The CHERISHED Life of Heather Leigh

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Family Fun Day

Saturday was Family Fun Day at our house. But before I get into that, let me rewind a bit.

We have a marble system at our house where the kids earn marbles for doing chores and being nice to each other and they lose marbles for the opposite behavior. Then we cash out the marbles periodically. A certain percentage of the marbles goes back into the marble bank, a certain percentage goes into their pockets in the form of CASH (1 marble = a quarter), a certain percentage goes into their savings jar (which we eventually turn into cash and take to the credit union to deposit in their accounts) and a certain percentage goes to the family jar, otherwise known as TAXES.

Now, when enough taxes have been collected, and the family jar is full of marbles, we get to do a family fun activity. Previously we have gone bowling or out to the movie. But this time (due to our new budget - which is an entirely different post altogether) I suggested that we have a Family Fun Day at home.

I explained to the kids that during Family Fun Day everyone would get to pick 2 activities that they wanted us to do at home with the whole family (a specific game, ice skating, sledding, etc.) Then we would write those ideas on a piece of paper and pull them from a bowl one at a time. And whatever activity we pull, the whole family would all do together for at least 1/2 hour. I also told them that they could pick what they wanted for dinner and a special snack and when we went to Meijer we would get it.

Liam, following in the footsteps of his forced family fun averse father, did not think this sounded like a fun idea at all and took some time to warm up to the idea. But he HAD to warm up to the idea, because that is what our budget would allow.

So, on Saturday, we had our Family Fun Day.

And let me tell you, it was FUN! We went to Blockbuster and got movies (Kevin's idea), we played a Quizno's aquatic version of Slapjack called Deep Sea where we were slapping a squid, we played Apples to Apples, Jr. and Frustration and Harry Potter Scene It, we made banana nut bread (this was probably my favorite activity, and not just because it was my choice, but because the kids were SO into it! Jordyn even wants our next Family Fun Day to be ALL cooking!), then the kids played play-doh while Kevin and I made dinner (Hamburger Helper - Liam's choice), Kevin and the kids played trains with Owen while I cleaned the kitchen, and we finished off the evening by watching Where the Red Fern Grows. A movie that Liam was positive would be boring (thanks, again, to Kevin) but then he watched and really liked it. Owen was asleep within the first five seconds of the movie. I don't even think the TITLE of the movie had appeared on the screen, yet.

It's not very often that Kevin and I PLAY together with the kids. Let alone for a solid EIGHT hours. No amount of money spent at a bowling alley or anywhere else can compare.

Even Liam and Kevin both agreed that it really was a Family Fun Day.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I was OFF on Monday

I was OFF on Monday, and by that I don't meant that I had the day off work (which I did for MLK day- but that's not why I'm saying I was OFF).

I went to my hair appointment at 10 am only to discover that the appointment really had been scheduled at 9 am! (God BLESS Di for squeezing me in!!)

Then, I had to take the boys to a birthday party. I left the house with out the present. Fortunately I remembered and turned around to retrieve it before I'd even gotten out of the sub.

Then, we got to the party at Pump it Up at 1:45, because the party was at 2:00 and you needed to be there a little bit early to sign the waiver. Only to discover that the party was ACTUALLY at 2:30 so we had to wait a grueling 45 minutes for our party to start (can we go in yet, is it time, is it time to go in, is it our turn yet - Chinese water torture).

It may not seem like a big deal, but those kinds of things are soooooooooooo out of character for me. Is it old age? I DID just turn 35, ya know.

Hopefully this was just a fluke and not an indication of more "OFF" days to come.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Brave New Me

Some more reflections on the old GPS crutched Heather traveling to NJ every week vs. the Brave New Me traveling to NJ every week now.

When I first started coming here, I was terrified of getting lost in Spanish Harlem. But now, I drive from NJ into Times Square BY MYSELF!! More on that in a minute.

With the NY skyline insight every day, I feel like I should take advantage of it. From Aug-Dec, my project team and I went into the city a couple of times, but I wanted to go every week. There's so much to do. So much to see. But I wasn't about to go into the city by myself. What would I do? What if I got lost? What if I got mugged?

Then, in December, my family visited me for the weekend and we drove into the city every day. Kevin was the navigator with map in hand and we found our way into the city and around the city quite easily. And we didn't get mugged. This boosted my confidence when I returned in January to venture into the city more often.

So last week, I put my desire to take advantage of the Big Apple into action.

First, on Tuesday, my project team and I went to a part of the city known as Chelsea. We dined at a decent enough restaurant called Heartland Brewey. If you love beer, this is probably a great place to go. I, however, don't love beer; I don’t even like it a little. But that's OK, they had wine, too.

Afterwards, a couple of us went to Strand bookstore which claims that it has 18 miles of books (if you line the book shelves end to end). The store was amazing. It had new books at rock bottom prices and it also had old/used books, anywhere from paperbacks to leather buond first editions. We were there for about an hour but I could have stayed much longer. In addition to a calendar with pictures of this historic bookstore, I bought The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath because I've never read any Plath (my friend Kendrea told me to be careful while reading it because I might go crazy. Nice. ) I also bought Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese because my grandfather was a coal miner.

On the way back to Jersey, we swung through Times Square. I was hankering for some ice cream and as we were stuck in traffic, I spotted a Cold Stone Creamery up ahead. So, I jumped out of the car (don't worry, my co-worker was driving) and ran up ahead to grab a Founder's Favorite minus the brownie. When I ordered it that way, the mixologist said "But the brownie is what makes it the Founder's Favorite!" And so I said, "Oh, OK then, I'll have a Heather's Favorite."

THEN, on Wednesday night I drove into Time Square BY MYSELF! I met a friend for dinner. Actually, I don't know if 'friend' is the right word to use here. Actually, it was a woman I had met in December during one of my many 2 hour layovers at LaGuardia Airport. She live in Virginia and is also a consultant, but when she comes to NY she actuall stays and works in Manhattan. So we emailed a couple of times and made a "date". I met her at her hotel, which was at 8th and 51st - Times Square Baby. From there we walked to a restaurant called Ellen's Stardust Diner where all of the waitstaff sing showtunes and oldies AS they're serving food. Apparently, you have to audition to work there. It was cute.

Afterwards, we found a local watering hole called Playwright Tavern and stopped in for a wee bevvy. Since I had to drive back to Jersey I didn't get to fully imbibe, but it was still fun. The bartender was Irish and when Elisa (my 'friend') asked him if he knew anything about country music he said, "You ladies aren't from here, are you?" Come on, how did he know we weren't New Yorkers?!?! "Because you asked about country music, that's how!" It's not like either of us had a scrunchy in our hair (obscure Sex and the City reference). After the tavern, I called it a night.

It was so nice to meet up with someone during the work week that wasn't a work person. We didn't talk about the project or politics at the office. We talked about our kids, our husbands, our friends, our extended families, and some song about a whiskey girl. It was such a refreshing change of pace.

I found my way out of the city as easily as I found my way in and I drove straight to the hotel with no confusion. Just like a local!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

That's not my Cheerio!

When I was traveling to NJ August through December of last year, I stayed at a full-service Marriott hotel. It had a very high end restaurant, room service, superior customer service, scrumptious down filled bed linens, etc. Unfortunately, in 2008, HP was not able to renegotiate the rate we had been getting in 2007. (The rate increased from $145 to $229, which exceeds my daily travel cap of $150.)

So, I had to find a new hotel. Last week and this week, I'm at a Hyatt Place hotel. I had to start a new points program with Hyatt, but, at $139 it's within my project's budget.

The décor in the Hyatt Place is much more modern than at the Marriott. It seems to be a younger, hipper place than the older, stuffier Marriott and there are some definite advantages.

For instance, in my room there is a 42" HD tv by LG with a better channel selection (translation - I now get TLC!). Also, there is a separate living area from the bedroom area, although it's all in the same room, where there is a big sectional couch with a big leather ottoman…much more home-y feeling, a lot less hotel-y feeling. It also has free wireless high speed internet service; whereas the Marriott wasn't wireless, it was s-l-o-w, AND you had to pay $9.99 per day to use it.

So all of those advantages are fine and dandy. BUT, there are some things about the Hyatt that are just not up to par with the Marriott.

For example, the Hyatt doesn't have a restaurant or room service or a LIQUOR LICENSE although it does have a grab-and-go kitchen with reasonably priced salads, sandwiches, soups, fruits, etc. But one of the biggest things I noticed at the Hyatt is, although the décor is more modern and seemingly newer, it just isn't as fresh as the Marriott. The carpet and the ottoman in my room were both stained, the hallway carpets looked like they hadn't been vacuumed since 2006, but as long as the carpets in my room were vacuumed, the hallway thing didn't bother me all that much.

At first glance, my room seemed to be vacuumed until on day THREE I saw at the foot of my bed…a Cheerio. That's not my Cheerio! Had it been there this whole time? Did the cleaning staff drop it? Or did they just not CLEAN well enough? And if they aren't cleaning the floors well enough? What else are they not cleaning well enough? It makes me cringe to think about it.

So, I'm giving the Hyatt another try this week. This week, my room isn't stained and it seems to be cleaner than last week. Plus the hallways now look vacuumed. Maybe they are on a two week rotation.

Anyway, I'll let you know if I find any more Cheerios this week.

Monday, January 7, 2008

My life since Christmas

I was thinking that I needed to post a separate blog about the rest of my holiday happenings, but now that the holidays are officially long past O-ver, I'll just give you a quick recap on all that's happened in my life since Christmas.

Mom, Don't take the tree down!
Hip Hop Abs
Knocked Up
Stripper Pole
Delicious Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip
But, mom, Christmas Eve isn't over yet!
Gus, Will, and Griffin
Impromptu Petoskillary
Fun with hair crimpers
Gratitude journals
Bye (again) to the Albans
Apples to Apples
17 inches of snow
Uno Spin
Candle making
Painting the basement floor
Scrapbooking (FINALLY! Oh so much fun, I've missed it!)
Back to work
Macaroni Grill
M-O-O-O-O-M, I SAID CHRISTMAS EVE ISN'T OVER YET! It's still snowing!!
Big Boy
Clean the basement
The Bucs lost the playoffs
Tilapia and cous cous
On the road again (but unlike Willie Nelson, I CAN wait)

And that pretty much sums it up. Wait, did I mention Laundry?


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Christmas Flurry, part two

Wow, I totally expected to put an update in here sooner than this, but better late than never!

My last post got me caught up through Sunday. Now on to the Main Events of Christmas!

Monday was Christmas Eve. For my ENTIRE life, we have celebrated Christmas Eve with my mom's side of the family. Either she or one of my aunts would host it. Occasionally a cousin has hosted it. We hosted it once in the old house. And this year, I volunteered to host it in the new house.

However, it turned out a bit differently than in the past. Two of my aunts have recently moved to Florida. With them gone, Christmas Eve just doesn't seem the same. So, I planned on having Christmas Eve at my house while my cousin planned on having it at her house in Warren. There was a communication break down somewhere, and we each had parties being planned.

So, my immediate family and I continued with the celebration at our house. Another cousin and her family came. Another cousin stopped by. But it just wasn't the same.

And, that's not entirely bad, it was just different.

So, my sister and I planned for our kids to do all of these fun activities. Which is interesting, because when we were kids, my mom and aunts didn't PLAN a bunch of STUFF for us to do, it was just fun to be together, eat, and open gifts.

Among the activities we had planned, and actually accomplished on Christmas Eve were: Christmas cookie decorating, Ginger Bread House (train) building, Nephew Aaron playing Jingle Bell Rock on the violin, eating appetizers, eating dinner, eating dessert, picture taking, and present opening. We had other stuff planned for the kids, but the day got away from us (the party went from 1pm - 8pm). And the kids enjoyed their time together. So did the grown ups.

After everyone had left and we cleaned up a bit, Kev and I and the kids watched A Christmas Story on TV. You'll shoot your eye out! Good times.

There really is a Santa Claus because the kids let us sleep in until 8am on Christmas morning.

Their stockings were overflowing and Santa left a pile of items for each kid (unwrapped, of course). The biggest hit for Owen was his big huge train box. The biggest hit for Liam was his DS Lite. And the biggest hit for Jordyn came during breakfast, well after all the gifts had been received.

I wanted there to be a true moment like in A Christmas Story where Ralphy's dad asks him if he got everything he wanted for Christmas and Ralphy said, well, sort-of, then his dad told him that there was another present behind the desk and lo and behold there was another present waiting for him - the official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!

So, we're eating breakfast and I ask Owen if he got everything he wanted. Yes. And then I ask Liam, "Well not really, I wanted a REAL guitar." (he GOT a real guitar, the EXACT real guitar he had been coveting since September). Then I move on to Jordyn. She is such a sweetheart. Of course I got everything I wanted and MORE! And then there was the ring of a cell phone. Not my cell phone. Not Kevin's cell phone. JORDYN'S NEW CELL PHONE. Which is totally cool by the way. She found it stuffed inside an urn.

THAT was her favorite gift of the year and she has been texting non-stop.

After breakfast we headed over to Grand Rapids to spend the day with Kevin's family. All of the siblings were there and Santa (a.k.a. Uncle Louie) stopped by! There was good food (mmm, pickle rolls), good company, and good presents (the CROP-A-DILE - FINALLY!!)

We came back home the day after Christmas. I immediately started taking down the decorations and Owen kept telling me "But Christmas Eve isn't over yet!" So, I left the tree up for him. When I finally took it down on 1/2, it still made him sad. But he'll get over it. I told him we'd put it up again next Christmas. And another Christmas, and the flurry of activity that goes along with it, will be here before we know it!!