Matchbox Advent Calendar

When I was a kid, my mom made an Advent calendar out of matchboxes with us. We glued felt onto the boxes and added sequins. I thought it was the best thing ever, and I've wanted to make one for my kids for years. Last night, I finally sat down and came up with this one.


I had the frame already, and I backed it with sparkly blue cardstock. The patterned paper is Pink Paislee, and the embellishments are Jolee's and Recollections. The numbers are a template I downloaded, printed, and punched out. You can obtain matchboxes from a number of places, but I bought mine in packs of ten from Walmart. You do have to dump the sticks! And pull out the hot glue gun, because you will need it to adhere the boxes to the backing, and to adhere the paper to the boxes. Ye olde tape runner does not hold up very well for this project.

What goes inside the boxes, you ask? I made slips of paper for extra video gaming time, baking cookies, seeing Christmas lights, and all sorts of other holiday activities. There are a few boxes that also have candy in them.

There you have it. Go forth and craft!

Farrell's Extreme Bodyshaping, and how it changed my life

Yes, this is a huge endorsement for Farrell's.  You may consider this an infomercial for which I am not being compensated.  ;-)

I started Farrell's ten weeks ago, and I was scared to death.  I am not one who exercises.  Farrell's is billed as a body transformation program, and that's exactly what it is.  It consists of ten weeks of workouts every day except Sunday, and a nutrition plan that you really must follow if you want results.  So why did I do this?  Why didn't I pick something easier?  Do you know how many people asked me that?  And the answer is because I don't aim low. 

That being said, I thought that the Farrell's workouts would kill me.  Or at the very least, make me throw up or pass out.  Well, they didn't kill me, although I came very close to throwing up on occasion, and I know people who actually did.

Not until I showed up to orientation did I realize what a commitment this was going to be.  At Farrell's, the minute you miss a class, people are on to you.  You get texts and emails and accusatory facebook messages.  They put you into teams depending on which class time you attend, so we had a team of four.  The minute I decided to do some resistance training classes at 4:45 pm instead of 5:30 am, everyone noticed. 

I understand that some people don't want to be told what to do.  If you don't like accountability, Farrell's is not for you.  But I love accountability.  I thrive on it.  So the very thought of having to explain myself is what got me out of bed at 4:50 am on many mornings.  Out of 60 classes, I attended 56.  On the last day, I overslept and woke up at 5:16 am for my 5:30 class.  I could have stayed in bed or gone to a different class, but I really wanted to do the last one with my team.  So I went late, but I went.

During these classes, I mostly wanted to kill the instructors with my bare hands.  I said unthinkable words in my head (and maybe out loud) many many times while I was laying on the floor, unable to do another shin kick if my life depended on it.  And let me tell you, I was splayed out on the floor a lot.  At first, my coach and teammates would ask me if I was okay or needed help.  Then they came to know that I just wanted to hang out on the floor in a fetal position at the end of class.  That is how intense the kickboxing workouts are.  You give everything you have for 45 minutes, and then you haul yourself out, thanking God that you didn't die or lose control of your bodily functions.

I know this sounds horrible.  But it's great!  No, really, it's the best thing I've ever done.  Easy is easy.  Pushing yourself to your limits is a whole 'nother ballgame.  I've gone further in Farrell's classes than I've ever thought I could go.  I've felt myself stretch to reach a goal and then reach it. Mostly because I had to, since the instructors walk around and yell in your face.  Okay, they yell friendly, encouraging types of things most of the time.  And you can't avoid those instructors.  They pace around the room, looking for the weaklings.  I can't tell you how many times one of them stood by my head while I was doing those awful rowboat exercises, because guess what?  I can't do rowboats!  They involve abs, of which I have none.  Plus, you have to balance on your butt, of which I have a huge one, so it just rolls me over.  Every single time.

So anyway, all of this is okay.  And do you know why?  Because it's for your own darn good, that's why.  And no one really pays attention when I can't do certain ab exercises that involve pretending to row a boat, or God forbid, these terrible things called grasshoppers, where you jump up in the air and then jump down into a pushup and then jump back up.  Do you know why no one cares?  Because they've all been there.  Every single person in that class, including the instructors, have done a first ten weeks.  So they know.  As a result, they are friendly and welcoming.  Plus, the workouts are so hard that no one is paying attention to anyone else.  Except when we all roll our eyes at each other because the instructors want us to burn out our round kicks on the bags for the third time in a row without a break.

All kidding aside, I love Farrell's.  So much that I signed up for another three months.  During my ten weeks, I learned that I really can do anything I set my mind to do, that excuses are just ways to get out of something you don't want to do, and that I really am what I eat.  I ended up losing weight and inches (including five off my waist, ahem), becoming stronger, and increasing my flexibility.  I also made friends who have been through the same hellish experience.  My taekwondo kicks have gotten so much higher, and I can spar multiple people without getting tired. 

What follows is one of the best things that's ever happened to me:  During the final testing, one of the instructors, who shall remain nameless but whose name rhymes with Stacie, told me that she was going to run the last part of the mile with me so that she could push me.  And she did.  The first part of the mile, I walked, I ran, I chatted with some other people.  And then I came around the corner and saw Stacie.  Now people, I am not a runner in any sense of the word, and she has run the Lincoln half-marathon.  So I got scared.  I thought maybe I could escape, or maybe she would get distracted and not even notice me.  But she did, and so we started running together.  And then I got way winded and asked if we could walk.  And she said we couldn't walk, but maybe we could slow down a little in preparation for our sprint at the end.  Our what?!  Yes, apparently, she had hatched this little plan where we would sprint as fast as we could to end the run.  And so we kept running and maybe speeded up a tad at the end.  I don't know because my world started to black out, and I felt like I was going to throw up.  Then my teammates, who of course had finished in front of me, came over and started running with me too and shouting that I could do it.  And there was my coach, in boat shoes for some reason, yelling my name and waving  his arms, because seriously, who can run in those shoes?  And then Tammie, the owner and meanest instructor, said my time as I finished.  And it was three minutes less than the mile I ran ten weeks prior.

And that, my friends, is why I will stay at Farrell's.  



So here's my little secret

I signed up for Farrell's Extreme Bodyshaping.  Ten weeks of 5:30 a.m. workouts (kickboxing and resistance) six times a week.  I have a coach.  Who makes us turn in food logs. 

Why this fresh hell, you ask?  Two reasons:  1)  I want to get better and advance in Tae Kwon Do, and I have reached my limits, especially in sparring because I get so tired.  I need more endurance and strength, or I will never survive the advanced class, which hopefully I will move to once I get my blue belt in March.  2) I gained a bunch of weight after cancer treatment, and it needs to go away.

So my friend and neighbor Stacie is an instructor at Farrell's, hereinafter referred to as FXB if you're cool, and she kept raving about it.  And I got sucked in.  I had to acknowledge that I had to put in actual work in order to shape up.  There's no silver bullet to this program.  It's just hard work and healthy eating.  In fact, I eat way more than I used to, because we eat six times a day.  In order to lose weight, I suppose I could just do a nutrition program, but I can't get conditioned for Tae Kwon Do without the exercise.  

This program is way more involved than I thought it would be.  We had a nutrition and techniques class.  We had to have "before" pictures taken, which will never see the light of day if I have any say in it.  Then we had a 2 1/2 hour testing, where we had to do situps, pushups, body fat and measurements, and a mile run.  Yes, friends, you heard me.  We had to run a mile.  I can't actually run a mile, but there was this guy who was limping from shin splints, so I broke into a run in order to pass him.  Yes, I beat the injured guy.  I own it. 

But here's the thing:  I wanted to finish the mile running, but oh my god it was so hard.  Then one of the coaches came up and ran next to me.  He talked me through the entire thing and I finished running.  That, folks, is what I'm paying for. 

So anyway, this is the end of week one.  We have a team of four with our coach, Darren.  And every morning, I have gotten up at 4:50 a.m. to get to the 5:30 class.  The first two days, I couldn't even sit down without grunting in pain.  That's so attractive.

And I'm continuing to go to Tae Kwon Do twice a week.  And I'm keeping food logs, with details about protein and carbs.  I'm a daily full-strength Coke drinker who has had a half can of diet Coke in the last five days.  We have a free day tomorrow to eat whatever we want, and everyone was talking about what they want to eat.  Pasta, pizza, etc.  I just want a Coke.  A real Coke.  In the bottle, not the can.  Okay, I may be obsessed with this.

In any event, we have testing at five weeks and then again at ten weeks.  That should put me right about at blue belt testing in Tae Kwon Do.  And hopefully, I will kick butt.

Hello, Epcot!

Oh, how I love Epcot.  I have loved it ever since it opened, and it didn't let me down this trip.  We found it to be the most interesting park, and there were a lot of special family moments during our visit there.  Plus, aside from Goofy, we honestly aren't into Disney stuff that much (I know, horrors!), so we didn't feel an overwhelming need to continue to see the Mouse at the Magic Kingdom.

Since we were staying at an Epcot resort, the kids and I walked over on Wednesday morning while Mike was at his conference.  The back entrance takes you into the World Showcase, where all of the international pavilions are. 

We looked at Great Britain. 

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Zach:  "Mom, why do they have telephone booths, when you can just use a cell phone?"  Ah, youth.

Then there was Canada, which has the best restaurant, Le Cellier, that we've never been able to get into.

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Here's the thing.  If you want to eat in a Disney restaurant, you really need a reservation.  And reservations open up six months in advance.  No kidding.  I started booking six weeks in advance, so there were a couple of places that were long gone and never opened up again.  And this was during the low season!

But I digress.  We headed straight to the rides in Future World.  The Land Pavilion was Bailey's favorite, for some reason.  The Living with the Land ride is a great big educational snooze fest, but she loved it so much that she made Mike ride it when we met up with him later in the day.  We got some fast passes for Soarin' while we were there, and then we went over to the Seas Pavilion, where we rode the Nemo and Friends ride and saw Turtle Talk with Crush. This is just like the Laugh Floor at the Magic Kingdom, where computer-generation makes it look like the turtle is talking to the kids and interacting with them.  The adults are all like, "that is the coolest thing", while the kids are like, "sure, we talk to giant turtles all the time."

Bailey was too scared to get into Bruce the shark's mouth.

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But she was picked to interact with Crush!  She's such a ham, and afterwards, people were asking me if I was the mom of the girl whose favorite food was noodles, since that's what she talked to Crush about. 

Then the kids and I went over to the Spaceship Earth ride in the big dome, and it was soooo good.  They have a computer screen on the seat so you can punch in a bunch of stuff about how you want your future to be, and at the end of the ride, your story appears.  I loved everything about this ride. 


Then we realized that we better use our Soarin' fast passes, so we hightailed it back to the Land pavilion.  Soarin' is one of the most popular rides at Epcot, and they basically swing you around above an IMAX of California.  Bailey was fine until we got strapped in, at which point she started shrieking in terror, "Help!  They're trying to kill me!"  Fortunately, as soon as we started the ride, she loved it.  Loved it so much that she wanted to go on it again.  Because it really is pretty awesome.  This is the one ride you have to do first, or you wait a long time, and the fast passes run out by early afternoon.

We met Mike at this point and toured the international pavilions for a bit.

We loved Norway!

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Of course, we bought Viking helmets.  Wouldn't you?  Then we ate at the Kringla bakery.  So good.  Bailey was hankering to take Mike on the Land ride again, so Zach and I rode the Maelstrom ride in Norway.  Short, but really good.

We took the obligatory, "look, I'm holding the giant golf ball" picture.


  Then Mike wanted to see Captain EO, the Michael Jackson 3D film that was playing in the Imagination pavilion.  About five minutes into the film, Bailey royally freaked out.  It was just too loud and scary.  On the guide map, this is the only thing that is marked frightening for children.  Of course, we saw that part too late.

So we left and found these fountains outside the pavilion, where the water hopped in the air between the various fountains.


Then we went back into the Imagination pavilion and played with all of the interactive exhibits.  Mike went off to ride Test Track by himself since the rest of us chickened out.  After that, Zach wanted to do this super cool Kim Possible thing where they give you a cell phone device thingie and you get missions to save the world.  It sounded great and it's free, so we did two missions - one in China, and one in Germany.


We got clues which led us to many locations within the various countries, and without it, I never would have gone inside the China building and seen that they have a Terra Cotta Warrior display.  One of my life dreams is to see the real Terra Cotta Warriors in China, so this was pretty cool.


The best part about the Kim Possible missions was that through the device, the kids could cause things to happen that the non-Kim Possible people didn't know about.  Like in China, he pushed a button, and a statue came up from the middle of one of the ponds to give him a secret message.  And in Germany, it made the glockenspiel play.  The other people were like, "look, a glockenspiel!", and Zach was all, "it's because of me, you fools!"  So this was definitely a hit, and we would do it again.

We spent a lot of time in the Germany pavilion.  My mom is German, and I was born there, so we just sort of gravitated there.

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We ate dinner at the Biergarten restaurant, which was fantastic.  I was so glad we had reservations, because many people were being turned away.  It is always Oktoberfest there.


As soon as Bailey heard the music, she ran up front to dance.  Of course.  At the end of the session, they would turn down the lights, sing Silent Night, light the Christmas tree, and give chocolate coins to the kids.  Bailey figured this out pretty quickly, so every time they would start with the Christmas stuff, she would run down to the stage to get her chocolate coin.  She's no fool.

Then, Bailey decided she need Mike to dance with her, and trouper that he is, he did.


When the other parents saw this, they all danced with their kids too. 


Dads were holding daughters, mothers were dancing with sons, and it was all so good.  It was Christmas in Germany, the food was delicious, we were seated family-style next to four really nice people, everyone became a big community, and at that moment, I had a rush of happiness just fill my heart completely.  You know how that happens sometimes, when you just feel pure joy?  I was so happy to be in that place at that time with my wonderful family that I couldn't stop smiling.  Just magical.

And it probably didn't hurt that the beers were gigantic.


It was pretty late after we left the Biergarten, so Mike and Bailey rode the boat back to the Yacht Club while Zach and I stayed for Illuminations fireworks and laser show.  Prior to the show, we happened to be walking by the Test Track ride and decided to go in, since the line was short.  Basically, the premise is that you are in a vehicle being tested for safety.  So you go through different tests, including a crash test, and then you hurtle around this track and go around turns at high speeds.  As soon as we were seated, Zach had a major freakout.  Of course, as we were hurtling, he was the one with his hands up in the air, yelling, "woo hoo!", while I was screaming in terror.  Yeah, it was a good ride.

We found a place on the rail of the lagoon for Illuminations, which has always been my favorite part of Epcot.  Zach asked me what it was, and I was trying to explain that there's this globe that opens up and they show videos on it and stuff, but really? You have to see it.


After the show, Zach and I walked back to the resort, where both kids collapsed into the kid-sized chairs in the lobby to watch old Disney cartoons.  Of course, they wore their woven pullovers from Mexico and Viking hat from Norway. 


The Magic Kingdom

On Tuesday morning, Mike went to his conference while I took the kids to the Magic Kingdom.  We rode the bus from the hotel, and it was our plan that Mike would drive in and meet us there.  We were staying for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, so we figured that it would be easier to drive back to the hotel than to wait for hotel transportation with all of the thousands of others people doing the same thing.  Luckily, we visited the park during one of the least crowded times of the year, so we had no waits at all for the majority of our rides.


Thank goodness for Disney's Photo Pass service.  You have a card that you hand to the park photographers, they take your pictures, and then you access their website to download the photos.  I haven't downloaded mine yet, but what a lifesaver to get all of us in the pictures!

In any event, this was the big day to test out the touring plan app on my phone and prove to Mike that I am not the biggest geek in the world.  Bailey was dead set on riding Dumbo, so we headed out to Fantasyland first.  For some reason, Dumbo is one of the most popular rides, even though it's really just a carnival ride.  But we rode that flying elephant and enjoyed every minute of it.

Then the plan was to go to It's a Small World, grabbing fast passes for Peter Pan on the way, since that one gets crowded too.  We rode the carousel on the way, then on to It's a Small World.  Bailey loved this ride so much.  The kangaroo was her favorite.

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Next we saw Mickey's Philharmagic, and then rode Peter Pan.  Have I mentioned how in love with fast passes I am?  We had no wait for Peter Pan at all, but the fast pass line takes you right by the regular line, where all of those people who were waiting for 30 minutes glared at us.  

We crossed over into Frontierland, which Bailey kept calling Frontierville because I may or may not play that game on Facebook.  There, we rode the Haunted Mansion ride.  The kids were a little freaked out in the stretch room, but then once they saw it's actually a really mellow ride, all was good.  After that, Bailey and I rode Splash Mountain while Zach kept an eye out for Mike.  The last drop on Splash Mountain freaked Zach out, so he didn't want to ride with us. 


We found Mike, who also rode Splash Mountain, and then we ate lunch before we rode the raft over to Tom Sawyer Island and Fort Langhorn.  This was a much needed break for us, and we love that all of the Disney parks have an area where the kids can play and unwind.  And the whole time, I was checking my app, saying things like, "the line for Dumbo is 42 minutes now!"  


Since we were staying so long at the Magic Kingdom that evening, we took the train back to the entrance of the park and went back to the hotel for a break in the afternoon. 

When we got back to the Magic Kingdom, it was already dark, and the castle was lit up.

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Mike and I used the child swap option to ride Space Mountain.  I love that one adult can ride while the other waits with the kids, and then you switch so that the other adult can ride without a wait. 


We also rode the Tomorrowland Speedway, where the kids got fake driver's licenses. 


Then we went to the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, where they use computer generated technology to interact with the audience.  Zach was one of a handful of audience members to get picked to talk with the Monsters Inc. characters!

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At this point, the Very Merry Christmas Party had started, so we headed over to Cinderella Castle, which had been covered in icicles.


We watched two parades and a Christmas show in front of the castle. 

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We rode It's a Small World again at Bailey's request, and then watched the fireworks.  We didn't want to leave, so we headed back to Tomorrowland to eat dinner.  And this was one of the best parts of the entire day, because the place where we ate was having a dance with Goofy and Chip and Dale.  And an elf was the DJ.  Seriously. 

Bailey is a dancing monster, so as soon as she heard the music, she ran right up front to dance with Goofy.  The only twist is that she usually requires Mike to dance with her, so he danced with Goofy too.  It was just the cutest thing, so see all these excited kids dancing and their parents dancing along while trying to video it all.  And that's really what Disney is about - those magical moments you have if you just let loose and act like a kid again.  And dance with Goofy.


Next up:  Our favorite park, Epcot!