Monday, August 30, 2010

September knocking on my door

I'm not sure how exactly it happened, but it appears that September is just two mornings away.  I feel like the entire summer slipped through my fingers.  This realization started to set in on Friday for me when Madeline's school letter arrived.  I'm not sure why the letter Ellie received a couple weeks prior did not have the same effect on me.

The past few days we've been in that familiar place of trying to find out who will be in Madeline's class this year, and of course, wondering how we'll like the new teacher.  We don't know much about the teacher.  A few parents who have heard about her say she's tough, or strict.  Madeline doesn't like hearing that, but I'm not too worried about it.  Some of my favorite teachers have been the really strict ones.  They're great because they don't allow nonsense in their classes and the students actually learn.  If that's the case for Madeline this year then I welcome it.  

But still, I have my mixed feelings on sending her off to school.  I want to homeschool, but I can't hash out whether or not it's the right choice for us.  Maybe next year, or maybe never at all.  I just don't know.  This coming school year will be one of some deep introspection on my part.  

With a single week of summer vacation left to us, I have to seriously plan our activities.  Yesterday we visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art for what will probably be a good stretch of time.  Our annual membership will expire tomorrow.  We've decided to let it lapse and hope that one of the grandparents will be kind enough to buy a new annual membership for us this Christmas.  We hardly used the membership last fall because of soccer and we suspect the same will be true this year.  No sense in buying it now when we might not be going back for several months.  Our lives will not be totally devoid of culture this fall.  We will be taking the girls to Washington DC in October to tour the museums in the Smithsonian Mall, and we will visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception while we are there.  I'm looking forward to going to Mass there.

I was nudged into planning my religious education classes this past week, too.  Classes will be resuming a week earlier than I had anticipated and up until last Wednesday, I hadn't really done much by way of planning.  I met another third grade religious ed teacher at the meeting I attended this past Wednesday and she inspired me to get planning.  I liked many of the things she does with her class so I set off to create a similar model.  For months I had been contemplating creating a blog or website for my classes but wasn't sure about it.  After checking out the site this teacher had for her class I decided to give it a go.  Over the past few days I've put a lot of time into the blog I created for my two classes.  Take a look if you have a moment and tell me what you think of it.

At long last, a small person is now awake in our house.  I'm going to get the other one moving and try to make the most of what appears to be a beautiful summer day.  Maybe later I can continue my thoughts on this quickly fading summer. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

CSN Product Review

A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to choose a product from one of CSN's 200+ web stores and write a review.  Selecting an item was no small feat.  They have practically everything you can think of in their many web stores.  After putting plenty of thought into what I could possibly use, I decided to add a piece of cookware to my currently overworked pots.  I was delighted when I discovered that carried pieces from the same line of Emerilware pots and pans we purchased nearly two years ago.  I selected the Emerilware Stainless 4 quart Sauce pan with pouring spout and lid to review.

In the time since I purchased our original Emerilware set of pots and pans I have been very happy with them.  They're dishwasher safe, which wasn't the case with the hard anodized cookware that I accidently ruined in the dishwasher prior to buying my current set.  Since they're stainless steel, I don't need to worry about any non-stick coating flaking off and getting into our food (I've had this happen in the past with other cookware.).  Since I've been so happy with the Emerilware cookware, I was fairly certain that I'd be just as happy with the 4 quart sauce pan.  It turns out that my assumption was correct.  This pot is awesome.  For the past two weeks I've used it many times to cook pasta.  Thanks to the pouring spout and thoughtfully designed lid that has two sets of straining holes (one big and one small) I have been able to eliminate the need for a colander when making pasta dishes for my family.  Anything that saves me the trouble of loading another item into the dishwasher gets my seal of approval.

I'm a comparison shopper by nature so before coming to my final decision on whether or not to select this sauce pan, I shopped around on line to see what CSN's competitors were charging for this same piece.  In many cases their price was the same or lower than their competition.  I also liked that they were offering free shipping on this item as well.  Not all of their competitors were offering to ship this heavy sauce pan for free.

Free shipping is all fine and well, but I was preparing myself for super slow shipping since I find that's generally the case when places offer free shipping.  Much to my surprise the order that I placed on a Friday afternoon arrived four days later.  Fast delivery times always make me happy.  I liked that the product came nicely packed.

Over all, I am pleased with the sauce pan and found shopping with CSN to be a snap.  From check out to delivery everything went smoothly.

For the purpose of this review I was provided with a $60 gift card to use towards a product of my choice. The item I selected was $69.99 and I paid the difference.  This review reflects my honest opinion of the product and my shopping experience with CSN stores.

Catholic Icing Giveaway

Lacy, over at Catholic Icing is hosting a clay rosary giveaway.  Head over to her blog and check it out.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Small Successes-August 26th

Celebrating the little things in life that add up.

1. This weekend Bryan knocked out the basement stairwell wall and created a toy storage closet and a larger opening at the bottom of the stairs.  I call the closet our "cupboard under the stairs."  The job isn't completed, but I'm already loving it.

2. With obsessive vacuuming and genius forethought of hanging up plastic drop cloths we managed to keep the debris and dust from the demolition of the basement wall to an absolute minimum.  Every time Bryan had to haul debris out to the driveway I moved in with my shop vac and cleaned up the work area.

3. After a year of procrastinating, I finally finished coloring in the bingo cards I brought for my CCD class last year.  I had them mostly colored in last August when I got hit with the flu but I simply couldn't bring myself to finish coloring the remaining squares. I was a little irritated with myself when I realized that I couldn't use this game for an entire year of teaching CCD because I was too lazy to color 12 (yes, only 12) more little pictures.  I'm so happy that it's done.

Be sure to check out my book giveaway of Fr. Mark Mossa's Already There.

Already There Book Giveaway!

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to review Fr. Mark Mossa's awesome new book, Already There.   If you're interested in nourishing your spiritual life and like pop culture this book will certainly appeal to you.  Fr. Mark has written a remarkable book that is highly readable and has the ability to take you on a life changing spiritual journey.  

I mentioned to Fr. Mark last week that I was planning to host a giveaway of Already There here on my blog and he liked the idea so much that he offered to contribute a signed copy. So I have not one, but two copies of this great book to offer up for this giveaway.

To enter this giveaway simply leave a comment.  If you tweet or blog about this giveaway you'll gain an additional entry (one for each if you choose to do both).  The giveaway will end on Sunday, September 5th and the winners will be announced the following day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

EcoSmart Giveaway Winner

I called in a third party to select and announce the winner of the EcoSmart Giveaway.  My lovely selector provided me with a black fireman's hat that was color coordinated to the loud pajamas.

After a little moving a shaking Ellie made her choice.

And the winner is:

Congratulations Kansas Mom!  Check your inbox for an email from me.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Review: Goodness Graces!

Don't let the slightly punny title scare you away, this book is actually kid approved.  I wasn't sure if my almost nine year old would be too thrilled with having to read a book of stories on the sacraments, but once she picked up the book to read the first couple chapters she didn't want to give it back.  That's usually a good sign that a book is well received.

So what kind of book is this?  Goodness Graces! is a book that seeks to teach children about the sacraments through fictional stories.  The stories are about regular kids who come to realize the importance and beauty of a particular sacrament during the course of the story.  In most of the stories the main character (each story has a different set of characters) starts off with a slightly skewed opinion their particular situation, and it is through their understanding of the sacrament that they finally get what is important in the end.  The stories are easily relatable to todays children and required no explanation on my part (something that I have had to do with other Catholic children's books that were printed less recently).

So who exactly is the target audience of this book?  Well, it's a children's book so children would be the short answer.  The book is intended for children between the ages of 9-12 years old, but I would beg to differ with that age range.  I think it is better suited for children between the ages of 7-10.  The book reminds me of a Magic Tree House book.  The print is large and I get the impression that this book would be too young for a sixth or seventh grade child.

Overall, I think this book is really well done.  In fact, I have yet to come across a single children's book put out by Pauline Kids that hasn't been a hit with my kids.  As a parent, I particularly like that each story has a page of discussion questions at the end.  Having these questions at the end of each story is a nice touch.  I like it when a book has built in features to  reinforce reading comprehension.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program for The Catholic Company.  Visit The Catholic Company for  more information on Goodness Graces! and be sure to check out their great selection of Mary statues while you are there.

I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

EcoSmart Giveaway Ends Tomorrow

If you haven't entered for a chance to win the EcoSmart Safe Picnic bundle giveaway you still have some time left.  The giveaway ends tomorrow night.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Quick Takes Volume 5

1. I'm coming to realize that I'm awful at writing up quick takes on Fridays.  Since I started this however long ago I have struggled to remember to even write them.  I think about it on Thursday and then out of nowhere Friday sneaks up on me and then scurries away before I have a chance to act.  But not this week.

2. I'm going to lose my mind because of all the incessant bickering and whining I keep hearing from the girls.  For some reason they feel the need to try and bring me into every little argument.  I don't think either child is happy unless she is bothering her sister.  I've had to settle arguments that deal with the number of legs a particular child has (they both have two) and others about whether or not a child was wet or covered in mud.  I'm pretty sure this is all a conspiracy to nudge me over the edge.

3. After two months of very limited eating out, I think it's all catching up to me.  For the past week I have found myself daydreaming and carving a crappy Dominos pizza.  Why do I suddenly think this is the ultimate lunch idea?  I haven't caved in an ordered one yet, but I suspect I'll be sinking my teeth into a plain cheese pizza with none of that new and improved garlic stuff added.  Maybe I'll burn my mouth on the pizza and I'll wake up and realize it's not worth craving.

4. I think everyone is finally feeling better, and I'm hoping that Ellie will not wind up sick.  I made what I believed were possibly poisonous zucchini muffins on Sunday night.  Monday at 6AM I woke up and felt very sick.  I remained sick for several hours.  The rest of the day I was cautious about eating.  Monday night I asked Bryan to eat another poisonous zucchini muffin (we each had two the night before) and the following day he was feeling unwell.  Tuesday I tossed all the glorious smelling poisonous muffins and it's sister loaf of bread.  On Wednesday, Madeline began to complain of stomach discomfort and Bryan's coworkers mentioned having similar symptoms.  Last night saw poor Madeline vomiting into the porcelain throne.  She's feeling better now and I'm lamenting the fact that I threw away what was probably a perfectly good batch of zucchini muffins and bread.

5. Bryan and I are gearing up to do some demolition in the basement.  We're going to knock out part of the stairwell wall to make it easier to move furniture in and out of the basement.  Presently the wall is configured in  such a way that you need to damage the surrounding walls and furniture if you are going put something in the basement.  How do it know this?  The day after we moved in this house Bryan and my father-in-law "made" a sofa bed "fit" around the sharp angle at the bottom of the basement steps.  We're also going to utilize the dead space under the stairs and turn it into a storage closet for the kids' games and toys.  I can't wait for  this closet to be built.

6. Ellie's kindergarten welcome letter from the teacher arrived in the mail yesterday.  I can't believe my baby is really going to be going to full day kindergarten next year.  I'm going to feel lost with the kids gone all day, but on a positive note, I will have a very clean house and I may even regain some of my sanity temporarily.

7. With only two and a half weeks until school starts I'm trying to figure out how we can best utilize the Summer vacation days we still have left.  I toyed with the idea of going to the Philadelphia Museum of Art today but it was almost noon when the girls and I were finally dressed and ready to leave the house.  It's not worth it to me to get there after noon and then have to potentially sit in shore traffic on our ride home.  Maybe one day next week.  Madeline was hoping that I'd take her to the Cleopatra exhibit at the Franklin Institute.  I had to explain that we don't have an annual pass for the Franklin yet.  Soccer season is only going to eat up Sunday afternoons so we'll probably look into going to the Cleopatra exhibit sometime this fall.

While you're here, be sure to enter my EcoSmart giveaway that ends this Monday.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Small Successes-August 19th

Celebrating the little things in life that add up.

1. It came to my notice on Sunday that our basement was attacked by enemy forces. I'm not sure when or how it happened, but someone bombed our basement and toys were strewn about like bits of shrapnel. The kids, thankfully, were alright. I suspect they may have been in the room at the time of the bombing based on their overall demeanor when I insisted that they put out some effort to clean up the mess. I firmly believe that either they made this mess on their own, or they did something rather heinous to provoke some hostile nation to attack us. They toiled for several hours trying to put the basement back the way it should be (if the one toy at a time rule was actually followed). Sadly, like Humpty Dumpty, the girls were unable to put the room back together again and I had to step in despite my husbands protests. The basement now looks the way it should and the only casualty is a missing hot pink Nintendo DS stylus. A moratorium on all video and computer games was issued by my husband until the stylus has been recovered. Reconnaissance efforts to retrieve the elusive item have proved fruitless.  The kids are dismayed, but I am rather enjoying the quiet that comes when there are no fights over video games.

2. I eradicated the feelings of guilt I had about choosing to eat my breakfast alone in the dining room instead of with the girls when I discovered that Bryan had forgotten to put the pool pump back to filter on Tuesday night after he backwashed the pool that I had overfilled just a smidge earlier in the day.   If I had chosen to eat my breakfast with the girls yesterday morning our pool would have certainly been drained [and our basement possibly flooded] because I would not have been in an area of the house where I could see the pool water gushing from the backwash hose. In the span of a minute we lost all the water I had put in the pool the day before. So there you have it. I vanquished guilt and saved the day all in one fell swoop. Next time I feel guilty about not eating breakfast with the kids most mornings I'll remember that. And, I'll also remind myself that I grew up eating breakfast alone most mornings and enjoying it.

3. We have over 15 cantaloupes growing in our garden now. Most of them are very small, still, but one is about the size of a baseball. This is our first time successfully growing cantaloupes and we're very excited. When we have tried to grow cantaloupes in the past the bunny rabbits have come along and snipped the plants off right at the vine's base.

While you are here,  take a moment to enter my EcoSmart giveaway that ends this coming Monday.

I'll also be hosting a giveaway of Fr. Mark Mossa's book, Already There, starting next week. Don't miss out on an opportunity to win this book.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Criticism From A Five Year Old

I just walked into the family room and as I sit down Ellie states in a very serious and reproachful tone that all she and Madeline have been fed today was breakfast.  I told her that she was correct and she repeated it once again.  Clearly she's not happy with the meal schedule here. And I thought I was doing pretty well with feeding the kids today. They ate breakfast a few minutes before nine this morning and it's only been about 2 hours and 20 minutes since they sat down to eat.  Perhaps tomorrow I should serve breakfast and lunch in rapid succession.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

EcoSmart Giveaway Ends Monday

If you haven't already entered in my EcoSmart Giveaway, you still have time.  Check out the giveaway post for entry details.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Always a planner

I don't know what it is about me, but I can't help but plan ahead.  I suppose I'm just afraid to be caught unprepared.  No one could ever accuse me of acting spontaneously.  I guess in some ways that could be seen as a bad thing.  My mom used to frequently comment that I was like an old lady set in her ways.  It was a statement that I heard several times a week if not daily from the time I was 8 or 9 until after I had gotten married.  In many ways it's true.  I like my life to be predictable, and like the emperor in the Emperor's New Groove, I don't like anyone or anything to throw off my routine.  Only, I don't get to toss people off of buildings when things go wrong.

So back to planning.  I found myself up in my bedroom contemplating whether or not I should start wrapping the girls' Christmas presents and thereby lock myself into two specific wrapping papers.  After assessing what items I had in my rubbermaid tote of gifts, the one I keep around in case Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter or either of the girl's birthdays should show up unannounced on any given day, I decided it would be better to just slap post-it notes with the name of the recipient on each of the gifts that were making the Christmas cut this year.   I did this to partially appease the part of me that has to have everything done yesterday.  I suspect I will be gift wrapping sometime after September 12th.

Something good came out of my craziness today.  I decided to write up a list of what I was giving each of the girls and I came up with an idea for what I will still need to buy.  I'm on year four of scaling back with Christmas gifts and this year I'm trying to take an approach I had seen mentioned on a message board a couple of years ago.  Where the kids will be allowed to ask for four things (possibly five) and these things will fall into the categories of "something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read" and the possible fifth category may be something to watch.  We are blessed to have family who spoil my girls when it comes to gifts so cutting back on what we get them will help to keep us from being overwhelmed.  They got so much stuff last Christmas that we still have Christmas gifts in the family room that have no place where they belong.  It's a problem we're hoping to remedy in the coming month.

I'm going to try to enjoy my child free afternoon now.  My parents took the girls to a movie and I will have about two hours to myself.   I suppose I should spend some of that time picking out and ironing clothes for the viewing we need to attend tonight.  People are dropping like flies in our family these days.   In less than 90 days we have lost three family members.  This time we lost a cousin to Bryan's grandmother.  I liked how she always made me feel like I was part of the family.  She was a very nice woman and I'll miss not getting to see her when we pop in on our very extended cousins at their shore house (the youngest kids in that family are 8th or 9th cousins to my girls).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nursery Rhyme Humor

I didn't do many nursery rhymes with either of my girls when they were younger despite the fact that I have several beautiful nursery rhyme books.  Part of it is probably due to the fact that my mom held on to the book of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes that I cherished as a child and part of it is due to the fact that I learned the meanings behind many of the rhymes through my studies of history.

Ring Around the Rosie was one of my favorite rhymes as a child, but it now conjures thoughts of the Black Plague.  Not exactly the most cheerful little ditty is it?

A cherished favorite that was passed on to my girls with some minor revisions was This Little Piggie.  Sometimes he went to Target, sometimes he had to stay home and do laundry, sometimes the little one would be very distraught and other times he'd yell "Yippie!" all the way home.  But I can't think about the last little piggie any more without thinking he's a total spaz.  Why, you ask?  Take a look for yourself:

I'm really liking that the piggie has a name, too.  Every time I watch this I can't help but laugh. It's nice to know that the money we're paying for car insurance with Geico is entertaining us on some level, although I think I'd like a lower insurance bill even better.

Book Review: Already There

I just had the pleasure of reading Fr. Mark Mossa's Already There Letting God Find You.  Does the title have you thinking to yourself "What?  God doesn't already know where I am?"  Well, yeah, He does unless maybe you have some stupendous ability to hide yourself from God or maybe you've got an invisibility cloak [which I'm pretty sure only exists in Harry Potter].  We can try to hide ourselves from God, but God does not hide himself from us and really, that's sort of the root of this book.  Fr. Mark essentially takes us on a journey and shows us that God is already there and waiting for us to engage.  In this book he helps us to see how God is present even when we might think he's not there or worse,  is just standing by watching us struggle.

Fr. Mark's approach to spirituality is rather unique.  He uses bits of pop culture to show us how we can deepen our faith lives.  He makes some connections that I'm not sure I'd have made on my own and others that I've noticed in the past.  Some of his pop culture references will have me looking at a few books and movies a little differently.  Of all the pop culture references he makes in this book, I think there was only one that I was not familiar with.  I suspect this book will resonate best with people in the 20-40 year old age range (I know, it seems like a big gap, but when you're smack in the middle of it, it doesn't seem that way.).

I liked how incredibly readable the book was.  While reading Already There I just got the feeling that I was hanging out with a good friend.  It's engaging, it's interesting, it's humorous and it has the ability to be life changing.

This book is not one that you just read for a couple of days and pop on the shelf.  Ideally, one would want to take their time with this book in order to reflect on a certain aspect of letting God find you, or rather letting yourself become open to a deeper relationship with God.  For the purpose of writing this review, I read this book over the course of a week which is a shorter time span than I anticipate needing to read this book a second time around.  It's truly a book that you'll want to mull over. Ordinarily I would zip through an easily read book such as this in the span of a day or two, but I took it easy because of the warning in the introduction not to rush through the book.  Having made myself the victim of spiritual indigestion in the past, I now take caution when there are warnings about rapid consumption.  And really, how can I push through to the next chapter when I come face to face with a chapter that tells me at the conclusion that "this would be a good moment to close the book and just pray in silence. The book's not going anywhere and neither is God."?  Since it was evening when I read that particular chapter I couldn't argue. As long as the kids were in bed the statement held some truth.  The book wasn't going to walk away (They have in the past, it's a problem that goes with the territory of having kids--things disappear and mysteriously no one is to blame.). Having read through the book at a moderate pace, I have to say that I truly believe that this book will reward those who read it slowly.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company.  Visit The Catholic Company for more information on Already There-Letting God Find You and be sure to check out their great selection of Mary statues while you are there.

I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book by The Catholic Company in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, August 13, 2010

EcoSMART Organic Bug Spray Giveaway!

Each spring I set out on a quest to find a bug spray I can use on my kids and each year I fail.  There are some products out there that say they're for the family or kids but once I scan the ingredients I wind up putting it back on the shelf.  Most of the time the kids' and family bug sprays contain the harmful, but effective ingredient DEET.  Knowing how harmful that chemical is, I refuse to put it on myself or my children.  It frustrates me to no end that finding a DEET free spray is such a challenge.  So it goes without saying that I was delighted when I recently became aware that the folks over at EcoSmart have organic bug spray that is safe to use on children.  How awesome is that?  I haven't had a chance to try it out, but it's on my list of things to buy before soccer season begins in a few weeks.

EcoSmart also has household sprays that will control home pest.  When I learned this I had one of those moments when I sat there and wondered why they even bother making the synthetic bug repellants that can be toxic for us to be around [and smell just as toxic, too].  The best thing about their home pest controller is it lists my least favorite bug as one of the pests it kills- crickets.  It's safe to be around children and it kills my arch enemy.  That sounds like one cool product if you ask me.

EcoSmart was kind enough to sponsor a giveaway of their Safe Picnic Value Bundle  pictured below.  The bundle includes their home pest control spray, flying insect killer, and two bottles of their insect repellant.

So how does one go about entering in this awesome bug armageddon bundle?  I'm glad you asked.
To enter this giveaway* simply leave a comment sometime between now and 9PM EST on Monday August 23rd telling me why you want or need this Safe Picnic Value Bundle.  If you follow me, let me know in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry.  If you blog about this giveaway and link back to this post I'll toss in an extra two entries for you.

The randomly selected winner will be announced on Tuesday August 24th.  Good luck everyone!

*Giveaway is open to those who reside in the U.S. except Alaska and Hawaii.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: A Book of Angels

Over the past several weeks my daughter, who is nearly nine, and I have been reading A Book of Angels.  The book is comprised of well known bible stories that feature angels.  The vast majority of the stories are taken from the Old Testament and there are a few stories that are from the New Testament.

I liked how this book took stories that may not be well understood by young children and presented them in a way that could be easily grasped and retained by the reader.  My daughter was able to read this book chapter by chapter and then summarize each story for me.  She came away from reading this book with a newfound appreciation for bible stories.  She enjoyed reading the stories and found them very interesting.  I particularly liked when she would read a story and then come to me and ask me if we hadn't heard that story before at Mass or somewhere else.  I was really happy to see her making those connections.

I think the reading level for this book is easily in the 4th to 6th grade range.  My daughter, who is entering 4th grade next month, was able to read this book with relative ease.  The stories in this book could easily be read aloud to younger children, but the lack of illustrations may make their attention wane.  Each story has a single illustration at the beginning of the chapter.  The illustrations are black and white, but they are nicely done.

One of the things I really love about this book is it nicely mirrors some of the lessons found in the Baltimore Catechism and the Faith and Life text book that we use for my daughter's religious education. I think it's great that this book complements those books so wonderfully.  That simple fact is one of the reasons I love the children's books put out by Sophia Institute Press.  This book is among many from this publisher that I like to refer to as  stealth catechesis: she's enjoying herself and learning her faith at the same time.  It's a win-win situation.

I was provided with a complimentary review copy of this book by Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest review.

Baking Soda, I Love You!

For many years baking soda had three uses in my opinion.  It was one of the necessary ingredients in the chocolate chip cookies that I made once a year around Christmas, it was a key component in making a homemade volcano with vinegar that was dyed red or orange, and it was just one of those things that I had to put in the freezer and fridge for some mysterious reason.  Outside of those three uses baking soda didn't get a second glance from me.

Then I complained one day to my mom that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the sour milk smell our of our laundry. (This was during the days when Ellie was drowning us in spit-up.)  My mom suggested that I find the baking soda that you use in the laundry (It's called Washing Soda, but it's really just very coarse baking soda.).  After purchasing my first two dollar box of this miracle stuff I was hooked.  A cup of it would take away all the sour milk odor.  I was amazed and I was in love.  

Enter Mr. Furkins.  The diabolical Mr. Furkins does everything in his power to smell as badly as he doggishly can.  Once he's built up his dog odor he maniacally goes into the family room, where I like to spend most of my leisure time (Ha!), and proceeds to embed his dog scent into my once beautiful new carpet.  For those of you wondering, my three year old rugs look like they've seen a war after many dog and potty training accidents.  In the case of Mr. Furkins, I'd say most of them were "on purposes" and not accidents.  One day on the verge of losing my sanity I decided that I was going to dump a pound of baking soda on the carpet and let it sit for a few hours.   After a while I vacuumed it up and got down on my hands and knees to take a sniff.  The essence of Oscar was gone.  Another baking soda miracle!  Every so often I repeat this miraculous process so that I can keep my nose from feeling totally offended.

Months ago when one of the readings at Sunday Mass was about Moses and the burning bush I came up with a craft idea for my CCD class that resulted in me dying my hands yellow and orange.  I freaked out that I was probably going to go to Mass that Saturday afternoon and receive communion with tye dyed hands and fingernails.  As I'm freaking out, Bryan kindly googled "How to remove food coloring from skin" and found a suggestion to use baking soda to remove the dye.  I didn't think it would work, but Bryan told me to give it a try.  I did, and a few minutes later my hands were back to normal.  How awesome is that?

When our pool was opened this past May our pool guy told me never to buy alkalinity from a pool supply store.  He's always trying to give me tips on saving money either on pool items or general use things. I suspect it's because Bryan and I are young and have kids.  He's keen on trying to pass fatherly advice on to us.  Anyway, he told me to go to the local warehouse club store and buy the big bag or box of baking soda use that instead of the over priced alkalinity which is really just baking soda packaged as a pool chemical.  That little tip has certainly saved us money.

Almost three months ago my Aunt Florence passed away and my Uncle Ned has found himself having to learn how to keep house.  His daughter, my mom and I have found his fascination with cleaning the house to be rather amusing.  He took a book out of the library two months ago that was filled with household hints.  He started trying some of them out and the results were amazing.  I can't remember all of what he did, but one involved baking soda and the other plain white vinegar (he made the grout on a 40+ year old tile floor look brand new in a 3X3 foot area).  Inspired by Uncle Ned, I decided to try baking soda out on my stove top burners and drip pans.  The stuff worked like magic.  All of the grime and baked on things that wouldn't come off with normal household cleaners quickly dissolved.

This morning I decided I needed to find a way to tackle the ugly water stains that were on the girls' bathtub that have been there since we moved in.  Over the past three years I've tried bleach, comet, Scrubbin' Bubbles, Fantastic and finally CLR.  None of them worked.  As I sat there totally dismayed this morning that the CLR, my last ditch effort, didn't do a thing my thoughts wandered to baking soda.  Could baking soda do something the harsh chemicals couldn't?   I figured I'd be wasting my time, but I gave it a go anyway.  I grabbed my carpet  shaker container filled with baking soda and the new box I had under the kitchen sink just in case it really worked, and a nylon bath pouf (I use these to clean tubs, showers and sinks since they clean and dry easier than icky sponges.).  I made a paste on the stains and started scrubbing.  I was stunned when the baking soda took them away.  Sure I had to put some elbow grease into scrubbing the stains, but it was well worth it.  Even the blue paint speckles that the previous owners got all over the tub when they painted the bathroom came up (and I've spent lots of time scrubbing those spots in the past).  

Baking soda is my new number one cleaning product.  It totally rocks and is super cheap.  Even better is the fact that it's non-toxic and doesn't give off any fumes. 

Small Successes-August 12th

Celebrating the little things in life that add up.

1.  My cleaning spree from the past couple of weeks continues.  Yesterday I cleaned the kitchen and made it shine.  I had been avoiding cleaning the stove top because it's just such a pain to take off the burners, the little round burner cover things and the drip pans and then clean them and the stove top.  I decided yesterday that I just needed to deal with it and clean it.  In cleaning it I got the brilliant idea to use baking soda to try and get some of the grime off of the drip pans.  It worked like a charm.  I don't think the stove has looked so new since a week or two after it was delivered three years ago.  Why didn't I think of this sooner?

2. All of the rooms on the main level have been straightened, vacuumed or swept, and dusted.  I even cleaned all of the windows on this level (Interiors only lest anyone think I'm a crazy over achiever.  I'm just your run of the mill over achiever.).  While I did this naughty Mr. Furkins was out in the yard getting muddy.  As a result, I also had to add giving the dog a bath and brushing him to my to do list yesterday.  Now he's a clean smelling dog that is not shedding all over the house.  I suspect that will last a day.

3. Laundry?  Yeah, I've got that covered.  I even ironed the clothes that had been waiting two weeks for some attention in that area.

Bonus:  I caught up with a very dear friend who I hadn't seen in a while.  She came to my house for the afternoon (when it wasn't clean-and I didn't even freak out about it) and we had a great time.  Her two little boys were a delight.  Ellie was thrilled to play with her son who is 14 months younger.  We all doted on her infant son.  He's such a lovable little chunk of a baby.  When they left my girls were asking for a baby brother.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Standing on the edge

At the moment life feels a little bit like I'm standing on the edge of a cliff deciding when (or if) I should jump.  I felt like this nearly six years ago but I was nudged over the edge and the result was Ellie.  As much as I wanted to be the mother of two, I didn't want to endure another pregnancy or infancy simply because I knew what I'd be getting myself into: massive hormonal mood swings and possibly postpartum depression and a colicky reflux baby.  The second pregnancy did bring massive mood swings and the term Massive Mood Swing Karen was born.  The second baby was not colicky, but she did have reflux that was treated with better medication.  And the postpartum depression signs that I showed with Madeline were non-existent with Ellie.

My pregnancy mood swings are legendary among those who know me.  They were bad enough that Bryan pretty much decided and I agreed, that we were done having children.  It was reasoned that it was better to have a sane mom on an even keel than it was to subject our innocent children to my hormonal insanity.

I was perfectly content with our family size until two years ago.  I suddenly felt called to have another baby.  I wrestled with that idea for several months.  Then I presented it to Bryan who was absolutely not on board with the idea in any way shape or form.  Even discussing the possibility was not an option.  After spending many months praying for a change of heart on his part he became receptive to the idea. Now that he's on board with us expanding our family I find myself doubting whether or not I can do this.

There's not much that I doubt I can do.  For some reason I find myself worried that I'm going to turn our lives upside down.  Will the kids resent me for this?  Will our house seem cramped? (Bryan says it won't because we have an entire level of the house that is seldom used.)  Will our lives turn into chaotic bedlam?  Will I be able to wrangle three kids at Mass by myself week after week?  Will I be able to start  homeschooling the girls next year AND care for an infant?  I don't know the answers to any of these questions and quite frankly it scares the crap out of me.  I'm a planner, a control freak, and not having all the answers puts me on edge.

On some level I think I felt more secure when my life was one of hoping and praying that Bryan would change his mind about having another baby.  Now that he's on the same page I'm scared out of my mind.     I know I'm going to jump off this cliff at some point.  Getting up the courage is proving to be the hard part.  I wonder if I'm alone in feeling like this when it comes to adding a new member to the family.  I know from experience that I will be thrilled to have a new little one to love and that things will work out, but I'm going to worry just the same in the meantime.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Which end is up?

This past week I feel like I've been spinning in many directions.  I'm getting things accomplished but at the same time I don't feel like I'm doing enough.  I'm just having a week where I feel conflicted.

The realization that school starts up in a month has been on my mind.  On many levels I'm questioning why I'm not attempting to homeschool this year.  At the same time, I'm questioning whether homeschooling next year is really the best decision for our family.  I just don't know what to do.  After the week I spent teaching VBS and talking to the parents who send their children to the local parish school I'm not convinced that it's worth $7,000 to send my girls there.  If the Catholic school is off the table as an option that leaves me with the choices of homeschooling or public school.  I like the idea of having my kids at home and doing things when we want to do them.  I also like having my sanity.  I think I have a lot of soul searching to do on this one.

I've spent time organizing the house trying to create more space.  Soon we hope to section off part of the basement and build Bryan a new office.  When that happens we'll have a spare room upstairs.  I have a few ideas in mind for that room.

In the midst of all the stuff I'm doing, I'm actually procrastinating.  I have been dragging my feet on writing up lesson plans for my CCD classes.  I have lots of ideas bouncing around in my head but I just haven't gotten around to typing them up and gathering the necessary resources.  I still haven't even finished coloring in the bingo cards I started last August.  That is some serious procrastination.

On Saturday we went to a pool party at my cousin's house.  It's the first time I've seen many family members since my Aunt Florence's passing.  We had a good time, but it was obvious that she was missing.  She is sorely missed by many.

While heading to that party we took a different route to avoid traffic. In taking this new route we stumbled across the cemetery my uncle, who passed away less than three weeks ago, wanted for his final resting place.  Members of our family and the funeral home looked into getting him buried there and nothing came of it.  We wound up burying him somewhere else closer to where I grew up.  I was stunned when I saw that there were newer grave sites in this cemetery and even a new section.  When I told my father about it at the party he seemed like he was in disbelief.

Because both of my parents have lost a sibling within the past two and a half months life has just seemed suspended in a way.  Both are grieving.  One is grieving the loss of a sibling who was incredibly close and the other is grieving a sibling who interacted with us on a minimal basis.  Both losses were unexpected and too soon.

In the past week it's been determined that a vacation is not happening for us this fall.  I talked before about how our Disney vacation got screwed up because of poor customer service.  Then we decided that we'd go to Williamsburg, VA.  That idea fizzled quickly because the interest in going faded fast for everyone but me.  Then Disney sent me another offer that was almost as good as the first.  Bryan made reservations and we were mulling over the idea of going.  We decided it would be best not to tell the kids in case we needed to change our plans.  Just when we decided we were going for sure (still hadn't told the kids) Bryan finds out he has a meeting he must attend the very week the kids have off for the NJ teacher's convention.  Our vacation is not going to happen now.

Since our vacation plans have been tabled, other plans have been rearranged.  I had been putting off some life changing plans for the sole purpose of feeling good while on our trip.  I also like going on Space Mountain when I'm in Disney World and my husband can be a stickler for certain advisory warnings when specific conditions are present.  The sudden change in plans has my head reeling.  Add to that the fact that my husband has a few business trips in the works that may possibly fall on inconvenient dates for the plans at hand.

Yesterday my best friend and her kids came over and spent the day with us.  Originally I was going to watch her four kids while she visited with her sister and new nephew who is in the NICU.  Her sister felt unwell yesterday so the hospital visit was put off for the sake of the baby.  My kids had a blast playing with her kids and I really enjoyed sitting by the pool and talking to my friend all afternoon.  I'm a little sunburnt but it's worth it to catch up with my friend.  We decided by the end of our visit that we need to get together for lunch during the school year once a month.  I don't think I've had a kid free lunch with a friend in nearly nine years.

I feel like so much is going on around me and it's almost more than I can adequately process.  I'm hoping things will calm down soon, but something tells me that's unlikely.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

CSN Product Review Coming Soon!

I was recently contacted by a representative from CSN and asked if I'd be interested in doing a product review on my blog.  Since I'm always game for writing up a review I decided to take advantage of this fun opportunity.  The dilemma, of course, is deciding just what I should review.

If you aren't already familiar with CSN, let me tell you about them.  They're a company that boasts over 200 websites filled with shopping.  They have everything over there from dining room furniture, to gardening, to pets and baby CSN stores have got it all covered.  Bargain hunters like myself will appreciate that CSN even has a clearance center.

Stay tuned to find out what product I decide to review.  Maybe I'll pick a new car that I can drive around in when the girls are at school all day since the Swagger Wagon will be a little large for just me.  Or maybe I'll decide to swap out my mail box and get one that looks like a little house.  The mail person will probably appreciate that it matches the color scheme of my home, don't you think?

Anyone have any suggestions for what I should review? Should I check out some toy or something for the kitchen?

Book Review: Saints and Their Stories

I'm a sucker for children's books so when I saw Saints and Their Stories available for review from The Catholic Company, I knew I had to review it.  When I read the product description I noticed that the book is geared to children between the ages of 7-10.  My older daughter is almost nine so I figured I'd hand the book off to her and see what she thought of it.  She likes to read about saints and has a few other saint books in which she has been known to lose herself.  While reading through the book, Madeline kept excitedly coming to me and showing me random illustrations or telling me about a new favorite saint, or just sharing an interesting tid bit that she picked up in a story.  In the first half hour that she spent with the book she read about three or four saints and happily buzzed about each one.

So what's so exciting about this hardcover book? For one, it has gorgeous color illustrations and lots of 'em.  If the book had nothing but illustrations it would be a good book--the illustrations are that beautiful.  But there's more to this book than beautiful and brightly colored illustrations.

For each of the 18 saints there is a story that ranges from about four to six pages of text.  That text is separated by multiple full color illustrations that bring the story to life and capture the imagination.  The stories offer a biography of the saint and in many cases the young reader is introduced to a tale or legend that is associated with that particular saint.  One thing I really appreciated about this book is it did more than just tell the story of the saint.  I particularly liked that this book tells the young reader what the saint is the patron of (my pal St. Anthony and his amazing abilities to help scatterbrains like me find things is mentioned) and also tells them what symbols are often associated with each saint and why.  The feast days for most of the saints are also included in the stories as well.

After I had read through the book my mind was racing with all the ways this book could be used.  For one, it's a great way to introduce your children to the saints.  The targeted age range of 7 to 10 is spot on if you're looking for a book that can be read independently.  The book should not be much of a challenge for kids who read on a 2nd-3rd grade level.  If I had to compare the reading level to a series of books, I'd say it's comparable to a Magic Tree House book in terms of difficulty.  Because each saint story is short, a child who maybe isn't all that into reading about saints could pick this up and not feel daunted.  A child like my daughter who does like to read about the saints could pick up this book and happily read about several saints in a short period of time.  Back to the books other uses.  Because of the way the stories are written, this book makes for a wonderful read aloud story book.  And thanks to all the beautiful illustrations, this book will be sure to hold the interest of small children.  The stories can be read in under five minutes so little ones will not grow tired of the story before it is over.  These stories are the perfect length for sharing in a religious education class.  I'll be using this book with my kindergarten class this year.  My younger daughter enjoyed the saint stories I read her from this book, so I'd say that's a pretty good indicator that her peers will like it as well.  If you are living the liturgical year at home this book could be used to celebrate the feast days of the saints.

Overall, this book is a lovely introduction to the saints that far exceeded my expectations.  You can't go wrong in adding this book to your child's library.  This book is suitable for gift giving and would be a lovely gift idea for a baptism, first penance or first communion.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company.  Visit The Catholic Company for more information on Saints and Their Stories and be sure to check out their great selection of Mary Statues while you're there.

While looking at the publisher's website I discovered they have a preview of the book available.

Small Successes-August 5th

Celebrating the little things in life that add up.

I've had a busy week with organizing things around the house.

1. Last Thursday and Friday I spent a considerable amount of time reorganizing the kitchen pantry.  While most people store food in their kitchen pantry, our pantry is half-filled with games and learning aids for the kids.  It used to like a little educational store threw up in there.  Now that I've organized, it looks much better and we can store more food (a good thing since we now eat at home more than we eat out).

2. The Shrek swamp pool is once again crystal clear.  We had phosphates in the water (it took two pool places to determine this) that made the the pool icky and green.  It's amazing what a couple hundred dollars (Ugh!) and a ton of chemicals can do for ugly green water.

3. The laundry is under control.  The master bathroom has been cleaned (this time I even cleaned the sinks and the huge garden tub that no one uses) for a second time in two weeks.  I also journeyed to the kids' bathroom and cleaned their tub, too.  And the huge piles of junk and outgrown kids' clothing that were accumulating in my bedroom?  Oh, they've been organized and relocated to better homes.  I even reorganized my hand me down closet so I could fit more things in the totes.  Still not satisfied with what I had accomplished, I decided to go out back and weed one of the vegetable gardens.

4. I finally accepted that Ellie needs a bigger back pack for school.  I took her to L.L.Bean a few nights ago and let her pick a book bag and lunch box.  And if I'm seen crying on September 8th when I take my baby to school, it won't be because I can't believe she's already old enough for kindergarten, it will be because the bright color of the bag she chose is burning a hole in my retinas.  The sales clerk at L.L.Bean kindly informed me that I can return the bag at anytime for any reason when I asked Ellie if she was sure she wanted the retina burning pink book bag.  Choosing the lovely powder blue would have been too easy.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Book Review: Mysteries of the Virgin Mary

 Ever hear about a particular Marian feast day or devotion and wonder what it's all about or why it's important?  Or maybe, you just don't get all the fuss some people make about Mary. If you can count yourself as one of those people, let Fr. Peter John Cameron explain it to you in his book Mysteries of the Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady's Graces.  In this book you'll find answers to why we should have a devotion to the Blessed Mother and solid explanations of the Marian feast days that are celebrated throughout the liturgical year.

This is a book that can read from cover to cover and then go back to throughout the year to refer to particular chapters.  The fourteen chapters that follow the first chapter all pertain to specific Marian feast days.  The chapters do not follow when they are celebrated during the liturgical year, but rather they follow the life of Mary and is rounded off with chapters on feast days surrounding some of her apparitions and titles.  

Fr. Cameron does a nice job of making the life of our Blessed Mother relatable to our lives.  Rather than just telling us what a particular event in Mary's life was about or why it's celebrated by the Church, he puts it in terms that will click for the reader.  The intended audience of the book is pretty much anyone, but in the preface Fr. Cameron also mentioned that he hopes priests and deacons will find this book to be helpful.  With his method of making the mysteries of the Blessed Mother relatable to us, I can only imagine that this book could be of help when it's time to compose a homily that will convey a meaningful message.

As a convert to Catholicism, I have to say that I think this book would be useful to those who are new to the faith and don't necessarily get Marian devotion.  It's a concept that essentially doesn't exist in Protestant sects (Mind blowing, isn't it?) and as a result many converts from Protestant faiths backgrounds have trouble with Marian devotion.  While this book is well written and could be helpful in explaining Marian devotion, it wouldn't be the first book I would suggest to one seeking to understand why Catholics are so devoted to the Blessed Mother.  The book didn't come across as captivating enough to actually inspire a Marian Devotion.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Mysteries of the Virgin Mary and be sure to check out their great selection of Mary statues while you are there.

As a reviewer for The Catholic Company, I was supplied with a complimentary review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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