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I Saw The Signs

Sometimes my curiosity is overwhelming.

Take yesterday, for example. I was watching the roll call at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), sobbing my eyes out when Hillary Clinton was officially nominated as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States and then sobbing my eyes out again when Bernie Sanders moved that Hillary be nominated by acclimation, trying to unify the party.

(I’m just setting the stage for you.)

While all of this history was being made, convention attendees were holding up signs. And more signs. And more signs. There was no sign shortage at the Republican National Convention (RNC) either, which I watched last week. Signs are commonplace at every political convention.

dnc signage

ALL THE SIGNS.

DNC signs

But where, I wonder, do they come from? Printers, of course. I know that. That’s not my real question.

My question is WHERE do they come from, within the venue? And that’s not all.

How do they get into the hands of the attendees and where the heck are they stowing those signs when it’s not time to hold one up? How do they know if it’s time to hold up the one that says “Change Maker” or the one that says “I’m With Her”? What happens to the signs after the DNC and RNC? Do they fit in a Chevy for the ride home? Do they end up on eBay? These questions, even in the midst of a crazed BlogHer conference season and a crazed home life at the moment, have been bugging me for a week.

Michelle dnc

I decided to take my curiosity to Twitter, and I wasn’t disappointed. This is the best extended tweet exchange I’ve had in a while:

DNC signs 1

DNC signs 2

DNC signs 3

DNC signs 4

DNC signs 5

DNC Signs 6

Now that I have a glimmer of an answer, I feel better but feel the need to know more. Is there a documentary out there about the people who run these signs over when the cameras are pointed toward the stage? A book? SOMETHING?

I tried to do research this earlier today but didn’t get anywhere, which is totally frustrating for a Type A, curious, control freak whose work title includes the word “RESEARCHER”. I need to know things.

I did find out that the items on the following list are not allowed inside the DNC:

-Aerosols
-Ammunition
-Animals other than service/guide animals
-Backpacks
-Bags exceeding size restriction 18″ x 13″ x 7″
-Banners, Signs, or Placards of any type or size (WAIT. Oh okay, nothing from home. Got it.)
-Bicycles
-Balloons
-Coolers
-Drones and other unmanned aircraft systems
-E-Cigarettes
-Explosives
-Firearms
-Glass, thermal, or metal containers
-Laser pointers
-Mace / Pepper spray
-Noisemakers, such as air horns and bull horns (Pennsylvania Convention Center only)
-Packages
-Pocket knives
-Selfie Sticks
-Structures
-Supports for signs and placards
-Toy guns
-Weapons of any kind
-Any other items determined to be potential safety hazards

I also learned that if you are a delegate using the “home away from home” lounge at the venue, you have certain exceptions and MAY bring:

-Backpacks
-Bags exceeding size restriction 18″ x 13″ x 7″
-Glass containers
-Unopened packages

So I learned some good stuff today. I’m still hungry for more details on those blasted signs, though. Know anything about them? Have your own theories? Lay them on me. Thanks.

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Fruitastic Salad 2.0

Knowing what you know about me regarding my control freak tendencies, it probably doesn’t surprise you that I am tremendously more comfortable following recipes to the letter than I am experimenting with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I’m certain that’s why I enjoy baking more than cooking elaborate meals that leave lots of room for improvisation.

My sister, while definitely knowing what she wants, when and how she wants it, is more laid-back than I. She is not only an excellent baker but also a tremendous cook when it comes to all dishes. A few years ago she brought what she called “Fruitastic Salad” to a get-together, and it was an instant family favorite. What I love about it, besides its deliciousness, is that it’s a recipe that makes it easy to play with a little bit of this and a little bit of that without messing it up.

I posted the recipe previously, but it’s been years. Since I just made it today with some beautiful golden raspberries I bought at my local farmer’s market yesterday and it is completely gorgeous, I thought I’d post it again in time for your Fourth of July celebration. That said, it’s great for any celebration or any day. Enjoy!

Fruit salad

Fruitastic Summer Salad
This fresh and fruity salad recipe can be altered to use whatever is seasonal! The fruits listed are just a guideline!
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Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint
  2. 5 tablespoons sugar or sugar substitute*
  3. juice/pulp of one lime
  4. 1/2 lb seedless green grapes
  5. 2 firm-ripe medium peaches, cut into bite-sized pieces
  6. 1 package strawberries, cut into bite-sized pieces
  7. 1 package blackberries
  8. 1 package blueberries
  9. 1 package raspberries
Instructions
  1. Pulse mint, sugar and lime juice in blender or food processor until mostly liquified. You want the mint to be small.
  2. Put fruit in a large bowl.
  3. Pour mint/sugar/lime juice mix over fruit, lightly toss. Refrigerate until serving time. Excellent with cool whip on top!
  4. *The sugar can be omitted entirely or halved, if you're watching intake!
Suburban Scrawl http://suburbanscrawl.com/
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Garage Sales. Don’t Get Me Started.

Garage sales. Sigh.

I’m not a fan of attending them, and I’m not a fan of hosting them.

When I was a kid, my mom hosted multiple garage sales every year, and I wasn’t enamored with the process at all, to put it lightly. Sure, my sister and I got to be the creative geniuses behind the signs, which took hours thanks to my mom being an evil genius (story here), but we also had to do the work of going through our stuff, helping to price it, and sitting outside watching strangers pick through it all.

Of course I completely get that many people LOVE garage sales as a fun activity. Garage sales can also be great for finding bargains and for making money, especially if you’re in need of finding bargains and/or making money.

Still.

The last time we had our own garage sale had to be a dozen years ago. Since then, we have regularly purged closets and dressers and the crawlspace, donating the discards to Goodwill, Amvets, or other worthy places. It’s easier.

This summer we’ve gone a little deeper with the purging process—finding a bunch of higher-value items we didn’t want or need anymore—and when the Homeowner’s Association announced the Annual Subdivision Garage Sale, we decided to jump in.

So here we sit, and traffic is less than ideal.

Some random thoughts for you while I wait for customers:

Contrary to popular (my) belief, enjoying a #PinkDrink from the Starbucks secret menu at the start of a garage sale doesn’t do much (or anything) to help increase sales.

Starbucks' pink drink

I started out by saying that the only way I’d do a garage sale is if I could make $500, and now, halfway through the second day, I’m just thrilled for every little dollar sale because that’s less I have to pack up and donate when we’re done. Perspective.

Though I know we haven’t reached the $500 goal at this point, I’m not sure how close or far we are because one of my mom’s cardinal rules on garage sales, one that I enforce with vigor as if she is taking over my mind and body, is that you don’t EVER COUNT THE MONEY until you’re finished. It’s bad luck. You might as well wish that you end up with a negative balance when you’re packing it in. Jim tried to count money mid-morning yesterday and I sprang to my feet, shouting “NO YOU CANNOT COUNT THE MONEY YET!” It’s Sylvia’s Law. Truth.

Another garage sale tradition is that Jim always has to call out some ridiculous item as something that will never sell. Back in the early 90s when we did garage sales as adults with my mom, he had three consecutive years where he would pick up a television remote first thing in the morning and say, “Nobody’s going to buy this!” Each of those remotes was gone within two hours, always purchased by men and I have no idea why.

It always helps when Jim says something like, “We’re NEVER going to sell all this crap,” even if it’s not crap. (It’s not.) Typically after he makes that declaration, business swells for a while. This, I believe, is completely related to how he’ll say “We’re NEVER going to get out of here.” when we’re trying to make a left turn without the benefit of a traffic light and then, like magic, the cars part and we do indeed get out of there. Never say never, unless you’re Jim in which case you should say it early and often.

I will totally go down on price (to a reasonable level) for people who are kind and don’t act like jerks. I’m getting rid of the stuff anyway and unless it’s an item whose value indicates I should try to sell it on eBay or Craigslist instead, I’m happy to adjust my pricing. Take it. Bye.

If you are a total jerk and act amazed and put off that I won’t give you a 90% discount on the armload of stuff you have picked up, bye.

An older woman just bought my “Brüno” movie backpack. It was a great backpack, blue with dark gray trim, with “Brüno” embroidered on it in yellow. I somehow doubt that she knows anything about “Brüno”, which is one of Sasha Baron Cohen’s more offensive movies (second to “Borat”, in my opinion). That’s why, when she smiled and asked if I’d take one dollar for it instead of two, I said “Sure!”

Every other time we’ve had a garage sale, people come by and ask if we were selling tools (we weren’t). This weekend, we ARE selling tools and naturally nobody is interested. The world works in mysterious ways.

I had a great conversation about DJ mixes with a guy who was looking through my old CDs that I used for spinning classes. We reminisced together about the good old days of Chicago’s DJ Markski. Conversation is one of the best things about garage sales. We have chatted with total strangers, some who are actually neighbors and some who aren’t. An old friend whose daughter and son are the same age as my older son and younger son (each pair went to school from kindergarten through high school together) stopped by yesterday. She lives two streets over and we haven’t had a conversation in years. YEARS.

When traffic came to a standstill yesterday, Jim started talking to the birds.

Garage sales and birds

They didn’t.

I have found that I get a little on edge when people pick up something from the table, inspect it, and say “This is…interesting.”

I adore watching little kids shop at garage sales with their little wallets. The following things found great new homes with the under-nine set today:
1. Two Discovery Channel DVDs, one about sharks and the other about tigers.
2. A Harry Potter cake pan
3. A camera lens coffee mug
4. A sun-shaped paper punch
5. Four cookie cutters

Someone bought my Crunch Fitness Boot Camp Training DVD for a dollar this morning and her selection made me almost as happy as doing the workout myself, back in the day. She’s going to love it.

I still can’t stand garage sales. Four hours left. Maybe I need another #PinkDrink.

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New Food Swap Book! (Get it.)

Local food swaps have become a thing. What are they? Well, they’re all a little different but the basic idea is that a bunch of people from one community come together to trade homegrown or homemade items. After everyone arrives, time is spent walking around, checking out what everyone brought (and sometimes sampling), and then when it’s time to swap there’s a negotiating frenzy. Typically everyone goes home with a bag (or box) full of goodies, extremely happy about trying some new things.

My friends Emily Paster and Vanessa Druckman created the Chicago Food Swap a few years ago; the first one was held in December 2011. I was able to attend the second one in March 2012, and fell in love with the process. The subsequent times I’ve been able to be a part of the swap, I’ve watched it grow, I’ve seen many of the same swappers along with lots of newbies each time, and most importantly to my family, I’ve brought home some amazing things (salsas, jellies, cupcakes, produce, lemon curd, dressings, the list goes on!) that we probably wouldn’t have sampled otherwise.

Emily, who is now running the swap on her own, has just published the most beautiful book: Food Swap: Specialty Recipes for Bartering, Sharing & Giving.

food-swap-cover

The book is full of recipes, instructions on how to join a local food swap (or create your own!), and resources like gift tags and the swap cards that are so important for negotiations. One of my favorite parts of the book starts on page twelve: it’s the history of the Chicago Food Swap. It was exciting for me to read about something I’ve been a part of since the very beginning, and I’m just so proud of what Emily and Vanessa started, and now what Emily has accomplished.

If you’re local, you can catch Emily on her book tour TODAY at Sugar Beet Co-Op in Oak Park from 1-3 pm. She’ll be there signing books and being generally charming as usual. Go see her and pick up a book for yourself and maybe an extra one for a friend. As for me, I’ll be making a shopping list for some of my favorite recipes from the book because I need to bring some of that into my life.

Many thanks to Emily for sending me a book, and congratulations too: I’m so proud of (and happy for) you!!!

My other Chicago Food Swap posts:
March 2012
June 2012
November 2014

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Getting Musical With the Netflix #StreamTeam

Netflix Stream Team

I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam and will be happily sharing monthly tips and stories about how my family uses Netflix on a regular basis. (Okay, that’s an understatement. I should say CONSTANTLY. We use Netflix CONSTANTLY.) This post is sponsored by Netflix, of course!

It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone, knowing how much I love almost every genre of music, that I adore Broadway musicals. Stage shows have had a special place in my heart ever since I was a kid, and if I could go to one musical every week for the rest of my life I’d be thrilled.

broadway musical

This has been hanging in my kitchen for years. That chick on the right? ME, every day.

That’s why, when we were watching the Tonys on Sunday night–one of us because I love the Tonys and two of us because they’re nice guys–I was inspired. I was inspired by James Corden’s opening number. I was inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sonnet, a tribute to the victims of the mass shooting at the LGBTQ club in Orlando the night before. I was inspired by Bebe Neuwirth, who looks and sounds amazing. (She was there to celebrate twenty years of “Chicago” on Broadway, making it the longest running American musical in history.) I was inspired by the cast of “Hamilton” (freshly awarded with the Tony for Best Musical) in their closing number. Finally, I was inspired, after all of that, to check out which Broadway musicals are currently available to stream on Netflix.

There are quite a few; I’ve got some streaming to do! If you’re like me and always on the verge of breaking out into song, try a couple of these musicals on Netflix:

Grease (1978): Please tell me you already know all the words to the songs in this classic musical starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta about a greaser and the good girl he falls for. I am not kidding when I say that I have seen this movie nearly 100 times. (Bonus: While not a Broadway musical, Grease 2 is also available to stream, as is the recently-aired-on-television, celebrity loaded Grease Live!)

White Christmas (1954): It doesn’t have to be December in order for you to watch this one starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney. Two war buddies fall for two sisters and follow the girls to a resort owned by their former commanding officer, who is in danger of losing the place.

State Fair (1945): This romantic classic stars Jeanne Crain and Dick Haymes. When a small-town family of four heads to the Iowa State Fair with their prized pig, they bring home more than just a few blue ribbons.

Carmen Jones (1954): When a free-spirited factory worker lures a straight-laced airman into a torrid romance, he abandons his girlfriend and deserts the military. This one stars Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, and Pearl Bailey.

Rent (2005): Another favorite of mine, this one is based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” and follows a group of scrappy bohemians who face true love, drug addiction, and AIDS in New York City. It stars six original Broadway cast members, including my “Wicked” crush Idina Menzel as Maureen and scene stealer Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel. La Vie Bohème!

Shrek (2013): The Broadway adaptation of the lovable ogre in “the greatest fairy tale never told” is actually based on the animated film. I might have shrieked a little bit (not “Shreked”: that’s different) when I found it on the Netflix website. I’m amazed that I can actually sit at home and watch the stage play from my couch.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’m going to make it a musical weekend, thanks to Netflix.
Popping popcorn in 3…2…

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Picture Perfect Memory

Recently I saw a meme floating around Facebook that said something along the lines of “I’m so old, I remember days when I didn’t take one picture”.

I laughed, because I am that old, and then I stopped laughing and thought, “Huh, wow.”

That meme was a think piece. There really was a time when we didn’t take pictures of everything, every day.
When we weren’t all that concerned with remembering each moment.
When only professional photographers knew anything about filters.
When we–ack!–didn’t even have cell phones.

Developing photos taken with traditional cameras, the ones that don’t allow you to talk or text with others or surf the web, is expensive. Always was. Back in the day, at least a little bit of forethought was required before taking pictures: “How much film do I have?”

Snapping just as many pictures as we want to in order to get “the perfect picture” (or something darn close) as we do today was never in the realm of anyone’s imagination back then. Picking up a freshly-developed roll of film–because the whole roll had to be finished before removing it from the camera–was a lot like picking up a box of chocolates, if I could borrow a Forrest Gump-ism: you never knew what you were going to get. Sometimes we were filled with horror because the pictures we looked forward to keeping forever as tangible mementos of a special day came out blurry, double-exposed, or cursed with a variety of other upsetting photo defects.

I didn’t think about the meme again until today while working on my latest project: I’m taking my printed photographs (pre-2008ish) OUT of the photo boxes they’ve lived in, in chronological order, for the last decade or so and going through them. I’m tossing random pictures of things I don’t think anyone in my family will care about (extensive coverage of zoo animals, crowd shots, random buildings WHUT) as well as blurry pictures, and I’m actually putting the keepers in three-ring photo binders with acid-free pages. The reason I put the pictures in the photo boxes in the first place was so that when I finally got back to scrapbooking, my work would be easier.

Welp. I think my scrapbooking days are over and anyway, if I did have the time I’d probably make photo books online rather than hand-cropping my photos and cutting cute shapes out of colored paper.

I decided I’d rather streamline the pictures and put them into books that we can actually look at and enjoy now and then, so I started yesterday with 1982.

I filled one 500-picture album with pictures from 1982-1989.

I know. That’s an average of seventy-one pictures per year. Even though I didn’t have a kid until 1992, it was still shocking.

Today I started on the second book. The lack of photo coverage of 1991 was jaw-dropping to me. It was a huge year for us: our first beagle (the late, great Bijoux) was still a puppy, Jim returned home from Operation Desert Storm, I graduated from college, we moved from Norfolk, Virginia to my parent’s house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and then into our own little house in Kenosha, my sister graduated from high school, and I became pregnant with our first child.

I have less than sixty pictures from that year.

Less.
Than.
Sixty.

I can hear and feel the gasping of my younger readers.

Highlights of 1991 according to my photo album are:
~ Bijoux and Rex playing together on her first birthday, in February
~ My college graduation, in May
~ Apparently I spent some time washing dishes (with Bijoux looking on) while pregnant, in December

Rex and Bijoux

Melisa college grad

Melisa three months pregnant

I’m still stunned.

But then I think about today, modern times. We take so many pictures.

Wait, let me speak for myself. I take so many pictures. Sometimes I get so focused on preserving moments for the future that I don’t enjoy them as much as I could in the present. What if my kids don’t remember that we did such-and-such? What if I don’t remember that we such-and-such?

Does it really matter?
I look back on these old pictures and sure, there are countless moments that are lost forever. Only a handful of my undocumented moments have earned permanent spots in the recesses of my mind…but I remember the important stuff. I can easily piece together memories of my life lived happily. It makes me think that I should make a genuine effort to put my phone/camera down more often and let my brain do the heavy lifting for the long haul. On the other hand, the technology is available and it’s not expensive to create a running memory book in the Cloud; is it really so bad that I enjoy trying?

There are pros and cons to both extremes and figuring out how I can land softly in the middle makes it a matter of, like everything else, moderation and balance.

I’m going to make it my mission to be successful in finding the middle. In fact, I can picture it.

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Jim and I moved back to the Chicagoland area from Norfolk, Virginia in the summer of 1991, just a couple of months before an amazing new mall opened for business. Gurnee Mills was its name, and we were so excited about it. The two shopping centers closest to our house were sorely lacking in many areas and the possibilities this new thing had in store were thrilling to think about.

Our home in Kenosha, Wisconsin was only about twenty minutes away from Gurnee so we made frequent visits to the mall. When D was a toddler, we went to Gurnee Mills on Halloween for trick-or-treating. There were always things going on there and deals to be had. It was easy to spend an entire day shopping, eating, and just spending time together under that big roof.

“Big” is an understatement, really. Gurnee Mills is huge. It is currently the third largest mall in the state of Illinois and houses more than two hundred stores. It has a most unusual setup, too; rather than a relatively compact and two-storied layout, Gurnee Mills has only one story and seems to stretch on forever. In fact, it’s shaped like the letter Z.

Gurnee Mills map

Now that we live in Naperville, Gurnee Mills is about an hour away. We don’t visit very often but that’s going to change, after today. I was invited by Gurnee Mills to check out their Memorial Day Super Sale, which (obviously) goes through this Monday. Several other bloggers and I were given $100 gift cards and asked to go shop with them, so it was pretty much a Dream Day. First of all, I was so pleasantly surprised to see all of the new stores that have moved into the Mills since I was last there. Not only are most of the stores outlets, but the prices were ridiculously wonderful. This weekend, lots of stores are taking an additional fifty, sixty, or even seventy percent off of their already reduced clearance items, and the regular sale pricing was pretty tremendous too.

Memorial Day Super Sale Gurnee Mills

I love a challenge so I decided to totally focus on making my $100 gift card stretch as far as possible, and stretch it I did.

Gap Outlet Gurnee Mills

Charming Charlie Gurnee Mills

Sears Gurnee Mills

Bath and Body Works Gurnee Mills

Dippin Dots Gurnee Mills

You guys. SO many deals, not enough time. But YOU have time, perhaps, to check it out for yourself this weekend. Now through Monday:

A major holiday of savings during the Memorial Day Super Sale at Gurnee Mills, May 27-30. Even deeper discounts on spring merchandise from your favorite retailers including Macy*s, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH, Forever 21, LOFT Outlet, Charming Charlie, Buckle, PINK, Bachrach, Guess Factory Store and more!

I hope you’ll go see what I’m talking about firsthand. And…whether or not you make it there THIS weekend, I’ve got an incentive for you to go back in June: I’m giving away a $50 gift card to one lucky reader! All you have to do for an entry is leave a comment and tell me what you’d look for at Gurnee Mills if you were to win. That’s it! Easy peasy! You’ve got until 11:59pm CST this Tuesday (May 31) to enter: I’ll draw the winner on Wednesday.

Housekeeping:
~Only one comment per person will be entered into the random drawing.
~The winner has 48 hours to reply to my email with a mailing address; if I don’t hear from you I will choose someone else.
~Note that I will be sending the winner a voucher from Gurnee Mills that can be exchanged for the $50 gift card at the Management Office on site.
~I may want to go shopping with you; just saying.

Good luck, and don’t forget to check out the Memorial Day Super Sale if you can make it there this weekend. You won’t regret it! Happy shopping!

(And many thanks to the folks at Gurnee Mills for such a fun day! THANK YOU!)

EDITED ON 6/1/16 TO ADD: Congrats, Cher! You are the winner of the gift card! I’ll be contacting you today! 🙂

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Hello Summer and New Netflix Releases! #StreamTeam

Netflix Stream Team

I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam and will be happily sharing monthly tips and stories about how my family uses Netflix on a regular basis. (Okay, that’s an understatement. I should say CONSTANTLY. We use Netflix CONSTANTLY.) This post is sponsored by Netflix, of course!

Lots of stuff is going on right now: it’s the end of the school year, which may or may not include a kid or two (or three) graduating or being promoted to the next level of education. Monday is Memorial Day, which means you may have plans to honor those who have made the greatest sacrifice while defending our country and plans to barbecue with loved ones. Memorial Day is also the unofficial start to summer, which means you might be bathing suit shopping because pools are opening, and Oh My Gosh, if you follow antiquated fashion guidelines you can begin wearing white again next week. SO much to look forward to.

Gratuitous picture of Jim, J, and me during graduation/Memorial Day weekend 2013.

Gratuitous picture of Jim, J, and me during graduation/Memorial Day weekend 2013.

In fact, when I was pondering what I would write about for the Netflix Stream Team this month, my thoughts kept getting interrupted by announcements of all the shows and movies that we have to look forward to on Netflix very soon.

So…full circle!

Here are just a FEW of the shows and movies you can stream on Netflix now because they’ve just been released, or fairly soon and you don’t have long to wait:

Lady Dynamite: Comedian Maria Banford stars in this series that is inspired by her own life. It’s the sometimes surreal story of a woman who loses–and then finds–her s**t. Season 1 is streaming now.

Grace and Frankie: Ohhhhh my gosh, I love this Netflix Original show about unlikely friends starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda so much. Seasons one and two (brand new!) are available now.

The Do-Over: A Netflix Original film starring David Spade and Adam Sandler. The life of a bank manager is turned upside-down when a friend from his past manipulates him into faking his own death and taking off on an adventure. Available May 27.

Bo Burnham/Make Happy: Symphonic. Honest. Primed for the spotlight. He’s here to spill a bright, comic mess on a dark world in this stand up special. Available June 3.

Orange is the New Black: This runaway hit comedy-drama about a women’s prison is a Netflix Original and the highly anticipated fourth season begins streaming on June 17!

The Little Prince: A little girl lives in a very grown-up world with her mother, who tries to prepare her for it. Her neighbor, the Aviator, introduces the girl to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, the world of the Little Prince. Available August 5.

One final sneak peek of Netflix news: it was just announced this week that, starting in September, Netflix will be the exclusive service streaming Disney, Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars movies and if that’s not ending this Stream Team update with a bang, I don’t know what is. This is HUGE NEWS, and I’m already dancing around my family room, thinking about the possibilities. IMAGINE IT FOR A MOMENT, why don’t you?

*runs around in circles, singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”*

Let’s stream some great stuff this weekend, you guys! After all, you can only eat so many burgers and dogs.

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An Amateur’s Guide to Arranging Flowers

Here’s something you don’t know about me, after two billion years of blogging (I know; I can’t believe I left a stone unturned either): I adore arranging flowers into vases or other containers.

ADORE. As in LOVE.

It dates back to the late 1980’s when I was an eighteen-year-old newlywed, working at LeeWards Craft Store. I worked in the custom frame shop, which was located adjacent to the floral department. Two women who worked in Floral, Judy and Cherry, were much older than me–probably my age NOW–and very maternal towards me. I loved hanging out with them and was fascinated by what they did. They stood at the counter day after day, calmly making magic out of ceramic and glass containers and a wonderland of silk flower and greenery stems. They created wedding bouquets and corsages, huge arrangements meant for the entryway of a home, and everything in between. Where every element of every single project I worked on in the frame shop had to be approved by the customer down to the last detail, Judy and Cherry had occasional cost and color guidelines for custom jobs but were often able to let their imaginations run wild when creating arrangements to put on the shelves for sale. I used to spend half of my lunch breaks hanging out in there, just watching them create something from nothing while they worked, practically zen-like.

I wasn’t just standing there chatting, sharing candy bars, and being a generally bothersome co-worker with Judy and Cherry, though: they were accidentally teaching me about how to arrange flowers because I was paying close attention. I hardly ever put those lessons into practice back then because flowers weren’t in my house due to our needing to eat and pay rent, but almost thirty years later I am using what they taught me, and if they could see me I know they’d be proud. These days, I love standing in my kitchen, casually putting together a beautiful arrangement: it’s a creative outlet that’s also practically zen-like for me.

Here’s one thing I DON’T DO when someone gives me a plastic-wrapped mixed bouquet of flowers: take off the plastic and shove them as-is in a vase full of water. No. Just no.

Here’s what I DO when someone gives me (or I buy) a plastic-wrapped mixed bouquet of flowers:
1. I lay the bouquet on the counter and carefully take off the plastic wrapper.
2. I pick a container from the variety I have in the kitchen cabinets, my favorite being a tall copper vase, and fill it with water and the packet of floral preservative that comes with the bouquet.
3. I fill a medium-sized bowl with water.
4. Starting with the biggest flowers, I pull from the bouquet and cut a fresh edge on the bottom of each stem while it’s submerged in my bowl of water, to keep air bubbles from getting in the stem by cutting it “dry”.
5. I pull off any leaves that would be sitting in the water once the flower is in the vase, to keep the water clean longer.
6. I place the flowers into the vase, checking the stem heights as I go, making sure that I’m not cutting them all at the same length.
7. Working from the biggest flowers to smallest, I continue trimming flower stems and arranging them in the vase, turning the vase as I go to make sure that the arrangement looks pretty and interesting from all angles.
8. After all of the flowers are placed, I fill in with any greenery that was included in the bouquet, usually throwing away some of it (or using it in another arrangement if I happen to have a wealth of flowers that day).
9. For the duration, I TAKE MY TIME and savor the experience. I can stretch this activity out to about thirty minutes if I’m careful (and lucky).

flowers

Many people figure they’re done when the flowers are arranged in the one vase and when the flowers start dying a week later, they just toss everything. Not me! I re-purpose. I change the water every couple of days and as flowers die off I pull them out and throw them away. When the arrangement still has great-looking flowers in it but doesn’t look pretty anymore because I’ve pulled out too many dead ones, I grab a smaller container and start the process all over again with what’s left. Two years ago I made one bouquet last for nearly six weeks in four consecutively smaller containers. It was a proud era for me. (It doesn’t take much.)

One of our favorite movies around here is “RED”, starring Bruce Willis and my actress crush, Helen Mirren. I loved the scene in which her character—a “retired” CIA assassin—is on screen for the first time, arranging flowers at her country home. (If you’ve seen that, you have an idea of my state of mind when I arrange flowers. I mean, Helen’s character and I are practically twins if you disregard the “killing people” part of her resume.)

And with that, I think you now know everything about me.

Well, maybe.

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Five.

Sunday was a great day.

On Sunday Tracey and I, along with our incredible cast of ten other women and one Pete, brought the fifth annual LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER CHICAGO show to the stage.

Tracey is an excellent director. I love this picture of her and the cast, getting ready for our final walk-through.

Tracey is an excellent director. I love this picture of her and the cast, getting ready for our final walk-through.

I don’t write as much about LTYM here on Suburban Scrawl as I used to. I’m not sure why that is, because it really has become a part of my practically-daily life all year round. Being involved with LTYM on a few different levels is still a life highlight, and it just keeps on getting better.

Like Sunday. Our fifth show? Wow. Time flies when you’re having fun. Five years in and it’s still a mind-blowing experience. Here are some fun LTYM Chicago numbers:

1. In five seasons, we’ve auditioned HUNDREDS of motherhood stories in Chicago.
2. In five seasons, we’ve brought 72 motherhood stories to the Chicago stage.
3. In five seasons, we’ve grown our LTYM Chicago alumni family to 63 members.
4. In five seasons, we’ve worked with five amazing non-profits (in order: Bright Pink, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Recovery on Water, The Red Pump Project, and Mujeres Latinas en Acción) and donated ten percent of our gross ticket proceeds plus monies given to them directly from our audiences on show days.

We’ll be recapping the show on our local LTYM site soon (when we get the gorgeous pictures back from our official photographer, Brandi at Balee Images) but I wanted to share a few other pictures here, to mark this important milestone for us.

In our first season, 2012, we discovered a wonderful (for me) and horrible (for Tracey) phenomenon: in the week leading up to the show my normally tense, Type A, Monica-like (from the sitcom “Friends”) personality gently faded into something more like Phoebe, and Tracey’s laid-back, “No problem!”, Phoebe-like personality violently ramped up into something more like Monica. It was like that in our second season, too.

This remains one of my all-time favorite pictures from LTYM Chicago: The One Where Tracey Does a Monica and Melisa Does a Phoebe (2013)

This remains one of my all-time favorite pictures from LTYM Chicago: “The One Where Tracey Does a Monica and Melisa Does a Phoebe” (2013, photo credit Sabrina Persico)

It was like that in our third season, 2014, as well.

Then, in season four, something magical happened.
2015 was the year of Two Phoebes.

Two Phoebes

As was 2016. What a gift.
We were SO Phoebe-like this year that everything snuck up on us. EVERYTHING. Even showtime.

The actual caption I posted with this picture: "HOUSE IS OPEN. HOW IS THIS HAPPENING ALREADY." See what I mean? Snuck. Up.

The actual caption I posted with this picture: “HOUSE IS OPEN. HOW IS THIS HAPPENING ALREADY.” See what I mean? Snuck. Up.

And practically before we could blink, it was over. Again.

Five years is a lot to celebrate.

I am so very proud of what Tracey and I do here in Chicago to carry out the mission of LTYM, which is “giving motherhood a microphone.” I am proud of our cast members, every single one from every single year, for having the courage to share their stories in front of a live audience. I am proud of everyone who has ever submitted a story to us for consideration: that in itself takes bravery. I am appreciative of the support we receive from our friends and family, our LTYM Chicago alumni family, our fellow directors and producers in the LTYM sisterhood, my fellow LTYM National (oops, North American now because Vancouver, holla!) Team members, our sponsors, and our audience members. I am proud, appreciative, and feeling ever so lucky that I get to do this…always.

And I’m ready to do it again…right after I get some sleep.

In another LTYM Chicago strange plot twist, I was curious about the traditional 5th anniversary gift when I was writing this post, so I looked it up. Traditionally, it's wood. But the modern gift is silverware...and we ordered these custom stamped necklaces made from vintage teaspoons for our 2016 cast without even knowing that. We are THAT GOOD. *wink*

In another LTYM Chicago strange plot twist, I was curious about the traditional 5th anniversary gift when I was writing this post, so I looked it up. Traditionally, it’s wood. But the modern gift for a five year celebration is silverware…and we ordered these custom stamped necklaces made from vintage teaspoons for our 2016 cast without even knowing that. We are THAT GOOD. *wink*

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