Goodbye, 2012 – Hello, 2013

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I don’t know that I’ve earned an end-of-the-year/let’s-toast-the-new-year post with this blog, as I’ve fallen quite behind. But the new year is always a good time for reflections and plans and I’ve been re-reading my posts from 2012 to try to piece together my memories of the last 365 days.

My first post last January was called “The New Year,” and I briefly shared that Zachary and I had been separated for several months in 2011. A hard post to write, even if it didn’t delve into personal feelings or details, and yet I was cautiously hopeful. As the year wore on, however, my positivity for our future together waned and hard decisions had to be made. When you are young and life as an adult is beginning it’s so easy to share news. “I got a new job!” and “We’re engaged!” and “I’m pregnant!” are joyous and the good words flow and the congratulations are intoxicating. Then there are situations which are more difficult to announce, and you wonder how – and even if – to do it. My brother and his wife lost their baby girl. Zachary and I are divorcing. These were the tough spots.

The decision to end our marriage will affect me, Zachary, the kids and our families for the rest of our lives. The decision, made in 2012, colors the direction of all my years from here until the end, but my 2013 may have the most upheaval in a short amount of time. This year I will need to figure out how to earn a living that will support me 100% of the time and the children 50% of the time. I will look for a home to house me and the kids. I might go back to using my maiden name (I change my mind almost daily on that issue).

Despite the heart-wrenching moments scattered throughout, 2012 brought joy, as well. My babies turned 9, 8, 6 and 3 and showed me every day what amazing little people they are growing to become. Jonah potty trained and now I’m free of diapers forever. Grant transformed from a wild-child kindergartener to a boisterous (but calmer) first grader who is proud of how far his reading skills have come along. Isla grew more confident in her gymnastics. Miles finally learned how to ride a bike. I made Lego Star Wars cake pops for Grant’s birthday party and they took forever and make me want to pull my hair out but resulted in one of my most popular blog posts ever.

I traveled to California for a friend’s wedding and got to experience gorgeous weather mid-winter. I visited family and friends in Texas. I made new friends and spent more time with old ones. My business doubled in sales. My sister had her first baby with her new husband, and my brother and his wife found out they are expecting a baby girl a year after they lost their daughter to stillbirth. I reached my lowest weight since getting married 10 years ago (let’s not talk about how the scale has inched up again, though, okay?). The kids and I spent time together having fun (and visiting urgent cares) at Disney World. I tried Zumba for the first time and loved it. My friends convinced me to go salsa dancing and I had fun even though I couldn’t keep up. I made bread for the first time and it was edible, even if it didn’t turn out as expected.

Did you make resolutions for 2013? I haven’t. I’m not a resolution girl. In November I joined a new gym and have been going when I am not with the kids. I’ll meal plan more now that the holidays and get-togethers are over for a while. I’m going to volunteer more not because it’s a new year but because I love it and I’ve found friends who love it just as much and, like exercise, it’s easier to get yourself out with others who are happy doing the same thing.

2013 will bring challenges and changes, less fun and more numerous than those I experienced in the 12-month period that saw me follow Zachary to two different states, get engaged and hold four different jobs.

I have absolutely no idea what my “Happy 2014!” post will include. My life is a notebook with a lot of blank lines ahead. There will be tears, there will be smiles, there will be mistakes and successes. I’ll probably lose and gain the same ten pounds a few times and I imagine I’ll say, on at least one occasion, that I need a desperately need vacation but I’ll be unable to take one and the next day I’ll be better, anyway. I’ll breathe in, I’ll breathe out.

Happy 2013 to you all – whatever it brings you!


Holiday Brunch – Citrus Cream Cheese Pull-Apart Rolls

Typically when I look for recipes I like those that are fast and uncomplicated. But when I searched for something impressive to bring to a Christmas brunch years ago I stumbled on this one from Cooking Light. Looked delicious, the rolls are relatively light, but… the preparation was more time than I usually put into one dish.

Let me tell you, these are worth it. And they aren’t complicated, but you do need to plan ahead because some of the steps a long time to complete, even if the time is not spent hands-on. I’m linking to the original recipe here, because it includes a glaze, but what I’m sharing here is how I prepare them. These rolls end up pretty gooey and sweet on their own; I didn’t think they needed additional stickiness or sugar. This recipe is a huge hit whenever I serve them, and at one yearly get-together it is demanded I bring them. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Please note I will replace the photo the next time I make these. This photo was taken at my sister’s holiday brunch, the day of a big snow storm. I let the rolls rise for the last time on our drive up to her house, which ended up taking almost twice as long as normal due to the bad roads. So my rolls were gargantuan and the cream cheese didn’t settle as nicely. But this will suffice for now!

If you try one new recipe this season to serve to your friends and family for a special breakfast or lunch, you’ll want to make it this one.

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Citrus Cream Cheese Pull-Apart Rolls

Note: This recipe requires advance preparation. You will either need to begin the night before or three hours before you want to serve them. From Cooking Light.

1 package frozen dinner roll dough (the small balls; I use Rhode’s)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup Craisins
1 cup sugar, divided
6 oz low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 orange
2 lemons
1 egg

Count out 24 rolls and put them on plates to thaw for 30 minutes at room temperature. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. Then, using a serrated knife, cut the rolls in half, placing them cut-side down into the pans (24 pieces in each pan). Brush butter evenly over rolls. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. (What I do: Preheat oven to 150, turn it off, then stick the rolls inside.)

While the dough rises, use a micro plane zester to zest the orange and lemons; set aside the zest. Juice the orange to get 2 tbsp.  Use a hand mixer at medium speed to combine 1/4 cup sugar, cream cheese, 2tbsp of orange juice and egg.

After your 30 minute initial rise is complete, sprinkle the rolls with cranberries, then evenly spoon the cream cheese mixture over both pans. Combine 3/4 cup sugar and grated citrus rinds and sprinkle over rolls. Cover pans and let rise 1 hour until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes (you might want to line the bottom of your oven with foil, as these have a tendency to bubble over). Then cover pans with foil and bake for five more minutes, making sure the middle rolls cook through. Devour.

To prepare the night before: After spooning the cream cheese mixture over the rolls, cover the pans and put in refrigerator for 12 hours. In the morning, uncover and sprinkle with the rind/sugar mixture. Let the rolls rise at room temperature until doubled in size, then bake as directed above.

The Monday After Friday

We wake up late. My human alarm clock has, for the first time in recent memory, slept in his own bed all night.

“Mom,” Isla says from next to my bed. I rub my eyes and focus on her. “It’s 7:00!”

Miles doesn’t want to get up and Jonah refuses to get dressed. We hurry over bowls of cereal and the kids dawdle and I make all of their lunches even though the boys should have made their own.

“Bye, Mom!” they call as they open the front door. They are clad in black snowpants and multicolored hats and scarves. I’m in the kitchen when I hear their farewells and I panic. I haven’t hugged them yet. I don’t always. Today, I need to.

I wrap them up in my arms, the three of them together. I kiss the top of Miles’ head, so close to my own face now – he’ll be taller than me before I know it.

“I love you guys! Have a great day,” I say. I don’t want to let go. I do let go. They go.

They have no idea.

* * *

Last Friday, December 14, the kids were at school or daycare. I’d worked on real work for a while and then, remembering my neglected but personally valuable blog, I sat down to write a post about pull-apart rolls, the ones I make every year around Christmas-time. I’d made them for a holiday brunch at my sister’s and had only a semi-decent photo of the finished product but it was so close to December 25 I figured it was the day to share.

I checked Facebook while Photoshop opened. I scrolled through photos of kids on Santa’s lap and an Instagram snap of a Starbucks cup.

And then, from a friend in Connecticut, an update just before 10am about a shooting at her kids’ school. Panic welled up in me but she also stated that her kids were safe. My fingers raced to type in and I scanned the article and calmed a little as I only read that a gunman was dead.

“Just the gunman,” I thought. “That’s not so bad.” A testament to the world we live in, perhaps, that I am relieved and not crazed over the news that one person is dead inside an elementary school.

But as the morning wore on the news got worse and worse. I caught glimpses of my friend and her two children on photos and on national video shared by other friends that they’d found online. We are not close friends, I’m not trying to co-opt her experience or make people feel bad for me by claiming I have intimate ties to this woman halfway across the country. I don’t. But I know her, and just last month I included photos of her daughter meeting my daughter at Disney World two years ago in a memory book, so for me the shooting was made all more real not by being physically near Newtown but because I know a woman who lives there. Her kids go to the school.

When Columbine happened I was in college, and enough time had passed since high school that I didn’t feel a visceral, personal reaction. I didn’t know anyone in Colorado. It was surely as devastating but I can’t remember where I was when I heard the news. When 9/11 happened I was 1700 miles away and didn’t work in an office building and had never been to New York. I remember where I was, though, and I felt dread and vulnerability like nothing I’d felt before. Shock at the number of dead.

But this. These children, in the town with the zip code where my Christmas cards have been delivered. First graders, like my little Grant.

I spent almost the whole day alone. I had no spouse to turn to to be comforted, to try to sort out my feelings. It didn’t feel right to call a friend about what was happening. A secret Santa dinner in the evening had me torn between wanting to sit at home and focus my prayers on the dead and the survivors and wanting to be around other living people and talk about something other than what had been lost in Connecticut and from our hearts.

We did not tell the kids. We don’t have access to TV channels at home so we knew they would not hear about it accidentally at home over the weekend, and I hoped that Saturday and Sunday would dull the news a little for any other student who might learn of it and want to spread information in hushed tones on Monday. The kids walked in the door yesterday and I braced myself for questions that never came.

Now I’m left reeling, with the rest of the country, wondering when it’s okay to stop thinking about those poor, innocent souls. Thinking about their fear as they faced a monster in their school is almost more than I can bear. I’ve had three six-year olds so far. They are small and sweet and pure. As the link that was shared en masse around Facebook and Twitter stated, “I know what six looks like.”

We are left now trying to figure out what happened and why and we may never know. The randomness and brutality of the act frighten me to the point that I have to stop myself from thinking about what happened inside of that school because while I want to honor these kids’ memories, the thoughts about what they experienced make my heart seize.

I can’t stop thinking about my friend, her community, the parents who will never hug their children again. Did they hug them that morning before school? If they didn’t, are they trying to remember the last time they held their child in their arms?

The nation is crying out, “More gun control!” or “Guns aren’t the problem,” depending on which part of the nation is speaking at a given moment. “More access to mental health care!” I hear repeated.

And I sit alone in my office, my children out of my sight and out of my reach, entrusted to teachers and day care providers, and I am fearful that nothing will ever be enough. That we can’t stop evil where it lurks and we can’t catch every deranged criminal and we can’t make every gun and bomb and knife disappear, no matter the amount of gun legislation or mental health care providers or locks and buzzers on doors. My mind starts to think that perhaps some people are just bad people and no amount of laws or access to psychologists or drugs will stop them. I worry we are a society that is going to increasingly create people who are detached from death and consequences because of violence in video games and on TV, and because parents let their children grow up believing they should not have to be accountable for anything.

But I can’t bow to fear. None of us should. I have to believe more light exists in the world than dark.

* * *

I’ve been trying to write an ending paragraph full of joy and blessings and optimistic sayings like, “Look at how good life is despite it all!” but I can’t yet because I still somehow feel that to count my own blessings is to dishonor the families who are grieving. I hugged my children this morning and thought about Sandy Hook. Went to coffee with friends and we talked about Sandy Hook. Read the newspaper and page after page was Sandy Hook and I teared up and the pain was real even if it’s not pain I feel for myself.

We are thinking of you, Newtown. We are thinking of you, all the other parents who’ve lost children to senseless violence on an all-too-often basis, even if not by mass-murderer and not to such international attention. We will move on more quickly than you will, those of us who haven’t lost what you lost, those of us who didn’t see what you saw. But you’ll always be in our hearts. We will never forget. We will pray the world cam change.

If You Plan for Chaos, Expect Chaos

We’re back from our trip to Walt Disney World in Florida! I want to start out by saying that overall, we had a great trip, and it’s easy to kind of forget the stressful portions (that I’ll share) and focus on the good and the fun. So don’t assume that because I’m writing about the stresses it means I’m disappointed in our entire vacation. I’m already at a point where I can laugh about the mishaps because, really, what else can you do?

Blog image for use on the blog.

Let’s back up a little to before Thanksgiving. Isla had a fever and sore throat so I took her to the pediatrician, along with all the other kids because what else was I supposed to do, leave them at home? We’re quite a sight at the doctor’s office, I’ll give you that.

Isla is normally my calm little one, but she freaked completely out over the throat swabbing and had to be held down by me and a nurse. Ten minutes later – we found out she had strep throat. Awesome! And during the course of our long appointment, Miles told me he didn’t feel well, suddenly. The doctor looked in everyone’s throats and took everyone’s temperatures and determined that Miles and Jonah were sick, as well. Fevers and icky throats. So she prescribed antibiotics for everyone, but told me to hold off giving anything to Grant unless he developed the same symptoms.

After Isla finished her course, her symptoms came back. Called and got a new prescription for her.

The night before we left for Disney World, Jonah’s fever came back, and he also had a rash around his mouth that would not go away and was starting to look worse. Took him to ER. Doctor said his strep wasn’t gone, either. New prescription for Jonah.

I got two hours of sleep that night.

I won’t bore you with the detailed timeline of our illnesses, but the first full day there my uncle had to spend 6 hours out of the park to take Miles to urgent care. Diagnosis: unresolved strep throat. New prescription. The following day I had to take Jonah to urgent care because he’d developed a rash on his face, arms and legs and I was worried he was allergic to his new antibiotic. Diagnosis: Unresolved strep throat and a strep-related rash. Two new prescriptions for Jonah. The day after that Miles and Grant had sore throats, Grant’s was so bad he cried when he tried to eat though he claimed he felt fine otherwise. I kept telling him I was going to take him back to the hotel room to rest but he’d cry and say no, he was okay. But when we sat down for dinner and he couldn’t even eat dessert I knew that was enough – so off to urgent care visit #3 I went with Miles and Grant. The photo above is from the exam room, waiting to been seen by the doctor.

When I walked in with my two boys, I admit, I cried. The nurses ushered me to a back room and I felt bad because I didn’t want the boys to think my sadness was their fault, but I couldn’t control the tears. After six months of planning and anticipation, I was so sad that my kids felt sick and weren’t able to enjoy the trip 100%. I settled down and we waited. And waited. Finally the doctor appeared and (again, to make a long story short), she tried to blame me for the kids’ antibiotics, scared my kids by listing off all these horrible things they could possibly have and telling them they probably couldn’t go to Magic Kingdom the next day and made them cry and beg to leave.

They tested Grant for mono, of all things, despite knowing all the rest of us had had strep throat and it would make the most logical sense that, he, too, had strep. When the results came back, no mono.

In the end, the doctor said Grant had strep throat so wrote him a prescription for an antibiotic. She also said Miles had unresolved strep so wrote HIM a new prescription and also said he had hand, foot and mouth disease. Miles cried because the doctor had already told him he couldn’t go to the park the next day, but she said since he didn’t have a fever or open blisters he could go, so at least we left with that.

I woke up on our final day at Disney not sure if we’d be able to make it to Magic Kingdom. If any of the kids felt sick I knew I’d be staying in the hotel room with them while my uncle took the well kids out. But, thank you, universe, Miles and Grant felt like new kids and we made the most of our short time there.

Yes, my optimism was tested. I took Miles’ urgent care visit in stride. Jonah’s wasn’t awful because it was the day we went to Hollywood Studios and he’s too short to ride most of those rides, anyway. But when we had to go a third time, I briefly fell apart.

My friends have said that one day I’ll look back and laugh, and already I’m starting to do that. If a kid is going to have a sore throat, better to have it at Disney than at home, right?

I’ll share more about the great experiences we had, but for now I am sharing about the chaos. I said once that I’d expect chaos on our trip, and oh, did I get chaos.

Note: Before anyone jumps in to criticize my taking kids with sore throats out to the parks, the physicians we met with assured me that since they’d been continuously on antibiotics that they were not contagious. We rested as much as possible, I offered to take them back to the hotel room and sleep but that made them more upset than the sore throats, and we let Grant sit in the double stroller almost the whole day he felt less than perfect. Thankful I brought the double, I’d almost decided to take just the single stroller!

In Limbo

I am not a fan of ambiguity. I like decisions and plans and paths and so to have things in some undefined, neither here nor there space makes me unsettled. “I don’t know,” may be my least favorite phrase in the world.

My life is currently undefined. I’m neither divorced nor married, just waiting in a place between the two. I have no static home because I go back and forth between the house where the kids are and the room I rent 30 miles away, closer to my work. I have a job working for myself but the income is not consistent so instead of feeling fully employed I feel half employed. Under employed. Applications and resumes submitted go unanswered.

Beginning next summer, when the school year ends, the kids will have to go between two houses and I’m starting to understand how trying this will be for them. When I leave the house to go to my townhouse for my days away, I have to carry all the things I need for work and all the clothes I think I’ll wear and all the documents I might need to access and chargers and laptops and makeup and shoes and two coats and I feel more like I live in my car than anywhere else. How will this be for the kids, then, when they have to go from Zachary’s home to my home and they forget something at one place but need it at the other? How will we keep track of homework and permission slips? What if they want to play with a friend from one neighborhood when they’re spending the night at the other? Will they wake up wanting to wear a certain shirt and realize it’s at Dad’s house?

Soon my life will take more definition. The divorce will be final and I will have a new, loaded label. I will find a job. I will have my own space where the kids and I can shape a new home. But right now I feel like I’m floating in space and flailing my arms and there’s nothing to ground me so I just bounce around with no ability to control my direction. I need some direction. Direct me.
Written to participate in Just Write.

Brave Review and Giveaway Winner

As I wrote about earlier, I received a copy of Disney•Pixar’s Brave to review and also a copy to give away to one lucky commenter!

I’d let the kids know the movie was coming, so when the kids got off the bus Friday afternoon the first thing Isla asked was, “Are we watching Brave tonight?” Why, yes, we were! She and Miles are curious children and had plenty of questions for me. What was the movie about? Where did it take place? And, most importantly, what were we going to eat while we watched the movie?

“What are people who live in Scotland called?” Isla asked.

“Scots,” I replied.

“What do Scots eat?” she asked again.

“Hmmm,” I answered. “Good question.”

Google to the rescue, I looked up some Scottish recipes. Landed on one with only three ingredients and – even though it involved BAKING – thought I probably could manage three ingredients. Here is the recipe I followed for Scottish shortbread. Hello, four sticks of butter. Mine were not so gorgeous, I may have let the butter soften a bit too long because they spread a little, but when cropped closely they don’t look so bad!

Definitely give it a try – they are flaky and delicious! And if I can make them, anyone can. Seriously.

I also made a recipe called Scotch Collops. Only not really. Because I didn’t even bother to try to find veal, I didn’t have seasoned flour (though I made a half-hearted attempt to make some) and I didn’t use nearly as much butter as called for since the shortbread was already going to give our tickers a workout. So not really the same at all, but don’t tell the kids. Grant asked me to make it again tonight, but without the sauce, which meant he wanted breaded chicken.

On to the movie – hooray, exciting! We’ve been watching a lot of movies over and over (and over) again, so a new film was much appreciated.

First, I will say that the animation is stunning. I could not get over Merida’s hair. I marveled, I oohed, I ahhed. Isla was amazed by a scene in a river. Brave is a seriously beautiful movie.

Second, the kids found some parts exceptionally funny. There is a fight scene near the beginning that had my boys rolling, literally. Merida also has three younger brothers who provide much comic relief.

Third, as we got into the movie, I realized I’d been completely unaware of the movie’s general storyline. I won’t give anything away but will say the shape the story took to show Merida’s bravery was unexpected on my part.

I’m going to stop using numbers now. I think the kids most appreciated the action and laughs, whereas I appreciated the “follow your own desires, not anyone else’s” storyline, as well as the lessons on compromise and understanding. The kids have already requested we watch it again!

The funniest comment from one of the kids during the viewing? “That bear has a big butt!” Jonah exclaimed. He got such a strong reaction from his brothers that now he keeps repeating the phrase.

On to the winner – congratulations to Cheryl, who was the 18th commenter. Her number was selected at random using Cheryl has been contacted, and in the event she cannot be reached, a new winner will be selected.

Brave will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 13!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this film from Walt Disney Studios to review, but all opinions are my own.


More Disney World Planning and a Brave Giveaway

I realize I’ve gone a little Disney crazy at the moment, but I can explain.

Life and work have been hectic – beyond hectic, even – and the kids and I are enjoying every last minute of the anticipation of this trip. We go this month! Our past few months have included a lot of stress and it’s been great to focus on a vacation where the whole goal is to spend time together and have fun. I won’t have to work, the kids won’t have school or sports practice, I will have a very valid excuse to not return calls and emails to clients and we will have six days to devote to nothing but entertainment.

So what have I been doing lately to prepare for this trip in the brief moments between parenting and cleaning and working?

I ordered our new SafetyTats. These are ingenious, and we used them during our last trip to Walt Disney World as well as when we went to the Minnesota State Fair. Miles and Isla know my phone number, but Grant and Jonah do not. And if Miles or Isla were lost and panicked in a sea of strangers at a theme park, would they really be able to bring the phone number up from memory? These temporary tattoos are designed with up to two phone numbers printed directly on them. So each kid will sport one in a strategic place in the (pleasenodonotletthishappen) chance they get separated from me while we’re at Disney.

I also ordered some breakfast foods and snacks for our resort stay. We’re staying at Art of Animation, in a family suite, which includes a mini fridge and microwave. Since we are participating in the dining plan, we won’t have to feed ourselves too much, but quick breakfasts in the room before we take the bus to the parks will be faster and less expensive than grabbing something at a quick service counter and paying out of pocket. I’d read on a message board that some people had luck with ordering from Wal-Mart, but while the prices were good I didn’t find the delivery selections that extensive. So I went back to the service we used two years ago – Garden Grocer. Placed my order, and they will deliver it right to my resort’s front desk. Can’t beat that!

I’ve also started making a packing list, but I got overwhelmed about thirty items in and gave up for a while.

Please note, I don’t work for or receive any compensation from these services, I just get a lot of traffic to my blog about Disney planning and wanted to share some specifics about what I’ve found helpful.

Now, moving on to a part where I WAS compensated.

Win a Copy of the Disney•Pixar Movie Brave!

Another way we’ve been gearing up for our trip is by watching Disney movies. In particular – Cars, Finding Nemo, Wall-E and The Princess and the Frog. One movie we haven’t seen yet is Brave, so I was excited to get an offer in my inbox to give away a copy on my blog. I also received a copy to keep and the kids and I are having movie night tomorrow to watch it! Brave comes out on November 13 on a Blu-ray combo pack, digital and on-demand. I will be sharing a review and my kids’ thoughts about the movie on Saturday.

From the press release: “An original and thrilling journey set in the ancient and magical Highlands or Scotland, “Brave” follows the heroic journey of the headstrong, young adventurer Merida. Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida confronts tradition and defies an age-old custom that inadvertently unleashes chaos, and forces her to discover the true meaning of bravery.”

If you’d like to win a copy of Brave, leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite Disney movie. One commenter will be selected at random to receive a BRAVE Ultimate Collector’s Edition 5-Disc Set! Leave your comment by 10pm on November 9 to be entered, thanks! I will need the winner’s address by November 10, so if the first winner cannot be reached for confirmation in time, a new winner will be chosen.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this film from Walt Disney Studios to review, but all opinions are my own. Artwork used with permission.

The Best Online Shopping Tip I’ve Got

As a busy, working mom to four kids, online shopping is a lifesaver. I used to think, “But I have to pay shipping if I buy online!” Well, I quickly realized that taking everyone to the mall or store with me ended up costing far more than that original shipping charge. Okay, maybe not so quickly, but now I’ve seen the light, and that’s all that matters.


Shipping charge for kids’ clothes  – $6.95

Shopping trip for same kids’ clothes at the mall – $6.03 in gas for the round trip drive, $5.67 for cookies the kids begged for when we passed the food court and $23.47 in cute clothes for the kids I wasn’t originally planning to buy.

Clearly, paying a little for shipping wins.

But I still like to hunt for bargains and get my final total down as low as possible. Using sites that offer free shipping is good, but I’ve found you sometimes have to compare the online prices on those sites to in-store, as occasionally the online retailers offering free shipping build the shipping costs into the online prices.

Today I had to buy new checks of all things. Nothing glamorous or exciting, and I certainly didn’t want to spend a ton of money on them when I write about two checks a month. One box is going to last me until Isla is in college.

Enter my favorite online shopping weapon – Have you been there? Great, then you know what a money saver it can be. Never heard of it? Go check it out, now! (Note: I am not an employee of, nor do I play one on TV, I just wanted to share the information).

Before you hit “Submit Order” on any online purchase, first head to RetailMeNot and type in the site’s URL. Today I was able to get 50% off my checks plus free shipping, saving me a good amount and making me feel less wasteful buying the rarely-to-be-used checks in the first place. Here you see I was daydreaming about buying some Boden clothes, but sadly I didn’t actually order any.

Have you scored big with RetailMeNot before? What other online shopping tips do you love?

Halloween Hits and Misses

Halloween has come and gone, and the kids enjoyed every last minute. Zachary and I are separated but we agreed we would both continue to trick or treat with the kids each year. I saw the kids off to school in the morning, their backpacks stuffed with their costumes, then I headed to work and back to the house at night for pizza and begging the neighbors for candy.

Late October weather in MN can be unpredictable, to say the least. It may be below freezing and everyone has to cover up their costumes with heavy winter gear, or it can be sixty degrees and no one wears so much as a sweatshirt. Sometimes it can even be snowing. Friends and I trick or treated in the snow during that freakish Halloween blizzard in 1991. We got tons of candy, since, you know, most sane people stayed indoors.

But last night was relatively mild. Isla and I wore winter coats, but the boys were happy and comfortable just in their costumes. We went from door to door, the kids saying the appropriate things at the appropriate times. We had to keep Jonah from approaching homes where no lights were on because he was so excited to hit every home. Once home we sorted through the candy and pulled out all the pieces with nuts or peanut butter from Jonah’s stash, and the kids sorted and counted their candy just like me and my siblings used to do.

So trick or treating was a big success, and I’m glad I didn’t have to miss out on the festivities.

Also, I’m slightly proud of my contributions to their costumes. For most of Halloweens past, I’ve gone the easy route – I shopped online for costumes and had them delivered to the house. This year, Isla wanted to make her own costume. She crafted a mask for her cat costume completely on her own. I was so proud! She needed help making the tail, however, so I went to the local hardware store to buy some wire and black tape, and fashioned a tail out of large piping I had leftover from a sewing project I completed somewhere around 2004 and one of the boy’s belts. It worked, hooray!

Miles has Halloween anxiety in that all of the costumes he can come up with are so appealing, he has a hard time making up his mind. He thinks he’ll settle on one, then a better idea will come and he won’t be able to use it. Hmmm, sounds a little bit like his mom, in that regard. The day of my sister’s Halloween party he landed on Davy Crockett. With no time to head to a fabric store or a mall, I crossed my fingers that Target would have what I needed. One brown shirt and one tan fleece blanket later, I was all set to make the fringe for Davy Crockett’s get-up. Only thing I was short on was time.

I sat down on the kitchen floor and made Isla’s tail, helped guide Grant toward the Iron Man mask he thought was missing (he and Jonah wore purchased costumes, though the Iron Man one was from our dress-up drawers). Then quickly cut three strips from the fleece blanket and safety pinned them to the shirt (being thrifty, I wanted to make sure Miles could wear the shirt as a real shirt later on). We only had time for one strip of fringe on the front before we had to leave, and I told Miles next year it’s his duty to settle on a costume by Oct. 1.

I’d made a trip to the thrift store in search of a costume earlier in the week and settled on M ichelle D uggar. I put spaces in the name on purpose because now I’m feeling a little mean spirited about the whole thing. I don’t really have anything against the Duggars, but, well, it was something that just came to me so I went with it. I did have a woman at my sister’s party tell me I had the best costume of the night.

Now let’s move on to the misses, shall we?

I had leftover candy melts from the Mickey Mouse treats, as well as left over Oreos, so I had the brilliant idea to add yellow food coloring to the molten candy melts and make orange pumpkins. Well, I probably should have known this, but adding food coloring to melted candy melts results in this kind of clumpy mess. And it didn’t even turn orange.

Next I thought maybe I’d just ice them. Why I didn’t just give up, I’m not sure. So I pulled out an icing recipe and made it and tinted it… and it would not turn orange. It was sort of a peachy color. Which would have been perfect had I been icing cookie peaches. Also, it was a royal icing recipe. Which did not coat the Oreos well and frankly didn’t taste all that good on them, anyway.

In desperation, I thought perhaps I’d just use white almond bark to dip the remaining Oreos and make ghosts. This did not work, either, nor did my food coloring markers. So I gave up on my award-winning treat ideas, admitted defeat, and went to the grocery store where I purchased crackers and cheese to bring to the Halloween party.

My next miss was the pumpkin carving. Isla was sick for three days leading up to Halloween, so the carving kept getting pushed back. Tuesday night we hauled the gargantuan things in from the porch and began scraping out the innards. This took almost all of our time, because the kids were squeamish and not experienced enough in pumpkin-gut-scraping. They’re young, after all. Once I’d helped them clean the pumpkins we set about tracing designs onto the pumpkins. Grant’s was done first, and I set about carving with my little kit. And promptly snapped four of the blades in rapid succession trying to make it through the thick pumpkin skins. It’s a miracle I didn’t lose a finger.

I told the kids next year we are getting smaller pumpkins or else investing in some heavy duty knives and safety gear.

How was your Halloween?

Countdown to Disney – Anticipation! Excitement!

After about three thousand changes to our Walt Disney World reservations (including adding a day, dropping Zachary and Jonah from one day, rebooking under free dining, adjusting Advance Dining Reservations, then removing two days, removing Zachary and adding my uncle) I think we are all set in the reservations department and our countdown to Disney has taken a more exciting tone. When we first made the reservations, we were still over six months away from our trip. Making our dining reservations adding a little excitement, but since then it’s more like, “I can’t wait for Disney! It’ll be awesome,” from the kids about once every day or so.

We head to Florida next month and I can’t wait. Our last trip was so fun, I’m looking forward to doing it all over again with the kids, who are all two years older and hopefully willing to try some new experiences.

How can you make the wait for Disney more fun-filled, especially when reservations are made so far ahead of the departure date? Here are some ways we’re keeping the Mouse in our minds.

1. Watch videos on YouTube. You can type “Disney World rides” into the search box and find tons of options. The ones my kids like the best are the POV ones that take a viewer through the ride from start to finish. I’m hoping this will lessen their jitters a bit when we head to a new ride that they were not ready to ride in 2010. Not only to know what to expect, but I think it also helps them to see other kids their age (or younger) having a lot of fun on these rides. Other kids’ opinions are worth more than their mom’s!

2. Make a countdown chain. To young kids, telling them they have 54 more days until Disney is about the same as saying there’s 365 days until next Christmas. It’s a long, long time and they have no concept of exactly how long it is. At the beginning of each new month, Grant has proclaimed, “We go to Disney World this month!” and I’ve had to say, “Sorry, buddy, not quite yet.” So we used some scrapbook paper I picked up two years ago, cut it into strips, and made a countdown chain we hung in the living room. As the chain gets shorter and shorter, the kids get more and more excited.

3. Make Disney treats. This one popped up in my “everything” Pinterest feed, but, alas, I failed to pin it. I dipped regular sized Oreos in red candy melts (I needed to use a toothpick to make the line straighter; I like straight lines) and broke toothpicks in half to attach the mini Oreos (take them out before giving them to small kids, folks). Melted almond bark for the dots. This was a super easy project for an inept baker such as myself, and the kids were impressed. Success!

4. Start talking about the specifics. We got our luggage tags in the mail from Disney the other day. You know you’re getting close when those arrive! I’ve been talking to the kids about the airport, plane ride and the bus trip from the Orlando airport to the resort. I’ve been reminding them of the long lines and miles and miles of walking. I think setting up realistic expectations really helped us on our first trip two years ago (for both the kids and the parents). I don’t want them to demand 100% fun 100% of the time – let’s face it, feet get tired and standing in lines can get tedious – that way, when things (hopefully) go better than anticipated, we can all rejoice.

5. If this is not your first trip, pull out the memories. I am ashamed to admit I hadn’t yet done anything with our Disney 2010 photos. In fact, I had never even glanced at the images from our PhotoPasses. Awful, I know. So one day I got an email announcing a 50% off photo book sale at a photo printing company and set about making a little photo book for the kids. Hasn’t arrived yet, but I can’t wait to see it! Also, I put all the photos into a slideshow set to music that we could play on the DVD player. The kids had a blast reliving the memories and talking about what we’re going to do again when we go next month.

Did I mention I can’t wait? Yeah, I think I’m more antsy than the kids!

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