Friday, January 12, 2018

January 2018 . . Looking Back and What's Happening Now

Late is not a great way to start a new year, but I guess that's how it goes sometimes. While my kids were out of school for Christmas break, I sorted out a list of my top 10 posts from 2017 and had every intention of writing them up in a post to kick off 2018. I got busy working on a project I had volunteered to do for my kids' school, though. Then, I lost the motivation to write the post and, suddenly, here we are almost halfway through January. I had basically given up on it, but a couple days ago, Kristi and Kenya announced that they were teaming up and shaking up the Finish the Sentence Friday Linkup that I have always loved. Even better - this week's theme under the new set up is a listicle (for non-bloggers, that's just "fancy" blogging term for a post that is pretty much just a list of something. It makes it sound extra special, no?). That gave me just the little nudge I needed to write the post after all and I decided to include that mini-list in a larger list by turning this into a "Currently" post for January. 

Of course, I'll start by saying that I am currently looking back on 2017. We are less than two weeks into 2018 as I write this, but, still, last year feels like it is pretty far away in the rear view mirror. In the last twelve months, blogging really, really took a back seat in my life. I wrote 33 posts in 2017, averaging about three per month (compared to 41 in 2016 and 106 in 2015 😳). These post would probably, mostly qualify as my favorite posts of 2017, although there are a couple outliers int he group. Since they were my most viewed post, however, I guess, maybe, they are my readers' favorites. 

  1. All The Things I'm Not. This was one I was very hesitant to publish, but it seemed to strike a chord with lots of folks and was shared many times. 
  2. Eight Things a Girl Mom Hates to Hear I guess I'm not the only girl mom who can relate to these! 
  3. My Books to Read in 2017 Confession: I only read three of the eight books on my list. I started two others from the list, but they didn't float my boat after all and I never finished them. However, I did read a couple other books last year, but, much like blogging, my reading ebbs and flows with the busyness of life. 
  4. The Angst of Almost 40 The good news is that I survived turning 40 and it won't be long until I cross over to 41. The bad news is that I still don't like it! 
  5. 40 Totally Random Questions and the Answers You Never Knew You Wanted to Know wins the "What was I thinking with that exceptionally long title?" award and comes in at number five for 2017. I have no explanation for this other than the fact that it was published in January and had more time to get views. 
  6. The Most Important Job In The World The intro for this one speaks for itself. It is and will always be one of my favorites. 
  7. Miles and Miles This post was a lot of random thoughts about miles in my life and my kids' lives. 
  8. Coffee Dates With My Daughter  As much as I may already be looking forward to the end of the school year, I will sure miss these! Next year, she will be driving herself and these precious moments will be no more. 
I'll stop there because the next two on the list are extremely random and certainly not my best. They were just "out there" longer to receive a few more views.
What else I am currently doing?

I've been watching a lot of movies in the theater lately it seems. During December I saw four  which is an astronomical increase! A group from our church watched "The Star." I also saw "Wonder" and "Jumanji" with my kids and "The Greatest Showman" with my family. They were all really, really good. 

Speaking of "The Greatest Showman," I didn't realize when we went to see it that it was a musical, but the songs were so catchy and the movie was amazing. Since we saw it, my kids have been listening to the soundtrack, which means I have been listening to it, too.

I suppose we've all be weathering the weather. We had two weeks of unprecedented cold and today as I write this it is almost 70 outside with a chance of thunderstorms this evening. What?!?!? The thunder is from a cold front that will send temperatures back down to below average over the weekend. After nearly 41 years in North Carolina, I suppose I should be used to this by now!

Finally, I'll say that I'm feeling excited about this new FTSF format. While I don't miss the stress and pressure I used to put on myself to write, I do miss all my blog buddies and the connections that have diminished as many of us have been blogging less lately. Maybe this new setup is a chance to re-commit and re-connect just a little. 😄

I guess this post is better late than never as the old saying goes! I hope all of you had a great new year that that 2018 will hold much happiness and joy for all of us! 


Linking up with Finish the Sentence Friday hosted by Kristi & Kenya

Friday, December 15, 2017

My Christmas Wish List

Have you ever heard of Jordan Smith? He was a contestant on the singing competition show "The Voice" a few seasons ago. I used to be a big fan of the show and I remember watching the episode when he auditioned. ALL the judges turned their chairs and were shocked because Jordan was not at all what they expected based solely on the voice they heard. But, hey! That's the whole premise of the show, right? 

Anyway, I liked Jordan because he represented something different. He wasn't trendy or strapping. He wasn't shy about performing "How Great Thou Art" or "Mary, Did you Know?" in front of millions. Best of all, he seemed completely comfortable just being himself. Based solely on looks, he was the underdog. But, then he sang and his voice was amazing. He went on to win that season in 2015 and last fall (2016), he released a holiday album. I downloaded it and heard the song, "My Grown Up Christmas List," for the first time. Have you ever heard it?

I'm not sure where the song originated, but it has also been performed by Amy Grant, Kelly Clarkson, and Michael Bublè among others. It has become one of my favorite holiday songs, not only because I like the melody, but more so because of the message. As I listen to it, I imagine most of the adults I know would fill their own grown up wish lists with many of the same things . . . . . .

No more lives torn apart by senseless tragedies and violence
No more war
Time would really heal all broken hearts
Everyone would have a friend
Right would always win (If only we could all agree on what's "right")
Love would never end

Sounds pretty great, doesn't it? For my own wish list, I would add . . . . 

Kindness would always prevail
Children would never be hungry or unloved or abused
Everyone would have something to believe in and a little magic in their lives
Of course, if I really got to write up a list and send it off to the North Pole, I would have to ask that jolly old elf for a few, more selfish things, too. I would wish for . . . .

A special eraser to make middle school girl drama disappear
A house cleaning fairy that appears whenever I snap my fingers 
A shopping spree at a few of my favorite stores
A little more time and inspiration for blogging 
A little more time and energy to connect (or re-connect) with friends 
A parenting manual with all the answers I need for raising tween/teen girls
A winning powerball ticket stuffed in my stocking! 

Ha! While some of those would certainly be nice (although perhaps unrealistic), the truth is, my life is overflowing with blessings. I think that, especially at Christmas, when we are bombarded with commercials and advertisements selling us all the gizmos and gadgets we don't really need, it's easy to lose sight of what we already have. The lyrics of this song remind us that there are more important things than just more "stuff." 

I hope that, this holiday season, you are surrounded by many blessings, too. I hope that you can take time to put the hustle and bustle aside and make a little room for peace, love, and joy. I hope that, if you are hurting, you will find healing. I hope that, if you are joy-filled, you will not take it for granted. I hope that you will laugh, smile, hug, and be hugged. I hope that you are safe, warm, and loved.  

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Creative Holiday Gift Ideas for Tweens & Teens

I can vividly remember handing my oldest daughter a Christmas toy catalog when she was about four or five - the first time she could really grasp the concept of "Christmas is coming and I'm going to get presents!" - and asking her to show me some things she wanted Santa to bring her. She sat down at our coffee table and began pointing to at least two or three items per page saying, "I want this! What is it?" Indeed, the greed monster had taken hold and she wanted lots of stuff even though she didn't even know what most of that stuff was or what it did. 

Now, that little girl is 15 and has two younger sisters, 10 and almost 13. As they have gotten older, holiday shopping has gotten increasingly difficult. My kids, in particular, are extremely non-materialistic, which is a fantastic thing 364 days of the year. However, it makes Christmas morning a bit challenging. I begin asking them in November, "What do you want for Christmas?" and their answer if almost always "I don't know," coupled with a heavy shoulder shrug. I can no longer push my cart down the toy aisle at Target and do 75% of my holiday shopping in one fell swoop! 

(In fact, I used to do an annual "Hottest Toys of {Insert Year}" post, but haven't done that since 2014 because I'm no longer in tune with the kids' toy scene!)

So, I've been doing a little internet cruising to find some creative gift ideas for this year and, of course, decided to put them into a blog post to share with anyone else who is struggling for gift ideas, too! 

1. PuraVida Bracelets - These bracelets are all the latest rage and, even better, a part of their proceeds go to various charities. You can pick something out based on your favorite color or based on your favorite cause! There are lots to choose from including animal preservation charities (like Save the Dolphins), awareness charities (like Autism Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness), and health causes (like JDRF for diabetes and many different cancers). 

2.  Himalayan Salt Lamp - Aside from being a cool addition to your teen's bedroom decor, these lamps are said to have positive effects on your health as well, including reduced allergy symptoms, increased energy, and improved sleep. Why not let them do homework by a light that gives off positive vibes?!

3. Sock Subscription Box - Does it seem like your dryer eats socks every time you do laundry? Is your tween or teen constantly asking to borrow socks from you because she's always running out of clean ones? Does he/she love a pair of funky, fun socks? Get them a sock box subscription! Yes, for real! With a subscription to one of these, your teen will receive one or two new paris of socks every month for three, six, or twelve months depending on your choices. Some of them even make donations to charity, too. Interested? Check out Say it With a Sock, Sock Panda, Foot Cardigan, or Society Socks.

4. A Snuggie - No, I'm not joking! Surely you remember these from a few years back. They were often given as gag gifts, but my kids walk around wrapped up in blanket all the time, so why not a blanket with sleeves?!?! Then, they can stay wrapped up while they do homework, eat, and text. 
5. Game of Phones - Kids are always on their phones, right? So, give them something constructive to do! Well, kind of. The website describes this game as: 
"a unique card game that brings smartphones to the party. Everyone grabs their smartphones.One player picks a card and gets to judge that round.The rest of the players have 60 seconds to respond with the funniest, most on point or downright weird thing they can find on their phones."
Game of Phones
6. Chocolate! - Everyone likes chocolate, right? But, what about chocolate with potato chip pieces, bacon, cinnamon cereal, or popping pop rocks? It's amazing and teens (or anyone) will love sampling these fun, high quality creations. Buy single bars or gift box collections! 
Chuao Chocolate
7.  A Personalized Monogrammed Item- I happen to have two very talented sisters in-law who run their own Easy shop. One of their latest products are these fantastic monogrammed t-shirts. They also have caps, bags, and keychains just to name a few. If none of their items appeal to you, do some internet shopping for something your tween/teen would like! 
Lola Darling Designs
8.  Bluetooth Shower Speaker - One of my girls likes to take her device into the bathroom, crank up the volume, and belt out some tunes while she showers. Do you have a teen who does that, too? Then, you need to add this to your shopping list! It can also be used outside, in their bedroom, anywhere they can carry it! This one (and other similar versions) are available through Amazon.
Bluetooth Speaker
 9. Fujifilm Instax mini - Most of today's tween and teens have never had the pleasure of shaking that instant Polaroid photo waiting for it to develop, but now they can! This little camera would be a fun, creative way for them to take pictures (without their phones) and actually have photographs to add to a book or their wall. Available directly from the manufacturer or multiple retailers and comes in a variety of colors.
Fujifilm Instax
10. Love with Food Subscription Box - People always joke about how much teen boys eat, but I've got all girls and I still can't keep the pantry stocked! These girls go through some food, so what better to give them as gift! Each month, they will get a box full of healthy snacks. Gluten free and organic options are available, too, and the company donates meals to hungry children with every box they send! 
Love With Food
11. Zoku Slush and Shake Maker -According to the manufacturer, you freeze the core for 8 hours, then, add the liquid of your choice (juice, coffee, flavored) and stir. Voila! You have a slushie in minutes! This one is definitely a novelty, but it might be a fun way to encourage your teens to try something new!
Zoku Sluch and Shake Maker
12. Selfie Mic - This one actually can be found in the toy sale at Target! The manufacturer recommends it for ages 8+, but I can definitely see all my girls (teens included) having some fun with this one. With a selfie stick attached to a microphone and a free app with millions of karaoke tunes available, it has to be fun! (I even know a few adults who might like this one!)
Selfie Mic
A few slightly less creative, but equally useful and joy-giving ideas: 
  • Clothes - sweaters, jeans, workout gear - whatever floats your teen's boat! 
  • Other subscription boxes - I've listed couple here (PuraVida & Chuao also offer a subscription service), but a quick Google search will turn up tons of others. There's Birchbox & Ipsy for makeup, Enjoy Leggings for leggings (shocker!), Doodle Crate for art supplies, Scentbird for perfume/cologne, Lola for feminine supplies, Harry's for guy's shaving gear, and Book of the Month for the avid teen reader just to name a few. Seriously - that's really just a few of the options.
  • Gift cards - These sometimes seem impersonal, but, really, kids like these as much as anything and you can still get creative. How about gift cards to their favorite restaurant, movie theaters, or their favorite store so they can pick out their own stuff! Got a teen driver? Gift cards to the car wash will help them keep their vehicle in tip top shape!
  • Personal care kits - Around the holidays, you can readily find boxed sets of body wash, hair products, or makeup. If your kids are anything like mine, they go through a lot of this stuff, so why not wrap some up and put it under the tree?!
  • Winter gear - Does he/she need a new coat? Gloves? A fun toboggan? Snow boots? That would make a great Christmas gift!
  • Jewelry - Earrings, necklaces, watches, bracelets - oh my! How about a new monogram necklace or some pretty new earrings? Maybe a new watch or belt for the guys.
  • Experiences - Most of us already have more stuff than we need, so, when you're completely out of ideas for things to give them, step outside of the gift box a little bit and think about something they might like to DO instead. Tickets to a sporting event or concert would be appreciated, I'm sure. Even gifting them a mani/pedi, a yoga class, or a guitar lesson might be something they would enjoy immensely without adding more clutter to their already messy spaces. How about letting them take group of friends to one of the newest "breakout room" challenges or spending a day on the ski slopes? 
Now, I can also assure you that my girls will not be getting everything on this list (but, they're probably reading this so I won't give any hints about what exactly they will be getting!) I am also very aware that this list has a decidedly female slant, but I have three daughters, so that's just how my brain works! Hopefully, even if you have guys in the house, you have found something here that you might not have thought of before.

Either way, just remember that, it's not really about the stuff we give -not the amount we spend or the number of boxes under the tree. It's about the love we put into choosing items or experiences in hopes that the gifts we give will bring joy to the ones we love. (Cheesy, but true!)

Got any creative ideas to add to the list? I'd love to hear them, so type them in a comment! 

**Disclaimer - I have not purchased and/or used all of the items on this list. Therefore, inclusion in this list should not be considered a personal endorsement of any of these products. Please take time to do your own research including analyzing actual customer reviews before choosing to purchase any items listed here. 

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