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It's Been Nice, 2013

(Counterclock-wise from top left) Britton in her Cinderella outfit at 4 months, our first baby shower, the nursery, pregnant Natalie at 28 weeks, 2 month old Britton, the new family at Britton's baptism, Landon in his onesie, opening presents at our second shower

This year has been crazy--some crazy good and some crazy bad.

Over the weekend, Landon and I were talking about how we were excited to start 2014 because of all of the fun things we've got lined up in the coming months.

Fatty Fatty Two by Four, Or Our Annual Christmas Progressive Dinner

holiday meals made easy


Two years ago, when my sister and I had both moved out of our parents' house (at 24 and 26, respectively--no shame) and into our own homes, we decided to start a new Christmas tradition: the Christmas Progressive Dinner.

While, at first glance, seem to be a dinner where we all get together and discuss the direction of politics, culture, and technology, the reality is far less sophisticated.

The Christmas Progressive Dinner is basically a series of back-to-back extravagant dinners in each of our homes. We sign up for different days, and on our selected day, we make dinner for the other members of our family.

I love it. Not only do I get to skip cooking for several days around the holidays (ain't nobody got time for that), I take some of the pressure of my parents who used to cook the only big Christmas meal. We all are more relaxed.

The dinners are so much fun because we try to out-do one another with new recipes, appetizers, fun drinks, and decor.

This year, we had an addition to the dinner progress since my grandma wanted in on it. Since moving away from her home after my grandfather passed away before Thanksgiving, we've been trying to get her as involved in life down here as possible. She was super excited about being on the tour of dinners, and we were glad to include her.

Landon and I kicked off the series on the Saturday before Christmas. We made 40 Clove Garlic Chicken, which is not nearly as stinky as the recipe sounds, and is SO SO SO delicious. I also made a simple salad for an appetizer, mashed potatoes to go with the chicken (you could also use rice), garlic/cheddar biscuits, and blondies for dessert.

I broke out my (small) Spode Christmas collection, and we ate dinner in style.

Ready for some pictures of my dinner? Here we go:
mashed potatoes and 40 clove garlic chicken
My dad loads up on deliciousness.
And that's it. Major fail on my part. I was so busy running around making sure that people had food and drink refills that I didn't even pick up the camera. My mom actually took the only picture I have. Thanks, Mama!

Next up was my sister. She fixed baked ziti, garlic bread, and a side salad. For dinner, we had gingerbread cookie sandwiches and chocolate chip cookie sandwiches. A. Mazing.
Grandma loves up on Britton.
Unlike my house, Amber's was decorated for the Christmas season. Oh, the things you can do when you don't have a six-month-old who eats everything in sight.
Amber and I have the same Spode collection. So, pretend that this picture is of a place setting at my house (since I didn't take any picture of the tablescape at my dinner).
Amazing Christmas punch.
Is it time for dinner yet?!
Britton loves Christmas!


My grandma had the next day (Christmas Eve Eve) and she had steak and gravy, a speciality of hers. Again, major fail, as I let my stomach do the talking...no pictures.

Finally, the series ended on Christmas Eve, when my parents hosted all of us for a post-church dinner. For those of us not allergic to shellfish (i.e. everyone but me), crabcakes were the star of the dinner. For moi, steak was a delicious main course. We also had veggies, salad, bread, tea, and leftover cookie sandwiches.

If you want to start your own Progressive Dinner series, here's what you need to do:

  • Work with the group of people involved to assign dates for each person/family. Around the holidays, this can get a bit tricky since you're juggling office parties and other gatherings. The sooner you can set the dates, the better, so you can work around the Progressive Dinner with later plans, and not the other way around.
  • Keep the gathering small. Since there are lots of logistics to consider when organizing something like this, you'll want to keep the group to 8-10 people or 3-4 families. Any more than that, and you'll likely run into issues with space and timing.
  • Set the menu. It's worth coordinating with the other participants, so you don't end up eating roast four times in a row. 
  • Be upfront with allergies, dietary restrictions, or food dislikes. Between my shellfish allergy, my grandmother's dislike of anything that's not Southern cooking, and my sister's aversion to cream cheese and mayonnaise, choosing a meal is sometimes difficult. But it can be done! I usually make two possible menus, and then run both by everyone coming. It's usually pretty easy to spot the winning menu. 
  • Send out an email with date, time, and dress code. We usually keep things pretty informal since its just my family, but you could definitely choose to dress up or theme your section of the Progressive Dinner. Just have fun with it!

Do you do anything special for your Christmas dinner? Do you have any fun recipes that I should try for next year's dinner?

Need more Christmas inspiration? Check out these other posts from Cosmos Mariners: Destination Unknown!
christmas-gift-collage 14 Awesome Gifts Ultimate Round-up Travel Themed Gift Guide [...]

Christmas Randoms


This year was Britton's first Christmas. We tried to make it as exciting as we could--visiting Santa, getting our tree, buying lots of fun gifts for everyone--but at the end of the day, she was most excited about the wrapping paper.

And speaking of wrapping paper, twinklepoop is totally a thing (as I had the joy of evidencing yesterday). Don't say I didn't warn you.


While I'll dive into more of our holiday antics next week (after I've had a chance to breathe), I wanted to share a few things with you before we head out for Christmas round 2 at Landon's parents' house.

My family did our third annual Progressive Christmas Dinners, which is basically an excuse to eat amazing meals back-to-back over the course of four days. Just one Christmas dinner? You are way behind, my friend. (This event is so awesome that it warrants an entire post next week.)

Britton was awesome during the Christmas service. She refused to take a nap all day Christmas Eve, and by the time the 3 p.m. service started, she was rubbing her eyes and bucking like a bronco. Maybe it was the music, or maybe it was a Christmas miracle, but she danced and played the entire service without a peep.

"Gosh, mom, you're embarassing me."
We exchanged presents at my parents' house Christmas Eve, and had the final dinner in our Progressive Christmas Dinner series.

Britton: "The Day of Wrapping Paper has finally arrived! My life is complete!"
Two seconds later: Britton decides that she's done opening presents, and she's off to eat something that she shouldn't.
Can you tell that Britton is the daughter of a former college Literature professor (and the niece of a die-hard Mr. Darcy lover)? She got so many cute classics-themed gifts that I'll have to do another post on them!
We stayed overnight so that we'd all be able to see our Santa presents that arrived Christmas morning.
Britton investigates her loot from Santa. And yes, I'm totally rocking footed onesie pajamas.
Britton LOVED the monorail that I got to go under our tree next year. Giant baby takes over Disney World!

After playing with our presents from Santa, we packed up in the car and headed out to my grandmother's house, which is about two and a half hours away. I really didn't want to go back this year because the house reminds me so much of my grandfather, who passed away just before Thanksgiving. But my grandma really wanted to go back for one more holiday (she now lives with my parents here in town), so we did it to make her happy--and hopefully help start the closure process.

With my dad and Britton at my grandma's house.
Grandma opening a present from my cousins.
I don't know what we'll be doing next year, but it will involve staying home on Christmas day, which will be the first time I've ever done that in my entire life. We lived all over during my childhood, so we always traveled to my grandparents' house each year. My tradition for Britton is centered around one thing: not traveling. We've got another 11 months to figure out the rest of the details.

I read Marisha Pessl's Night Film (which I loved) and saw The Wolf of Wall Street (which I thought was awful). I'll definitely be doing a review of the Pessl book because it is so awesome and I just want to talk about it all the time with everyone, but I might do a review of Wolf, too, just because it was like a car wreck, and sometimes you've just got to talk out your feelings after you experience something terrible.

So, there's our holiday in a nutshell. We're off tonight to see the other side of the family.

We're embarking on a four hour trip with a 6 month old who hates being in her carseat. Pray for our sanity.

Happy Holidays, all!

A Baby's Guide to Christmas


Merry Christmas Eve Eve, everyone!

Stationery Nerd Alert, or How to Use Wax Seals to Make Your Christmas Cards Even More Awesome


I'm slowly working on our Christmas cards (about half are stamped, addressed and ready to go), and they should be completed by tomorrow. While I love all things stationery and mail, I do have a bit of the procrastination gene in me, which accounts for the fact that still haven't send out my Christmas cards..and we're down to six days.

Anyway, since it's not like I'm rushed for time or anything (ha), I decided to do a little something extra for my holiday correspondence this year: wax seals.

I've used these on and off for years as a way to jazz up a letter or card. It's really easy to do, and the end result looks awesome.

Just remember: wax is hot, so you probably shouldn't do this around kids. Plus, only use these on correspondence that's going through the mail during the colder months. The wax seal melts into oblivion in the spring and summer. #PippaTips-StationeryEdition


1. Get your envelope and card or letter together; address and stuff your envelopes. (For those of you lucky enough to be on our Christmas mailing list, here's a sneak peek at our cards!)

2. Pull out your wax sealing kit. You can find these at your local stationery store, or on Amazon.com. They usually aren't too expensive--less than $20 for a seal and several sticks of wax. Usually an individual seal is around $4 and a stick of wax is $2 or $3. The metal seals can be used over and over again, and each stick of wax can be used for 10-20 envelopes, depending on how much wax you use.

3. Some stamps have a clear up/down direction (like the tree I used below); others (like a snowflake) can be stamped in any direction. If you're using one with a clear top and bottom, get your stamp situated. You don't want to worry about this while your wax is drying later on.

I also selected the silver wax to go with my envelopes, which had a silver envelope lining.

4. From here, it's as easy as lighting a birthday candle. Light the wick, then hold the wax over the portion on your envelope on which you'd like the wax to fall. A note of caution: don't light your wax on fire, or your seal will have ugly black wax in it.

I usually let the wax drip around 10 times, as this gives me a pool of wax that will spread slightly once I apply the metal seal.

5. When the pool of heated wax is to your liking, blow out the wax stick and let the last bit of wax drip onto your envelope (if you don't, you risk stringing the still-hot wax halfway across your envelope). Quickly place the metal seal stamper in the wax. I position the seal and then let it sit there without moving it until the wax is dry. You can tell when the wax is dry when the sheen goes from super glossy to more of a matte finish.

6. Remove the metal stamper and your seal will be there!

Super easy. Have you sent our your Christmas cards yet this year? If so, did you do anything to make them extra special?

6 Children's Books Worth Revisiting

Our little townhouse has very little storage, so when we're preparing for a project, the stuff that gets displaced usually ends up in our upstairs hallway.

Currently, we're trying to get a built-in bookcase going, but with the passing of my grandfather, Thanksgiving, and Christmas happening in such rapid succession, we realistically won't get the project underway until early 2014.

In the meantime, all of the books that should be on the new shelves are in bins that are lining our upstairs hallway. This arrangement is super annoying since the hallway is now half the size it should be.

However, there is a silver lining: I get to revisit books that have either been packed away for years or stuffed on a shelf. Landon keeps finding me reading these children's books from years ago. He laughs at me, an almost-thirty-year-old pouring over a thin little children's book.

What can I say? There's some great stuff in children and YA fiction! You only have to look at the popularity of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight to see that I'm not the only one dipping my hand in the little kid literature cookie jar.

Here are eight of my favorite kids' books that are worth a revisit. And for what it's worth, they are all at least fifteen years ago, so you might find something other than the dystopian future/ vampire/ werewolf novels that are so popular these days.



- Alien Secrets, Annette Curtis Klause. Puck, who's every inch as mischeveous as her A Midsummer Night's Dream namesake, has been thrown out of her Earth boarding school and must return to her parents who are working on the planet Aurora. On the spaceflight to join them, Puck befriends Hush, an alien who is also going to Aurora in shame. He has lost his race's beloved treasure. As Puck helps Hush figure out what happened to the treasure, they are both drawn into the mysteries occuring aboard the starcraft.

I first read this book when I was in late elementary school; I was not a fan of science fiction (though I did love a Michael Crichton novel at the time). I think the fact that I loved this book in spite of the alien stuff going on speaks to the univeral appeal of Alien Secrets. Klause writes in a compelling manner that will draw elementary and middle school readers in (though, I must confess, I just re-read this, and was still captivated). Plus, all of the futuristic stuff never got dated, and, as a reader, I can still very much believe in the world she created.

Recommended for: late elementary or early middle school readers.

-The Herculeah Jones series, Betsy Byers. While The Black Tower is my personal favorite, there are several mysteries starring the unflappable Herculeah Jones and her friend Meat (what awesome character names, right?!). These books are aimed at the late elementary crowd, and are a bit scarier than most of the Encyclopedia Brown-type whodunit books that are usually penned for that age group. Byers does a wonderful job painting the spooky situations that Herculeah and her frizzy hair find themselves in. You might be familiar with Byers' "The Summer of the Swans," which won the Newberry Award in 1971; the Herculeah Jones series is completely different in tone and theme. Basically, if Sue Grafton wrote for the playground set, this series would be the result.

Shameless plug: I had the opportunity to have dinner with Betsy Byers when I was in college (she's a friend of my uncle's), and she was just as awesome as you would expect--friendly, hilarious, and witty. She and her husband live in the upstate of South Carolina and fly little planes from the airstrip behind their house. Definitely an author worth investigating, if you haven't already.

Recommended for: mid- to late-elementary school readers.

-Woman in the Wall, Patrice Kindl. When I found this book, I was in the sixth grade, which is an awkward time at best and a painful time at worst. This book spoke to me in so many ways and made me feel as if I weren't the only one in the world who felt weird, out of place, and odd.

In this book, Anna decides to withdraw from her family and society completely when she's seven; she builds a little fortress within the walls of her own house. As the years pass by, her family forgets that she even exists and she lives this protected but lonely life watching her family through the walls. However, someone has remembered that she's there, and her struggle to decide to leave is heartwrenching. Because of this book, I wanted to go to a costume party wearing a butterfly outfit with gorgeous green wings, and show everyone that I was different than the shy, quiet girl that sat in class with them all day.

Recommended for: middle- and high-school readers.

-Girl in the Box, Ouida Sebestyen. The best word to describe this book is "haunting." Even years later after reading it, I still find myself mulling this book over.

Jackie McGee is kidnapped and thrown into a concrete cell. It's dark, save for a tiny sliver of light coming from under the only door. She had her typewriter and a ream of paper in her backpack, so she decides to record her thoughts by touch typing. Sebestyan creates a scenario that is so real that you find yourself praying for a happy ending to Jackie's story.

While there are elements to Girl in the Box that are dated (the typewriter, no cell phone), this book transcends the technology within it. Few books--for children or adults--have captured the seemingly random terror and hopelessness that Jackie is forced to face in this book. In a world where Twilight copies are a dime a dozen, a book that focuses on a strong, capable young girl who deals bravely within a terrible situation remains refreshing.

Recommended for: high school readers.

-Melusine, Lynne Reid Banks. This book has all the hallmarks of a standard YA book: a moody young narrator, annoying family members, a love interest, and a bit of mystery thrown in for some excitement. However, there are deeper, darker themes within this book that separate it from the crowd and make it worth reading and discussing along with your child.

Roger is on holiday in France with his family; they choose to stay in the guest cottage of a crumbling old chateau run by a brusque man and his daughter, Melusine. As Roger gets to know Melusine, he realizes that her life at the chateau is cloying and isolated. He wants to help her, but she's evasive. He uncovers her deepest secrets, which shock him to his core, and in his quest to help her exercise her demons, he quickly realizes that he is far over his head.

Unlike Banks' other books (she's best known for the Indian in the Cupboard series), this book doesn't end tidily. I could see it being a great summer reading book, or as a way to talk about the importance of honesty, communication, and awareness with your child. Plus, your child will learn about the French myth behind the title character.

Recommended for: high school readers.

-The Dinotopia series, James Gurney. In the first and second grade, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. My mom had bought me Isaac Asminov's Did Comets Kill the Dinosaurs? when I was in the first grade, and before you could say "T. Rex," I was plowing through everything I could find about them (I even convinced my parents to let me read Jurassic Park, which was awesome and terrifying all at the same time!). When I was in the fourth grade, I found the Dinotopia series and fell in love all over again.

The series focuses on the journals of Arthur Denison and his son who are shipwrecked onto Dinotopia, a forgotten island where dinosaurs still exist--and where they co-exist with the human inhabitants (all of whom are descended from shipwreck survivors). The pair travels throughout the land, learning about this world and seeing how they could fit into it since there is no escape from the island.

If the story line doesn't reel you in, the pictures will. Gurney includes spectacular watercolors throughout the series as a way to bring the world to life.

Recommended for: elementary and middle school readers.


Have you read any of these books? What were some of your favorite books from back in the day?

Christmas in Savannah, Georgia



Landon and I decided not to give each other presents this year. We already have a lot of stuff, and  most of the things that we really wanted to give one another (a new master bathroom, a new house) weren't really feasible for holiday gifts.

One thing that was wanted was time together. And that is definitely possible, though a little difficult with all of the Christmas stuff this time of year.

Since we were taking Britton with us, Landon and I chose somewhere that wasn't too far away for our mini-escape. We didn't want to torture our poor baby (or ourselves) with a really long car ride because she's recently decided that she hates her car seat and will gladly scream until we let her out.

We live in the Charleston area, and there aren't too many places that you can get to in two hours that are worthy of a mid-winter break. From here, we could go to Myrtle Beach, Columbia, Florence, Hilton Head, or Savannah.

Landon and I both have a soft spot for Savannah (so much so that I named our blog after a Savannah-based author), and we've visited many times. The city has a ton of stores to walk around in and great restaurants to eat at, which was just perfect for us--we wanted a low key weekend away.

We didn't make any plans. We didn't book any tours. We just found a great deal on Priceline the day before we left, packed a few things, and piled in the car. It was completely stress-free (which is saying a lot these days, as anyone who's ever traveled with a six month old knows that being between a 6.5 and an 8 on the stress scale is pretty much a given).

We stayed across the Savannah River from downtown over on Hutchinson Island. I'd never been to the Westin resort, but I'm always up to try a new hotel. I was excited when our Priceline bid was accepted and we found out that the Westin would be our home for the weekend. Plus (and this was a BIG draw for me), we got to take the water taxi across the river to go shopping and to eat. I know--I'm a huge dork. It's the little things in life that amuse me to no end.

Britton wasn't too bad on the car ride down there: she sleep half the way and screamed half the way. After we checked in, we wandered around the hotel to look at all the decorations.


Bundled up in her Baby K'tan to check out the hotel Christmas lights!
River Street and the Savannah skyline from our hotel
After exploring the hotel, we headed back upstairs to our room. Britton was acting tired, rubbing her eyes and yawning, so Landon and I thought "yes! she's going to go to bed early, so we can all get some rest!" Britton's always been a good sleeper, but in the last week or so, she'd been fussy when we put her down to rest and she'd been waking up multiple times each night. I figured it was a combination of the vaccines she'd gotten last week, teething, and her six-month-growth spurt. Whatever the cause, we were all tired.

So much for wishing.

With a full tummy and in her warm pajamas, Britton fell asleep in my arms as I rocked her, but as soon as I put her in her crib, she woke up and started screaming. Landon took over, rocked her back to sleep, and tried to put her down. Screaming ensued. This cycle continued for two hours until she finally went to sleep after midnight.

Needless to say, our relaxing retreat didn't start out exactly as we expected.

However, being the eternal optimists that we are, we figured that Britton would sleep in Saturday morning since she'd gone to bed late.

Let's all laugh together.

At the stroke of 6 a.m., she was back up and at 'em. She was so grumpy, but refused to go back to sleep. Landon, being the saint of a husband that he is, offered to walk her around the resort for a bit so I could rest. Ahhh.

I woke up again an hour later to a beautiful morning in Savannah. I was a little sleepy, but nothing could dampen my mood for our full day of shopping and sightseeing.

The view from our room. Hello, Savannah!
We hopped on the free water taxi that ferries visitors across the river. It makes three stops: at the Westin, at the Waving Girl statue, and near the Hyatt Regency on River Street. If you're visiting, make use of the public transportation to get around. There's also a free trolley that goes up and down River Street, as well as one that hits up major points in the historic district. Walking is definitely the best way to see the city, but sometimes, you've just got to rest those feet for a minute!

We can at least look perky, even if we don't feel that way! 

Our shopping was interrupted by a downpour. The rain cover on Britton's stroller just wouldn't withstand the rain, so Landon put her in the Infantino carrier and zipped her up in his Columbia rain jacket!
After darting through the rain, we headed over to eat at the Pirates' House Restaurant. I know it's a tourist spot, but I love eating there. Plus, where else can you eat in a 300 year old house where a guy dressed up like Jack Sparrow will give you a history lesson?
Next was lunch at the Pirates' House restaurant. I love their Fried Green Tomato BLT (BLFGT?) salad.
Walking around burned up some calories, so we stopped by Sweet Carolina Cupcakes to get a few treats. Landon was afraid that the icing would get smashed if we just held them, so we put Britton in my carrier and strapped the cupcakes in the stroller. People pretty much thought we were crazy!

That night, we were tired from walking around, so we took the water taxi back over to the hotel. We were sort of hungry (but still kind of full from our lunch and snacks), so we ordered a hamburger from room service. I'm totally country-come-to-town, but I've never ordered room service before. The guy who brought it even set it up in our room.
Plus, there were mini condiments. Life is good.
Britton got up TWICE Saturday night (between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.), so we still weren't feeling too great Sunday morning. Still, we wanted to make the most of our last hours in Savannah. We packed up the room, and then headed out to the nearby Fort Pulaski for an early morning history lesson.

What's the best way to keep your baby warm when you encounter a chilly breeze? By stuffing her inside of your jacket, of course.

The front of Fort Pulaski. It was designed by the same man who was behind Fort Sumter (in the Charleston harbor) and Fort Jefferson (in the Dry Tortugas, off the coast of the Florida Keys).
A few more pictures from inside the fort:


Even with Britton's bizarre sleeping patterns, we still had a wonderful time. Landon and I decided that we're going to try and do a weekend getaway every year instead of exchanging gifts--any ideas on where we should head next year?

Have you ever gone on a trip instead of exchanging gifts?

We're in the Holiday Mood...Sort of

Normally, I'm all about Christmas.

I love buying presents and watching as my recipients open them.

I love getting presents (I'm not modest!).

I love seeing the twinkly lights that are hung all over town.

I don't love listening to the same old Christmas songs every year, but it's part of the process, so I embrace it. (The N*Sync Christmas album is the exception. That CD--which I bought from an actual record store in 1998--is pure listening gold.)

Last year, I pretty much tried to skip Christmas. I had an excuse, though. I was halfway through my pregnancy, and still dealing with relentless morning sickness. Who wants to deck the halls and stuff your face when you're constantly feeling like you might puke in the tinsel? We got a tree and we Landon decorated it. Baby Tadpole (we didn't even know it was Britton yet!) got lots and lots of fun things--things that we're using this Christmas, which I think is super cool. Christmas 2012 trundled along even though I couldn't give it my all, and I ended up having a pretty good holiday.

This year, I'm struggling again. Not because I'm sick like last year, or because I've decided I hate Christmas. I can't put my finger on the reason why, but it still doesn't feel like Christmas yet, even though we've started checking off the Christmas to-do list, like going to see Santa. And because of my lack of holiday mood, our house looked like it does the other eleven months in the year until last night.

I wanted to skip getting a tree this year (the horror! the horror!) because Britton is trying her dardest to crawl, the dog flies around here with abandon (usually skidding into furniture because our hardwood floors offer no traction), and the addition of baby stuff has made our tiny, 1100 sq. ft. house completely cramped.

Why bother? I thought. It will just get torn up by Britton/ the dog/ a combo of both. It will take too much time to decorate and put up, and heaven knows I have plenty of other things I need to be doing (like blogging, obvs).

But Landon, that wonderful husband of mine, insisted that we get a tree because it would make the house happier and Christmas-ier.

He was totally right. But don't tell him that I said that.

After Landon got off work last night, we went off into the chilly (for South Carolina) night to find our tree. Britton had just gotten up from her nap--which went late into the afternoon because Britton wasn't feeling well from her 6 month immunizations she'd gotten earlier--and was in a pretty good mood considering that I'd made her get three shots only hours before.


Landon and I broke from tradition and got a Douglas fir this year instead of a Fraser. Neither of us has ever had anything other than a Fraser, but the Douglas firs on the lot were so much fuller and greener. They smell a little different than the Fraser firs, but that's why I've got my awesome Fraser fir candle to burn, right?

Britton approves! She grumpily evaluated all of the other trees, but smiled when we got to this one. Coincidence? I think not.
Clockwise from upper left: 1) Britton's standards of tree purchasing are extremely strict. 2) The tree made it home and through half of the light stringing. 3) The tree in the sunlight. 4) Our tinseled mantle + our crocheted stockings.
Clearly, we didn't get too deeply into the decorating. We made it through the lights and the tinsel before Britton needed to go to bed; she was up half the night with a little temperature because of her vaccinations, so I've been limping along this morning. We might get some more decorations on the tree tonight--or we might not.

At least Britton's first Christmas won't be a total bust!

Britton Visits Santa (+ My Thoughts on St. Nick)

About a month ago, someone asked me when Britton was going to visit Santa, and the question caught me completely off guard.

I don't know if it's because I haven't gone to see Santa in about twenty years or because I was seriously sleep deprived at the time, but I had not given one second's thought about a picture with Santa.

I asked my husband, my sister, and my mom about a potential visit, and all of them looked at me as if I were crazy. Of course Britton needs to see Santa, they all told me.

I still wasn't convinced. After all, she's only six months old and guaranteed to remember exactly nothing of this Christmas. Plus, I am deeply conflicted about Jolly Old St. Nick (but more on that later).

Then, the Mommy Guilt started to set in. Britton's going to be the only baby who doesn't go see Santa. Britton will look at me in ten years and say, "Mom, what was wrong with you? Why aren't there any baby pictures with Santa?!" Also, I was going to completely ruin Christmas this year, and since it was the first Christmas that Britton would experience, there was basically a slippery slope from skipping Santa to skipping the whole she-bang in a few more years.

So, off to Santa we went. Landon and I were unsure as to how Britton would react. Most of the time, she'll go to anyone. She does this so well that, half the time, I'm pretty sure that she would assist in her own kidnapping because she's just so friendly to everyone. But then there's that 2% of the time when she decides that I am the best thing since sliced bread, and if I give her to someone else, she gets completely and totally grumpy.

Add this to the fact that she refused to take a nap yesterday afternoon, and we had a perfect storm of baby grumpiness brewing.

Or so I thought.

She ended up being a little angel. Britton checked out Santa, looked at the camera, and even smiled a tiny smile. Piece of cake!

I'm always worried about the creepy factor of handing my child to a perfect stranger dressed in a red wool suit, but this Santa was really nice and very patient as Britton figured out where to look for her picture. All in all, we couldn't have had a better experience. Plus, I highly recommend going on a school night because there wasn't a line at all.

Britton and Santa:


While the picture is impossibly cute (and I admit to sneaking peeks every few minutes!), I'm still not totally sure about the whole Santa thing in general.

As a kid, I didn't dwell too much on the idea of Santa. I went to Catholic school, as well as Methodist (and later Episcopal) Sunday School, so the religious aspect of Christmas was never far from my mind. Somehow, Santa had something to do with baby Jesus, but I didn't worry about it--I was one of those little kids that accepted things as they were. I wasn't the curious one asking where babies came from, or how Santa visited all of those kids in one night, or how in the world a bunny can carry baskets of candy. If my parents said it was so, I believed that it was.

It wasn't until late elementary school that I deduced that something was off about Santa, and I got a little creeped out by the idea that a diabetic, bearded man that I didn't know was roaming around our house while I slept.

While I know that many parents point to the Santa tradition as something fun and creative, I can't get away from the idea that I'm 1) lying to my child, and 2) getting away from the actual reason for the Christmas season. I'm all about making this fun for Britton--and heaven knows that I was a creative, highstrung child--but looking back, I'm not sure what a belief in Santa did for me growing up.

I don't like lying about anything. Most people in my life would tell you that I'm too honest. So why would I spin a yarn to Britton about Santa? I'd rather her know that it is her parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who love her and want to gift her new things. Plus, how can I tell her not to lie when I'll basically be doing the same thing under the guise of holiday fun?

The important part of Christmas to me is the time that I get to spend with my family: going to the church service Christmas Eve, making our Christmas Eve supper, opening the presents we've all worked so hard to purchase and wrap, and watching a holiday movie or two. The season isn't about getting stuff from a man in a red suit.

I'm still not sure what I'm going to do about this in the years to come. It seems cruel to ignore Santa completely, but I'm not one of those people who think that Santa MUST be this huge part of our holiday celebration. I think I'd be more comfortable with Britton learning about the actual Saint Nicholas and the myths that have been a result of his actions.

What are your thoughts on all of this? How did you think about Santa when you were a little kid? How have you approached the Santa component of Christmas, especially if you're Christian?

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Freelancing: What It Is and How to Do It


If you're like me (a stay at home mom), you're probably looking for a way to bring in a little extra money: that's where freelance writing can come in.

Before Landon and I had Britton, we worked hard to make sure that we could live off of one income. Not only did this tactic allow us to put more money towards responsible things like buying our first house and paying down our school debt, it created the opportunity for us to travel to Scotland and have a baby.

When we had decided that the time was right to start a family, we agreed that whoever was making the lesser salary would stay home with the baby. As it turned out, our salaries at the time of getting pregnant weren't that far apart, so we decided that I would stay home with Britton because I had the flexibility to work from home through freelance writing.

As luck would have it, I had started freelancing just after I found out I was pregnant. I loved writing, so the idea of getting paid for publishing my work was a great fit for me. Plus, I could do it in my spare time away from my full-time job (which, at the time, was teaching English at a homeschool program). After some research, I found several places that would kick start my freelancing career. Freelancing is kind of like getting a book published: no one wants to take you on unless you've been published, but you can't initially get published unless someone hires you. While I won't ever buy a private island with my freelancing income, the jobs I've taken on have given Landon and I some extra fun money that we wouldn't have otherwise had with me staying at home with Britton.

So, here are my tips and tricks on freelance writing and editing:

  • You have to LOVE to read and write. I don't say this lightly. Clients sometimes ask me to research and write a 500 word article in just a few hours. While 500 words isn't that much (most of my blog posts are probably longer), creating and researching an article of that length while also watching a six-month-old isn't the easiest. Someone who only kind of likes writing, editing, and researching should consider a different work-at-home position.
  • You have to be able to adapt quickly to whatever comes your way. With freelancing, clients are paying for both quality and quantity. They don't want an article filled with poor writing, factual mistakes, and grammar errors. They want a well-written, cleanly-edited piece that their readers will be able to easily follow. I've written articles on everything from Disney World (which I know a TON about) to faucets and energy-efficient plumbing (which I knew NOTHING about before writing the articles): if I don't know about a product or company, I need to find reliable resources that will allow me to write about them as if I'm an expert. 
  • You have to look for the jobs--and the competition can be vicious. A freelancing job hasn't ever fallen in my lap. At minimum, I've had to send in writing samples, references, and links to past jobs. My most intensive application process was about a month long and required me to produce multiple new sample pieces and demonstrate that I could do basic HTML coding. There are a ton of people who are qualified to be a freelance writer and editor, so you have to be on top of your game constantly. Double check your work. And then check it one more time. If you don't, you will lose jobs because of poor editing.  
  • Start with the people you know. If you're looking to get into freelance work, collect your best blog posts together and post them on Facebook, Google+, or Pinterest. Let your family and friends know that you're open for business; you never know who might be willing to give you a shot. My first freelancing job was for a high school friend who had recently opened his own marketing company. He wanted to focus on the business side of things without having to worry about the quality of the writing on the client blogs and websites. Just remember to have your expected minimum wage, completion timeline, and job requirements in your head from the very start, or you could lose the client due to being unprepared.  
  • How you get paid varies. Some clients want to pay me per word; other will pay me per paragraph. Some will want me to bid on a project--these are the scariest since you don't know what the other writers are bidding. As a freelance writer, you get to set your own rates most of the time; ask around to see what other freelancers are getting. Don't sell yourself short! Also, open a PayPal account if you don't already have one. This is a safe, easy way of getting paid, and most clients are very comfortable completing a transaction through PayPal.
Places to start if you're just getting into freelance work:
  • About.com. I worked for them as a wedding invitations topic writer before they restructured their website (they phased out the topic writers in favor of the guide positions, which require a much larger commitment). They are owned by the same company that owns the New York Times, so they are an extremely reputable company. The application process for these positions are insane, so be prepared to pull out all the stops. If you get one of this positions, you have arrived as a freelance writer, as an About.com position is considered the gold standard of freelancing. They pay per article and you are guaranteed a paycheck each month for completing your minimum. If you are extremely knowledgeable about a topic, check out their open listings: there are available positions in everything from jewelry to DIY home repair to powerboating.
  • Yahoo Contributors Network. This site is basically the opposite of About.com offers. Rather than hiring writers on a contract basis for a particular topic, Yahoo encourages writers to submit articles for review. These articles are then bid on by Yahoo: if Yahoo likes what you've written, you are offered a set price for it. You can also ask to be paid-per-click, which means that you'd continue to earn money on your article every time a user clicks on it. You have to be very self-motivated to work within this platform, as you have to generate every bit of content without any outside help or direction. To get a feel for what YCN looks for, see my article on Disney World and my article on day trips from Charleston
  • Craigslist. As with anything on Craigslist, approach with a healthy dose of caution. However, if you can weed through the scams, there are often some great writing and editing jobs to be found here (both local and remote). Just remember: never accept personal checks or send out your financial info without knowing the person. Any legit company will work with you to make you feel comfortable in all aspects of the writing process. 
While there are a million other places to find freelance positions on the internet, I'd start with these if you're new to the game. 

Happy writing!

Six Months Later...and the Surprises Keep on Coming!

Six months ago tonight, I was doing far worse than I currently am (though, I must say, not much beats blogging in your pjs while watching a movie with your significant other): I didn't have the easiest labor (for the gritty details, read the series I wrote here, here, here, and here), and Britton had some issues post-delivery.

I never imagined that my tiny baby who needed tubes to breathe and an IV to regulate her blood sugar would turn into this robust, outgoing, happy little girl that is currently sleeping in her crib.


Even though the pediatrician told us from our first post-NICU appointment onward that Britton would have no lasting issues from her dramatic first day, I had trouble believing him. Why is it that parents always imagine the worst?

The last six months have been amazing: Britton smiled at me for the first time, she learned to roll over (both ways now!), she can sit up, and she loves playing with Landon and I. Nothing makes my heart smile like peeking into Britton crib and seeing her beam back at me.

However, the last six months have been crazy difficult, too.

At one point, I was so tired that I couldn't fall asleep.

I would cry at the thought of having to wake up one.more.time without feeling rested.

I struggled with Britton nursing--she had tongue-tie, she had been bottle-fed in the NICU, she was (frankly) a lazy nurser who preferred the bottle. I finally started to pump exclusively, which took hours and hours of my time, kept me from going all sorts of places (who wants to haul around a stupid pump!?), and stopped me from snuggling with Britton as much as I wanted to (when you're stuck to a pump for 3+ hours a day, your baby has to learn how to keep herself occupied).

But, this week goes to show that being a parent is an ever evolving process. As Britton's six month birthday approached, I had decided that--for my sanity--I had decided to quit pumping and switch to formula. I was sick of pumping. I was sick of being away from my baby for hours each day. I was tired of having to haul that awful pump everywhere.

For kicks and giggles, I figured I'd give nursing one more go and end on a note of "well, I tried." I had come to terms with everything emotional that comes along with decided to wean before my baby wanted to.

Lo and behold: Britton latched yesterday morning. And all day yesterday. And all day today.

Six months into bottle feeding and pumping, my child has decided to nurse. I'm in uncharted waters here, as every site I search about beginning to breastfeed focuses on newborns and recently postpartum moms. Even websites that offer up advice for pumping mamas who are transitioning to breastfeeding usually focus on pretty small babies.

So, that goes to show you that babies can surprise you--even after you thought that they were (really) set in their ways. I have no idea how long this chapter of our lives will last, but I'm willing to take my cues from Britton since she obviously knows more than I do.

Happy six months, Britton!

My Harry Potter Obsession

My sister and I were shopping last night at Kohl's and found this:
{buy here}
We had a quick debate on whether it was dorky or awesome. Awesome won out, and now I have a new sweatshirt (which I'm wearing right now. I'm totally one of those people who can't wait to wear her new clothes).

I don't care if I'm waaay closer to 30 than I am 20. I love all things Harry Potter. I remember reading the first book when I was in eighth grade. One of the kids I was babysitting had left his copy out on the kitchen counter, and I was bored after he'd gone to bed, so I picked it up and read almost the entire thing by the time his parents came home. Fifteen years later, I'm still in love (mostly with the books, though the movies are pretty great, too).

When I studied abroad in London my junior year in college, the fifth book (Order of the Phoenix) came out. My roommate Nicole, my suitemate Randi, and I all prepaid for copies of the book (we had to put 12 pounds down--SO EXPENSIVE). Being the true HP fans that we were, we had to go to the midnight release party at our local Waterstone's. People were dressed up in costumes, the Waterstone's employees were handing out candy, and there were balloons everywhere. It was basically Halloween, but better. We even got free Waterstone's ponchos! (It wasn't raining or anything--I just think the bookstore employees were raiding the supply closet for things to give out.) The three of us wore our ponchos the rest of the night, and we got our books before anyone in America (thank you, time difference).
Back at our residence hall. Clearly, the participants of IES London 2005 were the coolest people, EVER.
Fast forward a few years. I heard that Universal Studios Orlando was going to open a Harry Potter section of Islands of Adventure. My sister and I started making plans to go for our semi-annual sisters' trip (see part 1 and part 2 of our trip).

It. Was. Worth. Every. Penny.

The attention to detail all over the park was incredible. My brain was telling me that I was in central Florida, but my eyes were telling me that I was in a snowy wizarding village.

All aboard the Hogwarts Express!
There were tricks and treats in Zonko's (which shared a space with Honeyduke's). I didn't get any tricks, but I did get a Sugar Quill and a Chocolate Cauldron. Accio candy!
Then, last year, I had the opportunity to travel to London with the family that I worked for as a tutor. We stayed for three weeks and went all over the place (it was totally exhausting, but we saw a TON of stuff). I helped plan the trip with the parents, and one of my suggestions for a fun day for the kids was the recently opened Harry Potter Studios in Leavesden, which is right outside of London. The actual sets, props, and costumes were on display--there are interactive green screens to play with, and there are a ton of short films and demonstrations about the behind-the-scenes stuff.

We're here! I think I was as excited as my students (ages 11, 9, 7 and 5) were. No shame.

The Great Hall.
In Diagon Alley. I'm wearing the Gryffindor shirt I bought at Harry Potter World (Universal Studios).
In front of the model of Hogwarts. I thought that was one of the most interesting bits I learned on the tour. There isn't a full sized Hogwarts, only this little version (and by "little," I mean a 14 foot tall model--size is relative, I guess). The exterior shots were filmed on this tiny model, and then the actors were CGI'ed into it. Movie magic!