You Did What with a Toothpick?

“I saw there was a food festival in Flemington,” Babs, my mom, said on Sunday morning.

It was 10:30am and we were standing in my living room, the only two people in New Jersey who hadn’t escaped ‘down the shore’ (as we Jerseyians say) for the weekend. We were searching for something to do besides go to the movies. Again.

“I can only find times for 2015,” I groaned, looking at my phone. “And they say 4pm! Who starts a food festival at 4pm on a Sunday in August?”

After another five minutes of fruitlessly browsing NJ.com and Facebook, I looked at Babs.

“I feel like I want to see something I’ve never seen before.”

I said it facetiously, figuring I’d settle for some roadside tomatoes and a latte. We’d lived in New Jersey my whole life, a.k.a. 34 29 years. There wasn’t much we hadn’t seen.

Spank-Babs-Jules

This seems as good a time as any to remind you of the time we went to the theatrical rendition of 50 Shades of Grey.

“Well, there’s a toothpick sculpture exhibit in Morristown,” Babs said casually.

I put down my phone and stared at her, mouth agape.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh my god.”

And just like that, our mother-daughter day went from mundane to magical.

All of this unexpected splendor got me thinking.

I’d applied for -and gotten accepted to- a Masters Program that started on Tuesday. On top of a full-time job, the syllabi for my first two classes seemed daunting. In fact, over the past two months, I’d spent more than a few days doing activities with what one could only call dutiful merriment. All things I had been looking forward to initially…

And yet.

Why does making plans two, four, seven months out always sound so shiny and promising, yet the closer they come, the more we say, “What the f&*@ was I thinking?”

I wondered if Stan Munro, the toothpick maestro himself, ever got halfway through a project only to think, “Well, this was a colossal waste of time.”

What, really, made the difference between, “This is just a stack of toothpicks” and, “Holy sh*t, this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before”?

Sure, sure, sure. We all know about the power of positivity and points of view and pots of gold at the end of the 9-to-5 rainbow.

But what actually makes us choose the straight and narrow versus the winding road, stripes versus polka dots, coffee versus more coffee? And how can you know before you click ‘submit’ that you won’t spend hours, weeks, months or years second-guessing your decision?

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Do you think this was Stan’s Plan A?

Have you ever set a goal and regretted it? Not regretted it? Pretended it never happened?

P.S. – If you’re in the area, you can see the toothpick extravaganza for yourself at the Morris Museum through August 31st! (Who loves you?)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Knock, knock! Who’s there? THE WORST NEIGHBORS EVER!

A year and a half ago, I moved into a quaint two-family home. There aren’t many historic houses in the area, and my entryway bears a unique mark of pride:

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Of course, this agèd gem comes with a few charms that some might find off-putting: low ceilings, slanted floors, light switches to nowhere, and my personal favorite:

Ghost cows.

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The house is a renovated cow barn, and late at night, I can almost hear the far-off cattle cries.

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I think they’re coming from the beam where I hide my flask.

I haven’t told anyone this, but I stopped eating meat a few months ago, and my top theory is that the ghost cows took over my body.

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Jules circa 2014

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Jules circa 2016

In fact, now that I think about it, the cows were probably behind the sconce incident of April 2015.

crime-scene-couch

But I digress.

Recently, my quiet and respectful human and living neighbors, with whom I share a very, very (did I say very?) thin wall, moved out. I recall overhearing something about “carpenter bees” and “allergies,” but I was too busy Googling Yankee candle scents to appease undead livestock to fully appreciate their rationale.

Strange families were suddenly perusing the now-vacant apartment next door. This past weekend, I stepped outside and nearly collided with an older gentleman.

“You’ve probably surmised that I’m looking at the apartment,” he said in an I’m-just-a-guy-who-likes-hugs-and-hey-I-wonder-how-many-human-heads-will-fit-in-that-freezer tone.

“Ah,” I replied, avoiding eye contact and wondering why his tour included my half of the yard.

Uncle Jesse, my dog, barked loudly from inside.

Craigslist-apartment-ad

This is the actual apartment ad. Oops.

Since this run-in, I haven’t been able to shake the nightmares of what who might move in next door.

Please, help prepare me: What’s your worst neighbor story?

Lucky-Bamboo

My lucky bamboo (a housewarming gift) committed suicide long ago. I need all the help I can get.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I Have Tasted the Impossible!

I grab my shirt and pull it away from me. The skyscrapers of Manhattan have formed a barrier, trapping the early August humidity and dashing any hope that a breeze might dry the sweat running down my back.

“Do you think we’ll get a table?” my sister asks.

It’s 11:45am on Saturday and we’re part of a line snaking down 8th Avenue and 22nd Street. In 15 minutes, they’ll open the doors to Chelsea district’s Momofuku Nishi.

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We can already taste the succulent red meat and pan-fried char, our mouths watering at thoughts of the secret-sauce-and-blood-soaked bun.

Today, we would taste the impossible.

That’s right. Today we would sample the acclaimed brainchild of Patrick Brown, founder and CEO of California-based start-up Impossible Foods. According to all accounts, Brown had managed to create a plant-based burger that sizzled, bled and -hopefully- satisfied just like its meat-based counterpart.

Despite enjoying many bacon and cheese-smothered burgers in my day, I’ve always been a fan of veggie burgers. The ones that tasted like vegetables, that is. The more a veggie patty tried to disguise itself as meat, the more it seemed to fail.

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Until (spoiler alert) now.

Using a combination of science and more science, Impossible Foods attempted a feat no man nor chipmunk had yet mastered: Making vegetables actually mimic meat. How did they do it? Through reverse-engineering taste and including loads of something called heme. Heme is what peanut butter is to Reese’s cups, what cherry Chapstick is to a Katy Perry song, what Miss Piggy is to Kermit.

It’s the stuff that makes something what it is.

heme

Or, you know, if you want to be all LITERAL about it, it’s an “iron-containing compound of the porphyrin class that forms the nonprotein part of hemoglobin and some other biological molecules.” (Credit: Wikipedia)

Brown combined heme -the thing that gives beef its meaty, bloody flavor- and a number of plant products (namely potatoes, soybeans, and coconut) to achieve the Impossible Burger. A longtime vegan and accomplished biochemist, he wanted to make a veggie burger for people who loved meat. After all, who would forego succulent, savory bovine for lentils and chalky carrots?

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Us, apparently.

And we’re not alone:

Impossible Foods surveyed 600 “hard core middle America burger lovers” about their eating habits and asked them whether they’d choose a plant-based burger if it was identical—in taste and cost—to the beef version. Nearly 70% said they would. –Wall Street Journal

But with production costs still too high to actually offer the Impossible Burger to the masses, you have to wonder: is it worth all of the trouble? I mean, cholesterol aside, is there really anything that bad about sticking to the traditional?

cost-of-beef

According to NPR, this is what goes into producing a single beef patty. Photo Credit

With plans for a slow but powerful movement, Impossible Foods is piloting their burger in limited quantities in places like New York City, and soon, San Francisco. Within five years, we can expect to see some pretty happy cows, but for now, some pretty happy humans:


Do you think the Impossible Burger can do the impossible? Would you try it?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The Great Saunter a.k.a. My First Ultra-Distance Event a.k.a. Owwwww!

So, how was your weekend? Do anything fun? Have a good Mother’s Day?

Huh? What? No, I’m not just asking so I can tell you about my weekend. Geesh. I thought we were friends.

Oh, well, okay, if you insist.

I walked 32 miles on Saturday.

My Fitbit lies.

Shortchanged!

That’s how far it is, apparently, around the perimeter of Manhattan.

Even though I’d taken a break from running due to 30 extra pounds and a complete lack of natural running ability injury, I still fantasized about the Next Big Thing: ultra-distances (races greater than 26.2 miles, the length of a marathon).

Because I never really loved myself.

Because I never really loved myself.

Several months ago, someone mentioned to me that you could actually walk around the island of Manhattan. As in, there’s a continual path (more or less) that’s pedestrian-friendly (more or less) that circles the perimeter of New York City’s most famous borough. Upon Google searching, I found an event called The Great Saunter, hosted by the Shorewalkers club, where roughly 1,500 people gather annually to do just that.

Half sightseeing tour, half endurance test, the journey at Manhattan’s edge takes you into the shadows of 19 bridges, through as many parks and past art installations, city landmarks and 360 degrees of ever-changing views. – New York Times

Great-Saunter-saunterers

If by “ever-changing views” you mean this, I totally agree.

The Great Saunter isn’t a race or a fundraiser, and is in fact meant to be a saunter at 3 miles per hour, but seemed like the perfect opportunity to test my limits. Besides, even if I changed my mind, the registration fee was only $20.

I knew it was unlikely I’d find anyone equally eager to walk 32 miles, so I mentally prepared to go alone.

By mile 15, I really WAS alone.

Good thing, too. By mile 15, I really WAS alone.

In the days leading up to the event, the forecast was doom and gloom. Most people assumed I would bail, but clearly they had forgotten about my pride and boastfulness commitment to greatness. On Friday night, I borrowed a proper windbreaker and put everything I thought I’d need in Ziploc bags: Band-Aids, ibuprofen, Band-Aids, vodka, Band-Aids.

Great-Saunter-backpack

Project Management Professional, at your service.

I was probably more nervous about driving from New Jersey into New York City than walking around it. It was drizzling slightly, but stopped by the time I arrived. I found a nearby parking garage and headed to the starting point, a pub near Battery Park at the southernmost part of Manhattan. I saw more people than I expected, conspicuously outfitted in hiking boots and backpacks.

The official start time was 7:30 am, but dozens of walkers began early, including me, around 7:15 am. I was feeling anxious, antisocial, and eager to get to that evening’s Cinco de Mayo party.

Margarita Jell-O shots = the world's greatest motivator.

Margarita Jell-O shots: the world’s greatest motivator.

As I told my father the night before, it wasn’t a matter of wanting to quit along the way, but rather, how quickly that feeling would arrive. I knew I would suffer. I might not make it. I walked quickly, passing many Saunterers along the way. No one said hello. Eventually, I had nothing but my overstuffed backpack to keep me company.

Greaaaattt big lamp post. Teeeeeeny tiny Statue of Liberty.

Greaaaattt big lamp post. Teeeeeeeeny tiny Statue of Liberty.

George Washington Bridge.

George Washington Bridge.

My legs started feeling stiff by mile 8, which is when I conveniently remembered I hadn’t trained at all for this.  I promised myself a quick stop at mile 10 to pop some ibuprofen. The first of many.

Next time I'm bringing morphine.

Next time I’m bringing more vodka.

Around mile 18, still feeling optimistic that I would finish, and nursing only one blister, I met a woman named Grace, who was walk-jogging the entire distance. Grace had the inside scoop on the fastest walkers.

“Did you see the woman in pink?” she asked me.

I stared back blankly.

“Holding a plastic bag?” she probed.

“Ah! Yes! Bag lady!” I exclaimed. I tried not to sound out of breath trying to keep up with Grace. “How could she hold a plastic grocery bag for 32 miles? Why didn’t she use a backpack? And she was so fast! I couldn’t catch her!”

“I know! Me either!”

Brooklyn Bridge. (Okay, so my pictures aren't great. I was afraid to stop moving.)

Brooklyn Bridge. (Okay, so my pictures aren’t great. I was afraid to stop moving. Actually, this is kind of artsy. I should charge for this.)

I thought I’d been enjoying my solo trek, but by mile 25, I was eternally grateful for Grace’s company. It turned out we had a lot in common, and she shared kind words that had an effect more powerful than 6 months of therapy: she thought I was 22.

“I just turned 34,” I told her. “And lemme tell ya, I feel it right now.”

“When I signed up for this, I thought it would be so easy,” she said.

I looked at her incredulously.

“I can’t believe you’re holding up this well if you came into it with that mindset. I knew it would be awful.”

We shared an “I just want to finish” mentality and held our pace for as long as possible, our conversation wandering between divorce, dating, food, and spirituality. You can cover a lot of ground (pun intended) when you walk with someone for 4 hours.

We stumbled through the remaining few miles, feeling sheer delight when the numbered streets turned to names – that meant we were getting close. The last mile was the hardest physically, but by then we could already taste the beer victory.

South Street seaport, our victory apéritif.

South Street seaport, our victory apéritif.

We started celebrating as soon as we saw Fraunces Tavern, the [starting and] finishing point.

It was 4:30 pm, 9 hours later, when we crab-walked up the stairs and met a very cheerful woman, who took our names and presented us with certificates. We immediately asked about the plastic bag-holding woman in pink.

“Everyone keeps talking about her!” she replied. “I haven’t seen her. Only one guy finished the whole thing before you two.”

Grace and I let out a collective squeal and hugged. Sure, it wasn’t a race, but…

*mic drop*

Great-Saunter-Grace-and-Jules

Second and third finishers of the 630 who completed the full 32-mile walk. (And many will tell you it was 34+ miles. I think they’re very wise and should be trusted.)

After our single celebratory hefeweizen, Grace, who’d found street parking, drove me the 4 blocks to my parking garage, where the attendant said,

“You took a long time.”

“Huh?” I replied, suddenly remembering that I’d told him I’d be back by 5 o’clock. It was only 5:30! And did it really matter?

“That’ll be $45.00,” he continued.

“Huh?” I said again. “I must’ve misread the sign.”

“You went over 10 hours,” he explained.

“So that was a $55.00 beer,” I grumbled, reluctantly handing him a wad of cash.

Don't ever park here.

Don’t ever park here.

But I’d done what I’d come to do. I quickly recovered and drank patted myself on the back for the rest of the weekend.

Great-Saunter-taste-of-victory-beer

And by quickly recovered, I mean I’m still hobbling. No marathon, triathlon, or long-distance cycling has ever left me so sore.

So naturally…

I’m already looking for the Next Big Thing. Any ideas?? Have you ever done anything like this?

Bonus shot: Surreal view of the Freedom tower on the (painful) drive home.

Bonus shot: Surreal, undoctored view of the Freedom Tower on the (painful) drive home.

*GIVEAWAY WINNER UPDATE: Many thanks for your hilarious entries in the latest Go Jules Go giveaway! Babs (my mother) had a hard time picking a winner, but chose Misty from Misty’s Laws! Congratulations, Misty – your copy of Jen Kirkman’s memoir, I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself is in the mail!*

GIVEAWAY: “I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself” by Jen Kirkman!

Oh chipmunks. Do you remember those days when I used to give away slap bracelets, shake hands with babies, and make rainbows out of rain?

Jules-Rainbow-Puke

I miss those days.

But wait! Thanks to the Simon & Schuster publishing house, we’re getting old school up in here!

That’s right – another giveaway! I’ve cleared the cobwebs, opened the Franzia, and invite you all to vie for a chance to win a copy of…

“I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself” by Jen KirkMAN!

Kirkman_IKNOWWHATIMDOING6

Okay, so perhaps I’m a tad tardy with this giveaway.

I don’t know why Simon & Schuster contacted me. Jen Kirkman is a hilarious, divorced, comedy writer with an empty refrigerator and flawless fashion sense.

Oh wait.

Jules at an 'NSync concert; circa 2000.

Jules at an ‘NSync concert; circa 2000.

Jen is also stand-up comedian, best-selling author, and occasional cradle robber. If you’ve seen her Netflix comedy special, I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine), you know this gal is the real deal.

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I could give you a book synopsis, but I’d rather share my favorite quote:

“I looked at the second cheese board and lost my appetite. I was happy talking to Allison. I felt like myself again. I was happy. And when I’m happy I don’t abuse cheese. Cheese is a privilege.”

HOW TO ENTER

Simply leave a comment describing some of the worst advice you’ve ever given or been given (or observed being given). I’ll let the magnanimous Babs (mother extraordinaire) choose a winner, announced the week of May 1, 2016.

ENTER BY MIDNIGHT EST ON MY BIRTHDAY!!!! SATURDAY, APRIL 30, 2016 TO WIN!

I-Know-What-Im-Going-Jen-Kirkman

P.S. – I’ve never stopped loving you. I’ve just been really busy. Reading this awesome book. And worrying about the apple slice I dropped between the driver’s seat and middle console of my car last week.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

I’ve Been Published in German! That is so KNALLHART.

Rachels-Table-pepper-queen

Rachel is smokin’ hot.

When my saucy friend and spicy pepper queen, Rachel of Rachel’s Table, contacted me to write an article about running for Gore apparel’s blog, published in both English and German, my first thought was,

“I can’t! I’m a fraud! Wait, you work for Gore apparel now? Green, size medium large, please.”

I hadn’t run in almost a year, thanks to injury and pancakes. But I did have a story about running to tell. I hope you’ll check it out, if only to see how space-agey energy gels translates to German.

Running Isn’t Everything, But I Owe Everything to Running (English site)

Running Isn’t Everything, But I Owe Everything to Running (German site…come on, you know you want to)

Happy New Year, Chipmunks! 2016’s gonna be a knockout year; I can feel it in my tail.

This is me. Running away from 2015. And 2014. And 2013, come to think of it.

This is me. Running away from 2015. And 2014. And 2013, come to think of it.

~*~*~*~*~*~

How Do You Feel About Sacrificial Bloodletting?

I have White Coat Syndrome.

Doctors, hospitals, and anything containing the word “hemoglobin” terrify me.

This is the real Red Room of Pain.

The real Red Room of Pain.

It all started when I was 15, and had my blood drawn for the first time. They thought I might have mono. (If that’s The Kissing Disease, I was the exception. For some reason, boys didn’t seem to like my braces, glasses, and white tights combo.)

I was nervous, but insisted on going into the office alone. I was fine until the nurse said she needed to take an extra vial of blood, and handed me the one she’d just filled.

It was warm.

With my blood.

Like blood that should be inside of my body, with me blissfully unaware of its temperature.

I mean, seriously. This was seriously next to me during my last doctor's visit.

I mean, seriously. This was next to me during my last doctor’s visit.

A few minutes later, Babs (my mom) found me passed out on the bathroom floor. Since then, I haven’t been able to set foot inside a doctor’s office or hospital without some level of panic. If you were to take my blood pressure results during any of these visits in earnest, I should be dead.

blood-pressure

Tell me this doesn’t look like a medieval torture wall.

Now that I’ve reached a point in life where retirement planning is starting to mean something, I’ve decided it’s time to face fears, if only so I can collect big in 29 years.

In the past month, I’ve gone to the dentist twice, the doctor’s once, and I even voluntarily had a small amount of blood drawn for a workplace annual health assessment. And I only cried a tiny little moderate amount!

Where dreams go to die.

Where fears go to die.

On Sunday, I’ve decided to up the ante: I’m donating blood. And I’m making Babs hold the warm vial of blood my hand this time.

Have you ever gotten over a phobia?

P.S. – Things I learned from writing this post: Bloodletting is one word. THAT IS NOT OKAY.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I Got Stuck In A Stairwell (And I Liked It)

endless-stairs-jules

Last week, I spent a few days in New York City, watching many months of work come to fruition. As a project manager in the pharmaceutical industry, my colleagues and I had been planning a bioethics-themed symposium for ages. Finally, the event had arrived.

The symposium took place on the 40th floor of 7 World Trade Center. The views were spectacular.

7-world-trade-view

Things were going well on our first day, but I was anxious. There was a “networking lunch” at noon. Trying to pretend I knew anything about anything compassionate use of medicines for an hour and a half, among some of the country’s foremost ethicists, seemed daunting.

For the first few minutes during lunch, I checked my email in the hallway, doing my best to look busy and important. When I glanced up, I noticed an exit sign.

“I could do a little exploring,” I thought. “Stretch my legs.”

There wasn’t any indication that this was an emergency only exit, so off I scampered into the obviously post-9/11 constructed stairwell. The stairs were wide and well marked with fluorescent tape.

As I descended, I noticed each floor bore signs that read, “Nearest re-entry on floor 36.”

The floors in between had only locked doors, not even a pad to swipe your badge – if you had a badge.

The 36th floor did have a pad, but I decided onward and downward was the way to go. Also I had no badge. No doubt some floor would have public access, and if not, I could piggyback off of one of the people I was bound to see.

And I did see someone. Around floor 20. By then, I was determined to see this thing through. Because surely -surely- I could exit on the ground floor.

The final floors were daunting. There were no doors at all, and large, brightly lit ticker tape signs announcing, “EXIT THIS WAY >>>>>>>>>.”

I finally made it to the ground floor, wobbly-kneed and decidedly damp, only to see this:

emergency-exit-alarm

Knowing there was a red ‘call if you’re a moron’ phone back on the 11th floor, I turned around and began my long ascent.

When I reached the 4th floor, a tall, brunette man in a fleece jacket appeared.

“Can I help you?” he asked suspiciously.

He looked like Brody from Homeland.

“I’m trapped!” I blurted.

“Yeah. You’re supposed to be on the 40th floor.”

Which is when it hit me. Nicholas Brody had been watching me for forty. Floors.

“Come with me,” he said, leading me to the 5th floor. He looked like he knew 17 ways to kill someone with a rubber band.

Ma'am, you're, like, not even CLOSE to the 40th floor.

Ma’am, you’re, like, not even CLOSE to the 40th floor.

When he opened the 5th floor door and I saw it wasn’t an interrogation room, I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Bless you.”

He found someone to babysit me on the way to the proper elevator bank, and when I eventually made it back to the 40th floor, I ducked into a bathroom stall and desperately swabbed my head with toilet paper.

When I felt fairly certain I’d stopped sweating, I emerged from the stall and washed my hands. I looked up to see my entire forehead covered in toilet paper bits.

Guess it coulda been worse.

Guess it coulda been worse.

Have you ever gotten stuck in a compromising position?

~*~*~*~*~*~

And the Winner of the Wine Purse IS…

Last week, I introduced you to the unbelievably glorious wine purse by Vivajennz.

What's really unbelievable was that I only just heard about this.

What’s really unbelievable is that I only just heard about this.

Today, I announce the lucky Donald duck who gets to bring this Goofy puppy home!

Congratulations, Michelle! Your dedication to booze smuggling, coupled with your willingness to defile the Disney name, won the heart of our judge, Babs (mom)!

Michelle’s Winning Entry:

Thank you for letting me take such liberties with your profile image.

Thank you for letting me take such liberties with your profile image, too.

I’ll be in touch to award you with your BRAND NEW WINE PURSE! Many thanks to Vivajennz for exposing us to her ingenuity (and generosity)!

~*~*~*~*~

THE BEST GIVEAWAY I’VE EVER DONE. Enter to Win by 10/26!

You know that feeling where you start to wonder if maybe you’ve taken something too far?

Yeah... me neither...

Yeah… me either…

Sometimes I wonder if my fondness for booze has overshadowed the real me. The genuine Jules. You know, the one who also enjoys quality time with friends and family hats.

Jules-Hersheys-Kiss-Hat-28Sep13

Nah. Because if that were true, if I ceased embracing my inner lush, I never would have heard from Jennifer, creator of Vivajennz and…

…wait for it…

…THE WINE PURSE.

Photo courtesy of vivajennz.com.

Photo courtesy of vivajennz.com.

I know. I can’t even. And now YOU can’t even, too – because Vivajennz sent me one of these bad boys gals to give away!

Viva-Jennz-giveaway-purse

This could be ALL YOURS.

Viva-Jennz-giveaway-purse-2

Cannot. EVEN!!!

To enter to win this reason for living, leave a comment below describing your most ingenious idea for concealing alcohol.

And don’t forget to check out more VivaJennz creations at VIVAJENNZ.COM!

Here are some ideas to help get the creative fermented grape juices flowing.

binocular-flask

Somehow I don’t think these will help you focus.

My personal favorite.

My personal favorite.

I actually have these.

I actually own these.

Entries accepted through midnight EST, Monday, October 26, 2015. And since today is Babs’ (my mom) birthday, we’ll let her pick the winner, to be announced Wednesday, October 28, 2015.

Happy 29th birthday, Babs.

Happy 29th birthday, Babs.

Cheers!

~*~*~*~*~*~