The Pure Genius of Build-A-Bear …

By: Shannon Shull

Going to the Build-A–Bear Workshop is not just a shopping trip for a stuffed animal, it’s an experience!  If you’re a parent of young children, you inevitably have visited the Build-A-Bear Workshop. For your children’s sake, I hope you have at least! I like to think that my kids are prime members of the Build-A-Bear empire. Both my daughter and son absolutely LOVE everything about it. My daughter has celebrated many birthdays at the Build-A-Bear Workshop, the first party being in Hollywood at the Build-A-Bear store at Hollywood and Highland on Hollywood Blvd for her 3rd birthday.

Mina & her friends at her 7th birthday party at the Build-A-Bear Workshop

Mina’s 8th Birthday Celebration at Build-A-Bear Workshop

Over the years the Build-A-Bear Workshop’s offers of a fun experience have only progressed. They now have this incredible interactive website called Bearville.com – my kids are close to being addicts. And as an adult, I have to admit that it really is pretty darn cool! I would’ve been obsessed with it for sure, had it been around when I was a kid. And the experience is not just for girls, my son loves it too! There’s just something about creating your own special friend, hugging & kissing a special heart to place inside, naming it, dressing it and making it totally your own.

The genius creator, Maxine Clark, the CEO of the St. Louis-based Build-A-Bear Workshop, is not even a parent, but she loves kids, she loves malls, and she just knew there had to be a way to engage kids and make the buying of a special stuffed animal more than just a simple purchase. I read in Bloomberg’s Businessweek that ever since she heard her mentor, former May Chairman Stanley Goodman, say in 1972 that retailing is entertainment and the store a stage, she has focused on making sure customers have fun.  “That’s when they spend more money,” she says.

Now, as an entertainer, I have to say, that is certainly pure genius! Thinking of the store as the stage….what a concept! And I tell ya, Maxine has nailed it, because she has set the stage so incredibly well and produced and directed a hit show for sure. Since launching her custom stuffed-animal concept in 1996, the energetic, no-nonsense Clark has defied the odds. While big-brand toy stores such as Toys ‘R’ Us, KB Toys and FAO Schwarz have struggled mightily, Build-A-Bear has thrived. The first Build-A-Bear Workshop store opened in October 1997 at the Saint Louis Galleria in St. Louis, Missouri.  By 2007, Build-A-Bear Workshops across the world had sold more than 50 million bears and had more than 400 stores in operation worldwide, with more than 7,200 employees. And that was 5 years ago!

Maxine Clark stated in an interview for Bloomberg’s Businessweek Magazine:

Mina dressing her new friend at her 8th Birthday Party at the Build-A-Bear Workshop

“If we were just a toy business, we would fit more into the gift-giving routine and peak in the fourth quarter.  But our business is equally distributed across the year. We let people give someone a teddy bear instead of flowers or candy. We let them have control, and that’s what customers have been looking for. You can make it as you like it, and there’s no bad art in our store.  Our concept is based on customization.  Most things today are high-tech and hard-touch. We are soft-touch. We don’t think of ourselves as a toy store — we think of ourselves as an experience.”

So whether you have kids or not, if you love stuffed animals and you’ve allowed the kid in you to still enjoy the fun of a special toy, go to the Build-A-Bear Workshop and experience the art of building your very own special friend. I promise you, you will not be disappointed. And if you have children, by all means, let them experience the awesomeness of a Build-A-Bear Workshop! They will be entertained, enthralled and walk away with a very special friend they can hug, love and play with. And let the fun continue by registering your special friends online at Bearville.com.

Mina with her Puppy Pup

Sawyer & Mina clean their new friends …

My little ones, Mina & Sawyer, with their newly created Puppy Pup and Tiggy

If you have any Build-A-Bear special stories of your own – do share!

Black Bean Burgers

By: Brady Evans

The problem with these black bean burgers was that I called them burgers.

Given recent conversations with my husband, one might have thought the problem ought to be the fact that the main ingredient is black beans.  Yes.  He’s ‘sworn off’ beans for awhile.  That statement didn’t bother me much.  You can’t really swear off a certain ingredient when you’re not the one cooking, are you?

When he asked what was for dinner and I said, “Black bean burgers” – he said, “Can I just have an Angus burger from the freezer?”

A valid question.  I freeze everything.  The problem?  We do get around to eating stuff in the freezer and those burgers he was longing for?  Ate them last week.

The solution to the problem was mostly easy.  I told him we wouldn’t have black bean burgers and he was happy.  I served him a ‘black bean patty’ on top of fresh romaine and he sang the praises of our dinner.  You see, to him, burgers = beef.  Call it a patty and he’s happy!
If you’ve ever had a black bean burger that was mushy, insubstantial, and squished out the back of the bun when you took a bite, consider the preparation below that calls for baking them.  This method keeps the patties firm for even the biggest biters!

Black Bean Burgers (adapted from Sally Sampson’s recipe seen on the Washington Post)

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked, rinsed and drained black beans (about 2 ½ 15-ounce cans)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (Japanese style breadcrumbs)
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 scallions, both white and green parts, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped basil or cilantro, or a combination
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2-2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place 2 cups of the black beans in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until chunky. Alternatively, you can mash the beans with a form.
  3. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add remaining whole black beans, plus panko, egg, scallions, fresh herbs, garlic, cumin, oregano and red pepper flakes and mix until well combined.
  4. Prepare a baking sheet with nonstick spray and form bean mixture into patties 3 inches in diameter.
  5. Place patties about 1″ apart and bake 20 minutes on one side, then flip and continue baking 10 minutes.
  6. Serve with cheese, tomatoes, guacamole, or avocado.

In-Laws or Out-Laws?

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

I’m fortunate, today, to have a fabulous relationship with my mother-in-law and my father-in-law.

Wait, Crissie, aren’t you divorced?

The simple answer is “Yes.”  The more complex answer would be that when my marriage ended, only that relationship ended; my relationship with my children’s grandparents and other extended family members did not end.

I did not always have this great and wonderful relationship with my in-laws, however.  Going back 13 years, I’m sure that all of us could enumerate the many different things that irritated us about each other.  The long and the short of the situation, the problems were rooted in misunderstanding, miscommunication, and lack of communication regarding many different situations.  There is little reason to go back and place blame or to recount every single mistake and misstep made; all we can do is look at what we did to correct the situation, move forward, and live in peace and friendship.

The basis of this new relationship is honesty, open communication, and boundaries.

First, we are all honest that this relationship is not always easy.  There are differences in parenting that are created by our own pasts and typical generational differences.  Personality differences must be recognized and you have to accept that; accepting a personality trait does not mean that you take it on yourself, it simply means that you understand it and respect it.  There are also differences created simply by the dynamics of this relationship; my role as the parent and their role as the grandparent.  Parenting is and always has been different than “grandparenting;” much like the Las Vegas tag line, we all know that what happens at Mimi and Poppie’s stays at Mimi and Poppie’s.  Understanding this and just simply letting go of some of that parental structure and those finite rules and allowing some of those fun moments to occur can actually lead to less stress, relaxation, and great memories for your children.

Keeping the lines of communication open also goes a long way in making that in-law relationship much better.  And it goes further than just actually answering the phone when they call; I don’t just mean physical lines of communication.  Remembering that you are all human and are in this together, for better or worse, and are experiencing many of the same situations and emotions and then leaning on each other can help shore up shaky waters.  Often just opening yourself up once is enough to create a strong bond.  This is part of how my relationship has been strengthened with my mother in law; once I opened up in regards to certain issues and situations, I learned that some parts of my life were not so different than things she, herself, had experienced in her own past.  She is no longer a “Monster-in-Law” she is my mother-in-law and she is my friend; a person I can call on when I’m feeling down or need someone to read over a graduate school paper.  And I think that she feels somewhat the same way about me.

Lastly, create boundaries.  Everyone hears the word boundaries and immediately goes on the defensive, but we forget the old adage that “good fences make good neighbors;” this is also the case with relatives.  After my oldest son was born, I often felt like what I wanted no longer mattered, if my parents or my in-laws wanted to see the baby, they just stopped by or came up, regardless of our plans or desires.  Really what it amounted to was some poor planning, structure and lack of boundaries on all of our parts.  None of us recognized what the other group needed and wanted, and, in truth, deserved.  Now, if I go visit my in-laws, they recognize that I might want some time alone, to myself, or some time to just do something with the boys, alone, and even often, that I might want to spend some one on one time with my boys, individually. We work together to make all of those situations take place when desired.  But, I’m also keenly aware that they desire time with the boys as well.  They want to take them places and “show them off” and spoil them some.

We also try to make plans for holidays and special events well in advance so that all of our needs and desires are met the best they possibly can.  A few years back, I invited both my parents and my in-laws to my home on Christmas morning; however, I indicated to everyone that the door would not be opened until a specific time.  This was both for me and them.  It provided recognition that they wanted and deserved to see their grandchildren on Christmas morning, but yet protected my time with my sons on Christmas morning.  No one’s feelings were hurt or made to feel uncomfortable, and a good time was had by all because we took the necessary steps beforehand.

Will this type of structure work for every single family?  No.  However, the first step is to be honest with all parties.  Yes, it might mean sitting down and talking and this might, initially, be uncomfortable, but if the end result is more peace and harmony, with a slice of compromise thrown in, then it is worth it in the end.

In-laws or Out-laws?  Which would you rather have?  The choice truly is your own.

Mobile Madness

By: Katie Austin

Like so many people, I own a smartphone and find that I am becoming more attached with each passing day.  I love being able to read emails, interact with Facebook, catch up on my favorite blogs (Every Woman Blog is at the top of my list!) and browse the Internet for information at the time I need it.  But, as I have discovered, instant access to this technology comes at a cost that is climbing upward with no end in sight.

Excuse this brief interruption while I pull out and step onto my soapbox…. Feel free to take a bathroom break, grab something to drink or eat, or stretch if you want to take a turn on the soapbox 🙂

Is it common practice now for the mobile giants to have incredible phone offers available and then once they have you locked into a contract, increase their fees and/or make plan changes with little to no communication?!  Have they forgotten who it is that has helped them to achieve their success?? I will share with you our recent upgrade fiasco which you may be able to relate to.  For some, it will give you the information you need to ask questions of your own mobile provider to prevent the same happening to you.

Recently, my husband was eligible to upgrade his phone and what better time as we were going on vacation. He went online, placed an order for his new smartphone (aka toy), purchased the needed accessories, and then eagerly awaited the UPS truck to stop by our house.  He was like a kid on Christmas as he checked the front porch daily hoping Big Brown had stopped by!  Haha!  The accessories arrived a few days later with the phone to arrive soon after that.  Then it happened – a phone call telling him that due to a change with the cellular company policy, he would have to upgrade his plan to something new or pay retail for his new smartphone.

You see, we were told a few months earlier by the same company that as long as we upgraded to new/kept our existing smartphones, that we would be grandfathered into the unlimited data plan.  Obviously, the company quickly realized that this would not be good for their bottom line!  So, they changed their policy that you could keep the unlimited data plan, but that we would have to pay full retail for the phone.  I needed a bag to breathe into when I heard the retail price – which is approximately $799!!  Plus, we found out that the policy change occurred the day before the was upgrade eligible.  We did not receive any form of communication from our mobile provider explaining these changes and spent hours on the phone trying to understand our options.  In the end, he kept the old phone and now has accessories for a phone he didn’t receive.  It’s like getting the keys to a new car, but you have to wait for the car to be delivered and you don’t know when it will get there 😦

When did good customer service and keeping customers happy become a thing of the past?  We have been with the same company since phones became smart.  For the first time in several years, we are thinking about switching. If we do switch, I think I will write them a letter explaining why we left and ask “Can you hear me now?” 🙂

Have you had a similar experience?  What do you like/dislike about your mobile provider?  Feel free to share and if we get enough posts, we can send them a link to show them what their customers are thinking.

The Kid’s Palate

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

Way before my husband and I had our beautiful daughter, we talked about what we would and wouldn’t do as parents.  We had very clear, very emphatic plans.  We would not tolerate bad behavior in public.  We wouldn’t have one of those kids who refuses to eat her dinner…this is what we’re having, enjoy it.  And we sure weren’t going to feed her Cheetos and McDonald’s…oh no, no.  Well, we’ve since learned that sometimes, as parents, we actually CAN’T control all these variables as we thought we could.  Sometimes, reality gets in the way.  Often, you have to pick your battles.  And, things change.  A lot.

We’ve done well with the public behavior.  In fact, I’d say my little one is one of the best behaved kids you’ll see in a restaurant, at a sporting event, concert, etc.  I’m proud of that.  Most of the time, she tries new foods and eats her dinner without much complaint.  But, not always.  We have managed to stave off the junk food and fast food poison pretty well, but let’s be honest, sometimes it’s a necessary evil (traveling in the middle of nowhere, but there’s always a set of those damn golden arches out there.)  And of course, things change.

One thing I’ve always talked to her about is how our taste buds can change as we get older.  Already in her short life, she’s realized this fact.  It’s really cute when it happens too, because she’ll exclaim, “Hey Mommy, my taste buds have changed!  I like this now!”  Which brings me to the July bounty of figs.

My parents have a fig tree in their backyard.  Last year, it really produced and I was so excited to share it with my daughter.  I have such fond memories of climbing my next door neighbor’s fig tree and just sitting up there eating figs until I couldn’t stand it anymore. But sadly, last summer she turned her cute little nose up at these odd, yet wonderful, little fruits.  So, imagine my surprise when two days ago she ventured out into my parents’ backyard and came back very nonchalantly snacking on a fig.  She walked in and announced, “Hey everybody the figs are ready!”  We all exchanged astonished glances.  What a difference a year makes!

So, my dad and I accompanied her out to the tree to harvest.  She loved climbing into the middle of that tree, just like I used to.  She was the keeper of the bucket too, so she was loving watching our fig volume increase.  As we chatted about fig preserves, grilled figs, figs stuffed with blue cheese & wrapped in prosciutto, she came up with a new one:  fig cobbler.  Hmmm, I have to think about that a little bit.  What a joy to see how excited she was to discover the tree ripe with fruit, picking them herself, and actually enjoying eating them this year.  See?  I told ya, those taste buds do change.

Don’t believe me?  Check this out – http://akreeats.blogspot.com/2011/07/great-tomato-break-through.html

Latest Obsession: Photo-A-Day

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Mary Pat Baldauf

This month, I started playing a cool “game” with my iPhone: Photo-A-Day.

It works like this. Each month, you get a list of daily prompts. All you have to do is use any camera you have — iPhone, Smartphone, Digital, — and use the daily prompt as inspiration. You then share the photo using your favorite social media platforms, i.e. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, Tumblr.

You can Google “picture a day challenge” and find any number of challenges. I’m doing FatMumSlim’s Photo-a-Day Challenge because 1) it’s the one that a lot of my friends are using, and 2) I like her style. (Click here for a great article about FatMumSlim blogger Chantelle Elam and her Photo-A-Day challenge.)

FatMumSlim gives five ways photo-a-day will change your life for the better, but here’s why I’m doing it:

It Expands My Horizons.  Seeing Photo-A-Day shots from friends gives me insight into who they are, what they are doing and how they see the world. It also exposes me to things I might not otherwise see or know about, such as a beautiful flower or a new camera app.

It’s a Great Way to Document My Life, Day by Day.  I blog, but my blog isn’t really a journal in the true sense of the word.  And who has time to scrapbook anymore?  I have a nice camera, but I usually just use my iPhone to capture every day moments.  I post a lot of them to Instagram anyway, so it’s a no-brainer.  Once I post my “Photo-A-Day” picture, I also save it in a monthly “Photo-a-Day” folder I’ve created on my iPhone.  I think it will be neat to go back at the end of a month, even the end of the year, and see my month in photos.

It’s Plain Out Fun.  I love the challenge of illustrating the daily prompt. It helps me think outside of the box and gives me an opportunity to express myself.  It also forces me to slow down from the daily grind and take time to think about something besides work and my daily to-do list.

Sound interesting? Visit FatMumSlim and get started today. You can get some practice with the remaining days in July and start your first full month in August. Let me know how you like it!  Already do a monthly photo challenge?  Please share your experiences!

If You Can’t Take the Heat …

By: Roshanda Pratt

I know from the title of my recent blog post you may be wondering if my brain is fried from the series of heat waves gripping South Carolina. Nope! Since it is on everyone’s mind, I thought I’d share my perspective.  First, I do not like to be hot, muggy, soupy, humid or any other adjective the weather folks like to use to describe the forecast in the southeast.  You would think I’d be used to it since my parents are from a warm climate. Who am I kidding? Trinidad & Tobago is located near the Equator. You can’t get any hotter than that!

This heat wave has been unrelenting and brutal, but WE Southerners are resilient right? This is not our first time at the rodeo. Remember the heat wave about two years ago or was that last year? Either way, as South Carolinians, we have been here before.  This is one reason why I cannot figure out why people keep talking about it.  I know it’s a hot (no pun intended) topic right now, so instead of using this space to complain – I figured I would list my top reasons why I ENJOY (insert sarcasm here) living in the south during a Heat Wave.  So here it goes:

  1. I have an excuse to stay indoors.  Actually, I am not a fan of outside for this reason: lizards, flies and anything else that is creepy and crawly.  Also, my additional excuse, chocolate still melts in the heat.  Matter of fact, you can include dark and white chocolate in that as well. (ha-ha)
  2. I have a reason to crank up the AC.  If my husband wasn’t one of those who check the thermostat, I would have it zero below Antarctica.  But he does, and when he allows me, I drop it looooow!
  3. I have a reason to eat ice-cream in moderation of course.
  4. Speaking of eating. I get a chance to partake in my favorite summer treat. WATERMELON. Yumo!
  5. I can catch up on reading, on my couch under my ceiling fan while the AC runs on blast.
  6. POOL Time with the Kiddies. ‘nuff said.
  7. Celebrations! (Family cook-out for the 4th of July, Mine, My Mom and Son’s birthday) and even though these events may involve an outside activity, I am not too far from the house or a water sprinkler.
  8. Craft time. When it’s too hot outdoors – bring the fun inside!  Here are a few of my summer projects.
  9. I enjoy hearing the weather folks talk about it and try to find different ways to describe the heat. Last time I checked, HEAT is HEAT!
  10. Lastly, family vacations to some place cool, literally!

I know we could all find reasons to complain, but why bother?  It’ll just make you, well, hotter.  My thoughts and prayers go out to all those dealing with some rather dangerous conditions.  Stay safe, drink plenty of water and avoid the outdoors as much as you can. So what say you, what is your favorite part of living in SC during this heat?

Hott Mama

Ro 🙂