Monday, December 31, 2012

How can we rock without Dick Clark?

I can't believe this will be the first New Year's Eve without Dick Clark on television in my lifetime. He started his New Year's show in 1974, and he did miss one year when he had his stroke. But otherwise, he has always been there, until now. Makes me glad I stayed up last year to watch, not knowing it would be his last.

Sadly, sometime yesterday (in a fit of completing it's dastardly resolutions, no doubt), my body realized that, if it hurried, there was still time to get dreadfully sick before the end of the year! Yay. Thus, the birth of 2013 here on the east coast of the United States will also have to do without me for the first time in many many years. At this point, I think I'll be lucky to make it to 10 PM. I just hope this is not a sign of things to come for the next year.

Wishing you all a wonderful, happy, healthy 2013!
Currently feeling: not at all well

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pinterest Inspirations - December 2012

Well, I should have had a few more for the month, but this will do. Starting in January 2013, I will be incorporating my "Pinspirations" into my (hopefully returning) monthly round up.

DIY: sequin ornament - Made one of these in about 2-3 hours. It looks fabulous! It took about 300 pins/sequins to do one 3-inch ball using 8mm and 10mm sequins. I also recommend the 3/4" pins over the 1/2" pins.

Praline Cookies by Plain Chicken - These were very easy and quite tasty. I do think I will tweak the recipe a touch next time. I might use 2-4 Tbsp less flour (it was hard to get it all in there, and the cookies tasted overly floury to me), and I think I would switch to a full cup of brown sugar (rather than 1/2 cup brown and 1/2 cup white). I would also add a pinch of salt.

Crock-Pot Thick & Creamy Hot Chocolate - This was so rich that we almost couldn't drink it. I served 10-ish oz of it, and we could only drink 6-8. Though I've never had authentic drinking chocolate, this is very close to what I imagine that is like. It is good, but super rich, and it makes a ton!!

Snowman Donuts and Reindeer Donuts - As soon as I saw these, I knew I had to do them for Christmas!! They turned out super cute, just like the picture!! I used mini chocolate chips for the snowman eyes and mouth, and they were a pain to place and get to "stick". The white sugar pearls on the chocolate donuts were much easier to work with. Not sure if there is a black equivalent of sugar pearls, but if so, I would try those next time instead.

Snowman from wreaths - Mine wasn't quite this elaborate (no top hat, makeshift scarf actually made of solid red handkerchiefs), but it was still very cute hanging on our basement door. I connected the wreaths using brown pipe cleaners.

Currently feeling: it's good to be pinning again

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas 2012 Recap

We had an excellent Christmas. Hope you did, too, for those who celebrate it. I hope everyone enjoyed their time off! I know I sure did. I didn't feel like I was really ready, but Christmas seemed to come anyway! LOL I never got a single sweet dessert or snack baked, but we somehow muddled through just fine without them. (That's not to say we didn't have sweets, they just weren't homemade). We also had to get "emergency stockings" this year, since the banner we've used the past few years succumbed to tragedy sometime during this past year (and if I find out which cat did it, they may not see next Christmas!!). Still, not bad, even if it did take 5 different Target stores to get the 6 letters we needed. I also think my snowman wreath turned out super cute (thank you, Pinterest!).

The halls were as decked as they were going to get, so let's get this show on the road. Family started rolling in Friday night. Mom and I spent most of Saturday and Sunday either cooking meals or shopping, since neither of us had much in the way of gifts for my husband. I have one of the rare men in my life who actually *likes* ties, and he hadn't had many new ones in the last couple of years, so we got several new shirt-and-tie pairings for him. One tie, however, proved particularly elusive. We had a gorgeous store brand shirt, but that store had zero ties that matched it. Took another 3 or 4 stores (I've lost count now) to find a suitable candidate, but we eventually managed. (It also means I need to create a new shirt/tie/pants matrix for him. Why are you laughing?)

Saturday afternoon, we received a call from my grandfather's care facility that he had an upper respiratory infection and asking if my parents were willing to pay for one of the medications that was not covered by his insurance. They authorized the purchase, and we thought that was our "hiccup" for the holiday (there always seems to be one when they are out of town for more than a day or two), but we were not so fortunate. They called again Sunday evening to say that he was not eating or drinking, nor was he improving on the meds. Did they want us to send him to the hospital for fluids and assessment, since the flu was going around (which antibiotics would not help, since the flu is a virus)? The problem is that he cannot be left alone in the hospital, or he will rip out his IVs. He's not doing it to be mean, he just can't remember from one minute to the next what they are for or why they are there, so his first instinct is to pull them out. If you are not seriously watching him every minute (or tuned into listen for the sounds of him picking at the tape while you are trying to sleep, a skill my father has unfortunately acquired in the last few years), then he either has to be sedated or restrained, neither of which is good for him at his age and in his condition. My parents decided to send him to the hospital and see what the doctor said, and my father got going on the 6 hour trip back down south. We agreed he would stop 1-2 hours down the road and call to see what the doctor's assessment showed and determine next steps. Pa-Paw's chest x-ray was clear, and his flu test was negative, so they sent him back to his care facility. That was the best outcome we could hope for at this point. It was late, and Dad was a couple of hours away by then, so he just stayed the night at a hotel and headed back to Atlanta Monday morning.

It was a race to see who would arrive first on Christmas Eve, my father or my brother. Mom and I did our traditional trip to the DeKalb Farmer's Market while we waited. I think Jacob beat Dad by about 15 minutes! Mom and I had lunch well on the way by then, so we sat down to eat within 30 minutes of their arrival. Then I took Mom and Jacob to Trader Joe's for the first time, and we spent a whole bunch of money! I'd say we were about 50/50 with our choices for what was really good and what was not so much. Nothing was inedible, but a few things were (or will be) tossed without finishing them off. There were some really good selections, though. The major winners were the frozen Chicken Pot Pie bites, the cookie butter (similar to Biscoff spread; still working on the perfect thing to eat it on/with, besides a spoon! LOL), the vanilla mini cupcakes (Luke really liked those), and the chocolate covered raisins. And even though we didn't buy any, I will recommend the Peppermint Jo-Jo's (store brand Oreos). We received a free sample, and they tasted *just* like a Girl Scout Thin Mint! The texture was wrong due to the creamy filling, but the flavor was spot on. However, far and away THE find of the weekend was the Kirkland brand Milk Chocolate Almond Toffee (from Costco), better than anything we tried from Trader Joe's. It is crunchy but not hard, crisp and flaky but not sticky, and just the right balance of sweet chocolate and salt from the butter (I find some toffee far too sweet to counter the chocolate, but this was perfect). YUMMY!!!

Luke had been given strict instructions not to get up before 7 AM Christmas morning. At 6:59, he walked into the den (his clock is a minute or two fast). We spent the next 3 hours opening gifts, which is about par for the course. (Anyone else remember when he was shorter than our small tree? ::sigh:: I mean, I know he's about a foot or so closer to the camera than the tree is, but still. And those pajamas make him look WAY too grown up.)

It takes a while for 6 people to take turns and ooo and aah appropriately over everything, plus there were a couple of breaks to check on the traditional breakfast Christmas Cake.

Some of the highlights for me were a beautiful new Pashmina, some great nail polish, Star Trek Next Gen Season 2 on Blu-ray, and a matching set of "nesting doll" kitchen items (measuring cups, measuring spoons, storage containers, timer, and salt and pepper shaker; all completely adorable!). And this beautiful glass tealight holder.

Mom and Jacob sure seemed to enjoy the ornaments that Luke made for them. He put on 100% of the blue sequins on Jacob's ornament (I added the snowflakes and ribbon), and he did over 80% of Mom's, but we just ran out of time, so I finished it for him. I think they turned out really well!!

DH got a slew of new shirts and ties, several DVDs (Big Bang Theory seasons 1-5, Ken Burns Baseball documentary series, The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and maybe 1-2 others), and he now has the complete collection of stuffed Star Wars Angry Birds. (Luke also got a Luke bird, and I got a Han bird.)

Luke, of course, racked up with Skylanders Giants and Legendaries, plus some Skylanders Megabloks, a Pokemon 3DS game, the Beyblades he has been begging for requesting for months, and a bunch of other things. We also accidentally bought wrapping paper that wouldn't tear, which was both amusing and frustrating for him.

We ate our traditional Christmas spaghetti lunch (had already cooked the meat, so just threw it in the crock pot that morning), napped while Luke watched Tron Legacy (one of his gifts) all the way through for the first time, and nibbled on leftovers the rest of the day. We finished off the evening with a few hands of canasta after Luke went to bed, without ever having gotten out of our pajamas. Sounds like a perfect Christmas to me!

Wishing you all the happiest and healthiest of new years!!!
Currently feeling: full of the Christmas spirit

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all! I wish you peace and joy during whatever holidays you celebrate this season and throughout the coming year. And now, for the annual posting of my favorite holiday poem.

Believe in Christmas Magic
Believe in Ancient Lore
Believe in a hundred impossible things
The New Year may hold in store

Believe in Heavenly Angels
In Santas and Elves by the score
Believe in a hundred impossible things
In Flying Reindeer and more

Believe in a Babe in a manger
In Wise Men and gifts galore
Believe in a million impossible things
You've never believed before

-Author Unknown

Currently feeling: merry and bright

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Movie Musings - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Hmm, I'm not quite sure what to say about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (but since when has that ever stopped me?). It was good, but not great, IMO. Keep in mind that I have never actually read any Tolkien at all (despite repeated attempts, I never seem to get very far; I just don't like his writing style). However, from talking to my friends who have read it, that did not seem to affect how good (or not) they thought the film was. In fact, as is often the case for readers of the book that a film is based on, they were probably more frustrated with some of the aspects than I was. The story is a very wide ranging adventure, and I am enjoying the expansion of the scope of Middle Earth. Learning a bit more about the various races and how some of the animosity between dwarves and elves came to be is great (I'm a sucker for backstory!). All of the information being provided is quite interesting. But I do think the tone and pacing of the film is very uneven. A friend (whose favorite book ever is The Hobbit) believes that it is the parts of the film that are NOT from the book that cause the clash. Scenes actually from The Hobbit are generally much more lighthearted (relatively speaking) than those that use additional material (either from other Tolkien books or that were completely made up) which is more in keeping with the Lord of the Rings films, thus they clash tonally. With that thought in mind, I could probably tell you exactly what was in the book and what wasn't, without having actually read it. The parts that (I suspect) were from the book flowed quite well.

I do feel I should mention that it is rated PG-13 for a reason. I had originally hoped it would be rated PG and that we might be able to take Luke, but the PG-13 rating killed that. Given that this is supposedly based on a children's novel, I thought that perhaps it was more of a "soft" PG-13, but no. I think my friend Leah described it best: the level of violence is more in keeping with Two Towers or Return of the King than Fellowship. In terms of whether or not to take my son, Gollum made that an automatic no for me, but even without any Gollum scenes, the violence is still a no go for him at age 8.

I don't think the humor was handled as deftly as it was in Lord of the Rings. There were several lines and moments that you could tell were supposed to be funny but just sort of fell flat. I don't know if it was the delivery or simply the placement of the jokes (i.e. how it was edited). Some worked, but most did not. I do quite like the dwarves, though I also find them a bit uneven. Some seem to be mere cartoons or caricatures in both action and appearance, while others seem almost human. There are 13 of them, though I can really only uniquely identify 6 or 7, and even then, I don't know the names of all 6-7, which is sad after spending nearly 3 hours with them. I do find the leader (Thorin; see, I know his name!) quite compelling; his presence on screen is amazing. Watching the dwarves fight together is wonderful. It is approaching Cirque du Soleil in its artistry and choreography, definitely a well oiled machine. It makes me wish there was perhaps another dwarf or two in Lord of the Rings; I think that would have made things interesting. I am a bit confused with the timing of the "original" (I suppose) battle at Moria vs what happens later in Fellowship. Supposedly only 60 years have elapsed between the beginning of The Hobbit and the beginning of Fellowship, but I can't quite make it all work. Again, according to friends who have read the book, the timeline is quite compressed, so maybe that's part of the problem. (I'm thinking about it too hard! LOL)

My biggest complaint about the film is that it is far too long. I should not be looking at my "watch" every 30-45 minutes, which equates to 5-6 times during a film of this length. Fellowship of the Ring is equally long, and that movie just flies by, to me. (It is far and away my favorite LOTR film.) But here is the even scarier part: I know a little of the story of The Hobbit. I did see the animated version eons and ages ago. In this three hour film, they've hit all of the bits that I remember, except for the final showdown. I mean, logically based on where this film ended (after the eagles, and they can see the peak far off in the distance), they have to actually *get* to the mountain, which I imagine is the majority of film 2. They've also set a few pieces in motion, but they are not bits of the story that I remember (though I admit my memory is likely quite faulty in that respect). I'm just not quite sure what's left for them to do in two more films and another 5-6 hours before we get to the dragon, and I'm really not sure I want to sit through it. I will, of course, because I'm curious and a fan, but I also foresee it being a somewhat tedious journey. Smaug looks absolutely breathtaking in the teensy snippets I've seen, though, so I am truly looking forward to that. So, pack your lambas bread, and let's go! I hope the end of the journey is worth it.
Currently feeling: ready for second breakfast

Friday, December 21, 2012

Lights and Bows

Though we usually put up some sort of decorations for Christmas, we have never decorated the outside of the house. Well, I take that back. Last year, I think, we hung a single 18 foot garland strung with a single string of colored lights around the front door. It looked a bit sad, but it did hold off the whining from the child asking for lights on the house. I've known since we moved in that our white brick house would look dazzling decked out in white lights at Christmas, but we've been lacking either in time or money to do something about it. When I found strands of white lights on sale at Big Lots, I snapped them up. I wanted to go with something easy for my first attempt, so we put a strand around the inside of each window and around the outside of the front door.

Well, okay, not bad, but they look a little... empty. Like they're empty frames waiting for something. I know what I would ultimately like to do (wreaths hanging in each window, lit with spot lights from the outside), but I'd spent most of my decorating budget already on the lights. What about bows? I priced them at various stores, and the ones that were large enough ranged in price from $5-$15. Given that I needed at least 7 of them, that was still more than I wanted to spend. I checked out the Dollar Store to see what they had, and I found spools of wired ribbon. Surely I am smart enough to figure out how to make a wired bow myself (with the help of YouTube, if need be) that's cheaper than the $8-$12 that Michael's is charging? So home I went with about 10 spools of ribbon (wanted to practice with a couple first).

Not bad, especially for my first try and a total of 2 hours of work. The red ones took one 9-foot spool each, and the white one took two (which is why it has four tails instead of just two). I think they're marvelous, if I do say so myself. (I'm suddenly having to resist "bowing" everything in sight, and I'm not even really a bow person!) Add lights, and you get this!

I couldn't be more thrilled with how they turned out. I'm sure I'll get to my "dream decorations" one day, but for now, these are merry and bright enough to make me smile each and every time I see them.

Currently feeling: shiny and bright

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - December 19, 2012

Currently feeling: ready for Christmas to get here (even if everything isn't ready)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting

(I've been told this post should come with a tissue warning, so you might want to grab a couple before you start reading.)

I debated for quite a while whether or not I was going to post anything on my blog about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT. Documenting things like this is not really why I keep a blog. However, it has had an extremely profound effect on me in the last couple of days. I didn't know anything about what had happened until I got in my car to drive home from work on Friday just after 4PM. We don't have TVs or radios on the floor (they're not forbidden, just no one has them that I know of), I don't check Facebook or Twitter while I'm at work (generally speaking), and there were even fewer people than usual in the office on Friday, so there wasn't much "news" from the outside coming into or out of the floor. When I did finally hear, I was in tears most of the way home, which combined with a horrible fluttery feeling in my chest that I knew would not subside until I had my own child in my sight. DH waited until I got home to pick up Luke from after school care, but that probably wasn't a bad thing, since it gave me several minutes to compose myself.

Luke was his usual oblivious self, which I didn't mind in this particular case. I don't know if he had heard anything about it on Friday or not, but if he had, he didn't mention it. We kept the television off all weekend, at least while he was awake (well, off cable; there were plenty of video games and DVDs). We did have a small moment of levity on Saturday. They had the news on at the restaurant where we ate lunch, though the sound was not on. I had positioned Luke so that he could not see the TV, because I had no idea what they might show. When they flashed a picture of the guns involved, I just shook my head and commented to my husband, "who really *needs* an assault rifle?" Luke looked at me, very puzzled. "What is assault rifle? That means it fires salt??!!" If only that were the case! We couldn't help but laugh, though the overall situation is very much not funny.

I spent most of the weekend pondering whether or not to tell him what happened. My protective instinct said no. If someone coming to his school and killing kids was something that had never occurred to him, it was not a concept I wanted to introduce. Why scare him about something he hasn't even thought of? On the other hand, I certainly didn't want him finding out at school from the other kids. Goodness knows what wild versions of the story they'll have by tomorrow (not in any malicious way, just in the way that many young children don't truly grasp what is going on, so they start making up their own details). I decided I would rather him hear it from me, though I was quite vague on the details beyond a man came to the school and shot some teachers and some students, but that it happened far away. He was largely unphased by the conversation. He didn't have any questions or seem afraid. We'll see if he has any questions or concerns when he gets home tomorrow.

I, on the other hand, am still quite shaken even after two days. That is unusual for me, especially for something that happened so far away. I actually remember the last time I cried about something like this: September 11. I've been very sad about things that have happened since then, but it was sadness for the people involved. This? It rocked me. I'm still tearing up about it two days later. The smallest things start them flowing down my cheeks. Like this:

Before Friday, I would have walked into *my* bathroom and found Luke's socks laying there on *my* bathmat and been a bit annoyed, perhaps with a touch of humor but probably not. "He has his own bathroom," I would have thought to myself on any other day, "it is part of the reason we bought this house. I don't understand why he doesn't use that one and leave his dirty socks there. Or better yet, put them in his dirty clothes hamper!" But Friday night? I both smiled and started bawling. My 8 year old son left these socks there. My son, who was home that night to leave his socks there. In Connecticut, there are 20 families where a child is not home, and never will be again; 20 homes where parents will never again see little socks haphazardly left laying about. I've had plenty of similar moments all weekend. Mere glimpses of the stash of Christmas presents for him in my closet, the toys scattered all over the den floor, his stocking hanging in the den (that one is particularly bad), the coughing coming from behind his bedroom door late at night.... all of these things have started a fresh onslaught of tears. He's here, he's home, he's safe, and I've never been more grateful.

But there is something else mingled with the tears of gratitude: a touch of fear. More than a touch, if I'm being completely honest, and that is terribly unusual for me. Call me strong or call me naive, but even when things have happened in other places in the US, I'm not generally fearful. Sad, of course; concerned, yes, perhaps wary even, but not afraid. After the daycare shooting, I was of course concerned about him, but I wasn't truly scared. We went to the movie theater to see The Dark Knight Rises the same day as the Aurora shooting. I was on guard for anything suspicious, much more alert to my surroundings than usual, but I wasn't afraid. I'm always concerned for my son, even occasionally worried for him. I know there is no promise of tomorrow. But for some reason, this is different. There's knowing that, and then there's being slapped in the face with that knowledge, especially the realization that even if I am with him, I cannot necessarily protect him. Worrying for him is one thing; suddenly being afraid for him every waking moment is quite another. The fear is lessening some each day, but it is still there, an icy patch behind my heart. Putting Luke on the bus tomorrow is going to be one of the hardest things I've ever done. But I don't want him to be afraid, so I will also try not to be. That said, I'm betting that fluttery feeling comes back and sticks around all day until we pick him up after work.

I'm not forgetting the teachers and administrators, who gave their lives trying to protect those children. They couldn't protect those kids, though they literally gave everything in the attempt. That only overlays another level of fear. My father teaches middle school. Is the day coming where he will have to make that decision? That he may have to choose between seeing his own children and grandchild again or to protect the lives of someone else's children in that moment? I have no doubt what his choice would be, and I'm proud of that, but it also scares me silly. No one should ever have to make that choice.

Y'all know I don't usually post anything even vaguely political or religious on my blog. I also hope you know that I love you all, no matter what your religious or political views are. So I hope what I am about to post does not offend any of you. My cousin Joe married a lovely woman named Amy. She and Joe have two beautiful children, both younger than Luke. She moved me to tears with her thoughts on Friday's events, which she posted on Facebook. It actually brought me great comfort on Friday evening when I really needed to hear it. I will leave you with her words:
"Today has shaken me to the core, which is a very rare thing for me. I don't think it was even the atrocity of what that man did, because in our history, worse has been done. I think I realized that I have nurtured, loved and protected my children since they were in the womb, and I will do that until my last breath. They are my joy, my light and my heart. But today it really hit home that no matter what I do and how careful I am, I cannot truly protect them. It was not mine to say when they would be born and I will not say when they die. It is very unnerving, and yet oddly comforting, to know that I am not the one in control of my children. I want nothing more than to protect and shelter them from everything bad, but at the end of the day, I know that the One who holds their lives and their forever is the only one who loves them more than me." -Amy C.
Currently feeling: sadness almost beyond words

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas 2012 To Do List

Sorry there haven't been many updates this month. We've been very very busy! I seem to be adding things to my to do list faster than I'm knocking them off (note: the list above is just a representative sample). I did come to the realization a few days ago that everything will not get done, and I'm (mostly) okay with that. A few things are getting done: decorating, crafting (L is doing a great job with the gifts he is making, but I can't share those on the blog yet), and working. I cannot believe how much less I get done going into the office instead of working at home. It is staggering. Really didn't think it would make *that* much difference, but it does.

House is (mostly) decorated, tree in living room (still never undecorated from last year or the year before), working on stockings (long story), Christmas cards done. Finished shopping for three people, still two people to go (for whom I have essentially nothing; so hard to buy for!). This coming week starts the food cycle, and then people will be here on Friday! Are you ready?

Currently feeling: on the run