All I Want For Christmas

I dropped putting together "Crush Lists" this year, but I thought I'd throw one together here yet at the end of year for old time's sake. Well, full disclosure, these are things I want for Christmas, so you know, had to put it out there in the universe for the hubby and my parents.
1. 14K Yellow Gold Ball Stud Earrings (4mm) - I have my ears double pierced, but haven't worn earrings in the second holes for ages. I want to open them back up again, but there's no way I'm putting anything other than 14K gold in them after being closed for so long. Some small gold balls will go with everything in the interim.

2. Wine Tasting Journal - I'd like to start building back up the old wine collection, and I thought this would be a fun way to get back into it. I'll be able to start jotting down wines I try and like (or don't like) for future reference. This journal intrigued me, as there's a place to put the wine label on the page as well.

3. Minnetonka Kilty Hardsole Mocassins (Dusty Brown | Size 6.5) - Classic and comfortable, and they remind me of my childhood too.

4. Beats Solo3 Wireless Headphones (Rose Gold) - Although I've been enjoying my work's new open concept office, sometimes I just need to drown out the noise. I've been wearing my iPhone earbuds, but after wearing them for hours in my ears sometimes; they really start to bother my ears. Some over the ear headphones should do the trick, and I'm loving the pretty rose gold color.

5. Mother Amazon Linen 23" Pillows (2 of them) - I can never get enough throw pillows, and the color/pattern on these are so right up my alley. I have the perfect spot all picked out for them too.

So, those are some fun things I've been eyeing up. What are you hoping to get for Christmas?


2016 Turkey Trot

Even though we were in Illinois for Thanksgiving this year, we decided to continue our Turkey Trot tradition and participate in the McHenry Turkey Trot for Hospice.
My sister, Brenda, and her two kids did the trot with us this year. It was fun to introduce them to our little tradition, even though it was a lot colder than we've become used to. (Not even 40°F. Geesh!) 
We were sans stroller for the first time this year too, and we didn't even come close to finishing the full 5K. My kids are wimps - they were complaining about being tired and asking to be carried starting about a mile in. Seriously, we were dead last at one point.
Eventually though, we stumbled across the finish line. Hooray!

When I'm in the middle of activities like this, I always think they're more trouble than their worth; but I like that it's a tradition we started with our own little family when we moved to Phoenix. It gets a little easier each year, and I can't wait for the Thanksgiving when we all actually run the whole thing together (and you know...finish it). Hopefully it will be one of those things the kids always remember and continue with their own families some day.

I think the best part of this year's Turkey Trot was that it completely tired Seamus out, and he ended up falling asleep on the floor for about 3 hours when we got home.
It made for a very relaxing Thanksgiving morning. Speaking of which, I spent it watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade and The National Dog Show. All my sisters and their families then joined us at my parents, and we had a really great Thanksgiving dinner. It was fun to catch up, and the kids all had a blast playing with each other. It was definitely a long day, but also, over too quick.


Let's Go To The Movies - Dr. Strange

Bill has a handful of movies he actually wants to see in the theater, and Doctor Strange was one of them. So, we sneaked out to the movies earlier this week while my Mother-in-law watched the kids for us.

Brilliant and arrogant neurosurgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), struggles after a car accident damages his hands beyond medical repair. Unable to accept his operating days are over, he goes on a journey to find the mysterious Kamar-Taj and soon becomes engrossed in mastering the mystical arts and fighting dangers to this world he never even knew existed.

Bill wasn't the only one excited to see Dr. Strange, and although I was unfamiliar with the character, I'm always up for a fun super hero flick and Benedict Cumberbatch has become a favorite of mine over the years as well (hello, Sherlock!).

So, how'd I like it?

Spoiler Alert:  I fell asleep!

Which is not to say it was a bad or boring film necessarily, mostly, I think I was just overly tired.  It has a good story concept and the visual effects are pretty amazing. However, it brings up a more interesting topic which is that I used to love these Marvel movies, but as I've grown, and Marvel's saturated the market with their comic book character films; I'm starting to watch them with a much more critical eye. And I don't necessarily like what I'm seeing.  There's been a trend in these films to have these amazing and talented actresses continually play small supporting roles to their "Superhero" male counterparts. Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man. Natalie Portman in Thor. Evangeline Lilly in Ant Man. Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy. Scarlett Johansson in every single Avengers movie. And now, Rachel McAdams in Dr. Strange. They occasionally have their action moments, but their primary purpose in these films has always been to love and support their hero. I know these films are based on established comic book characters that, in most cases, are decades old, but maybe it's time to change the narrative?

Or at least, don't cast award caliber actresses to play these two-bit parts. Rachel McAdams was nominated for an Oscar for Spotlight last year and follows that up with the tiniest of tiny parts in Dr. Strange? I don't get it. I don't get why they cast her and I don't get why she'd take the part (other than they hopefully threw millions and millions of dollars at her and she laughed all the way to the bank).

Thank goodness for Tilda Swinton. Her role as the Ancient One in Dr. Strange was the most interesting character of the film. I would have loved to see her character's origin story versus that of Doctor Strange. I mean, she totally kicked ass; and she was completely bald! No resting on pretty for her, thank you very much.

Superhero films have a much broader audience now than just those that read the comics, and I think it's time Marvel stepped up in their portrayal of women in these films accordingly. Seriously, why hasn't Black Widow gotten her own movie by now?

And since I'm asking questions: Why would I want to take my daughter to see any of these films? What message do they send my son?

I know I've strayed a bit from reviewing Doctor Strange (which ultimately I think was just okay), but I do feel quite strongly Marvel studios needs to make some changes, or they'll be left behind (at least by me).  DC Comics has their Wonder Woman feature coming next year (which looks amazing), and the Star Wars reboot has done a great job featuring women in both starring and/or equal screen time roles; so it can be done and done really well. It's hard not to see it as a conscious choice Marvel is making, and I'm afraid I can't support that choice anymore.

Also, Benedict Cumberbatch is not nearly as appealing with an American accent.


Touring Milwaukee - The Domes

We're in Wisconsin and Illinois for Thanksgiving this week. Even though these trips are primarily about family, we still try to hit up some sort of tourist attraction each time we go. This time we went to The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory in Milwaukee aka The Domes. Amazingly, in all my years in Milwaukee, I had yet to check this place out. Since it was pretty cold day, or rather, colder than we're used to now that we've lived in Phoenix for 3 years, we thought it would be a fun little indoor activity for the day.
Here's the gist...there are three domes and each one celebrates the plant life of a different climate area.

First up, was The Tropical Dome.
It was humid in this one, which was a great way to warm us up after coming in from the cold. I was definitely digging this dome - so lush and green. There were little paths to stroll along and Koi ponds too! Also, is it just me, or do the domes totally remind you of the Hunger Games? Great place to go to bring out your inner Katniss Everdeen.
Next up, The Desert Dome. Which, for us, funnily enough, just looked like home. It's actually getting hard to remember a time when things like cacti and palm trees were not part of our everyday landscape.
The last dome is The Show Dome. It changes throughout the year, and for our visit, it was all decked out for Christmas!
 It was like strolling through a forest that had been decorated by woodland animals.
So natural and simple; I just loved it.
So, that's The Domes. It's inexpensive, there's room to roam, fun for all ages, and is really visually interesting too.  It was a nice way to get us out of the cold for a little bit and spend some time together as a family.

I miss you, Milwaukee!


Good TV

Is anyone watching Good Girls Revolt on Amazon? It looks so good.

I'm putting this on my "Shows to Watch" list. I mean, come on. The clothes alone make this one worthy of a watch.  Anna Camp (a favorite of mine from True Blood and Pitch Perfect) is one of the leads, plus, Grace Gunner (aka Meryl Streep's super talented daughter) plays Nora Ephron! Besides all that, it looks like an incredibly interesting story too. It's based off the real life lawsuit that the women of Newsweek brought against their male bosses. Go Feminism!!


Book Report - Homegoing

I kept seeing Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi popping up all over as one of the best books of 2016, so I was intrigued and wanted to see if it was worth all the hype.
In eighteenth-century Ghana, two half-sisters lead incredibly different life paths - one sold into slavery, the other married off to a British slave-trader. Following each sister's descendents from generation to generation across hundreds of years, Homegoing delves into the cruelty of slavery and its everlasting effect on a family.   

Homegoing was a very serious book, and it was seriously good too. It's a heavy subject matter, but I found it extremely interesting and compelling throughout. The author uses an unique writing style whereby each chapter is another generation's story (i.e. each chapter is about the child of the person of the previous child). It's this technique that allows the story to span hundreds of years in only three hundred(ish) pages. The stories are good too. Which brings me to my only complaint about the novel...I wanted more! The author was able to create such compelling characters and arcs for each character in such a brief amount of time, that I was often sad when their story would end at the conclusion of the chapter. Sometimes they would pop-up again in their child's story, but many times their one chapter was literally...all she wrote. 

The novel also offers up an interesting perspective on slavery. It takes place in Ghana, and one story follows the tribes there that actually warred with and kidnapped members of other tribes to sell to the slave traders. It was almost a way for them to save themselves, and I wasn't aware that that ever even happened. The story of the side of the family sold into slavery followed the history of slavery I was more familiar with - the slave boats, plantation life, and their journey to freedom, but not necessarily equality. The novel reminds us that slavery is not just something that happened in the history books and is over and done with now. It's effects have stayed with these families through generations, and it's something the African American community still carries with them to this day. In these uncertain times, it's important to remember the atrocities committed against them (and others) in this country and continue the fight for true freedom and equality for all.


The Grass Is Greener In This Yard

Back in May, I told you how we tore out the back walkway that went from the patio to the pool (see here). Remember, it used to look like this.
Then, we jackhammer-ed the cement stones up, and it sat like this for months. Pretty, right? And you know, not at all dangerous for a 3 and 5 year old to run around.
So, we decided to spring for winter grass this year (that's a thing here in Phoenix - summer grass and winter grass) and worked with a lawn care company to level out the path and seed it in early October.

Now it looks like this!
So, much better, right? I love that there's no disruption to the yard now. We usually always where flip-flops out to the pool too, so I'm not really concerned about not having a path to there anymore. We may lay some sort stone path yet, but for now, I'm so happy with the all grass look.
I'm also happy that the temperature has finally dropped and we get to spend time outside again. The kids just let themselves in and out of the house to play, and I actually get a little bit of quiet time in the house again. Yay!


Let's Go To The Movies - Trolls

Since we weren't home for Madeleine's birthday, we decided to take her and a couple of friends to see the new movie, Trolls over the weekend for a belated celebration.

When her friends are kidnapped, Poppy, the happiest troll ever, (Anna Kendrick) enlists the help of the curmudgeonly troll, Branch (Justin Timberlake) to save them before they are eaten up by the monstrous Bergens.

As an adult watching an animated film with my kids, my number one concern is that they're enjoying it; but if possible I want to enjoy too. Certain studios (cough, Disney, cough, Pixar) are really good at making animated films that appeal to all. Their story lines resonate in some way with everyone and they're good at adding subtle humor here and there that may go over a kid's head, but is appreciated by adults in the audience.

That being said, Trolls is a really great animated film...for kids.

The movie was insanely colorful (like borderline psychedelic), quality animation, and really fun music too (we've already picked up the soundtrack). It was the story that didn't quite cut it for me though. The overall message was good (aka happiness comes from within), but it was pretty juvenile in its delivery. Don't get me wrong, that's totally fine for a kid's movie. But most likely, you're going to have to sit through this with your kids, so it's worth making the distinction. Your kids will probably love this movie, mine totally did. But you, well...maybe you will, maybe you won't. I thought it was just okay, but it did thoroughly entertain my kids; so like I said, great movie...for kids.  

I was also really excited for the cast - Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Gwen Stefani, James Cordon, and Russel Brand! Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake were outstanding. I could seriously listen to Anna Kendrick sing all day (seriously, the soundtrack to this film is better than the actual film). But I was a bit bummed about all the others. Most of their parts were all so small and immemorable it really wasn't worth their talents. The only one that had a decent sized part was Zooey Deschanel as the Bergen, Bridget; but, to me, it didn't sound like her natural voice, so it never registered with me that it was even her.

Finally, I hate to say this, but it really felt like this movie was just put together to sell toys. I know a good animated film is a goldmine as far as toy licensing is concerned, but ideally, your primary goal should be to first make an outstanding animated film that people love so much they want more of - then it makes sense that the toys follow. I was seeing Trolls toys in the stores months before the movie was even out. What do you guys feel about that? Is it jumping the gun, or expected nowadays? I've already seen Moana toys out for awhile now too, so Dreamworks is certainly not the only studio guilty of this.

Okay, so that's all I have to say about Trolls. I seriously did not mean for this review to end up so negative when I started it, and I realize I'm probably being way too hard on the film. I probably should have just said, "It was a colorful little movie that your kids will enjoy" and left it at that.


A New Frame Of Mind

I'm still working on the finishing touches for Seamus's room. I've started putting together a little gallery wall for him, which always takes forever. It's such a pain to get all the artwork to the framers, and it's expensive too.

I kept seeing posts and ads for Framebridge, so I decided to give them a try. If you're not familiar, Framebridge is an online framing service. You pick your frame, enter the dimensions of your piece, mail it to them, and they frame it and mail it back to you. There's free shipping both ways, and it's very affordable.

I decided to try it out on one of the bigger pieces I had in my stash. I purchased this campfire print from the Land of Nod. It's 16x20, so to frame through my usual route would be really, really expensive. Through Framebridge (with a coupon code), it was only $85. Now I know that's not nothing, but to frame a piece of this size, that's a really decent price.
I'm really happy with how it turned out. I chose the "Irvine" frame for a nice clean, crisp look. I can't wait to do the rest of my pieces and hang them all up.

Note: On my forever art pieces I tend to spring for the museum quality glass. Framebridge offers only acrylic. It's fine for these pieces or if you're on a budget, but if you're able to, there's nothing quite like museum quality glass for a framed piece.

Just for the record, this was not a paid for or sponsored (I wish). I think this is a good service, so I just wanted to share.


Book Report - Charlotte's Web

I'm still numb from the results of the election, so I think all I can muster up today is quick book report post. When real life is too surreal and sad, reading is great way to escape for a little bit. I recently read Charlotte's Web by E.B. White to Madeleine. I wasn't planning on counting it as one of my books for the year, but when we read it a second time (that's how much she enjoyed it), I realized it's more than worthy of a place on my list.
Charlotte's Web tells the tale of a little pig, Wilbur, who longs for friendship. Born the runt of the litter, Wilbur is saved by a little girl named Fern. When he gets too big for Fern to take care of anymore, he goes to live at her Uncle's farm. There Wilbur struggles to fit in with the other farm animals until he meets a wise spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur learns what his fate as a farm pig actually means, Charlotte promises to save him. She starts spinning words into her web showcasing what an extraordinary pig Wilbur is thereby changing his life forever.


There really isn't much more that has to be said other than that, but I'll give it a go. Charlotte's Web is a story for children that deals with some really adult concepts - love, friendship, and death. The fact that it's able to explain these concepts so clearly, all the while maintaining a childlike innocence perfect for all ages is probably the top reason Charlotte's Web has stood the test of time. It's simple, yet complex. It's familiar and comforting. It's funny and sweet. It's perfect.

As far as reading this out loud to Madeleine, it went really well. I wasn't sure if she had the attention span or the comprehension skills yet, but we gave it a go. We'd read a chapter each night, and then I'd ask her questions about what we read to make sure she was following the story. It was funny because there were many times I thought she wasn't paying attention at all, but then I'd ask her questions and she'd actually know all the answers. It also gave us a lot of interesting things to talk about outside the story, and of course, we totally cried together at the end of the book. I'm glad we were able to experience it together and I'm looking forward to reading together like this more and more.


Wedding Weekend - Pennsylvania

We just got back from a long weekend spent in Western Pennsylvania for a family wedding. It was so nice to see the family and especially fall colors again!
Buhl Park in Sharon, PA
We actually flew into Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday night, rented a car, and drove the rest of the way (about 75 miles) to our hotel in Sharon, Pennsylvania. We got in late and pretty much just checked-in then went straight to bed.

Friday morning we met Bill's mom, step-dad, and brother in the hotel lobby for breakfast. Bill got a last minute invite to go shoot Sporting Clays with the groom, so the kids and I hung out with my inlaws.

We drove through the city and got to see the house my mother-in-law grew up in and other favorite spots about town. We went to Daffin's Candies, which claims to be the world's biggest candy store. I was fully expecting the equivalent of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, so was quite disappointed with the place in actuality. It had a lot of candy, but no personality. So, a bit of a bummer for me, but the kids had fun exploring and picking out candy too.

Next, it was onto Buhl Park which was absolutely beautiful. The fall colors were on full display and the kids were able to run around and get all their crazy energy out.
The park had a fun little fitness trail that we walked along for a bit. It was fun to see the kids doing something that their dad used to do when he was their age. 
After the park we had lunch at Eat'nPark home of the famous Smiley cookie!

We met back up with Bill at the hotel and by that time the rest of his siblings were rolling into town. We pretty much took over the lobby of the hotel for the rest of the night. We had a little birthday party for Madeleine and her two cousins - cake, presents, and pizza. It was nice to relax and visit with family we haven't seen in some time.
Saturday was the wedding! The kids went to the ceremony, but then Bill's Aunt arranged for a babysitter to watch all the kids during the reception. It was fun to get dressed up with Bill and have some grown-up time. We ate, drank, and danced the night away. We also had Amish donuts, which were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!
Sunday was our last day in Pennsylvania, but we made the most of it. After breakfast we stopped at Kraynaks to check out their annual Christmasland decor. 
There were a ton of different trees, stuffed and animatronic animals, and tchotchkes galore. I absolutely adored this place and wish I could have gone back by myself to really check out all the little details of the displays as well as roam their aisles and aisles of Christmas ornaments, decor, and toys.
After that we headed to Bill's Uncle's house for one last visit with the family before driving back to Cleveland to catch our flight home.

It was a jam-packed weekend full of family, fall, and lots of fun too. The best part is, we get to see everybody again in a few weeks for Thanksgiving. Yay!


Madeleine's 6th Birthday Recap

Madeleine turned 6 recently, and for the first year ever, we did not throw her a party. It doesn't mean we still didn't celebrate though. We were going to be travelling on her actual birthday for an out-of-town wedding, so we had a little celebration the night before instead.
She picked the dinner - pepperoni pizza, and I picked up fancy cupcakes from Gigi's for dessert.
Needless to say they went over quite well.
The flavors were Birthday Surprise (above), Texas Milk Chocolate (below), S'Mores, and Pumpkin Spice Latte.
Then it was time for presents! Madeleine is super into Pokemon right now. She loves collecting the cards. So, from Seamus, she got a bag full of Pokemon cards, a Pokemon toy, and a Pikachu T-shirt too.
And from Mom and Dad, she got a tablet, which was the only thing she asked for. I was on the fence whether to give her one or not, but we decided with a few rules attached she would be able to handle it. We chose the Kindle Fire Kids Edition for her.
We had taken it out of the box, pre-loaded all her favorite apps, and set the parental controls. It's a pretty decent deal for a kids tablet - inexpensive (you can usually find the 16GB version on sale for $79 throughout the year), has a 2-year guarantee if they break it, and comes with a 1-year membership to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited which has a ton of books, movies, etc. for kids.
All-in-all, it was a fun and low-key family celebration. We spent her actual birthday on a flight to Cleveland. I told Madeleine to tell the flight attendant it was her birthday and they may give her something. It's never too early to learn you always get free stuff on your birthday, right? They gave her a big bag of candy and had the entire plane sing Happy Birthday to her too. It was pretty cool.

Happy Birthday, Madeleine! I can't believe you're six. The toddler years are officially behind us and you're a bona fide kid now, and a pretty awesome one at that.


2016 Halloween Costumes

I'm not sure there were ever two kids as excited as Madeleine and Seamus were on Halloween when it finally came time to go Trick-or-Treating. As far as costumes, Madeleine decided to be Captain Jake from the Disney Jr. show, Captain Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Seamus wanted to be a ghost. Not just any ghost mind you, but a ghost with eye holes and arm holes. For months we've been hearing about it from him, so it was fun to finally put it together. Adorable, right?
Seamus kept walking around wiggling his fingers and saying, "oooh." He loved it. Unfortunately, it was better in theory than actuality. Whenever he would look down while walking the eye holes would shift and he couldn't see. He lasted about two blocks in it, before we just ditched it and he did the rest of his Trick-or-Treating in a white shirt and shorts. Good Grief!
I'd like to say Madeleine fared better, but she had already ditched the bandana and boots before we even got out the door. A few blocks in, I was holding her hat for her. Then, finally, she was so hot, that the jacket came off too. That's Trick-or-Tricking for you in Phoenix.
All-in-all, they only lasted about a mile before they were begging to come home. Lightweights these two. Oh well, at least they're cute.
They also made out like bandits. Both of them almost completely filled their pumpkins.
 We're going to be eating Halloween candy until Christmas!
So, there you have it; another Halloween in the books. How was yours? If you have kids, what did they dress up as? What did you dress up as? One of these years I plan on going all out on a Halloween costume for myself; like full on Comic-Con worthy. Someday.

P.S. See the kids in costume from the last few years: Halloween...Finally! | 2015 Halloween Costumes