March 2017

March 2017

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Annual Report

Last night, I finished the company year-end documents (beating last year's record by two days!). We now know the family business grew a solid four percent in 2011.  After 20+ years, and given the current economic climate, we're extremely happy with that outcome.

In all the years we've been in business, we've weathered a lot of storms.  For at least the weekend, therefore, we're simply going to enjoy our current pleasant climate without worrying about the future.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Sweet Serenity

For some reason, I'm feeling less stress and a bit free.  This is an unusual sensation for me, so, of course, I had to analyze it.

I'm certain some of it is because Christmas is over.  For several months I was on hyperdrive, planning and preparing for our long busy Christmas weekend with extended family.  Now, all that is over.

Another contributing factor, I'm sure, is that currently I'm not planning or preparing for any major home repairs or renovations.  This year we tackled four big projects, anchoring the front foundation wall, painting and trimming two spare bedrooms, repaving the driveway, and remodeling the hall bathroom.  Next year, we might take on two or three smaller outdoor tasks, but nothing that requires moving storage and furniture or dealing with workers in the house for weeks.  There's the possibility we'll trim and paint the family room and foyer, but, since it's not scheduled, I don't need to worry about it yet.

It's much less stressful when there are only a few simple tasks on a to-do list.  Currently, mine has just three, finish taking down the holiday decorations, complete the company's tax documents, and plan our February trip to New York.  I'm nearly finished with all three and, today, the only thing I have to do is show up on time for a full-body massage.  Welcome, sweet serenity.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Home Alone

It's amazing how much I can get done when I'm home alone.  Yesterday I did four loads of wash, put away a third of the holiday decorations, and nearly completed all the documents the accountant needs to prepare the company's year-end taxes.  I'm feeling very accomplished this morning.  And because today I'll be home alone, again, I plan to tackle more chores.

I'm also ready to start exercising regularly again.  For months, my workouts have been sporadic, squeezed in between preparing for, and catching up after, our Ireland trip, and then getting ready for the holidays.  It's time to make them a priority again.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Craving My Normal Diet

On a regular basis, during the week, I eat three modest meals a day.  For breakfast, it's usually toast or cereal with skim milk.  Lately I've been preparing oatmeal with dried cranberries.  Lunch is often leftovers from dinner the night before.  On one of the two days I don't watch Jonah, I go to St. Louis Bread Company for a Pick-2 meal of soup and salad.  For dinner, I typically serve a protein (mostly chicken breast) and a couple of vegetables.  During the winter, dinner is often homemade soup and salad.

I have a different routine on weekends.  Saturdays, we go out for dinner.  Sundays, we go out for a late lunch after mass.  Dinners on Sundays are leftovers from the week or our meals out, or popcorn.

After the last five indulgent days, my body is graving my normal diet.  Luckily, I have a lot of leftovers from the three meals I served over the weekend.  Getting back to normal will just be a matter of pulling something out of the freezer.  Tonight we're having Ina Garten's Mexican Chicken Soup and Mexican cornbread.  My body just gave me a sigh of relief.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Day Four Fun; Day Five Farewell

Kate's dad feeding the ducks
at the Boat House.
Yesterday the family toured the St. Louis Arch and Zoo while I caught up on cleaning and laundry.  I took a break to join everyone for lunch at the Forest Park Boat House.  In the evening, Kate's dad treated the adults to dinner at 1111 Mississippi in Lafayette Square.  It was another full day and night of family fun.

Elliott's first trip up the
St. Louis Arch.
Today, after lunch at Chevy's (Kate's choice) to celebrate Kate's birthday next week, everyone spent the afternoon at grandma and papa's, visiting and playing with the boys.  Then, this evening, Daniel, Kate, and her dad flew to San Francisco for the last leg of her dad's first trip to the United States.

Jonah enjoying
the St. Louis Zoo.
I'm extremely grateful for the five crisis-free days all of us had together.  It was a great visit and special Christmas.  One none of us will soon forget.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Day Three Slow Down

Yesterday morning most of the family had breakfast at my daughter and son-in-law's.  Unfortunately, my daughter-in-law was down with a cold and stayed at the hotel to rest.  She missed a great meal.  Emily's blueberry french toast was decadent.

Maggie Elizabeth Jones
After breakfast and seeing what Santa brought the boys, Jim, Emily, and I went to Christmas mass.  After mass, Jim and I headed to the movies for some downtime while the rest of the family visited friends and in-laws.

We decided to see We Bought a Zoo with Matt Damon.  I didn't realize it was an emotional movie and based on a true story.  I was in tears during the last fifteen minutes. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend We Bought A Zoo to anyone who wants to see a good clean movie with no violence or crazy special effects.  Plus, Maggie Elizabeth Jones's angel face and acting are a pure delight.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Day Two Fun

It was a Lego Christmas for Elliott.
We got through yesterday's family Christmas with no meltdowns from either grandson.  I'm also happy to report all the food I prepared turned out as planned and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

In addition to food, the day was filled with good conversation, the simple enjoyment of one another's company, and, of course, a lot of gift giving.  One thing's for sure, when 10 people exchange gifts, it quickly becomes a whirlwind of wrapping and tissue paper!

Jonah, future Top Chef?
Elliott got five large Lego sets, over twice what he had hoped for.  He was literally jumping for joy. Jonah got several books, cars, trucks, and tractors. But his favorite gift was the play kitchen from grandma and papa.

No doubt, it was a Christmas to remember.  I'm feeling extremely blessed.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day One Success

Elliott and Uncle Dan
Our out-of-town guests arrived mid-day yesterday after a two-hour flight delay.  Nevertheless, we checked everything off our Day One To-Do List.  The entire family ate lunch at Schneithorst's and then everyone, except me, headed to Anheuser-Busch for the brewery tour.  I hung back to prepare dinner and prep for our annual gingerbread cookie decorating, which we did at my daughter's house.
Jonah decorating his first
gingerbread man.

It appeared everyone had a fun day.  And the boys did extremely well given the busy schedule and meeting new people.

Today is the main event, although my daughter reminded me that's really Christmas Day. However, most of my planning and preparation has been for today, Christmas Eve.  I'm serving two meals, lunch and dinner, for 10 people.  In between meals, we'll open presents.  Hopefully, any problems will be minor and the boys won't fall apart.

Happy Christmas Eve!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Let the Fun Begin!

My son, Daniel, his Korean wife, and her dad (visiting America for the first time), arrive tomorrow morning for a long Christmas weekend.  We have a packed five days with them, which I know will fly by.  But, hopefully, everyone will end up with many fond memories. It certainly won't be for not trying.

A lot of thought and preparation, by several people, have gone into this year's Christmas. It's Kate's (my daughter-in-law's American name) and her dad's first American Christmas. And Daniel hasn't been home for Christmas in five years.  All of us are beyond excited. Let the fun begin!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Clearance Already?

I typically avoid all stores this close to Christmas.  By now, the only thing I might need is a grocery item and I just send hubby.  But this year is different, more guests and entertaining, so I had to venture out today.  I went to Target, Aldi's, Schnucks, and JoAnn, braising myself for the crowds.  Boy, was I surprised!

There were no crowds anywhere, not even on the road.  And, whenever I was ready to check out, there was never more than one person in front of me.  It was amazing.

Also amazing was seeing all the clearance displays already.  Seriously, if a person has a flexible gift or holiday decorating list, there are some great bargains out there.  If I had not been so focused and crunched for time, I would have been tempted to begin next year's Christmas shopping.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cookie Monster

I love cookies.  Given a choice of any sweet, including a chunk of good chocolate, I would pick a cookie every time, especially one with chocolate chips and nuts.  For my palate, there's just no better combination of butter, chocolate, and nuts than that found in a good crisp cookie.

Because I find cookies so hard to resist, I rarely make them, or have any in the house, except at Christmas.  Recently I made Cranberry Noels and Chocolate Chunk cookies. Both include my favorite nut, pecans.  So far, I've done a good job of limiting my daily intake.  I've also been reducing the size of my meals to help compensate for my high-calorie treats.

Nevertheless, I don't see escaping the holidays without gaining a few pounds.  Thank goodness they only happen once a year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Vacuum Cleaner!

I have a wonderful helpful husband.  Especially during the holidays, without question or complaint, Jim will do whatever I ask such as various housekeeping tasks.  The risk I take, however, is his tendency to over do it or be too aggressive.

Over time, I've learned not to get too in-depth with cleaning right before a gathering.  The day or hours before guests arrive is not the time to take apart a light fixture, for example. If something breaks, or you can't get it back together, it's too late to do anything about it.

So, today, when I tried to put a new bag in the vacuum cleaner, I was horrified to find that Jim had taken the bag holder apart yesterday when he trash the old bag.  He thought he was being extra helpful, but, of course, neither one of us could get it back together. The staff lunch was starting in a few hours and my best vacuum was broken.  (Fortunately, I have a lesser model in the basement.)  And, because I'm extremely protective of my Oreck, I was even more upset.  It took me years to find a brand and model I like, and an Oreck is an investment.  I just exploded!

Immediately after the staff lunch, Jim took my broken Oreck to the shop.  I don't know what he said, but they fixed it on the spot.  I was so relieved it was fixable and could be taken care of so quickly.  I'm just hoping Jim learned a lesson, but I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Final Preparations

Monday we're hosting the annual staff lunch.  I'll be serving ten people family style.  The table is set, final touches have been made to all the holiday decorations, and, this weekend, the house is getting a thorough cleaning.  After Monday, we should only have to do a little sprucing before welcoming family on Christmas Eve.

Of course, there's still a lot of cooking to do.  I'll be preparing two additional side dishes to go with the Honey Baked Ham on Monday.  The homemade chunky applesauce is already done.  For Christmas Eve lunch, I'll be making Ina Garten's Chicken Stew and pumpkin pies for dessert.  Ina's Mexican Chicken Soup is already done and in the freezer for Christmas Eve dinner.  I'll be making a Mexican cornbread as an accompaniment. Dessert will be the cookies I baked today.

It used to be I didn't get much pleasure out of cooking for the holidays.  I much preferred the decorating.  But now I like doing both.  I just wish there was more time to get it all done.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The French Chef

Earlier this year (or maybe it was late 2010), the Cooking Channel launched in our area.  I never remembered to watch, however, because it wasn't broadcasted in high definition.  Well, sometime over the last few months, the Cooking Channel went HD and I'm now giving it more attention.

This week I discovered the Cooking Channel was showing an episode of Julia Child's The French Chef every afternoon.  I began recording it to watch in the evening.  I'm finding it fascinating.

Child wasn't nearly as skilled as chefs on current food shows.  For example, Gordon Ramsey probably would have popped a vein if he had ever witnessed how she handled a knife. Child also wasn't a neat cook or especially organized.  She was more a "fly by the seat of my pants" chef who didn't worry about the unnecessary mess she was making or if she missed a step.

I suppose Child's weaknesses are what made her appealing to so many.  She truly demonstrated in a way most American housewives, at the time, could duplicate.  For sure, Child loved food, which, in my opinion, is a key ingredient of a good chef.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Tablecloth Saga Continued

Today I starting setting up the dining room table for the staff lunch on Monday.  I'm glad I gave myself plenty of time, because I discovered the tablecloth I bought in November is too short.  Without measuring, I assumed we had 10-inch leaves.  In fact, they are 15 inches.  Since we've owned our dining room set for at least 25 years, I can't believe I made this mistake.

Fortunately, I had time after Jonah went home today to go shopping.  I headed straight to Kohl's with my 30 percent off everything coupon, hoping they would have some type of 60" X 120" holiday-appropriate tablecloth.  Luck was on my side.  There was only one red tablecloth in the size I needed and it was all cotton, which is what I really wanted.  Better yet, it was discounted 70 percent.  With my coupon, the final cost was less than $20!

This seems to be our year for close calls.  After our old Christmas tree died, we got a floor model because it was the only 4.5 foot tree left.  Then our outside snowman died and we got the last one at Target, which, again, was the floor model.  And today I got the last 60" x 120" red tablecloth.  This is not the way I like to operate, but it does eliminate having to make a decision.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Guessing Game

Jim's been hacking and coughing for six weeks.  He finally saw the doctor yesterday who wasn't alarmed and didn't really have an answer.  But because Jim's nose has some inflammation, he prescribed an antibiotic.

Elliott and Jonah have been coughing for weeks, also.  This afternoon, Elliott finally spiked a fever and Emily took him to the doctor.  Same response. . .don't really have an answer.  But, since Elliott has a history of sinus infections, he was also prescribed an antibiotic.

Apparently, no matter how far we've come, medicine is still often a guessing game.  I think it's going to be a long winter.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Newest Stress Reliever

Lego Creator Winter Toy Shop
Over the last couple of years, I've had a lot of fun building Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Ninjago Lego sets with Elliott.  I'm now a VIP member on Lego.com.  As a result, I get regular catalogs and online updates.  Recently, I was introduced to the Lego Creator Holiday series.

As I understand it, the Holiday sets began a couple years ago.  The 2009 set was the Winter Toy Shop; the 2010 set was the Holiday Bakery. This year's set is the Winter Village Post Office. After eyeing these sets for months, I finally bought the Winter Toy Shop through Amazon. (The price jumped nearly $30 the day after I purchased!)
Lego Creator Holiday Bakery

I also wanted the Holiday Bakery, but it was either unavailable on Lego.com, or almost double the retail price on Amazon.  Then, late yesterday, I got a Lego.com email.  For the next couple of days, they are dropping their minimum purchase amount that qualifies for free shipping.  After clicking through, I found the Holiday Bakery is now available and grabbed it.

I'm currently putting together the Toy Shop, planning to use it as a center piece for my holiday dining table.  I doubt I'll have time to put the Bakery together, too, before Christmas.  But it'll be a nice stress reliever after the holidays when things are a bit less hectic.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tour of Lafayette Square


Today Jim and I took a break from holiday preparation to do the Lafayette Square Holiday Parlor Tour.  I discovered it while researching things to do with our out-of-town quests who will be visiting over Christmas.  It's too bad the timing couldn't have been better, because today's tour would have been a great activity for them.

I suppose it's a shame we don't take better advantage of what our own city has to offer. Truth is, we rarely go downtown and, when we do, it's typically just for a baseball game or to visit the zoo.  Maybe acting as tour guides this holiday will spur us to continue to discover more of what St. Louis has to offer.

(As a side note, today I learned the hard way that the socks I purchased for touring Ireland were well worth their $17 price tag.  I foolishly didn't wear them for today's walking tour and my bunion is aching.  I had no problem walking, with the same shoes, all day in Ireland.  It had to be the socks.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kitchen Dreams

I'm finally doing some baking and cooking for the holidays.  Every time I have a day like this, I'm so happy.

It wasn't always true, but I truly enjoy baking and cooking now, and I owe it all to FoodNetwork.  Recipes no longer intimidate me.  I just enjoy the process.

I hope we can afford a completely new kitchen in a couple of years.  I'm making due with my current situation, but it could be so much better.  At minimum, we need to replace the 30+-year-old double oven and improve the stovetop-microwave setup.  In the meantime, I'll continue researching and dreaming.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Car Repair

Ten years ago, we bought a new I35 Infiniti.  It's been a great car.  I honestly don't remember it needing anything but tires and a battery as well as regular oil changes and lubes.  I'm probably wrong, but I definitely can't remember the last time it needed a major repair.  So, when the "Check Engine Soon" light came on yesterday, I immediately braced myself for a four-figure bill.  I just felt we were due.  

The mechanic called this afternoon with a quote of less than $800 and I nearly jumped for joy.  Better yet, the only other concerns were the front tires and brakes.  The tires should be replaced within six months; the brakes can wait up to nine months.

We hope to drive the Infiniti for several more years.  After all, on average, we only log 6,000 miles a year.  We're keeping our fingers crossed the I35 continues to serve us well.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Believing in Santa Claus

December 8, 2011
Tonight we're taking the boys to see Santa at the Kirkwood train station.  This has been a family tradition since Elliott was born.  It's a more intimate visit than anywhere else we've found, and we all look forward to it.  I can't help but wonder, however, if this might be Elliott's last visit.

Elliott will be six in February, so it's quite possible this is the last year he believes in Santa Claus.  I find that incredibly sad.  I still vividly remember all of Elliott's Christmases and how excited he was that Santa was coming to his house.

But, like it or not, time marches on.  I just hope Elliott's little brother, Jonah, can hold onto the belief for at least four more Christmases.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Tree Continued

Late afternoon yesterday, we determined there was no hope for our old Christmas tree. So last night we set out to look for a replacement.  We seemed to be the only people shopping for a tree and inventory was slim.  Fortunately, however, we did find a nice 4.5 foot pre-lit tree at a reduced price.

When we got back home, we stripped the old tree and positioned the new one.  Then this morning I shopped Michaels, JoAnn, and Hobby Lobby for decorations.  The new tree is not in a pot, so it's taller than the old one in addition to being wider.  Again, inventory was slim, but everything was on sale and I got an additional discount at JoAnn because it was Senior Citizen Day.  Yes, I now qualify for JoAnn's Senior Citizen Day and an additional 20% off my entire purchase isn't shabby.  However, I quickly found the down side to Senior Citizen Days -- seniors!

From my experience, seniors in their 70s and 80s, in general, are the most self-centered people on earth.  I often find them at Aldi's acting the same way they did today at JoAnn. They move at a snail's pace and constantly block the aisles with their carts.  They also take a ridiculous amount of time to make a decision.  Sadly, odds are I'll be the same way in 10-20 years.  But, right now, I have little patience for seniors who seem to have nothing but time.

But back to the Christmas tree. . .  I spent the entire afternoon decorating the new tree and love it!  Truth is, I was a little bored with the old one, so this holiday episode had a happy ending.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tree Down!

Just before I went to bed last night, the bottom third of our Christmas tree went dark.  I'm convinced the problem can't be diagnosed or fixed without removing all the ornaments. I'm a little depressed.

Several years ago, I bought a potted four-foot tree, hoping the cat wouldn't climb it like he did our eight-foot tree.  It works great.  Rupert has no interest in it.  And the little tree looks perfect, sitting on a cedar chest in a corner of our family room.  But, because it's a few years old, I was worried there might be a problem this year.  Fortunately, it happened in plenty of time to be corrected.  In the next couple of days, we'll diagnose the problem and then either fix it or buy a new tree.  Either way, it looks like I'll be decorating a Christmas tree twice this year.

And this is why I'm a crazy person around the holidays, trying to get things done ahead of time to allow for unexpected challenges.  At least this time around, it's tree down and not grandma down!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Stress-Free Christmas Cookies

Since it's less than three weeks until Christmas, I'm beginning to get anxious about getting all my cooking and baking done.  Yesterday I decided to see how long cookie dough can be refrigerated or frozen, hoping for at least a week.  I was thrilled to learn it can be frozen for up to a year.  Now I can safely make the dough this week, or next, and freeze it.  I'll then be able to bake the cookies a few days before Christmas with minimal cleanup.

Long ago, I streamlined my holiday baking to just a few varieties of Christmas cookies. This year I'm making three, Cranberry Noels, Chocolate Chip, and Gingerbread Men. Martha Stewart's Cranberry Noels are my favorite; Jim's are Chocolate Chip.  The Gingerbread Men are for the boys to decorate.

But even just three varieties or cookies can be a challenge to make this time of year.  So I was thrilled to learn homemade cookie dough can be frozen for so long.  For sure, I'll now be tempted to make my cookie dough during the summer, or maybe even in late winter when I'm not so busy.  As someone who loves to plan ahead, this is a great discovery.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Upcoming Premieres

Two of my favorite shows have scheduled their 2012 premiers.

The first one is Doc Martin on PBS.  The fifth season already premiered in Europe, so I could probably find episodes online.  But I've decided to wait until January to see them on our 40" screen. I did catch part of one new episode while we were in Ireland, which just wetted my appetite.  During the week between Christmas and New Year's, we'll probably watch the first four seasons, again, to refresh our memories.  Last Christmas, we watched all the available seasons, for the first time, as we got through the stomach virus.  Maybe we started a new tradition, but hopefully without the virus.

The other premier is the fifth season of Mad Men on AMC, which begins in March.  It's been over a year since season four ended, so the new season is well overdue.  I'll probably also watch the first four seasons of Mad Men, again, before the 2012 premier.

I enjoy television, but I agree there are a lot of bad shows.  So when I find one I look forward to every week, to quote a Seinfeld episode, "That's gold, Jerry!  Gold!"

Friday, December 2, 2011

One Cool Kid

It's becoming more and more obvious that Jonah's an extremely bright 20-month-old.  His teachers at daycare are constantly amazed by his actions and vocabulary.  And after spending another week with him, so am I.

There doesn't seem to be anything I can say to Jonah that he doesn't understand.  And I have no problem understanding what he's saying.  Jonah has an amazing vocabulary, speaks clearly, and uses full sentences.  But, best of all, he wants to learn.  Last night while daddy was reading to him, Jonah pointed to a picture of a butterfly and said, "say." Finally Mike figured out Jonah wanted to know what it was.  When Mike said, "butterfly," Jonah clearly repeated the word.  I'm betting he'll never have to be told again.

We always suspected Jonah's brother, Elliott, was above average, which his Kindergarten teacher has now confirmed.  But I honestly don't remember Elliott's language skills being at the level of Jonah's at the same age.

For sure, Elliott wasn't as easy going.  Jonah just seems to love life.  He's an overall cool kid and I'm glad I'm his grandma.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Yikes!

Looking at the December calendar yesterday, I realized I only have ten days between watching Jonah and other commitments to prepare for our long family Christmas weekend.  Yikes!

Thank goodness the gift-shopping is finished and the Christmas cards are in the mail.  I also have most of the decorating done.  I just have to trim the tree, which I plan to do Saturday.  After that, my next goal is to finish the gift wrapping by the end of next week.

I'll then start cooking and baking.  But first I have to make room in our freezers.  Even with two full-size refrigerators, I seem to easily run out of freezer space these days.  I like to take advantage of meat sales and love having an inventory of homemade soup and chicken stock.

Yep, preparing for the holidays is a lot of work.  But as long as I'm able, I'll continue to do it.  Before Alzheimer's Disease took her mind, mom hated all holidays.  I have very few happy holiday memories from my childhood.  I hope I'm changing all that for my children and grandchildren.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Brick-and-Mortar vs. Online Shopping

Sometimes I forget about the brick-and-mortar stores.  Online shopping is just too convenient and often offers the best bargains.  Plus, even if I end up spending more, I still save because I don't do any impulse buying.  Today, however, I was reminded it's sometimes still worth leaving the house.

This year, in addition to hosting the staff holiday lunch and Christmas Eve lunch and dinner, we're also serving a meal on Christmas Day.  Therefore, I decided it was time to get a Christmas tablecloth.  In the past, we used the same white tablecloth for all gatherings throughout the year.

After searching online for weeks, I settled on a Williams-Sonoma red plaid tablecloth.  It wasn't cheap, but they were offering free shipping and I don't plan to do this every year. So today I decided to place my order.  Unfortunately, the size I needed had sold out.

That's when I remembered Home Goods.  I used to shop there often, but haven't for a long time now.  Our home is finally getting to the point where I'm happy with most of the decor.  Home Goods offers great bargains, but it's hit-or-miss, so I wasn't too hopeful as I headed there this afternoon.

To my surprise, it was a successful trip.  I got two tablecloths and 24 napkins for half the cost of the Williams-Sonoma tablecloth.  Originally, I had planned to get just one tablecloth that would cover our table when fully extended.  But now I also have a shorter one that will fit better when no extensions are used.

This was one time when it definitely was worth leaving the house.  And I only made one impulse buy, a $5 bag of gourmet bubblegum balls!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hello Winter!

Temperatures have finally dropped.  Yesterday morning we actually had a few snow flurries.  It definitely feels more like winter now, which makes me happy.

The only downside is the extra effort it takes to get out the door with the boys.  Elliott is already complaining about having to wear his winter coat, and he hates sweaters. Fortunately, he has no problem wearing a hat.  Again today, Elliott wore his Santa Mickey Mouse hat to school.

Jonah, so far, is not fighting the winter coat, but it makes him a lot bulkier to haul around. He refuses to wear a hat, however, so we'll be facing that battle when temperatures drop further.

But I imagine life gets monotonous in places that don't have four seasons.  I just wish ours were more equal in length.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Don't Embarrass Me, Grandma

Elliott arrived at grandma's this morning without his backpack, which he accidentally left at home.  Fortunately, I was showered and dressed, so we immediately jumped in the car and drove to Elliott's house.  After retrieving the backpack, we headed to school.

Before we got too close, however, Elliott tells me, "people are going to think you're crazy with those things in your hair."  With all the scurrying, I had forgotten about the five small curlers in my hair!

I understood Elliott's point and quickly removed the curlers.  But I couldn't help thinking it wasn't that long ago it didn't matter how grandma looked.  We seem to have arrived at the "don't embarrass me stage" overnight.  My nostalgia quickly vanished, however, as I watched Elliott walk into school wearing his Santa hat with Mickey Mouse ears.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Closeness Among Generations

Long gone are the days when, basically, there were only three television channels.  Now, with our cable service, we can choose from at least 50.  As a result, we easily miss a show or even a series.

Tom Selleck in Blue Bloods
That's what happened recently.  I caught an ad for the second season of Blue Bloods and realized I'd missed a complete season.  In fact, I didn't know the series existed and I'm a Tom Selleck fan.

As a long-time Netflix subscriber, I immediately did a search on their website.  There it was, the entire first season of Blue Bloods in six discs. Last night I finished disc four.  Unfortunately, because Blue Bloods is not a Netflix "Instant Watch," I now have to wait for snail mail.

I'm looking forward to watching discs five and six and catching up with season two.  What I like best about Blue Bloods is the interaction of four generations of Reagans.  That's also why I like Parenthood, which is about three generations of Bravermans.  The closeness among family members in both shows is what I pray we're building with Elliott and Jonah. The hope that they'll always enjoy being with grandma and papa, no matter how old they get, is why we make time sacrifices now.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Improvements in Holiday Decorations

For a person who hates clutter, decorating for Christmas is a mental struggle.  I want the house to look festive, but I can tolerate only so much.  Every year it's a matter of fine tuning.

Fortunately, over the years holiday decorations have really improved.  One of my favorite purchases last year were battery-operated sensor window "candles."  With two C batteries and the sensor facing the window, the "candle" comes on automatically when it gets dark. No more running around every night plugging in four "candles."  Best of all, no more ugly cords.

And hail the inventor of pre-lit trees!  As a kid, I always felt badly for my dad whose job it was to string the lights.  No matter how carefully he placed each bulb, it was never good enough for mom.  So, every year, the holidays began with a row.  Fun times.

Now if someone could invent a way for decorations to come up from the basement without me having to run the stairs dozens of times, that would definitely be cool!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Preparing for Christmas

Both grandsons were fantastic yesterday.  Jonah was entertaining as he repeated everything he heard and wanted more and more pumpkin pie.  Our picky eater, Elliott, ate his meal nicely, and was extremely patient while waiting for grandma and papa to finish clean-up.  That's when we all get involved putting together the annual Lego advent calendar.  This year's calendar has a Star Wars theme, so you can imagine Elliott's excitement.

Now it's time to focus on Christmas.  Today I started decorating.  I had hoped to be further along by now, but can't get fully motivated.  It's just too hot!  It seems wrong putting out winter-themed items when it's in the 70s.  I definitely would have trouble during the holidays if we ever moved south.

But tomorrow and Sunday are supposed to be rainy and cooler, which sounds a lot better for the job at hand.  In the meantime, to help me get in the mood, I'll be blasting Christmas carols when I'm not watching cheesy Hallmark holiday movies.  Yep, that should do the trick!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Dysfunctional Family

My name is Dianne and I'm part of a dysfunctional family.

Although I think all families have some degree of dysfunction, I now believe mine is extreme.  Over the last 3-5 years in particular, it's become obvious to me that there's a lot of pent up anger and animosity.  And as cliche as it sounds, I blame my mother.

Growing up I remember dad telling us often not to "upset mom."  She could throw hateful barbs without hesitation, but we were never allowed to defend ourselves.  And, whenever I asked dad for help, I would get, "I'm not getting in the middle," even when he clearly knew mom was wrong.

As a result, each of us kids learned to swallow feelings.  Of course, sometimes they rise to the boiling point and there's an ugly spilling over.  But nothing's ever completely resolved.

Is it just a coincidence that I've come to this revelation on a holiday, another cliche? Probably, since the latest altercation has nothing to do with Thanksgiving.  I'm just hoping a step to healing is recognition.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Changing Taste Buds

I've noticed lately that my taste buds have changed.  For example, I no longer like soda in any form.  I used to be a big Diet Pepsi drinker.  When that started tasting bad, I infrequently would get a regular Coke Cola.  Now even the real stuff tastes bad to me.  I would much rather have water or unsweetened iced tea.

About a month ago, I had lunch at Pasta House, which I only do once or twice a year.  I remember loving their salad.  No more.  In fact, I was so disappointed in the taste, I didn't finish it.  Then a few weeks ago, I treated myself to a breakfast lunch at First Watch.  I had scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, and an English muffin.  Nothing tasted good.

I seriously think my changed taste buds are a result of my better cooking.  I now can make creamy scrambled eggs and yummy maple syrup bacon.  I also can toss a mean salad with very little dressing as long as I have fresh ingredients.

I guess that's the down side to improved culinary skills.  Most of the time it'll be better to just stay home and cook.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holidays Already?

Jim took Elliott to school today because it was raining.  And Mike took the day off, so I only had Jonah for a couple hours this afternoon while daddy was at Elliott's Thanksgiving celebration.  I'm glad for the break.  And there's no school tomorrow, so it'll be a completely kid-free day.

I made pies this morning in between visiting mom with dad.  Tomorrow I'll cook the main Thanksgiving meal, which will be fun.  But somehow I'll also have to motivate myself to clean the house.

I can't believe the holidays are here, again, and I'll be decorating for Christmas in three days.  At least, this year, the Christmas decorations will be up for over four weeks.  It's always a lot of work, but I love it when it's done.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Exiting Chaos

Today I cleaned out the kitchen cupboards.  It all started with swapping out our old dishes for the new ones I bought last Saturday.  However, I've wanted to do an annual cupboard cleaning for months.  And, as usual, a number of pieces didn't make the cut.

Now I have a pile of dishes downstairs to pack up and take to Goodwill.  And, before today, the basement was already in disarray because Jim steam-cleaned the playroom carpet yesterday.

But that's the way it always seems to go.  Clean and organize one thing or area only to end up with chaos somewhere else.  At least the no-longer needed items purged out of the kitchen cabinets today are now closer to the exit door.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Prep

I woke up today with post-nasal drip, slight nausea, and a headache.  Jim's been fighting it for a month, so I suppose I should have expected it.  I'll be popping Zicam tablets and taking regular doses of AirBorne for at least the next few days.  I simply have too much I want to do.  No time or patience for being sick.

This morning I set the dining room table for Thanksgiving.  After mass and lunch, I (hopefully) made my last trip to the grocery store for the week.  Tomorrow I'll make Cranberry Conserve and do more house cleaning.  Tuesday I'll bake pumpkin pies.  And Wednesday I'll make mashed sweet potatoes and creamed corn, blanch haricot verts, roast the turkey, and make the gravy.  Then, on the big day, all I have to do is brown the rolls, toss the haricot verts with shallots cooked in olive oil, heat the dishes that need to be served warm, and eat.

I've been using this routine for several years now.  I used to get so anxious about getting everything done on time when I did all the cooking Thanksgiving Day.  This system has removed a lot of stress and makes clean-up on Thanksgiving Day so much easier.  Best of all it allows me to enjoy the holiday and my family.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is Anybody Listening?

Nearly every time I go to St. Louis Bread Company, I end up telling the cashier several times that I'm eating in.  Clearly, they are not listening.

Tonight, Jim and I ate at California Pizza Kitchen.  Jim ordered a full BBQ Chicken Salad. I ordered a half Peach Spinach Salad.  But, when our food arrived, both salads appeared to be the same size.  When questioned, the waitress apologized saying she thought we both ordered half salads.  This time, it was two against one.  The waitress clearly did not listen.

After dinner, we went to Pottery Barn to buy the dishes I've been eyeing for a year that were finally on sale.  We got two sets of four place settings with soup bowls plus four cereal bowls.  The cashier verbally confirmed our purchase several times.  Nevertheless, after she rang up the order, the bill was $24 higher than expected because she had charged us for eight cereal bowls.  Another case of not listening.

If today's economy can't improve America's customer service, what will?  The least a customer should expect is the full attention of the person taking their money.  Is anybody listening?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Phone Books

Does anyone still use a phone book?  I can't remember the last time I dug one out to find an address or phone number.  Instead, when I need that type of information, I just grab my laptop or iPhone.

Nevertheless, every year several yellow pages books and one white book are delivered to my door.  For years, I kept them in a kitchen drawer.  When I started cooking more, however, I needed the space for new tools, so I moved the books to a laundry room cabinet.  But soon I needed that space for cleaning supplies I used to keep in the kitchen, again making room for more cooking tools.  So, for the last couple of years, I've been shoving phone books into the coat closet.

Today I cleaned the coat closet and now have six books to recycle.  Because a phone book's spine cannot be recycled, it used to be a pain to find somewhere to take them, which is why I have so many.  After a little research, however, I discovered our curbside recycling service now takes phone books.  Great!

Now I'm tempted to send all our phone books to the curb, including the most recent versions.  In fact, I'm also thinking new ones may never make it into the house.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Anxious versus Eager

On Monday, Elliott's school is having a "Pumpkin Run."  The winner wins a pumpkin pie.  (Sounds weird to me, too.)  Elliott told his mom he's "anxious" about the run because he really wants his own pumpkin pie.  However, when his class runs during gym, he never comes in first.

Now, if a five-year-old can use the word "anxious" properly, why do so many adults get it wrong?  It's a major pet-peeve of mine.  It especially annoys me when I hear well-educated news commentators use "anxious" when they clearly mean "eager."

Both "anxious" and "eager" mean "desirous," but "anxious" also implies fear or concern. 
--Writing.LifeTips.com "Commonly Confused Words Tips"

As a grandma, I'll eagerly continue to teach Elliott and Jonah the difference.  I am anxious, however, about the general improper use of the English language in America.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Darn Good Home Cook

Today I did the bulk of my grocery shopping for Thanksgiving.  I easily qualified for the $0.67-per-pound turkey, which required an additional $50 purchase.  I plan to grab another turkey at that price for Christmas, but will have to make a second trip before Thanksgiving to qualify.

As I hunted through the grocery store today, I began to suspect I must be a more accomplished cook now.  I easily passed by all the holiday displays of packaged and canned foods, searching primarily for fresh, frozen, and pure items.  These days, I mostly cook from scratch.  For example, no more canned creamed corn.  (However, I do continue to use canned pumpkin.  Seriously, who wouldn't!)

I feel my suspicions were confirmed when I asked for help finding the shallots.  After one employee was baffled, another said, "you know, it's those things chefs use."  Well, I'm certainly not a chef, but I do believe I've become a pretty darn good home cook.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Launch of Cricut Mini

Today HSN is presenting the world launch of the newest Cricut, the Cricut Mini.  A Cricut is a home electronic die-cutting machine.  It's a great tool for making a variety of paper crafts such as cards, gift bags and tags, signs, decorations, and much more.

Two years ago, I got my first Cricut, the small Personal model.  I absolutely love playing with my Cricut.  It allows me to add a professional touch to anything I'm making.  But, after watching today's presentation, I decided to upgrade.

The beauty of the Cricut Mini is it works through an online program, the Cricut Craft Room. The older Cricut models use cartridges.  And the only way to know what's on the cartridge is to flip through the accompanying book.  Now I'll still be able to use my old cartridges, but I'll upload them to my online Cricut Craft Room where I'll be able to easily see, resize, and position images.  And any Cricut images I purchase in the future will be through the online program, freeing up space in my hobby room.

I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas morning.  But, lucky for me, my Christmas will be here in just 7-10 days :-)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Let the Holiday Cleaning Begin

Over the weekend, I started my holiday cleaning with the family room.  I moved the couch and love seat, which I only do once or twice a year, for a thorough vacuuming.  I also removed the bumpers that have been on the hearth since Elliott started walking. Because Jonah's never in the family room without a number of adults blocking the fireplace, I'm comfortable getting rid of that eyesore.  Of course, now I'm fighting the sticky residue on the bricks.  Goo Gone is doing the trick, but it'll take a few applications.

Today the carpets, couch, and love seat are being professionally cleaned.  And since it's in the 70s, I'm washing windows.

For me, one of the biggest benefits of the holidays is a thoroughly cleaned house.  Few things make me happier.  I just love being in a clutter-free clean environment.  Let the holiday cleaning begin!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Feeling Better About Myself

Two things happened recently that made me feel better about myself.

For approximately three years, I've been wearing baked mineral foundation.  I'll never go back to liquid foundation again.  Mineral foundation feels so much lighter and is easier to apply.  However, for the past 4-6 weeks, I've felt my face was looking darker, like one of those Florida seniors who's spent way too much time in the sun.  I have no idea what happened.  But last week, I finally decided to get professional help.

While I was at the mall, I went to Sephora.  When I told the make-up artist I thought my foundation was too dark, she immediately agreed and quickly went to work finding a better match for my current skin tone.  She did a great job.  Now my face seems brighter and I think I look five years younger.

The second thing that happened was an "aha" moment.  Over the last five years, I've done some research on breast reduction.  I doubt I'll ever do it because of the cost and pain. But I have learned that my DDDs weight approximately 15 pounds.  And that explains why I don't look as overall round as other women with B or C cups who weigh the same, or a little less, than me.  Duh!

Seriously, it was driving me crazy.  Often while watching The Biggest Loser, I would think, "do I look that fat, because she now weights nearly the same as me?"  Then, sometime last week, the "light bulb" went on in my head.  The answer is "no" because 15 of my pounds are on my chest and not around my middle or on my hips.  Plus, if I subtract 15 pounds from my current number, I'm much closer to my ideal weight.

It's nice to feel good about myself for a change, at least for a little while.  Like most people, I spend way too much time feeling bad about my aging body.  And, really, what's the point? In ten years, I'll wish I looked as good as I do now.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Focus, Focus, Focus

Media long ago declared the Friday after Thanksgiving Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.  The hype escalates every year, but it's gotten especially bad the last several years with the failing economy.  This year some retailers are even calling the entire month of November "Black Friday Month."

Truth is, however, even if a person doesn't hit the stores Thanksgiving weekend, once-a-year sales abound from Black Friday through Christmas Eve.  And it's not only in stores. For me, its the online specials that are the hardest to resist.  Already I'm being bombarded with amazing offers via email everyday.

Nevertheless, I must stay strong.  My gift shopping is complete and my budget is spent. At this point, the only offer I'm interested in is a great deal on a 32" HD television for the exercise room.  I just need to keep telling myself what I seem to always be saying to Elliott, "focus, focus, focus."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reaching Limits

This morning I took Emily and Jonah to see the pediatrician.  Last night and this morning, Jonah was still spewing from both ends.  Daddy's been gone all week on a business trip, so Emily's been nursing a sick toddler and taking care of a 5-year-old all on her own.  This morning she reached her limit and I came to the rescue.

Turns out Jonah's diarrhea and vomiting were side effects of the antibiotic he was taking for pneumonia.  Since he'll no longer be taking the antibiotic, all should be well within 24 hours. However, he'll still be on a bland diet until Sunday, which means no milk.  It's going to be a rough weekend.

It's times like these I wonder why some people consciously have more than two children.  I suppose if you can afford help, or have relatives or friends willing to lend a hand, it might not be too tough.  But, for us, we always knew two was our limit physically, emotionally, and financially.  And, thank God, that's just what we got.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Free Day

Jonah was diagnosed with pneumonia late Tuesday afternoon.  Then, yesterday, it was determined he was also battling the stomach virus that's going around.  Emily's been home with him for two days now and, needless to say, has had a number of messes to clean up. Jonah, however, is taking it all in stride.  That kid is a trooper with a high tolerance for pain. Unlike his brother who thinks he's going to die when he gets a paper cut!

So today I ended up with a free day.  Emily even took Elliott to school and picked him up after.  I decided to use the time to tackle the last of my Christmas shopping.  I don't know why, but I can walk all day around Dublin with little pain yet, after just three hours at the mall, I'm sore and exhausted.  I sincerely hope I don't have to return until well after Christmas.

I should be good because, primarily thanks to Amazon and QVC, I'm now finished with my Christmas gift shopping.  My next project is to finish my holiday cards so they're ready to be mailed right after Thanksgiving.  That way, in December, I can concentrate on planning menus, preparing and freezing dishes and cookies, decorating the house, and wrapping presents.  Is my list getting longer?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Not Feeling the ToysRUs Love

A couple months ago, I went to ToysRus for their exclusive Harry Potter Lego mini set.  It was nowhere to be found.  Worse yet, none of the employees knew anything about it even after I showed them the ad.

Today I returned in search of the ToysRus exclusive Ninjago DVD.  This time I did find someone who knew about the promotion, but only to have her tell me, "oh, those flew out of here!"

Exasperated, I then just proceeded to check out the few items I did find.  And that's when my frustration with ToysRus hit the boiling point.  When the cashier scanned the Lego mini-figure case, she got a message to call a manager because the item couldn't be sold until November 13.  The manager did arrive quickly, but only to confirm the sell date.  Amazed, I told her there were half a dozen on the shelf.  Her response, "they'll all have to be pulled."

Are you kidding me!  In today's economy, how can a brick-and-mortar store not let a customer pay full price for an item on display?  It wasn't even a toy on the season's "hot" list!

I am not feeling the ToysRus love.  But, boy, do I ever feel more justified in doing my holiday shopping primarily online.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Living Hell

This morning Jonah and I met dad at Bethesda to visit mom.  Every time I see mom lately, I'm amazed at the resilience of some human bodies despite chronic illnesses.

Mom is now on a floor with residents who are all going through slow deaths.  Every one of them have cheated death at least once.  Most do not talk, have to be fed and bathed, and spend most of the day sleeping either in wheelchairs or beds.  All of them are wearing adult diapers and have food stains all over their clothes.

Mom still talks, but very little.  Most of what she says makes no sense.  She hasn't recognized me for months.  And, every week now, she's thinner, frailer, and paler.

Approximately 15 years ago, mom had emergency quadruple bypass surgery.  After the operation, the surgeon predicted she would live no more than eight years.  Indeed, mom's body is extremely resilient.  I often wonder, however, if she would have preferred a fatal heart attack over the life she's been living the past ten years.

It's a depressing and hopeless situation.  At this point, all I can do is continue to pray I don't put my family through this living hell.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Photo Books

For years, I made scrapbooks of special occasions and trips.  It took days and the books ended up large and heavy.  Then three years ago, after our Paris trip, I created a photo book through Snapfish.com and have never looked back.

I now complete books in just a few hours while watching television.  And, when it's finished, there's no mess of glue, scissors, stickers, and paper scraps to clean up.

This morning I completed and ordered our Ireland book.  With all I have to do these days, I'm glad I was able to preserve those memories so easily and quickly while they were still fresh in my mind.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I Heart My iPad

On our recent trip to Ireland, I decided to bring my iPad instead of hauling my laptop.  It worked beautifully!

I watched movies, read books and magazines, and played scrabble with the iPad on the long flights to and from Dublin.  It was also super simple to access the hotel's free WiFi, allowing us to send and receive email, keep up with the World Series, and talk with our son, using the iPad Skype app.

I also used the iPad when reading late at night while I was fighting jet-lag and Jim was sleeping.  With the iPad Kindle app instead of the Kindle, I read without turning on the lamp by using the iPad's backlighting, which I dimmed.  My Kindle isn't backlit and I don't have a reading light.  Next trip, I'll leave the Kindle and its charger at home.

We never did figure out why we couldn't access the hotel's WiFi with our iPhones.  But it was easy and fun to use free WiFi in cafes and restaurants with our phones, which were lighter to carry on tours than our iPad.  And since the iPad easily fit in our room safe, which the laptop wouldn't have, I had no worries about leaving it.

In summary, turns out the iPad is a great travel accessory even when going overseas.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Lego Chaos

My grandson, Elliott, slept over last night.  For his bedtime book, he requested the Lego Harry Potter Building The Magical World book.  Before we were finished, he was teary about how all his Lego Harry Potter sets are in pieces.

In fact, all of Elliott's Lego sets are in pieces.  He's just too creative to not take them apart, combine several sets, and build something unique.  He even takes apart his mini-figures, swapping hands, legs, heads, and anything else that can be removed.

For months, Elliott's been begging me to help him rebuild his Lego Harry Potter sets.  But there's no way to do that without first organizing all of his Legos.  Today I finally decided we would start tackling the chaos.

We began with a trip to my favorite store, JoAnn's, in search of a storage system. Lucky for us, the one we liked was 40% off.  Plus I had a coupon for 25% off my entire order.  We then hauled the system to Elliott's room and began sorting Legos.  Before we stopped for the day, mom and dad were helping, happy to finally see Elliott's floor again.

We got a lot done but, to finish the job, we need a second unit.  Nevertheless, we already know the system works.  Before I left, Elliott wanted to complete a previously started project.  He immediately pulled the red brick drawer where he quickly found the two pieces he needed.

How well Elliott sticks to the system remains to be seen.  I do know when he's told to pick up his Legos, he'll know exactly what to do.  And that's a big accomplishment.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Special Christmas

This year we will have a full house for Christmas.  My son, Daniel, and his wife, Kate, moved from Daejeon, South Korea, to Long Island, NY, last month.  In December, Kate's father will travel from South Korea to visit them.  (It will be his first trip to the United States.)  During his stay, all three will fly to St. Louis for a long Christmas weekend with family.

We are extremely excited about seeing Daniel and Kate soon.  It's been three years since Kate's last visit and a little over a year since Daniel's.  We are also looking forward to seeing Kate's dad, again, and having him meet other family members.  The first and last time we saw him was at Daniel and Kate's wedding, August 2009, in Daejeon.

And that's why I'm now in major prep mode for the holidays.  Yesterday I ordered Kate's stocking holder and checked a couple more people off my gift list.  (Thank God for online shopping and Jonah's three-hour nap!)  This morning Jonah and I took advantage of Dierberg's meat sale.

I want to do as much as I can as early as possible to allow time out for illness or bad weather.  Last year Jim and I had the stomach virus over Christmas.  I pray nothing like that happens to any of us this year, so we all can enjoy our special Christmas.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Making a List; Checking it Twice

I've spent the morning making my holiday gift list and going through all my gift hiding places.  Turns out I'm further ahead than I thought.  Especially since I also placed two more online orders this morning.

Yesterday I was a little freaked out because I remembered I also needed Thanksgiving and St. Nick's gifts for both grandsons.  In addition, Mike and Emily's tenth wedding anniversary is November 17.  But I was able to take care of all those additional gifts this morning.

I'm now 80-90 percent finished with my holiday gift shopping.  Soon I'll be able to just concentrate on setting up cleaning and decorating schedules, finalizing menus for Thanksgiving, the staff lunch, Christmas Eve, and Christmas, and keeping up with the bookkeeping during all the holiday madness.  Plus, somewhere in there, I need to take time to fully enjoy all my blessings.

I know it's crazy what I put myself through during the holidays.  But, truth is, as long as I'm able I won't do it any differently.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Holiday Race

We had great weather for Trick-or-Treating last night.  It was dry and in the 50s.  Elliott was Jack Sparrow.  Jonah was Captain Hook without a hat because he refused to wear it.  I just have to say, my grandsons are cuties!  And my husband's not too bad looking either.

Now it's full speed ahead to Thanksgiving and Christmas. My goal is to have all my gift shopping finished by Thanksgiving.  I did manage to get a couple of things at Target yesterday and placed an online order.  I absolutely love online shopping, especially if I get free shipping.  So super convenient.

Let the holiday race begin!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back to Reality

We got home from a week in Ireland late last night.  It was a fun trip with no travel problems.  It was not, however, a relaxing trip.

We did a lot of walking and I did little sleeping.  In fact, I only slept two full nights.  The other nights I suffered jet-lag induced insomnia.  I have no idea how I was able to function during the day.  But last night I finally slept a solid seven hours, waking around 6:00 A.M. That's a normal night for me, so maybe I won't suffer any jet-lag problems on this end.

Today we caught up with family, visiting mom at the home, carving jack-o-lanterns with Elliott, and playing with Jonah after his nap.  Mom looked pale and thin, couldn't speak clearly or make any sense, and mostly slept in her wheelchair.  The boys look taller and seem smarter.  Jonah's vocabulary has quadrupled and, thanks to daycare, he is now also using sign language.  Elliott's teacher confirmed, at last week's parent-teacher conference, that Elliott is indeed above average.  She feels certain he will be in the gifted program within a year.

Now it's back to reality.  I'm spending the rest of the day bookkeeping and doing laundry while Jim's at the Cardinal Celebration downtown with Elliott.  It was too bad Jim missed all the World Series games while we were away but, thanks to iTunes, he can still watch them and probably will.  Isn't technology grand!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Picky Eaters

I can't say I suffered any amount of "empty nest syndrome."  By the time the "chicks had flown the roost," I was ready for a quieter, cleaner, less hectic and crowded home environment.  The best part, however, was no longer having to deal with picky eaters everyday.

Jim always says he'll eat anything, which isn't true.  For example, he hates eggplant and mint.  However, in general, Jim will eat whatever I serve with no complaints and a lot of appreciation.  That wasn't the case with my two children.  One didn't like spicy foods and always wanted their food segregated, no casseroles.  The other favored more adventurous meals, the hotter the better.  It drove me crazy!  The last thing a mom wants to hear after making a meal after working 8-10 hours is "yuck" or "I don't like this."  And never hearing "thanks mom."

And now I have two picky-eater grandsons.  To avoid getting majorly frustrated, I've learned to put little effort into their snacks and meals.  And, yet, I still get complaints. Jonah cried during most of this morning's 30-minute walk because he didn't like the snack being served. What kid doesn't like butter or graham crackers?

There's just no winning with picky eaters.  So, after working hard to get toddler and preschool Elliott to eat healthier with little success, I told Emily I'm not doing that with Jonah.  For the most part, at grandma's, the boys only get what they've been known to eat. Yet, like this morning, even that doesn't always work out.  At least I didn't make the butter and graham crackers from scratch!

I hear there are people with children who will eat, or at least try, anything.  I would love to meet them.  For me, it looks like I'll be dealing with picky eaters, again, for another 17 years.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What To Do With Nearly Eight Hours

The flight from Chicago to Ireland takes just under eight hours.  Our time, we'll arrive at 2:25 AM.  But with the six hour time difference, it will be 8:25 A.M. in Dublin.  Therefore, the best course of action is to sleep 5-7 hours on the plane.  In the past, I've found that impossible.  This trip, however, I have Ambian to help me out.

So now I need to decide if I want to sleep or read and watch movies completely uninterrupted.  As much as I'm anxious about being stuck in a small space for hours, I'm also excited about so much time away from phones and the internet.  Lately I feel as if I'm being pulled in at least six different directions every hour of the day.  I can't remember the last time I did anything without interruption.

In all honesty, I'm exhausted.  Chances are, therefore, Ambian or not, my body will decide the long flight is a good time to catch up on some much needed sleep.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fighting Rising Prices

Mid-day today, our electric was off for three hours because Ameren Missouri was upgrading to accommodate the new homes being built next door.  So, after the hospice team meeting, I headed to the mall for lunch and to get my glasses adjusted.

Afterward, I was lured into Christopher and Banks by their 50% Off Everything In The Store signs.  I don't shop at CB as often as I used to because, a few years ago, I began finding their clothes dowdy.  Their prices were cheap, but who wants to look 10-20 years older? But in I went, today, anyway.

It was immediately obvious to me that CB has a new buyer.  Their current line is right on trend with a nice variety.  Unfortunately, however, their prices have nearly doubled.  They used to be comparable to Target.  Now their prices are more like Macy's.  I did end up buying a sweater and two blouses, but I wouldn't have if they hadn't been 50% off.  For me, the best way to fight rising prices is to take advantage of really good sales.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Welcome to America, Kate!

At 8:00 P.M. CST today, my son and his wife will leave Soeul, South Korea for a new life and adventure in Huntington, New York.  It's been over five years since Daniel's lived in the United States.  Kate, a Korean, has never lived in America and visited only once three years ago.

Bored with life in general, Daniel moved to Daejeon, South Korea in 2006 to teach English as a second language.  Within six months of arriving, he met Kate and they married in 2009.  I hated that Daniel moved so far from home, but now believe it was necessary so he could meet his soul mate.

Daniel was lucky to have Kate's help in acclimating to a different culture.  Now it's his turn, although I don't believe Kate will need as much help.  She's already been instrumental in setting up their new business as guardians and tutors for Koreans enrolled in a Huntington, NY high school.

Daniel and Kate's new business venture would seem to be the perfect opportunity for an American-Korean couple.  Time will tell, but I'm extremely hopeful.  I'm also thrilled to have my son and his wife living so much closer to home.

Welcome home, Daniel, and welcome to America, Kate!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hospice Care

This Wednesday at 9:00 A.M., dad and I will meet mom's hospice team.  The team consists of four people, a social worker, nurse, chaplain, and assistant.  I've only heard good things about hospice teams, but I'm still confused as to why the doctor thinks mom needs one now.  I've seen mom in much worse shape than she's been the last few weeks. She's not nearly as sleepy or lethargic as she was a month ago.  Plus she's talking clearly, again, and more social.

I had a lengthy conversation with the head nurse on mom's wing.  She understands my confusion, but agrees with the doctor that mom is nearing the end.  Although the end is probably six to eight months away.  It's primarily based on mom's pattern of weight loss. They believe some of the reason mom's not eating much is because she's getting weaker. All of her muscles are fading, including those in her throat.  However, the head nurse and hospice consultant warned me that some patients improve under hospice care.  In fact, they've known patients who went in and out of hospice several times before passing.

That's what I fully expect mom to do.  I've lost count of how often we've thought she was on her way out one week just to miraculously improve the next.  Why should this time be any different.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Have iPad Will Travel

I've never traveled with my laptop outside the United States.  My old laptops were too heavy and the power cords too big.  It made more sense to just use the hotel's business office or an Internet Cafe to check email every few days.  For entertainment in airports, on planes, and during evenings in the hotel, I always brought a portable DVD player, a number of DVDs, and magazines that I could trash after reading.  And, this year, I began bringing my Kindle, also.

iPad Jacket CA120
Magellan's iPad Jacket
Now that I have a light-weight MacBook Air, however, for the first time I considered bringing a laptop on our next overseas trip.  But then I thought about how bulky it would be to carry while touring.  If I left it in the hotel room, I would worry about it being stolen.  (That's never a concern with a portable DVD player, which is much cheaper to replace and doesn't hold all of my documents and photos.)  So I decided to take a close look at my iPad instead.

The lighter-weight smaller iPad is much more portable than a laptop.  And its charger is a third the size and weight of the MacBook Air's.  Plus, we can watch movies downloaded before we leave, and receive and send emails on the iPad.  And, with the Kindle app and iBooks, I can read books on the iPad.

Before making a firm decision, however, I did some research.  The first thing I found was a travel case at Magellans.com that will make the iPad easy to carry while touring.  I got it in black so Jim won't mind carrying it too.  Now we'll be able to use the Internet anywhere there's free WiFi, such as a coffee shop or restaurant, to get more details about our next stop.

Next I found several movies on iTunes for just $4.99.  Downloaded, we now can watch movies on the iPad even without WiFi.  No more hauling a portable DVD player, bulky charger, and case of DVDs.

I then purchased the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit.  I'll now be able to transfer pictures from my camera to my iPad, freeing up space on my memory cards and maybe even emailing a few to family and friends while we're away.

Finally, I thought about leaving my Kindle at home.  If I was traveling alone, I probably would.  But, for this trip, I think there will be times when I'm reading with the Kindle while Jim's surfing the web or watching a movie with the iPad.  No problem.  Deciding to travel with the iPad has freed up more than enough space in my carryon for a Kindle in a small 5"x7" case.

Hopefully, all will work out as planned.  If it does, I'll be extremely proud of my high-tech self.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jewelry Clean Out

I spent most of last night and this morning beginning to clean out my stash of jewelry. Probably two-thirds of my collection is fashion jewelry.  The other third is mostly sterling silver with some 14k gold.  I have one 18k piece, my wedding ring, which was upgraded as a 25 wedding anniversary gift.

I've been frustrated with my jewelry for years.  The big problem is it's not in one place.  It's stuffed in two areas of my clothes closet, a dresser, and a jewelry cabinet.  As a result, I can never easily see or remember all the pieces I have and just end up rotating a small percentage.  My current goal is to get down to just two storage locations.  I'm unable to consolidate into one due to space restraints.

The first step is to get rid of pieces I no longer like or will never wear again.  This is easiest to do with fashion jewelry, which has no real monetary value.  And since the fashion jewelry takes up the most room, it's the best place to start anyway.

So far, I have one large Ziploc bag full of jewelry for the next charity that calls.  It's a small dent, but at least it's a start.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Repurposing

When the cascade sweater came in fashion three years ago, I embraced it.  I have at least ten of them.  Some have stripes, but most of them are a solid color.  The black one has gone with me on several trips.  It doesn't wrinkle, looks great with almost everything, and takes up little room in a suitcase.

But this year the cardigan is back in style and I'm finding it more flattering because it's fitted.  Now when I put on a cascade sweater, I often think all the flow adds weight.  I still wear them, but find myself more and more grabbing a cardigan instead.

Fortunately, however, I've found another use for many of my cascade sweaters.  They make great lounge wear.  I love pulling one over my PJs, wrapping the excess material around me, and snuggling into the couch for a night in front of the television.  It's great when repurposing works out so well.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cheering for the Home Team

Jim is the only one in our immediate family who likes sports.  Fortunately, he's not obsessed.  But he does like to watch the local baseball or football team if we're home.

As you might have heard, our home team, the St. Louis Cardinals, are in some sort of race. And I think they're currently in the lead.  Jim attempts to get me interested, but it never works.  I simple couldn't care less about sports.

I will not be surprised, however, if someday Jonah shares papa's interest in sports.  I hope he does, because it would be so much fun for Jim.  In fact, I can easily see Jonah playing baseball, soccer, or basketball.  (I'm already telling him, "no football!")  And, when that happens, Jim will no longer be the only one in the family cheering for the home team.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

No More Piles!

Before I converted our sitting room into a home office, there were always piles of receipts, bills, coupons, magazines, and flyers on the kitchen counter.  Sometimes they overflowed to the kitchen table.  For a person who hates clutter, it drove me nuts.

I had high hopes for finally managing all the piles when I set up the home office.  Besides the desk with two file drawers, the room includes a four-drawer file cabinet and two eight-foot cabinets with shelves on top and two large file drawers on the bottom.  There is plenty of file storage for all my needs.

Nevertheless, there are still piles.  The good news is they're no longer in the kitchen.  The bad news is my desk is usually a mess.  I work around, on top of, and through the piles until I can't take it any longer, which happens every 2-3 months.

Today was a piles clean-up day.  After four hours, I once again have a neat desk top and feel super organized.  And, as always happens at this point, I'm determined to never let a pile form again.  Please wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fighting Panic Attacks

I've been claustrophobic for as long as I can remember.  It's never been a problem, however, until recent years.  I still go into elevators even though I don't like them.  But I will no longer tour caves, go on theme park rides with no natural light, or go up the St. Louis Arch or Empire State Building.

In the last two years, I've had two panic attacks in closed-in spaces.  The first one took place in a tunnel in Soeul.  At the time, I don't think it helped that I was sleep-deprived and anxious about being so far from home.  The second one happened while being held in a tunnel between an airport terminal and our airplane.  Again, my adrenaline was high before I even got to the holding space due to several security annoyances.

I now try to control my stress level before entering a tight space with deep breathing and stretches.  But, in all honesty, I know I won't always be successful.  So, after years of worrying that my claustrophobia would eventually keep me from flying, I've decided to take action.  I am now armed with Xanax to fight future panic attacks.  And I already feel better just knowing I have a defense.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Time for Hospice?

For the last 2-3 weeks, mom's been more vocal and social, so it was a bit of a shock to get a call today about hospice care.  Apparently, a measure of decline in a patient with Alzheimer's disease is weight loss.

Mom's been losing weight for months and recently dropped another 11 pounds in two months.  Last month, speech therapy stepped in, trying to learn what foods mom likes after determining there was no physical problem.  Mom favors fruit, but still eats very little.  I guess she no longer feels hungry, which is a sure sign the disease is progressing.

I always thought hospice was for people who were extremely weak and on their death beds. Mom is still spending her days in a wheelchair, and continues to have bouts of aggression. Nevertheless, hospice will be called this week to conduct an evaluation.  If it's determined mom is ready for their help, she'll be put under hospice care and the family will enter a new phase of this horrible disease.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Too Hot!

Another day in the 80s; another day of A/C.  It's October 9 and I'm ready for weather in the 60s and 70s.  If I wanted to wear shorts and sleeveless tops in the fall, I'd move south.

I only put out half of my Halloween decorations this year.  Up until now, I just haven't had the time.  And now, any "free" time is spent preparing for our upcoming trip.  But I've noticed there aren't nearly as many houses or businesses in the neighborhood decorated as usual either.  I honestly think it's because it still feels like summer.

At this rate, I'm just hoping it cools before the holidays.  It sure would be weird to wear short-sleeves and sandals to Christmas mass!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Packing

This morning I worked on deciding what clothes to pack for Ireland.  I hate this part of any trip.

My usual problem is too many options.  Apparently a lot of travelers have the same problem and choose to pack everything.  Every time I fly, I'm amazed at the amount of luggage most people haul.  Not only do I not want to lug a lot of suitcases, I also don't want to keep track of more than two, including my carryon.  But I also don't want to do laundry when I'm on vacation.  So I need just enough clothes to get me through a week even if I end up spilling coffee on myself.  And, yes, that has happened.

Today I got an excellent start.  In fact, I'm nearly finished.  I just need to edit out one cardigan and purchase one more essential short-sleeve black t-shirt.  My packing skills just may be improving.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Never Say Never

I am not a Jennifer Lopez fan.  I came to the conclusion she's a prima donna when she was engaged to Ben Affleck.  During a televised in-depth interview with the couple, Lopez made several statements that led me to believe she feels entitled.  When Affleck broke off the engagement, I imagined his mother jumped for joy.

When I heard Lopez was launching a line of clothes and accessories at Kohl's, I just knew I would never buy anything from her line.  But during recent shopping trips, I've been drawn to her tops, sweaters, and handbags. So far I've been strong, but I'm weakening.

The handbags will probably be my downfall.  I have always loved handbags and Lopez's have just the right amount of style and fun.  Plus, with coupons and Kohl's Cash, I could probably buy all three of the bags on the right for less than $100.

Darn the prima donna's good style sense and Kohl's great prices!  I should have known better.  Never say never.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thank You, Steve Jobs

For the past couple of weeks, I've been ending the day watching Mad Men on my iPad.  I'm a Netflix subscriber and Mad Men is currently available through their Instant Watch.  With lights out, I settle into bed and watch until I can't keep my eyes open any longer.  I'm losing sleep as a result, but it'll all be over soon because there are only a few more episodes.

I suppose I have Steve Jobs to thank (or blame) for my latest addiction.  What gifts he gave the world!  I'm not yet to the point of wondering how I ever survived without my iPhone or iPad, but I'm sure that day will come.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for all you gave us.  And thank you, God, for sharing Jobs with us even if it was for too short a time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Holiday Shopping

In the last ten years, QVC and Amazon have taken a lot of the stress out of holiday shopping for me.  Every year, during November and December, QVC offers special pricing on multiples of items, such as small flashlights and ornaments.  It makes it simple to find unique favors for the holiday staff lunch and family Christmas Eve dinner.  They also have good holiday pricing on jewelry, making it easy to find gifts for the two women in our office.

Amazon is my go-to online store.  Once I get a gift idea, I go straight to Amazon for a competitive price, free shipping, no tax, and delivery within two days.  And that's what I did earlier this week.

Because my grand-niece, Anna, will have a new cousin next year named Abigail, I got the idea to give her an Abby Cadabby doll.  Abby Cadabby is a Sesame Street character.  I did an Amazon search and found the perfect Abby doll and DVD.  Anna's mom is an Alice in Wonderland fan, so the Abby in Wonderland DVD was a nice find.

Because I like to have all of my holiday gift shopping finished by Thanksgiving, I'm happy to already be checking one person off my list.  Thank you Amazon!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cooking fun

Yesterday I made two different pestos and a large batch of chicken stock.  For dinner last night, I tossed noodles, roasted chicken breast, and fresh broccoli and tomatoes, with the almond pesto.  Today I used some of the chicken stock to make a creamy soup.  It was another yummy dinner, spicy pumpkin soup with bavarian pretzels from the bakery.

For awhile, dinners around here had been a bit redundant.  But the power tools (food processor and submersion blender) are back in action and I'm, once again, having fun cooking.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Re-Thinking My Garden

Yesterday I harvested 75 percent of my basil.  So, this morning, I made two different pestos.  First I made almond pesto because I had a surplus of blanched almonds.  I then made traditional pesto, using pine nuts.  Turns out, I prefer the almond recipe.  That's a nice discovery since pine nuts are so expensive.

This morning's production confirmed my decision to grow more herbs next year.  As far as anything else, I'll just do two fruits, tomatoes and pumpkins.  This year, most of the vegetables and fruits were not worth the effort.  The few herbs I planted, however, yielded nice crops, producing more than I could use immediately.  But I recently learned how to freeze herbs, so now I'll have "fresh" basil and thyme all year for soups and sauces.

So, next year, it's herbs over fruits and vegetables.  I love having a plan.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Truth About Missouri Weather

Today was supposed to be our annual visit to the local pumpkin patch until both grandsons were diagnosed with strep throat yesterday.  I always hate when they're sick, but it was especially too bad this time because today was beautiful. The sun was shining and temperatures never got above 70 degrees.

Now we're facing another week of temperatures in the low 80s.  That's just too hot for this time of year.  I'm ready to wear long sleeves, pants, sweaters, or jackets everyday.  It was so much fun over the weekend.  I wore jeans with a cardigan or jacket everyday.  And I wore my new faux leather jacket with ponte knit slacks to the Repertory Theatre last night.

It's just too bad we can't count on the return of many sunny days in the 60s in the near future.  But, unfortunately, odds are better we'll quickly pass the 60s and plummet into the 50s and 40s, barely getting a taste of true fall weather.

And that's the truth about Missouri weather.  We have four seasons, but spring and fall are way too short.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Welcome October!

Jonah harvesting pumpkins
from grandma's patch.
He's a serious gardener.
We had a lot of warm days in September, so I'm especially happy to welcome October today.  Even though it's predicted to be in the low 80s several days next week, we now have to be nearing the end of much more Indian summer.

Fall in Missouri is such a beautiful season.  Yesterday I noticed the leaves are changing colors.  And, since we've had some rain, lawns are going from brown to green, again.

With the start of October, I'm also getting more excited about our upcoming trip to Ireland.  This week I got out the luggage and picked up our Euros pack from AAA.  I'll now be mentally rehearsing my packing strategy until the night before we leave.  I sometimes wish I could travel like Jim, leaving all the details to someone else.  But, unfortunately, I know I would never be comfortable not doing it myself.

So today I welcome October and look forward to all the fun it brings.