Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's Just Not Christmas Until Something Catches Fire

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even my spouse.
The stockings were hidden in the closet with care,
Because I was sure that no one would look there.

The children were upstairs, sleeping away,
Too old to be looking for Santa and his sleigh.
Mr. W had fallen asleep watching TV,
So the only one conscious in the whole house was me.

Out of the corner of my eye I spied quite a sight,
From the star shaped decoration that held a tea light.
The soft mellow flame had grown quite a bit higher,
As the small cup of wax began to catch fire.

I blew and I blew, but it did me no good.
The air did not extinguish the flames as it should.
Mr. W woke from his short Christmas nap,
And rushed to my aid as quick as a snap.

He blew, just like me, which made matters worse,
Unsure what to do, we started to curse.
Mr. W grabbed the star, fast as a wink,
And rushed the whole mess right to the sink.

When he doused it with water, flames only jumped higher,
As the wax in the cup continued on fire.
It finally died out, with a sputter and hiss,
And we were able to return to our holiday bliss.

No damage was done, which was lucky, no doubt,
The fire could have spread had we not put it out.
When the ordeal was over a lesson was learned,
If you decorate with candles, you just might get burned.


*I should clarify, while I referred to this as a "decoration", it was a table top candle holder and not a tree decoration.  It was sitting on a side table when the fire started.  I would never have a lit candle hanging anywhere near the Christmas tree!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Announcing The Winner Of The Novica Giveaway

Sorry, this announcement is a little later that I intended it to be. 

The names of all participants were put in a hat and shuffled around thoroughly.  Mr. Willoughby then randomly drew one name.  The winner is Joanna of The Fifty Factor!  Congrats, Joanna!  Have fun shopping!

Thank you to everyone who entered my Novica giveaway.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's Time For A Giveaway!

I am excited to announce that Novica has, once again given me a $50 gift card to award to one lucky winner.  If you're not familiar with Novica, they work in association with National Geographic to bring the work of talented artists and artisans around the globe to the rest of the world via the internet. Shopping their website is a unique experience as you can view information about each artist along with the works they create.  It gives each item a very personal feeling.  In the Keepers Of The Arts section, you can watch videos of the artists at work.

I love Novica so much that I could go on and on telling you how wonderful their website is, what great customer service they have and, especially, how talented the artisans are, but it would be much more fun for you to see for yourself.  Before you head over there, though, let me give you a sneak peak of some of the wonderful things you'll discover (and maybe help you find some unique Christmas gifts).

Wool Belt "Black Night Bouquet"
in Accessories

Leather Laptop Case "Executive Finesse In Black"
in Men's Accessories

Obsidian Cufflinks "Night Magic"
in Cufflinks
Wood Walking Stick "Mermaid"
in Walking Sticks

Cotton Scarf "Timeless Purple"
in Women's Scarves

Peridot Cufflinks "Jigsaw Riddle"
in Silver Cufflinks

Now that you've seen some of the beautiful items available at Novica, are you ready to enter my giveaway for a $50 gift card?  Here's what you need to do:

Entry Rules

1. You must be a follower of This Stop Willoughby, or become one. 
2. You must click on the one of the category links listed in the captions of the photos above, browse the items in that category, and then come back and leave a comment on this post telling me about one of your favorites.
3. You may leave an additional comment on this post (one per day) telling me about a favorite item from any category.
4. If you would like to earn a bonus entry, mention my giveaway on your blog along with a link to this post. Please be sure to leave a comment (with link) letting me know that you've done so.
5. This giveaway is not limited to the United States.  If you have followed the above rules, you're eligible as long as Novica can ship to you.

The deadline for entries is Sunday, December 11, 2011 at noon Eastern Time.  The winner will be drawn randomly and announced by 3:00 Eastern Time.  One entry per day as well as one bonus entry allowed.   Please be sure to include a way for me to contact you should you be the winner of this giveaway.  If your email is not linked to your blog, please include it in the comment you leave here.  If I am unable to contact the winner, a different winner will be drawn at random.

Good Luck!!


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Trying To Get The Feeling And Some News About A Giveaway

I'm just not feeling it this year.  Christmas, I mean.  Any enthusiasm I'm able to muster is pretty much forced.  I'm not entirely sure why it doesn't seem to hold the same excitement for me that it used to, but it just doesn't. I feel badly about it.  Christmas should be a magical time.

Maybe it's the weather.  I dread winter.  I have no interest in dealing with months of snow and cold, and driving on icy roads get old really quick.  We've only had a light dusting or two so far, but December marks the beginning of four or five months of bad weather.  It's likely colored my outlook on Christmas.

More than that, I think it's that the Christmas push starts earlier and earlier every year.  My local supermarket started putting up their holiday displays in September.  By now, I've had my fill of Christmas and it hasn't even gotten here, yet.

I find the advertising more obnoxious than usual this year, too.  One store is telling you that you shouldn't give any gift that isn't a name brand (so much for that scarf you spent the last month knitting), and another is encouraging you to make a chump out of Santa Claus by out-gifting him.  Worst of all, in my opinion, are the advertisements for a certain car company.  How many people do you know who can afford to give a $30,000 gift for Christmas?  In an incredible stroke of irony, I happened to see that ad just after the commercial for Save Our Strength where they tell you that one in four kids in America goes hungry every day.  Puts it in perspective, doesn't it?

We haven't done much of our Christmas shopping yet, and I'm not too psyched to start.  Every time we've been in a store lately, it's been a bad experience.  In one store, the cashier threw away our gift card (even though it still had money left on it) and then gave us an attitude when she had to go through the trash to retrieve it.  In a home improvement store, we left our cart full of wood at the end of the aisle because it was too difficult to maneuver (we're renovating our home office, but that's for another post) and a cashier took it without telling us.  When we finally found it, she was pre-ringing our items because she said it would save us time.  It's a long story, but in the end, she rang everything up wrong and charged us twice for the whole order.  It took an extra 45 minutes to check out and we ended up having to go back to the store to get the second charge removed.

My plan is to do as much of our Christmas shopping online as possible.  I'm trying to stay away from the big store's websites and purchase gifts from places like Etsy and Novica, where I can be much more connected to the artisans who create the items they sell.  I've also been eyeing the adorable sweet and savory petite bites at Alchemy by Carla Hall (remember her from Top Chef?).

How about you?  Are you feeling all warm and fuzzy about the holidays?  Where are you doing your Christmas shopping this year?


One thing that always makes me happy and puts me in a festive mood is having a giveaway.  Come back tomorrow and I'll announce the fantastic giveaway that I'm having!


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet....Is That A Dead Body On Your Porch?

Last year, our daughter decided she was too old for trick or treating so we started a new tradition of spending the evening around a fire in the backyard and handing out candy from the arbor that opens onto the sidewalk.  It's fun and gives us an opportunity to decorate more than just the front porch.

So once again, we roped off the front walkway with "Danger" tape and hung a sign directing the trick or treaters around the corner to the backyard (our house is on the corner).

We still wanted to have a Halloween display on the front porch, so we converted it into a morgue, complete with a dead body.

We placed our pumpkins along the route to the "Haunted Gate".

Last year, we had creature silhouettes peeking out the side windows.  This year, we opted for zombies, instead.  They were a big hit.  A group of boys stood on the sidewalk watching them to see if they would move.

It was chilly, in the 40's, so we stayed close to the fire when we weren't handing out candy.  We had our torches lit for some additional light.

We had Halloween themed music blasting and there were ghosts and bats strung across the backyard, fluttering and flying in the wind.    

When the evening was over, we had given out nearly 400 pieces of candy, but we still have quite a bit left.

How was your Halloween?


Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Can't Lye, The Snake Was Pretty Cool

We couldn't have asked for more beautiful weather over the weekend.  It was unseasonably warm, with clear blue skies and lots of sun.  We weren't sure what we wanted to do to make the most of it.  The possibilities were endless; the beach, the park, a picnic, a day trip.  Snake handling wasn't on the list, but we'll get to that soon.

My daughter had just come downstairs after taking a shower and we were in the kitchen talking about what to do with the day when we heard a gurgling sound.  We listened for a moment and determined it was coming from the half bath.  The water in the toilet bowl was bubbling and churning.  I flushed to see if that would stop it, but it didn't.  The water continued to bubble and it wouldn't drain.

I called to Mr. W for help.  We knew the toilet itself wasn't clogged, but we thought there might be something blocking the drain further down the pipe.  The trouble started after the shower had been used, so maybe something had gotten into the shower drain.  We thought that by plunging the toilet, we could clear the clog.

In the backyard, just past the end of the porch, there is a pipe sticking out of the ground that vents all of the drains, so I went to check it out.  As I got closer to it, I could hear splashing.  To my horror, raw sewage was spewing out of it.  I ran back into the house and told Mr. W to stop plunging.

Initially, we decided to take the wait and see approach.  We waited for the "water" level in the pipe to go down. It took a few hours, but it eventually emptied enough that we could pour some professional strength drain cleaner into it.  This stuff was supposed to be strong enough to dissolve everything but the pipe itself.  We had high hopes, but, when our son turned on the shower to get ready for work, the pipe again overflowed.

Our next thought was to snake the pipe with a 25 foot hand held drain snake.  We managed to get the entire length of it through the drain without hitting an obstruction.  Not sure what else to try, we dumped some more drain cleaner into the pipe and waited.

By Sunday, we were getting pretty discouraged that the drain cleaner was not clearing the pipe.  We thought of calling a plumber, but we knew that would be outrageously expensive on a weekend, and being the DIYers that we are, we wanted to fix it ourselves.  Again, we snaked the drain, then we added some foaming root killer in case tree roots were the cause of the clog.

When Monday rolled around and we were still in the same predicament, we decided to try one last chemical treatment.  According to a number of online sources, lye was the chemical of choice.  I had serious reservations about using it after reading about the potential for explosion.  Still, we were desperate, so we carefully added lye to the offending drain.  There was no explosion, but also no progress.  It was time to call in the big guns.

Mr. W rented an electric drain snake.  It had a 100 foot cable and came with an assortment of blades for cutting through roots and debris in drain lines.  It took both of us to operate the machine, one to feed the cable into the pipe and the other to advance it, but we got the drain flowing freely.  We were kicking ourselves for not doing it Saturday afternoon instead of adding all of the useless chemical drain cleaners.

Although we can't say for sure, we're fairly certain it was a root blocking the drain.  There are a lot of mature trees around here and it's pretty common in old drain lines.  Should you ever encounter a similar problem, I highly recommend renting the electric snake.  It cost a small fraction of what a plumber would have charged and was pretty easy to use.

You never realize how much you take your plumbing for granted until it's not working, you know?


*All photos courtesy of Google Images

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


My daughter has a sudden fascination with horror movies.  She hasn't seen any of them, but with Halloween just around the corner, she's seen and heard references to a lot of them.  The Exorcist is of particular interest to her because she heard it was rated the scariest movie of all time.  She asked me what it was about and if I thought it was too scary for her.

It's been years since I've seen the film, but I remember the general storyline, so I gave her a brief description.  I told her it was far too scary for her and that it had some very adult scenes that I don't think are appropriate for an eleven year old.  Still, she pressed on, asking me what part of the movie scared me the most.  Without a doubt, I told her, it was the scene where Regan (Linda Blair) scrambles down the stairs on her back in a creepy fast crab walk.  Even a still photo of that scene gives me the chills (which is why I chose to post a different photo).

She wanted to know what other movies were scary to me, so next, we talked about the movie Rosemary's Baby.  As I've mentioned before, it made me terrified of my closet when I was a kid.  I don't want to give away the plot if you've never seen it (although it came out in 1968, if you haven't seen it by now....), but the closet plays a pivotal role.  My daughter asked me how old I was when I saw it and I had to admit I was probably about her age.  In any case, I think it's a little much for her.

Around that age, I was also pretty scared by The Amityville Horror.  I saw it at the theater with my parents soon after it came out in 1979.  The red room in the basement of that house was truly terrifying to me, and it continued to be even after we got home.  At that time, my oldest brother's bedroom was at the top of the stairs.  It was painted a deep orange and had orange shag carpet (very fashionable in the 1970's).  If the door was closed and the light was on in his room, an orangey-red glow could be seen on the hallway floor.  It reminded me of the Amityville red room so much that I can still remember running up the stairs and past his room as fast as I could to get to my own.  My daughter thought that was pretty funny.

As an adult, I told her that the one movie I couldn't finish watching was Hannibal.  I liked the first film of the series, Silence of the Lambs, but Hannibal was far too disturbing for me.  I started to give her a watered down version of the story, but she told me she didn't want to hear the rest.  I can't blame her, I had to walk out of the room when we rented it years ago.  To this day, I have no idea how it ends.

The only movie to give me nightmares as an adult was Fire In The Sky.  I just couldn't shake the image of Travis Walton (D.B. Sweeney) being examined/tortured by aliens.  Every time I closed my eyes, I would see that scene.  Whether or not you believe this is a true story (supposedly it is), it's still pretty scary.

We started to talk about the movie It, but as soon as I said "evil clown", she didn't need to hear any more.  I've always been freaked out by clowns and so has she.  I told her she could watch a clip of It online, but she declined.  Still, I posted it here.  Tim Curry plays the role of Pennywise The Clown brilliantly.  If this doesn't chill your blood, nothing will.

I told my daughter that I would try to think of a few scary movies that were appropriate for her.  She's already seen some of Night of the Living Dead, but that's so goofy and cheesy (which is what I love about it) that it doesn't bother her.  The only other movie that came to mind was The Others.  To me, it's more mysterious than scary.

Since then, I think she's changed her mind about watching anything scary at all.  On Sunday, Mr. W and I were watching an episode of The Most Terrifying Places in America on the Travel Channel and she asked if she could watch it with us.  We said yes, so she came in and sat down.  About 30 seconds into the first story, when they showed a reenactment of a ghost sighting, she suddenly remembered something she needed to do in another room.  I guess The Exorcist will have to wait a few years.


Friday, September 23, 2011

How Do You Like It?

I was browsing the Yahoo home page when I came across an article about macaroni and cheese.  Maybe you saw it, too?  It gave a link to the recipe for what is considered to be the World's Best Mac and Cheese and listed tips for perfecting it in your own kitchen.  I had hoped to find a few reviews of the recipe, but the comments following the article were full of personal mac and cheese recipes and a lot of opinions on what makes the perfect macaroni and cheese.

I find this all very interesting because macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods.  The best I've ever had (sorry, Mom) is the macaroni and cheese served at the Frankenmuth Brewery in Frankenmuth, Michigan.  From their menu: "Our house recipe four-cheese blend atop bowtie noodles sprinkled with bread crumbs, butter, parmesan and parsley."  It's truly cheesy heaven on a plate, with just the right amount of crispiness on top.

When I was a kid, my mom made really great macaroni and cheese for dinner every once in a while.  She would put it in the oven to brown the top a little bit, but she never put any sort of bread crumbs or cracker crumbs on to make a crunchy crust.  That's probably why I prefer mac and cheese without too much crunch added.  In my mind, it supposed to be a primarily creamy dish.

As much as I like to make dishes from scratch, I've never found a really great recipe for macaroni and cheese other than my mom's.  I've tried dozens of them, but they always seem to be too dry and grainy or the cheese separates or the taste is just not quite what I'm looking for.  The addition of mustard doesn't do much for me, either.  A few online friends recommended I try one that contains cottage cheese, but that sounds awfully lumpy to me.  For me, the perfect macaroni and cheese should have a sharp/tangy sauce so smooth and creamy that it is almost (but not quite) runny.  It should not clump together as you spoon it out of the serving dish.  The top can have a lightly browned, thin bit of crisp coating, but it shouldn't have a thick crust.

How about you?  What is your perfect mac and cheese?  Do you make it from scratch or you do you covet the blue box?  


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Oh, September!

I don't know about you, but I find September to be one of the most difficult months of the year.  Most of it has to do with getting in the groove of a new school schedule after three months of summer slacking, but it has a lot to do with the changing weather, too.  It's a month of many transitions.

Last year, our school district decided to push the start time of the elementary school and middle school up by an hour.  I really hated it because school also got out an hour later.  Too late, in my opinion.  On a more positive note, my daughter had an extra hour to get ready in the morning and there was less traffic for our drive to school.  This year, we're back to the original start time.  I prefer it, but mornings are rushed and the traffic is so much worse.

I'm also making a transition with a new SUV.  It's used, actually, but it's new to me and I'm still figuring out where everything is and how it all works.  One day last week, on the way home from driving my daughter to school, I pushed the wrong button on the radio and couldn't find my preset radio stations.  I didn't want to take my eyes off the road for long, so I was stuck listening to this:

"Stuck" may not be technically accurate since I turned it up and sang along.....  The next day, when it was raining, it was less fun to realize that I didn't know where the control for the rear window wiper was.  I know how stupid that sounds, but it's in a different location than it was in my last SUV.

September weather has been quite a transition this year, too.  Early in the month, it was warm enough that we were still able to swim in our pool.  Since then, the temperature has gone up and down considerably.  One day I have the windows open, the next I have the heat on in the morning and the air conditioning on in the afternoon.  The humidity has also been a joy.  This morning, it was 67 degrees with 95% humidity.  Every horizontal and semi-horizontal surface outside was covered with moisture.  It took forever to defog the windshield (once I found the correct button).

Oh, September, is there any way I could bribe you to bring back August?


Monday, September 12, 2011

Bringing Back An Old Favorite

Our little town had its annual festival this weekend.  As I've mentioned before, we're not huge fans of the festivities.  Blame it on the number of times we've had to clean our yard of beer cans, plastic cups, liquor bottles and other assorted garbage.  We won't even discuss the year a bus load of partiers decided to relieve themselves in our shrubs. 

Instead of hanging around the house and watching people scramble for parking spots along the street, we decided to bring back an old favorite (which you may remember from a previous post), the Cheap Thrills Road Trip.

For this trip, we wanted to revisit a place we've enjoyed in the past, Harbor Beach, Michigan.  The drive to Harbor Beach takes you through beautiful little beach towns and along the Lake Huron shoreline.

As we passed through Forester, we stopped, once again, to pay our respects to the grave of Minnie Quay (more info. on the legend of Minnie Quay can be found here).  We brought along a small seashell to place on top of her headstone.

It was surprising to see how many trinkets had been left by previous visitors.  It's obvious that the story of a young girl's suicide and unsettled spirit touches many people in some strange and amazing way.  May she rest in peace.

We strayed from the original Cheap Thrills Road Trip Challenge a bit this time.  Instead of bringing a picnic lunch, we decided to use our budget on a late lunch/early dinner.  The town of Harbor Beach has a number of restaurants to choose from, but we wanted something we could take to the waterside park, so we ordered sandwiches from Ernesto's Pizzeria.

While our sandwiches were prepared, we walked next door to McNally's Antique Shop.  This is a fabulous place.  Years ago, it was a grocery store and it still retains the original walk-in refrigerator and freezer (though neither are kept cold anymore) with their huge, thick doors.  They serve as mini display rooms and are full of merchandise.  The shop owner, Richard, is super knowledgeable and friendly.  If you should have the pleasure of dropping into McNally's, be sure to say hi to Richard and tell him Willoughby sent you!

After we picked up our sandwiches, we headed over to Bathing Beach Park at the Trescott Street Pier to eat.  The seagulls were out in full force, so we opted for a picnic table under the pavilion.  It was a gorgeous day and we had a beautiful view of the water.

When lunch/dinner was finished and we had enjoyed the park and the scenery, we jumped back into our truck and headed south to White Rock.  There is a roadside park where you can take a nature walk.  Although it's difficult to see in the picture, the goldenrod were covered with butterflies.  I was lucky enough to have one land on my arm, but only for a moment.

To the left of the nature walk there is a viewing area where you can see "White Rock".  It has a unique and interesting history.  At one time, it marked the boundary between Native American land and the territory that was ceded to Michigan.  During WWII, the US Air Force used the rock for target practice.

Beyond the viewing area are stairs leading down to the water.  There is a small stretch of beach, though I don't think it's used much for swimming and sunbathing.

Mr. Willoughby hopped across the rocks to a large, stony ledge a few feet from shore.....

while our daughter sat on an old, fallen tree to admire the view.....

and I wrote a message in the sand so other visitors would know we had been there.

It was nearing dusk when we decided to head back home.  If you live in a rural area, you know that dusk is an active time for deer.  We had an incredibly close call with a young doe who ran out in the road in front of us.  Mr. Willoughby didn't notice her approaching until I screamed.  Had he hit the brakes a fraction of a second later, I would have a very different story to tell.

Back in our own small town, we had to stop to let something else cross the road....

before we could get home.

Once again, we had a great time and felt like we were on vacation for the entire day.  In case you're wondering how this measured up to my Cheap Thrills rules, we used less than one tank of gas, were home before nightfall and with the cost of our food and drinks, spent a total of $18.  We have no regrets that we decided to take a road trip and skip the local festival.