Monday, November 30, 2015

Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

This weekend we decorated the house for Christmas and got our Christmas tree.  Each year we go to a "Cut your own" farm, and pick a tree.  We cut it down ourselves (well, Mat does), and haul it home.

This year, we used a new farm we haven't tried in the past.  I am so glad we did because not only did they have amazing trees, the prices were exceptional for this area.  Every tree - no matter the size - was the same price, which worked in our favor since we wanted a big one.

Finley named our tree this year "Sticky Joe".  He was a little sappy (and we did have a few Clark Griswold moments thanks to the sap), but he is doing well now.  We set him up, put the lights on and put on the ornaments.

We love decorating the tree.  We have ornaments from Mat's and my childhood, ornaments we buy each other every year, ornaments the kids pick out each year, and our annual family ornament.  We take each ornament out and talk about it and when we got it (all our labeled with the year).  And I think about how someday, the kid's ornaments will go with them to their own homes and hang on their own trees.

It is one of my favorite parts of the season.  Recounting memories of years past, and thinking about their meaning holds a special place in my heart.  Now it really feels like the Christmas season has begun.

Riding the tractor after cutting the tree
 It was Arlington's turn to put the angel on top of the tree this year.  This angel is 18 years old - Mat and I got it the year we were married.  
 Sticky Joe all pretty

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Finley's podcast and really cooking.  She and Mat watch a My Little Pony Episode each week, and then discuss the episode.

She is having a really good time with it.  If you want to check it out, click on the link below.

She loves comments, emails, and followers.  She always checks, and it means a lot to her.

Thank you!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Book #50

Do you see that?  #50!  I made it to the end of my challenge with over a month to spare!  I am so proud of myself.

I am not done reading for the year of course (I have already started my next book), but I am done blogging about books on this site.  This is my family blog, but I am going to do another reading challenge in 2016, so I set up a book blog called "Breathe to Read'

You can check it out

Today I am reviewing A Christmas Carol

It falls under the category:  A book that takes place at Christmas time.

I saved my Christmas book for last on purpose.  Wanted to read it as close to the holiday season as I could.  I am sure I don't need to tell a single sole what this book is about.  Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably seen at least one Christmas Carol movie over the years.

Normally I would not read a book where I have seen the movie.  But I have never read A Christmas Carol.  I really don't know how I have not read the book, but I wanted to at least see how closely the movies resembled the book.

They did a really good job.  There was not a lot in the book that was left out.  A few minor details that really did not affect the story in any way.  The book is written in the style of the time, but even then, it was not a complicated read.

I recommend reading it, even if you have seen the 100 versions played on TV.  A classic is a classic.

Rating:  4 1/2 stars

Monday, November 16, 2015

Getting Ready for our Holiday Trip

This year for Christmas, Mat and I are taking the Kids to Hawaii and San Diego.  We have never gone away for the holidays before.  Mat's travel abilities (as well as the kids) make it hard to go unless we are on a break.  So we decided this was the right time.

Hawaii was #2 on Finley's vision bucket list, so this is one of the biggest reasons we are going.  She wants to snorkel and see the volcanoes.  We are really looking forward to being somewhere warm while our home state of Massachusetts is freezing.

I am a planner.  If you remember my posts from our trip to Europe two summers ago, I filled a binder with our itinerary and tickets.  When traveling with small children, I do not recommending not having a plan.  That plan needs to be flexible in case thing happen, but there needs to be at least something in place.  For us - enjoying our vacation means having an idea of what we will be doing ahead of time.  We are only there for so many days, and there are a lot of things we would like to do.  We need to be reasonable and smart with our time.  So.....plan it is.  We buy all of our tickets that we can ahead of time for all excursions to make sure we don't have any disappointments.

I have laid out our trip, and we are pretty excited.  Here is what it looks like:

December 23 - we fly out.  We are traveling the whole way to Hawaii on this day.  We have a layover in San Diego, but it will be a whole day's travel.  It is 12 hours of flying to get to Oahu.  We arrive there at 6:30pm Hawaii time, but we will think it is 12:30am.  So we will be eating and heading to bed.  We have rented an apartment from Airbnb (my favorite place on the planet) that is walking distance to the beach.  After our experience with Airbnb in Europe, I have decided this is my new favorite way to travel.  We get a whole apartment with a washer and dryer so that I don't have to pack as much.  Score.

December 24th - This day we are doing to hike Diamond Head.  Mat and I were in Hawaii about 17 years ago and did this.  It is a great hike - not long and the views you can't beat.  Then in the afternoon we are going to check out some Christmas Gingerbread houses in Waikiki and see the City Hall Christmas Display.  Then we are hitting the beach to relax until our dinner reservations that night.

December 25th - our first Christmas away from home.  I am more nervous about it than the kids are.  I think they are going to be fine.  There will not be a lot of presents because the trip is their big present, but there will be a few.  Then we are heading out for the day.  Beach, Byodo-In Temple, LuluMahu Falls hike - it will be a lot of fun.

December 26th - Today we are spending the day at the Polynesian Culture Center.  This is something Mat and I did the last time we were there and it was a lot of fun.  That night we see a Luau (we explained Finley's situation and they were able to get us close seats).  Not sure how the kids will react to a pig being cooked in the ground......but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

December 27th - we are going to Dole Plantation to check out the Pineapple farms and then have tickets to Pearl Harbor for the afternoon.

December 28th - We are going snorkeling this day!  We have a trip planned to Hanauma Bay but first - we bought tickets for the kids and us to go Parasailing.  They don't know it yet - it is a bit of a surprise, - but I think they will love it.  In the afternoon we will be at the beach all day relaxing.

December 29th - today we fly to the Big Island of Hawaii.  We are touring the Island (with a tour group) and seeing the Volcanoes.  I think the kids will love this.  Mat and I did this day trip when we were there and it was a highlight of the trip.  Seeing actual lava is pretty cool.  We will be gone from 6am-8pm, so this is an all day affair

December 30th - Today we are going to the North Shore.  The North Shore in the winter is when the waves are huge.  20 foot huge.  And when the professional surfers come out to play.  We are going to go to watch, and check out the tide pools at Shark's Cove, and visit Wiamea Valley.

December 31st - today we are going to Ka'ema Point State Park.  It is a short hike, but you are supposed to be able to see the whales playing in the surf during the winter months.  So I thought the kids would like to see that.  then we are going to the Bishop Museum (We can go for free because we are Museum members here in MA).  Then our flight to San Diego is that night at 10pm.  (overnight travel - not my favorite, but it was cheap).

January 1st - I am REALLY excited about this day.  We are landing in LA (on purpose) and getting our rental care there.  We had planned to spend the day in La for the day, but found that most things are closed for the holiday.  So - instead we decided to drive to Pasadena and do the Tournament of Roses Parade.  You can get tickets for the grandstand (and parking), so we did that.  I spoke to a woman on the phone and explained Finley's vision, and she got us some pretty stellar seats.  We are pretty excited.  After the parade we get to see the floats up close so Finley can see the flowers even better.  Going to be fun.  And will keep us awake because we wouldn't have had much sleep.

January 2nd - Going to San Diego Wild Animal Park for the day.  Mat and I used to live in San Diego, and this was a favorite place to take Arlington when she was little.  We will be there for the day.

January 3rd - Beach day!  First we are going to watch the Hand Gliders jump off the cliff at Torrey Pines Glider Port.  Then we are heading to Coronado Island for the afternoon to sit on the beach and relax.  Then in the evening we will go to La Jolla cove to see the Sea Lions on the beach.

January 4th - We are going to go to Balboa Park, and hopefully make it to the Cabrillo National Monument before having dinner with friends.

January 5th - home.  Boo.

So that is our trip!  Anxious to get out there and starting having some fun.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book #49

Do you see that?  #49!!!  I have one more book to read and I will have completed my challenge this year.  Whoo hoo.

Book #49 was Catch 22

It was under the category:  A book that got bad reviews

Now for those of you who know this book, you are thinking, "uh Jennifer?  That book didn't get bad reviews".  Believe it or not - it did.  When it first came out 50 odd years ago.  It was not well reviewed first go around.  So - I used in this category.

This book takes place in Italy during World War II.  The main character is a bombardier named Yossarian.  His biggest issue is with his own army that keeps increasing the number of missions they have to fly before they can go home.  (It started at 30 something and at the end of the book it was 80 missions).  If Yossarian attempts to excuse himself from these missions, he will be in violation of a Catch-22.  This rule is:  A man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.  The book deals with several complex issues in a funny way such as loss of faith, death and tyranny.

I really thought I was going to hate this book.  Mat had read it and felt that I would not find the humor in it.

But I ended up enjoying it.  It had humor that reminded me of the movie "Airplane".  The dialogue went round and round and no where forward many times in this book, but that was the beauty of it.  It was classic satire.  I found myself smiling, if not giggling, several times during the book.  (especially at the character Major Major Major Major).  The absurdity of this novel has quite an appeal, and I am glad I had a chance to read it.

It is silly.  It is old fashioned.  It is a war novel.  But you simply must try it.

Stars:  4 1/2

Friday, November 13, 2015

My First Experience with Jury Duty

In the 22 years that I have been eligible for jury duty, I have never had to go.  I have been summoned several times, but due to circumstances (mostly involving having young children), I have never had to appear.  Massachusetts finally caught up to me.  Not an excuse I can use any more, I could not get out of it.  I did put it off for a year.  But that is the most I could do.

So on November 6th, off I went.  Me and 112 other folks who had to show up that day.  It was a superior court.  We had to all sit in a room together and were assigned a number.  My number was 105.  The court officer was nice.  And funny.  He probably gets tired of giving the same speech every day, so he spiced it up.  We had to watch a video thanking us for our service and how the process would work.

We had to stay in this room and wait for the judge to decide if he was going to call jurors or not.  Good thing I brought my book because we were in that room for 2 hours.  The court officer then announced that the judge wanted all 112 jurors to be polled for this one case.


So we all crowded into a small court room and starting with #1 (remember what number I am?) they called people up to talk with the judge and two lawyers.  It was a medical malpractice case, so I felt pretty confident I wasn't going to get picked.  Plus the case was going to take about 2 weeks which I didn't have due to Mat's travel schedule.

But I had to sit and wait while they interviewed the jurors.  The guy next to me was quite entertaining.  He was #108, so he felt my pain.  They did find 14 people they liked after about polling 30 jurors (And about 1 hour later), and then the two lawyers started questioning those 14 people further.  4 of those people got dismissed.  So I figured, okay - they need to pick 4 more and we are out of here.  Nope!  They wanted to pick 12 more.

Another 20 jurors got called and 12 were picked.  Then the lawyers asked more questions and got those 12 down to 4, and then the rest of us were dismissed.  AFter 5 hours and 200 pages in my book,  we got to leave.

It wasn't so bad.  It was interesting to see how the process in the real world works.  Lawyers, judges, plantiffs etc. are all humans.  It isn't anything like it is on TV.  The lawyers questions are lame.  They are not 100% of where their are going with their questions half the time.  They seemed to be friends with each other.  They spoke kindly about the clients on both sides of the issue.  The judge was nice.  And funny.  He smiled at every juror that approached his bench.

So I am done.  I have a cute little paper that says I don't have to be called for duty again for 3 more years.  And when those three years come, you better believe I will be putting it off for a 4th.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Book Review #48

The book I am going to review today is High Rise

This book was in the category:  A Book that came out the year you were born (1975 for me)

Here is what Amazon said about this book:

When a class war erupts inside a luxurious apartment block, modern elevators become violent battlegrounds and cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on “enemy” floors. In this visionary tale, human society slips into violent reverse as once-peaceful residents, driven by primal urges, re-create a world ruled by the laws of the jungle.

This book was......strange.  REALLY strange.  The writing was good, but the story was just weird.  The characters morals and personalities decline so quickly that is becomes ridiculous.  I assume this has a bigger meaning - class system, etc., but I just didn't get it.  It was so unlikely.  Why are they trapped? Why don't they leave?  The go to their jobs every day - but yet no one will move out or leave the building when things get bad.  Are there no other stores outside of the high rise for them to get food?  It just is so.....silly.  And it ends so abruptly it is like the author just ran out of ideas.

It wasn't for me.  I would not recommend it.  There weren't that many reviews for it on Amazon, but it was one of the few books that looked half decent that were written in 1975, so I gave it a try.


Stars: 1 1/2

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Book Review #47

Today I am going to review:  Songs of the Humpback Whale

This is under the category:  A book by an author you love but haven't read yet.

Here is what Amazon has to say:

"Jodi Picoult's powerful novel portrays an emotionally charged marriage that changes course in one explosive moment....For years, Jane Jones has lived in the shadow of her husband, renowned San Diego oceanographer Oliver Jones. But during an escalating argument, Jane turns on him with an alarming volatility. In anger and fear, Jane leaves with their teenage daughter, Rebecca, for a cross-country odyssey charted by letters from her brother Joley, guiding them to his Massachusetts apple farm, where surprising self-discoveries await. Now Oliver, an expert at tracking humpback whales across vast oceans, will search for his wife across a continent -- and find a new way to see the world, his family, and himself: through her eyes."

Ah Jodi.  I am giving her a break because this was her first book.  It was written in 1992.  At least I can only hope because it was all over the place.  Characters developed too quickly, the ideas in the book seemed completely unrealistic.   She told the story in a style she still uses today - many voices - and normally I love that about her.  But this one - nope.  I rolled my eyes about 500 times during the reading of the book.  The ending was blah.  I won't hold it against her, though.  She has written some amazing books.  This just wasn't one of them.

Stars: 1 1/2

Friday, November 6, 2015

Book Review #46

Today I am going to review The Golden Compass

This was under the category "A Banned Book"  (really)

This is a story of a young orphan named Lyra who lives with her uncle.  In this world, people's souls are on the outside of their bodies and take the shape of an animal.  They are called Daemons.   Children's Daemons change until they get old enough and then the animal takes one permanent shape (usually to reflect their personality).  Lyra meets a woman, Mrs. Culture, who takes her to the North on an adventure.  Lyra goes because she wants to find her friend who was stolen by a group called the Gobblers.  Along the way she meets Gyptians, Bears, and learns about mysterious Dust.  She finds out what the Gobblers have been doing and how she is going to save her friend.

The book is great.  It is a Young Adult novel, but I think it is a bit complicated to be in this section.  I could see high schoolers getting the ideas behind the book, but below that might have a hard time.  I could be wrong.  It is definitely not a fluffy novel.  It has its fair share of surprises along the way, and there was a cliff hanger at the end of the novel.  I watched the movie when I was done watching it, and Arlington and I have decided that we are going to read the second book to see where it goes from here.

I recommend it.  It has a few parts that were a little dry, but overall, a very good read.

Stars: 4

Thursday, November 5, 2015

One Year

You died on a Wednesday around 4pm. We knew the time was near - you had stopped eating and were hardly awake. Cancer had taken everything away. That afternoon, one year ago, you told Pap to sit with you and hold your hand. When you grew tired, you told him to go and rest. You closed your eyes and drifted away - the way you wanted to. No fuss. You left a huge hole in our family. I see you in every corner of my house. I think of you every day and wonder what we would be talking about if you were still here. It isn't fair. We want you here with us. We want your mountains of chocolate chip cookies in their perfect circles. We want your raviolis, shells, and hat soup. We want your kisses and hugs, and constant positive attitude. It isn't fair. You used to buy me pasta sauce that "was close to yours" that I could "use in a pinch" and when I ran out, I cried at the grocery store when I realized I had to buy Ragu for those nights I don't have time. We had no idea how much you took care of us as the matriarch of our family. Today we will be sad - like we are every day since you were gone, but today I make you a promise. That from now on, when I think of you - it will be only with smiles and laughter. We will remember everything you meant to us. I know this is what you would have wanted.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

18 Years

On November 1st, Mat and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary.  That is hard to type, actually.  I don't feel much older than the day I got married.  Okay - that is a bit of a lie.  I am typing this at 9:30 at night and I wish I was in bed I am that tired.  I guess I am a little older.

We decided to go away for the weekend.  Mat's parents were nice enough to come and watch the kids and the dogs so that we could go to NYC for three days.  We had a really great time.  We left bright and early Saturday morning (we flew this time), and got home Monday night.  It was a perfect little get away to refresh.  And sleep in without a kid or dog needing attention.

Saturday morning we got to New York at 8am (yes our plane ride was crazy early) and headed to TKTS to get tickets for the one show we wanted to see Saturday afternoon.  We were very lucky with the weather this weekend - it was sunny and in the 60's.  We took the train from the airport to the city and then walked to Time Square.  By 10:15am, we had our tickets for our afternoon show (Something Rotten), and were heading to our hotel.

Mat has been traveling so much that we decided to get a Marriott rewards card, and it paid off.  We stayed at the Residence Inn at Marriott on Times Square for FREE because he had accumulated enough points.  This is a $600/night hotel (which we would never spend) so it was quite the treat.  We saved $1200 in hotel fees by using that card's points.  We were placed on the 62 floor (this is the tallest hotel in America) and there were still some floors above us.  Our ears popped we were up that high.

The room was beautiful.  Large for NYC standards, but nothing beat the view.  The view was amazing.  We could see the river to one side and we could see Time Square from the other.  If we had these room on New Year's Eve, we would have the best seats in the city.  I spent a long time in our room just staring out the window.  We relaxed for awhile (aka - took a nap since we got up at 3:30am), and then at 1pm headed out to get a bite to eat and get to our 2pm show.

Something Rotten as a terrific show.  It was Mat's choice.  We got our tickets for a great price on TKTS and sat in the 2nd row from the stage.  This is the original cast for this show, and so we got to see "the" actors.  The show as funny, and the actors were amazing.  We highly recommend it.  It is a story that takes place in the time of Shakespeare and there are two brothers (the Bottom Brothers - fictional), who are playwrights and trying to outdo Shakespeare.  The play they come up with is hysterical.

After the show, we had a little time, so we went back to the room to drop some things off and pick up our tickets for our evening show. (a play).  We were meeting my cousin, Kirsten (who is a Broadway actress) and her husband, Shawn, for dinner before our evening show.  Kirsten picked this very cute Italian restaurant that had amazing pizza.  Kirsten is always someone who gets me to try new things  (I owe my love of sushi to her).  She ordered an "out there" pizza that had a fried egg on top, and it was delicious.  I trusted her judgement and she didn't let me down.  All the food was yum.

After dinner all 4 of us went to the play together.  The play was "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime".  I read the book and decided this is the play we wanted to see.  Mat thinks we have seen a play before, but neither of us can remember what.  So my guess is - we haven't ever seen one.  In all the years we have been going to NYC - it is almost always musicals.  That is what NYC is known for.  But I did not want to miss seeing an amazing book acted out on stage.

The show did not disappoint.  It was amazing.  The story is about a teenage boy (about 15) who is autistic.  There isn't much I can tell you about the play without giving away too many spoilers, so I won't say much more.  The cast is small - about 10 actors in all.  It takes place in London.  The stage was amazing.  Very, very unique.  It followed the book exactly, and it did not disappoint.  Even though we were tired from our long day (and the play was 2 1/2 hours), it held our interest the whole time.  I was sad when it ended.

Sunday was our actual anniversary, so we treated ourselves to sleeping in.  It was a time change as well, so that was a plus.  We woke up to a beautiful view and warm sunshine, and then headed down to free breakfast in the hotel.  (let me tell you - in expensive hotels, you hardly ever get complimentary breakfast.  And this one was top notch).  After breakfast we lazed around the hotel until around 1pm and then headed out.  It was in our plans.  We have been to New York dozens and dozens of times, so we didn't need to be tourist.  We needed to lay around without anyone bothering us.  It was the best present ever.

Today we saw Book of Mormon.  We have been wanting to see this show for 3 years.  You still have to get tickets months ahead of time, so we could never make it work before now.  We have had these tickets since the spring.  We were so excited to see this show.  We have the CD and the music is hilarious, so we knew what we were getting into.

If you are not easily offended, like to life, and like campy shows - Book of Mormon is for you.  This show is hysterical.  It is by the writers of South Park so.....enough said.  They are genius.  We laughed and shook our heads the whole time.  I looks around at people in the audience to see if anyone was reacting differently, but luckily - everyone seemed to get the idea of the show.  It was a show (just like the other two we saw this weekend) that I would see again.  We ended on a high note.  Three for three - we don't get that very often.

That evening we had made reservations at a Brazillian Steakhouse.  It was the best food I have ever had.  Really.  It was expensive, and I think if we went again, we would be 1) more hungry and 2) willing to just sit and relax for a few hours so that we could continue to eat more.  The restaurant was underground, which was cool, and it was HUGE.  (which you don't see much in New York).  We started with a salad bar (included in our meal) which had salad, but also had different types of meat (locks, bacon, procuitto) and veggies.  We had read the reviews for the restaurant and were warned not to fill up on that.  Once we were ready, we were given these little cards that had a red and green side.  When we were ready to have our main course, we flipped our cards to green.  That is when the fun began.  Within 10 minutes, I have 10 different types of meat on my plate - every one more delicious than the last (strip steak, garlic steak, ribs, chicken, name it).  We were stuffed in minutes.  So we flipped our cards over.  Then they bring you a side of fried bananas, mashed potatoes, and polenta.  all delicious.  We sat for awhile, and then felt guilty, so we turned our cards over.  5 more types of meat, and then I couldn't eat another bite.  It was so good.

After dinner we waddled back to the hotel for the evening.  Still a big messed up with the time changed, we didn't last long before we fell asleep.

Monday - Mat actually had work to do this day.  He had meeting in NYC (Autism Speaks has offices there), so I was on my own.  He left early, so I took my time and got ready for the day, then went down and had free breakfast.  (not going to pass that up).  I sat and read my book for awhile and ate and watched the people.  I checked out of the hotel, and then headed to the Museum of Modern Art.  (MOMA).  I had made this plan, so Mat had helped me figure out how to get there.  It wasn't far from our hotel, so I walked.  It is a museum we hadn't been to before, we I was anxious to check it out.  I stayed there for almost three hours.  I visited every floor, and enjoyed walking around without having to make sure kids weren't touching anything.  I read the signs on the walls, and looked at the art without having to look out of the corner of my eye.  It was refreshing.

 Picasso's most famous sculpture - Head of a Woman.  They also had his Starry Night on display, but I couldn't get close enough to get a photo - so many people.
 Picasso sculpture that he made at the height of the war in the 40's.  He had to hide this one when Paris was occupied.

At 1:30, I left the museum and headed to where I was going to meet Mat.  My plan was to go into the New York Public Library to see their reading room.  (it is huge and amazing, but it was closed for renovations in the spring when we were there).  Today - I was not lucky again.  The library was closed for a private members party. Figures.  So....thank you to good weather, I sat at the tables right outside the library and read my book and drank hot chocolate, and watched the people.

Mat met me at 2:30, and we started our trek to the airport.  Our flight wasn't until 6pm, but I am glad we left when we did because the airport was busy.  The NYC marathon was on Sunday, and all of those people were going home Monday evening, and they were are at the airport at the same time.

Of course, I was traveling with Mat - the travel jinx - and our flight was delayed.  Not by much, but it turns out that President Obama flew into NY earlier that day and all the flights got a little behind.  We had some dinner and before we knew it, we were on our way home.

We were home by 9pm Monday night.  Just in time to see the kids before they went to sleep (they didn't have school today, so we let them stay up a little later).  It was a great trip.