Monday, December 30, 2013

2014: Toasting a Bright & Shiny New Year

Wishing you hope, love, laughter, success, understanding, clarity and perspective in 2014!
Enjoy the song, I Hope, from one of my favorite bands, the Dixie Chicks. The perfect sentiment for this bright new year.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

From the Archives: Christmas 2009 - Ideal Reality Achieved

Image courtesy of gubgib/
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope that at least some of your Ideal Realities become your Real Realities in 2014. Below is from my archives. Christmas 2009 remains one of my Top 5 Christmas' ever. Enjoy!

We wrapped up an extended holiday season today, just in time to start exploring the new year. Our Christmas celebrations started December 19 and were slated to wrap up on December 26. However, a blizzard of the snowed-in for days variety forced us to postpone the final celebration until today. I enjoyed each family gathering, but it's good to be done.

For the first time in many years, I eagerly anticipated Christmas. Not only are the peeps at an age where they know what's going on, but I got to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with MY family. And by "MY family," I mean it was just me, my husband, and the peeps. No one else. We didn't have to drive anywhere, bring anything, or tolerate anybody else or their holiday rules. The days were all ours. It was my ideal reality come true. A cherished event.

While I'm sure our celebration would not light the world on fire, it was the stuff my dreams are made of. Christmas Eve night we played a pre-pre-school version of Candyland by a semi-roaring fire. Each person got to do a victory dance when they won. When we tired of playing the game, we read "Twas the Night Before Christmas." The peeps sat through the entire story and loved it. Later, the peeps and I snuggled and played on the sofa, and when bedtime arrived the little ladies climbed into bed and drifted quickly off to sleep.

Cartoons in bed and Mark's homemade cinnamon rolls (a new family tradition) sparked our Christmas Day celebration. The peeps opened their presents and oohed and awed over each packaged and the surprise it contained. Hot Wheels. Thomas the Train. A saxophone. A kitchen and shopping cart. Games. Santa was kind to them. Not a lump of coal in sight.

On Saturday, we were stilled snowed in. We romped in the snow (approx. 9 inches!) and drank hot cocoa to defrost. Correction: Mark and I drank it hot. The peeps wanted "coldy" hot cocoa. I don't recommend it, but they slurped it down and wanted more. Late in the afternoon, I snuggled with the peeps under our "magic shawl" and watched "Cars" and "Snow White."

Did we squabble? If we did, I don't remember. Did cabin fever invade our cozy habitat? Yep. By Sunday we were all looking to fly the coop. Regardless, Christmas 2009 will go down in my personal history as one of the rare times that my ideal reality jived with the true reality.

I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, and I wish everyone the best in 2010.

Monday, December 23, 2013

From the Archives: Hey! Unto You a Child is Born!

Recognize that line? It's from the book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, written by Barbara Robinson in 1971. I had forgotten all about this little gem (a tidy 80 pages) until I stumbled upon it in a box of books while gearing up for a personal project I'm going to launch in 2013 (more on that later).

If you haven't read this story, or if, like me, it's been decades since you have, you owe it to yourself to grab a mug of hot cocoa and dive in. Written from a child's point of view, it's a hilarious and realistic take on the Christmas story, complete with cigar smoking, baby burping, and collection plate stealing. It made me giggle, and it sparked my Christmas spirit. It's also a charming example of Real Reality Vs. Ideal Reality.

I must confess: I also like the story because it takes me back to my childhood and my own experiences with the church Christmas play. I was always tapped to play Mary, and my friend, Kurt, suffered the role of Joseph year after year. (To this day, I do not believe this seasonal pairing was a coincidence. I highly suspect his mother had visions of the two of us hooking up in real life.)

In the 80s, the novel was made into a television special, starring Loretta Switt. You can watch it here.


Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

This post originally appeared on My Ideal Reality on December 12, 2012.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Project 2013: The Final Score. Warning: It Ain't Pretty

34 to 171. Almost 20%. 

That’s the final score of my Project 2013 adventure. Obviously, from a numbers standpoint, I blew it. But this project wasn’t purely about the numbers; it was about the experience. It was about making more time for reading, exploring books I might have never given a second glance and finding some new “old” authors to recommend.

You can read about my big idea here, access my Project 2013 Reading List, including my Top 10, here .

I’ll continue picking away at my collection in 2013, but I’m also gearing up for Project 2014. Stay tuned!

Oh! And check out my More Books! page for even more reading recs.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, keep it real.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Countdown to Christmas: The Advent Calendar Wars (Animal Jam Vs. Literacy)

Image courtesy of Feelart /
I’ve never been big on advent calendars. Opening little doors to reveal cheap candy or trinkets? Whoop. Dee. Doo. Where’s the thrill in that? But, when a Facebook friend shared an idea for a literary advent calendar, I thought I’d give this holiday staple another chance. The idea seemed easy enough: wrap 24 books, stack ‘em, open one each day. 
In my Ideal Reality, this non-traditional advent calendar was going to be the perfect new tradition for our bibliophilic (book lovin’) family. We could avoid the proliferation of plastic toys and cheap chocolate (both of which would end up in the trash), spend a few quality moments as a family and give the peeps another opportunity to show off their mad reading skills.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, I scoured thrift shops and the peeps’ bedroom bookshelves for 24 gently used (or forgotten) books that I could quickly wrap and stack. Many of them sport a Christmas theme, but some I included because I knew they would interest the girls. The last book they will open is ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. (I know, very clever and totally original.) I wrapped all the books and had them ready to go by my planned Dec. 1 unveiling. Imagine my delight when the peeps bought into the idea!  

And then, my Real Reality barged in, front-and-center, in the form of Animal Jam. The peeps’ addiction to this kid-friendly online virtual world created by National Geographic Kids is amazing. In all honestly, it is a pretty cool game, especially for animal-loving kids with over-the-top wild imaginations. But, in a move of pure marketing genius, the Animal Jam gods totally trumped my homemade advent calendar by offering one of its own: 24 virtual gifts for the players’ characters. Log on and open one gift a day until the fat man and his reindeer show up. How can my stack of books compete with gems, diamonds, turkey hats and sweaters for fake animals? Seriously. Well played, Animal Jam, well played.

Yes, the girls’ excitement for our advent calendar has waned a bit, but they do continue to show some enthusiasm for unwrapping and reading a new book each night. I’ll take what I can get.

What’s your advent calendar tradition? Share, please
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing … Keep It Real.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

When Creating Traditions, Accidents Should Happen

When I became a parent, I developed this burning desire to create family traditions that would make my baby girls feel warm, safe, loved and special. I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. For the first few years after the peeps were born, I tried to manufacture these occasions based on what other families did. Many of these attempts failed to catch on because our hearts weren’t in them. They weren’t authentically “us.”

I became frustrated, believing we would be the only family on the planet that didn’t have traditions. (Drama much?) I think my desire to create traditions came from the fact that my childhood was, for the most part, devoid of strong family connections. I craved the closeness all of my friends seemed to have with their families, especially around the holidays. As a parent, I vowed to create that bond in my own little family.

After trying so hard, and feeling like I failed, I took a step back and reflected on what I was doing wrong. It was then that I realized our family actually followed several meaningful and fun traditions. I also realized authentic traditions, ones that stick around, can’t be purposefully planned. They just have to happen. In our family, our best traditions are created by accident. And while they may not be unique, they reflect who we are at a given point in time. Interestingly, each tradition is a perfect blend of My Ideal Reality and My Real Reality.

 Here they are:

Homemade cinnamon rolls
One year, while we were still dating, my then-boyfriend/now husband made me homemade cinnamon rolls. If you’ve ever made cinnamon rolls from scratch, you know it’s a time-consuming process. More than 10 years later, the tradition continues, and my husband still makes them. A hot pan of gooey, sweet, sticky, buttery rolls is ready and waiting either Thanksgiving morning or Christmas morning (it depends on our holiday obligations, which vary from year to year). The fact that we only indulge once a year makes them taste that much better. 

Salt dough ornaments
One winter day, when the peeps were about 3 years old, something made me think of these ornaments, which had been the standard classroom craft of school children in the 1970s. I found an easy recipe, and we spent the afternoon cutting shapes and painting them. Four years later, we take a day every winter to make a new batch for their Christmas tree. It’s been fun watching how the girls’ artistic skills have developed over the years. And we’ve named our kitchen: The Meltdown Bakery of Love.

Santa at the Kansas City Zoo
This will be our third year to visit Santa at The Kansas City Zoo. With a predicted high of 20°F on Saturday, this will be a chilly visit (last year, we didn’t need coats!). The zoo’s new penguin exhibit just opened, so we are excited to check that out as well! This tradition started because someone who shall not be named forgot one year that a trip to Santa was a necessary part of the holidays. Oops! By the time this person realized it, most of the Santa sightings had already taken place. Thankfully, we found Santa at the zoo, and he was perfect. And free. We can take our own photos and/or buy one for $5. Deal!

Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting
This was a new adventure for us this year. I don’t know if it will become a tradition, but I hope so. Our little family has had several big events occur recently (all good!), so we decided to celebrate with a Staycation. We booked at room at the Westin Crown Center, which included four tix to LegoLand, four tix to Sea Life and a $20 gift certificate. We spent the day after Thanksgiving exploring and eating. Then, we joined the crowd outside of Crown Center for the annual Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting (100 feet tall!) I’m a Kansas City native, but had never experienced this event before. It was beautiful, fun and the perfect way to start off the holiday season. Then, we camped in our hotel room with dinner, some beers (for me and the husband, NOT the peeps), and some Cartoon Network (for the peeps, NOT for me and the husband).

And there you have it! Our accidentally authentic holiday traditions!

Here is your call to action: Share one of YOUR family traditions and how it came to be (accidental or not)!

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing … Keep It Real.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Now Open For Business: The Meltdown Bakery of Love

Image courtesy of debspoons /
Happy Holidays! Have you started baking up a storm yet? ‘Tis the season, right? This time every year, visions of sugar plums start dancing in my head, egged on by the sprinkled, sugared, powdered, spiced, frosted, glazed and ganached pretties that adorn magazine covers and websites. As I salivate over these images, I find myself thinking, “I could do that! Those would be so easy and fun to make with the peeps! We are totally going to make those!” Every year, I entertain grandiose visions of spending hours in the kitchen with my peeps. Cupcakes, Christmas cookies, layer cakes. We are going to make them all. They will be lovingly – and perfectly – decorated and taste ah-MAY-zing. And we will have a blast creating both sweet goods and sweet memories.

Um … not so fast.

Baking with children (in my case, twins) takes the patience of a saint and someone with very low hygienic standards. I have neither. Hand in the flour jar? Freak out. Fingers in the batter bowl? Freak out. Utensil licking? Freak out. Sticky hands touching everything? Freak out. Yep. Like a stick of butter that’s been sitting out a tad too long, mama melts down, and my Ideal Reality crashes head on into my Real Reality. And it happens Every. Single. Time.

One day, as we embarked on yet another baking adventure, one of the peeps suggested we open our own bakery. “What should we call it?” I asked. She grinned mischievously, but her response was instant, “The Meltdown Bakery. Because you always meltdown.” Nice. In my defense, I highly suspect those people plot to provoke me. Case in point, they devised some sort of point system whereby they earn “points” when I meltdown.

Curiously, The Meltdown Bakery has evolved into a fun connection. When I announce that The Meltdown Bakery is open for business, both peeps go nuts and start setting up their stepstools, asking which bowls we need, pulling out measuring cups and searching for the chocolate chips (regardless of what we are baking). So, I guess on some level, my dream of happy baking with the peeps comes true. We’ve also amended the name of our bakery. We now call it The Meltdown Bakery of Love. Aw. Adorbs.

I’m also granted another chance to try my best NOT to meltdown while baking.

And in case you were wondering … creations from The Meltdown Bakery never leave our house. When I bake something for public consumption, I bake alone.
Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.