Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Midwestern Girl's Guide to The Winter Pedicure

It was around Labor Day, I believe, since my last pedicure. Stuff's happened since then—an insanely harsh Autumn, chock-full of weather that requires socks and boots. Weather that leaves our poor feet floating around in an "out of sight, out of mind" continuum.

I guess I'll announce it now, then, that my feet are coming out of hibernation on Christmas morning in Mexico. 

Feliz Navidad, Peeps! Voy al Cancun con me hombre y su familia. Y necesito un pedicure because, as I said, my feet haven't seen the light of day for months. HOWEVER, hace frio, y there is mucho snow-o on the el-ground-o, and however am I going to get mis toes-os back to el country casa?

Seriously. Damp toenail polish. Your options: 1) Wander around the salon until tomorrow, which isn't necessarily condoned. 2) Gamble that you're dry enough, and stuff your feet back into a foot-vessel (Tantamount to throwing your pedicure money down the toilet). 3) Shuffling out into the snow and sleet in flip-flops...Yeah. You go first.
I have worked it all out.

UNO: Grab an old pair of 99-centavo socks and cut the toes off.

TWO-O: Find an hombre or an amigo that will drive you to the pedicure place, and drop you off right at the door.

TRES: Pick out a cha-cha color that properly represents Christmas in Mexico, and slide those socks from #1 on before the polish is applied.




Sure, you're slipping back into flip-flops, but most of your foot is covered, and all you have to do is tippy-toe back into...

Numero Quatro 4-oh: Call su hombre back to pick you up at the door. Your toes will never touch the sleety slush. Your hombre, of course, has been home shoveling a walkway the entire time, so you are in like Flynn, baby.

Cinco: Pack up your toesies (your swimsuit, sunglasses, sunscreen) in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Santa Rampage IV: 2010

Last night was the Fourth Annual Santa Rampage in Champaign, and not only was it as fun as ever, it was the best year yet. You'd think running the streets with 70 other Santa's just couldn't get any more fun than it was last year, but it really does.

We started the evening by doing a bit of party crashing, at my friend Cynthia's house. Cynthia maintains an amazing blog called The Sandwich Life, and if you don't read it, you need to go add it to your list right now. Anyway, she and husband Ernie were throwing a house concert featuring singers/musicians Kristi Rose and Fats Kaplin. We couldn't make the entire party, but we didn't see any reason we couldn't run a quick rampage through the house. We left our cab running and did just that.


This year was extra special to me because my kiddo was here for it, along with all of his friends (my other sons). It was exciting to hang out with them again, to be surrounded by so many more that I love. Also, although our kids (Clint's and mine) have met briefly on a few occasions, they've  never had much of a chance to get to know each other. It's the first time that we've had a family (Santa Rampage) affair in which MY family showed up too. BOO-yah!


Jen get the "Most Photographed" Award of the year, with her Cindy Lou Hoo costume, and hairdo extraordinaire. There is a styrofoam cone under there, and pipe cleaners in the little loop-de-doo's on the sides. It was amazing!


I wore the same old hat that I wore last year. It was likened to a cat toy, and Chad made sure it got a lot of spring action through the night.


Jen's husband, Bill, dressed up as The Grinch. Sounds like they planned that together, but neither learned of the others costume until Saturday morning.


I walked away with hundreds of photos from the evening. I am so hard pressed to find a representative set for this post that I'm just going to link to My SmugMug Gallery. Click HERE, if you're interested.

I'll close with one more, my favorite photo of the night, taken at Memphis on Main. We had danced our hearts out and were moving on to Mike & Molly's. By then we were many Santas spread throughout a deep bar, so Brian asked for the mic to announce our next stop. Here he and Chad are directing the closing salutation that we shouted as we left each establishment, on the count of 3:

1-2-3: Merrrrry Christmas!!!!

I hesitate to keep bringing it up, for fear of sensationalizing the issue, buy my kid was in Iraq at this time last year. Now look at him, smiling and laughing, and clearly having a blast..

Look at him. Here with us, with friends and family.

Look at him.

Not. in. Iraq.

That makes me feel like this:

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Keen Observation Skills: FAIL

Apparently I've been a bit absorbed for the last week or so, with the Toys for Troops event. We just don't have a clear idea of how much money we have to work with, and how far we have to spread it, until we get closer to the big day. A lot of the work comes on a tight deadline, leaving me under a bit of pressure for the last week, trying to focus on all of the last minute tidbits. I was up until midnight or later for the last 10 days before the event.

I have a bit of an embarrassing story that reveals just how honed in my little head was, on my lists and chores.

Transition now back to the Country Casa. We're still under construction.  The last 6 months of work have focused on outdoor projects, and Clint is just now getting back to tending to indoor projects. I'll admit to having done a bit of footstomping at the end of the summer, and asking (asking/demanding, potato/ potahto)  for a myriad of quick-fixes to make living here more efficient, less cluttered, and thus a lot less stressful. We still aren't ready for our magazine spread (unless Better Homes & Gardens is looking for "Construction Chic"), but things are a bit more orderly.

One item on the list was to find a set of shelves for a 2-foot-cubby created between the refrigerator and the wall. Long term plans are to build some, but furniture-making isn't high on the priority list right now, and we need shelves. It's an odd size, so when we spotted a set in Chicago a few weeks ago, we brought it home.

So excited we were, until we went to set the microwave on and discovered it was 5/8" too wide. Though perfect in total width, we hadn't taken into account the space that the posts took up on each corner. Doh! I immediately conceded: "Welp. Microwave too big. Options: 1) smaller microwave, 2)  microwave on counter 3) microwave rack somewhere else, etc. etc.

Clint, on the other hand, stood staring at the shelf for an eternity. Hemming and hawing and measuring and stewing. Keep in mind that for the last 3 years, Clint has just measured things and cut them and nailed them, and made them fit. Poor thing has a hard time stepping out of that "I can make this work!" mentality. After several minutes of muttering, I finally told him "I'll confess that I'm timing how long it takes you to realize that damned microwave is never going to fit on that shelf. You're up to 13 minutes." "Are you making fun of me?!!" he asked. I promised I was.

In the end, the shelves were more costly than a microwave, so they stayed, it went. Unfortunately, the microwave got stuck somewhere else that I'd just set up, thus undoing a bit of my former organizing. We've been busy, and just haven't gotten around to shopping for the new one, but twice in the last week, I've pointed out that we need to go shopping for one. I also grumbled aloud that I'll be glad to get the other one moved out to make more space.

I got home from work yesterday, and began cooking for my kid and his friends that were coming over. I puttered around and tidied up for 2 hours before I noticed a BIG surprise:


A microwave! A new microwave, stuck right in there on the new shelf, and I hadn't even noticed! Clint went out and got one! Yayyyy!

I jumped around the kitchen, cheering and hugging him, and apologizing for not noticing it the minute I walked into the house.

"Wanna hear the rest of the story?" he asked me.

Yes! Yes, what is the rest of the story?

"That microwave has been on that shelf for 7 days."

Get OUT! Are you kidding me?!! I began making excuses about having spent most of the 7 days out shopping, or at the printer. I haven't been cooking, so hadn't had to put pots or pans away. My head was somewhere else. Oh, and we were at a wedding all day Saturday night, and ummm...and whatever other excuse I could dream up.

Sigh. The truth is, that microwave is sitting right next to the doorway that leads to our bedroom. I walk by it about 100 times a day. I myself don't know how I didn't notice the dang thing.

I got 'nothin, but I AM going to take an eyes-wide-open stroll around the house to see what else we have.

Some of our stuff might come in handy.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Post Office 2010

I have to tell it every year: The Christmas Event Post Office Experience. I'll remind you that they don't have a special drop-off door for you, if you happen to have 60 or 100 flat-rate boxes. Noooo, they make you get in line behind the guy buying a book of stamps. And (ahem) in front of the guy that just wants to buy one stamp.

We've also learned, over the years, that communicating with warning the post office is just good manners. We called ahead! Unfortunately, when Diane and I showed up Monday morning, the post office was a bit of a ghost town, as far as employees go. Customers lined up out the door, and 1 lone clerk. I suspected a flu, a post-office plague; they have never been unprepared for us!

We weren't about to hold up the line, so we took off. I called the Urbana Post Office and made a 4:00 "appointment." We were told to bring it on; there would be 3 clerks in attendance.

Donna! Yay, we got Donna! Donna appeared here in 2007, she is downright almost famous now!


We got there at 4:00, and Donna was *supposed* to get off work at 4:30. She knew what she was getting herself into, and announced that she'd stayed until she got through with our order. Go Donna! Go Troops! Go, USA!

Standing behind Donna is the Postmaster, Kathy. Kathy came out to give me money. Her very own money, along with an envelope full of other donations, one of which was from my very own cousin, Tammy. I have to tell you, it's really great to walk in and do business with a business that gives YOU money.



We were there at the end of the day, a cold sucky Monday. People were on their way home from work.  I imagined them anxious to get home and fix dinner, and getting stuck behind us, hogging an entire employee to ourselves. 

Everyone was just so incredibly nice. One veteran thanked us; he'd served 2 tours in Iraq, and he knew firsthand what care packages mean. 

Another lady stopped to tell me she'd been at the Veteran's Day Program, and we laughed at how we'd both cried.

I talked to a "new" military Mom. Her 20-year-old daughter had deployed 2 weeks ago. I asked her how she was holding up, and she said she had 2 other kids and a business to run...aka distractions. Still, certain songs and christmas decorations took her breath away. Not knowing how she'd take a bear hug from a strange stranger, I resisted, and gave her my business card. I hope she knew that I know, too. I know.

A friend I went to high school with crossed the room and handed me a check for $50. She'd been meaning to send, she said...and still donated, after getting stuck behind us!

The chocolate didn't hurt our position any. Diane was appointed Baker du Jour, and she brought homemade cookies to appease the crowd.






Our grand total for the day was $732.05, and I walked out with $165.00 in my pocket, donated by employees and people standing in line around me.
When I meet or correspond with a new soldier, a deployed soldier, I always tell them to ask for what they need. I ask them to take a look around and take note if anyone else needs anything. Because, I tell them, "people just hand me money to take care of you."

I can see why it's hard for them to fathom.

It's so fairy-tale-y, isn't it?

I can hardly believe it myself.


Go home, Donna. Thanks for staying late.
I'll be back tomorrow.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

You Know What I Love About Today?

Today is Sunday. It was 17 degrees outside (and it's still "Autumn," folks). Friday night's snow has turned to slush, and then frozen to ice. It's bite-your-face-off weather. It's SUNDAY. It's a good day stay inside. To curl up under a blanket and find a good movie on the telly, and wait until Monday. If they didn't have a valid excuse, "not feeling like going out" was good enough, today. Man, you have an automatic "Get Out of Jail Free" card. It was wretched.

But they came. They dragged theirselves out of bed, and they combed their hairs and warmed their cars, and they mucked on over, today, to fix up our Soldier Babies.

  

 


End of Day: Everyone on our list gets a box. A Very. Good. Box. Socks. DVDS. CDs. Books on CD. HOMEMADE cookies. Letters—actual letters from children.

It was an interesting day. It wasn't our biggest event, but our goals were met, and met thoroughly. Hundreds rallied, in the last 5 weeks or so, to make a difference.

Imagine a box full of goodies waiting for you when you get off work and trudge home. Imagine how it would change the direction of your day.

Imagine 60 soldiers, 10-14 days from now.

What I Love About Today is every single person that rallied to impact the 60.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Christmas Gifts to Soldiers Eve-Eve

Goodness gracious, it's here, it's upon us!

Toys for Troops
Christmas Gifts to Soldiers

Village Inn Pizza Parlor
Champaign, IL 61821

Sunday December 6, 2010
1:00–4:00


I haven't pushed this event very much on my blog this year, but I've still been working in the background to make it happen, Sunday afternoon. I'm not sure where the time goes; I'm constantly writing blogposts in my head, but it seems they get tucked away at day's end.

Anyway, it's happening! Our mailing list is smaller this year, but it went from 2 to 60 in the last 4 weeks. We're hoping to send 2 to every soldier.

Our local paper, The News Gazette, has been a great friend and supporter since this organization started, and I can't thank them enough for highlighting us in their paper 3 times since Veteran's Day. A little nudge here and there to the community to shop for a soldier, or to contact me for more info has been invaluable.

The community has rallied, and I remain in wonder at those folks that read those articles, pull out their checkbooks, seal an envelope and send us money. I can't overlook a donation that came to us through the newspaper, made by the Central Illinois Unit Marine Corps League Auxiliary. I opened an envelope last Friday afternoon that had a $500 check in it, with a note that said they'd read about us in the paper. You think that cartwheels would be your response, but really, all you can do is sit down and wonder at how nice people are and how much they care.

Yes, the community has rallied. They've asked for our flyer to print and hang in their offices and churches, and I'm getting daily calls asking where donations can be dropped off.. My car is full, my dining room is full, and I have notes and messages about more rolling in this weekend.

Our Annual Customs Forms party was Wednesday night at The Esquire. I supplied pens, forms, and beverages.* Elves supplied the handwriting.


It was a fun evening. We were all tripped up over the "new-fangled" customs forms, and they might not be quite perfect in every way. Some first names are first, and as long as I've been doing this, I'm still not sure of what is what on a military address, so the zip codes might appear in the state line. There is one from "Stewart (COMMA) Jeremy" because Jeremy just started putting down his own information.

The forms demand to know just how many of what is enclosed in each box, and we got kind of general. "Snacks and DVDs and socks," they wrote. By the end of the night the elves got bored and started to make up a few other donations. Some soldier out there is going to be sorely disappointed when he doesn't find a silk tie in his or her box. We hope the real contents will make up for the lack of enclosed neckware.

This organization touches my life in so many ways. The most amazing things still happen on somewhat regular basis, that I just have to tell it. For example, it isn't every day that someone crosses a parking lot to ask me about the sign on the side of my car, and then hand me cash, but it happens. I don't meant it just happened once, I mean it happens.

Today, an elderly woman from another county called me. She was on a fixed income and couldn't give much, she said. She also didn't have the means to shop, or to deliver a donation for the event. But could she send a check for $10?


$10 is beautiful, I told her. $10 will send an entire box of goodies to a soldier. SHE will send an entire box of goodies to a soldier, and her $10 will change the direction of someone's day, someone's quite-possibly-lousy day. And I told her that my kid just came home, and he tells me firsthand how much those boxes mean.

 I love the $1s, and the $5s and the $10s every bit as much as I love the $100s and the $500s.

Now the event is 2 days away, and I'm anxious. I never know what's going to happen on Sunday. Will people tire of donating? Will we meet our goal? I pour over the budget, and try to do you proud with your donation money, shopping wisely, setting aside enough for shipping, and saving an emergency fund, in the event that we don't fill enough boxes for every soldier on our list. (Oh, we will send a box to every soldier.)

Also, a surprise. I've been a tad bummed that Brian's one-month leave was going to put him in this berg by....December 7. He'd miss the event by 1 day, how much did that suck?

I was deeply concentrating at work today when it was pointed out to me by coworker Kurt that someone was waiting to see me. I jumped, expecting to find the UPS guy standing behind me...

SURPRISE!!!

Nothing against the UPS guy, but this was WAY better! Brian! Brian is here! He will be here for a Toys for Troops event! My kid! My kid that got one of those boxes last year! He isn't there! He is HERE!  ::dance dance dance::

And just for old times' sake, to make him feel completely at home, I'm gonna put that boy to work.

See you Sunday!



*Please rest assured that your donations are not in any way dispensed in the feeding (or beveraging) of Toys for Troops Elves.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve, '10: A Perspective

20 til 12, Thanksgiving Eve, 2010.

Two pies on the cooling rack. Vegetables chopped. Hickory wood chunks soaking for a smoker that was seasoned for a turkey that will be rubbed with red wine, rosemary, garlic, and olive oil. List of last minute chores stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet that reads "Make Art."

Brian is finishing out his last days at Fort Benning (before transferring to Fort Hood) with another one of my soldier babies, Jon Standish. They'll part ways in 2 weeks, after 4 years and two tours in Iraq together. They have decided to celebrate by cooking themselves a turkey dinner with all the fixin's, and I am (woo-hoo!) the Mom Consultant. How? How Long? Stuffing? Giblets? What do we do with this string? I am smug and giddy with every phone call.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. I freakin' bucked up for it, last year. My sister had been gone 11 weeks or so, and she'd prepared me for it, and I puffed up my chest and I did it. I was strong, and we were strong, and if we could get through the first one, all of the rest would be cinchy.

Pfft. Big lie, bigbig lie. See, after The Strong Year, things are supposed to return to normal. Normal means Teri is in charge of gravy. I don't DO gravy, it is..it is just Teri's job. I have been in a gravy tailspin this year, picking up and putting back glass jars of some sort of gelatinous muck, and reading the "just add water" to packets of powder. I guess it's time to put on my big girl panties and do the 'effin gravy. I don't like it, I don't like it at all!

In fact, two weeks ago, I didn't want to do any of it. Bleah! Blargh! Rarf! I'm tired and I'm cranky, and it will cost a lot and be a lot of work, and Brian won't be here, and Teri won't be here, and I have a grumpy, and let's just go out to eat, and I think I'll go eat worms.

I get like that, sometimes. But now it's here, and really, wild horses couldn't keep me from it. Truth is, I love puttering around the kitchen. I love my family, and planning for them to be here. I love cooking. I love discussing rubs, and times, and temperatures with Clint, and figuring out the smoker he got for Christmas.

My kid, though not at my table,  IS NOT SITTING AT A TABLE IN IRAQ. He's home. He's alive. Prayers granted, acknowledged, and appreciated. I can't ask for more.
Tonight I recieved a message from one Ames Lay, serving in Afghanistan. He'd metioned in a facebook update that the space heater in his office had gone out, and I jumped on the chance to send him a replacement. His message read:
The heater arrived today. I gave it to my team Chief who was very excited. The heater in his room is broken so he has been sleeping inside our super thick issued sleeping bags and long johns. He was very grateful.
 ...

I am reminded: While we wallow in justifiable heartache, and recognize that many prayers have been granted, life goes on.

Tomorrow I will cook with my man, decorate my home, laugh and scream with family, give my kid cooking advice via cell phone, eat like a king and choose from 3 desserts, and think of a soldier that just opted to work in a freezing environment so that a comrade doesn't have to sleep in one.

I am thankful.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Finch, The Finch, The Finch is Back

I've written here before about how much Clint and I enjoy feeding and watching the birds around the house. The truth is that we are closet zealots. We actually call or text one another if something particularly birdy happens around the homestead.

We've become distraught, then, at the gradual disappearance of our American Goldfinches and House Finches. Since we moved in the feeders have been chockful of birds. So many tiny talons in the fabric eventually created big holes in the thistle socks, and I recently had to replace them.

The sock feeders I originally had were white, and the netting soft. My cheap replacements were brittle, and had birds and flowers printed on the sides.


Alas, our finch population decreased immediately. We pondered that it was late-summer, thistle was easily found in its natural habitat, and the birds would return when it wasn't so readily available. But no. In time, our feeders became finchy ghost-towns. I developed my own theory that they didn't like the ink on the printed feeders, and finally got around to purchasing and hanging the slightly more expensive ($6 each), softer feeders.

For two weeks, nothing. Clint and I both turned into Finch Fretters. Maybe we should put ONE printed feeder back up and see if one or the other draw a finch or two back? I put on a brave front and declared that they'd temporarily moved on, and once one or two found us again, the word would get out: Thistle Feast at The Country Casa!

That's exactly how it happened. I looked outside one day last week to see 2 of them. I had, of course, to text Clint right away. By Saturday, birdies were fighting for a spot, both feeders were full all day long:



To boot, Saturday seemed to be Robin migration day. It's surprising that they're still in town, but the Birds of Illinois book we have indicates they'll stick around through late November/early December. We had an entire flock stop at the Country Casa B&B  (Birdbath & Breakfast), before heading South.



Ooo, I'll miss them. Hearts & gaits become lighter when they appear in spring.

In the meantime, I'm gearing up to keep all of their cousins fed & fat through the winter: 5-gallon buckets are full, and the binoculars are at the ready. As much as I grumble about the cold, winter after winter, my birdy babies are somehow always a source of consolation.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Christmas Gifts to Soldiers

DECEMBER 5, 2010
1:00 to 4:00 p.m. 

VILLAGE INN PIZZA 
1801 W. Springfield Ave., Champaign, IL

HOW YOU CAN HELP
  • BRING A GIFT FOR A SOLDIER
  • BAKE A DOZEN COOKIES
  • WRITE A CARD OR LETTER 
  • SPONSOR THE COST OF SHIPPING 1 BOX ($11.95) 

GIFT IDEAS
  • Gift cards to online companies that ship to APO addresses (Amazon.com, Netgrocer.com, drugstore.com, etc)
  • CDs/DVDs
  • Phone cards (good from Iraq)
  • Handheld electronic games
  • Current Magazines
  • Small board games
  • Coozies for bottles and cans
  • Tan, green, or black t-shirts
  • Black or tan mechanics gloves
  • Boot-length socks
  • Small white ankle socks (female)
  • Med/sm black cotton underwear (female) 
  • Shower gels (male/female)
  • Sunglasses
  • Times watches
  • AA batteries
  • Leatherman/Gerber tools
  • Metal-bodied flashlights and headlamps
  • Home made cookies or gourmet snack items
  • Anything you can think of for a male or female soldier to open on Christmas morning.

  • DROP OFF & PICK UP
    If you can't make it to the event, you can still drop off donations at Village Inn anytime between now and the event.

    If you can't deliver, we can schedule a pick-up. E-mail me at ljstewart@gmail.com


  • THE MORE, THE MERRIER!
    If you're not "from around here," you can still participate! 
    Families from all over the United States are joining us to send Christmas gifts, letters, and goodies to soldiers. E-mail ljstewart@gmail.co for a name & address, and some mailing tips! 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lincoln Trail School Rocks! Grand Total: $3300.00

(Photo by Sharon Frick)

What a day, what a wonderful day.

Lincoln Trail School, year after year, does a phenomenal job of honoring our Veterans. It is their biggest project of the year, and it shows. Hundreds of veterans attend. There is music. There are videos of children  interviewing veterans—Korean War Veterans were highlighted this year. Bagpipes play while we remember lost soldiers, and a chilling rendition of Taps is played from two buglers in opposite corners of the gym. And each year, my seat finds me listening to the Star Spangled Banner with the gruff voice of older veterans in one ear, and Boy Scouts' voices, like bells, in the other.

I woke up, this morning, feeling particularly emotional. I'm not altogether sure why, I just was. These children, they had done so much. The local TV station had slipped and given away the amount of the donation to be awarded to me: $1800! Doh! I knew they wanted it to be a secret, but now I knew.

$1800 would get us through the years' end, where I can then get things in order and focus on fund raising in Spring '11. We'll get by, we always do.

But still. $1800 is a LOT of money, and I just teared up every time I thought of it. And I got busy thinking of the notes I'd received from soldiers that have received our boxes, and contemplating that my own son is home from Iraq, oh, my God, he was in Iraq! It still shocks me, sometimes.

I was just in a mood this morning. Feeling emotional and blessed, and amazed, once again, at the kindness of other people. These kids, and the staff, they just did this for me. They asked me if they could do this. I tried to practice my little thank you speech in the car, but every time I got to "I received an e-mail from a soldier that we sent boxes to..." or, "my own son just arrived home from Iraq," I started bawling. I switched from speech-practicing to chiding myself: "Buckle UP, girl! You can't go up there and start crying, you'll scare those kids half to death!"

So I buckled up. I did. But then there was the Anthem, and the bagpipes, and Taps, for heck-sake, and I got to sit with the distinguished members of the Color Guard. And those kids, and the interviews with the veterans...boy, they chipped away at my resolve, but I was fine.

And then it was my turn, and an articulate young man got on stage and spoke of their fundraising endeavours, while 3 other children untied and unrolled a giant check, made out to Toys for Troops:


Twenty-three hundred, ninety-three dollars, and seventy-eight cents.

Not $1800.00. As I remember, the wind was knocked right out of me, and then I burst into tears. Yes, yes, that's exactly what I did, but I had a minute to compose myself as a member of the Color Guard took the stage, and presented me with another $100 to add to the total.

I started out my little speech by informing the audience that I was feeling a bit emotional, which was an absolutely unnecessary opening statement. My hands were shaking, my voice was shaking, and I think that I told them they were amazing for having quadrupled their goal, before I read SPC Josh Hanks' note to them, and told them that one SPC Brian Jolley had reported back to Fort Benning yesterday, so he missed the program by one day, but said to tell them hello. It was something like that, I think, that I said.

I got back to my seat, still choked up and shaking from stage fright, when the third-graders broke into My Country Tis of Thee. As I tried to calm myself, the white-haired veteran sitting next to me, a member of the color guard, reached over and took my hand. My right hand, in his white-cotton-gloved left, and he held it tight for the entire song. I was instantly calmed.

And, it was just a wonderful, wonderful day, did I say that already?

What I haven't told you yet is that there was a bit of cash and a few more checks in the envelope from Lincoln Trail, and I received an additional $700 in outside donations for this project.

Together, we raised $3300.00 for Toys for Troops, and added 47 names and addresses to our mailing list. Our soldiers are covered for the holidays, and well into the next year. We are, quite simply, afloat because of these children, their teachers, and the staff of Lincoln Trail School.

And now, I've run out of anything to say, but Thank You.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.


...

Oh, and one more thing, I'll announce it again tomorrow:

Toys for Troops: HOLIDAY BOXES FOR SOLDIERS

VILLAGE INN PIZZA PARLOR

1:00, DECEMBER 5, 2011.


Get your cookies, socks, DVDs, and various gifties ready for wrapping, packing, taping, and shipping. Details to come.

Thank you again.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A George for a G.I.

Veteran's Day is Thursday, and once again we're working with the students at Lincoln Trail Elementary School for their Veteran's Day project.

I have a little secret: When they contacted me to help me out a month or so ago, I turned them down. I regretfully informed them that Toys for Troops has 2 immediate tasks at hand: 1) Rebuilding our mailing list and 2) Fundraising.

We're low on soldiers—last years' list has come home. And we're low on money; we felt the financial pinch of the last couple of years along with the rest of the country. I pointed out in a recent newsletter that we're proud to have stretched the initial $3K of donations to last 4 years; most of our events covered themselves, financially, allowing us to keep shopping and mailing throughout the year. Last year's mailing events, however, were almost completely out-of-pocket for TFT, and although we still have a balance in our account, there's not enough left to send Thanksgiving boxes this year, and November would be spent raising money to get Holiday boxes out.

I am sorry, I told them. Sadly, we cannot work with you this year.

Sniff. I thought that was the end of it, but I got an e-mail back the next morning. What if we earned some money for you? What if every kid brings one dollar? What if we hold a bake sale and an auction, and we give all the money to Toys for Troops?

Lord, I just teared up writing that. They did, though, they've been bringing in funds for Toys for Troops! They started a campaign called Bring a George for a G.I. They're baking and they're selling, they are working their little backsides off for our soldiers!


These kids motivated ME to get it in gear too! I got our newsletter out. I've encouraged the folks on our mailing list to send in their own donations to add to Lincoln Trails' totals, and I've had donations roll into our PayPal count. Our mailing list has increased from 2 soldiers to 50 soldiers.

And they're each going to get holiday boxes from us. 

There are 2 more days to help these kids help us! Here's how:
  • Send a donation to Nicci Miller, c/o Lincoln Trail School, 102 E. State Street, Mahomet, IL. 
  • Click on the PayPal button on the sidebar of this page, or at www.toys-for-troops.com
  • Forward this post or these links to anyone that has a deployed soldier in their life, so that we can add them to our mailing list
  • If you're not on our e-newsletter list, sign up at www.toys-for-troops.com, or email me at ljstewart@gmail.com for a copy of the last one.

And get ready to gear up for Holiday Boxes, to be mailed a month from now. (Event to be announced soon!)

I'll see these kids Thursday morning, and tell you how it goes!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Nookie: A Review

Catchy blog title, isn't it? It will be interesting to check the Sitemeter later to see how many extra hits I get from (no doubt) disappointed pervs.

But seriously folks, I went out to Barnes & Noble about a month ago, and bought myself a Nook.

An e-reader.

I'm not Ms. Gotrocks, so spending $149 on a gadget doesn't come lightly to me. (Once I commit, though, another $60 worth of hot pink bells and booklight whistles is a snap.) Still, I researched this puppy. I searched the net, and read up, and polled my Facebook friends and family. I scrutinized the Kindle, looked under every rug, and checked what was behind door #2. In regard to Nook v. Kindle, my research turned up this very valuable information: They're the same thing.

In the end, I chose the Nook for these 2 reasons: 1) removable battery: you can buy a spare and keep it charged. 2) You can upgrade the memory on the Nook.

Anyway, I now own a Nook, and do you have any idea what kind of traitor this makes me? Do you know what I do for a living?!! I work in the ::cough:: book industry. My very livelihood depends on everyone hating this newfangled technology. If it's not a dud, I will soon be a dinosaur. We must hate it!

I love it.

I do, I really, really love this thing. Reading from the e-ink monitor doesn't bother me a bit; in fact, I don't even notice it. It's slim and doesn't take up much room in my purse; it's always with me, so unexpected waits are no longer tedious.

I get the same concern from anyone that I talk to: "I think I'd miss holding a book in my hands. I'd miss paper, and turning the page." I love paper, and I love ink, and I also worried that once I bought this thing I'd hate it for those reasons. Do I miss a book? I really don't. I can set the Nook down and read while I dry my hair and it doesn't flip shut on me. I can wear gloves and read and still turn the page. I can mark pages and highlight text. The books are cheaper, and I don't end up finding shelf space for them in my home when I'm done.

For all of that, though, I find that I miss book shopping. Browsing in a bookstore, and reading the jackets, and flipping through the pages to see if the writing style grabs me. Walking around with books in my arms, and picking up mini moleskin notebooks and bookmarks on the way out. I keep catching myself heading into bookstores, and chiding "you can't!" Reading dustcovers, and then jotting down a note to upload them to my Nook just doesn't seem as satisfying.

And cookbooks! I don't see the Nook ever replacing cookbooks. Browsing through them, and post-it noting new recipes, and laying one out on the counter to read from. I still love flipping through cookbooks. The same goes for knitting books, I think, and oh! art and illustration books. If I want a reminder on the general proportions of the human head so that I can draw a goofy caricature of you behind your back, I don't see myself flipping through a Nook to find it.

In every other aspect though, I love it! While my profession sinks slowly into the tarpits, I'll be curled up in a corner, basking in technology, and hitting the > button to turn the page.

What about you? Have you joined the e-reader wave? Nook or Kindle? Why?

Tell me, tell Aunt Lorisaurus Rex.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jason Aldean: The Concert




My last post covered the Backstage Experience, and the concert part of the evening was no less exciting!

  • I met another blogger during the evening! Christina and Ryan were the other couple in our group photo with Jason Aldean. While we were waiting for our photo, I mentioned that I was on a "Very Official Mission," and Christina told me she also had a blog. Yayyy, blogger sister! She's from Bloomington, and has a food blog with a lot of very yummy bakey cookie stuff and some great commentary. Check it out: www.painauchocolats.blogspot.com.
  • I have to make a personal observation about country fans: they wear a lot of plaid. I have never seen so much concentrated plaid in my life! I know plaid is in this season, and I have to say, there really are a lot of girls and women out there that can pull it off. Where they can manage the Daisie Mae look, however, its effect on me is more of a "get up" that calls to mind the word "lumberjack." I'll pass, but I salute those that can wear it.
  • I got my picture taken with cardboard Jason, too! It was also free, technology is just grand. Flash! Here's your secret code, pick up your photo online when you get home.
  • I really did pour my wine into a water bottle, tuck it into the spy-pocket in my jacket, and sneak it in. I referred to it, all evening, as my Redneck Merlot. I have longstanding handshake agreement with Clint's son, Craig, that if he ever catches me drinking wine from the bottle, he is to pack me up and drop me off at an AA meeting. I cleared it with him via text, and he did, indeed, verify that wine out of a WATER bottle is just fine. (I still let Clint drive, of course.)
  • We ran into our friends Ashley and Eric, and I took a cute picture of the girls sitting in front of us at the concert, and e-mailed it to them.

The concert, of course, was great. Jason Aldean was amazing, and as charming on stage as he was backstage. I'd listened to enough of his songs by then that I could sing along with many of them, which amused Clint—who is a die-hard country fan—to no end. I know I'm probably supposed to be waxing more about the concert, but I just don't know what else to say. The music was great, Aldean was great, and the entire evening was, as Country Financial promised us, an experience.

Many thanks to Jay at Country Financial for setting up the fun evening...and a shout-out to Road Trips and Guitar Picks: If you never need a full-time traveling blogger, I'm raising my hand!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Road Trips & Guitar Picks: VIP Backstage Experience

Yeeks, my apologies to Country Financial for taking so long to get this post up, after the concert. [Insert lame-but-true excuses here, like how my radiator cracked, and the bottom row of my keyboard punked out on me, leaving letters zxcvbnm and the space bar only working intermittently] [Now insert another apology for good measure: I am really really sorry.]

Luckily the excitement of the evening hasn't begun to wear off. It is totally fun to be a swanky VIP guest of Road  Trips & Guitar Picks!


First of all, backstage in this berg isn't really backstage. It's better! We were wined and dined in a VIP room at Memorial Stadium, across the street. There was an usher waiting for us when we walked up to escort us to the proper elevator, and a couple waiting inside with our tickets. "You must be Lori & Clint!" they said. I thought they were some kind of brilliant for knowing that until she pointed out that there was only one envelope left on the table.Goodness! We weren't late, so I can only surmise that the rest of the guests camped out in the doorway the night before to get in before we did!


Inside the envelope is our badges, concert tickets, and 2 free drink tickets, each. There was wine, beer, and several tables holding a spread of gourmet sandwiches, cheeses, and various finger foods. There were also a couple of these soda and water carts placed around the room. Help yourself.


There were huge posters and banners placed around the room, for cute photo ops while we mingled and waited to meet Jason Aldean. You could also leave your own message for him:


While Clint and I walked around, we were approached by 2 Country Financial execs that recognized us from the blog. I have to admit that this made me feel like kind of a big shot. I'm there to meet a country star, and someone recognizes me? Tee heee heee! To boot, we got some great 4-1-1 about where to line up to get our photos taken with Aldean, and we ended up being first in line for our photo ops. All of these people were lined up behind us for theirs:


There were some set rules about using our cameras once Aldean walked into the room. Namely, "No Cameras." Vaguely disappointing at first, but you immediately recover when you realize that the promoters have bent over backwards to make this so much better than it would be if they just let us run roughshod over Aldean trying to get our own sorry photos.

Instead there's a professional photographer on hand, and each of us got to walk in, shake Aldean's hand, introduce ourselves, and cuddle up for a great photo that was ready for us online by the time we got home. At no cost, I might add. 

Oh, and Jason Aldean? He is just every bit as nice as you hope he will be. He asked our names, shook our hands, thanked us for coming to his show. He was very warm and inviting in the little personal time we each had with him.

Also, darlings, I just can't leave this out: Jason Aldean is very easy on the eyes. Hooooopy doopy. I hate to go all cougary on you here...but...well, there's just nothing to be done for it. Ladies, all of those CD covers where he's looking like a total dreamboat? Yeah, that's what he looks like, all I could think was "they didn't even photoshop his album covers!!" Well, that's not all I could think...but I'll leave it at that.


After every single person had their photo taken, Jason came out to give us our own mini concert. He sang "Big Green Tractor" for us, and then answered personal questions for about 10 minutes. He was quick on his feet, and funny, and friendly. Clint asked him how much dirt he'd actually personally turned with a Big Green Tractor, which got a laugh from everyone. He talked about his father and uncles having more farming experience, but also having just bought his own Big Green tractor....to mow his lawn with.


He answered several more questions, one from a young girl that wanted to know "Could she have his guitar pick?" She could. Alas, he had to make his exit too soon, and we were left to finish up our beverages—or fill our water bottles up with wine—potato/potahto, and head over to find our seats for the show.

I have more photos, and  stories and videos from the show, and I'll save those for the next post.  Tune in, the concert was every bit as good as the Backstage Experience!  Thanks again to Country Financial for showing us such a great evening!

Up next....



Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gratuitous Post-Concert, Pre-Bedtime Post


I don't have time to write it all before I have to sleep. I took eleven-hundred-billionty pictures. I'll narrow them down to some proper representatives tomorrow, and spread them out over however many posts it takes to tell all the stories.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

48 Hours Until Jason Aldean

Two more days until the Jason Aldean concert! I am tres excited, and the object of a lot of envy, little ol' me with my VIP backstage passes. Clint's going to be my date, of course, but I've had plenty of offers from people that will be glad to step up and accompany me, if he can't make it.

I admitted before that I wasn't very familiar with Aldean's music when I accepted the blogging gig from Country Financial. I promised to do my homework though, and I've been doing just that.

It turned out to be easier than I thought. Two weeks ago, Clint and I went to St. Louis, and my 15-year-old cousin, Cory, came with us. Cory is actually my second cousin, and Clint's kids' first cousin. See, Cory's father, Kurtis, was my first cousin and Clint's brother-in-law. Clear as mud, huh? And before my blog trolls have a heyday with this,  I'll just clear this up right now: Clint and I are not related.

The family tree doesn't have anything to do with this story, but Cory does. I was busy gabbing at him, on the trip, about Jason Aldean. Had he ever heard of him? Yakkity yak, I went on to tell him the entire story, and about how we get backstage passes.

I went on waxing about how I had to procure some of Jason's music to educate myself before the concert, when over the seat came Cory's CD case:


Get out! One minute I'm rambling on about Jason Aldean, and the next I'm holding a folder full of his CDs. The Aldean Gods are smiling on me big time!

We were nearing our destination at the time, so saved the CDs for the ride home on Sunday, where we could listen to everything, straight through the trip. We popped the first CD in, and I commenced to listening to the lyrics, and taking notes.

Probably this is the part where I'm supposed to say here that I fell in love with every song. The truth is that I didn't fall in love with every song, but I liked most of them, loved a few of them, and was touched to my very core by a few of them.

I loved Crazy Town, for instance, a song about trying to hit it big in Nashville.

You pay your dues and you play for free,
And you pray for a honky tonk destiny,
You cut your teeth in the smokey bars,
And live off the tips from a pickle jar


The lyrics smacked of classic country, which I love, and I liked the line "Bend those strings til the Hank comes out."

I also liked "You're the love I wanna be in," I found it terribly romantic and clever at the same time.


I wanna be there when you wake up,
Be more than just your friend.
Baby there's no mistakin',
You're the love I wanna be in, ah yeah.


We listened to dozens of songs on the way home, and I really did enjoy the music. What I loved the most, however, was riding along in the front seat of the truck, listening to a 15-year-old kid sing in the backseat for 3 hours. My kid is all grown up now, y'know, and the days of having a kid, or a car full of kids singing in the back seat are gone for me right now. I miss it, I found out, more than I knew.

Cory would probably find this all embarrassing and mushy, but I found myself thinking that because of his presence, my "homework" had a much greater impact on me: I have no doubt that I'll never forget my first 3 hours of listening to Jason Aldean. Aww, he wouldn't be embarrassed. Would he? Here! Cory! Let me take your picture for my blog:

Dang kids.
 
Anyway, Thursday night, I'll get to listen live, and rub elbows with country star Jason Aldean. I've never been cool around celebrities. I always think I'll be cool, but I'm always starstruck and tongue tied, and I hope I don't do something stupid Thursday night. Like, call him Justin, if I get the opportunity to speak to him. I'm excited, and nervous! I'm going to tease me up some big country hair, and I'm wearing cowboy boots to the show! I've picked out a blouse, but I may have to go buy something better. Stay tuned for pix and stories, this is going to be so. much. fun!





Monday, October 18, 2010

Illness and Chaos and Drink-Your-Water Awareness Week

The last couple of weeks have been busy, fun, hectic, and exhausting—Clint and I have both had the sore throat/cold thing that's been going around. No sympathy for us though, we admittedly ignored common remedies, trading in cold meds and bedrest for full-speed-ahead fun, camping one weekend, and heading to St. Louis for Oktoberfest the next.

Unfortch, this thing that's going around isn't giving up until you do, and I have never been terribly good at paying attention to my own symptoms. This contradicts my tendency to frequently announce "I think I'm getting sick." Since I rarely actually get sick, I worry, instead, that I'm a hypochondriac. I am then paranoid about being a hypochondriac, which brings me full circle back to ignoring my symptoms.

I digress. I spent last week coughing and hacking. Muscle aches began to set in, and I was complaining of a back ache by Tuesday. Late Wednesday I was visited by abdominal pain and fever, and vomiting began in the middle of the night. My God, I thought, this is the worst cold I've ever had.

I finally took a freakin' ride on the Clue Bus on Thursday, when—I'm sorry, I know this is entirely too much information, but it is what it is—when I began peeing blood. UTI. Never having had one before, I didn't recognize the symptoms, and just thought I felt lousy all over from the cold. If I hadn't felt so sick, I'd have felt silly. I came home with a bundle of Rx, went to bed, and called in sick on Friday morning. Recuperation was cardinal.

Around 11:00 Friday morning, Mom's caregiver called me, and told me that I needed to come right away. "You're mom's not acting right, and I've already called and ambulance."

We raced over to find that Mom had lost, or nearly lost consciousness. She was dazed and looking ghostly. Lisa's description of the events took me back a couple years ago when Mom ended up ER and was released with a diagnosis of vasovagal syncope, which means, "she fainted."

I'll cut to the chase and tell you that Mom is fine, but this time around the trip to the hospital was a lot tougher. Her blood pressure was the culprit, plummeting every time she went from a sitting position to standing. Although all tests looked good, they decided to admit her for the night, to keep her under observation.

I've mentioned before that Mom has a very low pain tolerance. Alzheimer's plays a huge part in this; she simply can't anticipate pain, doesn't understand it, and, if it lingers, doesn't remember what caused it in the first place. Every half-hour or so, it is sudden and brand new.

You can imagine, then, how much fun it was to have an IV needle stuck in the crook of her arm for 24 hours. "What IS this? Why is it here? I want it OUT!" She finds the blood pressure cuff agonizing, and sobs every time the machine turns on. I talked her through 2 shots in her stomach. Poor thing tried to grab the nurse's hand the first time, knocked the needle out, and had to get second stick in the gut.

I can't even imagine how terrifying it would have been for her to be there alone for 24 hours, so it was slumber party at the hospital night for us. Tim and Brandi stayed with Mom while Clint and I ran home, and I returned with my own meds and a pillow, to settle into the recliner next to Mom's bed.


The recliner from hell. There it is, look at it, someone needs to exorcise that thing.

SSsssss!

Anytime anyone sat in this chair, it reclined. If you wanted to recline, however, say, to get a little sleep, you had to physically hold the chair in the reclining position. I managed to get positioned just so a few times by locking my feet and stretching out to the top, and hoping my weight would the hold the chair open. Victory was short-lived; the second I relaxed into sleep, the chair would snap shut, sending my pillow flying and leaving me misaligned and flailing for balance.

Between the chair, the nurses stopping in every 45 minutes, and keeping a constant ear on Mom so that I could keep her from pulling out her IV, I think we were lucky to each have logged 60 minutes of sleep Friday night. It was a tough, tough night, and we were both more than relieved when we were given the all-clear along with the final diagnosis: Dehydration.

Dehydration!! Dehydration, the culprit! Though she's drinking water every day, and every one of us pushes it, apparently she's not glugging down enough of it. Dehydration, we learned, zaps you of strength, and blood pressure, apparently, especially when you stand up too fast.

We all know drinking lots of water is important, but I got a first hand picture, this weekend of what a lack of it will do—and also what rehydration will do. After being plumped up with a quart of IV juice, I was amazed at the change in Mom's demeanor.

A-MAZED, people. She was funny and energetic, and lucid. Well, lucid for Mom. She was downright jocular when she found out we got to leave. While I was helping her get dressed, I found 3 of those little EKG thingys still stuck to her. I was as careful as I could be, while she cringed and sucked in her breath, and yelled "ouch, ouch, ouch." When the last one was finally off, I was still unsnapping her hospital gown when I teased her, "Lord, Mom, you act like I'm killing you." She didn't miss a beat, but suddenly snapped "WELL, IT HURTS, GOOFY!"

Did she just call me Goofy? We paused for about 3 seconds before we both just fell apart laughing until we cried. Funnier yet, while we were busy giggling, she had lost track of the fact that I was undressing her. She was still laughing when she looked down and realized her hospital gown had fallen away, and she screamed "oh my God, I don't have any clothes on!" and she began howling with laughter all over again. I was by then bent over the hospital bed laughing and crossing my legs to keep from peeing my pants, which, under my  personal circumstances, meant my own meds were kicking in, and I was getting better too!

We were burning rubber out of the hospital lot by 2:30, and although we should have both gone home for naps, we were too busy still laughing, and so happy to be out of there that we went shoe shopping.

 
Mom, rehydrated, is something to behold; she is energetic and happy, and way more on top of her game. She's still Mom, and she still has Alzheimer's, but she's more confident and exercises a tad more logic. For her, these attributes are monumental, and my own eyes have been opened:

Water, water everywhere, if its that good for her, I'll have a glass too.

I will drink my water and count my blessings. We were there for a visit, for one night. It sucked, but I sat listening to nurses giving morning reports of other patients that had been there for weeks, with still no end in sight. I can't imagine, and I thank God that sleeping in a hospital is foreign to us. It was a 24-hour annoyance, with a merry, "let's go shopping" finale.

We are, I was reminded this weekend, incredibly blessed.

video

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Road Trips & Guitar Picks: Jason Aldean

While Clint and I were traveling to Fort Benning for Brian's Iraq homecoming a few weeks ago, I got an interesting e-mail, with a proposal from Country Financial, who is sponsoring country music star Jason Aldean's 2010 tour.
We’d like to make you an official Road Trips and Guitar Picks blogger.  In exchange for writing a few posts for us on your blog, we will give you and a companion backstage passes to see Jason up close when he plays the Assembly Hall October 21.  The passes also come with some great seats to the show.

Wow! Yes, I said, Yes, I will! I've never been backstage before! I will! I want!

Well, wait. I don't really listen to that much country music. At least, not today's country music. Funny, back in the 80s, while all of my high-school peers were listening to AC/DC and Aerosmith, my music collection consisted of Waylon, Willie, Hank, George, Loretta, Patsy, and Dolly.

Over time, my musical tastes shifted towards blues. My iPod is full of BB King, John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor. Country? Still the oldies. Johnny Cash. Lyle Lovett. What I know about today's country music could fit on the head of a pin. I've picked up a few names as a result of a new set of country-lovin' friends, but for the most part, I'm as good with country singers as I am sports icons. Travis Tritt is either a singer or a quarterback. (Am I right?)

I felt it only fair to give Country Financial the opportunity to fire me before I got started.
I have to be completely honest, and let you know that when it comes to music, I've been more of a blues girl. My favorite country artists hail from "yesteryear," and for the sake of full disclosure, I have to admit that I know very little about Jason Aldean.

"Very little," I said. Heh. I completely omitted the fact that I know so little that for 3 days I referred to him as "Justin" Aldean. [Oh, God, why did I write that? They're going to fire me yet.]

Turns out they're open-minded about my lack of familiarity with this particular country star.
Actually your lack of knowledge about Jason makes you a great person to blog about the experience. While it's great to read fan blogs, it will be wonderfully refreshing to see a perspective from outside his circle.
Yay me! A virtual handshake, and the gig—and the adventure—was mine. I love my life!

Jason Aldean.
(When did country stars get so young?!)

I told Country Financial I'd get back in touch, and we continued on our way to Fort Benning, hitting the seek button on the radio as we moved from town to town. As luck would have it, we heard one DJ announce, "next up the latest from Jason—." and the radio then continued to auto-seek to the next station. I told Clint, "go back, go back, maybe that was Jason Aldean!!!" He was already on it, and sought back to the station that was playing "My Kinda Party."


The chorus, to My Kind of Party:

Oh baby, you can find me.
In the back of a jacked up tailgate.
Sittin' 'round watchin' all these pretty things.
I Get down in that Georgia clay.
And I'll find peace.
In the bottom of a real tall cold drink.
Chillin' with some Skynyrd and some old Hank.
Lets get this thing started.
It's my kind of party.

And I smile again, as I read the lyrics and go over photos from the evening.

Georgia clay

Feelin' peaceful

 Well, a really *short* cold drink, actually.

On the back of a tailgate (NOT a jacked-up tailgate, but a tailgate nonetheless)


Sittin' round watching all those pretty things...

I think me & Jason Aldean are going to get along juuuuust fine. I'll listen up and tell you more, soon, and I can't wait to hit that concert!