Thursday, December 31, 2009
I love how a new year brings renewed hope. Every one's eager to make serious changes and improvements. It's refreshing.

I, for one, have lots of plans for 2010. Read more, bake more, cook more, exercise more. The list goes on, but you get the picture. I want to do more of the things that I love to do but always seem to put at the bottom of my list. This year, I'm going to make it a priority to do those things and to integrate them into my every day life.

I'll post my goals in a week or so, but for tonight, I'm going to enjoy a quiet evening at home with my family. Just hanging out enjoying each other's company. It's the simple things...

Wishing you a new year filled with peace, prosperity, good health and happiness!

A few of their favorite things...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
It was a good Christmas this year. We were thrown no curve balls. No surprises.

Last year, a few days prior to Thanksgiving, we learned that my husband's parent company was filing for Chapter 11. It couldn't have come at a worse time (not that there is ever a good time for something like that). But a few weeks before Christmas really was not good timing. We got through Thanksgiving and delayed shopping. When we finally started shopping, we second guessed every purchase we made. We diligently saved receipts. We paid cash for everything, not knowing if we'd be able to make monthly payments on credit cards in January and beyond. It was awful, and I'd wish that on NO ONE.

When you have children, Christmas should be magical, and this year it was all that and more. My sister Brenda was here from Florida to visit. We hosted Christmas dinner at our home, and it was a wonderful day enjoyed by all. Santa brought the girls just about everything they wanted. He questioned the ice skates and roller skates, and we are thankful that he did!

Thank you, Santa!
Emma's big gift this year was a new American Girl doll, Chrissa, the girl of the year.

Harper's most prized gift was a FurReal cat. She would have been happy to receive only this gift.
You can't see it, but Emma is holding an iPod, her second favorite gift. Can you tell that she really wanted this?
I hope your Christmas was as good as ours!

R.I.P., Hermie and Crabby

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
A few weeks ago as I was opening up the hermit crab cage to wet their sponge, I noticed that Harper's hermit crab looked different. He was hanging out of his shell in a way that I've never before seen. Sure enough, when I picked him up, his lifeless body fell completely out of his shell.

I knew the time was coming. In fact, if you remember, I posted about it here. They typically only last about 6 months in captivity and we were going on close to 18 months. And then there was one. Emma's hermit crab was the lone survivor.

Until Christmas Eve, when I found another lifeless hermit crab in the cage. They both took the news of their respective hermit crabs remarkably well. No tears. No kicking and screaming for replacement crabs.

Sad? Not really. They both know that their "aunt" Colette will indulge them in August by buying them brand spanking new hermit crabs during our family vacation to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

The indecisive child

Monday, December 28, 2009
My impatient child also happens to be an indecisive one. It begins from the moment she steps out of bed in the morning and continues until she places her head on the pillow at night. Everything from deciding what to wear, what to eat and what to drink to what to read, what to watch on TV and with whom to have a play date sends Emma into a tailspin.

Lately her indecisive behavior has become increasingly problematic. It has caused her to be tardy for school on one occasion. On a few other occasions, she's missed the bus, and I've had to drive her to school. We've tried having her pick out her clothes the night before school only to have her change her mind the following morning.

Today the situation spiraled completely out of control while we were supposed to be having fun at Build-A-Bear Workshop. My sister gave the girls each $50 Build-A-Bear gift cards for Christmas, and the girls couldn't wait to use them. We decided to go today. Little did I know what was in store for me!

Upon entering the store, Harper ran over to the owl and snatched him up. She knew what she wanted. Over the course of the next hour, we waited as Emma paced back and forth peering into each bin. Pondering. And pondering. And pondering some more. 45 minutes later, we were still waiting on Emma to decide. With a bear in hand, we approached the "stuffing station". Emma turned and looked back at the bins with tears forming in her eyes. She wasn't confident in her decision. She turned and ran back to the bins. This proved to be the first of several times that we'd get in line and abandon the line in order for Emma to debate.

Finally, after 2.5 hours and after much coaxing and stern words on my part, Emma was ready to stuff her bear. There were still tears in her eyes, but I knew once her bear was stuffed, she'd be happy with it. Our time at Build-A-Bear wasn't over yet! We still had to endure 40 minutes of Emma deciding on an outfit.

After close to 3 hours in Build-A-Bear, I departed the store with 2 very happy and content children. But, boy, was I ever emotionally drained. I was exhausted. I had no energy left to shop for myself. We headed to Starbucks where we regrouped over some pastries and fancy coffee drinks, and then headed to home sweet home!

'Twas the night before Christmas

Sunday, December 27, 2009
This was the first year that we hosted Christmas dinner at our house. For weeks I've been compiling a list and checking it twice. I don't know how Santa does it!!

On Christmas Eve we spent the morning running errands, buying some last minute gifts and tying up loose ends. Once we got home, I prepared some food for Christmas dinner and hopped into the shower. We went to 4:00 Mass, and came home for our Christmas Eve celebration. Every year we take a family portrait...

Just the girls...

My beautiful Emma and I...

Sprinkling reindeer food...

Ready for Santa...


Baking Bonanza!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009
This is the first year in many that I've had the opportunity to do a ton of holiday baking. I love holiday sweets. I'm good for gaining about 7 lbs. between Halloween and Christmas. It's all good!

I've been fortunate to have two very willing helpers. Mommy's Little Baker!

We've made a variety of cookies this year. Each year I like to try one new recipe. This year that one was The Forgotten, a meringue-type cookie with chocolate chips that is left in the oven overnight to bake. The oven is preheated and turned off once the cookies are placed inside. Super, super easy and yummy! Find the recipe here.The chocolate crinkle...made using a boxed cake mix...another super easy, super yummy cookie! Find the recipe here.
Champagne cookies....a light, buttery, and oh so delicious cookie. My grandfather made a mean champagne cookie. Mine pale in comparison, but Emma loves them, and that's all that matters.

I'll post the recipe for the champagne cookies next week. I always make them around Christmas, but it's a good that can be enjoyed all year round.

We also made chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, and sand tarts. We have the dough made for sugar cookie cut-outs. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll get to them tomorrow. :)


Snowed in

Monday, December 21, 2009
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've most likely heard about the snow storm that pounded the east coast over the weekend. Here at the Jersey shore, we have 24 inches, a record amount for this time of year. We rarely see any type of snow accumulation until mid- to late January.

I have to say, I'm not a big fan. Of snow. Of winter. Just don't like it. I do like an occasional snowfall. Enough to make everything look pretty, but not restrict my activities or hinder my schedule. I like to be able to carry on as usual. This snowfall was debilitating. Snowed in for 2 days. So, what did we do? Made the best of our situation. We took the kids outside to play in the snow several times. Baked lots and lots of cookies. Made lots and lots of ornaments.

It was actually good to be snowed in. The weather presented us with the opportunity to do the things that we probably would have rushed around to do on Wednesday night.

Family fun...
Getting lost in 2 feet of snow...
Making snow angels...
Making ornaments...My often impatient child was actually very patient and helpful with her little sister! :)

I'm saving our baking pictures for a separate post!!

Wine of the Week: Cupcake Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc

Sunday, December 20, 2009

This delicious wine from Marlborough, New Zealand flies off the shelves. My husband brought a bottle home a while ago, and when I begged for more, he couldn't remember where he bought it. :(

This flavorful wine delivers excellent quality for it's pricepoint ($12/bottle). When I inquired about it at my local wine store, I was told that they have been sold out for 2 months!

The label states that this wine has flavors reminiscent of grandma's lemon chiffon cake (yum!). With layers of Meyer lemon and Key lime and a finish to awaken the senses, this wine is a perfect compliment to any dish to which one would add a squeeze of lemon.

As for me, I enjoy it best with glazed lemon pound cake, lemon poppy seed muffins, and lemon bars. Can you tell I have a serious sweet tooth?!

Wine tip: Don't be a snob about screwtops! Many quality wines have screwtops these days because they prevent TCA, a compound found in cork, from ruining the wine. Unless you plan on aging it for a long time, a wine bottled with a screwtop will taste just as good as one sealed with a cork.

Note: The Cupcake Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc comes in a screwtop bottle.

How they grow

Saturday, December 19, 2009
When Emma was first born everyone would tell us the same thing, "Enjoy her now. She'll grow so fast." I wish I had a dime for every time we heard that! When Harper was born, we heard it all over again, but we understood exactly what they were saying. When Harper was born, it had been almost 4 years since Emma's birth. It seemed like just yesterday.

Now, they are 7 and 3 respectively, and I can honestly say that I don't know where time has gone. It has flown by...right in front of my eyes. Never was this more evident than recently when they came home from school with their pictures.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't shed a tear here or there. My girls are growing up, and although I'm excited about the future that awaits them, I miss my babies. :(

Friday Fun: playing with words

Friday, December 18, 2009
I accidentally discovered this site about a year ago. I've wanted to share it, but for some reason, it slipped my mind. While "Googling" Wordless Wednesday, I typed in only a portion of the word wordless, and Google returned Wordle.net. The description of the site sounded interesting so I clicked it. So much fun. You've got to visit it.

Here's the premise: You enter a series of words, and Wordle arranges them in collage-like fashion. You can print and frame the collage. So cute. This would make a great and incredibly inexpensive gift!

I typed in a few Christmas words, and here is the result.

The possibilities are endless. Seriously, I could sit in front of my laptop ALL DAY playing with Wordle. Try it! You'll love it!!

Anger management

Thursday, December 17, 2009
As parents, I think we've all had our fair share of occasional blowups. It's what happens. We are human, after all. One such blowup occurred for me today. I was sitting at the dining room table trying to finish the last few Christmas cards when I heard a series of crashes and glass breaking. Uh-oh! Or it was more like UH-OH. All this crashing was preceded by, of course, running around the house. We all know that can never be good. Never ends well.

As it turned out, Emma slipped and collided with a console table which was home to my snowmen collection. :( Let me begin by saying that I LOVE my snowmen collection. Some have been given to me by my daughters, sisters, husband and mother-in-law. I hold each and every one of them near and dear. Two had fallen and broke into pieces. {Sniffle, Sniffle} I admit that I became angry and started freaking out. Now hours later, I know that it was silly and unnecessary. In the whole scheme of things, those snowmen are just snowmen. But Emma is my daughter, and I know that my tone of voice, if not my words, hurt her.

She doesn't see me react like that very often. I'm usually very calm and composed...even under such circumstances. I try to exercise patience and discretion. But in this case, I did not. I'm not sure why. Well, maybe I do. I'm busy. I've got a lot to do or that I want to do before Christmas. I don't need to be cleaning up a mess of shards of glass, my former snowmen.

Now, after several hours, I know that it's all so small. Small stuff. My daughter is much bigger than a snowman, a little object that is easily replaced. But Emma? Not small and not easily replaced. I'll think twice before I react like that again.

Tackle It Tuesday: Sewing Table Makeover

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
My mom gave me this sewing accessories table about 15 years ago. I don't know. Maybe it was actually about 20 years ago. I just know that I've had it for what seems like forever. Other than putting new drawer pulls on it years ago, I've left it untouched. Recently, I've been waking each morning and looking at it unsatisfied. It's been sitting in a corner of the master bedroom underutilized and certainly under appreciated. It needed a face lift and a new home, but I was committed to not spending more than $20 to get this done.

Oh, boy! Did I ever come in under budget. I used 1/2 can of spray paint that was in my garage. I did have to buy an additional can at $4.00. I settled on drawer pulls. These weren't my first choice, but you know how you just want to buy anything so that you can finish the project? Well, that's what I was feeling the day I went shopping for the drawer pulls. Plus, it was freezing outside and I was in Lowe's. It was convenient, and I had absolutely no desire to shop around on a cold day.

Take a look...
I really wanted drawer pulls that look like clear crystals, but Lowe's didn't have them. I settled for this brushed silver pull which works, but for $1.98 per pull can easily be tossed when I find what I really want.

To view what others have tackled, click here or visit 5 Minutes for Mom.

No respect for volunteers

Monday, December 14, 2009
Over the weekend I volunteered at the holiday fair at my daughter's school. The PTO holds the fair each December, and each year the theme changes. This year's theme was Gifts From the Heart...crafts and small handmade gifts. Really cute. There is also a holiday shop that sells inexpensive gifts that the children can buy for family and friends.

This fair wouldn't be possible without the generosity of about 45 volunteers. It just wouldn't happen. Period. Lots of busy parents volunteering their precious time during a very busy time of year. For the most part, everyone appreciates the fact that people give their time for the children. But occasionally, I come across a person who just doesn't get it. This happened on Saturday while I worked in the holiday shop.

A woman approached the register and started complaining about the fact that we had only one register and she had to wait in line for 10 minutes.

Are you kidding me, lady? It took every ounce of energy I had to restrain myself. Some people are so ignorant. We weren't being paid for working at the fair. Most of us could have or should have been shopping, wrapping, baking or decorating. But instead, we chose to take time out of our already jam packed schedules to do something for the kids. For zero monetary compensation.

But she didn't realize that. Of course not. She was too rude to recognize the value of the volunteers. The nerve of some people...

Last night's dinner

Sunday, December 13, 2009
Actually it was Thursday night's dinner. I just didn't have a chance to post it on Friday. It was very spur of the moment. I looked into the refrigerator and what did I see first? A package of boneless, skinless chicken cutlets and a big jar of olives. I ran to my laptop and Googled "chicken with olives". I clicked on the first item returned in the search results. Sounded good and simple. And so, in my desperation, I made it.Chicken with Olives

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tbl. olive oil
3 tbl. butter
1 c. dry, white wine
16 olives with pimentos

Brown chicken on both sides in oil and butter. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Turn chicken and add 1/2 cup of white wine and olives. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Turn again. Cook until tender. Remove chicken to platter. Add remaining 1/2 cup white win to pan. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. Stir to scrape up browned bit. Pour over sauce over chicken.

I served it with plain penne pasta and drizzled extra sauce over the pasta. Can also be served with rice or egg noodles and crusty bread.

Give it a try! It's surprisingly delicious!

Mama's Holiday Wishlist

Thursday, December 10, 2009
Today's Mama and Provo Craft are giving away a sleighful of gifts this holiday season and to enter I'm sharing this meme with you!

1. What 5 items are on your holiday wishlist this year? - a set of four cheese plates from Pier 1 Imports
- a lens for my DSLR
- Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook (signed copy would be super nice!)
- Philosophy Hope In A Jar moisturizer
- A nice, comfy, casual sweater

2. What is your favorite handmade gift you have received?
- A set of my daughter Emma's hand prints with this sentiment attached:
Here my hand prints are done
For everyone to view
I had so much fun
Doing this for you.

So look upon this hand print plaque
Hanging on your wall,
And memories will come back
Of me when I was small.

3. What handmade gift have you always wanted to tackle?
- Handmade glycerin soap

4. What was the best Christmas gift you received as a child?
- A Cabbage Patch doll

5. What items are on your kids' wishlists this year?
- Might be easier to name what's not on the list! American Girl doll and Bitty Baby, iPod, Ugg boots, puzzles, FurReal Cat

6. What is your favorite holiday food?
- Definitely the cookies!!!!!!!!

7. What will you be handcrafting for the holidays?
- Ornaments, a small tree made of sticks and branches on which I'll hang mini glass balls.

8. What is your favorite holiday movie?
- The Holiday starring Cameron Diaz and Jude Law.

9. Favorite holiday song?
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - By Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan

10. Favorite holiday pastime?
- It's a tie between decorating and baking.

To enter to win all these cool prizes, simply answer the questions in this meme, make sure to post links back to Today's Mama and Provo Craft (use this link http://bit.ly/4ikY3c).

Fun with Clifford

Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Emma's school recently held their fall Scholastic book fair. Emma shares my love of reading, and what better way to reward her than to take her to the fair to buy books? This particular night was Family Fun night, and every body's favorite dog, Clifford, was in attendance!

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect in terms of Harper greeting a character. Our last trip to Disney yielded much crying and whining. :( This time was different. She loved Clifford!

Wine of the Week: Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I chose my all-time favorite white wine for my very first Wine of the Week feature.

Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, a dry white wine, is pale yellow in color. It has a clean intense aroma and dry flavor with a golden apple aftertaste. This is a very popular wine due mostly in part to its great character and versatility. This is an excellent wine to bring to a party or serve to your guests.

It makes an ideal accompaniment for fish- and shell-fish based pasta and rice courses. It's also perfect with broiled or grilled fish. Have another wine in mind for dinner? Try Santa Margherita as an aperitif paired with crackers, cheese and assorted olives.

This wine is very reasonably priced at between $18 and $23 a bottle, depending on where you shop. I would not recommend ordering this wine in a restaurant. Although I've seen it on most wine lists, the markup is astronomical. Enjoy it at home or pick up a bottle for your next BYOB outing!

Just a tip for pairing wine with food: Don't get hung up on serving the perfect wine with the perfect meal. Choose wine you like, and I guarantee that the food will taste just perfect with it!

The impatient child

Sunday, December 6, 2009
Each Friday Emma comes home from school with a weekly report detailing her academic progress and social behavior. Possible status' are Fair, Good or Great. Emma had Greats every week last year with the exception of 2...she had to repeatedly be asked to stop talking with a friend. This year, once again, she's received Greats every week.

However, on Friday, there was a notation on the status report. Here's what it said:
"I'd like to see Emma be more patient with her peers. She's quick to accuse. Her work is wonderful. She got a 100% on her unit test for Math."

Yes, I'm well aware that my daughter doesn't always display the utmost patience. In fact, she has little tolerance for incompetence. She's a perfectionist and has high standards. She's disappointed when both she and others don't meet those expectations. I'm ashamed to admit that she gets those traits from her parents. The impatience is definitely inherited from my husband, and the perfectionism is from me.

I've spent the weekend pondering the whole situation, and seriously, there are worse traits she could be exhibiting. But still, we need to address this with her before she begins alienating her friends. And she prides herself on having a good group of friends and being a frequent play date host. So, losing friends would almost be the end of the world for her.

I've signed the status report, and I've asked her teacher to expand a bit more on her behavior. It's difficult for me to address this with her when I have no point of reference. I have no examples to cite. We have discussed it with her, and she knows that this type of behavior will drive her friends away. She doesn't want that, she tell us. I think that's about all the motivation she needs to change her ways.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Yesterday was my 42nd birthday. 42. Seems like a lot of years, but I can tell you this, they've gone by quickly. When I was a little girl, I can remember how we calculated what our age would be in the year 2000. I would be 32. It sounded soooo OLD at the time. Now, I'm 42, and I don't feel old. I don't look old, at least I hope I don't. Here's what 42 looks like.
We get pretty silly on my birthday. I always insist on lots of pictures of me with the girls. I'm rarely in front of the camera, so I use my birthday as an excuse to take pictures of myself.

I'm never far from my camera.

My girls and I..

A Giveaway! A Birthday! A Blogoversary!

Friday, December 4, 2009

To celebrate my birthday (today) and my one year blogoversary (tomorrow), I'm hosting a giveaway!! Yay! Giveaways rock!

I've spent countless minutes, maybe even hours, this week trying to determine what I wanted to offer my readers. I was going back and forth between a gift card or a holiday item. As I was browsing yesterday's junk mail, I came across a Pier 1 Imports circular. I opened it and was smitten by all the cute stuff they were advertising. And suddenly...Eureka! It came to me...

One lucky reader will win a $25 gift card to Pier 1 Imports.
Here's how to enter:

1) Leave a comment for me...say anything, but be nice! If you are a non-blogger, be sure to include your email address.

2) Become a follower or if you are already following me, add a second comment saying so. Double your chances to win!

All entries must be submitted by Saturday, December 12th at 10 pm EST. The winner will be chosen using Random.org. All participants must be residents of the US or Canada.

Here are just a few of my favorite Pier 1 things:

Cheese plates
Halter apron
Holiday cocktail napkins

Holiday appetizer plates
Good luck!

Bedtime Tips & Tricks

Thursday, December 3, 2009
Just about every parent has nightmare-ish stories to tell about bedtime struggles. Babies who wake several times during the night, and toddlers who won't stay in their beds through the night are a shared problem for many of us. Now, St. Eve Kids and TwitterMoms are giving us the opportunity to share the tips and tricks we've learned from our bedtime struggles.

I cannot deny that my husband and I were spoiled by our oldest daughter, Emma (now 7). She started sleeping through the night at 7 weeks. At 7:15 every night, she'd ask to be put to bed. We'd have dinner parties complete with laughter and loud music, and Emma would sleep through all of it. I have to admit, it was a sweet situation for me and my husband.

I was delusional to think it would continue with our second daughter, Harper (now 3). Every night was a struggle, beginning with her first night home from the hospital. She didn't start sleeping through the night until she was 4 monthsold. She'd climb out of her crib as soon as she started walking. It was so exhausting. I was losing so much sleep each night as I tried to intercept her every time she 'd leave her room. Finally, we had to set some ground rules.

Here's what we learned:
1) Set limitations and be firm.
This is very difficult in the beginning, but it's important not to waiver. Children need consistency, and it's the responsibility of the parents to provide it. We have a rule that the kids cannot sleep in our bed. The rule is that they can hop into bed with us on weekend mornings, but that's where we draw the line.

2) Establish a bedtime routine and stick to it.
Through the years, the timeframes have changed a bit as the girls have started school, but the basic routine has stayed the same. After school activities, homework, dinner, bath, brush teeth, storytime and into bed.

3) Adapt to growth.
What worked when Emma was 2, no longer works. Sometimes she likes to read before she turns off the lights. We allow her to do so but we attach boundaries to her reading time. For example, we allow her to read for an extra 15 minutes during the week and 30 on the weekends. It's important to be flexible to your growing children and their needs.

4) Offer incentives.
If both children stick to the routine and the timeframes, I allow them to choose an additional book at night or I'll read an extra chapter. I know how much they enjoy our reading time, so it's an appropriate reward. Offering a lollipop or some other special treat may work better for you.

5) Give the ultimate reward
Every so often, I allow the girls to sleep in the family room on the sofabed. They get to stay up a little later than usual and eat popcorn while watching TV. For them, this reward is worth all the effort they put into to staying on track with their bedtime routines!

To share in the drama of real parents with real stories, visit www.DramaU.net to read more.

A New Feature: Wine of the Week

I've done my fair share of wine drinking, wine sampling, and wine throwing away. I'm always up for trying a new wine, and sometimes I'm in the mood for an old standby. But more often than not, my adventurous palate steers me in the direction of the unknown.

In an effort to impart some of my wine wisdom (I use the word wisdom loosely) on you, I'm introducing a new weekly feature, Wine of the Week. I'll feature a wine or wine accessory, details, tasting notes and pairing suggestions. I'm not a wine snob. I'm just your average wine drinker with an honest and objective opinion.
Look for my first post on Monday, December 7th!