Friday, December 31, 2010

Our Second Christmas Tree

It's not Christmas without a Christmas tree, right?

That's the way Grammy feels, so she loaded up her collection of family ornaments and her artificial tree and brought them to Tennessee for our week together.

The kids enjoyed watching Grammy unwrap each ornament.  She also explained where it had come from and her memories connected to it.  Some ornaments came from exotic places around the world (my in-laws were missionaries for 30+ years) while others were made by Joel and his sister as children.

The kids took turns hanging ornaments on the tree. 

Even Sammy hung a few ornaments (with help).

The end result was a beautiful tree 
(in a space that BEGGED for a tree 3 times its size).

I love this picture!!  I'm so glad Grammy decided to bring her tree and ornaments and share them with us.  It gave me a glimpse of myself 30 years from now as I share our field trip ornaments.

How many Christmas trees did you have this year?

All Family Reunions Should Include a Snowball Fight

I don't want you to think our entire trip to Tennessee was like a new version of the Griswold's Christmas!

It can't be ALL bad when the view from the backyard looks like this!

Or when the back of the rental house looks like this!!

Or when 7 cousins (ages 7, 6, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2) and 2 daddies 
have a fun snowball fight!!

Or when you end up with fun pictures of cute boys like this one!!

Day 3 went much better with the womenfolk (and our chauffeur, Granddaddy) grocery shopping while the daddies and little folk enjoyed a snowball fight.  Quite an experience for our Texas cousins who had never seen this much snow before!  From what I hear my kids did their best to introduce their cousins to all the fun snow brings.

Have you ever had a family snowball fight?  I highly recommend it!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Griswolds have nothin' on us!

"I just threw up."

That's always a great way to start your day.  And when that day is 24 hours before you leave on vacation then you know it's going to be a really FUN vacation. 

The good thing was that Ben only threw up on that Sunday.  The stomach bug passed through him quickly so I hoped for the best, but planned for the worst.

We loaded up our van Monday morning and headed south to meet Joel's parents, sister and her family.  Twenty minutes down the road - NOT EVEN OUT OF RHODE ISLAND YET - Ellie threw up all over herself.  Fun times, let me tell ya! 

Ellie covered by a beach towel and holding a plastic bag on her lap.

A quick clean up and change of clothes and we were back on the road.  I've lost count of how many times Ellie threw up on Monday and Tuesday.  The other times we managed to contain it, including our lunch at Cracker Barrel on Tuesday when she quietly threw up in her plate.

Other than the vomiting, our drive to Tennessee (an hour north of Chattanooga) proved uneventful - until we tried to find our rental house.  Unfortunately we chose to follow Google Maps directions.  THAT was our first bad decision.  The directions led us to an area in the beginning stages of development.  Meaning there were roads but no houses.  Clearly we were in the wrong place.

We decided to turn around and go back out to the main road.  Since the side street we were on looped at the end we chose to drive down the hill and come back up the other side.  Bad decision number two.  The steep hill, about half an inch of snow, and our overloaded front wheel drive van did not get along.  The end result was us stuck in the ditch.  With no houses around.  In the dark.

After trying our best to get out of the ditch, and not succeeding, my husband tried to call Harvey the Neighbor (our local contact for the rental house).  Don't you know our cell phones didn't work!!  By now Ellie was sobbing in the backseat.  I'm not sure what her four year old imagination had concocted but after 2 days of driving and throwing up she was done with this trip.

I didn't blame her.  Joel hiked up the hill and I settled in to wait with the kids.  Ellie finally calmed down and we tried singing Christmas songs but since my voice was almost gone (I had a cold) that didn't work well.  So I passed around snacks (and prayed no one needed to go to the bathroom!) and started reading a Christmas book.  By flashlight.  With almost no voice left.

We didn't even make it through the first book when lights appeared.  (I took a supreme effort on my part NOT to let my imagination run wild.  I was starting to see headlines about a Rhode Island family stuck in a ditch being butchered two weeks before Christmas.)  Joel's cell phone had worked at the top of the hill so he had called Harvey the Neighbor.  Harvey and his wife, Nancy, loaded us and the luggage we needed for the night into their SUV and took us the rest of the way to our rent house.
Our rental house in TN.
The next day Harvey took Joel back to our van and winched it out of the ditch.  Alls well that ends well, right?

Except that the stomach bug didn't end there.  Sam, then Joel, then Will, then Grammy and Granddad all caught it over the course of the week.  Fun times, let me tell you.

One funny thing did happen Tuesday night.

After making small talk with Nancy for several minutes she asked where we were from.  I told her Rhode Island and asked where they were from.  She explained they had moved up from Florida but were both natives of Brooklyn.  NEW YORK!  I'm not sure she understood why I was laughing.  It was at that moment that I had realized her accent didn't sound odd to me.  Way out in the middle of nowhere Tennessee and we get rescued by folks from Brooklyn.  Too funny!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Home Made Christmas Play

"Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you."
"I am the Lord's Servant,' Mary answered."
Joseph traveled to Nazareth on a donkey with Mary, who was expecting a child.
There was no room for them in the inn.
"She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger."
Merry Christmas!!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Movie Quote Quiz

Have you been watching lots of Christmas movies lately?  We sure have!  So in honor of holiday DVDs I give you my Christmas movie quote quiz.

  1. "Light the lamp, not the rat!!"
  2. "You'll shoot your eye out."
  3. "Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!"
  4. "Give me one reason, one good reason, why we should spend our last two hours in Florida looking at the sisters of Freckle-Face Haynes, the dog-faced boy."
  5. "Sh-sh-sh-shiny? I'd even say it glows." 
  6. "Happy birthday! Hey, I said my first words. But... But snowmen can't talk."
  7. "Christopher Columbus!!"
  8. "N.  Y." 
  9. "Yippee-ki-yay."
  10. "What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down."
  11. "Ugh! I've been kissed by a dog! I have dog germs! Get hot water! Get some disinfectant! Get some Iodine!" 
  12. "I am one with the Yuletide, know what I mean?"
  13. "Ah, Millward, in this modern age it isn't enough just to have a great story, anymore. No, you need to show the audience something they've never seen before!"
  14. "I made my family disappear."
  15. "I don't know, maybe it was just all a dream. Maybe I went to bed one lonely night in December and I imagined it all. But I swear, nothing has ever felt more real."
  16. "Can we take a direct flight back to reality, or do we have to change planes in Denver?"
  17. For the past 50 years or so I've been getting more and more worried about Christmas. Seems we're all so busy trying to beat the other fellow in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle.
  18. But you don't want to be bamboozled. You don't want to be led down the primrose path! You don't want to be conned or duped. Have the wool pulled over your eyes. Hoodwinked! You don't want to be taken for a ride. Railroaded!  
Do you know all of the answers?  Click here to see the answer page.

What are your favorite Christmas movie quotes?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

My husband fondly remembers his dad reading The Night Before Christmas each holiday season and wants to repeat the tradition with our children.  Unfortunately, in all my Christmas book buying last year I didn't purchase this particular classic.

So, I did a little happy dance in the spring when I came across The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Janet and Alex D'Amato (published by Educational Reading Service, 1970).  For only $.25 this classic became ours.  Once home, I promptly tucked it away with our other Christmas books.

And forgot about it.

Then, during the summer I attended a used book sale hosted by the Rhode Island Guild of Home Teachers.  Imagine my delighted smile when I found The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Jan Brett (published by Penguin Putnam, 1998.)!  It's classic Brett combined with classic Christmas.  So for only $.75 this classic became ours.  Once home, I promptly tucked it away with our other Christmas books.

And forgot about it.

The autumn used book sale rolled around at my local library and I excitedly shopped.  "When, what to my wondering eyes should appear," but 'Twas the Night Before Christmas illustrated by Haddon Sundblom (published by Hallmark and Coca-Cola, 2001).  My "eyes - how they twinkled" as I thought of my husband's pleasure to read this Christmas classic with our four children.  So I plopped down my $.25 and carried my prize away.  Once home, I promptly tucked it away with our other Christmas books.

And forgot about it.

Until last week when I pulled out our Christmas books and looked at our collection.  Apparently I was very concerned about having a copy of the book for my family this year!  But now that we have THREE copies, I might make this another Christmas book collection and see how many different versions I can gather through the years.

One thing's for sure - my husband shouldn't have any problem finding a copy to read with our children!

Please tell me I'm not the only one who has bought multiple copies of something!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Holiday Songs Made into Children's Books

I enjoy collecting Christmas and holiday children's books, especially those made from popular holiday music.  Throughout the month of December you can hear my husband and me reading singing these books to our children, who are less than appreciative of our talents.

Here are four of the musical books we are torturing our children with enjoying this year.

The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet by Deborah Hautzig.  Illustrated by Diane Goode.  Published by Random House, 1986.

I have vague memories of seeing the ballet as a child.  Honestly, I didn't understand the storyline.  Now I do!  This book tells the story of the Nutcracker.  The characters in the illustrations are all wearing ballet shoes so you still get the feel of the dance (without the form fitting tights).


Winter Wonderland:  Sleigh Bells Ring, Are You Listening?  by Dick Smith and Felix Bernard.  Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers.  Published by Scholastic, 1993.

Very cute book!  The "story" is illustrated with mice as the main characters.  Sweet.  Charming.  Fun to sing!


The Twelve Days of Christmas illustrated by Claire Counihan.  Published by Scholastic, 1989.

"All the illustrations of this book are photographs of cakes and cookies. The actual Christmas gifts are represented by gingerbread cookies."

The book includes a recipe for gingerbread cookies just in case you feel inspired to make your own version of the book.  VERY cute idea.


Over the River and Through the Woods illustrated by John Steven Gurney.  Published by Scholastic, 1992.

Even though the second verse mentions Thanksgiving, I always think of this as a Christmas song.

The illustrations show a Victorian era family as they celebrate the holidays.  Who wouldn't like to go sledding or do a little ice fishing?

I found most of these books at the used book sales I attended this year.  I think they cost me .$25 each.  You can't beat that for Christmas reading singing fun!

Do you have any Christmas music books?

For more Christmas book recommendations:  2009, 2007, 2007.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A New Christmas Tree Ornament Tradition

I started a new Christmas tree tradition this year.  I purchased an ornament on each of our fun field trips.  I wanted something to remind us of what we enjoyed about each place but I didn't want to clutter the front of my refrigerator.

So a new tradition was born!  Let me share with you a few of the fun places we visited this year.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum entertained us on THREE separate occasions!  I briefly shared about our first trip last fall.  The Museum is definitely worth a visit.  You see 5 REAL whale skeletons, climb aboard a scale-model whaling ship and learn about whaling.  (If you live in RI, the Cranston library has FREE passes!!)

The New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park is located a short walk down the street.  They have a junior ranger program with an excellent booklet and enthusiastic park rangers.

In May we visited the Washington, DC area.  We toured Mt. Vernon, the Space Museum and walked the National Mall.  As a history buff, my favorite stop on our trip was Mount Vernon but my favorite picture from our trip is of my family on the Mall.

This picture is a 2 for 1.  The egg shaped ornament is from Minute Man National Historical Park.  We learned about the beginning of the American Revolution and the ride of Paul Revere (bonus point: Did Revere complete his ride?).  They also have a junior ranger program for those interested.

The pewter ornament on the right is from Slater Mill.  We learned about the birth of the American Industrial Revolution, saw a working water wheel, and watched cotton turn to thread.

This ship-in-a-bottle represents the Mayflower II, a replica of the Pilgrim's ship to America.  The life-sized boat is docked in Plymouth, Massachusetts and is available for tours.  VERY cool field trip for the week before Thanksgiving!

My favorite ornament this year is the Pilgrim lady and her child.  We ALL enjoyed our trip to Plimoth Plantation the week before Thanksgiving.  Seeing life-sized replicas of the Pilgrims homes inspired my children.  Our favorite part of the trip was watching a blacksmith hammer metal into nails.  VERY cool!

I am so glad I collected ornaments from our field trips this year.  Looking at them on our tree adds to our memories and the specialness of our holiday!

Do you collect ornaments from you vacations, field trips or outings?  If so, what is your favorite one?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fudge Recipe - Simple, Easy and No Fail!

Fudge Recipe - Simple, Easy and No Fail!

2 pkgs. (12 oz each) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup margarine (2 sticks)
1 jar (7.5 oz) marshmallow creme
1 can evaporated milk
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Here's my how-to guide for making the fudge:

In sauce pan, combine milk and sugar.  Bring to a rolling boil.  STIR.  Boil for 7.5 minutes once it reaches rolling boil. 

Just starting to boil.

Rolling boil.  Will boil over sides if you don't stir.

Pour milk-sugar mixture into mixing bowl on top of chips, margarine (cut into chunks), and marshmallow creme.

Mix until smooth.  Stir in vanilla and nuts (optional).  Pour into lightly buttered cookie sheet or jelly roll pan (for thick fudge put in 9x13 cake pan).  

Instead of buttering the pan I lined it with wax paper. 
Chill for 12-24 hours.  Then cut and store in air tight container.

I lifted the wax paper out of the pan and cut the fudge with a pizza cutter.

Hints: Butter might get brown flakes, but just keep stirring.  It's ok.  Also, substitute peanut butter or butterscotch chips for different flavored fudge.

Enjoy with a good book and cup of hot tea. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Overwhelmed By Life

I'm a little overwhelmed by my life today.

We've started school.  My 2nd grader reads well above grade level but still needs a lot of my attention with the curriculum we chose.  My kindergartener can't read yet so requires my help with almost everything.  And the pre-K 4 year old is so excited to have her own school books she can hardly stand it.  Meanwhile the (almost) 2 year old is greatly offended to be gated in his room alone while we do school.

In addition to school there's the laundry that doesn't fold itself, dishes that multiply in the sink when my back is turned, and bathrooms that grow stuff if I'm not diligent.

Oh!  And we're still re-doing our half bathroom.  Walls and floors are done.  Now Joel gets to install the new vanity, sink and toilet.  Then I get to do a little decorating.

All of that to say, Stephanie's Mommy Brain will be on hiatus for the next 2 weeks.  By then I should have us all on a working routine and find time again for blogging.

Wish me luck!!

Ps.  On a positive note, I have lost 17 pounds since June 1.  :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Visiting Roger Williams Park Playground on Family Fun Friday

100 Free (or Almost) Free Summer Family 
Fun Activities
: #22. Visit each of your local parks
and decide which one is best.

We haven't gone to all of our local parks this summer but we did make a trip to one we seldom visit - Roger Williams Park Playground.  It's a little farther away than our normal parks, much bigger, and usually very crowded.

The park has 3 huge play structures designed for different skills and abilities.  Of course Sam didn't think he should be stuck on the baby structure.

Sam has recently developed a love for slides.  He thought this one was a lot of fun. 

Ellie thought the baby tunnel was a lot of fun.

Sam did, too. They both crawled in and climbed on the tunnel.

Will and Ben recognized Mr. Potatohead and enjoyed climbing on him.

Everyone declared Roger Williams Park Playground to be a lot of fun.  If they always leave so peacefully we might play there more often.

What is your family's favorite playground and why?

Visit Fun Mom Friday at Please Pass the Salt for more family fun ideas.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Climbing Trees on Family Fun Friday

Family Fun Activities:  #68. Climb a tree.

I loved climbing trees as a kid and so do my children.  There's just something exciting about stretching to reach that next branch.  It's also magical to sit high up, looking down on everyone and everything that usually looks down on you.

I highly recommend you allow you kids to climb trees.  It's good for their development.  I promise. 

Will hangs by one hand!  Wish I had that kind of arm strength.

Ben joins the monkey action.

See, it's not that high.  The perfect climbing tree with low branches.

Yes, I set the baby in the tree.
The branches crossed and made a perfect seat for him.

My four monkeys in a tree.
Did you climb trees as a kid?  Do your children climb trees?

Visit Fun Mom Friday at Please Pass the Salt for more family fun ideas.

Disclaimer:  If you let your kids climb trees as a result of this post and one falls out and gets hurt, I am in no way liable.  :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Inspirational Weight Loss Books (part 2)

As I mentioned in this post, I am externally motivated a good deal of the time.  That's why when I'm making changes in my life I like to hear from people who've made similar changes or are experts on the topic.

This summer I've been making changes in my diet and exercise (in case you haven't noticed).  So I've been reading books about weight loss and fitness.

I found Fat Chance: Losing the Weight, Gaining My Worth by Julie Hadden (Guideposts Books, 2009) at my local library.  I'm so glad I did!

Julie Hadden, a contestant on The Biggest Loser Season 4, lost almost 100 pounds and has kept it off.  In her book, Julie describes how she became obese, her experiences on The Biggest Loser, and her life after reality television.

Julie shares about her childhood as a chubby little girl and tells how she struggled with weight all of her life.  An added factor to her battle has been a diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).  After the birth of her first son, Julie's weight began to increase until she felt hopeless and helpless.

There was much about Julie's story that I relate to.  The life-long struggle with weight.  Being a stay-at-home mom.  And being a Christian.  Part of why I like this book so much is that Julie credits her success on The Biggest Loser, and her current life, to God.  She unashamedly talks about how God got her attention during the reality show and made her faith very real.

For Julie, church attendance and moral living is no longer about checking off a report card.  It's about knowing Jesus and following him.  It's about finding your worth and value not in the number on the scale but in the one who created you.

That's a story I can relate to and recommend to all my friends!  If you struggle with your weight or your self-esteem or know someone who does, I highly recommend you read Fat Chance.  I felt inspired and challenged by Julie and hope I get a chance to hear her speak some day.

What books have inspired you to make changes and improve your health?
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