Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday Vacation

I'm here...just in Michigan for the week, along with the Brick and Charley. The Mama has been really struggling in recent weeks, so we decided to spend New Year's Day with her.

Which also meant that we spent our 30th anniversary on the road, driving 18 hours straight through, the last of it via Chicago in mixed rain and snow. Even Taco Bell can have a slight air of romance, when shared in a dark car with a drooling Chesapeake Bay Retriever in the back seat...

All I know is that I am very glad, thirty-plus years ago, a slightly raffish-looking engineer chose my restaurant table to sit down at.

Yes, that's how we met. I was in grad school at the University of Michigan, living in an attic. (I cleaned the family's house and looked after their young teener in return for room and breakfast -- lunch too, if I came home and walked the dog.) I graded papers and acted as class assistant for a professor for extra money; this particular day, I had to read E.M. Forster's Howard's End before class. And the local Chinese restaurant served a mean bowl of fried rice for $1.32. (Sounds cheap -- but it was a lot to me, at the time.)

Enter this tall guy with an army surplus jacket, dark glossy hair nearly to his shoulders, and intelligent eyes. All the tables were occupied, and it was customary to ask to share a table -- so he did, and I did. He kept asking questions while I was trying to read...finally I gave up, and enjoyed talking to this funny, interesting man.

He asked what my full name was. He asked for my phone number.

Unh unh, honey, inner self warned. Who knows where this guy came from. He may be an axe murderer. How can you trust anyone you just met in a restaurant! 

So I only told him my first name. Period. And left to go to class.

But he knew I was studying for my M.A. in English Lit. And this guy (if you knew him well, you would know how absolutely out of character this was) went to the English Lit department, told the secretary he had a project with me, and asked for my phone number. (I was one of two Cindys in the English Lit Master's Program at the time...and the other Cindy was a brunette.)

    She gave it to him!

When he called and asked me to meet him for lunch, inner self said, Go ahead -- but just lunch. Then he'll go away. 

Friends, I was lucky -- I met him in March, and married him the day after Christmas in 1981. And I have been fortunate to go through life with this wonderful man ever since.
    Happy Anniversary, Davy! Your wife loves you very, very much.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

God Bless Us Everyone

Merry Christmas!

The Birth of Jesus

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 

       (Luke 2:1-20, New International Version

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's Almost Here...

Merry Christmas!

and may all your memories be merry and bright this weekend. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reading, Reading...

It's been snowing like crazy here -- about two feet, so far. But how would you like to be bombarded with dead birds or fish, instead? Go here for a very strange report on what's come out of the sky in Britain lately.
(Coventry just got nailed with hundreds of apples this month - perhaps lifted by some sort of odd wind vortex.)

The Brick has been enjoying wandering through The Telegraph -- one of England's best established papers -- and sharing things. He noticed a new exhibition of diaries and letters found in the effects of the Captain Scott Expedition, and a weird assertion that England's going to just bust apart one of these years. (So the English and Scots aren't getting along. Go figure.)

I enjoyed seeing what they consider a traditional Christmas dinner, a half red/half green apple.. and a cat who takes the bus! (Hey, we aim to please here at Brickworks -- a little something for everyone.) Decorating secrets, too. (Hint: use IKEA mirrored bathroom tiles for placemats on your holiday table.)

It's been an entertaining way to spend a snowy afternoon. But now the walk's shoveled, and he's off to work, I'd better get to it, as well. (P.S. Feeling a little bit better every day.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Carnival Submission!

This time, my Bakers Dozen tips for Christmas spending landed in the Festival of Frugality Carnival -- hooray!

Go here to learn more...and read a whole batch of posts on frugality and the holidays.

Stuff on the Way to Other Stuff

I've been collecting interesting things for you all week! And here they are...

*interesting items that reappeared after a tornado. Like letters, canceled checks, precious photos, etc...but miles away.

*a very disingenuous plea to have student loan forgiven. 100%. (You already know how I feel about this.)

*34 great gifts to make, thanks to Get Rich Slowly. (Don't miss out on the comments, with additional ideas.)

If you're not so good at that, 12 rules for 'regifting' what you already got. (I'd add another one: send your out-of-town relatives only the things you were given by local friends.) 

And if you think you've got it difficult, six pages of the Worst Christmas Gifts ever.  Don't miss page 5, with the 'european bathing suit' (a g-string) and 'Scottish shaving kilt' (with "Pebbles and BamBam hanging free") from Grandma. I laughed so hard, Charley came to check on me!

*how one woman saved on her budget -- by getting her dates to pay for restaurant meals. (And she's rather proud of it, too.)

*the worst financial advice your family and friends ever loaded on you. 

*10 of the stupidest things someone did for money. 

And finally, one of the more unusual historical discoveries I've ever heard about, discovered while on a kick to learn more about the Romans' occupation of various countries: chemical warfare used against the A.D.256! (Loved The Eagle, about the Romans' presence in Great Britain  -- you would, too. Except my ancestors were probably on the 'savage' side.)

Bright blue sky with a 50-mile view, snowy mountains in three directions.The flu is hanging on a bit, but slowly getting the conclusion that I want it to Go Away. Guess I'll stay inside, work and rest another day.

                                HAPPY CHANUKAH!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wanna Make A Bunch of (Swag)Bucks...Easy?

Not to mention swagbucks that can be exchanged for Amazon and other gift cards.

Here's how you do it. Scroll down to the Swagbucks 'widget' at the bottom of this page. Join up by pressing the button. When they ask you for a code, put in 'HOLIDAYSWAG'.

Bingo. Just like that, you've earned yourself a nice bonus -- and you're a quarter of the way toward a $5 Amazon gift card!

I have to look up a lot of things, for research. Swagbucks literally pays me to do this, by occasionally awarding the 'bucks.' You can get more by following their active codes... I'll often use this website to do it. For example, 'snowman' is currently worth 9 SB, if you type it in the code spot on the main page by 3 p.m. PST.

You can also do surveys or watch commercials, stuff like that, to earn SB...but I usually don't.

And I earn enough swagbucks for two $5 Amazon giftcards a month!

Swagbucks doesn't put on cookies, or viruses, or other nasty zingers. They just give you points that you can use to buy stuff. Good stuff. For things you'd be doing, anyways.

Take a look. Just scroll down. 

Life's A Carnival...No, It's Two!

Whoo hoo... I just received word that my post on student loans made it into the Totally Money Blog Carnival! Take a gander here. I especially enjoyed the 50 Home Business ideas, and 'work hard and shut up.' (You have got to see this guy in action on the latter post. Just click on 'gander,' and you're there.)

And to make this Monday even sweeter, my post on a bakers dozen tips for saving money at Christmas was accepted for the Best of Money Carnival! It's the 'Christmas Songs edition,' and each post is accompanied by a favorite Christmas song. Visit it here.

I'm honored to be part of both these terrific carnivals. If you're here visiting because of them...welcome! You might also enjoy my blog on Christmas goodies -- it's Heirloom Week. We've covered Sachertorte and's specialty is the traditional English Christmas cake.

And wouldn't you know it -- it's snowing here in Colorado. Big-time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Fever

Flu is so much fun. Yep, the fever's still here. It spiked up and down all day, through the Broncos/Patriots massacre (and it wasn't us who did the massacreeing), trudging out to the library and grocery store, and even a last-minute trip to Wal-Mart for a tree stand and lights. (We couldn't find the boxes of Christmas decorations anywhere, though I'd swear they survived the Memorial Day flooding in the basement. They were in leakproof tubs. I'm guessing they're piled up in a corner somewhere...since we still have plenty of piled-up corners to clear away.) 
    The tree is up, and smelling deliciously of the outdoors.  I did manage to find our bubble lights, which have been a standard ever since I was little, staring at my grandma's tree.

(they look like this, and you can get them here)  

A garland or two, some tinsel and a few boxes of ornaments I snagged from a clearance sale last January. It doesn't matter whether the regular stuff is out or not -- I'm just glad to welcome a little more Christmas into the house.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A New Way to "Gift Wrap" Your Gift Cards

A snow globe, with your giftcard inside!

The Creative Mama can show you how to do this. (It's much easier than you think.)

Saturday Blur

Boy, I've had better weeks.

The Mama was sick when I visited Michigan -- and the earache she contributed blossomed into a raging fever last night. I didn't get much sleep, considering the bod was hot, hot, hot, then cold, cold, cold. The fever finally broke early this morning, but I still have the other symptoms to deal with.

But...I was supposed to sing a solo tonight! We were going on a mini-vacation to Denver this weekend!

No matter. It's all cancelled, and I'm staying in bed. Well, sort of. The clothes still need to get washed, and the tree (a $10.81 bargain from Sam's) needs to be put up. Which means I have to go down to storage and dig through the huge pile of quilts there, to get to the Christmas decorations.

We are making progress. The guys working downstairs left yesterday. We have a new wall, holes are fixed, and plenty of new outlets. Now to sand down the walls and paint them, so we can start laying tile. Then I can put the cupboards up and put stuff away.  Isn't it amazing how these things layer on each other?!

Back to bed. (I'll decorate the tree and make the Sachertorte later.)  One final note: another video, "We the People," from Ray Stevens. Friend Constance, a true-blue Democrat, if there ever was one, and I were discussing the world yesterday. We may not agree on President Obama's role in all this...but we both feel there is something terribly wrong with the current system. And the sooner Congress admits to that, the faster they can start coming up with practical ways to fix it.
    Anyways, here it is:

Have a good weekend.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Amazing Lives, 2011 Deaths

It is always enlightening to look back over the changes this year...including the talented, fascinating people who've left us. Besides people like Elizabeth Taylor, James Arness and Cliff Robertson, they also included:

Arch West, inventor of Doritos. (His family planned, after he died in September, to spread his grave with a layer of the crunchy chips.)

Fred Shuttlesworth. One of Martin Luther King's colleagues, an effective civil rights activist.

Sidney Lumet. One of the finest directors never to win an Oscar.

Betty Ford, First Lady and wife of Jerry Ford, a past U.S. president. Ford was our congressman for decades in Michigan, with a reputation for honesty and upright dealings. He endured decades of ridicule, based on great part on his decision to pardon Richard Nixon. I am glad the pendulum is now swinging back to respect for this thoughtful, intelligent man. His wife was just as interesting.

Frank Buckles. What, this name isn't familiar? He was the last documented survivor of the WWI soldiers, buried, fittingly enough, in Arlington. Aged 110.

Geraldine Ferraro. The first woman to run for Vice President on a major ticket -- in 1984, with Walter Mondale.

And, of course, Moammar Gadaffi and Osama Bin Laden.

Memorable, all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Paying Off Student Loans

If you've been in college, you're probably dealing with this issue.

Did you know that taking a job in a lower-income area could help you earn a discount on a federal student loan? Or serving in Volunteers in Service to America? National Guard duty can pay as much as $10,000 toward your student loans.

People in "public service" jobs (teaching, firefighting, etc.) can have their loans forgiven after ten years of regular payments. If you're a regular schmuck, that ceiling is 25 years -- 20 after 2012. 

Liz Weston has a good long look at repayment possibilities -- go here for the full report. Or hop straight to her source: the FinAid website. (A practical, though somewhat old, response is here, too, thanks to Get Rich Slowly.)

A growing number of people are fervently hoping that their student loans will be forgiven by the government,  as a sort of economy stimulus. President Obama's actual plan seems to be less than they're hoping for, but no matter. Some ex-students have actually quit making payments toward their loans, hoping for a bailout. Sort of the Ray Stevens approach.
    I have a real struggle with this. We both took out student loans; granted, not much, because we both worked several jobs over the course of our college years. The Brick also had GI Bill payments, after six years in the Navy. My parents generously paid my student loans, a gift I don't think I've ever adequately repaid. (Thanks so much, Pa and Ma!)

Dave's $10,000 loan, on the other hand, fell squarely on our shoulders. It took us ten years to repay, at a time that we could have used the money to beef up a house downpayment (we lost out on an incredible VA house deal for not being able to bid $2000 more), or given us more freedom to travel. We eventually made the last payment when Daughter #1 was in kindergarten or so.

I blame ourselves for the delay. Not in our payments -- we made 'em, and regularly, too. But we didn't have to borrow that much money, to begin with. I was working full-time; he was part-time. In addition to scholarships and grants, we also got $400 monthly from his GI Bill. (In the early 1980s, that was a lot of money.) The Brick and I ate out -- a lot. We didn't stint ourselves on concerts or movies. We didn't go hog-wild, but if we'd been more frugal, we could have borrowed a few thousand less. And that extra money could have gone directly into our pockets, instead of the government's.

So...if you're one of those hoping that the government is going to pick up your bill, ask yourself:

*Did I borrow only the absolute minimum during my college years?
*Did I keep my expenses down as much as possible?
*Did I take on any jobs to help pay expenses?
*Am I making regular payments now on my debt...or doing more than the minimum? 
*Am I making excuses now for my stupidity then?

It comes down to this:  You borrowed it, you pay it back. Period.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bakin' and Shakin'...

It's been a beautiful day -- at least it looked beautiful, from the fogged-over windows. The guys downstairs have been banging away enthusiastically, fueled in part by the sugar cookies I've been taking down to them.

The basement is starting to look like an office again. We've got clean walls, electrical outlets, even doors and repaired pipes! It looks wonderful.

Unfortunately, the kitchen is a mess. Charley is wearing a mustache of flour, on top of the mud. (The snow is melting. He runs through it, anyways.) Good old Charles has made friends with the work guys -- he'll chase the local squirrels into the trees, and the men will peg snowballs into the trees to get the squirrels Charley can chase them again! Not that he knows what to do with them, if he ever manages to catch one. The Brick saw him corner one on the deck late one night, only to have the squirrel cuss Charley out, using every insult possible, then TAKE OFF while our valiant watchdog stood there and processed things.
     Ah well. At least he -- and the guys -- like my cookies. They're made from an old family recipe handed down by my grandma, who got it from her grandma. (Go to the Christmas Goodies blog if you're interested! Here's the page.)

Got a Christmas tree last night. (It's on the deck, waiting for the Brick to set it up...and me to wade through a couple hundred quilts in storage, to find the decorations.) Cookies are made now, and a wreath's on the front door. A Christmas tablecloth is next.
     I've still got a ton of work to catch up I had to set aside in order to solve some family things in the past few weeks. But who knows -- it may actually be starting into Christmas around here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Go Broncos!

What's with our team lately -- they can't seem to help themselves winning!
Some people say it has something to do with Tim Tebow.

Although more than one announcer has had trouble admitting it!

A Bakers' Dozen Tips For Christmas Savings - Even At the Last Minute

No bucks for Christmas presents? One of Money Saving Mom's contributors is in this position -- their budget just won't allow an extra cent spent for 'storebought' gifts. (Go here for their report.)

It makes more sense to be gradually buying small items...or saving a bit each month out of your regular budget...than come screeching up to December, and realize you've got nothing for presents.
     Unless you're a high school student, saving for college.
     Or already in school, working to pay for tuition.
     Or recently laid off.
     Or a single parent, working a hectic schedule.
     Or just trying to stay afloat, and save a bit for the future.

We've never been in the "absolutely no money" position -- but we have had several Christmases with very little to spend. One year comes immediately to mind. The Brick had just started driving a schoolbus, and I was working in the grill at Wal-Mart, in between trying to write articles, sell books and keep Brickworks going. I don't remember much about that period; I was too tired. But that holiday season has gone down in family history as the "Thrift Shop Christmas." All of our presents came from the local thrift shop-- for everyone. I was amazed at how many new things, still in the box or with tags attached, that I was able to come up with, at a fraction of their original dollar price.Those went to our family out of state; unless they read this post, they were none the wiser!
     The Brick found a beautiful sweater for me, as well as a copper bracelet and earrings I still wear. The girlies had more than their share of clothing and other goodies. All told, we spent less than $50 that year. It taught me that tightening your belt doesn't mean you can't still find Good Stuff.

I still rely on Ye Olde Thrift Shop for Christmas, including decorations (less than $5 spent during a half-price sale on garlands, lights and balls this year for Daughter #1's "blue and silver" tree) and clothes. (A $2.99 University of Michigan sweatshirt for the Brick - Go Blue!)I was surprised -- or maybe not -- to find that thrift shopping, along with garage sales and such, are favorite shopping spots for even millionaires.
     If you're going to do it, though, be picky. Very picky. On the same day as the sweatshirt, I found a $2.99 Woolrich wool shirt for the Brick that was perfect -- until I noticed the small stain and tattered edge on one side. Oops...back to the rack.

The dollar store also comes in handy -- but once again, be picky. I used to buy more items there, until I realized that they were breaking more quickly. I still buy cleaning items, brand candy and cooking stuff there -- just not brooms, toys or car accessories.

A surprising place for bargains has been the sale room at libraries. I've found everything from Sharpe DVDs (ooh, that Sean Bean!) and books on CD for a buck, to large gardening history books -- and the latest Jeffrey Archer or Stephen King novel for $2 each. Check carefully, and you'll find new or barely-used items on the shelves -- not only are they perfect for presents, but they mail cheaply too, thanks to media rate.

Obviously, you'll be able to find more if you search garage sales and thrift shops all year -- or save up gradually for purchases. (Or buy your presents, cards and decorations right after Christmas, at January clearance sales!) These tips have helped me, however, whether I'm looking Dec. 11, or eleven months earlier:

*Be fussy. Whether the garment costs 5 cents or 500 dollars, buy quality.
*Ask yourself a question at the thrift shop: would I consider paying full price for this item? If the answer is yes, then it's probably a excellent purchase.
*Keep your budget in mind at all times.  Some people split it up -- $20 or so per person -- but I find that limiting. Will you walk away from that hand-knit cashmere sweater for a dollar, just because you've already spent $20 on Grandma?
*Try hard not to buy presents for yourself.  Now is not the time.
*Keep an emergency ten or twenty on hand, for those insane bargains that occasionally appear. Some of my best long-term buys have come at times when I was short of cash.
*Use a credit card, and gain extra cash back. As long as you pay it off every month, that is.
*Do some of your shopping at the grocery or discount foods store. A basket of fresh tangerines or bouquet of carnations are always appreciated, and it's easy to combine foods for gift baskets.
*Volunteer at your local thrift shop. Not only do volunteers get first grabs, but our local store gives them a 25% discount. Books are TEN CENTS each, whether they're hardcover or paperback. Bliss to this bibliophile. (Yes, I volunteer.)
*Look for sales -- even at the thrift shop. Ours has half-price sales periodically that, combined with my volunteer discount, make items a steal.
*Buy one 'best' - versus two or more so-so's.Wouldn't you enjoy a high-quality item more than three or four mediocre ones? So would your recipients.
*Found a huge bulk? Give it to more than one person on your list. (Trust me -- they won't care. And if they're out of state, they won't even find out you did it, unless you tell them.)
*Always check the clearance aisle. This goes for groceries, too -- a recent trip to King Soopers brought a large bag of spinach for $1.39, a bag of four pomegranates (normally $2 or so each) for $1.25, plus a threesome of microwave kettle corn for .49. (The box was damaged.)
*Think more than 'stuff.' Maybe your child would appreciate a lunch at Wendy's and an afternoon at the park, more than a pillow or backpack.  I'd much prefer coffee out with a friend, than a fancy necklace.

Don't forget to give the best present to the people on your list: your love and best wishes. They'll  treasure that rare gift long after the cake is eaten and the sweater wears out.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Filling Christmas Stockings

Only a few weeks until Christmas -- how can that be? Some rummaging in the gift closet reminds me to double-check on stocking contents. At the Brick's house, what's in the Christmas stocking is nearly as important as what's under the tree. I spend much of the year hunting for little goodies for the Brick and the girlies, as well as Angel's long-time boyfriend Keith.
    This year, I tried something new for the Mama's stocking. Since I was going to be there early, because of my uncle's funeral, I brought her stocking and contents with -- but this time, I got enough that she could open one present a day, with a pile still left for Christmas morning. She has been giving her grandchildren a December's worth of presents (one little one a day); now she can enjoy it, too.

An earlier post will tell you what I look for in stocking stuffers. Plump Stocking has some wonderful ideas...but even better are the many stories that explain why people choose what they do. (Usually it's based on an event or memory in past years, remembered again with affection.)

Life As Mom also has some good stocking stuffer suggestions, with links to recipes for homemade bath salts and peppermint hot cocoa. (The latter brings back memories of Sheilah Graham's Beloved Infidel, the story of her life, including her great love, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Graham lived in an orphanage for years, and loved chocolate -- but rarely got any. She solved the problem by swiping handfuls of cocoa and sugar from the kitchen's stock, hiding them in her bloomers, then chewing them together. Gritty, but satisfying, if you can't get your hands on the bar stuff, I guess.)

I can't tell you much about the girlies' stocking contents -- they read this blog now and then, the stinkers! But they're big fans of imported cookies, chocolates and drinks. Whenever I find those on sale, I buy a couple and stash them away. A gift card or two may also find its way in, as well.

Warming Up...

Our snow is melting fast -- it's been in the 40s and 50s. But no worries -- another storm is scheduled to roar in on Wednesday!

Spent most of the day today helping out at a Seniors Luncheon with our small group. I played piano while they started coming in...helped serve food...then played again for Christmas carols and afterwards. After taking down the tables and putting back the chairs with our friends, I did errands, trudged home...

And turned right around to head back to church for Worship Team practice. Then the Saturday night service. 

Tomorrow will be more of same...except TWO church services to do. Then luckily, we can eat Sunday dinner, collapse and take a long, luxurious nap. Sounds lovely.

No Christmas decorations up yet, but we did indulge in a few of our favorite holiday movies: Die Hard, Die Hard 2 (hey, parts of it were filmed in Colorado, including Breckenridge, an old church near Denver, and Stapleton airport in Denver!) and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (also parts filmed in Colorado - also Breck, to be exact). All that fuss and bother seemed to fit in nicely with this odd week.

Hopefully the coming days will be much more peaceful.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Home Again

It has been a strange week.

My uncle Dean was only 75. A bout with pancreatitis landed him in the hospital last Tuesday -- then a massive infection (sepsis) hit and started shutting down major organs. It also went into his brain. By Thursday, he was showing no brain activity. They kept the machines running until his kids could all get there and say goodbye to his body. On Friday morning, fifteen minutes after they shut the machines off, he stopped breathing.
    (Daughters, don't worry about the machines. If I'm not showing brain activity, I'm not there -- turn 'em off! And yes, this is a reminder that you should have a living will. We do...)

His family was left wondering what had hit them. The memorial service was Monday morning -- less than a week after he first went in the hospital. It turns out that he had not been feeling well for at least a few weeks before that, but had continued to soldier on for a while.
    I guess I am more aware of this since the Brick almost died a September ago, from sepsis shutting his liver down. Thank God the doctors managed to stop the infection in the Brick's case -- but it was too late for Uncle Dean. 

His obituary is here. He did a brave and courageous thing -- donated his body to science, so his family wouldn't have to worry about burial costs. After the research is done, the company will cremate his body and return it to the family. Gutsy.

So instead of decorating for the holidays, working on appraisals and doing business stuff, I've been going to Cousin #1's store and working there to help out, while she took care of her dad's arrangements -- and working at Cousin #2's thrift shop, so she could help out run Cousin #1's store, as well. Plus I spent some time with the Mama, and my brother. (Bro had his own burdens -- he spent his birthday in the hospital room of his mother-in-law, who had emergency heart surgery.) A strange and sometimes aimless week.

But at least The Mama's Christmas tree is up, Cousins #1 and #2 got a little extra help...I told them I loved them, and got to spend some time with the rest of the family.

Other notes on the way to the weekend:

*Have you thought about turning your house temperature down, and using space heaters to warm your immediate living space? Trent over at the Simple Dollar says you can visibly save money, and he's worked it out BTU-wise. (See his report here.)
    We keep our house at 62-66 degrees. It does get a bit chilly, especially at night, but the two space heaters we use, as well as the fireplace, take the chill off nicely. I've noticed a definite decrease in heating bills because of it. (In fact, I'm warming my toes by a space heater now while typing.) One of our space heaters looks like a miniature fireplace - and I enjoy watching the 'flames' when we don't have a real fire going. 

*Had coffee at Starbucks this morning (which was terrible by the way -- really bitter), and heard this amazing song by Adele, Rolling in the Deep:

*The Christmas goodies blog is featuring thumbprint cookies today.

*And there are Tuba Christmas concerts all over Colorado this weekend!

Have a good one, yerself.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Life Changes Fast

I had plans for how this weekend was going to it's all different.

My uncle Dean went into the hospital a few days ago for pancreatitis -- but sepsis (infection) set in, went into his brain, and started shutting major organs down.
    He died this morning.

A 6:15 a.m. flight to Michigan is in tomorrow's picture now, and time spent with the Mama and my family there while they try to pick themselves back up and figure what's going on.

The only real good thing about it is being there to celebrate my brother's birthday on Dec. 4.

Back in touch in a few days. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

$10 Giftcard from Target

Spend $50.... get a $10 giftcard back when you present this coupon. Easy-- I used it this afternoon. The coupon won't be available long, though...

(Thanks for the heads up, Money Saving Mom!)

Engineers Are Commercial, Too

A very funny Doritos commercial, from Paul Klusman, the maker of "An Engineer's Guide to Cats." Having married an engineer, I can REALLY relate to these. (Oh yes, and the cat part, too.)

They're just a different breed, engineers. (No, I wasn't going to say cats!) The Brick is currently a bus driver trainer, but most of his time is spent working on a computer system for the school district. Figures --you can take the Brick out of engineering, but you can't take the engineer out of the Brick. These guys will be engineers the rest of their days -- and I love mine for it.

The Brick laughed and laughed at the 'accurate story' shown in the preface...I didn't get it!

Bang, Crash, Boom!

The good news: there are guys working right now in the basement! Yes, the Brickworks dungeon may soon turn out to be a business area again -- I've got my fingers crossed! Ken Knopp and his team are also putting in a couple sets of new outlets perfect for classes and demos. They're installing a 'floating' wall in front of the concrete one, and fixing up the pipes that have caused us so much misery (not to mention lost fabric) in the past six months.
     They say about it  two weeks of strange bangs and sawing noises. Now the bad news: the insurance still is denying our claim. That means we pay out of our pockets right now -- and again when we pay the lawyer to bring the case to court. I wish they were listening...

Ever try to find boxes of Christmas ornaments in a storage space that already has a few hundred quilts and quilt tops jammed on top? I turned up a few wreaths and lengths of holly garland. Hopefully the rest will appear soon. 

We're waiting it out for a huge snowstorm that's supposed to hit tonight. All I know: we had a huge red sunrise ("red in the morning, sailors take warning"), and now the sunset is just as spectacular. ("red at night, sailors delight.") So what am I supposed to do with that?!?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Flash Mob Hits DIA!

It happened on Nov. 22 of this month at the Denver International Airport
     ...if you enjoy Swing, you'll like this one.

Interesting Oddities

The guy who returned money he stole -- back in the Forties.

The lady who insists on dressing like the Brontes. Yes, you read that right -- as in Charlotte Bronte.

Some very freaky Black Friday incidents at Wal-Marts across the country. (All I know is our Castle Rock Wal-Mart was allllmmmost there, based on what we experienced that night.)

Len Penzo gets very number-y.

And a lovely candy cane sky, courtesy of The Frugal Girl.

Getting Up, Moving On

I had a very peaceful Thanksgiving. Hopefully, you did, too!

The girlies (and Angel's boyfriend) spent the day with us, chattering away and planning for Black Friday. After dinner and the obligatory nap, we climbed Castle Rock. (They scampered up -- I puffed practically all the way.) Then another snack, and we braced ourselves for Wal-Mart's Black Friday.

It went better this year than last. Keith is a big guy, and could run interference. Also, there were more of us to dart in and out, grabbing armfuls of videos. (We sorted and threw the almost-rans back in the pond, so others could do their own grab-and-snatch.) I had to remind myself that they were only videos, though, when I saw someone else's cart holding both seasons of Fringe. (At $10 each! sigh...) I really, really, REALLY wanted to just grab them and run.

Wally kept their electronic bargains back until midnight, which produced some frightening scenarios. People tore open the black plastic covering the pallets, and were literally standing there with their hands touching an item, waiting for the 'go' signal. Angel overheard a huge argument between an older man and a lady that threatened to escalate into a punching match. We got out of there as soon as we could. One bout of lunacy over the videos was enough.

And if you weren't up and wandering about to see it in your neck of the woods...the drive-through line at our local Starbucks was PHENOMENAL.

The last of the turkey is almost gone, the tablecloths washed and Christmas decorations are looming on the horizon. But I've got other work to do before that happy event, including figuring our contributions for the rest of the year. There are plenty of organizations asking for money around here -- some, like Operation Christmas Child, ask you to fill a shoebox full of goodies for kids overseas. (Yep, we did. Two boxes full. You can too, by the way --just follow the link.)

I am having some rebellious thoughts about it all this time around -- and a lot of it has to do with the recipients. I am all for helping people who need it. Honest. But it really cranks my gourd to be donating to a group that pays for someone's rent when they could have paid it themselves, had they tightened down on groceries. Or clothing purchases. Or goodies.
     There are a lot of people in our area this season who have been living high, thanks to debt, and are now running into problems. Yes, I understand that they may have been laid off for months and months. (Aren't there ANY short-term jobs they could take while looking for a better one? Or are they unwilling to 'lower' themselves?) Yes, I understand their health may be bad. (Is it because they drank too much? Or took drugs? Or got in an accident while...?) 
     If their unspoken argument is that "Well, I didn't save anything because I thought my job would last forever,"  that's just plain foolish. Should my hard-earned money reward that kind of behavior? 
     The crowning point was in Sunday's Parade magazine, and an article about three groups of people who 'need your help.' One featured a mom and children whose heating bills haven't been paid, boo hoo. But gee- look closer! Mom is pictured in her living room, sitting on fancy custom leather furniture. Her children are perched on similar pieces, and expensive accessories just happen to be in the background.
     Hmmm. So I should help chip in for this family's heating because they were spendthrifts, and wasted their available cash on furnishings. The Brick's response: "Tell them to sell the furniture, and pay their bill!"
     I'm lucky. I don't have to deal with this issue regarding relatives, at least right now. That would be much more difficult. All the same, though, I think we'll be contributing a lot less to American causes, and more to kids who REALLY need it -- like Jury's Orphanage in Thailand, sponsored by Lightbridge International. These kids have been living with a leaking roof -- and a good steel one would only be a few thousand dollars. We can help those kids.
     And I guess that means 'poor' American families will have to find someone else to pay their bills for them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Very, Very Funny Video (For Us Geezers, That Is)

Ever think you're the only one who has trouble figuring out this computer business?

Nope! (And the Huffmans do just fine, eventually...)

Earn Money...By Staying In Bed!

Thanks to the heads-up from Penny Hoarder, that is...

NASA is doing ongoing studies on how bodies are affected by weightlessness. Staying in bed for weeks at a time will help them study how muscles deal with the loss of pressure. (In other words, gravity on astronauts' bodies.)

The nice part about all this: you'll get paid up to $5000 monthly, with all your meals and expenses provided, as well. The bad part: you aren't going anywhere for up to three months.

Read about one girl's experiences as a "pillownaut;" it's not as easy as it sounds, but there are definitely benefits. (Maybe I could actually finish this book-in-progress without interruption!)

NASA is currently offering an "Exercise Study" (70 days) and a "Compression Suit" study (says 14 days, but the description suggests a month commitment). Go here for more, including an application. Hmmmm, maybe this would be worth a trip to Houston...

Happy Almost-Thanksgiving!

The restlessness continues...but I'm making slow progress. Even chipping away at stuff gets it done, eventually. The Internet aboundeth with interesting stuff, and here are some more nibbles to munch on while the turkey is thawing.

*Two very good reasons why you need an emergency fund. (Plus another.) The emergency fund sure saved our patootie during hunting season, when we were stuck two hours drive from home, with a broken-down Jeep. Final count on that little adventure: $1000, including the four-wheel-drive that had to be replaced when we got home. Score one for the emergency's looking a little shrunken, but will slowly build back up. (At least 10% from my earnings goes there, every time I do a gig.)

*Cars with clean titles -- and dirty secrets. How to protect yourself.

*Monkey-picked tea. No, I am not making this up.

*How to make money gambling. The answer: you don't. Be sure to read Tight-Fisted Miser's next post, on how he makes money doing this, as well. Basically, he argues that because the casinos comp his hotel room, plus meals and drinks on occasion, that he gets a nice vacation and comes out ahead. This guy has been trying to become a professional gambler off and on for years -- although I enjoy his blog, I have yet to see him make a big killing. (Congratulate him, by the way: he just passed his bar exam.)
    This rings close to home because of our recent anniversary trip to Las Vegas.  We didn't gamble any money. Not one cent. We did, however, get a 'players card' at one casino because it gave us a discount on the buffet there.

*Multiple streams of income. Robert Allen was the first to turn me onto this idea -- that if you can make money a variety of ways, that income will remain more steady than relying on just one job. So I not only wrote articles -- I wrote books, too. And didn't just appraise...but judged competitions, as well. And as a teacher, I could say, 'I can also judge/appraise for you while I'm there.' Extremely helpful.
    And in a pinch, I can always fall back on catering (my mom was a professional, and I've done it on occasion over the years) or secretarial work. All multiple streams.
    We're currently looking at an investment property that may prove to be another 'stream.' If we can get the price down some more, that is. (Go here for a blog that covers multiple streams, plus ideas to save a bit here and there. Adds up for your emergency fund!)

The Brick is sick and tired of dealing with our leaky dining room picture windows. He saw a sale notice for Anderson windows -- but when he threw his name out there, window salesmen from all companies have been coming out of the woodwork, so to speak. We endured a nearly three-hour presentation from Scott at Ameritech last night (great windows, high price - and lots of sales pressure). Tonight is the Anderson rep, and Friday yet another. The emergency fund is am I.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Want A Million Dollars?

(Australian, that is.)

Some guy in tropical shorts and a "singlet" (whatever that is) left a battered suitcase stuffed with cash in a Sydney restaurant. According to witnesses, he then got nervous and left suddenly, leaving the suitcase behind.
    The police have no idea what's going on here. I'd guess drugs -- but hye, if you have a plausible explanation (or can prove ownership), I'm guessing the money is yours!

Tuesday - Stuff Continued

What's up with me? I wander off, take a lick at this job, wander back, finish up that one, return and finish up this one...just restless, I guess. And the mind is going a bunch of different directions, including:

*Wishing (or maybe not) we'd run into Prince Harry. He was apparently partying in Las Vegas the same time we were. He even went to a Cirque du Soleil performance...though not the one we did. Too bad -- he would have enjoyed the nakey people carpet

*Is there a way to give TOO much? Liz Weston thinks so. (I confess that we have seen this happen, too. Friends that we tried to help out long-term turned right around and took advantage of it, even stealing money before they disappeared. They are no longer friends, sadly.)

*ElfYourself is back, courtesy of Office Max and Jibjab. This is an incredibly fun and silly way to tease your favorite people -- by superimposing their faces on elves who boogie to disco, or in the case of Daughters, jump to funk. This year, they even sing! Use the link provided to see what's possible...and start your own. (Yes girlies, you can kill me now.)

Ah well. Thanksgiving's only a few days away...maybe that's good. Considering the amount of stuff I still need to get done beforehand, maybe it's bad!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Stuff on the Way to Other Stuff

Whoo hoo -- after three tries, I have passed the USPAP appraisers exam! It was needed for me to feel confident writing donation appraisals for the IRS -- but even better, it's a big part of my taking -- and certifying -- to become a general personal property appraiser. I've been 'doing' textiles and related items ever since 1999. This new certification means I can actively head toward appraising everything that isn't nailed down: furniture, glassware, paper and such.
   ( Ok -- not Newt Gingrich. Or any of the Occupy Denver protestors, who are showing every sign of staying put through the winter.)
    This whole process has been a revelation -- I hadn't failed an exam since nearly flunking out of high school geometry class back in the mid-1970s. It wasn't that I didn't know what I was doing -- it was much more that I didn't know the vocabulary USPAP used for the same actions. Instead of mentally arguing with that glossary every time I tried to use it, finally sat down and just memorized phrase after phrase after PHRASE. That, and being able to study what I'd already tested on, helped immensely.
    Thank God. I mean that - literally.


*Funky Junk Interiors gives us one last look at fall colors and textures. (Not that they're happening around here. Our trees are stripped bare, due to the windstorms lately.)

*This girl and her family gave up eating out for a month -- and gained some unexpected benefits. (Eating just from your pantry and freezer, or resolving not to spend any money past the critical stuff, can change your life, too. Going without cable's been an eye-opener for us.)

*You can make $200,000 a year with no education or experience...just be a miner in Australia. (Don't miss the next post, either, on the financial pro who lost his own house! We're supposed to hire him because he now Has Learned From His Experience. Kind of like rehiring a babysitter who 'just happened' to misplace your kids for a few hours.)

*A British grandma wishes her nocturnal groper would leave her alone. Only problem: he's a ghost.

* It's pies this week on the Christmas Goodies blog! (Yum)

And The Nester is advocating a "fuss-less" Thanksgiving table.

Hope your Thanksgiving week is shaping up nicely. (And congratulations to online friend Marcie, who just gained a new baby granddaughter!)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friends and Influences

The Mama called, with a surprising message -- one of my high school teachers had a massive stroke, and never really regained consciousness. Her husband has had Alzheimer's for years now, and it is doubtful how much he understands.

Maxine Garland Schut was my English teacher. She taught the basics like English comp -- but I reveled most in her elective classes, meaty stuff like Shakespeare and satire. She was tough -- didn't take any crap. And she insisted on knowing - and using properly - a wider range of vocabulary than we cretins generally subsisted on.

I was a voracious reader before meeting her, but her classes gave me 'permission' in a way to explore more. She probed, asked questions, forced you to defend your opinions. (And praised you when you did, successfully!) She gave me a love for the Bard that endures to this day. (It was actually one of the things the Brick and I shared in common from the first we met...that, plus Gilbert & Sullivan.) 

Would I have written for publication without her influence? Become a teacher myself? I think so...but who knows. She inspired this little farm girl to reach to things I'd only dared to dream of, things like grad school and books with my name on them. I am better for having known her.

Turns out that she influenced many people during her thirty-three years of teaching at Sparta High School in Michigan. You can meet her, too, via her obituary.

Thank you, Mrs. Schut, for pouring yourself into your students. I am so grateful you did.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More on Life

Charley the dog is very, very glad we're back from the days in Vegas -- he follows me around, and makes desperate attempts to sneak into the car, if we go anywhere. The neighbors spoiled him rotten -- they actually hauled out one of Daughter #2's beanbag chairs (one that got wet during the basement caper) for him to sleep on. So now he snoozes on a leopard print pouf, up high so he can see more of what's going on. I swear he's even a little bit fatter. (These are good neighbors.)

I finished taking the USPAP appraiser's exam! God willing, I passed it...but I won't know for at least a week yet. It is so nice not to be studying about appraisal reviews, summaries and restricted use. Now on to the other things I'm supposed to be working on...

Las Vegas really was a welcome break. I don't think we acted like their typical visitor, though -- we didn't gamble. Not a cent. We generally only ate one meal a day...and that was at a buffet. (Try Main Street Station -- $8.99 for breakfast or lunch, and that includes whatever you're drinking. They'll validate your parking, too.)

We went to one show -- just one. Cirque du Soleil was great...except the only show we could get tickets for was their 'sexy' one, Zumanity. Other than a huge series of inane jokes about sex, most of the time the sexy part was that the women went topless. The effect was less than mesmerizing: I kept thinking, 'how come the guys aren't stripping down as much?' And quite frankly, the women just looked cold. They would have been sexier if they'd kept their clothes on...
    The gymnastics were great. Lighting and music - fabulous. And at interesting intervals, some pipes from the ceiling spouted out 'rose petals' onto the audience. Parts of the show were truly great -- but more of it was just waiting for the sex jokes to die down. And sadly, those jokes sounded like they came from a junior high school boys locker room. Come on, Cirque...where's the classiness you're so famous for? 

We also took a long day to head for Hoover Dam (about 30 min. drive away) and the Grand Canyon (4 hours). The Brick is an engineer by training, and was fascinated by the Dam tour. (Frankly, I enjoyed it, too.) You get a very-close-up look at the system's tunnels, turbines, and of course, that huge, famous wall that was constructed by pouring load after load of concrete back in the 1930s. Hoover Dam is really quite old in the parlence of construction, yet it still is producing an incredible amount of energy. It has already paid back all the costs of construction, and is now supporting itself, just by the energy it can produce from flooding the turbines with water from Lake Mead.
    You can also have an incredible amount of fun talking about all the Dam things you can do there, from visiting the Dam store and spending time in the Dam exhibits. (Oh, and sending Dam postcards to your family!) Not to mention our Dam guide's accent and voice had an unnerving resemblance to the Church Lady...

We had so much fun there that we got started late to the Grand Canyon. And got there just as it was getting dark. (Hey, I can tell you what the ranger station and the pine grove around it looks like in the dark!) Note to selves: Arizona is on Pacific time -- and you not only lose an hour going there, you lose an hour of daylight. Quit fooling around with all those Dam subjects next time, and leave earlier.

It wasn't a total loss. One of the reasons for making the trip was to check on a good friend who was working nearby in Williams. (He's been sick. We were worried.) We had supper with him before driving back to Vegas; thankfully, he's doing much better.

It was a long day...and we had to be at the airport at 6 a.m. the next morning, to catch our plane home. But it -- and the whole trip -- were worth it.  I'm looking forward to the next thirty years with the Brick - he's a wonderful guy. 

Happy Anniversary, Honey!

Where Did All the Lights Go?

It seemed strangely dark outside last night. Guess I'd gotten used to the blaze of glory that is Las Vegas 24 hours a day. (The Hoover Dam guide said, tellingly, "We provide less than 1% of the power that Las Vegas uses." To which my beady mind replied, "Yeah, and you're one of the biggest sources of power in the U.S. How much exactly DOES Vegas use?" But I stayed quiet...)

We got home and promptly took a nap. Today, I am in the final throes of taking yet another crack at the USPAP exam -- will be back in touch shortly. Including a Full Report on the trip. Promise.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Las Vegas, Part 2

On to the Grand Canyon this morning! We saw Cirque du Soleil last night, at the New York New York theater -- another item off my bucket list. They were amazing, though we both could have used about triple the acrobatics and a third of the dancing. (Weird side note: the carpet design in the theater was full of naked cherubs and other human types - ahem - all mixed together! Especially strange when viewed from the cheap seats: one poor lady got her face walked on all night.)

Husband is chafing at the bit. On to the Canyon. More tonight.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Las Vegas, Baby!

We have a wonderful room 21 floors up at the Luxor -- I've been having fun watching planes fly by! The windows are angled, so it feels a bit like we're in a French garret. (Don't all attic rooms in France have angled windows, according to the movies? Go see American in Paris or La Boheme, so I can prove it...) Except our French garret has comfortable beds, a television and lots of weird fake 'Egyptian' stuff. The armoire has hieroglyphics, and we've got a weird slab of 'stone' on the wall with 'wall paintings' on it.

While I'm getting my wits about me, take a look at this interesting post -- international workers who make reasonably good money here, but don't spend it and become the equivalent of millionaires when they get back home. Fascinating. And way different from the people parked in front of slots here.

More in a bit. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday Stuff

Temps are up...and so is the wind. We get these strange chinooks now and then, especially during the spring and the fall, that are unnerving to a girl who grew up with regular tornadoes in Michigan. I must keep reminding myself that wind is normal here. I do not need to rush down to the basement. (Besides, the repair guy doesn't start until next week. It's still like a dungeon down there. Ew.)

One day...then we leave for a quickie anniversary trip to Las Vegas. Staying at the Luxor, but not gambling: we do mad, crazy things like sleep in, watch a full football game (a luxury since we gave up cable), and go to -- the Grand Canyon! It's only a few hours away, and the Brick has never seen it. He's especially curious about the Skywalk. (I am curious, too, but my Hollander heart is rebelling. Costs a boatload to use it -- more than $70, once you add in the shuttle and the entry ticket. Just to walk on a clear glass observation deck?!?)

A bunch of things need to be finished up before we go. The camper should be scrubbed out, from hunting. (Clothes and nearly everything else are clean and put away.) An armful of appraisals need to be mailed. And some business paperwork should be submitted. (sigh)

I noticed a few other things you might enjoy, as well:

*the merits of wearing glasses, versus futzing with contacts. (I have both, have worn glasses since the third grade, and contacts since middle school. Colorado is so dry, though, that I have trouble with contacts. Maybe should take them to Vegas, and experiment while we're there.)

*a wonderful blog for vintage clothes and accessories. If I had access to the places this girl gets her stuff from, well.. at any rate, check out Vintage Vixen. She's got some interesting ideas for rehabbing, too, like fringing a t-shirt with scissors, then letting it ravel. Looks great.
    If you enjoy this sort of look for your home, try Thrift Shop Romantic's blog. She's got a weird thing for Alice-in-Wonderland stuff, but I do like her taste in painted plates and vases.

And don't forget to take a quick visit to my new blog, Christmas Goodies! Snickerdoodles are on today's menu; next week is The Week of the Pie.

The Brick is definitely working on his to-do list. The storm windows are up and in place (whoa! warmth in the dining room!), and Charley dog has a heat lamp set up in the garage for chilly tootsies late at night while we're gone. Guess I'd better get started on mine. Have a great weekend.

The leaves are coming off fast in the wind -- won't be much of this left soon.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

So This One IS True...

The Swiss freighter Cassarate, nearly sank in 1972, after its cargo of tapioca started cooking and its weight threatened to buckle the ship's steel plate. As the article pointed out, where do you go to offload 50 truckloads of tapioca?

Hmmm...add a few truckloads of sugar, a dash of cinnamon, and...

The New Orleans Mystery UFO...Isn't

The puzzle of the UFO filmed during a recent football game has been solved.

Turns out that the NFL game photographer does some of his work in time-lapse photography! So what appeared to be a rod-shaped object with lights streaking across the background was...

a commercial jet.

Oh pooh. And it looked so convincing, too.

(See the original report here.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Money Cache Found!

An elderly widow hid money all over her Florida home. After her death, a plumber found $20,000 in an airduct...and turned the money in. Read all about it here.

I keep looking around our house -- but it was always owned by people with large families. (We technically have 7 bedrooms here at Chez Brick.)  I'd guess they didn't have any extra cash to hide!

A Reminder...

...that not everyone gets to even think about holiday goodies.

This special report details what many poor Haitians are eating to fill their stomachs:

mud cookies.

Dirt, a little shortening, salt, water and maybe a little sugar. That's it.

And the women who are selling them are paying high prices for the dirt, said to come from the mountains. (I wonder.) A big sack of dirt? $5.

Go here for the full report. 

Hot Dogs And Holidays

Welcome to the exciting world of Chez Brick. Yours truly has been doing household stuff and schlepping Daughters #1 and #2 to and fro from the grocery store, doctor and dentist, etc. This afternoon has a date with ironing and AVP (Alien vs Predator, one of my favorite monster/pseudohistorical flicks). Hey, they go together!

After a quick lunch of hot dogs, I started thinking: what's the Thanksgiving menu going to be like? One possibility is to crockpot the mashed potatoes, like this blogger (via Land O'Lakes butter) is suggesting. Hmmm...not a bad idea, considering my family views these as the Holy Grail of Thanksgiving. Whatever isn't snarfed down with gravy gets scooped out, fingerfuls at a time, and eaten cold out of the refrigerator around midnight.

Well, they are good. Here's the recipe:


5 pounds potatoes
1/2 - 1 stick butter (no substitutes)
2 cups milk
salt and fresh-ground pepper

Peel your potatoes. (Save the peels and fry them slowly, then top with cheese while still hot. Oh my.) Cut in half or quarters.
Or save time by going straight to the boiling -- boil the peeled/unpeeled potatoes for approx. 35-40 min., until a fork pierces them easily.  (Peel after draining, while they're still hot. Actually goes faster, and leaves more potato on the peel for the appetizer.)
   Drain your potatoes. (Save the water for soup base or potato rolls. Nothing is wasted to a farmer's wife.)  Pile into the biggest bowl you've got, and grab a large spoon, salad fork or an old-fashioned potato masher. (These have a criscross pattern, and a strong handle.)
    Now mash. Push hard. Keep mashing, until the bits start to blend together. Toss in some butter and a cup of the milk. Mash more. 
    Keep adding milk, a splash at a time, plus butter, until it's incorporated into the potatoes, and you have a creamy mass with a few lumps. Cover the bowl and set it back on the warm stovetop while you finish the rest of the meal.

And yes, they're good with more stuff added: bits of bacon, a scoop or two of sour cream, garlic, finely chopped onion and cheese.

* * * * * * * *


I wanted a way to feature all the wonderful foods of the upcoming holidays -- so ta da! Take a look at my newest blog, CHRISTMAS GOODIES! I'll include old family recipes, plus some quick ideas for great dishes, from appetizers to that great bastion of the holidays -- desserts. Come on over and say hi. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Weird Monday

Strange things are wandering around the Internet today. For example:

*The guy who was living on food stamps in August -- and now is bragging on a $75,000 job he got at a few days notice. (Oh yes, he admits to still being $50,000 in debt. No doubt he's actively paying it down now. Right.) Not sure where to go next on this -- we should ALL go out and do likewise??

*A piece of Saddam Hussein's famous statue (the one that was toppled) was auctioned off in September...a piece of his butt. (The seller, a former British soldier, says that choice was totally random. Sure.)

*That's not the end. (smirk)  Perhaps you'd enjoy reading a new novel about Empress Theodora, who gave a whole new emphasis to the phrase "she slept her way to the top." This one's puzzling, too. So we're supposed to admire her because she had spunk and spirit -- and knew how to influence lots of lovers?? The reviewer sure spends lots of time burbling away about her courage, etc. (Funny - integrity is not on the compliment list.)

*Or perhaps you'd prefer the heartwarming tale of the woman who attacked her elderly father because he wouldn't share his potato salad. 

*And the Russian who gives family living a whole new meaning -- he scavenged 29 corpses from various graveyards, dressed them up and positioned them all around his apartment. (Maybe he needed partners for canasta?)

One more thing: 
*There's a naked guy wandering around Dulles Airport -- but don't worry. He's not a threat.

Makes me grateful for things like dirty clothes and household chores -- at least they make sense. I learned a new trick today: if you've got problems with a spot or two of mildew on your walls (especially in your bathroom), try this: spray it with a 50/50 mixture of bleach and water. (Use one of those fragranced bleaches for a nicer smell -- mine was "clean linen.") Let dry, then wash off with regular water. Solves the problem in a snap! Be sure to remove towels, rugs and other textiles first, though, and stay out of the way of any backsplash or vapor -- bleach spots could spot your clothes.

Husband surprised me with breakfast in bed this morning -- the sweetheart. Guess he realized I was pooped, too. His selection: a sausage-stuffed omelet...and a piece of leftover pizza. The breakfast of champions! 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dead Tarred And...

Just finished the last gig of the year, appraising at Holly's Quilt Cabin in nearby Centennial. (Hi guys! I had a great time -- thank you for all your help!) Tore home, just in time to catch the tail end of the Brick's song at church...then went and stood by the missions committee table for the outreach fair at church. I took care of some other matters, and by the time I got home, the Brick in tow, I realized:

I am just plum tuckered out.  When people say similar stuff, I can relate.

Still some appraisals to go out from yesterday's gig -- some bills to send -- some other writing to do. Even some appraising to do here at home. But I think I will generally lay a bit low this week. Get a few hours of needed sleep. Maybe even read a book or two! We've got another storm moving in tomorrow night; it may be the perfect opportunity to just stay at home and get stuff done here.

Also, both daughters are saying they're heading here tomorrow night to celebrate my September birthday. (I was in Michigan, with the Mama, at the time.)

Sounds wonderful. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Yep, it's Coming...

Christmas is just around the corner, and J.D. at Get Rich Slowly wants to know how much people spend on presents. 
   The answers range from $5 per person (J.D.'s personal response) to hundreds of dollars.

I found this mildly amusing, since I'd just gotten a whole stack of free samples in the mail -- items that were earmarked to help fill up Christmas stockings! (Try Money Saving Mom; she often has a whole raft of items available. My own blog, Saving Site, also features regular freebies.) I would mention some of these specifically, but both girlies have a bad habit of reading posts here now and then. I want to surprise them.
   Other cheap/frugal possibilities in the stocking stuffer department:

*travel sized fancy shampoos, perfumes and cologne

*half-priced holiday candy (Halloween stuff may still be available! I just bought a large bag of miniature candy bars, plus three "Boxes of Boogers" that will be perfect presents for friend Tommy, who enjoys tormenting me, and my darling baby brother -- the same guy that sends nose-picking birthday cards practically every year.)

*small packages of specialty nuts (or make your own mix) or the giftee's favorite candy (My mom would kill for Almond Roca, and loves the homemade version as well.) 

*hand-knit wash/dishcloth (these are quick to make, and  surprisingly effective)

*movie tickets (Groupon offers great discounts on these. Buy them via Swagbucks, and save even more. (See the 'swidget' on the bottom right column to sign up.)

*gift cards (Even a $5 Target or Starbucks card is appreciated. Groupon recently ran a special - $26 bought not only a $25 Target gift card, but a $50 gift card. Plus, I got bonus points at Swagbucks, which will soon add up to two free $5 Amazon giftcards. Score!)

*small stuffed animals (generally a buck or less at the dollar or thrift store)

*pack of cards

*a book or comic book. (Donna Freedman's giving away a Tundra comic book -- but hurry, it ends today!)

   Our Christmas stockings also include a can of black olives (adorn the fingertips, and nibble them off while reading your Christmas book), as well as a can of tuna for Daughter #1, who is passionate about it. (She'll also get a can of mushroom soup, which she enjoys cold. Right out of the can. At 25, she's old enough to eat whatever she wants, I guess. Ewww..)