Holiday Gift Ideas From Veteran-Owned Businesses

The holidays are here! If you’re working on your Christmas gift list, consider shopping with veteran-owned businesses. The companies listed below are owned by veterans, most employ veterans, and all give a portion of their earnings to various charities supporting a variety of causes. It’s a great way to complete your holiday shopping while supporting your fellow Americans.

I’m not an affiliate of any of these companies – I just think they’re pretty awesome. If you think I missed a great veteran-owned business, please let me know in the comments!

Delicious Drinks

Counter-Strike Coffee –
Buy coffee and coffee-related gear from this Cypress, Texas-based roastery. If you know a true coffee addict, consider giving them a membership to the Counter-Strike Coffee subscription service so they can receive coffee by mail year-round. The owner is a combat veteran who gives a portion of all earnings to veterans organizations. I’ve recently heard a lot of great buzz (pun soooo intended) about this coffee on social media. Lots of people really like them and I’m looking forward to trying a cup or ten.

Heroes Vodka —
This Nashville-based distillery is crafting award-winning vodka. Founded by a Marine Corps veteran the company dedicates itself “to deliver exceptional taste and superior value to consumers, while honoring Veterans and other American service organizations through charitable contributions.” I look forward to making a Heroes vodka martini and relaxing by the Christmas tree.

Clothing, Footwear, Gear

Bottle Breacher
Looking for a cool stocking stuffer? Then check out Bottle Breacher. This Tucson-based company makes bottle openers and pens from .50 caliber bullets. You can have your purchase engraved or pair it with other Bottle Breacher items like tee shirts, hats, and gear. They give back 20% of their earnings to many types of charities. These are so cool and perfect when you want an engraved gift with a special holiday message. Note to self: great promotion and retirement gifts for military friends.

huib-scholten-403238Combat Flip Flops
Founded by two Army Rangers, Combat Flip Flops is guided by the idea that providing income to people living in dangerous areas of the world provides them with steady income and contributes to regional stability – “business not bullets”. You’ll find flip flops, shoes, clothes, jewelry, and other accessories on their website. A portion of their sales help a variety of charities around the world. I love the unique scarves and jewelry especially. They’re beautiful.

Oscar Mike –
Based in Marengo, Illinois, Oscar Mike sells all kinds of military-themed apparel for men, women, and children. Proceeds support the Oscar Mike Foundation, which “…wants to see all injured Veterans utilize their full potential and live rewarding and productive lives.” Their shirts represent every branch of service and they have tons of unique designs – you’ll be scrolling forever.

Purses, Bags, Jewelry

Sword and Plow
Veteran-owned Sword and Plow sells bags, purses, tote bags, jewelry, and other accessories made from military uniforms, bullet casings, and more. This Denver-based company “recycles military surplus, incorporates that fabric into stylish bag designs and donates 10% of profits back to veteran organizations.” Everything they make is gorgeous.

Beauty/Personal Care

Doc Spartan –
Doc Spartan makes personal care items for both men and women – lotions, ointments, scrubs, and even deodorant. They also have a beard-care line for the hairy man in your life. Based in Portsmouth, Ohio this unique veteran-owned business gives a portion of their sales to a variety of veterans-related causes. Their Invader Coffee-Infused Body Scrub is calling my name.

Have an extra- long list and need even more shops to choose from? Find other veteran-owned business using these services:

Here’s to a stress-free holiday season and a very Veteran Christmas!

I can’t take any credit for the awesome photos you see here. That goes to:
Bokeh – Jad Limcaco on Unsplash
Coffee photo – Mike Marquez on Unsplash
Afghanistan – Photo by Huib Scholten on Unsplash

Easy Ground Beef Mushroom Stroganoff

Is ground beef mushroom stroganoff a thing? I’ve heard of beef stroganoff, but never ground beef mushroom stroganoff. Oh well, I’m going with it because it was delicious and there were no leftovers because my family devoured this recipe.

I’ve been craving rich, creamy pasta dishes lately. There’s something about cooler temperatures and comfort foods loaded with that umami flavor that is just irresistible to me. I’ve been wanting beef stroganoff and I looked on Pinterest but didn’t find quite what I was looking for, so I went recipe-rogue and made my own.

Here’s what you need:

  • Two tablespoons butter or canola oil
  • 1 – white onion – diced
  • 1 – green pepper – diced
  • 1 –  2 cups chopped baby portabella mushrooms (one of the small boxes of mushrooms chopped up!)
  • 1 lb. of ground beef or ground sirloin
  • 1 can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom with Roasted Garlic soup
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup of sour cream (you’ll adjust to suit your taste)
  • 1 – 16 ounce box of rotini pasta
  1. Boil the pasta and while it cooks…
  2. Warm the butter or oil over medium/medium-high heat in a large frying pan, then saute the diced onion until translucent.
  3. Add the green pepper and cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add chopped portabella mushrooms, cook for three to five minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Now would be a good time to check the pasta and if it’s done, drain, toss with a bit of oil, and set aside.
  6. When the mushrooms are tender, push the veggies off to the side of the pan and add the ground beef. As the beef starts to cook, slowly mix in the veggies and allow the beef to cook thoroughly.
  7. When the beef and veggies are cooked, turn the heat to medium/medium-low and add the can of soup, mixing well. I also added about a half cup of water but you can adjust the amount depending on desired thickness.
  8. Add the sour cream, adjusting to your desired level of sour creaminess.
  9. You’re done – serve the stroganoff over the pasta with a veggie! (We had sautéed zucchini!)

There you have it – a fast and easy beef stroganoff spin-off that doesn’t take any time at all. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did.

Photo credit:Christine Siracusa on Unsplash

You can always find the mothers…

I recently had the joy of dealing with a nuclear-level toddler melt down in the middle of a fairly nice restaurant. And by nice restaurant I mean they had cloth napkins and a hipster bartender.

In defense of the Little Dude, we sort of set him up for the perfect storm. We had been on a long car ride home after nearly two weeks away. We were all hungry and all tired and it was dinner time. While Little Dude hung in there as long as he could, he just couldn’t take much more.

After eating a lot of fast food, we decided to stop in a restaurant with printed menus and an actual wait staff. That, too, was probably too much to expect, but we had high (and naive) hopes. We ordered our food and then I took Little Dude to the bathroom for a diaper change. Then it happened – there was an automatic soap dispenser, and he couldn’t get enough of it. Such wizardry!

There was only one bathroom and we couldn’t be in there all day, so I pulled him away from the bathroom as he started to scream. I saw our waitress (who mentioned she was a mother of five herself) go into high-speed food delivery mode, employing two bus boys to get our plates to us. But it was too late. Little Dude was tired, hungry, and wanted liquid soap dispensed via the magic motion-detecting soap dispenser. I felt my lips purse to the point that I thought I was going to suck my lips and cheeks clear off my face. As he arched his back and screamed, I felt my face flush red and I looked across the dining room to see four or five heads pop up – some with looks of understanding, some worried, some wondering if I was about to beat my child because I clearly looked like I was about to go insane. They were the mothers. And I could tell they all got it. They all had been there. (The hipster bartender scowled at us, by the way.)

I made my way to the door with him, hissing at The Sarge, “We’re going outside, I’m not going to let this happen in here”.

We went out the front door in a screaming, shushing flurry, and I put Little Dude on a bench. His tantrum immediately ended. He saw a mailbox and went to play hide and seek behind it. To the casual onlooker, I held a conversation with a giant blue mailbox for about 15 minutes.

Finally, I asked, “Are you hungry? Because I’m hungry. But we have to sit and be good in the restaurant, okay?” And he nodded, and we went back inside. He gobbled at his spaghetti and declared he was done, so The Sarge took him back outside. The waitress re-appeared, touched my shoulder and asked, “Are you okay?” It was the kindest thing anyone could have done for me in that moment. One mom just checking in on another in the most gentle way possible. I said yes, asked for the bill, and left a big tip.

I learned a valuable lesson in how not to set us all up for failure and unavoidable hunger-related tantrums. I’m also glad that in a moment of what felt like a parenting fail I experienced a moment of kindness from a stranger. Note to self: Return the favor…again and again.

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Visiting a Civil War Reenactment

I grew up in Michigan. It’s not a place that has a lot of Civil War re-enactments going on. If you want a French and Indian War re-enactment, we’re good for that. But growing up, the Civil War was a time that lived in history books and on preserved battle fields far, far from where I was living, and as a kid, I couldn’t fathom much beyond that.

Fast forward 30 years and a new life in North Carolina. I took the Little Dude to see a Civil War camp and battle at a place called House in the Horseshoe. Spoiler alert: it’s located in a horseshoe bend in a river, hence the name. Each August they hold a Civil War re-enactment complete with a battle between North and South.

It was a fun event and actually turned out to be pretty perfect for a two-year-old. There were demonstrations of shooting muskets and cannons – from a safe distance, and surprisingly not that loud. There were different camp areas set up to learn about different aspects of life around the Civil War – toys children would have played with, medicinal herbs and their use in the battle field, and my favorite, how beer and mead were made. There were some dogs and chickens around, too, which was pretty much the highlight for Little Dude. (Also popular, trying to sneak into tents that people were actually living in. We’re working on manners still.)

I think the best part for me was that the participants didn’t pretend to actually be living in the Civil War. They spoke with everyone and answered questions without acting like they had just stepped out of a bizarro time machine. I’m all for accurate historical re-creations. I think there’s always a good time and place for those, but man, it gets old hearing that you don’t know what a taco is or you’ve never heard of the city I’m from. It’s pretty fascinating to hear what the presenters do know in real life and what they’ve studied.

If you get a chance to attend a similar event at House in the Horseshoe or elsewhere, I recommend it.

I <3 Lidl

Lidl is a German grocery store chain that recently started opening stores in the U.S. Specifically, they’re starting in North Carolina and Virginia and there’s one not far from my house.

Before I tell you more, I’m going to let you know that I love grocery stores. Growing up my extended family owned and operated grocery stores and I worked in grocery stores as a teenager. The first time I went to California I called my family from Safeway because I couldn’t wait to tell them how cool it was. I even sent them photos of the store’s walk-in wine cooler. I have tourist photos of grocery stores. I mean business, people.

I’ve tried to include photos here, but didn’t take photos in the busiest spots of the store. I didn’t want to be that weird stranger taking random photos of people.

I love Lidl. Lidl is the baby that Target and Aldi would have if they hooked up. It’s well-organized, has great prices on store-brands, and competitive prices on name brands. It sells a huge variety of stuff in a small space. The quality of produce and meat is top notch and the bakery, oh, the bakery. Well, I’ll tell you about that now…

The bakery sales breads, donuts, sweet pastries, savory pastries (think mini-pizzas with veggie toppings) and bagels. It’s basically a “serve yourself” bakery, so you grab a paper bag and grab your own items from gigantic bread boxes. You can also use their bread slicing machine which is like magic and proof that Lidl has enough faith in humanity that they think we can handle the decision of bread slice thickness. *fist bump to Lidl*

Meat/Seafood/Dairy…Cheese and the perfect Charcuterie Platter
I find that the quality of the meat, seafood, and dairy items are pretty good. We’ve had a roast and salmon from Lidl that were awesome, ribs that were so-so. The manchego that comes in at about $3 a pound is a bit drier than most manchego I’ve had, but it’s still delish and who am I to belittle a perfectly good cheese?

They also have a wide variety of packaged meats and cheeses that is better than most other grocery stores. You can create an epic meat and cheese platter…or if you want to get fancy, call it charcuterie. Some veggies, a good piece of bread, cheese, meat… I’m getting hungry.

Personal Care and Home Care
They have a limited quantity of personal and home care items. Store brand dish soap, clothing soap, hand soap. Household cleaners, feminine products, hygiene items like cotton swabs, baby items like shampoo, diapers, and wipes. Some of these things are name brands, others are store brand. I’ve found the quality of all the Lidl brand products in this category to be great.

Surprises only last until the store runs out. In any given week you’ll find items ranging from cycling jerseys to coffee makers to plant stands to dish sets. The prices are fair and the items are a mix of name brand and Lidl brand. I’m still mourning an adorable tiered plant stand I didn’t get because I waited too long!

Produce at Lidl is competitive with local brands and is often from the same sources used by other local grocers. They don’t have a huge variety, but everything is fresh and you can pick up most of what you might need for a week’s worth of meals.

Specialty Foods
In the last month or so my area Lidl has been stocking up on Italian foods – yummy cookies, unique pastas, you name it. It seems like this is cyclical, so maybe at a different time there will be German or Greek delicacies, for instance.

Beer and Wine
The beer and wine section is HUGE! And the prices are very fair. Lidl doesn’t carry overly expensive bottles of wine, but they take care to cover all price points. I’ll let the photo do the talking!

Definitely, check out Lidl when it comes to your neighborhood! It’s fantastic and I think it will change the way Americans grocery shop.

All Lidl photos by me. Featured photo of awesome food spread by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Freezer case of awesomeness at Lidl
Amazing beer and wine selection


Goalpaper: You’re plenty sweet!

What do you put on your smartphone lock screen? Pictures of your kids? Cool scenery? Cute designs? I put my goals on my lock screen, because I’m constantly looking at the damn thing, so I may as well make good use of it.

Whenever I make my goalpapers (goals + wallpaper = goalpaper! wahoo!) I try to make them say something that’s meaningful to me but really doesn’t mean much to anyone else who may glance at my phone. You know, snoopy people.

Lately, I’ve been trying to eat less sugar. I went on a bender for most of April and May. And June and July. Okay, I basically have been living life as a human chipper-shredder of all things sugar. I let myself eat whatever, and now I’m sitting here in shorts that are just a bit snug and I don’t appreciate the wedgie. I know that when I stick to the World Health Organization suggestion of 25 grams of sugar a day or less, I stay at a healthy weight. (Technically the recommendation is 10% of your intake of calories should come from sugar, or between 25 and 50 grams.)

My goalpaper this week is a reminder that I’m plenty sweet without more sugar. I hope you find it to be a good reminder too!

I made this cute iPhone 6 wallpaper using Canva. You can click on the image below to download it for your phone.

Featured image thanks to Gili Benita on Unsplash
iPhone 6 wallpaper/goalpaper by me, Christine, using Canva.

Stationed in Hawai’i? Here are money saving tips for your future adventures!

We loved being stationed in Hawai’i. If you’re preparing to PCS to Ft. Shafter, Schofield Barracks, Kaneohe, or any other duty station, then by now you’ve done a Google search or two. You may have found some bloggers that have negative things to say about those beautiful islands. I’ll just say this: you get what you give. I’m going to write a post someday about how to be a good guest of the state (and Kingdom) of Hawai’i sometime soon, but in the meantime, I want to talk about saving money while you live there.

The thing about Hawai’i is that if you’re doing it right, you’ll try to see as much of O’ahu as you can, and if you have the ability, you’ll visit the other islands, too. And, you may have guests. We had a lot of visitors while we lived in Hawai’i and the cost of playing tour guide quickly added up. It didn’t take long before we got a clue about the best ways to save cash and help our visitors save money, too.

Visit Leisure Travel Services. 

Do this first thing. When you get to Schofield Barracks or where ever you are stationed, take a minute to stop into Leisure Travel Services. Tell them you’re new to the post and that you would like brochures, fliers, the list of free or low-cost things to see and do, and if they have a copy, the tickets and events price list. Some LTS offices offer lists of cool hikes that you can do, too. This office can save you a ton on tickets to events of all types and they have the inside scoop on the best things to see and do to fit your budget and audience (kids, elderly parents, etc.)

Join Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local,

Sign up and get the apps on your phone and tablet for services like Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local, and You’ll find great deals on luaus, tours, events, concerts, and incredible restaurants. We would get tickets via Groupon for the Pirate Ship in Honolulu and our favorite luau, Germaine’s, though LTS has good prices for those too! (Hey, just a hint: use some of that money you save to leave decent tips for folks! They work hard to make you happy!)

Sign up for ALL of the email lists!

When a company in Hawai’i asks if you want to join their email list, your answer should be yes. Because you will be rewarded with awesome deals and you’ll get updates on cool events that are happening. For instance, the Polynesian Cultural Center will send you discounts and event updates as will places like the Pacific Historic Parks. If you want to get info discounted air tickets between islands, sign up email lists from all of the local airlines – big and small! We flew to Maui for $35 one way because I saw an email for a flash sale.

Ask about military and kama’aina rates.

Many places have military and kama’aina discounts. (Kama’aina, means local, but most places just want to see that you have a local driver’s license.) When checking out or purchasing tickets, ask if they offer a special rate. Take note that some places have discounts for military or kama’aina only on specific days of each week or month.

Just do all the amazing free stuff!

Hawai’i has so many beautiful beaches, hiking trails, parks, festivals, concerts…I could go on and on. Something as simple as a long walk through downtown Honolulu and in Waikiki can be a fun adventure. Stop at the local library or on-post library and check out the “Hawai’i Revealed” books. I ended up purchasing a copy of “O’ahu Revealed” and we found so many great little hikes, quiet beaches, and other free things to see and do.

So, that’s a start on saving money during your adventures.

Photo by me, Christine, aboard the Hawaii Pirate Ship in Honolulu. Go during the day for a kid-friendly adventure, and go at night for a pirate-themed dance party!

When you need a win…

I’ve been talking to people lately about those times when you just need a win. Well, not people. Me, I’ve been talking to myself, a lot, about this topic.

You deserve a WIN.

You know the feeling. Those days, weeks, months, where nothing happens for long, long stretches of time. I think it’s a common stay at home mom malady. Yes, you’re raising children and that’s important. You love them and everything is going great, they eat well, and they sometimes have manners. But, let’s face it, you really don’t know how that project is going to turn out for at least another 15 years. You should be happy with that and pleased. You are rocking as a mom. But there is a part of you, the non-mom part of you, that is still there under the yoga pants and ponytail that wants a win. The type of win you got when you were a working gal.

Slam dunk! IN YO FACE!

You know those days when you really killed it at the office? You gave a killer presentation to the VP. Or you got the entire contents of the back storage room out on to the sales floor, and everything was stocked and staged and beautiful? Or you captivated your classroom with a history lesson that entertained and educated? Or you led a yoga lesson that was so frickin’ zen you think half the class officially reached enlightenment?  Or you simply had a day at work that was so busy it felt like time flew, and when you got into your car you felt competent, needed, and empowered.

And I mean “competent, needed, and empowered” in a different way than it feels to be a mom. You’re competent, needed, and empowered as a mom. But let’s face it, it’s because you and I are the ones who know how to make the macaroni and cheese and can stop the shower from making that weird screeching sound.

Man, I want that feeling. I need that feeling.

I really want that feeling. I really need it. For my sanity, and for my sense of self-worth. I’m not quite sure how to get that feeling. I’m working on it though, and when I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, I’m going to celebrate little victories, like getting my eyeliner to look on point every morning, and actually getting the folded laundry from the dryer to the proper drawers, and trying to not cook pasta like five days in a row.

Gotta start somewhere right?

Because I’m not a great photographer I rely on the talent of others. Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash. Thanks, Nik.


The best parenting advice I’ve ever been given

So, I want to share the best parenting advice I’ve ever been given. Forgive me for being a hypocrite. I don’t like when people give me unsolicited parenting advice. Who does, really? Let’s face it, usually when someone gives parenting advice there is some small strain of superiority involved. However, there are some people I listen to because a) they know their stuff and b) they aren’t a smug know-it-all.  In this case, my friend J is a Montessori school teacher and most certainly not a smug know-it-all. She gave me this advice, and it’s been pretty helpful. Here it is:

Tell your kid what to do, not what not to do.

Wut? You know, when your kid is kicking you and you yell “STOP THAT!” and they just keep. on. kicking. Well, I still say “STOP THAT!” (because, human nature) when Little Dude is kicking the crap out of me, but then I follow up with:
“What do we do with our feet? What do we do with our legs? We jump! We walk! We run! But we don’t kick! Tell me, what do we do with our feet?”
And then he usually chimes in with his own list of things that he should do with his feet and is so distracted trying to think of things he stops kicking.

Another example is when Little Dude is drawing on, say, the dog. So I say, “Hey! We draw on the easel! We draw on paper! Let’s go back to the easel!” 

At first, I thought this was utter crap.

It didn’t work the first few times. Then one day, Little Dude, dear sweet boy that he is, was kicking the dog. So I said “Stop that, please! What do we…” and before I could finish he said “We jump! We run!” and he ran to get his toy from the other room. Whoa.

Do you know what all of your electronic stuff does?

I’m asking because I figured out why J’s advice works. It works because your kid, my kid, they’re like what, 2 or 3 years old? Newsflash – they’re working with new equipment. And what happens when you get new equipment? It takes time to learn all the bells and whistles. It takes time to learn when to use the features in the right place at the right time. Like when your friend gets an iPhone and insists on Facetiming you when they’re in a public place. (Most times, inappropriate. Do not do. We Facetime from home or private places!) It takes time to learn about new equipment…whether it’s your smart tv, your iPhone, or those new arms and legs that you just recently learned how to control. Kids need to hear what to do with all that stuff, not just what not to do.

Disclaimer: It doesn’t always work.

Mostly, I’ve had positive success with this advice. But, I’m not sure if you’ve heard, kids don’t always do what we want them to do. So, yeah, it doesn’t always work. When it doesn’t work, I usually say something like, “Since you don’t want to use the markers on the easel or paper, I’m going to put them over on the easel for now, and we can do something else for a while.” While the now-blue dog looks at me thankfully. Little Dude is starting to get that he should probably do what you’re supposed to do or we have to move on to a new activity or we have to stop for a time-in. As he’s getting older, he’s getting it.

What has been the best parenting advice you’ve been given?

Photo by Andrew Branch on Unsplash



Support your local farmers. Be lazy.

Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

In almost every place we’ve ever lived, I’ve signed us up for the local CSA or, Community Supported Agriculture, cooperative. Here in North Carolina, we belong to the Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative. A CSA allows participants to pay a weekly, monthly, or seasonal fee to become a shareholder, of sorts, at a farm, or multiple farms. In return for your fee you get a box of fresh fruits and veggies from local farmers each week. Sometimes you even get bread, jams or jellies, and sweets. In most places the fee starts at around $24-$30 a week, which is pretty darn fair if you tend to eat a lot of fresh food.

Here are four of my reasons for joining the co-op.

I like to sleep in.
Farmers markets are nice, but dear Lord, must they all start at 7 am? I just can’t do that. I’m barely functional by 9 and let’s face it, if you don’t get to a farmers market early, there’s almost nothing left after the first couple hours. My CSA box allows me to sleep in and I get to pick it up from the local coffee shop between 5 and 7 PM on Thursdays. Late pick up, coffee, fresh veggies. Win. Win. Win. Zzzzz.

I want to garden, but I just don’t.
I’m an intern master gardener. It means I’m not quite a master gardener because I haven’t finished my volunteer hours yet. I love gardening. I do want to garden, but I don’t. I have a few sad tomato plants that are neglected. I’m chasing kids and trying to work and and and…so, hellllloooo CSA. All the healthy benefits of a garden (lovely veggies, fruits, etc.), none of the watering or bug bites.

I’m a little bit lazy.
I like to really look over my food at the store, see what’s in season, review the prices, check the quality, see what’s “Clean 15” or “Dirty Dozen” or organic. But there are days when I’m trying to balance life stuff and I just grab stuff and don’t check and the next thing I know I have four rotten tomatoes because they were already starting to turn at the store but I didn’t notice. With a CSA, you get things at the peak of ripeness, so no more rotting food. And if you join a CSA featuring organic farmers, then you don’t have to worry about looking for organic labels or “Clean 15” items.

I like pretending I own a farm.
When you join a CSA, you become a part of a community, and most of the CSAs we’ve belonged to have held community events. Farm tours, community meals made of farm-fresh products, and even chances to volunteer to pack weekly boxes. It’s a fun chance to check out farms, meet the people who grow your food, and just hang out with people who like food as much as you do. And, during farm tours I daydream about my own super amazing future farm, because, a girl can dream, right?

Are you a member of a CSA? What are your reasons for joining?