Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How to Plan a Trip to the Redwood National Forest (and Mendocino)!

The Headlines:

The time has come.

Vacation Creation.

Here's why (and how) we did it.  

During the Summer, when I was a little girl... myself, my mom and my Dad would all pile in our Volkswagen (Pop Top) Bus and drive for miles.  We would drive, stop, camp and then drive, stop, camp some more.  Four weeks total.  Every year from the time I could remember... until I was in high school.  For it was at that time, we no longer had the time to pile, drive, stop and camp.

Because, like all kids, I grew up.  More on that later.

Since we've had our own babies we've definitely gone on vacations.  But mostly to relaxing resorts, beach destinations or family visits.  Traveling with "toddlers" is never easy.  I remember once we got on a plane, my son was maybe 2 years old, shortly after take off he stands in the aisle, points to the door and says: OFF PLANE NOW.   At this point, we've certainly turned the corner so it's time to do something different.

BP (the husband) and I made a pact last Summer to take a break once a year and do (at least) one real family vacation.  Preferably not the resort kind.  I just think more unique memories can be made when you hit the open road.  So, we decided our first go-round would be The Redwood National Forest.  For those of you wondering... that's at the very tip top of California near the coast.

It did not disappoint.  In this post, I'll tell you what we did, how it was so special, where you can do it and why the time is now.  I'll highlight the 5 Most Important Tips.

I have no known trip planning skills but turns out I didn't need any after I found this place:

TIP #1:
Redwood Coast Cabins & RV Resort (click the phrase to their website).  I basically wanted to go "glamping" without paying like 5 hundo a night!  At RCC, you can get a camp site for under $20 or you can stay in their "Deluxe" Log Cabin (with basic bath and kitchen) for under $150.  That was exactly what I wanted.  They also have really rustic log cabins (without the bath or kitchen) for under $100.  It gave us the feeling of camping, complete with pool, play area, giant chess and mini golf (all with the cost of the site).  Perfect.  I recommend highly.

But then what RCC also did, was give us a list of things to do while there.
TIP #2 Check it out here: Redwood To Do List

We started by going to the old, historic Samoa Cookhouse, which I did as a kid...

and it hasn't changed a bit.  Family style cooking.  Great for breakfast.  It was tasty as well as historic.  Don't miss it.  Read about it here: Samoa Cookhouse.  Then we headed up to the Trees of Mystery (click the phrase for more info).  There, we saw spectacular trees, Paul Bunyan and took a gondola ride.  It's just interesting.  You can spend hours reading and looking at all the stuff.  It didn't disappoint.  It was a little under $50 for the 4 of us... but worth it.

We also checked out the Avenue of giants, the Grandfather Tree and the Visitor Center (which obviously has tons of ideas too).

TIP #3
The National Park has a cool "Quest" series for kids.  The quests, essentially require the child to go searching for something, via clues given to them, at a certain hiking spot.  At the end, they discover the code which they turn into the visitor center and get a "prize".  My kids LOVED IT!  And it was FREE.

After 2 nights, we drove down to Mendocino.  ***Warning*** this drive is not for faint of heart.  I got incredibly car sick, there are very windy roads here.  At one point, I had to get out of the car and lie on the side of the road.  Memories were definitely being made.   But once we made it... there was this... bliss.

TIP #4
We stayed at the Little River Inn... which had a view of the water and it was breathtaking.  This property is just really precious.  See for yourself here:  Little River Inn

We were so close to the beach, Medocino and Fort Bragg.  Plus my kids could play some football on their lawn overlooking the ocean.  It was heavenly.  While here, we went on a "Skunk Train" ride... (in my opinion kind of expensive and a little over-rated for a family of four) and we hunted for
TIP #5 Seaglass at "Seaglass Beach"... it's a real thing.

After a recycling plant was located in the area, it left behind legit Seaglass.  But Beware: The city does NOT want you take the little treasures.

We also hiked the beach, dined overlooking the ocean and browsed their many roadside stores.  Two nights and we moved on.

From forests to cliffside beaches to the farm lands of the wine country.  On our way back to the airport we decided take a quick, final jaunt through Napa.  We stopped at a park, ate at a favorite,
BONUS TIP: Gott's Roadside (formerly Taylor's Refresher) Grill and took some pictures.  Nope, no wine tasting on this trip but it was just what we needed before hopping on a plane.

The odd thing, we were only gone for 4 nights and 5 days.  But it was just enough.  We packed a lot into our little trip.  And we'll do it again.  Not the same thing.  Something totally different.  I'm up for suggestions.

Because the fact is, time doesn't stand still.  I wish it did.  I wish we could pick a moment in our lives and just live there forever.  But sooner than later, as I often write in this blog... my kids will no longer WANT to be on vacation with us.  Let alone be able to...

When I started going to high school... "responsibilities" kicked in.  Sure, they were Cheer and Student Government responsibilities but they were mine and they were important to me.  The family vacations, like the old days, stopped.

So friends, we have a window.  A small window to enjoy the moments that become so very fleeting to us all.  Use it up.  DO things.  Not just resort things.  Go places that don't require a ton of money... camp.  Or glamp.  Pack your own food... but get out there.  Before the window is closed for good.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How to Plan a Last Minute Birthday Party

The Headlines:

Sometimes you just don't have time.

So do a QUICK SIX (birthday party)!

Here are 5 Tips:

I love planning parties.  Kids birthday parties have long been one of my favs.  Your kids are only young once.  You get one shot of making those memories light up the rest of their lives.  Maybe yours too!

But let's be honest.  Life is busy.  We got things going on... we can't aways spend hours on party plans.  Like the "Police Birthday Party or the "Savvy-Chic" Birthday Party  I pulled off a few years ago.  Those took some time.

This year, when my son's birthday party rolled around I was less than enthusiastic.  I was worn out from busy holidays, sports seasons, work and family!  So I decided to do something that took little time.  And guess what?  It turned out great.  Kids happy.  People fed.  Love spread.  Memories made.

Here's how we did it.

1 - Find a Quick Theme
And embrace it.  My son LOVES football.   To date, he's now made AND thrown a Pick 6 (interception, followed by a touchdown, for those of you who, like me, knew not).  It's all he talks about!  So, I decided, rather than a Pick 6 - let's do a QUICK 6 Birthday party.  Yes, he was turning 6 years old.  It would be a generic, "thrown together," fast party!  Yes, I made the invites.  That's my own hang up.  But I will say, as I always do... it does set the tone.

2 - Hire someone  
It was time to call in a game truck!  I found a company to come in, for 2 hours, and the kids LOVED IT!  There were video games and dancing video games.  Room for like 22 kids (plus).  It not only made them happy - but me too.  It was the main source of fun.  It cost about $300, so it's not cheap.  But worth every penny!

3 - Decor
Sometimes you think of the theme and find stuff to go with that.  Other times, you make a theme around what you find.  In a last minute party that can easily happen.  At which point, number 1 switches with number 3.  Does that make sense?  Hopefully.  Here - while I had a basic theme idea in my head - I wasn't sure how I was going to pull it off.  So, I went to Michael's.  I saw some black and white cups and wrapping paper, both, you could color (below).  I also grabbed black and white serving items and black masks that scratch off to make designs.  Plus some B/W favors and the party was planned in minutes.

I used that wrapping paper to cover all table surfaces.  The main table, the cake table, the candy buffet and even my kitchen Island.  Then I threw markers and pencils around so kids could color anywhere!  

4 - Food/Cake  
I chose as many black and white food options as I could find!  Black (dark purple) grapes, white popcorn,  hot chocolate & marshmallows (which they were supposed to drink from their b/w cup they colored), white creme puffs... white bread sandwiches & a dark juice drink (not pictured) you get the drift.

Then of course that candy bar (which doubled as add ins to the take away bag)!

The cake... I made myself and not only decided to do black and white but gave it a sort of undone look... which was supposed to look like I did it fast but it also happens to be really chic right now!

5 - Other Activities
Finally tonight, even with the game truck and the coloring options, you need something else for kids to do.  Options at a party - are good!  So, the kids had a blast with our extra last minute addition which were these body bumper things.  A random, non-themed, fun activity which really worked!  Sometimes, it's the little things!

Not much work, last minute and generic... yet , a "Quick 6 Birthday Party" was born.  We all loved it.  And now you can too!  

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Bad Mom Moments

The Headlines:

Have you ever had a Bad Mom Moment?

Maybe there's no such thing.

Warning: the contents of this post may offend someone.  I am sorry for that in advance.  But you don't have to read it.

It happens to everyone.  We all have Bad Mom moments.  Heck, they even made a movie about the subject.  It's more acceptable now.  To make mistakes.  To get it wrong.  It happened to me recently.   I got something really wrong.  I'm not proud of it.  I'm actually really embarrassed.  But my Bad Mom Moment worked.  My son, who was on the receiving end of my "badness..." changed his behavior.  Which made me think, I wonder if all the Bad Mom Moments actually equal good life learning for our kids.

Wouldn't that be nice?   It would kind of mean Bad Mom Moments aren't really that bad after all.

My son is pretty well behaved.  When he's at school.  An event.  Or someone's house.  He's good for coaches, friends, other people in general.  He is not, however, always good for me.  Recently, I had a really busy day.  It was a day, quite frankly, where I felt like I was losing my mind.  I know you've been there.  Plus, I had a headache, had no idea what was for dinner and we had to get to an Art Walk at school.  Something I really didn't want to do.  Nor did my daughter.  But we were going anyways.  Because my son wanted to see his master piece.

As I was trying to round everything up to head out my little 6 year old man was barking orders at me.  "We need to hurry, I want a snack, let's go - I want to play!"  There were incessant demands that were very rude.  And because of my head space at the moment I completely lost my marbles.

I yelled, a loud and very long:


Dare I say, it felt good?  Not cool, I know... but good.  For 5 seconds.  During which time there was complete silence.  He was in shock.  I was in shock.  I rarely say bad words and I certainly have never told my children to shut up.  But in that moment it was the best word(s) to use and exactly how I felt.

5 seconds of silence quickly turned to 30 seconds of "that's mean, you can't say that to your child, that's a bad word, you've never loved me... you would never say that to me if you loved me!"  Of course I felt 2 inches tall.  He was sent to his room to cool off as I reminded him I have always loved him and say that at least 5 times a day, everyday!

Afterwards, once cooler minds prevailed, I explained to him that if he speaks to me horribly - I will speak to him horribly right back.  It doesn't feel good for anyone.  Including Moms.

So here's the thing:  since then he hasn't spoken poorly to me.  Not really.  Not beyond his usually whiny-ness at least.  It's as if the SHHHHHHUUUUUUUUUUT--UUUUUUUUUUUUUUP worked!?  I'm not sure why.  I'm guessing it has to do with the fact that I did something so unexpected that it made a huge impact.  It was a Bad Mom Moment that may have turned into a good life lesson.

For us both.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Wine Barrel Bar Table

The Headlines:

This is so cool.

You can make one yourself!

Here's how we did it... 

As you may or may not know I love to decorate.  It's been widely documented here on this blog.  And from time to time,  we try to make things.  I'm not sure why.  I guess, because 1, it's cool, 2... it's (usually cheaper) and 3, it's original.  Yours and only yours.

All 3 of those reasons is why BP (the husband) made this...

You can clearly see it's a bar top table.  But not just any bar top... there's a wine barrel that supports it.

It's fairly "easy."  Well, self explanatory.  First you gotta find the barrel.  That's probably the hardest part.  But check Craigs list.  I found some there.  Then, he bought some wood, planed, glued and "doweled" the pieces together for the table top.  Then he cut it in a circle.  It was a little bowed so he bought some galvanized steel pipes and flanges... spray painted them black and affixed them to the bottom of the circular table top.  It pretty much fixed that problem.

Then he stained the wood, multiple times.  It sucked a lot up.  Finally, he added a resin top.  We've done glass before but bugs tend to get caught in it outside unless the seal is stellar.  Which is hard.

The resin is tricky but super cool looking.

It's very reflective.  But I caution, perfection is tough to accomplish.  After you mix and pour (according to the instructions) you really need a torch so you can blow out all the bubbles like you see in the picture above.  But even with that.. beware some will remain.  It's okay, gives it character.

In the end, we love it.  We use it all the time.  More than our large outdoor dining table for sure.  Now you go!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Easy Restaurant Asian Style Rib Crockpot recipe

The Headlines:

These are the best Asian style ribs you'll ever make. 

Or maybe eat.

They take 15 minutes of your time.

It's a MUST DO.

I don't know about your house but in mine... ribs are big.  Like mighty huge.  My husband honestly can't get enough of them... if they're good.  He typically does all the rib making.  Until this...

Tangy, with a tinge of spice, fall off the bones, melt in your mouth, can't get enough of them Ribs.

I haven't made these babies in a couple years... but I pulled them out over VDay.  Huge hit.  Huge.  And here's the deal, they take almost no time or ingredients to put together.  I mean really.  Recently, my husband and his friend used something called the "Ribalizer" (seriously) to make some fall off the bone ribs.  Don't get me wrong they were good.  But these were better.  And you don't need a "Ribalizer."  Just your trusty old crockpot.

The best part - practically all of the ingredients can be found in your pantry already!

Here's What You need:
1 rack of ribs - or 2 (if you do 2, double all of the ingredients below) 
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup of low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
*optional - 2 tablespoons fresh ginger (I actually used some pickled ginger in my fridge) 
8 cloves of chopped garlic
1/2 tspn red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons of corn STARCH 
3 scallions thinly sliced
1 tspn sesame seeds 

Here's What You Do:
In a small bowl, blend sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, ginger, garlic and red pepper.

Place ribs in slow cooker, add the sauce.  Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or until meat is tender.  I mean these are so quick and easy you can also start it on high for 2 hours and switch it to low after that for a couple more.  Depends on your crockpot.

Transfer ribs to platter, drain sauce into sauce pan.  Combine cornstarch and 1/4 cup of water then pour in sauce pan.  Bring all of that that to a boil on high heat and cook for 2-3 minutes, while stirring until thickened.  Top ribs with some of the sauce, sprinkle scallions and sesame seeds over the dish.  Serve with remaining sauce on the side or over rice or... whatever you choose!

Done.  Are they fabulous or what?

*sidenote, this time I accidentally used Corn SYRUP instead of Corn Starch so the sauce will usually coat the ribs a little better/heavier.  But it still tasted out of this world.  You really can't mess these up.  It may be impossible.

Trust me, these are the best ribs you're not making.  Now cancel that restaurant rezzie at your local dive Chinese joint and do these instead!

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Monday, February 6, 2017

What to Do If You Buy (or Sell) A House in 2017

The Headlines:

If you're going to buy a house this year...

Or sell this year.

Read this first.

Many of you know I love houses.  Buying, selling, decorating and remodeling houses is something I love to do.  It really became my passion while I was still working as a journalist in the Phoenix, Arizona market.  Because of that, many years ago I got my Real Estate License.  I've used it over the years for home sales and property management.  But now I want to do more.  In the past month I've met with and discussed Real Estate with Industry professionals and here are my 5 biggest take aways.

1 - Know What You Want
This is the first issue.  It's a simple one.  The most fun one.  What do you want to buy?  Make a list.  How many bedrooms, bathrooms, garage spaces?  Your Realtor will want to know specifics.  What's important to you?  Mountain view.  Kitchen Island.  Dining Room.  Where do you want to live?  Particular Subdivision, zip code or city.  Then finally, what are you deal breakers?  Busy road, no pool, grass you have to maintain.

Same goes with selling.  What do you have to do/spend to get your home ready?  What do you need to make for it to be worthwhile?  How many homes are for sale in your zip code?  Not many... that's good for a sale.  Not a lot of inventory = higher sale price.   Sure, your Realtor can help out with some of this, but do your own investigating first to be more informed.

Write things down and communicate them with your Realtor.  Home buying and selling is time consuming.  But it won't be as bad if you know exactly what you need and want.

2 - Buy What You're Comfortable with... NOT What You can Afford 
These are 2 different things.  You may make $4,000 a month but you can't spend $3500 on your mortgage.  Your Loan Officer will help you decide what you'll be comfortable with paying.  It's typically about 40-45% of your gross income.  And that's being generous.  YOU need to honestly evaluate your lifestyle and that will help you choose the price range for the house you can buy.

3- Interview Your Realtor and Loan Officer to Find the Right one FOR YOU.
There's a difference between Mortgage Brokers/Bankers/Banks. The first two more or less shops your mortgage around to get the right deal for you.  The latter has their bank wheelhouse to shop in.  Which one is better?  That depends on your specific situation.  Get recommendations from friends to get contacts.  Then talk to them about your options.  If they want your business, and they should, they'll tell you what you need to know to make the right decision.

Realtors are a dime a dozen.  You ever notice that?  In Los Angeles, where I went to college, every where you turned there were actors.  In Phoenix, it seems like everyone's a Realtor.  So, find the one that fits your needs.  That does NOT mean the one whose wearing the shiniest watch, the guy at the biggest brokerage or the person who's going to sell your house at the price you think it should be.   It  means you need to find the Realtor who will be honest, work the hardest and have your best interest at heart.  Greed isn't always good in Real Estate.

4 - Ask Questions
I firmly believe, there is no dumb question.  Well, almost never.  That's what years of asking questions has taught me.  Trust me, you'll feel a lot more dumb if you don't get the answers you need.  Realtors and Loan Officers are here to help.  They may not know everything but, if they're good, they'll find the answers.

I talked to a gal the other day who firmly believed you needed 20% down to buy a house.  NOT TRUE, I said!  With Conventional loans these days, many are only putting down 10%, sometimes 5%.  An FHA loan only requires 3.5%.  And in some locations, like Metro Phoenix, there are programs where they COVER your down payment.  Meaning, you pay nothing.   For instance, the "Home In 5" Program.  Those making $88k or less a year can qualify to buy homes in certain designated areas.  As long as you meet the requirements, the right mortgage broker can help you get into something you may never have known existed.

You just need to ASK!

5 - Take Your Time (but not too much)
There's no crystal ball but people believe 2017 will be a banner year for Real Estate.  Mortgage rates will stay fairly steady... and while that may not be what drives people to purchase homes, this will.  Like him or hate him, with the newly elected President Trump in office, there's a general feeling of positivity in the economic department.  And many believe, the economy drives home sales, not rates.  With more jobs, less taxes, better business on the horizon - things are changing.  Regardless of people rioting, boycotting, saying the same sentence for 4 years in a row.  Seriously.  Actor Shia LaBeouf really tried to do this, until he got arrested outside the NY Museum in late January.

In 2017, people will want to buy their first home, move up or invest.  And that's good for real estate!

Who knows what 2018 will bring.

Finally tonight,  to write this post I met with 3 Loan/Mortgage professionals.  They know their stuff, word hard and are full of good information.  Not to mention, they're all guys I actively refer people to and trust with my own dollars.  If you're in the market to buy a home and need some help getting started, give them a call, their info is below and in no particular order.

Happy Housing!

Erik Goldenson
KS State Bank

Tom Maison

Greg Halvorson

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Valentines Decorating

The Headlines:

It's a quick holiday after the big season.

But it deserves a little attention.

Here's how to love it.

Each year after New Years, we take it all off.  Yep, the tree comes down.  The wreaths, the stockings, the everything.  It all gets packed away for the following year.  We clean and scale down.  The house looks bare.  It's depressing.  Life is seemingly empty.

But alas... it is not.

It's time to throw out a little color and decor that is V-day.  Not much... I mean, c'mon, you just got through THEEE Super Bowl of holidays!  You just need enough to know the day exists.   Your kids will love you.  Your husband may not care.   But you, yes, you (remember you're in there too)!  YOU will be a little more amorous inside.  Promise.

Here are 5 steps:

1 - Pink and Red Baby
Pull it all out.  Hand towels (see them back there) and vases.  Whatever you got.  Don't go overboard.  Just enough.

2 - Go GLAM! 
Yep, as you're splashing those lovely colors around... get your glam out.  This means things that are shiny and sparkly!  Like in the picture above.  That's a Tiny Target vase for $3.  Or below.

Here, some closer looks.  The mixed metal pillow on the couch (Home Goods).  Or the XOXO garland I hung on my Window Screen Frame.

Or what about the tall, thin Rhinestone vase (which came from a Rose delivery years ago - yup, I kept it).... next to the large, mirrored, shiny votive (Home Goods).  It all adds to the drama that is Valentines Day!
3 - All About the Candy
What can be easier than sticking Red Licorice in jars?  Nothing.  I use this trick every time this time of year.  I think it's gorge.  I usually put it in all three containers.  But this year I added silver gum balls (from Party City).  See, Splash of Glam (refer back to #2)!

Or Red Hots in Hearts (refer forward to #4) sitting on your kitchen table.  How easy can you get?

4 - Get your HEART On
Here's another one: puts "hearts" and "love stuff" everywhere.  Simple.  Like above.  Or perhaps on the mantel and in your foyer like below.

That pillow is, again, from Target for 20 bucks.  I love it and can actually use it past Valentines... if I want.

5 - Get the Kids Involved
Finally tonight, get those kids in the spirit.  This is easy to do.  Go to the Dollar Tree.  Buy them some cute trinkets for a buck.  Signs, garland, lights.  You know the drill.   That's what we did here with this heart garland (from the Dollar Tree) in the Playroom and on my daughters headboard - the sign is from Target ($5)  - clearly I scored there this holiday!

**Sidenote, that dollar section when you walk in the door of Target is fabulous.  I kinda can't get enough of it.  Even though it's kind of going up in price.  Still good stuff for a bargain.  Way to go Tar-jhay!

And that is all... now go enjoy your Valentine Season as you LOVE your Home Decor!

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