Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dear Santa

Santa, I've been a very good boy this year.  
Thank you for the presents.  Enjoy the milk and cookies.

This was his first ever handwritten letter to Santa.  

See that look of pride on his face?  It doesn't even compare to the look I was giving him behind the camera.  <3

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I'm Just Here for the Free Music

I could really relate to this submission to Post Secret.  Although I'm not an atheist, I've yet to find a church that really nails (no pun intended) my beliefs in God.  I won't get into them here (because that's a whole post in and of itself) but I do long to find one (hence the reason behind number 10 on my 30 before 30 list.)

Growing up, I was raised southern baptist.  Although going to church was something I never looked forward to, I always loved the music.  In fact, you never had to beg me to go on a Sunday night, because Sunday nights consisted of about 30 minutes of singing hymn after hymn and then 15 to 20 minutes of a sermon.

I miss church, a lot.  I miss the friendships.  I miss the sense of community.  I miss the volunteering.  And I even miss hearing certain sermons, such as those about love, forgiveness, and kindness.

I really do miss those aspects of being a part of a church.  But the one thing that stands out in my mind the most is how much I miss the music.

 I loved hearing everyone sing, from the great to the not-so-great.  I always got so excited anytime the music director would say, "Now turn your hymnal to page 251," and I would realize that I knew the harmony to that song.  I miss the everyday church music, and I especially miss the CHRISTMAS music.

To hear the choir and the congregation belting out some of my favorite gospel music is an experience I don't get anywhere else.  And I miss it.  I really, really miss it.

So, although I'm not atheist, I can completely relate to the poster of the card above.  Gospel music kept me in church for as long as it did, and is likely to play a large role in the reason behind why a certain temple/church ends up being "the one" that lets me cross off number ten.

Secret Sunday is a series of posts inspired by the weekly submissions to Post Secret.
Click here to visit OR click here to visit other posts by this author in this series.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Candy Wrap" Gift Certificates Using your Wrapping Paper Tube: DIY Tutorial

Let's face it, sometimes things get done a little more last-minute than we'd like.

Tonight I printed off the gift certificates I'd purchased for my mother and sister as Christmas gifts only to realize I hadn't put much thought into how I was planning on wrapping them.

Yes, you heard me right. I wanted to wrap gift certificates. I'm a big kid and I love seeing someone tear open wrapping paper before getting their gift. It's part of the fun!

So, I walked around the house looking for boxes to throw them in. I strongly considered using granola bar boxes, before it hit me...

I could use the wrapping paper tube that was laying in the floor. Then I got excited because I realized if I did that 1) they wouldn't realize they were gift certificates and 2) I could wrap them to look like candy!

So, here's how I did it & how it turned out....

Each tube could be used for three certificates at 8.5 x 11 each.  Since I only used two, I'll be stashing the other piece with my wrapping paper to use again in the future.  

Since we started recycling earlier this year, I've tried my best to reuse materials whenever possible.  So, besides how stinkin' cute these are, I'm also thrilled to be reusing something that would have just been thrown away other wise.  

I will never look at a wrapping-paper tube the same again, ever.  
And I couldn't be happier about it!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

$25 Gift Certificates for $1 through 12/24 at!

This was a deal too good not to share!

Right now is offering $25 gift certificates for $1!  The only thing you need to do differently is enter the code JOY when you check out.  The code is only good through 12/24/11 so don't wait too long!

Be sure to pay attention to the terms of each certificate before you purchase it.  Some certificates state that they're only available for dine-in only.  Others will state that a minimum purchase is necessary in order to redeem the certificate.  So, just make sure you know what you're buying so there are no surprises when you redeem your certificate.

You should receive your certificate by email within a day or so.  You can also log into and print it from there when you're ready.  Just take the certificate to the restaurant with you when you're ready to redeem.

Also, as a courtesy to your server, tell him that you're using the certificate before he goes to grab your bill.  And, ALWAYS tip on the full amount of your bill--not the discounted amount.

Happy dining!

Monday, December 19, 2011

I Don't Understand Either

I've been a fan of Post Secret for a while now.  In case you don't know, Post Secret is an extremely popular blog that is comprised entirely of the anonymous postcard submissions mailed in by fans each week.  Each week (on Sundays) 10 of the postcards are posted on the blog.

I'm very inspired by Post Secret on many, many levels and have decided to start a regular Secret Sunday here on the blog.  My goal is to take the postcard that stood out to me the most (either because I can relate or because it got me thinking about a specific topic) and giving my perspective on why it was significant to me.

This week's post surrounds this submission:

I can completely relate to this poster.  I don't understand either.  

I feel that I'm at a unique age where I'm young enough to be sensitive to the necessity of a certain amount of political correctness in our society but am old enough to remember when everyone just said, "Merry Christmas."  In fact, that doesn't seem like it was too long ago.

Could it have been that 10 years ago there were no atheists?  

Did nobody celebrate Hanukkah?  

Surely not, right?  So what's changed?  

In my opinion, we've crossed a line.  We've gone from being aware of other cultures and belief systems (which, as a pretty liberal individual, I'm ALL about) to being afraid to just say whatever comes natural to us.  

Tell me Joyous Kwanzaa, please.  I'll appreciate the sentiment.  Don't be afraid to offend me.  

If it's more natural for you to say Merry Christmas, then haye... I'll take those well wishes also!  

And of course, if you prefer to say Happy Holidays, have at it!

There's a great difference between being socially aware and being socially inept, yet the line between the two seems to be blurring more over time.  

Don't purposefully offend anyone.  But don't freak out over the thought of accidently saying 'the wrong' blessing to someone during the holiday season.  

When you fumble around searching for the most politically correct phrase, any genuineness in your intent is lost in those few seconds I saw your mind flipping through its pages trying to ascertain what to say.  

Maybe I'm the only one, but it's somewhat more offensive to me when people try so hard not to be offensive.  I find myself thinking, do I come across as someone who would get upset over a 'Happy Hanukkah?' 

We're all trying to be kinder, especially this time of year.  But I don't expect for anyone to 'tiptoe' around my beliefs (or lack of).  And, I think if you took a poll, most people would agree that they would not be offended by you wishing them a blissful holiday season in the terms and expressions that mean the most to you, whether Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah.  

It's more human that way.  It's realer.  It's authentic and personal.  Let's keep that part of the holidays alive.  This generic 'one-size fits all holiday mumbo jumbo' isn't doing any of us any favors--at least not in my mind

I'd ask if I'm alone in this, but ya know... Post Secret made me realize today that there's at least one other who agrees with me.  

Anyone else?

Secret Sunday is a series of posts inspired by the weekly submissions to Post Secret.
Click here to visit OR click here to visit other posts by this author in this series.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Today Only: Select Melissa & Doug Toys 50% OFF on Amazon!

Today only, Amazon has select Melissa & Doug toys on sale for 50% off!  AND, if you your purchase totals $25 you'll get free shipping!

This makes me so excited because I have really been eyeballing this stamp set for my son.  I've seen it on several sites for $20+ and I just purchased it for $10.00 thanks to this deal!  He's learning to read and this will be a great way for us to practicing his spelling in a fun way.

I also purchased this magnetic responsibility chart as well, for only $10!  It comes with 90 magnets depicting behaviors and rewards.  It received great reviews on Amazon and I'll be taking one of the reviewer's ideas by awarding my son 10¢ a week for each completed responsibility task as an incentive!  Love it!

I also picked up some paint brushes for him (for around $5) to go with some paints he'll be receiving for Christmas to make my order almost exactly $25.  I'd much rather spend $5 and get another gift for my child than spend $8 on shipping for not reaching the $25 amount required to receive free shipping.

Happy Shopping!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Beauty & Benefits of Learning to Play the Piano: Both Music to my Ears

My little man, who just turned six, has been taking weekly-piano lessons since the 1st of September.

I've always loved music.  So of course, I've been eager to share this passion with my child since before there were two lines on that pregnancy test!   And the fact that it's beneficial to him to learn to play?  Icing on the cake!

Madd just had his first piano recital, where he played two pieces in front of about 100 people.  

This is his "I'm excited but nervous" face.  
He kinda puffs out his cheeks and tucks in his bottom lip.  
Such a sweetie.

This is more of an actual "smile."

Once we got seated, I realized that no one had ever told me how absolutely NERVOUS I would be for him.  I turned to my mother and asked her, "Were you nervous when I would perform on stage?  I have butterflies in my stomach that I was not prepared for!"  She told me that she always felt the same, which made me feel better (read:  normal). But serious--WHY didn't anyone tell me this?!

Thankfully he performed everything just as practiced.  I've never been more proud of him!  Watching your child have his moment in the spotlight to reap the benefits of his hard work is by far one of the best feelings in the world.

His first piece:  Up On The Housetop

His second piece:  O Christmas Tree
{Be sure to watch his bow at the end.}

So, now that you've seen my little man play at his Christmas recital, I'd like to share with you the five most prevalent benefits a child receives from learning to play the piano.*

1.     It helps them in school.
  • Children who play an instrument score higher on both standard and spatial cognitive development tests in school. 
  • Children who play the piano score higher in the area of math than children who do not.

2.     It raises self-esteem.
  • Children who play the piano receive increased self-esteem with each song they master due to the dedication and time it takes to learn each new piece.
  • Likewise, recitals give children an opportunity to receive praise for their accomplishments, which also increases the child's self-esteem.
  • Most importantly, to me at least, is that learning to play also teaches children to keep a positive outlook when facing difficult tasks.  It teaches the child that learning is a process which takes patience and practice.  This knowledge helps children approach other tasks with confidence, decreasing the likelihood of frustration and discouragement.  

3.     It increases coordination.
  • Sure it increases hand-eye coordination.  But, it also increases fine motor skills.
  • Unlike any other instrument, playing the piano requires each hand to work independently of the other.  For example, one hand may be playing soft while the other is playing loudly.  Or, one may be playing quickly, while the other is playing slowly.
  • Playing the piano increases dexterity and complex thought process.

4.     It helps improve concentration.
  • Think about all of the focus that is required to play one piece:  the child must interpret each note and rhythm, translate those notes into actual movement on the instrument, and then immediately move forward to the next note and do the same.
  • The child must read and think critically and creatively, which will assist them in many other areas in the future.

5.     It helps the child be more well-rounded.
  • Children are exposed to genres of music they otherwise may never have heard, whether classical or otherwise.  
  • Children may develop an appreciation for composers, such as Mozart or Bach.  
  • The skills and knowledge acquired will aid them in any other musical or instrumental endeavor taken up by the child in the future.

As for my son, over the past three months I have personally noticed that he is notably better at understanding that conquering anything new takes practice and that it's okay not to immediately know how to do something.  He has always been very hard on himself and piano has definitely taught him to have patience with himself.  I've also noticed that he's able to pick out change of tempos in songs on the radio now as well as recognize when a piano is playing in the background, whereas before he didn't seem to pay attention to things.  

Overall, I am VERY glad that he is taking piano lessons.  It has been nothing but beneficial to him.  His next recital is in May and I can't wait to show him these videos six months from now so that he can see all the new progress he'll have made.  

Does your child play an instrument?  If so, let me know how you feel it is personally benefiting your child.  

*The benefits stated above were taken from this site, although the same information is available throughout numerous studies and webpages.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

5 x 4 = 20 Things About Me (That I'm OBVIOUSLY Awesome at Mental Math? That's a freebie.)

{5} Things You Don't Know About Me

{1.}  Sometimes when I'm belting out songs in the car by myself, I pretend I'm on the phone.  Haye, I'd rather a stranger mistake my passion for 80s Love Ballads for an angry business call than to chance being on the next season of Tosh.0.  I have a reputation to uphold here.

{2.}  I've licked The Alamo and a Mammoth's tooth... on purpose.  Why would I want to do that you ask? Who else do you know who can say they've licked both The Alamo and a real Mammoth's tooth?  Hmm?  Nobody?  Exactly.  If you don't think I won't put that on a resume as a conversational piece, think again.  

{3.}  I've played The Stepmother in Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella.  What's the opposite of being typecast?  Whatever.

{4.}  When I turned 20, I was so sad about not being a teenager anymore that anytime someone would ask my age I'd tell them I was twenty-teen.  

{5.}  I'm ranked in the top 15% of my law-school class.  (I had to put one "fact" about me in this section that wasn't self-deprecating to please my mother who will undoubtably read this.  Hi mom!)

{5} Things I'm Knowledgeable About

{1.}  Surrogacy:  both the process and the laws governing it.  I researched it for 9 months then wrote a 60-paged paper on it for law review and to satisfy my upper-level writing requirement.  Oh, and I was a surrogate in 2009 too, duh.  Ask away.  ;)

{2.}  Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss:  I have quite a few works by both authors memorized by heart

{3.}  Breastfeeding:  I never planned on breastfeeding my son, but when he was born sick and it was all I could do to help him, I read everything about it I could get my hands on and ended up not weaning him until he was 18 months old.

{4.}  College:  Oh, college.  The "do's" and the "don't you dares!"  From financial aid to organizations, I pretty much know it all.  In fact, I posted about The ABCs of Being a Student back in April!

{5.}  How Much I Still Have to Learn:  That's right.  I know that I have a TON of learning left to do!  I know everyday I learn more.  I know that every person I meet has a lesson to teach and a special talent or skill to share.  I know that learning doesn't come from a book.  It comes from listening, sometimes with your eyes closed and your ear up against the wall, but other times just with your heart.  

{5} Things I Know Nothing About

{1.}  Technology:  Sure, I know how to work a Mac (well, I was going to use an analogy here but the only one I can think of is "like a stripper works a pole," and that doesn't sound very appropriate so I just won't use one.)  But if you told me to guess what's inside this thing, I'd tell you that I guess whatever it is doesn't need to see in order to work because it's probably dark in there... I mean, duh.

{2.}  THIS!!
I mean... is it magic?  HOW do people do that?!  Obviously *looks at category* I do not know!!

{3.}  Cows:  That's right.  I said it.  COWS.  Sure, there's black ones and brown ones and some are white with black spots.  But like for example, do the cows that give the milk ALWAYS have milk?  Are they born producing milk?  Or, are they like humans and only produce milk after giving birth?  And why are there black and white boy cows?  To me--ALL black and white cows are girl, milk cows.  All black cows are boy cows.  At least, that's how it should be.  Color coat those suckers.  Well what about brown cows you ask?  Well, I was going to say they just shouldn't exist at all but "How Now Black and White Cow" just doesn't have the same ring to it, now does it?  So, we'll just have to consider them as the "mule" of the mommy cow, who is white with black spots, and the daddy cow, who is solid black.  And apparently they have like 38.16 stomaches?  Whatever.  I'm over it.  Moving on.  Or should I say, Moooooving on!

{4.}  Hair:  Some hair on our body will grow indefinitely.  It will grow until we cut it or until we die.  Got it.  But other hair KNOWS to stop at a certain length.  How does it know that?  Like, if I trimmed my eyebrows with scissors to half their normal length, the hairs would be like, "Alright guys, lunch break's over.  We're down an 1/8th of an inch.  Looks like we're putting in overtime tonight."  HOW DOES IT KNOW?!

{5.}  The alphabet:  Sure I can say it, but I have no clue why the letters are in the order they are.  At first glance you might think it's in the order in which they're most frequently used.  (We obviously use 'A' way more than 'Z' but upon closer inspection, this is not the case.)  So who picked this order?  And why?  Someone had to have done that.  I need answers. And while I'm complaining about the alphabet, allow me to share this thought as well.  It should be a RULE that if you can SPELL OUT a letter, it CANNOT be a letter.  For example:  'A' is very short.  But then there's 'W.'  Clearly it does not belong:  DOUBLE U?!  Really?!  It's NOT a letter.  'W' is a blatant alphabetic impostor if you ask me.  

{5} Things I Believe

{1.}  I believe that being able to be a mother by far makes up for all the other crap we have to put up with as women--from being seen as inferior in the workforce to being forced to work in sheen pantyhose.  It makes up for it all.

{2.}  I believe that for many, myself included, independence is spelled e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n.

{3.}  I believe that the ability to genuinely laugh at how absolutely ridiculous you are or have been gives you one of only a few golden tickets that exist in this life which can alter your situation and circumstances in far greater capacities than Charlie Bucket's golden ticket altered his.

{4.}  I believe that we, as humans, only have the ability to truly and intimately know a dozen or two people at any given stage in our lives and that what we think we know about all others really isn't knowledge at all--it's our perception of their actions completely removed from their life's story.  I believe that if we would stay conscience of this limited perception the world would be a lot kinder place.

{5.}  I believe that there's a cosmic symmetry to life, a balance, always teetering to find its center.  And therefore, in whatever ways it is that you are blessed, it is your responsibility to bless others to the best of your ability.  Because if you don't do your part to level the balance, it will find a way of doing it itself.  It's not karma in the one-dimensional sense some make it out to be.  It runs deeper.

This post idea came from Mama Kat's Writing Workshop.  Be sure to stop by there for creative inspiration!

The Birthday Boy (And Some Apparently Angry Birds)

Okay, so yet again I have super sucked at blogging lately.  I didn't realize it had been over a month since I'd posted until just looking back at the dates.  WOW, November flew by!

Okay--catch up post.  Where to start, where to start....

OH, What was it that The King said in Alice in Wonderland? 

"Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end:  then stop."

Yes, I suppose that's what I'll do.  And the beginning (of where we left off) would be Madd's birthday!  I still can't believe that yet another birthday party is in the books and that my little man is now a six year old.  [sigh]

His actual birthday was on a school day, so we started out with surprise birthday chocolate-chip pancakes (complete with birthday candle, of course)!

**Note, I made the pancakes myself.  If you're thinking, "Um SO?" well.... then first of all you can kiss it (and I think we all know what that "it" is) and second of all, it's obvious that you've never read this post.  Judge me if you must.**

Where was I?  Oh yes, I made pancakes.  At 6am.  Because that's just what I do I only have one kid and I guess I can sacrifice a little sleep to burn prevail in the perpetration of pancake perfection!

So rub those eyes and wake up birthday boy....

"Maddy, smile for mommy."
He smiled, but those eyes still weren't ready to open.

The day after his birthday was his party.  It was honestly the least stressful birthday party we've ever thrown for him.  For once, I felt like I got to enjoy the party too.  Usually I'm running from one end of a room to another, so it was nice to sit back and soak it all in.  

Here's a few snapshots from his special day, including a few pictures of his cake I promised I'd share.

Here's daddy with his birthday boy on the water inflatable.
He helped all the kids across (and okay, threw a few off too!)

After about two hours of swimming, we headed upstairs.

Something tells me this was the last birthday 
we'll have to read his birthday cards to him.

[Another sigh.]

And here's the cake and party favor table.

[Sorry about the poor quality of the cake close-ups.  
I took them at the house before the party in a hurry.]

Photo-op while waiting on mommy to light the candles.
I can't help but wonder what he wished for.... 
Oh, how I hope all his wishes come true!

But for now, a more serious question.
Who gets to eat which Angry Bird/Green Pig?

As you can tell by that half exhausted, but ear-to-ear grin, 
my little man had a wonderful time.
And with six birthday parties under my belt, 
I'm beginning to feel like an old pro!

Again, thank you to everyone for sticking with me through my bloggy-blahs, which I'm slowly trying to escape from.  

And a special thank you to my newest readers who found my blog by happening upon my DIY Angry Birds Invitations post and have taken me up on my offer to email me and ask for the Invitation PDF.  It makes me so unbelievably giddy to know that someone is actually taking the time to read a little bit about what's going on in our lives.  

So again, thank you so much.
And yes, if you're reading this right now I'm talking about YOU!
So quit being modest because you really rock my world.