Reflections on Twenty Eleven

     As this was my first year of blogging, I thought I would reflect on things a bit (besides, that's what other bloggers seem to be doing).  As I had mentioned in my 100th blog post, blogging has been such a great outlet for me.  I created this blog January 11, 2011 with the dumbest first post ever (because I had no intention of telling anyone about this blog).  Perhaps I never would have followed through on it had it not been for two things:  My aunt and my cousin figured out I had secretly started a blog; and (2) My mom needed two months of physical therapy and rehabilitation in my home after a fall down her stairs (thus leaving me somewhat house bound in March and April).
     I wish I could say this was my "best year ever", but it wasn't.  The summer months with my kids off of school coupled with taking care of my mom were difficult to say the least.  However, there were lots of fun times and milestones along the way.  We had an excellent family vacation to Arizona.  My kids graduated from their elementary and middle schools.  Now, after lots of hard work and a little luck, my mom is finally receiving the care and assistance she needs.  Along the way we also bought some much needed new furniture.  My husband got the truck  he wanted.  I snuck in some crafting time.  My son had a great year in baseball, among other activities.  My daughters played some great soccer and started some other activities.  We started attending high school football games.  I have made some new friends through blogging as well as found some great recipes, deals, and learned countless new things (including what it means to participate in "So WHAT! Wednesday").
     At the risk of sounding selfish, I hope to continue to find more "me" time in the new year while staying involved with my kids academics and activities.  A successful 2012 would mean more "Girlfriend" posts, although I did sneak in some much needed girlfriend time at a Royal Wedding Champage Brunch in honor of Will and Kate -- and who could forget our recent trip to the casino.
     Some things to look forward to in 2012 are a winter family vacation and Megan's high school band performance in the electric light parade at Disney World in April !! 
 Looking forward to sharing and learning more from you in the year ahead as we...
Live, Laugh, Love!!!!!!!


SO WHAT! Wednesday

It's SO WHAT! Wednesday and I'm linking up with Shannon at Life After I "Dew"
to tell you what I say "So What" to!  Here we go.... 
So WHAT if:
  • I went to Target last night with high hopes of shopping holiday clearances and didn't find anything exciting
  • I could not have accomplished everything over the holidays without my 14-year-old daughter's help (awesome!)
  • I got an iPad for Christmas, but am using my laptop to type this because it's faster
  • I realized the light fixture over my kitchen table never got cleaned before my Christmas Eve company came -- can you say dusty and embarassing!
  • in Michigan we did not have a white Christmas, but we have a white December 28th
  • My dog woke me up early this morning because the giant helium fish my son got for Christmas somehow floated down the stairs (and my dog is afraid terrified of it)
  • I feel a nap coming on....!
Sooooo....What are YOU saying
SO WHAT to this week????
 Link up...it's fun, you'll feel better, and I'd love to know!!


Christmas 2011

    Wow, it has taken me this long to recover from all of the festivities these last few days!  The last minute wrapping and gift buying seem to be one of our traditions.  No matter how hard I try to be organized and ready to enjoy, I am always scrambling right up until Christmas.  So, I've decided to embrace it as part of the tradition!  (However, I did get my Christmas cards out much earlier than usual and I did have gifts for my eight nieces and nephews since October which is a big part of my shopping.)
     Christmas Eve.  As you may have read in my Christmas Eve post, my mom's side of the family has had a long-standing tradition of getting together on Christmas Eve.  It has always meant a lot to me and I know it means a lot to my mom, too.  There were 18 of us -- including my mom's brother  (who looked great!) and his entire family were over along with my brother and his family and my mom and dad.  Thankfully, everyone helps by bringing dishes, appetizers and....cookies!!!!  My husband and I decided to break from our traditional ham dinner and instead grilled NY strip steaks with twice baked potatos and Michigan cherry salad along with rolls, mostaccoli and many other side dishes.
     I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Detroit Lions had a very important game on Christmas Eve and we had a house full of Lions fans.  A win would put the Lions in a guaranteed playoff spot.  The game started at 4 pm and thankfully the Lions had a comfortable enough lead that we were able to eat dinner around the 4th quarter.  The Lions ended by beating the San Diego Chargers 38-10, thus giving the men in our crowd even more reason to be merry and bright! 
     Lucas, our 3 1/2 year old cousin, was the star of the party!  He is my cousin's little boy and is soooo cute and funny....and, as a bonus, he is not at all afraid of our giant goldendoodle, Lucky.  Lucky has not seen very many people who he can kiss in the face without even having to jump up -- and he met his match with Lucas.  Lucky was soooo tired after everyone left that we will have to have Lucas over again real soon!  It is always so nice to see everyone, and I wish we all lived a little closer!
     Later that night, my husband and I were up late cleaning up and making sure things were in order for Christmas Day.  Things are definitely getting easier, as we were asleep before 2am, unlike the days when the kids were younger and we I would be up most of the night. 
      Christmas Day.  The kids had promised us a 9 am wake up time, and I think we made it until 8:50 am.  Not bad!  Yes, Santa spoiled the kids again and so did we.  Among some of their favorite gifts, Vera Bradley for the girls, Wipeout for Wii, and an iPod Touch for each of them!  Oh, and check out the giant helium clownfish that Aunt Jill gave to Jacob (below)!!!  Omg -- it's huge and I've never seen anything like it...especially in my house!!  As for me, my husband gave me an iPad...even though he was not supposed to get me anything!!  Of course, I love it!
     Later in the day, my dad came over again to exchange gifts, but most of our Christmas Day was spent with just my immediate family relaxing and appreciating all that we have. 
     December 26th.  On the 26th we got together with my husband's side of the family by making the 2.5 hour trip to Grand Rapids to my husband's sister's house where my mother-in-law (from Maine) and my husband's other sister (from Chicago) were staying.  You may recall, they had stayed with us for the Thanksgiving holiday.  As always, my kids had a great time with their four cousins, we ate, drank, and exchanged gifts and stories, picked up our Lucky dog from Camp Bow Wow day care, and then drove back.  We had a really nice time.  I did not take a single picture :(
     With our Christmas celebrations winding down I always get a little sad with how quickly it seems to go by after all of the anticipation and preparation.  So over here, we are going to try to keep the Christmas spirit alive all year long -- the world would be a better place, wouldn't it??
     Hope your Christmas was Merry and Bright!!

sparkly packages for special people

 melted snowman cookies found on pinterest.com
 melted snowmen can have flaws...I would have tried to perfect them
 snowmen everywhere!
 Christmas Eve, Megan and Kristin
 Christmas Eve chaos
 My brother's wife, Melissa and my niece Nicole
 Cousins, Nicole and Kristin, both 11 years old
 Danielle and Brian, my cousin (awwwww....)
 As the night went on, Lucas couldn't wait to get on his pjs!!!!
Jacob Christmas morning with his iTouch
 Kristin, Christmas morning with her iTouch
 the giant helium clownfish!!!!!!!
 if mr. clownfish knocks over my mantle...trouble!
kissing the clownfish?
the drive to Grand Rapids on the 26th, watching The Smurf Movie
Megan reflecting on the benefits of being nice, not naughty
my gift... ;)



May Your Christmas Be Merry and Bright!!

Wishing new friends and old 
a very Merry Christmas!!


Christmas Eve

     Tonight is a very special night.  Christmas Eve has always meant a special celebration for me and my mom's side of the family.  Since I was a kid, we celebrated at my grandparents house with my aunts, uncles and cousins.  Santa even came every year!!  Even though my grandparents have gone to heaven, we have continued this tradition with my aunts and uncles and me and my husband taking turns hosting.  This year it's our turn to host my extended family for Christmas Eve.  Me and my kids are especially excited that Lucas (our 3-year-old cousin) will be among the18 of us celebrating!  
     Recently, while I was looking for Christmas decorations at my mom's old house, I came across this favor she had saved.  I gave these "Christmas Eve" Yankee candles out the last time we hosted Christmas Eve in 2007 along with this little poem I wrote for our family.  It gave me a reason to reflect on how much has changed in the last four years and how important it is to treasure the time you have with family and friends.
Wishing you and your family warm memories made this Christmas Eve!!


Christmas Flashback Friday, Part Three

     Santa pictures are so fun to look back at.  I actually have all of my Santa pictures in frames.  This is, as I always told my kids, the real Santa, not just a helper.  He was always at the mall all of the years my kids were growing up. 
     Sadly, it appears 2008 was the last time the kids sat on Santa's lap.  Unless my 2009 picture didn't make it to a frame!?  None of my kids wanted to go this year, and last year nobody really asked and I probably ran out of time.  I think we had a good go of it.  Megan saw Santa for about 11 years and Jacob and Kristin about 8 or 9.  I know I had to make Megan go with her brother and sister those last couple of years.  I can't help but wish they didn't think they were too "cool" to see Santa, but I did encourage them to write letters/emails and they definitely do still make lists!
     I loved those little matchy tights, skirt and sweaters the girls had.  Of course, the color totally clashes with Santa's red, but I wasn't thinking along those lines back then...lol. 
     It's always nice to have a picture of same people, on the same date and place each year!!  Oh my gosh, two days 'til Christmas...and Christmas Eve tomorrow!!!


Christmas Mantel

     Oh my gosh, I should be wrapping but realized I might as well show my Christmas mantel...before Christmas.  Last night my girls had ten friends over for a Christmas get together and Secret Santa exchange.  Man they were loud, but I digress...
     I am never really totally happy with my mantel, but it seems to be the bloggy thing to do...mantel reveals (except that I'm not a designer, obviously!).  I hope your plans for celebrating Christmas are coming together.  I have a couple of holiday posts scheduled, but I think it's past time for me to sign off on posting and get busy!!!

Easy {Peasy} Neighbor Gift...

Saw this idea on Pinterest and thought it was kinda clever and definitely easy and...budget friendly for sure!!  In the past, we have exchanged gifts with our three closest neighbors.  I must say, I have given some rather clever (and definitely more pricey) gifts and themed gift baskets in the past.  Now, after about 15 years...I'm fresh outta ideas, our kids are all older, and there's not much I haven't already given them.  Baking around here will be limited this year since we are running out of time, so I thought I would try this:

A box of Ho Hos
A box of Ding Dongs
Tie it up in a bow
Make a note that says:
To:  -----------
Ho Ho Ho
Merry Christmas
From the Ding Dongs Next Door!!!
(or Across the Street, Down the Street?)

I hope they think it's as cute as I did -- it's the thought that counts, right!?


Oh {Blingy Shiney} Christmas Tree!!

     Ok, I think I am going through something I will call "procraftination".  I am realizing I enjoy these little craft projects much more than I enjoy cleaning, wrapping and shopping for Christmas.  I'm calling it procraftination because if I were a "real" crafter, I would have done these projects at least month ago, right?
     Regardless, I saw these blinged up Christmas trees over at Hi Sugarplum! and knew I had to make myself one (or two).  You will notice that she is much smarter than I, as she posted this December 1st, and I started mine December 17th.  A week before Christmas, supplies are harder to find, and I had to check a few stores to find more sequins to finish my trees.  Thankfully, they are .79 cents for 75 of them.  The styrofoam forms were between $4-$6 and it was about $5 for 100 pins.  I was easily able to find the pearlized pins in the "wedding" aisles of my local JoAnns, as well as the sytrofoam forms and sequins themselves.  I was unable to find a medium sized tree, but will for sure by "next" Christmas!  I was also unable (in the Christmas rush) to find any star tree toppers that were as cute as I would have liked, so I have a silver snowflake and star ornament that I improvised into a tree topper until I can find something better.  This can be easily changed by just removing some pins and sequins.
     All in all, I am very pleased with how they turned out, in spite of the challenge of finding enough sequins!!  I appreciated the inspiration from Cassie at Hi Sugarplum.  You should definitely check out her tutorial -- if you like some bling, it's a fun project!!  Now I gotta go wrap...and clean!


Living in a Target Wasteland...

     With all of the recent holiday shopping, and in anticipation of some awesome after Christmas clearance shopping, I have been painfully reminded that I really do live in a Target wasteland.  Like many of you, Target is one of my favorite stores, followed closely by Kohls.  And then, a million other stores probably tie for third.  I also love shopping these stores online.  However, in the midst of the summer and Halloween clearances, I became even more aware that I do not have a Target close "enough" to my house.  I think 5 miles or less is reasonable.  Three miles or less would be preferable.  So, whenever my Target is low or "out of" an item, I often refer to this online map to figure out which one to go to next. 
      You can see my house is located near the large "green" arrow.  When I use the http://www.target.com/ "Find a Store" and "Get Directions" app, I am informed that my closest store is 7.6 miles away, and the next closest is 20.5 miles away.  Well, this is not acceptable!  (By the way, I do not live in the country or a rural area...)  So, you can see why I would heavily rely on my closest store having the stuff I want/need!?  That is why I am writing this letter (tongue in cheek) to Santa this year.  It goes something like this:

Christmas 2011

Dear Santa,
If you have time after world peace, health and happiness for friends and family, and maybe a couple of gifts for my kids, could you please contact your friends at Target and have them build a store closer to my house. 
If you do, I promise to donate some of the clearance deals I find to charity for Christmas next year. 
Either way, I love you Santa!


Monday "Memories" With My Mom

     To be honest, I have only been able to visit my mom about once a week lately.  I don't know how the Christmas holiday always sneaks up on me, but it does.  My mom is definitely aware that Christmas is coming, but has not been calling about it as much as she did for Thanksgiving.  My brother had put her small tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving and she has a few decorations. 
     In the past, my mom was always good about sending cards for birthdays, special occasions and Christmas.  It's something she's always liked to do, and I enjoy it too.  She kept reminding me to get her some Christmas cards.  I was skeptical as I know that her writing is not as good as it used to be which means I end up addressing the card, buying them, getting the stamps, etc...  However, I thought I would buy an inexpensive box of cards and have her sign a bunch and send them out for her.  For about a year, I had tried to oversee her birthday cards for family and friends, but it gets to be a lot of work for me and sometimes she wants to "white out" her mistakes.  It takes a lot of patience on my part. 
     I decided there was no harm in seeing how she did with signing them.  Her writing was not too bad, so I sent a few out for her.  Unfortunately, now every day she calls me and asks who I sent cards to or requests that I send one to someone else (usually someone I already sent one too).  It may sound simple but, frankly, it's exhausting for me during this busy time of year.  I hope I still go to heaven even if I sometimes tell her I sent a card to someone that I didn't.  I may still get to them, but by the time I go over and get the card, get it signed, etc....  Ugh!  (Funny side note:  My mom just called while I was typing this to ask about sending a card....again....to the same person...again!)
      So, you see, I am walking the fine line of trying to give my mom some enjoyment and independence, and not wanting to add any extra pressures to my own holiday lists.  The same also applies for gifts (which my mom really can't afford) and other family things.
     **Update** Me and my girls stopped by today for a visit.  I brought my mom some clothes to wear for Christmas, brought some treats for the staff that takes care of her, bought her a few odds and ends, and then Megan and Kristin hung out with her while I did some secret Christmas shopping.  My mom was doing well. 
     This Saturday my mom will be at our house for our Christmas Eve celebration with her brother and all of his family along with my brother and his family and my dad.  This has always been my mom's favorite family celebration.  She is known for putting on her Santa hat and very excitedly passing out presents and a few other antics.  It will be interesting to see how she is this year.  Last year she was much more subdued than usual and put her coat on very early and sat on the couch waiting to leave.  This was very out of character for my mom.  Traditionally, she also spends the night at my house.  Last year that did not go very well.  She fell Christmas morning and was acting odd and disoriented.  This year, we will just have to see how she is doing that day and hope that she is able to enjoy herself and family!

 Mom - December 19, 2011
 Mom and all her grandchildren - December 2004
Megan, Grandma, Kristin - December 19, 2011


The Truck

     My husband has been in the market for a new car for at least a year now, and particularly in the past six months.  He mentioned the "T" word (truck), early on.  I wasn't a fan.  We have five in our family and it didn't really strike me as a second "family" car.  One thing for sure, is I told him I was not going to go looking for cars with him.  I said I would go when he had it narrowed down to two choices.  I wanted it to be a car he liked, and since I tend to be quite opinionated with big purchases, I knew I better stay out of it. 
     I think he went from truck, to Mustang (? another "family" car) to a Chrysler 300...??  He was all over the place.  I LOVE Mustangs, but after he went in that direction, the truck started sounding pretty good to me!
     I have been wanting to snap a picture of the truck for a couple of weeks now, but my husband leaves for work in the dark and gets home after "dark".  This morning I finally remembered to snap a shot when he was on his way out...
    We went for a test drive the week before Thanksgiving, and he finally picked up his Ford F-150 (while I was at the casino with my girlfriends two weeks ago).  If you've been following along, you know that the only kind of shopping my husband likes to do is at Costco.  Well, rest assured, he got his Costco discount on the truck.  It's a pretty good discount, too.  Since then, I have had time to think of all the positive things about owning a truck:

     (1) No excuses for not buying anything/everything at IKEA;
     (2) The Christmas tree can be tossed in the back
     (3) When I want a large item donated to charity, no more excuses!
     (4) DIY projects -- no problem!!
     (5) No room to transport things up north -- not anymore!
     (6) Want to look cool like the other baseball coaches - now you will
     (7) Four wheel drive in the Michigan snow - no problem
     (8) Need a new appliance...don't have to wait for delivery
     (9) Want to buy a tree for your landscape -- go ahead!
    (10) Riding High!

My first priority, is to make (1), (4) and (8) happen!!  Hopefully my trucker husband will be reading this soon!  Got any other ideas on how to make the best use of "our" new truck??      
Oh, and "Merry Christmas" to my husband, George!!! ;)


Freebies 101

     It's been awhile since I've done a Freebie 101 post, but here are the most recent freebies I've collected.  You can find my last freebie post here and several others under my "Deals"  label.  I have to say that with the holidays and all I have not been requesting many freebies, but have found many "deals".  Most of which I cannot post for fear my kids or gift recipients will learn my secrets!!!
     I was also excited to learn on our recent girl's overnight casino trip that my bff, Nancy, and I had brought the same exact Garnier wrinkle cream from her freebie collection!!  Too funny -- I'm so easily amused!
     Requesting freebies is fun and one thing I've learned is that you will never have to buy travel sized shampoo or conditioner again -- just grab your freebies and throw them in your suitcase!!  Check out http://www.hip2save.com/ to get started -- there are awesome deals on there, too!!