Andrea's blog


Glasses Frames Virtual Try-On: Does it work?

The last time I bought a pair of glasses (2007), they were scratched within a week and I never really liked them all that much (they always felt crooked), so eventually I ended up just replacing the lenses in my old frames instead--which I originally bought in 2004. 

I finally tried out contacts in October 2010, and that's been my main mode of vision correction for the past four years.  But, I still pull out my old 2004 frames to wear at least once a week, since I don't like to do my sign painting with contacts in (too much dust & spray in the air!) 

I picked those frames out 10 years ago.  TEN.

It was time for something new.

Ultimately, I haven't picked any new frames out for so many years because the buying and choosing process intimdates me.  Glasses are so expensive most of the time, and you really need someone to come with you to help you pick out frames that look good on you.

Well...I never did that.  Other things just seemed more important at the time, and my old glasses were fine on the rare days I decided not to wear my contacts.

But, I finally bit the bullet and picked out some new frames.  I decided to look online and eventually ended up at the same website where I order my contacts -


Bulova Toulon Burgundy Glasses

I was able to use their Virtual Try On feature to see how lots different frames might look on me, and this is the style I landed on - Bulova Toulon Burgundy

A benefit of the "virtual" try on is that you can try 'em on with all kinds of hairstyles. :)

Virtual Glasses Try On -

Still, I wasn't SURE they'd fit, or that they'd look okay, and I was having trouble committing. So what REALLY got me to to just go ahead and get them was Coastal's First Pair Free offer.  Yep.  The frames and lenses were FREE.  I paid only $15 shipping and tax, and in just a few days, my frames (including prescription lenses) arrived.  Quite a deal over the $200 frames I bought back in 2004...

And what do you know?  When they arrived in the mail and I put them on, they looked a lot like I expected.  How 'bout that?  Virtual Try-On worked.

Bulova Toulon Burgandy Glasses Review

So, now I can cross this purchase off my list for another 10 years.  Well, maybe since it ended up being so easy I'll update them a little sooner than that this time around...


Cheap & Easy Lego Birthday Party

Cheap and Easy Lego Birthday Party Plans and ResourcesI recently hosted a Lego Playdate Birthday Party for my just-turned-five-year-old son, and thought I'd share the party plans and resources for anyone who may be interested in a similar party. 


I asked my son and daughter to create a Lego scene from their minifigures and toys.  This is what they came up with:

Lego Party Invitation Ideas

With a little bit of Photoshop magic, I put together this 5" x 7" invitation and printed them on white cardstock (they would have looked better professionally printed on photo paper, but I was short on time!) and sent them to school with my son.

Lego Birthday Party Invitation

Invitation Resources: Lego texture image, LegoThick Font


I planned several games and activities that would work inside or outside.  We lucked out with good weather, so we held the party in our driveway and set the games and tables up into "stations".

Free Play with Blocks: I borrowed two giant buckets full of Duplo blocks from my sister-in-law and the boys had a great time just making their own creations and playing with the blocks.  I was surprised at how such a simple thing entertained them for so long!

Lego Birthday Party Activities

Coloring Sheets:  I downloaded several Lego Movie coloring sheets as an emergency quiet activity, and was surprised when several of the boys migrated to that table completely unprompted!

Lego Movie Coloring Sheets

Lego Movie Coloring Sheets: Download at

Lego Toss: I used the top of a 4 ft plastic table, 6 blue paper plates (taped to the table to look like a Lego brick), and labeled the plates with points.  Then the kids each took turns tossing a Duplo blocks (bean bags would have worked better -- less bounce) trying to get the most points. The boys each did about 3 rounds of this, trying to perfect their toss.  I didn't give prizes...but you could. :)

Lego Toss Party Game

Pin the Head on the Lego Man:

I used cardstock to made a paper-pieced version of this LegoMan coloring sheet from and glued it to a piece of cardboard. 

Printable Lego Minifigure Coloring Sheet

To make the heads, I started with this Lego Faces Printable image from, and adjusted the colors, sizes and layout in Photoshop to create this printable that would work better directly onto yellow cardstock and cut them out.

Each boy picked the face he liked best (they skipped over the girl faces), I blindfolded them with a scarf and turned them around 5 times each.  We ended up with a pretty silly looking Lego guy and the boys thought it was pretty entertaining.

Pin the Head on the Lego Man

Lego in a Spoon Relay:

Somehow, this particular group of 5-year-old boys didn't know much about how relay races work, so this game kind of fell apart.  But..we attempted it anyhow. 

What you need: Two wooden spoons, two duplo blocks, two teams and two chairs.

How to play: Each team tries to get all of their players around the chair and back without dropping the Duplo block, balancing it on the wooden spoon.

Build Your Own Race Car:

This was the big "finale" activity, and also served as the boys' party favors, since they got to take home their Lego Race Car creations and extra pieces. 

I ordered 8 race car "kits" made from used Legos on Ebay.  The seller, robertpack, worked with me to create a perfect kit for 8 kids, but essentially, it was one each of these three listings:

Before the party, my husband and kids helped me divide the pieces out into "kits" which we put into ziplock bags for each boy (4 wheels, a bottom, a windshield, a driver, a seat, a steering wheel, lights, fins, etc.).  Then I put a bowl of all the extra pieces in the center of the table for "flair" and they got to work.

Lego Race Car Kits for Birthday Party

Lego Race Car Kits for Birthday Party Game

Building Lego Race Cars with Birthday Party Kits

Lego Race Car Kit Birthday Party Favor

The boys had a blast building (with a little bit of help from the adults) their own completely unique cars that they then raced down an 8ft table set up as a ramp:

Lego Race Car Track

Lego Race Car Track - Birthday Party Games

When we were finished, we put their cars and exta pieces back into the ziplock bags, labeled them with their names, and added a few pieces of candy to them to take home as favor bags.


Five year old boys don't require much of anything fancy!  I could have themed all the food out, but frankly, you end up throwing a lot of it away and it takes so much time and energy to make all those cute Pinterest-y recipes and decorative foods.  I did feed them all lunch, but we kept it VERY simple:

  • 1 Family Sized Papa Murphy's Take & Bake pizza
  • 1 bag of Cheetos
  • Lemonade & Apple Juice Boxes
  • sliced strawberries


I don't bake (at least not for presentation).  So, I went to the Target bakery the day before the party and picked out a pre-made and decorated sheet cake (it had some red, blue and yellow balloons on it). 

To personalize the top of the cake, I printed a simple banner onto yellow cardstock and taped it to two straws.  Then my son designed 5 of his Lego minifigures to run across the cake.  SOOO simple.

Lego Themed Birthday Cake


Eh...he was turning 5 and the party was outside, so I skipped the decorations almost entirely.  I did buy blue & red plates and yellow napkins from the Dollar Tree, as well as a single green star balloon for the mailbox.  But that was it.  So freeing.  So easy.  And decorations weren't missed AT ALL.


I estimate that in-all, I spent less than $120 on the whole party.  He and his friends had a fantastic time, and I wasn't stressed about planning it at all.  Not too shabby.


Family Reunion Family Tree Poster

I love a good Family Tree project--and I've made several!  So, when my grandmother asked me to make a Family Tree poster to identify the family members & their relationships to each other for our family reunion weekend celebrating their 65th anniversary and my grandfather's 90th birthday, I was happy to oblige. 

Family Tree Poster for Family Reunion
click image for more info

The large 36" x 24" poster ended up being quite the conversation piece for the celebration weekend as we all re-introduced ourselves to each other and met several new family members that weren't a part of the family yet 15 years ago, the last time we were all together!

Family & friends can read all about the weekend here (log-in to view):


This isn't the first time I've made an artistic rendering of our family tree for an event. 

For my grandmother's 80th birthday about seven years ago, I made a scrapbook-y photo-version, showing all their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, which is currently displayed at their house (and is now significantly out-dated!):

Photographic Family Tree
Photographic Family Tree Art

And in my own home, we have a paper and canvas Family Tree in our entryway that I made with watercolor paint, cardstock and canvas:

Wrapped Canvas, Watercolor & Cardstock Family Tree
click photo to enlarge

See! Told ya.  I love a good family tree project. :)


Sending You Hugs & Kisses

Hope your Valentine's Day is especially sweet!

During one of our many recent snow days, we had a little Valentine photo shoot in our living room to get some decent pictures for this year's Valentine cards...

Ayla wanted to make bookmarks for her classmates, so we went with a photo booth style design and had them printed on photo paper.  She was then adamant about taping a heart-shaped sucker to the back of the bookmark.  Works for me!

Just to keep it simple, we went ahead and used the same style for Paxton and his friends while we were at it...

I was proud of him for writing each of his friend's names on the back of the bookmark, as well as signing his own name on each one too.  That's a lot of writing for a little man.

We couldn't forget our family!  Grandparents, cousins, aunts & uncles got a bookmark featuring both smiling faces. :)

Hope your day is sweet and lovely!

PS.  In case you didn't know it, I have a thing for cute valentine pictures: 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013

PSS.  And in case you thought every picture of them was super-adorable and think I have cooperative little models, let me set that record straight:



Our 2013 has been a good mix of seeing new places, trying new things, reaching big goals, and keeping up with the day-to-day family routine.  In as quickly as I can wrap up an entire year, here's how we've been keeping busy:

2013 Holiday Card

AYLA:  Ayla is in 2nd grade, loves to read, has been practicing swimming this fall, and is giving cheerleading a try this winter.  She still enjoys activities with her Girl Scout Troop and this year, her Daisy Troop bridged over to Brownies.  Some highlights from her year were the Father/Daughter Sweetheart Dance, Girl Scout Day Camp, losing several teeth, and learning to ride a bicycle.

PAXTON:  Paxton is in 4K preschool and begrudgingly goes to school four mornings a week.  This year he's learning to write all the letters of the alphabet.  When he plays, he's really into costumes, trucks, and Lego "guys."  Some of his favorites this year included his first experience on the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, going to weekly story time at the Hoover Library, feeding the "exotic" animals in Texas, and playing with Ayla - his BFF.

ANDREA: I spend most of my time managing the family calendar and making sure everyone is where they should be at the right time, with the right tools.  That translates to a lot of driving around, constant texts & emails, piles of laundry, shopping, and a whole bunch of paper management.  I also continue to work from home, painting signs for customers across the US.  With all that going on, my regular exercise routine is more for sanity than vanity!

BEN:  Ben had a busy year of home improvement and physical labor--including new carpet, lots of painting throughout the house, and a ton of moving furniture to accomplish all of that.  Plus, he managed to run in a 5K, a 10K and a 1/2 Marathon this fall!  He continues to stay very busy managing several website endeavors -- and taking care of all of the household things Andrea doesn't even have on her radar--there are plenty! 

TRAVEL:  We had several memorable trips this year.  Ben went on a trip to Colombia with Compassion International in January.  We took a family trip to Texas over Spring Break.  The kids and I spent another fantastic fun-filled month in Chicago over the summer. All of the extended Steed family relaxed at the beach in August, and Ben and I had an amazing trip to Israel for a family wedding this fall.

2013 Holiday Card

We hope your family has had a wonderful year too!  Happy New Year!


Last Minute Gift - Download Instantly!

Looking for a last-minute "special" gift? Look no further. 

Check out my Special Dates or Custom Family Rules artwork builders.  They make great (immediate) gifts for family members or friends!

INSTANT PRINTABLE - Special Dates Artwork  DIY PRINTABLE - Custom Family Rules Artwork

Enter your dates or choose your rules, and voila! -- you have a completely customized and personalized gift for only $9 -- instantly. 

No traffic, no lines, no problem!

Merry Christmas!



Tis the Sign Season! 25% off Signs

Let the sign painting season commence!  My first round of holiday sign orders shipped out today and I'm in full-on painting mode for the next couple of weeks. I'm currently *actually* surrounded by wood signs in various stages of painting sitting here in my office. 

Even so, it's not too late to get your orders in to arrive by Christmas, and this weekend I'm offering 25% off all my painted wood signs (custom designs included!)

...I think I heard your mom say she really wanted one for her entryway! ;)

Signs by Andrea Packaging


Limited Offer! Christmas Wishes Tree

At my painted wood sign shop, "SignsByAndrea", I'm selling a few styles of my scrap wood tree this year -- but they're only available until November 18th and there is a limited quantity of them that I can make.

They may go fast!

Christmas Wishes Scrap Wood Tree

So...if you would like one, be sure to order it right away! It's a decoration you'll pull out year after year after year. 

Chrsitmas Wishes Tree - We Wish You A Merry Christmas

I'll have them finished and shipped to you to arrive by Thanksgiving.

Personalized Wood Christmas Tree

Each tree is 3ft tall by about 18in and is personalized with your family name on the bottom "trunk".

May Your Days Be Merry and Bright - Scrap Wood Christmas Tree

The boards are attached to the vertical back board with industrial-strength velcro, making them easy to disassemble and store flat.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Scrap Wood Tree

And they look SUPER cute on your front porch during the holidays. :)


Log In to Read More

Hey family & friends!  If you've been keeping up with my Israel Trip posts and reading on the public portion of my site, don't forget to log back in on my home page to read about the rest of our daily life.  I've added several additional posts about the kids and stuff we've been up to over last couple of weeks.

If you are a family member or friend and don't have an account, and would like one, just request one, and I'll get you set up!


Israel Trip: The Food

I'm not a food blogger, I'm no chef, I'm not even that great of a cook, and I probably won't do a very good job of describing the food we had on our trip (yummy, tasty, and good, are kind of weak descriptives, I know).  But I *do* like to eat, and I'm willing to try just about anything, so I was excited to see what the food was going to be like in Israel.

Israeli Bread Cart

In a word: FRESH

Everything we had seemed to be fresh, whole, and made from real ingredients.  And if I do a terrible job of describing the food, maybe at least you can see it, and imagine what it might taste like.

Israeli Vegetable Stand

I'm not going to be able to remember the names of everything we had, and I don't have photos of it all, so this post will be kind of a mash of photos, recipe links and reviews of anything food-related on our trip.  Don't mind the madness...just roll with me, wherever I go...

The first night at Cafe Hillel (and with many of our other meals) we had a typical Israeli Salad, mainly consisting of cucumber & tomatoes chopped diced into small pieces.  Israeli food is chopped very very small.  Time consuming, I'm sure...but it makes for a great texture. It looked something like this:


I ordered a Laffa Sabich, which is a wrapped sandwich with fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs and tahini sauce.  This is not a photo of the one I had (it's shown in a pita, rather than a Laffa, which looks more like a tortilla), but it has similar ingredients. Tasty. And the Laffa bread was SO SO SO good.  Ben had a similar wrap called a Laffa Kebab, made with meat and vegetables.

Laffa Sabich - Eggplant, Hard Boiled Egg & Tahini

Coke Zero - The Arabic version.  *Loved* that Coke Zero was available most places we went.

Coke Zero - Arabic

Pickled olives, beets, carrots and cauliflower seemed to be pretty common additions to shawarma and falafel pita pockets.

Israeli pickled vegetables

We *very* much enjoyed our lamb shawarma pitas in the Christian Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem.

Kebob Shewarma

Shawarma & Falafel Cafe in Christian Quarter, Jerusalem

Shawarma Kebob

At Tmol Shilshom, in downtown Jerusalem, we tried traditional shakshouka, which is the namesake for my Aunt Rachel & Uncle Chuck's band "Shakshuka."  It seemed fitting to try it in Israel with Uncle Chuck. 


Basically, it's poached eggs in a tomato based sauce served in an iron skillet. 

I had the "green shakshuka" which is evidently very NON traditional, which was basically a poached egg and spinach, lightly seasoned with some slices of soft cheese of some kind.

Green Shakshuka

Honestly, it tasted kind of bland, and it wasn't NEARLY filling enough for me -- at least not that day, which was the morning we had run the hills of Jerusalem and visited Yad Vashem.  Ben's traditional version was much better tasting. Though, if I'm being honest...still a little odd.  It seemed kind of like breakfast spaghetti without noodles.  I think I need to try another recipe of it sometime.  Aunt Rachel...maybe next summer we can try your favorite recipe?

And again...Coke Zero - in Hebrew this time.

Coke Zero - Hebrew

Walking through the open market was not only beautiful, it was a great place to get a look at lots of different foods, even if we couldn't try them all.  It was a good representation of the types of foods that are popular in the area.

Israeli Market

These little snack-sized sandwiches and rolls looked REALLY good to me.  I don't know what was in them, but I would have really enjoyed a sampler platter.  We didn't get one though...we were just walking by.

Lots and lots of spices...


Fresh fish...

Fish Market - Israel


Nuts in Israeli Market

Dried fruits and seeds...

Dried Fruit in Israeli Market

Cheese and wine...

Cheese & Wine

And lots and lots of flavors of tahini...


At the wedding, the buffet was full of all different kinds of salads, grilled vegetables, meats and potatoes. 

Israeli Wedding Buffet

I think this was probably my favorite meal, with the most variety and really good flavors.  It didn't hurt that had plenty of meat!  Since we ate in mostly kosher restaurants, we ended up eating a lot of vegetarian meals, which were very good, but not always as filling as I would have liked.  On the up-side, with all the activity and healthier meals, I lost several pounds over the week. :)

One of the restaurants we tried was called Focaccia Bar, and served all kinds of different foods on foccacia bread.  We ordered a kebab focaccia and a roast beef focaccia.  This is the roast beef version.  It had spinach, roast beef, horseradish sauce, and a poached egg in the center of it.  Sort of strange, but actually, it was pretty good.


On the kebab focaccia (which I'm holding in the photo below), there were a variety of vegetables and lamb meat that seemed kind of like little mini-burgers on top of a pizza. 

As I ate one bite of the kebab focaccia though, I noticed some heat coming from where my slice had touched this pepper.  I like spicy, and it was just the juices of the pepper on my piece, so I didn't think much of it.

But Ben, on the other hand, ate a quarter of the pepper in one swift bite--regretably.  he was expecting a green chile or a sweet pepper I think, which makes sense.  It was a giant pepper on top of the focaccia.  Nope.  It was some crazy-hot super-pepper.  He actually had tears running down his face and was stealing fries off of Grandma's plate and trying to drink anything he could to cool the fire in his mouth.  It took him about 30 minutes before he said he felt normal again. I've never seen him react to anything spicy quite like that -- and we make an annual date to go to the Chuy's Green Chile Festival every year, just for the heat of those peppers!

It doesn't matter what the name of the restaurant was.  We'll always remember it as the place that Ben nearly died from the "hot pepper" - which was the only translation our waiter could give us for the type of pepper it was.  As Papa Tom would say "Ay chiwowa!".

At the Lebanese restaurant near Ginosar, by the Sea of Galillee, we had hummus (YUM) and pita bread as an appetizer.  That's pretty common, kind of like a basket of bread at an Italian restaurant or chips & salsa at a Mexican restaurant.

Also common as appetizers are these little pickled green olives.  They were very sour.  Not my thing. I prefer black olives.

Ben and I like to order two dishes and split them, so we get to try more things.  One of the plates we ordered was this lamb meat stuffed zucchini with a yogurt sauce. It was kind of so-so.  Needed more salt and seasonings I think.

Grandma ordered a chicken wrap of some sort -- she always seemed to have the biggest portion on her plate of food.  Evidently she orders big! :)

And Grandpa's lunch looked super tasty.  Wish I could remember what it was...

The other plate Ben and I ordered was "Saint Peter's Fish", you know, since we were at the Sea of Galilee and all.  I didn't realize that meant the entire fish would be served on my plate--head, skin and all. 

Oh well!  I dug in anyway!  And it tasted good, even if it was a little bony.  I believe it was tilapia.

For dinner that night, we drove all the way to Tel Aviv/Jaffa and ate at a cafe called Puah.  Ben ordered a *really* tasty chicken curry dish that looked something like the one in the photo below.  I found myself stealing bites of his food the whole meal.  I'm so gonna figure out how to make this at home.  I think it may actually be thai food though, not necessarily Israeli.

{source} <-- go to this page, lots of great Israeli food pics!

At Yad Mordechai, when we visited Yasmin, we had lunch at her house, which consisted of two types of baked fish - salmon and some other white fish, Israeli salad, and rice.  Plus several dessert cookies.  Evidently, I was too hungry to take photos of any of that.

Plus, we came home with Yad Mordechai olive oil and honey.  The honey is fabulous! Haven't tried the olive oil yet.

At Shabbat dinner at Aunt Judi's house, she had an unbelievable spread of food for us.  This was just the salad buffet.

There was also a whole meat buffet of food on the other side of the table, plus several cakes and fancy moroccan cookies for dessert.  These weren't the actual cookies at the party, but they look similar.  You'd think they'd be super sweet, but actually, they seemed to be flavored with honey, nuts, and mild flavors, so they weren't overwhelmingly sweet.  The teeny sizes, wide variety and the "prettiness" of each of them sure did make it hard not to eat 5 at once though.


And finally, on our way to the airport, we got to have some falafel.  It was fresh, the first batch of the night (they were just opening up after Shabbat), and it was VERY tasty - the perfect "fast food" satisfication. 

I added tahini sauce, eggplant, zucchini, pickles and cabbage to mine, but skipped the carrots.  They were spicy, which I learned from one of the carrot salads at Shabbat.  Tasty, but too much for right before a 10 hour flight. :) 

But the falafel itself was the best part.  Makes me want to go eat one now. 


It was interesting how even though there was often a lot of food available, it was almost all very low in fats, sugars, and carbohydrates (with the exception of the pita & breads).  Mostly, we ate vegetables, fruits and nuts for a week, and it was great!

Now we just have to find some good mediteranean food restaurants and grocery stores around Birmingham.  If we can just get our hands on some GOOD pita and laffa, I think we can recreate a few of our favorites.  I've already had several places recommended from some local Palestinian and Armenian friends.

Writing this post has made me hungry. I've been writing it for 2 days, and I don't think I've stopped eating since I started.  How do food bloggers not eat CONSTANTLY?

And there it is folks.  Our trip to Israel. Documented.  Now I can relive it anytime I want. Until maybe we go again....

Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
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