Sunday, December 31, 2006

Thursday, December 28, 2006

My new favorite things..

I met up with some friends after work yesterday, for coffee and holiday catching-up. Brian joined us for awhile, to say hi to everyone, and get his own fix of caffeine, chocolate, and sugar. It was a nice couple hours of chit-chat and cutting up. And hugging. We are a huggy lot, have you figured that out yet?

And Brian's friend Seth, in town for the holidays, stopped in to see us also. Here's Brian, ruining the picture, unbeknownst to Seth:

Brian showed up with a little bag full of gifts for me. He'd given me my "big gift" on Christmas morning (a beautiful necklace), but had left, he said "some trinkets" in his backpack at a friend's house. He sat down and began, "I didn't have wrapping paper, so I'll just have to hand them to you." I closed my eyes as he placed each item in my hand.

First up: A candle! A Yankee candle, a scent called "Midsummer's Night." Just as I was smelling it and thinking it was right up my alley, he said "it smells like a good man, Mom."

You know what that means?

Whoo hoo, ::little Mommy Happy Dance::

Next in my hand, I identify easily: Packets of seeds. Curious, I thought; what kind of seeds?

Basil! Basil seeds! I know it seems silly, but I was shocked at how well my kid knows me...or that he's really paying attention. Heh heh.

This child of mine does not eat basil! While I spend the summer planting it, buying bundles of it at the farmer's market, stringing it up around the house to dry, and researching various means of preserving it for winter cooking, I've always assumed he was completely tuned out.

But no. I got basil seeds.

They will go down in history as one of my all time favorite gifts.

I smiled through a few more gifts, each absolutely perfect for me: A rubber stamp of an artist's wooden mannekin, along with pencils, a sharpener, and a kneadable eraser.

My son left me speechless yesterday. He reinforced something that I knew to be true at one time, but had lost track of, when he flew the coop: No one really knows me better.

Not even me, sometimes.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chef Ra: RIP, baby

A pit-in-the-stomach local loss: Chef Ra passed away Tuesday morning.

Local DJ.
Rastafarian. Cab Driver. And High Times contributer.

I did not know him well, personally, but anyone in the community knew of him. I remember dreadlocks and rollerskates, UI campus, circa late 1970s. My personal encounters with him were x 3:

3 years ago, I meandered past the jukebox in the Esquire, to find him plugging in quarters and hitting the numbers to play "Blue Christmas." I'll never know what got into me, but without request or question, I moved into his arms, slow danced and sang with him to end of the song. A curtsy and a thank you followed, and I walked away. It was a moment. I will never forget it. He probably did, immediately.

2. The night this picture was taken, just a few months ago. Who, with a camera could resist? Might I? Cheeeeeeeeeeese.

3. 3 days ago. Christmas eve, 48 hours before he passed. I was downtown finishing up my shopping. With battery-operated lights around my shoulders, I strolled through the Esquire around 4 p.m., for well-wishing to community friends before I went home to start my cooking. Ah, the lights caught his eye. "Merry Christmas," he wished me.

Chef Ra: Blue Christmas without you, from here on out.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt! Ding-ding-ding!

Pity party is officially over. 24-hour time limit. No more of this for me:

I'll admit I did feel heavy of heart today, but nothing a nice long nap wouldn't have cured. That's big talk, for an insomniac.

We are otherwise not ones to sit on our laurels in a face of crisis. My sister and her husband have spent the day reinforcing and fixing broken locks and doors that we could only rig back together yesterday. They've done everything short of:

Yeah. We wish.

My father was a Harley Rider. Several have asked, so I will volunteer: No, thank God, it was not his bike that was lost. It is safely stored away.

But I have called on a loyal Biker Community. I sent notices to anyone I knew with a motorcycle, Harley or otherwise. I e-mailed businesses and all of the clubs my father belonged to.

In 24 hours time, around 200 have received the message. Some responded that they'd forwarded to 20 or more. Some sent suggestions for other avenues to pursue (thanks, Matt). A high school friend forwarded names of other bikers to contact.

Melissa even offered to sit take the midnight shift on mother's porch, aiming a shotgun at the genitalia of all trespassers. Friends like that don't come along every day. Sniff. Pass me a kleenex.

So many more of you have called, commented, and e-mailed to offer your support, and to say "that sucks."

Seriously. What would I do without you all?

I know not if any of this is networking will be worthwhile, in terms of recovering our stolen goods.

But it feels better to do *something,* and so many have responded to my shout out.

Thank you. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day: Do Over.

Our Christmas day is over, and the picture above pretty much depicts how I feel this evening.

My Mother was robbed.

HUGELY robbed, something monumental and irreplaceable. Something my father built, and I'm feeling so vulnerable right now that I don't want to say more.

Our Christmas lunch was postponed today for police reports and fingerprint dusting, followed by repairs to broken doors and much agonizing over which further precautions we need to take to prevent this from happening again, and to protect my mother and her belongings.

We are sick.

This robbery was calculated and, the police officer told us, "definitely executed by someone that knows you." We are all the more hurt, and rattled.. Friends? Family? Neighbors?

Was it someone that knew my Dad?

Is it something we said to someone that asked us about our mother? How's your mom? Did she ever sell ________?

Was it someone that knows our schedules? Hell, I've put it out here in blogworld that I take her out every Sunday. Why don't I just announce to the world that we won't be home?!!

Should we buy a safe? Rent some storage? Move mom out of this house that she lived in with my father since 1963?

It's clear that the burglars knew what they were after. They got right to it, tossed the rest of the place to get what they wanted. Something large and unique, and lifted out by more than one man.

I will be late to work, in the morning, as I've been instructed to hit up "those in the know" to put the word out. I'll be going door-to-door and making phone calls: "It's gone. You know it. You see it at a show, on the street, for sale, or on e-bay; please call me or the police."

In the meantime, we do what we do: count our blessings. Our mother was not personally involved, or hurt. We are together this day, as a family. My son--their cousin, nephew, and grandson--is home for the holiday. We have a housefull of food and a bounty of gifts to open.


I feel like shit.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

What's Cookin' for Christmas

I usually consider my Christmas holiday a 2-day event: Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. But I got a nice treat this year: Christmas Eve-Eve!

My friends Jennie and Steve came into town yesterday, from Brooklyn. I've been in cahoots to help them orchestrate her mother's Christmas gift, once they arrived. The gift: Meals! Delicious, homemade meals, individually wrapped, frozen, and stocked into Mother's freezer.

On the menu: Lenticchie (Italian lentils & pasta) and Armenian pilaf. The lentils required some hours of simmering, so once they were simmering, we sat down to carry-out chinese. The rest of the afternoon consisted of lounging around the tables, the computers, talking, some more cooking. I was gleeful to have them all to myself for so many hours, as they're on a tight schedule for their 4 days in town.

Here's Jennie, dishing her pilaf into tins to be baked later.

A discussion about how much Lenticchie constitutes a Mom-sized serving:

See all those pictures of me cooking? Well, that's because I didn't cook a stitch! My job was to sit around and drink the wine they brought, all the while pointing out where measuring cups and basil could be found. Oh, and I made these fancy-pants labels to stick to the tin-foil covers. Jennie used them to secure little individual packets of toasted almonds to the top of her dishes.

The afternoon was a great start to my holiday. I spent today finishing up some shopping with my mother, and helping her ready her house for the family to roll in tomorrow. After I hit the "Publish Post" button here, I'm off to do some more cooking. It is our tradition to cook over the fireplace my dad built about 30 years ago. Brats and sausages will be accompanied by clam chowder and chili and all the accompaniments.

Brian is spending the evening with his Dad, Stepmom, brother, and sister, and I await a phone call from a friend so that we can participate in a long distance gift exchange. I'll wrap up the evening with a bubble bath and a bottle of cheap champagne, looking forward to opening gifties with my son in the morning.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Six Degrees of Eavesdropping

Example of eavesdropping portrayed by my friend Lori, and stranger Bob
from Baltimore. No permission from absolutely anyone to use this.

After slacking all month, I've been in holiday-readying frenzy for the last week, with little time to blog or read blogs (comparatively, that is). So, just to put something out there, I bring you an amusing anecdote from the past.

I was once standing in the foyer of a busy restaurant, telling my date about a play that I'd just seen "Six Degrees of Separation" at The Station Theater. There was full frontal male nudity in the play, and if that's not great date conversation, I don't know what is.

So, there I was, mentioning how surprising (yet fun—don't get me wrong!) to be sitting in the front row of a confined theater with a completely naked stranger 3 feet away from you.

We moved on with the conversation, wondering to ourselves if we could possibly get a menu to peruse while we waited.

Just then a woman standing in front of us turned, and said "I'll give you my menu if you tell me the name of that play you just saw."


What's the best thing you've ever overheard?

Have you ever interrupted other's conversation upon eavesdropping?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Car Insurance Tip...

I got a letter, about a month ago, telling me that my car insurance policy was being canceled. Unbeknownst to me, I'd been riding on the coattails of my ex-husband's Champaign County Farm Bureau membership and they "caught" me.

I went out, then, to pick up a new policy elsewhere. I have a clean driving record, and figured it would be an across-the-board transfer to another company.

My insurance, for the last 2 years, has cost me about $220 every 6 months. Dirt cheap, I know.

The first company I visited (State Farm) quoted me $355 every 6 months.

Why? I ran home to get my current policy to bring back and hash over. While I was home, I called a 3rd company (American Family). This third company, for the very same policy that I already had, quoted me $82/month. That is, $492 every 6 months.

I pushed the agent to explain to me how there could possibly be $270 difference for the same policy offered by my current company. She said "I don't know. That's just what it costs."

I had one, last-ditch, hare-brained idea: I called my insurance agent (at Country Insurance) , and asked if I couldn't just get my own CC Farm Bureau membership.

He was all like "of course" and I was like, "Yay, but why didn't they indicate that on the letter that said 'we're going to drop you?' " Only I didn't really, like, say that, because I didn't want him to change his mind. (I'm like, done talking like this.)

My Farm Bureau membership cost me $20.

6 months of full-coverage car insurance, with rental insurance, and roadside assistance: $208.00.

The moral of the story: Shop around, and if you want my insurance agent's name, e-mail me.

The quandry of the story: How can I be such a shrewd, shifty-eyed business woman, saving pennies every chance, and still have the credit card debt that I do?

It's a complete mystery.

Mr. Potato Head Works the Camera

It was rainy this evening, but still warm enough that I could fire up the gas grill and cook just inside the garage. On the menu tonight was habanero bbq chicken, and the world's most fattening mashed potatoes, loaded with butter, cheddar, and bacon. Lord, I would NEVER cook that for myself. Instead, I had a lovely side of sauteed grape tomatoes and fresh spinach, with a splash of balsamic vinegar and parmesan. The boys passed, concerned about e-coli. Yeah, and I have some some ocean front property in Arizona....

Oh, group picture, group picture! The guys here for dinner....Here's Chris Hinton, Brian Jolley, and Chad Crook, all friends since the age of 11 or so:

[Click to enlargen-ate.]

24 hours home and Brian is already clearly tired of group pictures.

I'm posting anyway, that'll show him. Can't you just hardly wait to see what tomorrow brings?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Under My Tree

9 days before Christmas, and I have all I could ever want all I want under my tree: 1 or more U.S. Soldiers.

Well, here are two, after a 12-hour drive:

They were numb, and waiting for dinner that I promised I could deliver a short time ago, when they called to inform me: "We're 26 miles away." SuperMom-Mode kicked in then, and I recited a potential menu that I could whip up by the time they got arrived. They voted on spaghetti, and baby, italian sausage, onions, and garlic were saute-ing next to a pot of boiling water within 2 minutes of that phone call. I am one efficient Mamacita in the kitchen.

That's Brian, and his friend Dodds. Dodds refers to my son as "J-man." Interesting to note.

Dodds is in this town for 2 more hours; his ride arrives at midnight, to take him to HIS mama, in Chicago. He is 21, in the army for 1 year, 1 month. He and "J-Man" have the same MOS. He is an only child. Everything I do, from interrogating him, to snapping 1 million pictures while he is here, reminds him of his least, he assures me, that his Mom is in the same mindset as I am.

He asked me what I knew about military lingo. I confess, I know little, but I know what MOS means...though I don't know exactly what it stands for. I guessed..."Modus Operandi Something-something..."

Dodds accused me: "you are pulling that out of your ass."

My response, to my son, was "Did you hear what he said to your mother? He's talking about my ass!"

Dodds practically waved his lilly white boxers in surrender on that note, and sat down to his dinner.

He was a charming guest in my home, if only long enough to share spaghetti and a diet coke before making his exit. "Thank you for feeding me" he said, and I proffered, "thank you for letting me feed you."

And I meant it, with every fiber of my being.

And it's past midnight now, and he's 1/2 way between my home and his Mama's, where I'm sure she's waiting up for him.

And I'll tell you now, what she and I have both known since September.

Our boys are heading for Iraq.

Their deployment orders are undated, but it's looking like March. They are going to CA for desert training in mid-January.


It's hang-on-tight time, folks. I'm going to rejoice in this Christmas with my son, like I have no other.

And then.

I will call on you.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Camera Ready...

Here's what I was rewarded with this week, for carrying a point-n-shoot with me constantly:

This is the view from the end of my street at 8 a.m. one morning this week (YES, I'm supposed to be at work by then; shut UP). A weird, high fog blocked out the sun. Neat effect.

Ho, ho, ho, this biker at Springfield and Duncan had plenty of holiday spirit; the tree and decorations on the back of the bike made me very smiley. On the way home from work, I spotted another driver with blinking lights wrapped around his cowboy hat, and that made me laugh too.

One of my favorite places to shop is a second hand store called Karen's Kloset. I'm no fashion plait, but I spotted a shirt there today, and couldn't help thinking:
Kudos to the Extra-Large Midwestern Gal that has the confidence to step out on the town in this thing:

Click on the pix to enlarge and see the price tag they have on this number!

$37 to look like a literal cow girl.


I'm just not there.

Moo, y'all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Good Man" Candles

I got a 'lil Christmas bonus today, and declared it a good one to start some holiday shopping. Ohhh, I got a lot of cute things: a new tote bag, a martini shaker, a bottle of wine, and a pillar candle.

All for me. Me, me, me.

Do any of the rest of you do that, come home with a bunch of loot for yourself, when you're out shopping for others? Tsk.

My best find for the day was the candle. I love candles, but I don't like "food-scented" candles. No cinnamon bun-sugar cookie candles. I have a hard enough time staying out of the refrigerator without scented wax making my stomach growl.

I like a candle to smell spicy, in a masculine, cologne-y sort of way. Pepper. Sandalwood. I like my candles to smell, I tell my friends, "like a good man."

Pier 1 Imports used to have a kickass Asian Spice, but they discontinued them because I loved them so much. I've picked up a few sandalwood/lemongrass combinations (Tuesday Morning), but I'm always on the lookout. Or the smellout, so to speak.

Tonight I hit paydirt with World Market's "Indonesian Teak." Can't you just imagine the smell by looking at them? Yum!
I only bought one, and the house smells great even though I haven't lit the thing.

If any of you have any other "good man" candle recommendations, let me know, I'll run right out and take a sniff.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Random Bits Blog Day

Houston, I have fish! Yes, 6 weeks after acquiring and filling the fish tank, all of the ammonia levels and nitrites are finally perfect. I bought 3 cute little "Headlight Tail-Light Tetras," and can add more fish each week. These have what appears to be a light in their eyes, and one at the end of their fanny. I've named them after my friend Melissa, and her kids Kirstin and Nik, because they also have fannies that light up.

Agelio Batle

Here's another one of my favorite things: A graphite sculpture by San Francisco artist Agelio Batle, begifted to me a few years ago by my friend, Lori. The entire thing is a pencil, you can write with it...if you want. Mine just sits prettily on the mantle.

He's got a lot of rockin stuff, and if you email him, you'll get a nice little response and a pricelist. They're a little pricey, but not outrageous. If you're looking for a cool gift, check it out. Support the arts, and all that jazz.

Thara Thai

For you local folk-als that love Thai food: Get ye over to Thara Thai on Bloomington Road. I'm always surprised at how many of you Thai-food enthusiasts have never heard of Thara Thai!

If you like hole-in-the wall establishments with great food and motherly service, this is it. The owner/waitress/cook will wait on you hand and foot. Her name is Pon, and she'll serve it up mild, hot, extra hot, or "thai hot." If you discuss it with her firsthand, she'll remember you when you come back, and you'll get whatever you order done just your way. MMMMM, spicy tom-kha on this wet cold day....

That said, if you're on a tight time limit, you may have to choose another place, or you'll miss your movie. Pon's a busy one, has a small staff, and cooks everything up from scratch. Just chill out. Sit back, have a laugh with your friends and wait for it; you won't be sorry.

Blog, revisited.

I decorated the house last weekend, and am reminded each year, as I do so, of a practical joke Brian and his friends played on me the first year we lived here. In the space of time it took me to run out for one missing ingredient, he hid this tree:

And replaced it with this one.

I know, I know, I blogged this last year, but hey, holidays are all about getting together with crazy old ladies like me that repeat themselves. Repeat themselves. Plus, I didn't know a lot of you last year. So I'm telling it again.

That's all for today, kiddies. I have real work to do!

**P.S. Note to my beta-blogger buddies: I am TRYING to comment on your blogs, but Blogger won't let me. I'm still reading, though.

Friday, December 08, 2006

An Announcement to Announce

Not ME! The announcement I'd like to announce is over HERE.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Gettin' jiggle widdit

My dryer went kaput the day that Brian went back to Georgia. It was working Saturday night, and then Sunday: zilch! zippo! nada! nyet!

Fancying myself a mechanically inclined girl, I decided to try to fix the thing myself before I call a repairman. First I unplugged it. Beyond that, the only thing I know about dryer repair is this: how to stick a screwdriver in and pop the top.

Ta-duhhhhhhhhh! Now we're talking! See anything amiss here?

Neither did I. Still, these wires seemed to need some jiggling. I did it. I jiggled.

These thingies seemed a bit dusty, so I vacuumed them all off, and did some more jiggling, with some poking and prodding thrown in for good measure.

I put the whole thing back together, plugged it in, turned the dial, closed my eyes, said a prayer, and pushed the button in.

The dryer gods weren't biting.

Does anyone know of a relatively inexpensive dryer/appliance repair-person in Champaign?

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Return to Wheels

Welcome, welcome, to the next installment of "Tell Me Something I Don't Know."

My parents met in 1961, in a roller rink in San Diego. They were dance skaters. My Mother moved on skates like a swan, and my Dad, though a large man, was graceful on wheels also. There are tales of money being tight, and Dad hocking his skates several times after they married, the two of them walking back to the pawn shop to get them back when payday finally rolled around.

My sister and I were laced into skates practically upon learning to walk. My earliest memories of skating were at Elmwood roller rink, at Five Points in Urbana [yo, townies]. I remember clacking along on wooden wheels with both arms straight over my head, each hand wrapped around an index finger, one of my fathers, and one of a cousins. It was well before kindergarten.

In our teen years, we skated four nights a week. If my sister or I happened to have a date on any given Friday night, our curfew was still in tact. Our dates were NOT allowed to take us home to an empty house: they were to deliver us safely back to our the roller rink.

I must mention that my sister was also a phenomenal skater, much better than I ever was, or ever will be. She was fearless, and she and Dad would swirl and spin and two-step, in then-outdated, 60s style dancing that no one else could do.

As my parents met, I met my (first) husband at the roller rink. And my sister met her husband there also; they've been married 23 years.

Here's a snapshot of moi, taken more than 20 years ago. This, for you non-skaters, is called "Shoot the Duck." Last man standing wins a free soda. Check out my pom-poms. Heh heh.

I'm not sure how or why, but skating just sort of fell out of my life, with marriage, divorce, kid-raising, working...what have you.

Until yesterday. I roped all of my friends into accompanying me to the rink yesterday afternoon. (I was too afraid to try it alone.)

My feet are larger now than they were when I was 21; I didn't even try to dig out my old skates, but rented a pair of speed skates instead. The boot is lower and wheels wider, making for better control than a standard skate.

Fifteen years since I've had a rollerskate on and what was my first thought on these things? It was

"Holy shit, I can't believe I don't know how to skate anymore!"

I started out clacking and coasting, and merely leaning my way around the corners, wobbling and flailing my arms. I was a complete beginner! I had no idea it would be that bad!

On top of that, within 10 laps, it felt like the meat was being ripped right off of my shin-bones. I suck, I suck, I suck!

A mini break to stop the burning in my shins, another attempt, and soon enough, I had the crossover back down pat. It started to come back to me, and I was, for the most part, gliding around instead of skate-walking before too long. By the time our 2 hours was up, I even took a shot at backward-skating, and though it was shaky, I did it, I did it!

My friends did well too: Marcy, Mike, Melissa, and Mel's kids joined us. None of us fell down, and Mel and I even did the Hokey Pokey with her daughter and her friend. "Shakin' it all about" was a little precarious, but we managed to stay on our feet.

We all had a great time. I'm not sure about the rest of them, but I'm definitely going back, and even checking out the price of a pair of skates. The rink is a 3-minute drive from my house, it's good exercise, a bit of fun, and something to do on these cold winter nights.

Anyone want to join me?

Dare ya.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Kicking off the Holiday

This one just might be relatively stress free; do you think I can stick with that for the rest of the month?

First of all, my buds and I have all agreed not to purchase gifts for one another this year. Instead, we'll get together for dinner and drinks and call it done. It will ease December chaos and January expenses, and we're all in agreement that we can maintain spirit and remember the Reason for the Season without an extra bauble to unwrap. Good food, good friends, and we're blessed enough.

That said, I don't want to give up giving. I rarely carry cash with me, but this month I've stockpiled all of my change and have resolved to drop a handful into every Salvation Army bucket. My December will be full of "Happy Holidays's" and no more avoiding eye contact and slinking guiltily past those merry bell ringers, out there freezing their hiney's off for a good cause. I'll also be sending a check to A Woman's Fund.

It's good to have a plan. Since my month is now so stress free, I didn't mind so much, heading downtown, to catch a glimpse of the Christmas parade and watch the city's tree-lighting ceremony tonight. 9 degrees with the wind factored in, and still Main Street was packed with families: little kiddies in wagons, and people wearing christmas lights and antlers on their heads. It was kind of contagious.

But the real reason I went out tonight was for this:

One of my favorite movies, played on a big screen in a glorious old theater. Worth every cent of the $5 ticket, and yes, I still teared up at the end, like I do every time I watch this movie.

I think it's going to be a nice month.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Looking for the $1,000,000 idea...

While Melissa and I were working our butts off e-mailing one another last week, we concocted a million dollar idea. We spend a fair amount of time trying to concoct million dollar ideas; the sooner we come up with one, the sooner we can get to kicking back and eating bon-bons on cruise ships for the rest of our lives, y'know?

We have a few bad ideas: clothing that would deter muggers, and a restaurant in which the customer will shut the hell up and eat whatever slop we're fixing up that day.

But we hit on something brilliant last week: Mop shoes! Mop heads that you can just slip on your feet, then shuffle around and mop the floor! Admittedly, we hadn't figured out the wringing-out process yet, but we figured we'd counter-balance that obvious flaw with a callus-softener/moisturizer. Think about it: Exfoliate while you mop! God, we were just giddy with our ingenuity!

Our excitement was short lived, though. Look:

A simple google search revealed that someone else had already invented our invention.

Crap. Back to the drawing board. If you want a pair of these mop shoes that someone stole from us before we thought of them, go google "mop shoes" your own self. We're not just going to hand our money over to those sneaks!

Ok, fine. If you really want a pair, go here. I wouldn't want to step on anyone's mop-soggy toes.

But note that they don't seem to have the wringing out dilemma solved either. And I don't see anything that looks like a moisturizing agent. And why on earth is that guy wearing socks with his mop shoes?

What a stupid idea.