Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What I drove: A year's worth

I put together a little slide show of the cars I test drove this past year (although I think I may have missed one).

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is What I drove: The year in review.


video

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

When in Rome

It has come to my attention that many people don't know how to use chopsticks -- or are uncomfortable trying to use them in front of other people. I thought I was the only one who made it into my 30s without being able to use chopsticks well. I suppose living with someone of Korean descent made it easier to learn quickly. (Even though I still only know a few words of Korean.)

I could pick up a chunk of chicken or a nice solid vegetable before. Now, I can eat just about anything with chopsticks. And for some reason, some foods really do taste better when you eat them with chopsticks, instead of a fork.

Over at eHow.com, they have a little tutorial on using chopsticks. Before you start, here's what eHow says you'll need:
Things You'll Need
A pair of chopsticks.
A hand with fingers and an opposable thumb.
A little patience.
Despite the silliness of that list, the article is somewhat helpful, but this video is better:


Or go rent "Kung Fu Panda" and watch the lesson on using chopsticks in the special features. The little girl in the video is adorable.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Trying my hand

Last month, I decided I was going to try to learn to crochet. My mom crocheted a lot, and I wanted to be able to do it, too. It was a bit of a disaster. I've been told knitting is easier and I should take a class. My mom tried to show me how to knit and crochet and sew and all those things when I was a kid. But I was too much of a tomboy to sit still for such girly pursuits. She did make me take Home Ec in junior high, so I learned some sewing and cooking -- no matter how hard I wanted to try not to (I couldn't stand to not get an A).

I'm no good at knitting or crocheting and only passable at sewing and cross-stitching. But I still always want to do crafts. I have a desire to create. So I'm trying my hand at a little jewelry making. I gave a friend a pair of earrings I made for Christmas, and she was gracious enough to say they looked good. I worry that she's just being nice.

Yesterday, I went out and bought a new pair of round-nose pliers. They seem to allow me to twist the wire more easily than standard needle-nose pliers. The earrings to the right are my latest attempt at jewelry making. They need a few minor adjustments, but I think they look pretty good.

On the other hand, my photography skills still leave something to be desired.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What I watched: "Bender's Game"

Fox may have canceled "Futurama" years ago, but the hilarious antics of Fry, Leela, Bender and the rest of the gang live on in feature length DVD movies. The latest one is "Bender's Game," a weird mix of Dungeons & Dragons, the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

I'll admit the humor in "Futurama" may not be for everyone, but I laughed out loud through most of the movie, because of lines like this:
"Oooh dreadfully real. If you die here you'll really be dead. But instead of science, we believe in crazy hocus-pocus. It's like Kansas."

If you're a fan of "The Simpsons" or "Futurama," this is definitely worth the price of a rental. If you're not a fan, I have to wonder why. "Futurama" has a foul-mouthed beer-swilling robot, an ass-kicking red hot cyclops chick and a slacker from the 20th century. What more could you want? Hermaphrodite centaurs? Dragon battles? Love triangles? Oh, yeah, this movie has them all. And more.

Check out the trailer:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What I read: "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak

Recommended to me by several people, "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak ranks among the best books I've read this year. I had put the book on hold at the library and waited a couple weeks, even though the library's Web site showed several available. When I went to look again, I found that the library keeps this book on the teen shelf. Thinking I wasn't in the mood for a "teen" book, I almost skipped it.

But at a Christmas party, my friend loaned me her copy -- practically forcing it into my hands. Thank goodness she did.

"The Book Thief" was nearly impossible to put down. It's one of those books you can't stop reading, can't wait to see what happens next, yet hope never ends. Finishing the book, I found myself wanting to turn back to page one and start over.

Like the characters in his book, Zusak paints vivid images with his words.

"Their glasses chimed together and the moment Liesel raised it to her mouth, she was bitten by the fizzy, sickly sweet taste of champagne. Her reflexes forced her to spit straight onto her papa's overalls, watching it foam and dribble. A shot of laughter followed from all of them, and Hans encouraged her to give it another try. On the second attempt she was able to swallow it, and enjoy the taste of a glorious broken rule. It felt great. The bubbles ate her tongue. They prickled her stomach. Even as they walked to the next job, she could feel the warmth of pins and needles inside her."

Himmel Street and its inhabitants come to life, struggling with each other, what's happening in the world around them and their own inner demons. I knew little about the book before I read it and I don't want to say too much about the plot or the characters because it was such a joy for me to discover them on my own. I hope you can do the same.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Oh

Another beloved performer has passed away.

Eartha Kitt, the self-proclaimed "sex kitten" whose sultry voice and catlike purr attracted fans even as she neared 80, has died. The singer, dancer and actress was 81.

I always loved hearing Kitt sing, and she was the Catwoman for me. She even made a great (hilarious) Disney villain as Yzma in "The Emperor's New Groove."

It seems that 2008 has taken a lot of favorites from Paul Newman to Bernie Mac to Heath Ledger to many, many others. Each one reminding me of my own loss while at the same time giving me a bittersweet taste of nostalgia.

Enjoy her rendition of "Santa Baby."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

All was merry and bright

Christmas 2008 has been a good one, despite my initial misgivings. I received a care package from my sister-in-law. I spent time with friends and family. We had a great meal of turkey, baked sweet potatoes and green beans with pine nuts. I watched some Christmas movies, including "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and one of the 12 showings of "A Christmas Story."

Thank you to those who made my holiday season better than I thought it could be without my mom. I hope you all had as good a day as I did -- or better.

God bless us, every one.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Where's my brain?

Between the crowds at the grocery store and the lack of breakfast, my mind doesn't seem to be working properly this morning. Maybe I'm reverting back to a little kid -- so excited about Christmas Eve that I can't think straight.

There are several presents under the tree, but only one of them is for me. So it's not the brightly wrapped gifts that have turned my brain mushy. Maybe it's the sweet potato boiling away, getting ready to be whipped into a pie. Maybe it's the gifts I'm going to give. Maybe it's the people I'm going to see later today, with the promise of good food, wine and laughter. I'm sure it's a combination of all of these things.

Here, look at a picture of my cat staring down a hippo. Because my brain has already moved on to other pursuits today.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas nostalgia

Who didn't love the Rankin and Bass Christmas specials? They don't make them like that anymore. ABC Family is showing Christmas movies and specials all month. And just because I don't have kids of mine own doesn't have to mean my inner child is dead.

There have been plenty of things throughout the past two years that have chipped away at my inner child's innocence. But a good Christmas movie seems to be just what the doctor ordered. There's nothing that will melt my cold black heart quite like an old-school Christmas special.

A couple nights ago I recorded "A Year Without Santa Claus." And it's just as wonderfully cheesy as I remember.

Here's Big Bad Voodoo Daddy showing the love.


If you're not feeling the Christmas spirit after that, there's not much I can do for you. You should probably go read "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and check the size of your heart.

And he puzzled and puzzed, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more."

Monday, December 22, 2008

What I drove: Toyota Venza

I recently drove the all-new Toyota Venza, and it's one snazzy crossover. It's sleek and refined and priced well out of my range. But that's what's great about doing test drives. I get to drive luxury and near-luxury vehicles without paying the price -- or having to come up with the extra insurance money.

The Venza is loaded with standard equipment like an eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, power windows with auto up and auto down on all four windows, chrome exhaust tips and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass. The V-6 version comes standard with 20-inch alloy wheels, while the four-cylinder version’s standard wheels are 19-inch alloy.

The Toyota Venza is something of a cross between a Toyota Highlander and a Camry, the sales consultant said. It has as much ground clearance as a Highlander but with the agility and comfort of a sedan. With it’s sleek, up-scale design, the Venza should appeal to both the Toyota and the Lexus crowds.

Although the Venza has similar attributes to its Toyota stable mates and its Lexus cousins, it shares no platform with any other model. Toyota built this vehicle from the ground up, putting a lot of thought into ergonomics and ease of use, I was told.

If I had $39,000 burning a hole in my pocket, I might consider driving the Venza. It's a really nice car. But considering the Subaru Forester rings up at nearly $14,000 less and offers many of the same amenities. I'd probably have to go with the Forester.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What I watched: Humbug edition

It started yesterday afternoon with the 1938 version of "A Christmas Carol" on TCM. That version stars Reginald Owens as Ebenezer Scrooge. It's a faithful adaptation, but my favorite, by far, is 1951's "Scrooge" starring Alastair Sim.

While TCM seems to show the 1938 version each year, I can't find any channel showing "Scrooge." But thanks to the magic of YouTube, I was able to watch the entire thing online. (Click the link to watch the first 10 minutes, then watch #2 through #9 for the rest of the film.)

The 1951 movie holds a special place in my heart because one of my hometown television stations showed it every Christmas Eve after the late news. I would beg to stay up and watch, then lie awake, afraid the ghosts would come and show me the error of my ways.

I love this movie and I love the story of "A Christmas Carol." I watch the movie nearly every Christmas season and have read the book multiple times. It's such a wonderful story of redemption -- none of us are past hope if we're still alive. As a child, I didn't understand Dickens' criticism of the debtors' prisons and poorhouses, but I knew what it meant to be charitable and I loved the wonderful scary chills the movie gave me.

My other Christmas favorites are "Prancer" for all its sweet cheesiness (and Sam Elliot!), the animated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (of course) and "Scrooged."

Put a little love in your heart!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What I read: "Dreams from My Father" by Barack Obama

Our president-elect wrote "Dreams from My Father" back in 1995, shortly after he was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. You can see why I thought this book would be relevant now. Not that everything (or even most of what) I read is relevant.

"Dreams from My Father" is an ambitious book, written by an ambitious young man. And it may have been a bit too ambitious for Obama so early in his career. As he says himself in the Preface to the 2004 edition:

I confess to wincing every so often at a poorly chosen word, a mangled sentence, an expression of emotion that seems indulgent or overly practiced. I have the urge to cut the book by fifty pages or so, possessed as I am with a keener appreciation for brevity.
That said, the book is filled with beautiful images of Obama's childhood in Hawaii and his visit to family in Kenya, as well as a youthful angst based on a search for identity.

Raised by a white mother and grandparents, young Barack never quite fit in. I'm sure we all experience something like that as children, but I can only imagine how hard it would be when you don't even resemble your own family.

Although the book is a bit self-indulgent (and really, what memoir isn't) it's an intimate look at a man with no idea he would one day become one of the most powerful people in the world.

While working in Chicago as a community organizer -- a phrase that was spit out like curse words during the recent campaign -- Obama tried to mentor a friend's teenage son.

I asked him if he was still thinking about the air force, and he shook his head; he'd stay in Chicago, he said, find a job and get his own place. I asked him what had changed his mind. He said that the air force would never let a black man fly a plane.

I looked at him crossly. "Who told you that mess?"

Kyle shrugged. "Don't need somebody to tell me that. Just is, that's all."

"Man, that's the wrong attitude. You can do whatever you want if you're willing to work for it."
Many passages moved me, because hindsight is 20/20, and one slight change in Obama's past would have lead him down a very different path. We've yet to see what kind of president he will be, but this book gives insight into the kind of man he is.

I was especially moved by the tribute to his mother (from the preface to the 2004 edition):

I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book--less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life. In my daughters, I see her every day, her joy, her capacity for wonder. I won't try to describe how deeply I mourn her passing still. I know that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her.

You have to respect a man who loves his momma.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I am loved

I never meant to upset anyone or make anyone feel sorry for me, but after my wonderful sister-in-law read this post from earlier in the month, she sent me a care package to let me know that three people in Michigan love me. I'm not ashamed to say the gesture and her accompanying note made me cry. In a good way, of course.

I'm also not ashamed to admit that I will probably eat every one of those sugar cookies all by myself. My sister-in-law's sugar cookies are that good. Too bad the significant other wasn't here when I opened the box.

I grew up without sisters, but my sister-in-law has been in the family for a while now, and I think I should start considering her an actual sister. Especially after this.

I think my mom must have rubbed off on my sister-in-law as much as she did the rest of us kids. And I like to my sister-in-law rubbed of on Mom a bit, too. I'm pretty sure Mom got a lot sassier after Melinda married my brother. And that was a good thing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just say no

I've always been one to exercise. That's not to say I'm in great shape. I work hard, but genetics and time are not on my side. Plus, (thanks again to genetics) I'm hypothyroid, so my metabolism also fights me every step of the way. Nevermind that I refuse to completely give up junk food. I tried it, but labeling certain foods "bad" just makes me crave them more. So I subscribe to the belief of everything in moderation (including moderation).

I the last year or so I have developed exercise-induced asthma. When I work out at a pretty intense level (and sometimes not so intense), I'll start coughing. I'm not a smoker and I never have been. I did work almost a year in an office where everyone except me smoked, so I blame that. The doctor prescribed albuterol, suggesting I take a puff shortly before working out. It helps, but not enough. I find that if I keep my heart rate below 140, I don't cough too much. But I don't feel like I'm getting enough of a workout unless my heart rate is above 150, close to 160.

She has now prescribed Singulair. From the prescription information:
This medicine is used for the prevention and long-term treatment of asthma. It is used to prevent asthma attacks caused by exercise.
As with all medications, there is a list of possible side effects, including unusual weakness (great for a workout), stomach pain or upset, dizziness, cough (wait, what? isn't that why I'm taking this?), headache, tiredness and stuffy nose. And I should CONTACT (MY) DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY (yep, it's actually in all caps) if (I) experience hallucinations, fever, persistant sore throat or earache or flu symptoms.

But wait there's more!
CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY if you experience sever stomach pain, server thoughts or actions (!?!), muscle aches/cramps, irregular heartbeat, yellowing eyes/skin, numbness/tingling of the hands or feet, easy bruising or bleeding, swelling or seizures.
Obviously, my doctor must believe the benefits of this medication outweigh any possible side effects. I'm sure I'd be better off if I didn't read this stuff. I don't usually have severe reactions to drugs. Not unless I think I should, anyway.

Here's hoping the medicine helps with the exercise-induced asthma and doesn't make me see things that aren't there.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The real reason I have short hair

From "The Zombie Survival Guide" by Max Brooks:

The simple fact is that ghouls attack by reaching out to grab their victims, pulling them in, then biting. Logic dictates that the less material a person offers up for grabs, the better his or her chances will be. Baggy clothing, complete with pockets, straps, or anything that might hang freely, will be a convenient handle for grasping zombie claws. Anyone who has worked in factories or with some kind of heavy machinery will tell you the importance of never letting anything hang loose. Tight clothing, obviously within comfort limits, will help to eliminate this danger. Hair can be a similar hazard. Many times, victims have been seized and even dragged by their hair to a gruesome end. Tying one's hair back before a conflict may work temporarily. However, a short haircut, one inch or short, is ideal for hand-to-hand combat.
True, I think my short 'do makes me look younger and suits my face better and it's easier to care for, and my hair is naturally curly/wavy and has a tendency toward frizz when it reaches a certain length, and I have an awesome hair stylist. None of those reasons are the real reason for my short hair. It's not about fashion, it's all about survival, people.

If you're a Max Brooks fan -- and who didn't love "World War Z" -- he's at it again. "Those who don't learn from zombie history are condemned to repeat it."

The more you know.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What I drove: 2009 Subaru Forester

Some things seem to just go with Colorado: ski slopes, crazy weather, aspens, fleece vests and Subarus.

I don't own a Subaru, but I know a lot of people out here who do. As far as vehicles go, they make sense --they're not huge, but they're plenty big for hauling all your gear. They're good looking, get decent gas mileage and they're all-wheel drive.

I recently drove the newly remodeled Forester. When I bought my car last year, the older Forester made the short list, but lost out due to the price point. The new Forester is bigger but sleeker with a more aerodynamic body. It's priced at $25,460, which isn't outrageous and it feels like a much more expensive vehicle.

From my test drive story (which publishes in The Gazette Dec. 19):
The Forester, like all Subarus, comes standard with all-wheel drive. That all-wheel-drive system has 30 years of Subaru experience behind it. The symmetrical all-wheel drive creates optimal balance for stability and sharp handling, with power flowing in a direct path from the engine to all four wheels, according to Subaru literature.

I spent a good portion of my test drive in the Forester seeking out any lingering snow and ice from a recent snowstorm, trying to test the car’s all-wheel-drive performance — this from a person who hates to drive in foul weather.

Unfortunately, the best I could do for adverse conditions was a gravel parking lot and some standing water. Still, the Forester gripped the gravel and didn’t spin its wheels or throw any gravel when I accelerated out of the parking lot, and there was no pulling when driving through puddles. On the dry roads, the Forester had a smooth comfortable ride, handling like a smaller vehicle, with minimal body roll, even on tight curves.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Here's Yoda!

Years ago, I worked on an I.T. Help Desk. While the job was mostly hell, I had a good friend who made the days bearable. One of the things she did to help me keep from screaming and pulling my hair out was to hide a Happy Meal Yoda figurine around the office. Some days, I'd get off a particularly frustrating phone call -- "if you reset my password, you'll know what it is" -- I'd look up to find Yoda peering at me from the leaves of a plant or peeking out of a coffee mug at me. It was as if he were saying, "Take deep breaths, you will. Suppress your dark urges, you must."

I wonder if the people who design Christmas tree ornaments know Yoda's effect on me or if they're just trying to make a buck. I suspect the latter.

Either way, I'm thankful for my latest ornament find. And I'm thankful to Maureen for helping me get through those Help Desk years.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Merry Christmas to me

The local Western Warehouse* is closing. Bad for them, good for me. The boots were 30 percent off. I've been really happy with my old pair of Ariat Fatbaby boots so I went to find a new pair. The pickins are getting pretty slim, but I found a pair. They're not black. But they are pretty ... and comfy ... and on sale.


*Clicking the Western Warehouse link shows the company is evidently becoming Boot Barn.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I'm getting too old for this

Last night, some of my former coworkers and I got together for a Christmas party. We had great food and delicious Margaritas. I felt relaxed and a little tipsy, but certainly not drunk. The significant other played designated driver, so I didn't have to worry about how much I drank, anyway.

Unfortunately, either because I really am getting too old to party or because I don't party enough and my body doesn't know what to do with high-fat snacks and tequila, I woke in the middle of the night feeling like crap. My stomach hurt and I had trouble sleeping. I didn't wake up with a hangover and I feel mostly fine (other than tired from a busy day and lack of sleep). So, I'm going to say that it's not my age but rather my normally clean living that made me feel so lousy after a few Margaritas -- and celebratory shots -- and Mexican food.

It was all worth it and I'm thankful I went, because the party was great, as was hanging out with some of my best friends -- and definitely the coolest people I've ever worked with. I even got a present that made me laugh out loud. Nice stitching, Kate.

WARNING: Naughty word in the image below!





Thursday, December 11, 2008

What I drove: 2009 Nissan Rogue

It was probably the shortest test drive I've ever taken -- including ones when actually shopping for a new car -- but I actually like the Nissan Rogue. Despite it's blatant product placement on "Heroes" and the fact that all Nissan vehicles are barely on my car radar, I think the Rogue is a pretty nice little crossover.

I was given the test drive assignment Monday with a deadline of Wednesday. Two days is a really short turnaround, especially for someone who has been used to having a couple of weeks to call the dealership, set up the appointment, spend a few hours driving the vehicle, then take a week or so to pull my notes and specifications together and write the story. It's not one of my better stories. It's mostly information about the car's power and amenities, with less about the actual drive. But it gets the job done. And on such short notice (throw in a snowstorm to make driving treacherous) I think I did ok.

From my story:
The Rogue offers a refined ride and practical amenities, but it has a little bit of a wild side under the hood. The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine is paired with a continuously variable transmission. While a conventional automatic transmission typically has four or five fixed gear ratios, a CVT has an infinite number of ratios, according to Nissan literature. Put the Rogue in drive and go. You never feel the vehicle shift gears.

A CVT also optimizes your gas mileage, Robinson says. The front-wheel-drive Rogue gets 22 miles per gallon city and 27 mpg highway. The all-wheel-drive version does nearly as well with 21 mpg city/26 mpg highway. But it’s not just about saving gas. With 170 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque, the Rogue really zips.

On the road, the Rogue glides along like a fish in water. It handles nicely on all road conditions from packed snow to dry pavement to bumps and dips. The front-wheel-drive version I drove laughed at the snowy, slushy roads, so I imagine the all-wheel-drive version could take on some of the roughest conditions Colorado could throw at it.

The ride is smooth and quiet. But you can add all the noise you want with the optional Bose audio system with AM/FM/in-dash six-disc CD changer, eight speakers and XM Satellite Radio, with a free three-month subscription.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas workshop

Thank you Martha Stewart for making me feel inadequate, once again. Granted, it is my own fault for signing up to receive e-mail updates about her Christmas Workshop. I don't know why I thought I'd get cute and simple ideas for Christmas decorations and treats. We all know Martha doesn't do simple.

Under the heading "Easy Holiday Crafts," we're taught how to make such things as evergreen bobeches (I had to look that word up.).

Maybe those aren't really difficult to make, but the process involves gathering fresh evergreen leaves and wiring them together. I've tried wiring fresh flowers before, and it's not something that's in my skill set. I guess I'm more the paper-chain kind of gal.

My favorite line: "Your best damask tablecloth is now safe." My who-mask what now? I am so visiting the wrong Web site there.

The Christmas kitty, however, is perfectly content with my less-than-perfect holiday decor.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Home again

Thank you lucky stars, karma, St. Anthony (patron saint of lost items) or whatever cosmic power returns green iPod Shuffles to their rightful owners. I thought for sure mine was gone forever.

You see, last week, while at my Literacy gig, I dropped my iPod at the school. Of course, I didn't miss it until the next morning when I was getting ready for the gym. By then, snow covered the ground and was still coming down. I called the school, but no luck.

I normally call the after-school program before I head over, to make sure the kids to be tutored are in attendance. Yesterday when I called, I asked if they had found my iPod. They had found an MP3 player, but it wasn't green and it wasn't an iPod. When I got to the school, one of the teachers called me over to her desk and handed me my iPod! A little girl had found it outside. I think she contemplated keeping it for herself, but either her conscience got the better of her or she listened to the music I had loaded and found it lacking -- there's absolutely no Hannah Montana or Jonas Brothers on my playlist.

Whatever the cause, my iPod is home again, and I promise to keep a closer eye on it now.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Deadlines

Happily, I am going to have some freelance writing assignments coming my way. Unfortunately, the first one is due in two days. The extremely short turn-around time is due to a transitional period at my old place of employment. I'm taking the assignment because the pay is better than before and I'm not ready to burn any bridges.

So, the plan is to drive a car tomorrow morning and have the story written by Wednesday morning. I'm not worried about getting the story written once I've driven the car -- I usually write test drives in about a day -- I'm worried about the dealership getting back to us and having a car for me to drive.

Some things, I guess, are out of my hands. I'm just thankful to have a writing gig lined up.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Trimming the tree

It's hard to think about Christmas without my mom. Even though I haven't been home for the holidays in several years, Mom was still a part of my Christmas. She sent care packages with her homemade peanut brittle, cookies and gifts -- usually at least one of which was handmade. Mom's peanut brittle was legendary. Even people who claimed not to like peanut brittle were won over by her recipe -- handed down to her from my paternal grandmother (the secret is the cooling and pulling process).

This year, there will be no care package. As I hang the ornaments and put out the decorations, there are plenty of things to remind me of Mom: Santas and ornaments she made and ornaments and decorations from when I was a kid.

While it makes me sad to not have her around any more, the decorations also make me nostalgic. And I'm thankful to have the things she made, items she created with care and love, items that can't be bought or duplicated.

And maybe someday, I'll figure out how to make peanut brittle the way she did.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

O Christmas Tree

Thank you pine tree for allowing us to cut you down to decorate our home.

Last year, we trekked out to the Merry Christmas Tree Farm to find our Christmas tree. We have decided to make cutting a fresh tree one of our holiday traditions. So, today, we began our quest for the (not so) perfect tree.

One of the things we love about cutting a tree from this farm -- besides the fact it is small and local and has alpacas -- is that the trees aren't perfect. If we wanted a perfect tree, we'd buy an artificial one.

Although we set off in a different direction from last year, we ended up in about the same area. And the tree is pretty similar to our 2007 tree. It's tall and slender, fresh and fragrant.

And with a price of $30, pretty affordable. Tomorrow we'll trim the tree and deck the halls and get the Christmas season rolling.

Christmas alpacas


Friday, December 05, 2008

Follow me

Based on all the comments on yesterday's post, I'm not the only person worried about the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse. And, more importantly, it looks like I am going to have to lead this sorry group of survivors, seeing as I had the highest score.

New Year's resolutions for all of us:
1. Stock up on canned beans and Twinkies (they say those sweet golden cakes last forever)
2. Learn to fire a rifle/pistol/automatic weapon
3. Take up jogging/running
4. Buy a baseball bat or other blunt object and practice using it

I also think we should make it a habit to cover ourselves in Pam Cooking Spray, Vaseline or olive oil so the zombies will have a harder time getting a good grip on us. Hmmm... maybe not the olive oil -- that might make us all the more tasty.

Another day of thanks

I woke today to an outside temperature of one degree Fahrenheit and a sore throat. So, today, I'm especially thankful for hot showers, silk/wool-blend socks and space heaters.

Ripley is especially thankful for sunbeams and down comforters.
When I first moved in with my significant other, we didn't let the pets on the furniture. I had Ripley and the Fat Cat, and the S.O. had a Doberman. If we had let any of the critters on the bed, we wouldn't have had anywhere to sleep. That, and Jenny, the Dobie, had some issues with incontinence, so, yeah.

After a valiant struggle with Wobbler Disease, Jenny died, and we were left with the Rat Terrier and the Fat Cat. I think those two have benefited from our sorrow (and probably a little guilt) of losing Jenny. While neither one gets to sleep in the bed with us at night, they are very seldom chased off the bed during the day.

Because I chose to adopt two shedding machines and, even though I don't like to admit it, have allergic reactions to all that hair, I'm thankful the comforter has a removable cover that can easily be thrown into the washing machine and dryer.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

When it comes

Today, I am thankful to have friends who are preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse. Because when the Zombie Apocalypse inevitably comes, the human race has a better chance of surviving if more of us are truly prepared.

Apparently, I need to step it up a few notches.

62%
I answered the questions honestly. I think I need to run more, stock up on canned goods and learn to handle a fire arm.

And if you think the Zombie Apocalypse isn't possible, you need to check out this:
5 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Apocalypse Could Actually Happen

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bird by bird

Today, I want to say thanks to Lisa. She's been a great friend and editor for several years. While she probably won't be my editor after this Friday, I'm confident that the friendship will continue. Lisa took me under her wing at the newspaper and taught me, among many other things, AP style and how to find my voice.

When I first started writing for her, I still had a host of other duties I had to perform for another boss. During some of those early days, I wasn't sure how I would get everything done on time. Because Lisa and I are friends, I was able to go to her and tell her my concerns. She sent me the following passage from Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird":
"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."
I printed it out and tacked it to my cubicle wall. I looked to it often when something felt overly daunting. Even now --with a work schedule that isn't so crazy --when life seems to put a huge obstacle in my path, I look to this passage, and it helps me through. And it reminds me that I have a friend I can turn to, whether I'm looking for advice on the correct usage of effect or affect or I just need a word of encouragement.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Coffee talk

I am thankful for good coffee. However, I'm not sure if I should be grateful to my significant other for getting me hooked on it. Until the past year or so, I spent my time perfectly happy being a tea drinker. I tried coffee in the past, but it always tasted bitter to me.

When I visited New Orleans years ago, I really wanted to drink a cafe au lait at Cafe Du Monde -- just to say I had. Little did I know folks in New Orleans add chicory to their coffee to make it really strong tasting. I couldn't finish the coffee and had to have hot cocoa with my beignets. It wasn't quite the experience I was going for.

I tried flavors and cappuccinos and finally gave up, deciding I just don't like coffee. No big loss. Except that coffee drinkers seem to enjoy it so much, there must be something to it.

One day, while sipping my chai with the S.O. at Starbucks, he suggested trying an Americano. I did, with a little milk and sugar. And I liked it. Next time, I ordered a latte and -- you guessed it -- I liked it. Now I find that I actually like the bolder coffees better than the mild ones. I don't even need as much milk and sugar in my coffee as I did when I first started drinking coffee. Does this mean my palate is becoming more sophisticated with age or just that I'm killing off my taste buds and can only taste strong, bold flavors? (I've also developed a taste for red wine, dark beer and black olives.)

The good news is coffee can be a significant source of antioxidants:
In fact, it is the top dietary source of antioxidants in many populations, including in the United States. Moreover, roasted coffee residues retain their antioxidant ability; it isn't lost in processing.
The downside is now we have to buy a bigger coffee pot.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Gratitude

This month, I'm participating in National Blog Posting Month. I started last month but got in a little late. The plan is to post something every day in December. The theme for December is thanks.

Years ago, while going through a bit of a rough patch, I learned about something called a gratitude journal (it was probably something on Oprah, but it's not as corny as it sounds). The idea is to write down the things you are grateful for -- count your blessings. For awhile, a couple of friends and I e-mailed each other every day with our gratitude lists. For awhile after that, I kept a physical journal. Funny thing is once the rough patch eased up, I wrote in it less and less -- the more I had to be grateful for, the less I kept track of it.

When things were bad, it was hard to find things to be grateful for, but I could always come up with at least a few. It seemed important to look at the bright side of life. I guess I had to remind myself it could always get worse. I always had a place to live, food to eat and people who cared about me. And when I dug deeper, I could find plenty of good things in life.

But when things are good, I think I take it for granted and don't thank my lucky stars for what I have.

Looking back through the journal I kept, I see I often wrote that I was grateful for my health, my pets and my loved ones. That still holds true, but should never go without saying.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's 5 o'clock somewhere

I'm sipping a chai, watching the snow fly this morning. I was planning for today to be a day of rest and recovery after yesterday's 5k (it really was a big deal for me). But despite the snow and slippery roads, we're supposed to drive to the S.O.'s mother's house for a belated Thanksgiving dinner. Which means today is going to be more stress than rest.

Maybe I should be drinking Irish coffees to prepare myself for the drive and the dinner.
Or maybe I should just follow the dog's lead and go back to bed.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Slow and steady wins the race

While I didn't technically win the race, I did finish my first official 5k -- and I ran the entire thing. My finishing time was 32.24, which was two minutes behind the fastest woman runner. I'm pretty proud of myself for reaching this goal.
The day started out overcast and chilly, with the temperatures in the high 20s when we began the race at the Fountain Creek Nature Center. The sun peeked out for a few minutes, and once I was moving, the chill disappeared.

A group of about two dozen people gathered to run and walk to benefit our local nature centers. A recently failed tax hike means the nature centers won't get funding from the county, so they can use all the monetary help they can get. The nature centers offer great programs for kids and adults alike, teaching us about our local flora and fauna and providing a beautiful natural setting for picnics, hikes and runs.

I started out at the very back of the runners but well ahead of the walkers. I managed to pass a man and his son and a couple so I wasn't the last runner to finish. I came away with a nature center T-shirt and a pair of running socks, not to mention the sense of accomplishment I feel right now.All in all, it was a very good day.

Friday, November 28, 2008

White Friday

The day after Thanksgiving has come to be known as "Black Friday." I've never been one to get up and chase the sales. I've either had to work or if I had the day off, slept in. Some of those sales start as early as 5 a.m. There isn't much that will get me up that early, especially on a cold, dreary day. This part of Colorado doesn't normally have white Christmases, but this year we got a white Thanksgiving -- sort of. It started snowing yesterday evening, and this morning, we have a nice little mantel of white.
Of course, not everyone thinks the snow is great.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

10 things I'm thankful for today

I am thankful:
For a roof over my head
For my family and their health
For space heaters and warm pajamas
For friends who read blogs (and those who don't)
For good coffee and sweet potato pie
That I don't have to drive anywhere today

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thirsty

I missed out on the beginning of National Blog Posting Month for November but have posted every day since I found out about it. Today, I'm having a hard time coming up with something to write about.

So, instead of writing something less than profound, I'll share a picture. Because who doesn't love a picture of a cat drinking from the bathroom faucet?Ok, probably lots of people. But I know there are plenty who do love it, as evidenced by sites like this and all the cat-drinking-from-the-sink-related videos on YouTube.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What I read: "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck

I know I had to have read "The Grapes of Wrath" at some point in high school, but all I could remember about it was the daughter named Rose of Sharon and the fact that the Joads had to leave Oklahoma. I must have read the book at a point in my life when I thought times would never be tough, or perhaps I really just disliked my teacher at the time and projected that onto this book. Whatever the reason, I didn't remember much about this book, and that's a shame.

I can't believe I didn't remember Steinbeck's poetic prose:
In the middle of that night the wind passed on and left the land quiet. The dust-filled air muffled sound more completely than fog does. The people, lying in their beds, heard the wind stop. They awakened when the rushing wind was gone. They lay quietly and listened deep into the stillness. Then the roosters crowed, and their voices were muffled, and the people stirred restlessly in their beds and wanted the morning. They knew it would take a long time for the dust to settle out of the air. In the morning the dust hung like fog, and the sun was as red as ripe new blood. All day the dust sifted down from the sky, and the next day it sifted down. An even blanket covered the earth. It settled on the corn, piled up on the tops of the fence posts, piled up on the wires; it settled on roofs, blanketed the weeds and trees.
Or the strength and courage of a family plagued by misfortune and tragedy:
Ma looked down at her hands, lying together like tired lovers in her lap. "I wisht i could wait an' not tell you. I wisht it could be all--nice."
Pa said, "Then Granma's bad."
Ma raised her eyes and looked over the valley. "Granma's dead."
They looked at her, all of them, and Pa asked, "When?"
"Before they stopped us las' night."
"So that's why you didn' want 'em to look."
"I was afraid we wouldn' get acrost," she said. "I tol' Granma we couldn' he'p her. The fambly had ta get acrost. I tol' her, tol' her when she was a-dyin'. We couldn' stop in the desert. there was the young ones--an' Rosasharn's baby. I tol' her." She put up her hands and covered her face for a moment. "She can get buried in a nice green place," Ma said softly. "Trees aroun' an' a nice place. She got to lay her head down in California."
The family looked at Ma with a little terror at her strength.
I feel like I just read this book for the first time. It got under my skin. I dreamed about it. I thought about how we would handle such desperate times. Despite today's economic climate, it's hard to imagine having to live the way the Joads did -- 14 people traveling in a truck made by cutting away the back of a sedan, sleeping under a tarp, eating little more than fried bread and black coffee. It often occurred to me the reason this book was so sharply opposed when it was first published.
A kind of insurance developed in these nights. A man with food fed a hungry man, and thus insured himself against hunger. And when a baby died a pile of silver coins grew at a door flap, for a baby must be well buried, since it has had nothing else of life.
Talk of unions and strikes and even a kind of socialism, disguised as helping those less fortunate must have scared the haves and stirred the have-nots.
The great companies did not know that the line between hunder and anger is a thin line. and money that might have gone to wages went for gas, for guns, for agents and spies, for blacklists, for drilling. On the highways the people moved like ants and searched for work, for food. and the anger began to forment.
Above all "The Grapes of Wrath" is beautifully written and worth reading or re-reading.

It was featured in this year's All Pikes Peak Reads, but I was late in reading it and getting in on discussions. I see it as a timely selection.

More photos

Views from the Piedra River Trail near Pagosa Springs


Sandy

We hiked in Great Sand Dunes National Park. My photographs don't do it justice. It's incredibly stark and beautiful. We'd like to go back in the spring when the water is flowing and the plants are lush. Hiking up sand is hard work but a lot of fun. A great ending to a great weekend.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Steamy

This is the Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs. The hot mineral springs are toasty and the rooms are comfy and quiet. My significant other gets brownie points for creating this romantic weekend getaway.

I plan to put up more pictures from the weekend in the next few days.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Piedra River Trail


We took a trip to Pagosa Springs. This picture is from our hike along the Piedra River Trail. After this, we soaked in the hot springs and had a tasty mocha latte at a cafe and gallery owned by a really nice couple.

UPDATE: If you're in Pagosa Springs, make sure you stop by The Quaking Aspen for some organic foods and some cool photography.