Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cyber Monday - How To

Tomorrow is the big day - Cyber Monday.  Some retailers are calling it Cyber Week.  (Those are probably the ones that were open on Thanksgiving.)  While it's awesome to shop in your pajamas (or at your desk at work), there are a few things you should know.  Here are the tips, and at the bottom of this post I have the best prices for a few popular items.

1.  Make sure your computer has security software that is up to date.  Also, if you use Microsoft, check to make sure it is up to date.  Don't assume - go into the program on settings and look for "updates" and run it to be sure.

2.  Don't be surprised if websites load slowly.  Don't even bother to try dial-up.  Don't assume that it's OK to use your work computer to shop.  Remember, it's not your computer.  It is your employer's computer and your employer has the right to retrieve any information you look at or search for (something to keep in mind every day of the year.)

3.  DO NOT USE PUBLIC INTERNET OR UNSECURED WI-FI.  This includes the library, the free wi-fi at restaurants, libraries, hotels or anywhere else.  This also applies to your cell phone.  Use the phone line, not the wi-fi.  If you use wi-fi, you might as well write your credit card information on your forehead.

4.  Don't use a debit card or account routing number for your transactions.  Stick with a credit card or Paypal.  They provide protection for bad transactions.

5.  Make sure you only enter financial information into encrypted sites.  Look for "https" at the beginning of the URL and a closed padlock on the lower right corner.  It should be on every page that asks for personal information.

6.  If the site is loading slowly, don't resend information on the order (financial information etc) by pressing "send" again because you may end up buying more than one of the product.  Be sure to check your receipt and print it.  Check that receipt against the one in the shipping box when you receive the item.  If there is a discrepancy, call the vendor immediately.

7.  If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.  If you aren't familiar with the vendor, check for reviews.  This is especially true if you came to the website by clicking on a link.  Use Google to look up the business.  Also, be careful what you are clicking.  Watch out for peripheral ads or links through emails.  Be very wary if you see you are being redirected as the website is loading.  You may just be bait for phishers or inviting key stroke loggers over for dinner.

8.  Don't buy things online this week unless you are getting FREE SHIPPING.  Everyone is offering free shipping and the difference of paying for shipping can quickly turn that great price into a bad deal. Also, make sure the item is in stock and an estimated delivery date.  If the item is out of stock, find out the estimated availability date and try to reserve it without paying now.

9.  Think about setting up a new email before you start shopping.  The email addresses you enter at those websites will be flooded with advertisements.  Most are probably legitimate, but if you use the same email for important communications, you won't want to wade through hundred of emails a week to find the important communications.

10.  Don't feel pressured to buy NOW because the price seems really good.  You may miss the best deal, but if you aren't sure you want or need the item, it's not a good idea to buy it.  Everything will be on sale (and should ship for free) until December 15.

Shopping for the "best" deal can be tedious and you may waste a lot of time to save pennies.  Here are a few "deals" I found tonight, but it literally took me a couple of hours.  Stick to the main retailers (Amazon, Walmart, Target) for most items, and a few other specialty retailers.

X-Box 360 console - $189 at Walmart

UGG Boots - Chestnut short Women $131.71 and Kids $101.00 at

Master Moves Mickey $48.85 (Amazon & Walmart)

Fisher Price Jake and the Neverland Pirates $39 (Target, Walmart, ToysRUs & Amazon)

(Don't wait too long for the toys because they do sell out)

Good luck and happy hunting for the great deals!


Friday, November 23, 2012

Gift Ideas - Little Princesses

Have I said how much I love shopping Etsy?  It's officially Black Friday, so it's time to shop for Christmas.  Previously, I provided suggestions for men and women.  Today let's work on the little girl in your life.  These items are for girls under 5, but also include some baby items that may be suitable for baby showers.  Click the picture to my Pinterest "Etsy Finds" board and then click through directly to the item on Etsy.  Without further ado:

Vintage Rag Doll 

Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

5 Piece Bedding Set
Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

Mini Corker Hair Bows
Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

Pink & Grey Chevron Wood Blocks
Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

Lady Bug Tutu
Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

Felt Play Wands
Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

These are just a few of the adorable items you can find on Etsy.  (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT) Don't forget to check out my store Pretty Pretty Cindy for some other inexpensive gift ideas.  I will keep posting in the upcoming days for baby/toddler boys, bigger little girls (6-11), little boys and teens.

Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving - on with the Christmas shopping.  Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, so patronize the fine businesses on Etsy.  Also, don't forget this Monday is Cyber Monday!  Visit your favorite on-line retailers for some great deals without leaving the comfort of your home (or desk).


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is the one day each year when we make a conscious effort to say thank you to our God. We should say thanks every day, every hour, but while I'm thinking about it, here goes:

I thank God for each person who reads my ramblings.

I'm thankful for my wonderful family, especially my husband and children.

I am thankful I'm not cooking today thanks to my mother-in, law.

I'm thankful to spend time with my brother and his family and many friends.

I'm thankful for the men and women who won't be with their families because they are serving our country in a far away land.

There is always a reason to give thanks.

Even if you don't feel thankful today because your life may be difficult, be thankful because your difficulty will lead to something even better.

Best of all, thank God because He loves you just the way you are.


Monday, November 19, 2012

A Chain of Thanks

This was a project we first did last year on Thanksgiving and we're going to repeat it this year.  It was very popular and so easy to do!  Here's my directions from last year:

Start with some autumn color construction paper cut into 1 1/2" wide strips:

Provide a strip to everyone gathered at your Thanksgiving table and write why you are thankful:

Collect the strips and create a chain of thanks:

My kids had a great time doing this with grandma and grandpa.  Later we went to my brother and sister-in-law's house for dessert.  They usually have a lot of people over for Thanksgiving, including many friends.  Even though we didn't know many of them, people were happy to share their thoughts of thanks with us.  It brought a great meaning to Thanksgiving.

After making our chain of thanks, we hung it on our Christmas tree to remember to be thankful during the holidays.  It added a sense of continuity to the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Have a thankful Thanksgiving!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lincoln - A Review

We saw the new movie "Lincoln" today.  SPOILER ALERT - The South loses the war.  (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)  Seriously, this was an excellent movie.  We were in a large theater and it was nearly full.  Interestingly, the median age of the patrons was probably about 45.  I think there was a senior center that brought a bus load of senior citizens, but there were plenty of other people there too.

The movie is long - about 2 1/2 hours, but it was worth every minute.  I can't imagine what could have been cut.  It's a highly intelligent movie showing Abraham Lincoln's tremendous struggles in leading the United States through a time of social upheaval in the midst of the most devastating war in American history.  It isn't the story of his life, but a short snapshot, probably the last 6 months of his life (which ended five days after the Civil War ended).  Even though the war was the most significant backdrop in this film, it is definitely not a war movie (although there are a few gruesome shots of dead soldiers).  Instead, the film is about the difficulties Lincoln had in bringing the war to an end.  The goal of every character in the movie was to end the war, without giving up too much of life as they knew it.  The movie is very political - not in making a political statement, but in revealing the politics of the day.

Daniel Day Lewis is sure to be nominated for an Oscar for his performance of Abraham Lincoln.  He showed Lincoln's practically insurmountable barriers he faced to achieve his dual goals: ending the war while ending the issue at the heart of the conflict - slavery.  He was a political genius.  He knew how to work people and manipulate the events in order to advance his position.

Sally Field does an amazing job as Mary Todd Lincoln, who history has depicted as a fragile crazy woman.  Field's Mary Todd Lincoln is much more involved in supporting Lincoln in his political decisions, even attending the debates in the House of Representatives.  Her weakness is her children, especially the Lincoln's middle child, Willie, who died several years before the movie takes place.  If balancing a war, dealing with an enormous social evil and working the political process wasn't enough for Abraham Lincoln, he still had to protect his sensitive wife.

This Steven Spielberg film features many talented actors.  First and foremost is Tommy Lee Jones who plays Representative Thaddeus Stevens.  There are so many others - James Spader as W.N. Bilbo, a slick lobbyist; David Strathaim as Secretary of State Seward; Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair, a wealthy political influencer; and Joseph Gordon-Levit as Lincoln's oldest son, Robert.  There are great performances from each of them.  Somebody's sure to win something for this movie.

A couple of things to know before going to this movie.  First, it's not a movie for kids and probably most teenagers.  It's not that gory, but the dialogue is typical for the period, which means it can be difficult to understand.  There is also more dialogue than action.  Second, it can be confusing, but the Lincoln's Republican Party is the Democrat Party of today, and the Democrat Party of Lincoln's day is the Republican Party today.  If you understand that going into the movie, it can be helpful in seeing how the political philosophies haven't changed much.

Four stars for me!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Who Stole My Twinkie?

By now you have heard the news - the Twinkie, Ding Dong, HoHo, Suzy Q, Chocolate Cupcake - GONE!  Yeah, we've been hearing rumors for a while now that Hostess was closing forever and taking the Twinkies with it.  But I never thought I'd see the day when these important parts of my childhood weren't there for my children. {sigh}

Tonight, I went on a noble quest to find the last Twinkie.  It was an odyssey that took me through six grocery stores, a big box store, a drug store and a convenience store.  Epic.

First stop - Target.  They're big, gotta have it, right?  Nope.

That's it.  Strawberry Cupcakes?  Chocolate Cream Twinkies?  WTH?  Little did I know I was looking at the best selection I would see tonight.  I scooped up the box of Suzy Qs and moved on.

Next stop - Frys (Kroger for those of you in different parts of the U.S.).  Gotta be more, right?

More chocolate cream Twinkies!?!  They don't even look good on the box!  These were the last Twinkies I would see.  Meanwhile, Little Debbie was right there to mock me.  Check out these Cupcake, HoHo and Ding Dong wannabes:

Fresh & Easy - ummm, no.  I don't think Twinkies ever showed up there.

Safeway (Vons for the California crowd).  I had high expectations.  Too bad for me - crickets.

AND more mocking:

At this point I was running out of big supermarkets.  I gave Albertson's a chance.

I knew it was over.  No Twinkie stockpile.  No Ding Dong stash.  Only fake Cupcakes and HoHos in the future.  There had to be a place where there would be something!  Time to go to the K

I picked up a cherry pie and trudged to the door.  At least I got to taste that salty cherry filling in the sugar glazed crust.

I heard that Hostess is going to sell the Twinkie name and recipe, so I'm sure we will see our old friends again.  Let's just hope they don't look like bad cosmetic surgery.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chance Encounter (By the Hair of My Chinny Chin Chin)

I haven't written about a Chance Encounter in a while, probably because I haven't encountered anyone too interesting.  The other night we looked out our front door and found a whole herd of interesting (sorry for the bad pictures - they were taken through a window).

Just in case you can't figure out what you're looking at, here's a better stock picture:

These are javalina (have-a-leen-a).  There were eight of them on our porch, including at least two little ones.  They were having a great feast on our leftover pumpkins.  At one point a car made a loud noise about a block away and they scattered in a flash of little hooves clattering on the brick walk.

This one came back and he was very sassy.  Right here he's standing less than three feet from me with only a window between us.  He was chomping away at that pumpkin.  At one point he raised his head and looked right at me wiggling his snoot.  We were really connecting.

So now that you've seen these guys, guess what kind of animal they are.  Razorbacks?  Boars?  Pigs?  Well, not exactly.  A javelina is a Collared Peccary which migrated over time from South America as far north as Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  They weigh about 35-50 pounds and travel in herds (like the herd on our porch).  They have very poor eyesight, but a great sense of smell and pretty good hearing.  If you startle them, they will run off but leave a musk smell like a skunk.  That's why they're also called Skunk Pigs.  However, "pigs" as known in the U.S. are derived from European pigs, while javalina are native to the Americas, so they are not related to domesticated pigs or feral pigs (razorbacks).

Their natural food is cactus, but hey, this guy lives in Scottsdale.  He loves ornamental flowers.  He has an accurate calendar and knows trash day.  If you put out your trash can the night before pickup, you will find the street littered with trash from all the trash cans down the street.  That's good eatin'.  These guys even tried eating the votive candles and metal pumpkin pails in front of my house.  This guy spared my pumpkins before Halloween, so I could hardly begrudge him a little snack and chat with me.

I guess we had a chance encounter over a good meal.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Baked Rigatoni & Meatballs

I am not Italian.  However, we do have a "Soprano's Cookbook" that is pretty authentic.  Most of the recipes start with "Sunday Gravy" (a reference to sauce).  I made Sunday Gravy once.  I won't repeat that epic cooking day, because it just isn't worth 5-6 hours to make an Italian meal.  Last Sunday I decided to "wing it" and I'm pretty happy with the results.

Here's how I did it:

1 lb of sweet Italian sausage (ground)
1 lb of ground beef
2 jars of Emeril's Chunky Marinara
1 16 oz can diced tomatos
1 can tomato paste
seasoned croutons, crushed into fine breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic
basil, red wine, oregano to taste
1 - 1 1/2 pound rigatoni
olive oil
1/2 pound Reggiano parmesan cheese
1/2 pound Pecorino Romano cheese

(Based on the ingredient list you can see I cook a little on the fly.)

Start with the meat.  Combine the sausage (make sure it's ground) and the ground beef.  Add in the breadcrumbs - just like meatloaf.  You can also add an egg if you like your meatballs to really stick together.  Mix together and roll into little meatballs (about 1" in diameter).  Put some olive oil into a 3 quart pot, just enough to thinly cover the bottom.  Brown the meatballs.  Remove the meatballs and set aside.  Drain the olive oil.

Combine sauce, tomatoes, paste, garlic, wine, basil and oregano in the same pot.  This is where I seriously cheated on Sunday Gravy.  You need to be a little creative here and work with the ingredients until you get to the taste you want.  You can also add a little cheese to taste.  Let your "gravy" simmer for a while and then add the meatballs.  Shred 1-2 cups of each cheese.

Follow the directions on the box for the pasta so cook it al dente (seriously, you don't think I make my own pasta, do you?)  Grease a baking dish with a little olive oil.  When your pasta is done, drain it and immediately put half of it in the baking pan.  Pour about 1/2 of the gravy over it and add about half of the shredded cheeses.  Then repeat another layer, finishing with lots of cheese on top.

Cover with tin foil and bake for 45 minutes at 325 degrees.  Remove foil and cook another 12-15 minutes.  Remove and let it cool for at least 10 minutes.

Serves 8 or have lots of leftovers


Monday, November 12, 2012

The Soldier’s Return: A Ballad by Robert Burns

The Soldier’s Return: A Ballad by Robert Burns

WHEN wild war's deadly blast was blawn,
And gentle pace returning,
Wi' mony a sweet babe fatherless,
And mony a widow mourning;
I left the lines and tented field,
Where lang I'd been a lodger,
My humble knapsack a' my wealth,
A poor and honest sodger

A leal, light heart was in my breast,
My hand unstain'd wi' plunder
And for fair Scotia hame again,
I cheery on did wander.
I thought upon the banks o' Coil,
I thought upon my Nancy,
I thought upon the witching smile
That caught my youthful fancy.

At length I reach'd the bonie glen,
Where early life I sported;
I pass'd the mill and trysting thorn,
Where Nancy aft I courted:
Wha spied I but my ain dear maid,
Down by her mother's dwelling!
And turn'd me round to hide the flood
That in my een was swelling. 

Wi' alter'd voice, quoth I, "Sweet lass,
Sweet as yon hawthorn's blossom,
O! happy, happy may he be
That's dearest to thy bosom:
My purse is light, I've far to gang,
And fain would be thy lodger;
I've serv'd my king and country lang-
Take pity on a sodger."

Sae wistfully she gaz'd on me,
And lovelier was than ever;
Quo' she, "A sodger ance I lo'ed,
Forget him shall I never:
Our humble cot, and hamely fare,
Ye freely shall partake it;
That gallant badge-the dear cockade,
Ye're welcome for the sake o't." 

She gaz'd - she redden'd like a rose -
Syne pale like only lily;
She sank within my arms, and cried,
"Art thou my ain hear Willie?"
"By him who made yon sun and sky!
By whom true love's regarded,
I am the man; and thus may still 
True lovers be rewarded.

"The wars are o'er, and I'm come hame,
And find thee still true-hearted;
Tho' poor in gear, we're rich in love,
And mair we'se ne'er be parted."
Quo' she, "My grandsire left me gowd,
A mailen plenish'd fairly;
And come, my faithfu' sodger lad,
Thou'rt welcome to it dearly!"

For gold the merchant ploughs the main,
The farmer ploughs the manor;
But glory is the sodger's prize,
The sodger's wealth is honor:
The brave poor sodger ne'er despise,
Nor count him as a stranger;
Remember he's his country's stay 
In day and hour of danger. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

Today is Election Day.  I hope you have or will vote.  THIS POST IS NOT PARTISAN.  Undoubtedly you are sick and tired of political ads.  You may have a strong interest in particular candidates or issues.  Unfortunately, after today many people will lose interest in what is happening in Congress or their state legislatures.  I include myself in that group.

In all my sparring with friends, family and strangers on Facebook and in person during this election cycle, there is one thing in which we all agree.  The people we have or will elect to Congress or the White House are not getting much done.  I don't mean taking positions on their favorite issues.  I mean voting on legislation.  Isn't that their job, anyway?

Why isn't the business we sent them there to do not getting done?  The answer is something we have all known since Kindergarten.  If we don't work together, things don't get done.  No matter what political party you support, I have found that this issue produces universal agreement.  The difficult part is that after we vote, we aren't interested or have no way to keep an eye on our representatives, senators, governor and president.

One way is to watch the news.  The problem with this is there is no unbiased media outlet.  If you are trusting the talking heads (on either end of the political spectrum), you are watching entertainment, not news.  I have been researching and looking for a place to find information without spin.  It's not easy.  You can look at the government websites, but it is very difficult to sift through the bills, figure out what they are about and see what was attached to them at the last minute.  (This is coming from an attorney who has been doing legislative research for 20 years.)

I recently did find a website I like - Vote Smart  (  You can find information about your representatives in Congress (even if you don't know their names).  You can find information about bills that address your favorite (or not) issues.  You can find out how your representatives voted (or not) on particular bills and what those bills are about.  Vote Smart is a not for profit and it is non-partisan.  They will solicit you for a donation, but it's not required.  Even if you don't visit the website, you can ask it to track particular issues, events, representatives and many more things and it will send you an email.  In a time when it is very difficult to keep up with what your representative at the State House or in Congress is doing, it's a welcome wealth of information.

You can also contact your representatives directly through email or by telephone - just google to find your rep or Vote Smart has that information too.  Many representatives have their own websites.  Don't be afraid to voice your concern or support for issues or upcoming votes.  It really does make a difference and you are likely to get a personal response from the representative's office.

I realize it won't be easy to keep up with our elected officials, but if we don't try I fear we will end up with more of the same gridlock in D.C. (and maybe your state legislature) for years to come.  I would also like to know more about representatives before I am asked to vote based on information provided in negative campaign ads we all hate but see throughout the election cycle.

We can all agree on that, right?

God bless America.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Revisit October Project List

I've tried several times to announce a project list for a given month.  Last month I used Pinterest to come up with a project list for October.  Each one of my project lists has something in common - I have never finished one.  It seems that establishing a project list is a death wish for those projects.  So what the heck did I do in October?  Well I did a few things, several of which are not completed:

1.  Tranquil Sea Baby Afghan - I referred to this in my October project list as one of the afghans I needed to finish.  I finished it - and I'm pretty happy with the result, so much so that it's in my Etsy store.

2.  Softest Baby Afghan Ever - I'm bragging now.  I not only finished this afghan, I made another exactly like it - all in October.  The first one was for a friend's baby shower and she loved it.  She also agreed that it was the softest baby afghan ever.  This second one is at Pretty Pretty Cindy.  

3.  Catherine Wheel Scarf.  I can't show you a picture of this one quite yet because it's out being photographed for my Etsy store.  As the title infers, this scarf is made using a cream yarn in the Catherine Wheel stitch.  I will be showing this one off soon, but if you want to see an example of a Catherine Wheel stitch, check out the most popular item at Pretty Pretty Cindy - Raspberry Sherbet Catherine Wheel Afghan

Now begins the started, but uncompleted items.  Some are really close, but others not so much:

4.  Scrap afghan - this one is sooo easy.  It's just double crochet with scrap yarn.  You change the colors at random.  You tie them together (which you would normally never do).  The extra strings you tie together to get a look like a tied quilt.  This one should be done soon.

5.  Pastel Baby Granny Squares.  This is more scrap yarn.  I love the colors, but haven't quite figured out how I want to put them together.  I am thinking of sashing like you would see in a quilt, but I haven't quite figured out how to do that yet.  Once I do, this project should be done quickly.

6.  Crazy Crazy Quilt.  I have been working on this for months and I can't decide whether I like it or not.  Either it will be one of those heirloom, one-of-a-kind quilts, or just a hot mess.  I used scraps for the patchwork and hand stitched the embroidery between the squares.  My embroidery is less than rudimentary, so I added some ribbons, ric-rac, buttons and fabric yo-yos randomly.  I better like it by the time I'm done, because I've spent far too many hours at this not to like it.

I'm not sure I want to do a November project list.  I need to start thinking about Christmas - make or buy?  I do think I'm past my crafter's block, but haven't figured out how to get more time to sew.  

Have a good Monday!