Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 List of My Most Popular Posts of 2011

Well, here we are on New Year's Eve.  The last day of 2011.  This is the time of year when top 10 lists abound.  Top 10 of the year's biggest headlines.  Top 10 of the year's best dressed celebrities.  Top 10 of the year's best movies, books, albums.  Heck, I even found a top 10 list of top 10 lists for 2011! 

Just in case you haven't read enough top 10 lists today, I'm posting one of my own (and yes, it is selfishly revolved around my blog).  Based on the number of hits as well as number of comments, here is my...

Top 10 List of My Most Popular Posts of 2011

{{{Based on this list, I guess top 10 lists aren't such a bad thing!}}}

What are some of your most popular blog posts of 2011?  Did some of them surprise you?  Are you sometimes surprised by the posts that generate the most comments?

Have a safe and happy New Year everyone!  See you in 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Talking Blog Swap on USAA

I'm thrilled to share that I'm being featured on the USAA Military Spouse Blogging Community today! 

So head on over and check out my interview with Wendy Poling about the Mil Spouse Holiday Blog Swap.  (And if you feel so inclined to leave some comment love, that's even better!)  Thanks!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Final Resting Place: Saying Goodbye to the Most Adorable Chocolate Labrador Retriever

August 1998. I had just graduated from college and moved to a new town with my boyfriend. He was introducing me to his new roommates and giving me the tour of the town house when I looked up to see the most adorable chocolate Labrador Retriever I’d ever seen perched at the top of the stairs.

“Aww,” I gushed as the thick dog stared at me. “I’ve always wanted a chocolate lab! What’s his name?”

And before my question could be answered, that most adorable chocolate Labrador Retriever barrelled down the stairs, knocked me off my feet, and humped me as I remained shocked and helpless on the floor, pinned by 85 pounds of unleashed testosterone and drool.  Little did I know that the man who owned this crazy dog would become my husband (that’s a different story for a different day). And the horny dog himself would become my pride and joy, my running partner, my bed mate, my first child, my children’s first pet, my best buddy.

Cody was 2 years old when I met Mr. Roller Coaster. He was past the puppy stage but not quite past the possessive nature of a dog who had never had to share his owner with another human. Suddenly this new lady enters the picture, and Cody has to relinquish his longstanding place in his owner’s bed, his car, and his heart. Cody declared his resentment by staring me down, chewing up my unmentionables, and incessantly humping me.

But soon my relationship with that most adorable chocolate Labrador Retriever changed. Suddenly I was the one feeding him and walking him and taking care of his basic needs. His resentment turned to loyalty. He became my dog. He followed me around. He obeyed my commands. And I don’t think he ever humped me again.

Cody was there when we moved to our first duty station. He was there when our son was born. He was there when Mr. Roller Coaster deployed to Iraq. He was there when we moved across the world to Japan. He was there when our daughter was born. Cody was a part of us, an important member of our family. And when he got sick and I called the vet to schedule the appointment to put him down, my heart broke into pieces to think of a life without that most adorable chocolate Labrador Retriever. But he was in pain, and it was time.

Cody never made it to his appointment. He passed away in his bed in our bedroom in the middle of the night after suffering his third seizure. Mr. Roller Coaster and I were with him. We were able to say our goodbyes and tell him how much we loved him. It was December 16, 2007.

Why am I retelling this story now, 4 years later? Well, until a few days ago, our beloved Cody had yet to find his final resting place, we had yet to fully let him go. You see Cody died while we were stationed in Japan. Because we didn’t want to leave him there, we had him cremated and brought his remains back to the States. No man left behind right? But years passed, and we never had the heart to bury him. His remains rested inside the decorative container the Japanese crematorium gave us to house the urn, which we tucked away on a closet shelf at our family's cabin in the mountains. Every time we visited the cabin we gave Cody a little smile, promised ourselves we would bury him one day, and then closed the door again.

Every time but this time.

This past July we welcomed the most adorable black Labrador Retriever into our family. Gunner could never replace Cody, but he has filled a void that we’ve been unable to fill in our family since Cody died. And I think that’s why we were finally able to say our final goodbyes to that most adorable chocolate Labrador Retriever. Four years after his death, we finally buried our beloved Cody, we finally laid him to rest.

Goodbye Cody.  We miss you.  You’ll always be in our hearts.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Blogging Hiatus

Christmas is almost here, and we all have so much to do. I truly believe that Christmas is a time to spend with loved ones. That's why I'm taking a brief blogging holiday hiatus. I want to focus my full attention on my family and take advantage of the time I have off from work to spend time with them. 

I'll continue to check my email and Facebook throughout the hiatus, and if I get particularly inspired I may come back to the blogosphere earlier than planned.  But otherwise I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year! I'll see you in 2012!

Roller Coaster out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Year in Review: My Top 10 List of 2011 New Year's Resolutions

Tis the season for reflection.  As the end of yet another year comes to a close, many of us use this time to reflect on the past year.  Our highs.  Our lows.  Our goals accomplished.  And when we've finished reflecting, we look forward to the fresh start of another year as we wonder what fate has in store for us.

That brings us to the whole concept of New Year's Resolutions, our lists of goals that we vow to accomplish within the next 365 days.  I had every intention of compiling a list of 2012 resolutions, which was on schedule to be my top 10 list today.  But when I went back to my Top 10 List of New Year's Resolutions for 2011 and calculated my success rate, I had a change of heart. 

So instead of new resolutions, here is a...

Year in Review: My Top 10 List of 2011 New Year's Resolutions

Woo hoo, I managed to stick to this one.  But barely.  Once school started up in September and I went back to work, I was lucky to bust out blog posts twice a week. 

I had such good intentions with this one.  But somehow Friday Night Game Night never materialized, and all of our family board games are still collecting dust on the shelf in Big C's closet.

Is it pathetic that I learn most of our world's current events on Facebook?  Again, good intentions.  But my Sunday newspapers still end up in the recycling bin usually unopened and my Daily Beast Cheat Sheet emails still end up getting eaten by my delete button.

Hmmm, let's see.  The last book I read took 2 weeks start to finish.  But I had the whole Thanksgiving break and 12 hours in a car to read.  The book before that?  Three months.  Three months to read a 200 page book.  I think my 7-year-old son read more than that.

I think running has been the most consistent aspect of my year.  And it's the first time I've ever participated in one of every length race I set out to do: One 5k, one 10k, one 10 miler, and one half marathon.  Next year's goal? (Not a resolution, a goal!  Yes, there's a difference.)  Two of each length.  And quite possible a full marathon added to the mix. 

I wrote the book over 6 years ago.  I already have a stack of rejection letters.  Guess I wasn't ready to turn over that mental block.

I'm a military spouse.  I always stress about things that are out of my control.  I think I set myself up for failure on this one.

At the beginning of last year I started my own Project Gratitude in which I took some time out of every day to think about what I was thankful for, sometimes posting my thankful thoughts on my blog.  But somewhere around May, Project Gratitude disappeared and never resurfaced. 

A year ago I vowed to establish a routine to squeeze my workouts in after work.  By the time the school year ended in June, no routine existed.  Fail.  But then I was out of school for the summer, and I was working out almost every day.  Success!  And then school started again in September, and I was back to grumbling about being too tired to go to the gym after work.  Fail.  I better try again though because that half marathon I signed up for in March is going to be really ugly if I keep making excuses.

This is what I wrote about this resolution last year: "Realistically, I probably won’t start on this resolution until June when I start my summer vacation, but it’s a resolution that’s been on my list for the last decade. This is my year."  Ok, so I didn't write a single word.  Not.  One.  Word.  2011 clearly wasn't my year of the novel.  Here's to hoping for a more prolific 2012.
2011 New Year's Resolutions Success Rate = 20.3%
I am a big fat failure in the resolution department. 
I think I'll pass on the 2012 resolutions. 
How did you score on your 2011 New Year's Resolutions?  Are you making any resolutions for 2012?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The War in Iraq is Over...Now What?

As most of you know, the war in Iraq is over.  But what many of you might not know is that there are very mixed emotions throughout the military community about the conclusion of a nearly nine year war that cost way too many lives and way too many dollars, a war that is leaving people wondering whether or not it was all worth it.

Over the weekend, I watched a video of the final convoy exiting Iraq as it crossed over the border to Kuwait.

I read articles in the Washington Post and USA Today summing up the war, quoting service members who had firsthand knowledge of the war, and contemplating the implications of our removal from Iraq, both for our country and theirs.  I read thoughts shared by military spouses about mixed emotions on blogs like SpouseBuzz  and Wife [Widow] of a Wounded Marine.  And I discussed the topic at length with my husband, whose professional as well as personal experiences in Iraq I'll never fully understand.  But despite spending a large portion of my weekend thinking about the end of the war in Iraq, I still don't feel like I have a firm grasp on how I feel about it.  And I don't think I'm the only one struggling with this sense of ambivalence. 

Despite my own mixed emotions, I do know a few things for sure: 

I know that it makes me so happy to think about all the troops who are coming home and are no longer in harm's way. 

I know that I appreciate all the service men and women and the sacrifices they and their families have made in the name of this war.  

I know that my heart breaks for the families whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in Iraq, families that are probably reflecting on what the end of this war means for them and missing their lost loved ones even more.

I know that our troops are coming home as different people, whether their scars are visible or hiding beneath the surface, and they need all the support we can give them. 

I know that the term "the war is over" is misleading not only because we still have troops in Afghanistan, but because we also have families coping with the aftermath of both wars here on the homefront. 

And I know that regardless of how I feel about the war in Iraq and its ending, I will always...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mil Spouse Holiday Blog Swap 2011!

The holiday season is upon us!  People are busy shopping for the perfect gifts for loved ones, finalizing travel plans, decorating their homes, and cuddling up on the couch for that special holiday movie.  And somewhere amidst all the chaos, we bloggers still manage to find the time to write about it.

In the spirit of bringing friends together during the holiday season, I thought I'd bring some of my mil spouse bloggy friends together to share our thoughts about the holidays.  And what better way to do that than a blog swap.  So I proudly present to you the Mil Spouse Holiday Blog Swap 2011!

Riding the Roller Coaster

What's a blog swap?  It's kind of like a Secret Santa, but instead of exchanging gifts, we're exchanging blogs.  For one day, 28 military spouses will be guest posting for each other as we contemplate all things holiday.  So check out all of the amazing participants of the Mil Spouse Holiday Blog Swap in the linky below as we invade each other's blogs!

You can find my holiday post over at Rebekah Sanderlin's Operation Marriage.  Rebekah is an incredible writer with a VERY impressive resume.  NPR, CNN, Washington Post, New York Times... the list goes on and on!!!  (Check it out for yourself HERE!)

And who is my guest blogger today?  Well, I'm hosting the amazing Homefront United Network.

The Homefront United Network is a product of Angela Caban's desire to connect military spouses and family members in a positive and supportive environment.  It's a place "for you to gain resources, vent, support others and celebrate our lives as military spouses, family and friends."  The HUN, which is currently celebrating its one year anniversary, offers articles written by a variety of mil spouses, a ton of resources for military families, fun giveaways, and the all-knowing Military Martha to answer your burning questions about military life.  If you've never visited the HUN before, you're truly missing out.

But enough chatter from me!  It's time to hear from Amanda Allen, one of those awesome writers you can find at the HUN.  So take it away Homefront United Network...

Where to Spend Our Christmas

I was listening to Christmas music on the radio yesterday while driving and a popular Christmas carol came on. The lyrics, that I’m sure we have all heard, says “I’ll be home for Christmas.” And I couldn’t help but stop to pause and think about exactly what that meant to the singer and what it means to me personally, and my family as a military family.

“Home,” after all, is a pretty complex concept for a Military family! Is home where we are currently living where we have a house? Is home a place we lived and felt most comfortable or “at home?” Is home where we grew up? Is home where our family/parents are currently living? Or, in response to the ever so popular quote, is home where the military sends us? Is home where our significant other is?

As a military family, choosing where and who to spend our Christmas with can be a tough decision! Do you stay at your house in your current station where ever that may be? Do you go to see his family? Do you go to see her family? Do you have your relatives come to your house?

My husband and I have been married for just over 3 years now and this Christmas will be our fourth together. Our first Christmas we put up a dinky little tree in our apartment but spent our time with all of my family on Christmas eve, a few hours alone just the few of us that night, and then he worked Christmas day. The next year we drove to Seattle to spend Christmas with my mom and little brother. The next year I was living in Minnesota with my adopted family while he was in training in prep for deployment so he came to Minnesota and spent the time with us. But this year, this year was the first really hard “where do we spend Christmas” decision we had to make.

We just got stationed on the East Coast away from all of our family, we bought our first home, and our daughter is old enough to get excited about the decorations and presents and just everything that is Christmas. Where is home for us right now? Where do we spend Christmas to make the most of it? If we go out of town do we put up decorations?

After a lot of debate, and some emotions on my end, we decided it was best for our family to stay home… in our family home. After all, “home is where the navy sends us” right? We have taken up root here and we want to start building traditions as a family! It’s hard for me to imagine Christmas without all the traditions and togetherness of all the different parts of my family, but I know we will make it great here. Maybe one year we will be able to have family come and visit us!

Where is “home” for you at the holidays? Do you have your own family traditions or are you constantly traveling to meet everyone’s expectations for the Holidays?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dear Santa: Top 10 Things I Want For Christmas

Dear Santa,

I know you're busy getting ready to travel around the world and trying to slim down to fit down all those chimneys, but I've been very good this year and was hoping my good girl status would earn me a coveted spot on the Nice List.  I've thought long and hard about the following items on my Christmas list, and I believe they're quite reasonable requests.

I hope you have a safe trip!  Don't forget to charge your GPS.  And please don't text and drive.  I'm leaving a plate of cookies for you, although the stress of the holiday season can only be mitigated by chocolate so I can't promise the cookies will still be there upon your arrival.  I'm sure Rudolph will share his carrots.

So here is my Christmas list in Top 10 format for your convenience...

10)  The rewiring of my puppy's internal clock so I can sleep past 5:45 AM without 50 pounds of energy pouncing on me

9)  A magical anti-whine potion to slip into my children's breakfast every morning

8)  Running gear that makes me run twice as fast, gives me twice the endurance, and burns twice as many calories while simultaneously tightening my abs, toning my triceps, and forgiving my lack of willpower for all things chocolate

7)  The power to teleport my family and friends to visit me whenever I want

6)  Snotty, backstabbing, competitive, overly sensitive co-workers.  Oh wait, I already have that.  So yeah, the exact opposite of that.

5)  A housekeeper, chef, personal trainer, and reliable baby-sitter, all on-call 24 hours a day who work not for money but for hi-fives

4)  A fountain of youth

3)  The complete eradication of germs, traffic, and hangovers

2)  The addition of an hour to the end of each day and a zero to the end of my salary

1)  A clone of myself so she can tackle my to-do list while I'm working, sleeping, eating, exercising, spending time with family and friends, and putting my feet up with a glass of wine and a good book

Thank you for your consideration Santa!  Ho ho ho Merry Christmas!

Roller Coaster

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Top 10 List of My Favorite Christmas Movies

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without certain movies.  Some are stories that pull at your heartstrings.  Some are comedies that help you laugh at the holiday chaos. And some are classics you've been watching every year since you were a kid.  There are so many Christmas movies out there, but here are my...

Top 10 List of My Favorite Christmas Movies

10)  A Christmas Story

9)  Scrooged

8)  The Muppet Christmas Carol

7)  Polar Express

6)  Love Actually

 5)  It's a Wonderful Life

4)  National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

 3)  A Charlie Brown Christmas

2)  Elf

1)  The original animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas

What tops your list?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shouldn't We All Have Our Own Personal Cheerleaders?

Over the weekend I ran a holiday 10 mile race.  I was a little concerned because I've been sick on and off for almost 2 months and my training hasn't been where it should be.  I was also concerned about the chilly weather and my aversion to all things cold.  But I got out there with a positive attitude and some butterflies in my belly and vowed to try my best without putting too much pressure on myself. 

The first half of the race was awesome.  I felt great, the cold wasn't bothering me at all, and I loved looking around at the runners dressed up in festive costumes.  Then the course changed directions, and suddenly it was a different race.  For the next 2 miles I fought brutal wind and felt the familiar twinges of an old hamstring injury.  By the time the course changed directions again and I had the wind at my back, I was mentally drained and unsure of whether I'd be running across the finish line or crawling. 

It must have been around mile 8 when I first heard my name during the silence in between songs on my iPod.  "Go Roller!  You can do it Roller!"  I looked at the sidewalk where people I didn't know were calling out my name and cheering me on.  (It took me a second to remember that my name was printed in big bold letters on the bib pinned to my shirt.)  I felt like I had my own personal cheering squad.  It was just what I needed.

My feet felt a little bit lighter, and I realized I was running with a smile plastered on my face.  I checked my GPS watch, and sure enough my pace had picked up.  I found an upbeat song on my playlist and pumped up the volume.  There was no longer any doubt about how I'd be crossing that finish line.

Before I knew it I was at mile 9 and a half.   The line of spectators was growing thicker so I took off one of my headphones.  I couldn't even hear the music in one ear as onlookers clapped and cheered and clanged cow bells and hooted and hollered and yes, called out runners' names.  I rode the wave of their enthusiasm for the next half mile until I sprinted my way across the finish line.

If you've ever run a big race, you know that the finish line is not the end.  Despite the fact that you probably want to collapse and/or puke, you have to keep walking through a secure area before you can stop and get your bearings.  As you catch your breath and try to find your way to the end, volunteers hand you a medal, bottles of Gatorade and water, bananas, energy bars, and maybe even a surprise gift.  Then when you reach the end of the barricades, you find your loved ones, smile for the camera, and commence the celebration of your accomplishment.

I had no loved ones greeting me at the finish line, no one snapping pictures, no one sharing the celebration of my accomplishments.  But as I walked through the secure area of finishers accepting goodies in my post-race delirium, I had those personal cheerleaders.  "Good job Roller!  You did it Roller!  You rock Roller!"  I hung that medal around my neck, clutched my banana and Gatorade in one hand, and with my other hand, I high-fived those strangers who chanted my name as if I had just won an Olympic goal medal. 

I truly believe that those cheerleaders were the reason I sprinted across that finish line instead of crawled.  And as I walked to my car with my medal around my neck and my runners' high wearing off, I thought about how nice it would be to have personal cheerleaders clapping and cheering by our side to get us through those hurdles in everyday life, both big and small.  A million things on your to-do list?  Tackle the easy ones first Roller!!!  Kids throwing tantrums?  Let them work it out themselves Roller!!!   Questioning the direction your life is going?  Follow your heart Roller!!!  Yeah that would be nice.

But I guess I do have my own personal cheerleaders.  They might not be chanting my name or clanging cow bells, but my friends and family are always there with encouragement when the course changes directions and I hit a brick wall.  I don't need to run a 10 mile race to know who my cheerleaders are.  And for that I am incredibly grateful.

Who are your personal cheerleaders?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Mil Spouse Weekly Roundup: The Final Edition

When I first started my blog, I was a full-time Domestic Engineer.  I had plenty of time to read other blogs and gather up a list of my favorites.  It was a pretty long list. 

Then a little over a year ago I went back to work.  I no longer had time to keep up with all the blogs I used to read.  But I didn't want to stop reading the blogs I had grown to love.  I kept thinking how much easier it would be if people could just email me their favorite post of the week. 

And that's how the Mil Spouse Weekly Roundup came to be.

For 60 weeks, mil spouses/girlfriends gathered on Fridays to share one of their blog posts from the week.  The hostess title was passed from one lovely lady to the next so we could all get to know some new faces. 

But sadly, participation has been dwindling, and I felt it was time to call time of death for the Roundup.  So this week, Week 61, will be the final edition of the Mil Spouse Weekly Roundup.  Your final host is Pam over at Troop Petrie.  So go on over and link up and show Pam some love.

Thank you to all of you who linked up week after week.   And thank you to all of the wonderful hosts.  Now go link up and make this final Mil Spouse Weekly Roundup the best one ever! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top 10 Must Haves When Trapped in a Car with Young Children

This year my family road tripped for Thanksgiving.  Over 6 hours each way.  Two adults.  Two kids.  One puppy.  Not exactly one of my favorite things to do.

The Roller Coasters have been on all sorts of trips, and over the years I've discovered a few techniques to make road trips bearable, especially as my children get older.  Here are my...

Top 10 Must Haves When Trapped in a Car with Young Children

10)  Games
I'm not talking about board games where the pieces go flying all over the car at every sharp turn.  No, I'm talking about the creative interactive old-fashioned games.  Looking for license plates from every state.  I Spy.  20 Questions.  Even Rock, Paper, Scissors.   Somehow last weekend I forgot about the magic of car games.  But I'm sure a good game of I Spy would have greatly cut down on the whining. 

9) Reading Material
Mr. Roller Coaster typically does most of the driving on family road trips.  So I get a chance to catch up on all the magazines and books I've been neglecting.  My kids bring books too.  It's one of the few quiet activities they'll willingly engage in. 

8)  Comfortable Clothes (and backup outfits in easy reach)
My daughter is extremely picky about her clothes.  And when I say picky, I mean she throws screeching tantrums almost every morning because of her clothes.  So if I know we'll be in the car, I make sure she's wearing her favorite outfit.  The last thing I need is a wardrobe malfunction 100 miles into the trip.  And I need to have easy access to more clean comfortable clothes.  You never know when she's going to fall in mud right before getting in the car or vomit all over herself.

7)  Music
I remember making the 10-hour drive home from college on breaks and blasting my music.  I spent the entire trip singing at the top of my lungs.  It kept me entertained and kept me awake.  I still love listening to music.  Unfortunately, Mr. Roller Coaster and I don't always agree on music.  I guess that's what headphones are for.

6)  iPhones with kid-friendly apps
When we bought our car, I told my husband I didn't want DVD players installed.  I didn't want to be that mom who needed television to make a 10 minute drive to the grocery store.  My parents never had tv in their cars, and my brother and I managed road trips just fine when we were kids.  That being said, I have no issues with my kids entertaining themselves with games on my iPhone.  And maybe in a dire emergency a Netflix movie.  Ok, so maybe I did let my kids watch tv in the car.  You gotta do what you gotta do.

5)  Baby Wipes
Someone will spill something.  Someone's hands will get dirty.  Someone will pick her nose and have boogies stuck on her fingers.  Someone will vomit all over the backseat.  Nothing takes care of quick clean-ups like baby wipes.

4)  A Handful of Plastic Grocery Bags
What don't I use these for?  Trash to toss at the next gas station.  Dog poop clean up.  Vomit.  Clothes covered in vomit (in case you're wondering about the common vomit theme, yes, there has been a lot of vomit in my car).  I don't go anywhere without plastic bags.

3) Toys (of the kids' choosing)
I once made the mistake of packing bags for my kids with toys they could play with during the car ride.  Big mistake.  I either didn't pack enough, I packed too much, I didn't pack their favorite toy, I packed toys they didn't like anymore, you name it, I got blamed for it.  Now I make the kids pack their own backpacks with toys and books.  Just make sure they pack enough toys.  One time Little C had this big backpack, and when I peeked in to see what she had chosen to bring, she had one lonely toy.  She wasn't very happy.

2)  Food
Have you ever noticed that kids are hungry the second you hit the highway?  Why is that?  It doesn't matter if they had a four-course meal before strapping their seatbelts.  They will want snacks.  And they will whine until they get them.

1)  Patience
And a whole lot of it.  Because you can only hear "What time is it?" and "How long have we been in the car?" and "I'm bored." and of course the traditional "Are we there yet?" so many times before you feel like jumping out the window.  And when you run out of patience, that's when the headphones and reading material come in handy. 

What things do you absolutely have to have with you when you're on a road trip (with kids or without)?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Unplugging for the Holidays

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Another Thanksgiving that flew by too quickly.  Another Thanksgiving that involved an obscene overindulgence in food and alcoholic beverages.  Another Thanksgiving that ended with a need for a vacation from my vacation.  And now that Thanksgiving is over, we can all move on to December, a month filled with holiday magic and glee.  Or for people like me, stress, stress, and more stress.

I'm well aware that a lot of my holiday stress is self-induced.  But how can I NOT be stressed when I get on Facebook and read about the holiday feats of my amazing friends around the world.  Thanksgiving turkeys are being stuffed while Christmas trees are simultaneously being trimmed and Black Friday sales are being pursued and Christmas cards are being signed, sealed, and delivered.  And my Facebook friends have photos on their walls and status updates to prove it.

Despite the fact that I was visiting family and wasn't the one required to prep recipes for 4 days, I still felt like a slacker every time I signed onto Facebook and read of the spectacular culinary feats of my cohorts.  Facebook was stressing me out!  So I decided to unplug for the Thanksgiving weekend so I could enjoy the holiday without feeling as if I was failing to live up to some sort of bizarro world Facebook expectations.  I didn't see photos of Food Network-worthy turkeys and lists of Black Friday deals and retellings of Christmas tree trimming ceremonies.  It felt almost liberating to divorce myself from the computer, like I was living my life instead of narrating it on Facebook.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and I'm home from my road trip, I'm back on Facebook.  But now, instead of Thanksgiving turkeys, I see photographs of beautifully decorated Christmas trees.  And I imagine the photos of holiday preparation and status updates checking off holiday to do lists will only increase in the next couple of weeks. 

I guess I can't avoid Facebook for the next month so I'll just have to embrace my inner slacker and ignore those in high holiday gear.  Who knows, maybe next year I'll join the ranks and have my Christmas tree up before the Thanksgiving dishes are washed.  I can dream anyway.

Do you get lost in the magic of the holidays or the stress?  Are you a holiday early bird or a slacker like me?  Does Facebook ever stress you out because of friends' status updates and photos?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Top 10 Little Things I'm Thankful For

Thanksgiving is almost here, and like most people, I'm thinking about all the things I'm thankful for this year.  Of course I'm thankful for my husband, my children, my new puppy, my family and friends, our health, and steady paychecks. These are the obvious big ticket items, the things I am grateful for every year, the things that are always on my mind as I sit together with my family for our Thanksgiving feast.

This top 10 list is dedicated to the little things I'm thankful for, those things that often get forgotten. These things may not be as important as those big ticket items, but they sure have made my life easier and for that I'm grateful.   Here are my...

Top 10 Little Things I'm Thankful For

10)  I'm thankful for Pandora radio.  I couldn't live without music.  But I have a very eclectic taste in tunes, and I get bored easily.  Pandora is like a homemade mixed tape, instantly customized to whatever mood I happen to be in at the moment. 

9)  I'm thankful that I have a sense of humor.  Life would be way too depressing without one.

8)  I'm thankful for 15 minutes of quiet in the morning.  I love to sleep, and my alarm clock is my archenemy, but I willingly wake up 15 minutes early every work day so I can start my day off with quiet.  My whole house is still sleeping, and I know I have a few minutes before the little critters start stirring.  Sometimes it's the only alone time I get all day.

7)  I'm thankful for wine.  I don't think an explanation is necessary.

6)  I'm thankful for my blog.  It's my creative outlet, my way of reaching out and meeting people, my souding board.  It was almost 2 years ago that I decided to start a blog thanks to my mother-in-law, and after the initial struggle with a name and the oh-my-gosh-what-in-the-world-am-I-going-to-write- about-every-day self-doubts, I jumped right in and never looked back.  I definitely have my moments when I consider shutting down the blog to make more time for other writing projects, but I can't do it.  I love blogging.

5)  I'm thankful for my new iPhone, an early Christmas present from Mr. Roller Coaster.  This thing is awesome!!!

4)  I'm thankful I have rediscovered running.  I've been an athlete all my life, but after a hamstring injury 2 years ago, I thought my running days were numbered.  Running is my escape.  It keeps me sane.  And I'm actually thankful for that injury that put me in physical therapy for 4 months.  It made me a smarter runner, and I appreciate my accomplishments so much more.

3)  I'm thankful for the times when my children get along.  When they play well together it reminds me of how close my brother and I were at their age, how much we loved each other's company.  My children are such loving playmates.  Until they're not.  And then it's chaos.  Very loud chaos.  So I cherish the happy times and hope the chaos passes quickly. 

2)  I'm thankful that my second year of teaching kindergarten is going so much more smoothly than my first year.  I actually feel like I know what I'm doing this year.  And it doesn't hurt that I have a new assistant who is amazing.  I'm so thankful for her too!

1)  I'm thankful for another year that my husband will be home for the holidays. 

What little things are you thankful for this year?

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Quest for a Baby-Sitter Who Puts the Pizza in the Fridge

My husband and I went out on another couples' date over the weekend.  (Wow, going out 2 weekends in a row.  Maybe I'm not such a party pooper!)  We don't really have a regular baby-sitter so we borrowed one for the night.  This girl was a sweet, responsible, married, 20-something-year old who works in a preschool and is studying to become a teacher.  Sounds like the perfect sitter right?

Wrong.  I paid this sweet, responsible girl $10 an hour to do nothing.  She sat on the couch and watched television for 3 hours.  My children are old enough that she didn't have to change diapers or warm bottles or listen to colicky screams.  She came over late enough that she wasn't required to feed them or bathe them.  And according to my very informative 7-year-old, she chose not to read to them, play with them, or even have a conversation with them.  I basically forked over $30 for her presence.  When I returned, she was still on the couch watching tv in one room, while my children  (still awake at 9:30!) watched tv in another room.  It pained me to give her money.

But she's hardly the only baby-sitter I've encountered who behaves this way.  It seems that every baby-sitter I use thinks it's acceptable to park the kids in front of the television for movies and video games until it's time for bed.  When I was a baby-sitter, I actually played with the children.  We colored, we played board games and hide and seek, I read them stories.  Even at the age of 12, I knew I was being paid for a particular service, and that service did not include ignoring the children.

I often tell people that the sign of a good baby-sitter is a pizza box in the fridge.  I typically order pizza for the sitter and the kids to eat for dinner, and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect the sitter to simply shove the box of leftover slices in the refrigerator.  My theory is that if she's thoughtful enough to put away the pizza, then she's more likely to do other thoughtful things like wash the dinner plates and clean up toys and oh, I don't know, interact with the kids.  These are all tasks I was quite capable of doing at the age of 12.  Most of the sitters I've used have graduated from high school and live on their own.  Don't they clean up after themselves in their own homes?  Would they leave the uneaten pizza sitting on their kitchen counter and wait for someone else to clean it up?

I had one baby-sitter who was amazing.  She brought a craft book and made origami with the kids.  She drew pictures for them.  She limited their television viewing.  She played Candy Land with them.  She read them bedtime stories.  She washed the dishes.  She cleaned up the toys (or made them clean up their own toys which is a feat that should have doubled her pay!).  And not only did she put the pizza in the fridge, but she located my tin foil and individually wrapped each slice.  That's a girl who earned her $10 an hour.  Sadly, we were only able to use her once before she left for college.  But she set the standard high, and no sitter since has been able to fill her shoes.

When I mentioned my frustration on Facebook yesterday, several friends wrote in and told me about, an online source for finding baby-sitters and nannies.  And the best part is that they offer free memberships to military families!  I'm now signed up and making a list of potential sitters that have completed background checks and are certified in childhood CPR and First Aid.  And because they're seeking good reviews from parents on the website, I'm pretty sure these ladies will do more than catch up on their Lifetime movies.

I'm hoping this new avenue of sitter hunting will change my now tainted view of this generation of baby-sitters.  I'm hoping I can find a baby-sitter who actually likes her job, who can give me a reason to dish out all that cash, who can maybe even be a regular, positive fixture in my children's lives.   But honestly, at this point, I'll take one who'll simply put the pizza in the fridge.

Do you have a regular baby-sitter you love and trust or have you had sitter trouble like me?  Have you ever used  What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Party animal or party pooper?

Over the weekend friends of ours came to visit from out of town.  I'd been looking forward to their visit for weeks.  This was one of my best friends in the world, a friend I've known since we were 9 years old, and her brand new husband.  I couldn't wait for a weekend filled with talking and laughing and reminiscing and drinking and painting the town red. 

Although the weekend didn't disappoint, it was definitely a reminder that we aren't the 9-year-old girls we used to be.  Nope, we're the 35-year-old grannies who had to take naps after a shopping excursion and send the baby-sitter home after we finished "painting the town red" at a pathetic 9:00 PM.

Yeah that's right.  My big night out ended at 9:00.  I'd like to defend myself by saying that 9:00 isn't so bad considering that the baby-sitter arrived at 5.  But that ages me even more.  We may have been eating at a cool restaurant, but we were dining with the early birds. 

I didn't used to be this old.  I used to be able to stay up all night long, whether I was cramming for finals or closing down a fraternity party.  Now I consider it a late night if I stay up past my 10 PM bedtime.  And if I do stay up late or have one too many glasses of wine, I pay the price the next day as my mother's words reverberate in my aching head: You play, you pay.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a complete hermit.  I enjoy going out to nice restaurants and bar hopping with friends.  But after a couple of hours I'm more than ready to get back home, crawl into my jammies, and watch a good movie from the comfort of my own sofa, which is exactly what we did last weekend. 

I don't know when I transitioned from party animal to party pooper.  I don't know when I started ending my nights at the same time they used to kick off.  I don't know when loud music in a club became irritating rather than invigorating.   I don't know when I started looking at girls in their 20's and thinking, wow, I wish I had their energy.  I don't know when I started giving myself a bedtime.

I don't know when I became OLD. 

Are you a party animal or a party pooper?  Have your thoughts on nights out changed over the years?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top 10 Overused Phrases in My Vocabulary

About a year ago, I realized I was saying the word "actually" a lot.  So I decided to make an effort to reduce the word's usage in my eveyday vocabulary.  But while I bit my own tongue to keep the word from slipping out, I discovered I wasn't the only one who was overusing actually.  My ears perked up whenever I heard someone else saying it, and soon the word was like fingernails down a chalkboard every time I heard it.  The word nagged me, it insulted my ears.  And every time I heard it I felt like I just had to tell the speaker that he or she had just used the word 3 times in the same sentence.  I had to enlighten everyone on the overuse of actually!!!

But alas, I got over my actually phobia.  I still try not to use it unneccessarily, but I do giggle whenever I hear my 4-year-old daughter saying it.  Actually seems to be the like of this generation.  I remember driving my parents crazy with that word.  Like school was like totally stupid today and like I have way too much homework (and yes, I really did talk like that when I was in middle school.)

We all have certain words or phrases that are stuck on repeat in our everyday vocabulary.  Some are harmless, some aren't exactly G-rated, and some we swore would never escape our lips.  Some are used incorrectly (it's not "I could care less"  because that means you care enough to care less...the proper phrase is "I couldn't care less."), some have picked up momentum from tv shows (Seriously, didn't Grey's Anatomy seriously initiate the whole seriously catch phrase?), and some are used for the purposes of emphasis but really don't make any sense ("I literally laughed my face off."  Well, your face is still there.  I see it.  So you didn't literally laugh it off.   ***As an interesting side note, one of the definitions of literally is actually.***)

Anyway, like I said, we all have our sayings.  And here are my...

Top 10 Overused Phrases in My Vocabulary

10)  "Is that right?"
Mr. Roller Coaster once told me that our son knows when I'm not paying attention to what he's saying because I say, "Uh huh.  Uh huh.  Uh huh.  Is that right?"  Guess I need a new phrase of feigned attention.  Or I need to start paying more attention to my child.

9)  "Roger that"
I say it to my husband.  I say it to my children.  I say it to my students.  I say it in emails.  Sometimes I annoy even myself.

8)  "Chillax"
Obviously a combination between chill out and relax.  I stole this one from a friend, and it's definitely my most popular phrase as a kindergarten teacher.  (Runners up include good gravy, okey dokey artichokey, and holy cannoli spicy guacamole.  Don't you wish you were in kindergarten again?)

7)  "Get your...."
Shoes on.  Backpacks and lunches.  Teeth brushed.  Homework done.  Oh there are so many ways to fill in that blank. 

6)  "One...two...two and a half..."
I'm such a sucker.  I rarely get to 3.  But boy if I do, my kids are in serious trouble.

5)  "Mind your own beeswax."
As a kindergarten teacher and a mom, I say this phrase way too often.  The sad thing is, kids think it's hilarious and don't really pay attention to its meaning.  But I guess it does its job as a distraction when that embarrassed little girl has an accident in the bathroom and you need to help change her clothes.

4)  "What time do you think you'll be home tonight?"
I don't know why I bother asking Mr. Roller Coaster anymore what his schedule will be like.  The answer is always the same: Your guess is as good as mine.

3)  "Scheisse" (German for sh*t)
I always figured it was better to curse in another language than to curse in English for my kids to repeat.  Well I guess that backfired because my 4-year-old daughter repeated me the other day.  But I wonder...if she repeated that in school, would her teachers be appalled that she said a curse word or impressed that she was speaking a foreign language?

2) "Because I said so"
Didn't we all want to spit nails when our parents said this to us?  Didn't we all swear we'd never say this to our own children?  Well guess what.  I said this 10 times yesterday.  I counted.  I'm utterly ashamed.  Sorry Mom and Dad.

1)  "Just a minute."  (often coupled with "I can only do one thing at a time.")
I didn't even make it through this blog post without saying...hmmm, what's that noise?...just a minute kids are screaming...and I can only do one thing at a time.... 

What sayings come out of your mouth too often?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

"When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?
~George Canning

Last year when I first sat down to write about Veterans Day, I started wondering what the true meaning of a veteran is. After asking friends, I realized I'm not the only one asking this question. Is a veteran someone who once served in our armed forces? Is a veteran someone who is currently serving? Is a veteran someone who served our country in both times of war and times of peace?

I also wondered what exactly Veterans Day means. Of course this day holds a special place in the hearts of military families. But what does it mean to the general public other than a day off from work?

In my quest to find the answers, I stumbled upon quote after quote about Veterans Day. But I wanted to share one in particular that seemed to sum it all up:

"A Veteran is someone, who at one point in their life, wrote a blank check payable to the United States of America for an amount up to, and including, their life. That is beyond honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer remember that fact."

So what is a veteran? What does Veterans Day mean? A veteran is any man or woman who has worn a uniform, past or present, in times of war or peace. These are the people we are honoring on Veterans Day, the people we need to thank for their service to our country. Veterans Day means so much more than simply a day off from work and sales at the mall.

As we celebrate this Veterans Day, I hope you take a minute to thank a service member. Whether that person is your grandfather, your husband, your neighbor, or someone you see in uniform at the mall while you're shopping those sales, they deserve our thanks and appreciation for the sacrifices they have made and continue to make for our country. They are true heroes.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

What does Veterans Day mean to you? Who are you going to thank today?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Facing My Technophobia

I admit it: I have a severe case of technophobia.  I just started texting about 6 months ago.  I couldn't stand reading the book Mr. Roller Coaster made me read on his Kindle.  I have no idea how to use all the features on my iPod or my fancy camera.  And when I once sat in front of someone's Mac, I had no idea what I was looking at and had to ask for help just to get on the internet.  So it was a big step for me to ask Mr. Roller Coaster to buy me an iPhone. 

I swore I'd never cross over to the dark side of the latest technology.  And I'm not the kind of person who wants something just because everyone else has it.  But for some reason, I felt the need to get myself an iPhone.  Mr. Roller Coaster was thrilled.

So now I have this iPhone that my husband already set up, and I'm looking at it and thinking: Now what?  Where do I start?  What do I do with this thing? 

What are your favorite features on your iPhone?  What are the coolest apps you can't live without?

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