I went in search of the impossible-to-attain today: A cute Mouse King ornament and Clara/ballerina with brown hair ornament. Yes, those two crucial elements (cute and brunette) were destined to foil me, I just knew it.

My first stop was Hallmark (because, hello, it's Hallmark) and they did have an ornament Barbie as Clara (and Barbie as Corinne) ... but she was very blonde. My monkeychild is not a blondie (and I don't care who disagrees with me). There was no Mouse King in sight. I then wandered into a supposed holiday shop, but that was actually a party store that had 18 different types of $40 skanktumes for all seasons but only a small display of ornaments.

I was prepared to take hours out of my precious schedule to drive all the way to Cary or Fayetteville for a real ornament hunt. My mind was 85 percent made up. And then I alighted on it: the little shop tucked away in a corner. On a whim, I decided to explore. Can you guess what I found?

There was no official nutcracker, but the kids were so beside themselves with excitement and adoration over each of these that I'm calling it a huge success. I presented the nutcracker and the mouse king to Javi and Bella is the proud owner of the Sugarplum Fairy (who has brown hair!). So perfect.

I participate in an ornament exchange each year, so I also bought a cute little ornament for that family (and Bella's second official ornament will come from the exchange). And because I was sucked into the magic, I went ahead and selected this cute gem for our family ornament.

Honestly, I really wanted a penguin family but there was no family of four penguins and so I had to settle for people. Really pale people. But that's okay -- the shop was magical and I was happy to support it. There was also a gorgeous cinnamon bun and french silk pie on display but I abstained. I prefer my magic to come without added calories.

The ornament spree wasn't over. While I cooked up a pot of turkey stew (the last of our Thanksgiving leftovers), the wee ones painted their own wooden ornaments. I have no idea what we'll do with these yet, but lorda mercy did those two love this activity:

Bella quickly whipped through her Christmas tree and then moved onto paper while Javi worked painstakingly on his snowman. I foresee more wood and paint in our future.

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The Nutcracker

I have a confession: The first time I ever watched The Nutcracker was seven long days ago. And it was a Barbie movie we bought for $5 to keep Bella quiet during grocery shopping. (Better than gummy bears, right? RIGHT?)

I am not a fan of Barbie in general. When I was kid, I begged my mom to buy me some Barbies. She did. I woke up Christmas morning with all six Barbie & The Rockers. I promptly cut and died their hair and then destroyed sock after sock "designing" outfits for them. They were in the trash less than a week later. Since then, I haven't understood the pull Barbie has on girls both young and old.

But the DVD was only $5 and I figured that if she didn't like it once we popped it in, I'd give it to the other little girl at her school (who is the current recipient of all of Bella's gently used things). Bella hugged it and squeezed it and screamed bloody murder if we dared take it away from her. When we got home, the first thing she wanted to do was watch "Bobby."

So we did. And three members of our household were hooked: Bella, Javi, and me. Firstly, why the hell has no one told me how adventurous and engaging the story of The Nutcracker is? There was sword fighting, mouse armies, time travel ... the whole shebang. And my big kid collects nutcrackers. Why didn't I ever consider exposing him to this story before now?

All I can say is we've watched it now. We've watched it so many times, I can recite it and both kids can act it out. "Bobby da nudcackah" is an official family favorite. I'm even on the lookout for a mouse king to add to our nutcracker collection. (And there are two very demanding children who have asked me 878 times if I've found one. "Where dat mouse king go, mama? Where he comin' from?" So if you know where to find a mouse king, spill it!)

Nutcrackers and mice kings aside, I'm now seriously considering a trip to the ballet with both children. I may or may not be waiting for Hoffman's original story to arrive. I may or may not be crafting a new family tradition in my mind -- one that involves a trip to an indie coffee shop for hot chocolate and pumpkin lattes and children dressed to impress, just like I used to see as a barista in Boston's theatre district.

Let me just say it out loud: I'm so glad we made that $5 purchase. And, yes, I was a little too excited when I woke up on Friday morning and discovered Javi watching what could become another family favorite: Barbie and The Three Muskateers.

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Holiday cards

I new I wanted to do our family's holiday card* picture this weekend so as to take advantage of some print sales. I bought Bella's holiday dress weeks ago and decided Javi could wear his school uniform (collared shirt, khakis, belt). Outfits - check.

Then, for my birthday (which was Friday), I asked the mountain man to forgo a gift in exchange for putting up the Christmas tree. He corralled the children until I decided to get my lazy self out of bed that morning at 11:30 am. I heard what sounded like bells and got exciting thinking my tree was up and ready for decorations. Not hardly. Those bells were a certain holiday gremlin raiding the candy bowl while wearing reindeer ears. After a not-so-subtle comment, my pencil tree was erected.

Javi opted to watch while Bella and I dressed the tree. I guess the ornaments are old hat to him, but Bella adored unwrapping each one, asking "where dis come from?" and then hearing the story of whose ornament it was. She then hung her ornaments on the same three branches at the bottom of the tree. When she wasn't looking, the mountain man redistributed them for her. This is the first year we haven't had to leave the bottom third of the tree empty for fear of her destructive hands. Rather, she has lovingly tended the tree and remains fascinated by the ornaments on it. I can't wait to let her pick out her own ornament this year. Decorating the tree - check.

So now nothing stood in the way of getting the Best Shot. I knew going in that there'd be no perfect shot, so I decided to face the stress by doing what I could to get both kids in the frame, in front of the tree, with somewhat of a smile on their faces. That was for the best because just getting Bella into her outfit was like wrangling kittens and Javi kept asking me why he had to put on clothes. You know, because we all hang out in our underwear, right?

Let's just say that after breaking a sweat getting that girlchild into tights, undershirt, overdress, and shoes, I then had to do something with the mop that sits on her head. I opted for a headband because you can't go wrong... except she wanted to wear it like a pirate eye patch. Yeah. And then Javi refused to take his shoes off and so kept catching the tree skirt in the treads. Uh huh. Best shot. And I got it. And it will be in folks' mailboxes soon. But I worked for it. Seriously. These are my favorite outtakes:

Somebody really wanted a pirate eye patch. Damn headband.

No one cracks these two up like each other.

After all of that, including what could've been the breakdown of my marriage if the mountain man didn't stop stepping in front of the camera, my darling girl did this of her own free will:

What the fudgsicle?! Game on, little sassypants. Game on!

*And, yes, I saw holiday. When you're sending your cards to friends and family members of all faiths, you have to pull your head out and realize Christmas is only one of the holidays celebrated in December.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

This is the first Thanksgiving in at least five years that I haven't hosted both my family and the mountain man's to our home for an evening of food and conversation. This year, we're packing up and heading over to my mom's house (and "we're" includes my half siblings from my dad's second marriage).

There have already been some near-disasters, but we're all extremely thankful to have each other in health and happiness. The next twelve months are guaranteed to test us, but I hope we are all here and have as much to celebrate next year as we do today.

Also, I'd like you to know that your readership and comments always make my day. If I could give each of you a Javi-wrapped gift complete with Bella-stamped leaves (yes, those are leaves and not rotten bananas), I totally would. From my crazy family to yours, happy Thanksgiving!

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Lessons in gratitude

I'm not always capable of spotting the silver lining in our little family's storm-tinged clouds. The reasons are both obvious (I suffer from slight OCD) and surprising (I grew up in a constant state of anxiety).

Therefore, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my child who refuses to read each sentence in his math word problems, breaks down in tears because I refuse to find "misuse" in the dictionary for him, and comes home from school reciting long lists of what he did wrong that day (even when his behavioral report is positive). I have a child who is not flying through academics with ease. He stumbles over every single challenge he encounters.

But here's the thing. Though my son is compelled to make everything more difficult than it has to be, he is excelling. He works diligently on his homework every night, loves sticking his nose in a book, and has a burning curiosity for more information. He doesn't just want to know what, exactly, misuse means. He wants to know why it means that. Who decided? Why the prefix mis- instead of dis-?

And for the first time since he moved out of Ss and Us and into As and Bs, he has earned a spot on the A/B Honor Roll. Had this happened a few years ago, I would've been disappointed. I can admit that. I would've been disappointed that my highly intelligent child wasn't performing at the top of his abilities. I would've lectured him about his potential and his future.

But we've been down a long road. We've sat beside each other in a therapist's office and learned how to stop his disorder from controlling his life. We've tried method after method for keeping his complete lack of impulse control from keeping him in constant turmoil. We've sat in parent-teacher conferences listening the same message time and again: Javi is impulsive. He doesn't sit still. He talks out of turn and disrupts his peers. He argues with his teachers. He gives nonsense answers to questions though we know he knows the correct answer.

Yes, the road has been long and it has, at times, seemed dark and hopeless. We aren't at the end of it yet; however, my child took a deep breath sometime back in September and decided he was going to try just a little harder. He came home with an 82 (a firm C) in Math on his report card, and we sat down with him and talked about ways he could improve. He came home last week with the results of that pep talk: an 87 (a way firm B).

Some days I struggle to see the silver lining and other days I get blinded by the burst of light that my funny, smart, sweet little boy brings into my life. He never questioned his ability to hunker down and push through, never doubted that his dad and I are his staunchest allies, and never for one moment gave up on himself.

People like to say that I saved Javi's life, that I rescued him from what would've been a horrible life. But when I see him work so hard to conquer his challenges without ever throwing his hands up in defeat, I am so thankful to have him in my life. I didn't rescue him; he rescued me, and he teaches me another lesson in gratitude every single day.

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GTT: Not-so-hot hotties

More frequently than you might think, I develop crushes on completely average looking men. Pudgy, sweet, wielding a tool, dirty from a hard day's work... There's something about an attainable, approachable man that never fails to make my boobies tingle.

So here's to them:

1. Sam Elliot. Gah. So gruff and awesome. From the moment I saw him in Rocky Dennison as a kid (and, no, I don't care that the movie isn't actually named that), I've been a goner. This is why.

2. Billy Bob Thornton. I don't really know why. He just seems real... and dirty.

3. Chris Rock. You know living with this man has to be nothing short of a non-stop roller coaster. Nothing is more attractive than a funny ass man.

4. Cole Hauser and Michael Rappaport.
In my mind, sometimes they are the same person. Don't ask.

5. Benicio Del Toro. What's really crazy is this guy is described as a Silver Fox. Whaaa? I could just stare at him all day long.

Alright - so which not-traditionally-hot hottie is on your list?

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QOTD: I Sold Them .... For Free

Some of Javi's funniest moments come right after he bursts through the front door fresh from school.

J: Don't tell Daddy, but I was going to take these to school to sell them. [Holds up intricately folded pieces of paper.] So I get them down from up there [points to the entertainment armoire] and took them to school today.

Me: And did you sell any?

J: Yep, I sold three of them!

Me: How much did you sell them for?

J: [Shrugs exaggeratedly] For free. It's still selling though!


After flashing the shapes he didn't sell in my face, Javi then holds up a particular one and says, "Alex did this one." I glance at it and nod to show that I saw it.

J: Don't you see what it says? Look closer. [Puts it so close to my face, my eyes cross.]

Me: I can't make it out.

J: Oh, no, it's this one. [Holds up a shape with "Fouck You" written on it. Stares at me with big eyes.]

Me: What?! Why do you have that?

J: He just gave it to me.

Me: Well, I'm calling your teacher. That's completely unacceptable.

J: No mama! Don't tell her!

Me: What if you'd gotten caught with that? Alex wouldn't be the one in trouble -- you would be. I'm sorry, but it can't happen again.

J: Please, mama! Please! Can't you let it slip just this one time? Please? I promise not to take anything else with bad words on it. Please?

Me: This time, Javi. It had better not happen again. And you tell Alex that I'm watching him.

J: Thanks for letting it slip by, mama. I just don't know why Alex wrote that word. He can't even spell it right!

Yeah, Alex, learn to spell. Because that's what you should be ashamed of!

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Counting my blessings

The past few weeks have been filled with sadness. I've felt bombarded by the flow of heartwrenching negativity and spent too much of my time wondering how such cruelty and devastation as the murder of Shaniya and other babies can exist and even thrive ... because the world also holds so much beauty and so many possibilities.

As cliche as it sounds, I've decided to concentrate on the positivity. I need to keep the good things in front of my face lest I fall into the crushing abyss of darkness that always looms just behind me. So for today, and the days to come, I'm choosing to count my blessings.

I'm focusing on the crisp blue skies and warm weather that we have normally forgotten by November, the soul stirring contrast of bright orange or yellow leaves against that amazing blue, my children's laughter as they run through piles of freshly raked leaves, my husband's hand reaching for mine as we trail behind them.

I am so thankful for their health and happiness and for the health and happiness they bring to me. I hold in my hearts the other mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends who are struggling right now. I send courage and strength to those who need it most. And, above all else, I pray that we all find a way to bring more positivity into this world.

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Thinking about Shaniya

One story has haunted me for nearly a week now. Last Tuesday, our local news reported about a little five-year-old girl kidnapped from her mother's couch between 5:30 am and 6:30 am.

That's what we knew then. The Amber alert went out and everyone in our community went into action. We talked about Shaniya. We looked for her in the face of every young girl we saw. And then the news came in that she was spotted at a local hotel in the arms of a strange man.

That's when our hope and prayers took another a more desparate note. We wanted to believe she was still alive, that there was a future for little Shaniya, that no one would snuff out a precious life that had so much left to experience. But then...

Two days ago police arrested the child's mother on charges of knowingly selling Shaniya into sexual servitude.

The man seen holding Shaniya and getting onto an elevator with her to take her to a hotel room was arrested and charged with kidnapping.

An anonymous tipster told police they saw Shaniya with a man seemingly in his sixties.

Another tipster suggested police look for Shaniya's body in the woods less than two miles from my house.

And earlier today, searchers -- people who volunteered their time and energy and hearts to find this sweet girl -- stumbled upon her body in those woods.

I don't have many words to describe the gaping wound I feel in my chest. I didn't know Shaniya Davis or her family. I didn't volunteer to search for her, though I yearned to be out there turning over every rock if only to prove she was still alive. What I did was pray for her and her family, and remain riveted to news reports of the investigation.

Right now, just the idea of finding her there, alone and cold and abused and dumped in the woods like garbage. It pierces me. It makes my heart crumble and the tears flow and my body goes wobbly. I cannot imagine her father's pain or how his body will react when he has to identify his baby's body.

I don't know what the lesson here is, but I'm searching for it. Today, I will put my arms around them and shower them with kisses. I will breathe in their scents and show patience for their inability to see past the challenge at their feet.

I will love them with everything I have. And I will pray that Shaniya's death brings love to all the children in my community -- and yours -- tonight.

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I spent yesterday in the house with the kids. Hurricane Ida sent steady, cold rain and heavy winds our way so we decided not to venture out anywhere and the kids' schools were closed in observance of Veteran's Day.

I went to bed on Tuesday night filled with anxiety and dread. What would we do all day? How would my sanity remain intact? Why was the school system punishing me?

But I was worried about nothing. Bella slept until almost 10 am. There were some touch-and-go moments where they yelled in each other's faces (Leave me alone! I'm not touching you! LEAVE ME ALONE! I'm not doing anything! GET OUT OF MY FACE! I'm not even near you! -- and it was the two year old who did all the yelling), but all in all, we had a really good day.
The kids played legos and ate lunch. We then spent some time thinking about and showing our gratitude toward those who've fought for our country and our freedom: family members like my cousin Brandon who passed away last month at the age of 25 after serving in Iraq and friends like our neighbors who just returned from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan.

We enjoyed each other. There was laughter and discussion and joy. I think we spent the day doing what our service men and women would want: Being a family.

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GTT: Fictional Five

The girls over at Girl Talk Thursday are talking about those fictional folks who make you suck in your breath, check your heart rate, and squirm a little in your seat. These are mine:

5. Michael Curry, The Witching Hour

There is no photo of Michael Curry, and I read somewhere a long time ago that Mel Gibson (blech!) had been approached about playing his character in a film adaptation of The Witching Hour. But I just re-read the Mayfair Trilogy for the 7 millionth time since I first discovered the TWH back in the early 90s and throughout, when I imagined Michael, it was Jason Patric who flashed up in mind. To be touched by Michael's cold leather gloves, to feel his piercing gaze, to have this warlock weilding hammers and wit in my honor. Oh my boobies.

4. Puck, Glee

If you didn't know me in high school and college, then you may not know that I have a thing for a bad boy. Not just an "I'm a good girl who likes to flirt with the dark side" thing, but an honest-to-goodness "I used to have a boyfriend in prison" thing. I still have a hard time not salivating over a rough and tumble man who flaunts the law and does what the hell he wants -- to hell with the consequences.

However, I also have two children and a mortgage. And a husband without a prison record. So, the most harm I can do to myself is lust after young punks who will most likely wind up serving time somewhere. The dark, beautiful kind like Puck are the ones that make me close my eyes and remember sneaking out as soon as my mom fell asleep, spending all night pretending that the rest of the world didn't matter, and feeling on-nerve's-end until I could be with my chosen troublemaker again.

3. Jacob Black, Twilight

I have no shame in admitting that I am on Team Jacob. Edward's great, but I prefer my men hot and on a motorcycle, not sneaking into my room to watch me sleep and then treating me like a moron who can't make decisions for herself. Edward = Stalker; Jacob = Rawr.

However, Taylor Lautner is not my Jacob Black. I've said this 80 million times, but Taylor Lautner played SharkBoy (one of Javi's favorite characters of all time) and he's a voice on Danny Phantom (another of Javi's favorite shows). My Jacob Black is Steven Strait. Oh my lord in heaven. That man does things with a look that Taylor couldn't do with eight hands and three tongues. Er, that's a lot people.

2. Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice (BBC adaptation)

Pride and Prejudice was one of the first "classic" books I ever read, and it immediately become a life-long favorite. So how could I not fall in love with the BBC's adaptation starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy? The smouldering stare, the desire barely contained, the utter craving he feels for Elizabeth. I'm not the only one still longing for Mr. Darcy. Colin Firth likes to joke that if he changed professions and became an astronaut, the media would report, "Mr. Darcy Heads To The Moon." Amen, media!

1. Noah Calhoun, The Notebook

Oh my boobies. This scene where Noah and Allie were in the canoe and it started raining and they got back to the dock and she started to walk away but couldn't. She confronted him there in the rain and he revealed that he never did and then says The Line. "It wasn't over. It STILL isn't over." And then he sweeps her up. And oh my sweet boobies again. This. This. This. Too be loved like this.

Runners up: Johnny Castle from Dirty Dancing, Jason Morgan from General Hospital, James Sawyer from Lost, Jack Linden as portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, Will Schuester from Glee, Warrick Brown from CSI, Julia from Hideous Kinky (as played by Kate Winslet), Sirius Black and Remus Lupin from Harry Potter, Metatron from Dogma (and so many other of Alan Rickman's characters), Cassidy from The Wrestler, Seth Gecko from From Dusk Til Dawn, Antonio Banderas in Desperado, Troy Tatterton from V.C. Andrews' Casteel series, and so many more!

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WFMW: Fun with crayons

I love to color and draw, but my love is nowhere near as intense as my children's. Javi can sit at the table and draw characters and worlds for hours. Bella woke up sometime last week with an undying devotion to her 24-pack of Crayolas and now begs to "cudderin" at all times.

For instance, earlier this week, I said to her, "Baybay, you wanna help me make some cookies?" And that little freakazoid answered, "No tanks. I'm cudderin." Who does that?

However, this fury of coloring has left us with many broken and worn down crayons that end up discarded in the bottom of the crayon bowl (a box couldn't contain the glory for long). I considered tossing them, but I am a re-user at heart and couldn't stick something in a landfill that could have a second use.

Instead of throwing them in the trash, I broke up the larger nubs and added everything to our mini-muffin tins. I then popped the tins in the oven at 350 degrees and let the crayons "cook" until they are just melted. Then I stuck them in the freezer to set. After about 30 minutes, the new crayon blobs (as Javi affectionately calls them) will pop right out of the tins. I let them come back to room temperature and then stick them back in the crayon bowl. Bella has begun preferring these because she can hold them with her whole hand.

When I was younger, we used up old crayons in a more creative way. We'd grate the crayons into shavings and then scatter them onto a sheet of wax paper. Once the pattern was how we wanted it, an adult would lay another sheet of wax paper on top and then iron the whole thing until the shavings melted. I was always so amazed at the final product. I think I should try this with my bitty ones soon!

This is what works for me. What works for you?

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The math struggle

Kindergarten brought wall words and color-by-number worksheets. Javi would circle the two objects that started with the key letter and practice spelling out each tiny word. Then came first grade with addition and patterns and stories that last pages. And then second grade gave us chapter books, reading comprehension, and complicated addition and subtraction.

You would think the first three years of Javi's education would have prepared us for third grade. But tonight it feels as though we're treading water and I can't help but wonder if the boat's going to come back for us before the sharks begin to circle.

Tonight's dilemma: Following instructions. I know that a huge disadvantage of ADHD is the ability to follow a chain of command. While I read a word problem and see Sentence A, Sentence B, and therefore Sentence C, my child can read the exact same word problem and still not find the "therefore."

In fact, even after I break it down and explain five ways to Sunday, he still can't tell me what question he's answering. Otis has nine crates of milk and Molly has six. Each crate contains eight bottles. How many more crates does Otis have than Molly? How many more bottles does Otis have?

Javi's answer to the first question: 17. Javi's answer to the first question after 30 minutes of discussion and different strategies: 16? We can't even begin to answer the second question because he didn't acknowlege it as a question. Apparently it was just filler words at the end of the problem.

At this point, I think I've tapped my teaching resources. There's a reason I'm not in a classroom and the main one is that I don't have the patience and creativity to guide a child toward the correct conclusion. So now's when I contemplate whether we need to bite the bullet and hire a tutor.

Now is also the time when I admit that the child is making As and Bs. He actually pulled up his math grade from an 83 the first quarter to an 85 this quarter and I'm hoping his determination will help him get it up higher as the year wears on.

I had a conversation with his teacher a few months back in which we discussed when a parent should back off a child and allow him to be the student he is capable of being. That means riding his back when he underachieves. It also means stepping back when he's doing okay, but not overachieving.

That's what I think about when I'm trying to lead him to the correct number of crates and bottles. I have an inner struggle in which half of me says, "Just walk him through it so he sees how you came to the answer and put him out of his misery." The other half says, "Sit here and shut your mouth until he walks himself through it so that next time he knows exactly what to do."

I know the correct solution for Javier is in there somewhere, but I'm not sure whether either of us will survive until I can figure it out. If anyone has strategies for helping a child with ADHD conquer the math battle, please share! I'll be waiting here with third grade on my back.

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The trenches

Starting a couple weeks ago, Baybell has begun waking up late in the evening or super early in the morning. She never gets out of bed, but definitely lets us know she would if we'd let her. She yells from the bed, "Dah-dee! Dahhhh-deeeee!" or "Mah-mah! Mahhhh-mahhhhh!" in her singsong voice until one of us comes in to get her. Which we don't do.

I think when it started, she'd cough and wake herself up. Because she felt awake, she thought we should come on up and start the day. Now it's a habit. She'll wake up, yank the string on her musical butterfly (her obsession with that thing is a whole other story), yell out for us for a good 10 minutes, and then roll over and go back to sleep. Every night. Sometimes multiple times per night.

While subsequent nights are annoying, the first night was hilarious. At one point, Billy and I laid in the dark (while he played some football game on the PS2) and just listened to her. We laughed and enjoyed that the two of us are experiencing this child ... this life ... together.

We bicker and we get frustrated with each other, but when it comes to the trenches, Billy is the one person who I always want right beside me.

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Need your fall craft suggestions!

It's November, and today we took a fall nature walk in 75 degree weather. There was some sweat involved, but the walk itself was really nice. Bella rode the first half mile on her jeep and then walked the rest of the way. We spotted a hawk, a lizard, and way too many "skurhls" to count.

But the best part of the walk was the impromptu collection of fall objects: red, yellow, and orange leaves; acorns of various sizes; random sticks of straw; and the first winter berries. We'll be visiting with Grandma later this week and plan to add a pine cone and pecans to our collection.

But now what? When we first started picking up the different colored leaves, I thought I'd keep everything in a shoebox that Bella could access and look through as fall progresses. However, that seems a little too ... messy. I mean, won't the leaves get brittle and then break as the sticks and acorns continuously tumble into them? In my imagination, she can touch and examine each individual object, which doesn't seem likely with a shoebox of natural trash.

So does anyone have a suggestion? What fall craft or display method would be ideal for a two-year-old's fall collection? Surely someone's done this before!

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I am eight years old. We're visiting my grandfather who has a brand new floor television to take full advantage of the cable only recently run to his house. He is reading the paper, so I lay down on my belly to watch one of my favorite cartoons. I'm trying to figure out how tall Smurfs really are (do they make mushrooms so big a tiny thing could live in or under them?) when my mouth drops open. They're blue! Smurfs are blue and many of them have tattoos in bright colors and Smurfette's hair is yellow. The amazing wonders of color television!

I am thirteen years old. I've conquered worlds one and two in Mario Bros but can't seem to get past world three. I jump from mushroom to mushroom, dodging turtledoves and always missing that sneaky slider that hangs between me and finally completing the level. I watch my sisters, my cousin, and my neighbors fly through the level. But not me. Then I learned how to skip from world two to world four and never worried about world three again... until I got to world seven. Those were the days.

What memory does a patch of mushrooms rising up overnight make you think of?

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Happy Recovery From Hauloween

There's something magical about seeing scores of little people running around with treat bags in a town where barely anyone walks the streets and people don't really seem to know each other anymore.

Halloween is one of the only holidays where neighbors greet neighbors, people laugh as they pass each other, and every adult smiles wistfully as the see the next generation of superheroes, princesses, punk rockers, and monster run by. I know many people see Halloween as a dark, pagan holiday, but in our sleepy little town, it's a bright opportunity to feel connected to your community and to each other.

We started our festivities with the local No Scare Fair, which is a fundraiser for several area charities and is run by Willing Hands. The organizers decorate many booths in different Halloween themes and then have adults and teens dress up to hand out the candy. My kiddos were in candy heaven as we made our way down Candy Lane. After the "trick or treating," families are invited to play games, make crafts, or watch a puppet show.

However, we knew we had many stops to make so we headed out to see family and friends before doing some serious trick or treating. While you get the most candy at the No Scare Fair, Aunt Jean's house is a close runner up in terms of pure volume -- and she gets points for creativity. In years past the kids have gotten packs of Ramen noodles, boxes of Halloween themed cereal, and gobs of chocolate. This year she had to tone it down a little, but the kids still walked away with Halloween-themed mac & cheese, popcorn balls, gummy treats, snowballs, individual bags of goldfish, bananas, and the aforementioned gobs of candy and chocolate.

Grandma's house was our last stop before heading back to the house so that Bella and I could hand out candy and the boys could do more trick or treating. My mom is not one to fill kids' bags with candy, but she's also a thoughtful treat giver. The kids got Halloween-themed light up wands and flashlights, blinking necklaces, puzzles, pencils, cups, activity and coloring books, erasers, and stamps. Bella also got a mini-Pooh snowglobe that glows in reds, blues, and yellows.

We were content to come back home and watch the Halloweentown series (Javi's choice), but Ms. Bella was not finished. The whole way home she cried to keep trick or treating, so I had to take her around our neighborhood as well. Then she agreed to hand out candy and both kids loved handing out the treats and talking to all the trick or treaters. We've decided that next year we'll decorate our front yard and scare our trick or treaters rather than walk all over creation. It was Javi's idea. :)

Unfortunately, Halloween didn't leave us without a reminder that too much is too much. Javi woke up sick this morning and has had to use the throw-up bowl at least three times already. I'm hopeful that this is the result of candy overload and not more sickness. I'm focusing on Halloween's bright spots today!

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