Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The kids' watercolor set that mysteriously keeps on giving. (It's lasted a year!!)

I have received no compensation for the post I am about to write, other than the amazement at these paints that have lasted A YEAR. Did I mentioned this little set of watercolors has lasted a year? And there's still a good long life in them?


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If any of you have children that like to use watercolors, you know how quickly little hands controlling pointy unforgiving plastic brushes can burn through those Crayola or Rose Art sets. Those last maybe a month in our house. The pots of paint absorb the water and the colors turn to goopy liquid in no time flat, which results in the paint ending up everywhere BUT in their color pots by the end of the day.

This larger set by Alex somehow manages to produce a nice sheen of wet paint on top, yet the pigment remains solid underneath. I've run the set under the water and literally rubbed the color pots to clean them off many times. The result of the more solid pigment is that, while it goes on thick, it dries to more of a matte finish than other paints. But the pots keep miraculously producing paint, so I'm willing to overlook that teensy weensy fault.

Did I mention that we got these for Christmas LAST YEAR? Just want to make sure I'm being clear on that point, and mention the fact that we have three children using these. This is what the set looks like now, after a year of use:

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Not nearly as pretty as it once was, but still going strong.

The kids love (read: argue over) this set so much, I decided we need at least three so everyone can have their own. I spent twenty minutes on Amazon today, trying to track this item down. That's how worth it these are. I mistakenly searched every entry under "water colors" "watercolor" "watercolors" and "paint" before I China'd it down (you know, assumed that someone from China wrote the description) and found it under "water color". (Yeah, my day's been so exciting!!)

But I found it! If you are planning on giving a present to a child this year, this is a great little option. Oh, and run to Michael's or JoAnn's and get one of these refreshingly natural brush sets too, for just a dollar or so.

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These brushes have nice soft natural hair tips instead of that terrible black plastic bristle business that paint sets usually come with. These brushes are super cheap, and worth it.

By the way, I was at JoAnn's the other day and noticed that they carry these exact same brushes — the only difference being the package — for more than the same product they're selling three aisles down. The difference is, the more expensive set is in grown-up section. You know what they say, location, location, location!

Nice try, JoAnn's.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Migraine + Thanksgiving = something's gotta give...

(This Thanksgiving recap brought to you by the random song that has been stuck in my head all day, and shall now be transferred to your mind - The Rainbow Connection as sung by Kermit the Frog. It's been an odd day.)

*cue banjo strumming*

Why are there so many
Songs about rainbows,
And what's on the other side...



I conquered the food.

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I conquered the headache.

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I did not, however, conquer the ambiance.

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Hey, at least I managed to make sure non-plastic plates made it to the table! That was the limit of my capabilities for the day, though.

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No fancy dishes or fancy presentation.

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And apparently, clothing was optional. And questionable.

Sigh. Love those kids!

I hope you all had a great day. Mine has gotten better and better as the day has gone along. And now, the headache is finally gone, the kids are asleep, and it's time to relax, snack, and watch a movie with the man I love. Life is good. Happy Thanksgiving!

The lovers,
The dreamers,
And me...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Trimming the tree. Literally.

The neighbors probably never noticed the difference. It's one of those things that has more meaning for me than for anyone else. This particular problem has been nagging at me since the very first moment we saw our new house. It was not love at first sight.

I remember that particular house hunting trip last winter. We had carefully narrowed down houses online and mapped out the ones we wanted to drive past. We loaded the kids up and took the hour-plus drive up to the neighborhood to see some of the ones that made the cut. The daylight did not last long enough to get through the whole list, but we wanted to drive past the homes we had mapped out anyway. It was exciting to see the houses that had come down in price to be within our reach. These homes were so much more than we ever expected to be able to purchase as first-time home buyers!

All evening light had faded by the time we made it to the right street. I hunched toward the window and squinted in an attempt to make out the names on street signs that are always too small and always require a u-turn at some point. The house was situated at the end of a cul-de-sac and we drove straight at it. The car came to a stop in front, headlights washing out most of the color and flattening the image of the house. All the windows and porch lights were dark; I assumed no one lived there. It looked something like this:

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All I could see was this tree that was way too close to the house, casting sharp shadows on the wall it was smashed against. A visitor would have to walk between the tree and the house to get to the front door. The yard was shallow, and it looked like the house was squeezed in at an uncomfortably close angle between the neighboring houses.

"This is it?!?" I stated, comparing it to the inviting entries of some of the other homes we had seen. "Yeah — I don't think so. Talk about lack of curb appeal! And that tree is horrible!" I mentally checked the house off the list and we moved on. (Keep in mind that I was comparing it to the other houses we had seen. This was a beautiful house, just not in the same front-entrance-appeal category as its similarly priced equivalents.)

The house ended up staying on the list after all, simply because of a price drop and the square footage. That, and I think my husband didn't have the same hate at first sight reaction I did. We eventually got serious and found a realtor so we could check out the insides of the houses. However, we didn't make it to this one until after we had seen probably 15 to 20 other homes. That first impression was still tainting my opinion and I was in no hurry to see it.

When we finally did see the home again, in daylight, inside and out, my prejudice against the house vanished. So much so, that we made an offer before leaving that day — February 14th. What I had missed from my quick, poor lighting perusal of the house was that it was huge, way under priced, and well laid out. And sure, the front yard was nothing special, but the property was shaped like a slice of pie and it opened up to a great private back yard that backed directly to miles and miles of open space surrounding a large lake. I became grateful for the awkward tree and the lack of curb appeal that possibly contributed to the house being on the market for so long.

We've been here for about seven months now. I've resented those low branches crowding the narrow front walkway that squeezes under it for seven months. Finally, the tree made it to the top of the to-do list and my husband attacked it with a chain saw.

Here's some before and after's:

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(It's hard to tell how weighty and oppressive that tree was, without its leaves. It was growing right up against the house and along the roof. I worried about what it would do to the roof tiles.)

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So much better! I still don't love the tree being so close to the house, but at least it's not growing into it anymore. And most importantly, I smile when I walk under it instead of cringing. It's ridiculous how happy that trimmed tree makes me!

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The poor thing was strangled by Christmas lights that had never been removed. The wires have grown into the tree and we're going to have to climb up and meticulously clip them out soon.

Now, about the front door. Thank you for your input!! We've finally come up with a color (or a non-color, rather). The door will be black. Or dark gray. At least, as long as the house is yellowish.

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We'll paint a light color inside the alcove to cover up the brown. But one day, the whole exterior will be painted white to attempt a more Mediterranean feel rather than a Spanish feel. At that point, I'd love to do maybe a dark blue door with some large turquoise or citrus-toned planters out front. Something to make it a little lighter and brighter.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A belly shot and an update on the Kindergartner

Wow, I can tell I was under the weather for the first trimester — I have no pictures documenting this pregnancy other than ultrasounds and this one taken a few days ago at 17 1/2 weeks.

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The bad news is that at least half of my belly is part of the 20 pounds I've gained already. On the bright side, when people see the fat and ask if I'm pregnant, I can say yes! I just leave out the part where the baby only makes up about 7 ounces of that twenty pounds.

The good news is eating is finally an enjoyable thing again. Food still tastes different, but that doesn't keep me from testing all of the good things I haven't been able to appreciate for so long. I don't really care how much it's affecting my weight. Not now, anyway. I'll tackle that beast after the baby is born. Oh, and the other good news is that I'm starting to feel those gentle bonks and sweeping motions of the baby moving. There's definitely someone in there!

Since I feel better I'm trying to transition into a more active lifestyle. Gone are the days of spending most of my time sprawled out on the couch. I still have to take an hour or two of down time every day, but it's getting better. We even got around to putting in our little experimental winter garden.

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They did the hard work; I just mixed in the new soil and put the ground cover and stuck the plants in.

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(Keep in mind that we really have no idea what we're doing; we just put some seeds in the ground to see if they would survive.) It took about 2.5 seconds for the slugs to devour the squash plants. Lesson #1 learned.

In other news, my children have made great progress over the course of the first two months of school.

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We had parent teacher conferences this last week. I admit, I was pretty dang anxious about meeting with my Kindergartner's teacher. I couldn't help but re-play some of the negative things she said to me over the course of the first few weeks of school.

"Our class is so large, I can't slow down just to wait for him to catch up. I'm worried that he's going to get left behind."

"I don't think ANY child who isn't already 5 should be in Kindergarten."

"It will be detrimental for him the rest of his school career to be younger than his peers."

"He keeps coming up to me when he has a problem!"

"He's going to need help at home. And I am worried that you won't be able to help him, since you have a younger child to take care of." (?!?)

As you can imagine, I was worried not only about what she might say — but also about what I might say in return. (She wants to question my ability to help him at home, because I have a younger child? Really?? Geez, the way I look at it, my student to teacher ratio is WAY better than her class!) I was very grateful that we had family around to watch the children so I could bring my spouse along to help me refrain from saying something I would regret. Plus, his teacher, for some reason, has never said anything negative to my husband about our son. I guess she saves it all for me. I was hoping his presence might help keep her at bay.

It was a very awkward meeting. I was surprised, however, that she had nothing negative to say. In fact, it turns out that my little guy is right where he's supposed to be for his grade level — or better. And he interacts well with the other children.

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He only received one "needs improvement" mark, for handwriting. But his teacher prefaced it with her amazement at how far he's come, how quickly he's catching up, and stating that she's not worried about him meeting the standard by the end of the year.

My Kindergartner really has come such a long way during the last year. He has worked so hard on his fine motor skills and his speech problems.

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After having his language deemed "normal' by the speech pathologist at the school, and now this trimester's positive report card, my load of worry has lifted. I, personally, felt like my son was ready for Kindergarten. Not everyone did, however, and it was hard to listen to my gut when his teacher was telling me so loudly (before she even knew him or his capabilities) to hold him back a year. I wanted his teacher to get to the point where she, too, felt okay about him being in her class. I think she is finally coming around. (And for the record, I ended up having to do very little from home; all I did was sit next to him and encourage him while he did his homework, and let him develop those fine motor skills at a pace he was comfortable with. Luckily, it's a pace his teacher is comfortable with, too!!) Hopefully the days of her calling me up to tell me all the reasons why he shouldn't be in her class are over. Hopefully she's happy to have him there instead of trying to push him out.

My daughter's conference was last week as well. She deserves some recognition for her hard work, too. "I never, ever give outstanding marks in the first trimester," her teacher said. "But look at this. Your daughter is just... perfect!"

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Maybe perfect is a bit much — she certainly has her moments of non-perfectness — but she is a sweet, awesome seven year old that adores everything to do with school. In fact, she loves it so much, she asks to help her little brother do his homework in the evenings. I tell her that his assignment for the night is to practice drawing people. She collects a stack of computer paper and pencils and they draw silly people and robots at his desk until I break up the fun and send them to bed. Her brother responds so well to having his older sister help him; he sees it as play time. It's beneficial for both of them.

Thinking about it, she has had way more to do with his fine motor skill development than I have! Thanks, kiddo!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The lost pictures of summer, and the link between death and beauty.

Thank you, by the way, to all of those who have served and continue to serve our country. It's humbling to know that so many people care so deeply about protecting us. Thank you.

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Years ago in one of my art classes in college we discussed the relationship between death and beauty. The theory, as far as my terribly faulty memory remembers it, is that we tend to value things more that we can't hold on to; things that are fleeting, that are poignant, and end in death or dissipation. Take a rose, for example.

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A real flower is of more significance than it's synthetic counterpart, even though both could be equally scented and beautiful. The difference being that the actual rose will wilt, curl up, turn brown, and die in a week. Something about the ephemeral nature of the flower draws us to it and gives it more significance.

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The same can be said for the momentary beauty of a sunset. We experience it but for a moment, and part of the allure is that it will go away and turn into darkness. To have witnessed the brilliance before it dissapears is compelling. The theory applies to many moments that are too short, tragic, and brilliant — like Romeo and Juliet. Or pretty much any death-centric drama (which is a genre I can't watch, by the way. I'm not fond of feeling sad.)

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These firework pictures remind me of that discussion we had in class so long ago. We meet together for one night and wait for a brilliant few moments that explode violently and then die off into trails of smoke and ash. This particular show verges on the dangerous; embers frequently fall on the expectant crowd that is allowed to sit perhaps a little too close. Fireworks are amazing to witness first-hand. My JPEG reproduction will never fully capture the beauty of those brief moments, moments that can't truly be re-created.

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These pictures were taken while we were visiting my side of the family over the summer. We were waiting for our new DSLR to arrive, and in the meantime, we used our old camera.

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When we got home from the display, I transferred the images onto the laptop — just to see what they looked like, knowing that I would put them on the main computer and post them when we got home from vacation. As I was flipping through the pictures I received some bad news. The photos immediately became lost in the flood of emotions that I felt that night. They were forgotten as my thoughts turned acutely and painfully toward another topic.

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Months later when I picked up the old camera to take a few pictures I saw that some images were still there, waiting to be transferred to the computer. I had forgotten what was depicted. It was surreal to remember this night and these images. As I looked through them, they triggered the emotions of the bad news I got that night. For this strange reason, these pictures have a greater significance — a greater beauty to me.

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It's like when an old song comes on the radio that you distinctly associate with a poignant event in life. Those songs become so hauntingly compelling.

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It's hard for me not to be pulled down by the weight of emotions. That's why I can't watch sad movies — I internalize the feelings too much. I need something bright and constant and silly and unchanging to balance out the heaviness of melancholy thoughts.


This is why I love Scrubs so.

:)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Once upon a time, I was an expert witness in a deposition.

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, I worked at a law firm. My official position in the firm was as an assistant auditor of legal billing. Part of the firm was involved in a sort of auditing side-business. When a client received an astronomical bill from their law firm (other firms, not ours!) they would bring said bill to us, and after much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the extent of the charges thereof, we would review the bill and recommend that it be reduced based on our findings.

Our department would pour over every entry, every cost, every .20 and .10 hour increment claimed by said lawyers and gather any questionable entries. Then we would input all of those hours and charges into our handy dandy database, do some fancy reconfiguring of the erroneous charges, and spit out a report detailing all of the areas in the bill that were excessive or downright silly. I was a spitter outer of reports. I did the entering of the hours and charges into the computer, I maintained the integrity of the database, and I put it all together in a report complete with colored tabs and pie charts.

That's it.

Notice that, at no point in that process, do I perform any sort of accounting work.

Database work — yes; typing — lots of it; fancying up of reports — I'm your girl; but no accounting beyond simple math. I'm an art major, for goodness' sake. I haven't taken a math course since 10th grade!

So, after a few years of doing said work, one of the lawyers in the firm asked me if I would help him out with a case. He asked if I could look over some numbers and see if they add up, then put together a report of my findings.

"Sure," I said, assuming that all I would be doing is basic addition and a spread sheet. "But you might want to ask someone in the accounting department to do this for you."

"Oh, no, you come highly recommended," he said with a smile. "I'm confident you can do this, it's really not that complicated. Plus I need someone who can possibly discuss the findings at the deposition."

I was flattered into agreeing. Stupid pride!!

It seemed intriguing to be involved in an actual case; something fun and different to do instead of the mundane database stuff. How hard could it be, right?

The next day I found a small stack of papers sitting on my desk. I looked through them, typed the numbers into the computer, and made a nice little chart adding them up. "This is easy," I thought to myself. I called the lawyer up and told him my findings.

"Okay. Now I need you to do some projections, based on these charges accruing interest annually."

The joy and the color in my face was gone. "But I'm not an accountant; I'm not even sure how to calculate interest."

"Well, do the best you can, and let me know what you find out. You're smart, you'll figure it out. Thanks!!"

In a panic, I called the accounting department. They were no help, since their main function was to input payroll information into the computer and hit print. I then did what all of us do when faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem — I did a google search on interest. I poured through the web pages and tried to wrap my brain around everything I would need to know.

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After several hours of wide-eyed panic, I finally figured it all out — at least, I hoped I did — and put together my report. I asked everyone I could think of to look at it, but it turns out no one in the firm felt comfortable enough to do a thorough review of my work to see if it was correct.

My heart sank. I turned in my questionable report and had a moment of self-doubt with the lawyer. I tried to convince him that it was in his best interest to find someone with more expertise. For some reason, he was blissfully ignorant of how ignorant I was. I was shocked at his lack of concern over my inadequacy for the task.

Then came the painful part of trying to figure out what conclusion I was supposed to draw from the report. I got as much information about the case as I could, told him what I thought, and somehow stumbled on the conclusion he was looking for. He smiled, and said I did a great job. I felt like simultaneously bursting out laughing and bursting into tears.

Oh, and did I mention I was going on maternity leave soon, I was huge with my first child, and hormonal? It was awesome.

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I went away from the meeting with the lawyer having, really, no clue what had just happened. But apparently I had reported on the right conclusions. I was in no way comfortable talking about it, however. The terminology I had used that I found in my google search was still new to me, and I kept getting terms mixed up. I can't even recall now what it was I did, just some random basic accounting stuff that I only muddled through because of fear of failure.

Then there was the problem of the deposition.

Have you ever been grilled by opposing counsel as an "expert" witness? It would be one thing to enter this situation, knowing what to expect, and feeling secure with my skills. This wasn't that situation.

Anxious doesn't even begin to cover it.

I had to arrive at a huge building in downtown Los Angeles and find my way to some random office in the building. It's nothing short of a miracle that I didn't get lost, or get into an accident in my stress-induced tunnel vision state of being. I was that woman hunched over the steering wheel, mouth agape, gripping the wheel as best I could with so much sweat pouring out of my palms.

Did I mention the hugely hormonal and pregnant part? And the part where I walk around like I'm 89 because my joints are painfully mushy from the hormones?

I finally found the office, accepted a drink of water, and opened the door to the conference room — which, I found out rather instantly, I wasn't supposed to do. Everyone surrounding the large table stopped speaking, turned, and stared. "We'll call you in when we're ready for you," a random voice said.

So much for appearing professional. I meekly sat down in a chair and felt my tunnel vision getting worse. Somehow I managed not to burst into tears. Finally, the lawyer from the firm called me in.

I awkwardly swung my massive belly around and between the chairs and plunked down on my seat. The deposition began, and the lawyer for the other side questioned my legitimacy as an expert witness. She brought up that I had majored in art, and noted that I have no accounting background. I wanted to scream "She's right!! I warned you!!" Thank goodness she didn't ask me how I learned about calculating interest. "Well, I did a google search, ma'am. I haven't taken an actual math class since I was 14 years old."

I pulled myself together and after I described what my job had been, and the math used to come to the conclusions I came to (which really wasn't that complicated — just something I wasn't used to) my testimony was allowed.

At this point we took a break, and the lawyer for the other side started gushing about babies and pregnancy and gave me advice on sleep training. It was surreal, and at the time, it felt absurd. The whole day felt like one of those dreams where you're late for the first day of school, you're trying to figure out where your next class is, but the schedule in your hands is made out of jell-o and is fading fast, and you're wearing a ballet outfit.

I don't really remember what happened next, except that I got some of the numbers mixed up and accidentally said the opposite of what I meant to say. Everyone was confused; me most of all. But after some backtracking, I somehow managed to string logical sentences together and correct myself. It was horrible, horrible, horrible having to be an "expert" about something that I had just learned the other day. Horrible. And awful. And everyone there could see just how excruciating the deposition had been for me; my face tends to get scary red in situations like this. I have no doubt that at least one person feared I was going to go into labor and had already formed a plan to call 911.

I wielded my achy, huge, embarrassed self out of that chair as soon as possible and humbly rested my head on the steering wheel in the sanctity of my car. That's when the tears came. Why had I allowed myself to do something so far outside of my true expertise? I thought this was going to be fun and interesting?!?

Days later, I found myself trapped in the elevator with the lawyer who had gotten me into the mess in the first place. I wanted to stop at the next floor and run. It was very Ally McBeal. I knew he regretted ever approaching me to do this project in the first place. How could he not, after such an unprofessional performance? So it was a surprise when he said "thank you so much for your work, you did a great job! We won!"

I laughed and asked him if he was serious. I assumed he was just trying to make me feel better. "No; in fact, I'm wondering if you can help me out on a couple of other projects." Apparently I had miraculously stumbled through the thing successfully. It was random luck.

I kindly told him that I was having a baby soon, and didn't want to start on any projects that I couldn't complete. Then I went and hid in the bathroom and cried again. Apparently I cry a lot when pregnant. And sweat profusely.

That lawyer actually called me up after I had quit, and asked if I would reconsider helping him on some cases as a part-time gig. I declined, the pain being too recent. He didn't understand how much my success depended on good ol' dumb luck. I think it came down to the bottom line; I was much cheaper than hiring an actual accountant to serve as an expert. But legal auditing and accounting are really not the same thing!

Instead, I decided to stay home with this sweet little being.

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It was an easy choice.

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Sure, I wasn't an expert at this mothering thing either, but at least she wouldn't ask me to calculate interest and appear at a deposition. At least, not for a long, long time.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My apologies to teachers everywhere.

I am sorry. I don't know why the day after Halloween isn't declared a federal holiday — or, maybe more accurately, a federal disaster.

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How you teachers are managing our sugar/nougat/chocolate/red dye #40 spiked kids today is beyond me. I can barely manage the one I have left at home. He's been in time out three times already today.

If my phone is going to ring with the school listed on the caller ID, it will be today. Don't you dread that call?

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Speaking of dreaded phone calls, I got the news yesterday morning that my husband was mandatoried and would not be coming home from work after all.

I hate that phone call. And this time it was even more brutal than normal.

All of our Halloween plans would have to be re-worked. Not only that, but I had been battling a migraine since two that morning. A bad one. And the thought of forcing myself to corral the kids to school in time with their costumes and then the parties and parades and pumpkin carving and trick or treating and general over-stimulation made me want to curl up in a ball and curse the unavailability of decent migraine medications for pregnant women.

Sigh.

Oh, and I had put off going to the store since I "knew" my husband would be home in the morning. There was no putting it off any further; there was only one diaper left and no Halloween candy. A store trip had to be worked into the already hectic morning.

The kids were so disappointed to hear dad wouldn't be home for Halloween after all. Tears were shed. Admittedly, they were mine. My youngest was so sweet, he asked me if I had an owie. I pointed to the right side of my head and he kissed it better. *Insert melty puddle of goo that was this mother's heart*

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Thankfully the kids made it to school on time, the migraine finally gave up, and by noon I was able to tackle the store and the costume parade with a two year old in tow without losing him in the crowd. Which is no small feat, by the way.

We even managed to get the candy set up outside and go trick or treating for a good hour. AND, the kids went to bed without too much fuss. I am so thankful that everything turned out okay!

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My youngest went in is older brother's best firefighter costume ever from last year. My daughter went in what can only be described as the best princess costume ever.

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Velvet robe lined with silky material and trimmed with fur, detailed long sleeved velvet dress, hoop skirt, and accessories (crown and wand).

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The price is what really puts it over the top. I found it at Marshall's for a steal at $35.00. Seriously the most impressive princess costume I've ever seen at that price.

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My kindergartner went in what they had left in his size at Target. He happened to fall in love with the dinosaur, so it all worked out.

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Before I sent them up to bed, I found the kids doing this in the living room. This is what I imagine is going on in classrooms all across the nation right now:



Again, teachers, I am so sorry!! I'll make it up to you during teacher appreciation week, I promise.

Oh, in other news, I figured out that a good portion of my remaining morning sickness is due to a sudden onset of lactose intolerance. I've cut milk out of my diet and I haven't had to take my anti-nausea medication for 4 days now! Anyone else have pregnancy-induced lactose intolerance? I don't know why it would suddenly appear, but here it is.

Now if I could just manage to remember the fact sooner than 10 minutes into my chocolate shake.

In closing, let it be known that when contemplating the great question "what to wear for Halloween", I flirted with the idea of wearing shorts. But I thought of the children and decided these legs would be way too scary, even for this holiday.

You're welcome.

This is what I suggested my firefighter wear. He declined. Maybe next year. :)

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