Sunday, September 30, 2012

Picture Yourself Here – American Girl Book Review


I just received the Picture Yourself Here from the people at American Girl.  In the book Picture Yourself Here girls can explore wacky ways to have fun, snap photos of the fun and then turn the pictures into silly scenes.  Punch-out illustrations and captions will help girls get started on their art pages.  The book includes dozens of activities in a variety of themes—from food and fashion to seasons and sports.  When the readers have finished, their books will be one-of-a-kind works of art. 
If you have a young girl that enjoys taking photographs, this book can provide a way to display her photography.  The book also introduces the hobby of scrapbooking to your child. 
As usual the thing I love most about American Girl Books is that it gives your child a chance to explore her creative side.  For this reason, the Thrifty Maven it’s no wonder that I give Picture Yourself Here four photogenic flash bulbs, I mean stars. 

American Girl books are available wherever books are sold, as well as through American Girl's consumer catalogue, at, and at American Girl retail stores. To place an order or request a free American Girl catalogue; call 1-800-845-0005.
In keeping with the FTC rules I would like to inform you that I received no financial compensation for this post. The people at American Girl provided me a copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Once, Twice, Three Times To Disney

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  (Hey that would make great lyrics for a song wouldn’t it?) 
I think people who sweep tend to be dreamers.  We dream of winning cruises, cash, computers, and so much more.  In my previous posts I told you how I was able to win not one but two happily ever after trips to the magic kingdom.  Never could I have imagined that I could win another trip to Disney but I did.
When I learn about a contest or sweepstakes one thing I love to do is to read the prizes offered.  Sometimes the prizes are trips to faraway places or maybe a band new car.  I honestly can’t help but imagine myself winning even though I realize that the odds are certainly not in my favor.
I’ll be honest; the first thing I noticed about the ESPN Guys Guys Weekend Sweepstakes was that all the major prizes gave you flowers from  I simply love flowers and the possibility of winning the grand prize and receiving flowers every month for a year was so exciting. 
The fact that the grand prize also consisted of a trip to Disney World seemed too good to be true.  I’d already won two trips to Disney how could I possibly win another trip?  It was all too mind-boggling. 
To enter you had to vote each day on the Wow Moment of the Day in Sports poll question by agreeing with one of the moments or submitting your own.  I entered faithfully every day and dreamed of winning flowers.  When the sweepstakes was over I pushed my dream aside as one that was nice to imagine but it was finally time to wake up and smell the flowers because I didn’t even win the Arrangement of the Month 3 Month Bouquet Club. 
It turns out I spoke too soon.  When I had won my second trip to Disney the judging agency had tried to reach me by phone, email, and finally by Fed-Ex before they finally let me know I had won.  In this particular case, the sponsor had messaged me through Facebook several times and then as a last ditch effort wrote me an email through my Thrifty Maven blog.
When I contacted them I learned I had WON the Grand Prize.  I was so excited about the flowers I almost forgot all the other great things included in the prize.  So let me share with you what I won.
Grand Prize: A Guy's Guy Weekend including a trip for two to meet ESPN Radio personalities at ESPN Audio's Guy's Guys Weekend at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL from March 1 - 4, 2012. The trip includes airfare, 4 days at Disney's Yacht Club Resort, a Welcome Reception including dinner, drinks, and fireworks, a "Drive Time" night NASCAR racing experience at Richard Petty Racing, optional 18-holes of Golf at Disney's Magnolia Golf Course, a Saturday afternoon Atlanta Braves baseball game at the Champion Stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and !iViva Los Guys! "Casino" Night. The winner will also receive a 1-800-Flowers Arrangement of the Month 12 Month Bouquet Club, Stock Yards The Twelve-Month Club, and a Sony PS3 Sports Champions Move HW Bundle. (ARV: $10,498.71)
I was in thrilled and shocked all at the same time.  I was hoping that my husband would be just as excited about the prize and he was, about parts of it at least.  You see my husband is not a Disney Dad.  I will not repeat the things he says about Disney in mixed company but suffice it to say that he would be happy to never visit Disney again as long as he lives.  I guess you could say we’re a mixed marriage.
People often ask me what was my favorite win and that can be a difficult question to answer.  I really loved when I won Redskin football tickets from a local radio station when my son was about 13 years old.  The tickets alone were a godsend considering at the time we were really struggling with me going to school and working two jobs.  The prize was even better than that because it included a limo ride to the game and we actually got to sit on the field on the press bench.  How amazing is that? 

Slumber Wonders - American Girl Book Review

I just received the book Slumber Wonders from the people at American Girl and I think it’s a great book for your budding social butterfly.  This book includes ideas for fun slumber-party themes, plus how-to-guides for invitations, decorations, food, games, crafts, and goody bags.  There’s even a complete shopping list for each party, along with a tear-out door hanger to personalize.
An example of one of the parties was a “Drive-in Dinner Party.”  Your budding hostess can throw a fabulous bash with a 1950s twist.  Invitations are old 45 records you can purchase at a second hand store.  Put your guests in the mood with a pony tail station, letter sweaters, and sock hop socks.  Play games like Speed Tables, Diner Dash, and Savvy Serve.  Dinner includes burgers, fries, and a milkshake stand.   
As usual the thing I love most about American Girl Books is that it gives your child a chance to use their imagination.  For this reason, the Thrifty Maven it’s no wonder that I give Slumber Wonders a wide awake four celebratory stars. 

American Girl books are available wherever books are sold, as well as through American Girl's consumer catalogue, at, and at American Girl retail stores. To place an order or request a free American Girl catalogue; call 1-800-845-0005.
In keeping with the FTC rules I would like to inform you that I received no financial compensation for this post. The people at American Girl provided me a copy of this book for review purposes. The opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Inhumanity Of Humanity – A Heart Like His

Then the king ordered the guards at his side: “Turn and kill the priests of the LORD, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.” (1 Samuel 22:17)
Think of a time when you were stunned by the depravity of humanity.  How did you sort through your feelings about the situation?
Stories of man’s depravity are only a headline away.  A child burned to death with a 6000 degree welding torch.  Twelve people were killed and dozens were injured in a shooting attack during a showing of the Batman movie.  A mother stands trial on charges of killing her seven-week-old daughter by placing her in a microwave oven and letting her burn to death.  A man desperate to avoid paying child support murdered the child and the child’s mother a day before he was scheduled to take a paternity test.
How can you make sense of such heinous crimes?  Any person with an ounce of moral sensitivity is outraged by the injustices of our world.
 God is NOT the author of tragedy or evil or death. It’s true that God did create the potential for evil to enter the world, because that was the only way to create the potential for genuine goodness and love. But it was human beings, through our free will, who brought potential evil into reality.
What have you learned from tragedy?  What’s one of the best explanations you’ve heard for its existence in our world? 
I am always amazed how God can take the very worst circumstance imaginable and turn it into the very best situation possible.   
Do you remember the shooting at the West Nickel Mines School?  Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages and shot ten girls (aged 6–13), killing five, before committing suicide in the schoolhouse.  On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, "We must not think evil of this man.” 
An Amish neighbor comforted the killer’s family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them.  Members of the Amish community visited and comforted the killer’s widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts' sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter.
If these people could reach out during their own personal tragedy to the man who committed such a heinous act, then I have much to learn about placing my trust and faith in God so that I can gain God’s peace. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

There’s No Crying At Disney

I am going to confess my most grievous fault; I have LIED to my children.  Not only did I assure them that there was a Santa Claus who lived in the North Pole, an Easter Bunny that delivered candy and colored eggs, but I also told them that there was no crying at Disney.
In yesterday’s post I told you about the trip I had won to Orlando.  Today I am going to tell you about the second trip I won to Disney and the circumstances that precipitated my little white lie.
When I prepared for our first trip to Disney I read one of those unofficial guides to Disney World so I could get some tips that would be as hassle free as possible considering I was a single mom with young boys. 
One morning the boys were having a typical morning of boyhood antics and my youngest son came to me crying about how his older brother committed some random act of unfairness.  I took a deep breath to help settle the dispute when suddenly I had an epiphany about the trip.  At that moment I could imagine arguments about which rides they wished to ride, who would sit by the window in the plane, etc., etc.

I called the boys together and asked them if I could update them on the plans for our Disney trip.  Instantly the squabble that had happened only moments ago was forgotten and they sat in rapt attention as I began to go over ride options giving each boy the chance to choose the two most important rides to them so they could be placed on the schedule.
With that accomplished we discussed behavior and expectations.  It was at that moment the words came out of my mouth with little fanfare, “Boys I hope you realize that Disney is the happiest place in the world.  It is for that reason there is NO CRYING at Disney.”  I assured them that guests who didn’t live up to those expectations may be asked to leave the park.

The boys looked at each other and swore that they would be the happiest guest Disney had ever seen and the subject was dropped.  I certainly never expected that they would remember their promises let alone take it seriously. 
During our stay at Disney World, I had the happiest Mouseketeers in the whole world.  There was not one single incident of crying, whining, complaining, or fighting the whole trip.  It was as if my children had been swept away by aliens and replaced by Stepford children.  

This of course was not true for everyone’s children.  While we were there I saw a man wagging his finger and yelling at his two-year old.  The child had saucer size tears rolling down his cheeks as his dad laid into him.  I can still remember him telling his son that he spent a small fortune taking him there so he had better stop whining and have fun. 
My youngest son leaned over to me and said, “Mom that Dad better watch it or they are going to kick them out of the park.”  I couldn’t help but chuckle and we went on to have a magical adventure at Disney World.

Fast forward a number of years and now my children are grown.  My oldest son has three kids whom I love very much and I yearned to be the cool grandma who took the kids to Disney World.  Wouldn’t you know the moment that this thought flashed in my head was the moment that things began to go downhill for us financially. 
My husband was laid off from his job and we couldn’t afford the mortgage on our home let alone a family trip to Disney.   Who knew that sweepstakes would come to the rescue again.

One afternoon I got out of my car after work and noticed a thin Fed-Ex envelope lying on the ground.  I certainly could use some good news. 
Imagine my surprise when to learn that I had WON a family trip to Disney World.  This trip would include airfare, Magic Your Way tickets, a $250 Disney gift card and accommodations on Disney property.  It was better than I could have hoped for.

That year Disney was celebrating their year of a million dreams so when I spoke to the sweepstake’s travel coordinator I took a chance and asked if we could stay at the Grand Floridian.  I told her that I had always dreamed of staying there so she told me she’d see what she could do for us.
To say that this was a dream come true Disney vacation from start to finish really didn’t begin to cover it.  Since I had never stayed on property before, I had never experienced Disney’s Magical Express.  Disney will also handle your luggage making sure it shows up in your room later in the day. What a great convenience and best of all, free to all Disney resort guests, who fly into Orlando International (MCO).

When we arrived at the Grand Floridian I finally knew what it felt like to have a fairy godmother. It was easy to see why the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is considered the Victorian-style crown jewel of the hotels at Walt Disney World Resort.  Our room had a lagoon view facing the castle. At night we could see the castle lit in the various colors as the water parade performed on the lagoon.
The rooms were decorated with all the Victorian touches mixed with a little touch of Disney, including the wallpaper and Mickey lamp. There was nightly turn down service that left candy and a Disney "message" card on your pillow

It was easy to get around Walt Disney World Resort with complimentary transportation like monorails, ferryboats and motor coaches.  Turns out if you are staying on property your Theme Park parking is complimentary as well. 

Since the last time I’d visited Disney they had added Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  This was definitely on my to see list since I love animals and I figured the kids would get a kick out of it too. 
The park Features the plains of Africa, the jungles of Asia, primeval forests and live animals.  We began our adventure at the Harambe Wildlife Preserve, the fictional home of Africa's main attraction,  Kilimanjaro Sararis. We climbed aboard an open-sided safari vehicle for an expedition to see numerous African animals like zebras, hippos and elephants roaming the savannah. 
Next we took a trek to Asia, and the kingdom of Anandapur (which means "Place of many delights").  We took in a live bird show called Flights of Wonder.  Then it was on to the Maharajah Jungle Trek.  This themed wildlife trail attraction leads us through the forests and ruins outside the village, which are home to Komodo Dragon, Malayan Fying Fox, Bengal Tigers and more.  Of course we HAD to experience the Kali River Rapids and the Expedition Everest roller coaster.

Then it was on to Dinoland USA.  There we took a trip through time on the Dinosaur ride to the Late Cretaceous Period.  
That evening we dined under thatched roofs of Bama’s, a buffet-style restaurant.  There we were able to take a culinary adventure that featured African food inspired by more than 50 countries.

The next day began early since Extra Magic Hours is one of the benefits of staying on Disney Property.  We headed over to the Magic Kingdom ready to believe in make-believe.

The Magic Kingdom has six themed "lands" that are laid out like a wheel with the hub in front of Cinderella Castle.  We headed down the early-20th century small-town America of Main Street USA and headed straight for Adventureland.   There we visited Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki room and rode the Pirates of the Carribean and the Jungle Cruise rides.

Next stop was Frontier Land where our little buckaroos were able to relive the American Old West. We absolutely had to rides Splash Mountain but I also got the kids to ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and take in the Country Bear Jamboree.
Next we traveled back in time to an Amercan Revolutionary colonial town. I had never seen the Halls of Presidents and unfortunately I was unable to convince anyone to see it this time either.  We did take a ride aboard the Liberty Belle riverboat. We also visited the Haunted Mansion.
Of course we had to visit a land dedicated to the young at heart and to those who believe that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.  With that said, we were off to Fantasyland.  There we took to the skies on Peter Pan's Flight and saw that It's a Small World after all.  I was able to talk my granddaughter into accompanying me on the beautiful 90-horse carousel with hand painted scenes from Disney's Cinderella can be seen on the ride.
Tomorrowland is themed to be an intergalactic city; a concept of the future as seen from around the 1950s: rockets, UFOs and robots, etc.  It was there that we took on Space Mountain, experienced Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress, and steered specially designed cars through the Tomorrowland Speedway.
As if our day hadn’t been filled with magic we had a chance encounter with the “Million Dreams” cast members and we were each given our very own commemorative mouse ears.  I honestly didn’t know who was having more fun, me or the grandkids.
For dinner we head over to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Whispering at the Canyon Café.  While we were there a young child at a near-by table was getting cranky.  Who could blame the poor kid, he’d probably been on the go all day and missed his nap and now he was in full cry mode as his father yelled at him to eat telling him he’d go hungry if he didn’t.  I felt so sorry for the kid but a tug at my arm caught my attention.
My granddaughter motioned to me that she was going to share a secret with me so I leaned in closer. “Grandma,” she whispered, “That little boy better stop crying.  Doesn’t he know that there’s no crying at Disney?”
It seems my oldest son decided to perpetrate the lie I had told to he and his brother on their trip to Disney and probably explained why the kids seemed like perfect angels all day every day.  Oh how they lies come back to haunt you.

The next day was our last full day at Disney and so we had to put it to good use.  We began the day at Epcot Center.  When I put my teacher hat on this is one of my favorite parks. The park is dedicated to the celebration of human achievement. 
The park consists of two sections; Future World and World Showcase, laid out in an hourglass shape.  Future World consists of a variety of pavilions that explore innovative aspects and applications of technology.  World Showcase contains pavilions representing eleven countries. 
I enjoyed strolling through the various country pavilions but I knew the kids would be more interested in rides.
We made sure to ride the Viking ships of the Mælstrom.  The ride is a mix between a log chute and a traditional film attraction located in the Norway pavilion of the World Showcase.  We also rode the indoor log flume Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros which is housed within the pyramid-shaped Mexico pavilion.

Then we decided to head over to Disney’s MGM Studios.  (Back then it was called that but now it is called Disney’s Hollywood Studios.)  Disney's Hollywood Studios does not have a defined layout like the other parks.  It is more a mass of streets and buildings that blend into each other, much like a real motion picture studio. 
Top on my husband’s list of to-do’s at this park was the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!  It is a scheduled 30-minute live show that recreates many of the memorable scenes from the Indiana Jones movie series—and reveals the secrets behind the stunts and special effects.
My husband and my grandsons also voted the stunt car show.  During that show we learned how Hollywood stuntmen choreograph and film complex vehicle stunts with amazing split-second precision.
In addition to the shows we attended we rode the “fright elevator” at the Twighlight Zone Tower of Terror.  While I screamed and clutched my husband during the ride glad to arrive safely at the other end, the grandkids were already begging to go back on the ride. 
I hated for the day to end because I knew that we would be leaving the magical kingdom and heading back home.

Our final day began with a character breakfast at the 1900 Park Fare restaurant which is located at our hotel, the Grand Floridian.  Since I had never been to a character dinner I didn’t know what to expect but it was really something special.  Not only was the food delicious but we were treated to visits from various Disney characters.  We met Mary Poppins, Alice, Mad Hatter, Pooh and Tigger too.
Did I mention yet how wonderful the food was?  There was custom made omelets, corned beef hash, fresh fruit, strawberry soup, and so much more.  My favorite was the Mickey shaped waffles! 
After breakfast it was time to say good-bye to our dream vacation.  I honestly believed that this may well be the last time I ever saw Disney World but little did I know……..

Disclaimer: In keeping with the FTC rules I would like to inform you that I received no financial compensation for this post. I will receive an entry in a sweepstakes to WIN a trip for 4 to Disney World (hotel and airfare included)! 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Magical Trip To Disney World Was A WINNER


I can still remember when Disney World first opened.  Back then the man himself, Walt Disney described just how magical his kingdom would be.  Like so many other children of all ages I wanted to go to Disney. 
There was just one problem and that was that there was no way my parents could afford to take us to Disney.  Barring a fairy godmother with a magic wand the dream of an enchanted vacation to Disney was just that, a dream.

When I was nineteen years old a friend of mine was planning to go to Disney World and they would share the costs.  When I asked if I could go too I was assured that I could.  I immediately set out to put aside every dime I could and tried to lose enough weight to look good in my bathing suit. 
I was packed and ready to go when I learned that I would NOT be going because I didn’t have a driver’s license so I couldn’t drive.  I offered to pay more of the gas to make up for that but the other person vetoed this too.  I remember how hurt I was and I put aside the fantasy of enchanted lands and timeless fun.

When my kids got older I remember looking at them and wishing that I could take them to a whimsical world filed with music and laughter but I could no more afford a Disney trip at that time than my parents could have afforded to take me.  I was divorced and trying to work my way through college in order to make a better life for the boys and I. 
By this time in my life I had become very successful with radio contests.  I won lots of tee-shirts, albums, concert tickets, etc but I hadn’t heard of any station offering a trip to Disney World until…. 

The concept of the contest was simple enough.  If the station called your house and you answered with the phrase that pays, you WIN!  This is easy to do but the chances of them calling me while I lived in the back water town I had moved to was essential slim to none.  Still I had hope and when I was home I made sure I answered the phone with the phrase that pays because it was better to be safe than sorry.  The prize was amazing and it included airfare, hotel, car rental and tickets to Disney World. 
About this time I had also begun doing snail-mail sweepstakes and drop box sweepstakes.  A local department store was giving away a trip to Orlando.  This prize also included airfare, hotel, car rental and some spending money.  In my spare time I filled out 3x5 cards as if everything depended on it.  In a way everything did depend on it because the “Phrase that Pays” contest was almost over and no one had called our house. 

When I received the call that I had won the drop box seep at the department store I felt like I was living a happily ever after moment.  The caller explained how the trip would work and wanted me to give her a date I would like to arrange to take our trip.  My oldest son was in school so I didn’t want to interfere with that.  I was also going to school and my college had a strict policy about missing more than three classes in a semester.  So I decided that the trip would be taken in the summer and I chose the date around my birthday.   I had planned to call back to let the people in charge of our trip know our plans the next day.
The next morning the phone rang and I thought that the caller might just be the woman from the department store.  “Hello,” I said in a very excited tone of voice. 

“Hello,” a male voice said to me. 
“Can I help you?” I asked.

“Do you have anything you want to tell me?” he said.

“Who is this?  I think you have the wrong number.” I said.
“No I have the right number but you have something to tell me don’t you?” he said.

I didn’t recognize his voice.  I wasn’t dating anyone.  I hadn’t given my number out to some guy.  I wondered what this guy’s problem was.
“Look I said, I really don’t have time to deal with this so why don’t you tell me who is calling.” I said.

The voice at the other end said nothing.  I said nothing and then after the awkward pause he identified himself as the morning DJ of the station looking for the “Phrase that pays.”  OH MY GOD!  I had really screwed up.
Here I’d gone from no way, no how, could I ever take my kids to Disney to wow we’re going to Disney and oh by the way I almost won another trip to Disney within a day of the first one.  Sure I felt a bit disappointed but one can only feel but so disappointed when you already have plans to visit the happiest place on earth.

Fortunately for me the spending money from the trip I did win was enough for me to buy tickets to Disney World.  We were able to save money by eating breakfast at our hotel and carrying around lots snacks in the park.  When it was time to eat dinner we chose to eat at one special restaurant every night.  Our favorite was the Coral Reef at Epcot Center.  The restaurant allows you to dine with the fishes. Among those you might see include: Brown Shark, Stingray, Grouper, Tarpon, and the Green Sea Turtle.

We made magical Disney memories of Disney Characters, attractions, and shows.  Nothing will ever come as close to igniting the childish sparks of delight we had on our first trip to Disney World.   

Disclaimer:  In keeping with the FTC rules I would like to inform you that I received no financial compensation for this post.  I will receive an entry in a sweepstakes to WIN a trip for 4 to Disney World (hotel and airfare included)!

Monday, September 24, 2012

How Great Thou Art - A Come To Jesus Moment

You never know who God might send to touch your life.  I was reminded of this today by way of a chance encounter.
This morning I decided to take a walk to the Kroger store.  I’ve begun doing this as a goal because walking there and back is a three mile walk and walking has benefits that go beyond physical ones.  I use the time to clear my head.
This morning the problems with my sister Debbie were front and center on my mind.  I know that I told myself to give it to God and I’ve prayed on it but still I wondered if there was a way that I could redeem myself.  I mulled it over and prayed for my sister again and told God that I recognize that he was far better equipped at solving the situation than I was. 

When I arrived at Kroger I checked out my usual haunts which are the clearance areas to see if there were any good deals.  I found a box of my favorite organic cereal marked down from $3.64 to 74¢.  I also picked up a Hershey bar and some chewing gum. 
The store was pretty quiet and I got in line behind another woman who was buying a few things.  Out of habit I checked out what she bought.  I do that because I like to see if there were deals I missed out on getting.
The woman looked at me and I smiled at her.  I’ve been trying to make a concerted effort to smile more even when I feel troubled.  She smiled back and that probably would have been the last of it but suddenly she leaned in to me and said, “Let me get that for you.”

What?  She wanted to buy my groceries.  “No, I insisted you don’t have to.” 

This time she said, “Please let me bless you with those things.” 

Have you ever felt like the world has suddenly stopped and that you’re seeing only the things that are happening in the moment?  That’s how I felt. 

I almost felt the words coming out of my mouth, “Thank you so much but what I really need is for someone to pray for me.” 

She paid for her groceries and then bowed her head.  It took me a few moments to realize she was actually praying for me.

I felt some of the sadness I was under lift because I saw that God is always there for me and that he will give us a sign that he is working in your corner if you open your heart enough to see. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

For Crying Out Loud – A Heart Like His

I cry aloud to the LORD; I plead aloud to the LORD for mercy.  I our out my complaint before Him; I reveal my trouble to Him. (1 Samuel 142:1-2)
What level of fear, or rage, or abandonment, or bewilderment are you in right now?

As some of you already know I grew up in the quintessential dysfunctional family.  I have struggled with the challenges of dealing with my own struggles as well as the struggles of my brothers and sisters as we have tried to make it through this journey we call life. 
As a child I was often placed in the role of being my mother’s emotional caretaker at a young age.  I saw myself as a failure because I often fell short in this role. I often felt resentful, inadequate, unlovable, and powerless.  Eventually I was marginalized as a person, demonized, and often placed in the role of the family scapegoat.
With my Father’s death earlier this year I am extremely concerned about my Mother.  She has always been very child-like and dependent and with Dad gone I reach out to her every week with a phone call to find out how she is doing and ask if there is anything I can do for her.
My sister Debbie and her daughters have been living with my parents for years now.   As my parents’ health declined she helped them get to their doctor’s appointments, made sure they got their medicine, etc.  My father entrusted her to carry out his wishes and I respected that and realized that she  was carrying a heavy load.
One would think that this would be a time that we would coalesce as a family.  One MIGHT think that if one was speaking about a “normal family.”  Instead the fractures grow deeper in my family. 
When Darryl offered to take me along on his business trip to Baltimore I was thrilled.  I haven’t been to Baltimore in years and since it was only a two hour drive to my parent’s home from there it would be the perfect opportunity to spend some time with my Mother as well as to see my children and grandchildren. 
When I arrived on Friday, my sister said she was going to take the opportunity to go to the grocery store and that was fine with me.  It would allow me to spend time with Mom while Debbie got a break.  Dan brought the kids over and we spent a couple of hours with her before Debbie got home. 
I didn’t even think it odd that when she got home she plopped down at the table sans groceries and got on the cell phone.  I went to the kitchen to get a drink of water before we left and I overheard her tell the person on the other end, “Yeah, Cathy and her clan are over here now.  Ok. I’ll let you go.  Are you getting ready to go grocery shopping? Oh that’s right I called you.”
Immediately I assumed that the person on the other end of the line was my sister Mary.  Why it was important to report that I was there with my “clan” I didn’t know but I tried to keep with my promise of giving my family issues to God because it’s definitely above my pay grade. 
It was getting late and we headed out for some dinner.  I decided not to give the report to my sister but the Balkanization of the family begins anew.  In this particular dynamic it is Mary and Debbie perpetuate the dysfunctional behavior we grew up with by pitting one child against another.
The next day the plan was to head back over to my Mother’s house with both of my sons, all my grandchildren, and my brother Bill.  Originally we had planned to take my Mom to visit Dad’s grave but since Mom had just had some surgery done on her eye she wouldn’t be able to go to the cemetery. 
My brother Bill and my son Dan had felt that they had been personally snubbed when it came time for my Dad to be interred because Debbie arranged for it to happen at a time when she and all her girls could go but Dan and Bill would be at work.  Both had offered alternatives but Debbie stuck to her original plans and there were some hurt feelings.  I guess I had hoped that there would be some closure if we could all go there and maybe say a prayer or something.  I had even told Debbie about wanting to take Mom there so there was no secret or attempt to prevent her from coming with us.
Since Mom was not able to challenge we changed our plans and decided just to spend some time with her.  I thought that would do her a world of good since the last time I spoke to her she told me how lonely she gets.  I thought it was a good move all the way around.
Debbie once again decided to disappear not too long after we arrived saying she wanted to take a break and go into town and go grocery shopping.  She said she’d be back in two hours and that was fine with me.  I didn’t beg her to stay.  I didn’t make it an issue.  I didn’t take it personally.  I honestly felt she could probably use a break.
Everyone wound up outside sitting and talking while I brushed Mom’s hair and helped her when she required assistance.  I was really having a good time.  We talked about sports.  We talked about politics.  We talked about Texas and about Germany.   No one said anything negative about anyone and I felt the get together went well.  After all why should we only come together when someone dies?  Why can’t we reach out as adults and find a way to heal?
After a couple of hours Debbie called to say she would be gone for another hour.  I told her that was no problem and when she came back two hours later then that I didn’t say anything negative about that.  As far as I knew there was no problem.
Darryl invited my brother out to dinner with our family and he called his family to join us.  You would have thought that there would be nothing left to talk about but we sat in that restaurant for another hour and a half talking the whole time. 
Towards the end of the evening I learned that Bill and his wife hadn’t had a party inviting anyone over because Debbie had a big fight with Bill.  Debbie felt Bill owed one of her daughter’s as well as herself an apology.  Bill claimed he never said what he was accused of saying so he wasn’t about to apologize.  Debbie was also mad because Bill was friends with my son Dan.
This is a whole other crazy story which involves my nephew bragging about the money he was getting for college and how he wasn’t even going.  He took photos of things he bought with my uncle’s money.  I had no clue about this and neither did my son Dan.  My son Mike saw it and told my nephew he shouldn’t be putting that stuff on the internet and how that was basically stealing.  This got my nephew angry who then told the nieces that “my son” was trying to keep them from getting money from my uncle.  He told them that my uncle was going to cut everyone off because “my son” was running his mouth. 
This turned into a free for all which not only had both of my sisters calling my oldest son and cursing him out but calling me all kinds of names and saying hurtful things about me when in actuality none of my sons nor I had any such plan to reveal my nephew’s deception or try to get my nieces college money cut.  It was due to all this craziness I had basically stopped calling my father every week for a few months because he was taking sides and throwing my boys and I under the bus.
It turns out that when my father died my sister Debbie and my sister Mary had decided that they weren’t going to call my son to tell him my father had died.  This was an attempt to “get even” with Dan for something that was not of his making.
Yes it was hurtful to learn this.  Yes it would have been easy to adopt a get-even attitude.  Instead I told my son, “Let’s give this to God because he is much smarter than either one of us.  Neither one of us can make this situation right.  There’s just no way that we can.”
The next morning Darryl and I had breakfast with the boys and my grandkids and I hated to see it end.  We stopped off at the cemetery and stopped at my Father’s grave as well as my brother’s grave and the graves of my grandparents.  I said a quick prayer and I told my Dad that I looked after Mom for him.
Since I had some time to kill before our flight I decided to call my Mom before we left.  My sister Debbie answered the phone.  She was very cold and told my Mom the call was for her. 
I told my Mom how glad I’d been to spend time with her.  I asked her if she enjoyed having everyone come see her.  She said she did.  We chatted for a few more minutes and I asked if I could talk to my sister Debbie.  I wanted to tell her that I wished we could have spent more time together during my visit.
Once Debbie was on the phone she tore into me.  She said she “sees how I’m all tight with Bill and all.”  She then launched in to a diatribe about how Bill had come to visit one time and didn’t offer to help her with the yard work.  She said that Billy suggested that she ask one of Debbie’s girl’s boyfriends to help her so she didn’t have to do so much. 
She went on about how she’s documenting all of this.  She’d documenting how she threw out her hip helping Dad.  “I don’t know if you realize this but it’s in the will that I get to stay here a year after Mom dies.” She told me.
Actually originally I thought she’d be there until she died so it really didn’t matter to me.  I had written off any inheritance from my parent’s years ago.  Obviously my sister thinks I’m waiting with baited breath for my Mom to die to get my clutches on her estate.  Come on now, estate?  Really?  It’s a house.  Big deal.  I have a house.  I don’t need that house. 
Debbie dug right in there.  “Well when you vultures come circling around I’m just going to wave that paper around and say nothing.”  Fine.  Wave it.  Big deal!  Again I could care less about the house but I said nothing because Debbie was on a roll.
She told me that she didn’t know who I was coming over to the house and telling Mom to listen to her and eat for her because that’s not going to magically make things better.  She told me that Mom was bugging her about her compression socks when I left.  She told me I could have killed her if I put the wrong ones on her. (By the way I didn’t put any socks on her I just asked her if she was supposed to be wearing them.)
Then after her rambling martyr dialogue she finally told me that she’s going to shut up now because she may have said too much and then slammed the phone down.
I cried.  I didn’t deserve that.  Mary hasn’t come down once since Dad’s been dead but she feels that Mary is the only one who’s there for her.  She’s the only one she can commiserate with and of course the one who is always ready to charge in on her high horse as not so much as a hero but rather she runs rapidly to spread strife among family strife.  In this role she can be malicious, vicious, and vindictive.
I prayed for God to help me during this time but I also decided to pray for both of my sisters.  I told God that I will put my trust in him and that I will try to let his will be done instead of trying to be “RIGHT”.

How have you been dealing with all that?  What’s been working?  And what’s just been making things worse?

Sometimes I have retreated from the problems I am facing.  Sometimes I confront the problems head-on.  There are times when I want to throw my hands up in the air while other times I want fix everything somehow, some way.  Obviously one can never truly run away from their problems.  Working towards a solution and praying for GOD’s guidance is the only way to make things better. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Find Your Way! - American Girl Book Review

This Find Your Way!: Move to the head of the class with geography puzzles to help you pass! (American Girl) is packed with tricky trails, state stumpers, and other terra troubles. Take a trip to Innerstar University and try to make sense of the misprinted maps, muddled directions, and other puzzling problems on campus, in the United States, and abroad. Plus, 50 tearout flash cards will help make learning facts about the states fast and fun!
Readers can take a trip to Innerstar University™, where Paige and her friends will lead the way on a fun-filled expedition! Girls can try to untangle the misprinted maps, muddled directions, and other puzzling problems on campus, across the United States, and abroad. Plus, 50 tear-out flash cards will help make learning facts about the states a snap. A special access code for even more twisting, turning puzzles online is also included.

So how does the Maven rate this book? I give it an untangled, twisting, turning four snaps up.  It’s the perfect book to take on your next road-trip or the next time your child claims she has nothing to do!
Disclaimer:  In keeping with the FTC rules I would like to inform you that I received no financial compensation for this post.  I received a copy Find Your Way for review purposes from the people at American Girl.   

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bound For Snow - American Girl Book Review

Your child can imagine herself as the main character of this interactive story, a girl who loves to be outside in wintertime. In the book Bound for Snow (Innerstar University) the main character is teaching Honey the golden retriever how to pull a dog sled, but she just doesn't seem to be getting the hang of it. What I loved most about this book was that this book deals with so many of the things that a young girl must deal with. Will you stick with it, even when things are hard? Can you find the strength to ask your friends for help? With more than 20 different endings, your child will enjoy this book again and again to see how different decisions change the story. This book comes with a limited-time access code to interactive online world--plus, a secret access code for even more endings online!
Bound for Snow is an Innerstar University gamebook for the My American Girl dolls.  Innerstar University is a fictional place where the girls live together in a dorm. As your young reader (8 years or older) reads the story, she has an opportunity to determine what kind of adventure she will enjoy. Each page has a direction at the bottom. Some pages tell you to go to directly to another page and keep reading. Some pages give you a choice of two pages to turn to depending on your choice in the activity you wish to explore.

So how does the Maven rate these interactive stories? American Girl books empower girls to be stronger and to find their inner strength. This is why I give them both a STRONG 4 Stars.
Disclaimer:  In keeping with the FTC rules I would like to inform you that I received no financial compensation for this post.  I received a copy Bound for Snow for review purposes from the people at American Girl.   

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rusty Scupper - Restaurant Review

Mr. Thrifty and I are visiting the state where I grew up, Maryland. I can't begin to tell you just how excited I was about going to Baltimore, even though this is a working vacation.

We were both hungry after our flight and decided to stop at the Rusty Scupper
for dinner and I'm sure glad we did.

The ambiance was spectacular with beautiful harbour views and live piano music. Talk about romance.

Having been away from Maryland for so long I truly missed crabs. It's difficult to find good crab cakes when you live far away from the state that proudly proclaims that it is for crabs.

I ordered the Broiled Seafood Combination which consists of shrimp, scallop, crabcake, stuffed oyster, baked cod with rice and vegetables. Mr. Thrifty on the other hand ordered a lobster special they had that evening.

While we waited we were served focaccia bread with the roasted red pepper, garlic, and almond dipping sauce, amazing. Hubby immediately made a note that I was to look up how this is actually made because he'd love to have it again.

We chattered about business, about long-term plans, and all that came to an end when dinner was served.

For me it was love at first bite when I tried my crab cake. Finally a crab cake that doesn’t hide the delicious taste of the crab with fillers. It was almost totally crab and the butter sauce. I remember asking the waitress if they serve these crab cakes in heaven. I sure hope so.

Hubby loved his lobster and he agreed that we had certainly picked the right spot to dine for his first night ever in Baltimore, Maryland. 

The Thrifty's give the Rusty Scupper a big Four Stars.  While it is pricier than restaurants we normally review it is the perfect place for a special celebration like an engagement, an important birthday or an anniversary. 

Reservations are preferred but not required. 
The Rusty Scupper is located at 402 Key Highway, Inner Harbor
Phone: 410-727-3678,

Disclaimer:  In keeping with the FTC rules I would like to inform you that I received no financial compensation for this post.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

It’s Not About The Movie!

Suspected Islamic militants fired on the US consulate in Libya with rocket-propelled grenades and antiaircraft weapons then set it ablaze on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States by al-Qaida.  The US ambassador to Libya and three of his staff were brutally killed.

It is being reported that, “according to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted.” So even though the Obama Administration was warned of an embassy attack but it did NOTHING. Even so, no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and “lockdown”, under which movement is severely restricted.
The last time the Obama attended his daily intelligence meeting, according to the public schedule of the president, was September 5th.  The president was scheduled to hold the intelligence meeting at 10:50 a.m. Wednesday, the day after the vicious attacks.  The intelligence meeting had been canceled so that he could attend a ceremony at the State Department.  Then it was off to attend a Las Vegas fundraiser for his re-election campaign rather than rescheduling one of those stuffy old intelligence briefing for later in the day. 

It may be interesting to note here that Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush almost never missed his daily intelligence meeting.  Then again Obama is so brilliant he doesn’t need to be briefed even during a time of war. (Yes we are at war and yes we still have troops dying in Afghanistan)
While AL-Qaeda has said that the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya was in revenge for the killing of the network's number two Sheikh Abu Yahya al-Libi, the administration is still trying to sell the story that these brutal murders will the results of anger of the movie Innocence of Muslims.

The US administration is now facing a crisis in Libya. Sensitive documents have gone missing from the consulate in Benghazi and the supposedly secret location of the “safe house” in the city, where the staff had retreated, came under sustained mortar attack. Other such refuges across the country are no longer deemed “safe”.

Also missing is a list names of Libyans who are working with Americans, putting these people potentially at risk from extremist groups.

Let not your heart be troubled, our “fearless” leader has our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton out apologizing for the video Innocence of Muslims.

Yes you heard that right, apologizing.  Hilary assures Muslims that "America's commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation, and as you know, we are home to people of all religions. "To us — to me, personally,'' she said, "this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose, to denigrate a great religion and provoke rage.  We condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. . . . Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

Hilary left out the part that said that she only rejects these actions so far as it pertains to Muslims.  Christians and Catholics though are quite a different ball of wax. For eample the painting The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili which featured the Virgin Mary surrounded by elephant dung and collaged pornographic images.  The artist wasn’t “Catholic Bashing”, no this was ART pure and simple.

Then there’s Piss Christ is a 1987 photograph by the American artist and photographer Andres Serrano.  It depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's urine.  As a matter of fact Serrano received $15,000 for the work, part of it from the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts.  I’m wondering if Hillary found this work of art disgusting and reprehensible. 

As far as movies go there is the movie I refused to see called The Last Temptation of Christ.  The film depicted Christ being tempted by imagining himself engaged in sexual activities, a notion that has caused outrage from some Christians. The movie included a disclaimer explaining that it departs from the commonly-accepted Biblical portrayal of Jesus' life.  I didn’t realize that it was commonly-accepted that Jesus fantasized about sex with prostitutes.  Where is that in the scriptures exactly?  Film critic Roger Ebert later included the film in his list of "Great Movies".

Meanwhile the maker of video Innocence of Muslims, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, has been interviewed by federal probation officers at a Los Angeles sheriff's station.  Nakoula is being investigated for violating his parole in which he was told he could not have any access to the Internet "without the prior approval of the probation officer." Nakoula was ordered to detail any online devices and cellphones to authorities and was told his devices would be monitored and subject to searches.

Egypt’s government demanded that the US administration take a firm position against the filmmaker(s), in accordance with international documents that criminalize acts that foment strife on the basis of race, color or religion. In a statement, the Council of Ministers said that the Cabinet will take the necessary legal actions in this regard. 

It would appear to me that Obama is looking for a way to do just that.