Monday, December 29, 2014

How to tolerate your kids on New Year's Eve

If you plan to be at home with the kids this New Year’s Eve, then join the club. 

Scott and I will be sitting this one in...again.

But since Scotty and Kennedy can do a little more this year, we’ll be able to at least introduce them to the notion that this night is all about letting loose and having fun. 

I figure that's preferable to leaving the kids to their own devices (Read: Allowing them to run amok in the playroom while I park my behind on the couch and watch Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.)

The following is a list of awesome ways to put a family-friendly spin on a night that is otherwise accompanied by designated drivers and debauchery:
Let’s toast
It wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without the well-oiled tradition of raising your glass. But this year swap the hors d'oeuvres and champs for cookies and milk – and do serve the latter in flutes. You can go all out and bake your own cookies – perhaps chocolate chip with holiday M&Ms, or the sugar variety covered in colored sprinkles – earlier in the afternoon. If staying up until 12 a.m. is too much for your little one, toast midnight in a different region. Simply choose another country with a time zone ahead of your own, and let the countdown begin! Scotty and I will be making rainbow rice krispie treats (read: rice krispie treats with food coloring) and toasting with 2% milk.

Hats off to you
This activity is light on the wallet, but heavy on creativity. Swing by your neighborhood dollar store and load up on coned New Year’s Eve party hats – the paper kind that resembles a birthday hat – and while you’re there purchase an assortment of crafts: glitter, glue, streamers, pipe cleaners, etc. Then turn everyone loose to create a masterpiece of their own to be worn that evening. (If you do this, please report back and tell me how it went because we won’t be doing this activity in these parts – there would be more glue in Kennedy's mouth than on the party hat.)

Seeing into the future
New Year’s Eve is as much about reflection as it is about setting new goals for the twelve months ahead. Why not encourage everyone to design a vision board inspired by their very own affirmations and desires for the New Year? All that’s needed are white poster board, scissors, markers, glue, and an array of magazines for cutting out images. I’ve done this every year since 2008, and I still have them all.

Burst your bubble
Bubble wrap: Chances are, we’ve all got a bit stashed away somewhere, especially during the holidays. Since few occasions call for unabashed celebratory noise like New Year’s Eve bring your bubble wrap out of hiding and let the kids stomp away. Adults can get in on the action, too. Don’t think you can bear the noise? Add some music. While I’d really like to partake in this one, I’m sure Kennedy would scream her face off upon hearing the first snap. No, thanks.

This one is easy-peasy and calls only for pads of colorful post-it notes and a mason jar. Have your family write down their favorite memories of the past year and place them into the jar to share at your New Year's Eve celebration. Not only is this activity fun, it makes for a unique centerpiece at your New Year’s Eve breakfast or evening meal.

Great grapes
Now, this one, I can’t wait to do because our entire family loves grapes, and Scotty thinks they’re candy! (I don’t know how much longer this will last, but I’m going to ride this until the wheels fall off.) This tradition hails from Spain, where party-goers toast with grape skewers containing twelve grapes, each grape representing the twelve months of the year. Make sure to have enough grapes and skewers for everyone, and as for presentation, place them all in a nice vase prior to the toast.

That’s all I’ve got. 

No, wait, I have one more thing to say:

I wish you and your family a happy, healthy, and prosperous and Happy New Year!

Join us on Facebook and Instagram. :-)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from The Conovers

Well, another Christmas day has come and gone.

There are toys on the floor of every room in this house; shiny gift bows are rolling through the main hallway like tumbleweeds; and I'm still in my fleece duckie PJs (please see the right photo, above).

But the kitchen is clean; the dishes have been put away; and I'm enjoying a glass of sweet red wine as I write this...

We are tremendously blessed.

And I take absolutely nothing for granted.

Not our health, not the Italian feast we inhaled at dinnertime; and certainly not each other.

All I wanted for Christmas is what money can't buy...and I'm grateful to have received it.

I hope your day -- and those that remain of this holiday season -- are filled with the things that make your heart full and light.

I'll be back on Monday with another brand-spanking-new post, my last of 2014.

In the meantime, tell me this: Is the old adage really true? That kids enjoy playing with boxes and wrapping paper more than the toys inside of them?


Thought so.

But will she still be this way at, say, 17?

Because giving her a bow and a roll of wrapping paper as opposed to an iPhone 37 will save her father and me a on of money.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

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Monday, December 22, 2014

What becomes of elementary school classmates?

It's that time of year again.

The time when we take a step back and reflect, particularly on the people in our lives -- both current and former -- and how we've treated them.

Do you ever wonder what became of your elementary classmates? 

I do.

We live a stone’s throw away from the house I grew up in and, subsequently, the elementary school I attended, which I intentionally drive past twice a week when I take Scotty to his Play & Learn class.

Each and every time I enter my old subdivision it’s like going down Memory Lane – both literally and figuratively.

Because my parents and I moved after fifth grade, I never attended school with these kids again.

But motherhood – coupled with my weekly elementary school drive-bys – have prompted me to reflect on the relationships I had with these kids.

If I could go back in time, would I change the way I treated them?

This post is about two I won’t soon forget. And while everything you are about to read is 100% true, I’ve changed their names. (What with Facebook and social media, the last thing I wish to do is dredge up someone’s past and embarrass them.)

First, there’s Heather, who was one year younger than me and lived four houses down. We met when our big wheels collided on the sidewalk one summer afternoon.

The details of our first encounter are murky, admittedly, as I was only four years old at the time. But I do remember this: I couldn’t understand a word Heather said because she had a severe speech impediment.

And I also remember that it didn’t matter.

What did matter, however, was that she knew every single lyric of Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” and Lionel Ritchie’s “You Are the Sun, You Are the Rain,” which we sang together nearly every day under the large pine tree in my front yard.

And from simple activities like that one, we forged the strongest friendship of my childhood.

It was as if, seemingly overnight, my ears became trained to understand each and every word Heather said because her language issues became less and less of a barrier.

I don’t know what ever became of Heather, but I think of her – and her mother often.

As a mother myself, I often wonder what Heather’s mom must have gone through, having a child who couldn’t verbalize her own name and ended up transferring to a special elementary school because of her disability, and how relieved she must have been that I accepted Heather wholeheartedly.

Isn’t that what we all want our children to experience – acceptance and true friendship?

And then there’s Bennett.

Bennett was a classmate as well as the brother of a fellow Girl Scout member.

And his legacy, as far as I can recall, boiled down to two words: “Booger Bennett.”

Short and petite, Bennett was always the proverbial runt of the class, which, as a boy, put him at a disadvantage from Jump Street.

Then the death knell came sometime around the third grade when someone noticed him picking his nose.

Stunned by being called out, Bennett then proceeded to try and wipe his finger on the sleeve of a nearby student.

It was all downhill from there, and a vicious cycle ensued.

The more Bennett was teased, the more he wiped his boogers on people. He seemed to revel in his unpopularity, which, in hindsight, was all just a coping mechanism, I’m sure.

Thirty years later, I still wonder about Bennett, how he eventually turned out, and whether the incessant teasing he endured still affects him today.

And here’s the one regret I have: While I never teased Bennett, I never really made an effort to befriend him, either.

I can’t help but wonder if the true essence of his identity was lying dormant under the armor he had built up to protect himself.

Was Bennett ever truly able to be himself after that fateful day in third grade?

Like Heather, all he probably wanted was to be liked.

What relationships from your childhood do you remember – for better or for worse?

*This post was originally published in Gannett's Hometown Life newspapers.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Anti Type-A Mom Holiday Snack Mix

Once upon a time (Read: just a few years ago), I would bake four different kinds of Christmas cookies when the holidays rolled around.


That's s lie.

Actually, I only baked three kinds of cookies. (One was no-bake.)

Anyhow, after the cookies cooled, I would carefully divide and place the cookies inside holiday-themed cookie tins, which had already been lined with wax paper and color coordinated tissue paper.

I would then mail the cookies off to our relatives across the country. 

I know, I know. Some moms make eleven different types of cookies -- and all of them are baked.

But, you have to understand where I'm coming from to deem my feat impressive: Prior to getting married, I used the stove in my bachelorette condo for shoe storage.

So I really thought I was doing something by baking any cookies at all.

Well, regardless, I'm not doing that anymore.

At least for now, anyway.

I'm taking a hiatus from my role as Type-A Mommy this Christmas, and, frankly, for the foreseeable future.

Wanna know what I'm making this year?

This snack mix.

And I won't be shipping it from sea to shining sea, either.

It'll remain right here at home so as to ruin any and all chances I have of exercising restraint this holiday season.

Because I'm tired.

I'm worn out.

And I want to simply enjoy this holiday season instead of shooting for the stars by being the overachieving mommy in the kitchen. 

I invite you to join me in abandoning your high hopes for a Martha Stewart-style holiday by just saying to hell with it all and making this snack mix.

Here's what it takes:

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup white corn syrup
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups salted mixed nuts 
1 (12 ounce) package crispy corn and rice cereal; like Chex
1-2 cups M&M's (I prefer the green and red ones; but any color will do.)
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C). 

Line 2 large pans with parchment paper.

In a medium-size microwave safe bowl, mix butter, white corn syrup and brown sugar. Place the mixture in the microwave and cook for two minutes, or until butter melts. 

Stir mixture until combined and smooth.

Place the cereal and nuts onto the prepared pans. 

Pour the melted butter mixture over the cereal and nuts and mix gently until the cereal and nuts are coated. 

Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. 

Remove the pans from the oven and continue to stir the mix so that it doesn't harden in 1 large piece -- be sure to stir them immediately after they come out of the oven. 

Once the mix is cool, add in the M&M's and toss lightly to incorporate. 

The only thing left to do is dig in.

Oh, and let me know what you think.

And if you can't pry this mix out of your hands in the middle of the night, I'm sorry.

Just know I'm doing the same thing.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Anti-Pinterest, easy-peasy kiddie holiday recipes

I'm not throwing any shade at Pinterest.

I like Pinterest!

I'm just not any good at it.

The blogosphere is full of bloggers waxing poetic about how they've made Pinterest their b!tch by creating lovely -- and, quite frankly, enviable -- crafts and recipes, particularly during the holidays.

Well, I am definitely not one of those bloggers, and this is not one of those posts.

Instead this mama, who possesses the aptitude of a preschooler when it comes to anything crafty, prefers to glean her recipes from a less intimidating venue.

Read: I obtained the following recipes from a circular that was delivered to our home by our local grocery store.

I scoured the Interwebs for high quality jpeg images of these recipes, but, no dice. 

So I actually took photos of the circular. Classy, I know. (Only the best for my readers!)

The bottom line is this: These recipes are cute, edible, and take mere seconds to make.

And there is no way you can eff them up. 

Trust me, I've tried.

Here's what's on the menu:

A clever arrangement turns everyday fruits into a parent-approved sweet treat. Simply alternate slices of bananas with chunks of strawberries to create a candy-cane shape. (Tip: If preparing in advance, dip banana slices into an equal mix of water and lemon juice to help prevent browning.)

I've made these for both Scotty and Kennedy and they are crazy about them!

Two whole-grain pancakes set the stage for this wintry character. Add mini chocolate chip eyes to the smaller top pancake and a string of blueberry buttons on the larger bottom pancake. Trimmed pieces of bacon form a scarf, and whipped cream creates a snowy scene.

Another hit, here. Scotty flips for these. (There's too much going on for Kennedy's liking; but she'll throw down on the blueberries and whipped cream, though.)

Spread cream cheese between two slices of whole wheat bread, then trim the sandwich into a triangle shape. Add two green peas for eyes and a halved cherry tomato for a nose. To create antlers, cut a hot dog in half lengthwise then make a small vertical cut at the end of each half before cooking. Place the heated hot dogs at the top of the corners of the triangle, split sides up.

Now, Scotty won't touch this with a ten-foot pole because he's not a fan of hot dogs. I kind of knew that already when I decided to live dangerously and serve this to him. He didn't bite -- even though the (vegan) hot dogs were camouflaged as antlers. But, no matter. I loved this sandwich! So it didn't go to waste.

Happy Holidays!

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Win a Trip to Superbowl XLIX in Phoenix, AZ!

What if I told you that you could enter a raffle to win a trip to Superbowl XLIX in Phoenix, AZ and your chances of winning were 1 in 250?

You would probably be interested, right?

Well, here's your chance! Allow me to break it all down. Here's what's on tap:

Enter the NFL Alumni Detroit Chapter's raffle to win a trip to Superbowl XLIX in Phoenix, AZ. 
First Place Prize -- A trip for two to Superbowl XLIX in Phoenix, AZ, which an all-expense paid trip -- including airfare and hotel accommodations, OR $5,000 cash.
Second Place Prize -- $1,000
Third Place Prize -- $500

Raffle tickets are $100 each and only 250 total raffle tickets will be sold. 

Raffle tickets are currently available for purchase at Hamlin Corner, located at 386 North Main Street in Royal Oak, MI 48067; telephone (248)556-5428.

The winner will be announced at Hamlin Corner on Sunday, December 21, 2014, when the NFL Legends will take on NBA Legends during the Spicy Wings Challenge from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m. (The contest pits the athletes against each other as they see who can withstand eating the spiciest buffalo wings.) Entry into the challenge is $15 (sales benefit the NFL Alumni Detroit Chapter's high school scholarship fund) and includes a full tailgate menu and beer specials -- although purchasing a Superbowl raffle ticket gets you into the challenge for free. You do not need to be present to win any of the three Superbowl raffle prizes. Furthermore, Hamlin Center will be broadcasting the Lions vs. Green Bay (at Green Bay) on the big screen for all to see.

Only 250 Superbowl raffle tickets will be sold, so each participant has a 1 in 250 chance of winning tickets to attend the Superbowl.

To learn more about the Detroit Chapter of the NFL Alumni, please click here, and to learn more about the NFL Alumni chapter in your area, please click here.

Good luck everyone! 

Now get ready to buy your raffle tickets!

We've got ours:

Now it's time for you to get yours!

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Monday, December 1, 2014

What if you had a heart attack and didn't feel it?

This is the story of Ruby Brown, who suffered a heat attack in the middle of the night while she slept.

But what was arguably worse than having a heart attack -- and not even feeling it -- was what her doctor had told her after it happened:

Brown recalls, "He said, 'You know, you shouldn't have woken up this morning...' and that definitely gave me a chill...I had awakened to a pain in my arm, thinking I had slept wrong on my shoulder, came downstairs, took two pain pills, and I went back to sleep. 

"And that's what the doctor was referring to when he said that I shouldn't have woken up after I went back to sleep. I understood what he was saying from a medical standpoint, but I also believe in another standpoint. I put the two together and I was grateful."

Talk about getting a wake-up call.

Ruby's unfortunate experience ended up being just the thing to lead her down a different path, a path that ultimately led to the American Heart Association's Better U Challenge.

The Better U Challenge is a 12-week challenge (concluding January 24, 2015), which aims to improve participants' heart health through various exercise classes and educational workshops. 

Better U initiative is a joint venture between AHA and St. John Providence Health System.

I'm delighted to have been chosen by the American Heart Association to serve as one of their 2015 Go Red for Women bloggers, and this post is my second in a series that will feature stories meant to motivate, educate, and, ultimately, help all of us become our very best. (To read our first Better U Challenge post, please click here.)

Here's Ruby's Better U Challenge journey in her own words...

1.       What was your experience like emotionally?
Immediately when I found out I was going in for the catheterization, the first image I saw in my mind was of my husband and daughter, and I was like, Boy, I need to make it through this because I don't want to leave them. I was just focused on my immediate family. Following the surgery, I was grateful that I had made it, and then my focus at that point was Now you need to do everything to make sure you stay well -- and that this doesn't happen again.

2.       How did you become familiar with the Better U challenge, and what inspired you to sign on?
I became aware of the challenge through my daughter, who is interning with the American Heart Association. And when she told me about the challenge, I found it ironic because I have always said that I wanted to do this and I wanted to do that, and I would start...but then I would stop. When my daughter told me that there would be a person monitoring me, I said, "Wow, this is the kick I need to get me to my goal."  

3.       Talk about your journey thus far…do you feel like you’re on a different path already?
So far, it's like I'm excited about it. For the first time, I'm pressing toward my goal. And the changes have been subtle: I'm watching what I'm eating, I'm thinking differently and not sweating the small stuff as they say, and I totally feel lighter from the inside out. 

4.       What do you ultimately hope to achieve from participating in this challenge?
My greatest goal would be letting others see that they can do it, too. 

5.       And speaking of challenges, you recently had one of your own since staring the Better U Challenge, right?
I have a quick story to share with you: My daughter and I just came back from vacationing at the Atlantis in the Bahamas. And my biggest fear going in was We just started zumba and we're going to miss Saturday's class...and I was bummed out about that, so our instructor told us to make sure we took walks on the beach for our workouts, etc. But my other fear was Boy, we're just going to mess up our eating while we're here. But what I realized was that -- consciously, in my mind -- I knew I wanted to eat [the bad stuff], but I was at a point where when I went to eat, I was like I don't want this. I couldn't believe it! And I reiterated this to my daughter. I said to her, "You do realize that I thought I was just going to really over-splurge on this trip." But, to the contrary, I was really eating basic, I wasn't over-doing it, and I wasn't stuffing myself. I was conscious of what I was doing. And I haven't been like that for a long time.

6.       What is your message to others, to those who may be on the fence about committing to this challenge?
I would tell that person to find someone who has been there and done that to be their life safety guard -- to help them when they're slipping. Someone who can pull them up. I think that would be the ticket for them. It is important to find that person who can be their support system. 


Better U challenge applicants are encouraged to take a short assessment here to receive their starting heart score and then register online here and select ‘Go Red’ for access to free classes and personal improvement sessions with life coaches and health experts.  

The American Heart Association recommends incorporating a balanced diet and obtaining at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week to improve heart health. 

Along the way, individuals are encouraged to post their before and new-me-in-progress photos using the hashtag #MIBetterU on Twitter or Facebook

Click here to check out the holiday giveaways we're hosting!

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