Holiday Tips & Tricks with TwitterMoms & Staples

Monday, November 30, 2009
TwitterMoms and Staples are co-sponsoring another great contest, and I'm jumping in on this one for a chance to win a $100 Staples gift card and quite possibly a $25 gift card if I'm one of the first 50 to post on my blog. I love Staples for the wide variety of products ranging from printer cartridges to stationary products to school supplies to DVD's and software.

It's such a busy time of year for everyone. From shopping to parties to pageants, adults and kids are swamped. Over the years and as my family has grown and my holiday responsibilities have grown with my family, I've adopted a few tips and tricks to help get me through the hectic weeks ahead.

1) Wrap as you buy. There is absolutely nothing worse than waiting until Christmas Eve to wrap all of your gifts. When you should be relaxing with family enjoying a glass of bubbly, you're holed up in your bedroom tangled in ribbon because you procrastinated. Not good.

2) Set a budget, make a list, and stick to both!!! The last thing you want is to be wandering around the shops looking for gifts on Christmas Eve. Budget for money and time so that you stay within the limitations of both. Harried is the last thing you want to be at the holidays!

3) Plan ahead. Tomorrow I will make a list of what I want to bake this holiday season. I'll also prepare a shopping plan including baking items, gifts and food for Christmas Eve and Day meals. Of course, the lists will include time lines for each.

4) Enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season. Take in a local choral concert, tree lighting or similar holiday event. Most are free, and they are a great way to kick off the holiday season. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, it's important to take time to enjoy the simple pleasures of the holidays.

For more information on how you can participate, go to TwitterMoms for details.



Saturday, November 28, 2009
When we celebrate Thanksgiving with Henry's family, we've always done so at his sister Beverly's home. It made sense considering that she did a majority of the cooking and my mother-in-law lived with her. But this year and in the wake of my mother-in-law's passing in September, we needed a change of venue. It was time to mix it up a bit. And in hindsight, it was a good choice. A new house, new table meant that we weren't reminded of my mother-in-law missing from the head of the table.
It was a great day and an excellent meal. Our hosts, my nephew Geoff and his wife Patti (bottom, far left) were ever so gracious. It was flawless. Kudos to them.Excellent food. Lots of fun. And so much for which I am thankful! A perfect Thanksgiving!!

The annual holiday card disagreement

Friday, November 27, 2009
Well, it's officially the holiday season. Is it the kick-off of the shopping season that gives it away? Nope. It's the locking of horns that my husband and I have each year when I sit down to put the plan together for our holiday cards. Read here for last year's situation.

This year, I thought I'd get my own way since I caved last year. But no, hubby's still standing his ground. He wants the cards to be personalized in some way. They can be pre-printed, but he'd prefer me to write some sort of personal message to each recipient on the inside of the card. Ooooookay.

So, the other night I sit down and start my research at Tiny Prints. I see lots of cards that I love, but they are, of course, flat cards. We need a folded card, one with an inside. I don't like to write a sentiment on the back of a flat card. It just doesn't seem tasteful to me. Hours later, I finally find a folded card that I like. I personalize it and add the photo. Show it to hubby clearly thinking that he'll give me the thumbs up. Guess what? Not happenin'. He says he doesn't like the picture of the girls because they are not looking directly into the camera lens. Sheesh! Of all the things I think he'd care with which to have little involvement, he wants to be fully consulted.

Plan B: A full photo shoot tomorrow in the backyard. Watch for the card to be posted in the next week or so. {Fingers crossed, of course}.

Watery Wordless Wednesday: Seagulls

Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Seagulls all in a row...

Click here for more Watery Wednesdays.

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Green with envy

OK. I have to admit it. I have a good life. I live in a nice house in a nice town which just happens to be 2 miles from the beach. I drive a Mercedes, have all the latest techy toys, an awesome DSLR camera, great clothes and tons of shoes. A wonderful husband and adorable daughters. And, oh, did I mention, I get to have all of this and be a stay-at-home mom? In a nutshell, I don't want for much.

But every once in a while a friend does something, gets something or goes somewhere, and my pal Jealously rears her ugly head. Hey, listen, I'm not proud of it. I'm just being honest about it. Such was the case when my girlfriend Kim went to Paris last week with her husband for their anniversary. I was fine with it until I saw the pictures. Oh boy! Jealousy pulled up a chair and sat down for an afternoon of tea.

Oh, how I adore Paris. Just look at this cafe. Kim said she and her hubby had coffee and croissants here every morning. Raise your hand if you're jealous. {Both my hands are in the air!}

In front of Notre Dame Cathedral...

A Parisian sidewalk it! Love the street lamps.I love this picture. It's a great picture of Kim and a quintessential shot of Paris.
Here's Kim taking in one of her fave pieces at The Louvre.

That's it! I'm redeeming some of my husband's British Airways miles. Meet me in Paris!


What I'm Crushing on This Week: Philosophy Fragrances

Monday, November 23, 2009
At the beginning of the last summer, I discovered some wonderful fragrances by the cosmetics company Philosophy. I thought they'd be perfect for the summer: light and fresh. You know that smell you have when you first get out of the shower? It's the soapy water smell that permeates the air. I love it! And now you can get it in a bottle!!
Philosophy's Pure Grace is a lighter, softer, crisper interpretation of their Amazing Grace. It's a blend of fresh blossoms and cool greens laced with frosty musk. How could it get better? The price! A 0.5 fl. oz. bottle costs only $15.

To test a spritz of this "amazing" fragrance, go to your nearest Sephora.

Do you Black Friday?

Are you a Black Friday bargain seeking fanatic? Do you miss out on all the Thanksgiving Day festivities because you have your head buried in the newspaper advertisements all day long? If so, you're not alone. Do you have a routine that you follow from year to year or do you mix it up each year? More importantly, what will be your plan of attack this year?

TwitterMoms and Target are offering bloggers the opportunity to win a $75 Target gift card just for blogging about their BF plan of attack. A $75 Target gift card sure would come in handy this time of year!!
I have never been one for braving the throngs of people who are willing to trample others to save $100 on a TV. However, some years, if the deals were good, I ventured out at 5 am in search of the ultimate bargain. Plus, it was a chance to be sans kids...this, sadly, was the biggest bonus of my shopping excursion.

My plan of attack this year is quite simple: hit the Midnight Madness sales. You know, the sales that start at midnight on Black Friday. After my husband and kids are asleep, I'll be shopping. I love this whole concept. It's brilliant! I'd most likely be awake anyway so why not use it productively? Rather than watch chick flicks until 2 am, I'll be squeezing in some holiday shopping. I'll start at the Jersey Shore Premium Outlets. A new pair of Ugg boots is on Emma's list, so that'll be my first stop. After that, I'll hit The Gap, Converse, and maybe the Crocs outlet (although I hate them!). I'll head home to get some much needed sleep.

At around dinnertime, when everyone is home eating leftovers, I'll head to Target. It's another perfect time to shop. When everyone else is exhausted and starving, I'll be scooping up the bargains at Target!!

It's all in the timing, ladies.
T0 participate in this fabulous contest, go to the contest page at TwitterMoms.

A favorite Thanksgiving recipe: Potato Stuffing

Saturday, November 21, 2009
I grew up in central Pennsylvania, a.k.a. the land of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The PA Dutch were German immigrants who came to central Pennsylvania, primarily the Lancaster county area, prior to the early 1800's. With them they brought an affinity for farming, cooking and baking. The grandfather of my maternal grandfather brought his trade as a tinsmith to this country. Upon arrival he was given the surname Smith, which was my mother's maiden name. Just a little history lesson and some background...

My mother and grandmothers made this recipe for, what the PA Dutch call, "filling". Most of us would know it as "stuffing". It is a departure from typical bread stuffing as it is made primarily with potatoes mixed with bread. It's a bit time consuming, but it's worth every second of effort. It's creamy texture and buttery taste are undeniably delicious. Try it. I guarantee you'll love it.

Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Filling (makes 10 to 15 servings/recipe can be cut in half)
10 lbs. of potatoes - cubed, cooked and mashed using a potato masher (do not add milk, butter, etc.)
2 cups of finely chopped celery
2 large onions - finely chopped
Several sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley - finely chopped or 2 tbs. dried (I highly recommend using fresh)
1 lb. bread cubes or 1 medium loaf white bread cut into 1/2" cubes
1 cup butter, divided
1 cup milk
3 medium eggs, beaten
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Chicken broth, as needed

In very large skillet, saute onion and celery in 1/4 cup of butter until tender. Add parsley and continue cooking a few minutes longer until very lightly browned. Remove the mixture from the skillet to a bowl and set aside. Add one stick of butter to the skillet and saute the bread cubes until lightly browned. Combine the bread cubes and vegetable mixture and set aside.

To the mashed potatoes, add the beaten eggs, 1/2 cup butter, milk, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly (adding milk if necessary).

In a very large bowl, combine the potato/egg mixture with the bread cube/vegetable mixture. Stir until well blended. Add chicken broth as needed to moisten the mixture.

Spoon the mixture into 2 large buttered casserole dishes or oven safe bowls. Dot the top with pats of butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

* The filling can be prepared a day ahead of time, refrigerated and baked before serving. Allow an additional 15 minutes for baking.

Friday Fotos

Friday, November 20, 2009
I took over 500 photos while on vacation. Since I always had the camera up to my eye, I had to find my way around via the viewfinder!! I wanted to share some of them with you. I'd love to share all of them, but there are just so many. So, I chose a few of my favorites.

My sister, Brenda who lives in Tampa, was able to join us for a few days.

Drink of the Season: Hot Buttered Rum

Thursday, November 19, 2009
A few weeks ago TwitterMoms and Lenox sponsored a Drinks of the Season contest. Although I didn't enter my recipe in time for the deadline, I did want to share it with you.

As the cold air sets in and the wind starts whipping, it's time to whip up a favorite winter time drink...preferably enjoyed fireside. It is sure to delight your taste buds and warm your insides!!

Hot Buttered Rum
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream (heavy)
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons rum per each serving/mug (I prefer dark rum, but any will do)
Boiling water (1/2 cup per each serving/mug)

Beat butter and brown sugar in bowl on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Beat in whipping cream and powdered sugar alternately on low speed until smooth and well combined. Stir in nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. This mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for several hours (or freezer for up to 3 months) until ready to use.

For each serving, place 2 tablespoons of rum and 2 tablespoons of batter into a mug. Stir in 1/2 cup of boiling water. Sprinkle with nutmeg.

NOTE: I like to add crushed Butter Rum Lifesavers as an additional garnish. Enjoy!

Saying goodbye is hard to do

Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Today I said goodbye to my childhood home. Well, actually, not only my childhood home, but the home where my parents lived until my father passed away in July 2008. It's been a struggle trying to sell it. Not only has the economy been uncooperative, but the house has been vacant since my father's death and has been in a state of slow and steady deterioration. We attempted, unsuccessfully, a public auction last spring. But no luck.

About 6 weeks ago, someone approached one of my sisters and expressed an interest in buying the property. We were elated! We could finally unload it. Little did I realize the effect the final sale would have on me until I received an email this evening from a former neighbor and childhood friend. Kori and I are in touch regularly via Facebook and whenever I'm back in the area, I try to catch up with her in some way. She wrote that she and her son were taking a walk past my parents' house when she saw someone moving in. A plethora of memories came rushing back to her and made her sad. She recalled games we played as children, how my mother would make a huge fuss over her sons at Halloween.

This, in turn, caused me to become nostalgic and sad. How did I manage to get through the day with just a fleeting thought of the house? Somehow I pushed it as far out of my mind as I could. But Kori's email, thankfully, forced me to step back and examine how I was feeling. A part of me understands that we had no choice but to sell the house. But another part of me wishes we could have kept it. Forever. I know that's impractical and irrational, but I have so many memories there.

But that's exactly what they are...memories. And I'll always have them no matter who lives in the house.

Watery Wordless Wednesday: Dolphins

Every November while vacationing in Captiva Island, Florida, we go on a dolphin sighting tour. I never tire of seeing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. It's always a breathtaking experience. These pictures were taken last week while on board the Lady Chadwick which departs from McCarthy's Marina.

To see more amazing photos, click below.

Wordless Wednesday

5 Minutes for Mom - Wordless Wednesday

Watery Wednesday

R & R

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Much to my dismay, I am back from vacation. I've left gorgeous Captiva, Florida behind me. Way behind me. :(

It was a fantastic week filled with all the makings of a great vacation. Most of our time was spent at the pool complex (3 pools and one specifically for the young ones). Since Hurricane Charley hit South Seas Resort in the fall of 2004, the resort has undergone some major renovations. We thought it couldn't get any better in 2003, but were we ever wrong!

Here's a taste of how the week went down...

One of our first stops...lunch at the famed Bubble Room.
This little guy was wondering around the resort. We discovered later that he is an exhibit from the resort's nature center.
Daddy and his girls in the pool...
It was hard to resist this pool...
In the hot tub... Boats from the resorts sailing school.

A Captiva sunset...

Fun in the pool...
Poolside...A late day walk on the golf course...

It doesn't get any better!

Thanksgiving Traditions

TwitterMoms and Target are hosting a contest, and I'm getting in on the action. A chance to win a $50 Target gift card...enough said!

Thanksgiving is my FAVORITE holiday. It's laid back, easy and there's absolutely no pressure. Plus, who can forget all the yummy food? In our house, we have several traditions that we take part in every single year, and it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without them.

1. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Seriously. Who doesn't watch this parade? The girls and I look forward to it all year long. We gather together on the sofa with our comfy blankets and chatter about the balloons, performers and (mostly lame) commentary!

2. Cooking and Baking
On the day before Thanksgiving, we spend most of the day in the kitchen. Isn't that the best seat in the house for Thanksgiving? We make pumpkin pies and pumpkin bread. I also make a potato stuffing that is out of this world. It's a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe that my mother and grandmothers made their whole lives. It's a lot of work, but one bite tells you it was worth every ounce of effort and every second of time.

3. Turkey Hand prints
Every year, we make the same Thanksgiving craft and we pull out the ones from previous years to reminisce. I paint the palms of the girls' hands with washable, brown paint. We stamp their palms unto white construction paper. At each finger we write something for which they are thankful. It's so fun to look at the crafts from years ago. Every year we laugh hysterically at one Emma made when she was 3...she was thankful for her Gymbo the clown hand puppet!!! It's fun, easy and not too messy.

Did I mention that I LOVE Thanksgiving???!!!

Check out TwitterMoms to see how you can participate in this fun contest!

Puberty? Already??

Sunday, November 15, 2009
Two weeks ago while we were at the pediatrician's office for Harper's strep throat, we were forced to endure a long wait...2 hours to be exact. What can I say? There were a lot of sick kids out there. And if it weren't for the fact that we were leaving for vacation the very next day, I would have stormed out of the office after demanding the very first appointment for the next day. But, my hands were tied...

Emma had no difficulty finding something to read to wile away the time. While she was leafing through the informational booklets, she came across one that piqued her curiosity...Puberty in Girls.

WHAT? Are. You. Kidding? She's too young for that I tell her. "No, I'm not" she tells me and continues by reading an excerpt from the pamphlet. "Sometime between age 8 and 13, your body begins to change. This is called puberty." she reads. She's quick to point out, "I'll be 8 in 6 months". Yes, how could I forget that day in May 2002 when I gave birth to my first born with no drugs, no picturesque distractions and no energy to scream at my husband?

Anyway...OMG! Now I'm thinking I'm too young for this!! For some reason, Emma thinks puberty ranks up there with a trip to Disney World. Yeah. OK.

I can remember many (too many) years ago, most of my peers experiencing puberty around age 11 or 12. I, of course, was a late bloomer at 16. I can recall wanting, in the worst way, to wear a bra in 5th grade. My mom argued with me, trying to reason that there was no need for a bra. But eventually, she gave in. I'm learning, as my mother already knew, that sometimes it's easier to cave than to argue my point. We pick our battles.

Later that day we talk a bit about puberty. I don't go into many details. After all, she's in second grade. She should be thinking about Build-A-Bear not Build-A-Bra. Eventually, the time will come when puberty has much more relevance in her life. But for now, I steer her towards to bedwetting pamphlet as it's a little more relevant than puberty!

Life is Green

Saturday, November 14, 2009
Green is the "it" word. If you're not making an effort to live a greener life, you're not in vogue. And we all know how cool it is to be in vogue.

Now Twittermoms and LighterSaferGreener are offering bloggers the opportunity to share 3 green living tips for a chance to win some green stuff (in the form of Amex gift cards)! I could always use some of the green stuff to put towards my green routine. So, here I go...

My family, thanks to my 7 year old daughter Emma (aka the Green Queen), has been making an attempt to live a greener life for about 2 years. Last year when she learned about the 3 R's, reduce, reuse, recycle, as part of Earth Day awareness, she was hooked. Since we had already instituted several types of green initiatives, we took on the challenge to add a few more.

1. Cut your weekly trash load
In our case, we aimed to cut it in half. We normally put 2-50 gallon trash cans at our curbside each Wednesday. Our goal was to put 1 trash can out.

How we did it:
Since we were already recycling all of our plastic, aluminum, glass, newspapers and magazines, we had to assess our trash situation. We discovered that we were throwing away a lot of paper and cardboard that was recyclable. We set up a station with 2 boxes, one for school papers, advertisements and junk mail and one for cardboard. It's amazing how much paper we are no longer throwing away. Plus, the upside is that I no longer have to pull the extra trash bin to the curb! Love that!!!

2. Make the switch from conventional to eco-friendly cleaning products
This switch serves 2 purposes. First, not only are eco-friendly products healthier for our planet, but they are also healthier for you and your children. What mother doesn't want her children to be healthy and thriving? A little research taught me that conventional cleaning products are full of toxins, which overtime are responsible for a host of health problems. Ick! I've got enough to keep me occupied with H1N1 and seasonal flu. Who needs another culprit?

How we did it:
It's difficult in this economy to be wasteful. We phased out conventional cleaning products slowly. As one bottle was used, we replaced it with an environmentally friendly counterpart. If you follow this approach, there's no need to throw away unused products. Use them until the supply is depleted, and vow to never purchase conventional products again.

3. Recyle, or better yet, eliminate the metal dry cleaner hangers

How we did it:
I tried to wash and press my husband's dress shirts. But my workmanship pales in comparison to the dry cleaner's. We couldn't rule out the dry cleaner completely. We both have articles of clothing that require dry cleaning. So, we compromised. I found a dry cleaner who uses eco-friendly cleaning agents, and he gives a 5% discount when the customers return the metal hangers. It's huge!

I could offer so many tips from using canvas shopping bags to using cold water for washing dishes and clothing. There are so many ways to create a green life, and most are surprisingly simple and within any one's reach.

The key is to start somewhere and to start small. Small changes reap big rewards. So, go, get your green on!!


Thursday, November 5, 2009
I'm taking a short break from blogging for a few days! Tomorrow we set off for our annual vacation in Captiva Island, Florida. Every year, the 45th week of the year to be exact, we head south for a relaxing vacation at South Seas Resort.

This is one of the few vacations the husband actually takes, so it's always a special trip for us. I can't believe how excited Emma and Harper are. They'll spend most of their days at the pool.

This year they are looking forward to the new children's pool, complete with slides, that opened just after our vacation ended last year.

Not to make anyone jealous, but here's a sample of what I'll be enjoying, I repeat, ENJOYING...

An aerial view of the resort...

The marina at dusk...

The favored mode of transportation of my daughters...

One of the several pools...

Sunrise at the marina...