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Entries from May 2013

Saturday 9: (Amazing) Just The Way You Are

Link up here if you're playing along today! (And check me out, I'm famous! )
1) This song is about a girl who can't accept how pretty she is. How do you respond to compliments? Do you accept them graciously, or do you get embarrassed?

I get embarrassed. I've been accused multiple times of not taking compliments well. I work on it, but it's hard when you've been told your whole life what a piece of shit you are.
2) Bruno says he takes inspiration from a variety of musical styles -- everything from rock to reggae to hip hop. What kind of music do you listen to most often?
I mostly listen to Top 40 music, but I like a wide variety of musical genres. Everything from Classical, Jazz, Blues, to Oldies, Musicals, Ska, Rap, Reggae... I like everything but country. I just can't get into that.

3) Bruno's uncle was a professional Elvis impersonator, and as a little boy Bruno also performed on stage as the King. When you picture Elvis, do you think of early rock'n'roll Elvis from the 1950s, Technicolor Hollywood Elvis of the 1960s, or the rhinestone jumpsuit Elvis who performed in Las Vegas?
I think of this Elvis: My dad ♥ loves ♥ Elvis to the nth degree, and he sings a lot like him, too. My father had a rhinestone jumpsuit and red scarf like Presley's, too - no lie. He has a jukebox in his living room full of Elvis music (along with others like Bill Haley and the Comets and stuff, but mostly The King) and a microphone, and he goes to town. It's quite funny, actually (but he's really good!).
4) Bruno plays several instruments onstage, including piano, guitar and congas. What instruments can you play?
I play a mean triangle. Like my mother, I played the organ, but I never got good like her. I think I have a learning disability when it comes to reading music. It just never came naturally to me; I really struggle with it. Like both my parents and my sister, though, I love to sing.

5) Bruno is touring all over the country this summer. What's the last concert you attended?
I would love to see Bruno in concert! My last one was either when I won tickets to see the Black-Eyed Peas from a newspaper contest, or when I took Hubs to see the Bob Dylan*Willie Nelson*John Mellencamp show at the Norfolk Tides ball field. I think that was a bucket list cross-off for him, so pretty awesome. Yes, he got a t-shirt.

6) Unlike some other stars, Bruno doesn't demand a lot of luxuries on the road, but he did admit to TMZ that he insists Wet Wipes be provided for his dressing room. If you could ask your boss for anything, anything at all, to make your workplace more comfortable, what would you request?

I don't work because of the cray. I would ask for my Bipolar Disorder to be taken away and some more normalcy in mah brain, so I could function like regular folk.
7) Rumors are flying that Bruno might become a judge on American Idol. Are you an Idol fan? Do you watch any of the other "talent search" shows -- The Voice, America's Got Talent, The X Factor, etc.?
As parents - and bill payers - we decided several years ago to cancel our TV service. Sure, we have plenty of DVDs, Netflix, YouTube and all that, but we didn't want to be slaves to the tube anymore, and I absolutely love that. So in a word, no, no reality television for moi.
8) Bruno is an unapologetic cigarette smoker. Do you smoke? Have you quit? Or did you never start?

Not only no, but hell no. I never started, I've never smoked weed (or done any other illicit drugs), and I'm immensely smug about it to the point of being a huge bitch about it. Y'all know how I feel about it. I rest.
(Shame on you, Bruno. You're going to ruin your voice.)
9) Billy Joel also had a hit with the title "Just the Way You Are." If we were going to do karaoke, which version would you sing -- Billy's or Bruno's?
Oh, man, Crazy Sam! You had to?! Okay, well, I guess I'd choose Bruno Mars' song, since it's much better suited to my voice. Joel's is a classic, and I don't think I could do it justice. Geez.
Good one, Gal! I loved this week's edition. Spanks!

Friday Fragments: 5.31.13 Edition

Half-Past Kissin' Time
I'm linkin' up with Mrs. 4444 for the first time since before we moved to Miami! Friday didn't sneak up on me for once, so here I am. Link up here if you're fragmenting today. Let's go!
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As if we didn't have enough critters, Sophie brought home a cupful of tadpoles from the park after our picnic Saturday. We don't exactly stock adolescent frog food on a regular basis, so... Rob fed them some canteloupe. Guess what? They ate it. They're still eating it. I haven't run out for tadpole feed since they joined the homestead, so they're stuck with melons. It works.
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This is Chloë's "kitten," Pepper. Those of you with stellar memories may remember that last Fall, after we rescued him, he nearly died and needed several blood transfusions. We didn't know if he'd make it, yet here he is, alive and, as she calls him, "fluffy"! Pepper is one big cat. He's beautiful, though, and is probably my favorite feline of the bunch. I love him, the sweety. ♥ So glad he's here.
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I was at Michael's on Monday, looking around like crazy for buttons, when I came upon this "Craft Supplies" department. Um, hello? It's Michael's, for Pete's sake. Doesn't that describe the whole store??!
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After I made the Presto Chango sweater for Stephanie's son Vinnie, who is allergic to darn near everything under the sun, I needed some instant gratification. I had this ribbon yarn left over from a wreath I made, so I cast on 20 stitches and just knit every row. No pattern needed, and it turned out pretty cool. Sophia watched me make it with keen interest, so after I bound it off the needles, I handed it over to her to keep. She was shocked and delighted! I made her so happy, which thrilled me endlessly. It's the little things. ♥
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So I think I'm going to change the name of my blahg from "Smellyann Strikes Again" to... I'm not sure. Just "Smellyann"? "Smellyann's World?" No, that's lame. I need thoughts and suggestions. Only my nickname appears in the URL, so no harm, no foul
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After I read this post from Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day, I knew we needed to make these Shrinky Dink crafts for Rob and the kids' two grandfathers for the upcoming Father's Day. I hustled over to Michaels for tie tack backings and inkjet Shrinky Dink paper, but I only found the latter. No shocker there. So I subbed earring posts and backs for the tie tacks, and I think that'll work. Sometimes good enough is good enough, right?


Are these not adorable?! Yes, we gave the presents to Rob some three weeks early (we'll still do more for him on his actual day, don't worry), because we needed his help finishing the presents. Yeah, that sucks, I know. But though the tie tacks worked, the keychains didn't. We put holes in the paper pre-shrinking, and they closed up in the oven! D'oh! I gave Rob the task of figuring out the hole-making for those. Hee. Still, all five of us loved this project and are going to do it again in the future. Thanks, Jordan!
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Since the Sophie scarf, I've had bad knitting juju. First there was this gorgeous yarn. I haven't looked at it in natural light in a while, but I'm pretty sure it's tomato red or even orange, not the cherry red it looks like here in artificial lighting. Anyway, whatever. It's fingering weight yarn, which is pretty fine, and it kept tangling up on me. I have a lot of yardage, meaning I can make a good-sized project for Vinnie, but I could not find a good pattern to go with it to save my life. Finally, after a prolonged search, I found one. Whew.

This was the project. It was as complicated as it looks there with all ten stitch markers. I didn't get much farther than that before I ripped it all out. I couldn't make heads nor tails of the pattern after that and was completely irritated afterward. Bah!

Then I pulled out this Madeline Tosh yarn, which is absolutely gorgeous and, let's face it, pretty spendy premium yarn. For what I paid, you'd think it would wind beautifully from the hank into a knittable cake. Not so. It knotted up, wound back on itself, and was a complete mess. I bandied about lots of bad words and had a black cloud hanging over my head. In the end, Rob wound it into a ball for me, but I still couldn't find a decent project for it. Double BAH!

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I did finally pull out another hank of yet another beautiful yarn for a new Vinnie project, and it's going well so far. Still, it's on circular needles, and I hate circular needles, so the going is slow. I'm determined to make this one stick, though!
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Oh, hi again, Pepper! Sorry to bother you while you're doing your business. That wasn't the plan.... we have a bunch of cats, so the litterbox is an ongoing issue, with the cleaning and the changing and the sweeping of tracked litter all over the floor. So I was excited to get a deal from on these Tidy Cats Breeze litter systems, which uses pellets instead of litter - no tracking! And there are pee sheets to change in a drawer under the main poopy compartment so... am I really telling you this? Let's just say, these three thingamabobs should simplify our lives greatly, and I'm a wee bit excited about that.
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So, I've mentioned before that I play a lot of Words With Friends. I have a new 'friend' onboard with me, and, well, it's obvious that she cheats at the game. It pisses me off! I still think I'll win, but that's not cool. What do you do? Continue the game even though you know your opponent is a cheater? Or call it a day on them and end the game?
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Jack, Sophia and Chloë love their new Kindles. We got them the 7" HD Fire versions, ostensibly for school, but they play games on them all the time, too. They adore them so much, it's become difficult to get them to put them down. So we've had to institute a new rule: chores first, then Kindles. No chores, no Kindles. It works. I do find it amusing to see the five of us sitting around together on our various technological devices. Of course, we get plenty of book time, face time, and outside time, too, but I think this is great!
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And finally, speaking of Stephanie, I've had this vintage lace and rickrack for about 13 or 14 years. I got it from my boss's mom, who was being put into a nursing home, and I've never used it. Stephanie sews, and while I've tried, I'm no good at it. So I'm rehoming the goodness with her. I can't wait to see what you make with it, Steph!
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Have a good weekend, y'all. Thanks for stopping by!

Romancing The Hubs

All day Wednesday, Rob and I both had migraines. It was awful. I slept and he slept, but every so often, he would get up to get sick, waking me up. I felt so bad for him, but I was useless to help him. And then the Mormons came and knocked on the door, waking me up again. Dudes. I was polite, and they were nice, but all I wanted to do was lie back down on the couch. I was dizzy and shaking, and I could not get rid of them. They insisted on praying for me, and then they put the enormous boxes that were on our porch in the dumpster for us. It was okay, but I have no intention of becoming an LDS just because... I mean, really. I was only wearing a tank top and underwear, and my hair was spiked up all over the place. Go away, already!!

(Seriously. They kept asking me to join their church and get baptised. I've alreadybeen baptised, what, just last year? They didn't care. Ugh.)

So anyway. After the kids went to bed, I decided to take a warm, relaxing bath. Rob came into the bathroom, and with a slight twinkle in my eye, I invited him to join me. I knew his head was still hurting a bit, so I didn't expect him to accept, but he did! All riiiiiight. We used to do Spa Night all the time during my pregnancy with Chloë, long, long ago when JAFRA first came out with their Spa line. We only had a few products then. I can probably count on one hand how many times we've done it since then, and our Spa line has way expanded since then, so I had to teach him as we went along with our romantical night in the tub. 
He kept laughing at me. I said, "You don't really care, do you?" I expected him to agree, but he surprised me by saying, "I like listening to you talk!" He probably wasn't listening, but I know he's always enjoyed me babbling and chattering away as I do...
1 Rhythmic Retreat CD
We queued up our relaxing JAFRA "Rhythmic Retreat" CD on my iPhone's iPod, lit a bunch of scented tea light candles, and hopped in. Now, I highly recommend doing this together if you have a bigger tub, but it was definitely a little compact in there with our standard size bath. I honestly don't know HOW we fit in there together and did this with my big ol' huge belly back in the day! Yet, we managed.
2 Soothing Mineral Bath Salts
While the water was running, I poured in a handful or two of Soothing Mineral Bath Salts. Oh, my gosh, you guys. One of the things about JAFRA's Spa line is that it's a full-sensory experience. (Except taste. But get yourselves some white zin and some chocolate-covered strawberries, and you're good to go.) The aromatherapy component is key to relaxation, and you'll see what I mean throughout this post. The bath salts are really strong-smelling, but in a good way. You know how some things knock you over and are just too much? Not these. They're not subtle, but you'll love it. I swear.

3 Tea Blend Cleanser & Toner and Nightly  Moisturizer
There isn't a face wash and moisturizer in the SPA line, so I decided we should use our new Tea Blends for this purpose. I normally use Royal Jelly and our PRO line on my face, but I'm loving this simple, clarifying Tea Blend Cleanser + Toner and Nightly Moisturizer at night (along with the Daily Moisturizer SPF 15 in the mornings). It's so gentle and clean-feeling, leaving my face feel nothing but clean and soft. So we washed our faces in the bath and saved the moisturizer for later. I thinked Rob liked it, but he was like, okay, whatever. Hee.

4 Detox Shampoo
After washing our faces, we washed each other's hair with the Spa line's Detox Shampoo. If you like to use a clarifying shampoo once or twice a week, you'll know what this does. If not, let me tell you: it's great, because it cleans out all the product build-up and gunk, stripping your hair back down to its natural, soft sheen. It revitalizes and purifies. I find there isn't much scent to it, so it doesn't compete with the rest of the aromatherapy going on with our Spa experience. Rob's hair is getting long and curly again, and it's quite thick, which I'm not used to after 12½ years of Navy life with him! 
5 Scalp Massage & Hair Treatment
After I rinsed the Detox Shampoo out of Rob's hair, and vice versa, we massaged each other's head with the Scalp Massage and Hair Treatment. It's rich and creamy, perfect for some luxurious pampering. I've had a professional scalp massage or two before, and I didn't like it too much because it left my hair feeling greasy and oily. This doesn't - it's just clean and simple, like everything else. Rob massaging my head felt so nice; I loved every minute of it.
6 Split-End Repair Capsules
Neither of us have damaged hair, but I still like to use the Split-End Repair Capsules because it leaves my hair super-soft and touchable. We rinsed the Scalp Massage and Hair Treatment out and then applied a capsule to each other's hair. We left that in for the remainder of the bath to let it work its magic. 
7 Ginger & Sea Salt Body Rub
The Ginger and Sea Salt Body Rub is probably my favorite product in JAFRA's Spa line, and that's saying something, since there are very few JAFRA products I don't absolutely love. I mean, really, it's that fantastic. It smells SOOO good, and it leaves my skin feeling amazing. I noticed Rob's feet were feeling more than a bit rough, but he doesn't like anyone messing with his feet (though that's not the word he normally uses), so I let him rub his own feet with the Ginger and Sea Salt. I did my own, too, but I did scrub his rough knees for a while. We did our own elbows and hands, too.
When I do the Spa by myself, without the hubs, I usually scrub my whole body with it (except my face and, you know), but we were too squished for all that. Plus, I was getting a little impatient, I have to say. My tailbone sticks out ever since I lost all my weight, and it was digging into the tub drain, so I was kind of uncomfortable. We stuck to the rough spots and moved on.
8 Ginger & Seaweed Bath & Shower Gel
At that point, I let the water out of the tub, because who wants to rinse their hair and wash up in dirty bath water? Not I, said the fly. So we stood up and ran the shower then (hey, I didn't say this night was about water conservation), and rinsed the Split-End capsules out ourselves. I asked Rob if he wanted to wash himself with the Ginger and Seaweed Bath and Shower Gel or let me do it, and, devil that he is, he let me do it. Let's just say... he liked it. A lot.
I let him soap me up, too, and... it was quite enjoyable. Hot, even. ;)
9 Mud Mask
Less hot and more funny, we did the Mud Mask together after we got out of the tub and dried ourselves off. I begged him to let me Instagram a picture of our faces slathered in mud together, but he would have none of it. For 20 minutes, he snoozed on his back in the bed while I wondered if he'd roll over and make us have to change the sheets - but he was good! I sat and checked email, because I knew he would be out like a light for that 20-minute respite. 
It was fun, though, doing a mask with my husband. He was so cute, asking how to apply it, why mine was thicker, where to put it (everywhere but near the face and mouth, even on the neck). To rinse it off, I started him off with just hot water, but he didn't like it so much, so I gave him a warm, wet washcloth. He can't see at all without his glasses, so he missed a lot. I went in with the cloth and cleaned off the rest for him before doing mine. I asked him how his skin felt compared to usual, and he said, "I don't know, I don't normally feel my face!" 
Well, I do! I am like a mama gorilla, always picking at him, and I feel his face. It's not normally as soft as it is now, not by a long shot. So, totally worth the 20 minutes worrying about the sheets. I caught him admitting that he didn't use his regular "JAFRA crap," as he calls it, on a daily basis, because he doesn't know where it is! Stinker. We'll find it; he really needs it. (We are 40 and 36 now, after all.)
10 Hand Treatment Trio
The next part of our relaxing, romantic evening was really quite nice. It's not part of the Spa line, but I threw it in there thinking it would be a special touch - and I was right! I'm showing the whole Hand Treatment trio, though we only used the Night Care with Shea Butter (Step Three). First, I massaged his left hand, and then his right, slowly and while looking lovingly into Rob's eyes. It was sweet. After he massaged my hands in return, I laughed when he said, "My nails are so shiny!" Ha! Too much funny.
Later this morning, when Rob gets up from his peaceful slumber, I'm going to use Steps One and Two on his hands - the Hand Scrub and then the Day Care SPF 15 with Intellishield. Listen, it's important to use SPF all over, especially on the hands and face, because that's where we show our age first. Lots of people only use facial products but neglect their hands, and it shows! You can totally guess their age by their hands. And of course, it helps avoid other damage done by the sun.
After the hand massage, combined with the Ginger and Sea Salt Body Rub, I told Rob his hands were "fit to touch me now." I was joking, but it's true - I can't stand rough hands on my soft skin. It gives me the creepy-crawlies! His hands felt so good on me for this last step:
11 Ginger and Seaweed Body Massage Cream
Speaking of HOT, we really steamed things up giving each other massages with the Ginger and Seaweed Body Massage Cream. I rubbed him all over with it, and then we switched places. Let's just say that what happened next was no surprise. (I'm not going to spell it out! I do keep some things private, and after all, my mother-in-law reads my blahg!)
I will say this, though: the whole time you-know-what was going on, I loved smelling Rob and feeling his soft skin on mine. The spa treatment was definitely a winner for both of us. We'll have to do that again, maybe make it a weekly thing like back in the days of our first pregnancy. We have no problems keeping things spiced up, but I know that if we did, this would be just the thing to kick things back into high gear. I'm totally blushing right now, but it's true. On my own, the Spa line leaves me feeling really soft, relaxed, and yes, sexy. But together? There's a whole new element of sensuality that I really love.
Rob, baby? Thank you. I adore you. ♥

Presto Chango!


I finished Vinnie's Presto Chango {Ravlink} four days after I started it, on Monday night. I love it! It's not exactly like I intended it to be, but that's okay, because it was an unplanned, spur-of-the-moment project anyway.


My one complaint with the sweater is that the wool isn't soft; it's pretty scratchy, actually. I'm aware that Steph knows how to work some magic with wool and will hopefully be able to overcome that so it's comfortable for Vinnie to wear. I don't even mind the colorblocked-ness of it, or the fact that I ran out of the blue on the front panel and had to finish it in the red. I kind of like it like that. I was going to make her a blue panel and a red panel, so she could swap them out on a whim, but I haven't enough yarn to do that. So I didn't.


I went to Michael's for the buttons, which was a mistake, but I don't know yet where a fabric or button store might be around these parts. Dude. I have a ton of buttons in my stash, but not sixteen of the same, so I wanted something wooden in the right size for the buttonholes for this sweater. Not only was it impossible to find wooden buttons at Michaels, it was darn near impossible to find any buttons there. I was sorely disappointed at the selection. {I am pretty impressed with myself for picking up and putting down about 90 things, either literally or mentally, and only getting the three crafty things on my list. That, there, was calendar-worthy for me.} Anyway, I found a tin of wooden beads that were the right size and shade, so I subbed beads for buttons and there you go.


The only mod I made to the pattern was in doubling the frequency of the buttonholes, so I needed the 16 you see instead of 8. I don't know that Steph will want to undo 16 buttons, but I think the construction of the sweater is such that she'll probably never need to, and she can just whip it on and off over Vinnie's head. As a former mother of toddlers myself, I can't remember a time when I'd have wanted to remove only the tummy portion of their shirt - kinda weird, isn't it? But I still think it looks cool, so off it goes in tomorrow's mail to Steph and Vinnie.

Link up here if you have some crafty goodness to show Cindy at Skip to My Lou this week!


Sundays In My City: Random Snaps From Last Week

Unknown Mami

It's been a few weeks since I've participated, but that's because we've been kind of lazy, and I've had camnesia. Sundays in my City are brought to you by Unknown Mami. Check out this link to see more photographs from around the globe.

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If you missed it, check out this post for more about our fun NERF/Cheetos Block Party yesterday - it was a blast!

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I have no idear why that picture is showing up so smallishly, but anyway, speaking of parties and free gifts, Smiley360 sent us this wicked cool craft kit full of BIC Mark-It markers, butterfly chimes to decorate, and glittery-doodads, ribbons and more to finish the job. (Hi, my name is Smellyann, and I am addicted to markers. You could say I was just a li'l excited!)

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The photos of Sophia decorating, and of all the kids with their finished products, have apparently disappeared into the ether. Bah! But here are Chloë and Jack, who griped at first about the craft being too "girly" and then jumped right in when he saw how much fun the girls were having. Hee. Typical Jack.


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You guys may have noticed we have a teensy obsession with Romero Britto's funky pop art, no? Welp, since he lives here in Miami, damn near everything is decorated with his style. How fun was it to find an ATM when we went shopping at Target recently?! (Answer: Very.)


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The Manx kittens Rob rescued from precarious positions recently have about doubled in size since we took them in to nurse them back to health. Stick a fork in them; they're done! We're ready to adopt them out, but so far no takers on CraigsList or Freecycle (ours allows it), which is fine. Time to bring out the big guns: We're going to have them neutered and then try again. We WILL NOT be keeping these puppies (as I always call them; wishful thinking, mayhaps?), so there is not one iota of an inkling of a chance they will grow up here. NO, no, no!

Rob is pretty adamant that they go together, so does anyone want two freakishly adorable kitties? They come with the bed they've commandeered, if that helps, along with any food we have for them. (Their taillessness dictates that they be fed soft food, 'cause dry food is too hard for them to poop out. They cry otherwise, and their poor little heinies get all sore and scabby. Do NOT try it. Oh. I'm probably not really selling them very well here, huh??)

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Now this is the TRUE "in my city" part: As I left the dermatologist's office on Wednesday, amidst his requests that I drive carefully, I realized that we'd had a downpour, to put it mildly. You can't really tell from this picture just how deep that water was; it was to the floor of my Honda Odyssey and therefore about midway up my calf.

I started just walking out to Penelope (the van), but when I got about ankle-deep, I decided I didn't care who was looking out the window and started jumping, leaping, and dancing my way to Penny. The rain continued, and I lifted up my arms and laughed my head off, absolutely refusing to run. What was the point? I was already soaked, might as well have some fun with it! (Needless to say, I left the AC off on the drive home. I was frrrrozen when I walked in the door and stripped down to nothin'!)

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My hands are so shaky lately, so you get blurry pix. Sorry. We went grocery shopping last week (I saved $215 if anyone but me cares; gotta love Publix!) and got stuff for S'mores. We brought them to the NERF/Cheetos Block Party Saturday, but the kids could NOT wait. We made some in the microwave - and would you believe, Jack had the nerve NOT to finish his?! Some Girl Scout he'd make!

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Checkiddout, I found the picture of Sophie coloring her butterfly chime... but why the heck are those photos so tiny?

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Oh, looky, I've been knitting for Vinnie again. It took me a while to start up again after the move, because the people who packed for us did a pretty sucky job. I found my straights in a box labeled "arrows," which is fantastic. Anyway, the sweater. I've had the wool forever and a day, obstensibly to knit socks for Robert, but I think that ship has sailed. So while the blanket I'm making him waits for the smaller needles to be rediscovered, I cast on for a sweater. It's handspun wool with no tag, so I had no clue how much yardage I had. I nearly ran out of the blue on the back, so I decided it had to be a colorblocked sweater. (Have I ever mentioned that I freaking hate the colorblock trend? I do.) Stephanie (Vinnie's mom) will have to tell me whether she wants the whole front red or to mix it up even more. (Steph: I also have green and black.)


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Lastly - and probably least, this time - I found out Best Buy was having a clearance sale today. 49¢ for school and office supplies and, like I mentioned with the markers, I adore school supplies. I mean, few things get me more pumped. It's sad but true. Since I had a $5 Best Buy Reward Zone sitting in my account for the longest time, I determined we needed to make a beeline for that odious store and spend it on the beloved supplies o' school. Welp, we price-checked lots of things, and these are the 11 things we got for a total of 41¢! I saved over $79, y'all! I know; cha-ching. (You can barely contain yourselves over there, amiright?)

'Kay. I'm done sharing pictures. What's up with you guys?


Our NERF & Cheetos Block Party

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Recently, I was selected to be a host for a NERF/Cheetos {check out the latter site, by the way; it's pretty funny} Block Party from House Party. That's my niece, Karen, "liking" my Instagram picure from the NERF Party Pack, which included water guns, coupons for more, temporary tattoos, and of course instructions for the party host, moi.

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We were sent tons of bags of Cheetos cheesy poofs, too, with lots more coupons. I still have some coupons, for $1 off Cheetos and for $5 off a $9.99+ NERF product, so hit me up in the comments if you want me to drop any off in the mail to ya! I'll be happy to do that.

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Between the Party Pack and the coupons, I ended up with about 20 different water guns, all kinds. You may end up with a different number if you count the ones in the picture, but that's because SOMEONE, who shall remain nameless but who is 8, has blond hair, and is female, decided to abscond with several of the ones from the party pack and then proceed to LOOOOOSE them. Which is why I found myself at Walmart on Friday night at 11 PM to buy a lot more. And then forbid said child to LOOK at them, much less touch. Heh.

{Hey, it worked. You do what you have to do; I do what I have to do.}

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So that's Erica, whom Rob knows from his youth in Missouri, and her daughter, Kira. We invited them and papa Kevin to Hugh Tayor Birch State Park in Fort Lauderdale to have this little block party with us, and they were all in. Yay!

So, why did I need so many guns for eight people?

Welp, my plan was to con rope other park-goers into joining the party with us and handing out guns to all comers.

Guess what? It worked!

We let the kids run over to the playground with their water guns, and the came back with what Chloë hilariously dubbed "an angry mob."

They wanted our guns, y'all. So we put the "mob" to work and made them fill up all our guns in the bathrooms, and then have at it.

Yo. They had a BLAST. {Pun intended.}

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That's "Peanut," who was entirely too excited to play, once we convinced them that, yes, indeedy, they were allowed to play with us. Yes, convince. We had to tell the newcoming kids that they were invited to play with the NERF guns about three or four times before they accepted it. {{I experienced this in teaching, too. I hate the racial divide, and the suspicion, mistrust and doubt that comes along with it. It makes me sad.}} But what a beautiful kid, huh?


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The little girl in the dress, in the back, was SO worried about her dad finding out that she had gotten wet. He wasn't even at their Memorial Day party! I hope she didn't get in trouble for having a little fun...!


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It thrilled me to no end to see everyone playing together like that. That's what it's about, right there. {{Hell, of the three people I still really know here in South Florida, two are white, one's black from Trinidad & Tobago, and one's Jewish. I just realized that. Rock ON.}}


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Everybody gang up on Kira!!! Git 'er!!!


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Jack never lets his dwarfism stop him from taking down the big guys, er, girls, either. I love that about him! Look at him - he was totally kicking @$$ and taking names!


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Chloë, looking a little unsure about which gun to pick. Oh, the choices!

I think this is the point where two other kids walked into the park, shooting regular toy guns, and I said something about them having "real" guns (as opposed to water guns). Peanut rushed to reassure me that they weren't real, just toys... and I felt like a jerk for saying it! Ugh. I have no filter.


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The other kids left before I was able to hand out certificates to our party winners, so I chose among the eight of us for prizes. I know Rob won the Cheetos prize for "Most Cheesiest," and of the NERF Prizes, Chloë got "Hot Shot," Sophia received "Sly & Dry" (which should rightfully have gone to Kevin, but whatevs), and Jack won "Most Soaked." Kira got "NERF Ninja," and I can't remember what Erica won, but for winning, they'll each be entered to win a $100 Gift Card. Woots!

What fun we had. Thanks to House Party, NERF, and Cheetos for the great day!


Sunday Stealing: The Sunday Brunch Meme

Link up here if you're playing along today!
1}Which do you prefer in the am: Coffee or tea? 

Definitely coffee. I am not a tea person. But my favorite is the Caramel Frappé from McDonald's. I can only drink about a third or I get sick, though!

2} Work has been cancelled on the spur of the momentClean house and do errands, Or just fun things?
Unless you have something pressing you must do, you've gotta do something spontaneous and FUN!

3} Middle of the hot summer, vacation atMountains or Beach?
99 times out of 100, I'd go to the beach. I should've been a mermaid.
4}You have to travel at a leisure speed: Train, plane or car? 

It's on my bucket list to travel cross-country in style, in a sleeper car on the train. I'd go that way, though I LOVE to fly!
5} To relax: A movie or a book?

I love watching movies, but I'm a true bookworm. I spent my entire first pregnancy, with Chloë, curled up in bed reading. Day and night, I read. I had planned to catch up on the classics I'd never read - some more Shakespeare, Tolstoy, the Bronte sisters, and more, but I ended up reading the opus of Sidney Sheldon!
6} What kind of pets? Dog, cat, bird or fish.

We are currently home to EIGHT freakin' cats (in order of entry into our lives: Tinkerbell, Star, Cupcake, Muffin, Ginger, Pepper, Lucky, and Hunter), but I'm a dog person. Getting a Chihuahua puppy is also on my bucket list. My sister is always telling me to get rid of the cats, but there are over 100 snakes and their food in her basement, so who's she to talk?? ;)
7} Dream home: Hard wood floors or carpeting? 

Our dream home is a boat, so I don't think carpeting would be the way to go.
8} a fun activitycards, bingo or blogging?

I grew up playing cards with my grandma. I'll be the grandma playing cards with my children's kids. I never win at Bingo, and while I love blogging, it's kind of a solitary activity...
9} First date: Dinner, movie or a hike? 

Can't we do all three?  A hike to work up an appetite, then a fun dinner al fresco (maybe the picnic I mentioned in yesterday's Saturday 9?), and then a movie to cuddle up together. Yeah. that's the ticket.
10}The first Kiss: peck on the cheek, or a long romantic one?
Oh, please, kiss me like you mean it or don't kiss me at all!
Now I wish Rob wasn't napping; I wanna smooch! ;)

Remembering Mom

I was driving to the dermatologist's office on Wednesday when the song "Gloria" came on the mixed music station I was enjoying. My mom loved that song, but the quintessential song I think of when I think of my mom is this one, "Hey There, Georgie Girl," by The Seekers. It got me thinking about Mom, of course, and the fact that I've talked about her death but not too much more about her life or specifically about her as my mother. Since this blog will hopefully someday serve as a record of my thoughts and memories for the kids to read, I decided it was important to put those memories I do have of my mother down, here, to preserve for Chloë, Jack, and Sophia.

I don't have a ton of memories; my recollection is pretty sparse and jumps all around, so this recount will, too.

Oh, and last year, my dad gave me my mom's old jewelry box full of costume pieces. I can distinctly remember seeing some of the necklaces on her chest; going through that box was like opening the front door on a windy day. All the memories just kept rushing in. 

Karen Joyce O. was born on February 17, 1951, to Arthur and Ruth. She was the middle child between two brothers. The older one, Arthur Nicholas, had died a week or so before his first birthday after suffocating in an apartment fire. Uncle Chris was the baby. They grew up in the Bronx, New York City.

Mom had very fair blond hair and bright blue eyes. I have the brown/brown combination of my dad, but my sister Stacey inherited the blond/blue genes. Stacey's older daughter, Karen Joyce after her grandmother, did as well, while Hanna Leigh has her dad's red hair. My kids have a blue-eyed parent (Rob) and a heterozygous dominant brown-eyed parent (moi), so they've all managed to end up with hazel eyes. They could each have blue-eyed kids, if they marry light-eyed spouses. Sophia and Jack are blondes, while Chloë has her parents' brown hair. I digress, but the genetics do interest me so.

I don't know very much at all about my mom's childhood. I know from pictures and my own memories that she always had a lot of freckles, like me. I don't know what her favorite color was or whether she was right- or left-handed. I don't know what she studied in college for the brief time she was there, and so I don't know what her favorite subject in school was. Simple things like that don't really matter much until you don't get the chance to ask.

My parents met when Mom was 19 and Dad was a 28-year-old divorcée (did I spell that right?) with a daughter, Pamela. They were introduced through a dating service and married exactly one year later, on June 19th, 1971. Stacey was born in April, 1975, and I came along 17 months later in September, 1976. I know my father was always disappointed he never had a son, but my mother doted on her daughters. In my dad's words, "She made it fun for me to be a parent."

My earliest memory is from when I was three years old. I was a happy kid then (my dad's nickname for me was "Joyous"), and I always wanted to say something but could never think of what to say. I'm still like that. It would go, "Mom?" "Yes?" "I love you!" over and over throughout the day. They never hushed me. So the memory - I was running, screaming with joy and laughter, with my arms stretched high over my head, down the hall from the kitchen to my shared bedroom with Stacey. I was smiling broadly and screaming with happiness. I don't know what spurred on that moment, but I can see me doing it vividly, as from a high corner on the opposite end of the room.

Soon after that, I started having these traumatic episodes. If I was sitting on the bed in my room looking up at the place where the walls met the ceiling, I could literally "see" the walls falling in on me. It was terrifying. I would sleep with one leg standing on the floor, so that I could run when the bed collapsed underneath me. This happened often;  I remember at least a dozen episodes. When it happened at night, I'd run into my parents' room, screaming with fright. Dad would try to shush me and take me into the bed with them, but I would refuse. I knew it would just collapse. Mom understood; she took me out into the living room, sat Indian-style with me in her lap on the floor, and rocked me while singing hymns to me. It was the only thing that ever calmed me.

I can't specifically remember my mother's voice, but she was musically talented. She sang, and she played the electric organ. I want to say she did both at church, but I'm not positive. I remember that on Christmases, my grandparents would come to where we lived in Monroe, NY, from New Jersey, and my dad's Aunt Amy would come from Manhattan, and we'd celebrate in our little yellow house at 16 Cooper Drive. Mom would play the organ, and we would all gather 'round the organ and sing along. My dad, sister, and I, along with my grandfather, all sing well. My grandma and Aunt Amy did not have such talents, but who cared? We'd all belt out the Christmas carols Mom played, both religious and secular, and I can still hear it. Grandpa had a rich tenor - like my father - and his favorite was "Gloria." The other Gloria, not the one on the radio on Wednesday. I can hear the timbre of his voice colliding with my mother's tune on the keyboard, and it makes me wistful for those days.

The organ was a favorite plaything for Stacey and me. We used to fight over it. My mom, surely out of frustration from the constant bickering, used to set the timer for one or five minutes, and we'd take turns playing while she worked in the kitchen. One minute always seemed like an eternity when it was Stacey's turn, but my five minutes ended in the blink of an eye.

Mom put us in the corner a lot when we misbehaved. She didn't watch us in the corner, though. I can remember Stacey coming in to taunt me when I was in the corner, in our bedroom away from Mom's eyes, teasing me for being punished. Of course, there was no talking in the corner, so I couldn't tell!

My mother spanked us only one time that I can remember. I know Stacey and I were especially naughty that day, but I can't remember exactly what we did to deserve the smacks on the tush. Mom spanked us while we both lay in our beds, first Stacey and then me. I remember the feeling of her hand on my butt. She was an emotional mother like I am, and I remember Stace and I taking advantage of that: after the punishment was dispensed, we jumped up and down on our beds, fake-crying, "You don't love us anymore...!!!" I must have been about five then. I remember her apologizing and telling us that she certainly did so love us! And you can bet we never doubted it.

One Thanksgiving, my mother - an excellent cook - made a couple of pumpkin pies. It was Stacey's favorite, and while the pies cooled, she asked for a taste. My mother agreed to it, so while she cooked the dinner, I took a forkful of pumpkin pie to Stacey on the couch in the adjacent living room. I can't remember whether Mom was aware of it, but I ended up feeding my sister about half the pie in one sitting! She wasn't a big girl, either.

One time, my mom took us roller skating with some friends. I remember it was during a weekday, and Mom wasn't particularly skilled on wheels. I was scared, so she took me around the edge of the rink, holding my hand. A large woman came skating toward us, and the three of us smashed into each other and fell in a heap, with me on the bottom. I was fine, though disgruntled! Later in that outing, all the skaters held hands and got in a big circle on the rink to do the hokey-pokey. I don't recall anything else about it other than the fun we had.

Mom used to take us to the park to feed the ducks by a pond in town. I absolutely adored this activity. Now that I know how bad it is to feed birds breadcrumbs, I'm completely conflicted about letting my kids do it. I don't, but it bothers me they won't get those warm fuzzies from remembering doing it with me like I do with my mom.

For special occasions, like school pictures, my mother used to put my hair in curlers and make me sleep with them in, with a net around them. I hated that! I remember the rollers pressing into my head while I tried to find a comfy sleeping position. In the morning, my mother would style my hair, and this was the reason I let her put the curlers in in the first place: she did such a great job, and I thought I looked so cute. I was pretty fond of my own countenance in my young childhood; I always thought I resembled Molly from the musical Annie.

My Uncle Chris, mom's younger brother by four years, has always been a computer geek. He brought us Atari before anyone else had it, when it first became available. My mother's favorite game was Frogger. She was addicted to it! I was always so pleased for her when she got to the first level with the snakes on it.

All of us loved to play games. I grew up playing Uno with my grandmother and watching her and Grandpa have their nightly Skip-Bo matches during Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! Grandma tried teaching me Bridge, but I never could catch on. So we played Gin Rummy instead, all the time, and you can bet we kept score. Grandma never let me win; I had to beat her fair and square. (I often did, about half the time.) I remember her playing Backgammon with my mom. When I thought of that, after she died, I'd ask Grandma to play Backgammon with me, too. 

One time in Monroe, when we were about five and six years old, Stacey and I woke up in the middle of the night. I don't know what got us up, but we looked all over and could not find our parents anywhere in the house. Frantic, we were crying and screaming, looking all over the house for Mom and Dad. Then we heard their voices coming from their bedroom telephone, which was off the cradle. Picking it up, there they were on the other end, listening to us from down the road where they were playing cards with Fred and Lois O., our neighbors and their best friends. They had gone the few houses down after putting us to bed, to play games, and had left the phone off the hook in case we woke up. That was the 70s; I guess you could do that back then. I remember being pretty mad, though!

My mom worked as a secretary. One day in the summer, she was leaving for work. She was dressed to the nines from head to toe, with her hair done and her glasses and make-up on. For some reason (maybe it was her lunch hour, I don't know?), and Fred O. were outside in the backyard with Stacey and me. Fred picked my mother up and threw her - glasses, clothes and all - in our pool! Instead of getting angry, my mother thought this was hysterical, and we all laughed together for a long time about it.

Heather O., Fred and Lois' daughter, was Stacey's best friend. They had a younger son, too: Johnny. He was younger than I was. I was closer in age to Heather and Stacey, so the three of us would pal around in the neighborhood, running hill over dale all over the place, day in and day out. One day, we went to the construction site at the end of our road, and they built "pies" for me out of dog poop. I ate it. I don't remember how it tasted, but I remember eating their poop pies and thinking I was pretty dandy for doing so. We dug holes, deep enough for us to crawl into, in that site, too. And one time, outside in the middle of the road in front of our house, Heather and Stacey convinced me to pull down my pants and pee. As I did so, my mother came and looked out the front door at me. Oh, she shouted! She yelled! She had a fit!

We moved away from the O family when I was six, up to the Syracuse area. I don't remember a whole lot about that first year there. By the end of our first year, in April 1984, my mom wasn't well. We were Christian Scientists, so we didn't go to doctors. We had no idea what was really wrong with her. I wasn't ever aware of anything being wrong with her until that last weekend. She came home from work on Friday and went straight to bed. 

I remember my mother calling out for me, repeatedly, to bring her water. After the third or fourth time of me putting the cup of water on her bedside table, I distinctly remember my dad telling me not to bring her anymore water; she didn't need it. (She did, though; the autopsy revealed she was an untreated diabetic.) I can remember her covered up, on the bed, with her pale arm reaching out for that water.

On April 9th, 1984, a Monday, my mom died. She was 33; I was 7½. She had come home from work, gone to bed, and never got up again. My father called the coroner's office, frantic, in the middle of the night. They whisked her out of the house in the dark; I never saw her again. I never got to say goodbye. When I woke up for school, a woman I knew from church walked into my room, pulled down the shades, and informed me that I did not need to go to school that day.  She's the one who told us our mother had passed away. I can't remember if I saw my father at all that day.

It was an earth-shattering day for me. I'm still reeling, 29 years later. Oh, my God. She was a beautiful woman, a perfect mother, an angel on Earth. Remember that Billy Joel song, "Only the Good Die Young"? I can't hear it without thinking of her.

When things go wrong now with my own children, I think to myself what I want most for them to remember about their childhoods. And that thing, that thing I want them to hold most dear and precious to themselves, is that they grew up knowing how fervently Rob and I loved them. I want them to think happy thoughts about their youth; I want them to know they were loved; I want them to want to come and be with us as adults.

It's inevitable that there will be some unhappy times, some unhappy memories for them. I'm sure most kids have a few. The only happy memories I have from mine, save the holidays and summers I spent in NJ with my grandparents, were from those 7½ years between my birth and Mom's death. I cherish every single one; I crush it to my heart and hold tightly to it. I can remember her blond hair, so perfectly straight and soft. I can remember her crooked teeth. I can remember her sucking her thumb when playing house with us. I can remember her love. 

I've mentally and emotionally put my mother up on this pedestal, which is not uncommon for bereaved kids according to my research. She is the anchor to my sanity; she is the reminder that I was born "Joyous." She is the mother I aspire to be like. I miss her so much. I miss her every day of my life.


Saturday 9: Battle Hymn Of The Republic

Link up here if you're a fun one!
Memorial Day was introduced to honor the men and women who died while serving the in the United States Armed Forces. We want to make sure that message is not forgotten this weekend.

1) This recording was made live at St. Patrick's Cathedral, during Sen. Robert Kennedy's funeral. While both of Bobby's older brothers were decorated war heroes, he served too - enlisting in the Navy in 1943. Are you a veteran? Are there veterans in your family? (We are grateful and want to hear about it.)
In one week, my husband will be retired from 20 years of Active Duty in the United States Navy. I'm SO proud of him. My grandfather served in the Navy in WWII. My uncle was in the Navy, and my dad, the Coast Guard.
2) Memorial Day also kicks off the summer season.What's your favorite picnic food? 

Oh, gosh. Let's see... Hm. I like a wine, cheese, and crusty bread picnic. Does that count? ;)
3) Name a scent that reminds you of someone special in your life.

Gosh! These are making me have to think this week! Okay, I got it. Old Spice cologne. Grandpa (the WWII vet) always wore it. Every single day. The one in the cream-colored bottle from back in the day.
4) When was the last time you had your hair cut or trimmed?

I shaved my head in December or January. It is maybe an inch or so long now. My hair grows sooooo slowly. Hopefully I won't ever have another Britney Spears moment again!
5) Crazy Sam runs on Dunkin'. Are you loyal to a particular brand of coffee?

No, but I tell you what, I can not STAND Seattle's Best. The best cup of coffee I ever had came out of a Nespresso boutique recently. I talked about it for DAYS. Literally.
6) If money was no object, what home improvement would you like to make this summer?
If money were no object, we'd buy that boat and sail the world. No home needed.

7) What was the last thing you bought purely for your own enjoyment?
Chocolate, yarn, and NERF water guns. We're having a water gun party tomorrow - I can't wait!
8) When was the last time you rode a bike?
Not since the summer of 1996, I don't think. It's been a very long time.
9) Sam worries that many of her song selections reflect her decidedly Baby Boomer sensibilities. Is there a song or a performer that you'd like to see featured in a Saturday 9 this summer?
Ooh! Do Bruno Mars! I adore him. I'm soooo pop music. Lame choices would come out of me. Keep on doin' what you're doin!


Wow. So my traffic to this little ol' blahg really spiked on Sunday, when I posted about being Bipolar and thusly disabled.

I expected some negativity. I expected some backlash. I expected, frankly, some nastiness.

There may have been some, I don't know, but I haven't been privy to it! Everything I've heard from you folks has been positive. And I really appreciate that.


So thanks. That's all I want to say here. Just, thanks.



For a few months now, I've been on a website called Happify. The founders contacted me through my blog, asking me to help them start the site, and I've been there since just about the beginning. It's wonderful.

On the site, you learn how add more happiness to your life.

Sounds simple, right?

But there's a science behind it. Really! It's a skill you can control, and like exercise, the more activities you do to build this skill, the happier you can become.

Happify uses a scientific framework, STAGE, to help you master the five essential happiness skills. STAGE stands for:

S - Savor

T - Thank

A - Aspire

G - Give

E - Empathize

and each skill has specific activities designed to help you learn to improve your happiness level.

Honestly, I love this site, and it works. Every two weeks, the site prompts you take a happiness test to see how you're doing on the spectrum, and I've noticed a marked increase in my score since starting on Happify. Sure, I go up and down like everybody else, but overall I think the skills and activities have helped me achieve a more positive outlook and a mindfulness about being happy that I might not have reached alone.

So join me on Happify if you think this would help you. You can find me here, so be sure and "follow" me, and I'll follow you back. Oh, that's another thing. You can click and comment on each others' activities (or keep yours private) to help cheer each other on! I think that's a fabulous asset, as we don't normally give ourselves those much-needed pats on the back. (At least I don't.)

Disclosure: I'm a member of Happify, but I have received nothing in exchange for this post. I have received no compensation or incentive; I just love this website and want to share with you! Oh - I did get a t-shirt, but that was just because I asked.☺


In Which I AM Disabled

Alternatively titled, "Conversations With My Self"

(If you respond, please be kind. This post is intensely personal, and my psyche is a fragile one.)

Hey, there.

If you're writing this, then you're me; if you're reading it, you're probably not me, so let me allow you into my brain for a little while to paint the picture of what being disabled by a mental illness might be like:

First, let me link you to this page about whether being bipolar is a disability as characterized by the Social Security Administration or not. (It is.)

Second, let me explain, in case you're new here:

I've experienced many traumas in my life, including the sudden and unexpected death of my mother (she was 33; I was 7) as a child and the subsequent extreme mental abuse I endured from The Bitch From Hell that my dad started dating, oh, three months later (oops, is my bitterness apparent?) and married within a year.

I believe that in addition to genetics (at least depression on both sides of my family) and my personal neurobiology, those two things were critical in my becoming what lesser-educated individuals in society might term "a mental case."

{During my adolescence, I attempted suicide several dozen times. I tried using my bedroom window as a guillotine. I tried so many times to slice my wrists, but I was too much the wimp. At least a half-dozen times, I went through the house taking three or four of every medication I could find - including my evil stepmother's heart meds - and was so pissed off when I woke up the following day. I tried suffocating myself, either by stringing a line from corner to corner of my room and resting my chin on it (something I'd heard would work, as ridiculous as it may now sound) or by choking myself with a cord as  fell asleep at night. I pondered so many other choices, like jumping or carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage... for whatever reason, I still say weakness or fear of the aftermath of failed attempts, I never tried those things. I was so intent, every single day, on killing myself that I became obsessed with thoughts of my own death. By the time I got to college, if I broke a nail, the suicidal ideation came flooding in - and I'm not exaggerating there. All this to say, my brain got broken as a kid, and I've spent my entire adulthood trying to fix it.}

However, it wasn't until the once-again sudden, unexpected death of one of our sons, when I was 26, that I spiraled out of control. For three years, I was lost in that grief, and sometimes now, I still find it miraculous that I came out of that on this side of the grave. I remember every detail of my pregnancy with Chloë and the boys, but I struggle to recollect any of it with Sophia. It's not until near her first birthday - three years after Robby died - that the memories become more transparent for me. That makes me sad, but it is what it is.

It wasn't until after that, though, that I was finally diagnosed. In my grad school therapy, it was simply "depression." (And I mean without the "manic" part of Bipolar, not only or just depression. Believe me, I know what that is like.) After Robby died, they had the gall to diagnose me as having post-partum depression. I couldn't argue out loud, to them, but in my head I was raging about that! As if. As if it was because my sons were born; no, it was because my beloved child had died, and ten years later, I still struggle to wrap my mind about that impossible concept.

It wasn't until I started the rapid cycling that I still do, 7 years after my diagnosis, that it became apparent that Bipolar I was the thing fecking up my mentality.

Oh, I'd had the psychosis during that three-year period of intense bereavement - I still do - and was even put on anti-psychotic medicines for my "PPD." I heard voices that, to me, sounded like the devil personified, telling me it was time to finally kill myself. I listened; I tried. I failed. Again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And there are the hallucinations. I am forever seeing, and to a lesser extent, hearing, what's not there. Always. All the time, there are humanoid shapes wandering around in plain view of only me. (Please don't suggest they are ghosts, or I'm a medium, or any of that crap.)

I don't know if this is part of it, but often when I'm thinking about Robby, I can feel him kicking as if during my pregnancy with the twins. Same side, same level in my belly where he hung out, and never, ever where Jack did. I've heard those phantom kicks are common in women who've lost a baby, though.

So when, in Summer and Fall 2006, I started acting out sexually and losing friendships left, right and center, we knew it was time to seek further treatment from a psychiatrist specializing in Bipolar Disorder. To say it was an easy, open-and-shut case for Dr. P would probably be an understatement. I had every manic symptom during my peaks, save one: thinking very highly of myself. I had every depressive symptom during the valleys. And I exhibited psychosis. Open and shut.

I have, at times, thought that I was also schizophrenic, but both Dr. P. and my wonderful, awesome last therapist, L, disagree. I've since tried to put it out of my head.

So why on Earth am I writing all of this down?

I'm getting to the point that Bipolar Disorder is classified as a disability by the SSA.  And I haven't even begun to crack the nut yet, so to speak. Rob definitely got the short end of the stick in terms of the two of us finding each other because, as frustrating as he can sometimes be, I think I'm damn near impossible to love and live with. Poor guy. Feel free to feel sorry for him; I do. (And the kids? Well, rest assured they're in no physical danger from having me as a mother, but I do wonder what seeing me in my various states of distress and the extreme upswings is doing to them. I don't want to talk anymore about the kids, though. They're fine. Please believe that. They really are fine, if a bit spoiled from over-love!)


Where was I?

 Ah, yes, so since my diagnosis in mid-September 2006, I've been on more medications lasso my brain and attempt to subdue my thoughts back to this side of "normal" than you can shake the proverbial stick at. Except Lithium. For whatever reason, that has never been prescribed. Apparently I'm still good to donate blood, but I can never donate plasma, ever, thanks to some of the meds I've been on.

But the point is, can I work? Can I hold a job? Can I make a living, can I help support my family, can I bring in a steady income with this crazy (tongue firmly implanted in cheek ) mind of mine?

The time has come for me to acknowledge, for the first time, that the answer is "no, I don't think so." I honestly don't think I can, and it gives me great pause to admit that, write it down, and see it there on the screen in blue-and-white.


I've been mystery shopping like a madwoman (well. heh.) since we got here - and also since 2006, coincidentally or not - to Miami, and I've been searching for a 'real' job for about as long. Unsuccessfully, alas, but not because I tell prospective employers that I'm insane in the membrane so much as the job market sucks here and now.

The truth is, though, I constantly have to reschedule those mystery shops around my "bipolar days," doing six or eight or even ten shops on a good (read: manic) day and sitting at home, on the couch, barely able to feel guilty on a bad (depressive) one. I cancel more shops than I perform, often neglect to write reports, and I have to admit, I've even totally flaked on shops without letting my schedulers know that I couldn't go.

And when I do tell them, I lie. Like a rug. I've never once told a scheduler, in all these years of constant calendar vs. bipolar juggling, "Hey, you know what? I'm bipolar and am just not able to function today." I don't know what their reaction might be, but something tells me it would be along the lines of, "Hey, you know what, then? Take the day off and... no, wait, you know, take forever off. We don't need you anymore." And then I'd even be out of the most flexible job ever.

Instead, my computer is down. Our internet is broken. I've been in a car accident. I've gotten very sick. Or my old standby, I have a migraine. (Sometimes it's true; I do get a lot of them, but they rarely interfere with my scheduled assignments.)

I struggle to confess all of these things, but I feel that, at this point in time, it's necessary.

I do not function normally, and therefore, I can not function normally. I'm disabled.

Can you imagine if three or four days out of a five-day workweek, I wasn't stable enough to go to work? How long would that job last? Not very, methinks.

And this phenomenon is not new. I've been doing this for years, now that I really think about it. When I worked as an intern at the marine lab, I was sick a lot. When I was a legal secretary at the law firm, I was sick a lot. I've been "sick" a lot physically, when in reality, I just couldn't face getting up, taking a shower (that one there is my own personal demon), and leaving my home.

So. I am going to apply for disability benefits. Again. I applied six months or so ago and was denied, but I didn't really pursue it. Now that I recognize the fuller picture, I realize what I need to do. Please don't think less of me; please don't hate me. I need to feed my kids and, I'm afraid, this is the only way I can do it.

So. Off my chest it goes, out into the matrix.


Update: You know, now that I think about it, I think I just THOUGHT about applying before. I don't think I actually did. I certainly didn't submit all the necessary forms. Hm. Well, ignore that one detail!

Sunday Stealing: The Fairy Tale Meme

Link up here if you're playing along today!

Sunday Stealing: the fairy tale meme

Snow White: Do you consider yourself pretty? Name the part of your body you think is the most beautiful!

I think I'm okay. Not beautiful, but not unattractive, either. I think my collarbone and shoulders are the most attractive part of me; I wish I could get my full body lift to make the rest of me match!

Cinderella: What is your shoe size?

I have what one shoe salesman recently called "tiny" feet: size 5½. I take a size 4 bowling shoe, though. 

Sleeping Beauty: How many hours do you sleep each night?

People sleep at night?!

My sleeping habits are pretty erratic. Half the nights I don't sleep at all, and then I'll do a marathon 10-12 hour catch-up snooze binge.

Little Red Riding Hood: What is your favorite food?  

I adore hummus and frequently make ridiculous assertions about it being "yummus."  Right now, though, I'm craving Gordon Biersch's garlic artichoke dippy stuff. Mmm-mmm, so tasty.

The Frog Prince: What do you find disgusting?

I know I always get on my high horse about this, but here's what continually disgusts me:

When I'm in an amusement park, zoo, or any other such venue where children are abundant, and there are designated smoking areas (or, ideally, the place is smoke-free), that whiff of smoke from some "the rules don't apply to me" asshat makes me want to vomit.  You want to pollute your own lungs inside your own house, fine. But you don't have the right to toxify my any child's air. No. No, you don't.

It's the one thing about which I'll always be outspoken, shyness be damned. I don't care if you're the Queen of England.  Smoking is gross.

And yes, that's how I really feel. ;)

Jack and the Beanstalk: What plants are in your room?

Sadly for a biologist, I have a black thumb. I killed so many plants as a graduate student, I wondered how I'd ever manage to successfully raise a child! 

Puss in Boots: Do you have a pet? Do you want one?

Oh, God. Well, this is somewhat embarrassing, but right now we have six cats and are fostering two more. We intend to adopt out those little guys this week. I wouldn't mind getting rid of one of our six, but we all have pretty strong attachments to the other five, so I don't know how we'd pare that number down any more.

It wouldn't be so bad if we had the room for them. And in my utopia, there would be many more species in cohabitation with us! It'd be like Noah's freakin' ark up in here.

Rumpelstiltskin: What is the meaning of your url?  

Let's go over that one more time, shall we? My name is Melanie Ann. My dad has always called me Mellie-Ann. When we were in middle school, my older sister delightfully changed it to Smellyann. The joke's on her, though, because I liked it!

The Little Mermaid: Can you sing?

I have my good voice days and my bad ones, but I can carry a tune. I was in choir for years and was going to audition for the college one, but I got strep throat for the billionth time. After that, I was too anxious about it and haven't really sung publicly since, unless singing in church counts.

Pinocchio: What is your greatest wish?

I wish people would take better care of the Earth we've been given. The situation is dire, and most people have their heads in the sand.

Peter Pan: What is your (mental) age?  

In reality, I'll be 37 in September. Mentally, though - and especially now that we've moved back to Miami - I can't believe I'm not college-aged anymore. I feel the pangs of aging physically, but I still have that 20-year-old outlook. I admit to wearing rose-coloured glasses, too.

The Star Money: What is your most prized possession?

You know that quote, "The best things in life aren't things"? Well, all that aside, it's my mom's Bible and her old costume jewelry. I have few things from my mother - and fewer memories - but I cherish every gift of hers I've been given. And that includes her "things."

(Sorry about the formatting here, but Typepad is being a butt.)


Saturday 9: Greased Lightnin'

Link up here if you're playing along today!
1) Greased Lightnin' was the name of a car. Have you ever given your car a name?
Sure. I thought everyone did this? I don't remember what I named my first car in high school, but in college I had an '81 Honda Civic wagon that could go from 0 to 10 in 60 seconds (that's NOT a typo!), so I named it "Bullet." Then there was my Dodge Neon, "Butter," because compared to the Civic, that's what she was like. The Chevy Venture was uncreatively named "Vanna," and our Odyssey is now named "Penelope." Someone please tell me you get that one.

2) Could your vehicle use a trip to the car wash this weekend? 

Pretty much always, yes. I have three kids; it goes without saying. (The exterior is fine, but the interior is always cringe-worthy.)
3) This song is from the soundtrack of the movie Grease, the biggest money-making movie musical of all time. Have you ever seen it?
Only about 4700 times! It's one of my faves. I have the disc of the sountrack, too.
4) John Travolta's astrological sign is Aquarius. What's yours?
I'm a born-again Virgo. I don't know what means, either. I don't buy into Astrology, but I do exhibit pretty much all Virgo traits.
5)  In addition to being John Travolta's birthplace, Englewood, New Jersey, played a significant role in telecommunications history. In 1951, Englewood's mayor made the first-ever direct dial long-distance call in the United States. Now it's your turn. Tell us something about your birthplace. 

First, let me tell you that my grandparents lived in Leonia, right next door to Englewood, and Grandpa worked for many years in Englewood, so I have been there countless times. I was born in Goshen, New York, in the Hudson Valley. I grew up with a "New Yawka" accent until the age of 6½, and when I get mad or otherwise excited, it still comes out of me.
6) Travolta is an excellent dancer. How are you on the dance floor?
I do okay, but I'm far too self-conscious to do it in public most of the time. I took lessons, though, and I danced under the tutelage of several famous choreographers in Manhattan in my youth. (I remember only the name of Jimmy Locust, though, and I can't remember whether he played the part of The Purple People-Eater or was the choreographer on The Cosby Show... or both.) Those were fun times!
7) Grease is an upbeat musical about the students of Rydell High. Another Travolta movie is Carrie, which features the worst prom night imaginable. Grease or Carrie -- which is closer to your high school experience?
I'd say it was somewhere in the middle. It wasn't horrible, but there were definitely some horrible moments. I was a nerd with lots of popular friends. Go figure.
8) What was your best subject in high school? What was your worst?
Science and Math were my subjects, but I was pretty equally stellar in English class. My worst subject was History. I do not remember dates that well, and I have always abhorred learning about wars.
9) Sam made good use of the bus ride to school, using that time to complete her homework. What do you remember about getting to or from school?
I remember one time, in kindergarten, I was standing up on the seat, jumping up and down, and the bus went over a bump. I fell into the aisle, hit my head, and bled like a stuck pig. And I think I got in trouble for the jumping, to boot. What a crap day!

Building A Legacy


Tuesday was another whirlwind day of mystery shopping, of which I seem to be making quite a career for myself here in Miami.  The first assignment - of nine or ten, which maybe be a days record for me - was at an organic burger restaurant. Rob delighted in grass-fed beef, while I noshed on a delishamus veggie patty. The kids shared with us. The place was spendy, but if you're in the market for the sorta thing, this was your place. 


After a few more shops, we headed over for yet another one on the University of Miami campus. It's obviously a favorite destination of mine; I have always felt at home there. Once the kids jumped out of the van, they found these adolescent ducklings that weren't the least bit squeamish about close contact with miniature mankind.


Jack walked along behind the ducks for a little while, with Mama Duck peering over her birdly shoulder every so often to make sure he wasn't getting too close. I'll tell you a secret, though. I touched three of them when she wasn't looking, just to see if I could. I could.


I wanted to see if my old Marine Sciences advisor was still in residence, so we headed over to Cox Science Center to find him. We stopped by my 2nd favorite fountain on the fount-heavy campus for a dip (Sophie) and a sprinkle (Jack) before heading thataway.


When we arrived at Cox, there was no "there" there. My old Marine Sciences office was a goner. I was a little verklempt, until we looked about nine feet to the right, and, lo and behold, there was my old lab. It still looked pretty much exactly the same: full of aquaria, mounted fishes, and, well, labby things. Home sweet home. Dr. D. wasn't in that day, but we'll be back. Oh, we'll be back.


Checkiddout! Britto made one just for UM. Ohai, that's awesome. We found this at the Bowman Foster Ashe building, AKA administration. Why were we there, you may be wondering? Maaaaaybe it was because Rob wanted to visit the VA office and inquire about matriculating as a Navy vet. And maybe the meeting went superbly well. And maybe he's not even required to take the SAT, and maybe the Yellow Ribbon program there makes up for 100% of what the GI bill does not cover, and maybe, just maybe, he'll be going there come Autumn.

I could be just a leetle bit excited. I think he is, too, which I find utterly delightful. We'll be his'n'hers alums!

Okay, let's not get carried away. Back to the post at hand.


A few more shops later, we found ourselves at a wicked cool bowling alley with wicked bad service. The atmosphere was super fun, but no. Don't go there.

And yes, I know, about Chloë's outfit. She's eleven, and she dresses herself, and I think she looks just fine, thanks.


So I had to drink for this shop, and wow, they made some seriously strong-ass drinks for me. I was unfit to drive, to say the very least (so I didn't); I was pretty much unfit to walk straight, either. I don't enjoy that so much.


After the bowling, there was miniature golf. That wasn't part of the shop, but it was there.


Sophia, 8


Jack, 10 (!!!!)


Chloë, 11½


Chloë was being a boogerbutt by that point, so she didn't get in on the sibling lovefest (that doesn't sound good, does it?) that happened on the way back to the parking lot after bowling. This was spontaneous, natural, totally unforced. Love it.


I had to snap a shot of this car we spotted in the lot. Because overkill.

{~*~ I have nothing exciting to report from today (Wednesday), because it was a lazy, homeschooling, pink-eye day. I made a bunch of doctors' appointments and took a nap. Exciting, right? But more on-the-go tomorrow and Friday ~*~}


If It Has A Tail, It's A Monkey. If It Doesn't Have A Tail, It's An Ape.

Thanks to the folks from Veggie Tales for providing the titular phrase today...

Sunday was Mother's Day here in the U.S. (because I have so many international readers, don'tcha know). Rob's stepmom and dad are staying an hour or two away in Florida right now, but not for long, so they came down to see the kids and us that day. We decided to head to Zoo Miami for a fun excursion, since hey, we're members, and the best way to make use of that membership is to actually GO.
You know we're huge fans of Romero Britto, so of course we had to take advantage of the Britto photo op at the entrance to the zoo. Even the kids are getting in on the Team Odette Britto Craze. We collect all things "kissing fish," as we call it, but the girls are trying to talk me into collecting cat things for them, too. Um, no. Moving on.
There were some kinds of bird or another right inside the entrance after that, and Sophia went up to the cage and started poking at the mesh. Imagine her shock when the bird took wing and flew straight toward her at top speed! She was startled, to say the least. And then she was in hysterics. Hm, maybe you had to be there, but it was pretty funny.
sMIL and the girls had some fun, along with the ever-camera shy Jack, feeding the stinky flamingos. For a quarter, you could get an adult-sized fistful of bird grub, and throw it at the birds. It's kind of antithetical to what I imagine the birds usually do for food in the wild, but it was amusing all the same.
It was Orangutan Awareness Day, or something like that, in the zoo that day. What that had to do with Mother's Day is anyone's guess, but it was cool nonetheless. We were kind of rushed through the educational, "awareness" activities, which was suckish, but the kids did manage to glean a few bits of new information. Namely, they learned that gorillas have short, stubby phalanges fit for their ground-dwelling lifestyle, whilst the orangs have long, skinny fingers for climbing and hanging around in trees. Further, they learned about the diets of the large apes and how that fits in with their lifestyle. I wish we'd had a chance to visit the whole set-up on that, but... someone wanted to keep walking, and it wasn't me. 
So what are you gonna do? Move on, I guess.
Can you guess what on Earth Sophia is doing here? Those are supposed to be the lengthy arms of an orangutan she's modeling in place of her own. I always tell Rob he's got freakishly long arms; maybe he's the missing link...
At that point, we girls separated from Rob, Jack and FIL, thanks to extreme asshattery on the part of the boy-child. He does not like to be awakened by someone other than his own brain in the morning, and when he is, he's the grumpiest little butt you ever wanted to meet. sMIL had graciously bought everyone hot dogs ('cept me; I don't eat 'em) for lunch, and he refused to eat. Then he cried for, no shit, literally like an hour, about being hungry. It was driving me nuts, so Denise suggested we let the boys chill by the bears while we girls went ahead to the Children's Zoo. Worked for me.
The lady-babes had fun pretending to be baby birds in these giant 'nests' at the front of the Children's Zoo. I think Sophie is totes adorbs in that top picture.
There was some excavating going on - I don't know what it is with things dedicated to the younger crowd, but it's apparently illegal not to include fake fossils - and then this mountain-climbing you see here. It's funny the way the girls are so different: Sophia climbed up and launched herself off fearlessly in about three seconds, while Chloë gingerly picked her way to the top and then changed her mind, taking about six days to get back down.
That was apparently the point where my iPhone died, so the remainder of these photos will be comin' atcha courtesy of Google Images. We went into the House O' Bugs And Lizards next, where we saw some of these Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches (not a fan),...
... a blue-tongued skink, which Sophie spent the rest of the afternoon hilariously imitating,...

... and discovered there was such a thing as lizards without legs. I'm honestly not sure whether I was aware of that, but now I am, and no one's the wiser. Except the two of you reading.
We made our way over the Asian elephant exhibit, where I told my story about being a youngster fascinated by such a creature peeing buckets for what seemed like half an hour once. I don't know why that memory made such an impact on me, especially now when I feel like the size of my bladder compares. I swear it'll be a museum relic if I die an unnatural death and they perform an autopsy, but I digress.
The boys caught up with us by about that point, and Denise was ready to skedaddle. We stopped by the Bengal tiger memorial exhibit (to remember a young girl, not a tiger) to admire the beautiful beast one more time, and then we headed back to the homestead in Homestead.
A long, long time ago, back in my college daze, I used to frequent this amazing pizza restaurant called, what else? The Big Cheese. Imagine my delight when I discovered that a newer one has opened up just down the road from us! We hadn't gone yet, so when Denise broached the subject of dinner, I waxed poetic about the garlic knots there. They didn't disappoint. Completely, utterly garlicky, and she had fun untying the knots. (She's a mathemagician.) I could eat them every night of my life. The pizza's okay, too, but go for the knots, folks.
Shortly after dinner, we bid so long, farewell, and adieu to Al and Denise, and their little dog, Hattie, too. 
Hope you all enjoyed your Dia de Las Madres, too.
P.S. Belated Happy Mother's Day to my sister, Stacey; my mamacita; my BFF, Lisa, and all the other special moms in my life. you all! 

Sunday Stealing: The Current Meme

Link up here if you're one of the playas today!
Thinking about:
The delishamus baked potato with sautéed Vidalia onions and sowie cream and butter and love that Rob made me just now. *(gag)* 

I've been so anxious lately, I've had to go back on my anxiety meds. Sucktastic. :*(
Just doing a little catchin' up while I eat my taters

Listening to:  

Currently, Miss Gaga is on il radio. Hey, I don't make the requests, I just plug the buds in my ears and zone out.

...and if so, what will it beeeeeee????
Looking forward to:  
We're heading to the zoo tomorrow with FIL and sMIL for Mom's Day. Should be so fun!

MOM of Steel

Me Maw. Mother's Day sucks without her. :'(
Lucky and Hunter, those two playful rascals we're trying to adopt out


(and it's SO good)
Making me happy:

The fact that I'm going to lie down as soon as I'm finished eating. I'm TARD.

So You Want To Be A Mystery Shopper

I started mystery shopping in June, 2006, which means I'm coming in on my 7th anniversary in the business evaluation industry. Over the years, I have done thousands of "shops" in all types of industries throughout the United States, and I've been asked dozens of times for referrals, information, and of course, links.

In that vein, I thought I'd make a complete post here for anyone and everyone who is interested in getting into the business, along with an updated FAQ from any responses I get. If you have more to add, please feel free to comment below so I can include your information. Be aware that some links include my referral information; feel free to bypass that part of the link, but know that using it may get you an extra bonus payment if you use it!

(BEFORE you sign up with any of the companies below, be sure and read the entire post, including the FAQs and updates. Trust me; it's worth the time.)


Please use my email address if they ask who referred you to them: [email protected] - thanks!

Be aware that companies come and go all the time. By the time this list is published, it could be out of date! Keep me informed by commenting on out-of-date listings or new companies you've joined. Thanks!

(a) Aawsm Stuff (USA, Canada, Australia) - I have no experience with them, but I plan to sign up ASAP. Mystery shopping as well as demo and merchandising opportunities.

(b) A&A Merchandising Ltd (USA, Canada, Australia) - I have no experience with them, either. Mostly retail assignments.

(c) A Closer Look - GREAT company to work for, but don't get caught canceling and/or being late on a lot of reports, because they will fire you. Hotels, restaurants, and more. Great for frequent travelers!

 (d) A Customer's Point of View (CONUS) - Haven't used me yet, though I've been in their database forever. Mostly transit and phone evaluations.

 (e) A Top Shop, aka iSecretShop - I haven't worked with them a lot but find them reliable when I do.  All kinds of shops available.

(f) AboutFace - I've done a lot of shops for them; they are very reliable and pay by the end of the following month. Recently, I've done carwash and optical shops for them.

 (g) All-Star Customer Service - new to me; I haven't signed up yet but will update this space when I have gained experience with them.

(h) Ann Michaels & Associates - Very reliable; I've done retail and quick-service restaurants for them. Extremely professional.

(i) Associate Consumer Evaluations (ACE) - Reliable; offer a wide variety of shop types.

(j) Amusement Advantage - One of my favorite companies! They pay quickly (sometimes <2 weeks) and offer fun shops like waterparks, bowling, carousels, and more. Great group of people to work with.

(k) Anonymous Insights - Can't remember if I've ever worked with them; if I have, it's been a long time. I'll update here when/if I do.

(l) Apartment Shoppe - New to me, I'll update here when/if I work for them. {Personally, I do not like to do apartment shops because they take forever and if you mess up, you risk nonpayment for all that time and hard work.}

(m) Ardent Services - Yet another new-to-me company. Will update when/if I work with them.

(n) At Your Service Marketing - they haven't offered jobs in my state, so I have no experience with them yet. Currently looking for shoppers in TX, OK, LA, AR, MS, KS, MO, NM & IA. If you're in one of those states, be sure and sign up.

 (0) Automotive Insights - work exclusively with the auto industry. Still new to me.

 (p) B. Business Solutions - New to me. Looks interesting; offer a variety of shops.

(q) Baird Group - They work primarily with the medical industry. If you've got to go to the doctor, may as well get paid for it, right?

 (r) Bare International (BAI) (worldwide) - The cream of the crop, I've done lots of evaluations for them and have never been disappointed. They have high expectations and the pay to match. Definitely one to watch.

(s) BDS Marketing - New to me; I'll update when/if I gain experience with them.

(t) Bestmark - another favorite of mine, they offer a wide variety of assignments and always pay reliably quickly. Sign up with this one!

(u) Bevinco (USA, Canada, Australia & NZ) - Serving the restaurant and bar industries, though I haven't worked for them yet. I'll update when/if I do.

(v) Beyond Hello - A very good company to work for, always professional and reliable. They do optical, retail, restaurant and more.

(w) BMA aka The Troy Dolan Group - They're okay, though I've found assignments to be few and far between. Neutral opinion on them.

(x) The Brandt Group - offers a wide variety of assignments; professional & reliable.

(y) Business Evaluation Services - Reliable and offer a good variety of shops. Be sure to join this one.

(z) California Marketing (all states) - Apartment shops, which are not my favorite, but they pay well. YMMV

 (aa) Campus Consulting - College towns as well as shopping centers and more. No experience with this one.

(bb) Capstone Research - No experience; will update when I do.

(cc) Certified Reports, Inc (CRI) AKA Market Force Information (MFI) - A great variety of shops are offered all over the map, and they pay reliably. I find they don't pay very high rates, and are actually at the bottom of the pay scale. If you do a lot of shops for them, it can be worth it, but fees ARE low. Self-assign and -reschedule, but you will get fired if you cancel and/or report late quite frequently.

(dd) CheckUp Marketing - Links to lots of Mystery Shopping, Work at Home, and other jobs. Can't verify reliability; let me know if you have experience with them.

(ee) Cirrus Marketing - They haven't had any jobs in my areas, so I haven't worked for them (yet). I'll update when I do, as I just applied for a coveted assignment with them!

(ff) Clear Evaluations - New to me; I've not signed up with them yet. Will update here when I have feedback.

(gg) Confero - Another one of my favorites, Confero is reliable and offers a wide variety of fun shops, including campus dining halls, quick service restaurants, and amusement park dining. Lots of "reveal" shops where you get to award prizes. Sign up for this one!

 (hh) Consumer Critique AKA MarketStat - Offer severa different casual dining audits, but I have NOT found them reliable for payment. I've had to hound them in the past for my pay, months after the shops were done =( so beware, though YMMV.

(ii) Consumer Impressions - Worth signing up with, they offer a good mix of assignments.

(jj) CRG AKA ProShoppers - No experience with them; I'll update when I remedy that.

 (kk) Corporate Research International (CRI) - Sign up with this one; they offer TONS of shops in a wide variety of retail and other locations. Lots of gas stations, pizza shops, and more. Commissions often go up as the month progresses, so wait it out if you're not in a hot market. Your rating goes up and down drastically as you complete (or not) your assignments. You must have a rating of at least 3.5/5 to self-assign.

(ll) Count On Us - I've just signed up with them, so no feedback yet. Will update.

(mm) Coyle Hospitality Group - another cream of the crop company, you will definitely want to sign up with them. Spa, cruise, restaurant, hotel, and more plum assignments are offered, but expect to write a high quality report or risk rejection. They have very specific expectations and you must follow them to a "T."

(nn) Creative Image Services - none in my area, so I have not worked with them yet. Financial services are their focus.

(oo) Cross Financial - New to me, they specialize in banking shops.

(pp) Customer 1st AKA Troy Dolan Group - see BMA above.

 (qq) Customer Impact - reliable and offers a variety of shops; worthwhile.

(rr) Customer Perspectives - reliable and worthwhile, they offer a variety of shops.

(ss) Customer Service Experts (CSE) - worth signing up with, they offer a variety of assignments and pay reliably.

(tt) Customer Service Perceptions - New to me, so I have no feedback yet.

(uu) Data Quest LTD - A newer company, they service a variety of industries. Check this one out and stick with them, as they're growing!

(vv) David Sparks & Associates (DSA) - New to me, so no feedback yet.

(ww) DSG Associates - they have a new platform, which I haven't used yet, but I've been happy and found them reliable in the past.

(xx) Ellis AKA EPMS - Solely apartment shops. I get TONS of harrassing-to-me emails from them, asking why I haven't shopped for them yet. I find it annoying. I haven't discovered whether they pay reliably yet, but soon I plan to start doing more apartment shops, so I'll update this space soon.

(yy) Excel Shopping & Consulting - Must email [email protected] for access and must have Excel, mostly apartment shops. I have no experience with them.

(zz) Feedback Plus - a variety of industries are served; reliable and worthwhile. Sign up with this one.

(aaa) GfK aka CyberShoppers - A wide variety of shops offered and reliable pay. Sign up!

(bbb) Global Compliance - Another good one, worthwhile and reliable.

(ccc) Goodwin & Associates - retail, restaurant and more; I find them worthwhile and reliable. Sign up!

(ddd) Graymark Security - Another new one to me, this one sounds like one to join. I'll update when I have experience with them.

(eee) Greet America - mystery shopping, merchandising, greeting and other services are offered. I have limited experience with them, having done maybe one assignment years ago. Nothing negative stands out.

(fff) i-SPY - I have no feedback on them yet; I'll update when I do.

 (ggg) ICC|DS - Offers a variety of shops, mostly retail, and are worthwhile and reliable. Sign up!

(hhh) iMyst - Offers a variety of interesting shops, reliable and worthwhile. Sign up with this one.

(iii) Informa Research Services - I have limited experience with them, but nothing negative stands out. Give it a try.

 (jjj) Instant Reply - I have no experience with them; I'll update when I do!

(kkk) IntelliShop - a variety of retail shops, audits and more are offered. Reliable and worthwhile; sign up!

(lll) JM Ridgeway - I haven't been offered a lot of shops with them, but the ones I've had have been okay. Reliable, but not my favorite company. YMMV

(mmm) Jancyn Evaluation - I haven't worked for them yet; will update when I have more experience.

 (nnn) LeBlanc & Associates - specializing in the new home market; I have no experience with them yet.

(ooo) Locksley Group LTD - You must email [email protected] for information; I have no experience with them.

(ppp) Maritz Research - I have limited experience with them, but I've found them to be reliable and worthwhile.

(qqq) Market Force Information (MFI) - 100s of shops offered in all kinds of industries, in most cities and states. The pay is low, but bonuses are frequently offered. Lets you self-assign and reschedule, but frequent cancellations and late reports are cause for dismissal. Unlike most Paypal-paying companies, MFI submits payments via direct deposit.

(rrr) Marketing Endeavors - Reliable and worthwhile, a variety of shops are offered. Sign up!

(sss) Marketing Systems Unlimited - I've just now signed up with them; I'll update when I have more experience, but they look promising.

(ttt) MarketWise - I've just now signed up, but they look good, too. Sign up!

 (uuu) Mars Research - Offers other market research aside from Mystery Shopping; check it out - looks interesting. I have no experience; will update when I do.

 (vvv) Market Viewpoint - Reliable and worthwhile; sign up with this one!

 (www) Mass Connections - You must email [email protected] for more information; I have no experience with them.

(xxx) Measure Consumer Perspectives (MCP) - A variety of assignments are offered. Interesting and worthwhile; sign up!

(yyy) Melinda Brody - Apparently, they only work with new home buyers/builders, so I have no experience with them. If you're in this market, by all means, sign up with them. Report back if you have feedback to offer.

(zzz) Mercantile Systems - Well worth the time to sign up and search for assignments. Fine dining and other upscale shops are offered in a variety of markets. I've had great experience with them. They pay reliable and are great folks to work with. Sign up!

(aaaa) Mershimer Group aka Service Sleuth - Well worth signing up with, they offer a variety of interesting assignments and pay reliably. Join now!

(bbbb) Muscle Marketing - Aside from Mystery Shopping, also do audits, sampling, merchandising, and more. Must email [email protected] for more information.

(cccc) Mystery Guest AKA GrassRoots - Lots of assignments available; only one registration per household allowed. Lots of restaurant shops; worthwhile!

(dddd) Mystery Shoppers - assignments available nationwide in a variety of venues. Worthwhile and reliable. Sign up!

(eeee) Mystique - A fun, fast-paying company with lots of interesting assignments. I've done the old-fashioned photography on the boardwalk with them several times, and they really listened to my feedback. Definitely one to join!

 (ffff) National Shopping Service - New to me, so no feedback yet. I'll update when that changes!

(gggg) National Shopping Service Network - No experience yet; will update when that changes.

(hhhh) Nationwide Services Group (NSG) - a wide variety of shops available, they are reliable and worthwhile. Sign up!

(iiii) Northwest Loss Prevention Consultants - works solely in the NW, so I have no experience. Let me know what you know about this group!

(jjjj) NSite - They haven't had jobs in my area, so I have no experience with them yet. Will update if/when that changes!

(kkkk) The Pat Henry Group (PHG) - a variety of services offered from mystery shops to merchandising and more, worth checking out!

(llll) Perfect Performance - offers a variety of assignments. You must contact [email protected] for more information. New to me, so no feedback yet.

(mmmm) The Performance Edge - new to me, but worth checking out - they look interesting. Let me know if you have feedback!

(nnnn) Person to Person Quality - reliable and worthwhile; sign up with them!

 (oooo) Premier Service Inc - offers a variety of services, worthwhile and reliable. Sign up!

(pppp) Primo Solutions - no experience; will update when this changes

(qqqq) Promotion Network - Aside from mystery shopping, there are opportunities for merchandising, audits, sampling, and more. Check it out!

(rrrr) PROS - specializes in the banking industry. I've used them before, and they are reliable. Not my favorite kind of shops, but YMMV. Give them a try.

(ssss) PulseBack - Not open for registrations right now, but check back. I have no experience with them but will update if that changes.

(tttt) QAMS - I've done a number of assignments for QAMS and find them fun, reliable, and worthwhile. Definitely sign up with them!

 (uuuu) QACi - Mainly East Coast, hospitality-oriented, there are lots of good shops here. Sign up!

(vvvv) Quality Service Control - PacNW-based, so I have no experience with them. Let me know if you do!

(wwww) QSI Specialists - No experience for me, so I'll sign up and report back when that changes. Please let me know if you have anything to add here.

(xxxx) Quest for Best - I've done TONS of shops for them, and they are definitely reliable for pay. They offer a good variety of shops, mostly retail and fast food, and they pay well. Definitely one to look into, and they're a great group to work with, too. Thumbs up!

(yyyy) Reality Check - I've done a bunch of healthcare phone shops for them, and they pay well and reliably. Sign up if you want to pad your MS résumé.

(zzzz) Reflections - A good company evaluating the hospitality industry, it's reliable and worthwhile. Sign up!

(a5) Rentrak - specializing in the video/movie industry, they're a good one to add for check-padding and expanding your repertoire. Reliable pay.

 (b5) Restaurant Cops - All USA but Nevada, they specialize in what else? Dining shops. Another good one to join.

(c5) Retail Eyes AKA Shared Insight - A wide variety of assignments, they do some video evaluations. Be an undercover spy!

(d5) Rocky Mountain Merchandising - They specialize in the states west of the Rockies, so I have no experience with them. Let me know if you do, so I can update this listing!

(e5) Sales Quality Research Group - I haven't worked with them, but they specialize in financial services. I'll update when/if I work with them.

(f5) Satisfaction Services - a professional, reliable company with good training and many interesting opportunities. Sign up for this one!

(g5) Second to None - A variety of shops are offered, but I have not worked with them. I'll let you know once I've gained experience with them.

(h5) Secret Shopper - highly professional and recommended, they offer a wide range of opportunities. Sign up!

(i5) Secret Shopping Services (SSS) - I've signed up with them but haven't found any shops in my areas, so no experience to report. Worth looking into if you can find some jobs in your zones.

 (j5) Sensors Quality Management (SQM) - Based in Canada, they also have retail, hotel and dining shops throughout the US, along with occasional airline travel. I've worked with them for a long time and enjoy this company a great deal. Reliable and worthwhile, so you should sign up!

 (k5) Sentry Marketing Group - A great company with good training, interesting and varied assignments, and reliable pay,  you should definitely join this one!

 (l5) Service Alliance - I've only just signed up with them, so no experience to report yet. Looks like they mostly shop the midwestern and SW USA. Let me know if you have feedback to add to this listing, please.

 (m5) Service Check - specializing in retail, hotels, restaurants and more. A great company, but failure to complete shops and/or report on time will result in deactivation.

(n5) Service Connections - Certain states are covered but not in my areas, so I have no experience with them. If you fall in their zone, they offer a wide variety of assignments, so it's worth checking out.

(o5) Service Evaluation Concepts - "Brand Agents" specializing in a wide variety of assignments, this is a good, reliable and worthwhile company to join. Check it out! 

(p5) Service Excellence - I have good feedback for this company specializing in retail and other industries. Reliable and worthwhile. Sign up!

(q5) Service Impressions - Lots of fun and interesting surveys offered, reliable and worthwhile; definitely sign up for this one.

(r5) Service Intelligence AKA Experience Exchange - Another good one with lots of variety, they provide extensive training on how to complete their shops. Pay attention, and you'll do fine. I always get paid on time and wholeheartedly recommend this company.

(s5) Service Performance Group - Offering everything from fine dining to grocery to bowling and more, another good company to check out. Sign up!

 (t5) Service Quality - they have good shops, but I've found them to be few and far between in my areas; YMMV. Reliable, yes; worthwhile, I'm not so sure. You decide.

(u5) Service Research Corp - This one is new to me and reports to have mystery shopping as well as focus groups and surveys. I've signed up and will report back when I have gained some experience with them.

(v5) Service Sense - Yet another new one for me. I've just signed up and will update when I have something to add.

(w5) Service Scouts - I've never shopped for them, though I signed up long ago. I'll update when I have something new to add. Evaluating sports events and many more, it's worth checking out!

(x5) The Shadow Agency - specializing in video surveys of retail establishments; I have no experience with them yet but will update when I do.

 (y5) Shoptalk Service Evaluations - located in the PacNW, I have no experience with them. Let me know if you have anything to add here!

(z5) Shoppers, Inc. - I have done exactly one shop for them, but it was great, and I loved it. Not sure how often I'll work with them in the future, but definitely check this one out.

(a6) Shoppers' Critique - I've been with them a long time and am pleased with this company. The evaluations are straightforward and simple, provided you follow the guidelines. Reliable and worthwhile, you should sign up for ths one.

(b6) Shoppers' View - I've been a shopper with them for ages, but I don't know that I've done any shops for them yet. Seems like right now, they're focusing on funeral services, which is really not my cup of tea. We'll see. In your area, shops may differ.

(c6) Sinclair Customer Metrics (SCM) - another favorite of mine. I've done lots of shops for them and have always been pleased. Definitely sign up!

(d6) Spies in Disguise - A variety of industries are represented, and they reimburse/pay quickly. Definitely worth a look!

(e6) Superior Product Pickup Service - You must email [email protected] for more information; I can't vouch for this company as I have no experience with them.

(f6) Texas Shoppers Network - Based in - you guessed it - TX, they reportedly have shops across the USA. I have no experience with them yet, so I'll update when/if I do.

(g6) TrendSource - Sign up for this one; it's another good, reliable and worthwhile company with lots of shops across a broad range of industries. They don't pay fantastically well, but it's decent, and they do occasionally offer distance pay. Thumbs up.

(h6) Walmart - You must email [email protected] for more information; I have not done so.


Now that I've compiled an exhaustive list of current mystery shopping companies for you, you'll want to know many things about the job, I'm sure.

Here we go:


(1) How do I get started in mystery shopping?

Sign up with each and every company listed above, whether it sounds like they have jobs you're interested in, in your location, or not. Situations change, schedulers switch to new companies, and you just never know. It's time-consuming at first, but in the end, you'll find it was worth the time spent joining every single company.

(2) How can I save time signing up for all eight billion companies you listed?

I have a few recommendations. First, use a form-filler such as Roboform or one you might already be using. You do NOT need to pay for Roboform; I've been using it for 7+ years with no problems whatsoever, so in my opinion, it's completely safe. Just type your information in all the categories listed on each tab one time, create a master password, and then use the service to fill in that information on application after application, page after page. It's so worth it.

Secondly, whenever an application asks you to write a short essay, save it to Word. You'd be surprised how often that same essay question comes up on these applications. Mostly, they're looking for a writing sample to verify that you're technically literate and capable of turning in a well-written report, so you do want to do your best work. Copy and paste the appropriate essay into subsequent applications, and you'll save a ton of time!

Finally, I recommend setting up either a separate email account just for your mystery shops, or setting up two specific folders within your main email account. Label one "Mystery Shop Companies" or something, to keep track of all those acceptance emails and assigned passwords you'll get, and label the other "Pending Mystery Shops" for all the incoming offers and assigned shops you'll be sure to get. Then go to your filters and set up the terms so those emails go straight to the proper folders, or else you can transfer them manually.

(3) I've signed up for all the companies in your list; now what happens?

The short answer is: it depends.

For mystery shopping companies on the Sassie platform, as well as Prophet and one or two others, you'll get emails whenever there are jobs in your designated areas of interest. The larger the radius of your desired zone, the more offers you'll get.

On the other hand, some shop companies use their own platforms, and instead of sending emails out with open opportunities, you'll need to actually go to those sites periodically (maybe the 1st and 15th of the month, maybe every week) to check for jobs. A Closer Look is one such company. They usually release new jobs between the 15th and 20th of each month, so be sure and keep an eye on it for the plum jobs.

(4) I've applied for a shop; does that mean it's mine to do now?

Not necessarily.

Some jobs are "self-assign," and you'll get an automatic confirmation (if it's on the Sassie platform) after you've applied for it and possibly selected your shop date. If it's on the Prophet platform (ICU Associates, Quest for Best, etc.), then you'll need to pick your date and will immediately see the shop added to your home page. You may NOT get an email confirmation for these Prophet shops, so be sure and write them down right away so you don't forget about them.

For non-self-assign jobs, you'll submit your application and then wait for an "acceptance" email. If you get the job, the subject will include something like "ACCEPTED: (job title here)" and all the pertinent information for when and where to conduct your shop. If you're not accepted, you'll get a "CLOSED" email, or maybe nothing. Don't be disappointed. Eventually, you'll get that highly-desired shop, but you have to start somewhere!

 (5) Okay, I'm assigned to a shop. What do I do now?

First, check to see whether you're required to confirm your acceptance of the shop. If you are, and you don't confirm, it may still be reassigned to someone else. Once you've done that, write the shop down on your calendar and/or add it to your phone calendar. Forgetting to do so is no excuse for missing a shop!

Next, see if the acceptance email details any shop specifics; in almost all cases, these details will override any discrepancies in the general shop guidelines, so be careful and pay attention to these. For example, the general guidelines for all Burger Hut shops may say all shops can be done M-F from 4-9 PM, but YOUR acceptance email may specify Thursday only from 5-8 PM. The email overrides the general instructions.

Now, read your general guidelines for the information on how to conduct the shop. These guidelines are full of information, so it's a good idea to peruse new-to-you shops when you first get assigned to make sure you're able to do everything listed. I recommend reading them again they day before or day of your actual assignment, so the information is fresh in your mind. Information may include a specific scenario to present ("I'd like a chicken sandwich," or "I need a new color printer," for example), a specific department(s) to evaluate, and more. In the case of "reveal" shops, in which you often award prizes, the criteria for success are detailed as well. In short, the guidelines are imperative; you MUST read them, and you MUST follow them, or you will probably not be paid for your shop.

If you need to, print out those guidelines, and then click on view/submit to see the actual shop form.  You can select "Print" to get a copy of that as well. Eventually, with practice, you won't need to do quite so much printing, but at first you will. Remember, ink, computer, printer, and paper count toward your business expenses when tax time comes, so keep receipts!

Once you have read all your forms and know exactly what to do, it's time to perform your shop.

 (6) What do I do on my mystery shop(s)?

Go to the correct location on the right date at the proper time. That's key.

If you're supposed to bring a date, or kids, or any other guests, do! If not, try and shop alone. The more distractions you have on your shop, the harder it will be to remember all the details afterward. Sometimes jobs depend on the results you report, so you want to be observant and have a keen eye for detail.

If you have a smartphone, you can take notes when appropriate and make it look like you're texting someone. Just play it cool and don't be obvious. The last thing you want to do is give away your status as the mystery shopper. If anyone ever questions you, just drop back into your normal persona, finish the assignment as quickly as possible, and get outta Dodge! Sometimes, if they remember you as the shopper, you don't get paid for your shop. That's no fun!

You'll want to remember and note the time you entered and exit the location. Almost all shops ask for this information.

Many shops, especially restaurants and retail stores, now ask what was on the right and what was on the left of the store/restaurant you visited. If you can't write/text that, snap a quick picture of the exteriors for a record.

The rest of the shop will depend on the type of establishment and your scenario. Most shops are looking for these things:

(a) Customer Service - Were you greeted when you entered? Were you offered assistance? Did they smile and make appropriate eye contact? Did they ask questions to determine your needs? Did they walk you to the items you were looking for and, later, follow up to make sure you found what you needed? Was your table server attentive and timely with drink/food/check delivery, and did s/he pick up and return your payment promptly? Did anyone offer a pleasant parting remark? All of those things are standard.

(b) Maintenance - Was the exterior of the building clean, including lot, landscaping, and sidewalks? Were doors and windows free of smudges? Inside, were floors, tables and chairs clean and well-maintained? Was the merchandise neatly arranged? Were the bathrooms clean and fully stocked with all necessary supplies? Did you observe any immediate safety hazards? Did all associates appear to be following safety guidelines (especially important at amusement and water parks)? And so on.

(c) Salesmanship - Did your server mention a specific Appetizer? When you ordered a generic alcoholic drink, did they try to upsell to a premium alcohol brand? Did you get a tour of the menu, with the daily specials detailed? Was dessert offered? Were you offered coffee or an after-dinner drink? In a store, were you told about special sales and promotions? Did the associate attempt to add-on to your purchase by suggesting additional items, either on the sales floor or at the cash register? For fast food shops, were additional items suggested after you finished ordering? Was the combo offered, and larger sizes mentioned? All of these are examples of salesmanship that you'll want to note in your reports.

(d) Management - Most shops want to know whether you were able to discern who was the manager. Did they keep the restaurant/store under control? Did they visit your table? Did they comment on your order/purchases? Did they make you feel welcome? What did they do throughout your evaluation?

(e) Integrity - For bar shops and others where you must pay cash, you'll be asked about cash integrity. Was the cash register always kept closed between transactions? Did you receive the proper change for your cash payment? Were tips placed in a tip jar or mixed in with the cash register? Did anyone make change from the tip jar? Did you receive a whole ticket (for entertainment venues)? Were tickets required for all attractions? Where did they put used tickets? And so on.

As you can see, mystery shopping is not the "fluff job" some people think it is. It can be a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work. And it's important work. Jobs, bonuses, reprimands, raises, prizes, and training often depend on the reports you submit. You must always pay attention on your shops, report accurately and honestly, and never falsify your information. Locations getting a bad review will often pull the video from your visit to verify what you've reported, and some people will claim that you were not truthful. It doesn't happen often, but keep your notes, be truthful, and stand your ground!

(7) Phew! Okay, I did my mystery shop. Am I finished?

Nope. Now you have to report the results! All shops will give you a reporting deadline. If you find you cannot report your results in their timeframe, be sure and email your scheduler and ask for an extension. Try to limit these requests.

While you write your reports, it's important to use proper spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Not doing so will probably get your report rejected, and you won't be paid or reimbursed. Do your best, and make sure to spell-check before submitting every report. The best writers get the best grades, generally speaking. If your writing isn't up to par, and you don't think you can improve, then mystery shopping may not be the job for you.

Once you submit your results, check back at least twice a day for the next few days to make sure no edits are required. If the report is returned to you for edits, you usually have a short turn-around time to clarify or add anything the editor requests. You don't want to ignore those emails; after all, you've put so much time and effort into this job already, so you don't want to risk not getting paid for the shop.

(8) My report is done, and it got accepted. What do I do next?

Keep shopping! Apply for more jobs that interest you and are financially feasible on a regular basis.

Keep records. Every calendar year, I start a new record that includes this information for each assignment (you can print this one out, use Word or Excel, or figure out your own method, but keep records!):

- Mystery Shopping Company for that job

- Date of the shop

- Shop location (name and city, street, state as applicable)

- Out-of-pocket cost to you to complete the shop (including any shop charges, tolls, shipping fees to mail items back on the rare occasion, parking fees, etc.)

- Mileage to and from the location

- Expected reimbursement and fee

- Actual payment received

- Date paid

These records will be invaluable in not only keeping track of whether you're being paid for all the shops you performed but also for doing your taxes, so be diligent.

(9) I'm overwhelmed. Is this worth it? Anything else I need to know?

Relax. It's okay to be nervous at first. This is real work; don't let anyone tell you otherwise! Mystery shopping is serious business that doesn't get the respect it fully deserves. Take pride in what you do, and educate the naysayers.

Depending on where you live, mystery shopping may or may not help pay the bills. You might choose to do it as a hobby and only pick the 'fun' jobs like bowling, amusement parks, and other things that interest you. In the case, your goal might be to just break even or even just get paid to try new things that you might not otherwise have done.

Or, like me, you might choose to make it more of a career that has to help pay the bills. That means picking up some of the more tedious, boring shops, in between the fun ones, to help pad the paychecks that will come in the following month. It's up to you; work your business the way that works for you.

Each company reports your income to the IRS separately. If you make over $600 annually for a company, which includes your fees earned but should NOT include your reimbursements, then they will report. Anything less than $600 will not be reported, so it's up to you to do the right thing come tax time.

Be organized. Keep all your notes until at least after you're paid for the shop. Keep all your receipts in a file, whether digitally scanned in to your computer's documents or in a folder in your desk. Mark those computer records according to the name of the location and the date. For example, if I shopped Burger Hut in Pensacola yesterday, I'll name the file "Burger Hut Pensacola 051013" so I know exactly where to go if questions arise. Scan your business cards for non-purchase shops the same way.

(10) Do I need to get certified? Does it make a difference?

In my opinion, you should definitely get silver certified with the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). When I signed up in 2006, it only cost $15.00 for the silver certification, but it opened a whole new world of shops available to me. It was definitely worth it. Looking at the MSPA website, it looks like it's free? I'm not sure that's right, so correct me if you find out otherwise. If it IS free, though, what are you waiting for??

Gold certification cost $100 in 2009 when I got mine, but now it's $75 according to the same website.  Once you've been mystery shopping for a while and have gotten serious about it, then and only then would I consider going gold. You get access to more of the choice assignments, and it looks better, but only marginally. If you want to up your game, go gold. If you're happy with silver, stay silver.

(11) How do I find more shops?

Well, you can wait for the emails from each company detailing the opportunities they have in your designated areas, or you can be more proactive and go for more.

 The MSPA has a job search page here. You can search by many different parameters to find what you're looking for.

Check out the Volition Mystery Shopping forum for more information on companies, jobs, and more related to your new profession. (Look all over Volition for many more great resources while you're at it.)

My favorite place to find shops is JobSlinger. Sign up for your free account and click on "Search" under tools. You'll find many jobs that way, as well as other useful tools. Take some time to see all that JobSlinger has to offer.

You can also download the JobSlinger and Shop Notifier Apps, among others that I rarely use, to be kept up to date with current shop opportunities.

(12) What if something goes wrong on a shop? What do I do?

Think on your feet. Act natural, like you're just a regular shopper, and think quickly. Do what you can to save the shop. They don't always go as planned. Sometimes we mess up. It's human. Don't beat yourself up.

Once, I went far out of my way to do an apartment mystery shop. I made up a fake name and information, thinking I was supposed to do that, until I got there and they requested my ID! Not only did I not have the fake person's ID, but I couldn't do the required apartment tour and remainder of the assignment without that ID. I had to leave and abort that mission.

It happens to the best of us. But some shops can be saved if you keep your wits about you and come up with a saving scenario. I couldn't possibly list all potential issues here, but be aware that (a) things don't always go as planned and (b) we can't always save every shop.  Explain to your scheduler, forgive yourself for the blunder, and let it go!


I hope this comprehensive review of mystery shopping answers all your questions about getting started. Feel free to share this link anywhere on the web that you like, but remember to give proper credit to Smellyann Strikes Again when you do, please. Any questions? Comment below.

Happy shopping!


Car Handkerchief, Please

I had an idea for a blog post that I'm using right now: random words selected by each of my three kids, searched under Google Images, and presented to you here. Why? Well, why not? Who else is doing it, after all??

"Car Handkerchief, Please" - I actually kinda like this idea, which gives me food for creative thought. What else could I put on a handkerchief? Too bad I don't know how to silk screen and don't own an embroidery machine (though I'd love to get one, if anyone out there feels like sending me one for review. Singer? Brother?)

"Poop Laptop Games" - The kids actually do have an app called "Pou" on their Kindles, and they love, love, loooove it. I don't know how to pronounce it, exactly, but here's what Chloë says about it: "Mom! 'Y-O-U' is pronounced 'yoo,' so 'P-O-U' must be 'poo,' right?" Who am I to argue with that logic?

"Strawberry Kitchen Cookies" - these look so pretty, which reminds me, I think I am going to reinstate the baking business here in Miami. Well, Homestead, but serving all of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties. Only, I'm going to stay away from decorating big, elaborate cakes this time. Why? Partly because I don't think I'm really that good at it and know others with way more talent in that area, and partly because the idea of my hard work melting in the South Florida heat really stresses me out. I'll make cupcakes, but my focus will be on cookies, pies, candies, and my favorite cheesecakes. I love the idea of a wedding dessert buffet instead of one cake, for example, and I think it's the next wave. Contact me if you need some goodies!

"Sleepy Kittens Eating" - None of the images on Google came up with kittens anywhere near food, but that's okay, because oh, the cuteness! This is actually a frequent site around these parts, because we're currently fostering two orange manx kittens barely old enough to be away from their mama's milk. We rescued one, Lucky, from under a dumpster, and the other, Hunter, from under Rob's kayak. It's time to adopt them out now that they're strong and healthy, before we get too attached to them to do so. There isn't a snowball's chance I'm going to let us keep them, so it's time. I'll be sad to see them go, though: they're terribly fun to watch, as they're at that playful stage only young cats and dogs seem to reach. The world is their playground, and anything or anyone (or any cat) that gets in their way is yet another toy. Fun times.

So, the kids are tiring of this game, which means it's time to wrap it up. I'll do this again, though; it was fun for me! Hope you enjoyed it a little, too. 


Saturday 9: Mama Told Me (Not To Come)

Link up here if you're playing along today!
1) This song is about a lad who didn't take his mother's advice and attended the wild party anyway (hear it here). When you were young, did your parents approve of your friends? If you're a parent yourself, how have you handled it when your kids start hanging around with friends you're not crazy about?

I was a nerd with mostly nerdy friends (sorry guys, but it's true), so there wasn't much of which to disapprove. I've liked pretty much all my kids' friends, so it's been a non-issue so far. They're only tweens now, though, so we'll see what changes as they grow into their teen years.
2) A 2010 poll named Marge Simpson of The Simpsons the most popular TV mom of all time. Who is your favorite TV (or movie) mother?

Claire Huxtable. I would have loved to have a mother like her.
3) Crazy Sam's mother is a big fan of The National Enquirer. As she likes to say, "They were right about John Edwards!" Do you read the tabloids? Cast a guilty glance at them when you're in line at the store? Or ignore them altogether? 

I pretty much ignore them now, although once in a while I'll glance at the headlines at the checkout. Every single week, though, my grandmother used to get the Enquirer, Star, and one other - the Globe, maybe? I'd read them when I visited her. Very entertaining for a kid.
4) Mother Winters always gave Sam peppermint tea to calm her stomach. Do you have any tried-and-true home remedies to share?

It's not really my forte, having grown up without the miracle of modern medicine allowed in my home. We weren't even permitted to utter the words "I'm sick," so I'm the wrong person to ask. I do believe in acupressure for mild headaches, though.
5) Thinking of guts ... When making decisions, do you tend to consider all the options carefully or do you "go with your gut"?

I usually consider the options and THEN go with my gut. I pretty much jump in with both feet when I know what I want to do. I'm the type who would rather ask forgiveness than permission.
6) Spring is here! Do you have a green thumb?

No way. I kill every plant I get. I recently bought some succulents (think: cactus relatives), thinking there's no way I could kill those. Guess what? They were dead within a week. Sad!
7) Have you put away your winter clothes yet?  

Put away some and trying to get rid of some. Now that we live in Miami, I'm hoping to need very few of those.
8) After you lather and rinse, do you repeat?
Only when I've colored my hair or been to the beach. I have very little hair right now, so "repeat" is not usually necessary.
9) To celebrate Mother's Day, Sam is giving away Hershey bars. Would you prefer classic milk chocolate, dark chocolate or milk chocolate with almonds?
Yum, I'll take some milk chocolate with almonds, please! And don't tease a girl - want my address to send 'em?? ;)
Stay tuned for more posts and Sunday Stealing later this weekend!

Website Review:
Do you live in New York City, or are you planning on visiting there soon? If so, you should definitely check out Vimbly.
What is Vimbly, you ask?
Simply put, it's like your personal online concierge to find whatever you could possibly want to do in the Big Apple. And after you make your plans, you can use Vimbly to book it, buy tickets, etc. too. Pretty great, right?
What interests you? What do you want to do? For what can you search?
Vimbly offers over 3,000 things to do in NYC in these categories and more:
  • Mother's Day
  • Adrenaline
  • Creative
  • Food Adventure
  • Cooking
  • Dance for Beginners
  • Martial Arts
  • Live Shows
  • Editors' Picks

Aside from choosing the category, you can also search for things to do by zip code or general area of New York, day of the week, price range, and start time. You can also submit your email address to get alerts for new activities that will interest you. Pretty great, if you ask me - Hey Vimbly, how's about setting us up with a page for Miami, 'kay? Thanks. 'Preciate it.

So, future visitors and current travelers to New York City, are you going to check out Vimbly? Let me know! I'd love to hear how you plan to use the site.


Disclosure: Vimbly compensated me for writing this post. However, as always, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are completely my own.


Product Review: Cottonelle Clean Care Routine

Recently, Cottonelle and Crowdtap asked me to review and share the Cottonelle Clean Care Routine, which includes both the toilet paper and wipes, in ye olde fashioned restroom.
 That long-ago commercial where one woman says to another, "Sometimes I just don't feel fresh," came to mind when I received this opportunity. You know? Sometimes when you use the restroom and you feel like you need to hop right in the shower afterward? The Cottonelle Clean Care Routine helps with that!
In my package, I received a big ol' package of Cottonelle toilet paper to keep, and two four-packs to give away to friends.
Cottonelle wipes
I was also given a box of Cottonelle Flushable Moist Wipes to keep, and two more to share with the same peeps who received the toilet paper. Three of us were to test the Clean Care Routine. I don't know about you, but I don't often approach my friends and ask them to try out new bathroom hygiene products and then discuss it with me, but hey, it was funny. I'm always up for funny.
As for the toilet paper, it was strong and thick and did the trick. (Hey, I'm a poet...!) The toilet paper never ripped when I used it, which is important. I mean, have you ever been wiping after a particularly messy, um, trip to the bathroom, and your finger went right through the paper? Yuck. I hate that. But that, my friends, was never an issue when I used the Cottonelle TP. WIN. 
Plus, it was soft. See that puppy? He looks comfortable for a reason. I don't know about you, but there are certain brands of toilet paper I will NEVER buy, no matter how big the coupon and how good the sale, because my ladybits do not need to be rubbed with sand paper. You know what I'm talking about. Talk about CHAFING. Owie. Again, not an issue with Cottonelle. I'm a fan for life.
Cottonelle logo
As for the wipes? Hello. SCORE. From now on, I plan to never be without them. No more need to jump into the shower after a particularly messy, uh... I'll leave the rest of that sentence to your imagination. Occasionally, I needed two wipes, but most of the time, one Cottonelle wipe did the trick to make me feel fresh and super-clean. They were soft and NEVER ripped. { The pop-up tub was pretty great, too, so I had no problems with getting one wipe at a time during that critical moment. }
From now on, the Cottonelle Clean Care Routine is my go-to choice for keeping fresh after using the restroom. Which reminds me, I'm out of wipes right now. ::whimper::
Not a member of Crowdtap yet? Make sure you sign up, because not only is it fun and interesting, but the site connects you with top brands for great sampling, sharing, and yes, partying opportunities. And did I mention, it's fun??
Full Disclosure: Cottonelle and Crowdtap provided me with the products for this review, but I received no other compensation. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are, as always, my own.

Sunday Stealing: The Three Wishes Meme, Part The Second

I'm having wine. Consider yourself warned. Linkage is here.

The Wish List Meme, part two  

26.) If you had to order from a kid's menu, what would you get?  

You know what's pretty good? Macaroni and cheese. Good old mac and cheese.  I like that shit. Apparently that menu doesn't believe in it, though, so I'll take the grilled cheese. Thanks for asking. By the by, I do get to order off the kids' menu with my "I had gastric bypass surgery" doctor card. Except for Chinese restaurants. Those people don't give a shit.

27.) Do you speak any other languages?  

I used to be fairly fluent in Spanish, but I've lost a good piece of it, so I'll be re-learning it along with the kids now that I've bought Rosetta Stone. I can speak a little French, Italian, Latin, German, Japanese, ASL, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Polish... and maybe more, but not enough to sell a car in any of those except the español. I'm told that's the litmus test.

28.) Do you use Twitter?  

I do, but you know what? I have no fecking clue why I do.  Pretty much no one reads my tweets, including me. (@Smellyann)

29.) Do you go onto YouTube?  

I rarely do, except to look up the occasional cake-decorating or knitting technique a handful of times a year. I have a channel, but I only upload (and take) a few videos a year. Again, I have no audience, and I don't really want one except youse guys. (Smellyann76)

30.) Do you play Angry Birds?  

I used to, until I realized my kids are better at it than I am, and that pissed me off. So I stopped.

31.) Do you like theme parties?  

I don't know that I've ever been to a theme party. Unless you count "wear a dorky taffeta and tulle dress that your bitch stepmother made and pretend to like everyone else there" Junior Prom? No. Probably not.

32.) Do you like current cartoons?  

If it's by Seth MacFarlane, probably yes. Except for the stupid chicken scenes with Peetah in Family Guy. I'm so over that.

33.) Have you ever cried because you were so happy?  

OMG, that's so wrong, hahaha... I have cried so many pathetic "I hate my life" tears, I don't know if I have any left over for happy. Especially not with the happy pills I'm on. Chloë, 11, "cries happy" all the time, though. Last time was on Monday in Orlando at Sea World, when we fed the dolphins. #DreamComeTrue

34.) Who would you like to see in concert?  

Call me lame, it's okay, but I really want to see Kelly Clarkson. And Bruno Mars. And some other people who can't be heard on Classic Rock Z109.5ZZZZZ radio stationz.

Oh yeah, duh, I totally lied. MY dream come true would be seeing Eric Clapton. So I take that other shit back.

35.) Can you swim well? 

I mean, I'm all right, but I'm not winning any contests. I can float like mad, though. Thanks for making sure of that, Grandma!

36.) Ever won a contest? 

(Obviously I'm not winning the cut-and-paste contest! Ha!)

Yeah, I've won contests. At Sea World the other day, I was the first person to answer "NO" to whether sea turtles can come out of their shell, and I won a damn trivia card. Highlight of my freakin' life.

37.) Ever won a giveaway?


A week or two ago, the high-tech kids' headphones I won from a blog (I forget which, sorry) arrived in the mail. It's pretty awesome because we needed a third pair for the DVD player in the van. Three kids fighting over two pairs sucks donkey dong.

38.) Do you get a full 8 hours of sleep every night?  

I figure I get at least 30 hours of sleep a week. :\

39.) What tea do you like?  

I'm the kind of person that should like decaf herbal tea... But I don't.

40.) What mixed drink do you like?  

If it's fruity and rummy, I'm pretty much down with it. A very long time ago, in Key West, I had a salad and a margarita at Buffett's Margaritaville. We went somewhere else, and I had a pint of Guiness. Somewhere else again, and the bartender sent us each over a shot of tequila. I puked so hard after that. I blame the Irish.

41.) Do you shop at Walmart?  

I really try to avoid it at all costs, but sometimes it's the only place that carries what I need. I make sure not to wear undergarments so I'll fit in.

42.) Do you shop at Target?  

Sure! But I haven't in a couple months, because does Homestead have one??

43.) What do you order at your local coffee shop?  

I never even went into a Starbucks until, like, two or three years ago, and you know what? The caramel frappé at McDonald's is soooo much better. Trust.

44.)  Do you drink bottled or tap water? 

Seriously, here, folks. Give up the bottled water. It's bad for the planet, and it's just plain stupid. No jokes for this one.

45.) Do you like homemade meals?  

Seriously? What kind of dumb shit is that?

46.) Do you like homemade baked goods?  

That's a cake. I used to pretend I had such talent, but I don't think I really do so much now. So I stick to other desserts. I make a mean cheesecake... er, um, I mean, yes. I do.

47.) Do you shop online?  

'Nuff said.

48.) Name 3 stores online stores you would like to shop at:  

because they have everything,

because everything handmade is there that I could want, and 

because yarn. Duh.

49.) What holiday don't you like?  

I kind of can't believe we really still 'celebrate' this 'holiday.'

50.) What do you eat more of when you're sick?

I kind of don't really eat more when I'm sick. As a slightly irrelevant aside, I was in the produce department at Publix a few hours ago, and I almost bought all the ingredients for broccoli cheese soup. Except, I can't eat soup anymore. That moment sucked.

I need more wine. Someone get me a glass of Moscato already, will ya??


The Mystery Is History

You know what? I have been mystery shopping like crazy lately and have learned one thing I never really picked up before about living in Miami and surrounding cities: There is a ridiculous number of malls here. I've been to more shopping centers than I can count lately, and they're starting to blend together. But it's fun, I'm learning my way around with Siri's help, and hopefully I'll be helping pay the bills when my fees start rolling in...


Another thing I've learned is this: I can usually fill Oscar the Pouch and the belly of at least one of the smaller children (not Rob's or Sophie's - the two of them are never full) by walking around the mall's Food Court during peak hours, sampling everything that's handed out, and save some money on buying actual meals. They don't seem to care whether you plan on buying there or not, or even if you listen to their sometimes long-winded spiel about everything that's on offer, but I usually try and stay. Unless I can't understand them. Then I just say "thank you" and bounce. 

So when we found ourselves at Aventura Mall on Wednesday evening, with not a clue on the planet where the expensive kitchen boutique was that I was supposed to evaluate and four hungry bellies (and a pouch), we headed for the Food Court to do my trick. Only, we were there at a bad time, apparently, because no one was out with their red tray (it's always red, I wonder why?), giving out samples in dixie cups. That's another thing I learned: no one here uses toothpicks for the samples. I wonder about that, too; did a guy stab someone at the crowded table next to him for some teriyaki chicken?


We bought some delicioso Thai mango chicken and something-BBQ chicken (I seem to be having as much trouble returning to full-on vegetarianism as I am giving up my Diet Coke habit), lo mein, flied lice, and fried platanos (yum!) for dinner. Chloë surprised me by completely chowing down, even more than Sophie did, I think. Once in a while, Chlo can really pack it away.

So I couldn't find the boutique, left the mall to go across the street, walked around for about ten minutes, went back to the mall, and finally went into Nordstrom (or "Nerd Storm," as Sophia has hilariously dubbed it) to ask for help. I thought it would be in there, knowing how much the coffee machines I was to evaluate cost, but I was wrong. Argh. More walking, and I have a huge blister from Orlando on my left pinky toe.

Rob and the kids were still out in the car by this point, having gone all over Aventura to track this damn shop down, which really cut into my mileage and per-hour fees, y'know? It's a good thing I ended up getting a perfectly brewed cup of coffee and a pretty big fee out of that shop, or I'd have been more upset. I still haven't shut up about that coffee. If I didn't have the Keurig, I might be tempted to buy one of these guys, outrageous price tag notwithstanding.


After the coffee boutique, we headed NW to Sawgrass Mills, a freakin' enormous mall with everything from Old Navy and The Gap to Jimmy Choo and other lux brands. Sawgrass Mills is to the left of Fort Lauderdale, if you're following along on a map. I had to go there to do three valet parking and one retail shop. One of the valet stands no longer exists, though, so it's anyone's guess whether I'll get my fee for a 'closed' shop (sometimes you get paid even if the place isn't there anymore) or not. After we parked at the first place, we had to wander around the mall a little bit to kill time. There were these cool spiral-shaped fountains there, and this one was empty, so we let the kidoodles walk around on top of it. I love the stance and look on Jack's face, like he's in Jurassic Park or something.


We happened across an arcade, Gameroom (which Sophia amusingly decided should be called "Gam-er-OOM" instead of the real pronunciation), so after checking that prices weren't outrageous, I decided to load a game card with a little cash and turn the kids loose. We were the only people there, so they had the run of the place. It's like a giant, grown-up Chuck E. Cheese's in there or something. I've not been to a Dave & Buster's yet, so I can't compare.


We went around, sliding the card for one kid after the other, for about a half-hour. Each kid won a ton of tickets at their games. Here, Sophia was on a machine where she had to jump when the light was on "STOP" to win lots of tickets. Not shockingly, she was great at it. This kid is good at pretty much everything she attempts. Except cleaning her room, but I'm starting to think that's a conscious effort on her part...


I told Chloë, "I don't know why you guys love playing the Claw Game so much. It's almost impossible to win anything!" but they don't care. They'll care when it's their money, I'm betting.


Jack loves to prove me wrong. He won this humongo ball from - you guessed it - a Claw Game. A gigantic Claw Game, one of four adjacent to each other. He was, to put it mildly, thrilled. So was I - we can use it for P.E. class! Never mind that the thing is as big as he is.


Speaking of huge games, Chloë found this big Connect 4 and had to play that. She won, too, but it's a pretty easy thing to do when you have no competitor...


When Rob helped the kids feed their earned tickets into the redemption machine, they'd gotten 209, I think, for their little bit of money. I showed them all the things that could be gotten for 200 tickets, and they weren't impressed, so I showed them some things they could save up for, and which would they rather do? Miracle of miracles, they decided to bank their tickets for another time. You could've knocked me over with a feather; they've never gone that route when I've tried to convince them in the past!

::SNIFF:: My little babies are growning up.


We went and did another parking shop at the same city mall, as well as the retail store I mentioned above. It was silly, because that store has a similar name to a much more well-known, popular brand (see photo above for hint), and I had to ask in the no-name shop if they were the big-name one. Kind of embarrassing, but I love to embarrass myself, so I didn't care. I like to play games with these shops when they don't give me a specific scenario: I make up something ridiculous, just to gauge the reaction I'll get. This time, I went in there insisting that I had to have a yellow tank top; no other color would do, because I simply did not have enough yellow in my wardrobe. The guy who helped me cracked up; he couldn't help it. If you're crazy and you know it, clap your hands!


We headed back East then to Fort Lauderdale to do a really fun (or at least it was supposed to be) shop that the kids had been anticipating for about a week. I expected a much more professional, business-like outfit than the disorganized, badly-in-need-of-my-services one we encountered, however, which meant a long report was going to have to be written. I love doing the shops themselves; going home and doing the reports is another matter. I don't mind doing them, but I do, admittedly, seem to have a problem getting them done in a timely manner. I make sure to write kick-ass reports to make up for it, though!

We had time to kill, once again, between portions of this last shop for the night, and once again everyone was ravenous, so I checked in to our location on Foursquare to find recommended places to eat. We were in the Las Olas Shops section of Ft. Lauderdale by that point. All of the recommendations were too far to go in order to eat and be back to the place where we needed to return in an hour, so we looked around for inspiration. At first, I thought we'd go to the crépe restaurant - who doesn't love skinny pancakes?! - but then we spotted a cheese-and-whine bistro next door, and yeah, they had me at 'cheese.' I love cheese. Jack, who doesn't, was less than thrilled and refused to eat, so I promised him something else when we got back to Penelope.


If you're looking around for a place to eat in Las Olas, I recommend the Cheese Culture. The food was outstanding, and the ambiance was really cool. It's not a place for kids, and they don't have a menu for them either, but it sufficed. Especially since we ate outside on the otherwise-deserted patio, away from the rest of the grown-ups. People seem to get grouchy when their fancy date nights are disrupted by bickering little ones, for some reason... I want to go back sometime when we have a babysitter.


The girls shared an "Ultimate Grilled Cheese" sandwich, with gruyere and Emmenthaler cheese melted on a delicious ciabatta, and I had a bite. It was splendid! Rob and I each had a "Build-Your-Own" sandwich. I forget what he got, except for the greens on the side that were good but got left behind when I told him we had to dash off to get back to our shop location on time - bummer. I had turkey, fresh mozzarella, baby greens on a baguette with garlicky basil mayonaisse. I don't usually like mayo, but it sounded (and was) good. The food delivery had artistic flair to match the out-of-this-world flavor. The server was a little dingy but sweet, and she agreed we should return on a parents-only date night. I bought a bottle of wine from her, a sweet Moscato that we have yet to open, and she gave me a discount for which I didn't even ask. Nice place.


Kilwin's, a chocolate shoppe in Las Olas, was just a few store fronts down from Cheese Culture, so I stopped in to peruse the goods. I am first and foremost a chocolate fanatic and second a chocolate-coconut truffle fiend, so I'm forever on the hunt for the perfect one. I found it once, at a candy store on the Jersey Shore, but its match has been elusive ever since. They had huge coconut chocolates at Kilwin's; I bought a couple, and they were all right, but definitely not perfection. Alas, I'll keep looking.

I purchased some more truffles while I was there, though, about ten or twelve. Obstensibly for Robert, though I don't think he's had a single one yet. I bought him the raspberry ones, which he tends to love, along with some mocha, mint, and other delicious goodness I can no longer remember. These chocolates weren't cheap, being in the neighborhood of $23/lb and up, so imagine my chagrin when I woke up the next morning to find the cats had knocked them off the table and used them for hockey pucks!

We returned to our previous location to finish the half-begun assignment and go home. It was late by then, about 10:30 PM. Obviously, we weren't in NYC, but there's a hint for you. The return was more pleasant than the first leg, but they still blew it. Like I said, they need me. Desperately. I'll fix 'em, I will!

Apropos of nothing much, Rob told me recently that I should open my own mystery shopping company. I don't know. I doubt I'd do it, though it would be fun.



I had reports to write when we got home, but I was cold and exhausted. I decided to treat myself to some JAFRA Spa pampering, and it was just the right call to make. I was in smelly-good heaven, relaxed and soft of skin and hair. It felt amazing. I even tried to nap in the bathtub, but I didn't want to pull a Whitney, so it didn't take. Sorry, that was crude.


Ahhh... so refreshed! (That's unretouched Instagramography, there. Thanks, JAFRA!)

If you want to win some awesome JAFRA products, by the by, friend me on Facebook. I'm having a fun FB party online this week and yes, there will be prizes!



On Thursday morning, Rob unfortunately woke up with a pretty nasty cold, so it kinda sucked that we had about 10 hours of mystery shops to do in the Keys that day. And yeah, he is totally playing the part of military retiree these days. Hanging out in the Keys, fishin', growin'a  beard... people are always like, WHAT. is THAT. on his FACE?! Haha. Although, one of my friends did say he's kinda smokin' with the beard, and of course I agree. I ♥ my little Fur Face...

The first shop in Key Largo was interesting. It was inside an exclusive, gated village, and the words "hoity-toity" come to mind. Now, I've been in exclusive, gated villages before (and I don't mean gated apartment complexes like the one we live in now), in places like Hilton Head and whatnot, but this was something else again. They had a whole town in there, with grocery and fishing and shoe and other stores, and it was definitely an Old Money community. I felt spectacularly out of place. The gate guard took my driver's license, called up the shop where I ad to evaluate the service, and asked them permission to let me enter. I wasn't expecting that. I'm not a gawker or anything, not too much, but I gawked, y'all.


I had to do a high-end fishing store shop. Rob is a fisherman. He knows what he's talking about. Me, I don't collect and kill animals as a general rule (no offense) (maybe a little), so I had no clue. I tried to inveigle him into coming into the store with me and running the show, but he wasn't down with it. So I had to go in there and wing it. I played up my scenario thusly: I'm getting gifts for my fisherman husband and I don't know what I'm doing, so please help me out. It worked. I bought him four clouser saltwater fishing flies - though he doesn't have a saltwater rig yet - and he was happy with them. Win.

I had to drive south to Marathon after that and evaluate the company there that, uh, well, see the picture above? I can't exactly spell it out for you, because that would give it away. Anyway, the guy I talked to there was amazing. He completely blew me away with his keen interest in environmental initiatives. Y'all know I'm a raging environmentalist, so we really hit it off. I'll probably go back and talk to him some more on my own and have him give my kiddos a tour of the facility someday, too. This guy was GREEN, folks. True green. I loved it. Also, he gave me a way cool "welcome to the neighborhood" gift of 4-5 reusable canvas bags, an electronics charger that shuts down after the device is fully charged to stop vampire electricty suckage, a nifty keychain, lots of information printouts, and more. Color me impressed.


It had been storming like the dickens in the Keys between the first two assignments, and there came a point where Sophia and I really had to pee. Water rushing down the windows didn't help that situation much, you know? So Rob drove us right up to the door of a Hom Depot, and in the ½-second it took us to get out of Penelope and into the Depot, we were completely drenched. Which meant we were freezing when we returned to the air-conditioned van after emptying our respective bladders. That's probably what helped along my cold, from which I'm now suffering. Anyway, it was quite the tropical storm. When we got to Key West a couple of hours later, the roads were all rivers. Lakes. I haven't seen that much rain since 1995, during Tropical Storm Gordon my freshman year at U-Miami.

We arrived in Key West much earlier than we needed to be there, so we drove around a while and returned to the souvie shop where I'd bought my red wrap dress/skirt/thingy the week before. I think I showed it to you? If not, here it is:


It's amazing versatile and, I think, pretty flattering, depending on how I tie it. For twenty bucks, I can get several styles of dresses, skirts, and tunics out of it, so I wanted to get a yellow and a teal one, too. That I did. I accidentally bought the floor-length ones, though, which is okay but not ideal. I'll just have to tie them the other ways that don't work with the red one, right?

After that, Rob wanted to go fishing. He knew we'd end up down there way earlier than my assignment required, so he'd brought down a few poles, a cooler, and a bucket to prepare. We drove around on a wild goose chase for a while, trying to find a decent place to fish, before someone in a Circle K just told us to go the marina. You're not supposed to fish there, but he said they were cool about it, since it was the end of the charters' day. Worse thing that could happen was they'd tell us to leave, so we went.


The fish weren't biting for him, though. I think he was disappointed. I was, I know that much. I may not like to catch 'em and clean 'em - although back in my Mote Marine Lab days, I was pretty good at filleting the snook for the grouper and snapper - but I don't mind cooking and eating them these days. I'm trying to quit... but not that hard! ;) 

After an hour or so, he packed it up, and we went off in search of dinner and gas for Penelope. We didn't want to eat out anywhere, needing to save our cash, so we ended up at the Publix nearest my next assignment. Rob and the kids stayed in the car while I shopped for sandwich fixin's on the cheap. Bologna and American cheese it was; I splurged on good rolls. I got back in the car and told the kids, "Here are your choices: You can have boloney and cheese, or you can not eat. That's it." Guess what? They ate.


Finally, it was time to head over to one of the movie theaters on the island for my last assignment. Sophia was my date, having won the title of "Best Behaved Child" (can you believe it?!) after our trip to Orlando earlier in the week. We had planned to see The Croods for her sake, but it was 3D, and no upgraded movies were allowed for the job, so we went to see Iron Man 3 instead. It was the only one left that was semi-appropriate for an 8-year-old. I wasn't terribly excited, not having seen IM or IM2, but I was happy to have my fun baby as a companion. She did not disappoint.

The movie turned out to be really entertaining. It held my interest from start to finish, and hello?! I knew this already, but the movie reaffirmed it: Robert Downey Jr. is farking HOT. Oh, my word. I may have drooled. Cute butt, too. I think wardrobe did a really good job with him (as did his parents' genes). Honestly, though, I didn't expect to NOT be bored throughout the movie, and there wasn't one single second of that. I don't normally go for superhero movies - not since Christopher Reeve as Superman, anyway - but this was extremely well-written and -acted. In a nutshell, I liked it. Go see it. I'd even watch it again. And not just for RDJ. Much.


We got home from Key West at something like four in the morning on Friday, and I had all those reports to do. But I didn't. I tried, man. I tried. I was beyond exhausted by that point, though, and went to lie down "for a little bit." You guys, I didn't even get up until 9 PM on Friday to pee or anything! Crazy. So I missed a bunch of shops that I've since rescheduled, all my reports were late (ahem, but what else is new?), and I had a killer migraine. I needed that sleep, though, so it's all good, I guess.

And now? I have more shops to do. See ya!