Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thanks for the Memories

Happy New Year's Eve!  This past year has been such an odd whirlwind.  I'm tired.  When I look back at the last year it gives me the exhaustion.

At the start of 2014, I saw something on pinterest about keeping a yearly memory jar.  I loved the idea and put this jar on our mail credenza with a little tag that at one time read "2014 Memories."  Most of the writing has rubbed off because my dog keeps putting his nose on the tag.

Throughout the year whenever something fun or weird or terrible would happen, my husband or I would write it down on a little scrap of paper and throw it into the jar.  It was fun watching the jar fill up with these concealed moments of time.

Tomorrow we are going to open the jar up and read through all of the memories.  I'm hoping it will bring up a lot of "Oh yeah, I totally forgot that had happened!"  There are so many little things that happen in a year that seem really funny at the time but then you never think of them again.  I am excited to have this time capsule each year to remind us of the good times and bad.

I hope that everyone has a happy beginning of 2015.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Curse of the Bodum French Press

My apologies for being so tardy in announcing my giveaway winner.  Our house has been hit with a sickness.  I love little babies, but I hate their germs.  Anyhow, congratulations to Anne B. who won the clutch purse.  Anne, I'll have it in the mail to you soon.

And now, a Christmas tale.

A few Christmases ago, I ordered a bunch of stuff from Crate and Barrel for Christmas gifts.  This huge box came filled with Christmas goodies.  Being that it was a few weeks before Christmas, I stored the box in a corner unopened.  That is online shopping mistake #1.  When you order something online, always, always, always open the box straight away.  You always want to check and make sure that you have the correct item or that the items aren't broken.

About a week before Christmas, I set out to wrap all of my gifts.  I opened the huge Crate and Barrel box and started pulling out a bunch of gifts.  I got to the bottom of the box and noticed two items that I hadn't ordered.  They were two Bodum french presses.

I was very confused as everything that I had purchased was already taken out of the box.  What were these extra french presses doing in there?  Also, I don't drink a lick of coffee.  I absolutely loathe the stuff so I had no need of a fancy coffee maker.  I immediately called Crate and Barrel.  The conversation with customer service went something like this:

Me: My order number is XXX.  I received everything in my order but also was sent two Bodum french presses that I do not want.
Customer Service: Let me look up your order.  No, there is nothing listed in your order that says you were sent a french press.
Me: Okay.  Except I just opened the box and there were two french presses in the box.
Customer Service: Really?  Are you sure they were in the same box?
Me: Uh…yes…I didn't take them out of another large Crate and Barrel box.
Customer Service: We have no record of sending them to you.
Me: Okay, well I have two of them that you sent me.  Is there a way that I can return them?
Customer Service: You can ship them back to us.
Me: I don't want to pay shipping for two items that I never ordered.  Can you have UPS do a pickup?
Customer Service: No, you will have to pay to send them back.  We will expect to receive them in 5 business days.
Me: What if I don't send them back?
Customer Service: Okay, that's fine too.  But if you didn't pay for them then you can't keep them.
Me: Okay so do you want to pick them up from me?  I just don't think I should have to pay to send them back to you when I never ordered them in the first place.
Customer Service: Well you can either not send them back and keep something you didn't pay for or you can send them back to us.

Leave it to Crate and Barrel's customer service to put me in a moral dilemma.  Do I unwittingly steal the french presses simply because I'm too lazy and cheap to send them back?  The answer to that question is yes.

I never sent them back and always felt bad.  One I gave away as a gift and the other I kept in my apartment because I had no other way of making coffee, and Mike liked to drink coffee.  I think he used it 3 times.  Now we have this french press box in our pantry cupboard that causes me a pang of guilt when I see it sitting there.

Fast forward to last week when I ordered a gift for my niece from Amazon.  I used our Amazon Prime account (which BTW, Amazon Prime sucks) and two days later this rather small box came to our door. I knew it had to be the aforementioned gift because I had not ordered anything else, but the box was so small.  I quickly opened it up because I no longer violate online shopping mistake #1 and gasped as I saw a Bodum French Press staring back at me.  It was like Bob Marley had come for me.

This had to be some sick joke.  I emailed with amazon's customer service and explained the mix-up.  They told me they were very sorry and would send me the item I ordered immediately.

"Okay, thank you," I wrote, "but what do I do with the french press?"

"You can ship it back to us," was their reply.

I still haven't decided what to do.  I definitely don't want another french press giving me guilt from the kitchen cupboards, but I also don't think that I should have to pay to ship something back to a retailer that I did not want in the first place.

What are the odds, though, that this would happen to a person more than once?  I understand that wrong items are shipped all the time, but the SAME wrong item?  This is a Christmas tradition that I could definitely do without.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Reflections of China

I'm coming to an end of my reviews of Epcot Center's attractions.  The only attractions I have left to review are movies.  Movies are a necessary evil at the WDW.  As Billy Bob Thornton tells the kid Thurman Murmon in Bad Santa when he replaces his advent calendar chocolate with a candy corn and Advil, "They can't all be winners."

So, hear me out.  Movies at Epcot Center are fine.  They aren't great, but they get you out of the sun and into the air conditioning and are usually visually beautiful.  But your kids probably don't want to sit through them.  Bribe them with a little bit of candy and you will be fine.

Reflections of China is the movie that plays in the 360 degree theatre in the China pavilion.  As I said above, the movie is fine.  It is visually stunning and the fact that you are immersed in the film because it's playing on all sides of you is entertaining.  The movie is a bit long, though.  And also outdated.  They updated the film in 2003, so almost 12 years have past.  It might be time for another update.

It's hard to judge the movies harshly because I don't think the film is bad.  It just is not what you and your kids are at Disney for, right?  But part of the World Showcase is learning about cultures, and so I think it is a good thing to expose your kids too.

If you don't see the movie, definitely venture back into the China pavilion.  Out of all the pavilions, I believe the China one has the best stores and restaurants.  Most of the stores have traditional candy and snack items from the country they are representing.  The snack section in the Chinese pavilion is huge and filled with lots of interesting treats.  It is definitely fun for a browse.  Plus they have really beautiful gardens and peaceful waterways in the back so it is worth the stroll.

I'm going to give Reflections of China 3/5 stars.  But the pavilion I will give 5/5 stars.

Monday, December 8, 2014

2014 Reading List

This year was a pretty good one for reading considering I had a baby in April.  If I had a nickel for every time someone told me I could forget about ever reading again after I had a baby, I'd be a rich woman.  I still read every night before I go to bed.  And when I first had Brigid, I actually read more because I would often read to her.  Since she had no idea what I was reading to her, I just decided to read her the books that I was reading.  Worked like a charm.

Here are the books that I read this year:

  1. The Bonfire of the Vanities (started in 2013)
  2. The Sleepeasy Solution
  3. Bringing Up Bebe
  4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  5. The Happiest Baby on the Block
  6. Out of Order
  7. The Black Dahlia
  8. Allegiant
  9. The Oath
  10. Scaredy Dog
  11. Atonement
  12. Crazy Rich Asians
  13. The Geography of Bliss
  14. Veronika Decides to Die
  15. Life After Life
  16. Iron Curtain
  17. A Clash of Kings
  18. Zeitoun
  19. A Visit From the Goon Squad
  20. The Light Between Oceans
  21. Simplicity Parenting
  22. The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl (currently reading, but probably won't finish by end of year)
When I go through this list, I realize that I read some clunkers this year.  None of the books were the worst book I ever read, but some of them were pretty boring.  And none of them were great.  

Favorite Book: The Black Dahlia.  Although this was a hard one to pick.  I read The Black Dahlia fast and was really engrossed in the story.  One weird thing about reading this book was that I was about 3/4 of the way finished when I told my husband that I was reading this really great book.  He answered, "I'm reading a good book now too."  Then we realized that we were reading the exact same book.  We don't have the same taste in books at all, so this was super bizarre.

Worst Book: Out of Order.  I'm picking this one as the worst simply because it was so surprisingly bad.  Out of Order was written by Sandra Day O'Connor and is about the history of The Supreme Court.  It was the most boring book I have ever read.  No sense of humor, no good anecdotes.  Some other stinkers on my list are Allegiant, Iron Curtain, and Life After Life.  The book Life After Life got great reviews, but I didn't get it.  I would actually read it again, though.  The plot gets really confusing if you aren't paying close attention, and I read this while I was sleep deprived and pumping milk alone in the dark at 2:00 a.m.  I think it is definitely worth another read but for this first read-through it is on my worst list.

Best Parenting Book: The Sleepeasy Solution.  If you want a good book on how to get your baby to sleep, it is this book.  It is not preachy.  It is simply filled with valuable information about the science of sleep and why we need to take the time to teach babies how to sleep.  I really loved this book and often refer back to it when I have a question about my daughter's sleeping.  

I love to hear what other people are reading.  Let me know what your best and worst books of the year were.  I love to know what I'm missing out on or what I should skip.  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Trunk Show & A Giveaway

A few days ago I had my very first Stella & Dot trunk show.  The afternoon was so much fun, and I was excited to show off all of the beautiful items that you can get from Stella & Dot.  You can still shop my trunk show at:

Here were some of my favorite items from the show.
I loved these two together.  This is the Somervell necklace in silver and the Rory necklace in black.  Normally I prefer a little bit of color in my jewelry, but these two dark pieces looked so sharp when paired together.  
I have always loved the Stella & Dot Pegasus necklace.  That was the first piece that I remember seeing at a trunk show and it got me hooked from day one.  It's a showstopper in person.
These bright pops of color had me thinking about spring.  The green necklace is the Linden necklace and the red and gold is the Coral Cay necklace.  Both would be so much fun to wear on a beach trip this winter…if there were a beach trip this winter.  
Here's a tray of lots of baubles.  Stella & Dot jewelry is not only adorable, but it is affordable too.  The average price of our pieces is $50.

I couldn't leave out the bags and other accessories.  I actually have multiple bags and love them all.  Some I use for work, some I use for going out.  The colors are so bright, and I always get compliments from other people. 

I am so excited to be starting this new business for myself.  And since it is the holiday season, I wanted to do something extra special and fun on the blog.  My first giveaway!  

That's right, starting today through Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. central standard time you can enter to win an Avalon Bracelet Clutch in Midnight Black.  Here's the beautiful clutch.

All you have to do is visit my trunk show at and leave a comment on the blog telling me your favorite piece.  For additional entries, anyone who books a trunk show in the months of January or February 2015 will get three additional entries into the drawing.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
I will announce the winner on my blog on Thursday morning.  Thanks to everyone for checking out my trunk show.  Send me a message if you have questions about Stella & Dot!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Maybe You Should Remove the Bin

I used to walk by this sign everyday at my former workplace.  I never understood it.  I'm sure there is a reason why there is an empty mail bin in that spot, but if so many people are throwing their mail in the bin that you need a sign to tell them to stop doing it…isn't the logical thing to just remove the bin?

Also, this seems like an overzealous use of the word WARNING!  What exactly would happen if you were dumb enough to drop your mail in this bin?  I always wanted to test it.  Would you be yelled at?  Would a piano drop on your head?  Would you be taken to jail?  Or would your mail just be stolen?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thai Cashew Snack

I have been to pretty much every Thai restaurant in the Twin Cities area.  I have also been to many Thai restaurants around the country.  My favorite Thai restaurant is Supatra's on Seventh Street in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The restaurant is light and clean.  The staff is friendly and fun.  The food is fresh, spicy, and delicious.  I cannot impress upon you enough that if you are in St. Paul and craving Thai food, go to Supatra's!

When I go out for Thai food, I always have to get an appetizer.  Supatra's has great appetizers.  Some of the best are the Spring Rolls or the Stuffed Chicken Wings.  On their appetizer menu is one very simple dish that is perfect if you want an appetizer that is not going to fill you up too much.  I am referring to their Thai Cashew Snack.

After having this dish a few times, Mike and I decided to try it at home.  The recipe is simple (although not as good as Supatra's).  All you need are a handful or two of cashews, some fresh basil, cooking oil, and sea salt.  Here's what you do:

1. Get a frying pan nice and hot on the stove.  Then pour some (about a tablespoon) cooking oil into the pan.  Don't use Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  I recently took a cooking class and learned that you should not cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  I know that everyone cooks with it, but when you heat Extra Virgin Olive Oil you cook out all of the good nutrients and actually make it worse for you than vegetable oil or canola oil.  Here's a rule of thumb, the more expensive the oil the less heat you put on it.  Rant over.

2.  Once the oil is heated, throw in your desired amount of unsalted cashews.  Normally I use a couple of handfuls for a tablespoon of oil.  Actually I use three handfuls for 1 tablespoon, but I have tiny, clown like hands.  So for regular hands it's probably 2 handfuls.

3.  After the cashews are getting nice and brown and covered in oil, sprinkle in some sea salt.  If you are using salted cashews then you can skip this step.  Do not over salt your nuts.  Normally I use about 1/2 teaspoon and then taste to see if I want to add more.  Remember you can always add, but never subtract.

4.  At the very end, take a few handfuls of fresh basil leaves and tear them into small pieces.  Throw them into the hot pan with the cashews.  Toss them around and get them coated in some of the excess oils.  You don't want to overcook the basil, but you want it to fry up a little bit.

5.  Once the basil is starting to fry, but not turning black.  Take the nuts off of the heat and serve them warm and toasty.  *If you are my husband this is where you pour cayenne pepper all over everything.  But I'd skip that step unless you need your food spicy.

This is such a simple snack to make for yourself at home.  I've tried making the nuts ahead of time and then keeping them in the refrigerator, but they don't turn out as well.  This dish is best prepared fresh and served hot.

If you want the real thing, head over to Supatra's!    

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Flume Gorge

The Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire, is not something that I ever would have thought to go and see.  When I was planning a trip to New England during the fall time, however, a co-worker had just been on this same trip the year before.  The one thing she suggested to me was a trip to The Flume Gorge.  

It's actually difficult to find a lot of information on The Flume Gorge other than it is a big ravine with waterfalls.  I looked in three different guidebooks and all they gave the ol' Flume was a small paragraph.  It would easily be overlooked if you are planning a trip to New England.  But let me tell you, friends, do not miss The Flume Gorge!  It is nature at its finest.

Here's my first piece of advice.  The Flume Gorge is difficult to locate.  I had it mapped out, but essentially you are driving through a huge national forest and there are not that many signs saying turn here for The Flume.  Plus there is no navigational service.  We had two phone navigational services and a Garmin and none could get service.  Luckily we had a paper map, but even that didn't have a good location for The Flume.  So, follow the tour buses.  We drove past the entrance to The Flume, but noticed a few tour buses turning at this unmarked road.  We turned around and on the other side was a sign for the entrance.  We probably would have missed it had we not turned around!

Right off the bat The Flume had me falling in love with this cute sign.  I love a good pun.  
 In order to see The Flume in all of its glory, you do need to do some hiking.  It's not a difficult hike.  There is a pretty clear trail and much of it is boarded so you aren't just walking in the dirt.  You are walking a lot of the way through the glorious Franconia Notch park.  In the fall the sites are breathtaking.  Here's my favorite covered bridge.  It looks so picturesque with the leaves.

The Flume starts off with some slow rivers of water coming down large rocks.  One thing that really struck me about this hike was the sounds.  You know that beautiful sound of running brook water that you get on a sound machine.  Well, The Flume is that exact sound only live.  It's almost haunting listening to the water get louder and quicker as you get to the top of the Flume.

 I loved how the above picture turned out.  You can see the water rushing down the rocks.  When I look at this picture I can hear the sound and smell the clean air.  That was another beautiful thing, you could smell the fresh water in the air.  Is that weird?

What wasn't so great was the littering I found in the stream!  Listen peeps, when you visit a state or national park please don't litter.  Please.  It's so gross.  Let's allow these beautiful natural monuments live on forever by keeping them clean.  PSA over.
 Once you get to the ravine, you do have to climb some steps, but I promise you the hike was manageable.  You can stop at anytime to take pictures or just take a rest.  The views are mesmerizing.  You get to watch the water rush down this huge cliff.  You feel like you are part of the action.

 The above photo is the top of The Flume.  It's amazing how such a small beginning can turn into this huge waterfall and stream.  Nature truly is wonderful.

After you see The Flume, you hike back to the starting point.  There are a lot of different trails that you can go down with views of the mountains and fall colors.  My favorite were the tree roots.  It reminded me of the Ents in Lord of the Rings.  I'm not really a nature person, but seeing things like this puts this city girl in awe.
If you are ever planning a trip to New England, stop by The Flume Gorge in New Hampshire.  You will not be sorry!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Me On: The Movies

Does anyone have time to go to the movies nowadays?  The last movie that I went to see was Catching Fire.  That was almost a year ago.  I was pregnant and the movie was 2.5 hours long.  I went to the bathroom three times during the movie and decided that the inconvenience of having to walk to the bathroom three times during a movie wasn't worth the steep ticket price.  I never went to a movie since them.

My problem is that from the commute to and from the theatre, the painfully long commercials and previews, and the increasing length of the actual movie, going to the movies is a good 4+ hour investment.  I don't have that kind of time.  Even when I have that kind of time I feel so guilty using over 4 hours to do one thing.

First, I have to say that I actually love previews.  When I was in high school I was supposed to meet a couple of girlfriends at the movies.  They were coming together and I was coming from work.  I told them not to be late because I didn't want to miss the previews.  I literally NEVER wanted to miss the previews.  Long story short, they were late and showed up about 1 minute before the movie's start time.  I met them in the parking lot, bluntly said "You are late and now I will miss the previews", and maturely stormed off to my car.  I missed the entire movie and threw a temper tantrum in front of my friends because I was going to miss the previews.  That's love right there.

But today, the previews are out of hand.  It's not just previews.  I have to sit through the commercial about Coke, then a commercial about the movie theatre I'm in, then the preview for the A&E special coming this spring, then you get about 6 previews of terrible movies all of which you've already seen in television commercials.  What happened to those good old days where the only place you could see the movie previews was at the movies?

Second, the length of movies is unbelievable.  I just watched A Million Ways to Die in the West which is a comedy that is two hours and fifteen minutes long.  That is about 45 minutes too long.  I can tell you for certain that one way to die in the west is from boredom of the last 45 minutes of this movie.  I would say that most movies do not need to be longer than 2 hours.  There are some really good dramas that are acceptable when the go over the two hour mark.  But a comedy should never, ever, ever be longer than 1 hour and 45 minutes.  It's just not necessary.  Directors - I'll mail you a pin to pop your ego balloons.  No one wants to watch a bloated movie of crap that could easily have been left on the editing room floor.

Third, the price of movies is most definitely prohibitive.  Every single time I go into my movie theatre it seems as if the price has risen.  And they certainly aren't doing anything to improve the theatre, so I'm not sure where that money is going.  For two people to go to the movies and get popcorn and a soda you are paying the price of a nice dinner out.  I'd say one way that the theaters can really cut back is the size of the refreshments.  If anyone is drinking that much soda in three hours they should be bitch slapped.  

I used to love going to the movies, but now it seems like so much work.