So It’s Come to This

I have had birthdays on the brain for the past few weeks, and for good reason. First there was my niece on Jan. 9, then my mom on Jan. 18, then Boy #1 on the 22nd, and yesterday Boy #2 was 9! Then my sister Pam is the 31st, another nephew on Feb. 16, and then my big day on Feb. 24. Whew!

Did you catch that last birthday? Yeah, it’s mine. And I’ll be 39. My last year in my thirties.

Even though my brain hasn’t quite caught up to my age yet, my body is getting the hang of it pretty quickly. Flab where it used to be firm. Lines starting to form in the corners of my eyes. And I know I USED to have a waist. I have no idea where I lost it. (Unless it was in that last bag of Cheetos…)

Here’s where my vanity is going to rear its ugly head. But I’m pretty sure I used to be sorta cute. Mildly attractive, or at least not completely disgusting to look at. Now, I was never a head turner, unless it was because I did something totally stupid and embarrassing, like accidentally turning off all the lights in a full lecture hall. But I distinctly remember being asked out a time or two in college.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that when I walk into a dance club, I will turn heads, but not for the same reason as when I was young. Instead, it’s because the young’uns are wondering who let the old lady with the mom jeans in. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I want to relive my past or cheat on my husband. It’s not that at all. It’s just that sometimes, when I’m putting my prescription cream on my adult acne, I daydream about what it’s like to feel attractive again. Yes, and maybe even to turn a head or two, just so I can toss my hair and purr, “Sorry, boys, but this girl’s taken.”

So this week, when I was doing some shopping at the mall for my job and got hit on, I should’ve been excited, right? Or at least a little flattered. Instead, it was more like a slap in the face. The one time I get hit on in years, and it’s by a man who I’m pretty sure was a serial rapist. Any man who walks by a late-thirty-something woman in the middle of a weekday in a mall and says, “Hey, cutie,” in a greasy voice and then makes a clucking-type noise with his mouth is a pervert, or at the very least, a creep.

After overcoming my shock and disgust, one thought immediately popped into my head: So, it’s come to this. This is, apparently, as good as it gets. Maybe I should’ve thanked Mr. Yuckypants for noticing me. Never mind that I’m pretty sure he said that to every woman who was alone and passed by him. Maybe in an year or two, when I’m even lumpier and wrinklier, I’ll be thinking back to our brief encounter, wistfully wishing I could experience it just one more time.

Or maybe he’ll be in jail. I’ll put my money on that one.

Photo: cerealfan (And no, this is not the real guy who hit on me. Promise.)

You Could Learn a Thing or Two (or Four) from My Mom

Mom and her 3 girls at “Momma Mia!”

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday. And like every year, I had good intentions to send her a card and gift in Arizona. But, like every year, my good intentions turned into bad follow-through. Yep, that means she got squat from me. Again.

But then I thought, hey, wait, I have this blog thing! Maybe I can earn back some of my “good daughter” points by sharing her birthday with the world (or at least the 7 of you who read my blog).

The funny thing is, anyone who knows my mom would know that I don’t need to earn “good daughter” points because she would never be mad or feel hurt because I didn’t send her a card. She is the kindest and most genuine person I know, and she probably considers the fact that I didn’t send her a card a gift in itself because, as she would be likely to say, “You have so much going on in your life, and I’m so glad you didn’t stress about sending me anything for my birthday. That makes me happy.” And she’d mean it.

So, even though it was my mom’s birthday, I’ve decided to give a gift to you: 4 lessons you can learn from my mom.

Hospitality is more about the who than the what or where.

My mom is a hostess like no other — the hostess with the mostest. However, you won’t find her decked out in a freshly ironed frilly apron, flitting from guest to guest serving paté and fluffing sofa pillows as she whisks by. For my mom, it’s not about what you serve or making sure your home is stylish, or even super clean, for that matter. That’s because she knows what it means to be truly hospitable; she knows it’s not about showing off what you have but instead it’s about celebrating who you welcome into your home.

Growing up, there were always people at our house. Whether it was the families from “Supper Club,” a group that still gets together 30+ years later, or old neighbors from “up north” who always felt comfortable stopping by to visit on their way through town, or 20 of my sisters’ and my closest friends, just hanging out after a game or a play, my mom always made everyone feel not only welcome, but valued. If the toy room was a mess, we’d just close the door. If the dishes weren’t done, she’d finish up while the guests chatted with her at the kitchen table, usually snacking on a chocolate-caramel brownie and drinking iced tea.

My childhood friends still tell me how much they loved being at my house, not because I had parents that let us throw wild parties and do whatever we wanted, but because I had parents who made them feel welcome anytime.

Mom and Dad in their kitchen, where thousands of meals have been shared with others.

Everyone needs someone to believe in them.

As an elementary teacher for many years, my mom’s special gift was seeing the potential in every student who walked through her door, even those that many would just give up on. She set high expectations for all of her students and let them know that she did so because she believed in every single one of them, and she cared enough to not allow them to fail. Some of her fondest memories are of the kids who were labeled as “those kids,” the ones who were troublemakers, or whose parents didn’t really care about, or who many didn’t really expect much from. She not only told those kids that she believed in them, she truly meant it, and she showed it every day.

Mom didn’t always have people who believed in her, which is why I think she is so passionate about helping others. We still laugh about her high school guidance counselor, who tried to discourage her from attending college because he didn’t think she was smart enough to make it. Instead, he suggested she go to “beauty school.” Yeah, my mom will be the first to admit that she is horrible when it comes to hair. She cut my dad’s hair for years, and she never really got it right. We talked her into giving us perms when we were little, and we’d literally look like poodles. Or Little Orphan Annie. And my mom uses a wet washcloth to style her hair. I kid you not.

Mom still teaches, even though she’s retired. Here she teaches Boy #2 to play dominoes.

Mom graduated from the University of Iowa. Take THAT, stupid guidance counselor!

Embrace what makes you different.

My mom was born with a birth defect, I guess you’d call it. We’ve never really called it that, but I think it’s because we hardly notice it; that’s just who Mom is. But when she was born, her left hand was webbed, and her left foot didn’t have toes. She endured several surgeries when she was little as doctors worked on her hand, grafting skin from her stomach between her fingers to separate them. This left her with “fingers,” but not fingers like the rest of us have. Our favorite is the one we nicknamed “the snowman finger.” She even let us draw a face on it when we were little.

Although I didn’t really think about it as I was growing up, Mom never tried to hide her hand or foot. She used her hand, even playing the piano, and she wore open-toe sandals in the summer. And on the first day of a new school year, she’d always tell her class about her hand and foot and let them ask questions and touch her hand if they wanted to.

Because she was never self-conscious, she taught us, and many other people, to embrace ourselves, the way that God made us. We even joke with her now about her hand and foot, and most of the time she’s the one who starts it. Not because she’s embarrassed, but because she’s so sure of herself that she can laugh about it.

Mom and my nephew. See if you can identify the “snowman finger”!

There is nothing more valuable that you can give your loved ones than time.

We regularly spent time together, as a family. Even when mom went back to work after staying home with me and my sisters for 12 years, she still made family a priority. Mom and Dad attended all of our extracurricular activities, and I can barely remember them going anywhere without us. Not that I recommend not spending some “alone time” with your spouse; I know I need it! But Mom just always has made time a priority, and a gift that she’s given us and now her grandchildren.

Some of my favorite memories growing up weren’t times we were “doing something,” like taking a trip or embarking on some adventure. They were times when we were just all hanging out at home. Eating dinner together, watching TV together, talking, folding clothes, picking peas in the garden. And sitting on Mom’s lap. Now my kids get to make those memories too.

Grandma’s lap is great for sleeping!
Sometimes Grandma is the one who falls asleep!

So, happy birthday, Mom! Thanks for always giving to others, even when you don’t realize you’re doing it!

Free Printable 2011 Calendars for a Happy New Year!

I love the prospect of starting a brand-spanking new year. It always makes me think that anything’s possible, at least until I wake up on January 2 and see that the house is still trashed, my kids are still talking back and instead of eating only fruits and veggies I’m already having Hostess Twinkies for breakfast. *Sigh* But until then, the sky’s the limit!

Part of the ritual of beginning a new year is pinning up a fresh calendar. Although there are some beautiful calendars for sale on etsy and in the bookstores, I’m counting on the kindness of strangers on the Interweb to furnish me with a new calendar for home, for work, and maybe even for my purse. The best part? These babies are free.

I am currently working on making my own planner calendar to carry with me in my purse and to work, and I’ll share that with you once I get it done. (And hopefully it’s before 2012.) But until then, I’ll share with you some of my favorite free printable calendars from the Web. I hope you can use them, too!

Year-At-A-Glance Calendars

Beautiful calendars using photos taken by the fabulous Amy from Living Locurto. Choose from roses or horses!

This 5×7 calendar can be printed out in a variety of bright colors. Thanks to Sprik Space!

I printed out a calendar from Mibo Studios last year and was thrilled to see a 2011 version! Gorgeous!

Red Stamp offers several fabulous printable 2011 calendars in different styles. And they’re free, too!

Monthly Calendars

Thanks to Switcheroom for this 2011 monthly calendar with great designs!

I was so excited to find this sweet printable calendar from Madabella! The size is just right to fit into a CD jewel case on a desktop, and the theme is “Love Notes, Signed God,” which is right up my alley.

CreativeMamma has a super cute Kawaii Mini Calendar available to print.

At Blog Guidebook, you can download and print this incredible calendar in vintage collage style. Me likey!

DIY Calendars

If you need simple mini calendar pages, print them off courtesy of Very Merry Vintage Style. And while you’re there, check out their tutorial on making your own crafty calendar.

I LOVE the Color-it-yourself and Doodle-it-yourself printable calendars from Lula Louise. These would be so fun to make! (And easy, too, which is always a plus.)

For a ton of calendar downloads, including ones where you can insert your own photos, check out HP Creative Studio.

Blogging Calendar

And if you’re a fellow blogger, you’ll want to grab and print this 2011 Weekly Blogging Calendar from Nicole on the Net. Perfect for planning your own blog posts, guest posts and goals. I definitely need this!

Good-bye 2010, and hello 2011! Happy New Year, friends!

5 Reasons Mom Needs a Smart Phone for Christmas

If you ask Mom what she wants for Christmas, her initial response will likely be something like, “Oh, I don’t need anything” or, if pressed, “I’ll love anything you pick out!”

Don’t buy it.

What Mom really wants? A smart phone.

Even if she doesn’t know that she wants one yet, she will as soon as she realizes just how useful and convenient that little electronic gadget can be.

Here are just 5 of the many reasons Mom needs a smart phone:

1. Soothe the savage beasts.

We’ve all found ourselves stuck waiting at the doctor’s office or a restaurant with kids in tow. Waiting with kids is bad enough, but being unprepared when waiting with kids is nearly unbearable. They become the equivalent of caged animals, that wild look in their eye as their voice raises several octaves and they desperately look for a way out. As the now-cliche goes — there’s an app for that. Frankly, any app will do in this situation, but especially helpful are ones like Balloonimals, where they can create balloon animals by actually blowing on the phone, SmackTalk, where they can choose the voice of a hamster, chihuahua or other animal to repeat what they say, only cuter, or Colorama, a coloring book that doesn’t require you to haul around a torn-up Spider-Man comic book or a baggie full of broken crayons in your purse. With a smart phone, Mom’s got the waiting wars covered.

2. Covert operations.

With a smart phone, Mom can keep tabs on her social middle schooler by logging on to his Facebook account, even when she’s on the go. Oh, he’s single again, huh? Interesting. And texting is, of course, a given when it comes to the kids. Mom is much more likely to carry on a conversation with her 13-year-old via texting than actually getting him to speak on the phone.

3. In case of emergency.

Sure, you don’t need a smart phone to call 911; any old cell phone will do. But can a cell phone give you directions to your cousin’s birthday party, tell you where the nearest gas station is, or show you how to get to the nearest emergency room when you’re on vacation and you’ve dragged your son through IKEA even though he was having an allergic reaction to something until finally he tells you that his throat is feeling itchy and you decide that maybe you should seek medical attention instead of browsing the kitchen utensils. (And no, that’s never happened to me. In case you’re wondering.) Give Mom a cell phone, and you give her access to a whole world of information, no matter the emergency or her location.

4. So she doesn’t miss her “stories.”

Back in the day, moms couldn’t miss their soap operas, or their “stories,” as some liked to call them. Today, it’s likely Glee or Modern Family that Mom can’t miss. Or, if you’re this mom, 30 Rock. Say Mom is sitting in the bleachers at a wrestling meet and realizes she forgot to set the DVR for her favorite show. If she’s got DirecTV, she can use her smart phone to program her DVR to record it, and she can still get her Liz Lemon fix. (Or she can use her smart phone to watch uploaded episodes of her show right there in the wrestling stands. Don’t worry, she won’t miss your match. Moms were born to multi-task.)

5. For her sanity.

The old saying was, “Calgon, take me away!” I can’t tell you the last time I soaked in a bubble bath, though, and I’m pretty sure most other moms are in the same boat. Heck, I’m lucky if I can sneak in a 5-minute shower where there’s still some hot water and someone’s actually left me a pea-sized squirt of shampoo. Nowadays, moms have to resort to other ways to unwind and relax, and smart phones can do the trick. Games, puzzles, you name it — someone has created the app. Mindless entertainment is merely a touch away. Instead of relying on Calgon, Mom can now say, “Angry Birds, take me away!” or in my case, “Whirly Word, take me away!” It’s what I do while I’m waiting for the kids to hop in the van after school and break my golden silence, and what I do to fall asleep at night. C’mon, don’t you owe Mom a little sanity?

There are many, many other reasons Mom needs a smart phone this Christmas, including the ability to access her online calendar while she rushes here and there, and the convenience of a camera so she can snap and text a photo of her little boy’s first lost tooth to his dad when he’s away for work. In this fast-paced, high-tech world we live in, Mom needs to be able to keep up. ‘Cause we all know if she can’t keep up, the whole family goes down. So think of it not only as a gift to Mom, but a gift to yourself and the rest of your clan as well. (Just don’t take it without asking, okay?)

Image from morguefile

Norah Jones “…Featuring” — A Perfect Christmas Gift

There are certain artists who seem timeless, like they could be dropped into any decade and still be relevant and true. Norah Jones is one of these. She has a voice that defies time, yet she makes every sound that passes her lips seem fresh and new.

I swear, I could listen to her sing her way through the phone book and not grow tired of her.

I had the opportunity to listen to her new album, …Featuring, a compilation of Norah Jones’s musical collaborations. What a treat. The performances span her career, going back to 2001, and hit nearly every musical genre. This may very well become my “go-to” album to work and study to. It would also make a thoughtful and inexpensive gift for nearly anyone on your Christmas list, as well, from your best friend to your teenage niece to your grandparents, because of its versatility and universal appeal. (It’s currently $8.99 on Amazon.com. I’m just sayin’…)

Tracks include:
1. Love Me – The Little Willies
2. Virginia Moon – The Foo Fighters featuring Norah Jones
3. Turn Them – Sean Bones featuring Norah Jones
4. Baby It’s Cold Outside – Willie Nelson featuring Norah Jones
5. Bull Rider – Norah Jones and Sasha Dobson
6. Ruler Of My Heart – Dirty Dozen Brass Band featuring Norah Jones
7. The Best Part – El Madmo
8. Take Off Your Cool – OutKast featuring Norah Jones
9. Life Is Better – Q-Tip featuring Norah Jones
10. Soon The New Day – Talib Kweli featuring Norah Jones
11. Little Lou, Prophet Jack, Ugly John – Belle & Sebastian featuring Norah Jones
12. Here We Go Again – Ray Charles featuring Norah Jones
13. Loretta – Norah Jones featuring Gillian Welch and David Rawlings
14. Dear John – Ryan Adams featuring Norah Jones
15. Creepin’ In – Norah Jones featuring Dolly Parton
16. Court & Spark – Herbie Hancock featuring Norah Jones
17. More Than This – Charlie Hunter featuring Norah Jones
18. Blue Bayou – Norah Jones featuring M. Ward

My favorite is Baby It’s Cold Outside. I love, love, love that song, and Norah makes me love it even more.

Gifts that give back — Heart of Haiti

As I’ve been searching the Internet and stores over the past week for the “perfect” gifts for the people on my Christmas list, I’ve found myself seeking out gifts that support a charity or cause. I mean, what’s better than giving a “double gift”? It’s a gift not only for your sister or your favorite teacher, but also for the charity it supports.

Heart of Haiti is one such charity, helping to rebuild Haiti through “Trade, Not Aid.” You’ve heard the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”? Heart of Haiti operates by this philosophy, creating opportunities for Haitian artisans to earn income with dignity by creating jobs and income for the people of Haiti.

About the organization

Through the sale of Heart of Haiti products, artisans earn life-changing income, enabling them to:

  • repair homes
  • pay school fees
  • clothe their families
  • gain access to better nutrition
  • obtain improved education
  • receive better healthcare

So far, the Heart of Haiti collection has led to employment of 350 artists in Haiti and has provided some financial benefits for an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people in the country.

About the products

Each item is designed by a master Haitian artist, made by hand in Haiti, and crafted from recycled materials. The collection includes 40 different home decor items and accessories, from vases to picture frames to necklaces.

Shop the Heart of Haiti collection on Macys.com.

Disclosure: I am writing this post to spread the word about Heart of Haiti through a Mom Bloggers Club member program and I may receive a Heart of Haiti pendant as a thank you.

After-School Special: Are you addicted to social media?

Remember those after-school specials? You know, the ones that aired at 4 p.m., before the days of Direct TV, the Internet and over-scheduled kids (when we were actually home after school)? Well, YourTango has brought back the After-School Special, tackling the issue of social media addiction, a subject that, had social media been invented in the ’80s, would’ve definitely made the editorial calendar of the After-School Special producers.

Too much of anything can be unhealthy, and the same is true for social media. So while this video is amusing, social media addiction is not. And although most of us are probably (and hopefully) not neglecting our children’s health and well-being to play “just one more round” of Angry Birds, all of us can probably think of an occasion that we were Tweeting when we maybe should’ve been playing a hand of Uno with the kids or throwing in a load of laundry.

So enjoy, and if you remember those great After-School Specials, let me know! I can’t be the only one old enough to remember these, can I? (Read with a hint of desperation.) Then read more about YourTango’s campaign to raise awareness of social media addiction and how it can affect your relationships, and meet Tweetsie, a real angry bird, too.

Scrapbook Journaling Made Easier: 6 Tips from Full of Love by Nancy O’Dell

“Photos are proof to children that they are loved.” – Dr. Kenneth Condrell in Full of Love

It’s rare to think of a book about scrapbooking as a “can’t-put-down” read, but this is exactly what I found in Full of Love by entertainment journalist and broadcast host Nancy O’Dell. Literally, I read it cover to cover in one sitting — and wished there were more.

I’ve been scrapbooking for close to a decade, and for me it’s a creative outlet as well as a way to preserve memories (since my own memory is so bad). I found that while reading Nancy’s book, some of the excitement that I’d felt when I first started scrapbooking started to return. I was reminded why I do it, and then I was given some helpful ideas for doing it better.

Nancy proves to be a very sweet and charming narrator, as she shares pieces of her personal and professional life. One way she does this is by comparing journaling in scrapbooks to interviewing celebrities. The way she approaches it really makes sense, and the way she tells her stories keeps your attention.

Here are some of her tips for  journaling (You’ll have to read the book to get the full details):

  1. Be curious.
    Ask the questions you might not think of asking when first glancing at a photo. “When you sit down to journal on an album page and you get this vague feeling that there’s more to this story that you want to know, trust your instincts. Try and find it.” Nancy shares a fascinating story about a question she wasn’t afraid to ask Jack Nicholson.
  2. Tell the backstory.
    Ask yourself what led up to a photo or what happened right after it. If it’s more interesting than the subject of the photo itself, include it in your journaling. Make that be the backstory you write about.
  3. Take journaling shortcuts.
    Use bullets or lists to help you save time and space. Take advantage of memorabilia like newspaper clippings, brochures or even song lyrics to tell the story for you.
  4. Do your homework.
    If there’s something you’ve forgotten about a photo, ask someone else, such as a family member, what they remember about it. This can be a way to jump-start your journaling even if you do remember about the event.
  5. Put yourself in the picture.
    Even if you’re not physically in the picture, don’t forget to put yourself in the story. Ask yourself how you felt about the event or the moment, what was going through your mind when you clicked the shutter, or what you wish you had said then that you could write about now.
  6. Use your own handwriting.
    Your handwriting is as personal as your smile or the sound of your voice, so don’t forget to include it on the pages of your album. Someday someone will cherish those pieces of you left on the page. Don’t worry about your handwriting being too sloppy — it’s your own handwriting, so it’s beautiful just the way it is.

Journaling is just one area that Nancy talks about in Full of Love. She also shares amazing tips for taking better photos from a professional photographer and many incredible layout ideas. You really need to read the book and keep it to refer back to when you’re working on your albums.

And you’re in luck — I happen to have one copy of Full of Love by Nancy O’Dell that I’m giving away, courtesy of Creative Memories (who published the book). I used to be a Creative Memories consultant myself and still swear by their products, so their seal of approval on the book is as good a recommendation as any for me!

Wanna win Full of Love? Here’s what you need to do:

  • Leave me a comment, telling me why you’d like to win the book. Do you scrapbook? Want to start? What kind of scrapbooks do you make?
  • Share this giveaway on Facebook. Then copy and paste your status update in a separate comment.
  • Share this giveaway on Twitter: Want to win a copy of Full of Love by Nancy O’Dell and learn awesome scrapbooking tips? http://ow.ly/38lCo
    Then leave me a comment letting me know you did so.

Since I’m going to a Croptoberfest scrapbooking event sponsored by Creative Memories this weekend (totally unrelated to my giveaway), I will use Random.org to choose a winner on Sunday at 8 p.m. CST. Please make sure you leave an email address so I can get ahold of you if you’re chosen!