12.31.2008

G is for Goal, Right?

As I sit here still surrounded by Christmas paraphernalia (since we got our tree later this year, we're not quite ready to say goodbye to her yet) I am beginning to look ahead to the new year. Just a little.

Last year, Lelly shared her 10 year journal with BlogVille and I decided to give it a try too. This type of journal gives you five lines (there are also carry over pages) to record daily events & thoughts, along with pages for long term goals/accomplishments, important dates, addresses and medical/household happenings. I was fairly faithful with my daily jottings, and I want to do even better in '09. This morning I decided to write out my goals for the new year. I didn't write them down last year (did I even come up with any??), so I already feel ahead of the game this year. Go me.

Indulge me while I share them with you, won't you?

Family Goals as a Wife and Mom
Plan and prepare more meals at home. Limit eating out to 2x a week.
Family night (game, activity or movie) weekly.
Date night 1-2x a month.
Purge & organize clothes/toys/stuff at least 2x a year
Better balance of TV/computer (i.e. LESS)
Practice hospitality
Be present and engaged

Spiritual Goals
Memorize 2 scriptures a month. Goal: Have God's word readily on my lips.
Continue weekly Bible study w/the girls.
Family devotional time each day
Daily personal quiet time for prayer and Bible reading

Creative
Plan time to practice more photography
Sew more
Plan time to scrapbook and make cards
Send good mail (even just a card) more regularly

Health & Fitness
Join Weight Watchers again & follow plan better
Prepare healthier meals at home, fewer short-cuts, more veggies & fruit.
Exercise 3-4 days a week; running/cross training/ light weights
Register for 1 full marathon (possibly Dallas White Rock in December '09)
Work on rediscovering my waist and abs!

Financial
Aggressively pay off credit cards
Read more and possibly follow Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace methods
Try couponing, possibly The Grocery Game

Travel/Vacation
Since we took two big $$ trips in 2008, and we want to attack debt, we don't have a big trip planned for 2009. We do hope though to do a short San Antonio trip late spring/early summer.

Okay, I am now slightly intimidated and overwhelmed. Deep, cleansing breath. So many of these things are ideas that have been rattling around in the back of my brain for a long time, now they are actually written down. Several are things I (or we) already do, but can do better, several are things that are brand new (daily family devotionals, couponing, locating my abs). My plan is to have regular meetings with myself (a la Jill), hopefully each month, to evaluate how I am doing.

Have you made goals for '09? Any tips for making goals more specific and attainable? Any advice for evaluating progress?

12.29.2008

Pardon Me, Could You Tell Me What Day It Is?

We are knee deep in those post holiday lazy, hazy days. You know the ones that blend together into one long no schedule, no commitments, halcyon blur.

At 5:30 this evening Annelise looked over at me and scornfully declared, "You've been in your pajamas all day, Mom!"

"And...?", I replied, with one eyebrow slightly raised.

She shrugged and let it go. That's my girl.

Scott has been on vacation since last week (I think) and won't return to work until next week (I think). The day after Christmas both Scott and Annelise were abducted and replaced by barking seals. Kleenex, cough syrups, lozenges are the hot commodities around here, along with soap, anti-bacterial gel, Lysol spray and Clorox wipes. I am sure they are tired of hearing me oh not so lovingly remind them to use-a-kleenex-wash-your-hands-go-get-some-gel-don't-breathe-on-me 500 times daily.

Our biggest decisions have been what to eat and what movies to watch. Scott and I have finally finished the John Adams HBO miniseries (outstanding) and seen part of Ken Burn's Civil War documentary from Netflix (also very good). I've also managed to pencil in some reading time amidst all this laziness.

Scott and A., AKA the invalids, have spent a majority of the day playing video games, passing the controller back and forth between them as they play Lego Star Wars. I intervene occasionally to wipe it down with a Clorox wipe and the playing resumes.

Tomorrow's forecast looks freakishly similar.

12.28.2008

From Charley Pride to Light Sabers

Christmas is a time to reflect on so many things. The birth of Jesus, family, friends, blessings in our lives, etc. It's also a time for family traditions. Growing up, as a true child of the 70s, one of our family traditions was playing this record during the holidays, especially Christmas morning.

I know. Are we still friends?

I enjoy many other types of holiday music, but Charley holds a special place in my holiday heart. Since I'm confessing, here's another, I secretly like Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. I know. Not for content or quality, but because my mom LOVED that silly song. The volume would be cranked up in our battleship-sized Ford LTD every time it came on the radio and she would get so tickled imagining an inebriated Grandma stumbling around in the snow and being found with a hoof print on her forehead the next morning. Ah...memories.

Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas were also holiday highlights. Those are still my all time favorite holiday movies and we are impressing their importance onto Annelise as well.

My parents would let me open one present on Christmas Eve then we would read The Night Before Christmas. Christmas Morning was usually spent with my grandparents and parents opening presents, then the afternoon was spent at my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Deb's for a huge Christmas lunch and lots of playing with my cousins.

Life changes though as people come in and out of it. As a teenager, after my grandmother died, then my mom, we saw that side of the family less and less. My dad remarried and we began to celebrate the holidays with Ruby's children and grandchildren, alternating getting together Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Now life has changed once again and this was our first Christmas with Peggy (my dad's wife) as part of the family.

This year on Christmas Eve, Scott read from Matthew and Luke about Jesus' birth while Annelise acted the story out with her Little People nativity set. Very cute. Without too much of a segue though we read the Night Before Christmas, so the Santa/Jesus line may have been a tad blurred. We also traipsed outside to feed the soon to arrive reindeer, A. selected the perfect spot not too far from the chimney. I was worried she would want to sprinkle it on the roof, but that fear did not materialize. We also set out cookies, milk and her 2 letters for Santa (we never got around to mailing them) and then it was off to bed for our little Cindy Lou Who.

Bright and early Christmas morning the wrapping paper began to fly. My dad and Peggy came over and we all exchanged presents. As an adult it's nice to open presents of course, but I think it's much more fun to watch Annelise open hers. Her excitement and joy were contagious. For the past several months she has asked for light sabers. I know. She told Santa (verbally and in letter form) and just about any adult that was what she wanted. Santa, thankfully, did not disappoint her.

A few years before Annelise joined our family, Scott and I decided a Christmas morning breakfast or brunch would be our *big thing*, so that's what we still do. I love the fact that most of the dishes can be prepared the night before and baked Christmas morning. After the last present was opened, we enjoyed a relaxed breakfast of Southwestern Casserole , Amazing French Toast along with fruit, juice and of course coffee.

A little later that afternoon, the guys did this,

while I did some of this.

Eventually, there was plenty of this:

All in all, it was a very nice Christmas. Even though I still missed Charley, just a little.

12.24.2008

Meet Our Sad Sack Santas of 2008

I had high hopes last night of family bonding over holiday cookie decorating. We were all set to make adorable and also easy Nutter Butter Santa cookies to leave out for jolly St. Nick Christmas Eve.

The dipping went well with every one pitching in, we were all rather jubilant and full of holiday cheer. The sprinkling of red sugar for Santa's lopsided hats went fairly well, though it was a tad stressful as the sugar flew. Tender nerves were soon frayed with the toothpick application of melted white bark for the eyes and nose/mouth (we never could decide). All three of us were reaching over and around each other to dip the white goo and then tediously apply goo and mini M&Ms.

The bloom was so off the rose.

Scott was the first to disappear. Then A. declared she was done. I looked down the long rows of partially decorated Santas and assessed my commitment level too.

Yeah, I was over it.

This might not bode well for the Gingerbread Man planned for this afternoon.

Merry Christmas Y'all!!

12.23.2008

In Which I Pretend to be an Elf

But in all honesty, not very well.

Since we took our trip smack dab in the middle December and returned home, oh...let's see, 7 days before Christmas, it's been a bit of a holiday scramble around here. Would you like a side of toast?

Friday evening we went to get our tree. The tree lot was getting bare and the tree guys seemed bored. We found a small Frasier Fir we liked so it came home with us. Once Scott got the lights on, A. and I decorated it. There were moments we debated getting a tree this late in the season, but now I am so glad we did. I may just display my eccentric side and leave it up through most of January.

For A.'s little class party, I was responsible for the craft. I was not in the mood for glue, so they made beaded pipe cleaner candy cane ornaments. They seemed to like it, A. liked it so much she proceeded to make about six more later that afternoon at home. You may notice a conglomeration of beaded circle ornaments, that's all her. Cute, no?

While we decorated, I forced my family to listen to my latest addiction. Have you heard the Hotel Cafe collection of winter songs? Oh my goodness, it's refreshing and haunting at the same time.

Once the tree was decorated, it was on to holiday baking. At least my version of it. Some sweet (pardon the pun) friends gave us some Puppy Chow mix which triggered my Oh I Must Make Some of This Right Stinkin' Now response, so A. and I did. Now I am somewhat sick of it. Just somewhat though. Please don't laugh at my version of sugar cookies. In my feeble defense, I plan to add food coloring and bust out my cookie press, there may even be icing and sprinkles. Did you know Pillsbury also makes a gingerbread dough? I just found out and Oh I Must Make Some of That Right Stinkin' Soon.

The trip to our mailbox has been delightful each day this holiday season . I love, love, love finding Christmas cards and photos inside from family and friends waiting to be gleefully opened. Thank you friends, I appreciate each and every one. I have come to the sad realization that our cards will most likely become Valentines. In a perfect world I would have planned The Family Photo earlier in the year, made my cards from scratch and mailed them the day before Thanksgiving.

BWAaa-hahahaha... (excuse me, I must pick myself up off the floor)

Anyway, my card wreath makes me happy.

Now, just one more holiday tidbit, don't forget to track Santa as he makes his progress around the world Christmas Eve. It's loads of fun. We did this last year and A. got such a kick out of it, okay...I'll admit it, Scott and I did too.

12.22.2008

Of Mice and Magic, Part 3

(This is the last one folks, promise.)

Over a year ago Scott and I talked about taking a trip to Walt Disney World before A. started Kindergarten, possibly around the holidays. He bought a PassPorter's Disney World book to *do key research* and chatted up friends. After some hemming and hawwing, he put down a deposit and made reservations. Each week he put $$ aside automatically from his paycheck to pay for this jaunt. Soon it was time to book airplane tickets and reserve those *extra* magic events.

He arranged for us to stay for a total of 7 days, with 5 full park days. Since this was our first time we knew we would waste some time navigating and learning the ropes. Our last full day was okay, but honestly I was pretty much done with the whole theme park experience. We've agreed next time 3, at the most 4, park days will be plenty.

This year we spent the majority of our time at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. We spent part of a day at Animal Kingdom and two evenings at Epcot. I highly recommend the Park Hopper. This way you can visit different parks each day as the mood strikes. I'm sure as we visit in the future A. will have different interests, there will be new attractions and we'll spend our time differently.

Of course it depends on the age and interests of your child, but for us the character greetings were a huge hit. A. absolutely loved getting their autographs and taking pictures with them. She kept track of the autographs she had and who she hoped to get. Even if you don't buy one of Disney's books (I think her basic one was $6.95), take a blank journal or spiral with you.

Most of the popular rides have FastPass, which was a lifesaver. This system basically gives you a ticket to return at a later time without long waits. Sometimes it was difficult to plan everything out, sometimes things overlapped and we couldn't work out both. Some rides had wait times 60 to 110 minutes, so in those cases FastPasses saved the day.

We stayed at one of the moderate Disney resorts, the Caribbean Beach. We weren't there a whole bunch, so maybe one of the economy resorts would have been just fine. We wanted to peek at some of the higher end resorts, just for kicks, but ran out of time.

The resorts use a shuttle bus system to ferry guests to and from the various parks. This worked quite well for us. The only thing was not knowing the exact timing of the buses, sometimes we'd see three Hollywood Studios buses in a row while we were waiting for a Magic Kingdom bus and vice versa. It does eat into your time, but overall we were happy with their system.

Each resort has a central building with a food court area, main pool and of course a souvenir shop. We ate breakfast there each morning and supper a few times. Since there are only three members in our family, we did not use the meal plan. I'm sure for a larger family it is really worth it. We weren't sure we would use all the meals/snacks available on the plan. The food is expensive and you are at their mercy. $2.00 for water, .99 cents per apple, banana, or orange. You get the idea. Next time we will pack sturdy snacks and maybe juice boxes/bottles of water in our luggage. I also saw some people splitting some meals, and we did that too a bit.

Another lesson learned is making reservations ahead of time. We got sick of food court type food, but kept being turned away at sit down restaurants because we didn't have reservations. I wish we had planned that part better.

We did manage to make reservations for lunch on our last day at this restaurant in Hollywood Studios.

It was very kitschy and fun.

Every table was like a 50s kitchen dinette set, complete with a B&W television. Scott had meatloaf and I had pot roast with veggies (actual vegetables, folks) and it was dee-lish.

Along with food court food, we nibbled on our fair share of popcorn, soft pretzels and these...

Who can resist a Mickey head on a stick? Not us.

We tried our best to ignore the constant barrage of in your face capitalism. We tried. Those Disney execs are clever. Did you know that most rides and shows conveniently have you exit through a companion gift shop? Yep. Clever.

We finally gave in after we rode the Pirates of the Caribbean and bought A. a little pirate set. It was $8.00 and kept her occupied the rest of our trip (and she has played with it since we returned home too). She carried the sword through her belt loop and was always ready if trouble approached.

Like from this guy.

We thought that early December, before most schools let out, would be an off peak time of year. I don't have anything to compare it too, but it seemed pretty crowded any way. Now I hear that October and February are off peak as well. You just have to make peace with the crowds as much as possible and appreciate any lulls you come across.

With the trip this holiday season our normal holiday happenings have been altered. A. was sad to miss her school Christmas program and her dance class holiday party. Our holiday decorating was much more low key (which was actually a relief); have not finished holiday shopping or homemade gifts; haven't done any holiday crafts or baking with A. (yet) and don't ask me about Christmas cards (maybe they'll be Valentine's Day cards). Although the trip changed our normal holiday routine in some ways, it also created lasting memories and that's most important.

I apologize for the steady stream of WDW posts. It seems once I was on a roll, the OCD side of me would not let me stop.

Now back to my regularly scheduled miscellaneous blogging...

Of Mice and Magic, Part 2b

The morning after our late night of holiday magic, we had a date with Cinderella for breakfast. I have to admit I was excited to actually go inside her castle, maybe it's my inner princess. Annelise was giddy with anticipation too. Cinderella made her grand entrance and greeted everyone, then you waited for your turn to pose for a picture and autograph. Annelise asked her where Jacques and Gus were (the mice).

A character meal is another one of those *extra* opportunities for more magic. There are several types available, each with a different theme and meal. You must make reservations ahead of time, and in the case of Cinderella's Breakfast you should make them at least 180 days in advance. I know.

This *extra* was totally worth it. The breakfast was delicious and plentiful, and there were several magical touches. A. received her very own wand and wishing star, then participated in the wishing ceremony.

Cinderella stayed downstairs, but her friends visited all the tables. They were really sweet and took time to chat with each little guest. A. quickly put her magic wand aside once the princesses came into her field of vision.

First Belle stopped by our table. A. asked what the Beast was up to and what happened to Gaston.

Annelise FINALLY got Princess Jasmine's autograph and picture. The restraining order has been lifted, thank goodness.

Sleeping Beauty, AKA Princess Aurora, also graced us with her presence.

Some princesses even left their mark. A. was over the moon!

Snow White, who eerily sounded like her, chatted with us for a bit too.

We paused for a moment to look out at the Magic Kingdom from Cinderella's viewpoint.


Cinderella's Breakfast was the only character meal we experienced, but Scott and I agreed it was well worth it.

One thing we did not do was the Bippity Boppity Boo Boutique, where kidlets are transformed into the princess of their choice for, ahem...a fee. A. witnessed hordes of young girls decked out in costumes and fancy hairdos each day at the park and briefly begged each day, but Scott and I drew our Disney Line in the Sand. Sorry sweetie.

12.21.2008

Of Mice and Magic, Part 2a

Along with the regular Magic Kingdom attractions, there are *extra*opportunities to stretch your magical experience, and of course, your wallet.

The park was open for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party ticket holders from 7 until midnight. Once our wristbands were attached, we jumped into the holiday fray with fervor.
The crowds lessened somewhat and we enjoyed riding a few rides and meeting characters with hardly any lines. There were plenty of hot chocolate and holiday cookies throughout the park too. Yumola!

Along with Snow White and the Snow Prince, we met several other characters (this was the night of the Stalking Incident) and were treated to a holiday story with Belle.

One of the highlights of the night was watching the holiday parade.

All of the classic characters were decked out in their holiday finery as they rode, danced, marched and skated along the streets.

I think her face says it all, don't you?

I could not imagine dancing my way all across the park, in full costume no less. Being a cast member must be completely exhausting!

Soon after the parade, the magical Wishes firework spectacular began. A. liked the sights, but NOT the noise. Seeing Cinderella's castle at night surrounded by glittering lights and fireworks was magical.

We had a wonderful night soaking up all of the holiday magic. If you visit WDW around the holidays, this is an *extra* I highly recommend.

12.20.2008

Of Mice and Magic, Part 1

Five. Five full, action-packed days were spent at the four different people-packed Disney theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot). By far, Magic Kingdom was our favorite.

I had visited Disney World before with my parents. However, I can't say I had the best experience because I was, hello, a moody teenager with her parents. Plus the fact that my dad crammed Disney World and Epcot in like two days. I am thankful we had plenty of time to visit most of everything we wanted to on this trip. And that I'm no longer a teenager. We won't discuss the moody, okay?

Magic Kingdom had it all, rides, shows, characters, parades, fireworks.

I'll admit, there is some magic happening there. Especially if you are five.

One of our favorite things to do was getting character autographs and pictures. We bought Annelise the basic WDW autograph book and she LOVED keeping track of her signatures. The characters were wonderful, very friendly and playful. Most of the lines were not too long and well worth the wait. Especially if you are five.

The longest wait was for Ariel, taking close to an hour to meet this scantily-clad mermaid. In her grotto there is a play area for the kidlets and a comfy wall for parents to sit. Since there was absolutely NO WAY we could skip meeting her, we sucked it up and waited.

Over the course of our stay we managed to get autographs and pictures with most of the characters. There is of course a fine line between fan and stalker. Especially if you are an exhausted five year old. One night we stumbled upon Aladdin and Jasmine over in Adventureland just as they were ending their autograph session. A. was crushed. They said they were off to ride the magic carpets.

So of course we follow.

A. was crushed again when she realized Princess Jasmine was riding the ride with another little girl, not her. After the ride she tried to give Jasmine a hug, and demand in exasperation why she didn't ride with her. Princess Jasmine was very sweet, but she and Aladdin had to hurry off. By this time, A. was in angry tears and was verging on being issued a restraining order.

She settled for a picture and autograph from these guys...

Disney does everything well, especially their parades. There is something so compelling about characters dancing down the street or riding in unusual vehicles, you can't help but angle for a good spot along the curb to watch.

This was the afternoon parade at Animal Kingdom. We also watched Mickey's Holiday Party Parade and SpectroMagic at Magic Kingdom and the Block Party Bash at Hollywood Studios.

We also discovered that our little five year old is possibly an adrenaline junkie. After her first rollercoaster ride, Goofy's Barnstormer, she was hooked.

Her favorite ride was Big Thunder Mountain. Space Mountain was closed and she wasn't old enough, tall enough or brave enough (yet) for Expedition Everest (AK) or Rock-n-Rollercoaster (HS), but I see many more rollercoaster rides in her future. She loves a thrill.

Theme parks seem to bring out either the best or worst in people of all ages. Crowds, lines, sleep deprivation and over stimulation can wreak havoc on our dispositions. Taking a break, regrouping and shaking off the frustration works wonders.

Ice cream doesn't hurt either.

Stay tuned for more memories and some lessons learned.

12.18.2008

What's That Old Saying?

The one about I need a vacation to recover from my vacation? Yeah, that one.

Fun was had by all on our trip to the place Where Dreams Come True.

But I've had enough magic and mice for a while.

After spending the majority of our time over the last several days either standing in line, riding a bus, navigating through crowds, feeling immersed in guerrilla style merchandising and cross promotion or going to the restroom, it feels GREAT to be home again.
But we DID have a good time. Really.
More photos and observations coming soon...

12.09.2008

Decorate Schmecorate

Our holiday decorating has been a bit more low key this year. Simplified.*

You know what? It feels pretty good.

Scott played Clark Griswald and hung our lights outside.

We set out a few of our favorites. My Santa collection sits on our armoire, the snowmen gang is on our mantel.

We couldn't skip our Little People Nativity,

or Rudolph and all of his friends.

So far though, that's it. No lighted garland on the stairs, no decorated trees scattered thematically throughout the house. I've had mixed feelings about not doing our trees, especially the main, real tree. We usually get a Frasier Fir that makes our house smell so festive and winter-y. I do miss that.

Annelise recently helped me with a special project: a scripture & blessing tree.

I never quite got myself together enough to do a gratitude tree for the Thanksgiving holidays, but I managed to carry over the idea for Christmas. Annelise collected pine cones and helped me punch the ornaments, then I wrote some scriptures on the back of the ornaments. Our plan is to add more scriptures and record our blessings this holiday season.

The stark simplicity of this branch makes me happy.

*In case you are wondering why we scaled down on all the hall decking this year, well...in approximately 48 hours we have an appointment with a certain mouse and all of his copyrighted friends. I predict definite holiday sensory overload. We do plan to decorate a small, real tree when we return next week.

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