Jan 022015
 

Cozy in & read up with this great read. Best news--chat it up with us through our virtual book club. Talking books with girlfriends without leaving your house or your jammies! I know! Join us :)Happy New Year, readers! 2015 is here, with all it’s promise of fun things to come and hope of dramatic taming of our muffin tops. Godspeed.

While the future is full of unknowns, I can take certain comfort in knowing I love my books. I will continue to love my books, and I am incredibly grateful to Carrie from Normal Level of Crazy and all of you for hanging out with me so we can share them together through our virtual book club.

I’ve read so many wonderful books lately, and Carrie and I are already buzzing about what our picks for this next year will be be. I can’t wait to chat them up with you!

This month we are digging into Leaving Time by Jodi Piccoult and then getting excited for our February book. Please share your thoughts and then make sure to leave a comment below to win a copy of the next book!

 

 

WE LOVE our books! Hop in with us every first Friday to talk about what we're reading and share your thoughts--we want to hear from YOU!

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Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult was one of my favorite books I read in the past year. Picoult is an talented author, riveting her audience with carefully crafted stories. She artfully switches between narrators and points in time. While in some novels this works to confuse plot progression, Picoult manages this variation in such a way that adds incredible depth and intrigue to her tales.  Her books captivate me.

Leaving Time, however, took this captivation one step further by introducing me to a world in which I would never otherwise have ventured, that of elephant research and preservation. What? I know, before I picked up the book, I might not have thought I would be so drawn in by such a topic either, but trust me–you will be fascinated.

It is the power of books to carry me to unfamiliar territories that is one of my favorite things about reading.  While a fictional book, Leaving Time is based on Picoult’s dedicated research, and I left this novel with a strong appreciation of elephants and their behavior. It’s so cool that Picoult noted this too–at the end of the book, she mentioned her hope that readers would walk away with a greater interest in elephant culture. She did a wonderful job achieving this hope.

We love books, and we love chatting them up with girlfriends.  All are welcome! Grab a cozy drink and meet us to dig into this delightful book--jammies welcome!The spiritual world of mediums and psychics was also integral to the book.  Again, while Leaving Time is a fictional novel, I gained a much greater understanding of the practices and beliefs of this culture.  If you’ve read this book, what did you think about Picoult’s use of the psychic realm to craft her story line? Did you learn anything?

While I loved the book, I was slightly disappointed with the ending. Not to give it away, but Carrie and I discussed the conclusion at length. She summarized it best when she said “It felt very Sixth Sense“, which it very much did. After such an intensely developed plot, it seemed as though the book resolved very quickly, neatly, and easily. Does anyone else feel this way about the ending?

I am also confused about why Gideon responded as he did on the day of the murder. Virgil explains it to Serenity as Gideon’s only logical choice to avoid blame for the crime, but really, why was he sobbing so hard for his mother-in-law? Why did he not try harder to find Alice? Was this explained well and I missed it?

A final discussion question: how much do you think oversight and error by the police does play a role in resolution of crimes?  How often do you think crimes aren’t properly investigated or punished because something was overlooked? Is this common?

Please share your thoughts and your own questions, readers!  We want to hear what you have to say and thanks for digging into this book with us.

Also, if anyone wants to join me in stalking pretty elephant-themed jewelry after gaining a new fascination with these creatures, you know I’m game ;)

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Finally, grab a copy of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and get ready to chat about it with us the first Friday in February. I loved this sweet book, a funny, warm, quirky read and can’t wait to see the forthcoming movie version.

And we are giving away a copy to one of our readers! As long as you live in the continental U.S. and are 18 years or older, leave a comment on this blog post by 1/9/15 at 5:30am letting us know you’d like free copy of The Rosie Project, and you’ll be entered into the random drawing.

Also, if you’ve already read The Rosie Project, make sure to check out the sequel, The Rosie Effect, released this week. I’m chomping at the bit to get my hands on it!

Read below for The Rosie Project description on Amazon and make sure to let us know if you’d like to win the free copy!

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2013: Full of heart and humor, Simsion’s debut novel about a fussy, socially-challenged man’s search for the perfect wife is smart, breezy, quirky, and fun. Sure, it’s the precise equivalent of a well-crafted romantic comedy. (In fact, the book was clearly written with the big-screen in mind, and the film rights have already been sold). But you’d have to be a pretty cynical reader not to fall for Don Tillman, a handsome genetics professor who has crafted a pathologically micromanaged life for himself but can’t seem to score a second date. After launching his Wife Project, which includes a hilarious questionnaire intended to weed out imperfect candidates–smokers, makeup wearers, vegans (“incredibly annoying”)–Don meets Rosie, a stunning, maddeningly disorganized bartender/student who’s looking for her biological father. The reader knows just where the story is headed: Rosie’s so wrong for Don, she’s perfect. That’s not giving anything away. Half the fun of the book is watching pent-up, Asperger’s-afflicted Don break free, thanks to Rosie, from his precisely controlled, annoyingly sensible, and largely humorless lifestyle. By the final third, you’re cheering for Don to shatter all his rules. And you’re casting the film. –Neal Thompson

 

First image credit: Image ID:32915135, copyright:Syda_Productions

Dec 292014
 

Who knew a pair of boots could define a relationship so well? I'm cherishing this pair--and my husband a whole lot more. Read this and find out why you need to get a pair of boots that don't fit!This holiday week, I’m sharing a couple of my favorite posts from the past year.  On Friday, I shared a fun one about when I met my match in a cute deathly raccoon, and today I’m hanging out with a favorite pair of boots–that defined my marital relationship a bit and reminded me of why I think my husband is such a cool guy.

So please join me, readers. Pour yourself a hot chocolate, snuggle up by the tree. ignoring the frenzy of rapidly dropping pine needles and treat yourself to a smile with one of my favorite stories of this past year

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Did you know that in Oklahoma it is illegal to wear your boots to bed? True story. While hitherto, I may have howled over the ridiculous of such a law, I’m now giving these mid-western legislators the benefit of the doubt.  You see, I have now witnessed firsthand the effects of boots on a marriage.  Not sure exactly what was going on in those Oklahoma bedrooms, but hey, maybe some legal intervention may have been necessary if things got stressful enough.  Boots are no joke in a relationship.

It all began when, in my blind loyalty to anything Target-branded, I snagged a pair of “leather” boots on the cheap in the fall.  They were adorable, trendy, and surely, they were meant to be.  Six months later, I’m cursing the ripped-up toes and air-leaky soles of my bargain find.  Huh.  Who knew? Quality, apparently, sometimes must be bought.

Thus started a dedicated hunt for the perfect pair of hip, comfy, top-notch kickers. Honestly, it was a smart-shoppers dream.  There were endless tabs pulled up on my laptop, promo codes were flying around, and I was riding an an adrenaline rush of excited glee as I worked out the most economical choice to the penny.  I know, it was the most fun I have in ages (not joking, sadly).

But I kept coming back to the new line of shoes from The Sak.  If you remember, I fell hard for my The Sak tote in October, and haven’t put the darn bag down since.  If it ever gives out, I will cry, and cry hard.  My favorite feature of my tote is the Teak Multi leather accent–the subtle sheen is gorgeous and distinctive. So when I saw that The Sak made boots that incoorporated the same leather

Yeah, the mixed reviews citing the beauty of the shoes, but the near impossibility to actually pull them on your foot? Be darned.  I had a friendship with this particular Teak Multi material, you see.  I alone would certainly be able to overcome the fit problem of the boots.  The other purchasers were clearly pansies.  This Mom of the Year was on it.

Rocking my coupons and discounts, I walked around for days preening my feathers for scoring my new footwear for $33.  Boo-ya! My husband was less enthused, these being the second pair of brown boots I bought in the same season and all…but…

Then the boots came. I sweated through my shirt so badly to get them on I had to put on a new outfit. And then I sobbed a little from the sheer effort.

The reviews were perhaps not written by weak lunatics.

After a week of refusing to say anything in a fierce protection of my dignity, the hopelessness of a solo dressing effort could no longer be denied. The Day of Reckoning had come. Head hung low, I went to my husband, “So you know those boots you didn’t want me to buy?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you put them on for me?”

 

I would like to pretend it was a very Cinderella-esque scene, with the calm, gentle man putting the shoe on the delicate princess’ outstretched foot.  It was not.  There was more grunting and under-the-breath comments.  Very few princesses. Some heavy “questioning” of spousal wisdom and the like–you get it.

It was a really neat scene for my neighbor to witness when she came to pick me up for breakfast the other week.  A true testament to the marital bliss that goes down around these parts.

We now find ourselves two months into ownership of the sweet boots. Things are better. I have accepted I can usually only wear the shoes on Saturdays, when my husband is here to help me dress.  They have started to stretch a teeny bit, so now there is only about five minutes of vigorous group dressing effort.  Really, it’s going well.

Sunday my husband leaves very early for worship team practice. As a general rule of habit, I never dress immediately upon getting up.  This past week, I was determined to sport my boots at church, so I threw my clothes on quickly and ran downstairs, boots in hand, hoping to catch him before he peeled out the door.  He looked at me, baffled by my attire and the switch in routine, “Did you sleep in your clothes?”

And then he saw the boots. And started to laugh. “Okay,” he said, holding out his hand, “Okay.”

As it turns out, these boots really were an awesome deal–they just have to be donned with a heavy, heavy dose of lovin’ patience.

Dec 222014
 

Christmas season can be insane! All of the busy holiday hustle and bustle keeps us hopping, but take one minute to sit back and breathe in the season--I'll bet you have some of the same favorites I do!Not sure about you, but by the time I roll into December 22, I more resemble a puddle of exhausted holiday effort versus a cheery blinking bulb of Christmas energy. Give me a cookie to frost and I may just stab a lone M&M in the middle and call it a day. Icing is so overrated anyway.

That’s cool; I’m human and tired and busy. But while I haven’t yet found the solution for a convenient portable caffeine IV drip, I still really, really like Christmas. In my dreams, I would savor and soak up each minute for all it’s glory and wonder, allowing the awe of the holiday to course through every moment.

Since it is Christmas and since I love it so very much, I’m going to take pause now to do just that; let its magic radiate.  I know this post has been written a million times over a million different ways, but here are the gifts of the season I most delight in.

And I so hope you take a second to share your own favorites here too! We may not get them all in before the New Year’s ball drops, but we’ve got a few days to try, friends ;)

I love the lights. All of them. On trees, in windows and in the form of ginormous inflatable Homer Simpsons wearing Santa hats.  While I may find some of the choices less aesthetically pleasing, they must make somebody happy. And happy is good, especially at Christmas.

Sitting and staring at my tree. This happens for maybe about 3 seconds every season, but when it does, it’s bliss.

Seeing my kids’ eyes wider than they’ve ever been. When they see Santa. When they think about Christmas morning. When they tell me every 20 minutes that they think they heard the reindeer on our roof.

Fires and Christmas movies. Fires and Christmas movies. My husband and I recently debated what one Christmas movie we could not go without. We couldn’t settle; National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf and Love Actually all make the season for us.

Christmas is full of cozy delights. Check these out and find a few perfect excuses to snuggle up by the fire!

The music, obviously. Sure, I have to closet-listen before Thanksgiving so my husband doesn’t divorce me, but come Black Friday, it’s all Christmas tunes, all the time. It doesn’t matter if the song is about a hippopotamus or Mary and Joseph, I’m belting it out.

A Christmas book. Sure, I enjoy reading all different types of books year-round (don’t forget to read Leaving Time with us for the January book club!), but every Christmas I make sure one holiday-themed novel lands on my bedside table, and I soak up the sweet tale, however cheesy it may be.

And finally, the memories–all of them. The happy ones, like my dad’s goofy letters from Santa, and the sad ones, most about my mother’s last Christmas with us. The horrific ones; I’ll never forget last year when our entire family puked our way through Christmas day.  And the funny ones–I’m pretty sure someday my daughter’s epic tree knock-down will be. Maybe not quite yet though…;)

Making memories and grasping traditions through all the hustle and bustle is really what it’s all about. It’s why, even when we are up to our ears in tangled light strings and cursing ourselves for running out of out scotch tape again, we still beam year after year when we meet up with Christmastime.

Go ahead and shove that wrapping paper aside for one minute. Soak in the sweetness of the season; it’s a gift, readers. Merry Christmas and love to you and yours.

 

First image credit: image ID:60084215, copyright:Laputin

Second image credit: image ID:58092323, copyright:vadimphoto1@gmail.com

Dec 172014
 

If I can do this Christmas craft with my kids, ANYONE can...trust me. I and my non-crafty self are sharing all the secrets with you...happy Christmas crafting!

This is one of my favorite Christmas stories of all time, first published here two years ago.  We’re now all a bit older, but I continue to have active fantasies of the shirts I noted at the end of the post. Godspeed with the Christmas crafts, my friends…

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Gosh, yes…I actually tried to craft with my kids.  I am so annoyingly stupid…

Once upon a time in the not-so far off land of Suburbia, there was a Mommy who was a very good at caring for her home and her family, except for the fact that she sucked at cleaning and cooking, wasn’t awesome with young kids, and was generally terrified of crafting.  This Mommy was married to a very good man; we’ll call him Daddy.  Daddy was reading a book to their little boy and chanced upon cute idea for a fun project to do with kids.  Daddy mentioned this to Mommy, and apparently Mommy had skimped on her daily sanity meds, because she thought this craft would be fun to try with the kids.  She planned to give it a whirl one morning the next week.

In general, anytime Mommy decides to “give something a whirl”, it’s best for all nearby parties to run quickly into a cave and hide.  And so this is the point where our tale takes a very nasty turn south…

Preparations for the crafting event were going relatively well until Mommy realized she needed supplies to create the popsicle stick Christmas tree craft.  Dastardly truth of crafting: supplies are necessary.  Queue to Mommy diving headfirst into several scary large Rubbermaid totes in the basement where the glitter was conveniently stored.  Listen carefully now for the sounds of angry grunts, muffled explicatives and panicked screams for baby daughter to NOT start crawling up the un-baby-gated cement steps.

After some further desperate searching and a minor hiccup when Mommy’s sweet angelic son locked her in the basement as she was juggling the glitter, the baby, a psychotic dog and a laundry basket under arm (there is always, always a laundry basket involved, right?), the necessary materials were finally secured upstairs.  Mommy then felt insanely wise for setting daughter up in her chair with some Color Wonder markers so the rest of this fun event could ensue.  The scene was mostly set with only the paper plates still needed.

For the record, paper plates are definitively integral to all craft projects.  All of them.  If you are looking to go into crafting, start buying paper plates in bulk, and stash them in every nook and cranny throughout your house.  You will always need them and you will never have them when you need them.  There can never be enough paper plates.

While Mommy went in search of the necessary paper plates, her daughter took the opportunity to eat the tip off of a marker.  After a certain amount of hysteria and speculation that Color Wonder ingestion would lead to brain damage of some sort, it was determined that everyone would survive, and the festivities could joyfully continue.

As goldfish crackers flew at Mommy’s head (an alternative activity was needed for daughter after the unfortunate incident in which she ate the provided markers), she learned that hot glue gun glue is indeed rather hot when squirted all over her hand.  As Mommy screamed through the pain, her son fled the room in terror.  But with a little convincing, he soon returned to participate in this delightful experience.

Bring our engaging tale to a close, you can tell from the pictures below, the end result was stunning.  Clearly entirely worth all the effort and served to completely re-educate Mommy, who will now be running gleefully headfirst into the next crafting opportunity after having such a blessedly positive experience.  Bring on the crafts.

Christmas tree craft

Just thought you would appreciate
that I’m still using paper plates from
my daughter’s birthday in July

Mommy is now making “I Heart Crafting” t-shirts which will be available for sale in the very near future.  Stay tuned for this one.  She’s entirely sold out for crafting and wants the world to know.

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Also, pop on over to Hollow Tree Ventures and check out As (Never) Seen on Pinterest for further evidence of how crafty and artsy I am and snag some top-notch creative ideas from some of my favorite bloggers.  As a teaser, my fantastic design inspiration for your child’s train table is pictured below:

Child's Train Table Design @mererdithspidel @RobynHTV

Yes, yes we are awesome parents…

 

Dec 102014
 

Tracking Pixel
Grab up all the coxy fun your jammies allow! With Joe Boxer, the comfy comfort is fashionable AND fun!While our children usually look adorable come bedtime, my husband and I don’t have the best track record for acing out pajama wear. So when Joe Boxer pajamas from Kmart asked if I would to check out their line of jammies for my whole family, it was very exciting times around here!

My husband fails miserably at pajamas–he sleeps in his boxer shorts. But he asked me not to share anything too personal about him in this post, so I never told you this.

As for me? I think I last wore matching jammies I was 10. I see the sweet ladies in sales ads with their coordinating bedtime tops and bottoms and think, “Aw! How cute! I should get a pair.” Then I forget two seconds later and end up just sleeping in my athletic gear. Because, let’s be honest, I never took off my leggings from that morning when I was entertaining the fleeting notion of exercise.

Yet Christmas is the time of year we are emboldened to attempt tasks we never otherwise would, like handling your children containers of sprinkles and steeling yourself against screaming in terror as they get flung all over the room in an attempt to decorate cookies.

So swayed by the excitement of the season, I was excited to tackle this jammy situation. I had visions of us decked out in sweet Christmas themed sets. How cute would that be!?

No such luck. Those sets are available (and they are sweet!), but they weren’t what we settled on.  But that’s okay; I let my kiddos choose their own from the Joe Boxer line, and they thought this was so much fun.

Cozying up in these jammies with your family is all the comfiness you can need! Snuggle in friends, the warmth is here!

 

While my husband settled on a more reserved stripe pattern (you have to step cautiously into this world of pajamas, you know), there are a lot of fun prints for guys with witty phrases.  Choices like the Ugly Xmas Pants and the Moosetache pants are cool ideas. And while skull-covered loungewear isn’t Mommy’s favorite, my son couldn’t be prouder of his pick. At least my daughter’s panda pair are cutie-patootie, and I think my pink camo set hits the perfect note of comfy tough.

 

Embrace the family jammies and win! It's a sweet life when you cozy up and settle into these comfy pairs!

With Joe Boxer, there is something for everyone.  The line has a wide selection of fun, whimsical prints for men, women and kids in a full range of styles, including footed pajamas, slightly tapered legged bottoms, hooded animal loungers, boxers, pajama pants and shorts sets, and fleece pajama pants.

I love that there are so many choices and that the prices are so reasonable. I also love that cozy these jammies make our favorite holiday tradition even more cozy: watching Christmas movies by the fire! Since our kids are so young, it might not always be a classic Christmas movie, but hey, with the pretty lights of the tree twinkling in the background, animated kids’ movies work too. Put on our fun Joe Boxer pajamas and cuddle in–movie night is on!Knowing what modern marriage looks like is a tricky beast, Rest assured--YOU ARE NORMAL. Love on your relationship through our crazy,

 

For more on this line and to get some jammy-inspiration of your own, check out these two fun holiday jingles and grab some cozy pairs of pajamas for your whole family from Joe Boxer available at Kmart!

******This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Joe Boxer available at Kmart.********

Dec 092014
 

Dude, the holidays have become an all-hands-on-deck situation around here. It’s a wondrous array of wrapping paper, obsessive checking of Amazon lightening deals, and piles of burnt cookies shouting-out my stunning domesticity.  Fabulous.

In all this holiday merriment, teensy things tend to rile Mommy. Read: she goes bat-crap crazy. Over the weekend, I misplaced my scissors and began sobbing with the passion of a thousand cruel injustices.

With all this logical behavior trending, I shudder to think what would happen if the battery on my phone went dead. It’s times like this I beam in gratitude at my myCharge portable charger. It has never failed me. Ever. And I use my phone A LOT.

Power up this holiday season and leave the energy worries to myCharge portable phone chargers!

Especially with holiday travel coming up and uber-packed schedules, if you can’t find the time or place to plug in your phone for a charge, YOU need a myCharge! And sweet news: here are two opportunities for you to snatch one up!

myCharge is known for their on-the-go power, and their portable extended battery accessories are designed to make sure that your favorite devices are always fully charged and ready to go.  This holiday season they’re spreading cheer – and portable power – by offering to send one of their awesome portable charging devices to their Twitter followers just for RT’ing a tweet for their #myChargeCheer campaign!  Visit their Twitter page, RT this Tweet and myCharge will send you a totally free, no strings attached portable charger!  Tell your friends and spread the #myChargeCheer this holiday season!

Your second opportunity to win a charger is by entering the Rafflecopter below. I am giving away a red RazorPlus to one of my readers. The RazorPlus is a Rechargeable 3000 mAh battery that delivers an additional 13 hours of talk time for your smartphone. It’s crafted from anodized aluminum, and the ultra-thin RazorPlus comes in four colors: red, pink, blue and anodized aluminum (silver). As long as you are 18 or older and live in the continental U.S., enter below to win a RazorPlus!

RazorPlus is a Rechargeable 3000 mAh battery

Then go scoop up some portable chargers for the phone-users on your list for 25% off all chargers with code JOLLY! And pop over to sign up for the myCharge newsletter too; this enters your name to win the cool prizes they giveaway every single Friday!

Cut yourself a break this holiday season and give yourself one less thing to worry about–go score your portable myCharge charger and keep yourself powered up and running!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*********This post was sponsored by myCharge, but my delight in my portable charger is 100% genuine!*************

Dec 032014
 

Nothing says Christmas like a Hallmark Channel movie. Cuddle up and catch these flicks for some cozy family time! Bring the wrapping paper to multi-task!This is one of my favorite Christmas season posts, first published two years ago. I’m happy to report that during this time, my passion for Hallmark Channel Christmas movies has only deepened. The kids are now older and require more silly things like hot meals and help with homework, so I get to watch these movies far less. But the flipside is that after years of insomnia well conditioned by repetetive middle-of-the-night wake-ups, I have come to fully embrace the 24/7 commitment Hallmark maintains to streaming these holiday confections.

I can tune in ANY TIME. THEY ARE ALWAYS ON. God bless you, Hallmark. God bless you…

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I love Hallmark movies.  Let me clarify: I love Hallmark Christmas movies.  I’ve learned from experience that quality of content get get a bit dicey on this channel come St. Patrick’s Day with stories about villagers trying to find magical secret leprechauns.

So it’s really just best to soak up all the soapy goodness right now (or anytime from Halloween on, since that’s the way the Hallmark Channel rolls). We’re all so overcome with sugar cookie endorphins, we couldn’t possibly be less than swoony over the same Santa-visits-a-small-town-and-falls-in-love storyline told 100 times over–in basically exact replication with minor variations on the spelling of “Mr. Claus”.

These movies are pure delight. If this world was a sensical place, the dishes would do themselves for the entire month of December. Sadly, Santa has yet to grant me this wish. But this is where the beauty of the universal storyline comes into play.

Do not despair if you can’t tune in every two hours on the regular! Just pop in when you can, and you’ll still be able to follow along perfectly, I promise.

In our house, there are many Christmas traditions. Not the least of which is the too-fun delight of tuning into a family-friendly Hallmark movie. Check out what we're watching!

Do a quick read-over of this breakdown of the ubiquitous storyline, and you will be set for the season!:

Lonely woman moves to new small town, population 18 + an overpopulated animal rescue center.

She is poor and needs a job.  Often, she has kids.  (They may not be hers, but she has the weighty responsibility of caring for them through a set of bizarre circumstances that never completely make sense)

She finds a job. Usually at the animal shelter. Or at a coffee shop or bakery.

Strange man starts coming into her place of employment and seeing her. SPOILER ALERT: He doesn’t really like the animals or cupcakes that much–he just wants to see her.

The woman works hard to fight her feelings for five desperate minutes, but then must finally acknowledge the powerful connection she has to the man.

She has a crisis of some sort, which usually involves Christmas lights and a holiday pageant at a nursing home. It is also at this point that we may or may not realize that she is secretly a elf.

The man and woman fully give into their deep love that has developed over the 2 hr. length of the movie (commercial breaks included) and decide that together, they can beat all odds (that include her possibly being an elf and the fact that the Christmas pageant is now over).

In epic climax of the movie, the couple shares a sweet holiday kiss.

The glow of a Christmas shines in the background and a child (not necessarily one that has yet appeared in the movie) beams in gratitude for the blessing of Christmas miracles.

I know.  I KNOW.  Exactly.  It’s fabulous. Pass the wrapping paper, mountain of gifts and queue up the next one.  I’m so in.

No really, even Santa Claus is tuning in--watch these Christmas movies now! And enjoy :)

 

 

First image credit: depositphotos.com, Vector ID:6910270,copyright: vanias

Second image credit: depositphotos.com, ID:56375553, copyright: Syda_Productions

Third image credit: depositphotos.com, ID:31417375, copyright:HASLOO

Dec 012014
 

Taking quality family pictures can be a challenge!  Here are a few simple tips to improve your photos from a professional photographer--who REALLY knows how to work with kids!I remember the good old days.  The days when I used to hold up a camera, ask my son to look at the camera, and he would SMILE. Then somewhere about age 3, his face froze in a cheesy “CHEESE” said between gritted teeth while he focuses intently on a magical fairy dancing off to the side. For clarification, I have never actually seen said dancing fairy, I’m just assuming her presence based off of the fact that I have been unable to get my son to look at a camera for over two years and it must be something very magical to so wholely maintain his attention.

My daughter decided to follow suit in eschewing picture-taking, and their combined general unwillingness to participate coupled with my complete lack of photography skills has left us wanting in the picture department.

Which is a darn shame because I love pictures. Love them in the way one does when they have multiple frames covering all surfaces and exposed wall areas of her home. But I was failing; I simply could not get the pictures of my kids that I wanted. I just couldn’t eke out their sweet smiles whenever I had a camera in hand.

So I decided it was time to call in a professional.

I have long admired the work of Briana Latta Photography. I’ve been checking out her pictures online with a reverence of “Dang! This girl has got skills!” It’s not just that the photos she taken are beautiful, it’s that she has a unique gift of capturing her subjects as their real selves. Briana makes the love and laughter she snaps include YOU as you look at the photograph.

I was thrilled when she agreed to take our family pictures. I was wowed when she humored all my ridiculous questions about outfit choices and requests predict whether the leaves would still be on the trees on our scheduled session date without rolling her eyes. I know–she is a saint.

I was also really dreading the fight of trying to get my children to look at the camera and make “normal faces”.

I need not have worried. When Briana arrived, she took charge immediately and put my children at ease. As she laughed and joked with them, she took time to put me at ease too. Reassuring me that my kids aren’t the only ones in the world that have trouble shining genuine smiles on cue, I relaxed.

Never anything but love and laughter around here...right ? ;) Capturing Daddy and our son in this gorgeous photo was such a gift!

What followed was a fun hour of family time. We hung out in our yard. We played. And Briana snapped it all up, showing off her specialty working with kids. From her website, it’s apparent that she has a lot of experience with maternity pictures, newborn photos, and family shoots, but it wasn’t until she was here taking our pics that I got it.

Briana really, really knows what she is doing. Not only is she not put-off by energetic kiddos, she genuinely enjoys them and knows how to get the best out of them. By the end of the session, they were laughing and giggling at Miss Briana and her camera, making me believe my family CAN get pictures taken!

The natural way my kids are captured laughing and playing in these photos is fantastic! What a great family photo session--go book yours today!

It was such a blessing to work with Briana’s talent!  Make tracks over to her site and book a session ASAP for your own family. Trust me, your frames will thank you for the gorgeous updates ;) And I don’t think there is any better gift for loved ones than pictures. Grandparents swoon to get sweet photos! Or  know a pregnant mom? Treat her to a maternity or newborn session–such an incredibly thoughtful gesture!

And as a special gift for my readers, Briana is giving away one free mini-session below! Go enter and capture your family in some gorgeous photos–and have a fun time hanging out with Briana while they being are taken!*

For those of you not local to Briana, you can still enjoy her talent. As she snapped our session, I was so impressed with her skills, that I asked her to put together a few basic tips to share with all of you.  These are things that I never do, but are simple steps you can take to make a big improvement in your own pictures:

1. Consider lighting.

Overcast days are perfect days to take pictures outdoors. If it’s a very sunny day, know that the sun is particularly bright and harsh on facial skin tones from 11 am to 1 pm. Early morning and later afternoon/early evening are better times to take pictures outdoors.

2. Don’t keep the flash on automatically.

A flash sends a strong burst of light directly in front of the camera. In many situations, using flash can wash out the subjects in a picture. Try turning the flash off, and see what the pictures are like without flash in certain settings. You may be surprised how much nicer the picture looks. Of course, if you’re in a dimly lit environment, flash is probably your best bet.

3. Think about perspective. It’s very common to pick up a camera and snap a shot of your kids playing. But, consider bending down and getting eye level with them. Or, move over them and stand directly above them and get a picture of their face looking up at you.

You can make a picture so much more interesting by simply changing the angle it’s taken from. One of my favorite practices is to watch my kids playing, pick a fun vantage point, and call their names to get them to suddenly look at me as I take a picture. Then I get a quick, genuine expression of them having fun that doesn’t look posed.

I always feel weird about head shots, but I love how the photographer helped me relax so she could capture this smile! Book your own session today--you will LOVE your pictures!

Isn’t Briana so smart and savvy?? Go snap up those sweet photos, friends, and happy picture-taking!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Please note photographer does not travel more than 1/2 hour to meet for session and all details and scheduling of mini-session must be coordinated directly with photographer and are subject to her availability and determination of all terms.

All family photos featured are the work of Briana Latta Photography.

****While Briana allowed me to experience and review her work in exchange for this post, my family’s delight with our pictures is 100% genuine!****

****Thank you to Aria’s Bowtique for providing my daughter’s sweet hair bows for the photo session!****

First image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:26391017, copyright:michaeljung

Nov 282014
 

I love my deals and steals, and because of this story I will always love Black Friday! Crowded malls and crazy people don't matter so much when you think about the money savings!Trust me, I completely understand the frustration with how Black Friday edges into Thanksgiving.  At some stores, it’s even completely taken over the holiday with doors opening early Thursday morning or deals running all week long.

My husband loathes pre-Black Friday Christmas. It’s one of the things he can rant about for hours, similar to his disdain for mini cupcakes. I know, I don’t get it either, but don’t ask him about it unless you have a spare afternoon to burn. In any case, in our home any and all Christmas decorations, lights, music and other festivities are banned until after the turkey has been served and the leftovers are stuffed in the fridge.

No, our Black Friday truly means Black FRIDAY. We give our thanks on Thursday, and then get busy with a very important task the day after. What task? Saving money.

I’ve written about tricks and tips I use to save my family cash and shared about my love for shopping and product finds, so it makes sense that Black Friday is kind of a big deal around here. It actually has very little to do with buying Christmas gifts and a whole lot to do with saving money on things we’ll use throughout the year.

Sure the crazy shoppers and impossible-to-find parking spaces can be a beast. But not really that much of a beast because I find the energy of the hustle-and-bustle to be sort of exhilarating.

Forgoing sleep is not my favorite, though being able to cross off your whole list and be home by 7am is a high in its own right.

So really, for us, the sticky wickets of the day are just that–sticky, but don’t really matter that much because, again, we are saving money.

I have a story about Black Friday. It’s a bit sentimental, and it is the one reason I will always love the day.

It was the first year we were married. We were the kind of poor that can’t eat out–at McDonalds. The kind that sobs a bit when you get sick because the $10 doctor’s office copay was simply not to be found. But my husband was doing this crazy thing and trying to be professional. He had a suit, but not a dress shirt to go with it. So we plotted and planned. We organized our sale papers and ads and got in line outside a department store at 4:30am (this was back when 5am openings were still a thing on Black Friday). We bee-lined to the men’s section and proudly found a nice shirt and tie set in his size.

We nervously handed it to the clerk along with our clipped coupons. $5. FIVE DOLLARS. And with that my husband and I fell in love with Black Friday and we’ll never look back.

The savings may never again be as sweet or as meaningful as they were this first year, but they are still there. And they still make our budget smile and allow us to victory dance a bit in pride when we catch them.

So if fighting through the crowds or stalking Amazon’s lightning deals happens to be your thing too, know that my husband and I right there with you–memory of a snazzy dress shirt fueling us on. Go get your savings, friends!

This video explaining our Black Friday passion was shared in this post last year. And yeah, nothing’s changed ;)

Image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:1375537, copyright:shirotie

Nov 262014
 

Knowing what to buy for holiday gifts can be tricky. I love this list of finds I put together! Save money and bargain shop with these unique Christmas present ideas. I would never have thought of some of these!I love Christmas, and  I love shopping. Add them together and you have a delightful perfect storm of holiday fun. And a very crammed-full closet of packages waiting to be wrapped. 

But I also love saving my money and being really smart about my purchases. I want to make sure that each item I purchase is worth the cash I’m sinking into it and that it’s something the recipient will truly appreciate.

After checking out A LOT of different items this season, I’m tickled to share these with you as my favorite items for everyone on your list. These are things that my family and I have used, read, tried and fallen for. Worth your hard-earned pennies and guaranteed (with the very official Mom of the Year seal of approval!) to bring holiday smiles.

The best news for you? A bunch of these items are up for grabs in the  two giveaways below! Make sure to enter both giveaways–there is one for the kid stuff and one for the gifts for grown-ups.

Cross some items off your list or treat yourself; just think of how fun scoring all this loot would be!

Gifts for Kids:

http://www.yoxo.com/yoxomoto-doon/

My son looooves to build and put stuff together, so when he met these YOXO toys, it was a very, very happy day around these parts. He uses these toys to construct his own toys using chipboard pieces in the shapes of Ys, Xs and Os. For even more creative building, the pieces are compatible with paper towel rolls, toilet paper tubes, cereal boxes, and other maker stuff around your house. Green AND encouraging imagination? Snatch up a set for the builder on your list!

Up for grabs: YOXOmoto Doon and YOXObot Orig (total value $40)

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These sweet mini korker bows are the perfect gift for the little girl in your life! Make her feel like princess with a pretty touch of dress-up!

When I found these super-sweet mini korker bows from Aria’s Bowtique, I fell in love. Pretty, affordable and a shop owner who is eager to give individual attention to make sure you get exactly what you are looking for? Every little princess will swoon over all the options available!

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The personalized childrens books make such a creative and sweet gift! Allows kids to focus on spelling skills and name recognition while having a lot of fun along the way!

I remember having a personalized book as a kid and loving it. I was the hero of my own story; what could be cooler? This modern twist on the fill-in-the-blank name books from Lost My Name is such a creative gift for little ones! Each book tells the story of a child who has lost his or her name, and bravely sets off to track down the missing letters. Along the way the child meets lots of weird and wonderful characters, who each give the first letter of their name. You can’t go wrong with this sweetly written and illustrated story book!

Up for grabs: One personalized Lost My Name book (value $30)

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This sweet childrens book captures the wonder of the holiday season when anything is possible! Find some Christmas magic with the Peppermint family!

This time of year, a children’s book that captures the magic of the season is such a wonderful treat!  As author of The Peppermints: Thanksgiving Day Parade, Nikki Maloney describes, “The Peppermint family travel to New York City for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Expect the unexpected, where surprise and excitement are right around the corner. It’s that wonderful time of year when anything is possible.” Grab a copy for your kids and a few extra for the other little ones in your life!

Up for grabs: A copy of The Peppermints: Thanksgiving Day Parade (value $15)

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For Grown-ups (aka persons who occasionally drink from something other than a juice box):

I LOVE my paper and pen planners! The customizable options at this site are fantastic! Order one ASAP and get organized today!

I am an old-school planning addict. My husband has tried to bring me over to the dark side of tech-savvy scheduling on my phone and such, but it simply a lost cause. I love my paper and pen planners to an obsessive degree. My annual shopping and selection of the next year’s book is a tremendous event–or was a tremendous event, I should say. When I recently discovered Personal-planner.com, I was a goner and will be snatching up this treasure every year. The customizable options were a dream–I could opt to include Sudoku pages in the back of my book?? Bliss! They also sell really gorgeous stuff like notepads and pretty pens. What busy mom wouldn’t swoon over this planner?

Up for grabs: A $40 voucher to spend at Personal-planner.com

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This gorgeous, trendy, STURDY phone case is a mom's-dream-come-true. Deck out your phone today with this sweet new design!

I got a phone case, and it was a flop, seemingly soaking up dirt and getting dingier by the day. Then I got another phone case and it shattered the first time I dropped it. Instead of getting uber-grouchy, I finally found the perfect phone case with this Kim Parker for Trident design case. It’s cute. It’s pretty. It holds up when I drop it about a gazillion times a day and keeps my phone running smoothly. Score! Check out all the different designs and gift a durable chic to a lady on your list!

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A boss leather cuff is the signature piece of my dreams! The shop owner is a dream to work with and customize your leather jewelry order!

I can’t get enough of this leather cuff–ever. I wear mine nearly every single day. There’s something about tough boss accessories that excites me to no end. I chose to simply get my children’s names engraved on the plate, but that’s the dream of Custom Leather Jewelry by Michelle and Rob. YOU pick exactly what you want–band width and length, plate metal, and enagravement text. There are other items available in the shop too. The shop owners are a delight to work with and will make sure you get the piece that you have in mind–perfect as a treat for yourself or as a gift for a friend!

Up for grabs: $35 voucher to create a bracelet of your choice

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This shop is a sweet gift-giving favorite! Head over now and cross off your whole list with these gorgeous jewelry and Christmas ornament finds!

Penny Jules has been my favorite small business shop since I ventured into this blogging business. The genuine heart she pours into every item she makes is so apparent. There is rarely a day that goes by that I’m not sporting Penny Jules item–in my hair, in the form of jewelry or on my Christmas tree. Everything she creates is unique and personalized.  Shop around her site and cross off your list with the work of this creative genius!

Up for grabs: Snowflake ornament (value $14) and $20 merchandise credit to Penny Jules

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This skin care line is phenomenal! Care for yourself and take charge of your beauty regimen with Belli!

In recent years, I have become rather focused on skin care. I figure it’s one small way I can take care of myself, plus the ritual of washing it at the end of each day works as a little shout-out to sanity. No matter how insane the day has been, at least I can wash my face. I search for and stalk products to help me love on my skin. So when I was introduced to the quality skin care products from Belli Skin Care, I was thrilled. From their eye brightener to their facial wash, I am glowing! Grab a few items to stuff in a friend’s stocking and she will be thanking you!

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Suburban Haiku from Peyton Price is a perfect way to let your friends know you care! The gift that says "I get it!" is precious indeed!

When I’m not busy beating my head against a brick wall over the agony of attempting to responsibly raise a 3 yr. old and a 5 yr. old, I like to take a few milliseconds to laugh. Hook me up with a funny book like Peyton Price‘s Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence, and I’m good to go. Reading Price’s quick and smartly witty haikus about day-to-day mom life was a delight, and gifting it to a friend is a the perfect way to share a supportive hug and some hearty laughs!

Up for grabs:  A copy of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches from Behind the Picket Fence (value $10).

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This Van Gogh vodka is gorgeous in presentation and quality in taste. Would make a perfect gift for the hard-to-shop-for person on your list!

At the end of long day of filled with lots of kids-driving-Mommy-nuts nonsense, there’s nothing sweeter than a tasty drink.  So when Van Gogh Vodka asked me to sample their designer vodka, there wasn’t a whole lot of arm-twisting. While I don’t generally enjoy liquor straight-up, this product was delicious. I added a few cubes, poured myself a finger and delighted in a few yummy sips to close off the evening. What a perfect hostess gift during this holiday season!

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Looking for a classic, gorgeous pair of earrings? Delivered! Check out these pearl earrings that go with everything!

The older I get, the more I crush on classic treasured items. As far as I have learned, you can’t miss with a pair of well-chosen pearl earrings. When I found this pair from Pearl & Clasp, I was tickled! At 9mm, these white freshwater pearls are the perfect accent to any outfit. Look like a fancy lady with this one simple add-on–Audrey Hepburn-esque vibe delivered. What a sweet simple gift to give to the sweetheart on your list!

Up for grabs: One pair of white freshwater pearl earrings (value $24).

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Clean teeth with a shiny finish? Sounds perfect to me! Snatch up these products ASAP!

And don’t forget the stocking suffers! Call it a mid-life teeth-cleaning crisis, but I am really crushing on my Spinbrush and new Colgate Enamel Health products. A way to clean up after noshing on all those Christmas treats? Sounds like a win to me!

Lest this list still leaves you wanting, for even more ideas, check out last week’s post about my new favorite site for making gift-shopping easy-peasy. If you haven’t yet, hop over to GetThemGifts.com and save yourself a ton of hassle trying to find the right gifts!

Whichever of these fabulous finds you decide on, HAPPY SHOPPING, friends! Go get your savvy holiday buying on! And make sure to enter below to score a bunch of these items for free and make your wallet smile ;)

Shop smart and save money with these unique gift ideas that will leave everyone on your list saying "Wow!" Trust me, Gift Giver of the Year title is up for grabs with these creative ideas!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway

****Featured products were received for review purposes, but any and all enthusiasm for products is 100% genuine!****

First image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:15854487, copyright: Syda_Productions

Last image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:8181207, copyright:belchonock

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