Shot of Brandi Gift Guide: Barnes & Noble

Friday, December 20, 2013

I love giving books as gifts. Like hard copy books. Snuggling on the couch or in bed or at the beach reading a book to me is the ultimate way to relax.

If you are still looking for some last minute gifts, may I suggest these books!

  1. The Cuckoo’s Calling – J.K. Rowling (Editor’s Note: This book is AMAZING! I read it last month and couldn’t put it down!) - $15.90
  2. The Day The Crayons Quit - $14.93
  3. The Pioneer Woman Cooks – A Year of Holidays - $20.99
  4. Lean In - $14.01
  5. It’s All Good - $22.42
  6. Steve Jobs - $12.90
  7. What Does The Fox Say - $11.99
  8. The Can’t Cook Book - $19.59

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Shot of Brandi* Gift Guide: Sephora

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hands down, Sephora has the best beauty gift sets. The options are seriously endless. Check out these amazing beauty buys!

  1. Dior Backstage Hero - $49.00 (editor’s note – this is my favorite mascara brand. Worth the splurge on the full-size tube).
  2. Drybar Blowout in a Bow - $199.99
  3. Drybar The Morning After Kit - $35.00
  4. Sugar Rose Royalty Set - $32.00 (this lip gloss came in a Birchbox and it’s amazing!)
  5. YSL Love and Lacquer Reds Set - $58.00
  6. Deborah Lippmann Best of Both World Pop Rock Mini - $19.00

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Shot of Brandi* Gift Guide: Target

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Last weekend at Target, the lady behind me in line asked if they were having some sort of sale that she didn’t know about because the LINES WERE THAT LONG! And we were more than three weeks away from Christmas. I can’t wait to go there this weekend (eye roll).

If you are hitting up Target and still have some people to shop for, here’s my suggestions.

  1. Cabbage Patch Kid - $34.99
  2. Pajamas - $24.99
  3. Black Swirl Glasses (set of 4) - $22.99
  4. Beats by Dre - $139.99
  5. Chi Flat Iron with mini iron - $99.99
  6. Record Player - $59.99
  7. Heated Blanket - $47.99
  8. Apples to Apples - $14.79

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Shot of Brandi* Gift Guide: Wine & Spirits

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Maybe my friends and family members are just alcoholics, but I can always find a gift at the liquor store! Oh and if you are wondering - a lot of my local strip malls have liquor stores here in Pittsburgh. I specifically like the ones in Robinson and McKnight Road. Each are next to a JoAnne's and Michael's respectively! 

Here’s some ideas for the boozer on your list!

  1. Veuve Clicquot Champagne - $49.00 (this is typically cheaper in the liquor store)
  2. Downton Abbey Wine - $29.99 for the pair!
  3. Arnold Palmer - $14.99 – sometimes this is on Chairman’s Special in Pittsburgh for $11.99. That’s when I stock up!
  4. The Dreaming Tree Crushed Red Blend - $15.00 – this is Dave Matthews wine!
  5. Barrymore Pinot Grigio - $16.99 – Drew Barrymore’s winery!
  6. Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select - $15.99
  7. Crown Royal XR Extra Rare Canadian Whisky - $179.99
  8. Whistle Pig Whiskey – The internets told me that this wine scored the highest ever score by Wine Enthusiast for a Whiskey! Must be good!
  9. Wigle Bitters - $18.00

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I'm Retiring From Card Making.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

After 10 years of glitter, feathers, gems and other  miscellaneous craft items, I've decided to retire at making my own Christmas cards.

At first my list was about 40 people. Then, after adding in Brady's list and making new friends along the way, the list has more than doubled. While this is a good problem to have, it makes crafting a large amount of cards quite the task. 

So for my readers that received the 10 year anniversary card this week, I wanted to call out its meaning.

You may recall the ribbon tree from 2004. I recreated that card (it was one of my favs!) with ornaments that are a tribute to cards of Christmas past! The snowflake (2005), Santa hat (2009), ornament (2006), gingerbread man (the first! 2003), and finally the stocking (2011).

Missing from above are the snowman (2011) and stockings (2012).

Like Michael Jordan, Jay-Z, Brett Favre, Rocky, and maybe Amanda Bynes...all greats have retired and made a comeback. So in the words of Justin Beiber I'll "never say never," but it's see you later for now!

Oh and just for reader clarification, I'm not boycotting Christmas cards! I'll still send those! 

Peace, love and glitter,

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Shot of Brandi Gift Guide: Nordstrom

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Today, I’m shopping Nordstrom for gift ideas. And, I’m shopping Nordstrom from my couch. If you live in Pittsburgh, I suggest you do the same because the Ross Park Nordstrom doesn’t have the best selection! It’s not totally awful – I’ve scored some sweet deals there, but as far as Nordstroms go, I’ve seen better ; )

  1. Confetti Throw - $49.00
  2. Jouer Sparkle & Shine Holiday Party Favors - $58.00
  3. Pillow - $29.00
  4. Oak Whiskey Barrel - $78.00
  5. Burberry Gold Nail Polish - $21.00
  6. Jo Malone Candle Set - $100.00
  7. Kate Spade iPhone Case - $45.00
  8. Water Bottles - $90.00

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Shot of Brandi* Gift Guide: Williams-Sonoma

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

True story: We have a Williams-Sonoma on our street. I personally think this story gets a bad wrap for being pricey - which for some items it certainly is. However, you can totally walk into a Williams-Sonoma and find a gift for a number of people on your list at a variety of price points. Go ahead! I dare you to walk in and find something!

  1. Farmers Market Herb Wreath
  2. Salted Caramel Sauce
  3. Pancake Gift Set
  4. Bride & Groom Cookbook
  5. Champagne Cork Catcher – Shot of Mom Approved!
  6. Gingerbread House
  7. Copper Mugs
  8. Veggie Chopper & Measure (Your editor needs this – wink, wink)

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Shot of Brandi* Gift Guide: J. Crew

Saturday, November 30, 2013

J. Crew has become one of the Smithkowski’s favorite stores. While I pride myself on scoring some great deals here, Brady should receive an award for the amount of under $20 polos he’s scored at J. Crew.

Not only is J. Crew great for adults, but their kids and baby lines are great for gifts. And who can forget the outlet stores!

Here are my current favorite gift options.

  1. Maclister Boots - $198.00
  2. Lambswool Sweater - $75.00
  3. Tartine Mini-Satchel - $398.00
  4. Sequin Dress - $69.50
  5. Shimmer Earrings - $58.00
  6. Chef’s Apron Set - $45.00
  7. Boys Anchor Sweater - $59.50
  8. Minnetonka Baby Booties - $19.95

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Shot of Brandi* 2013 Gift Guide: Mall Maddness

Friday, November 29, 2013

Welcome to the sixth year of the annual Shot of Brandi* gift guide!

Shot of Mom has always said that this time of year brings out the amateurs – the people that don’t shop all year and come out just for Christmas shopping. Not like us ladies that go on a weekly basis.

I spent some time at the mall the last two weekends and let me just say it makes me MAD! Specifically:

·         The massive amounts of people that are walking around the mall with NO BAGS. What!? You are going to wait all year to come out and NOT buy anything!?

·         Strollers. I’m sorry moms, but stores just weren’t made for your double wide stroller. I don’t like running into you in stores and by the sounds of your kids, they don’t want to be there either.

·         Parking Lots. Just when you think you’ve found a spot, the person who you think is getting into their car proceeds to take 10 minutes to back out. THEN someone comes out of nowhere and tries to take the spot that you’ve now been waiting 15 minutes for!

·         I recently went into Express & The Limited for two specific things: tights and a solid t-shirt. I spent under $20 on both, yet both stores had to ask me: if I wanted a credit card, if I wanted to sign up for rewards, for my phone number and my email address. Both stores got 4 no’s from me!

So in conclusion, what does the mall do to me? It makes me MAD!

The theme of my gift guide this year is Mall Madness. In honor of me being angry and one of my favorite board games ; )

Over the next few weeks, I plan to show a number of gifts for family and friends categorized by different stores at the mall. I may throw in some online stores as well – you never know!

Sit back, relax, grab a glass of wine and let’s shop online. 
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Non-Ugly, Ugly Sweaters

While I’ve blogged about Ugly Sweater parties before, I must admit that I’ve never actually hosted or attended one. But this year, that may just change, so I needed to prepare. And let me tell you, this is no easy task!

At first, I thought I would just go to my staple – But the holiday vest that I liked was $30 PLUS $30 to ship – I couldn’t justify the price.

I then scoured the internet for the perfect sweater. I still haven’t found it (I got something that is OKAY), but here are a few that I saw! Warning – some are adorable, but still pricey! What the heck!?

  1. Lot78 via The Outnet
  2. Mason by Michelle Mason
  3.  Asos Holiday Pattern Sweater
  4. Topshop
  5. Asos Vintage Look Sweater

Urban Outfitters has an um, odd selection of sweaters. Some are a little risqué, but it’s worth checking out!

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Family Recipes: Aunt Linda's Sweet Potato Casserole

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

One thing that I’m thankful for this year is coming from a family of amazing cooks – on both sides! You’ve been treated to recipes from Shot of Mom and Godmother Aunt Michelle (Shot of Mom’s sister), so today I wanted to introduce you to Shot of Dad’s sister – Aunt Linda.

Aunt Linda makes the most AMAZING Sweet Potato Casserole on Thanksgiving. This thing shouldn't just be called a Casserole - but a Kick-ass-erole! Legend has it, my sister Jillian once ate an entire plate of this dish.

I decided to attempt it for the hubs’ family two years ago and it turned out okay. Well, I made it again tonight to take with us to New Jersey and it was SO EASY!

You’ve gotta trust me on this one. It doesn’t look that appetizing, but it’s DELICIOUS!

Aunt Linda’s Almost Famous Sweet Potato Casserole
·         3 cups (4 medium) mashed cooked sweet potatoes (I use the canned version – 1 40oz can of yams = 3 mashed cups)
·         ¼ cup of sugar
·         1 stick of melted margarine
·         2 eggs
·         1 teaspoon of vanilla

Mix and mash all ingredients together and put into a buttered square Corning dish. Cover with Topping

·         1 cup brown sugar
·         ½ cup margarine, softened
·         ½ cup flour
·         1 cup chopped walnuts nuts (Shot of Mom uses walnuts or pecans or a combo of both)
·         ½ cup coconut

Mix topping together.

Bake 350 for 20-30 minutes.

Without Topping & With Topping (not baked) 


And we can’t forget my in-laws – you haven’t met their tasty recipes yet, but maybe Aunt Donna will share the details on her secret Magic Cookie Bars soon ; )
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Christmas Movie Christmas Party

Monday, November 18, 2013

Reader Dana recently asked me about a potential holiday party theme. Once she got my brain wheels spinning, I came up with a pretty rad theme that I said “I need to blog this.”

So I’m blogging it.

You’ve done the ugly sweater party. You may have done the plaid party. Now, I give you – the Christmas Movie Character Party!

Encourage guests to come dressed as their favorite holiday movie character. Need suggestions? That’s what I’m here for!

·         A Christmas Story: Ralphie, The Leg, Randy in the Bunny Costume. 
·         Elf: Elf. Lol.
·         National Lampoons Christmas Vacation: Clark Griswald, Uncle Eddie
·         Frosty The Snowman: Frosty.

·         Home Alone: Kevin McCallister, the burglars, Gus Polinski (The Polka King of the Midwest)
·         Babes in Toyland: Mother Goose, Bo Peep, Mary Contrary, Jack-Be-Nimble, Jack, Jill or Boy Blue.
·         Charlie Brown: Sad tree, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, Schroeder, Patty, Sally.  
·         The Grinch: Cindy Loo Who, The Grinch, Whos from Whoville

·         Mean Girls: No, not really Christmas, but you can do the Mean Girls and Amy Pohler in school skit scene.
·         Nutcracker: Ballerina, Nutcracker, The Mouse, Sugar Plum Fairy

·         Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: Reindeer! Sam the Snowman (voiced by Burl Ives), misfit toys.
·         Miracle on 34th Street: Santa Claus.
·         A Christmas Carol: Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Ebenezer Scrooge or Tiny Tim.  

·         Last, but certainly not least, my favorite: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas: Go as Otter’s!

I’m sure I forgot some good ones. Help a sister out! 
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#TBT Halloween Costume

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Still looking for a last minute Halloween costume? Feel free to borrow my idea! I was ME - just a younger version! 

We attended a last minute party last night – filling in for some missing team members in my parents bowling league (I bowled my average 103, but Brady bowled like the series of his life – almost hitting 200 one game!).

Given that it’s the week before Halloween, costumes were optional, so I couldn’t resist and took my own advice – I was #TBT (aka Throwback Thursday).

Here’s how I pulled this one off:

·         I went to the mall with a series of pictures from my youth with the intention of replicating one of my outfits.

·         My blue shapes sweater 1st grade pic was the easiest and most cost effective to pull off, but finding a blue sweater was a pain in the butt. I finally found one at Target for $21.

·         I purchased some felt for the shapes for $3. The necklace was a few bucks from Claire’s.

·         After scoring such deals, I decided to make the Instagram frame. The posterboard was under $5.

·         Making the sweater was easy…the Instagram frame was a bit tricker. I cut printed the word Instagram on two 8x10 prices of paper and then cut it out in just a solid white.

·         I took a screenshot of an Instagram pic and then cropped the buttons, made them bigger and then glued them to the board.

In the end, it was a cheap, easy costume that was perfect for bowling!  
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Spooky Sips

Thursday, October 24, 2013

If you are celebrating Halloween with your ghoul-friends (see what I did there) this weekend, then you may be looking for some festive sippers to celebrate.

Here are some brews to consider:

·         Vampire they also make

·         Dracula and

·         True Blood

·         Witches Brew

·         7 Deadly Zins

·         Daddy Long Legs  - this one is expensive!

·         Scarecrow Cab – and even MORE expensive! 
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Bows on Toes

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cleaning out my shoe closet a few weeks ago, I realized that I have an obsession for shoes with bows. It’s so strange, but it’s just what I gravitate towards.

Since I seriously can’t possibly add another pair of bowed shoes to my closet, I figured that I’d share a list of bowed shoes here.

1.      Manolo Blahnik

2.      Alice + Olivia

3.      Tory Burch

5.      J. Crew

6.      Kate Spade
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What Day Is It???

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I'm so waiting for this shirt to go on sale. Just so I can wear it on HUMMMPPPP DAAAAYYY!
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Shot of Brandi* 2013 Halloween Costume List

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

OMG you guys. I don’t have any Halloween plans this year! You know what that mean? NO plans for a costume! Eek! I mean this may break a 32-year-old tradition! I can’t even think of the last time I didn’t dress up! And I’m the girl with an arsenal of costume ideas in a secret folder!

I have faith that my readers are cooler than me, so I’ll still share my annual list of Halloween ideas with you all!

2013 Shot of Brandi Pop Culture Halloween Costumes

·         What The Fox Say: This would fantastic for a group theme. One person is a fox, and the rest are the animals. Bonus points for learning the dance moves!

·         Amanda Bynes: Sorry – I know there are some sensitivities here because this kinda deals with mental illness, but once I saw her in court earlier this year with that blonde wig, I knew this would make it on my Halloween list.

·         Sharknado: The best-worst made-for-TV movie of the year. Tornado costume with sharks.

·         Miley Cyrus: I should say DO NOT do this one – it’s too obvious. Add a Robin Thicke in a striped suit for an MTV Music Awards couple costume.

·         Government Shutdown: Park rangers, zoo keepers, congressmen…dress as your favorite employee put out of work.

·         Rubber Duck: If you live in Pittsburgh, this would be a hit.

·         #TBT: Throwback Thursday – be a picture of yourself from a yesteryear!

·         Royal Baby: Diaper. Crown. Enough said. Oh and I didn’t want to mention this because I hate Kim K, but baby North West is a potential idea. 

·         Catfishing: Based on the popularity of the show and the Manti Te’o scandal earlier this year, a little pun costume could be a cat with a fishing rod!

Costumes Ideas That Need To Be Retired:
·         Black Swan/White Swan
·         The Cast of the Hangover
·         Bath Loofah(s)

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Que c'est délicieux!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Here we are, three years later and a popular cupcake location here in Pittsburgh closed in the last month and what opened? A French bakery specializing in…you guessed it: Macarons.

The hubs and I picked up a six pack this past weekend at the new Gaby et Jules in Squirrel Hill. While I don’t believe they are as tasty as cupcakes, they are rather adorable, make for a cute little gift AND are a bit less expensive ($13 for six). 

While Gaby et Jules doesn't have ordering information online, I'd totally look into them for party favors or gifts! 
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Fashion Friday: Making Wise Choices

Friday, October 04, 2013

I’ve mentioned before that the owl was a symbol of my sorority. And back 10+ years ago, owls weren’t cool. But now they are chic…reallll chic according to my latest installment of beaHOOTiful owl apparel.

I mean, some of these are so adorable, whooo gives a hoot about the price ; ) When you have a piece of cute owl apparel, everything is going to be owlright.

1.      Kate Spade Purse
2.      Kate Spade Clutch
3.      Anthropologie Sweater
4.      Kate Spade Earrings
5.      Marc Jacobs Shoes
6.      J. Crew Shirt

7.      Anna Sui Hat
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Oh Marc Jacobs, You're Making Me Blush

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Sorry if I’m a little late to the game on this one, but I just had to gush about my new beauty find. I’ve been looking for a good blush for about a year now and last week I spontaneously wandered over to this beauty.

Marc Jacobs, designer behind his namesake brand and Louis Vuitton, now has his own makeup line….and it’s life-changing! I’ve been looking for a blush that picks up nicely on to my brush. I tried a number of different blushes in a variety of price points – a Cover Girl, Stilla and Mac and none of them were hitting the mark. After one little brush of my finger on the Marc Jacobsto my hand, I was sold. Like seriously – this was a 1.1 minute decision.

When I was checking out, the lady at Sephora said that someone recently came into the store and fell so in love with the blush line, she bought them all.

I know the price is a bit steep on this one, but I only buy one blush a year and I wear it daily, so when you do the math, it’s a good investment (.8 cents a day!). 
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Brandi Cooks: Weekend Eating

Sunday, September 29, 2013

As part of my “relaxation” period, this weekend I decided to “relax” by cooking a number of new dishes. Two dishes via my favorite website SkinnyTaste. If I’m going to cook at home, why not try and cook healthy!

This Saturday, the Smithkowski’s watched football at home, so I made lunch, an app and dinner. On Sunday, I cooked up a little dessert. Here’s what I’ve been making.

·         Saturday Lunch: BLT’s with Canadian Maple Bacon on Pretzel Breads. Not so healthy, but all organic (and perfect for watching football since the little pretzel buns look like little footballs). These may have been my favorite thing I made all weekend – no recipe required!

·         Saturday Appetizer: I wanted to vary things up from the usual Buffalo Chicken Dip or Taco Dip, so I whipped up a BBQ Chicken Dip. It's unbaked above and missing the top layer of cheese. The verdict: It was a little too sweet for me. I may try this again with a different BBQ sauce. Oh and I love how this recipe calls for a rotisserie chicken. It used less than half of a $9 Whole Foods chicken, so we have the rest to eat as left overs. I’m also going to put some on a flatbread whole-wheat pizza this week!

·         Saturday Dinner: After I made the BLT’s, I threw the ingredients for some Turkey Chili into my crock pot. Can I pause for a moment that this recipe calls out that it is “Kid-Friendly.” That means if you effe it up, you really may need some cooking classes. It also means that it is SUPER easy to make! It think I would have liked this more if it had some beans OR was a bit more spicy. But as the hubs noted, it was almost better on day 2! Of course I served this with some Whole Foods Cornbread on the side. Yummm.

·         Sunday Dessert: I’m calling this a ½ fail. Today I made Skinny Pumpkin Spiced Snickerdoodles. So I didn’t follow the instructions correctly and my Snickerdoodles aren’t “camera-ready” to make an appearance on this blog. I mean they aren’t overcooked or undercooked, they just aren’t pretty and kinda spread out a little too much. This recipe calls for wheat flour to make them “skinny,” but if I make them again, I may go for the regular flour. They don’t taste bad, but they just taste a little off.

Key Learning from This Weekend: The $9 Rotisserie Chicken from Whole Foods (or your local grocery store) can be totally worth it. Brady put some on his Chili today, so we are getting like a dip and two dinners from one chicken. Shot of Mom has a chicken salad recipe that she makes that calls for Rotisserie Chicken, so hopefully I can get that to share with you all next week! 
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Now That It's Fall, Here's Where I Was This Summer

Saturday, September 28, 2013

When I started this little blog back in 2006, I promised myself that I’d never write a “sorry I haven’t posted in a while” post because:
·         I don’t think I’m that important
·         I don’t think my readers care where I’ve been
·         I don’t get paid to write here
·         I believe in living life offline vs. worrying about my online life

If you ever feel like you need a little Brandi* in your day, you can always follow me on Twitter or Instagram.

This summer I’ve been up to some cool and not so cool things, so I’d thought I’d do a little recap post.


·         I started a new job! I migrated from Public Relations to Social Media/Digital Strategy. It makes me giggle to think that I post once a year on Facebook, yet now post daily on behalf of clients!

·         My computer broke. The screen digitally cracked on Old Blue. Only having one laptop in the Smithkowski house forced me to use the iPad more and I loved it! It was great for reading blogs, but not so great for blogging. FYI – Old Blue is back up and running and this post is coming to you from my boy!


·         The hubs and I celebrated three years of marital bliss with a trip to a local winery and an overnight stay at the beautiful Bedford Springs resort. Highly recommended!

·         This spring/summer, I got really into yoga and even more into buying yoga apparel. Having a Lululemon on my street is super dangerous, but at the same time I find some super awesome deals. Recently though, my yoga pants haven’t made it to a single yoga class (more on that in September).

·         I had the chance to catch some Pirates games this summer. Can you believe the team has had their first winning season in 20 years AND made the playoffs! Heck yeah Bucktober!

·         We celebrated the nuptials of my favorite (and only) brother-in-law Ryan and his beautiful bride Carli. Not only does she also spell her name with an “i,” she also shares a birthday with myself and Brady’s Aunt Chrissy! This was our only wedding this year, after nine last year, and it was awesome!


·         I visited Facebook HQ in Palo Alto. I could go on and on about its amazingness. And yes, I saw Marky Z! (Yes, those photos are from inside the Facebook factory...errr I mean campus. That little red building is the BBQ shack...all food = free to employees & guests!) 

·         I have my first Fantasy Football team and I LOVE it! It also helps that I’m 3-0 right now!


·         We visited the Outer Banks with my family for a week. We haven’t taken a rest & relaxation week-long vacation since 2010, so it was a welcome break to lay on the beach and read books! On the way to the Outer Banks, we stopped in D.C. to do some sightseeing and pick up some Georgetown Cupcakes. YUM!

·         We took a trip to New Jersey to celebrate my sister-in-law Amanda’s birthday and the return of the Miss America pageant to Atlantic City. We attended the “Show Me Your Shoes” Parade. The awesomeness of that deserves its own post at a later date.

Now this brings me back to current posting….I’m on a doctor ordered relaxation because I’m dealing with pneumonia. Relaxing doesn’t come easy to me, so more on that later ; )

So that’s what I’ve been up to! I have a lot of posts that I haven’t completed, so maybe I’ll have some time to finish them now that I’m on “relaxation!” 
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