Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2008--the end of a very ????? year--you supply the adjective!

To all my family--thank you for the love and support you have given me this year, as well as so much enjoyment, especially from the "little people"!

To all of my friends--how would I have survived the year without you? Especially my email and IM buddies! To those who we touched base with again this year, after a long time of being apart, it was wonderful to see you and be able to talk with you!

To my theatre buddies--I've enjoyed my time with you working on various productions! I'm learning my craft, and learning from each of you as I see you work to fashion beautiful productions.

To my colleagues at work--wonderful group to work with, and I'm getting to know each of you a little better each time we chat. Love my job, the place, the bosses, everything about it! I do feel a little overwhelmed at times, but I'm trying to keep on course, you all seem to help me when I'm lost.

To my students--you are my inspiration, I admire your quest for knowledge, and your willingness to open up and share many very personal parts of your life with me! You are all very special to me.

To the fur/fin people--you make all of our lives better, here's to long dog years and cat years, and fish years!

To my wonderful neighbors--you are a very special group, let's keep up the friendship and closeness that we've forged over the past 2 years.

To my fellow musicians--we have made beautiful music together, it was especially wonderful for the "girls band" to get together again this past summer.

To my fellow parishioners--great getting to know you and work with you on our special projects.

Thank you all for a very good year. I wish you a very Happy New Year.

P.S. the above decorations and libations are for my New Years Eve pajama party with my grandhcildren and their mommy--hope we don't get too drunk to say "Happy New Year" at midnight!

A year of Animals

Pets are a big part of our lives, how could we live without them? So I'm going to review the year as seen from the animals point of view.

January--Molly--this is my third child's first dog, M & M's pet. She is a big girl, growing every day because of her nice healthy appetite, and her daily routine of waiting patiently for the family to return home each day. This means lots of long naps, and not much exercise! She started a new exercise routine this year of hopping the fence! She likes to tour the neighborhood, and then returns home. Makes for some very unhappy owners when she does this! She is a yellow lab/chow mix, she has a dark tongue. Weight, about 80 pounds of lovin' tail thumpin' girl!

February--eagles--we live near the Mississippi River, approximately at the line where the river ceases to freeze each winter. So this has made the bald eagle population from the northern US come to this lattitude to spend the winter months, so they can fish in the unfrozen river. Over the past 20 years, the population has exploded. I remember going eagle watching when my youngest daughter was about 10, and we saw a little flock of eagles congretated together on a river sandbar. Now, they are all over the area for many miles up and down the river. Last winter, on a typical February day (snow showers, then sun, then wind, then more snow showers, freezing cold), I took a ride up the Great River Road. This is the best weather for viewing eagles, as they are very active during this type of day. I must have seen 80 eagles. I would stop to take pictures, and they'd disappear, then I'd get in to drive some more, and they'd all start flying over my head again! I did snap some very good shots of them over the river. What a treat that was!

March--owls--we live in a suburban area which has many mature trees. So we have seen hawks and other birds of prey around. I used to live in the woods and could hear owls, but never saw them. One early morning, I awoke to some unmistakeable hoots! What was so surprising to me was that they were loud enough to make me wake up! I went to the door and saw their outline on the church roof behind my house. The sky was cloudy, and the ambient light from the ground made the sky lighter, I could see them flitting from point to point on the roof of the church, then on the steeple. The loud hoots were followed by soft hoots, it was a male Great Horned Owl and female in courtship! They hopped from point to point hooting and cooing! I watched for about 30 minutes, then felt I should let them have their privacy to complete what they had started on the church roof! What a treat that was! P.S., I heard them again the other night, in December! Guess they are warming up for the breeding season!

April--Bish--I sadly bid goodby to Bish, my 11 year old goldfish. He had been born in my pond at a house I owned over 10 years ago. He came with me when I moved to the country to be a classroom pet, then he was an "at home" pet. When I had to move back to the city, there were two goldfish left from my first crop of about 20. One poor guy survived the move, but not 5 days of no oxygen in the tank when we had the great blackout in the summer of 2006. But Bish survived! I decided he was going to go back to the pond, which I had built in the late fall of 2006. I put him in the pond with 15 frisky young goldfish, and he was looking mighty old next to them. But he started to enjoy his new digs, and got to be as frisky as the others. He even survived the winter in the pond. But alas, in spring of 08, I found a part of Bish laying in the pond. I guess Father Time said, "that's it for you!" and took him to Bish heaven. By the way, the name came from a Grandson who couldn't make the "f" sound, so instead of fish, he called them bish.

May--Misty--is the Iowa dog. She is a big lab/??? mix, and is an outdoor dog. She is very laid back and friendly. When we come to visit, you only hear thumping on the wall of her doghouse, because she is wagging her tail, but that is all that is moving! However, the neighbors have complained that Misty likes to hunt, and has maybe taken something that she shouldn't have. There was remains of a deer and a turkey on their property, brought home by Misty! Now she is confined to a chain, and gets walks 3 times a day. She is getting used to an electronic collar, which works pretty well for her.

June--Kitty and Whiskers--child #3's two pets. You hardly ever see them, now that there is a dog in the house. Whiskers is a handsome black and white kitty, not terribly friendly, but she will favor a few people with purrs and lap sitting. Kitty is beautiful, a grey/tan tabby, and tolerates the kids. She perches on the monitor of the computer to see the world around her, and to keep away from the dog.

July--Maynard and Mocha--my sister's two cats. Both are aged, and having health problems. Maynard used up quite a few of his 9 lives battling a thyroid problem, and he went to kitty heaven this year. Mocha has had her share of problems too, but she is holding her own. Another kitty came into the household after Maynard passed, I don't know this one's name!

August--fish pond--a small thing with an eye, about the size of a fingernail was spotted in the fish pond! Hankey-pankey going on there! After a couple of weeks, it showed itself as a black/turning orange goldfish! But only one. Wonder where the rest of the hatch went? G-U-L-P!

September--Max--My brother's very handsome grey/tan tabby. He was quite the host for us at Thanksgiving, being right there in the midst of kids and cooks! Nice kitty!

October--Bogey--a sad story and a tug on the heartstrings brought Bogey into the household with another dog, 2 cats, 2 kids of my youngest daughter! He was a cowering shivering mess of nerves when they brought him home, having been abused in his former situation. But he is getting used to the family. When I met him, he was calm and let me pet him--now that's the kind of dog I like! He is a part hound and part???, about 30 pounds.

November--Coal--a beautiful black dog, part Lab, part hound, part ???? Full of energy, and needing to be calmed down! He's about 5 months old. They are working with him to get him to mind. Right now he is about 38 pounds. See Monkeygirl's posts to read more about Coal

December--Al--well, I've saved my own pet for last. Al is an 11 year old domestic shorthair orange/cream tabby. He was abandoned on my street when I lived in the country. I already had a cat that looked just like him back in my city home, so didn't need another. But his meows and bid for affection won my heart over. When he was about 8 weeks old, (when he was dropped off on our street), he could meow so loud, you could hear him from 3 houses away. He first tried to win over one neighbor, by climing up his patio door screen, meowing pitifully. That didn't work. Then he tried the house next door. They had their granddaughter there for the weekend, and I was sure she would adopt him. But on Sunday night, when all the weekenders had gone home, the scrawny little loud guy was still hanging around. So I adopted him. I gave him food, he was so skinny! He couldn't decide if he wanted to eat or purr in my arms more, he kept going back and forth between the food dish and my arms. What a sweety! He was totally flea coverd, so that was the first order of business. Then we had to get his shots. He loved the water, we lived by a lake, and one day he even tried swimming! (He wanted to chase the ducks!) Found out that swimming isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially if you aren't a duck! Now he's getting a little crabby, and he has always been a bit nippy! But he gives love on his own terms! From my pictures of Al, you can see he gets plenty to eat! His real name is Alberquerque, but that is too hard to spell (his look-alike was named Santa Fe), so we just call him Al.

That's it, my animal friends and family! What else could I write about as my 99th post? Watch for 100 on the stroke of midnight tonight!

A year in Review

What can we say about 2008? Many people have nothing good to say about it, you hear this over and over again if you are a TV watcher like I am. Bad stock market, gas prices soared, people losing jobs and houses, sickness, on and on and on.

I'm going to make myself think of each month, and something very good about each month. Hope my memory holds out that long!

January--well, the best thing that happened in January was the birth of Grandchild #6, a darling bouncing baby boy born Jan. 16, 2008. He looked so much like his father, my son, when he was born. It's funny, I remember so clearly from 41 years ago how that kid looked after he popped into this world, and this little boy looked just like his daddy did! Started classes with 3 different groups, we read "Love and Hate in Jamestown", which inspired my summer vacation!

February--C's (new grandson) first smiles for Grandma! How exciting this was to see him smiling at age 3 weeks! I got to break away for a short visit to Iowa, in between snow storms. Thought I was doing great until 250 miles from home when I ran into freezing rain, and had to spend the next 7 hours on the road, scraping my window every 10 minutes! It was a long and memorable trip!

March--birthday #4 of Grandchild #3. He is turning into a real great kid, getting over his temper tantrums, or as he states "having fits". He is a joy in my life for sure. We also traveled back to Iowa for Grandson C's baptism. Found our Wii's at a little store in their small town. Started my career as a senior citizen Wii bowler!

April--costumed "On Golden Pond". This movie had escaped me when it first came out, maybe I saw it a couple of times on late night TV, which means I probably slept through most of it. Staged by my local community theatre group, and two veteran actors played Norman and Ethyl Thayer. My BF lady actress was so convincing, she had just lost her husband the same month I lost mine, and at the end, her acting wasn't acting, it was real angst. She had a hard time doing this part, but she played it so well. It made me cry everytime I saw it, which was quite a number of times. MonkeyGirl and Mr. MonkeyGirl also saw it, she was crying also when it was over. Very powerful. Grandchild #4 turned 3 this month.

May--retirement of my most excellent colleague from the college. Her departure meant that I would take her place as coordinator of the ESL department. We threw her a little party, and I got to know so many more English department teachers as a result of the party. We miss her a lot! Bought a new laptop computer from a former student of mine who works at Sams. Grandchild #2's birthday, now he is 5! Grandchild #1 graduated from High School--congratulations, Skaterboy!

June--Water, water everywhere--basement flooded again 2 times because of torrential rains. Our area got flooded from excess rains in Iowa, but this one was personal. I just gave up and decided to tear out the carpet in the room that keeps getting flooded, so I had ceramic tile put down. Looks good.

July--Costumed "Oklahoma"--it was fun and not that overwhelming, but I was sewing a lot! Turned out nicely, if I do say so myself! Spent a week in Iowa entertaining the grandkids while mom tried to work from home--we had a blast! Grandchild #5 celebrated her 3rd birthday.

August--went on a 2500 mile trip with Bro. We saw a lot in a week, went through Kentucky (Mammoth Cave), Tennesee (Nashville, Country Music Hall of Fame, Knoxville), North Carolina, (Great Smoky Mountains), Virginia (Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg), West Virginia (Cass Scenic Railroad, New River State Park).
Bought my new bike and a vehicle to carry it in (RAV4).
Started the new job as coordinator of the ESL program, started advising students who want to enter the program, this has been a lot of fun.
Grandchild #1 turned 18.

September--my most dreaded birthday, now I am on Medicare! Made a few costumes for "Beauty and the Beast" for another local theatre group.

October--costumed "Move Over Mrs. Markham" for a new theatre group. Met lots of new people, and reconnected with some from the past. Very funny play!

November--costumed "The Unexpected Guest" for local theatre group. Had some beautiful people to dress, this was a lot of fun. Got started on costuming for "Sound of Music"--still working on that one!

December--the mad rush for Christmas, plus finished up the semester of teaching, plus began planning for next semester, lots of things happening in Spring '09. Enjoyed my family while they were here visiting for Christmas.

Now, we all endured the ups and downs of gas prices, the lessening of our stock portfolio, the insecurity of the job market. But I think of the joys and fun I've had this year, the new people I've met and worked with, the great students I had this year, and the exciting plans we are making for the upcoming year. How can you say a year like that isn't good? You just need to look for the silver lining in every cloud.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Like Father, like son

There it is, driving as fast as you can imagine down the street, the ZR-1 Corvette, red, t-top, banned from driving it in the house because it was too speedy! Grandson #1 was the recipient of this gift from grandma.

You see, Daddy has one also, but his is the real thing. A ZR-1 Corvette (vintage version, 1994 model), inherited from departed Uncle Charlie, and a most beloved occupant of the garage spaces that are available for vehicles at their house. It gets the inside treatment, and one other vintage vehicle gets to reside inside, while the working vehicles that take people to work, take the kids to school, make the many trips to the grocery store get to reside outside in the Iowa weather.

So Grandson #1 was thrilled to have a nice day while he visited grandma, one in which he could drive his new RC car as fast as he possibly could, and give it a whirl up and down grandma's street. It was so fun to watch. And he loved it, just like his daddy does when he drives his speedy red Corvette.

Still Playing after all these years!

The stockings were hung by the chimney??? (OK, stairs) with care....

Each of the animals in the family had their own stocking, and each stocking held a ball and a bag of treats. The dogs also got a chew toy, knowing how much they loved chewing on stuff!

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.....or a cat when he got his gift!
This was Al the Cat's reaction to the gift of a ball. In fact, he ran away from it when I rolled it toward him the first time. He did like the treats, though. Eating is one of his favorite pasttimes, along with napping. You can tell from his shape that these two activities are indulged in very often.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a cat playing ball, showing no fear!

You can usually tell when he is playing or is freaking out, because he runs like a maniac through the house, thumping against the walls and doors, all crazy like. I'm sure every cat owner knows this crazy period that all cats go through. It used to be every hour, but now, I'm happy to see him play once a week! Rubber bands are his usual object that gets him going, so I was surprised to see him play with the ball.

Even after 11 years of spoiling, he can still play, even if it is only once in a while.

The result is.....

I've been telling you about a bead maker Becky of Gypsy Flame ( and a bead store GlassHopper Studio, LLC (, where I have been shopping for weeks to get some special beads for a project.

The result of my work is.....

The handmade beads made by Becky of Gypsy Flame are the centerpiece of this necklace and earring set. The three focal orange and black beads in the center of the necklace are matching, and the two in the earrings and one in the center focal piece also match and were made by her. I combined onyx etched rectangular beads, faceted onyx beads with silver spacers, silver beads, pearls, fire opal, black and clear Swarovski crystal beads, and various other larger onyx beads with assorted seed beads.

I copied the technique from something I saw just last night in a catalog. Each section of beads in the torsade is composed of three strands of beads, and are gathered at the end of each section by a small silver spacer. In the past, I've made the woven/braided necklaces (three strand and 8 strand) with the beads on single strands, but not gathered together, which makes a very airy necklace, with the beads "floating" on the stringing wire. The technique that I used on this necklace gives a much more chunky look, which I thought was necessary because the focal beads were large.

The camera flash brightened up the orange to the point that this almost looks like a Halloween piece, but in reality it is much more subtle. I think this will look good with a black turtleneck and black velveteen jeans, now all I need is a place to wear it!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From Beading 101 to......

Making your own beads!

If that is the direction your beading life takes you, then you might want to take classes in how to do it. It requires some rather daunting equipment, none the likes that you will find at Michaels for $15. I got started in my beading career by buying a kit from Michaels that included beads, findings, tools, even a design tray all in a neat little package all for $15, actually only $9 with my 40% off coupon! But I never thought an ordinary preson could make their own beads!

While my sister and I were vacationing together in 2006, we went to Vancouver, BC. They have a lot of street artisans plying their wares on the streets of Vancouver, and we bought a few unique hand-made beads from various vendors. She made a necklace for me out of one of the beads I bought, it turned out lovely. I still never thought an ordinary person could actually make their own beads.

This fall, our Ladies Club sponsored a vendor's fair. If you are unfamiliar with these types of events, it is a chance for people with small businesses and cottage industries to display their products and sell a little to the folks who come in. It is like a craft fair, but it is not limited to crafts, because there are a variety of items for sale, Tupperware, different franchise jewelry businesses (such as Silpada Designs), cosmetics (Mary Kay) foodstuffs (Tastefully Simple), and local and regional crafters.

One crafter who brought her beautifuly made items was a lady who made her own beads. She had some beads made into beautiful items, such as bookmarks, knives for appetizers, simple necklaces, and she had a bowl full of "orhpan beads" as she called them, some matched in color, some in style, but each bead unique in its own way. I was drawn to that bowl, and found 17 @ $3 each that I had to purchase for three different sets of jewelry items. Then she turned on the blowtorch, and actually started to make beads right there at the show! That was totally fascinating to see how she took a rod of glass, melted it, shaped it, added colors, cooled it and then the finished product was there for all to see. It turned out so different than one might imagine when you saw it in the process of being formed. She was very instructive in her craft, and told me exactly what she was doing as she worked on the bead. I was totally fascinated by her products and the process she used to make them, and went back to the orphan bead bowl and bought $75 more. In case you want to check out her bead-making products, her website is
She told me she took lessons from a bead shop/workshop called Glasshopper in Creve Coeur, MO. This is the bead shop we ended up in Friday. In this glass workshop, the owner Leslie has stations for learning to making glass beads, with torches and materials all lined up in the back of the store, each station complete with fireproof walls. She holds classes in beadmaking, and that is what she was preparing for when we came to the store Friday. She gave us a very complete but short lesson in how it is done, what gases are used for the torches, and now we know enough to have our interest piqued to maybe try this part of jewelry making. Glasshopper Studio LLC has a website if you want to check it out.

Maybe a new hobby will be born from these experiences! Whew, when would I have time to do that?

Clawing at the Window

My sister is a beader. She has had a few interesting hobbies in her life, but one she really is actively involved in right now is beading. She started me on my "need for beads" about a year and a half ago, when I was thinking I was going to ask her to make me a bracelet like one I had seen in a catalog. The original was $135 (in Robert Redford's Sundance catalog--what would you expect it cost?) I figured the most unusual piece of the bracelet was the Indian Head nickel button they used for a closure, AND I HAD SOME OF THOSE!

My sister had made some beautiful things for me in the past. But sometimes, she didn't get around to getting the projects done in a timely manner. I should talk, since I have at least three or four sewing projects promised to her that never have been completed.

So, I figured the best way to get the bracelet as quickly as I wanted it was to do it myself. Another hobby for me was born on that day!

I went to Michaels, and for a mere $150 in supplies, I got the materials to make that bracelet for myself. I learned to string beads and attach findings. I created that bracelet, to proudly display it in my drawer (don't know if I have ever worn it.) But, more importantly, the need for beads was created in my heart on that day, and the lust has continued until now!

My sister has always told me of her experiences at bead shows, and at bead stores. Until this spring, I hadn't experienced a bead show, and the only bead store I go to is Michaels. I do shop several on-line bead shops, and so my inventory of beads has grown exponentially over the year and a half of my hobby. It has about outgrown its alotted shelving in the closet it has been assigned to. No problem, I can add more shelves!

We were very interested in going to a bead store together, and on Dec. 26, we had a little window of time to fit this in. MonkeyGirl also beads, although not as much as she scrapbooks, and she had spotted this bead store near her work one day when they were out for lunch. It is in an area I pass frequently, but it is positioned way back in the corner of a U-shaped strip mall, so it is hard to see from the road. But we found it Friday.

Alas, even though the lights were on in the shop, there was a sign on the door that they were closed Dec. 24, 25 adn 26th. The entire front window was filled with clear cases housing every color and size of Swarovski crystal beads you could imagine. So my silly sister started clawing at the window, pantomiming her desire to get at the beads. Up popped a head from the rear of the store, who slowly edged forward to see who the crazies were who were trying to enter her store! I guess we must have looked like friendly faces, because she did open the door and talked to us. "Yes, you all are cordially invited back tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., when we open up after Christmas." My sister in her most forelorn voice said, "Oh I'm from out of town and won't be here then", so the conversation continued, "Where are you from?", "Portland, OR" --I just nodded in hopes that two sad ladies from out of town might win over her heart to just let us browse. Well, it worked, and she did let us in.

We were like kids in the candy store, and the candy was crystals, gemstones, gold and silver findings, interesting ideas. We gingerly asked if we could make a purchase that day, and the owner said, "sure". Why not? She was doing some set up for future classes, and we were drooling over her many unusual bead sets, an awesome inventory of difficult-to-find stuff and very unique items. The floodgates of ideas opened as we viewed the different bead sets, and we helped each other with ideas of things to use to complete our projects. The floodgates of ideas meant the floodgates of financing our ideas had to also open.

We made her day, it was 2 hours spent in fun and great entertainment, and a net sale of over $300 for the store owner. I guess it was worth her while to respond to two ladies clawing at the window to make her sales quota on that day, even though she was closed for business!

More on her store in future blogs. Glasshopper Studio LLC

A Sad Good-bye

This Christmas meant the following to me...
a hectic flurry of days,
lots of fun,
very expensive (can't hardly wait for those Visa bills to come!),
delicious foods (home cookin' and a good restuarant meal),
tiring (less than 5 hours sleep many nights in a row, and NO NAPS),
full of activities,
rainy (almost a wet basement for me, really a wet basement for the Iowans),
many relatives (my siblings, plus 5 from Iowa),
met the new girlfriend of Skaterboy,
toys, toys, toys,
preschoolers and babies all around,
a few meltdowns by preschoolers, and a couple of near misses by the adults,
a trip to the bead store with my sister,
meeting Coal the 5 month old puppy (my wounds will heal),
at least 2 trips to the recycling center, another one scheduled tomorrow,
got my new drill (This D*mn House, take note!).........

but, it all ended, and much too soon.

My sister and her hubby bid us adieu about 2 p.m. yesterday. We see each other 2-3 times a year, so this was a sad goodbye. The M & M's had to say goodbye to their cousins last night at 8:00 p.m. That was difficult for a 4-1/2 and 3-1/2 year old to do, since they love playing with their cousins who live far away. At 10:00 a.m. this morning, the Iowa children and grandchildren left, with kisses and hugs flying, and the sleigh from Iowa packed to the gills with toys and kids. That was the saddest good-bye.

And now the house is quiet. I got to take as many naps today as time would allow. I got to eat as many carbs as I could while my eyes were propped open between naps. And I got to use many tissues, because once the house was quiet, it all hit me, IT'S OVER FOR ANOTHER YEAR. And I will miss the hub-bub. and those grandchildren who live far away will be growing up and be different the next time I see them. The littlest one will have his 1st birthday in 3 weeks. And I will miss it. Thank heaven the other three live close by.

Naps at will are certainly fine, but not as much fun as playing with a grandchild or shopping with my sister. Or just being all together under one roof, because all my living relatives were with me on Christmas day at my house. But, on reflection, even with sad goodbyes, it was a good Christmas holiday.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The aftermath....

21 stockings filled.....check
3 stores checked on Christmas Eve for last minute gifts....check
1 store visited on Christmas Day to get more dishwashing liquid, after doing dishes from cookie baking for 2 hours......check
4 hours sleep on from Dec. 23 to 24....check
Wrapping at least 4 gifts per person x 12....check
2 church singing gigs completed......check
Welcoming 7 out of town guests.....check
Emptying my wallet and checking account at least twice.....check
Waiting in line for Christmas baked goods....check

And now, finally falling in bed at 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 26, only to be awakened several times by bathroom calls, and getting up at 5:30.....check

And so, Christmas is officially finished!

Now for the next few days, I will get to enjoy those 7 out-of-town visitors by designing an activity plan for interest levels from 11 months to seniors, families and DINKs, and trying to keep on my feet until Monday, when NOTHING IS PLANNED.

It will be fun, but tiring, and I will have plenty of great memories from the flurry of activity..

Seeing baby C (11 months old) throwing a kitty ball like a baseball pro...
Enjoying watching the two oldest boy cousins (5-1/2 and 4-/12) enjoying each other's company, dealing with each others personalities, as they shared their new toys.....
Watching grandkid A with his Hot Wheel cars, as he gently put persistently drove them across the ledge on my very expensive china cabinet....
Getting my bro to help put the train set together (thank you so much!)....
Eating delicious foods prepared by daughter chefs, myself, and the bakery down the street.... (Tiramisu???? Where are those leftovers? Who says you can't have leftover Tiramisu for breakfast?? Goes great with leftover champagne, guess I ought to put a splash of orange juice in it to make it look more legit.)
Counting the empty beer bottles in the recycling bin......
Looking at the stack of cardboard to be recycled that is piled up like a mountain in the living room......
And waiting for Daughter MonkeyGirl's latest pictures taken with her new lens....since I didn't have time to even look for the camera.

Hope your Christmas holiday was memorable and enjoyable, mine sure was!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Good things come in small packages

You've heard that saying before. It certainly holds true for diamonds or exquisite jewelry. You can anticipate something rather extraordinary if you get a small package.

Well, I hope my family realizes that coming in small packages may mean that it is a really small gift. I've got all my Christmas gifts organized, and it all fits in a 2 x 3 foot corner of one closet. Oh, disclaimer, some large boxed toys are in the garage, but when it will all be wrapped, it still won't take up much room.

Is it the economy or just the idea that we all have gobs of stuff that pushed me to this new Christmas point of view? I know the two families of mine with little kids are very short on space, so getting them a bunch of big stuff just won't fit into the house! Besides the one family is traveling, so packing the car with necessities for three young boys (including an almost 1 year old) doesn't leave much room for big toys.

Money folds down nicely, and to fill in the spaces under the tree, I'll find some creative ways of wrapping this, and everyone will have a merry Christmas!

Hope you and yours do also!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Baby, it's cold outside!

Ok, the picture is a little hard to make out, but there are 10 doves who have found a warmer place to roost than in any tree in my neighborhood. It's about 10 degrees outside and a fierce wind is blowing from the north west. These doves found a place out of the wind, and are fluffed up quite a bit to keep themselves warm. The pond draws them in also, because it is a source of water in the winter. I try to keep it flowing all winter long, but sometimes it gets too cold and it freezes over.

I had to take my picture through the window and without moving the curtain too much, or I would have scared them away. I saw more a few minutes ago, but because I was peering at them, some got scared and flew away.

Wish we had more interesting birds around here, we have mostly starlings, pigeons and doves. Yesterday I saw some snowbirds (juncos), so I knew we were in for some nasty weather. I've seen mockingbirds, an occasional cardinal, some hummingbirds in the summer, but our claim to fame in this neighborhood is birds of prey!

The year we moved in, a pair of red-tail hawks raised two young ones in our neighborhood full of new houses. Our roofs looked like those in sea-gull territory, all streaked with baby hawk poop. The hawks still hunt here, but haven't nested here since then. I've seen kestrels perched on the high roof of the church behind my house. And last spring, I heard two great horned owls courting on that roof! That was a sight to see, there was enough ambient light from the ground so that I could see their perfect silouhette as they cavorted on the church steeple! They hooted so loud they woke me up!

One of the things I really miss about living in the country is the many different species of birds I could see. Eastern bluebirds nested on our property, we had scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles, many hummers, turkey, TVs, pileated woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks and a dozen different regular bird feeder birds (tufted titmouse, goldfinches, cardinals, downy and hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied sapsuckers, nuthatches, blue jays, juncos, indigo bunting, flickers, red-headed woodpeckers, and more. Plus we had a lake behind our house, and various ducks would come and go from there. I saw an osprey one year, and two years in a row saw a cormorant, who landed on the same stick each year, and stayed there for over 2 hours. I have a picture of a male and female wood duck on a protruding stick, and we had many hooded mergansers who landed on the lake to fish. Of course, the ubiquotous mallards, Canada geese were there all the time, as well great blue heron, green heron, belted Kingfisher, blue winged teal who came also. And often, I'd see a lonely pied bill grebe swimming all alone out on the lake for days at a time.

One funny story that was a standing joke between late Mr. and myself was the report each day from him, telling me that someone was asking who was going to cook dinner for us that night. You see, the call of the barred owl goes "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you" in that cadence. He'd be announcing that he heard the owl by asking me that silly question. I loved that, and it is a great remembrance of our time together in that beautiful place.

So, I guess I should be happy that the doves found my patio a nice place to keep warm. You can stay, doves, just don't poop all over the patio furniture.

The Ultimate Christmas Gift

What is it for you? A Lexus on the driveway with a big red bow tied on top? Diamonds that dazzle the eye, big enough to show he cares? Airplane tickets to some exotic place far away? What am I missing? What is your dream gift?

I must admit, the first one on that list above would probably trump almost any gift I would have recieved in my lifetime. The second one on the list comes in closely behind. But, in my old age, these dreams are becoming dimmer and less likely to ever see the light of day for me. Good luck to all of you to achieve your dream gift.

So, now what do I consider the ultimate gift? Not a vacuum cleaner, or a food processor? Or that brightly colored pair of socks, or crazy sweater that someone might think I'd enjoy. Actually I love all of those things, but don't really consider them gift-worthy, I'll shop for those things for myself!

I did ask for a nice cordless drill for Christmas. I figure the boys in the family can come up with the correct model for an old grandma who occasionally does home repairs or installs shelves or curtain rods.

But I bought myself the ultimate gift this year. You'll never guess what! I bought myself a new toilet brush! Yes, I parted with the ones I've been using that are carrying organisms from toilets past, it was sad but necessary to part with them! I hope they get a ceremonious burial in the landfill.

Now, to use it to get my home ready for guests!

Hope you all get your ultimate gift. I'm sure you will be as excited about yours as I am with mine!

Setting the Mood

We all have our triggers that set the mood for the holidays? Is it the frenzy of last-minute shopping that sets the mood for you? Monkeygirl started her Christmas shopping early, on the last day of fall, not the first day of winter. NV who lives in This D*mn House started the cleaning frenzy and wrapping gifts in themed paper and now she is in the mood. I got all of my Santas out and placed them strategically around the house. I suppose that is my trigger, although there is still some room in my heart for Baby Jesus who will get me going more during Christmas Eve Mass.

In our weekend paper, the LifeStyle Editor claims to have been searching for the right trigger to get her in the mood. So despite the terrible economy, she bucked up and took her family of 5 to Great Wolf Lodge for the weekend. It had to be part of a Christmas gift, because believe me, when I went, it emptied a big chuck of wallet change from me! And that was only for one person!

But Great Wolf knows how to put on a party. And it is all geared for families, especially families who can't get enough time in water during the three summer months, and want to extend it to year round. You see, the drawing feature for Great Wolf is the huge indoor water park which is a part of their aura and appeal.

The other thing that draws families to Great Wolf, especially around holidays, is that they have theme based activities for families, every hour every day. We went before Halloween, and they did some darling theme based "haunted house" rooms, which the families could tour. It was low key on the scary-meter, but very cute and creative. Each department in the hotel management team was given a room, and they chose a movie theme to decorate their room in. They didn't destroy the room or anything, but they did decorate right up to the ceiling! Great Wolf gave up a chunk of change for this venture, because 6 rooms were out of commission as money raisers for a couple of weeks, during a very busy holiday season.

The LifeStyle editor went during the Christmas season. She described how they make it snow in the lobby 4 times a day! What a special effect that must have been. The lobby is four stories high, with a floor to ceiling stone fireplace decked out with moose heads and other lodge decor! I guess the housekeeping staff gets out their vacuums every time it snows to act as snowplows to get ready for the next snow storm! What an idea. She describes the story tellers, Christmas craft activities, arcade venture, which we experienced also when we went.

So this isn't supposed to be an ad for Great Wolf Lodge, but they are fun, and located in various spots in the country. If you want a fun experience for families with kids who like to swim and play in water, these resort hotels can't be beat.

What ever your Christmas "mood trigger" is, I hope you are catching the spirit, and hope you have a very happy holiday!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Speaking of watches.....

One can never have too many watches.

In the golden olden days, you had one watch for your entire life. They lasted that long. They were expensive, exquisite, made of fine metal components, able to be fixed if they broke, needed no attention except a gentle winding each day.

Well, that day is long gone. Now, in the digital age, you don't keep them that long. But in years gone by, I went for function, rather than form. I remember having a digital sport watch that never left my wrist until a creeping cruddy rash developed under it on my arm, and I had to abandon it until the rash cleared up.

The time period for my watches has gotten shorter and shorter as the years have gone by. Now I'm into "fashion watches", one or two to go with each outfit color! They are very inexpensive, and actually can be made to go longer by replacing the battery. I've had one completely crumble in my last 2 years of collecting.

Now, I have at least 19 fashion watches in my jewelry box. I may have missed a couple, I think one or more is perched on the kitchen ledge waiting to be put away.

And now, my photo watch joins the collection! I wonder which one will make the cut on most days? Will Grandma Pride trump fashionista sense? Only TIME WILL TELL!

What will they think of next?

Grandparents are always to be feared when they start with the phrase, "Want to see my grandkids?" That could mean you might sit through 2 hours of home movies, or sort through a box of interminable fuzzy focused shots of little Johnny eating spaghetti, or dancing naked in the bathtub! Or it could mean she drags out "Grandma's Brag Book" at least 2 inches thick, capable of holding at least 300 photos.

Now we are in the digital age. Yes, you can print out your digital pictures, but more and more people just skip that step and leave them in the camera or on their computers. Maybe you can provide a slide show for your colleagues at work when you are away from the desk. I learned a lot about my secretaries' families in the college office because they had slide shows of their families going on their computers!

But things needed to be more portable than carrying around a computer. Even laptops need a surface to sit on while you are getting ready to show your family pride. You don't want your potential audience to have a chance to escape! So, digital picture frames were invented. That was my Christmas gift 2 years ago. It worked great for 2 months, till little boy M dropped it and broke it.

I went to a techie's house for a party last spring, and in every room was a digital picture frame, with a different set of pictures on each one! Cool idea, and as well, he had another slide show going on his wall-to-wall projection screen TV! The guests got a full evening of walking down memory lane with them. Not that I minded, because I had heard about all of their kids and all of their friends for years, but had never met any of them until that night. So I got a full dose of the family tree from the technology spread all through the house.

Well, even something as portable as a digital picture frame has its limitations in where pictures can be displayed. You can't take it on the bus, or train, it doesn't run on batteries, so this year, they've come up with the "gift of the year" a digital picture keychain! I could really zoom up on people and trap them into looking at my pics with one of those! But I found the utmost in portability and convenience, a digital photowatch! Right there on my wrist, yes, now my friends and family will be bored with 4 full minutes of slide show featuring my family members. NO ONE CAN ESCAPE! All while looking at my age spots and arm hair! How charming!

I think I've included everyone in my slide show who is in the family (except the animals, only Psycho Cat made the cut.) I even cut out the former girlfriend of SkaterBoy to get a shot of him all dressed up for prom, and had to include two shots of MonkeyGirl's wedding to get everyone in the slide (right side and left side.) In fact, MonkeyGirl, your wedding pictures are the only pictures I have of you! Get out from behind that Nikon camera and put yourself in front once in a while.

Watch out friends and family, this techie loving Grandma is ready to bore you, just give me 4 minutes of your precious time! Don't dare ask me for the time, or you will be trapped!

Friday, December 19, 2008

God Bless the Beasts and Children......

Stockings for my families with little people

The beasts--3 dogs and 4 cats--these are the ones that live in this city

The country tree, all covered with UNBREAKABLE birds and birdhouses, my siblings and I

Family with "fake" grandkid, now real grandkid

I have 3 children, 6 grandchildren, and had 4 brothers and sisters. Two of my siblings have passed on and my spouse passed away 2-1/2 years ago.

Getting out the Christmas stockings each year has been a bitter sweet experience, and the gains and losses are remembered each year. Of course, the gains have outnumbered the losses in the past few years, with 5 new grandkids added in 5 years. So making the stockings to accomodate the gains has been a challenge, but fun.

I started out with this matching stocking idea about 7 years ago, Christmas 2001. That was the one year we had all of my siblings, all of my children and fiances/spouses under one roof at one time. There were no babies at that time. We lived out in the country, so country styled stockings seemed appropriate. I had two fireplaces and a very long oak stair railing to put the stockings on, so they all could be displayed. The only kid was our future step grandson (dubbed "fake" grandkid--he loved that name!) My 2 living brothers, and my sister and her husband were there, along with fiances/boyfriends/spouses of my children, whatever the status was at the time!

We even had beds for everyone! I had a 3 bedroom house, and a huge family room with 7 couches spread around here and there, plus a big comfy chair that made into a little skinny single bed. That was my bed for the nights we were all together. I think there were 14 people in the house that night, and all were bedded down in comfort, I think. It was so wonderful to have us all together.

So we all had our stockings, just to remember when we were kids, and when my kids were kids and each "hung by the chimney with care, hoping St. Nicholas soon would be there!" Yes, St. Nicholas didn't forget anyone.

This year, the group of stockings has swelled. As you can see, it swelled in one way because of adding animals to the family. Three dogs were added to the group of a family that had always had cats. Some of the cats don't get presents, they live far away, and in one case, there are too many to count, let alone name and give gifts to. They are farm cats, the number ebbs and flows! Sorry, SmokeyBear, the one cat far-away who lives indoors with the family. And sorry to the Oregon cats, that group too has ebbed and flowed this year.

In 2002, we lost one. Uncle Charlie was found dead in his home very unexpectedly, from a diabetic coma. Since he was single, lived on the east coast, and didn't have nosy neighbors, he passed without anyone really knowing how sick he was. And in 2006, we lost Mr. SewWhat. So each of those stockings was lovingly placed back in storage when the time came to hang them up during the past few years, and I know I shed a tear each time I remembered my loved one who we had lost.

This past year, we added grandchild #6. I was fast running out of black velveteen and that red/green check used for the tops of the stockings. But, Mr. SewWhat's name had been made part of the new grandchild's name, it is precious baby boy's middle name. What better way to make a stocking for him, but to recycle his grandfather's, and add the baby's name to grandpa's name. Clever, but I was wondering how we'd all feel seeing that each time we passed by.

Well, while trying to embroider his name next to his grandpa's name, things didn't exactly work out as I had envisioned, so I just turned the thing over and embroidered the baby's name on a different part of the fabric. But if you turn the stocking inside out, you will see Grandpa's name, and we'll all know and remember him as we enjoy that precious little guy who just joined the family.

Now, St. Nick has the joyful task of trying to fill each of those stockings! What a delightful task that will be!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Scarves and gloves

Scarves and gloves, extra warm, we all dug them out this week for sure. The psycho weather that our city always experiences certainly changed its mind on an hourly basis this week, cycling between sun, rain, sleet, frizzle, snow, thunderstorms, frigid cold, balmy warmth. But, mostly, it was just cold and miserable.

I dug out my many scarves and gloves this week, and even had to go for the heavy artillery one day when it was 16 degrees with a minus 0 wind chill. The heavy artillery for me is a very long double layer fleece coat I made about 10 years ago, made it from an idea copied from a catalog, in which the prototype was over $450. Mine cost about $50 and it is bullet-proof in cold weather, and gets lots of compliments. It can only be worn in freezing cold weather, because if a coat can be too warm, this one can get that way quick if it isn't absolutely frigid.

During the next school semester, we are hosting 60 students from South East Asia to our school. Most are coming from tropical countries, where winter means it may get to down to 50, if that. We are worried that many of them will not only suffer from culture shock, but may be unprepared for our midwest January/February weather.

So I volunteered to sacrifice my fleece collection for their comfort, and I am making 60 scarves and matching them with 60 pairs of gloves for our guests. They were probably going to have to purchase this stuff once they got here, so now they won't have to spend their per diem money on those items. I was originally committed to making them only for the 20 students who are coming to our campus, but it quickly escalated into doing it for the entire group.

I cut out 45 scarves the other day. I have fleece to do the rest, just not the time without back pain to do it. I hope to get to it today. Each scarf needs to be fringed, so I may get my house guests to help me with this project once the Christmas day festivities are passed and we are bored with things.

I hope our guests appreciate my offering. I had done this on a yearly basis for my students in my little elementary school in the country, because they never had warm hands or heads when we went out for winter recess. I embroidered names on each of their scarves because they would have lost them if they weren't personalized. Since some of these SE Asian students have names that are 15 letters long, I won't be doing that for this group! Besides, I hope college students can keep track of their stuff a little better than first graders can.

My work is ahead of me to finish this project. Hopefully it will be a pleasant reminder of their visit to the US, although I can't see a Vietnamese kid wearing a fleece scarf as he goes through Hanoi! What they do with them afterward, I don't care, I just want them to have some comfort while they are here.

Lesson Learned..I'll be careful!

Directions, we don't need no steeenking directions!

Our family quote, we've said it many times, and usually we get away with it. Not this time.

When I bought my new food processor, I quickly scanned the directions and casually tossed them aside. You know, directions usually tell you stuff any dummy would know, like, don't use this electrical appliance in the bathtub, or be sure to keep the knives from children. Duh, what do you think I am a total dummie? You must pay attention if you see a ! surrounded by a triangle, because it means....


The directions on how to put the parts of the bowl together were full of warnings, but the whole thing seemed rather straight forward, the work bowl clicks on to the base, and the cover clicks on to the bowl. So these directions were quickly noted rather inocuous detail was scanned and quickly forgotten...

NOTE: Do not attach the cover to the work bowl before the work bowl is locked on to the base. Damage to the work bowl may result.

Yeh, yeh, yeh, nag, nag, nag.... what possible difference could that make? Besides, that was not accompanied by !!!! and **** so it must have been a minor direction, what's the difference?

Well, that should have been in bold, asterisked, exclamation pointed print, because doing it the wrong way indeed damages the work bowl, and if this part is damaged, there ain't gonna be no food processing done! The work bowl handle contains the safety switch that make the whole thing function!

So I did it wrong, and the plastic handle parts went flying across the kitchen counter, and the machine, she ainta gonna work no more! And after only owning it for three weeks, not even paid for yet, this was painful.

So I went on a search for a new work bowl. First, I calledCrestwood Appliance, a throwback to 50 years ago, they'll order any part for any appliance for you. "Yes, we will order it for come in (20 miles from my house), pay $20 deposit, and you may get your part some time in the next decade. Now, if we order only one part from the company and have to pay shipping on only one part, it gets very expensive, so we wait until we have a bulk order then we send the order in." Move into the 2000's, Mr. Appliance Man! Everybody ships for a reasonable amount now, and we accept that. I quickly realized it's not gonna happen, this is not how I'm going to correct my mistake quickly.

Next search, of course, is the internet. I found a place that had the bowl, had a reasonable shipping charge, I didn't have to wait for months, the price was about what you would expect, and it came yesterday, exactly 9 days after I ordered it.

So now, I'm back on my quest to make the perfect pie, perfect yeast rolls, wonderfully shredded cheese, awesomely mixed dips. And I have time to practice and eat the disasters, should there be any, before the Christmas meal needs to be prepared!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The weekend sure was a busy one, and the past two days of school seemed to fly by, even without having classes to teach.

But I survived!

Meeting Friday afternoon, followed by shopping at Macy's. Got a new wool coat at about a 70% discount, guess they are really serious as collecting some cash and reducing their merchandise load. Then off to dinner with my friends...who didn't show up for 1 hour after they were supposed to meet me. I felt like pasting a great big "L" on my forehead for loser, sitting at the table for five all by myself. Finally they came, after navigating through bumper to bumper traffic in the middle of town, all because the main highway closed for construction a day early! What a mess. Then we were off to the theatre.

We saw "Steppin' Out", a story with the setting of a dance studio, and a class of potential dancing stars, all with varying degrees of talent and potential. There was the clutz, the diva, the insecure, the has-been cheerleader, and one lonely male, all trying to perfect a routine for a performance they were to give. As the play progressed, the stories of each of their lives came into focus, with the joys, but mostly the sorrows of each one becoming apparent. Finally, they did their dance performance, first as an amateur group, then they stepped it up to a professional performance. They ended up just an awesome set of performers, and their finale went on and on, to the delight of the audience. Nationally recognized director/choreographer, and it showed, plus a group of young and very talented dancers, they certainly dazzled us all. Five of us saw it, we are going to perform this show with our own theatre group in spring, I don't think it will have exactly the same talent pool that this show had! Definitely an older talent pool!

Then Saturday afternoon, we had tickets to see the Nutcracker with the M & M's. Boy M started throwing up at noon, so his ticket was lost. Our coats had a $25 seat to sit in. Girl M thought it was good for about 15 minutes, then she squirmed for 30, then fell asleep for the last 20. At least Mom and Grandma could enjoy the ending without having to deal with her wiggling. She is too young, even for this shortened and narrated version of the ballet, but we wanted to give her the chance, in case she would like it. She got an ornament of a ballerina and a princess wand as a souvenir.

Saturday night was a local performance of an Irish singer and his ensemble. I'm not going to name names, because I did not enjoy this one bit. He was the typical "lounge lizard" type of singer, singing sappy songs, and the good songs he butchered. But he did have a hilarious comedian with him, and some good Irish dancers. We were glad when he was finished and the others performed. Lucky for me the tickets were free.

Sunday afternoon, we attended a performance of the local adult brass band, that was very good. It always is! Now I got in the mood, when two beloved singers sang "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas"... they were great, as was the band. Got free tickets for this also.

Then Sunday night, we got to go to our first preschool Christmas Program with the M & M's. Our first adventure was to go out to eat. That worked out pretty well, no ketchup on the dress, no spills or disasters. But after he ate, Boy M said his stomach hurt. All we could envision was him hurling on the stage on to one of his classmates. But no, he had another performance in mind. He started bugging the kid next to him, and kept it up and kept it up, and finally the two were almost in a WWW slap-down competition! Grandma was mortified, and Mom wanted to crawl into a hole. Finally the teacher came over and stopped them. Girl M gave a wonderful thumb sucking exhibition, but she was well behaved. She looked darling in her black velvet/pink chiffon dress.

So five performances in three days, I saw about as much as my hinie could possibly stand. And my little M boy has yet to hear from Grandma as she gives him a piece of her mind about his first stage debut!

Friday, December 12, 2008

When can I rest?

Yesterday's schedule:
4;30 a.m. Read 30 essays, count verbs, compute percentage of correct verbs (ESL students are notoriously poor at controlling verbs)
6:00 a.m. go for a sweet treat to the bakery, try to control headache from counting all those verbs
7:30 get ready for work
8:00 go to the office, retrieve personal papers needed for interview at a new university for classes next fall, rewrote my resume, chatted with colleagues
9:30 leave for university (across the river in the next state, but it's only 5 miles to the river!)
10:00 meet with professor
10:10 leave for home--it was a very short meeting
10:30 get gas, it's now down to $1.35 a gallon, who'd of thunk it?
10:45 retrieve my purchase from Target that the careless new employee who thought he knew everything forgot to give me last night.
11:00 plead my case the bank, apologize for my mistake, I made a deposit through the ATM on Tuesday night in the driving rain, 2 minutes after the drive through window closed. I pulled out the checks and deposit slip already written out from my purse, and put them into the envelope. OOOPS, on Wednesday, I found one of the checks still in my purse! I had to explain that to the bank employees and hope they wouldn't slap any fees on me for my mistake.
11:30 Got that cheap steakburger I've been craving for days
12:00 counted more verbs, finally finished at 12:30--head really pounding now
12:45 Maybe I can grab 40 winks before next gig
1:15 get up, go to bank to give my hairdresser a nice Christmas tip, leave for midtown hair appointment
2:00 began my "clip and dip" routine. He's a master, but as the years go on,it is more of a challenge for him to make me look good, but he always manages. Love his new hair look, now very Italian (his heritage) and so handsome! Look at Il Divo, he looks like one of them! He has a sleeve tattoo of Our Lady of Guadelupe, today is the feast day of his arm decor! Very awesome!
3:30 on the road again, now heading for the grocery store
4:30 home with groceries, begin casserole for the pot-luck dinner tonight
5:00 maybe I can catch a few more winks while the casserole cooks. No luck, the news is so bad, who can sleep (I'm a person who needs tv to put me to sleep! It works most of the time.)
6:00 gather music, guitar, wrap present, copy papers, wrap casserole for the meeting and pot-luck
7:00-9:00 Ladies Meeting, plus pot-luck dinner, entertainment (by me and my guitar), gift exchange
9:00 call colleague to chat about essays and VERBS
10:00 Ahhhhhh, the bed awaits!

Now I say again, when can I rest?

Not today,

9:00 - 10--work at school
10-12 interview and brief a new employee
12 leave for other campus to discuss essays
When will I catch lunch?
2:30-3??? leave for Macy's
Hopefully to find a good buy on a winter coat--we're really getting a blast here in the Midwest, with much more promised next week.
5:45 meet friends at cafe for dinner
7:30 see "Steppin'Out" with ladies who will be producing this play in spring, I'm on the team
When Can I rest?

Not tomorrow--

Taking the grandkids to see Nutcracker Ballet. Work on grades and costumes

Not Sunday--

Going to see "Northwinds Concert Band" performance. Continue to work on grades and costumes

Not Monday--student teacher conferences, hoping that I got grades done

Not Tuesday--Student teacher conferences, know I must have gotten grades done.

Are you getting the message? I don't think there will be any rest until after Christmas, If I can last that long!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Disaster in the Kitchen

Remember that new food processor I bought 3 weeks ago? Well, it's toast.

My colleagues from work (well, for the last 3 years, we were colleagues) get together every year at Christmas for a little gift exchange, luncheon, and chat. We were like ships passing in the night when we worked together, because we all taught at different times, different days, and sometimes wouldn't really see each other for weeks at a time. So these Christmas get togethers were great, because we could all chat with each other, and eat a nice lunch to boot.

One colleague officially "retired" last May and left me to do the dirty work for the program. The other colleague decided that becoming a mommy in the middle of the semester was a good plan, so from 4 of us, we are down to 2 who are officially in the department. My active colleague and I have some time together one day a week, but it is never enough time to talk shop AND chit-chat about things in general. She and I had a great time last Friday because she invited me to a lovely Advent concert, and I then took her out for a bite to eat. We had a nice time chatting then.

Now, how does the food processor work into this story? Well, because making a pie crust takes 2 minutes in the food processor, I volunteered to make a quiche for our annual Christmas luncheon today, so I could use my new food processor once again. Our little preggie has been and still is a vegetarian, so it had to be veggie bound. I gathered all the ingredients, so I thought. Yes, I had the eggs, the spinach, the butter, the cheese, but wait, where is that onion that I thought I had stashed away. No sir, not in my cabinet. At 7:00 a.m. in your jammies is not a good time to find out you are missing a vital ingredient. But I forged ahead anyway.

The crust did only take 2 minutes to do. But in putting the food processor bowl together and taking it apart a couple of times, I noticed some small shards of plastic that had fallen to the countertop. UH-OH--perhaps that warning that putting the bowl together wrong could damage the bowl should NOT HAVE BEEN IGNORED! I think I smashed the handle by putting it together in the wrong order, and by damaging the handle, the processor refused to turn on, BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE THE SAFETY SWITCH IS LOCATED. Curses, swears, and be darned, I couldn't do any more with the food processor to complete my quiche. Get out the cheese grater, and watch your knuckles!

So the missing ingredients, the broken food processor, the less than ideal recipe selection, the lack of time to do it up right, the broken pie crust, all in all, it was a disaster. Oh, and I'm wearing a huge bandage on my arm where the imprint of the hot oven door is permanently burned into me! My colleagues managed to choke the quiche down, and eeked out a small compliment here and there. We had a lovely fresh salad to go with it, some yummy focaccia bread, and a homemade banana cake for dessert. And we had a tour of our colleague's lovely spacious home, beautifully decorated for Christmas. She had shared her tales of many long home improvement projects that they were doing, now finished, and their home shows so beautifully.

It was a disaster in the kitchen, but a lovely luncheon because good friends were together again.

P.S. A new bowl is on its way, I ordered one online for only 38.95. Hope I remember to put it together correctly in the future, or this food processor thing is going to get to be mighty expensive.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Zippers Won!

The upcoming/present costuming job that SewWhat? is working on is for the musical "The Sound of Music". Anyone who knows this play knows that costumes for the vonTrapp kids comes in sets of 7. So I have completed the first of about 4-5 sets of 7 things I need to make for my part of this costume gig.

Part 1: 7 sets of "bottoms" of a nautical outfit. That translates to 4 navy blue skirts and 3 navy shorts. Once I figured out how to cut them out, it wasn't that hard to sew them. I made circle skirts for the girls, which were so easy to make, just 2 seams, a zipper and a waistband. The shorts are made using my super fast boxer short pattern, takes all of 10 minutes to sew them up, once they are cut out.

In my past life as grade school principal/teacher/music teacher/play director/ costumer, I once made the entire school boxer shorts of various colors for our annual school play. The play was "God's Rainbow of Angels" (or something like that), each class had a different rainbow color of shorts, shirts, wings and halos to wear. They were darling. Sister and I worked together as a team, I cut out and sewed up the basic shorts, and she finished by putting in the elastic and hemming the legs. We got it done in about a week and a half, because I could make a whole class set in an evening. Caveat.....we had small classes, 9 was our biggest group.

So this boxer short production line is nothing new to me. At one time, I made boxers we called "Couch Potato Shorts", made for lounging around the house. They were made from fabric in which Warner Brothers characters were shown playing various sports, so they appealed to the "couch potato" crowd as they lounged and watched sports on TV. I even made hang tags for my creations, in the shape of a potato. I made one of my famous pairs for Allister in "Move Over, Mrs. Markham", including the hang tag. He properly appreciated them and the message on the tag, "wear the X in the back (over the place where I sewed the elastic) for NO WEDGIES!" That's what made those shorts so comfortable.

Today I will begin cutting out the middy tops for this costume. Once I get on a roll, it shouldn't take long to make them. I made middy tops for my "goon girls" in Oklahoma, they turned out very cute, so I think these will not take that long.

Then I think I am going to make jackets for this costume combination, to change it a little, and make it work for one more scene in the play. Nice simple v-neck, no collar style, making it easy to make and easy to wear with the middy tops or a white shirt.

The next set of 7 involves the curtain fabric. I thought that part of the costuming might be fun. so I requested being assigned that part. I just hope I have time to do it while it is still fun.

When this is done, I have 2 more plays that are upcoming in Jan./Feb. to work on. One director has yet to contact me, I guess she still wants my help. Until then, I'll work on what I know I have to do, and do the other one when I find out what she wants. Then one in April, then one in July, then one in December....whew!

"I'm just a girl who can't say no..."

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

World War II Memorial in Washington, DC.

Today is the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt said, "Today is a day that will live in infamy". I think he is right, when you think of how many American citizens lost their lives during World War II. The entire death toll of this war was was a staggering 46 million soldiers and civilians. This fact is documented in the book "The Second World War, a complete history" by Martin Gilbert. I've been reading this book for a couple of years now, don't know if I'll ever finish it, but it tells about World War II as it unfolded day by day in the different arenas. The interesting thing about this book is that it documents the movement of my father's unit as they trained and went to war. It practically mentions him by name, as he was in the entourage that supported the commander of their unit.

Many people of my age had parents that served in World War II. I was born while my father was participating in the invasion of Sicily, and ultimately Italy, which was one of the turning points of the war toward the Allies. He came home when I was about 18 months old, because he was diagnosed with a condition that rendered him a hazard for combat--he had epilepsy, which was undiagnosed until he went into the army.

Dad had a few stories from the war, and one was the story of their crossing the Mediterranean Ocean from North Africa to Sicily. They loaded and unloaded the ship via cargo nets. He told of having to hold his bag of supplies, a gun, and his typewriter, as he was the Radar O'Reilly of the company, the clerk, as he climbed the net. As the wind swayed the net back and forth over the frothing sea, he figured he'd lose his grip on the net if he didn't hold on with two hands, so the typewriter went into the briny deep! Something about the way he told that story makes it so clear in my mind that I can remember it to this day.

My uncle also served in WWII, but he was younger, so he had different experiences. He was also in engineering school at Washington U. So he ended up in "ordinance". He and his wife traveled around the country to a lot of different places during the war, I couldn't name them in order, but they were in Casper,WY, the Pacific Northwest, Colorado Springs (I think this was during the war), and ultimately in Alexandria VA. My aunt talked of these places over and over, and I never got the gist of what he was doing. When my aunt died and we were together with Uncle T after her funeral, we asked him to tell the war story from beginning to end. So he told of why they moved so much, ordinance means "bombs", and it ultimately meant "The Bomb". So he was in the arsenals of our bombs and then after "the bomb" was dropped, he was in the team that went to Japan to view the destruction. What an gruesome experience that was! Then he went back to Alexandria to "debrief" after they did the reconnaissance in Japan.

My uncle also served in the Korean War and was promoted to Lt. Col. When he died, they gave him a full military funeral in Arlington National Cemetery, with a 30 piece band, caisson to carry the remains, full 21 gun salute. It was very impressive. We walked behind the horse that carried his remains for about a mile through the cemetery. It was truly a sobering experience. And very beautiful.

We are losing our WWII veterans and they are almost all gone now. One group in my city is organizing entourages to take those WWII vets who are still alive to Washington DC to see the World War II memorial, all expenses paid. I've seen the Memorial, and it is truly impressive and very big. I've seen the Vietnam Wall, that too is impressive. The Korean War memorial is interesting and very different. I hear they are planning a WWI memorial up there.

We need to remember our veterans of all wars, especially the young men and women who are serving today. What ever your political persuasion, thank these folks, they put their lives on the line so that democracy can live on.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I Love Santa

Here he is, my own Jolly Old Elf. This Santa Pin was hand carved by an artist down in my country home that I left several years ago. When I looked at the faces he carved, this one just smiled back at me, and brought back memories for me of when my own father played Santa for our entire school one year. There is something in the eyes, eyebrows and nose that reminded me of my father.

I was 10 and in the 5th grade. My smart alec neighbors figured it out right away who the Santa was, and told me, "your father is Santa". No, I wouldn't believe them! I kept finding excuses in my mind how it couldn't be him. Even when I saw our family car on the parking lot, I refused to believe! This was real Santa, not my own father.

So that is one reason why I love Santa.

I used to lay awake for hours on Christmas Eve, waiting for that magical time to come and go. I know I heard the rustling in the living room around the Christmas tree. When the rustling stopped, I stole away from my bed and went out to check what was under the tree. One year it was a sled, one year it was skates. One year I almost got caught by my father, so I froze, daring not to even breathe, until he went back to bed and I heard his snoring resume.

So now, I remember my love of Santa in this way. I have quite a collection of Santas as my home decor theme. This is my collection right now. I put them all together on my fake fireplace every Christmas. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to see them, look at each jolly face, and remember my strong belief in the Santa Claus story that I held on to for so long.

These are some of the handpainted Santas and St. Nicholas images I have in my collection. A local painter from my country home did the hand painted ones. She was very good at capturing the essence of each culture's depiction of Santa or St. Nick. She handpainted beautiful faces, and then added so many details to each image to remind people of the ideas that each culture surrounded their image of the Spirit of Christmas with. She included typed labels on the back, telling the story that each culture held about their image. They are very informative.

The Polar Express Santa is in the rocking chair right by the base of the fireplace.

When the book "The Polar Express" by Chris Van Alsburg came out in the late 1980's, I grabbed the book, and it instantly became a favorite of mine and now of my grandchildren. I remember the first time I read the book, I sobbed through the last page. Santa says, "Remember, the spirit of Christmas lies in your heart". That first year that the book came out was a bad year for me, and Christmas was something to be endured. I DID NOT HEAR THE SILVER BELL THAT YEAR.

If you have read the book or seen the movie, you know that the symbol of the silver bell is the sign of a believer or non-believer and if the spirit of Christmas truly is residing in your heart. If you can hear the silver bell, you believe and you have the spirit. The movie tells us that most adults don't hear the bell. I know there were years when I couldn't hear the bell. I'm trying hard to hear it this year. I want to recapture that wonder and awe I had as a child, and recapture my feeling of expectation and excitement that I had then "when Christmas comes to town" (very popular tune from The Polar Express--see YouTube for samples.)

Perhaps I can experience this same feeling by experiencing Christmas and seeing it through the eyes and viewpoint of darling grandchildren. For them the story is real, and they can hear the silver bells. Hopefully, this will hold true for many years to come! I hope they love Santa as much as I did. I still love the Jolly Old Elf.

M & M's eat Breakfast With Santa

Here he is, the Jolly Old Elf, coming to our little school to eat breakfast with the kiddies!

Normally this is an activity that I pass on attending, but this year seemed like a good time to come back. I think the last time I went to one of these events was 35 years ago. I remember it as a "not very fun" event.

I think I was in charge of entertainment that year, and I had managed to secure a 30 member singing group to perform for the event. They did the gig for a $25 donation, and the person in charge of the entire event wouldn't even give them a donut to eat for their work, because we were paying them! That did it for me, because I was so embarassed by that. I said, "Adieu, so long, see you later, alligator" and never came back. Bad memories like that die hard, so this year was the first time it seemed like I had a reason to stick my toe in the water to try "Breakfast With Santa" again.

I am the vice-president of our Ladies Club at church, and this was the sponsoring organization. The president is a young gal, full of energy, seeming to toss off planning of big events without breaking much of a sweat. Little did I know that she had planned this event for the group for what seems like many years, because it was beautifully planned, and without much fanfare on her part. She had workers, she had elves, she had Santa, she had cooks, she had it all. There was plenty for the kids to do, the breakfast was hot, (all you can eat pancakes, not the usual donuts and a carton of milk). They had it planned down to the beautiful stickers that they made to put on the pictures that they took while the kid was on Santa's lap! I was very impressed.

My part of this was to be to lead little singing groups in Christmas carols. Well, the bulk of the mass of children was not interested in that. I wasn't offended, and left my guitar in the case and stayed with my grandkids.

The M & M's are at a very good age for Santa's aura. The boy M, age 4-3/4, yelled out the window one night to Santa, hoping he was flying around practicing with the reindeer above their house, and he gave his extra secret wish to Santa that way. So he had no need to converse with Santa in the flesh. However, he was brave, and when real live Santa walked around the room today, Boy M reached over and gave him a big hug. That was it for him!

Girl M, age 3-1/2 was braver. She hugged Santa when he came to their table, and worked up the courage to go sit on his lap, get her picture taken with him, and tell him that she wanted a Princess "fing", and she wanted it in pink. We got some darling pictures of her full participation in the Santa lap sitting thing.

Boy M wanted to know how Santa got there to the church. Did he come in a car? Did the elves drive him there and then leave, only to come back to retrieve him when the event was over? Boy M couldn't make that work in his mind, without seeing some sort of conveyance parked outside or on the roof, he remained unconvinced about the whole reality of the situation.

So for all of us, it was a fun couple of hours. I think seeing Santa in the flesh lets the kids grapple with the whole idea of the reality of this story. I was a "believer" for a very long time. When I was 10 and in the 5th grade, I found out that my father was chosen to be the Santa for the entire school (he didn't need padding.) My neighbor kids knew who it was, and told me, but I was in disbelief about the whole thing, even when I sat on his lap and he gave me my candy cane. I still didn't believe it, even when I saw our car parked on the school parking lot at 2 in the afternoon. I held on to my belief of Santa in the face of unequivocal proof of the reality of things.

So, as the conductor in the "Polar Express" says, you must believe. Punch my ticket, Conductor, I want to believe again, just as I did as a child. It makes the season oh so very special.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The zippers are calling me

I started on my costuming job for "The Sound of Music" on Sunday night. I got all the bottoms for one set of vonTrapp kids outfits all cut out and the boys shorts sewed up. I started on the girls' skirts and got stopped because I had no zippers of the right color.

So Monday on the way home from work, I bought the zippers.

And ever since that afternoon, they have been calling me! Every day it is one excuse after another, not enough time, too busy, other tasks are more important, oh heck, I just want one more nap!

It's been cold and snowy all week, so the napping under a warm cozy blanket has sounded very enticing. Today, I spent the entire morning and part of the afternoon on hold to change my Medicare health coverage. Tonight, the idea of baking cookies seemed like a good idea, just to warm up the house. And tonight I have a meeting to go to.

So the zippers have been calling me, but the skirts have not been done. I'm bad, and I know I'll pay for this procrastination later on. I need to get started so I can be finished with this job by Christmas, that is my self-imposed deadline.

Wish me luck!

BoooooHoooo, Bring the Kleenex!


In the ESL classes I teach, we use popular fiction as reading matter for our reading/writing courses. We pick best sellers, and old classics to read and ultimately write about. The themes that these pieces of literature provide are fairly easy to understand, and give a novice English speaker a chance to discuss what they already know and what they have learned from reading.

This semester one of the books I chose was "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" by Mitch Albom. This has the added benefit of being a book that is also turned into a movie, so we can watch after we read. Since it is getting close to the end of the semester, and we won't have time to finish this book, I'm going to show the movie to my students as a "reward" on Friday. Popcorn and drinks and a good movie, should be a good time...


I've learned the hard way in the past to never show a movie without previewing it. This one is too long, so I have to find some points that can be skipped so we can see the end. So I previewed it last night.

I had chosen this book in 2006, and started to read it to prepare for the semester. That year, the topic was too close to the heart for me, and I thought, "How am I ever going to get through this book?" especially since my sweetie had just "gone to heaven" that summer. Luckily, I didn't have to finish it, because the class was cancelled. This year, I figured I'd be able to handle the topic this year, after all it was 2 years later.

Reading it wasn't bad, but I only got to the third person Eddie met in heaven. So the movie blindsided me when it came to the 4th person. You see, the 4th person was Eddie's wife, and she died of the same thing my husband died of. That started the waterworks in earnest, which had begun to spring a leak during the third person episode where Eddie learned to forgive!

So I spent the last hour of watching as a blubbering, sobbing, Kleenex soaking fool. I guess if you want a recommendation about a good story, you have my seal of approval. The pile of soggy Kleenex near my easy chair can give my two thumbs up on this movie.

Now, how am I going to be able to show it to my students without making a fool of myself?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Puzzle a Day Keeps Bad Luck Away

My parents were puzzle people. Every day, my mother and father would grab the paper and whoever got their hands on it first would get to do the puzzles. Mother usually did the Jumble puzzle and Cryptoquip, and Father was the master of the crossword puzzles. He would work on them for hours, listening to his classical music station and letting his mind go to work. During his later years, he was unsteady on his feet because he had had several strokes, but it didn't affect his mind, only his legs, and later on his handwriting.

When Dad was finished with the crossword puzzle, he would come out of his room and announce that he had finished it. He would never give up, never cheat and look at the answers, but somehow, always seemed to finish them. Even the tough one, like the New York Times Sunday puzzle!

Well, I've inherited my mother's love for the Jumble and Cryptoquip. Seldom a day goes by when I can't complete them. I always judge the voodoo of the day by my ability to complete at least these two. If I can get it, it's going to be a good day. If I'm stumped, then who knows what luck will follow, probably bad luck!

So, my morning ritual is to retrieve the newspaper as soon as I get up, toss the news aside for later, and look for the puzzle page. Lately my morning news people have been playing around with where to put it, it was in it's own section for a while, then that got a little thin, then they combined with with the sports, then they just put the comics and the puzzles in one little thin two page section all by itself. Works for me! Now I can find it easily by looking for the colored pages.

I've found out that MonkeyGirl likes to do the puzzles also. She is doing the "girl" puzzles (aka, the ones Mother and I do/did), and she tackles the crossword puzzle. I think she can do Suduko and some others, we'll have to wait for her comment to see which ones she actually does. I seldom have time for the crossword puzzle, and I'm not good with names of stars of movies and songs, so I would have to spend all day on that. I'm terrible with numbers so Sudoko is out of the question. MonkeyGirl started me on the "Wonder Word" word search, and now I have three I try to do each day.

So, get this, Pulitzer Publications or whatever you are called these days--CUT OUT THE PUZZLES AND YOU LOSE ME AS A CUSTOMER. It's probably the only reason I subscribe to the newspaper.

My mother and father were as sharp as tacks until the day they died. I attribute that to their daily nurturing of brain power by doing the daily puzzles. Sometimes when I can't think of a name or an answer on Jeopardy, I wonder whether my mind is turning to mush, but I'm hoping that my puzzle days are long, and they keep me sharp until I wander off into the sunset.

Bye bye for today, I have to go get the newspaper.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Look Up!

If you caught a glance skyward last night between the clouds that obscured this beautiful sight, you may have seen a very rare event, called a conjunction. This is when planets appear to be very close to each other in the sky. (See website Universe Today for more information--originator of the photo.)

The crescent waxing moon formed a "face" with Venus and Jupiter. This picture was taken in the southern hemisphere and it appears to be a smiley face. I think I saw a picture from the northern hemisphere where the crescent was upside down, I'm not sure about that.

It is a beautiful sight. I caught a very short glimpse of it last night about 6:15 p.m. I was on my way to work, and when I came out at 7:30, the clouds were covering it. Venus is the brightest planet and Jupiter is less bright, but still outstanding.

I became an amateur sky watcher years ago when I was called on to help my school district develop a science curriculum. We received a very generous donation to purchase a portable planetarium, a 20 foot diameter inflated dome, which is very dark inside! A very expensive projector displays stars, moon, planets and constellations on the inside of the dome. When you are in there with 25 squirming kids, you'd better be able to identify stuff pretty quickly so they look up, so I got good at finding the constellations, planets and could explain the seasons and moon phases. I became a guest lecturer at times, and I taught many other teachers to love this part of science. I can even find the North Star outside my door!

One year, I was voted "Teacher of the Year" for my school district. My love of things astronomical led me to choose an all expense paid trip to Space Camp as part of my award for achieving this honor. That was a wonderful reward for me, since I had loved studying and hearing about the space program for decades. I came back from Space Camp armed with new knowledge and more enthusiasm for the subject. So I developed a wonderful parent/child event called "Reach For the Stars", sharing in miniworkshop format different aspects of the study of astronomy for the parents as well as the students. I had to beg my principal to let me plan this night, he was reluctant, but liked the idea of publicity for his school with the "Teacher of the Year" doing the work. The best feature was that the miniworkshops gave the people something to do while they waited to go into the portable planetarium, 25 at a time. The activites involved role play as astronauts, listening to legends of the constellations, literature, art, EATING! The people who participated (over 125, if memory serves me!) had smiles on their faces and loved every minute of it. My principal and his assistant also had smiles on their faces, because they never had that many people come to an event, unless it involved the whole school in a singing event. I was very pleased with the outcome, and it remains a very pleasant memory for me.

Thanks for walking down memory lane with me. I hope you might see the moon and planets again tonight, the planets will be in a slightly different alignment, but look up anyway, and enjoy what you see!