Entries categorized "Freebies & Deals" Feed

Sunday Stealing: The 90 Meme, Part The Third


Link up here if you're playing along today!

And awaaaaaay we go:

61. Do you like current pop stars?  

I lurve Bruno Mars, and I'm crushing on Ed Sheeran, so... yeah?

62. What is your least favorite chore? 

Oh ma gaw, I should totes do that!

Least favorite: Dusting. You thought I was gonna say scrubbing toilets, dintcha?

63. Last place you drove your car? 


I drove to Domino's to pick up our free pizza for the Dodgers' no-hitter MLB game. Woot!

 64. Ever been out of the country? 

If I hadn't, I would consider myself much poorer indeed.

 65. Where were you the last time you used a public bathroom? 

I try to avoid it at all costs, but I did have to make a pit stop in a Burger King this afternoon after chugging a gallon of Diet Mt. Dew and getting caught in traffic during a deluge. Thank ye gods, it was clean.

 66. Could you handle being in the military? 

I've been a military wife for 13 years. That's as close as I'mma get.

 67. What is your average cell phone bill? 

It's not super bad since I get a 25% discount for being a Nielsen family. 

 68. Who or what are you thinking about right now? 

I'm wondering what witty label I'm going to put for the posts in which I reference my new Samsung Galaxy S5, now that I've upgraded from my iPhone.

 69. When was the last time you laughed REALLY hard? 

Butt Pic

Just a li'l bit ago, whilst creating this family portrait for my Facebook cover photo!

 70. How many pairs of shoes do you own? 

Like a dozen, fewer now that my feet have shrunk from a 7½ to a 5. I'm still getting rid of the too-biggies. I'm not really a shoe whore, or a purse whore, or a clothes whore... am I really female?!

 71. Are your toes always painted? 

Google "ugly feet funny" to see way gross pictures, by the way. As for my toes? Generally I do keep them painted. Right now my booboo toenail is showing black through the paint.

 72. How many piercings do you have? 


Nine. Four in each ear and one in my nose. I don't really have one in my bellybutton; I'm not a follower. Okay, so I don't really have a show-offable belly, but I still wouldn't.

 73. What are you doing today? 

Not what I should be, I'll say that. Hey, what do you want from me? That couch is comfy.

 74. Have you ever been gambling? 

I've been to Vegas and gambled with someone else's cash. I prefer things that way.

 75. When is the last time you updated your blog? 

I'm doing it right now. To quote my elder daughter, "That's kind of a duh."

 76. Do you like roller coasters? 

Do bears shit on the pope? (or something) (That would be a "no.")

 77. Have you ever been to Disneyland or -World? 

Never been to -Land. Been to WDW 3-4 times over the course of as many decades. 

 78. Do you have a favorite cartoon character? 

Just keep swimming!

 79. Last thing you cooked? 


Chocolate chip cookies that I got paid to make after a girl I know sampled a few from a prior batch and declared them, quote, "WOW." If baking counts, that is.

 80. How's the weather? 

It's full-on hurricane season here at the southern tip of Florida. What do you think?

 81. Do you e-mail more than snail mail? 

...but I still like writin' letters and sending cards and stuff.

 82. What's the funniest picture you ever took with your cell phone?  

You mean that photo up there with everyone's hineys wasn't good enough?

83. Last time you were sick? 

I'm bipolar. I'm always "sick."

 84. What states have you lived in? 

New York, South Carolina, Florida, Virginia - and Guam

 85. Do you wish you could move? 

We're hoping to live on a boat by the time I'm 40. Hubs is still recovering from brain surgery, so... he's got 2½ years to be well.

 86. Do you take a lot of quizzes? 

Oh, no more than the next blahg writer, I guess.

 87. What is your dream car? 

I'd love a Vespa. Do scooters count?

 88. Have you ever wanted someone you can't have? 

Sure, but there are no returns from Heaven, so you know... I'll wait.

 89. If you could be anywhere right now where would it be? 

I have to pee, so I guess the bathroom?

 90. Are you happy with your life?


I'm good.

Thanks for stopping by!


Carpe Diem Natalem


Last Sunday, our baby, Sophia Lorelei, turned NINE! Holy cow. One more year, and all of our kiddos will be in their two-digit ages for the rest of the time we're together on this earth. Good Lord, time flies. "The days are long, but the years are short."

I totally bought all the ingredients for an incredibly awesome arts and crafts-themed birthday party for her, but I completely neglected to plan the actual soiree in an epic parenting FAIL. So maybe we'll do that next year?!


I went to 7-Eleven that morning, for a diet soda refill. I do that all the time, NBD. Chloë grabbed her purse and came with me, so I figured she'd buy herself a little somethin'-somethin'. Instead, she surprised me by asking me what flavor of Slurpee Sophia likes best. She didn't even get herself something; she only bought her sister the Slurpee. She's a keeper!


A couple of months ago, I had purchased a deal for the Barbie Dreamhouse Experience in Fort Lauderdale, on the Groupon-like site, Living Social. A couple of months ago, Sophia was still into Barbie. She's really not anymore, not at all, but I had the thing and nothing else to give her, really, so she and I went off to have a special Mommy-and-Sophie day together.

I had no other money for anything extra, and she understood this. At Sawgrass, where the Dreamhouse is located, we spotted one of those cool spiral money donation thingamajigs. She loves them, so I gave her a penny. She was so thrilled to watch her penny go down, and I was equally thrilled to have made my baby girl smile for only 1¢.


Once we arrived at the Dreamhouse, we were told that it would be an hour wait before the next tour. We signed up for that and then headed back outside, into the sunshine. Er, what sunshine? It was starting to drizzle. But you know what? Sophia loves nothing better than to run in between raindrops and jump in puddles. And guess who she gets that characteristic spunk from? ;) We danced on the fountains together in the rain, while onlookers stared. I didn't give a fig, either. My babe was having fun, and I was having it right along with her!


The Barbie Dreamhouse Experience - we waited. And waited. An hour is a long time when you're nine, y'know?


Of course, we paused for a few obligatory selfies in that timeframe, too. I posted this one online and got called "stunning" by Stephanie of STIM fame. Cool!


Finally, it was five minutes before the tour, so we headed back into the Dreamhouse to wait. Sophia got in the Barbie doll box for a fun photo op, and I obliged her despite the multitude of warnings disallowing photography. Really? Why else would it be there? ;P


Photo Op #2 amongst the Barbie flowers


Photo Op #3 in "The Oval"

(The signs stated "Barbie's FRIENDS" were the only ones who could take pictures in there, but the hired FRIENDS didn't seem to care that we mothers were snapping pictures left, right, and center, so I felt no shame. Besides, I was friends with ol' Barb long before these kids were ever even dreamed of.)

The Dreamhouse itself was a pretty lame experience. I'm glad we didn't pay anywhere near full price for it. And I'm glad my kid is too old to want to go back again, now, but I'm even gladder that she still managed to have fun anyway.


This guy was playing Miley "Look at Me Twerk" Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" on his electric cello for tips, in the center of the mall. It took me a second to place the song, because it was so beautiful! Surprising, huh? I wanted to take a picture of him, because it was blogworthy, but I didn't think I should do so without leaving some sort of tip in his jar. I dug through my purse and came up with about 55¢, which I threw in the jar after I snapped a pic. He looked at me with utter disdain. Hey, dude, I get it, but who's the one playing to a vastly unappreciated audience in a shopping center?!


We popped into the Godiva store for a free birthday bonbon. She chose the Death by Chocolate one. A girl after my own heart!


After a brief stop to admire the spinner chimes we'd admired on the way in, we headed home. I didn't think it had been much - or anywhere near enough - for her birthday, but she officially declared it a great day. Satisfied, she slept all the way home and put herself to bed early. I did, too. Here it is, a week later, and I still have yet to make her a cake of any kind. "Birthday season," I can hear my mama-in-law insisting, and so I don't feel too terrible about it.


Sunday Stealing: For Old Times' Sake


Link up here if you're a latecomer, like Yours Truly!

From For Old Times' Sake 

The For Old Times' Sake Meme

When was the last time you swam in a pool? 

March 5th or 6th. It was cold, in Suffolk, VA, with an unheated indoor pool. I preferred to jump into the pool, warm up in the hot tub until I was about to pass out, then lather, rinse, and repeat. Ah, good times.

 Do you like to party? 

I didn't go to a single frat party during my years at the Universities Miami and South Florida. I studied hard, and I worked up to three jobs at a time, besides. Apologies in advance to all you Greeks, but I don't like to be told with whom I can be friends, what parties and games to attend, and what guys to date. And I didn't want to check my brain at the door and share the community one. So nope, I didn't rush, pledge, or whatever those sorority girl-types do these days. Ah, I've waited a long time to say that "out loud." (I mean, uh, no.)

Describe the shirt you're wearing? 

It's green, with a peek-a-boo slit where you would be able to see my cleavage - if I had any.

What is one feature film that you don't like?

If Ernest went there, I hated it.

Would people describe you as happy? 

OMG, is anyone else sick of being told to Keep Calm yet?! Anyway, long story short, yes, I am generally considered to be happy. So much so, my dad called me "Joyous" as a kid. Nowadays, though, I need to take my meds like clockwork in order to be anything but a total $%^&* bitch. Sad to say.

Sleep with or without clothes on? 

I generally crash in whatever I've been wearing for the day. I have about four sets of PJs that haven't touched my skin, other than to be moved from drawer to box and back again, in ages.

Oh, and don't do a Google Images search for "sleep naked" with kids around. Consider yourself warned. (*ahem* I don't know whether to apologize or say "you're welcome" to my 11-year-old son now...)

Does it bother you if people swear around you? 

Are you kidding me? I'm a native New Yawka, my husband is a sailor, and... no. I don't mind. I'm trying to quit, but truth be told, I'm not really trying as hard as I could be.

Do you prefer Wednesdays or Thursdays? 

My favorite day of the week used to be any day that Hubs was home from work, spending the day with us. Now that he's retired, every day sucks. Haha! I kid, I kid.

Like to travel? 

Is the Pope Catholic?

Does a bear shit in the woods?

Do I like to swear?

Yes, dudes. I live to travel.

Think you're attractive? 


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You tell me.

Are or were you a good student? 

I didn't get a 100 average in high school; I got a 119. I'm 37 years old now and other than this silly ol' blahg, no one in the world cares anymore. It was important at the time. I went into college as a mid-year sophomore and graduated from a 5-year program in 3 years with a double major and what would have been a triple minor if I'd gone another year. 

Yeah. I was a good student. But who cares? (ME, obviously! ha.)

Are you currently happy? 

So my husband left his critically-important medicine at the ballpark last night (why he brought it there is beyond me), and now he's retching between sobs. I feel bad for him. It's hard to be happy at this juncture.

Colored or black-and-white photo? 

I mean, there are great color pictures that would lose their grip in B/W, and vice-versa, but as for me? I live my life right out loud, in living color, every single day. Give me turquoise, give me fuschia, give me chartreuse any day of the week. I'll take the brightest, noisiest colors you have. (Oh, was this question not supposed to be metaphorical. My bad, yo.)

Do you consider yourself the life of the party? 

Not without major chemical assistance, no

Do you drink? 

I prefer to drink when they pay me to do it (my job has its perks), but yeah. And, I seem to imbibe a lot more frequently since Rob had his brain surgery. Coincidence?

Do you make fun of people?


Never say never, but I generally try to be nice. On the other hand, that girl at the store tonight should not have been wearing that strapless dress with all her bacne. I'll stop there.

Do you think dreams eventually come true? 

I think I'm some special kind of psychic, because I often have realistic dreams about mundane conversations or real-life situations that, the next day or a week later, actually happen. Does that count? And is this just moi?

Also, sure they do, or else I have been an idealistic daydreamer for nothing my whole life... and I refuse to allow for that possibility!

Favorite fictional character? 

I'm rather fond of Anne of Green Gables, but that's just the first name that came to mind... (P.S. It occurred to me, just before hitting "publish," that I only thought of characters in books. Interesting little factoid to probably no one, huh?)

Go to the movies or rent? 

Remember the days when your parents used to take you and your sister to the drive-in in your paneled wood station wagon, and they'd put the seats down in the back and buy you candy and popcorn, and there would be a cartoon before the feature started? And then you two would fall asleep, or at least that's what your parents thought before they started smooching, and everything was all right with the world?

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I'll pick the theater, if only because it brings me back to that place over three decades ago.

Have you ever moved? 

Follow me: Monroe, NY ► Syracuse, NY ► Aiken, SC ► Coral Gables, FL ► Warrenville, SC ► Coral Gables, FL ► South Miami, FL ► Coral Gables, FL ► South Miami, FL ► Coral Gables, FL ► Sarasota, FL ► Coral Gables, FL ► St. Pete, FL ► Tampa, FL ► St. Pete, FL ► Panama City Beach, FL ► Panama City, FL ► Hagatna, Guam ► Yigo, Guam ► Norfolk, VA ► Virginia Beach, VA ► Portsmouth, VA ► Homestead, FL ► ???

Have you ever stolen anything? 

I stole a Koosh Ball once, quite by accident. I walked out of the store with it, forgetting it was in my hands, until I got back to the car. I didn't return it. I felt so guilty, I just stuffed it into the back of my closet. I don't know what became of it after that.

How's the weather right now? 


Last time you cut your hair? 


On March 9th, I got this haircut. I like it.

Last person you talked to on the phone? 

A scheduler for a mystery shopping company called me to have me do an evaluation. 

Last time you showered? 

The water pressure in our shower sucks butt, so I prefer to take baths. Normally, I hate baths, so this irks me. I did shower a couple days ago, though, because it is faster, and I was in a hurry. Hey, you asked.

Loud or soft music? 

When I'm alone in my car, I love listening to loud music. I turn it down for the kids' sakes, though.

McDonalds or Burger King? 

I prefer Panera.

Night or day? 

You saw what time it was on the weather question, right?

Number of pillows? 

One if it's firm, two if it's so squishy that my head hits the mattress. I mean, what are the point of those?!

Piano or guitar? 

My friend Shana plays (among other things) the electric violin. I think that's pretty cool.

Current longing? 

I just want Hubs to...

Current disappointment? 

I was hoping for an avocado-on-toast, with cheese and lemon, sammich. I forgot we were out of the cheese and avocados, though. Bummer.

Current annoyance? 

Jack, my son, is watching Gravity behind me. He's talking through the entire freakin' thing. (Yes, he's awake at this hour. They all are. Our sleep patterns are all messed up this past year of Brain Drama.)

Last thing you ate? 

I'm eating sunflower kernels right now, since the last disappointment.

Last thing you bought? 

These are free at Walgreens this week, so I "bought" six. I drank three already, and I'm not wired.

Pick a lyric, any lyric or a song...

When I hear John Legend singing "All of Me" on the radio, it makes me question why no one's ever written a song like that for me. And sung it to me. I've always wanted to be serenaded outside my window in the middle of the night. Or ten o'clock. Because, you know, neighbors...

But Hubs can't sing. And he can't dance. However, no one makes me laugh harder than he does. And behold, that is good.

Pick a movie quote...


... But my favorite line in Dirty Dancing is, "Just put your pickle on everybody's plate, College Boy, and leave the hard stuff to me."

I actually say it all the time, when the moment's right. Crack myself up, I do.

Well that was fun. And long. Speaking of pickles...


App-Happy Ways To Earn Easy Money

[Note: All, or at least most, links are my referral links. I'd appreciate you using them, but feel free not to do so! I'll never know... ;) ]

I've been asked a trillion times for referrals and tips for earning easy, free money. You can check out my not-quite-updated mystery shopping post here, and always stay on top of reading Hip2Save, because Collin Morgan is the best money-saving blogger I know! Aside from that, here are my favorite apps that I use regularly on my iPhone; feel free to add more that I haven't mentioned in the comments but please don't post your referral links for the same apps I have here.

If you're not using Swagbucks yet, you should be. Of course, there's an app for that, but I use it nearly exclusively on my desktop. The best value is to cash in 450 SBs for a $5 Amazon.com gift card, which I do consistently twice a month. The potential is there, if you want to put more time into it, to earn waaaaay more than that per month, but I rarely have the time anymore to do it.

How can you earn money on Swagbucks? Let me count the ways:

1. Searches - you won't "win" every time, but you can win 6++ SBs at least hourly.

2. You'll get 1 SB daily for having the toolbar installed, and I have never had a problem with malware.

3.You'll get 1 SB (sometimes 2) for taking the daily poll.

4. You'll get 2 SBs (sometimes 4) for doing the daily NOSOs (No Obligation Special Offers) - just click through until the end, where you'll need to put in a captcha to get the SBs.

5. Surveys - BIG potential here!

6. Watching videos

7. Shopping kickbacks

8. Printing, and using, coupons from the site

9. Playing games

10. PLUS LOTS MORE, so sign up on Swagbucks and get started already, will ya?!

* * * * * * * *


MyPoints has been around forever, and I've been a member almost as long. I've gotten hundreds of dollars in gift cards for Amazon, CVS, Walgreens, REI, different restaurants, and lots more. You can earn money MyPoints by signing up for the click-thru emails (all of them), and just clicking on the button at the bottom. That's the easiest way, but there are also coupon-printing and online-shopping kickbacks, surveys, games, and tons more. Check it out!

* * * * * * * *


With the CheckPoints app, you can earn rewards like Amazon GCs and other prizes by scanning products with your smartphone in various stores. The app will populate a list of stores that participate, like CVS, Walgreens, Target and Wal-Mart. You get CPs and, sometimes, coins for game-playing, for scanning each product, checking in a la Foursquare, playing games to bet on winning bigger pointage (I often do), and more. It's fun and easy to do while you're shopping, and the scans reset every day.

Use my bonus code: smellyann when signing up!

* * * * * * * *


shopkick is an app a lot like CheckPoints, wherein you earn prizes and gift certificates for scanning. They update the app quite frequently (too much so for my comfort, really), so I haven't learned the latest edition of ways to get "kicks" but I'm sure there are more. Oh, and you get HUGE kicks for walking in to stores like Old Navy, Target, and Best Buy when you have the app open on your phone near the designated transmitter thingamajobber.

* * * * * * * *


The ibotta app is another favorite of mine. You connect your PayPal account or can get gift cards to places like Starbucks, Redbox, and iTunes, and when you have the required amount (varies from $2-10 right now), they zip you your prize immediately!

To cash in, you need to load the list of offers and do various tasks like post to Facebook or Twitter, take little polls, and learn tidbits of information to add money to your bank for various grocery and HBA items. Then, when you purchase an item you've banked, you scan your receipt with your phone, scan the item, and submit. Within 24 hours, usually, you'll have the money added to your balance, which grows until you're ready to cash out for a reward. It's awesome, especially lately when they've been doing tons of offers for any brand gallon of milk, any brand of a carton of eggs, a loaf of bread, and so on. They even give cash back for going to the movies and visiting concessions, so look into it!

* * * * * * * *


Checkout 51 is similar to ibotta. You purchase the designated items, scan your receipt, and tick off the items you bought on the app. When you reach $20 banked, you cash out. Simple, right? I have only been a member for a week and have $3, but I haven't shopped too much in that week, so it's pretty great.

Not sure of my referral code, but use my email if it asks: melanie_odette@yahoo.com

* * * * * * * *


Plink is used by connecting your credit or debit card to the app (can also be used without a smartphone) and shopping and eating out at more than 75,000 locations. When you click on my link, you'll get 300 points for joining. I used to use it a ton with my old PayPal account card, but it doesn't seem to work with PayPal anymore, and our regular bank card keeps blocking the app. Bummer, because I made a load of Amazon money from this app when we still lived in Virginia!

* * * * * * * *

Ride is an iPhone app you get just for being on-the-go with your phone in tow! (Hey, I'm a poet...) There are other, similar apps, but I only use Ride. Basically, it counts up the miles when your phone is moving, and rewards you for going places. Cool, right? Rewards include Amazon GCs, Papa John's, Starbucks, and more. 

* * * * * * * *

The Panel app is another one, connected to Ride, that "knows" where you are and gives you rewards for just being out and about, and also for taking surveys. It's simple and easy, and I can get an Amazon gift card every month or so. 

* * * * * * * *

The Wrapp app is pretty cool, in that you can give free gifts - and get them back - to others who have the app. Sometimes I'll get a $5 gift card to, say, Office Depot or some such, and it works like a dream. This is a really great app for giving little gifts that cost you nothing to send!

* * * * * * * *


And then there was Viggle. This app pays you rewards for watching TV and listening to the radio! How awesome is that?? You just check in by tapping on the big button when you're logged into the app, and it listens to what you're watching or hearing. You rack up points and cash in for cool rewards. Love!

* * * * * * * *


Zapiddy is an app that pays you for doing tasks like snapping pictures of sampling displays in store and stuff like that... I confess I haven't done any of their tasks or earned any cash yet, but that's because I keep forgetting to check the app! Right now there are no jobs in my area, which stinks, but maybe you'll have better luck?

* * * * * * * *

What are your favorite apps and ways to earn a little extra money by hardly doing a thing?




#GivingTuesday Donation Day!


Following Thanksgiving Thursday, Black Friday (which extends now from at least Thursday to Sunday), Cyber Monday (which is now Cyber WEEK according to my emails), there comes Giving Tuesday. 

So, many of you who read here regularly will know three things: 

(a) I used to run a charity, CARE Package, in memory of our son Robby.

(b) I am well-versed in the art of using coupons.

(c) I donated several toys recently to Toys For Tots.

I wanted to make a bigger impact. We have long donated presents for Christmas and birthdays each year in Robby's name, but we had gotten a little behind for a while there. I had tons and tons of rewards to use up from Walgreens, so when I saw that there was a good sale on toys there, I knew I could use up my rewards to buy up a bunch of toys to donate and make up for lost time.

In the photo above, there are 11 toys. Now, that may seem like a good amount, and it certainly covered the occasions when we had nothing to give for Robby's memory, but as a mathematicer, 11 just wasn't cutting the mustard. I needed a better number. And I still had lots more rewards.


I gathered up Rob and the kiddos and headed to another Walgreens down the way for more toys. I was able to get so many more, getting my total to two dozen. I had boy toys and girl toys, unisex toys, toddler toys and big-kid toys... I had my bases covered!

My next conundrum involved choosing the beneficiary. I thought about it for a while and eventually decided that, in keeping with donating in Robby's memory, the recipients should be sick children in the hospital. There is a Miami Children's Hospital here, and the University of Miami has a PICU. I made some calls and got through to the UM patient outreach coordinator first. 

It was meant to be. There's a Ronald McDonald House near that children's hospital, and since we had stayed in the RMH of Pensacola ourselves when Chloë was in the NICU 12 years ago, I knew what sort of needs there were.

I had a stockpile of more than just toys. I had all things necessary for the freshest of breath, deodorants, hair care products, and so much more. I had coffee and sweeteners. I had candy out the wazoo.

I called the coordinator back and asked if they could use all of this. "Will it fit on a stretcher?" she asked me. "You better bring two," I responded, and I was right.

When we got to the UM Hospital campus around 1530 on Tuesday afternoon, the coordinator and a NICU assistant were waiting, each with a stretcher. The kids waited in the car while Rob and I filled both beds with toys upon toys, toiletries galore, and sweets and coffees.

The hospital will be having a big holiday party on Christmas Eve, and the sick patients' parents will be able to go in and choose presents for them from what we brought and what others have donated. They'll also be able to pick toys for the siblings of those children, since it's difficult to go gift shopping when you have a child in the hospital for days or weeks or even months on end.

The coffee and toiletries will go over to the Ronald McDonald House. The residents there will be able to take whatever they need, which is great since there aren't too many stores around the hospital for getting such necessities. I plan to keep collecting these on my coupon adventures and bring them up to the hospital on the regular.

And finally, the candies will go in dishes for parents and nurses alike, and they'll also be used at the various holiday events that the staff will host this month. I even donated several dozen gift bags that they can fill with treats and smaller toys, out of my stash.

I can't tell you how elated I felt after pulling away from the hospital a half-hour later. The coordinator and I exchanged hugs and some tears, and I promised to make them the regular recipients of our in-kind donations in Robby's memory. I got my warm fuzzies for the day - no, the week - from that. The whole plan wasn't altruistic at all. I needed it. It felt great. I loved everything involved with it.


At home that evening, I set up the wreath I'd snagged from Walgreens, along with a little outdoor "tree." We can't put a tree up inside our house, because we just don't have the room for one and if we tried, surely the cats would knock it down and wreck everything. I'm still thinkering on what to do about that in the years to come, since we have a lovely ornament collection I'd like to display. Any thoughts on that are most welcome!

Did you participate in Giving Tuesday? What did you do? I'd love to hear.

'Tis the season...!


My Latest Addiction And Other Time-Sucks


I'm terribly embarrassed to be showing you that picture, but accountability may help. That's what my bed looks like right now. My friend C and I had a laundry challenge going on Sunday to see who could tackle our mountainous piles of clothes to fold and put away first. She totally won. I think she got all hers finished AND the rest of her house clean, while I... did not. At all. It's now, what?, three days later, and my bed still looks like that. But by this Sunday, by gummit, I plan on having a bed again. Totally. Promise. Pinky promise, as Sophia would say.


You see all that candy? (And that's not even all of it, but we gave a bunch away when we "BOO-ed" a couple of our neighbors last week, remember?) Anyway, you probably know that I'm an avid couponer and reader of the blog Hip2Save (Collin Morgan is totes my virtual BFF, you guys) (only she doesn't know it) (anyway!), so as usual, I've been getting tons of deals at the drugstores on candy for Halloween lately. I probably spent a total of three bucks on all of that at candy up there - if that!! 

We live in a neighborhood chock-full of kids now, so I have no earthly idea how much candy we'll need or how many kids we'll get on Thursday night. I've been stocking up big-time. But... I may have overplanned. That's a shit-ton of diabetic coma up there, y'all. What to do, what to do?


Welp, instead of laundry, I wasted spent Sunday making up 125 (Sophie counted) packets of candy to give out to all the little ghosts and goblins who'll come our way soon. I had tons and tons of scrapbooking paper, ribbons, and other doo-dads from years of crafting stocked up, wasting space, not being used, so it felt good to finally put it to good (?) use. Hopefully someone (besides me) will appreciate the time and effort I put into it, but... I kinda doubt it Whatever. Let's move on.


I received a free jar of JIF Hazelnut Chocolate Spread in the mail the other day. On its own, it doesn't beat Nutella - not by a long shot - but the jar came with some recipes for treats. I made these delicious cookies with it, and OH, MY WORD, they are OUT of this WORLD. Caps necessary, because they were that good. I'll definitely have to make them again. Or not. I don't want to chub up again, after all!


Rob brought me home a few pie pumpkins, at my behest, and the kids helped me scoop them out and carve them. I had planned on doing something like I saw in the October issue of Family Fun magazine, stacking the three of them on top and decorating them like my kiddos, but it didn't work out like that. Change of plans!


They looked pretty cool that first night. But... this being Miami and all, where it's still 80º+ during the day, they rotted by the next day. Dammit! The kids picked out big ol' pumpkins for their Jack-o-lanterns, too, and even though we kept them in the house and not carved, they still rotted, too! Rats.


On Sunday morning, the kids walked with me to the local drugstores to do my wheelin' and dealin'. They always stop and look out over the water on our walks there, and I thought it was a cool moment. So me being me, I snapped a shot of it.


I'm grateful for the IKEA shopping tote cart thingy that my friend Jenny From the Block gave me a while back. It's really coming in handy now while we're without a vehicle and still have shopping to do! At least, it was until a cat peed on it. I'm going to murderize those felines, by George. I will!


Not this cat. Tinkerbell's a good girl. I woke her up from a nap, here. She was startled. Hee.


And speaking of napping cats, does Muffin look comfortable to you? HA! Sophia and I died laughing at her over this pose... but you probably had to be there.


But maybe one of these two rascals. Lucky and Hunter are always canoodling in the bathroom sink together. Too funny. But naughty, they are!

Anyhoo. A fellow Hip2Saver turned me onto my latest latest addiction, Listia. CHECK IT OUT!


It's kind of like eBay, but more like freeBay, because you just give stuff away and in return, you get credits for things to get from other Listians. I'm SO loving it!! I still have a shit-ton of craft stuff I will probably never use, like all these buttons and brads here, so I'm giving them away to get credits for things we will use. I'm hoping to save them up for cool stuff like a new computer for Rob, or maybe a replacement DSLR for my camera that was stolen from our piece of shit house in Portsmouth last year. (I'm still bitter!)


If you're a yarny (or a thready), maybe you can snag some of my stuff on Listia. I'm giving away some pretty cool stuff and have lots more to list... but I'm at my limit for the mo'. So we'll see. If you sign up with my link, you'll get a bunch of free credits to use, too. Cool, right? So let me know if you do!


I'm even giving away this brandy-new pair of Gymboree shoes on Listia if you need size 12s for your little girl... ;) They don't fit Chloë already - so whatcha gonna do?

Anyway, enough about Listia. I love it. LOVEIT.

(Sign up. Join me. You can't resistttttt....) Heh.

Well, that's about all for now. If I come up with something else of interest before this weekend's Sat9 and SunSteal memes, I'll be back. 

Oh wait, it's Hallowe'en tomorrow night. Of course I'll have more to show you. So come back, won'tcha?!


Product Review: Calorease #MomsMeet


Recently, I was asked by Moms Meet to review Calorease, a weight management aid.

I'll be honest. I was both leery and skeptical at first. I didn't think it would work, and/or I might be living in the bathroom for the 10 days I was supposed to try it, so I put it in an out-of-the-way cabinet and left it there for a while.

Then I found myself unable to zip up my favorite jeans. Uh-oh!

I pulled out the Calorease and read it over, then decided to go ahead and take it. I lost four pounds in the first day and a half and was able to zip up my jeans the next day. I'm still taking it, and my weight loss is ongoing! Woot! (Although, I will say, I did live in the bathroom that first 24 hours. Be warned.)

From the manufacturer:

Calorease is one of the easiest ways to make your weight management program more effective. Unlike many other diet aids, it is completely stimulant-free and therefore heart-healthy. It has been shown to bind and eliminate up to 9 times its weight in dietary fat, reducing up to 500 calories a day from the fat in foods. It is naturally sourced, and has been researched in studies and clinical trials. As part of a reduced calorie diet—and with a regular exercise program—Calorease is the edge you need to help you meet your goals.


• It’s easy to use Calorease. Simply take two tablets with a fat-containing meal three times a day. But stay consistent for the best results.

• If taken as recommended, results can be seen in about 2-3 weeks. Keep in mind that Calorease is not a license to overeat, nor is it a magic bullet for quick weight loss.

• There is no program or special diet involved with taking Calorease. A reasonable, balanced and nutritious fat-containing diet is recommended. Click here for sample meal plans.

• Calorease does not contain gluten, lactose, yeast, wheat, sugar, salt, egg, soy, dairy, artificial colors, sweeteners or preservatives. It is naturally sourced from grain and is suitable for vegans.

• A convenient blister pouch provides 1 serving (2 tablets) so it’s easy to take on the go. A 90-tablet pack of Calorease retails for $29.99.



It’s understood that fiber can bind with dietary fat and prevent fat from being digested. But since most fibers bind fat at a 1:1 ratio, you would have to consume unrealistic amounts of ordinary fiber to gain any benefit—until now. The unique, patented fiber in Calorease (FBCx) binds up to 9 times its weight in dietary fat, reducing up to 15,000 calories per month from a normal diet.


Click here to watch a video to see how Calorease works. Visit Calorease.com to learn more, and also connect with Calorease online at:

 www.facebook.com/calorease "Like" them!

 www.twitter.com/calorease "Follow" them!

 www.pinterest.com/calorease "Follow them!

 gplus.to/calorease You know what to do!

* * *

Would you like to get 50% off your order? Click here and enter the code 4MOMS - you'll pay just $14.99 for a 90-tablet pack!

Let me know if you try it out, m'kay?

Full DisclosureI received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC. or the manufacturer of the product.


CLOSED: Green Giant: Make A Giant Difference #MyBlogSpark #Giveaway

This giveaway is now closed.

The winner, chosen by Random Number Generator, is #2:


Jessie C., who said, "I like Valley Fresh Steamers cut green beans."

Congratulations, Jessie! Please send me your address for your prize pack. Thanks to all of you who entered!

* * * * * * * * *

What does 100 calories get you?



Less than you think. Unless you're talking about delicious Green Giant vegetables.




MyBlogSpark recently provided me with a set of coupons to purchase some Green Giant boxed frozen vegetables. I actually bought three packages, but since one was broccoli with cheese and my girls are fiends for that stuff, I no longer have it to show you!


We actually really like Brussels sprouts, and I adore green beans with almonds, so I'm looking forward to incorporating these into a meal soon.


It'll be great, because I'm actively trying to take off a few pounds that seem to have found their way onto my scale and don't want to budge. If you're in the same boat, you can head over to Green Giant's Giant Difference page and find out how Green giant vegetables can fit into your diet and weight loss plans. There's even app to download from the App Store if you're app-crazy like I am.


You don't have to cheat on your diet to enjoy a hot, delicious, heaping bowl of vegetables.


Live the Giant Difference!




Full Disclosure: The information and prize pack have been provided by Green Giant® through MyBlogSpark.




P.S. Oops! I forgot to say MyBlogSpark & Green Giant also provided me with a cool water bottle, a nifty Health & Fitness Journal, and a rockin' gym bag, too. I think they're hinting I need to get off my lazy duff and do some exercise once in a while!?!


Would you like to WIN this same pack for yourself? Leave me a comment below with your favorite variety of Green Giant frozen veggies, and I'll pick a comment at random to win on October 25th. Friday at midnight EST, so get those entries in, 'kay?


Be sure and enter this Old El Paso giveaway, too!

Friday Fragments, Version 10.17.13

Link up with Mrs. 4444 if you're fragmented today!
* * * * * * * *
I haven't played along in aaaaages, maybe once since the beginning of Summer, so I hope this isn't too terribly long for y'all. I'll try to be concise (even though that's not really in my nature).
* * * * * * * *
I bought the kids' Christmas outfits on super-duper clearance from Gymboree, and they came yesterday. Too cute! I took them outside to get pictures today, and some neighbors oohed and ahhed and said they looked so pretty/cute. I won't share all of them here, or just yet anyway, but here's one funny outtake that was enjoyed on Facebook:
A rare, genuine reaction from Jack! haha!
* * * * * * * *
Sophia's been having a bunch of breathing trouble lately, so we called 911 tonight to see if there was anything they could do for her. There wasn't, but it was suggested she might be allergic to her cats. If you have allergies, would you answer my Aloha Friday question here?
* * * * * * * *
I've had SO many blog-related freebies lately, I thought I'd give a rundown of a few of them real quick-like, for posterity's sake. There are some awesome perks to this blahgging gig!
I just posted about my Werthers Baking Caramels Bash for MommyParties here, yesterday I think. Check it out!
This International Delight Bzz Campaign from BzzAgent started this week, and I was chosen. I went out to Publix today and picked up these four varieties. I am just excited to find Sugar Free kinds (for me) as I was to get the Pumpkin Pie Spice and White Chocolate Raspberry choices for Rob! What's your favorite creamer flavor, if you're a coffee nut?
Soon, in the mail, I'll be getting the Lancôme DreamTone for Fair Skin, to review for SheSpeaks. I can't wait, because I've got some uneven skin tone since living in the land of the sun...!
This will be coming up on Ye Olde Fashioned Blahg soon, too! Are you interested in some amazing books for the kiddos in your life? Let me know!
Smiley360 chose me to review Orajel Single Dose Cold Sore Treatment, which I'm super glad to be getting in the mail soon. My girls are forever complaining of "mouth booboos" and asking for something to take away the pain. This will help!
House Party picked me as a Chatterbox to review new Gevalia Kaffe espresso drinks:
I made this Mocha Latte with a heart for Rob, but I haven't tried that myself yet. He liked it, and I loved the Caramel Macchiato variety. So easy to make in the Keurig, and so delicious and authentic! Have you tried it yet?

I'm supposed to be using Calorease for Moms Meet, too, but I just haven't been able to bring myself to try it yet. I'm hesitant because it's supposed to make you have to, um, GO, and I don't want to be stuck to my bathroom all day for ten days, you know? What would you do?
I'm waiting on my kit from MyBlogSpark for Old El Paso Frozen Entrées, because hello, YUM! Rob especially loves Mexican foods, so I know he'll be happy to see this package in the mail. We loved our last MyBlogSpark kit from Old El Paso, so I'm sure this will be another delicious foray into blahg reviewing for me!
I'm also doing a Green Giant frozen foods and a Raise-a-Giant campaign for MyBlogSpark, which reminds me, I better get on that!
Smiley360 also chose me to review GoGo-Squeez Applesauce on the Go with the kids, which is fantastic because they're nutritious and the kids love them. The Apple Apple variety didn't last long, and I don't even remember anyone but My Little Pony-crazy Sophie eating the Apple Mango kind:
And lastly, MomSelect opted to let me be a Chick-fil-A Mom, which is cool because hey, free food. My kids adore CFA, but I know some of you have issues with the company. Do you??
* * * * * * * *
I like to post Instagram photos when we make a yummy dinner - do you do that? I know I'm not the only one! Tonight's was homemade pizza, which I made with Bob's Red Mill gluten-free pizza dough mix, fresh mozzarella (the kinds that come in the gooey balls are better than the kind you get in the block to shred, if you ask me!), and sundried tomatoes. For Rob, I added green olives and pepperoni. I'm afraid the gluten-free did nothing for the kids' appetites; the two younger ones ended up eating oatmeal instead, and even Rob didn't finish his. Hey, I liked it, but maybe we won't try that again.
I eat a ton of hummus and wasn't happy with the last store-bought batch I got, so I decided to go back to making my own. I used to make it all the time, but I burned up our hand mixer and don't have the strength to mash my chickpeas by hand. Now I have a Ninja food processor that I got from a friend, and that did the job in seconds, with minimal effort on my part. I mixed everything (tahini, garlic, olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemons) up with the chickpeas in my KitchenAid, and voilà! Deliciousness! I always let the flavors mingle for a day or two before I adjust the quantities too much, because it really changes after the first day.
* * * * * * * *
Well, that's it for me. You're probably relieved. I'll pop over and visit you now. Have a great weekend!
Full Disclosure: Everything I mentioned I'm reviewing was provided to me for free by the companies listed, but as always, the opinions expressed herein are my own.

Werther’s Original® Baking Bash MommyParty! #WerthersCaramel


I was SO excited to be chosen by MommyParties and Werther's Original for a Baking Bash featuring their new Baking Caramels recently. Imagine how thrilling it was to get this box in the mail, full of Werther's Original Baking Caramels to use at the bash, with plenty more to share with my guests. Woot!

My party was supposed to be this past Sunday, only... no one could make it. Big, huge bummer. I had planned baking, fun and games (and even cleaned up my house in preparation, which is momentous in iteself), but my invitees were unable to join me.

So yesterday (Tuesday), Team Odette had the Werther's Original Baking Bash all on our own. I have some Freecycle ladies coming today, and they have been forewarned that they WILL be taking home some caramels and caramel-baked goodness, so I'm still sharing, right?!

Come along, now, and see what this is all about. Here we go!


Of course, all of the recipes I baked up at our Bash started with the Werther's Original Baking Caramels. These rich and creamy Caramels are great for baking and making delicious caramel apples (hello, first thing you think of in Autumn, right?). Made with real butter and fresh cream, they are perfect for melting and incorporating into your favorite recipes. Did I mention they taste great all on their own, if you can't help but pop one - or, um, three - into your mouth during your unwrapping frenzy?


Of course, the first recipe I had to try was Caramel Apples. You know, Caramel (and Candy) apples are an October staple in this country, but I don't think I've ever made homemade ones for my family. So I was excited to make these for our continuing Halloween/Autumn parade of treats, and you know the kids were chomping at the bit to try them, too! The recipe, here, calls for scrubbing your apples with some dish soap and drying before starting to melt the caramel, so I did exactly that. Rob always teases me for not following recipes and going off on my own tangential trail - sometimes with great results, sometimes disastrously - but this time, I followed it to a 't.'


The recipe even called for melting the caramels in a 2-cup glass measuring cup and, voilà, I did that, too! The bag of Caramels itself brags about how easy to unwrap they are, and it's no lie. I had a 20-second timed unwrapping contest with my kids and video-taped the whole thing, but my iPhone ate the videos before I could save them to my camera.

(Okay, I deleted them by accident. iPhone is not at fault here. I lied.)

In the 20 seconds, Sophia managed to unwrap 4½ Caramels! Chloë came in second with three, and Jack did 2½. I coached, cajoled and coaxed them along in that time, and the videos were pretty funny, so I'm bummed not to have them to share with you! Just imagine me being hilarious and the kids being their usual amusing selves, and you're In Like Flynn.

By the way, the recipe, printed on the bag, also calls for adding a tbsp (or two, if ya want) of milk or heavy cream (your preference) to the caramels during the melting phase. Don't be a dummy like me and neglect to read that part. I made the recipe twice, and guess what? It works so much better when you follow the dang directions.


Because of my milk omission, and I think because of the shape and size of the 2-cup glass measuring cup, it was a little hard for me to coat my apples completely and thoroughly. I did use a spoon, as suggested, but when I later repeated the recipe in a regular FiestaWare cereal bowl, it worked much better. So, my vote is for shallow and wide, rather than tall and narrow, m'kay?


Sophia was the first taker on a Caramel Apple. She bit into it and deemed it delicious, BUT, full disclosure here, it was too hard to bite into the caramel. We had put them in the fridge to harden the caramel and, well, that worked at little too well. We're having issues with our refrigerator being too cold (or not cold enough, when we attempt to turn it down), so maybe that's the problem. When I put the formerly-chilled apples in the built-in microwave over the constantly-on oven after that, the caramel softened for later eaters to be able to eat it. For Sophie, though, we had to cut up the apple in order for it to be eaten. Still quite tasty, but not quite the same.

End Result: Delicious, Semi-Easy, and Repeatable!


Next up was Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate. You can find the recipe here.

Now, this recipe should have been simple, but the recipe forgot to tell me when to add the majority of the chocolate to the saucepot (before adding caramels, by the way), and also, I completely messed it up. It was a comedy of errors:

First of all, there was that omission, and I called my MommyParties contact, Amy, for clarification. Second, it calls for instant coffee, and I had no instant. So like a dummy (and not for the first time in my life), I subbed coffee grounds. Ha! DUH! I forgot that it wouldn't dissolve. Rob solved that problem by running the milk/coffee/sugar combo through his French press after it boiled. Mah Hero! And finally, for whatever reason I can't quite explain, I made a cup of coffee with a K-cup in my Keurig and dumped the whole cup into my post-boiled mixture for more coffee flavor. Even though the recipe only called for 2 tsp of instant... so yeah. It was more Mocha, Less Chocolate, you know?

But that's okay, because Rob liked it so well, he drank two cups! Jack had a cup, too.The girls tried it, as did I, but we weren't big fans of the bitter chocolate I used for garnish. And it was too coffee-ish for the ladies. (Jack loves coffee; go figure.)

End Result: Pretty Good, Kind of Hard for ME, Possibly Repeatable.


Third on the list was this Caramel Apple Tart. The recipe is here. Oh, my word, y'all. THIS was delicious. Absolutely, completely, totally delicious. It was easy to make, rich and flavorful, and I just can't say enough about it. You have to make this one, you guys!


Chloë was first to try the Caramel Apple Tart. Sorta. I tasted the mixture after scooping it out of the skillet and just knew it would be a winner. What did Chlo think?


She loved it. She asked me to make it again. Soon. And I will. Because yum. Every one of us agreed with her, too.

End Result: Insanely Delicious, Easy, MUST Repeat!


I saw this recipe for Almond Drizzle Apples and knew I had to try it. My apples didn't turn out anywhere near as pretty as the ones in the recipe, and I had a dickens of a time splotting chocolate drizzle all over them, but the end result was superb. If I could have the sugar, I would absolutely have eaten an entire apple, but I had to refrain. More for the rest of Team Odette!

End Result: Delicious, Hard for ME, Probably Repeatable


Next on my agenda was this Candy Apple Cheesecake. I probably would sub a regular, 8" pie crust instead of a 9" one next time, but I wouldn't change any other thing. It was simple to make, and I followed the directions and chilled it thoroughly before serving much later in the evening.


By the time I served this at night, Chloë and I were the only ones left with any kind of appetite, so we dug in. Another "OMG" moment, like the tart. Y'all totes need to stock up on Werther's Baking Caramels and a bunch of apples, because you need to make these recipes. No joke!

End Result: Super Delicious, Very Easy, Must Repeat!


I love a good popcorn cluster, so I knew these Caramel Popcorn Clusters would be on my list. I can't eat much of it anymore, but the bottom line is, if you like this sort of snack, it's a must. So good; I wish I could eat more!

End Result: Delicious, Easy, Repeatable


Eating peanut brittle was on Chloë's Bucket List, so I had to make some of this Caramel Peanut Brittle when I saw the recipe online. It came together quickly and simply. My only suggestion to you would be that when you're spreading it out on a cookie sheet for hardening, spray a metal spoon with cooking spray and flatten it with that. Oh, and stick it in the freezer for five minutes for fast hardening before breaking. I did both of those things, and it worked well.

End Result: Crazy Delicious, Very Easy, Repeatable!

* * *

The bottom line is, we had a fabulous time discovering all that can be done with these versatile Baking Caramels, and I still plan to make more recipes later this week, like this Caramel Apple Silk Pie, and this Caramel Spiced Bread, and these Caramel Sticky Buns (probably without the cherries, but we'll see). 

For MORE mouthwatering caramel recipes, baking tutorials, special offers, and even giveaways and sweepstakes, you'll want to join me and sign up here for an awesome Werther's Caramel Community. Let me know if you do - I'm there, too! The community is full of ideas, including amazing recipes submitted by readers and users like you and me, so check it out.

* * *

I hope you've had a good time reading this post. You can go snag a coupon by joining here, so let me know if you try out any of these delicious Baking Caramels treats. I'd love to know how you fared compared to us!

Full Disclosure: I received free Werther's Original products in order to host the Werther's Original sponsored MommyParty. The opinions expressed here are, as always, completely my own.


Bzz, Bzz: Kashi Hummus Crisps #GotItFree #ProductReview

OMGarsh, y'all. I am a bad BzzAgent and a bad blogger.
Why? you're asking. (Go ahead, ask. I don't mind!)
Because, you guys! I received a bag of Sea Salt & Olive Oil Kashi Hummus Crisps the other day, and I never took a single picture.
I know! I slapped my own hand!
Here's what happened: Rob was in the hospital again two weeks ago for the first of two Neuro-ICU visits in a row for Ye Olde Lovely Braine Tumore. (heh) (I know it's not funny. Give me a break, will ya? Humor helps.)
The doorbell rang as I was packing up for the hour-long commute up to the hospital from home.
I grabbed the box, opened it, saw snacks and probably thought to myself, "Ooh, yummy!" and stashed the bag in my hospital gear. Off I went.
At the hospital an hour later, I was grabbing my teddy bear, my bag, my big ol' keg of the drink du jour, and spotted that bag of Kashi Hummus Crisps. I was starving by that point - you don't tend to eat a whole lot when you're visiting the Neuro Intensive Care Unit, you know what I mean? - and ripped open the bag.
Oh, my goodness, y'all. They were good!! I munched all the way from my van in the parking garage, up to the hospital, during the ride in the elevator, and down the hall to Rob's room. I even struck up a conversation about them in the elevator and handed out a coupon (Want one? Let me know in the comments)!
I think they were all gone by the time I reached Rob's room on the 5th floor, but I can't remember. He can't either, so he must not have gotten one. Because I PIGGED OUT and ate them all.
They were air-popped crisps, with a crunchy texture, and I loved that. But more importantly, the taste! I believe I have made it known in this blahg before how I feel about hummus (YUMMUS!), and Kashi did not disappoint. I can't wait to try the other two flavors, Caramelized Onion and Tomato, Basil & Feta. Do those not sound amazing? To me, they do!
This picture makes me laugh. You'd think I'd realize the words would be reversed, but no. Anyway, that's all I have to show for my delicious bag of Kashi Hummus Crisps. Gone-in-a-flash is what they should have been called, if you ask me!
Of course, Kashi doesn't disappoint when it comes to nutrition, either. The crisps are made with whole grains and real chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), so you know you're getting plenty of fiber and protein in this snack. Both are high on my list of dietary priorities, so I'll be munching more - soon!
What else?
  • At least 3g fiber
  • At least 3g protein
  • At least 5g of whole grains
  • No partially hydrogenated oils
  • No high fructose corn syrup
  • No artificial anything! 
In the final analysis, I have to say, I honestly prefer these Kashi Hummus Crisps to, say, a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. They have all of the delicious flavor with none of the guilt. I feel good about eating them!
Full Disclosure: Kashi and BzzAgent provided a bag of Sea Salt & Olive Oil Hummus Crisps to me for review and sharing, but all opinions expressed herein are, as always, my own. I received coupons, too, but not for free product. You can rest assured you'll always get my honest feedback!

So Chloë Is Twelve, And I Am Old.


My wee, tiny little baby, Chloë Raine, is no more. She's a full-grown twelve-year-old, which is unreal. UNREAL. Twelve years? Really?! How did that happen? I can't believe it's been so long since Rob and I checked into the Pensacola Ronald McDonald House post-Caesarian section, so we could be near the NICU where Chloë stayed for what seemed like an eternity. (In reality, it was a stressful but relatively-brief ten days.)

Okay, so she's still tiny, but you know what I mean. I took her to the pediatrician the other day, where she weighed less than 50 pounds. She still wears a size 6-7 (girls, not juniors), whereas her 8-year-old sister, Sophia, is in a size 8-10. Small in stature though she may be, Chloë is huge on personality. We love her to death and would go to the ends of the earth for her. So, here's to Chloë!


Chloë's 12th birthday was the day before my 37th, this past September 7th and 8th. Essentially, since we share a birthday, that means more freebies for her. If you've read here a while, you may remember that we sign up for all the birthday freebies we can, and then go around and redeem them for a fun traveling birthday celebration. Call us cheap, but it's super enjoyable and a great time for everybody.


I wanted to do something fun and different for her birthday cake this year, and I didn't have a whole lot of money or time, so this is what I did. Cupcake cones! I had planned to put ice cream in the bottom of the cones for extra yumminess, but after the first cone broke to bits in the process - and realizing I had no freezer space to store a dozen cones upright - I aborted that mission. Still, these were simple and fun to make, and Chloë squealed with delight when she saw them. WIN!


We had lots of places to go on her birthday Saturday, so because I was afraid our five stinkin' cats would get up on the counter and knock the cones all over the place, we did her 'cake' and candles first thing in the morning. Strange but fun! We only had eight candles, so I had to relight four of them, but she didn't care. I had done them six times for Rob's 41st birthday the prior week, after all!


Our first stop was to pick up a boneless chicken meal from a KFC here in Homestead. Okay, okay, so this wasn't technically a freebie, but $2.99 for a two-piece meal with side and a biscuit. She absolutely loves their mac & cheese, so call this one a worthwhile splurge.

And how cute does she look in that dress?


Our next stop was at the Buffalo Wild Wings up the road in Pinecrest or somewhere. I'm not sure exactly, but you can Google it. ;) Chloë had a free dessert coming, so we all went in to share it with her. Jack was being a huge butthead, though, so he and Rob went out to sit in the car while Sophia stayed with her big sister. The conversation with the wait staff was funny. "No, we don't need any menus, thanks." "Nope, no drinks for us." "Yes, that's really all." Apparently they don't get a lot of cheap bastards at BWW? Lucky for me, the 'Canes vs. Florida game was on half the screens, so I watched football while the girls chowed down... (We won. Go U!)

I do leave a tip even when we don't have a bill, in case you're wondering just how cheap we are. No worries there, chill.


We girls ran into the mall to go to an Auntie Anne's for her free pretzel, but we were refused. I was so mad! The email clearly stated I could show the coupon on my mobile phone instead of printing it out, so I opted to do that to save some paper and ink, you know? "Well, we've never seen this coupon on a phone before, so we can't take it." Seriously? I replied, "Well, you just lost my business. C'mon girls," and walked off. Honestly, people, it's 2013. Get with the program.

I pulled out a couple of pennies and let them make a wish at the fountain. They probably wished for me not to be such am embarrassing mom. Right?


There were a fire truck and ambulance outside the mall on our way back to the van, since it was National Safety Week or something. Of course, I saw a fun photo op for the lady-babies, and they climbed aboard. Woo-woo-woo!


Sophia said she wanted to be a firefighter, until she put that big ol' helmet on her head. Now she's reconsidering. Wait 'til she sees how heavy the rest of the uniform is!


The dude at the ambulance was befuddled when I asked if the girls could sit up in the back of the bus for a picture. Huh? Isn't that what you're here for? No one else was checking them out, so maybe not. Maybe they had a stretcher in the mall and were waiting to transport a patient? But they let us take our little Instagram, so I guess not.


We went to the Chuck E. Cheese in Cutler Bay after that. Not a birthday freebie, since she's aged out of that and several others, but I printed out some certificates off the CEC website for 10 free tokens for each of my kiddos. I just had to buy a small drink to redeem them, which was worth it for the fun I knew they'd have. I tracked Jack around the arcade, while Rob stayed with the girls and collected everyone's tickets. 

Holy crap. Number one, remind me that we are homeschoolers and can go on a Tuesday morning at 11 AM if we want to. We do not need to be there on a rainy Saturday afternoon with half the county. Holy shit. 

Number two, I totally called their safety hotline to report two (what seemed to me) major issues: Chuck E. came out and held court with the entire restaurant denizens - except for us, as we were in the long ticket-redemption line - right smack in front of the exit. With 50+ people blocking the doors, that had to be a fire hazard. Really?

Number three, the girl who was supposed to be shining her black light on wrists at the door to keep kiddos from escaping (or worse) was the only person not there during Chuck E.'s big door blockage. I stood there and watched a toddler run out through the gate and head for the front door, with no one there to stop her. Her daddy came running and grabbed her, yanking her back inside the restaurant, before the worker strolled over from the depths of the restaurant interior. Scary! And not cool.

Call me a worry-wart or whatever you will, but I have no plans to revisit Chuck E. Cheese anytime soon. And it's not just that location. Last time we were at CEC, in Virginia Beach, we almost came to a fist fight with another family, the so-called adults of which allowed their ginormous children to trample ours. Sorry, but I do not put up with that crap and called them on it.

Moving on...


After that, we headed to a mall called The Falls to redeem three separate $5 gift certificates to Build-A-Bear Workshop. One was for Chloë's birthday, one was for mine, and one was for our anniversary of signing up for their e-club. All three kids, therefore, had five bucks to spend in the store. And not a penny more, we made it clear - about eleventy billion times, because they kept wanting to stuff a $40 animal. Uh, no.

Chloë and Sophia had no trouble finding $5 accesories to spend their gift cards on, but Jack, as usual, was as indecisive as a gigolo in the red light district. He bitched and moaned about the five-dollar spending cap, and ultimately decided that he wasn't going to use his money at all. So Rob and I implored him, instead, to give his big sis a gift with it for her birthday. He begrudgingly picked out a Hello Kitty purse she'd been toying with getting, rolled his eyes, and snarked, "Happy birthday, Chloë," when he handed it over. 

Ah, the love.

(The three of them are usually much nicer and more loving to each other, swears.)


Next, we headed up to Coral Gables to get her free ice cream cone from the Ben & Jerry's shop downtown. A police officer on a segway kept passing by our van and looking at me, and I could tell he was checking me out. Just kidding. He was probably investiging our Virginia tags or our cracked windshield... but no ticket was administered, so phew! Chloë decided on Mango Sorbet (ick) and posed for her requisite iphoneography.

After that, we drove up and down the Gables' Miracle Mile looking for a certain bakery. I couldn't remember the name of it for the life of me, but I was certain I knew where it was. Siri was no help, either. I had picked up a couple of chocolate mousse cupcakes for my pal Marc's birthday-slash-Rosh Hashanah the week before, and he was dying for another taste.  Would I please pick them up a couple more, and a business card?

It took me no fewer than 45 minutes to find Ricky's Bakery, but apparently it was worth it to Marc, so I did it happily! They don't speak any English in the shop, and I picked up a take-out menu for Marc (no cards were in sight) and asked them, in my halting Spanish, to point out the chocolate mousse treats on the menu, so I could circle them for Marc to show if he returned on his own. Of course, that was one of the few things not on the menu, so my friend is out of luck, I'm afraid.


Before we headed over to Marc and Jenna's house with their mousse cakes, we had two more quick stops on the Miracle Mile to make. Chloë picked out a free, huge chocolate chip cookie from the Barnes & Noble Café. She'd had so many fun, free treats so far, she decided to split it in half and give each to Sophia and Jack. Sweet girl, she is.


And then, we stopped at California Pizza Kitchen for the free dessert of her choice. I had to real-quicklike download the CPK app on my iPhone, because they couldn't look up our freebie on my rewards account by my phone number. Be aware! She chose the Chocolate Soufflé Cake. The guy taking her order asked if she wanted it a la mode. At first I said no, since we were taking it to-go, but then I thought to ask for it on the side to take to Marc's three-year-old twins, Jake and Addison. Well, it didn't occur to me that there would be an upcharge for the ice cream until I had to pay a couple bucks, so be aware of that, too, if you're broke-as-a-joke like us!


I hung around at Marc's house for over an hour, having delivered the goods and coming in for a quick chat with my friends. Marc's in a wheelchair, having become a quadriplegic in his early 20s, and I used to live with him back in my college days. I was his night nurse then, so I know a lot about his particular needs. He's not been feeling well lately, so a question about that and, in turn, Rob's current health crisis turned into an extended conversation about everything under the sun. I love the two of them and was just thrilled to hang for a short while!

Finally, it was late, so we headed back to Homestead. Our local Sonic was on the way, so I stopped there top pick up Chloë's free grilled cheese Wacky Pack for her birthday dinner. She had her drink and apple slices before we got to the house. She was stuffed by that point, so I totally snagged her sammich when we got home. Hey, Mom's gotta eat sometimes, too.


Panera was around the corner from Sonic, and upon seeing it, I remembered that I had a freebie coming for my birthday from there, too! Anything from the bakery case that I wanted, so I perused the drive-thru menu and settled upon a carrot cupcake for Rob. Little did he know he was going to get it, but since he'd just celebrated Birthday Number 41 and I can't really eat sweets, well, he became the lucky recipient.


On Sunday, my birthday, I slept almost the whoooole damned day. I needed it after having spent five days rushing back and forth to the University of Miami Hospital an hour from home to visit Rob! I finally woke up around 1800, just in time to shower and head to the 7 PM showing of Planes with Chloë for our free birthday movie down the road at Homestead's Flagship Cinema. We even got a free 40-oz soda, though I did splurge (wincing, natch) on nachos for my kid.


After the movie, we returned home to collect Rob and the Littles for more birthday fun. Our first stop was to Denny's, so I could collect my free Grand Slam. I ate none of it. Jack was again being a jerkface to his sister, so he and Rob - again - sat in the car while the girls scarfed down the meal. He's apparently having a hard time with anyone else having a birthday. (Marc suggested I videotape his entire next birthday to prove that he, too, gets showered with fun and love when it's his turn. I just might!)


We ran to Walmart after Denny's, so that Chloë could spend her gift card from her paternal grandfather and step-grandma. She decided to choose a Cleopatra Halloween costume for next month, and the remainder was spent on a small Barbie toy. At 12, she still loves to play Barbies with her younger sister, which is fine by me.


The subsequent trip to IHOP proved to be happier for Jack, who successfully scored the strawberry pancakes from my free Rooty Tooty Fresh 'n' Fruity meal. Finally, a smiling boy picture. You were beginning to think that never happened, weren't you?



Birthday freebies got put on hold from Monday through Wednesday evening, as I had to take Rob back into the hospital first thing in the morning on the 9th. He had the worst headache of his life, and since he'd been in intensive care with a cerebellar hemmorhage last week, I wasn't playing around. I called his neurosurgeon, told him that Rob's pain was so bad he was throwing up and crying, and was instructed to bring him right in to the UM Emergency Department. They admitted him back to the Neuro Intensive Care Unit right away for a heavy shock of steroids to reduce the cerebellar swelling and thus, the pain in his head. It worked, and he was released 2½ days later with more steroids to take. Indefinitely. Joy. (Should I sign him up for MLB?)


On the trip home from the hospital Wednesday afternoon, we must have hit a nail or something, because we were smack-dab in the middle of the Palmetto Expressway when we blew a tire. Greaaaat. I pulled off onto the Le Jeune road exit near Miami International Airport, so you can imagine the busyness of the lane. Nevertheless, I scooted all the way over the to right, leaving enough room for my fellow drivers to pass and get off the express.

So there was Rob, in the rain, fresh out of the hospital, with a brain tumor, changing my tire. I felt horrible for him, but grateful for the rest of us, because if it happened on the way to the hospital, I can't imagine what I would have done. Besides cry. Did I mention my phone was dead, and my brandy-new car charger stopped working? That kind of excitement, we don't really need, no, thank you!

While he was jacking up the van to put on the donut, a tow truck pulled up behind us, blocking ALL traffic. HONK! HONK! "MOVE!" the driver shouted. Um, okay, but you could have just passed us like everyone else figured out how to do. "Get outta the way!"

The guy turned out to be nice, if kind of fierce. He followed me off the exit, going no more than 4 MPH, while my blown tire went thump-thump-thump! on the rim. Rob was PISSED, because the tire that should have been able to be repaired for $28 was thusly thoroughly destroyed. We ended up having to replace it completely for five times as much. Not. Happy. We drove to Tire King in the Gables to find out that fine fact, where I snapped this photo of Jack, dead to the world.


On the way home, driving carefully on US-1 through all of southern Miami-Dade County, we swung into Toys 'R Us for Chloë to spend her birthday money from Aunt Stacey (my sister). She decided on two color-your-own bags for herself and Sophia, which of course infuriated her poor, left out little brother. He cried and cried, and there was nothing I could think of to do, other than assure him that he would never have spent his money on either of his sisters if the shoe were on the other foot. He had no choice but to agree, and that quieted him. Not an ideal situation, but I was unwilling to upset my birthday girl, so I let it go.


At the checkout, the cashier discovered we were celebrating a birthday, so she gave Chloë a balloon and a crown. So she's 12, whatevs. Fun is fun.


Once home, I decided Chloë and I should ride around our nearby streets and redeem the Homestead birthday freebies. Rob protested, because of the donut wheel, but I am a stubborn fool and wanted to be finished with the birthday business. So, we left him home with the Littles and headed out. Our first stop was Shakey's Pizza Parlor down the road, where she was given a free pizza and drink. I could have gotten a free buffet for my birthday, too, but they didn't have the buffet set up. Eh. No big deal.


We ran to Kohl's in the same plaza to spend a free $10 gift card I'd been sent in the mail. We picked over the entire store while she made up her mind what to buy, so I was stunned to find this huge Christmas display, in the middle of September. Too soon, people!


However, my chagrin didn't last too long, because I spotted a tree filled with beach-themed ornaments behind the one pictured above. I off-handedly suggested she buy one for herself and her siblings to celebrate their first Christmas in Miami, and Chloë jumped at the thought! The ball in the center is for her, and she gave the swordfish to Jack and the octopus to Sophia. They were thrilled she thought of them!


Chloë still had a birthday gift card from Grandma (my MIL) to spend, so we headed to Walmart once again. She carefully chose what to spend her money on, having promised Jack she'd get him a small LEGO set while they were cleaning garbage out of the van earlier. She selected that first! Then she picked out the nail and lip gloss sets, and a couple bottles of colored bubbles from the clearance section rounded out her selection. Satisfied, we headed for the register. Good job, Sis!


We had called Ruby Tuesday's from the 2o-items-or-less line at Walmart to order a pretzel cheeseburger for Rob and her two free gourmet cupcakes, having discovered they were closing in the very near future. We got there just in time and picked up the food from the bar, where I had to shoo Chloë to a distant table to avoid the discouraging glares from bar patrons...


Our last birthday stop of the night was once again Sonic, where I'd been given a free birthday CreamSlush. Of course, I couldn't have that either, so Chloë got that one, too. She chose an orange creamsicle, at my suggestion, and shared with her brother and sister when we returned home. I snuck in a sip, and oh, my, that thing was delish!


A package from Aunt Gail (Rob's sister) was waiting for us at home. There was a cute dress for Chloë, plus two more shirts for her, and presents for Rob and me, too! Thanks, Gail! ♥


Our air conditioner went out last night, plus Rob's mom and dad helped us out with money for a new van tire, so we headed to Walmart yet again on Thursday. Here's Chloë - and Rob in the background - modeling a new shirt from Aunt Gail. Adorbs! It fit perfectly, too. 


I had coupons for Driscoll berries and a box of SeaPak clams, so we got those and the filter, too. Sophia, who loves nothing more than a container of strawberries in her hands, posed for a picture with me while we waited for the tire to be mounted. Jack, meanwhile, was happy as a clam to watch the garage activity from the waiting room. The boy loves his cars!


Back at home, Sophia found the present Gail had sent to moi, which was a few bottles of fun textured nail polish and some nail decals. Apparently, on all her trips to coupon at the drugstores with her mom, Sophia had her eye on exactly this shade of Fuzzy Coat, so when she discovered it on my desk, she was practically beside herself with excitement. WIN, again! She insisted on painting her nails herself (can you tell?), but I drew the line at topping this with another, different variety of textured polish. Enough is enough, y'know? On the other hand, she is eight years old, so who cares? Maybe I should have let her...

And that, my friends, is the end of Birthday Season 2013. Maybe. I still have a $30 gift certificate for a meal at Benihana...


P.S. I did try to give Chloë an actual gift from us. I had gotten a sweet deal on an alarm clock radio for her to plug her Kindle Fire into, but imagine my disappointment when she opened it and it didn't work with hers! The kids each have a Fire HD, which apparently requires different plug-ins from the non-HD. Suck. Mommy FAIL.

P.P.S. I also gave her a book that I'd redeemed some Kellogg's Family Rewards points for, a tween-y book that was waiting for us at home on Wednesday night. She has already read through the entire book!

What Do Olive Oil & Sunscreen Have In Common? Read To Find Out!

What's up, party people?!

I've had lots of product reviews to do lately, and I thought I'd take a second and combine them into one, longer post so you can see what I've had a chance to try out lately. Forgive me for all the shameless plugs, but I can promise you one thing: if I didn't like the free goodies I was given, I wouldn't post about them here. In fact, more than once I have decidedly NOT liked the product and told the company so and been asked not to review it. (Subsequently, one of those companies changed their formula and has been all over the blahgosphere, Twitter, Pinterest, and more with their new campaign. I'm keeping mum as to who it is, though, so don't ask me!)


I reviewed a new eyelash serum by Fysiko just a little bit ago, and I'm plugging them again here because I'm still amazed that this stuff actually works. I nearly forgot I had hair there!


Yeah, those are my gnarly shoes and even gnarlier feet, trying out Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel Insoles for the first time. Oh, my gosh. Since I first posted about them, I have been wearing the heck out of these shoes! Have you guys tried these? If so, you've totally been holding out on me. I've switched from flip-flops as my go-to shoes for summer to these, just so I can have comfy feet as we're out and about. Like, really.


I was sent a bottle of Filippo Berio Extra Virgin Olive Oil from BzzAgent the other day, and I've been waiting for a dinner to make with it. I took some cut of beef or another (I have no clue; I don't eat it, so it's all dead cow to me, sorry!) out of the freezer and decided to marinate it with a little of this EVOO, some salt and pepper, and a little seasoning in our new Dutch oven to try it out. I even put some EVOO in the water to boil the corn, and Rob stopped me before I put the olive oil in the spuds instead of milk, too. Hee! Well, it was kind of dumb to "waste" my first Filippo meal on people other than myself, since I couldn't test out the meat, but it was apparently quite delishamus. The corn was really tasty; I can tell you that much! Next time, it'll be pasta, though...


What do you like to use olive oil for? I need suggestions, because if it were up to me, I'd even sweets with it. (Can you do that? I'm all ears.)


And finally, I got my Summer 2013 kit as one of the Coppertone Water MOMS bloggers! Woohoo! It's full of sunscreen for the babes and us parents alike, and I even got a beach towel. We went to the park today and, despite the rain, we applied some Coppertone - a different one for each kids' needs, even - to each person. Guess what? No sunburns. Chloë got one the other day, so we must be extra careful.

*** I have coupons ***

for everything pictured here, so you can try them, too. Okay, not for the olive oil, and if I did, I'd totally horde that away from you guys, because I love that stuff. I kid, I kid... kinda. Anyway, just ask if you want some, and I'll pop them in the mail to you.  Please leave comments below even if you don't want coupons, because I really need to tell my sponsors what you think!


Full Disclosure: I was sent all of the items pictured here (well, except for the gross feet, with which I was born, and the corn, which I bought at Target) for free to try out, in exchange for my completely honest reviews. I received no other compensation or threat of violence in exchange for my positivity.  Thanks to BzzAgent for the Dr. Scholls and Filippo Berio products, Fysiko and Sverve for the eyelash serum, and Coppertone and MomSelect for the sunscreen and towel!

Good-Bye, Navy Gravy Train. Hello, Retired Life.

Friday, May 31, 2013, was Rob's last day of Active Duty service in the United States Navy. Woohoo! Congratulations, PR1 Odette! (He loves being called that - just ask him.)

Also, Pride-Tradition-Service immediately made me think of PTS... Post-Traumatic Stress. Just sayin'. Anyway.


 To commemorate the occasion and because we had to, our first stop of the day was at t he DEERS office of Homestead Air Force Base for new retired IDs. Everyone but Sophie got one; she's not old enough yet, and this was no minor annoyance to her! I put on zero makeup for the occasion, since I have enough crap on my face what with the trillion bazillion freckles I'm currently sporting.

We headed for IHOP for lunch, since someone said something about pancakes for breakfast. Rob was all about it and turned the steering wheel in that direction. Only, there was a wait (imagine that, IHOP, busy?), and I didn't feel too well, so we went to Golden Corral instead.

Uh, dumb and dumber.

I'd forgotten that Golden Corral is like the Walmart of restaurants. Ugh. Also, they have, according to the manager, changed their corporate policy on gastric bypass patients. Have you ever gone to a buffet with someone who has a gastric pouch the size of your thumb? Not very cost-effective. They used to let us get the buffet at the kids' price, but no longer. Dumberer. And Chloë and I both became sick during eating. Coincidence? You decide.


Try to ignore the gross mattress, which will soon be replaced, because ew. After Golden Corral, we got home and Rob put together the girls' bunk beds. Finally; we've been here two months and it was about time. Chloë's been sleeping on the couch, and Sophie's mattress has been on the floor. So they're excited, a wee bit.


Soap took a nap after that. Guess the excitement got to her. Mm, look at those luscious lips. I lurve them. So smooshy! And I know, I know, she needs to stop with the thumb, but seeing it reminds me that no matter how big she gets, she's still my itty bitty baby!


Here's Jack with Hunter. Or is it Lucky? Hucky? Lunter? I don't know. They're SO cute, but I am really tired of having these kittens around. It's officially on Rob's agenda for later today to drop them off at the no-kill shelter. They gotta go. We might even pare down the pack further; it's been discussed. It's on the table.


Since everyone still wanted pancakes - except me. I don't really DO pancakes; it's not such a gastric bypass diet food, y'know? - we took Rob out for his retirement dinner at IHOP after all. They all had pancakes. Rob had a billion other things, because he is NEVER full, you guys, and I had an egg and cheese and spinach and egg omelet. It was delishamus.


I had an iced coffee, too. Yeah, I'm one of those annoying iPhonographers who Instagrams everything she puts in her mouth. Because you know why? It's fun. Have you heard that Nickleback-parody song about Instagram? Rob played it for me, and that's SO me. Too funny.

Speaking of Instagram, have you guys seen Projecteo? So cool: you get a little wheel with 9 of your Instagrams, and it comes with a projector to shoot them up on your wall or whatevs. How fun is that? Instagram party, anyone? I'm up for it. Too bad we don't know anyone here yet! At least not in homestead. Our closest pals are, like, a 45-minute drive on the Turnpike.

Hi, I babble.


Chloë got sick for the second time at IHOP. So maybe it was just a coincidence we both did at Golden Corral? I don't know. I asked Mamacita and Dr. Lisa what that might be about, and Doc suggested reflux. She had it really bad as a baby, so that could be. Poor kid. It seems to have passed now, though, but if it recurs, I'm putting in a call to a pediatrician pronto. I have GERD (acid reflux disease), and it is NO fun to suffer with.

I swear this post was going to be about Rob retiring. It's fun to ramble, though, you know?

So what have you guys been up to lately? No one ever tells me; I don't know why I keep asking!


Robbing The Drugstores, Version 6.4.13 #coupons #deals

Hey, you guys!

I'm resurrecting the "Deals & Steals" posts, at least this once, to help out my Virginia pals with saving some moolah. If you want to see more of these posts on a regular basis, to help you get into the groove of saving some serious cash, just drop me a comment below to let me know.


First, I have to say thank you to Collin over at Hip2Save for helping me put together these awesome deals. I've been a lifelong coupon user, but reading her blog transformed my method. I have a Word file with an intro to the Melanie method of couponing - which is not Extreme Couponing, if that's what you're looking for - that will help give a lot of background information for putting together the deals below {and for reading Hip2Save}. If you want that file, just make sure to leave me your email address in a comment on this post.


Second, we don't have Rite Aid here in South Florida, so my deals will come exclusively from Walgreens and CVS today. Between this Rite Aid page on Hip2Save and the Word.doc I can send you, you should be able to sort things if you want to shop the rockin' Rite Aid deals. Be sure to click on "New Here?" near the top left of Collin's blog, too, if you're new to either her highly functional site or to couponing in general. You'll glean so much useful information that will make a huge difference in putting together your own deals and saving money for your family, too.


And finally, before I get started with detailing today's shopping trips, there's just a little bit of coupon lingo that I'm going to use. You need to familiarize yourself with these and more terms, which I've listed in the aforementioned Word.doc and most of which are also listed in the newbie sections on Hip2Save (and used regularly by Collin and other coupon bloggers).

The ones you need to know right now are:

MQ = Manufacturer's Coupons

SQ = Store Coupons (in this case, from Walgreens or CVS)

RRs = Register Rewards, the Walgreens store 'bonus' currency

BRs = Balance Rewards, the Walgreens 'loyalty' currency

ECBs = Extra Care Bucks, the CVS store 'bonus' currency

ARV = Average Retail Value, or the pre-sale price at the store I'm shopping below

OOP = Out of pocket expenditure

Net = What I'm actually paying, after RRs or ECBs, respectively


Let's get started!


{Read this page first on Hip2Save}

I did this in five separate transactions, which I generally only have had to do at "Wags" and not at Rite Aid or CVS. {The only other place I've really needed to do split transactions is at Target, because they often reward with Gift Cards that can't be used in the same transaction in which they're earned.} I'll detail each transaction separately below:

Transaction #1:

{{Done to earn BRs, which cannot be earned and redeemed within the same transaction; also, to separate RR transactions in order to purchase multiple items needed}} 


-       (2) 6-roll packs of Bounty paper towels at $4.99 each (ARV: $6.99) + (4) 3-count Venus disposable razors at $8.61 each after 25% off sale (ARV: $11.49) = $47.61. (The deal was spend $20, get 5,000 BRs, so I doubled it.) I used two Buy One, Get One Free (BOGO) MQs for the razors + two 25¢-off MQs for the Bounty towels = $26.70. I also earned 10,000 BRs for a future transaction, which equates to a $10 reward, so $16.70 for all six items. My notebook entry for this deal looks like this:

  • *(4) 3ct Venus disposable razors: $11.49 ea – 25% off – (2) BOGO MQ + (2) 6ct Bounty towels: $4.99 each – (2) 25¢ MQ – 10,000 BRs = 16.70/all 6!

  • (Yes, I really do write exclamation points after each deal. I get excited about saving money, what can I say? I also do color-code my notebook, underline BRs and more. Develop your system to make the most sense for you.)

-       (4) 4-count Gillette CustomPlus3 disposable razors: $5.99 each (ARV: $7.99) = $23.96. I had two BOGO MQs again, but the cashier missed one so I’ll have to go back and recoup my losses. It SHOULD have subtracted $11.98, plus I earned another 5,000 BRs for a total of $6.98. Dividing out, that’s 44¢ per razor!

-       (2) 24-ct Children’s Advil chewables: $4.99 each (ARV: 5.99), minus two $1.50 MQs, plus 3,000 BRs earned for buying two = $1.99 x 2! (Not killer but good, especially since my older girl gets a lot of headaches and we’re out of kids’ meds, so I bought.)

-       100-ct Natrol Melatonin: $4 (ARV: $9.99), kicked back $4 RR for a future transaction, so FREE! (Yay! I am finally going to try; y’all know I don’t sleep!)

-       Tampax Tampon Pearl Lites: $3.99 (ARV: $5.79). {{I had a $1.50 MQ, but it wouldn’t scan. It was a valid MQ, so the cashier should have keyed it in manually, but my cashier – and, sadly, many Wags cashiers – didn’t know how to do that, so I didn’t use it. Normally, I’d have taken it off the order, but they can’t void once they ring in coupons. I’d have done a Return/Refund after that transaction, but I was tired and I’ve got two girls and am stocking up for the future, so I said to heck with it and just kept them. It’s annoying, though!}} This kicked back a $1 RR, so with the MQ, this should have been $1.49!

-       6-oz Crest Pro-Health toothpaste: $2.99 (ARV: $4.79) – 50¢ MQ, plus a $2 RR kicked out =  49¢! (My price point is normally $0-25¢ for toothpaste, but Hubs needs this kind, so I stocked up.)

-       27-ct Scunci hair elastics: $2.99, got back a $2 RR = 99¢. (Again, I have two little girls, and they lose these things like nobody’s business, so I get these whenever I can.)

So for Transaction #1: My subtotal after MQs came out to $62.50 + $5.49 tax = $67.99 OOP. I earned 18,000 BRs for Transaction #5, got back $9 in RRs, and saved $65.94 between sales and MQs.

 Transaction #2:


-       This time, I tried the 54ct Tampax Pearl liners: $2.99 (ARV: $5.29), but my $1.50 that should have worked still didn’t. I kept it anyway, same reason as above. Got back a $1 RR. Not great, but whatevs.

-       100-ct Natrol Melatonin: $4 (ARV: $9.99), kicked back $4 RR for a future transaction, so FREE!

-       6-oz Crest Pro-Health toothpaste: $2.99 (ARV: $4.79) – 50¢ MQ, plus a $2 RR kicked out =  49¢!

-       27-ct Scunci hair elastics: $2.99, got back a $2 RR = 99¢.

So for Transaction #2: My subtotal after MQs came out to $13.47 + 70¢ tax = $14.17 OOP. I got another $9 back in RRs for next week, instead of spending them on Transaction #5 for whatever unknown reason, so my Net for this transaction = $5.17.

Transactions #3 & #4, identical:

  015  012

-       At this point, I knew the Tampax MQ wasn’t going to work for me, so I didn’t take them for these (2) transactions.

-       100-ct Natrol Melatonin: $4 (ARV: $9.99), kicked back $4 RR for a future transaction, so FREE!

-       6-oz Crest Pro-Health toothpaste: $2.99 (ARV: $4.79) – 50¢ MQ, plus a $2 RR kicked out =  49¢!

-       27-ct Scunci hair elastics: $2.99, got back a $2 RR = 99¢.

So for both Transactions #3 and #4: My subtotal came out to $9.48 + 42¢ tax = $9.90. I got $8 back each time for next week, so my Net for both these transactions was $1.90.

Transactions #5:



-       (4) Ben & Jerry’s pints: $4.99 each – BOGO sale – (4) $1 MQs = $1.50 x 4!

-       (4) 2-L Dr. Pepper Ten: 4 for $4 (ARV: $1.99) – (2) BOGO MQs = 50¢ x 4!

-       (4) Chex Mix: 4 for $6 (ARV: $1.99) – (4) 50¢ MQs - $1 off four SQ from the June Coupon Booklet, which you can find at the front of the store near the weekly ads = 75¢ x 4!

-       (4) 6ct Slim-Fast bars: $5.49 each – Buy 1 Get 1 50% off sale – (4) $1.50 MQs = $1.87 x 4!

-       Keebler Soft Batch Chocolate Chip cookies: $1.99 (ARV: $3.59) – $1.50 MQ = 49¢!

-       (3) Skittles singles packs + (3) Starburst singles packs (great for kids’ snack for our weekly Family Meeting!): 59¢ each (ARV: 99¢) – (3) 50¢-off-two MQs = 34¢ x 6!

-       (4) 3Musketeers bars (yucky to me, but Hubs loves them): 59¢ each (ARV: 99¢) – (2) 50¢-off-two MQs = 34¢ x 4!

-       (2) 10ct Starbucks K-Cups: $6.99 (ARV: $9.99) – (2) $1.50 MQ = $5.49 x 2, or 55¢ per K-cup! (Not great, but okay for Starbucks, and I need to replenish our K-cup supply.)

So for Transaction #5: My subtotal came out to $35.33 + $1.40 tax = $36.73. I used 20,000 BR points from Transaction #1 and previous earnings to reduce my OOP to $16.73!


Plus, I have $37 in RRs to use next week! So my Total Value for all five transactions, before sales and coupons, was $293.37 (pre-tax). My total OOP was $118.69, making my Net after RRs $81.69. Not the best I’ve ever done, but eh. You win some, you lose some.


021  023


 -       (4) 1.6-oz Secret Clinical deodorant: $4 each (ARV: $8.99) – (4) $3 MQs - $1 x 4! (Plus, I’ll submit for a Mail-in Rebate for another one, for free!)

- (2) Sally Hansen Advanced Hard as Nails Strengthener: $3.99 each + (1) Sally Hansen Super Shine Top Coat: $4.69 = $12.67. The deal was, get $5 Extra Care Bucks (ECBs) when you spend $12 in Sally Hansen products at regular price. I had (3) $4 MQs, which the cashier should have adjusted down to $3.99 for two of them but keyed them in as $4 anyway, so my Net was 67¢, making this a $4.33 Money Maker for me after ECBs. Woohoo! My notebook entry for this deal looks like this:

  • (3) Sally Hansen products: (2)$3.99 + $4.69 – (3) $4 MQ - $5 ECB = $5.33 MM!

-       (4) 7oz Edge shave gels: (2) for $3.49 each + (2) for $2.99 each  + (1) 15 oz Irish Spring body wash: $2.99 (ARV: $4.99) = $15.95. The deal was, spend $15 on certain products and get $5 ECB back. I had (2) BOGO (up to $3) MQs for the Edge gels, which took off $6, and a $1 MQ for the body wash, so this worked out to $3.95 for all five. My notebook entry for this deal looks like this:

  • (4) 7oz Edge shave gels: (2)$2.99 + (2)$3.49 + (1) 15oz Irish Spring body wash: $2.99 – (2) BOGO MQ – $1 MQ - $5 ECB = 79¢ x 5!

-       (1) Softsoap pump: $2.99 – 35¢ MQ - $2 ECB = 64¢!

-       (2) 1ct Gillette Venus razor: $6.99 each + (2) 4ct Gillette Sensor3 Sensitive disposable razors: $9.99 each = $33.96. The deal was, get $10 ECBs when you spend $30 on Gillette shaving products. I had (2) $3 MQs for the Venus and a BOGO MQ for the men’s razors, so my notebook entry looks like this:

  • (2) 1ct Venus: $6.99 ea + (2) 4ct Gillette Sensor3 disp razors: $9.99 ea – (2) $3 MQs – BOGO MQ - $10 ECBs = $1.99 x 4!

-       (1) Schick Intuition razor: $8.99 (ARV: $11.99) - $2 MQ - $4 ECB = $2.99!

-       (3) Huggies Little Swimmers packs: 2 for $20 (so $30 for all 3) (ARV: $13.99) – (2) $3 MQ - $1.50 MQ – (2) $2 SQ - $10 ECBs (for spending $30 on select Huggies) = $2.83 x 3! Great price!

-       (3) 8oz Colgate Optic White Mouthwash: $4.49 each – (3) $2 MQ - $5 ECB (for buying 3) = 82¢ x 3!

-       10ct TENA Ultimate pads: $3.79 (ARV: $6.99) - $1 MQ - $3 ECBs = 21¢ Money Maker! (Woohoo! TMI side note: I totally told the cashier I wish the limit on this ECB deal was more than one, because, uh, after having four kids, I need ‘em!) ;)

-       (4) Febreze Air Effects: $3.79 each + (1) Febreze Set & Refresh: $3.79 – (4) $1.50 MQ – (1) 75¢ MQ - $5 ECB = $1.44 x 5! (With a horde of cats and their litter boxes, I was all over this!)

-       (4) 3pk Ivory soap: 2 for $3 (ARV: $2.27) – (4) 50¢ MQ = $1 x 4! (Hubs’ favorite soap, plus it’s really great to grate this up and use in making your own laundry detergent!)

-       Froot Loops: $1.99 (ARV: $4.79) - $1.50 MQ = 49¢!


So for this singular transaction, the total value was $229.66 (pre-tax), and my OOP expense (because I had ECBs from last week and SQs from the “magic coupon machine,” aka the price scanner near the front of the store) was $49.44. I got back $49 in ECBs for next week, so my Net is 44¢. Sweet deals!


Please feel free to ask questions in the comments (so others can benefit), request the Word doc, and peruse Hip2Save! Realize that using coupons this way is time-consuming and can be hard work, but in my opinion, it’s SO worth it. It’s a game that I enjoy playing.

Now go out there and get some great deals!


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!
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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.
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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.
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
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??!
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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. ♥
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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!
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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!

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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!
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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 PetSmart.com 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.
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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?
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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!
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

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!
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Have a good weekend, y'all. Thanks for stopping by!

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.

  photo Momsjewelry_zps419c537c.jpg

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

  photo BicSmileypack_zps6e79404a.jpg

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!)

  photo ChloeandJackCrafting_zps8c5e7401.jpg

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.


 photo IMG_5584_zps929e385d.jpg

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.)


 photo IMG_5587_zpsa3fc1ed5.jpg

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??)

  photo IMG_5589_zps87e0a92b.jpg

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'!)

  photo IMG_5609_zpsf75ac462.jpg

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!

  photo Sophiacrafting_zps1d453137.jpg

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

 photo IMG_5618_zps15acb317.png

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.)


 photo IMG_5617_zpsa83ead44.jpg

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?


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!


Sea World, Orlando, & Downtown Disney

Over the past two days (Monday and Tuesday), Team Odette traveled 4½ hours away to Orlando for a mini-vacation. Thanks to Anheuser-Busch for supporting our troops, because with their Here's to the Heroes 2013, Rob and three of his dependents could get in for free. We just had to buy a ticket for Jack. We also bought the eat-all-day deals for everyone but me, which is totally worth it, because you can literally go through the participating restaurants again and again and again and get way too much food for a normal person to consume. We are normally not wasteful people, so it was a little painful to throw away perfectly good food, but otherwise it was a really good value; do it!


To prepare for the trip, I packed tons of snacks (no-frosting strawberry Pop-Tarts, trail mix, a little chocolate, cereal, etc.) in snack-size Ziploc baggies for all three kids in their new bags (from Publix) with their names on them. I gave each child a clipboard filled with paper and enough writing and drawing implements, new sticker books, glitter and glue, and more to keep them busy. Finally, I ran to the Toys 'R Us outlet store at a mall about 5 minutes away and picked up these glow sticks, together with smelly-good bubbles and more cyalume light-up bracelets and necklaces, for use on Monday night after we left the park.


I let them open up their new goody bags on Sunday night before bed, giving them instructions on when and where each item was to be used. We had to leave at about 0400 to get to Sea World by the time it opened at 0900 Monday morning, or else I would have left them in their car seats and let them find them then. They were super-excited to find out what was in those bags!


We arrived at Sea World more than a half-hour early, thanks to only having to stop for potty breaks and drinks at the Florida Turnpike travel plazas once or twice. I'm definitely going to do this pre-planning packing for the kids' car trip needs when we road trip in the future. It worked out perfectly: there was no "I'm hungry," "Are we there yet?" or "I'm bored" whining whatsoever. Awesome!

One really nice thing about Anheuser-Busch parks - and Sea World was no different - was that, right after the park opened for business and while we were standing in line to redeem our vouchers for tickets, they stopped to play the National Anthem. Rob stood at attention respectfully, and as usual, tears welled up in his eyes. I love that my guy is such a true patriot. I really admire that. Sophia started talking about what a dumb song it was, but I hushed her up and explained to her what the song was and what it meant, and that shut her complaints up immediately. She stood quietly and respectfully throughout the song after that.


Entering the park was really easy, smooth and fast. The folks at Sea World have got it together. The first thing we found inside was a flock of flamingos, stinky and squawking like crazy. They have a distinctive smell, which isn't very pleasant, but they're absolutely beautiful. Sophia, our bird lover, was particularly captivated.


Near the flamingos, also-banded pelicans waited to be admired. Or as a Facebook friend called them, "the crows of Florida." Still, as aggressive and unpleasant as these fowl can be, I think they are pretty cool.


We moved along to the stingray tank (although there were other rays including this cownose), and of course my thoughts immediately went to the untimely death of Crocodile Hunger Steve Irwin, right? Apparently, though, the stingrays are de-barbed or something, to make them not dangerous to park guests. I don't know how I feel about that, but I guess liability would be a huge issue if a similar thing happened in the park.


There were oodles and oodles of penny press machines inside Sea World. They were everywhere! We spent about $25 on collecting these souvies everywhere we found them, which makes me cringe a little. However, they're really cool, a great thing to collect, and the kids have fun doing them. It's a take-away and a project in one experience, so I think it's worth it in the end. We have collections from here, now, along with Disney World and Epcot, and everywhere else we've been able to find them. I love 'em.


It took us less than two hours to fill our Sea World pressed penny book! The machines were so ubiquitous, it wasn't hard to do. We have about 10 more that don't fit in the book, plus there are another 10 or 12 on the back of this book, so we have plenty. We probably even missed a bunch of machines, since we didn't do everything there was to do in the park. It'll give us something to do on a future visit to Sea World, y'know? 


After we pressed our first set of pennies, the first thing we found was the dolphin feeding tank. It cost $7 per kid and was on Chloë's bucket list, so Rob and I talked it over and decided to do it. $21 for an experience like that was pretty cheap compared to other behind-the-scenes adventures Sea World offered, and we had zero fundage for souvenirs other than the requisite pennies and my shot glass collection (I got a shark one, natch), so this was the thing to do. I'd rather give the kids an amazing memory than more stuff we don't need any day of the week, too. Here, we were waiting at the dolphin tank for our turn to pet and feed them.


Soon, it was the kids' turn to step up and feed the bottlenose dolphins. It was an incredible, memorable experience for all five of us. I'm actually surprised Chloë didn't cry a little bit. We all got to touch them, and the girls and Rob (who stepped in for the too-nervous Jack) each fed them two fish after doing the instructed rub under the jaw. It was amazing; words can't do it justice.


We walked through the aquarium that goes over one's head after feeding the dolphins, and I pointed out the different fish we saw to the kids. Parrotfish, like this Stoplight one here, are among my favorite of the reef fish. 


We visited Turtle Trek, which was a breathtaking surround cinema, like the inside of a planetarium. Another Facebook friend highly recommended it, and she was right; I loved every second of this short 3D adventure through a turtle's life. Afterward, there was a staffer giving out trivia questions and discussing the lives and habits of turtles and other sea creatures. I answered one question correctly before anyone else did, so she handed me a baseball card-like information sheet on the Leafy Sea Dragon for a prize. Later, she talked all about conservation efforts in which Sea World participates and gave the kids a chance to earn their own cards. We walked away with prizes for the Bottlenose Dolphin, Florida Manatee, and California Sea Lion, too.


Speaking of manatees, I love that the iPhone 5 has such a great camera; I took this picture, which Steph snagged off Facebook for a background on her iPad, with it. It turned out beautifully, IMNSHO.


The kids played a little turtle game, "Race for the Beach," against other kiddos. There were lots of little educational and interactive exhibits around Sea World like this one. I think it's great the way the park is so focused on edutainment and conservation; they really make the effort to preserve our natural marine resources. That impressed me throughout the day.


A Florida gator adolescent taking a swim 

We found some upside-down jellies, Cassopeia frondosa, near the alligator holding pen. I learned about these animals long ago as an undergrad at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmopsheric Science (RSMAS), during my Invertebrate Zoology class with the wonderful Dr. Peter Glynn. I wonder if he's still teaching; he was an inspiration for me as a budding marine biologist.


I'm not sure what kind of Cnidarian this one is, but my question to you is: artistically beautiful species, or just ick?


We then visited some leopard sharks, and Rob asked me to drop some knowledge about them. You know what? I didn't want to; I just wanted to have a fun, great day without so much pressure to be the authority on anything. So I refrained and just enjoyed being in the moment.


By that point in the day, it was hot, we were sweaty, and the kids were red in the face. Sea World isn't too heavy on rides and play so much as shows and experiencing the natural beauty of the marine environment, so we didn't have a lot of that. Fine by me, but the children wanted more of it. We headed over to the little kiddie area on the far end of the park to let them play in the small waterpark area for a bit. It was just the cool-down they needed, so I'm glad we took the time out to do that.


Sophia as Queen of the World! 


Chloë and Sophia took a ride in Swishy Fishies, which is like Sea World's equivalent of Disney World's Teacups. Jack, who had been the most vociferous complainer about the lack of rides, chose not to go on any rides. Really? That's so Jack, but whatever, he still had a great time and thanked us for taking them on the trip, so it's all good. If you're a Teacup fan, by the way, they also had a similar ride that went high up in the air. We didn't do that one, though, because the kids have a bit of a fear of heights; they come by it honestly!


Chloë had to pose for a photo-op with a Shamu replica; she happily obliged my request. It's never hard to get this one to do so; it's always hard to get Jack to pose unless he's thoroughly pleased at the moment!


Oh, I lied. Jack DID go on one ride, the kiddie train. This was more his speed, literally and figuratively speaking. 


We opted to rent a double stroller for several reasons: Jack, who has taut Achilles' tendons, has trouble walking for long distances. Plus, we knew we'd have lots to carry and thought it would be easier to take them around with us than pay for a locker we might visit but once during the day. And also, it would provide some sun protection for the kids, who took turns riding during our visit. An unexpected bonus was that it provided some tush respite for Rob, who occasionally took a brief siesta when he could sneak the opportunity!


My friend from Portsmouth, Miss Lisa, requested a family picture in the park, so I stopped a woman to take one in front of the sea creature-themed carousel we all rode immediately after that. Sophia started to pull a stranger-child off a purple seahorse that she wanted to ride; the nerve of her! After a scolding from me, we went on the other side and found one for her. But talk about embarrassing...


Just for good measure, I had Rob snap another shot of me on my carousel ride for Miss Lisa. You know, we all wore bathing suits all day long, but I was the only one who wasn't asked to cover up with a shirt or shorts. If you ever visit Sea World, be prepared to have a cover-up of some sort for males and females alike, because they will say something to you if you're not 'properly' dressed.


A fun moment between Jack and Chloë that I was thrilled to capture


We walked through the Arctic exhibit and found ourselves there at just the right time for a short training session for the beluga whales. The trainer had the belugas spin, jump and play for fishy treats. What fun to watch!


This polar bear was lounging near the beluga whales. I'm sure there were more, but we didn't see any, and she didn't want to come closer for me to get a better picture. Brat. I jest.

Both Rob's and my phone died after that, so this is a shot of Shamu that I stole off Google Images. Hee. We walked around the beautiful Sea Garden - a replica of the undersea environment made out of land plants - while we waited for the Shamu show to start at 1730. It was completely worth the wait. I had gone to Sea World with my grandparents when I was five years old, but the only things I remembered were seeing the flamingos and having an alligator come toward us while we ate dinner. 

Shamu - probably the nth generation - and other orca friends put on a great display of tricks with their trainers. We had a lot of fun sitting in the Soak Zone and watching all the people in the rows in front of us get up, pissed, to leave after they got completely wet from the killer whales' antics (they're really dolphins, though, you know). Um, duh? You sat there knowing you'd get splashed and then you get upset when you do? What kind of sense does that make? None. Plus it's hilarious to have a whale do a humongous belly flop in front of you that leaves you dripping from head to toe. Make sure to put away those electronics and purses if you go; "soak" is definitely the key word!


Shortly after watching Shamu, we headed to our nearby hotel for the night.  The Seralago has mixed reviews from friends and strangers alike who have stayed in the same place, but we had a really nice stay there. There is a big cafeteria-slash-convenience store near the main lobby; we were able to get pizza, burgers and gyros for dinner, and everything tasted great. We picked up breakfast in the morning from there, too, even though Expedia said there was supposed to be a free continental one. (That was the only let-down.) There was a tiki bar and playground in the pool area, and the room was spacious and comfortable. For less than $60 a night in a high-traffic resort area, we were not disappointed. Your mileage may vary. 

The kids played with their glow sticks and bubbles, went swimming with Rob and warmed up in the hot tub at Seralago. Meanwhile, Rob and I got drinks from the bar that we left mostly untouched. Oh, that was another thing - my piña colada? They must have thought I was fourteen, because I swear it was a virgin; if there was alcohol in it, it was undetectable by my highly sensitive system. And that's sayin' something. I'm actually kind of glad, though, because I no longer enough the buzz of alcohol and have pretty much decided I'm done with the stuff after this. I might have something now and again in the future, but for the most part, I see no need to imbibe.


For lunch on Tuesday, we headed back East to Orlando (we stayed just West in Kissimmee, which is pronounced "Kiss-IH-me," but which my silly grandpa always pronounced "KISS-amee" to be funny) for a mystery shop. The place was dead, so we were able to get in and out of there fairly quickly before heading to our next destination.


We didn't have any real plans for Downtown Disney other than something fun for Jack and possibly renting a paddleboat, so I asked Rob's dad if he wanted us to visit them instead at their place in Boynton Beach on our way back to Homestead. Only, Rob's dad was not actually IN Boynton Beach yet, so that didn't pan out. A weather check Monday night didn't look promising for Downtown Disney, either, but fortunately the rain held out and we had a beautiful couple hours of sun during our trip to the Marketplace.


After getting squirted with water by the giant Stitch (from Lilo and Stitch) at World Of Disney, we stopped to listen to the orchestra play some tunes from movies and TV shows everyone recognized. I really enjoyed that and was grateful we didn't miss it.


There's a big LEGO store - one of Jack's few obsessions - at Downtown Disney, but instead he wanted go to Ridemakerz to build his own radio-controlled car. We spent a lot more there than I planned, but it turned out to be really worth it. The cars, accessories and chargers come with a lifetime warranty, which is good because later we discovered he had a bent axle and needed a new undercarriage. They swapped it out for him, no questions asked.


At the store, which is at the back of Team Disney if you want to find it, there was a huge selection of rims and wheels. Some are included in the price of the chassis, and some are extra. Jack happened to pick a set that were free-with-purchase, to my relief.


After he selected his rims, wheels and sound, Chris helped Jack assemble his new yellow Corvette. That was fun, to put it concisely. Jack could have been timed to see how long it put together the vehicle, just for fun, but he chose to take his time and not rush through the experience. I wasn't suprised at that; he's a pretty methodical kid when it comes to mechanics.


I wanted the girls to have an equitable experience compared to Jack's, and we didn't want to do the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, so we walked around to see what they could do. First, they chose to have their faces painted. Artist Emily was really talented; Sophia looks adorable in her "Princess Kitty" make-up, doesn't she?


Chloë chose to have the "Music Mania" paint. They each opted to get the glitter lipstick after Emily verified with me that it was okay. Why not? Full package, baby.


After their faces were done, we went to the Ghirardelli store near the entrance and got a strawberry shake for Sophia and a chocolate one for Chloë. I didn't taste Sophie's, but Chlo's was really rich and delicious. They were a bit pricey, but since neither girl could finish hers and passed them to the boys less than halfway through, it was okay by me. We got chocolate samples when we walked in the door, too, which satisfied my sweet tooth!


Just like my dad, Chloë usually chooses to eat the stems of her maraschino cherries. I do it, too.


Stim (Steph and Tim, back in Virginia) are big fans of Sulley from Monsters Inc., so now that the new movie is coming out, she was hoping to have me pick her up some Sulley merch to send her way. We didn't find anything for her or the boys, though I had fun looking around and texting her pictures of all the latest offerings!


Even though he'd spent a small fortune at Ridemakerz and knew he wasn't getting anything else, Jack wanted to look around at the LEGO store. I figured I'd see if they had anything new in the LEGO Friends section (the girls collect those sets) for my lady-babies, because their shakes and facepaintings cost nowhere near as much as Jack's Corvette. Not that I wanted to spend money just to spend money, not at all, but I wanted both to be fair and also give them something to DO and something to HAVE, just like Jack.

Sophia, who's been gunning for the LF House for over a year now, surprised me by changing her mind and opting for the Stable instead. She loves horses, as well as the afore-mentioned birds (bugs, too, though all the kids love animals in general), so maybe it wasn't so surprising. Chloë went with a smaller set, the Café I think. When we got home that evening, they started building their sets out front on the patio, since their room is still crowded with unpacked boxes. Must remedy that situation soon!


There are many LEGO structures around the store in Downtown Disney, including a serpent in the water nearby and this family and their dogs. On our way back to our van, Penelope, Jack wanted to pose with this structure for me. Oh, see his gappy grin? He lost a tooth at Sea World the day before! Apparently I forgot to tell my progeny that they weren't supposed to leave body parts in the park.


After stopping for another potty break during the ride home, we spotted this fresh Florida oranges and grapefuit shop that I wanted to visit. We were out of oranges, after all, and I knew we'd find more local goodies from right there in Fort Pierce and surrounding areas. I was right. I spent more than I wanted to, but shopping locally is important to me, so it was worth it.


Along with my ¼-bushel of Valencia oranges, I bought some real Florida honey (mmm...), some orange honey, and jellies and preserves: Guava Jelly, Jalepeño Pepper Jelly for Rob (ew, but he'll love it), Tangerine Marmalade (omg, that sounds so good right now), Orange Pineapple Cherry Marmalade, and also Mango Chutney. I also picked up some Vidalia Onion Mustard for Rob, and some Habanero Beef Jerky that he gobbled down as soon as I got back to Penelope and handed it to him. I snagged a bag of saltwater taffy that the propietor described as "so good, it's addictive" to ship to NY for my BFF, Dr. Lisa. She loves the stuff.


When we finally got home after a quick stop at the Walmart Vision Center to pick up Chloë and Rob's new prescription sunglasses (theirs took longer than Jack and Sophie's because they're so blind), Jack rushed out to test out the new wheels. He drove it all the way around the block and had to be convinced to come in when it got dark. I'm glad he was so happy, but he seems to think we'll be going back every year to get him another one. Ha! I don't know where he got that idea, but it wasn't from me!

So now that it's May, it's time to really get serious and down to business. April was a full month of fun for Team Odette, but it's time to rein it in just a little bit. Oh, there will still be plenty of fun, but we have work to do. There's lots of homeschooling on which to catch up, jobs to get, unpacking to finish, VA paperwork to get done, a house in Virginia to sell, and college to get into (for Rob). Much to do, though like I said, we'll still be having fun in between the more serious stuff. Stay tuned for another post tomorrow, as I have fun mystery shops planned for today!


Oh, My Dawg, I'm So Excited!!!

...or, How We Spent Our Tax Refund!

        ...or, Man, We Should Be One of Those Couples Who Has To Spend a Million-Dollar Inheritance in 24-Hours Flat!

                   You feel me? But let's move on from these 77 alternate titles and get to the meat of this post.

If you hadn't realized, our federal tax refund hit our bank account yesterday. Here's how we've spent it on the kids and household goods in the day since then:


1. First stop, our local post office. We had to mail five or six packages, including the Progressive Snapshot device I'd never plugged into our Odyssey, Penelope, some video surveillance equipment for a mystery shop I'd (never) done, and the keys to our Virginia Beach house to our realtor back in that town. Plus, I had to buy a roll of stamps. Yes, some of us do still send snail mail. And also, we had to bring our lease in so that we could FINALLY get the keys to our mailbox. It's been 3 weeks, and we still have almost NO mail, save for the little bit that trickles down into our PO Box. Speaking of which, the kids and I went to check it while Rob finished up with the lease business, and there were two cards in it from Aunt Stacey (my sister). She sent cards and money for the two birthday babies, Jack and Sophia, having decided together with me that money was the way to go for our kids' respective birthdays from now on.


2. Next stop, Walmart. We spent a buttload of money on household necessities (and a few un-necessities, but not many) there. And Jack spent his new birthday money on this remote-controlled boat he'd been eyeing for a while.


Sophia spent her birthday money on this horse, which goes with her doll that she'd bought with birthday money from others earlier in the month. Granted, it's not tax money, but it happened yesterday, so I have to tell ya.


Also, Chloë and...




... Sophia both got new pairs of skates, which was and wasn't a splurge. It wasn't an absolute need, no, but they did need to get more and more varied exercise, and I needed a skating partner! Rob wanted to buy me a bike, too, but I figure I'll keep an eye on Freecycle for that. (Side note: Sophia fell on her butt a million times but is already zooming skillfully around the block. Chloë is still falling, but she'll get there, I'm sure. Soon as she lets go of all the tree branches, that is.)


 Other spending at Wally-World included food (absolutely necessary, right?), an iron (Rob had left ours back at the Va Beach house, oops), toilet bowl brushes (because, eww, he forgot those back there, too), a plunger (same story), towels and accessories to match the new shower curtains and mats in both our and the kids' bathrooms (splurge-y), a garbage can (forgot it, too), aaaand new bedding for all three kids (Sophia ruined all the old ones. She does that).




Next up, back at home, I went online to the Florida DMV website because we both need new state licenses, and then we'll need to register Penelope and the motorcycle, and then we'll need to get new insurance policies. (And I still freakin' need to fix the gigantical crack down the middle of my windshield, but that'll keep a li'l longer, won't it? It's been a month and a half already, after all...) But the next appointment - you make 'em online, here - for the DMV isn't until May 6th, so I looked at the docs we'll need for the new licenses. Crap, I need a new Social Security card. So do the kids; ours got stolen, which is not awesome. Lots of other stuff did, too; someone stole our "important papers" lockbox I kept under my desk. Ugh. Anyway. We'll go do that business tomorrow. Of course, they'll want my driver's license, among other things, to get the new card, so now I understand dogs and cats chasing their own tails!




We don't need cable TV - -haven't had it for years- - but we do need internet service. This is 2013, after all, and we have numerous electronic devices needing wi-fi. Not to mention the fact that our iPhones get crap for signals in the house on the LTE network, or 3G or 4G for the matter, and we don't have a landline. So, we put in about a half-dozen phone calls to Comcast to sign up for supah-fast (and cheap, compared to what we were paying for Cox in VA) cable internet service. We'd have done it sooner, but, ah, that's neither here nor there. It's done now, and they're coming Sunday, and I can't wait, and yeah.


Jafra Melanie


Next stop, JAFRA, to place an order. I have gotten several from clients that needed fulfilling, plus I plan to start kicking that into high gear, so I needed a few things myself for said purpose. Yeah. I love JAFRA packages. They smell so damn good and always bring promises of buttery soft skin. Mmm, me likey.




Speaking of our iPhones, I've been boosting off my 5's Personal Hotspot to get online and do all the important stuff like tell you on this blahg about that important stuff, and so I had to go on the AT&T website to pay our big, fat bill. That was that. Can't wait to whittle that back down after the Comcast guy comes with our new, um, nothing?




Speaking of paying the bills, I hopped over to our bank website and put in an extra payment for Penelope, and...




...Elsie, Rob's BMW motorsickle.


(Yes, I spelled it that way on porpoise. C'mon, now.)


And then, the really exciting stuff started. Well, wait, first dinner. The kids must eat. The husband must eat. I... must nibble. I gained about 10 lbs during our move and realized it even before I got my scale back a week ago to confirm it, so I've been eating very carefully and am already down 4 lbs since then. I was hoping to take it off by my birthday in September, so yay. But what? am I talking about??




For dinner, after Rob and the kids cleared off the table and cleaned up the kitchen enough for me to cook in it properly, we laid down the new bamboo runner we'd gotten on clearance from Walmart (a minute splurge, yes, but it went with my Fiestaware, and hey, bamboo!) and used the also-clearanced new cloth napkins (hey, reducing paper waste is a good thing). Since we were going fancyish, I decided to make the kids promise promise promise they wouldn't break the wedding crystal we'd gotten from Dr. Lisa and Uncle Faris, and they did pinky-promise, which is as good as gold 'round here. And guess what? The only person who came even close to breaking one was ME. Yup, I'm still the same ol' klutz I always was, rest assured. PS, the candles were Sophie's idear. We are SO decadent. ;P




I'd gotten this Ninja Chopper from my friend, Yet Another Stephanie, back in VA, but I hadn't put it to good use yet. We had avocados, we had guac mix, and we had tortilla chips, so it was time. And guess what? After a few pulses, we had delicious-ish guacamole. It wasn't the best I've ever had, but compared to the improvised batch I made after Rob and - yes! - the kids quickly polished off this one, it wasn't bad at all. Heh. (Mine wasn't either, but it lacked salt. And lymes. And cilantro. And had too much onion. And tomato. And not enough avocado. Damn, it must've sucked worse than I first rememberated.)




This picture is way washed-out compared to the actual scene, but then I whipped up a pork steak dinner from a recipe I'd gotten on the back of a can of Campbell's chicken broth. There was pasta instead of rice, because that's what I had, and I needed to squeeze fresh juice from oranges rather than use bottled juice, because that's what I had and hello, yummier, but other than that, it was pretty much according to the recipe. Kinda. Anyways. Rob says it was good enough to make again, which is high praise coming from him, but all three kids had upturned noses, the punks. I don't see them doing the whole presentation-is-everything thing on me with hummus and pita, or anything, so humph!




However, Jack and Chloë did enjoy the orange slices in the dinner so well that they requested more for dessert. Um, okay, twist my arm a little bit, why don'tcha.


And NOW for the rilly, rilly exciting part!!!


(You'd better be sitting down now.)


(I mean it.)


(Because this is heady, heady stuff, coming up here in a second.)


Are you ready?


All right.


You asked for it.










I bought stuff for homeschooling!!!!!! Yeah, school, baby! I can't WAIT to delve back in and get the kids back on track and have tons and tons and TONS of fun in the process. I love teaching them!!


Here's what I bought over at the Homeschool Buyers' Co-op:




All FIVE levels of Latin American Spanish from Rosetta Stone!!! Whoop!! For cheap! I have been wanting RS for aaaaaaaages, ever since I did a mystery shop at one of their kiosks (oops, I'm not supposed to tell you that) and saw how well it works. Chloë started angling for German, and I would have been thrilled with Latin, but we all settled on the LAS after thinking about what would be the most useful in our lives right now. I can not WAIT to get my teeny-weeny little hands on this baby. Sirrusly.




I usually piece our Science and Social Studies curricula together myself, but this year (starting now), I'm going to get a little help from the award-winning Adaptive Curriculum. I cannot wait to see how that works for us, especially in Social. Science, I've got down, but our Soshe has been a little, well, piecemeal, so I'd like to get it more organized in their brains, y'know?


For teaching Grammar rules more concretely, I got us a lifetime passport to Grammaropolis, which looks very promising. Sounds like fun, too!




For writing and all that goes with that business, I bought us a year's subscription (which is really enough information, with what I got, to last us through the end of high school if I choose) to Brave Writer, a highly rated program about which I've heard nothing but good stuff. Eeeeeek!


And now for the reeeeeealllllly exciting part!!!!


Can you stand it? I can't!!



Because we want the kids to be technologically savvy, and because so much of their work is computer- and internet-based, I have been wanting to get them each their own laptop or tablet for a while. I've been researching and thinking and debating about it; we've had ONE laptop for the kids up 'til now, and it just doesn't work that well when all three kids need to be online to do assignments. With three, I wouldn't need to constantly rotate them out and cut them short on projects - they could all work simultaneously! So after tons more research, I bought them each a Kindle Fire HD 7" tablet on Amazon.com! Wooohoooo, the
y are going to be so stoked, man!






Of course, to protect their shiny new electronical toys, I got them each a case in a different color. Jack's is green, because, well, it's his favorite, and I couldn't find a boyish pattern to suit him.




I think this one will be Chloë's.


Sophia will like this one.


I don't know how much they'll need or use them, but it remains to be seen, so I got them this pack of 6 styli for their Kindle Fire HDs, and also one - yes, just one - wall charger to share. I figure that much we can do on a rotational basis, right?

But I'm still not done outfitting the kids for the coming year. Nope, nope, nope. I did s'more shopping on ye olde Amazon first:


Sophia needs a new queen-sized mattress for the bunk bed she'll now be sharing with Chloë, because we had to leave her old one behind in Portsmouth (doesn't really matter; it was gross). I got her this memory-foam one, which has really good ratings. Remind me to air it out for two days first...

Oh, and for us, I got a new bed frame since Rob left our old one behind at the Virginia Beach house, which sucks because they aren't as cheap as I thought they were. Booger.


For Jack, I picked up a Yamaha keyboard stand (and a new wall charger, since he lost his). Even though he's decided not to pursue lessons for now, the music store folks convinced us to hang onto the keyboard in case one of the kids picks it up. And I can play, albeit slowly and gingerly, so we can all bang around on it for our music lessons in Sweet Pea Academy. It's cheap but comes highly-rated, so I think this one'll do us just faaaahhhhhn.


And finally (as you all breathe a sigh of relief, I know), the kids have been doing some growing since last I shopped for summer clothing for them. Especially Sophia; she's now, like, a foot taller than Jack! No lie. She needed a new bathing suit and picked this one out at Sears.

They all needed shorts and tees, so I bought bunches upon bunches of those for each kiddo, too, along with one dressy outfit for each kid. Inexplicably, after making a painstaking order there, Sears canceled several of my items and let the rest go through. Buh-wha-huh? I have to call them. I want those things, dammit! They need 'em! But it'll keep 'til 0900. Which, oh, is four minutes from now. Serendipity, baby!

Oh, shit, I totally forgot one more big splurge! Well, not like, a boat big, but Shamu big. *Ahem*


Yep. We're going to Orlando on Monday and Tuesday! Rob still has a little bit more time (a month, maybe) on Active Duty, so that means he and three dependents still get in for fah-reeeee at Anheuser-Busch parks through their ongoing Here's to the Heroes Salute program.  That leaves one kid out, so I bought another ticket, along with our parking pass, dine-all-day passes for Rob and the kids (I'll nibble and graze meagerly), and a stroller rental voucher. I can't wait, and the kids are ecstatic! (The stroller is mostly for Jack, who still has trouble walking sometimes, especially for long periods of time, thanks to his tight Achilles tendons, and also to keep the kid out of the sun here and there, and also in case we want it to carry things around the park without holding them.) Can't wait to see the shows, can't wait to see Shamu, can't wait to see my babies' faces when they get to feed a fish or two to the dolphins. Wheeee! That'll be Monday.


I think we'll do this on Tuesday, but we might not. I don't know yet. We'll see. Maybe we'll just come home Tuesday, or we might hang out with my online friend, Gloria, whom I've not yet met, or maybe we'll... hm. I don't know! Suggestions?

NOW I'm finished.

I have some mystery shops to go do today, along with my doctor's appointment for this thing growing on my chin, soooo.... whew! This post took forEVER to write.


P.S. I'm such a liar. That's not all. HAHAHA. The cats got new beds and litter to poop in - LOTS of litter.

Sundays In My City: Homebound In Homestead

Unknown Mami

It may be Monday, but no matter, because I'm always late. I'm linking up again with Unknown Mami and her posse on Sundays in my City, so come along as we explore what Team Odette did all last week when lack of gas - and funds - kept us around the ol' Homestead homestead. I promise to visit and comment back, too - though it may take me a month, I'll do it! Swears.


Cooking. Did I show these already? I forget. Sorry, if so. Anyway, I promised to take the load off Rob - and give Chloë something to tally on my side of her chart - so last week I made some seasoned vegetables for all of us and this:


pork steaks, for the rest of the family, 'cept me. (I don't do mammals. Somehow, some way, I'm going to become a full-on vegetarian again by the end of 2013, but it's hard when I have such high protein requirements, thanks to my gastric bypass surgery.)

We had no salt, no seasonings (the veggies came pre-seasoned, heh), and no fat, oil, lard, margarine, butter, you name it, you got it? So I quickly texted my former home-ec teacher of a mother-in-law, who suggested I cut the fat off the meat and render that first, then cook the meat in it. Brilliance! It worked like a charm. And even in that state, Rob pronounced it delicious and entirely edible enough to make again. Thanks, Mamacita!


That was Sunday. On Monday night, we came home from I-don't-know-where hungry, and I whipped up some healthy lettuce and chicken salad spinach wraps for Rob and me, while he made some pasta for the mouths under the kids' upturned noses. Poo-poo on them; the wraps were delishamus.


We've been walking every day still, and each day we encounter new flowers. This flower, on Tuesday, was the first yellow hibiscus I'd seen. It was the 29th anniversary of my mom's death that day, but I was determined not to cry. Guess what, I actually succeeded, thanks to my drugs I'm guessing.


Every day, we go down to the lake across from our place. Well, almost every day. Rob wants to fish here, but the sign says no way, José. I don't think he'll listen. And gators? No way can my kids walk down to the lake by themselves. I've already lost one kid; I'm not giving the rest away.


Some of the eggs have hatched! This mama Muscovy duck had 12 ducklings. Twelve! 


Chloë and sibs have been determined to spot a gator since we moved down here. Fortunately, they've been unsuccessful so far. I want to go down to the Everglades and rent an airboat. I've never done that before, and I know it's fun. Surely we'll spot some gators that way.


It took me a week, but I finally spotted an ibis. I was the last one. Why is this significant? The mascot of my alma mater, U-Miami, is Sebastian the Ibis, of course!


We have seen several instances of Muscovies mating, so we've had to explain, yet again, all about the birds and the bees to the kids. It's an ongoing conversation, and we have an Open Door policy where that is concerned, so it's cool. I found it interesting to note that the drake bites the female on the back of the neck while he's mounting her, much like a male shark bites a thickened part of flesh on the back of a female during their dance of looove.


And not to be outdone, this Mama Muscovy sported no less than 20 following ducklings that afternoon. Twenty!!


On Wednesday, the hibiscus turned out to be a beautiful pink rose. And not only that, but:


check out the gorgeous orchids on this tree! Real ones, too, no matter how fake they looked; I checked. We diverted from our usual path that day and walked to the next neighborhood over. I was bored to tears and dying for a change of scenery, after all.


Knitting. I've kept up my pledge to knit for the highly-allergic Vinnie, though I don't have much yarn with me until our stuff gets here on Tuesday from the movers. A little colorwork this time, using an unraveled coat I never finished making for Sophia four years ago, and some yarn of Stephanie's that was used in another project for her boys.


On Thursday, we decided to take the short walk up the road to get some free groceries with coupons I'd gotten. We stopped along the way to peer into the canal, where we spotted turtles, fish - and numerous shopping carts. Who throws a shopping cart into a canal, for Pete's sake?!


I was aMAZED at the Publix, where not only did I get my items for free, but the coupons scanned above the cost of the items, and I got overage. I figured they would just make me buy something additional to eat that up, but no! They totaled it out, opened up the cash drawer, and gave me the money! Hello, ring-a-ding-ding! That's so unusual, and I bet you dollars to donuts it's not the official coupon policy of the store, but arguing was useless with them. So I took it and clicked my heels together with glee. 


Sophia, wearing my straw hat from Miss Lisa, picked up what she called a blade of wheat and said, "Look, Mama, I'm a cowgirl!" Oh, the cute.


On our way back home, we spotted these palm trees full of coconuts. Except, on closer inspection, they weren't coconuts at all, I guess. I don't know what the hell they are, but ... palm fruit, I guess?


So this was my haul: A $6.59 bag of organic sugar, a $5.99 bottle of organic raw blue agave, two Michael Angelo's family-size meals, and a large Diet Coke from the deli - all of which, they paid me over a dollar to take home. Nice, huh?


I'm part of Michael Angelo's team of taste-and-tell bloggers, so they provided me with the coupons for the free products to try. We got the chicken parmesan and the vegetable lasagna, both of wish were SOOOO good. I kid you not. Have you had their frozen foods? I would definitely buy these again, but you know me, they gotta be on sale and have a coupon to match! ;)

Chloë Raine 011

One of Chloë's agents back in Virginia called Thursday to say they wanted to submit her for a lead role in a TV show! They said she was perfect for the part, and you know, I may be biased but, I wouldn't doubt it! The kid has charm and personality to spare. Look at that sass!

Chloë Raine 017

And she looks so much like her daddy, it's nonsense. Fingers crossed, Chloë!!


Friday was not my day. It was payday, yet my card kept getting declined every where I went. Turns out there was fraud on our account... I had to cancel about a dozen mystery shops for the weekend, along with a host of other plans. Big bummer. We had to hang around the 'hood even more. Here's silly Sophia dressing up as both her mom and her dad, simultaneously.


For the first time in January, while he was visiting my dad, Jack had a grapefruit. Surprisingly enough, my picky boy LOVED it with a heavy dose of sweetening, so he kept prodding his sisters to try one, too. (Neither Rob nor I are big fans of the fruit.)  So when we grocery shopped Friday morning - after, of course, having to call the bank yet again to release the hold on my card so I could pay for mah dang groceries - I bought them each one to try. What would they think? I wondered.


That was Sophia's reaction to her first bite. Ha! She cracks me up. So went Chloë's first bite, too. Needless to say, the grapefruit is now wrapped in Saran wrap in the fridge, since Jack only wanted a few bites. And yes, I sweeted it with that better-than-free organic sugar ;)


Meanwhile, on Saturday night after Rob made us omelets for dinner, Jacky helped out with the dishes. Since he is a Little Person, he needs to jump up on the counter in order to reach the faucet. I'm so proud of this kid; nothing holds him back from doing what he aims to do, despite his small stature!


And finally, since we're still more-or-less homebound, here is one last shot of "The Tweens," Cupcake and Muffin, acting as bookends over the kitchen sink. Pretty girls, they.

As always, thanks for stopping by! See you again real soon, y'hear?


Fun Family Splurging - On The Cheap

I've been doing a lot of mystery shops again lately, so we have been out and about as a family frequently. On Thursday, I had stacked about seven shops back-to-back, and I did not relish the idea of going back home, tired and worn out, to a messy, half-packed, midst-of-moving house. So I broached the idea of getting a hotel room for the night to Rob, and he was all in! So I went on the Hotels.com app on my iPhone and booked us a room at The Aloft in Chesapeake for a heavily discounted price.

We had actually never heard of The Aloft, so we had no idea what to expect, but all five of us were delighted and impressed! It was a really neat hotel, with great service (say hi to Justin for us if you go - the night clerk at the Front Desk) and awesome details. We liked it so much, and the off-season rate was so great, we ended up staying for two nights!


While I rested, and then worked on mystery shop reports, Rob took the kids to the hotel pool two or three times. Sophia is swimming like a little fishy now - okay, like a puppy, since she still doggy-paddles for the most part - and does wonderfully in the water.


Meanwhile, even Jack has finally decided to start swimming! Yay, Buddy! He can't go too far, or for too long, but it's a start. On the other hand, Chloë is still quite timid in the water and barely manages to jump in from the side... but I know she'll get there.


On the second night, I stopped by the bar to get drinks for Rob and me. However, the bartender (hey, Lisa!) was closing, so I got him a bottle of beer to go and ordered this Bahama Mama for myself. It was delish. And strong. I got so plastered by the third sip! Thankfully alcohol hits me hard and fast, and gets processed by my new system just as quickly, so it had worn off almost by the time I got back to our loft and needed to work on reports!


After my buzz wore off, I was quite thirsty, so I asked "my favorite child" to get my Coke out of the fridge. Naturally, all three of them decided they were that child (and they were right!), so they went, giggling, together to the fridge and fetched it, delivered it, and presented it with smiles as a team. Love my funny gang! ♥


On Saturday morning, before we had breakfast and checked out, I went to the pool to see the latest swimming exploits and knit (and, okay, snooze some more) while the kids swam with Rob. I loved the atmosphere in there... definitely want to return to another The Aloft in the future. Sometime.


On Monday, Steph and Tim babysat for us while we went out for a date/mystery shop at a restaurant bar. We went to the Walmart around the corner from the restaurant afterward, ostensibly to pick up a load of cat food, but we were looking around and came across a whole bunch of super-duper clearanced toys that we knew the kids would love. When we went to pick them up from Stim, we left their new toys in their car seats and let them discover them upon returning to the van. What joy! What glee! What fun! Here is Sophia's newly updated Lalaloopsy collection, with April Showers (the newest one) in the center.


On Tuesday, en route to lots more shops and other errands, we all found ourselves very hungry for dinner. So, we took advantage of the Kids Eat Free special that day at Chili's and had a really inexpensive dinner, with Rob and I getting the combo dinner and all three kids eating for nada. The chips and spicy corn guamacole were SO good!!


And yesterday (Wednesday), we had LOADS of fun. While Rob and Jack went to Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach to get Rob a haircut, I took the girls to Sunshine Smiles, A Kids' Spa around the corner. I had given Sophie a gift certificate to spend $20 there (which I'd actually gotten for FREE on LivingSocial!) for Christmas, and it's just taken this long to get time to get her in there. The girls were so hilarious during the visit.


For her money, Sophia was able to get a manicure and make two lip glosses (an experience she shared with her big sis), and the first thing she did after the way-awesome Michelle set her up was soak her nails and hands. She sighed dreamily during this experience. Goof!


Michelle quickly realized that Sophia was going to be quite a little wiggle worm during her mani - as she ALWAYS is, but even more so because she was so excited to be there - and she and I kept bursting into laughter about Sophia's hilarious antics and attempts to stay still. Such a goose. Here, she was having some kid crap (glue, maybe?) removed from her hands.


Sophia happily looked on as Michelle painted her nails a lovely shade of sea blue-green (my favorite color!) that Chloë helped her pick out. Poor Michelle had to touch up her nails about five or six times, because she would NOT STOP MOVING!

I love her cute little pudgy baby hands - the only thing about Soap that's still wee, I'm afraid - and her pretty nails. 

Sophia was dying to lie down on the spa lounges and let her nails dry, so she inveigled her way into that with Michelle after promising not to smudge her nails. She was sooo happy, even if she didn't also get the cucumber slices on her eyes that she also requested!


Chloë chillaxed next to Sophie and did her usual model pose when I asked to take her picture. Always preening for the camera, that one!

Finally, when the nails were sufficiently dry (and after more touch-ups), it was time to go to the lipgloss-making station. They were able to pick their own colors to add to the balm bases and put lots of glitter in there, too. Of course, both of my girly girls wanted to use shades of pink.


Glitter time!  Sophie added the pink and the silver to hers for some major sparkle.

Then, the girls were given sticks to apply their new lipglosses to their puckers. Chloë did a pretty good little job not getting it all over the place.

Sophia, meanwhile, had quite a bit of trouble getting hers just so and not glopping it all over the lower third of her face, so Mama had to step in and help her out after she wiped off the first attempt. It actually looked pretty good on her!
So that was that fun-ness, and all for the cost of just a tip to Michelle! Thanks, Sunshine Smiles!

After that, it was Jack's turn for some fun, since this is his tenth birthday month, and we are celebrating him all month long! I had $20 in gift certificates to Build-A-Bear Workshop, (five for his birthday present and the other $15 from rewards for the Christmas gifts I'd gotten from there), so I instructed Jack on from which three least pricey stuffies he could choose - after all, the goal was to go cheap or go home - and he picked a pooch!

The store employee helped him stuff his dog, and he was sooo excited to fluff him up. He worked that pedal pretty quickly!

The employee then had Jack pick out a heart for his dog, and rub it on his face for smarts, cheek for cute, etc. Jack had a ball doing this and was giggling his little peanut head off! It's so great to see him genuinely smiling, since he's kind of a grump usually!

Next it was time for an air bath to keep the newly fluffed and minted puppy clean. More real smiles from the boy!

After a bath, Puppy needed some new clothes. Jack chose the camouflage outfit, which he seems to be into lately. Like his Dad!
Daddy helped dress the easily-frustrated Jack's dog. The two of them are so cute together and have really been male-bonding a lot lately. I love to see it!
Lastly, it was time to adopt Roger, the dog, into Jack's growing BAB family. He was thrilled, and I peeked in on him a couple times during last night and found him clutching Roger tightly in his sleep.

After that, I had to do some more mystery shopping in the mall, but once again, everyone had gotten hungry. I told the kids we could grab just a little something to eat in the Food Court first, so we headed upstairs to snack on samples (hey, free belly filler) and then pick what we wanted to eat. Jack actually wanted to ride the escalator upstairs, which is unusual because he's terrified of it. And he still balked when he got over there, but then, he did it! He got on and rode up on his own (usually one of us has to carry him)! Yay, Jacky!!
Well, call us pushovers, because when we got to the top of the escalator, Cold Stone Creamery was right there, and Sophie shouted out, "Ice Cream!" Rob and I quickly conferred and decided to have an upside-down meal: dessert at the mall, then dinner later at home. The kids LOVE when we do that, of course!
We only got small (still going for cheap) kid-size ice creams for then, with one mix-in each, but they didn't seem to care. Or notice, I'm not sure which. Ice cream is ice cream, right?
After the kids had their ice creams, I wandered around the Food Court (leaving Rob with the children) to figure out what I wanted to eat. Usually, it only takes a few sample bites to fill me up these days, so I wasn't really expecting to buy anything. However, I came across Cupcake Central - and, lo and behold, it was their Happy Hour Wednesday special! Amazing cupcakes for a buck each! Sweet. (heh, no pun intended) I bought six, because I couldn't bear the thought of having an empty hole in the box. When I walked back with the box, I told the kids they were for later, but I let them have this sneak peek!
However, after a few minutes, Sophie wanted to look at hers up close, so I let her. Isn't she funny?! She kills me. And even though these were supposed to be "for later," the next thing I knew, she had peeled off the wrapper and shoved almost the whole thing in her face at once! I dropped my jaw and then died laughing, which made her laugh and spit cupcake out of her mouth all over the place. Oh, man. I was in total hysterics.  Sophie is just as nutty as I am!
I did my last shop at the mall after that, and then we headed home. Rob fed the kids some mac & cheese for dinner, while I took yet-another much-needed cat nap. 
When I woke up, the kids were getting ready to go to bed. However, Sophia got into her lip gloss again and came jokingly stomping in to the room, blurting out, "Still can't get the hang of it, Mom!" I took one look and begged her to let me take this picture. 
Ahhh... good times, good times... and y'all know I love a great deal!

Ain't Nothin' Gonna Break My Stride

I was up late, well, early, to the tune of 0530 this morning, working on my Jafra business for some client meetings and parties I have coming up in the next few weeks, so I fell into bed exhausted just before the sun rose this morning. I slept fitfully for about two hours, tried to get more zzzzzs, and failed, so I gave up and arose to greet the day. Having done my CVS deals, I decided to head out and do the Rite Aid deal shopping that I'd worked on much earlier in the week, so that time wouldn't go to waste.

Okay. There's your backstory.

I walked out the front door to my waiting Penelope, and a man across the street shouted something at me. Cars were going by, so I shouted back, "Me?" and pointed to myself. He shouted again. "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" I returned. After a third failure, he started across the street to meet me. I put my things in the van and then turned around to see what was the matter.

"I cut your lawn yesterday," he told me.

Looking around, I noticed our once shin-high grass was now well within city regulations. "Thank you!"

"Yeah. My man here, your neighbor," he said, gesturing next door, "used to cut it." I nodded. "Well, he's in jail now, and I noticed your grass was getting high, so I cut mine and then came over and did yours, too."

{Aside: the jailed neighbor is the one I suspect of stealing mi precioso Nikon DSLR, so I'm not exactly stunned by this news.}

"Thank you!" I again exclaimed, beaming at him. "How much do I owe you?"

The gent, about 65 years old, said, "You don't owe me anything, baby, just keep wearing that pretty smile on your face."

I thanked him profusely, and he left. And you can bet I smiled all the way to Rite Aid.


At Rite Aid, things were so up and down, I felt like Otis. (Please, somebody, get that reference!) Half my deals were out of stock, and then, they changed the rewards system around so drastically, I couldn't get the other half as I'd so carefully planned them. I left with only a third of the items I intended to buy. You can bet I'm going to put in a call to corporate to complain about the changes, but I'm still wearing that "pretty smile!"

Have a great day, folks. Remember, there are still good people in the world.


Bzz, Bzzzzz: UNREAL™ candy UNJUNKED™

Disclaimer: I received a coupon for a free package of UNREAL™ candy, along with several Buy-One-Get-One pass-along coupons in exchange for sharing my thoughts on the product with anyone I felt like, so here I am. No monetary exchange has taken place. All opinions are, and will always be, my own.

If a picture says a thousand words,... well, okay, this one actually DOES say a few, but they kind of make you sit up and take notice, right? I mean, CANDY? With nothing artificial and no corn syrup or hydrogenated oils? Either I've gotta be joking, or it must taste, well, like crap, right?


Check out their website, where you can learn all sort of interesting information about UNREAL™ candy unjunked™, like, well, I'll let you read their story and the FAQ, if you want (you should!), but we all know what you're most interested in finding out, don't we?


Dudes. Let me take you through each of the five varieties of unjunked candy currently on the market, and let you decide:

#1: UNREAL8™ Chocolate Caramel Peanut Nougat Bar UNJUNKED™


(Oh. I should say that I totally used two of those BOGO coupons so I could buy all five varieties, which worked out perfectly for us, a family of five, to each try one kind.)


We let Daddy go first, because it was his birthday week. Here he is Vanna White-ing his selection of candy #1.  We all watched with anticipation as he opened the wrapper, took a bite, chewed, and ... gosh, he ate some, ya dig it? So what did he think of it?


Woohoo! He likes it, he really likes it! Which, you may not realize, is actually saying a lot, since he's kind of a food snob and tends toward a rather sophisticated palate. Score one big one for UNJUNKED™!

#2: UNREAL77™ Peanut Butter Cups UNJUNKED™


Now comes the real test, folks. I mean, who hasn't had a billion peanut butter cups already, and has an opinion formed about how they should taste?


As the oldest kid, we let Chloë go second, and of course she went straight for the PB cups. She's her mother's girl, after all. She dove in much faster than her father, thank goodness. (He likes to keep us in suspense.)


She didn't even finish her first bite before flashing me the two-thumbs-up signal. I'd say that's a pretty good argument for extreme deliciosity.

#3: UNREAL41™ Candy Coated Chocolates UNJUNKED™


I know what these are. You know what these are. Everybody loves the "real deal," so how does this version stack up?


Don't ask me why Jack got bypassed and Sophia, our youngest, got to go next. I'm sure there was a good reason, but heaven help me if I can remember now what it was! ANYway, she chose the, uh, candy-coated chocolates, being quite the fan of the "regular" sort, so what did she think of these?


Two more thumbs up. UNJUNKED™ is three for three! Not too shabby, eh? And people, we like to eat, okay? If something was yucky, I'd tell ya. So far, though, not yuck. Yum.

#4: UNREAL54™ Candy Coated Chocolates With Peanuts UNJUNKED™


Second verse, same as the first (because "fourth verse, same as the third" just doesn't quite have the same ring to it), except with peanuts this time. We all know and love this guy, too. 'Least I do. But it still wasn't my turn.


Jack got to pick the peanut, um-um-um's ;) and he took the task seriously. Very. See:


What the heck?! Two more very enthusiastic thumbs up? What is going on here? Mind you, I'm sitting behind the camera the whole time, patiently (cough) waiting for my turn, expecting at least one of these dern things to, well, suck! But thumbs were popping up all over the place, and I was quite the surprised one!

So now me, at last. Guys, I am a chocolate FIEND. An aficionado. A huge lovah, if you will. So what did I think of...

#5: UNREAL5™ Chocolate Caramel Nougat Bar UNJUNKED™


Darn. Nougat. I got stuck with the nougat one. I'll say I generally don't like nougat, because I don't know what the heck nougat is. Do you? I mean, c'mon, really, you can't find nougat in anything but certain candy bars that I don't like. So I was totes expecting to be the lone hold-out on the candy-train of love we had goin' on here.


At least I looked kinda cute holding my (ick) nougat (ick) bar. Time for a taste. My answer to the camera finally pointed my way?


SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! I pulled a Chloë and shot those thumbs up before I even finished chewing and swallowing my first bite! For real, this stuff is GOOD.

So, I have a confession to make: I didn't share ANY of the pass-along BOGO coupons. No, I sure didn't. I went back to the store and used 'em a couple days later, and we had some more UNREAL™ candy. PIGS, we were. ARE, because if I had more of those coupons, I'd use those, too.

So, to recap this rather lengthy post about better-for-you treats, here's what there is:


... and here's what the five members of Team Odette thought of them:

UNJUNK Blog (2)

So what about you? Have you UNJUNKED™ your candy yet? Will you try UNREAL™ candy now that I've told you how freakin' good it is? If you do, let me know, and which ones, 'cause I'm nosy like that. No, really, I want to know if you like it, too, or if we're a bunch of weird healthy-candy-lovin' mutants. 'Kay?

Thanks to BzzAgent and UNREAL™ candy for the yummy yum yums!