Saturday, September 10, 2011

(You Took My) Joy (I Want It Back)

I wish I could go to Slidell and look for my joy. West Memphis, even.

If only it were that easy. My joy ain't in Slidell. And sure as Hell ain't in West Memphis.

I don't know where that shit is. But I think, after weeks of feeling miserable and acting like a bitch on wheels, I know when it started seeping out of my life. Joy, that is.

September 10, 2001. Ten years ago today.

That was the day the tiny cracks started to form in the foundation of my dream life. The day when I realized that I was neither charmed nor lucky or that if I ever had been my luck, very suddenly, had run out.

Oh, it's not that I had such a blessed an easy life up until that point. I was raised by a single mother at a time when that little feat earned you the moniker of Bastard in a shitty little house in what my husband has referred to as a slum. I was mocked for being poor. My mother worked two jobs and I never saw her and nothing I ever did was ever good enough. Oh yes...And she thought I was fat.

Somehow, though, things worked out for the best most of the time. Mostly because I was smart and worked hard. I got through school, got a scholarship, and got the Hell out of Dodge.

Anyway, things worked out okay. Not exactly the life I'd envisioned, but I ended up with a career I loved, married to a pretty cool guy, I converted to Catholicism, we bought our first house, and we were starting what I imagined would be a pretty cool life filled with friends, a family of our making, faith, and more good things than I had ever imagined. I was happy. All the time. Joyful. Optimistic. Loved. Loving.

Right after we moved into our house, I learned that I was pregnant with our first child. We had been married for a year and though it was a bit sooner than we planned, I was excited. And scared. But mostly just excited and trusting that it must be God's will.

Fast forward several weeks and there I was spending a weekend spotting and knowing that I was losing my baby – listening to a doctor tell me over the phone "If you're having a miscarriage – and you probably are – there is nothing we can do about it anyway. You just have to let nature take its course. You're not that far along. It happens."

It happens. Oh. Yes. Death. It happens. All the fucking time.

So, I spent Monday, September 10, 2001 at the hospital having another much more compassionate doctor confirm that I had lost the baby, having over 20 vials of blood drawn, making the logistical arrangements for a D & C scheduled for the next morning, and feeling so hollow from the experience that I simply didn't actually feel anything.

And then, the next day, I started feeling again. Pain. Heartache. A gut-wrenching sorrow that has never gone away. I only bury it until some other horrible thing splits my heart in two again and it all comes spilling out.

Best friends moving far away. Death. War. The death of a friend's child. Worrying constantly about a child and feeling helpless. PPD. Losing new friends and not knowing why. Feeling like I've wasted my life, somehow missed a calling but not having a clue what it was. Always wanting something that seems just out of reach but not knowing what it is. Constantly wishing I could turn back the hands of time and do things differently. Feeling like a a wife, as a mother, as anything that matters.

It seems that ever since September 10, 2001, there have been innumerable little setbacks, disappointments that by themselves would not matter. Yet, stacked one upon the other they have mounted into a stack of trouble I can no longer carry.

I know that hidden in there are beautiful gems of joy. My beautiful husband. My two perfect little boys. Friends. Music. Books and stories. Nature. My faith in God.

But for some reason, right now I'm realizing that the pain weighs more than the joy. And I'm so tired. I want to put it down. I want to start off again. Fresh and rested and light.

I just don't know how. And I find myself so angry all the time. Angry at all the people who have never had to see or feel or carry the pain in this world. The ones who have it easy. Of course, I know that's not helping my case, but, as my sons would say, stamping their feet, "It's not fair!"

Why does God burden some of us more than others? And what do I do with desire to smack the smug smiles off the faces of those who do have it so easy? I don't want to feel this way. It's not who I am. It's not who I used to be.

I want my Joy back.

I pray that tomorrow comes with the blessings I need to right my ship and find my way, quickly, back to my joy. Father, open my heart and mind to your gifts and protect me from the sorrow and grief, the anger and fear that threaten to consume me. Thank you for the time I sent with my boys tonight, for the beautiful full moon, and the gift of words. And wherever she is, bless my baby girl. Amen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

With a Little Help from My Friends: Music (& Money) Monday

Today, I'm combining a couple of things. Music – my first true love – and friendship.

My friend Daryl whom I've known since we were 12 has been battling non-Hodgkins Lymphoma for a couple of  years. In May, he had a bone marrow transplant. Because he works for a non-profit, Daryl is uninsured. Also, because having a bone marrow transplant essentially takes out your whole immune system for a while, Daryl cannot go back to work. He and his partner, Danny, are doing their best to survive financially and emotionally during this trying time. To help pay Daryl's medical bills and make ends meet, they are raising money through an organization called ChipIn that allows individuals and groups to easily raise money online. If you can help, please click the link below to make a donation.

And, in the meantime, enjoy one of my favorite songs about the power of friendship.

Back in the Saddle Again: The Summer Hiatus is Over

Well, I'll be gosh-darned if it hasn't been a while!

Yes, I am back from my late-spring, early summer hiatus. It happens most every year. The kids are out of school and I'm trying to balance my freelance work and responsibilities as a mom and something has to give. Unfortunately, it's usually blogging. I still, after all these years have not found the perfect balance. Yet, I continue to seek it.

To make matters all the more challenging, I've thrown a part-time job working as an office manager at a local company into the mix. Just for the comfort of a regular, albeit small, paycheck. After all, Fernbank memberships and Chick-fil-A kids' meals don't pay for themselves and I figure my hard-working husband deserves a  hand paying for some of these things.

Starting this week, however, I'm going to work on balancing the things I love (playing with my kids, writing for fun) with the things I do because I love my family (cleaning house, working for a paycheck).

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to work hard to adhere to the editorial calendar and guidelines I set for myself a while ago and try to start posting daily again. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

BBQ is Not a Verb, Y'all! A Review of Moe's Original BBQ in Atlanta

As any good Catholic girl or boy might do when preparing for Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, I thought long and hard about the Lenten sacrifice I would make. The last few years I've tried to adopt good habits like daily mass, daily prayer, or daily acts of kindness and compassion, but this year, I decided I would actually make a true sacrifice by giving up meat for 40 days.

I knew that at every meal as I had to think about how to prepare or buy a meatless meal, I would actually think about the reason I had sacrificed something. I did great, eating no meat except fish, until I was invited to review a new BBQ restaurant here in Atlanta. And sadly, that's just an unfair temptation to a Southern girl's heart. With all apologies to Jesus, I went to the media tasting at Moe's Original BBQ at 349 14th Street in Midtown just three days before my fast would be over. I sincerely felt bad about it, but boy, was it good!

Now, let me get this out of the way. I've mentioned it before...I don't really like chain restaurants and rarely eat at them with the exception of taking the kids out for lunch. That said, the fact that Moe's Original BBQ is a chain did not faze me all that much once I stepped into the joint which is housed in the renovated Kool Korners Grocery location near Georgia Tech and smelled the 'cue cookin' in all its smoky glory.

The location itself isn't "lived in" enough yet, but I've seen plenty of places near Tech get that shabby-chic, lived-in and well-loved look quickly enough. And with a Wednesday Ladies' Night and Thursday night Team Trivia along with the occasional music on Friday and Saturday nights, it won't take long.

Of course, the food itself will be the biggest draw. I had a very hard time deciding what to order, but ultimately went with a basic pulled pork platter. I also tried the smoked Buffalo wings and my new vegetarian fave, the BBQ Tofu sandwich. In a word....Amazing!

Of course, the menu is ample with selections ranging from the basic pulled pork and ribs, to the more adventurous  Shrimp Moeboy sandwich, Mahi Mahi and catfish.

The pulled pork had a great smoky flavor, but most importantly, it was super moist, even before I put any sauce on it. All of their meats (and the tofu!) are smoked on site. I was curious since the company bills itself as serving "Bama-style" BBQ, a style of 'cue with which I was previously unaware. Having lived my whole life in the South, I am well familiar with the various styles of 'cue and sauce. Hell, my home state of Tennessee is known for favoring two very different styles, but even my husband and my dear friend Lucy who are both from Alabama weren't sure what style of BBQ their home state would be noted for, both pointing to Dreamland BBQ as a reference.

After talking with Brett, one of the owners of the Atlanta Moe's BBQ, I learned that part of the reason they call theirs "Bama" style is the fact that the restaurant originated in Tuscaloosa and the other being that Alabama, like Georgia, is something of a melting pot of BBQ styles. I must say, I liked what I had. A lot. And yes, they do offer a white sauce on request, though it does come with the uniquely delicious chicken wings, as a delightful alternative to bleu cheese. It also came on the BBQ Tofu sandwich along with their red sauce, which was the perfect blend of sweet and spicy. I always have to mix sauces at most places to find the taste I'm looking for, but this sauce was, in the words of my foodie twin Goldilocks, just right.

As far as sides go, I only tried the mac-and-cheese which was pretty good, and the marinated slaw which was out of this world. I like a little more brightness to my mac-and-cheese, but it was nice and moist and cheesy, not bland or starchy in the ways it so often can be when ill prepared. The slaw was truly fantastic with bits of jalapeño mixed into a blend of red and green cabbage and the standard slaw mix which is all then marinated overnight in their vinegar-based dressing. Good stuff. I look forward to going back and trying their banana pudding, the only dessert I saw offered. Oh! And I almost forgot. Cornbread. They serve cornbread with their platters which is a little different from what I'm accustomed to around here. It was good, though I prefer a slightly less sweet cornbread. The sweetness was cut by bits of jalapeño throughout and it was moist. I can forgive overly sweet cornbread, but will not abide that which is too dry.

Finally, as a parent, I also have to give a shout out to the kid-friendliness of this place. Due to its proximity to GA Tech, I'd be inclined to get in and out of there before 8 p.m. since Moe's does offer a full bar and lots of drink specials, but it's just the right kind of open, loud (in the best possible way), bright, fun space that welcomes kids and families as well as the Midtown lunchtime crowd and happy, good-time seeking college students. There's also a deck, which although it wasn't open when I was there because they didn't have their custom-made deck furnishings yet, should also be a great place to hang this summer, with or without the wee ones in tow.

I'll definitely be heading back and despite my misgivings about chains hope they'll open a second Atlanta store in my neck of the woods.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

He Gets That from Me: Pictures of This Year's Star Wars Cake

It must be Star Wars week here at Belle of the Blog, because today I'm going to share with y'all some more tips for a Star Wars birthday party so you can create the party of his dreams for that special six to 10-year old boy in your life. For the record, this was my third Star Wars birthday party, so it's getting to be old hat for me. In fact, this year, I was feeling so confident about it, that we decided to wing it as far as games and activities are concerned. At seven and eight, I kind of felt like the kids are old enough just to entertain themselves without the need for a lot of games or activities. So, until the pizza arrived, the boys and one girl, entertained themselves playing with Brendan's extensive collection of Star Wars action figures and Legos.

The star of this year's party, other than my adorable birthday boy of course, was definitely the cake. Brendan has decided that he likes my cakes better than any bakery's (yay!), but this year that meant tackling a challenging theme: Hoth. For those of you who don't remember (or whose children aren't obsessed with the great sci-fi trilogy), Hoth is the ice planet in The Empire Strikes Back. When Brendan first told me he wanted a Hoth cake, I was hopeful that it would be easy. It's a planet covered in snow! I could ice it with white frosting and stick a Lego set  that we already had on top. I'm no professional decorator. I dabble. I play at cake decorating. I have fun with it. But I don't know what the heck I'm doing.

Nope. Brendan didn't want me to use his Lego set. He wanted something else. But he didn't know what exactly. So, after much careful consideration and thought about what I was capable of, I decided to recreate the scene where Han Solo's Tauntaun dies and he... uses it... to save Luke Skywalker. I actually combined it with this backdrop:

I know. I know. Star Wars purists will be offended, but I wanted it to be obvious we were on Hoth and it was getting complicated.

So, how did the cake turn out? Well, what do you think? I know it's not totally perfect, but for my first time working with gum paste, well, let's just say, it could have turned out much worse.

In case, you can't tell, Han is actually an action figure, not gum paste. The towers and the tauntaun are gum paste that I dyed (in the case of the large beast) using gel based food coloring. For the record, gum paste, at least the kind I used, tastes like sweetened sweat socks.

But, it's great for making 3-D figures on a cake. I guess fondant might work, but I've never tried to work with it and this was pretty easy.

The kids loved it but the Yoda Soda was a bit less of a hit than it was in first grade. Different kids, different tastes.

I'm hoping next year I get to branch out and try something else. Although, I do have this crazy aspiration to make a Death Star cake.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Music Monday: Tatooine

No, I didn't fall off the face of the Earth. I've just been busy with Life... looking for a steady job, taking care of sick kids, some volunteer work, starting pee-wee flag football with my youngest, and various and sundry other projects.

Sadly, I did fall off the 31DBBB wagon somewhere around Day 19. So close! Maybe I can pick it up again.

Anyway, I just very quickly in the last hours of the day wanted to squeeze in this amazing video. I love this song by Jeremy Messersmith so much and the video by artist Eric Power really, truly brings joy to my heart each time I see it!


Friday, March 4, 2011

Fabulous Friday: You Light Up My Life

My husband picks on me sometimes because I so often look outside myself for inspiration and guidance. You'd think that as an only child, I'd be more independent and less reliant on others. But I'm not. Sue me. I take my inspiration wherever I can find it. Sunny day. Wise words from a close friend. Self-help books. And blogs.

The last 3 weeks or so, I've found some great inspiration in the SITSGirls community for bloggers. One blogger in particular has inspired me with her enthusiasm, tirelessness and work ethic, the long list of all she does – including caring for a daughter with special needs – and the leadership she has shown as moderator for the SITSGirls 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge. Shelley, from I'm Still Standing, is an awe-inspiring person who just does what needs doing. She makes me feel like I can do anything, too.

Every day I think, I don't know if I can finish this, but then I see all that Shelley does and I read her daily posts that are written with such joy and light and I think, "Well, I have to do this. If Shelley can do it with all the other things she has going on, I can do it." And I do. Then, I feel happier and closer to my own personal goals.

Thank you, Shelley, for sharing all that you do and for being a great leader on this journey to a better blog!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Stupid Kid: Father Threatens Lawsuit Over Kid's Dumbass Facebook Postings

Being in the midst of confronting my own discipline challenges with my son, I was struck dumb by a story I read in yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The story is about three middle school students who posted disparaging – and possibly career ending – statements about a teacher at their school on their Facebook pages. The statements ranged from saying the teacher was a pedophile and rapist to stating that the teacher was bipolar.

The school, rightly in my opinion, suspended the students because their statements were not grounded in any sort of truth and were disruptive to the learning environment at the school.

Of course, one of the kids' fathers is furious and says the school had no right to suspend the kids, calling it a violation of their privacy. They're considering a lawsuit says the father.

Ridiculous. Right?

Maybe not. Apparently, there is a precedent for allowing mouthy high school students who have no respect for anyone other than their selves to get away with slandering teachers or whoever else they want to via Facebook. Granted, what Katherine Evans said about her English teacher is not quite as bad as what these Georgia boys have done, it's still utterly disrespectful and instead of allowing her to move forward with a lawsuit her parents might have served both their daughter and society better by teaching her to mind her manners and show a little respect for the rest of the world.

Anyone who claims that getting in trouble for something you write on Facebook is a violation of your privacy is a fool. If you put it out there on a public profile you have no right to privacy. If you had a private account and the school hacked your account and read your postings, that's something else entirely. But that's not what happened in either of these cases.

I expect and try to teach my sons to care about others, to show them respect, and not say bad things about them. To that end, I try not to speak badly of people in front of my kids. If I found out either of them created a Facebook page (or whatever the cool means of communication is when their teenagers) that said ugly things about a teacher, a fellow student, or their archnemesis, I would put a stop to it immediately and they would have to go apologize in person to the person they hurt. Then, they would have their Facebook privileges taken away. Children, as I learn more and more every day, need structure and parental guidance – not parents who always tell them they're right even at the cost of someone else's dignity.

What say you?

Do kids (or adults) have a right to trash anyone they want to in a public medium with no consequences for their actions?

If your kid did something like this and got suspended would you sue or would you punish your child?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Teach Your Children: Regaining Control of Your Household

Between my attempting to work a little more and volunteering, Scott's traveling for work and hectic  schedule of long hours and the occasional night or weekend on call, Brendan's daily homework grind, and all the rest of our rat race, we've run into a bit of a discipline void.

Brendan, always my challenging boy, has been pushing every button I own and testing all the boundaries, which I will admit, are always a bit loose. As Alexandria over at Before the Baby Wakes put it, I subscribe to a Free to Be Us parenting style. I've tended to err too far on the side of not wanting to crush my child's spirit. Right up until the point where his spirit is really pissing me off and I blow up. Not good.

In thinking about how and why things have gotten so out of control, I see clearly that it has been my lack of consistency in disciplining and setting rules.

Because of Brendan's dyspraxia and all the associated frustrations he experienced before we had a diagnosis, I learned, as did he, that sometimes it's just easier for mommy to give in and perform the task at hand for the child. It can make things go a lot faster when you're trying to get out the door. Unfortunately, kids don't compartmentalize so well and now there are lots of things that my 8-year old should do for himself that he still wants or expects me to do and when I refuse, it turns into a huge power struggle.

We're also dealing with his smart mouth. I've tried reasoning with him on the issue, telling him it's unacceptable, rude, he hurts my feelings, etc. At my wits' end, I've been tempted to pull out the hot sauce or the soft soap and use them when he sasses, but instead, I'm regrouping.

Today, I made a list of our house rules and the consequences of not following those rules. I made it as a reminder for myself as much as I did as an instructional tool for the boys. I have a real problem with deciding in the heat of the moment what an acceptable punishment for a particular misbehavior should be. I figured if I define it for myself and let the kids know what will happen if they talk back or fail to pick up their toys when I ask, it will be easier for all of us and lead (I hope!) to a calmer, happier  household.

I'm also reading John Rosemond's Parent Power and hope to get some new insight from that.

I just hope it's not too late.

What discipline challenges have you faced?
How did you fix the problem?
Do you feel that you were successful?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Change Will Do You Good


Welcome to the new, and I hope you'll agree, improved digs. What do y'all think?

As y'all may know, I'm participating in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge. One of the tasks was to create an editorial calendar for your blog, which I did. In the process of reading about forming an editorial calendar, I saw a couple of experts who recommended themed days. They claim readers like that. A lot. Although, most of the popular blogs I read don't do that. Now. Perhaps they did in their infancy, but I don't know. All I know is this... I generally find themed days kind of cheesy and not really my style.

But guess what? I think change is good and I feel like spicin' things up around here. So, to that end, I'm going to give themed blog posts a trial run. There's no guarantee that I won't have a random I-must-post-this-today-even-though-it's-Recipe-Day-and-this-is-not-a-recipe-day here and there, but for the most part, I'm going to try and stick to this for a while and see how it works. 

Here's my current plan:

Musical Mondays: Review or share a new band, piece of music I love, or video.

Tasty Tuesdays: Recipes, kids’ party info, or information about food and health; relate to parenting

Wordy Wednesdays: A longer feature on parenting

Take That Thursdays: A review or opinion piece

Fabulous Fridays: Shout Outs or Inspiring Things and/or People

Spontaneous Saturday: Anything goes

Spiritual Sunday: Faith, inspiration, and reflection

Of course, I want to know what you think. 

Are themed posts a good idea? Like? Dislike? What do you do on your blog? 

And what do you think of the new design?

Do share!

P.S. A shout out to Jacqui of Wacky Jacqui's Designs for the new look! 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Chance Blues: Music Makes It All Better

Would it be going too far to say that music is my master, to use a phrase my son loves? That a favorite song can lift me out of the doldrums or gird me in a blanket of commiseration when I need to go through, instead of around, my own heartache?

If you know me well enough, you'd say yes.

I can be in the worst mood, feeling lost, totally adrift, and the right music can pull me back to the safety of the shore. No matter what the problem, music can overpower it, giving me a new chance to get beyond it.

Such was the case last Saturday when the hormones struck, pushing me under the tidal wave of Lost Hope and Depression. I found myself frustrated and hopeless about everything from the fact that I haven't succeeded in Life in the ways I want  to the sad existence of my four eight-year old post-baby pooch, which admittedly is waaaaaay smaller than it once was, but is. still. there.

Oh yeah. And I was also pissed off because there are people who are younger than me. How dare they be in their early 30s just starting their families when I'm in my very early 40s with a pre-pre-teen with a smart mouth?! (I must pause to say that I really wish I knew how to type an interrobang!)

So...I spent a good 45 minutes Saturday night on the way to Athens, bemoaning the sorry state of my existence and listening to my very wise husband explain to me the error of my ways, offering some pretty good advice and some crazy advice (Hire a housecleaner to clean so you can work more. Uh...I actually need to be working more first so I can pay the housekeeper.).

By the time we got to Athens, I was willing the tears pricking the backs of my eyes not to tumble forth and embarrass me in front of the friends we were meeting. I was also counting the moments until we took our seats in UGA's Hodgson Hall and  Punch Brothers came on stage. I knew the music would make it all better.

And did it ever. What an amazing bunch of talent! From the first notes of You Are to Chris Thile's playing a beautiful Bach piece by himself as the first song of their encore, I was transported. Nothing mattered more than the last note Thile sang on their song Alex. There was never anything more fun and exuberant than the raucous fun of Rye Whiskey or more beautiful than the harmonies those four sexy young gentlemen sang on their rendition of  The Beatles' Paperback Writer. When I'm listening to good music, I am right there and no where else.

No worries about anything. Just the moment.

The show flew by and while I wanted more (I always want more!), I couldn't be sad because it was absolutely one of the best shows I've seen in years. And I had seen Punch Brothers at the Variety in the fall. Better than that one, even. Except for the part where we were sitting down. I'm a get up and dance kind of girl.

Still, though.... A magical evening, made better by being with friends we don't often see, by being in Athens,  and the great drinks at Highwire after the show.

Now I'm counting down until the next show. Scott has a few coming up including a show in Nashvegas and playing at Finster Fest this spring. I can't wait. Until then, it's up to the iPod to carry me away.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Get The Party Started: iTunes Giveaway at I'm Still Standing for SITSGirls 31DBBB Participants

Shelly, special needs mom, advocate, blogger extraordinaire, and all-around amazing woman, as well as  host of the February 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge at SITSGirls wants you to come to the party. The blogging party, that is.

Over the course of the last 10 days or so (the challenge began on Feb. 1, but we only have exercises on weekdays), Shelly has led us through Darren Rowse's ProBlogger Book, one lesson at a time. So far, I've refined my elevator pitch, been reminded of the power of networking, and of using available resources like Google Alerts and forums to which you already belong, as well as using a variety of different writing techniques, like lists, to spice up your blog. I found it very useful to be reminded of the importance of internal linking which I tend to overlook, but the most important thing I've gained since starting this exercise is inspiration and a framework within which to make the changes I need to make.

For too long, I was of the mind that "If you write it, they will come." I thought about what I was writing, but not how I was presenting the information or how I was marketing it. For a while I did work to build genuine relationships with other bloggers, but I see now how much more effort is required if I want to grow this blog and build a shared community for other like-minded fellows. (For the record, I do.)

Even though I had to play catch-up because I started late and I've had other writing projects this week that caused me to do days 7 & 8 and 9 & 10 of the challenge on the same days, I'm still in the game and having fun.

And so are a lot of other bloggers! I've been impressed with both the quantity and quality of the other bloggers participating. To celebrate our making it 1/3 of the way through the challenge, Shelly is giving    away a $20 iTunes gift card to one blogger who posts about the challenge and comments on her blog.

It's still not too late to join the challenge, either...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

You Are Not Alone in This: Overcoming Anger and Frustration

If you had known me when I was in college and witnessed me being angry, you might have feared me or my anger. I was, not merely a yeller, but a thrower, too. Push me too far and I would pick up the first thing I could wrap my hands around and hurl it at your head. Just ask the trashiest girl from my college class whom I found hanging out in my boyfriend's dorm room one afternoon. Or my friend J.'s boyfriend who provoked me to throw my shoe at his head because he thought it would be funny to hold me upside down over a stairwell.

Don't worry. Anger gives you bad aim and the sane can duck really well, apparently. I don't remember ever making contact with anyone's head.

Over the years, I've learned to control my anger. I breathe. I think about the consequences of how I express my anger. Sometimes I stifle. I still get mad about stuff most people would let roll of their backs.

I hate noise. I hate being disrespected or ignored. I hate it when people act superior. I get mad and I rant and I yell.

I'm not proud of any of this and I've worked really hard to change, but I fell the need to continue growing in this area. I'm pretty much to the point where I only yell when I feel like one of the boys isn't listening or doing as they are told. Which is pretty much every day.

Obviously, this technique isn't working. In the last few weeks, I have found myself pausing when I feel the rush and swell of emotion rising up from my gut to my chest, the muscles in my arms and hands clenching. I pause and I ask myself if the situation really warrants that level of anger. Then, I take a breath and move forward trying to correct the situation without yelling. Sometimes I find myself talking through clenched teeth, especially when trying to get homework done each day with a child who would rather be doing anything other than homework, but for the most part I am acting rationally. Still, at this point, it's an effort, not my natural reaction. But, it's forward progress and a long way from the days I would get so angry I ended up in tears.

In thinking about how to change some of my behaviors, I found this post by Shannon at The Discipline Project. I like her simple approach, but fear it won't be that effective on me. Sadly, I don't usually hesitate to yell at my kids in front of other parents. I am who I am. I could pretend my mother-in-law was here, though. That might actually work. I do think it's the kind of idea that is profound in its simplicity and might actually work. A twist on it for me is to think about what God would say to me about my behavior and if I could proudly stand before God after yelling at my kids.

Whatever works. I am thankful to Shannon for the inspiration. It's always good to know there are others walking the path with you, reaching out a hand of hope and that you can in turn do the same one day. And as I remind myself every morning... Today is a new day and new opportunity to be the woman I want to be.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dance Like Nobody's Watching

There I was, in the middle of my first Zumba class, surrounded mostly by strangers as I tripped over my own feet, trying to figure out what "one-two-double-double" meant. I watched the woman next to me, trying to figure it out since I couldn't see the instructor for the 6'3", middle-aged African-American man between me and her. He had some nice moves, but I don't trust men in exercise classes to follow along correctly. I don't know why, but I don't. Sue me.

Soon, I was too distracted by what a good dancer the woman beside me was to follow her footwork. She was too fast. And her booty shakin'... Well, let's just say there's a stripper-pole somewhere out there waiting for her talents. She was so good, that after just one song our instructor singled her out and asked her to come up to the front.  I never would have suspected it. I know her. She's just another member of the PTA at my son's school. A mom, just like me.

I gave up on her and started looking around. Eventually I maneuvered myself into a position so that I could actually see the instructor. She was good. Clearly, a professional dancer with all the grace and mad-dancing  skills of a Solid Gold dancer, but in workout instructor form. I tried to follow her, counting in my head, "one-two-three-four," and things were going pretty well and then she switched moves, just when I was getting the hang of it, and... Boom! There goes the dynamite. There I go crashing into the very tall lady next to me, moving right as she came left. 


We both laughed and I resisted the strong urge to beat myself up for being an uncoordinated dolt. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and just let my body feel the rhythm of the music for a moment. I looked up, found the instructor, and dove back in, doing my best to follow along and moving continuously, even if I didn't know how to move my feet exactly like hers. I just let the music get inside my body and let myself have fun with no worries of how stupid I looked or that I wasn't as good of a dancer as the other men and women in the class. I cha-cha-cha'd to fast-moving Latin grooves and shook my money-maker to T-Pain and the Black Eyed Peas. And it felt good. 

At the end of the class I felt good. I felt like I had a great workout. And I felt happy in a way I never could have 20 years ago when I would have left the class, tears of embarrassment burning behind my eyes, the first time I took a misstep. I would have been too wrapped up in what everyone else was thinking of me to let myself go and enjoy myself.

This was really a revelation to me and it got me thinking... I'd love to hear your thoughts:

Are there things you want to do but don't because you worry about how it will make you look or what others will think?

Have your inhibitions or self-restrictions lessened or increased with age?

If you loved yourself enough to do anything you wanted without regard to what others might think, what would you do?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ten Steps to Being a Happier, More Balanced Mommy

I recently watched an episode of The Simpsons with my family. In the episode, Marge reconnects with her "mommy" friends and starts creating a social life for herself outside her family. My favorite part of the episode is animation of Marge's brain, showing the different segments of her life. A very large chunk of her brain is labeled "Repressed Rage," but after just a few moments of hanging out with her friends, that part of her brain is pushed aside by the part labeled "Social Life."

My oldest boy interpreted Marge and the other moms as "hating their kids," because they wanted to spend time with each other and not be with their kids every moment of every day. I explained, of course, that was far from the case and that like me, even those cartoon moms love their kids, however, moms are people, too. I explained that it makes me happy to spend time with my friends or go places by myself and do things I like to do, just like he enjoys playing with his friends and doing the things he finds fun.

It took me the first two years of his life to realize that and start trying to find a sense of balance and sometimes even now, eight years in, I feel like I don't have the full and richly balanced life I want. But I try. I know that if I have things in my life that matter to me besides my kids, things that make me think and breathe and feel and wonder and use skills other than my parenting smarts, I am a happier person. I am woman, wife, lover, friend, cousin, writer, creator, dreamer, and believer. Not just mommy, cleaner of spills and wiper of bottoms, storyteller and consoler. If I model a balanced life for my sons, hopefully they will one day strive to create lives of their own that balance responsibility with their passions.

If you're a new mom or if you've found yourself stuck in the mommy rut, never leaving your house except to grocery shop, never talking about anything other than your kids or to anyone other than your kids, and more or less feeling like you don't know who you are any more, here are a few ideas to help you reconnect with yourself and rebuild a complete life that celebrates your role as mother and allows you to be fully who you are:

1. Spend some quiet time alone each day or as often as you can, doing nothing.

2. Pray or meditate.

3. Learn to say no to your children.

4. Resume a hobby you put aside, like writing, reading for pleasure, painting, playing music, etc.

5. Take a class.

6. If you're married or live with your significant other, let your partner get up with the kids when they awake early or in the night.

7. Turn off the Laurie Berkner and listen to music you love. (Watch the lyrics, though!)

8. Plan at least one night alone with your partner each week or bi-weekly at the very least. (If you can't afford a sitter, trade with friends. Or put the kids to bed early and have hubby pick up some take out. Turn off the t.v., put on your favorite music, and just talk.) If you're single, plan a night out with a friend or friends once a week or so to unwind and be with other adults (besides your co-workers!).

9. Read. Books. Magazines. Online newspapers. Let yourself be informed and entertained and feel like you know about something other than Sesame Street or Yo Gabba Gabba.

10. Exercise. Whether it's a walk around the block, a Stroller Strides class, Zumba, training for a marathon, or lifting weights, find a fitness routine that helps you burn off frustsration and do something good for yourself.

And always remember to be kind  to yourself. Parenting is hard work and whether you're a stay-at-home mom or work outside the home, there are few breaks from it, at least until your kids start school and that requires a different kind and level of mental energy. Just remember the person you were before having kids and know she's still in there and all the better for being a mommy.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The SITS Girls 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge: Day 1

I've been blogging for nearly eight years now, sometimes with great frequency and passion, other times rarely and only then because I felt like I had to.

This year I decided I wanted to recommit to writing and recommit to this blog. I'm hoping to rebuild it from the ground up. I have a designer working on a new look and I plan to write, if not daily, at least thrice weekly. 

To get things moving along, I decided (two days late!) to participate in the SITS Girls 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge

Day 1's challenge is to write an elevator pitch, both a short one and a long one. So, here goes:

Short Pitch: Tales of Domestic Divahood from Down South. (Tagline/pitch)
Long Pitch: Parenting is a blessing, but it's not always easy. provides inspiration and a place where you can tell it or hear it like it is. I write about family, friends, food, music... a little of this and a little of that with the occasional review or product giveaway thrown in for good measure.

Thoughts? Praise? Criticism? Bring it on!

One Angry Dwarf

Dear Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Georgia and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals,

This is an open letter to request that you butt out of my child's routine healthcare, other than to pay the bills, BC, which is what you get paid to do. Pfizer... Well, no one asked for your opinion.

Our family has a pediatrician who tends to all my child's healthcare needs that can't be met by me or Mother Nature. Our doctor is outstanding. You know, unlike your marketing department, Pfizer, whose primary agenda is making money for your shareholders while putting lives at risk with off-label marketing and pushing through drugs that haven't been thoroughly tested, he went to medical school and actually knows a thing or two about keeping kids healthy.

When I take either of my children into his office for their well-child visits, I can assure you that he knows precisely which vaccines are due and he and I have been working together for at least 8 years now to ensure that my children receive the vaccines they need when they are scheduled, but that they are never given more than two vaccines at a time so that  – God forbid – should there be a toxic reaction to a vaccine, we can more readily determine which vaccine caused it.

The phone calls and letters "informing" me that my son has missed "an important vaccine," that appear to be coming from Blue Cross, but which are actually paid for by Pfizer, as noted in the fine print, are wholly unwelcome and dare I say, a conflict of interest on behalf of you, Blue Cross. First of all, is it not a violation of HIPPA for you to sell my private information to a drug company and then allow them to market their products to me under your name?

Blue Cross and Pfizer, I am not an idiot. Nor are most parents. We do not need you looking over our shoulders, or those of our trusted family physicians, telling us what drugs we need to take, all in the name of making your CEOs and shareholders richer.

I am not some crunchy mom who fails to see the life-saving importance of having my child inoculated against the world's deadliest diseases. I am, however, quite well-informed about the vaccines my children need and those that are of questionable use. Moreover, the vaccine you are pushing, Prevnar 13, while quite beneficial in the fact that it protects against bacteria that are drug-resistant, has only just come onto the market in the last month and a half, yet despite this fact, was indeed, given to my son at his last well-child visit three weeks ago.

If you want to market your new drug, market it directly to physicians rather than using scare tactics with parents to make them feel as if they have somehow failed their children. And if you're going to market it directly to patients or their parents, at least be sure they haven't already received it before you waste their time.

By the way, I'll be contacting my congressional representatives about this. Not that it will do much good since I'm sure you're both lining their pockets as well, but at least I will have voiced my opinion about your unscrupulous methods and maybe, just maybe, someone will care enough about real people to stop you.

Sincerely yours,

One Angry Mother

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

If You're Out There

DeKalb County Schools superintendent Ramona Tyson presented her recommendations last night at the DCSS Board of Education meeting. Surprisingly, my school district came out relatively unscathed. Rather than the 112 transfers that had been predicted for us, we're only getting 44. We keep our magnet program, and the eight streets that were on the block to be transferred to another school. Not bad. Of course, it's not set in stone and anything can happen between now and when the Board votes on the proposal March 7th.

None of this tenuous progress could have been made if not for the tireless work of a core group of parents with the energy and know-how to put together alternatives to the two original proposals put forth by DeKalb County's consulting firm. These neighbors of mine are rock stars as far as I'm concerned (even if one of them did call me out for my cynicism and negative rhetoric when I simply felt I was expressing my opinion and defending a friend from vicious attacks).

Still, the air of tension remains with the decision not being final and with the knowledge that not everyone is happy with the proposal. A lot of people are getting screwed.

There's a perception in the county that if you're rich and white you can have anything you want because a certain wealthy enclave within the county fought very hard to protect their school and neighborhood and basically got their way, with only four students from their area being redistricted from their school to one they didn't deem "appropriate" for their kids.

Meanwhile, students at one of DeKalb's most prestigious high schools are being shuffled to what is arguably its worst high school.

It's truly sad. I can't even believe that the county can legally transfer students to a school that has failed to meet AYP consistently for multiple years.

I'm truly sad for those families and those students, some of whom won't get to graduate from an outstanding high school after putting in three years of effort there. I'm sad for the 50+ families being uprooted from our neighboring elementary school in the district where they bought homes so that an equivalent number of kids can be transferred there from a different school.

The whole process makes me sick.

Rather than wasting time and money arbitrarily shuffling kids around and destroying property values, the DCSS would make better use of their resources by firing Central Office staff, hiring more teachers, reducing class sizes, and creating equitable programs at every school throughout the County.

Parents and all citizens who give a damn about public education need to get organized and prepare for what lies ahead, including the battle against giant 900+ student elementary schools.

In the meantime, I guess all we can do is wait and see what happens March 7th.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Talkin' World War III Blues

A proper left-leaning kind of gal, I've always kind of accepted the ideological and philosophical notion that war is bad, unless of course, you're saving the weak from a bunch of big baddies. Love thy neighbor. Kumbaya. Yada. Yada. Fucking Yada.

In the last two months, I have watched myself turn from a compassionate, empathetic, and reasonable person into someone filled with the fire of hate and anger. And I can pretty much honestly say that I have never felt less understood. Hell.... For a minute, I didn't fully understand what was going on myself, but I think today I figured out what's going on.

If you've been following the redistricting drama in DeKalb County, especially if you're a part of it, you can appreciate the tension of not knowing where your child might end up going to school. Or maybe not.

Even if there's no danger of your child being forced to change schools, maybe you can appreciate the concern of having the character of a beloved neighborhood school changed when it is forced to go over capacity while accepting 100+ students from a Title I school whose students are primarily non-native English speakers.

Or maybe you falsely assume that anyone who is concerned with that reality is racist. Or classist.


It feels like the war arrived upon my doorstep this week whether I wanted it or not. This exercise in futility that DeKalb County is putting us through has created factions in my community with those who want to save our school's amazing magnet program against those of us who bought homes in the neighborhood specifically to attend our elementary school as residents of the neighborhood (as opposed to living elsewhere and trying to get into the magnet program).  One of the DCSS' two plans involves surgically cutting eight neighborhood streets and redistricting us to another school, while the other plan would move the magnet program to another school.

And actually, I'm not even that upset about the actual idea of moving to another school, in theory. The other school is actually a great school, too. It's just not the one I planned for my children to attend. Not the one that we bought our home specifically so that our kids could attend. Not the one I have invested my time and energy into over the last four years.

What I am upset about is that there are people in my neighborhood who would choose saving the magnet program (and keeping their kids in it, natch) over protecting the value of homes throughout the neighborhood and keeping our community intact. We have been a part of this school for four years now. School was enough of a struggle for my son and he has built deeply meaningful attachments and relationships with teachers and support staff who helped us get him to the place he needs to be academically and emotionally with regard to school. And now, a select group who feel they are better than the rest of us because their kids are in the magnet program, would just tear apart all of the progress we've made with our son and shove us off to a strange school where we have to rebuild his trust and pray that all the progress we've made isn't undone overnight.

Of course, these same people say they don't want that. They want to save both the magnet and the keep the neighborhood together. Yet, when one of our neighborhood representatives suggested to the school board last week that if it came down to it we would want to prioritize keep the neighborhood intact and losing the magnet program in order to prevent overcrowding, a select few magnet parents went ballistic, accusing people of lying, and all but saying they'd just as soon get rid of us to keep the magnet program.

And in all honesty, they have a point. If you eliminate the magnet program and bring in over 100 low-income students who don't speak the language and whose parents work two jobs to support their families and can't volunteer at the school, and you try to keep the neighborhood intact, you simply have another school that will quickly spiral into mediocrity if not abject failure.

Hell, even if you keep the magnet program, the school is going to be so overcrowded that the benefits resident students received from having the magnet program in their school, i.e. science lab, will simply disappear.

The whole thing sucks.

Yet, if you dare say that in certain circles, you'll be accused of being racist and/or classist. And I don't really have a problem with that because I know that's not true. What I do have a problem with is that many of those who are pulling the race/class card are the same people who have declared they don't want their kids to attend Tucker High School. Now, most of them will say that it's because of Tucker's low test scores as compared to Lakeside's. However, we all know that any kid can get excellent test scores no matter where they go if that kid is a good student. Tucker has the highest score for technology readiness of any school in DeKalb County as well as a brand new beautiful campus. It's much, much closer to our neighborhood. It has an International Baccalaureate program. and it boasts a kickass football team. It's also mostly black. And I have literally heard a neighbor say that while it might be okay to send your sons to Tucker you couldn't send a daughter there.


And I'm racist and classist for facing the reality that our beloved neighborhood school will be forever changed by having to take resources away from our standard and high-achieving students to address the real needs of an incoming population of students who are, no doubt, going to need extra support.

These kids are coming from a school to which our school has donated food items collected by our student council in order to ensure that the students had food to eat over the weekends because the only healthy meal they got each day was at school. How can bringing those kids to our school not have a negative impact?

I am in no way saying those students don't have the same right to a great education as mine or anyone else's kids. Of course they do. Instead of randomly shuffling students around, DCSS needs to make real, substantive changes like those suggested here that actually improve all of our schools and provide a truly equal education for all students, not just those fortunate enough to win a lottery for a magnet program or able to buy or rent a home in a good school district.

I'm just saying that anyone who is eager to bring them to our school and thinks everything will be just as good or better than they are now is not looking at the situation realistically.

Whether we stay at our current school or get redistricted we'll make the best of it, but if we do stay where we are, I'll know that certain people in the neighborhood think their kids are better and more deserving than anyone else's and that the little magnet clique is of more value than actual residents of the neighborhood.

And for what it's worth, I'm really sick of those who don't live on one of the eight streets in Limbo right now telling the rest of us to play nice and that we all have to live together once the dust settles. They're not the ones being attacked. Nothing changes for their kids. They have nothing at play here, other than how the school will be affected by overcrowding once the new students come. And honestly, I guess if the school keeps the magnet and we're gone, the overcrowding won't be so bad for them and they win.

Yeah, I guess it would be easy for them to have their little group sing of unity and get their kumbaya-yas out.

No wonder I feel so alone.

Friday, February 4, 2011

And the Winner Is....

Congratulations to Marina, of My Busy Children.

Marina is the winner of the Applebee's Gift Certificate to try out their new "Unbelievable Under 550 Calories" menu.

Thanks to Applebee's Atlanta for their support and for inviting me to participate in their launch event.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sending All My Love to You: Love Can Save the World

Since I was a child, I have been fascinated with the organization Care and the amazing work they do in impoverished nations throughout the world, especially the work they do for women and children.

I started following Care more closely in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti and when one of my beloved college classmates began working there. I can't think of another organization with such a focus on the lives of girls and women and young children as this one. The work they are doing is mighty. And I believe in it with all my heart and I want you to feel the same way.

Yesterday, I received a message that I have to share. It's about an easy way you can help women around the world break out of the cycle of poverty.

This Valentine's Day give your true loves gifts that allow you to share your love, not only with them, but with women and children throughout the world.

Full Circle Exchange has teamed up with Care and is offering custom-created boxes of organic, fair trade chocolates and customizable gift sets including their organic chocolate bark paired with their organic, fair trade coffee.

When you make your purchase, Full Circle Exchange and their philanthropic partners will match 100% of your purchase price and donate it directly to Care.

Hurry though! In order to guarantee delivery of your gift by February 14th, orders must be placed by Friday, February 4th.

What better way to show your love how big your heart is than by extending it to those in need?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Enjoy Applebee's New Unbelievable Under 550 Calorie Entrées for Free

As with most moms, finding ways to eat healthier and squeeze workouts into my life are priorities for me. My mom died of a heart attack at just 59 years old. Not the path I want to follow since I want to be around, strong and healthy for my boys as long as I can be.

Of course, being someone who loves food and who loves to dine out, it can be tricky to find healthy options, especially at chain restaurants, where creative, healthful choices take a backseat to large portions and high-fat, low-cost alternatives.

Applebee's may be changing that with the relaunch of their "Unbelievably Great Tasting and Under 550 Calories" menu. On Monday, I had the chance to try all of these entreés and their new SkinnyBee® Cocktails.

Let me preface this review by saying that I never eat at chain restaurants except fast food. Just not a fan of homogenized cuisine. That said, I would definitely go to Applebee's specifically to get one of these new healthy, low-calorie options.

The new entreés are:

• Grilled Dijon Chicken and Portobello
• Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp
• Asiago Peppercorn Steak
• Teriyaki Shrimp Pasta
• Teriyaki Chicken Pasta
• Grilled Shrimp and Island Rice

The first three items listed are served with steamed veg and creamy herb potatoes. Every one of the dishes was flavorful and very filling. Calories are controlled via portion size and by using Pam to cook with instead of oil or butter.

Although each of the bloggers in attendance was given a quarter of each dish to sample and there were only six items to try, we were all stuffed. By our calculations, we still stayed under 550 calories total for the lunch.... Surprising given how tasty these items were.

I'm actually hard-pressed to choose a favorite. The Grilled Dijon Chicken and Portobello was fantastic. Moist. A great dijon flavor. I loved the steamed veggies and potatoes on the side. The veggies had a great flavor and were still crisp while the potatoes were creamy and satisfying in a "comfort food" kind of way that is lost when dieting.

But then, I had the Asiago Peppercorn Steak. I don't love red meat. But the steak was moist and seasoned very simply. The asiago provided just a hint of tang and creaminess that was just right with the simple flavor of the steak.

Still, the shrimp dishes! They had me at hello! The Teriyaki Shrimp Pasta had an incredible flavor. It's made with low-sodium soy sauce, is filled with a huge variety of great filling vegetables like bok choy, red peppers, broccoli, water chestnuts, and sugar snap peas. Those are topped with 14 shrimp and all of that is atop a mound of whole wheat angel hair pasta. Kind of a weird combination and I could have lived without the pasta, frankly. There wasn't quite enough of the teriyaki sauce to cover the pasta, so it was a bit dry, but the flavor was fantastic and when you're trying to eat healthy and lose weight, you can't go wrong with all those vegetables! This dish also comes in a version with grilled chicken instead of shrimp and it was equally tasty. The chicken had a good char on it from the grill which was nice.

When it comes down to it, if I have to choose a favorite, it would have to be the Grilled Shrimp and Island rice. It was like a tropical vacation for my mouth.

The shrimp are basted in a Southern-style BBQ sauce then covered in spicy dry rub. Damn! It was good. The intricate spiciness of the shrimp is perfectly offset by the "Island" rice, which was white rice (brown would have been a healthier choice, I agree) tossed with bits of orange and pineapple. This also came with steamed veggies which were excellent. The one thing I hated about this dish, though, is that the shrimp have their tails on and it's hard to eat them when they're covered in BBQ sauce. Just plain messy, but the taste was worth it.

The only new menu item that I wasn't crazy about was the Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp. And even that was good. It's a tender 7 oz. sirloin with bruschetta style sauce topped with 7 shrimp in their own creamy herb sauce. Again, excellent flavor and so hard to believe that this particular entrée is under 550 calories. In fact, while I can't access the nutritional info at this moment, I believe this dish was under 500 calories.

So, what didn't I love about it? It has almonds as part of the bruschetta sauce and I wasn't crazy about the texture that created. I like nuts, but they didn't work for me in this dish. Other than that, it was great.

Now... How about a drink? Usually calorie conscious drinkers are forced to stick with basics like white wine, light beer, or maybe a vodka and soda. No more, my friends. At least not if you're at Applebee's where you can try one of their new SkinnyBee cocktails. You can choose among margaritas, mojitos, or their Long Island Tea. While each drink is made with premium spirits, calories are saved by using sugar-free syrups and diet sodas to complete each drink.

I sampled all three and was most impressed with the LIT. I know? How '80s is that? But it was the one that tasted the most like it's sugary, high-calorie Doppelganger.

So, just how many calories do you save by drinking a SkinnyBee cocktail instead of a regular drink? With each drink well below 150 calories, a lot. A typical margarita can have between 300 and 600 calories depending on the mix and pour of liquor included while the SkinnyBee margarita made with Hornitos tequila checks in at 100 calories. The typical Long Island Iced Tea has around 500 calories, while the SkinnyBee version has just 110 and the SkinnyBee mojito is just... wait for it... 90 calories, a savings of around 110 calories compared to the full sugar version.

Not convinced just how good and good for you Applebee's new menu items are? Well, you can find out for yourself by winning a gift certificate good for one of the new "Unbelievably Great Tasting and Under 550 Calories" menu items courtesy of Applebee's Atlanta.

Here's how to win:

1. Add a comment below to tell us how you plan to stay healthy in the new year.  Diet, exercise, meditation? A little of this and a little of that? I'd love to know your best tips for staying fit. Also include which of Applebee's new menu items you're looking forward to trying. (Steps 1 and 2 are musts for entry. For additional entries, see steps 3 and 4.)

2. Post a link to this blog post on your blog.

3. For an extra entry into the contest, Tweet this post or add a link to your Facebook while. When you're done, include the links to your tweet and FB post in your comment. 

4. If you're not a Follower of Belle of the Blog already, follow me and let me know in your comment and you'll get one more entry.

The winner will be chosen at random.

The contest opens now and will close at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, February 4th. Good luck!