Me and my family

Going to New Orleans and eating burger is like …

New Orleans is a great place to indulge – the coffee, the beignets, the booze, the food – almost too many options but really something for every kind of taste.

Going to New Orleans and eating burger is like … well, it’s actually a really good idea if you head to a restaurant expecting to order seafood only to see the majority of Foursquare tips directing you to the best burger in New Orleans.

Oyster bar at Luke Restaurant New OrleansWalking into Luke, a chef John Besh restaurant in New Orleans, one of the first things you see is the Oyster Bar, full of fresh seafood and you begin to imagine the choices on the menu.

And you check in on Foursquare. Then suddenly, you have a craving for a burger.

From the menu description, the lüke burger is Allan Benton’s bacon, caramelized onions, tomatoes, Emmenthaler Swiss cheese with house-made fries.Luke burger New Orleans

The bun was an onion roll and in order to make room for the deliciousness, I took off half of the bun to make room for the main course. It did not disappoint. The bacon was smoky, the burger had a fantastic grilled flavor and even the fries were perfectly crispy. My companion, who I was at a conference with, had the pork chop, which was the nightly special, and said it was a crime that she couldn’t finish all of it.

We didn’t have room for dessert but all indications pointed to the bread pudding. The couple dining next to us shared one and cleaned the plate.

So when in New Orleans, it’s always a good idea to try the oysters, but at Luke, it’s OK to give the burger a go. You won’t regret it.

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Being the Cool Mom for a day

Sometimes, you are the mean mom, like when you spend a full Saturday morning and most of the afternoon cleaning every inch of your daughter’s room and ask her repeatedly “Keep?”  “Are you sure you’re going to play/use/wear this?”

But when it’s all said and done and you leave with three large bags of stuff and the floor is so clean that she has enough room to do a cartwheel, you’re not the bad guy anymore.

And when the rest of your evening involves a trip to see your heroes, suddenly you are the cool mom.

My daughter, who turned 8 this fall, was like thousands of other girls across the U.S. this summer as she sat and watched with open jaw the women’s Olympic gymnastics team. I offhandedly said “We should go see them if they go on a tour.”

Recently, she has been carrying around a couple of trading cards of Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas that she found in her brother’s Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine. She asked me if the gymnasts were coming.

I did a quick search and – yikes – they were coming the following week! Tickets had been on sale for months but I was able to get two pretty good tickets and for once we had an open weekend.

Olympic Gymnasts at The Palace of Auburn HillsWe traveled the hour and a half to The Palace of Auburn Hills for the Kellogg’s Tour of Champions and my daughter was giddy with excitement – bubbling and bouncing in her chair and waiting to get a glimpse of her heroes.

My daughter was completely thrilled with the experience. My only complaint is that the lighting was very dark for most of the performance. They had lasers, spotlights and colored lights and sometimes it was hard to see from a distance. I have to wonder how that played out for the fans in the upper bowls.

The men’s and women’s gymnasts were on hand, along with some entertainment in the form of a guy dressed up like a baby and performing funny stunts to get the crowd going.

My daughter had such an adrenaline rush that when it was over, she immediately said she wanted to go to bed. We got in the car, she handed me her glasses and said “don’t turn on the radio, I’m going to bed.”

I’d call that a successful event!

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How I eBay

I’ve been eBaying for more than 10 years! That sounds much more impressive than it actually is, because I still have a feedback rating of under 100. That’s because I go through phases with selling on eBay.

(And before we get into the details, I’ll put this disclosure right up front: I used to work at an agency that worked with eBay. However, I eBayed before that, taught the staff how to do it while I worked there, and still continue to use the site. These opinions and experiences are my own.)

So here’s how I eBay:

I start by getting annoyed with toys that the kids don’t play with anymore and the plethora of clothing they’ve outgrown. We might upgrade a phone and still have the old one.

Then, I start piling things up and eventually sort to donate and sell piles. When I’m ready to think about listing, I look on the calendar to make sure I’ll be home when it comes time to ship. No one wants to wait for their stuff for too long.

I then do some research on eBay to see if the item is worth selling. You can do this by going to advanced search and checking “completed listings” to see what the same or similar items have sold for.

The most difficult part for me is usually finding boxes for shipping. For example, my dad had a couple of pool cues he didn’t want anymore, so it took me a long time to find a box long enough to ship them.

One of the best investments I’ve made is a postal scale. One $20-ish purchase (on eBay of course) and I no longer play “do I profit or do I owe after shipping.” By providing the measurements of the box and the weight on the scale, you get a more accurate estimate of the shipping cost.

I take photos with my phone, and now eBay lets you post multiple photos without additional fees. When taking photos, make sure you get multiple sides and zoom in on anything that might be important for buyers to know (including imperfections – they’ll find out about them eventually so be up front about it).

Then, I write out the descriptions for each item. It helps to add “pet-free home” or “smoke-free home” if applicable because you may get those questions from potential buyers. When you originally enter your item, eBay will pull up descriptions based on the product. However, I also like to add additional details to make the item more interesting or tell a story if there is one. (For example, I had a set of new cleats that my son never wore because he grew two shoe sizes in a summer. That helps buyers to understand why you are selling something brand new.)

When I’m ready to list, I usually put them all up at once so they end at a similar time and I can take and mail them in a batch, instead of on different days. I usually try to list on a weekend when I know I’ll have more time to answer last-minute questions.

The social-sharing feature on eBay is important. My views go up by a significant amount after I tweet an item. However, I don’t really like how eBay’s pre-populated tweet says “Look what I found.” Instead, I change the description to the title of my item and add “selling” at the beginning.

Don’t be dismayed if you have a seven-day listing and don’t have any bids on day 5. I’ve found that the majority of the bids come in near the last 24 hours because people want their item quickly and now they won’t have to wait and see if they’ve won the auction.

When shipping, it’s up to you to choose to add insurance or delivery confirmation. I’d recommend it for electronics or high value items. You could also add in a copy of the confirmation from eBay or a thank you note.

If you eBay, what else do you recommend? If not, what’s holding you back?


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The return of the Scrap Crap

I was all set to regale you with photos of a trip to the corn maize with a bunch of hyper cub scouts but it was a chilly day and my husband looked at me and said “why don’t you stay home and I will take him?”

Ah, those magic words. You know once that phrase is uttered, you have to take it and seize it. So I stayed home – alone – while the boys were off and the girl child had a playdate.

So I did what any normal mom would do: I started cleaning. Specifically, I ventured down into the place that shall not be seen, the basement. It exists as a laundry chute, place to play video games and where toys go to die (or have a Toy Story-esque rave).

This was waiting for me:

Messy scrapbook tableIt’s what my husband calls Scrap Crap. My winter habitat on cold weekend days is usually spending time at my scrapbook table, organizes photos and exploring my inner arts and crafts self. But come spring, the table becomes a dumping ground for school papers that I want to keep, school and sports photos and any other pictures I’ve managed to print. And through in a few kids’ toys that were rescued from a dog’s jaws.

In two weeks, I’ll be headed to a semi-annual scrapbook weekend. For those of you who don’t partake, it’s actually a girls weekend in disguise, complete with scissors and tape. But it’s cathartic and helps me relax and take some time for me. I managed to make a good dent and you can now see parts of the table.

The boys came home just a little bit shaken up after a corn maze misadventure but I chalk it up to father-son bonding time. After all, I came away with a cleanish table.

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Fall, football and frenzied fun

That pretty much sums up my fall. Oh, and fundraising – I’ll take your Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and raise you with an elementary and middle school, travel baseball league and football team. Friends and family fear the emails.

My son, with his cast, was out of football for a bit and we actually had a few nights where no one had activities and we wondered how the evenings could be so long and you could actually cook, clean up and get organized – or you could sit on the couch, too.

Without clearly thinking it through, my son also tried out for a travel baseball team, and was accepted, so now we’ll have to battle our work travel schedules with a baseball schedule that will take us to different cities in the evenings this spring.

In addition to little kid football, college football is a large part of my professional work experience. But being able to bring my son to some games and giving him the experience of getting on the field of the largest college stadium will be something neither of us will forget.

Oh, and there’s dance. The dancing and the dancing with the old people, too. This year, our dance center created some adult classes, so I’m in class at the same time as my daughter. Mind you, not the same room, but instead of sitting on a bench and waiting for her to be done, I have an hour in which to sweat and trip over my own feet. It’s glorious.

And there’s the never-ending travel planning. I get to travel to Nebraska (new state on my list) for college football, as well as back to New Orleans for a conference. And more college football – if my employer’s team heads to a bowl, that will be our New Year’s-ish holiday destination. But we have to wait until the beginning of December, which is not my strong suit. We’re also cooking up an exciting trip where the kids and I can tag along with my husband in January. I’ll be bouncing off the walls if it comes true.

So happy fall, happy football and go Detroit Tigers.


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My Gardner-White Blog for a Grand

Living RoomThe sectional was purchased for basement furniture. It fit in the direction we needed it to and served its purpose. Until we painted the living room and realized we needed to switch our furniture. A couch with green tones does not look good in a yellow and gold living room. Or maybe it would if we were in the 1970s and we threw in some burnt orange throw pillows.

First came kids, then came the puppies. Sure, we had the furniture spray coated but that only lasts so many cleanups.

Then came the rips (dogs, you are not back-of-the-couch cat sized)

Ripped couch

And the stains (kids and dogs, no eating or chewing on the couch)couch

Not to mention my daughter’s experiment to use her fingernail to see if she could write her name on the couch.

The dogs are now a year old, the kids are old enough to know better and it’s high time we had a new couch and chairs for this room.

Letters on couch

From Gardner-White, I’m thinking a pop of red would look good in this room.

Gardner White Red Couch

And I can see these tables going nicely with it. Gardner-White tables

Maybe this slate-colored collection? We could really use a chair or loveseat in this room, too.

See something you like? Gardner-White is hosting a grand-opening event in Auburn Hills on Oct. 13.

Gardner-White living room collection

Disclosure: Gardner-White is hosting a blogger contest and this post constitutes my submission. Thanks to Gardner-White for offering me this opportunity to humiliate my family by showing our couch wear and tear to the Internets.

Edited to add: The dogs would like you to know that throw pillows are in order, too.


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An ode to olloclip

No, this is not a paid review. Yes, this is a love story. You see, early in life I wanted to be a photographer. I took photos for the high school newspaper, yearbook, college yearbook and took photography classes at both. I also had a love affair with words, which ultimately won for a while when I became a journalist.

Olloclip fisheye lensBut I still freelanced with family photography and always had a camera with me. Until these newfangled SmartPhones came along. Then it became more difficult to carry a phone, a camera and all of the things I needed for my kids. I liked taking photos on my iPhone but didn’t like that I could zoom and use other functions like I would on a camera.

Then I saw some tweet about the olloclip. I searched for it online and my heart started to beat a little faster. I searched out some tech blogs and read reviews and looked for other iPhone lenses. Hands down, the olloclip is recommended by all.Olloclip lenses

I quickly bought it (actually, I bought two so I could give one to my husband) and waited for it to arrive. When I showed my co-worker (the video and photo guy), he went out and immediately bought his own.

The fish eye lens gives you some great effects, especially on vacation. I love this shot in New York City.

I have not used the macro lens because it appears to be for pretty close-up work, but the wide angle lens is great for everyday photos.

Now, I still haul my DSLR out when I want to use larger lenses and catch my kids’ sports and other action shots, but the olloclip on my iPhone saves the day when I need some quick shots and cool effects while out and about.

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Puppies at One Year: Less Hyper, Still Crazy

Our Mountain Feist puppies turned one year old (or 7, or 15 depending on the dog book) over Labor Day weekend.

Mountain Feist DogsWe first adopted them when they were 11 weeks old. So just about a year into it, they are potty trained (unless Spike gets super-excited when my husband comes home from a long trip), know how to sit (for the most part) and sleep well in their crate or in our bed.

The kids would love for the dogs to sleep with them and we may be reaching that point soon.  When we’ve tried in the past, I’ve had to stay by the kids’ bed until the dogs were drowsy or almost asleep. Now I’m hoping they’ve all bonded enough that they could sleep together.

Bella, the female, is still small enough to slip through our fence when she sees something especially enticing, although after being tied up a few times, she knows she should be on the inside of the fence.

Spike has some home territorial issues and raises his hackles and gets especially nervous when strangers come around. We’re still working on this and may look into a behavior specialist. He hasn’t had any problems away from the house or when my mom watches the dogs, so we’ll try to figure this out.Spike Mountain Feist

When we were talking about camping recently, I told the kids that we took our old dog with us in the camper. They were immediately excited and wanted to take Spike and Bella. I think it may be another year or two until we can get to that point. If we did it now, I could see them barking, pulling and otherwise annoying a peaceful campground.

So, after a year, the dogs are settling in with our family, learning the rules of the road yet are still young enough to keep us on our toes and mix things up. I’m looking forward to the day when I can say “I remember when” to their hyper antics and ripped up socks that we found around the house.

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First day of school, first cast

Well, we barely survived the first week of school. That may be an exaggeration but it sure was eventful.

The previous week, my son hurt his finger in football. I’m still unclear as to exactly what went down, as the story has changed over time to jamming his finger on someone’s shoulder practice during a drill to hitting his finger while catching a football. Whatever way it happened, the result is the same – a fractured finger.

We had been to the doctor’s office the day after it happened and they gave us a splint and set up an appointment with a specialist. Luckily, so to speak, the first day of school was a half day, so we were able to schedule an appointment with a hand specialist.

First castBecause my son is my son and is not prone to standing around and staying near the ground, the doctor recommended putting a cast on to keep the finger stable and safe. I wholeheartedly agreed after watching him trying to keep a splint on it during the previous week.

It was a great novelty for the first 24 hours or so. He came home from the next day of school and had autographs on his cast. When we went to his sister’s school’s open house, he had to make sure to visit each and every one of his previous teachers to say “hi” and receive a “what happened?” from each of them.

Then, it started to get itchy. And he wanted to bend his fingers. And he can’t catch a Nerf football, or basketball or any other ball. He was banned from his bike, his scooter and anything that would take him off of the ground. Not to mention taking a shower, which has to be “backwards” while the hand with the cast is sticking out of the curtain.

So we enter the waiting phase, and in just over two weeks, the cast will be off and we’ll see if he’ll resume his football for mid-season or if the season is over until next year.

Either way, he’ll have a very memorable first day of 5th grade.

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Turning 8 the Sweet & Sassy Way

Early this summer, maybe even spring, I bought a Groupon and then promptly forgot about it for awhile. Then, as my daughter’s birthday approached, I remembered I had an already-paid-for party option: a Diva Fashion Party at Sweet & Sassy in Novi.

Hair updo at Sweet and SassyWe gathered up as many girls as we could in one car and headed to this new, unknown land.  When we first entered, the girls erupted in pure glee. They were excited about the shopping area, hair salon and spa section. They saw another party getting hair and makeup and then came the deciding factor: a fashion runway, complete with steps and a beaded door to walk through. They were hooked.

First, they were brought back to change clothes. Then came the only bummer of the evening – the cute sequined tops and dresses were itchy. So itchy that most of the girls opted to change because they were jumping and scratching like they just passed a swamp full of mosquitoes.Sweet and Sassy Novi

After the clothing change, the girls all sat on high director’s chairs and chose their hairstyle and nail polish color. The finishing touch on the hair was glitter hairspray. After nails, the girls got eye shadow and a glitter stamp of a heart or a star (or both for the birthday girl).

After being made up, it was time to dance. The girls all stood on the runway and the party hostess ran through some dance moves, and then played two songs for them to dance to. After the dance, the girls all go behind the wall for the runway. Each girl is announced separately and strikes a pose at the end.

After the fashion show, the girls then head to one of the party rooms, where whatever the parents bring is served. In this case, we ordered pizza from their pizza partner and brought a birthday cake. After the presents, the hostess brought in a group photo in a cardboard frame for the girls to take home, along with coupons for future visits.

All in all, it was a great night and perfect for 7- and 8-year-olds, although we did see a group that looked to be a couple of years older. And, a group of Girl Scouts came in. I took home the brochure, and they offer a few options (with a badge of course) for scouts, including how to run a business and plan a party.

Other add-ons that we did not experience on this trip were a ride in their pink limo, custom goody bags and various spa services. Sweet & Sassy also creates several theme nights during the year, so no party is necessary for your little girl to feel like a fashion diva.

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