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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking back and looking forward

I love this time of year, full of both reflection and planning! In the spirit of looking back, I'll be compiling my favorite blog posts from this year and starting a "favorites" section. I'm also working on a 100 things post to celebrate my 200th post, which went up this week.

On the planning front, I'm guest posting today at Mom's Marbles about New Year's Resolutions and what I have in mind for this year - I'd love it if you'd click over and visit! I'll wait for you to get back and check out the adorable Santa photos below... Okay, on to Santa!

Sweetpea might have been scared to visit Santa at the HolidayFest this year, but there is one Santa she is buds with - my famous grandparent's 58 year old Santa that comes to visit Sweetpea on Christmas Eve! I love the history that goes along with this Santa, and I love documenting how much Sweetpea has grown each year with these adorable photos! Here she is this year:

Sweetpea and Santa 2008
And last year:
Sweetpea and Santa 2007

Just like Sweetpea, Santa also likes to dance:

I hope we continue this tradition of the Santa photo for many years to come!

While we're looking back, I thought I'd include an update on how the Handmade Christmas Challenge turned out.
Here is the scarf I knitted for Sweetpea, my first *actually completed* knitting project. My mom would love for me to tell you about the sweater I've been knitting for some 12 years now...but that's a post for another day.
Here is one of the quick and easy tutus I made for Sweetpea, her cousin, and two of my friend's kiddos.
And here's a glimpse of one of the no sew hat projects from the Crafty Mama book you can find on my lower left sidebar - I made a few slight adjustments to the pattern and added a quick new sew scarf to match! I'll post about this project in more detail soon. There are 2 more adorable hats that I'm planning to make from this fantastic book!

If you haven't already, please visit me at Mom's Marbles! I'm excited to be a part of the weekly Mom with Marbles feature. Mom's Marbles features loads of great ideas to keep your little ones having fun, as well as ideas for helping mom stay sane.

I'd love to hear what you're planning for 2009!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What do you do with all those Christmas cards?

Are you starting to take down your Christmas decorations, or have you already packed everything up? If you're like me, you're just starting the process and wondering what to pack away for next year and what to donate...Brooke from DinkypopsNoMore shared these great ideas with me for putting all the Christmas cards we receive each year to use! I love these ideas and I think you will too.

The majority of Christmas cards we receive each year are still the traditional cards, even though more and more of our friends are sending family photo cards or even super eco-friendly eCards.

Now that the holiday is over, the big question is “What do you do with all of your cards?” Here are a few things that I like to do with mine.

1. Frame a holiday picture. Receive a card that has a great wintry scene? Or receive a card from someone special that you want to display each Christmas? Save the card, place it in a frame, and use it as a Christmas decoration for next year. (Now is the perfect time to pick up holiday picture frames at a discount!)

2. Make Christmas tags. I remember the first year that I went to my future in-laws for Christmas. All of the tags on the presents were so unique! What was the secret? They simply saved Christmas cards they received from the previous year, cut-out items from the cards (wreath, snowman, Santa face), and used them as name tags for the presents. You can use decorative hole punches or scissors for a little extra flair.

3. Send your cards to charity. Tear off the fronts of the cards and send them to the children at St. Jude’s Ranch for Children. They use them for craft projects throughout the year (you can do this with any greeting card). Then simply recycle the backs of the cards at your local recycling center.

St. Jude’s Ranch for Children

Card Recycling Program

100 St. Jude’s Street

P.O Box 985

Boulder City, NV 89005-0985

4. Put them in a photo album. For all the family photo cards we receive, I love to place them in a special Christmas card photo album (or photo box). Year after year, I place friends’ and families’ pictures over the previous year’s pictures. I love to see how much a family has changed in the past year.

What creative ways do you reuse Christmas cards? Brooke blogs about going from dual income, no kids to life with her adorable daughter at DinkypopsNoMore. I love reading about what she's up to, what's inspiring her, and admiring the beautiful photos on her blog!

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Holiday Meal Planning

Last week's menu was simple and delicious, and even better because we were visiting others for dinner two nights {{giggle}}. Breakfast for dinner is always a hit, and the Bachelor Beef and noodles we made for Christmas Eve was so easy and delicious! There are very few people I would trust to make something I'm unfamiliar with for the first time when having company over, but Sandra is one of them...

I'm off work this week {{giddy}} so I'm planning to make some of our favorites this week. We spent last night at my MILs Christmas gathering and came home this morning, so I'm doing my menu plan and shopping today. I'm making a cream of chicken with pasta and vegetable soup for lunches this week that will likely get paired with a salad each day. Let's see if I can ratchet that daily calorie count back down a bit, shall we? At least hopefully each day but New Year's Eve...For dinners, we will be having:

Monday: Chili and peanut butter crackers
Tuesday: Spaghetti Casserole with garlic bread
Wednesday: Brunch with omelet casserole and pumpkin spice/banana pancakes with fondue and appetizers in the evening
Thursday: Roasted chicken and broasted oven fries
Friday: Homemade personal pizzas and cheesy breadsticks

For more menu planning inspiration, visit OrgJunkie.

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Avoid the Post Holiday Slump!

Today I'm posting over at Dinkypops No More about avoiding that post holiday slump. I hope you'll stop over and visit, and check out my tips and tricks for keeping things fun and involving your kids in the cleanup after the holidays!

Brooke blogs about transitioning from a dual income/no kids life to family life with an adorable toddler the same age as Sweetpea!

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

So grateful - Christmas was all I had hoped it would be!

I was so excited for Sweetpea to experience Christmas this year. Even with all the advanced planning, I felt like it snuck up on us long before I was ready. Rather than becoming stressed and staying up late each night, I let a few things fall by the wayside and focused on the things that were most important to us. Rather than bake a big batch of cookies like we normally do, we made a small batch of sugar cookies and let everyone color them with sprinkles. I am planning to make my favorite, the gingerbread, next week. We delayed a few of the Christmas activities from our garland until this coming week as well.

Christmas Eve found the problem solvin house hosting a family dinner for my famous grandparents, mom and brother. Granted, it was a friendly crowd, but for the first time ever I managed to plan enough in advance that the day was nice and leisurely. We had crockpot beef and noodles, so there was little cooking that actually needed done. We only had to set the table and do a little last minute toy pickup and dusting before everyone arrived.

It was so much fun to visit, and Sweetpea is starting to recognize everyone without prompting. I love that she is getting to know her great grandparents. After dinner, we let Sweetpea open several of her presents. We chose open ended gifts to promote imagination, and it is so much fun watching her play! Here are a few pictures of what she received.

A tea set - we have had many tea parties in the past few days!
The Little People Barnyard - a great score from our local consignment shop!
Big Wheels - doesn't she look ready to go? Oh my little girl is getting so big!

Here are a few of the other entries from my gratitude journal this week:

*Thick clouds rolling quickly by, lit from the edge by the first blush of sunlight*

*Hearing "thank you, Mommy" just never gets old!*

*Relaxing, playful, joyous Christmas - just what I'd hoped it would be!*

*Learning my best friend is going to be moving closer to us - yeah!!*

*Finishing the scarf I've been knitting for Sweetpea, honestly the first knitting project that has made it to completion*

*Watching Sweetpea play with her cousins that she doesn't get to see very often*

What are you thankful for this week? I hope you all had a wonderful holiday!

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Santa Photo

My sweet daughter walked right up to Santa, waved at him and said, "Ho Ho Ho!" She accepted his offering of a candy cane, and then when it was time to sit in his lap, she grabbed onto Mommy with all her might, and started to cry. I wasn't about to force her to sit with him, so we compromised and took this photo with him together. I think it turned out rather well, and I'm sure the day will come all too soon when Sweetpea doesn't want her Mommy with her, so I'm enjoying this while I can! This Santa was outdoors at a local festival, so you can't see Sweetpea's adorable sweater her GaSue knit for her. Here is a better view:
She gives the most wonderfully enthusiastic kisses! Here's a closeup of that sweater...Doesn't it look like Santa's sleigh is taking off from my head?
One last photo before I go, I'm a sucker for pictures of Sweetpea with big T. She hadn't seen him for a few weeks and wanted to be his shadow all weekend. Don't mind me while I melt into a puddle of Mommy mush!

Wishing you all a peaceful, joyous holiday and many blessings in the coming year!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Coloring pages - a last minute unique personalized Christmas gift

Originally posted October 9, 2008.
*updated with some pages I'm giving for gifts*

I keep a gift list for friends and family throughout the year. This list gets pulled out as a birthday or Christmas approaches so I can be on the lookout for something my loved ones will really enjoy. I shop throughout the year so that I don't miss out on that perfect gift, and so that I can find the best price. This year I've been keeping a list of craft ideas that I think will work well as gifts. I saw a post recently at lifehacker that stepped through how to turn photos into coloring pages - what a great idea!

I scribbled the idea down in my crafts list...and then last night when I was laying in bed wishing I was asleep, I had an idea - I could take that idea a step further to make personalized coloring pages! I think Sweetpea is still a bit young to really understand and appreciate this idea, but my niece, who is seven, would totally love it. She loves to dress up and has a fabulous imagination. She also loves to draw. I think she would totally adore seeing her own face integrated into various coloring pages, sort of like coloring a version of herself playing dress up!

So I got to work - First, choose a photo that has a face you think will fit well into a coloring page.
This is one of Sweetpea getting her first haircut! She is facing the camera but not quite straight on, which seems to match well with a lot of the coloring pages I was finding.
Next, find a coloring page you like. I found this one at the Crayola site - they have a great selection of free printables!
Next I took my original photo and made it into an ink sketch. You might also try a pencil sketch. Play around with the various setting options to get the look that best blends with your coloring page. Here is what I came up with.
Next use the freehand select option to trace your subject's face out of the original photo. Copy and paste it into the coloring page (in my software that is paste as new layer). Then I integrated the layers by flattening them. I repeated the ink sketch option to further integrate the face into the coloring page and erased the edges of the face. Here is what I came up with:
Little Sweetpea turned astronaut! I plan to make several of these as part of my niece's Christmas gift. I will likely also include some additional art supplies to go along with it.

Here are some pages I've created so far for Christmas!

My niece as a princess

My nephew as Batman
Happy Coloring!

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Menu Planning for Christmas

Last week went well, with one notable exception - that pesky ice storm kept me out on the roads until 7:45pm! As I mentioned yesterday, I'm so glad my mom was able to pick up Sweetpea and keep her for a few hours, and that we all made it home safely. EmDee made it home about a half hour sooner than Sweetpea and I did, and he had soup and grilled cheese waiting when we got home - perfect! We backed the stirfry up to Wednesday and moved spaghetti to Friday. Our family dinner was Saturday, followed by a trip to our local HolidayFest. One other thing I was excited about was making a triple batch of meatballs for our spaghetti, and freezing a big batch of them!

On Christmas Eve, we have my family over for dinner and to open a few of Sweetpea's gifts. For Christmas, we will be eating at my mom's house. My famous grandparents and my brother, Sweetpea and EmDee and I will round out the group. The day after Christmas we will be heading over to EmDee's family dinner. Here's what's on the menu for the week:

Monday: Hamburgers and oven fries and green salad
Tuesday: Omelet Casserole toast with jam and pumpkin spiced lattes
Wednesday: Bachelor beef and noodles, potato salad, brussel sprouts
Thursday: Ham, wild rice casserole, green salad and sweet potatoes
Friday: EmDee's family potluck Christmas dinner

For more menu planning inspiration, visit OrgJunkie

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gratitude aplenty

This weekend big T came to visit for the first time since the start of football season. Sweetpea is his biggest fan - she's like his shadow and he is such a good sport about it! We went out for a family dinner last night and then to a holiday festival. This year's Holidayfest was much less impressive than last year's, but it was still a nice way to spend the evening and we got some great pictures. Thank you all for your sweet comments yesterday regarding the picture I was thinking of using for our delinquent Christmas cards - I will share the card on Christmas day. Here are some more items from my gratitude journal this week:

*The start of a two week vacation, time to spend with family and friends, relaxing and enjoying*

*making it home safely after a greuling three and a half hour commute home in the ice storm*

*Mamaw babysitting during said trek home - thanks, Mom!*

*good night kisses all around*

*hot chocolate for everyone, in front of the tree*

*that so far, with all the cutbacks and downsizing, I still have a job*

What are you thankful for this week?

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter Wonderland

I've been trying to take posed pictures of Sweetpea for a few weeks now, to get out in my much delinquent Christmas cards...for certain this un-posed photo is my favorite, what do you think, is this Christmas card material?

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Staying connected, even when things get busy - continued...

The ice storm that sailed into town on Tuesday brought EmDee an unexpected day off on Wednesday. Just so happened I had a vacation day scheduled on Wednesday to be all productive and such. The holiday productivity I had planned went to the wayside, and instead we had a nice, quiet day together at home - just the two of us! This is the second such day in as many months, and at the end of it, we decided we might just have to start scheduling them! I'm already looking forward to our day together in January...

As I promised yesterday, Deb is bringing us her top ten list for staying connected. Deb and her husband are the parents to twins, and Deb's husband travels on a regular basis. As someone who traveled extensively before Sweetpea was born, I can relate to the extra measures needed to stay close with all that time away!

When Steph asked me to contribute to her blog post about staying connected with your spouse through the busy holidays, I thought that would be so easy, because J and I have been doing that as a normal part of our lives—for years! Our relationship started when we lived 200 miles apart—him in the DC area, and me in New York. We had to stay connected to make it work. Now, after we got married and live together, busy travel and family schedules have us continuing to stay tight in many of the same ways. Here’s my list of ways to keep tight with your spouse.

1. If one of you is traveling, have a good conversation on the phone at least once a day. Catch up with your day. Tell work stories. Get to know the people in your spouse’s life.

2. Have a “good morning conversation”, and a “good night conversation”, whether you are together or not.

3. We’ve been lucky enough over the years to have access to mobile email. Keep in touch with emails or texting throughout the day… even if it’s just an “I love you”.

4. You can even email or text your spouse photos of you or your kids. That brings smiles, and keeps the spirit of sharing.

5. Try to have a date night once a week. Date night doesn’t have to mean paying a babysitter to go out to an expensive restaurant. During the winter, and especially during the holiday season, one of our favorite date nights is a glass of wine in front of the fire reviewing our day or just appreciating our lit tree.

6. If your spouse feels distant from you, take a few minutes to figure it out. Usually it’s stress. You may be able to just give him or her a 10-minute back rub to make things lighter—and tighter—between you.

7. Play a game together. We like to play Scrabble. It’s better than distracting, absorbing TV because you get into conversations.

8. Create family photobooks. I make mine on my Mac, but there are several other services that give you the ability to make them. There’s inkubook.com; kodakgallery.com; snapfish.com; and heritagemakers.com, just to name a few. We look through our photobooks together often, and reminisce about our family times.

9. During your “good night” conversations, make sure they aren’t just an overview of how your day went, but also make them intimate. Keep the magic of your marriage alive.

10. This one is very important—flirt with your spouse. So important to remember and to remind your spouse that you love each other, you’re attracted to each other, and that you are fun and flirty.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Keeping romance alive - Staying connected even when things get busy

Things have been so hectic at the problem solvin home lately that I've felt the need to review my bag of tricks for staying connected with hubs. There are so many things that have to be done, that if we don't make the effort, it's easy to let that husband and wife relationship get put on the back burner. With EmDee going on shift work recently, things have gotten even more complicated in our house.

We have some tried and true habits that work well, but I've been wondering what works for other busy families - so of course I hit up some of my blogging friends to see what works for them!

Here are the common themes that came out of Steph, Megan, Deb, Octamom and my staying connected handbooks:

  • make couple time with your spouse a priory: whether this is in the form of date night or just some quiet time sans kids, it's important to connect regularly.
  • know what is going on in each other's lives: whether it's through email, text messages or regular chats, know what's important to each other and discuss the day to day details of each others lives.
  • keep romance in the everyday: love notes, something funny you know your spouse will enjoy, gestures that show how much you care.

Megan came up with a list especially for the Christmas season that I absolutely love -

  • Get the sitter to arrive 90 minutes early and go out together for a light dinner or coffee before that big holiday party.
  • Put the kids to bed a little early, set up a little floor picnic by the tree (or light some candles), pop Handel's Messiah on the iPod or CD player and soak up the mood and music together.
  • Share a beverage in the glow of the Christmas tree every night the month of December.
  • One word: Mistletoe!
Octamom has quite a bit of experience in this arena, what with eight kids and 19 years of marriage. And then there's the fact that she can make toilet paper sound elegant...here is what she has to say:
    The combined forces of careers, chaos, and kids can tarnish many a couple's connection. We certainly have had our share of conspired craziness keeping us at a running pace in opposite directions. Keeping our couple-hood healthy and happy takes regular care and feeding. For us, there are a few areas that make a lot of difference.
    1. Regular Date Nights: We make a concerted effort to go out each week. Sometimes, that means a 30 minute cup of coffee after the smallest kids are in bed. Other times, it means a nice dinner, but regardless of the setting, it's about a time set aside to leave the house and Octamom population and sit enjoying some conversation. And it doesn't mean going out with another couple--it specifically means time for just the two of us.
    2. Regular Laughter: M's career is consuming and demanding and stressful--and then he comes home to the nine of us. Real relaxing, don't you think? He often leaves very early in the morning and doesn't get home until long past dark. But when he hits the door, we do spend a fair amount of time cutting up and laughing and wrestling kids. We tell each other the funny things we encountered during the day and often forward each other hilarious sites we find on the web. Laughter has always been one of our love languages.
    3. Regular Worship: No, I'm not talking just about church attendance. What I am talking about is the frequent conversations and experiences M and I share in our faith. In the busyness of life, in the car pools and soccer tournaments and business travel and demands of our special need kids and employee issues, it is vital that we are on the same page, that we share a purpose and a vision. The frenetic facets of our lives can often cloud our ultimate mission. We make it a priority to be feeding our souls and to share with each other the insight that comes from that time.
    4. Regular Workouts: I'm being very serious here. Yep, even with the eight kids and the homeschooling and the photography and all. M and I are devoted to each other, love each other and are deeply committed to the principal of marriage, and M has loved me through many pregnancies and the resulting physical aftermath. But let's face it, marriage is not just about friendship. While I can't claim to be in peak physical condition, I do make an effort to clean-up my act from time to time. I may be a mom of eight, but I'm gonna give it a shot at being a hot mom of eight (though I'm a little vague on what that template might actually be...) And I appreciate that M also takes care of himself. It's comforting to be very comfortable around each other regardless of wardrobe, but in taking care of myself, I'm also telling M how much I care about him.
    5. Regular Forgiveness: Do your marriage connection a favor; get in the habit of getting over relationship trivia quickly. Obviously, couples do face big issues that take time and counsel. But I'm talking about the little stuff, the small irritations that I've seen send marriages into the ditch. While we have seen marriages blow up over things that were very serious, we've seen more marriages disintegrate over white noise that has been allowed to grow into a roar. I have my little (and bigger) things that could make M crazy, and he has a couple of things that could render me a shrew. But in the bigger picture, these issues do not warrant the emotional energy we could give them.
    Let's face it, nobody has their act completely together in the marriage game. We certainly have had our times of being completely off page, a unit that is supposed to be a unified team and instead is hunkered down in opposite bunkers, throwing salvos over a field of neglect and lack of appreciation. We've faced our share of difficult times, made all the more complicated by the force of both of our big personalities. But keeping an eye on the ball is what it's all about. And that ball for us is not just keeping a marriage together, but in enjoying it, crafting it, creating a legacy and a template for our children and their children and their children. And for that, you've just got to keep on taking a swing at that ball.

    Most of all, I loved how in chatting with each one of these fabulous ladies, I can just hear the love and commitment they have for their relationships. We each recognize how lucky we are and are actively engaging our spouses. I hope you'll stop back tomorrow for Deb's great top ten list of suggestions for staying connected.

    As a teaser, I have a great book review and giveaway coming up in the new year from one of RedBook magazine's love doctors!

    What are your strategies for staying connected? I'd love to hear them!

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    What we're enjoying right now - Speakaboos!

    I'm very excited to share with you about Speakaboos today! Speakaboos is an online library featuring videos of well known children's stories - each narrated and beautifully illustrated. The beta version of the site offers more than 35 titles, with some stories even narrated by Kelly Ripa, Nick Cannon and Kevin Bacon.

    An additional 30 titles should be added by the end of the year, and coming in February, you will be able to record your own stories! What a fantastic concept - a traveling parent can record a story for their family to be read while they are out of town, distant relatives can read stories and share in the bedtime ritual, and I'm sure many children would love hearing their own voices recorded and played back. Once recorded, the stories can be downloaded onto a computer for easy use. Prerecorded stories can be played for free or downloaded for $0.99 per story. 15% of the revenue goes to support the National Education Association.

    There are story guides, worksheets and crafts for parents and teachers to use with the stories. There are also games, contests and coloring pages. I downloaded a few of the story guides and found them to be a good resource - offering comprehension and discussion questions, research suggestions and information on the specific adaptation of the story.

    Nick Cannon rapping Old McDonald Had a Farm

    I'm excited about sharing these stories with my daughter and seeing what stories and celebrities are added to the collection in the coming months. What do you think? What is your favorite story so far on the site? Anything specific you'd like to see added?

    Happy listening!

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    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    Handprint Angels

    One of the crafts for this season from the Christmas activity garland was an angel handprint craft. I love seasonal handprint crafts, because they are such a great way to document your child's growth from year to year! Since Sweetpea is a bit young to really help me with these kinds of crafts, I put them together and then let her color them. I think this one turned out so well I'm going to do this again and make an ornament out of it for our tree.
    For some reason, after coloring, she enjoyed making a crayon burrito with the picture...
    roll it up, roll it up...Perfect - our little angel...
    and her picture!

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    Monday, December 15, 2008

    Menu Plan Monday - Classics week

    Last week, thankfully, we kept things simple and life without Daddy home at night went pretty smoothly. Mamaw stepped in Wednesday night and did some babysitting so that I could decorate the tree and get some laundry and cleaning done - yeah! Other than the krispie treats, which I promptly forgot to post about on Thursday, I didn't get any more desserts made until Saturday when Sweetpea and I made Daddy's birthday cake! It was a yummy chocolate raspberry number with chocolate frosting and sprinkles, of course.

    Since I can't seem to stay on schedule with my dessert making (where are the cookies? how could there not be cookies yet?!) I thought I'd share a delicious looking chocolate peppermint recipe courtesy of my blogging friend Scott. He found the recipe courtesy of Kris Abel's blog. One more wonderful sounding addition to my list of stress relieving candy cane eliminating recipes! If you're looking for even more candy cane inspiration, he tipped me off to the home page where this recipe resides - A Candy Cane Christmas. Here's a sneak peak at the finished product:

    A few tips to pass along, if you're looking to lighten this recipe up, you can substitute light whipped topping for the heavy whipping cream and soy milk instead of milk if you prefer! To follow Scott in his domestic and/or PR endeavors, check him out on twitter or facebook! Thanks, Scott!

    Back to this week's dinner menu...here's the plan:

    Monday: Chicken n noodles, mashed potatoes
    Tuesday: chicken stir fry over rice
    Wednesday: spaghetti casserole, garlic bread, green salad
    Thursday: leftover potluck
    Friday: family dinner out - first time with big T in a LONG time!

    For more menu inspiration, head over to OrgJunkie and take a look around!

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    Sunday, December 14, 2008

    Simple abundance - finding gratitude despite the hustle and bustle

    This was one long week for me, with EmDee working second shift and all the evening routine and mothering done solo...my heart goes out to military families and the like who have children whose fathers are gone for long periods of time. Every night Sweetpea walked the house looking for daddy, asking for daddy, missing daddy. It was with a grateful heart and a sigh of relief that I greated them Friday, back together again. Here are some other entries from my gratitude journal this week:

    *Hushed quiet mornings, ground covered with a light dusting of snow, air crisp in my lungs*

    *full moon, so bright and beautiful*

    *sipping coffee by the light of the Christmas tree*

    *love you, said for the first time without prompting, as we were saying goodbye*

    *a sunset so bright and glorious that even my cell phone camera could capture it*

    What are you thankful for this week?

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    Saturday, December 13, 2008

    Friday, December 12, 2008

    Friday Funny Fieldtrip

    For today's Friday Funnies, stop over and check out my guest post at Hope 4 Peyton.

    The funniest part will be if you stick around for some of Anissa's other posts - she keeps me in stitches for sure. Happy Friday, everyone!

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    Medela Nursing Tank Giveaway!

    photo by blmurch

    I'm excited to announce that I'm a Medela Mom Maven! What does this mean, exactly? Medela was looking for women who were interested in discussing the benefits of breastfeeding and their challenges and successes - women who had experience with their products and also with breast pumping.

    I know there are a lot of mothers out there with more experience than I have when it comes to breastfeeding, but I hope that I can be a good resource. Sweetpea and I have been a nursing team now for twenty months. She was fed breastmilk exclusively for the first year (with solids introduced at six months) and now she drinks whole milk at daycare and nurses at night. From the time I went back to work until she reached her first birthday I was pumping during the day - at work, in airports, parked cars and offices...I think my strength when it comes to the breastfeeding discussion lays in two areas - our initial latching difficulties and experience with breast shields and my love affair with my breast pump...

    I have written here and there about nursing before, and over the next few weeks I'll be writing a bit more. I would LOVE to hear your questions, to start a discussion here on your challenges and successes - *please* email me with questions!

    Now to the even better part - as a Medela Mom Maven I will occasionally have the opportunity to try out new products and provide input. Even just a few weeks into this opportunity I can say I'm very impressed with Medela's interest in my input!

    I will also be afforded the opportunity to give away products for you to try. So let's start the giveaways now, shall we? Who wants to win a new Medela Nursing Cami? Alright then, that's what I thought!

    To enter, first stop over and check out my review. Then visit the Mommy Networking page on the Maven site for a list of message boards that provide great breastfeeding discussion. I'm looking for the answer to these 2 questions as your first entry:
    1) what is your favorite feature of the new Medela cami?
    2) what is your favorite message board on the Networking page - or let me know if you have another suggestion that we could add.

    For added entries, after you've answered the above questions, you can
    *Mention this giveaway on Twitter
    *Fave this blog on Technorati (there is even an easy peasy little link on my rt sidebar)
    *Subscribe to my feed (again with the link on the right sidebar)

    Fore each of the above, leave me a separate comment that will count as an additional entry. I will choose the winner using random.org on December 27th - so be sure to enter for a little post holiday gifting!

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    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Marathoning part two - Choosing your marathon

    Welcome to part two of Deb's marathoning series - how to choose your marathon. If you missed her first post on deciding if marathoning is for you, be sure to check it out!

    Once you’ve decided on doing a marathon, your next step is to decide which one. Traditional marathon season is in the fall, with training starting in mid-summer. However, with the explosion of interest in marathoning over recent years, there are marathons in most major cities across the world, and one in every month. My first marathon ended up being the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, VT. It was one of the only local (local meaning northeastern US) spring marathons at the time. There are many, many more now.

    Though the Vermont City Marathon was anything but a flat course, I do recommend a relatively flat course for your first marathon, or at the very least a course similar to the roads and trails that you’ll be training on. The Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC is a very good choice for a first marathon, just remember to register as soon as it becomes available, as it is a very popular one, and it closes very quickly.

    I have now completed 6 marathons, and I am on to my 7th and 8th in 2009. Here are the ones that I have run:

    Key Bank Vermont City Marathon, Burlington, VT
    Fairly hilly course that runs through the city center in 4 loops. The scenery is lovely, especially through the last half where there’s a bit of trail running. The crowds are great, but a little sparse, especially when you need them. Water is available every 2 miles.

    ING New York City Marathon, New York, NY

    Awesome, awesome, awesome!!! I have run this marathon 3 times, and it’s great each time. The course is so interesting, running 26.2 miles through all 5 boroughs of New York City and 5 bridges. It starts on the far side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge on Staten Island, runs over the bridge (which accounts for the first 2 miles) runs through Brooklyn and Queens, then over the Queensboro Bridge and up First Avenue in Manhattan. Then it crosses over Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx, back into Manhattan via the Madison Avenue Bridge, and down Fifth Avenue into Central Park to the finish line at Tavern on the Green. The crowds are great!!!

    Marine Corps Marathon, Washington DC
    This marathon is one of the fastest, flattest marathons, and is a great first marathon (although not my first, by far my fastest). It starts in Arlington, VA and after winding around many of the DC monuments and government buildings including the capital building, finishes at the Marine Corps War Memorial. The crowds are great (just not quite as good as New York).

    Spinx Runfest Greenville Marathon
    This was my most recently completed marathon, and it was really great, but I have to say, quite hilly, especially the last 6 miles—it didn’t seem fair! Seriously though, even though the course is absolutely beautiful, and Greenville is a very cute town, this would not be my recommendation for a first marathon, mostly based on the hills, the small group of runners doing the actual marathon, and the fact that it is a double loop (you do the same loop twice. I’d say out of the 1,000 runners, only about 250 were marathoners, the rest were doing the half. I would recommend this as a first marathon for local Greenville and surrounding area residents. Overall, it gets a good review from me, just not for a first.

    Feeling adventurous? There is a marathon is virtually every major foreign city. My friend, Jackie has run marathons in Dublin, Ireland and Paris, France

    Here are a couple of links to find your perfect marathon:

    Marathonguide.com: A pretty good compilation of the marathons out there by month.

    Wikipedia List of Marathon Races

    Runner’s World Race Finder

    THIS WEEK’S HOMEWORK: Browse the various sites available to you to find a marathon that suits you best. Take into consideration the local area, travel time, elevation of the course, and crowds. Decide on what marathon will be best for you.

    Questions? Feel free to comment on my site or email me @ fromstilettostosneakers@gmail.com

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    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    Flashback & Update

    This cold weather makes me thankful we are warm and toasty inside - and that Sweetpea has some fantastic knitted goodies from her GaSue like this blanket!

    Speaking of being thankful, I am so glad we were able to donate these teddy bears to the battered women's shelter - I collected them on sale throughout the year, and they will be going to children whose moms are affiliated with the shelter. I hope these bears bring a little extra cheer to these children who are going through so much at such a young age.

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    Tuesday, December 9, 2008

    Knock Knock...Housekeeping!

    I'm happy to announce the debut of the Problem Solvin Mom Recommends review blog!

    As I get the chance to review more products that I think would appeal to busy moms and their families, I'll be posting on this new site. I will be sure to point you that way each time something new comes along, or you can sign up for the feed. I'm in the process of copying the reviews I've done to date into this new site.

    In addition to copying previously posted reviews, I'm pleased to announce there is also a review available today for the new Medela nursing camisole. Be sure to check it out, and stay tuned - later this week I will be giving one away!

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    What to do with all those candy canes?!

    Are you like me - do you dread the thought of the candy canes that seem to multiply and take over your house? Do your teeth ache at the thought of eating one from start to finish? (maybe that's just the orthodontist's granddaughter in me?) Here are some tasty and less cavity prone ways to utilize your ever growing stash...

    Crush them for stress relief, and then:
    • Put the crushed canes in cake batter to add a subtle flavor to your cake without much crunch (crunch factor depends on size of crushed bits)
    • Mix into softened ice cream along with a few drops of complimentary flavoring, or make your own ice cream and add the flavor and crushed cane
    • Make chocolate candy bark and add the crushed pieces to the top for added crunch and flavor
    • Sprinkle into cookie batter like you would chocolate chips or M&Ms
    Add brown pipe cleaner antlers and little eyes to make reindeer canes

    Use them to adorn packages or fill in cookie trays - somewhat sneaky but definitely cute!

    What do you do with all your candy canes? Are there other traditional treats that seem to multiply on you? I'd love to hear your creative solutions!

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    Monday, December 8, 2008

    Menu Plan Monday - Keeping it simple this week

    I don't know about you, but I'm still trying to readjust my post Thanksgiving portion sizes! So in the spirit of not gaining any more weight between now and the Christmas binge, I bought celery and carrots to snack on at work this week...and pickled beets and cottage cheese to go along with my salads at lunch. Not that I don't like all of the above, don't get me wrong - I just don't feel too bad about binging on rabbit food, if you know what I mean?

    EmDee is working second shift this week, so I'll be playing solo parent in the evenings. We'll be keeping it very simple! We made chili soup and chicken stirfry on Sunday. Here's the plan for this week's dinners:

    Monday: Fried chicken salads
    Tuesday: Chicken stirfry over rice
    Wednesday: Chili soup and peanut butter crackers
    Thursday: planning to take mamaw and Sweetpea to Applebee's happy hour
    Friday: breakfast for dinner

    The pumpkin apple crisp and peppermint ice cream both got bumped back to this week...last week I made rice krispie treats instead - will post more about that on Thursday.

    For more menu planning inspiration, visit OrgJunkie.

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    Sunday, December 7, 2008

    I love this time of year...

    We had our first snow yesterday, now the sun is out and shining, the snow glistening as it covers the ground and the trees - so beautiful, especially from inside our warm house! We put our tree up yesterday, today I hope to have it decorated. I can't wait for Sweetpea to see it lit up - she was so excited to see the tree up when she woke up from her nap yesterday. Somehow I managed to lose one tree limb from last year to this year - how does that happen? Crazy, but thankfully it's completely hidden back in the corner {{blushing}}. Here are some other things from my gratitude journal this week:

    *As we read each night, Sweetpea can identify more characters from the books, and has started to tell me parts of the story*

    *new exciting opportunities*

    *the start of Christmas movie marathons*

    *Sweetpea loves the hat I made her, a fun and easy craft that I'll be repeating for the cousin's Christmas presents*

    *hearing Sweetpea sing out "GG!" and "Papaw" as we walk into my grandparents house*
    *Sweetpea wearing great Papaw's hat*

    *lunch with a dear old friend*

    *unexpected visit with mom at the grocery - how fun!*

    What are you grateful for this week?

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    Friday, December 5, 2008

    Want to win some of those great stocking stuffers?

    Remember this post? I hope so, it was just yesterday! If not, click over and see why I was so excited...don't worry, we'll wait... The nice folks at Pacific Shaving Company have proposed a fun giveaway, here are the details:

    1) Head over to the Pacific Shaving Company website, and do a little holiday shopping.
    2) Use the code:FREESHIP to get free shipping on your order!
    3) Come back here and tell us what you bought.
    4) on December 18th, we will pick 2 winners - Pacific Shaving will send a duplicate order to each of the winners, regardless of the size of the order!

    How's that for doubling your holiday cheer? Can't wait to hear what you've picked out!

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    Friday Funnies - A What The? Moment and Flashback

    With the perpetual stuffiness and hacking going on at our house, sleep is more precious and elusive than normal...so today's funny is pic heavy because I'm low on creativity. Let's start with an oh my goodness what where we thinking moment Sweetpea and I had yesterday morning. I hate to even admit this Christmas decor is in my neighborhood...
    Can you see the stake in the yard there?

    Now on to the adorable flashback portion of the Friday Funnies - In preparation for this year's Christmas photo shoot, I was looking back at last year's pictures. Here is a series of Sweetpea warming up to the camera.

    Hmm...exactly what am I supposed to be doing here, mama? Just sitting like this?
    Okay, I can get into this - it's kinda fun...check out these great feet I have down here!
    Oh yeah, life is good, work it, baby!
    Um, whatcha thinkin here, sweetheart? Cause if you're hungry, I can get you some milk, trust me this camera isn't too tasty!

    Happy Friday, everyone!

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    Thursday, December 4, 2008

    Holiday ePlanner Winner

    The winner of the ListPlanIt Holiday ePlanner is Lisa from Crazy Adventures in Parenting!

    Thanks everyone who entered! I have another exciting giveaway coming up next week, so stay tuned!

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    Saulseeta Dip - slow cooker deliciousness

    I thought Saulseeta sounded more fun than "Rotelle Dip" don't you? I hear this recipe comes from the side of a Rotelle can, (tomatoes with chilis) but I've yet to find it there. Nevertheless, it's increadibly easy to remember, and the most difficult part is cubing the Velveeta so that it melts more efficiently...I like to make a double batch and freeze it for future snack attacks!

    32oz block of Velveeta (I use the lower fat version so that I can eat more of it)
    2 cans of Rotelle tomatoes (undrained)
    1 roll of sausage, cooked and drained

    Add all ingredients to the slow cooker and set the heat to low. Once the "cheese" is melted, it's ready to serve! Again, I eat this on baked tortilla chips so that I can eat more of them...but this is good on any chip, cracker, pretzel or vegetable you can use as a vehicle to carry it to your mouth!

    If you're interested in finding more easy and delicious slow cooker recipes, head over to Sandra's place!

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    Fabulous Stocking Stuffers

    When I had the opportunity to try out Pacific Shaving Company's shaving oil, I was very interested but slightly skeptical. Shaving oil - really?

    I first tested the oil while shaving my legs...it seemed like the safest experiment. The directions call for 6-8 drops of oil, but don't really say what area that amount of oil is good for. I used 8 drops per leg and was amazed at how well it worked! No nicks, no razor burn, and smooth skin after my shower! I usually slather lotion on my legs this time of year, but only needed a small amount of lotion to feel totally hydrated after shaving with this oil.

    The next test was to convince EmDee to try it, slightly trickier, but I had a plan. I shave his head about once a week, so when the time came I pulled out the oil and suggested we give it a try. He was willing, and we were both very impressed - again, no nicks, no razor burn, but this time we noticed something even more exciting...The biggest nuisance when shaving his head is the hair gets stuck in the razor - I was spending as much time trying to rinse the razor as I was shaving. With the shaving oil, the hair rinsed right out of the razor - this aspect alone makes this oil highly superior in my mind!

    The third and last test, the trifecta of shaving so to speak, was EmDee's face. He tends to bleed in at least one spot each shave, and so I was excited to have also received a nick stick, designed to stop bleeding and promote quicker healing. I had it laid out and ready, but since using the shaving oil EmDee hasn't nicked himself or bled once! He's been using the oil on his face now for two weeks, and it's safe to say we are never going back...if and when he does need the nick stick, I have faith that it will work as promised based on the quality of the shaving oil.

    Not only is this product amazing to use, it's economical and "greener" than traditional shaving cream. A 1/2 ounce bottle like the one I have costs just under $7 and lasts up to 100 shaves - WOW! This product uses considerably less material to package than a shaving cream can - less waste going to the landfill. Speaking of the small size, it's 95% smaller than an average shaving cream can, so it's perfect for travel or taking to the gym. It's made in the USA and for each bottle of shaving oil, Pacific Shaving plants a tree.

    What do you think - doesn't this sound like the perfect stocking stuffer for the shaver in your life?

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