Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Canvas Prints from Canvas Champ

Custom canvas prints are the new trend in decorating.  They are wonderful because you can do them up in any combination of photos, colors, or words in any size you like, and they are a remarkably inexpensive way to decorate your home.  

Canvas Champ offers a huge range of sizes and styles of prints - even banners for your business.  I particularly like the metal print photos - those look pretty cool.  They are having a big sale right now - 65% off site-wide.  The price for a standard 8 X 8 canvas wrapped print is only $10.

I love the look of multiple prints grouped like this.  Naturally, I received a free print as compensation for this post - fortunately, my son just got married, so I had a perfect reason for wanting a canvas print.  Here's my handsome fellas!  

Here is their info:


Now you know me - I always give an honest review of both good and bad points.  I'm very happy with my print, but I would be careful using the Mirror Image option on the edge treatments.  You have the option to choose a plain color, wrap the image around the sides (which would have cut off part of their heads), and mirror image.  Because mine was ordered directly from the manufacturer, they gave it the mirror image treatment, which created a little oddness around the edges with two extra sets of hands and a partial extra head on the top.  But since you'll have the opportunity to preview your canvas before you place your order, so you'll be able to avoid little missteps like that.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Review: Throw Out Fifty Things by Gail Blanke

My organizing tip for today is a book review for you.  I've been listening to the audio book of Throw Out Fifty Things - Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life by Gail Blanke.  I enjoyed it so much, I listened to it twice through.  I always love it when a book really makes you think and this one does.  

This book ended up being much different than I expected.  It isn't just about decluttering your house, although that's a big part of it, but it's also about throwing out old attitudes, limiting beliefs, old regrets, and perceived inadequacies.  

The title is a bit deceptive also, I thought throwing out 50 things sounded like a piece of cake, but what they don't tell you is that each TYPE of thing only counts as one.  So if you declutter 5 sweaters, 4 old lipsticks and a whole box of books, that only counts as 3 things.  So that makes it a lot more challenging than I thought it would be.  

I like Gail's manner.  She is fun and breezy, but also makes some good points about why it is going to help your life move forward to get rid of some of these old negative attitudes that are weighing you down.  She also has some great examples from her own coaching practice and the other books she has written - she's something of a life-change expert and has written several other books and a regular column for Self Magazine. 

Even if you are pretty good at the decluttering business, I think it is always helpful to have a refresher to kind of keep you on track.  I haven't quite gotten to 50 on my own list, but I'm getting a good start on it.  

Here's a link to the book on Amazon.   Give it a shot and see if you can find your own 50 things!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Smart Money: The POWER of a Properly Worded Complaint

As I mentioned recently, my son got married.  It was a very nice wedding, but there were several glitches that happened to mar the day.  It was kind of ironic because my daughter-in-law and I were both VERY organized about this and make sure we had all our ducks in a row (that's a joke because we had little rubber wedding duckies in the centerpieces!). 

It was really kind of funny because half the damned ducks wouldn't float, but were drifting around belly-up in the centerpieces - so we had to scoop them out and only use half the ducks.  Not the hall's fault, but it kept me distracted enough to not notice some of the other issues, such as the candles not being lit until halfway through the reception (sigh).   

Anyway, the ones who messed up were the professionals - the people who ran the wedding hall.  That was kind of bizarre because I hadn't done a wedding in 30 years and they do several of them each week!  The glitches themselves were fairly minor - no one spilled juice on the bride or tripped going down the aisle, but there were at least 8 or 9 different hiccups throughout the day and it definitely marred their once-in-a-lifetime day.  And that's just sad because you don't ever get a do-over on your one and only (hopefully!) wedding day.  

Afterwards, the bride and I compared notes.  Because of the hectic nature of the day, there were some things that she hadn't noticed and others that I hadn't noticed, so it helped to compare notes and this raised the total to almost a dozen different flubs.  We debated what to do about it - was there any point to telling them since there wasn't any way to fix anything after the wedding was over? 

Ultimately, we decided to at least let them know about the problems - if only for the sake of future brides, so that maybe they wouldn't experience the same issues that we had.  So, while the kids were off on their honeymoon, I drafted a very polite Email detailing our disappointment with the way our reception had been handled and gave them a specific list of items we were unhappy with.  

At that point, I wasn't really thinking about money.  I had paid for the hall as my contribution to the wedding and I counted it as money well spent, but I did suggest that they personally apologize to the bride and groom and that they might also want to consider a financial adjustment as well.  I kept the tone of the letter friendly and professional - offering them more as suggestions for improvement rather than accusations or criticisms.

Within hours of sending the Email, I had a very apologetic response from the Manager asking if I would please call her at my earliest convenience to discuss the issues.  I called her and we spoke for probably 30 minutes about the problems, with her apologizing profusely all the while and also thanking us for pointing out some of the issues that we had experienced.  Turns out that she had some of the same complaints and had been asking the owner to make some repairs and renovations to the building for quite some time.  She intended to show my letter to him as additional backup to her argument for getting some of the changes done.  

She also agreed to contact my son and daughter-in-law to apologize and voluntarily offered to refund 20% of our hall rental fee, which I gratefully accepted.  She even agreed to return a cake plate that we had left behind - saving me an hour-long drive to retrieve it and get it back to the bakery lady.  All because we took the time and energy to write a well-worded complaint letter.  

I think most businesses are that way.  They want happy customers and good referrals because they know if they displease people, they aren't going to get a lot of new customers.  So, especially if you are being polite and helpful and NOT all Bridezilla on them, they are going to do their best to keep you happy.  

You can see several of the problems right here.  The bride and groom's table, not decorated with anything - apparently, they ran out of centerpieces even though we had a small group of only about 8 tables - so of course they skipped the most important table in the room instead of one way back in the corner!  You'll also notice the cardboard box on the floor.  When it was time for the toast, the hostess who was running the reception just brought out the cardboard box of champagne bottles and set it on the floor by the newly married couple.  No glasses or anything - just a tacky cardboard box of unopened bottles.  I have no idea what she was expecting, but the best man (my oldest son) was so nervous, he just started doing the toast even though not a soul in the room - including his brother and new wife, had a glass in their hand.  So we had to stop and completely redo the toast after they had a chance to find the glasses (couldn't even find the champagne flutes, so we had to settle for wine glasses) and pour the champagne and sparkling cider.  Sheesh!  

The good news is - at the end of the day, they are married, and that's what really counts.  And we will have some funny stories to tell about their wedding - which will seem a lot funnier several years down the road.  And, Mom had enough money to get herself a new computer with the nice refund money.  I guess we'll call it a happy ending all around!

Animal Jam Blogger Event at the Aquarium

I LOVE being a Blogger!  I've been dying to go and see our new Loveland Aquarium that just opened a couple of months ago, so I was certainly pleased when I received an invitation from Mom It Forward to bring my family to a blogger event at the Aquarium.  

This event was sponsored by National Geographic's Animal Jam and it was really wonderful.  They had Dr. Brady Barr come and speak to us - he's a herpetologist who has hosted any number of National Geographic shows and specials.  He's even been on Jay Leno.  Talk about a fascinating and brilliant guy.  

He showed us clips from some of his shows with rhinos, snakes, and a variety of crocodiles and alligators from all over the world.  Very cool.  He even had some great gadgets to demonstrate like a bite force measurement and a doppler radar to show the speed of a snake striking.  Blake got the best speed strike rating out of everyone he tested.  

Blake is terrified of snakes so he had to watch this segment from across the room.  

Philip, our Northern Irish boy, seemed a little freaked out too.  My husband and I used to own snakes so we weren't particularly bothered by it.  

This was part of our Family Free weekend with the Ulster Project where we were able to plan a few activities with our own family.  I decided to do a little bit of something for everybody - camping for my husband, mountain biking for Philip, nerdy stuff for Blake, and the trip to the Aquarium with my bloggy friends was my special activity.  

A lot of people have the perception that aquariums and museums and things are just for the little kids, but as the parent of teens, I can tell you that the bigger kids enjoy these types of things almost as much!  This is the walk-through shark tank - very cool!

Look at all the pretty fish!  

This was one of the petting areas for the stingrays.  I couldn't get the boys to try it but I enjoyed them thoroughly.  They feel a little slimy, but kind of cool.  

Look, we've been eaten by an enormous shark!  

Phil looks pretty impressed by the hissing Madagascar Roaches.  I thought they were pretty gross myself, but you know boys.  

What an enjoyable day at the aquarium for my family - all thanks to MomItForward and AnimalJam.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Review: The Peter Potential

I am participating in a blog tour for this book The Peter Potential by David Butler and Emily Belle Freeman.  This book encourages you to live the life you were meant to live. 

It's a little book - a quick read, but a thoughtful one.  It talks about the Apostle Peter and how he started out in his ministry - how extraordinary and unusual his life and his choices were.  

It's a beautiful book and an easy read.  Just 120 pages with lots of beautiful illustrations and graphics.  It was just released last week and is now available in most bookstores including  

Disclaimer - I received a copy of this book as compensation for my review, but my opinions (as usual!) are all my own.  

The back cover of the book reads:

If the Lord can do 
with a single loaf
Imagine what He can do
with a single life?

Gives you a lot to think about, doesn't it?  

A little bit about the authors:

Emily Belle Freeman is a coach’s wife, a mother of four, an author of the bestselling "A Christ-Centered Christmas, and a sought after inspirational speaker. She finds great joy in studying both the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. She coauthors a blog that is a stopping place for hearts seeking all that is good:

David Butler is a high school religious educator, sharing his love for the scriptures and his belief that there is an innate power for good in every human soul. He is also a motivational speaker and writer. He and his wife, Jenny, live with their five children amid the snowcapped peaks of the Mountain West.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Ulster Project-An Irish-American Love Story

My family is doing something interesting this month that you've probably never heard of.  It's called The Ulster Project.  It's a peace initiative between Salt Lake City and a small town in Northern Ireland called Omagh.  Every year for the last 29 years they have been sending us a dozen of their teenagers during the month of July.  Half of the kids are Catholic and half are Protestant - which if you are familiar with the history of Northern Ireland is kind of a big deal.  

They bring the kids over along with 4 college-age counselors (2 American/2 No. Irish) and then they match them up with an American teen of the approximate same age, sex, and religion.  Then the Irish kid becomes your child for the month.  

During the month, the organizers spend every day doing stuff with the kids - a LOT of stuff.  Some of the activities are service-oriented - they help at the food bank and serve at the soup kitchen.  This year, they did a new activity at the Humane Society - the kids loved that!  Some of the activities are strictly for fun - pool parties, shopping, amusement parks, and then some of them are more introspective.  They do "discoveries" where the teens talk together about their lives, or they do team-building exercises like a ropes course, or camping trips.  They learn - very early on, that whether American or No. Irish, boys or girls, Catholic or Protestant, that teens are just teens and that everyone has good and bad sides, and everyone has pain in their lives that they are just trying to deal with.  

We first got involved with the Ulster Project in 2005 when our son Matt became a participant.  Our boy then was a cocky almost 15-year-old named Callum.  He fit right in with our crazy family!  

My youngest son Blake was just 7 at the time and he really enjoyed hanging out with all the big kids.  They made a big fuss over him and he talked about them for years afterwards.  We wondered if he would want to do the project himself, but we are so busy with Scouts and everything else in our busy lives that giving up the whole month of July was a real complication.  The age range for participants is 14 to 16, so we knew it was now or never, so we decided to bite the bullet and do it.  

These are the 28 kids from Matt's year.  Mine are in the upper right, next to the guy with the rooster tipped mohawk.  If you look carefully there are a set of identical twins from that year too.  I remember every one of these kids fondly.  After all, we spent a very busy month together.  

Anyway, fast-forward to 2014 and our new group of kids.  The top bunch are our American kids and the bottom bunch is our kids from Omagh.  As you can see, it's a bit warmer in Utah than Ireland!  

These are our counselors - American on the left, No. Irish on the right.  

Now, we have a new boy - his name is Philip.  Like Callum, he's a Protestant, but he's a lot different.  Less cocky, more introverted and sweet-natured, but a good lad and a great fit for our family.    

And now we're halfway through out adventures with this other group of kids.  Right now, we are exhausted and running ourselves ragged every day, but loving every minute.  In a couple of weeks, we'll all be in tears as we have to send them back to Northern Ireland.  

But hopefully, we will send them back with a different attitude and a new perspective.  I've heard that one of our former participants is now the Mayor of Belfast, which means he is in a position to share the lessons he's learned through his Ulster Project experience.  After almost 30 years with a dozen kids per year - plus kids from similar projects from several other US cities, that's a lot of positive energy to counteract decades of prejudice and fighting.  

Pretty awesome kids, huh?

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