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To Infinity and Beyond

I cannot think of a movie franchise that has meant more to our family over the years than Disney’s “Toy Story”. The adventures of Andy’s toys (Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and friends) were on repeat in our VCR (and later, DVD player) for years and years.

In fact, here’s something that might make you feel old like I do: on this day twenty years ago, the first “Toy Story” installment, starring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, premiered in Hollywood at the El Capitan Theatre, with nationwide release three days later. When I learned that, I had another bittersweet moment of “Wow, time really does fly, doesn’t it?”

Toy Story is 20.

When the movie premiered, D was three and J was not yet a year old. We had been excitedly anticipating this Pixar/Disney creation and I’m pretty sure we took D to see it that first weekend. And again. And likely again. As soon as it was available on videotape we bought it. By that time D had the talking Buzz Lightyear action figure, “Toy Story” pajamas, and all kinds of other stuff. For his fourth birthday the following June, I gave him a space-themed birthday party and made him and all of his friends personalized jet packs out of cardboard boxes, silver spray paint, and red, yellow, and orange streamers (for the fire!) to wear on their backs in our yard.

As J got a little older, he too became attached to the movie and its characters. He was our little cowboy fan, carrying around a pull-string Woody doll (“Reach for the skyyyyy!”) so much that I had professional portraits taken of him with Woody.

In 1996 we took a family trip to Walt Disney World, further cementing their addiction.

Buzz & D

Toy Story MGM

(Yes, if you’re wondering, these pictures are a part of my “ABC Disney World scrapbook” that I described in my 2014 LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER reading.)

The original film will always be my favorite because it represents such an innocent and pure time in the history of our family. The boys were still little, I was working part-time in the nursery of a health club (so they went with me), and technology played such a minor part in our lives that when I think about it I long to go back there just for a couple of days. Memories of my boys running around the house with Buzz and Woody, screaming “To infinity and beyond!” and “There’s a snake in my boot!”, though filtered softly over time, will never be completely forgotten.

“Toy Story 2”, which introduced Jessie the cowgirl (Joan Cusack), was released in 1999 and our life was starting to pick up speed. D was in second grade, J was in preschool, and I was working in a different department at the health club. As it happens when kids become school-aged, our evenings became busy with homework and other activities, and we didn’t have Buzz and Woody on the television as much as we had before. Still, they were always there in the background.

The cruelest of jokes was played on us when “Toy Story 3”, the premise of which is Andy’s preparation for his freshman year at college, was released in the summer of 2010, when D was also preparing for his freshman year at college. I will never forget sitting there in the theater, crying my eyes out at the end because the feeling of the previous fifteen years of family life whooshing through my brain over the course of the film was crushing. I’m pretty sure we all were in need of tissues as the credits rolled.

Twenty years, you guys. Twenty years.
I think it’s been a while since I’ve reminded you of how time flies. It really does.
In this case though, I’m celebrating good memories of a happy family and two sweet, imaginative little boys who grew up to be pretty awesome young men. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Happy 20th, Buzz and Woody.

NaBloPoMo 2015


A (Fred) Savage Study. #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!

I have recently become addicted to a new show on FOX called “The Grinder”, about an actor who played a lawyer on a television show (Rob Lowe) who, after the series ends, goes to join his brother (Fred Savage) in his hometown law practice. I find the show impossibly adorable.

Tonight after I watched the latest episode, I started thinking about how long I’ve been watching Fred Savage. He’s been on television since the 1980’s and I first became a fan of his when “The Wonder Years” was on. In that show, Savage played Kevin Arnold, a young boy growing up in the late 1960’s. Kevin lived with his parents, brother Wayne, and sister Karen, and spent most of his time with his best friend Paul and the “girl next door”, Winnie. It was an amazing show and is a real classic. I started watching it from the very beginning on Netflix over the summer.

Perhaps the best movie Savage has acted in is “The Princess Bride” (not available on Netflix yet but I’m hoping someday soon!). He is in “The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story” (streaming on Netflix!) as the Narrator, which makes me laugh a little bit because a big part of “The Wonder Years” is the narration by Daniel Stern. I’m pretty sure that makes up some kind of Fred Savage vicious circle. Or something.

He’s not just an actor, either. He’s been very successful as a director too, In fact, he has more director credits than acting credits at this point, on shows like “Boy Meets World” (starring his younger brother Ben), “Phil of the Future”, “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide”, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, “Party Down”, “Modern Family”, “2 Broke Girls”, and many, many more. One of his latest as a director? IFC’s 2014 show “Garfunkel and Oats”, about “two hapless twentysomething single women who try to make it as a duo performing satirical songs about their personal and professional lives.” You’d better believe that’s the newest addition to my Netflix streaming list. I’ll be binge-watching all eight episodes, likely this weekend.

Want to do a Fred Savage study on your own? Here are a few of his best, available on Netflix streaming:

The Wonder Years
The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Garfunkel and Oates

Perhaps I’ll study Rob Lowe in December. Hmmm.

Still counts.

Still counts.


Just Breathe.

I’m just going to leave this here in case you need it.


Still counts.

Still counts.


Lean On Me.

For some reason, whether it’s Mercury being in retrograde (is it still? I don’t really keep track) or just a massive coincidence in time and space, I have a bunch of really good friends who are currently hurting and stressed. They have recently lost loved ones, have loved ones in the hospital, have financial issues, or are experiencing a personal health crisis or marital strife. It’s awful. There’s a lot of heartache out there.

Being someone who throws her whole heart into relationships, I carry around a feeling of helplessness in regards to the struggles of my beloved friends. It simmers gently, just under the surface, bubbling up when I’m getting updates or desperately trying to make someone who is having a particularly bad day feel a little better. I’m a fixer and a control freak, so it pains me to no end when I can’t take away the heartache that is being experienced by someone I love.

Most of the time, all I can do is be there. And I am. I always always always have time for friends in need, even when it seems like I don’t. I do. I repeat: I DO. If my schedule has no holes for a phone call or some other need, I make time. Relationships are important to me.

And so, right now when I have so many friends scattered all over the country who are in desperate need of support, I’m sending out all my love and virtual hugs and strength. You’ll get through this rough time. I can’t say how long it’ll take, but you will get through it. I’m here with you, even though I’m not there with you, and please remember the 1972 words of Bill Withers, sung in the style of the 1987 Club Nouveau remake because that one is way more my style, “Call me (when you need a friend)”. Call me. Call me. Call me.

Love you, my friends. I want to help. Let me be there. (But that’s a whole other song.)

NaBloPoMo 2015


I happened to be on Facebook Thursday morning when…

Okay wait, I’m almost always on Facebook so that’s nothing new. WORK, you know. Heh.

Anyway, I happened to scroll my newsfeed just minutes after Missy Elliott posted that her new single, “WTF (Where They From)” featuring Pharrell Williams, was live. I actually screamed. And then I screamed again when I clicked on the video and found that I was in the first 12,000 people to see it. I mean, that’s exciting.

Missy Elliott has been a favorite of mine for years. I listen to her album “Under Construction” ALL. THE. TIME.

“Get Ur Freak On” and “Lose Control” and “Lady Marmalade” and lots of other songs that are either hers or that she has produced for others stay in rotation for me because they make me so happy.

Speaking of happiness, Missy has been mostly missing in action for the last couple of years, so when she hit the stage with Katy Perry at the Super Bowl early this year, I lost my mind.

When I discovered that she was going to be a mentor on “The Voice” this season (working with Coach Pharrell Williams), I should’ve guessed she had something in the kitchen. (Other than “The Cookbook”, which happens to be the name of her sixth album. Do you see what I did there??)

So Thursday blew my mind. This new song? I can’t even adequately express how much I love it. (You would think this post would do that but no, I love it way more than this post seems to describe.)

That day I literally listened to it around forty times, including keeping it on repeat when I walked Roxie, which led to what I think is one of the greatest things I’ve ever posted on Facebook:

Missy Elliott


By the way, the song sounds great in the shower too.

I’m obsessed with the Pharrell and Missy marionettes in the video too; not only are they identical to their real-life counterparts, but they can dance in a very un-marionette-like way, which is pretty amazing. I (and many of my friends) want those marionettes. They make us happy. For now, I’ll just have to watch the video over and over again like I’ve been doing.

So if you need me, I’ll just be over here wishing I could become one of Missy’s backup dancers, as well as figuring out when I’ll be able to say “lyrically I’m Optimus Prime” organically in a conversation. Oh, and listening to this song. Again.

NaBloPoMo 2015

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Money Battles

Things you don’t necessarily want to hear from your 23-year-old, who just picked up two friends from O’Hare airport in their car, the one that had been parked at our house all week while they were gone:

“So I told them that I bought them a tire gauge this week and they asked me how much it was and I wouldn’t tell them so they left a $5 bill under my windshield on my car and drove away. Then I chased them down the street because I didn’t want them to pay me back for it and I jumped on the trunk of their car and they kept driving through the neighborhood for another block and a half with me on the trunk before they pulled over. Then when they stopped I tossed the money back into their car through the window and ran home. By the time I got here, they had put the money back under my windshield and were long gone.”

And then after cringing about your precious “baby” risking his life riding around on the trunk of a car because DOESN’T HE KNOW HE COULD GET HURT you realize that you’ve had some epic money battles with friends yourself, because you’re always arguing about who is going to treat the other one. And then, thinking back, you realize the sneakiest you’ve ever been is stealthily shoving money into purses and wallets, and you decide that perhaps it’s time to step up your game. Suddenly you can TOTALLY see yourself having this exact trunk-riding, money battling adventure with a couple of your friends, and maybe your 23-year-old is onto something.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, after all.

NaBloPoMo 2015



It feels weird to publish a normal post today in light of the terror attacks overseas, so I’ll be back tomorrow. Today, my heart goes out to Paris.


NaBloPoMo 2015


Easy Dinner Idea: Petros! (You’re Welcome.)

When I was a teenager, I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee for a few years. The reason we moved there was so my dad could manage a Holiday Inn just up the hill (literally) from the University of Tennessee campus and a nice walk from the 1982 World’s Fair site.

This was the same hotel where my sister and I were friendly enough with the guy who came in weekly to collect the quarters from the video games in the arcade that he would set up the machines with hours worth of free play for us.

We got season’s passes to the World’s Fair that summer and often rode in to work with Dad just so we could walk to the Fair and spend the day there. The 1982 World’s Fair is where I fed my appetite for British royalty (at the UK pavilion, of course), learned about AC/DC and the Little River Band (at the Australia pavilion), watched robots paint amazing pictures (at the Japan pavilion), tried shelf-stable milk in strawberry and chocolate flavors (in a building that spotlighted new products, like Cherry Coke!), collected pickle pins (at the Heinz booth), and tried Petros. I did all of these things and more, over and over and over again all summer long.

Petros made their debut at the 1982 World’s Fair and eventually opened a small chain of restaurants in East Tennessee; I can’t believe they are still exclusive to that area. Every now and then when I need a quickie dinner idea, I pick up the ingredients for Petros because memories and because YUM.

What are Petros? Glad you asked. They’re also called Frito Pies; does that help?

Here’s what you need to make them: Fritos, chili (I use canned because I’m lazy but you can use homemade if you want. Seems to defeat the purpose if you ask me, even though you weren’t asking me…), shredded cheese, green onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream.

This could not be easier. Cook the chili and chop the onions, lettuce, and tomatoes.
Cover the bottom of a bowl with Fritos, and then stack all of the other ingredients on top in whatever quantity you want.

Petros, step-by-step. EASY, RIGHT???

Petros, step-by-step. EASY, RIGHT???

That’s IT. Bonus: kids love Petros.

Put that in the meal plan next time you need something that is less than twenty minutes from prep to serve time. YUM.

NaBloPoMo 2015


We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Speaker.

I love music.

If you know me at all, this is not news.

I listen to music all day long. I have Sirius XM radio in my car and I am a Spotify addict, with different offline playlists downloaded to my phone than the ones downloaded to my iPad, for those occasions when I have no WiFi and have to limit my choices (on a plane, on a road trip, etc.).

I used to make fun of Jim for walking around with music blaring from his iPhone. After a while, I realized he was onto something there (sorry, Jim).

We never ever ever ever use the stereo iPod/iPhone doc that is parked on the bookshelf in the family room, because we’re mostly in motion. So I started walking around the house with music blaring from my iPhone. And I started walking the dog with music blaring from my iPhone. (Headphones? No, no, no. How would I pay attention to cars and other potential dangers along the way?)

After a while it occurred to me that my showers didn’t need to be music-free, and I started cueing up Spotify on my phone or iPad so I could sing along with, well, whoever, while I was getting myself ready for the day.

A couple of weeks ago we upgraded my cell phone and traded in my old phone for an accessory credit. I really only needed a screen protector and a protective case, and that meant that I needed to find something on which to spend a pretty sizable credit balance. I didn’t need chargers…I didn’t need headphones…I didn’t need an exercise tracker (WHY do they sell these at the cell phone store?).

Then I saw them.

Waterproof Bluetooth speakers.

Could I?
Should I?

That would be weird, right? To buy a speaker specifically to hang in the shower?

I asked Jim what he thought.

“Sounds good!”

So that’s how we ended up with the speaker that changed my life. And my showers.

UE Roll bluetooth speaker

As I’ve learned, though, it doesn’t end there. This speaker is just a gateway drug to the next bigger and better one. Earlier this evening I found myself Googling “Built in bathroom speaker system” and pricing out what I’m really going to need to have in my next house, whenever that happens (no moving plans currently).

What then? Does it get much bigger and better than that? A whole-house system? Perhaps I should just move INTO a speaker? Are woofers and tweeters made that large? Would I experience hearing loss at that point? And if that happened, would I regret not sticking with the adorable little round speaker in my shower?

Tough questions. I’ll think about them and get back to you.

NaBloPoMo 2015


Spa Suites + Holiday Happy Hour = Escape From Crazy

Usually when I hear (or read) “spa services” in the same sentence or paragraph as “hotel”, my ears perk up. (Err, or my eyes…widen?)

I used to work in the salon industry and I wrote business articles for trade magazines in that industry for years. That, combined with my being the daughter of a (now retired) hotel manager who was very interested in providing excellent experiences for his customers at every company he worked for over the years, means that I completely respect and admire what goes into providing high end service. Typically when there’s a spa at a hotel, I know it’s going to be top-notch.

A while back I was invited to visit an Open House at the Spa Suites at Le Méridien Chicago – Oakbrook Center. The hotel itself has gone through a $25 million interior and exterior transformation, and it’s beyond lovely. The Spa Suites? So innovative. They have literally taken over two suites upstairs and that’s where they offer services like massages and facials (priced lower than hotels in downtown Chicago, I might add, and using the high-end ESPA products!).

These Images are from the photoshoot of the Spa Suites at the Le Meridien Oak Brook on December 30, 2014 in Oak Brook, IL.  All Images © 2014 Collin Pierson, Collin Pierson Photography.  www.CollinPierson.com (Used with permission.)

These Images are from the photoshoot of the Spa Suites at the Le Meridien Oak Brook on December 30, 2014 in Oak Brook, IL. All Images © 2014 Collin Pierson, Collin Pierson Photography. www.CollinPierson.com (Used with permission.)

From the press release, because they say it way better than I could:
Choose from an array of spa treatments which provide the ultimate in relaxation. Lavish design elements, including custom stone and marble décor, will allow guests to revitalize the mind, body and spirit. The spa suite walls are finished floor to ceiling with glass mirrors and translucent drapery, creating an endless view with a delicate touch.

Ideal for couples, a group of friends and individuals who are seeking absolute privacy, the spa suites feature a stone tiled rain shower with a 32” heated mosaic tile bed amidst six body sprayers, soaking tub and a large relaxation lounge. The lounge is designed to offer seamless flexibility, as guests will be able to relax in the comfort of an oversized sectional sofa or engage in a curated spa treatment service.

These Images are from the photoshoot of the Spa Suites at the Le Meridien Oak Brook on December 30, 2014 in Oak Brook, IL.  All Images © 2014 Collin Pierson, Collin Pierson Photography.  www.CollinPierson.com (Used with permission.)

These Images are from the photoshoot of the Spa Suites at the Le Meridien Oak Brook on December 30, 2014 in Oak Brook, IL. All Images © 2014 Collin Pierson, Collin Pierson Photography. www.CollinPierson.com (Used with permission.)

I mean, COME ON, right? When do you want to meet me there?

I stayed for about an hour, just chatting with the two lovely ladies who provide services there about the concept—and receiving an awesome hand massage for about fifteen of those minutes. The suites include relaxation areas where, as long as you purchase a service that’s 50 minutes or more, you get 40 minutes to spend just hanging out in the suite. You can watch television, read a book, scroll Facebook on your phone (just threw that in because I know you, err me), or even order room service (I mean, Suite Service) from the yummy restaurant downstairs. (Express services of 25 minutes will include an additional 20 minutes of complimentary relaxation time when booked individually, and you can add on extra relaxation time for a fee.)

These Images are from the photoshoot of the Spa Suites at the Le Meridien Oak Brook on December 30, 2014 in Oak Brook, IL.  All Images © 2014 Collin Pierson, Collin Pierson Photography.  www.CollinPierson.com (Used with permission.)

These Images are from the photoshoot of the Spa Suites at the Le Meridien Oak Brook on December 30, 2014 in Oak Brook, IL. All Images © 2014 Collin Pierson, Collin Pierson Photography. www.CollinPierson.com (Used with permission.)

I have been going to Oakbrook Center for years and years, and to be completely honest I never even noticed there was a hotel right there in the mall circle. Now it’s all I see when I drive by: I’m looking longingly towards the upper floors and thinking about those Spa Suites. Let me just repeat that their services are at a lower price point than hotel spa services in the city. I will also tell you that one of the women who works there used to work at one of those fancy downtown hotels and now has downtown clients making the drive to Oakbrook, not only because she’s that good, but they can get more service for the price, plus that relaxation time! (and we all know how valuable relaxation time is, don’t we?)

These Images are from the photoshoot of the Spa Suites at the Le Meridien Oak Brook on December 30, 2014 in Oak Brook, IL.  All Images © 2014 Collin Pierson, Collin Pierson Photography.  www.CollinPierson.com (Used with permission.)

These Images are from the photoshoot of the Spa Suites at the Le Meridien Oak Brook on December 30, 2014 in Oak Brook, IL. All Images © 2014 Collin Pierson, Collin Pierson Photography. www.CollinPierson.com (Used with permission.)

While you’re pondering your schedule and figuring out when you can go in to get a facial, a massage, or one of their Signature Treatments—either the Relax & Reflect or the Taste of Heaven—let me tell you about what the hotel has in store this holiday season.

Their “Holiday Happy Hour” package includes complimentary valet service (if you’ve visited Oakbrook Center during the holidays this part alone should make you jump for joy), use of the hotel’s house car to transport shoppers to and from mall entrances to help make hauling away goodies a breeze, and 25 minutes of ultimate relaxation via a back and body massage in the hotel’s exclusive Spa Suites. (Yeah, the ones you just read about!)

The day is capped off with a hot spiked (or virgin) cider plus a signature tapas at the hotel’s ninth floor authentic Spanish restaurant, El Tapeo. It’s priced at $65 per person (plus tax and gratuity) and is available Tuesdays through Saturdays, through December 23.

I’ll just add that I love Marketing Genius. If you’re in the Chicago area, you should book this so you can be experience what this magical place has to offer. You’ll get some holiday shopping done too, so BONUS!

Also, let me know when you’re going. Perhaps I’ll meet you there!

Still counts.

Still counts.