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Just A Traditional Christmas Around Here…

December 25th already? Wow! This year has flown!

Today, in honor of it being Christmas and all, the Wells family is planning to—as tradition indicates—see a movie (“Unbroken”) and then, of course, enjoy the Chinese food that Jim will make for dinner. Same fun stuff, different fun year.

Besides that? Well, you know:

Merry Christmas to all of you who are celebrating!

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Passing My Gifts On To The Next Generation

Presenting the special people in my life with gifts is one of my very favorite things to do in the entire world. I mean, you have no idea.

Last year I wrote about the method behind my gift-giving madness:

“I’m the type of person that will remember something you casually mention you like for ten full months until your birthday so I can get it, wrap it in pretty paper, and present it to you as if I bought it on a whim. I have bookmarked things online that family and friends share because they think they’re cool, pretty, awesome, or whatever, for later gift consideration. I will buy something at the store if it reminds me of you, and sometimes I’ll save it for your birthday or Hanukkah or Christmas but sometimes I’ll just box it up and put it in the mail (or bring it to you personally) because I know it will make your day.”

Oh, and the “saving for later” part? Sometimes nearly kills me. The waiting really IS the hardest part. You hit the nail right on the head, Tom Petty.

Obviously it’s also very fun to be on the other end of the gift-giving process, especially when the giver uses the same methodology. I was reminded of that last night when J handed me a Hanukkah gift bag and said, “This one’s for you, Mom.”

I pulled three items out of the bag: my favorite tea, an infuser, and a huge skein of yarn:

Hanukkah gifts

Now, at first glance, you already know this is a great gift because it includes my favorite tea. Good job, you. (and him.)

What you wouldn’t be able to pick up is that this is a perfectly thoughtful and perfectly perfect gift for another reason, because it also includes the yarn. I do not knit or crochet, but the yarn in combination with the tea and the infuser allude to a particularly hilarious exchange that J and I had last month after dealing with an extremely passionate/aggressive saleswoman at our local Teavana store. The specifics don’t matter here; it’s one of those things that you would probably only find hysterical if you had been there with us. Oh, how I laughed when I opened that gift! I love that guy.

The tea? Yummy. It won’t last long. For real.
The infuser? Awesome. I can always use another infuser; putting this one into my travel bag because you never know.
The yarn? Pretty. I just might learn to knit or crochet one of these days.
The knowledge that I have a kid who is carrying on my gift-giving traditions? Well, that’s perhaps the best gift of all.

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Keepers

This past weekend I spent a few hours filing approximately 1300 emails that were just sitting in my inbox, driving me insane. A cluttered inbox equals a cluttered mind, and I’ve been all cluttery since about April.

Many of the 1300 emails were LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER-related, of course, in ALL! THE! CATEGORIES! My extensive collection of not-really-used-since-April email file folders includes a LTYM folder as well as sub-folders for the Chicago show, the national team, and all twelve of the new cities I’m working with this season.

And that’s just LTYM; don’t get me started on all of the other folders. It’s quite a system. When I use it, that is.

My very favorite folder is the one I call “Keepers”, and every now and then I spend some time visiting it. Some of my favorite emails in there came from Jim, back in 2002.

Back then, the company Jim worked for went out of business and I begged my employer, a health club, if I could increase to forty hours (plus the water aerobics classes I was teaching), so that I could help stretch our family budget a little further while we lived on Jim’s severance. I agreed, at my boss’ request, to continue working full-time once Jim found another job (it only took him a couple of months, shew!) and thus began my least satisfying, most frustrating, and darkest career era ever ever ever, which lasted for two years. I liked my job when it was part-time but the perfect storm was going on at work (re-orgs and other drama) when I increased my hours and I was miserable. I used to cry every night and hated to leave the house in the morning.

One day, Jim started sending me funny poems to make me smile. He never liked poetry (reading OR writing) in school but because he is the best and most thoughtful husband ever, he went ahead and tried it. I have fourteen poems in that “Keepers” folder. FOURTEEN!

All fourteen are—though not literary works of art—awesome and funny and sweet, and they are special to me because they were written by the man I love and they helped bring my sunshine back.

That said, I can only share this one because all of the others have, cough cough, an element or two that isn’t for public consumption.

We’ll be having pizza for dinner
That sounds like a winner

How long do you think you’ll be at the pool?
You know I don’t want to look like a fool

By letting the pizza get cold
Hopefully before we grow old

I’m glad you are having a quiet day
Aren’t you glad you’re not working on eBay?

I hope D is feeling better
But, look on the bright side, at least he’s not a bed wetter!

It was a super sucky time back then. I was never as consistently unhappy at work before that and haven’t been as consistently unhappy at work since. I count my lucky stars every day that I am living this life with a guy who is not only there for all of the good stuff but makes extra efforts to lift me up when I’m down (and I try to return the favor when I can). For better or worse: absolutely. I’m definitely keeping him.

Melisa and Jim at the beach

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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!

[click to continue…]

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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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