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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving ease

I had a very quiet Thanksgiving at home this year. I roasted a small turkey for my husband, who loves turkey sandwiches.  He's not crazy about the traditional holiday side dishes, such as dressing and casseroles, so I didn't bother cooking anything like that.  I did make the bread for the sandwiches in my bread machine, so it was fresh and delicious.  And we both love homemade cranberry sauce, so I made some!  It is my own special recipe, which includes the cranberries (of course), fresh squeezed pomegranate juice (in place of the water called for in the basic sauce recipe) raw sugar,  mandarin oranges, chopped toasted walnuts, and a pinch of cinnamon. It's basically a cranberry fruit salad, and it tastes best if allowed to hang out in the refrigerator overnight.  Even when you're just eating turkey sandwiches (and not the whole meal) you must have cranberry sauce on the side!  For dessert, we had a store bought pecan pie.

The whole day was easy, quiet, and relaxing. We raked leaves, took Ginger for a couple of walks, and watched movies. The weather was perfect--chilly first thing in the morning, warm and sunny throughout the afternoon, then cold again once the sun went down. I tried to capture the nice weather in pictures, taken at the park and in our backyard:

The trees at the park still have lots of green, since they are mostly oak and pine



Our blueberry bushes are just now getting their autumn color.



A young tree in our backyard, one of my favorites.

I love the mixed red and green colors.


Autumn is a long, slow season here in the south. Although our leaf change is well past it's peak, there is still plenty of lingering color to enjoy . It's also really nice to have such perfect temperatures and sunny skies so late in the year!

I'm really glad I spent Thanksgiving quietly enjoying it all, instead of doing what so many women do: stressing out, driving long distances, cooking/cleaning/entertaining for hours, and then finally overeating lots of heavy food.  I actually had the time (and energy!) to look around and appreciate all the things I have to be thankful for.  It was a nice way to kick off the busy holiday season, too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Knitting up a mystery

Last night I got together with my friend C. and had a little SnB (stitch 'n bitch, for the non-knitters). We had not had a chance to catch up in a month or so. It was so good to see her!

She is also a great knitting buddy. We both subscribe to the "gauge swatch? I don't need no stinkin' gauge swatch!" school of knitting. For her it usually works out fine in the end. Me, not so much! I am not as meticulous as she is, and I don't have the same patience for frogging and restarting that she does. I have a pile of half knit projects in need of intervention collecting dust to prove it!

So I started a hat for my husband last week and it's beginning to look a little....large.  It may end up being a cowl for me!  Or maybe I can felt it slightly to make it smaller.  The yarn is partially alpaca so it should be somewhat felt-able.  So at least I have backup plans if this hat continues to look as big as I think it's turning out to be....

C. is the kind of knitter friend (enabler!) that cheers on this kind of thinking.  Basically, it's "screw it! It'll fit somebody! I'm not starting over!"  So she's a lot of fun to knit with.  And I'm probably going to need help soon with this hat/cowl/tent that's currently on the needles! As soon as I get a few more inches along, I'll post pictures. The yarn is buttery-soft gray alpaca. If it turns out to be a cowl for me instead of a hat for GB...well, that might just be alright!  Right now, it's a still a mystery.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's that time of the year again

It has been difficult for me to blog daily about gratitude this week. As always, this time of year rolls around and my life slowly fills with gloom. I associate the weeks between Halloween and New Year's with bad luck and trouble, especially the week after Christmas. Year after year, bad things happen to me during that week and now I have an almost superstitious dread of it. Things usually start going wrong around now, and the last week of the year is the climax. I realise this sounds melodramatic, but just consider a small sample of  things that have gone wrong for me during past holiday seasons:

1. GB and I blew a transmission on I-95 one year while driving to Raleigh, NC to visit family. We were stranded by the interstate for HOURS that day (a Saturday afternoon) with no idea how we were going to get home. It was awful. I cried.

2. Our last dog, an almost 16 year old beloved cocker spaniel named Nicky, got very sick and was in horrible pain the week after Christmas. He had to be put to sleep on Dec. 28. It remains one of the hardest things I ever had to deal with.

3. Last year, I got the news that I (and a handful of people I cared about) would be losing our jobs--also on Dec. 28.

4. My grandfather died unexpectedly on Christmas Day when I was 14. He literally just dropped dead that afternoon, after walking upstairs to get something. It was a heart attack. The doctors said he was dead as soon as he hit the floor.

5. On Thanksgiving a couple of years ago my dad got very sick and had to be admitted to the hospital. They found a blood clot in his leg and had to monitor his condition very closely, since he had/has some serious health problems to begin with. I spent the next few weeks scared that something was going to happen to him.

This is just a small sample of what my holiday seasons have been like throughout my life. There are many, many more things that have happened this time of year that aren't so dramatic. Those were just some of the highlights.

I wonder why certain periods of time are unlucky like this. I know plenty of people who feel the same way about other months or seasons. I wonder if it somehow becomes a self fulfilling prophecy? You get what you expect? I don't know. I sure wish I could find a way to change it if it's within my power!  That was one of my reasons for trying to focus on gratitude for the days leading up to Thanksgiving. I was giving it my best shot--focusing on my blessings and what is going right in my life--and hoping that the final weeks of this year would be uneventful and (dare I say it?) happy.

Then yesterday I got a call that my dad was sick and at a doctor's office here in town. I went to sit and wait with him. He had an abscess behind a tooth, near his sinus cavity, that had to be lanced. I know that ordinarily something like that wouldn't be a huge deal (although he felt awful) but for someone with heart problems and problems healing, almost any medical procedure can be risky. I was frightened, and trying not to show it to him or my mom. I kept thinking that if anything did happen to him, with my luck, it would be just this time of year.

Thank goodness, he seemed to be OK after it was over, and his mouth felt better. I spoke to my mom later and she said he was much better, to my great relief. I worry about my dad, especially when some new health issue comes up. So today, this is what I am thankful for: my dad, and the fact that he doesn't seem to be in any serious trouble this time. I'm still having a hard time shaking the nagging fear and worry, though.  Especially with the holidays looming.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Morning brew

Today, as I get ready to go to work, I am simply grateful that there is good coffee in the world. I have a fresh, fragrant pot brewing right now. The smell alone makes getting out of bed seem worthwhile!

Friday, November 18, 2011

For the love of fur and feathers

Today I am thankful for my pets and the love they bring into my life.

Even though Marco wakes us up too early most mornings, and can be as demanding as a toddler, he is the funniest, sweetest little guy. Just this morning he looked at me and said (in the saddest little voice), "I gotta go to work." It made me literally laugh at loud.



My dog, Ginger, is truly one of my best friends. She is a wonderful walking partner. With her for company I have worked my way up to walking 2-3 miles a day, as opposed to being a total coach potato. She is smart and loving and a fierce protector of our home and of me. When GB isn't at home, she will not let strange men (like the plumber or salesmen) get too close to me.  She will sit down in front of my legs, raise the fur on her neck, and growl menacingly at them unless I insist that everything is ok.  She only does it with strange men, and with me.  I don't know where she learned such a thing, but she seems to consider it her duty to defend me (GB, not so much. I guess she thinks guys can look out for themselves!)  Otherwise, she is totally sweet. She is gentle with children, affectionate to our friends (and she never forgets them, even if we don't see them for months) and she never barks unless there is a good reason. Ginger is also the most naturally obedient dog I've ever seen.  She will almost always stop on a dime and do exactly what you tell her to, even though we've never formally trained her.  What a great dog she has turned out to be!




Ginger and Marco make my life so much happier, and so much more fun! I love those two!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Catching up on gratitude

Yesterday I meant to write a blog post continuing with my theme of Gratitude. Unfortunately, I had a really rough day at work, and fell asleep early last night. So today I will write the post I meant to write yesterday.

I am grateful for my job.  Is it perfect?  Far from it!  In fact, I have been somewhat disappointed in it.  I always wanted to work in a bookstore or library, but it turns out that a retail job is pretty much the same no matter what you're selling.  And some of the people I work with are mean, backbiting, gossipy, and difficult.  This has been a tough thing for me to adjust to since there is not the same spirit of teamwork and camaraderie as at my last job, which I had for almost 8 years.  When we went out of business at the beginning of the year, it was sad and scary.  Most of the people there felt like family to me, and even though we had the normal stresses of working in retail, pretty much everyone got along and liked each other.  Now there is the retail stress, like always, but the people at my new job don't like each other, for the most part.  There is also a tendency for several of them to slack off, then look for others to criticise and blame for the results.  My boss is a wonderful, decent, caring person, but she does not like confrontation and tends to ignore behavior that really hurts morale and should be addressed.

So why am I thankful for the job?  Well, to begin with, I was able to start the job two days after my last one ended.  Although I took a pay cut (I went from being a store manager to one of three merchandise managers) it was not too severe, and my pay is adequate for my simple lifestyle.  Most importantly, I was able to get health coverage for myself and my husband.  He works for a small business that doesn't offer it, and is also partially self-employed, so I have always carried insurance for us. That was one of my main concerns when I found out I was losing my job at the beginning of the year--losing our access to health care.  For those readers that don't live in the USA, let me just tell you.....our health care costs are astronomical, and if you don't have coverage (and coverage is expensive, even when you have an employer's group plan) you are going to be royally screwed if anything happens that requires any sort of hospital care.  And drugs are terribly, terribly expensive...even maintenance drugs that you need to take on an ongoing basis.   Health care in the US is a nightmare, but again, that's a rant for another day. I was able to get both of us covered at my new job within 60 days of starting.  I was really grateful for that.

Another reason I am thankful for the job: our economy is in the toilet. So many people are out of work, and have been out of work for months. I was so fortunate to find a job right away when so many other people have lost jobs and have been unable to find another. I also got about 2 months salary as severance pay, and was able to put it all in savings. That gives us a tiny bit of extra security, and I know how fortunate that makes us. 

So even though I don't love my job, even though some days are so stressful I leave in tears, even though I would like to do something that speaks to my soul.....I know that I am blessed to be able to pay my bills, to be reasonably comfortable financially, to have some small savings to fall back on...and of course, health care coverage. I am doing my best to remember these things when I feel sorry for myself for not liking my job.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

10 Days of Gratitude

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice." - Meister Eckhart


Since the countdown to Halloween blog party is over, I've found myself lost as to what to write about. It's not that I don't have ideas for blog posts, it's just that it was easier when I had a definite focus in mind.  That being said, I've decided that from now until Thanksgiving I will try to post daily about things I am thankful for. 

Although I don't care much for Thanksgiving as a national holiday (and it's all founded on lies, but that's a rant for another day) I do love the idea of being thankful for the blessings in my life.  It's so easy to spend my days worrying about problems, focused on things that aren't going right in my life, thinking how I don't measure up to other people, and brooding about bad stuff that may happen that I have no control over anyway.  This time of year, in particular, seems to lend itself to sadness and anxiety for me.  The gloom won't fully go away until the days start lengthening again and the holiday season is firmly behind us.  Mid November is the time when I really find my mood turning dark and my worries multiplying.  I don't want it to be this way this year!

So today I will start a two week series of blog posts all about the things (big and small) that I am thankful for.  The things that make life good.  If anyone out there would like to do the same, please join me, and welcome! I'm calling this my 10 Days of Gratitude.   Posts need not be fancy, even a line or two a day of things to be thankful for will do!  Here goes day one for me:

I am grateful today for my home.  It is in a terribly messy state right now, and I'll be cleaning for a few hours. This may not be a fun way to spend a day off (and earlier I was feeling pissy about it) but how lucky am I to have a safe, spacious, comfortable home full of all the junk I could afford to accumlate? The pile of science-fair worthy leftovers that need cleaning in my refrigerator and the dirty dishes in the sink are all clear signs that the people who live here never go hungry!  What a wonderful thing that is, when you stop and think about it!  When I go grocery shopping later (another chore I was dreading) I will go about it with a grateful heart, and remember those who don't have enough to eat. And when the clerk checks me out, I'll throw in a couple of the $5 food boxes the store is donating to the local food bank.   Then I'll come home and remember that it's a blessing to have groceries to put away and dinner to cook, and a nice home to do both in!

So that is what I am grateful for today: my home,  no matter how messy and imperfect it may be, and all it's comforts.  I am one very lucky woman, indeed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The fastest week of the year

My five days off are almost over. I wish there was some way to slow down time when you're on vacation. This week has gone by like Amtrack.

It's been a nice break, although it seems like I did a whole lot of work. I was behind on getting gifts ready for GB's birthday, so I spent the first couple of days doing that. I made him a photo collage of our pets to hang at his work. I also got him a new warm hoodie (his old one was worn out!). For his main gift I dropped off a painting for custom framing that we have been meaning to frame and hang for years. Unfortunately, I didn't realise it would take 3 weeks to get it back! So the gift I'm most excited about won't be here until the day after Thanksgiving. I was so disappointed! But my dear husband will just get a very belated birthday present--he didn't want to know what it was. He said another surprise will be welcome at the end of the month!

We went up to Raleigh, NC on Tuesday to see his mom, stepfather, sister, niece, and nephew. His sister and her kids just moved back to Raleigh from Virginia. We had not seen them in a couple of years, and I couldn't believe how much the kids have changed in that amount of time. The girl is nearly 16, and the boy will be 18 in March. All of a sudden (or so it seems to me) they went from looking like kids to looking like young adults. It made me feel odd, and I sometimes didn't know what to say to them. (I'm pretty sure they felt the same way!) It was good to see them again,though, and my dear sister in law too. It ended up feeling like a long day, with an almost 3 hour drive on each end of it, but we're glad we went.

Yesterday, for GB's birthday dinner I made something we never have--homemade fried chicken! It was so good! I also made mashed potatoes and gravy to go with it...mmm! For dessert, we had homemade pineapple upside down cake, made from a 1940s recipe I found in an old cookbook. It is a moist, yummy cake! Here is a picture:


It was/is truly yummy! I will be glad to share the recipe if anyone is interested!

Well, I'm off to heat up some leftovers for tonight's dinner. We're going to watch a movie and then it will be time to go to bed and get ready for my return to work tomorrow. Ugh! Why do vacations go by so darn fast?

Monday, November 7, 2011

vacation!

Finally, finally....I have vacation time!!

I have earned a few days vacation at the bookstore, and am using some of them this week to celebrate my wonderful husband's birthday (he's off too!).  I really, really need a break from all the stress I've been under these last few weeks.  This is the first time I've had consecutive days off in over a year!  It feels great, although I am so behind on household chores/errands/family obligations/etc etc that I'm having a hard time relaxing.

I am also trying to do all the last minute shopping/prep for GB's birthday on Wednesday.  I am ordering prints for a photo collage of Ginger and Marco, and also having two paintings by an artist friend of his framed (something we've been putting off for years now).   He's going to be thrilled to finally have them ready for hanging!  I also have to shop for ingredients for his birthday dinner, which is going to include a homemade pineapple upside-down cake!  This will be my first attempt at such a cake--I hope it turns out well.  I have a collection of old vintage cookbooks and several have recipes for pineapple cake.  One of them, a cookbook from the 40's, says of the recipe "delicious, but surely will increase the girth"!   That means only a small piece for me--GB can eat as much as he likes. That man never gains weight!  I keep telling him what a gift that is, but I don't think he really gets it!

Tomorrow we may be going up to Raleigh, NC to see GB's mom and sister.  We plan to drive up early, spend a few hours (they want to see him for his birthday, naturally) and then we will drive home tomorrow night.  I'm  happy to be going to see his family, but it takes away my last day to get ready for the birthday festivities I have planned.  Which means that I have to get everything done today.

So I continue to be busy, busy, busy although I am technically on vacation. At least I'm busy with fun stuff...and at home! That's always nice.  I'll post pictures of the cake and the paintings on Thursday.

What is everyone else up to this first week of November?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween 2011, in pictures:


This is a "before" shot of the pumpkins my friend M. and I carved. She was the only one able to come to my house for a carving party. One other friend had tickets to a football game in Charlotte and the other had to attend her little niece's birthday party. Still, M. and I had a great time Sunday afternoon even if it was just a party of two! We drank hot mulled cider with rum while we worked, and carved two pumpkins each.



The Tiki god pumpkin is mine. I drew a stencil with a picture from "7 Tiki" brand rum as my inspiration. The rum comes with a little booklet around the handle that has pictures and descriptons of seven gods from the South Pacific. I tried to recreate "Kalougata Atua", "The Spirit of Unknown Fates".  This god, according to South Pacific legend, is the master of all our fates.  He decides our fortunes, good or bad.  He is also believed to be a talisman of good luck, and the wisest of the gods.  Well, I hope he's not offended that he ended up looking like a cat thanks to my superfly mad carving skills! hahahah. I didn't quite mean for that to happen!


I originally intended to have some pumpkins carved like skulls around him, as well as a bowl of dried apple shrunken heads. As usual, my ambition was beyond what my free time allowed. Maybe next year. The rest of the pumpkins we carved from store bought stencils (and we used the really safe cheapo tools that came with them--no use taking any chances while drinking rum punch!).



These guys were just hanging out in my dining room. Boo!



This little dude made the mantle above our fireplace cheerful!!



My friend M.'s beautiful little girl!  They surprised us by stopping by. When I heard the doorbell ring and found this little fairy standing there I had to grab the camera and capture the moment! Isn't she adorable?  She was by far my favorite trick or treater of the night! Overall we had a poor turnout of kids--only about a dozen showed up--but it was pouring rain all afternoon up until 5:00, and was also very cold. I heard that the trick or treat event at the mall was a big success. I guess people were looking for a warm, dry place to take their kids! Still, the handful we did see were awesome, there were some really good costumes this year. And I had big treat bags stuffed full of Reese's cups, Nerds, Laffy Taffy, Twix bars, and puffy foam stickers of pumpkins and ghosts to reward the ones that braved the weather and came out.  It was lots of fun!  I have too much candy left over, though. I'm planning to take it to work today to get rid of it.  I know what will happen if I don't!


I had a great time on Halloween.  Earlier I worked at the information desk at the bookstore, and I wore my homemade witch hat all day!  M. helped me trim it Sunday night after we carved pumpkins.  It was a plain black hat from Target (the only hat that fit my big head!) so we added a ribbon of dangling bats and purple beads to the brim, and a filmy veil with purple sparkles in back.  I got several compliments on it, and it was fun to make!







The witch is in!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, filled with magic and fun!  I can't wait to catch up on all the final countdown posts I have yet to read, and big thanks to Danni over at http://thewhimsicalcottage.blogspot.com/  for hosting the 2011 Countdown to Halloween blog party. It's been a blast!