Great Expectations

or “My Life in Blog Sounds Much Cooler Than It Really Is”

If I had a million dollars….

Posted by mandyhuckins on January 20, 2010

In the immortal words of the Barenaked Ladies….I would buy myself a the cutest dress I have ever seen.  I saw it in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar.  It is by designer Jason Wu (of Michelle Obama inaugural dress fame); therefore, I cannot now nor ever conceivably afford to purchase it.  But, I scanned it a picture so I could share it here and we could all drool.


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Confessions of a bookworm…

Posted by mandyhuckins on January 12, 2010

In 2006, the first year I really and truly kept track of what I was reading, I read 38 books.  I knew I could do better, so for 2007, I pushed the total to 46.  In 2008, my goal was to read 50 books (a little less than one a week) and I did it by reading 51.  In 2009, I set an ambitious goal of 55 books, but I am sorry to report that I fell far short. I have 51 books in my book journal, but I know that some of them were unfinished.  Here is the list of what I read in 2009:

1.) Hood by Stephen Lawhead

2.) Good to Great by Jim Collins

3.) Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (one of my favorite authors and I want to work my way through his oevre)

4.) The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

5.) The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (on my Top 50 Books of All Time list)

6.) Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke (This is one I haven’t finished….yet)

7.) Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

8.) People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

9.) My Enemy’s Cradle by Sara Young

10.) The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker

11.) The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

12.) Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

13.) Empire of the Ants by Bernard Werber

14.) March by Geraldine Brooks (an excellent read and a Pulitzer Prize winner)

15.) Horseplay by Judy Reene Singer

16.) The Last Days of Dogtown by Anna Diamant

17.) Drood by Dan Simmons

18.) Saddled with Trouble by Michele Scott

19.) The White by Deborah Larsen

20.) Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster

21.) Stormy: Misty’s Foal by Marguerite Henry (disclaimer: a child’s book, but a lovely one)

22.) The Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend

23.) Thief of Souls by Ann Benson

24.) The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller

25.) The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

26.) Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes by Cathy Holton

27.) Watership Down by Richard Adams (this used to be on my Top 50 of All Time Book list, but this time through, I didn’t love it as much.  Isn’t it funny how our tastes change at different points in our life?)

28.) Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

29.) The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

30.) Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst

31.) The Gate House by Nelson DeMille

32.) Sea Glass by Anita Shreve

33.) The Highwayman & Mr. Dickens by William J. Palmer

34.) The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson

35.) Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

36.) Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

37.) An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

38.) Courtesan by Diane Haeger

39.) The Starter Wife by Gigi Levangie Grazer

40.) The Hounds and the Fury by Rita Mae Brown

41.) Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

42.) The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner

43.) Paris in the Twentieth Centrury by Jules Verne

44.) Maneater by Gigi Levangie Granger

45.) The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans

46.) Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carol

47.) Neuromancer by William Gibson

48.) Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig (LOVED IT!)

49.) Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen

50.) Eragon by Christopher Paolini

51.) The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

So, as you can see, I have a pretty eclectic taste in reading.  I enjoy switching from more challenging or meaty reads to frivolous “beach” reading.  I want to include a Pulitzer prize winner and a Charles Dickens each year.  All in all, I didn’t do too badly, but better luck in 2010!

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Better to give….

Posted by mandyhuckins on January 8, 2010

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday season.  I know I did!  Having my family here for a Kansas Christmas was better than I even expected.  I am so glad that the uncooperative weather didn’t keep them away. 

While I know that giving and receiving presents should not really be the focus of Christmas (there are more spiritual and altruistic things upon which to focus) – it sure is fun and I love it.  I love picking things out for people I love and imagining them opening a package and being thrilled with its contents. 

When my sister and I were little, we would sometimes do a little something we called the twelve days of Christmas.  On the twelve days leading up to Christmas, we would give each other a little gift we had made.  One year, I remember my mom bought us each a tiny little Christmas tree for our room.  So, that year, she and I made little ornaments for each other and gave them during the twelve days of Christmas.  By Christmas, we had a nicely decorated little tree.  It was really fun.

This year, I did a grown up twelve days with her.  I gave her twelve gifts – each having to do with the corresponding number.  Some of them were a stretch:

1) An Infinity Scarf from the Limited in Teal (this was on her Christmas list)

2.) A pair of sea glass earrings I purchased during a business trip to Cuba in the fall

3.) Three silver chains of differing lengths

4.) Four matching makeup (0r whatever) bags that all fit inside each other

5.) A set of five little rice bowls, grey with white flowers on them, that I purchased during a business trip to Japan in the fall

6.) A makeup set with 3 pots of shimmery eyeshadow and three application brushes

7.) A set of purple earrings that had seven dangling stones each

8.)  Eight bracelets in different shades of cream and gold, made from tiny beads

9.) A pair of black ballet flats – size 9

10.) A set of 10 notecards with a very cute picture of an Italian Greyhound on the front

11.) A bag of marzipan fruit candy (our favorite) – and can you believe?  There were exactly 11 pieces inside!

12.) A purple Banana Republic wallet to replace the white one I got her last year (12 credit card slots inside!)

I think she was really excited and it was so fun to watch her open all twelve gifts.  My dad said, “Is anyone else going to open any presents?”  🙂

So, the old saying is that it is better to give than to receive.   But, I don’t know about that.  Take a look at some of my loot:

My mom and dad bought me this GORGEOUS lamp to put in my home office.  I would take a picture of it in action, but I am embarrassed at the disreputable state my office is in at the moment.  So, you just get the stock photo:

Lamps  Warrior Horse Table Lamp

I do feel terrible about how much they spent on this lamp, but it is breathtaking and is truly the most beautiful horse lamp ever made.

Equally lovely is the pair of pumps my sister got me.  Again, I would take a picture of the actual shoes, but I can’t quite stand up in them yet!  I need to practice. 

Aren’t they to die for?  So gorgeous.

And, my sweet husband bought me a Big Buddha handbag I had been wanting.  Have you heard of this brand yet?  They are great.  They are pretty inexpensive (as far as handbags go), but they look really high end.  I always get compliments whenever I carry one.  And, so far, every time I have used this new bag since Christmas, someone has stopped me to tell me how pretty it is or to ask where I got it.  It is just like the picture below, except in a deep purple.  Apparently that color was hard to find.  My husband bought the last one in our local Dillard’s and my mom and sister admitted that they had tried to get it for me at their own Dillards, but were told it never came in purple!

He also gave me this lovely grey/silver velvet blazer from Ann Taylor.  He picked this out all on his own as a surprise and it fits like a tailor made it especially for me.

Petite Stretch Velvet Jacket

I am definitely a lucky girl!

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Last day of the Christmas tour….

Posted by mandyhuckins on December 23, 2009

Today, we will finish the tour of the Christmas decorations in my home. 

One of my absolute favorite decorations is my nativity.  It is made by Lladro and was collected piece by painstaking piece over many years.  My husband and parents were very happy during those years because they always knew what to get me for Christmas.  Isn’t it breathtaking?

Can you believe that this is in my kitchen?  But, the computer desk top is the perfect display space for it and in this house, the only room for it was in the eating area of the kitchen.

In front of the computer desk is the kitchen table.  Here is a picture of the table top.

I had a bright idea to put wreaths on the back of the kitchen chairs.  They are cute, but the dollar store only had three.  I bought them thinking I could find another later, but so far, I haven’t.  So, it looks a little funny….

This is what is on top of our fridge:

This is on one of the kitchen walls.

This is my favorite new Christmas decor.  I am going to have a really hard time taking this down afer the holidays – I might just leave it up for awhile.  It is hanging in the entryway over a coat rack.  This picture definitely does not do it justice – it is absolutely stunning.  It is handpainted by the very, very talented Jennifer Macneill Traylor from Gypsy Mare Studios.  For a delightful read, beautiful photographs and to see what gorgeous work she is creating, please visit her blog The Mare’s Tales

Couldn’t that be me, dressed all in my favorite color, being pulled along by my beautiful black Dancer?  🙂  Well, probably  not really, unless I wanted to take my life into my hands.  I am not sure she would love dragging something behind her. 

And, speaking of Dancer, you didn’t think I would forget her, did you?  This is the wreath on her stall, complete with horseshoe ribbon.

Ok, sorry for the detour.  Now to finish the rest of my house – this is down the hallway.  Since we do not have a fireplace or a hearth (what is it with not having fireplaces whenever we live anywhere cold where we could use them?  We had one in Montgomery, Alabama and Charleston, South Carolina, but not in North Dakota, Germany or Kansas. Sigh.) Anyway, this is where we hang our stockings.

Also in this hallway, I hung two yard sale picture frames that I converted to chalkboards.  On them, I put quotations from one of my favorite Christmas songs.  I wish my handwriting were better…

At the end of the hall is our bedroom, where I hung sparkly little reindeer from the dollar store over our bed.

To conclude the tour, let’s slip outside for a moment…  (Don’t you just love how on the night I go out to take the picture, the lights go out on one of the stars?)

I’ll leave you for today with a close-up of the swag I made (yes, made) using lots of ideas and suggestions from the blog world.  And, again, due to our lack of fireplace and mantle, my creative endeavor had to go outside.  But, more people see it this way, I guess.  🙂

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Christmas in the dining room….

Posted by mandyhuckins on December 22, 2009

As promised, the Christmas tour of my house continues in the dining room today.  In this house, the dining and living room are actually all one.  But, there is a lot of Christmas to see, so I decided to break it up into two posts.  Want to see the rest of the living room decorations?  Check out yesterday’s post.

This is the dining room table.  It has a gold colored table cloth left over from Thanksgiving.  On top of that are two lovely evergreen tree lace table toppers I got at the famous Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas store in Rothenburg Germany.  (Tired of hearing about Germany?)  The reindeer candle holders are new for this year.  I got them at Hobby Lobby last week at half price!  They were the last two….I am telling you ladies, this year, if you wait until the day after Christmas, there isn’t going to be anything left in the stores!  I love them.  I filled them with jingle bells from the dollar store.  Around them, I grouped a little crystal bowl filled with small ornaments and a floral pick from the dollar store and two larger ornaments on crystal candlestick holders.  I haven’t ever done this before, but I think I really like how it turned out.  What do you think?

This is the buffet….

This is a close up (albeit a blurry one) of the gorgeous ornament on the first shelf:

Here is the china cabinet.  I have a collection of green glass in there year-round, but toss in a few sprigs of red berries and it looks very Christmas-y.  I also added some sparkly gold ornaments from the dollar store and a few Christmas decorations I had and ta-da!

Tomorrow, I will show you the kitchen and some other miscellaneous things (including my most favorite new Christmas decoration).

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Christmas time is here….

Posted by mandyhuckins on December 21, 2009

Since you haven’t heard from me in over three months, I thought I might ease my way back into your good graces with a Christmas post.  I have always, always loved Christmas.  I get totally wrapped up in the fun and excitement of the season.  When we lived in Germany, I was in heaven – those Germans really know how to elevate the holiday season to a whole new level – Christmas markets – hot spiced wine – beautiful and unusual decorations.  I really have to exercise self control not to start decorating the house or listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving.  My husband, on the other hand, is the opposite.  I think every year he says “we don’t really need to have a Christmas tree this year, right?”  What?!?  I never really know if he means it or not, but needless to say, this is our 13th Christmas tree.  🙂  I am not even sure why he complains, since the output he expends in decorating for Christmas is very, very minimal. 

No matter – I am up to the task.  And, this year, despite our house being one of the smallest since our very first apartment, I have really gone overboard with the decorating.  I just can’t seem to stop.  Seriously, I think I have added something to the decorations every day since Thanksgiving!  And, the shopping – my goodness!  Seems like everyone is having sales this year before Christmas and I have been taking full advantage.  So, come on in, look around and soak up some holiday cheer.

This is the view coming in the front door.  Don’t you just love that beautiful golden deer?  I attended a Holiday Table Display at the Wichita Arts Center back in November and I saw this deer decorating one of the tables.  I had to have him! 

Here is a shot of the tree.  Sort of blurry, but you get the idea. It is very traditional and filled with a variety of ornaments we have collected along the way.

And, here is one of our favorite ornaments.  It is a glass santa made in Poland.  We bought it at a Christmas Market booth in Strasburg, France.  The picture doesn’t even do it justice.  The detail is amazing.

And, speaking of Santas, here is my Russian Santa collection. 

The German Christmas village:

And, the German Christmas Market display:

And, here are two close-ups:

This is the pyramid from Germany:

Here is the picture hanging above it – a depiction of the Strasburg Christmas Market.  I love this picture – sorry about the glare from the flash, but it was too dark to do without it.

I have two poinsettias in a basket on the table beside the couch.  They were left over from the Thanksgiving decorations.

That’s the living room.  Tomorrow – the tour continues in the dining room.

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A pretty little present…

Posted by mandyhuckins on September 11, 2009

With her amazing color combinations, never ending stock of ribbons, creative embellishments and layering galore, A Gift Wrapped Life is the undisputed master mistress of the gift wrapping universe.  Here are just a few of my favorites:



Seriously, are they not to die for?

So, here was my attempt (using what I had in the house) at wrapping a pretty little present for my newest little cousin.


My wrapping skills (and my photography skills for that matter) still leave a lot to be desired, but at least it is a step up from a gift bag, right?  🙂

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The Great Panty Debacle….

Posted by mandyhuckins on September 9, 2009

I really love a good sale, so on Monday, I hit the local shopping center to see if anyone had any exciting Labor Day discounts.  Victoria’s Secret came through.  They had bins full of bras marked down to $12.99.  I found one I liked (original price $45!) and then scoured the store to find undies to match (I know, I know, I am weird like that.)  Also, on a  strange side note, I was looking for some undies to match a light green bra I purchased a while ago.  For some reason, I can’t find 3 pairs of underwear I purchased to go with that bra.  It is really weird.  Anyway, I left the store with a bra and 10 pairs of panties.  

When I got home, I realized that I had been charged full price ($12) for a pair of underwear that I had pulled out of the sale bin and were marked $5.99.  So, I left everything in the bag and went back today to let them know that I had accidentally been overcharged.  The nice ladies working in the store apologized and worked to correct the discrepancy.  Meanwhile, I decided to spin through the sale bins again – I mean, $12.99 for a bra – come on!  That is a good deal.  Today, I found two additional bras and 4 pairs of underwear.  While checking out, they credited the $12 back to me and re-charged me the $5.99 for the panties that I purchased on Monday.  They put everything (3 bras and all the assorted underwear) back into the same bag.

I got home and took everything out.  I clipped all the tags off and before I threw them away, I decided to just add everything up quickly to see how much I saved ($268 original retail price – $126 sale price!)  That is when I noticed that I was again charged $14 and $12 for the panties I purchased today that should have rung up at $5.99.  Seriously?  Who is more stupid – Victoria’s Secret for ringing up wrong prices two times in a row or me for not double checking this while I was still in the store?  To add insult to injury, one of the pairs of underwear didn’t even make it in the bag!  Ah!

I am so irritated that I have to go back there again.  Wonder what the odds are that I can make it out of there without purchasing additional merchandise….

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Posted by mandyhuckins on September 8, 2009

As I mentioned in a previous post, I spent a long weekend with my sister in Chicago in August.  Since we are both horse lovers, we jumped on the chance to see a show called Cavalia.  It is billed as a Cirque de Soleil with horses.  We really lucked out because the show extended its run in Chicago to include my weekend there – and – my sister was able to get us some half priced tickets.  Here we are outside of the big top before the show.  Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures during the performance, so this is the only photo I have.

M&M Cavalia

The show mixed live horses (mounted and unmounted) with various types of acrobatics all set to live music, lighting and special effects.  Some of the acts were truly amazing – one of our favorites began with two white spanish horses ridden in by two gentlemen each with a lady riding behind the saddle.  As they circled the ring, the ladies connected a cable dangling from the ceiling to their persons and before you knew what was happening, they were flying in the air.  They circled and swooped just above the horses and riders who continued riding a pattern in the ring.  It was beautiful and etherial and at times breathtaking when it looked like there might be a collision.  (Of course, there wasn’t.)  There was also a fun section with western style trick riding and some pretty amazing roman riding with teams of four horses.  It was also fun to watch the liberty horses.  It seemed that they were training some younger ones who were full of personality and didn’t always want to do as they were told.  This actually made for a more fun show – when things didn’t always go perfectly and the individual personalities of the horses shown through.  My sister and I both appreciated how the horses were positively praised for doing something right, but were never scolded for doing something wrong.  All of the horses looked happy and healthy. 

It was a good show and a fun night, but apparently I am a tough customer because I do have some critiques:

1.) As far as classical dressage is concerned, the Spanish Riding School in Vienna this is not.  This is more showy rather than super correct riding.  I admit, for the general consumer, this is not an issue.

2.) I think their superstar – Templado – has been retired.  So, I got the impression that they have been training younger stallions to take his place.  But, I was looking forward to seeing the big “coups de gras” act – a horse and rider performing upper level dressage – maybe without a saddle and bridle?  It just seemed like a little something was missing.  They did project images of him (I think) on a curtain of water that flowed from the ceiling.  That was cool.

3.) My sister and I both felt that they really missed the mark on the merch.  I, for one, was ready to purchase some cool horse souvenirs.  But, we were a little disappointed in the stock.  Of course, there were t-shirts and stuffed animal horses and books and cds.  But, where were the beautiful pieces of jewelry?  Horse scarves?  Why couldn’t they team up with Breyer to produce a “Templado” figurine?  And, most of the stuff they had for sale featured their logo (of course) and a crazy CG image.  Why would you go CG when you have such beautiful animals that you can photograph?

Here is what I am talking about:

Cavalia Image

(Sorry its so small – you can’t really see how it leaves something to be desired, but trust me, it does.)

I bought the only item in the whole selectin with a cool graphic.  It is a grey mock-turtle neck made out of thin, stretchy fabric. 


The graphic wraps around the side of the shirt.  I don’t even like turtlenecks, but since it was the only pretty thing I saw and I had money burning a hole in my pocket, I bought it. 

Give me a call, Cavalia, if you want some more brilliant merchandising ideas to market to the horsey crowd.

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Stella roo…

Posted by mandyhuckins on September 7, 2009

When my sister and her husband got married last September, I wanted to give them the perfect wedding gift.  (His sister and her husband bought plane tickets for them to come to England for a visit, so that is kind of hard to top!)  My sister has wanted a dog for many years, but apartment living in the city did not necessarily allow for it.  When she and her husband combined households into a little bit larger apartment, she specifically looked for one that would allow pets just in case.  She spent many months convincing her significant other that there was room in their lives for a pet and researching which breed would be the best match for them and their lifestyle.  She also volunteers at PAWS a no-kill shelter in Chicago.  So, I wasn’t going out on a limb when I decided to give them a dog as their wedding present.  Nevertheless, to be safe, I did contact her fiance beforehand to make sure that this was going to be ok with him. 

So, when I was in Chicago for the wedding, I presented my sister with a card.  Inside was a gift card to Petsmart and a homemade gift certificate to cover the adoption fees for any dog of their choosing.  I made sure to tie it in to the wedding theme by describing the joy, fun and dimension that our dog, Copper, has brought to our marriage.  By adding a pet, you go from a couple to a family.  Needless to say, she was very excited about it.  Yet, responsible.  She didn’t rush out and get the first dog she saw.  She knew she wanted a rescued Italian Greyhound and she wanted to wait until the spring to adopt one, when the weather would be more conducive to being outside for walks and house-training.  As the spring drew closer, they even decided to move to a different apartment that included its own small outdoor space in the back.

Finally, they were ready and they brought Stella into their lives.  She is about 9 months old, weighs 12 pounds, is a seal brown color and looks like a baby deer.  She is very skittish (who knows what may have happened to this poor baby in her puppy-hood), but has a loving nature and they are gradually winning her over. 

Melissa and Jonathan with Stella

One night, I even got to hold her.  At first she trembled in my arms, but I stroked her and talked softly to her and she eventually relaxed and even fell asleep.  I didn’t want to let her go!  She really is so cute.  They are going to try to bring her to my house for Christmas.  We are hoping that she might be more comfortable with them by then and that she might learn a little something from Copper’s exuberant love for all of us.

Holding Sleepy Stella

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