Leaves of Blessings: the Thanksgiving Tree

Eli's Leaf

Disclosure: This post is part of a yearly series in partnership with Netflix. As a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam, I’ll be sharing ideas throughout the year on some of the best Netflix titles to stream with your family. The content, as always, is whatever streams through my own mind! Hope you enjoy!

Mashed potatoes and gravy. Turkey and stuffing. Pumpkin pie and whipped cream. Tryptophan and comfy couches. The Lions and the Cowboys. What do these Thanksgiving delights all have in common? They’re dynamic duos and I’m thankful for all of them. Of course, I’m thankful for a lot more than food and football. I do my best to give thanks for the blessings in my life every day, not just on Thanksgiving Day. Still, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the goodness that surrounds us.

We Are Thankful

A few years ago I started a Thanksgiving tradition for our little family. I brought in a small branch, tucked it in a vase, and the Thanksgiving Tree was born. I trace and cut out a few different types of leaves from card stock, punch a hole in them, and tie on a small string. The tree sits on our dining room table, with a basket of the leaves and a few crayons and pens nearby. As Thanksgiving nears, we write what we’re thankful for on a leaf and hang it on the tree. As family and friends drop in for visits, we encourage them to do the same.

Elena is Thankful for Cats

I never planned for it to be more than a one-time decoration, but as I dismantled the little tree to make room for Christmas, I realized what a treasure I had on my hands. And so I saved the leaves, and brought them out again the following year. Each year they go back on the tree, and we watch as the leaves, like our blessings, multiply over the years. It’s so fun to stroll down memory lane and see what we were grateful for in years past. I was never so thankful for this tradition as I was last year, when we looked over the leaves and found the one my father-in-law made. We may never be able to spend Thanksgiving with him again, but we continue to be blessed by the wonderful memories we have of him … and by his very special leaf.

Before or after the big feast, snuggle up with the ones you love and watch a movie or show that celebrates dynamic duos and fabulous friends. Here are a few of our favorite duos that kids will love:

Phineas and Ferb
Finn and Jake – Adventure Time
Charlotte and Wilbur – Charlotte’s Web
Rocky and Ginger – Chicken Run
Tod and Copper – The Fox and the Hound

Pop some popcorn, make some cocoa, and stream these friendship flicks that are perfect for tweens and teens:

Rory and Lorelai – Gilmore Girls
Vada and Thomas – My Girl
Ferris and Cameron – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Chris and Gordie – Stand By Me
Cher and Dionne – Clueless

All of these titles are available to stream on Netflix. Have I ever told you about my absolute favorite, never-fails-me way to figure out if a movie or show is okay for the kids to watch? Common Sense Media is an invaluable resource for all things media. Its easy-to-use ratings guide will let you know what to expect, and help you decide what’s appropriate for your family. I absolutely love it.

You know what else goes great together? Readers and comments! What are some of your favorite movies or shows that show what friendship is all about?


As Good As It Gets

Angie and Eli

The subject of this story and I in happier (and much warmer) days.

I don’t know if it’s the weather, Daylight Savings Time, or just a phase we need to get through, but it’s been a rough couple of weeks for me and the boy. It started out innocently enough. A reprimand here or there where I usually wouldn’t have to issue more than a warning and a stern look. Then it seemed like every few days there would be a note from the teacher … talking when he should be working, horseplay in the classroom, and (my personal favorite) making poor choices in the bathroom. An incident here or there, and I’m not bothered. But it was starting to feel like everything was an incident, that not an hour could go by without one of us feeling completely and utterly frustrated with the other. Like a smoldering volcano or a pot about to boil over, everything came to a head the other evening.

We found ourselves at a stand-off in the upstairs hallway.

Me, speaking to him in a low, slow, almost-growl. You know that voice. It’s the polar opposite of the yelling voice. It’s the one that signals to offspring in any culture or language that mom is about to lose her shit. I’m sure it’s an evolutionary trait, remnants of the growl animal moms used to warn their young that they were thisclose to eating them.

Eli, standing defiantely in only his underwear and socks. His eyes trying to shoot me with daggers, but his lower chin trembling, betraying his attempt to appear as if he couldn’t give a shit.

I growled, he gave me the stink eye while simultaneously trying not to cry, and we both just stood there. Staring at each other with nothing left in our tanks. Each of us wondering the same thing. How did we get here?

We don’t know this place, Eli and I. He has always been the easy-going, laid-back one. As a first-time parent, I had all the books with the clever titles. How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen. 123 Magic. Positive Discipline. They are well-worn from Elena’s early years. Now, they sit collecting dust on the bookshelf.

A few months ago, Elena, Eli and I were in the car and Eli asked what a “whooping” was. This led to a discussion on spanking, and I realized that I couldn’t ever recall spanking Eli … like, ever! He’s just always been the kind of kid that when you told him not to do something, he stopped doing it. End of story. How many kids get to the age of 7 and don’t even have a clear idea of what a spanking is? Elena, on the other hand, was quick to remind me that she knew exactly when I last spanked her. (For the record, it was a long time ago. She was 6 and I was attempting to “vacation” at the beach with both kids but no Mike. She stole a pack of gum from a store and then mouthed off to me, so I swatted her bottom with my flip-flop. She remembers it like it was yesterday, so clearly not my finest parenting moment.)

After we both had retreated to our rooms and cooled off a bit, I went back to Eli. As I was lying in bed next to him, I said, “I need you to know, I love you very, very much. But I really don’t like you right now. You might be feeling the same way about me, and that’s okay.”

It seems like a weird thing to say to a child, but I needed him to know it. I needed him to know for the same reason I need my kids to see Mike and I argue sometimes. Love might be patient and kind some of the time, but many times it is not. The people you love the most can also hurt you the deepest and fail you in ways you can never imagine. The loving is the easy part. The real work comes when you have to go from feeling angry and broken back to cherishing that person again.

I can be mad at you and still hug you goodnight. You can make mistakes and not be afraid to come home. You can tell me you hate my guts and I will still love you.

I know that this is just one of those phases we go through as parents. Some kids are easier than others, but even the easy ones have their days. Frankly, I’d much rather he start acting out now, when I can just take away the iPad, than wait until he’s a teenager or adult and act out in ways that are illegal in 47 states. I remember 7 as being one of those years that you look back and realize you’re glad it’s over. Seven is tough, right smack in the middle of big kid, but not big-enough.

Everything is awesome! #legokidsfest

Things are looking up for now, though. Whether it’s because of our heart-to-heart or his realization that Christmas is very, very close, I’m not sure. Thank goodness, because if things didn’t get better I was going to have to buy one of those blasted, creepy elves.

When I kissed him goodnight the other evening he told me, “I like you AND love you tonight!” When it comes to really and truly loving someone, that’s about as good as it gets.


Balancing the Good Stuff: Screens, Real Life, and Ibex Arguments

I participated in an Influencer Activation Program on behalf of Influence Central for Sprint. I received a sample device to facilitate my review.

ZTE Warp Sync Review Boost Mobile

Photo taken with ZTE Warp Sync camera. And yes, that is a drawing of Eli watching Gus poop. Perhaps it’s a commentary on how Eli feels about limits on screen time.

This fall, we underwent some serious soul-searching as a family in regards to our screen and technology habits. We’ve always tried to keep a handle on the kids’ screen time, but after a summer where we all depended on them too much (between countless layovers and delays while traveling and general parenting exhaustion after a month of non-stop family time), we needed a reset. A Ctrl-Alt-Delete on our technological lives, if you will.

It’s not easy coming up with a plan, especially when you start to take a good hard look at your own screen habits. We were turning into  “Do as I say, but not as I do” parents when it came to checking Facebook and playing Settlers of Catan online. We’ve also been down this path before, where we set impossible limits for the kids (30 minutes a day! And no more!). That’s just not us, and neither is setting timers and being ultra-specific on how much time is allowed. We’ve tried this before, and many, many times we’ve failed.

This time around, thanks to all those countless plans for family screen time rules that have crashed and burned in a matter of days or weeks, the kids were more than a little jaded when we announced our new plan. But this time, things would be different. There are no set limits on screen-time, but there are things that must be done before you can pick up a device. Weekdays are different from weekends and vacations, but we do require that certain things be done before playing Minecraft or checking Instagram. Like, brush your teeth and put on pants. On weekends, you need to read, play, and do something creative first.

We’re going by the good old gut-o-meter as far as time on devices goes. If it’s a beautiful day, and your friends are outside? Your booty needs to be outside as well. The deal is that when we say it’s time to put the screens up, it’s done without complaining or pestering us for more time. That right there will earn you a timer and nagging mom. And nobody wants that.

We’ve also been vigilant about putting our devices to sleep with plenty of time before our bodies need to go to sleep. It’s different for each kid (so unfair!) and gets pushed back an hour on weekends, but when it’s time, the devices come downstairs to sleep and charge. This has solved many issues, for all of us. No longer am I checking Facebook at 11 pm, then realizing it’s 11:30 and I’m wired. We don’t have to worry about Elena getting texts or notifications that she just can’t resist checking at all hours of the night.

While it’s still not a perfect plan, and we do slide from time to time, it feels so much better, so much more balanced. And in the end, that’s all we want from our techy lives, right? Balance between all the good stuff technology provides, and all the good stuff real life provides.

Speaking of good stuff, we’re not opposed to using screens to bring us closer together as a family. And nothing does that better than laughing together. And these days, nothing makes us laugh more than a good YouTube video. We might have a hard time agreeing on a movie, or a game, but we can all agree that an angry rooster scaring a reporter is hilarious.

Or that today’s kids seeing a Walkman for the first time is funny. And makes your grownups feel really, really old.

Or that arguing with an ibex is pointless … unless the point is busting a gut.

Or that a 1980s aerobics routine perfectly choreographed to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” is guaranteed to turn any frown upside down.

Of course, it helps if your chosen device streams videos effortlessly, whether you’re at home or trying to entertain the little hobos while waiting for that pizza you ordered a hundred years ago (or is that just what it feels like eating out with my kids?). It’s even better if your chosen device offers Dolby Digital Plus, so you get the very best sound quality when the poor reporter drops the rooster and runs for his life, screaming like a little girl. For the last month, we’ve been playing around with the ZTE Warp Sync from Boost Mobile. With these features and more (including Sprint’s enhanced LTE network, a 5″ HD touchscreen with Corning Gorilla Glass 2, and a 1.2GHz quad-core processor), you’ll be laughing together while experiencing top-notch pictures, sound and super-fast, uninterrupted streaming.

And when it comes to monitoring screen time and data usage for bigger kids, just getting started with their very own devices, it helps to have choices (and limits!) when it comes to data plans. Boost Mobile gives you just that, with their Monthly Unlimited Select Plans. With much screen time, comes much data usage. The Boost Mobile data plans can help keep that data usage in check, until younger users can prove they’re responsible enough to not rack up big data charges.

This is the second device we’ve testing with Sprint and Influence Central, and it’s definitely opened up my eyes to new devices and plans. It’s certainly helpful as we navigate this new world of technology with kids, and especially as we move towards Elena having a full-fledged smart phone of her own. You can learn more about the ZTE Warp Sync and the flexible and affordable cellular plans from Boost Mobile, and see what we’ve been experiencing as a family for yourself.

In the meantime, we need to keep the laughs coming. The highs next week are in the 20s, and I see little snowflakes in  my 10 Day Forecast. To survive another Polar Vortex, we’ll need all the laughs we can get! So do your part, and share your favorite, family-friendly YouTube videos in the comments.


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