Thursday, November 27, 2014

Infusing Thanksgiving into Christmas

So many people eagerly jump straight from Halloween to Christmas, with just a quick break for a big Thanksgiving Day meal before the dreaded/lusted after Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday shopping frenzy.

On the other hand, there are those who won't pull out a Christmas decoration or listen to a Christmas song one minute before the day after Thanksgiving, some not until December first.

I am one who appreciates that November is about Thanksgiving and gratitude, however I like to plan ahead and am thinking of Christmas presents already too.

How can these major holidays live side by side?

Be grateful you have someone to shop for.

So many people get depressed around this joyful time of year because they have had a significant loss. There are many with no grandma, no father, no husband, no best friend, no ten year old granddaughter, no four year old little boy, or no newborn daughter to shop for.

There are also so many kids who won't get anything or hardly anything for Christmas because their parents can't afford it or they have parents who don't care. It's hard to forget the little boy from Polar Express.

This Thanksgiving and Christmas, be grateful for those you have around you. Add Thanksgiving into your Christmas this year.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What matters most

My daughter Hannah is one smart cookie. Developmentally, she's hit every milestone early, from walking and talking, to reading and writing. It's something that I love about her, and it makes me super proud in that obnoxious honor-roll-student-bumper-sticker-parent kind of way.

Last school year, Hannah was involved in a mixed abilities class as a typical peer, which means her class was composed mostly of kids with some sort of delay or anxiety and needed a little extra help. I explained to Hannah that her job was to be on her best behavior to help kids see how they were supposed to behave. She was supposed to be a leader.

Pretty early on I noticed that several of the kids got excited when she arrived for class. They'd wave excitedly and give her hugs and high fives when she'd approach the line. I also noticed that most of the positive comments that came home from school mentioned her helping a peer when they were sad, or being a good friend to someone in need. I thought it was nice, but then I didn't give it a second thought. I just kept pushing her to read, or write her letters better. I kept focusing on the state kindergarten standards so that when the time came she'd be ahead of the curve.

On her last day of class we were all invited to a party. Hannah picked a spot for us and I went and sat by her. Soon two other kids joined us. There wasn't enough room at the table so we moved and they moved with us, and we were joined by a third kid. I noticed this small group of kids seemed to gravitate to Hannah. It wasn't because she is on the ball, or super smart, or put together, or any of the things I'd hoped she'd be. It's because she is KIND. She is a good friend to them.

And I had one of Oprah's golden aha moments.

I've spent the last five years hoping she'd excel in life and essentially be perfect. I've gotten frustrated with her when she wasn't meeting my high expectations of her. I've thought of her as a reflection of me. I thought, if my kid was super obedient, or exceptionally well behaved then that must mean I'm doing my job, so when Hannah wasn't perfectly perfect I'd get embarrassed.

Apparently, this is an oldest child thing, because I haven't been that way with my second as much, and I don't think I'll be that way with my third. Also, maybe I'm just wound too tightly.

I've wanted her to be the best academically, but really, what I should have been wanting was for her to be kind and to be a friend. Thankfully, it seems that it is one of her inherent qualities, and my personal negligence in that department hasn't negatively impacted her. I became extremely emotional realizing my own mistake: missing her greatest asset and abilities. She is able to love, and be loved. She treats her peers with respect and kindness. She listens. She is fun. She cares about people, and what they have to say.

When Hannah is a grown woman nobody will remember that she walked at nine months old or she was reading at four years old, and nobody will remember the things she achieved in high school or college or in her chosen career. They'll remember how she treated them, and I hope she continues to be her same sweet, loving self. Hopefully she knows how much I appreciate the person she is. Even when I'm a little neurotic.

Alaina, Hannah, and Emma. They've known each other their whole lives, and are in the same kindergarten class.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Stay Home: A Holiday PSA

It seems like almost every time we take our two year old to church, she gets sick. I know it's not just us that this happens to because several friends have mentioned it also. It's even harder because we have a five month old who easily catches whatever her big sister has.

If you are sick, if your kids are sick, please stay home! Order some delivery for dinner. Rent a couple movies online. Or better yet- cook at home and watch the movies you own. Just please stay home!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Melissa's Top Autumnal Reads

This post contains affiliate links. 

As we all know, books, like clothing and produce, have seasons. I'm not talking about seasons of life, which, of course they do, but actual seasons of the year. A few years ago, a friend of mine lent me a book in late March. I saw the cover, and was immediately struck by it's beauty and I thought, this must be saved for October. The following are books that I've loved reading in autumn when the air is cool and crisp, leaves crunch underfoot, and my closet is fully stocked with knit sweaters. At least, those things would be true if I didn't live in Las Vegas.

1) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

I don't know what it is about the arrival of autumn, but each September I have this urge to reread the Harry Potter series, starting with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Have you heard of it? It's this small little book about a young boy who discovers he's a wizard, and he's just been accepted to the finest wizarding school in all the world. Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of it, it's pretty underground.

2) The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

This is the book my friend lent me. Isn't the cover gorgeous? Combine the aesthetic beauty with the story within and its a recipe for great literature. Kate Morton is one of my favorites, and this little tale of long lost family, betrayal and a forgotten secret kept me up at night while I devoured it, along with a cup of hot chocolate.

3) Happier at Home by Gretchen Ruben

Sometimes I just need a little boost of happiness, and Gretchen is the happiness guru. I love the advice she offers in this book. In it, she talks about how she views the start of a school year, and September as a whole, as a rebirth, a time to start fresh. I agree, which is why I love to read this book at the beginning of the school year, even before my kids were old enough to join the masses in school.

4) The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

This is a fairly recent favorite. I read this book last fall and fell in love. It's one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read, and I immediately went out and started purchasing copies for my friends. The Shoemakers Wife by Adriana Trigiani is an epic story of the immigrant experience at the turn of the century. Trigiani stated that this book is based on her own grandparents, and that the book took over twenty years to write. It is a slow, beautiful burn. The writing is exquisite, the storytelling unparalleled, and the characters are real and multidimensional. This book will take you to the Italian Alps and turn of the century New York City. Incredible.

5) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This whimsical tale captured my heart a few Novembers ago. It is an enchanting story of competition, a long living feud, magic, and a beautiful love story as a bonus. Fans of the movie The Prestige will love it.

6) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This story needs no introduction. One of my favorites for any season, but especially fall, this book sheds light on the myth of the American dream. Throw in some sleazy characters, a likable narrator, and beautiful prose by Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald and we have a winner.

7) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Another book that needs no introduction. What better book for fall than this Gothic romance, featuring one of the greatest heroines in all of literature? After reading Jane Eyre, you MUST locate the 2006 Masterpiece Theater's miniseries staring Ruth Wilson and Tony Stephens. Swoon.

What are your favorite Fall reads? 

Monday, November 17, 2014

The most wonderful time of the year

Some may consider this blasphemous, but I am not speaking about Christmas. Yes, I adore Christmas and everything that goes with it.  But truly, my heart lies with another season.  Fall is where it's at.   It's always been my favorite.  Just like Lorelai Gilmore and snow, I love fall. Why, you may ask? I shall tell you!

-The autumnal foliage. It's gorgeous. Suddenly the plants that have been green through spring and summer are now these rich, wonderful shades of gold, and burgundy and brown.

-The smells. You really can't beat the smell of a fresh pumpkin pie. Plus everything is spiced. The delicious smells of cinnamon and nutmeg in an apple pie. The sweet smell of a chocolate pie just asking to be eaten.

-You guessed it. Pie. 'Nuff said

-The weather.  I am not a fan of sweating. In fact it's rather annoying. Probably something I should have learned to deal with before moving to Texas... In fall it isn't cold, and it isn't hot. There is often a slight breeze that just brushes against your face.

-The clothes. You can add a few layers and not hide them under a huge jacket. You can add scarves and boots without having to wear big snow boots and huge fluffy scarves to cover you face. Plus the tan you have been cultivating all summer now nicely compliments the colors of the foliage outside.

-The preparations. This may sound crazy to most, but I love preparing for the holidays. I like to try and make them last as long as possible, without driving those around me insane. My way of doing that is preparing. Lists of foods for Thanksgiving. Old favorites and new experiments. Decorations for the Thanksgiving table. New ways to celebrate the wonderful season inside my home. And Christmas prep. Making lists of ideas, finding prices and looking for deals. I'm odd.

-Crafting. Fall has also become my excuse to spend extra money and time on crafts. Hobby Lobby probably loves this season for that reason. I spend so much more time making and brainstorming. I love crafts, and without my specific dedication to them in the fall, I would probably never get to do them.

-The weather, again. All summer I run around outside with my children, and I love it. All winter I stay inside or spend an absurd amount of time getting ready to go outside. And in the fall I can take a chair outside, and sit comfortably. I can even sometimes use a light blanket. Just because I love the feel of being under a blanket.

-The food. I know I already spoke of pie, and honestly, it deserves it's own bullet point. But now I am talking about everything else. Caramel apples, apple pie, stuffing, turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, pears, apple cider. It's all so delicious. And as an added bonus, as if you needed it. Who cares if you eat too many calories, those wonderful scarves and layers can hide it until you feel motivated to move again.

Really, there isn't a single thing that I don't like about Fall; and, if you knew me, that really wouldn't surprise you at all. I am sure there are people out there who have different opinions. It is their right, no matter how crazy it is, to have that opinion.  But, if you ask me, Fall certainly comes in at 1 out of 4.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why I Hate Running but Do It Anyway

I am not a fan of running. I never really have been. Remember the Presidential Fitness Test in school? Yeah, that wasn’t really my thing. That mile we had to do… I walked it because I didn’t like sweating. I never really did sports, unless you count one season of flag football in 6th grade (yes, you can be a feminist at age 11), and one year of show choir (that’s physical activity, right?). So, a few years ago, when I decided to give the Couch to 5K program a try you could say I was less than enthused, but still amazingly, defying all odds, motivated.

Somehow that early interval training (I can say that now, because, you now, I’m a “runner” and all…) turned into running a different 5K every month for a 12 months, which turned into logging 3 miles every day for a month (and, can I just tell you, that was a really cold April around + me running = giggles for anyone who happened to be watching), which turned into conquering a 10K (over six miles, which kind of blew my mind), and, this October, a half marathon (that’s right, over 13 flipping miles). I’m not bragging, I promise (you would know this if you could see me “run”), and I certainly didn’t do it all overnight (it’s been about 3 years so far). I’m kind of astounded and mostly surprised. Running hasn’t completely transformed my life; it hasn’t made me a runway model; it hasn’t always been a constant, either. I’ve messed up. I’ve taken breaks that were intended to only be a week off...which morphed into a couple of months off (stupid winter...and my hatred of treadmills and running inside)...

But I do it anyway because it makes me feel stronger. It provides time to focus on nothing or to let my mind process what’s happening in my life. I don’t feel winded going up and down stairs or hills. My digestion is better (who knew?!). Most importantly, I know that I can accomplish goals--even in realms that aren’t my forte.

So I’m going to keep setting goals.

What activities do you do that you don’t necessarily love, but that help you love yourself more? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Time I Got My Body Back

When you peruse the internet for stuff about pregnancy, you're probably going to come across some tips about getting your body back postpartum. Everyone seems really concerned about being able to fit into their clothes, being able to work out, and being able to wear a swimsuit in time for summer. Getting your body back seems to be a big deal to pregnant women. 

I've been lucky (and please don't hate me for sharing this) in that my body so far has seemed to bounce back reasonably quickly as far as being able to wear normal clothes again. I attribute most of this to breastfeeding and the fact that for most of my pregnancies food was a struggle for me. I also think almost anyone who has been 8 months pregnant will tell you that there comes a point in pregnancy where you are positive that your body is never going to move normally again. I go through a period of absolute terror because I just feel so uncomfortable and sore and exhausted that I wonder how on earth I will EVER be able to care for the newborn when she shows up. It's an intensely humbling experience, but I feel like it gives you a little boost of confidence when the baby actually IS born and your huge belly goes away and the round ligament pain goes away and the exhaustion is not because you are hauling around an extra 20 pounds or so anymore, and suddenly you feel like you can do anything, including keeping a little human alive, even at 3 am.

I was really looking forward to this feeling with my second pregnancy, because I remembered it so clearly from my first. Yes, I was a little sore after I delivered my first baby, and it took a week or two to REALLY start feeling like myself again, but overall I felt almost INSTANTLY better. I could bend over! I could stand up without feeling achey! I could SLEEP ON MY STOMACH AGAIN. 

Well, this time it was different. A diagnoses of HELLP syndrome 3 days before my due date led to a series of events that got me an emergency C section. (I'll include a link to my birth story because I am personally a birth story junkie, but I warn you, it was a bit traumatic.) I'm fairly sure I had a pretty stellar recovery as far as C-section recoveries go, but compared to the feeling I was expecting based on my first baby's entrance into the world, it kind of sucked. I still couldn't pick up my toddler (and was frankly a little terrified of her and her exuberant hugs and the way she liked to use me as a pushing off place when she was climbing around on the couch), I still couldn't move very fast, I still hurt when I stood up and changed positions, and I still couldn't sleep on my stomach. By the time I was two or three weeks out and really starting to feel kind of normal again, I was just feeling really grateful for functioning abs. 

And then I had another gallbladder attack. 

Long backstory short, throughout the last couple of months of my pregnancy I had several gallbladder attacks, including one the night my baby was born that was the reason we had been in the hospital in the first place. It might have even been the actual cause of the HELLP syndrome diagnoses (since I didn't ever have the high blood pressure symptom) that set off the maelstrom of events that led to my terrifying C section. But though it had been suggested several times during my several visits to the doctor, no one had really diagnosed me with gallbladder problems for sure, and I'd thought those stomach pains were gone forever once the baby was born. Imagine my joy when 3.5 weeks after my baby was born, just when I was feeling better again, I was back in the hospital having another surgery on my stomach. (I'd just barely started sleeping on it again!) Everything reset AGAIN. I once again couldn't pick up my two year old, walked slowly, had to have my husband stay home for a couple more days to take care of us, etc. 

I'm now a few weeks out from gallbladder surgery and feeling almost normal again. Occasionally my pants rub the wrong way on my many incisions (now that I've finally decided I can't stand wearing elastic waistbands anymore), but overall I'm mostly feeling like my pre-pregnancy self. It's been 10 months since I started having morning sickness, and I finally don't feel sick or sore or huge or cut open, and this time I feel truly grateful. 

One of the things that's nice about being super pregnant and recovering from things is that you do kind of get a free pass to be a little lazy for a few weeks. People brought us dinner, my husband cooked a lot more than I did, I had an excuse for not cleaning my toilet. Now that I finally feel better though, I feel so grateful for my fully functioning body. I actually missed cooking dinner! I missed being able to say yes when my older daughter wanted me to go down the slide with her or jump on the trampoline. And though I'm maybe a little slow getting back in the habit of being a productive member of the family, I feel so much more joy at being able to pick up my toddler when she asks. The first time I did this after weeks of telling her I couldn't, she looked at me with a big smile and said, "Tummy all better!"  And though my stomach is now covered with half healed incisions and scars and stretch marks, I have a huge smile too. 

Yes baby. I finally got my body back. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Small Town News

I live in a small town. That usually means dealing with things like hardly any places to shop, few restaurant choices, an hour drive to the closest Costco, limited things to do on the weekends, and being the only family at family story time at the library. There is one thing that I love about my small town, though, and it comes in the mail once a week bringing inexpressible joy to my life.

It is a little two page local newspaper  and, as soon as I get my copy, I run inside with glee and proceed to ignore my toddler while I flip immediately to the crime report. Some weeks they just list all the calls to the police and a brief word like "theft" or "assault" next to it, but some glorious weeks (maybe when it's been a slow police week) they give a report of every police call and they always always contain some highly entertaining gems.

Now I will admit that one time after a string of robberies in our neighborhood I called the police when a man I didn't know came to the door asking to borrow some eggs. It turns out my downstairs neighbor's grandson was visiting and they were making peanut butter cookies. So I have absolutely no right to judge any of these people. But hey, I can still laugh at them right?

CALL- 911 call reported, answering party was not speaking. Dispatcher listened for a while and it appeared the two men were fine and were playing Guitar Hero.

CALL- A woman called to report some threatening graffiti in an alleyway by her house reading, "It's not over yet." She believed this message was in reference to her chicken which has been ill as of late.

Chicken lady is obviously the winner.

CALL- A woman called to report suspicions that her neighbor has been urinating out the window. She has not witnessed said event but reports seeing liquids dripping down the outside of the house. She is requesting a test of the foreign liquid.

CALL- Male subject was outside espresso stand and walked over and looked in the reporting party's car.

I just hate it when people look in my car.

CALL- Report that a woman has been receiving phone calls requesting credit card information from people she didn't know.

CALL- Someone's cat is missing. Woman reports suspicions that her neighbor shot it.

CALL- A visiting female came to the neighbor's house of males, reporting party could hear talking.

Members of the opposite sex talking? That definitely warrants a police call.

CALL- A woman's friend called her but she couldn't hear her talking on the other end, she could only hear buttons being pressed.

Butt-dialing is a very common theme in these police reports.

CALL- Female passed out, unknown breathing status. Reporting party does not want to get close enough to check.

This poor lady needs some better friends I think.

CALL- Subject keeps coming into reporting party's residence and eating reporting party's food.

Now THIS is a legitimate reason for a police call. In fact I would probably call the FBI as well. Food thievery is up there with murder and kidnapping in my book.

CALL- Reporting party called to state her feelings that city officials, "want her to die."

CALL- Report of a dead opossum was called in. The caller was afraid that kids would poke it on their way to school.

CALL- Somebody came in and took some Oreo cookies, left in a black Infinity.

Another food thief! Or maybe there's a serial food-thief out there. I hope not but I have now locked my Oreos in a safe just to be sure...

CALL- There was a male subject walking around with a flashlight, in a denim jacket and khaki pants.

That's the end of the call. Just a description of someone's outfit.

CALL- A man was standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs and yelling at traffic.

CALL- Man called to report a small red vehicle stopped on the side of the street with parking lights and a turn signal on that has been sitting there for 15 minutes.

Be careful when you pull over somewhere, this guy has a stopwatch and he's not afraid to call the police on you.

CALL- Someone called in saying that a friend called them and would not tell them what was wrong, as if someone may have been listening.

CALL- Two males were opening a pencil case and looking inside.

I'm pretty sure I haven't seen a pencil case in at least twenty years. Does Lisa Frank have a website where you can order irrelevant school supplies? Otherwise I'm baffled as to where they acquired the mysterious pencil case in the first place.

CALL- Someone called in stating they could hear yelling in the area, it's echoing and she is not sure where it's coming from.

CALL- A woman called to request her neighbor be arrested for not cutting her lawn.

I think it's a tie between her and the chicken lady.

Alright there are the highlights of the police calls over the last few months. The good news is that the police department is hiring, you can put in your application today!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Costume Roundup 2014

We know Halloween is over, but we had to share our creativity (or lack thereof) with you again (see last year's here) because who doesn't love looking at costumes?  Enjoy!


After last year's cheater costume, I finally made costumes this year (although I didn't sew them - mostly they were tied or glued) and I was pretty pleased with the results (although CB's mermaid costume never really stayed down the way it was supposed to because she kept pulling at it - but her face says it all). Behold:

Tutorial here

Tutorial here

Sorry folks. No tutorial for the extensive costumes my husband and I are sporting.


I desperately want to do group costumes with my family for as long as they will gamely go along with me. To achieve this, however, I have to meet the approval of my husband, whose priorities in costumes are somewhat...opposite than what my priorities are. Knowing this, I started throwing costume ideas out starting way back in July, hoping that in the ensuing months we would find something we could both agree on. Heaven help me when our child is old enough to also have an actual opinion! 

Luckily, at the moment we have a destructive little monster 1 year old who inspired our King Kong, Empire State Building and Anne Darrow (the "damsel in distress character from the 1933 movie) costumes and after a month of sewing and spray painting, I love them all!

The King of the Kong himself
(note the airplane he so rudely ripped out of the sky)

A proud Empire State Building

I still love the little dude,
even if he did rip me out of my apartment and
drag me to the top of the Empire State Building.
A family affair!


I knew my son had to be Thomas the Train because there is nothing he loves more in this world than Thomas, including his own mother. I intended to make him his own Thomas the Train costume out of a giant cardboard box when I stumbled across a Thomas costume at the thrift store for five bucks. I paused for a moment, remembered that I was seven months pregnant and that my son hates to wear costumes and took the lazy way out. You know, I have never regretted taking the lazy way out but I have often regretted not taking it...


I think it's fairly clear by now that I'm a hands on kind of Auntie.  Halloween is important (even though, with each passing year, my disdain for "trunk-or-treating" grows and grows) and I love finding or making costumes my nephews will enjoy.  This year I tried to be lazy and just buy the costumes they asked for.  I may have some talents, but making an Optimus Prime costume from scratch just isn't one of them.  So first off, we had two Transformers, Optimus and Bumblebee.

The best part of these costumes is that even though we paid money for the typical store-bought costume, these boys want to wear them all the time.  JD wore his around the house, as clothing, all day Saturday.  That's money well spent in my book.

The other two boys, ages 8 and 5 months, were homemade costumes.  They were going to be Transformers, but there were no costumes to fit them. So I had to think of something equally cool and something they could do together so there were no hurt feelings.  As suspected, the opportunity to use fake blood solved all our problems. And so, we ended up with a shark attack victim and the baby shark who attacked him.


I am a stickler for handmade DIY costumes as everyone knows. Just kidding. Fortunately, Lindsey is extremely talented and wonderful and because my children decided to be Elsa and Anna (they like to think outside the box, you know) she made them these beautiful beanies that allowed my girls to be somewhat unique on Halloween.

My husband insisted that having a son would be no different than having daughters, yet he seems to find ways to contradict himself and Halloween was no different. I wanted to do a Frozen theme as a family, but Adam said he had a different idea for Sam, but it was a surprise. When Adam walked down to show me Sam's costume...well, let's just say the Boy Wonder was never cuter.


I desperately wanted to do another family costume this year, as I thought this would be the last year I could convince my kids my ideas were better than theirs. Alas, I failed.  We were going to be characters from The Little  Mermaid. It was not to be.  However, the costumes they chose were perfect anyway. My Thomas decided he wanted to be a ninja turtle. More specifically Leonardo. His uncle was kind enough to give him a shell and sword for his birthday, and I put together the rest. It wasn't my best effort, I admit, but he loved it, and totally rocked it.  Lorelai wanted to be Princess Sophia. I was going to buy it, but they all were so cheap, and not what I wanted. So, I decided to make it. I went with a tutu dress, because I hate zippers and I thought the elastic and tuille would last longer. She loved it, and also was the cutest Sophia that there ever was. Katherine had no choice, so I got to decide. She was an owl, and adorable! James and I had grand plans, but instead we both wore black and called it good!  It's really just for the kids anyway!