Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas 2013 Recap (and a little give away)

Good morning friends.  Happy last day of 2013!  Do you have big plans for tonight?  I'm heading out to The Loft this morning to try to snag one of those trendy sweatshirts with jewels and sequins emblazoned on them.  That seems like the perfect attire for our lasagna dinner with neighborhood friends and 9PM new year's countdown. :)  

I am still fully in "break" mode (so much so that my to-do list is exactly the same length it was a week ago and there is a VERY good chance that - after ten glorious days of catching up on rest and relaxing - I will have to stay up all night Wednesday to get some things done and go back to work on Thursday more exhausted than before), so this will be short and sweet; but, here are a few photos from our Christmas:

Our quiet Christmas Eve - before a little driving light tour and hot chocolate.
Leaving cookies for Santa and treats for the reindeer.  Sam kept eating all of the reindeer snacks.  Hilarious.
My table for Christmas breakfast.
Christmas morning "mess."
Homemade "busy board" from Bear.
Modeling new hats with Uncle Richard.
Our little family in Northern Virginia before our annual lunch at Great Aunt Martha's.
Just as I suspected, Christmas with a 2 year old was magical.  I imagine this was probably the "perfect" year because Sam was old enough to really enjoy and experience so much of the holiday, but too young to have any expectations.  Seeing the joy in his little eyes throughout the whole season was the greatest gift I could ever receive.

Speaking of photos and memories...

I just discovered this cool new L.A. video company made up of award-winning filmmakers called Yourkidvid. They're bringing their talents to all those little videos we have hanging around (and taking up so.much.space) on our phone and computer, and turning them into short films. Little cinematic experiences.

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Check it out and start uploading your holiday videos for your own mini-movie.  (They are making a 2013 video for me now! I can't wait!)
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And, best of all, I’m giving away a free Premium Video! Just leave a comment telling me your favorite part of your holiday this season. Winner will be drawn at random from comments left before 11:59PM Pacific Time on 1/31/14.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Cards & Christmas Break

Today is the day folks!  At 1:10PM, I will officially be on Christmas vacation.  Thanks to the help of our amazing nanny/life coach, for the first time EVER, I am all finished with all of my holiday shopping, wrapping, and baking (almost).  I think I might even be caught up on laundry which is some kind-of Christmas miracle in and of itself.  (For the record, I followed hardly any of my own advice from this post and have TONS of grading to do over the break.  You win some you lose some.)

I am SO looking forward to the next 10+ days of being with my family, enjoying our Christmas tree and a fire, making snowflakes out of coffee filters with Sam, taking drives in pjs to look at lights, and doing plenty of cooking (and eating).  One of my best friends and her family spent the night on their way home last night, and today Jeff's roommate and his wife are coming for the weekend. Tomorrow, I am getting my nails done with my mom and sister, and we have several "low key" parties and events to attend this weekend.  It's going to be a really really good Christmas...

In the spirit of all of the above, I've decided to give myself a little "Christmas Break" from the blog too.  So, I'm signing out today and won't be back until after Christmas.  I'll miss this spot, but I will also enjoy turning off the ole computer for a few days to focus on my "real" life.  I know you understand.

In the meantime, I wanted to share this year's Christmas card and photos with all of you.  If I could, I would mail one to every one of you - I consider you that good of friends; but, I hope this will suffice:

(Photos by Howard Chen; card designed by me on Picmonkey)

I've said it before, but THANK YOU for making E, Myself, and I feel like home.  In a way that only a blogger can understand, this place is SO important to me, and I consider each of you dear friends.  I hope you have a wonderful holiday and a blessed start to 2014.

Merry Merry Christmas!!

(See our past Christmas cards here, here, and here.)

P.S. I'll be sharing more about the Get & GIVE Away winner and her charity of choice after the break! :)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Little Christmas Tour

I can assure you that this will not be the fanciest Christmas home tour you've ever seen, and these will absolutely NOT be the best photos, but I wanted to share a few shots from around my house this season because I love having them to go back and look at year after year.  (See my 2010, 2011, and 2012 Christmas tour.)


There are lots of things I don't have photos of (like the precious little tree in Sam's bedroom), but this will do.  Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Midweek Confessions

Hi friends.

Is it just me, or is this one of the longest weeks of the year?

Thankfully, today is "hump day" and marks one week until Christmas...  This time next week, if all goes as planned, I'll be sitting in a pile of tissue paper reeling from too many cinnamon buns (if you have not made these, you MUST do it) with all the people I love most in the world... I think I'm going to make it.

In the meantime, let's celebrate this mid-week with some confessions, shall we?

- Sam calls playing with the nativity "playing God," and I don't correct him because it is just too funny.

- Ever since I published my post about not doing the Elf on the Shelf, Jeff has had a grand ole time making a mockery of my feelings about it by moving the darn Elf into the most absurd and obnoxious places.  Currently, our Elf (who is unnamed) is riding on the back of a neon orange pterodactyl and hanging from the ceiling with chicken wire front and center (as in, you can see it from the road when you drive by at night) in the living room.  It has been there for three days and counting.  My husband is so funny.

- Up until about five years ago, I thought "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" was a song about an extramarital affair.  #notthebrightestbulbonthetree

And, a little story/confession for you...

- Last week, Sam fell asleep in the car after several days/nights of bad sleep, so I decided to drive to the post office and seal and stamp my Christmas cards in the parking lot before mailing them off by the 5PM deadline.  I thought this through and decided that IF the post office wasn't crowded, and I could get a parking spot right at the very front, it would be OK if I locked Sam in the car and ran inside to buy stamps reallyquick.  It was the perfect plan. Unfortunately, neither of those two conditions were met, and the post office was PACKED.  (I can't imagine why.)

So... What did I do?

Naturally, I sat in the lot like a total creeper just praying that someone I knew would pull in.  Sure enough, about ten minutes later,  a friend of my grandma's drove up...  Without really thinking about how awkward it would be, I promptly jumped out of my car and basically met the unassuming lady at her door.  After we exchanged pleasantries (and she told me what a hurry she was in because she was meeting friends for dinner in an hour), I asked if she could please sit in my car with my sleeping child while I bought stamps.  She agreed (what choice did she have, really?), and I ran inside.  

As if the fact that I made her asked her to do this wasn't bad enough, when I came out about seven minutes later, the poor lady was just standing outside the car (inthefreezingcold) at Sam's window because genius here had forgotten to unlock it for her when I went running into the post office.

She was very nice about the whole thing, but I feel confident that she will run the other direction the next time she sees me out in public.  And, for the record, Sam woke up as soon as I got back in the car = I didn't actually get to stamp and mail any of my cards after all that.

If you'd like to join in, link up your own confession below!  Have a good Wednesday!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dear New Teacher: Some Advice for Your Winter Break

You have almost made it through the first half of your very first year teaching.  Seriously, this is HUGE.  The fact that you have survived thus far speaks highly of your willpower and commitment to the job.  I mean, I don't know any statistics or anything, but - based on my personal experience - I think it's probably accurate to say that one in three new teachers has a nervous breakdown some time during the first six months of teaching.  Maybe?

Honestly, it feels like NO time has passed since I was in your shoes.  I remember thinking, "how does anyone do this for twenty-five years?" and, now, here I am, going strong halfway through my seventh year in the classroom.  Time flies when you're having fun. ;)

The truth is, it does get easier.  This is a tough job.  You are probably never going to complain about being bored or be able to use your 1/2 hour of planning to surf YouTube videos, but second semester will be a little bit easier than the first, and so on and so on...  If you feel like your job is exhausting and (at times) seems never-ending, chances are... you're just doing it right.

For now, though, let's focus on the fact that 156 research papers, 35 thank you notes for tins of homemade cookies, and a staff potluck are all that stand between you and ten glorious days of "vacation."  #letthatsoakinforaminute.  At least for a couple of weeks, there is an end in sight, and you are almost there...

More than likely, your friends - the one that chose "regular" jobs and are lucky to get December 25th off from work are cursing you right now.  Also, I'm going to go ahead and give you permission to admit that the nice break schedule (hello summer!) was a least part of the reason you went in to teaching in the first place... But, let me clarify something for you and everyone else who things you've got it easy.  Teachers have those breaks because we NEED them.  Our physical and mental health DEPENDS on them.  You might go in to teaching for the lovely schedule; but, I assure you, anyone who has ever pulled back-to-back all-nighters to grade papers, had a student call them a b*@%$, or proctored a five hour standardized test knows that those breaks DO NOT keep you in this profession...  They are perks, yes.  But so is a one hour lunch break and a clear-cut stop-time.  Trust me, you've earned this little break...

Now, I know how you work.... You've already scheduled ten million things for your break.  You need to do ALL of your Christmas shopping/wrapping/cooking/decorating, you intend to plan for the next six weeks of classes, and you've promised yourself you will finally get around to organizing your basement and re-painting your bedroom because you never have any time anymore.  We teachers, we are nothing if not a little crazy! :)  Instead, dear new teacher, here's a little advice for your winter break: 

1. Prepare.  It's true, if you plan ahead a little bit and make sure your classroom is neat, your immediate "to do" list is complete, and you have something prepared for your first day back to work in January, you will enjoy your break more.  Even if you have to stay a little late on the last school day, it is worth it to walk away knowing you won't come back to a huge mess and an overwhelming pile of papers. 

2. Be realistic.  That huge bin of journals you brought home and planned to grade?  (I have one too.) You'll be lucky if you ever get them out of the car!  Be honest with yourself and your students.  I don't give my kids assignments over the holidays, so I tell them to expect that I won't be working either.  Those journals will still be there in two weeks.  Resist the urge to use this break as a time to catch up on ALL THE THINGS school related.  I promise, after a little break, you will be MUCH more productive and motivated. 

3. Rest. Don't set your alarm.  Go to bed early.  Spend a day in pjs watching Christmas movies.  I know you have things to get done; but, for the love, don't stay up all night baking cookies or scrubbing your baseboards.  You NEED this time to rest.  The WORST thing you can is go back to school in two weeks even more exhausted than when you left. 

4. Play. Almost as important as rest, you need to have some fun too.  Reconnect with your old self - the one who wasn't constantly thinking of lesson plans and grading tests.  Remember hobbies?  Schedule time to see friends you haven't connected with in a while.  Have adult conversations.  Read a good book just because.  Go to a movie.  Do the things that YOU like to do.   

5. Plan a "spring cleaning" day for the day you return.  I implemented this "tradition" a few years ago, and I love it.  That first day back is HARD.  You - and your students - need some time to ease back in to routine and work.  Plan for that resistance.  I love using my first day back as a "spring cleaning" day.  We review the class syllabus, talk about where we are headed in the next few weeks. And - literally - clean up the classroom.  Have the kids help you re-do your bulletin boards, organize your book shelves, and wipe down your furniture.  You will feel SO much better and ready to get going again on the second day back - especially with a clean room and a renewed focus. 

Believe me, these two weeks are going to FLY by; and, when they're gone, it's a long road to summer break...

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Still Shopping? A Few of My Favorite Things... (Not Sponsored)

Are you finished with your Christmas shopping yet?

I bought my last "official" gift this morning, and I'm actually kind-of sad to say I'm "done."  In the last couple of years, since I've become a professional - if I do say so myself - at online deal shopping, I have really enjoyed searching for and finding the perfect gifts for everyone on my list while still sticking to a reasonable budget.  I have a couple of odds and ends left to pick up in the next two weeks; but, mostly, now it's just LOTS and LOTS of wrapping (which I loathe, by the way).

Speaking of gifts... Thanks to your help (via Facebook and Twitter) last week, I wrote a post for the Manila Blog titled "3 Out-of-the-Box (but MUCH NEEDED) Gifts for Moms" that was picked up and published on Yahoo Finance on Wednesday.  Never in a million years did I think I'd see my name next to Byline of something finance-related, but I'm very honored.  Check out the post here if you have a minute -- I think I did a pretty good job representing what we all REALLY want for Christmas. :) 

And now, on that note, since I don't have anyone left to buy for, but there are still SO many good deals to be gotten, I thought I'd stretch out the fun a little longer and share some of my favorite gift ideas and deals from around the internet with you...  All of these gifts are (relatively) inexpensive and can be ordered now for delivery on or before Christmas Eve. (And none are sponsored or affiliate links - in case you care about that kind of thing.  Pinky promise!)

Let's begin, shall we?

 - Jeff and I are in the process of making one of these for ourselves and for each of our parents' for Christmas (although it won't be a surprise since we've had to ask for their help with it tons).  I just think the look is so cool, and we've been shocked to realize how much we really don't know about our own family history.  It is nice to know this will be written down for Sam and the generations to come after him. (This takes a little extra effort if you don't already have all the information gathered, but we have really enjoyed doing it!)

I talked about this some yesterday, but I feel like it is worth mentioned again because it is so darn cute and would make an awesome gift for the little person on your list - especially from grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc.  Sam LOVES playing with ours (He calls it "playing God," which kills me), and I'm so excited to have it to bring out as part of our holiday traditions every year from here on out.  What a special and meaningful gift to give!

As a side note, Jeff and I were given a very nice nativity set when we got married, and I thought that was SUCH a great wedding (or first Christmas) gift.  They can get really expensive and aren't exactly something you need/want to spend money on yourself, but we were/are SO glad to have one!  (We have this one.)

Kate Spade Sale

Call me a snob, but I think everything is a little prettier wrapped in a Kate Spade box.  Above are just some of the great items on sale at Nordstrom right now that I think would make awesome gifts for your friends, co-workers, sister, etc.  (And, don't forget, Nordstrom always has free shipping!)

Anthropologie is famous for selling beautiful and original clothing, jewelry, accessories, and housewares - but, also for being tough on the ole wallet.  These mugs, however, are affordable and adorable.  Plus, I love the personal touch of a monogram.  These would be adorable stuffed with a a bag of fancy hot chocolate for all of your neighbors or roommates. (I'm also a little bit obsessed with stalking their "gift of the day" deals.  Check that out too for even more good ideas!)

And, last but not least...

I bought probably 75% of my gifts this year from JCrew Factory, and I am LOVING their 12 days of deals.  On some of the things I bought, I got an extra 30% off AND Free Shipping.  So great!  Plus, you know whatever you get, it will be well made and in style. :)  You can't go wrong.

That's all for today... I hope this was as much fun for you as it was for me.  Haha!

What is your go-to spot for Christmas shopping?  I'd love to hear!

Finally, while you're here, don't be silly and miss my Get and GIVE Away - going on thru Sunday!!

 Click here to see the details and enter!

Have a great weekend friends!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Jesus AND Santa

It's been awhile since I've written a post that received as much feedback as my Elf on the Shelf one from Monday...  I have to be honest with you, I wrote that in about fifteen minutes on Sunday night - mainly intending to be lighthearted, funny, and "confessional" - and fully expected that I was the only mom in the country depriving her child of this Christmas tradition.  So, thanks for all the affirming comments and reassurance that I'm not alone.

But, just in case I unintentionally struck a chord with any of you, I did want to clarity a couple of things before we move on...

- I DO NOT hate the Elf on the Shelf. I don't think there is anything wrong with including him/her in your Christmas traditions... I really really don't. If you enjoy it, it makes your kids happy, and everyone is having fun then - by all means - go crazy with it.  Seriously.  It just isn't my thing... right now.

- I really am glad we own an Elf. We got it from a close family friend who, I'm sure, put a lot of thought into the gift.  He will always be a part of our decor and, if Sam ever starts asking me why our Elf is lazy doesn't hide like all of his friends', well, then I'll re-evaluate and see what is best for us at that time.

- What I didn't mention in that post was that I'm not doing a cutesy/creative Advent calendar for Sam either.   I had really good intentions for this one (thanks to this reading schedule & this cute idea to unwrap a book before bed every night) and even took some of the preliminary steps towards making it happen (like gathering Christmas books and printing the plan) but, again, I lost track of time, and my lack of motivation got the best of me... As much as I'd like to be thought of as the super-deep-and-spiritual type, probably 85% of the reason we don't do the Elf on the Shelf OR an Advent thing is because I'm tired, and it just feels like one.more.thing to put on my "To Do" list. #sadbuttrue  #keepingitreal

Anyway, all that brings me to my topic today (which I actually have been thinking about and working on for a while):  How we (try to) balance Jesus AND Santa at Christmas...

At our house, we do both.

Jeff and I both grew up with Santa being a big part of our Christmas traditions.  I have SO many great memories of mailing letters to the North Pole, sitting on Santa's lap at the mall, leaving cookies (and reindeer food) out on Christmas Eve, and - of course - waking up to doll houses, bicycles, and new clothes on Christmas morning.

We did all those things and - you know what? - I still absolutely knew the TRUE meaning of Christmas.  I don't remember exactly when I figured out that Santa wasn't 'real,' but my parents' went on pretending well beyond the age that it was socially acceptable, and my sister and I happily obliged.  I don't have any harsh feelings about being "deceived" or anything like that.  Our holidays were amazing and magical and SO MUCH FUN.

I want all of that for Sam and - I have to be honest with you - I am absolutely LOVING watching him experience it all for the first time this year and be SO excited about lights and snowmen and reindeer and Santa*.  There is really nothing like Christmas with a child.

But, here's the thing:

The Santa books and pajamas and decorations? Those things come out for about five weeks in the winter ONLY.  Jesus is a staple in our home all year long.

When I remember that, striking a balance isn't all that hard...
All the fun and excitement that comes with Santa (and his sleigh full of toys) in December, is just the tiniest symbol of the real gift of Jesus.
Because God sent Jesus to be born a baby and live (and die) with us, we ALL have the gift of eternal life and freedom from our sins.  (Now, admittedly that's a little deep for a two year old - we are really just focused on Jesus being born at Christmas right now - but you get my gist.)

Our Christmas includes Santa, but it is about Jesus.

So... What does that look like tangibly?

- We have a nativity set (the one above is Fisher Price, and Sam loves it) and singing Santa dolls.
- We read Twas the Night Before Christmas and the Bible.
- We sing "Oh Holy Night" and "Jingle Bells"
- We get gifts and we give gifts.

Do I think it should be a perfect balance of 50/50 between the two?  No.

Do we always succeed at making it MORE about Jesus? 
But, right now, if you ask Sam who we celebrate at Christmas, he will say "Baby Jesus." 
If you ask him about Santa, he will say "Ho Ho Ho."
I feel good about that.
What about you?  Do you celebrate both?  How do you teach your kids about Christmas?**
*For now, Jeff and I have decided to give Sam three gifts from Santa for Christmas because that's how many presents Jesus got from the wise men, and it keeps things simple.  We will likely wrap up one additional gift from us, and - undoubtedly - he will be completely spoiled by our friends and family (for which we are incredibly grateful)! 
**Just a reminder that I think the BEST way is whatever is best for YOUR family.  There is no judgement here AT ALL... Just an interesting discussion point.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mom-Teacher: A Day in the Life

First, before I say anything else, I want to show you this nice little schedule I made for myself a few weeks ago and clipped inside my "home organization binder."  Isn't it lovely?

That's the kind of dream world I live in... One where I wake up at 4:30AM and go to bed at 9:30PM every night, exercise every day, have structured play time as a family, stay totally caught up on the laundry, and bring nothing home from work.  Emphasis on dream world. ;)

Sure, some days are better than others.  Some days (rarely), I follow that schedule pretty closely and feel like I could conquer Mt. Kilimanjaro; but, most days look a little more like this...

6AM - I finally get out of bed after pushing snooze repeatedly for an hour and a half.  I immediately head downstairs to make coffee, grab clothes from the dryer, and throw a lunch together. Then, it's upstairs to shower and make myself presentable for 75 teenagers. ;)

That whole process takes between 30 and 45 minutes, and I try to be out the door a little before seven (after a quick kiss goodbye to my two sleeping boys, of course).

My morning commute is only about 10 minutes, and I usually ride in silence preparing for my day, enjoying my coffee, and getting ready to turn my "game face" on when I get to school...

7:00AM - I am greeted in my classroom by a herd of students (who apparently do not realize it is only 7AM).  I have a Keurig in my room that students are allowed to use, so there are usually a few huddled around that, one or two curling their hair in the back of the room (seriously), and a handful hurrying to finish their homework before the bell.

One of the harder things about teaching is that you don't really get to "warm up" in the morning.  From the moment I get to work until the campus clears out four hours later, I am "on."  (I often equate this to being an actor in a live performance five days a week.)  Some days, like when Sam hasn't slept the night before or I'm not feeling great, this is really hard; but, other days, I am thankful for the rush of energy first thing in the morning.  It is hard to be an old fuddy-duddy when you are surrounded by cheerful (most of the time) and loud teenagers. 

7:30AM -The first bell rings, and my teaching day officially begins with the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence.

We run on an A/B schedule in my county, so every other day I start with ninth graders from 7:30 - 9 and then have tenth graders from 9:30 - 11 after a little break.  On the other days, I start with AP English 11 and have "remediation" from 9:30 - 11 for any other students at the school (we are a STEM Academy/ trade school) that might need some extra help in reading/writing.

When I'm teaching, I'm pretty much moving around the whole time to make sure everyone stays awake.  My kids are really really great, so a lot of my time is spent just facilitating discussions about something we are reading/studying or overseeing group work or activities.  Of course, there are also plenty of days that I'm going through a power point and giving notes or handing out a test or timed-writing assignment too.  But, I do try to space those out so that it is never too much at once.  (I think about 20 minutes of note taking is all most of my high schoolers can stomach before they start pulling out their cell phones ever so discreetly and texting in their laps. #Imontoyou). 

Meanwhile, at home... Two days a week, Jeff takes Sam to preschool at 9AM before heading to work.  The other three days, we are lucky enough to have a sitter that comes to our house to keep him.  Miss Jennifer is basically a part of our family now, and I - honestly - don't know how we would survive without her.
Sam showing off one his art projects from school.

11AM - The last bell rings and students are dismissed on buses to head back to their base high schools.  (I have a unique situation because I teach in a specialty school that houses programs for students from all five of our county's schools.  They come to school early in the morning to fit in our programs and then head back to their home school for afternoon classes.  This means that our school is basically empty after 11:00.  I am incredibly fortunate to work in this kind-of environment; but, it doesn't mean I sit around all afternoon twiddling my thumbs.)

Pretty much how my desk looks every afternoon

On A-days, once this round of students has cleared out, I straighten my classroom (always) and grab a quick lunch before the next crew rolls in.  At 12:30, I put on a new hat and spend my afternoon doing pre-GED testing for the county until 3PM.  This mostly involves managing paperwork and keeping up with testing materials, scoring, etc. for kids that come in to test.

On B-days, after my students leave and I've finished remediation obligations etc. I have lunch and planning until 1:45.  Even though my favorite part about my job is actually interacting with teenagers, I really LOVE the planning part too!  I especially like trying to incorporate some pop culture in with some of the more "boring" elements of the English classroom like grammar or classic literature.  Whether it is tweeting as characters from The Crucible or analyzing the rhetoric of Facebook statuses, I'm one of those teachers that gets a little adrenaline rush when a unit finally comes together or I run across an awesome idea on the internet I can implement in class.  As much as I enjoy planning, I dislike grading.  BY FAR, that is the worst part about teaching (especially being an English teacher).

This packet of papers to grade goes home with me just about every single day.  I actually take it out of my school bag about once a week. ;)

3:15PM - I come home for the afternoon to relieve the sitter and start my "second job."  (On my earlier days - when I get off at 1:45, sometimes I head straight home; but, I also try to use that time to run errands, go to the gym, or meet a friend for coffee whenever possible.)

Nine times out of ten, Sam is still sleeping (he takes about a three hour afternoon nap from 1 - 4 most days).  Although this does cut in to our time together, I am grateful for the chance to unwind and get some things done at home before he wakes up.  

I change into comfy clothes almost immediately when I get home (unless it is a day where we have a play date or something scheduled for the afternoon) and then try to start a load of laundry, prep for dinner, or catch up on blog/email stuff.  If I'm being honest, many of my afternoons involve an hour or so of Pretty Little Liars on Netflix, my laptop, and a second (or third) cup of coffee.

4PM - Sam wakes up from his nap & our afternoon activities commence.  We are lucky enough to have a great crew of buddies in our neighborhood, so when the weather is nice we usually meet them at the playground behind our house or go for a walk.  On Wednesdays, we go to a music class that Sam loves (and I really enjoy getting to participate in with him since I miss a lot of those types of things when I'm at work), and occasionally we go to the gym or meet friends at the library/park/etc.  Of course, there are plenty of days that Sam sleeps late and we just play at home too.  Usually around 5:30, I let him watch a half hour (or so) of a movie, and I start getting dinner ready. 

6PM - Most nights, we eat together at our kitchen table around 6:30.  On Tuesday nights, my parents watch Sam so Jeff and I can go to Bible Study at 7:30, so dinner is usually take-out or something very simple on those nights.  In all reality, I probably cook a meal for us three nights a week.  Sometimes I feel guilty about not cooking really fancy meals every night, but it is just a battle I've decided not to choose.  I don't love cooking and I don't have tons of time for it.  If I cook three nights, we eat out two, and have leftovers/soup/cereal two, I feel OK.

Crock-pot for the win.

After dinner, we try to spend some time together as a family.  This usually involves a dance party or chasing Sam around the house in some form. ;)

8:30PM - One of us takes Sam upstairs for a bath while the other stays behind to clean up the kitchen/ pack lunches for the next day/ make coffee for the morning, etc.  On nights where we didn't cook (or we just feel lazy and leave all the dishes), we give Sam a bath and gett him ready for bed together.  He is so fun right before bed - usually wild and adorable.

Our nighttime routine isn't terribly consistent, but we try to read a couple of books together and say prayers before bed.  Lights out for Sam is usually between 9 & 9:30.  (I know that's late, but it works for us.  We've experimented with an earlier bedtime, but this helps him to sleep until 7:30 or 8AM and still take a long afternoon nap.  I realize that that nap will probably disappear soon, and we'll adjust bedtime then.)
Don't know what people did before video monitors!

10PM - Normally, once Sam is all tucked in, Jeff and I are exhausted and ready for bed too.  Occasionally we will stay up late watching something on TV, playing on our computers, or (me) grading papers, but sleep is really important to us both and we know morning will come all too soon, so 10PM bedtime is the norm.

A few final thoughts: It's funny to look at your life scheduled out like this, you know?  Most days, I feel SO busy, and then I look at it on paper and feel like maybe I'm just lazy not using my time well.  The truth is, every day is different.  That's both my favorite part and the hardest part about being a teacher AND a momma -- both require a lot of flexibility and being able to work "in the gaps."  

Also, I think it is worth mentioning, that I have pretty unusual teaching job/schedule.  For the first four years of my career, I taught in a more traditional high school with five or six classes a day.  Although I still loved that, I was - honestly - nearly a zombie by the end of the day.  When Sam was born (in 2011), I just knew I couldn't do that and still go home and be a good mom.  (Some women can and do - my mom was one of them - but I am not one of them.)  In the last three years, I have had a full time job as a school testing coordinator (regular schedule, but none of the out-of-school work that teachers have), a part-time teaching job (short schedule but just as much, or more, out-of-school work), and now this... For now, this is the perfect schedule/job for me.  I am so so thankful for it because it allows me to do what I really love in the morning without being so overtaken by lesson plans, papers to grade, etc. in the afternoons.  And, trust me,  I know how very very lucky I am to have it!

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Monday, December 9, 2013

We Don't Do Elf on the Shelf

Confession: We have an Elf on the Shelf, but he doesn't have a name, and he just sits on the shelf (literally) all month - like part of the decor.  I'm not even sure that Sam has ever noticed him.

Be honest... Am I the worst mom?

Someone gave us the Elf for Sam's first Christmas when it was just starting to get popular.  I thought it was a cute idea, and I was (still am) glad we have one.  (At least there is a spark of hope that I will become Creative and Fun Mom one day; if I had to actually buy one myself, it would never happen.)  But, to be frank, I'm just not into it...

If you asked me why (let's pretend you did, k?), here's what I would tell you:

- I think it is a little creepy to tell my toddler that a small man is watching him all the time.

- I don't love the idea of using Santa (or an elf) as a behavior modification tool; getting gifts at Christmas isn't about how good you are... In fact, if you want to get technical, I very much want Sam to understand that Jesus came for the exact opposite reason.  (#anotherpostforanothertime)

These things are true.  I really do think them, and they do contribute to my lack of motivation when it comes to the elf.  But, let's be real here, I'm also just a bit lazy.

As I type this, it is 9:30PM on a Sunday and there is spaghetti squash all over my kitchen, my toddler is still awake, and I'm wearing the same clothes I slept in the night before. Do you really think I'm going to go build a fully-functioning airplane to hang from my ceiling fan and "hide" the elf in tonight?  Not.a.chance. #aintnobodygottimeforthat

Seriously, how do these other moms do it?

I'm not being judgmental, I'm really not.  I enjoy looking at the elf photos in my Instagram feed and am, truly, impressed by the creativity and enthusiasm of so many of my peers... I know people have a lot of fun with it, and it seems like kids really love it.... I just get a little tired and anxious thinking about it...  Am I the only mom that feels like everyone else is on some miracle-motivation drug that no one has told me about?!?! 

I admit, I've got some fears about how this might affect Sam in the future, and I'm making no promises that I won't cave to the societal pressures in the future... But, for now, here he sits... #maybenextyear #butprobablynot

How about you?  Do you do the Elf on the Shelf?   I'd love to hear your reasons, one way or the other, in the comments.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Happy Weekend + Gems

Hope your weekend is off to a good start already.  Jeff had a guys' night last night, so Sam and I had a little date.  We had planned to go downtown to see the Christmas lights show, but it started raining right when we got there.... Instead though, we drove around looking at lights, and Sam LOVED it.  He was so cute "hunting" for lights and got so excited when he spotted them.  I could have driven around all night just listening to his gasps and wonder.  Christmas with a toddler is the closest I've ever come to believing in magic. :)

Towards the end of the night, the rain had stopped, so we parked and walked down a street that is totally covered in lights.  Of course, it started pouring rain just when we got about three blocks away, so we ended the night soaking wet - but happy.  Thankfully, it is freakishly warm here right now (high 60s last night), so I think we were probably spared from pneumonia.

This morning, we are having our pictures taken for Christmas cards (#betterlatethannever) and then enjoying the rest of a relaxing weekend and - no doubt - tracking the big icestorm that is apparently headed our way. 

Anyway, here are some good reads for your Saturday morning:

Learning to Speak the Language of Boys

How (and Why) to Be the Meanest Mom in the World

I've Been Thinking about This (on what's real about blogging)

The Heart of Holiday Hospitality

What were your favorites from the week?

Have a great weekend! I'll be doing a lot of this....

Friday, December 6, 2013

Redeeming Motherhood

*Note* THANK YOU for your kind words and prayers for my Poppy.  I will keep you updated on his condition from here... I wrote the post below about two weeks ago, so the timing of it is a little off; but, I still want to share and focus on the really good things in my life even when one thing feels really hard.  Thanks for riding the roller-coaster with me!

I try not to be that mom.  You know, the one that brags incessantly about her kid and thinks he's cuter/smarter/funnier than everyone else's (eventhoughhekindais).   That mom is alittlebit annoying, so I try to be the "my house is a train wreck, my kid loves french fries and watches Toy Story every day" kind-of mom instead.  Which, if I'm being honest, really isn't the whole truth either...

If you don't mind, I'm going to give myself a little free pass today, OK?  (Actually, I'm still going to do it even if you do mind... You just might want to come back another day.)  Today, I'm going to brag.

My kid is pretty amazing. 

Sure, his hair is just awful - It is so fine and, yet, frizzy at the same time - which, who even knew was possible - and it has a million different parts and cowlicks (please Lord let this work itself out), but he completely rocks it and is, seriously, the most adorable thing ever. I joke that he is proof that cute clothes and a dimpled smile can totally make up for a big bald head (also, a great personality - duh)... He'll probably hate that joke one day, but at least he will know I tell it like it is.

Speaking of smiles, he smiles ALL the time, and says "HI" obnoxiously loud every single time he walks into a room.  The kid has never met a stranger.

He loves dinosaurs and race cars and likes to determine which one is the "momma," the "daddy," and the "baby."  He's also really into drawing family portraits on his Magna Doodle which consist of three straight lines with dots for eyes on each side.  #onlycutetoamom #weareworkingonheads

When he wakes up - in the morning, after a nap - he announces his presences by calling "hello people" at the top of his lungs until someone acknowledges him.

He knows his whole name and that Daddy's "real name" is Jeff; but says my "real name" is Momma, which - not so secretly - I'm pretty proud of.

Of course, one night last week, Sam was downstairs, and I kept calling to him to come upstairs for bed.  I started counting to three (that usually works) and could hear his little feet hurrying up the stairs.  When I got to 2.5 (I know) he yelled out "cooooomiiiiing Mom!"  Ahh.

He kisses on the lips - which I always thought was weird until I had my own kid - and gives the BEST bear hugs.

He can count (mostly in order) up to ten and can tell you how old he is if you ask (although he will show you three fingers instead of two).

He tells knock-knock jokes and cracks himself (and us) up regularly.  He's also really into "sneaking." (He's not very good at it though.)

And, a few nights ago before bed, he sat on the floor and "read' his Storybook Bible to us by repeating "God... loves... us" over and over for each page.  In case you were wondering, yes, I died right there on the bedroom rug.

He is smart and confident and brave and kind.  His heart is wild and adventurous, but gentle and loving.  He is, in short, everything I could ever have asked for in a little person and SO MUCH MORE.  

If I could find a way to bottle this Sam up and bathe him in it when he is 15, I would be ALL OVER IT.

So, yea, we're in a pretty great spot lately.  Sure, last night this same kid pointed to a little pimple on my chin and said "ball... chin" (#negativesideoftalking), the laundry is never caught up, and I have infinitely more gray hair and wrinkles than I did three years ago; but, it is good. I'm not going to try to convince you that motherhood is really hard right now; because, frankly, it's not.


Can I be real for a second?

We've survived colic, more than a year of not sleeping, a dozen plus ear infections, a language delay*, and just - in general - a pretty hard adjustment to parenthood.... And, sometimes, I admit, it feels like we kind-of deserve this stage, because it hasn't always been this easy...  Jeff and I needed this stage to, in a sense, redeem parenthood.  To remind us that - though we are FAR from perfect parents - we are the parents Sam needs; and, frankly, we've done OK so far.  We are making it.

Today, I'm talking about one of the harder seasons I've had as a mom over at Life Blessons as part of a series on Redeeming Motherhood.  Yes, it's easier to look back and find redemption from a situation once you have already walked through it; but, I think even when you are IN IT, there is still a lot of hope to be found in knowing that others have been there (and survived) before you.  If you aren't in an easy place right now... I GET IT.  May I invite you to join me over there?
It's up now!  Read it right here.

*I fully realize that the "struggles" I've had with motherhood are NOTHING in comparison to what some parents have to deal with.  I also know that not every one's season lasts such a short amount of time and has a "sweet" season to follow it.  I don't want to play the compare game... This is just my story and my experience.  That's all.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Hi friends... Just popping in (haha, no pun intended) to ask for some prayers for my Poppy this afternoon...

I realized I've kind-of left you all in the dark about him for a while now - somehow I could just never make a post about hospitals, ear infections, rashes, and nursing homes fit the "tone" of the blog - but I know many of you have come to know and love Poppy through this place over the years, and he could use all the prayers he can get right now...

To make a long (and rather gross) story short, what started as a bad ear infection back in June has turned in to a full-on bone infection of his entire face, and my usually spry and fiesty Poppy is feeling pretty weak and miserable right now.  About a month ago, he had a surgery that we had hoped would bring some relief; but, instead, it has landed him in a rehab/nursing home, and his health continues to decline.  It seems that, in the last six months or so, his body finally realized that he is 95 years old.

Other than some reactions to medication, we are blessed that his mind is still pretty well intact.  He knows us all, and we've been able to have some good conversations and time together over the last few weeks.  It is hard to say how much time we have left - Tuesday, I was convinced that we were saying goodbye, and then yesterday he was awake and dressed and up for a roll down to the common room in the wheelchair.  (Of course, the fact that he is well aware of his physical condition and limitations makes some of that even more difficult too.)

Selfishly, I'm having a harder time than I thought I would seeing his decline.  As someone who talked about dying ALL THE TIME, Poppy made sure we've all known he wouldn't be here forever; but, I don't think I was at all prepared for what the process would look like.  Old age is really hard.

My prayer right now would be, first and foremost, for comfort, peace, and rest for my dear Poppy.  Please pray that this stage will not last long and that - one way or the other - God will provide relief for him.  If you would also keep my sweet mom and the rest of my family in your prayers over these next few days (or weeks/or months), we would really appreciate it.

Thanks for laughing (and crying) with me when I need it.

P.S. Here are some of my favorite Poppy posts from better days:
Poppy and Sam: A Venn Diagram
Poppy Goes to the Beach
Road Rage
The Poppy That Cried Wolf

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Would You Get a Pixie Cut?

First, a quick note: THANK YOU for your sweet words and participation in my Get & GIVE Away yesterday!  I have absolutely loved reading all of your comments and hearing about the charities that are close to your hearts.  I love this community so much and can't wait to see all the good we can do together! (Contest runs through Dec. 15th.  Click here to enter.)

*Also, for those of you that prayed for my friend Annie on Thanksgiving Day after I told you about doctors finding cancer in one of her ovaries. They got the results of 19 biopsies back yesterday and found NO more cancer! She will not have to have chemo or receive any other treatments. THANK YOU for your prayers - God works miracles!! :)

And now, on to the (very important) regularly scheduled programming...

So, I saw Catching Fire over the break.  LOVED it.  It made me think about a lot of things, but mostly - my hair.  Naturally.  Surely you've heard by now about Jennifer Lawrence being the latest star to chop off all her hair...

I guess its just the latest "it" thing; but, many of the most classic beauties in Hollywood today have sported the pixie cut at some time or another...

Google Image search for "celebrities with pixie cuts"
I've actually always really liked this style.  (I think Selma Blair's hair in the late 1990s was the first time I ever paid attention to it.)  There is just something about really short hair on a woman it that just says "confidence" and "class" to me.  My friend Libby - who cut her hair into an adorable pixie after finishing chemo treatment a few years ago - says her husband was crazy about the cut.  He said there was nothing she could hide behind.  (Who knew I could get so deep about a haircut, right?)

Anyway, I love it, but I've always felt like I could never pull it off.  My face is too round.  My face is too boring.  I am too short.  I am not skinny.  I don't wear enough dramatic eye make-up. 

I'm happy with my long hair for now; but, I wonder if I will ever have the courage to do the chop.  I kind-of hope so!

Would you get a pixie cut?  Why or why not?

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