Michelle Smiles

Teaching my children to question authority, except mine.

Frugal Tip of the Day


I’ve been covering my walls with pretty things since the days of Teen Beat tear out posters of Scott Baio and Ricky Schroder.  I later graduated to Bon Jovi and Motley Crue.  By college, I had moved on to Monet and travel posters.  Now my taste in wall art, like most things, is eclectic but I still love to hang things I love to look at on my walls.  I have many prints collected over the years rolled up in tubes waiting for me to hit the lottery because it is expensive to have things professionally framed.  As I’ve mentioned, I will soon have some new walls to decorate (assuming all continues to go well) but we didn’t win the lottery so I’m not suddenly able to frame them all.

I’ve bought very little fun house stuff in the past 4 years because we have felt very transient here in Nashville up until now.  But fter the flooding this spring, there were many different efforts to raise money to aid flood victims.  One was a cute poster that depicted some of the downtown Nashville skyline.  I liked it and it on the small side so I bought it.  When it arrived, it was an odd size (10″ x 17″ I believe).

If the print/poster you want to frame is 24″x36″ or smaller, you can frame it pretty inexpensively.  Hobby Lobby has its poster frames on sale 50% off this week (if you like anything at Hobby Lobby and wait 3-6 weeks, it will be 40% or 50% off at some point).  I took my print to Hobby Lobby.  I found a 16″x20″ frame that I thought suited it.  At the framing counter, I asked for a custom cut mat.  The clerk helped me pick a color and decide how to cut the mat to best suit the print.  Ten minutes later, he had not only cut the mat, he put the print in and papered the back and put hanging hardware and the little feet so it doesn’t scratch my wall – all at no additional charge.  (I didn’t even ask – he just did it.)

Frame originally $40 on sale for $20 and the mat was $9.99 = $30 for a framed piece to hang on my wall.  Not bad.

I’ve had custom mats cut before to frame odd shaped items in ready made frames but I’ve never done it at Hobby Lobby so I had no idea that they would actually do the framing and put on hanging hardware for me for free.  The clerk also said that if I bring in a painted canvas and purchase an open backed frame, they will clip the canvas into the frame, paper the back, and put hanging hardware on free of charge.  Good to know considering I’ve had a little bit of a painting fetish lately.

posted under Crafty | 4 Comments »

House News


As of today, the last contingency was removed from our contract so unless something happens to make our funding fall through or the seller completely wig out and just don’t show up to sign the papers and hand over the keys, it looks like we are buying ourselves a house.

The inspection was done 2 weeks ago.  The inspector (who is known to be picky) joked that it was such a great house and in such great shape that if our deal fell through he would happily buy it.  The only findings were incredibly minor: a toilet valve because one of the toilets run, the shower head in the master bath needs tightened, and some dirt needs filled in one corner where the sidewalk and driveway meet because it has eroded away a bit.  Seriously, that was all.  I can find more than that wrong with the house I am currently living in.

Our appraisal was done last week and we received the report today.  It was appraised for a little more than we are paying for it and no repairs are required.

I’m excited to have a decent dining area again – we will have a big dining room (although please know that they use a fish eye lens for these photos – the rooms aren’t as big as they look) as well as an informal dining area.  This photo is taken standing in the foyer.  That is the front door and dining room.  The door way on the left of the photo is the butlers pantry (HA!).

This is the living room (not as huge as it looks – I swear).  To the right is the informal dining area.  The bright room in the back is my favorite room – the florida room.  It makes me smile.

The kitchen.  I will miss my island but I am not going to lack in counter space or cabinet space.  It is actually a little embarrassing how big it is.  I would love to change the hardware but would probably need a home equity line of credit to buy that many knobs and pulls. I am gah gah for the floors.  The cabinets…might end up painted.  They are the builder’s standard and I’m not in love with them but we shall see.  The counter tops are black granite.

To the right is the butlers pantry again (HA! Yes I laugh every time I say it).

So there you have it…a little more of a peek into our new digs.  I will probably share more as we get closer because I’m excited and because I love seeing houses so I assume some of you do too.

posted under Misc. | 22 Comments »

Vacations then and now


We spent last week in Corolla, NC.  It was the first vacation we’ve had in over 3 years so it was much needed.  We rented a big house in the Outer Banks with my in-laws.  OBX is a really long drive from Nashville so we broke it up into 2 days each way.  During the many, many, many hours on the road, I was thinking how road trips and vacation have changed for me in the past 10 years.

Then: I made sure I had lots of mixed tapes or CDs (depending on the decade) and some audio books for the road trip.

Now: We bought a DVD player and listened to Nemo, Ariel, Aladin, Tiana, and other assorted characters. The radio wasn’t turned on once. I may never be able to permanently remove the lyrics of “Ain’t Never Had a Friend like Me” from my brain.  I’ve been singing it for 12 days now.

Then: I had a stash of cigarettes, diet soda, and junk food for the trip.

Now: A stash of goldfish, juice boxes, and a cooler with yogurt and grapes keep the girls happy.

Then: I made as few stops as possible on the road – as long as I had my smokes and some tunes I was good to go.

Now: I am held hostage by a 4 year old bladder, diaper changes, and the need to feed the girls something with nutritional value every few hours.

Then: I spent hours on the beach reading mindless novels and baking in the sun while listening to the waves crash.  I was determined to return home with a burn tan to prove I had just vacationed at the beach.

Now: I wear SPF 85 and a hat and a tshirt and sit under an umbrella.  Sun poisoning sucks. So do wrinkles. No one would guess I just spent 7 days at the ocean.

Then: I plopped into a beach chair, put on my sunglasses, and relaxed.  Not a care in the world while at the beach.

Now: I spent my limited time on the beach fretting about the children getting sunburned or drowning.  I rarely sat because Tessa seemed determined to dive into the ocean and swim to Africa.

Then: A week in the sun left my skin fried clear and glowing.

Now: A week of sun screen left me with the first zits I’ve had in ages.

Then: It was all about coming home with some great stories from my vacation.

Now: It is all about making great memories for my girls.

posted under family, travel | 11 Comments »

Not just a blogging vacation – a real one


We did a lot of this:

To get here:

To do some of this:

And a lot of this:

Then we spent a lot more time doing this:

Now we have to do a lot of this:


posted under travel | 5 Comments »

First Day of Preschool


Sabrina was up shortly after 6 am.  She was very excited to start her first day of school.  She came downstairs fully dressed in an outfit she chose for herself.  We snuggled in my bed and talked about the coming day.  We packed her lunch and readied her school bag.  A quick breakfast and off we went.

Sabrina bravely walked into her class and greeted her new teacher.  We settled her bag into her cubby and her lunch into the lunch bag spot.  After a quick kiss and goodbye, Tessa and I left her.  She was momentarily startled to realize that we were really going to just leave her there but quickly recovered her excitement.

Why yes, I did cry after I left Sabrina at her preschool.  But I did make it to the privacy of my car first.

I felt that having a minor emotional meltdown in the lobby might put the final shine on my plaque declaring me “that mom“.  I was disappointed with how they handled orientation and some other administrative issues.  I shared that disappointment via a long email to the school yesterday.  Then my husband chimed in.  So yeah, I have to regain some ground before they realize that I am really not “that mom“.  I don’t hover.  I don’t smother.  I don’t think my children are perfect angels.  I don’t expect her (or me) to be coddled or babied.  I just expect a certain level of competence and professionalism.  I figured they might want me to express it to them rather than the community at large.

Anywhooo, back to my emotional meltdown.  I was shiny-eyed as I left but no tears.  I got into the car and started crying the moment I put it into gear.  Tessa was calling in a bewildered tone “Ni-ni, Ni-ni” from the back seat.  I cried as I drove to Target. And I cried as I started wandering through the store – much to the chagrin of the 19 year old stock boy who asked if I was finding everything okay.  Then suddenly, I realized I had been browsing for 10 minutes and hadn’t once had to say “Keep your hands to yourselves”.  I smiled to myself.  Huh…a momma could get used to this shopping with only 1 child thing.

posted under parenting | 13 Comments »

Pesto w/o Pine Nuts


For years, I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t love pesto.  Basil, garlic, cheese, olive oil?  I should want to bathe in it.  But every time I had it, I just wasn’t a big fan.  After I ate another dish containing pine nuts, I realized the problem was that I really dislike pine nuts.  And my love affair with pesto began.   I mentioned this on Facebook a few weeks ago and my college friend Laurie asked for the recipe.  Anytime someone asks for a recipe, I feel a little panicky.  I really do want to share – I love sharing how to make good and simple dishes.  But unless I plan ahead of time to share something, I never measure anything.  I might glance at some recipes to get some ratios in my head but then I just do it and adjust until it tastes/looks like it should.  I made it again and tried to pay a little more attention to how much I put in but pesto is one of those things that you really can’t mess up.  Be aware that the consistency can vary greatly.  Some people make it with A LOT of olive oil and it becomes a sauce.  Mine tends to be closer to a loose paste consistency but when put over warm pasta the cheese melts and it becomes more sauce-like.  (I just don’t like it too oily.)  Feel free to keep adding oil until you get the consistency you want.


Fresh Basil (2 cups-ish of leaves) – you can also add other fresh herbs you like…I threw in a little parsley

Parmesan or Asiago cheese – 2-3 oz

Nuts of your choosing – I used a generous 1/2 cup of walnuts and 1/4 cup pistachios (toasted quickly in a hot skillet)

3 cloves fresh garlic

3 Tablespoons Water

Olive Oil (between 1/4 and 1/3 cup)

Juice of 1/2 a lemon (helps keep color green and adds acid) OR a tablespoon balsamic vinegar for acid

Salt is option – the cheese is pretty salty so I tend not to add any

Throw everything except the Olive Oil into the food processor and combine.  After it combines, drizzle in your oil (with food processor running) until you hit the consistency that seems right for you.  Taste it.  If you taste too much cheese or nut, add more basil.   I ended up adding another small handful of basil in addition to the strainer pictured above.

Toss it with the pasta of your choosing. We had it with chicken sausages and a green salad.

This makes enough for several meals.  It can also be frozen.  You can freeze small portions in ice cube trays and use the cubes in soups and sauces in the winter for a nice, bright flavor.  I also like it spread on sandwiches instead of mustard or mayo.

posted under food | 4 Comments »

Going All In


Anyone whose husband has fallen asleep on the couch with a poker tournament on the television has likely heard the players say they are going all in.  We’ve been in TN for over 3 years now so we decided the time has come for going all in.  We are giving up the safety of renting, the pipe dream of moving back to the ‘Burgh, and buying a house.  Or at least we are trying to – you just never know how things will turn out.

We hadn’t planned to buy a house for another 8 months but we happened upon one we fell in love with.  It has everything we want and more.  The ‘and more’ is actually the only thing wrong with the house – we didn’t want one this large.  We’ve baffled many realtors and builders by declaring other houses too large for our needs.  We weren’t looking for the biggest house we could afford (you have to clean and furnish all of that space) – we were looking for one that felt like it could be home and suited the way we live.  We like our current town a lot aside from 2 things: 2 homogeneous and all of the cookie cutter houses in subdivisions.  We’ve decided the pros outweigh those 2 cons but home shopping is a little boring because there aren’t many unique houses (home owners associations frown upon unique).  But this house and 2 others that are similar were built to be models for a new phase in a development. The home owners saw them and threw a fit – there were too different! They didn’t fit in with the aesthetic.  The builder sold those 3 houses and went back to building the lovely (but cookie cutter) brick houses that graced the rest of the neighborhood.   Wouldn’t you know that the rebel houses are the ones that we love above all others?

I was planning on posting some photos of the cute house but I’m a little uncomfortable doing that.  I’m certainly not super anonymous here but I also don’t go out of my way to advertise how to come and stalk my family.  (Scary stalk not friendly cyber friend stalk.)  I’ve shared the link of photos with some friends on facebook and you’ll get to see lots of interior photos in the coming months…but I don’t feel good about plastering the front of our hopefully new house on the net.  Trust me – it is cute (some how it seems wrong to call my rebel house cute – but it is).

Features I am especially in love with: balcony off the the master bedroom – perfect for quiet Sunday paper reading and coffee sipping (isn’t it cute how I pretend my kids might allow such a thing?), the pantry is bigger than my current laundry room – we can actually put our chest freezer in the pantry…don’t believe me? that photo with the stool is the pantry, the kitchen is ginormous, there is a sunny little Florida room that makes me smile just thinking about it, and a room that we can make a play room so that my living room no longer has to look like Toys R Us.   Also? Without question, woman was involved in the design of this house – there are closets everywhere.  Even in the powder room.  And my bedroom closet might have made me openly weep the first time I saw it.  The girls favorite thing?

That’s 2 slides with swings in between.  They can hardly wait to call it their own personal playground.  And I get to sit here and watch them play:

A covered back porch that doesn’t get afternoon sun – an awesome thing here on the surface of the sun in the south.

I am feeling pretty optimistic about things because we signed the contract on Friday…but the sellers have a history of flaking out even after having signed a contract so we can’t call it ours until the keys are in our hands.  Closing is set for the first week of October if all goes well.  The house inspection is tomorrow.

posted under nashville | 8 Comments »

Winners & Boots & a Hat


I pulled 5 winners with the help of the random number generator (Alleen, Cathy, Stacy, Krista, and Lethea) and have notified the winners via email.  Thanks for entering.

Consolation for everyone else – a couple of cute photos.

Daddy insisted that Sabrina needed these adorable boots for the fall/winter.  It took a lot of convincing to get Sabrina to stop wearing the in this 100 degree heat.  She insisted I take a photo of her new boots before she took them off.

posted under family | Comments Off on Winners & Boots & a Hat

Birthday fun


I thought I would share the photos from Tessa’s birthday while the rest of the blogsphere is talking about heading to NYC for BlogHer.

Awesome to see this after last year’s birthday when I was freaking out because she wouldn’t eat solids yet.  She ate the whole darn cupcake this year…after licking off all of the whipped cream on top first.

She had her 2 year doctor appointment.  She is 22.5 lbs which is the 5th %tile for weight…up from the 4th %tile at her last check.  She is now in the 25th %tile for height.  The doctor was comfortable with where she is but not enough to say “See you in a year!”  We will go back for another check in 6 months.  I discussed my concerns about her verbal delays.  He said it is likely nothing but just to be sure referred us for a hearing check to rule out any issues there.  And he said we should call Early Intervention for an evaluation and if while we are likely waiting months for the appointment, if her language suddenly explodes we can cancel it.

posted under family | 6 Comments »

Breyers Smooth & Dreamy Giveaway


I might have mentioned once or twice or eleventy billion times that I love ice cream.  Really.  Love it.  A lot.  I like to have a little ice cream treat before bed and I’ve been trying to make it less of a caloric hit.  As a result, I’ve been trying some of the different brands of ice cream sandwiches and bars to control the portion.

I had a chance to try the Breyers Smooth & Dreamy Vanilla Fudge Brownie ice cream sandwich.  It comes it at 160 calories and 4 grams of fat per sandwich.  They were  a nice size and pretty satisfying.  I liked them but they aren’t my favorite of the different brands I have tried.  Just a personal preference because they were good and you better believe I ate them.  I also thought they were a little pricey but I tend to think most ice cream treats are a little pricey these days.

Want a chance to try them for FREE and make up your own mind?  I have 5 coupons to give away for a free box of the Breyers Smooth & Dreamy Ice Cream Bars or Sandwiches.  Leave a comment telling me which you like better – ice cream bars or ice cream sandwiches. (I’m an ice cream sandwich girl all the way…once the chocolate coating is off the bar I have little use for it.)  There are 5 coupons here on my dining table so your chances are pretty good to win one!

**Edited to add: I will choose 5 random winners on Thursday morning – 08/05/10.  Comments will be accepted until 9am on Thursday.

I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Breyer’s Smooth & Dreamy and received a coupon for a free sample to facilitate my candid review. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate. Opinions are my own.

posted under food | 34 Comments »