Fashion Friday, Main Line BlogHer Style

Shopping with friends is one of the most fun things I know how to do.  Shopping with bloggie friends I haven't seen in two years? Even better!  Throw in my favorite store, Ann Taylor LOFT, and a little swag and I'm in seventh heaven.

Last Friday night I had the honor of attending Girlymama's BlogHer Style event, sponsored by LOFT, in Paoli, Pennsylvania in the heart of the Main Line (in case you were ever wondering about my nickname, MainlineMom).  I got to see my very dear friend Jo-Lynne from Musings of a Housewife and some of my favorite Philly blogger gals.  I finally got to meet Kelly of The Centsible Life, Julie of Just Precious and Shannon from Chester County Moms, and Mindi from Moms Need To Know in real life!  I also got to catch up again with Whitney of Mommies With Style and Colleen of ClassyMommy, and of course Melissa who hosted the event.

In case you haven't noticed from several of my past fashion haul vlogs, LOFT is my very favorite store.  Their clothes dominate my closet and the new fall line was amazing.  My sister was in town from Virginia for one night and she is a LOFT addict too, so I brought her along with me.  We were greeted with snacks and beverages and promptly took over the dressing room area for our blogger shenanigans.

Here's a taste of what went down.   

Along with a discount and a gift card to spend, I gave my Ann Taylor LOFT credit card* a workout. We hit up the clearance rack first where I found this casual ruffled t-shirt, a gray tank top with ruffles down the front, and a pale pink button down blouse.  Colleen convinced us all that jeggings (jean leggings) were the hottest trend this year and several of us, including me, bought them.  To wear over the jeggings I bought this adorable shirt and I had to have not one, but TWO jeweled headbands

The swag bags Melissa put together for us were incredible, including (but not limited to!) a cordless flat iron from Kymora, a super cute clutch from Ellington HandBags, and these fantastic earrings from Kendra Scott

After a couple hours of power shopping we headed over to the most incredible new restaurant in King of Prussia, Seasons 52.

The food was A. MAZ. ING. It's nearly impossible to believe that ever delectable item on their menu is under 475 calories, including the pasta with shrimp my sister ordered, the chipotle prawns Shannon ordered, or the cedar plank salmon I devoured along with potatos, carrots and asparagus! The deserts in shot glasses were incredible too.

But the best part of the evening was simply conversation with great blogger friends.

Kelly, Mindi, Melissa, Me, Shannon, and Jo-Lynne

*I only use the LOFT card for reward points because I shop there so frequently, and I pay it off every month. I am in no way advocating store cards when you can't afford to pay cash. Just sayin'.

Disclosure: I was provided with a discount and a gift card as well as several product samples at this event with no requirement to review these products and no additional compensation.  The words and opinions shared here are exclusively mine.


Sixth Grade, Eighties Style

Sixth grade for me meant the beginning of middle school, and a move to the "upper campus" of Delco Christian.

It also meant being taught sex ed, which in our school was called "Preparing for Adolescence" based on the book of the same title by Dr. James Dobson.  They split up the guys and the girls for this class, and it was pretty lame, but appropriate.  I remember they showed the girls a different, much more serious movies about sex than they showed the boys, and consequently the boys emerged from their class cracking up and joking around while the girls were wide-eyed and nervous.  That is ridiculous. 

Sixth grade also seems to have meant, based on the photos, the beginning of my own (really bad) sense of style.  My mom cut off all my hair which made it even worse.  Check this out.

Need I say more? I don't think so.

What was your favorite BAD style of the eighties?


Workarounds for My Picky Eaters

works for me wednesday at we are that familyI have confessed that my kids are super picky eaters.  I have no idea how this happened, but it plagues me.  I started out feeding them all kinds of healthy fruits and veggies and lots of protein, which they used to eat liberally.  Then one by one the variety of foods they would eat dwindled to nearly nothing.  My five year old understands the difference between good food and junk food.  He is constantly asking if something is good for him, if it will make him grow or get smarter.  But my three year old, Alex, has no concept of this and is clearly addicted to carbs. He could truly live on bread alone, if I'd let him.  But I don't.  I may be a Type B mom, but I'm not lazy or unconcerned.  I just choose not to make food a huge battle.

A few strange tricks have at least helped my mind rest a little easier.

Neither of my children would eat peanut butter, a protein staple that moms of picky eaters often depend on.  So one day I offered to make them a slice of cinnamon bread with peanut butter and cupcake sprinkles. It worked, and eventually became a regular two slices of bread sandwich.  I figure a couple sprinkles are worth it to get some protein in with their carbs.  Now peanut butter and sprinkle sandwiches are almost an every day meal.

We have finally gotten to the stage where everything can be dipped in ketchup. At least for my older child.  If that means a little ketchup goes with the asparagus, so be it.  I can't believe my kid now willingly eats asparagus.

And finally...I have started rewarding new food tasting with silly bands.  I'm not below resorting to a bit of bribery now and again.

Do you have any tips for getting your picky eaters to chow down?


Summer Vacation Amusement

I'm on vacation and while I'd love to offer my readers some food for deep thinking, it will have to wait.  My brain has not completely checked out, I'm still reading and participating in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge.  And I'm still reading BOOKS! If you don't know me, that might not seem like anything, but I never read books. Earlier this summer I made it one of my personal goals to start and finish a whole book.  I did it, I completed Sophie Kinsella's novel, Remember Me?.  It was good, light and humorous, so I finished it in a couple of days. 

That inspired me to order several more books from Amazon. I have been wanting to read David Platt's Radical for a long time, so I ordered that. I expect that it will only cement my desire to adopt an orphan.  I also ordered three books by Matthew Paul Turner, who's blog is called Jesus Needs New PR.  When first started following Matthew on Twitter and reading his blog more than a year ago, I admit that it annoyed me how often he made fun of us Calvinists.  I have since caught glimpses into his heart for Jesus and I have to admit that the majority of the Christian stuff he makes fun of is worth laughing at.  And now I love him.  I am almost through his book Churched, which reminds me a bit of my youth, and it has me laughing and thinking a whole lot.

So anyway, speaking of amusing and youth...here's a cute video I shot over the weekend. 


Flying with Kids on Continental Airlines is Great

So we flew Continental airline into Philly on Friday to begin our big summer adventure.  I would like to mention here that I'm very sad that United will be taking over Continental.  I'm familiar with United and their level of service and timeliness is not good.  Even though I still prefer to fly Southwest when I can, sometimes I have to take Continental and on this flight they were fabulous.  Our flight attendant, Darius, had possibly the best personality of any flight attendant I've met, and I've met  A LOT.   He welcomed my children, asking their names and ages, and then addressed them by name many more times during the three and a half hour trip.  He addressed me (and every woman) as "young lady", which at my current age wins bonus points with me.  At one point he said to a girl about my age behind me, loud enough for everyone to hear, "I don't know which is more beautiful, this day we are  having or the way the sunlight is coming through that window and hitting your eyes."  In a completely charming, non-sleazy way. 

Also on the flight everyone had screens at their seats and the option to purchase Direct TV.  This is like pure gold for kids on a 3.5 hour flight.  I paid $6 for the screen in front of Alex, and I had a two sets of headphones with a splitter so both kids could watch and listen the same screen.  Also they fed us a tasty hot pocket type thing with Doritos, carrots and M&Ms.  We loved that. We took off on time and arrived a few minutes early, despite the plane being overbooked. 

The difference in my overall stress level between last year's flight north and this year's is night and day, all because Alex is now three.  We no longer need a stroller or carseat, and he can verbalize his needs.  He didn't cry, yell, whine or even kick the seat in front once during the whole flight. He managed just fine without his usual three hour nap.  If flying weren't so expensive, I would now feel brave enough to take my kids on airplanes more often.   


Fifth Grade! Intro to Camping

I just didn't have time this week to dig out and scan in some photos.  Apparently I also didn't have time to put on makeup or get enough sleep either so I look halfway decent.  Alas, this vlog is all I had time for this week.

I think the summer after fifth grade might have been the first time I went to the huge three day Christian music festival, Creation...which involved camping.  And long long long lines for an ice cold shower.  But some incredible music.  I'm  having flashbacks of being a crazy Petra fan.  And standing in line to get autograph's from Whiteheart. Also hearing the Newsboys for the first time.  Or maybe that was Creation '89. (I can't BELIEVE they're still making albums...the latest of which is not so good.)  Anyway, my passion for music started early.


Another Photography Thursday

I'm feeling like I've been delinquent in the photography inspiration around here lately.  Fear not! My annual vacation always yields HUNDREDS of gorgeous photos.  But for now, a few that I love, not just because of the subject but the technique as well. 

First up...Chicago at night!

From my girls weekend in Chi-town last month. 

My youngest. I love those eyes.

My oldest. The freckles kill me.

True Religion

works for me wednesday at we are that familyJames 1:27 says "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

I'm not sure where or when it started.  Perhaps it was last year when my church spent one Sunday morning talking about orphans, sharing statistics and opening our eyes.  Maybe it was even before that.  The adoption blogs I've been reading recently certainly have increased my care and concern for the plight of orphans around the world.  I'm learning that there are things I can do, steps I can take to help, and I need to do them.  Supporting other people's adoptions is one.  Giving money is another.

But what worked for me this week was Kristen's plea to buy powdered baby formula for orphans in Ethiopia.  She wrote a simple post about how desperately formula is needed, and how one woman in Arizona is trying to help.  And she asked her readers to go to Walmart, buy a couple cans and ship them.  I thought, "I can do that!" I hate Walmart, but since that's what she asked for, that's where I went.  And I hate mailing stuff.  Not kidding, I have a phobia of the post office.  Mainly because there isn't one convenient to my house.  I don't even have a normal mailbox, for Pete's sake.

But I seized the opportunity to demonstrate love for people in need to my boys.  (This ties directly back to my post on teaching your kids good money habits.) They know we never shop at Walmart, so a special trip with them for this formula made it easy to explain the mission.  Nathan's face looked really puzzled when I explained to him that some babies don't have mommies or daddies.  "Who feeds them?  They can't fill the bottles themselves!"  I talked about how the orphans live in group homes...I related it to how their daycare teachers feed them and help them through the day, but isn't it much better to have your own mommy and daddy to hug and hold you?  I also shared with him that sometimes families here that already have kids will adopt orphans and then they DO have a mommy and daddy, and isn't that great?

Another thing I hate about mailing stuff is finding the right box, so I immediately ordered some of those flat rate boxes from the USPS and prayed the formula cans would fit.  I was really doubting they would, I thought they'd be too tall for even the large size flat rate box. I bought four large cans and prayed they would fit.  When the flat rate box arrived a couple days later, I put it together, thinking it really looked too short for the cans.  What happened next seemed like a miracle to me, even though it really wasn't.  The box PERFECTLY fit my four large cans, plus a small sample can that had been mailed to me!  Also I was able to include a $5 coupon that had come with the sample formula.

And because of how easy those wonderful flat rate boxes are, I could simply pay for and print the postage online and schedule a mail pickup right at my doorstep.  No post office visit necessary :)

Incidentally, the results of Kristen's challenge were staggering.  We serve a BIG God.  Please, read this.


My Elevator Pitch

Because I'm crazy and don't like to be bored and enjoy blogging very much, I have jumped into a challenge called 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.  The e-book behind this idea was written by Darren Rowse, who I first discovered through his incredible resource, Digital Photography School.  He is also known for his blog, Problogger, and he is one of the highest paid full-time bloggers there is.  Anyway, the SITS girls decided to throw out the challenge to their Blog Frog community (don't worry if you have no idea what any of that means) and I decided to jump in.

The first task is to develop your blog's elevator pitch.  Mike is always asking me about this, since his blog is so niche and so incredibly popular, and mine is so varied in topic.  Most mom blogs are...so why do we read them?  Because we relate to the author?  Not all of my readers are moms, though admittedly most are.  For a long time I swore off the very title "mom blogger" because of the bad rap it's been getting lately.  But when I attended Mom 2.0 on a whim, I was totally hooked.  It's such a great community, over all.  They are my peeps.

So I thought about what I have to offer my audience that they could actually benefit from.  And I keep coming back to the one word that I feel marks my life:


I am not a mom who thrives on chaos.  I am not a mom who is always in a rush.  I am about the farthest thing from a perfectionist.  I am totally and completely anti-stress.  I am Type B. 

Yet some who know me would argue with that label because I juggle a lot of endeavors, I'm always forward thinking and moving, and I've been very successful in my career.  Type B does not mean apathetic or disengaged. 

My mission is to encourage moms that balance is possible, harmony and peace in the family are achievable, and life can and should be lived full of joy and not stress. 

Going with the water theme of my blog...life is kind of like an ocean.  It can often feel like you are buffeted by huge waves and are struggling to stay upright. I prefer to enjoy the rocking of the ocean and the soothing sound of the crashing waves.  The beach is my favorite place to be. 

I would like my blog to be a place of calm amid the chaos. To that end, I write about my perspective on parenting, faith, handling money wisely, and appreciating the beauty in the world around me through my photography, some travel, and fashion.


Top Ten Things I Love About Philly

Top Ten {Tuesday} So awhile ago I did this post about why I love living in Texas.  But I spent thirty years of my life as a Philly girl, so as much as I love Texas, there are a lot of things I love about the city of Brotherly Love. 

1. History.  Philadelphia is the cradle of the Revolution.  The birthcity of Independence.  Everywhere you turn is deep, rich history.  Not just the city either, but the suburbs and rural countryside of Pennsylvania...there is history everywhere. 

2. Attitude.  Philadelphians are tough and gritty people. This really can be a good thing. Especially since the violent crime rate is astronomical compared to Houston.  A Philly girl needs to know how to protect herself.

3. Italian food.  Philly is chock-a-block full of Italians, and the food is the best benefit to that.  Italian food is my favorite, especially pasta and pizza.  There are mom and pop pizza and hoagie joints on every corner.  You cannot get a good pizza in Houston.

4. Yuengling Beer.  The oldest brewery in America, and my fave.  Not yet available in Texas...come on Dick, buy another brewery and set up distribution to Houston!

5. Farms.  There are a whole lot more small farms in Pennsylvania, and consquently more opportunity to buy fresh, local food and visit animals with your kiddos.  I have found a few places in TX, but I have to drive an hour to get to them and they aren't always open.

6.  Hoagies.  This is similar to number 3, because the key to a great hoagie is the roll.  The right kind of hoagie rolls does not exist in TX, because there are not so many Italians there.

7.  Cheesesteaks.  See number 6.  Again with the roll. 

8. Penn State football.  When we lived in Philly we were surrounded by the Penn State community. And we still drove up to home football games.  Bliss.

9. Higher education.  I'm sorry, Texas, but there is a serious lack of quality universities here.  Call me a snob if you like, but I enjoyed the diversity of exceptional schools in the northeast.  In Philly alone there is Penn, Drexel, Temple, and the University of the Sciences among others.  In the burbs and within a few hours there are infinately more. 

10. The Philly mom blogging community.  I love them. They rock.  It's not that Houston doesn't have our own awesome blogging community, but it's not the same.  And I can't wait to see some of my fave blogging girlfriends at a BlogHer style event this weekend. Woot!

The Great Hair Highlighting Experiment

You women know what a big deal it is to find a hair stylist you trust and are comfortable with.  Leaving my trusted stylist, Chloe, who's name was really Ashley, behind in Philaelphia was so hard.  She knew my hair.  Everyone teased me about how I would have to learn to wear my hair big and blond once I moved to Texas.  They weren't too far off from the truth.
I tried a few stylists in Houston before settling on one who cut my hair well and listened to my pleas to keep my highlights subtle.  The salon she worked at was pricey, so I was thrilled when she moved salons and cut her prices dramatically.  I guess her former salon threatened to sue her for stealing clients, but that never happened.  After almost two years, her husband got a promotion and they moved away to Memphis. 

So I'm left with no stylist again, and I wanted to get my roots highlighted before our trip north.  I asked for suggestions on Facebook but most of the answers came from friends with stick-straight, non-highlighted hair.  And the salons they mentioned were either super expensive or highly sketchy (next to a tattoo parlor?!).  So ever the frugal fashionista, I took to the beauty products store and investigated the options for tackling this task myself. 

Crazy, I know. 

I figured using a cap with teeny little holes made logical sense.  So I selected the Loreal Frost and Design kit for darker brown hair. 

And I asked my Facebook friends to pray for me. 

First I did the strand test.  I discovered that only painting the roots leaves a REALLY weird stripe halfway down. 

The kit gives you two sizes of hooks, with which you are supposed to pull clumps of hair through the world's smallest holes.  Let me tell ya, it SUCKS.  I could not get the strands hooked onto the hook.  And the larger hook did not fit through the holes. 

And then there's the matter of not being able to SEE THE BACK OF YOUR HEAD.  Kind of a problem when trying to fish for hair with a tiny hook through tiny holes. 

Eventually I got what seemed like a good amount of hair through the cap in a "face framing" pattern.  Mix bleach, sit around for half an hour, and then rinse, shampoo, and coat with freaky purple toner.  This kit had a LOT of steps.  But the results were not terrible. 

I did get some bolder streaks in the front.

And didn't get quite enough of my roots covered.

And I had no idea about the chunk of darkness in the back.

So in the end, I will be paying someone to highlight my hair next time!   As you can see, I'm not that great at flat-ironing my curls, and I certainly will not try to cut it myself. 


The Binky Fairy Visited Our House

Because I know I'm not the only mother who has struggled with breaking her child of his pacifier habit, I feel I must share this great news.  I thought I had confessed before that my Alex still sleeps with a pacifier, but maybe I didn't.  So I guess that's another parenting confession.

Let me start from the beginning.  My first baby never took a pacifier, despite our efforts, and he took a long time to learn self-soothing.  That meant a long loud crying jags whenever he was tired.  So when Alex came along and he did take to the binky, we were thrilled.  He was a really easy baby by comparison.  Happy-go-lucky and easy to put to sleep, the binky became a signal to him that it was time to sleep, which meant easier naps in the car or on planes.

As he grew, the pacifier became more of a fixture, and I chose to not fight it.  He was still only a year old, right?  My first step in breaking the bond was to ban the pacifier from the rest of the house, limiting it's use to bedtime only.  That wasn't so hard at home, but sometimes the daycare workers would not realize it and I would arrive at school to find my toddler running around with a purple bink in his mouth.  At some point his teacher mentioned he didn't seem to need it during nap, so I took it home and I never heard another word about it at school.

But home was a different story.  At night he no longer wanted just one pacifier, he wanted several.  One for his mouth, one for each hand, and maybe a couple extra to replace those that fell out of the crib overnight.  Some nights he gave us no trouble, but more often than not he would wake up unable to find a binky and cry until someone came up and scooped them up off the floor.

When we visited the dentist and mentioned that yes, we know the gap between his teeth is wider because of the binky and no, we are not going to let him use it forever...we got a friendly lecture.  The dentist talked to Alex about it and advised us that once you get past the third birthday, it becomes even more difficult to break the habit.  So we set his third birthday as a goal to be rid of the pacifier.

I got kid books about dumping the binky out of the library for him to read.  I told him stories of the "binky-fairy" who would come and take them to give to other babies.  I asked him if maybe we should give them all to a baby who didn't have any.  He said "like Ashlynn?" (My friend's daughter...the only baby he knows well.)  I said "Sure! Ashlynn needs them!" He still didn't want to give them up.  I kept verbally talking about all these ideas, but not going so far as to actually take the binkies away.

Then we started hyping up his third birthday, which is two weeks away.  This kid loves birthday parties, and even sings Happy Birthday to Alex at random moments.  It started to click that he was growing up, becoming a big boy, and passing another milestone.

So last night when none of his usual five pacifiers could be found in or under his bed (they are probably still there, way back under the bed against the wall) I jumped on the opportunity.  We had been out to dinner, so I told him that maybe the binky fairy had visited his room and taken all the binkies away.  "To give to other babies?" asked Alex. "She needs to bring them back." I shook my head.  I saw the lower lip slowly start to protrude.

Then I bribed him. "If you can sleep ALL night without your binkies, and not wake up mommy or daddy, I will get you some donuts for breakfast."  That did it.  His eyes lit up, because we hadn't had donuts in quite awhile.  The kid is a sugar junkie.  As I walked out I said "You're not gonna cry for your binky tonight, are you?" To which he confidently replied, "I don't need binkies. I need donuts!"

It helps that this was the first day in months he went without a nap, so he was exhausted and passed out immediately.  But it worked, totally and completely, with no tears!  

Are you struggling with something like this, or have you found victory? Please share!



I don't believe in karma in the Buddhist sense.  Ya know, all bad deeds will be punished eventually and all good deeds will be rewarded in the end.

Aside: U2's Bono explains the gospel very well in terms of grace verses karma.  

But I do believe that God sometimes orchestrates moments in our lives that can look a whole lot like karma.

Case in point.  Hubby was sick and didn't want to go out for dinner, so I called in a take-out order at Pei Wei. (Mmmmm my favorite food EVAH.)

Aside: I fully admit that I am still very much a yankee, in that hurry-up-and-get-where-I'm-going-and-don't-you-dare-get-in-my-path kinda way.

So I pull in and head for the take-out door, following one lady with another lady right behind me. Per a usual Friday night, the take-out area is jammed and I step one foot in and find myself third in line, with other customers seated all around waiting for their orders.

Here's where it gets interesting.  The lady behind me does not stop in line behind me.  She side-steps me to the right and heads straight up to the counter with a determined look on her face.  I wasn't sure at first if she would have the audacity...so I watched.  She looked straight at the other employees behind the counter and didn't dare to catch my eye.  The lady two people in front of me is finishing up paying and collecting her order.  A second guy steps up on my left to the lady in front of me and asks if she was next in line, which she confirms.  He starts ringing her up on my left.  A third guy is helping organize the bags when I see the brazen women to my right catch his attention and say "Is my order ready?"and point to the bags behind him.

I admit, my first reaction was to shout "Oh NO YOU DI'N'T, B*TCH!" 

Thankfully my immediate second reaction was "Remember Sarah, servant of all. Servant of all, Sarah."  I kept repeating this in my head over and over while my pulse slowed.

Aside: In case you have no idea what the voice in my head was referring to, it's a Bible verse, Mark 9:35 where Jesus said "If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and the servant of all." It's God's command for us to be always humble and not ambitious, willing to always serve, always be willing to let someone ahead of us.  

I watched as he looked for her bag, didn't find it, and started over to the food counter to assemble it for her.

Then I watched as the two women in front of me both finished paying and walked out, and the very nice cashier asked my name.  He was SO nice, despite the chaos.  He said "Oh my sister's name is Sarah."  And turned to the food counter to assemble my bag.  Quickly he came back, and as I handed him my money he continued "Is that spelled with an H? My family spells it with H's too."

I started to walk away and said "Oh, I think I ordered a fountain soda..." he cut me off as he handed me a cup "they musta missed it on the order but I don't care."  I smiled and turned to fill up my free soda cup.

And I couldn't help but notice the other lady, still waiting for her food.

Frugal Fashionista Friday: Ann Taylor Outlet and LOFT

Time for another fashion haul video!  This month there were bargains galore, so I finished up getting my kids' fall/winter wardrobes and found a few new pieces for myself as well.  My whole family hit up the Houston Premium Outlets (identical to Philadelphia Premium Outlet center in Limerick!) and I finally got a chance to actually try things on in the Ann Taylor Factory Outlet Store.  Also I live smack in between not one, but TWO LOFT stores, each less than two miles from my house.  So when they had their 40% off everything sale, I took advantage. 


Fourth Grade!

Fourth grade was my second year at Delaware County Christian School, so I had a few friendships that continued to grow.  My teacher's name was Miss Schaeffer and she was pretty cool.  That's her pictured in the photo with a new friend who came to DC that year, Amy Anderson.  Amy and I hung out together a bit that year but as I mentioned before I was ENORMOUSLY tall, and Amy was quite petite.  I'd have to look up the stats somewhere but I'd venture a guess that I was 5'2" tall in fourth grade.  Maybe taller.

One thing I remember about that year is the beginning of my treks to the orthodontist.  First I got a bionator and head gear.  I was supposed to wear the bionator all day and the head gear at night.  UGH.  I vividly remember the day I accidentally tossed it in the trash at lunchtime and had to go through the entire trash can to find it.  I knew my parents would KILL me if I lost it.

Also my next door neighbor was another fourth grade teacher at my school, and I ended up having her for math.  We had speed tests with our multiplication tables and that was probably the first time I remember feeling really competitive with academics.  That was a trend that would continue till I finished high school.

We had our first really big project in fourth grade, a big report on our state, Pennsylvania.  I wrote letters to my congressmen and got huge packets in the mail full of maps and brochures and fact books.  I still have that report...I was obviously quite proud of it and it was one of very few pieces of work I've kept over the years.


WFMW - Beach Family Portraits

works for me wednesday at we are that family

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, in less than two weeks my family is headed "back home" to Philly for our annual vacation.  We will spend a couple of days at my mom's beach house in Bethany Beach, DE, which is where I will attempt to take our annual beach family portrait.  This will be the fifth year in a row I've done this very purposefully, and I think the results improve each year.  So if you want to try this yourselves, here are my tips.

Pick as deserted a beach as possible.  We like Delaware State Park beach (I forget the exact name) that is south of Bethany, in a non-commercial area.  It's worth the short drive to get as few people in our backgrounds as possible...less photoshopping them out!

Go an hour before sunset.  The golden hour, as it is known among photographers, gives by far the best light.  I have had a few issues with timing this and getting the light but not having to squint from staring straight into the sun.  But when it's just right, the golden glow is gorgeous. (Say that five times fast!)

Coordinate your clothing.  I'm not a big fan of all white, but sometimes it looks nice in beach pics.  I really loved the french blues we did a couple years ago.  I haven't decided what we'll try this year yet :)  Avoid busy prints, especially stripes!  You don't all have to match, but coordinating looks much better than clashing!

Bring another person who can shoot or use a tripod with a remote trigger.  Nikon cameras have a great little wireless remote that I use...it's less than $20.  But be warned, your tripod will get messed up with sand, so if possible use a cheapo, backup tripod.

Just a few tips to help!  I may add a few additional tips next week...there's so much more I could say.

Things I'm Looking Forward to on Vacation

Top Ten {Tuesday} In less than two weeks my family will fly "back home" to Pennsylvania for a short vacation.  We will try to see a lot of people, staying at my moms, then hitting the beach, then heading up to the mountains to see my inlaws.  Here are ten reasons I am really looking forward to our trip.

1. Flying with my kids. Seems like something I should fear, but I remember how exciting flying is when you're a little kid.

2. Playing Rummikube.  Both sides of our family like to play this, and other card games as well. 

3. Sand and surf. My mom's beach house in Bethany Beach is a favorite for all of us.

4. Seeing cousins.  Hopefully my kids will get to see my sister's kids, and my BIL's daughter.  It's great watching them all play together.

5. Photography.  I always take half a million photos on this trip, many of which end up in my portfolio.

6. My best friend, Alexis.  I miss her.

7. Wine with my mom and sister.

8. Mountains. We don't have them in Houston.  My inlaws live up in them.  You can sit in their sunroom and see for miles.

9. Doting grandparents. I'm so glad my kids will get to spend time with all their grandparents.

10. Not cooking!


Gambling, Family Nuttiness and Plastic Surgery?

It's time for another Monday Mingle!  Here are this week's questions.  If you want to hear my answers, watch the video.  I would LOVE to hear your answers in the comments.
1. Ever hit a jackpot on a slot machine?
2. Whose side of the family is the nuttiest – yours or your spouses?
3. Would you have plastic surgery?


Movies and Marriage

This weekend we had zero plans, so with my ample free time I ended up watching three whole movies.  I do LOVE movies, but I rarely get to see them anymore.  We have Netflix, but I am bad about keeping my queue up to date, and I keep forgetting about the whole instant play feature.  We had gotten Syriana and United 93 in the mail and I sat on them because they both looked so depressing.  So Friday night I popped in Syriana, and I was right, it was awful. Not only was it incredibly slow, with intricate plots and tons of subtitles, it had multiple scenes that were so disturbing even my jaded eyes turned away.  Blech.

Then I remembered the whole Netflix instant download thing, and I found The Proposal was available.  I definitely had been wanting to see that, since I love Sandra Bullock AND Ryan Reynolds.  This movie really was entertaining, with a great plot, great dialogue, and breath-taking scenery to boot.  But as is typical with most Hollywood movies, it makes a mockery of the sacred institution of marriage.

Then I found that Julie and Julia was also available for instant download, so I spent my Sunday afternoon watching that while everyone napped.  I had heard it was very uplifting, and indeed it was.  Unlike any secular movie I'd seen in ages, Julie and Julia is a true celebration of marriage.  It follows the lives of both the blogger Julie Powell and Julia Child.  Both women had husbands that were strong, supportive of their wives and deeply in love.  For the first time in a movie, no one cheated on anyone else, the men were not doormats and the women were not either, and their relationships portrayed exactly the kind of interdependency and conflict resolution I believe God intended for married couples.  Both the men and the women give ample public credit to their spouses.  I absolutely LOVED this movie and highly recommend it to anyone.

I'm really blessed to have the strong and happy marriage that I have, but of course it takes work to keep it that way.  We keep our focus on the Lord, work on keeping communication constantly flowing, and we brush up on our skills with seminars, books and Bible studies about marriage every now and then.  One of the best things I think we ever did was attend a Family Life Weekend to Remember back before we had kids.

I picked up two pieces of advice that I have never forgotten.  One is, always remember that you are on the same team.  A good practice when conflict arises is to take a pillow, throw it across the room, and remember that the pillow is whatever issue you are arguing about, but you two are battling the pillow together.  On the same team.  You verses the universe, so to speak.

The second thing I took to heart was the "Marriage is not 50/50" advice.  Everyone in our society thinks marriage should be fair, a partnership of equals where each partner does their "fair share", or 50% of the chores, etc.  That's exactly the  WRONG way to look at it.  Marriage is 100/100...give everything for you spouse. If you are waiting around for him/her to pick up the slack and do their fair share, you will never be happy.  If you are willing to do it all, give 100%, your spouse will see that and give back.  Before we heard that advice we often talked about who wasn't doing "their fair share".  Now that never comes up anymore, and we are MUCH happier.

Got any good movie recommendations or marriage advice to share?  I'm sure we would all benefit!


Family Fourth Fun

This year we celebrated the fourth of July at La Centerra's big backyard BBQ here in Katy.  It was the first year we decided to keep both kids up to see fireworks up close.  They had live music and bounce houses, clowns and balloons.  When it started to get dark we grabbed our chairs and headed over to a crowded grassy spot to set up.  All of the sudden Alex started shrieking and we realized he had stepped into a big fireant hill.  Poor baby...we started moving to the concrete and Nathan was holding the chair covers and then he started crying...ants on the chair covers he was holding.  Disaster!  They both begged to go home but we assured them the ant bites would only hurt for a couple minutes and we should stay.  You will see from the video we obviously stayed and they definitely enjoyed it.


All Good Gifts

Yeah, I'm thinking about Christmas in July.  Something I've been pondering lately is how my family can effectively alter our gift-giving patterns to give more glory to God. For example, our church participates in the Advent Conspiracy every Christmas, which advocates taking the commercialism out of the holiday and instead using the extra money to help build wells where they are needed.  This is really a fantastic idea...in theory.  But in practice it hasn't worked out, and here's why. 

Giving gifts is my primary love language.  I grew up in a household that really celebrated birthdays and Christmas by showering us with presents.  Lots of presents.  We did get a million things in between birthdays and holidays, but gifts were a major part of our celebrations.  So that is ingrained in me and I've come to expect it.  My husband, on the other hand, could care less about a lot of gifts.  This led to many conflicts in our marriage over the past twelve years, but he has finally figured it out. 

One of the biggest problems is that as I imagine Christmas with less presents for my kids from us, I imagine them resenting us for it.  Especially if they still get way more presents from their grandparents. How does that make us look?  And we love to make Santa Claus look good too, but not better than us.  It's all about appearances, which seems ridiculous.  My kids are too young at this point to understand that instead of a billion toys, half of which they will never use, we are providing safe drinking water for people who desperately need it.  On the other hand by not scaling back on gifts now, we are setting them up for certain expectations. 

I have zero answers for this, only that I'm feeling more and more compelled to buy less and give more.  Despite my shopaholism.


Third Grade - Finding a Place I Would Call Home

This is fifth post in a series of blog posts recording memories from my youth.  They are posted every Thursday, so you can look back through my archives to find the rest of them. 

1984 was a good year.  It was the one and only time I've ever been to DisneyWorld.  It is also when I was first given a camera of my own, which would fuel a lifelong passion and eventually become a profession for me.  Epcot had just been built and there were like, eight countries.  I loved Epcot, way more than Magic Kingdom. Perhaps that's because my engineer dad was into all the futuristic techy stuff, and therefore so was I.  When I look back on my childhood I realize it's no surprise I became an engineer, my dad exposed me to all kinds of geeky stuff and made it seem cool.

In third grade I changed schools once again...to Delaware County Christian School, where I would spend the rest of my primary and secondary academic career.  It became my home.  I would argue it is the best evangelical Christian prep school in the entire country.  Unfortunately my third grade teacher, Miss Sink, was not the greatest.  But I was ever the teacher's pet and never had much problem with any of my teachers.  Contrary to my friends' memories, I was not actually taller than Miss Sink, although I was close.  I towered over all my friends.  I made friends that year that I am proud to say are still my friends to this day.  Liz, Kate and Ab especially.  We all live far apart in four different states these days, but thanks to the wonder of Facebook we can stay very much in touch.

Third grade was also the year I learned about sex for the first time.  I very distinctly remember my mom explaining it to me, then going straight to the three people I shared a table with in class about it.  I said it sounded gross, but my three friends (Tab, David and Krista) seemed to already be well-versed in the Christian answers "Oh no, it's natural for married people!"  It's hilarious to look back on now.  And yes, I still keep up with those three people on Facebook too.  Having a small graduating class, most of whom were together through elementary, middle and high school, makes it easy to stay connected.  Also the bond of being raised together in the body of Christ is harder to break.  The DCCS community became...and still is in many ways...like my family.


Favorite Summer Recipe - Buffalo Chicken Dip

works for me wednesday at we are that familySo this is probably actually my favorite recipe... period.  Summer, winter, football season, holiday parties, etc.  Anytime there is a gathering of people, especially co-ed, I make this.  I brought it to our neighborhood Halloween block party the year we moved in and none of them had ever had it before. They all went crazy for it and I've continued making it for our block parties ever since. 


2-3 cans (10 oz) chunk white chicken
1 bottle Frank's RedHot Sauce (or similar buffalo style sauce)
2 packages (8 oz) cream cheese
1 bottle ranch dressing
1.5 cups shredded cheddar

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray a 9x13 baking pan (I actually use Pampered Chef stoneware).  In a bowl, mix the chicken with the hot sauce, then spread it evenly as the bottom layer of the baking dish.  Spread half the cheddar cheese over the chicken layer.  Melt the cream cheese together with the ranch dressing in a saucepan and mix it up well, then pour it evenly over the chicken and cheddar.  Spread the rest of the cheddar on top, cover with foil and bake for about 20-30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Serve it with Tostitos Scoops, celery sticks, pita chips, Triscuits, or anything else!  Sooooo yummy.   

*I tried using blue cheese dressing instead of the ranch.  It tasted good but was REALLY greasy, I find the ranch works much better.


Top Ten Ways to Make Some Quick Cash

Top Ten {Tuesday} So let's say you spotted a new Coach bag in a magazine and you really really want to buy it.  Or maybe you want to upgrade to an iPhone4.  Perhaps your compassionate tween just asked you if he could go on that short-term missions trip with the church.  Or maybe, just maybe, you feel God calling you to open your heart to an orphan in need of a forever family. 

But you just don't have the cash.  Your paycheck gets spent each month on rent, food, utilities, insurance, that unexpected vet bill or getting your A/C fixed in the dead of summer.  So you could just whip out your credit card and sign on the dotted line.  But if the money isn't already in the bank to back up that signature...STOP.  Try one or more of these instead.

1. Babysit! Mention to your neighbors that you would love to babysit their kiddos so they can get a night out and you can build your Coach fund or adoption fund. 

2. Consign! Go through your closet and pull out that dress with the tags still on that you bought a year ago and still doesn't fit.  Also grab those killer stilettos that give you blisters.  Look online and find the nearest consignment shop...they are everywhere!  Some will even pay you cash on the spot for your stuff.

3. Dogwalk! Hang up a flyer on your neighborhood bulletin board and offer to watch/walk someone's dog while they're away on vacation.  It's easy!

4. Garage sale! You know you have stuff you don't need or use that someone else would love.  Books, gym equipment, furniture, home decor...get it all out there on the lawn for quick cash. 

5. Clean! Not your house, somebody else's house.  Make sure you do a good job and word will spread fast.  It's hard work, but people are more than willing to pay for it. 

6. Cut back! One quick way to make money? Cancel your cable TV.  How badly do you want that iPhone? Scale back on your cell phone plan, get rid of your landline, and quit eating out so much. 

7. Freelance! Are you good at math? Put an add on Craigslist offering your tutoring services.  Can you fix computers like nobody's business?  Same thing.  Be a translator, photographer, accountant or personal trainer...Craiglist is a great place to start advertising for free.  Your Facebook page is another place. 

8. Sell stuff! Sell your old cellphones on ebay.  Got some bigger toys your kids have outgrown? Craigslist or ebay.  I prefer Craigslist for anything that doesn't fit in an envelope.  But ya know what sells REALLY well on ebay? Infant formula coupons.  When you get pregnant they send you STACKS of these.  If you breastfeed like I did, you don't need them (hint...generic brands are a WAY better deal even if you do use formula).  I once sold a stack of formula coupons for $50...cash in my Paypal account and all it cost me was a stamp. 

9. Mow lawns!  Rake some leaves.  Clean out gutters.  People like me will always pay other people for manual labor like that.  I don't like to sweat.

10. Donate plasma! Takes about an hour of your time and nets you a quick $30-$60. 

Other ideas I missed?
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