Thursday, December 12, 2013

Shopping with Trades of Hope: Your Purchases Can Empower

I have started a tradition with Blue, or as much tradition as one can have with a 16 month old. I keep a stash of dollars in my purse and whenever we meet a Salvation Army bell ringer at the entrance of a store, I hand him the dollar and he squeezes it into the bucket. It's a game to him, but maybe someday it will translate to generous charitable giving (admittedly, $1 may not seem "generous" but you would not believe how many times we end up going to the grocery store every week). When Blue is an adult and my accomplishments as a mother can be fully recognized, I will only feel successful if he is kind, loving, generous, useful, respectful and charitable. But that all starts with me and how I nurture those traits in him on a daily basis. And nurturing them in him on a daily basis means finding ways to nurture them within myself. How can I help? What one thing can I do everyday to make the world a better place? I look people in the eye when we are speaking. I say please and thank you and try to smile often. I look for opportunities to put our money when our values are. And that brings us to Trades of Hope.

A few weeks ago, Traci (of Arkansas but we aren't going to hold that against her, are we? Razorbacks who?) emailed me to say she was hosting an online shopping party to benefit Trades of Hope. She explained that the organization purchases products from women artisans all over the world who are simply trying to improve their circumstances. They are from Uganda and Guatemala and Nepal and Cambodia. But they are also in Costa Rica, Philippines, Peru, and even the U.S. They are women just like me, but without the opportunities and good fortune I've been blessed with my entire life. Trades of Hope has a website and founders and a mission statement, but perhaps this says it best:

We work with the artisans themselves and organizations that are helping women in difficult circumstances. Some women have been rescued from sex slavery. Others are raising handicapped children alone. Some are in war torn countries and others have aids and leprosy. These women have never had the chances we've had, yet they are just like us in so many ways. They love their families and hope and dream of a better life for them.

We are helping by marketing their products through the home party model, so they can put food on their table, a roof over their head, get medical care and an education for their children. We want to tell their stories to the world! We have a heart for ministry and business, and through this we have started separate successful non-profit organizations and businesses. Together, we have a combined 30 years of experience. This has given us the tools and drive we need to help women and make an impact on the world! As moms, we also wanted to partner with our daughters, Chelsie and Elisabeth, and teach them that women at any age can make a difference and be world changers!

I asked Traci this morning to tell us how she found Trades of Hope and what it means to her.

"I found Trades of Hope through my writer cousin's blog. I love Addie's new series, 'One Small Change' because it is filled with ideas from her readers on little ways we can make the world better. I desire to make a difference, but I am also easily overwhelmed. I have great intentions, but somehow in the chaos of daily life, I lose my way. However, I CAN do the small least 1 or 2 of them. The day this blog post came out, I ordered the Deep Aqua Layered Necklace. It is a beautiful piece (which is commonly heard from Trades of Hope shoppers) and to know that I was able to make a small difference to someone else makes it an even more precious part of my jewelry collection. For me, I have been able to witness first-hand some of the poverty of other countries through mission trips to Mexico and Nicaragua and if something as simple as buying from an organization like Trades of Hope can make life better for another mother, family, or child, why wouldn't we ALL do that? We are buying gifts anyway!"

I also asked Traci what percentage the women artisans receive from each purchase, since Trades of Hope is essentially the middle women.

When Trades of Hope works with an artisan group, that group is able to earn 3-6 times more than what their local economy could (or would) pay them. Trades of Hope places the order and then pays 50% up front so they are paid while they work. They pay the remainder upon delivery of the products. The artisan group sets the price at a fair wage, meaning they are able to provide more for their family, including food, shelter, medical care, and education. It is not a set percentage, as prices vary widely all over the world. When Trades of Hope offers a sale, it is Trades of Hope taking a hit...NOT the artisan group. The faster Trades of Hope sells their products, the faster they can return and re-order. Trades of Hope also has a program called Gifts of Hope, which you can read about here

So now that you have a little more info and maybe a bit more fire to make a difference, too, let me get you shopping. Traci's current party is open until Sunday, December 15 ( 2 days) for orders that need to arrive by Christmas. She is keeping the party open for post-Christmas orders until January 1. However, orders are shipped as they are filled, not when the party closes. If you are unable to shop Traci's party in the next few weeks, there are ample opportunities to host your own online or in-home party or order from the website 24/7.

Personally, I am buying THIS:
It's called the Journey Bracelet and I love everything about it. It measures 9" and "not for petite wrists" but, y'know...Mama doesn't have to worry about that. The scarves, jewelry, handbags, home decor, and stationary are beautiful and reasonably priced. This bracelet is $24 and having worked extensively with seed beads, I can tell you that's a steal.

Many of you have finished your Christmas shopping but if you are wrapping it up this weekend, let me send you in the direction of Trades of Hope. If not for them, then perhaps for you. Santa did say you've been awfully good this year. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Small Business Saturday: My Etsy Crushes

It's 10:40 PM on Black Friday so, technically, you still have plenty of time to read this and cash on the excellent advice during Small Business Saturday. And if you have crushes to add, please do so in the comments. Most of my Etsy shopping is for supplies so I know I'm just barely putting a scratch in the scratch of the surface of Etsy (or otherwise local) artist awesome.

OK...let's do this!

First up is Twisted Metals shop on Etsy. Based in Charlotte, NC, Twisted Metals is the home of The Original Spoon Fish Windchimes. At this point, you may be (understandably) asking yourself...what the hell is a spoon fish windchime? Let me give you a visual.
The fish are made from antique silverware, dating back to 1786! However, the entire piece is created using upcycled materials. The wooden boat is actually natural driftwood from the depths of Tennessee's lake Watauga. I purchased these singing, playful fish for Neal in celebration of our 7th wedding anniversary this year. The 7th anniversary, which is copper (although I tried like the devil to convince him it was diamonds), is a tough one for gift-giving. After sifting through dozens of customized wallet cards and men's jewelry, I decided this was the ideal gift for us. On a breezy day, the chimes are nothing short of enchanting to Blue and they add the perfect amount of whimsy to our tiny backyard oasis. Purchasing from Nevastarr was flawless and within a week, I had our very own set of original spoon fish windchimes. I think they are on to something.

Next is CanCraftsHeaven on Etsy. To understand how I discovered this amazing talent down in Puerto Rico, you first have to know that Neal's former commander in Iraq is also a director at Coca-Cola in Atlanta. In September, she retired from the Army and we were fortunate enough to be in town for her retirement ceremony. I picked this up as an add-on to her gift because she loves Coca-Cola. No, I mean she loves it . She won't eat at a restaurant that serves Pepsi products. If we are entertaining her, we call ahead to make sure they serve Coca-Cola only. And every time I stumble upon a Coca-Cola machine with the woodgrain front and the credit-card sized push buttons lined up across the top, I email her a picture. When Blue was born, she brought over a gift basket of Coca-Cola items. And it was no ordinary gift basket.
That bear is still bigger than him. So what do you get the woman who buys your newborn a bucket, a bear, a bottle, and a boatload of clothes bearing the Coca-Cola logo on them?
A Coca-Cola Army jeep ornament, of course! Yvonne took great care of me as I had this little brainstorm about a week before her ceremony. I contacted Yvonne and she promised I would have it in time. About 4 days later, I was holding this hot little beauty in my hand! Yvonne only uses recycled cans for her crafts so there may be a scratch here or a dent there, but I prefer that in my upcycled purchases. Imperfection is not the gold standard. Yvonne's prices are absolutely reasonable and she has so many designs from which to choose. And don't tell Neal's commander, but she uses Pepsi cans, too. Ssshhhhh!! She's an equal opportunity upcycler.

Our next Etsy artist helped me create the most adorable sippy cups for my favorite twins living outside of The Windy City. She specializes in Mickey Mouse designs with Disney writing. And to be very honest, she nails it. GavinandEmma on Etsy only offers 3 items: Mickey/Minnie Mouse sippy cups, Mr. and Mrs. wine glasses, and a set of shabby chic hair clips, but what she does, she does well. This is an example of the sippy cups:
I know...I just die. And, per your request, she will add a bow on Minnie's head, free of charge. The cups come in a variety of colors and you have several color choices for the name, as well. The shopowner says they are dishwasher safe, but me and my OCD tendencies would probably still hand-wash it. But not everyone is as ridiculous as I am. And here's a tiny hint: sippy cups come into play sometime around the 1st birthday, just in case you have someone on your Christmas list who fits that description.

BellaTara on Etsy is next up and they offer customized printed burlap that arrives ready to frame. I realize that Pinterest is brimming over with how-to-print-on-burlap pins, but honestly, it's worth it to me to pay the $18 and receive this in the mail a week later:
This is just one of the many designs she can print using your last name, address, wedding anniversary, or favorite phrase. I purchased this print as a housewarming gift for a dear friend. Heads up though, this print is intended for a 8 x 10 frame and trying to ship an 8 x 10 frame safely is an enormous pain in the hippocaboose. It's worth it to throw in a $10 Michael's gift card so they can buy the frame once the print arrives.

Perhaps one of my favorite Etsy artists to work with has been Cheralyn at CheralynsWoodworks out of Virginia. Last Christmas, I started craving tiny tokens to represent each duty station. We had been collecting linen dish towels with the maps of each state embroidered across the front, but I needed something for the Christmas tree. Enter Cheralyn and her woodworking studio where she made this:
 and this...
 and this...

Representing our 3 duty stations so far: Georgia, Virginia and Kentucky, with a tiny heart carved in the geographical location where we lived, I simply adore these bird's eye maple ornaments. If we hadn't returned "home" for 3 years, I would order another one this Christmas. But one Kentucky is more than enough on the Miller tree. Cheralyn is so easy to work with and is extremely accommodating. If you want to show some hometown pride this Christmas, I suggest you look her up.

There is something heartwarming about receiving a thank you card in the mail. Just a note of appreciation and perhaps a mention of how they are liking the gift I sent...that's all I ask for in this world. Likewise, it makes me a bit bananas when people (especially adults) just blow them off. Emily Post says Get thee to a stationary store and purchase some thank you cards. But stop texting, emailing or ignoring your thank yous. And perhaps you've never noticed, but people will like you more if you send thank you cards. You get invited to more things and you generally receive more stuff. Like at Christmas. Oh, speaking of which, how adorable are these thank you cards from Owlalwaysloveuprints? (She started out on Etsy but it looks like she has moved onto her own website. Way to go! Woot!)
We had 3 owls instead of 4 and I requested a mama, a daddy, and one baby. These were such a hit last year that I'm tempted to use them again this year. The file is purchased and emailed to you in a PDF format. It is then ready for you to print at your local office supply store or on your own color printer. They are postcard size but can be written on both sides. Now that is something to be thankful for!

Lastly, Kelsey at Antsy Pants on Etsy took great care of me last year as I scurried about searching for a holiday outfit for Blue. I discovered her shop and the most adorable onesie ever. This is the precious babe featured on her listing:
and this is how Blue rocked it last New Year's Eve:
(We have a rule in our house that pants are optional after 4 PM.) I crushed on this outfit so hard and for so long last December, that I'm tempted to purchase the 2T t-shirt size for this year. Not that I dress Blue to get attention from the ladies (because, let's face it, sometimes he goes out with Daddy and we don't need too much ogling of the Miller boys going on), but he got tons of compliments on these duds.

I could go on, but then everyone would know what they are getting for Christmas this year. So I'll have to feature those stores next year. I hope that your Black Friday was productive, but I hope Small Business Saturday receives the lion's share of your shopping this year. There are so many talented craftspeople and artisans out there....and not a single one of them sells their goods through Walmart.

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend, gobblers! I've eaten almost an entire pecan pie in the past 3 days. But my Fitbit says I've earned my helicopter badge, so maybe it will all even out in the end.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mid-Week Wisdom

For most of us, it's a short week. Unless you work in retail...or food service...or anywhere else that puts a higher priority on profits than personal time with family. To everyone that must work on Thanksgiving Day or at 1:01 AM on Friday morning, I'm really very sorry. I did it once, when I was in college and working at Blockbuster. (Hey kids, Blockbuster was this place where we rented actual movies in actual cases and were sometimes fined for failing to rewind. Ask your mommies and daddies about it.) There's no shortcut around it...working on a holiday that is nationally recognized sucks. But I will be doing all of my shopping on Friday online so maybe don't blame me.

Anyway, it's a short week but Neal has been tasked with extra duty this week so it still feels like a regular old Wednesday to us. Here's what I have to share this week. It's not much and it's not all that enlightening, but I'm putting together an all-star list of small businesses for Friday's post so that you can blow Small Business Saturday out of the water this year. I'll even have pictures. Who doesn't love pictures?

Moving on...
It's nearly impossible to buzzcut a toddler's hair while he's awake...even when you let him sit on his new potty chair while you work...even when you let him hold the toothpaste...even when you hand him your iPhone which is playing Curious George on a continuous loop. I don't know what they do at those little kiddie haircut places, but apparently it's worth our hard-earned money.

The only thing to be done when it's your move and these are your letters is to sing Old MacDonald. (OH! Speaking of which...Geico has a new commercial out (or, more likely, new to us) with Old MacDonald spelling "cow" and I thought Neal and I were going to pee ourselves. Yay for parenthood.)

This is a book at our the children's section. I mean that special room in the back where the preschoolers have craft time and the toddlers can find a decent selection of board books and puzzles. I was trying to keep Blue from dumping my purse on the floor so I didn't have a chance to look through it but I can't imagine a family-friendly way of explaining the horror of this epidemic.

Out of curiosity one night, I began Googling our names to see what they mean. Blue's meant brave in the face of danger and Neal's meant virile and wise (or some such ego-boosting thing that I plan on never telling him) and this is what mine means. It must be's on Urban Dictionary! And isn't that where selfie started? (which, by the way, has just made it into the United Kingdom dictionary, according to the BBC this week.) So, yes...I am such an Allyson.

Lastly, the Christmas orders have started rolling in so that means a lot of working in the kitchen while Ken Burns' Civil War loops in the background. There are 8 episodes at about an hour each and I've seen this particular series 3 times...always while whipping out Christmas orders. And every time I think, "Why does every documentary filmmaker believe that Frederick Douglas' voice must have sounded like Morgan Freeman's? I personally think Frederick Douglas was more badass than that and if he could find a good medium, he would tell us to start using Samuel L. Jackson or Jamie Foxx." 

Stay safe and dry and Happy Thanksgiving Eve Eve. May your turkey be juicy, your pie be fresh, and the family time involve a fair amount of alcohol and at least one game of Pictionary. See you on Friday!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Turkeys Welcome Here

Amendment to last post: Beth is now offering penguins, too! Yay! This just keeps getting better. 

I do not like turkey, Sam I am.

I do not like it Thanksgiving Day
I do not like it one day in May

I do not like it with a duck inside
I do not like it deep deep fried

I do not like it cooked any way
I do not like it in 4 days

I do not like turkey, Sam I am.

But I will eat the hell out of some green eggs and ham. Perhaps one day things will change. Maybe in 7 years, my affinity for the typically dried out, sleep-inducing bird will spin 180 degrees and I will begin hoarding frozen turkeys from Kroger in our deep freeze. But not today.

Today, I'm offering 3 recipes that have nothing to do with turkey but are fabulous autumn/winter recipes I discovered in my crockpot cookbook/doorstop/murder weapon of choice. They elevate the apple to an orgasmic level of deliciousness, leaving one to sympathize a bit more with poor ole hungry, horny Adam. And they all call for a crockpot, which gets used more than the central heat around here. Please let me know if you try one and what you think. And if you have one to share, please put it in the comments. I am in couples therapy with a spaghetti squash after a tofu dish disaster, but I'm open to loving other ignored winter vegetables.

"Baked" Acorn Squash (a really delicious side dish)

1 acorn squash (when cut in half, they will fit nicely in a 6 qt crock)
2/3 c cracker crumbs (I used Ritz, but I think graham crackers would be heavenly)
1/2 c coarsely chopped pecans (I ground them practically into dust in the food processor because I'm scared to death Blue is going to choke on a nut and I'm going to have to give baby Heimlich)
1/3 c butter, melted
4 Tb brown sugar (don't leave this out. Seriously.)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 Tb orange juice (the second time I made this, I didn't have orange so I used apple. To that, I say...meh...)

Ridiculously easy directions:
1. Cut stem end off of squash and then cut in half.
2. Remove seeds.
3. Combine remaining ingredients and spoon into squash halves. Place in slow cooker and cook on low for 5-6 hours, or until squash is tender.
(I usually leave it in for 8 because I forget about it and it is totally fine and totally delicious.)
Serve with entree or top with marshmallows and shovel it down your gullet while watching Polar Express.
 *I just realized there are no apples in this recipe. I'm about to make up for that.

2. Cran-Apple Chicken (pairs well with baked acorn squash and Castle)

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I used some pre-seasoned chicken but I'm sure plain would be lovely)
1 bag of fresh cranberries (or 1 cup of frozen but if you love yourself, get the fresh)
1 green apple, peeled, cored, and sliced (take the 30 seconds to peel it. Trust me.)
1 Tb brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened apple juice or cider (Redd's or Woodchuck doesn't count)

Ridiculously easy directions:
1. Place chicken in slow cooker (mine was frozen rock hard and did great on low for 8 hours)
2. Sprinkle with cranberries and apples.
3. Mix brown sugar and apple juice. Pour over chicken and fruit.
4. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
Serve over rice and pair it with some of that fancy pants bread from Panera.

And what is Thanksgiving dinner without dessert? I love the pumpkin/pecan/apple pie trinity just as much as the next girl, but this is easier and gooier. When in doubt, always go for gooier.

Apple Caramel Dessert (you're going to need some ice cream for this. Or maybe some not-yet-frosted cupcakes. But definitely not the angel food cake it calls for. Angel food cake is for nursing homes and marathoners. And this is Thanksgiving, dammit. Get the Ben & Jerry's.)

2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges (I mixed it up with some red and some green because we swing to the tarty side, but go with what you love.)
1/2 cup apple juice (leftover from above recipe. Yay! Waste not, want not.)
7 oz caramel candy (I just used the whole bag...well...the whole bag after I had it in the house for about 2 days, so minus...maybe...15 pieces? Also, I used the caramel squares but I guess Werther's has come out with baking caramel now. And to that I say, "What took you so long?")
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp cardamom (and now I have a whole bottle of cardamom that expires next year. If anyone would like to offer up some recipes using that, I would be ever so grateful)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter (I used almond butter because Neal has a self-diagnosed peanut allergy, but it turned out absolutely fine and delicious)
7 slices angel food cake (bleh. Clean up, aisle 5)
1 qt vanilla ice cream (now we're talkin'...)

Ridiculously easy directions:
1. Combine apple juice, caramel candies (after unwrapping them during episode of Scandal), vanilla, and spices. Place in slow cooker.
2. Drop peanut butter, 1 tsp at a time, into slow cooker. Stir.
3. Add apple wedges.
4. Cover. Cook on low 5 hours.
5. Stir well.
6. Cover. Then cook 1 more hour on low.
7. Serve 1/3 cup warm mixture over ice cream/gelato/Kroger brownie bites/top-less muffins...whatever.

I hope this reaches you before your Thanksgiving grocery-gettin trek to the supermarket, but if not, there's always next weekend!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Champagne Friday: A Toast to Small Business (featuring Beth's Wild Side)

Cheers! It's Champagne Friday and less than a week until Thanksgiving! Grab a glass of grog, a turkey leg, and your Monsters of Rock CD. Or...perhaps, if you're us, your flannel pjs, a mug of kahlua hot cocoa, and the last season of West Wing. Regardless...

It's Friiiiiiiiiiiiday!

So, in honor of that, let's talk shop...or, really, shopping. I've decided to feature a small business near and dear to me every Friday until Christmas. I don't want to send anyone into cardiovascular distress...but that's only 33 days away. I'm sorry...BREATHE! I won't judge you for not having started your Christmas shopping yet if you don't judge me for putting up my Christmas tree last weekend (I had a valid reason...our Big Lots pre-lit tree was no longer pre-lit so I had to de-light a 6' pre-strung tree. De-light is nothing like delight.) 

First up (because each ornament is handmade and thus she needs time to work) is Beth. Full disclosure: I've known Beth for a really long time. Like youth group lock-in long time. Like I was in the band long time. Like my parents still lunch with her parents every Sunday long time. But the reason I've known her for so long is because she is a genuine soul with a generous heart and several crafty bones. Last Christmas, she began offering knitted animals through Facebook. Being the creepy giraffe lover that I am, I ordered this guy immediately for my Blue's tree:

And, in all honesty, pictures do not do this little guy justice. 
For gifts, I also ordered a pig...
a cow...
and a badger (which I gifted as a "honey badger" because who really knows the difference anyway?)
If you need just a moment to recover from the cuteness, I will completely understand. These little darlings make perfect ornaments or toys and come with either plastic eyes (ages 3+) or embroidered eyes (for the Blue age group...the ones who see a cigarette butt in a parking lot and decide that is worth a lick). Since I don't generally let Blue play with any of the ornaments on his tree, we go with the googly eyes, but both types are cute as pig's tails. (Related: I'm very much looking forward to a less orally fixated Blue.)

For Blue's tree this year, I'm torn between all of these guys...
the horse (after his first trip to Keeneland this year)...
the zebra (one of our favorites at the Louisville Zoo)...
the lion (considering Blue is a Leo)...
and all of these guys, but leaning heavily toward the sheep and the moose...
If you would like to cast a vote in the comments section, I could certainly use the help in choosing!

Beth uses patterns from Jellybum on Etsy, but she has made some changes on a few of the designs to add detail. She also accepts custom orders for an additional $2.00 per ornament. The animals available in her shop currently include:

dog                hedgehog         hippo             crocodile
cat                 sheep                rhino              otter
rabbit            pig                    zebra              meerkat
badger           cow                  kangaroo
fox                horse                elephant
bear               goat                  tiger
wolf              donkey              lion
squirrel         moose               giraffe
raccoon         camel                monkey

Beth is also currently working up a prototype for a sewn bear that she plans to launch after Thanksgiving. And, for the Not a Knitter folks in the crowd (like this girl here), she is available to make your Pinterest Pin Now, Learn How to Knit/Crochet Later board a reality. You give her the pattern and the colors you want to use, she whipstitches it right up. (It's not whipstitch for knitting is it? I am totally sticking to jewelry terms in the future). Your cost would be for the yarn and her time. Not bad as far as turning dreams into reality goes. 

As for the the little guys listed above, they are $18 a piece and will be completed on a first come, first served basis. She can get orders submitted today and within the next couple of days completed by Christmas. 

And now for the important to reach her. To place all orders, email Beth at and she will get right back to you. 

Easy peasy. Handmade Christmas is the best Christmas! 

I hope y'all have a lovely weekend and best of luck at the grocery. Our Kroger was out of fresh cranberries, light brown sugar and cinnamon. And these are things I use in everyday cooking. It's a caffeine-soaked madhouse at there. I'll see you on the flip side!   

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Some Mid-Week Wisdom

You do not need a camel to tell you it's Wednesday, but I may be able to impart some other lessons learned the hard way during the week so far...

  • When you are overcome by the idea that your night guard has not been properly sanitized since the day your dentist made it (5 years ago) and you deem it high time to throw it in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes, be aware that it will cause it to shrink. To the point that you are never going to fit your chiclet teeth in it again. This is at least a $500 lesson learned, with zero percent covered by dental insurance. (Although I would argue that because my bite guard has cracked in 4 different places, it is actually medically necessary for me to have one to keep all of my teeth from disintegrating into dust and scar tissue.) 
  • Anything that is used daily will eventually break, fall apart, the crockpot did on Sunday night. This was an enormous blow as I use it every single day. But, like any good slow cooker, I had an extra until I could pick up a new one yesterday. That is a $35 lesson learned but priceless when it comes to group morale.
  • 16 month old babies are too young for handprint turkeys. It looks so easy on someone else's blog, but when the rubber meets the road and the paint is in the hair, mouth, diaper, and seeping into the kitchen tile grout, it becomes overwhelmingly clear. But next year we're gonna nail it! Not sure on the dollar amount on this one. We'll find out at the end of our lease, I suppose.
  • Lastly, to all of the landlords out there: the appropriate question when screening applicants is not, "Do you have a cat/dog/parakeet/sloth?" but "Do you have any children?" I mean, if you would like your rental returned in exactly the same condition, this should be your stipulation. Somewhat related: Crayola makes a box of crayons that can grow legs and leap from whatever insanely high spot you've placed them onto the floor and into the hands of a toddler who sees the world as his blank sheet of paper. I wish I could quit buying this type of crayon but they seem to have flooded the market. (This truly is the only explanation because I count those sonsofbi...silly little things to make sure they are all accounted for before putting them up...way on top of a refrigerator up. And yet...) We aren't even speculating on the price of this lesson. We just keep setting aside money each month and hope we don't have to sell a kidney or a cat when the final bill is tallied. 
This is all I have, but I feel like that's quite a bit since it's only Wednesday. Also, I've decided to start highlighting some of the small businesses I've been using lately on Fridays. I think they deserve a toast and they are mostly online so that means you can shop and sip champagne. It's a win all the way around! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nothing Says Thanksgiving Like Cricut Crafts

In all of my nappinning time (yes, napping while pinning...I'm totally going to trademark it), I discovered a cute Thanksgiving craft. It's a rare event that I already own all of the pieces and parts that a Pinterest craft requires. But in this case, all I needed was a couple sheets of scrapbook paper, which just happened to be on sale a few weeks ago. It was a sign (specifically, a sign that read 40% off. I believe that God speaks to me through sales and clearance tags). So I gobbed up a couple sheets of autumn plaid and some matching mustardy colors and went at it. The first chore was to dust off the ole Cricut, plug her in and make sure she still knew how to slice, dice, and spit it back out.

And that went fairly well.

So next I needed to print the letters THANKS in about 2 3/4" size on the plaid and again in 3" on the mustard paper. Lastly, I adhered them to the galvanized buckets I purchased from IKEA last year for my nautical-themed baby shower. These things are found in the "gardening" section, are ridiculously cheap, and can be used all throughout the year for a variety of decorating needs. Worth every deutschmark.

And this is the finished product:
The buckets are filled with fabric leaves repurposed from that one time I was supposed to get married in October. It just so happens that "MERRY" has one less letter (meaning it will fit in the space better) so as soon as we kick the in-laws to the curb and box up the leftovers, I'm changing it out.

I hope everyone had a more relaxing, less secretion-filled weekend than we did. Blue threw up his entire breakfast both mornings (we now suspect either the yogurt or the banana is to blame) and then learned how to stand in the bathtub and pee at will. Consequently, he also learned that, sometimes, with a little #1, comes some #2. Never. A. Dull. Moment. And we stayed entirely too sober through the entire thing. Next weekend...more champagne, less fluids.

And what did YOU do this weekend? Put up a tree? Play in the rain? Run from tornadoes?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Champagne Friday

I let the idea of Champagne Friday sort of drift away because, for a time, I wasn't drinking any actual Champagne on Friday (because, to be very honest, it was giving me more of the busthead on Saturday morning than I cared to have with a 14 month old sprinting about at 6:45 AM). And it felt sort of fraudulent. But then I decided it's like explaining Santa. It's more about the spirit of the thing than the physical presence. I guess that analogy works for God, too. Look! I worked Champagne, God, and Santa into my very first paragraph! Happy Champagne Friday, indeed!

But let's toast to God and Santa and kick off the weekend with some pictures...before Dropbox decides I've used too much storage and randomly begins deleting things.

This is Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen...a law firm in the city where we used to live in Virginia. And the butt of so many jokes between us and our visitors that I feel like I owe them a little free publicity. In reality, there are like 12 Allens, at least according to their website. I see why you would have to stop at 4.

Around the middle of September, Neal's co-worker announced that she was having a camp-out at the local KOA to celebrate her son's birthday. They were getting a cabin, but we were going to introduce Blue to campfires, tents, and sleeping bags. Every air mattress we own has a hole in it, so Neal whipped out his Army-issue sleeping pad. Promising a full night's sleep, worthy of any mattress containing air or otherwise, he said I should give it a test run. So, this is me, test driving his sleeping pad one night. And also his Army socks. Because our bedroom is the coldest room in the house. For the record: sleep pad totally rocks and I give it extra Super Mario points for being self-inflatable. I prefer to keep my hot air to myself. Also, Blue scored a class A ear infection from the 90 minutes/day of daycare he was attending so we missed the campout. And my birthday. And Big Mama's birthday. We're done with least until the manufacturer calls to tell me the bubble is finished and ready for delivery.

Lastly, this Budweiser truck pulled up next to us at a stoplight on the main drag of our little town a few weeks back. The sticker on the back says 
                                                                  SOUND HORN
                                                                  I'LL PULL OVER
And my question is this: to do...what? Can I blow my horn at any Budweiser truck and it will pull over and sell me a case? And is that cheaper than picking it up at Liquor Barn because I'm going right to the source, eliminating the middle man? And is there a limit to how many cases I can buy right off the truck? These are important questions that need answers....hopefully before I encounter another one. And can I do that for the Sutter Home truck, too?

One more update on the post about Realtor Janet wrapped in a flag. I saw another sign this morning. She's now wearing a blazer. Good call, Janet. It's too cold for nothing but a drape right now, anyway.

Happy Champagne Friday, regardless of what you're drinking. Bubbles, bourbon or...Budweiser...!

That is so pinteresting...

Up until about 3 weeks ago, I had all of the time in this world and the next to pin, pin, pin my heart and brains out. Blue was napping about 2 hours a our bed...and more specifically, in my left arm. Have iPhone, will be silently productive. But our desire to get him out of our bed during the overnight hours, coupled with my desire to wear a wardrobe that I already own, brought all of that to a screeching halt. Now, he naps in his crib and I sweat my ass off to the tune of 2 miles a day on our elliptical. And watch The Glades. Have you seen this show? It's canceled now, but you can get the first 3 juicy episodes on Netflix streaming. Excellent distraction while you're ellipticaling. Ellipticizing. Ellipticalcizing. Whatever.

I now wallow in my pindiction between the hours of 11:45 PM and 11:55 PM. And sometimes while Neal is putting Blue to bed. But during the napping heydays, I managed to snag this little gem from Recipe BACON CINNAMON ROLLS.

I'll let that permeate for a second.

Bacon INSIDE the cinnamon rolls. I'll give you another second to clean yourself off, however you see fit. So, here's the source of the original pin, with the ingredients list, instructions, and handy dandy tips. You will need to go here to get all of your information as all I have for you is an after picture. But it will inspire you to swing through Kroger on your way home, I promise.

One for me, one for Neal, and one for Mama Virgo...which she shared, somewhat begrudgingly, with Blue. And no, I'm not a coffee snob, but I really do use a French Press every morning, because it's easier than working a coffee pot before I've ingested any actual coffee. So, yes...boys and girls...pig + flaky crust + melty cream cheese = a chorus of angels in your very own kitchen. I've got my eye on some Nutella cookies for next week.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

But It's So Slimming

Please forgive me if I end sentences with dangling participles or start a sentence with the word "and"...oh wait...that's pretty common around these parts...anyway, we are watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as I type this. And we're kind of under the gun to watch it tonight as it's already 1 day overdue to the library. Which brings our total tab to $1 even. We really can't live much more dangerously than that. But I just had to share realtor's advertisement that I've been seeing around town. I get that it's a military community and any way that you can show your patriotism is a star in your crown, but...I'm pretty sure there's a better way. Like giving discounts to military families and baking a pie. Actually, I'll take a pie over a discount any day of the week. But this is not what I had in mind...

Oh Janet. Janet...Janet...Janet...thou shalt not don the stars and stripes as if you were posing for your sorority composite photo. In fact, published a list of American flag do's and don'ts around the 4th of July this year. Don'ts included: burning it, letting it touch the floor or otherwise storing it in a dirty location, flying it at night without illumination and...yes...wearing it. Maybe it just so happens that you own a shirt that looks exactly like you are draped in our stars and bars but maybe you also just dropped it from the flag pole for 5 minutes. Either way, Miss America you are not...nor Lady perhaps just put on a blazer like the rest of us.

Rant over. Tomorrow I'll show you how we rolled bacon into our cinnamon roles and had a big ole culinary orgasm right there at the breakfast table.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Weekend Spelled Out in Dollar Signs

A little backstory to how we became so tragically poor over the weekend...

We own a 2009 Prius, which we adore and would name, if we could ever decide on an appropriate name for such an efficient beast. She is not particularly fast, but she is a ninja...or a SEAL. We have, many times, accidentally sneaked up on cyclists, runners, and the occasional golf cart. She has been good to us and we've been been appreciative to her in the form of regular oil changes at reputable places (like dealerships...until recently, when we switched over to places where a guy in a hole in the floor appears out of the darkness to change oil and filters in 13.7 minutes flat) and detailed car washes. One time she got a flat tire, through no fault of her own and once she lit up the entire dash with every single caution light installed...and when you're talking about a hybrid, it can start to look like the Vegas strip. But, as it turned out, that was a recall issue and we were back on the road to a loving relationship in less than a day.

Fast forward to about 3 weeks ago when, on the way to the public library's book sale, the check engine light came on. Mistaking it for the check oil light, I pulled into our local guy-in-the-pit place to have them take a look. They changed the oil, realized it was the check engine, ran the electrical for "codes", found nothing and cleared the check engine light. I paid my bill, thanked them for...whatever...and called the dealership in Louisville, who informed me that a light always means something but since it had been cleared, all of the information associated with the light had been erased and I would just have to wait for it to come back on.

Fast forward to last Thursday during my mad dash to make it to my hair stylist on time (which, admittedly, is my only real appointment of the month so I feel extra pressure to arrive in a timely fashion). The light came back on. Schnitzel. Seriously?? Of all the nights and all the weeks, when I had to be in Louisville with Blue the next day and then another trip to Louisville on Saturday. Really?? So after my cut, color, style, and obligatory post-salon selfie, I met Neal and Blue at the local dealership to drop off our pretty little Prius. Related: it had to be a dealership because, apparently, Toyota has been tight-fisted with the how-to-work-on-a-hybrid side of things, leaving non-Toyota mechanics in the dark about how to do anything but a routine service or oil change. Awesome. Did you know that Toyota won't accept our Firestone (6 months, no interest) credit card for payment at their dealership? And then we waited for the call.

Hello? This is Bob at Toyota. We figured out what's wrong with your car. The auxiliary battery is dying. That's about $50 in parts but we have to take out your entire trunk to get to it, so that adds some. Also, your catalytic converter is going out. That's going to be pricey. All said, it will be $2404.

Sorry, Blue. You can't go to college. We had to fix the exhaust system on our french fry oil burner. How ironic.

But, figuring the longer we waited to fix it, the more it would destroy in the meantime, we handed over the AmEx and silently calculated how many free nights in a Doubletree Suites that would score us...when we can eventually go on vacation again in 2017. Our pretty little Prius now gets 49.5 miles to the gallon...up 6 mpg from last week. I'm not sure how long it will take us to recoup $2400 in gas but I'm thinking we'll be even before the next Presidential election.

On a related note, as I was calling around to get quotes from other mechanics we know (and also my mom because, while she is not a mechanic nor does she play one on TV, she also has a Prius and sometimes knows the answer before I even ask the question), one guy said, "oh that's the part they've been cutting out and selling online." Ummm...OK.

So, YES...this is apparently a thing. In my hometown, they've had a rash of catalytic converter thefts, mainly from SUVs (because they sit up higher, making it easier to get under and get out without being noticed) and mainly in large parking lots where people tend to stay for awhile (hospitals, Walmart) since the part has to cool before it can be cut and stolen all thug-like. The catalytic converters have platinum in them, obviously making them valuable. Even my wedding bands don't have platinum (which is fortunate, lest someone see some value in them and cut off my finger while I'm napping in my car in a Walmart parking lot). So, a word to the wise: a catalytic converter is necessary and expensive. If you see someone worming their way out from under your bumper, chase them like a dog and scream like Publisher's Clearinghouse is standing on your porch. Unless you have a Prius, which they can't get under anyway. Even Blue has trouble. And then you'll just have to wait until it goes out on its own.

Update: In an ironic twist of fate, we had a CD come due on Saturday morning so we are not as poor as we originally thought. But if the Pathfinder pulls any funny business, we'll have to put Blue on a paper route. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The New Definition of Fun

September 22 was our 7 year wedding anniversary. Honestly, I've never done anything for 7 years, so this was kind of a big deal for me. Last year to celebrate our 6th, Shana graciously agreed to watch Blue for a couple of hours while we went out for sushi. But Blue was less than a month old and all I could think and talk about was...well...Blue. (I'm now going to refrain from referencing an episode of Dinosaur Train because a) I still remember a time when I referenced 30 Rock and b) I don't want to come across as a mom who co-parents with PBS...although it does happen on occasion.) So, sushi was great, but it was now time for something a bit more...something that involved a hotel room and room service and hours of uninterrupted HGTV.

21C is a museum hotel located on Main Street in downtown Louisville. It easy to spot...just keep one eye open for a giant golden statue of David and then look down. Sitting at the bar inside 21C gives you a lovely view of brilliant bronzed buttcrack. Here...let me give you a visual...
OK, now that we are all on the same leaf...and 21C has a whimsical, eye-catching limo parked right outside the door.
If you are saying to yourself, "Self...that looks an awful lot like a car covered in those floral beads my grandmother would put in a vase with an array of fake flowers," you would be spot-on. The entire car has been bedazzled. It's a little bit bewildering and befuddling, but mostly just beautiful...I mean, if conspicuous is how you roll. The night we were there, the bling machine was making its rounds with one very lucky bride.

The weekend Shana visited for Blue's first birthday, we stopped in for a quick browse of 21C's art collection, which is free to the public and open 24 hours a day. Apparently, it also rotates with art among the other 2 21C hotels, located in Cincinnati and Bentonville, Arkansas. Yes, I said Bentonville. Are you paying attention, Tami? Traci? Belinda? And most importantly...husbands? Blue had just learned to walk so Neal had his hands full while Shana and I perused the gallery. I briefly mentioned wanting to spend a night there and off we went, to dinner or the Slugger Museum or whatever was next on the agenda.

One week later, I got an email saying that we had one night with the Got Art? package at 21C. Happy Anniversary! Indeed. We made arrangements with Big Mama and Nana Anna to watch Blue for the night (which, for the record, was going to be a first and I think the only person not nervous about the evening was Blue) and booked the glassblowing session included in the package.

Last Saturday, after a dizzying 2 hours at the family-run pumpkin patch, we dropped off Blue, threw Big Mama a couple of deuces, and hit the road. And we waited for the call begging us to come back. It never came. This is a testament not only to Blue's resiliency, but also Big Mama's and Nana Anna's resolve. I give them a lot of credit for saying, "OK, we got this. You kids go have fun." But as Neal put it so succinctly later in the evening (and after a flight of bourbon), we were not coming back. Under any circumstances. They would learn what it was to be grandmothers. Fortunately, we had already met our quota of ER visits earlier in the month so it had to go smoothly.

A quick check-in to our 2nd floor loft-like room (with 2 windows that looked directly out onto Main Street, where we later saw a horse-drawn carriage lit to look like Cinderella's ride and a traveling bar that was propelled by the participants pedaling while they drank...WHAT? Shana, we are so doing that next time)...

(yes, that a freakishly large cup of iced coffee from Wendy's. Small = 3 liters at Wendy's. No one should drink that much iced coffee. Ever.)

And it was time to stroll around the corner to our glassblowing session at Flame Run Gallery on Market Street. This was such a treat that I'm going to dedicate a separate post to reviewing the adventure, but this is how we blow...

Those are Christmas ornaments that I'll be picking up this week. Squee!

Glassblowing ended around 5:30 and our dinner reservations weren't until 8:30. What to do for 3 hours?? Oh wait. Drink. Yeah, that sounds right. So back to 21C we headed...straight to the bar inside Proof on Main, the restaurant at 21C (which is a great foodie spot in its own right, even if you pass on the glass and the room service and the unlimited HGTV).

First order of business, the drink menu.
Now, Neal will tell you that finding a bar that serves brands of bourbon beyond Maker's, Jim Beam, and Woodford is rare. Finding a bar that serves brands Neal has never heard of is practically...well, unheard of. In the 8 years we've been together, it has never happened. 21C boasts an impressive selection of 50 bourbons, some of which are included in their bourbon flights. Neal chose a flight, added a shot of Buffalo Trace "White Dog" (uncut bourbon, straight off the still) for $3 and called it done. I, unable to sip any kind of bourbon without a heavy pour of soda soaking through it, ordered a glass of malbec (which is really me just trying to figure out which malbec we had at this jazz club last month. It was amazing and I can't find it again.)
Bottoms up, Mr. Miller. Your bride is waiting. There is a post-White Dog shot that is pretty priceless, but we're going to wait until after he retires to post that one. So, after a flight of bourbon, a glass of wine, another glass of bourbon, and a glass of Prosecco, we headed down to the art gallery to peruse at our leisure (pronounced "le-shure" because that's approximately how intoxicated we were).

And now for some 21C art. Not suitable for viewing with 5th grade boys or any men with whom you may share a cubicle wall.

Huh...I was thinking I had photographed more of the full-frontal nudity but maybe I didn't want to have to explain to Blue later why that was on Mama's computer. Anyway, there is a fair amount of nudity/bondage/woodland creatures in this particular exhibit. But there is also this enormous funnel cloud suspended from the ceiling, created using all of the household items that get swept up into a tornado when it passes through. From the floor, it looks like a bunch of metal soldered together, but a closer look reveals that it's a toaster and a frying pan and a hair dryer and a photo album, etc, etc. This alone is worth the trip. There are a couple of pieces commenting on our involvement in the Middle East and a video of a man, who lost his hands during a drug ring bust in Mexico, washing his face. It's exactly the way I like my art...symbolic and ironic with a dose of bizarre.

There are also giant penguins. The bright red water fowel are a staple at 21C and they tend to migrate throughout the day. (Understandably so...they are astonishingly lightweight.) It is said that the staff moves them about, from one floor to another and sometimes into guests' rooms. We found this guy chilling in the gallery.
He looked bored. He looked like he needed a change of scenery. So, balancing an empty champagne glass in one hand and a giant red penguin in the other, I rose to Neal's triple dog dare and carried him off.

Well, to the other side of the wall. Because 2 glasses of wine will loosen my inhibitions, but not make me forget that the next morning I had to wake up, outside of a jail cell, and be a responsible adult and parent. I'm glad I had my 20's. I don't remember them, but I'm glad I had them. Because this is now the extent of my lawlessness.

All of this and we still had 90 minutes to waste before dinner. Neal has started geocaching through an app on his phone. He usually remembers to stop and look for caches whenever we are out and about. As it turned out, there was a cache in the hotel. In the men's restroom, to be exact. The urinal is a giant waterfall with a 1-way mirror looking out into the hallway of the hotel. Women will catch a glimpse of the mirror, stop to adjust hair and makeup and be none the wiser that a man is just on the other side with flesh in hand, and would be peeing on her shoes were it not for the glass.
I said, "act like you're peeing" and this is what I get. All class, all the time. 
The exact words were, "this is the first time I've ever wished I had a penis. How fun is this?"
I seeeeeee youuuuuuuu, random woman in the hallway! I'm shaking my imaginary penis at you. But just once or twice...because three times and you're playing with it. (See? I could be a guy. Can I get an honorary card?)

Now it was time to go change for dinner, do the hair, the makeup, the exchange of gifts, and be on our way. Do we know how to kill 3 hours or what? Dinner was at Vincenzo's, which I will review later. On the way back, we saw 2 bats nested on the Humana building columns and several horse-drawn carriages, but nothing could draw us away from the promise of cable and a comfortable bed with just the 2 of us in it. We fell asleep to the hum and lights of HGTV and yet another episode of House Hunters.

Our Got Art? package included a voucher for breakfast the next morning at Proof on Main. One bagel and lox and an eggs benedict later, we were ready to face the day... was this guy, who looks a little like he's been lured into Hotel California.
Y'know what they say, little can check in, but...
The view of David from the bar at Proof. Never far from a huge chunk of...abs.
Since we were not the main characters of an Eagles song, all good things must come to an end. Neal checked out as I cruised the gift shop. Part of our package was a $30 voucher to spend in the store. All I needed was a tween-sized blue meerkat to help me make the decision. Oh...wait...
We opted to bring a little bit of the art and whimsy home with us. Better than Elf on the Shelf, all I have to do is place this little guy in unexpected places to get a chuckle out of Neal. It's the best running gag ever. Now we just have to pray the movers don't break it.

If you are in the Louisville, Cincy or Bentonville area (and they are adding a 4th location in Lexington, KY soon), I all-caps, underscore four times RECOMMEND 21C for a night or 2 or 5. The staff is helpful and friendly, the beds are soft, the decor is unexpected, and there is an espresso maker in the rooms. There are ways to incorporate art and fun into everyday life and 21C has mastered them.