Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day 2011

My Kids on Christmas Morning
So all I can say is, thank God for Skype! This was my first year to not have all three kids here for Christmas morning.  Skype was the next best thing! Michael was able to be with us while we opened presents - including opening his for him right there on the video camera. The mail in Nicaragua is too unpredictable, so we couldn't send him anything. And presents that have any value at all never make it through. So we just opened his presents here: Pulp Fiction, 50 Funniest American Writers by Andy Borowitz, Kindle books that can be read online, and a subscription to Audible Books. So even though Michael is staying with a family that doesn't celebrate Christmas, he could still be part of ours.

If you read about Christmas Eve, you'd know I was up a little late with the wrapping. I was SOO sleepy when Alyssa tiptoed in to say, "Merry Christmas" at 8 a.m. Josh had started coffee downstairs, Katie was dozing on the couch, Grandma had already packed up her bedding from the couch, and Ron was up feeding the dogs. Hard to believe that *I* was the last one up this year!

So we all went to My Little Room with the Fireplace and the Tree.  We pulled up Skype and Michael got on. He chatted and watched. We opened presents for an hour. Everyone was happy.

I hadn't made any Special Christmas Breakfast this year. I need to manage my time a little better next year. I like having the Cookie Exchange the day before Christmas Eve, because we have so many cookies for the actually Holiday.  But it threw me off as far as prep for our Christmas.   Of course, as I type that, I'm pondering the idea of going to Nicaragua for some of the Christmas holidays next year.  Then I can bring stuff to Michael that he might like to have. We'll see.

I evidently didn't have the stabilizer on with the   camera, so our Christmas photos are a little blurry. But here's our Christmas Morning! 

After we ate, Josh and Alyssa went to his family's house for Christmas Lunch and gift-giving. Katie hung out with her boyfriend, Michael and I continued to Skype, helping him figure out how to set up his Kindle books online and audible books.

I had a lovely afternoon of reading my gardening/landscaping magazines - one of my traditional - and favorite Christmas gifts! When we don't have a lot of family over, it's nice to be able to curl up in my little front room with my fireplace and dream of beautiful gardens and future projects.  I even managed to squeeze in a delicious little nap!

Ron's brother Scott, and his wife Pam came by after they ate with family in Georgetown. About that time, Katie and Trenton, Josh and Alyssa all came back here for the evening.

Our Christmas was DEFINITELY different this year. I certainly don't enjoy having Michael so far away for such a family holiday. But I pulled off Christmas Day with no tears. (I got a little teary about it at the Christmas Eve church service, but that was it.)

And, who knows! Maybe next year we'll take a big family trip to Nicaragua!!

Christmas Eve

A rainy Christmas Eve for 2011. I think the temps dropped to the lower 40's in the daytime. Ron ran out to get a little heater for my greenhouse.

Because the Cookie Exchange was yesterday, we had plenty of great treats to munch on all day long.  Alyssa and Josh went to visit his Grandma, Katie wrote stories and watched recorded Supernatural episodes.  The kids picked up Grandma on the way home, as she and Pepper are spending the night tonight.

I talked with Michael for a little bit on the phone. He's a little bored in his new location. Also, his family isn't celebrating Christmas, so it's a bit of a let down.  Partially, it's because they're so poor. When you grow your own food and wash dishes in a tub of water from outside because you have no electricity for a pump, life is just plain hard. He told me how they have to stay on watch when they hang out laundry; they have to stay ready for the rain, so they can run out and take it all down quickly, then rehang it all when the rain stops. So, life is very tiring. And they will probably REST on Christmas. But the other reason is because they are not Catholic, they are Evangelicals. They believe that the hoopla surrounding Christmas festivities is pagan. So they do not participate. The town had a big procession for the Virgin Mary when he first got there. The family locked up their house and closed the curtains. Michael was just trying to fit in with them, so he stayed there. If he had known that the Virgin Mary procession was going to be the highlight of December, he might have gone out to soak it all in! We plan to Skype with him in the morning....hopefully it will not make him homesick.

Katie, Alyssa, Josh and I all went to the Christmas Eve service at Gateway today. As Josh put it, it was a bit over the top! They did a performance of the Birth of Jesus.  They tried to modernize it, referring to Mary's husband as Joe, entertaining us with some fantastic breakdancing angels, filming it locally giving it a very "Austin" spin, - snow even shot out from the ceiling at several spots in the performance! I'm glad we's at the Gateway website tomorrow at 11 a.m. Here's a clip of it.

Once Upon a Christmas from Gateway Church on Vimeo.

Then we came home to a huge crab feast with spiral cut ham and roasted potatoes. It was so yummy we forgot to pull out the tamales Ron brought home from work. So that's on the menu for tomorrow.

Afterwards, Ron and Josh did the dishes and we started up the Patterson Annual Tradition: Watching Christmas Vacation.  Grandma laughed so hard at the different pieces of the show which was really funny in  itself!  I guess forgetfulness has it's advantages!

Then all my shopping that had piled up in the corner of my bedroom needed wrapping. I'd so prefer to just sit around and chat with everyone. So I wrapped a little, and chatted a little...which led to my not finishing the wrapping and stocking stuffing until 3 a.m.!!! Luckily for me, Josh stayed up to help me run packages up and down the stairs. Then when 1 a.m. rolled around, he started wrapping too! He was shocked at how our Christmas presents just spill out into the room. I think he'd prefer a more organized Christmas that sticks to a budget - which I cannot even fathom!  Gosh, I need more self-discipline!

So Granda is literally asleep in her kerchief, the dogs are snoozing (yes, Buddy is staying with us),  the "children" are dreaming of their own version of sugarplums,  and I'm wrapping this up and calling it a night!

Merry Christmas to All....and to All a Goodnight!

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Cookie Exchanges

The Annual Cookie Exchange! Truthfully, it's not that annual. I missed last year. There was simply too much family drama for me to focus on doing the "extras."  So in spite of a few date changes, we were able to get friends together for the "Annual" Cookie Exchange.

For those who don't know about Cookie Exchanges...typically you bake a pre-determined number of all the same cookie. So if you're decorating snowflake cookies, you bake X dozen of them and bring them to the exchange. What will happen is that you will share your cookies and then come back home with the same NUMBER of cookies; but you will have a variety of cookies, taking some from each of the other guests' batches of cookies.

And that's where the similarities end!  Every Cookie Exchange is different.  Whoever hosts the party can you a wide variety of methods for how the cookies are dispersed. Sometimes the party has themes or activities. You just never know!

I do our Cookie Exchange differently each time. My first Cookie Exchange was in California. It was HUGE. I think 30 people were there - maybe more! She had everyone put their 5-6 dozen cookies on trays all around her the walls of her living room. We milled around looking at the different cookies, picking up recipe cards if the baker had provided them. The hostess  was a minimalist decorator, so this wasn't nearly the problem it would be at my house. I am not minimalist. I am clutterful. Anyway, having never been before, I didn't realize I needed an *additional* carrier for the  cookies I was about to bring home.  We improvised something, I don't recall now.  She had us all draw numbers to determine where we would be in line.  Then she had this very complicated formula to determine how many cookies each person would pick up. The line would pass through a couple of times, each person picking up 2 of each, then 6 of their favorite, then the line would reverse. This kept the front of the line getting all the beautiful cookies, and the back of the line getting only the broken ones. I liked how it ended up, but I don't think I could ever do the formula. Maybe a mathy friend can give me some advice?? At this Cookie Exchange, people seemed to leave soon after the cookies were obtained.

When I moved to Wichita Falls, I went to a completely DIFFERENT kind of Cookie Exchange. The hostess cooked lots of wonderful food for the guests to snack on while they visited. Each year, about 13 people would attend. She'd let us know at the last minute, how many people were attending and that was how many dozen cookies we needed to bring. We were instructed to package our cookies or bread or whatever we baked in bags/containers with a dozen in each. She kept the large bags at the door and we were to put one package in each person's clearly marked bag when we arrived. After everyone arrived, we told about our baking experience. Each person shared their story of smoke alarms, wasted batches of cookies, family members sneaking cookies, as well as why they chose that cookie or if it was a special family recipe. It was funny to hear what everyone had gone through to get the 13 dozen cookies there! Same amount of time as the California party, but more about sharing with friends.

I decided I really liked the idea of Cookie Exchanges. But my Bunco group had never heard of them. The way Bunco works, is that everyone takes turn hosting the game each month. Since it takes 12 people to play, everyone just grabs a month to host. So I decided I would choose December, and turn my Bunco party into a Cookie Exchange. We knew for sure that we had 12 people, so the numbers didn't fluctuate. One year, we made a dozen to share with each person, and another year we halved that. Making 6 dozen and then everyone taking home six of each kind was a much easier way to do this. This was a group of Girl Scout leaders who, most of them, worked outside the home. They were baking late into the night and that was just too stressful!

So, then, when I moved here, I invited friends to the Cookie Exchange. Each time, I did it a little differently. I discovered Robin Olson's Cookie Exchange website that was FULL of great ideas. I got a little carried away and tried to do prizes for things like "Most Christmas-y Outfit", party games, and sharing info about the cookies each person baked. I liked the idea of hanging out with friends more, but they were often groups of people that didn't really know each other. The prizes and the games were a bust. ha!

This year, I baked my Ham Cheesecake (very yummy), and a few other appetizer type foods. I had everyone bring a dozen cookies to share at the party, and asked them to package up a dozen for each participant to take home. We had 8 bakers. Extra people came just to come to the party, but didn't bake. It was MUCH more relaxing. At first, we had date conflicts.  Early in December, Christmas seemed too far away.  Mid-December was full of people attending other parties, or me not being able to get my Christmas decor all up! Just when I was about to put up my white flag for this year's Cookie Exchange, my friend suggested we do it on Friday before Christmas Eve.  Maybe even in the afternoon, so people wouldn't have party conflicts. AND, this allowed everyone to have quite a variety of cookies ON Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

And that's what we decided to do.

I finally got all my Christmas decorating done. Boxes were moved to the garage. We did a mad cleaning the day before. Cookies were baked and packaged. Candles lit. Voila!  A party!

The only glitch that I have with this method of cookie dispersing, is that my numbers fluctuate. I'm not a firm RSVP taker, and I think that's what it takes. But I want whoever wants to come, to come! It's as much about the friends as it is about the cookies, for me. So when the numbers were off, I was quickly opening people's packages of cookies, pulling a few from each and creating new packets for the last RSVPers. I probably did the math wrong, but everyone who brought something to share, went home with a variety of cookies!

The other problem I have is that as we got closer to Christmas, I felt like I needed to have the number of participants be small, so I wasn't asking people to make 13 dozen! There were quite a few people I would have liked to invite, but time got away from me as well.

So here are the lessons I've learned for next year. I'm putting it here as much to share as to remind me next year, when I think, "Now, what was I thinking would be a good idea for this year?"
  • Keep the Eve of The Eve date. 
  • Keep the afternoon idea.
  • Send out invitations earlier in the month. Evites are still good.
  • Invite as many people as I want, without concern about # of dozen or pre-packaging
  • No pre-packaged cookies from the baker. 
  • Baker bakes 7 dozen cookies to share, and 1 dozen for the party to munch on
  • Use the California approach and put the cookies on platters around the room and have people select a certain number
  • Maybe have the cookies on tables upstairs around the room
  • Between now and then, figure out a formula for how to make this work (Suggestions?)
  • We'll munch on food and sample cookies for a while, then fill our platters with cookies to take home

    So that's the plan for 2012!

    Now...which cookie will I have for mid-morning snack?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cool Video: One Thing

What if every day, everyone just did ONE thing. One thing unexpected. One thing to make someone else's day easier.

What if this became a habit?

Monday, December 19, 2011

When the Leaves Finally Fall

 I know the calendar says it should be Winter, but here in Central Texas, it's just now Fall. You may be braving blizzards and shoveling snow, but here on my back porch, this is what Autumn looks like.

There's a chill in the air, but it's still comfortable to sit out on the deck.  My "big" tree in the backyard is usually the last to lose its leaves. A big wind knocked half the bright yellow leaves onto the patio.  Last year, the red berries looked so beautiful contrasting with those yellow leaves.  But the birds seem to have taken care of the berries this year.

The dogs and I sit here watching the birds descend on the bird feeders. Then, something startles them and there's a WHOOOSH of birds doing a quick relocation to the bamboo in the back.
It's a little shocking how many birds you can have in such a small yard. But my bird feeders stay full and the sparrows of the neighborhood know it. I think I have the fattest birds in town.

I like the peacefulness of my deck in the Fall.  The smell of gingerbread in the oven. The leaves falling as I type. Dogs quiet and calm, just taking it all in.

I like mornings like this.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Upping the Exercise

This Fall, I became painfully aware of how my body is getting weary. I've tried to increase my exercise, but it comes in spurts.

First, I joined the gym - went to water aerobics 4 x/week, met with a trainer, recorded my food.  My blood pressure got a little wonky, so that was my excuse to cut back a little. I didn't really want to pay for the trainer anyway, and she wasn't crazy about my then-mostly-vegan diet. Temperatures started dropping, so running in and out wet from water aerobics lost its appeal. Thanksgiving came, and then that plan shriveled up to nothing.

After Thanksgiving, I needed to see a cardiologist for some arrhythmias I was having.  We set up a cardiac ultrasound and a Holter Monitor.  Of course, no flutters while I was wearing the contraption.  My friend Helen compared us to old classic cars, things starting to wear out and break down, needing a little tinkering here and there to keep running smoothly... But still loved and appreciated, nonetheless!

 I got new meds for blood pressure, meds for high cholesterol, and encouragement to keep taking my Metformin (for this pre-diabetic phase I'm in.) I am 100% certain that if I could figure out a way to drop some weight, I'd drop all these meds too.  So my quest to find exercise I actually enjoy doing continues.  Some friends who are trainers told me that you really have to enjoy the activity - not the results or that it's over. But actually like it. In my head, all I could think of was that the physical activity I ENJOY is sitting around. Not going to burn many calories that way!

I've been to the Nia Dance class a few times. I like it, but it really isn't convenient. I'll continue to go, but I can tell it's not going to be my regular plan.

Each Sunday for the last month, I've gone wth Josh and Alyssa and the 3 dogs on a hike through the trails at Walnut Creek. Sometimes Ron joins us, last time Katie hiked, but always the 3 of us and the 3 dogs. Hank and Buddy get to be off leash and they love it. Gracie is getting used to being around other dogs and other people. She's what we call "socially awkward." But she's getting better. I like walking the trails. I work up a sweat, so I guess I'm burning calories.

According Josh, I'm going to be his "Fitness Project." With a firefighter's work schedule, he is off 3-4 days per week. His plan is that I'll walk the lake for a mile, while he runs the entire path (3 miles); and then we'll trek over to the 24 hour Fitness gym for a workout. I'm a little uncomfortable because he keeps talking about other fire fighters that are going to join us. Oh, great. More witnesses.

But maybe it's what I need to do. So I'll make the effort. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dogs! Dogs! DOGS!

Alyssa, the Dog Person of our Family

I'm not really a dog person. You wouldn't know that though if you came to my house. You would be accosted greeted by three rambunctious dogs. They will act as if they haven't had any attention in years! And, if you think simply patting them on the head will get them to move along to something or someone else, you're wrong.  They will climb on you, lick you, bark and circle around you. Maybe that's why I'm not a dog person.

I'm a gardener. And these dogs LOVE my garden. They bring me stems of plants that I've been nurturing, as if I'm going to throw it as a stick for them to chase. They jump into my garden and lay on the warm earth and the plants as well. I raised the beds, put chicken wire around each bed. And while that might have deterred two of them, Gracie can jump like Tigger - straight up in the air and then leaps forward. No chicken wire stops her.  Another reason I'm not really a dog person.

No matter how cute a puppy is, they GROW UP! They need a lot of attention - and they'll get it from you whether you intended to give it or not. When Hank was a puppy, he would run out the front door at lightening speed, cross the street to the park, and race up and down the fence line with dogs that barked on the other side of the fence. One time, Michael was chasing him back home and he ran INTO someone's house - their front door was left open. Michael was about 12 and he just ran in after her. The people were sitting on their couch and looked at him. Panting, Michael told them he was after his dog! They pointed to the kitchen and Michael made the loop in this stranger's house, chasing Hank back out and all the way home.

Buddy with his Christmas bandana 
Buddy had a couple of annoying puppy habits. He would search out all girls' underwear in the house and eat the crotch off. I know. Disgusting. We would find him digging through laundry hampers, dragging them maniacally under the bed.  Luckily, that habit seems to have subsided. He's a little intimidated by Gracie and still poops in the house. She lays by the door, and he just can't bring himself to pass by her. So we often find little "gifts" at the front door, in the bathroom, or in the closet.  Now, Buddy's not a puppy anymore, so I don't know why we can't get past this. I may simply have to try my friend Allison's leash technique - keep him tied to me and then I take him out after eating or every 30 minutes or some insanely dog-focused thing. Did I mention that I'm not a dog person? We only have Buddy because my mom, who thought she wanted two dogs to keep each other company couldn't take care of him AND Pepper, so Buddy came to us.  Sigh.

Gracie, about to lunge at me for the camera!
Glancing down at the coffee table in my little front room, I see that it has been gnawed by...someone. Great. :/  There's still a little fake snow on the floor from when Gracie attacked a big bag of it the other day. She is a Husky, so I find some amusement in the fact that she went for the "snow." I really wish there was a way to hook Gracie up to a ground sled, like they do in off-season Alaska mushing practice. She would love it so much. She just wants to PULLLLL!

Gracie did not share Buddy's underwear obsession. Instead, she liked the insoles of shoes. She would even pull out the fake cushiony Dr. Scholl inserts to get at the REAL insole of the shoe. No shoe is safe. And, when I was told that Huskies do not shed...well, that's simply untrue. My floor looks like tumbleweeds are blowing past. What a mess. And there was the time that Gracie chewed the keys off a open laptop. Just on one side. Luckily, I took typing so I knew where the keys were without the plastic symbol pads. I really should get a picture of that for you! ha!

So this has been our week at the vet. We seem to do it like that...waiting, ignoring cute little reminder cards, then finally we simply have to get in there. The dogs needed baths from our hike this weekend, but especially they needed nail trims. The clicking of claws on the wooden floor sounds like tap dancers - it was driving me nuts! I'm good with most things, but finding that little vein on their nail and not cutting it _ I just can't seem to make myself do that.  So yesterday was Hanks "Bath Package." Not sure what things cost where you live, but here, that's $45. Nails, ears, anal glands, bath and blow dry.  But Buddy's shots were out of date, so we did his annual appointment. Vaccines, heart worm meds for all three, bath package for Buddy and nail trim for Gracie...$255 later - YIKES!  Oh! And because Buddy's a little dog, he evidently is prone to tooth plaque/tartar buildup. They sent home an estimate for dental work - a cleaning, but under sedation - $250 more!  Ummm...Ron doesn't even GO to the dentist. Buddy's teeth will have to wait. At least not 2 weeks before Christmas!  Another reason I'm not a dog person - they're expensive! But they did get some cute Christmas bandanas. The vet techs were very sweet and had all kinds of cute loving comments to tell me about the dogs. They were shocked to get Christmas tips, but they had so clearly enjoyed the dogs and the dogs looked and smelled great! Finally.

Buddy and Hank were found to be on the overweight side....yes, they called them "obese." They have had free range feeding and I'm afraid that's going to have to change. What has been available all day long, is now going to be only available for 30 minutes in the morning and then again in the evening. And, if they just have to eat more, the vet recommends green beans! Yay! something can be done with the leftovers no one ever goes back for.  Although, I found some doggy treat recipes I might try as part of my Cookie Challenge... even though I'm not a dog person.

I'm still a little sad that we don't have Tasha anymore. She was our Great Pyrenees/Anatolian mix from the ranch. Our little suburban postage stamp of a yard was simply not going to suffice for her.  I am so incredibly fortunate to have my friend Laura who is VERY MUCH a Dog Person... and she has acreage in Wimberley. She offered to take Tasha and love her and bring her into their family. We've been out to see her and she is so happy there. Still, I miss her.

Tasha in the Living Room with Alyssa and Katie
Allison's Cambria "riding" Tasha

So I'm finishing this blog post this morning. Rain is coming down and Hank's on the floor by my bed. He hates thunderstorms. He just freezes in fear, so he stays by me. Buddy always sleeps with me, so he's here. And now that Alyssa has left for class, Gracie is jumping on the bed, burrowing her head under the covers trying to get me to play with her. Who is going to tell these dogs that I am not a dog person??

OK, Hank looks pretty cute here

Monday, December 12, 2011

T'is the Season - For my Cookie Challenge!

 I know. I should be focusing on exercising more, counting calories, lowering carbs. But not this month!
I've decided to set a challenge for myself: Bake a Holiday dessert each day. Not gigantic batches. Just enough to try them out and see how they are.  In years past, I'd host my Cookie exchange,  trying out new recipes on my party-goers. Some were great, some were flops. But it was a stressful way to do it! Since I put out my Cookie Exchange date so late in the season,  I've had too many RSVP's saying they can't come; I'm canceling for this year. Instead, I'm going to treat my family to their own assortment of cookies over the holidays. (I might host a last minute cookie exchange the night before Christmas Eve, but I think I'm just going to see how things go.)

Day 1: Bourbon Balls

First up, Bourbon Balls! Normally I start with my grandmother's favorite, Rum Balls.  She used to limit us to 2 Rum balls. I always thought it was just her way of rationing out desserts; but since the alcohol isn't cooked out of these tasty morsels, perhaps Mimi knew best!   For some reason I ran across this recipe with bourbon instead. And since Michael stocked the house before he left this summer with an excessive amount of various liquors, I have enough to make both!

Next, I wanted to make a cookie that kept showing up in my email as one of "The Best Cookie Exchange Cookies: Chocolate Crinkle Cookies." Bakers sometimes made them with Chocolate and sometimes with Chocolate and Peppermint. So I decided to make both. I simply halved the dough and put the peppermint in the second half only. I'm not sure what went wrong. The cookies were supposed to be more rounded in shape, like these on the right.
Mine were not. They taste great but they aren't shaped like I thought they would be. If any bakers have ideas as to why this might have happened, let me know!
Why so thin & spread out?
Day 2: Chocolate Crinkle Cookies 
Next I moved to gingerbread cookies. Using cookie cutters are much more fun with kids than they are when you do it by yourself. So I decided to forgo the frosting decoration for the same reason. Instead, I just sprinkled the cookies with Turbinado sugar. I'll pull out the cookie cutters and colored frostings again when Katie gets home from NYC and Alyssa has a day off from school.
These were still really tasty!
Day 3: Gingerbread Cookies

 Tomorrow....Carrie Pilon's Famous Faux Toffee! Thanks to Diane for saving the recipe all these years!

Want to join me on my Cookie Challenge? Bake some holiday goodie every day from now until ...whenever you want to stop - Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa! Then post a picture on your blog or Facebook page, so we can see what you made!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pinning Away!

Every blog I've read that talks about Pinterest, shares that the blogger doesn't need another time sucker at the computer.  Yet, there they are, inviting people to join them on Pinterest.

I, on the other hand, make no bones about my procrastination tendencies. It seems that I should simply share my tools with you. Pinterest is one of them.

For those who don't know, Pinterest is actually brilliant! My mind really starts to spin when I think of all the applications for it. Simply put, it's a visual bulletin board of all of your online bookmarks.  That alone will help so many of us who click "Bookmark this page" and seldom get back to that long list of treasures. Now, the more visual among us can glance at our "bulletin boards" and get a visual nudge toward what we thought was interesting that late night we were cruising the net for Christmas cookies, or home decor, or creative inspiration.  The added bonus is that you can "Follow" someone and see what THEY found on various topics. Soon, you'll know who shares similar tastes and you can can subscribe to one or all of their bulletin boards. It's a sharing opportunity that takes no time at all.  And you can look at other people's

Here's a screenshot of my Pinterest page. I have a bunch  of different bulletin boards which are basically categories for stuff I've found on the internet.

I think it's really interesting how quickly Pinterest is taking hold. I see the little red Pinterest logo popping up all over the place.  They make it so easy to add their "Pin It" to our navigational bar, and then when you just stumble across something interesting, you can Pin It to the bulletin board.
For some reason, when I first started using Pinterest, it reminded me of when my teens had Myspace. They'd upload banners and graphics to their pages. Sometimes it was some saying, other times a picture.  And even with early Facebook days, we could share buttons with each other just for fun. All of this showed us heading in this very visual direction.  The best graphics or icons were very eye-catching, and so is Pinterest.

If I had had this while we were homeschooling the kids, it would have made it so easy to organize what interested each of them. I could put fabulous pictures up they could check out; if they were intrigued, they could explore some more.  I used to send them links in emails, but if I had something more visual, I think they would have liked it better.  I hope homeschoolers will take Pinterest and figure out great things to use it for!

I like it also for speed of use. I may not have time to look more into a website, but I don't want to discard it yet. Pinterest allows me to set it into a themed board, and get back to it when I have the time. In the old days, I would have probably just let it go, so as not to clutter up my messy bookmarks even further. 

The only drawback I  see is that the process for getting started is just a little bit tedious. You have to receive an invitation. I can send one to you, as a Pinterest member, and it just takes a day to get it confirmed. Let me know if you're interested.
Follow Me on Pinterest
C'mon - Get Pinning! Let's share cool websites!
Get inspired with me!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Evolution... of a Room

My little front room.  It's had several incarnations and now, it's embarking on a new one!
When we first moved here, it was clear that the little front room was meant to be a dining room. But with our dining room set, that's a tight fit. Still, we managed to cram the whole set in there.  The room has a lovely window looking out on the front yard, even though our neglected bushes partly obscure the view.  We're normally not big furniture people.  But we lived a few years in Greensboro, North Carolina. I think only 1-2 friends might know their North Carolina geography well enough to know that Greensboro and High Point are next door neighbors. And maaaaybe you know that High Point is the Furniture Mecca.  People come from far and wide to buy their furniture straight out of Thomasville and Virginia House and   Heartland. Since we lived there, we figured we better get something.  So we bought a beautiful solid oak dining room set. And the big oak table with 6 chairs and a matching hutch - which was perfect for our huge 1920's home in North Carolina. But when you put people in there too, it's way too much for our little Pflugerville dining room.

So we moved the dining room set to the other room and decided to make it a piano/music room.  When we lived in Wichita Falls, it was common to have Michael and Ron playing guitar while Katie and I sang along.  Michael had left for college, but we still set up the guitars and moved the piano into the little front room. We found a small but comfy inexpensive sofa (at Garden Ridge, no less!) and put it in there too.  It was a nice place for me to go have a cup of tea while kids played Mario Kart on the big screen upstairs and Ron watched hockey on the T.V. downstairs. It's all just a little too much for me. But I didn't want to retreat to my room, absolutely away from everyone, so the little front room sufficed.

Katie used that room a lot to practice piano over the years and work on different vocal pieces. I loved listening to her. Having that room separate enabled her to really get into it without a lot of distractions. But now she's off in New York for a while and the piano was gathering dust. I decided that if she came back and wanted a piano, she should get a good one. She told me she was really thinking about a little keyboard to take up to her dorm in NYC. They have headphones now, and she could play away without bothering anyone.  Michael was gone and guitars were just sitting there untuned. Clearly, the little room no longer needed to be a Music Room.

As I'm writing about my little front room, I'm thinking about how much I have in common with it. I start out my life in one direction, only to make sweeping changes and head another way.  When life changed, I adapted. And that's what my little room is doing too.

I've been searching for what to do now that I'm transitioning out of a full-time mother role.  And I haven't really figured it out yet. But I will. Life works like that.

I pondered and pondered about what my little front room could be. This seemed a little easier to work on than working on My Life.  I finally decided that I like it as a little sitting room. I'll fill it with art that I like. Maybe art about being a mother.  Maybe.  A stereo with soft music could help drown out most of the television noise. That would be nice.  But it still needed something.  And what do I do if I can't think of what needs to happen to a room - marathon HGTV!  HGTV never fails me!

Let me back up to say I had always wanted a fireplace in our house. I'm irritated with jealousy when I get out of my car and I smell my neighbors' fireplaces. It wouldn't have been that much for the original owner to put one in - but alas, he did not. That's where HGTV comes in. They started showing different fireplaces people were using outdoors. Gas and gel were the fuel choices for the newer cooler models. Then I saw them install a gel fireplace IN someone's house! I had to have it!

I went online and looked up gel fueled fireplaces. Not only did they have the sleek models I was seeing on TV, but they also had more traditional looking fireplaces. With no breaking down walls and creating chimneys, I could simply have a crackling REAL fire after all. So the week of Thanksgiving, Ron helped me choose and order a gel fueled fireplace.  And a week later it was here.

In just a couple of hours Josh and Ron had it assembled. The gel fuel had arrive a few days before so we were ready. It looks so real. The "logs" are made of cement but they look real. And it actually warms up my little room. I took this really plain picture of it, right away. Initially the flames burned high about the logs. But just as with a real fireplace, the fire starts to die down a little - and so did this!
Still, you can see what it looks like.
My next pictures will be with all the Christmas decorations on or hanging off of it!

I love my new fireplace and what my little room has turned into now! There's room for the Christmas tree in there too. My little room is finally cozy and well on the way to being my perfect little spot in the house - just the place for me to think about what I want to do with my life.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I love fog!

I glanced out the bedroom window, noticing that it was looking like a very gray day. Novembers are often gray in my memories.  When I looked across the street, I noticed how fuzzy the neighbor's house looked. My first thought was, "oh great. Now I am near sighted and farsighted!"

After puttering around all day, I finally made it out to run errands. The temperatures were changing and I noticed that I really couldn't see the buildings up on the top of the hill. I looked out over pastures and had such a comforting feeling watching the fog roll across the ground.   I kept thinking about how so many scary movies have foggy scenes just before something horrible happens, but I simply cannot relate. I love it. And yet I had this feeling of how fleeting this is. I wanted to hang on to it - the fog and the feeling. Of course, that's not possible. It's like a dream that you try so hard to remember, but it's just gone. That's how fog is with me.

I think about different places we've lived and how foggy it was there. How in North Carolina, the fog would hang on the roads, or in the Blue Ridge Mountains, how you could see it float across the trees as it was settling in or lifting in the mornings.

And then, when I was driving home, it had gotten dark. But the fog was still there.  It made the lights glow yellow and almost sparkle from the water droplets. This picture doesn't really capture how great it looked around the lights on the toll road.

But by the time I got home the fog had lifted. As quickly as it had come, it was gone.

Friday, December 2, 2011

New Doors!

If you were reading before, you'd know that our sliding glass door broke on Thanksgiving Day. Glad to see our family tradition of some kind of house-fiasco-always-occurring-on-a-holiday-when-people-are-coming-over, is still intact.

 With three dogs, that back door is vital. It's not just something we were going to postpone until after Christmas.   The roller had somehow broken off and fallen back up into the door. This made it nearly impossible to move. So it was stuck in the open position, or in the closed position... for hours.

So my choice was keep the dogs cooped up in the house all day or let an inordinate number of flies into the house.

Everyone was armed with a flyswatter.

  Luckily, the Loews subcontractor could get to us pretty quickly. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, Ron set it up that we'd have a new door by Wednesday.

Sorry about all the glare from the sun. I was using my cell phone because I didn't want to creep out the workman. "Oh don't mind me, I'm just taking pictures of you for my blog!"Ha!

And here's the finished look!  
Who wants tocome over for coffee on my patio??

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Words! Words! Words!

So I made this little word cloud of my entire blog.
A couple of things really jump out at me. The word, "really" and the word "just". I think these are bad writing habits. I noticed it during NaBloPoMo. When I was proofing my posts, I would often have the word "really" twice in one sentence. And then I'd string another sentence just like it right aftward. Yikes! I haven't really had any creative writing or journalism classes. Although I've been a writer, an editor, and a publisher for years. I know what it's supposed to look like. But then when I write from my own point of view, my colloquialisms emerge.  That needs to be cleaned up. 

If you've been reading my blog, I'd imagine you're saying "Thank God!! I have been bugged by this for a long time now!" hahaha. So, I wonder ..."so" is probably another overused word of mine, but it just didn't come up in the

This is what the Wordle Cloud pulled out for just the posts in November. Not that much difference, in my opinion. Still "Just" and "really" getting a waaay higher billing than they should.  So my point in doing this is purely self-discovery. And it's colorful and kind of cool. If you want to see if you have a pattern in your writing, and you're a visual person like me, this might help you too.

Wordle is cool because you can change the shape, colors, orientation of the words, fonts, etc.

*Weird side note: In all I've written about Michael over the years, I'm not seeing his name show up. I see Katie, and Alyssa and Ron, but no Michael. "Brother" is in there somewhere, but... I don't know if it's accurate, or I'm just not mentioning him as much as I think I am.  So, if you do it, let me know if you have words that aren't showing up that you think ought to.