Joseph, When I Think of 6…

I’ll think that this year went by too fast.

Maybe it’s that you’ve hit so many big moments, like losing your first tooth and learning to read.  The reading still amazes me because, unlike your sister, who sort of decoded over time, you just one day seemed to flip a switch and BAM!, started reading anything and everything you laid your eyes on.


Mostly, you lay your eyes on every book that Mo Willems has ever written.

Maybe – – OK, most likely – – it’s that your brother is in the last throes of the terrible twos, ordering us all around all day long, yelling and tantrumming until our heads spin.  That sure makes time go by fast!

About a year ago you broke my nose at the playground.  Remember that?  You swung your head back as I was looking at your brother and when you hit me, you knocked me back over 15 feet!

And you still flip around the house dancing and jumping and landing, telling me, “See, I didn’t hurt myself!”

But now there is a stillness to you when you play with Legos, or hatch a plan with Molly to have dessert for breakfast.  A lot has changed.

What hasn’t changed is your big heart.  And your sweet disposition.  No matter what, whenever anyone asks how something is, your answer is always, “It’s the best!” I hope you never lose that.  And although I worry it might end up a little worse for wear, I am so happy to have a kid that wears his heart on his sleeve.

Happy 7th, you sweet little man.






Youth Digital Mod Design 1 Course GIVEAWAY!

The Holiday season is upon us!  I am beyond excited to share one of my favorite homeschooling experiences of 2014 with you! All of my children love Minecraft.  When Molly started asking me to buy mods for her at the beginning of the year, I told her that if she wanted a mod, she would have to make one herself.  As I looked for how to make that happen, I stumbled upon Youth Digital.  Soon thereafter, Molly was lucky enough to take Youth Digital’s Mod Design 1 course.  I have written about our experience with Youth Digital here and here.  I am pleased to say that while completing of this course, Molly has made her very own Orange Bucky Mod!  Plus, in addition to learning Java, Molly learned an exceptional amount of patience and self-discipline with this course.  Invaluable!

January 2, 2010 171

Back in the day, just hanging out, eating pizzelles, with Orange Bucky, before he became a Mod.

Youth Digital represents all that I’d like in a learning experience for my kids:  they are passionate and enthusiastic about sharing their expertise in a funny and understandable way.  Moreover, their customer service is phenomenal.  We will definitely be taking additional courses when the time is right.

In the meantime, I am giving away the $250 course that Molly took and loved and actually learned Java with this year (thank you, Youth Digital for sponsoring it!).

Get entered to win Mod Design 1 by clicking on the Rafflecopter link on the right side of my blog (the one that says “a Rafflecopter giveaway”).

If you win, you will be emailed a voucher for the course that you will be responsible for redeeming for your completely FREE course from Youth Digital.

I will be drawing the winner on 12/12/2014.  If you win, you’ll be contacted by email.  If I do not get a response within 48-hours, I will draw another winner. Good Luck to everyone!

You can also purchase the course on Youth Digital’s website here or at 20% off at Amazon here.

I have not been compensated for this giveaway.  As I mentioned in my first post about Mod Design 1, I contacted Youth Digital to ask if they would be willing to let us try it out in return for a review on my blog.  They haven’t asked for any additional reviews, nor did they have any control over any content I have published.  I just think this has been a great find and want to share it with you.

On Making Meaning: My Favorite Post From This Last Year

Happy Thanksgiving!  As I sit here in my kitchen, waiting for my family to arrive from New York to start a new holiday season, I can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic.  Things are changing this year.  The Thanksgiving celebration on my side of the family has gotten smaller.  The location of the Christmas Eve gala on my husband’s side is moving to the next generation.  All of the grandchildren are out of diapers this year (thanks, JohnJohn)!  And the first of the grandkids is getting married in May.  Time marches on and torches are passed.

I wrote this piece about a year ago and still come back to it when I need a reminder of what is important.  I hope you have a great Thanksgiving and that you make lots of meaning this year!


These are not stuffed mushrooms.  Well, they are.  And so good that I ate almost ½ a tray by myself.  But they are way more than bread, onions, mushrooms, garlic and spices.  For, you see, I helped make them with my sister-in-law for our Christmas Eve feast just as she has been making them to bring to Christmas Eve for over a decade.

She’s been making them so long that I don’t really remember Christmas Eve without them.  Just as my husband doesn’t remember Christmas Eve without at least seven fishes and dozens of family members of every age and sometimes friends coming together for the day.  Like so many other families, my husband’s big Italian family holds Christmas Eve as the most hallowed of days.  It is not just about the birth of Christ, although we are primarily a Catholic family.  And it is not because of the presents even if the presents are pretty fun.  And it is not really about seeing each other.  Most of us see each other pretty regularly.   It’s not even about food, although, admittedly, we do all love to eat.

OK.  It is about all those things.  But it is so much more than that.   I have learned since joining my husband’s family over 15 years ago, and especially since having my three children,  that it is really about the extra special effort that every single member of the family makes every single year to prioritize that time together and to hold it sacred above all else.  No matter what.

They make that day and that time mean something special because of all of the effort that goes into it. It’s  Nana and Grandpop, who start shopping for stocking stuffers for all 13 grandchildren in October, review and prepare menus in November, and set tables weeks ahead of time (OK, Mom, if you’re reading this, I know it is probably only a day or two ahead of time ;)).  It’s the aunts, who cull Christmas lists to get their “something special” for each child, one of whom manages to find matching pajamas in every size from 24-months up to men’s medium.  It’s the kids, who give up time on their “idevices” and really do try to look and behave their best for their elders, even if it means wearing a skirt instead of jeans.  It’s the fact that every person there is there on purpose to be together and they prepare for it and look forward to it all the year through.

Sometimes I worry that Christmas is too commercialized and that as a parent I am a puppet of the major kids companies targeting my children.  And sometimes I fret that I spoil my kids when we perpetuate the myth of Santa Claus even a little bit (we don’t really do it full tilt).  And then I think of those crab cakes.  And talking to my mother-in-law mid-December as she and my father-in-law are making pecan rolls, debating whether this year they are, in fact, the absolute best they ever made.

My mother-in-laws Christmas cookies. Said pecan roll, which was the best she ever made, on the left.

I picture each of us at our tables wearing a rainbow of paper crowns unfolded from their crackers, glasses aloft, mouthing “cent’anni” as my father-in-law leads the toast.


My son, most definitely not listening to anything, not even Grandpop, but looking very cute in his crown.

I remember how it was at Christmas Eve dinner when my father-in-law shared the news with the whole clan that my husband and I were expecting our first baby and I can still hear the raucous cheers that followed.  I laugh at my son counting the kids and the stockings to see if they really match up as my daughter writes out each name in a neat list.  And I reminisce about how, when I first joined this merriment, the oldest of the grandchildren in this family were still in diapers.  Those babies are now in college.  And last year, as I watched my oldest niece stuffing mushrooms with my own daughter, it finally dawned on me.

Whether you believe in Jesus Christ or Santa Claus or someone else or nothing, it is up to each of us to make the Meaning in our lives.  And like every other good thing I am trying to teach my children, it takes work.  It takes effort.  We can do it alone but it is easier if you have other people to help you.  If you are lucky, like me, you find people who work as hard (or harder) than you to do it.  And if you are really, really, lucky, like me, those people will also happen to make a wicked stuffed mushroom.


Now Here’s Something to Really Be Grateful For…


It’s true.  We get knocked down but we get up again.  You’re never going to keep us down!

To see the video that inspired this message, click here.


JohnJohn, When I Think of 2…


I’m waking you up with Sonic The Hedgehog cupcakes, glad that Daddy takes off from work for all our birthdays, and that all five of us are together today.

I laugh at how Daddy, in trying to give you a more “grown up” name this year, came up with “Grape Juice Juicy JohnJohn”.  Seriously, (I’m looking at you, Molly and Joseph), I cannot believe that it caught on!

When I think of 2, JohnJohn, I’d ride the rails with you again.


I’ll shake my head as I recall the Big Mahoff, and his villain counterpart, The Puker, whom we all still see pretty regularly.  As Aunt Susan says, “that John sure is a PIP!”

I will do the conga all over again with Molly and Joseph as we watch you march off into your new pre-school with Miss Suzie.  Then I will carry my heart in my throat the rest of the day after Suzie calls me to tell me that you threw up.  Thankfully, that only lasted two days.

I will pity poor Joseph, as I count how many times I made him play “Ninjas” or “Star Wars” or “Smash Bros.” with you this year.  He’s  so good to you.  He deserves how much you adore him.


I am blown away all over again at how, at Grandpop’s birthday weekend, you informed EVERYONE you met that you were getting Power Ranger underwear and wouldn’t need diapers anymore.  I still can’t believe that after I found the undies in the clearance bin at the store the next day, even though they were a size 6, you put them on and never wore diapers again.

Gosh, I’ll miss the day I don’t overhear Molly turning into a horse as you “morph-forr” her with your Red Ranger Morpher.

I can smell that camel from here.  As I should.  We’ve spent a lot of time with (and money on) Good Old Benny!


I’ll read Molly’s birthday card to you and wish I had a sister like her.


I’ll hear you yelling at the top of your lungs “I JUST WANT TO SNUGGA YOU, MOMMY!”  I’ll try to be annoyed because you’re yelling it while I am trying to take my first pee alone in days, but it won’t work.  Truth is, I just want to snugga you too.


I’ll stop to think how fast this is all going.  You three are best friends.  My birthday wish for you is that you always will be.

Happy birthday, Grape Juice!  We are all glad that you were born.

Molly, When I Think of 7…

I STILL laugh at the ridiculous dancing green bean, all elbows and knees and giggles, bopping across the floor after bath – – even though you don’t do it so often anymore.

I run the headcount with you before bed:  Bucky, Snookums, Mr. and Mrs. Chucklebottom, Bob, BlackLack, Sophie, Striped Bucky, Rudy, mini-Rudy…

I catch you on the couch.  In my bed.  At the table.  On the floor.  Walking across the lawn.  In the little nook you set up at Nana and Pop’s house.  Reading.  Always reading.

I am amazed that you figured out how to change the color of your Minecraft sword to the perfect hues of Pink and Orange Bucky.

I kind of get a tickle in my throat as I watch you march up to the children’s librarian with your notebook of ideas,  to ask whether you can start a book club this Fall.

I breathe deep watching you sing “Happy Birthday” to JohnJohn, even though it’s actually your birthday and your cake.  I know you wish for magic powers, but, you know, you already have them.

I run all those 5Ks with you all  over again, chatting about this and that, repeating “I am awesome.  I am awesome.  I am awesome.”

I hear Joseph’s laughter pealing throughout the house as you crack him up with “A Kooka Maraca Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Nana, A Kooka Maraca Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Nana…”

I trip over the power cords to one of your cousin’s laptops as I pass your Minecraft huddle.

I try to revel in your independence and be grateful for it instead of missing you,  as you march away from me to go to camp, without even a backward glance.

You are a joy, so poised and competent and interested in everything.

I love to watch you in the world.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Molly McGurkles!


Molly Running


Joseph, When I Think of 5…


Birthday Ninjas

I will see Daddy’s mini-me, and laugh at how many times strangers pointed it out to us.

My heart will be in my throat all over again as you spontaneously jump up and flip, roll, cartwheel, handstand, headstand and dance across the floor. Across the couch. Across the counter. Down the entire flight of stairs.  Off my bed.  Into the tub.  Out of the back of our minivan.

I’ll try to remember whether it was this year that your romance with Star Wars started, you became a secret reader like your sister, and you first felt “shy”. It was.

I’ll hear you call for a “Family Hug!” and even though you sometimes squeeze too tight, I’ll love every minute of that hug. I really love those family hugs!

I will smell the dewy baby sweat that you still sometimes get, especially after you dance “woopnam gangnam style”.  I’ll suck it in, breathing deep, thinking how pure it is.

I’ll taste those “heavenly” P & S Ravioli that Aunt Sue made for you that Sunday and wish we were all still around her table.

I’ll hold your little hand when it searches for my belly as you get sleepy during books, smile down at you as you whisper how much you love it, and try to love myself the way that you do.

I’ll try not to yell, “STOP MENACING YOUR BROTHER!”, because, the truth us, while you are The Scooch, he totally deserves it.

You bring so much love to all of us.  I am so glad that you were born.


Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Here are 5 Valentine’s Links for You

I consider myself one of the lucky ones.  I have always loved Valentine’s Day.  Ever since I can remember, my parents (and especially my Dad) would leave little notes or treats for my 4 siblings and me to celebrate this day.  Nothing crazy.  Nothing dramatic.  Nothing expensive.  Just a little reminder that we were loved.  And worth loving.

Today, as I think of the gift that my parents gave me in crafting Valentine’s the way they did, I wanted to share these links with you.

May you find love today, and really every day, wherever you go.

Even in the Boric Acid you are using to kill the ants that infested your house between closing and move-in.

Even in the Boric Acid you are using to kill the ants that infested your house between closing and move-in.

1. Here’s a  recipe for Almost-Famous Homemade Conversation Hearts.  Totally worth the time!

2.  This is a wonderful piece by Lynn Ungar on making Valentine’s Day a day “to practice love not so much as a feeling but as a choice, a discipline, a practice. You could start with the conviction that everyone certainly needs love, and the possibility that everyone deserves it. Not because they have earned it, not because they are loveable, but because each of us is capable of being an instrument of grace, which is another name for the love that we don’t have to earn or deserve.”

3.  If you think Valentine’s Day is gruesome now, check out this brief video from

4.  Have you ever thought about writing a love letter to a complete stranger?  Well, here’s your chance.  More Love Letters creates bundles of letters for a person in need of some love. They run campaigns where anyone who wishes to contribute writes to the same person and that person gets a big stack of love letters.  You can nominate a friend in need or write a letter.  Check it out. Volunteer once or many times.  It’s an easy way to add love to world.  And listen to this while you write:

5.  Lastly, take a moment to read this poem by Walt Whitman.  It makes me think of my sweet, sweet husband.  Who does it make you think of today?
A glimpse through an interstice caught,
Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the stove late of a winter night, and I unremark’d seated in a corner,
Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand,
A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking and oath and smutty jest,
There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word.

Scenes From A Blogging Break

Happy New Year!  What a full and fun month we’ve had.  We’ve been back less than a week and already, December seems so long ago.

This past month I needed a break from writing.  Instead of blogging, here are some of the fun things we did:


We made Christmas cookies, including the pecan rolls that almost killed me.

We decorated ginger bread houses, even though I had to sit on my hands as I watched the kids put the candy any old place.  No plan!  No strategy!  No design!  But lots of fun.  Especially the eating part.

We decorated ginger bread houses, even though I had to sit on my hands as I watched the kids put the candy any old place.
No plan! No strategy! No design!
But lots of fun.
Especially the eating part.

We made and wrapped presents for each other.

We made and wrapped presents for each other.

We hung out with Oreo cows.

We hung out with Oreo cows.

We opened (and played with!) our presents early before leaving for Philadelphia.

We opened (and played with!) our presents early before leaving for Philadelphia. That is an upside to traveling for Christmas.

We did yoga in our hotel room, albeit on the bed instead of the floor.

We did yoga in our hotel room.
Check out the hole in Joseph’s footie. LOVE.

We waited, sort of patiently, for Dad to take us to the pool at the hotel (best husband ever!).

We waited, sort of patiently, for Dad to take us to the pool at the hotel (best husband ever!).


We wore elf hats at the first of several Christmas celebrations.

And reveled in our new presents.

And reveled in our new presents.

We made those magic mushrooms again!

We made those magic mushrooms again!


We met some new friends.

I have no idea who those girls are.  But we did see the Nutcracker with them.  And it was the best yet.

Best Nutcracker yet!

After an afternoon at The Franklin Institute with our new favorite cousin, we enjoyed the best part of that whole place:  the closing music and light show.

After an afternoon at The Franklin Institute with our new favorite cousin, we enjoyed the best part of that whole place: the closing music and light show.

We "watched" the light show at the Comcast Center (sorry you have to see your grandson rolling around on the dirty public floor, Nana;)).

We “watched” the light show at the Comcast Center (sorry you have to see your grandson rolling around on the dirty public floor, Nana;)).

We even had a chance to check out the Philadelphia Art Museum with a concert  and a tour for the kids.

We even had a chance to check out the Philadelphia Art Museum with a concert and a tour for the kids.


We stopped for a bit. And did NOTHING.

Then we got back to it with a New Year's Eve concert with Trout Fishing in America!

Then we got back to it with a New Year’s Eve concert with Trout Fishing in America!


Followed by Hibachi and hats as we watch fireworks over the river.


After heading home…


we’ve been drinking tea EVERY DAY out of our new tea set,


and catching up on all that sleep we’ve been missing for 3 weeks.

10 Gifts I Would Love to Give (and Get) + 1 Honorable Mention

Anyone still shopping?  As we make and buy gifts for our many loved ones to show them how much they mean to us, I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite gifts.  I love to hear about other people’s favorites so here are some of mine, both old and new, this year:

1.  The thing I would like most this year, as every year since I’ve had kids, is time.  Time with my husband.  He and I are especially short on alone time these days, though we both recognize that’s fleeting.

Though I certainly wouldn’t change how we live our life, I do keep daydreaming about the day when my husband and I can go out to dinner, have a drink, and talk and eat uninterrupted.  I must be trying to live vicariously through my loved ones because I do try to give gift certificates and/or babysitting money to friends and family who I think will use it.  Better yet, I offer to babysit myself!

2.  Although my husband mocks me for it, I love motivational signs.  I put them up whenever I can.  As I think about raising my three kids, I would love to put this print in the playroom to remind all of us of what really matters.   And it reminds me of my brother-in-law, who, when I was pregnant with my first child, only gave me two words of advice: “Be Nice!”  Added bonus:  50% of the $10 cost will be donated to The Pennies for Penny Fund.  It is not available yet but when it is, buy it here.

Image of Be a Nice Human print by Chelsea Petaja

3.  I didn’t really have a special lovey.  My kids do.   They all have special “Buckies” (blankets).  I know many kids with stuffed animal lovies.  Through them I have come to appreciate just how important those first best friends are to a child.  A few years ago, I ordered a custom portrait for my niece of her beloved Bun Bun and it really came out great!

Bun Bun 2

Bun Bun posing.



It makes me wish I had one too.  Someday, I will definitely get a portrait of Molly’s Orange Bucky, JohnJohn’s Blue Bucky and of course, Joseph’s Feelings Bucky for me, my kids.  I’m nostalgic just thinking about it.  Learn more about these pictures, which start at $65, here.

4.  I wish I knit.  Or could sew.  Or embroider.  Or even tie even knots.  Until I learn, I’d like to give or get this fun embroidery wall hanging:

Likers Gonna Like Embroidery Hoop

Buy it here for about $35.

5.  When Joseph first learned to write, he used to scribble a signature monster all over everything.  EVERYTHING.  He was so proud of it though, and drew it so joyfully and happily that it has become a symbol of his joy and innocence for me.  These early years go by so quickly that already those early works on the chalk board, on the walls, and on the ottoman, seem so long ago!

I would love to turn his monster into a pendant and it turns out that I actually could, here, at Brevity Jewelry.

This gift is pricey at a starting price of $195, so it is on a long-term wish list.  If I could, I’d make a bunch and sell them just to share the sweetness and light that is that boy.

Until then, this picture will have to do.

This monster pretty much captures all that is good in the world.

6.  We have moved almost once a year ever since Joseph was born.  Many things have been lost in transit.  One that I miss the most is a magnet I got for free (for free!!) with another purchase about a decade ago that provided common kitchen measuring conversions.  I loved it so much that I gave it as gifts until it was discontinued.

The closest I’ve come is this magnet from Amazon Smile (which donates .5 of your purchase to the charity of your choice).  At $7.35 it is worth all that time I take to look conversions up now.  Stick that in my stocking, Santa!

7.  I’ve already told you my kids have very special Buckies but, in truth, they will cuddle with pretty much almost any blanket.  One that I gave them when we started with a lot of traveling is the Consider Yourself Hugged stadium blanket.  Made of fleece, it’s easy to wash.  At 50″ x 60″, it’s great for putting a baby down on a dirty airport floor, covering him up while nursing or cuddling, or using as a pillow or even for holding laundry.

It comes in many colors and is warm enough to feel like a hug when you can’t be together with whomever sent it to you.  Buy it here for $19.98.  Depending on the color you can get free shipping.

8.  My goal for this year is to run 40K of races for my 4oth year.  And I am all about teamwork.  So, tops on my list for my favorite running partner, Molly, and me is matching running skirts.  Don’t tell her, but I got us this red “Mini” dot skirt for Christmas so we can wear them in our next race. has cute skirts, with various attachments like athletic shorts, capri-length pants, or just briefs so you can get whatever length you are most comfortable in.    If you sign up on their e-mail list I think you get a percentage off your first purchase, which helps, because the skirts start at about $59.   Also, they have great sales, so I would wait for them.

9.  I know I’m probably in the minority here but I prefer paper calendars.  There.  I said it.  I’ve kept them since 9th grade.  I like them not only for planning but also as a sort of scrap book of our years.  It is so fun to look back and see notes and dates about our days.

I usually go with a 1-year monthly planner but recently I had to print out a few extra months for camps and trips we are planning with our kids in 2014.

In Googling “free calendar templates” I came across a 5-year monthly calendar.  WOW!  I would seriously love that.  Seriously.  You can even start it with any month you want.  Total planning freedom!  It looks like you can also go 2-year or 3-year, but I say go big or go home.  Check it out in all its $82.99 glory here.

I mean, it’s honey caramel chocolate love. Always a winner.

10.  I remember John and Kira’s from when they first started as Jubilee Chocolates in Philadelphia.  Not only are their chocolates beautiful AND incredibly delicious but they also try to use mostly local ingredients and support local farmers.  Even if they didn’t, though, I will always love them because my sister-in-law sent me a box of them when my Dad died.

In those lonely weeks after he died, though utterly and completely devastated, those chocolates reminded me that I did not suffer alone.  That is some seriously powerful chocolate.

So, I often send a box to anyone I think needs to remember that they are loved.  The hand-painted honey caramel bees are my absolute favorite.  At $29 for 9 they are a splurge.  But one I will never mind making.  Check out their bees, ladybugs and every flavor box here.

Honorable Mention:  I never would have bought this, especially once I saw the price ($48.99 with free Prime shipping on Smile. when I looked it up to post a link just now, but my sister brought my children this Fart Blaster when she came to visit at Thanksgiving.  It may well be the best gift they think they ever received.  They love it and have been playing with it every day since Thanksgiving.   Every day.  Several times a day.  So do their friends.  And every guest, both adult and child.  What is it about toots that make them so much fun??

If you are looking for a total winner, buy the Fart Blaster.  If you are looking for a total winner plus a little something extra, buy the Banana Scented Fart Blaster, which I do not own, nor do I wish to, Aunt Susan.

Are you a gifter?  How do you show your love?  What makes you feel loved?  However it is, I hope you get lots of it this season no matter what you believe in.