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 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. 

1801 W. Springfield Ave., Champaign, IL


  • Gift cards to online companies that ship to APO addresses (,,, 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.

    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

    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 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:



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
  • 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, or email me at 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.