Summer Transitions – An Update

So, clearly I’ve hit a snag switching over to WordPress. I’m fully ready on the technical end of things but, as always, the indecisiveness regarding my blog name (kind of important) is downright crippling, and I can’t make the move until I’ve settled on one. It’s a highly personal thing that I’m sure I’m over-complicating, but it also seems to be reflecting what I can only call a “blog identity crisis.” My identity in the world. So, my husband and I continue to brainstorm (and suck at it). We greatly enjoy the writing aspect of blogging, but the marketing side? Blah. I think we’ve come up with some pretty rad band names and maybe some solid investment firm branding, but nothing identifiably “me” or bloggy. Hence, you’ll know I’ve moved over…when I move over. 😉 

While I’m agonizing over the small stuff (well, that’s a catchy if not depressing title right there), I can’t just twiddle my fingers and not write. I mean, I’m writing for Thirsties and Green Child Magazine and even an awesome Arts & Analytics group that does analytic work in arts, athletics, and entertainment…but, this is my home. And I’ve got ideas and thoughts that I just can’t wait to get on with. 

So, I thought I’d share a bit of a recap of the end of summer (all things I wanted to write about in separate posts but got inundated with life and the WordPress conundrum). We’ve been back in the swing of things as far as back-to-school goes for a couple of weeks now, so it feels like summer was SO long ago, but *technically* it’s not autumn until tomorrow. See? Maybe I AM on top of things.   

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The CSA – As you may have read, we decided to try out a local CSA this summer. CSA stands for “community supported agriculture” and, in our case, was quite easy to take part in. We selected a farm that uses organic practices, paid, Dave picked up at a location relatively close to his work, and had a box of fresh veggies to work with for the week. The verdict? I’m glad that we did it, but learned that the full share was WAY too much food for our little family. Hence, we wasted WAY more food than I was comfortable with.
I just couldn’t keep up. Sure, we tried a few new-to-us recipes, but between a rather picky toddler (at least he’s a fruit eater!), varying energy levels on this pregnant mama’s part, and the sheer amount of food, a half-share would’ve been fine. Definitely a lesson for next time. Oh, and I’m also rather happy that we just did the summer share rather than the whole summer/fall share. ‘Tis the season to enjoy crisp Saturday mornings at the farmers’ market! 

mmer fun (and learning) – While there were days that I felt like the laziest person on Earth (and I felt awful that Hadman wasn’t getting outside nearly as much as he should), we tried to get out a time or two each week. With the sheer heat of the season, there were times that I’d slather us both up with sunblock, grab some toys, head outside…and turn around within 10 minutes because our little guy is just as anti-humidity as his daddy. Blah. Energy depleted.

But, we made the summer count, I think. We went to Kindermusik weekly (which sounds like nothing, but the energy it took to drive the round-trip hour at the end of those hot days…again, apparently I was a tired pregnant woman this summer!) and worked on almost-daily workbooks that the little guy loved. His focus is still hit-or-miss, but by doing a “letter of the day”, a very focused coloring page (like coloring a blank shape in an otherwise colored picture), and a “same/different” book, I saw major progression from the beginning of the summer. Plus, he ALWAYS asked to do it and generally enjoyed himself. Call me a proud mama.

And, of course there was Old Forge, the beach, and Sesame Place. We felt awful that we couldn’t see our friends in Massachusetts as we’d planned, but Hadley and I both got sick, then his turned into pneumonia. By the end of the summer, we were just glad not to have to use a nebulizer and to be generally back to our own selves. I’d still like to call it a productive yet relaxing time…for the most part.

Big changes – Oh, yeah. And talk about transitions!

We struggled, succeeded, and struggled again with potty training. I’m pretty sure that I waited too long to start, so that by the time we made a concerted effort, his heels were dug rather deeply. He’ll still occasionally whine, “But I don’t HAFTA go potty!!!” and has the occasional accident, but he’s finally started feeling a sense of urgency about the thing. About two or three times a week, he’ll have an accident on the way to the potty (which he urgently runs to), but the fact that he’s not just sitting there in his pee with no regard to the wetness is a HUGE deal. So, I’d say we’re *almost* there; I’d call him mostly trained and 100% in his “big boy underwear” (actually those cloth Gerber trainers that give a bit of extra protection that feel totally like underwear). Oh, and #1 is our only problem; we’ve never had issues with him as far as #2 is concerned. I’m sure you can sleep well knowing that tidbit of information.
We ALSO threw at the little man a shift in his sleeping situation. Since we’re slowly-but-surely transitioning the office to ALSO house the nursery space, we finally moved my old DIY desk to the basement (it was nothing but a landing pad, I swear; I almost never sat at the thing! Works much better near our laundry area) and, eep, scooched Hadley’s crib into the office. So, I sanded, primed, painted, and reassembled an awesome hand-me-down toddler bed for the little man. Verdict? He’s done pretty damn great with it. Some days he wants two pillows, some days not, and he lets you KNOW about it. Little stuff like that. But, he knows not to leave the bed on his own (we’ve got stairs that, for a few days, we used our baby gate on…not really necessary, though), and we’ve got the added peace of mind that we’re still using the monitor with a motion sensor under his mattress, so we know if he gets up immediately.

I was melancholy, but I think Dave took it even harder. Here’s his two cents on the whole “big boy bed” change. I can’t blame him. I just wanted to try to keep the shift as positive and Hadley-centric (rather than baby-centric) as possible, regardless of my “he’s not our baby anymore!” emotions. And, as it was, the little man seemed to fully understand that he’d need to share it whenever the baby comes along, anyway. (And, as it is, we’ll probably use a cradle in our room for the first couple of months, just like we did with Hadman, so things won’t shift so dramatically, anyway.)    

Home searching 
– And, then, there was another shift. We checked out numerous (the word “crapload” comes to mind) houses throughout the summer and all were either a) too small, b) out of our price range (particularly with work that needed to be done on some), or c) just…no. I like to think that we’re not picky, but maybe it’s simply not true. Given the fact that we’re busy with a 3-year-old (and an infant shortly!), jobs and side gigs, we’re trying to be realistic about the sheer amount of energy, time, and effort we can put into a house. We’re simply not as young as we used to be, either. *hips creak*
But, seriously, we’re not one of those HGTV couples who poo-poo wallpaper or completely outdated furnishings. I even completely planned on refinishing any wood floors before moving in, should they need it, as well as painting plenty of walls and doing general updating over time. It’s expected. But, a full bathroom or kitchen gut might be difficult, even down the road, and would often put it as a price point that we simply couldn’t reach. And, we also wanted to make sure that we didn’t get a house that would juuuuuust squeeze our 3+ people and 3 cats in; we’d like to be able to spread out and grow a bit (without having too much space to take care of). Okay, maybe we are picky. 

We finally reached a point where, sure, I get daily Zillow updates and check out some new listings once in awhile, but our active search has gone dormant. No more “let’s just see what it’s like on the inside” if we’re not positive it’s for us. We’re trying to slow down a lot of our activities in preparation for the new baby (and in hopes of getting some fun time in with our “only child” while the title still fits), so the overwhelming rollercoaster emotions of “is this THE house???” have been put to rest. Yes, we’ll continue the search at some point, but for now? We’re hibernating.


So, those are my updates, for now! I’ve also been hitting up the semi-occasional Periscope here and there (username is still “megactsout”, if anyone wants to follow along), but it definitely has me feeling the “wow, when did my childhood lisp come back?” self-consciousness. If I have something to share, though, I just go for it. *shrugs* What’s the harm? While I’m at it, I’m doing a bit of nursery hunting for some of the stuff I mentioned in 
my inspiration post — of which I’m officially leaning towards mint and coral accents. See? I still find ways to relax. 😉

How are you guys doing with your own transition from summer to fall? We’re LOVING the slightly cooler temperatures (still not “fall” enough for us, but it’s a start!) and sleeping with our windows open. Anyone else looking forward to apple picking and super comfy sweater season? (Or, in my case, over-sized maternity sweatpants.) I’m pretty excited to do some baking, personally. What about you guys?

Summer 2015

It’s equal parts being an over-planner and getting excited for some fun family activities, but every year since Hadman was old enough to have fun (in 2012, he was a newborn, so we didn’t do much of anything that summer!), I’ve made a list of fun summer ideas. In 2013, it was as much about my goals as it was the family. In 2014, we simplified quite a bit. While this year I’m still planning to get some personal goals accomplished (at least one book is written, so I’d like to get it sent out to publishers and work on other ideas) and we’re always puttering away at the house (and may be finding a new one! Eek!!), I’d ultimately like to keep it family-oriented. 

Heck, I’ve been so excited about summer that I dropped in with a wishlist in January! But, now that we’re getting closer, I thought I’d fine tune things a bit. So, I give you some dreams for THIS summer (along with some family favorite repeats from years gone by) – 

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1. Birthday Party 3.0 – Had’s birthday is in July, so I always like to get my creative juices flowing so that I at least know a theme or what have you for the big day. This year, my sister will have a brand new baby (in May!) and my sister-in-law is having her first little one (due early July, so it’s anyone’s guess as to when!). So, it might be a smaller event this year, which is totally fine. However, given that every time I’ve asked him in the last several months what type of party he’d like, he’s given me the exact same answer, I at least know what type of party it’ll be. Even if we only have, like, 5 people there. 😉

2. Walks – We didn’t take nearly as many walks as I would’ve liked last year. Call it my own laziness, I suppose, but this year I’d like to take several a week. Whether it’s a quick up-and-down the street or around the neighborhood, we’ve gotta get movin’! (And, yes, I’m already exhausted thinking about it.)

3. Zoo – This was a HUGE hit last year, so we’re planning to re-up our family membership to the Utica Zoo this year. With the price that it is, we don’t mind just going for the morning, eating lunch, then heading home for a nap (or staying the whole day, if we so choose). We particularly love that the animals they have on “display” are part of their focus on conservation, habitat preservation, and species survival. It’s the absolutely perfectly-sized zoo for a toddler/preschooler (with a great playground area) and H talks all the time about the animals he’s seen (and even some he thinks he’s seen ;-)). It’s definitely a big part in our raising an animal lover. Plus, there are reciprocal zoos that we could get in during any trips at a discount or free with our membership.

4. Trips! – We’re planning on taking a couple of day trips (like, within 3 hours from home) plus one 2-3 day trip similar to our Massachusetts trip last year. Still working out the details. You’d be amazed at how many places you search for that are “toddler friendly” that simply babysit the kids for the parents to have alone time all day. Not our bag; we like a FAMILY vacation, not a vacation FROM our family. 🙂 We’re also pretty loose, enjoying things like museums and hands-on play places to relaxing on the beach (not the whole time) to discovering local history and culture, so our ideas are all over the place.

5. Sandy Feet – Whether we get to a beach during our “bigger” vacation or not, I’m really hoping to get to the beach one or twice in our area. We’ve got some awesome state-protected lakes with family-friendly beaches in the area, and H is at a “love to run and play” age now, so it just seems perfect. Plus, I’d love to do the same. 🙂

6. “Potted” Garden & CSA – Between the prospect of possibly moving and the fact that our friendly neighborhood cats have taken over our gardening space, I’m hoping to just get some small plants going this year. I’ve tried in years past and had crappy-to-moderate success (I think watering is my downfall, maybe?), but am determined to at least grow a tomato plant, some herbs, and maybe something else that might catch my eye. I’d love to be able to use our back deck for this purpose, but have had issues there in the past. More research ahead! 

Oh, and we’ve finally found a CSA that has us super excited to sign up. We’re still discussing between a full share (May through October) or the summer share (May through August) due to cost and our willingness/ability to keep up with meal planning come the new school year. But, we hope to figure that out this week and get our check mailed to hold our spot quickly. I’ll chat more about that once we get our first share!

7. Library – We haven’t utilized our local library much at all. It’s a pathetic state of affairs given that I’m a school librarian. We’re not huge fans of our town’s library, quite honestly (it’s always surrounded by riff raff, so kind of intimidating to bring a toddler into), but we should at least give it a shot. I’m going to look into whether or not they have a story time (their website says they do, but it hasn’t been updated since November). If not, I’ve seen that another local library has storytime and other events, so hopefully we can start getting used to *QUIET* spaces and interacting with other littles a bit.

8. Kindermusik – Here’s the opposite of quiet time! We noticed awhile back that seem to have Kindermusik classes available about a half hour away. I’d like to try a month of classes (4) to see how he likes them. If he does, it’d be cool to continue; if not, it was a good learning experience. I’m also eyeing some swim classes (that we would take with him). Again, this all might add to the “crazy” of the summer and with the idea of maaaaybe finding (and selling) a house and two new family babies coming, it might be shooting for the moon.

9. Baby Help – Speaking of which, I’m hoping to offer up my help as much as possible to Dave’s brother and SIL, and my sister and her family. Whether they’ll take it or not is totally up to them! That said, if anyone has some yummy, healthy meals I could make for their freezers, let me know in the comments! 😉 

So, what about you guys? What are you looking forward to the most this summer? This week is a dreary, rainy mess of a spring week (last week was gorgeous and spoiled us with borderline summer-like weather), so my mind is definitely wandering!

Generously Minted – Giveaway

Raise your hand if you’re ready to leave this frosty season behind! While I do my best not to obsess over winter’s chilly bite, it’s definitely easier to appreciate when you can find some springtime inspiration. Kind of like the gorgeously refreshing light to look forward to at the end of the icy tunnel.

So, when Minted contacted me to talk about their products, I hopped over to their website and found immediate inspiration, all with a gleam of springtime freshness and warmth. In case you don’t know, Minted is a fun company that offers beautiful invitations, cards, party products, home decor and art, all from independent artists’ designs. The fact that they have a Tree Planting Program that works with Plant-It 2020 to plant trees in order to supplant the paper that they use (some of which is actually made of 100% recycled paper) makes it a no-brainer to work with them.

And talk about gorgeous stuff! 

Here are just some of my favorite art prints that I’m having serious mental back-and-forths about choosing:

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Don’t they just pull you out of the winter doldrums?? They’re all beautiful, but I’m leaning towards Float with its bright retro watercolor vibe and Indigold with its fun, floral 1960’s mood…although I’ve always had a soft spot for Forsythia.

Speaking of springtime, Minted’s Wedding Invitation Collection is sure to fit the mood of any theme you might be planning. Designs range from simply elegant to modern, graphic and colorful. No matter the design, all are of the highest quality.  Seriously, if Dave and I were planning our wedding today, I’d use these guys.

That said, aside from pretty spring art and wedding invites, I’m loving the kiddo stuff. I find myself falling for the birthday invitations (I’m mentally planning Had’s third birthday already!) as well as the adorably quirky nursery artwork since both my sister and sister-in-law are expecting babies.

As always, I’m having a hard time deciding.

And, guess what. One of you will get to experience the same wonderful “I can’t pick just one!” feeling. Yup! has generously offered a $50 credit to one of my lucky readers! How excited am I?

Just click on the Rafflecopter options below for methods to throw your hat in the running. Good luck!

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Today’s post is written in partnership with All thoughts and opinions are my own, as usual.

Free (Yes, Free) Holiday Gift Ideas

I’ve requested to Dave that we not only do a pretty sparse budget for each other (or, at least, it’s sparse to me!) this holiday season, but also to give each other one gift that costs nothing.

So, this could mean a lot of things. It could mean that you use something you’ve already got lying around that you haven’t gotten around to giving the person. It could mean making something by hand (whether you’ve got the materials lying around or had to buy them, it’s totally up to your standards of “strict” are). It could mean repurposing something around your house to give. Or, it could just be a huge act of kindness or unforgettable experience. The list goes on, really, but here are a few ideas…

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Artsy Fartsy Stuff

Wall Collage 

This is best if you live with the individual so that you can surprise them with it, already-done. I’ve had a stack of Instagram prints (had a coupon, I almost think they were free or darn near close to it), but don’t we all have SOME picture prints floating around that we don’t know what to do with? Well, I’ve fallen for the personal yet organized look of a wall collage of same-sized prints. Mine just happen to be 4″ x 4″ but even rectangular shots (or pictures cut down to squares) can look awesome grouped sweetly on the wall. You can use that sticky tack stuff or tape (or spend a little money and get Command strips; I won’t tell). 

Handmade Wall Art
Similar to the wall collage, look around and see if you have any art supplies that would help create some wall art. Maybe you have an old canvas (or an ugly one you can paint over). Or maybe you have an old embroidery ring that’s begging for one of those quirky embroidered quotes (or an inside joke!) that you can hang. If you’re stumped, look for simple art ideas on Etsy or Pinterest. You can keep it simple, or if you’re on the artsier side, paint a family portrait or pet portrait for your receiver.

Repurpose an Old T-Shirt
You know that ratty old t-shirt that just won’t go away? Or the perfect vintage shirt with an awesome logo that they can’t wear anymore because they splattered paint on the bottom? Stretch it in a frame or create a quilt, pillow or bag! You’ll not only give it new life, but the giftee will love that they don’t have to say goodbye to it forever.

Knit a Scarf  
Again, this totally depends on your ability level and whether or not you have the materials around the house, but a scarf seems far easier than mittens or a hat, right? Think of the person’s favorite color (or if you know what color their favorite winter coat is, be sure it won’t clash) and get a move on!

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

Look around and see what doesn’t seem to have a life anymore. It’s perfectly fine to re-gift something, especially if you personalize it a bit first. Like, you have way too many mugs in your life, so that set of white plain ones sit totally unused? Use a Sharpie (or paint pen, if you have one) to draw a design or cute quote, then cure it (may not be dishwasher safe). Or go ahead and spend a buck at the Dollar Store if you want to get new ones; I won’t tell. 😉


Favorite Cookies
You’re probably making a buttload of cookies for the holidays, anyway, right? Grab a large, clean mason jar and fill ‘er up. If you’ve got the time, feel free to add a label with a cute holiday saying (check Pinterest, there are a million), or just tie some burlap or a festive ribbon on and call it a day.

Homemade Granola 
You may already have the makings of this in your cabinet as we speak, so why not make a super big batch to dole out to all your friends and neighbors? No extra shopping needed.

Mmm. Fudge. This pretty much goes hand-in-hand with the cookies, but I just wanted to make everyone aware: fudge. 

Favorite Meal
Make the recipient their absolute favorite meal, just be sure that it’s in your grocery budget (hence, y’know, practically free ;-)). Or, make a “gift certificate” to make the individual their favorite meal after the holidays. 

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
Okay, this may not be free, but all it really takes is the purchase of some strawberries (since we all have chocolate in our pantry, right? RIGHT??). And, I tell ya, they’re a show-stopper.

Keep It Simple

Create a “Thankful Jar”
This is a great gift for birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Father’s/Mother’s Day, and more, but I love the idea of gathering together the warm fuzzy feelings you have for a friend or family member and letting them know. I’ve done this for Dave (on Valentine’s Day), filling a mason jar with individual ideas of why he’s awesome and why we’re lucky to have him. You can fill it with 365 “favorite” things about the person for them to pick each day, or 52 (one for each week), or whatever! I just printed them off using Word and cut them out; easy peasy. 

Scavenger Hunt
This could be as simple as an indoor one at your house or as complicated as sending your friend or loved one around an entire city (think: your favorite haunts). The trick is to not make it too lengthy (especially if it involves schlepping all over town in holiday traffic) and to be as witty as your brain can possibly be. Oh, and don’t make the clues too hard or else you’ll get a tearful phone call. Maybe. It’s possible.

Homemade Coupons
This is a classic from our “we don’t earn an income, what can we give to Mom?” days, but you can modernize it for your current needs. Think of what you’re good at and see if you can give a “gift certificate” or book of coupons to help out. If you’re a budding photographer, offer free sessions. If you love organizing, offer up a day of helping to declutter one room. If you’re a cook, offer a free meal of their choosing (just wanted to see if you’re paying attention; this is a repeat from above, mwahaha).

Or, if it’s for someone you’re a bit closer to, make a booklet of kindnesses. If they have a little one at home, make one coupon of a homemade meal, another for an afternoon of babysitting, and still another a coupon for a girls’ (or boys’) night out. This is also your way to spend zero dollars at the holidays but offer a nice gift for later in the year, like taking a friend out to their favorite restaurant or your sweetie out to a movie (and popcorn, of course).

Movie Night at Home
Speaking of movies, this idea would honestly make my husband’s day. Gather together some popcorn (we use the loose organic kernels, so I’d put them in a simple brown paper bag with cute writing on it), a DVD or two that you already own (ours would probably involve “Citizen Kane,” a William Powell flick, or a fun ’80s rom-com), and anything else you like to enjoy at movies. If you drink soda, put a bottle or two in; if you snack on candy (and have some around the house), throw some in. You can bag this all up in a holiday gift bag or basket or popcorn bucket or, heck, whatever!  

Walk Down Memory Lane (Literally)
You can give a card saying that you’ll be (politely) kidnapping them for a day or half a day at the person’s convenience. Take them to some of the spots that have meant the most to you both over the years. For example, if I was going to kidnap my sister, we’d drive by our first home, walk the town, check out the schools, maybe “play” at the playground (although they’ve changed a ton over the years), and grab the makings for lunch at The Village Market (or junk food at the convenient store). For Dave, we’d probably walk around the town he used to live in, waste time at Barnes and Noble (and maybe Target), then I’d take us to lunch at one of the local places we used to eat a lot — like Raspberries Cafe. Or, feel free to do a nature walk or hike, if your giftee is into the outdoors.

The point of going these places is to trigger positive memories and meaningful conversation. So, be ready to chat and keep things upbeat. Our hometown is a bittersweet place, but by keeping the memories realistically light, it could help to reconnect with a shared, fond past.  

What do you guys think? Have any great (free) gift ideas to add? Are any of these doable for you?

“We Need a Little Christmas”

Everyone has their own idea of when the Christmas/holiday season starts. Some say the day after Thanksgiving. Others don’t want to hear a single carol before December 1st. Still others are happy to deck the halls when the last Halloween treat is handed out. And none of these are wrong.

We all celebrate so differently, the bickering about it is unkind and rather silly. If you don’t want to hear the songs already, don’t listen to that radio station. If you don’t want to see the decorations being sold at your favorite store, veer that cart in another direction. No harm. But, ultimately, think about what’s being celebrated – good will on Earth! What’s wrong with folks getting into it when they’re not doing anything mean-spirited or hurtful? Nada. Do it when YOU want to and never mind the naysayers. (That said, my mood wanes depending on the year. I don’t like going nuts too early because it’s easy to get burnt out by it by, say, December 16th.)

So, what do you do if Thanksgiving has come and gone and you’re still not ready for jingling bells and Santa hats? Try one of my low-key ways to start getting into the holiday spirit.

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1. Go shopping. I don’t mean for your gifts; that’s oftentimes an express highway to stress. (See below for shopping ideas that don’t suck.) Nope! Grab a holiday latte or some such treat and go to your favorite discount shop to stock up on your gift wrap and bags. Slowly and thoughtfully select your Christmas cards. Maybe pick a fun new decoration or two.

I find that thinking about the theme I’ll be wrapping my goodies in helps, especially when there’s a little holiday music playing in the background. Making it a relaxing errand helps you focus on the joy of the task rather than the million items you need to get.

2. Make your lists. This one may also sound stressful, but if you start early, this can be relaxing and even a bit fun. See, you’re not under a time crunch, and lists often help us feel organized and can definitely provide a sense of calm. Keeping them on your phone or Google Docs/Drive can keep them at-hand (and keep people from accidentally “finding” them), too.

First, I made my own wishlist (I talked about how it can help reduce some stress here). Look through your closet, think about the things you truly need, and daydream about what it might be nice to get. Cozy up with some cocoa, a blankie, and your favorite website (for example, West Elm or Target for me) and jot down what you’d like. Don’t worry about making it too lengthy; your gifters can pick what they want to get you and leave the rest.

Then, I used the same relaxed method to start brainstorming for my friends and family. Whether I could think of something to give or not, I wrote their names down to avoid forgetting them. Some folks sat there for a week with nothing popping up — others, I came up with five things for! I won’t be buying all that stuff, but I wrote them down just in case I need a birthday or Mothers’ Day idea later on.

Oh, and for a couple of people I was absolutely stumped on, I sent out a quick email. I’d much rather give them something they’d like (that’s not the biggest surprise) rather than a bad gift.

3. Listen to your favorite Christmas song. Everyone – EVERYONE – has a favorite Christmas song. Heck, I’ve got a handful. But, it’s not the holiday season for me until I hear “Sleigh Ride” (Boston Pops version, please). See? Everyone has their trigger song. I can’t help but bounce in the seat like a 5-year-old when I hear it, especially at the jazzy section.

I don’t mean “turn on the radio and deal with the crappy songs you hate” (I’m talking to you, Mannheim Steamroller), but just listen to that one awesome song you already know you love, then stop there. I often find myself getting totally sick of the constant rotation of songs early, so I have to take it in small doses. In the meantime, my favorite tune brightens my heart and gets me excited about the whole thing. Every. Single. Time.

4. Watch a low-fat version of a Christmas movie. Some holiday movies hit you over the head with the meaning of the season or take place totally around Christmas. Others, however, can be deemed Christmas movies only because one scene takes place on the special day. Watching one of these “Christmas Lite” movies can be just enough to pick up your Christmas spirit.

This time of year, I often gravitate to “Holiday Inn” (it’s about most of the holidays, not just Christmas), “Little Women” (definitely not a holiday movie, but a couple important scenes occur on Christmas), “Home Alone,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and a handful of other classic flicks that just have one or two Christmas scenes. Make sure you pick one that you know you’ll enjoy.

Oh, and if you’re up for it, watch a “full-fat” Christmas movie to REALLY get your spirit going. For me, “Elf” and “The Polar Express” make me super jolly.

5. Bake cookies. Again, don’t go overboard. Pick one of your favorite recipes — one that’s come down from your beloved grandmother or that you look forward to tasting every year — and make a batch. If you make a super huge batch, freeze them. Boom. One less you’ll have to make when you get invited to a cookie exchange. But, be sure to treat yourself to one (or, ahem, five); that’s the point of the thing.

If you’re in the mood, get a couple of types done before the hectic holiday schedule hits. Taking them from the freezer next month is way less stressful than baking all of them at once!

6. Put out some neutral decorations. Sprinkle a bit of decor around that can double for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I find that deer, branches, pine cones, white candles, apples and oranges, and grapevine wreaths can help make the area feel super festive.

Then, as you get more excited, you can add some more greenery, lights, and ornaments (I even use some warm weather knit clothes like vintage mittens or scarves), do your tree, and it’s done. Simple! 

7. Follow your nose. Try filling the house with the smells of the season and see if your heart follows. For me, scent is the biggest mood enhancer, so it only makes sense to try this one out!

You can light a festive candle (we’re currently using a pumpkin one I received as a gift, so it’s not too Christmasy) or make your own homemade concoction to fill your house with the warm, cozy smell of the season. Try boiling some cinnamon sticks and clove (even include some apple and orange peels) in some water, then simmer on low. Grab a cup of cocoa and a book, and you’ll be in the Christmas mood in no time. 

8. Shop locally. Ease into your shopping responsibilities by starting at a local place, well before Black Friday. The crowds will be far thinner, the traffic will be a tad less dangerous (you know what I mean!), and you’ll breathe a deep sigh of relief at least checking one present off your list.

But, why do I suggest the local edge? It’s more emotional, in a good way. As you probably know, we’re not huge Wal-mart (or huge corporation) fans, so I do enjoy hitting up, say, our local toy shoppe before trying Toys ‘R Us. Plus, knowing that I’m supporting a local company definitely makes me feel much better about the money I’m spending. 

9. Shop online. Wait, didn’t I just say to shop locally? Why, yes. Yes, I did. But, if you’re still not ready to venture out into the crowds, this is the next best thing. And, guess what! I’ve already started this way.

PJs. A cozy blanket. Hot tea or cocoa. A favorite show or movie in the background. And getting some stuff crossed off your list? Perfect combination. Low-stress shopping, and you can get a head-start. I always open the package to check for damage (and to know what came), then put the whole thing directly in my closet until I have energy for wrapping.

10. Start giving early. This is something we should actually do year-round, but the holidays are a particularly difficult time for folks, families and even animals who find themselves in need. And, honestly, what warms your heart more than knowing you’re making a difference?

While you’re out grocery shopping, pick up some inexpensive (but healthy ;-)) canned goods to donate to a local shelter. Check the ads and grab some dog and/or cat food and cleaning supplies (I “follow” our local humane society to see what their immediate needs are — they almost always include bleach). Grab one or two of the latest toys so that you’re ready to “Stuff the Bus” when the time comes. Part prep, part goodwill, all fun.   

11. Last but not least, celebrate the “now.” If you’re still not ready to get into the Christmas spirit, don’t push it. It’s not a big deal. Some years go by and I find myself not feeling the magic at all. Not. One. Bit. It happens. Then, other years, I’m ready and raring to go.

But, I do suggest that you take time to celebrate SOMETHING. If it’s not the joy of Christmas, maybe it’s taking the time to give thanks – truly – for things both big and small. Maybe make a list of all you’re grateful for. Other times, just a reread (or rewatch) of A Christmas Story is enough to get us out of a Scroogy funk.

Halloween Recap

My mind is totally heading towards Christmas (fully determined to have a low-stress, AWESOME holiday season this year), but I realized I should probably give a Halloween update before I forgot.

Because we all know I’m really, really good at forgetting. Like, expert.

The costumes came out, for the most part, great. Note that I said “costumes”…plural. Yep, Dave and I dressed up, too.

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So, after all that talk of the awesome things Hadman could be, he still wouldn’t give up the apple idea. Luckily, I dragged his apple hat (homemade by a sweet relative before he was born), bought a super cheap, bulky red sweatshirt (Goodwill #1), and glued a worm and “organic fuji #5464” sticker to it. Green corduroys and a small basket that looks exactly like an apple basket (Goodwill #2 – tied my own twine to it), and he was frickin’ ecstatic. Like, he didn’t care how horribly ghetto and abstract the entire thing was. Not a bit.

The night before Halloween, I decided to see what we could put together. I grabbed two plaid shirts (Goodwill #3 & #4…mine was more gingham, actually) and a pack of bandanas from Kmart and we were good. Jeans and two silly braids later, we were farmers. Or, as Dave liked to say, “Apple growers.” Get it? We’re growing an “apple” …because our kid’s an apple, ya see. *ahem*

Even layering our clothes for the chilly night still looked like farmers. Pretty neat!

So, anyhoo, this is how it all went down. Dave picked Hadley up early from his mom’s house, we got the both of them all gussied up, and we sped carefully to my mom’s house the town over. We went trick-or-treating (I appreciate that, although we got a couple of pieces of toddler-friendly candy, she “treated” him to animal crackers, some organic bear grahams, etc) and grabbed a slice of pizza and this picture before heading back home. Hadley and I went to a couple of houses while Dave handed out our treats.

I tossed Hadley in the car to go to my uncle’s house (the man gives away FULL-SIZED CANDY BARS, people!) where Hadley did the perfect “trick-or-treat, Unca Mark, I wuv you!” recitation. Seriously, picture my heart jumping out of my chest, I was so proud of that little boy.

Then, we headed home, gave Had his own dinner and a few tastes of his “treats”, and waited for Daddy before watching Charlie Brown.

Dudes. It was perfect.

Oh, and, for the record: Comic books + spider rings + glow-in-the-dark fangs (although they didn’t seem to glow, no matter how much light I gave them) = HUGE SUCCESS!!! The kids didn’t miss the candy one bit. #tealpumpkinsFTW

Our Lil’ Pumpkins

I wanted to fit this post in before Halloween, but because I’ve got tons of posts piled up, it gets its own day! Hurrah!

Pumpkin time! Dave‘s gonna get into the pumpkin carving and everything, so I figured I’d just share a few pictures and chat more about the painting. Yep, we did one large “family” pumpkin to carve (we asked Hadley what kind of jack-o’-lantern he wanted {a HAPPY one!} and what shapes he wanted for the eyes and nose, and whether he wanted it to have teeth, etc) AND took three mini “pie” pumpkins to the next level with some paint.

Just ’cause. Plus, he’s never painted, so I figured it was time. (I know, I’m hanging my mommy blogger head right now. He had never touched paint!)

So, here are a few action shots of the pumpkin carving planning, reaction and the spooky fun effect…

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Awesome, right? He picked the shapes (hence the animated picture of him with “round eyes, Mama!”). After staring at it for a few minutes, it starts to look like a Sesame Street Muppet. Totally appropriate.

Anyhoo, on to the messy stuff!!!

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So, adorned in Daddy’s old t-shirt, we plopped him into his “high chair” (the SpaceSaver kind), handed him a pumpkin and a brush and he went to town. Pretty much. I mean, I asked him what colors he’d like (purple and red for one, blue and green for another, and he was mute about the last choice, so we rounded it out with orange and yellow), loaded up the brush for him, and he much more enjoyed painting his hands than the pumpkin. But, then he’d massage the heck out of the pumpkin, so they each ended up with some amount of color.

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I also gave him a piece of paper at the end to continue practicing his new-found artistic skills.

One of my favorite things about the painted pumpkins is that they add a nifty bit of color to the stoop — AND they totally go with our new welcome mat. Hooray for happy accidents! I even got a teal pumpkin out of the deal! Plus, they make me grin when I see them. So cheery. So Hadley.

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I ended up spraying them with several coats of a satin sealer since this type of paint tends to come off in the rain.  Oh, and you know I totally whisked him away to the bathtub immediately (Dave had it ready to go for us). It was hardly a mess at all, which makes me think we can do something like this more often. Probably for the next big holiday. TURKEYS!!!

To Pinterest I go…

Anyhoo, here’s the final cheery product…

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In the interest of full disclosure, our carved pumpkin bit the big one within a day of this picture. I think the humidity (and the fact that the pumpkin was a couple weeks old) meant its days were numbered. Oh, well. We had the fun experience and at least Daddy got a great picture for the ol’ memory file. Now I’m REALLY glad we painted a few little ones!

4 Simple Fall Decor Ideas

I recently shared a teensy decor switcheroo to help autumn-ify the living room a bit. Since I finally had a nice day to take pictures, I thought I’d share a handful of the other super simple add-ins I used for this year’s fall decorating.

I’m not a big “spiders and skeletons” person. I’ve seen some awesome spookifications going on in the blogosphere, but this year I’m keeping it simple, stupid. Er. You’re not stupid. I’m keeping it stupid simple. Better? 🙂

While giving you guys a quick tour of our living room/dining room (I pretty much decorated the entry way from the living room into the dining room, so it hits the main living areas), I’ll give a few SUPER simple tips on bringing a little autumn inside.

This year, I took my hints from nature. The first way? Bringing in some nature, of course! See those twigs adorned with dried leaves? Free, from our backyard. Instant pops of rust, orange and yellow. You’ll also notice gourds and mini pumpkins placed throughout, along with some individual leaves strewn strategically.  

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(Pay no attention to the hideous rug.)

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This pretty lady has hung in this spot for years. I just can’t bring myself to switch her up. Her neutral colors and gorgeous frame, rocking sense of style, and clear adoration for books has made her a kindred spirit. So, she stays. Plus, she really fits any season or holiday, doesn’t she? I say yes.

That said, a tip here is to use stuff you LOVE. What else do we love? Stacks of books and magazines. I also love sneaking in an old script. 😉 

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Going hand-in-hand with my girlfriend up there and bringing in some nature, I love using neutrals and various textures. Hence the super easy-to-make twine and linen bunting (seriously, F-R-E-E), small dollar store wreath on the window, bundle of sticks on the sidebar, and various rattan balls (I got them on clearance at Pier 1 awhile back, wish I remembered how much they were…maybe $2 each? And you know I’ll use the crap out of them). And my favorite thing during fall is white pumpkins.

Plus, what’s more fun than buntings? I think nothing. When I first hung them, Hadley assumed every day was now his birthday.

Oh, yeah. More nature. A huge vase filled with apples. Had to keep it simple since the little guy uses the dining room table for tons of pretend play. 

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If you’re having a hard time freshening up your surroundings (believe me, I’m with ya), try the new-ish chalkboard trend. Think it’s too hard to find one? Too expensive? Nope. The one we have in the living room was Dave’s as a kid (free) and this small one (that reminds me of an old school tablet, which I’m searching for while antiquing) was a dollar store find. Yup, it was a BUCK. Can you believe that?!

And don’t worry about your artwork. You get graded on effort, not perfection. 😉 My favorite part of this trend is how interchangeable it is. Come Thanksgiving, this witch’s hat will probably be a turkey or a Pilgrim’s hat; come Christmas, who knows? Stocking? Elf? A snowflake? Endless options, really.

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On a final irrelevant note, we may not have a black cat, but we’ve got a drama queen king gray one. He’s pretty intense. Does that count?

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It just occurred to me that all these tips could also be eco-decor tips, too. Awesome!

The Ol’ Autumn Switch

Even I’m kind of surprised at how behind I am with my autumn decorating this year. It’s not like I go all-out crazy with this stuff (and I probably won’t this year, especially), but I do like to add touches here and there of the season. This is especially true when it’s autumn, which is not only my favorite season, but the Dorky Daddy‘s, as well. Craziness.

So, on a recent humid-yet-insanely-torrential afternoon, I sat down to sketch. One thing led to another, and I didn’t hate what I created. Not perfect, but who really cares?

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I used some day-glow colored pencils because clearly I’m hip like that. I mean, just check out my iPhone picture. Crooked ‘n everythin’.

So, I decided to hunt for a place to sneak it. And, of course, it only worked on my living room wall (last seen, I believe, during Christmas). While I was at it, I switched out a piece or two and rearranged until I got this…

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Yup, another insanely beautiful iPhone pic. Drives me nuts, too.

Since I’m lazy, I also like to use art that can kinda double for…say…a couple of months. So, you’d better know that pumpkin art will be there until the cows come home. Or Christmastime. Yeah. Probably Christmas.

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I hope to return with a few more shots of autumny goodness. It’s an interesting challenge to try to add touches of beauty in the midst of toddler mayhem. Like, there’s no way I can really do much with the dining room table. It’s his “cooking” spot. But, I do have a few spots he can’t reach, so I’ll have to live it up in those spaces while I can.

What about you? Do you do fall or Halloween decorating? Do you go literal (black cats, witches, zombies) or more “figurative”? I’m hoping to go with the less in-your-face, especially using what I’ve got laying around. Fingers crossed!

Why NYS is the Best Place for Fall Living

Happy Columbus Day! If you’re looking for something to do today, this post is for you! I’ve mentioned some of the stuff I can’t WAIT to do this fall with the fam. Some of them were great “general” ideas that anyone can do anywhere. Others are totally area specific. So, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Upstate/Central New York autumn must-do’s.

Side note: Upstate? It ain’t Westchester. Just sayin’. Just try ‘n fight me on this one.

I’m a fan of lots of places. We’ve got BFFs in Western Mass, and love visiting the place; there’s SO much to do! We hit up Vermont practically every fall. I’ve enjoyed visiting Maine and Pennsylvania and tons of other New Englandy-type places over the years. I even sway city-lover, thanks to Boston, NYC & Philly (hard to pick a favorite…).

So, what’s so great about NYS/CNY?

Strangely, there are points that Dave and I are sick of the place. Our opinions have bounced around about where to live, and we’ve considered relocating, but the ultimate fact still remains: Family is #1 to both of us, followed closely by those rare lifelong friends (the ones we can easily visit or who have decided to move back “home”). So, this is where our hearts remain.

So, we know the bad (depressing) facts of “here.” But, because of our lifelong experiences, we also can recognize the awesomeness. In the fall, the place is freaking BRIMMING with it.

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Leaf peeping at its finest. You can say yours is the best, but seriously…ours is. 😉 If it’s early in the season, pack the car and head up north to the Adirondacks (stop for a bite to eat in Old Forge, or one of the “rustic” diners hidden in the deep woods). If it’s mid-season, hit anywhere south of the Adirondacks. Seriously, throw a dart and go there. Just check out this map first.   

The food be kicking. (<– Clear evidence that I am far from an urbanite. Or cool.) Okay, the food can be pretty great here all year 'round, but when the comfort food season hits (yes, it's a season unto itself), this is the place to be. Two words: Chicken riggies. Two more words: Utica greens. A couple more: half moons. Plus, the seasonal produce is insane and this is our favorite season to hit up our locavore restaurants. The chefs are amazing to begin with, but the flavors of the season just sing under their expertise.

You can pick all ya want. *giggles* Pick. Like nose. Ha! But, no, really, I’m talking about apples and pumpkins (and sometimes autumn berries, if you’re lucky). Apples are king here in NYS, so whether you just want to grab some at a farmers’ market or pick your own, this is the site to find out where. And it just isn’t fall without a pumpkin (or 12), so check this site and click on the region you’re interested in, or just check out my neck of the woods at this site. And, yes, those websites suck, visually. I agree. 😉 

We’re a boozy state. Okay. Iffin’ you’re into such fun, upstate is rife with breweries, cider mills (ahem, the HARD stuff), and wineries. You can spend a day touring a path of wineries, or just hit up one brewery to test their wares. Dave and I enjoy NYS wines, even though he enjoys drier stuff and I’m perfect for the sweet-leaning NYS grapes. And while I should admit for all the world to hear that the Utica Brewery is the best in the world (it’s good…it really is), I actually prefer Brewery Ommegang. Apparently I’m into the Belgian stuff. Who knew? Seriously, there isn’t a flavor I DON’T LOVE. And if you’re going to visit their just-outside-Cooperstown spot, you MUST hit up their munchies. Far more sophisticated than traditional pub fare; I highly suggest the fries. (No, really. Fries. With a combination of dipping friends. A party in your mouth!)

Speaking of cider… If you’re into the kid-friendly stuff, our cider mills are sure to make you happy. We’ve got simple cideries that provide just some basic cider, and maybe donuts on the weekends. We’ve also got huge mills that show you how the stuff’s made and sell gifts, specialty foods, pies, fudge, anything in a jar (you think I’m kidding), and, sure, cider. (I’m talkin’ about you, Fly Creek Cider Mill!) Check out this search (yes, I’m sending you to a Google search since they’re not all in listed on the same website) to find your new favorite! Seriously, I didn’t even know Clinton had a cider mill until a short while ago.

Hayrides and corn mazes and farmers’ markets, oh my! In case you haven’t already noticed, there’s a $%&#load to do throughout upstate. While locals often complain about the sheer lack of anything to do, much like a lazy, bored teenager, it’s actually pretty untrue. I guess it depends on what you’re interested in. Like, Dave and I aren’t huge winter people. We have a few activities that we do, but for the most part it’s “hunkering down with some homemade cocoa and an old movie” season. Others come alive in the winter, with snowmobiling or snowshoeing or skiing galore.

Autumn, however, is THE time to enjoy whatever you like. Search for a farmers’ market to visit and make some roasted root veggies. Like to get freaked out? Take your pick. Want a hayride or corn maze for the kiddos? See if any of these will fit your needs. Honestly, if you just search for activities in whatever area you’ll be visiting, you’ll find something.

Here are our own favorites, in no particular order:

Fly Creek Cider Mill — two words: duck pond. Two more words: Free samples.
Oneida County Public Market — we do this year ’round, actually
Cooperstown Farmers’ Market — one of the few “indoors” markets (and if you’re heading to Cooperstown, enjoy the leaf peeping along the way and wander the town. If you haven’t been, plan to stay a day and visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, and if you’re not into baseball, head over to the Farmers Museum and/or the Fenimore Cooper Museum nearby. 
– ANY Finger Lake wineries (pick lake, grab a map and just go!)
North Star Orchards for some apple pickin’
Beardslee Castle or The Tailor and the Cook for some impeccable locavore grub
Cullen Pumpkin Farm — We may get our pumpkins here this year… Corn maze and wagon rides, too!

What are your favorite fall activities? Got any places that you’d like to share in the comments? Feel free to link!