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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Santa Exposed

Jules here-

Unlike Ems, I have perpetuated the Santa myth at my household; however, not as intensely as some friends who ring bells outside, write notes to the kids, and have the abhorrent "Elf-on-the-Shelf." We have set out cookies & carrots for Santa and his reindeer; we've written notes with our gift wishes; and we read Twas the Night before Christmas.  I felt as if I had done my due diligence with creating a fantasy Christmas, but I also realized that Ems and I are cut from the same cloth: I cannot lie directly to my child.  I love the open, honest relationship I have with Grace (my 5 year old) and I cherish the trust she has in me.  So, when she started questioning things this year--- I repeatedly answered, "What do you think?" Until this conversation after Christmas:

Grace said, "I just love this sparkly purse that you gave Lissie! Where did you get it?"
I said, "Actually, that came in her stocking, so Santa got it for her."
Grace retorted, "Um, I know you got it mom. I know that Santa's not real."

Horrified, I sputtered, "What  makes you say that?"
She replied, "Well, I read the story of St. Nicholas. The real story. I know he's dead.  He died of the same illness as his parents. What's that called? Oh, yeah, the Plague. Remember lots of people in the Middle Ages died of that."
I froze, but then remembered some Pinterest Santa reveal story I had read and said, "You are right. St. Nicholas died a long time ago, but he wanted parents to carry on the tradition of giving kids presents on Jesus's birthday. Understand? Are you o.k.?"
"Yup. I'm fine."
I added, "Oh, and don't tell your friends or little ones who still believe. It can be magical for them."

Grace said, "I know." And scampered off before I could elaborate.

Should I have tried to lie to my 5 year old and use words like "magic" and not-really-dead? I think that's confusing for them. On one hand I tell her that magic & monsters aren't real, but at Christmas, Santa flies in a sleigh with reindeer? No wonder she figured it all out.  

Well, not much I can do-- I now have co-conspirator at Christmas time.  Honestly, I feel relief that I can be truly honest with her and preserve our special relationship! 

Easy Rule #567123  Sometimes you may start out thinking you'll be one type of parent and end up changing to meet the needs of your kids!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Letter to Myself

Dear Jules-of-December-2014,

What a year it must have been! I am sure you have met all your New Year's Resolutions (yet to be written) and you have become an overnight blogging-sensation by now!  As the holiday season is still fresh in my mind, I thought I would refresh your memory on a few key points:

  • Do NOT bake as much- I am staring in my fridge at delicious cookies, chocolates, lemon bars, fudge, and cheesecake.... sounds great, but I am afraid my teeth might fall out from cavities and I may have scurvy from the lack of fruits and vegetables.  
  • Say "NO" to a few things-- I love Christmas crafts, caroling, cookies, and play dates, BUT my home schooling has definitely suffered from the amount of seasonal gallivanting my family has done. Try to limit holiday endeavors to 1-2 things a week next year.
  • Get Christmas cards done in NOVEMBER!! From a lost UPS order to TRYING to get a "holiday-outfit" shot, just get a montage-of-the-year card. Much easier.   
  • Plan out Advent activities. With the trip to Ohio and home schooling, I did not put "The Reason for the Season" into practice much this year.  I really like the idea of praying for the people you get Christmas cards from each day, and daily daily Advent activities too. I'll leave future-Jules to Pinterest those ideas...

  • Use the CHEAP wrapping paper on stocking stuffers.  Don't forget how long it took for them to open those tubes of chapstick and silly putty....
  • Chill out.  Did you get to you watch your favorite It's a Wonderful Life yet? Did you actually enjoy the Christmas lights and read a book by the fire? I didn't this year... don't miss out next year!
  • Friends & family don't expect perfection.  Don't stress out about every little detail that no one is going to notice anyway. Be joyous and happy! 
    This is our self-proclaimed #1 Fan Chrissy, let's hope this doesn't turn out like Misery
    Don't forget to wrap as early as possible-- there is never enough time--or tape!


Easy Rule #13221- Learn from your mistakes but don't dwell on them!

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Worst Gift

Pretty much, my husband is the worst person for whom to buy presents.  He tends to get himself what he wants during the year (nothing crazy, DVDs, cell phone case, etc.), and all the other electronic things he likes are way out of budget--and honestly, I know nothing of speakers or receivers or whatnot. So I am left with boring "Dad" presents, like socks and boxers. He doesn't even need ties because he just wears scrubs. He likes WWII, but I really feel like I have exhausted that topic in the random books I've picked up for him over the years.  In fact, I once got him the same book two years in a row (seen one battle, seen 'em all).  As he jokingly informs me, I have had 12 (maybe 13?) years of buying him Christmas presents and they have pretty much all been fails--or at the best, have gone over like a deflated balloon.

So this year, I made a little vow to be awesome and think outside the box! I would surprise him with a gift that he didn't even know he needed, and he would be impressed with my gift-giving skills.  While browsing the new TJ Maxx with a friend, I spotted it!! It was a darling, battery operated, hand-held...wait for it.....MEGAPHONE!! I thought, "How perfect for soccer coaching!"  Really, I thought that.  After all, he DOES take coaching very seriously (he can be rather scary). To go along with that theme, I picked up an armband in which to store his iPhone while he coaches.  I was all set, like that Super Gifter lady in the ads on TV (which I think was actually advertising TJ Maxx and HomeGoods or something).

 Anyway, pride goeth before a fall.  I was doomed to fail yet again. I knew it wasn't going to go well when he unwrapped it and said instantly, "This is a gag gift, right?" Uh-oh.

Apparently, it would be "embarrassing" to coach using a megaphone.  What had seemed cool in my mind was clearly a fantasy that in reality is extremely UN cool.  He showed me this movie clip to demonstrate that fact (scroll to the 50 second mark if possible. Otherwise, feel free to skip, you might miss those 3 minutes of your life spent watching this lame trailer):

Brian even made up a little jingle about my gift (to be sung to the tune of "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas"):

I want a bright orange megaphone for Christmas,
Only a bright orange megaphone will do.
Unlike the other boys,
I don't want something cool,
I want a megaphone to make me look a giant fool!

I can see me now on the soccer field,
Shouting at the kids.
What fear and what surprise,
Will come into their eyes,
When they hear my voice much louder now!

So that was my Christmas present fail! Before anyone thinks bad things about my husband, please note that no feelings were hurt during the making of this blog post.  Be assured, I have become quite capable at laughing at myself over the last 36 years (if not, I would be crouching somewhere in the fetal position with zero self esteem).  I have gotten rather good at this particular fail, and I'm sure the tradition will be continued.

At least he gives me good presents! Yay! I got fleecy pajamas and slippers and Amazon gift cards ("so you can shop online and not leave me here with the baby"). He so funny.

And my kids loved all the presents that I picked out for them, so my failure is limited in scope.

Rule #2489: If at first you don't succeed...make 'em laugh and call it a "tradition."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Top Ten Things to Buy after Christmas

Jules Here-

MERRY CHRISTMAS!! Yes, I am typing this at 5 in the morning after staying up until midnight cleaning from my impromptu Christmas party.... James and I are hanging in my room as not to spoil Christmas surprises downstairs (he's in a notorious "all-presents-are-mine-and-I-shall-unwrap-them" stage). So, I am mind-numbing him with some Sesame Street and sipping eggnog (it's Christmas-- I am allowed to drink that while eating leftover cheesecake in bed).

Anyway, I can't wait to see the girls faces when they see the mountain of red and silver packages spilling out all over the floor downstairs!  The holiday season has been fantastic for some favorite quotes too, and I can't wait for some more winners.

"My favorite thing about Christmas is all the activities outside!" says Lissie.
"Activities?  You mean like sledding?" I ask.
"No! You know the ones with the lights and the God-theme!" says Lissie
"Oh.. NATIVITY!" I say... :)

Now, to my Top Ten Things to Buy after Christmas! I am obviously establishing myself as the cheapskate of Ems & Jules-- but, after Christmas shopping can be fantastic for planning for next year.  However, as Ems says-- it only works if you have enough storage (check Pinterest for some fantastic ideas...) to keep the stuff all year.

10.  Upcoming birthday presents. Just in case Santa didn't get everything on the list, toys, coloring books, craft kids, and more usually go up to 50% off the day after Christmas.  Especially if you KNOW what you want, this can be great for those end of winter/early spring birthdays.

9. Ornaments Check out your tree-- does it need more bling? Mind did last year, and I waited about a week after Christmas (slim-pickings by then, but SUPER cheap), and I let the girls each pick out two 10 cent ornaments at Wal-mart. Seriously, the $2 ornaments were done to 10 cents.  Plus, I picked up a couple of sets of clear plastic ones to make cute ornament crafts for the next year.

8. Crafting supplies Besides ornament crafts, I bought those foam craft kits, jingle-bell necklaces to make, and some nativity coloring books on clearance.  My nephews expect me to come equipped with crafts when I visit so this is a great time to buy some anticipatory crafts for next year. And most supplies don't require much room to store either.  I usually check out Joann's Fabrics or AC Moores for these.

7.  Tape & Scissors Sometimes holiday stores sell green/red tape dispensers and scissors for Christmas-- and then they have to put them on clearance.  So I have bought scissors for a quarter and 'good' tape for less than a dollar.  I can never have too much tape with my super-crafty kid who decorates my house for every  holiday....

6. Candy  O.k., Ems is going to die laughing at this one. BUT, I usually buy Christmas M&Ms because they are soooo cheap. Why? Do I love to eat M&Ms? Well, yes, but I really divide them into a green M&M container and a red one. I love to make holiday-cookies & pancakes with special M&M treats. Valentine's Day, I use the red ones, and I save the green ones for St. Patrick's day. Yes, I divide them up and save them.

5. Artificial Trees I bought my fake tree two years ago the day after Christmas. This is one item you NEED to got the day after Christmas because they SELL OUT QUICKLY. But if you are ready to make the switch from real to fake, this is the day to do it! We got a beautiful one that we would have NEVER been able to afford without the 50% markdown.

4. Nativity Figures O.k. I am in the market for these this year. I had a patient give me a beautiful handmade manger, but without the figurines. I had no idea how expensive they can be, especially because I need about 6" plus figures... so I am hoping I can find a nice set this year.

3. Decorations  Are you in need of lights, garlands, serving ware, or candles? This is the time to buy. I often stock up on cinnamon spice candles, white tapers, and picture frames that can be used all year. (Side note, wait until after Easter sales to get advent pink & purple candles).

2. Random stuff Just look around at the store. Sometimes those "Made for TV' items go on Christmas clearance or musical snow globes or nose hair trimmers--who knows!  Check out everything and try to figure out what you might want for the year.  Break out those gift cards (o.k. I hope I get one-- I love gift cards I don't care if they are impersonal) and think outside the box. Slippers, socks, and mittens are on my list too!

1. Wrapping paper. As I am strong proponent of wrapping stocking stuffers, we go through a lot of paper (5 rolls this year).  I buy a ton of paper after Christmas. Also, I check out the plain silver (for weddings), the Hanukkah-blue paper for birthdays, and character-style paper for the girls (I go them pink "Christmas" wrapping princess paper for their birthday last year).  Be sure to check out the square foot of each roll-- it might look like a deal, BUT if you are only getting 25 sq ft you are not getting your money's worth.

Final tip, check stores that are not the big box ones: CVS, Wal-greens, craft stores, etc.  They often have to get rid of their holiday merchandise very quickly to make room.  Wal-Mart & Target get SWAMPED early so usually slim-pickings.

Anyway, hope all of you are having a blessed Christmas and enjoying the fruits of your wrapping-labor!!

Easy Rule #122620 With a little planning, you can budget for next year's Christmas.

Easy Rule #5555 Christmas is so much more fun as a parent!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Lazy Mom's Christmas Eve

I feel like I've missed something this year. All of you are busy today, aren't you? I'm not. I'm seriously wearing pajama pants right now (it's 2:00 in the afternoon). The kids are playing video games in the basement and the baby is taking a nap. Hubby is working till 3 or so. My house could use some cleaning.  I seriously have no idea what is for dinner tonight. This is becoming a holiday trend this year...I think not having guests is sucking the motivation from my holiday preparation.

Now, I DID buy presents and I'm 50% done the wrapping of said gifts. Post holiday I will detail my purchases and wrapping strategies, but my children read this blog so I won't ruin any surprises now (there is a chorus of groans behind me).  And I do have a ham for tomorrow's dinner, and I'm making my my mom's cream puffs (AMAZING!) for dessert. I will include the recipe here, never fear.

Christmas Eve, however, is just extremely quiet around here.  I only feel (mildly) guilty because I've talked to several people about their busy, busy plans today and I'm wondering what I forgot.....

I will share a couple random occurrences this week:

1. A lady at church asked me if I still lived in the same house. When I replied "yes" she shook her head and asked me if I kept the children in drawers.    Yup.

2. My children were overheard gloating (about taking time off from school), "Mom said we could have the day off AFTER Christmas too!!"    Ha ha. You innocent, innocent home-schooled children.

3.  My husband is a last minute Christmas shopper. Here is our texting from today:

4. Simona came down with a cough and cold that is keeping her up at night. Ergo, I had a little helper while I wrapped stocking stuffers last night.  The other children will all be thrilled to receive pre-gnawed gifts, I'm sure. She had a grand time.

5. Gabriel (my 2 year old) is finally starting to get a little naughty. He has been a pretty easy child overall, but now he has taken to calling me a "Bad Boy" if I say no to him and to declare that he won't play with me anymore, "only Daddy."  It's hilarious. I'm trying to stay strong and not laugh in his chubby face.

6.  I've mentioned before how we attend church on Christmas morning. Another perk of that Mass time is the fact that it is very low attendance, with few families (see, I'm anti-social). No, really just because I don't have to deck out the kids and myself to the nines in fancy Christmas garb. We still look "church nice" and try to wear some red, but there is really no pressure for the children to be the cutest in church since they win by forfeit! Just another Lazy Mom tip.

 Mom's Cream Puffs
1/2 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sifted flour
4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 400.  In medium saucepan slowly bring 1 cup water with butter and salt to boiling. Remove from heat. With wooden spoon, beat in flour all at once. Return to low heat; continue beating until mixture forms ball and leaves side of pan,.
Remove from heat. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating hard after each addition until mixture is smooth.(I think we now can use our mixer). Continue beating until mixture is shiny and satiny and breaks in strands.
Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake until puffed and golden brown--20-40 minutes.
Let cool completely on wire rack.
Cut off tops crosswise.  Fill with custard, cream or ice cream.
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/'2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In small saucepan slowly heat milk just until bubbles form around edge of pan.

In a small bowl combine sugar and cornstarch, stir to mix will. Stir into hot milk all at once.
Beat a small amount of hot mixture into egg yoks.  Pour back into saucepan, cook stilling over medium heat until mixture boils and thickens and then stir in vanilla.
Place waxed or saran wrap directly on surface of filling to prevent film from forming.  Refrigerate.
1 pkg (6oz) choc chips
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 tablespoons milk
I usually double this recipe
Melt choc, butter, and corn syrup over low heat and then add milk to right consistency.
As close to serving the puffs as possible--fill them and then pour the warm choc on top...

Hope you all are having a peaceful Christmas Eve despite the preparations!

Rule #3410: If it is TOO peaceful, you are probably being a Lazy Mom. And give yourself permission to do that occasionally, for the sanity of all!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

T'was the Night Before Christmas- Almost...

Jules Here-

Three days until Christmas, and I am all wrapped, prepped, and ready to go-- wait, strike that-- I haven't even finished all my shopping... BUT, I am not stressed or worried about this holiday yet! I am still enjoying the endless Christmas music, the dazzling lights, and the delicious cookies.  I am eagerly anticipating the Christmas morning excitement with children and the beautiful Mass.  But first, I must get through Christmas eve.  Somehow my plans for a quiet Christmas eve with my neighbors has escalated to 12 adults and 5 children at my house for appetizers and desserts! (Shout out to my friend Chrissy who lovingly invited herself to my house with her fantastic parents-- I love friends who balk the societal expectation of waiting for an invitation....)  The more the merrier and I cannot wait to celebrate amongst friends!

As I plan this tapas-style menu for Tuesday night, I am realizing that pretty much all of the food has an element of cheese in it (which  makes it a challenge for my lactose-sensitive son). But who cares- it's CHRISTMAS!  So here are a few of the recipes for my "party" on the night before Christmas:

Buffalo Chicken Dip
This is a party-favorite of a few of my friends, so it is a requirement at most gatherings.
  • 1 Cup ranch dressing
  • 2 boxes (16 oz) cream cheese
  • 6-8 oz Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (I use a little less as not to burn people's mouths)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 # of chicken breasts
  • 2 Cups grated cheddar
  • 1 Cup chopped celery
  • Tortilla Chips
1. Boil chicken and break apart.
2. Saute celery in saute pan (I have actually chopped and steamed this in the microwave before with a little water)
3. Add all ingredients and mix well.
4. Add to 9 x 13" pan. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

Pizza Balls
Perfect appetizers for kids to eat: filling & not as messy as regular pizza
  • 3 cans Pillsbury Buttermilk Biscuits  OR crescent rolls
  • Chopped pepperoni (I use the turkey pepperoni)
  • Shredded or shredded mozzarella
  • 1 beaten egg
  • Parmesan
  • Italian seasoning
  • Garlic powder
  • 1 jar pizza sauce
  1. Flatten a biscuit/crescent roll out and stack pepperoni and cheese on top.
  2. Gather up the edges of the biscuit or crescent roll
  3. Line the rolls up (seam side down) in a greased 9×13 in. pan.
  4. Brush with beaten egg.
  5. Sprinkle with Parmesan, Italian seasoning and garlic powder.
  6. Bake at 425°F for 18-20 minutes.
  7. Serve the rolls with warm pizza sauce for dipping.

One of the dessert items I am making, is Lemon Pie Bars from I've made these several times and they are delicious and easy!!
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Mix 2 cups of flour and confectioner's sugar together. Cut in the butter or margarine. Mix well until the dough resembles pie dough consistency. Press the dough into a 9x13 inch baking pan.
3. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.
4. Beat together eggs, sugar, 4 tablespoons flour, lemon juice and lemon rind for at least 1 minute. Pour the mixture over the baked crust.
5. Bake the bars another 20 minutes, or until the lemon topping has set. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar when cooled.

Hopefully I can get all my cooking, cleaning, shopping, and wrapping done before Christmas so I can ENJOY these yummy dishes.  At least my MOM is cooking Christmas dinner for us!!

Easy Rule #27098- Sometimes you just have to realize you'll be tired for awhile. Embrace the fatigue and try not to stress out!

Easy Rule #52222- The internet really is a treasure-trove of recipes with reviews & ratings that makes it so easy to plan a meal or special occasion.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Top Ten- Crazy Christmas List

Jules here-

Time to write that letter to Santa (except if you're Em's kids... :)), and as I wrote my real list (socks, slippers, a crock pot, etc....) I imagined my fantasy Christmas desires.  With all the lottery talk, I pictured a Christmas without limits; and I know I just posted on being grateful for what you have, BUT, it is so fun to think of the extremes....

10. Unlimited shelves, containers, and storage.  Especially at the holidays, I realize how much stuff we have.  Living in America, we are so blessed with books, toys, movies, clothing, etc.  I just don't know where to put all of it. I love to a place for everything; however, $8+ a rubbermaid tote and $100 bookshelves are a bit much when you multiply them. I would love to be on one of those organization shows where they custom-build you storage just for your stuff.

9. A cleaning lady.  Oh, imagine a scoured bathroom floor; crumbs no longer hiding under my chairs, and a sparkling bathtub-- unless I turn one of  my girls into Cinderella, I doubt that will happen without a cleaning lady.  As a stay-at-home mom, it's hard to rationalize needing cleaning help but with homeschooling, limited space for stuff, and the Boy-- I have no time to keep up.  This leads me to my favorite "pin":
8. Masseuse on staff.  More than a cleaning lady, I would love to have a weekly (or more frequently if I was Oprah Winfrey-level-rich) massage.  Maybe because I have a huge 2 year-old and my noodle arms can't handle it, but I always feel sore and nothing feels better than a massage.

7. A makeover.  I caught part of the Today Show the other day in which they grabbed a random woman from the crowd and gave her a fantastic head-to-toe makeover. I was super jealous. I am not fashionable (as our younger sister will attest to) and I would love having someone guiding my clothing & hair choices. Which leaves me to my next choice....

6. New wardrobe.  I would guess 1/2 of my wardrobe is hand-me-downs (which I love!) and the other half dates back to high school and/or I acquired them at Target years ago. The problem with the cheap clothing I buy is that they shrink, stretch, or fade rather quickly.  I only have a few pieces that I choose to wear, and I would love to have all age-appropriate, comfortable, and classy clothing--and still reserve my sweatpants, pajamas, and zip-up sweatshirts for home (Doesn't it bother you on What Not to Wear when they throw out the ENTIRE old wardrobe-- you think-- what the heck will she clean the house in and she'll never be comfortable again?!?!)

5.Hardwood floors & a mudroom. Those are my must-have home improvements. The floors aren't actually a selfish desire, it's to quell my son's horrific dust mite allergy, but the mudroom is all for me.  We have officially 18" of snow on the ground BEFORE Christmas this year.  Slush, ice, and snow create puddles, wet clothes, and piles of mittens by my door.  I have no place store that gigantic mess every year. I actually stuff the clothes in a garbage bag to keep them out of my way--Oh for one of these:

4. Unlimited lessons for the kids. Being a homeschooling mom, we budget quite a bit and use as many free resources as we can.  BUT, I would love to have the kids in swim lessons, art classes, and my 3-year old would love gymnastics.  Unfortunately these classes cost quite a bit-- $150 doesn't sound that bad for 8 weeks but then times it by three... 

3. A veg-out day. Remember those days before you had children when you caught a marathon of a show on TV-- and there went your whole day? Yeah, I'd love just one day of that.  Usually if I have my children asleep, out with Dad, etc., I feel such pressure to clean, organize and check-off my To Do list. I would like to have a pressure-free day in which I could just watch an entire TV series season and do jigsaw puzzles (yes, I would love to move into a retirement community right now... I would fit right in-- scrabble, puzzles, and snacks....).

2. Uncapped spending on friends & family.  I dream about winning the lottery partly to accomplish this list, but also to be super generous with my gifts this Christmas. I dream about helping my little sis with her new baby, or giving Ems a fantastic family vacation to a sunny locale.  Wouldn't it be so much fun to be able to share wealth? To help alleviate financial stress from your family?

1. Sleep.  My husband pined the other day, "I can't wait until our kids are a little older so we can mountain bike, hike, and ski more often together."  And all I was thinking was, "Dear Lord, if I have some time to myself all I want is sleep, a good book and TV."  Seriously, it's been 6+ years since I had a solid night sleep and I doubt I will ever again:


Easy Rule #5909 Count your blessings, but don't be afraid to dream big.

Easy Rule #27872 Send your spouse a Christmas list early so you get what you really need. Don't try to make them guess.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Being Grateful

Jules Here-

It's VERY important to me that my children appreciate what they have and what they receive from other people.  I know I can't always predict the reaction of kids as they unwrap a package from a relative or a friend, but I hope that each item excites them and they understand that "it's the thought that counts".  How do I get my children to understand the importance of a gift? Well, I try to instill some values that I think improve graciousness:

  • Respect your property- I am a bit regimented with toy clean up. Why? Well, I do like some order in my house, but truly I want my children to keep their toys together to understand their value.  Toys cost money, and when you lose pieces or damage them they aren't worth much any more.   Each toy has a place and if I notice my children throwing toys or haphazardly littering them around the room, they will lose that toy for a number of days.
    Playing with Doctor Kit (the kit from when I was a kid....)
  • Don't spoil.  I never splurge on a toy while we are at Wal-Mart shopping with the kids.  I don't buy 5-6 gifts for them on their birthdays, why? Because who could appreciate a coloring book, crayons, or doll baby if you get them whenever you want? Reserve presents for truly special occasions, and even then limit the amount you give your kids-- they don't need much.
  • Teach the value of a dollar.  When Grace turned 2 years old we went to the mall with a friend who had a little boy.  We used to have a beautiful carousel in the center, and my friend's son said, "Can we ride on the horses?" And Grace answered, "No, that's way too expensive."  Boo-yah. Taught my kid to be a cheapskate by two.  Seriously, don't be afraid to show them how much things cost and why they can't have everything they want.
  • Write Thank-You notes. At every age, I have my kids write Thank Yous in their own way. For babies, toddlers, and non-writers, I always try to take a picture of the kids opening the gift, and include that picture in my note.  As they start to get older, I have them sign their name or draw a picture in the card. I also like to quote my children in the Thank You, for example, this was the card to my  neighbor last year,  "Lisa, Grace said, "I really like the sand art set you gave me for Christmas if only my mom would let me open it."  I swear, she said that-- it was too messy during the holidays, I had to wait until January.   Anyway, now that Grace writes well, she doesn't just sign her name, she has to write it too. 

  •  Show your graciousness too. Leading by example is the best way to teach kids anything.  I often rave about presents and kindnesses so they understand how to appreciate someone. I bake things for neighbors when they do favors for us and I write my thank you notes in front of them too.  Also, anytime I bring out a toy or outfit that was given to them, I remind them of who gave it to them and for what occasion. 
  • Practice thankfulness.  How does a 3 year old react when they receive a duplicate gift? "Um, I already have this."  How do you prevent that awkwardness? I prepare my kids (especially at birthday parties) by practicing opening a gift that they do no like or already have. I teach them to smile and say, "Thank you" and to notice a nice thing about the item.  Teaching your kids ahead of time definitely alleviates some of those challenging moments.
Hopefully my kids understand the effort, time, and money that goes into Christmas this year-- and I know there will be PLENTY of teachable moments about gratitude during this holiday!

Easy Rule #122513  Gratitude is a learned behavior. Take the time to appreciate everyone this holiday.

Easy Rule #122613 As a parent, giving IS better than receiving at Christmas- so enjoy the fun moments!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Santa Post

Ems here--Word on the street is that the debate on "To Do or Not to Do Santa" is all the rage on Facebook ...since this blog is all about being hip to the latest trends, I thought I would toss in my two cents, for what it's worth ( I'm guessing about two cents).

I grew up "on Santa." And I was a true believer, confident in his ability to circumnavigate the globe at record speeds and deposit boatloads of presents beneath every be-sparkled tree.  I was rudely awakened in 4th grade by a fellow student who found it hilarious that I still believed. I promptly went home and told my two younger sisters the horrible truth because misery loves company.

That being said, with my first two children I fully intended to carry on the tradition of Santa Claus. Christmas Eve we put out cookies and milk and I signed "Santa" on several of the packages under the tree. When my two sweet little boys came down the stairs, they were greeted with the glory of Christmas! And the magic of an empty plate! And I was sure our traditions had been initiated...until Nathaniel looked at me with his huge brown eyes (trusting and earnest) and asked, "Did Santa REALLY eat the cookies?!"

I felt this panic rise in my chest. I tried to force the words, "Yes, of course he did!," but I couldn't choke them out.  I literally couldn't tell an outright lie to his face, not when he trusted me with his learning, his beliefs. I managed to change the topic quickly to avoid, but I knew that I would need to find a different way to approach Christmas next year. I just could not tell him--in the same voice-- that guardian angels, the Holy Spirit, and Santa Claus are ALL true. At least, not in the commonly held tradition of a fat man shimmying down the chimney.

Upon reflection, I realized that Santa Claus in the true tradition is, of course, real. He is St. Nicholas, a holy man, a saint in heaven, a pillar of generosity, a beacon of God's love.  So it is with that truth that I came prepared for the following year's Christmas. We talked about how on this most special of holidays, Jesus' birthday, the whole world rejoices. The Lord wants us to share in the joy by giving and receiving St. Nicholas did so long ago. The Santa Claus at the mall, the red-suited figure on the wrapping paper, those are images of St. Nicholas to keep the joy of Christ's birth alive in our hearts.

No chimney. No flying reindeer. No "magic." But there is a manger. And a host of angels. And miracles.

And there are still, as my children will gleefully attest, PRESENTS! 

Now, I truly feel that each family will find their own way to approach Christmas, just as each family has their own special traditions that accompany the holiday. But I will own that this truth-telling approach has been a wonderful thing for our family.

My kids know that when I tell them something, anything, it is the truth. If I don't know the answer to a question, I admit it. If they ask me a question that I am not ready to answer, I simply say, "We'll talk about it when you are older. I'm not ready to discuss it with you now."

It also has helped as the kids have grown and are more into fiction novels and television shows/movies. I can freely tell them that no, magic isn't real--and it's not a conflict of interest with what they believe happens on Christmas Eve. 

On Christmas morning, the children rush downstairs and are allowed to open their stockings. After that flurry of excitement and activity, we eat breakfast and get ready for Mass.  We do not open our presents until Mass is over, as a reminder that it is Jesus' birthday first! The stockings are a nice taste of celebration, but postponing the present opening is a small sacrifice to remember what this day is truly about.

No matter how you approach the season of celebration, I hope you all have a blessed and joyous Christmas, filled with love and family fun! God bless you and yours!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

On Dying

Ems here--I thought tonight I would share our conversation over dinner.  Somehow, the topic of death was broached, and the kids were all announcing their preferred methods of passing on....

Theo: I would like to be a martyr. Like in Iraq or North Korea or something. I'd preach and then when they said they were going to kill me I'd just say "Do it! 'cause then I'll go right to heaven and be happier than you would ever be!"

Nate: Did you hear how Maximilian Kolbe died? He was put into a locked room and starved to death for over a week!

Matt: (in horror): Ugh! I would not want that to happen to me! I want to die permanently! Like with a gunshot or a cannon!

Tad: I just want to die of old age.

JoJo: I want to die of happiness!!

Rule #3012: Conversations about death need not be avoided! It's a great opportunity to talk about faith, the soul, and the future (Matt wants to be a missionary and a soldier, for example).

Quick Mexican-Style Dinner

Jules here-

I had planned to make some delicious fajitas for dinner last night; however, after I started defrosting the chicken I realized we were out of tortillas :( Bummer.  Instead of giving up on my dinner idea (mostly because I had JUST cooked breakfast for dinner the night before), I decided to persevere and ransack my pantry.  One ingredient that intrigued  me (that I rarely have) is fresh (albeit over a week old) cilantro.  Now, I know some people despise cilantro, but I think it makes a Mexican dish fantastic!  I have always loved corn & bean salsa, though I have never made it, so I chose to make a dish loosely-based on that concept.  I call my dish:

Chicken & Corn Salsa (creative....)

- 2 chicken breasts, boiled and shredded (I use the kitchen-aid paddle to do that... it's awesome)
- 1 can whole kernel corn
- 1 can diced tomatoes- undrained
- 1 can Rotel tomatoes, undrained
- 1 can black beans
- 1 chopped onion
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 diced green pepper
- Olive Oil
-  2 TSPS of cumin (o.k. I just dumped some spices in, so you can season to your taste too...)
- Tsp of garlic salt
- 1 TSP chili powder
Fresh Cilantro
Cheddar Cheese

Sauté garlic, onions, and peppers until soft.  Then, add all the canned goods and seasonings.  Simmer until all are heated threw.  Add shredded chicken and stir until integrated. Toss cilantro the last minute just until mixed, and turn off heat.  Serve over rice with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese. Salsa optional (Hubby likes more zip than I)

Anyway, it was super fast, super easy and you could totally use leftover chicken. I like having dinners with can goods because I can store many to have on hand at any time. Cilantro is optional too, but yummy!

Easy Rule #5301- Don't give up on a dinner idea if you are missing a key ingredient- re-think it and try again!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Top Ten- Ohio Style

Jules here-

We survived the trip back from Ohio (only hours before the ice storm struck the route), and now after finally settling back in, I shall regale you with all of the wondrous things I have learned in my TOP TEN THINGS I LEARNED IN OHIO (or on the way there):

10. Car DVD players are quite useful.  I still like to have my children experience boredom in the car. I think it's a fantastic life skill, BUT, at the particularly brutal 10+ hour, the DVD player was incredible that last hour of the trip. Thank you my dear friend, Tanya, for lending me one!  Oh, and mini-vans rock.

9. City life has its perks. Though I had to get used to locking my car and parallel parking, walking to my sister's house and driving 2 minutes to the grocery store was quite a perk. Most things in New Hampshire take 15 minutes for me, so it was a welcome change!

8. My son is kind of a bully. So, Emily has the most darling 2 1/2 year old boy, Gabe. He is charming, friendly, and quite likeable- except to James. My 2 year old (who easily outweighs his cousin by 10 pounds) decided to repeat "Bad Boy" over and over again to the confused angel-child.  This development made me realize how easy it is to spoil your youngest child, and I had to be extra vigilant with his grumpy behavior and tone. This also reminded me that supervised play dates are best for this age so you can be there to correct behavior as it happens.

7. Boys are different. Yes, this seems obvious to most, but I have two girls as my eldest and I am NOT used to the rambunctiousness, athleticism, and carelessness of boys. Seeing six boys together really changes your perspective on what noise is.....

6. Aldi's Grocery store is AWESOME. Emily has mentioned Aldi's Grocery store before and I thought, "Yeah, it's just like my Market Basket (or Shop-Rite for you southerners)," but I was wrong.  Some items are soooo cheap (I seriously bought 6 bags of chocolate chips), and other prices are comparable to my discount-grocery store.  I do wish I lived closer to one.

5. Libraries are fantastic everywhere. I have traveled to about 5 different libraries in my state, and now I was able to see Emily's library in Ohio.  As a nation, we are just so blessed to have such a wonderful resource no matter where you live! Books, movies, CDs, story times.... for free!!

4. With ten kids, someone's not going to like dinner.  We took turns cooking for the crowd of 14 every night, and used many of the meal suggestions we have posted about before.  I made bacon-wrapped cheddar chicken one night, and the review of my 9 year-old nephew was, "What is this? I mean, chicken and cheese just don't go together."  Granted, he did eat it without complaint, and other kiddos asked for seconds. 

3. Boys like crafts too.  I love crafting, and the one reason I was thrilled to have a girl first was to take her to AC Moore's to pick out craft kits to do together.  I really thought boys might not want to sit still and enjoy crafts. Emily's boys LOVE crafts... however, Emily does not. So when I come to visit, it is expected that I bring at least ONE activity for them to enjoy!

 2. No one sleeps at sleepovers. My lovely niece joined us for a night to enjoy some cartoons, hot cocoa, and cuddly girl time with her cousins.  Though they were put in bed at 8 PM, they giggled, read, and jumped until well past 10 o'clock.  I was half-asleep listening to them on the monitor until they finally wore themselves out....

1. Cousin time is worth the trip.  Having our children 12 hours apart is hard, but with Skype, bi-annual visits, and emails, they CAN develop a close bond.  Seeing our kids enjoy each other makes the entire 24 hours in the car worth it!

Easy Rule #2999-  Cousins can be close no matter how far away they live if you put in the effort!

Easy Rule #110111- Even though other people's children might seem wonderful and perfect, try to remember that certain grumpy-traits are just age-related... so don't trade 'em in.... yet (though my nephew Gabe is my first-round draft pick...)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Shows to Watch on Netflix

Ems here--Please note that this is a completely frivolous post written by someone who has taken over 50 pictures of her children for Christmas card photos  with this being the result:

I am burnt out and only want to talk about mindless things like pretend people on the small screen. So.

Are you looking for some new shows to get into (aka, watch entire seasons in a matter of days)? Here are a few to try out if you are finding the holiday movies on the telly getting a bit old....

Please note that these shows are NOT for children! Nor are they for people who only watch historical documentaries. Or for people who like to be "productive" in the evenings.

Fringe--For X Files fans, or those who like their mystery mixed with a side of "man, that's some crazy.." Engaging characters  round out the suspense filled series.

Medium--Spooky, eerie, clever, compelling crime-solving series involving a police psychic and her very normal and appealing family. 

Eureka--Funny stuff involving an Everyman sheriff solving problems in a town of scientific geniuses whose creations often run amok.

Warehouse 13--Another SciFi treat about    Agents whose top secret job is to acquire and neutralize supernatural objects wreaking havoc in the world. Good character rapport.

Prison Break--Intense. Clever. Action-packed (cough--violent). Edge of seat stuff. Brother helping brother .

Buffy the Vampire Slayer--Fun, fun! If you've never seen it, you are in for a treat:) To be followed by Angel.

Haven--Not as polished as a prime time show, it is still very entertaining! The residents of a small New England town are affected by supernatural troubles, and are aided by a newcomer.  Based on a Stephen King book.

Happy Relaxing!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cousin Love

Jules and kids are safely back home after a wonderful visit! The trip had to be cut short by a day, however, due to weather concerns. Perils of winter traveling. But it was really special that they all made the 12 hour trek to see us.  It's a gift to allow the cousins to get to know each other.


The week was jam packed--Mass, Ikea, homeschooling, library, running around the house like crazy.  Beautiful.  To those of you who live near family: EMBRACE IT! You are so blessed! I have never had any family near by while raising my children.  In this age of technology, I can't feel too sorry for myself.  I have seen so many (ok, all) of the Hallmark movies --you know the ones, by Janette Oke: Love's Enduring Promise or something, ad infinitum--where the young couple moves far from family and basically never sees them again. 

For some reason the rest of this post got deleted:( I don't feel like writing it again, but trust me, it was life changing.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mini-Rant #1

Jules here-

After surviving my road-trip, I am finally reveling in time with my sister-- watching our favorite shows, eating fantastic food, and playing numerous word games.  Of course, our bonding is incessantly punctuated by the demands of TEN children needing frivolous things such as food and water. Still, we tolerate the noise, mess, and chaos of the children frolicking because we adore seeing their love, joy and enthusiasm for each other.

Which brings me to my rant. So many people say to me after hearing of Em's brood, "Oh- I could never handle that many children" or I often get, "I could never homeschool my children- they would never listen to me..." etc. etc. etc.   In the discipline of my children, I often say that I expect a lot of them-- and they usually meet my expectations. The SAME concept should apply to adults-- stop expecting so little of yourself?  Of course if someone gave you seven kids one day and said, "Handle it," it would turn into spectacular reality TV.  BUT-- if you, like Ems, had children the way nature intended-- you could handle it.  Would life be easy, relaxing, and stress-free? Um... no, but blessings are great!

Think back to other never statements you have made--- "I could never handle a child with special needs." Would you want to have a child with special needs?-- of course you would hope for "normal,"but how do you know you couldn't handle it? You don't.  People make life-altering and life-ending decisions based on their own fears and self-assumed inadequacies.  Working in healthcare, I have always had a problem with Living Wills-- though the concept sounds fantastic.  I mean, how do you know what you'll want 10, 15, 20 years in the future?  For example, I have had peers say, "I would never want a feeding tube, if I couldn't eat, I would want to just die."

Well, I have had a couple of patients that had strokes that could walk and (sort-of) talk,but they had a swallowing dysfunction-- so their family debated (actually DEBATED) not feeding the patient as that's what they wished for 20 years before..... Seriously. The person could smile, laugh, walk, etc.....  Would you want to die if you could still hold your kids, read books, and at least sit at the dinner table? I wouldn't.  As for life and death decisions, have a family member you trust as your legal spokesperson in the hospital, don't leave it up to a piece of paper that can't possibly encompass ALL of the possible scenarios in the future. 

We tell our children to "never give up" and "you can do anything" meanwhile, we turn to our friends and murmur, "I could never take all the kids to the grocery store myself" or "I would never want to live in a wheelchair."  My advice would be: You NEVER know how you'd handle something in the future.  Wouldn't you rather think the best of yourself? Maybe you could be like this guy who turned tragedy into triumph:

So instead of rationalizing your fears of "having another child" or trying to anticipate how you'll react to something in the future- be more assured of yourself, stop selling yourself short, and embrace the unexpected.  Challenges can transform you into someone you truly could be proud of.

You could totally handle it.

Easy Rule #7321 Don't plan too much in the future- you'll be a different person then.
Easy Rule #7422 Ten kids together is crazy fun-- with the emphasis on crazy. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What We Did Black Friday

Ems here--No, we didn't go shopping. Can you imagine??? Aldi's was rough enough, but WalMart on Black Friday?? I would have come back a few kids lighter, for sure. And probably needing a tranquilizer.

Husband was working, so the kids and I had some plans for the day.

1. Do School (mostly, this was my plan)
2. Clean House for Jules (mostly my plan too)
3. Decorate House for Christmas (kids were on board with this one)

We packed in math and vocab and spelling and literature while I ran around moving furniture and cleaning behind the television and big comfy chair (perhaps the first time in a year). No judgments, please. This is not a blog about cleaning.

Anyhoo, after I found 30 odd socks and 45 pencils--but no money, sad face--I was ready to enlist the troops to carry up the Christmas stuff from the basement. This is where having a bunch of kids is REALLY useful.  Man oh man, do those kids work fast! Nate, the eldest, is like one of those Egyptian taskmasters (think Ten Commandments where Moses and company are slaving away and the powerful Egyptian guy is lording over them with a whip). I exaggerate slightly. We don't own whips. However, he is highly motivated and keeps everyone else on task. I literally made cookies while they carried up the various parts of our artificial tree and the boxes of lights and ornaments.

Then, they proceeded to put the ENTIRE TREE TOGETHER in 20 minutes. Without assistance. I helped when it came time for lights, but after that, the children decorated the tree in another 20 minutes. It was the fastest tree decorating I've ever witnessed.

A brief note about the tree. We DO use an artificial tree, and I've never had a real one. I grew up with fake trees, so I think it is in my comfort zone. I know many people are passionate about real trees, but I don't know any better. Plus, I admit, I admire the perfect conical shape of the artificial tree. The real trees I've seen in others' homes are always weird shaped and scrawny--which I guess is "natural" --but I like neat cones. And I don't want to go out in the cold and search for a tree. So, that makes me either a perfectionist or really lazy. You decide.

We did have one Christmas mishap. Gabe (2) reached up and pulled at a stocking hanging on the mantle and the heavy ceramic holder beaned him on the head. There was some blood and a bump-- and an ice pack with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse to soothe him. No lasting damage.

I still have a bunch left to clean, but I know that my mom and Jules won't really care. Especially because it is only ever clean for that 15 seconds when I greet them at the door. Then the 10 cousins will be together, having a raucous old time.

Good luck with your Christmas decorating, everyone! And if any of you need assistance, I will lease my kids out for a minimal fee. And by that I mean I will pay YOU.  Just kidding, children!!

Easy Rule #1073: The more the merrier, and the lighter the load!