Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Meme

“For last year's words belong to last year's language 
And next year's words await another voice.” 
― T.S. Eliot

I've done this for the last 5 years (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) I may as well keep it up another year. If you decide to play along on your blog, leave a comment so I can read your 2012 recap.

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
I became certified in almost all the Microsoft products and also became a Microsoft Certified Trainer.  I've trained software for a long time, but now I'm official with Microsoft.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I set none for last year, so I guess I kept them just fine!  I don't think I'm going to make any this year, but I'm going to choose a word for the year -- INTENTIONAL.  We'll see next year how good I was at keeping that word.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
The eldest daughter of a dear friend gave birth this month.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Nobody close to me died in 2012.

5. What countries did you visit?
None

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
Peace

7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I can't think of any red-letter days, but there were plenty of days full of love.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Becoming a MCT was a pretty big achievement.  Another was presenting with Nate at the annual NSA Conference.

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

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
More kidney issues. Hoping everything is resolved in 2013.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I can't think of any outstanding purchases.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My husband, who supports and loves me through everything.



13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I was appalled and depressed by the behavior of a few people.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Mortgages, medical bills

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Trips to the beach and Grand Canyon with my family.

16. What song will always remind you of 2012?
None comes to mind.

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) about the same

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Travel.  Alone and as a family. 

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Worrying about other people and what they thought and how they felt.  Plan on doing less of that this year, without a doubt.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
We enjoyed a quiet, peaceful day in our home. My kids thoroughly enjoyed the gifts they received and spending time together as a family. We attended Christmas day mass for the first time in a long time (usually we go on Christmas Eve)  We may have started a new tradition by going out to dinner, as our original plans fell through, and I had no groceries since I wasn't planning on making the meal.

21. Did you fall in love in 2012?
I fell deeper in love with my husband -- it's such a cliche but it's true that as the years go by I find new depths of my love for him.

22. How many one-night stands?
None.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
I like Las Vegas (long time Dennis Quaid fan) and Elementary

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

25. What was the best book you read?
I read a ton of books this year.  It's hard to pick out the best -- but reading L.M. Montgomery's compilation of short stories may be near the top of my favorites this year.  Short, sweet, gentle and just what I needed during the period of time when I read them.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I enjoyed Willie Nelson's Christmas album that he released this year.  One of my grandmothers really enjoyed his music, although she always followed that up with the fact she didn't like the way he looked. Not only was it a beautiful album, it reminded me of her.

27. What did you want and get?
I got a new camera for my birthday -- something that I really wanted. For Christmas, I received some gorgeous earrings from my husband.

28. What did you want and not get?
Won't say, but it's something that I have realized I'll never have and I'm getting to the point of being okay with that.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
The Hobbit (I didn't see many movies this year, but the boys read the Hobbit, and I re-read it, and we saw the movie together. It was fun to share all of that with them.)

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 45 this year. Bo was in Vegas, again.  I worked.

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

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?
Simple (boring)

33. What kept you sane?
A good friend. the Kindle app. my fluffy down comforter.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
No big crushes this year.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
I'm not a big political issue type of person. I have my views, and I keep them quiet for the most part -- doing what I can to further what I believe is important. Nothing stirred me enough to prompt me to post on the Internet about it.

36. Who did you miss?
I missed my grandparents. They've all been gone for a number of years, but I still miss the fact that they truly loved me unconditionally.  Even if there were times they may not have liked me, they never let on and I only felt their love.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
I met someone new this year that helped me grow as a person, even if I struggled with it.  I found myself frustrated at times, but I know I learned some things and in the end, I'm grateful this person was in my life.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.
“Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable.” 
― Denis Waitley

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
That’s the only way I know
Don’t stop till everything’s gone
Straight ahead never turn round
Don’t back up, don’t back down
Full throttle wide open
You get tired, you don’t show it
Dig a little deeper when you think you can’t dig no more
That’s the only way I know
-- Jason Aldean, The Only Way I Know  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: Master Lock Safe

Last year, Lydia kept snitching gum from Colin.  We told him to put it away safely, but he insisted that she found it no matter where he hid it.  So, on Christmas morning, he received a Master Lock Personal Safe chock full of packs of gum.  We haven't heard a gum snitching complaint ever since

When Master Lock contacted me a couple weeks ago wondering if I wanted to learn more about any of their products, I told them that I was currently looking for something to hold small electronics.  Sometimes, punishment in our house means losing your screens -- iPod or DSi, usually.  And, sometimes, Mom completely forgets what safe place she puts those items in, so when a kid earns them back, they don't always get them right away.  Or, they will find them and think the punishment is over, so they take back their screen before the punishment is over.  I needed a safe, secure place to put small items!


Master Lock sent me a Security Chest to see if it would meet my needs.  As you can see -- it did!  It's big enough to fit all of the small screens in our house, and even game controllers, if necessary. The sturdy cam lock is secure, and the key doesn't match other Master Lock products (I tried on another lockbox I have that stores important papers.)  The keys are someplace safe (a safe place that I remember!)  I don't have to worry about forgetting where I put their electronics, and we can put a note in the chest about when they can earn them back.

The Security Chest is a good size not just for small electronics, but also important papers or any small items that you want a little extra protection for.  This box is 11" x 14" x 4.38" and retails for less than $40.

Don't tell Nate, but he'll find his own personal safe under the tree this year!

*Disclosure: All opinions, pictures and words are my own.  Master Lock sent me the product disclosed above to facilitate this review. No additional compensation was provided.*


Sunday, December 16, 2012

String Project Recital

When we made the switch from homeschooling to public school, I remember the morning that we visited the school and learned about the different opportunities.  In fourth grade, kids were able to join the orchestra and Colin was entering fourth grade.  I encouraged him to talk to the orchestra teacher that morning, and he wanted nothing to do with the idea.  I remember feeling frustrated and annoyed, then surprised a week later when he came home and told us that he wanted to join the orchestra!

He chose the viola that year, and is in the 3rd year of playing. In the second half of that first year, I learned about a program through ASU's School of Music called the String Project.  They offered group lessons once a week at an amazing cost ($35 for 10 weeks!)  Colin joined and had so much fun he has been working with the group ever since. At the end of each semester, the classes put on a recital at the School of Music, which is always enjoyable.  Last year, he joined the Fiddle class as well as the String Project class.

Again, he didn't think he could fiddle (it requires memorizing the music,) and I admit I pushed a bit (again), but if you ask him today he would tell you how much he loves to fiddle.  And, yes, he managed to memorize the music just fine!

The teachers are learning to be music teachers, and have such fun with the kids.  The program has grown quite a bit since we joined, and the recital tonight almost didn't fit in the hall where it's always held. I'm interested to see where it goes, as Lydia informed us tonight that she wants to be in Strings, too!

I am very proud of Colin and his commitment to musical groups.  I confess that I wish he would practice more often -- but his school orchestra teacher says he does wonderfully and he has become a leader of the extra fiddle group at school that meets before school once a week.  He tells me that he loves music, and will even admit that he is glad that I pushed him to consider orchestra 3 years ago.

Nate played string bass with the String Project classes this semester as well, but unfortunately, he wasn't up to playing at the recital tonight.  It's been a long road to recovery, but we see him improving quite a bit finally.  He is still weak, though, and needs plenty of rest.  He loves music, too, and we hope that he'll be back to performing very soon.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: The Blessing Cup

In addition to evening prayers, when we we tuck the kids into bed at night we bless the people in our lives and ask for certain people to be watched over for certain reasons.  I like the idea of blessings, so I was interested in reading "The Blessing Cup: prayer rituals for families and groups" by Rock Travnikar.

The beginning of the book talks about blessings, and encourages the use of a special cup that can be left on display that is used during a blessing ritual.  When I read that, I started to think that I needed to purchase a special cup for this purpose, and then I remembered a beautiful, handmade cup in my cupboard.  This cup has careful roses on the handle, and while I have owned it for years, I haven't used it much because I was always afraid of breaking the roses. I realized this would be the perfect cup to use for this purpose!  Even better, I actually own a pair of them, so if one does get broken, we'll still have a backup.  (Important in a house of kids who aren't always the most careful.)

The rest of the book has a variety of prayer rituals for pretty much any occasion. There are sections for new babies, holy days and even the loss of a pet.  If it could happen in your life, chances are there is a blessing in this book that would fit.

I liked how the rituals were set up. There are prayers for a leader to recite, opportunties for everyone to participate, and call and response sections. Each one was tied to sharing the blessing cup among everyone.

We are going to incorporate some of these rituals into our daily life. I know the kids will appreciate them, and we could always use a little more blessing!

*Disclosure: This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I received a copy of the book to faciliate my review. No additional compensation was provided. All opinions are my own. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Blessing Cup: Prayer Rituals for Families and Groups.*

Mooey Christmas at Superstition Farm

 We have been visiting Superstition Farm's Thursday night Farmer's Markets for a while and this past summer Nate & Lydia took horseriding lessons there.  Lydia thinks all the cows that live there are her personal friends. Every year, we visit Santa, so I was excited to see that he was visiting the farm this year.

We had a great time last night at Mooey Christmas! Not only was Santa there to patiently listen to the kids and pose for pictures on a big red tractor, but we enjoyed being outdoors.  They had delicious hot chocolate, some simple fare from the Super Farm Truck, the petting zoo was full of goats, sheep & even a couple calves.  One of Lydia's friends came along and all the kids took a ride on the ponies with the ever-patient and sweet young girls who help with the horses. (If you go, say a big friendly hi to Maya and Makalya!)  Then, the kids made s'mores around a bon fire and jumped around on a few hay bales before we headed back home -- thoroughly pleased with our evening out.  The only thing we didn't do was the hay ride - but only because the timing never seemed to work with the kids!

If you're looking for some fun, I highly recommend Mooey Christmas.  If you go tonight (December 15) they are offering FREE admission (usually $10)  The extras do cost a little, but the prices are very fair.  (s'more kits were $1 each, hot chocolate was $1 for a kid sized cup, horse rides were $5 and pictures with Santa were $10)

You'll find the farm at the NW corner of S. Hawes Rd and Elliot Rd in Mesa (3440 S. Hawes Rd to be exact)  You can check out their website, or their Facebook page for more information about all the cool stuff they do. Say "Hi!" to Farmer Jason while you're there!

*Disclosure: Nobody asked me to write this post, and I received nothing in exchange for writing it.  As a family, we really love this family farm and I want more people to know about it!*



Hostess Gift Ideas from Whole Foods Market

I received a fabulous basket full of goodies from Whole Food Markets in Tempe.  I love that I can find dairy-free products there for my dairy-allergic loved ones!  I also appreciate the products there are good for you and good for the people who produced them.

This basket was full of items that were not only high quality, but also had a feel-good quality because of the programs the items supported.

The sturdy, canvas L.I.F.E line bag is made by "mums in Maai Mahiu, Kenya". You can learn more about the program at www.lifeline.org.  I loved being able to see the smiling faces of the mothers who are creating these bags and earning a living for their families.

The coffee in the basket is not only high quality and delicious coffee (according to my mom - who loves coffee), but it also helps support the Whole Planet Foundation by donating 30 cents from each can to help alleviate poverty worldwide where Whole Foods sources products.

I like this beautiful scarf for a couple reasons.  My first name, Melanie, means black or dark and my middlde name is Rose.  Because of that, I have often been drawn to black roses.  This scarf is super soft, and it is made from recycled polyster derived from discarded plastics!  I know - you may be thinking what do I need a scarf for in Arizona?  But, I am actually headed to the Grand Canyon next week so this scarf will come in handy!  I can't wait to wear it.  It was made from a company called Threads for Thought.

The organic chocolate bars are not only delicous, but they also support a schoolhouse project in Tanzania.  The drinking chocolate is sourced from a co-op in Peru and has a flavor unlike any hot chocolate I've had!  It was an absolute treat.

And I have to rave about the Everyday Coconut Super Hydrating Lotion!  It is made with certified fair trade coconut oil, and it leaves my skin very soft.  The winter in Arizona is extremely dry, and it's hard to keep moisturized. I have been using this lotion for more than a week now and I am so pleased with the results.  It has a very mild scent as well, so my husband has been using it as well.   And, like so many products at Whole Foods, some of the proceeds help fund various community empowerment programs.

Even buying a Whole Foods gift card helps alleviate poverty! With each gift card purchased, you can donate a dollar to the Whole Planet Foundation.  The Foundation's mission is to empower poor women living in countries that supply Whole Foods Market with product.  They focus on developing countries by providing microcredit loans for women to start or expand home-based businesses.

I loved being able to learn more about the great organizations that these products help support. This time of year, we are all looking for special gifts for our loved ones.  Any of these items would make a lovely gift that would be wonderful not only for the recipient, but for the individuals being supported by the businesses providing the item.  All of these items can be found at Whole Foods.  The items I received came from the Whole Foods in Tempe, AZ -- which is the one that I frequent.

*Disclosure: I received a selection of products from Whole Foods Market in exchange for an honest review and post. No additional compensation was provided.*


Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: Torani Syrups


I have enjoyed Torani syrups for years.  I didn't realize until recently that they make over 120 different flavors!  I have used the syrups to flavor tea (both hot & iced) and sparkling water.  I was recently sent two bottles to try out this season, and share my thoughts. I received a bottle of Peppermint Torani syrup and a bottle of Torani Salted Caramel Syrup.

This time of year, the kids and I enjoy hot chocolate.  The first thing I tried was adding a couple tablespoons of the peppermint syrup to hot chocolate. My kids who like peppermint and chocolate thought it was delicious!  I added a couple tablespoons of the salted caramel to mine, and liked it quite well!  I am not a coffee drinker, but I know that it's a popular addition to coffee as well.

I made peppermint soda with sparkling water and the peppermint syrup.  It took me a couple tries to get the perfect amount of syrup, but the drink was very refreshing and tasted like drinking a candy cane!

Even though I've been aware of the syrups for years, I have never done anything but add them to drinks. Their website has tons of great recipes to try, and I plan on exploring more of them soon.  I used the salted caramel syrup to make candied pecans, and they turned out fantastic! The recipe is very simple, and the results make a great hostess gift (well, if you can avoid eating them all before giving them away!)  The original recipe from the website suggested plain caramel syrup, but the salted caramel was fantastic in this recipe.  It's easy to throw together, and the kids had fun helping mix the ingredients.

If you want to try them out yourself, here's the recipe from Torani's website:
Candied Pecans
INGREDIENTS:
1 egg, separated
1/4 cup Torani Caramel syrup
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups pecans (or walnuts or a mixture of both)
INSTRUCTIONS:  Preheat oven to 250 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper In a medium sized bowl whisk egg white (save yolk for another use or discard) until light in color and foamy, about 2 minutes. Add Torani syrup, sugar, and salt and continue to whisk until well mixed. Stir in nuts and mix until they are evenly coate. Spread nuts in a single layer on parchment-lined baking sheet. Place baking sheet in the oven. Using a spatula, stir nuts twice during cooking time to allow the nuts to have an even candied coating and bake until nuts are a very light golden, and all of the liquid has dried, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely and store in an airtight container. Makes 3 cups.
A great idea for a hostess gift would be a bottle of the syrup and a dish of these nuts!

You can find Torani syrups at many local retailers, as well as at Amazon and the Torani website.

*Disclosure: I received 2 bottles of Torani syrup from Torani and SheSpeaks, in exchange for writing an original post about the product.  No additional compensation was provided.*




Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stocking Stuffer Idea: Chuao Chocolate

Santa almost always fills my Christmas stocking with a variety of chocolates.  This year, I was sent three bars of Chuao Chocolate that are available at select Targets.

Let's just say that Santa can fill my stocking with these chocolate bars anytime!

They are definitely premium chocolate, and had a smooth texture and wonderful flavor.  I'm picky about chocolate, and I really enjoyed these.

I tried the potato chip, honeycomb and firecracker varieties.  Of the 3, the potato chip was my favorite. The chip pieces were crunchy and salty and melded wonderfully with the chocolate.  The honeycomb was a very close second, with an extra sweet flavor due to the honey and a slight crunch from the honeycomb. The firecracker wasn't at the top of my list, but I'm not a huge fan of chile and chocolate.

You can find these bars at select Target locations, or order them direct from Chuao Chocolatier's website.

*Disclosure: I received samples in order to facilitate my review post.  No additional compensation was provided.*

Disney on Ice Dare to Dream in Phoenix (Discount Code & Giveaway!)

Do you have a Disney princess fan in your home?  I do, and I can't wait to take her to the latest Disney on Ice show -- Dare to Dream -- that is coming to Phoenix January 9 - 13, 2013 at the US Airways Center.

This show is all about the princesses, and I know Lydia will be thrilled to see her favorites!  There will be scenes from Tangled, Princess and the Frog, and of course -- Cinderella!  The skaters are always amazing and breathtaking, and I have never left a show disappointed. In fact, each show seems to be better than the last.

For this show, Disney on Ice is doing something new and offering one show entirely in Spanish.  The Sunday, 4:30 performance will be presented in Spanish only.

You can buy tickets now through Ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.   My readers can use the code RAPUNZEL to receive $5 off each ticket (excluding VIP and Front Row Seats, no double discounts.)  Tickets can also be purchased at the US Airways box office.

WHEN: The show is running:  January 9 – 13, 2013
  • Wednesday, January 9th – 7:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, January 10th – 7:00 p.m. 
  • Friday, January 11th – 10:30 a.m. & 7:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, January 12th – 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. & 7:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, January 13th – 1:00 p.m. & 4:30 p.m.* *Spanish Language Performance
WHERE: US Airways Center – 201 E. Jefferson Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004

TICKETS: Ticket price levels are $14, $18, $25, $40 (VIP) and $70 (Front Row). Opening Night 50% Off discount tickets available for “Buy One Get One Free” (excluding VIP & Front Row seating and limited to 6 tickets per order).

Feld Entertainment has generously offered me a family pack of 4 tickets to give away to one of my readers!

To enter the giveaway, I need you to CLICK HERE TO GO TO GIVEAWAY FORM. Once you're there, fill in your information, including the information below:

Name of Giveaway: Disney on Ice
Mandatory Question: Who is your favorite princess?


The giveaway will end on December 24, 2012. You can find all my giveaway rules linked on the top right of my blog.  Giveaway open only to readers in the metro Phoenix area who can attend the show on Wednesday, January 9, 2013.
Good Luck!!

As always, if you like my blog's Facebook page, you can earn an extra entry. (Even if you've already liked it in the past you will receive an extra entry!) My blog's Facebook page is found here (www.facebook.com/mylittlepatchofsunshine)

I hope to see you at the show!


*Disclosure: I am a Feld Family Ambassador, and in exchange for my time and efforts in attending shows and reporting my opinion within this blog, as well as keeping you advised of the latest discount offers, Feld Entertainment has provided me with complimentary tickets to Feld shows and opportunities to attend private Feld pre-Show events. Even though I receive these benefits, I always give an opinion that is 100% mine.*

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - St Nick

Candle PSA

I thought this was a pretty good PSA from the Apache Junction Fire Department (the town next to us) about candle safety.


I recently purchased a set of Energizer Flameless Wax Candles, which are awesome, since they flicker like candles, smell like wax candles (since they are wax), and have an auto turn off so the batteries aren't wasted!

*Disclosure:  None necessary.  I saw the video via Facebook, and spent my own money on the candles.* 

Monday, December 03, 2012

Review: Ozonator - Green Refrigerator Machine

Every once in a while, our refrigerator is smelly.  Now, it's usually my clue to clean it out, but sometimes it's because there's an onion left over from the day before, or some garlicky mashed potatoes leftovers waiting to get eaten.  And, while my kids love celery, sometimes they forget it's in the refrigerator and it turns to rubbery sticks before it gets eaten.

So, I was interested in trying out the Ozonator.  It's a little machine that runs on 4 "D" batteries and sits on the top shelf of your refrigerator. The machine creates ozone, which helps dispel odors and keep foods fresher.  I know I'm upset with myself some days when I have to throw out fruit and vegetables that were perfectly good when I bought them, but we didn't eat them before they turned bad.  I specifically bought celery a few weeks ago and told the kids they couldn't eat it, so I could see if it lasted longer -- and it did!  When I finally let the kids eat it, it was as crunchy as when I bought it 10 days earlier.  I also noticed that when I had a cut onion in the refrigerator, I did not notice the odor every time I opened the door!

The Ozonator is currently $10 off at their website - so you can pick it up for only $39.95.  It's an interesting gadget, and works better on odors than a box of baking soda did in my refrigerator. I also like the fact that it helps foods last longer!  Because while I have good intentions, I don't always use everything up in a timely manner.

You can learn more about the Ozonator at their website, and they are also on Facebook and Twitter.  I have used it, and I would recommend it for anyone's refrigerator!

*Disclosure: I received an Ozonator in exchange for an honest review.  I am also an affiliate with the company and receive affiliate income for Ozonators purchased via my affiliate link.*


Review: Pinypon Dolls & Toys

Lydia, my 5 year old, first saw Pinypon dolls during a cartoon that she was watching. She had to pause the show to find me so she could show me these neat little dolls.  So, when we had the opportunity to check them out and share them with  her friends, she was thrilled!

Pinypon dolls are unique in that all their pieces/parts are interchangeable -- including their expressions!  Each doll has 2 different expressions, all you need to do is pop off their hair and put it on the opposite way and you'll see their fresh face.

Lydia is quite the social butterfly at school, and was so excited to invite a few of her friends over to play with the toys.  We planned our party for after school, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  I had even arranged to pick her up with 2 of her friends so they could come to the party, and other moms were bringing their daughters after school. About 45 minutes before school let out, the school called me about Nate (see earlier post about his stay in the hospital - he is still out of school and we are waiting for a pediatric neurologist appointment next week.)

Thankfully, I had everything set up before that phone call, and my sweet mom lives next door, so I checked all 3 girls out of school a bit early and dropped them off with my mom.  She led them in the play of the toys, including the really neat Pinypon - Caravan Playset.  My mom said the girls had a great time, and really enjoyed taking the dolls apart and putting them back together with different acessories. I later talked with one of the moms, and she said she thought they were pretty neat!  We had a caravan to give away at the party and she took it home and has played with it almost every day since.  Lydia has also had a great time with the toys!

With all the confusion, there weren't pictures of the party itself, but Lydia did a video review of the toys:


I think this would be a fun toy to find under the Christmas tree this year!  You can find them at Amazon, as well as local retailers.  You can also check them out on Facebook.  They share great offers, giveaways and information about the toys on their page.

*Disclosure: In exchange for sharing the toys with local friends, and providing an honest review, I received toys from Pinypon and MomSelect. All opinions are my own, and no additional compensation was provided.*

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