Monday, February 23, 2009

Madeline's Confectionary Arts & Gallery

Our first Toys for Troops fundraiser, back in 2006, if you remember, was a spaghetti dinner, thrown at the Esquire. I am still amazed at the success of that event, and the community participation. A few hours into the evening, a nice lady named Buffy Vance waltzed right up to me and breathlessly announced, "I made this cake for you."

I somehow remember her as flitting right back out for another obligation. It was if a Spaghetti Cake Faerie had lit upon us. And she let me keep the plate! It has little purple dots around the outside rim, and every time I bring that plate out I am reminded of the spaghetti cake.

Guess what? Buffy is pursuing her dreams, and has just opened her own shop! Yesss! I love it when people screw up the gumption and courage to pursue their dreams. I hope to do that myself one day. Until then, I am living vicariously through, and acting as cheerleader for Buffy.

Her shop, located in downtown Urbana, is called

Madeline's Confectionary Arts Studio and Gallery

Buffy will be making sugary delicacies in her new shop, and teaching you how to make them, if you sign up for her classes.

Yes. All of this made from sugary goodness. She will teach you how.

Detail of cake in background picture above.

In addition, she's using half of her space to spotlight local artists—hence the “Gallery” section of the store. I've been in and out the last few weeks, taking photos and watching her progress as she got her shop together for the Open House. 16 hours a day, she was working, to get ready, and loving every minute of it. Sighhhhh. Doesn't that sound lovely?

I attended the Open House Friday night, and it was lovely. There was food, wine, cakes, artists, music, and happily, lots of people in attendance.

A rare moment; it was standing room only here most of the evening; I was lucky to get a shot of this wall.

The sugar room! Isn't it adorable?

I want!

Does she know my house is done in red, gold, and turquoise? She's lucky I didn't take that Kitchen Aid home in my purse.

Madeline's will open from 10 to 5 Wednesday through Saturday this week. If you're in the downtown Urbana area, I hope you run in and check out this new studio. Support the Arts! Support Buffy! Support chasing your dreams!

Oh, and sign up for some sugar classes, while you're at it.

Madeline's Confectionary Arts & Gallery
122A W. Main Street (just above Mirabelle Bakery)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More on Strangers: Pondering

I leave for work at the same time each morning, and take the same route to work, every day. I have come to recognize other people leaving their homes, or on their way to daily destinations. I have a tendency, each morning, to check up on "my" people. I have 3 bus stop people—that is, bus stops I drive by—each of whom I wonder about each morning, or miss when they don't show up. I've seen them so many times that I've recognized them in other settings: book stores, restaurants.

I have oddly come to create imaginary personalities for my bus stop people, based on my daily observations.

The first young man, I've decided, is taking the bus to our local community college. He's smart, but geeky, with a few obsessive compulsive disorders. He is never in jeans, but in dress pants with the legs cut too high, revealing socks and large black shoes. He isn't "hip" like most of today's youth, but he is meticulous and methodical and always ready. He has an umbrella on rainy days, and wears a windbreaker on windy days; the hood up and tied tight around his face. This morning, I noticed that his footprints in the snow stopped where he stood. I then noticed just the one set, back down the road and up a driveway to the home he must live in. Ew. Now I'm a stalker.

Another woman stands at a bus stop near assisted-living housing established for adults that have physical and mental disabilities. She stands on the corner each morning, sometimes with a cane, sometimes with a walker. She has come to recognize me and waves enthusiastically when I drive by. This has been going on for years. I thought at first that it was a case of mistaken identity; if she were to get a closer look, she'd realize she didn't know me. But she once approached me warmly in a restaurant on the avenue, and asked "Where are you working, now?" We made polite chitchat, and I shyly did not ask her name. It probably is a case of mistaken identity, but she spoke to me with such familiarity that I'll never be sure if it's not my own mistake. Might I have forgotten her?

And the final young woman, I've been observing for only a few months now. A gorgeous young black girl, I noticed her hair first, the most beautiful red extensions in her hair, against a white down coat. I saw her, the first few mornings, waiting for the bus, and just couldn't take my eyes off of her hair. Another morning then, me running early, I noted her departing an early bus, with a baby carrier in her arms. There have been mornings since that I've noted her tromping with that baby, over snowdrifts on uncleared sidewalks, and other days where I see her walking back to the bus stop, after dropping off her baby.

I wonder about her every day. How she is neatly dressed and pulled together every morning. How early she must have to get up, to get herself ready, and her baby ready, and pack diapers and formula, and how long she must have to stand in the cold, and how far she has to ride the bus, and where she goes, on her next stop.

While coming home from Menard's last night, I spotted her again, waiting for a bus. It was almost 7 pm. She was standing, in the dark, in awful freezing rain. I had to remind myself that I don't know her; that I could not offer her a ride; she'd think me crazy! I left wondering more: Might she just be getting off work? Will she grab the next bus clear back to the other side of town, pick her baby up, and grab yet another bus home?

So I watch people.

I ponder, and I wonder. I wonder how far off I am with my made-up stories of their lives. That one, he is smart and lovable, in his own geeky way. I'm sure he'd make me laugh. And this one, a total sweetheart. She loves you, no matter what. And that one: She's going places. I hope the world cuts her a break, but if it doesn't, she's going to be ok, and she will someday tell her daughter about once upon a time, when she mucked through 2 feet of snow from the bus-stop, and that little girl will never be able to imagine it.

Ah, who knows. My gut instinct about people, if I listen to it, is usually spot-on.

I guess I'll never know.

But it's not so bad, for them, that a stranger wishes them well, yeah?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Laughing with Strangers: Revisited

Have you ever gotten email or a familiar phone call that wasn't meant for you? I have a common surname, so end up, fairly often, with messages meant for some other L. Stewart. I've even received a few exciting hotel confirmations that weren't mine, dang the dang.

I received this one, tonight:*
Hey Jim, Mary [Doe] married for a while to a [Smith] wasn't she? Which one? Mom.
Having sleepily arrived home at 8 pm to find dinner and tend to chores, I merrily responded:
Hi Mom,

You got the wrong Stewart; I'm Lori, not Jim. I don't know who Mary Doe was married to.

Just wanted you to know that you got the wrong address. Have a nice day.
I hit send, thinking, "God, I'm loopy; that woman is going to think I'm nuts. Ah well. A stranger."

It wasn't long before I got this message back:
Sorry about that. I found my mistake.
I laughed outloud when I noticed she signed it,
Since it was an e-mail encounter, I don't guess I know that she was laughing, but I'll just give her credit for pulling one over on me, and assume that we were both laughing.

A laugh with a complete stranger is one of those things that has always made my day. My cheeks hurt from smiling, now, at this stranger that returned my volley.

It brings to mind another memory of laughing with a stranger, that I wrote about 3.5 years ago. Could it have been that long? This memory still brings a smile to my face.

Laughing with a Stranger.

Does it only happen every 4 years or so? I like to think not. There are some, however, that you just manage to carry with you for a lifetime.

It's why I love them so.

As always, share. A stranger has made you laugh, and I want to know.

*Following Dragnet's lead, names were changed, to protect the innocent.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentines Wrap Up, and Other Sundries

The weekend was a good one.

The house is coming along by leaps and bounds now. We are painting! The ceilings are painted. The upstairs bathroom/vanity and bedroom are all painted except for one accent wall.

The kitchen has a basecoat, and I am doing a time-consuming marbling technique on most of the walls that requires 4 additional colors of paint, and some custom detailing with an artist's brush. I'm anxious about it; it's "daring" for new walls, and a lot to look at in an empty kitchen. I hope it will be stunning when we have floors, cabinets, appliances, and...our life all moved in.

Next up: Flooring. Toilets. (Yay! Peeing outdoors in the country is very refreshing in the winter, but it's refreshment I won't miss.) Cabinets. Appliances. When the new section is done, we'll move on to restoring the old sections. We're aiming for a functional house and "move in" date of May 1. The house won't be complete by then, but at least we can live there while we work. It's getting old, working long days, then having to pack up and go home, and deal with laundry and dishes in an alternate home.

In the midst of all of this, we managed to have fun for Valentine's day. Clint had to work Saturday, so we agreed to celebrate on Friday. We rented a movie, shopped for a couple of good steaks, put on our PJs, and proceeded to have a candelit dinner at home.

Pretty fancy place setting, with paper-towel napkins, heh? Hey, you try to find your linen napkins when you're spread out between 2 households. There was also:

And an I.O.U. for a special delivery on Saturday:

Right out of the oven. Notice how he eats the middle roll first.

I found another surprise Saturday morning, when I awoke well after Clint had schlepped off to work:

Awww, another card on the day of! I gasped to find MORE in the card:

Tickets to see Buddy Guy! We're going to see us some Blues, baby! Yay, yay, yay! Whoo hoo!

I know Valentine's is hokey little day, but I like bothering with hokey little days. A lot of stuff we do is hokey. We celebrate mundane stuff with face paint of our favorite team, and halloween socks, and green beer and patriotic nail polish. It's always amusing to me, and I think it's fun to bother with this stuff, when we don't have to.

The rest of the weekend was business as usual: Laundry, dishes, groceries, checking in on Mom, cleaning the litterbox, and painting the house.

I'll take a candlelit interruption to those kinds of chores any day of the week.

Did you do anything special on V-day?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blast from the Past

I came across this third-grade photo of myself the other day.

Third grade wasn't my greatest year. That thing I had on was a little sundress with a polka-dotted panty-thing built right in. You had to take the entire thing off in the little girls' room.

And those glasses, Lord, they made me the laughing stock of Mrs. Llewellyn's class. The kids just fell all over themselves when I mucked in with those glasses on. I TOLD my mother that the kids would make fun of me, but she gushed, "oh, they're so bee-YOO-tiful!" Sure, they were beautiful when YOU were a kid in the '50s.

I did everything I could do to destroy those glasses, and yet still make it look like an accident. But they were pretty hearty; they lasted through 5th grade, whereupon I graduated to groovy wire frames shaped like stop signs. Peace, man.

Whatcha think? See any resemblance between then and now?


How 'bout now?

Any glasses that make you look like a little old lady whether you're 10 or 46 years old should be taken out and shot!

Seriously. Use a gun. Because speaking from experience, tossing them across the playground or running over them with your bike isn't going to do the job.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Other People's Stories: Part I

I'm braindead for blog fodder today, so I'm going to talk about other people. A friend recently lamented about her ex-husband: "He would never gossip, and I respected that about him....But God! Sometimes you just want to gossip about people, y'know?"

That's so funny. I'm not going to gossip about people today, but that's a funny (short) story, and I just wanted to share it with you.

I've always maintained that some of my best stories are other people's stories. I have hilarious friends with hilarious stories, and I find myself prompting them "Oh, tell me that story again!"

For instance, my friend Diane. We met in 1982, when I began working with her in a printing factory. She didn't actually like me at first (I know!), but being the good person she is, stepped up and saved me during an altercation with the company nutjob. We've been best friends ever since, and I could write volumes about our adventures together. Volumes!

Diane works at a local Performing Arts Center. Her official title is something like "usher" which sounds cooshy, but it is not. It's hard, physical labor that entails setting up stages and bleachers and risers, and tearing them down again, sweeping, mopping, PR, greeting, entertaining, and assisting guests.

The perks are pretty cool, though: Once, while she was hauling out garbage with one hand, Yo Yo Ma crossed the hall to shake the other. On another evening, while she sat on the dock taking her break, k.d. lang hurdled her like a gazelle, trying to escape an onslaught of rushing fans. Di just yelled after her, "Bye, k.d.!"

Anyway, The Great Hall at Krannert holds nearly 4,000 people. Though Di is a friendly sort, getting up on stage in front of that many people is generally an offer she would turn down. She was forced, however, to do just that, when the Boston Symphony Orchestra* was interrupted by a bat.

Bats and The Boston Symphony Orchestra don't go together. Apparently the crowed ooh'd and ahh'd with every swoop of the confined bat, and the concert was brought to a halt. Diane was called in to remedy the situation.

Called right up on stage.

Standing there.

With all of the musicians.

And all of the instruments.

In front of 40,000 people.

And a big ol' giant butterfly net in her hands.

Catch that bat! Yes! She was supposed to catch that bat with that net, while 400,000 people watched! The bat would swoop down, and the crowd would warn her, and she'd swing the net.

Overhead lights blinded her, and she took to listening to the audience's cue, and swinging that net when voices rose. No bat in the basket, she'd wait again, until there was a crescendo in the crowd noise, and SWOOP again. No bat, she couldn't catch the bat.

Well, that's kind of where the story wraps up. I know that you were waiting for her to trip and take out the percussion section, which would have made a great story, but that's not how it happened at all. In the end, one of the audience members whapped the bat with a BSO program that he'd rolled up to use as a weapon. Di and her coworkers were able to retrieve the poor stunned dear, and set it free.

That's the whole story. No moral, no point, I just laugh to think of Diane up there, flailing around on stage in front of 4,000,000 people, trying to catch a bat with a butterfly net.

I love that story so much that YOU could tell it to me, and I'd laugh.

Well, since we just heard it, why don't you tell me a crazy story about YOUR friend?

Blog it, and I'll link you up here, if you don't want to leave it in the comments.

*Don't quote me on this; I'm pretty sure it was BSO night, though it could have been a different symphony altogether. Whoever it was, they were famous, and it was a packed house.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

My New Hero: Makin' Brownies for a Soldier

I put out a call a couple days ago, looking for people that might like to ship off some Valentine's goodies to soldiers. The response was fantastic, cookies and brownies and cards and letters are being whipped up and shipped out.

I just had to share with you this photo of one very special little brownie chef:

This is Will. He's 3 years old, and was diagnosed with leukemia in October. I've written here of my friend Lori, aka "LA Lori," and her husband Jim (of yard-forking fame). Will is their nephew, and we all, of course, ached with his diagnoses.

Still, Will seems to be one uplifting little character. His mother tells, on his Caring Bridge website, about a nurse asking his name and age, and his responding "That's right. I'm three. Write that down." I see references to his calling 911 on her, also, for stealing a bite of his pancake.

Will's mother was the first one to respond to my call for cookies. I can't begin to write how much this moves me. Since Toys for Troops was established, I've had only to summon the courage to mention what we need. Peep. Then I step back, and watch people step up.

I have never not been amazed. People busier than we are make time. Folks who tell me that don't have the money for shipping have gone ahead and scrounged up 3 friends with $5 to make it happen.

And now a 3-year-old boy with leukemia is making brownies with his mother, to brighten the day of a soldier in Iraq.

Will's mother, Angela, has very poignantly documented his story here: Will's Caring Bridge Webpage. It has been a tough road for this little guy and his family, but what you will read here, entry after entry, are tales of goodwill offered up by other people, to this family. Basketball teams, and strangers, and acquaintances.

She wrote me, in an email:

We have been blessed by so many people and with many acts of kindness throughout this ordeal. That is one of the reasons I want to do something for someone else.
Pay it Forward!
They are most definitely paying it forward. Will's brownies are on their way to SPC Brown, currently serving in Iraq while his own mother battles breast cancer.

If you ever hear me say I can't do a thing, again, in my life, then shake me, ok?

Because if this little guy...

...can change the direction of the day of this big, strong one, on the other side of the world:

SPC Brown

Then, really, there is nothing we ourselves cannot do.

I am incredibly humbled, and at the same time, strengthened to my very core.

Rock on, Will & Antoine: Two American Heroes.

If you'd like to send a shout out to Will and his family, there's a guest book on their website: Will Page Website

P.S. to Angela: You have totally made me sweep.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Dump Day

Boston Pobble recently told me that she secretly, in her mind, thinks of "Camera Unload" posts as "PDD": Photo Dump Day. That's so much catchier—and classier— that I'm going to steal it use it from now on.

First, I have to revisit a few past posts.

1. I cashed in on an '07 Christmas gift from Clint on January 2, '09. A year ago I asked you for your perfume suggestions. I kept your list in my wallet, smelling all of you people, each and every one of you. I had indicated that I'm drawn to something spicy and near-masculine, and in the end, I didn't get anything of the sort. I already had a spicy scent. Why go for another? When all was said and done, I kept returning to, and trying on this one:

Juicy Couture

It's soft, light, and flowery, and smacks slightly of suntan lotion, I think. Oh, and Clint thinks it's much more fun to call it Juicy Cootchie—another classy title upgrade. He and Pobs should get together and just rename everything, don't you think?

#2 Boots

A few months ago, I dreamed about new Country-City boots, and thought that I loved these (Keen, Winthrop):

Clint's gift to me this year was boots of my choice, but when we went to try these on, I found out I didn't love them, not at all. They're wide through the top, and squish all down when you walk, giving them the look of galoshes. I'm sure galoshes are in my future, but not $160 leather galoshes, thank you very much.

In the end, I chose these North Face boots (Hailey):

I love them! They are comfortable, waterproof, lined with this heavenly soft fleecy stuff, and are oh-so-warm. Seriously, there have been cold days since I got them in which I can honestly say that I've only been warm from the knees down.

Of course, when it came right down to mucking around in the country in them a few weeks ago, I'd have nothing of the sort—I changed back into my ugly muddy winter galosh boots. I'm not messing up my good City Country boots!

This concludes the minutes from the past meeting. On to the Dumping.

First up: Signs. Here's the sign at an oil change place at Prospect & Bradley, in Champaign.

I don't know what else to add to that

This one at Burger King, when we pulled in for a diet coke the other day:

"SORRY!!!!!" Oh yeah, we've all had this apology before. They don't sound very sorry, do they?

So, if you want to tack on another order of fries you have to get back in line? Is this really that much of a problem at their store that they had to make a policy out of it?

Here's what I think: If you order some more fries at the window, your order gets placed on the drive through computer, out of order. It looks like the guy 3 cars behind has ordered fries. The fast food employees are too daft busy to keep track of the whereabouts of those fries for the next 3 minutes. They forget that those fries already left the premise. They fill another order of fries, and hand it to the guy that was 3 cars behind you, and then give HIS order to the guy behind him, and so on and so forth, until it's a big Burger King Clusterfook

That sign should really read, "SORRY!!! We can't keep 4 orders in a row straight. HAVE A NICE DAY!!!!"

Boy, back when I worked fast food, we wrote our orders on scratch pads and kept them all straight, and we liked it! Grumble, grumble.

Next picture: You'll probably have to click to enlarge this one, but here are some deer that were in the field across from the country casa the other day. We didn't stick around, but they inevitably cross the road, and muck around in our yard for awhile, and proceed to the field behind our house.

I am seriously going to have to invest in a high-power lens for my good camera when we get settled in there. We purposely designed the house so that we'll have a good view of these gorgeous creatures, no matter where they're grazing.

Last photo: Here's Clint at my Mom's house Sunday afternoon, putting a new lamp together for her. I still laugh at the look on my Mom's face, when she first noticed him. She looked at him, then gave me a "what in the hell?" look, before finally cracking up.

Better yet, when I sent this photo to his mother yesterday, she sent back this message: "Proves you can turn him on!!"

P.S. Do any bloggers out there know what's up when Blogger either adds 1000 paragraph returns between every paragraph, or closes up all the space between them, while you write? It's annoying, annoying I say, to have to go back and space them properly, over and over again.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside... Iraq.

I'm starting to get notes from soldiers and their families that it is cold in Iraq right now too. I remember Brian calling me at this time last year, saying that they could see their breath in their sleeping bags every night, and asking me to send space heaters.

I bought these space heaters at Menard's yesterday, for $18. I've been told they run in the same price range at Walmart. Wrapped as they are in brown paper, it cost me an $16 to mail each one, priority/airmail.

Hopefully, a week from now they'll be sitting between a few bunk beds or cots, taking a bit of chill out of the air, and warming up a few noses sticking out of the top of sleeping bags.

I know times are tough right now, but if you're one of those folks that has a spare $35 just laying around, I have names of a few freezy boys that wouldn't mind adding one of these to their personal inventory in a cold, cold tent. (Yes, there are generators and places to plug these things in).

These handwarmers are running just $5/box, as stores gear up for spring:

Electric hot water kettles: $12 at Bed, Bath & Beyond. You can find them for less than $10. Toss in some noodle cups, instant mashed potatoes, instant soup, tea bags, General foods coffees, and maybe she won't have to walk 1/2 mile in the cold to use the microwave in the chowhall, after returning from her last mission. IF THAT'S JUST MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE...(and that's ok)...

Valentine's Day is just around the corner! There's still time to whip up some cookies and fill out a card or a letter! An easy project for your snowbound kids: Cookies and cards, yeah!

Flat-rate boxes cost $11.95 to send, all of the cookies that you can cram in them.

Hit me up for a soldier's name, if you're ready to help out: