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Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving surrounded by friends, family, and lots of good food.  I hosted Thanksgiving this time for the first time ever and it went really well.  Not one smoke detector went off!

As we went around the table tonight saying what we were thankful for, I realized just how blessed we have been this year.  Greenleigh is growing into such a little girl.  I love that we can have entire conversations now.  Of course, the word “no” does tend to play a major role in those conversations, but let’s focus on the positive, shall we?  She definitely keeps us on our toes.

Hazeline is pretty much the best baby ever.  Seriously.  She just loved her mashed potatoes and stuffing today…it’s the first “real” food she’s ever had!  Even when she is under the weather, she still smiles.  Gotta love her.I’m also lucky to have my husband, who puts up with me even when I’m completely nuts a little annoying.  We have family visiting for the holiday, but we also had great friends join us today for dinner.  These friends have become our South Florida family and I can’t imagine our lives without them.  We have been blessed in so many ways this year.I’ve done my very best to Respect the Bird, because I do think Thanksgiving is a very important holiday.  It’s not about a great sale or a stepping stone to Christmas, but a holiday that requires reflection and appreciation.  With that said (and as I sit here eating my Thanksgiving leftovers) I know that tomorrow officially marks the beginning Christmas season, and to say I’m excited about that doesn’t even begin to describe it!

Help! A baby is running my life!

As we were celebrating a birthday in our office last week, a group conversation started regarding crazy things moms do.  Specifically, they were discussing a woman who had just had her second child a few hours before.  A few people in the office wanted to go see the new baby, but the parents had asked that no one visit them in the hospital or at home for the first few days.  The conversation then turned to several rules the “Crazy Mom” has for her toddler, which included that she be the only one to put him to bed, limitations on where they could go and at what times, and that she needs to sneak out of the house as opposed to saying goodbye when she leaves him to run an errand.  Sure, there were several comments to the effect of, “Well, they’re her kids, so I guess she can do what she wants,” but the general consensus was that she was letting her kids run her life.  It was further determined that this was a really, really bad thing.

Not letting kids run your life…easy concept right?  You’re the adult, they’re the kids.  I have decades of life experience, my kids can’t so much as put on their own clothes.  How can they possibly be in control?

But they are.

To a certain extent at least.  I’m a believer in the idea that you shouldn’t stop living when you have kids.  Since having Greenleigh and Hazeline we have continued to travel, have friends over to our house regularly, and maintain busy professional lives, but in making daily decisions, I have to consider my kids.  And, truth be told, I often change my plans based on my kids.  For example, I’m a night person, but my toddler is not.  She starts to slowly meltdown as the clock gets closer to 9pm.  To avoid a nasty (and quite possibly embarrassing) tantrum, I often leave places early.  Way earlier than I would like.  But it keeps her sane and happy, and that’s what matters.  I also much prefer not being escorted out of places simply because she is screaming, spinning, and generally losing her mind since it’s past her bedtime.

As I listened to tales of “Crazy Mom”, I found myself identifying with her.  I wanted to defend her.  I understand the chaos of having a new baby.  While I personally enjoyed having people visit us in the hospital, I can understand someone who has had a rough or long labor not wanting to see people right away.  I can understand wanting to develop your own schedule at home before allowing others in.  Like Crazy Mom, I also prefer to be the one to put my children to bed.  I like tucking them in at night and making sure they hear the words “I love you” as their last words of the day, regardless of how trying of a day it has been.  I will schedule our appearances at parties around naptime, because Hazeline has been sleeping so poorly lately.  I would rather show up to a birthday party 45 minutes late and apologize than wake her up from a nap early.  And I too, have had to sneak out of my house so that my toddler doesn’t know that I’m gone.  Greenleigh has a love for the outdoors, but lacks focus to take the dog on a quick walk.  What I can do in 3 minutes, takes her at least 5 times as long.  To avoid the tantrum, Erajh will keep Greenleigh distracted, and I will leave (and probably be back before she knows I was ever gone).

If those things make me crazy, I’m totally cool with it.  Feel free to stamp Crazy Mom right on my forehead for everyone to see.

Of course, I don’t blame the group for judging Crazy Mom.  Once upon a time, I would have judged her too.  I would have thought her rules and restrictions were insane.  But you see, something happens when you become a mom.  You start doing things that work for you and your children and ignoring what people think, or at least trying to ignore what people think.  Unlike the me of 3 years ago, I will not judge a mother for insisting on putting her child to sleep.  Sleep deprivation can be the worst form of torture and I go to great lengths to avoid it.  If your child sleeps best when you put them to bed and it doesn’t bother you to be depended on like that, do it.  I will not judge.

Sure, there were some things that came up during the conversation about Crazy Mom that I didn’t necessarily identify with.  There were even one or two that I though were a little out there, but every mom has her own rules and I respect that.

So while I’m not going to let my toddler or infant make any medical, financial, or employment decisions for me, they do to an extent run my life, and I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing.  In the end, it’s all about balance, but sometimes that’s hard to find.  You end up slipping to the “crazy” end of the spectrum, and you don’t even realize it.  I try to find and maintain balance everyday and often fall short.  More often than I would like to admit, I am that Crazy Mom (a moniker my husband can attest to and is looking to patent for the t-shirt, action figures, and movie rights).

Surviving Disney World with Little Kids

Well, we’re back from Disney, and I survived…barely.  Going to the parks is so much fun, but so much work when you have little kids.  When I was planning our first family trip to Disney World when Greenleigh was 15 months old, I looked everywhere for tips and tricks to successfully navigating Disney with a toddler.  Now that we’ve been there a few times with both girls, here are my tips and tricks to survive Disney with 2 little kids:

1.  Baby Care Centers – Find them, use them, love them.  Each of the Disney parks has a baby care center with several changing tables, high chairs, a play room, and baby products for sale (just in case you didn’t pack enough).  They also have several private rooms available for nursing moms or if you just need a quiet space to get your child to relax a little.  Animal Kingdom’s rooms have gliders and lights that dim, making it by far the nicest Baby Care Center, in my opinion.  No matter how old your kids are, Baby Care Centers are a great place to stop, catch your breath, and soak up some air conditioning.

2.  If possible, stay at a hotel on Disney property.  Disney hotels are expensive, and often you will save a bundle by staying off-site, but the perks can often make it worth the extra money.  Disney hotels often offer transportation to the parks, which will save you money on parking.  By staying close we are also able to return to our room for the (incredibly necessary) mid-day nap, then go back to the park.  By staying at a Disney hotel, I feel that we get more “happy” hours at the park, as opposed to trying to do too much and fighting the impending meltdown all day.

3. Bring a stroller with lots of storage space and cup holders.  The first time we went to Disney we decided to bring our lightweight stroller.  We thought it would be great for collapsing when we had to get on/off of trams, buses, etc. and easy to maneuver through the park.  We quickly learned that this was a mistake.  We had no cup holders, no storage space, and it didn’t fully recline if she fell asleep while we were in the park.  The next time around we brought our bigger travel system stroller and had plenty of room for all our beverages, souvenirs, and extra kid stuff you just have to have with you.  It also came in handy when she wanted to take a nap at the park, because it would fully recline.  Now that we have both girls we bring our twin stroller, because you just never know when toddler is going to want to walk and when they aren’t.   A big shout out to my Bumbleride Indie Twin on this one.  Love, love, love it in a theme park.

Perhaps a follow up tip to #3 would be not to overload your stroller if you are going to have to get on a tram and collapse it – I often forget things I have stuffed into the parent consoles and stroller basket.  As I try to collapse it to get on a tram, they scatter everywhere.  If I’m really lucky they won’t actually fall under the tram.

4.  Don’t skip the parade.  With the exception of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, I find parades terribly boring.  My toddler, on the other hand, loves parades.  A lot.  The idea of standing out in the sun and waiting for a parade to start makes me want to claw my own eyes out  is unappealing to me.  I would rather be doing anything else.  Maybe we have just been lucky, but we have always been able to find a spot to watch a parade without having to camp out and wait for it to begin.  This past weekend we stumbled on a parade as we entered the park and Greenleigh was able to dance about 2 feet away from Minnie Mouse, which made her day.  Naturally, Minnie’s security wouldn’t let my crazed toddler any closer.

5. If you are driving to Disney World, I highly recommend buying a portable DVD player (or iPod with screen).  Best $100 we ever spent, and includes a warranty for when she breaks it…which is definitely going to happen.  If you are against tv in general, this might not apply, but maybe you could bend the rule a little and play some educational stuff?  Seriously, it makes the 3 hours in the car pass so much easier.  Greenleigh is normally asleep after 45 minutes of Elmo in the car.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Sometimes I love that little red ball of fur.

6.  You will forget something.  Relax, it’s okay!  It’s Disney World, a world unto it’s own, but not really a foreign country.  You can buy diapers, pull-ups, wipes, and formula at Baby Care Centers.  Their gift shops span entire city blocks (literally) and contain all the clothes, snacks, and accessories you could ever want.  If you forget something, which isn’t impossible considering all the stuff you have to bring with you, you can always buy a replacement there.

Have tips on how you survive Disney?  Please share, I would love to add to this list!

Intentionally Me: Hand Stamped Jewelry {Review & Giveaway} ***Giveaway Now CLOSED***

After Greenleigh was born, I bought a necklace that had her first initial and birthstone.  I wore it and loved it for over a year before I lost the birthstone.  I considered purchasing a replacement stone, but Hazeline came along and I really wanted something that had both of their names and birthstones incorporated.   Let’s face it, their names are far from traditional and if I was going to get something that had their full names, I was going to need something that would be custom-made.

Naturally, I turned to Etsy, and it wasn’t long before I found a store called Intentionally Me.  What caught my eye about Intentionally Me was the number of options available.  Not only could I get both girls’ names on the necklace, but depending what design I chose, I could incorporate their birthstones, dates of birth, or a charm to capture their personalities.  But the options don’t end there.  You can customize the finish used for the silver, the font, and even the chain length.  Did I mention that it comes with a chain so it’s ready to wear the minute you receive it?  That’s a huge plus in my book!

It took me a while, but I finally selected the design I wanted and personalized it.  Each item is handmade and requires special attention to detail, so there is a wait time when ordering, but believe me when I tell you that the brief wait is well worth it.

I couldn’t have asked for more.  The sterling silver is beautifully polished and the birthstones are breathtakingly clear.  She even included a small heart between their names, which if you know my girls and how much they love each other, truly fits their relationship.    I have only worn it a handful of times, but I have received a ton of compliments.  It’s definitely a stunning piece of jewelry, but better yet it has a special significance to me.  I feel that in some small way I am carrying my girls with me when I go places.  It is nice to have a reminder of them with me at all times.  And unlike the necklace I had for Greenleigh, the birthstones are attached to this necklace so they can’t get lost.  Thank goodness for that!

Now the best part!  I have partnered up with Nayeli at Intentionally Me to offer a $50 Gift Certificate that can be used towards anything in the store.  Need some suggestions?  I was hoping you would.  These are just a few of my favorites:

The Rules

Want to enter?  Of course you do!  Entering is easy.  Just go to the Intentionally Me store and select the item you would want to purchase with your $50 Gift Certificate.  Leave me a comment on this post and let me know which item you selected.  There you go – you entered the giveaway!  Don’t worry, if you win, I won’t hold you to the item you mentioned in the comment; you can still use your $50 certificate towards anything in the store.

Want more chances to win?  Naturally.  I have tons of bonus entries for this giveaway:

After you complete any one of the bonus entries above, please come back here and leave me a comment letting me know which you did.  If you do several of the bonus entries (which I hope you do!), leave a comment for each bonus entry.

**Please note: You must complete the mandatory entry of visiting the Intentionally Me store and commenting which item you like before completing any of the bonus entries.**

Thank you to everyone who entered this amazing giveaway – the response was astounding!  And a very special thank you to Nayeli at IntentionallyMe for her generous giveaway offer.  Unfortunately, there can be only one winner.  That winner is Comment #44, France Irish!  Congratulations!  The winner has been notified and has claimed her prize.  If you didn’t win, please consider entering my other giveaway for a watercolor art print from Christie Scibior Art Studio, which is going on until December 13, 2011.

Disclosure – I was not compensated for this review.  I’m writing this review because I genuinely love the necklace that I purchased.  Nayeli at Intentionally Me has agreed to provide a gift certificate to her store because she’s an awesome Etsy seller and nice person in general.  She is extremely talented, and even if you don’t want to enter the giveaway, I highly recommend that you check out the beautiful items in her store.

Comfort Food: Four Cheese Mac n’ Cheese (with Bacon!)

Those who know me, know that I can’t turn down a bowl of mac n’ cheese.  It’s my comfort food.  After a long week, I often want nothing more than to make a box of mac n’ cheese and relax in front of the television.  I also have a pretty intense love for bacon.  I mean, who doesn’t?  My goal has been to try a new recipe each week, so when I saw this recipe I knew it was perfect for me us.  Plus, the estimated preparation and cooking time was under 45 minutes, which is great for a week night meal.FourCheeseMacNCheesewithBacon

What you will need:
1 box of corkscrew pasta, 1 lb.
8 slices of bacon, diced
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% milk
1/2 tsp onion flakes
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 pound (8 oz.) of cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup (4 oz) shredded colby-Jack cheese
1 cup (4 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese
8 slices Kraft Deli Deluxe American Cheese

Step 1 – Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray broiler safe baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  I used a 13×9 glass Pyrex baking dish.

Step 2 – Bring large pot of slightly salted water to boil.  Add corkscrew pasta and boil for 8 minutes.  Drain pasta when cooked.  While the pasta is boiling, cook bacon in a medium sized sauce pan until crisp.  Remove from sauce pan and place bacon pieces on paper towel.  Pour off drippings, leaving approximately 2 Tbsp worth of drippings in the pan.  I estimated this amount.  You could remove all drippings then return 2 Tbsp if you want to be more precise.

Step 3 – Add flour to the medium sauce pan with the drippings.  Whisk together until smooth.  It was at this point that I realized I not used a sauce pan, but instead was using a saute pan.  It made whisking until smooth difficult, but it all worked out.

Step 4 – In a thin stream, whisk the milk into the flour mixture.  Gradually stir in onion flakes, salt, and pepper.  Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat and simmer an additional 2 minutes.

Step 5 – In a large bowl, toss together cheddar, colby-Jack, and mozzarella cheeses.

Step 6 – Remove milk mixture from heat; whisk in American cheese slices and 1 1/4 cups of the cheddar mixture.  This seemed odd to me, and I wondered how the slices were going to whisk in, but they melted and mixed in very easy.

Step 7 – Add bacon pieces to the remaining cheddar mixture.  Mix well.

Step 8 – In pasta pot combine milk/cheese mixture and cooked pasta.  Stir until Pour half of the pasta in the prepared dish.  Sprinkle with half of the shredded cheese/bacon mixture.  Pour remaining pasta in the prepared dish and sprinkle the top with remainder of the shredded cheese/bacon mixture.

Step 9 – Bake for 20 minutes.  Without removing the baking dish from the oven, change setting to broil, and broil for 3 additional minutes.  Top should be slightly browned.

I purchased my cheese in the pre-shredded pouches to save time, but even with doing that, this recipe ended up taking closer to an hour than 45 minutes.  I generally try to keep my week night meals under 45 minutes, but the taste makes it worth the extra time.  I expected this to have a heavy cheddar taste, but you can really taste all the different cheeses.  Plus, the corkscrew pasta made it interesting enough that even Greenleigh wanted to try it. I ate this as a meal, but it would also make a great side dish at a large family gathering.

Perhaps the only thing missing in this recipe is a breadcrumb crust on the top…I will definitely try to add one the next time around.