Sunday, November 30, 2008

shopping tips!

Today I share with you my thoughts on holiday spending. If you don't care what I think, go ahead and move on. But if you want some fun shopping spots, read on:

The media is telling us everyone is cutting back, spending less. In some ways, I think that is a good thing. I keep hearing more people talking about how they will figure out how to celebrate without going into debt. They are going to spend more time together as a family, play games, make cookies, go for walks, create some homemade gifts. What part of that sounds bad?

But being in retail, the holidays are a pretty important time of the year for us. And if everyone stopped spending, we wouldn't be in business for long. And I would have to get a job delivering newspapers at 3 in the morning, or perhaps as a cashier at the grocery store. Maybe even go back to my corporate job at Target.

Gosh, I hope not. I've become really accustomed to working in my office in my pajamas.

Let's face it, we still need to buy SOME gifts. And here are some of the little, mostly locally owned business I love to shop at this time of year:

Gypsy Moon on Randolph Avenue. The owner always has a wonderfully eclectic offering of gifts, furniture, and fun things you won't find elsewhere. It's a combo of new items, estate sale items, and other finds. The best part? Everything is so reasonably priced, you will look at the tag and ask whether or not you need new glasses! And if you DO need new glasses, or know someone who does:

May I recommend our dear friend's optical shop, Specs, in Uptown? They have the most unique collection of eyewear in the Midwest, and an incredible staff to assist you. On top of that, it's just a crazy, fun spot to shop in.

The Wine Thief on St. Clair Avenue. For the wine or beer lover on your list, you can't go wrong here. The owners are so helpful, there are regular tastings to sample new things, and nothing is more than $20 a bottle. They have wonderful finds you won't see at the bigger stores, and a selection of unique beers and saki to delight anyone. And did I mention that they are REALLY nice?

The Golden Fig on Grand Avenue. This is owned by a woman who started selling her wares at the Farmer's Market. Everything in the store is local, and there is a wonderful selection of goodies, perfect for putting together a gift basket.

Penzey's Spices on Grand Avenue. This was started in Wisconsin, and they now have locations all over the United States. But it still feels like a small business with people who care. Their gift boxes make the perfect present for your favorite foodie.

The Bead Monkey on Grand Avenue. If you have anyone on your list who loves to make jewelry, get them a gift card from here. They have a great selection of beads (even more in their Edina location) and the staff is always there to help. Or pick up a kit and make something for a special friend.

If you have a sewer on your list, get them a gift certificate to Treadle Yard Goods. This St. Paul institution has been around forever, they carry the most beautiful fabric in town. It still operates like an old fashioned yard goods store, but carries the most current, up-to-date, amazing product. From Amy Butler fabric, to Japanese import, to antique buttons and trims, you can find it there.

Patina (several Twin Cities locations). A huge selection of unique finds, and amazing jewelry (if you don't want to make your own.) A bit more expensive, but I always make sure to hit them the day after Christmas for unique goodies for next year!

Krueger's Sprucegate Tree Farm in Lake Elmo. This is where we will be heading to get our tree. Mike insists on having snow on the ground first. This is a family run business, they have a little warm spot with hot cider, and they are so very nice. A wonderful tradition.

Have fun shopping!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

are you a shopper?

Will you be heading to the mall at 6 am? Perhaps to one of the crazy stores that open at 4 or 5 am? We have an outlet mall here that is opening at midnight. Last year people waited an hour just to PARK THEIR CAR there.

Am I missing something? I can't imagine a single thing that I would be willing to get up that early to buy. I can see if someone is selling new cars half price, or houses, or something. But tvs, sporting goods, winter coats?

Now, I love a bargain. I am a coupon clipper, and rarely spend full price on a single thing. But all of the deals this time of year just make me tired. It is just too overwhelming.

So Mike will head out and open our store at 6 am (official Mall of America opening time) on Friday. I will snuggle under the warm covers until Claude urges me to get up and feed him. Then I'll make a pot of Winter Roast coffee, and let the scent of cinnamon and spice drift through my cozy little house. I will read the newspaper, and snuggle with Charlie and talk about how we will decorate the house for Christmas. And watch the cars drive by our house to catch a deal and stimulate the economy.

But for now, it's time to bake some pumpkin bars, make my cranberry sauce, and roast some sweet potatoes.

Safe travels to everyone hitting the road today!

Monday, November 24, 2008

busy busy busy

We are all busy. But not too busy that we can't whip up some homemade Cranberry Sauce for Thursday's festivities!

1 bag (12 oz.) fresh cranberries
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. good red wine (I like to use zinfandel)
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer until the cranberries pop and the sauce thickens. I like to throw in some orange zest, and if I am feeling like I really have a lot of time, I dice up some red pear and throw in as well. If it starts to get too gooey, just splash in some more wine. Delish!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

of regattas and simulators

Our lives are a whirlwind. I daydream about our little family just sitting in the living room, with candles glowing, and soft music playing, and perhaps a round of Monopoly.

But that won't be happening for a while, so for now I shall just live in the moment and absorb all of the goodness that surrounds us.

Charlie is in his last year of Cub Scouts. Thursday night the entire pack held their Raingutter Regatta in the school gym. Each boy crafts a sailing vessel of their own design, names it, and hopes to win a race or two. When Charlie was just starting out, in first grade, it was a several day project. Helping dad with the sanding, the painting, the gluing. This year dad was busy building simulators, and Charlie did it all on his own. Not a bad thing, as he is eleven after all, and derived a great sense of accomplishment.
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It's a raucous evening. It was gratifying to see Charlie and his den mates behaving so well, offering encouragement, and support. They have all grown so much from that first year of tears and raw emotion that a competitive event can bring.

Mike is basically living at the school, getting the sims hooked up. This is what it looked like when he started the process on Tuesday:

The painters came in to do their work this week. So he has had to work around tarps and ladders.

I brought him dinner last night. I cleared off a table and we had pasta by candlelight-in this giant room surrounded by simulators. He is quite single minded in getting this finished-he leaves early in the morning and is home at 10 pm. I can't wait to post pictures when it is all done, hopefully by the end of the day on Wednesday. But it will continue to be several very long days before an end is in site. I will be with him all day on Monday, armed with my sewing machine, to finish all of my parts and pieces.

And another November winds down....

Thursday, November 20, 2008

in just a week...

...I will be in the kitchen making stuffing. How about you?

How in the heck did it get to be Thanksgiving so soon? It is even later in the month this year, and I am still not quite ready to wrap my brain around the idea of it.

So I read in Wolfgang Puck's article this morning (I love the Food section in our Thursday paper) that it is only called stuffing if you cook it in the bird, if you cook it alongside the bird you must call it dressing. Okay, I am making dressing.

Since there will just be the three of us, I am doing a turkey breast. None of us like dark meat, so why do the whole bird? Last year I brined it, and it was lovely and moist and flavorful. So I plan to do that again this year, with a recipe I found of Sheila Lukin's. I have many of her cookbooks (she of Silver Palate fame) so I trust that it will be delicious, along with her gravy recipe. Here is the rest of the menu:

Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes (Susan Branch) yes, they are completely fattening.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes (with fresh orange juice and maple syrup...)
Green Beans with Mushrooms and Shallots (Ellie Krieger)
Cranberry/Pear Sauce (made with red wine)
Sausage & Apple Dressing

Did I tell you there will just be three of us? Lots of leftovers!

The dessert dilema was solved when my guys requested Pumpkin Bars rather than pie, so that is easy, and also yields several extra servings. I can bring them in to ACES the next day and make our employees happy.

We will spend the morning in our jammies, I am going to do an apple oven pancake to hold us until dinner. The boys have to help with some of the prep, as it gets lonely in my tiny kitchen. We will have dinner mid-afternoon, then will snuggle in to watch movies together. This year I have The Spiderwick Chronicles and Time Bandits. We will probably need a brisk walk in between showings, then it will be time for a bite of leftovers.

Thanksgiving used to be joining the throngs on the highway and heading up north, to share the long weekend with both of our families in Bemidji. But since opening our store at the MOA it isn't possible (what with having to open at 6 am the day after!) so now we spend the day with our own little family, and reconnect before our crazy busy season starts. Although this year, with building the sims and everything else going on, we are already feeling quite disconnected, so it will be grand to have one day to get back to just us.

What are YOU doing for the holidays?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

and a grand view it was...

Heather sent me some pictures from our weekend, and I just had to share them with you. To encourage you to find your own way to have a little escape.

We were greeted in the lobby by a healthy dose of fall. I may have to copy this:

This is the main lobby-where we enjoyed complimentary glasses of wine in front of the roaring fire on Friday night:
This is what you look like after a 60 minute massage, sitting in the sunshine, on a big overstuffed couch in the Relaxation Room>

Here is how happy my sister looked after her massage. She hasn't smiled that big in ages!
And here we are on our way out to shop, just so happy to spend a very brief weekend together.

Can't believe I won't get to see you until January!!!

(If you would like more info on Grand View, go to They have all kinds of fun things planned all winter!)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

once upon a time...

...there was a man who had an idea. He would build a simulator that would allow people to feel like they were flying, without leaving the ground.

So he gathered some parts

and his tools

and started creating it in his garage.

He sanded

and painted

working day and night

and even got his wife to help with the fabric parts.

And before you know it, he had two of them nearly ready:

And the weeks went by, and still the man worked in his garage, day and night.

And he went to the place, where they had a vision, of filling a classroom with many of these amazing inventions.

He loaded up his truck and trailer, and delivered seven of them to this place.

And now all he has to do is set up all of the computers, and hook everything together, and before you know it, the children will feel like they are flying, without leaving the ground.

Monday, November 17, 2008


renewed, rejuvenated...

If you have not taken time for yourself lately, I urge you to do so. Whether it is an hour away from everyday life to visit your favorite little shop, or enjoy an uninterrupted cup of coffee at a relaxing spot, or maybe just curled up in a cozy chair with no phones, kids, or husbands-you must do this for yourself.

We spend so very much time taking care of others, often at our own expense. And eventually, it becomes nearly unhealthy.

I feel like an almost-new person after my weekend away, and I can't wait to start planning my next one. (okay, that won't be happening for a good long time...)But it's always fun to dream and plan!

Grand View is the PERFECT place for this. I cannot say enough wonderful things about how good they are to their guests. It truly is worth every penny you will spend. This year, we had the option of taking a yoga class, going to a wine tasting, or even Karoake night! But we were quite happy tucked away in our cabin by the lake, with the fire glowing, and the wine flowing. And Nisswa has some adorable little shops. We woke up to a fresh, fluffy snowfall yesterday morning, picture perfect. Speaking of pictures, my sis may send me some of the ones she took-to give you an idea of the fun we had.

As all good things are, it was fleeting. But firmly embedded in my 'lovely memories' portion of my brain.

Friday, November 14, 2008


The leaves are gone and the ground is soggy.

Thanksgiving is coming, with food to think about.

And the busiest time of the year at our store (WE HOPE!) is just around the corner.

So it's time. Time to get as far away from the everyday as I can.

My dear, sweet, darling sister and I finally get to see each other! It has been months, and we both really need to sneak away from life for a couple of days.
My lovely mom can't join us this time around, but she will be with us in spirit.

My sister has had the worst year of her life. And she gets to go away and forget about it, for a little while. So Grand View Lodge and Glacial Waters Spa, here we come!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

so long autumn

I hardly knew ya.
My very favorite season, and it passed by in a blur of sales receipts and black coated canvas.
Like a really great piece of chocolate, you were savored, yet gone far too quickly.
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We have a good inch of snow on the ground, and coating the tree branches this morning. It's already melting (thank goodness) but our lovely autumn is definitely over.

I'm so not ready for boots and snow shovels.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

four years

Four years ago today, Mike and I were up early and at the Mall of America.

Four years ago today, we were bleary eyed, and physically sick to our stomachs. This idea we had, of moving our store to the MOA, had become real. (this was during construction)

Due to construction delays, we had exactly TEN DAYS to intall miles of cable, haul in 8 simulators and get them up and running, equip the control tower with all of it's computers and monitors, put together our fixtures and get all of our merchandise out, and get a POS system up and running. Oh, and train new staff.

Our Grand Opening was scheduled for Veteran's Day. The mall had hired a Tom Cruise look-alike, TV stations were coming to film,
Red Tail veterans were coming to fly.

I have never felt more unprepared. Which is a problem for me, as I like things to be organized, and run smoothly, no matter what it takes. And it just wasn't possible, this time. So I had to reconcile myself that all we could do was our best.

It's like putting on a play, and one of the actors reallty screws up, but the show is so amazing that no one notices.

Because no one but us saw all the things we didn't have ready yet. And everyone who stopped in that day flew for free. Friends, and neighbors all stopped by to wish us luck, or bring us lunch, or just give a much needed hug. Mike's parents were here, watching Charlie for us. We could never have done this without the tremendous support of family and friends.

I still remember that horrible feeling in my stomach that day, but it all turned out okay anyway. And four years later, we have had literally tens of thousands of people fly with us: veterans of WWII with stories to tell, Make A Wish children wanting to fulfill a dream, sons and grandsons and fathers and grandfathers all flying together, nights where the girls try not to outfly their dates, bachelor parties, team building events, birthday parties. So it really was all worth it.

Four years later, our store is cosmetically different. We have had time to fine tune things, and present them the way we wanted them to look that first day. We have made mistakes, and learned from them. And the most common thing heard in our store after someone is done flying is "awesome!"

Kudos and love to my husband. This really was his "impossible dream", and he made it fly. And he continues to make it work, every day, with every new idea and project he comes up with. Yes, I occasionally think he is crazy, but somehow, it always works out in the end.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mari and Dan

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." Helen Keller

Today I witnessed this in action.

Today, Mari and Dan saw just how many people care about them, and wanted to help.

I arrived at the benefit late, in the last hour, and the line was still long, and parking was hard to find. When I got a chance to visit with Mari, she told me it had been like that all afternoon, and by 12:30 the line wrapped around the building twice. She seemed completely overwhelmed, and very tired. But she was still smiling.

I am so grateful that there are people who understand that it isn't what we do for ourselves that is important, it is what we can do for others that really makes your heart sing.

EDITED Monday morning: Both KARE 11 and Fox 9 did TV stories on the benefit, if you go to their websites and search for Mari Plaster you will find the stories.

Friday, November 7, 2008

joy of jigsaw

Fall has definitely arrived.

No, it isn't the piles of leaves covering my yard, that we haven't had a chance to rake yet.

It isn't the steaming foods I am whipping up in the kitchen.

It's not even the freshly washed hats and mittens now hanging by the door.

Fall is really here when we get out the jigsaw puzzles.

The 1000 piece, folk-art-with-tons-of-colors-and-things-going-on-in-them-puzzles.

I light the candles in the fireplace, bring out the toasty afghans, and we clear off the coffee table.

Corners and edges first, then we start on the individual themes.

Charlie is almost a professional piece fitter-inner, and while it doesn't have the fast pace of video games, it seems to fit the season. And unlike video games, you can carry on a conversation while you play. (thank goodness the xbox is in for repairs, after exhibiting the scary Ring of Death...)

It is snowing outside this morning, Charlie has the day off of school, and we are going to slip some cinnamon rolls in the oven and get back to work on that puzzle.

Just another reason why fall is my favorite season!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mari update

Great news! Mari is home from the hospital. The St. Paul Pioneer Press did a wonderful story on her and her boyfriend, Dan today. You can see it here:

Obviously, she has a long, arduous road ahead of her. With her medical expenses already at half a million dollars, she needs all of the help she can get. The details of this Sunday's benefit are in the article-I plan to be there-please help if you can!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

do you remember?

When Charlie is our age, and he and his family and friends go about their duty on voting day, I am guessing at some point they will say "Do you remember when our country elected Barack Obama?"

Charlie was riveted to the results last night. It has been a very big topic at school, and he was so interested to see the red and blue as they played out across the maps. I let him stay up to watch John McCain's incredibly gracious speech. He would have been an excellent president. I let him stay up and watch Barack Obama's acceptance speech. He sure can deliver an oratory. And I wish him all the best, and hope with all of my heart that he can deliver the America he has promised. And if he can't, then in four years we get to make the call, all over again. Now that all of the sniping and cruelty are over, let's get behind our new president and do what we can to support him. Whether we agree with his policies, or not.

So a big sigh of relief today, because it's over. Back to commercials for Swiffers and cars, laundry soap and Oxy clean. The lawn signs will get removed, along with the leaves. And we will hunker down and get ready for winter, and the holidays!

Monday, November 3, 2008


Charlie's grade school does a really great thing every fall. The fifth and sixth grade classes spend a lot of time learning about the political process, and the importance of voting. They write and give speeches, and prepare posters and debate the merits of political candidates.

Today, they had their "Get Out the Vote" program. We had several local candidates for office show up (even Dean Barkley made it!) and it was a wonderful morning of patriotic songs sung by enthusiastic voices. Charlie and his Cub Scout troop presented the colors, and wore their uniforms proudly. The kids did a fabulous job, as did the teachers of preparing them, and it was with misty eyes that I listened to them end the program with "God Bless America".

All of the major local news stations were there-so who knows, Horace Mann Elementary may be on TV tonight! We will be flipping through those stations at 5 and 6 pm to see.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Goodbye October

Okay, I'm a day late. Too busy dealing with candy hangovers.

We have set the clocks back (you did, didn't you?) and it's time to put away the Halloween stuff.

So long, bats:I'll keep the pumpkins and gourds out until the squirrels get them.

Goodbye, haunted village. (every little kid who comes to our house is just fascinated with it!)
So long, apothecary chest. You will need to be transformed into something more November appropriate. Any suggestions?I will miss the squishy eyeballs the most.

Goodbye witches:With a little reworking, the buffet can last a few more weeks, until we need room for all of the Thanksgiving food:But it's a gorgeous weekend, we still have leaves on some of the trees:The sky is so blue, and the sun shining through the yellow leaves on the trees outside our windows bathe our whole house in a golden light. Time to get out and enjoy it!(This one's for you Valerie, down there in Georgia where you are missing fall color and cool mornings!)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Hallows Eve

Here is what you wear when you are in fifth grade-not too old to trick or treat, but too old to be cute anymore:
And what is better than trick or treating with your best buddy?
Unless it's finding another friend along the way to join you!
I LOVE it when people decorate their houses-and really get into it:
This house in our neighborhood gets scarier every year-it's awesome!

Even in fifth grade, it's nice to have the dad along for back-up:

(Mike is wearing his I'm-completely-exhausted-from-building-simulators mask).

Then we all went to the big Halloween party at Violet's house, and they didn't use Charlie's head for the pumpkin carving model, and nobody got any rocks. It was a wonderful evening spent with good friends.

As Charlie says, the second best part of Halloween is sorting your candy the next day. Dibs on the Snickers! (thank goodness he doesn't like nuts...)


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