Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ode to a lunch box

It's hard to believe that summer is almost over. I remember as a child counting how many days were left of vacation. It was right around the beginning of August the nerves and excitement surrounding back-to-school season started and Mom started stocking up on the myriad items my brother, sister and I needed for the first day of classes. From clothing, to shoes, to notebooks and pencils, perhaps nothing was quite as exciting as getting a new lunch box!!

Of course, when I was a kid, those metal, lead-laden lunch boxes (it's amazing we lived to tell about it) depicting images from television shows were all the rage. My favorite had to be the Partridge Family box with the picture of the colorful bus and cameos of the show's stars--David Cassidy was just so hot!!! (I realize I'm showing my age....)

Now that I have school-aged children of my own, I'm tickled to see them get excited about the prospect of a new lunch box! And since I am Suzi Homemaker, I just happen to have the most wonderful array of lunch boxes at my fingertips just waiting to be personalized!

My favorite line of products is by far frommint. Not only are they well-made (all products are 100% guaranteed: if anything breaks due to materials or craftsmanship within a year of purchase, they'll replace it) and lead- and pthalate-free, but they also are just the cutest things around. Check out the new navy apple lunch box above and you will see what I am talking about!

I happen to stash a mint. lunch box filled with snacks and juice boxes in my car so I have plenty of nourishment for the kids and myself while on lengthy car trips.

The first cousin to the mint. lunch box is the super-cute snack square, pictured here in the chocolate orange style. Don't let its compact size fool you, this surprisingly roomy bag is big enough to hold an ice pack, a sandwich, a juice box, a piece of fruit, bag of chips and a love note from Mom! Snack squares fit easily into my kids' backpacks (oh yeah, mint. makes matching backpacks, too, but more about that in a later post!).

"But, Suzi," I can hear you ask, "what about the television characters?"

Suzi Homemaker's got you covered with the Super Snack Square--mint.'s little cutie, made even cuter with super-cute designs! Give me a canvas (or in this case, a well-made nylon bag), and I will paint you the world!

Stay tuned for more posts on the latest and greatest in personalized items for back-to-school!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review and giveaway: Family Dollar introduces affordable, adorable Kidgets line

Suzi Homemaker knows how expensive it can be to clothe three rapidly-growing children (because I have three rapidly-growing children!). Hand-me-downs are a God-send for my youngest; however, every once in a while it's nice to purchase something new for the littlest Homemaker. Family Dollar has made that possible and affordable with the launch of its $10-and-under private label Kidgets clothing and accessories line for newborns through toddlers--$10-and-under for two- and three-piece outfits!

Family Dollar was gracious enough to send me this darling dragonfly applique shirt and skirt outfit for Carly (pictured here, McDonald's Shrek Donkey watch not included!). Since I am Suzi Homemaker, I do know a thing or two about applique and embroidery, and I must confess the stitching on the shirt adheres to my highly-discriminatory standards. The applique fabric on the wings of the dragonfly matches the belted, plaid skirt and the little green satin ribbons on the sleeves tie the outfit together perfectly. A soft backing is fused on the inside of the shirt to prevent the stitching from irritating the skin. Carly was so excited to receive such a stylin' little outfit! I had to quickly snap her picture as I knew the garment would be soiled in no time. True to form, Carly proceeded to spill chocolate milk on the pristine shirt shortly after our brief photo session. (A little Wash Away by Whink easily removed the stain and the outfit came through the wash just fine!).

In addition to clothing, the Kidgets line also features must-have accessories, including sandals (priced at $4), sneakers ($5), blankets and even value-priced jumbo diaper packs ($6.50 for 23-50 diapers). Print a $1 off coupon (good through July 7) for even more savings. Each product is backed by Family Dollar's money back guarantee!

Now for the really fun part! Enter to win a $50 gift card from Family Dollar that you can use to purchase six to eight complete outfits from the Kidgets line or anything else from your neighborhood Family Dollar store! Just leave a comment about Family Dollar or the Kidgets line here for a chance to win! Be sure to leave your email address, too, so I can contact you if you win. Receive extra entries by:

1. Following my blog (then enter a comment that you have done so).

2. "Liking" Suzi Homemaker on Facebook (and leave a comment here. If you already "Like" Suzi Homemaker on Facebook, just mention that in a comment to receive your extra entry).

3. "Liking" Family Dollar on Facebook (tell them Suzi Homemaker sent you! and then leave a comment here).

The giveaway will close Wednesday, June 30, 2010, at 6 p.m. EST. A winner will be selected using random.org and will be notified by email. Good luck!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Country Day School is home away from home; staff preparing for next year

Second Grade Teacher Lisa Ryan spent a recent morning doing what she does at the conclusion of every school year: cleaning her classroom in preparation for the fall. Despite rumors that after nearly 30 years The Country Day School will not be able to open in September, there is no doubt in Ryan’s mind where she will be, “I’ll be right here teaching children.”

From humble beginnings

Twenty-eight years ago, a group of about 50 citizens gathered at the Zion Episcopal Church in Charles Town to discuss the formation of an independent school in the Eastern Panhandle. The meeting was initiated largely by parents from Clarke County, VA, and Jefferson County, WV, who believed that there was a strong need in this area for a traditional independent school which adhered to the highest academic standards. The result was the formation of The Country Day School, an independent non-denominational, non-profit educational corporation, open to all children with potential for real academic achievement. Situated on a picturesque 30-acre campus off Route 51 about five miles outside of Charles Town, the school provides a curriculum for Pre-School (Smart Start, the three year old program) through Eighth Grade.

As the economy has ebbed and flowed over the years, so has the school’s enrollment, which invariably leads people to speculate about the school’s stability. Heather Marshall, Director of Marketing for The Country Day School, has heard it all before.

“Like all private schools, The Country Day School has faced some challenges wrought by the economy and we have had to tighten our belts; however, one thing the school won’t budge on is academics and providing the best education we possibly can,” Marshall said.

The stuff of legends

Sue Nolan was one of the people in attendance at that initial meeting at Zion Episcopal Church.

“I never will forget hearing the bell ring at 3:15 p.m. and seeing the first students pouring out of the old farm house,” she said. “They had just completed their first day of school at The Country Day School. It was a momentous occasion to say the least.”

Nolan has been at The Country Day School ever since and has attained legendary status amongst teachers, staff and students. She teaches Classics to Kindergarten through Third Grade and Mythology to the Fourth and Fifth grade. Additionally, she handles all administrative duties in the front office and is the "voice" of The Country Day School--the voice with the charming British accent. All four of her children attended the school and went on to their respective high schools where they became members of the National Honor Society. They credit The Country Day School with instilling in them the desire to achieve their full potential.

Equally legendary is Kindergarten Teacher Atiyah Ahmed. Mention The Country Day School to someone in the surrounding community and it almost always prompts the question, "Does Mrs. Ahmed still teach there?"

"I have been here at CDS since 1985 and every day has been a learning experience for me," said Ahmed. "I love working for a school that has such a dynamic team of teachers and an atmosphere that encourages teachers to not only learn from each other, but from the students as well."

And what the Kindergarteners learn from Ahmed during the course of the school year is nothing short of amazing. Under Ahmed's caring tutelage, children emerge fully capable of reading, writing and performing arithmetical equations.

Ahmed's own three sons attended The Country Day School and have gone on to become a cardiologist, a pulmonologist and a human resources analyst.

"CDS prepared them immensely well by giving them the skill set for professional and personal success," said Ahmed.

The proof is in the pudding - and test scores

Students at The Country Day School consistently outscore their peers in the Eastern Panhandle and the rest of West Virginia by 15 to 20 percent in math and reading, according to state WESTEST results. The school builds on the basics with an eye toward the future, offering foreign languages, computer and science labs, art and music programs and physical education. Small class sizes ensure that children receive individualized lesson plans that are tailored to their specific strengths while providing additional support for specific weaknesses.

“We enrolled our son into CDS for Junior Kindergarten because we were impressed with the personal attention he would receive due to the small class sizes, the number of specials offered, the expanse of the campus, and the freedom teachers and administrators enjoy when planning curriculum and special events by not being tied to public school restraints,” said parent Jen Rolston. “CDS has been very nurturing in our son's education—they have embraced his active spirit and instilled in him the joys of learning. Academically, we couldn't be more pleased--he began reading in Junior K and Kindergarten and is now, just after completing the Second Grade, reading above a Sixth Grade level.”

Students in all grade levels excel. Recent Eighth Grade graduate Jessica Shakesprere was one of five students from Jefferson County to win the prestigious Golden Horseshoe Award for outstanding knowledge of West Virginia history and culture, among other honors.

Walk a mile in the shoes of a kindergartener

At last week’s Graduation and Awards Ceremony, one kindergartener, cloaked in blue cap and gown ready to receive his diploma, became overwrought with stage fright. As the child’s mother and teacher tried desperately to console him, the calming influence came from a fourth grade classmate who went up to the boy and hugged him with reassurance. She had been in his shoes five years earlier and offered some sage advice for combating his fears. Twenty minutes later the boy ran excitedly across the stage to accept a citizenship award, with no trace of anxiety, as the entire student body—beaming fourth grader included--cheered him on.

Moments such as this are more the rule than the exception at the school that teaches students reason, responsibility and respect for themselves and the world around them. The children know each other by name and all support one another and celebrate each others' achievements. It is not uncommon for the children to unwind in the afternoon with a pickup game of kickball--all ages intermixed--or for an upper school classmate to help one of their younger counterparts with a homework problem during after care. Lunches are shared on picnic tables outside Founders Hall and all adults are greeted with smiles and salutations from the students.

Home away from home

Not only do the students forge lifelong friendships, but the parents and staff at The Country Day School do as well. Parental involvement is encouraged and relied upon heavily, not just academically, but also in the day-to-day operations. Parents pitch in to maintain the school grounds and facilities, spearhead fundraising events, read to lower school students and teach afterschool clubs, among other activities.

Bunco groups have formed, group happy hours are commonplace, birthdays and other milestones are celebrated collectively, families have attended overnight campouts on school grounds and get-togethers over the summer help keep everyone connected.

“It’s a community in every sense of the word,” said Ryan, who has taught Junior Kindergarten through Second Grade at the school for the past eight years. “We love our students and have grown to love their families, as well. We have celebrated together and we support one another. I can’t imagine teaching any place else.”

To learn more about The Country Day School, visit the school's website, or attend an enrollment Open House, held the fourth Wednesday of every month, from 9 to 11 a.m., at the school located at 449 Rose Hill Drive, Kearneysville.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wedding gift ideas from Suzi Homemaker

We are in the midst of wedding season and I am reminded of the day nearly nine years ago when I wed my best friend, Steve. (This was before I quit my "real" job to become Suzi Homemaker.) We all know how expensive weddings can be and it seems when you attach the term "wedding" to any gift or item it seems to ratchet the price up tenfold. We did our best to cut costs where possible, but when it came to gifts for our attendants, there weren't too many affordable options.

Not long ago, one of the brides I worked with last year shared some photographs of items I embroidered for her wedding. This particular bride had some great ideas for saving money and I was all too happy to work with her to help make her day special. My bride had seen some personalized, full-zip warm-up suits in a bridal magazine that retailed for more than a $100 a piece. Full-zip warm up suits are easy to slip in and out of for a day at the spa or the day of the wedding, making hair and makeup a snap. She had wanted to purchase three--one for herself and one each for her maid and matron of honor--but the cost was prohibitive. She found some similar warm-up suits in a discount store and brought them to me for personalization. She wound up saving more than $200.

As another gift for her bridesmaids, my clever bride purchased personalized market totes, and filled them with the warm-up suits, hair spray, cosmetic bags, bottled water, snacks and all of the other wedding necessities. Her bridesmaids had everything they needed in one convenient, stylish tote which they will be able to use most every day.

I then worked with my bride to create some mementos for her parents and future in-laws. I purchased some handkerchiefs from one of my vendors and stitched a fall leaf (since the wedding was in October), along with the date of the wedding and the recipient's title (Mother of the Bride, etc.).

The wedding was such a success, that I am happy to report that there is a Babycape in the couple's future!

Photographs courtesy Studio C Photography in Frederick, MD!!!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Suzi Homemaker to coupon in style with tote from Stylin' Binders!!!!

I am an on-again, off-again couponer. I go through phases where I'm either clipping every coupon in sight, or not bothering at all. It seems as if I slack off when I am overscheduled because it's always such a hassle and time-drain to go through the circulars, clip the coupons, sort them out and file them in my lame coupon organizer (pictured at right). And when I am in a rush, it just takes too long to go through the envelope in the store.

Recently I was inspired to pick up the scissors again when a friend of mine on Facebook was touting her coupon savings. She paid $10.72 for some items at Target and saved $112!!!! The gauntlet had been thrown!

I immediately went to Coupons.com, printed off a dozen or so sheets of coupons and shoved them in this floral ensemble (pictured left) because I could not find my organizer on that particular day. What a disaster--both fashionably and functionally--as the coupons were just shoved in there in no particular order and I wound up not using a couple because they I couldn't find them. I knew it was time to get serious.

I went back to Facebook and saw that my friend had friended Mad Coupons. So I went and friended them, as well. On this particular day Mad Coupons had posted a photo and a link to a site that had these gorgeous totes from Stylin' Binders that are specially-designed to hold your money-saving coupon binders. I ordered one right away! Created by two moms, Kelli and Melissa, the bags are designed to hold either two- or three-inch binders (which you can purchase inexpensively at WalMart). There are side flaps that allow you to fully open your notebook and place in the basket of your shopping cart. There are also two pockets on the inside cover to hold money, pens, store cards and debit cards. Each bag is really well-made, and lined with interfacing and cotton batting to make it durable. You can use either photo album inserts or baseball card sleeves to organize your coupons. (I have 4 x 6 photo inserts in mine as I have yet to locate the baseball card sleeves.) I use dividers to separate the coupons into different groups, such as Canned Goods, Pet Supplies, Dairy, etc. Each coupon has its own slot, so there's no more rooting around in an envelope.

Ready-made totes are available on Kelli and Melissa's Etsy storefront--Chic Chick Designs. The ladies also do custom orders on any fabric of your choice. Since I am Suzi Homemaker, I just had to monogram my Stylin' Binder tote! I used a cream-colored thread and embellished my monogram with a design that was similar to the one in the fabric. Now I am just waiting to receive my advertising circulars from Mad Coupons and I will be all set to go couponing in style!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dozens of children go missing in Eastern Panhandle following crippling snow; parents surprisingly subdued, satiated

Dozens of children have been reported missing in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia following a crippling snowstorm that dumped nearly three feet of snow in the area, requiring residents to shelter in place.

Charles Town Police became suspicious when they noticed a sharp decline in the number of 911 calls from parents who had had enough and were begging to be dug out of their homes for fear of harming their children, many of whom had not been outside for days. One parent had been telephoning almost hourly up until the day before yesterday when all calls ceased.

"The screaming and the bickering was quite overwhelming," said Suzi Crowder, mother of Sophie, 8, Max, 5, and Carly, 3 (pictured above). "Most days I can handle it with a combination of medication and aggressive wine therapy, but after being shut in with them for nearly five days straight, I just kind of snapped."

Crowder, who offered no explanation as to her children's whereabouts, appeared surprisingly calm as she led police through her home in the Locust Hill subdivision. There was no evidence of a forced entry; however, the home was in complete disarray. Toys were strewn about, laundry was piled up to the ceiling and dirty dishes covered nearly every inch of counter space. A police officer was seen bagging up a dog-eared version of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," which appeared to be covered in a red substance, reportedly Frank's Hot Sauce.

No suspects have been taken in for questioning as it appears no crime has been committed. Police remain baffled. Persons with information on the children's whereabouts are urged to keep it to themselves.

Monday, February 1, 2010

My heart belongs to Fresh & Easy this Valentine's Day

When my e-friend, Allison, from Fresh & Easy asked if I'd be interested in sampling some sweet treats just in time for Valentine's Day, I was all too willing to oblige! I started banking calories at my fitness boot camp in anticipation of my package's arrival!

Unfortunately, a nasty stomach bug worked its way through my family and derailed my taste-test plans, but once the family recovered, I got to work.

If you recall from my earlier post, Fresh & Easy grocery stores currently are providing reasonably-priced, wholesome foods to customers in Arizona, California and Nevada. They offer a wide range of their own brand products and prepared meals that contain no artificial colors, flavors or trans fat, without the hefty price tag commonly associated with healthy foods. Additionally, they carry many top name brand products to meet families' needs.

My recent care package contained a couple bottles of wine, Swiss truffles, a chocolate bar and snickerdoodles.

Let it be known, I'm no stranger to wine, and enjoy most varieties, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Shiraz. You can imagine my joy when I found a bottle of McGuigan Hand Made Barossa Shiraz nestled in the shipping box. Made from Shiraz grapes grown in the Barossa region of South Australia, I immediately noticed the fruity aroma when I uncorked the bottle. I'm used to a more peppery Shiraz, so the rich plum and berry tastes were a bit of a surprise, but not at all unpleasant. Although the folks from Fresh & Easy recommended that the wine be served with red meat or mature cheeses, I paired mine with some Wensleydale cheese with cranberries that was left over from Christmas and the tartness of the cranberries seemed to mellow the fruitiness of the wine. Before I knew it, the bottle and the cheese were both gone! (Note: Lest you think I'm a lush, my mom and dad, Sue and Larry Homemaker, joined me!)

The Montcadi Cava Rose sparkling wine screams "Valentine's Day," with it's rich, rose color, strawberry aroma and playful bubbles. Made from grapes grown in Spain's Cava region, I can easily see this wine paired with a nice pasta with shrimp or chicken and a tomato cream sauce (I think I just decided my menu for V-day!), although it would work well with light appetizers and most any meal. Both of these wines currently are on sale for $8.99 and $4.99 (can you believe it?) respectively.

The Sweet Boutique Gourmet Swiss Truffles were so creamy and delicious that I had to hide them from my kids. Go eat your M&M's, kiddos, these heavenly chocolates are reserved for Daddy and me!!! I especially liked the fact that they easily can be split in two for the calorie-conscious consumer, tho I much preferred to pop them whole in my mouth (I did drop a few pounds with that stomach bug, so I needed to recoup)! A bargain at $3.99, these little gems are the perfect gift for your sweetheart.

For Valentines who prefer a more robust (translation = LARGE) chocolate, there is the Fresh & Easy One Huge Hunk Chocolate Bar with Pecans and Fruit. I cannot recall ever seeing a chocolate bar as large as this one--almost sent me into a sugar-induced coma just looking at it! Made with smooth Belgian milk chocolate, I had no trouble sharing this sweet treat with the Homemaker offspring, as there was more than enough for the three of them, myself, my hubby and the mail carrier, not to mention the rest of the kids on the block.

The Fresh & Easy Snickerdoodle Cookies included in the package made me mad at my mother, as they reminded me that she forgot to make my grandmother's recipe this year for Christmas. Snickerdoodles are my all-time favorite cookie, and next to my Baba's, these rank right up there on the Taste-O-Meter, just ahead of the ones I recall served with the spaghetti and meat sauce lunch at South Lake Elementary School. Ahh, memories...sigh!

Valentine's Day is a little under two weeks away, so that gives you plenty of time to scoot on over to your neighborhood Fresh & Easy market to pick up some great-tasting, wholesome and affordable gifts. A gourmet gift from Fresh & Easy is sure to pay off with plenty of hugs and kisses from your Valentine!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Susan G. Komen fundraiser--yes, I cheated!!!

Today (or I guess yesterday is more accurate since it's after midnight!) I participated in a fundraiser for some friends who are participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk in October (it's not cheating--it's all toward the greater good!).

It was a nice event--a vendor showcase at a local hotel. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to leave her calling card and whallup us with eight inches of snow!! Still, I met a lot of nice people and had the opportunity to learn more about one of my friend's previous walks. I was telling her how emotional I get whenever I receive a donation and said I am probably going to be crying the entire weekend of the walk. She started telling me some of her stories. She told me how people cheer you on and at the end of the walk, participants will remove one of their shoes and hold them up in tribute to people who have battled breast cancer. She also told me how the first year, a man came up to her crying and hugged and thanked her for walking for his wife who had died just a month earlier. The next thing I know I'm bawling right there.

It just further reinforced what I knew when I signed up for the event: This is going to be an amazing and emotional journey. Thanks for joining me as I travel down this path toward putting an end to this disease.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Suzi Homemaker to donate 10% of 'pink' sales toward Avon 2-Day!!

Now through the end of February, Suzi Homemaker is donating 10 percent of website sales of anything pink or stitched with pink thread toward the Avon 2-Day Walk for Breast Cancer.

I registered to do this walk because I know seven women who have battled this disease and I also had a scare this past Fall. Thankfully, I am fine, but I want to help find a cure so that the next generation of women (my daughters included) will no longer live in fear of this disease.

Just go to my retail site, and order your personalized pink snack square, lunch box, market tote, duffel bag, what have you, and not only will you receive a special gift, but you also will help a great cause!

In it to end it, Baby. In it to end it!!!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Novica.com now offering microloans to world artisans

Obtaining capital to run a small business is tough enough in this economy, but imagine being an entrepreneur in an underdeveloped country where funding is nonexistent.

A couple months back, I wrote a post on Novica.com. Novica, in association with National Geographic, provides a platform for artists and artisans from underprivileged nations to sell their wares--including home decor items, handbags, jewelry and other gifts--to a global audience.

Now, in an effort to further support these artisans, Novica has launched the first-ever microfinance or microcredit website where customers can purchase products and lend money directly to artisans. Microcredit is the extension of very small loans to those in poverty and is designed to spur entrepreneurship. When Novica tried to put artisans in touch with microfinance institutions, most could not obtain loans and when they did, the interest rates were too high. Novica decided to cut out the financial middleman and offer the loans on the website.

Just click on the Novica Artisan Loans button on the lefthand side of the home page, then scroll to the bottom of the page and click on View All Available Loans. You then will see the list of all artisan loan requests along with a brief biography. If you are interested in loaning to an artist, simply click on the Donate Now button next to their biography. When a specific loan request is completely filled, Novica releases the funds to the artisan through their local office. The artisan repays the interest-free loan based on the repayment terms and at the end of the loan period the lenders receive their funds back. As with any loan, there is a slight risk that you will not get your money back; however, all artisans selected for the loan program are actively selling on Novica and are believed to not pose any threat of defaulting.

Many artisans in the Novica microfinance program already have had their loans fully funded and are now using the funds to purchase materials to continue their craft. One such artist, Sukartini, recently received her funds.

"Today I work together with local silversmiths to promote Bali's beauty in our own way," she said. "We make different kinds of jewelry, mostly with sterling silver, in both traditional and modern styles. I was fortunate to find Novica, a place where small artisans like me can share our new ideas and designs, and have a chance to be appreciated by people from all over the world."

Now is the perfect time to show your appreciation for the many talented artisans featured on the Novica site--either through purchasing their handiwork or by helping them fulfill their dream through the Artisan Loan Program. Stop by the site, and experience for yourself the stories of the artists behind the creations while picking up some unique gifts for the loved ones in your life or for yourself.