I Always Feel Like... Somebody's Watching Me!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Not Exactly Christmas Music

Elliot and I spend a lot of time in retail space. We aren't shopaholics... but we use stores as more of an indoor playground when it is miserable outside and we have the daily two hours of Jackson's preschool to kill.

For anyone with a restless toddler, may I suggest a Hallmark store... as long as you can handle the risk of possible broken knick knacks.

We marveled over the ornament selection the other day, enjoying non traditional Christmas music: the Hamster dance song. It is very popular in our house. Obviously....

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I think I have waited long enough...

 No excuses now, I have undeniably fallen off of the blogger train. I miss it. I miss writing incessantly about myself... I mean, uh, sharing my life in written form. I have to somehow put this element of my day back together, while my life is whizzing by at incredible speed.

 You miss me too, right?

 Do you miss my unapologetic political posts now that the election is over? (Whew.) Probably not.

 Regardless, I wanted to wait a few weeks before posting this adorable picture that Ayla drew. She had been learning the "facts" about our Presidential candidates in school and was very interested in the entire process. We didn't coach her in political theory or discuss who we were voting for until she asked. (Although I am sure she was curious why I was yelling at the tv for awhile there.)

 Now - there is nothing I find more distasteful than a kid spouting off political beliefs, only to parrot what they hear their parents talk about (informed or not). It's pretentious and silly. They don't have a real-world application for any of that information. I have even been asked, "Wouldn't you be horrified if your kid had different political beliefs when they grew up?". Maybe, but mostly no. If Jackson grew up to vote against women's equality, it would certainly hurt my feelings. But I would rather they think for themselves than just automatically accept the family way of thinking.

 I interpret this picture to be a little girl's awe and respect for what it means to be PRESIDENT. Such a huge job, bigger than her first grade teacher even! Ayla drew this before the election. Kids should get excited about that. They deserve to believe in America and our history - if only to grow up and realize that is it much more complicated than that.

 And if you are wondering where Ayla and President Obama are hanging out? It's at our favorite waterfall park ...which is maintained by state funds, uh oh!!!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Quotable Preschooler

 My oh my, it has been forever since I have sat down at the computer to write a post. It's not that I haven't sat down at the computer - but my "turn" doesn't usually last very long with Jackson wanting to watch Annoying Orange videos and Elliot yelled "MELMO!" (Elmo) and pulling me away.

 Anyone with children knows that they don't need you - until you try to accomplish something of your own. Or try to make a phone call. Therefore emails, blog posts, bill paying, reading articles, deciphering sewing instructions, even listening to Pandora isn't possible for more than a few uninterrupted minutes.

 So that's my excuse.

 But I thought I would come back for an important post.

  Politics, you ask? Nah. I think I have angered enough people on facebook for this year's election. (Although I would be curious to know who just couldn't handle it anymore and has my posts hidden.)

 Big news? Not really. We are doing just fine with the daily drama of school, work, meals and playground time. Gregory is a bonafide air traffic controller and my little sewing business is keeping steady.

 Funny quotes? Yes, indeed.

 We have a great relationship with Jackson's preschool teacher - she is simply an awesome person! Ayla was in her class two years ago, and I cannot believe we have already been in Buffalo long enough to be returning to familiar preschools. Anyways, she is always relaying the weird statements that Jackson feels necessary to share in school. Such as, "My other name is Obama." (Oh NO! I went political!!!)

 Last week, Jackson gave everyone a little lesson in biology... and maybe the facts of life along the way. He told his teachers that he lived in my tummy (true) and when he came out he was bloody (true) and then we put a big piece of bloody meat in a dish (ummmmm). What our little man is referring to is, in fact, a placenta. He has seen the slideshow from our hospital visits and believe it or not, the image of a placenta just stuck in his mind! Go figure!

 The thing is, when my kids ask me awkward questions about the body and birth and all of those sensitive subjects we're not supposed to talk about: I try to answer without stigmatizing the whole thing. I firmly believe that Jackson should grow up to be a man that isn't "peeved out" by real information about women. We are going to have enough trouble fighting sexism, airbrushed images of fake women in magazines, and much much worse.

 Therefore I fully admit that Jackson has seen a picture of a placenta. But I guess I should firstly admit that we HAVE a picture of a placenta. If you've ever seen one in real life, it's pretty amazing! It kept my kids happy and well-fed for nine months before they stopped breathing water and came out into the world.

  We are very lucky to have a preschool teacher that just goes with the flow and nods her head when Jackson starts talking about bloody pieces of meat. Because, honestly, I am sure it's just going to keep happening!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

My Budding Artists

  Introducing art work by Jackson Abell!

 The drawing-painting-gluing-coloring obsession has taken another one of my children and he is now scribbling his way through stacks of paper the same way Ayla has been doing for years. Once he figured out how to draw his stick people, he has been creating his own "art" and posting it on the refrigerator himself. 

 Nearly half of our dining room walls are covered with Ayla's artwork from school and it looks like we will have to devote the other half to Jackson. (And Elliot isn't too shabby with the watercolors, either!) Plus - when I am in my sewing closet, trying to punch out another cloth diaper, they are nearly an assembly line of creators. They bring me drawing after drawing, often with glittery glue or most recently, with Ayla's real hair taped to the portrait. She is starting to become a genuine tortured artist - ripping out her own hair for the sake of artistic vision! 

 Please enjoy these people created by Jackson. Especially the one of the baby being thrown into the pot. :) 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A "Bunch" of Weirdos

 This is the story of how my kids turned a boring dinner into a laugh-until-you-almost-pee-your-pants ordeal.

 I was feeling a little frustrated and annoyed with my day...we were in the middle of Gregory's work week of night shifts. My least favorite part of being alone with the kids at dinner is that after all the stressful prep, fielding their pleas for snacks and little hands stealing food from the cutting board; is that when we finally do sit down... they seem to lose interest in eating. We can sit there with Jackson for a half hour, begging him to just FINISH YOUR DINNER. Elliot also loves to stand in his little chair, making it bounce dangerously and giving me heartburn while I try to feed him macaroni and cheese.

 But, somehow, the mood was turned around with a bunch of broccoli. A camera, some vegetables and our weird personalities made finishing dinner that night a ridiculously funny experience. Apparently the weirdo gene is a dominant one, because we have certainly spawned a bunch of lunatics. Often, I find myself getting frustrated because I cannot keep these kids on a schedule or really get anything done in a timely manner. But such is the nature of childhood - who am I to complain when they would rather take absurd pictures of broccoli than just finish up and get onto the next task? Thanks, my children, for keepin' it real.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Total Eclipse of the Sun

Thanks to my Mom and my Aunt Mitzie sending me seeds for a tropical egg plant about six months ago, I now have my own strange looking fruit-bearing plant in the midst of oregano, tomatoes, peppers and kale.

This might qualify me as a crazy plant lady, willing to grow anything green without promise of real fruit or flowers. My neighbors have already caught me talking and apologizing to my porch garden for sometimes negligent care.

I promise you the seeds were sent from Florida and didn't just "appear" at a exotic plant stand during a "total eclipse of the sun". (If you aren't already following the Little Shop of Horrors reference, there's no need to explain it to you.)

But this little seedling turned into quite the interesting plant! It hasn't talked or ask for blood, it is just producing cute little egg shaped fruits that (according to more plant nerds on the internet) promise to taste like cantaloupe.

Seems innocent enough, right?

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Monday, August 6, 2012

Learn How to Snoop

  Do you look in the medicine cabinet when you are in the bathroom at a friend's house? Do you survey bookshelves and pictures on the wall? Do you make quick judgements about them? Does a clean house give you the impression that a person is neurotic or open to new ideas? If you were to survey a strangers bedroom - would you be able to tell if that person were male or female or extraverted, for that matter?

 Why do I ask, you ask?

 I recently finished the book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You. The author, Sam Gosling, has researched personality and how we interpret or display our attributes through our stuff. Where we put our stuff, in what rooms of our homes and where on our work desks we place family photos (if we do at all).

 While many people would say that "stuff" is not important, it is interesting to research why we hang on to things and how we decide what to do with them. If you think about it, decorating the spaces around us is very unnecessary. Paint color on the wall doesn't make it safer or more sturdy. Hanging pictures is then actually destructive to those same walls! Do we need fancy patterned sheets or to keep books after we have finished them? All of these aesthetic efforts are part of our overall effort for self-expression.

 Duh, I know. But not everyone realizes why exactly they conform their spaces to make it feel more like "home". It is either an important form of displaying your values or just a perfunctory duty to put stuff in a room. I have seen people in cheesy furniture showrooms who literally bought everything on display: down to the weird napkin rings and stock art.  Personally, that would be a nightmare. I couldn't think of anything less welcoming. Yes - I always oooh and aahhh at the Ikea displays and take note of how the colors are mixed together. But I realize that it's important to me to have a high percentage of personal items on display, things that the author would call mood regulators. Reflections of my family and my experiences make me happy. Prints of random flowers and beach scenes do not.

 The book reads much like a textbook because the author gives an overall recap of personality research. Studies of hoarders. personal websites, office spaces, front porches and bathroom cabinets. It's fascinating what you can tell about a person if you are looking for the right clues. Think about a world where you wouldn't interview for a job, but the potential company would come and inspect your bedroom. They would be able to tell if you were agreeable or honest based on your bedside table.

 One of the more interesting sections was about the types of quotes that people include at the bottom of emails. (I know this was a more popular thing to do five years ago, all of this research was done before Facebook exploded.) You can tell a lot about a person in that simple gesture.

 So, if you are like me and stay up way too late reading at night, this is an interesting read!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Friendliest Birthday Boy in the World

I cannot explain how it happened... but Elliot is turning 2 years old tomorrow. He is running at almost Olympic-like speeds, playing jokes on us and expanding his vocabulary every day. His favorite phrase is an emphatic, "Hey... that's mine."

And this boy loves being outside and riding in the car. Today, he was happier just sitting in his carseat for twenty minutes before we were ready to leave.

Happy Birthday Elliot! I have never known a more social baby... his cute little face makes friends everywhere we go!

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Libraries are for Reading?

When we first moved to Buffalo, I visited all of the nearby libraries searching for our best fit. It was difficult to find a suitable substitute for Sewickley... with their fun storytime and separate upstairs children's wing (less shushing by all involved!).

The Clarence library has fun kids programs, a beautiful building, Lego club, Quaker religious meetings (kind of cool, right?) and a nice corner set aside for raucous "readers".

Obviously I should have put all my focus into finding acrobatic equipment! At least Ayla was enjoying the books! One reader down... two to go.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Flavors of Summer

 It's hot and I am THIRSTY! Good thing I live in New York and have plentiful supplies of soda water everywhere I turn.

 This is my official nerd post featuring Polar Seltzer's summer flavors. The only one missing from this photo is Ginger Lemonade (really... it's as if they are reading my mind). Mint Mojito is absolutely divine and I am seriously considering my own soda water stockpile in the basement.

 I'm not saying this stuff is better than a beer on a sweltering hot day... but it's pretty close!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mother of the Year

 When I have a less than stellar moment of parenting, I always hear the lyrics to "Little Girls" from Annie circling in my head. Miss Hannigan sings, "...I'm an ordinary woman, with feelings...So how come I'm mother of the year?" (Serious Annie fans, I hope you are also singing along right now!) I might as well be wearing silk pajamas, ten dangly necklaces and letting my frizzed out bedhead hair catch the string hanging from a solitary lightbulb. Because sometimes I feel no better than dear Miss Hannigan.

 If you are super-judgey and living under the pretense that you are an awesome parent 110% of the time, feel free to read no further and continue on with your amazing life. 

 Whilst on our vacation in Minnesota - we were in the early preparations of bedtime, a process that can sometimes last for hours. I was down in the basement with Ayla and Jackson. Teeth were brushed, nails were clipped and general messiness was being wiped away. We came back upstairs and I asked, "Where is Elliot?"

 Then: DING DONG, the doorbell rang.

 Where was Elliot, indeed?

 Only walking across the street, pushing an empty stroller, sporting a bloody toe. And a poopy diaper. Not to mention he was the happiest toddler in the world.

 A kind neighbor saw him strolling along and thought we might want him back.

 Elliot managed to slip past three older cousins, two aunts and one uncle. He let himself out the back kitchen door, down the deck stairs, around the house and was apparently ready to explore the neighborhood. Cue music: "... Someday I'll land in the nuthouse, with all the nuts and the squirrels!"

 Luckily, it wasn't dark yet and Elliot hadn't made it further away from the house. Luckily, I still have custody for God's sake! I am lucky for a thousand and one reasons and don't think for a second that I don't realize this could have been a much scarier situation.

This is where I would like to keep this guy all day long!

 I share this story to hopefully lower the bar of expectations for parents of young children. They are insanely curious and always two steps ahead of us! Don't beat yourself up if you sometimes look at your life and wonder if you would be better suited as an evil ward of an orphanage, stirring gin in your bathtub.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cousins, Friends and Countrymen

 Blog? What blog? With the warm weather, sewing projects, summer vacation, gardening and subsequent large quantities of zucchini to cook - my writing has taken a literal 50th seat behind all of my other priorities. It's not that I don't want to write, it's just that I seem to run out of time (and energy) every day. (Case in point: during the course of writing this first paragraph, my kids fought and bit over Legos, fell and scraped a forehead and screamed bloody murder instead of taking a nap.)

 And after a month of internet silence: where does one begin again? I can't just write about an ordinary day of weeding. Although, when I think about it, I have devoted posts to that very thing in the past.

 So I shall begin with our recent road trip to and from Minnesota, with stops in Chicago to visit friends from college. I was first inspired to take this trip out to Rosemount, MN to party with my brother in celebration of his 40th birthday! Before last month, Ayla and Jackson had not seen their cousins for almost three years. Then.... knowing that I would be driving through Chicago, I was graciously hosted by Sara and Shane on our way out, and then Amy and Phil on our way back. In one trip, I managed to catch up with three different families (and meet their newest additions).

 What makes me totally insane is that Gregory was not able to take this trip with us. Four days of driving with three little kids in the car? No amount of highway bingo, library books, snacks or movies can keep roadtrip insanity away while logging 32 hours in the car. Thankfully, my sister was with us for 3 days of driving: my only solo stint was from Buffalo to Chicago on the first day.

 We celebrated my brother's 40th in frat-party style - beer pong, quarters, the "ice luge" and some fake mustaches. Needless to say, the kids had their own party downstairs with pizza and movies. Not only was it fun for me to spend time catching up with my family and friends - my kids really loved playing with "new" friends at every stop.


When one mustache isn't good enough...

 Adding three kids to any household is always a literal madhouse, but they managed well (enough). Sure, Jackson spent some time being kicked out of girl-time and crying his eyes out - but it's no different than at home! It was absolutely adorable to watch Ayla, Jackson and Elliot bond with their cousins and friends.
In the stunning botanical room at Chicago's Navy Pier - with Evie, one of our gracious hosts!

The minivan at nearly full capacity with five kids!

Cute cousins.

 The most quotable moment was at my brother's house, while all of the kids were swinging together and hanging out in the backyard. Ayla and Troy (who are only 2 months apart in age) seemed to be connecting. They were swinging side by side, and then Troy started pushing Ayla in her swing. Then we all heard in his cute, little voice, "Does your bike have twaining (training) wheels?". This is what six year olds would talk about at dinner parties!

 Now we have returned safely to Buffalo and are surviving every day of intense heat. I hope to keep you updated with posts about the garden, summer festivals, blueberry picking and trips to the wading pool.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


 What exotic plant is this, you ask? The glorious boxwood (more commonly known as hedges). The other day, while clipping our mountainous hedges - I decided to make use of the clippings and decorate. Double duty yard work!

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Sneak Peek (Look! Bowties and Tutus!)

 Only a few more weeks until showtime... costumes have been prepped, pictures have been taken and many a Saturday morning has been spent tap, tap, tapping away. I am sure there will be glorious videos and photos taken at Ayla and Jackson's dance recital in June, but I thought I should release a "teaser"!

 Ayla's blue eyeshadow, I have to admit, is very exciting and what more can I say about Jackson than: BOWTIE? I could have used a top hat and cane.... but perhaps they reserve props until the boys are older. OR until they audition for So You Think You Can Dance! One can dream...

This is Jackson's severe "cheese" face... perhaps he'd had enough by this point.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Out of Hibernation

 After a ridiculously mild winter, the spring came and went and I think, has finally arrived. Our gardening adventures have begun and more importantly, the exploration of Buffalo continues. This is a beautiful time of year: it is exciting to see flowers again and our house is so much easier to clean up at the end of the night when the kids play outside all day!

 We are officially out of hibernation.

 On Gregory's birthday, we rushed to our favorite waterfall park. We also recently took advantage of First Friday's at the Albright-Knox gallery, which is perfect for us: free admission to the art museum means we don't feel so guilty leaving after 15 minutes because the kids are touching everything. (They weren't that bad though... I think we lasted about a half an hour.) And last weekend, we took a walk in Delaware Park starting at the Japanese Gardens.

 Happy Spring and Happy Mother's Day!

"Appreciating" fine art.

I thought this one was really cool. An intricate ink drawing on steel, but you can hang out and imagine you are part of the conversation.

What sculpture is complete without a cute baby face?

Ridiculously serene....

....Then add some crazy kids!

At Delaware Park

Crazy faces!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Marriage License, Schmarriage License

 Are we STILL talking about this?

 I have to just take a moment to write about the recent vote in North Carolina over Amendment One. It is baffling that these kinds of personal legal issues generate so much uproar and backlash from religious groups. It is sad. While I think their feelings about homosexuality and gay marriage are terribly misguided, I understand that these are doctrinal lessons delivered in personal churches. THAT aspect of their rationale is understandable. We all believe different things when it comes to God and spirituality, regardless of proof or logic. (I say that in a good way, too, because not all religious thinking is illogical.) Although I encourage anyone who states that homosexuality is wrong should watch the documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So.

 The nonsensical aspect is when people try to control our legal system and government directly because of these religious sentiments. These Constitution-quoters are obsessed with using laws to control groups they don't understand and literally push their beliefs onto others. SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. C'mon now!

 As an owner of this coveted marriage license, I want to make it clear that I appreciate my heterosexual priviledge. We paid a mere $30 to obtain quite possibly the simplest and least descriptive legal document ever created. It simply states that myself and Gregory, in a ceremony officiated by a person the state of Pennsylvania deemed worthy of saying so, got hitched on a specific day in history. No mention of religion. No mention of man and woman. No mention of reading the Bible. No mention of traditional gender roles. No mention of anything pertaining to personal beliefs. Do you catch my drift? The marriage license is a legal contract: not a statement of universal religious beliefs.

 These peeps need to take a step back and realize that they are fighting a losing battle. The fight over a stupid marriage license is not the place to push theological views! Every marriage is personal, and who are we kidding? All of a sudden this country considers marriage to be such a sacred institution.... then why are there so many divorces? Why is there so much infidelity? Why so many strip clubs? Why so much contention over interracial relationships? Why can Elvis marry people in Vegas but two men cannot get a piece of paper? Why are so many women literally murdered by their husbands due to domestic violence? (Believe it or not, when a married person is killed, the first suspect is always their spouse.)

 When you take away all of the hypocrisy, marriage is wonderful. The institution, yes, is heavily guided by social norms and has changed dramatically over time. I am happy that in our current age, I am free to be a married woman but also have my own private property (not that I own anything!) - which wasn't always the case. So the more people who want to get hitched, the merrier! And how about this, Tea-partiers? More marriages would mean more MONEY generated in each state. Since money is more important than morals, right?

 Here is the question I would like to ask any (straight) married person who opposes gay marriage: How does this affect your personal life, really? If every gay person got married tomorrow, how would that make your OWN marriage any different?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Embarrassed Blogger

 I am embarrassed: 2012 has not been the year of the Blog. It is shameful how I have let this little nugget of my life just drop off... but I won't despair, because many of the reasons my writing has taken an almost non-existent spot in my life is that I have been pleasantly busy with concerts, visits to Pittsburgh, a little bit of a social life and actual REAL PAYING sewing work!

 Often, I come up with paragraphs in my head - things that I want to devote posts to: The Michael Jackson Immortal Cirque du Soleil tour, the anniversary of my father's death, fun trips to children's museums in Pittsburgh and Rochester, Easter, the baby gorilla at the zoo, a fantastic wedding shower for my friends Erin and Rob, garden tilling with Gregory, sewing curtains, sewing cloth diapers, my funny children and their overall awesomeness. All of these posts are still potentially in my brain and I can only hope they make it into the blog.

 But, tonight, as I get back into the swing of things, I will discuss a recent thrill: grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. Buffalo is still on the losing side of the 'Burgh vs. Buffalo pro's and con's because it lacks own of my most favorite stores in the world. Perhaps it is because Wegman's is a super-force to be reckoned with. I love shopping at Wegman's, but our bank account was much happier shopping at Trader Joe's.

 They have such a unique collection of foods and many staples that I have missed in the last year, especially their potstickers. We have literally tried every other brand of frozen potstickers and they all taste, well, gross. (And yes, I can make delicious potstickers... but I will leave that kind of kitchen magic to someone who doesn't have three children fighting for scraps at the cutting board.)

 Needless to say, I stocked up on frozen potstickers (which fit quite nicely in our big new freezer!) and other delicious items. These are two of my new Trader Joe's discoveries that bring me little tinges of happiness every day.

Why have I never had this before? I never expected that I would like the flavors of lavender and calendula in my food, but now I don't think there's any turning back.

This makes Ayla laugh every time she looks at it. Thanks, tissue.

  Until next time... thanks for reading.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Skewed Reality

We learn new things by relating the unknown to the concepts we already understand, right? Our brain makes pathways between memories, experiences, likes, dislikes and strange new ideas. We use strange logic to comprehend things we may have never seen or experienced... especially in the mind of a three year old.

Jackson is a man of many interests; but lately he has focused much of his attention on Legos, Star Wars, Disney princesses and building spaceships out of anything he can find. He is absorbing so much and communicating the best he ever has. And with more elaborate sentences coming out of his mouth, our conversations only get funnier. I can only imagine what he says at school if this is what we talk about while doing laundry:

(Jackson was asking about all of the warnings on the dryer about not drying clothing soaked with gasoline, etc.)

J: what does this mean?

Me: Oh, that tells us not to put certain things in the dryer or it might explode.

J: yeah! Like the Deathstar!

Me: Exactly.

J: And what does this picture mean?

Me: If you put clothes with gasoline in here, it might catch on fire.

J: Ouch, fire can hurt your butt. Like in the poop book, fire comes out of your butt.

There you have it. Jackson relates fire and explosions to the Deathstar (duh) and our ridiculous poop book that Genevieve gave us for Christmas. It must be the illustrations in the poop book that really make it such an interesting read (because Ayla and Jackson are always up in their room talking about it)... maturity sure is overrated!

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Night Shift

Every other week, Gregory works at night and I am on my own for dinner prep, dinner service, dinner cleanup, bath, bedtime stories, bedtime battles... the whole ordeal.

Life has been this way since Ayla was born; one of us was always working in the evening. It has benefits, surely, as we take turns sleeping in mornings and driving back and forth from Jackson's preschool. We can work around the house, stuff usually reserved for weekend daylight hours. We also get to wear pajamas a lot.

But it is also quite insane at times. This video proves that no amount of yelling (and threats of withholding dessert) can calm mass hysteria.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

How to Entertain the Family for $10

Oh, how the news has angered me lately! Every potential post, in my mind, is full of bad words and insults. Perhaps I subscribe to too many news feeds, but it seems that the buffoonery is reaching a grander scale every day. I want to write long, emotional, incensed posts about how women's rights are under attack. And it doesn't make sense. At all.

But if anyone regularly reads my blog, I am not sure if you are looking for humor, a commentary on parenthood, updates on my kids or just another link from facebook to kill time... Regardless, I am trying to keep things light. Or else I might come across as an angry feminist (which I actually am) or God-hating liberal (which I actually am not.)

Instead I would like to focus on the happier moments in life - like driving through the car wash for the first time.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

February Travels

 I have been quite defunct in my blogging recently. It's 15% winter doldrums (where I feel like my brain is dulled by the weather that isn't really winter anyways) and 85% sewing projects. Add a trip to Pittsburgh for our winter break and a wondrous weekend away in Utica, NY sans children.

 A proper update would involve pictures from both excursions, but unfortunately, the doldrums win and I am too lazy to upload at this moment. The event that really brought me back to any sort of blogging mood was the best Academy Award from last night.

 The Muppets were obviously cheated out of Best Picture (aren't they always?), but won for Best Original Song thanks to Bret McKenzie.

 Thank God, because I usually watch the awards show with a healthy dose of angst over the winners of categories like costume design and makeup. It is unbelievable some of the winners they choose. Who is convinced that it was more difficult to make Meryl Streep look like Margaret Thatcher than to create goblins, Voldemort, giants, trolls, ghosts, etc. in Harry Potter? Really? It was that amazing to make a white woman look like a different white woman. I don't know why - but little things like that drive me crazy.

 So there is justice in the world. The Muppets got an Oscar. And Gregory and I spent our first vacation away from the kids since 2009. (Well, we did go to Rhode Island for a babymoon before Elliot...but he technically went with us on that trip!) I will report more on Utica, NY later, although I believe we saw ALL there was to see in 48 hours.

 Hooray for Bret and the Muppets!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Kids are Anti Toys 'R Us!

Despite all of the toys scattered across the floor... the object of choice is the laundry basket. Obviously! This is why investing in expensive "educational" toys is highly overrated.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

The Insensitive Air Freshener

  In the battle to keep our house clean, organized (say what!) and in general, sanitary enough for human habitation - I have started to utilize more and more air fresheners. I try to keep plants in every room of the house, although many do not thrive without constant sunlight. I have tried incense but the smell doesn't last long enough and it always makes just another mess of crumbly ashes.

 Some might say that I should just take out the garbage more than once a day. But I say that is wasteful. Some might suggest that I get oil diffusers (but little hands like to make horrible messes with that sort of thing!) Some might also point out that I should be cleaning more often. Riiiigghhht. I can't help but sanitize the bathroom and toilet with Lysol every day. What I want is a house that actually smells good instead of not smelling bad.

  With the help of the most insensitive air freshener ever made, we are on our way to smelling like a fresh bouquet. I bought an Airwick device that is supposed to "sense" an odor and let out little puffs of fresh, lily of the valley goodness. Great idea. The problem with most plug-in air fresheners is that our noses adjust to a certain, constant scent and pretty soon, it doesn't seem like anything is there at all. This little Airwick guy isn't continually spewing perfume into the air - it sends out a burst of scent when necessary.

 Only it is hurting my feelings.

 It is in the bathroom - so of course, it is working overtime. Five people, three of them being overly enthusiastic about stinking up the house, sharing one small space. So I understand that the Airwick is working hard. But does it have to spray when I walk by in the hallway? I shower once a day - give me some credit! It sprays when I brush my teeth or use soap to wash my hands. Is toothpaste a detectable bad odor... or is my breath really that bad when I wake up? As I am sitting there, watching the kids in the bath, it sprays at least five times. That's just rude.

 We have taken one big step in the direction to getting our house "floral fresh", but I wish it didn't have to come at the cost of my self-esteem!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Another Superbowl Sunday in Buffalo

 Oddly enough, this is not the first time I have been in Buffalo on a Superbowl Sunday. We are approaching our one-year-living-in-Buffalo- anniversary, but aren't there yet! This time last year I was anticipating another Steelers victory and packing up boxes.

  Flashback to February 2004 - Gregory and I were yet to be married, hence no kids and this little thing called spare time to travel. I worked for Hyatt Hotels and one of their key benefits was the use of a certain number of free hotel rooms per year. So, naturally, we chose Buffalo! Perhaps we have a cosmic predetermination to reside in Western New York. Or not. Who knows!

 The true purpose of our trip back in 2004 was to go skiing at Kissing Bridge. I was rusty (but not nearly as rusty as I am now) and we figured it would be a fun overnight trip. It just so happened that we were traveling on Superbowl Sunday, not that I place any importance on the event.

 But damn, it is hard to find a place to eat during the Superbowl! We arrived in downtown Buffalo to gross slush and rain, and tried in vain to find at least a local chain restaurant. I remember driving to the Buffalo Chop House. Closing. Pearl Street Brewery. Closed. All of this driving around led us sadly to a T.G.I.Friday's (nothing against the place, but after driving for hours to a new city- it's a letdown to fail at finding at least an independent coffee shop).

 And en route, either to the restaurant or from or in the elevator at the hotel - we missed the "wardrobe malfunction" completely. My soul was saved, right? Ha ha. I didn't have to bear witness to the downfall of the NFL's morality and the ensuing shock. The poor, poor football fans had to be exposed to a woman's body (as if cheerleaders serve a purpose other than unnecessary eye candy.) One of the most infamous moments in a Superbowl halftime show, and Gregory and I were driving around cursing the streets of Buffalo.

 However, the next day at Kissing Bridge did turn out to be one of the best skiing experiences I have ever had. It was a Monday and gloriously free of crowds. The weather had cleared up, so we had snow but no painful windburn. The drive out to the ski resort redeemed the WNY area and we loved it.

 Fast forward to February 2012 - Gregory had to work and I didn't turn on the game at all. Oh yeah, and we now live in the suburbs of Buffalo. The kids monopolize any television viewing and in all honesty, I didn't care about the game. I caught up on any worthwhile commercials via our technology savior: the internet. A win-win! I giggled at attacking cheetahs, naked M&M's and a poor overweight dog without having to care about football! (Although I do share the joy that the win made so many of my friends happy!)

 This should be the part of the post where I lament on how eight years has flown by and it is stupefying how much my life and circumstances has changed. But I won't. We now live in a city we once randomly decided to visit. That opens up all sorts of possibilities, doesn't it?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Kindergarten Rules for Politics

 While I find it encouraging that so many people are getting riled up over primaries and the 2012 election (it means we care! We aren't all apathetic and oblivious!); I think it is going to be a long year. A long year of Facebook updates (myself included), terrible political commercials, "scandals", Republican this, Democrat that, Communist everything and misinformation from all angles. It's already gotten out of hand and we have a long ways to go!

  Political (and candidate) arguments and debates, I find, are so heated because they reach into the core of who we believe ourselves to be. We place a lot of personal issues and self-definition on our decision to vote for specific people and within party lines. However, I think we also have the natural propensity to let emotions, "values" and personal gain rule over information and facts. Let me clarify: every person on the planet does this, not just one political party or one gender or one race.

 That's when our political choices and causes are sometimes ill-fated and most of all, short-sighted. We get mean and exclusive. We criticize and find it impossible to compromise. We act like know it alls. We get SO hung up on one issue or ideology that all other possible points of view must be evil or stupid or Anti-American. We also get so hung up on a particular candidate that we just refuse to hear the whole story, glorifying these people that would be just like us if they weren't backed by millions of campaign dollars.

 I won't pretend to be an expert in political science or economics or world cultures or even our own government's design. The last government class I took was in junior high, when I cared more about owning Gap jeans and cruising the mall. But I know a thing or two.

 This post is my official plea that we can just approach this year, and the ensuing debates, with some basic Kindergarten rules for behavior:

1. Don't be a bastard. Remember that it's okay to disagree - but name calling is out of line. Don't talk to people like they are beneath you. (One of my personal pet peeves is when someone disagrees with me and their only rebuttal is to tell ME do some research. Take your own advice!)

2. Take turns. Shut up every once in awhile and listen to what someone else has to say. We love to hear our own opinions and therefore be affirmed by others that agree with us. Get into a healthy discussion about who gets to play on what part of the playground. There's this little thing called critical thinking that miraculously helps us work out difficult problems and come to a *gasp* solution.

3. Everyone is special. We are all different. We value different things. When we are parents of young children, we will accept higher property taxes in order to support the local public school. When we retire and become empty nesters, we should either move or continue funding the community at large.  This thing called society needs give and take. Flexibility. Empathy.

4. Read a lot of books. Get your information from all types of sources. Watch the news network that you absolutely "can't stand" for 10 minutes, if not just to know what they are saying. Don't just listen to what your friends or your church or candidate tells you - they are biased and yes, they will sometimes lie.

5. Clean up after yourself. If you hurt someone, apologize. If you were wrong, admit it. If you made a big freakin mess with your Crayons, pick it up! Be responsible for yourself and realize that it isn't always going to be enjoyable.

 That's the end of my rant. Okay, one more thing: please don't start any sentences with: All Democrats/Republicans/Libertarians/Feminists/Monkeys/Bananas think this way: (insert ideology). You don't know that and I know you wouldn't take kindly to someone saying that about you!

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Wine Cellar

 I have tried many times to start a wine collection. But this is difficult for me because (1) I am content with wine that costs less than $10 a bottle and (2) I drink it all.

 Living in New York has been somewhat of a drinker's paradise after living in the alcohol police state of Pennsylvania. The grocery store has aisles of delicious microbrews and the liquor store down the road has its own loyalty/discount card. YES. Value prices for those who willingly sign up to admit they like booze! Not to mention the plethora of rebates available - sending in those little annoying cards has become part of my couponing madness and I must say, it is very gratifying. (When you cease to have a "real job", it's nice to see my name on an incoming check every so often!)

  Right now my wine collection consists of the remainder of the case of Ravenswood Zinfandel that Gregory gave me for Christmas. I am not going to admit how many bottles are left.

 However, until the New Year, I had achieved a personal record for hanging onto a bottle of wine for almost a year. For purely sentimental reasons, it was hard for me to open up this bottle and find the "perfect" time to savor it. It wasn't expensive; it didn't hail from a prized wine region - but the grapes were smashed and the liquid goodness was then bottled in Sewickley by the group at Fern Hollow Nature Center.

  Why would this bottle mean so much to me? Well, it's more of a "who" than a "why". This type of traditional Italian wine-making has been carried on by Marisa Tobias and her family... but I enjoyed it as well when Marisa's father was the one growing, smashing and preserving wine in his basement. I grew up across the street from her family and to say the least, Pete and Nanny served as an extra set of grandparents.

 I clearly remember spending many afternoons and nights in their house - eating (homemade) Pizelles, (homemade) spaghetti, (homegrown) peppers.... you get the idea. In our little pocket of Sewickley, it could very well have been Italy. And I'm not the only one who thinks so! Just after Elliot was born, I attended the Italian garden tour.  I knew all of these families growing up, but I never appreciated how important their traditions were and how unique that kind of lifestyle has become. I follow their mantra when I envision over half of my yard being used as gardening space (and someday chickens and goats!).

 But back to the wine. After moving away from my hometown and carrying this one bottle of red goodness to another state - I seem to have focused many of my sentimentalities on this one item. Of course I missed the rooms of my house, and my neighbors and friends and yard and neighborhood Giant Eagle. I felt like I needed to wait for the perfect time to truly appreciate this symbol of my past.

After almost a year of living in Buffalo, that time had not come! And duh, this wine had nothing to do with anniversaries or birthdays or Christmas... it was something that only I was placing utmost importance on.

 So I drank it. Mostly because I was warned that homemade wine might not have the longest shelf life. And it was delicious. Cheers to my surrogate grandparents and their legacies, and to the Tobias family for being true historians (I haven't even mentioned my Nanny cookbook!). Cheers to Sewickley (and Buffalo) and many more bottles of wine: whether they are store-bought with a value card or stomped with loving memory.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Ever Changing Food Pyramid

 I like Michelle Obama. I think she is cool. I think she puts up with a lot of crap from the fundamental right wing media - comments about her "big butt" and communist leanings (and for anyone who says that, I challenge you to stay away from a tried and true "communist" place in every community... the library! The devils!). Which is ironic because one of her major initiatives is to make our children healthier by providing better food in the lunch room. She envisions a world where our kids don't gorge on french fries every day and get so hyped up on strawberry milk that they can't sit still for the second half of their school day.

Honestly, I don't think healthy food should even be considered a political agenda. As with many other things in our country that are bizarrely wrong, it is a no-brainer. If the federal government is going to subsidize or mandate nutrition for children in public school: it should be healthy. It should not be contributing to the growing American obesity epidemic.

 Now I approach this topic with a true sense of realism. Kids love junk food. They love sugar. It is often more of a struggle to force broccoli than it is to appease them with hamburgers. I am not a fan of fad diets or extreme eating in any way: the name of the game is moderation. I understand why people are vegans or vegetarians: it is a very healthy lifestyle. But it is also expensive, time consuming and not entirely realistic for growing children. I used to pay close attention to every label and spend the extra money for organic this and organic that... but as a family of five, it is virtually impossible to weed out the unwanted fats, sugars and (gasp!) high fructose corn syrup.

 Recently, our "food pyramid" changed to MyPlate. If you grew up in the eighties like me, you remember the different colored levels of the pyramid - calling for a certain number of servings of grains, fruits/veggies, fats and proteins. MyPlate is still that general idea - but recommends filling half your plate with fruits and veggies at every meal. Easier said than done. Because many of us lack the initiative or time to closely inspect calories - the plate image teaches us to have visual cues for how much is enough. We all overindulge. It's almost impossible not to. Restaurant portions are absurdly large and well, snack food is just so damn delicious.

 Like it or not, our food choices and availability are influenced by corporations and the USDA. McDonald's is the largest purchaser of potatoes in the country: so their preference in potatoes dictates what 90% of potato farmers will grow. Say goodbye to diversified crops. All of this makes it more difficult for independent farmers to be successful or even make a living. The USDA chose to subsidize corn, which led to insanely cheap corn byproducts that are now in almost every food we eat. The same goes for soy... it is in everything. These are not necessarily good choices; and when the government has such a huge influence on what our kids are eating: we should pay attention.

 The guidelines over the last century have changed dramatically. When food was rationed during WWII, the pyramid reflected our limitations. And earlier than that, when our country was recovering from the Great Depression, the USDA recommended that a good meal was a main course of whole milk, with a side of white bread to dip in it. Milk was the most affordable protein and kids at that time needed as much fat as they could get to thrive. I read this all in a really neat article in Food Network Magazine a few months ago - and of course I can't find it online anywhere.

My point is this: the government doesn't always get it right when it comes to our food. They do a horrible job at regulating the meat industry. Not to mention genetically modified foods and Monsanto! And right now, it is a disaster in school lunch rooms. If you caught Jamie Oliver's show where he challenged the state mandates for chocolate and strawberry milk, it is obvious that change is hard to come by. Basically, he wanted flavored milks OUT of the lunch room because they contain more sugar than soda. What kid is going to choose the 1% milk when they can have delicious flavors? The government's "logic" was that more kids will choose milk if they have enticing flavors. Jamie's logic was that elementary age kids don't get a choice when it comes to milk. They will get thirsty and they will learn to like the white milk. His Food Revolution is pretty freakin awesome.

 I really respect that Michelle Obama is making this a priority because while most of this responsibility should fall on parents to teach good food choices, from the state of our collective health, parents are not doing a very good job. Heart disease, diet-induced diabetes and high cholesterol are all serious problems our kids are facing. I don't say this with judgement. I took my boys to McDonald's for lunch today. That indoor playground has us hooked! But you can bet we are eating broccoli for dinner tonight.

 All I know is that I pack Ayla's lunch every day because the two times she has ordered lunch in the cafeteria, she promptly threw up later that evening. No one is helping her to make good choices. When we ask what she picked - it was the winning combination of chicken nuggets AND a hot dog AND fries. The week that highlighted the "National School Lunch Program" was a different variation of pasta/pizza/cheese every day. How's that for moderation?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Am I a Muppet?

As if it wasn't exciting enough to see the most recent Muppet movie, most of the songs were written by, quite possibly, one of the funniest performers I know - Bret from Flight of the Conchords. I had heard a few of the songs before realizing this, and upon watching a video of him singing with Kermit the Frog, it all came together.

Flight of the Conchords. The Muppets. Kermit the Frog.

I really don't need much more than that in life.

Unless I wanted to share this joy with my children. Jackson has the appropriate response when he sees Animal screaming and bashing his head on things: laughter. Ayla... well... she rolls her eyes and leaves the room. My own daughter! How could she betray me like this?

I don't understand where her intense dislike of pure hilarity began, but we are working through it. Therapy may be necessary for us both.

Our household has been singing, "Am I a Man... or Am I a Muppet?" quite often lately. So of course I started singing it when I took this picture of Ayla's fuzzy slippers. You can see by her face how she felt about MY shenanigans.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Living in the Minivan

This is why I am a virtual captive in the Odyssey. What was intended to be a quick drop-off at the library and some veggie shopping at Wegmans has turned into Elliot's nap time.

Even though I am shushing the other two maniacs every two seconds, and making them wait to get into the Wegman's playplace may be considered inhumane - I will take the half hour nap over ridiculous grumpiness during dinner.

Since I see that most Moms I know have posted the link to the recent "Don't Carpe Diem" article on the Huffington Post... is this a Kairos moment that I will miss someday? Or will I someday see a young mom bored out of her mind in her minivan twenty years from now and gleefully skip by myself into the grocery store?

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crafts of Christmas Past

 I have to say that my idea of a "sewing business" has taken on a life of its' own. Last summer I spent many a night agonizing over all of the amazing, artistic, genius, professional, gorgeous sewn items that are for sale on Etsy. I wanted to be a part of it but was (and still am) very intimidated by the sheer artistry out there. But I posted a few items and sold a few things. (Thanks to generous friends and family, of course, but I did have two unknown buyers!)

 Almost six months after posting that first pillowcase on Etsy, I am now spending more of my time with shall I say "commissioned" work. So exciting! I am thrilled that friends are trusting me with their beloved t-shirts to turn into quilts and pillow shams. My brain starts to feel rusty after my daytime activities of changing diapers, chasing Baxter around the neighborhood and trying to justify my parental decisions to a saucy five year old. Therefore, it becomes such a welcome retreat to delve into a sewing project and learn something new like Claudine curtains (okay, it can be frustrating when I break my sewing machine twice in a month!).

 The question remains if it would be wise, or just self-indulgent, to start a more professional blog under the ThreadAbell name/brand. If you ever delve into the world of online crafting and sewing tutorials - it is yet another overwhelming array of incredible teachers and incredible ideas! But I was intimidated before, and after putting myself out there... I have to say it has been rewarding.

 I wanted to post a few photos of my recent projects: items that had to be kept secret until gift-giving days. This is where my December went!

Matching stockings for my sister and Matt - the flannel is beautiful, but honestly too itchy to be used for any apparel.

Beast, you beast! It's a long story... but Genevieve needed a Beast at school. He missed her.

A friend entrusted me with her old t-shirts to make into gifts for her god-son and god-daughter. Such a great idea!

From a $4 pattern on Etsy. I didn't like it the first night we put it up... but upon the morning light, I dig it!
The god-son pillow. I always use my t-shirts so selfishly, have to start thinking about better gift ideas.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wii Dance Party

The temperature here just dropped to six degrees the other night. Winter came late, but hit hard. Needless to say, we are all cuddling under blankets and drinking hot cocoa. And dancing, of course!

 Instead of turning up the heat... we have been dancing every night on the Wii. Nickelodeon Dance Party (a dancing Diego looks pretty creepsters), Kids Dance Party, MJ The Experience (hell yes!) and Just Dance 2 and 3. If you think you need to start exercising, try these games instead! I am winded and cramped up after just a few songs... but it is worth it. 

 Ayla turns into Ms. Competitive while Jackson watches from the couch. Elliot has to hold a Wii remote, therefore he gets one without batteries. Or maybe I should start giving him a working wiimote... stay tuned to the end of the video to see why!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

FreeCycle Score!

Just the other day I was beginning to feel annoyed with my daily onslaught of Freecycle emails. A lot of members refuse to even try to spell correctly or use punctuation or even coherent sentences. Deleting more than 30 emails every day, none that even seem useful and if they are... you missed the response by an hour. Items go so fast!

That is why I was disappointed when someone offered "sewing supplies", including bias tape, zippers and other such delicious items. I sent a response giving my name, number and pick-up time. Then the same person posted that the items has been promised, but since I had not received a reply, I believed that some other lucky seamstress/seamster (?) had gotten the items. Boo hiss.... cut me a break Freecycle!

Imagine my excitement on Monday morning when the person called to tell me that they had completely forgotten to confirm with me. I was the lucky winner after all!

I drove to her house during my two-hours-to-kill time while Jackson was at preschool and picked up the supplies. I had no idea that these were vintage items. Double score! If you look closely at the packaging, the price is a whopping 19 cents. In such beautiful retro colors! It is uncommon to find such unique designs in my frequent trips to Joann Fabrics... let alone for free instead of dishing out about $2.50 per package.

The contents of my sewing bag has about fifteen zippers (cool colors too - turquoise, purple and bright green), ten packages of bias tape, curtain hooks and really cute trim. Suddenly, my perspective has changed and it is totally worth sifting through all of the unwanted, stupid posts to really win out on something you can actually use!

Thank you freecycle for being my daily virtual Thrift store.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Don't Shoot the Messenger

 Disclaimer: This post is about a five year old and her Binky. If you walk into this with judgment ... turn away now.

 The new year has brought on a new fire to Ayla's streak of independence (defiance) and  strong emotions (drama). We have already bought the battle of  THE BINKY many times before, but like a true addiction, it always returns in small, seemingly innocent ways and turns into a huge problem. We take the binky away, the Binky fairy writes lovely notes and Ayla seems to accept her new fate as a grown-up girl. Then a few weeks pass and she is sneaking a binky (where she finds them, I don't know!) in front of the television in the middle of the afternoon. When we had previously agreed that binkies are only to be used in bed at night or preferably not at all - this is a major violation.

 Before Christmas (and with the help of our elf, Elfabet), the Binky fairy finally laid down the law. All binkies were confiscated and rightfully given to the new babies that needed them. Ayla made peace for the moment, but come bedtime, there were many tears and laments for how difficult life had become. However, over the holiday in Pittsburgh, the binky was not mentioned once.

 Then we came back to Buffalo and the drama continued. Every night is a full-force tantrum, loud wailing and inconsolable crying. Ayla naturally turns her anger and frustration towards her evil parents for causing her such misery. When the crying and screaming and names and guilt stopped working - she has now turned to her next device: Jackson.

 The poor, loyal guy has now been assigned the role of messenger. He makes the trip up and down the stairs from their room with Ayla's comments and pleas for her Binky. Ayla uses him to sneak into the kitchen for snacks or to deliver angry messages.

 We can hear her lying in bed, telling Jackson what to say... then he trudges across the room.... walks down the stairs... and proclaims whatever Ayla has told him to repeat. And if he gets it wrong, she clarifies and makes him tell us again. An example:

 Ayla (muffled under her covers): "Tell Mama and Dada that you only love me and you, that you don't love them anymore because I can't have Binky."

 Jackson: "I love Ayla (pronounced Allah) and me." (Walks back upstairs.)

Ayla: "NO! Tell them that you don't love them!"

Jackson: (Walks back downstairs) "I not love you anymore."

 Gregory has always said that he would prefer that they stick together as siblings rather than become competitive with each other - well, that wish is coming true! This whole process has been comical but also wildly frustrating as Ayla's screams go on for 45 minutes when our infant is sound asleep at 10 pm. Let's just hope that Ayla will return that loyalty to her brother someday!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

First Night Buffalo

When it came to planning our big night out for New Year's Eve... the main idea was to find something family friendly (that didn't cost a bazillion dollars) and how to tire the kids out so they would actually be sleeping at midnight.

  The only person sleeping at midnight was Elliot but we reveled in family fun at First Night Buffalo. It is growing into a huge event for families, especially families that cannot find a sitter on New Year's Eve!

 I bought our advance tickets at Wegman's and we drove downtown to the Convention Center. We even showed up late (the whole thing runs for five hours) because I didn't think we could possibly need to be there that long. But I didn't factor in the long lines for bounce houses and carnival rides. We watched a little bit of the "Birds of Prey" show. What's more exciting than sitting in a large room with hawks flying low over the audience and instead of returning to their trainers... they perch in the fake ficus trees? We also became acquainted with this dude, Wacky Chad.


 Unfortunately, we missed out on arts and crafts and the Storytime village. There's always next year! For under $40, we ate ice cream, were nearly attacked by wild birds, laughed at a guy on his pogo stick, watched indoor fireworks, rode the merry go round and supported a downtown event in Buffalo. Not too shabby for a night out.

Elliot wasn't too sure about Wacky Chad.

 And due to our new digital antenna (thanks Gramps!), we watched the Times Square coverage after returning home. It had almost been a year without local channels and news - and it is comforting in a way to have it back. Just in time for the ball drop. Happy New Year everyone!