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

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...


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.