Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Focus to New Year's Eve

Over the years, I have had the good fortune to celebrate New Year's Eve any number of fun ways -- when I was a kid, we occasionally went and saw the fireworks downtown. When I was older I had parties with my friends -- both hosted them and attended them. There were the more innocent parties, before I could drink legally, and then there were the "line the kitchen sink with a trash bag and fill it with juice & vodka" parties (sounds delightful now, but back then we thought it was great!). I have celebrated at very fancy dinners in very fancy restaurants, and I have had very fancy dinners in any number of friends' and families' homes, as well as my own.

The year that I was pregnant with our first daughter, her due date was January 12th, so that New Year's there was no drinking, no going out -- just a mellow night, each of us on our own couch, me with a bottle of sparkling grape juice, and an all night "Law & Order" marathon! The year after that, our very good friends invited us over and we brought the baby with us -- just the 5 of us -- and it was a great evening, but we were both so nervous driving home that night -- it's such a terrible night to be out driving!
Now that both of our girls have come along, my husband and I have refocused what we like to do on New Year's. Now, it's more about staying home and making it a festive evening with our kids than going out for a gourmet meal, or going out to a party. I think last year we watched the countdown on the Disney channel, instead of Dick Clark's Rockin' Eve. This year we are planning to watch "Rudolph's Shiny New Year", have some kid-friendly munchies that our girls will like, and get out our New Year's decorations -- New Year's party napkins, hats, noisemakers, some sparkler candles, etc.

One thing that has become a tradition for us at New Year's is for everyone to have "crackers" -- they are actually a Christmas tradition in the United Kingdom, but we started using them as a New Year's Eve treat in our house. For those who are unfamiliar with them, they are a brightly wrapped cardboard tube that is filled with a few little trinkets and usually you pull them open and there is a little "bang" as they pop open. Our oldest daughter loves them! My stepmother put them out for us for Christmas dinner this year and my girl had fun opening, well, everyone's! This year I've been sick and sticking to the house, so I have not had time to go out and buy the crackers, but I decided that I'm going to try my hand at making them! I plan to take a wrapping paper roll and cut it into a few small tube-lengths, and then I will fill it with some treats -- I have some candy, some plastic beaded party necklaces that my girls will love, and I'll just see what else I find -- then I will wrap them with wrapping paper like the picture above and tie them with ribbon -- voila! I may do these on my own to surprise my girls, but this would also be very easy to have the kids do themselves, as a funny activity!
Our other tradition, came about a few years ago when I had purchased a fancy dessert for us to share, and it did NOT turn out to be something that my daughter appreciated. In a last minute attempt to make her her own "fancy dessert" I grabbed a pudding cup from the fridge, put it on a plate, put a flourish of whipped cream on top and a sprinkling of M&M's -- she LOVED it! Now, that's what she requests when it's a fancy dessert kind of evening!
And don't get me wrong, we're not ALL about the kids -- we have our very festive kid party, and then we put the kids to bed and my husband and I have a nice dinner and some wine or champagne. Last year we had a nice dinner in front of the fireplace with the Christmas tree lights on, and then we snuggled up and watched a romantic movie. We love to spend time with our kids, but it's also important to make time for the grown-ups too!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday -- ours was very nice (I'll share more later) but I was battling bronchitis over the holiday and I'm still getting over it, and so now begins our next favorite season - cold and flu season! Yesterday my youngest (17 month old) came down with a cold and I was up with her until about 2:30am trying to make her comfortable, trying to bring down her fever, and trying to wage a war against everything that was coming out of her nose... Poor sweetie!!

So this is just a quick post to let you know that I am still here, and I wanted to take this opportunity to share my admiration for this wonderful product that has been a god-send! Perhaps that sounds dramatic, but seriously -- this is a WONDERFUL product! I grew up on Vick's Vapo-Rub, and I do swear by that for myself. But, even calling it "Mommy's lotion" to my product-loving eldest daughter, did not sway her into letting me apply it to her to help her get to sleep when she had a cold and stuffy nose. We would do our best to get her to sleep without it, and then I would sneak in and rub a little on the back of her neck to help clear up her stuffy nose, but not totally overpower her with it. Well, then PediaCare came out with this great Vapor Plug that you slip a little medicated pad into and plug it into the wall, and it works like a charm every time! My daughter actually ASKS us to plug it in now when she is congested.
And for anyone who has ever had a small child who is clearly "addicted" to her pacifier ("binky" in our house) -- there is nothing worse than a child that needs the pacifier to get to sleep, but can't breathe through their stuffy nose, and is just completely miserable suffering between wating to breathe through their mouth, but wanting their pacifier all at the same time. This has really worked wonders in our house -- we have one for each child's room, and last night we used them both and eventually both girls slept peacefully through the night!
Just had to spread the word to any other moms in need! Breathe easy! ;)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Update to "Even Moms Need a Time-Out" Post...

Last night my husband and I claimed our usual spots on the couches and we popped in "Love Actually" which I had been waiting all month to watch - it makes me feel very Christmas-y! I looked over at him about 10 mins into the movie (this is one of his favorite movies, btw), and he already had his eyes closed! Well! I was going to watch it anyway! And about 15 minutes later I was totally out -- sound asleep -- didn't wake up until the credits were rolling!! Better luck next time, I guess...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Emergency (Gift) Preparedness

Last night my daughter had "elf night" at her dance class, which meant she was allowed to invite a friend to attend class with her. Well, I did not remember this until I read the dance schedule at 11pm on Tuesday night -- a little late to call her friend's house to invite her! I called from work on Wednesday, apologized for the short notice and extended the invitation. Fortunately, the friend was available and excited to attend with my girl. Phew! I really felt as though they were doing us a favor, because it was so last minute and I would have been so upset with myself if my frazzled-ness (I'm sure that's not a word...) caused my daughter to be the only one without an "elf" friend!

Anyway, my husband and daughter went and picked her friend up, they had a wonderful time and they came home at about 7:30pm and my girl was excitedly waving a little gift bag that her friend had given her. It contained a cute little lotion (a FAVORITE of my daughter's -- she's definitely a "product" girl!) and some stickers. Well, she of course, wants to give her friend something in return -- today, the last day of school before the vacation. Now, this gift could have been a little holiday gift, as they are best friends and that would not be out of the ordinary to exchange -- although, I have a feeling that this is more of a "thank you for inviting me" gift, because her parents are very thoughtful! Anyway, not one to disappoint, after my girl went to bed, I through the tons of bags of holiday gifts that I have purchased for my girls and various other relatives (I can hear my "frugal friend" tsk-ing, right now!) and I pulled out a 3 pack of lip gloss with a cute little tin to hold it in, from the new Disney movie "Enchanted." I had bought it for my girl, but she does have a plethora of lip glosses, so she could certainly share the wealth. Then I went down into the basement where I have an old chest of drawers filled to the brim with ribbons, tissue paper, gift bags - you name it! I pulled out a very cute little tiny gift bag and some tissue and I was very pleased with myself for putting something together so quickly!

When my daughter came downstairs this morning for breakfast, it was sitting next to her lunch box on the counter, and she said, "Oh! Is this gift for my teacher?" Um, no, it's for your friend -- why, are other kids bringing in teacher gifts this year? And she said, yes, kids have been bringing them in all week. GREAT! Talk about short notice! Now, last year in kindergarten, I bought 4 teacher-related gift items -- 2 teacher note pads and 2 "101 Words of Encouragement for Teachers" little books. But last year, no one brought in gifts at the holidays, but instead of returning the items to the store, I decided to hold onto them just in case. Thank goodness! I pulled out one of the little books, had my girl sign "To, From, etc." inside, and back I went to the basement to get another gift bag, more tissue & ribbon, and I tied a candy cane into the bow to be festive.

And I had thought I was working on short notice last night! But, having a few extra items on hand saved me once again! I think it's a great tip for mothers who get those last minute notifications from their children about gifts that they need -- if you see something on sale or have a little extra in the grocery money, put a couple of little gift items away to use in the event of a gift emergency!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Grandpa to the Rescue!

So, I took the day off from work today, with the intention of going to my daughter's elementary school holiday sing-along concert. After that I thought I would try and get my gift wrapping done, possibly run a couple of errands, lots of good things like that. We got up this morning, and I got my girl ready for school - her daddy had ironed a dress for her to wear (isn't he great?) and I did her hair with a ponytail and a fancy red, flower barrette and I pinned a snowman pin on the front of her dress - very festive for her big concert! I got her on the bus and then I finished getting myself ready, started getting my little one ready for the day, and then my dad came over because he was nice enough to come and watch the little one while I was at the concert. I wanted to be able to enjoy my girl's concert and have full attention on her - something she doesn't always get these days.

Well, the best laid plans, right? Everything is running smoothly, I pull out of the driveway and I'm heading up to school, and something doesn't feel right with the car. I get about 2 blocks from my house and pull down a side street so I can get out and investigate. FLAT TIRE. Not just a little flat -- we're talking pancake. UGH! I grabbed my cell phone and I called home and told my dad what had happened and he said he would come right over. Then I called my daughter's school, because at this point, the concert was 5 minutes from starting, and I wanted to ask the school secretary if she would please tell my girl what had happened and let her know that I might not make it. And then I waited. I called my husband at work (30 minutes away) and I called my good friend that I work with (also 30 minutes away) just to kill time while I waited. Dad was quick, all things considered, because he had to bundle up the baby who was still in her jammies! By the time he got there, I was in tears because I was so upset about missing my girl's concert! Dad pulled up, rolled down the window and said, "Hop in - and don't lock the keys in the car, because I'll need them!" (Dad has rescued me on more than one occasion when I have absentmindedly locked the keys in the car...) I assumed that his priority would be for us to take care of the car, but he was there to drive me to my girl's concert, and then he headed back to change my flat tire and put the spare on. He then took the flat tire up to a nearby garage and asked them to fix it, all while I was at the sing-along concert!

Because he was so quick, I only missed the first song, and although I had to stand in the doorway, I made sure to wave until my daughter saw me, and I nearly cried again when I saw her little face light up at the sight of her mom! At the end of the concert, the classes were lead out by their teachers and as my girl walked out I was able to give her a big hug and kiss and tell her what a great job she had done. She went back to class and I called Dad and he came to pick me up.

I thanked him profusely, and told him, "It would have broken my heart to miss it -- she was so excited this morning and she was expecting to see me there. I just couldn't disappoint my little girl!" And my dad said, "I know JUST how you feel!" Thanks, Daddy!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Victory At Last!

Have I told you about my battle with the town for sidewalk plowing? My street is the only one in our neighborhood that does not have a sidewalk plowed. I never noticed this until last year, when my daughter started kindergarten and her bus stop was at the corner of our street (also the corner of our yard -- but we have a large lot and it's quite a distance from the house). We had QUITE a lot of snow last winter, and my girl could not walk safely on the sidewalk to wait for her bus -- she would have to walk in the street and stand in the street, near the corner. We live in a very quiet, older neighborhood, but there is a new section behind us and 2 of the neighbors back there own Hummers, and sometimes whip through our street to get to theirs. We also have the occasional "drag racers" sailing through as though toward the finish line. None of this makes me feel comfortable about having my 6 year old standing in the street! Now, usually we do walk her down to the bus and wait with her, but sometimes when it is particularly cold, I agonize about taking my toddler out to wait for her sister's bus. If my girl could walk safely to the bus and I could stand on my front step and watch her, it would make things much easier!

Anyway, last year, I got on the phone to the bus company to see if they could just pick her up in our driveway, as they do with the other kids in the neighborhood. I was told, "No, we can't drive around in circles all day long (I think this was a BIT of an exaggeration...), you need to take it up with the town." So, I called the town. Well, I had to wait a week for the "Sidewalk Plowing Guy" to get back from vacation, then there were a series of phone calls back and forth, and finally after great discussion, I was told that a) if I wanted the sidewalk plowed I needed a petition signed by my neighbors because sidewalk plowing is "a real hot-button issue" in my town, and b) even if I get the petition to them ASAP, they will not plow until next year, because we're too late to get into the schedule... Well! I was QUITE irritated, needless to say, and I got a great deal of advice from my father, my officemate's mother (anyone that heard me crabbing about this -- whether in person or loudly, while they are trying to talk to their daughter who sits in my office!), you name it. Basically, they were telling me that I should call up the town and say that my lawyer would like to know the name of whoever we should sue if my daughter is struck by a car while waiting in the street for her bus!

I actually backed down at that point -- I'm not sure why, I don't usually do that, but I guess I was nervous about getting a reputation as a hot-head with the town, or something.

This year, I didn't think about it until the first snowfall, and then I called again, and again I was told to go get a petition signed -- 51% of the neighbors, which on our "big" street is 5 out of the 9 houses -- that's 9 total including both sides of the street. I got our next door neighbor, and then my husband and our daughter went out after work one night and got the other neighbors that we needed. Everyone was wonderful and completely understanding and thought it was a great idea to get the sidewalks plowed, especially now that the neighborhood is turning over and we have a few younger kids who will be attending school soon. I sent the petition in the next day and the "Sidewalk Plow Guy" that I had spoken to two years in a row confirmed that they would add us to the list!

Well, this morning my husband was getting ready for work and he said, "Honey?" Yes? "They are plowing the sidewalk!" And the tone of his voice was priceless -- it was like "We've won the battle!" Hallelujah!

Sometimes Even Mom Needs a Time-Out!

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth -- I have, as I am sure MANY others have as well, fallen into that hectic flurry of holiday preparations! I have to marvel at how we can go weeks and weeks during the year with no plans, no stress, and then during an already busy period of time (the holidays) we have an influx of activities that have nothing to do with Christmas!

Yesterday was the second Saturday in a row that my girl was invited to a friend's birthday party, at the Las Vegas for kids -- Chuck E. Cheese! Yes, two weeks in a row, my husband was conveniently working (actually, I'm sure he would have traded places with me, if he could have!) and I was left to take my nearly 7 year old and my nearly 18 month old to Chuck E. Cheese. Really, a great time! When I woke up yesterday morning, I was not feeling well, and I asked my husband if he could call and go into work 2 hours late, so that he could take our girl to the party. Unfortunately, he had a new employee starting, and was unable to do so, but he suggested I call my father and stepmother, who, like my mother, very frequently ride to our rescue in times of need. However, I told him that I felt sitting at Chuck E. Cheese for a 2 hour child's birthday party, was beyond what a grandparent should be asked to do! I rallied and I took my girl(s) to the party, and actually, the mother was very nice and suggested that if I needed to, I take the time to run out and do some Christmas shopping, as we were very close to the mall. I checked with my girl (who by this point was already up in the big tunnel with her friends and had probably already forgotten that I was even there!) to make sure she didn't mind, I told her to go see her friend's mother if she needed anything, and I left my cell phone # with this mother, so that she could call in an emergency.

I grabbed my littlest girl, and we drove a few doors down (in the same plaza, conveniently!) to Toys 'R Us -- an absolute zoo on a Saturday during the Christmas shopping season! This year I have done the bulk of my Christmas shopping online, which has been great -- I avoided the madness of the stores, for the most part, and after price checking between several websites, I found that was the least expensive in most cases. But, I still had a few last minute gifts to get for my 2 children and a couple of their cousins. In spite of the crowds, I had my list, I was fairly efficient, and I lucked out while checking out -- they opened up another register, just as I began to suspect that the line I was in was going nowhere! So, I got some shopping done, and I was back in time to watch as the birthday girl opened her gifts. Of course, without Mom there to supervise, MY girl was back up in the tunnel -- she did take a break for pizza and cake -- and was NOT watching her friend open her gifts. I rectified this with a stern call of her first and middle names, which she responded to surprisingly quickly! We went through a similar situation at last week's party, where last week's birthday girl was opening her gifts with only a bunch of mothers and 1 other little girl watching, until I called my girl down from the tunnel to join the party. I got a, "SIGH, but MOM!" and I reminded her that first and foremost, this was a birthday party and it was rude not to participate in the party. She reluctantly joined us and then, after doing her "duty" was able to go off and play again.

Anyway, today, we are having a fairly miserable weather day here, and I am trying to decide whether or not we are going to brave the cold and the slippery roads to go to yet another birthday party (for a cousin, who we will hopefully see on Christmas Eve)!

So, in addition to the non-holiday related activities, we are also busily preparing for Christmas with the usual long list -- holiday shopping, holiday decorating, holiday parties, holiday cards, gift wrapping, school pageants, and on and on! This year I am working on a special holiday project which I will share after Christmas, but that is also keeping me busy!

One way to try and keep sane during all of this craziness, is taking a little time-out after the kids are in bed. I try to quickly get the house picked up (at least the living room, so I can lounge for a little bit without feeling guilty, that I should be cleaning or something!) and then I settle in for a holiday show, or a great movie -- sometimes with egg nog, sometimes with popcorn, sometimes with wine! -- and I make sure the Christmas tree is all lit up. It's very relaxing during this hectic time. A few of my favorite holiday-feeling movies (not necessarily a Christmas movie, but gives you that good holiday feeling!) are Love Actually, When Harry Met Sally, and Serendipity -- all great movies that you should see, if you haven't already! Last year my husband and I put on Love Actually (a favorite of his also) and sat on the living room floor wrapping gifts! And of course, some holiday favorites The Preacher's Wife, A Christmas Story, and one of my favorite classics, White Christmas.

Whatever you choose, make sure to take a time-out so that you can catch your breath and enjoy the season!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Decking the Halls

When I was growing up, we never had any evidence that the holidays were upon us, other than the very fake Christmas tree in the family room, and the stockings on the mantle. When I was a little older, my father did an adorable Christmas needlepoint (really – he’s quite masculine, but he is definitely a man of many talents!) and a macramé Santa that hung on the front door. Ok, and maybe we had a Christmas cactus – but that was it.

Then I met my husband and from the first year we were together (14 years ago!) we would celebrate Christmas Eve with my dad’s family and then travel 8 hours to Long Island to celebrate Christmas day with my husband's family. It was crazy, but it was always so much fun and it was great to get to see everyone each year. Anyway, that first year that I walked into my husband’s childhood home, I was blown away by the decorations! My in-laws outdid themselves with a huge real tree, real evergreen garlands, bows, wreaths, holiday nutcrackers, the Dickens Village (which was the length of the den!), Christmas throws, Christmas candles, Christmas towels, Christmas soaps – you name it, it was decorated! It was SO festive, and so amazing, and SO different from what I was used to, it really boosted my holiday spirits!

Right from that first year, my then-future mother-in-law would give me cute holiday decorations as gifts, and of course I always appreciated them, but I have to admit I rarely ever put those things out. In our apartment, we had a tree, maybe a wreath, and some candles. Specifically, I couldn’t see myself changing out the hand soap container to put out the cute snowman soap container that Mom had given me. I always saved everything (hoarding is definitely in my genetic make-up…), but it was all in boxes in the basement.

And then I had my first daughter. I started pulling out the decorations that Mom had given me, and I put those out. And then I would see something cute at the store and I would add to my collection. And then I would see things that were on sale at the end of the season, and I would get them for the next year. Or I would be participating in a Yankee Swap game at work or at Garden Club, and instead of going for the gift card or the scratch off tickets, I would go for the cute Santa that is hanging from the wooden candy cane… And now, we are putting up our holiday decorations this week, and I am looking around at the TWO Christmas trees that we have up – one in the family room, one by the fireplace in the dining room – and I have the Christmas throw pillows out, and the Christmas hand towel hanging on the stove, and the holiday hand towels in the bathroom, and I am devastated, because I can’t find the snowman hand soap dispenser!!

My girl also gets excited about decorating for the holidays. We have made it a holiday tradition in our house, to put up the decorations together. The Christmas music goes on (actually, this year my daughter picked the Harry Potter cd...) or sometimes we put on one of our favorite holiday specials -- Rudolph, Year Without a Santa (we love Heat Miser!), Frosty the Snowman. We serve egg nog with cinnamon (my girl's favorite), and we "deck the halls!" For most of our years together, my husband and I, and then our oldest daughter, would go out and get a real tree or even two real trees. The past couple of years we have used artificial because oddly, it turns out I am allergic to Christmas trees! Anyway, we have two artificial trees that stand up pretty well to real (not like the one from my childhood -- no offense to my parents!), and this year my girl was a huge help in putting the trees up! They have color-coded tips and she took great pride in almost completely putting one of the trees together on her own! And our littlest girlie got in on the act too -- carrying branches over to Daddy to put in the tree. She was so speedy, he couldn't keep up!

It's fun to get the kids involved in the decorating -- it helps direct their excitement over Santa coming, but it also gives them nice memories to cherish. My daughter loves to look at the ornaments and reminisce about where we got them. This week I surprised her with a special ornament that I got during our first family trip to Disney World. I really appreciate all of the holiday traditions and those special holiday decorations that my mother-in-law has given me over the years, and now my girls are growing up to appreciate the preparation for the holidays almost as much as Santa's visit!