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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Don't Judge a Book...

...you know the rest.  "Don't judge a book by its cover".  Today as we were driving around (to garage sales, of course), my boys were watching a Thomas the Train movie and there was a song about not judging books by the covers, obviously teaching them not to judge people.  Such an important lesson to learn, and why not talk about it while we are "looking for the good in people"?

Here's my story.  When I was 14 years old, I flew to Nicaragua for an Ultimate Workout Mission Trip sponsored by my church.  It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and it led me to two other mission trips, a semester abroad, and my career today.  However, as that 14 year old girl, I definitely had some things to learn...

...at the time, I had completed two years of Spanish classes, and I felt pretty confident in my abilities.  For that reason, I became kind of an unofficial "translator" for our work site.  I was so proud of myself, and I got such a thrill from being a link between the wonderful people there and all of the amazing volunteers I was working with.  Obviously I could not carry on conversations in Spanish yet, but I knew enough to get the point across, and I think I really was helpful to the group.

Our job at our site was to build a church in one week.  Yes, one week.  Well, about 10 days.  And believe it or not, we did it.  It was one of the most fulfilling weeks of my life.  As we sat in the church--the church that we built--the following Saturday, our group leaders asked us to mingle with the natives and sit by them during the services.  I sat towards the back, and a beautiful Nicaraguan girl, probably in her 20s, sat down beside me.  She smiled;  I smiled.  We turned our attention to the sermon, sang some songs in both English and Spanish, and then the service was over.  Everyone began mingling and talking, and yet she and I just sat there, still smiling.

  We had exchanged a few "holas" and "feliz sabado" (Happy Sabbath), but beyond that, our interaction was minimal.  I remember thinking during the service about how beautiful she was and being afraid to use my broken Spanish with her.  I kept reminding myself that she didn't know any English and would be very grateful to have someone to talk to in Spanish...that's what finally got me to start up the conversation.  I turned toward her, my heart pounding, and said "Como te llamas?" (What's your name?).  My mind started racing about what I would say next, how I would communicate with this girl who didn't speak English and who obviously wanted to interact with me.

After I asked her name, she smiled a big smile (yet again!) and opened her mouth and said, in perfect English, "My name is...." (Sadly I can't remember her name...I wish I had written it down in my journals).  Anyhow, you get the point.  The entire time we had been smiling at each other and not speaking, we were both going through the same thing in our heads--I was afraid to use my Spanish, and she was afraid to use her English.  And beyond that, I had made an assumption;  I had judged her.  Just because she had grown up in a remote village in Nicaragua did not necessarily mean that she was not educated, or that she didn't know English.  We went on to have a nice conversation, in Spanish and in English, and I will never forget the way I felt that day.

We can't judge books by their covers.  We just can't.  And even though we know this to be true, so often we are still doing it when we meet people.  Let's try our hardest to break that habit.  I wish it were as easy as the catchy little song that the animated trains are singing to my kids on the Thomas video, but it's just not that simple.  And yet, it's not impossible either.  Don't let your preconceived ideas and your prejudices stop you from meeting some amazing people in your life.  You just never know who's behind that smile!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer Challenge!


Who doesn't love a good challenge, right? :) It's a proven fact that people achieve their goals, challenges, etc. much faster and more efficiently if they are working towards the goal with a friend, or two friends, or lots of friends. And so today I'm posing a challenge to all of you, but it's actually coming from my own goals. As I've mentioned before, I grew up in this community, but I feel like I could really get out there and do more to be involved and to be more familiar with our city and the surrounding area.

Here's the deal...I am challenging myself to do 10 things this summer (AKA before my baby arrives!) that will get me and my family more acquainted with our lovely hometown. My challenge to you is to do the same--not necessarily the same 10 things, but I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone, to pay more attention to the people in your daily life, and to grow to love your community!

Sara's Summer Challenge:

1. Get to know my neighbors. Do any of you have neighbors that you've never even talked to? We do, too. We have lived in our house for two years now, and we've only gotten together with our neighbors once. This should change! I'm challenging myself to invite some of them over for dinner...at least one time before the summer is up!

2. Visit the library. Now, this is something my boys and I already do, but I know we could do it more, and I really want them to love their library (remember the great post from my Aunt Kathy about loving your library?!). I'm challenging us to go to story time, check out some more books, and see what else the local libraries have to offer this summer.

3. Go to some new parks. I say "some" instead of a number, because I know this will be an easy challenge for us. My boys love the park--any park. A while back, a friend posted on the Quad City Moms Blog about some of our great local parks (www.quadcitymomsblog.com), and there were a couple on the list that we haven't visited. Those will be our first priority! Who doesn't love a good afternoon at the park? With or without kids, our local parks are something we really should not take for granted.

4. Buy local. If you know me, you know where I shop: Wal-Mart. And that's about it. Sad to say, but the main reason I do that is because it's easier--one stop shopping, as they say. However, in the summer when I'm not working, I'm really going to try and put some of my money into our local economy. The Farmer's Market, for example, is a great opportunity to see some of the wonderful local vendors and to support them in their endeavors. Small business owning is one of the hardest jobs on earth, and we as customers should keep that in mind! We have been to the market a couple times this summer, and I'd also like to find time to visit some of our local shops, bakeries, etc.

5. Eat out. This is something that Matt and I rarely do, and I'm actually OK with that. But, at the same time, I feel like we are so out of the loop about our town. When people are visiting and they ask us for suggestions for dinner, we only have a couple good answers, because we only go to the same couple places every time we get out of the house! I hope that this summer we can find the time to visit a couple restaurants that we haven't visited before...it's a great way to see a new side of the community, to interact with people, and of course to eat good food!

6. Go to church. It seems like so many people miss out on church during the summer months. It's a busy time for families, and we aren't in as much of a routine as we are during the "school year" (even if we aren't in school it seems!). I will admit to this myself, too. But my challenge to myself is to change that...my boys love going to Sabbath School, and it's my job to get them there. And it's another good way to keep connected with people in our community as well.

7. Visit some tourist sites. This is a good challenge to give ourselves, because we don't often visit the tourist sites in our own towns, for obvious reasons. But why not check them out? By doing so, we can teach our little ones about their home town, and most likely learn a little bit ourselves, too. And again, going to these places and supporting them financially only adds to our communities.

8. Pay it forward. After buying local and visiting some parks and tourist sites, I really want to focus on passing the word along and sharing our experiences with others. Obviously, my way of doing that is this blog! But if you are doing this challenge with me, just share with your friends when you talk to them...tell them the places you've been, why you liked them, etc. You just never know how much business you might be sending to a small business owner in your area, and they would really appreciate that!

9. Make the blog more interactive. Again, if you don't have a blog, this probably doesn't pertain to you. (Although you could make yourself a challenge to start a blog!) Anyhow...I'd really like to start hearing more feedback from all of the great people who have been reading this blog. I'd like to do some surveys, some interactive posts with your comments, etc. So if you are reading this today...post a comment! Either on here or on our facebook page (search for "The Good" on Facebook). Hearing from all of you is the most rewarding part of doing this blog...plus we are forming our own little community here at "The Good", and I think it's a great community to be a part of!

10. Take a different route. I'm ending with a super easy challenge, to make us feel like we really can accomplish all of this! :) This last challenge is to take a different route--to work, to church, to the grocery store. Instead of taking the same streets you always take, force yourself to make a couple turns, to "take the scenic route" (even if it's not even that scenic!) I want to do this challenge for a couple reasons...the first, is obviously related to the community. It's amazing how many parts of our own city we have never seen...I've learned that through garage-saling! :) Another reason I want to "take a different route" is that I've read it can really help our brains and strengthen them against dementia, Alzheimer's, etc. Always taking the same route and following the same routine can make us unaware of our surroundings, which brings me to the last reason I want to do challenge #10...it's scary to even think of, but we hear those stories about moms (or dads) who drive to work and forget that their kids are in the backseat. When you hear the story, you think "how could anyone ever do that?" But I am the first to admit, there was one day this year when I had my boys in the back seat and instead of turning on the road to my aunt's daycare, I kept right on driving towards work. I made it about 5 or 6 minutes down the road before I realized, and when I did, I was scared to death. Not to end the challenge on a bad note, but let's just start taking a different route, keeping our brains active! :)

Think you can complete your own list of summer challenges? Make them to fit your life. Maybe you are already involved in your community, and you feel the need to focus on a different area of your life. I'm sure I could make 100 lists of challenges and still need to do more! But for now I'm starting with this, and so for our Friday "look for the good in your community", take the time to make a list of things you could do in your own corner of the world, and challenge yourself to complete it! And please...keep me posted on your progress! You know I will be updating you on mine!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why We Love Kohl's

I realize that Bargain Thursdays have become mostly about garage sales...not a surprise!  However, when the garage-sale season is over and the weather gets cold, you can find all of us crazy bargain-hunters at one place:  Kohl's!
If you don't shop at Kohl's...let me be the first to tell you that you should!  As someone who doesn't do a lot of retail shopping, I really hate going to the mall.  It's so expensive, and let's face it...a lot of the employees are just flat-out rude.  The coupons always have exceptions, and if you try to do a return at some of those places, it's literally like pulling teeth.  No thank you!
This is not the case at Kohl's.  Not only do they have great sale prices, but you can also use your coupons on top of the sale price!  Now that's more like it!  If you have a Kohl's card (which I don't...but I have plenty of connections!), you receive 15-30% off coupons in the mail frequently. And on top of all of that, the best part--Kohl's cash!  Basically, if you go and spend money in their store, they give you money back to come and spend some more!  And lots of it!  Whenever they offer Kohl's cash, you can find all of us running to the store...it's such a good deal, we can't miss out.
And to me, one of the greatest thing about Kohl's is their return policy.  They never give you any trouble, there are no deadlines, and sometimes we have even taken in our receipt and told them that we didn't realize that Kohl's cash started the next day, and they've given it to us anyway!  That's what I call Customer Service!

My last trip to Kohl's was last week, with my best friend Laura.  We spent a ridiculous amount of time looking around the baby section...since we are both having babies before the year ends! Plus, I had a gift card from my baby shower, which makes shopping even more fun!  Laura had a coupon, and when we got up to the register, it turns out the coupon didn't start until the next day.  But, the cashier said not to worry, she would give her the discount anyway!  (Plus, Laura had debated getting an item that was on sale for $25...when the girl scanned it, turns out it was on clearance for only $8!)  We had such a great time that night, and I guarantee we wouldn't have gotten as much stuff at any other store around here for those prices.

So, that's why we love Kohl's.  We always have a good time, and the savings can't be beat! It's my favorite go-to place for birthdays, Christmas, baby gifts, etc.  If you haven't checked it out yet, you definitely should!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

One word: Cheesecake.

Now THIS is what we call "looking for the GOOD in food"!

For as long as I have known my husband (12 years now), he has talked about how good his Aunt Susie's cheesecake is.  So, when we visited her in Texas this January, he sweet-talked her into giving us the recipe.  About 3 weeks after we got home, I decided to make it for Matt for Valentine's Day.  Man, did I wish I had gotten the recipe earlier along in these 12 years!



I made it with the pineapple topping from the recipe, and it was absolutely delicious.  It turned out super tall, and we shared it with the whole family! Seriously, people were coming back to my doorstep for seconds...it's that good!

And so...Matt told me I needed to start making one every week. Ha! Truth is, I thought it was a great idea, but we wouldn't be able to get off the couch and go to work if I did make one every week.  But now it's been 4 months since I  made it...and tomorrow just happens to be my wonderful husband's 28th (golden!) birthday...

Happy birthday to Matt, we are having cheesecake again!  Enjoy the pics...I haven't gotten Aunt Susie's permission to share the recipe just yet, so if you are scrolling down and looking for it, sorry! But if you live anywhere near us, just swing by the house tomorrow...but make sure you come early, because I'm sure it will be gone quick!

MMMM Happy Wednesday, Happy Birthday Matt, and Happy Cheesecake Yumminess!
Can't you just taste the creamy goodness looking at this picture???

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Be Thankful.


Last night as I was walking around my house at 3am due to some pretty painful contractions, I started looking at all of the things God has blessed us with in our home.  And not just the fun, decorating things that I mention so often on Tuesday blogs, but something more…

I was reminded of how lucky we are to even have a house, to have so many rooms to walk around in when we can’t sleep at night.  To have a kitchen with food in it, running water, the ability to laundry in the comfort of our home.  So many people live without these things every day.  When I was a young teenager, I went on several mission trips to Central American countries, and as a fourteen year old girl, my eyes were opened wide to the reality of this world:  we really don’t need all of these things we have.  People can actually survive without a TV, without a blow-dryer, without the internet!!

Throughout my time in those countries, I learned so many valuable lessons, but this one about unnecessary material things was probably one of the biggest.  Those little kids who ran up to the church, barefoot, in the same clothes day after day, were no less happy than the kids running around my neighborhood here, with their iPods and their shoes to match every outfit they own.  They are a world apart, but yet they are all the same—they are kids.  Some of them live in two story homes, like my boys, and others live in a little “house” made of mud and discarded billboard signs (yes, that is where many of them lived…)

So I guess this post is two-fold.  First, let’s try to remember every time we wash our dishes in our sink, or take a long hot shower, that there are so many people in this world who don’t have these luxuries in their life.  And second, instead of feeling guilty about what we do have here, let’s just take a few minutes each day to be thankful.  I know that I could do this a lot more…I guess all I need are a few nights of being woken up by painful contractions and aimless wandering around my house!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Life Goes On.

Light after the storm

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life:  it goes on.”  --Robert Frost

…I had to resort to someone else’s words for today’s post.  I spent the entire day laying on my chair in the living room, so needless to say I didn’t get much inspiration!  But hey, Robert Frost always has something good up his sleeve! J

Life goes on.  Three little words, but so many thoughts that go along with this idea.   No matter the tragedy, no matter the terrible day you may be having, life does go on.  I needed this reminder today, as my pregnancy again has taken a turn for the extremely uncomfortable.  I absolutely hate sitting on the couch all day, watching my husband take care of everything and watching my kids play without me.  It’s so frustrating, so unnatural for me…I spend the whole day feeling sorry for them and for myself.  As you can tell, it’s miserable!

Don’t jump to conclusions…I know for a fact that many people, in fact probably some of you reading this blog, are going through a lot harder things than having to sit on the couch all day!  But that’s my point.  No matter your worries, no matter the frustration you are enduring in this moment, it will pass.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point it will.  It won’t be the last hardship you will face, and it’s certainly not the first, but that’s just it:  life. goes. on.

It’s a scary, beautiful thought.  Sometimes we don’t want it to go on…sometimes we want to wallow in our self-pity, or sometimes we want a little more time to grieve, or to reflect on the bad things that have happened, but in the end we need to just let go.  It’s painful, it’s heart-wrenching, and sometimes it seems impossible, but with prayer, some help from our loved ones, and finding that inner strength that we all have hiding in there somewhere, we will eventually pick ourselves up and move on.



So…no matter what’s going on in your life today, remember those three little words.  Maybe you are going through a serious, rough time in your life.  Or maybe you are just being ridiculous and blowing your little problems (like having to lay on the couch all day) out of proportion.  No matter the issue, I hope that you can find the strength to let life go on, to move yourself on to new challenges and new adventures ahead.  Keep looking for the good in life—it really is there.

Surprise? Not Yet!



Today I woke up in pain.  Sharp, sharp pain in the pelvic area.  I finally forced myself to get out of bed and get Cooper ready for church, because they were going to celebrate his birthday in their Sabbath School class.  We picked up Sam and my dad, went to church, and I got more and more uncomfortable.  Sitting is nearly impossible these days…our baby girl is very low, and I’ve had lots and lots of pressure.

I made it through church, but during the family lunch at my grandma’s house I ended up laying down in the living room—having all of those Braxton Hicks contractions I’ve now, unfortunately, become accustomed to.  However, today they were accompanied by lower back pain, as well as some other (better left un-mentioned) symptoms.  My Aunt Becky was convinced I was in labor, so she had me get outside and walk down the block, to see if the symptoms either subsided or got worse.  Unfortunately, neither happened.  I felt exactly the same, and I still do now, at 11:00 pm.

My cousin Elyse tells me I should never google medical symptoms, but of course I did, and as I read the list for “preterm labor symptoms”, I have not one, not two, but all of them.  YIKES! 

For that reason, my post today will be short…and yet, it’s still fitting for “Sunday Surprises”.  You never know what you’re going to get!  Last night I went to bed feeling normal, and today was totally off…who knows what tomorrow holds.  Maybe I’ll wake up feeling normal again.  Or maybe I’ll be making a trip to the hospital!

Keep us in your thoughts…I have a feeling that my little girl is definitely going to surprise us and come early…but 9 weeks early is a little too early for our liking.  Just wait a little longer, baby girl! J

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Golden Rule


We’ve all heard it before—but do we live by it? Do we actually think about treating other people the way that we would like to be treated?  Obviously a lot of people don’t live this way—otherwise the world would be a much happier place.  I’d like to say that I live this way, and many days I think I do.  But there are other days that I know I could do better, and through writing this blog I’ve learned to be more aware of how I am treating everyone around me.  I’m really trying to be more conscious of my words, my actions and my reactions, the way I respond to the people in my life.

I was reading an article the other day about how people see January and August as beginnings, as time for change—January because it’s the New Year and everyone has a list of goals and ideas; August because it’s the new school year and no matter how old we are, the August air will always be filled with the smell of pencil lead and new possibilities.  I’m included in this group—it’s only natural to feel this way.  But January and August only last for 31 days each…combined, they are only 20% of our entire year.  I think the best thing for us to do is to make the decision every day to live the life we want to live, to have the relationships we want to have.  Some days we will fail (many days, actually!), but as the song goes “there’s always tomorrow”.

When I thought of this post, I wasn’t even thinking about the way I treat others…I was actually thinking about the way others treat me.  I was having a very grateful reflection about the good people I have in my life—not just my loving family and my wonderful friends (all of whom I’m always writing about on the blog), but also my new friends, my Facebook friends, all of you who read my words on this blog every day.  As I watch the numbers on each post, I am humbled by the amount of people who have even the slightest interest in what I have to say.  As a lifelong writer, there is no greater feeling than knowing that my words are being heard.  In other words, what you are all doing for me—reading my words and telling me that you are enjoying the journey on this blog with me—that is exactly “what I would have done to me”.  I pray that I can “do unto you” in a way that makes you happy and fulfilled in your life’s dreams and expectations.

Let us never forget the golden rule.  We are never too old, too good, or too special to be above this way of living.  Thank you all for helping me to keep this in the forefront of my mind…looking for the good is a great way to make the golden rule a part of your day.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Community Spotlight: The Wilton Candy Kitchen


As I might have mentioned before, Matt and I bought our first house in 2008, just after finding out that I was pregnant with our first son.  Our house was in Wilton, Iowa—a city where neither of us had even been to before deciding that we would like to live in between our family (in Davenport) and our jobs (in Iowa City).  After growing up in Davenport, then living in Iowa City (and even Seville, Spain for 6 months!), it was quite a change to reside in Wilton—population approximately only 2800! (To put it in perspective, our high school  in Davenport had a population of about 2100…ha!)  Needless to say, Wilton and I did not have a happily ever after…but, it is a very friendly little town, and there were some things we really enjoyed about living there.  While I was pregnant, we enjoyed quiet, beautiful walks through the town (yes, through the entire town…lol), and I really liked the feel of the little downtown area.  In particular, the Wilton Candy Kitchen.

Mommy and Sam (only 10 months old then!) at the Candy Kitchen
As I said, we had never even been to Wilton, so we didn’t know anything about the Candy Kitchen before we moved there.  Then one Sunday we decided to go check it out…I’ve always loved little family-run places like this one.  And when we found out just how “family” it was, we were shocked! The history of The Wilton Candy Kitchen is amazing! In fact, when I turned on Internet Explorer about a month ago, the first thing that came across on MSN news was a picture of it!  Believe it or not, this cute little place in tiny little Wilton, Iowa is the oldest ongoing ice-cream parlor/soda fountain in the world.  Yes, you read it right…in the world!  They have been serving visitors for 150 years, and it has been owned by the Nopoulos family for 100 years now.  AMAZING!  Here is a little bit of the history from their website (www.wiltoncandykitchen.com):



 
Candy Kitchen, circa 1910
The building of the Wilton Candy Kitchen was constructed in 1856, before the Civil War, and is the oldest building in Wilton Iowa, surviving three major fires downtown. It served as a Confectionery Ice Cream Parlor Soda Fountain in the early years, founded by R.A. McIntyre in 1860, and shared the buiding with the U.S. Post Office from 1877-1893.



In 1910, Greek immigrant Gus Nopoulos traveled to Wilton from Davenport, Iowa, with a friend. They were going to attend what was then the Wilton Fair, and it was there that his friend pointed out the recently closed confectionery store in downtown Wilton with "the Tufts Soda Fountain, and all the fixtures in tact."



Subsequently, on June 10th, 1910, Gus G. Nopoulos started living the American Dream as he reopened the doors of the Candy Kitchen. Little did he know that first day the doors would stay open seven days a week, 365 days a year for the next 100 years. That first day, William Taft was President, women couldn't vote, and the Wright Brothers were still trying to sell their first airplane to the US Army.
Gus Nopoulos, 1983
Gus Nopoulos married a girl from Wilton Junction, Frankie Mildred Hudler, who assisted him in the business and raised their two sons, George and Leo. The entire family worked to run the store and all the candy, chocolate, and ice cream was made in house.The Candy Kitchen survived the Great Depression intact and the candy and chocolate making continued up until World War II, when sugar and chocolate became scarce due to the war effort and sons George and Leo left to serve their country.



Many years and decades then flew by, with son George taking over duties at the Candy Kitchen after returning home from the War. Leo moved on to open his own ice cream parlor in central Iowa, later attending law school and becoming a sucessful lawyer. In 1949, George married Thelma Sorteros, a dish washer employed at the Candy Kitchen since she was 10 and the daughter of another Greek imigrant, Peter Sorteros. The two met working behind the soda fountain and with both fathers being from Europe, the matchmaking was inevitable. They fell in love and after marriage, the couple has run the Candy Kitchen together ever since. They raised four children, Gus, Peter, Nic, and Peggy, who carried on the tradition a third generation by working in the parlor as they grew up.

Dr. Gus, Dr. Peter, Nic, Thelma, George, and Peggy - 1991
For over 100 years, the Nopoulos family has seen the Candy Kitchen be a favorite after school or work stop for students and adults alike. Babies become teenagers, teenagers become parents, parents become grandparents, and each succeeding generation continues the tradition of cherry Cokes and grilled combo sandwiches. Today, the seventh generation of patrons still has the Candy Kitchen to call home, just as their grandparents did, and George and Thelma are still working 7 days a week behind the marble soda fountain serving visitors from in the town and around the United States.

In 1993, the Wilton Candy Kitchen was inducted in to the National Register of Historic Places. At a 2001 Wilton City council meeting, George and Thelma were presented with a plaque, having been voted the "First Official Lifetime Ambassadors for the City of Wilton, Iowa," and they were the Grand Marshals of the 2003 Wilton Founder's Day Parade. They celebrated their 60th wedding aniversary with an open house in in 2009, and in 2010 George celebrated his 90th birthday with a celebration. George and Thelma also donated over $137,000 to help match funds for the construction of the Wilton Community center, and in 2010, the Candy Kitchen itself also celebrated 150 years of business from 1860-2010 and 100 years of being in the Nopoulos family.



…wow, what a story! It really is amazing what we can find in our own communities, if we just take the time to explore and find out the stories.  That’s the part I love—the stories.  And of course, the ice cream makes it even better! J

Thursday, June 21, 2012

This Week's Best Garage-Sale-Haul

Last Friday, a bunch of my family members were out garage-saling for the morning.  They asked me and the boys to come meet them, so we ate breakfast and got in the car.  They were in the next town over, so we started to drive that way, but of course we kept hitting sales on the way!  We didn't find much at any of the sales, and considering we had to be somewhere at noon, we decided to give up on our own little quest and meet up with the rest of the gang...

...and then we stopped at one more sale.  As soon as we got out of the car, I could tell that it was little boy heaven! Every table was stacked high with action figures, games, books, movies, etc.  I was so happy that we had finally found a sale with some stuff for my boys...now if only the price was right!  I looked at some of the tags, and everything seemed pretty reasonable, so I started to make a pile by the lady's table.  The pile grew pretty fast...especially with little Cooper picking up things he liked and then throwing them onto our pile!

Anyhow, I finally stopped the madness and told her we were ready to pay.  She started adding up the total, and when she got close to halfway through the pile, the running total was $12.  I looked at the rest of the items, which included a $5 bag of Lincoln Logs a $6 or $7 Play-Dough Kit, and even more toys.  Then I looked at the money in my pocket--I had $17.  I asked her to stop adding the total, and I told her I would have to leave a few things behind because all I had on me was $17.  She looked at my adorable little boys, and my growing belly, and said "just take it all for $17. I need to get rid of it!"

So, that was our big haul for the week!  My boys were SO excited about all of their new things, and when we got home and started looking through them, I was even more impressed with our bargaining skills!  For example, the Play-Dough Kit came with a carrying case, approximately 25-30 cans of play-dough, and a ton of shaping, cutting, and stamping toys to use with the dough.  That kit alone would probably cost at least $20, and yet it was only one of MANY things that we got at that sale!

Here's the haul:

the Play-Dough Kit and Carrier
15 books (and not just books, but some of my boys' favorites: Scooby, Clifford, Legos, etc.)
8 action figures
1 bag of Lincoln Logs (also worth at least $20 at the store)
1 Lightning McQueen (Cars) board game...with EVERY piece still in the box!
1 big motorcycle (key word for the boys: it's a BIG one)
1 pair of flip flops
1 Batman and Joker movie (which has been playing non-stop in our house for the last 6 days)
1 Matchbox Prison (for them to lock up the "bad guys" they are always chasing)
1 little suitcase for Cooper, which matches the one that we got for Sam at a garage sale 4 years ago!

PS...I can't finish this post without being completely honest...one of our secrets to garage-saling is do NOT take all of your cash up to the sale with you, and always have small bills to offer.  So, when I said that I had $17 on me, I meant that literally.  In other words, I still had another $20 in my car...yikes, I feel so scandalous when I admit that! :)
PPS...We never did meet up with the rest of the family! We got on a roll of our own, and barely made it to my class by noon!

No matter what, the very best part of that garage sale was seeing my boys' eyes light up at the sight of all of their favorite toys being carried to their van.  Happy Bargain Thursday!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Adorable AND Delicious.

Adorable and delicious--what could be better?!  I'm talking about today's recipe:  Mini Pineapple Upside-down Cakes!  The last time I made these, our friends and family ate them up so fast that I had to make a second batch the next day!  I'm making them for a family dinner tonight, and I thought since it's Wednesday, I'd just share the yumminess with all of you!  This recipe is SO easy, and I'm sure it will be a hit in your house as well!  ENJOY!




Mini Pineapple Upside-down Cakes
(24 servings )
 Ingredients:
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 (20 ounce) cans sliced pineapple
1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
12 maraschino cherries, halved
Directions:
1. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and butter; mix well. Spoon into 24 greased muffin cups. Drain pineapple, reserving the juice. Trim pineapple to fit the muffin cups; place one ring in each cup.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cake mix, eggs, oil and 1-1/4 cups of the reserved pineapple juice; mix well. Spoon over pineapple, filling each cup two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees  for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
3. Immediately invert onto wire racks to cool. Place a cherry in the center of each pineapple ring.

HAPPY WEDNESDAY EVERYONE!  HOPE IT'S DELICIOUS!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Happy Mommy, Happy Home

My boys were going through a rough time sleeping-wise.  Sam, who is 3, was getting too big for his little toddler bed, and was coming into our room pretty much every night.  Cooper, who was still 1, was not out-growing his crib in size, but he was rolling around all night long and beating himself up on the bars of the crib, hence causing him to also come to our bed.  Every night.  At this point, I was in the early weeks of my third pregnancy, and suffering terrible “morning” (AKA “all day”) sickness, and really needed some sleep.  I mentioned to Matt that we should think about moving them to their new bedroom, since we would be doing it in a few months anyway, to prepare for the baby coming.  I brought up the idea of getting them twin beds, and some people laughed, since Cooper is so tiny, but I just needed a solution!  After weeks of talking about it, and not sleeping, we finally went out and got them their twin beds and started moving their things to their new room.  That was almost 4 months ago. The results were amazing—they slept all night, almost every single night!
Until Summer hit….we have a really old house, and even though we do have central air, it really does us no good on the second floor.  Matt and I already have a window unit in our room (purchased at a garage sale…of course!), but the rest of the rooms are nearly unbearable in this heat…including Sam and Cooper’s room.  As soon as the temperatures spiked, we were back to the same old story…Sam would come in our room, and an hour later we would hear Cooper crying on the monitor.  As soon as they got into our room with the air conditioning, they were out like lights until the morning.  The solution was obvious:  we needed another window unit!  However, if you know my husband (whom I love dearly!!), anything that costs more than $3 requires contemplation. J

Until today! This past week has been terribly hot, and I’m not enjoying one minute of the old routine.  The boys are bigger, my stomach is bigger, and our bed is still a Queen size bed.  Not a good combination.  I’ve been nagging Matt to no end—I’ve even been recruiting family members to yell at him about buying a new unit!  So today, we head over to my in-laws’ house to see Matt’s aunt and uncle, who came in from Texas last night.  After a mere mention of our hot and sticky situation, Aunt Susie and Uncle David say “Matt, we are taking you tonight to get an air-conditioner”.  I can honestly say that I could hear the “Hallelujah Chorus” in my head.  Finally!

Boys helping Uncle David
As I write this post, Matt and his Uncle David are working hard at getting the unit in the window.  My boys are in their jammies, and I am practically drooling at the thought of a good night’s sleep.  On Tuesdays we look for the good in our homes…on this Tuesday, the good in my home is sitting on the boys’ windowsill, and I am very, very grateful.




Thank goodness for the sweet-talking family from Texas.  I don’t know their secret for talking my husband into things, but I will find it out…it could come in very handy!
Hallelujah.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Life is funny.

It is now 12:33 AM.  The truth is, most of the posts that you read are written after 12:30 AM...I guess I just work well when everyone is sleeping.  But tonight was different.  I had some time this afternoon to organize some of my plans for the blog, and I felt so accomplished after sorting through my stacks of ideas and getting them into the right compartments in my folders (yes, I have already admitted to an obsession with office supplies).  So, around 10:30 I come upstairs to take a shower, then I'm about to lay down in my bed and turn my laptop on.  Matt is laying in the boys' room, and I assume he will be going back downstairs to play his video game while I write tomorrow's post (we are lame...I know!).  I go in to check on him, and we end up sitting in our room talking for the next two hours.  It's one of those conversations where you feel like you are talking about everything and nothing all at once.  We talked about our past, we talked about our kids, we laughed...sometimes when I look at him it's like I remember every single moment I've had with him, all in one instance.  And, as everyone always says, sometimes we just say nothing at all.  If you don't have someone in your life that you can do that with, then I hope you find someone soon.  I could lay here with him all day, not saying a thing...not promising that we wouldn't fall asleep, but still! And so, after all of my work this afternoon and all of my planning, when Matt finally got up and said he's going back downstairs to play his game, all I wanted to do was write about this, about these last two hours with my husband, my best friend, the father of my children.  Ironic that today just happens to be Father's Day. He ran downstairs to get me a glass of water (and let's be honest...a candy bar, too), and when he came back, the baby girl was going crazy.  He put his hand on my stomach, and we could both feel her foot--yes, you can actually tell that it's her foot!  It is both the weirdest and most wonderful thing all at once.
Tonight's "date night" with my husband was not planned.  We did not get dressed up, we did not go out to dinner, and in fact we didn't even know we were on a date while it was happening.  But, to me, tonight was perfect.  Life is funny sometimes, the way we fuss around about how we look and what we should do for fun, and then in the end some of our most memorable times happen when we get out of the shower and sit down on the bed--no make up, in our pajamas, with no agenda.  I love him so much.  And that is looking for the good in life.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Dad.


Normally, my Sunday posts are about surprises, but today is Father’s Day and, to no one’s surprise, I’m going to tell you about my dad.

Smiling at my dad before walking down the aisle

As my mom would tell you, I have always been a Daddy’s Girl.  And if you had my dad, you would be too!  I have the best dad in the whole world.  By far.  He has loved me, taken care of me, played with me, and basically lived his life to make me happy every day of my life.  I have enough happy childhood memories to fill a blog every day of the year…and that’s something to be truly grateful for.

If you know my dad, you know that he truly is a kid at heart.  Well, not just at heart…he can usually be found playing with the kids and acting like a crazy person!  When I was little, he would literally drag the hose inside and we would have water-fights in the house.  One time he filled our entire living room with bubbles.  He used to let my cousin and I fix his hair, put make-up on him, basically whatever we wanted!  He was always ready to play, and he was always there for me.  He never missed a single school event, and I swear he was the proudest daddy in the room.

SO happy.
As I grew up, he continued to be by my side.  I’ll never forget the night I was laying in my room crying because we had to climb the rope the next day in gym class, and I knew that I couldn’t do it.  I was afraid of being embarrassed in front of my class, and I didn’t want to go to school.  The next thing I know, my dad is up in the attic, tying a rope to the rafters and letting it hang down into our hallway.  He was ready to teach me, right then and right there.  What a lucky girl I am.

I think it was around high school that I started to realize just how lucky I truly was…I started to learn more about the world around me, and I started to see that a lot of my friends were not as lucky in the dad-area.  I know that many of my guy friends came to look up to my dad, to see him as the type of dad that they didn’t have in their lives, but that maybe they could be for their own kids.  When I started dating my future-husband, I saw right away that my dad would love him as his own son.  And even though my husband has a good dad of his own, I know that he and my dad have formed a very strong bond, and that is another thing that I hope I never take for granted.

I don’t know who dreaded my first day of college more—me or my dad.  Even though I was only an hour away, it’s more of a symbolic “leaving home”.  He and my mom came to the over-night orientation with me, and in the morning just the two of us walked downtown Iowa City for my Spanish placement exam.  We got breakfast at Bruegger’s Bagels, and he told me about how that very building was where he lived when he went to school there.  Then we sat on a bench together outside…it wasn’t a momentous occasion, but it is one I will never forget. And throughout my five years at Iowa, when I missed my dad I would just walk over to Bruegger’s and think about him living there, going to college there like I did.


Our fancy dance moves!
I wish I could have been there when my husband asked my dad if he could propose to me.  Of course that would defeat the purpose!  When I came home with that ring on my finger, I ran down the stairs to greet my dad at the front door, just like I always had when I lived at home, and he gave me the biggest hug, along with the biggest smile on his face.  As we prepared for the wedding, he surprised me by getting us dance lessons for the Father-Daughter dance.  I know a lot of people do that, but coming from my dad, who had never danced that I could remember, it meant so much.  We had so much fun at the classes…neither of us is a good dancer, so we were difficult students!  In the end, it turned out wonderful, just as I had expected.  And I don’t think there is a girl in this world who was happier to walk down the aisle with her dad than I was that day.  As you can tell from the pictures, I just couldn’t stop smiling!

When I found out I was pregnant with my first son, I was most excited to tell my dad. (sorry Mom!) He just loves babies so much, and obviously when it was my baby he would love it even more!  For my first doctor’s appointment to hear the heartbeat, my husband had to work, so my dad went with me.  My doctor said “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a grandpa so excited before!”  Boy, was she right.  We decided to name our son after my dad, but we kept it a secret.  After he was born, when all of the grandparents came in to meet him, the nurse said “Samuel Roark is such a beautiful name”…she didn’t know we hadn’t told him yet!  For a split second I wanted to be mad at her, but then I turned and saw my dad’s face, with a tear in his eye and the biggest smile ever on his face.  And then nothing else mattered.  From that day, my son, and now my other son too, have been the light of my dad’s eyes, just like I was when I was a little girl.  To see him with them is like seeing my own childhood all over again, but even better. 

A good laugh.
My mom says when this little girl arrives in August, we are all doomed—and I’m afraid she’s right.  Judging from how my dad has loved me, and now loves my boys, once he lays eyes on my little girl no one else will ever have a chance in her heart.  And to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  My children are lucky enough to have the best grandpa in the whole wide world.

So here’s to you, Dad.  Thank you for always taking care of me, still to this day, and for loving me in a way that many people are never lucky enough to be loved.  You will never know how much you truly mean to me, but I hope that these words are a start.  And I will always be Daddy’s Girl, no matter what.  I love you.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pollyanna Had the Right Idea...


If you have never seen the movie Pollyanna, then you might have been wondering what I was talking about in some of my posts this last month or so.  In this movie, which has many versions (all of which came from the 1913 novel of the same name), we meet a young girl (Pollyanna) who has become orphaned and must go to live with her aunt Polly.  Throughout the film, we see Pollyanna playing what she calls “the glad game”, a game that her father taught her—to look for the good, or “the glad” in every situation. Like I’ve said before, if you haven’t seen it, you should.  Sure, it’s an “old movie” now, but it’s still good—and the message will never get old.  Look for the good.

It’s the basis of my whole blog. And on the Saturdays that we have spent together, me and all of you who have been so faithful in reading my words, we have been looking for the good in people.  I’ve realized that lately a lot of my posts have been about my family, about my friends, about me, me, me—my personal life.   Of course that’s going to happen when I’m writing every day, and specifically when I’m writing about what makes me happy.  But I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all need to be doing this in our lives—even though you may read about my family when you click on my blog, I hope that my writings make you reflect on your own family, or your own group of friends, etc. That is my intent.

And another thing…as I just said, it’s very easy to write about my loved ones, because they make me happy and they inspire me to write these little pieces that you have been reading.  However, going back to my initial post on day one of “The Good”, I’m trying to reflect on the idea of looking for the good in everyone—that clerk at the grocery store I mentioned, or just anyone you might meet on the street in a given day.  That is another goal of mine with this blog—like I’ve said in an earlier post, it is my “Happiness Project”.  I’d like to think that in some small way, my words can make you all happier when you read them, and then in turn you will pay it forward, both to your friends and family and to the strangers you meet each day.

And so, without any further rambling from me, please look for the good in people today.  In everyone.  Make it a personal challenge to find something good in every person that you come in contact with today.  Believe me, that’s not an easy challenge!  And when you are out doing it, I will be out doing it as well, and in the end maybe we can make this world a little happier, day by day.

Here’s to a happy Saturday, filled with smiles and happy thoughts! J Thank you all for reading my blog.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Don't Miss Out!

If you live in the Quad-City area, don't miss today's post!

A reminder about the Quad City Moms Blog's Yard Sale TOMORROW morning (8am-1pm) in Centennial Park in downtown Davenport.  This is going to be a GREAT event!  Not only can you shop tons of garage sales in one place and check out some great vendors as well, but you can also bring the kids and make a day of it!  There will be family-friendly activities going on all morning, and refreshments available, too!  Cost of admission is only $1 per person!



If you can't make it to the big Yard Sale event, but you are still in search of some good bargains in the Quad-City area, you should check out QC Bargains.  It's a website sharing local grocery deals, good coupon finds, restaurant offers, family friendly events, and more!  Some features of the site include an Event Calendar, Diaper Dollars, Milk Money, Print Coupons, Cooking with Sale Items, Grocery Stores, and Kids Eat Free!  This site is definitely worth checking out...and it just happens to be run by my friend and co-founder of the Moms Blog, Miss Camye and her husband David.  Great job guys!

What a great weekend to be a part of this community...the weather is going to be great, and the deals will be even greater downtown tomorrow morning! Bring the kids, let them enjoy the activities, and get your bargaining on!  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cheap is the new Beautiful.

Don’t take this title the wrong way…I’m talking about bargain prices for party decorations! J  My mom and my aunts recently threw me a baby shower (we are having our first baby girl in August…we have a 3 ½ year old boy and a 2 year old boy…this will be a new experience for us!), and the party turned out so beautiful.  We had so many compliments about how nice the decorations looked, and how well everything matched. And we are not ashamed to admit, many of the items that were being complimented came from garage sales or clearance racks!








This is a picture of my fire-place, all decked out in pink!  Although every one of the blankets you see is a gift handmade by my aunt Jeannie (the best blankets in the world! www.justduckieblankies.blogspot.com), basically the rest of the items you see are super bargains.  The clothes hanging on the clothesline (so cute!) are all from a garage sale, purchased by my mom, as well as all of the pretty baskets holding the gifts.  All of the little toys, bottles, etc. are from the Dollar General, my aunt Jeannie’s favorite store (and one of my favorites, too!)

They decorated the rest of the room with some of baby girl’s clothes from her bedroom…all three  of these items are garage-sale finds, and the outfit in the middle even had the tags on it when I found it!  I was so proud!  Can’t wait to see my baby girl in all of these adorable buys!




And last, but certainly not least, the dessert table!  Look how beautiful it turned out…and yet, we didn’t pay a caterer or buy expensive treats (my mom made the cupcakes and the cookies, my aunt made the mints, and I bought that lemon cheesecake ball at the Farmer’s Market…and everything was delicious!).  I think the candy jars make the table complete—and yes, they are all from garage sales!  I’ve been picking up every size and shape of these jars for the past couple years (prices usually ranging from 50 cents to $3), and now I have quite the assortment! They have come in handy for many parties, and when we used them for my cousin’s wedding last year, it was gorgeous.  Our newest find was a big white platter, similar to the one holding the mints in this picture, which we paid $3 for, and we are sure to use it many more times in the future!

I’ll keep this post short and sweet, no pun intended.  Just wanted to remind you all (and myself) that it really is possible to have a beautiful party without breaking the bank.  I had some wonderful helpers for this party, and I’ve had them for parties in the past as well, and every time we have a party, no matter what the theme or reason, we have people telling us we should go into the party-planning business.  Imagine that, showing up to decorate parties with garage-sale items!  Now there’s something to blog about!  In the meantime…if you know anyone who is throwing a party in the near future and wants a planner, you know where to find us! (seriously, we’d like to give it a try!)  Hooray for bargains!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Community Spotlight: Devotay

Devotay at night: Isn't this place adorable??

Just writing the title of this post is making me hungry.  After devoting Wednesdays to looking for the good in food, I can’t believe I’ve made it this long without telling you all about my favorite restaurant (Devotay).  I’d guess it’s probably been a couple years since my friend Laura (or, as you all know her, Chef Laura) started going to Devotay in Iowa City, and she kept telling me how she thought I would like it because they have Spanish food and I had lived in Spain and loved the food.  Well, she was not only right about me liking it---I loved it!  I don’t think it’s even been a year since I first went there, but I have seriously told everyone I know about this place!  Let me explain…

First of all, here is the history of Devotay…and who better to tell it than the owners themselves? So, I just copied and pasted this from their website (www.devotay.net):
Chef Kevin
Devotay began in 1994, as a hobby that paid for itself (well, not really – Chef Kurt borrowed $700 from his mom to start it). Back then, Devotay was making spice blends and infused oils and selling them at the local farmer’s market.

One thing led to another, and soon there was a storefront operation, selling not just those oils and spices, but all sorts of gourmet food items, such as Stonewall Jams and a wide array of hot sauces. There was a refined selection of wines and beers, and many pâtés and fancy foods made on the premises by Chef Kurt Michael Friese.

When customers started requesting catering, Devotay obliged. It did not take much longer for folks to become more interested in the food Chef Kurt was making than they were in the groceries on the shelves. Soon they were requesting take-out sandwiches, then tables, and a restaurant was born from a gourmet shop. The catering went by the wayside, but the restaurant flourished.

12 years later, Chef Kurt was promoted to Chef Emeritus and is concentrating much of his time on his writing career. He serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors and his columns and photos on food, wine and travel have appeared regularly in local, regional and national newspapers and magazines. His latest book, A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland was published in the fall of 2008 by Ice Cube Press. Fear not, though, he and Kim still maintain a firm grip on the reins of the Devotay kitchen.

Today Devotay features a full menu, based on the flavors of the Mediterranean, with occasional influences from other ethnic cuisines. There is a complete wine and beer list, and all of it changes according to the market, the seasons or the whims of Executive Chef Kevin Butler or Chef de Cuisine Daniel Knowles.

Many of the plates, bowls and mugs are made by Kim McWane Friese. Kim is an Iowa City native, and has been a professional potter for 15 years. Kim is a co-owner of Devotay, and she and Chef Kurt have been married for 24 years. They have 2 children, Devon and Taylor (thus the name Devotay). Now that Chef Kurt is pursuing his writing career, Kim is in full command of the restaurant.

Now…why do we LOVE this place so much? For me, I can honestly say that when I’m sitting in there, eating their Spanish-inspired tapas (a small-plate appetizer, usually shared among everyone at the table), if I closed my eyes I would believe that I was sitting in a little bar on a corner in Sevilla, where I lived.  The taste is so authentic, and there are so many dishes to choose from!  As you could guess, I’ll be sharing my favorites with you!

1.       Spanish Tortilla:  This is the most typical tapa in Spain.  Made from eggs, potatoes, and onions, this is basically a super thick omelette, although served cold, and with a creamy aioli on top.  Now, some people are turned off by the idea of cold eggs, but seriously, do not knock it until you have tried it! And especially at Devotay!

The Patatas Bravas..mmmm!
2.       Patatas bravas:  Another typical dish in Spain, this is roasted potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce (don’t be afraid of the word spicy…Spanish food is nothing like hot-sauce filled Mexican food!) and again with aioli on top.  These potatoes are my husband’s favorite item to order…and since he visited me while living in Spain, he can also tell you how authentic the taste is!

3.       Almendras: Spiced almonds.  Need I say more?  This, again, is a very typical dish in Spain, and one that I can not find anywhere else in our area.  Of course, now that I know about Devotay, I won’t be going out for Spanish food anywhere else!



I won’t bore you with the entire menu, but these are some of my favorites, as far as the Spanish food goes.  They also have Spain’s famous dish: paella.  It’s a rice dish, with lots of yellow saffron and filled with vegetables and seafood.  I’m not a seafood-eater, so this isn’t something that I order, but again it’s nice to have a place where you can get the whole Spanish experience!

Aside from the Spanish tapa-inspired dishes, the other items on the menu are just as good.  We have really enjoyed the grilled olives, the marinated grilled crimini mushrooms, and the sourdough bread with garlic oil.  Ohhh…the sourdough bread with garlic oil.  It’s so good that I had to say it twice. And I also order it twice—as in two orders.  If you don’t believe me, ask Laura!  It’s true!

If you live anywhere near the Quad-Cities, you NEED to take a little drive to Iowa City (which also happens to be one of my favorite places) and visit Devotay.  The prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is inviting, and they have a little bit of something for everyone (it’s very vegan/vegetarian friendly, which is important in my family!).  And after you visit, let me know what you think!