Sending holiday cheer

It's December and I'm ready for all the Christmas cards to start appearing in my mailbox. If you have sent me a card in the last 10 years, I have it. Heck, if you have EVER written me anything, I have it. That includes notes passed in 7th grade and the first ever e-mails I received in college. With us moving, I am slowly trying to get rid of such things because no one wants to see my high school angst in print. But looking through past Christmas cards, I just can't toss them. And I really don't want my friends and family to toss mine. I want my card to get Oooos and Ahhhhs.

Lucky for me I work at Night Owl Paper Goods, a local stationery studio which means I am surrounded by pretty. Now, by local I mean we are a small business hidden away in an industrial part of town but we ship worldwide and can count Paper Source and Papyrus as clients. And by pretty I mean I want everything we make. We make a lot too — cards for every occasion, calendars, journals, bookmarks, custom wedding invitations and more.

Note cards and journals featuring the art of Dolan Geiman.

These critters are so cute! I've already got one.

I am biased* but here the best reasons you should order your Christmas cards, like me, from Night Owl Paper Goods:

1. COMPLIMENTS. Last year, I had several folks go out of their way to tell me how much they liked our Christmas card. That had never happened to me before. If it's a competition to send the best card, I won. I plan to win again this year.

2. SERVICE. Our custom card team of Megan and Josh are crazy quick. I work with these folks and was amazed how fast they got me a proof and then worked with me to get the best resolution on my photos. They are working hard right now to make every customer happy.

3. CHOICES. Close to 180 designs to personalize. Flip your card over, 12 choices of backgrounds. Choose your envelope color. You can design it to look exactly how you want.

4. QUALITY. Once your card is printed — either on pretty wood or nice, thick paper  — we check for any errors/blemishes and then check again. I can tell you, we only let the best ship out. I don't think it will surprise my friends that as a perfectionist, quality control is an area I really shine. All our products are made in the USA using eco-friendly processes. And you should see how much we recycle.

The only problem I have with ordering my Christmas cards from Night Owl is choosing which card. I have a tough time deciding. Below are some of the contenders … friends and family will just have to check their mailboxes soon to see what I decided.

* Just like last year, I receive an employee discount. Opinions expressed are my own. Oh, you want a discount too? Use Merry2014 to get 15% off!


Random Thoughts No. 25

Gosh, I haven't written one of these "Random Thoughts" post in awhile. They are so fun because I can just share whatever I want and it doesn't have to have a theme or anything. It's a little snapshot of what's caught my attention lately … and it's a great distraction from all the packing and cleaning I should be doing.

1. I've been binge watching the BBC's "Robin Hood" (2006-2009) on Netflix. Nice cast, good action, a love story -- yes, yes, that's all well and good. But I'm way more interested in Sir Guy, played by Richard Armitage. He is so bad, so so bad. He also makes for a pretty hot dwarf. 

2. I recently picked up "Outlander," published in 1991, on a whim. It was so good. I didn't know until after I read it that the book was recently turned into a TV series on Starz. I look forward to watching it and reading the rest of the series by Diana Gabaldon. 

3. Often, I try a recipe found online and it doesn't live up to the hype and never does it look like the picture. But every once in a while, I find a winner. These cream cheese chicken taquitos were delicious! The boys didn't eat them (well, Will ate two bites, said it was great, ate one more bite and said never mind) but my husband Chris ate three helpings! Three! I ate about that much myself too. Since it's a crockpot dish, very easy to make too. Perfect for a Taco Tuesday. 


Watch out Chattanooga, we're coming!

Things have been quiet at Pretty Little Nest. I didn't share the annual summer to-do list. Or post back-to-school photos. A recipe for watermelon ice and a lot more went unshared. You see, my husband was dismissed from his job in March. Nothing he did, regular old office politics he had nothing to do with. 

It didn't take long for our energy to be sapped by the ups and downs of  job interviews and the juggling of schedules as we worked pretty much any (legal) angle to make money. I have two part-time jobs but neither offers a regular schedule or benefits. Being on the edge is scary, stressful and no fun. We highly do not recommend it. And writing happy thoughts on this blog while all day long was worry after worry? Wasn't going to happen. I could have written more about our troubles but who wants to read that … we didn't even want to write it let alone read it!

Finally a job opportunity came and we're moving to Chattanooga! A city we know nothing about but everyone tells us it's amazing. We're look forward to learning just how amazing it is. 


Daffodils + food coloring = Pretty science

Remember using food coloring to "color" daffodils when you were a kid? I always thought it was amazing. I recently picked a few blooms to show the kids. 

I'm not sure how amazed they were but I still think it's pretty darn cool. 

Have you never done this? Go pick a few daffodils before they are all gone! Fill a vase with water, add a few drops of food coloring (I have the best luck with blue and green), trim the stems to allow for better water absorption and wait a bit. I think it will also work with daisies and carnations. 

Next experiment — try for two colors.


We're messy — vote for us!

I've entered the Get Messy Contest hoping to win a new kitchen or at least some great Mrs. Meyer's products. You can help by voting every day between now and April 18. Normally I shy away from these type of popularity contests but I think we have a good chance of winning. Look at that face! You know you want to vote for him. Pretty please?

Back story: We were making donuts. Joseph loves to make donuts. And eat donuts. Most recent batch turned out more like warm beignets so I sprinkled them with powered sugar. Soooo good. 


More books! More books! More books!

So, it was that day again. One of my favorite days. All those books just waiting for me to take them home. I don't miss the book sale at Emmet O'Neal Library. I probably should miss it (where will I put them? All the bookshelves are full!) but we all got stuff that makes us happy for no good reason and bringing home a bounty of books is one of mine. 

Joseph was a true champ hanging out so he got to pick out a few that I myself would have left. For example, that Diego book hiding in the back. It makes sounds. Sigh, but hey, I can put up with it. And that dinosaur dictionary. Of course we needed that! Duh, mom. It's not like the other four dinosaur textbooks we have at home are enough. (I love that Joseph only reads truly academic dinosaur books. He doesn't want it dumbed down to a kid level.)

I didn't need to get any board books — while we still read the ones we really love, Joseph is too old for them. But the "How Do Dinosaurs ..." series is awesome and this one, "How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Dogs?," should come in handy. We finally decided on a timetable on getting a dog — THIS SUMMER! The second board book, "Ghosts in the House!" is adorable. The little witch catches all the ghosts, puts them in the washing machine and then proceeds to decorate the house. I found a review with pictures at Every Day is Like Wednesday. 

Thanks to Once Upon A Bookshelf for sharing this picture.
Joseph IS the right age for picture books. So I brought home eight and Will picked out another, "The Sign of the Seahorse," for daddy because he's a fan of the author Graeme Base. I hope we'll fall in love with "Peter's Long Walk" (1953). A little boy playing with a fox and bunny and more?! Yes please! Find more pictures and a review at Once Upon A Bookshelf. 

Other picture books worth a mention — "Counting Birds" by Alice Melvin (honestly, that one's for me), "What Goes Around Comes Around" by Richard McGuire, "George Shrinks" by William Joyce and "Noah's Ark" by Peter Spier. Apparently that "George Shrinks" is very well known (even a TV show!) but this is the first I've seen it. 

Once again I wasn't sure what to get Will — he's such a one and done reader that I'm on the hunt for books he will re-read again and again. He is liking the "Nate the Great" and "Stink" series but those can be had at the library. I got the first three books in the "Little House on the Prairie" series. Bonus — they are hardcover 1953 re-issues (but these copies actually printed in 1961) with pictures by Garth Williams. I hope he will like them. But if he doesn't, I hope he'll at least appreciate the historical aspects. What a different time to live in! Just re-reading Chapter 1 of "Little House in the Big Woods" makes me appreciate the grocery store!

Also for Will, two of the books in the "My Father's Dragon" trilogy. Now to find the missing second book. I first saw it reviewed on Vintage Children's Books My Kid Loves and it shows promise. If the glowing praise found on GoodReads is any indication, "The Wizard Children of Finn" by Mary Tannen should be life changing! Lots of folks recall reading it again and again. I also picked up "Ender's Game" which I'm going to read first. I somehow missed it growing up. 

My favorite find of the day? The one that made me really happy? A British Harry Potter! The first book in fact — "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone." Why did they change the name of the U.S. edition? Seriously, why? Can't wait to re-read this and see if I can find water closet instead of bathroom and lorry instead of trucks. I'm such an anglophile!

Past book hauls here, here and here


On the tree 2013

So how long ago was Christmas? Because honestly folks, Will's little blue tree is still the nightlight in the boys' room and the ornaments are still boxed in the hall waiting to be stored. Despite it being 303 days until Christmas 2014, I wanted to share what Aunt Catherine made for us in 2013.

You guys love what Aunt Catherine does. My "On the tree" post from Dec. 2011 is my second most viewed post ever. She didn't disappoint again — those "snow cones" are pretty darn cute!

I realized a little late that it would be a great idea to take a picture of the boys with the ornament (or Mother's Day gift or Valentine's card) they made to easily answer the "how old were you when you made this?" question. So here is Joseph, age 4, with a very cute thumbprint Rudolph.
Will actually made this last year in first grade. It's now my favorite nativity. Does it get cuter than a  black-eyed pea baby Jesus? No, no it does not. 


Crazy weather in Alabama

As I am typing this, the temperatures are in the 60s and heading into the 70s by afternoon. Less than a week ago I was looking at four inches of snow on the lawn. That is a crazy amount of snow for us. If we get snow it's usually just a few flakes that don't stick to anything. You'll say oh, it must be so nice to have temperatures in the 70s in February but check the barometer because a storm is coming. A storm with damaging winds and possible tornadoes. Winter to spring to summer and back to winter all in one week. No wonder we turn our meteorologists into weather gods as we seek guidance on what to wear.

The pictures above were taken the last week of January when an unexpected ice storm shut down Birmingham for three days. Folks north of us are free to make fun of us for the panic that accompanies snow. Most of the news reports I read and heard said snow was crippling the South. But it's not the snow we worry about. We worry about ice and hills and cars that don't have 4-wheel drive and drivers, especially the drivers, who don't know how to drive on ice. If there is a chance of snow and ice, we are closing up shop, emptying the grocery store and settling in for a cozy few days at home. 

The most upsetting part of the January 28 clusterflake for me was the few folks who said gee, if you knew it was going to ice why was everyone out in it? Because we didn't know! The storm line shifted and by the time we went to get the kiddos out of school the roads were iced. Had we known the whole city would have been home. Instead we're going to be talking about the ice storm of 2014 for a long time to come. Where did you abandon your car? Where did you sleep? How long did it take you to get home? (I actually got the van home, even up the hill. It took an hour to drive from school, normally a 10-minute trip — I was already at school so I didn't have to fight traffic and ice to get there. We got home before the roads completely iced over, blocked by abandoned cars. Our story is nothing compared to the ordeals of others walking miles to get home, their kids spending the night at school. For that I am grateful and oddly jealous.)

We'll be glued to the TV Thursday watching polygons and hook echoes as the squall line moves through. We may have been a little unkind to our local weather gurus after the ice storm but we'll listen to every word they say, all misunderstandings about a "dusting" of snow forgotten.


A surprise on the library shelf

Looking at a list of my top 10 favorite books, "Watership Down" by Richard Adams is at the very top. I have read and re-read it over the years and each time it does not disappoint. Recently I was at the library waiting to checkout books, not really focusing on anything when my eye happened to spot this, "Tales from Watership Down" published in 1996. What?! A sequel?! How had I not known about this? Of course it came home that day. But then it sat and sat. I just couldn't pick it up. What if if was not as good as the original? I finally was determined to read it after two notices from the library that they might want their book back soonish. 

It's not really so much a sequel as a companion book. There are more stories of the sneaky hero of the rabbits, El-ahrairah, and more adventures for Hazel and his friends. You could sandwich this book between the last chapter and epilogue of "Watership Down." While I was scared to read it, I shouldn't have been. It was a delight to revisit old friends. My only problem with this book is that it just ends. Reprinting the epilogue from "Watership Down" would add closure/tie it up neatly. 

British author. British men. I guess I should write about tea next. 


I DO have a type!

I like to kid my Mom about her TV-viewing habits, past and present ...

Her type is so obvious! She likes brunettes who play by the rules but are willing to break them when necessary. Bonus points if you recognize all the shows.* 

I never thought of myself as having a "type" but recently it dawned on me …

I like British guys (and Scots!) with dark hair and smoldering eyes.

He's Canadian. Close enough.

And my No. 1 British guy right now is Benedict Cumberbatch. Because Sherlock is one amazing show. And he is one amazing actor who seems to be having fun and treats the fans well. 

Come on,  isn't he just adorable!

*Magnum, P.I., MacGyver, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, NCIS and JAG. 
But you didn't really need the answers, did you?


Top Books of 2013

Every year I like to look back at the books that we really loved. The ones we read again and again. Sadly, the list is getting shorter and shorter. Will has grown away from picture books and is reading lots of chapter books on his own. He's a one and done kind of kid, moving on to the next thing rather quickly. And our reading habits are changing — when Will was little we'd read an average of three books a night. Now most nights, Will picks a book and Joseph picks a book. And sometimes now Will's book he is off reading on his own and Joseph's book is brought from school so our own books aren't getting read again and again. But the main thing is we are still reading. Reading is good.

Will finished up the Magic Tree House series. And the Bad Kitty series is hilarious. "Dragons Love Tacos" by Adam Rubin with illustrator Daniel Salmieri came home from the library for Joseph but ended up a favorite of Will's as well. Santa even brought us our own copy after it was checked out several times from the library (a true sign of a favorite here). Will loves going to the school library and is still bringing home lots of Eyewitness Books.

Joseph had me read "Sheep in a Jeep" by Nancy E. Shaw with illustrator Margot Apple again and again. It's been a favorite forever and was on the 2011 list as well. But the real "star" of the year was "Lego Star Wars: Save the Galaxy!" It's a large format board book that recounts the first movie (I don't count those prequels!). In fact, I read it again just last night. Dinosaur books still top his list and Santa brought two new ones. I'll admit that I pass the dino books over to Chris to read because he does a better job pronouncing all the crazy names. 

Another favorite of ours that I don't think I've mentioned before is "365 Penguins" by Jean-Luc Fromental with illustrator Joelle Jolivet. I really don't remember how the book came into the house (how can I not? I find this weird) but the charming book about a family dealing with a slow invasion of penguins is well, charming! And funny. We've had it for awhile but we read it again and again. 

In a very unusual move for me, I actually read two books in 2013 that were actually published in 2013. Crazy I know. "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" by Karen Joy Fowler made several Best of 2013 book lists and was much better than I expected. I also read "Amy Falls Down" by Jincy Willett.

For 2014, I've got a long list of books to read, most recommended by friends. I haven't wading into the Game of Thrones fandom yet. I'm already in the deep end for Doctor Who and Sherlock. I asked friends on Facebook — read the GOT books or skip 'em and watch the shows? I thought it would be a 50-50 debate but overwhelmingly the consensus was to read the books. I'm sure Chris would love that though. When I get my hands on a good book, I tend to ignore the house.

Case in point, around the first of December I randomly picked up the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, "City of Bones" and torn through the five books available in about a week (dishes, what dishes!) only to have the tortured love story come to a screeching halt with book six coming in March! Better than Twilight but not a good as Hunger Games is where I'd rank it. YA fiction has so much to offer these days.

So besides "The Goldfinch" — which I can't wait to read, why do I not have a copy yet?! — what did you love in 2013? What is on your must-read list for 2014?


Jump into the new year

So you may be thinking — Gee Christina, where are all your posts about walking?!
Way to NOT keep your resolution. Well, I did walk, okay more like shuffle, from the bed to the couch and then back again on January 2. And January 3, I walked from the van to the doctor's office. Seems the combination of a sinus infection and head cold was just too much. UNCLE! Slowly feeling better with antibiotics on board. January 4th William and I walked the length of the mall and back looking for school shoes with no success. No longer can one get just about anything at the department store!

Today I walked up and down the alley (big hill!) a couple of times while the boys jumped and jumped and jumped. Our lucky boys got a trampoline for Christmas from the grandparents. It's been a big hit! Sunday the high was around 55 and I would guess the boys spent close to three hours jumping (off and on). That is a lot of jumping! But there will be no jumping today. Or walking for that matter unless I find someplace warm. High temperatures will be around 22. What?! Coldest weather for Alabama in 10 years! And we are cold-weather wimps! Most of the city is shutting down because we don't know how to drive on sunny days. Add ice and watch the tires spin. Forget getting any milk or bread in a 50-mile radius. But don't worry too much about the South. We'll be back in the 60s by the end of the week.

So let's review: I don't walk when I'm sick. I don't do cold weather either.


Santa vs. Joseph

Oh my Will, always so happy to see Santa and tell him what to bring for Christmas. 
Joseph on the other hand ...

He wants nothing to do with the big guy in red. 

This year I suggested Joseph try standing next to Santa. But no, I was not even 
going to get that. Tears people, tears! I may or may not have yelled, "Stop crying. This is 
suppose to be fun!" I had backed down by the time we got to Bass Pro (yep, because
they have games and activities and 4-wheelers). But Santa didn't give up as easily ...

Santa waved a candy cane. Joseph looked up at me. I told him if he wanted the candy cane
he'd have to get it himself. So slowly, slowly Joseph inched closer. He got the candy cane 
but let his guard down for just a second because Santa reached both hands out and plopped 
Joseph on his lap. So fast I didn't have time to say that's okay Santa, no need to push. 
But there Joseph sat. I waited for the screaming and wailing. But Joseph just ... pouted. 
There were a few chuckles from fellow parents as the photographer clicked away. Not sure if Joseph even talked to Santa. He says he did but I did not see an exchange. 

And the candy cane is mine! 
(For non-locals, Joseph is posing here like Vulcan.) 
Happy to forget all the drama and get back to playing.

And you can't go to Bass Pro and not
sit on a 4-wheeler. Heck, I even sat on one.


Go take a hike

I am making a simple resolution this year. One that I hope I will keep. And that resolution is to take a walk every day. Occasionally I hope to get everyone out for a big hike at Ruffner or Red Mountain. Or a few laps at a local park with Chris after the boys are off to school but before work. Most days, like today, it will be a quick stroll around the neighborhood. It's a good resolution. And to keep me going, I plan to post a picture every day. And those pictures might have a few words with them and I'll be on my way to writing more as well. Because last year I only wrote 30 posts?! Crazy. We can do better than that. 

How about you? What is your resolution for 2014? Regardless if it is big or small, may we all have a good new year!