Monday, November 30, 2009

Heat Addiction

Is it possible to be addicted to heat? I'm serious. I just broke out "our warmie" (the Presto Heat Dish from Costco) for the first time this winter, and I cannot get enough. I don't want to even get up to go to the bathroom, b/c I'll have to leave my heat & get cold. I'm like this year-round: I turn on my mom's heated seats in her car the second I get in & sit down - even in July. When my van is overheated, I sit in it for several minutes before turning on any air. I dream of saunas & hot tubs, and my favorite pastime is basking in the sun. I cannot stand for fans or air to blow on me where I can feel it. I always want a blanket or cover up. From around October through April, I usually don't take off my coat to sit down & eat in restaurants. I think I officially have heat addiction...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Give

We didn't plan on this tonight. We had been trying to make the kids clean up the playroom for almost 2 hours. At the last second when I came in to inspect their work, I saw that they had just piled everything in two corners of the room...and I had enough. Not in a fit kind of way, but in a sudden "no, we're going to do this right" kind of way.

We had tried to go through all of our toys to donate a bunch several times, but each time we sat down, the kids (and I admit, I) would keep finding reasons to hang on to 99.9%. Out of nowhere on the spur of the moment tonight, my kids were honest & realistic, and they chose to pack up an astonishing amount to give away! I am so proud, I can hardly stand it. Proud that it was their decision, and proud that, in a few sentimental cases, they were strong enough to give away several baby toys that I would have found a reason to hang onto possibly forever.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Gratitude & Bows

I heard two gems today:

If you aren't thankful, you've lost perspective, and silent gratitude helps little. How true is that?! We really can't speak up to actively say "thank you" enough.

I've turned a crafty focus toward Christmas this long holiday weekend, and not only have I made a few crystal shirts, but I also learned a new style of hair bow and revamped my LaLa's Girls website to include the hair bows.

My fave new Loopy Bows:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday Success

I said before that I don't Black Friday shop, but last night I started to feel a little paranoid, a little out of the loop, like my super-thrify-self was potentially missing something I might need. Everyone was posting on FB that they were getting up (or staying up) to shop at midnight, 2 AM, etc. I had to ask: WHAT are you people buying and FOR WHOM???

The happy part? I don't need/want to buy a single thing they listed. I know the day will come when Will & Sis will beg for the big tickets, too, but for now? It was a nice realization. I usually always have a long wish list at Christmas, not only for myself, but also for the kids. This is the first year in I-don't-know-how-long where I am having a hard time making multiple lists for me & the kids, (b/c you know I will only put stuff on there I really want & would go buy myself if we don't get it.)

We are so immeasureably blessed, and I am so thankful that I didn't need anything that could only be had at 3 AM. :-P

Don't get me wrong - I don't mean any of this in a holier-than-thou, judgemental way!!! I would totally get up to shop in the middle of the night, esp. if I had someone fun to go with and super esp. if I needed any of the stuff on sale!!! I actually think it would be fun! But I'm just saying I'm lucky & thankful to not need any of that this year.

There was but one Black Friday sale item that caught my attention. Can't say what it is here, but it's usually well over $100, and I saw it for $59 and $69 two different places. I wasn't going to go out of my way, but if it happened, then cool.

JB had to work today (so sad! so wrong!) but he set the kids up with another movie, and I slept in, again! After sleeping in, I took my time getting the kids & myself dressed. About noon, we drove out to location #1. They were sold out, but we got birthday gifts for a party next week - surprise productivity! The kids were hungry and they agreed to bubble tea, so that's were we happily headed. In the car, Will said, totally out of nowhere: "If Santa doesn't bring any presents, it's OK, b/c we can just play with the toys we already have."

My heart leapt!

On the way, I realized deal location #2 of said item was right in our path. We popped out for literally a minute and a half - they had it, I bought it, and we went on to lunch. Easy as pie.

Now b/t Will's comment & our on-the-way quick stop, THAT is my definition of Black Friday success!

At lunch, Will (under the obvious influence of Despereaux twice this week) announced: "I am a gentleman," (as he shoved pad Thai into his mouth with his hands.) Haha!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Day Tupperware

The bright spot of having Thanksgiving at home with no extended family or extra friends? No fooling with fancy plates & serving dishes! I feel bad admitting that, as a good Southern girl who usually loves an excuse to bring out "the good stuff", but today? I served everything in the same tupperware bowls that I put directly in the fridge after the meal. Easiest clean-up EVER!

Also, the kids loved EVERYTHING we had! It was awesome!!! Turkey; mashed potatoes; roasted sweet potato & cranberry salad; wild rice, pea, corn, chick pea, & grape tomato salad; cranberry sauce; and rolls. Score!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Best Gift Ever & Digiscrapping

Yay for catching up on photos! I digiscrapped these two November pages while JB & I watched "With Honors" on Encore last night. (That was one of my FAVE movies when it came out! Whoa, memory lane...) More on-the-ball photo props for myself: I got the annual photo calendar we've been giving my Grandmommy for Christmas designed & ordered. The first year we gave her one, it was kind of an afterthought beside her big gift: a digital picture frame. Grandmommy is in her late 90's, and she just doesn't get the digital picture frame at all, but the calendar?!?! It's her favorite thing in the world. :-)

My November pages:

Brookfield Zoo November 7th and a regular trip to Joy Yee Noodles for Pad Thai & a *giant* mango smoothie with bubbles! Mmmm...


The Healing Field of Honor in Naperville on Veterans' Day among the 2009 flags that were placed on a hill downtown - breath-taking!!!


I thought I was going to have a kind of down day today, with everyone posting & talking about either traveling home or prepping tons of food for family get-togethers tomorrow; but JB gave me the best gift I've gotten in ages. The kids didn't have school today, so he set them up with a movie before he left for work, so they'd be quietly occupied and let me sleep in. I slept until after 9!!! It. Was. Amazing. I haven't slept until after 9 in YEARS. Literally years. Because even on weekends & vacays, they still wake me up when they get up, and I never get back to sleep. The only way I could ever sleep in is if someone caught them & herded them *quietly* (b/c I hear them playing downstairs, too) away from me before they come in our room - and he did it!!! Best gift EVER, and I am so thankful!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Joyce: "What Are You Full Of?"

I am a HUGE Joyce Meyer fan. She has changed my life in the last almost-9 years I've watched her show. She is so genuine, honest, and totally not holier-than-thou. She talks a lot about learning to enjoy everyday life, choosing to be positive, getting over yourself, and loving others. Her message today was fantastic. I kept replaying it over & over on TiVo while I did other things, just wanting more & more of it to sink in.

Check it out here, if you're interested: 11/24/2009 What Are You Full Of? "When a water balloon pops, what comes out? It’s true that whatever you fill yourself with will eventually come out, especially when you’re about to pop. So what are you full of?"

One of her big prayer points that I wanted to remember:
We shouldn't be praying for God to deliver us from our problems. Pray to fall more deeply in love with God, so much so that whatever mess we're going through doesn't bother us. And thank God that we KNOW He'll move the mess out of the way as soon as He's done using it to shape us. When we get to the point where we aren't focused on getting our blessings and we're just happy in Him, we will be able to receive more blessings than we could have imagined, b/c God will be the focus - not just us getting what we want.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What Lights Your Fire?

I'm trying to make a Christmas list for myself to give to JB & my mom. (I put 5 things I really want on the list I already gave to JB's mom, but I don't need doubles, and there's no way that doesn't sound rude to ask, "Will you tell my mom to buy me everything on my list that you won't?" :-P) One of my BFFs laughs that I am the anti-shopper; I truly can come up with reasons NOT to buy almost anything. I'm the girl who walks around a store holding something for ages...and sets it down right before I leave. On the flipside, I get SUPER excited for all of the purchases I deem worthy enough to truly make. I want to show the world! :-D

[I don't Black Friday shop, either. I love the idea of big ticket item sales, but we don't really need any of that stuff, so why buy? I do love the spirit, though! My mom & I always used to go to the mall that day, not to purposely buy stuff, but just to feel the excitement & spirit. :-) ]

So this is taking some thought, b/c I only want to ask for things I *really* want & would buy myself. #1 on my list? A Redskins jersey. #2 - a blown glass Redskins Christmas ornament.

I am so serious. (And all of you who really know me aren't the least bit shocked,) but how many women out there have a football jersey as their #1 wish? [I'm even more excited that I found a super cheap one that's perfect on eBay; I'm showing JB as soon as he gets home! ;-) ]

The Redskins are one of my greatest passions. For as long as I can remember, they've been a part of my life. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of football Sundays in a dog-pile on the couch after church. My mom & dad would go through the Sunday paper, and my brother & I would play/color/etc. - but it was all while the Skins played in front of us. "Hail to the Redskins" was one of the first songs I learned, (and one of the first I taught my own kids!) Supporting the team stands for family togetherness to me. I get really worked up whether they win or lose; I think JB might root for them now, just so he doesn't have to deal with my reaction when they do lose.

So in thinking about how much the Redskins mean to me, I have to wonder, what lights YOUR fires??? What stirs you up, fills you with passion...and makes you want to buy *ANYTHING* that's remotely related?

Jesus is my number one, but I think it's easy to get fired up & hyper-emotional over His grace & blessings!!! I'm wondering what the less obvious, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th place passions are in your lives. Fill me in! (And I may even jump on your bandwagons!)

PS - I also get super fired up over music, so click here and get THREE FREE Amazon MP3 downloads!!! :-) Love y'all!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

O Tannenbaum

Our Christmas tree is up, and it makes me SO HAPPY! Every year we put it up the weekend before Thanksgiving, and even though we're not going anywhere this Thanksgiving, I still want two full months of enjoyment out of my décor, esp. after all the effort to put it up! :-P I was also chomping at the bit, b/c last year, we didn't put up any décor since we were moving over Christmas; it was soooooo sad! (Not the move, but to have an un-decorated Thanksgiving to mid-Dec.) I'm so happy to have ours up, again!!!!!

What is it about the lights & glitter that make the Christmas tree so magical? It brings a completely different feeling to the whole room. I'm extra excited, b/c we have the tree in our family room for the first time, (instead of on display in the living room by front windows, like in our last two homes.) The kids are old enough to be trusted not to tear it apart, (we used to baby gate it, when they were mobile infants :-P) and we will enjoy it even more in here with us where we "live."

What do your Christmas trees look like? I have always admired the chic theme-color trees that look like they came out of Vogue Living or Elle Decor; but they just do not say as much as I want mine to. (I'm sure you are shocked that even my Christmas tree has a LOT to say! :-P) Our tree is a rainbow reflection of our family. It always has colored lights, (I grew up with white lights outside, but colored lights on our tree - it always felt so fun & festive, not frosty & formal.) 90% of our ornaments are hand blown glass ornaments - they are my favorites: classic, beautiful, colorful. The rest are either special hand-me-downs, picture frames, mementos, or ones the kids have made. It's amazing how many ornaments we have slowly added over the last 7 years.

I want every single ornament on our tree to have a story or special meaning to us. I would never go out & buy a box of random balls to hang on it - that's just not me. Hobby Lobby actually has the BEST - most unique & interesting - selection of hand blown glass ornaments, and they very often have them 50% off, (which rocks, b/c blown glass is notoriously expensive!) I usually buy a few new ones every year. This year, I got a brick house with a pig in the window & a wolf hanging from the bottom to represent Will's performance in the "Three Piggy Opera" at Montessori; an alligator to represent Will's T-ball & soccer teams, which were both named the Gators, & b/c the kids were so obsessed with the gator at our new zoo, which we joined; a gorgeous scene from The Nutcracker, b/c Will & Annelise have both gotten into that story; and a pumpkin carriage (a la Cinderella, but not Disney brand) for Annelise, b/c she is our pumpkin princess! If it's on my tree, it MUST have meaning or reflect us in some way. The Christmas after we last went to Italy before we had kids, Hobby Lobby had an international monument series that had Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, and the leaning Tower of Pisa. I was bowled over, again, pulling them back out tonight at how gorgeous & detailed they are, and then I got all excited just for Italy all over, again!

Our Christmas tree is pretty much a giant, colorful scrapbook of our family - and that realization absolutely thrills me. :-)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Smart Christmas Shopping & BFF Prayer

What's on my mind today doesn't play into the blogosphere, b/c it's a personal matter with a BFF...but it's been on my mind nonstop ever since I was on the phone with her while shopping at Trader Joe's today. (I get no reception at home, so my rare phone calls happen out & about.) I hardly even remember what I bought... I went up & down the same aisles 10 times. (Thank goodness it was super crowded with Thanksgiving-prepping shoppers who didn't notice. :-P) I have an unspoken prayer request for my BFF: praying for clarity, support, & God's will for her.

And on a constructive note, my friend Phyllis pointed me to this awesome story on smart Christmas shopping without buying too much useless crap. I have to say, I'm proud that we do all of these except #4. I do love the idea of #4, but it wouldn't fly with our extended family. :-)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Out of It

I've been feeling kind of quiet. Not down, but just...quiet. Rare for me. :-P

I'm not on the Oprah or Twilight bandwagons, either, so I'm not wrapped up in the emotional departure announcement or the fun hype of midnight showings. Eh. I've watched 5 Oprah episodes in the last 10 years, and I would *MUCH* rather see "The Blind Side" at the movies. (Cannot WAIT for it!)

I've just been quiet this week, watching my "WWII in HD" mini-series while the kids are at school; I think God gave me this neck injury, b/c I would have never just sat down and enjoyed watching it all guilt-free, otherwise. :-P I have to say, I am almost back to good on that front, as well. :-) Woohoo!

I think I also feel a little out of it, b/c everyone is swirling around with their Thanksgiving preparations, whether it's menu planning or packing to travel...and this is the first year in I-don't-know-how-long where we have no big plans. Usually we host one or both sets of grandparents, as well as some friends - the last two years we've also had our British friends over. But no one this year, and we're not going anywhere, either. Kind of a bummer right now. I'm sure it will be rather nice & relaxing next week to have the luxury of time & being able to do whatever we want without juggling anyone else's ideas...but it does kind of stink right now, while everyone else is getting ready for big things. I love the planning and build up to holidays & events!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Do You Eat?

It's been said that most people eat the same things over & over. My initial reaction to that is, "But I'm a foodie! And I love trying new things!" ...But yeah - I still find myself eating the same things over & over. I get on kicks of wanting this or that all the time, until I get sick of it. We live in a vibrant area with hundreds & hundreds of restaurants...but we still usually end up at one of the same 5. I have 5,000 cookbooks, I get Southern Living every month, we watch The Food Network constantly, and I still usually make the same few recipes at home.

We are in a bit of a different situation from most families, as JB is almost never home for dinner with us during the week, so I never make "real meals." Why should I? When the kids are begging for oatmeal or pasta & veggies for dinner, (which they do very often,) why am I going to make more work for myself by putting together a main dish with sides for me to eat alone? (Esp. when JB does NOT do leftovers. EVER.) This obviously isn't an ideal situation that I would ever choose, but I do think it also plays into the "constantly eating the same stuff" scenario.

Eating the same stuff isn't a "bad" thing; I think it's just human nature, gravitating toward the comfort of familiarity on a regular basis. If I want something different, trust me - I get it! But in general, I see how the idea rings true. Most people have their basics, their standards.

So, what do I eat all the time?

My two most frequent dinners:
* Trader Joe's Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina
* Pasta & veggies (usually frozen peas, carrots, broccoli, asparagus, and/or corn; fresh grape tomatoes & fresh mozzarella, if I have them; spray butter, if the pasta is hot, or balsamic dressing, if it's cold)

My top two snacks:
* Trader Joe's White Cheddar Unburied Treasure (corn puffs, like Pirate's Booty - our TJ's is out, and I'm going CRAZY!!!!!!!!)
* Trader Joe's Honey Plantain Strips

Top two main dishes I make:
* Asian meatloaf
* Slow cooker pulled pork

Top two breakfasts:
* I just drink a Kirkland-brand chocolate slimfast every morning, b/c I hate eating breakfast unless I'm being fed at MOPS or we're going out to a special breakfast restaurant, like...
* Pancake Café - we go every Saturday morning. We've been going out to Saturday morning breakfast since both kids were in infant carriers. At our current spot, I get this amazing baked cinnamon/fruit pancake thing - heavenly!

The other thing I always eat? Restaurant leftovers. We looooove eating out, and it's a rare entrée that I don't bring a meal or two's worth of home afterwards.

So what do Y'ALL always eat???

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vitus

I watched a charming movie today: "Vitus"  I got it, b/c it's in German (although I didn't think about it being Swiss, so the dialect made me rely almost completely on the subtitles) and I wondered when I could watch it, (what, with "WWII in HD" and my regular shows this week, I am swamped! :-P Good thing I have this neck excuse to sit around! ;-)) I was surprised to see that it was rated PG, (as anyone fond of European films can attest, it's a rare one that can meet American PG standards!) and the theme - a boy who plays piano - sounded harmless enough; so I thought I'd give it a try this afternoon after errands while the kids played. Will was fascinated by the whole thing. I wondered if he'd ask me to explain every line or scene, but he gleaned what he wanted to, and I got to enjoy my film! It was wonderful - very smart, and feel-good without being über-sappy.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, our next Netflix is "Brüno". No, I'm not all about the raunchy explicit stuff, but Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius, and for whatever reason, I can look past the graphic grossness to see the hilarity he brings out in the reactions he gets and especially the way he can draw out people's true colors.

BTW: yes, neck-gate continues. I *did* actually sleep last night, but the deal is, it hurts SO BAD when I wake up. By the afternoon, it loosens up enough for me to turn my head & all that jazz with just minor ache/strain. We're convinced it's a pulled muscle that just has to heal. :-( (Random memory: I did this same thing exactly 9 years go; I was working at a law firm, and I remember I had to have JB wash my hair, so I could look presentable. Awww! :-P) Regardless, I booked the first open massage appointment that I could do kid-free with my friend's massage therapist; it's still 2 weeks away on Dec. 2nd.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Digiscrap Tutorial

I digiscrapped the kids' school pictures:


This is a very plain page for me, but I just couldn't find any embellishments that didn't take away from the pics. I don't know why, but for whatever reason, I consider professional pics more important than my snapshots, and I always give them cleaner space. I still need to digiscrap a few random November pics & the Healing Field flags, too.

Every time I post one of these pages on FB, a different someone asks me how I do it; so here's my spiel:

Seriously - it really *IS* so easy!!! All you need is the internet & a photo editing program. I just sit on the couch & do it all on the laptop while I watch the TV I would be watching, anyway!

I design all the pages myself using Photoshop Elements and free digital background papers & embellishments off the internet; I upload them to Shutterfly, and Shutterfly will print them in a big bound 12x12 book, whenever I'm ready.

To design the pages, I open up a 12x12 digital background paper file in Photoshop Elements and just drag my photo & embellishment files on there where I want them. I type my text boxes, save the whole thing as a single .jpg, and upload it to Shutterfly. When I get to 101 pages (the max book size at Shutterfly, since this is a comprehensive family scrapbook - not just one year or one event) I'll have it printed and sent here!

This is soooo much cheaper than traditional paper scrapbooking. All my pics are digital, anyway, so I don't waste time & money printing them out for me to cut down. AND all the backgrounds, embellishments, etc. are all *FREE* on free digital scrapping sites! I have over 900 12x12 digital background papers I got all as free downloads - how much would 900 sheets of 12x12 designs be at a store, even on sale??? I am the biggest digital scrapping convert EVER! :-)

Just google "free digital scrapbooking" for tons of materials. Here are the sites I've used most, so far. A lot want you to "join their sites", but it's still free, and I haven't gotten ANY spam from any of them - just newsletters when there's new stuff. They all also have bigger kits that they sell, but I only download the free stuff:
http://shabbyprincess.com/index.php/category/downloads/
http://www.freedigitalscrapbooking.com/
http://www.designerdigitals.com/digital-scrapbooking/ideas/showgallery.php?cat=531

For printing, I use Shutterfly over Snapfish - Snapfish has big deals more often, but I've found Shutterfly has a much better print quality, and I like big 12x12 books, so it actually matters. Here's the site for their print-your-digital-scrapbooks (not photo template books); click on the size books you're interested in for pricing: http://www.shutterfly.com/digitalscrapbook/scrapbook-overview.jsp

The other nice thing about digital scrapping over traditional paper scrapbooks is that you can show your pages easily to everyone! The only people who will ever see Will & Annelise's baby scrapbooks and our first family book on paper are the people who come over and sit in our house long enough to look through them. But these digital page files, I can share with everyone, so more people can see what we've been up to and enjoy the designs. After I finish a page, I upload it to Shutterfly, post a link here & on FB for people to see, and people can see them through our regular castleblake link, too. They just get a lot more viewing than any of my paper books ever will, and that makes it feel even more worth while, you know?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thoughts...in Pain

I am still in pain. Whatever this pinched nerve in my neck business is, it SUCKS. I am praying for sleep tonight. Laying down hurts the most and turning is a nightmare. I'm still holding out hope, though, that it will fade on its own in the next few days...

I've used Icy-Hot now for the first time in my life, and it is divine.

I am so thankful for my fabulous husband, who is helping me out SO MUCH! He fed the kids this morning, so I could get up & ready slower, and he did the dinner dishes, too! I'm so glad he's not out-of-town this week!!!

We just watched Bride Wars on HBO. It made me miss Wendy even more than I already do!

The kids' favorite song right now? The Vince Guaraldi Trio's "Linus And Lucy" - you know, the Snoopy song. It's on one of my Christmas CDs (that I put in the van to tide me over until my old school one I ordered arrives later this week) and they go NUTS for it! We had to listen to it on repeat while they danced SEVEN times today. Good thing it makes me happy, too. :-)

This was the prayer at the bottom of my MOPS Mom-E-Mail today, and I LOOOOVE it:
"Dear God, help me teach my child that peace and contentment are not just found in the quiet moments of the day." How awesome is that? We can feel peace and contentment in the middle of the crazies, too.

I am ridiculously excited for the mini-series "WWII in HD" this week on the History Channel. I am a WWII history fanatic. Completely obsessed. I just have to figure out when to watch it now, since it's not exactly preschool-friendly viewing, and there are 2 new hours of it on our DVR each day.

I am in a shockingly good mood, considering how much my neck hurts. I think it's my awesome husband... :-)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Any Given Sunday

For my non-psycho-football-fan friends, this phrase in football means that on any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team; a weaker team still has a chance against a stronger opponent. Most of the time, it's just rhetoric to make perennial losers feel better...but today, it actually rang true! My 2-6 Redskins beat the 6-2 Broncos, and it feels FANTASTIC!!! For better or (more often) for worse, my mood hangs fairly heavily on the Skins during football season. It's been a rough last month, but today - today my team showed up, & I am on cloud 9! My kids were decked out in their game day gear, (yes - even though we were such severe underdogs & watching the game out in public ;-)) and we watched the whole thing at BWWs. Sis cheered so hard, she fell asleep on her chair:




We are hard core. :-)

And the bad news? The biggest football fan in the world has a football injury, and I didn't even get to play. This is so stupid, but last night, I sneezed really hard out of nowhere and snapped my head back, giving myself a stinger! I feel like I have whiplash from a car accident. I can barely turn my head, and IT HURTS. This really sucks. But it would be WAAAAAAY worse, if my Skins had lost...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Southern Ladies & Service Saturday

I began this morning doing my 3 Junior League volunteer requirement hours outside of my main project. I'm on the Cinderella's Closet committee, so I chose to do my 3 extra community hours with Story Wizards, doing storytelling & crafts at Barnes & Noble downtown to pump up our book drive, where B&N gave us a percentage of their sales today back in books that we will give to area Head Starts and Title 1 schools. This is my 6th year in Junior League, but only my 4th active year, b/c of the break I took in MI. I wasn't sure if I wanted to reactivate when we moved here, just b/c I already felt connected so quickly through church & dance and really didn't feel like I needed another venue in which to meet more people; but every time I go to a JL meeting or event, I am so glad I officially transferred!

Do all groups of people naturally flock to their own kind, or just Southern social butterflies? This morning at B&N, I met two other ladies in the League from Atlanta, one from Jackson, Mississippi, two from Houston, and one from Kershaw, SC! We are all here b/c our husbands have been transferred, and by the time our 3-hour shifts were up, our accents were as thick as if we had just spent 3 weeks at home with our mamas! I kept asking, "How many more of us are there?!" But apparently we're really it; we just all happened to end up working the same event. I was excited that they were just as happy to meet me as I was them! None of them are on my Cinderella's Closet committee, but I hope I see them at the December holiday GMM.

This afternoon, I put together all of the rest of my MOPS group's Operation Christmas Child boxes. It actually was harder to divide up all of the items evenly (so each child got each item, instead of 1 getting 7 toothbrushes, another getting 4 slinkys, etc.) than I thought! But it really did work out better for me to just do it. I was going to tell anyone in MOPS who wanted to help to come over later this week, but when I took the items out of my trunk today, I thought why not just save everyone the extra bother? Even when my family tried to help, it was just the "too many cooks" scenario, so I'm glad I went ahead. We ended up with 10 boxes, 8 of which are HUGE! They are technically still standard shoebox size, but because the boxes the post office donated open on short side instead of having a lid, you can stuff literally TWICE the number of items in there, b/c the lid won't pop off! I am so excited for the kids who get those boxes! :-) And I am so proud of our MOPS group - we (more than) doubled what we initially intended.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Holiday-Joyful

Y'all, I have been slapped with the Christmas spirit! I used to be of the no-Christmas-before-Thanksgiving mindset, but somehow now that we have children, I can't help but get swept up earlier & earlier every year. (I think ordering my childhood Christmas music on Amazon yesterday opened the floodgate.)

This morning, we had asked my MOPS group to bring in items to fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. We were thinking we'd do 6 boxes, 2 at each of our 3 tables. I was completely bowled over by the amount of stuff our moms brought!!! We didn't have enough boxes, so I brought home the toys & hygiene items to fill the rest, (we got a big free donation of shoe boxes from the post office that didn't arrive until after our meeting late today,) and based on my rough estimate of what all's in my trunk right now, we may end up with as many as 16-20 boxes!!! I am floored! And excited! And so proud of our group!

Also at our MOPS meeting this morning, we had a wonderful lady, who is exactly in our shoes with two young children, come and talk about celebrating life everyday in our homes. She made some excellent points: "holidays remind us of how we're supposed to act all year long" - how cool is that? We need to find the joy & special parts of every single day of our lives and appreciate the amazing lives & gifts we've been given. She also challenged us to consider, "Who am I between celebrations?" If you have a mercurial personality every other day of the year, your kids are going to be confused as to why you act differently just b/c it's a holiday. We should endeavor to be holiday-joyful everyday. *NOT* that that's a piece of cake. It's HARD. It takes serious calculation-focus-deliberate purpose to turn off the feelings of apathy & depression that come over all of us some days - especially when your kids are driving you absolutely insane!!! - but she proposed a compelling dare: "think about disciplining yourself before your kids." (Ouch! Convicted, Mrs. Jekyll-and-Hyde over here...)

I am so thankful for my MOPS group. They feed me in every way - physically (mmmmm, hot breakfast smörgåsbord!), emotionally, & spiritually! The key is that it's not a playdate, where our kids interrupt every time we start to really converse; it's all about nurturing & giving moms a couple hours to relax and commiserate uninterrupted.

After MOPS, we hightailed it over to Annelise's tap class and then wandered around downtown a bit. A few of y'all have asked for more info about the cute head wrap thing I said I found Wednesday. Here's a website that has them exactly! But they're only $12 at the awesome children's store here. (Another boutique downtown is also selling them for $25 - crazy!) But I got a dark grey one that's edged in black, and I got Annelise a winter white one. She can still wear hairbows with it without them getting messed up!

We also took all of our change to the Coinstar machine at the grocery store, b/c our change vase was full, AND Coinstar is having a special promotion! If you choose to get your money total in the form of a gift credit to Amazon, iTunes, Lowes, etc., they give you your full money credit. (If you get cash for your change, they take out 9%.) Between now & Dec. 6th, if you have $40 or more in change and choose to get your money as a gift credit, Coinstar will give you $10 extra to Amazon! We *always* get our change turned into Amazon credit, and then we use it to buy presents, so extra perfect for this time of year, and extra extra cool to get $10 free for doing what we'd do, anyway!

With our new Amazon credit, I came home and finally ordered the Redskin slippers Will & I have been lusting after that no one else would get us for Christmas:



I also ordered a few Christmas presents along with the latest album from my fave group EVER: BarlowGirl. If I were in a band, this is what it would sound like - amazing, rocking girl harmony. Their music has defined my life for the last several years. I haven't heard anything on this album, yet, except "Beautiful Ending" which you can click & hear on their site. I can't recommend enough...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Christmas Music

I bought a Christmas music CD today. (The CD was cheaper than the MP3 album download.) "Christmas Caroling" by Ray Conniff is THE sound of Christmas to me. My dad was old school, and this is what we played in the car all December. It's what I hear when I think "holidays". Everyone can keep their current-artist-Christmas releases; give me the Ray Conniff singers! ;-)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Healing Field

Today we got to experience an amazing sight. On the hill here in downtown Naperville across from the riverwalk, 2009 full-size flags have been erected for the week to honor our nation's veterans. Breath-taking. Stunning. Moving. I got a little weepy as we got out of the car beside the hill and explained to the kids exactly why we were there and what it meant. They know veterans are men and women who have been in the military and that some of them have died while fighting for our country. They know Grandaddy was in the Army, my dad was in the Navy, and that Uncle Andy was in the Navy. (The only thing they don't fully understand is *what* "the military" is exactly...but I think I'm OK with that for now, as long as they get that we're honoring people who serve & help us.)

The pictures say more than I can write...





Wishing everyone a blessed Veterans' Day and sincerely thanking everyone who has served!

In continuation of smaller thanks, I am so thankful for the sunny day, that we got to spend time with some friends, that I found *the cutest* head wrap/ear muff thing that looks like a hat but won't mess up my hair or Sissy's hairbows at an adorable children's shop downtown, that we got to walk along the riverwalk, that b/c we randomly popped into the library initially to use the little boy's room that the kids got to play a guessing game at the circulation counter and won free ice creams at Cold Stone and free movie tickets, that we walked to Cold Stone and enjoyed those free ice creams, and that I got to get more honey plantain strips at Trader Joe's! :-)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Unplugged

I've been waiting on pins & needles all day to hear back from our neighbor about babysitting Thursday night, so that we can have a RARE date night to go to the movies with a few of our friends to celebrate JB's birthday. Every other couple has their sitter confirmed.

I have anxiety issues with scheduling sitters and have since the beginning. Will was such a non-stop nursing-to-sleep handful his entire first year; I knew how stressed out *I* got when he wouldn't go down, (it took FOREVER every! single! night!) and I couldn't imagine how insane it would drive someone who wasn't personally invested in his life. I wasn't worried that the babysitters would harm Will or that he wouldn't make it through the time without me; I have never felt like I couldn't leave my baby because of anything *I* was feeling. With Will, I was just worried that the sitter wouldn't be able to deal with getting him down without me nursing him. I babysat from the time I was 12 to 22, and I remember how frustrating it feels when nothing you do will help, b/c you're not the Mommy.

I finally gave in and got our first random, previously-unknown sitter for a meeting one night when Will was just barely 1. We had no family in Georgia, and my mom couldn't come visit, but it was the niece of trusted friend who actually watched Will while I taught dance for an hour 3 days a week. She knew Will, she obviously knew her niece, she was very confident about the situation, and she was right around the corner, just in case. I picked up this quiet high schooler, showed her everything, & left. When I returned, she said everything was fine, that he was a little fussy eating, but that was it. The next day at dance, my friend chuckled and asked if her niece had told me that she called her to come help. WHAT?!?!?! Apparently she couldn't get Will to stop wailing in his high chair, so she called her aunt to come over. My friend is the one who got him calmed down and to sleep. In the grand scheme of things, I'm certainly so glad she called my friend to come; but the fact that she said nothing & pretended like everything had been fine felt like a sinister punch in my already-apprehensive gut.
 
From that first shady experience on, I have had sitter scheduling anxiety. Coupled with my petrifying fear of calling people on the phone, (please text or email, instead!) you can see how this sucks for me.

As the kids get older, of course it's easier all around. We certainly no longer have issues with getting either of them to sleep, they don't have any separation anxiety, (they love it when we leave!), and we did have two awesome sitters that we got to know & adore in Michigan, who gave me hope and began to heal my burn.

But I *STILL* hate the crap-shoot feeling of having to find a sitter, and especially when it's a new one, wondering if they'll be a quiet dud like Girl #1 was. Some people are afraid of flying, others of snakes. Me - I'm afraid of scheduling sitters. (And for the record, yes – we have had another dud, so see: my angst is not completely psycho & unfounded. Those of you parents who live anywhere near your families, please thank God for that!!!)

At 7 PM tonight, while still fidgeting around like I had ants in my pants waiting for our neighbor to call back, I realized that I hadn't gotten voicemails from JB or texts from anyone since 11 AM. Weird. I hadn't thought of it earlier, b/c email & FB were updating fine on my phone. When I reset it, I got a flood of texts and voicemails...one of which was our neighbor *at 1 PM* early this afternoon, confirming that he can sit for us Thursday night. WHEW! (Also for the record – we know we like this one!)

And if my darn phone would have been working, I wouldn't have been freaking out waiting all afternoon, scared I might have to find someone else! I don't think it was the phone's fault, though. (Of course, not! My BFF is blameless! ;-)) I think God was giving me a little faith test.

It's funny how we can get ourselves so worked up when we are momentarily unplugged from our lifelines – both the physical and spiritual ones...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thankful

A bunch of my Facebook friends have posted this as their status:

"Every day this month until Thanksgiving, think of one thing that you are thankful for and post it as your status. "Today I am thankful for..." The longer you do it, the harder it gets! Now, if you think you can do it, then repost this message as your status to invite others to take the challenge. Then post what YOU are thankful for today."

I *love* this...except for "the longer you do it, the harder it gets" part. Really??? How hard can it be to think of something, anything you are thankful for each day? Being thankful is how I began teaching my kids to pray. I think the concept of counting your blessings is easier to grasp starting out as a child than asking God for help at first. Each night, we start praying by thanking God for all of the awesome (big & especially little) ways we were made happy that day: today we thanked God that it's Daddy's birthday & that we love him so much, that Will & Annelise got to go to school, that they were healthy, that it was over 60°F in November, that Will got to get a haircut (a reward for him! he loves haircuts!) & that the haircuts were on sale so Mommy got to save her coupon for next month, that we got to buy toys for kids that don't have any other Christmas presents for Operation Christmas Child, that we had the money to get bubble tea afterwards for ourselves, and that we got to snuggle on the couch and watch "The Amazing Race" (one of our fave family shows) on TiVo when we got home.

"The longer you do it, the harder it gets" - I think exactly the opposite. I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to look for joy and blessings to be thankful for in everyday life. We're not all going to get a big wrapped present with a bow on it every single day of our lives, but if we learn to actively look at all of the little things that we enjoy as presents from God, I truly believe our joy levels will go through the roof! Every day, you will recognize more facets of your life where God has blessed you, and you can give thanks. The longer you do it, the EASIER it gets!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Got the Spirit!

I have had a spirit-filled weekend. I heard Friday night that my high school alma mater, Concord, beat our cross-town rival, Kannapolis, *at* Kannapolis, thus bringing home THE BELL. You may query, "Um, you've been out of high school for almost 14 years; why do you care?" Because not only is the Concord/Kannapolis rivalry the OLDEST continuous rivalry in the state of North Carolina, but there are just some things that run so deep in your soul that time & distance don't diminish their pull. This is a BIG DEAL in my hometown. My mom sent me a "Go Spiders!" text Friday afternoon; with no other prompting, I knew exactly what day it was. Almost everyone whom I went to high school with who updated their FB status Friday night/Saturday morning mentioned the victory. Concord won the State Championship in 2006; but I would venture to say whether or not we beat K-town every year is actually more important. The papers are full of articles about the history of the game (like here and here - both of these with Kannapolis slants, since K-town won last year & was favored this year, too - HA!) and there is nothing like the sound of that ringing bell when it's ringing for CHS. I am so serious. As soon as God lets us move back South and it's not such a monumental trip to get home, I am totally taking JB & the kids to a real Bell Game, (esp. since JB played football through college, Will is dying to start playing himself, and Annelise is already practicing cheers.)

Think "Friday Night Lights" to the nth degree, and let your heart melt with me...

Will & Sis with *The Bell* two years ago when we went to an early season game while visiting home:


So yeah, we are all - including, if not *especially*, myself - die-hard football fans, and as the ACC has always been better at basketball than football, I am much more into NFL & the Redskins (Charlotte didn't get the Panthers until I was almost out of high school; we were always - and I still am - Skins fans) than any college teams. My spirit for the Skins runs just as deep...but has brought with it much more heartache in the last 15 years. I asked a fellow Skins fan if I was setting my kids up for a lifetime of misery, turning them as hard-core as I am; she had a positive slant: at least this way they can learn valuable life lessons about losing. Ha! But it's true: being a Skins fan means learning what it's like to get your heart broken over & over, while still believing & persevering anew each week. So I will still dress us all for game day and teach them about keeping hope alive, (and to say "this is a rebuilding year" over and over...)

Last month on a vacay Sunday on Isle of Palms, SC:


I've also been filled with a spirit of praise this weekend! Praise for the AMAZING Indian Summer, (70° in Chicago in November! Soaking up the last warmth of the year...) Praise for having my family together & doing something special yesterday, (we took JB to the zoo - the kids' favorite! We rode the train to & from and even got off to eat at a train restaurant on the way home. We would have *never* enjoyed so much family time outside doing anything else!) Praise for good friends, (we went to a friend's bday party last evening, and it was just another confirmation of how happy & supported we feel here.)

And finally, praise for singing! I joined the Praise Team at our wonderful church earlier this year, and it is the most fulfilling thing I feel like I've ever done with my voice. I've loved singing and esp. doing musical theatre for as long as I can remember, but this fills a void like no other. Doing theatre just doesn't fit into my life right now. I still love it, but not only are rehearsals completely not conducive to my, JB's, & the kids' schedules, but when you play a different character, it infiltrates your life; and in all honesty, I don't have the personality to spare from being Mommy & just now taking some of my other hobbies back for the first time in 5 years. Singing up onstage with a mic on Sunday mornings is just perfect; I know it's exactly what I'm supposed to be doing, b/c I don't resent a single second of the rehearsal time, and I am notorious for loving to perform but hating to practice. I feel like I'm using my gift to the max, and there's no way to explain how cool it is to know that I'm serving people by doing something I love. There's zero pressure, b/c I'm not singing for myself; it's not about me - it's just sheer joy.

So now I need a spirit of peace to descend upon our household. JB has just left, again, for another business trip for the week. I believe this is the last one of the year, but of course, it's horrible timing. The kids have both Tuesday & Wednesday off school (ack!) and I'm going to have to skip Junior League Wednesday night, b/c I'd rather pay for a sitter to go to the movies for JB's bday when he gets home than for a meeting that I can make up next month. Lord, send a spirit of patience & relaxation into our home...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Thought

"Whether you feel like singing, or feel a little depressed, God wants to hear about it. He's bigger than all of it."

Yep. That.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dental Wonder & KidsLink Downrange

Who would have ever thought that the dentist could put me on such a high? I have dreaded going to the dentist my whole life. It's probably b/c I can't remember going a single time in my life where I didn't have some unpleasant issue. I have the softest, cavity-prone teeth. I seriously would rather go to the gyno than the dentist. So I was terrified taking the kids in for their first real visits today. I brush with them every night & even have them using fluoride rinse already, but *I* do all that stuff, too, and still have problems, so I was worried.

Wonder of wonders: they are BOTH cavity-free and actually had a ball! Color me ecstatic!

The only "unpleasant" thing is that they gave Annelise an Ariel stamper as her reward, and she has now covered both of her arms entirely in purple ink. *Sigh* Thanks, doc. Really, a sticker would have sufficed.

Will *is* better today, too, so THANK YOU SO MUCH for your very powerful prayers!!!

Yesterday, we had a MOPS Steering (leadership) meeting. I feel so blessed to be our coordinator! I wanted to share a service project we will be working on in January & February, esp. in light of what happened at Fort Hood yesterday. Our military families really need to be lifted up, so we're doing "KidsLink Downrange" - we're preparing kits with cards, stamps, & envelopes to send to the children of deployed soldiers. We've been planning on doing this since July; yesterday was our kit # pledge day, and guess where our kits will go? Fort Hood.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My Current Fave Food

I am hopelessly in love...

...with Trader Joe's Honey Plantain Strips!

I could seriously eat several bags a day. I'm trying to control myself with one.

Prayers for Will - I got called to pick him up from school with a high fever today. It *needs* to break, b/c the kids both have their dentist appointments that we've been waiting on since July tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Productivity & Products

I felt productive today, in a fun way. I actually hung up all of the clean laundry (a rare feat; I usually pull outfits out of the clean baskets) and then I took all of Annelise's hair bows into her closet to see which ones went with her cold-weather outfits and what others I can still make for her. Making hair bows has become a new favorite hobby of mine! I'm going to revamp my LaLa's Girls Swarovski crystal apparel website to add hair bows on there, too, b/c I actually enjoy making the bows even more! The crystals are stunning, but a lot of work; the hair bows (esp. the standard ones) are much quicker. I'm an instant-gratification kind of girl. ;-) [But don't get me wrong - I'll happily still be doing crystal work!]

JB & I watched "Away We Go" last night when he got home from work. I looooved it. It started a bit slow, but I loved seeing not only the different crazy characters, but esp. where they ended up... I cried when they opened their back door; I knew exactly what the view was going to be...

FREE STUFF!!!
These are links that friends of mine have actually tried and know they aren't gimmicks:

Get a free Snuggie here! (Yes, a Snuggie! I keep hearing friends who have gotten them as gag gifts and now adore them, so I'm dorkily excited. I ordered burgundy - hail to the Redskins!!!)

Get a free audiobook download of Desiring God by John Piper here. (I haven't read or listened to this - and honestly don't know when I will - but it's the whole thing for free, usually $17. Why not?)

Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween Digiscrapped & Why I Overshare

I digiscrapped Halloween:



You can see all of my pages here.

I also had a really cruddy start to my day, (actually woken up by my phone vibrating an hour before my alarm was set to go off, tired but couldn't fall back asleep, had a headache, a mess with Annelise, late breakfast, etc.) but I actually refused to let it ruin everything. I've always been a big wallower, so I'm working very hard to get over that. I didn't *WANT* to focus on the positives, but I tried so hard and shook free of my irritation. :-) Woohoo!

I read this below, and it perfectly articulated WHY I am such an oversharer, an open book, and why I am blogging:

"I hadn't realized how much she needed to hear my worries to normalize her own. I thought my stress was obvious, but from her vantage point my life seemed to be a pretty package, wrapped in a perfect family. By being vulnerable and sharing the details of my life I was able to give her the same gift of perspective she had been giving me."

The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.
~ Proverbs 27:9, NLT

I'm so glad y'all are here!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Revelations Through Conversation

I talked to a dear friend today on the phone, and most of y'all know that I *hate* talking on the phone. But this friend is in the middle of a move with 3 kids and doesn't have internet set up, yet, (my personal idea of hell!) so I sat outside in my driveway after teaching dance & caught up with her, (b/c our house is a black hole of reception.) It was so refreshing! She is one of those friends who ALWAYS leads me to little revelations about myself through conversation. She is a master of drawing the "why do I feel this way" out of my heart and into my active consciousness. I love the way she gets me to articulate my ideas and motives.

In catching up, I realized that my kids' ages have everything to do with this new level of prioritizing myself that I've finally come to. After 5 years in the haze of being only "mommy" 24/7, my kids are old enough that I don't have to have a hand on them at all times, and that's huge. I can finally take back some of my focus & attention and put it back on myself. My friend & I each have two children the same ages, but she also had her 3rd this March, and that baby has pressed the "reset" button on her countdown clock to reaching the point where I am. The baby is an angel - so easy & happy - but it's just the fact that she won't be able to sit in one room & scrapbook while all of her kids play together in another room alone for a while, yet. I think the fact that my kids are there now is a big reason why I'm not as resentful or freaked out by JB being gone so much anymore.

For almost 5 years, I was on guard 24/7 as virtually the sole teacher, disciplinarian, chef, security guard, & nurse. (I'm not putting maid on that list. Cleaning never makes my priority list, & I'm not apologizing for it. ;-)) I was flat burnt out. (Not to mention depressed & crazy homesick, but those were my issues for God to work with me on.) I was *desperate* for JB to help take the load off - to just be present, even if I was still doing most of it, to be my failsafe, my security blanket, to feel like I had some backup, to nurture *me* while I nurtured them - but he was working from 6 AM to midnight, and obviously he wanted to sleep in his time off. It truly was just an awful situation for our family. I thought it was this move that had made things so much better - a fresh start with relatively better hours (usually 8:30-10) in a fun place with so much more going on... But I see now that's only a part of it. Now that my kids are a little older, I can breathe easier. Going up & down the stairs isn't a potential life-and-death situation. They actually fall asleep & eat on their own. I don't have to worry about them choking on a toy in the playroom without me in there. I'm not their sole educator, anymore, with the blessing of Montessori preschool. In many ways, some of the pressure has lifted. And not that there aren't always new, different parenting concerns, but there's new breathing room for me.

Not to minimize how positive this move (we came here in January) has been: JB's commute is 15 minutes instead of up to an hour and a half each way; he's usually here to eat breakfast with the kids, so even though he doesn't often make bedtime, they still get time with him. The biggest plus: he can actually get home - when he's not out-of-town - so I can go to meetings & rehearsals, the other major factor in finally giving me the opportunity to have "my own life" again.

My friend also asked me how I like being back teaching dance. I love being back in a studio & getting to use my tap shoes, but it's not quite as fulfilling as The Studio in Georgia. Why? I realize now it's purely b/c of my availability. I can only teach in the mornings while my kids are at school, b/c they're still too young not to run amok if they would have to wait in the hall while I taught, and there's not a nice family waiting area in this studio. The dance rooms are in a busy community building. So I can only teach little ones who aren't in school at all, which means no recital classes. Teaching steps that build into a recital dance is a passion of mine; I love choreography! But the ages I am available to teach right now aren't at that point, and the non-recital classes are scheduled in 6-week sessions - I don't have the same girls from September-May, so there's much less bonding and no step-building. Every class is pretty much the same with a new crew every 6 weeks. It still feels wonderful to teach, and I am SO happy to be able to do it...but I do wish I had a chance to work with the same students all year towards a recital. Down the road, again...

Another personal reveal-through-conversation re: yesterday's family bday party - it's not so much huge family gatherings I long for, as much as huge "feels like family" friend gatherings. I feel like I already have that with my two BFFs from growing up when we all gather our clans, but they are 12 hours away. Maybe I'm just too Ya-Ya dreamy...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo & Celebrating

I've seen some of my friends participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) over the past few years, and instead of writing novels, they simply endeavor to blog every single day of the month. Now that I'm "in the club", I think I can probably get on the bandwagon. So here goes November!

Halloween weekend was fab. We actually went trick-or-treating *twice* - once at 12:30 (yes, in the afternoon!) with our BFFs here and then, again, with the neighborhood at 4:30. I'd never heard of daytime trick-or-treating before, (everywhere I've ever lived has been 6-8 PM) but apparently it's the norm here, even on weekday Halloweens. I have to say, I'm a fan - it's warmer, the photo ops are better & clearer, and then you get the kids to bed on time & have the whole night to relax. :-) I wore giant, glittery butterfly wings as we walked the neighborhood and scored a few pieces, myself; so now each time one of the kids sees an empty wrapper, I tell them it's one of the pieces *I* got. I wonder if the jig will be up by my 30th wrapper...





Today we went to a fantastic birthday party for one of Annelise's friends from tap. It was their whole, GIANT, all-local family, us, and one other tap friend. Certainly over 50 people. The food was AMAZING, (they smoked pulled pork; it was the best I have EVER tasted north of the Mason-Dixon!!! And now I want a smoker...) and they were just so much fun. It was bittersweet, though: I am so jealous (in a still-happy-for-them kind of way ;-)) that their whole family is all right around here, that they are a HUGE clan, that they laugh, relax, & drink merrily together. It made me think of the Ya-Ya clan parties, esp. at the end of the last book I just finished. (Yes! I finished it! Gold star for me!) I long for huge family/friend get-togethers, where everyone is local, and it doesn't involve any 12-hour travels. 4 or less would be perfect...