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Holiday Homestretch

I’m not sure about you, but this week has been absolutely insane for me. It’s unusual in my case: I typically slide into Christmas week nearly stress-free with very little on my plate. This year, for some reason, I’m swamped. (I’m sure it has nothing to do with working and having a few major projects in the hopper at the same time.) We’re in the middle of Hanukkah, which is a minor holiday and isn’t causing any issues for me, so at least that part is normal.

Third night of Hanukkah

I will likely feel much better at the end of today. It’s Friday, and after today my work just goes into maintenance mode for the holiday week. I’m looking forward to next week for a few reasons:

1. On Wednesday (otherwise known as Christmas Eve to those who celebrate), it’s the third annual “Jew Help A Christian Day”. I’ll be heading over to Jen’s house again and basically doing her bidding to help her family get ready for their holiday. A little birdie told me that I’ll be decorating cookies and zesting lemons. I haven’t heard anything about pomegranate smacking, which makes me kind of sad because that was so much fun last year, but the cookies and lemons will be fun too, I’m sure. (I have fun with pretty much anything Jen asks me to do on Christmas Eve. But don’t tell her that because it might make her test that theory.)

2. When I go home from Jen’s it’ll be time to get ready for my own family’s dinner: we’re doing our Hanukkah Latkepalooza on Wednesday night. Hanukkah will be over by then but D doesn’t come home until Tuesday evening so the scheduling had to be adjusted. I’ll be making latkes, blintzes, and noodle kugel. The house is going to smell like grease for days, and it’ll be glorious.

3. On Thursday (Christmas Day for most of you), we’ll be catching a movie and eating Chinese food as is required by Jew code. Christmas is always a fun and peaceful family day and I can’t wait.

How’s your week going? Are you feeling stressed? On top of the world? Getting it done or falling dreadfully behind? (I guess if you’re reading this, you’re not doing too badly!)

I’m sending productive and happy thoughts to all of you. Oh and by the way, don’t forget to take a moment to enter my two giveaways:

$75 Target gift card
and
One year of Netflix

Happy Friday, you guys. Let’s make it a good one!

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Celebrating Holiday Traditions With Target

I was thrilled when the folks at Target asked me to write a post about one of my favorite Chicago area holiday traditions. After they provided me with a gift card to purchase items that I thought could enhance the fun, they just turned me loose and let me do my thang. (Thanks, Target! This was fun!) All words and opinions are mine, as usual! Oh, and stick around for the end: I’m giving away a $75 Target gift card to one of you lucky readers!

Chicago has all kinds of special activities going on during the holidays. The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is a biggie, as are the New Year’s Eve fireworks from Navy Pier. I found a great list that details holiday activities in this area “From A To Z”; we certainly can’t complain of boredom this season, that’s for sure! My family’s personal favorite? The Christkindlmarket.

The Christkindlmarket, which has taken place at Daley Plaza every year since 1997, starts right after Thanksgiving. It is an open air Christmas festival inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany. Visitors enjoy entertainment, traditional German food and drink, and great shopping. This is no “wannabe” German Christmas festival, either; most of the vendors actually fly in from Germany and spend the month selling their authentic products to excited (and cold) Chicagoans.

I absolutely adore visiting the Christkindlmarket in the city every year but I admit it’s a little bit of a haul, not to mention the crowds, which Jim despises. We got some great news this year, though. For the first time, a suburban extension of the festival was planned for the middle of Oakbrook Center. We jumped for joy! I mean, fifteen minutes from home, fewer people, AND free parking? SIGN US UP. In fact, I’ve been there twice already! That was unheard of in past years when I had to make the trek all the way to the city.

The Oakbrook Christkindlmarket is much smaller than the Daley Plaza version, but I prefer it that way, especially since all of my favorite vendors are represented!

Christkindlmarket

Here’s how I recently took Target to the Oakbrook Christkindlmarket with me:

You know how I love lists, right? Well, I have three MUST-DOs for a Christkindlmarket visit, and I kept track of them (along with a gift giving list) in my Molskine notebook, which is sold at Target in lots of colors and sizes.

Molskine notebook at Target

If you know me at all you know that I am nearly always connected. If I’m not on my laptop, I’m on my iPad. If I’m not on my iPad, I’m on my phone. The problem with Chicago winters and texting or emailing (okay, or Facebooking) is that well, your fingers could freeze and fall off. I picked up some Impressions by Isotoner gloves (guess where?), and they pretty much saved the day–and my fingers.

Impressions by Isotoner at Target

Lastly, I picked up a super cute bag by Toms in which to carry all of my purchases.

Toms bag at Target

The Toms for Target Collection is awesome because for every Toms + Target gift you buy, they’re giving shoes, a blanket, or meals to those in need. Getting something for yourself AND someone else? Hard to beat.

If you live anywhere near a Target store, you probably already visit on a regular basis.

I actually have three within a few minutes’ drive of my house so I’m there CONSTANTLY OMG.

If you haven’t visited in a while, go back and check it out: it really is one-stop shopping for your holiday needs and your year-round needs. But I bet I don’t have to convince you, do I?

Now, let’s have some fun. I’m giving away a $75 Target gift card to one of you lucky people! It’s super easy to enter, too. Just leave me one comment telling me that you want to win. That’s it! You have until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, December 23 to enter and I will pick the winner from a random drawing. The gift card won’t help you for the holidays but it’ll certainly improve your January! (P.S. Target sells mittens, hats, scarves, shovels, hot cocoa, warm blankets, and all kinds of other dead-of-winter stuff, of course!) Good luck!

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Yankee Swap!

Today I’m over on my ad-free page telling you what movies and shows we love to stream over the holidays. My list includes this iconic episode of “The Office”, which my family has watched approximately five hundred thousand and sixty-seven times. It’s still hilarious.

YANKEE SWAP!!

Oh, did I mention I’m also giving away a free year of Netflix? (and if you win, you don’t even have to worry that someone’s going to steal it from you!)

Read more and enter HERE.

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Netflix #StreamTeam Celebrates The Holidays!

Netflix Stream Team

I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team and will be happily sharing monthly tips and stories about how my family uses Netflix on a regular basis. (Okay, that’s an understatement. I should say CONSTANTLY. We use Netflix CONSTANTLY.) As a member of the Stream Team I was provided a voucher to apply towards my Netflix account.

Naturally we on the Netflix Stream Team are celebrating this month: it’s December after all! I have a gift for one lucky reader, too: a year of Netflix! More on that in a minute.

Netflix has lots and lots of holiday viewing options for families, and it’s a good thing since the kids have time off this month! I love bonding over a good movie or television show and some popcorn. And maybe Raisinets.

What will the Wells family be streaming this holiday season? Glad you asked.

Number one: “Scrooged”. Bill Murray’s 1988 rendition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is dark and fun. Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present is my favorite. And Bill Murray. I mean come on: BILL MURRAY. You can’t go wrong with him.

Number two: “Snow Day”. Not as much a holiday film as a winter film, this one from 2000 has always been a favorite around here. It’s about a snow day (obviously), during which the neighborhood kids do everything they can to keep the snow plow driver from getting rid of the snow so they don’t have to go back to school. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue.

Number three: The Office (“Christmas Party” Season 2, Episode 10). “The Office” was one of the very first television shows for which all four of us dropped EVERYTHING so we could cozy up on the couch and watch together. Every Thursday night we made sure dinner (and homework!) was done nice and early so we could get our weekly dose of Michael Scott and Company. This episode was early in the series when Pam and Jim were still looking at each other across the office with puppy dog eyes. Michael’s decision to turn the office’s Secret Santa party into a “Yankee Swap” (also known as a White Elephant gift exchange) was met with the usual (and totally justified) resistance and resulted in comedy magic for the viewers. This episode is also the reason why D and I yell “YANKEE SWAP!!!” at completely random times in various situations.

Number four: “Love Actually”. Okay, this one’s all mine because it always clears the room around here, but I absolutely adore this British film that tells ten different love stories in the five weeks leading up to Christmas. This movie is fun, festive, and romantic. And Colin Firth. I mean come on: COLIN FIRTH. You can’t go wrong with him. #Swoon

A programming note: the Netflix Original Series “All Hail King Julien” will be available for streaming starting this Friday, December 19. Whether you have young kids or you just *cough cough* happen to love the animated movie “Madagascar”, this one will be fun to watch, so make sure to check it out!

Okay, now that I’ve primed you for December streaming, let’s get to the business of giving away a year of Netflix, shall we?

You can get one entry by leaving a comment telling me the name of your favorite holiday movie.
You can get a second entry by sharing this post on Twitter and then leaving another comment with the link to that tweet.
You can get a third entry by sharing this post publicly on Facebook and then leaving another comment with the link to that public Facebook post.

You’ve got until 11:59 p.m. Central time on Tuesday, December 23 to get your entries/comments in. I’ll choose a winner randomly from all eligible entries. Easy peasy! Good luck and happy viewing!!

Edited: For some reason the comment form isn’t loading on this page. Until I get that fixed, leave a comment on my teaser post HERE. I’ll include all comments on both posts (you only need to comment once–on either post–for each entry!) when I do the drawing! Sorry about that!

Edited again: Comments are fixed; I’m counting the comments left on both posts! Good luck!

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It’s Better In The Bahamas

Jim and I just returned from a five-day cruise to the Bahamas. I wish we were still on said cruise to the Bahamas, but unfortunately all good things must come to an end.

While we re-acclimate to our lives here at home, enjoy this picture—one of my favorite shots from the trip— and a little list I made in my head on the way home.

Nassau Bahamas lighthouse

Nassau, Bahamas

What I Will Miss About The Cruise:
1. Not having to make my own dinner
2. Not having to make my own bed
3. Not having to clean my own bathroom
4. Not having to do dishes
5. Fun, delicious drinks that are made with more than two ingredients and sometimes come in whimsical containers
6. Waking up to turquoise waters and beautiful beaches
7. Playing blackjack while believing I will actually come out ahead in the end
8. Leaving the blackjack table with no chips left and just saying, “Oh well!” instead of “OMG! MY MONEEEEEEY!!!”
9. Nightly stand-up comedy shows
10. The Wobble, The Cupid Shuffle, and the Cha Cha Slide daily
11. Pitbull music EVERYWHERE
12. Pizza availability 24/7
13. Lots of walking; feeling like I “got my steps in” every day
14. The ability to order as many starters, sides, and main entrees at dinner as I wanted to (I didn’t go crazy, but COULD HAVE if I wanted to)
15. Chocolate melting cake with ice cream on the side
16. One of our nightly dinner servers, Pande, who greeted Jim and me by name when he saw us elsewhere on the ship
17. Another one of our nightly dinner servers, Baryo, who called me “Mel”
18. Towel animals in our room each night
19. Chocolates (for sweet dreams) on our bed each night
20. Laying on a lounge chair in the sun, reading and listening to music as if it were my job
21. Not being ruled by a clock
22. Seeing my husband enjoy himself on his first real vacation in a while

What Jim Will NOT Miss About The Cruise:
1. Pitbull music EVERYWHERE

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This Is South Beach.

South Beach is enjoying umbrella drinks at one o’clock in the afternoon. And two o’clock. And three o’clock, if you want.

umbrella drink

It’s Ocean Drive, jam-packed with restaurants on one side and the beach on the other.

It’s pulsating beats, scantily-clad dancing girls (and boys).

It’s people working out on the sand. And making out on the sand.

It’s cruising in flashy cars—Jaguars, BMWs, Rolls Royces, Cadillacs—while valets try to get you to park in front of their restaurants because they know people will follow.

It’s cameras and cell phones everywhere, taking pictures of those cars and scantily-clad dancing girls (and boys).

It’s drummers randomly setting up on the beach, whipping up a soundtrack that somehow time your steps…and your hips.

South Beach is the sand and the sea, coral shards rushing ashore with the tide while sea gulls watch for goodies.

South Beach

It’s beautiful Art Deco buildings with bars on the bottom and hotel rooms on top, with neon trim.

South Beach

It’s noisy bars with spotlights and extra neon and loud music, beckoning you to come and dance.

South Beach bar

South Beach is alive.

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Neverland

This was originally going to be a Throwback Thursday post but as it turns out, yesterday was a crazy work day and two things happened since then which will help this be a better post. It’s all good.

First, last night, many of my friends were watching “Peter Pan Live” on NBC, which is something I probably would have tuned into if our antenna would allow the Peacock Network, but it doesn’t and so I lived vicariously through everyone else. I enjoyed reading everyone’s tweets and Facebook posts, and thought fondly about Peter, Tinkerbell, and the rest. It’s a great story.

Second, this morning, I overheard part of a conversation between two good friends who were talking about how exhausting it is to raise their kids in this area, what with the pressure to keep up with all of the other moms (which is, sadly, something my suburb has a reputation for: the pressure). I jumped into the conversation and told them how flabbergasted I was about their situations and that I never felt that pressure in the nineteen years I’ve lived here. When asked how that was possible, I responded, “Because I just didn’t; I always thought for myself!” (actually, I think I threw the F-word in there, to be totally honest.) This kind of thing (keeping up with the Joneses) just makes me so sad, especially when it comes to my sweet friends. I could go on for days and days on this, but what I just gave you is all you need to know for right now.

As it turns out and oddly enough, one of the photos I was prepared to write about fits right in with those two things.

Back in 2007 I had the opportunity to be one of three adult leaders on a Boy Scout High Adventure trip: sailing in the Bahamas. D, then barely fifteen, and I joined seven other teen boys and two dads for the adventure of a lifetime.

When we left the Chicago area we knew nothing specific about the boat on which we’d live for a full week, other than it would have a sail and we’d be learning the ropes, literally.

When we arrived at the beautiful Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, we quickly found out that, unlike 90% of the other scout groups that went on a “typical” High Adventure sail on a “typical” sail boat, we had won the lottery. We were seated in the briefing room waiting for our instructions when an older gentleman, a gruff, deep-voiced Brit who had clearly logged many, many nautical miles, introduced himself as our Captain. He was amazing, and just so real, for lack of a better word.

“I run a tight ship,” he told the boys. “It’s actually a Pirate Ship. You will all not only learn to sail in our daily lessons but you’ll learn about the Pirate life, too. You will take turns standing nightly watches and you’ll do all of the chores: the cookin’, the cleanin’… And I don’t wanna hear any bitchin’.”

That last part is something D STILL repeats: in fact, he said it last weekend!

At first, the boys were a little scared of our Captain. He was very intimidating.

His then-partner, a lovely British woman, was his First Mate and a Mother Hen to the boys. Their dog Sunny would be along for the ride, too.

We took our duffel bags to the pier and when we saw the ship, our chins dropped. He wasn’t kidding. It WAS a little Pirate ship.

pêcheur des étoiles

Over the week, besides all of the chores and learning to sail, we did things like:
1. Talk like Pirates
2. Pee over the side of the boat (just the boys and men, ahem)
3. Walk the plank for whistling (because pirates believed it made the winds whip up and storms roll in)
4. Have emergency evacuation drills, mainly just for fun
5. Take turns with those overnight watches, standing out on deck under the most beautiful starry sky I will probably ever see in my life
6. Sing Pirate songs/”Sea Shanties” (over and over and over and over)
7. Eat with our knives like the Pirates did
8. Have a water balloon fight with the Captain and one of the dads, who snuck out on the rowboat to lob balloons at us

pirates

9. Dress up like Pirates and have a contest to see who could come up with the best Pirate personality to go with their outfit
10. Collect conch shells from a beach where the fishermen dumped them after cleaning them out
11. Snorkel
12. Eat coconuts fresh off of the trees
13. Visit the most beautiful beaches
14. Have knot-tying contests

Everyday, all day, we did the singing and every evening we would share “roses and thorns”, the best and worst parts of our days. As the days flew by, the boys weren’t as intimidated by the Captain and the Captain, after seeing he had a really good crew, relaxed his gruffness. Eventually the boys promoted the Captain to Admiral.

The Admirable Admiral

On our last evening, the Admiral had the boys gather around him on deck and sit in the usual circle. He reviewed the week we had. He reminded them of the gentle teasing that was going on without malice, that they helped each other without having to be prompted, that they looked out for each other. He reminded them of how they sang Pirate songs and dressed in funny costumes and sang silly songs. He reminded them how nobody cared what anyone else thought about all of the “unusual” activities: everyone felt safe. He asked them if they would have been able to feel that sense of freedom back at home, doing the same things. Unanimously, the answer was “no”.

He asked them if they knew why, and when nobody had an answer he had them all lean in as he whispered, “It’s because you were in Neverland, boys. You have been in this magical place for a week, a place that so many people never get to visit. And guess what? If you tell anyone that you visited Neverland they would never believe you. You will carry this experience with you for a lifetime; you’ll carry it in your heart. Don’t ever forget what you learned here.”

It was a teary-eyed goodbye for all of us; the Admiral was right. It was a life-changing week for all of us individually and as a group of scouts. It was a priceless experience I could share with my son. I don’t know if the boys will ever fully comprehend how wonderful it was to feel that freedom from judgement but I hope they do.

And I wish that everyone in the world could find themselves in a place where they found their inner Pirate and spend some time in Neverland without fear and worry of what others think, even just for a little while.

Neverland

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God Save The Queen (And Her Corgi)!

One of my very favorite things in this house was given to me a couple of years ago by my friend Sue, followed a year or so later by Sue’s gifting of another one of my very favorite things in this house. They are Queen Elizabeth and one of her Corgis.

Not the REAL Queen Elizabeth, silly.

THIS Queen Elizabeth:

To say I’m a British Royals fanatic would be a massive understatement. You can get an idea of my crazy, and I highly recommend you do, by reading my live blog of William and Kate’s wedding in 2011, which is (along with the comments) still hysterical (to me) three and a half years later.

Anyway, so I have this waving Queen Elizabeth and a Corgi whose head moves back and forth, both courtesy of a little solar panel on the side.

I have had to “perform surgery” on the Queen twice. Once she fell off of the windowsill and broke her back (ouch), and once she fell off the windowsill and was accidentally beheaded and dehanded (yikes). At this point, she’s half glue but still looking good.

Here’s the weird thing: after her second surgery the E6000 Permanent Craft Adhesive that I used dripped down to the part that allowed her hand to move. I was sad about it because the waving made me smile and now she was frozen. BUT…about a month later when I was doing dishes, I heard the familiar sound and looked up at her: SHE WAS WAVING AGAIN. It was a royal miracle!

We had another mishap last week when the hammering our siding installers were doing knocked the Queen and her Corgi off of the windowsill (are you seeing a pattern here??). I can’t believe—after I took every picture and all other breakable items off of our walls in anticipation of the siding work—I didn’t think about the Queen and her dog.

Queen and Corgi

Anyway, I shouted (on Facebook), “OMG!! QUEEN AND CORGI DOWN! QUEEN AND CORGI DOWN!”

It was a bad break, but I thought, “I can rebuild him. I have the technology…err, glue.”

The plastic post that held his head on was ridiculously small. Teeny.

Too teeny for the regular glue tip, in fact…

Corgi glue

…so I switched to toothpick application and…

Corgi toothpick glue

…tape to hold the head on while the glue dried.

Corgi tape

But the glue was going to take HOURS to dry, and the tape wasn’t cutting it either. His poor head kept rolling off.

That’s when I decided to pull out the hot glue gun.

An aside: my hot glue gun was purchased for about eleven dollars in 1988, is still going strong, and is considered (by me) to be one of the smartest buys ever in my life. EVER.

Queen and Corgi hot glue gun

Unfortunately, although the Corgi’s head is intact once again, the hot glue ended up fusing his neck completely. Poor dog.

At least he looks happy again.

Fused Corgi

And hey, I’m still holding out for another royal miracle. IT COULD HAPPEN.

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That’s A Wrap!

NaBloPoMo_November That's a wrap!

Another November NaBloPoMo is in the bag. Yaaaaay me!

I feel like I did really well this time: I didn’t have any trouble coming up with things to write about, which was refreshing because I’m usually hitting up my draft folder like a boss. Not this time.

I think that I had more fun with NaBloPoMo this month than I probably ever had because I didn’t stress out about “how good” each post had to be, which is a strange admission to make but completely true. After all, if you were to ask me why I started blogging in the first place I would have a couple of answers for you, but none of them would be “to dazzle my readers daily with my writing brilliance”.

I just had fun with it. Telling myself that I had twenty minutes to get a post done on many days this month was a great exercise for me, because I tend to be a little long-winded when I don’t give myself a deadline. I may not have published any masterfully written posts this month (okay, maybe one or two.)(okay, maybe one.), but I had a good time, I was authentic, and—dare I say it—on a few occasions I may have been slightly entertaining. (I hope so, anyway!)

Other benefits that came about as a result of my daily participation this month were:
1. I did so much more blog READING than I have taken the time to do lately. Reading other blogs not only expands the engagement I enjoy with my community but it also inspires me to blog more often. Win-win!
2. I ended this month with the goal of writing more often in the future, again. I won’t necessarily hit it daily, but I have found myself in occasional ruts over the past seven years (I’m pretty sure it’s cyclical) and when I end up making these crazy daily-for-a-month blogging goals, I end up digging myself out of those ruts. Writing begets writing? I think so.

Congratulations to those of you who joined me on NaBloPoMo. No matter if you made it all thirty days; if you just did the very best you could, I’m proud of you and hope you got something out of it.

Lastly (for now), I want to thank YOU for hanging in there with me here on Suburban Scrawl this month. I’m not going anywhere and in fact already have a post in draft for tomorrow, but I wanted to express my appreciation to all of you who have taken time out of your day to stop by and read what I’ve been writing. THANK YOU!

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Dynamic Duos

I was deep in thought over what I was going to write for this month’s Netflix Stream Team post about dynamic duos (read that by clicking here), and I remembered one of my favorite dynamic duos from the seventies, ElectraWoman and DynaGirl.

Did you watch them every Saturday like I did?

(If they were before your time, just keep it to yourself.)

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