Saturday, December 26, 2009

MGSoft-net, You Had Me At Hello

So I'm not one of those bloggers who reviews products as a norm. It's not the focus of this little cyber coffee house.

I am, however, all about sharing my opinion over a cuppa, and thus I can not wait any longer to give some major props to a business here in good 'ole Mayberry.

I committed a major "no no" when I first aquired this laptop from a friend back in Evanston who had upgraded. The computer did not have a virus protector installed and even though I knew that it was so very important to have one, I procrastinated and procrastinated until the inevitable happened.

18 viruses later, I packed up a bloggers best friend and went over to MGSoft-Net to drop off my sick buddy.

It was touch and go for about 2 weeks while the good docs tried to do everything they could to save my data. I'll spare you the gory details. Some days were promising. Others? Not so much.

After almost 14 days of sheer worry, I am happy to report that, in the end, I lost absolutely NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING.

All data present and accounted for.

Virus protector installed.

Applause for yet another Beaver small business.

And although my new friends at MGSoft-Net had my machine for almost two weeks (due to a deluge of virus attacks on the computers of other customers, plus the need to extract everything from my harddrive, as well as uninstall and reinstall the entire system), I was charged for only two hours of labor.


"We can't charge you for having your computer for days. Many times we would start a process on it and walk away to work on another project. Actual labor time was only two hours."

Can you say HONEST?

I know, you are thinking, "If it only took two hours, why did they have it so long?" Apparently, my case caused some head scratchin' in order to save my data (specifically my MK database and customer files) and so they made several attempts to do so without having to wipe the entire memory.

They also called me several times over those two weeks to give me updates, ask about certain programs, discuss my options, etc. Discussions went from, "We have some bad news" to "I think we've saved everything."

It was like having a really good primary care physician.

I highly recommed them.

I could have lost all my data and needed an entirely new PC. Instead, I spent hardly anything and have a "brand new" machine. I will totally be calling these guys to overall our 9 year old desktop.

Thanks MGSoft-Net. This blog is for you.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I am pleased to announce that the winner of a CUPPAJOZY of her choice is:

Riki Dodds! (entry #1 and #2).

I used the Random Sequence Generator at to get the results.

Thank you all for entering. This will most definitely not be the last GIVEAWAY I do - only, rather than having companies find me to ask for a review, I will begin finding products that actually interest me and approaching them with the prospect of reviewing their product and offering a freebie here on my blog.

Thank you for playing!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Life Just Handed Me Lemons (Or, Rather, I'm Having a Craptabulos Day)

Really not a great day. I'm talking Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day on drugs.

We all have stuff.

Recently one of my friends experienced the thrill of having an entire kitchen cabinet fall off the wall, damaging her oven, and shattering glass and every item in the cabinet all over the kitchen floor. Thankfully, neither she, her husband or her children were in the kitchen at the time.

Then there are my friends who are waiting expectantly for their first child to be born in a matter of days. Only a recent ultrasound showed some concerns that had never been detected up until this late stage in the pregnancy. Upon rechecking, and rechecking again, in was found that the ultrasound had been read incorrectly. Everything is fine and all systems are go.

Another pal recently had to fight and fight and fight some more with the state just to receive unemployment monies that were rightfully owed to her. The state wouldn't pay up. After a battle, her former employer stood up, did the right thing, and are cutting her a check.

My 6 month old Maytag front loader washer is kaput. All three tubs have actually fallen apart. The parts won't come in until after Christmas. Maytag is doing the right thing by sending me a check to pay for the use of a laundromat and they are also extending my warranty for another year, in case the problem happens again, (at which time they would replace the whole machine)but that isn't stopping me from going pissed crazy. I'm livid.

I mean, this machine is so amazing you could drive it.

Or eat a meal in it.

6 months? What about all those Maytag repairmen sitting around doing nothing in the commercials? Well, buddy, you better strap on the uniform and hightail it on over to my house. And be ready for words.

And then, there's my precious laptop. A gift from a friend. Only, I was lazy and didn't protect it. 18 viruses later, which included pop-up Viagra ads, among, well, others, and I'm on the verge of losing all my data that I didn't back up. Thankfully, many files were backed up to the external HD, but, not everything. Not consistently.

Nope. My fault. Completely my fault.

But, I have a husband who will lug clothes to the laundromat, and the offer to use the machines of friends. I have a Mary Kay Director who has saved all my weekly sales sheets, so that I can actually do my taxes, and I can access all my Mary Kay inventory orders via corporate. I can piece everything together.

It will be OK.

It's really just today that stinks.

I have amazing children, a husband who is coming home early because I just need him to or else Zane will sit in front of the TV all day all because I can't deal, a sister who totally gets me, friends who I cling to - and they let me, a house with room to entertain (just don't ask to wash clothes), a few clean clothes left, a radio show tonight, a clean attic revealing some stuff I can sell on Ebay to make money to either do laundry or put towards a new laptop, a lot of other stuff that is beautiful and good, plus a God who holds all of it without crumbling under the weight.

All of it.

All of it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SUPER QUICK GIVEAWAY! (Now until Sunday!)

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine became a fan of something called "Cuppajozy" on Facebook. I was intrigued, being that my blog has a similar name, and so I skipped on over to see what all the fuss was about.

Upon checking it out, I found a hand-made product that I simply HAD TO HAVE! A quick trip to the developer/artist's Etsy store, followed by a quick email exchange was all I needed to set up Cuppa Jo's very first, official GIVEAWAY.

Above is a picture of my "cuppajozy" - sent to me compliments of Tara, the creator. It is the perfect addition to my purse, as I usually do pop into a coffee shop to get a cuppa a few times a week. And now, rather than either 1)scalding my hand by not using a disposable sleeve, or 2) wasting even more paper products, cause that's what we all do unconsciously every day, I can use my very own cuppajozy. I chose the coffee bean design - duh - readers, I need not explain why. Along with my cuppajozy came a beautiful hand-made envelope, stitched on the side, to fit the product, in the event that I will want to give mine to someone as a gift.

Sorry, I'm keeping it.

Here's Tara to tell you all about them!

Tara, please share with my readers how the cuppajozy is made.
The jozies are made of two layers of premium cotton quilting fabric with a layer of insulbright batting in between. They are reversible and reusable. They fit most medium and large disposable cups.

What do you enjoy most about creating your jozies?
I love making them because I love fabric and it gives me an excuse to buy lots of different prints. I like to buy really nice quilting fabric so that it holds up for many washings and feels soft and cozy at your fingertips. They feel much nicer than those disposable paperboard sleeves.

Um, "jozy". Please enlighten us on the name of this product.
The name "jozy" was created by me - a hip, reusable cozy for your cuppa joe. I just wanted something catchy that was different from calling them a coffee cozy. The name "cuppajozy" was created by my husband when we were brainstorming one night and we both liked it. I originally had a different Etsy store, but the name was long and cumbersome and I wanted something simple and memorable. My husband and son are both named Joe so this is a nod to them as well.

I love my cuppajozy and I know you will too! They are a steal at only $5.00, but HERE'S YOUR CHANCE TO WIN THE CUPPAJOZY OF YOUR CHOICE FOR FREE!

1. Visiting Tara's Etsy site to browse her cuppajozy designs. Then, come back here to Cuppa Jo and leave a comment sharing which cuppajozy you would like for yourself!

2. Receive a second entry by becoming a subscriber to Cuppa Jo. Just click the "Follow" link on my home page.

Do the math. That's two chances to win!!!!!!!!!!!

I will do a random drawing on Sunday, December 21. If you are chosen, I'll connect you with Tara and the cuppajozy of your choice is yours!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

St. Nicholas, I Presume?

Turn your kids away from the screen if you don't want me to ruin their Christmas.

My kids know the truth.

However, they also know enough not to go around shouting at the top of their lungs that Santa isn't real. So your secret is safe.

We have never been a Santa household. Early on, George and I chose to focus on St. Nicholas with the children, rather than the fictional Santa who "knows if you've been bad or good" and gives out gifts or coal accordingly. The conditional love of Santa just never jived with us. "But", you say, "he's all jolly, and loves children. What's the big deal whether the children believe in Santa or not?"

It may not be a big deal to you, but it is to us.

A wise, wise friend once shared with me that we give our children gifts because we love them. Not because they are good.

The same is true of Jesus.

Did He give us the gift of forgiveness and grace because we are good?


He gave us the gift of His very own life because HE LOVES US.

His love is not based upon WHAT WE DO, but rather WHO HE IS.

I never want my children to think they must earn gifts. Whether it be Playmobile, or, well, Salvation.

Yes, they can earn rewards by working hard, completing their chores, and giving their best effort, but gifts are something completely different.

I give my children gifts because I love them. Just as God gave us the incredible gift of His son because of His great love for us.

I took Zane to a local toy store today to meet St. Nicholas. Not Santa. Ask the owner. You may call him Santa, but she referred to him as St. Nicholas. That's what drew me.

"Zane, would you like to meet St. Nicholas?"


"No, St. Nicholas."

"The real one?"

Trying to keep things simple here.

"Well, not exactly. The real one lived long ago, but this man is like a symbol of the real St. Nicholas who gave to the poor."

Zane approached him cautiously. They shook hands. St. Nicholas never asked what Zane wanted for Christmas, or whether he's been good this year. Just shook his hand, asked his name, and invited him on to his lap to check whether his beard was real or fake.

A gentle tug revealed that it was real.

There was no more discussion after that. Just a balloon, a candy cane, and some hot cocoa.

And, that was that.

Sticking to the Plan

I crave structure.

And routine.

And all those other boring words like discipline, and order, and organization.

I'm not perfect at it.

However, I am pretty darn good at sticking to the plan once a system is in place. Once the system is in place. (That's in bold for a reason.)

Without a plan, I falter. Without a plan, my house is in chaos. Without a plan, everyone would leave the house naked.

Don't mistake my planning as a lack of spontaneity. I have improv training. I have a real knack for rhyming and my kids can attest that I turn EVERYTHING into a song. With choreography. In the kitchen.

But there's a time and a place for wacky kitchen musical theatrics. And in order to experience the spontaneity that can be had with a wooden spoon microphone and a colander top hat, one must first have their ducks in a row, or a squiggle, whatever. I recognize the need for a flourish. Point being, there should be some sort of line for all those ducks, whether straight or curvy.

Our home motto is "first things first".

I get really irritated this time of year. For as much as we yearn for the peace that Christmas is meant to afford us, we blow it. Every year. I constantly overhear the list of "to do's" about getting the shopping done, mailing out Christmas cards, baking hundreds of cookies, wrapping, and decorating. Then there are the zillion parties that "must" be attended, and this and that, and so on and so forth. AND YET I also listen to the chatter and read the stories about the desire that one has to find and embrace the warmth and joy of the Christmas season, and am then saddened by the the disappointment one shares when it once again alludes them. "It will be different next year."

Not unless you do something about it.

Christmas has this wacky way of messing with our minds - making us feel as if we "must, must, must" and "have to, have to, have to". The "most wonderful time of the year" turns into the most hectic and stressful time of the year.

It's the same story. Year after year. And it's getting old. I'm tired of hearing all the complaining.

How does our family combat this?

We stick to the plan.

For instance: Harper gets no TV or Wii during the school week. Zane, gets a bit in the afternoon. But in the evenings? Nada for both. Even now, as the networks are showing the beloved Christmas classics, my kids get none of it. I can Netflix or rent these items from the library to be viewed on the weekend. Am I a killjoy? You may think so. But here is where I begin to brag, just a bit, about evenings in our house - even during these weeks leading up to Christmas. For, our evenings are calm. Really, they are. Don't hate me.

After School
Christmas may be a week away, but there is still homework to be done. After a snack, and perhaps a glimpse of what Zane is finishing watching (I told you, I'm not a killjoy), the TV is turned off, and homework is done. Once worksheets are done, and vocab and spelling words studied, Harper can either play with friends, or if it's getting late, we have reading time on the couch.

Dinner is all together. At the table. Sitting down. We pray. We eat. We chat. George usually makes dinner. I know. That's hot.

After Dinner
We read our family Advent devotion, the kids open their Advent boxes, and if there is an art project to accompany the devotion, we settle in the kitchen to do it. Yes, there is glitter everywhere in my kitchen. There is paint on the floor. There is glue on the chairs. But these battle scars are worth it. For I now have a group art project of what we believe the manger looked like the night Jesus is born, two beautiful Stars of Bethlehem, and just last night, the kids designed pieces depicting what they each think angels look like. This is not without a huge mess.

After Devotions
Pajamas. That's right. It might be 7:00, but it's time for pajamas.

After Pajamas
Odyssey on the radio. Bedtime snacks, warm milk with gingerbread syrup for Zane, and tea for Harper.

After Odyssey
Bed. Zane listens to music or a book on CD. Harper gets in bed and reads.

It's 8:30.

We do this every night. The same routine. They know it by heart.

I haven't altered this at any point this month.

Except for last night.

I caved and allowed Harper to play some Wii. When it was time to turn it off, she chose not to. The lure of the next level was just too strong.

She now has no Wii through the weekend.

From now on, Mom is sticking with the plan. However, regardless of the change in routine, Harper also knows that in our house, we "obey the first time".

Routine works for us. Routines work for children. Really. They do.

So, we'll stick with our routine this Christmas season, and will NOT fall prey to all the other "stuff" that zaps our energy and well being during this time of year. I will NOT be a part of the complaining story about "not getting it all done" and being "so behind" with regards to shoveling piles of "have to's" and "should have's" onto our family's Christmas traditions.

You will not be getting a Christmas card from us. Hopefully, you will understand why instead of spending the money on them and the postage, we are donating the cash to those who need it. And rather than using valuable time time to address more than 100 cards, I am enjoying the evening with my family.

You will not find me baking because I "have" to give you something. You may get a plate of cookies, IF, we decide to make it a fun family activity. You won't get them just because I feel obligated. Instead, I'll have you over, and we'll share a meal together.

You will not find any new decorations in my house. Just our simple snowman setup.

You will not find me standing on a long line when I can be home reading, or sitting with a friend over coffee, or having guests for dinner.

You will not find me caving over stress.

You will not find me "shoulding" on myself.

I'm sticking to our plan. And so far, I've not missed one ounce of the Advent season. Have you?

Believe it or not, you can change your Christmas plans. Yes. You can. If not this year, next.

Take a bold step. If it has become too much, admit that it is you who added to the load. And then, change your story next year. It will make for a much happier ending.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Any Progress?

Thanks for asking.

I've been on the writing journey for a good long time now, perhaps prompting you, the reader, to ask, "Are you writing anywhere else other than this blog?"


I am now a staff writer for The Bridge, a local publication. Website in the works.

I am back on the wagon over at Blissfully Domestic, writing primarily on the topic of Family. Although my editor has given me the thumbs up to expand into other areas of the online site.

I am guest posting this month over at The Mama Zone.

I have been given the thumb's up and am planning on guest posting over at Pittsburgh Mom.

I am submitting regularly to online publications.

I am working on compiling and organizing all my scribbles from that revelatory weekend where I began to work on an actual book. I don't work on it everyday, and desperately need to set up some type of system to help me stay on board with this one.

Sadly, I have not been well organized in checking in with publications (print, rather than online), querying them, and being persistent in offering my work to them. The homework of doing so overwhelms me.

Admittedly, I think part of me would really like for someone to just find me and offer me a monthly column somewhere. Kind of like that time when a director contacted me and said, "I want you to place Lucy in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." No audition. But, alas, that's not how it works. I know.

Why am I telling you all this? Because you've encouraged me to keep at it. Because sharing my progress is a means of accountability. Because writing is a means of relaxation for me, and today has been a particularly weighted and taxing morning. Because I like to talk about myself.

So, here I am. Plugging along.

Albeit happily.

Seriously, How Am I Still Standing When He Utters Things Like This?

Conversation between George and Zane:

"Dad, I want to see my heart."

"Well, dude, your heart is an organ inside your chest. Pretty hard to see."

"Well, I know it's big because it's where I hold all my love."


Friday, December 4, 2009

Merry This . . . Happy That . . . Um, This May Sting A Bit

I am a born-again Christian.

I believe that God became human, coming to us in the form of a baby named Jesus and would go on to suffer and die on the cross as payment for the sins of all man/womankind. I believe He rose again from the grave, thus conquering death, and that all can know Him personally during life here on Earth before joining Him in eternal glory.

I'm not interested in debating this. So don't start.

I believe it. I experience Him daily. I hear Him. I see Him. I have watched Him change the hearts of people, mine included. I have a unique ability to see His handiwork in the seemingly small stuff that I encounter in both my daily life, and in the lives of others. He has fashioned me this way. Where others see despair, I see hope - even when life is bleak. Yes, I experience darkness like any other human, and yet there is a wellspring of hope that floods my soul.

That Hope is Jesus.

Ok, now that I've shared this testimony, let me get right to it.

(Deep breath)

I find this whole debate over whether one should say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" pointless and a complete waste of time. And, to go one step further, I believe it's just one more thing that widens the chasm and hinders our conversations with non-believers.

"But, but . . . ", you say. Just relax. Don't hurt yourself.

Obviously, I celebrate Christmas, and in doing so wish others a "Merry Christmas", for I hold in my heart the conviction that Christ is real, and in my head, the knowledge that I have both the freedom of speech and the freedom to worship.

And yet, I can not ignore my childhood years which were spent in a culturally diverse area and my 18 years in Chicago, surrounded by those who come from a variety of different faith backgrounds. I am thus accustomed, for instance, to wishing my Jewish friends "Happy Hanukkah". They, in turn, have always wished me a "Merry Christmas". In my relationships there has always been a mutual respect for one's personal faith.

I have often found dialoguing with those of different faiths to come, well, easy, having shared my faith with Jews, and Buddhists, and Mormons, through simple conversation, rather than by means of a one sided monologue where I do all the talking outlining why I worship Jesus.

Ping pong. Tennis. Back and forth. It's called discussion.

See, in our country, as opposed to others, we have the freedom to worship any way we choose.

While I happen to believe that Jesus is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life, others, do not. Thankfully, they live here, in the United States, where they have the freedom to worship - just as I do. Do I want them to know the love and forgiveness of Jesus? Of course! Do I believe that all streams lead to the big ocean - or whatever that saying is? Nope. See, I really do believe that Jesus is the answer. I do.

And yet, I could care less whether a clerk at a store wishes me "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" while I'm shopping. Look at me. Closely. How would one even know whether I celebrate Christmas just by looking at me? Honestly, based on looks alone, they'd be more apt to wish me "Happy Hanukkah." Oh yeah, I can pass. And that's from the mouths of my Jewish friends.

And secondly, why would I even expect a secular organization, like that of a corporation, to be committed to furthering the cause of Christ?

For that matter, why would I expect the choreography on the American Music Awards to be wholesome? Why should I be shocked by Adam Lambert? For what was he doing that was so contrary to what the "world" considers "entertainment."

I think we expect too much from the "world" - and when they don't comply with our beliefs, we stand in judgement. We stand in judgement over those who don't posses the power of the Holy Spirit to even assist them in making choices that would glorify God. We stand in judgement over those who don't even profess to know Jesus.

Sorry. That's not our job. That position has already been filled.


Instead, we threaten to boycott stores - stores whose ultimate purpose has absolutely nothing to do with expanding God's kingdom in the first place, but rather whose goal it is to make a profit. Why boycott just because the check-out person has been told not to wish you a "Merry Christmas"?

I don't remember Jesus boycotting dining with tax collectors, ignoring women of ill-repute, or moving to the other side of the road so as not to bump into lepers. He went where we are afraid to go.

(No, no, no . . . I'm not calling businesses crooks, (some are) adulterer's, (some are) or diseased (some are). I AM saying that Jesus didn't run from tough conversations.)

I propose that we are simply afraid to enter into a natural dialogue with those of different faiths, and those who may hold a different opinion regarding the season, and instead, hide behind our catchy slogans and phrases.

If it is so important to "Keep Christ in CHRISTmas", or if "Jesus is the reason for the season", how about upon being wished a "Happy Holiday" we resist the urge to pull a John Wayne, quickly drawing the "Merry Christmas" from the spiritual holster and firing it off in defense, and instead, actually engage that person in a simple exchange.

"Thank you. I celebrate Christmas. How about you?"

I'm sorry to tell you that the words "Merry Christmas" do not hold some sort of special evangelistic power. But by initiating true conversations with others, (albeit brief at times) rather than throwing out our scripted answers (sweetly, of course) and walking away with our purchases, we have actually offered more than the statement "Merry Christmas" could ever supply.

As we move away from trying to prove a point, and move into sharing a real moment with another human being, there is the possibility of leaving a lasting impression that will far exceed the month of December.

They will know we are Christians by our love, not whether we wish someone a "Merry Christmas".

Don't' get so bent out of shape.

You're going to pull something.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Nativity: Music by Zane Atkins

If I could record him, I would.

Sure, I could video-blog, but I've just not had the heart to interrupt my little John Williams while he's in session.

So you will just have to use your imagination.

Picture a nativity set made of olive wood and a 4 year old boy with a love for action and adventure stories such as Star Wars, Superfriends, and, well, as of 5 minutes ago, Prince Caspian - which, yes, we read together, prior to viewing the film. Come on! You know my drill!

As all the characters surround the baby Jesus in the manger, Zane's score begins. The piece is full of action, with a hint of mystery. His humming and "da, da, da's" have a quick tempo and the rhythm is not one I can repeat, because, well, only the composer knows where he's going with this piece. But one thing is for certain. If Zane's score, which he is creating on the spot while the character's surround Jesus, is meant to move the scene forward, then it has been successful. For the tune conveys urgency. It is thrilling and exciting. Heart-pumping.

The Nativity: the ultimate film for thrill-seekers.

Well, in Zane's mind.

Come to think about it, I think he has it right.

For isn't the Nativity story just that? Action-packed? Thrilling? Wondrous? Mysterious? Dangerous? (Jump in here. It's your turn to add an adjective.)

Unfortunately, after it all played out, Joseph was missing an arm. But really, what's a lost limb when your kid is the Son of God?

All this, from my boy, who recently declared the Christmas music ringing from the Beaver clock tower as "creepy and delicious."

The electronic bells being the creepy part, and Christmas being the delicious part.

I think he got that right also.