Sunday, October 16, 2011

{Hawk Watch}

The sermon at church this morning was about following God where He leads us. During the service many photos of gorgeous nature paths were shown on the big screens and it got me thinking: I want to go on a nature walk with my family. Fortunately, it was a gorgeous sunny day - perfect for being outdoors. Cory just happened to have the exact same thing in mind when I asked him if he wanted to go exploring. One of his clients had actually just told him about a place you could hike to to watch hawks migrate south. Apparantly, October 15th to November 15th is the prime time to see the hawks, so this was perfect timing. We headed home, changed into more appropriate clothes, and headed north.
Before we left home we decided we would grab a quick lunch in Carslisle before heading to the mountains. Well . . . we only passed one fast food joint - a Wendy's - and Cory didn't want to stop there. He thought there would surely be other places to eat, but we found out the hard way that he was wrong. It was about 11:30 and none of us had eaten since breakfast (except for the kids who each had a sugar cookie at church), so we were all hungry. But it quickly became clear that we would have to wait until after our hawk adventure to eat because there was nothing between where we were and where we were going. Yikes.
We anticipated a lot of whining from the kids, but there were GREAT! They were just so excited to explore in the mountains and they forgot about their hunger. I am so proud of them for that! We started our adventure with a photo on a big fallen tree. My three munchinkins. So darn cute.

The path up to the actual hawk watch area was very rocky, so much so that Cory had to carry Dixon most of the way. But it was also very beautiful, just like the photos we saw in church. We made it to the top of the mountain and saw a gorgeous lookout spot to the valley below. There were a number of bird watchers camped out of the rocky cliff already, waiting to see the birds as they migrated south. These were serious bird watchers; many of them had HUGE cameras, binoculars, coolers of food, rugs and cushions to sit on, and books to read while they waited. I almost felt like we were intruding on their National Geographic moment.
And then my true idiocy began to shine with a great force. On to top of the cliff is a piece of wood jutting up from the rocks. Clearly it was put there for "birdy" purposes as it's totally not natural amongst all the rocks. And perched on top of the big stick was this:
I could hardly believe that a big bird was actually sitting there, so close to all the bird watchers! I started snapping away like mad, trying to get the best shot possible of this beautiful bird and thinking, "Wow, this IS a great spot to see birds!" But I also kind of wondered why none of the "serious" people were making a fuss over this winged creature. Had it been sitting there so long that they all had gotten their fill of photos? I continued to snap away as we got closer and finally sat down with all the other people on the rocks. Then I told Cory that I was going to try to make my way around to the other side so I could get a photo of the bird's front side. That's when he looked at me and said, "You know that bird is fake, right?"
Ummmm . . . .
What? Fake? Huh? No way.
Oh. Crap.
A true bird watcher I am not. I can only imagine the chuckles I gave the other folks as they watched this blonde idiot ooh and ahh over a fake bird, furiously snapping photos with my telephoto lens and angling for the best shot. What a dork.
But every now and then a REAL hawk would fly by and everyone would get excited.
Eight types of hawks are reported to fly by on their path to the south, eventually ending up in South America for the winter. Even this novice bird watcher could appreciate the beauty of the birds in flight and the miracle of migration. And we all marveled over the spectacular view of the valley below:

It was a wee bit nervewracking to watch my kids walking about on the steep rocks, but Cory kept Dixon safely in his arms until he started making a fuss and we knew we had to leave.

We went back down the mountain and then started up the second path which is called the Songbird Path - the rocks are marked with yellow birds so you know you are going the right way. These are some of my favorite shots from day.
Cory and Dixon being silly together:

The girls found neat spots for photo ops:

Check out this awe-inspiring path:

Cory teaching Dixon about nature's carpet:

Father and son exploring together:
My gorgeous first-born, Sasha, looking so grown up:

Cutie-pie Clara giving me a sweet smile:

And Dixon, the boy who refuses to smile when he sees the camera directed at him:

One of the signs marking the trail paths:

We all had such a fun time hiking and exploring that we almost forgot about our hunger. Almost. Once we were finished with our hawk experience we hopped back in the van in search of food. To make a long story short, it was 4:00 before we ate. Cory decided we should contine folling 74 towards Perry County instead of going back to Carlisle so we could enjoy a Sunday drive. But there was nowhere to eat along the way. We drove and drove and drove with one boy who thankfully fell asleep and two girls who had numerous bouts of fit-throwing because they were starving. It actually became pretty funny - hey, if you can't do anything about the situation you may as well laugh at it, right? Cory eventually found two packs of caramel from McDonald's in the van and gave them to the girls. Caramel. How fulfilling. But we made it to Ft. Loudon and Milky Way (Cory had wanted to eat there all along which is why he made us pass a pizza shop and an ice cream stand) and we filled our shriveled-up tummies with food.
What a great day, totally inspired by God's path for us. If you want to check out the Hawk Watch, I highly recommend it! It's a great way to spend a sunny afternoon with your family.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

{Home Organization: Part One}

I admit it. I'm NOT a very organized person. If you pop over for a visit without any advanced warning, you will most likely see piles of mail on the counters, toys strewn about, and general messes throughout the house. Don't get me wrong: I LOVE a clean and orderly house! In fact, I enjoy hosting parties and having people over so I have the push to tidy up and get things clean. Yet, within about 24 hours the house is in shambles once again.
But recently I discovered several organizing blogs and websites that have completely inspired me to make changes in my own home. I'm tired of searching for things, of yelling at the girls because they don't know where their shoes are, and of living with clutter and knick-knacks that we don't need. So bit by bit, area by area, I'm cleaning things up. I'm determined to get this house tidy and organized so we feel a sense of peace and calm when we walk through the door.
My first step was choosing a few areas of the house to work on first. Obviously, I can't tackle the whole house at once. Organizing this place is goint to happen in stages and over a period of time. So I chose a few areas that cause me the most grief and, quite frankly, drive me batty every time I utilize them. I thought about how the areas would be best used and what I needed to purchase / do to make them work for us better.
Then I headed online to one of my favorite organizing stores, Ikea! I searched the site for the items I needed, wrote down the item numbers and prices on an index card, and planned my trip. Last Friday Dixon and I spent the day at Ikea and found everything on my list and more! It was such a thrill!
So let's check out two of the areas I tackled first.
First up is the girls' room. Their entire bedroom makes me break out into a sweat and feel panicky. It's an adorable room, but nothing is ever put away. Because we don't have a playroom, their bedroom houses all their Barbies, American Girls, and other toys. They have gotten better at cleaning up after they've played, but there are always little pieces and parts of toys on the floor, under the beds, on the nightstand . . . just everywhere. And don't get me started on the clothes. UGH, the clothes.
I decided to start with an area that cause lots of grief for us on a daily basis: the socks and undies drawer. I've always kept the girls' socks and undies in one drawer: socks on the left and undies on the right. But the girls dig around in that drawer looking for a certain pair of socks and it ends up a mess. Plus, I have a hard time letting go of things . . . even kids' underwear. So there were undies from size 2T - yep, the very first undies I bought for Sasha six years ago were still in there - up to size 10. Ridiculous.
Ready to see this mess? Here it is:
Insane, right? A drawer organizer was desperately needed. And I found the perfect one at Ikea! When I got it home and started sorting through the drawer I realized that the organizer was too big to fit into this drawer, so I needed to move things around. The pj drawer was in a different dresser and the drawers are bigger and deeper. Switcheroo! The socks and undies are now happily organized in what was the pj drawer. All of Clara's are on the left and Sasha's are on the right. And now there is room for tights, leg warmers, and slippers in the other half of the drawer - awesome! I filled a bag with tiny undies that we no longer need as well as all the patterned socks that are cute but look ridiculous when worn with most outfits. And the pjs are now in the former socks and undies drawer - only the ones that currently fit the girls. Here's the after photo:
I LOVE how it turned out! Something so simple has already made a big difference - I haven't had to hunt with the girls for a matching pair of socks or a pair of undies that fit since organizing these drawers. Awesome.
Next up are my cabinets that house drinking glasses, mugs, wine glasses, kids' cups, and few other random items.
As you can see, it's a mess. We have mugs that are almost 20 years old in there, complete with chips on the rims. Everything is mis-matched. And do you see the bottom left shelf? Yeah, those would be restaurant cups that the kids bring home - most of them from Moes. They use them almost 100% of the time. It's nice because they were free, reusable, and easy. But they were also taking over the cabinet.
We also were using the top of the microwave for "storage" of sorts. A basket of K-cups lived there, as well as a basket of old jelly beans (tossed), a box of sugar packets, and other little things. It was just a cluttered mess.
I found a shelf insert at Ikea that I knew would help this cabinet immensely. And I was right! I cleaned out all the shelves, got rid of the mugs that were chipped and lots of other cups and things that are never used, and wiped down all the surfaces. And those Moes cups? I threw away 16 cups and 25 lids! There were three packages of wine charms in there, so I removed them from the packaging and put them in a pretty jelly jar that I found at a flea market for a quarter. The cocktail recipe books made their way into a drawer and various other random items found new homes as well. With the addition of the shelf insert, I was able to put all the normal sized mugs on the bottom (including two Tastefully Simple mugs that have been in a box for years, unused), and all the tall mugs and travel mugs above them.
And those K-cups and sugar packets? They now fit quite well on the bottom shelf! The microwave area is totally cleaned up and tidy. Yay!!!
It's amazing what a simple white shelf insert can do for an entire section of a kitchen. Another look at the before and after:
I already have a few other projects in the works and I'm excited to complete them and start more. What are you organizing right now?

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Last Sunday, September 11th, all of the second graders at our church received a Bible during our worship service. What an honor it was to see all of the young people line up to accept their Bibles! As soon as Sasha sat back down she started to flip through her Bible and read sections of it. She even bookmarked a section she wanted to read more about when we got home. How wonderful it is to see Sasha grow in her faith, hungry for God's word, and learning what it means to be a Christian!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

{Goodbye, Pappy}

For most Americans, today is a sad day. It is the 10th anniversary of the terrible events that took place on September 11, 2001. If you are like me, you have been watching memorial services and documentaries that have been broadcast on almost every major network all day and the memories of our own experiences on 9-11 have come flooding back. I don't know if it will ever be easy to watch the footage of the planes hitting the WTC, the buildings falling to the ground, and all the personal stories of those who were directly affected by the terror of that day. I hope not. It shouldn't be easy to watch. But today I'm sad for a bigger reason. While my heart hurts for our country, it is breaking even more because today my family had to say goodbye to a wonderful man - my Pappy.
Pappy is my grandfather, my dad's dad. I have so many fun memories of him from the time I was a child and visiting my grandparents in State College all the way up to the last time I saw him at my dad's house on August 4th. He always had a smile on his face and knew how to make those around him smile, too. I always felt loved when I was with him - loved and very secure. And I have so enjoyed watching my own kids interact with him and seeing how much he loved all of his great-grandchildren. All twelve of them! It was a special thrill when Dixon was born on Pappy's birthday, April 27th, and then a year later one of my cousins had her little girl on that day as well. His birthday - and his life - will certainly never be forgotten.
So it is with a particularly heavy heart that I grieve not only with our country and all that was lost ten years ago today, but also with my family for the loss of a great man in our lives. I pray that he has been welcomed into God's heavenly kingdom and is healthy and strong once again, happy, laughing, and reunited with those whom entered Paradise before him. I miss you already, Pappy, and love you very much.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

{Birthday Girls}

Tis the season for birthdays - and lots of them! Many of my family members have birthdays during the August - December months so there are many parties and special dinners during this time. It gets quite busy! This year Cory and I decided to take it easy and have one combo party for Sasha and Clara. Their birthdays are just six weeks apart, so we picked one of the only free Saturdays we have (today, the 3rd) and had a simple pizza party in the backyard with our family.
I was actually out of state on Clara's birthday this year. :( It's always hard to miss a birthday and I think this was the third birthday of Clara's that I've missed because Tastefully Simple's National Conference fell over her big day. But she was a trooper. Cory made her entire birthday weekend extra special and she knew her party was coming soon. Sasha's birthday is coming up at the end of September, so she got a bit of an early celebration today. We'll still do something special on her actual birthday, too.
My little girl is not so little anymore - Clara turned 6 on August 13th! I'm so proud of her and her fearless personality. She is having a blast in kindergarten and has been reading quite well for the past year. She's very excited to be a Girl Scout Daisy this year and to add playing soccer to her list of activities!
Sasha turns 8 on September 30th! Where did the years go? Wasn't she just a 5.5 pound little pink bundle? Sasha is amazing in so many ways. She is very sensitive, very in tune to her own and others' feelings, very smart, and very much into everything girly and sparkly. She is now in the 2nd grade and loving it! She is also starting to play soccer this year for the first time - something she never thought she'd do, but she's looking forward to it.
So we invited all of our family members to come over for a pizza party this evening. It was warm and muggy, but the cousins all had a blast playing catch with a football, riding down a hill in a Red Flyer wagon, and just playing together outside. It was awesome to see so many family members together for a rather relaxing evening since it doesn't happen all that often. And moments like this one need to happen more often:
That's my grandmother, Mom-Mom, with my newest nephew, Jayce. I think they are playing patty-cake. So cute!
Clearly, the girls were excited to dive into their presents!
Many of the gifts will be shared, like this adorable chef's outfit and accessories for their American Girl dolls.
All of the gifts were perfect. Art supplies, Barbie and American Girl goodies, clothes, jewelry . . . these girls were wonderfully spoiled.
The last gifts that Sasha and Clara opened were from Cory and me. Clara has been asking for a GoGo and Me dog for a year. Actually, "asking" isn't quite the right word. "Begging" is more like it. It's the only thing she has really wanted and consistently talked about for a year. I didn't want to get it because it's expensive and honestly - we have two REAL dogs! She can walk and play with them! But I don't want her to be in therapy in twenty years talking about how her parents refused to get her the only thing she really ever wanted . . .
So here it is. GoGo and Me Fur Real Pet is officially in the hands of an ecstatic Clara!
I wasn't quite sure what to get for Sasha. I thought I'd give her a nice, introductory level digital camera since she likes to take pictures with my camera, but I couldn't find one I liked for less than $200. Not gonna happen. Then I happened to come upon Flip cams on clearance and "DING DING DING"!!! That was it! Sasha is always asking me to take her and Clara doing little skits and things, so this is perfect. She can make her own videos and will have a blast. She is quite excited and can hardly wait to start using her Flip tomorrow once it's charged.
Time for cake! I was going to make the girls' cakes this year, but when I asked them what kind of cake they wanted they requested "the cake that Dixon had last year." Well, it was actually a Food Lion cake! We got him a chocolate cake from Food Lion to celebrate his birthday on the actual day since his party was held on a different day. The girls liked that cake and remembered it. Works for me! Cory made three batches of ice cream (vanilla, Oreo, and mint chocolate chip) and I pulled out a triple chocolate fudge cake and a red velevet cake made by the fabulous "chefs" of Food Lion.
The girls were happy and the cakes were actually tasty!
Finally, it was time for the pinata. This was one of the only things the girls said they wanted to do at their party, so Dixon and I shopped for a pinata and stuffed it full of candy.
Ryan managed to crack that sucker open with his mighty swings and it was a candy free-for-all!
I have to say that this birthday party was great - at least in my humble opinion. It was so laid-back and stress-free. The kids had fun just being kids and the adults just sat back and talked and enjoyed the evening. I think this may be the way we celebrate from now on! The kids are now all snoozing away in bed . . . all three of mine plus my sweet niece Kari who decided to stay overnight. Fun!
Happy Birthday to my loveable girls! May this next year bring you happiness, fun, and many dreams come true.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Last week was awesome. Inspiring. Amazing.

I kissed my kids and husband goodbye on Tuesday evening and headed to Baltimore to catch an early flight to Minneapolis, Minnesota the next morning. Why Minneapolis? Well . . . it was time for Tastefully Simple's National Conference! I have attended this conference five times since I joined the company back in 2004 and it is seriously a week I look forward to all year long. When most people hear the word "conference" they think of boring meetings where you're stuck in a room full of boring people telling you boring information. And that is quite true for many, many companies. But not Tastefully Simple! TS conferences are FUN!!! Yes, we are trained and taught new things, but it is always done in a very fun manner. In fact, our National Conference is so much fun that it has officially been renamed "Party Palooza"! Who wouldn't want to go to that every year?

So once again I boarded a plane with my sister Jen, my mother, and my newest nephew, Jayce. My mom has actually attended three Nationals now in order to care for a baby while Jen and I are in session. She's such an awesome Nana!

We arrived in Minneapolis shortly after noon and quickly got settled in at the Hilton Towers. Then we headed out into the city to eat and shop. One of our favorite restaurants in Minneapolis is The News Room. We have yet to have a bad meal there! There is a big wooden mermaid in the lobby that intriqued Jayce. This is the "tame" photo I took (the other one shows him touching her bosom as he gazed up at her face!):

After lunch we took the lightrail to The Mall of America to do some shopping. Yep, one of many perks of going to conference is getting to visit the biggest mall in America! I finally found a pair of comfy flips to replace my brown shoes that were falling apart - yay! We browsed the many stores and then I had a special treat. My dear friend Theresa allowed me to have dinner with her husband Brian who just happened to be in Minneapolis on business at the same time. We ate at Bubba Gump's and had a really good time.

Back on the streets by our hotel we spotted this big metal chicken. There is a story behind this chicken . . . a really, really funny story . . .

The three of us were absolutely wiped out from a long day of travel: up by 5 am, travel via planes, trains and automobiles, shopping, eating, etc . . . so we called it a night. I think we were all asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows, including Jayce.

But the next morning brought a new day and lots more to do. We began by heading to another fav restaurant, Hell's Kitchen. I decided to try a dish that I've heard rave reviews about: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes. Oh. My. Word. These babies didn't require a smidge of butter or a drop of syrup. They were so light, comparable to a crepe, and the lemon and ricotta made them melt in my mouth. Dear me, they were delicious.

We ate breakfast with the rest of our team members who were at conference, plus a couple "adopted" team members. I didn't notice it until now, but almost all the blondes are up front and the brunettes are in the back! How does that happen?
With our bellies full, we headed to the convention center for day one of conference. The theme this year was "Cut Loose" and the entire convention center - both inside the main room and throughout the halls - was decorated accordingly with dance floors, stars, and a dance party feel. TS goes all out with decorations!
We were greeted by our founder and CEO, Jill Blashack Strahan, who got all of us worked up and inspired us to "Magnify the best. Focus on what's next."
One thing that TS always does at every conference is give away really nice prizes. They are referred to as "Hot Seat" drawings; your cheeks have to be in your seat in order to win. Some of the prizes are gift cards to Target, Barnes & Noble, and Bloomingdales, prepaid Visa cards, handbags from Fossil and Coach, TS items, and more. I'm one who seriously never wins anything, so imagine my surprise when my name was drawn out of a bag of over 1,400 consultants and I won a $300 Best Buy gift card! I thought I'd lost my mind! Now I have to decide how to use it . . .

My sister Jen was a featured speaker for one of the Leadership Breakout Sessions that afternoon. She told her story of why she joined Tastefully Simple and the challenges that she's had to overcome over the years in order to grow a strong business and help others do the same. It was very heartfelt and for the rest of the conference people approached her to tell her what a fantastic job she did and how she inspired them. How proud I am to be her first team member and to take this journey with her!
The next day was full of product unveilings for the fall / winter catalog which will be available to clients on September 1st. New soups, seasonings, drink mixes, and FOUR PAGES OF CHOCOLATE are among the 31 products soon to hit our product shelves! WOOT!!!

We also were entertained by a keynote speaker, Frank Miles. He was honestly one of the funniest people I have ever heard in my life. He mixed his message of "face life and laugh at fear" among stand-up comedy, juggling, magic, and even ping-pong ballet. He was absolutely hilarious and inspirational at the same time. You may have seen him on America's Got Talent doing stand up recently - he is SO talented!

After a full day of unveilings and training I joined a slew of other consultants who are on my extended team for dinner and laughs. Here we are posing with some larger-than-life products:
Like I've said before, Tastefully Simple people know how to have FUN! The team at Headquarters gets really into character when presenting things on stage, as you can see below. This is Travis, a.k.a VP of Marketing, doing some John Travolta moves as he presents our new "Jacked Up Brand" onstage.
We also know how to celebrate one another. Consultants were recognized on stage for various accomplishments including top sales, recruiting, leader development, and personal promotions. Here is team member Alissa walking the stage for promoting to Team Manager!
I always try to get a pic of Jen and I together since not only is she my sister, she's my sponsor. How fun it has been to run my business alongside my sister all these years! And for the past year our other sister, Becky, has been partying with us, too. It's a family thing!
And here is another fellow team member, Christa, being recognized for promoting to Senior Team Manager!
How many jobs out there celebrate their employees for simply doing their job well? TS consultants truly are blessed.
Towards the end of the day I got a good pic of the ladies at my table. These gals ROCK!
That evening my favorite part of Nationals took place - the Victory Celebration and Awards Dinner. Check out how TS made the main stage all glitzy!
Jen walked the stage twice that night, once for Movers & Shakers Sales Level 2 and once for Leader Development. Here she is with her awesome sponsor, Karen:
And here are some of us team mates (Tastebuds) doing our "ta-da!"
It was a fantastic night.
Throughout conference many great quotes are featured. I LOVE quotes and find them very inspirational. This was one of my favorites of the week:
And on that note, here are some unveilings for YOU! Tastefully Simple is wonderful and changes people's lives in so many ways. The products are HUGE time savers in the kitchen and make even the worst cooks feel like a chef! The new products are SO yummy! Check them out by clicking the photo below. If something sounds good to you, please let me know if you'd like to have a taste-testing party to try them with your friends and earn them for free! Or if you'd like to place an order on September 1st when they are available, I can help you with that, too.

And if you think Tastefully Simple looks like an awful lot of fun and you've been trying to find a way to make extra income (or replace an income!), we have the BEST new consultant incentive ever! Normally it costs $170 to become a consultant, which is still a good deal considering all you get when you join. From now until September 30th, you can join Tastefully Simple for just $85! And to make it even better, when you activate by September 30th you'll get a $50 credit on your account! That means you'll effectively start your own business for just $35!!!

I can't begin to tell you all the ways Tastefully Simple has positively impacted my life for the past 7 1/2 years, and I'd love nothing more than to help you find success with this company, too. Check out the link below and if it sounds interesting to you or you know someone who needs Tastefully Simple in his or her life, please contact me.

I'm gearing up for another busy fall party season and can hardly wait for the next conference with my TS family! I hope you'll join us for the fun!