Saturday, December 11, 2010

In which I illustrate why I'm not blogging

Some blogs are brief and make high impact with few words and meaningful pictures.  Usually, my blogs are the opposite.  I'm a lousy photographer and I am wordy as hell, so a brief blog is a rare treat from me.

However, I thought I'd briefly share some photos to illustrate just how badly I've let my projects get out of hand.  That gives me an excuse to blog, which I need to do for my mental well-being, without taking too much time away from my aforementioned tasks.

 The first project is time sensitive.  A few friends and I are sewing stockings for a local charity that has a Christmas Shoppe (to be held later this week) for people in financial straits every year.  The mission will stuff the stockings; all we are doing is sewing.  But since I'm only a mediocre seamstress whose seams wouldn't pass inspection at the School for the Blind, this is a tall order for me:

This is the stack of 25 or so completed stockings.  I did not try to make them photogenic...this is just the finished pile.  Now have a look at the pile to be finished, ahem, today, if possible:

The photo makes it difficult to appreciate the size of this pile, but there may be somewhere on the order of 125 stockings, to be pinned and sewn.  It's sad to be a person who doesn't know their own limits (all together now:  "Poor Michele.")  And just to make sure that the psychological torture gets handed down to the next generation, have a look at Christmas Craft Central, formerly the dining room, where the girls and I are making some lovely gifts that will likely garner admiration for the remainder of 2010, until they end up in a drawer:


When you see all of this, you may think, "Well, she's finished with her shopping and wrapping and decorating, so why not do homemade crafts and sew for the less fortunate?"  But you would be dead wrong to think this.  Here is our tree:

Pretty, of course, but quite bare at the moment.  Gotta get on that.

Here are the Christmas presents I've bought:

hiding in the corner of my bedroom, unwrapped.  There are a few more scattered about, but I have a long way to go to be done with presents.

Then we have the Thanksgiving decorations that haven't managed to get put away.  They are waiting for the arrival of the empty Rubbermaid tubs, which I cannot find in all this mess!  I would have taken pictures of the boxes of Christmas decorations, but they are in the attic and that's just too much like work, so just use your imagination.

Would it surprise you to know that I've offered to host not one, but two, parties in this delightful mess of a house in the coming weeks?  Clearly, I need intense therapy.  Or a personal assistant.

I've rested my eyes long enough.  I've got to get back to the sewing machine and the messiest Christmas stockings ever.  Whichever misguided person originally espoused the idea that "homemade is better" should proceed directly to my house for some "ho-ho-hos" of rather uncharitable mirth - my craftiness is so bad, it's funny.  Then I will shoot that person, and blog about it from jail.

And to top it off, I still wasn't brief, was I?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter weather has arrived

The picture above may look familiar to folks who've looked in on my blog before - it's the view of the backyard from my screened porch.  For the blog banner I've used a photo with the branches still full green, then one featuring the beautiful fall foliage, another with bare limbs dusted by the first snow, and finally this shot, as the scene appeared on Sunday.  (I'm only getting around to finishing this on Tuesday.)

We are experiencing our first lake-effect snow event.  We may end up with 8" - 12" on the ground by Tuesday night.  Or not.  That's the thing with the snow that forms when a cold blast of air passes over Lake Michigan, which is still warm, relative to the air.  Depending on the prevailing winds, a lake-effect snowstorm can dump a foot on the folks down the road, while my neighborhood may only see a dusting.  These systems can be very compact and intense.  I could also add frequent, annoying and the biggest cause of boredom-eating, but I won't.

I'm glad the first pack snow got here, though.  Middle school ski club kicks off this week, and we want to get our money's worth from that activity.  Hopefully this year Camille won't feel the need to come home in an ambulance after attempting a black-diamond jump on her third ski trip ever!

The sights and sounds of the neighborhood change a bit after a good snow event.  The neighborhood kids start working on their snowmen and snow forts.  The squeals we hear in the distance most likely mean a snowball fight is in progress nearby.  We adults breathe a sigh of relief when we hear the rumble of the snowplow in the distance - driveable roads are imminent!  And just when the drone of lawnmowers is fading into memory, it's time to crank up the much louder snowblowers to clear our driveways.

My dogs like to go out and frolic in the white stuff, and visibility for things like squirrels and rabbits improves greatly on the all-white palette.  They always make a big show of eating snow, as if it is real food rather than frozen water.  They roll in the stuff and wait patiently for me to let them in so they can come inside and thoroughly shake off every drop of snow in the house.

My yard has two enormous evergreen trees, which look like giant Christmas trees in shape, but they are at least thirty feet in  height.  One sits on the front lawn near the road and should, by all rights, be decorated at Christmas.  But because we generally do the absolute minimum in holiday decorating, we've never strung the estimated two thousand feet of lights in the boughs of this fine specimen.  And this year will be no different.  But isn't it pretty anyway?

The snow has continued almost unabated since I took that picture Sunday.  The lake-effect snow warning just expired, but looking out my front door it appears that it's still coming down.  Earlier the scene out front looked like this:

There are patches of ice under that snow, making fast drivers the cause of my biggest neighborhood complaint.  Mary Kathleen walks her dog, Grant, a mile or more every day, even in this weather.  I'm always worried when she's out there, especially if she takes longer than usual.  But usually it's because Grant gets the scent of a chipmunk or rabbit nearby, and she has to struggle to keep him on track.  Sometimes she'll report a hawk or kestrel sighting, but of course her clueless bird dog has no interest in birds, just rodents and such.

I especially enjoy birdwatching in the winter.  The stark whiteness makes the small, distant perching birds easier to identify.  I have feeders several places in the yard, so that I can catch sight of visitors from different locations in the house.  However, the desk where I keep my laptop doesn't provide a good view of anything but a wall, unless I lean back and look to the right (out the patio doors) at a sunflower seed feeder that hangs from a pine tree beside the garage.  Next to it is also a thistle feeder for the goldfinches, but no birds have had a chance at that location, thanks to this gluttonous little acrobat:

This squirrel spent the better part of three hours upside-down today, gorging on some frozen black oil sunflower seed.  I daresay if he's back tomorrow he'll have a little seed-paunch bulging out on his exposed belly (and a killer headache).  He looks like he's feeling a little guilty here: "Sorry, lady, I'm almost done here.  I skipped breakfast and all I had for lunch was two acorns and a Diet Coke - I'm starving!"  

Now folks, I love to eat as much as anyone I know, but I can honestly say I've never hung upside down on a 20 degree day with snow falling just to get a snack.  I've had a few margaritas in that position, but I was thankfully indoors and didn't have to climb up or down any trees to get home.  That is to say, my opinion of the show this little squirrel put on today is positive, but only just.  I mean, he's at the mercy of his little survival instinct, chomping on something I'd never eat unsalted, pausing only to mimic his poor mammalian cousin, the possum, when the snap of a twig under my foot told him it was time to freeze in place.  "Smile, rodent!  Your three hour seed binge is going to be featured in a blog!"

There are several months of this kind of entertainment to look forward to in these parts.  By February, many of us will be going stir-crazy and start looking for green shoots in the garden, six weeks too early.  South Bend winters are usually long and harsh, and the beauty and charm of the "Winter Wonderland" look wears off pretty soon after ringing in the new year.  In all likelihood, this will be my only entry praising the glorious white blanket all around me.  

But for now, it really is a pretty sight.  Especially this parting shot:

Let it snow!

Coming soon:  more confusion about electronics, stacks that seem to grow overnight, why this blabbermouth loves quiet, recycling madness and my favorite appliances.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Today's Rants: My (Long) Short List

Since this is destined to be one of my busiest days in a life full of impossibly busy days, I thought I'd take a break first and clear my head with more coffee while I type out a brain dump.  I have a lot on my mind today.

I'm disturbed that I'm not more motivated to decorate for Christmas.  My neighborhood is already a twinkly feast for the eyes.  My front door looks so stark and fallish, with my pitiful turning-leaves wreath that I just put up last week.  I'm sticking to my guns, though, and waiting until sometime next week to fold to the peer pressure and drag out the red and green.

I'm concerned that my heretofore roomy jeans have become very snug.  It's clearly a problem with my outdated laundry appliances.  My washer opens from the top, for Pete's sake!  Plus I've been told there is a connection between old dryers and sudden shrinkage.  I'd better not complain too loudly, or I may get appliances instead of diamonds and spa treatments for Christmas. 

I'm bothered by the fact that, despite my sincerest intentions, there are still random unfinished projects scattered all over the house.  Since Eric's been gone the last two nights, I thought it only sensible to drag a few piles and boxes of stuff into the family room (and dining room) (and living room), so that I'd have the necessary visual cues to help me remember to work on them.  So far I've started five projects and completed one, which leaves three untouched.  Even I must admit the "visual cues" system is not working anymore.  The lure of online Christmas shopping, the occasional Scramble challenge and therapeutic blogging means I'm spending most of my time with my back to the piles and boxes.  Clearly it is time to hire a personal assistant.

I'm relieved that the House Republicans are finally earning their reputation of logjammers who say "NO!"  Hey, Congress: get the current tax rates extended, deal with the question of unemployment benefits and insist on tabling all but the most critical spending bills until the new congress convenes.  Our currency is nearing collapse, inflation in consumer goods is getting downright scary and I can't find one single piece of news that points to stabilization.  So forget about a new, improved START treaty, "don't ask, don't tell," and the 2012 elections for the moment.  Congress, do your @^#$%*& job!

Okay, I'm feeling much better now.  And I'm about to take my very own excellent advice and do my jobs here at home.  Because I'm once again putting a moratorium on further blogging until I complete these tasks - the critical ones, at least.  And I'm working on a timely and meaningful holiday blog about how to tell the difference between small electronic devices without showing my ignorance.  It will be helpful to anyone out there who, like me, has tried to answer a phonecall on the remote.

See y'all when the piles are gone.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Birthday, some Moronic Movie references, and Beautiful Music

Eric celebrated his birthday last week.  I forgot to ask his permission to write about it, so I'd better not mention his age (32).

I use the term "celebrated" rather loosely, because we were crazy-busy from 7am until after 9pm on his actual birthday, owing to before- and after-school activities for both girls that day.

In my typical sentimental fashion, I was hurriedly signing a sarcastic birthday card when he came downstairs that morning.  I've forgotten his birthday too many times to count, so I was actually ahead of the game to even have a card.  We decided to save the presents for the one hour break when we'd all be home together, between work and the concert we were scheduled to attend that evening.  I prepared a nice supper (I forgot just now what I made, but I'm sure it was excellent) and we all caught our breath for a few minutes around the dinner table.

Now you may be wondering about a birthday cake.  I usually do some sort of cake, but since Eric's birthday is so near Thanksgiving, we sometimes substitute his favorite dessert (cheesecake) for a birthday cake.  But this year, in the interest of breaking our tradition of gaining 5 pounds per person per day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I came up with a different treat that I wanted to try in advance of making a batch for Christmas.

On a cookie sheet, I arranged three dozen pretzel rings, and set a piece of candy inside the circle.  I used Rolos, his favorite candy, as well as miniature Reese's cups, The One True Food of the Gods.  Both candies displayed odd and inconsistent melting tendencies, yielding decidedly unphotogenic treats - plus I just plum forgot to take a picture.  So clearly, more experimentation is needed to perfect my culinary creation, which I actually copied from a book club hostess, but intend to make uniquely my own somehow.  Regrettably, as ugly as those little treats turned out, they were tasty enough to ensure that we are on still target for packing on the pounds with no difficulty.

So, no cake, but great presents this year.  I've already mentioned my fatal flaw - I am horrible at choosing presents.  I'm proud of 2 or 3 unique gifts I've come up with in our marriage, which means I'm heartily ashamed of several others; I usually stick to clothes, and keep the awkward reactions to a minimum.  But the girls both hit home runs this year in their gift choices.

A little background:  Eric and the girls have become devoted fans of a cartoon series called "Avatar - The Last Airbender" (Nickelodeon - consult your local listings). They seem to watch it all the time since they DVR about 50 episodes per week.   It's a good show, but I'm definitely not in the fan club with these three.  They have major intellectual discussions about character development, moral conflicts, adolescent angst, family loyalty versus tribal loyalty, and how far an earthbender can throw a 500 pound chunk of granite; you know, important stuff.  So our elder daughter, Mary Kathleen, gave him the four-dvd set of the first season:

Yes, my husband got cartoons for his 64th birthday.  And he was thrilled!  Go to for the best price on the set, unless you are buying the theatrical live-action movie version, in which case Target has a $10 gift cards if you buy the cartoons as well.

Did anyone notice that I added some links?  Do you think those multi-national corporations might want to advertise on my blog now?


Daughter number two shares an affinity with her father for totally absurd movies.  Recently, against my protestations, Eric convinced my baby girlchild to watch "Dragnet."  Not only not great cinema, but truly lame crap. These two have watched "The Blues Brothers" at least 10 times that I know of, and who knows how many more times when I wasn't around?  It wouldn't be so bad if they just skip to the scenes with Aretha or Ray, but they watch every minute!  And I'm not proud of this fact, but both daughters can quote almost the entire movie verbatim.  In fact, often we'll be sitting at the dinner table, and for no apparent reason the three of them will launch into the speech that precedes the big car chase scene (Elwood: "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses." Jake: "Hit it.")  Cue hysterical laughter - buzzkill mother shrugs, rolls her eyes in disbelief - how can her family be so smart, yet so silly? 

And while I'm on a politely raving roll:  God help Eric if he ever tries to introduce the girls to the cinematic works of Pauly Shore or Chris Farley - he'd go straight from the La-Z-Boy to divorce court, begging for visiting rights to see the dogs!  I'm reasonable.  I like funny movies, I like slapstick and silly and naughty and offbeat and profane and subversive - but I really hate DUMB STUPID movies.  Fortunately Eric likes FUNNY STUPID movies.  Let's hope he keeps it that way.

I don't want to make it sound as if only Camille shares his passion for these dopey films.  Mary Kathleen joins them in repeat viewing of "Blazing Saddles," "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "Young Frankenstein," "Groundhog Day," "The Simpsons Movie," and many other silly titles that most sane people can watch once or twice in a lifetime and meet their quota.  But I think their all-time favorite stupid movie, based on the sheer number of pointless references they drop, is "Airplane!"

So back to the original subject:  Camille found this birthday gift and looked no further: 

For my money, no one compares to Wireless for funny t-shirts.

And considering the recent passing of that great thespian, Leslie Nielsen, aka Dr. Rumack, I think it was a very timely choice.

It appears Eric liked the safe and boring plaid flannel shirt and cargo pants I chose, since he wore them the whole darn weekend.   But the real hit, as usual, were the homemade cards from the girls:

On your left, Jake and Elwood share birthday wishes on Camille's  card.  On your right is Mary Kathleen's artistic rendition of how Eric would look if he was an earthbending cat (for those of us who have always wondered about that).  I think these were his favorite presents of all, if you want to know the truth.

After dinner and presents were done, we went to hear Penn High School's winter orchestra concert.  Mary Kathleen plays cello in the Pre-Advanced orchestra, which performed beautifully.  The Intermediate orchestra and the Advanced symphonic orchestra were very good as well, but Mary's group played the most interesting selection of pieces.  It was a wonderful way to end the day, particularly since they always close the winter concert with "Sleigh Ride," which kicks off the Eating Season with a brisk, calorie-burning toe workout.

Here's MK and her fellow celloist (and Blue Lake Fine Arts camper) Anna, after the concert:

Did I mention? - I love to hear my daughter play her cello.  Although she didn't like the cello very well when she started, the instrument has grown on her over the years, and to me, it seems to fit her.  But her first love is art.  Another day I'll feature some pictures of Mary Kathleen's drawings.  She is quite the gifted artist - very creative and bubbling over with ideas and initiative. 

Kind of like me, except for the initiative.

But I'm so creative I've actually written a blog containing pictures and hyperlinks!  I had  really better get busy looking for an agent, before Amazon and Target come calling.