Friday, October 30, 2015

3 Fall desserts

Pumpkin, spice, and everything nice!

What is it about fall flavors that gets everyone in a tizzy? Pumpkin spice this — cinnamon that. While I'm not a seasonal latte fiend, I'm also not complaining. I love fall flavors with all my tastebuds. Here are 3 tried-and-true desserts for your seasonal sweet tooth. They're some of my family's faves, so go and share them with yours!

#1 Cinnamon graham cracker blondies 
Okay, so maybe they don't look like much on their own, but if you serve them warm with good vanilla ice cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon: amazing! Speaking of good vanilla ice cream, have you tried Purple Door? You can buy it by the pint at Sendik's. Get that.

#2 Pecan pie
Here's one that will have folks saying "but I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie." It's as good or better than any store pie (except Simma's — but that's, like, beyond) and comes together really easily. I've made this pie the morning of Thanksgiving for the past few years and it's always a.) no stress and b.) gobbled up by the end of the night. In my book, that's hitting all the marks.

#3 Pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting
Last Thanksgiving, this cake made a darling uncle of mine declare that I should start my own bakery — to which I outwardly smiled and nodded and inwardly laughed and laughed. While I won't be opening that bakery any time soon, this cake is certainly delicious and a family favorite. My advice: Make it on a non-holiday so you don't have to share!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Pumpkin maple muffins

An almost-guilt-free fall treat

'Tis the season for pumpkin, so I went in search of a healthy-ish take on one of my favorite fall things: pumpkin muffins. These came out looking more like nuggets than perfectly-formed muffins, but that could be because I was out of eggs and had to make do with what I had on hand. The original recipe from Cookie + Kate calls for eggs, but do what you like and use what you've got. My recipe tweaks are below.

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1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted coconut oil
1/2 cup good maple syrup or honey
2 eggs or 1/2 cup milk (I used vanilla almond)
1 cup pumpkin purée
1/4 cup milk (if skipping the eggs, add 3/4 cup milk total)
1 tsp baking soda
1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves or allspice
1 and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup oats
chocolate chips and/or walnuts, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease muffin pan.

2. In a large bowl, whisk oil and maple syrup or honey until smooth. Whisk in eggs or 1/2 cup milk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin purée and 1/4 cup milk, followed by baking soda, vanilla, and spices.

3. Fold in flour and oats until just combined. Add any mix-ins. 

4. Divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle tops of muffins with a few oats and a dash of cinnamon. Bake 23 to 26 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool in pan, then move to a cooling rack.

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I love that these muffins aren't super sweet, and you can add mix-ins to taste. After some experimenting, it's chocolate chips for the win! 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Purple Velvet Vintage // MAC Costume Service

A one stop shop for vintage looks & costumes

As you head south on 1st Street on your way to Walker’s Point Antique Center and Dime a Dance, you might spy another vintage clothing store just a couple blocks north: Purple Velvet Vintage.

It's a small but curated collection of vintage ensembles and accessories, catering to the ladies. It will most likely take you all of 10 minutes (if that) to thumb through the few garment racks, but less is more at Purple Velvet. I saw lots of fun things I would have jumped on had I been a size 00. Isn’t that just the way it goes?

The added bonus of Purple Velvet Vintage is that it’s attached to a costume rental shop called Miller and Campbell (MAC) Costume Service. There were costumes for everyone from C-3PO (with an actual awesome full-head mask!) to courtly renaissance ladies in all their finery. While I wasn’t in the market to spend $50 to $100+ on a costume, it’s nice to know the option’s there in a pinch.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Walker's Point Antique Center // Dime a Dance

Vintage clothing, records, books & more!

Sometimes unfound treasures beckon, and Adam and I turn into antique store rats — you know, like mall rats but not. We recently had one of those days: indulging in Anodyne Coffee, then hitting up nearby antique shops. This time we branched out from our usual haunts in favor of Walker's Point Antique Center and Dime a Dance.

These shops are hidden in plain sight as you head south on 1st Street. The building is rather nondescript and signage is poor, but there are worthwhile finds waiting inside. The building's lower level is all books, records, and VHS tapes. Between my love of John Barry soundtracks and The Moody Blues, I came away with some sweet tunes.

Upstairs, you'll find Dime a Dance. The place has your typical antique store finds, but what sets it apart is its solid selection of vintage clothing. There's lots to ogle (coats fit for Doris Day) and some that's good for a laugh (giant bib ruffles on velvet potato sack dresses). Either way, if you're into the vintage clothing scene, Dime a Dance is definitely worth a stop. I even walked away with a dress for this year's Halloween costume — treasure found!

Want more scoop on Milwaukee antique shops? I've got your back.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Oatmeal carmelitas

Heavenly caramel-chocolate-oatmeal cookie bars


O for Oatmeal. M for More! And G for GET LOST, THE LAST ONE'S MINE. 

I don't remember the last time an edible treat left such an impression on me. These are basically all of my favorite things in one bar cookie. They're buttery, melt-in-your-mouth, pieces of heaven. 

My dear friend Kaitlyn had these at her bachelorette party a few years ago, and I've been dreaming of them ever since. I don't know why I never asked for the recipe until now — probably because I knew having it would mean curtains for my waistline. But I caved. And boy am I ever glad I did. So thanks for sharing, Kaitlyn! Let's dig in.

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2 cups flour
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 and 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 and 1/4 cup butter, softened (I used salted)

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 cup caramel topping (10- or 12-oz. jar)
3 TBS flour

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13-inch pan. Combine all crust ingredients in a large bowl, and mix with an electric mixer until crumbly. Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, reserving the remainder for the top. Bake for 10 minutes.

2. Pour caramel into a bowl (heat the jar in the microwave for about 20 seconds and it will pour more easily). Add 3 TBS flour and whisk until fully combined. 

3. Remove pan from oven after 10 minutes and sprinkle with chocolate chips and walnuts, then pour over the caramel sauce in an even layer. Sprinkle with the remaining crust mixture. Bake an additional 18 to 20 minutes, or until the top is golden. *Note: The center might be rather molten coming out of the oven, but it will set up as it cools.

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There's really nothing more I can say about these. They're simple and scrumptious. Just go make them and thank me (and Kaitlyn) later. 

Monday, October 19, 2015


Turn your closet into cash

That's the Tradesy slogan — "turn your closet into cash." My friend Megan was awesome enough to let me in on the Tradesy secret, and I'm thrilled to pass on the scoop. Basically Tradesy is a pretty, professional, online platform for people like you and me to sell gently-used clothing and accessories — like those pricey mint green jeans don't fit quite right, or that designer handbag with all the buckles that you later realize is totally not your style.

I'm not personally selling on Tradesey at the moment, but Megan has a shop: "All of the pieces I'm selling are used, but in excellent — if not perfect — condition. Each bag, accessory, and piece of clothing is a unique item with a lot of potential." 

Browsing the other goodies on the site, I'd say Megan's shop is right in line with what Tradesy is all about. There are a lot of treasures up for grabs and it's fun to share in the fashion love. Plus, making some cash back on those impulse buys is obviously pretty cool, too.

Check out Megan's shop here, and visit for more info. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tomato-cream & Italian sausage pasta

Pasta that's equal parts yummy & easy

Some nights I find myself at a crossroads of wanting to eat something homemade and indulgent while also feeling super lazy. Ever been there? Enter this pasta (recipe courtesy of my Aunt Kal). It really is so easy. Chop up some things. Sauté those things. Combine those sautéed things with red sauce, cream, and pasta. Boom, dinner! 

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5 to 6 Italian sausages
1 large jar marinara sauce (I use Newman's)
2 small cartons baby bella mushrooms
1 large onion
2 tsp minced garlic (jarred is fine)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 box penne pasta
garlic salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
shredded parmesan cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, cut each Italian sausage into thirds (or smaller, if you prefer). In a small pan, brown the sausage and cook through, about 1/2 hour. 

2. While sausage cooks, chop onion and slice mushrooms. In a large pan, cook the onion with a drizzle of oil and 1 tsp minced garlic until soft. Remove onion from pan. In the same pan, cook the mushrooms with a drizzle of oil and 1 tsp minced garlic until soft and golden. 

3. To the large pan of mushrooms, add the onions, sausage, and jar of marinara sauce. Stir to combine, heat through, and simmer. When the pasta is cooked and drained, add it to the sauce and toss to coat.

4. At the very end, slowly fold in heavy cream, heating through but not boiling. Add garlic salt and pepper to taste. Top with parmesan.

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My aunt originally only sliced the onions into long strips and cut the mushrooms once in half, length-wise. I prefer to chop things up a bit more, especially the onions. If you have any picky eaters, they might turn their nose up at all the onions and mushrooms — but if you chop them a bit more, I bet they won't flinch. Also, if sausage isn't your thing, skip it! Adding spinach would also be yummy. Just dive in and feel free to put your own spin on it. You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Next Act Theatre presents "Back of the Throat"

Food for thought in post-9/11 America

Milwaukee's own Next Act Theatre calls itself "intimate" and "compelling" – descriptors it has certainly earned with Yussef El Guindi's Back of the Throat, playing now through October 25th. 

The 80-minute, superbly-acted play is described as: "New York, soon after 9/11. Khaled, an Arab American writer, receives a cordial visit from Carl and Bartlett, two government officials. But their friendly demeanor slowly devolves into aggressive suspicion, and Khaled finds himself accused of possible ties to terrorists. Amidst the swirling accusations, the situation turns increasingly surreal and Khaled struggles desperately to hang on to what he once knew was true." 

Back of the Throat focuses on, as director Edward Morgan says, "the dominant crisis of our time." That is, terrorism and America's post-9/11 perception of Islam. The story feels real, intentionally confusing, is sometimes hard to watch, and is often times hard to listen to. But I'm glad I listened, watched, and embraced the confusion. It's here that questions arise and conversations start. Even two days later over dinner, Adam and I were discussing whether or not Khaled was guilty of ties to terrorism.

For my part, I prefer to give Khaled the benefit of the doubt. If Back of the Throat taught me anything, it's that, in the context of terrorism, we can be tricked into seeing and believing non-truths. We see guilt where there is none, our paranoia gets the better of us, and if we look for terrorism, we just might find it.

I promise you will leave Back of the Throat with more questions than answers – but they're questions worth pondering. We're still living in a post-9/11 world, and while that's a fact spouted by the media time and again, I for one have never had a real conversation about it. Have you? Go see Back of the Throat and trust me – you will.

For ticket information, visit

Friday, October 9, 2015

San Francisco: Places to eat

Where to get some grub, according to one typical tourist

While on our recent family vacation to San Francisco, my poor mom got walking pneumonia. Stay with me, I have a point: Because of Mom feeling sick and having no appetite, we didn't really experience all the yumminess SF had to offer — but we did the best we could. And for the most part, it really was the best!

6 Totally-worth-it eats in SF for a typical tourist:

#1 Tartine Bakery
This glorious bakery was recommended by friends and oh, has it ever earned its recommendation and its line out the door. I'm talking life-changing croissants. Also these cinnamon-sugar morning buns with a hint of orange. And the pain au chocolat with freaking amazing chocolate. I die. If pastries are your thing (and even if they're not), this place is not to be missed. Plus, the savory eats look awesome too. Go to Tartine. Let your life be changed.

#2 Ghirardelli Square
The Ghirardelli chocolate factory sits within walking distance from Fisherman's Wharf, and not only can you buy all kinds of chocolate treats to bring back for your coworkers, you can get a sweet something like a Ghirardelli ice cream sundae the size of your head or, for the chocoholics, go for the Decadent Drinking Chocolate. It's basically like drinking melted chocolate mixed with heavy cream. Divine. 

#3 In-N-Out
This is one legendary fast food joint, but we Lawlers reached a consensus: It's no Culver's. You just can't top a butter burger, I'm sorry! Plus, Culver's has custard. The one thing we did love about In-N-Out though were the shakes. Those shakes are so choice.

#4 Seafood Peddler
In Sausalito, the bike parking lot attendants recommended the Seafood Peddler for lunch. We soon realized that the bike people are probably paid to recommend the Seafood Peddler, but we ran with it. It has a nice view of the harbor and a fish sandwich that's fresh and delicious — perfect for lunch. I'd definitely go back for the fish sammy. But the fish tacos were itty bitty. Proceed with some caution. 

#5 Mountain Home Inn
If you're in the Muir Woods, climbing the canopy trail, and have an insane need for food, keep going til you reach the Mountain Home Inn — breathtaking views and yet another yummy fish sandwich. Oh, and mint-infused water. It's exactly what high-maintenance hikers need.

#6 Don Antonio Trattoria 
At the end of our day trip to Napa, we stopped in Tiburon for dinner at the Don Antonio Trattoria. It's a small, cute, family-owned place — the kind that serves warm bread with oil and vinegar for dipping and pasta that is absolutely scrumptious. I tasted the pesto gnocchi, carbonara, and veal ravioli (a daily special) — all delicious. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

San Francisco: Day trips to take

Getting out of the city, according to one typical tourist

If you tuned in yesterday, you already know this. But here's the recap: My family and I recently went to California for the first time, spending a week in San Francisco. As a typical tourist in a new city, I asked friends for suggestions of things to do, eat, and day trips to take. Yesterday I shared what we did in SF; today let's talk San Francisco day trips. While some of these destinations are kind of obvious, others were happy accidents. I'd recommend them all.

Before diving in, here's one huge tip: RENT A CAR. Make sure your lodging has a parking spot. While we didn't use the car in the city (it's too expensive to park — instead use public transportation or Uber), having a car for day trips was perfect. 

4 Totally-worth-it SF day trips for the typical tourist:

#1 Muir Woods
Sing with me: "This land is your land, this land is my land... From the Redwood Forest to the New York Island." My family loves woodland walks, so a major draw of San Francisco was knowing we could do city things but also escape into nature. While Redwood National Park is nearly a 6-hour drive from SF, the Muir Woods (a redwood forest) is just 40 minutes from the city. Ask anyone in my family: This was the most worthwhile of our day trips. Getting lost in the awesomeness of nature and towering, ancient trees — there's nothing like it.

We left San Francisco bright and early on a Monday, driving our own car to Muir Woods. It was foggy and the roads are twisty, but luckily my dad's a rockstar behind the wheel. If you're driving, trust me: Get there right when the park opens. There are just two small-ish parking lots, and if you don't get a spot, you're stuck walking a very long way. While I still recommend renting a car, you can also get to Muir Woods by tour bus if that works for you. We spent most of the day in the woods, taking a steep canopy trail. Next time, I would just stay on the forest floor — in my opinion, the trees look most majestic from below. If you stayed on the easy, forest floor path, I think you could pretty much enjoy the woods in a half-day.

#2 Napa Valley
Wine country — check it off the bucket list! The drive to Napa is about an hour-and-a-half from San Francisco, making it totally doable in a day. We started at the Napa Visitor's Center, figuring that was our best bet to get a lay of the land. A nice gent circled some of his favorite wineries on a map of the region and explained which wineries were open to drop-ins and which ones required reservations. 

We're not big into wine. As my brother said on his third glass: "This one's also wine!" But we loved the landscape, the variety of vineyards and their architecture — from mission-style to tudor to a replica of an English castle. Know that you can go and walk around a handful of vineyards, do a relatively inexpensive tasting if desired, and call it a day. Or you winos can do your research, sign up for guided tours, and really learn a lot about the process of wine-making. Napa caters to all levels of wine knowledge and appreciation. 

#3 Sausalito
More than one person told me to go to Sausalito, so when we found out we could affordably rent bikes, cross the bridge, and end up there, I was all about it. However, I will say that the bike trip was the focus of our day, so I didn't get to spend as much time in Sausalito as I would have liked. My parents, however, drove the rental car over and hung out for a couple of hours, bumming around the shops and scoping out a spot for lunch. Sausalito is beautiful, with homes built into the hillside and views of SF across the bay. Definitely check it out, and give yourself a little time there to walk around and enjoy it. If you're not driving, take the ferry for gorgeous views.

#4 Tiburon
When my parents took the car from Sausalito, they did a little exploring and ended up in Tiburon — a town close to Sausalito with even more lovely views of San Francisco. As the bike rental people told us, most tourists stop at Sausalito and don't go on to Tiburon. Well, I think Tiburon is worth exploring. We had a delicious Italian dinner there one night, which I'll get to in another post. For now, know that it's worth going the extra mile from Sausalito to Tiburon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

San Francisco: Things to do

What to do in SF, according to one typical tourist

The aforementioned "typical tourist" is me. Recently, my family and I spent about a week in San Francisco. This was my first time in California, so I asked friends and Facebook World for a lot of advice. While I didn't check everything off my SF bucket list, I accomplished a fair amount and learned a thing or two for next time. So over the next few days, I'll share what this typical tourist did, ate, and thought her first time in SF. Today, let's look at what to do. 

6 Totally-worth-it things to do in SF as a typical tourist:

#1 Fisherman's Wharf
Fisherman's Wharf is basically the tourist hub — a Disney-fied spot in San Francisco. Lots of souvenir shops, mediocre restaurants, street performers, and tons of people. Initially I thought "How could anyone spend so much time in a tourist trap?" But it's actually a fun, lively spot — plus, there are seals at Pier 39. 

#2 Biking the Golden Gate Bridge
In Fisherman's Wharf, you'll find lots of bike shops offering hourly and all-day bike rentals. We rented bikes for $32/day to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. This ride was a major highlight of our San Francisco trip. Start at Fisherman's Wharf and follow the map (and other bikers) to the Golden Gate Bridge. Cross the bridge, arrive in Sausalito, hang out, then take the ferry (just $12) from Sausalito back to Fisherman's Wharf. All in all, ours was about a 5 hour excursion. Did I wimp out on all the hills? Yes. But that just goes to show that you can be as athletic as a cupcake and still handle this ride. Make this a priority, future SF tourists!

#3 Coit Tower
After waiting in line for at least a half-hour, you will finally make it to a small elevator that takes you to the top of Coit Tower, where you can see gorgeous views and snap pics like this: 

#4 Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park
Did you know Golden Gate Park is kinda like Central Park, where it's in the middle of the city and you can easily drive through it and park in it and stuff? We didn't really appreciate the sheer size of it before we started meandering through. I will say this: A lot of the park is not especially beautiful. It's nice, but it's not worth traipsing through in full. And DO NOT bother with the "Bison Paddock." Two bison laying down hundreds of feet away — gee thanks!

What is worthwhile, however, is the Japanese Tea Garden ($8 to get inside). It's really very pretty and photos hardly do it justice. It's not very big, but I still say it's earned its price tag. After all — unless you're super lucky — when else are you going to experience a Japanese garden? Time spent there: About an hour.

#5 Pacific Ocean
The ocean: It's right there for you! My family and I, however, took the long way of getting there — a way I wouldn't recommend. We walked the entire length of Golden Gate Park to get there — a sort of "we made it this far, might as well keep going" mentality. And like I said before, the park really isn't pretty enough to justify walking all the way through — it turns into a time-suck. Drive to the beach, people! Drive to the beach. For though the hike wasn't the best use of time, seeing the Pacific was certainly rewarding. 

#6 Boat ride under The Bridge
Walking through Fisherman's Wharf, we were lured in by a fella selling boat rides under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz — $15 for a 1-hour excursion. Some might call it a tourist trap, but we called it a pretty great deal. Totally worth $15. Our boat was the Chucky's Pride, but we noticed lots of boaters offering similar deals.

Things I wish we'd had time for:
-- Seeing the Painted Ladies (Full House houses)
-- Checking out the Mission District 
-- California Academy of Sciences (looks awesome for a rainy day)
-- Tour of Alcatraz (you need to get tickets a few weeks in advance — we did not, tours were all booked up, and we couldn't go) 

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Milwaukee Rep presents "Dreamgirls"

And I am telling you: Go see this show!

As a musical lover, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I've never seen Dreamgirls the movie. But that's about to change because I must have those sweet, sweet sounds pumped into my ear drums once again — though I doubt even Jennifer Hudson and her Oscar can top the magic that's on stage now through November 1st at the Milwaukee Rep. 

On Friday night, my mom and I (and a packed house) sat in awe of the remarkable talent gracing the Milwaukee theater scene for the next month. A mix of Milwaukee natives, Rep veterans, and Helen Hayes Award Winners, the cast of Dreamgirls will have you utterly mesmerized from the opening number to the final bow. Particularly stand-out performances come from Nova Y. Payton as Effie White and Cedric Neal as James "Thunder" Early — both members of the Helen Hayes Award Winners club for the very parts they're playing now.

During Effie's iconic power ballad "And I Am Telling You" (performed by Nova Y. Payton), I recall hearing three things from the audience: that kind of hold-your-breath silence, intermittent whoops, and sniffling. At the end, the crowd got on its feet — whistling, hollering, and furiously applauding. The women next to me were openly crying, and I would have been a puddle myself had I not choked back tears in an attempt to stay cool in front of Mom (as if she cares).

The costumes and creative direction were perfectly crafted to reflect the caliber of talent on stage. Scene and costume changes were fluid and dynamic, energizing the entire production. And the sequins — oh the sequins! There's a whole lotta fierce fabulosity on display in this Rep production, and it's delicious to behold.

I will say that, in general, the plot of Dreamgirls might seem predictable: A rags-to-riches story about the roller coaster that is show biz. It's easy to compare Dreamgirls to Motown as they fall in the same time period and musical genre — but Dreamgirls definitely has a stronger narrative. A narrative that feels familiar, but a narrative nonetheless. And if the storytellers are as talented as the cast and creative of the Rep's Dreamgirls, familiar quickly becomes phenomenal.

Catch Dreamgirls at the Milwaukee Rep now through November 1st! For ticket information, visit

Friday, October 2, 2015

Cafe Lulu

Asian slaw + chips & blue cheese FTW

I’ve been to Cafe Lulu in Bay View a few times, and one thing remains constant: The Asian slaw is always a winner. Like, the highlight of the meal. How often does that happen where the side dish steals the show? Oh wait, it happens in yet another way at Lulu: House-made potato chips with blue cheese sauce for dipping. Gimme gimme! 

But I will tell you right now: Don’t gimme that pita with chicken in Indian spices. Its defining feature is a pile of onions, and nobody wants that — especially not with the taste lingering 24 hours and two thorough teeth-brushings later. That’s some potent stuff! So proceed with caution. I know people love Lulu for more than just the slaw and chips — but I'm still on the hunt for a go-to entree. 

I've heard yummy things about the falafel and Smokehouse Chicken Sandwich, and the good news is that with any sandwich you can get a split-side of both the slaw and the chips. So despite mouthfuls of onions, I will continue my search for the perfect entree at Cafe Lulu — and until I find it, I will happily fill up on scrumptious sides. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Seas and Peas greeting cards

Pop culture you can put a stamp on

The hand-made cards at Seas and Peas are a little bit niche and a whole lotta awesome. Check out these bad boys — you'll get the idea.

To top it off, the customer service at Seas and Peas is top notch. They sent me a personal message to let me know that my cards were on their way. The cards arrived quickly, and the quality is great — not super-heavy stock, but certainly solid enough to be approved by this greeting card snob. Return customer? You better believe it!