A List Maker's Life

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Scenes From 935

Preparing for the holidays we found ourselves with many projects in the kitchen.  One December evening I was perched in Gram's kitchen sink carefully hanging 2 Turtle Doves and a Partridge in a Pear Tree in the panes of her windows.  Nick was wrapping gifts when a piece of tissue paper flew out of control, connected with a candle, and started quite a fire. The three of us were in quite a tizzy as we hustled to put out our flames.  By the time our parents came to pick us up all was calm again and Gram quite brightly mentioned that we only had one "major scene."

How was your day?  Did you have any major scenes?

At the dining room table we spent countless hours with watercolors.  Nature scenes, fall leaves, flowers, tress, and the occasional angel were our typical inspiration.  When the colors didn't blend quite right or a leaf looked too unruly Gram would advise, "Just throw it on the floor!"  We would laugh, I would throw it, and we would move on to something else for awhile.  Until the next glance down when the unusual blending would actually appear to be quite lovely and the unruly leaf a unique addition to an otherwise generic floral arrangement.

If it seems beyond repair, look again from a new angle. 

In the top drawer of her dresser, along with the jewelry collection I was fascinated by, Gram kept the magical Boo Boo Fan. On summer nights my legs would jump and itch after a full day of playing making it very difficult to settle down. As she opened the fan and began to recite our made up fan chant I would slowly fall asleep.

Winds from the West, Cool Breeze from the East...take your mind off it.

Watching Sesame Street in the living room we contracted a serious case of the giggles as Bert and Ernie sang their song.  There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza.  There's a hole in the bucket.  Dear Liza, a hole!  Oops, I lost...  Oops, I spilled...  Oops, I forgot...  All of those statements would forever be answered with, "So, fix it dear Henry."  Because once Liza and Henry were in the conversation we could surely find some humor in the situation.

SOOOOO?  Fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry.  Just fix it dear Henry.  Just fix up the hole.

935 is more than just a house it is a collection of a million moments and many of my best memories. This weekend the house stands empty.  Gram's thing have been moved to her new home or shared with ours. Later this week Melissa, my best birthday present ever, will sign the papers and move in to the house I can easily say was/is my favorite place on Earth. I am certain she will fill the walls with laughter, love, and cut lavender bouquets.  And, hopefully throwing this on the floor tonight will help this little hole in my heart to stop leaking from my eyes.

With what shall I fix it dear Liza, dear Liza.  With what shall I fix it, dear Liza? This hole.
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Monday, November 17, 2014

School Birthday "Treat" Ideas

Our kids really look forward to celebrating birthdays at school. It is important for them to pick just the right thing to pass out to the friends in their classrooms. The two oldest begin searching Pinterest months in advance to plan what they will share.  

Last June Gavin wanted s'mores for his treat and wasn't sure how to manage the fire for the marshmallows since of course a bonfire isn't allowed at school.  He was pretty pleased when we came up with an alternative that tasted just as yummy. S'more Trail Mix made with Golden Grahams, mini marshmallows, and chocolate chips. His birthday was the last week of school so we packaged the mix with "All Things Summer" subway art-ish tags. I would have expected a classroom full of 4th graders to munch these in fist fulls, but many of them dug through their bags to build 1 mini s'more at a time.


Both "little" boys celebrated birthdays already this fall.  In their new schools they are asked to bring non-food party pass outs. On a hunt for inexpensive trinkets to give Gabe's class we came across a 90% off summer clearance aisle. These little octopuses are intended to be pool diving toys. Gabe and I had recently enjoyed reading Octopus' Garden together and he thought these guys looked like fun additions to his animal collection. We bought enough for his whole class and made birthday tags to attach for delivery day.  

"I am glad to be swimming in the same school as you."
 

Since starting Kindergarten Gibson has been obsessed with writing numbers, reading numbers, adding numbers, and occasionally thrilling an audience with the multiplication facts he has memorized. We came across a package of 30 new tangram puzzles in a thrift shop and had to grab them for his classmates even though I was not quite sure at the time how we would work them into a birthday theme. It didn't take long to come up with a tag idea making this gift fun for his classmates and appropriate for celebrating a 6th birthday.


Anne Hope is already brainstorming non-food ideas for her February celebration, but first we need to come up with "22 Things" for the kids' classroom Christmas stockings!  

Suggestions anyone?

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Designing Christmas Photo Cards: Pear Tree Greetings

Disclosure: Pear Tree Greetings offered A List Maker's Life gift credit to try their holiday greeting card design and printing.  The following account of my experience with their service is based upon this gift.  Any opinions included here are my own.

When it comes to holidays I am a "one at a time, please" kind of gal.  Thanksgiving deserves its full attention before all of the Christmas decorations and shopping begin.  Based on the displays in every store we visited during today's errands, I may be one of the only people still holding out, with one little exception...

As soon as our fall family pictures are taken I can NOT wait to design and order holiday photo cards.

(singing) 
For the first purchase of Christmas, 
my true love ordered me 
photo cards from Pear Tree Greetings



Pear Tree offers a fantastic selection of including religions Christmas, vintage holiday, and modern holiday designs.  In addition, there are New Year's designs for those who prefer to send greetings after the Christmas mail rush. Many cards include real foil accents to give traditional designs and bold fonts extra shimmer! If you intentional shop for something unique the banner greetings may be of interest.  Those who enjoy writing holiday letters will appreciate being able to incorporate extended text in several Pear Tree designs. 

 In the past I have used my own photo editing program to design a card, saved the image, and dropped it into a blank template provided by the printer.  With Pear Tree there were so many options to love I chose to use their design program exclusively.  It may have taken me a bit longer as I arranged and re-arranged different pictures into multiple layouts.  So much fun! I typically prefer simple designs with only one large photo, yet as you will see Pear Tree offers unique options for incorporating many pictures in one card.



This design process also offered options for font, message, artwork, and color within a pre-designed layout.  I loved the freedom to chose a design knowing any text could be edited and rearranged.  This isn't always the case with online printing services.  Even the color of the text could easily be adjusted. My Saved Projects page filled quickly.  Narrowing down my selection was the most difficult part of the ordering process.  However, Pear Tree offers orders as small as 20 cards per design making it possible to order 3 different projects within our budget.  As a side note, the price per card does go down with larger batch orders.


Our lovely cards are printed, shipped, and hanging out in their box.  I peek in on occasion to admire the print quality, fun colors, and sweet smiles. My next mission will be assigning which designs will be headed to which mailboxes.  Followed by addressing.  Lots of addressing.

But.
First, we are going to enjoy celebrating Thanksgiving!

Do you mail photo Christmas cards?  Have you placed your 2014 order yet?
I want to hear about it!

Is your Christmas tree already up?
 Lets not talk about it!
(wink)

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hospitality: What Does It Mean to You?



A favorite painting has been displayed in each of our homes since we were married.  When it was professionally framed we chose a saying from Hebrews 31:2 to caption the art work. Maybe we are entertaining angels unaware.  The notion of hospitality has always intrigued me.

Early in our marriage attended a class where experienced women mentored young married women on the importance of prepping our home, hearts, and dining table to welcome others hospitably.  Every week we were treated to the most delicious meal plans, cooking tutorials, delightful conversation starters, and beautifully set tables.  It was really quite a gift and I looked forward to opening my home so graciously someday when our dining room table and grocery budget could accommodate the demands of proper entertaining.  Hospitality took on the form of event planning in my heart and mind.

Pinterest served to raise the bar higher. Setting a great thematic table and using only photo worthy serving dishes became an important part of my expectation for inviting others to visit.  Someday we would be ready to play " hostesses with the mostesses," but for the moment it was too much to try to keep my counters cleared, desserts in the freezer, groceries on hand for the three course menu plans I filed away from my class, and seasonal place settings ready at all times. But, if I am truly hospitable that would all be in place for any one who might happen to stop by at any time.  Right?  The reality was our small home didn't have enough table space to even invite our parents to dinner and good luck finding 8 matching glasses to set a lovely table.

I gave myself permission to believe someday was acceptable, after all hospitality isn't my gift


Yet.
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans kept reminding me to pursue it. 

And.
8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth. 3 John opens our eyes to the importance of inviting our small group in even if all 16 kids have to snack on a giant picnic blanket on the living room floor.

Last fall we found ourselves in a difficult situation when our house sold faster than we could make a decision on a new home.  We were welcomed as a family (of 6!) by a couple who could easily have considered us strangers for the little they actually knew about us.

Yet.
They shared everything. 

And.
They always welcomed our conversation. With their limited "free time" they made us feel like we had all of their attention as we worked through figuring out the next best move for our family. 

My view has shifted. Hospitality doesn't require a party planner, a table cloth with candles, 8 matching forks, or the perfect dinner playlist.  It might just be an open door, attentive conversation, eye contact, and an environment intentionally created to feel a bit like home.  It may look like chai tea and dress up clothes at the table - a table which isn't loaded with appetizers and (gasp!) might have breakfast crumbs under it. 

It is not my gift can not be my justification. Our family is wrestling with what it means for us to practice hospitality.  We are considering how in addition to being a haven for relaxing and refueling for our children, how our children might recognize the importance of welcoming others to relax and refuel in our home.  We don't know how it will look, but we are looking for opportunities to practice true hospitality.  We want to expect less of our house, our food, and our decorations. Instead we want to expect Love to show up.
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Monday, September 29, 2014

"Bo Do Bleep" in a Minion Mayhem Suite: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel Kids Suites



Typically when we travel as a family the accommodations get the short stick in the budget.  We search online deals and group marketing sites for the least expensive rooms we can find and cross our fingers they won't be too bad when we arrive.  Just another reason why we especially look forward to Family Forward.  In addition to amazing entertainment, delicious dining, quality programs, and great people we know  Loews Hotels can not be beat!  The attention to guests, thematic experiences, and comfort of the rooms is like no where we have ever stayed before.

During this year's Universal Orlando experience our expectations of a great hotel stay were far exceeded when we were gifted an extended stay in an upgraded suite.  Kevin and I were thrilled for the kids to be able to sleep in Gru's rockets and live the movies even while they were dreaming.

"Authorized Minions" are welcome to a virtual tour of the newly renovated Kids' Suite at Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort.


The vault-like entry door separating the rooms raised the "kid thrill-o-meter" even before they stepped foot into their half of the suite. Just beyond this door the carpet is inlayed with a minion welcome mat and true to size minion decals create silly scenes all over the walls.


Tucked into a cubby on one side of the room, Gru's large steel desk offers a perfect place for studying park maps, plotting out adventures, and putting together toys collected as souvenirs. In each corner of the room is a unique industrial looking lamp. 

Sleeping accommodations in the minion room included two full size beds.  The bright yellow bedding was embellished on the ends with throw blankets made to match Gru's notable grey striped scarf and bright blue throw pillows which serve as a reminder of Loews commitment to making even the littlest guests feel like "1 in a Minion."  The attention to details is remarkable!

 
The other side of the room holds an oversized, red chair designed to replicate a chair from Despicable Me. Our kids didn't spend much time relaxing in it, but they sure did enjoy reenacting movie lines as they spun dramatically from back to front. 
 
 
This particular suite included access to a small balcony over looking the water - a great spot for watching the water taxis scoot back and forth between the hotel and parks.  The kid sized table and chairs is ideal for snack time or a room service breakfast.
 
The suite isn't all about the kids though. Parents will appreciate the serenity of the d├ęcor and the king size bed in the adult suite.  This room also had a small table, an oversized foot stool, and a pull out sofa bed. 

There was something amazing about being able to close the door on our minions and their bed jumping mayhem, while we enjoyed a quiet moment and a diet coke in our fancy glasses. 

  
Cheers to the perfect balance of excitement and relaxation all in one great suite!
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There is more than one Minion Mayhem Kids' Suite at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.  After looking at pictures from another Family Forward attendee it seems important to mention the rooms are not exactly alike.  The two suites I have seen have many of the same delightful details, but the layout may be a bit different from room to room.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

#ohmeoflittlefaith*

Just a few days shy of his 4th birthday our littlest babe took his first steps into the big, wide adventure of preschool.  His back pack has been stuffed and hanging next to the others since the 1st of September - the promise of, "yes, you do get to go to school this year too!" and the reminder of "how many days until school starts?"
"There will be tears tomorrow, " I warned Kevin.  Certainly not for Gabe though.  His smile couldn't have been bigger as he finally took his turn posing for the back to school mamarazzi. 

A bit tentative upon his arrival at Little Hawks, Gabe wasn't interested in any more photos by the school sign.  He needed to find his hook, his name, and his tag. 


While his teachers prepped him for our goodbye and offered him many opportunities for getting involved in activities Gabe became a frequent momma hugger.  I was concerned this was the precursor to a crying fit. I bent down to let him know face to face he would have a great time and I would be back soon.  He spoke first, "One more hug mom then I need to go play." Gabe was as worried about me being alone as I was worried about him being safe and happy.  This is where I would have expected my tears to come.  I smiled and walked to the car.


Talk about feeling lost.  Gabe and I have probably spent more one-on-one time in his 4 years than I've spent with all three other kiddos combined. Thank goodness for my scheduled appointment to fill the morning's hours. The nurse asked how my kids were doing?  How old are they now?  Is everyone in school?  This may have been when I expected tears, round two.  I smiled and told her all about Gabe's exciting first day of school.

 
Walking in for pick up I watched as Gabe waited patiently for his name to be called for dismissal.  He jumped up and ran to me for another big hug. 
 
"I got a book order.  We went on a hike.  I saw fish.  I played with Ms. Carlee.  I have friends named Isaac, Valentine, and Axel.  We had chocolate milk and strawberry cereal for snack.  I painted.  I want to show you the birds..." 
 
On and on he went, right there in the school coat room, answering all the questions I typically ask the big kids when they arrive home from school without being prompted by my actual questions. Still chatting as we headed out the door he froze in his tracks "I forgot to say goodbye.  I have to go say goodbye."  He popped his head back in the coat room and in his loudest, happiest voice shouted "Goodbye teachers.  Goodbye friends."
 
 
Then the two of us hopped in the car to head home for lunch. 
 
"I Love School, Mom!"
I smiled and those most expected tears fell at the most unexpected moment.
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*Taken from my back to school post on FB.
There were many heavy days in 2010, before I met him face to face, when I worried and wondered how our newest babe's firsts would look and feel for both of us. Today was another "more than we could ask or imagine" day. Gabe had a wonder full first day of school! #ohmeoflittlefaith

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventures at #UniversalOrlando

As a family of readers we love getting caught up in a great story.  Sometimes the characters are so well developed their emotions are felt deeply, in real time.   The author pulls us along on a roller coaster plot ride.  Some plots are predictable and the endings just as perfect as imagined.  Other times the conclusion leaves us wishing for a choose your path option like the books we remember from middle school - the books written from a second-person point of view handing over the role of protagonist to the reader, giving choices to determine the main character's actions and the plot outcome.

Universal Orlando puts exceptional detail into each of the stories it retells through their action packed attractions.  No matter the story, one can not help but get caught up in the elements.  Throughout the parks they have also built in opportunities to personalize the plot, change the course, and choose your own adventure!

Disaster Ride
Our family really enjoyed Disaster Ride.  It is described as a major motion picture starring you! Each group entering Disaster Ride has a unique opportunity to be involved in the action and production of a feature film. While I am convinced Kevin would have made the perfect hunky, strong guy he unfortunately was not chosen this time. Part of the ride is a humorous demonstration of behind the scenes creating of outrageous movie effects, but it ends with an actual runaway car ride through earthquakes, floods, and fires. Screams of fear or screams of laughter?  You won't know until you get into the movie!

Gringott's Goblins
While waiting for the incredible Escape for Gringotts experience visitors weave through an elaborate re-creation of the inside of a magical bank.  If your family is anything like ours, you will be too caught up in the chandeliers and marble floors to even realize this choose your own ending option.  After the fact we learned, if you strike up a conversation with the bank's head teller you may be surprised to hear him answer your question.  Each unique question receives an equally unique & appropriate answer. Spend the rest of your time in line contemplating how Universal made the talking goblin magic possible.
 
 

Men in Black: Alien Attack
 We lost count of the trips collectively taken through Alien Attack.  Every ride through Men in Black ends with a different outcome.  The number of passengers per vehicle, the speed of the trigger fingers, and the accuracy of aim alters the score and accolades in the final moments of the ride.  Collaborating with others his age in the #FamilyForward crew, Gavin continually improved his game by figuring out secret spots and tricks to aide in his promotion to professional MIB agent status. For our younger children, the creepy aliens were just outrageous enough to not be frightening. Fire up and save the planet or stand down and submit to the scum?  Dun, dun, dun...
 

High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Ride
This attraction provides a great overview of Seuss Landing from high above (and through) the roof tops.  While it is obvious there are two separate tracks, the kids did not know until they tried both the tracks not only follow different paths, they tell different stories.  A simple switch from the ABC Line to the Star Line will change the adventure and the ending.  High in the Sky Trolley is by far the most talked about favorite from our three year old theme park go-er, and our whole family enjoyed the view from a cart with just enough speed to catch some wind in our hair. "Again! Again!"
 
 
Hogwarts Express
Being careful to not give away too much of the magic before you are able to experience it for yourself we will keep this one short and sweet.  Be sure to travel both to and from Diagon Alley for two unique experiences.  The destinations are not the only difference on the round trip train ride. Aren't you curious how Universal replicated the famous Platform 9 and 3/4?  We were too!
 

Interactive Wands
Throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, Potter enthusiast have multiple opportunities to change the story, the characters, the displays, and the problems with a flick of their interactive wizarding wands.  In addition to being the perfect souvenir, the interactive wands have the potential to provide a day's worth of engaging in the story.
 

The Knight Bus
While visiting Diagon Alley strike up a conversation with The Knight Bus driver. Each conversation is authentic, individualized, and entertaining.  The Shrunken Head is a humorous and quirky conversationalist as well. Not only will you create a new dimension to the Harry Potter experience, you will walk away from The Knight Bus with silly stories to tell and a case of the giggles.

Are you ready to get in the story?  Have you visited Universal Orlando?  What Choose Your Own Adventure moments drew you in to the story?
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