Friday, August 31, 2012

Dinner and a Show - Family Fun at Samurai's Hibachi

Flaming onion
 Progress reports arrived, and I was both relieved and pleased to see how exceptionally well my High Schooler faired.  Relieved, because school has always been such a monumental challenge for him and pleased because he managed to overcome his other challenge - staying organized.  This is the first time in years that every assignment was completed on time and  handed in.  Achievements this big cannot go uncelebrated, and so it was with glad heart that I asked my first born how he would like to celebrate.  He immediately mentioned Samurai's,  a Hibachi restaurant in town that we had been to once before.

One would think the flamboyant meal preparation and extravagant knife work would have the kids interested in visiting the restaurant, but in fact it's the large replica of a  Samurai statue that has them even more intrigued.  When I related that the sculpture reminded me of one of figures from the Terracotta Army, my son was completely astonished.  "A whole army made of Terracota?"  Since then, it's been a firm favorite for "Family Treat Night".

 Watching our chef flip, toss, roll and catch a fresh egg before delicately cracking it on the cooking surface, had me in complete awe.  How many hours do you think they spend practising those moves.  What makes the whole thing so much more amazing is the absence of egg shell.  All that fancy work and not a shell fragment to be found ANYWHERE!  Seriously?  I have to be careful not to include "crunchiness" to my recipies every time I have to add eggs.   The "food toss" is another big favorite with my kids (and it seems, everyone elses kids too).  The chef chops up some vegetables, and flips them from his spatula into a guest's mouth.  I expertly caught my broccoli floret on my crown.  A regal catch indeed.  My husband, who tends to be the less co-ordinated of the two of us, caught both broccoli floret and a gulch of sake, in his mouth.  I am still in awe.

I cannot pretend that we could understand our chef very well.   He spoke with a thick accent.  But there was no doubt that the man had skill when it came to handling his knives.  However, the proof is in the pudding.  The man can whirl a knife around, but can he cook?  Not all Hibachi are equal.  Some tend to overcook their food, but who cares when you have been dazzled by mad food prep skills combined with small pyrotechnics show?  Imagine my surprise then when I popped the first morsel of filet mignon into my mouth and recognized it as filet mignon!  Not shoe leather, or beef jerky, but actual tastey, juicy and tender steak.  It was heaven in my mouth.  The lobster that followed was just as tender and full of flavor.   Thank God for "boxing".  To leave the food on my plate would have been a sin!  Instead, I boxed it up and brought it home to enjoy later.  And man, am I looking forward to that.

While it certainly isn't the most affordable meal we can have in town.  We have to budget for a trip out to Samurai's,  but it is quite an enjoyable time together and worth every penny spent.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Week Day Early Morning Madness ...

Early morning, and a thin, muted seam of light peeping between my curtains, tells me a new day is here.  I lie in bed for a little while, savoring the silence and calm.  A quick glance at my clock and I know I have about five minutes ...  Five minutes of just me.  Five minutes of peace.  Five minutes of enjoying the birdsong.  Five minutes before .... Mayhem.

The jaunty riff from my phone announces the official start to the race.  In my head, I can hear a race track announcer utter the all important words, "Aaaaand they're off!".

Stumbling around in half-light, I find my gym clothes.  Everyone knows that if you put on your gym clothes, you are more likely to actually go to the gym.  At least that's what I've heard.  Then again, maybe you just like to walk around in gym clothes so every thinks you've been.  Maybe, gym clothes are the only clothes that fit at the moment ... But I digress, and on weekday mornings, there is absolutely no time for digressing!

First room to hit is the teenager's room.  One does not enter the room.  That would be unsafe.  Who knows organisms lie in wait in that most comfy of all Petrie dishes that is a Teenager's room.  No, I stand in the doorway, and using my most patient and gentle of voices, call my darling child from the Land of Nod.  The comforter moves, and then stops.  The gentle siren call is repeated, gently coaxing the youth from it's sleep. The comforter grumbles, lengthens and then gives way to head.  I cannot move on to the next room until the head has popped out. 

Next is the nine year old's room.  Slightly safer than the Teenager's room, but as the light is dim, and my feet are bare, standing in the doorway seems to be the safer bet.  My nine year old sleeps with our dog, who jumps up almost immediately when he hears me enter the room.  I like to think it's my gentle mommy's voice that calls my darling into the land of the living, but in all likelihood, it's his noisy ear-flapping that does it. 

We all stumble down the stairs.  Thaddeus leading the way.  The entourage of progeny sounding like a herd of stampeding rhinos, but now isn't the time to talk about possible structural damage to the house.  It never ceases to amaze me that such little people can be so very heavy on their feet!  Once the nine year old, running down the stairs, as is a nine year old's way, caused such vibration that the shadow boxes and pictures in the living room came off the wall.  But, I digress, again.  And as I mentioned before, the mornings aren't a time for digressions of any kind.

Breakfast is set before the half awake, zombie like off-spring and while they sleep-eat, my refereeing job begins in earnest.  The cats don't know how to share and so someone is always whining about the other not letting them at the food bowl.  The dogs, who are let out for their early morning ablutions, are now scratching at the door.  They too want their breakfast.  Yes, everyone gets to eat except mom. 

"Are you done with your breakfast yet?"  is met with sleepy mummbling.  "Well, you have to get a move on, or we'll be late."  More sleepy/semi-irritated mummbling.

Ten minutes later, no progress has been made with the breakfast consumption.  "Guys, we are going to be late.  Lets get a move on here."

Another ten minutes later, the kids straggle up the stairs while I tidy the kitchen, grab some breakfast on the go and check email. 

"Mooooommmm, *Johnny's in the bathroom and I need to brush my teeth.  He said my teeth don't need to be brushed today!"

"Johnny!"  I call from the kitchen, wishing once more that I had an intercom system in my home, "hurry up in there or pass your sister her toothbrush."

"Mooooommmm!  He said I'm ugly! And I have stinky breath!"

"Don't make me come up there!"  I need my coffee.  Definitely the Sumatra blend.

Doors slam.  The pictures on the living room wall shudder slightly and I let the dogs in who have now pawed their way through the third layer of wood on the door.

"Mom!"  I sigh.  "*Kathy is hogging the mirror and brush!  She's already brushed her hair - TWICE!"
"Is not!"
"Is too"
"Is n ..."
"If you two don't stop this nonsense, you will both have to take a sick day today!"
"Really?"  Johnny lives in eternal hope of having a day off school.
"Oh maaan!"

I sip my coffee as I hear my children engaging in "friendly"  scuffles with each other.  I choose to find my happy place.  It's a beach, with lovely sea breezes and a sea that is crystal clear and sand that is pure white....

"Mom!  Where are my socks?"  Deep breath - happy place ..

"I'm leaving, Mom!" Kathy slams the front door on her way out, and I dash up after her to make sure she has remembered her lunch, her backpack and hasn't snuck out the house wearing her high heeled wedge shoes to school again.

Johnny runs down the stairs with his binder in one hand, shoes in the other and shouts, "I'm ready!"

Riiiiiiight!  No time to argue though.  We have to hit the road so we can be ahead of the school rush traffic.  It's a murderous gauntlet that is unrelenting in is tedious pace and traffic gridlock.  Moms in minivans are dangerous, especially first thing in the morning.  Many of us actually leave the house without having our morning coffee!   Then we face the obstacle that is the school parking lot.  It is a test of endurance, sanity and civility that only a few of us master.  I'm hoping, that I'll keep it together today. 

High school drop off zones are even more fun.  You have young drivers to contend with as well as "Minivan Moms", and some of these young drivers are still learning the finer techniques involved in steering with your knees while applying a full face of make-up!

It's a hasty good-bye and a frantic grab for backpack, binder, shoes, pencil and something else that's hanging from his mouth (are those his socks?) and he's out on the sidewalk and I am finally free to exit the madness of the week day morning .... until tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Watching Isaac

Americans are watching with bated breath as Tropical storm Isaac barrels down towards Louisiana.  Engineers have been interviewed reassuring the public that the improvements that have been made to the erstwhile defunct levies, will hold and function as they should.  Still, the local authorities aren't taking any chances.  People are evacuating the lower parishes.  Proper emergency shelters have been prepared to avoid the fiasco that was the Superdome.  Emergency services are on full alert.  Other support services are on their way to Louisiana to offer assistance with clean up and repair work.  

Yet this awful storm that has everyone nervous and worried, also brings with it much needed rain for some of the regions that were worst hit by drought over the summer.  I know, I for one, am looking forward to the rain Isaac will bring.  Heavens knows we need it.  Even so, my heart goes out to the folks who live in Louisiana.  The folks that stayed, after Katrina blew threw and brought such devastation to so many.  The stalwarts who cleaned up, tore down and rebuilt.  My heart goes out to them as they face another big storm and with it, I would imagine, some of their darkest fears.  May the levies hold, the winds weaken, the waters recede.  

So as I say, "Thank you" for the rain, I also think of the folks on the Gulf Coast.  May you all be safe, unharmed, and relatively unscathed.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Fun The Veep Brings

It seems to me that the purpose to any VP (Vice President) candidate, is to provide some balance to the guy who is actually going to be President.  In the few years I've been here, I've watched totally spell bound as the whole process of electing a President unfolds.  There's drama, tears, laughter (mostly from the other side), copious kissing of babies and shaking of millions of hands (fortunately not in one day!) all in the hopes of being elected to the White House.   One of the biggest "pre- Presidential" decisions a candidate has to make is the Veep choice.  Technically, I've only been here long enough to witness, first hand, the fun and games of politics, for two administrations.  Still, I think that's enough to get the "jist" of things as it were. 

The Bush administration had Cheney.  It was a interesting choice for many reasons.  Mr Cheney seemed to be considered very experienced in politics which would help reassure those folks who were a little concerned about President's Bush competency and ability to lead the country.  He was also controversial because of his numerous health issues.  As President Bush's term stretched into a second term, there were many whispers by the conspiracy theorists that it was Mr Cheney who was in fact running things, not President Bush.  One could forgive them for thinking that especially when Mr Cheney's "hunting mishap" hit the news.  "If that's what happens to his friends, what on earth does he do to his enemies!"  Of course, it was all poppycock!  I do think Mr Cheney did give quite a bit of advice and input with regards to many matters, but I think President Bush, as much as a President can in this country, did run things - for the most part.

In my opinion, they were quite the "couple".  One had a debonair way about him and another was clever and politically astute.  One could easily get tongue tied and be "misunderestimated" and the other ... well, didn't say much at all, but things seemed to mysteriously happen in his presence.  One was a regular feature in SNL's skits, the other was given a wide berth.  The perfect compliment to each other!

When President Obama won the nomination of his party to run for president, the late night comics mourned.  For eight years they had no shortage of material for their writers.  Quite the opposite.  They had so much, they spent a lot of time deciding which was the best quote/incident to use.  Now here was this incredibly studious man.  A man who wouldn't say things like "misunderestimate" and who chose his words very carefully.  Then,  this careful man, chose for his running mate, Joe Biden.  The comedic world rejoiced and thanked the gods of Comedy for ensuring that there would once again be sufficient material to keep the writers busy for those all important monologues they all love to do.   Sadly, Mr Biden has been fairly low key.  A dropped "F-bomb" here, an unfortunate turn of phrase there.  Nothing as dramatic as shooting someone or supposedly running a shadow government.  But I do think that Mr Biden does bring balance to the President Obama's ticket.  He connects with people with a very easy going "every man" kind of style.  He has an air of approachability to him.  I suspect he can tell a really mean joke! 

It is with great interest that I watch the interaction between Mr Romney and Mr Ryan.  I wonder what kind of dynamic Mr Ryan will bring.  Will he make it "big" like Mrs Palin did during her time on Mr McCain's ticket and go on to become a big celebrity?  Will he be just what Mr Romney needs to get the votes he needs to win the object of his desire?  Too early for me to say definitively.  I look forward to finding out though.

Friday, August 24, 2012

On the Electoral Season and Why It's a Drag

It's that most drawn out and not so fun season for folks in the US.  Election season.  It seems, at least to me, that the Election cycle starts earlier and earlier each year, with this last one starting as soon as the new President took office.  Maybe that's the reason why so many folks just couldn't be bothered with actually going to the polls.  Everyone is just so worn out by the the time election day rolls around, they'd rather just pretend it wasn't happening and go have a beer with their buddies instead.  If, however, you are quite the study in perseverance, then maybe the pet election season topics will cause you to run the other way.  They are, in no specific order of preference:  Abortion, Entitlement Spending (Medicare, Social Security), Abortion, Healthcare, Abortion and Immigration.  Yes, we are still arguing about a law passed in 1973, that for the most part does not address the serious problems most families are facing at the moment, but arguing about this pet subject, rallies "the base" and therefore makes it's way into every debate in every election cycle.  Could one really be annoyed with folks for NOT wanting to get involved?  Why vote when you feel like your time and effort aren't going to make a difference.  And why go vote for somebody who essentially is identical to their opponent except for the banner they run under?  I totally understand people's frustration.  So, after some thought, here's my take on what it would take to "energize" all people into truly participating in the democratic process of electing leaders.

1.  Get rid of the Primaries.  The primaries are the most fun in the elections.  You have a host of candidates all vying for the top spot, and everyone feels really passionate about their candidate.  Unfortunately, and I don't know how on earth this happens, it seems that the most disliked, mistrusted candidate wins out in the end.  It's usually at this point that most folks lose interest in the the whole election process.  Why not just let everyone run. Keep them all on the ballot.  Let the voters have someone to vote FOR not vote against.  Most folks feel like they are put in  a situation where they have to choose the lesser of two evils.  Seriously?  That's the choice you want your citizens to have?  Devil #1 or Beelzebub #2?  By keeping everyone in the race you keep people interested and engaged.  I am pretty sure that voter turn out will be at all time highs if just this was changed.

2.  Dissolve the Electoral College.  If you want people to vote, they must feel that their votes are going to count.  What does it help that people go vote and the Electoral College has the final say?  It's outdated and has served it's purpose.  And while we're on the topic of letting people's vote count:  do away with this hysteria of voter fraud.  Only ten cases of fraud over the span of how many decades?  Seriously?  We should be trying to make it easier for EVERY citizen to vote, not harder!

3.  The President gets to run against everyone.  Including members from his own party.  Why should he be afforded privilege of no contest from  his own party simply because he is currently in the White House?  If his/her policies have worked and benefited the country, the citizens will keep the current leader if not - hasta la vista, bebe.

4.  The President shouldn't be allowed to serve two consecutive terms.  My reasoning for this is simple.  At the moment, Presidents spend their entire first term trying to make sure they'll get elected into a second term.  This leads to compromise and broken promises to appease special interest groups or the ever elusive "base" and leaves those that elected him/her to office out to dry.  A President's second term is often the term that best reflects the things that were important to him/her to start off with.  So why not stop the nonsense and help the President out?  Make it so they only get one term in office.  They can run again in four years.  They can keep doing that for two terms or three or whatever.  I think if they cannot have a consecutive terms, it helps to keep them honest and reminds them that their job is to serve the best interests of the citizens of the country NOT interest groups.

5.  GET THE MONEY OUT OF GOVERNMENT!!  Special interest groups, companies, non profits and charities should not be allowed to donate money or services to anyone who holds an office or wants to hold an office in government.  If you want your citizen's to feel like their voices are being heard then you have to get all the bullies and money mongers out the way.  As things stand at the moment, Regular Joe cannot get his voice heard over the sound of the automated counting machines that every congressmen, senator and, yes, President has in their office.  Put caps on what folks are allowed to spend on campaigns, whether it be for local office of national office.  You'll make the races fair that way, and then everyone who wants to run can run and it won't just be the folks with the BIG money that win each time.  It should be disturbing to Citizens that statistics show that the candidate who spends the most money is the one most likely to win.  Really?  That's what decides for us now?  Money?  We can do better than that, and we should demand better than that.

6.  Stop pretending that Abortion is a real issue.  It's not.  It's simply used to get people all hot and bothered.  The simple truth of the matter is this:  if people really wanted abortion gone, it would be gone by now.  It's not a real issue for most folks.  What are real issues to most "regular" folk are outsourcing, jobs, jobs, jobs, and did I mention jobs?  Coupled to that are the rising costs of living and education.  And, if we really want to talk about spending, lets start with military spending first and work our way down from that to Medicaid and Social Security.

To be involved in the wonderful privilege and responsibility of choosing a country's leadership, should be something every citizen wants to do.  Yet, we cannot judge those that just feel like they couldn't be bothered.  They have good reason to feel that way.   If you want everyone to be involved, then you need to involve everyone.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On The Strange Little Things That Stick

Ever wonder about the "odd" things you learn in school?  You know, the things that aren't easily categorized into Maths, English, Economics, Accounting etc.  Maybe it's just because I went to a girls school that taught "Deportment" too, that has my head full of these strange little factoids.  For example, yesterday I bought myself some roses.  A pretty little bouquet that was almost near it's sell by date and therefore marked down.  I brought them home, selected a "vase" for them, and immediately began trimming the stems, at an angle, and arranged them in to a lovely loose arrangement.  During the trimming, I could clearly hear an instructor in my head telling me, "It is important to cut the stems at an angle with sharp pruning shears, so that you don't crush them and thereby damage their means of getting water."  This morning, after loading the dishwasher, another little factoid about my fresh flowers came to me.  Flowers last longer if you give them fresh water almost every day and if you trim their stems again.  You can also keep them looking great by adding either a aspirin or a splash of bleach.  Or another interesting little fact:  putting shredded lettuce on a tray of sandwiches helps to keep them fresh longer and adds decorative splash.  Then there's all the hair care stuff (don't use a brush on wet hair -  a large tooth comb is better;  Always condition your hair and use pH balanced shampoos to prevent itching and drying of the scalp), nail care (soften cuticles by soaking them in warm soapy water;  push back your cuticles regularly to prevent peeling;  it's better to file your nails in one direction - never really understood that one;  don't overload your brush when applying polish;  cover the nail in three strokes starting from the center and working out).  All those funny little things, that at the time, I thought were interesting but silly, yet I've used them over and over again.  Some of them, daily.  Who would have thought that copious "Morning Tea" functions would be the perfect training ground for entertaining later in life.  Everything from place settings to arrangements to menu planning.  As they say, God is in the details, and in my experience, it really is the littlest details that can make the biggest difference. 
One of the many little bits that float around in my head is wardrobe planning.  It really can save you lots of money and make you look ten pounds lighter if you apply the principles properly.  Keeping a few key pieces that you can mix and match, dress up and down as the occasion demands. 
What's really surprising is just how much of the information I retained!  Then again, our first week of school was spent on these "Deportment" courses.  From ninth through twelfth.  I guess, if you didn't get it the first time round, you were bound to have something stick the third or fourth time around.  At the time it seemed like such a drag, but looking back, I am really grateful for those little lectures.  My age must be showing because I think I agree with my old Headmistress:  everyone needs a little course in deportment. 


DSC_8055 by safricaner
DSC_8055, a photo by safricaner on Flickr.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Winter Is Coming"

Ah, Friends!  It is true.  Just like the familiar refrain of one of my favorite shows (and book series), Game Of Thrones, I have to admit, "Winter is Coming!"  And is it just me or has it happened rather suddenly.  No, it isn't the temperatures that have cued me into this astonishing insight, its the absence of light.  You see, over the past five months or so, whenever I have woken up at five in the morning, Mr Sun has been out about his business, enthusiastically greeting me with his fabulous display of extravagant colors and soothing playlist of birdsong.  Over the past couple of weeks, I've noticed that Mr Sun seems to be suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affect Disorder).  The symptoms are quite clear:  he seems to have trouble getting out of bed at his usual time, his extravagant display of colors has become somewhat muted and even a little dreary.  Also, there seems to be a profound absence of birdsong until much later.  Could be his iPod isn't working properly, or maybe his alarm clock is faulty. Either way, as the wonderful characters created by Mr Martin would say, always with ominous tone, "Winter is Coming."  So, here I sit, with only the illumination from my Apple to light the room, and, wait,  I hear a true "early" bird, chirping a singular song.  Yes, I am a little sad to see my cheerful greeting from Mr Sun go.  The wonderful energy that comes from greeting the wonders that is "Dawn" (and no, I am not referring to a special person I know, although, her company has also been known to give a similar jolt).  The kinetic activity of nature and humans all working in rhythm with the Sun's wonderful composition.  Simply beautiful.  However, rest is needed.  Probably even more so after this summer.  Mr Sun must be in love because he was smiling ever so broadly and brightly, and while I am truly happy for him, my poor flowers and lawn had a hard time countenancing his outburst of joy.  Who am I kidding?   I too was wilting somewhat under the happy glare.  "Winter Is Coming" and with it, cooler climes and longer spells of darkness, and my proclivity for hibernating.  It's true, I am part bear.  Truly I am.  I have all the characteristics of one:  I eat a lot, want to do nothing but sleep all day and can become really irritated when my hybernatory habits are interrupted by outsiders.  Also the food choices seem to change from light and lean to heavy and rich.   Other indicators that I am part bear:  cardio becomes walking to the fridge, strength training is defined as opening the door of the fridge and lifting plates or mugs of hot drinks, stretching is reaching for the peanut butter (or chocolate spread) on the top shelf of the grocery cupboard.  You have to agree, all very bear like.  Where I differ from those amazing lumbering creatures is I LOVE snow.  I love the feel of it, the sound of it, the smell of it, and even the taste of it (as long as it is fresh).

Fare Thee Well, Mr Sun.  Enjoy your rest (and shorter working hours).  Bring on the cooler temperatures, the richness of color the trees and plants display, the magical blanket that snow spreads.  The air of enchantment, of change about to happen. Bring on the UV lamp ....

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Art of Enjoyment

Lascassas, Rt 266
This weekend has been one of great enjoyment.  For one, it started with a riding lesson (what a great way to start!) and an evening with friends.  Ask any of my friends and they'll tell you that I really enjoy entertaining, so when my friends came over, I prepared some spare ribs and corn on the cob for us.  Great conversation, great food and a gentle stroll down memory lane, made for the perfect end to a perfect day.  The following day, I decided I'd like to get some pictures of some of the horses at "The Barn".  Maybe even get some pretty landscape pictures while I was there.  On the way back, maybe stop at the little town we drive through and get some shots of their old "Americana" type buildings.  My daughter came with me, and while I was shooting away, watching a lesson in progress and just enjoying being around my four legged friends, she explored the farm and merrily went around giving all the ponies and horses treats.

General Feed Store
The weather was mild, and the day a little overcast which made for some even keel lighting as far as pictures goes.  Took some pretty pictures (and not so great ones as well) and then headed into Lascassas.  This little town literally has a big ol' Baptist church, a Post Office, a general store, a small barber/hairdresser, a vet and a feed store.  All the buildings look to have been built circa 1930's or so (maybe older).  It still has the kind of gas pumps (petrol pumps for my European and South African friends) I grew up with.  Most of the people around there are farmers and so most of the supplies tend to be agricultural in nature.  Whenever I drive through it on my way to "The Barn" I can't help but think what a great piece of "Americana" the little place is.  The quintessential small town America.

 Saturday evening found my hubby and I sans progeny.  What is one to do when faced with a surprise opportunity for a romantic evening alone.  Hit the town, paint it red?  Dinner and a movie ...  Well, almost.  We opted for Chinese take out, a good bottle of wine, and our DVR record list.  Somehow, cuddled up, on our couch with our "Thurdy" (our little dog) watching an episode of one of our favorite shows just seemed so heavenly.

Yellow Pastures
The weekend rounded out with a lovely breakfast at one of our favorite "breakfast joints".   A lovely drive into the country to collect our eldest from our friend's place and some gardening.  There were bushes that needed moving and flowers that needed planting.  I got to use my new electric weed eater.  Sadly, I discovered that there is quite an art to cutting nice clean edges with a weed eater/trimmer.  I obviously do not have the skill, and what started as an attempt to trim nice neat edges along our pathway and drive way ended, in what will be known forever as the "Great Grass Massacre of 2012".  Yes, great big bald patches were weed whacked into the grass in my feverish attempt to get tidy edges next to our concrete paths and driveway.  I have forever been banned from attempting edging again.  General "weed whacking" has been okayed with proper supervision and superfluous supply of those nylon string thingys that somehow magically cut the grass.  I went through three pairs in my attempt to edge around one and a half flower beds.  Apparently, that's not good.  Oh well.
Talking to BP

I share all of this to say this:  In each of those "happenings" there were moments, when I found myself taking a step back and just enjoying the moment I was in.  They weren't big moments either.  If I hadn't paid attention, I might not have noticed them at all.  They would have quietly slipped away, unnoticed and with it an opportunity to make a new memory or to nourish my soul and spirit.  We are all surrounded by so many wonderful gifts in life.  Whether it be wonderful families, great jobs, fantastic friends, loving partners, exciting or fulfilling hobbies.  All these can bring to us so much joy, so much meaning, so much purpose, if we pay attention.  Often we downplay the gifts we have.  We think that what we do or who we are isn't all that important in the larger scheme of things, so we plod through life.  Putting one foot in front of the other, just trying to get from one day to the next.  Yet if we keep our eyes and hearts open, we can catch glimpses of these precious moments that remind us that while we may not be here for a long time, the time we are here can be wonderful.  We may not all be big movers and shakers in this world, but in our little corner of life, we do make a difference.

Friday, August 17, 2012


I have often heard of people talking about their "bliss".  I nod, smile, without really grasping what it is that they are talking about.  According to Webster's Dictionary, "Bliss" is defined as 1) complete happiness;  2) Paradise, Heaven.  Wikipedia describes "bliss" as  "an emotional state that is characterized by perfect happiness (feelings of enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction)."  I could grasp what they were saying on a intellectual level, but not on a heart level.  That is until three weeks ago.  

Three weeks ago, my daughter and I signed up for riding lessons.  My daughter had asked a number of times about learning to ride a horse, and I would always nod and say something dismissive like, "Uh-huh," or "I'll look into it."  I didn't mean to be dismissive.  There was just so many other things that always needed my attention, or my "looking into" skills.  Riding lessons always were pushed into the background for more "practical" pursuits like tennis, or soccer.  However, there was something different about the way she asked me this time.  I recognized that tone.  The longing and wishful hope in her little heart as she tentatively asked me again.  This time I got online and started looking for folks giving riding lessons near to where we lived.  There weren't that many listed so the short list was very short.  One phone call later, I had set up a meeting with the instructor.  Two days later we met her, and the rest is history.  Both my daughter and I are taking lessons now.  Different days, so we each have our own space to learn.  We both enjoy our time at "The Barn".  

It was after my second lesson as I dismounted from "Little Man" that it really hit me.  I have found my Bliss.  The thing that ignites in me such strong feelings of enjoyment, pleasure and satisfaction, that at times I feel I am going to burst.  Sometimes, when I am going around the ring, practicing my posting and point 2's, I cannot help but laugh.  My trainer says she gets a kick out of me because my enthusiasm is infectious.  I honestly cannot remember anyone saying that about me.  No matter how hard I've worked, how shaky and wobbly my legs feel after a session, my heart and soul feel light.  My mind, quiet and still.  After being with the horses and ponies, I feel alive.  For me that's a really big deal.  For over ten years, I've felt utter hopelessness.    Such overwhelming sadness had a hold of me that it paralyzed me.  At it's worst, I could barely function.  Nothing interested me.  Taking care of myself was an overwhelming chore, let alone trying to take care of my family.  I would try to pull myself up by my bootstraps and fail.  Failure, guilt and frustration became familiar companions to me.  Until my darling husband couldn't take my pain anymore and pushed me to get some real help.    Many hours of therapy and hard work later, I no longer feel like that.  After much thingamajigging with meds, I could feel even. That was over five years ago.  I had made peace with my even state.  After all, it was better being even than the other.  Still, when I'd hear of others talking about finding their "Bliss", or being able to really feel joy, I was at a loss.  I could remember what joy felt like.  Almost like a faded memory from long ago.  Like a beloved loved one that had passed away a very long time ago.  The power of their physical presence long gone, but the memory of who they were and what they were lightly lingers in the small corners of your mind.  That is how it felt for me to think of happiness and joy.  Abstract concepts that could be understood.  Then I got on a horse's back and all that changed.  

"The Barn" has become my refuge and escape.  The place I seek out when I just need to remember what it means to be me.  Not a mommy, or a wife.  Friend, sister or daughter.  Just me.  The little girl with all the big dreams and unshakeable belief in herself.  The young girl who knew that life is good even if it can be unfair and sad at times.  The young woman who just instinctively knew she could be successful in life.  That's what "Bliss" brings you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The DVR Challenge: What Does It Take To Get Your Ads Seen?

I have no doubt that the advent of DVR's has dramatically changed how advertizing companies try pitch their products to us.  We no longer have to sit through their dry pitches or boring infomercials, we now can simply buzz straight through them.  A satellite company has even come out with a device that will actually "hop" through the adverts thereby saving you the annoyance of actually having to pick up your remote to skip through whatever dull pitch was being pitched.  Naturally, advertizing companies as well as big TV networks haven't been so thrilled about these advancements.  TV networks make most of their revenue from selling Ad spots.  Obviously, companies don't want to buy spots that aren't going to be seen, especially when you consider how much TV ad spots can cost.  My thought on the Ad company's complaints is, "up your game!"  If you don't want people to fast forward or hop through your advertisement, make it "skip" proof.  I can assure you that if your advertisement is good enough, people will stop to watch it.  There have been a couple over the years that have managed to convince my hubby and I to hit "stop" and "play" when fast forwarding through the dreaded Ad breaks.

One of our favorites were the E-trade ads featuring the "E-Trade Baby".  The earliest ones were the best and no matter how many times we had seen it before, we wanted to see it again.  This one is one of our all time favorites, followed by this one.   Then there were the Mac ads.  Remember these?  These ads combined information with humor and creativity.  The combination of all these qualities was enough to get us to stop and play their ads.  Even more amazing, we actually looked forward to seeing what the new installment in the series would be.  The latest ads I've enjoyed are the AllState "Mayham" ads.  The dry monotone of the actor combined with all the crazy situations he finds himself in (or that we find ourselves in) never fails to bring a smile.  My favorite one in the series is this one.  The dialogue, mannerisms, all of which helped to make us hit this "stop" and "play" for this ad.  The next one in the series that I really enjoyed (probably because I have had this happen to me a couple of times) is this one.  There are a couple more that are really amusing and well worth searching for on YouTube.

My point is, if the Ad is good, people will stop to watch.  It's no longer good enough to have an Ad that just sells something.  It has to entertain as well.  Rather than prohibit the use of "hopper" type devices and the like, why not just add more creativity to marketing your products.  People don't mind watching advertisements when they are funny or powerful.  When they are, they will stop to watch your spot, to hear what you have to say.

Maybe, instead of thinking of DVR as being a threat, maybe it should be seen as an incentive.  The goal being:  DVR proofing your Ad.  Make the Ad so entertaining that people actually want  to watch what you have to say.

The Ultimate Relationship Test

A "tweet" from a friend the other day got me thinking about something.  Relationships and indicators that it's healthy or not.  I think most of us can tell when a relationship has gone bad, but can we tell if it's about to go bad?  I've had a theory, (sadly, not scientifically proved) that if you aren't able to be yourself, completely yourself, in front of your partner, you're heading into dangerous territory.  One ascertains this by doing a very simply sophisticated test: The Fart Test.  For more delicate sensibilities, "The Breaking Wind" test, or for those who love euphemisms, "Cutting the Cheese Test".  For a relationship to remain healthy and dynamic, both partners have to be truly present in the relationship. To me, being present means being comfortable enough with the other person that should nature suddenly, and  rudely erupt, or disrupt, during a conversation, it's no big deal. We can laugh about it and continue on with our conversation.   There's no need to continually disappear into another room, or a balcony, to hide an embarrassing bodily function.  Let's face it, in the long term, it's simply not practical!  Not to mention, that the human body seems to have a plethora of embarrassing functions which it loves to team up with lousy timing.

I have to admit that it was my hubby that helped me with this, "relax and be yourself" business.  We were spending a lovely afternoon reading.  It was sunny outside and the sun was streaming in through the big windows in my room.  Suddenly, my darling man, gets up and goes onto the floor with his book.  Gluteus in the air.  I found this rather amusing, but thought he might be stretching out his back.  We had been slouching on the couch for most of the day after all.  After a short while, there were the sounds of some gaseous eruptions followed by a sigh of relief from Prince Charming, who sat up and continue to read as though nothing had happened.  I sat in stunned silence for a while and eventually made some kind of remark.  He just shrugged, smiled and carried on reading his book.  After the sixth time I saw him doing this (thankfully, not in the same day)  I dubbed the gluteus up position, "The Farting Position."   Naturally, teasing ensued, as it always does in any relationship where there is a good humor present.  If you don't have humor, how on earth are you going to weather the many storms that blow in and blow out (hmmmm was that a pun?)  You have to be able to laugh together, and yes, at each other.   One of my hubby's favourite things to say to me when he teases me is, "I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing with you."

I guess the Flatulence Test really is a test of tolerance.  If your partner cannot handle a biological "flaw" as it were, that often you have very little control over,  then how on earth are they going to cope with all the other flaws.  The ones that are just part of who you are as a person?  Part of having a strong relationship is being able to accept the other person as they are. Where they are now not where you envision them to be after doing six months of your "Extreme Makeover: Wife/Husband Edition".  No, it must be completely as they are.  Good, bad, irritating and inspirational all at once.  You have to be able to see that the "dark" is what makes the "light" shine so brightly in people's characters and personalities.  If you cannot handle the dark side of a person, then you aren't able to really love that person, or yourself for that matter.  You are only able to love a version of the person.  And what a pity that is.  It's our partner's "dark sides" that show us who we really are.  Now, obviously if your partner's dark side is violent, harmful, dangerous and abusive, that's another matter altogether.  What I am talking about are those things we like to hide from others.  Whether it's our propensity for letting rip with a string of obscenities under pressure, or losing our tempers when things don't go our way, or maybe we're just a little self-centered when it comes to our careers and such.  We all have these little flaws that can sometimes end up being big issues in our relationships with others.  Yet for us to experience the real joy of being totally loved, we have to risk being honest about who we are with the people we love.  Note, I didn't say everyone.

I have a friend.  We have been friends since the first grade.  We have been through all kinds of things together and it is my friendship with her that first showed me how freeing it is to just be yourself.  She didn't have any expectations of me.  She took me as I was.  Nothing I have done or said has shocked her or caused her to withdraw her friendship from me.  We haven't always agreed with each other, but we have always accepted each other.  Having relationships where you can just be:  no censorship of any kind, I think is really important for the human spirit and soul.  I have been blessed with three such relationships in my life, excluding my wonderful family.  But that is really rare. 

So, when starting out in a new relationship, instead of developing the  "new girl/boyfriend bloat", just let it rip.  It will either be the start of a really great relationship or the end of a superficial waste of time.  Either way you win.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fourteen Days ...

It's hard to believe that the Olympics ran for a mere two weeks.  In that time, it seemed to be all anyone could talk about.  Even politics took a backseat to what was happening in London.  In the middle of a Presidential Campaign, that says a lot.  For fourteen days, the world fought it's battles on the track, field, in the pool, arena (and BMX track!).  We cheered together, cried together, felt each others disappointment and shared in each others pride.  For fourteen days, we managed to get on with each other (for the most part) and for a few of us, we were finally able to see past some of our differences and find common ground. 

 Due to technical issues beyond my control, I wasn't able to see all of the closing ceremony.  By the way, I hear it was great fun if my Facebook feed was anything to go by.  The only part of it I did see, was Rio's "taster" for the next games and the extinguishing of the Olympic flame.  Or as the case seem to be, the passing on of the flame to the next host country.    I am not ashamed to admit that I  cried when I saw that wonderful "torch" being lowered into all its separate parts again and one by one watching the flames being extinguished. Almost like a Dandelion being blown apart by a gentle breeze on a lovely summer's day.  For fourteen days we had come together, each bringing our own little lights.  On their own, they look puny and uninteresting, but when they were joined with others and raised, how brightly the light shone.  Maybe the reason for my sadness is the realization that we only had those fourteen days to feel like we were all one.  In that brief time, despite what was going on in our home countries (and there were some horrific and troubling things going on for some of us) we chose the higher road.   We chose hope and optimism.  We chose to compete honestly.  I wonder just how different the world would be if instead of deploying armies to settle our disputes, we sent athletes.  If our land issues and party issues could be decided by synchronized diving or the 400m hurdles.  Yes, I'm being way too naive, and yes, I am over simplifying world issues,  but sometimes it's nice to dream.  Judging by how many people in the world watched the Games, I suspect it's a dream that not only I carry.  It seems that for the most of us, there is a longing for a unity amongst nations.  Not conformity, but a respect for our diversities, a celebration of our differences and a recognition of the things that we all have in common.  For fourteen days, the best of who we can be and who, I suspect, we wish we could be, was tangible.  It permeated not just London and Great Britain, but every single country that participated.

Thanks for having us, London.  You did a "smashing" job.  We hope the clean up after the wild party isn't too bad and that traffic will settle down from totally outrageous, to just impossible.  Hopefully the prices of pints and pies will be coming to within "normal" range as well.  I feel it's important to also thank you all for sharing your "locals" with us.  And may I apologize if we didn't always show the necessary respect that those hallowed places of communion have in your communities.  It was "Brilliant"!

Now it's the crash after the high.  The hangover after the binge.  My "hangover" was marked by "Stars earn their Stripes".  Seriously?  After watching amazing people do amazing things we get this?  I think I'm better off watching "Duck Dynasty".  At least that has a comedic aspect to it.  You know, something to laugh about so that one might forget how sad one feels at not being able to watch diving anymore! 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What Dreams May Come

I have lived a very lucky, blessed life.  I'm not special.  Certainly not what I would call a "righteous" person.  I don't live in church and am just as flawed (if not more) as everybody else.  

Over my thirty something years of life, I've prayed many prayers, yet it's the prayers I prayed as a little girl I seem to remember best.  Maybe I remember them from all the many times I prayed them.  They weren't the typical children's prayers.  They were more like conversations in which I would express what I would like for my life and future.  The type of man I would like to marry one day.  How many children I would like to have, even what color I wanted their hair and eyes to be.  Other prayers were more like spoken wishes.  Things I hoped for, but never expected to see realized.  There was going to Disneyland, living in California (that dream came from watching CHiPs), traveling outside of my home country, and what every little person prays for, fame.

I've been incredibly fortunate to see almost everything I've hoped for, come to fruition.  I married a wonderful man, who is everything I asked for and more.  We had the children I had hoped for, in the order I had wished for.  I have been fortunate enough to visit England, live in Germany, visit Paris, live in L.A and visit Disneyland and Disney World.  Just recently, I have been able to start riding lessons, another silent wish and hope.  

Today, I had another lesson, and while I was on the back of Little Man, who was feeling oh so frisky today, I suddenly realized I was doing one more thing that I had thought I would never get to do.  In that moment, with my legs wobbling like jelly and my foot hurting from the strain of keeping my heel down,  it dawned on me.  I have a list of crossed off requests, silent wishes and hopes.  I haven't done anything to deserve this.  Maybe it's just keeping myself open to the idea that life can be anything you want it to be.  Even when things don't go your way, or don't work out the way you had hoped, that experience leads to opening another door or opportunity for you.  I certainly don't have any answers for it, but I am grateful.  For all of it.  The good, the bad, the ugly and the mental anguish.  The "clear as day" times and the "murky as mud" times.  All of it.  Because it all led to me having this one moment, this one more thing that causes me to turn my face into the sun, open up my arms, smile and twirl.

There's no telling what dreams may come, if you're open to it.  If you're brave enough to take a leap of faith or desperate plunge.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Where Boys Can Be

This weekend, my hubby and our son had a date. It was a different kind of date. For one, it didn't involve gaming or movies or computers. Secondly, there would be need for bug spray, sunscreen and lots of water. My hubby was taking our son on his first one day hike in one of the many State Parks around here. What surprised me about this "adventure" as my son calls it, was the origin of the idea. It came from my son. You have to understand that this boy spends most if his time gaming. Mine Craft, Sky-rim, Portal. Single player or co-operative play. That's what he's into. Once in a while, I'll get concerned about his lack of vitamin D and boot him outside. He acquiesces but always with a grumble and a moan. Leave him out there long enough, and soon you'll hear the sounds of a boy immersed in his imagination.
They rose early on Saturday morning. Showered, had breakfast and packed the pack with their supplies for the day. I have to admit to being a little apprehensive about this grand idea. My son has many talents but perseverance is not one of them. This was going to be the furtherest he has ever had to walk. Visions of my hubby having to throw our son over his shoulders to get him home in the evening filled my head, as I wished them well and waved goodbye. Half way into their day, I received a call from our son who very excitedly informed me that he had just seen a snake. "It's so much cooler to see them out here, Mom. Here they actually move. Not like in the zoo!". Indeed! As long as the kept moving away from my son, I didn't have a problem. The rest of the day I found myself fretting a little. They had already encountered a snake, what happens if the run into a mountain lion, or a bear, or even worse, a rabid skunk?!
When the arrived home, my son was full of excited chatter. His words all ran into each other making it hard to understand what it was he was saying. I politely nodded and smiled, and once he left to go "rest his legs" on the living room sofa, I asked his father how the adventure had panned out. He smiled and answered, "good" and started working on editing the photos he took of their time in the woods. What became very clear to me, very quickly - our son had a really great time. He walked over a tree bridge. He climbed a rock face, swung on some vines and saw some of Natures oddities, beauty and eccentricities, up close. My hubby played back one of the videos he had taken of our son swinging on a vine Tarzan style. I was transfixed by the image of this boy/man, his biceps flexing to assist in holding him on the vine, his voice crackling and breaking, as it does at this age, his eyes all lit up with joy and pride. In the face of this boy I was seeing a glimpse of a man.
He had gone out into the wild and faced a snake, climbed, ran and explored. He just was ....

Snap, Crackle and Pop - The Sounds of Aging

My hubby and I have been on a serious "get healthy" kick.  I wouldn't call it extreme get healthy kick because we still drink our tea and coffee, and still think there's nothing tastier than a good steak.  Our "Health Kick" is more in the shape of (pardon the pun) exercising and including more water, vegetables and fruits in our diet.

It all started when it dawned on me that aging was a progressive thing.  Even worse, it was an "all inclusive" thing too.  Normally, I'm all for "all inclusive".  Who wouldn't be?   A romantic getaway to the Bahamas - absolutely!  A Round the World Vacation - YES and AMEN!  Aging, just isn't one of those things that one would like to be all inclusive.  Wouldn't it be grand to have addendums and exclusions - loopholes that one could use to avoid the fun that is maturing? As they say here in the south, "Heck*, yeah!"   Over the past couple of years or so, I have read a few articles on aging and it's effect on the body.  Let's just say - it ain't purdy!  What is encouraging is that there are ways you can help your body better weather the maturation process thereby aiding in both looking and feeling better. As my hubby and I have discussed this topic over time,  the one thing we do have absolute consensus on:  we don't want to be frail and feeble.  It is our hope and goal, to remain as independent, healthy and vibrant for as long as possible.  Yes, my idea of aging gracefully, includes fighting it, tooth and nail!  If I were a character in a graphic novel - I would be an awesome, sword-wielding amazon, fearlessly infusing dying cells with new life.  In most of the articles I've read on the research into aging, the one thing that has been consistent is the relationship between being physically fit and quality of life.    Needless to say, hubby dearest and I have been working really hard at working up a sweat.  Some days it's not that hard to do.  Just step out the front door and stand on the porch for a few minutes in the middle of Summer, et voila! you have sweat!  Other days, it requires serious motivation and energy,  to get the lazy butt  moving and stay moving.  Most of the time I can get the lazy butt to move, but normally only to the nearest chair, where it then plants itself for the rest of the day.  Overall though, we have done a great job of exercising.  Which brings me to my story ...  Friday, I headed out to the gym early.  On arrival was greeted by a sign that it would be opening later in the morning.  BUMMER!!  I drove back home and was feeling a little irritated at having to drive all the way back into town to get my work out in.  My hubby, ever the problem-solver, suggested I do a little routine with him instead.  It sounded delightful and it would certainly help with my problem, such as it was, so I agreed.  All was going well until we began squats.  It was hard concentrating over the loud "Snap, Crackle and Pop's" our joints were making every time when went down into the first position and then came up again.  Eventually, I just couldn't help myself anymore.

"Darling, if we are going to continue doing these, I think we need some WD-40!  We sound terrible!"

Or, I guess we could just turn up the music next time ....

*Substitution has been used and has thus changed the saying from the original.  Original saying is "Hell, yeah" and was altered to avoid causing offense or black listing by the language police.  Other sayings like "bless his/her heart" have been left in their original form as their actual words are non-offensive although their implication can be.  Please do not repeat the saying in it's original, unaltered, unsubstituted form unless safe to do so.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dreaming of Photography

 One of the many interests I have and sort of "dabble" in is photography.  It's hard to explain the satisfaction of going out with your camera and capturing something beautiful using angles, light and color.  Of course, when you get it absolutely right the very first time, that's even better.  I enjoy taking, what to me, are beautiful pictures, but I am under no illusions as to my aptitude for this wonderful artform.  Yes, it is art.  To set up a shot just right, you have to have some kind of artist aesthetic.  Composition, just like in painting, is important, and it certainly does help to at least be aware of some of the art "basics" when it comes to color, light and composition.    When taking portraits, just like with the old Mestros of old, it is the portrait that captures the essence of the person that touches you the deepest.  Anyone can take a picture of another person, but very few can truly capture the essence of who that person is.  As I've meandered in this playground of interesting people, amazing equipment and breath-taking pictures, I have started collecting a few favorite photographers.  People who's work inspire me.  Challenge me.  Push me to keep shooting for that perfect picture.

One of my favorite photogs, is Annie Leibovitz.  Hardly a surprise there.  I'm sure most folks really enjoy her work.  Then again, who can blame them.  Her pictures, expecially of people, don't just capture the moment which they were in, but imprints a small piece of their soul as well.  If they are laughing, you can almost hear the laughter.  If they are pensive, you find yourself wondering what they were thinking of the second the shutter  opened and closed.  You see people as they are.  Honest.  Stark.  True.  In those frozen moments, they are all beautiful.

I happened to stumble onto an article that was talking about her latest project for Disney.  It's called the Disney Dream Portraits.  What a delight they are.  She has skillfully used her amazing talent as a photographer to capture these actors, dancers and athletes enacting characters and scenes from the Disney stories.  Blended in the whimsy post production and the result has been just magical, in my opinion.  It's different and yet very her, all at the same time. 

Another photographer whom I have come to enjoy a lot, is a local man, Titus Bartos.  An amazing man, with an incurable sweet tooth, who takes these incredibly captivating portraits of people and landscapes alike.  I can also vouch that he likes to share what he has learn't with those of us who are still learning.  I did a basic digital camera lesson with him a few years ago, and really enjoyed my time learning how to use my camera better and how to keep the technical aspects of photography in the back of my mind when taking a picture.  While I wouldn't blame him for my shortcomings, I do give him credit for the things I have gotten right.  He captures, not just the essence of the person, but also the emotion of that moment when the shutter snaps open and shut.  His landscapes often leave me with a feeling of reverence or sacredness.  As though I am being permitted to witness God at His work.

I've just recently discovered another photographer who specializes in wildlife photography.  His blog is simply named Chris the Photog.  His blog is short and sweet most of the time, and he also has some "how to" on how to get the perfect picture of a fat, mischievous squirrel or a beautiful finch.  His joy for what he does is evident in his work.  Every day is a celebration and he takes you along to celebrate with him. Whether it's waking up early in search of grasshoppers or playing around with a new lense.  He takes you along on these amazing "journeys" into nature where you get to see the subjects up close.  I suspect Chris must have the patience of Job.  Probably why I wouldn't do overly well as a wildlife photographer.

If you would like to see some of my adventures and misadventures into Photography, you can click here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back to School Blues: The Walmart Story

It's August.  In the States that means, "Back to School".  Cue fanfare.    It's the time of year when the sounds of Maternal Joy can be heard far and wide contra'ed with the low, depressed murmurings of their off-spring.  Ah yes, the sounds of August are a cacophonous melody that makes me smile.

What doesn't make me smile:  the crazed masses trying to get in and out of small school parking lots  and; those self same masses trying to purchase the exact same box of pencils, crayon and such at Walmart.  Normally, I don't mind Walmart.  How can you mind a place that allows you to purchase your staples, as well as staples and hunting rifles all in one place.  It definitely has a great pull especially for budget conscious families. It's great going to one place to get what you need for the school year instead of trapsing around town,  disgruntled kids in tow, hitting five different places.   Trust me, with the heat we've been experiencing lately, getting in and out of a really hot car once, is enough.  After living here for a  couple of years I have learnt that there are a few times in the year when you really don't want to go to Walmart.    The absolute worst is Black Friday.  For those of you who don't know what that is, it's the day after Thanksgiving.  Traditionally, retailers mark down their merchandise to rock bottom prices, which creates a similar reaction in people as does the Sardine Run down on the South Coast.  People do extreme things to get the extreme bargains.  Since being in the States, there has been at least one trampling death at a Walmart, on Black Friday, every year.  The first year, I thought it was a fluke.  I blamed it on the new gaming console that had come out.  It was being sold for less than half it's normal retail price.  Frankly, I would blame adrenaline for that horrible accident.  The following year when it happened again, I was mildly concerned that maybe there might be a problem here.   When it happened again the next year, I made a solemn vow to myself and my family, "I will never shop at Walmart on Black Friday no matter what!  Even if they are giving away iPads .... well ... er ... Snap out of it man!!  Not even if they are giving away iPads and throwing in a iPhone 4s!"   As the years have rolled on and my children have started going to school, I have added another day to that list: first day of school.   While nobody has actually died doing their back to school shopping, I'm sure it's just luck that has kept it so.  For some obscure reason, they put all the school supplies into these really narrow little aisles, that barely accommodate one buggy (trolley).  Imagine that buggy with one coming from the opposite side, no room to turn around in, so you have to literally back out,  with people packed tightly into every available space there is.  Everyone reaching and stretching and pushing and grabbing.  All in  the quest of fulfilling the "School Supplies List."  If  "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,"  then Hell hasn't seen a mother of three, tired, nagging, fighting kids,  trying to get to the last 10 pc crayon box set.  There are plenty 24 pc crayon box sets, but the teacher was adamant - it had to be 10.  Just as she finally has the "holy grail" within her reach, some unseen contender comes out of left field and swipes her prize right from underneath her nose!  Oh man, the fury that woman has, would make a scorned woman look like a perfect sweetheart!  Last year, I decided, if it is at all possible, and even if it does cost me a little more, I'm not doing my first-day-of-school-supply-list shopping at Walmart again.  I love swimming in the sea, just not a sea of people.

This morning, after fighting my way out of one parking lot and into another and then out again, I headed out to a different place to do my supply list shopping.  Larger aisles made things easier to find.  Fewer people fighting over things, caused less stress.  Not once did I feel scared for my life for having put something in my buggy.  Nor did I feel the apprehension of, "Oh-my-gosh-I-am-going-to-lose-my-mind" come over me.  I even managed to keep my language within acceptable parameters! 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Yesterday, in an attempt to avoid the unavoidable (cleaning my floors), I decided to take my dog out for a walk.  Little Thurdy, as we call him, was all excited and happiness was literally radiating off his little, black body.  Even his ears looked happy.  Don't laugh.  This dog really does have very expressive ears.  But I digress, as usual.  While I was walking along our little road, in our little neighborhood, I was doing what most of us do nowadays.  Talking on my phone.  I had a good excuse.  My hubby is back on his travel schedule which means, phones, emails and such are the only way we get to communicate. He had been home for quite a spell due to some illness, so having him gone, as it always is when he has been home for an extended period of time, was a bit hard.  Annnnyway, as I was saying.  I was walking in our neighborhood, not paying any particular attention to anything other than the conversation I was having with my hubby and Thurdy's behavior on the other end of the leash.  We had just turned the corner onto another road that would take us back to the main road.  Dragonflies were darting and playing tag all around our heads.  Their games were driving poor Thurdy quite mad.  It's so hard being a natural born chaser and not being allowed to chase!  I was commenting on how annoyed I was feeling with these little bugs, who were making it necessary for me, to keep a really short leash on my four legged walking companion.  My eye followed a black dragonfly,  who suddenly darted up in a dramatic zigzag.  My breath caught and conversation stopped.  There, in front of me, was the most beautiful composition of light and color I had seen in a long time.   Shafts of translucent yellow bursting from behind a blue cloud. The first thought through my head was, "Oh gosh!  This is so beautiful!"  Followed by "DARN!  I don't have my camera."  Which in turn was followed with, "Your phone has a camera ..."  I quickly apologized to my hubby and put him on hold so I could quickly snap this lovely picture.   While I was trying to get it composed properly in my viewfinder,  my soul whispered, "Hope."  I took a deep breath and smiled.  Thurdy flapped his soft ears, loudly.

"Sorry, Darling." I said to my husband, "I just had to take a picture of this sunset!"  In my heart, I thought, "Wish I could have shared it with you."  So I did.  I uploaded the picture on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On Designer Arachnids and their Furry Webs

Where I live, living with various kinds of critters and creepy crawlers is part of everyday life.  "Want me to check you for ticks?" is not just a pick up line, but a right neighborly thing to do.  I cannot say that I particularly like creepy crawlies and there are some critters that I prefer to ignore (i.e. skunks) but it would appear that my rather awkward attempts at being more hospitable have been recognized by the little souls in the creepy crawly community, and they just love to come on over to introduce themselves.  Normally, an introduction to somebody (or is that some-crawly?) wouldn't be too big of an issue.  I'd simply do what all great, proper "Southern Women" do.  Smile politely, ask the usual introductory type questions, and then once they leave, say something like "Bless his heart!"  The problem is, as it is with most inter cultural/species relations,  "How do you do" means something different, in say, Arachnid, than it does to us.  In Arachnid, "How do you do" seems to mean, "Well, move on in!  And bring grandma and PawPaw too!"  It was my grandmother who told me that spiders should be left alone when they're in your home.  Apparently, they help with keeping flies and mosquitoes down to a manageable level.  Then again, she also use to offset that by not minding the geckos coming in either.  Why?  Well, they help keep the spiders in check.  Out here, we don't have any gecko's.  Except for Gordon Gecco in my DVD collection, but I don't think he eats spiders.  Maybe newborn babies, definitely NOT Arachnids.

Previous years, I have been really good about spraying the house boundaries, inside and out.  I like Dr Henry McCloud's advice on keeping good boundaries in relationships.  It helps keep the relationships healthy and reduces unnecessary distress.  No reason why this shouldn't work with relationships of every kind, right?  As long as you do indeed spray your boundaries with "Bug b Gone" the creepies and crawlies tend to leave you in relative peace and your home can look like (and I don't mean to sound buggist here) quite human.  Sadly, when you forget to establish your boundaries properly, or the weather doesn't co-operate and stays at temperatures that cause the "boundary establisher" to lose some of it's "boundary staying power", then you have a serious influx of creepy crawlies, buggies, flies and even some strange caterpillar looking dude with bad hair (at least I hope that's hair!)

This year the Arachnids seem to have undergone a wonderful baby boom!  Mazel Tov!  Not so much reason to celebrate: the amount of time I spend taking down unwanted cobwebs.  No, there are no such things as wanted cobwebs in my home either.  When you pair a burgeoning Arachnid populace with at least three animals trying to shed their winter coats and just not quite getting there, you end up with "fuzzy wall" effect.  It's when it looks like part of your walls, or stair risers or odd corners near the ceiling, have on little fur coats, or little hand muffs or those wonderful looking fur hats they need to wear in Russia during the winter months.

I will say this for my eight legged "friends".  They do have individual style.  Some of them like to use all three types of fur available to them i.e. dark grey, light grey and black.  Other's like to keep their palette more monochrome (or is that mono-critter?) and stick with only one.  Some make interesting patterns with the different kinds of fur, and others just don't care and just throw a whole bunch of stuff together and hope it works.

June must have been their equivalent of fashion week!  Man, were these little bugs diligent workers.  No sooner had you wrecked one creation, than another one was underway.  I'd go to sleep in a fur free home, and wake up to new furry cobwebs in the corners.  Some audacious dude, actually made a furry "stairway" from the kitchen light to the kitchen counter.   I had hoped that repeatedly tearing down their work would have sent the message loud and clear:  GO AWAY!  Alas, I suspect that tearing down their work so diligently is Arachnid for:  GOOD JOB!  KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!  I thought that by withholding their main raw material source (malting animal hair) that would slow them down.  The animals were subjected to heavy bushing, and in desperation, yes, vacuuming to get the malting done with.  What was I thinking?  These little dudes aren't afraid of getting the raw material from the source themselves!  And enlisting the help of a six legged friend is not beneath them either!   So today begins my Arachnicide.  Maybe word will get round and they'll stop trying to set up shop in Mason D' Lang.  I can only hope ...

Monday, August 6, 2012

The State of the Economy as Analyzed by Aldi's Parking Lot

About three years ago, my hubby and I took serious stock of our financials.   He has a really great job and gets paid quite well for it, but for some reason, it didn't feel that way at home.  Any analysis requires the use of spreadsheets, especially if you're married to a geek.   Columns were set up, formulas entered, data entered and duly crunched and the result was perturbing ....  We were to blame.  If we chose to use an analogy for our bank account, it would be an incredibly holy bucket.  No, I don't mean the sacred, sanctified kind either.  I mean the kind with holes in it, that leaks everything out at a rapid pace.  Dear Liza would be at a loss as to what to prescribe for this Dear Henry's bucket!  We weren't much better than Dear Liza.  We looked at the numbers and then ran them again.  After the third or fifth time of doing so, there was nothing to do but accept the truth:  we were wasting and squandering our money.  No, there was no warm fuzzy feeling that came with that.  Quietly, I berated Suze Ormand for suggesting a truthful evaluation of financials with partners on the latest Oprah show.  Maybe the folks who believed Oprah had some nefarious agenda were right:  She's coming for my bliss!  Nothing to do but face the seriously, off-key, out of step crazy noise that was our music at the time.  Way to depressed to come up with anything positive right then, we did what every mature person does in that kind of situation.  We ordered take out and watched a movie.

Not too long after, we girded ourselves with courage (which I have to admit, felt like an ill fitting garment being held up by rope) and started talking about how we could improve our situation and mend "Dear Henry's" bucket.  One of the first things we decided was to start shopping at Aldi.  If I only learnt one thing worth learning in Germany (which, by the way, I learnt way, way more than that) it was that Aldi and Lidl are the best, most cost effective little places to shop.  Period.  Why?  Well, for starters, they only stock necessities for the most part.  They also don't have oodles of brands.  Most of the time you have one brand to choose from.  However, they do strive to get you the very best quality at the very best price. So the single brand isn't too bad (on most things). The entire time we lived in Germany, that's where we shopped.   When I first started going to my old stomping grounds, the parking lot was hardly full at any given time.  Most of the cars in the parking lot were really old, some of them looked as though they barely made it to the store at all.

In the beginning, I would supplement my Aldi cart with some Big Chain Store shopping too.  Why?  Well, and I do beg your pardon Aldi, their dishwasher liquid just didn't clean the way I liked.  So I would trek off to Big Chain Store Inc. to get dishwasher liquid.  In the beginning, Aldi didn't have a great choice in meat cuts, so I would get that from Big Chain Store Inc too.  Sometimes, I do confess, to getting other cleaning products from Big Chain Store Inc.  This went on for a while, until even I couldn't ignore a very disturbing trend.  My Big Chain Store Inc bill was inching up every month.  For what I would pay for a cart choc full of groceries at Aldi, I was having to pay for just a few items at Big Chain Store Inc.  I started trying more and more of Aldi's products to see how many I could get away with using.  During this same time, I started noticing that the parking lot at Aldi was filling up.  On some days, you couldn't get anywhere near the door.  Heavens to Betsy!  You actually had to walk!  At first the cars were still kind of old, beat up jalopies.  You know, the ones that are held together, quite literally in some cases, by duct tape and string.  A few months after that, I was having to wait for a space to open up and the car I was waiting on was one of those huge Infinity SUV's.  For those of you who don't live in the States, this is what it looks like.  Those baby's are usually only driven by the well to-do's.  It was at that moment that I scanned the parking lot.  Oh my stars!  The parking lot still had it's "usual" customer jalopies, but these were interspersed with Lexuses, Lincoln's, Acura's, new model Honda's, brand new Nissan Quest's.  It hit me like a ton of bricks:  everyone is feeling the pinch.  That neighbor living down the road in that really big house, with all those fancy cars out front, yes, even they are feeling the pinch.  I can remember being so shocked by what I saw in that parking lot that day, I called my husband and told him about my observations.  We both wondered why there hadn't been a story on the economy at that point.  Or why there was no talk about inflation or what our inflation numbers were.  Having originated from a country where, more than a huge chunk of our adult lives, had inflation in the double digits, we could recognize the signs of "upwardly mobile" inflation.  All that could be heard on the main news outlets was deafening silence or lots of busy noise.

My local little Aldi is still doing brisk business.  It's parking lot looking very similar to the lot at one of Nashville's premier shopping malls.  It's clientele has changed from being elderly and poor to being a snap shot of every walk of American life.  Students, young professionals, lots of housewives from every conceivable income bracket, the elderly and poor.  We're all there, trying to squeeze one more tear out of Mr Lincoln's eye.

So for now, I will use my Aldi parking lot as an economic barometer.  When I have to engage in less aggressive parking procurement from the Lexuses, Acuras, Infinities and Lincolns, I will know that our economy has finally, truly, turned a corner.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Educating Jared ....

When it comes to school and my son, the reaction is a bit like oil and water.  The two simply don't mix unless you put them in a blender and pulse it really well.  You can see why that wouldn't really work, right? First, I can't really put my son into a bl .... oh, you get it?  Great!  I was using the analogy to show how tough it has been, not just on my son, but on the rest of the family, to get him through school.  As with any parent, the goal isn't to just get him through it, but to help him do his best.  This year we start high school, and I have to admit to some trepidation.  If previous years are anything to go by, it's not going to be fun.  Why?  Well, my son has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and Dyslexia.  The combination of these two things make traditional school a bit of a challenge for him.  Add in hormones and teen angst, and you have a wonderful little concoction guaranteed to bring all manner of fun and games for the school year.

 I need to make it clear that my son is not a dull boy.  He is really smart.  However, keeping track of worksheets and paper is a SERIOUS challenge for him.  We once did a Social Studies assignment THREE times.  Exasperated, I eventually emailed his teacher and begged him to come up with some plan for my son to get credit for this work.  He was doing it, but getting it from home to school and then from school to the teacher's desk, was presenting a really HUGE problem.  We managed to come up with something that worked.

The longer my son has been in school, the more I have realized that traditional schooling just doesn't work for kids who are borderline.   They're smart and can do the work, but they face other challenges that aren't addressed within the school system as it is now.  Dyslexia is no longer recognized as a learning disability.  I'm sure there is benefit to that, but I think there does still need to be some kind of provision made for children who do have dyslexia.  As someone who has a touch of it myself, I can testify to how miserable it can make your life.  How difficult it can make learning, understanding maths, or try to do something like accounting (try doing that when you keep swapping your numbers around). Yet research has shown that these kids are often the creative ones.  The original thinkers who invent useful things or birth new ideas.  If you can stop them from falling through the cracks, that is.

The previous school year was a tough one for us.  It was touch and go as to whether our son would make it through.  We had received a couple of notes from the school indicating that he might not qualify to be promoted. He surprised us all by passing based almost entirely on his TCAP (State standardized tests) results, which he totally ACED.  Proof again, the boy isn't dumb.  It also proved to us, that maybe we need to start looking at other ways to educate our son.  It doesn't seem right to keep him in a system that seems to undermine his confidence and play primarily to his weaknesses all the time.  Who of us would like that?  Then again, there aren't that many options out there for families who don't want a "religious" based education (not that I have anything against it, it's just not for us) and can't afford private schooling (who seem to think that adding workload is the way to go).  With a fair amount of digging, I was able to find some online options, which look really promising.  One is totally covered by the State, so tuition is free, but all the work (which follows the same curriculum the schools in our state follow) can be done at home, online.  There's plenty of support for parents as far as planning and instruction is concerned, which is something this mom needs, and the student can work at their own pace.  The only downer?  They don't have approval for High School in our State yet.  Translation:  we'll have to fork out some money.  Not as much as we would for private school, but still a substantial amount.  Our only solution:  to send him to "regular" school for the first two semesters, and then school him at home for the remainder of the year.  That way we can see if he can cope in "regular" school and it helps us with cash flow a little.

There really is a need for our education system to accommodate kids with ADD/ADHD and dyslexia.  Especially seeing as most of our kids are on some kind of medication for ADD/ADHD.  They're not in the minority anymore, and I suspect that it wouldn't take BIG, expensive changes to make school and learning enjoyable for these, often, talented and super intelligent, children.  Maybe just a new way at looking at education and how to go about it.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Eye of the Beholder

So I was going through my usual news feed to see what's going on in the world today, when I came across this blog.  Anyone who knows me, knows I love movies.  I would never consider myself a "critic", but I like to think I know greatness from drivel.  Going through that list, I'm not so sure.  That got me thinking again about the age old discussion about art and beauty.  Something that was really entertaining to me, could  easily be not at all entertaining to others.  A piece of art that appeals to my aesthetic, might be considered absolute nonsense to someone else.

In keeping with the original concept, I decided to go through the movies I have seen in this century, so far, and pick out the ones I really enjoyed.

1.  Bridget Jones' Diary

2.  Lord of the Rings (first and third films were the best!)

3.  The Harry Potter series (everyone was well done and totally "magical")

4.  Monster Inc

5.  Captain Corelli's Mandolin (little known, but oh so romantic!)

6.  Catch Me If You Can

7.  The Pianist

8.  About A Boy (I loved the story!)

9.  Minority Report (one of the most watched DVD's in my home)

10.  The Bourne movies

11.  The Spiderman Movies (the old ones stary Toby McGuire and the new reboot)

12.  The Shrek movies

13.  Secondhand Lions  (Great story)

14.  Peter Pan

15.  Mystic River

16.  Matchstick Men

17.  Elf

18.  Super Size Me (my family's support of their chain dwindled to almost nothing since watching that movie!)

19.  Finding Nemo

20.  The Incredibles (laughed out loud in the cinema!)

21.  Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (surprisingly good)

22.  Finding Neverland

23.  The Aviator

24.  Million Dollar Baby

25.  Hellboy

26.  Ray

27. Hotel Rwanda

28.  The Constant Gardner (it seems to move slowly, but the story was really great)

29.  Pride and Prejudice

30.  Walk the Line

31.  A History of Violence

32.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I really loved Johnny Depp in this movie!)

33.  Cinderella Man (Beautiful!)

34.  The Queen

35.  Casino Royale

36.  Little Miss Sunshine (surprisingly delightful)

37.  Letters from Iwo Jima (even war has two sides)

38.  Ratatouille

39.  Juno

40.  Eastern Promises (violent but great movie)

41.  3:10 to Yuma

42.  Iron Man

43.  Transsiberian

44.  Wall-E

45.  Precious

46.  Up (the best story ever told!)

47.  District 9 (go SA film industry!)

48.  Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (the kids enjoyed this one)

49.  Avatar

50.  Inglorious Bastards

51.  Toy Story 3 (WOW!!)

52.  True Grit

53.  The King's Speech

54.  Tangled

55.  Black Swan (twisty)

56.  Inception

57.  Despicable Me

58.  Catfish

59.  Senna (a documentary)

60.  The Artist (surprisingly entertaining)

61.  Moneyball

62.  Mission Impossible (all of the them)

63.  The Descendants

64.  Jane Eyre

65.  Rango

66.  Source Code

67.  The Avengers

68.  Hunger Games

69.  Brave

70.  Jeff, Who Lives At Home

71.  Madagascar 3

72.  Chronicle

73.  The Rum Diaries

74.  Alice in Wonderland

75.  Gran Torino (Mr Eastwood, you amaze me!)

Enjoy your weekend and hope you get to see some great movies - whether in the cinema or at home.