Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hand Bags, Console Tables, and Cheesecake

Dear Readers,

Writing, well good writing, especially in cyber blogging halls is fun when you come by it. Good writing is the perfect mix of concept and execution. Then there is that little space where writing goes beyond that and excites you, the reader. The story peeks its head from inside the door and begs you to come in again and reread it, just in case you missed anything. It’s when after the first line, the reader trusts the writer to tell a good story all the way through.

Readers know cyber chasing good bits of writing is the same reason you’ll follow the Asian retailer into her back room in search of the perfect knock-off on Canal Street. It’s because she might lead you to that place, that’s always been there but today it’s filled with designer handbags at mainstream prices.

For those who aren’t really into handbags, finding good writing may be more like being attracted to something hand made. A beautifully carved console table that doesn’t even wobble, or maybe it does and that’s just how you like it.

It could be that piece of cheesecake you’ve been craving, where each word melts in your mouth.

And in a sea of writers that perform assignment after assignment there will shine a beacon of light. A well-written idea that plays with your mind. It will take you to a spot you already knew existed but today is full of handbags and a handmade table, where you’re free to just melt with the words.

This is what I hope for my readers. I hope you trust me, I hope these stories beg you to come back. I hope to lead you to places that wake you up, and that make you laugh (out loud even) or help you realize your dreams.

I would like to announce that I will be interviewing people who are following their dreams and doing it with success. I hope you visit often to catch these interviews as they happen. I’ve titled the series “Dream Catcher” and the first interview in the series is below. I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to see you again soon!

Sincerely, Amy

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dream Catchers: Layla Palmer

By Amy Platon

Do you believe in unicorns? No? I don’t either. But now I think I could probably be talked into it…if the story was really convincing. I would probably also require some sort of proof. Yup. I could probably be talked into believing in unicorns.

Well, I have someone to introduce. Her name is Layla Palmer. Have you heard of her? If not, then swing on by her blog. She started it in May last year and has gained quite a following. She launched it to document the renovation of her little cottage. She thought she’d use it as a cyber photo album. She also thought she’d share her design ideas with others who might need a little inspiration in redecorating their own homes. Turns out there are about 700 "others" and countless more who are being inspired daily by Layla’s design ideas.

She hasn’t always been a designer. When she was a kid she had a super ornate canopy bed with french blue floral bedding, ruffles and all. (Although in the 80’s that was probably perfectly acceptable for a young girl’s bedroom). Today though, she says bedrooms are her favorite room to design. And believe me, they are a complete design departure from what she once called home.

Bedrooms are probably her thing, because she has spent a lot of time in them. Layla has a condition called Palindromic Rheumatism. For months at a time, all of her joints fill with fluid to excruciating levels. Leaving her debilitated to the point that she can barely walk, open her mouth, turn her head, or lift her arms. But through it all, Layla’s unicorn stood in the distance of her mind.

And her bedroom today… well, pretty bare. She calls it irony, but I call it celebrating. Since her flair-ups have slacked off quite a bit, she is spending less time in her bedroom. I don’t blame her; I wouldn’t be in a rush to design it either.

About four months before she started her blog, Layla decided that she was tired of working outside her dream path. She wrote down her goals on specific terms. And now, a year later, she is not only a successful interior designer with a popular blog, but reaching even higher. She wants to be the next Design Star for HGTV. And I, for one, believe she will do it.

For Layla, her unicorn was this dream that she would be a designer. Her really-convincing-story is that she is pain free right now, today. Her proof is her gradual success.

Unicorns? Ok, yeah. I guess I’ve got one to go feed.

See the Kitchen Redesign Layla did for me.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Slowing Down

By Amy Platon

My husband and I celebrated our 7th anniversary last night. We shuffled the kids to their first sleep over at a friend’s house, and got all dressed up for a night of, he didn’t tell me so I didn’t know where, excitement.

I don’t usually like surprises, but in cases like our anniversary, I have to say surprises give me just that little spark of first-date flutter that is oh so appropriate for just this occasion.

My guy isn’t so great at directions, so it was easy to decode his attempts to confuse me. We were headed east on I-4 so I knew we weren’t going toward Disney.

That was a small relief. In the past we have celebrated at some fabulous Disney restaurants, but it is a little disappointing to arrive at your four star dinner plans surrounded by a bunch of sunburned people in polos, jeans and extra white sneakers. Disney’s not-so strict dress code has tourists believing that getting dressed up on your vacation is accomplished by merely covering up. Super distracting for me, because I’m left wondering if the polo is cutting into their bright red flesh, when I should be focused on how wonderful my husband looks.

So, no Disney, cause we’re headed east. I checked my curls in the mirror, and I blurted “Season’s 52.” As he says, “How did you know?”

“I don’t know.” But I’m super excited now, cause I’ve heard really great things about this place and it’s on the other side of town and off our radar for general dining options.

As we walked up for our 6:30 tee-time (I say that cause I hear that Tiger Woods likes this place and visits often when he’s in town) we were serenaded by the rock garden waterfall feature. Enormous twin cabinet doors (oak maybe) flanked us as we entered. The interior was elegant and spacious two of my personal favorites. We were seated immediately, and greeted by our ultra efficient server.

My eyes landed on the menu placed before me. To my surprise, the prices were moderate and averaged about $18 per entrée, and $10 for aps. I was liking this place already. Now, if only the food was as great as I had heard, then we could call this an anniversary.

Side note: With the moderate price point, as you probably suspected, I was once again surrounded by jeans and polos. But this time we were not as out of place, given our healthy subtle skin tone. But by the 7th attempt at creating a night for ourselves, my husband and I have learned not to over do it. It’s not like I arrived in a Taffeta homecoming dress or anything. So even among the casual diners, we didn’t stand out too much.

We started off with some yellow fin tuna. As we took our time with each bite of our appetizer I realized that food had never tasted so good as it did just then on my tongue. And do you know why? It’s because we didn’t have our children with us. Our focus was the food and this night was about slowing down. Even sitting here now I can remember the way my fork looked sinking into every bite I took.

Everything was cooked to perfection. My lamb chops were tender and my husband’s swordfish was delicate.

I often tell my son that if he likes the way something tastes, he should close his eyes and chew slowly, so he can absorb the whole experience of the food. And with each bite my eyes were closed-wide open (I wouldn’t want to risk embarrassing my self).

Desert was presented before us in double shot glasses. No big-huge over-indulgence here, just enough. It’s just what you’re looking for, and then some, 'cause you have about eight different choices, so you’re bound to fall in love with something (or something-s). Their desert presentation is like standing in front of your fridge with the door open. Why decide? Try it all. You won’t be disappointed.

We wrapped up our night with a few cocktails at the bar and my husband even caught the end of the game. There was even a piano player. It was a perfect evening. And now I gotta go-dinner’s boiling over, Olivia is crying for her toy, and the dishes need to be put away. I’m already looking forward to next year!

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Still Learning

by Amy Platon

So my husband turned 40 this year and I couldn’t afford to get him a mid-life crisis sports car. And before I could do anything like that, I would have to make sure that the bucket seats had the right lumbar support for his aching back. He also turned down my request to throw him a really-great live-band birthday-bash to honor the occasion. Guess that’s why most of the 40th BD parties are of the surprise variety.

So, what did I get for him? You ask. Well, I got him two tickets to see a dinosaur exhibit/show, which he really liked because he secretly wanted to be a paleontologist as a kid. Only back then he called it diggin’ in the dirt for bones (how do I say that in Tagalog?). Thing is, he had a last minute flight scheduled for the same day as the show so my plan turned to unexcavated dust.

But this guy is super understanding and so I just left it at that. I showed him all the pictures of the event when he got home, and he added a couple of months to his growing calendar.

So when Christmas rolled around, I had just the gift for him.

It was the tall present tucked way in the back of the tree, and the last one he opened. The card read, “To my hero.” He opened it to find that I had bought him Guitar Hero for my son’s WII game system. It turns out that that gift has taught me a lot about my husband (and about myself).

First, I am incredibly impressed (and a little turned on) at just how good he is. In this game you have a guitar in your hands and you have to play the keys shown on the screen correctly to earn points. When you play the songs right, you are rewarded with more songs to choose from with increasing difficulty. The game has you build on your skills, just like in “real life.”

When I get my hands on the guitar and play, I have the option to hang out in the “easy songs” section or play some of the harder songs that he has opened up. But I choose to play the same three songs over and over again. My husband plays differently than I do. He is in constant pursuit of the next song.

I realized that that’s how we are different in life too. I’m the one trying to sharpen my skills, trying to fine tune my instrument while he, already good at what he does, pumps out work at a high rate of speed, with accuracy, but in constant pursuit of the next project.

It’s also the difference in how we drive. He’s the one that wants to just get there and I want to let the people into my lane. It’s the difference in how we shop too. He wants to stick to the list and I want to look around.

We’ve been married six years (Jan 19th) and together 11 years. I’m really surprised to have only now put my finger on how differently we approach life. Discovering this was like nailing my favorite song on Guitar Hero. Which for anyone who has played knows what a feeling that is. For me it’s a forward kick, standing jumps (usually three), a couple of head tilts, a punch to the air, and a verbal accolade “You Rock!” Words that are usually always followed by my husband, coming around from some corner saying, “Can I get a turn?”

I slip the strap over my head and hold out the guitar with a wink, “Yeah babe, do your thing.”

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Cracked (Grocery Run)

excerpt from novel
by Amy Platon

Yes, money was getting tight, but Jill had a family to provide for.

“Come on boys, we’re going to the grocery store!”

“Yes! I want to pick the cereal this time!”

They raced to the car and jumped into their seats.

Jill didn’t put on any makeup, just some deodorant and lip balm. Her hair was back from cleaning. She threw her Coach bag under her arm and they were off.

She tilted her rear view mirror as she talked to her sons.

“Boys, listen. You can have one item of your choice today. But that’s it. I will decide on the rest of the groceries. Don’t argue with me. Got it?"

They were too busy fighting over what DVD should go in the player, for the fifteen-minute ride, to have heard her.


Her patience was frayed to pieces. She felt pinned down by everyone else. She returned the rearview mirror to position and turned up the music. It helped. The kids grabbed their headphones and everyone began feeling a little better.

The begging began instantly even before Jill and her boys entered the grocery store. “Mom, we want the racing car buggy. Please!”

Jill especially hated the racing car grocery cart. It drove like a bobsled and it didn’t have enough room for large items. She felt the same way pushing it as she felt when her own mother bought a station wagon as the family car. All her dignity lost, as she pulled the seatbelt across her lap as her mom picked her up from school. Her friends chanting, “Jill’s got a grocery-getter, Jill’s got a grocery-getter.”

She gave in however, “Fine. Just get in.” After that, she felt a lot of no’s coming on.

At first they didn’t notice that she passed right by the Gatorade. She picked up the store brand apple juice instead. Then she headed to the pasta isle and stocked up store-brand style on that too. She loaded on the extra large bag of white rice. And then moved quickly on to the cereal section of the store.

“Boys look. You each can pick your own cereal but it has to be on sale. Got it?"

Their eyes lit up at all the colors. Rainbow-this and fruity-that, she felt them slipping away.

“Ok, listen I’ll give you the choices and you pick from there. OK?”

They were already gone into a what’s-the-prize trance. She appeared before them with two choices of sale cereal. Almost in slow motion, they began reaching out toward the shelves, simultaneously saying, “I waaannnttt thaaaatt onnne!”

She pushed their arms up with her elbows and darted to keep eye contact with them. She pleaded, “Pick one of these!”

But she knew in their head she was a silent picture, a puppet holding up not cereal boxes, but pom-poms cheering them on, go, boys go! What ever you want!

“Stop!” She shouted, bringing them to consciousness. “Stop! You get one of these!”

She was waiving two, not so colorful boxes in their faces. Her eyes piercing theirs, “One. Of. These!”

They looked at her in total defeat, “Whatta-you-mean?”

Her oldest boy crinkled his brow as if she was the enemy. And she was, at that very moment, according to him.

Her youngest was on the brink of tears.

Jill pressed her eyelids together at the thought of transforming into her mother.
She shook her head and rephrased her words in a way that felt more like her self.

“These are on sale. Those…” pointing to the wall of cereal bliss, “are too expensive.”

A voice popped into her head, “Hey, Jill.”

Jill spun around, “Tessa! Hi.”

“Doing some shopping with the boys?”

“Yup.” Jill positioned her bangs.

“Where’s Ben?” Jill asked, not because she cared but merely to change the subject.

“Oh he’s at my mother-in-law’s house until he leaves for camp. She wanted to spend some time with him.”

“Wow, it would be great to have one of my parent’s close by. You’re so lucky.”

“Don’t believe the hype. I’d rather pay a sitter any day of the week. They are just a little too close for comfort. You know?”

Jill envied how nonchalant her neighbor selected what she wanted from the shelves. In mid conversation even.

“No holidays or birthdays alone, just us. You know? It can be a burden, really.”

Jill daydreamed over her friend's perfectly sculpted hair, her impeccably placed jewelry, and her crisp ironed clothes. She realized that Tessa was not having any problems at all. Before, there was plenty about her friend that she wouldn’t trade, including having to sleep with her less-than-stunning husband, but now she just seemed to have it all.

For the first time Jill started to hate her. She heard the cattiness in her voice, and the bitterness about her life. Jill had to wonder, what she was actually complaining about. Tessa had it her way. She had it easy.

Jill’s mind drifted in and out of conversation with Tessa. The voice in her head pointing things out. Look at her cart, all name brand cereals, meat, and two gallons of milk. She thought. Each neatly positioned in her standard shopping cart; that looked almost like an accessory on her. Her manicured nails and long fingers wrapped the cart handle as it hoisted her three-carat engagement ring.

No, there was nothing that Tessa could say that could make Jill sympathize with her. She didn’t even have to go grocery shopping with children….

“Well, I’ll let you get back to shopping.” Tessa smiled. And almost as if she had some sort of conciliation prize to offer Jill, she joked, “See you ‘round the hood.”

What the hell? The hood? This woman is oblivious. Jackass. She flew around. Her voice held her children responsible for her mood, “Boys, pick one!”

They grabbed a box each and threw it into the cart basket.

After the cereal incident, the boys treated their mom like the traitor she was. Everything they saw they begged to have, from the PEZ dispensers to soda, to tooth paste and tooth brushes. They even begged for chew toys for the dog.

Jill stayed strong and stuck to her list, mostly.

By the time they checked out, her cart was full. She figured there was enough food for the week. She finally felt like she had accomplished something. She felt for a moment like she out smarted whatever got her into this hole.

“Boys get the groceries on the belt please.” It was a job they never seemed to mind doing. She could tell it made them feel like grown-ups.

As they piled everything on, in no particular order, Jill remembered that she left her reusable grocery bags in the car.

The cashier recited, “Paper or plastic, ma’am?”

“Neither.” Jill said as she fumbled through her purse looking for her keys. She looked up as her fingers located what felt like her keys, “I left my bags in the car, so I’ll be right back.”

The boys unloaded the cart and the cashier continued ringing it all in. The groceries piled up in the boarding area just pass the scanner. And the bagger was left with nothing to do until Jill got back with the bags. The boys took that opportunity to add some candy from the rack.

Jill hurried. And when she got back, she gave the bagger her bags, and he got started. She considered apologizing for the wait but chose not to, when she witnessed the put-out look on his face.

“$120.42 Ma’am.”

“What? That can’t be right.”

The cashier sighed and pushed the printer tape out so Jill could review the receipt. Everything looked right, until Jill got to the candy bar part which sent her rummaging through her pile of groceries. Jill glared at the cashier, “Did the boys put extra stuff on the belt?”

The cashier lifted her shoulders.

Jill sifted through the food; “Take this off, this off, this off…a DVD?”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have left them here while you went to your car.”

Jill held up the Spider Man DVD for the cashier to remove, “What did you say?”

The cashier just looked at her, and continued to delete the items.


Jill handed over her check card.

By now the boys were jumping around and playing pirates behind the bagger. Jill didn’t care what these people thought of her at this point. She just let her boys poke that bagger in the butt with their finger sword fighting.

“Here’s your receipt.” She squinted and pushed her lips up at Jill.

Jill shook her head. She could have marched right over to the manager’s desk, but she didn’t have it in her. She couldn’t fight any more battles.

Jill loaded all the groceries into the back of her car. Of course the bagger didn’t offer to walk out with her. But once she and the boys were all in, she started the car to get the air going. They all jumped at the loud music that blared from the stereo before Jill turned it down.

As she started to pull out of her parking space, she saw Tessa leaving the store. Jill couldn’t help but notice that her cart was full of plastic bags.

Jill waived. She had to. Recycler or not, Tessa was on the HOA board after all. Jill thought, you don’t want her kind on your bad side. Jill pulled her car out of the parking lot thinking there was something not quite right with the half hearted smile she got in return.

Other Excerpts:
Perfect Circle (Bingo Night)
Perfect Circle (Ultimate Void)

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My New Stray

by Amy Platon

Well it’s a new year. The eggnog has worn off and days of sans schedule are over. I was not looking forward to the alarm clock this morning. But it came just the same, and we were up and out the door like we hadn’t missed a beat. I noticed my neighbors were unusually punctual too. It occurred to me that we were kind of in a silent celebration to be back to our standard-issue lives.

Once we were in the car on the way to school, I turned on the radio as usual. And the DJ’s were back on too. It was nice to have them. And I didn’t even realize I missed them. But that’s the nice thing about finding a radio station that you like. Our station XL 106.1 has a personable mix of talent. They seem to be about my age and they sound like a group of my own friends. They talk about the usual stuff but make it entertaining. I’ve never had a “station” but I just realized that one has landed on my doorstep. Like the cat my brother found on one of those early childhood trips to my Grandma’s cabin. My eyes, three years wide grew into hearts at the sight of her.

I must have over heard my mom in her usual clinical terminology discovering that the kitten was a “female.” Therefore when asked what I wanted to name her, I knew just what her name should be…Femaler.

So anyway, Femailer was like most strays, she really appreciated her new, warm, comfy home. And before I knew it, I missed her when she wasn’t right next to me.

That’s the part I really love about my radio station friends. They really seem to appreciate their listeners (Me). All of the sudden I have that little something to look forward to in the mornings. That show is like a kitty slinking against my leg.

And I had heard all those cheesy marketing ads with testimonials pretty much saying what I’m saying now, but it snuck up on me.

If you’ve never listened to a radio show that you’ve connected with, then take a few minutes to catch a morning show with my friends. It’s called Johnny & Jayde in the Morning (but don’t forget about Brian, he’s not in the title, but the show wouldn’t be the same with out his pseudo-ghetto alter ego).

Just wanted to pass along a good thing. Whenever you’re listening to it, you know I’m listening too.

*Come back for my next article “Best Bathrooms in Orlando!”…exciting, I know.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Coupon Mania

by Amy Platon

Well, I just got back from a mid-week grocery stop. It was the pinnacle of my coupon experiences thus far. It’s amazing the rush I got at the check out register. Turns out I saved $63 and spent $41 out of pocket. Easy math, I saved sixty percent on my grocery bill.

Wanna know what I bought? Well, two boxes of cereal my husband can’t get enough of. Two boxes, plus two coupons on granola bars (both on BOGO, BTW). I had a competitor coupon for spare ribs at buy1 get 2 free. Another competitor coupon for $5 off $30 or more, and various other highly useful items all on BOGO plus 2 coupons for each.

The best part of this story starts at the check out line. The store was busy and since it is New Years Day, they seemed to be short staffed so I had about two people behind me in line. The cashier, Vyon, dragged my items over the scanner almost in a coma (she had been partying all night and the manager wouldn’t let her call out). Before she got to the last item in my pile, the ribs, I handed her my stack of coupons. “You might want these before you push those through.” I said holding out my paperwork.

She pulled them from me and began looking them over. She scanned in the standard coupons but when she got to the competitor coupons she enlisted the help of her senior cashier, Debbie. She helped Vyon through, and things get on their way, but Debbie was transfixed at the screen. Then said, “Wow, I need to start getting the paper.”

I just smiled, but I’m not gonna lie, my adrenaline was on the run. I was totally high on the list of minuses that kept appearing on my screen. “Where’d you get that coupon?” Came from a man just over my shoulder. He was as amazed as the rest of us (the bagger, Debbie, Vyon who really perked up, and me.)

Now, I know some of the really amazing coupon cutters can do way better than a girl three weeks into the process, but even they can relate to the rush I got that day.

Let me put it another way. It’s like you’re in Vegas and you’re winning really big. A crowd starts to gather and floor managers start becoming aware of you. It’s just like that. You want to watch but you want to run and hide at the same time.

I started to think to myself, “Are you actually gonna let me get away with this Debbie? Isn’t one of you going to try and stop me?”

But once all my coupons were entered, Vyon smiled and said $41.32.

I handed her my cash, and the guy next to me started nodding at his wife. I offered her an apologetic conciliation prize, “I’m kind of addicted.”

I took my receipt as Vyon said, “You’ve saved $63 dollars.” And there it was in my hand. My Oscar, my Golden Globe, my fancy crystal vase, whatever, that receipt represented all my work and effort. And as a Mom, who doesn't get many awards, this one would make the fridge.

“Thank you.” I smiled a really big overwhelming smile.

I pushed my buggy out to my car while taking slow controlled breaths to calm my nerves. And although I don’t get to make any award winning speeches about it, I just had to tell you. I would, however like to thank my grocery store for allowing me this opportunity, and my Guru Tracy for turning me on to this whole world. I would also like to thank Hip2save.com and MoneySavingMom.com for all their helpful hints and endless hours of research and blogging. It’s sites like these that help you know you’re not doing anything illegal, no matter how much like stealing it may seem.

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