A Grace Full Life


Changes. I Won't Say Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes Because That Title Has Been Done To Death.

You may or may not have noticed something different about my blog.
Something is missing.
That something is the absence of my Blogher ads that used to be right over there >>>>

A few months ago, I decided that I needed to make a change.
I had been a part of the Blogher Advertising Network since February of 2012.
It was such an honor to be chosen, such an ego boost for a small blogger like myself.
It made me feel straight up legit.
Like, SEE? Blogging IS a real thing.

I got amazing opportunities because of Blogher.
I met amazing people who became my friends because of Blogher.

Then I met more amazing people who became my friends because of meeting those original friends because of Blogher.

But for me, it wasn't a good fit anymore.
In a nutshell, I want to be able to write about anything I want.
I don't want "restrictions on the content that I write".
A friend told me to say that because I couldn't write it as professional.

I am not at all upset or leaving Blogher with a bad feeling.
I am grateful.
Grateful that I got chosen to go to a blogging event in 2012 that connected me to amazing women that I now call friends.
Because of those women, I have friendships that have lifted me up, validated me as a writer and made me proud to say "I am a blogger" instead of saying "I am JUST a stay at home mom".
Because of these women, I have learned how to create a business card, how to use SEO in a blog post and how to talk to companies without sounding like a dork.
Well, I haven't nailed that down completely but I am getting there.
Very very slowly.
Because of these women, I realize that it is OK to have a bad parenting day, to yell at your kids for eating your last candy bar and to be real.
It is OK.
It is always OK.
Because of these women I have gotten opportunities that I never thought I would ever be able to do....Chicago Parent, Listen to Your Mother, Erma Bombeck, Bethenny in NYC.

To be honest, at first I was scared to make the ads go away.
It was like this security blanket.
Like it was the reason all of the above happened.
Then I realized, no, don't be silly.
Having those ads on my blog didn't make the above happen.
I made it happen.

So I no longer run ads for Blogher and I can now control what I write on my blog which is so exciting to me.
I feel like the kid whose parents went away for the weekend, planning a kegger.

So keep on hanging in there with me and I promise it will be good.
Because hello, KEGGER.


"Kiddy Table Re-Do" RE-DO. Do Be Do Be Do.

Almost three years to the day, I published a post about overhauling an old Ikea kid's table.
This table has been around since my now 14 year old was a toddler.
It was starting to show some wear even though my oldest was pretty gentle on things like miniature furniture.
I was pretty proud of my re-creation, if I did say so myself!

Fast forward three years later.

OK in fairness to my DIY skills or lack thereof, my sweet, adorable youngest child was like the Godzilla's of toddlers.
Stomping on furniture, toys and small towns in her path to get to her destination.
Which usually involved food.

It looked so sad.
I wanted to bring it back to life.
It had one last show left in it within this household before it would be either saved for my grandchildren or sent to live with another Godzilla.
And I wanted it to shine.

I decided to sand off the numbers on the edges of the table.
Easy enough, right?
Hellz no.
It took me three days on and off of sanding with a sanding block and finally a power sander to get some of the adhesive off.
I was sweating.
Seething by the time I got some of the adhesive off. 
Apparently it isn't a good idea to put numbers or letters that are meant for mailboxes onto wood furniture.
It was still on there when I went to paint the table.
So instead of keeping at it, giving it some more elbow grease, giving it the ole' 1-2, I did what I do best.
Half-a@# it. 

I pulled out some wall decals that I got at Dollar Tree three years ago.
I found them in my basement with my craft supplies.
That I no longer use.
I don't know why I don't use them.
All the creativity is sucked out of me.
Since I turned 40, I don't have one creative bone in my body when it comes to artsy fartsy stuff.
But I can half- a@# with the best of them. 

I decided to put the decals OVER the areas where the letters from Hell used to be.
It's time for me to turn in my DIY license isnt it?
Be honest.
Just a little? 
I know.

I spray painted the table white.
Plain old white.
99 cent white spray paint.
Paint that ran all over the place, left drip marks left and right and made me swear and sweat some more.
I sanded the drip marks and re-spray painted the table again.

I painted the chairs Blue Ocean Breeze by Krylon.
Much better paint meant no drips.
Well except for the drip doin' the project.

After the table dried, I added the decals.
You can totally see the remnants of the numbers.

If you need hurricane proof letters and numbers for your mailbox, come see me.

It was like a glaring neon sign.

I am essentially, the Gilligan of the do it yourself blogging genre.

But it does look better than this:

So I am takin' what I can get.


From Cali to Maryland. Flat Kari Gets Around. Wink Wink. Nudge Nudge.

I know, I know.
These posts aren't as regular as I thought they would be. 
It is hard getting them done because people are having so much gosh darn fun with "me".
I AM fun.
Pass it on.

I started my latest adventure when my friend Jen took me to Blogher in San Jose the end of July!

Chillin' at the hotel


For those who don't know who The Bloggess is, go here.
For those who do, THAT IS THE BLOGGESS!

photo courtesy of Blogher

That's right.
I got in a picture at Blogher with The Bloggess AND I DIDN'T EVEN LEAVE THE STATE OF ILLINOIS.

My friend Julie knows how I like to party.

Thank you for taking care of me Jen!
The "hand off" apparently took place right before the keg stand above.
So I might have been a little hungover for the first part of Julie's time with me.
It's all good.
I took some paper Advil and slept the whole way home on the plane.

Here is my visit to Maryland in the words of my friend:

 Upon returning home from BlogHer. Flat Kari was NOT impressed with my messy desk.

 Checking out my Wantable box. She tried to convince me that my two new bracelets looked WAY cuter on her, but I won. Because I’m big and she’s flat.

Julie always gets cool, cute things like this in the mail.
I get things like bills and free key chains from the local dealership.

Flat Kari totally helped out and worked the camera for my latest Stitch Fix photo shoot. I mean, she kind of made fun of my poses, but I would have made fun of me too.

What is that new fangled camera stand thing?? 

Even though she is dressed super cute in her little strapless dress, Flat Kari was totally on board with working the staple gun for a DIY project.

What is that new fangled staple apparatus thingy?? 

We celebrated finishing the project with a gigantic glass of wine. Go Flat Kari, Go!

This is my favorite part of any week....oooh cute place mats!!! 

But then I totally caught her snuggling up with Ollie and I think he might have tried to slip her some tongue. Which is gross.

I told you, we were spooning SPOONING. Must've been the wine......

Flat Kari found my marshmallow stash… which means it’s time for her to go home.  

No. No No No! Marshmallows?? Nobody said there was gonna be marshmallows! I don't wanna go home!!!! 

Thank you Jen and Julie for taking good care of "me" for a few weeks.
Right now, "I" am in three places.
At once.
It's good to be "me". 


Walgreens Helps You Stay Healthy and Gives the Gift of Health to Others

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. 
All opinions are mine alone. 

When I think of getting ready to head back to school, school supplies, new clothes and gym shoes come to mind.
But keeping the kids healthy should also be at the top of that list.
Sports physicals, updating our children's immunizations as well as preventative immunizations are something we are in the middle of doing right now.
This fall, Walgreen's is not only helping to keep your children healthy but also helping others in the process with their Get a Shot, Give a Shot campaign.

Right now at your local Walgreen's, any child age 7 and up can get their immunizations taken care of for illnesses such as whooping cough or meningitis and in turn they will then provide a shot to a child in a developing country.
There is no appointment needed to get your immunizations and it is quick and easy which is helpful because back to school time is busy.
I love that I can tell my girls not only will the vaccination that get will help to make them healthy but that they had a part in helping someone else stay healthy as well.

I love Walgreen's for more than just immunizations and medicine.
I have a love affair with Walgreen's that runs deep.
It started in 1989.
On a snowy Christmas Eve, my first Christmas after moving to Chicago.
My mom and I always used to go to Walgreen's to do our last minute shopping.
It started out of necessity and has slowly developed into a tradition some 25 years later. 

I get giddy walking in the doors, smelling that Walgreen's smell, all the fun things to buy OTHER than for medicinal purposes.
The cosmetics.
All the cosmetics .....

I wear makeup, probably on average, 10 days out of the calendar year.
Yet, this place hooks me.
We came in to get shots.

But, but, but......

Oooh I don't have any yellow nail polish!!!

So in between getting what you need for your kids to be healthy this fall, I think you need to stop and pick up some goodies for you.
Because you just made a difference in someone else's life.
Plus you are special and deserve it.

Oh and pick up a card for Aunt Margaret.

Because she loves you and knitted you that sweater in fifth grade.
Maybe I will get one for my mom too.
Talking about how much I can't wait for Christmas Eve. 

We love Walgreen's for many reasons but it is also great as a fast and easy way to get immunizations for our family because most insurance plans are accepted and they will report everything back to your primary care physician
To learn more about Walgreen's Get a Shot, #Give a Shot program, head over here to check it out.

Thank you to Walgreen's and #CollectiveBias for this opportunity.
Again, all opinions are my own.
But seriously, check out the cosmetics. 


Be Nice! And Put Down that Sticky Spatula! Netflix SAVE ME!

I am at the end of our summer break here TURN DOWN THE TV!
I have mixed emotions about it STOP SCREAMING AT YOUR SISTER!
On one hand, I am sad to see them go OMG IF I HAVE TO COME UP THERE SOMEONE WILL BE SORRY!
On the other, I think I need a little break THAT IS IT! DON'T MAKE ME USE YOUR MIDDLE NAMES!
Just a little one.

Now that my girls are getting back into the school routine, life lessons still need to continue.
Oops, did I say that out loud?
Its that time of year again where kids are shoved into tiny rooms with 20 other kids for seven to eight hours a day without eating a snack every 45 minutes and told to get along, be nice, use your manners.
It is hard, I get it.
But these life lessons among others need to be ingrained.
Its called growing up.
Preparing for the future.
Like, someday, you will be working a 10 hour shift with a very snarly person and not get a lunch and you will have to make nice.
That's life.

But myself being emotionally drained after a long summer WHY ARE YOU HITTING YOUR SISTER? AGAIN?? I am ready for some help in the life lesson department.
Netflix has me covered.
Oops, did I say that out loud?

They have some great titles to help promote kindness and acceptance for adults and teens such as:

Rudy (shhh this movie makes my hubs cry shhhhhh) and the television show Glee.

There are some great kids titles that help with OMG PLEASE STOP BRUSHING BARBIE'S HAIR WITH DADDY'S TOOTHBRUSH! compassion.


Daniel Tiger is a favorite of my six year old.
Until a school mate told her it was a baby show.
THAT child maybe needs to be taught compassion?
Mama Bear moment. 
It is still a secret favorite now.


I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. Meaning, for the next year, once a month I will be writing posts about how my family is using our Netflix. They provided me with a Roku and a voucher for my Netflix account.


My Love Letter to the South

For the past two years, my mom and dad have lived in Chattanooga Tennessee.
It has come to my attention that some of my posts about traveling have convinced people to actually VISIT these places.
Which makes me happy on so many levels!!
First of which is that people are actually reading my blog!
THEN taking my advice!!

So go here and here for my posts about the beautiful Chattanooga area, here for Atlanta, Georgia and here for Louisville, Kentucky.
Are you seeing a trend?
Yes, we love the South.
I mean, really, what's not to love?

The slower pace, the friendly residents and the beautiful views.
Oh and the food!
And the music!
And the weather!
Did I mention the slower pace?
And the music?
OK, just making sure.

So every time I go down to visit my parents, I write the blog post in my head as I am experiencing new things.
I take the pictures, trying to be very present in the moment but at the same time stepping back to take it all in, while taking the snapshots of how I remembered it at that moment.
And it is always when I am done taking the pictures that I usually say, "how I wish I could just take this home with me".
I may have even said at one point, " I wish I could copy and paste this into my backyard".
Corny, yes but is it ever true.
I want to bring the South home with me every time we visit.
So here is my love letter to a portion of America that restores my soul every single time I am there.

On our way to Chattanooga, we ran into something very familiar to us Chicagoans:

So we decided to wait out the rush hour in the city of Nashville, Tennessee.
We had driven through it several times on our way to mom and dad's but never had time to stop.
I am so glad we stopped.

This city.
So many words.
Not enough adjectives.
The main drag, Broad Street, is SO COOL but don't miss the amazing side streets as well.

It was hopping on this Friday night when we stopped in.
People everywhere, music everywhere.
The vibe was just amazing, I was so glad the girls got to experience it.

Boots are big down here.
OK so this store was the only exception to the whole friendly people thang the South has goin' on.
Four employees in this store, not one person addressed us.
In fairness to the unfriendly boot people, we probably didn't look like their average boot buyin' clientele.
Nine hours in the car with two kids, we must've looked a hot mess.
Sweaty, wrinkled and a six year old who when we walked in said, LOUDLY, "those boots right there are ugly".
In her defense, they were.
This you also need to know, boots, the good kind are expensive.
Like 400 dollars a pair expensive.
So I am sure they didn't see their next commission coming from us.
But secretly I was hoping to find a cheap boot store on the strip so I could pull the whole Julia Roberts Pretty Woman scene with our big bags of cheap a#$ boots.
Big mistake!

Taking in all the sights.
Yes that is a man in a tuxedo.
Yes that is a man in a cowboy hat driving a horse and carriage.

The above is the Acme Farm Supply building which is now owned by Alan Jackson.
He is turning it into a restaurant/ rooftop bar/ store/ COOLEST PLACE ON EARTH.

We took our girls to a bar.
We said we didn't want us to eat dinner at a Red Robin or Hard Rock while downtown.
Not that there is anything wrong with those places but we have those at home.
I wanted them to experience the cool vibe of Music City.
On one of the side streets, we saw a cool bouncer-type guy with boots on because I bet he gets a discount. 
We asked if we could bring kids in and his adorable accent he said SURE COME ON IN!
He brought us to our table right across from all the booze.
The music was LOUD, there was a musician in the front room playing music for money and it was perfect.
Absolutely perfect.
The girls gave him some money and asked if he could play Zac Brown.
We ate bar food, listened to amazing music and it was then that Ella, the 6 year old, said "I want to live here."
Me too.

In Nashville.
Not the bar.

By the way, we were worried that people would give us looks at a bar with two kids.
But while in the bathroom with my youngest, who will strike up a convo with anyone anywhere....wonder where she gets that from......it was where three 20 years younger than me women started talking to us like we were old friends.
Only in the South can you meet new friends in the bathroom.
We almost exchanged email addresses.

The day after we got into Chattanooga, my mom, Anna and I got to go to lunch alone.
At this place:

I stalked this restaurant on Twitter a few years ago.
I don't know how I found out about it but the premise is amazing: a whole restaurant dedicated to, wait for it, chicken salad.

This is something you need to know about the South, they have MAD decor skills in stores and restaurants.
This is in a restaurant.
NOT a decor store.

I chose the original chicken salad and my side was broccoli salad.
HOLY PETE ROSE the broccoli salad was as good as the sammich but this you need to know: this is the best chicken salad I have ever eaten.
I am a chicken salad sherpa.
Or someone who eats a lot of chicken salad.
So I knows good chicken salad. 
We went TWICE in a four day period.
Oh and I tried Grape Salad for the first time in my life.
Only in the lower part of the United States can they make grapes into a decadent dessert. 

Time for a gratuitous foot picture. 

My feet and I are in Tennessee, y'all!!!

We went to the Chattanooga Market again this year.

Open air markets are fun!
But it was hot.
In fairness to us Northerners, we have been having a season, let me know if you have heard of it, called Fall this Summer.
So heat.
Yeah, I don't know what that is anymore.

This man was wearing a sunflower on his head like that's what you do.
Sir, you are my hero.

At noon.
On a Sunday.

Yes that sign says possum.
Yes that's a stuffed possum.
No I didn't eat any.
I am intrigued.
And a little grossed out too. 

There is my Georgia Peach sign from last year!
Only this year, they made them set up shop outside.
Literally kicked them to the curb. 
It's OK Georgia Peaches, you still rock my world.

I had to take a picture of this.
There were literally six baby wearing families at the sangria station.
Like it was a baby wearing convention.
There is a funny subtitle here, I just can't for the life of me find it right now.
Kind of like slug bug.
Only don't punch that guy in the arm because BABY.

We went to Frazier Avenue in downtown Chattanooga for lunch.
This cool little hot dog joint has a really unusual menu.
Like you can get your fries with fried eggs on top of them.
So by unusual I mean AMAZING.

I got cheese and bacon.
Because I had a fried egg that morning for breakfast.
But I didn't have vinegar, SO BRING IT.

The bottle cap floor was my most favorite part of the cool decor.

Dogs that are allowed to hang out in stores are why I love this street.
Its exhausting working retail.

Speaking of doggies, my doggie sister celebrated her eighth birthday while we were there.
We had cake.
And squeaky toys.
And booze.
For the adults, not the dog.

Southern BBQ dinner.

 This donut place.
Oh my heavens.
I can still smell this place in my dreams.

Breakfast on the porch.

There are lots of companies that have roots in Chattanooga.
A to the mazon and Volkswagen are two big ones.
And Little Debbie snacks are made right there in the mountains.

So we always stock up at the Little Debbie factory store near my parents home.
I love Little Debbie.
I do.
But when I saw this?

OK so those are supposed to be "Swiss Rolls".
I call them "fatal marketing ploys".
Because they look like poop.
Little stuffed poops.
With feet.
And arms.
And hands. 
For $2.99 you can have your own felt piece of poop to take home!
No thank you, Debbie.
I will just get my Nutty Bars.

We didn't go on the "Choo Choo of Death" this year.
We drove up the mountain instead.
For those who will be visiting the area, the REAL name is Incline Railway.
I don't want to mislead anyone.
It goes very slow.
But it is very steep.
Be advised.
So instead of putting the family (READ: ME) through the experience again, I decided to Google maps the actual address of the station at the top of the mountain.
Always thinkin.......
Because when you take the Choo Choo of Death, you don't get to see things like....

The entrance to the battlefield.
There was a battle fought up on this mountain.
We were on the "economy tour" of Lookout Mountain on this day.
"Economy tour" is code for we had hungry children.

Look kids!
Big Ben!

 And if you took the Choo Choo of Death, you wouldn't get to see this!

 My someday mountain writing home.
For when I become a famous writer.
And I need a "writing home".
Because that's what writers do and junk.

 Do you know how hard it was for me to not grab those signs?
But then I would be thrown off the mountain.
Or made to go on the Choo Choo of Death.

That guardrail is the only thing keeping us on this road.
You don't get THAT on the Choo Choo of Death.
Oh wait.
I guess you kinda do.

The hubs and I never take a good selfie.
We have literal big heads.
Well, the hubs has a particularly large melon but mine isn't far behind.
So the two of us in a selfie looks like his large head is eating my semi- large head.
And double chins/awkward smiles are involved.
It's not pretty.
So when we took this picture at the top of Lookout Mountain, we were shocked.
Maybe it was that mountain air.
That made our heads shrink.

On the way home, we decided to break up the 11 hour trip by stopping outside of Nashville to stalk country singers.
OK stalk isn't a good word.
To browse country singers.
The stalking browsing began while still in Chattanooga.
Anna would look online, for what, I have no idea.
I think she was literally Googling, WHERE DO TIM AND FAITH LIVE?



I might have made the last one up.
His hair IS beautiful.

Our 14 year old, found out via her Internet sleuthing that Tim and Faith are "selling their home" for "20 million" and that they live on "Keith Urban's Hair Road".
I am protecting their privacy.
Because after being in the South for a week, I feel very territorial.
That and they don't actually live on "Keith Urban's Hair Road."
Heh heh.

So while at the Cracker Barrel in Brentwood, Tennessee, the four of us formulated a plan.
OK the three of us.
Because the six year old could care less about the country singer stalking browsing and more about creating a fort with her bacon while shoveling pancakes in her mouth.
We would drive around Franklin, a beautiful suburb of Nashville and do some stalking browsing.
Apparently everyone from Brad Paisley to Carrie Underwood live in this beautiful suburb.
Behind gated three mile driveways.
But we had an address for Tim and Faith's "home" on "Keith Urban's Hair Road"!

We set our GPS and off we went!
But not before dropping 35 bucks at the Cracker Barrel gift shop.
Because we wanted Goo Goo clusters.
And Halloween decor.
And a plastic miniature horse.
As you do.

The town of Franklin.
It is a beautiful town but when you are only on hour three of an 11 hour drive home?
You do a drive by.

Look kids!
Big Ben!

That there up above is the hardware store!
That Tim McGraw buys his screws!
And wrenches!
And other stuff guys buy at hardware stores!
OK, I don't know for sure if Tim buys his hammers there.
But in my world, it's where he buys his saws.
The best part is that there are rocking chairs and ferns outside the entrance.
But you can't see them very well because

Look Kids!
Big Ben!

We followed the GPS to this exact location:

Big house.
Gated entrance.
Speaker system.
Seems legit.

But still skeptical.
I mean, if I were Faith and Tim, why would I have a house right on "Keith Urban's Hair Road"?
Why wouldn't I build a house set far back from stalkers browsers?
Then we saw this:

See that???
OK, its a little blurry and kind of far away but IT'S A TOUR BUS Y'ALL!!

Turns out, it's not Tim and Faith's house.
Not even close.
Its some company LLC thingy.
Totally it's name.

WAIT! You mean everything you read on the Internet isn't true?????
I knew I should have suspected something when Keith Urban's hair was involved.
Never trust a man with better hair than you. 

Still it was beautiful and we did see tons of gated loonnnnng driveways all over the countryside.
So I know we were near someone who makes lots of pretty music.
Lets just pretend we saw someone.
And pretend that tour bus is Tim's that he is loaning out to the company LLC thingy.
For a field trip.
To Keith Urban's hair salon. 

Back on the road, we also decided that we would stop at the hubs Alma Mater.
Eastern Illinois University.

In Charleston, Illinois.
Also known as IllinoisIsHellaLongAndItBreaksUpTheMonotony.
Also known as the home of Jimmy John's.

This is the original store.
Except when its not.
The actual original store was just up the block.
This used to be a Hardee's.

 It was pretty and all but it didn't stand a chance after coming from rolling country roads, mountains and just Tennessee.
I mean, that's like comparing myself to Keith Urban's hair.
I am pretty awesome but next to Keith Urban's hair?
I don't stand a chance.

 It was so good to spend four days with my parents, celebrate my sister dog's birthday, and cleanse my soul for a few days after a rough summer.
I won't soon forget blasting the radio on US 24, singing Tim McGraw and Jake Owen at the tops of our lungs.
I won't soon forget the smells from the backseat.
I won't soon forget all the Little Debbie snacks that we ate on the way home while talking about life, love and randomness.

Heading to Google to find me some cheap a@# boots while eating a Goo Goo Cluster.
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