Christmas Cornucopia

While I wait for the latest version of itunes to download, a recap of my Christmas-so-far.

-Friday I went to Chesterfield Town Center to finish up my shopping. On the way, I was almost crashed into by a moron driver getting on 288 in front of me. After laying on my horn and brakes until she was stopped on the side of the road, I drove past to see she was about 16 and had her hands up in the air and appeared to be crying. I felt kind of bad for cursing her as I had been doing in the privacy of my Eclipse, but then I got over it and cursed her parents even more. Who the hell teaches a kid to drive the weekend before Christmas?! Don't they know how insane people get?!

-Speaking of which, I had it in my head I wanted to get my little sister a skirt. I believe I looked in 8 different stores for one (not too dressy, but not a micro mini) and didn't find a SINGLE ONE. I mean not a SINGLE FREAKING SKIRT. Apparently casual skirts went out of style and no one told me.

-Saturday, Bryan and I went to Verona, VA to see my mom and her beau, my brother and my sister. My mom cooked a fabulous meal and we ate like pigs and opened some awesome presents. Then we played with my little brother's iPod touch (Yes, I am the best Big Sister ever. Until Victoria grows up and actually makes money. Then we will compete for the title. ;-) ). Did you know you can get the internet on those things if you're in a wifi hotspot? It was super cool. Anyway, we hung out for a while, never enough time with the mom & bro & sis. Then home again, home again to grocery shop and clean for today.

-My dad, stepmom and grandma came over for the Grammer side Christmas today. Instead of trying to think of something to get each of them, I went with the experience as a gift thing. I made lunch and then we all went to the Nutcracker. Yay for making memories!

-A lady at work told me, after I bought the tickets to the Nutcracker, that it was boring. Au contraire, I say! It was fantastic! I loved it. Bryan even managed to stay awake the whole time, so that should tell you something right there!

-In addition to lots of other great gifts, I got an iPod! Woohoo! So excited. I never thought I needed one, but a few months ago when I was looking through my hundreds of CDs, I realized it would probably be pretty cool to have so that I could sort through all that music and have all the best songs in one place. So that's my mission. And now Zech and I can share music! I think. As soon as we both figure out this whole iPod business. We're new to the world of Apple.

-Jodie and her kids, Jordan and Dylan, came over after my family left and we did our Christmas, then rode around and looked at 8 of the Chesterfield houses on the Richmond Times-Dispatch Tacky Lights Tour. Would you believe two of those houses did not have their lights on!? The nerve!!! It was cool, though, and super tacky. Yay Christmas.

-Finally, headed out to Old Navy after Jodie left to buy a couple last minute items. Got in and out in about 5 minutes and my stupid car wouldn't start. Bryan was far away Christmas shopping, so I called our good friends the Bennetts and they came and rescued me. Luckily Justin is just as good with the cars as Bryan, so he brought this battery charger thing and started me right up. He suggested I try to start it when I got home (after turning it off, of course) to see if that's all it needed. Well, it didn't start again. So I'm thinking we will not be taking Sabine (my car) to Pennsylvania.

-And speaking of which, tomorrow it's off to the Great White North! Or Pennsylvania, whatever you want to call it. ;-)

-My itunes is done downloading. Tata for now!


Why I still insist that Santa visits me Christmas Eve.

Every year, I insist that whoever I'm spending the night with on Christmas Eve keep my presents hidden until I am in bed, and then they can put them out as though Santa has come. I made my parents do this, and now I make Bryan do it. Yes, I know that Santa isn't real, but I don't care. I like the surprise and the excitement of not seeing any of the presents until I wake up Christmas morning. You may think that I'm a little old to insist on this, but this little quirk is the direct result of a self-induced tragedy I experienced as a child. Let me tell you about it.

Growing up, I have no idea where my mom managed to hide my Christmas gifts, but Santa visited me every year, even after I figured out he wasn't real. For most years of my childhood, gifts would just appear under the tree and in the living room floor Christmas morning, me having never even seen a shopping bag in the weeks leading up to the big day. My mom was really good at keeping the mystery of Christmas. Until one year.

This particular year, I think I was maybe 8 or 9, I guess my mom got ahead of herself and had all of my presents wrapped and stored in a big bag at the top of her closet a week or more before Christmas. I don't know if she just trusted me to leave them alone until Christmas since they were already wrapped or if she thought she had a better hiding place than she did, but this is the only time I ever remember *knowing* where my presents were before I got them.

At the time, I was a latchkey kid, I'd get home from school maybe an hour or two before my mom got home from work and just go inside and watch tv or whatever. Except one day, maybe there was nothing good on TV or maybe I was just a curious little twit, I decided to explore this wonderous bag of goodies.

I went in my mom's room, took down the bag, and, as inconspicuously as I could at 8 or 9, unwrapped every single one of those presents to see what was inside. Ooh, lord, it was so exhilirating! And lemme tell ya, there was a lot of good stuff in there! All was going stupendously well until, rrrrrippppp! The wrapping paper on one Barbie outfit did not cooperate, and there was no way in hell I could stick that one back in there without my mom realizing I had unwrapped it!

As you can imagine, I was terrified and racked my brain for a plan to cover up this little misstep in my snooping. Finally, I decided to hide the outfit in my room and keep it there until after Christmas, and just hope that my mom would not notice I didn't unwrap that one on Christmas morning. Hopefully, I would not be found out.

Well, Christmas morning finally came. And it was the most disappointing Christmas of my entire life. Until that time, I did not realize how important the surprise of it was to me. That's not to say I was disappointed by the gifts--I had been anxiously awaiting being able to play with them for the week since I peeked at all of them--but Christmas was just not as fun when I knew what every thing was before I opened it. And had to pretend I had never seen it before. :)

Ever since then, I don't want to see or touch my gifts until it is time for me to open them. I am also realizing as I write this that this incident is probably also why I get thoroughly distraught when someone can't keep a surprise. The eight year old in me wants to shout out, "Don't ruin the surprise! It's the best part!" And so every year, "Santa" is still forced to visit me. :)

Oh, and as far as my mom goes, she totally found me out that year. She will tell you that she found me with one of my Barbies wearing that outfit i hid before Christmas ever came... I remember that I did manage to at least wait until after Christmas to dress Barbie in that particular set of clothes... but either way, as soon as she saw it, she figured out what had happened... you can't get anything past your mom!!!!


But we wouldn't get snow days...

This morning I saw a headline that said "Winter blast hits Northeast." Bryan is always talking about moving back to Pennsylvania, and I am always protesting that it is too cold there. He knows, however, that I do like the snow. So whenever there's snow in PA but not here, he says, "See, if we lived in Pennsylvania, we'd have snow." I have to admit that I do find that prospect appealing... but not appealing enough that I'm ready to pack my bags (sorry, Klingers).

When I read that headline this morning I had a brief daydream... it went something like this:

Man, wouldn't it be nice to actually get SNOW! I love snow. It's so pretty. And sometimes you even get a day off of work because of it. If we lived in Pennsylvania we'd have snow... but wait, if we lived in Pennsylvania, we'd get snow, but no snow days! Because to them snow is NORMAL for winter! What good is snow if you can't get a snow day!?

So, to my pals in the Northeast, enjoy that fluffy white stuff, and looking at it through your windows at WORK! ;-)


Falala, and all that jazz.

So yeah, 'tis officially the season. Miraculously I have finished about 60% of my Christmas shopping, my house is decorated, I've already attended one Christmas party and seen some boats decked out in Christmas lights on the James River (I guess that's actually technically a second Christmas party)... and of course, in TRUE Virginia Christmas season fashion, it's been in the freaking 70's for the past three days!

What is up with that. I mean, I've lived here my whole life, I know that's how it is. But I find it a bit annoying. I'd rather it be consistently cold than have these wacky, abrupt weather changes. It screws up my body, my arthritis does not enjoy it. I even had to go home early on Monday... not fun! (I mean, I'm not complaining about the nap, but I'd rather it not have been to sleep away pain!) Today the temperature seems to be going back down, and while I had brief tinges of protest from my back last night, I think ol' arthur is having an easier time with this transition.

So on Sunday we FINALLY got the big tree fully lit and decorated. My dear impatient husband somehow summoned every ounce of patience he possesses and worked on that damned tree for a good 8 hours or so over 3 or 4 days before he got the whole thing to work. I believe in the end approximately 99 lights were replaced. That is not a joke. Bryan bought a new strand of 100 lights and in the end only one was left of that set. The rest are now in our 9' pre-lit tree which I vow to meticulously examine for burnt out bulbs and REPLACE THEM as soon as I see 'em. Because that's the only thing I can figure was the problem--TOOOOO many lights out. (My fault--when it said "Still lights when some go out!" I just never bothered to replace the ones that were out!)

I'll try to remember to post some pictures from the party we went to last weekend (chez our friends and former neighbors Todd and Sarah)... it was a fun time! This coming weekend we have Bryan's work Christmas party and plan to go to Williamsburg for a visit with Frane and Tim. Yay for holiday get togethers!


Weird words.

I was just writing an email to my boss and wrote the word "answer." I am still sitting here looking at that word thinking it just does not look right. I know that's how you spell it, but do you ever have that thing where you write a word and it just doesn't look right, and then you really look at how it's spelled for the first time in your life and realize that is the most ridiculous spelling of a word ever?

Answer? How is that "ans-er"? Man, English is weird.


Holiday Beginnings: A Wrap-Up.

In true holiday fashion, as soon as Thanksgiving hit, life got hectic. So blogging has been put off and put off until now, a week and a few days after Turkey Day, I'm forced to just summarize the haps of the past 9 days in one wrap-up blog. So let's get started.

Bryan and I spent Thanksgiving in Richmond this year. Got up relatively early to finish making Gram's Pumpkin Custard (I bought a puree sieve which makes this pie SO MUCH easier to make). Called my mom and told her I want her secret cake recipes for Christmas. My mom started a baking business when we lived in the mountains and now that I'm grown up and interested in cooking (God knows I wasn't back then!), I think about how good these cakes were ALL THE TIME. Actually, I should stop talking about them because now I am craving that coffee cake. Anyway, talked to my mom for a while and then it was time to get ready to go to Grandma's.

Went to Grandma's for Grammer Thanksgiving Feast. It was great, as always to see everyone. Took the camera but suck at remembering to take pictures. Did get these shots:

My cousin Chase and his dad, my uncle Bruce, and my dad,
chillin' out after a big meal.

My aunt Elaine and cousin Heather,
waking up from a tryptophan-induced nap.

Came home after doing a drive-by of the Best Buy and realizing there were already about 30 people camped outside at 6:30pm. Watched some t.v. and wished we had stolen some leftovers from Grandma's.

Bryan and I decided about a year ago that we were going to buy a new t.v. on Black Friday of this year. Our old t.v. still worked, but we really needed an upgrade. So, we did. We did a little research and decided what we wanted, and had every intention of sitting outside the store and waiting for it to open to get some massive deal. Then it got cold. Then we realized the t.v. we wanted wasn't a door buster sale. Then Bryan discovered we could buy the t.v. online and pick it up at the store. So, we still woke up at 2:30am, but instead of sitting outside in the cold, we sat down at the computer and bought our new t.v.! We did still head out to the stores around 4:30 am, and there were about 500 people lined up at Circuit City when we got there, so we went to Sears instead. We got a couple deals there (don't get me started... whole 'nother blog), then headed to Circuit City to pick up our new monster t.v.

And here it is!

We got a 50" Samsung Plasma TV. It's fabulous. We love switching back and forth between the HD channels and the regular channels, the difference is amazing. We have also watched more football on this t.v. in the past week than I can add up... of course, there have been lots of good games to watch, so we might have watched that much football even if we hadn't gotten a new t.v....

This past week at work was out of control. My job is typically pretty low-key, but the workload comes in waves. This week was the crest of the wave--I swear there were like 10 things going on at once! Everything got done, but it was a little frazzling a few moments in there. The good thing about weeks like that, though, is that now things will slow back down a bit before the holidays. Not entirely, but some! :)

Bryan's week at work included a whirlwind trip to Dallas to look at some... thing. I don't know what. He has told me like 8 times but I keep forgetting. Some part for some machine at the power station. He left on Tuesday morning and came back on Wednesday afternoon. Like I said, whirlwind trip!

Friday night was the annual tree decorating party at Grandma's house. I'm glad we started this a few years ago--it's a great chance to see everyone between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and usually we see members of the family that we don't see on either holiday because everyone has other things to do on those days. Good eats, about 5000 ornaments to put on the tree, and lots of fun!

Here's Grandma decorating the tree. I could never get a shot of her from the front, so I had to settle for this angle. :)

Here's my cousin Amanda's daughter, Araya, decorating the tree. Araya and her brother David were the best tree decorators there--and the cutest!

Bryan had to work late, so I took him some clothes to the power station and we went from there. I think he worked harder this week than I realized, because he FELL ASLEEP at the party! Either that, or he was totally exhausted by all the ornament placing he did! :)

And finally, a couple "family portraits..." Me, dad and Grandma:

And several of the "Grammer Clan:"

Yesterday I was determined to get our house decorated for Christmas. We got our big tree down last weekend, and I intended to get that done in the evenings this past week. Unfortunately when I plugged it in Tuesday night while Bryan was gone, about 1/3 of it didn't light up (it's pre-lit). I got annoyed when I couldn't find a quick fix for this problem, and decided to wait for Bryan to help me fix it.

So yesterday I got all the decorations out and started on the other small tree we put up and all the other decorations while Bryan patched a leaky spot on the roof. The plan was, once it got dark, we would work on the big tree together. This plan went out the window when, around 6pm, Bryan came in to show me something he got from Lowe's and, on his way back out of the living room, noticed roofing tar tracks on the cream Berber carpet. Oh yes. The man had tracked ROOFING TAR into the living room. I almost cried. He quickly got the tube out and saw that paint thinner was what they recommended to clean it off. Of course we didn't have any of this, and he looked at me and said, "can we use paint thinner on the carpet?!" I was like, well even if it eats holes into the carpet, white holes will look better than black spots!!!! So back to Lowe's he went, and thankfully the paint thinner took that crap right out of the carpet. I was, needless to say, very relieved.

Of course, then the only natural thing to do next was clear out the living room and clean the carpet! (Yes, that's sarcasm you read there.) Bryan asked me to help him get everything out, and it took me about 30 minutes to come to terms with the fact that the big tree was going to spend yet another night unlit and undecorated. He was right... the carpet needed cleaning anyway, and might as well do it then rather than leave paint thinner eating away at it.

So... here we are Sunday morning. All of our living room furniture is either in the formal living room, the dining room or the front hallway. I have a 10-minute presentation in Spanish to finish that I have to give tomorrow morning and we're planning to head to Williamsburg this afternoon to meet up with my college roomie Frane and her husband for the Grand Illumination. It's supposed to rain, though, so I am not sure if we're going to tough it out or find another day to meet up... And somewhere along the way, I'll hopefully get that damned tree lit and decorated!


Sad Day in Gameville.

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I was half-watching Good Morning America. While I was putting my socks on, I happened to catch a commercial for Monopoly. When's the last time you saw one of those? I can't remember one for a long time...

But anyway, it was tragic. Truly a sad day in the world of board games. Why?


What the hell? The whole point of monopoly is the MONEY! But now you can buy it where each person gets a freaking DEBIT CARD! They're calling it "Monopoly Electronic Banking Edition."

Now, in my real life, I hardly ever use cash. So I get it that this edition is more current, more accurate to how money is handled in the world today. But here are some reasons I find this a really sad move on the part of Parker Brothers:

-Counting Monopoly money teaches you MATH. And math is important. I don't care if now every kid in kindegarten has a calculator, call me old school, but I believe every child should have to learn how to AT LEAST do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division without one. Monopoly used to be a great tool for this.

-When you're playing Monopoly and your side of the board is sitting up an inch off the table because of all the money you have stuffed under there, it's so much more obvious to your opponent that they're getting their butt kicked than if you just pass around the ATM machine and show him your balance on the screen. BO-RING!

-How are little kids going to play "store" anymore? I always set up stores on my back porch and we got the cash out of the Monopoly game to play with. I guess kids can use the ATM machine for this as well, but.... man, that just ain't right!

-Finally, what happens when little Tommy gets super pissed that little Suzy beat him so bad? When I was little, he would have taken the banker box and thrown that sucker in the air, cash flying all around... very dramatic, and sure to incite little Suzy to tears. Now what? He's gonna throw the ATM box and the debit cards? Definitely not the same drama... unless that ATM box whacks Suzy in the head, in which case Tommy's parents better hope they have some real cash for when Suzy's parents sue them for Tommy causing such trauma to their daughter.

Man, I miss the eighties.

Holy crap, did I just say that?!


And in the name of the Lollipop Guuuuuuiiiiiiilllllldddd....

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Wizard of Oz. I have basically been watching that movie at least once a year since I was born, and so I was absolutely THRILLED to see that, 70 years later, the Munchkins got their star on the Walk of Fame! 'Bout damn time!

Nevermind the fact that so many of these little wonders of film are still alive... actually, yes, let's mind that fact... how the heck old were they when this movie was made?! And is there something special about "munchkins" (yes, I know that's not the PC term, but we're talking Wizard of Oz so I'm calling them that) that allows them to have extraordinarily long life spans?

Who cares, they are my heroes this morning and I'm so proud of them! :-D


Christmas bells seem to be ringing early...

I don't know what it is. Maybe that my cousin Cassandra put up her Christmas tree with her son Spencer the first weekend in November. Maybe it's that my friend Krystyna got me to go Christmas shopping with her this past weekend and it's not even Thanksgiving. Maybe it's the commercial machine that started airing Christmas-themed commercials the day after Halloween. Whatever it is, I am ready for Christmas to be here SUPER EARLY this year.

I mean, seriously, I can't remember the last time I purchased more than one Christmas gift before Thanksgiving, and I have already purchased several and have a couple of ideas for other ones I'm buying soon! And I am itching something fierce to start decorating for the holidays, but I am determined to wait until at least this weekend, after Thanksgiving. This weekend I got some really cute votive candleholders that are going to go so well with my Christmas decor... is it some kind of rule that the older you get the more into holiday decorating you get? 'Cause that seems to be happening to me. Maybe it's just that I'm accumulating so much fun Christmas stuff... who knows.

Of course, getting the Christmas tree down is going to be an interesting experience. Last year Bryan decided it was going up in our attic. Only problem is, the access to our attic is just one of those hole in the ceiling deals, and our tree is one of those 9-ft tall pre-lit monsters. So he had to install a pulley system to get it up there. When I mentioned getting it down soon over the weekend, he groaned and reminded me that that "damned Christmas tree" is why he fell through the ceiling last spring installing the tv in our bathroom. (DAD: I am going to have to schedule you to come over to our house to help Bryan get the tree down, you free Sunday? :) )

Anyway, first and foremost is Turkey Day.... I've been craving Thanksgiving dinner for about a week and a half now. Bring it on!


68 degrees.

Why is it that when it's, let's say, late April, and you go outside after work and it is 68 degrees it feels blissfully warm, but when it is, let's say, mid-November and your thermostat in your house is set to 72 but you have an open floor plan house so it is only 68 degrees in your living room it feels miserably cold?

Don't worry, I don't expect an answer. I (basically) understand why. But it's annoying.

Back to the couch with blankets, warm husband and the trio of gossip mags I picked up at the grocery store this afternoon. :)


Mountain Getaway

Okay, so I decided to take a few minutes out of inordinately busy week at work to blog. I have been going 90 mph at work this week, and in the evenings I've been so sleepy I'm in bed by 9 at the latest, so I'm just now getting around to making time to tell you about our fun mountain getaway!

Bryan and I rented a log home with our friends Hailey and Jason in the mountains of VA, about 20 miles from Front Royal, for a long weekend retreat. Hailey found us a great place to stay, and miraculously, it was even BETTER than the pictures they sent us beforehand!

We arrived on Friday evening and had dinner and chilled. Saturday we headed down to Luray Caverns, and surprisingly Hailey was the only one of us who had ever been there. I expected it to be cold down there, but it wasn't. At all. I thought the caverns were awesome, and I'm glad I finally saw them!

Saturday evening we went out to dinner in a town not too far away (15 miles... that was close for where we were staying). The place was called the Hotel Strasburg, and it was decent... nothing to knock your socks off, but Hailey and I had a nice bottle of wine which made everything excellent. :) After dinner, it was back home for perhaps my favorite part of the trip: GAME NIGHT! Yes!! I love board games, and it's rare I get to play with anyone but Bryan. (And let's be honest, there aren't a lot of board games that are very exciting with just 2 people. Scrabble is our favorite...) We played Cranium and had some of the biggest laughs of the weekend, then played Taboo, then off to bed.

Sunday was the day we planned to go hiking. We first tried this "Bird and Wildlife Viewing Trail" that was really close to our place (maybe 3 miles?). Unfortunately there wasn't much of a hiking trail. What we did find was an old muddy road we thought might be used for hunters, but it was Sunday so we thought we'd be safe. We started our trek up this road and in just a few minutes came upon an old dilapidated bus that appeared to be painted in some psychedelic pattern. The premises immediately around this bus were roped off with some wire. And we were spooked. I think we all were a little worried some banjo-playing maniac was going to come out and chop all our heads off. So we went a little ways further, then decided to find a park with some more defined trails. :)

We ended up at a great little national park on the Shenandoah River. At the entrance to the trails were some campsites, complete with wagons for campers to tote their belongings to their site. I thought it would be fun to get in one and have Bryan pull me. Bryan thought it would be fun to pull me the whole way. And while I felt like a complete idiot when we passed a large family on the trail, I have to say getting a ride wasn't all that bad. :) I did get out to hike up Wildcat Ledge, a .4 mile trail that was basically straight up the side of a mountain. It was a nice view from the top, but... whew, am I out of shape!

Once we got almost back to the car, Bryan decided it was his turn to ride in the cart. I must say I did not like pulling as much as I liked riding.

Sunday evening we relaxed and hung out, played some cards, watched some TV and enjoyed our last hours at River Oak. I could tell Hailey and Jason were getting a little antsy to get home--this was their first time away from their daughter Grace for any length of time besides a few hours! They did great, though, and I think even managed to enjoy themselves a bit. :)

Monday, Hailey and Jason headed out pretty early, and Bryan and I decided we would try to get in one more tourist-y thing before heading home. Looking at the map, there wasn't a whole lot between there and home, but we finally settled on a stop at Montpelier, James Madison's home. I must say, I knew pretty much nothing about Madison besides that he was one of the early presidents, and I learned a lot while we were there. He was a very cool, very intelligent dude! :) They are currently renovating Montpelier, which passed through many hands since James Madison lived there, to its original state. I told Bryan that if I were a carpenter, that is totally the job I'd want to have. I mean, how cool is that to build something back to how it was for our fourth president, the Father of our Constitution? I dig it.

If you'd like to see more of the pictures from our trip, you can check them out here: http://picasaweb.google.com/uvaleg

And finally, home again, where I began a very busy week at work. I must say, I'm really looking forward to Saturday, even if this was just a four-day week!


Cheery Money.

Last night I made a relatively easy, crisp hundred dollar bill by spending a couple hours in a room with 12 other ladies talking about Cheerwine. Ever heard of it? It's a cherry-y soda made by the peeps at Coca-Cola, but I'm pretty sure it basically never makes it past the Virginia-North Carolina border. I partook of this cherry goodness as a teen on occasion, but honestly probably haven't seen it since the mid-nineties. It's decent... kind of like Dr. Pepper only cherry-ier. The thing I went to last night was a focus group for the beverage, basically I think they are trying to expand their market and they've got this idea of making it the go to beverage when you want to relax & unwind and have no stress. We hated to do it to them, but at the end when they started asking us what we thought of all these other sodas, we pretty much told them we're not switching from our regular cola of choice. Luckily they didn't care and they still gave us our $100 on the way out the door.

Some highlights of the evening:

-We had to fill out a survey when we came in, and the lady hands us a clipboard with the papers, a pencil and a pack of crayons. Yep, crayons. On page 2 we had to draw a picture that showed "what we want to feel like when drinking our favorite non-alcoholic beverage." And then we had to do show and tell, which I think was a little embarassing for us all, considering we pretty much all drew pictures worthy of 6th graders. No offense to any of the other ladies, mine was in that category too. (For the record, I drew a summer cookout scene... you know, you wanna feel happy, satisfied, relaxed, having fun... blah blah blah.)

-They are considering a sort of incentive program for drinking Cheerwine, kind of like Coke Rewards I guess. We got a list of potential "prizes" that included "free meat for the grill" ("meat" is just not an attractive word when it comes to being a prize) and "CheerRoma Therapy Candles." Ha! CheerRoma! We all thought gas cards would be the best and I think the dudes leading the focus group asked us about 100 times how gas cards related to the "relax & enjoy... no stress" mantra they were going for. DUH! Gas is expensive, which is stressful, so if the gas is free, one less stress!

-At the end, one guy gave us the name of a soda and we had to say what came to mind, then say what kind of person that soda would be were it human. See if you agree with what we came up with:
-Coke: Man in his 30s, drives a Honda Accord
-Pepsi: Woman in her 20's, drives a Mustang Convertible
-Sprite: Woman in her 30's, drives a mini-SUV
-Fresca: Woman in her 50's, drives a Lincoln Continental
-Mountain Dew: Boy in his teens, drives a BMX bike
-Dr. Pepper: Man in his 50's, drives a BMW


Wahoowa! And, Arrrgggg, Matey!

Well, Saturday was a very busy day for yours truly. And what a beautiful fall day to be so busy!

The day began with me hauling myself out of bed before 8am on a Saturday (say WHA?!). For a good cause, of course--spending the day with my dad at the UVA v. Wake Forest football game! I was excited to spend some daddy/daughter time with my dad, and of course to see my dear Wahoos take on a big ACC rival! Somehow our team has done super well this year, literally by the skin on their teeth. But I like it! My dad has had season tickets for the football games since I started school there 11 years ago (again, say WHA?!!), and I try to go at least once a year, but sometimes time slips away before I can find a game I can go to. Not this year! We made it up to Charlottesville a little early and had lunch at Durty Nelly's, where they certainly don't make an effort not to live up to their name. :) Then it was to the stadium for some intense football from the Cardiac Kids, aka Virginia Cavalier Football Team!

The 'Hoos were leading by one point and Wake Forest went to kick a field goal with 2 seconds left in the game. I held my head and prayed "Please, please, please, please" and couldn't watch, and then, miraculously, the kicker missed!!! We won! Of course, the boys had to kneel down and pray after that one!!

We headed home in a great mood, and made it back in time for me to make a quick trip to the Halloween store for some discount costumes so Bryan and I would have something to wear to the Halloween party we were going to that night. The party was chez Traci and Steven, a friend and former co-worker from my Arthritis Foundation days.

At the costume store, I wandered around until deciding that Bryan and I would be Pirate and Wench. And yes, I was dressed a little... provocatively, but hey, I'm still in my 20's, gotta milk it for all it's worth, right? :)
Here's me with the hostess, the pregnant Traci/Flava Flav. Isn't she a cute pregnant lady? :)
And Bryan and me with a couple friends from the Arthritis Foundation, Erica and Susan.
And finally, one last picture with the jack o' lanterns before we move on to Thanksgiving and Christmas!!


Dueling Pies.

So for some reason I thought that all this pie making was a good idea for a weeknight. Didn't stop to think, hmm, perhaps I can make two pies from scratch on a weekend day when I don't have crap else better to do. Noooo... I went to work, went and bought some things I needed for work, and then came home and commenced to pie making around 5pm. Not one, but two "pumpkin" pies from scratch.

Pie #1: Bryan's Gram's Pumpkin Custard.

I have heard my mother-in-law say, in passing, that she's not fond of dealing with this pie, yet it is a staple at every Klinger holiday meal. It's good. It was my father-in-law's mother's recipe, and after following it last night, I have decided that this woman was SERIOUS about the pie making. Holy crap. First of all, it's made with butternut squash, not pumpkin. And a freaking butternut squash is a BEAST to cut. And when I say beast, I mean "vegetable that would really prefer not to be cut and therefore will fight you with every last fiber of its being."

I did finally tame the sucker and get it in the pot to boil. Excellent. Once it's done, I drain it and recall that the recipe Jan wrote me says, for my next step, "Sieve." So I get out the sieve and put the pumpkin in it and mash it through the best I can, and hardly anything is coming out the other side. So here's a glimpse into my thought process at this point:

"Huh. Which of these parts am I supposed to use in the pie? This part in the bowl that looks like baby food, or this part left in the sieve that looks like pumpkin? Surely I'm not supposed to press this through the sieve until I get enough baby food stuff for 2 cups... but what would be the point of the sieving if that's not what I'm supposed to use? Oh, wait, what if SIEVE is Yankee for STRAIN?! Then I'm an idiot battling this sieve for no reason! But a sieve's a sieve... I mean, they are northerners, but they speak basically the same language..."

At which point I decide to call the in-laws just to be sure I've got this right. And of course I am told that, yep, I'm using what comes through the other side of the sieve.

I sieve my ass off until I get just enough for 2 cups, throw the rest in a freezer bag, and commence to making pie crust. Because of course when I mentioned buying pre-made to my husband the day before, he whined about how his mother makes HOMEMADE pie crust (Thanks, Jan. ;-) ).

Eventually it's all ready, and into the oven it goes. In the meantime...

Pie #2: Regular Ol' Pumpkin Pie

Since I don't have a family recipe for regular ol' pumpkin pie, I used one out of my giant Baking Encyclopedia. And let me detail this process for you since I did so for Gram's Pumpkin Custard.

I cut the pumpkin into pieces and scooped out the innards. Slice, slice, scoop, scoop. Easy.
I put the pumpkin in a pot to boil.
I strained the pumpkin.
I scooped the pumpkin out of the skin.
I dumped some ingredients in the bowl.
I mixed.
I baked.

Okay, that might be overly simplified (still had to make pie crust #2), but the point is, it was SIGNIFICANTLY less work than Pie #1.

Since the pies weren't done until late last night and had to cool, Bryan hasn't sampled them yet to determine which one he likes best. I have a suspicion he's going to choose his Gram's pie. First of all, any recipe made by your grandmother is gonna win out over one from a cookbook. Secondly, Gram's pie is a custard, and pumpkin pie is thick and... well, pumpkiny. They're really two totally different types of pie, in spite of both being called pumpkin.

So we'll see. I tried a little sliver of both, and I think they're both good. Regardless of Bryan's decision, we have got some tasty pies to eat over the next few days!

Oh, and by the way, Bryan is so smitten with the jack o' lanterns we carved that while I was whipping up a frenzy in the kitchen, he went outside to have another portrait session with the pumpkins. Here's some of his handy work, with a little alteration thanks to Picasa.


Pumpkin Party.

Bryan and I finished out a pretty low-key weekend with a trip to the Chesterfield Berry Farm and some pumpkin carving. Even though this is our seventh (!) Halloween together, it's the first time we've carved pumpkins together, and it was a lot of fun!

We headed to pick out our pumpkins yesterday afternoon--the first FALL day of the Fall! I hadn't been to the Berry Farm to pick pumpkins since I was a little girl. My most distinct memory of it is going there in first grade on a field trip, and my mom and Christy Anderson's mom arguing on the bus ride back about who was the HEAD Room Mother. :) Well, maybe they weren't arguing. But there was definitely a difference of opinion there...

But I digress.

We hopped on the wagon ride and headed down to the pumpkin patch, which by this point was full of pumpkins from some other field, but who cares. It was still fun to pick them out ourselves. :)

Bryan said he wore orange to blend in. Ha! The Berry Farm was a lot of fun, would have been even cooler if we had some kids to enjoy all the kiddie stuff. On our way out, we bought a couple of butternut squash and a pie pumpkin. Bryan's gram's recipe for pumpkin pie actually calls for this type of squash, so I've been charged with creating that pie and a real pumpkin pie so Bryan can see which he prefers. :) I'll keep you updated.

After a quick trip to Target to get some pumpkin carving & lighting gear, we settled down in our living room with a lot of newspaper and our big orange gourds. We decided rather than flexing our own creative muscles, we'd use the stencils provided to us by the carving kit.

Doesn't Bryan look sweet carving his pumpkin? (Note the light behind him--he brought it in from the garage because he couldn't see his pumpkin well enough. :) )
And after a couple hours of pumpkin guts and cutting, here's what we came up with. Bryan's is on the left, mine's on the right. I think they both turned out pretty cool, but Bryan had cleaner cuts than me. :)

Of course now we are so proud of them that we're nervous to put 'em on the front porch for fear they'll end up pumpkin road kill... so for now they're in our kitchen. Perhaps tonight we'll debut our handywork to the neighborhood. :)


Saturday morning annoyance.

You know what makes me mad? I have a perfectly good newspaper box tucked conveniently under my mailbox, yet instead of sticking my newspaper in there on a rainy Saturday morning to protect it from the elements, my paper person slips it in a bag and throws it in my driveway. Where I find it soaking wet, INSIDE the bag. UGH! He/she just totally screwed up my breakfast/newspaper/coffee routine. Wonder if I should call and complain?


The Ark of Colonial Heights

Last night, my friend Erin posted a blog on her MySpace about building an ark so that she and her dear kitties didn't float away in the torrential rains beating down on Blacksburg. When I read it this morning, it reminded me of one of my favorite Tri-Cities area landmarks: The Ark.

If you grew up in Chester or in the Tri-Cities (Colonial Heights, Petersburg and Hopewell for those of you not in the know), you may have seen it. It's in Colonial Heights, on a side street off of Ellerslie Avenue. When I was about 8, my mom or dad (I can't remember which) drove me past it, and I've gone by to see it every couple years since then. It fascinates me.

This is no minor watercraft. It's a giant metal vessel, taller than the one-story house next to it, and longer too, I think. The story I was given is that the man was convinced that God was going to flood the earth again, in spite of all Biblical promises not to. So he built himself an ark. In his yard in Colonial Heights. And there it has set, for years.

I wonder if Mr. Ark is still alive. I wonder what his family will do with that thing once he is no longer around. For that matter, I wonder if it's still there... I did a google search to see if I could find a picture, but I guess not so many people are as fascinated by the ark as I am... I found nothing. I need to go by there and snap a picture for you people... it really is a sight to see!

Since I know some of you that read this blog were around back when Mr. Ark was building this sucker, I'd love to know if you know anything else about its story!


Really? Mac 'n' Cheese is that easy?

Last night, I decided to cook dinner even though I hadn't taken any meat out of the freezer to thaw. Since we've been gone so much on the weekends lately, I haven't had a lot of time to plan meals. I had picked out a few recipes, though, and figured some pork tenderloin chops would be easy to defrost in the trusty microwave and quick to cook. So main course, decided.

And for the sides? I had found a recipe for creamy stovetop macaroni and cheese that I thought I'd try. I really dig the mac 'n' cheese. Like, a lot. Occasionally I'll even cook up a box of Kraft mac 'n' cheese and eat just that for a meal. But I had never ventured into the world of homemade mac 'n' cheese.

I had NO IDEA it was so freaking EASY! And, people, it was SO GOOD. Bryan wasn't home from work yet when it was done, and I had to call him and tell him I was being forced to eat without him, because after a bite of this mac 'n' cheese I couldn't not eat it. And seriously, it did not take that much more work than your average blue box of the stuff.

It's so fun figuring out this grown up stuff. ;-) Oh, and the best part? It was from Cooking Light magazine, which means it's at least kinda healthy! Sweet!


San Diego.

My little sister and I just spent a weekend in San Diego in August, and we both love that city. In fact, we both came home with visions of sweet little homes in Coronado. So it's very sad to see that San Diego (and much of Southern California) is being engulfed in flames. One of my must-read blogs, Buttermilk & Molasses, pointed me to this Google map that shows just how pervasive the fires are right now. It's unbelievable. My heart goes out to all those being evacuated and losing their homes.

View Larger Map


This tri-lingual business is taxing.

This morning, like every Monday, I had my Spanish class. This is my third semester of a one hour a week conversational Spanish class. I've learned enough to catch 70% of what the Mexican twins say when I watch Heroes on Monday nights, but not enough to actually hold up my own end of a conversation in Spanish... I understand it better than I can originate it, if that makes sense.

So anyway, last week we were given the assignment of watching a movie in Spanish and then giving a 3-5 minute presentation about it in class today. That's all fine and dandy. I watched Pan's Labyrinth yesterday and wrote a few sentences to say about it last night.

I get to class today and finally it's my turn. At the last minute I realize I need to throw in some key facts I had left out--director, where it was made, etc.--and also I find that as I'm talking about it, there are a few other things I want to say. And do you know what happened? I couldn't find the words in Spanish, and instead of finding them in English to ask the teacher how to say what I wanted to say, I kept thinking in FRENCH! Every word I tried to find in my overloaded brain in Spanish I found in French. And it was annoying the living shit out of me. Pardon my English.


The 15-Minute Rule.

Holy crap, people, that 15 minute rule I started about 2 weeks ago? It has lasted, and it is WORKING!

To catch you up, I decided a couple weeks ago that I would start picking things up/organizing every day for 15 minutes, and cleaning every day for 15 minutes. That way I'm only giving up 30 minutes of relaxing after work, and at the same time I don't have to spend hours on the weekends cleaning. I have actually stuck to this with a few exceptions (on belly dancing nights, since I'm only home for an hour or so, I skip the cleaning, for example), and I decided that on Saturdays I would do each for 30 minutes. I've just finished the Saturday workload, and I'm feeling good! The house is clean, things are getting neater each day... it's amazing! There's still a long way to go, because Bryan and I have not been good at organizing since he bought this house at all, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

One of the things that has made this, dare I say, fun for me is using a kitchen timer. It's set for 15 minutes and I clip it onto myself and go at it. I am amazed how much you can actually accomplish in 15 minutes. On my second 15 minute cleaning stint today, I dusted the den, vacuumed the den, vacuumed the living room, vacuumed the dining room, cleaned the toilet and counter in one bathroom and dusted that bathroom's door. Had you asked me before timer how long all that would take, I would have said a good 30 minutes or more.

I know they say that it takes 6 weeks for something to become a habit, so that's my goal now. 6 weeks of a clean-becoming-cleaner house. Of course, if I keep this up, Bryan's NEVER going to buy into the idea of getting a housekeeper...


Me 'n' mayo don't get along.

Today for lunch, I followed my pal Krystyna's lead and got an egg salad sandwich from a cart on the street outside our building. Being a hospital and being downtown, there are lots of lunch carts around. This sandwich comes from one of the carts that doesn't typically have a very long line. I've only eaten there once before, but Krystyna adores their egg salad sandwiches, and so I finally decided to try one. Sounded good to me, and it tasted good too... egg salad, a couple slices of tomato and some fresh ciabatta bread. How can a girl go wrong?

The problem is, me and mayo don't get along so well. Every time I eat something like this, made with a lot of mayonnaise, I spend the next several hours feeling generally icky... occasionally like I'm gonna barf. And I know this. But for some reason I always think it's not going to happen that particular time. That I can't possibly REALLY not get along with mayo. That maybe last time was a fluke (and all the times before). Because let's be honest, stuff made with mayo tastes pretty good. And yet, every freaking time, I get the ickiness afterwards.

I guess you could say I'm a little embarassed I can't control my mayo eating impulse.


My worst nightmare.

At least she wasn't sitting down...

NYC Woman Finds Python in the Toilet

New York Woman Screams After Seeing 7-Foot Python Peeking Out From Her Toilet

The Associated Press


There was no Halloween bogeyman in the closet for one Brooklyn woman just a 7-foot-long python in her toilet. Nadege Brunacci was washing her hands in her bathroom before dawn Monday when she glanced back and saw the slithering serpent peeking out from her toilet, most of its body hidden in the pipes.

"I turned on the light and screamed," Brunacci, 38, told the New York Daily News. "It still makes my heart race."

Brunacci slammed down the lid, put a heavy box on top of the toilet and began calling for help, which came from her landlord and firefighters. Plumbers had to tear apart the downstairs neighbor's pipes to capture the snake, she said.

It's unclear how the snake made its way into the pipes.

Brunacci, a restaurateur, says she gave the snake to a friend who keeps it as a pet and named it after her.

Brunacci says she started using her daughter's training toilet after the scare in her third-floor apartment. And when she brushes her teeth, she said, "I'm looking over my shoulder."

Viva Knoxvegas!

Well, our trip to Tennessee was excellent. And now I've got 27 states marked off and Bryan's got 26... less than half to go! :)

On Friday we took our time heading out of town. The wedding wasn't until Saturday at 5pm, so I sort of thought we'd play it by ear on Friday... leave when we got around to it, stop when we got sick of driving, perhaps wander around one of those darling towns in the Southwestern part of the state that nary a Virginian sees. (I mean, seriously, how many native Virginians do you know who have ventured into that little tail part down there??)

What ended up happening was Bryan decided my car was in dire need of a bath and some serious cleanin', and I puttered around packing and picking up around the house until about 3:30 when we finally headed west. This late departure meant that there would be no daylight wandering in any town I'd never been to, but we did stop in cute Marion, VA and eat at a Macado's "downtown." Anytime you have to put "downtown" in quotes, you know it's tiny. Like, 3 blocks tiny. :) But it was nice... and I considered it a cultural experience. Amazing how different the accents are there from Richmond...

Since it was barely 10pm, we decided to keep going. We ended up saving $40 that night by staying in a Motel 6 about 40 miles outside of Knoxville. This hotel was clean, cheap, and right next to a Cracker Barrel, but it made me realize how spoiled I've become when it comes to hotels after 7+ years of business travel. I mean, they didn't even provide SHAMPOO! And just TWO pillows on the bed?! Oh, the squalor... ;-) Luckily the proximity to Cracker Barrel and my hungry husband provided me the rare opportunity to eat my beloved biscuits and gravy, and Saturday was off to a good start.

We headed into Knoxville, checked into the Marriott Downtown (which had EIGHT pillows on the bed, The Body Shop toiletries, and a down comforter!), and went exploring. Knoxville, or Knoxvegas, as I hear it's sometimes called, is a pretty town, right on the river (the Tennessee?? who knows. I should look at a map...). We wandered around a cute shopping area, drove through the "old city," and tried to go to the World's Fair Park. Unfortunately there was a giant brewery festival there, and we weren't interested in standing in a 3-block line and paying to go to something we'd only be at for an hour or so. So instead we went over to the University of Tennessee and walked around the campus. It's nice... but it's no UVA. Heck, it's not even as pretty as Penn State! :)

Then, the wedding. Stacy and Chris got married at a beautiful Civil War manor house, also situated on a hill above the river. The ceremony was beautiful, but not as beautiful as the bride. The reception was fun and I was so glad to see Stacy and Chris looking so happy and so in love. A few photos from the wedding:

On Sunday, we decided to stop in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg on the way home. These towns were a little ways off our direct route home, but only by about 30 minutes. Neither of us had ever been to either, so we figured we might as well take the opportunity. I had heard of both places and knew that they were tourist destinations in Tennessee. I've known about Pigeon Forge since I was little, because of Dollywood. I have no idea if my Pop and Grandma actually went there, but I remember either stuff about Dollywood or stuff from Dollywood in their house when I was little. I always pictured a quaint mountain town, driving through the forest and all of the sudden coming upon an amusement park. Gatlinburg I have heard mentioned, but know of mainly because my college roomie and her husband went there for their honeymoon and got a chalet for a week. Again, I pictured quaint little mountain town.

Holy crap, was I wrong.

Let's start with Pigeon Forge, which is a combination of the following:
  • Suburban sprawl main drag, such as Broad Street.
  • Virginia Beach (or any beach) Boardwalk
  • Las Vegas Strip
  • State Fair Midway
  • The Beltway around DC at rush hour.
Um, I had no idea you could cram so much STUFF in one stretch of highway! Not even highway, it was a road, really. But there was every type of store, every outlet, every restaurant, every show, every hotel, every theme of mini golf, every theme of go cart rental, every type of fair ride, even several "museums!" (I swear I saw a Hillbilly Museum.) I was in total sensory overload. WAY too much to process. And WOW can those people decorate. I have never seen so many dead cornstalks and pumpkins in my life! If nothing else, I certainly felt festive after driving through!

Finally, we made it through Pigeon Forge and started into the Great Smokey Mountains. Trees! Nature! This was what I was expecting. And a few miles later, Gatlinburg.

Yes, this is what we saw. Until we finally found somewhere to park and get out and actually walk around. Once we were out of the madness of traffic, we were actually able to enjoy this little town. Again, it wasn't what I expected, but I did at least feel like I could breathe in Gatlinburg. And it's beautiful there, surrounded by the Smokies.

We walked around for a bit and took a ride on the sky lift, which gave us a great view of the area.

After an essential stop at Auntie Mahalia's Candy Shop for fudge and chocolate covered pretzels, we headed home. We had a beautiful drive, and made it home by just after 10:00.