Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas recap

It was somewhat of a whirlwind, but we had a good Christmas.

Tues my office closed at 1pm so I met up with Joe P for lunch, then stopped at HomeGoods for a little bit of last minute gift shopping, then filled the tank with gas, and went home to let the dogs out and tidy up the house.  Spouse came home at 5pm and we packed our suitcase, loaded the car, and were on the road by 6pm.  It was raining lightly but the real concern was the heavy fog which caused me to have to drive slower than usual, but we eventually arrived at Spouse's mom's house safe and sound.

Wed morning after breakfast Spouse & I took Marvin & Walter with us to visit my cousin Inez & her husband Steve.  They live about an hour from Spouse's mom, in a 200+ year old stone house.  I love spending Christmas eve by the fire in Nez's warm kitchen and adjacent sitting room. Nez's mom (my aunt Rosie) was there too, so it was great to see her as well.  We talked and had lunch, and then exchanged little gifts.  I gave Nez a t-shirt with the caption "You had me at Merlot". 
Nez gave me a cool bar set that hides inside a bottle.  It was a great visit, but we needed to leave mid-afternoon and head back to Spouse's mom's.

I agreed to hang out at home with the dogs while Spouse made a quick trip to the grocery store to get the ingredients for our Christmas morning breakfast casserole (eggs, cheese, sausage, hash browns baked together).  I had suggested this easy-to-make breakfast casserole because in past years we never seem to have a decent breakfast on Christmas morning.  Spouse's mom always has raisin bread or English muffins or the like, but nothing for a proper Christmas morning breakfast.  I thought this breakfast casserole would be great since its preparation is quick.  But I was sorely disappointed when Spouse returned from the grocery store empty-handed.  He said the store was crowded and there were long lines at the cashier stands...  Imagine that!!  People trying to buy food on Christmas eve!!  Who would have ever thought??  Rather than being patient and buying the food, he aborted the mission.

Later that evening we went to Spouse's sister Mary's house for Christmas eve and Spouse's mom's birthday.  Mary made a pulled pork tenderloin, mac-n-cheese, and kale.  There were numerous Christmas cookies, brownies, and other sweets for dessert, PLUS a homemade birthday cake for Spouse's mom's 85th birthday. 
My long-time friend Kathryn also stopped by for a bite to eat and a visit, and other folks (relatives, our nephews' girlfriends, etc) stopped by as well.

On Christmas morning there was no breakfast casserole so we ate donuts, raisin toast, and Christmas cookies swiped from the previous night.  Not at all what I'd hoped for, but it was what it was.  Around noon we went to Spouse's brother and sister-in-law's house nearby for a little visit.  After dropping Spouse & his mom off at her house, I picked up my aunt Mary and brought her to the house.  We exchanged gifts with her there rather than with the rest of the family later on.  She gave us the Lady GaGa & Tony Bennett duets CD, the official 2014 White House Christmas tree ornament, and 2 Ina Garten cookbooks (Make it Ahead & Back to Basics).  Then we all went to Spouse's sister Mary's for Christmas dinner.  She made rigatoni with meatballs and Italian sausage, chicken Parmesan, and stuffed shells.  My aunt Mary brought sweet potato shuffle and a hummingbird cake.  It was all delicious and we had a great time.  Later we exchanged gifts and Spouse & I were happy that our family really seemed to like the gifts we got for them.

Fri we met up with our dear friends Kerry & Hugh, Kerry's dad George, Kerry's sister Kelly, and our long-time friend Lisa for our annual Christmas luncheon at Joe's Place.  
It is the only place I know that serves hippie rolls, which are Italian sausages and sauteed onions and peppers wrapped in pizza dough and baked to a golden brown deliciousness.  I'm crazy for them!!
We had a lovely visit with them and the time just seemed to pass too quickly.  We returned to Spouse's mom's house, packed up our stuff, loaded the dogs into the car, and headed home.  Steven & Thad invited to their house for leftovers from their Christmas dinner so of course we agreed.

I went back to work on Sat but that evening we met up with our buddies Vic & Mike for dinner.  Vic had recently been in El Paso TX and picked up t-shirts for us.  

How perfect!  They are very nice guys and we always enjoy hanging out with them.

Sun morning Spouse & I had breakfast at the Crystal with Steven and Joe P, and then I had to work again.  It was extremely quiet in the office so we played Scrabble!  It was a fun way to pass the time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas eve

Each year for the past several years I have posted this video on Christmas eve.  Nobody sings this song like Karen Carpenter, and the music and lyrics are both warm and slightly melancholy.

Greeting cards have all been sent, the Christmas rush is through.
But I still have one wish to make, a special one for you.
 
Merry Christmas Darling, we're apart that's true.
But I can dream and in my dreams,I'm Christmasing with you.
Holidays are joyful, there's always something new.
But ev'ryday's a holiday, when I'm near to you.
 
The lights on my tree, I wish you could see, I wish it every day.
Logs on the fire fill me with desire to see you and to say
 
That I wish you Merry Christmas,Happy New Year too.
I've just one wish on this Christmas eve, I wish I were with you.
 
Logs on the fire fill me with desire to see you and to say
 
That I wish you Merry Christmas,Happy New Year too.
I've just one wish on this Christmas eve, I wish I were with you.
 
I wish I were with you.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cocktail time

At this time of year many of us will be attending Christmas/holiday parties and enjoying a cocktail or two.  If you do, please drink responsibly and do not drive.  

If you drink a little too much (after all, it IS the holidays) I've heard that a way to reduce or eliminate a hangover is to take a couple Ibuprofen and drink a large glass of water before going to bed.  

Has anyone tried this?  Does it work?  Inquiring minds (and drinkers) want to know!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Party gifts

This week my (real estate) work team had our Secret Santa gift exchange.  I was extremely fortunate to have Dawn as my Secret Santa.  We share a love of Chihuahuas.  She had 2 'seniors' when I came to work here, but both have since gone to heaven.  She was thrilled when we adopted Marvin, and then again when we adopted Walter.

Dawn knows me very well, including that my favorite cocktail is a Cosmo.  So this is what Dawn gave me for Christmas:
Click photo to enlarge
 I was absolutely speechless when I saw this.  This Chihuahua is nearly identical to Walter's coloring, with the exception of Walter's head markings.  The color, texture, even the pink inner ears is just amazingly accurate.  And notice the bottle of Cosmo mix he's holding, rather than a bottle of wine.  Two of my favorite things:  Chihuahuas and Cosmos!  How perfect is this for me??

I also attended an employee/entertainers appreciation party at the Blue Moon which also included a Secret Santa gift exchange.  In this case, you bring a gender-neutral gift since you don't know who will select it.  I found these groovy high ball glasses I really liked at HomeGoods, and figured they would be equally enjoyed by male or female:
Click photo to enlarge
Super cute, right?  So when its my turn to pick and unwrap a gift I get a deluxe poker set.  Yawn.  But this game also allows you to 'steal' a gift from someone else, so I decided to steal the high ball glasses!  Nobody knew I'd brought them, so I didn't feel tacky about stealing my own gift.  Despite my collection of vintage and new cocktail glasses, I really didn't have any high ball glasses so these will fill that void.  I couldn't be happier with both of my Secret Santa gifts this year!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

To-do list

At this time of year nearly everyone is busy shopping, wrapping, mailing, cooking, baking, traveling, and partying.  To make sure nothing gets overlooked you might have made yourself a to-do list.  

Hopefully your to-do list looks a little like this one:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Weekend redux

I worked on Sat, as usual, but left early in order to go home, change clothes, change cars, and get ready for the Lewes Christmas parade.  After lining up in my designated space in the staging area I put my decorations on Big Ella.
Honestly I don't do a lot to decorate Big Ella.  I mean, she's a work of art so I don't want a lot of decorations distracting people from her natural beauty.  So I put a lighted wreath on the front, a lighted wreath on the driver door mirror, and a wreath on the back.  
As usual, she was a big hit in the parade, with people hooting and hollering as we drove by.  Kids always want me to blow the horn, so I did that several times to their delight.
 
Steven & Thad and Rick & Nick parked at our house and walked with Spouse over to the parade.  Afterward we all met back at the house for dinner.  Spouse made lasagna, salad, and garlic bread.  Afterward we sat around and talked.  I snapped this terrific photo of Spouse holding Marvin & Walter.
I love this photo!!

Sun I had breakfast at the Crystal with Steven and Joe P.  Spouse wanted to sleep in since he has been recovering from a cold.  On the way home I stopped at 4 stores to see if I could find a nice 'party shirt' to wear to holiday parties, but couldn't find anything I liked or that fit me.

Once back at home Spouse & I decorated our mantle for Christmas by removing all our framed photos and putting up flameless candles and artificial fruit and greenery.  Rather than a photo, I took this video which shows the candles flickering.
video

Afterward Spouse and the dogs took a nap and I watched a little TV, then we met Steven & Thad and Joe P for dinner.  It was a nice weekend!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cards, party, and karaoke

I'm not sure why, but this year I'm really behind with my Christmas cards.  And by 'really behind' I mean I haven't even started them.

This is not because I didn't have the cards, or the stamps, or the return address labels, or the list of recipients.  I've had all that stuff for at least 3 weeks.  For some reason I just haven't spread everything out on the table and gotten busy, until yesterday.

I put Marvin & Walter in their crates as if I were going to work, put the 'Soundscapes' music channel on softly so they wouldn't hear me in the other room, poured myself a cup of Dunkin Donuts Pumpkin Spice coffee, and got to it.

Rather than rotating through my Christmas CDs like usual, this time I went to Pandora on my iPhone, typed in Pentatonix Holiday and listened to that station via a bluetooth Sony speaker.  It worked great and I didn't have to stop what I was doing to change the CDs.

I got 76 cards written, hand-addressed, sealed, stamped, and into the mail, leaving me just 43 more to finish the job.  I actually paired down my list by 4 this year.

While this may sound like a chore, I actually like doing it.  I love to send brightly-colored cards, often times with glitter, that add beauty to the holiday season.

After dropping off the cards at the post office I got my hair cut, and then Spouse & I got dressed for my company's Christmas party.  It was held in a restaurant that was closed to the public.  The food was good, there was an open bar, a band, and everyone had a nice time.

I brought Spouse home, changed my clothes, and went to the Blue Moon for karaoke.  Normally I wouldn't go to a Christmas party and sing karaoke the same night, but I love singing Christmas songs at karaoke and there are only a few opportunities to do that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is the acceptable time to sing Christmas songs.  Since the company Christmas party was only a few blocks from the Blue Moon, about a dozen of my colleagues from work came to karaoke after the company party ended and got to hear me sing "Merry Christmas, Darling".  Karen Carpenter-style, of course.  It was a lot of fun!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wrapping for charity

Last week I wrote about our realtor association's shopping for a needy family for Christmas.  Yesterday I met up with a bunch of realtors to wrap all the gifts and clothes purchased on that shopping day. 

A local restaurant that is closed for the season donated the space so we could work on the dining tables, and even played Christmas music for us while we wrapped. 

I worked with my friend Joey again, and we wrapped gifts for 3 hours.  It was a lot of fun and it really makes me feel that I'm doing something good for those less fortunate.

You can check with your local social services to adopt a needy family in your area if you want to experience the same joy!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Weekend recap: Birthday edition

I sent this graphic to my friend Marty who had a birthday last week.  It is only too true, as most people have barely swallowed their last bite of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving before diving right into Christmas.  My birthday on Dec 7 usually has competition from Christmas parades, holiday parties, and the like.

On Sat I worked, as usual.  My colleague and friend Dawn gave me this adorable coffee mug for my birthday, since neither of us would be in the office on Sun, my actual birthday.  Its perfect!
Click to enlarge the photo to read the inscription. 

Sun morning we had my birthday breakfast at the Crystal restaurant, with Steven & Thad and Joe P.  Our favorite waiter got everyone's attention in the crowded restaurant and encouraged them to sing 'Happy birthday' to me, and I was presented with a pancake with a face drawn on it with whipped cream, and 2 blueberries as eyes.  We ate and talked and laughed.

Sun afternoon was quiet at our house.  Spouse came down with a cold on Fri and wasn't feeling very good by Sun afternoon, so he took a huge nap while I read blogs, surfed the internet, and set up our 4' Christmas tree.
As you can see, we did not put up our big Christmas tree this year.  Spouse didn't want to have a tree trimming party and I didn't want to decorate it by myself, so we decided to use our smaller, pre-lit tree.  Plus, having this smaller tree up on a table keeps it away from the curiosity of Walter.

Sun night Spouse & I went to Dos Locos with Steven & Thad and Joe P for my birthday dinner.  As usual, our food was delicious and we ate and talked and laughed even more.  After dinner we went to Steven & Thad's house for birthday cake and coffee.  

Spouse & I don't give each other birthday presents anymore.  After this many years, we have everything we need and most of what we want.  When there's something special we want, we usually don't wait for a birthday to get it for ourselves or each other.  For our 50th birthdays we gave each other trips.  

All in all, it was a nice, low-key birthday.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Christmas music

I may be in the minority, but I actually like it when a radio station switches its programming to all Christmas music.  Some of them jump the gun and do this the week of Halloween, which I do not condone.  One holiday at a time, people.

One annoyance of the 'all Christmas all the time' thing is the redundancy.  It seems that the station selects 12 songs and simply repeats them 24 hours a day.  I have literally heard the exact same version of the same song 5 times in the same day.  Not only is that ridiculous, but I also find it completely unnecessary.  Why not play the same songs but performed by different artists?  There are literally hundreds of artists that have released Christmas albums/CDs!  Why not pick songs from each of them and give listeners some variety, rather than playing the same 12 songs over and over again?!?!

While we're talking Christmas songs, can I share with you 2 songs I absolutely abhor?  "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" and "You're a Mean One Mr Grinch".  I thoroughly detest both of those songs and will most certainly change the station when they come on.

My favorite 2 Christmas songs?  "Merry Christmas, Darling" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas".  The Carpenters versions, of course.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Holiday fun

This morning I was showered, dressed, and in the Kmart at 7am.  That sounds like the opposite of 'Holiday fun', right?  Especially since I am not a morning person.

But the reason for this oddity is because I was shopping for a needy family for Christmas.  Kmart opens the store to us an hour earlier than usual (hence 7am) and generously takes 10% off the totals.  I arrived on time, armed with a thermos of coffee to help me wake up.

About a month ago my local realtor association had a big Mardi Gras-themed fundraiser to raise money for this specific shopping event.  As in years past, I paired up with my friend Joey and we accepted the need/wish list for a family with 7 kids, ages 1, 2, 4, two aged 5, 6, and 7.  The family's profile indicated the family was homeless; all 7 kids staying with their grandfather (whose probably younger than me considering the children's ages), and there was no mention of the parents.  While their situation is sad, we did feel joy in shopping for them and getting as much as possible from their list. 

The 5, 6, and 7 year olds needed coats, so we got those.  All 7 kids needed shoes or boots so we got those too.  Each child got a complete outfit (pants and shirt or sweater), and all the kids got toys except the 1 year old.  Since the kids likely don't have their own beds, we also picked out fleece throws with matching stuffed animals for them to curl up with at night like this one, possibly on a sofa or recliner.  (The arms and legs open to release the fleece throw.)  Next week I will participate in wrapping these and other gifts for the needy families.

After shopping I headed to work, but left early in order to get ready for dinner and the Rehoboth Beach Christmas parade.  Spouse & I met Steven & Thad and Joe P and his 2 friends from PA for dinner first, then I slipped away to adorn Big Ella with lighted wreaths and bows. 

It rained all day long and we anxiously awaited the official word from the parade sponsor to see if they were going to cancel the parade.  Fortunately they decided to keep the parade on schedule since the radar showed the rain moving away from the area.  However, it didn't really stop raining until minutes before the parade, which caused some participants to cancel and resulted in a much lower than usual attendance.  But we had a great dinner together and still had fun at the parade.  At least it wasn't bitter cold like last year.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Giving

As a child my parents taught me that there was more happiness in giving than in receiving.  That's probably in the Bible somewhere.  Since I grew up in a very modest household it was probably very convenient for my parents to tell me that, as I remember wanting a lot but not getting a lot because we 'couldn't afford it'. 

But as I matured I definitely understood that what you 'get' from giving to others is happiness and joy.  When you give to others (your time, your money, yourself) you make a difference in someone's life and that makes the recipient happy AND it makes you happy.  Its a win-win situation!

Yesterday Spouse & I did some charity shopping.  My company supplied its employees with a 'wish list' from Ronald McDonald House of DE so we used that to inform our purchases and then dropped them off at my office.  Next we went to the grocery store and purchased shelf-stable foods (canned and dry goods) and dropped those off at a local food bank drop-off location.  It was actually quite enjoyable to do this together, and knowing that these things will have a real impact on people gave us genuine happiness and joy.

Over the years I have volunteered for and raised money for AIDS research and treatment, battered women's shelter, cancer and stroke research, Habitat for Humanity, and local food banks.  I say this not to 'toot my own horn', but rather to show examples of how anyone can make a difference in other peoples' lives and receive a feeling of happiness at the same time. 

Literally anyone can participate in 1 or more ways:
  • Give of yourself - volunteer in person at a soup kitchen, food bank pantry, Habitat for Humanity build site, hospice, SPCA, or meal delivery service
  • Encourage others - host a fundraiser and invite your friends, neighbors, and colleagues to donate and/or volunteer, or get them to pledge for you to run a 5K race
  • Support local drives - pick up non-perishable food items, household items, or toys and drop them off at Thanksgiving or Christmas drop-off point
  • Give money - send checks to worthy charities 
When giving financial donations be sure to research how much of your dollars actually goes to the cause and how much goes to executive salaries and administrative costs.  Check this site to know which charities are highly-rated and have lower paid CEOs and which charities have highly-paid CEOs but are low rate charities.  Sadly there are some charities and scams you'll probably want to avoid.  Local giving can be often be more effective.

Another benefit of in-person volunteering is that you will likely meet other like-minded people.  This has certainly been the case for me.  I've met lots of sincere and fun friends while volunteering.

I encourage everyone to commit to giving, not just at the holidays, but all year 'round.  You'll be amazed at how good it feels to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.