Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New friends and local organic business: The Grape Vine Florist

Clint and I were heading home from camping yesterday, when my phone finally received a signal, and this message from Gamera dinged in:
Some friends of mine are trying to start up a *very* small flower business. They grow them in their own garden and they were hoping to give a bouquet to a local blogger so they could blog about the arrangement and I thought you might be perfect.
Let me see...a Sunday afternoon adventure, meeting new friends, and a free bouquet...ahhh, you already know what my answer was. I made a 4:00 appointment to meet Matt and Beth Starks.

4:00, right? So, at 3:55, Daphne, the Starks' family shih-tzu, escaped and Beth and one son took off to chase her around the neighborhood. They returned to find blood on the floor, Matt holding an ice bag to his face, and son #2 exclaiming: "Dad broke his nose!"

And THAT is how I met the Starks family.

I'm pretty sure this isn't the story they had in mind in exchange for a bouquet, but really, could you resist?

The real story is an amazing one, so let's move on, shall we?

For the last couple of years, Beth and Matt have spent countless hours transforming their front yard into a vegetable garden. This year, in pursuit of a dream, they split the space, turned one-half of it into a gorgeous flower garden, and have started their own business: The Grape Vine Florist.

This is not a spur-of-the-moment endeavor. Beth worked as a florist for several years when she was in school, and has always dreamed of owning and operating her own floral business. Matt went through a Master Gardening training course 6 years ago, and together they are finally taking their first steps towards turning their hard work and knowledge into a bona fide business.

They gave me a tour of both gardens (yes, broken nose, ice bag, and all!) and some more in the back yard. They invited me in to meet their children, and show off a few of Beth's gorgeous bouquets. One was complex and colorful, with several varieties of wildflowers, and one simple and gorgeous, a glass vase of sunflowers, making their very own statement without accessories.

I spent less than an hour with them, but it was all I needed to see that Beth and Matt are forces of nature. In addition to holding down full time jobs, taking care of their children and home, working in the garden and launching The Grape Vine, Beth makes and sells her own greeting cards here: Stamped Expressions...

...and Matt has spent a fair amount of time teaching himself digital and video trades. He has, I quote, "gotten mediocre at an impressive number of separate skills."

Better than mediocre, I'd say; check out the promotional video he created for the new business:

The video sums it up all very well: They're small, local, organic, and seasonal.

There are only about 5 or 6 weeks left of blooming and harvesting left for this season at The Grape Vine Florist, so if you're in the market, or will be in that time, contact Beth and Matt as soon as possible at:


Or check out their ordering information here: http://thegrapevineflorist.com/want-to-order/

If you're not immediately in the market for a fresh bouquet of flowers, bookmark them anyway. Who among us hasn't dreamed of doing our own thing, but balked at following through? Here's a couple—a family—that's going for it, and I for one will be watching their website, their blog, and their progress, whooping and cheering them every step of the way.

Before I forget, I have to tell you:
those sunflowers look really great in my kitchen!

Thanks, Beth and Matt for the invitation, the flowers, and for sharing your story with me in the midst of keeping an ice pack full.

Friday, July 08, 2011

They Keep Going, and Going...

My soldier babies, that is. Word is that they're all coming home, but they keep going and going and going to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jerrica, one of my first Toys for Troops supporters, is waiting in Kuwait in 121-degree heat to begin her second tour in Iraq. Pictured on the right, she told me in a quick Facebook chat today that she can't wait to get home.

I attended a going away party for my friend Laura's son, Maxwell, a few months ago.

 He's serving in Afghanistan right now.

  • A California friend added 30 to my mailing list in April.
  • A young friend in ROTC has given me a few more addresses.
  • One officer has 27 guys that would like beanie babies.
  • I received a letter today from another in Afghanistan that works in an area that has 8000 kids. They swarm him every day for toys.
Brian worked the airport at the base last night, sending off 600 of his, to Iraq. The mood was grim, he said, because "by morning they'll be in Germany and Kuwait." He sent me photos throughout the evening. The first read: "I do not miss this."

And this one, with the message: "He's writing a letter to his wife. Old school."

A few more, of them waiting, and this one, with a text: "Prayer."

And finally, this one.

1 army base.  1 evening. 2 planes. 600 soldiers. Away from home for 1 year.

At this point, Brian is still using his "Dwell Time," finally fully granted. There's a chance he will not deploy after all, this year, and maybe for the next. It's almost too much for me to believe. I talked to him this morning, and he admitted that last night was a tough night. "There was a lot of emotion in the room," he told me.

There's a pit in my stomach, because I know this. I know there's been a final goodbye. I know cell phones still allow some contact, some last minute I love yous, and text messages read "still waiting," "heading for the plane," and "will be in touch ASAP."  I know the phones will then probably be put away for the next year, and the next word will come from Germany, through email and Facebook. It might be tomorrow. It might be a couple of days.

And, with a sudden sense of panic, I know I have to get busy.

I got soldier babies overseas, and I got some motherin' to do.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Photo Dump Day I: Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

My photo dump folder is filling up faster than usual these days, due, I think, to the recent acquisition of my new iPhone. Little gets by me now that I am a double-fisted photographer!

Since this month's folder had quite a few photos of scribbling and signs in it, I pulled a few out of the archives to round out a post and make a right-proper montage. Here goes:

1. If you do leave the pumps unattended,...

...someone might scribble all over your gas pump.

2. Tide is on sale at Menards...

Not exactly a bargain when you compare the every-day price below:

Who's singing the "Save Big Money" jingle with me now?

3. Sign on the door of a small shop in Cripple Creek, Colorado:

And another, in Cripple Creek. I'm thinking those shops had a rash of women wearing fall-down shoes, and collectively decided to take a stand:


4. This is ridiculous, pregnant mothers getting the front parking spot! What they should do is give it to mothers of newborn infants, that's when the going gets tough! Schlepping around a baby carrier of some kind, her purse and now a diaper bag, and then keeping track of bottles and pacifiers. Oh, and the baby, who's screaming his poor head off because they ran out of formula! Lord, that is the woman that deserves the front parking space. And give it to the new fathers, too; they're all exhausted!


5. In Hannibal, Missouri:

Mmmm, mouth-watering frames.


6. Welcome the Hannibal Visitor's Bureau. It's time for you to go now.


7. Can you read the fine print on the back of the propane truck that was in front of me at a stoplight last week?

So polite.

8. Clint and I were lured in here after a long day of trekking the streets of Chicago last fall:


Who could turn down such a catchy name?! Not us, that's who. We were greeted and escorted to our table by a beautiful golden lab. How fun!

9. A booth at the Pork & Apple Festival—or is it Apple & Pork? No matter. So naughty.


10. And last, when down to my last frazzled nerve while troubleshooting on my netbook, Windows had ONE more suggestion:

See that, right in the middle? You can try getting help from a friend! Because we just don't know what else to do! Try calling Diane! See what she says! Or go find Clint, get his advice! Brilliant! Thank you Windows! I'll do that!

This concludes Sign Dump. I'll start fiddling with the leftover photos for the next post, all of them every bit as engaging as these were.

Ciao, friends!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Zappos Rocks!

Remember my post about how I fell off of my Naot Treasures shoes twice in one night?

I have developed PTSD from that footwear. Think of the scene in Rainman when Raymond panics at the hot water running in the tub: "Very bad! Very bad! Water burn baby!" Same thing for me, only my internal reaction at the sight of any high-heeled platform or wedgie-style shoe: 
"Fall-down shoes! Very bad, very bad! Fall down! Aurghhhhhhhhhhh!"
At the time I didn't have the heart to reveal what paid for those shoes that almost killed me. I'll tell you now. Are you ready? I ordered them from Zappos.com for:


!!! I know. Mind you, it's not that they were overpriced; it's just what this particular shoe costs anywhere you go. Still, in the past I've pranced merrily about in $4 flip-flops. $156.00 shoes was a huge decision, and I get nauseous every time I think about wasting that kind of lettuce. (Lettuce = Street slang for money. Because Street is how I roll, peeps.)

My friend Liz implored me to try to return the shoes. I resisted—I didn't have the receipt or packaging, and not only had I worn the shoes, but I'd (ahem) scuffed them up a bit in the two weeks I wore them before sending them into retirement.

She was convincing though, and finally talked me into throwing myself at the mercy of Zappos' customer service department. I sent them a link to the fall-down blog, and begged them to read it.

Here's the letter I got back:
Hey Laura!

Thank you for contacting the Zappos Customer Loyalty Team with that very entertaining email! I loved it!

I am so sorry to hear about your mishaps with your Naot shoes! I read the blog and was thoroughly entertained but also a bit upset at the idea of you falling down due to your recent Zappos purchase.

Since you are such a great Zappos customer, and are not normally a "fally-down" person, I would be happy to make a one time exception and allow you to return your shoes for a full refund!

[Shipping instructions, free UPS label emailed to me.] 
Thank you for your continued loyalty to Zappos! I hope your ankle feels better! Let us know if you have any further questions or if there is anything else we can do for you.

Have a great day,
Big Andy
Customer Loyalty Representative
Yes!! Big Andy credited all of my money back! Big Andy rocks! Zappos rocks! Money back rocks! New shoes rock! Liz rocks! Dancy-dancy-dance!

Have you ever ordered shoes from Zappos.com? Here's what happens:
1. Go to www.zappos.com, pick out some pretty shoes.

2. Order Shoes.

3. Close laptop.

4. Close eyes for 10 seconds.

5. Open eyes. See shoes.
I'm only barely exaggerating: Yesterday afternoon I used my shoe credit to order a pair of shoes, and they have been already been delivered to my house! I've had friends that ordered shoes at 10 p.m., and had them on their feet by 10 a.m. the next morning.

There can be no other explanation: It's magic.

And this, my friends, is how good companies keep their customers. Not that Zappos would have lost me as a customer; I've had amazing service from them for years, buying my own shoes and Mom's shoes there. I've returned a few that didn't fit right, always with no problems and at their expense.

The amazing thing about this return is that my issues with this particular pair of shoes was my own. Zappos was more than gracious to comp me when they were never at fault. See, Zappos gets it. They get that if they take good care of their customers, said customers will keep coming back. They'll gush about it to friends, and on facebook, and ::cough:: on their blogs.

They're funny, too. I made one phone call to discuss the reimbursement. You know the press #1 for this, and  #2 for that? Well, there's a press #5 for The Joke of the Day.

Of course I pressed #5. No spoiler here, if you want to find out the joke of the day, you'll have to call them yourself.

By the way, would you like to see the shoes that were delivered to my door today? Here they are, Jambu Odyssey:

Cute, huh! Nice and low with safety straps on them, I think we're going to make a fine couple, me and my Jambus.

Thank you, thank you Big Andy and Zappos. You've made a customer for life!