Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Travel Post the Third - Monday

First thing Monday morning is often an unpleasant little blip in the week, however when you're on vacation? Lovely feeling.

We got up and headed to my aunt Susie's for breakfast; we had been thinking of going out but her work required her to have proximity to her computer (stupid jobs!) so instead her husband Chris, the cook of cooks, decided "Oh, we'll just make a little breakfast here," which means that (given that Chris is the product of an immense Italian family) we were in for a feast that would put any restaurant to shame.

The kid helped him at the store and with cooking, which was very funny because she got all fancy with the napkins again, and we sat down to enjoy a seriously delicious meal of coffee, OJ, a cheese-asparagus-scallop-shrimp-mushroom (I picked those out, no shock to anyone there) fritatta, hash browns, sausage and cinnamon rolls.


We relaxed awhile, then headed out to see their camper, which is permanently settled in a campground not far from their house. All the trailers there have little porches attached, and some look like teeny houses, it's really amazing what they've done since the Winnebago!

Back at Carolyn's, we got ready to go and headed down to my friend Lisa's, where we'd be having dinner with her, along with her husband and son and Kevin (winner of the Model Man Award). We stopped at Edwardo's and picked up our favorite stuffed pizza, and a good time was had by all. Lisa & Carolyn cooked up a birthday cake surprise for me which was wonderful, Kevin kicked our asses at Trivial Pursuit, and the kid and I both received lovely birthday gifts from him... I told you, he's awesome!

Truly a lovely day... and off to the museums on Tuesday!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Travel Post the Second - Not-So-Manic Sunday

Well, after waking up to this:

...there was no way in hell I was driving up north to Wisconsin. It was really a bummer because although my sister will be coming down this way instead, and that was fine, we weren't able to go see my daughter's great-grandmother and grandmother (they are mother and daughter); it's rare that we see them and we really won't have another chance to get up that way this week.

We ended up just having a calm day yesterday. I got another round done on the craft-a-long afghan I'm doing with my mom, we watched a movie and shoveled snow and went to the store to buy pizza makings. Carolyn makes her own pizza dough, something I can not accomplish AT ALL, so this was awesome!

Alas, I was mentally exhausted and forgot to take pictures, but trust me they were pretty.

It was SO HARD to relax. This was the driving theme for the day. I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm usually doing something, and probably two or three somethings all at the same time. Sitting? Watching TV as more than just the evening wind-down (which usually means I'm sewing something or cleaning too)? Nearly impossible.

I felt much more productive after the store run though, I peeled garlic for about an hour (3 heads! THREE! Glorious.) and helped with some of the rest of the meal, and did a little kitchen-cleanup midway through the process.

Also, the sun came out... I needed that.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Travel Post The First - Snowstorms Suck

Note... To avoid HUGE POSTS, unless it's a particularly telling photo I'll just post links during these travelogs to pertinent photos. You can also just view the whole album (which is in a kind of half-assed chronological order and includes notes) here, since I won't be posting links to *all* the photos.


I'm currently in lovely Round Lake Park, Illinois. I was supposed to leave Friday morning, and in fact I was going to make a lovely post all about travel and the excitement of a road trip on Thursday, but I decided to get the hell out of dodge (well, I waffled, but finally made the decision after some prodding by Colorado Alternadad).

Good thing I did.

Holy shit!

Schools closed, people stayed off the roads, and in fact it followed me here... had I waited until Friday morning, I would never have made it!

Instead, I dealt with a little bit of upheaval (well, "dealt" is glossing it over... "freaked out, panicked, cryed, shook with nervous energy and generally spazzed out a lot" is probably more accurate), ran home after work on Wednesday, packed our stuff and ran for it.

Which leads me to my first Travel Post of this Chicago trip! I'll probably post daily rather than a big glut like this one from here on in (yay for friends with computers), but for now it's a catch-up.

Freaked the hell out. I made a couple of last-minute Priceline reservations in North Platte, Nebraska and Davenport, Iowa, figuring that the 4 hours to North Platte would get me enough ahead of the storm to get a jump (I was right, hooray)... plus 4 hours was about all the driving I was going to be able to do after a full day of work and panic.

The hotel was actually a little run-down motel, one of those pull-up-and-get-your-key jobs, and let me just say that rarely have I stayed in such a nice place. Not nice as in "Wow, is that Egyptian cotton toilet paper?", but nice as in "I feel completely sure that I will not be killed or get lice". The owner checked us in, his cat helped (should have gotten a photo but I was exhausted and didn't think of it), then handed us AN ACTUAL REAL LIVE KEY (non-copyable, but still a real-live metal key on a numbered plastic keychain) and sent us on our way.

The room was so clean, even the headboard had been wiped down. I slept like a rock and managed no to be shot by my fellow patrons for continually setting off my car alarm (sorry guys!).

I was able to review this on Trip Advisor (an awesoem site) and let me tell you that if you ever find yourself in North Platte, NE and need a hotel room, this is totally the place to go.

Got up early, had our breakfast (we brought food with, including cereal and milk), and headed out in the dark. I got text message updates during the day from my friend Melissa detailing the increasing number of inches of snow that were falling all over the place... we ended up with something like a foot, the schools got closed for 2 days solid, and everything was pretty much shut down. There was even a state of emergency declared! GOOD MOVE GETTING OUT DON'T YOU THINK?

We, in the meantime, were having smooth sailing. I still wasn't quite rested enough for the 8 hours of driving, but we made it okay... While driving along through Nebraska (the kid was asleep in the back) there's not a whole lot to do but look at farmland, but those early morning hours can really be amazing for wildlife viewing. Grand Island is apparently a hub for bird migration, and were they ever migrating! We saw a flock (!) of cranes flying, another one sitting in a field... it was amazing!

I also got a chance to see the Great Platte River Archway again, which I remembered from when we were moving in 2004. It's just as cool as I remember it being, and I think we'll stop and really explore it (rather than settling for dangerously taking pictures while driving) on the way home.

I also listened to my new Indulgers CD (get it, seriously), and the themes of travel and pioneering, along with my long-standing and deep-seated fascination with Laura Ingalls Wilder, gave me lots of places to which my mind could wander. Lovely.

Finally arriving in Davenport, IA, we found the hotel, which was grody but had excellent management. They really tried, and had done some recent renovating, but some things can't be helped... at least they had a computer!

We also, on a recommendation from one of the staff members, went to Jim's Rib Haven for dinner. It was so awesome we brought the leftovers in the cooler all the way up here to Illinois... I'm thinking lunch today.

Finally, a day to relax! Seeing as how we were actually ahead of schedule (and secure in the fact that we had entirely missed the snowstorm), we decided to go visit my friend Nova's parents in Streator, IL... a mere 2 hours from Davenport. (And had I known that, I wouldn't have stayed in the Travelodge, but oh well, now we know!) They are a fabulous couple, still loving toward each other after umpteen years of marriage. They have a fun and art-filled home, and we always love staying there...it's truly a haven. Huge thanks to them for letting us stay and feeding us and stuff, it was the first time I had slept decently in a week (since I had been watching the weather reports so closely and was deeply worried).

They took us out for dinner at their local favorite, Mojito, and we had risotto (which was too rich and should be shared) and spaghetti (good enough that we turned around to get the leftovers!), and then went to see Monsters Vs. Aliens at their local theatre, an older movie house that's been renovated and is now totally awesome. The movie was cute, we enjoyed it a lot. I also gave her parents one of THE BOWLS. You know the ones.

Got up, ate monkey bread and had incredibly strong coffee, dressed and got on our way since OH GREAT HERE COMES THAT STORM I MISSED. (Sorry, Chicago.)

We did stop at Portillo's on the way, I must confess... a hot dog just couldn't be missed any longer. I resisted the urge to stop at Browns Chicken, which I think is commendable.

Headed up to my friend Carolyn's, at whose house we're staying for the week, got our stuff inside and headed over to my aunt's house, where she and her husband were hosting the majority of our family for dinner and company. It was awesome.

There's just nothing like being with your very own family; I'm so often around someone else's, which is totally great and nobody's ever not welcoming, but remember how I was all nostalgic? Being with people who know me utterly really scratched that itch, and gave my daughter some much-needed experience with them all.

It, of course, SNOWED again, and now here I sit, snowed in (we were supposed to head to Milwaukee to see my sister, but that ain't happenin') and looking forward to having lunch with my family again today... and that's my silver lining. I hate snow, but because of it my formerly hectic schedule for today has been put on hold, and I now get to spend some previously unscheduled time with some people with whom I have to offer no pretense.

And so, now it's off to shower and dress and help shovel if I can, and wake the kid up. She's still sleeping, but that's okay because it's her vacation too!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wonder Why Wednesday - Nostalgia

So I'm going to Sweet Home Chicago this week, and since going there always involves what basically amounts to a giant Nostalgia Fest, it got me wondering about how nostalgia works in different people.

Growing up there was a singular experience, and very subjective, because it's such a huge place. (I think it's almost impossible to comprehend how big it is unless you've lived there yourself - it's just referred to by most folks as "the City" anywhere within probably a 100 mile radius.) It's not like growing up in a small town, where there are limited things to do and you know you'll pretty much see the same people every day of your life, or at least can almost assuredly count on seeing the same people at the Dairy Queen on a hot Sunday afternoon. Instead it's like 400 or so communities all jammed together, all existing at the same time, almost oblivious of each other. You can cross a street in Chicago and pass from luxury and mansions to a series of dangerous streets...and never the twain shall meet.

My experience was more observant than participatory, I think. I looked, I listened, I made note whether intentional or not. When someone got in a fight, if I was there I absorbed the details and could probably, if pressed, still tell you who was involved to this day, whereas the participants have probably long since forgotten. When I went to someone's house, I ended up with a mental image of the layout and a lot of the details; that house might even be gone, but I remember it clearly as it was when I was there.

So today's Wonder Why asks the question... Does being an observer make you more nostalgic than being an active participant? Or is it the *reason* you were an observer that presses those things into memory?

Don't get me wrong, I certainly did my fair share of involving myself, but I was fairly shy (true!) and slow to trust that I was accepted into any group I happened to be hanging with... and I hung with some seriously weird/outer-edge type folks, so you'd think I would just fall right in line with them, but I was intimidated by their cool and seemingly easy demeanor. I managed to get by, dorkdom contained (mostly), but even now I look back and am still deeply embarrassed/excited/sad/thrilled about this and that, even though I know that nobody but me remembers.

The fact of my self-conciousness and being assured of my own misfittery (woo, new word day!) was that when I *was* made a part of something, I remembered it. Completely. Sad? Maybe. But unavoidable.

The pitfall with being a careful observer, however, the one who could write the book, is that I remember things a certain way, and thus frozen in a particular time, and so that nostalgia makes visiting home sometimes disappointing, often downright disorienting.

For example, I remember a coffee shop we used to go to... and that's that. I *remember* it. Driving by where it was today is like seeing two images at once; I see the new facade, but I also see the big glass windows in front, with the raised platforms with tables sitting in them, weird art on the walls, cigarette smoke wafting here and there... I even remember what the bathroom looked like and where it was (back left corner). I even see myself, superimposed, talking to this friend, making googoo eyes at that boy. It was 20 years ago, I mean come on!

Occasionally, if you share a memory with someone with whom you maybe shared one of these events, you might find that they will almost have no memory of it at all, and will think you're making it up/insane/a stalker. (Unless you've got a friend who also was a careful observer, like my friend Nova... we remember things nobody else does, and occassionally laugh like complete loons when remembering them in front of mere participants, who think we're nuts.)

I remember people's houses, I remember where their rooms were and what was in them. I remember things they said, questions they asked me, things they wore. I would never *say* any of these things to them, because they'd think it was totally bizarre and creepy (I would too, in their shoes).

I found that for several years after high school and that crazy life I had led during it, I would be really sad after visiting a place I used to go. I would miss those moments so fiercely, and having nothing to touch to remind myself of them anymore would hurt.

It took some learning, but I've finally found a happy medium in the last 15 years or so; it helped that my life altered completely during that long time, but the key was not trying to recreate those times by visiting the places they happened. Instead, I settle for rolling film while drifting off to sleep at night and sticking with old addage "Don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened". I don't try to be that person I was so long ago (for one thing, I could never pull off the shaved head now, and anyway the blue lipstick just wouldn't work in a business setting), but I remember her fondly.

So how about you? Do you find yourself wondering where *your* hometown went, even when you're standing in the middle of it?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Totally Random Tuesday: The Window To My Soul

Today, because I'm super stressed about driving in weather (although I'm calming down... it'll be too warm to blizzard, and I can handle wind) and also trying to finish up a million things in order to leave with a clean slate, I will simply offer a picture of the pile of crap that lives on my butcher block currently.

Some people say the eyes are the window to the soul, but I think a true glimpse can only be had by looking in someones purse, medicine cabinet, or crap collected on the counter.

Click here, the photo will be revealed in all the frightening glory it can muster, and if you mouse over the notes you'll see my personal insanity UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL!!!

Don't worry, you don't have to look if you don't want to. It's not that exciting... more of an I'm Dedicated To Posting post than anything else.

Here's a picture to spruce this boring post up... I apologize in advance if you have a thing about Lolcats, but I enjoy them a great deal. I have, however, thankfully gotten over my Lolcat-speaking ways. You're welcome!

Make lots of wishes for NO SNOW ON FRIDAY ANYWHERE BUT ON MOUNTAINS for me, wouldja?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekend Catchup: Scrap Rugs and Birthday Cakes

Thanks to a cast of thousands, I'm pleased to report that I had a very happy birthday this year. Not only did I get the lovely gifts detailed on Friday, I also received...

  • A fantastic taco dinner and my very own Foodsaver! You may remember me mentioning my lust over Sherri's... it did not go unnoticed and they picked one out for me, which looks like this:

Oh it's so pretty!

  • Dinner out at Benihana, which I love, with the child & Melissa & her son Nick; Melissa also gave me a lovely gift of breathing room for our trip.

Aren't we cute? I lack a scanner, obviously.

  • A painting and a cake from my daughter, plus the sweetest note thanking me for being a good mom, and a hand-made card with quilling on it. I've passed on the Craft Crazy. I forgot to take a picture of the cards, but...

Tres moderne, non? It's hanging in my office at work.

Best cake ever. White with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. Please also note that the side reads "You're a star"... and she used "you're" correctly! This is a huge accomplishment, and made my day.

Lest you think I spent the whole weekend basking in my birthday glow, I also got some stuff done... We're leaving for our trip to Chicago this Friday (which oh hooray should involve driving through rain and snow, let me contain my glee), so we finalized a bit of list-making and got a bunch of laundry done and bought provisions and stuff.

Last Thursday, I started a rag rug, and completed it yesterday. It's made from a bunch of The Kid's old tshirts, prompted by this pattern, and it came out pretty well! I haven't blocked it yet, so it's more like a giant misshapen hat right now.


During! Tiggy was so cute, and I just kept tucking more scraps on him.
The more I piled, the more he purred, so we both won. Tell me that cat isn't smiling!


I also had a lot of tshirt material left, and a 20X20 pillow form that had been hiding out in the Room of Requirement (aka my office) for about a year or so, and had the bright idea of combining them into some soft and tshirty pillowy goodness. The kid loves it, and I got to be all OCD lining it up so it was soothing for me as well!

It could probably be added to with some embroidery or iron-ons or something, but I kind of like it plain.

Plus I'm lazy. You knew that.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Family Friday: Moms Make Birthdays Better

It's my birthday this weekend (totally not a ploy for birthday wishes, but if you feel so inclined I won't stop you), and my mom, as always, made a point of making it happy!

And so my Family Friday today is just a thanks to her... I may have had a slightly unconventional childhood, but she always made a point to make it as conventional as possible, and created many traditions that I've continued with my own clever girl. Nothing that you don't probably do with your kids (or did with your family as a kid), just the normal stuff** like Easter baskets and Halloween costumes, but that stuff means a lot to a kid.

Being that I'm a perpetual 12 year old, my mom still does these things for me, and it means a whole lot.

Of course, since it *is* my birthday shortly, she sent me a box of stuff, and I cheated and opened it upon receipt (this was not unexpected), and so I will share with you the spoils of my... er... spoilage? Yeah.

Awesome bird paintings, which totally go with my living room:

Awesome bird paintings in place! Congratulations, you're blind now!

Many, many beads,
purchased at the Tucson Gem Show:

I have no idea what I will do with these, but it may just involve running them through my hands while I make little cooing sounds at them. You would too!

Awesome paper mache box, which contained half of the many many beads:

Plus, of course, a card to follow via mail, which is one of my favorite things... I love lining them up on my kitchen table. Narcissistic? Perhaps. But you love me anyway!


** Okay, we had one kind of weird thing, but it's family-wide... when eating your birthday cake, your first piece (that two-word combo says a lot about us, too) must be eaten in TOTAL SILENCE. This silence, if broken, will result in you having to sit under the table to finish your cake. How can the silence be broken, you ask?

By any means necessary. All's fair in love and cake-eating.

Look, I didn't make it up, I just go along for the ride!

Just following tradition, honey!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wonder Why Wednesday - Happiness

Well hi there!

I had a bad day yesterday, but not as bad as lots of people, so I won't bitch about it.

Today's going to be short and sweet... and it's dedicated to being happy!

So often we find ourselves down and out, and who could blame us? There's no wonder-why there... the news alone is enough to make us want to crawl in a hole somewhere and wait for it all to blow over. Not to mention our personal problems, which yes yes we should be more world-aware and not get so caught up and remember to count our blessings and stuff, but someone once said the reason our problems seem more important than anyone else's is that they're OUR problems.

Having said that though... we really *do* need to take a step back sometimes and realize how lucky we really are. Pollyanna? Sure. But it's true... and we should try to remember that. It doesn't mean you can't whine, just keep it in the back of your head somewhere, and before you go to sleep at night, give it a second thought.

Here's some stuff to make you happy today:

  • You're alive.
  • You are sitting at a computer on the internet, which means you're either employed safely enough to slack at work, employed/doing well enough to afford the internet at home, or possessed of your faculties enough to be able to get to your local library.
  • The Good News Network. No this isn't a religious site, rather a site dedicated to finding and reporting all the good that exists in the world. It's actually a pay site, but you can get the headlines free, and it's cheap!
  • And some more.
  • I Can Haz Cheeseburger. Now yes, I know, you tired of that LOLcat speak awhile ago, but I challenge you not to laugh at least once, or at least smile!
  • Unless you hate cats, in which case, here.
  • Every TV Intro Ever. Total time suck. Enjoy!
I am *particularly* happy because last night, I finished the last of the Africa Quilts. THANK GOODNESS. (Oh I made another basket, too. Shut up!)

Funny story, that woman actually made a point to come BACK to the teacher last week and tell her about how oh wait, she found the quilt, it got sent to her mom in New York for her mom's dog... we're not holding our collective breath, and the teacher made a point to say "Well we already re-did it."... I hope the woman felt like a jerk, but I doubt it.


Anyway here it is (pre-quilting and binding)! I of COURSE forgot to photograph it when it was actually done... imagine, if you will, a lovely blue binding that you can barely see, and a nice wavy white line traversing the longer bits of sashing, all horizontal-like. The kids did a great job re-doing their squares, although the teacher had to do a few. I'm sure she shares my fervent joy at this being over with.

Have a wonderful afternoon!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Totally Random Tuesday: Faith & Begorrah

Happy St. Patricks!

I hope you're wearing green today! I've got my shamrock socks on, my shamrock earrings, and of course, my permanent stamp of Celticitude (awesome, I made that up and the spellchecker didn't nab it!).

This is on my right wrist. Because I'm hardcore like that. HAHAHAHA

I'm also listening to my very favorite Irish bands today... The Indulgers (local favorites, their CDs are available on Amazon... your plug for the day!), Flogging Molly, The Chieftans...amongst others of course. NPR can always be counted on to provide a good smattering, but I'm going to cut to the chase and just head over to The Thistle and Shamrock.

The kid dressed up pretty today, too...

Isn't she cute?

So Erin Go Bragh! Cead Mille Failte! Pogue Mahone! (That one just tickles me because I'm essentially a 12 year old in a nearly-35-year-old body.)

Have some soda bread and corned beef and have a wonderful day!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Weekend Catchup - Pot Roast and Baskets and Snooze, Oh My!

Ah, a lovely weekend. The weather was fine, my head didn't hurt, and I ate pot roast with the girl and her buddy, who stayed over on Friday:

Pot Roast with red potatoes. Aren't they pretty?

And this was for breakfast, and much appreciated by the children:

They totally thought I was nuts when I ran for the camera, but it just looked so yummy!

I also made this for my boss:

On request, for her "French Pink bathroom". The beads are cuter in person, and add a little je ne sais quoi, non?

I also exercised, cleaned my house, and took a nap. How much more can you ask from a weekend?

My mom had a better weekend, though, she went to Phoenix to see the Chihuly exhibit (he's awesome), and took many many many pictures, but this one's my favorite, despite it featuring no glass art whatsoever. I told her she should make notecards out of it. Don't you agree? (Side note - I went to her blog, and she totally posted the same pic as her fave. It's like we're related.)

So pretty!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mmm, Steak

I know I said I wasn't going to post, but I just had to share two things.

Thing One:

As predicted, my careful waiting gained me a bitchin' deal on Priceline. Seriously, next time you're planning a trip, try it for a couple of weeks and eventually... voila!!! I did pay a *little* more than for the place in Iowa, but only by 10 dollars.

Check it out! It even got good reviews on Hotels.com, and you know everyone on there tells it like it is.

Do you think I should charge them for plugging their site?

Anyway, now I'm feeling great about the trip, the planning for getting there and back is all settled (even if I didn't really want to spend 120 bucks on hotels, it's worth it to be safe), and now I just need to start making lists of other stuff.

Thing Two:

I cooked an awesome dinner last night, not from-scratch really but definitely away from the norm. We had French Onion soup, with some fresh french bread and I pan-grilled two petite sirloin steaks** in some olive oil and seasonings. We sliced up the steak, folded it in the bread and dipped in the soup. YUM. I think, despite it being mostly store-bought, that it gets points for originality at least! I have to give half that credit to the kid though... I made the steaks without anyone telling me how to, and they *were* perfect, but she totally came up with the idea of French Dip. I feel secure about her future as a college girl now; I know she won't settle for Ramen.

** I bought the steaks in 4 packs at Albertsons the other day... 3 packs for the price of 1 OMFG. I used the miraculous Food Saver to split them all into packs of 2 for us, and now we have steaks! I think maybe I'll try that steak salad finally!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Family Friday: Blood May Be Thicker, But You Can't Mix It With Koolaid

Gross title, right? But there's a point, I promise. And yes, I'm posting this early, because tomorrow's going to be NUTTY NUTTY NUTTY, and I won't have the chance. Plus, I couldn't think of anything for Thursday, I'm tired from a late night combination of the kid's orchestra concert (videos to be on Webshots soon) and making baskets. I'm obsessed.

Today's Family Almost-Friday is about those family members you choose all by yourself. They're not related to you by blood, but they might as well be, because you can fight with them and get drunk in front of them and they can show up at your house when you're sporting scary hair and PJs and you won't be embarrassed, and in fact you'll be even *better* friends with them later.

If you have even *one* of these, you're very very lucky... I'm lucky enough to have several, and I'd be lost without them. They've helped me raise my daughter, listened to my advice and sometimes even taken it even though they think I'm a pushy knowitall (which I am), stuck with me through thick and thin, and even gone away for several years, only to come back like no time passed (the true mark of a lifelong friend, I think). I can't even name them all for you, and how f'in lucky am I to have that?

And lest you think this an estrogen fest, this includes two very awesome boy friends (not boyfriends, just friends who are boys), who I will name here because they deserve to be recognized as Model Males who have been absolutely vital to the child in keeping her from later deciding that assholes are totally the way to go in boyfriend/husband choices. She has proof in them that there are fantastic men out there who are everything we hope they will be. (Kevin & Kelly, that'd be you.)

Kevin has been my best friend who's a boy for many years, and the child adores him. He gets a special award for Model Maleness for rescuing the kid from her stupid father's house last Spring for a day. It was, she said, the best day of her entire vacation. Plus he always sends her awesome birthday cards and is diligent about following up with a call on her birthday. He plays games with her patiently, but without letting her cheat, and he lets her pick the restaurant. The man sat through the Spaghetti Factory. If that isn't awesome, then I need to check the definition.

Kelly has been a husband-of-a-friend friend since his wife Nova & I renewed our friendship some years back, but has since become a my-friend-because-he-is friend. Still with me? Great! Like you didn't already know I'm insane. Anyway, he gets a special award for Model Maleness because he has made it a point to let the child know that she can always count on him, and has backed that up in action as well as word.

But this leads me to a question that if I was smart I would save for Wonder Why Wednesday, but it seems to flow today. Why is it that people seek out people of their own choosing and often tend to be closer to them than their own families? Again, I am very lucky to have a family full of people I like to be around, but lots of people don't have that luxury, and they seek the ability to be themselves elsewhere.

I see this need to be with people who like what we like everywhere I look, this need to alleviate the lonliness of feeling like we're the only one doing X Y or Z. I truly believe this is the basis for such fervent dedication to "subcultures" (I use that term very loosely - these cultures are bigger than you think) like crafters and gamers and Ren Faire folk. It's about being sure of yourself in a situation, something we all need to be able to keep our heads up. You can't wear your bodice and singlet to Christmas with Grandma without getting an ear-full or at the very least "the look" from your mom, but you don't even have to ask if it's appropriate at the King Richards Faire Yule Ball. You know you're safe. Birds of a feather, and all that.

Does this mean there's nothing new under the sun? Probably. But is that such a bad thing? Familiarity might breed contempt in some circles, but not at a convention... There, familiarity will get you prizes, free drinks, and probably a make-out session with a the Klingon or Darth Vader of your choosing.

So yeah, go find some friends. I guarantee, whatever it is you're into, there's at least 10 other people who will accept it wholly. If you're extra-lucky, you might even find someone who *doesn't* enjoy your passions but supports them anyway... and boy am I lucky.

And the title? Well, cherry Koolaid is just better in water, that's all. Not that I've compared.

Have a wonderful weekend... you know what I'll be doing!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wonder Why Wednesday - Chains Of Love

I started another of those baskets last night, which the child is getting because she said "OOOOOOOO I WANT IT" when she saw it this morning, and you know I can't resist instant gratification like that!

Of course I ran out of thread halfway through, so it's off to Walmart tonight for reinforcements and more clothesline. It's cheap there, and I need grocery bags too, so yay for one stop shopping!

I used to hate Walmart, to the point that I would waggle my oh-so-politically-correct finger at people I knew who shopped there. "They pay their workers terribly!" I'd cry. "The health insurance is awful!" "They're taking business from mom and pop stores!" "How can you give them your business?!"

But then I went in one, and though I tried to resist, tried to stick to my guns, I had to admit that I really could get more bang for my limited bucks there. (Even more now that my clever mother has informed me they price match... you can take an ad in from another store and they'll give you that price if you point it out at the register!) I'm still trying not to get stuff made in China, if there's an alternative, because of the various safety and Tibet issues there.

Which leads us to today's Wonder Why... Why do we love chain stores so much?

A lot of my arguments against Walmart still stand, but in the current economy they're offering JOBS, and even a crappy paying job with shitty insurance is better than no job at all. Not only that, but those of us with jobs *not* at Walmart need stuff cheaper than what we can get it for at a smaller store that has to charge more.

Why would anyone go to a small store to get, well, anything at all, when they can go a few miles away and get twice as much for their dollar? And that's where I start to feel guilty, (but not too much, because I'm not rich) because I'd love to be able to support those stores, and if it was a difference of $.25 on stuff, I'd do it, but when I can get jeans at Kohls for $25, I'm not going to buy them at Lane Bryant (or wherever you smaller-butted girls go) for $50. As a result, places like Lane Bryant are on their way out (not because of me personally, I swear).

Then there are places like Borders and Amazon. I'd love to get my books at a place like Tattered Cover (which I love) or Kroch's & Brentano's (which I also loved, but which is now sadly gone), but why would I pay full price for a book when I could get it for at least 40% off at a chain? If I had the money, I would, but I don't, so Amazon & the library are where it's at.

I guess in the end, the answer to the question is that we don't *love* chain stores as much as *need* them, which is indicative of our times, but I think it's sort of sad... I truly *loved* Kroch's, and have so many fond memories, but I only *use* Amazon, and have no personal connection.

Ah well, so it goes...

I'll just continue to try to support local business and small business in the ways that I can, and hope others do the same... even if it's a small purchase once in awhile, if enough people do that, the small business with a personal touch won't go away completely.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Totally Random Tuesday: And Now, The News: February 26, 1987

But first, because I'm an attention whore, lookit what I made last night (poorly, but not bad for a first attempt):

Next time I'll go twice around the handles, which I will also MARK SPOTS FOR so they don't look so wonky, but I was doing it from memory and forgot. I wish you could see this fabric up close, it's so cute! (Well you can see it a *little* closer anyway...click the pictures.) It's got darker purple moons. It was leftover from the Halloween wall quilt.

Also, I want to note that I LOVE Food Savers. I borrowed my Colorado Alternadad's and it ROCKS.

Anyway, back to today's subject.

My friend Melissa gave me a whole bunch of glasses that were sitting around her house. I lacked wine glasses, and she wanted to get rid of these, so everybody wins!

The box sat in my trunk for a month (don't ask, because I don't know), but finally in my caffeine-induced frenzy Sunday I pulled it out and started going through it.

As I began to unwrap the glasses, I glanced at the date on the newspaper in which they were wrapped, and was delighted to see they were from February 26, 1987. I was in 7th grade, and pretty much oblivious to the world if it didn't directly pertain to my personal drama at the time, as is the case with most 12 year olds, so I don't really remember much of what was going down at the time, like Reagan and the Iran Contra thing. I just remember really loving the Beastie Boys, and listening to License to Ill really loud with my friend Dawn.

It seems like so long ago but really... just 22 years. Doesn't sound like that long a time, does it?

(I want to note that I was also a little saddened, because it was a Rocky Mountain News edition, and they happen to have just gone out of business a week or so ago after being open 150 years, and after much struggling to stay open. It was really pretty awful to watch.)

Anyway, here are some really truly awesome things that were in that paper:
Biorhythms. Almost as good as horoscopes!
  • Marmaduke and Ziggy. I don't really need to say more about that do I?
  • The puzzle pages had Scrabble in them. Scrabble!
  • You could buy a 77 Rabbit for 1K. Sweet.
  • You could, as one ad told me, also buy a Polaroid Spectra for under $100. Such a deal.
  • While CDs were starting to get popular, DVDs weren't invented yet. You could, however, get a fancy home VHS machine for $400 at Fred Schmid Appliances in Denver. (He was bought out by Fretter, Inc. in 1991. Alas.)
  • In entertainment news, Jerry Hall & Mick Jagger were getting married, and Sammy Davis Jr. and Scatman Crothers were getting inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
  • Rich fans of Lawrence Welk could purchase his new Polka Party CD, and did... however, due to a mix-up in the Japanese factory, some poor unsuspecting women accidentally found themselves listening to the soundtrack to Sid and Nancy. No really! My favorite line was "We wonder if any Sid Vicious fans got Lawrence Welk and were equally shocked." Somehow I doubt that anyone in 87 with a thing for Sid Vicious probably could afford more than a mix tape with "My Way" and "God Save The Queen" dubbed on. I'm just saying. (Click the picture to read it bigger, unless you have perfect vision in which case lucky you!)

    What do *you* remember from 1987? Your bad perm? Mourning the loss of Wham! and Prince & The Revolution? Rocking some neon rubber bracelets? You know you loved em'.
  • Monday, March 9, 2009

    Weekend Catchup - Coffee Works!

    So I have this favorite coffee. It's totally not gourmet and comes in little pre-portioned packets (say that three times fast), which I love because I always measure too much or too little when I'm pouring from the bag.

    Anyway I hadn't had this coffee in awhile, but during a grocery run on Saturday I found some, and so of course had to buy my favorite (the Cinnamon Crumb Cake flavor - truly awesome).

    Sunday morning, I made some, and drank THE WHOLE ENTIRE POT. I never do this, I at *most* will maybe have a cup or two of coffee every week, and if I make a pot I will throw most of it out.

    The upside to this (besides cleaning out my system good - yay diuretics) was that I got a veritable assload of stuff done yesterday, including but not limited to:

    • 4 loads of laundry, including delicates, including folding AND putting away.
    • Finally put the glasses Melissa gave me away, and waded through and jotted ideas about the paper it was wrapped in (a post for tomorrow - February 1987 here we come!)
    • Made this chicken casserole, which was awesome, except I left out the pimentos because eew.
    • Made 3 bags for The Kid because she loves them.
    Plus I went to the grocery store, cared for my sick kid, cleaned the cat box, swept the kitchen, cleaned the trunk of my car, and started a new book.

    Yay caffeine! It's funny, it never used to work for me, but then I stopped drinking it all the time. Et voila!

    Friday, March 6, 2009

    Family Friday: We Are So Totally Famous

    But first, the news.

    Nobody can pronounce our last name unless they know us. It's a fact that I've learned to accept, but it's also a nice ice-breaker sometimes when you can explain the pronunciation using alcohol and salty snacks. My mom even used that for her very own blog, BirrenPretzels.

    (The resurgence of Helen Mirren as a famous individual on this side of the Atlantic has helped a little too...depending on the crowd, I can say "like Helen Mirren with a B" and it solves the issue of spelling and sounding out in one fell swoop. Thanks Helen!)

    Birren is also a very uncommon name, so I can guarantee if you've ever met a Birren they're related to me somehow. An ambitious lot, a few of them have even gone on to some fame, and because it seemed like a good idea at the time, I Googled the bejesus out of our family name to see what would come up, and have provided many a link to prove that, at least on the internet, we're damn famous folk.

    Oh, and if you are, in fact, a Birren, please feel free to comment with any interesting Birreny tidbits you'd like to share with the world...or rather, the 4 people who read this. Hi mom!
    • My uncle, Peter, who knows so much about stars that he wrote a book about it. We even have one named for the family! Birren1, natch.
    • Jeff Birren, an attorney for the Oakland Raiders. (My cousin Genni is also in the process of becoming a sports attorney. Crazy!)
    • Susan Birren, a neurobiologist in California, and Bruce Birren, a molecular biologist at MIT... hey, I *work* for microbiologists AND I have neurological issues! COINCIDENCE??
    Probably. Moving on.
    • This guy, who clearly loves his running shorts, and his lady friend Jenny.
    • Slightly stretching, but a fort in Scotland seems to be awfully famous, although reading the descriptions in various places Google led me had me nearly convinced I had lost all grasp of the English language.
    • In that same vein of making my name and Irish/Scot fetish work for me, there's also The Birren, a road in Ireland not far from the highest pub in Ireland. Many emails have brought me assurance that this has nothing to do with the last name, but I still want to go someday.
    Well, I guess that' s enough self-gratifying for one week. Here's hoping you have a lovely weekend full of nice things to eat and pleasant people. I'll be sewing and driving hither and yon, and probably making bacon on Sunday. Yum.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009

    Thrilling Thursday: I Heart P-Dub

    As I mentioned yesterday, I have been more inclined lately to try new things, but I still have that problem of needing to have things explained in an exhaustive manner if I don't understand them right off the bat. In particular, I have a fear of cooking, or rather a fear of trying new styles of cooking. I go again and again to baked things and things made with the help store-bought cooking aides like Shake-n-Bake. Not bad things necessarily, but not very creative either, and kinda boring.

    Enter The Pioneer Woman (thanks to Finny for linking her, I'm forever indebted). I don't want to get too gushy, but I have to give credit where credit is due...she has changed my life in the kitchen. Not only does she have the exhaustive-description thing down to a science, complete with lovingly rendered visual aides, she also cooks *interesting things* with *ingredients from the supermarket* (I can't grow my own to save my life). These have been totally inspirational.

    Now don't get me wrong, I can follow directions and can muddle my way through a recipe, but I'm a baker. I bake, therefore I measure, therefore a recipe that says "cook until done" terrifies and mystifies me. I need times, and temperatures, and pictures of how it should look, otherwise I will (I guarantee) frack it up royally, and then nobody wins. I'm also really cheap, so if I'm going to experiment, I need to know it's going to work before I invest in a zester or something.

    But now? Now, I can make a steak salad! Me! With my own hands and it won't even make me cry! These may seem like simple recipes to you, dear reader, but for me this is a whole new world of possibilities. Not one ingredient mystified me.

    She has even organized the recipes, all pretty like. She's a miracle.

    Oh and she has awesome friends too.

    Wednesday, March 4, 2009

    Wonder Why Wednesday - Ch-ch-ch-changin'

    Today's Wonder Why angle is about branching out and trying new stuff, and my question for you is, how do *you* get over your fear of new things and develop new parts of your life?

    When you find that you're getting tired of the same old thing, however exciting that thing might be (even parachuters must get tired of parachuting all over the place and want a nice night on the couch now and again), do you actively *look* for something to inspire you to new things, or do you instead prefer to go with the flow and wait for inspiration to strike? A little of both, perhaps?

    Alternatively, do you prefer the same old thing? The status quo isn't necessarily a bad thing, and if it makes you happy then more power to you... but what if inspiration *does* strike? Does being stuck make you less inclined to branch out into something else?

    I've found that as I age (and oh god, here comes 35), I've changed how I feel about change. For most of my life, I preferred to just go with the flow, and if inspiration struck it was not often followed, because why? Then I decided to split up with my ex-husband, and I followed through with it, even though I knew it was going to suck and be hard and cost me a lot more than money and security... I'm still not sure where I got that strength from (and I'll give myself that pat on the back), but I think it was a combined effort of family and friends supporting my decision and helping me along that new path.

    Ever since then (hard to believe it's only been 10 years, it seems like a lifetime ago), I've found that I'm much more inclined to try new things. Some things have been duds despite my best efforts (like knitting - sorry Mom, but it's all yours), but some things have generated "where have you been all my life" moments, like sewing, and lately, cooking more than my usual pat meals (another blog for another day). My inspiration has been varied though; some things I set out to learn, and somethings kind of slapped me in the face, but in either case my hesitation to go in a new direction is less and less each time. I still don't like change being forced upon me (somewhere my mother is nodding), but I'm much less stressed out by trying new stuff.

    The super-upside to all this boldness is my daughter, who is very inclined to try new things from new food to making new friends... and I truly wonder if she would be so outgoing if I had stayed put all those years ago. It's a question for the ages.

    Tuesday, March 3, 2009

    I Love Helping

    I get such a sense of satisfaction helping people out. I just got a call from a woman at her wits end trying to track down information on past-due invoices, and I was able to give her phone numbers for all the people she needed to contact.

    Which begs the question...

    Do I feel satisfied because I just helped her out? Or do I just kind of love the fact that all these dopes who didn't bother to follow up on their purchases or make sure they were paid for will be tracked down and harassed mightily?

    Let's call it half and half. Leads given, and justice served.

    Monday, March 2, 2009

    Weekend Catchup - Who's "TR"?

    Editor's note... You may see a reference to TR in this 'ere blog and wonder who the hell I'm referring to, so I thought I'd go back and update spots in which he shows himself with a link to this *first* appearance, and start referring to him by something other than his actual name - protect the innocent and all that hahaha. TR stands for That Redhead. Dorky? Why, yes it is! But it's my blog s'there!)

    You may have noticed the lack of a Family Friday edition last week, but you probably didn't and that's okay...
    I took the day off, not to celebrate my Priceline Victory but rather to spend time with my friend Chris (the confirmed bachelorette) while she was in town.

    It was a very nice time, as usual!

    We did some fabric shopping (oh the deep-seated joy of finally being able to share my fabric addiction with Chris - she's been assimilated! Sorta!), and I picked up some fat quarters and some sale yards here and there. She got some more fabric for her impending favorite things quilt being made by her step-mom, and we even found a pattern she liked. I like it too, and I may end up making one. Lots of straight edges, just my thing. :)

    We had some nice meals as well, thanks to her need to treat; I try to at least split it but she insists, and really, who am I to deny her? (Thanks, Chris, it really is a treat for us, and greatly appreciated.) We went to Lucille's (previously drooled about) and Pinocchio's, two of my favorite Longmont spots, and she enjoyed both I think!

    Her visit also gave us both a chance to hang out and have dinner (at Tortuga, also a Longmont favorite) with TR at length and have grown-up time while the kid was at a sleepover; he unexpectedly stayed over (don't get all excited... I was on the couch, and per the girl: "NO BOYS IN MY BED!" - the plan is working!) so as to drive Chris to the airport on Sunday morning; normally she would take the shuttle that runs from the airport to points-elsewhere, but the old shuttle route has been discontinued and the new one sucks ass... it took her 2 1/2 hours to get her on Thursday evening, and it's not even a holiday. F that!

    TR is truly a swell guy, he's been friends with Chris for years and years, he's really nice (you'd have to be to decide to sleep away from home just to give someone a ride in the morning!) and gets my Firefly geekness, and is even an excellent house-guest... he loaded my dishwasher after coffee! Lovely. I really need to keep in better touch... Chris hadn't been out for awhile and I hadn't talked to him since the last time she was here, which I'd like to remedy this time around. Maybe I can explore Denver a little... so far I think I've been there maybe 8 times in 5 years, and since TR lives in the heart of it (and assures me there's great Greek food to be had), the time may finally have come.

    I spent yesterday afternoon (post-nap) finishing up the last bits of two of the Africa quilts that should have been done but weren't; I of course forgot to take pictures, but I will get a picture of the last one at least if I don't forget like a moron! I felt very accomplished.

    Movie recommendation for the week... The Visitor. Richard Jenkins (one of my favorite That Guys - you might remember him as the dad on Six Feet Under) got an Oscar nod for this, and it was well-deserved. Go see it!