Monday, July 27, 2015

Why I Love Evy's Tree




(This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own and 
I received no compensation in any form for this post.)

In January 2012, like many others, I was closely following Ashley Hackshaw's cancer journey. Ashley is such a creative spirit and I had received so much inspiration from her blog. I prayed for her and marveled at her strength in the face of such extreme adversity. It is a testament to Ashley's impact on the blogging world that so many bloggers and shop owners came together to create a special auction that would benefit Ashley and her family.  Leading the charge was Amy Miraflor of Evy's Tree.

I had never heard of Evy's Tree before but was immediately charmed by Amy's embellished hoodies. I loved that she had developed this cottage industry out of her home. I didn't win one of Amy's hoodies but I did become a customer.

(Vintage Brilla)
In 2013, Amy decided to grow her business and launched a manufactured line. It was about this time that I FINALLY realized that Evy's Tree was in my own backyard!!! I kept buying hoodies and anxiously awaited the day when Evy's Tree would expand enough to open a storefront in Sonoma County.  That finally happened during the last year.

So, why do I love these hoodies so much?  I am a plus-size girl. It can be very very hard to feel good in anything when you are plus-size. Every time I admire clothing on FB or IG, I will invariably discover that it does not come in my size. I can't even do Stitch Fix which so many of my friends are crazy about. My size isn't available. So, when I find something that makes me feel good when I wear it, it's a BIG DEAL!  I love that Evy's Tree offers XS through 2X. (or 0/2 through 20/22).  Another problem that many women have with online and catalog orders is that it is hard to know how something will fit if you aren't the size of the model wearing the clothes. Evy's Tree is so great about having all their lovely employees model their hoodies. Fans of ET tend to have their favorite "fit model" that they always look for on FB and IG.  (I love Nicole and Harmony)  Seeing these hoodies on women of all shapes and sizes is not only inspiring but very helpful in ordering!

I also love how the company is supportive of families. They seem to take care of their employees. When I visit the showroom, I am always impressed with how kind everyone is. Every employee that walks through introduces himself or herself to me and makes me feel welcome. That is pretty darn special!

The hoodies are pricey. They are considered a luxury brand with lots of wonderful little details. I can't always buy them when they come out. But I watch for sales like a hawk! The team releases 2-4 hoodies per month. The brand has quite the cult following that has even inspired FB groups like "Evy's Tree Styling, Resale, Chat."

Here are some of my favorite Evy's Tree moments.  I am 5'7" and wear a size 16.

(Ashley Stripe in XL)


(Blush Diana in XL)

(Sea Glass Reece in XL...although I will be sizing up to 1X if I get another one of these)

(Josie Tunic in Vintage Grey in XL)

(Here I am in the ET Showroom wearing the new Lisa Golden in Large)
(Cognac Brilla in 1X)
(Addyson--unbelted--in XL)


The hoodies allow me to be comfortable and casual while also being slightly more dressy and put together.  Plus, they layer so nicely!!!

Recently, Evy's Tree realized the need for a rewards program. If only I had had that two years ago!  This referral link will get you 10% off your first purchase. From time to time, I will post photos of me wearing new releases just because I like to drop by the showroom!

It is always great to be able to support a wonderful company filled with wonderful people!

For the most up to date info on Evy's tree, follow them on Instagram @evystreeofficial or on Facebook.  If you live in Sonoma County, I HIGHLY recommend you follow @evystreeshowroom.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Inspiration from Hymns



(Beautiful Piece from Take the Cannoli)
I haven't done anything creative in awhile.  I just got a few materials to start Bible Journaling recently but have not had a moment to sit down and begin.

I have been thinking a lot about hymns lately. I grew up in Texas and spent a lot of time in my grandparents' Baptist church in Waco. My grandmother would often walk around the house humming hymns and they make up a great deal of the soundtrack of my youth.

A few of my favorites:

"Blessed Assurance"
"Just a Closer Walk with Thee"
"The Old Rugged Cross"
"What a Friend We Have in Jesus"
"I'll Fly Away"
"O Christ the Same"
"How Great Thou Art"

Have you ever noticed how many classic hymns address trouble and strife?

Many of my favorite childhood hymns are not in my current Lutheran hymnal but I am making an effort to collect them into a list. I would like to do something creative with these hymns. I'm going to keep on collecting hymns on this post and then I to put some of the lyrics into a new piece.

Do you have any favorites?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

CBC Guide to Disneyland: Part Two



Welcome to Part Two of my series about Disneyland!


RIDES
Plan on getting to the park at least a half hour before it opens.  It can take many families awhile to get out the door in the morning so you can get in a lot of rides if you go early. Cast members will let the crowds into Main Street first before the rest of the park opens. One the rest of the park opens, plan your strategy. If you have more than one adult and it looks like the park will be crowded, send one adult to a Fast Pass ride to grab passes for later and then meet up with the rest of the family at your first ride of the day. Expect long lines at rides like Peter Pan. 

Fast Passes are so great for busy rides! They are an absolute MUST for Radiator Springs Racers. If you are going to California Adventure, be there before it opens and head to the left hand side of rope drop.  Once they drop the rope, head directly to the Radiator Spring Fast Pass machines. They WILL run out of passes so get this out of the way first.

Although Disney does a brilliant job with lines, plan on bringing a small activity to keep the kids busy while waiting. My son had a small "Cars" tractor that kept him completely occupied. My friend's little one had a small lunchbox-sized container with little plastic figures. Although there are lockers with charging stations throughout the park, we decided to conserve energy on our phones and did not let the kids use them. Charging stations are often full and we wanted to keep our phones charged up in order to check the wait times at different rides.

Kids ages 7 and up can ride on their own.  The rides with the strictest height limits are California Screamin' and Tower of Terror.  My 7-year-old was able to do all the rides this year. 

ENTERTAINMENT
Do not miss the evening parades and fireworks!!!  Each part of Disneyland has something special. Disneyland has its evening parade and Fantasmic! show as well as fireworks.  California Adventure has the Pixar Parade and World of Color.  We have found the Pixar Parade to be less crowded than the Disneyland parade.  

We always indulge in a World of Color dining package that gets you preferred viewing for World of Color.  There are various packages but we typically get the Carthay Circle package.  It is a fixed price dinner.  At the end of dinner, you get Fast Passes for the preferred viewing area.  It is still standing room so prepare accordingly.  There is now also a Fantasmic! dining package but we have yet to try that one.

When it gets hot and crowded, take the time to explore the many other entertainment options in the park. Although we haven't seen it yet, the Aladdin show is supposed to be amazing!

SOUVENIRS
Stop by City Hall when you first enter the park and ask for a button.  They have all kinds such as a Birthday button, an "I'm Celebrating!" button, First Time Visitor buttons and more.  They are free and make a great souvenir.  When they write your name on the birthday button, cast members will tell you Happy Birthday all day long!

You can always buy Disney themed t-shirts and other merchandise in advance to save money but there are some things you will only find in the parks. My one souvenir from this last trip was the Disneyland "I am Here" Starbucks mug because you can't get it anywhere else.  I also happen to believe that every visitor needs a pair of mouse ears.

Even though it can be pricey, make sure and take advantage of the various Disney photographers throughout the parks. After they take your photo, they will give you a Photopass card. You can reuse this same card every time you get your photo taken.

If you have a Star Wars fan, do not miss the Jedi Training Academy!  My son loves it!!!  Try to hit the very first show if you can. Go early and make sure your kids sit in front. If they are wearing Star Wars apparel, it can help them get chosen. And enthusiasm goes a long way! If your child get picked, they will participate in the show and get a special certificate at the end.

One of my son's favorite souvenirs this year was his Autopia driver's license. After riding the ride, you will exit past the booths where you can get this card made. I think it costs about $5.  He carries it in his wallet all the time!

Little girls will most likely want a makeover at the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique.  They have a knight package as well. VERY PRICEY. But it may be an important one-time experience for your child.  ($60-$195)

My family also loves pin trading.  You can get a starter package in the park or at the Disney Stores.  They usually come with a lanyard and a few pins.  My son loves to trade pins!  It has been good for his self-confidence. We only trade with Cast Members.  Trades are one-for-one and cast members will not turn down your child.  Just watch for cast members wearing pins.  Some people buy giant lots of pins through eBay and other discount outlets to save money. I do not recommend this because the pins are almost always fake. Invest in a few inexpensive ones and let your kids trade for ones they really want.

I bought my son an autograph book from the Disney Store for our first trip. Any book will do.  He loved getting autographs from all his favorite Disney characters and it has been a special souvenir for him.

Although this isn't technically a souvenir, don't miss rubbing Aladdin's Magic Lamp in the Bazaar shop in Adventureland across from the Jungle Cruise. And have your video camera ready! For 50 cents, my son got his fortune told with great theatrics!

In California Adventure, grab a newspaper on Buena Vista Street.  They are free and make a fun souvenir. If you need a break for your kids to run around, head over to Grizzly Peak for the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.  Kids figure out a variety of challenges in order to earn their Wilderness Explorer Badge. It feels like being in a really fun park right in the middle of Disneyland!  Kids can run around and climb and do zip lines.  A great hidden treasure.

There is so much to do and see at Disneyland!!! Make sure to take in all the little details around the park.  Do not force yourself to try and ride as many rides as you can.  You will all be miserable.  Take your time. Don't stress.  Focus on the rides with the shortest lines and the ones you absolutely must do because your kids love the characters.  Don't worry about the rest.  Have a great time.  Because it really is one of the happiest places on Earth!


Monday, July 13, 2015

CBC Guide to Disneyland: Part One

It is no secret that we are big Disneyland fans in my family!  I celebrated my 10th, 30th, and 40th birthdays there!!!  I love it that Disneyland and I share milestone events.  This year, I turned 40 and Disneyland is turning 60!


When I turned 10, Disneyland was having a special promotion where certain guests were awarded prizes as they came through the gate.  I won a lifetime pass!  (You can see me holding it in the above photo)  My parents confiscated it so that I wouldn't lose it.  Instead, they ended up losing it. I never even got to use it.  But it was still an exciting day and a fun memory.

Disneyland is definitely my happy place.  One of the items on my bucket list is to be able to stay in the Adventureland Fantasy Suite at the Disneyland Hotel.   Of course, getting to stay in the Disneyland Dream Suite wouldn't be too shabby either!!! Maybe for my 50th birthday.  Until then, here are some of my favorite tips for an affordable and fun Disneyland visit.

If you have a smartphone, makes sure and purchase the Touring Plans app. This has definitely changed how I visit Disneyland. You can see real-time updates on lines and it can help you decide which rides to go on and which ones to get FastPasses for.

ACCOMMODATIONS

We love staying in official Disney hotels but they are pricey.  You do get perks!  By staying in a Disneyland hotel, you get the extra Magic Hour Early Admission on select days.  This can be purchased in addition to a regular ticket by non-hotel guests but not for California Adventure.  You can also take advantage of Pinocchio's Workshop for childcare as a guest of a Disneyland Hotel. This is a great option for families with kids ages 5-12 that allows grownups to have a night out on their own during their visit. And, of course, you receive all the outstanding Disneyland customer service and concierge service that comes with staying in an official hotel.

As much as we love those perks, we would rather save a few hundred dollars on a cheaper hotel that we could spend within the park. Our very favorite place to stay is the Best Western Park Place Inn and Suites.  The rooms have a mini-fridge and microwave and a light buffet breakfast is included right next door. For four nights, we paid $501 including parking. Parking is currently $10 per night.  We park our car and leave it there the whole visit.  Why? Because this is absolutely the closest hotel to Disneyland INCLUDING the Disneyland Resort hotels.  You cross the street and enter the main gate.  It is fantastic!!!  Especially when you are tired at the end of the day.  No messing with shuttles or waiting to get your car out of a crowded lot. Since we don't really spend much time in our hotel beyond sleeping, this hotel is a perfect fit for us. The property also has a pool in case you need a break from the park.

DINING

Since we save money on the hotel and breakfast, I like to splurge on a few nice meals during our visit.  Everyone must eat at Blue Bayou at least once.  You cannot beat the ambience.  I am not a fan of the food. however.  Very expensive for what it is.  So, if you have already had your Blue Bayou experience, I suggest making a reservation at Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue.  It is one of our family's favorites!!! It really feels like you have gotten away from the park when you eat here. The outdoor location is lovely and quiet and there is a petting zoo right next door.  The fixed price menu is simple.  It is table service and includes all you can eat barbecue chicken and ribs, ranch beans, coleslaw and cornbread. Desserts are extra.  We love the family-style eating arrangement and casual atmostphere. 

Another favorite splurge is Carthay Circle in California Adventure.  The perfect place for a grownup meal.  We always get the World of Color Dining package here which gives us preferred viewing for the show.  The dining experience really feels sophisticated and the service is excellent.  Reservations highly recommended.

We did the character dining experience at Ariel's Grotto one time.  You are definitely paying for the characters with this one.  If your child is a fan of the Disney princesses, this is the meal you should book. However, I was disappointed with the food and atmosphere.  One time was enough for us. We also made a reservation for the Goofy's Kitchen character breakfast at the Disneyland Hotel. Again, very pricey.  You are paying for the character experience.  I liked the variety in the buffet. Definitely something for everyone. And my son was excited to see so many characters come by.

For a special snack, I like stopping by the Mint Julep Bar in Disneyland for beignets.  They are Mickey-shaped and make a fun (yet sugary) treat. Stay away from the Mint Juleps as they taste a bit like cough syrup. Another nice break spot is the Wine County Trattoria in California Adventure. We found you can get a great view of the Pixar Parade from the terrace. Plus, the grownups can have a glass of wine.

For another high-end experience, leave the park and head for Napa Rose in the Grand Californian. Everything is absolutely delicious. I had my engagement dinner here!!!

Part Two will cover some of my favorite attractions and souvenirs!


Monday, May 18, 2015

Greek Mythology Birthday Party

Noodlebug turns 7 today and we had a Greek Mythology birthday party in the park yesterday.  Because I am in the middle of a move, we kept it simple!



Noodle has loved Greek mythology for years. Ever since he went through my Barefoot Books inventory and found all the books on the subject.  For his party, my friend Susie created the wonderful Greek Temple backdrop from cardboard.  The perfect photo opp!  My son went as Zeus and I went as Medusa.

All Noodle's friends dressed up as their favorite mythological creatures and characters.  For activities, we had "Paint a Shield," "Paint a Greek Pot," and glitter tattoos.  For "Paint a Shield," I bought packages of 16 inch cake circles. They were the perfect size!  At $6.29 for a six pack on Amazon, it was MUCH easier than hand-cutting circles out of foam core.  I made handles on the back of each shield using silver duct tape.  The kids had a choice of using acrylic paint or paint pens. In retrospect, I would have only had paint pens out on the tables. Much easier and less messy to use.

(Noodle holding his shield!)
For "Paint a Greek Pot," I put out photos of ancient Greek pottery along with mini flower pots and paint.  I got the mini flower pots at the Dollar Store. They came in packs of 3.  Again, using only paint pens would have been best but the kids loved the activity.

I bought two kits of Glitter Tattoos and they were a big hit!  Super easy to use.  Much easier than face painting and less messy. Once the glue sets, the tattoos don't come off so there was no need to worry about them wiping off onto clothing. Plus, the stencils made it easy to get a perfect image every time.

For the grand finale, we had a pinata.  I just got a classic bull pinata and we pretended that it was the Minotaur.  Everyone loves a pinata!

For food, we did fresh fruit, cheese, and pretzel sticks and Noodle baked his own cupcakes.  It was a very simple party in the park but the kids had a great time!

As a bit of a joke, I grabbed a piece of cardboard and made a "burnt offerings" station for gifts.  I just propped up the cardboard in front of a big plastic storage tub.



For favors, we kept it simple.  Each child got one mythological character from the Mythical Realms Toob:


I also printed and laminated this free printable for Communications4all:

I think the kids had a great time.



I can't believe I have a 7-yr-old!


(This post contains some affiliate links to products that I used)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Pinterest Fail: Mickey Tie Dye Shirts

We are going to Disneyland next week with some friends and I very much wanted to make some special t-shirts for us to wear.  I saw this fun tutorial from the Kids Activities Blog and wanted to try it.



So cute, right?  I bought similar colors because I thought the shirts could be reused for Fourth of July later on.  I was excited to see the final results.


WOMP WOMP



 
Wow. Really really bad.  I followed the directions exactly.  100% cotton shirts.  Soaked them in soda ash.  Gathered the Mickey design with dental floss and tied off with one inch of rubber bands. Not sure what went wrong.  The red color seemed to leak a bit so the image became distorted. Looks like a giant bloody heart.  I cannot let anyone wear these ridiculous shirts. We will have to chalk it up to a Pinterest Fail.

Monday, April 27, 2015

ART IS YOU Petaluma 2015






It's that time again!!!  The amazing ART IS YOU Mixed Media Retreat on the West Coast!  I only got to take one class this time but it was terrific!

This year, I took a class called "Resin Heaven" with Jen Crossley.  Jen was a wonderful and patient teacher with a great sense of humor.

Here are some examples of Jen's work that we were attempting to recreate:

First, she taught us how to make our own molds using Pinkysil and rubber stamps.  These molds can then be filled with ICE resin to make the centerpiece of the pendant.  Since we didn't have time to wait for the resin to dry, Jen handed out a few ready-made pieces to complete our projects.



This was really working out of my comfort zone as I had never worked with molds or ICE resin before.  I'm not too great at wirework either!

I kept at it and, with some help from Jen, managed to finish my piece!


It is hard to see but my resin image says "Sixpence."  Don't look to closely at my wire-wrapping!





A really fun class and I learned a lot!

The West Coast ART IS YOU will be back next year in Santa Rosa!  The event will be in mid-April so start planning now!  Get all the details here.






Monday, April 20, 2015

Week Four: Renting in Sonoma County

I had to laugh a bit when I saw this article in a recent issue of the local ARGUS COURIER newspaper.

"Housing Crisis Squeezes Petaluma Residents"

No joke!  You are in a bad situation if you are looking to rent OR if you are looking to buy. There is just no inventory. I broke down and started looking into apartment living this past week.  One bedrooms at the Azure Apartment Homes begin at $2020 a month with three bedrooms going as high as $3480.  At the Park Central townhomes next to Azure, they have a waiting list with one bedrooms starting at $2000 a month and two bedrooms going as high as $3226.  Insane!

We are starting to get a feel for the rentals market although we are constantly surprised by how high rents are.  About 1-2 houses pop up each day.  Houses on the west side go for higher rent.  For example, there is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house that is 1300 sq ft going for $2700 per month. Another house that looks like it is on the east side is 3 bedroom, 2 bath and 2200 sq ft and is renting for $2900.  More house but not much higher rent than the west side location.

If you are looking in the $1700-$1900, be prepared for 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartments or older townhomes with no amenities. MAYBE a house.  A tiny one. None have much in the way of outdoor space or storage.  When you hit $2500, you can get a three bedroom with a bit of outdoor space and garage.  Often very dated interiors. There isn't much in between.   We had hoped to spend no more than $2300. 

So, do you go for the cheaper option knowing you will be cramped and miserable without any decent outdoor space and will probably have to pay for a storage unit?  Or do you stretch your budget to the breaking point trying to find a place your family will be comfortable in?

We found a property that would definitely be a stretch for us but we like the neighborhood and it has a lovely backyard.  I submitted an application on Wednesday and we attended the open house on Thursday.  I did everything I could think of to give us an edge and I left feeling confident that we had a shot at the house.  I was definitely in better spirits over the weekend. Today, I saw that they are doing another open house on the property tomorrow.  I don't feel they would do this if they felt they had a good applicant.  I really thought this was going to be the break we were looking for.

With only a month to go, we are faced with some tough decisions.  There was only one house we could see over the weekend.  It was small and overpriced but I was willing to consider it. My husband was not.  So, we don't really have any options right now unless something pops up during the week.  I am starting to feel like we should take a less desirable approach.  There is a small 2 bedroom 1 bath duplex near my church.  No yard.  No garage.  Very little living space. But it would be LESS than we can afford.  It might be worth trying to tough it out there for a year and put our stuff in storage.  This is assuming we could even GET the property.  I am feeling like I would rather go small and be uncomfortable for awhile rather than spend a bunch of money for something that we didn't even really like. I think we'll attend the open house tomorrow.  

Time is running out.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Week Three: Renting in Sonoma County

A realtor friend connected us recently with a homeowner whose rental was about to go back on the market.  Everything about it was perfect.  Great location near my son's school.  3 bedroom, 2 bath.  Small yard with planter boxes.  Garage with attached studio.  Porch and fireplace.  About 1700 sq ft.  And the owners were going to put the rent at $2200 which is at the high end of what we can afford but doable. It was going to be a step up for us and that would have changed everything.  We were so excited.  We had an appointment to go view it on Saturday and I had my "elevator speech" ready to go.

At 9:45am on Saturday, I headed over to the venue for the fundraiser that I was chairing that night in order to start decorating. On my way over, the owner called and said they had decided to sell instead of rent.  I couldn't contain my emotion.  I sat in front of the venue for about 10 minutes crying.  I saw the volunteers gathering and knew I had to pull myself together and focus on the fundraiser for the rest of the day. I had foolishly let myself get carried away with hope and daydreams.

There is a slim chance that there is a backup option available but there are already two applications pending.  It is smaller than our current home with no yard to speak of. It is also attached to another home.  Plus, it would be $400 more than we are currently paying. So disheartening to think of paying so much more for so much less.

I went through my morning ritual of checking the local property management companies and Craigslist.  Here is what I found:

3 bedroom, 2.5 bath home for $2700
4 bedroom, 3 bath home for $4750
4 bedroom, 3.5 bath home for $5495
5 bedroom, 3 bath home for $3900
3 bedroom, 2 bath home for $2700

Our absolute upper limit is $2300.

We spent the weekend starting to fill the POD that was delivered on Friday. It feels strange to pack with no idea where you are going to land.  When we moved into our current home almost four years ago, we downsized and got rid of a lot of stuff.  I know we will be downsizing again.  I can deal with that.  It is just hard to think that we will be paying so much more.  I'm definitely getting discouraged.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Week Two: Renting in Sonoma County

We are starting week two of our search for a new rental home.

Here is what we are hoping for:

2 or more bedrooms
A bit of yard for gardening and play
A garage or storage space

Here is what I would LOVE to have in addition:
A fireplace
A porch
The possibility to adopt a cat

We don't need anything fancy.  Gary does a lot of work from home so a third bedroom for an office would be lovely.

Here is what we currently have:
4 bedrooms, 2 baths
1400 sq ft
Fenced in yard
Attached 2 car garage
Fireplace
$1900 a month


The fourth bedroom meant that Noodle and I had a workroom where we could create together. It was lovely.

Last week, I called about a small rental home on the west side of town. It was a 2 bedroom, 1 bath that was a little less than 900 sq ft. It had already rented. At $2100 a month.

This one came up today:
It is a very sweet 2 bedroom, 2 bath home.  A little over 1200 sq ft with garage.  My heart leapt.  Until I saw the rent.

$3000 a month with a $4500 deposit.


My family is not poor. Although we struggle, we have two working adults in the family and we are fine. We both have good jobs. However, even for us it would be difficult to come up with first month's rent AND an almost $5000 deposit.  Yet, this is what we are faced with.  Even if we could figure out how to find the money to rent this place AND beat out the other dozens of applicants, how would we ever afford $3000 a month?  And we would be downsizing yet again.

Then, I think about families who aren't as fortunate as we are.  How can THEY afford to live here? They can't.  Our homeless population is growing every day.

Here is another one:



This little 2 bedroom, 1 bath home is going for $2450 a month.  About 1000 sq ft. No garage.   $3200 deposit.


Over the weekend, I drove by another two bedroom, 1 bath house that was about 900 sq ft going for $2450 a month.

Many people have asked us why we don't buy.  First of all, we would be buying at the top of the market.  Houses for sale are just as bad right now with multiple offers and houses selling for $20,000 to $30,000 over asking.  Also, we don't have a good down payment right now. We are working on paying down debt and improving our credit.  The time isn't right for us to buy. I wish it was.  It would solve a lot of problems.

I am trying to push down fear and anxiety and put one foot in front of the other.  There is still time.  While we continue our search, we are dismantling our home of almost four years and packing boxes.