Monday, December 30, 2013

The 52 Week Savings Plan

I'm still cleaning up boxes and vacuuming Christmas tree needles, which is hindering my creative flow.  I've been struggling with sitting and blogging about anything truly helpful, because my mind can't keep a continuous string of thoughts.

I'm thinking this may also be because my munchkins are on Christmas break.  They have a knack for preoccupying  my time and my thoughts and my energy. 

I did, however, find a very interesting saving plan on Pinterest that was right up my alley.  With the New Year approaching, and resolutions around the bend, this plan screamed "Share me! Share me!"

And so I'm sharing.

This savings plan claims that if you save $1 week one, $2 week two, $3 week three and continue like this for 52 weeks, you will have saved over $1000 by the end of the year.  I haven't sat down to actually figure this out, but the chart is pretty official.
I would love to credit this plan to its owner but there is no actual site linked to the pin. 

I'm thinking this kind of plan is great to save for holiday shopping, vacations, braces for the kids, updates on the house...or maybe you just want to actually SAVE.

Interesting concept, but I hear it works and gives you piece of mind.  *wink*

Have a fabulous Monday, stay warm and enjoy the lazy days with all the kiddos home driving you mad.  They days are long but man the years fly by.

Cheers!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Santa, Christmas and all that Magic

Lately I've been thinking about my kids and Christmas.  Oh, Merry Christmas by the way.  Hope yours was as wonderful and blessed as ours.

Growing up in my house, Christmas was magic.  Six kids in one family means if each kid gets ten gifts, there are sixty gifts under the tree.  We usually were blessed enough to receive more than ten each, and the result was a great room Christmas morning that looked as if Santa dumped his sleigh rather than made one stop.

Add in plenty of family to share everything with, and a huge Christmas morning brunch, and the day was pure magic.

I try to make Christmas Day the same for my kids, within reason.  Money is tight, but this is the one time of year they can ask for an iPad or an air hockey table and it actually MIGHT appear.  Every other month of the year if you don't need it you're not getting it.

But Christmas?  Let the wishing begin.

Let me pause here and share that we believe in Christ, and our kids know the true meaning of Christmas.  Every one of them can recite the Christmas story.  I'm also proud to share that my munchkins love to give as much as they love to receive.  They may even love it more.  This adds to the Christmas wonder and makes the season all the more special.

This year, I started thinking about how long parents have before their kids don't believe in Santa.  Some parents don't play the Santa card, but I've long believed that kids should be able to believe in magic.  There is no other time in your life you can believe in a plump, jolly man in a red suit who runs a toy workshop in the North Pole.  The idea of it makes me smile.

Kids don't really start to understand or believe in Santa until they are three.  Which means if your child believes until he or she is nine, you only have SEVEN Christmas mornings for your child to wake up and see that "Santa" has stopped at your house.

Seven.

Enjoy your years while the babies are young, because with one child who knows the deal, and two who are majorly on the fence, I'll be the first to say the time goes very fast. 

And this Christmas was definitely my last with two on the fence.

Which leaves me the Moopa.  Precious little thing.

Merry Christmas to all, and wishing you all a blessed 2014.  Enjoy these slow, house is a wreck, stay-up-late days.  They are as magical as Santa himself.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas-time

Something happens to me at Christmastime (is that a word?).  I get inspired, unfocused, scattered and I just want to listen to Christmas music, watch Christmas movies, read Christmas books the kids, eat and shop.  I want to do nothing but soak in the season and pluck little names off the trees in the mall and GIVE.

Literally.

My floors need to be vacuumed, my blog needs to be tended to and every tiny trash can in every bathroom is FULL.  There are crumbs on my floors and gifts still to be wrapped.  I will inevitably find myself up well past midnight Christmas Eve wondering what the heck I've been up to these last few weeks.

I always sit there, next to my pile of crumbs and unwrapped gifts, dumbfounded.  I know I was busy, but why isn't anything done? And didn't I start Christmas prep in early November?

Or maybe there is enough to do that all the extras like crumb removal and wrapping can wait.  I fall into my "only what is necessary" habits, leaving what can wait for last.  Christmas movies become necessary.  Dinner with the family jumps to the front of the line.  I bask in all the Christmas glory and wish for more than just a few weeks of this glorious holiday season.

Tonight, I baked up Rudolph Cupcakes for my daughter's class.  I packaged up little gifts for teachers and I watched the Grinch.  It was heavenly.

And yet the crumbs remain.  I guess they'll have to wait.  Maybe I can brush them onto the deck for Santa's Reindeer.  By then there should be plenty.

Happy weekend everyone.  Get that shopping done!

Hugs!


 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

No Bake Christmas Desserts in 30 Minutes or Less

Christmas is a time of peace, love and joy.  We see loved ones and go to parties.  We spend time shopping and buying gifts.  There is a magic in the air that is missing the other eleven months of the year.  Usually December is gone in the blink of an eye because of all the activities and events that go along with the holiday season.

All the running, wrapping and shopping leaves little left in the engine for elaborate desserts.  I'm sharing a few of my favorite no bake desserts for classes and parties.  When you are short on time or just short on energy, these desserts still offer plenty of "wow" and not as much time in the kitchen.

"Bake" away!

Chocolate Dipped Anythings

The easiest, quickest "wow" dessert is anything dipped in chocolate.  Think pretzels, crackers, twizzlers, gummy bears and oreos. 
 
What you need:

2 bags milk chocolate chips
anything "dippable"
wax paper
festive sprinkles

In a glass bowl, microwave two bags of chocolate (minus approx 1/4 cup chips).  Heat on high in 30-45 second intervals, stirring after each interval.  When chocolate stirs smooth, toss in 1/4 cup chips and stir until melted.  This will lower the temperature of the chocolate making it perfect for dipping.

Line a baking sheet with wax paper.  Dip your pretzels, oreos or whatever and place on wax paper.  If you're using pretzels, and feeling crafty make a wreath.  Sprinkle on some festive sugars and sprinkles and chill in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.  The chocolate will set, and you have a tray full of goodies in less than thirty minutes.

Christmas Krispy Treats

Everyone loves Krispy Treats.  Or at least everyone I know loves Krispy Treats.  They are easier on the hips and a cinch to make.

What you need:

5 cups rice cereal
1 bag mini marshmallows
3 tablespoons butter/margarine
red and green chocolate candies or sprinkles
greased 9x13 baking dish

Melt butter over low heat in heavy saucepan.  Add marshmallows and stir until smooth.  Remove from heat, add rice cereal.  Stir in candies or sprinkles.  Spread in greased 9x13 baking dish and place in fridge to set.  In twenty minutes, cut into squares and you're ready to rock.

Reindeer Oreos
I saw these on Pinterest, and they are adorable and simple.  Perfect for class parties or holiday gathering where there will be kids.

What you need:

1 package oreos
1 bag mini marshmallows
mini chocolate chips
broken mini pretzels
red chocolate candies
vanilla frosting

Using vanilla frosting, attach two mini marshmallows and two mini chocolate chips for eyes.  Attach reindeer antlers.  Add chocolate candies for nose.

Viola! Adorable edible reindeer!

If you have any links to other easy and fun dessert, please share!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Electra

This weekend, due to the snowstorm that descended upon much of the eastern United States, I had to make some important decisions about how I was getting my daughter to her gymnastics meet.  The meet was two hours away, and she had to be there 11am Saturday.  The snow was supposed to start early in the morning Saturday.

I have serious agita driving in bad weather.  There was no way I was about to drive two hours in snow.

My friend Beth, who also has a daughter on team agreed.  We decided to split a room for the weekend and leave Friday.  I only booked a room for a gymnastics meet once in our four year competitive experience.  We had to arrive at 8am and the meet was three hours away.

I drew the line at that one.  But this weekend, I was totally and completely excited and sad at the same time.  I wanted to be home, in my jammies, snuggling with my babies all weekend.  When the weather limits what you're able to do I find it much easier to do nothing.

At the same time, I was excited for a girl weekend.  I was ready for peace and quiet and hotel beds.

Our weekend was a huge success, the snow limited just about nothing since we stayed so close to the meet.  We were able to eat out (Waffle House!) and chill with no worries about how the roads were.  I also tried a Sheetz milkshake for the first time ever.  Worth all 23 grams of fat, but I won't be doing that again soon!

The highlight of the weekend?  Qualifying for states in May.  Another highlight?  Watching my girl swim as the snow fell outside the windows.

Happy Monday all!  Hope everyone is dug out from the storm and back on schedule for the holidays!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Freezing, Shopping and Unsubscribing

This week winter has crashed upon us.  The temperatures are frigid, and every time I walk outside the bitter cold punches me in the face.  In the mornings the car is covered in ice and requires a 15 minute warm up.  On mornings that I don't give the car ample warm up time, I'm grabbing anything within reach (today a postcard from the mail) to scrape the windshield just enough for me to see and get the kids to school on time.

It's wonderful.  NOT.

Today I ran up to Kohls to return three things.  I was thrilled to have a credit on my card after Black Friday shopping.  The credit lasted about 10 minutes; I walked out of the store with a new top for my daughter for her holiday concert and two more Christmas gifts.  That is precisely what happens every time I walk into Kohls with a 30% off your purchase coupon.

They get me every time.

I came home this afternoon to about 1,000 emails from every store I ever ordered from, since it's Christmastime and they love to try and make me shop.  I'm so sick of scrolling through 100 emails every three hours to find the three I need to actually read.  I decided it was time to unsubscribe to as many mailing lists as I could stand in five minutes.  I managed four until I was bored of clicking to unsubscribe and entering my email for "verification."

I swear some sites make unsubscribing difficult on purpose.

Have a happy Thursday, Christmas is creeping closer and closer...and I still need ONE major item.  How about all of you??


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Christmas List Amendment

My kids make their Christmas lists in late November.  They sit, look through "wishbooks" (catalogs) and write their little wishes for Santa.  We leave our letters with our elf as soon as he arrives, and he whisks the letters to Santa December 1st.

After looking through dozens of toy catalogs and seeing dozens of commercials, the letters are ready for the toy workshop.  The kids know everything that is most desired and what they want to see under that tree Christmas morn.

Until now.

Every year, mid December, some or one of my kids feels the need to make amendments to their Christmas list.  They do this by leaving our elf, Stanley, some notes or an all out letter to Santa.  It's usually something along the lines of, "Dear Santa, I forgot to add ______.  Thanks soooooooo much...."  This inevitably happens after they are out running errands with me and they see something that they simply *must* have.

This year, I'm a little behind the eight ball getting the letters to the North Pole.  I grabbed them yesterday, and slid them next to our elf.  I told the kids the letters are headed to the North Pole, and if they're good the elves will be making their toys.

I figured we were doing well; since the lists had been made I have heard no further wishes.  But as soon as the lists were waiting with the our elf to head North to Santa, my kids felt some panic. My eight year old slid his list from the pack to make an amendment.  He added slippers.  My four year old spent the morning with me in Toys R' Us running errands. 

Her list had a major overhaul.

Her list grew to long enough that we had to sit and go over it, line by line.  The first time we removed nothing because my question was "Do you still want....____?"

The answer was yes to everything.

The second time around we went with "How much do you want _______?  A LOT or a LITTLE?"  We were able to shave off some items that weren't quite as wished for as other items.  Every "a whittle" was met with a line straight through it.

This morning, I'm doing as I do every year mid-December.  Returning and buying the amended items.  Here's to a Starbucks coffee and an Auntie Annie's Pretzel as I cruise the mall.

Cheers!  15 days until Christmas!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dollar Store Christmas

*This is one of my most cherished Christmas traditions with my kids.  A re-post that I wanted to share again because I love it so much!  Many great memories from this tradition!*

Every year, I take my munchkins to the Dollar Store to do their Christmas Shopping.  While I realize a dollar store is no place to find quality gifts, it is a place they can shop without me constantly over their shoulder checking prices.  They have the freedom to choose what they like, for who they like.

If they want to buy something for the mailman, they have my blessing.  I do not, if at all possible, sway them in any which direction on what to buy.

I silently follow them, always amused, as they peruse each aisle in search of that "most perfect" Christmas gift.  They fill their little shopping baskets with goodies for just about every person they know.

Luckily for me my kids don't know too many people.

Once all gifts have been thoughtfully and carefully selected, we set aside an hour for them to wrap their own gifts.  I set out cheap wrapping paper and stick on bows.  We play Christmas music.  They cut and tape until their tiny little hearts are content.

Every gift they give is completely from them.

If Hubby is to receive a pen that reads "#1 Uncle", wrapped almost entirely in Scotch Tape, then that is what he will receive.

This method of gift giving makes for a very interesting Christmas Eve.  Before bed, the munchkins set their gifts under the tree and walk every self-wrapped present to its recipient. Over the years we have unwrapped rocks, plastic flowers, whistles, stuffed animals, keychains, notepads, pens, hair clips and several gifts of the homemade variety.

And they are some of the most cherished gifts ever given in our home.

Christmas is about giving.  And about remembering those you love. 

Our "Dollar Store Christmas" allows my munchkins to do just that.  On their own terms.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tide Pods (+$100 Visa Gift Card Giveaway!)

I live under a pile of laundry.  With three out of my four kids in sports, and a husband with a serious crush on CrossFit, the laundry pile never, ever goes away.  I didn't even mention my preschooler who is constantly snacking and rubbing her sticky face with her sleeves.

See what I mean about laundry?  Several days a week I can be found lugging laundry baskets (notice the plural) down two flights of stairs to the basement.  The days I'm not lugging them down the stairs I'm either lugging them up the stairs or asking Hubby to do it for me.

I look kind of like this, but usually not as happy and poised.


It's safe to say laundry in this house has taken the place of cardio.  It's a fair trade.

For a long time, I was all about buying the cheapest laundry detergent.  With how much laundry I do, and how much clothes the kids grow out of, I wasn't finding it necessary to spend the money on more expensive detergents. 

A few months ago my stance on this changed.  I found that if I took a little more pride in my laundry pile, the clothes looked better and smelled cleaner.  Stains faded and colors stayed bright.  I was washing less because one cycle was doing the job.  My new favorite detergent to cut how much time it takes to do my laundry?

Tide Pods.

Along with being compact, Tide Pods have made my life under the laundry pile easier.  Simpler.  They offer detergent, stain remover and brightener in one little package, and I toss one in with the wash and I'm off and running.

No messy measuring cups, no stain remover, and no detergent on my hands.  They dissolve quickly in top and front loading machines, and it's safe to say these little buggers are worth every penny. 


Visit Tide Pods. online to purchase and learn more.  I love these little guys, and you will too.  Anything to make laundry a simpler process is welcome in this house.  I'm sure every mother fighting through her laundry pile feels the same.

To be entered to win a $100 Visa gift card, tell us how you deal with all the laundry in your house.  One day at a time?  One day a week?  Share and be entered to win!

 

Sweepstakes Rules:

 

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This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 72 hours to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.

 

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

15 Fun Gift Ideas for $30 or Less

Tis' the season.  The shops are bustling with shoppers and the mailman is busy delivering packages.  I have a list of people I'm shopping for, and I feel extremely accomplished every time I check a name off the list.

This time of year I love to show our appreciation for everyone we are grateful for throughout the year.  This includes family, friends, teachers and coaches.  It's never easy trying to keep all my buying and gifting in budget, especially with four kids.  Over the years I've discovered quite a few fun, easy and inexpensive gift ideas.  I'm wracking my mommybrain to list fifteen under (or at) $30.00, and please feel free to share in the comments any great ideas you may have as well!



1.  If you know a coffee drinker, try a $10 Dunkin' Donuts giftcard in a funky mug.  This is a good one for teachers.

If you are related to a coffee drinker, try a giftcard in a personalized mug.

2.  Everyone loves scratch off tickets.  Buy a few and stuff them in a pair of warm, fuzzy socks.  Looks just like a mini stocking full of chances to win something bigger.

3.  Etsy has some amazing gifts for everyone on your list.  My favorite for family and friends?  The Family Birthday Calendar.
                                      Custom made Family Birthday Calendar.
How fun is this?  $30.00 and there has never been a better way to remember family birthdays.

4.  Touch Gloves.  For anyone (like myself) with poor circulation in their hands and feet these are a must have.  You can use your touch screen phone without having to take off your gloves, which would have been fabulous when I was standing in line outside Black Friday.

Below is my pick for ladies, for cost and cuteness.  There are great sleek styles for men as well.


5.  Know a friend who can use a a little "me" time?  Consider a gift card for a manicure/pedicure.  Add a box of gourmet chocolates and you have one happy recipient.

6.  I love these hand stamped personalized necklaces from JillianBDesigns on Etsy.


                                       Hand-Stamped Sterling Silver Initial Necklace
7. For kids, I don't think you can wrong with anything Melissa and Doug.  This week on Amazon you can score some great Melissa and Doug toys.

Melissa and Doug

8. Have a person on your list who needs just about nothing?  Or someone you have no idea what to buy them?  Consider a gift in the their name.  Through Samaritan's Purse, you can give towards the cost of clean water, clothes and shoes or even teaching a child to read. 

This is my favorite gift idea for teachers.  Teaching a child to read and write is only $15, and making this donation helps your child's teacher reach far beyond their classroom.  Very cool.

9.  For the active person on your gift list, try Philips ActionFit Sports Earhook Headphones.  I only suggest these because Hubby loves them, and they do stay on the ears while running.  Even better? They don't need to be jammed inside your ear to work well.  


10.  Just about anything from my blogger friend Sam's Goodnyou? Etsy shop.  My favorite is the homemade body butter.  
                                             Goodnyou? Body Butter {7 oz}


11.  Have you ever shopped at Red Envelope?  Everything arrives packaged in a ridiculously adorable red box.  I love, love LOVE these infomania family table topics

A box of cards with fab conversation starters sure to drive all kids crazy.

12.  For the gardener in your life?  Try these top rated monogrammable gardening gloves from Red Envelope.  Again, they arrive in that adorable gift box. 

13.  Soft, fun pajamas.  I don't know anyone who doesn't love soft flannel pajama pants.  Well, maybe my sister-in-law, but she is just too stylish and adorable and looks great in yoga pants.

We won't count her in the flannel pant comment. 

Pajamas are great for kids too, of course with a small stuffed animal or toy.  Old Navy currently has some fabulous finds when it comes to everything cozy.

14.  Anything Lolita.  Lolita makes adorable hand painted glasses and bowls, and they are my absolute favorite funky, fun gift.

Lolita Gifts

15.  When all else fails, go homemade.  Make up festive baskets with chocolate dipped pretzels, oreos or even crackers.  Sprinkle with festive sugars and package everything in ribbons and bows.  Add a gift card, a bottle of wine or cookie cutters and kitchen towels. 

The gift will be unique and useful, and it won't cost you an arm and a leg.

Share your gift ideas in the comments section!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Chocolate Mint Brownie Bites

Right before Thanksgiving, I was busy packing for our road trip to New York.  Clothes? Check. Toiletries? Check.  Thanksgiving dessert? Check.

I usually offer to bring dessert to any gathering, since nothing sings to my tummy more than simple sugar.  This year for my Thanksgiving dessert I dreamed up something that reminded me of those peppermint cake pops I love from Starbucks.

The chocolate-y, minty ones that are dipped in white chocolate and rolled in crushed peppermint.  Heavenly.

To make these tiny delicious delites, you'll need nothing more than a box of brownie mix, prepared, and Nestle Winter Mix Morsels.  It's really that easy.

Once you have those items, you'll be ready to prepare Chocolate Mint Brownie Bites for your next holiday party. 
Ingredients:
1 box brownie mix, prepared.
2 bags Nestle Winter Mix Morsels
wax paper

Prepare brownie mix according to box, bake and cool completely.   I made my brownies the day before since brownies take a while to cool.

Remove prepared brownie from pan.  You can either cut into squares or turn and dump.  You'll be rolling these into balls so either method works.  Roll brownies into 1-2" balls.  Chill in refrigerator on wax paper lined cookie tray while you melt chocolate.

Pour both bags of chips into heavy, glass microwave safe bowl.  Leave 1/2 cup chips aside.  Heat on high, in 45 seconds intervals.  Stir and continue to heat until chocolate is smooth.  Add 1/4 cup chips and stir until smooth.

Adding the chips lowers the temperature of the chocolate, and makes it just right for dipping goodies.

Using two forks, dip balls one at a time into chocolate and place back on cookie tray.  Chocolate will set rather quickly because brownie balls should be cold.

Allow to set completely, about 15-20 minutes. 

Enjoy!  These are easy and perfect for any holiday party!


Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Great Tree Hunt

Every year, right around this time, we embark on the Great Tree Hunt.  Depending on our schedules we either buy one off a roadside stand or cut one down.

This year, with friends in tow, we cut one down.

We walked through three fields, looked at dozens of trees, lost one child and dodged many piles of deer poop.  After about an hour of hunting and examining (too tall, too small, too straggly, too dead, too bare, too big, too many holes and just plain "ugh's) we settled on a tree.  And right after we cut the tree down every tree on the tree farm looked awesome.

All of a sudden I could see with clear eyes again.  Amazing how critical one can be before welcoming a shrub into the living room.

The good news is the kids have fun no matter how long it takes us to find a tree.  They claim they've found "the one" every few minutes and I'm never disappointed with what is around the bend.
Entertainment at its finest.

The tree was up all afternoon, drinking and settling.  Tonight, we popped in the Polar Express and the kids loaded the ornaments on.  I handed out ornaments and then spent the next hour rearranging all the ornaments so we covered more than just the bottom half of the tree.

And finally, we are in business.  It looks divine, and the family room smells of Christmas.

Happy December 1st everyone.  Do you have your tree up yet?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I'm Thankful

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving!

We're beginning our holiday with a much needed visit to see family, and I'm wishing everyone a very happy, healthy Thanksgiving.

This year has brought our family many ups and downs, and we've learned from every single experience.  We've gained and identified true friends, made difficult decisions and worked day and night to adjust our family to our new life in Pennsylvania.

After seven months here, I can say we've been successful on that front.  The kids are happy, and when the kids are happy I'm happy.  Trust me there were days I wondered if we did the right thing moving our oldest.  While the other kids were settling in and excited about all the "new-ness" around them, he was struggling to feel at home.  He was missing friends and family.  He wanted to be back in his old house, with his old routines and everything else he knew. 

I can say with confidence he feels at home now.  And for that I'm extremely thankful.

Remember to be thankful in all things; we grow and learn most in difficult times.  Count your blessings, and not everything you wish you had.  Even on trying days I can look around me and see how abundantly wonderful my life is. When Hubby came home several weeks ago with the news he was no longer employed, I saw myself in all those Oprah shows I watched over the years.  This time, it wasn't someone else sharing their story.  I wasn't watching it on television.

It was us.

But here we are, trucking along.  I put my trust in God, and knew there was a reason.  I looked around me and remembered what my dad said.  You have everything you need.  You and the kids are healthy.  A job can be replaced.  This CAN BE worse.  He was right, and we made it through.  I've learned more about my family and friends in these past few weeks than I have in a long time.

There is so much to be thankful for every day, and I'm wishing all of you a wonderful weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving, and happy official start of the holiday season!

Much Love,
Jodie

Monday, November 25, 2013

What the H*ll Happened to Black Friday?

Holiday shopping isn't what it used to be.  I remember my parents getting a babysitter and heading to Bradlees (do these stores even exist anymore?) for their all night sale on toys and gadgets.

Just a few years ago I was getting up on Friday morning after Thanksgiving at 3am to hit up all the sales at Kohls, Target and Barnes and Noble.  I went to bed early Thursday with a tummy full of turkey and woke up in the dark of night on Friday morning to grab all my "must haves" at great prices.

Sadly, the world has gone mad.  When I was at Best Buy this weekend the cashier informed us they were opening at 5pm on Thanksgiving.  5pm!  I remember being disgusted a few years ago when stores were opening at 10pm.  And then it was 8pm.  And now, 5pm.

I am a HUGE Black Friday shopper.  I love it.  With four kids, I need the good prices.  I also love the idea of waking up and having absolutely every reason to go shopping and have fun. I get coffee, listen to music and spend, spend, spend.

I'm a mom of four, its therapeutic, trust me.

I'm thinking it's about time there is a law passed that no one can open on Thanksgiving.  Growing up in New Jersey there were Blue Laws, no stores opened on Sunday.  All year long.  How is it that not one state has thought to pass a law giving retail workers back their holiday?  Workers and shoppers would breathe a HUGE sigh of relief.  It would be called, "YES, I can be home on Thursday and deal with the madness Friday..."  I'll be the first to inform anyone who doesn't know that if you work retail, you are most definitely required to work Black Friday.

Pick your shift, you have to be there.  And now this means you'll have to work Thanksgiving one day because the world is going mad.

I know there are some people who don't mind the extra pay, and they don't mind working the hours because maybe they don't have a huge holiday planned.

Then they can be the ones opening the registers at 11:59pm on Thursday. 

Give everyone working retail (managers and all) back Thanksgiving, and give Black Friday shoppers the ability to get up ON FRIDAY.  The past few years I've shopped Black Friday at 6am and the stores are empty.  By 8am?  Everyone else has already gone home to sleep.

And truthfully, many of the deals are picked through. 

I'm feeling my time honored tradition of turkey on Thursday and shopping on Friday slipping through the cracks.  Trust me I'm still shopping, but it won't be Thursday afternoon into Friday.  It will be (mostly) on Friday.  I have to admit that this year, I'm going  to one store Thursday night to score a HUGE item my daughter wants for Christmas.

It's awful, and if there wasn't such a great deal on it I would stay the heck home.  I don't have the money to spend on big ticket items (x4), so I do what I can to make Christmas wishes possible.  It angers me I'm being forced from my traditional Black Friday routine into a Thursday night line outside Target.  Which, for the record, I would rather be doing ON FRIDAY.  I think the rest of America feels the same.  Stop offering the best deals on Thanksgiving.

And for everyone with the stance of  "if no one shops on Thanksgiving the stores won't open" I completely agree.  Unfortunately, society won't force that to happen.  If the stores open, and offer phenomenal deals, people will go.  Which forces me out of my jammies into line IF there is something I need at a deal I can afford.  Ugh and ugh.

Save the horrible comments, I know it's awful to shop on Thanksgiving.  I just won't lie to any of my readers because I'm a mom, I'm human and I do what I can for my kids when I can do it.  My munchkins get "big items" twice a year, birthday and Christmas.  It takes the pressure off the rest of the year but the pressure is on right about now.

Maybe one day I will tire of the madness, because there will never be a day I shop all day on Thanksgiving.  The only reason the store is getting me this year is because my turkey will already be digesting.

At least there will always be pajama shopping.
Tis' the season.

Along with Black Friday deals, here are a few more tricks to my Christmas shopping trade....

1.  Start shopping early.  I emphasize early.  This means before Thanksgiving.  You'll be thanking me when you have the expensive purchases set aside by December.  Money seems to fly out of the wallet after Thanksgiving.

Even better?  You have time to shop around and find the best price.  If the price drops you can get a price adjustment or return and re-buy.

2.  Use your smartphone.  Make lists and download shopping apps for your favorite stores.  I downloaded Target Cartwheel two months ago and I've saved over $70.00 already.  Saving 5% on a bag of apples adds up when you buy 20 bags of apples.

3.  To take the edge off big ticket items, trade in older gadgets on sites such as Gazelle.  You won't get a ton of money, but every little bit helps.  And if you have gadgets laying around unused, trade them in for some cash.

4.  Stick to a budget.  Use cash only, or set money aside to pay the credit card.  Avoid impulse buys and gag gifts.  Gag gifts may seem fun, but once the laugh is over the item most likely won't get any use.  This equals money wasted in the long run, and I hate money wasted.

5.  Remember the season is about giving.  Keep things in perspective.  If you are spending on a special high tech gadget, save on other gifts by going the homemade route. 

Happy shopping! 


Friday, November 22, 2013

Keep Away from Christina

Growing up, I would have considered myself a nice kid.  I was good in school, had plenty of friends and had a good heart.  My family was fabulous, and I wanted for very, very little.  My heart broke for less fortunate people and I did my best to be helpful to my parents.

Unfortunately, truth be told, I could also be a little sh*thead.  I had (and still have) a very good friend named Christina (name changed for privacy reasons, but you'll know who you are).  Our families were friends, and we were together all the time.  We were together after school, on weekends and in school.  There was even a year she came to my house before school because of her mom's work schedule.  I think it was overkill, and there days she copied much of what I did.  We all know imitation is a form of flattery, but kids don't understand how that works.

I remember, on more than one occasion, sitting in the back of my mom's station wagon at the McDonald's drive-thru.  My mom would turn around and ask what we wanted, and I would hesitate as long as possible before I answered.  I knew if I ordered first, Christina would order the same thing.  It drove me batty, but it's no excuse.  And looking back, there were days I was very, very cruel.

I played this game called "Keep Away from Christina"....all it meant was that if she was around, I would walk away.  She would literally walk up to me and I would just turn and leave.  It's terrible.  I can't even believe I did it, but I did.  And I think of my kids now and if someone did that my heart would shatter into a million pieces.

I want punch my kid-self in the forehead.  I want to say, "Seriously?! How would YOU feel?!"

For the record, I would lay down my life for this friend, and she is one of the people who knows me best.  I had more laughs with her than anyone else growing up, and I can't remember any other friend that made my nostrils flare from laughing so hard.  The memories are forever, and I'm forever thankful she kept me.

It makes me realize, especially looking at the world today, that nothing is black and white.  Being a friend is a process, and while someone is close to you that doesn't mean you're always nice.  Sometimes, you're an ass.  A complete and total ass.

And it isn't right, but it happens.

Before we judge and give up friends, we need to talk.  Parents need to teach kids why other kids might behave the way they do.  There were days I needed to be alone, and I didn't get enough space to breathe.  Given the chance to voice that, I may have.  It would have saved me and my very dear friend from some very unfortunate behavior.

There are kids at school that are not so nice to my daughter, but I know they aren't happy kids.  Or they're jealous.  And it stinks because as easy as it is for me to see, kids have a much harder time understanding why someone would behave that way.

But they do.  I did it too.

The good news is that as me and my friend Christina grew up, we grew out of that "I'm sick of you" phase.  Sure we had our moments, but the playing field was leveled immensely.  We had more laughs and more great times.  The very last line in my senior yearbook was a reference to her and all our wonderful memories.

Christina, thanks for keeping me.  To all the parents out there dealing with kids who may not have the best attitude, or may be having trouble with other kids, don't freak out and jump to conclusions.  Are they together too much?  Is someone struggling at home?  If your child is the offender, talk to them.  And be open to the fact that yes, your kid may be a sh*t sometimes.  That doesn't make them a BAD kid.  It makes them a kid who is making poor choices.  If your kid is the one having problems with someone, try and think of why.  Communicate, always. It is truly the best line of defense.  Education and understanding fix more than we think they do.

I've found that most of us are a lot more alike than we think.  

Happy Friday, wishing you a wonderful weekend!




Thursday, November 21, 2013

All About LifeBank USA (and information on a carseat giveaway!)

LifeBank USA contacted me to help them promote their fantasical carseat giveaway, and more importantly inform parents all about cord blood banking and how valuable it can be to your child and other loved ones.    LifebankUSA is giving away THREE  top rated, Britax Marathon 70-G3 Convertible Car Seats in a random drawing. Seats are valued at $231.99 each.  To enter this contest "like" LifeBankUSA on Facebook and read more about the contest on their Facebook page.
 
With every one of my pregnancies, I considered cord blood banking.  It felt like an insurance policy, something I may never need but would offer peace of mind.  And if I ever did need it, I would be eternally grateful to have it.  I still, to this day, regret not having cord blood stored away in case (heaven forbid) we would ever need it.  
 
Maybe it's time for another baby.  Just kidding, kind of.   

Mothers want their babies to be safe.  We child proof just about everything and read food labels.  We take them to the doctor and watch them sleep.  Cord blood goes well beyond baby proofing, it can be a valuable resource if your child is in an accident or gets sick.  Cord blood has been proven to save lives. 
 
Cord blood banking enables you to collect and preserve potentially lifesaving stem cells, which could one day save the life of your child or another blood relative. You can bank even more stem cells by collecting them from two usable sources of stem cell-rich blood; the umbilical cord and the placenta. This is called Placental and Cord Blood Banking, and LifebankUSA is the only company to offer this service. Whether you choose Placental and Cord Blood Banking or Cord Blood Banking alone, there are many important reasons to choose LifeBankUSA.  
  
Hope on over and "Like" Lifebank USA on Facebook for a chance to win a Britax carseat, good luck!!
 
 
 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gymnastics Meets, Shots and other Matters

In case my readers haven't noticed, it's been a while since I've babbled on this blog.  My last three posts are giveaways, which I hope you're all entering.  It's so easy to read and think, "Ah, won't be me..." but let me tell you, IT MIGHT.

I get an email every few weeks with the winning comment numbers for my current giveaways.  So if you like one, enter.  You never, ever know. :)  Just heard my blog had a winner in the Monster Headphones giveaway...so check your emails this week or next because BlogHer will be contacting the winners.

On another note, I had my first physical in eight years last Friday.  I figured I was a bit overdue and it felt nice to weigh in and only be two pounds heavier than I was at my physical eight years ago.  Trust me, with all the Auntie Annie's I've been eating since moving to Pennsylvania I was ready for more than two pounds.  If my pants didn't still fit I'd be thinking double digits.

I also got my flu shot and a tetanus booster.  I will never tell my kids to quit whining about pain from shots again, because I had one shot in each arm and I couldn't lift my arms for two days.  I'm being serious.  I would giggle it hurt so bad.

And yes, I had four babies naturally.  Go figure I can't handle two shots in my arms.

On Saturday, my little gymnast competed in her first competition of the season.  It was small, but a great starter meet to get the nerves under control.  She came down on her knee funny the last practice before the meet, and it made floor routine too painful, which didn't make her happy at all.  We were bummed too because we sit for six hours and wait for those four routines.  To say the least meet days involve several snack bar runs and text messages.  But we were happy to leave with a gold on bars and a silver on beam.

That's all for now folks.  Kids are sleeping and lunches need to be made.  Happy Wednesday!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Go Ahead, Play Like a Girl (and find out how to win $5,000 in prizes from Verizon!)

Growing up, I lived in a "boy dominant" household.  Four athletic brothers are a powerful (literally) thing.  Boys are tough, but they taught me to be tough as well.  They (along with my parents) also taught me to be involved in and appreciate sports.

As a result, sports has long been a passion of mine.  From softball to field hockey, I've always cherished my memories of playing on a team.  I loved going to practice, accomplishing goals and staying in shape.  I've envisioned the same lifestyle for my girls.

Continue Reading...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Relief in Action: Determined to Make a Difference


This is the face of determination.
This is also the face of my brother, a full time accountant in New York City - who waited two years to run his first marathon for the American Cancer Society.  Last year, the race was cancelled due to the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.  This hit my family close to home, as our dad watched the ocean creep towards our beach house and destroy much of the surrounding areas.

Undeterred, my brother kept training for another year - and kept raising money to reach his goal.  Two months before the race, he suffered a stress fracture in his foot.  He rested it as long as he could but kept training, never giving up on his goal to run for the American Cancer Society.

To say the least, the ING New York City Marathon had a very devoted and determined runner this year.  He crossed the finish line in 4:19:39.  At the finish line?  My sister, who ran a marathon three weeks earlier to raise money and awareness for individuals with mental and physical disabilities.

She has been a long time advocate for special needs youth and adults.  She volunteers her time for a program in Chicago that assists special needs adults in living on their own.  She has a "buddy," and they go to dinner and talk on the phone.  Since college she has worked with adults with mental disorders and autistic kids. 

Her face is one of compassion, energy and optimism.
While training for a marathon is a feat in itself, my sister started training not long after she gave her bone marrow to a dying mother of four.  On the registry since college, she got a call in June of 2012 she was a match.

She didn't think twice.

One year later, that mother was in remission and a few weeks later my sister ran her marathon.  Her "buddy" was there to cheer her on, as was my brother who flew in from New York City.

Advil® has been working with Habitat for Humanity® International and the Wounded Warrior Project as part of a campaign to celebrate the efforts of volunteers everywhere.  The Advil® Relief in Action campaign honors and supports individuals who don't let pain get in the way of helping others.  My siblings have proven that adversity and busy lifestyles are no excuse to ignore important causes that need attention.  Whether it be training two years for a marathon because your first one is cancelled, or deciding to train after recovering from a bone marrow donation, if the cause sings to your heart, you can find a way to contribute.  

My brother and sister did, and they are two of the most phenomenal examples of working towards your goal even when there are aches, pains and other obstacles.  The reward of giving to others was worth the troubles they endured along the way.

On the left, a picture of my brother with my sister in Chicago after her marathon.  On the right? The same picture, after my brother finished in New York City.
To say I'm proud to be their sister is an understatement.  They both fill my heart with pride and inspire me to do better every day.

What can you do to support active volunteers?  Join in the conversation and like Advil® on Facebook and follow@ReliefinAction on Twitter and Instagram. Share a photo of how you see Relief in Action with hashtag #ReliefinAction.  Follow and join in; I'll be sharing mine!

I'm participating in a sponsored campaign hosted by Advil® as part of the Advil® Relief in Action campaign.  I received compensation for this post.  All opinions are my own, and I make no claims about Advil® as a product or its effectiveness.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's Your Favorite Way to Start the Day? (+ Panera Bread Giveaway!)

Life between the hours of 7 and 8:30am are interesting in my house.  We have three "shifts"; junior high, elementary and preschool.

Junior high leaves the house at 7:25am.  I get up just before 7am, make breakfast and his lunch and then wake my son.  He stumbles down, eats, goes back upstairs to get ready for school and he's off at 7:25am.  He doesn't mess around, which enables me to wake him with just 20 minutes to get ready for school.  It's a beautiful system.

After he exits I make two more lunches and three more breakfasts.  And then I wake the next three kids.

They eat, get dressed, and pack up for school.  We make two stops.  First elementary school, where the second shift exits the car.  Next stop is preschool, where my baby exits the car.

Last year, when my youngest entered preschool, one of my mom friends told me we should do breakfast.  It dawned on me that I could do breakfast.  In peace.  I hadn't thought about eating breakfast anywhere other than my kitchen or my car until my friend mentioned it.  We discussed the perfect place to meet up and decided on Panera Bread.

It's cozy, but quick.  But it's not too quick.  The food is made fresh and the atmosphere is perfect for a mom meeting another mom to just catch up and enjoy a meal.


And so it began, our monthly breakfast (or lunch) date at Panera.  For breakfast?  Toasted french toast bagels.  For lunch?  Tomato and mozzarella panini.  Every visit I leave feeling refreshed and thankful I took the time after my busy morning full of "shifts" to enjoy a good friend and good food.  I especially appreciate that I don't feel like I needed a shower after I get in my car, because I don't smell like greasy fast food.

These "dates" were the beginning of me realizing it was time to take time for me.  Busy mornings can take their toll, and it's therapy for me to sit and relax every once in a while.  It's also nice to eat food I didn't prepare myself.  Breakfast at Panera has become one of my favorite ways to start the day.  The food is fresh, and I leave ready to tackle my day.

While I do enjoy the "adult time," my kids are never far from my mind.  I usually leave with bakery treats for my munchkins, and when they open their lunches up the next day at school they appreciate them very much.

Panera lovers everywhere can now participate in Panera's Breakfast Backstory Challenge.  MyPanera cardholders will be asked to complete three actions to win a badge.  After you complete them, a prize is loaded onto your Panera card and you're entered to win a culinary experience trip to New York City for two!

Need a MyPanera card? Sign up at Panerabread.com.

So tell me, for your chance to win a $100 Panera Bread gift card, what's your favorite way to start the day?

 

Sweepstakes Rules:

No duplicate comments.

You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post

Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post

Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post

For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winner  will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 11/13/13 – 12/8/13.

Be sure to visit the Panera Bread's page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ reviews and find more chances to win!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Black Friday 2013: Tips, Tricks and Staying Sane

Black Friday has long been a favorite holiday of mine (yes, to me it's a holiday).  It might be one of my favorite days of the year; the official start of the shopping season, deals at every turn, an excuse to shop all morning.

Let me clarify that I'm not one of those nutty shoppers waiting for Walmart to open, risking my life as I run for one of the five laptops on sale for $99.  I have a slightly different, safer approach to Black Friday.

Don't leave at 9pm on Thanksgiving.  Don't leave at midnight.  Leave at 4am.

Ever since stores have started the "open at midnight" madness (or even worse, they open on Thanksgiving), the serious deal seekers shop at midnight.  By the time 4am rolls around they are already stopping for breakfast.  The past two years I've arrived at Kohls at 5am, and waited in minimal lines.

I'm being serious.

I get all the same deals.  Maybe the extreme "doorbusters" are sold out, but the toys, frames, socks, clothes and everything else I need are still there and still ON SALE.

Last year, I pulled into Target at 6am.  It was a ghost town.  Yes, the deeply discounted Christmas jammies were severely picked through, and it's possible all the flat screens were sold out.  But the Disney toys?  Check.  The knock off UGGS?  Check.  And the best part? 50% off.

My best Black Friday tips for anyone who wants to brave the madness:

1.  Plan to arrive at a store a few hours after it's opened.  Don't stand in lines.  If you are desperate for that one amazing deal, remember you have plenty of shopping weeks ahead and there will be another great deal.

I promise.

Maybe not quite as cheap, but cheap enough that you can avoid being stuck in a person sandwich as you wait in line outside a store in the bitter cold.

This was Target at 7am last year.  And I still bought all my goodies at deep discounts.

2.  Bring a stroller, not a baby.  Use this for your purchases at stores that will be low on carts (Kohls comes to mind).

3.  Make it fun.  Grab a buddy, get a coffee and take your time.

4.  Research what stores will have the best deals on the items you need the most.  Stay in one major area, don't spend your time trying to drive all over the county.  Pick a few stores close together, write down what you need or want at each location, and you'll be shocked at what else you find.

5.  If all else fails, or you don't have ANY desire to leave the house Black Friday, remember most deals can also be found online.  And Cyber Monday is aimed at all the folks who sit at their desk Monday morning and think, "Oh crap, it's the holidays.  I better start shopping!"

Happy almost Black Friday.  Don't forget to hang those Christmas lights the first mild day you have...you'll thank me the day Thanksgiving when your house is happily lit and your neighbor is freezing their tush on the roof.

Best Black Friday Sites:
The Black Friday.com
Black Friday Ads.Net

Cheers!

Monday, November 11, 2013

iPhone Photos

It's been a long while since I posted what's up on my iphone.  November is marching along, and Christmas music is on the radio.  I've seen lights in the yards around town.

I'm good with all of it, because I love Christmas and I think of Thanksgiving and Christmas as a giant, five week holiday.  Throw in New Year's and it's six weeks.  I love the season and everything about it; the music, the smells, the food, the REASON.  I love the giving and the family, and just the LOVE that is more abundant this time of year.

With the six week holiday I love steadily approaching, this is what's been going on in this neck of the woods.

On one of my trail runs, these guys were peeking at me from behind the brush.  Couldn't resist.

PS - My runs are over until the weather is back to above freezing.  I'm thoroughly enjoying my hiatus.

One fall afternoon, we "stole" a farm kitten from across the street.  It took "Mom" only a short while to notice, and she came and retrieved the kitten a few hours later.  Since we actively feed Mom we knew she wouldn't mind, right?

On my birthday, a dear friend dropped off these homemade cupcakes.  Delightful.


 Field trip to the pumpkin patch.  I froze my tush off and was never so happy to get back on a smelly school bus. 
Have you ever moved furniture, only to realize your toddler was tossing her juice pouches underneath instead of bringing them to the trash?

We did.

Happy Monday everyone.  Wishing you a fabulous week ahead!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Turkey Pins!

In light of Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, I am attaching the link to the Turkey Pin Craft I posted last year.  These pins are fab and fun, and easy to make.  They are also a great addition to a festive table setting.


Once I gathered the necessary supplies for the craft, I set aside an afternoon to sit with my daughter and prepare the turkey pins.

I can say with confidence cleaning up the scissor clippings and putting everything away when we were done was the most difficult part in the whole pin making process. 

These pins are easy and fun.  And they are super snazzy when worn to Thanksgiving dinner.  My daughter charged $0.50/pin, whether or not you bleed your relatives dry of all their change is up to you.

But hey, kids need spending cash too ya know.

Happy crafting!