Monday, December 24, 2012

Dear Santa

Dear Santa, 

I know this is last-minute, but I'm sure you'll understand that I've been a bit busy lately, what with the working and baking and cleaning and shopping and wrapping.  But I have a feeling that you work well under pressure and last-minute demands. 

I've been a really good girl this year. I've hardly gotten into any trouble at all and I've done many good things. Remember when I listened for an hour to Brooklyn singing her made-up song that only contained the lyrics do be do be do? And this year I've done 748 loads of laundry. That alone has got to count for something, right? Maybe a new pair of jeans for myself? I not only washed, dried, and folded the laundry, but I got almost all of it sorted into the right piles for the kids. (Although it was pretty funny when Savannah tried to put on Jackson's jeans and thought she'd gained weight overnight.)

I’ve baked cookies with my kids even though by doing so, an extra 10 pounds found their way to my hips. I’ve run out to the store at 10:00 at night to buy fruit for a class party my child forgot to tell me about until, well, 10:00 at night. I even helped my kids with their homework. Math homework. Fraction homework. I think you’ll agree that that, in and of itself, should merit a new car! I’m not picky; any car that runs would be wonderful!

Speaking of cars, I’ve taught not one, but two teenagers to drive. For this, I’d like a couple boxes of hair color, please. Any shade of brown will do; I just need it to cover up the gray.

I’ve attended countless football practices and games in scorching hot Florida weather and I never complained I hardly complained I didn’t complain during at least two games. I think. And I drove my son (sometimes along with friends) home from games and practices. I must have gone through a tanker-truck of Febreeze this summer. Remembering the stench of Sweaty Football Boys in Florida Heat reminds me that I could use some new lotion and shower gel from Crabtree & Evelyn, please.

I didn’t freak out when my son pierced his own ears. Well, I didn’t freak out too much. Okay, fine maybe I freaked out a lot, but can you blame me? He pierced his own ears! With a needle! Who does that?! But I didn’t disown him or anything so I think I deserve some jewelry of my own. I’m partial to silver and pink.

I’ve spent countless hours helping middle school kids not only with their homework, but with the basic manners that middle school kids should already know. As you know, this sucks the life out of me. Perhaps a nice bottle of wine would help me to de-stress. (Or, you know, a flask I could keep in my desk at school.)

I’ve sat through several band concerts this year. Beginning band concerts. You know, the kind of band concerts where the kids play 12 songs, each of them containing the same 3 notes. I have Hot Cross Buns permanently etched into my brain. I think an iTunes gift card and a new set of ear buds would be nice.

I’ve checked out colleges with my son and helped my daughter to complete all her volunteer hours for National Honor Society. I can’t imagine either of my teens moving out. The thought makes me immeasurably sad. If you could rewind time and bring them back to the ages when they were more interested in drawing on the walls than looking at colleges and careers, I would be so grateful. I would happily go back to changing diapers all day if I could just get a few more years with my kids before they grow up.

Well, I’ll let you go, Santa as I’m sure you’re as busy as I am with last-minute details. I’ll be sure to leave you a nice plate of cookies and a glass of wine. Some might say that wine and cookies don’t go together, but you and I know better.

Thanks Santa,


Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Top Ten Christmas Movies

One of my favorite holiday traditions is watching Christmas movies with my kids. There's just something about all those old classics that puts me in the Christmas spirit.

I guess I’m technologically inept because I had no idea that you could watch movies on the Xbox 360, until my kids, who apparently know everything, filled me in. But you can watch DVDs and Blu-Rays on the Xbox 360! You can even stream movies and TV shows from Netflix! With an Xbox LIVE membership, you can instantly stream your favorite TV shows, movies, and sports from ESPN. Netflix, Crackle, Amazon Instant Video, Epix and many more. Another cool feature is that you can start watching a movie on your TV and finish watching it on say, your iPad.

With Xbox SmartGlass, multiple devices can interact with each other, enhancing your viewing experience. From the Xbox website, “Your phone or tablet transforms into the ideal second screen companion to your TV as it automatically serves up extended experiences of your favorite TV shows, movies, music, games and sports. Interactive companion guides, behind-the scenes commentary, and real-time game strategy are just a taste of what you can unlock with Xbox SmartGlass.” That is SO Back to the Future, isn’t it?

So, this year we’re watching our favorite Christmas movies with our Xbox 360. Here are my top ten favorite Christmas movies.


It's a classic that should be watched year-round! It's not money that makes you rich.
Available from Amazon instant video


I just love this movie! "We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup."
Available from Amazon instant video


Okay, so maybe my kids aren't thrilled with this one, but I LOVE old movies!
Available from Amazon instant video


And if you didn't get enough of Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn, you can watch him again in this classic. Nothing says Christmas like Bing singing White Christmas!
Available from Amazon instant video


These movies are so nostalgic to me. I loved all of them - The Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, etc. when I was a kid, and I still enjoy watching them now.
Available from Amazon instant video


I just love stupid-funny movies! Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead? By the way, when I was searching for this movie, I noticed moose-shaped, glass punch cups for sale (you know, in case any of you don't know what to get me.)
Available from Amazon instant video

The Nativity Story

Much like being at church on Christmas eve and singing by candlelight, the nativity story just warms my heart.
Available from Amazon instant video


I really love the narration of this story. I'm not sure I'd want to watch it on a 24-hour loop, but I usually watch it once a year.
Available from Amazon instant video


I know there are at least 1000 versions of this story out there and I watch at least one of them every year. Bahumbug!
Available from Amazon instant video


Maybe this isn't an official "Christmas movie", but it does take place during Christmas. Plus, it's set in Chicago so you can't beat that. This is one of my all-time favorite movies so I had to include it in my round-up. Funny, romantic, awesome!
Available from Amazon instant video

Friday, December 14, 2012

Need Last Minute Ideas?

1. LAUREN'S HOPE This medical id jewelry is gorgeous and functional! With such a huge variety of styles and colors, there's something to suit everyone's tastes. They're the perfect gift for anyone who has a medical condition like diabetes, asthma, allergies, etc. Use code "6PACK" at check out to save 10% now until December 31st!
(Starting around $12.00 and up.)
2. EOS LIP BALM These make great stocking stuffers! EOS (evolution of smooth) makes these lip balms in a variety of flavors like strawberry sorbet, sweet mint, and pomegranate raspberry. I love the packaging! The sphere shape makes them glide on beautifully. And you'll smile knowing they're 95% organic, 100% natural, paraben, petrolatum and phthalate free, and packed with antioxidant-rich vitamin E, soothing shea butter and jojoba oil. At retailers near you.
3. LANDS' END DOUBLE CANVAS WINE TOTE Order a few of these to have on hand because they make perfect hostess gifts. You can order these totes plain or have them monogrammed with whatever you'd like. After enjoying the bottles of wine (and really, who doesn't like wine?!), your hostess can reuse this sturdy tote again and again. Choose from red or navy trim and save $12 when you order four! Lands' End has fabulous lists of Christmas gifts to make it easy to shop for everyone on your list. Order by December 17th and you can still get guaranteed Christmas delivery with monogramming or gift boxing.
(Available at Lands' End for $25.00)

4. TIME for kids: THAT'S STRANGE BUT TRUE  My kids (especially the boys) love this hard cover book. Anything that talks about weird or bizarre facts is right up their alley. And when these oddities are accompanied by full color photos, that makes it even better! I'm forever hearing, "Mom, did you know . . .?" My kids could probably win a game of Jeopardy with all their random knowledge!
(Available at retailers like for less than $15.)

5. STICKYGRAM Turn your Instagram photos into cute magnets! It's super-easy to do! Just upload your favorite Instagram pics, choose which ones you wanted made into magnets, and voila! Instant fridge or locker decorations! These make great stocking stuffers and gifts for grandparents! Just click the Stickygram link to get started! If it's too late to ship, no problem! Order a gift certificate instead. Use code: FRIENDFJGX to receive $2.00 off your order!
($14.99 for a sheet of 9 with free international shipping.)
6. 4. WHEEL OF FORTUNE and JEOPARDY FOR XBOX So much fun for the whole family! Even my little kids like to play Wheel of Fortune and have fun guessing the words. Next family game night, ditch the board games and gather around the TV to play these interactive games! Just like the TV show (except you don't actually win any money, unfortunately.) Both games are available at retailers near you.
(Retails for about $30.00 each)
7. SAFETY TATS These should be in every parent's stocking on Christmas morning. They're such an awesome mom-invented way to keep your kids safe! Simply write your cell phone number (or other information) on the tattoos and place them on your small child's arm when you're at an amusement park, zoo, shopping mall, or other place where you could get separated. Safety Tats give you peace of mind when you're out and kids love to wear them too!
(Prices start at $9.00 a pack)
8. GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS    My kids love this hard cover book! And this year, the 2013 edition comes with a free download of an augmented reality app that lets you see records in amazing 3D.  There are about 4000 records with great photos and interesting facts throughout the book that will keep you entertained for the year. Or search the book for ideas on setting your own record!
(Find it at retailers like Target, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon for less than $20.)
9. BECAUSE I SAID SO & YOU'LL LOSE THE BABY WEIGHT Of course my books should be on everyone's Christmas list! You can't help but laugh with gems like these:
 • I was a little at a loss. I mean, those parenting books don’t tell you how to break up a fight over an imaginary friend.
• Moms aren’t allowed to get sick more than one day a year. Single moms aren’t allowed to get sick ever.
• Before you have children you can’t imagine yourself saying things like “Don’t put chocolate milk in your pants,” “Take the hot dog out of your nose,” or “Because I said so!”
If you’re a mom-to-be or a mom in the trenches, you’ll love knowing that you’re not the only one out there who sometimes just figures it out as you go along—and sometimes can’t figure it out at all. But in the end, Dawn has these words of encouragement just for you: “Enjoy this time. Even when they make you crazy, these are the best days of your life.” And they really are, aren’t they?
(Available on Amazon)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why you Should Never Play Dolls with your Brother

This weekend, my 6-year-old daughter pulled out the doll house and asked her 8-year-old brother if he'd play with her. He was perfectly willing to play dolls with her. A cool thing about having boys and girls is that we have a variety of toys with which the kids can play. Now and then, the boys like to check out the "girl toys" and now and then the girls like to check out the "boy toys". So, yesterday the kids were playing with this doll house while I was baking (and eavesdropping on them). Here's a transcript of the conversation they had while playing:

BROOKLYN: Here, Clay, you can be the dad and the boy. I’ll be the mom and the girl.

(Clay grabbed the dolls and held the boy upside down by his feet.)

BROOKLYN: No, Clay. You have to hold him this way. (demonstrating the proper doll-holding technique that’s inherent to little girls)

CLAYTON: (acquiescing to the proper doll-holding technique) Can the boy have super-powers?

BROOKLYN: (authoritative) No.

CLAYTON: (flying the boy around the family room) He can fly! He’ll save you from eeeeevil!

BROOKLYN: (annoyed) Clayton! You’re not playing right! They’re going to have breakfast now. (in the requisite high-pitched ‘doll voice’) Come here and sit down, honey.

CLAYTON: (obligingly sitting down) Can I have ice cream?

BROOKLYN:  No, you have to have a healthy breakfast.

CLAYTON: (making crazy gulping, chomping noises) I’m done! Now it’s time to go to work. (putting his doll into the bathtub and making engine revving noises) Get out of my way! I’m driving to work!

BROOKLYN: That’s not a car! It’s a bathtub, Clayton.

CLAYTON: No, it’s a car and it shoots bullets too. (holding shower head like a gun and aiming it at Brooklyn while making shooting noises like every boy is apparently born knowing how to make)

BROOKLYN: (giving him her best ‘I am not amused’ look) Stop shooting, Clayton. That is not a gun. You have to get ready to go to the dance. (in the ‘doll voice‘) Let’s get ready, honey. Pretend like you’re putting on fancy clothes.

CLAYTON: (firing off a few more rounds with his shower head gun while speeding around the house in his bathtub) Woo Hoo!

BROOKLYN:  Clayton!

CLAYTON:  Parkour, parkour! (taking the boy doll and making him jump off the roof)

BROOKLYN:  Clayton!

At this point, Clay took off with the doll, running through the house like a gibbon on crack, and Brooklyn fired him, replacing him with Lexi, who understands the concept of talking in a ‘doll voice’ and getting ready for dances instead of shooting people with a bathtub.

Christmas on a Budget

Christmas carols are playing, there's a nip in the air (well, except here in Florida where it still feels like summer), the scent of gingerbread and eggnog fills the air, and lights are twinkling on trees and houses everywhere. There's no denying that Christmas is in the air. But the tight budgets that many of us are on this year can put a real damper on Christmas spirit and cause a lot of stress, wondering how we're going to be able to shop with limited finances. I've compiled a few tips below to help take the stress out of holiday shopping and to stretch that holiday dollar just a little bit further.

1.  Make sure your children understand that the holidays are not about getting everything they want. Explain the deeper meaning of Christmas/Chanukah/whatever you celebrate. Take them to, and participate in, holiday activities at your place of worship so they understand just why you’re celebrating.

2.  Help stop the “I wants” by bringing home the fact that many people in this world (and country) have very little. Sign up to serve food at a shelter, collect donations for food drives, Toys for Tots, pack boxes for Samaritan’s Purse, or adopt a family to buy gifts for this season. Donate outgrown clothing and old toys to an organizations like Goodwill to help out families with less and to free up room for the new things your children will be getting.

3.  Create a few more dollars in your budget by having a garage sale or listing outgrown items on eBay.

4. Look for sales, cut coupons, search for coupon codes online, take advantage of free shipping. Instead of shopping at specialty stores, look for the same items at places like Target where you can usually find things for less.

5.  Involve the family in making homemade goodies for friends and family. You don’t have to spend a lot to show you care. A box full of baked treats is always appreciated. And grandparents love homemade ornaments, pictures, etc. from the grandkids.

6.  Do a swap. If budgets are tight this year, talk to your family about drawing names and exchanging with one person instead of buying for everyone. This can be especially helpful if you have a large family. Another idea some of my friends employ is to buy only for the children and not the adults in the family.

7.  It’s a little late to start saving this year, but it’s never too late to begin preparing for next year. Set a budget and create a Christmas fund, saving a little money from each check throughout the year so you won’t have to wonder how you’ll afford your shopping come the holidays.

How do you stretch a dollar? What are your best tips for stretching your holiday budget?

A big thanks to Target for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Weebles, Sea Wees, Spirograph, & Other Hot Toys from the 70s & 80s

When I was looking through the Target catalog at the top 20 toys this season, I thought of the hot toys back when I was a kid. I tried explaining some of these to my own children, but they had a hard time understanding the concept of some of my old toys.

"Weebles? But what do they DO? They just wobble?"

"Yes!" I said excitedly. "But they don't fall down!"

sound of crickets

I had fun walking down memory lane and recalling some of my favorite toys like the Easy Bake Oven, Dolly Pops, Etch a sketch, Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Spirograph, Weebles, and My Little Pony.  Then there was Mr. Potato Head, the purple-outfitted Donny and Marie dolls, Care Bears, this perfume making kit, My Family Tree House, and Operation. And who could forget Clackers, Hippity Hop, Simon, Toss Across, Inchworm, Merlin, Lemon Twist, and Sit and Spin? And of course, every kid in America had a Big Wheel and knew how to “make ice cream” with it.

And here are a few other faves from the 70s and 80s . . .


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why Increasing School Hours Won't Solve the Education Problem in America

Kids (and I bet a fair number of parents) in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee are groaning tonight. These five states will be adding another 300 hours to the school year in 2013. The reason? To make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level. Now I'm no expert, but I don't believe that adding another 300 hours is going to do much to help American students to compete with their Indian and Asian peers. I do, however, see how this is going to tick off a lot of teachers.

The preconceived notion that children in other countries spend more time at school isn’t necessarily accurate. According to this article from The Center for Public Education, the U.S. requires as many (or in some cases more) instructional hours than other countries. But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that students in other countries do receive an additional 300 hours of instructional time. Adding another 300 hours of time to schools here in the U.S. still won’t make much of a difference and I’ll explain why in a minute.

However, I do think that using the hours we already have in a more constructive way could absolutely benefit American children. Ask any teacher and she’ll tell you that she spends the first month+ of school reteaching everything that was sucked out of the students’ brains over summer break. I think year-round school wherein students attend the same number of days, but those days are broken up differently (for example: 45 days on, 15 days off) is beneficial for everyone. Teachers don’t have to waste time combating summer brain drain. Students don’t get burned out on school because they get frequent breaks. Teachers who can start class on time and actively teach through the duration would make better use of the allotted time, but unfortunately, here in the U. S., teachers spend more time teaching kids how to behave than they spend teaching them their times tables.

I don’t think adding hours, in and of itself, will do the trick. Sure, some kids will take advantage of the extra time and it will make a difference for them. But overall, I think it will have little effect because it isn’t the amount of time American kids spend in school, but their general attitudes about education that’s the problem.

I recently read an article on NPR that stuck with me. In the article, Jim Stigler, a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world spoke of the differences between Eastern and Western learning. He told a story of how they had given a class of first grade American students and a class of first grade Japanese students an impossible math problem to work on. The American students worked on the problem for an average of <30 seconds before giving up and complaining that they didn’t know how to do it. The Japanese students, on the other hand, worked for the entire hour until they were told to stop.

Now, I’m not into the whole tiger mom thing and I’m not saying that Eastern ways are better, but we can still take away some positive aspects of Eastern culture and incorporate them into ours.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called and emailed parents practically begging them to support their child and to demonstrate to their students that learning is important. But for so many parents, homework just doesn’t seem to be a priority. All too often, these messages seem to fall on deaf ears.

And then these same students say things like, “I don’t got no time to do homework.”

“Do you have jobs after school?”


“Are you in sports or clubs?”


“Do you do volunteer work after school?”


“Then, how is it that you don’t have an hour to spend on homework?”

It’s these same students who ‘don’t got no time for homework’ that then ask, “Why I got a F?”

“Ummm because you don’t do your homework or study for tests?” I suggest.

“It’s stupid that we have to do homework. Teachers should just give us good grades for coming to school,” is their response. And that is precisely the problem I see — this overinflated sense of entitlement. They don’t need to work; teachers should simply give them good grades.

Everyone owes them something. They shouldn’t have to work for it; it should be given to them. If it doesn’t come to them immediately and easily, then why bother? I was talking to a teacher today about the number of kids who failed an open-book test. The kids were allowed to use the text book and their notes to take the test. And they failed it. “Because it’s too hard to look up the answers.” This attitude honestly floors me. And it especially leaves me flabbergasted that so many parents seem to support that behavior and the belief that they are entitled, and certainly don’t need to put forth any effort to earn anything.

A coworker called it the “McDonald’s Mentality”. They want it and they want it now. They don’t want to work for it because it’s just not worth all the trouble.

In my opinion, until attitudes about education are changed, the number of hours spent at school will have little effect on learning.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

An Interview with my Daughter About Christmas Joy

I awoke with a sense of doom. I grabbed my phone and checked the date. December 2. Whew! It was only a dream (or rather a nightmare). In my dream, it was Christmas morning and my kids were all disappointed because I had failed to buy presents for four of them. I had been waiting until I had money with which to shop and before I knew it, it was Christmas day. I ran around like crazy, trying to find a store so I could get my kids something, but no place was open. It was an awful feeling. After I got up, I decided I'd better get an idea of what my kids want for Christmas, so I asked Brooklyn. 

ME: Do you like Christmas? 

BROOKLYN: Yes! It’s my favorite. 

ME: What do you like about Christmas? 

BROOKLYN: Because Santa comes and brings presents. And everyone loves the Christmas joy. 

ME: What’s the Christmas joy? 

BROOKLYN: When everyone sings. Oh Christmas joy, oh Christmas joy, jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock. And bring us fiddy pudding, bring us fiddy pudding or we won’t go home.

ME: What is “fiddy” pudding?

BROOKLYN: I don’t know.

ME: What’s it made out of?

BROOKLYN: I don’t know. Pudding?

ME: So, what do you want Santa to bring you this year?

BROOKLYN: Hmmm, what was that? Um, I’ll be right back.

She ran out of the room. Twenty minutes passed as she forgot why she left and started playing with dolls in her bedroom.

ME: Did you forget what you went to your room for?

BROOKLYN: I don’t know where the catalog is. Santa won’t know what to bring me.

She proceeded to cry because she doesn’t know what she wants.

ME: Don’t you think he’ll know what you like?

Shakes head no.

ME: Doesn’t he bring you things that you like every year?


ME: Then don’t you think he’ll probably know the kinds of things you like this year?

BROOKLYN: Yes. Oh, I know what I want! A Leappad 2!

ME: What’s a Leappad 2?

BROOKLYN: A fun, fun game thing.

ME: What does it do?

BROOKLYN: You can learn on it and make videos on it. And you can take pictures on it. And do homework kinda stuff on it.

ME: That sounds pretty cool. How much does a Leappad 2 cost?

BROOKLYN: 99 cents or 99 dollars. I don’t know.

ME: If you could have one Christmas wish come true, what would it be?

BROOKLYN: To spread all the Christmas joy to everyone from Santa.

I guess I’ll be running to Target to get a Leappad 2. I hope it’s 99 cents when I get there. And then I’ll work on spreading the Christmas joy to everyone.

Want a set of toys of your own? Enter by December 8th, 2012 for your chance to win TWO big giveaways:

Do you know a deserving family this holiday season? We’re giving away a set of 20 toys from Target, including those mentioned in this post! To nominate a family to win, simply comment and tell us who they are and why you’ve selected them!

Is your family getting into the holiday spirit? We’re also giving away another set of 20 toys from Target, including those mentioned in this post! To enter for a chance to win, simply comment and tell us your funniest Christmas/holiday story!

Good luck!

A big thanks to Target for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.

Surviving the School Year: Taking Care of Yourself

I wrote about some of my top tips for surviving the school year HERE. And when I checked out the Tyson Any'tizers Snacks School Year Survival Guide, I found a couple other tips to try. The Facebook page suggests making time for yourself. As parents, we tend to center our lives around our children (which, in my opinion, is how it should be), but now and then we need a little break. Doing something for ourselves is an important step that so many of us overlook. I know I do! The thing is - if you find a few minutes for yourself every day, it renews and rejuvenates you so that you can be at your best for your kids.

The Tyson page suggests making a list of your favorite activities and then doing them. In fact, most experts agree that parents need to make time for themselves and they suggest things like taking ballroom dancing lessons, scrapbooking, joining a gym and working out several times a week, etc. They're great ideas, but I know that (here in the real world) these things aren't always possible. For those of us living on a tight budget, joining a gym or signing up for lessons, for example, isn't feasible. But even though you may be limited on possibilities, you can still take time for yourself. Here are a few low-cost/free ideas.

1.  Create a dinner swap group. Get a group of friends together. Each of you cooks a dinner entree with sides that will feed however many people are in your group. For example, if you have 6 people in the group, you might make 6 lasagnas, while another person makes 6 batches of Swedish meatballs, and another person makes 6 pans of enchiladas, etc. Then once a month, get together and swap your dishes.. You can do this on whatever size scale works for you. The once a month (or once a week) get-together can be a fun outlet to break open a bottle of wine, pop some Any'tizer Chicken and Bacon Bruschetta in the oven, and enjoy the company of your friends. Meanwhile, you're only spending the money you would ordinarily be spending on feeding your family. Plus, you're gaining a variety of dinners that are easy to pop in the oven on a busy night!

2.  Instead of joining a gym, buy an exercise DVD and lock yourself in your room (so your kids can't laugh at your lack of coordination and groaning) and take half an hour to take care of yourself. Or recruit a friend or two to go for a walk with you after the kids are in bed.

3.  Escape into a good book. Take time to read. After helping your child with their ABCs, enjoy disappearing into a story of your own choosing. It's great to unwind with a couple chapters of a book that doesn't including green eggs or ham.

4.  Meet a friend for a cup of coffee or a drink. It doesn't take a lot of time or money, but it can be highly enjoyable to get together and talk and laugh and just unwind.

5.  Laugh! Go see a comedian, watch a funny DVD, or read a humorous story. Laughing is such a great way to forget about your problems and melt the stress away, even if only for a little while.

For more ideas on surviving the school year, check out Tyson Any'tizer page HERE. And add your own ideas!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Now That's Cooking with Gas (or um, a Lightbulb)!

I remember the Easy-Bake Oven I had as a kid. It looked like one of those fancy new inventions called microwaves, and it was in the hottest colors of the era - harvest gold and poop brown. It was at the top of my Christmas list back in the day and I was thrilled when I woke up Christmas morning and discovered that Santa had delivered! I remember playing with this toy often. Sure, it took like half a day to bake a cake with a 60 watt lightbulb, but how awesome it was to bake my very own dessert! After I frosted my amazing confection, I would cut it into 4 pieces, each roughly the size of a nickel, to share with my family.

The Easy Bake Oven has a much different look these days.  The good ole 60 watt has been replaced by a heating element, similar to what’s used in an actual oven. The only things I remember baking in my oven were cakes, cookies, and brownies. Today there are a bunch of super delicious-looking mixes you can use with it though, including pizza, pretzels, checkerboard cakes, dessert dippers, and more. I’m thinking about getting my kids one of these for Christmas just so I can sample the yummy concoctions. My oldest son is planning on attending Le Cordon Bleu next year. If I play my cards right, I might be able to get another kid or two to learn how to cook and bake, and then I won’t have to set foot in the kitchen again! I think I’ll have to speak to Santa about this plan and remind him that he can get the fancy new Easy Bake oven (along with all the hottest toys) at Target!

Want a set of toys of your own? Enter by December 8th, 2012 for your chance to win TWO big giveaways:

Do you know a deserving family this holiday season? We’re giving away a set of 20 toys from Target, including those mentioned in this post! To nominate a family to win, simply comment and tell us who they are and why you’ve selected them!

Is your family getting into the holiday spirit? We’re also giving away another set of 20 toys from Target, including those mentioned in this post! To enter for a chance to win, simply comment and tell us your funniest Christmas/holiday story!

Good luck!

A big thanks to Target for sponsoring this campaign. Click here to see more of the discussion.

It's Okay to Freak out with Xbox 360 + Kinect

I was sitting on the couch, laptop open, staring at my screen while trying to come up with something brilliant to write. I couldn’t focus on my task at hand, however, because my teens were playing a video game and I found myself constantly looking up at the TV.
“Are those zombies?” I asked, incredulously. “You’re killing zombies?”
“Yeah,” they answered as one of them shot a slowly advancing zombie in the head.
“I want to play!” I said excitedly, “I want to save the world from the walking undead!”

My teens gave me a raised-eyebrow, dubious look. You see, they know how I play video games, and although I’m actually pretty good at many games, I suck at anything with aiming and shooting, or racing vehicles. I mean, I SUCK at it. But knowing it would be useless to argue, they set me up and handed me a controller.

“Okay, you push this one to move. Push this button to jump. This one is to shoot. This one changes the angle. If you push this one, you can aim. This button lets you slash the zombie if you run out of bullets, but you can get new guns if you find them.”

“Whaaaaa?” I looked at my daughter, thoroughly confused. “You lost me after the button that lets you move.”

She rolled her eyes and went over everything again. I knew there was no way I’d remember it all, or have the coordination to use all the buttons at once, so I just concentrated on the buttons to move and shoot. That should be good enough, I decided.

It wasn’t good enough.

She started the game. I walked forward. And burst into flames.

“Mom, you’re on fire! You have to move!”

“What? Why am I on fire? Move where? Ugh, a zombie is coming!” I started shooting wildly, nowhere near the approaching zombie, until I ran out of bullets and died.

“You have to jump over the fire, Mom! And aim at the zombies! And don’t waste your bullets like that!”

“But I don’t know how to jump,” I whined.

Somehow, Savannah revived me and I was back to fighting zombies. This time, I saw a zombie and started shooting and slashing until Savannah yelled, “Mom, why are you shooting me? You’re supposed to shoot the zombies!”

“I thought you were a zombie!” I apologized. Then a zombie ate my brain.

I was determined to beat the game (or at least make it more than 60 seconds without dying) so I had her start it yet again. By this time all my kids had gathered around to watch, and they were laughing uncontrollably. According to my kids, I have this little habit of moving the controller and, well, my entire body, in the direction I want to go. Instead of simply pressing a button, I lean right, moving the controller a couple feet to my right. I lift it above my head. I kind of jump up if I want my little guy on the screen to jump. Apparently, this is not how you’re supposed to play and it causes kids to laugh at you. A lot.

Clearly, Call of Duty, Black Ops II is not for me. I think I’ll stick to Kinect Rush or Kinect Sports with my little kids. There aren’t any zombies in those games, plus I CAN MOVE ALL OVER THE ROOM and it’s not only okay, but it’s necessary!

Thanks to Xbox for sponsoring this campaign. Visit to learn more. Click here to see more of the discussion.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The New War on Men and Why Women Are to Blame

So I was reading this article by Suzanne Venker on Fox News here. The article was in response to a report from the Pew Research Center showing that women ages eighteen to thirty-four that say having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives rose nine percentage points since 1997 – from 28 percent to 37 percent. For men, the opposite occurred. The share voicing this opinion dropped, from 35 percent to 29 percent.

Suzanne has written three books on the American family and its intersection with pop culture. She claims that many men she has talked to over the years have told her they’re never getting married because “women aren’t women anymore.”

Gee, ya think?

I completely agree. These men are right. Women aren’t women anymore. And you know whose fault it is? Women! I for one, am perfectly happy staying home, cooking, cleaning, taking care of my house and family. I cannot (nor do I have any desire to learn how to) fix stuff or perform car maintenance. I’d really rather not have all the weight of “bringing home the bacon” on my shoulders. I don’t think a woman has to climb that corporate ladder to prove to men that she can do everything they can do. I have no problem whatsoever with a man who expects the woman to do his laundry and cook his meals. But guess what? I’m one of twenty-three women in this country who feel that way. (Or so it seems.) Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against women who feel the need to burn their bras and do everything that man can do, only better. More power to ya. But it doesn’t seem to go the other way. It is simply not socially acceptable to only be a housewife or just be a stay-at-home mom. It’s a weakness if a woman can’t be self-sufficient and take care of herself by herself. Personally, I have found this attitude coming from women much more often than men.

Immediately after I got divorced, my ex was fired and I was left trying to support my six kids on my own. I wrote a blog post confessing that I was scared because I’d been out of the workforce for so long staying home to raise my family, that I didn’t know how to go about re-entering the working world. I didn’t know what I was qualified to do and I didn’t know how I was going to make ends meet. Lisa Belkin, who was writing for the The Motherlode, NYT, at the time, wrote a piece and mentioned me and my situation. I was absolutely flamed for it. Strangers who knew nothing about me berated me for not having worked all along. I was called stupid and foolish for not getting a degree and pursuing a career, instead giving it all up for a family. People judged and condemed me for my poor choices that left me in a situation where I couldn’t easily get a job that would support my family.

People couldn’t seem to fathom that I hadn’t “thrown away a chance at a career.” Rather, I had purposely chosen to stay home and care for everyone because that’s what I wanted to do and that’s what my husband and I thought best for our family at the time. And through 18 years of marriage, that’s what I happily did. Sure it was unfortunate when things unfolded the way they did, but what really makes me sad is how people reacted with scorn instead of sympathy. I’m certain that had I chosen to put my kids in daycare while I worked throughout my marriage, and I had been the one to lose my job, I would’ve received nothing but heartfelt sympathy and the only scorn would have been directed at the economy, which was undoubtedly to blame for my loss of income. And the state of the economy would surely be blamed on men.

Of course women aren’t women anymore when we live in a world where a woman is bashed and called stupid and lazy if she chooses a more traditionally feminine role as caregiver and homemaker. Today, it seems that women don’t have the choice to embrace the differences between men and women, letting the man earn the living and fix stuff and be manly while she devotes her time to taking care of him and his kids, making sure he has a comfortable, pleasant home, food on the table, bills paid, clothes washed, and details of daily living taken care of. Today, if a woman chooses that sort of life, she’s letting big, bad men win. And if he’s winning, she’s surely losing.

Here’s another example. My friend got a flat tire the other day and a man stopped to help her change it. She was a little insulted and said, “I can change my own tire!” Granted, she had a lot of stuff going on right then and maybe reacted more harshly than she ordinarily would have.  She told me this on the very day that I got a flat tire myself. My flat tire happened at my house so I called AAA to rescue me, but had it happened while I was out and about, and a man had stopped to help me, I would have been immeasurably happy and I probably would’ve gotten contact info for him so I could drop off some brownies to thank him!

The scenario could be interpreted like this: the man cherishes the woman and wants to protect her. He wants her to stand aside so she doesn’t get dirty or hurt while he takes care of the tire. And the woman appreciates the man for rescuing her so she doesn’t have to get dirty or break a nail. He’s her hero. But would any of you look at the situation like that? Or would you look at it like this: the woman is a loser who can’t even change her own tire. She clearly shouldn’t be allowed to drive. Not knowing how to change a tire is simply inexcusable.

So, I say it’s no wonder so many men don’t want to get married. I don’t blame them. Who would want to marry a woman who feels the need to beat him down and prove that she’s better than him in all areas? Today’s woman can land the same job and work her butt off until she earns more than him, she can pay the bills, make the dinner, help the kids with homework, run a marathon, regrout the shower, and change her own damn tire. What does she need a man for?

EDITED 11/28/12 TO ADD:
Judging by the comments I’m getting on my Facebook page, most of you are missing my point here. Apparently, I’m not very good at expressing myself. I’m not judging or criticizing anyone or their choices. I’m not debating WAHMs vs. working moms; there is no debate. I’m not saying women who are educated and career-driven are wrong or bad or anything of the sort. Quite the contrary. My friend who changed her own tire is well-educated. She holds a position of the highest power in her field and has many men under her. And she’s an amazing mother. I have nothing but respect and admiration for her. Many days, I feel like I want to be her when I grow up.

In today’s world, it is simply not looked upon favorably when a woman chooses a more traditional role. Period.

BUT, that’s not even what this post is about! I only used those personal examples to highlight how society’s views have changed. Women have changed. Women’s roles have changed dramatically over the past 50 years. Men’s roles – not so much. I can see where a growing number of men might be put off marriage because of this. I understand. I never said that no man will ever want to marry an educated woman. That’s ludicrous.

Honestly, the fact that so many women stepped up to voice their insult and outrage and turned this into a battle between working women and stay-at-home women kind of illustrates the point. As Suzanne Venker writes, “In a nutshell, women are angry. They’re also defensive, though often unknowingly.”


Sunday, November 25, 2012

I'm "Tired" of This

I walked outside this afternoon, planning on running to the store to buy some goodies for one of Lexi's friends who is in the hospital with congestive heart failure (prayers for Kristin are appreciated.) I ordinarily would've gotten in the car and driven away without a second thought. But because I had cleaned out the garage this week and had a mountain of garbage on my driveway, I walked around my van in order to drag everything down to the curb and that's when I noticed that one of my tires was flat. I mean, FLAT.

My first instinct was to pretend I hadn't seen the tire and go ahead with my plan to run to the store, but I was pretty sure that would be a bad idea and people would yell at me for being stupid when I finally took it to a car shop. My second thought was - Whew, at least it wasn't on the driver's side or I'd worry that the tire went flat because of excess weight on the driver's side. That thought was immediately replaced with - Uh oh, I've been sitting on the passenger side pretty often while the kids drive! That thought was instantly replaced with - Is it even possible to flatten a tire because you're too fat? Then I thought - I'm hungry; I think there's a Dunkin' Donuts next to a tire shop. Finally, that thought was replaced with - I need therapy.

I took a picture of the tire and put it on Facebook along with a caption that read something like: Help! How does one go about fixing this?!  Among the many suggestions, was one that said I should call AAA.  AAA! Yes! I JUST joined AAA about a month ago! How fortuitous! I called and they asked me a bunch of questions.

“I have a flat tire.”

“Which tire is it?”

“It’s in the back and it’s on the left. Or the right. Hmmm, well if you’re looking at the front of the car, it’s on the left. At the back. It’s the tire closest to Lexi’s seat. Or is that where Jackson usually sits?”

“Do you have a spare tire?”

“I have no idea. Where would it be? I don’t think I have a spare. Maybe I do. Is there a hidden spare compartment in a van? I think I would’ve noticed that by now if there was. Then again, this isn’t really my department. Um no. No, I’m pretty sure I don’t have a spare. No.”

“What’s the make, model, and year of the vehicle, ma’am?”

“Um, it’s a Chevy Express, and it’s, well, I don’t know the year. 2000? I don’t know. It’s burgundy.”

The representative said, “Okay ma’am,” which I’m pretty sure meant: “You’re an idiot and shouldn’t be allowed to drive. You give women and all of humankind a bad name.” She continued with, “Do you know where you want it towed?”

“I don’t know. I’m kinda new here. Don’t you have a list of places?”

“I have the names of some places near you, but I don’t know if any of them are open today.”

“Oh, that’s right. It’s Sunday.”  I hung up so I could make some calls and find a place that was open.

Down here, a lot of places are closed on Sunday (I’m looking at you 4 Rivers and Chick-fil-A) so it took a while to find one that was open and was within the five-mile free-towing radius. Walmart it was. I called back AAA and they dispatched a tow truck.

I had a nice conversation with the driver who was from New York. Ninety-five percent of the people I’ve met in Florida are from New York. I’m going to start a petition to have Florida renamed South New York. When I told him I have six kids, he looked taken aback and swore I didn’t look old enough to have six kids. He’s my new best friend.

While the mechanics fixed my tire, they traded comments about the disgusting state of my van. In the back, I have sand toys complete with sand, a couple boogie boards, a couple dozen reusable Aldi bags, and 3 boxes of toys, games, and books to be donated to Goodwill. There are towels, shoes, clothes, and garbage aplenty strewn throughout the rest of my car. I was just too lazy busy to clean it this week. They probably commented on my lovely duct-tape job as well. While they were doing that, I was wasting time in Walmart.

I’ve always hated Walmart and I do anything I can to get out of shopping there, but I have to say this about the store — it does an amazing job at making me feel better about myself. By the time I leave Walmart, I feel like a well-adjusted, exceedingly smart, super-model-looking, well-dressed, awesome parent.

Anyway, I left with one new tire and the strongly worded suggestion that I get two more new tires and an alignment soon. Maybe I should’ve picked up a lottery ticket while I was there …

Friday, November 23, 2012

I Bet I Got Better Black Friday Deals Than You Did

After my kids and I got the Thanksgiving dinner all cleaned up and the leftovers put away, we shot some zombies, then watched a couple movies. In fact, Savannah and I stayed up until 2:00am watching movies. So, today while all the deranged people were fighting with the rest of humanity over bargain-priced electronics, I was sleeping in my nice, toasty, comfy bed. No one banged their cart into my ankles. No one grabbed the last 3-pronged thingamawhoozit out of my hands. I didn't stand in any lines for hours. I wasn't arrested for cutting in line. No one threatened to stab me. I didn't inhale a cloud of pepper spray. I didn't witness anyone getting trampled.

The whole concept of Black Friday just rubs me the wrong way. Somehow, the celebration of Christ’s birth has been reduced to a competitive sport, in which all rules of civilized behavior (and many laws) are out the window. It’s like a water polo game – no blood, no foul as long as you score (the hottest toy of the season for $20.00 off).

Although watching humanity being reduced to the lowest life form is always appealing, I opted to spend the day being thankful for our gorgeous Florida weather. My kids and I went to Blue Spring State Park to see the manatees. Then we had a picnic of Thanksgiving leftovers. Not wanting to call it a day yet, we decided to drive over to the beach and enjoy the ocean.

In the end, I think I scored some of the BEST deals out there today!


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Time Flies!

It's hard to believe I've been blogging for nearly 5 1/2 years now. Man, has time flown! It's hard to even remember back to when I first started. So many things have changed since then. When I wrote my first blog post on June 29, 2007, my kids were 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12 years old. They're now 6, 8, 11, 14, 16, and 18. I was a married stay-at-home mom. Now, I'm divorced and working full-time out of the house as well as working from home. I lived in Chicagoland when I started my blog. Now, I'm living in Orlando.

Back when I began blogging, I was dealing with things like yogurt painted on the TV, marker on the walls, a baby playing in the toilet, and lots and lots of baseball games. Now my life is filled with things like looking at colleges, teaching kids how to drive, football, water polo, teens working and dating.

However, many things have stayed the same. I still love spending time with my kids. I still like laughing and enjoying the lighter side of life. My kids may not get into as much mischief as they did when I first started writing, but they still make me laugh and smile (and yes, shake my head) every single day.

I know it's hard to take the time to enjoy the little things when you're in the thick of the day-to-day "stuff". Sometimes we just get so wrapped up in all the things we need to do. Some days we find ourselves saying, "Not now. I'm too busy. Maybe later." But in a few years, when we look back at how our time was spent, will we say, "Boy, I'm sure glad I put off spending time with my kids so I could pay those bills or watch that TV show, or do those errands!"? No. I guarantee you won't be saying that.

Do you want to remember that time you baked cookies with your kids and it took you guys an hour to clean up the kitchen afterward, but it was worth it when you saw the smiles on the kids as they happily munched on the warm goodies? Do you want to remember the times you played with and read to your kids before bed, and the times you packed a picnic and rode your bikes to the park? Or do you want to live with the regret that comes when you realize your kids are nearly grown and you said, "Not now" just a few too many times? Go through old photo albums or home movies with your kids tonight and remind yourself of how fast they grow. Then give them a big hug!

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