Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Eve at Corporate HQ!

This was the first year in my working-girl life that Christmas Eve was not a corporate holiday. Now that I am part of the retail industry, the corporate holidays are much fewer and further between! But, I have to say, if I *had* to go in to the office on Christmas Eve, I couldn't have asked for a better time. My family joined me, and all the rest of the Toys "R"Us families (over 1000 kids!) at Corporate HQ for an incredibly fun day!
We began in the main cafeteria for breakfast. Loads of pastries, fruit, coffee and juices were at the ready in multiple stations to greet everyone. Christmas carolers were there singing and mingling with everyone. The boys got a kick out of seeing the cafeteria. They couldn't believe we have a Wii, XBox, and other gaming systems there for employees to play with during lunch. They also couldn't get over all of the big screen TV's in that place!
Chris at the corp. HQ Cafeteria
Greg and boys at Toys "R"Us
Greg and the kids at breakfast
Joe in the corp HQ cafeteria
After lunch we checked in, and then it was off to the conference rooms to pick out toys. Each child was given a reusable tote bag and three tickets. Each ticket was good for one toy. The conference rooms were broken out by interest. Action heroes in one room and dolls/princesses in another, and then we had two of our largest conference rooms joined together to make one huge room with puzzles, games, sporting goods, you name it. Very generous toys were available. These were not just small little items. The kids were in awe. Long lines were tiring, but clearly worth it by their faces :)
Go Go Samurai!
Joe with his Samurai mask, and Ben 10 Watch
Chris checking out his Power Rangers
After we picked out toys, we hung out in the resident Starbucks (Cafe G) and let the kids play with their toys. Once we were adequately done, we went back to the cafeteria for lunch and movies. By this time, the breakfast tables were now lined with all sorts of cookies, punch, juices, and more fruits for after lunch.
We also visited with Santa, Geoffrey and got to explore the Geoffrey Mobile. The boys also really enjoyed just exploring the office area! Toys are everywhere. The cubes, offices, common zones, copier & coffee rooms. All in all, not a bad way to spend a working Christmas Eve!
Geoffrey Mobile
Geoffrey Mobile
Visit with Santa at TRU
Visit with Santa

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Cookie Tradition

I think everyone out there has a tradition of baking at Christmas. I've grown up with baking with my Mom. I can remember at a really young age helping her make her infamous Fruit Cakes. She probably baked about 10-12 loaves every holiday season and gave them out to family, neighbors, and friends as gifts. They were always sooooo delicious. She made them extra special with loads of nuts and fruits. Different liqueurs were used depending on the taste of the recipient. Some people loved the traditional rum, but others liked Orange flavorings.
I remember one Christmas coming home from Rochester, way before I was married, and made sure to grab that recipe so that I could make them too one day. Well, needless to say, I have never actually made one of those infamous fruit cakes. Not sure why. Could be because she stopped making them after my Dad had died, so maybe the tradition waned a bit.
But, those fruit cakes were soon replaced with an array of yummy cookies that she began experimenting with. She had a copy, and she bought me a copy, of Martha Stewart Holidays.

Martha Stewart Holidays

I have made recipes out of this book every single Christmas season, and they really have never let me down. One of the favorites my Mom made were the Ginger Crinkles. Like ginger snaps, rolled in glittery crystallized sugar before baking . They always turn out delicious, and the recipe makes a never ending amount of cookies.
Another favorite of mine, and Greg's, are the Black Pepper cookies. These are really good cookies for peeps who love Christmas spicy cookies, and want an alternative to the really sugary sweet kinds. Black Pepper Cookies

You can put some glittery sugar on top right before baking for an added touch. The first time I ever made these cookies was at Andrea and Mike's when they were still living in NY. I will always remember those cookie bake parties she used to have. Friends from work would pick out recipes, bring the ingredients, show up at Andrea's at around 7:30am, and bake all day. Always a lot of fun, even though we were so ambitious thinking we could each bake 5-6 different recipes, in one house, with only one oven.

This year, we made the Black Pepper cookies, and some traditional sugar cookies. We'll decorate them on Christmas Eve after Mass, because that has been our yearly tradition since Christopher was born. We love to make all different colors of frosting, and make up a good plate of cookies and milk for Santa. Chief Mess Makers

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Greg and his iPad Buddy

Joe just loves to cling to Greg. They love to play games together on the iPad.

Best friends. My three handsome boys All three of my handsome boys together on one leather chair:

Friday, December 14, 2012

Giveaway on "The Jackson's" Blog

One of my favorite blogs, The Jacksons, is hosting a giveaway today! Two lucky winners will be drawn. Prizes include a Pro Do blowout (you must live in Utah to win this part of the prize), and also Kevin Murphy products.

I entered to win because I have been wanting to skip washing my hair every single day. It gets to be laborious, and I know it's not healthy. But, whenever I go even one day without washing my hair, it looks sort of grungy by the end of the day!
One of the giveaways is a dry shampoo product, so I'm hoping that will help extend my hair for a few days in between washings.

Here is the link to the GIVEAWAY

Good luck friends!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas!

We started decorating our home (well, our temporary home, that is) for Christmas and I am really feeling like it actually is our home!
The tree is up, and is trimmed mainly with a lot of the very beautiful vintage ornaments that I've acquired from my Mom over the years. I feel very lucky to have such a wonderful part of our family history that can be displayed on our tree. All of the ornaments that she gave us are unique, special, one-of-a-kind, and are ones that I remember growing up and decorating our tree at home. I can even vividly recall her saying "I remember these when I was a little girl!" every year when we were decorating our tree.. In other words, these ornaments are old! I am going to remember to make a point to get some better pictures of them before this Christmas season is over. I just need to find my camera :) For now, some iPhone pictures will have to do.
As anyone who has made a major move can attest, it's tough. You miss all the traditions you had, and you miss the people who helped to make them.
We have made it a point to begin new traditions here in NJ that the kids can become attached to, and to help them continue to feel more excited about this transition. To that end, we found an AWESOME place just around the corner. Abma's Farm Market here in Wyckoff is 100% awesome. Their greenhouse is incredible and the veggies are delicious. The farm has several goats, chickens, horses, cows, and very adorable bunnies. We got our Christmas tree there, and the kids enjoyed making ornaments, having some hot cocoa,  and meeting Santa (though he wasn't a very good one, they kept asking if he was "FAKE"!)
Also, we finally made time to take a trip into NYC last weekend. The kids really enjoyed their first train ride into the city. It took us less than an hour to get into Penn Station and the fare was relatively cheap (the boys ride free!). I see many trips in our future! Having the train station five minutes away from our house makes it super easy to go in for shows, museums, dinner, shopping, sightseeing, and visiting George and his family.

Rockefeller Plaza/Radio City at Christmas

One of many of the vintage ornaments from Mom.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have about four different posts in draft form sitting in my blogger dashboard waiting to be published. I doubt they ever will be. Each one of them are the fragments of an attempt to summarize the massively huge undertaking of leaving one job, beginning another job, and relocating my family (during Hurricane Sandy, no less). I never got around to finishing any of them because the intensity of said undertaking got the better of me, and consumed every waking moment leaving not much time for this blog. That, and because I was both physically and mentally exhausted from all of this change. It's not over yet, but I think the hardest aspects are behind us now.

This Thanksgiving leaves me with a lot to be thankful for. Our new life in a new place, and the only common denominator is the four of us. Everything else is completely different than it was before.

In early March of this year, a job opportunity in New England found its' way into my inbox. I thought about it a lot before I took the plunge and applied. I wasn't looking for that job. In fact, I had recently started in a new position at Kodak and was pretty happy. But, somehow, the idea that this opportunity presented itself when I wasn't looking for it did not feel inadvertent at all. It was like an outside force swooped in and decided to rock the smoothly sailing boat that was our life. After discussing with Greg and thinking, thinking, thinking about it..I went down there for two full rounds of interviews (each a month apart) and ultimately never got that job. That job wasn't meant to be, I guess. But the purpose it served was for experience, and was confidence building for the next attempt, and most importantly, it got my momentum moving. I was going to get a new job this year. That was my new goal as a result of this outside force that propelled me. When I saw the job posting at Toys R Us, I went for it, and I'm so glad I did. The Kodak I left wasn't the Kodak I started with 20 years ago.  I remember the day after I resigned, a coworker came over to congratulate me, and he said "I don't think I could ever have the courage you have to do what you're about to do"...I didn't think of myself as having any courage at all, but more a sense of responsibility to my family.

I'm thankful today, and every day, that I have an incredibly supportive husband. He's the one person who has been reminding me why we did this during those times I wish everything could be easy again. This hasn't been easy for him either, and certainly not for the kids. But, day by day, we get our way around in this new world we've sort of planted ourselves in. Slowly but surely it's all coming together and we are starting to feel back to normal again.

Here's to many more Happy Thanksgivings to come, and to remembering what we're thankful for!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

#Halloween 2012

Needless to say, this Halloween will likely go down as the most un-Halloween ever.

That's not to say we didn't do a whole lot in getting ready for it, it's just that it's happening right smack in the middle of our move to New Jersey. And a massively huge hurricane/N'oreaster/Blizzard they've dubbed "Frankenstorm".

Back in September, I received a great offer from Toys R Us in Wayne, NJ to be their Social Media Manager. It was an incredible opportunity to not only learn a ton about an entirely new industry, but also to bring some of my social media expertise that I had gained at Kodak to my new job. With so much uncertainty at Kodak, I felt it was the right time to say goodbye. It wasn't easy to do so. Kodak was like a good friend to me. Kodak had been by my side during the most important moments in my life. My marriage, the birth of my children, the death of my parents. I had made so many lasting friendships there. I am very, very fortunate! Thanks to the power and presence of social media, saying goodbye to friends, who had become more like family, wasn't as emotionally devastating as it could have been.

In any event. Here we are. Well, here I am. In New Jersey. Waiting in my final week of waiting for my family to come and join me here. We are very lucky in that we've only spend three weeks apart (excluding weekends as I've been going back to ROC on Fridays). But, these have been three of the most stressful weeks of our lives. I began my new job, and it's incredibly busy as we look to the key seasonal for toy purchasing. Lots to do there. And then of course we are in the midst of selling our home, and moving to NJ. We've sold the house, found a place to rent, and have a short amount of time to get the house packed up for the moving trucks to come later this week.

That said, we still made a point to do some of the things we loved to do over the years, as well as a few new things to celebrate Halloween. Every year since the kids were born, we've gone to Powers Market in Pittsford to see the jack-o-lanterns, pick pumpkins, pet the animals, and go on the Haunted Hayride. This year was the first year we went on the hayride at night. It was a lot spookier, that's for sure. The kids really enjoyed that.

Greg and the boys on the hayride at Powers Market

Just one of many Jack-o-Lanterns in Power's teepees.
We also made it to the costume party at Faust's USA Karate. We were wondering how Joey would do there given we were just dropping them off at the party so that we could run errands. Turns out, he loved it! He likes hanging with the big kids! 

Kids at the Karate Costume Party. Joey had to take his costume off-too hot!

SpiderMan vs. The Great White Shark
Lastly, since this weekend was really our final weekend in Rochester, we took a break from all of the moving and packing to carve our pumpkin. We also made a point to see neighbors and to say goodbye.
Kids with their pumpkin (please excuse the messy kitchen!)
All of these changes are tough. Doing a few normal things and keeping a sense of tradition this Halloween really helped us keep some balance in life.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Now he thinks he's a "Reviewer"

Kids and technology are an interesting combination. It's no secret that Apple products like the iPad and iPod touch are so dead easy to use that "even a baby can figure it out". Evidence of that fact happened right here in the Marek house. Greg has generously and graciously allowed the boys to play with the iPod touch, and his iPad when they were both very young. It took them no time at all to learn Temple Run, Where's my Water, and all the other popular kid games. They know exactly how to use the touchscreen and navigate the UI. Joey is just learning to read, but has known which app to launch and how to play his games for some time now. He's got a better TR score than I do, that's for sure. They fight over the iPad, and prefer it over the Nintendo system. Christopher could be on it the entire day if we let him...

The day Chris discovered YouTube was the day an entire new world opened up for him. He enjoys watching Batman, Star Wars, Power Rangers and similar videos, movie trailers, and episodes from the TV shows. He is very skilled with the search functions, and even grasps the concepts of key words to help him find what he's looking for. I remember him asking me how to spell "Lightsaber" because he was looking for a particular video clip from a Star Wars movie. He found it, and, interestingly enough, he found many other videos relating to Lightsaber, and a big series of a teenager doing a review of his lightsaber collection. Chris must have watched it 4000 times. I've witnessed Chris copying this many times around the house. He would gather up all of his Lightsabers, and bring them to a room where none of us were at the time, and would literally begin a "review"...but with no camera. He has "filmed reviews" of his DVD Collection, his Star Wars Books, and his various toy collections. There have been a few times where he's put the iPod in front of him and actually shot. Sometimes he's in frame and other times not. When the kids get a new toy, the first thing they do is say "let's shoot a review"...they even ask if they can keep the "original packaging" so they can unbox while doing the review. CRAZY. (note:  I have to be really careful, and right on top of what they are watching, because there is the occasional inappropriate video with language kids should not say or repeat. We've blocked a lot of videos we didn't want them to see.)

A couple of nights ago, Chris decided to use the iPad and review Anakin's Lightsaber for his "YouTube Fans". He was really proud of this video. Even with the pause to go get the vitamins I wanted him to have, and the loud chewing of the vitamins (UGH), and even with his little brother video-bomb at the end, he was super proud of it.

When I picked him up from school, I said "Hey Chris, I posted your video to YouTube!". His eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning. He said "YOU DID???" " How many people "thumbed-up'd" it???"... The unexpected thing for me was that he did NOT want to watch it on my Mac. He wanted to watch it on YouTube on the iPad the way he watches all of his other favorite videos. He picked up the iPad and said "Mom, what did you name the video"? I told him, and then he searched for it, found it, and watched it. Laughing and laughing and laughing.

I have a feeling we will be seeing more and more video reviews of anything they can get their hands on. Even Joey is getting in on the action, and I have a few of his to post too!  Stay tuned, YouTube fans!!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

#FirstDayofSchool 2012

A Gorilla and a First-Grader :)

It's here! It's here! It's finally here! The day we've anxiously awaited as parents...the day our oldest son takes the bus to school for the very first time as he enters first grade! Christopher has been pretty excited for today...but then last night I noticed he seemed pretty subdued. Lots of questions, a bit anxious, and excited all at the same time. 

We were surprised when he told us last night that we didn't need to come to the bus stop, and that he did not want us to wait there with him! He really wanted to go it alone. Of course that was NOT happening! I said it would not be the first day of school if I weren't there embarrassing him at the bus stop! The bus came, the driver was nice and introduced himself. We turned, looked at Chris, gave him a big kiss and said "Have a great day!!!"....and for just one little split second I could see a bit of hesitation and uncertainty....and then on he went, found a seat, and started chatting with the little boy next to him. It was such a great moment!!!

Joe waiting with Chris at the bus stop!

His backback had a folder and in it were papers that came home with parents, and papers that needed to be returned to school. Several of the worksheets were on the subject of how he was feeling on this first day of school. Here is what he had to say: nervous and happy. Just as I figured. But, overall, he said he loved school and made some new friends. He likes staying after school for the YMCA program too. So good.

We were excited for Joey too! He is in Pre-K and started in the Gorilla's Classroom today. We were so happy for him to be re-united with some of his good buddies who had gone to different camps and places for the summer. This was the first year Joey had to bring in specific school supplies, and he came home and told us that he is learning to read and write!! He seemed very excited about that and so are we!!

All in all, the first day of school 2012 was one to remember, and a very happy day! 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Essie Klout

Gotta say, having a Klout profile, and a little bit of "influence" (meaning I tweet about nail polish, a lot!) in the topics of beauty and style has definitely worked to my advantage this year! I use the term influence loosely, because you can influence your influence pretty easily, so one never really knows how authentically a profile reflects true influence.

I have been a bit skeptical about Klout since it first emerged as a site that measures and rates a persons' influence in certain topics. While none of us (myself and friends who are also in the Social Media biz) really understand the algorithm behind how Klout is calculated, it certainly has led to some pretty good perks! Perks are items that are awarded to you by Brands that are using Klout as a means of WOM and social marketing.

This year, I've wracked up the Klout in Essie Nail Polish. I have been a HUGE fan of Essie for many years, and am thrilled that they are so active with Klout, and give away perks to influencers. I've received a full-sized bottle of their nail polish from the Summer Collection, Luxe Effects, and Mirror Metallics collections. I get to try all the latest looks, at no cost to me. Pretty cool.
Essie Klout from L to R: Mirror Metallics, Summer 2012, and LuxeEffects

Other Klout I have received since joining includes RoC anti-stress and anti-aging cream, RedBulletin Magazine from Red Bull, a super-sized club package filled with Trident Layers gum, and some exclusive samples of iced green tea from Lipton. I have a free Shutterfly photo book waiting for me, and I recently claimed a perk for Refreshers from Starbucks. Can't wait for those to arrive! 

Top-shelf brands are using Klout to extend their reach with consumers, and to use the WOM of influencers to carry great sentiment about products. Not a bad approach, and I was not even asked to tweet, post, or write a review from any of them. No strings attached. Just enjoy the products!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ogunquit, Maine 2012

This year we decided to take a mini vacation to Maine.

We really hadn't done a true vacay since the kids were born. All of our vacation days are typically used up traveling to visit family in New England and Michigan.

A better plan was to combine a family visit with a decent trip. One of my favorite places to go in my childhood were the beaches on the southern coast of Maine. We loved to visit York Beach, Ogunquit, and other places growing up. I had not been to Ogunquit in over 10 YEARS!! That's way too long to visit an awesomely beautiful place that's only an hour from where I grew up. Sue and Bob came up and joined us, and Chris and family visited for a day. It was a lot of fun, we enjoyed it, and hope to do it again.

The kids loved the ocean. It was love at first sight, and getting them to come out was next to impossible! I was certain the cold water would hold them back, but it didn't. They not only enjoyed the waves and water, they loved collecting shells, and taking walks along the shore.
They loved the trolleys too. I liked the trolleys because they made it easy to get around the town.

One evening as we were walking around all of the shops and restaurants in the little center of town, we walked down to the shore.  
It was dark, and you could hear the loud roar of the ocean even more prominently without all of the people and seagulls, and Christopher very innocently asked "are the waves still on?" I said, "Chris, the waves have been on for years and years and will never stop. They never stop."

Perkins Cove

Sunday, August 19, 2012

World Photography Day

Today is World Photography Day, and the weather in Rochester could not be more perfect for getting beautiful pictures outdoors.

One of our absolute favorite places to get pictures of the boys is at the field of sunflowers in Pittsford (Mendon?). Every year, the vast field of sunflowers never ceases to amaze us. We have been living in this neighborhood of ROC for some time now, and have been visiting the field every year.

Field of endless gold.

We love getting pictures of the boys in and amongst the tall, stalky stems.

It never disappoints, and is the perfect photo opp!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Christopher achieves his Blue belt in Karate

Christopher has been actively progressing along with his Karate training, and we really could not be more proud of his accomplishments!

Having joined Faust's USA Karate a year ago, he has moved up the ranks and is now a Blue belt. I really love what Karate, and Faust's institution has done for him, and for us all. He has found something that he really seems to love, and enjoys progressing in. He practices at home, and we see his moves getting stronger and more crisp with every belt he achieves. He has learned how to focus better, and understands (and is actively working on) his role as a mentor for the lower belt kids in his class.

Greg and I get a lot of pleasure out of going to Christopher's lessons, and love watching the senior trainers work with the kids. Joey typically goes to the lessons too (as a spectator), but I believe he will soon be ready to begin training too. He has shown interest, and already knows the Little Champions pledge!

Preparing to become a Blue belt!

Every Promotion Ceremony includes a demonstration by the students on the areas they've been learning.
After the demonstrations, each individual student is awarded a stripe or a new belt, and it is always tied on by one of the Black Belts from the Dojo

 Chris is also loving the camps and extra classes that he's been attending at Faust's. I like it too, because it's a really well-thought out and focused day, and also very fitness-oriented. He has a lot of energy to burn off, and being in a Karate camp for the day with Black Belt trainers is really a privilege for him, and most of all, a ton of fun.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fun in Niagara Falls and the African Lion Safari

We've taken the boys up to see Niagara Falls maybe once. They were too little to do much walking around, so we just looked at the Falls and left. When you live in ROC, it's a place that you often take for granted. It's there. We pass it every single time we go through Canada to get to Michigan, and we always say "some day we need to make a point of taking the boys there overnight". This past weekend we did just that. We decided to couple our trip with a visit to the African Lion Safari in Hamilton, Ontario.

The kids loved all of the cheezy, kitschy, silly things that the main strip in Niagara Falls has to offer. We didn't bother with the Wax Museum, but we did go through Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum, ate at the Rainforest Cafe, spent time at Fudge Factory and many other shops. Above all, the boys LOVED the arcade. They could have spent the entire time at the arcade if we let them. After we walked around and got some ice cream, we headed down to the Niagara River and horseshoe falls for the 10pm Fireworks show. It was pretty beautiful even though it was only about 15 minutes long.

I'm learning that Christopher is fearless. He went into the Hurricane Simulator Machine with no hesitation, wanted to enter into every single Haunted House (we wouldn't let him), and went on a ride on the Sky Wheel over the Falls with Greg. He also liked the Vortex inside of Ripley's. All things I wouldn't do, but I'm glad he's not afraid of these things. I enjoyed seeing him laugh and laugh and laugh.
View of Niagara Falls from the Sky Wheel (looks a bit grey through the glass)

After we finished at the falls, we left for Hamilton, Ontario to visit the African Lion Safari. Greg and I had been there once before, about 10 or so years ago, and we had a lot of great memories of monkeys and baboons jumping all over our cars. We thought the kids would love it, so we gave it a try.
The animals were not as willing to come up to the cars this time. They were a bit anti-social. The place was monitored heavily by rangers, making sure people were not luring the animals toward their cars with food.
But, even so, the boys really enjoyed it. They liked being real close to animals that they would never have the opportunity to see up front. As we drove through the safari, they pointed to all of the animals, and we got pics as best we could through the strictly-enforced "windows up" policy.

There's no way I could add all of the awesome pictures we took, so I've put them on my Flickr page. 


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