Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Tale of Truly Excellent Customer Service

I have been meaning to write this for a while, and with all the holiday stuff going on, I kept forgetting.  Many of you might know that we went on vacation this summer.  One detail I probably did not mention is that on the last day, 5 minutes before we left to come home, my iPhone shattered when I dropped it on the floor at our beach house.  I was pretty sad.  When we made the decision to replace it, rather than repair it, I decided to also invest in an OtterBox case.  All my cute and pretty cases were not doing anything to actually protect the phone.  So, in July, I ordered an OtterBox from Amazon.  From the moment I put it on my phone, I felt very secure that the phone was protected.  While it was a pricey case, it was doing what it needed to do, and was still cheaper than replacing the phone again.

Last month, I sent out the following tweet:

Notice I did not tag OtterBox in the tweet with the "@" sign.  I merely stated the company name in the tweet.

Later on in the day, I received this response from the OtterBox Customer Service account:


So, this means someone is tasked with the job of searching Twitter for people talking about OtterBox products and trying to trouble shoot any problems for them.

I went to the link the gave me, and after entering some information, was directed to call Customer Service.  A representative asked me some questions about the problems with my product, and told me she would be sending an email with further instructions.  I needed to send them some pictures of the damage to the product, which was less than 6 months old.  Within 30 minutes of sending them the photos, they emailed me back confirming that they were replacing my OtterBox.

On December 11, my new OtterBox arrived.


So, to recap, OtterBox Customer Service sought me out when they caught wind via Twitter that my product was not working for me.  I never even thought my product would be covered by warranty, yet they painlessly walked me through the warranty claim, and in less than two weeks I had a replacement case.  And given the ease of the transaction, I would bet that this is standard for them.  The probably did not think they were going above and beyond, but I certainly did.

I would have simply thrown my case away and purchased some other product elsewhere, but OtterBox saw to it that my problem was solved before I had a chance.  What a wonderful example of truly outstanding customer service, and a great way to create a loyal customer.  Well done OtterBox; other companies, take note.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: Torani Syrups

I am a big coffee person, particularly when it comes to flavored coffee.  Two years ago, I switched from a regular coffee maker to a Keurig, which was a smart decision in my opinion.  The only downside is sometimes the flavors I crave are not available in K-cups, particularly in decaf coffee.  I have been trying to cut my caffeine intake, so good decaf is a must for me.  The best solution to this need is flavored syrups.


I was given an opportunity to try two of the holiday flavors from Torani Syrups recently, so of course I jumped at the chance.  The flavors I got to try were Pumpkin Pie and Vanilla Bean.  While both were delicious, the Pumpkin Pie was my personal favorite.

What I like best about these syrups is they are so versatile; they can be used in so much more than making flavored coffees and lattes (though they are delicious in those).  I am not much of a drinker, but I imagine these syrups could be used to make some delicious mixed drinks.  Mix the Pumpkin Pie syrup with some Whipped Cream Vodka, and I bet it would be delicious!  For chocolate lovers, mix it with your hot cocoa for a little extra kick.  To cure a super sweet tooth, mix it with some ice cream, milk, and crushed graham crackers for an amazing Pumpkin Pie milkshake (and maybe even spike it with some of that Whipped Cream Vodka I mentioned!)

I tried to get really creative, and I actually used they syrup, along with some pumpkin butter,  to flavor some Pumpkin Pie scones, which we all snacked on Thanksgiving morning.  They were a big hit!  The Pumpkin Pie flavor, though delicious, is strong, and not one I would want all year round.  But that is what makes holiday flavors so special.  Each year, come October, I want to make pretty much everything pumpkin flavored, so this is perfect.  The Vanilla Bean is a flavor I could see myself using all year round, even to make iced coffees in the summer.

In short, I was really impressed with the quality of these syrups.  Torani syrups are the ones used by my all time favorite coffee shop in Pittsburgh, so it comes as no surprise to me that I love them for use in my own home as well.

This post was sponsored by SheSpeaks and Torani.  They provided me with the product in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are honest and original.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Making the Holiday Season Full

Last month, I talked about my family's Polish Christmas customs, and what a huge part of my identity this is. I cannot imagine a Christmas without these traditions.  But for so many, Christmas is yet another day full of hunger.  So many Americans have difficulty having any type of holiday meal, let alone one that honors their cultural history.

Grab button for Tote4Pgh Holiday Tote Projects

Over the last couple of years, I have gotten to know some amazing folks, thanks to social media, who run a project called The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project.  The goal is to collect reusable bags to help individuals visiting food pantries to safely, efficiently transport food.  We all know how flimsy plastic and paper bags can be (not to mention the scourge plastic bags are on the environment); imagine trying to carry those flimsy bags across several city blocks, or taking them on public transportation.  Tote bags are collected and distributed to food banks.


In addition, The Pittsburgh Tote Bag project helps raise awareness about various needs of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food bank, about hunger, and about recycling.  In short, this group does a whole lot of good.  As part of their 2012 Holiday Project, they decided to specifically raise awareness about the culturally diverse impact of hunger.  Imagine not having your favorite food, a long standing family tradition, as part of your holiday meal.  The 2012 Holiday Project suggested that people donate ethnic food items, along with a reusable tote bag.


I talked a lot about this last month, and encouraged my readers to donate.  Now, I put my money where my mouth is.  Tonight, I am attending an event where folks from the Pittsburgh social media set will gather together to celebrate the holidays.  We are using the opportunity to also donate tote bags and food items.  The food items I chose to donate are Hispanic food items, including rice, several types of beans, chicken stock, corn meal, coconut milk, tomato sauce, and peppers.  As I shopped, I could not help but think about the people who would receive these items.  I can only hope that this donation will help to honor and bless them as much as being a part of this project has blessed me.

Please consider donating to your local foodbank this holiday season, and take some time to check out The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project. They are just good people.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thankful for... everything else

IMG_4134Such a general title.  Seems like a bit of a copout right?  But it really is true.  Throughout the past month, I have highlighted some things that some people may not always think to be thankful for.  And I tried to highlight people who are less fortunate, or in need, and the organizations who are doing great charitable work.  But 30 days is not nearly enough time to talk about all the things for which I am truly thankful.

In fact, I could do a thankful post every day for the rest of my life, and still not have enough days to give thanks.  There is just so much in my life for which I am thankful.  All of the typical things- husband, home, pets, family, friends.  But there are so many other things that I am thankful for as well.  All of the sadnesses, struggles, disappointments, the lost opportunities.  While it sounds crazy to be thankful for things most people see as negative, I simply must be.  You see, everything in my life, whether joyful or sorrowful, positive or negative, have led me to the place I am in at this very moment.  And that, my friends, is a pretty amazing place.  A place I love.  So, for all of it, every last bit, I am so, so thankful.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thankful for... P.M.A

Photo Courtesy of ianqui
It is so easy to get sucked into negativity online.  Trust me, I see it all day every day on multiple social media sites, merchant sites, news sites.  Turn on the radio or television.  Negativity seems to be all around us.  And once you let that negativity in, it becomes a vicious cycle.  You feel negative, so you project negativity, get negativity in return, and feel even more negative that when you started.  It can be emotionally draining.

Which is why I am so thankful for my P.M.A.  That is Positive Mental Attitude.  Probably the best thing about doing these 30 Days of Thankful posts this month is that, since I write them at night, I end each day on a decidedly positive note.  A note that leaves me reflecting on all the wonderful, amazing things in my life.

Does this mean my life is perfect?  Hardly.  Does this mean I am never sad? No way.  What it means is that, each day, I have a choice.  I can chose to see my life as negative, and hopeless, or I can choose to see my life as being full of positivity and possibility. Which would you chose?  Why would anyone chose negativity?  Well, once you allow any negativity to creep in, that terrible cycle I mentioned starts, and before you know it, you are stuck.  Trust me, I have been there, far too many times.

Bad things sometimes happen in your life.  You are going to get sad.  That does not mean you cannot still be positive.  It does not mean that you can not keep moving forward toward all the goodness in life.  So right now, I am choosing positivity.  And I am so very thankful that I am able to make that choice.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thankful for... a lifetime of memories

Last night, while at my book club, one of the other girls mentioned oplatek.  For those unfamiliar (which is most people) this is a sheet of holy bread, the same thing Catholic Communion host is made from, used in a Polish Christmas tradition, one my family has done for more years that I have been alive (seriously).  You break bread with other people, wishing them good tidings for the Christmas season and the new year to come.  It is really a beautiful tradition, one that was passed to us from my Grandparents, who were full blooded Poles.  In case you have not figured it out, being Polish figures into my identity a great deal.  I have always been a Polish Princess, and I always will be.

As I talked to my friend about this, she was excited to learn that my family engages in many Polish holiday traditions.  After I left book club, I got to thinking about the Polish Christmas Carols we always sing.  I, sadly, do not know the words to any, and I really should learn them.  I looked some up on YouTube, and this is what I found:

This is my absolute FAVORITE Polish Christmas carol.  We used to sing it every year, and I remember all my aunts, uncles, and cousins crowded into my Grandma's tiny living room singing their hearts out, though most did not really know the words.

I cannot hear this song without missing my Grandma.  Because she lived across the street from us, I spent a lot of time at her house, just like my sister's kids have done with my parents.  She made sure that these traditions carried on in our family.  My strongest memories of her revolved around these traditions.  She was so proud of where she came from, and in return, she made us all proud as well.

My grandma was in her 90's when she passed away.  By this time I was an adult, living in Pittsburgh.  While I wish she had lived long enough to meet Hubby and watch us get married, I know she was there in spirit.  And I am so thankful that I lived close enough to her to form a lifetime of memories, ones that helped forever clinch my status as a Polish Princess.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thankful for... being a nerd

UntitledI was never, ever, what one would call a cool kid.  In high school, I was called a "goody good kid", because I got good grades, didn't smoke or drink or do drugs or have sex, and generally followed all the rules.  I liked being in band, and I read during the summers.  In short, I was a nerd.

I am still a nerd.  I read books like it is my job (I wish), I am obsessed with social media (phone in hands at all waking times), and I am plugged into a nerdy subset of pop culture that includes John Hodgman, Wil Wheaton, Jonathan Coulton, and of course my beloved John Roderick, among many nerdy others.  Through these nerdy interests of mine, I have met some truly incredible people, learned amazing things, and experienced life changing things.  In the course of one day, my friends and I will discuss philosophy and politics, read groundbreaking literature, volunteer for local nonprofits, compare healthy recipes, and play Angry Birds.

Nerds are the new normal.  We have influence, we change the game.  We invent technologies that change the way people interact.  Nerd is no longer a bad word.  The label of nerd is now a badge of honor, and I wear mine proudly and thankfully.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Thankful for... open doors

Open door
Photo Courtesy of Annieta
I think I have mentioned in the past that I am not the most patient of people.  Not only do I want what I want right now, I also question what I must be doing wrong when I do not reach my goals immediately.  I try so hard to live every day of my life sure that I am exactly where I need to be in order to reach my destiny, but man oh man, it is not always easy.

Lately, I have been craving change in my life.  Not just my typical "dye my hair a different color" kind of change, something big, and life changing.  I have toyed around with the ideas of pursuing a different degree and career path.  The problem with that is, there are just too many things that interest me.  If I could be a professional scholar of life, that would probably be the perfect gig for me.  Alas, that really is not an option.

So, every day, I plug along, doing my thing, living my life, having faith that this is exactly where God wants me to be.  And just when I start to feel like I am spinning my wheels, doors around me start to open.  Within the past few days, multiple doors of opportunity have opened for me, and new possibilities have ignited my soul.  Some of these may not work out, and I know that full well, but the fact that doors are opening for me, simply because I am being myself and doing things I love, well, that is pretty amazing.

Tonight, I am thankful that God knows the exact perfect moment to open a door or two for me.  I try to live a life that honors God, and to live out my faith in the way that is right for me.  I do not always know, ok to be honest I do not usually know, where my path leads.  I try to simply be faithful and walk that path, enjoying the scenery as I go.  And when that path leads me to an open door I never would have expected, I am immediately reminded of all the blessings in my life.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thankful for... good health

UntitledIn the last 30 days, I have been under the weather an awful lot.  It started with a cold that Hubby had, which got passed to me, just before Halloween.  I was down with that for about 2 weeks.  And earlier this week I was just feeling sort of blah.  I feel a little blah a lot of the time, and it is typically related to my digestion.  I suspect that I have a lot of food related sensitivities and intolerances which contribute to that.  I currently suspect a gluten intolerance, something my mom has been suggesting for years.

Luckily, I have the ability to improve my health in a lot of ways.  Just last month, at my annual checkup, I learned that I dropped my cholesterol pretty significantly.  It could still stand to be a little lower, and I am working on that now.  In addition, my blood pressure is much better than it was at the beginning of the year.  I attribute a lot of these positive changes to alterations we have made to our diet.  The idea of possibly having to go gluten free kind of scares me, but lately I have been toying with gluten free and vegetarian meals, with mostly positive outcomes.

I am not one to say that my way of cooking or my lifestyle in general is the right one for everyone, so when other people push miracle diets/products/lifestyles on me, I tend to bristle a bit.  I think health is something that is extremely personal, and ones health or lifestyle needs change over time.

I look at what some other people I know have dealt with, or are dealing with, and I am thankful for my health, thankful for a body that works the way I want it to (most of the time- getting old kind of sucks though!), thankful for access to wonderful healthcare, and thankful for the opportunity to improve my health with the choices I make.  I am far from being the poster girl for health and wellness, but nevertheless, I am thankful.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thankful for... impromptu date nights

UntitledIt is a holiday long weekend; Hubby and I spent Thursday traveling and visiting my family, yesterday was spent visiting local friends and doing online Christmas shopping.  So today was our day to just relax.  We had no set plans, which of course meant I awoke bright and early.  Since I knew I would not get back to sleep, I took advantage of the time to get some things done around the house, and then surprised Hubby with breakfast.  I attempted to do some shopping after that, and was largely unsuccessful.  When I came home, I made a delicious meal for lunch, took a bubble bath, and took a nice long nap.  Our day of relaxation was going well.

After my nap, we finished our Thanksgiving leftovers, and discussed what we would do tonight.  Before I knew it, Hubby and I had made plans for in impromptu date night at the movies.  Funny how those things happen.  We got ready right after dinner and went to see the last movie in the Twilight series.  We are not huge fans of the movies, but we have seen them all, and at this point we were too invested to not see them through.  The series first started when we were just dating, so of course we had to go.  Again, I am not a huge fan on the movies, though this was the best of the five, and I will say, the movie is beautifully photographed, from the opening titles to the closing credits.

I love that Hubby and I still go on dates.  Sometimes, like tonight, they are traditional date activities (dinner, movies, etc.), and sometimes they are just adventures (long car rides, geocaching, etc.).  I love that no matter what we are doing, we always have fun.  I am so thankful that I met this wonderful man, and finally allowed him into my life after his many months of patient waiting.  I am thankful that every day he is by my side, to make me laugh, to hold my hand, to love me.  I am thankful that he shares my hopes, dreams, goals, and values.  I am thankful that, even after over 4 years together, he still gives me butterflies on date night.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful for... giving gifts

Photo Courtesy of Andy Noren
We are a family of gift givers.  Sometimes we give gifts for no specific reason.  For example, yesterday, my mom gave me 3 sets of body wash and lotion from Bath and Body Works, just because.  She knows I like that stuff, and that was reason enough.  We also love giving gifts for holidays.  Today, I did a lot of shopping online for Christmas, and cannot wait for the recipients' reactions when they open the gifts.  But beyond all this, my family has a history of giving gifts to people we do not know.  We have always gotten Christmas gifts for kids in need.  Two years ago, I filled my entire car  with toys with the help of my friends and family, and delivered my haul to the Stuff a Bus event in Pittsburgh.  So, yes, we like to give.

There are plenty of people in our communities who could use some cheer during the holiday season.  For example, an organization in Pittsburgh, Community Human Services, provides a variety of services to people in the community, with the purpose of strengthening health and well being.  Some of the services include homelessness assistance, mental health services, family services, and health related services.  This organization helps an under-served and often impoverished group of people, people who rarely get to experience a truly happy holiday.

Doesn't everyone deserve a little something special during the holidays?  I think so.  In an effort to help brighten the holidays for nearly 200 children and adults, Community Human Services (CHS) has a gift project organized.  They are seeking donations of gift cards and cash contributions to help provide small gifts for individuals and families who participate in the CHS programs.  One has the option of donating directly to the project on the organization's website.  Additionally, there is a large fundraising event scheduled at 6 pm on Thursday, November 29th, at Hough's, located at 563 Greenfield Avenue in Pittsburgh.  Admission to the event is a giftcard or cash donation to the CHS holiday project.  There will be drink specials, free cookies, and prize baskets for auction.

As you rush out to get those last minute Black Friday deals, and shop for Small Business Saturday, and click your online shopping carts for Cyber Monday, join me in being thankful for giving gifts.  And please consider helping provide a gift for someone else, giving them a truly happy holiday.

Post script! I have joined in the fundraising efforts over on CrowdRise! You can donate directly through my widget!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful for... traveling home

photo (6)Even though we only live about 2 hours from my family, it is not always easy to make the trip home to visit.  Because Hubby has such a long commute for work, the last thing I want to ask of him to to get into a car and drive 4 hours round trip in a day.  When we travel, we take the dogs, so that means collapsing their crates and loading them into the car.  Only one of the dogs is a good traveler, and it can really fray the nerves traveling with a whiny pooch.  My parents have active lives and busy schedules, as does my sister's family.  So, traveling home tends to be limited to holidays or other special celebrations.

I am blessed in that Hubby does not work on Thanksgiving day, so we are able to travel to spend the day with my family.  Sometimes we get to go the night before, but alas that was not possible this year.  That meant hitting the road at 7 a.m. this morning, and driving 2 hours.  Hubby, as always, was more than willing to make this trip, and never even grumbled about the early morning wake up call.  By getting there early, I am actually able to help prepare a part of the meal, which of course I love doing.  It also gives me some time to visit with my family before the meal preparations start.

We get to spend time catching up on the news in life, and of course planning for Christmas.  We talk about gift ideas, and potential Black Friday bargains.  Before you know it, the pie has been eaten, the sale fliers have been perused, the leftovers have been divided, and it is time to make the long trek back.

The drive back always seems so much longer.

Tonight, I am thankful that once again, we were able to travel home and spend time with my family.  I am thankful for safe roads, minimal traffic, and the ability to recline my car seat and nap during the drive.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and many things for which to be thankful.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thankful for... holiday traditions

Thanksgiving feast
Photo Courtesy of ccho
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and like most families, we have our own traditional foods.  Thanksgiving traditions seem to be a regional thing, around here they include green bean casserole, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and of course, turkey.  But every family has their own traditional dishes or desserts that make the meal complete.

For my family, our more ethnically tradition centered holiday meals are Christmas and Easter.  You see, we are Polish.  Unless you live in certain parts of Pittsburgh or Chicago, you may not be aware that there are some pretty serious Polish traditions for the holidays, and for my family, they are what make the holidays complete.  At Christmas, we do the traditional Christmas eve Wigilia dinner, which includes several kinds of fish (no meat), and other Polish dishes, including my personal favorite, pierogi.  On Easter, we make Polish beet borscht, and have several other Polish traditions within our menu.  I cannot imagine celebrating these holidays without my favorite traditional foods.

Yet many people go without their favorite traditional foods during the holidays.  Many people go without any food at all.

In light of this, I am proud to be partnering with the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project as a sponsor during their holiday project this year (see the button in my sidebar to the right).  This year they are focusing on collecting ethnic holiday foods, to help support the culturally diverse people of the Pittsburgh area.  They have made it so easy to help support this project.  They list different ideas for how you can get involved, include shopping lists of ethnic food items that are in need,  discuss different ways you can become a sponsor, and even list donation drop off locations.

Imagine your absolutely favorite holiday dish.  Now imagine you had to go without it.  That is a pretty terrible feeling.  Imagine how incredible it would feel to know that you, YOU, made someone's holiday special by providing their favorite dish.  During your celebrations tomorrow, and throughout the month of December, please consider getting involved with this truly phenomenal organization and help fight hunger.

I am truly thankful, on this Thanksgiving eve, for the holiday traditions celebrated in my family.  I am equally thankful for the chance to help a family in need get to enjoy holiday traditions of their own.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thankful for... Secret Agent L

Photo from the Secret Agent L website
Over two years ago, I was introduced to the Secret Agent L project.  Secret Agent L, a.k.a. Laura, is a woman living in Pittsburgh who made it her personal mission to spread kindness where ever she goes.  Inspired by her example, hundreds of people all over the world have joined in the project as Affiliate Agents, performing top secret missions of kindness, which Laura then posts on the Secret Agent L website.

Today's world is full of cynicism, hatred, anger, bitterness, and jealousy.  One only need to read facebook or the comments sections of online news articles to see that.  At times, breaks my heart and makes me absolutely ashamed of society.  And then, I remember Laura.  It has been 2 years now since I joined the Secret Agent L project as an Affiliated Agent.  Since then, not only have I performed missions specifically for the project, I have also tried to let the spirit of the project take over my whole life.  Laura's mantra is "Be Kind, No Exceptions".  I try hard to live up to that.  I fail, a lot.  But I am trying.  And I see a difference in my life, in my relationships, in the way I view the world, and the way I view myself.  I am telling you, kindness is a powerful thing.

Beyond being a part of this project, I also know Laura in real life.  She is a busy woman (actress, model, working professional woman, member of the board of directors for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southwestern PA, public speaker, and all around beacon of awesome), so I do not get to see her that often. Which is why I was so happy I got to see her last week.  Laura has the amazing ability to make each person feel like the most important person in the room.  She sees value in everyone, and always has kind things to say.  When the prettiest person you know calls YOU pretty, it feels kind of amazing.  Laura has the kindest heart of everyone I know.  She gives so much of herself, even to people she does not know.

I am really lucky to have Laura as a friend and role model.  But more than being lucky, I am thankful.

(P.S. If you are interested in becoming an Affiliated Agent, and I really hope you are, please visit the Secret Agent L website to learn how!)


Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful for... leftovers

Photo Courtesy of Arthaey
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to cook.  A lot.  And most recipes that I cook make at least 6 servings, often more.  I love cooking in large quantities.  It allows me to buy ingredients in bulk, and take advantage of great sales, which helps maximize out budget.  Sometimes, it allows me to provide a no fuss meal for friends in need, like when I helped our close friends prepare for the birth of their son.

Cooking in large quantities also allows me to freeze meals.  Sometimes, I will cook a meal, and immediately freeze half of it.  This helps us prepare for busy schedules, or other unforeseen events.  It prevents us from wasting food as well.

Most importantly, cooking multiple servings of a meal can provide us with leftovers, so that I do not have to cook every single day.  Believe it or not, there are days that I do not want to cook.  Today was one of those days.  I woke up very early, after very little sleep, and immediately got to work.  I stayed busy all day, to the point where I forgot to eat lunch.  By the time I did grab a bite and took some time to relax, I realized that I was feeling a little under the weather.  So, cooking was just about the last thing in the world I wanted to do.  Luckily, I made a huge batch of roasted vegetable curry, so, even though I have no interest in food tonight, Hubby is able to eat a hot, healthy, home cooked meal.

I used to turn my nose up at leftovers when I lived alone.  This was because I had no freezer space, and eating the same thing 6 days in a row can get pretty boring.  But, tonight, I am very thankful for leftovers.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thankful for... online shopping

Shop online
Photo Courtesy of Daniel Kulinski
I have never been much of a shopper.  Holiday shopping is one of my least favorite activities.  So Black Friday Shopping is like the seventh circle of hell as far as I am concerned.  I only went Black Friday Shopping once, when I was in college.  This was back before iPhones, iPods, iPads, and even before mp3 players were popular.  Sales were not nearly as nutty as they are today.  And yet I still hated it.  In general, shopping at malls and stores during the holiday season is kind of miserable.  Employees are overworked and tired, shoppers are rude and frustrated.  Children are wailing due to exhaustion and sensory overload.  All in all, not the way I want to spend my time.  Some people love it, my sister is a super shopper and a whiz at Black Friday.  Me, I am happy to stay home in my jammies eating a turkey sandwich.

My philosophy is, there is nothing I need or want so bad that I am willing to risk life and limb fighting off a thousand other people who want that same thing.  The fact that people act so nutty, hurting others, getting some thing they MUST have the day after being thankful for what they already have just seems sadly ironic.

Each year, a larger and larger portion of my holiday shopping is done online.  I have shopped online for about ten years now, and for me, it is the perfect solution.  Now, many retails cater to online shoppers with our own day of specials, called Cyber Monday.  I have never really gotten any deals that way, and in some ways it is just as frustrating as Black Friday.  Nope, I will take my time, and browse the interwebz my own way, with coffee in my had, fleece on my body, and wiener dogs in my lap.

As someone who would chew her own arm off to escape a mall on Black Friday, I am eternally thankful for online shopping.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thankful for... Charlie Brown


Charlie Brown is sort of a holiday staple in our house.  Most people make a tradition of watching the Great Pumpkin special at Halloween, and the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  But one of my favorite's of the Charlie Brown trove is Thanksgiving.

As a kid, Thanksgiving was never a terribly exciting holiday.  The parade always seemed to early, and it seemed to annoy the grown ups who were busy cooking.  Then there was the meal, which was admittedly tasty, but not exactly what a kid would chose.  And then there were endless football games.  Not a whole lot of kid friendly excitement.  There were a few Thanksgiving related kids specials, but the cream of the crop was certainly the Charlie Brown Christmas.

The Charlie Brown holiday specials are still dear to me, and several years ago Hubby bought me the box set.  So, each year, at the appropriate times, we watch the holiday specials.  Since our Light Up Night plans were cancelled last night, we used the opportunity to watch the Thanksgiving special.  I suggested to Hubby that we recreate the Peanuts kids' Thanksgiving feast of toast, pretzels, popcorn, jellybeans, and ice cream sundaes.

Today, we took that silly suggestion and made it a reality.  While I lacked the variety of toasters that Charlie Brown possessed, we made toast in our toaster over.  I did however remain a purist and pop the popcorn in a pan on the stove.  And the ice cream sundaes in the cartoon are pink, which would suggest strawberry ice cream, but I opted for pink peppermint ice cream (which was DELICIOUS)!  We had a minor tragedy when the cat spilled half of the jelly beans all over the floor during the set up phase, but once we got it all on the table, I was pretty proud of our efforts to recreate my favorite Thanksgiving special.



So, today, I am thankful for the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, and the fact that it inspired us to do something so silly and fun.  Everyone needs to be a kids at heart now and then, and I am so happy that Hubby is willing to be my partner in crime.  (see the rest of my Charlie Brown Thanksgiving photos here)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thankful for... water

Shower Water Snake feeding :)
Photo Courtesy of John K
My day started out pretty normal.  Woke up, had some delicious oats for breakfast, snuggled with the dogs, and read.  Around 11 a.m., I went downstairs to let the dogs outside, and started washing dishes.  I was just soaping up a plate when Hubby called from work, telling me to not use our water for any reason.

Apparently, the water in my town tested above the pH threshold, and was unsafe.  There was a no use order  that caution against drinking, bathing, or using water for any purpose.  That meant, no teeth brushing, no hand washing, no dishes, no laundry, NOTHING.  This was bad bad news, as tonight was our town's Light Up Night, and I was supposed to volunteer.  So, here I was, no way to shower or clean up.  We did have a couple of jugs of water, but those needed to be conserved for drinking for us and the pets.  I had contemplated going to stay with relatives, or even in a pet friendly hotel, as we were getting very little information, and rumors were saying this could last for days.  Light Up Night was cancelled.

Hubby and I kept in pretty close contact throughout the day, and events unfolded.  He determined he would get some water from a store near his office (our town was pretty much out), pick up some food, and head home.  I was a bit of a grump, what with not being able to use water all day.  Hubby got home, we ate, and settled in for the night when we learned that the no use order was lifted!  HOORAY!  We are still under a boil order for using water for drinking or food prep.  We had to drain our hot water tank, and clear the lines completely, but that is a minor inconvenience.

It kind of embarrasses me what I wimp I have been, not being able to use our water.  It did not even last for 12 hours.  Millions of people have NO access to clean water and sanitation.  It really makes you think about the everyday blessings we take for granted.  So today, I am thankful, not only for my water, but for all the people who worked so hard today to get our water service restored in a timely manner.  Now excuse me while I take a bubble bath.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thankful for... too many hobbies.

IMG_1929Because I am not currently working, I have a lot of time to devote to my hobbies.  It has unlocked my own form of creativity.  Nearly three years ago (has it been that long, really?) I returned to blogging with a fresh perspective as a newlywed.  And I loved every minute of it.  I also chose to combine another one of my favorite hobbies, reading, with this new hobby, and began writing a book review blog.  I had no idea what that was going to turn into.  Since then, I have read and reviewed over 400 books.  That is more than some people read in a lifetime!

Blogging also sparked a passion for photography.  I wanted nice, pretty pictures for my posts, and before you know it, I am taking an adult ed class in photography.  While I am extremely amateur, I think my skills have vastly improved.

So blogging led to photography, which led to pictures of what I cook.  And I cook a lot.  One of the greatest ways I contribute to our household is by creating delicious, healthy, cost effective meals.  Because I am proud of my creations, and because they are often just so pretty and tasty looking, I take pictures and share them on my social media sites (yet another hobby).

All of these things snowballed into me doing something today I have been considering for a while... I finally created my own food and cooking blog, entitled The Occasional Veggie.  I will probably start posting all my recipes and food pictures over there as opposed to here, so be sure to follow that blog as well!

It seems, often, that I have too many hobbies (the above are just a few).  Obviously, I cannot focus on all of them at once, and the balance changes often depending on what else is going on in my life.  But I love that I have so many outlets for creativity.  These are the things that keep me mentally sharp, constantly learning, and forever improving.  I am thankful that I have so many opportunities to explore.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thankful for... inspirational women

Surround yourself with people who make you a better person.
Photo courtesy of deeplifequotes
This morning, what was supposed to be an early morning cup of coffee and a short chat turned into a three hour long conversation and a foundation for a new friendship built on respect and inspiration.  I just love it when that happens.  I love meeting people who inspire me, and I doubly love it when women gain inspiration from each other.

So often, women focus so much energy on tearing each other down, seeing each other as competition, and gathering satisfaction from another's misfortune.  While I love love pink puffy heart love social media, lately I have seen it as an outlet for judgement and ugliness.  I try hard to avoid those pitfalls, sometimes I succeed and sometimes I do not.  Luckily, my life is full, I mean bursting at the seams full, of incredibly inspirational women, and it seems that number grows by the day.

Of course the biggest source of female inspiration comes from the women in my family.  My mom, sister, and niece all inspire me in so many ways, helping me shape myself into the person I want to be.  And don't even get me started on my various circles of awesome friends.  Friendships that stretch back for years, childhood friends with whom I have reconnected, friendships gained from my husband's social circle, new friendships developed through social media.  Mothers.  Sisters.  Daughters. Wives.  Girlfriends.  Leaders.  Philanthropists.  Professionals.  Authors. Bloggers. Artists.  Each and every one of you inspires me, daily.  Most you you probably have no idea how much I cherish the wisdom, support, and inspiration you provide.  Heck most of you are probably unaware.

So today, I am thankful for all the wonderful, inspirational women in my life.  Thank you for helping me be the best woman I can be.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thankful for... a warm bed

bedToday, I went grocery shopping.  When I came back out to my car, the temperature was noticeably lower.  Temps had been slowly falling over the last two days, but by the time I was putting my bags full of canned goods into the hatch of my car, I was shivering.  All I could think about was sliding into my nice warm bed.

With winter knocking on our back door, my thoughts turn to the members of my community who are in need.  I cannot imagine not having warm clothes, and a warm bed, to comfort me during cold winter nights.  Yet for many people, this is the reality.  I think many people have a misconception about the homeless, assuming that they are lazy, or addicts, or mentally ill.  And while some of the homeless may have dependency or mental health issues, many many more have simply found themselves in a bad situation.  Think about what would happen if  all the breadwinners in your home were laid off, and were unable to find new full time work.  At first, you might subsist on unemployment benefits, personal budget cutting, and savings accounts.  But what happens when all of those resources dry up, and your mortgage payments come due?  Sometimes, things happen, and people end up in bad situations.  Sometimes, people just need a little help.

There are many wonderful organizations that provide different types of shelter and housing assistance.  Among the other wonderful programs they offer, the East End Cooperative Ministry offers a wide variety of housing related assistance, including emergency housing, bridge housing, and special housing support for individuals with dependency and mental health issues.  The organization is an interfaith ministry that provides for various needs of the residents in the East End of Pittsburgh.  What a worthy organization living out real Christian ideals.  

Many people have no idea where they will sleep tonight.  Many will be sleeping on the streets, in the cold.  So tonight, as you snuggle under your warm covers, take a moment to be thankful.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Thankful for... freedom.

DSCF0890Throughout our country, for the past two days, communities and individuals have been remembering and celebrating our brave military veterans.  Both my father, and Hubby's father, were veterans, and several of our uncles were as well.  The amount of respect our men and women in uniform deserve is immeasurable.

It is because of our veterans, and our leaders, that we enjoy many of the freedoms we have in life.  From the moment the colonies decided to break from the British monarchy, we have been fighting for freedom in many areas in life.  Freedom of speech, press, religion.  So many things we enjoy, and take for granted, are because our service members fought for all of us.

With freedom, however, comes responsibility.  I realize that this is a pretty existential topic for my humble blog, but I see so many people shirking the responsibility that comes along with freedom, particularly when talking of freedom in the larger sense.  In many ways, these larger freedoms are a choice.  I choose to be free from things like drugs and alcohol, I chose to live a life free of bitterness and hatred, and I choose embrace my freedoms as an American.  And I try my hardest to accept the responsibilities that go along with my freedoms.

For example, one thing that many people are longing for in today's economy is financial freedom.  But in order to accept that freedom, a person has the responsibility to make wise financial choices and sacrifice non-essential expenses.  

When you do not accept responsibility, you cannot fully enjoy freedom.  And without enjoying your freedom, it is hard to be thankful for the ones who made your freedom possible.  Given how much people have fought for our freedoms, is it really that difficult for us to give thanks and take responsibility?


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thankful for... the open roads

IMG_1309Today, I got the itch to take some photos.  I did not know what I wanted to photograph, or where, so I decided to strike out and see where the road carried me.  I ended up mostly driving, and shooting very few pictures, yet it was still a good trip, because it was a lovely day for a drive.  Given the large number of motorcycles I saw on the roads, I think a lot of other people thought so as well.

I was a late driver, not getting my license until I was 19.  I was more than a little afraid to drive, and that fear gave me a lot of respect for the roads I drove, and all that our road system entails.  Now, I am, by no means, indicating our road system is perfect.  But, where would we be without those roads?

So much goes in to creating and maintaining our roads, as well as keeping them safe.  None of us like road construction, which seems to be never ending in the Pittsburgh area.  With a city that is a giant bottleneck on a good day, the least little bit of road construction can, and often does, bring the city to its knees.  But think of where we would be without the state DOT to create, repair, and maintain the roads.  If there were no construction, then our roads would end up destroyed, impassable.

Winter is simultaneously my most and least favorite time to be on the roads.  It is my most favorite time, because I love seeing the rural hills and valleys turned into a winter wonderland, and I often strike out to take pictures.  But, it is also my least favorite because the roads can be so treacherous.  Luckily, living in town, we have a road crew devoted to clearing the streets and making them safe.  It is tempting to complain about the roads not being cleared quickly enough, but these crews often work all night long to prepare for storms, or deal with the effects of a large snowfall.

No one likes getting a traffic ticket, myself included, so it is easy to dislike the various law enforcement agencies patrolling city streets and state highways.  But they really are there to help maintain order and safety.  When we get caught transgressing, it is easier to blame the officer than to accept blame ourselves.

In short, every day, men and women risk their lives to create, maintain, and patrol our roads.  Whether the roads are in small towns, or in big cities, thousands and thousands of people work hard to make our roads safe.  The work they do is long, hard, and most often thankless, so today, I give them my thanks.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thankful for... animal lovers


Not everyone is a pet person.  Some people are cat people, some are dog people, some are animal people, and some are none of the above.  Hubby and I are clearly animal people.  In our lifetimes, between the two of us, we have had cats, dogs, ducks, rabbits, fish, and a newt.  At current count, we have two mini dachshunds  Dexter and Chloe, and one cat, Nora.  Town ordinances prohibit us from owning livestock, otherwise, we would have ducks and a goat too.  Hubby is currently pushing for a hedgehog (I know right?) and I am rallying for another dog, or a turtle.  So, yes, we are clearly animal people.

Many of our pets, past and present, have been obtained through breeders, or purchased through other retail means.  But some of our pets have been rescue or shelter animals.  While many retailers are in it for money and money alone, reputable breeders, rescues, and shelters are often in it for the animals.  

Our local animal shelter is called Orphans of the Storm.  It is a no kill shelter, and like many no kill shelters, it is always in need.  Each year, the shelter has various fundraisers for money and collections of supplies so that  it can continue to function.  During the holidays, you can sponsor an animal, and donate food, toys, litter, and other necessary supplies to the shelter.  Several of our friends have adopted wonderful animals through this organization, and we have donated to them several times in the past.  

I am so thankful that organizations such as this, as well as the ASPCA, not only exist, but are filled with lots of animal lovers.  I am thankful that there are people who will rescue animals from dangerous and abusive living situations.  I am thankful for generous hearts who help support these animals, giving them love, homes, and new leases on life.

I am thankful that I am an animal person, that I married an animal person, and that we have such amazing pets as a part of our little family.