Friday, December 23, 2011

All Wrapped Up

One of my favorite parts of giving gifts is the wrapping-so they bring joy even before they're opened. Maybe that's why I buy my paper months in advance and rolls of ribbon too. When I see the perfect print I buy it, whether it is January, or June. 

This Christmas I started shopping early, and wrapping early. It has made such a huge difference on my checkbook, and on my sanity. I feel for each and every person who is running around like a nut right about now, trying to track down those last few presents and dreading the late nights to come taking care of last minute wrapping, assembly and finishing touches. I have certainly been there. But this year it is different.

I started wrapping before Thanksgiving. Instead of hiding presents all over the house-well, I did that too-I wrapped them immediately. If the kids found them, which I am sure they did because they were stacked in the corner in my less-than-clean, disorganized bedroom, they would have to rip open the paper to see what was inside. In late November I added embellishments; ribbon made into beautiful bows and decorative name tags that coordinate with the ornaments on our tree in lime green, pink and red.
A combination of coordinating gift wrap, ribbon
and reusable decorative boxes.
After the kids left for school each morning I set up my wrapping station and transformed each package into a decorative masterpiece. Wrapping didn't seem like work at all. In fact, it was therapeutic and relaxing, like working on a scrapbook or sewing project. I felt accomplished as the piles of gifts grew under the tree, sitting patiently, waiting to be opened on Christmas day.

Today my parents arrived from NH to celebrate Christmas with us. We spent the better part of the day sitting in my nice room by the tree, surrounded by the kids and all the wrapped presents. My mother added her gifts to the pile, with her big, beautiful bows that closely mimic mine. She taught me the craft of wrapping early, and introduced me to the beauty of a carefully decorated Christmas tree decorated with thoughtful ornaments-antiques, vintage bulbs and handcrafted specialties. This year I added tinsel for a little extra sparkle-like the sparkle in my kids' eyes as they look at their gifts, occasionally turn over a name tag hoping to see their name, and imagine what's inside.

Whether you started shopping early or are kicking yourself for waiting until the last minute, take some time to enjoy the beauty of the season. From the sparkling lights on the tree branches to the gifts below, to the smiles on faces and the warmth in your heart, allow time to take it all in. Instead of worrying about what hasn't been done, enjoy what you have accomplished. Take time to do the things you love-sing out loud to Christmas carols, decorate a gingerbread house with your favorite candy (and favorite children), turn the most special presents into decorative masterpieces. But remember, the best gift you can give yourself and your children for Christmas is time to enjoy what makes the season special.

Our kitty Olive whose favorite holiday past time
is clawing at the  Christmas tree and presents.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Home Filled With Holiday Cheer

This morning I was super motivated. I got the boys up and out the door on time-despite the fact that it was about 29 degrees outside. We chatted as I drove and I made sure to keep the small talk upbeat, hoping that it would help the three oldest Dermody kids start the day out on a positive note. When I got home I pressed play on the new Christmas Sing Along CD I bought last year on clearance after Christmas and got right into washing dishes and bleaching the counters. Rowan came downstairs and grabbed a seat at the kitchen island. He worked on finishing his homework as I scooted around the kitchen, happily shaking my butt and belting out the words to Frosty The Snowman. He looked at me with a smile and said, "So, is this what you do all day when you are home with just Davey?" I asked him what he meant. "Do you clean up the kitchen and listen to happy music?" he asked, "because this is really fun." And he was right. It was fun. I kept working on the kitchen and he kept watching, bopping his head to the music while practicing writing the letter "t" and the number "8" on his kindergarten homework.
Not all days in our house are this picture perfect. More days than I would like to admit I wake up frustrated, dreading having to roust three teenage boys for school, looking at the leftover dishes from the night before with malice and disdain, wondering just how much peace and quiet I will get before the babies-the two littlest Dermodys-wake up wanting apple juice.
This morning much more happened to me than just driving the kids to school and finishing my chores. The spirit of Christmas was alive in my house and it gave my family a wonderful morning. From the beautiful tree in my nice room to the perfectly wrapped presents below, to the treats in the advent calendar and the music in the CD player. I was reminded this morning of how blessed I am. I have beautiful children to wake up, dishes to wash as reminders of the meals that we are fortunate enough to eat together, babies whose hugs and kisses can cure anything, a warm home, a loving husband. I am thankful that the 2011 holiday season gave me that moment this morning-and if I remember anything from this holiday season I hope it's the picture of Rowan's face as I danced around the kitchen-a reminder that it is the little things that bring true cheer to a family.

Rowan decorating our Christmas tree
while Davey admires the decorations.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Our Priorities: School, Sports, Social Life - In that order.

A friend asked recently "How did you get all your kids to be such good athletes?" I didn't have an answer for her right away because I had to think about it. I guess it's surprising that all 7 of the kids are athletic and love college and pro teams. What I realized in coming up with an answer for her is that kids who excel at sports aren't just born, they're made.
I walked into Rowan and Davey's room this morning to pick up, and I started thinking about my friend's question. As I made Davey's bed I admired his sports themed quilt. I fluffed his pillows and piled the basketball and football throw pillows on top. I sat down in the little blue school chairs near the boys' play table. I found the chairs on the side of the road and they were the perfect shade of blue to match the rugby stripes painted on their bedroom walls. I sorted the laundry piles-a New England Patriots jersey handed down by Landon, a Virginia Tech Football t-shirt, a Boston Celtics sweat suit, a soccer jersey from Italy. Perched on Rowan's bed stand next to his vintage looking baseball lamp was his first trophy-earned for playing T-Ball last season.
Sports is a way of life in our family. We watch the Red Sox together. Dave makes tailgate food for big Navy games or when the Pats play on Sunday's. I follow Michael Phelps on Facebook, sharing pictures from his page with Cal, encouraging him to keep on swimming-to keep breaking records. My kids have seen the Sox play in Boston, Baltimore and Tampa.
So, to answer my friend's question, we didn't just get lucky, we created our brood of sports-loving kids. When parents show kids a good thing, encourage it with enthusiasm and make it a priority, it becomes legend. Cheerleading, gymnastics, ballet, soccer, baseball, basketball, football, volleyball, track & field, swimming, diving, wrestling, karate-we've played them all. Sports keep the kids busy, encourages team work and who knows, might even end up paying for college. But, if the product of all the expense, time and effort that we have dedicated into creating kids who love sports goes no further than creating 7 more Yankee haters in this beautiful world, it will all have been worth it in the end.

Cal at the start, summer swim All-Stars 2011

Evelyn paddle boarding at Plum Island, MA

Lily's first summer competitive swimming 2011.

Austin, #42, a machine on the field.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Buying Another Fixer Upper

Before our trip to Pensacola last week Austin said one thing, "Buy us a nice house not a junky one that you have to fix up." And I tried to do just that. I really did. But, fixer upper houses are just in my blood.
We spent four days looking at house after house, from the grand traditional home on the golf course with great space but a pool that was just a bit too small to the foreclosure that we expected to love but didn't. We saw a pre-approved short sale, a colonial with an in-law apartment, and there was that one that smelled so much like dog that we couldn't wait to finish the tour. By the end of day three (of our four day trip), we were no closer to making a decision than we were when we arrived. We knew one thing-the best house for us is one that we can customize-and afford to customize.
We ended up in Gulf Breeze in a neighborhood protected on one side by the Naval Live Oaks National Seashore and Pensacola Bay on the other. According to the listing agent "it is located in the most idealistic setting. Just add a pool and you will truly have found your paradise." The location is perfect. The house, well, not so perfect, yet...
We spent the last day of our house hunting trip meeting with a contractor for a new addition, a pool company for a bid on the pool that we hope to design, the vinyl company for new vinyl and windows and the flooring company-I can not even move in until the ugly purple carpet from 1984 is gone. We took pictures of the big yard, the driveway that is big enough for all of our cars and a basketball court for Cal. I picked oranges from the trees that line the left side of the property, as a peace offering to Austin and the other kids. Anything to soften the blow that we have yet again, bought a fixer upper. All I can do is assure them that when the work is done it will be perfect!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gearing Up for Black Friday Shopping

I look forward to Black Friday shopping like kids look forward to Christmas. they wake up early full of anticipation and excitement wondering what Santa brought, and I wake up at 4 o'clock in the morning ready to shop-til-I-drop on Black Friday. Everyone else is in bed and it is chilly and dark; either you love it or you hate it.
I have been a Black Friday shopper for as long as I can remember. I've mastered the process of getting my hands on the best deals, the ones that seem to disappear as soon as the doors open. Years ago when I learned about price matching I stood flustered at the registers, fumbling with the ads while trying to remember which store had the best price. I later learned that price matching begins long before you get in line and can not be done without being armed with the ads, sticky notes and a pen and a good memory. From the time you get your hands on the Thursday paper, the one on Thanksgiving that weighs more than any other because it is filled with good tidings and great deals, to waiting in the check out line with an overflowing shopping cart, there is a method to the madness of Black Friday shopping that starts now.

Make A List
Make a list of all the people that you have to buy Christmas gifts for. Keep it in a spiral notebook. Include EVERYONE that you buy for-teachers, cousins, the baby that is due in early December, your secretary, your mail carrier.

Go Through Your Inventory
I shop for Christmas gifts all year while saving the bulk of the shopping for the holiday season. It is important to spend some time locating where those gifts are hidden around the house, taking an inventory of what you have bought and matching it with the names on your list to see what's left to buy.

If you have kids you know that over the course of a year their toys, clothes and shoes start to pile up. Before starting the holiday shopping clean and organize the kids' rooms. Donate toys that are no longer used to make room for new toys. Don't forget to go through books and clothes too. If there is no space in your daughter's room for the perfect shaggy pink chair she has been asking for then don't plan to buy it.

Start Saving
If you haven't already put money aside for Christmas shopping it's not too late to start. Curb spending for the month. Pick up a few extra hours at work. Bring returns and exchanges back to the store that you have been putting off. The store credit slips and cash back into your account or your credit card will come in handy on Black Friday.

Buy Black Trash Bags
Don't wait until you have a trunk full of toys and no way to discreetly get them inside, buy black trash bags and keep them in your vehicle. While some stores like Target make special shopping bags for the holidays that are large and dark red, you can't count on that treatment everywhere. Black trash bags are handy at concealing gifts until there is time to wrap them.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fall Party Decorations: Hand Stenciled Votive Holders

Austin's 16th birthday party went off without a hitch. We finished (well sort of) the bathroom renovation just in time. I even had a chance to make fall party decorations-stenciled votive holders out of repurposed glass candle and food jars. They lined the walkway to the front door and the railings of the deck. We had a house full of friends and families for great company and a menu heavy appetizers including cream cheese stuffed mushrooms, warm Reuben dip, sweet kielbasa and more.

White lights and candles lit the deck.
I was so busy that I let Landon take over the job of making the votive holders. They were very easy to make and are great because they can be customized for any occasion.

What you need:
Glass jars from the recycle bin
Spray adhesive
Spray paint

Landon cut A's (A for Austin) out of newspaper in various sizes. After spraying the back side of one paper A with spray adhesive, he pressed it onto the outside of the jar. On a protected work surface, he sprayed the jar with a light coat of paint. After letting the paint set for two minutes he carefully peeled off the newspaper A. Adding a candle was the finishing touch for an easy, personalized votive holder.

How to Manage Post Trick-or-Treating Halloween Candy

Can you imagine being a kid and getting a day pass to eat as much candy as you want from an endless supply? That's Halloween at our house-the one day of the year that the kids can eat as much candy as they want. The "all you can eat" method of Halloween parenting achieves a few goals.

  • The kids think we are the best parents in the world from the time they get home from trick-or-treating until they go go bed, making a fun holiday even more fun.
  • The more candy the kids eat on Halloween night the less there is the next day or week.
  • When they eat all the good candy on Halloween night the "leftovers" are less appealing, interest wanes and you can toss out or donate the rest without too much opposition.

So let the kids stay out as long as they can stand the cold, let them trade for their favorites, and let them eat to their hearts content so the major sugar high lasts one night instead of every night for weeks. Happy Halloween!

Is It the End of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic?

A Democratic Senator from MA, Katherine Clark, is proposing a bill that would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop a media skills program in schools for kindergarten through high school. According to NBC News in Boston the program would teach students how to evaluate information from Internet and media sources, analyze how media messages including advertising are constructed and understand media messages, many of which are targeted toward children. It seems that Media Skills would be much more practical for today's students than learning to sew a pillow or bake a cake from scratch. Although I did find it adorable that Cal sewed me a leopard print accent pillow to display on my bed last year, in 7th grade.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Making Guns With His Fingers and Shooting Other Students

Rowan is 5 years old. He is in kindergarten. He is the second youngest and has four brothers. He gets really dirty. He plays rough. He loves to wrestle. He got punished at school for making guns with his fingers and shooting other students. I'm not surprised. I am not surprised that Rowan plays that way, he is very imaginative. I am also not surprised that his teacher, who is a twenty something and pregnant with her first baby, punished him for it.
When I was in my mid 20's, before Austin was 2, I was adamant that he would never play with guns. I remember saying that I would never allow them in my house. I thought that if I just kept toy guns away from him he would never want to play that way; like a delinquent, a violent and angry child. Then reality set in.
One day we were sitting at the table. Austin was eating chicken nuggets. He took little bites out of a nugget in all the right places to form a perfectly shaped pistol that fit right in his tiny little hand. Then he proceeded to shoot me as he said "bang, bang". That is when I realized that playing rough, and hard, getting dirty, and playing with toy guns is just inherent in little boys. I stopped fighting it and embraced it.
Rowan has been brought up with Nerf guns, air soft guns, squirt guns and yes, guns made out of his forefinger and thumb. He shoots his brothers, his sisters and even me and Dave. We hide behind couches and ambush each other. Even Davey has mastered "playing dead". The skills have been passed down by each Dermody boy, and girl. Our weapon bucket in the toy room is overflowing, a collection of favorite bazookas, knives, rifles and light sabers collected over the years.
If the same note had come home from kindergarten when Austin was in school I probably would have panicked. I might have even asked his teacher for advice or her thoughts, "Is he a troubled kid? Where have I gone wrong?" But now I am the one with wisdom. I know that boys who play with guns can turn out to be happy and healthy young adults. So Rowan took his punishment. I signed off on the note from his teacher. I had to refrain myself from adding a little smiley face next to the comment-showing her that I was laughing on the inside. Then I advised him to save imaginary play involving guns, fighting, the military, hunting, God, and Christmas-all permitted at home but taboo in school-for at-home play.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Let Your Baby Chew on Your iPhone

Babies are just as fascinated with iPhones as their parents. Of course they use iPhones, and any Android phone, in different ways than we do. We text, they chew. We talk, they babble into the drool covered mouth piece. I've never lost a cell phone to drool, but I have certainly had to replace my key fob once or twice.

When a mother gets desperate she'll give baby just about anything to keep him quiet, whether it is breastfeeding in the grocery line while unloading the cart (yes, I've done that), providing candy as a peace offering, or handing over the cell phone. Tonight, during a late night run to the store for last minute sugar cubes for a school project, I found what appears to be the greatest invention ever for any mother who has an infant or toddler and has an iPhone.

Fisher Price has come up with the Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Aptivity Case, a protective case for the iPhone or iPod Touch that is part toy steering wheel, part rattle, part teether, and it allows babies to play apps too. Assuming that this toy works as well as it is said to, I think this is the coolest Christmas gift ever for mom, or baby. I didn't buy one since Davey is old enough to know that you don't chew on high-end electronics, and I don't have an iPhone. However, if it was made to fit an Android I probably would have spent the money just to try it out. I can tell you one thing. If they come out with an aptivity case for the iPad I'll be first in line.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Boy and His First Car

If you follow my blog you know that Dave and Austin bartered deck-work for a car. A couple of months ago an ad on Craigslist offered a classic car as payment for building a simple deck. We're pretty innovative and resourceful, so we accepted the challenge. What better way to "buy" your kid his first car than to help him earn it, through manual labor supervised by Dad. Between football practices and spending time with his girlfriend, Abby, Austin has worked tirelessly (and Dave too) to earn his car. Two days ago their efforts were rewarded when Freddy, the homeowner, handed over title to the '67 Chevy, Chevelle Malibu.

We immediately called a friend of a friend to replace the brakes in preparation for the inaugural drive. Austin, driving permit in hand, drove the Chevelle home yesterday.

Austin proudly takes the driver's seat.
Without labor nothing prospers.  ~Sophocles

Austin spent today washing and polishing the Chevelle, and taking it for a spin or two. He wiped down the interior, and we talked about paint colors, new wheels and the bigger engine that will transform it into a true muscle car. I drove it home from dropping Austin off at Abby's house this afternoon. As I pulled out of the driveway waving goodbye, I couldn't help but to feel like I was reliving a scene from Thelma and Louise. I have to admit, driving a classic car is pretty cool. Much like decorating with antiques instead of new furniture, classics have character, charm and a story to tell. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Blow the Dust Off the Scrapbooking Supplies, It's Time to Make Fall Party Invitations

It's been too long, almost two years, since we entertained a big group in our house, so I'm looking forward to hosting Austin's party and am having fun with party prep. I decided to set the bar high by making handmade fall themed party invitations from heavy card stock and fall embellishments. I dusted off my old scrapbooking supplies that have been stored in the basement waiting to be brought back to life on the pages of a photo album. The kids watched curiously as I cut and trimmed shapes, meticulously attached adhesives and stickers and transformed ideas into a stack of festive fall party invitations.

I realized as I worked that years have passed since I made cards by hand. My girls, who are familiar with Evites and fliers for birthday parties, have missed out on the craft of card making and scrapbooking. When the oldest Dermody's were young I worked until all hours of the night putting together baby books and christening invitations from thousands of sheets of decorative paper. Then life got too hectic I guess, with so many babies. Making Austin's 16th birthday party invitations reminded me of how much I love crafting and proved to me that I can start crafting again, now that the kids are a little older.

I know how much I appreciate receiving something in the mail that is not junk or a bill; there is something special about receiving a handmade invitation.

My plans for centerpieces and decorations for Austin's birthday party follow the same homespun theme as the invitations. My mom rescued 30 glass jars from the recycle bin that I plan to repurpose into hand stenciled votive holders for lining the walkways. Unique, my favorite thrift store, will have plenty of supplies to transform into table centerpieces and table dressings. Stay tuned for more pictures as the plans come together.

See pictures of the stenciled votive holders in the October 31 post titled "Fall Party Decorations" 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Every Preschooler Needs an iPad

An Apple - iPad2 (or slightly bigger and less expensive original  iPad) is worth every dollar for the practicality, entertainment and educational value it provides-for me and my 3-year-old. Here's why every preschooler should have one.

Dave bought me an iPad2 for my 40th birthday. Because I am a freelance writer and blogger, in addition to a busy mother, I have to use my time wisely. Some days the only writing that I get done is in the "Kiss and Ride" pick-up line at school (where kids are dropped off and picked up instead of taking the bus) or on the bleachers watching warm-ups before a ball game. With 3G capability, which costs about $30 every couple months or so, I am connected to the web just about anywhere. I can type a quick reminder note on the virtual notebook, check email, write an introduction to an upcoming article that I have put together in my head but not on paper or kill a few pigs playing Angry Birds.

Unlike an android phone which is too small for adult size fingers, or a bigger and bulkier laptop, the iPad is perfectly sized. It slips right into my purse like a small day-planner. It is also very easy for Davey to tote around under his arm. He doesn't leave home without it.

Davison is a 3-year-old iPad pro. The creators at Apple know how to make technology easy to use, for sure. From mastering the simple power button on the outside, to finding Netflix and playing Episode 2 of the old Spider Man cartoons, Davison knows just what buttons to push, where to tap the screen, and how to make the scene bigger by spreading his thumb and forefinger apart. The iPad is a handheld game system, portable TV, digital reader, even an MP3 player. An entire library of movies, downloadable books and educational games is available at the tap of a screen. Pop in a pair of headphones and your little one will be grooving to the tunes of the Bare Naked Ladies Snacktime! CD on download (All of my kids have loved Snacktime!) and drawing on a digital Etch-A-Sketch while waiting at a doctor's office or even at a red light.

I can already see my mother shaking her head in disgust that I would even suggest a $600 toy for a child. She would say that kids don't need $600 computer toys. They need books and a backyard. I agree, those things are very important too.

One goal that Steve Jobs accomplished with his innovative Apple products was easy to use, multi purpose tools to make living easier and technology work for you. Anything that makes a mother's job easier, and keeps the kids happier during not-so-fun errands and appointments, is worth it in my book. The entertainment value and practicality of the iPad make it well worth the investment.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs: Writing History

I have to admit, I was saddened at hearing the news that Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder, died today. My first response to the news on the car radio as I drove Cal and Landon home from football practice was anger. Cancer makes me very angry. Cancer has taken too many people that I love, too early. Then I started to feel sad. He was only 56.
Obviously I didn't know Steve Jobs personally, although he was said to have been my father-in-law's neighbor (and Dave's too I suppose) growing up in Northern California-according my kids who had spoken with their grandfather about it before. But losing someone who has been so influential on our world, technology and our children is sad. That one man could be so brilliantly intellectual and business savvy is extraordinary. Someday our kids' kids will learn about Steve Jobs and the Apple empire that he co-founded in history books-digital versions of course. Thanks for Apple, Pixar (I particularly love Toy Story) and for being a leader in innovation for our generation. Rest in peace Steve Jobs.

Oh My Aching Head

Thankfully Landon is a go to kind of guy. I have a raging head cold that hit from out of nowhere. I conveniently left a crowbar on the bathroom floor, and today as I was running kids all over creation with a throbbing head ache, Landon tore up two of the four layers of nasty vinyl flooring in the bathroom. He even cleaned up the mess! Ladies get in line. He is only 12 now but someday he is going to make a great husband.
Tomorrow's job is to tear out the remaining flooring; adhesive, staples and all and framing a small built-in magazine holder in the wall, to keep the magazines organized. This tiny bathroom has no extra space so I am going into the walls to find some. Then the fun begins with choosing floor tile, wall color, fixtures and putting the bathroom back together.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Another Day of Sports and Bathroom Remodeling

The first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning was my throbbing foot, which reminded me of the bathroom project waiting downstairs. I stepped right on a nail while trying to remove the baseboard trim-long story. I guess that's what I get for wearing flip flops and redoing bathrooms. Here is a picture of the project just as we started stripping the wall paper.

In case you are wondering, yes, that is paint over the paper. When we moved in I couldn't tolerate the circa 1983 country printed wall paper so I painted over it. It was a temporary fix and worried about how difficult it would be to strip off later, but I did it anyway.

Stripping wall paper is simple if you know how to do it. I used a spray bottle of water on this bathroom and in the past have used a 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 water mixture on other projects. The key, getting the paper wet enough that it scrapes off easily. I peeled off the top layer but the bottom layer was more stubborn. I sprayed it until it was fairly soaked. Waited about two minutes, and then scraped it off with a handy little paper scraper from Lowes. (It comes with a scorer too. Very useful if the water just can't penetrate the layers of paper. Scoring little holes allows water to penetrate behind the paper.)

Removing the toilet and sink with vanity was not as hard as I thought it would be. Luckily Landon helped by reading tutorials online and following the steps. He has issues with textures so there was no way he was touching anything gross. I got to do those parts. Removing the toilet exposed the grossest stuff by far. The wax ring was horrifying and I was appalled by the gross stuff around the toilet and what had absorbed into the floor and sub-floor over the years.
The floor is all cleaned up now and I stuffed an old hand towel down the hole temporarily.

I would like to get the layers of floor (two layers of vinyl over two different layers of sub-floor) but Cal and Landon have a football game today and Evi and Lily have swim team, so I have to get moving. I have to admit that I am a little stressed about getting the floor out easily. I better find the big crowbar for the job.

Oh yeah, I have to call a plumber too. It looks like I kind of broke the plastic drain pipe while ripping the sink and vanity from the wall at 4:00am. Don't tell Dave.

Renovate the Bathroom in Time for the Party

Whenever Dave travels with the military I redo a room. Sometimes I just clean and organize from top to bottom, maybe rearrange furniture. I don't plan the projects. I just seem to get inspired when he goes away. Maybe it's something to pass the time.
Today Dave left for Turkey. It's a rainy day so I was looking forward to a day at home, getting ready for the busy week ahead of managing things on my own. I started cleaning the foyer and then my nice room. I like those two places to be neat and, well, perfect.
My self diagnosed ADD kicked in next. I cleaned the craft room and pulled out the supplies I bought to make Austin's 16th birthday party invitations. The party is just around the corner. I started thinking about my house and how much I hate that it is old and ugly. I decided that I better get cleaning and decorating for fall in time for the party to make the house look a little better. I don't know what came over me next but I started pulling the old, dingy, smelly wallpaper off the walls in the half bathroom. Just like that. Within minutes I decided I was going to do a remodel. That was about 12 hours ago and I didn't stop once until now. I even put the little kids to work with water bottles and scrapers and let them enjoy themselves stripping wallpaper for me. They were great at it!
In just 12 short hours I stripped all the paper, removed the toilet, sink and vanity and put them at the curb. (I'll post them on Freecycle in the morning.) I removed all trim, crown molding, and chair rail. Chair rail is at the curb too. I filled all the holes in the walls from the kids getting a little overzealous with their scrapers and sanded the spackle once it was dry. I started an attempt at pulling up the old vinyl floor to reveal another older layer of sub-floor and vinyl underneath. That's when I threw in the towel.
I didn't get the invitations started but I did get lots of cleaning done and a remodel started. Now I am one step closer to being prepared for the party. Of course the invitations might have been a better project to get started with. I guess I'll get to that once the bathroom is presentable. I took pictures to share. I'll post them tomorrow.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Buy Me That: Teaching Children to be Smart Consumers

Visiting the toy store can be a nightmare. The season's hottest toys are strategically placed at a child's eye level where they can't be missed. Excited kids scan the isles looking for something to buy, toys to add to their Christmas lists.
What actually makes toys "hot" has almost nothing to do with quality or entertainment value. Advertising budget determines how popular a toy is. How many times the image of the toy is imprinted in your child's mind-through paper and TV ads-determines how likely they are to want it.
Make your next trip to the toy store a learning experience. Teach kids to be better consumers through fun, simple lessons.

It's the Size of the Package that Matters
More so than the size of the actual toy, the size of the package is what attracts attention. Point out the size of package compared to the size of the toy. Read the small print which usually states that the product pictured is larger than actual size. Talk about value for the dollar. Lower priced toys are more likely the result of less overhead-less advertising and packaging-than poor quality.

This Looked Cooler on TV
Show your child specific toys that she has seen on TV and has said she wants. Compare the real toy to the way it appeared in the commercial. If it is a doll that eats and wets, explain that once the food and diapers run out the doll may not be as exciting. Show her that the joints don't bend, the skin is hard and the doll is heavy, for example.

Avoid the New Toy Trap
If your son is just dying for the new version of his favorite hand-held gaming console, talk with him about it. Does the new system require new games or is it compatible with the old games? Are the new features features that he will really use? Check out reviews and be sure that it is worth the money. Just because it is the newest version doesn't mean that it is the best or most useful version.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Buy Me That: The Power of Toy Commercials

Resist the power of advertising and help your children be better consumers this holiday season.

Because young children don't read or can't read quickly, 30 and 60 second toy commercials send messages through pictures and music. Pretty little girls in matching outfits play in professionally decorated rooms, with two or three friends. They laugh, giggle and have perfect teeth. The message, "If you buy this toy you can be just like us. This toy is more fun than any other." Advertisers aim to hook our kids, who will then whine and beg until we buy their product.

It's mid-September and Christmas-toy marketing campaigns are in full swing. It isn't a coincidence that the new and improved versions of all the same toys and video game consoles-that we spent hundreds, even thousands of dollars on last year-are released in the fall. Introducing new new characters and cartoons is also part of the plan; a multi-billion dollar holiday marketing campaign. The advertising push starts well before the official "holiday shopping season" which runs November 1st through December 24th. In 2010, approximately 37.2% of Americans began holiday shopping by Halloween, according to the National Retail Federation!

Advertising tactics are already working on 3 year old Davison. He calls me at every commercial. "Hurry Mommy!" he yells, "That's what I want."

When I don't run fast enough in response to Rowan's calls to the TV he is brought to tears. "Now, you'll never know what I want!" I assure him that advertisers wont let me off that easily and the commercial will be on again, and again.

When Austin and Cal were little they both prayed to Santa and asked him directly for the toys on TV. They would look at the sky and say "Santa, please get me that." After a pause "He said yes," followed.

Pay attention to toy commercials for the next couple of days. Talk with the kids about them. Check back for some neat tips for helping your kids make smarter choices about what they really want for Christmas.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Crash at the Reno Air Races

Dave is away for an annual guys weekend at the Reno Air Races. Surprisingly to me, today's events ended in tragedy for one 74 year old pilot who crashed to his death, into a crowd of spectators. In anticipation of my sheer panic when I heard the news, Dave called to check in immediately and assured me that he and the other guys were OK. Thankfully I didn't see the news of the crash on the TV or computer before his call. I am so thankful that he is safe. Unfortunately, three others in the crowd died in the crash. The number of critically injured is still unknown. Such a tragedy.
On another note Dave stuck a coin into a penny slot machine and came up $80 ahead. I guess it was his lucky day.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hippies and Hobos

My parents were hippies and I think it's so cool. I am not sure why but I just do. They went to Woodstock when my mom was pregnant with my sister. They lived on an Indian reservation in Canada for a while too. My Dad was in college at the time, on a football scholarship to McGill University in Montreal.

My mother. Montreal, Canada, 1969.
My kids mix up hippies and hobos. When they see a hobo, a homeless type man with messy clothes and worn shoes they point him out as a hippie. "Wow, look at that hippie," they say. I've explained the differences before but they still don't get it.
I remember our Volkswagon Camper. It had a vinyl bench seat in back and a little stainless steel sink. When I was in college I went through a phase when I wanted to get one and restore it. That was about the same time I had my Volkswagon Jetta with peace signs and Grateful Dead stickers on the back. I loved that car. I loved the Grateful Dead (and still do). I guess there's a little hippie in me too. However, there is no part of me that is hobo.

My sister Krista and me in the back of the Volkswagon Camper, 1973.

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's Raining, It's Pouring, My Sons' School is Flooding

The weather in Fairfax County, VA and the DC area has made the national news yet again. First an earthquake, then a hurricane. Last night there were tornadoes nearby. Today, flash flooding took the lives of at least two people, and has caused immense damage to the area. And it's still raining!
The rain has been pelting all day. It fell at up to 2" an hour and didn't stop. A friend of mine just posted on Facebook that after a day of work at the Pentagon her husband returned to the VRE lot in Reston, VA to find his car under water up to the roof. (Luckily he salvaged his golf clubs from the trunk.)
School is cancelled here tomorrow for a rain day, or a flood day. I'm not sure what to call it. At our elementary school a window broke. An inch of water flooded the cafeteria, according to my 6th and 3rd graders. At Robinson Secondary, my three sons' school, water poured in through a door and headed toward the 8th grade locker bay.
Flooding at Robinson Secondary School, Fairfax County, VA
Cal had his phone ready and took a picture. It was immediately posted on Facebook and generated a comment thread a mile long. The best thing about bad weather for kids is the anticipation that it will lead to a day off from school. The announcement was made on the news early tonight. School is cancelled tomorrow.
I have to admit, although I wasn't wishing for damage to school property by any means, with every falling rain drop I felt like we were one step closer to getting a day off. I am looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow, but I am growing weary of the Northern VA weather patterns.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pay It Forward

Dave and I watched the movie Pay It Forward. The message in the movie really got me thinking. The general concept is that if everyone does three positive things for random people, lives would get better and doing good would be contagious. I am so grateful for the people who have payed it forward to me and my family this week.

  • I ordered a Diet Coke from the McDonald's drive thru. I pulled up to the first window to pay and was told by the cashier that the person in the vehicle in front of me paid for my order. It made my day.
  • A woman posted on Freecycle that she needed a pack-n-play for a home daycare. I remembered that Davey's was in the basement and that we never use it. She picked up the next day. Then Landon's cell phone broke. I asked Dave to post a wanted ad on Freecycle. It read,"Wanted: Phone with Texting Pad". Landon was not too hopeful and said, "Mom, why would anyone give away a cell phone that they could sell?" Within an hour we heard from someone in our community who had a cell phone for Landon, a like-new Android with a texting pad. I was immediately reminded that there are still good people out there.
  • The person who gave us the phone visited my blog through the URL attached to my email signature. He emailed me for more information about soliciting donations for charity. As it turns out he is the director of  Deeper Missions, a non-profit dedicated to improving African communities by instituting clean energy and water projects, and providing education about sanitation and hygiene. Mission number 4 on the Deeper Missions website...Pay It Forward. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Recycling E-Waste as a School Fundraiser

Do you collect box tops for education throughout the summer and send your kids into school with a zip-lock baggie full on the first day of school? I do. I guess it's my way of giving the program a jump start. I am happy to contribute box tops instead of buying candy or wrapping paper from an overpriced fundraiser. Too often fundraisers pay the school a pittance and generate enormous profits for themselves.
Did you know that collecting electronic waste, called e-waste, can be a lucrative fundraiser that costs the parents nothing? I have been paying attention lately to green living initiatives and how to keep waste, especially e-waste, from our landfills through repurposing and recycling. Because electronics like cell phones, handheld game systems and computers and TV's are frequently replaced with newer, faster models, electronic waste is the fastest growing stream of waste to our landfills.
I opened the junk drawer, and with no effort at all found a collection of 4 old cell phones and 3 empty ink cartridges. I did some online research and found that IF there were recycling programs in our schools this trash could generate about $10. This pile doesn't even include the broken laptops (3), old iPods (4) and other e-waste hanging around.
E-waste we gathered from around the house.
I have to do some more research before committing to a program to bring to my kids' schools. I want to make sure the company buying the e-waste from the school is reputable, is committed to supporting the environment and education, and will give us the most for our donations. I'll post the findings. But I am convinced already. Recycling old phones and used ink cartridges saves the environment but curbing the flow of e-waste to our landfills and makes money for schools. If your school has an e-waste recycling program tell me about it in the comments.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

School Supply Absurdity

There I was in the Target school supply isle looking over the list for the first time. I couldn't help saying out loud, "They want me to buy what?" When I looked up to see if anyone had heard my outburst I received head nods and half smiles. Mothers walked past with carts overflowing with cases of tissues and hand sanitizer, zip-lock baggies and paper towels. In addition to the usual, pencils, notebooks, and erasers that I expected to find on the list, some things were just asinine. Apparently parents now buy janitorial supplies for the janitors, dry erase makers for the thousand-dollar smart boards and white boards in the classrooms, and bags of candy. Candy? What in the world is one teacher going to do with 60 bags of candy, assuming each student contributes the two required bags? Good thing that we are a military family with seven kids and money is no object. Like teachers, we are so well paid. (Insert LOL) When can I expect a bill for the rent to cover to cover classroom time? The way things are going, it wont be long.
Landon and Evi sorting the school supplies. This was before I went to the grocery store to buy all the big ticket items, and the $100 calculator.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Best Bath Tub Toy Storage

How many bath tub toy bags have you bought with suction cups that don't stick? I've never found one that stays put with a full load of wet stacking cups and boats inside. When I moved into this house I was determined to conquer the unruly bath tub toy problem. I found the best solution, The Maytex Mesh Pockets Shower Curtain. Here's why it's great:
  • Loads of pockets to separate toys
  • Sturdy cloth construction that doesn't rip easily and is machine washable
  • Keeps toys out of the tub for showers 
This is an inexpensive decorating item that I know you'll like it if you have kids, teens or a high traffic bathroom. It's great for organizing bath products if a few people share a bathroom.

I also have to recommend my favorite set of bath toys. Well worth it for only $6, they are the Caterpillar Spillers by Munchkin. Here's why they're great:
  • Stack together, taking up very little storage space
  • Solid plastic with no crevices for water to sit and get gunky
  • The biggest one couples as a cup for rinsing hair
  • Encourages imaginative play
  • Super inexpensive and loads of fun
I would never recommend giving anyone a plastic baby bath tub as a shower gift because I can't even tell you how many of those came through the door of the thrift store that I ran in Italy. But this shower curtain, paired with the stacking cups and a nice towel makes the perfect shower gift. It's also a great tween girl birthday gift that mom will enjoy too. Just add bath soaps and spa essentials.

Monday, August 29, 2011

More of Mom's Nice Room

I heard from friends old and new after launching my blog last week. Thanks for the overwhelming support! It seems that a consistent topic people enjoyed hearing about was "Mom's Nice Room". Thinking of decorating a special space of your own? Here's a picture of my newest nice room for inspiration. It brings together the perfect combination of antiques and new finds, in colors that are comfortable to me and my Sicilian kitty Olive.
"There's nothing like staying at home for real comfort."      -Jane Austen

What is the most special piece of furniture, color and memoir that you would include in a nice room of your own? 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mom's Nice Room

Do you have a space in your house that you love to escape to? A place that is always clean and organized, even when the family room looks like a truck full of toys exploded? I do. We call it Mom's Nice Room and it replaces the formal living room in every house we move to.
My first nice room was in our Pensacola house, the one I bought when Dave was away. I forged his name on the sales contract.
I painted my nice room the perfect shade of green. Dave installed bright white crown molding, wood floors and double doors for privacy. It was a light and bright, the perfect spot for a room of cottage antiques, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the yard.
Everything had a place in my nice room. My favorite plant sat elevated in a chippy, white, iron planter by the window. My grandmother's porcelain birds perched high in the upper level window sill were a constant reminder that my Ninie, my paternal grandmother, is always with me. An antique print of Jesus surrounded by children and flowers, one that I took from my father's storage shed long ago, hung behind a comfy plaid yellow couch with overstuffed pillows.
My nice room was and continues to be a place where I sit quietly to comb through decorating magazines or gather my thoughts when I can't think straight. Every mother deserves one. I'll have to transfer an interior picture from our back-up hard drive. Check back.
The exterior of our Pensacola house. My nice room in just inside the tall windows to the left of the door. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

And That Was an Earthquake

Did you feel it? I live just outside DC in Northern Virginia and I sure did. I was laying on my bed on the top floor of our colonial. It sits on a hillside, with a walkout basement. Rowan and I were reading stories and Lily had just stormed out of my room having a mini-tantrum. I felt the house shake, the same way it does when Lily jumps and stomps her feet.
The stomping lasted longer than normal. I kept waiting for it to end but instead it got stronger. I stared at the walls, which started to shake and sway. I realized we were having an earthquake, grabbed Rowan and started yelling for the kids. I was frantic. I didn't know where Davey was in the house. He had left my room earlier to hang out with Cal.
Evi came screaming out of her room. I ran by her, "We're having an earthquake, where's Davey?", I said. She tagged along behind me and Rowan. We grabbed Lily on the way down and finally bumped into Cal on the stairs. He had Davey.
The shaking lasted about 30 seconds. By the time I found all the kids and got to a safe spot in the basement,  it had stopped. We were all panicked and shaking ourselves. Because I am the grown up I had to pretend that I knew what was going on. I told the kids that it was over (I certainly hoped it was) and that we were OK.
We hurried to Facebook to post status updates. Hey, it's not often that you get to say you were just miles from the epicenter of a 5.9 earthquake on the East Coast.

Do you like our new crack? We have two matching cracks in the foundation, and a big one straight through the driveway, but that's all the damage we see so far.

Monday, August 22, 2011

He's Not Off To College, Yet

It's football season again. Do you know what that means? In our house that means stinky shoulder pads strewn about the foyer, shirts that stink worse than anything I ever produced playing sports as a girl, and muddy cleats. It means excitement, as the weather starts to cool off. Visions of Friday night games under the lights start to emerge. Our beloved New England Patriots are on TV.
Austin boarded a bus today for a 5-hour drive to New York for an intense week of three-a-days and bonding drills, ropes courses and zip lines into the lake. He's off to football camp with his JV/Varsity football team, the Robinson Secondary Fighting Rams. Robinson is a Northern Virginia mega-school where they play some serious football. I'm excited about a new season. I am not thrilled about the fact that my oldest son is starting his sophomore year when it feels like I just sent him off to kindergarten. He'll be off to college in three short years, and when I type that, say it or even think it, I get anxious.
I stayed up late with Austin last night. We sat in his room sorting laundry and socks, making sure he had enough clean underwear and a travel toothbrush and toothpaste. He loaded all his gear into a military duffel bag and grabbed his pillow. I noticed his Bee, the security blanket that he has slept with since his baptism as a newborn baby. "Are you taking your Bee?", I asked. Not looking back as he left the room he answered, "Nope".
I went to bed already missing Austin. Dave was driving him to the bus at 5:00am and I knew he would be gone when I woke up. When one of my kids is away from me it just doesn't feel right. I suspect that this empty feeling is nothing in comparison to sending him off to college. It doesn't make sense. I cried when I downloaded the pictures of his incredible tackle from Saturday night's scrimmage. I checked Facebook countless times today, hoping for a status update telling me that he is OK.
Austin making a pile driving tackle
in Robinson's first 2011 scrimmage against Hylton.

Certainly he is OK, right? I know that he is having the time of his life, playing the sport that he loves more than anything in the world. That should be comforting. However, nothing is as comforting for me as having my babies right here with me, no matter how big they get.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Car for Your 16th Birthday

It's official, Austin's first car will be a 1967 Chevy Chevelle Malibu. Seems that just yesterday he was two and banging around in my mom's kitchen on his little yellow motorized Fisher-Price CAT with a 12-V battery. Now I'm shopping for Ralley wheels. Proud and totally freaked out at the same time.
We're not actually buying the car, but its not a charity donation either, although we might qualify. We are bartering for it, thanks to I was looking at classic fixer-uppers today and Dave mentioned that he had seen an add for a classic car for barter. A guy in Fairfax, the next town over, had Chevy Malibu to offer in exchange for the construction of a small deck. We went by to take a look at the car and asses the job. The car is adorable. The exterior is a basic cream color and in average shape, but the interior is black, and near perfect. It started right up, and with the exception of needing new brakes, it could be driven home. The deck? We can build a deck in our sleep. After renovating three houses at the same time with a family of five kids ages five and under, we can certainly build a small deck in exchange for a car for our firstborn. 
So it looks like tomorrow we will be buying lumber and pouring footers. The sooner we get the deck built the faster the car will be ours, and we can start fixing it up.  First purchase, new Ralley wheels so it looks more like a muscle car than a grandpa car.  It's going to be awesome! And of course, I'll get pictures up shortly.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Hyper Son

This morning I took Davey and Rowan to their school physicals. We left the house on time, expecting NoVA traffic but luckily didn't hit any. I remembered all the school paperwork and immunization records that I needed which is amazing. I usually forget something and get there early or remember it all and get there late. Today I remembered it all and got there on time. Proudly, the boys were both dressed in cute outfits, and I even found underwear for them in the clean clothes pile so they wouldn't be naked for the doctor. In my house, clean laundry when you need it, is a luxury.

I filled out paperwork in the waiting room and noticed a lady behind me staring. I looked at her, and then slowly at the boys, fearful of what I might see. They were purposefully drooling spit onto the armrest between their chairs. I gave Rowan an angry stare and told him it was totally inappropriate. If I ever spanked my kids, which I don't, this would have been a time for a good lickin' right there in front of everyone. Instead I grabbed a paper towel and a glob of hand sanitizer and cleaned the chair.

The longer than usual wait allowed me time to finish the final touches on their school physical forms before meeting with the doctor. In the meantime, Rowan had managed to pull his arms into his shirt and spin it around backwards. He tucked his knees up tight inside the shirt, close to his belly, and pulled his head back in the neck hole. He looked like a turtle hiding in a shell-a Toy Story II t-shirt-with only his head sticking out. Davey fell out of his chair trying to copy his big brother. I got up to check the clock. The doctor was 45 minutes late and I was starting to sweat.

Just when we were invited back for weight and height checks Davey decided he had to pee. I got down to his level, looked in his face, and said "We have been waiting outside for 45 minutes and NOW you have to pee." He laughed. Luckily Lily tagged along for the appointment and took Davey to the bathroom while I tried to keep Rowan still enough that the arm pressure cuff could actually get a reading.

Changing into the pediatric gowns was comical. Davey willingly started to strip. Lily panicked. "Mom, they don't have underwear on!" I assured her that they were adequately dressed and wouldn't be in the buff under their stylish paper gowns. The longer we waited the higher my blood pressure seemed to get. Rowan and Lily wrestled. Davey used the doctor's wheeled stool as a body board. He lunged onto it with his belly, after he zipped across the little room he hit wall with his head and let out a hysterical laugh. Before I could stop Rowan he followed suit. All 55 pounds of him crashed into the wall. When he hit, I was sure everyone in the building heard. I begged them to "sit still for one single second!"

I grabbed Rowan's file and added a note to the "Parents Concerns" section of the physical form. "Needs assessment for ADHD!!", followed by two exclamation points.

The exams went well. Dr. Yazdani, although hard to understand due to his thick foreign accent, is a gentle older man who is great with kids. Both boys were in perfect health. Thankfully, neither needed shots.

When I asked for a consult for Rowan's inability to sit still, his hyperactivity, Dr. Yazdani looked at me curiously. "Do you get any help at home?", he asked. Wondering where he was going with this I answered, "Well, I have a husband." He laughed and clarified his question. He wanted to know if I had a nanny or a babysitter, someone who could help me regularly while Dave was at work. I told him the truth. I don't have help because we can't afford the luxuries that we had living in Italy, the nanny.

He patted me on the shoulder, reminded me how blessed I am to have such a beautiful family, and sent me on my way. "Rowan is going to be fine," he said. "It's you I am worried about."

Hard Work Will Pay Off

I am so excited about the page I just put together on Soliciting For Fundraisers. It will make planning silent auctions so much easier. This summer I was the co-chairperson for the silent auction portion of our summer swim team's annual swim-a-thon fundraiser. We raise money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a charity dear to me since my favorite grandmother died from Leukemia. I spent countless hours and days examining different corporate giving programs and filling out applications. We received such generous donations including an American Girl Doll, and a great coffee maker from Keurig. I decided that applying for corporate donations would be so much easier if I compiled all of my research in one place. So here it is, with links and everything! Honestly, I did it for selfish reasons. Next year's auction will be so much easier now.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Real Skinny or Facebook Skinny?

I've created an image of myself on Facebook that is pounds lighter than the real me. I'll admit it. I hastily untag myself in friends' pictures if I look fat. That's why you only see pictures of me from the shoulders up. I am so tired of hiding from the camera. I want to be thin again, instead of pretending to be. Dave thinks I am crazy. (And not just in regard to my weight.)
I am planning on starting the journey from Facebook skinny to real skinny. Every day I go to bed telling myself that the diet will start tomorrow. Hopefully, tomorrow it really will.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It Feels Like We're Back in Boston

Friday night Dave and I went to a club in downtown D.C. to see a friend's band, Midnight Hike, headline at the 9:30 Club. We'd spent many nights at Boston bars back when we were dating. Going out was easier then. I always knew what to wear, and was pretty sexy, thinking back. To a college kid, a night out at a club is just another Friday night. For two 40-somethings, it's a little different. 
I had no idea what to wear. Something about being a middle aged, overweight, mother at a club gave me an uncomfortable feeling. I called my girlfriend Dana to vent. She suggested I throw on a cute off-the-shoulder flowy top with a pair of jeans. "You'll feel sexy," she said. I started to think I didn't want to go. 
After locking myself in my room so the kids couldn't get in to help mommy get dressed, I settled for jeans with cute Bandolino heels and a fitted top. Low-cut is a must for me, as it showcases my only attribute at this time, my DD bust. 
We met friends for dinner at Capitol City Brewing Company before the show. When we got to the 9:30 Club, after a few cocktails, I felt like we were back in Boston again and had enough confidence to hit the dance floor.
The next morning I shuttered as I checked Facebook, worried that someone with a camera had caught me in action. Luckily the only pictures were face shots. I approved.