Entries categorized "Mystery Shops" Feed

Blazing A Trail


Busy, busy, busy. That's what describes our life lately, and I'm nothing but pleased about it. What with the full-fledged return to mystery shopping - and believe you me, there is no shortage of work here - homeschooling, getting ready for Christmas, and keeping the house running, I guess it's no wonder that I'm exhausted lately. I feel like I've been catching up on a lifetime of lost sleep. Naps are my new BFF.

Last Thursday (I know, it's nearly a week later, but I'm tryin', y'all!), we stacked shops from morning to evening. School on-the-go is what it's about. I have a new book to read, about carschooling, to help support that need. Anyway. 


Here's Chloë, looking adorbs at one of the places we shopped. If you ever want to know the name of a good burger place that serves the best, healthiest and tastiest burgers - both beef and veggie, we can vouch - hit me up for the name. I hadn't heard of it before we moved to Miami, but I'm sure there have to be more somewhere out there.


We'd already fed the kids lunch at an Einstein Bagel (not for a shop) in Coral Gables, so they had ice cream while Rob had lunch. My lunch was next. That's how we do it without going way over budget: I'll take several meal shops and feed the kids or one or both of us in stages. It's not ideal, but we are used to it and it works for us.


I love this picture of Jacky. (Jack calls himself that most of the time, and Sophia calls herself Sophie. It doesn't bother me, but I do find it interesting the way we diminutize ourselves.) the twinkle of his eyes, the look of anticipation - was he thinking of his own ice cream cone, yet to be served, or Christmas, or...? Speaking of which, yesterday in South Miami, he talked all. day. long. about being excited for Christmas, and every time, he started running rather than walking. I thought of it, and then, as if voicing my thoughts, Chloë said aloud that it seemed he was running to make the holiday come faster. I love that she is so intuitive like that.


It must have been the ice cream he was anticipating. Look at that delight!


When the choice is Chocolate or Vanilla, I never know what Sophia will pick. She switches it up randomly, to keep us guessing. Before Halloween, I had bought three books of coupons for free Wendy's Frosty Jrs for them, and we stop regularly to use them up before they expire. Jack and Rob will always get Chocolate, but the girls, especially Sophia? One never knows.

By the way, at what age will this child stop getting her ice cream all over her face? She devours it so ardently, I imagine she'll always need a quick trip to the washroom after a frozen treat!


After the burger place, Jack hopped up on the platform for a jumping sesh with the girls. He was Grumpy McGrumpster beforehand, but the ice cream seriously pepped him up.


I don't claim to be a good photographer, not one bit, but I do try.  I think, in this case, my lighting was a fail. But still, she's cute, no?


My lunch followed Rob's, in downtown Coconut Grove. We love going there, so it wasn't without some disappointment that I had to tell the kids we didn't have time to wander around and window shop, people-watch, that sort of thing. Next time, next time.


I wasn't thrilled with the grilled artichoke, but the low-cal salmon rolls more than made up for them for me. It took me a while, but I managed to eat three of them. I can eat more these days, nearly five years out from gastric bypass, so I'm extremely conscious of everything I eat and drink. No sense undoing the surgery we went into the red for me to get!


After a long day of tagging along on my evaluations, the kids were seriously ready to let loose. I had a nice gift certificate to the Build-A-Bear Workshop across the street from the last shop, so after a whispered conference with Rob, we decided to go and let them spend it. But first, a few quarters plunked into the carousel there to get the party started...


Chloë is always in pose mode, even when I don't want her to be. She was born to model, I think. Too bad she's so petite!


It's rare to capture genuine happiness from this boy, and there is an abundance from this day's snaps. It would be wrong of me not to share!


What's that I was saying about my poseur?


Like their mom, these three can never resist a pretty fountain. Fortunately, I always have pennies for wishes!


Finally, we made it to Build-A-Bear. The kids had been there a time or two before, so they knew what to do. Sophia choose a white kitty, Chloë selected a polar bear, and Jack, a German Shepherd dog.


I love the posture here. Childlike enthusiasm at its best!


Jack, watching and waiting for his turn. [I just typed 'tern' first, which led me to remember another bird-related mix-up. Rob and I had an argument recently, and I meant to call him an @$$hole. Instead, my brain thought, "bad word," and my mouth interpreted that as "bird." "You BIRD!" I shouted. I do this sort of thing all the time, but that one had us really cracking up. Argument over, just like that.]


The kids love this part of the process. Stuffing her cat, almost finished, Soap was asked to make a wish on its heart. Who knows what she wished? They'll never tell.


Another wish, for another stuffy. 


Chloë and... Snowy? Argh, I forget. It matters to them that I know their loveys' names, so it matters to me.


I have a whole series of pictures of a smiling Jack, grinning from ear to ear, but I'll spare you most of them. He looks so much like my sister in the pictures, I think. I can really see it here.


Snowy was dressed in purple, complete with matching ear muffs. They never stay on, which annoys this girl, but she refused her father's offer to sew them on. "No," she sighed dramatically, "I'll just have to deal with it."


Jack needed help dressing Hunter, his dog, at first, but soon he took over. "I can do it!"


The picture didn't turn out well, I acknowledge, but I couldn't get it the way I wanted it anyway. Stuffies in their homes, happy kids, away we went.


The mall looked beautiful after we left the Workshop, and the kids oohed and ahhed appreciatively. I love Christmas lights. I must admit, though I'm a colored-light fan, there is a certain beauty you can only achieve with all-white lights, no?


Oh look, a selfie. No, an "usser?" I'll work on that.

Thanks for stopping by!


Gawking At Rich People's Houses


On Sunday, we went to downtown Miami, to Bayside Marketplace. I had taken another mystery shop up there and another nearby, so we all went and had some fun at the open-air market.


As with the first time we had gone, back in April, there was a salsa band playing lively music in the bandstand area. I can do a little merengue, but I can't salsa, so although my hips wanted to wiggle and shake as we walked past the band, I kept it all in my head. Others danced, though, and I enjoyed watching them!


I had gotten a Groupon for the five of us to take a boat tour around the bay, so Rob and Chloë went in search of the tour company while Jack, Sophie and I looked out at the water and the nearby ferries and other boats.


You can see the iconic flukes of a Carnival cruise ship there in the distance. Bayside is near the Port of Miami, from which the cruises set sail. I've sailed out of there twice on Carnival myself! When we saw these flukes, Jack started asking when we were going to take another cruise. Um, no plans, son...


Jack loves to look at any kind of vessel, whether it travels on land, by sea or in the air. Meanwhile, Sophia's hair is getting so long!


I was dying of thirst, but the only place I could find in the immediate vicinity of the bandstand was the "let's make a daiquiri" bar. So, okay, I got a virgin daiquiri for the kids to share, and a piña colada for Rob and myself to enjoy. So good. I love a piña colada when it's made correctly!


When Rob and Chloë returned, we went down to the Island Carousel to ride the horses. Chloë's using my older camera now that my Nikon DSLR has been replaced (the original was stolen from inside our house in Portsmouth, Virginia, much to my long-term dismay!), but I had to coax and cajole her into using it to take pictures. She seemed to think it was just a neck decoration. That, or it was just too complicated for her to figure out...


The Carousel, which was the original purpose of our visit there, was beautiful. There was one we frequented in Virginia Beach as well, so it was pretty interesting that we found one here, too. Always a fun time.


Jack didn't want a punching balloon, but the girls each got one. They're not that good at it, but as I posted on Facebook, I personally ROCK the punching balloon. If this were the Funger Games, I said, the punching balloon would be my weapon of choice. (I'm a wee bit Hunger Games obsessed at the moment!)


Chloë's hair is growing in nicely, and now at 12, she looks just like she did for her three-year-old portraits. It's the same length, and her face and smile are exactly the same. Every time she poses for me, I remember those pictures from nine years ago!


I keep looking at Rob now and thinking how unrecognizable he is compared to when he left the Navy back in March. He's a completely different man, between growing out his hair and beard and the extra weight from his brain tumor steroids. People keep saying how "healthy" he looks, which blows my mind a little bit as it's not a healthy weight gain, and he's super uncomfortable and in tons of pain. He walks with a cane! Not exactly healthy... but managing all right just the same.


We stopped and had a bite of pizza before boarding our tour cruise around the bay. When this crow landed nearby, the kids were exclaiming about it, and I saw it as an opportunity to fiddle with the new camera. This one was my favorite picture of said bird.


Finally, we headed over to the Miami Aqua Tours booth to redeem our Groupon and board the Island Princess. What surprised me the most about this ride was that the kids were so fearful and trembling at the beginning. They were scared of the boat and plank moving during boarding, and they were scared of sitting near the window. These are our kids?! By the time the ride ended some 90 minutes later, though, even Jack had to admit that it was worth the trip and he was glad we went!


I'm pretty sure this is the casino boat to the Bahamas that I keep hearing advertised on the radio. The fares are incredibly cheap, so maybe I'll take Rob sometime. Neither of us cares a lick about gambling, which is great, so we could just enjoy the ride and the views. We don't have a babysitter for the kiddos yet, though, so that's a back-burner plan for the time being.


Here comes that Carnival cruise, setting sail for points south of Miami. I thought they usually departed on Saturdays, but apparently I was mistaken. Bon voyage!


It was a grey, overcast day, but the harbor still looked beautiful full of boats and gentle waves as we started our tour.


Oops! It took me several tries to get the setting right so that I was taking pictures of the houses of the Rich and Famous, instead of my fellow passengers' heads and cameras. I'll have to skip ahead a few pictures so you don't have ten more of the same... which is fine, since I can scarcely remember who owns these first few houses and most of the rest anyway.


Bye-bye, Miami skyline!


I do remember this house with the large windows was owned by George Clooney. I'm sure there is much more than meets the eye, as these houses are on exclusive man-made isles, like Fisher Island, which can only be reached by boat.


I'm going to post more of the houses in case any of you out there are gawkers like me. I'm not generally in awe of stars and their riches, but I do appreciate gorgeous homes with the best of 'em!


I think our tour guide said this yellow one is owned by Will Smith. Or Hulk Hogan. I can't remember. Ugh. I tried committing them all to memory using mnemonic devices, but apparently they're failing me now. So much for that.


I think this is owned by Marc Anthony, the singer and former husband of Jennifer Lopez.


It's not really my fault I'm having trouble remembering, you know. Our tour guide spoke VERY fast in both English and Spanish to describe the back-to-back-to-back homes, and he kept passing the microphone back and forth to a Chinese man who was translating the tour into his own language for his large party. I could understand the tour guide better in Spanish than in English, which is not unusual for me since the accents are sometimes so strong, the English words make no sense to my ears.


Simply put, I adore the architecture of these expensive Miami homes, but I find most South Florida architecture appealing to my sensibilities. I just love everything about this place!


Argh. I can't remember the name, but I do recall the guide saying that the property here extended vastly beyond what you can see from water's edge. You can see a peek of it there on the left.


Anything looks good when surrounded by palm trees, in my opinion.


The beautiful Miami sunset


The Carnival ship, making its way out of the bay


There's nothing special about this dinghy; I just wanted to play with the camera and make a more artsy photo. I think it turned out well - do you?


Just... beautiful.


Like I said, I don't covet their wealth, but this sleek silver yacht certainly grabbed my attention!


Sophia and Jack, sitting on either side of me, kept jabbering in my ear while I was trying to listen intently to the tour guide's spiel. I wanted to get my money's worth, after all, so I had my camera lens trained on the celebs' houses the whole time. Except for this, when Sophia insisted I look at her, MOM!


I'm going to stop posting pictures of houses now that I can't remember a single one other than the Clooney property, but if you'd like to see the rest of the photos, please do let me know in the comments. I'm going to turn off the spam filters after posting this, since I'm getting hardly any comments anymore. People just hate the captchas!


As we re-approached the dock, the sun had gone down and the lights were ablaze across the skyline. Too bad it was raining; this could have been a lovely shot.


We were heading back to the parking garage after disembarking from our tour when I spied the Haagen-Dazs shop. Well, come on. Ice cream is ice cream, but Haagen-Dazs? Yes, please!


The kids each ordered a waffle cone, and I decided to go for the fat-free, sugar-free froyo twist. Rob didn't order anything, which was smart, because he knew he'd end up eating someone's ice cream. He was right.


Chloë and Sophia managed to eat their cones, but two bites into his and Jack was finished. Enter Rob. (Literally!) It wasn't that huge of a surprise moments later when Jack complained of an upset tummy, but he ended up moaning and crying all the way home - a long trip - and going straight to bed. Rob thought he'd eaten too much junk during the day, but I don't know; he seemed more in pain than nauseous. Regardless, he woke up just fine the next morning, which was a huge relief to his mama.


And that was our Sunday. How's your week going?


Hemingway Slept Here


So, I've started mystery shopping again, as of last week. You may remember I stopped in about May or so when I applied for Social Security Disability... but I got denied, and I just don't have the mental fortitude to appeal. So, working is back on for me, and I'm back with a vengeance.

On Tuesday, the 26th of November (a week ago; I'm a naughty blogger!), I stacked a bunch of mystery shops in the Florida Keys together. We decided to take Thanksgiving week easy on schooling, so the plan was to work my way down and get the shops out of the way, and then play in downtown Key West. For once, all went according to plan. 

We stopped twice in Key Largo for mystery shops. They were quick and easy, and I was able to get us right back on the road according to schedule. We did have to make a few pit stops, naturally, since it's about a seven-hour round trip down to the Southernmost Point of the U.S. (in Key West), but we made good time. I had to buy the children a blanket on the way there - they were freezing in the air conditioning! I stopped, too, to get post cards for my gal pal who collects them, and also to get stamps and send one with a Keys postmark.

Then, of course, there was the stop at the Key Deer refuge and wildlife center in Big Pine Key. You know how some people love to travel by car with their families and make unexpected and unplanned detours when they come across places of interest? In theory, I am one of those people. In practice, I am more of a planner and scheduler. I like Theoretical Me a bit better, so when we were discussing the Key Deer, specificially, and all endangered species in general, with the kiddos, it was just serendipitous that - at just the right time - we came across the refuge.

So, we went.

Here's a tip, if you ever go there: don't expect the volunteers in the center/gift shop to know anything about... anything. Because they don't. The kids kept asking them various question about artifacts in the museum, and they would either provide incorrect information or hedge until Marine Biologist Mom or Outdoorsman Dad would jump in and drop some knowledge. Why, Rob even busted the two older, married vollies for having a pheasant feather from, what?, New Hampshire or somewhere they recently relocated from, in with the Keys fossils and such. Really? What?! Who does that? Nervy. Hopefully they'll remove it now that they've been discovered, because that's just wrong if you ask me.

Which you didn't, so on with our trip:


There's this gas station we've stopped at several times on our various runs to the Lower Keys, and each time, chickens were running amok in the parking lot. I do so love that. Do you know how hard it is to take a decent Instagram of the roosters while they're running away from you? 


After finishing my remaining three shops, one in Marathon and two in Key West itself, we were monstrously hungry. Of course, when one is in Key West and is of a certain age and not exactly a teetotaler, one expects there to be some alcohol paired with one's meals. I had a rum runner, one of my favorites, and Rob... I don't know. Maybe he had a beer. I can't remember. 

Also, of course, when one is in the Keys or any other coastal area, one generally partakes in the local seafood fare. We shared a plate of peel-and-eat shrimp (delicious), and Rob had one of his favorites, conch fritters. I've tried so hard to get back to total vegetarianism this year, but when my protein requirements are so high, it's difficult. And shrimp are some tasty, tasty people.

(The yummiest shrimp I have ever eaten, by the by, were at The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key in Sarasota. I worked in Catering there while doing my internship at Mote Marine Lab. I could wax poetic about the food we served there... but I digress, as I am wont to do.)


Chloë ordered her dinner - mac and cheese for my girl - and promptly fell asleep the minute our awesome server at Caroline's Café walked away from our table. She had fallen asleep the day before over her schoolwork, too, but I wasn't concerned since I'd gotten all three kiddos out of bed both mornings to get on with our day(s)! 


(Apologies for the darkness of these next few photos; I just now realized there is an option to turn the flash off on Instagram and I had utilized it at some point. Whoops.)

Anyway, we roused sleepy Chloë from her slumber and decided to walk around for a bit while time passed until I could finish the "Return" portion of one of my nearby mystery shops. It has long been a topic of conversation amongst the young trio of Odettelettes in our household that there are six-toed cats at the Hemingway house in Key West. Y'all know about that, right? So we decided to hot-foot it over to Hemingway's place and make a tiny dream come true for them.

The nearby residents must grow so weary of all the people meandering around, looking for that property. I'd been there in college, back in the 90s, but of course I didn't remember exactly how to get there since I was never in charge of directions. As it should be. I had Siri giving us walking directions while Rob looked around at the hilarious signage various Hemingway neighbors has posted, like the one above.


In the words of George Takei, "Oh, myyyy!"

(Side note: my nearly-14yo neice follows my instagramography, and she "liked" this picture. Kind of embarrassing.)


Thankfully, we arrived at Hemingway's home after 1700, so there was no need to explain to the children that I lacked desire to cough up the $44 it would have cost us to go in there to find cats that, naturally, you're not allowed to pick up or touch. We were left standing outside there on the sidewalk with the other author's pilgrims, peering through the wrought iron gates. Would a cat come see us, oh, would one please?


One would. Of course, by the time I got the iPhone raised and steady, the kids' clamoring and squealing had scared the poor thing off, so I didn't get a picture. No worries. You've seen one cat with an extra toe, you've seen 'em all. You get a glimpse of the house instead. Very Keys-y. Ernie loved him some Key West, he did.


We've been down to the Keys some three of four times during our 8+ months in southern Miami-Dade County, and we have yet to make it to the Southernmost Point that is the subject of so many pictures, postcards, and bumper stickers. (I've been there several times myself, but not with my little family.) So, too, is Mile Marker Zero a stopping point, so Rob pointed it out to me to snap when we happened on it. I don't know that I've ever captured a photo of it before, so here it is now. That's the end of the line for US1 (which comes out of I-95 South down the East Coast and is AKA South Dixie Highway in Miami and Overseas Highway in the Keys). You can't go any further than that, folks!


We followed Duval St back toward my remaining shop area and came across this giant cone prop for an ice cream parlor. Hello, photo op!


I left Rob with the kids after that, to go finish my requirements, and this is the scene to which I returned. Jack was still awake, but the girls were Knocked. Out. Cold. Passersby varied between amused and enamored of the girls' napping on a public bench! Good thing Rob didn't look TOO terribly homeless... ;)

On that note, we decided to make our way back up north to Homestead. Our homestead. The kids were all zonked out in the back of the truck SUV whatever-the-hell-a-Chevy-Trailblazer-is, so Rob and I kept each other company through the miserable storm that was blowing a deluge down upon us during the long, somewhat treacherous drive home. It never got quite to the point where I had to pull over and stop, but we came close a few times! 

One time, I stopped to pee and raced from the, er, vehicle to the store. Soaking wet, I stood there looking around until an employee came up and offered help. I asked if there was a bathroom, and she was torn between devilish laughter and sheepish apologies, having to tell me that the restroom was, in fact, outside. That's the first time I put the heat on since we've been in Florida!

Welp, speaking of being cold, I'm going to go soak in a warm bath. I have much more to post about this early morning, so I shall return. If things again go according to plan, at least...


Friday Fragments: Episode 6.7.13

Half-Past Kissin' Time
Here I am again, two weeks in a row. Go me! Link up here to join Mrs. 4444 in blowing out all the fragments of your brain today.
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So I've been trying for months to achieve the ombre nail polish look seen here:
which, admittedly, isn't the best example, but you get the idea. Instead, though, I end
up with this (these are mine, right now):

which looks like total crap. You can't really see it from the picture, so perhaps I should've retaken it without the flash, but what you can see is the total crappiness of my ombre paint job. What the heck? Why can't I do this? If you've ever succeeded at this look, which I adore, please fill me in your special little secret. Unless it involves eleventy-nine weird little tools that I probably don't have. Not doin' that.
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I was so, so terribly excited for Rob (Hubs) to go to my alma mater, the University of Miami, but we found out yesterday that he didn't get in. I am super bummed, probably as much as he is. I can't figure out why not, either. I assumed he was a shoo-in for his 20 years of military service, and I never even considered the possibility he wouldn't get admitted. Major suckage.
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I've been listening to the Elvis Duran radio show in the mornings lately, and the show is absolutely hysterical. Have you ever heard it? Today, they were discussing what everybody's victims would have in common if they were serial killers, and I immediately thought of mine: the people who take an hour to make a right turn in front of me while I'm driving. If I were a murderer, I would follow those people and kill them as slowly as that damned right turn. Ha! What a morbid conversation. I asked Rob, and his answer was a simple "frat boys." Too funny. I get that, too.
So what would yours be? C'mon, play along - it's just a joke after all.
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I am still trying like hell to quit my awful Diet Coke addiction, but it's so hard. I'm trying again now, for about the tenth time in the two+ months since we've lived here in Miami, but with a renewed earnestness. What keeps happening is, I'll buy some, drink it all up instead of parceling it out slowly, and then run out and be miserable. I'm talking severe, prolonged headaches, total crankiness, and sleeping endlessly. I hate it. I've been stocking up on K-cups and Crystal Light to help me alternate with the "last" batch of Coca Dieta that I have now. I have got to kick this!
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I feel kind of bereft since quitting my mystery shopping gig. I miss it; I really do. I don't quite know what to do with myself. It opened a lot of doors, brought a lot of opportunities, and most importantly, got us up and out of the house!  Without that, we've been housebound pretty much all the time, except when I'm out restocking our larder. So I've been collecting ideas for things to do this summer on the cheap - that's how we roll now that Rob's retired - and plan to make the most of it.

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So I guess that's about all that's on my mind today. Shortest one ever from me!

Have a good weekend, y'all.

Building A Legacy


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


Sophia, 8


Jack, 10 (!!!!)


Chloë, 11½


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


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

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


So You Want To Be A Mystery Shopper

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Here we go:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The short answer is: it depends.

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

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

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

Not necessarily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Mystery Shopping Company for that job

- Date of the shop

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

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

- Mileage to and from the location

- Expected reimbursement and fee

- Actual payment received

- Date paid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(11) How do I find more shops?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Happy shopping!


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!


Key Largo, Montego, Baby Why Don't We Go...

On Wednesday, I had to do a fun mystery shop in Key West, so we decided to take the 7-hour round-trip down there as a family to show Rob and the kids around the keys a bit. Admittedly, the shop did not pay for itself, what with the gas and all we did there, but we wanted to go down there anyway, and that was a good excuse to go.


This was me before our trip, at the doctor's office. I have a new, irregularly-outlined, black spot on the side of my chin that looks bad, bad, bad, so I needed to get it checked out. I sat in the office from 1300 through 1500 before getting frustrated and irritated and rescheduling the appointment. Halfway down to Key West, the receptionist (or someone) called me from the office and apologized profusely, so I forgive them a little bit, but that's beginning to become par for the course at doctors' offices here in Miami, and I do not want to have to get used to it. Bugger.


In Marathon, in the Keys, there is a small airport that Jack wanted to visit. It was time to get out and let them stretch their legs, so we decided to have a look around and poke into the museum a bit.


I'd seen that they did helicopter tours on the sign, and that's been on my bucket list for a long time, so I inquired within, as they say. It was very affordable, but I needed at least one other person to go with me to make it worth their while. We couldn't leave the kids alone, obviously, so Rob was out, and Jack and Chloë didn't have the bravery. Sophia was all for it, though, so we signed up for a trip! Only, when we got in the chopper, she freaked out a little bit about their being no doors. And then, Kevin, the awesome and understanding pilot, started 'er up, and she freaked out a LOT. I mean, shaking, tears, screaming, the whole bit. You'd think she was getting a shot or something, the way she was carrying on. I tried to calm her down, soothe her, and talk her back into it, but she was having none of it. So Kevin had to stop the engine, ride us back into the terminal, and give us our money back. I was disappointed, but ah, well. Another time.


On Long Key, there's a marine science lab I used to frequent as both an undergrad and a graduate student, for studies and training. And there was a restaurant next door we always visited, too. So it was with great apprehension that I looked for the lab during the drive, having seen far too many unlikeable changes in the upper keys (too many chains, not enough kitsch). Thankfully, the lab was still there - though we didn't have time to stop this time - but the restaurant, sadly, was gone. It's not too sad, though; they did serve veal, after all. So after a long, long, long drive (thanks to many silly stops along the way), we finally arrived in Key West. At last! I did my mystery shop while Rob and Company went to the beach.


After my shop, we decided to walk around and find a seafood restaurant. I mean, you're in the Keys; you might as well have some crab or something, right? My kids were dressed in their new tropical finery I'd picked up on the mystery shop, but I can't find the picture now of the three of them decked out. This one will have to suffice, of Sophia looking pretty, along with these two of Chloë and Jack:


Curly Girl, looking gorgeous as always


Jacky, doing the two-straw sip


This was the first seafood restaurant we happened upon, so we went in. Remember the name, so you can avoid the place if you want decent seafood. Trust me on this.


On the other hand, if you're just going to drink (and who doesn't drink in Key West? It's not unusual to see people staggering from bar to bar until the wee hours of the morning, all over the streets downtown), the Margaritas are fantastic. so there's that.


Rob and I decided to get the lobster/scallops/shrimp combo. I didn't try the shrimp, but he said they were fine. Conversely, as I told our server (whose demeanor went from awesome to The Suck after this), the lobster tasted like dirt, and the scallops tasted like nothing at all. Horrible. The worst seafood I ever experienced. Do NOT waste your money on seafood here; they apparently don't care enough about the lack of repeat business to cook it well. Ugh, I was sorely disappointed. And I even puked, it was so bad. Three times. And not just because I was sloshed. Heh. (I only drank about ¼ off my Margarita before passing it off to Rob; it was wicked strong.)


Rob gets conch fritters every chance he gets, so of course he had to get these. He said they were fine, too, but I didn't try them - never have, never will - so I can't verify.


Of course,  neither Rob nor I was fit to drive after dinner, so we had to walk around some more and see what was what. We found a souvenir shop - more like a souvenir mall - and Sophia exhibited more of her quintessential Sophie style, trying on hats and boas and all sorts of things. Love that kid!


I tried on a rastafarian hat with dreds, but the only thing Rob said was, "NO." Okay, fine, but I still think I rocked it. No? Maybe not. I did end up getting a sari/wrap dress thing that can be tied multiple ways. I forgot about it until I went through all the bags yesterday, so I think I'll wear it today. I might even take a picture to show you; it's so pretty!


Rob wanted a picture of the Conch Republic Key West flag, and his iPhone was dead, so here ya go, honeybuns!


The girls managed to talk me into these scarves that went with their new dresses. I liked them, too, and I may have to steal them from them once or twice!


Rob was thrilled to find himself next to Sloppy Joe's, a famous Hemingway hangout back in the day. We didn't make it over to the Hemingway estate to find the six-toed cats the kids were eager to see, though. Maybe next week, when we go down again, we'll get the chance.


The sign for "Smack Your Mom in the Mouth" meatloaf cracked me up, so I decided to get something to eat at this deli. Not the meatloaf, of course, but a bagel and cream cheese hit the spot. I was ravenous after the big Dinner Fail earlier.


We had walked a long time and a longer still ways from Penelope by that point, so we decided to hitch a ride on a bike-driven Pedicab (cyclecab?) with a nice Russian dude who agreed to carry all five of us in one trip. Here's my mini-me posing with her mama...

... and that was our short jag down to the keys. I was hoping to stop by some local road stands and get some fresh produce and local seafood on the way back, but they're hard to find at 3 in the morning, ya know? I wonder why.


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.

Sophia Lorelei Turns The Big "8"!


On Saturday, our wee baby girl turned EIGHT freakin' YEARS OLD, guys. Can you believe it?! I can't. My baby. Is old. Which means I'm old. Gosh!

By the way, blue, because her favorite color is now blue. Gone are the days of all pink-and-purple  all the time. Le sigh.

Also by the way, because I'm thinking of it, she's the youngest kid, yet she's the biggest by quite a bit. Chloë is the size of a 6½-year-old and has the maturity to match, whilst Sophia's maturity matches her chronological age. It's quite an interesting dynamic, and by that I mean... frustrating entirely too often.

Anyway. Saturday, Sophia's birthday, was a beautiful day. Just gorgeous. And we had a blast. But first, there were the presents:


Grandma (Rob's mom) sent a jumprope, headbands, puzzles that got put together immediately by all three kiddos, and a doodling book that she's been working in for hours on end each day since it came;


Aunt Gail (Rob's sister), a new Scentsy consultant, sent her a Scentsy kitty which, as you can see, was met with much excitement; and, 


on Friday night, she not only got a card with money from her Grandpa (Rob's dad, along with his stepmom), but our realtor stopped by to take the lockbox off our front door and, upon learning it was Sophie's birthday, whipped a $20 bill out of her wallet and gave it to the extremely delighted child, amidst our protests! So we took her to Wally-World and let her have a little shopping spree. What fun that was! 


But back to Saturday, her special day... We were headed out to do a plethora of mystery shops that I'd lined up for the weekend, but the first one didn't pan out (and none of the rest 'cept one did, in the end), so we ended up in Miami's Bayside Marketplace. In all my years living in Miami the first time around, I'd never made it to Bayside, which turned out to be a feast for the eyes and ears. What a bizarre bazaar! I instantly loved it.


The kids meandered around for a while, looking at this and that, before they happened upon the family bikes for rent. We didn't get a chance to ride that day, but we've done it before and I'm sure we'll do it again one day. Or have we? I can't remember, now that I think of it, when we actually did, so maybe I just made that part up.


After that, Sophia got to ride in the carousel, choosing of course to sit in the spinny-thingy that she loves so much, for the mystery shop portion of our visit to Bayside. I'd have let the other kids go, too, but fundage is at a premium right now and I could only let one kid go. Being the birthday kid, choosing Sophie was a no-brainer.


She also got to ride the train, as part of my evaluation, but she didn't sit here for long, oh no, she didn't!


Instead, she climbed into the caboose (after determining that she wasn't allowed to ride in the engine car) and pretended she was a caged lion at the circus. Silly girl!!


The ticket seller gave me a free punching balloon for her birthday. I don't know about you, but I love a punching balloon, and I'm pretty damn good at it, too. Much better than these goons kids of mine, but Jack is getting to be the best of the bunch at it. Sophia and Chloë, er, not so good...


That ^^^ is what I had to do after the mystery shop portion of our visit. And so, I did. 


Since we were at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant for me to GO, the kids were posing outside in Forrest's photo-op bench and shoes for Rob. Silliness.


Across from the restaurant was this enormous banyan tree, which is my second favorite kind of tree, I think, after palm trees. This one was about 100 years old, though they can live to be about 1,000 years. Did you know that when the branches reach down all the way into the ground, they grow into new roots of the tree? Isn't that amazing?!


Chloë had fun climbing up into the tree, and then Rob joined her. He climbed quite a bit higher, but not as high as he'd wanted to go before he got stuck with slick branches from the thunderstorm we'd gotten earlier that day. Indeed, the flooded roads are what stopped me from being able to get to my first mystery shop on time.


After climbing the banyan tree, we stopped at Häagen-Dazs to get ice cream for Sophia. Again, I couldn't afford to get treats for all three kids and still do my mystery shops (which I later ended up abandoning anyway), and I had a coupon for one small kid's cone, so Sophia got it. She did share with her brother and sister, but Jack ended up crying about the ice cream and made me feel like complete crap. He knows we don't have a ton of money and that the birthday kid is the one who gets somewhat spoiled on their day, just like he did, but it's still hard to understand and accept at 10 years old... so I told him and Chloë they could each spend a dollar or two on something at the market. Again, ::sigh::


Chloë was simpler, as usual, as she's relatively easy to please and Jack is impossible. She wanted her fortune told, so we spent her dollar on that. Sophia ended up getting her fortune read, too. Except it was funny, because Chloë hit the button for Spanish, and the fortune teller switched to Spanish for all of his mumbo-jumbo, of which I undertood not a word this time. Bah. 


Jack's tastes aren't cheap - everything he wants has wheels or is some mode of transportation or another, and he pointed out things that cost anywhere from ten bucks to $200! Um, no. I said a dollar, Jacky darling...


The girls were in heaven when we found this corner of a toy store decked out in Hello Kitty, well, everything! Sophia urged me to get the HK steering wheel, but I passed. Hee. I could just see me driving Penelope around with that on it, right?


In a shell shop, Sophia put a dried-out sea star on her ear and pretended to be a mermaid. That's another thing she loves - mermaids. She did look pretty with it there, I have to say.


Across the hall, we headed into the Brookstone store to see if there was anything (bahahaa) Jack wanted and could afford. I knew we wouldn't, but I humored the lad. We all found various massaging apparati that we all desperately wanted - and needed, you see, because we still don't have our household goods from the move and have been sleeping on tile floors for almost 2 weeks now. Talk about your aching bones!


Finally, we found a candy store - which is seriously the last thing Jack really needs - and he got some Pop Rocks and a push-up thingamajig to spend his buck-fitty on. Ah, well. Remind me to call a dentist tomorrow, m'kay?


Right after that, the kids were begging to go to the beach, which we'd promised this weekend, but first, Sophia had to dance to the salsa and merengue music playing outside by (I'm guessing) a local band. She stopped after I took this picture, came over to me, and whispered, "I'm kind of embarrassed, Mom. I don't know how to dance in public." So cute!


And then, there was a fountain as we made our way over to the merengue band, so of course I had to fish three pennies out of my satchel to let them each make a wish. Rob and I abstained for once, though we usually join in and toss a coin or two.


At the bandstand, there were plenty of listeners up front and center dancing to the music. Good times, good times, and no, I'm not near brave enough to have joined them. Not in a million years, though I like to listen and watch!


On our way over to the parking garage, Sophia spotted a man twisting up balloon animals. She ran over and told him it was her birthday, so he asked her to pick a color and tell him what she wanted. He didn't speak much English, so she just dove into his bucket of balloons and fished out a blue one, asking for a dog. He whipped it up in no time flat, then made the sign of the cross and wished her many blessings for her birthday. Nice.


A pretty smile and a blue poodle. A bloodle?


At last, we made it out to Key Biscayne. First stop was Diver's Paradise, the dive shop where I used to work back in the day, to visit "the Omars" who own it. Only, Omar Jr. wasn't there because his wife had just had a baby boy, and Omar Sr. wasn't there because of the awful diving weather earlier in the day. Bummer; it's a looooong, long drive out to Key Biscayne from Homestead, so I don't know when I'll get out there to see them again. I will, though - count on that - but probably not before we get a dive in on the other end of the Florida Keys.


Y por fin, we made it to la playa.  Those are my buried feet at the bottom of the picture; I'd have shown you my piggie toes, but my toenails aren't painted, and once, in college, a guy told me that girls' feet are ugly if the toenails aren't painted. Hee!


Sophia was the only one who'd kept her bathing suit on after (we thought) the thunderstorms altered our plans to go to the beach, so she plunged RIGHT in the water and had herself a birthday ball. That, right there, is a happy, happy 8-year-old.


Somewhere between the Sophie picture and this one, I'd dropped my iPhone and my keys into the water. Only, I didn't realize at the time about the keys, since I was so intent on rescuing my phone to get the next great picture. Hm. We'll revisit that later. See the muck behind Chloë, where Jack is? It was gooey and goopy, and she ran through it shouting, "EW! EW! EW! EW! EW!" in a very Chloë-like way.


Rob found this whorling shell - a mini conch, mayhaps? - in the low tidal zone, and thus began a collection between him and Sophia. They found many a cool shell that day.


And then, someone found a crab in the water, and all the Latinos ran screaming away, yelling (in Spanish) that it was poisonous and would kill them. I laughed and said it wouldn't, so my girl Sophia was the first one to dive back in and check out the crab. The Latino children kept running over, screaming, and running away, in a most amusing - albeit histrionic - way.


A while later, I managed to find this itty-bitty hermit crab walking in the shallows, so I gave the kids an on-the-spot lesson about the crabs, their unique anatomy, and how they make their living.


After that, Sophia hollered to me, "Look, Mom! I'm a water skipper!" and then she proceeded to run, splashing, across the top of the water like a little beetle. She's great fun, that kid.


Finally, Jack decided to brave the muck. He rolled up his pant legs, with Daddy's help, and made his way over to me. In this picture, he was telling me there was no WAY he could manage to stay in the muck and water...


...but pretty soon, realizing the fun that was to be had in the calm waters of Hobie Beach, he got over himself. I love, love, looove to see this boy have a good time.


And there's me, freckling up like a freckly frecklepuss. Check it out, I have hair again!


True to form, Sophia made a new friend. She does this absolutely everywhere she goes. The thing I loved most about this instance, though, was that Ana didn't speak a lick of Spanish, and yet Sophia still managed to pal around with her. They talked through me. Chloë and Soph asked a billion questions of Ana, and we learned that her favorite color is red, her favorite food is fried rice with eggs, she's 8 years old, and she has a pet bird.


Meanwhile, Rob was walking around, solo for the most part, on the far end of Hobie Beach. I loved watching him connect with nature and enjoy himself. I think he's home. At last, it's his turn to shine, and he will do it well, I know.


After a while, an ice cream truck sung out its offerings on the shore, and Ana dashed immediately over to her mother to ask for some helado. Naturally, so did my trio of hooligans. Remembering that Sophia had already had Häagen-Dazs that day, I threw sense to the wind and decided to make it right with Jack. So they all got ice cream. Though wouldn't you know it, three bites into his Spongebob sherbet, Jack decided his was too cold, and he didn't want it anymore. The little shit!


Sophia and her new amiguita, Ana, enjoying ice cream together wordlessly


After ice cream, Sophia apparently channeled Brookstone to give her sister and brother foot massages in the water. Jack was too squeamish to let her rub sand on his feet, though, so he ran squealing away as soon as I snapped this Instamography.


Not long after that, the sun was setting for the day, and, knowing our shark friends like to come closer to shore at that time of day, we rounded up our little'uns and started to head toward the sand. Satisfied, we were, that a full day was had, so no complaints ensued.


Sophia and Ana hugged good-bye, promising to see each other soon (though we have no way of reaching Ana). Somehow, these flowers materialized out of nowhere, and Ana gave them to Sophie, wishing her a very happy 8th birthday. Despite the ice cream stains and sand on her chin, I still think she looks beautiful here.


Immediately, Sophia decided to play "bride" and, turning around, threw the bouquet to her sister to catch. The flowers went all over the place, the girls went under water to catch them, and I had myself a good belly laugh. Hence the blur.


We got up to the arena, and Sophia dropped down to make sand angels. Of course! Who wouldn't want their wet and sand-covered birthday girl in their nice Honda Odyssey, ya know? I didn't care. It's such a messy Penelope right now, and I need to clean it out anyway...

Once we got back to Penny, I realized that I didn't have my keys. What? The doors were unlocked, too, so I scoured the front seat for them, to no avail. I sent Sophia back to where we'd left our shoes, but soon I realized that I had never put my keys down there in the first place. That's when I remembered dropping my phone. Just as a couple holding hands strolled by, I dashed down to the shallow water, and there were my keys, half-buried. I shouted, "I FOUND THEM!" to Sophia, and the male half of the couple exclaimed, "Wow! You were so lucky!" Indeed.


Sophia mentioned something about her birthday cake being the last thing she needed to make her day complete, and that's when I remembered that, oh yeah, I'd made no plans for a cake! Oops. We stopped halfway home at the Publix where I worked in college, and I chatted up Little Richard in the produce department while Sophia picked out some strawberries. My girl loves her some strawberries like nothin' else. She always tries to find the biggest one. Look at her! She's such a goose.


It was so big, she pretended she was a pig with an apple in her mouth. Jack wanted to cook her, but that's where I drew the line.  I know, I'm such a good mom.


The berries were super juicy, and I had absolutely NOTHING of my cake-making schtuff to work with, so I did the best I could. Sophia didn't care a wit. She said it was the most beautiful cake ever, and she loved it. Who could argue with that?


I had a bite, but it was one bite too many. On the other hand, Sophia has managed to sneak about 2/3 of the cake since last night, so I guess the chocolate cake-and-strawberry frosting combo (which Jack said tasted like Mentos gum) was too her liking. 

And that, my friends, is how you do a birthday 'round these parts.

Thanks for stopping by our little corner of the blahgisphere. Hope you'll stick around.




This Week In Pictures


April 2013 009

When last we left off here, it was Easter Sunday, so that's where I'll pick up. The kitty pictures in the last post were from then, too.  In the top of the pool picture, here, is Sophia swimming.  Whenever she has gotten in the pool here in Florida, she starts doing what we've termed the "Sophie Paddle" right away. She can do strokes that are more akin to real swimming, too, but she much prefers the Sophie Paddle. I was the same way, doggie paddlin' to and fro until I was forced into doing real strokes.

April 2013 011

In the top pic, I was on our 4th floor balcony looking down, on my way to visit the kiddos and Rob at the pool. He'd been doing that, whilst I pounded the internetty pavements looking for a place for us to live. Jacky was freezing when I arrived, so I collected him and headed back to our hotel room. We stopped at the fountain near the elevator for him to take a closer look; all three of my kids are suckers for fountains, like their mama!


April 2013 013

On Monday, sick of eating whatever we could get nearby in the way of fast food, we decided to go get groceries and do some more looking around. We headed up north to Coral Gables and South Miami, where I did a restaurant mystery shop and then to Publix in the 'Gables, where I used to work in my college days. Anyway, before we left, I gave Sophia her birthday present: a pair of "Chameleon" Crocs (they change color when wet) and a bunch of Hello Kitty Jibbitz. They had Hello Kitty Crocs, too, but none small enough for her feet. It's just as well; the Jibbitz are more visible on these!

The edges of the Chameleons are what change color, so when we encountered a post-rainshower puddle later at the hotel, she walked on the outside edges of her feet to get them to change colors! It was so funny, and terribly Sophia-y of her. I had a photo of it, but it seems to have disappeared, and I'm too lazy to go copy it from Facebook at the moment. (I'm Instagramming all my photos like crazy now, since I have no camera and just the iPhone 5. Woohoo for iPhone 5's awesome camera focus!)

April 2013 019

Before we headed into Publix, we ventured into the park to play while there was still sunlight. It's directly across from the store. New since I worked there are these exercise equipment pieces like bikes, bars, and more. Awesome additions, IMO! Chloë tried the bike first.

April 2013 021

This picture makes me giggle. After Chloë dismounted, Jack climbed up, but lo and behold, he's too short for the pedals. Heehee! Nothing stops my boy from doing what he wants!

April 2013 023

I wish I could've gotten a picture of Sophia climbing up on this thing in her usual gymnastic way, but no, she was too fast. She swung upside down, hooked her legs around, and only then pulled up the rest of her body. Typical.

April 2013 017

Just as the sun was going down, sans flash, I snapped this shot of Sophia squatting on a nearby machine. She's not wearing the Crocs, though. Weird. I know it was the same day...? She must have had them in the car and switched. Goof.

April 2013 025

My kids always gravitate toward the lobster tank in whatever grocery store they visit. Each time is like the first time; they're always so amazed. Future marine biologists??

What amazed me: I looked around to see if any of my old coworkers were there. Lo and behold, Richy Rich was still there, working in the Produce department. And he remembered me! He remembered my old traits, too, as he laughed with Rob about how fast I jibber-jabber away... he helped me pick out some fresh produce and even some cheese, when I couldn't decide what to pair with our loaf of Cuban bread. He wanted me to take a round of Brie, but I went for a cheaper ball of fresh mozz, in case you're interested. And it was delish!

April 2013 027

In the end, we feasted on fresh fruits, including apples, oranges, mango, and more, and veggies, including the teensiest "baby" carrots I've ever seen. We had shrimp with spicy cocktail sauce, Babybel and mozzarella cheeses with our Cuban bread, and strawberries and watermelon. The kids drank milk, while we sipped Asti Spumante. There's still some in the refrigerator; I wonder if it's any good... And we garnished it all with this giant aloe, uh, sprig. What do you call a piece of aloe, anyway?


April 2013 034

Having discovered sometime on Monday that there was no way we could afford to pay both for a hotel room and a security deposit on a place to live, and having just forked over a week's worth of hotel rent for a second place closer to where I was sure we'd end up, I really started scouring the 'net in earnest for a place. I posted an ad myself on Craigslist, and then started being very selective in the ads to which I responded with a message stating that we were a military family - guaranteed income! and the terms we needed. Only a couple people responded, and I made an appointment for 5:00 PM that evening for the one I liked best. The realtor met us there at 5 on the dot, and let us in. Rob liked it okay, and for me it was love at first sight. She strung us along as she filled out the application for us, and then she turned around, with the keys in her hand, and said she was going to trust us with "her" house and just had a good feeling about us. Then she handed me the keys, and I paid her the first month's rent. WE WERE IN LIKE FLYNN! WOOHOO!!!! A place to live, at last. It's in Homestead, Florida, in a beautiful neighborhood, close to US 1 and the Florida Turnpike and a host of great shops and stores. Awesome!

April 2013 036

Here are the kids celebrating in our gorgeous black-and-white kitchen!

♪ ♫ Celebrate good times, come on! ♫ ♪

April 2013 038

Our new master bedroom, ...

April 2013 040

...and the master bath.

April 2013 042

When Rob came back from the hotel room where he was recollecting our paid monies, he celebrated first with Chloë whilst I snapped this picture. I LOVE this photo! I look at it all the time. Even though my current laptop screen distorts the picture, it looks beautiful to me. ♥

April 2013 044

The kiddos standing in front of our new home

April 2013 046

And the view of the neighbors' building across the parking lot from ours, which looks just the same except more yellow.


No pictures from this day. I woke up at 0200 and started working on a grocery list, as we had very little left to eat and I did not want to spend our dollars on junk. I was able to get SOOOO much food at the Publix down the road, for not terribly much moolah, using deals and coupons. I love that store. And that one store in particular. It was clean and spacious, and every single person there that I encountered smiled, greeted at me, and generally passed my 'mystery shopper extraordinaire' tests. They all really seemed to enjoy their jobs. I think I'll put an application in there, having realized we're both going to have to work if we're going to be able to afford to live here!

After groceries, I took a nap. It was noon by then, and I was tired. Afterward, we went to Wags and CVS to get some more deals, since I'd worked on coupons for there, too. And we went waaaaay the hell out to the realtor's office to finish our HOA application. They required so much, and since we had already moved in the night before, the only reason I can think of was to get an extra $100 application fee out of us. Ah, well. Everywhere around here requires it, so there's no use trying to get out of that.



I had taken three or four mystery shops for this day, so we set off in the afternoon to take care of those. We aren't allowed to use the pool or playground until the HOA approves us, so when home, we've just been hanging out and putting what little we have away. And cleaning. We have been cleaning pretty much nonstop, since it rains every day and we have tile floors. After I finished two of the mystery shops, it looked like rain, so we headed to an indoor-outdoor mall just to walk around. It ended up only raining three small droplets, but on the plus side, we discovered we were in exactly the right place for my last shop of the day! The first shop we came across was It's Sugar, a mega-huge candy store.


Rob picked up this huge 5-lb jawbreaker. Can you imagine? How would you eat that?!


Sophia found this mondo wall of Peeps and stuffed Peeps toys. This picture only shows a small fraction of what was there. It was cray-cray!


We found so many humongo things in this store. It was ridick! This picture made an impression on my Facebook friends, too. It got tons of 'likes' and comments throughout the evening. Can you see why? Look at that stuff! It was a real-life Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs in there!


After we finished up at the sugar shack, we headed across the way to the Disney Store. I asked the guy about pricing for military families, since we plan to head up there and do that thang sometime during our existence here, but he had no clue. Then he gave the girls some coloring pages and crayons to color with, while I watched and the boys browsed. We had no intentions of buying things, and we didn't, since I'd barely brought enough money to do my shops.


Jack was so cute with these Wreck-It Ralph gloves. We'd just gotten the DVD in the mail before we left Virginia, from Amazon or something, so the kids watched it several times on the way down here and are now in love with the flick. He was all over the WIR display there. I love this face on him!


After the Disney Store, we meandered into Barnes & Noble to poke around. I remembered we needed to get Rob a study guide for the SAT, which he needs to get into his planned nursing course of study here at Florida International University. I found one and hoped they would give me my teacher's discount, but of course I didn't have any kind of ID they would use, and my ID in their system had expired several years ago. So... they refused. Bummer! But I was still able to get Rob the book, and now mah boy is gittin' ready for college!


I had a few quarters in my satchel, so we walked over to this carousel to let the kiddos take a spin. Only, when I put the quarters in and pressed "Start," the music started but the ride did not. I pressed "Start" a million times to no avail. Finally, I gave the ride a push in the right direction, and it went. Boom! Ta-da!


One fish for each kid - how convenient!


It's hard to see in this picture, but underneath the fish, behind that wall, was a sheer wall of water that the kids wanted to plunge into right away. Sophia would have if we'd blinked, too, I bet.


Daddy spinning Chloë, after spinning her younger brother and sister... we were all pretty wound up by that point!


I simply adore this photo of Sophia dipping her hand in yet another fountain, after the sun had gone down for the night.


Posing with my mini-me


I have absolutely nothing to say about this picture, other than we liked the structure behind them and we found another Johnny Rockets right next to it. Our new favorite restaurant... well, for that night. One of many, really.


Finally, Rob and the Bigs sat in the van in the parking garage watching another DVD - this time Frankenweenie, which we had also just gotten delivered from Amazon to the hotel room before we left it - while Sophia and I did the last mystery shop of the night. After buying Rob's SAT study guide, I didn't have enough money for all of us to do the shop, so I took Sophie since (a) she wanted it most, and (b) this is her birthday month. Made her happy!

After that, we headed home - home!! - and I got wicked dizzy, not for the first time. I realized it stopped when we were at a light, and at the gas station filling up - and started up again when I drove. It worsened when I accelerated. So now we need to figure that out and take care of yet another Melanie issue.


No pictures again from this day. I spent Thursday night through Saturday morning in "bed," such as it is (which consists of sleeping bags on the hard tile floor, yech), suffering from caffeine-withdrawal headaches and over-tiredness. So was Friday. Rob and the kids didn't do much other than finally go get the electric and water turned on in our name, now that we had the lease in our hands. We prayed and prayed, since we didn't have the money until payday, and God answered our prayers: they waived the security deposit since he was in the military, and put the $40-some connection fee toward the first bill. Hallelujah! Now if we could just find a ladder to borrow to put the new batteries we bought in the forever-chirping smoke detectors!

Well, I'm going to cut off here, 'cause I'm getting kinda tired and that means you're probably getting tired of reading! I'll post more later or tomorrow. Cheers to all!


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!

Sunday Stealing On A Tuesday

Linky linky is here, pals, friends and chums!



101. What does happiness/joy feel like physically? 

Warm and fuzzy, like an itty bitty bunny ... ♥

102. List five things you love starting with the one you love the absolute most. (My interpretation: People aren't things, so I'm not including them!)

A - Yarn. Natural, vibrant, soft, knittable YARN.

B - My iPhone 5!

C - The beach

D - Singing a great song at the top of my lungs while driving with the windows down on a warm day

E - Itty bitty babies, whether they're people or other animals

103. How many movies have you gone to see this year? 

We just went to the movies on Thursday for a mystery shop! Once, so far in 2013. It was Escape From Planet Earth, and I really liked it. It was surprisingly good! I want to get the DVD.

104. If you could have 3 wishes...but none of them could be for yourself, what would you wish for? 

A - I would wish for lots more money for my husband. ;) (What? I didn't SAY he had to share!) (But he would.)

B - I would wish for an end to all the world's "issues" caused by the exponential population growth of human beings.

C - I would wish for mandatory parenting classes for all first-time parents. I've seen some bad shit, man.

105. In what ways do you relax and de-stress when you are really tense? 

If it's that bad, I have to pop a Klonopin. And then, if I can't nap, I'll read a bunch of magazines and/or knit something mindlessly simple.

106. How much money would it take to get you to sell your blog address?

I don't know. At least tuppence.

107. Have you ever been hunting?

LOL I thought that said "hurting," and I was all, have you met me?! No. I have never been hunting. I never will, either. Bambi's safe from me. 

108. Have you attempted this 5000 question meme in the past?

I don't know, but probably. I've been blogging for a while now!

109. What do you think of cloning? 

Everything in moderation. The world doesn't NEED another me or you, but repetition certainly has its place.

110. Do you read or watch TV more often? 

Since we don't have TV, it's pretty much reading by default.

111. With all this talk of terrorism going around are you willing to sacrifice rights and freedoms for increased safety?

Pfft. If you're not constitutionally allowed to go into a crowded movie theater and yell "FIRE!" then even the 2nd Amendment has its limits, thank you so much. Anyone who thinks that the right to bear arms should be absolutely limitless is a TOTAL FUCKING MORON, and I have no problems saying that to ANYONE. And yes, this is a bit of a passionate issue for me. ;)

112. What is the punishment you would have come up with for Osama Bin Laden if you caught him alive? 

I don't know, an eye for an eye, I guess. So would I put him on a suicide plane mission? No. Would I put him on the plane as a terrified passenger? No. Top of a tower about to be hit by a plane? Nope. I would make him love someone with all his heart and soul and then have to bear the pain when that person was tragically ripped from his life forever. Worst pain ever. I know.

113. Have you ever named an individual part of your body?

No. However, I am an odd duck, and I feel bad for my left hand for not getting as much use as my righty, so I often favor it to give it more attention. Wow. I can't believe I'm admitting such kookiness so publicly! 

114. Have you ever been on the radio or on TV? 

Yeah, both. I posted here recently about the rug store commercial I was on when I was a kid. I have also been interviewed on a radio station about my charity in memory of our son. Twice. That was pretty cool.

115. Have you ever won a lottery or sweepstakes? 

I have won a few things, but I'll be darned if I can remember any of them at the moment. Oh, and when I turned 18, I won about $3.50 the first time I played the lottery. The next two weeks, I didn't win anything. Haven't played since.

116. Have you ever won a contest or competition? 

Similarly, yes, several things, but I'm hard-pressed to name them!

117. Have you ever watched The Joy of Painting show with Bob Ross (check out this link if you don't know who he is.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Ross_(painter)? 

Yeah, but I like the South Park version of Bob better than the real one! 

118. Do you know what your grandparents and your great-grandparents did for a living? 

My mom's dad worked at Tingue Brown as a factory laundry installer for many years. He was a hard-working man up until he died. 

My mom's mom was ... a stay-home mom, I guess? I really don't know if she worked before I came along, ever.

My dad's dad also did hard physical labor, but I can't remember the specifics. Both he and dad's mom died before I was born.

I haven't a clue what the greats did. However, my great-aunt (dad's side) was a longtime secretary for Exxon corporate.

119. Is there anything really interesting in your family history? 

I tend to think so. My dad's side of the family came from Germany to the Caribbean island of Saba several generations ago. It's a very tiny, not well-known isle, with historically unfriendly harbors, so you have to fly to get there. My dad's father was born there, along with his older sister. The great-aunt, Amy, mentioned above, was born in New York City, though. So I'm a 2nd generation American, right?

On my mom's side, my grandparents met just before World War II. My grandpa asked Grandma out, but she turned him down. She did NOT like him. Then he left to join the Navy and go fight in the war. When he got home, she had had a change of heart and started dating him. Three kids, five granddaughters, and six great-grandkids (so far) have come from that union!

120. Is there anyone you trust completely? 

Do I trust anyone 100%? Hmm. Not myself, definitely; I'm too impulsive. I couldn't think of anyone I trusted completely for a while, but now that I think about it, I trust my therapist that much. Maybe she's an odd choice, but she is absolutely fabulous. I'm really sad to be leaving her behind when we move in a few weeks. We've talked about doing remote therapy, though...

Oh, wow. I didn't realize I was at the end, here.

Welp, have a great week, y'all! I'll have more to post soon. 


Wordy Wednesday Times Two - A Look Back On February

Just because, y'know, I barely posted, and I know how much all three of you (if I even have THAT many readers left; holla if you're still here!) want to keep up with us! ;)


In the beginning, Sophie got up in the middle of the night to play with a new set of LEGO Friends


We went out for that Japanese hibachi dinner I mentioned... and I had scallops. I'm going to return to vegetarianism when we move back to Miami, if not sooner, so this was a penultimate hurrah.


I snagged a bunch of cool K'nex toys (and similar) from a friend for Jack, and the boys have spent HOURS playing and building.


We visited my buddy Saritah and had a fantabuloso time - hope to do it again soon, too!


I started "collecting" vanity plates again - this one makes me snicker.


The kiddies and I had a delishimus lunch at Panera, a longtime fave of ours.


The kiddos took their last month of instrument lessons - well, Chloë (piccolo/flute) and Jack (keyboard) did. Sophie gave up (guitar) several months ago. :\


Sophie played with the make-up set I gave her and Chloë; afterward, she ran up to me doing this, and said, "Mommy, I'm a zombie clown!" I died laughing.


Pepper-the-adorablest-cat-ever and Chloë continued their mutual admiration.


We brought Rob lunch at work and spent some lovey-dovey time together.


The girls picked out my outfit, and I actually really liked it. So we skipped to my Lou, my darlin'.


Donuts were enjoyed.


One of several visits to Sweet Frog for froyo, a NEW fave of ours


We went to Chuck E. Cheese's a couple times, a kind of guilty pleasure for me.


These boys: two peas in a pod.


This was before The Brawl That Started It All.


The girls, hanging out with their boots, as Sophia put it


Rob and I both had to do a double-take for this one! Really??!


This isn't a great picture - from another mystery shop - but Jacky looks so cute in it, I wanted to share.


And finally, I discovered a new app: Tadaa!

So. What's new with YOU?


(Not-So-) Wordless Wednesday: Latest Exploits

Link up here if you're any degree of Wordless today!


You may be able to figure out where we went on a mystery shop several times recently in the Outer Banks of North Carolina from the packaging in Rob's lap... Not such a flattering picture, but it makes me laugh, so here it is! I haven't been mystery shopping much at ALL lately, but when it pays well, I try to go!


Here's Chloë at Sweet Frog after the mystery shop - they look forward to going at every opportunity! Looks like we'll have to find a new FroYo place when we move to Miami, though, unless we go up to the Fort Launderdale area - sorry, kids!


Chloë's kitten, Pepper, has really been thriving after his scare in the animal ER when we first got him. Two blood transfusions later, and he now weighs exactly the same as Ginger, his twin and Sophia's kitten. Woohoo for that!


Rob, loving on Pepper and Ginger recently - we love our "grandcats" as much as the girls do!


After being sidelined for 6-8 weeks with medication issues, I'm finally back to knitting these doll sweaters for my friend Amy's Waldorf-inspired handmade dolls. She had commissioned me way back in the early Autumn, 2012, and I had been doing well, but the meds screwed up my progress for her Christmas doll deliveries. I feel terrible about that. Hopefully I can start to make up for it for her now...


Some more sweaters... You can check out Amy's dolls and her Etsy shop, Itsystitch, here - so cute!! I would love to get a doll for myself one day. ☺


That's me! A friend wanted a close-up shot, with an actual smile, after I posted about my four-year gastric bypass anniversary the other day. My full-body shot was quite candid, as you can see here, so he wanted a better view. Here ya go, folks! ;)


And finally, to celebrate my "surgiversary," we did - what else? - some eating. Ha! I was craving Chinese food, so we ordered in a bunch. I couldn't get much down, of course, and I couldn't keep it down, either, so it was rather disappointing. Ah, well. Here's a shot of the kids trying to learn how to use chopsticks, which was rather amusing in person. I love Jack's expression, haha... and yes, the kitchen has since been cleaned up and dishes washed. We are soooo lazy on the weekends, typically!

Have a great Hump Day, y'all!


Advent-ures 2012, Days 1-3

Hoffler Creek

So three days of our Advent 2012 calendar in, and it's kind of a half-fail. December 1st, the activity on the calendar was "1. Nautical Holidays – make your own nautical-themed ornaments @ Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum 10 AM – 5 PM AND/OR Games, Arts & Crafts, etc. @ VA Sports Hall of Fame 11 AM – 3 PM AND/OR Make Holiday Crafts @ Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve 2-4 PM."

So. Chloë had her piccolo lesson at noon that day:


(and yes, she technically was supposed to be taking flute lessons, but she's a wee pixie, and the flute was too big for her, so for now, it's the piccolo).

After her lesson, I ran a few much-needed errands, so by the time we got home, it was after 1400. I offered up the activities on the list to the kids, and they chose to just go to the Hoffler Creek Preserve to make crafts. Okay, fine.

Rob took them to the preserve sans moi, because I was exhaaaaaausted and needed a "nap," (which turned out to be a marathon catch-up sleep session), and there turned out to be nary a craft at the preserve. They were all, "What crafts?" and had nothing. Um, that's cool, so whatever. Rob and the kiddos went for a hike out on a trail in the woods intead, but do you think he took any pictures for me? Of course he didn't. Boo.

They had a great time anyway, crafts or no, and saw some ducks. I don't know what, if anything, else they saw, but I did hear tell that apparently three kids in the woods are generally too loud to see much else, because they scare away the aminals? Yeah, mine don't shush well. So. That was Day One.


On the 2nd day of our 2012 Advent calendar, the activity was: "2. Learn to knit, do origami, and/or do fun Christmas print-out activities!" However, I had to do some, uh, shops of the mystery variety down the upper stretch of the Outer Banks, so we rented a bunch of movies from the Redbox, put the kids in the car, and went, figuring on doing the activity(ies) upon our return to the homestead.


Here's my man getting gas. We needed some. I took a picture. There's that story.


And if you look hard, you can see him in the 7-Eleven there, getting me a Diet Coke refill. We did that a bunch during our annual OBX pilgrimage, too. I found it interesting, and commented many times during the drive, that SO MANY NEW THINGS have sprung up down in that place. I thought it was cool to see all the new things, but on the other hand, a little sad that Big Box has taken over the "mom-and-pop kitschy-beachy" feel of the Outer Banks quite a bit. Progress? You decide.


The kids watched Arthur Christmas and 12 Dogs of Christmas during the drive; as you can see Sophia was locked onto the screen during their little viewing party. I rented four movies, but we haven't gotten to the two others yet, and I haven't returned them to the Redbox. Yay, late fees. Arthur sounded like a really fun flick, from my driver's seat hearing position, and even Rob enjoyed it, so I recommend that if you have and your kiddos haven't seen it yet! Hubs and I talked to each other a lot during the other movie, so I can't really comment on that, but there was a lot of "awww"-ing from the back of the van, if that helps.


When we got back here, it was decided that we would go do our big grocery shopping trip together, so the Advent activities were pushed back even further. Note that the girls both wanted to learn to knit, but Jack absolutely did not, no matter what we tried to convince him; no one wanted to do origami; and, everyone wanted to do fun Christmas printables.

001 (2)

Knitting took a pause for a later date, as it was lay-hay-ate by the time we got home from the shopping, but I did allow the kids to do the printables. There were mazes, dot-to-dots, word searches, bookmarks with jokes, and so on, which I searched for all over the Interwebs, so no linkage, sorreh. They're easy to find, however. Remember to use Swagbucks for your searching, to rack up those rewards! Anyhoo, the kids really enjoyed that and kept asking for more, so I guess that part wasn't a fail. (Eek about all the paper and ink I used, but nevermind that.)


On the 3rd day, the Advent activity was: "3. Holiday Lights at the Beach – Military Mondays 20% off!"

The plan was to go after Jack's Cub Scout meeting, but, uh, while the boy and his father were gone, I fell asleep and didn't wake until a few hours ago; 0230 to be precise. The kids were a bit disappointed, but I'll bump that to later in the month, so we won't entirely miss out on that, an annual tradition for us.

I did accomplish something, though. Normally, Rob does all the dinner cooking, especially in this house, since I hate the kitchen, half our crap is still at the old house, and did I mention I hate the kitchen?? However, I got a bug up my arse to actually accomplish some housewifery yesterday, and I washed the humongous pile of dishes that were taking over the sink and half the nation, so I could give The Bob the night off from cooking and make a delicious dinner that would be ready for him when he got home, exhausted from work. (The kids helped: they dried and put away the dishes and did some other various and sundry tidying-up chores while I prepared the sup.)

Dinner was a pork loin, cooked on the stovetop in a pot with the usual roast veggies: potatoes, onions, and carrots, along with a bunch of garlic thrown in for good measure, salt-and-peppered to who-knows-who's taste, since, natch, I don't eat pork (mammal-free since 1995, give or take a few lapses I won't mention now) and wasn't about to sample my own cooking. 

I decided to make dessert, too, and opted for baked apples, which I'd never done before but had long wanted to try. I used this recipe as a starting point, with the addition of oats to the hollowed-out Granny Smiths, and a cooking time of 30 minutes rather than 15.

The chiquiniños watched me make dinner and dessert, and they thought the addition of butter to the apples was disgusting!! They were vehemently opposed to trying the apples on the before side, but when I served the baked cinnamony goodness alongside their roasted pork an' veggies, they decided the after was quite edible, indeed. Jack didn't eat too much, having filled up on pork (he's my meat kid; Sophie's my fruit kid, and Chloë is my picky, depends-on-the-moment kid), so I ate some of his (in addition to my hummus dinner), and it was delicious!


I don't normally eat with the family anymore, since my gastric bypass surgery (nearly four years ago, wow!), because I'm finished eating in approximately 13½ seconds when Oscar-the-pouch is full, and it's incredibly agitating to me to watch everyone eating for another ten, twenty, thirty... you get the drift...  minutes, when I have so much else I could be (and would rather be) doing. It's kind of sucky on my part, which I realized in full when the kids were so ecstatic over my joining them for the recent Thanksgiving repast.

So I sat with them today, to watch them enjoy the meal I'd made, because I do love so when I cook and it turns out well, and the eaters of such like it and compliment the food and so on and so forth. I normally am quite horrible at accepting compliments, but because of my stepmother's excessive criticism about cooking-related everything during my formative years, I live for cooking-related accolades! And all four of them loved the meal (though the girls kept thinking the pork was chicken, not that I cared, as long as they ate it), so I was well-pleased. Well-pleased was I, yes.

And then, while I was washing up the dinner dishes, the boys readied themselves for their den meeting, and Sophia did Sophia things, Chloë, who was helping dry and put away said dishes, said to me, "I hope tomorrow is just like today."

Of course, I asked the inevitable, "What do you mean?"

And do you know what that child said to me? She replied, "I mean, I hope you cook a yummy dinner again, that's ready when Daddy gets home from work, and sit down with us for dinner. I really liked that."

You could have knocked me over with a feather, when she said the part about dinner being ready for Daddy when he got home from work. Seriously? It was a revelation for me. It was a total 1950s moment, kinda, but I mean that in a good way. I envisioned what tonight looked like from the kids' perspectives, compared to my usual snubbing of dinner, and wow. It meant so much to them, that I cooked, and joined them, and all, and I felt great about having done so. (I'd had my meds, so I was able to turn off the "I feel like crap about every other day" thoughts that tried to push in.)

So yeah. We didn't do the lights on the beach, but that happened, and it was pretty awesome, so I'm calling Day Three a mostly-win. Okay with you?

And yes, I'm going to cook dinner tonight, and probably the next, and yes, the week's menu plan was already in my head eleven seconds after Chloë said that. And I'm feeling a weird feeling I don't often get, and I think it's what they call "happy."

Stay tuned for more Advent-ures!


A Day (And A Half) In The Life...


It was Road Trip time again for the four youngest members of Team Odette this past weekend. Rob couldn't go, because he had duty and had to stand watch. Suck. I was hoping he'd be able to join, but alack and alas, no such luck this time.  I'm going to present the 36 hours in chronological, timeline format, which I hope is interesting and not dreadfully dull. If it is, be sure and tell me, and I'll go weep in the corner with self-pity. Um, yeah. So away we go!


1230: The children and I set off from our home in Portsmouth, VA, to points northward. Washington, D.C., to be specific. The trip should've taken 3-3½ hours, but ends up taking a little longer because of some heavy duty weekend traffic out of Hampton Roads.

1630: We arrive in downtown D.C. Because I've been chugging beverages all along the route, and despite a rest stop, my enormous bladder is full to burstin'. I finally find somewhere to park and then realize I have zippo change for the bloody meter, which doesn't take the $1 coins I received for change from my $20 bill at the rest stop vending machine. Arghhh!


1630-1700: We race around, finding plenty of signs like the above, first to get change for the meter (18 minutes' worth for a buck, ugh) and then find a place to make weewee. Nowhere. Nowhere to GO! Finally, at last, and por fin, I found a restaurant that would allow us to use the facilities. How do you spell relief?!


Relief. Get it?!!

1700: I now have exactly one hour left to complete the mystery shop I'm there to do, which necessarily has to take a full hour. I'm cutting it short on time. It takes me five minutes to find a parking space in the zone of my shop, which I'll explain more about later, and it is a pay-by-app or -phone spot. The app won't download - no signal in D.C.? Really?! - so I call the number. I have to give my license plate info first: CARE PKG. I spell it once, twice, thrice, and the system hangs up on me after successive failures. Repeat once more. The third time, I get smart and spell it phonetically: Charlie Alpha Romeo Echo Papa Kilo Golf. Success! But then... after setting up my credit card number and getting an account established, I input the parking meter number, and the system tells me that I cannot park there after 4:00 PM on weekdays. Then,

LOTS of them.

1725: I call my scheduler, give him the lowdown on the sitchy-ation, and ask if I can come back to do the evaluation on the 'morrow. He shuffles around some assignments, 'cause it matters whether it's done on the weekend or a weekday, and gives me the green light. Whew. We head out of the District, north to Maryland.


1820: We make it to the hotel where I'm doing a mystery shop that night, check in, throw our stuff in our room, and head back out to go do yet another mystery shop.


1955: After stopping at McD's to grab the kids some dinner and getting lost a few times, we arrive due west for our next mission: three games of laser tag! The kids are overjoyed; I've surprised them with this gig. They LOVE laser tag, having played it for shops twice before, and are now downright giddy. I have another surprise in store for them, too:


My old college pal Play-Doh, from our joint alma mater,


works nearby and met us there to play, too! The kids LOVE Play-Doh, and now they were brimming with the energy of crazed children that only comes out when the excitement is extreme. You parents know what I'm talkin' 'bout! They were all over him, jumping on him, climbing on him, etc., in a heartbeat, and I could barely get in a hug. The five of us had a blast playing laser tag (I kicked PD's arse 2 out of 3 times, woot), arcade games, snacking, and hanging out, until my shop was complete.

2215: We parted ways with PD and headed back East to the hotel. I got lost again a few more times. Dang, I miss Sue, my GPS! I had my iPhone GPS, but it just ain't the same.


2330: Tired - nay, exhausted - and gross from the long day in the car and games, I quickly do what I need to for the shop that night, before plopping the kids in front of the tube (because they're waaaay too wound up to sleep at this point), while I go soak in the tub. Ahhh.


0015: I'm still working on getting my as-yet-hyper babes to sleep, while trying to get some work done on the laptop. I'm unsuccessful at both, so I give up trying. All the lights get turned out, I set my alarm, and crash. I assume the kids do, too.


0830: I wake up just in time to go have breakfast before they shut it down, then head back to the room and crash some more. I'm soooo tired still.


1200: The kids and I finally rouse ourselves, an hour past check-out time. I've totally slept through my alarm and wake-up call. Whoops! We take 15 minutes and race around the room, getting dressed, packing up, and movin' on out. I go check out at the front desk, where I obviously don't look as shabby as I think I do, because the clerk is practically undressing me with his eyes. He's cute, so I let him. Ha.


1340: We arrive back in the zone of my evaluation of the streets of D.C. and park. I can't really tell you too much about it, other than that I'm basically mystery shopping the city itself. Yes, I'm that badass. I kid, I kid. We walk around my assign streets, doing what I need to be doing, and the kids all develop blisters as we go. The streets are clean enough, so I let them go barefoot. In downtown Washington, D.C. In the summer. On hot sidewalk granite. I'm an excellent mother. :\  We come across this little pond, an oasis in the desert city, and they look longingly at it. I look around, see no one in authority to stop us, and quickly let them dip their feet in the pondlet. They gab on and on about how good it feels. On we march, to finish the job.


When we come back across the Washington Monument, which the kids easily recognize in such a monument-filled ciudad, the kids insist on having their picture taken in front. Note that I'm still camera-less, save my iPhone, so quality is less than awesome.


1520: I finish my assignment, and we get back to the vicinity of the car park where Penelope is waiting. I know Play-Doh is busy studying in Georgetown for a major upcoming exam, so I call him up and offer to bring him some lunch for a study break. He happily accepts.


1610: After getting lost a few more times (!!!), we finally find la escuela where PD is studying. Immediately, the kids jump out of the car and begin climbing all over him again. PD is child-free, so far, so I offer him a few of my own. He laughingly declines. I try to get a decent picture of the kids and Play-Doh and end up with this lovely work of art:


Gee, thanks for putting the sammich down for 30 seconds, Jack! Sheesh!!

A little more chit-chat, a few more hugs, and PD is off to get back to studying.


1630: We head back out of the District, back into Virginia, for our next destination in Williamsburg, for another surprise mystery shopping assignment for the kids.


1845: We arrive at our destination at last, to the kids' total excitement. They are having way too much fun on this trip! We head in and go look at a bunch of weird, wild and wacky shiznat.


Like, this maneless, albino male lion, which the kids insist over my protests is a tiger...


... and this two-headed calf, which Sophia obviously thinks is wicked crazy.


I let them play the target-shootin' game, and it turns out that Jack is quite the ace with a BB gun! The girls each get a shot or two in, but Jack manages about ten! Nice. Maybe he'll grow up to be an expert marksman like his daddy is.


Sophia was busy looking at this slow-fast-slow-fast motion demo, when Chloë hollered at her to come try the laser obstacle course room. Oh, and we went through this groovy tunnel on a bridge, made with an optical illusion effect so you think you're spinning around and going upside-down instead of just walking straight through it. I loved it; meanwhile, it made all three children CRY. Yes, cry. Group hug time.


Feeling badly, I let the kids do the claw machine, which we all know never works. You never win these things. Ever. But guess what?! On the first time, Jack and I tag-teamed that bad boy and won these kids a one-eyed stuffed puppy they named Ripley. Woot!


Before we leave to go next door and watch the 4D movie, I insist we all get in the photo booth for a group sesh. Here's the result. We so crazeh!

2020: Finally, we're done with our shops and are ready to head home. I text Rob and tell him that we'll see him in about an hour. Ha. HA! I say.


1159: Over 3½ hours later, because the main Interstate (64) from the Peninsula down to the Southside of Hampton Roads is closed for the weekend at the same time as another alternate route in what can only be described as the most brilliant fecking move EVER, leaving the entirety of Hampton Roads to bottleneck through the last remaining resort, we get home. That, up there, is a full bladder. All of us had one, though mine had to have been about 90x that size, I swear. I barely made it!

That brings us to the end of our journey. But one more thing. You may have read a recent Friday Fragments post in which I challenged you, my readers, to play me on Words With Friends? Well, one such soul decided to take me up on that, and I spent the weekend being positively TROUNCED by such individual. My pride is wounded. I rarely get beaten, and never so badly, so I have a message for you, KO:


Imma gonna getcha! May take me 100 games, but when I do, well... Imma put a hurtin' on ya! ;)

Have a great week, pals!


Friday Fragments

Friday Fragments

It's that time again, when all the bits and pieces floating around in the ol' noggin get gathered together and shared with Mrs.4444 at Half Past Kissin' Time. Join us here, won't you?

First things first. My keyboard is driving me crazy. I don't know what's going on with it, but it's skipping letters and symbols I'm typing, like, every four characters. How do I fix it, other than replacing it? I'm afraid I don't know. And since I've just had to replace BOTH my fried hard drive and, a week later, my monitor, I'm thrilled to death at the prospect. :\

Secondarily, I've been on a major mystery shopping spree lately. I go through fits and starts where I'll go nuts doing tons of shops and then get burned out and refuse all but the most plum assignments. This is the 'nuts' part, which it seems I always do in the summertime. It's fine, because we get to have lots of fun, travel, and lots of paychecks come in to boot! Once September comes 'round, I'll slow down and get back into the school groove with the kids full-time, so it's now or never next year.


One such shop was last Thursday, a trip with me and five kids 7-11 years, to our local waterpark. Oy vey. I paired everyone up: Chloë with her little beau, Jack with his bestie (the beau's younger brother), and Sophia with - Mama didn't raise no fool - ME. Guess who behaved the best out of all of them? If you know anything about my kids, you'll be shocked to hear it was Sophie. Chloë and Beau disappeared without checking back in for HOURS, Jack and Bestie kept splitting up, and Sophia stuck by my side and did everything she was told to do. Now that's crazytown. Like a parallel universe.


Last night's series of shops found us driving all over the Hampton Roads area - well, the Southside, anyway, not the Peninsula - and all the way up the Eastern Shore of Virginia, almost to Maryland.  Yes, it pays well, or else I wouldn't put that much gas into it! This picture is cruising along on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT), before we hit the Eastern Shore. I like Virginia's ES okay, but it's not very beachy-kitschy, which I tend to prefer. I like the scene in North Carolina's Outer Banks better - and the Florida Keys best. Wonder what I'll think of the San Diego area??

August 2012

Of course, mystery shopping involves lots of dining out, so we found ourselves at a popular steakhouse on kids' night Tuesday, where the kiddos had a great time getting these balloon animals and such. Sorry for the poor photo quality; guess I need to clean my iPhone lens!


Aside from shops, there's this latest excitement in the house: I'm signing the kids up for lessons on their respective instruments, starting in September. Chloë's had her flute, and Sophia her guitar, for a while now with no action, so it's time we got into it. Jack settled on keyboarding, so we went to the music lesson shop tonight and picked him out the starter model. Can you believe this thing? When I was his age, a similarly-priced Casio was given to me, and it was about 1/100th as cool, with way fewer bells and whistles. He's absolutely giddy over it, which I love to see.

I can't wait to see how they do, learning music professionally. There's a slight chance I might give up my role as their voice teacher and get lessons in that as well, but I'm not sure the budget will allow for it. Besides, I've been classically trained, and despite the fact that it's been 18 years since I sang in an ensemble, I still know a thing or two about singing. So we'll see.

I have a billion other things going on, but I should get some rest. I'm taking the older two and myself to the doctors' offices for various ailments tomorrow afternoon, and then Rob and I have a mystery shop date at a bar. So I'll leave you with these latest personalized plates spotted around town:


AWESEEM!!! I don't know why I like this one very much, but I do. It tickles my fancy.


What the what?! Someone explain it to me. For the longest time, I thought it was somethin like "SEX PIMP," (hee) until it dawned on me that it might be "PMS EXPERT" or something. But why in Heaven's name would you want to advertise that?!


And finally, an "aww" one: This parent is proud of her/his "TWO LITTLE PEAS." Cute stuff.

Anyway, I hope you all have a weekend of fabulosity, and I'll fill you in on the fun stuff we're doing next week. Same place, same time. 'K?


Friday Fragments

Friday Fragments

Link up with Mrs. 4444 if you're torn to bits today!

I hope all of you Americanos had a nice Independence Day! I didn't. It's my favorite holiday, but Hubs was being a jerk in the morning and ruined my day, along with my desire to go do anything celebratory. Humph. Didn't even see a single firework, though I heard plenty of kabooms near the house!

Still not done moving. It's getting to be a big, fat joke, ain't it??

New York was fun, yet fast and furious. Lots of work for me, yet lots of fun for the kids. Here's a quick sneak peek, since I have yet to write a post about it yet on the blahg:


Poor Jack, he loves being squididdled by his sisters SO much!! ;)

After the theme park shops were done, we got to go see my sister and watch my nieces' soccer game. It was a good one, really exciting. They were by far the underdogs, but they lost 2-1 in double overtime, which was great for them. Here are some pictures, if you care to see her lovely ladies!

After the game, we went back to Stacey's house and had dinner before heading back home to Virginia. They have SO many pets, most being bred for selling or feeding those that they're selling. We're talking, like, a hundred ball pythons in the basement, for starters. They won't tell Stacey the true number, so I could be way off in either direction, but a LOT!

Anyway, it was wonderful seeing my sister after 1½ years apart, which was the main perk for why I took a shop so far away. ;)

I drove all night to get back in time to let Rob drive the van to work Monday, since his motorcycle ride didn't go too well last Friday after all. He's still too sore after quadruple hernia surgery. So now I'm way off my sleep schedule and have been up all night and sleeping much of the days since. Sucks, but I'm going to have to break this cycle starting TODAY and get back to moving, moving, moving...

Guess that's all in my head right now. I don't have any license plate photos this week. Been too busy recuperating and hibernating myself!

Have a great weekend, y'all!


Wordless Wednesday III: Lunch With The Littles


More pictures from May... on this day, we had a lunch mystery shop. We really enjoyed these gliding tables. They cost a fortune, but maybe Handy Rob can build us one sometime. =D


I think this is one of the more adorable pictures of Sophia in existence. Do you?


The lunch was at a local marina, so of course we all walked around looking at boat post-meal. The dream lives on...

I won't link up any more WW posts this week, but look for I and II if you need linkage! ;)


Friday Fragments

Friday Fragments

Link up here if you're fragmenting today!

My word! My last blahg post was FF two WEEKS ago!!! I have had so much going on, something had to give, and I suppose this time it was blogging. I'll try not to do all my catching up in THIS post, else YOU will disappear for a fornight. ;)

My husband is turning 40 at the end of August, and - half because I've been waiting two years for this and half because everyone is so far away, I wanted to give interested parties time to plan - I set up the event and sent invites last night on Facebook. Too soon? Hey, wanna come?? :D

When last I posted, we were well into a move that still continues. We're now into week four. I actually had friends and plans to rent a truck lined up to finish the job tomorrow, but a big bill that I had forgotten about came through our account yesterday, leaving us with, like, 43¢ to our names. Awesome! And since I'll be away for a big mystery shopping gig next weekend, who knows when the rest of our stuff will ever make it over here?! I'm so peevish about the whole thing. Friends, take it from me: Never decide to move the day before you actually do. I know at least one reader here who will at least think, "Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance!" And she'd be right.

I also told you that my oldest child, Chloë, was up for a role in a TV show. Well, she got it! It filmed all last week. I want to devote a whole post to that occasion, so stay tuned if you're interested in hearing more about that. I will say it was a great opportunity for her to grow and learn as an actor, and for me as a young actor's mother! The cast and crew were like family, and we really miss them.

It deluged this afternoon, and now we're stuck in our new house with the road flooded out. Good thing our house - and van - are situated on high ground, so no concern there, but we did interestedly watch several vehicles try to go through about 4' of water, including an emergency vehicle, at rather high speeds uncalled for in the situation. One got stuck and had to get out and push for a minute. Rob, my hubs, didn't get out and help, because...

He had a quadruple surgical hernia/hydrocele repair last week and is still in major pain. (As opposed to usual when he IS a major pain. Kidding, that would be me.) So he watched from the window and kept a runnng commentary on the poor sap who tried to drive through a flood. Anyway, if you were wondering, he was recovering nicely while still on narcotics, but his pain levels are not well managed now that he's run out and refuses to ask for more of those delightful drogas. We rival each other in stubbornness nicely.


We transported our son Robby's urn over to the new house without mishap, I'm happy to report. I was anxious about it for days and did NOT want to place my baby in a box with foam and bubble wrap (he might suffocate! thinks the irrationally bereaved part of my mind), so I finally found the right trip when Rob didn't have much else to worry about and let him carry Robby, er, his urn, in his arms. It worked perfectly, and our baby boy is now safely perched in our closet until furniture comes. Hey, he can breathe in a closet.


(I've edited this picture down over and over, to no avail; it wants to stay this way.) Rob snatched this picture for me on his iPhone after I spotted it on the interstate: "GIGIDDY." Are you fans of the TV show "Family Guy"? If so, you'll be amused, too. If not, carry on, then!


I snagged this one in the McDonald's drive-thru lane. A nice, cheery message; I like it!


This was my room last night, covered in clean laundry that couldn't be put anywhere until we brought the hangers you see in the foreground, there, over from the old house. I've about used all of those up, so the job is only half done until the dressers are brought over here, too. I hate it!


Welp, that's about all from me, so I'm going to make like Sophia here in my beret and Peace OUT!!


Friday Fragments

Friday Fragments

Link up here if you're fragmenting with Mrs. 4444 today!

Time flies 

Is anyone else shocked it's May already? For Heaven's sake, our pool will be open in 3 weeks already! I can't believe how fast the time is flying. We are so busy all of the time, it's almost hard to keep up with flipping the calendar pages, I swear. Man. I wish I could clap my hands and stop time temporarily, and just... breathe.


I haven't been here in a few weeks, again, because of our packed schedule. Aside from our usual nutso routines, we've had a billion and one doctors' appointment, and Rob's had an accident that has kept me occupied carting him to those, work, and everywhere else, so... I am off my blog routine again. But! I am here now, and that's what counts, amiriiight?


King neptune

If you've ever thought about visiting my town, Virginia Beach, I just wrote this sponsored blog post about many of my favorite places and things to do here. Check it out if you're interested!

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I love this cute picture of Jack eating wings during a mystery shop a couple of days ago.  With the watch and everything, he looks so grown up! For a nine-year-old shrimp, that is. I've been doing lots of mystery shopping again lately to make some much-needed extra fundage. It's fun, but man, all the reports! Ugh.


I swear, Virginia must be the vanity plate capital of the world. They're so cheap here, after all. Even I have one! I'm going to start taking pictures of the ones that amuse or interest me and posting them as part of my Fragments posts each week (or month, as it were). Can you see this one that I snapped today? It says "RR M8T." Arggghh, Matey! Hee. Do you have vanity plates?


On Wednesday, the kids took part in the coolest thing. We drove up to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA, to attend a special event: a ham radio chat - which NASA said couldn't be done - with International Space Station Astronaut Donald Pettit! Here, the kids first learned about the early age of exploration, in the times before, during and after Columbus' life, so they could later relate that Age of Exploration to the current Space Exploration.


Then, we migrated over to the closed studio, where we connected with three classes (in New York, Michigan, and Louisiana) and the astronaut in outer space, about 400 km above Earth, over Italy. Selected students were able to ask questions and hear Pettit's answers in real time, and we learned a lot about living aboard the ISS. Did you know it only takes eight minutes to get up there, but two days to transfer into the space station? Wow. I would kill to have that opportunity. Maybe one day they'll take an old fart like me and see what they can do with me. I'll be like the female John Glenn. Anyway, it was really cool, and my kids - especially Jack up there - got a lot out of the experience. Way cool!


I took Rob in for his Neuro follow-up today, after his mini-stroke scares and subsequent finding of a benign brain tumor back in November. I was hoping for a more thorough check-up than the five minute "How are you? Fine? See you in six months" that he got, but I guess no news is good news. He hasn't had any weird things going on like he did six months ago, even after his accident, so I suppose all is well for now. He'll go back in another six months.


Also today, I went in for a my regular dental check-up, fully expecting to have two new cavities. My teeth have been ultra-sensitive lately, especially in two places, so I thought fillings were going to be the order of the day, if not a full root canal or some badness. But the diagnosis was surprising: I grind and clench my jaw and teeth so much that it's causing my gums to recede, and my enamel to wear, which is causing the pain and discomfort. The dentist said he'd be happy to sell me a $600 mouth guard, or I can go pick one up at any drug or sporting goods store for five or ten bucks and try that. Hmm. Tough choice. But yay for no new cavities!


Stay tuned for a post about our train trip up to Richmond last week; we had so much fun in our two short days. I'm so glad MIL suggested it!


Aren't these newsprint nails so cool?! I am totes going to do this as soon as I find where I put the rubbing alcohol. Hopefully that'll work, since Rob drank all the vodka and stuff. Kidding. There's probably not even a beer in this house. I love this manicure, though. Trés cool.


And finally, my 10½-year-old, Chloë, has a "boyfriend," S. Yeah. We've reached that stage. They're mad about each other. I even had to go on a ride with them to make sure they didn't kiss!!! WHAT?! She's TEN, FPS. I'm keeping a tight rein on this one and don't let them hold hands or anything, but S did recently give her a necklace in her favorite color, with hearts on it... oh, my word. I'm not ready for this part!

Chloe 2

Since Chloë had a photo shoot for her acting and modeling "career" recently, my friend Saritah - S's mom - was joking about, "Great, my son is dating a model. That'll go to his head..." but yeah. He is. Hee.

Well, I hope you all have a great weekend, and I'll be back in a bit with my Aloha Friday question & some more updates from our latest travels and adventures. Ciao for now!


Friday Fragments

Friday Fragments

Link up with here with Mrs. 4444 if you've got bits and pieces floating through your brain today!

Right off the bat, I have to say I'm excited that tomorrow is the day I'm spending ~8 hours getting my iron transfusion! It's my first one, and it's not unusual for gastric bypass patients to need them. I'll probably be getting my first of many Vitamin B12 shots, as well. My hemoglobin levels are abyssmally low, which means it's a struggle and a chore just for me to make it through the day, every day, let alone cover everything that's on my plate. I've been dropping a lot of balls lately, admittedly, and I'm hoping this will make a huge difference for me - and my family, who have to put up with me. Hopefully, too, I'll be able to stop consuming the massive daily amounts of caffeine that I do to stay functioning and focused. So, yay!

The only downside is I won't be able to knit during the procedure... but I have about eleventy-billion magazines to catch up on, so I'm covered there. And I can always nap. What I'm wondering about now is, when do I pee? And eat? (I'll let you know. Hee.)

In awesome news, my kids have been focusing on their reading in our homeschooling so far this new year, and they have progressed dramatically. My oldest, a fifth grader, had to write her first book report, after much gnashing of teeth over it, and she did a splendid job. I had to make just a few corrections - all mechanics - but the content was fantastic. I was so pleased!

As for the two Littles, my son is in 3rd grade and came out of 1st grade public school hardly literate at all. So I remediated him from the Kinder level with our K-2 Hooked on Phonics program, and he just "graduated" from the program! It only took him a year and a half to do all three years' worth, so that's pretty great. Yes, I'm proud of him, but even more incredible is how visibly proud of himself he is! I love it!

The youngest, a first grader who was a late bloomer with regard to reading (she's the most active, physical of the lot), has suddenly pushed through the block and is now almost to the 2nd grade level of the program. So go, kids!! Starting next week, we'll slow down on so much all-reading, all-the-time, and focus more on math, with which all three of them also need remediation. No child left behind, my butt! But the buck stops here. :)

We were supposed to go on a field trip to the Food Bank with our two respective Girl Scout troops today, but I found out two hours before the trip that they had to reschedule it. ARGH! I had no choice but to cancel our regular meeting, since I have it planned to have a guest speaker come in, and there was no way to get her on such short notice. It was pretty stinko (my word of the month), and I was bummed, since we're behind where I wanted to be in my Daisy troop at this point. But with the iron deficiency, I have to say, I wasn't too terribly disappointed to get a reprieve! Just sayin'.


We've had Sophia to the Emergency Department 3-4 times this past week, as her breathing struggles have suddenly kicked back into high gear. It's not the weather, since it's barely cold here, and it started in the summertime anyway (in 2010!). We've seen 8 or 9 different doctors and gotten just as many "suggestions" about what it could be, with no real answers. It's frustrating for me, as her mom, to watch her go through this, so I can only imagine how much of an annoyance it is for her. My husband thinks it's entirely stress-induced, but I disagree. That may be a component, certainly, but since it frequently comes on when she's just sitting around, doing nothing remotely upsetting, how can that be?? I just wish I could help her.


A local-but-online-only friend of mine is a potter, and she fashions these awesome, funkadelic business card holders that I've been coveting for a long time. Last week, she made this red one, and I KNEW it was the one I had to have. It arrived today. Do you love it?! I do! So cool. Check out Lisa's Etsy shop for more awesome clay-mations!


We drove up the Eastern Shore of Virginia on Sunday (here's my view out the windshield of the Chesapeake Bay), for a high-paying mystery shop. Great, except I kind of screwed it up a little, and now I don't know if I am going to get paid for it. Argh. Well, if that happens, at least we had a fun trip and enjoyed lots of interesting scenery, right?


This is the kids in the back during the trip, watching Judy Moody and the Not-So-Bummer Summer, which they've been waiting for me to rent from the Blockbuster kiosk for ages. I waited until it dropped to $1, so I could get it for free (lots of codes out there, folks!), because I'm cheap like that!


Speaking of mystery shops, Rob and I finally went out for a nice dinner - with the kids, so it was only semi-romantic! - to celebrate the 11th wedding anniversary we shared on the 2nd of this month. Here's my Appletini. The kids love cherries and all clamored for mine, but um, no. Not the ones all soaked in Smirnoff, kiddos! It was really strong, and I got drunk very quickly. I drink maybe once a month, if that, and wow. I'm such a lightweight since my surgery!


And here's me, that night (tipsy), showing you my hair in its awkward growing-out phase. I can't stand my hair right now. I want it to be long NOW. I'm half-tempted to just chop it again, but it grows soooo slowly, I may never have another ponytail. Is 35 too old for ponytails, anyway? Not around the house, or in the summer at least, right? ;)


Last week (which I can tell ya, because I skipped FF then, sorry), we totally kept the kids up and took them to the 12:01 AM first showing of the newly re-released Beauty and the Beast in 3D. It was AWESOME. I think I had as good a time as the kids did. It cost a small fortune; I had sticker shock, but it was worth it for the "cool mom points" I earned, I think. At least Rob managed to stay awake during the whole thing - he'd had a nap first to make sure! Have you seen it? It was great.


Lastly, speaking of Etsy, I have to share this story. I bought this gorgeous yarn on clearance from Summer of Perfectly Handmade, and the whole situation quickly turned into a comedy of errors: First, she accidentally sent me the wrong yarn, and then she sent me the correct yarn after I mailed it back (and she was GREAT through this whole process, and I totally recommend her, so don't think I'm speaking too badly of her). Well, it was badly skeined, and when I wound it into center-pull "cakes" with my swift and ball winder, it took about two hours vs. the 10-15 minutes it should have, because it was such a mess. I finally got it, though, and managed to knit ONE hexipuff for the Beekeeper's Quilt I'm making before going to bed for the night. Well, I stupidly left that troublesome-but-lovely yarn out overnigh, and our two kittens decided to make it their plaything overnight. When I woke up early, before the kids, I went to go knit another puff with it... and it was GONE. So I instantly knew "the twins," as they are, were the culprits and headed upstairs to look for it. I found two 8mo kittens, each with a shred of the yarn hanging out of their mouths and looking at me guiltily. They immediately dropped it and went to go hide under my son's bed! Then I searched around and found the yarn strewn all over my older daughter's room, some of it chewed it into short strands, some of it just a gnarled, knotty mess, but all entirely wrecked. GAH!!  However, I kept plugging away at it, and look! Up there! I managed to eke out 13 or 14 hexipuffs out of the yarn, which I eventually sorted out, and they'll look great in the quilt. But what a pain!!

P.S. Summer sent me some more yarn as a gift, for all my troubles. So if you're a "yarnie" like I am, don't hesitate to check her out!

I'll leave you on that note. No, this one: "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

RIP, Dr. King.


Friday Fragments


Link up here if you're fragmentin' along with Mrs.4444 today!

I've taken no fewer than three naps today. I've either turned into a cat, or I'm sick. Guess which. (I don't have whiskers, if that helps.)

Last night, I went out with one of my girlfriends for a mystery shop at a bar. I told Hubs I'd be be back in an hour and a half to help clean the house. Well, I strolled in 3½ hours later and felt fine about it, since I'd had more and harder laughs in that time than I'd had in ages. Love my Jenny From the Block! When I brought her home, we sat in her drive for at least another hour, "saying goodbye." I love having good friends like that, and the fact that she lives close by doesn't hurt, either.

Just before that, our sister troop's leader and I ran our annual Girl Scout Rededication ceremony with both her Junior and my Daisy troop, plus one Investiture for my new little Daisy. It was lots of fun, and my Daisies did GREAT remembering (and reciting, by themselves) the short Promise, and the Law, which is rather long. I handed out tissue packs for all the moms, because sometimes you cry at these things, and patches that the girls have earned in the last few months. This time, I made them into little books. Now, I have to get sewing and ironing, to get my girls' vests up to date!

Co-op is going FABULOUS on Wednesdays. If you're new here, or just forgetful, we're in our second year of homeschooling, and we go to a co-op for Christian Military Homeschoolers on Weds. I teach three cooking classes, and sometime, I'll get around to posting what we're actually up to in there, but I've gotten nothing but great feedback from my students and parents. One girl, M, comes into class saying, "Hello, favorite teacher!" which, you know, gives me a bit of an ego boost. My kids love it, too. Chloë frequently exclaims, "I wish Co-op was every day; it's so fun!"

When my son died, my MIL gave me a necklace representing each of my then-three children, with Robby as an angel. Then Sophia was born, and she took it back to have a new dangly child added. Well, a few months ago, I took off the necklace for one night, to wear something else (I almost always wore this one), and it disappeared. Earlier, my husband told me to turn around and close my eyes. As soon as I felt him reach around my neck, I knew what it was. "YOU FOUND IT!" I squealed. He's my new favorite husband. ♥

I have to get up way early tomorrow morning for three different back-to-back Girl Scout-related events. Seriously? From September thru June, it practically takes over my life. Oy. Is it wrong to be looking forward to Summer for that reason...?

That's all I've got for now. I'd probably tell you a hundred other things, but I have Sick Brain and CRS.  Have a great weekend!