind this morning. Go check them out and if you can't make gifts yourself, consider giving hand-made by someone else.

Friday, November 28, 2008

St. Nicholas Novena

Today's the day to start a novena to St. Nicholas that will end on his feast day (December 6) We always celebrate the feast day with some treats left in the kids' shoes, and reading The Legend of Saint Nicholas.

This will be the first year I've prayed a novena to St. Nicholas. I recently read about an idea to write your intentions on a piece of paper each day of the novena, then burn them at the end of the novena. I think the kids and I might do this.

I'm excited for Advent to begin on Sunday, and think this is a nice way to lead into the season.

Review: Madagascar 2 Wii Video Game (& Giveaway!)

Last weekend, my family and I went to see Madagascar Escape 2 Africa at the movie theater. We loved the first Madagascar movie, and looked forward to the sequel. It didn't disappoint, and we all laughed throughout the movie. As long as we kept feeding L mini M&M's, she was happy to sit and watch as well.

So, it was a great treat when we received a package earlier this week from MomCentral with the game Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa for our Wii to review. The boys couldn't wait to try it out and were immediately drawn in by the graphics that were very similar to the movie. The characters were funny, and the boys were challenged by the game.

There is a main storyline adventure type game, as well as a bunch of individual mini-games that can be played. The main game is a single player game, but most of the mini-games can be played by one or two players. It is a safari-type adventure, with all the characters from the movie. Colin has declared the game a ton of fun, and has eagerly played it every day since we received it. Nate has enjoyed a memory-type game the most.

They do wish that more of the game was for 2 players. We did have some trouble saving the game for future play. We found that the game did save, even when the screen warned you that it didn't.

Overall, though, it is a fun game that we're glad to add to our library of games. I was impressed with the graphics, and the kids loved the range of movement possible for the characters. I struggled a bit making the characters jump and run, but the boys had no problem at all! After some practice, I finally got the hang of it.

The official website for the game has more information, downloads, and sample games you can play on the computer. The game is also available for DS, PSP, XBox, Playstation and PS2.

I also received a voucher for a free ticket for the movie in theaters. I'd love to give it away to one of my readers! The voucher is good only in the USA and expires on December 7. Because of the expiration date, I'd like to get it in the mail ASAP! Please leave a comment on this post and tell me your favorite character or scene from the first Madagascar movie (or just say HI!) I'll draw a winner tonight (November 28) at 11:59PM. In addition to the giveaway of a voucher, I also have 4 dogtag necklaces of the main characters to send the winner. These would make a fun stocking stuffer!

ETA: The ticket voucher and dogtags are in the mail to Valerie! Thanks for entering the giveaway!!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Review: Fresh Evergreen Wreaths

I don't have the opportunity to smell many pine trees living where we do in Arizona. I was fortunate enough this year to receive a fresh evergreen wreath from Wreaths Direct to hang on our front door. When I opened the box, it smelled like Christmas!

The picture to the left is the wreath I received hanging on my front door. You can see how full and large it is, and what a wonderful decoration it makes!

Wreaths Direct is a family-owned company from Oregon. This wonderful Italian-Catholic family has been caring for trees for five generations! The family lives in a farm house built by the family in the 1930's. They care for 500 acres of land full of douglas and fir trees in Oregon.

A brother and sister run the business now, along with help from their young children. The family started making and selling wreaths about 20 years ago, and provide fundraising efforts as well as direct sales.

Denise, one of the owners, shared that the business keeps her busy year round with marketing and planning with a real rush this time of year with sales. It doesn't take away from her being full-time mom to her 4 & 7 year olds, though!

She also shared that she loves "the Pacific NW and loves the legacy our farm and business has created for yet another generation to come."

I know my boys would be excited at the thought of living on a farm, and my N would be beside himself at the thought of all those pinecones! (He collects pinecones, and they are pretty precious to find around here!)

Wreaths Direct offers 24" wreaths as well as 20" table centerpieces. They are absolutely lovely and I am thrilled that one graces our door this year.

You can have one on your door by visiting their website, or calling them at 888-449-9485. You won't be disappointed! These wreaths would also make a wonderful gift! A wreath like the one hanging on my door would be only $29.95.

As a special offer to readers of this blog, you can receive FREE UPS GROUND SHIPPING by using the code W0834.

As an extra bonus, if you leave a comment on this post, you will be eligible for 2 different drawings! One commenter on this post will receive a $5 Starbucks gift card, and one commenter from all the blogs participating in this blog tour will receive a gift bag full of goodies. So, leave a comment and share your favorite Christmas decoration!

Many thanks to Wreaths Direct for the beautiful wreath for our home!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gift Idea: Scentsy Wickless Candles

B doesn't like most candles, because of the soot they put into the air. When I saw these Scentsy wickless candles, I was intrigued! They have 80 different scents, and there are no wicks to create soot. Warmers melt the wax, and release the fragrance into the air. The warmers are very attractive and would fit into anyone's home.

I was expecting them to be expensive, but was pleasantly surprised that the Scentsy warmers were $15 - $30, while the bars of Scentsy wax were $5. These would make a nice gift for anyone on your list this year.

Of the 80 scents, 4 include cinnamon, which is one of my favorite scents. I think the hardest thing would be choosing which scent to buy to get started! Scentsy also offers car candles and room sprays in their 80 different scents.

Encouraging Kids to Wash Their Hands

Just a few tips to help your kids wash their hands, and maybe avoid some illness this winter! My latest Prevention post: Encouraging Kids to Wash Their Hands

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Giveaway! Come back Friday!

Come back Friday for a quick giveaway! I have a ticket voucher to see Madagascar 2. It expires on December 7, though, so the giveaway post will go up on Friday and the winner drawn Friday night, so the voucher can go in the mail ASAP.

Don't forget to come back!!!

Review: Zenses Ocean & Zenses Rainforest

I was lucky enough to receive copies of Zenses: Rainforest Edition and Zenses: Ocean Edition to review. These are both Nintendo DS games, geared towards adults (and I'm guessing females.)

All the boys in my family have Nintendo DS's, so I was able to borrow one to try out these games. One of the annoying things (to me) about most DS games is the music. I'm always asking the boys to turn down (or off) the sound when they are playing games in the van. I was pleasantly surprised by the music for these 2 games, however. It was gentle and soft, with no jarring sounds. I preferred the music and sounds on the Oceans game a little bit more, and was surprised there were no rainforest sounds on the Rainforest game.

The games themselves were fun. I was afraid that both games would offer the same puzzles with different backgrounds, but the puzzles for each were different. They offered different ways to use your brain. The games could be played for 5 minutes, or 20. I liked the fact that they were fast, and didn't require much time. I also liked that they offered a bit of a challenge.

Both of these games have you use the stylus, and no button pushing is necessary. The games had easy to understand rules and kept me entertained. Since I received them, I have played all the puzzles for both games multiple times. The game is marketed as a stress reliever, and I think that's accurate. Playing is a nice diversion, and something that I did while riding in the car as well as waiting for an appointment.

These games may even encourage me to get my own DS, and stop borrowing my husband's! I'll be adding that to my Christmas list this year.

If you're looking for a DS game for a teen, or adult that isn't necessarily into traditional games, I would definitely recommend these 2 games. They are both rated E for Everyone and retail for $29.99.

Thank you to Game Factory for sending me the games to review!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Review: Knit Two by Kate Jacobs

Last year, when I finished Kate Jacob's novel, The Friday Night Knitting Club, I desperately wanted to know what happened next. I fell for the characters, and I cried with the characters, and I didn't want the book to end.

I was very excited when asked by Mother Talk to review the sequel, Knit Two, which is being released today. When the book arrived at my door, I immediately sat down with a big glass of iced tea and began to read. I was glad that the book came during L's nap. It took me a couple days to read, because I forced myself to put it down so I wouldn't finish it too fast.

This sequel didn't disappoint. The characters I grew to love were there, with new problems and triumphs. The close knit group was still there. I think the thing I most appreciated about these two books is the close female friendships portrayed. She writes of a group that I think any of us wish we could find, or if we have a similar group in our lives, it makes us appreciate it even more.

The story starts up five years after the first one ended, which gives all the characters time to develop more of their lives. The camaraderie is still there, the fierce friendships, the loyalty, the honesty and the absolute comfort in knowing that others have your back. I loved this book as much as the first, and hope there's a third coming out in the future.

The book makes me want to take up knitting. Well, no, not actually. What it does is want me to work towards building the friendships around me and taking time to develop them more fully. To take the time to truly care for others and make the time to spend time together. In our busy lives, it's sometimes difficult to carve out time for friendships, but this book gives me a push to work harder at caring for my friendships.

I heartily and completely recommend this book -- and if you haven't read her first novel, this book stands by itself. I do think you should read both, however. You won't be disappointed. If you're looking for a gift for your favorite girlfriend this holiday season, this would make a great gift!

Check out Kate Jacobs' website for more information about her, her books and her future plans.

Many thanks to Kate Jacobs and Mother Talk for sending me a copy of the book and giving me a chance to review it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Crustless Cranberry Pie

Looking for a unique holiday dessert? Then you have to try this Crustless Cranberry Pie!

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Advent Lapbook

3 years ago, I took a class on lapbooks and was very excited. I bought some books and materials . . . and then the stuff sat in my cabinet because my boys really weren't old enough to create lapbooks.

This morning, one of my friends on facebook linked to this lapbook -- Advent Lapbook -- and I knew that my boys were now old enough so I ordered it.

I've just taken a few minutes to go through the materials, and I'm very excited to print everything out and have the boys get started making their own lapbooks for Advent this year. It includes so much information about the season! Things like feast days and prayers and plenty of space for their own writing. She includes both colored pages and blank ones if the kids like to color their own (mine do!) There are 84 pages of information to create this lapbook -- so you know there is plenty to do over the 4 weeks of Advent!

The file is a downloadable .pdf file, so I don't have to wait for shipping. The checkout process through paypal was easy and the download link was in my email inbox before I could click back over.

I was trying to find a project for this season, and am so glad this popped up for me today! I will post pictures of their progress as we get started.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Useful Toddler Gifts

I try to give useful gifts, but I think I'm leaning that way even more this year. For toddlers, especially those that aren't the first child and probably have plenty of toys, here are some useful gifts that I own and enjoy!

I first saw a friend using this when we met her for lunch at a local restaurant. I thought it was a neat idea, but I find it even more useful at home. It keeps the table clean around L, and the cupped lip keeps extra food off her lap and the floor. It washes easily, rolls up fairly small, and the suction cups underneath stick to the table with no slipping. For $10-12, I think it's a great value and would make a super gift!

This is probably the most expensive sippy cup you would ever buy. I think it is worth every penny, though! It keeps drinks cold for a long time (even milk) and the one we have has never leaked. It is stainless steel, with BPA-free lid and spout.
L drinks from an open cup when we're home, but I love this option for when we're out. I also love their thermoses that come with a straw. Each of my kids has one, and I'm always amazed at how long drinks stay cold in them.

For the boys, I used inflatable covers for the spout in the tub. When I saw this one by Boon, I was intrigued by the waterfall effect. I love it! The water pours out gently from the faucet, making hair washes much easier. L also likes to stand in the flow and let the water pour across her back. There is an area to add bubble bath, but I'll be honest and say that I never use that, so I don't know how it works.

If you're looking for a gift for a toddler in your life this holiday season, I hope I helped! I bought these items for L, but would have been thrilled to receive any of them as a gift. One thing that I couldn't find a link to are my favorite bibs. They are made of corduroy and have a snap instead of velcro. I don't like the way velcro sticks to everything in the dryer, so I prefer bibs with snaps. Just a thought if you're gifting bibs!

Spaghetti Sauce, Again

A month or so ago I used up the last of my batch of spaghetti sauce. Around the same time, I was able to buy a jar of sauce for $2.00, so I bought it to tide us over until I made another batch. We had it a week ago, and everyone mentioned how much better mine was.

Today, I stocked up on cans of sauce and will be filling the house with the wonderful aroma of spaghetti sauce again. I think this time I'll throw in some rosemary sprigs from our plant out front. I'm also making it with ground italian sausage instead of ground beef. Wouldn't you like to come over for dinner :)

I also shopped today for Thanksgiving, finally! I couldn't believe that a can of pumpkin was $2.99, while a pre-made pie from the bakery was $2.89. I stopped at another store later that day, and found a can for .99, which seemed much more reasonable.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Save Money by Shopping from Your Pantry This Week

Thanksgiving week may not be the best time to try this out -- but keep it in mind! I posted over at Prevention about how to Save Money by Shopping from Your Pantry This Week

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I have a couple things to get for L for Christmas, and then I'm done with shopping for the kids. I don't have anything yet for DH -- or anyone else I just realized. I'd like to be finished by the first week of December, so I will be scouring the ads during the next week and trying to find USEFUL gifts for those on my list.

I am bummed, but we won't be attending Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Gardens again this year. We had done it for 7 years in a row, but the cost became prohibitive. It was a holiday tradition that I enjoyed, but Zoo Lights is a better bargain and enjoyed more by the kids anyway. We usually attend Zoo Lights on the last night (early January), but since we won't be attending Luminarias this year (usually attended early December) maybe we'll go earlier this year.

One of my favorite traditions is having an old-timey portrait taken. DH & I have been doing them since our honeymoon and I realized the last one we did was in August of 2007. I think we'll make that a priority over the next couple weeks.

I haven't shopped yet for Thanksgiving! I'll do that this weekend and stock up on flour and sugar for holiday baking before the prices rise after Thanksgiving. (Did you know that traditionally the best prices on flour and sugar are right before Thanksgiving?) We're having a traditional meal this year -- turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, cranberry pie. Nate wants corn on the cob, so I will look to see if any is available.

DH usually puts up the lights the day after Thanksgiving. Holiday lights are one of my favorite Christmas traditions! We won't be adding anything new this year, and we had to retire a bunch of stuff last year -- but it'll still be pretty.

I need to create our Christmas card and get those ordered and mailed.

I need to wrap the Christmas books. I have a box of books that I wrap for Advent. We unwrap and read a book from the basket each day. There are some old favorites in there, plus I try to add a new one or two each year. I don't think I picked up any new ones after the holidays last year, so I'll keep my eye out for a new one this year. The boys love this tradition, and I'm guessing L will as well.

I purchased the Playmobil Advent Calendar Xmas in Forest a while back (at Target, for less than $20 - I don't know why it's so much more right now?) and have to put it together soon. I almost bought the LEGO City Advent Calendar 2008 one this year, but decided to stick with Playmobil (3rd year I think). I'm glad I did, because N said to me the other day "And, we'll have a Playmobil Advent calendar, right?"

My sis and I have to look at calendars and find a weekend for holiday baking. We need to put together a list and decide what we're making this year.

This post became a mash of stuff, didn't it? I was thinking of tradtions, and then threw in some of my to-do's on top of it. What are some of your traditions for the holiday seasons? I know we have more, just need to think on it!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another Offsite Day

I'm posting about my day again because my hope is that in 6 months or a year I can read this and say "Oh, it's so much easier now!"

I had an assignment to teach at a new site today. The class ran from 8 - 5. I like to be there at least 30 minutes early, so that meant I had to leave my house by 6:40. DH had his weekly sales meeting that required him to be at his office by 9:30.

Last night, I wrote out the boys' assignments, packed their schoolbooks into their backpacks, packed L's diaper bag, packed my bag, printed out directions to the site, packed a cooler with snacks and lunches for the kids, filled a thermos with milk for L, packed my lunch. I set out L's clothes, told the boys to set out their clothes, and I set out my clothes.

Since DH could be at work later, he was going to drop the kids off at the sitter's house. We have only one car seat for L, which makes sense because our pickup doesn't have a back seat and only seats 3. DH had to move his samples and things into the van so I could drive the truck to my class.

I left this morning right on time, proceeded to struggle finding a place to park, and even though I was in the vicinity by 7:20, wasn't able to enter the building until 7:40. Not really a big deal, but I do like at least 30 minutes to make sure everything is set up correctly. Thankfully, it mostly was and class went well.

We didn't know what sales calls DH would have, and wouldn't know until after noon. We hoped he would be able to pick up the kids, since I couldn't (not having enough seats.) Somehow, it worked out that he was able to pick them up late afternoon, I got home later, and then he headed out for a 7PM sales call.

After I got home, normal stuff happened -- made dinner, did some laundry, cleaned the kitchen, reviewed the boys' schoolwork, etc. I teach a 1/2 day on Thursday, and I want to get caught up on housecleaning tomorrow. I was also able to finish some writing assignments this evening after the kids were in bed.

And, now, I'm off to bed myself!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

National Diabetes Awareness Month

Much of my family has been affected by diabetes. Did you know that 95% of all diabetics in the United States have Type II Diabetes (also known as adult-onset)? That was one surprising statistic I learned recently when writing a post about National Diabetes Awareness Month. Head on over to to read more.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Money Saving Monday #6

We recently changed our cable / phone / internet service companies. We had talked about it for months, but the various companies do not make it easy to compare services directly. It was hard to decipher if we could actually save money by changing services, and the confusion caused us to remain with one provider too long.

My husband took 2 days and determined that we could save $70/month and maintain very similar service if we made a change. There were a few minor glitches when making the switch, but 2 weeks later and I'm glad we did it.

We are seriously considering dropping our landline soon and keeping just our cell phones. My husband has to use a fax machine daily for work, but we've looked into internet services where he could scan the documents and send them via the internet. There is a fee for that, but it would be less than a landline telephone. We haven't quite decided if we're going to make that change yet, but January may find us without a home phone.

Take some time this week to look at your expenses and determine if they really are necessary. Sometimes we're lulled into complacency by assuming we have the best deal, or that we couldn't do without something we've been paying for. Make a few phone calls and do some research, and see if you can lower your expenses. I try to do that regularly, and am always surprised when I find something else that I can change.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Suddenly, he turned 8!

My sweet, oldest boy turned 8 today. He outgrew his bike months ago, but I kept telling him that a new bike wasn't in his future.

So, this morning, we headed out for our morning walk. DH asked for his help finding a tool that he thought he left in my folks' garage. C headed over to help look for this mysterious tool. DH encouraged him to lift a blanket to see if it was on the shelves behind the blanket.

He lifted the blanket and said "There's just a bike here. A brand new bike."

I said "Hmmm, who do you think the bike is for?" at about the same time he was saying "It's a bike that is just my size."

Finally it dawned on him that it was HIS new bike. He was thrilled. I hope you can see his excitement in the pictures!

He had a lovely day of bike riding, eating off the birthday plate, receiving many fabulous presents, and having his requested birthday dinner. He requested ham -- and real ham, not that stuff you buy to save money (that would be turkey ham), and fresh -- not leftover!, with scalloped potatoes -- from a box, not from scratch, but from a box like Grandma makes, and cooked carrots -- but plain cooked carrots -- not with anything added to them, and garlic bread. With a bakery cake, because Basha's was kind enough to send him a birthday card along with a coupon for a free cake. He declared it a wonderful dinner.

Our boy is intelligent, kind, thoughtful, considerate, friendly and a joy to be around. He's an eager student, and a joy to teach. He's a great big brother to his siblings and a steadfast friend to his friends. He loves to read, build with Legos, ride his bike and spend time outdoors. It's hard to believe that in 8 more years we'll be taking him for his learner's permit!

(For those curious, this is the bike C received: Mongoose 20-Inch Gravity Games BMX Freestyle Bike (Gunmetal) We didn't pay that for it, though -- more like 1/3 of that. I got an awesome deal!)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

All in a working day

One of the reasons I read blogs is because I like to see how other people order / live their days.

In light of those of "what I do" blogs and posts -- here's mine for today.

Today, I had an assignment to train. It was a 3 hour one-on-one session helping someone learn advanced features of Excel. I was happy to have the assignment, and this is how my day looked:

7AM: Wake in a bit of panic because I didn't go to bed until 1AM and was tired, but still needed to review some more so I was well-prepared.

7:15AM: L woke, which meant the hour I thought I was going to have in peace just disappeared. Nursed her, and kissed DH goodbye as he headed off to a training session at work.

7:45AM: Convinced L she was done nursing. Quickly showered with L and made her breakfast.

8:15AM: The boys are awake. Sent them outside to water/feed/play with dog. L refused to go outside with them, which I think was a first.

8:30AM: Boys back inside, I ask them to watch L while I try to finish my prep. They turn on a cartoon and I think all is going fine. L comes into office and wants me to hold her, um, no she wants to crawl on desk. I try to work around her, become frustrated, and ask boys to please help.

9AM: All is quiet and I am furiously scribbling notes and trying to make sure I fully understand things I haven't worked with in 8 years. Thankfully, much is coming back and I have been studying the last few days as well.

9:45AM: Walk into living room to find that L has completely emptied my purse and wallet and everything is strewn from the back door, through the living room and into the boys' bedrooms. Ask the boys why they didn't stop her? They tell me she was quiet. Spend 15 minutes finding important things like drivers license and ATM card.

10AM: Put together lunch for the 3 of them to take to sitter. Pack L's diaper bag with extra clothes, bib, sippy cup, blanket, etc. Pour whole milk into thermos. Pack my bag with manuals, paper, etc. Realize I can't find my phone. Panic a bit.

10:30AM: Find my phone. It was in the car. Load everyone into car and drive to sitter's house.

10:45AM: Arrive at sitter's and unload kids, lunch cooler, diaper bag. Talk briefly with sitter. This is the first time kids are staying with her, but she's been a friend for a few years. She's a homeschooling mom of 5 boys, so I know the kids are in good hands.

10:55AM: On the road to the office. Realize I haven't eaten a thing and forgot to grab my water cup. Hope that traffic is light.

11:35AM: Arrive at office and make sure everything is ready for student. Check on computer files, talk with owner, verify certificate is ready, check my email, talk with salesperson who scheduled this class.

Noon: Student arrives. Spend next 3 hours helping her learn new features of Excel and refreshing things she knew before but hasn't done in a while. Session goes very well and student is happy.

3:05PM: Student leaves. I clean room, delete files, make sure all is neat. Talk briefly with staff and head out door. Call sitter and hear that everyone did just fine.

3:10PM: Hit traffic. Lots of traffic. Looks like a big accident ahead.

3:55PM: Am finally about 2 miles from sitter. Realize I have no cash to pay her. Stop at store to get cash.

4PM: Arrive and pick up kids. L actually napped and is still asleep (I had no idea how this would work, since she's never napped anyplace but at home. Apparently, she had no problem at all!) Talk briefly with sitter, but she has piano student coming at any moment so whisk kids out of there.

4:05PM: Stop at grocery store and pick up some fresh chicken nuggets and deli mac and cheese for dinner.

4:45PM: Arrive home. Send kids out back to care for dog. Heat up dinner and set table.

5:15PM: Kids come in, wash up, and sit down to eat. I read chapter from Redwall.

5:45PM: We all go back outside and I push L in the swing. She loves loves loves to swing.

6:15PM: DH arrives home. Chat with him briefly. Go into office to work on a writing assignment.

7PM: Send oldest to the bath. Give youngest a bath. Feel grateful we have 2 tubs. Put pjs on youngest and hope to nurse her to sleep.

7:30PM: Put L to bed, encourage N to bathe, work on another writing assignment.

8PM: L wakes up and cries and cries. DH gets her up. I clean the kitchen. Tuck boys into bed. Read email and a few blogs.

9PM: Sit with DH and watch a tv show. Nurse L again.

9:30PM: Put L back to bed.

10PM: Go out to hot tub with DH and relax.

10:30PM: Write this post, read a few more blogs. Wrap presents for C's birthday tomorrow.

11PM: Into bed!

Milk and Sugar Scrub

When I have some free time, I like to use this simple Milk and Sugar Scrub that I posted about over at Prevention. In fact, I need to *make* some free time to indulge in this.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

simple syrup

For years I've read about simple syrup, but only in the last couple months have I bothered to make it. I don't know what took me so long! I gave up soda a few months ago, and while I drank a lot of iced tea before, I drink even more now. I don't like it unsweetened, unless it's an herbal tea. DH doesn't like herbal teas, so I tend to make it plain most of the time.

Simple syrup is simply an equal measure of sugar and water, heated until the sugar is dissolved. I pour it into a glass mason jar and store it in the refrigerator. When I have a glass of tea, I dip out a spoonful and add it to my glass. I like the flavor that it imparts to tea better than granulated sugar alone and I know now the secret to some of the sweet teas that I love at certain restaurants! I used to think it was the tea they used, but now I know it's the simple syrup.

One tip, though -- don't let the sugar and water sit on the burner and boil for 20 minutes or so because you leave the kitchen and forget it's on the stove. Then, it becomes crystallized and isn't useful at all. (Why, yes, I do know that for a fact! LOL)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Love and Teamwork

I am grateful each and every day for my husband. We like to say we married in our late 20's because we wouldn't have been ready for each other before then -- and I believe it's true. Every day he makes my life easier and I don't know what I'd do without him.

Over at, I compared our marriage to a team -- a championship team my husband would say -- because he loves sports, even though I didn't know much about them before we met. Go on over and read it if you have a moment.

And, I'd love if you could leave a comment on the post over there if you're so inclined. They've recently re-vamped the site and I hope you find it easier to navigate. Thanks!


I've given it quite a bit of prayer and thought lately, and I think the boys will be enrolled in public school in January. I had a hope that we'd finish out this year and they might enroll in the fall if I couldn't find the right new balance -- but it's become too much of a struggle.

I feel guilty about this decision. I feel like I SHOULD be able to do it all, and I feel like a failure that I can't. I also feel guilty because it wouldn't be a problem keeping C home and homeschool him -- it's really N who is most difficult. I don't think I can send N, however, and keep Ç home because then it seems like a punishment to N.

It seems like a punishment to them, anyway, because it's something I've threatened in the past when they've been out of control. I'm trying to spin it that it is NOT a punishment, just an evolution of our family's needs.

The fact of the matter is, they're not as helpful as they could be, and nothing I've been trying/doing is working (or maybe not working fast enough). N fights his schoolwork almost daily. I am constantly breaking up fights and trying to redirect them. I have deadlines that I have to meet. I have opportunities to train and finding child care for the 3 of them isn't as easy as finding child care for just L. I need to keep looking for more opportunities because it's necessary that I contribute financially to our family right now.

We can't afford to send them to a parochial school, so we have the local public school or a charter school to choose from. Since my intention is to make my life easier (and, yes, I feel guilty about that, too) I think we'll put them in the public school that offers a bus from our neighborhood. If we chose a charter school, we'd have to drop off / pick up. If we choose the public school, they can take a bus to the Boys & Girls Club after school when necessary.

From what I understand, it's not a bad school. I'll go over in the near future and meet the principal and their teachers. I have to contact the district and withdraw my homeschooling affidavits. The kid will likely need to be tested before they can enter the school system.

I just can't do it all right now. I want to, but I can't. And I have to admit that and go from here.

I'm also going to miss the homeschooling community. I know as soon as I stop homeschooling, about half the support system I have currently will disappear. I understand -- I won't lose those friends where I've built more of a friendship, but I'll lose the larger community of homeschoolers that I appreciate so much. And that makes me sad.

I've always said we'd take it year by year and make the decision that was best for our family. So, why is it so hard?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy Birthday To Me!

Happy Birthday to me,
Happy Birthday to me,
Happy Birthday to meeeeeeee,
Happy Birthday to me!

Yep, today is my 41st birthday. DH usually has Mondays off, but had to go in for an all-day meeting today. We're headed to my current favorite restaurant (Pei Wei's) for dinner. The rest of the day is pretty much open. I have a couple things work-wise to work on, but nothing especially pressing.

I had another long post written up, but since I try to be sunshine and sparkles here lately . . . let's just skip the melodrama I'm feeling.

Would you like to give me a birthday gift? Leave me a comment!! I'd love to see who's reading and if you're a lurker -- step on out and say "hi!"

Money Saving Monday #5

I went grocery shopping Thursday night and saved almost $77.00 between the coupons I used (almost $20) and the store savings. I was trying to spend $125.00 for groceries this week, and managed to walk out spending $105.32, which leaves me $20.00 when we run out of bread or need fresh fruit.

My favorite deal was $1.88/gallon milk! It hasn't been that low in over a year, and I was able to buy 3 gallons at that price. We usually drink 2-3 gallons a week, so I bought 3!

I would have spent more if they hadn't been out of Charmin. I am not especially brand-loyal, except for toilet tissue and diapers. The Charmin was almost 1/2 off, and the shelves were EMPTY! Which finally brings me to my money saving tip of the week -- Ask for rainchecks!

When I was checking out, I asked the cashier for a raincheck on the Charmin. I had the store ad with me, so it was easy to point out the sale. She had someone check to make sure there really wasn't any more, then filled out a raincheck so that I can pick up 2 at that price anytime in the next 30 days.

If an advertised item isn't available, and it's something I want/need, I always ask for a raincheck. Very rarely, an item will not be valid for rainchecks, but that is always marked in the ad. You can get rainchecks at grocery stores and mass merchandisers (like Target and K-Mart.)

I tuck the raincheck in the front of my coupon pouch so I don't forget to use it.

Do you have a grocery shopping tip to share? Leave me a comment! Also -- any interest in me creating a "Mr. Linky" for this topic so others can post about this topic on their blogs and leave a link? Let me know and I'd be happy to set it up!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

No Sew Fleece Blankets as Gifts

I was looking for Christmas gift ideas this weekend and found directions to make no sew fleece blankets. It looks like they go together fairly quickly, and my boys know how to make a knot. My parents live in Wisconsin, (which is plenty cold!), and I bet they would love a lap blanket made by their grandsons. These blankets would also make a great baby gift, and we have a few new babies in our midst this year who could always use a new, soft blanket.

Fleece often goes on sale, and I will be watching the ads in the coming weeks for local fabric stores to see if we can pick up a few yards and try this out. I have a rotary cutter, which will make the cuts easy to make. When I find some inexpensive fleece, I'll be sure to share pictures of our projects.

Are you making any handmade gifts this year? I always have big plans, but often run out of time. I know we need to get started soon if we want to give any handmade things this year.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Lego Themed Birthday Party

C celebrates his 8th birthday on Friday, but we had his birthday party with friends today.

He requested a Lego themed party, so I made a Lego cake. When I asked him what color he would like, N chimed in with "Clear!" Thankfully, C was a little more realistic and chose orange.

The cake is 2 layers of 13x9 cakes, topped with 8 cupcakes. I should have used a knife to flatten it out more, but it was late last night. He was happy with it, and that's what counts.

Last weekend, we visited the Lego store and filled up a cup with their open stock. I really love this option to get interesting bricks and pieces! We carefully counted so we would have 8 of everything, and then I threw in a few extras for the boys. We created goody bags with the bricks and a package of Lego-shaped fruit snacks.

We decided we'd set out the boys' bricks and have contests to see who could build the highest tower, who could create a car the fastest, a co-operative building game where they would add a brick and then pass it to the next kid. I also filled a jar with Legos and had the kids guess how many were in the jar.

In the end, only 2 of the invited guests were able to come and one of those had to leave after 45 minutes. One had car trouble, and 2 were sick. We were expecting 7 kids total, and ended up with 4. (That included my 2 boys.)

They decided to play Wii instead of the Lego games I planned. When the dad of one of the guests picked him up, he did tell his dad I made a neat cake.

C had fun even though most of his friends weren't able to attend. He was very understanding and I'm proud of him! He wrote out his thank you notes right after the party, without prompting!

Christmas Shopping

My sister and I went over to Target last night to pick up some medals for prizes for C's birthday party this afternoon. While there, we checked out the Halloween clearance that was marked 75% off. I found 2 ninja costumes for the boys for $2.49!! I am going to put them away for Christmas, where I'm sure they'll be a big hit. My boys still love dressing up; they probably dress up 2-3 times a week.

I also picked up a $5.50 Tom & Jerry DVD for St. Nick's this year. That wasn't on sale, but it was a good price and my boys laugh uproariously at Tom & Jerry. This was a holiday-themed dvd, which will be fun for the season.

I found a fairy wand for L's stocking for .48. It's cute, and I'm sure she'll have fun with it. I have a box in my closet with stocking stuffers, and I realize I need to go through the box soon. I think I have plenty for the boys' stockings (minus candy), but very little for L and nothing for DH. I also stuff a stocking for my sister each year, and I'm probably 75% done with hers.

I need to sit down with my list soon and figure out what else I need to purchase for my family, and then move on to extended family. I'd like to be finished by the beginning of Advent this year, and I'm well on my way to that goal!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Don’t Forget to Play

Over at Prevention, I wrote about playing at the park with the kids -- Don’t Forget to Play. The boys are too old to have Mom chasing around with them, but at least I have L :)

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Creamy Pumpkin Dip

Looking for a good dip for a holiday party? Try my Creamy Pumpkin Dip that I shared over at Prevention!

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Map

I found this really neat election map and immediately printed off a few for us to color in tomorrow and Wednesday. She has a map of our United States listing the number of electoral votes in each state. As the results come in, you can color in the states either red or blue.

It fits nicely into our homeschooling geography lessons, too!

Money Saving Monday #4

I go through phases where I stock my pantry and freezer to the max. Sometimes it's because there are great sales, other times it's because we have a little extra money and I like looking at a full pantry.

My tip for today is to shop from your pantry and freezer this week instead of going to the grocery store. Chances are that you can create a week's worth of meals from the things you have on hand. It will stretch your creativity as well!

If you're like me, you'll still have to go to the store to buy milk (we go through 2-3 gallons/week!) and bread -- but don't buy anything else! You could take the money you've saved and put it away for the upcoming holidays.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Stop MRSA Now!

The week after I had L, I found a spider bite on my hand. Between being exhausted and caring for a newborn, I hoped it would just go away. Unfortunately, the bite got worse and within a couple days my entire hand was swollen -- from the fingertips to my elbow. I finally went to Urgent Care where I was subscribed heavy duty antibiotics and had the area cut open and then stitched back up. It wasn't a spider bite after all -- it was likely a staph infection. I was tested, and told I was lucky that it wasn't MSRA. It took weeks before I healed and felt better.

Considering how sick I became, and the scar I still have on my hand, I am glad it wasn't MSRA. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is becoming much more prevalent. While it used to be primarily found in hospitals, Community Associated MRSA is occurring more often and is transmitted in schools, gyms, and locker rooms and homes. More than 90,000 people are infected every year, and 19,000 people died in 2005!

Some people have no symptoms but are carriers. There are some steps you can take to help prevent the spread of MRSA:
  • Scrub up - Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds - the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice - or use an alcohol-based hand rub sanitizer.
  • Wipe it down - Use a disinfecting bleach solution to wipe down and disinfect hard surfaces. Make sure to use clean cloths to avoid spreading MRSA from one surface to another. (1 tablespoon of disinfecting bleach diluted in 1 quart of water)
  • Cover your cuts - Keep any nicks or wounds covered with a clean, dry bandage until healed.
  • Keep to yourself - Do not share personal items, like towels or razors, that come into contact with bare skin.
  • Use a barrier - Keep a towel or clothing between skin and shared equipment.
When MomCentral asked if I would blog about the website Stop MRSA Now! I was happy to help spread the word. Please check out the site for more information, and some personal stories.

Trick or Treat 2008

The kids had fun trick or treating last night, but fewer people were handing out candy. We've lived in this neighborhood 7 years, and it seems that every year the candy supply has dwindled.

The kids still received plenty, though! It just won't last as long as it has in the past.

L had fun as well -- she trick or treated one street only and that was enough for her. I think she truly enjoyed the fact that she could eat some of her candy without her brothers pestering her!

More pictures can be found over on my picture blog.

Stand by Me

Love Love Love this song, and I loved this video!
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