Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Meme

I've done this for the last 2 years (2007, 2008) -- so I figured I may as well do it this year!  If you decided to play along on your blog, leave a comment so I can read your 2009 recap.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
Cooked in Betty Crocker's kitchen, during my very first blogger trip!

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I did not keep the resolutions made last year - I think life and survival got in the way. I will make more this year, and hope that I can be better about following through!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
For the first year in a long time, nobody close to me gave birth.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Nobody close to me died in 2009.

5. What countries did you visit?

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Money. Quiet.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
No specific dates jump out at me - but looking back I realize there was a lot of travel.  As a family, we visited Vegas in February, Bo traveled to Boston after he accepted a job there and he took a trip by himself to Milwaukee for a friend's birthday, I traveled to Minneapolis for my blog, Vegas again with my sister, Milwaukee with my sister and daughter.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
It was Bo's hard work and skills and not mine, but the biggest achievement of the year was closing in the back patio so we could give Lydia her own room.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Nothing I would share with the Internet :)~

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No, thank goodness

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Roku box.  Hands down the best $100 we spent this year!  I love Netflix Instant view, but not as much as the kids do!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My husband -- who has worked so very hard again this year for his family.  My kids -- who are all growing into wonderful people. 

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

14. Where did most of your money go?
Bills, groceries, mortgages

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
My trip to General Mills.  Spending my mom's birthday with her. Vacationing in Vegas with my family and then again with my sister.  Not having to buy diapers anymore?  My aunt and cousin visiting.

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
Boom Boom Pow

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
a) sadder; b) about the same; c) poorer ( I really hope I  can post this meme at the end of 2010 and say we're richer again.  For the last couple years, I didn't think we could drop any farther in income, but we managed to do it again this year.)

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
spent more time with friends - I see more Starbucks dates in 2010!

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
feel stressed

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Quietly, at home, with my husband, kids & my sister.  Unfortunately, everyone was sick this year -- but we still had a nice day.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?
Never fell out of love.

22. How many one-night stands?

23. What was your favorite TV program?

Top Chef

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

25. What was the best book you read?
I read many books, but none stand out as the best. 

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Didn't make one

27. What did you want and get?
Back patio closed in.  Lydia out of our room into her own.  A new bed.

28. What did you want and not get?
The Beatles: Rock Band

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
Tuya's Marriage -- it's from 2007, but I watched it this past year and was moved by it.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I worked on my 42nd birthday.  Colin was appalled, but I didn't mind.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Winning a big lottery

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Frumpy.  Gotta change that next year!

33. What kept you sane?
My sweet children and my husband's sense of humor. Friends. Text messages.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I've never been one for celebrity crushes.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?

36. Who did you miss?
Extended family

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Can't name just one!

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009 .
Always assume positive intent.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

I love you in the morning,
And in the afternoon.
I love you in the evening,
And underneath the moon.

Skin a marinky dinky dink
Skin a marinky doo

I love you!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Online Purging

I've been spending time this week cleaning up online accounts so that I can start 2010 with a fresh (or fresher) plate.  I had gotten lax about filtering my gmail account, and I had tons of advertising / spammish emails clogging up my inbox.  I've been working diligently at creating new rules so I can easily delete unwanted emails, while filtering others I don't want to lose. 

To do that, I create filters for incoming messages.  For all the advertising / newsletter / miscellaneous emails that come in, I route them all to a "ads" label.  If any are of particular interest, I can remove that label -- but otherwise once a month or so I pull up everything labeled "ads" and hit the delete button.  It quickly cleans up my inbox, which makes me happy.

Once I added about a hundred new emails to various filters, I went through and deleted almost 2000 emails.  Having them filtered into categories makes the deletions easy.

I also went through my feed readers and deleted all the feeds I rarely read, or are filled with drama, or are genuine train wrecks.  I use 2 different feed readers -- bloglines and google reader -- to separate personal and work-related feeds.  It felt especially good to delete the train wrecks (you know you read a few! But I decided to cut down on the drama that really has nothing to do with me next year.)  I deleted almost a hundred feeds from my 2 readers.

And, finally, I did a minimal purge on Facebook.  The new privacy settings have made it possible to hide your Wall from others, and I decided that if people were hiding their Wall from me, there was no reason for us to remain friends on Facebook!  At first, I was a bit pissy about it and hid my Wall from them -- and then decided to be a grown-up and handle it like an adult.  See above: cutting down the drama in 2010.

I set up some files for 2010.  It's too soon to close out most of my 2009 files, as there are things that won't be completed / resolved until mid to late January, but having the 2010 files created has allowed me to start filling things in for the new year.  I track blog tours, and freelance work, and the like in various Excel spreadsheets.

What about you?  Are you cleaning up your online world to get ready for 2010?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review: Nature's Peak Frozen Fruit (And a Giveaway!)

FedEx knocked on my door early this morning with a box holding 2 bags of Nature's Peak Frozen Fruit.  I received a bag of mixed berries and a bag of mango pieces.

The first thing I noticed was that each bag had a resealable zipper on the top!  This is a great feature since I rarely use an entire bag of frozen fruit at one time.

When I looked at the back of the mixed berry bag, I saw the delicious-looking pie pictured to the left.  The recipe was so simple, and I had all the ingredients in the house, so I mixed one up for dessert.  It tasted as delicious as it looked - and the fruit smelled wonderfully fresh.

I'm looking forward to mango smoothies later this week with my other bag of fruit.  I might also try a mango salsa recipe.  I love mangoes, but don't buy them often because it can be such a pain to peel and cut them.  This frozen product takes care of all that for me.

Nature's Peak frozen fruit has 11 different varieties of fruits in 16oz bags, and all are frozen at the peak of freshness. You can learn more about their products, as well as find some great recipes, at their website -- Nature's Peak Frozen Foods

Nature's Peak Frozen Fruit is only available in the following markets (for now!):
  • Florida (All Regions)
  • New England (All Regions)
  • New Jersey (All Regions)
  • Maryland (All Regions)
  • Virginia (All Regions)
  • Washington (Seattle Area)
  • Oregon (Portland Area)
  • California (Los Angeles, San Jose Areas)
  • Arizona (Phoenix Area)
  • North Carolina (South West Area)
  • South Carolina (North West Area)
  • Georgia (South East and North East Areas)
  • Missouri (Northern Area)
  • Louisiana (New Orleans Area)
  • Arkansas (Little Rock Area)
I have 2 coupons for a free bag of frozen fruit for one of my readers living in one of the above areas!  Please leave a comment letting me know which fruit you would choose if you receive the coupon and I'll use to choose a winner on Friday, January 1, 2010.  

Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Nature’s Peak and received a sample to facilitate my candid review as well as two coupons to giveaway. In addition, Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.

** Winner has been chosen & contacted.  Thanks for reading! **

Review: Temple Touch Thermometer

If you've been reading along, you know that the last couple months in my house haven't been the healthiest!  I did have one new gadget that made life a bit simpler for us, though. A few months ago, I received a Temple Touch Thermometer to try out from Mom Select and Temple Touch Thermometer.

This thermometer is WONDERFUL!  I have used traditional thermometers and digital thermometers in the past, but getting a child to keep it under their tongue, or in their armpit was always a bit of a challenge - especially when someone was already feeling under the weather.  I'm pretty good at determining if someone has a fever by touch, but doctors' offices usually want to know a number instead of my guess.

The Temple Touch Thermometer is easy to use and gives you a result in less than 10 seconds.  It has a memory feature to recall recent temperatures taken, as well as a timer to help you remember when to give the next dose of medicine.

I really liked that I could take the kids' temperatures while they were sleeping, by simply putting the thermometer against their temple and waiting a few seconds for the reading. 

This would make a great baby shower gift!You can find the Temple Touch Thermometers at Walgreens, with a MSRP of $29.99.  Visit their website for more information! Or, you can follow the inventor on Twitter @TempleTouchMom.

Disclosure:  I received a Temple Touch Thermometer from Mom Select and the manufacturer to help facilitate my honest and complete review.  No additional compensation was provided.

Review: Rosarita Salsa (And a recipe!)

I received 3 bottles of a new salsa being offered by Rosarita, thanks to Mom Central & Rosarita! These new bottles of salsa are available in only a few markets right now (Phoenix, Los Angeles, Dallas and Denver), so I felt lucky to have the chance to try them out!

The Rosarita brand was actually started by a man in Phoenix in the 1940's, and the Mexican woman gracing the label was drawn by one of his relatives. Since then, Rosarita has offered authentic Mexican-style refried beans and are currently the top selling brand in the United States. Their new salsa line, includes three authentic flavors that range from mild to hot- Mild Salsa Mexicana, Medium Salsa Verde and Hot Salsa Taquera.

Last night, I wanted a quick, easy, kid-friendly meal so I decided to make taco dip, using a bottle of the Rosarita salsa.


1 block cream cheese
1 can refried beans (I use the Rosarita vegetarian style)
1 lb taco meat (ground beef, browned, add taco seasonings & water, then simmer)
1 jar salsa
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese

Layer the ingredients in a baking dish (I use a 9x11 pan) in the order listed above.

Pop into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, then serve with chips!  It's delicious and the Rosarita salsa was a wonderful addition to the recipe.

The hot salsa we received was VERY spicy, but if you like spicy, it's great!

Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Rosarita and received a sample to facilitate my candid review. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Allstate Safe Driving Blog Tour

A year ago, I rarely texted.  I would sometimes with my brother, and sometimes with Bo, but it wasn't an everyday thing.  Now, I text daily -- not the thousands of texts that you read that teens send, but I send more than 100 a month and had to recently upgrade my phone plan. I can tell you that I do NOT text while driving, ever.  I do know people who do text while driving, though, and it is a very dangerous practice.

Allstate has launched a cause to encourage teens not to text while driving.  For every person that joins the Allstate Thumbs Up cause before January 15, 2010, Allstate will donate $1 to Teen Safety Driving programs, up to $25,000. As of tonight, about 12,500 have joined -- so we have just over 2 weeks to find another 12,500 to join the cause and pledge to keep their thumbs off their cell phones while driving.

The Allstate website has a pledge you can download for your family, and shared some statistics that are sobering.  Did you know these facts about texting while driving?  (statements taken from the Allstate website, which shares the sources of each statement)
  • It takes your eyes off the road on average of five seconds at a time. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of a football field - completely blind.
  • It's like driving after having 4 beers.
  • It makes us 23 times more likely to crash.
  • It results in car crashes that kill an average of 11 teens each day.
  • It's results in 330,000 distracted driving injuries every year.
While I don't have any teens in the house (yet), I do have friends with teens.  The parents I know all have a rule that cell phones are not to be used while driving -- but teens will be teens and I know that the rules are sometimes broken.  One friend monitored activity with their online statements, which led to her teen losing phone privileges for a month.   While her teen may have felt the punishment was harsh, the lesson was learned and when phone privileges were re-instated, there was no more texting or calling while driving.

I have added this cause to my Facebook account, and have asked my friends to join!  I am asking all my readers to join as well in order to encourage teens (and adults!) to keep their thumbs on the steering wheel and not their cell phones while driving!  While I love the convenience of texting, I'm not about to put myself or others in danger by texting and driving -- and I hope that others agree!

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of The Allstate Foundation. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holidays and Easy Peasy Fudge Recipe

Lots of coughing and nose blowing in my house, but I won't bore you with the list of illnesses and antibiotics, so let's just say that we're all on the mend and all indications are that we should start 2010 healthy (knock on wood!)

The kids were delighted with their Christmas haul, and we had our usual long stretch of gift opening so they had the chance to look at and play with new things before something else was opened.  We didn't make Christmas Eve mass, so we attended 10AM services.  My sister came over and we opened more gifts, and then decided to postpone our usual fancy Christmas dinner since everyone was under the weather.

Bo loves fudge, and I've had mixed results trying to make it in the past. I found a new recipe recently and was able to throw it together in about 5 minutes on Christmas Day.  It's not a traditional cooked sugar fudge, but it is EASY and TASTY.

There are only 3 ingredients -- 3 cups chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet), 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 1/4 cup butter. 

I melted the ingredients together in a large Pyrex bowl in the microwave, ran the microwave 1 minute at a time and stirred to mix it all together and when the chocolate had a good sheen I mixed in a 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts and poured it into a buttered 8x8 pan.  It set up in the refrigerator, and tasted yummy!  It would be easy to add in other mix-ins -- we were thinking of peanut butter, or marshmallows, next time.  Really it took me 5 minutes from start to finish!  If you want an easy fudge recipe, I highly recommend this one!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

planning ahead

I'm grateful I planned ahead again this year and got most of my shopping done early.  I ordered my cards early -- even though they didn't go out until last Friday. I shipped the few gifts that needed to be sent on time. All that's left before Friday morning is baking Christmas cookies and wrapping gifts for the family.

Which is good, because I'm down with a rotten winter cold.  Bo has been sick with a rotten cold for over a week now (but is improving). Nate is recovering from pneumonia and ear infections. Colin has a cold / asthma act-up.  And, Lydia has a few sniffles but I'm hoping that's as far as it goes with her.

But, since I planned ahead -- and managed to stay well until I finished my last class of the year on Tuesday, it's easier to roll with the illnesses.   I picked up some gift bags to make the wrapping easier, and if I don't get all the cookies I wanted baked before Christmas, there's always next week.  

My mom ordered groceries for us as part of our Christmas presents and had them delivered, which included our Christmas dinner, so I don't have to worry about that!  And, I'm so very lucky that Bo steps up to cook meals and take care of all of us.

It feels more laid-back this year, which I like.  We didn't decorate outside as much as previous years -- but Bo was sick and it has rained a lot.  We do have some lights up which are pretty, and it'll be easier to put it all away in a few weeks.  Our tree went up a couple weeks ago, but wasn't decorated until earlier this week.

I'm hoping everyone is healthy enough to make it to Christmas Eve Mass tomorrow, but other than that there's nothing on our schedule.  Christmas Day will find us at home, opening gifts and playing.  My sister will come over in the afternoon and we'll enjoy a simple dinner.  If the weather cooperates and everyone is feeling up to it, maybe we'll head out for a walk at a nearby park.

Next week, I'd like to see some closet cleaning before we end 2009, but I'm not going to make a big deal out of it.  I also hope to geocache some, and maybe hide one of our own finally.

Friday, December 18, 2009

SOAR! Scholarship Opportunity

Even if Mom Central hadn't chosen me to be part of the blog tour for the SOAR! Scholarship, I still would have written about it. The SOAR! Scholarship will provide 3 women with a wonderful start in their own photography business -- including professional equipment, mentoring, instruction and encouragement throughout 2010.  Each month will bring new information, new challenges, and new chances to build their businesses into successes.

Nationally renowned photographer, Me Ra Koh, created this scholarship to empower and enlighten women. This month, women across the country can submit a 2-minute application video for one of three SOAR! scholarships to be awarded on January 1, 2010.  You can watch other submissions, then create your own application to submit at the SOAR! website.

Imagine if the professional equipment you needed was dropped in your lap so you could pursue your dreams?  If you had industry leaders ready and willing to help? If every month, you had the encouragement from those who were already successful and wanted to make sure you succeeded?  While there will be hard work ahead of them, the women who win this scholarship will receive a significant advantage over others trying to start new businesses next year. 

I am eager to watch the scholarship recipients build and grow their businesses in 2010. Will one of them be you?  The only way to find out is to apply!  Hurry, though, as the deadline is fast approaching!  Don't put it off!

Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of the SOAR! Scholarship and Me Ra Koh Photography. In addition, I received an Amazon gift certificate to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Whole Foods, Revisited & A Giveaway

Before Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to visit a Whole Foods Store in Tempe AZ and was able to spend some time with one of their chefs.  She suggested some new recipes (although we all decided we did NOT like beets, we did like her take on mashed potatoes!) and was very helpful.

When Lydia and I arrived at the store, she looked up at the sign -- and said "Hey!  Top Chef!!"  Yes, I'm a reality TV junkie and my daughter's favorite shows are "cooking shows"  On Top Chef, they often do their shopping at Whole Foods, so she recognized their logo.  She was excited about meeting a Top Chef, and was slightly confused when she didn't recognize Bethany :)

One thing that really struck me during our visit was how friendly and helpful ALL of the staff was. As we moved through the store, I noticed various associates offering help to customers.  Everyone I saw seemed to genuinely like their job, and was eager to provide help, advice or information.

Associates were ready to provide samples, and genuinely wanted to make sure customers were purchasing something they would enjoy.  When we asked for a recommendation for wine, Dave asked us our price range, then pulled out a bottle that was in our price range that he felt would be perfect.  We were able to try a sample, and had to agree that it was delicious!  I also appreciated the chance to try the pricey cheese before we purchased it.

The Whole Foods website is also full of helpful information and recipes.   There are thousands of delicious-looking recipes to try, and you can sign up for a Recipes newsletter to always get the latest recipe.  I also like that they split up the recipes into different categories like "Cooking with Kids", "Gifts" and "Quick and Easy."  They even have almost one thousand gluten-free recipes listed!

One thing that Bethany did mention was that people sometimes refer to Whole Foods as "Whole Paycheck"  While there are plenty of items that could eat up a food budget (plenty of yummy, delicious items I'd like to add!) there are also plenty of competitively priced items.  Choosing from the Whole Foods 365 brand for things like butter, canned goods, and other staples won't cost you any more than traditional grocery stores.

Whole Foods would like to give one of my readers a $10 gift certificate to spend at one of their stores.  If you have one near you and want to pick up some goodies for the holiday season, check out their website and leave a comment with a recipe that you would like to try.   

Giveaway will be open for comments until midnight, Monday, December 21, 2009.  Winner will be randomly chosen from the comments on Tuesday and contacted via email. (So, please make sure I can easily find your email address!)

Disclosure: I want to thank Whole Foods for providing a gift certificate for this giveaway!  

** Comments are closed!  Commenter #10 was chosen by and has been contacted.  Thanks for entering! **  

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sliding into Friday

It's been a whirlwind of a week.

Bo came down with a nasty cold that had him in bed for a day and he's still feeling under the weather.

I had a class earlier this week that was for a program I hadn't really worked in (other than preparing for the class) that caused me a bit of stress.  Thankfully, certain features of software programs haven't changed in 15 years and the years of training I've done prepared me for figuring some things out on the fly.  I had a mantra going of "If only I can get through Tuesday morning" for a few days prior -- and thankfully I DID get through it just fine!

Tuesday afternoon I met with the speech pathologist and we are FINALLY starting services for Nate in January. I am happy with the speech pathologist -- she is kind, knowledgeable, interested in Nate and seems very competent.  I am not happy that it took us since September to get to this point, but realize that is bureaucracy.  I am eager to get his appointments under way finally!  We did have a meeting with a district representative who tried to imply that it would be better if Nate was enrolled, but in the end she agreed that he would be able to receive help at our local school without enrollment.  I found it interesting that if he WAS enrolled, there would be very limited times during the day when he could receive services. They can't pull them out of core classes, or electives, or recess . . . and so I'm not sure what that leaves?

Wednesday had me at the doctor's office with Nate.  He has been coughing for months, (since a nasty cold mid-October) and in the last few days he started feeling much worse.   A run of steroids and albuterol did nothing to help him a few weeks ago, so we were back in the office where he was diagnosed with an ear infection, a sinus infection and possibly pneumonia.  I'm hoping this knocks the cough out once and for all!  (As an aside, I have not been ignoring it.  We've been to the doctor multiple times . . . but this is the first time it appeared an infection had set in and he needed antibiotics. Of which he's now on 2 different ones.)

We also visited Santa.  Yes, I know I started Nate on 2 different antibiotics. But, he had a tough day, we had planned on the visit, and he felt up to it.  Kudos to Bass Pro Shop for offering free pictures with Santa, and making it so that nobody has to wait in long lines.

Today our dog went to a new family. Unfortunately, while she was a good dog, she never stopped nipping and jumping at the kids.  She is a heeler, and while we understood she was trying to herd the kids, it wasn't safe for Lydia.  She would knock her down and snapped at her so that we could never let them be near each other.  I had been looking for a new home for her for a while, and am glad we found her a place to live with lots of room to run, other dogs, no kids, and a new owner who was interested in having her join her family.  The boys were sad to see her leave, but they also understood that our family wasn't the best fit for her either.

And, so I slide into Friday.  It's a week before Christmas and I need to address and mail our cards, wrap gifts, trim the tree, bake goodies . . . and enjoy the holiday.  Hopefully tomorrow won't find me with Colin at the doctor's office!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review: Potluck Survival Guide

We just finished up football season, and are headed into soccer in a few weeks, so I was very interested in the opportunity to review Potluck Survival Guide: Care and feeding of the athletic supporter by Cherie Kimmons(I received a free copy of the book, thanks to the publisher and the MamaBuzz review program.)

I loved this book!  It was written in a fun, lighthearted manner but it was also chock full of easy, delicious and filling recipes!

The book came about because the author wanted to provide a resource for families out there who need a quick, easy, satisfying meal to potluck events.  She includes information about meals that are great for athletes both pre- and post- game.  She also provides tips on how to choose meals to entice even picky eaters.

While there is a wealth of information in this book, the recipes make it shine. She has included a little bit of everything -- from appetizers to breakfast foods to entrees to side dishes to soups to desserts.   And, even though she included a little bit of everything -- she never skimped on recipes!  There are tons! While there aren't any color photographs of the dishes, there are tons of wonderful illustrations that made reading fun.

It's hard for me to choose a favorite recipe, but I think I'm going to make her oatmeal casserole for our Christmas breakfast this year. It's full of fruits and oatmeal, and takes about an hour to bake.  The perfect amount of time for the kids to open their stockings and gifts!

The book is published by Five Star Publications, and more information can be found at  You can also purchase Potluck Survival Guide: Care and Feeding of the Athletic Supporter from Amazon.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lydia - heading fast towards 3

My sweet Lydia has passed the 2 1/2 year mark and is closer to 3yo than 2yo. I've mentioned her spunky personality in the past, and she continues to be spunky and full of personality.

She is completely toilet trained and has been for a while now.  The boys toilet trained around the same time, but it took them a few years to get the night-time control down.  She mastered both day and night around the same time.  She has never had any fear of public restrooms (both boys, and many other children I knew were afraid of self-flushing toilets.  Lydia? Thinks they are funny, and is only slightly annoyed that she can't flush them herself.  Well, until she figured out the trick, and so we usually flush those a few times . . . )

She has a huge vocabulary, and speaks as well as children a year or more older than her. And, she speaks ALL THE TIME. She likes to talk, and she likes to carry on conversations with anybody who will converse with her. She is very friendly when we're out, and will engage strangers in friendly banter. (Again, unlike my boys . . . )

She has a vivid imagination and has an imaginary baby.  When asked, she will tell you the baby is named "Two." She will help the baby up the steps, make sure you wait while the baby catches up, and makes sure the baby is strapped in the car.  Last night, while my sister was watching her, she had a long conversation on my sister's phone with the Baby's Daddy during which he had to get a flu shot and a Band-aid.

Speaking of phones, she loves my iPhone. I've downloaded a number of toddler games and she will entertain herself in line and out shopping with the games.  She knows how to operate the phone, what icons to choose to find the videos, and picks which games she prefers. I like my iPhone, but I think she uses it more than I do.

She loves "her boys" and wants them around her as often as they drive her crazy and she orders them to leave her alone.  She's bossy and opinionated and holds her own in sword and gun battles with her brothers.  We often call her our "warrior princess."

She is wonderfully helpful and will assist at any chore. She's the first one to help empty the dryer, or put away the silverware, or carry bags in from the car. She's cheerful about helping and rarely gives up -- unless the bag is too heavy. 

She's also fiercely independent, which can be scary when we're out. She hasn't had a need for strollers since she learned to walk, and has to be cajoled into shopping carts. She is good about holding hands -- sometimes. She will walk off without a backward glance and just assume we'll be there when she's ready to acknowledge our presence again, which means we need to keep an extra-vigilant eye on her at all times.

It's a joy to watch her grow, and she seems to be such a perfect fit in our family after our rough and tumble boys.  Next year, she'll be able to say Christmas clearly, but this year I'm enjoying her exclamations of excitement for everything that is "Missmiss!"

My New Favorite Chili Recipe

Bo made a new chili recipe last weekend, and it has become my new favorite chili.  You can make it in a slow cooker, or in a big pot on the stove.  If you want to taste yumminess, here's the recipe!

Olive oil
2 lb flat iron steak, cubed (or any meat you can chunk. I'll confess I don't know what cut of beef was frozen in the freezer - but it chunked nice and tasted great)
1/4 cup tequila or water
6 cups diced tomatoes
2 green bell peppers, seeded & diced
1 white onion, diced
3 T Fajita seasoning (either make your own or use store-bought) 
2 T minced garlic
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 can tomato paste (the tiny cans)
1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 can corn (or 1 1/2 cups frozen or fresh)
2 T lime juice

Heat 1T oil in soup pot or dutch oven over med-high heat. Brown half the meat and transfer to slow cooker. Brown remaining meat in additional 1T oil and transfer to slow cooker. Deglaze pot with tequila, scraping all the bits into the liquid and then pour in slow cooker.

Add tomatoes, peppers, onion, and Fajita seasoning. Stir in beef broth and tomato paste. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.

Stir in beans, corn, and lime juice. Cook another 20 - 30 minutes.

We top with shredded cheese and serve with cornbread.  Delicious!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Gifts

We've been talking to the boys about their favorite parts of the holiday season, and while presents definitely rank in the top 3 . . . so does spending time together as a family.  Independent from each other, both boys have expressed how much they like putting up outdoor lights with their Dad, having video game tournaments, and just spending time with each other.

I admit I was a bit surprised, since I feel like we already spend a lot of time together.  It's one of the reasons we decided to homeschool, and something that we truly enjoy. I realize it maybe gets lost in the day to day drudgery that is life sometimes, and that we need to focus on spending time together that has more meaning, or just more fun.

Every year, we keep one gift to present at dinner. It's a tradition my mom started years ago when she found gifts in a closet right before dinner that she had forgotten about. This year, I already have the dinner gifts purchased for my family (which I can't list here because Bo reads and then he'll know!), but I've decided to add something else for the boys.

I'm working on making coupon books for each boy that will include things like "Lunch out with Mom," and "Saturday errands with Dad," and "Geocaching as a family," and "Mom will make your bed today!"  I want to choose things that are a bit special, don't cost much, and are enjoyable.

On one hand, I think it's a bit hokey, but on the other hand I think they'll really appreciate them.  I'll let you know what they thought in January!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Review: Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta

Ronzoni and Mom Central sent me a box of their new Smart Taste spaghetti to try. We eat spaghetti at least once a week in our house, and it is one of those meals that I know everyone will eagerly eat and enjoy!  (Well, as long as I don't put tomato sauce on Colin's -- he likes butter and cheese.)

So, I was happy to try out this new style that has 3x the fiber and calcium equal to an 8 oz glass of milk.  More nutrients can't be bad, right?  Well, they could be bad if they didn't taste as good as the traditional version.

Based on the empty bowls last night, I think it's safe to say that it tastes just fine!  None of us noticed any difference in taste (and I didn't tell them it was different until AFTER dinner.)  Nate felt it was a bit tough, but I think that's because we usually eat angel hair pasta, and this was the thicker spaghetti noodles.

If the price is comparable, and they come out with an angel hair version, we'll definitely add this to our pantry in the future!  Visit the Ronzoni website for more information about their products and nutrition facts.

Ronzoni knows how tough it can be to feed kids healthy, nutritious meals that they eat and made this funny video to commiserate with moms.  Lydia especially appreciates the robot that shows up near the end.

Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Ronzoni Pasta and received a sample of Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta to facilitate my review and a $20 thank-you gift certificate.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Review: Crayola Color Me A Song

As mentioned in my recent giveaway post for the Crayola Glow Dome, we also received a Crayola Beginnings Color Me A Song to play with and review.

Not one to let her brothers hog the limelight -- here's Lydia's video review.  (She handed me the video camera and said "Mom - I do review, too!"

These must be a popular Christmas gift, as Amazon has them listed for $49.95 at the time I'm posting this.  They should cost $20 - 25 (just so you know!)

Review: PictureIt Postage

I was contacted by PictureIt Postage recently wondering if I would like to try out their product. I had never heard of them before, but I found out they offered personal photographs turned into regular USPS postage. I loved the idea, and took them up on their offer to let me try it out!

You can see one of the sheets of stamps to the left. I chose a picture of my three kids that was taken at the same time as our Christmas card photo (but wasn't the photo I chose for our cards.)  I think they look great on our envelopes and really love the extra personalization they offer.

The process was very simple!  It took me longer to choose the photograph than it did to complete my order. You choose a picture, upload it to the PictureIt Postage website, choose your stamp denomination and how many sheets you'd like.  (You can choose post card, letter, and many other rates.) Then, you fill in your shipping and billing information and you're done!

Until December 31, 2009, they are offering a discount code for any order. Use the code SALE and receive the following discounts:
  • $4 off 1 pack (20 stamps)
  • $8 off 2 packs (40 stamps)
  • $10 off 3 packs (60 stamps)

My stamps arrived only 2 days after I ordered them, which I thought was very fast!  They look great and I am very pleased with the service.

For twenty 44 cent stamps, the cost was $18.95 plus shipping.  It is a bit pricey, but for special occasions, I think they are unique and different.  I think they would be great for weddings, baby announcements, thank you notes and holiday cards.  They'd also be a fun marketing device for companies to put their products on their postage.

I was very happy with how easy it was to use the website, and how quickly the stamps arrived!  Thanks, PictureIt Postage! Now it's up to me to address the envelopes!

Disclosure:  I received a promotional code which allowed me to order a set of personalized stamps for my own use at no charge, in order to facilitate my honest review. No additional compensation was provided.

Review: Stories from History, Set of 11 Graphical Novels

We had the opportunity to review a set of 11 historical graphic novels from Timberdoodle over the last couple weeks.  When I opened the box, both boys (ages 7 & 9) were eager to check them out. Colin (9yo) immediately sat down with "The Discovery of T. Rex" and devoured the book.  Nate (7yo) has been interested in Leonardo DaVinci for a long time, so that was the first one he grabbed.

These graphic novels are well-drawn and full of interesting information. My boys enjoy graphic novels, but I often struggle finding ones that are appropriate. I like that these can be incorporated into our lessons, as well as provide them with reading material that interests them.  Nate prefers reading non-fiction, so these are even more up his alley!

Colin has been learning about early colonial times, so the book about Christopher Columbus dovetailed nicely into our lessons.  While these books sit on our homeschooling shelves, I know they will be pulled down and read outside of lessons as well.

The books are geared for 8 - 14 year olds (3rd - 8th grade), and Colin found that he had no trouble reading them.  Nate needed some help with some of the words, but they weren't overly difficult for him to read either.

Each book is 48 pages long, and I liked the fact that each book included a timeline, extra facts, glossary and an index.  The glossary is a wonderful supplement for both spelling and vocabulary units. These are great addition to our other learning materials.  The set of 11 we reviewed is available for the amazing price of only $16.95 -- making each book cost only $1.54! 

This set includes the following 11 titles:
Pizarro and the Incas
The Life of Anne Frank
The Building of the Great Pyramid
The Life of Julius Caesar
The Life of Christopher Columbus
The Race to the South Pole
Gladiators and the Story of the Colosseum
The Life of Alexander the Great
Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada
The Life of Leonardo Da Vinci
The Discovery of T. Rex

Timberdoodle offers a wide variety of graphic novels, which cover a ton of different subjects. The individual prices are comparable to any book / graphic novel, with the added bonus of being educational. 

Timberdoodle is one of the first homeschooling companies I purchased products from years ago when we started our homeschooling journey.  I have always appreciated the wide variety of products, good prices and great customer service.

Disclosure:  This post is part of a blog tour arranged by Mama Buzz.  I received the set of graphical novels from Timberdoodle to facilitate my honest and complete review.

Money Saving Monday #35 - Know Your Prices

My sister and I always head out to shop the day after Thanksgiving, but we don't get up early. I check the ads, and we head out when we are ready -- usually around 10 or 11 AM. While I didn't get the $3 pajamas this year, we did find a few good deals that were still available. At that time of day, we usually don't have to wait in line either!

One store we visited had a long line for checkout after noon, which surprised me.  I was especially surprised when I noticed that many of their 50% off sales took the prices of items all the way down to more than the regular price at most other stores.  Which means those people snapping up tiny Disney princesses were thinking they were getting a deal - when the regular price was $1 less at another local store.

It's important to know prices if you want to ensure getting the best deal. Stores can offer the exact same product at a wide range of prices. Just yesterday, Colin chose a new ornament for our tree that was marked at $7.97.  A second store we visited had the exact same ornament for $19.99.

I've kept a grocery price list in the past (and keep meaning to create a new one), which helped me find the best deals on groceries and get an idea of sales cycles.  In the same spirit, I rarely buy something the first time I see it so I can check prices.  I check prices at a few different stores, as well as online, to try and find the best price.

If you have a smart phone, you can check prices using your phone.  The google phones allow you to scan an ISBN and it will show you prices at local stores, as well as online. With my iPhone, I usually check Amazon for pricing if it's something I haven't seen before.

Keeping lists and tracking prices is an excellent way to make sure you get the most for your money!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Football 2009

Here's a video of part of the boys' game from last week. They have had a great time this season, and have worked with awesome coaches. We are fortunate that we have many options for sports leagues (that aren't crazy money) with great volunteer coaches. This is the 2nd year the boys have played flag football, and I know we'll be back next year.

In the video, you'll see Nate take the flag off a member of the opposing team, and do a little hop of excitement when he goes near the coach (after handing back the flag to his opponent.) Then, you'll see the kids line up -- Colin has the long sleeved orange top on under his team shirt.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Review: New Crayola Products (And A Giveaway!)

**Giveaway is closed** Winner (drawn with the help of was Stephanie -- comment 13. Thanks for entering, and watch for more giveaways in the future!

While my favorite Crayola product is still the Crayola box of 64 crayons, I have to admit that they have some neat new products available.  My kids were recently given the opportunity to test out some of the new products and had a blast with the 3 we were sent thanks to Crayola and My Blog Spark!

The first thing we opened was the Crayola Beginnings Color Me A Song.  This is an art board, that comes with 8 triangular crayons that store neatly in a drawer on the side.  Kids place a piece of paper on the board, push a few buttons that look like musical instruments, and color.  The faster they color, the faster the music plays.  When they slow down, the tempo slows along with them.  Lydia (32 months) had a blast playing with it and quickly caught on to the different tempos.  She liked pushing the buttons and hearing the different instruments play music almost as much as she enjoyed coloring to the music. 

Next, Colin decided to try out the Crayola Glow Station.  I confess I wasn't really sure what this was, and was a bit skeptical.  You need a really small screwdriver to remove the screws to add the battery to the light pen and I was a bit frustrated when we couldn't find one small enough.  Thankfully, Bo came home and found a tiny screwdriver and Colin was set.  There is a large drawing page, which glows when the special light pen is passed over the page.  This is actually very cool.  You can hang the page on the wall, or kids can play with it on a table or the floor. The Crayola Glow Station came with stencils, so they can draw different shapes, as well as different shading samples (like animal fur.) After a few minutes, the picture fades and they can draw again.  All the kids (ages 2, 7 & 9) had fun playing with the light in a semi-dark room.   After 30 minutes, my skepticism was gone and I decided this was a pretty cool toy!  My only concern was where to store the stencils and templates (they're in a bag right now, that hangs on a hook in our laundry / craft supply room.)

Finally, Nate tried out the Crayola Color Explosion Glow Dome. Again, this took a bit of time for set up, but Nate persevered. Kids color on a clear piece of plastic that sits in the middle of the dome, as well as the dome itself. Special markers are included with the Crayola Color Explosion Glow Dome. 2 templates are included that kids can place under the clear plastic to draw on, or kids can draw their own designs. Once the designs are drawn, lights go out and buttons are pushed!  The black light in the dome makes the colors glow and the dome rotates to make the pictures appear animated.  It was neat, and both boys had fun drawing designs.

Nate did a video review to show you all the details!

Now that you've gotten through all that, I can tell you that I have a Crayola Color Explosion Glow Dome to give away to one of my readers!! This would make a fun gift for any child between the ages of 5 and 10. 

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below telling me your favorite Crayola product!  Be sure to leave your email address if it's not connected to your profile so I can contact you if you're the winner!

Winner will be drawn first thing Monday morning, December 7, 2009!  I always use to choose the winning comment.  Good Luck!

Disclosure:  I received the Crayola products listed above from Crayola and My Blog Spark to facilitate my honest and complete review.  They also provided the product to give away. No additional compensation was provided.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

What a Week!

Actually, it was Monday that was crazy and the rest of the week I've been busy playing catch-up. I had planned to spend Monday at home, schooling and cleaning, but you know plans are often set aside for life.

Nate has been coughing for too long, and when he was still coughing when he woke on Monday, I made an appointment for his pediatrician.  They decided to treat it as asthma, and sent me off with prescriptions for steroids and albuterol vials for our nebulizer. That took a good chunk of the morning.

Then, an early afternoon meeting with the speech pathologist left me nowhere closer to setting appointments for Nate than I was in September. I understand there is a protocol, and I understand that bureaucracy requires time, but I am frustrated that it's been 3 months and he's still not receiving services.  Throw on top of me a chunk of motherly guilt that I let him cough as long as I did, and he's still not receiving services for his speech. (oh, and he had a tooth pulled on Friday.  It hasn't been his week either.)

A couple non-bloggable things happened Monday which succeeded in making me feel even more stressed, vulnerable and worried.

In the early evening, I was resting with Lydia when the boys came home from football and Colin let me know that his front tooth broke again. (We had it repaired for the 2nd time a couple weeks ago . . . )

Just when I thought that at least the day was over, my sister called and needed me to take her to the ER. That was actually an interesting couple of hours as I people-watched while reading my Kindle and felt grateful that this visit wasn't going to cost me anything!  (Thankfully, she's fine.  A necessary trip, but she's okay now.)  And, then a late night visit to a 24 hour pharmacy.  Why can't the ER fill prescriptions?

I taught on Tuesday, but it was Excel Level One which is one of my favorite classes and one I don't need to prep for since I've taught it so many times now.  Wednesday was Family Lunch Day at the boys' enrichment program, so the day was full of driving back and forth and back and forth.  Today was back to normal and I realized that Nate has completed 3 quarters of his math for the year and I will need to figure out something else for him to do in early spring.  (That's not a bad thing, but I hadn't realized that he was that far ahead. The curriculum they're following online is difficult to follow and I don't understand why they have them start and stop and start modules again.  To my mind, it's much easier to stick with a topic until it's been completed. I suppose that could be an entire post!)

Tomorrow both boys have an early morning dentist appointment -- Nate needs a spacer and Colin needs his tooth repaired. After that, it'll be schooling and laundry!

I'm tired, but was able to take a good nap this afternoon, which felt wonderful. Everything just seems easier after a good, long nap!  This post may sound a bit whiny, but looking back I'm actually pleased with the outcome of the week.  Nothing terrible happened, just a lot at once!  We're capable of meeting the challenges placed before us, it just made for a crazy week this week!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Free Holiday Music!

I love Christmas music!  When the day after Thanksgiving rolls around, I fill our CD player with Christmas music and hit play as often as possible.  I also fill up my iPod with Christmas music playlists.

I love that Amazon is offering free holiday music every day in December!  Each day a new song is available for download.   Amazon always has lots of choices for free music downloads, but I appreciate the chance to add more holiday music to my collection for free.

Amazon also has 100 albums for download for only $5.  No matter what kind of music you like, there are albums for you!

What are your favorite holiday / Christmas songs?  I have always loved Silent Night and Good King Wenceslas.  My boys love Jingle Bells and the Chipmunks Christmas song.
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