Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So long, 2008


I wish you a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sewing a Plush Dog Toy

Amy received a sewing machine from Santa this year, and immediately set to work creating her first masterpiece: a plush dog toy for our dog, Scooter.

First, she free-handed a bone pattern on a piece of paper. Then, she traced it onto some sheepskin fleece, and cut out two pieces.




After a quick lesson on how to wind a bobbin and thread the machine, she was sewing away:


She made sure she left a small gap in the seam to be able to turn it right side out, and then added some stuffing. When it was just right, she hand-sewed it shut, and proudly showed off her handiwork:



Scooter loved his new toy, and it was extra-special because it was made just for him.


video

Thursday, December 25, 2008

One Solitary Life

This is excerpted from an essay by Dr James Allan Francis in “The Real Jesus and Other Sermons” © 1926 by the Judson Press of Philadelphia.

A child is born in an obscure village. He is brought up in another obscure village. He works in a carpenter shop until he is thirty, and then for three brief years is an itinerant preacher, proclaiming a message and living a life. He never writes a book. He never holds an office. He never raises an army. He never has a family of his own. He never owns a home. He never goes to college. He never travels two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He gathers a little group of friends about him and teaches them his way of life. While still a young man, the tide of popular feeling turns against him. One denies him; another betrays him. He is turned over to his enemies. He goes through the mockery of a trial; he is nailed to a cross between two thieves, and when dead is laid in a borrowed grave by the kindness of a friend.

Those are the facts of his human life. He rises from the dead. Today we look back across nineteen hundred years and ask, What kind of trail has he left across the centuries? When we try to sum up his influence, all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned are absolutely picayune in their influence on mankind compared with that of this one solitary life…


Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Feast of the Seven Fishes 2008

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, my favorite holiday of the year. It's the day I host The Feast of the Seven Fishes, the traditional Italian meal featuring at least seven different types of fish. I always prepare more than seven, because I can't help myself. Go big or go home, as they say. This year, I'll top out at 10.

I like to switch things up, so the menu changes from year to year. Here's the menu for Christmas Eve 2008:


Cold Appetizers
Cheese & Crackers
Fresh Mozzarella w/Tomato & Basil
Shrimp Cocktail
Lobster pate
Salmon mousse
Baccala salad
Anchovies marinated in garlic & olive oil

Hot Appetizers
Crab Puffs
Fried Calamari
Fried Smelts
Popcorn Fish Nuggets

Salad Course
Tossed Salad

Pasta Course
Linguine with Red Clam Sauce

Main Course
Broiled Lobster tail
Steamed broccoli & cauliflower

Dessert
Cheesecake
Homemade cannoli

Coffee, tea, espresso

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter arrives

video
We got 7 inches of snow on Friday, with another 4-6 expected today. Time to dig out the hats, gloves, scarves and boots.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Crabmeat Puffs



Next week, I'll be celebrating Christmas Eve with my family, and enjoying the Italian tradition of The Feast of The Seven Fishes.

When I was little, we used to go to my grandmother's house for Christmas Eve, and after she died, no one else was interested in carrying on the tradition. So, when I got married three years later, I decided to host the Feast at my house for my in-laws, and have been doing it ever since.

Some people make 7 Fishes, to represent the 7 Blessed Sacraments. Others prepare as many as 13 different types of fish, to represent Jesus and his 12 Apostles. I usually come in somewhere around 10 different types (which can represent the 10 commandments), because I like to have a nice variety of dishes to offer. I switch things up from year to year, too, so that it doesn't get too predictable.

This year, I'm bringing back an appetizer that is always a big hit: Crabmeat Puffs (also known as Crab Rangoons). There is absolutely nothing even remotely Italian about them; I make them because they taste so good. I haven't made these for the past couple of years, and my brother-in-law has been asking for them, so they're on the menu again.

One thing that's really great about this appetizer is that you can make it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge or freezer until the day of the party. I got the recipe from an old Betty Crocker Chinese Cookbook by Leeann Chin (copyright 1981).

First, the ingredients:

1 can (6 ounces) crabmeat, drained and chopped (if lump crabmeat)
2 pkgs (3 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

20 Wonton skins
1 egg, slightly beaten

A few important notes: I've made two alterations to this recipe. The original one in the book calls for "frozen crabmeat, thawed, drained and cartilage removed, chopped" but the canned stuff tastes better and is easier to use. I use Starkist Fancy White crabmeat, drained, so there's no need to chop anything.

The other change is that I use half the number of wonton skins called for in the recipe (the original one said 40 wonton skins). That's because the Betty Crocker version uses two skins per crab puff, and I found that to be way too overpowering for the filling. I use just one skin for each and fold it as demonstrated on the package.

Making the filling couldn't be simpler: you mix the crabmeat, cream cheese, salt and garlic powder until well blended. Then, you put a small, marble sized dollop in the center of a wonton skin. Brush the 4 sides of the wonton skin with the egg, then fold it into a triangle, pressing the side edges together to seal them. Pick up the little triangle and fold the two bottom edges down towards one another, pinching to seal. I made a video to demonstrate:

video

Then you need to fry them in an inch and a half of vegetable oil, heated to 350 degrees. It is definitely worth investing in a candy thermometer so that you can get the temperature just right. It makes a big difference in how quickly and even the wontons cook.

video
Although the cookbook says they take up to 3 minutes each, as you can see, it takes half that when you're only using one wonton skin per puff. I also like to take them out just as they start to turn golden, so that they aren't overcooked when I reheat them on the day of my party.

Remove them from the oil and put them on a paper towels to absorb the excess oil. When cool, place the wontons in a heat-n-serve tray with a cover, and freeze for up to 6 weeks. This recipe makes about 20 wontons, so I usually double it because they go fast!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

R.I.P. Majel Barrett Roddenberry


She was the widow of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, but also an actress in her own right. Fans of the old Star Trek series remember her as Nurse Chapel (the one who carried an unrequited torch for Mr. Spock) or the voice of the ship's computer, but I loved her best as Lwaxana Troi, the free-spirited and irreverant mother of the ship's counselor on Star Trek: The Next Generation. She gave the character a joie de vivre that was endearing and irresistible. Rest in peace, Majel!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Santa's lament

As I mentioned a while back, I went to a fundraiser recently where a friend of mine dressed up as Santa. He was quite believable, and had a steady stream of tots waiting in line to sit on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas.

I saw him again last night (in his civilian clothes, this time) and he mentioned that this year, he was amazed at how subdued the children were. He's been doing the Santa thing for many years, and each year, the kids are always boisterous and excited and ever-willing to rattle off a long list of things that they want him to bring.

Not this year.

This year, the kids were hesitant to ask for anything at all, and when they did, it was just one item. When he'd ask, "What would you like me to bring you this year?", many were content to leave it up to Santa. "I don't know," they'd say, "maybe a doll, if you can? Whatever you bring would be good."

He couldn't believe it, and feels certain that this is yet another indicator of the economic times we live in. The children are apparently quite aware of how difficult it will be this year for so many families, and they are reluctant to get their hopes up for anything.

While it's certainly comforting to see holiday greed take a back seat, it is a sad reminder of the far-reaching effects that we all feel during an economic crisis.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Flip Saga comes to a close



Earlier this year, I was so excited about my Flip Ultra camcorder. It records up to 60 minutes of video, and has a USB that pops out for instant uploading to any computer or website. I loved it so much, I took it with me on my cruise to Bermuda in August.

Since we'd already planned to go snorkeling on that trip, I also purchased the Flip Underwater case. It was designed to keep the camcorder safe and dry.

Well, you can guess what happened next: it didn't work, and within seconds, my beautiful Flip--and all of the footage I'd taken thus far on my trip--was waterlogged and ruined.

When I got back home, I wrote to the company, Pure Digital Technologies, telling them about what happened. Their response was swift and surprising: they apologized immediately, and asked me to send them both the camera and case to see if they could retrieve the footage and repair the items.

Unfortunately, they weren't able to recover any of the data from the camcorder, but they did replace it with a brand new one. They also promised to send me a new underwater case, but that item has since been discontinued by the company. (I'm guessing it failed once too often!)

Today, I received a check representing a full refund the purchase price of the underwater case, along with a "token of appreciation for your continued patience in waiting for your refund": a mini-tripod for the Flip!

I've certainly had my share of bad customer service experiences in the past, but this was one company that really did right by the customer. If only more companies conducted business the way they do, we might see more consumer confidence these days!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hangin' with Santa


Today, we took the kids to a Lunch with Santa charity fundraiser event. As you can see, I had my antlers all shined up for the occasion!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Free Online Shopping Codes

This is a crazy busy time of year for me, but I finally started doing my holiday shopping, and wanted to pass along some great websites for those of you who shop online. Over the past few days, I've been using some great websites to find money-saving coupon codes for free shipping and other offers. Yesterday, I found one for The Popcorn Factory that was better than the one advertised on the website itself or in the catalog.

Before you place on an order online, check out some of these places to see if the retailer you're using has a special offer out there:

www.couponcabin.com

www.freeshipping.org

www.couponshack.com

www.anycoupons.com

www.onlycoupons.com


Happy Shopping!

Monday, December 1, 2008

A starry night to remember

If you look to the southwestern skies tonight, you'll see a rare occurrence: a crescent moon nestled in close proximity to two bright planets: Jupiter and Venus.

The next time these planets will appear this close together will be on November 18, 2052.

I'll be 85 years old.

I'm sure glad I got to see them tonight!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rosie's Variety Show: Disappointing



I've really missed seeing Rosie O'Donnell on television, and had high hopes for her live variety show last night.

Unfortunately, I found "Rosie LIVE" to be almost totally unwatchable. The opening monologue was peppered with recycled jokes that she'd already told when she appeared on the Conan O'Brien show. Liza Minnelli did a fantastic job with her splashy musical number, but Rosie's voice is no match for Liza's, and her sour (although enthusiastic) backup notes really dragged down the song.

Alec Baldwin's lascivious joke about speaking directly into the microphone affixed to Rosie's cleavage was inappropriate for a "family" show, and just not funny. Kathy Griffin, another talented comedian that I usually love, missed the mark with her stilted and pointless Nancy Grace impersonation.

It was so weird...the show had so many elements that SHOULD have worked well, but didn't.

Yes, there was an amazing tap dance performance, songs by Alanis Morrisette, Harry Connick Jr. and Ne-Yo, but nothing seemed to flow well with anything else. Instead of showcasing a variety of talent, it was a hodge-podge of thrown-together acts with no rhyme or reason to them. And, while Gloria Estefan is a gifted singer/songwriter, she proved herself sadly incapable of telling a simple turkey joke.

This was so disappointing. I truly wanted Rosie to succeed at this new venture, and I hope she gives it another try. Next time, though, she needs to cut the useless cameos (Conan O'Brien's pie in the face gag, Clay Aiken's "elephant in the room" gay references, Jane Krakowski's strip tease) and try to make the show more cohesive and entertaining. More substance, less schtick.

When Rosie paints, she throws a bunch of colors onto the canvas and just lets it flow as the inspiration moves her. Sometimes, the final result is striking and thought-provoking, but other times, it's just a big ole mess.

Creating a work of art should be something one does purely for oneself. To quote Ricky Nelson's Garden Party, "I learned my lesson well. You can't please everyone, so you have to please yourself."

Trouble is, if you're hired to put on a prime-time variety show, you're going to have to think about your audience a bit more, and try a little harder to create something that will appeal to others.

Better luck next time, Rosie.

Turkey Day 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

20 years and counting...

Today is a very special day in my life: the 20th anniversary of the day I met my husband.

Our celebration was very low key, but perfect. He came home from work and we ate a candelit dinner for two. I ordered sushi from our favorite place, and they made a special roll--not found on the menu--that is crafted into the shape of a heart.

Great food, good wine, and a helluva guy. Who could ask for anything more?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Two years gone

Not much to say today...or maybe, too much to say, just not up to saying it.

It helps to look at old photos and remember the good times.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Izzie & Denny: An interesting theory


I've been a fan of the show Grey's Anatomy since Season 1. One of the most poignant, romantic love stories depicted on the show was of Izzie & Denny. Their relationship was doomed from the start: Denny was dying of an ailment that required a heart transplant, and he wasn't high enough on the list to receive one before time ran out. So, Izzie devised a desperate plan to save him: she cut his LVAD wire to make his situation so dire, he HAD to bumped up on the list.

And he was. He received his transplant, but the writers of the top-rated drama pulled the rug out from under the viewers and killed him off anyway. We were left to endure several seasons of Izzie pining away for Denny, crippled by her grief and saddled with the consequences of her actions.

Finally, it looked as though they were going to let her move on this season. She is once again in a relationship with Alex, and things appeared to headed in a good direction for them. Then, comes this latest storyline for Izzie, where Denny has come back from the dead. He's been following her around the hospital, hanging out in her bedroom, and yes, even having sex with her while her confused roommates stand outside the door listening to Izzie's moans of rapture.

Grey's creator Shonda Rimes is really stretching the believability on this one.

One theory that has been suggested is that Izzie is suffering from a brain tumor, and that her visions of Denny are all an elaborate hallucination. But, Shonda Rimes recently shot that one down in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

I've giving this one a lot of thought, and there are aspects of this storyline that remind me of my own novel. (Not TOO similar, thank goodness.) I think I may have a viable theory about what's REALLY going on with Izzie Stevens.

I think she sees dead people.

The biggest hurdle that Izzie has had to overcome throughout the show is that she gets way too emotionally involved with her patients. She empathizes with them so much, that she often crosses the line and gets caught up in their personal problems, inserting herself into the situation with their families in a way that borders on unprofessionalism. I've often wondered why they make her character so prone to this type of behavior.

Then it hit me: maybe she's got some sort of psychic ability. Maybe Izzie has a gift for relating to people because she can pick up on their emotions and feel what they're feeling--so acutely, that it influences her own behavior.

So....what if Denny really is dead, and HE is the one that is having trouble moving on? Now that she's in a clearer state of mind for herself, she can see his suffering for the first time. Perhaps her mission is to try and help him move on, and getting overly involved in that process (to the point of being able to see, hear, and touch him) is just par for the course with her.

All things supernatural are very popular right now: Harry Potter, Twilight, Medium, The Ghost Whisperer, Heroes, LOST, etc. It looks to me like Shonda Rimes has decided to take that leap of faith and put Grey's Anatomy on the mystical bandwagon.

Just think of the plot possibilities: Meredith's mother can come back and communicate to Meredith thru Izzie. Patients who have died can come back with messages that will help the doctors save other patients who are still alive.

Could be very interesting, if handled well.

That's my theory. I'm curious to see how it plays out!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A day to give Thanks



No, I'm not referring to Thankgiving, but to that other November holiday: Veteran's Day.

It's today, by the way. Not that you would notice.

School is still session, and no one I know has off from work, other than the mailman.

I remember Veteran's Day being a much bigger deal when I was a kid. There were parades and memorials and ceremonies. And now, in 2008, with U.S. troops fighting overseas in two wars, it's being treated as just another day.

I wonder, is it because no one has time to reflect on the sacrifices of our armed services anymore? Or, is it because we've been so inundated with news of death and destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, we've reached a saturation point?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

UPDATE: MileyWorld refund SUCCESS!!

Wow.

Props and a big THANK YOU to commenter Peg, who suggested I contact the Better Business Bureau to get my refund from Mileyworld.com.

READ MY ORIGINAL POST HERE: http://yaktalk.blogspot.com/2008/10/mileyworldcom-miley-cyrus-website-scam.html

I reported them to the BBB this afternoon, and sent a follow-up email to support@mileyworld.com, informing them of my case number with the BBB. I also mentioned all of the comments I got on my blog from others who found themselves in the same predictament, as well as the guy who emailed me about getting everyone together to file a class action lawsuit.

I'm not sure which of those statements had the greatest effect, but within 4 hours, I received this email:

Dear Lisa,

All members whose accounts were set to renew were e-mailed 30 days prior to the billing date. That e-mail contained detailed instructions on how to cancel. Our terms and conditions as well as the FAQs on our Help Desk are clear that memberships renew each year until canceled. Seniority is traditionally a benefit of music fan club memberships, and most of our fan club members do in fact elect to renew.

Nevertheless, despite our user terms, your membership has been cancelled and your card credited as a gesture of goodwill.

We hope you've enjoyed your membership.

MileyWorld Customer Service


There you have it, folks.


I also received ANOTHER email from a customer service rep at MileyWorld, telling me that they "confirmed" that they sent 2 email notices to my email address on file, but acknowledging that those do sometimes get deleted as spam. Nevertheless, "as a courtesy, we are deleting your membership and issuing a refund."

I cannot tell you how happy I am that they FINALLY decided to do the right thing. To all of you who are in this same predicament, I hope that you keep on pursuing it, and that you also have a successful outcome.

I listed this contact info on the earlier MileyWorld post, but I'll put it here as well:

BBB of Middle Tennessee
(Nashville, TN)
201 Fourth Ave. North, Ste. 100
Nashville, TN 37203-3984
Phone: (615)242-4222
Fax: (615)250-4245
Email: bbbnash@aol.com

Web: http://www.middletennessee.bbb.org

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Amen

And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright, tonight we proved once more, that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

--Barack Obama

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Congratulations Barack Obama!!!



It's official.....Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States.

I'm absolutely thrilled, not to mention incredibly proud.

Congratulations, President-Elect Obama!

VOTE!

No matter which candidate you choose, this is going to be a historic election. We'll either have our first African-American President, or our first woman Vice-President.

It's been a rough road, and now that Election Day is finally here, I hope that the bickering that has plagued this election cycle will come to an end. Our country needs to move forward, united, if we are ever to fix all of the problems that face this nation.

Now, make sure your voice is heard--get out there and Vote!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Just one more day

Barack Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, died this afternoon, the day before Election Day.

My heart goes out to him. I know, she was 86 years old, and in poor health, but even so, one is never quite prepared for this kind of thing when it happens.

I understand that God has a plan for all of us, but couldn't He have waited just one more day to take her home? I know that wherever she is right now, she is certainly watching over her grandson, and she sees what is happening in his life. If he wins tomorrow, I'm sure she will be celebrating with her daughter at his victory. Still, how wonderful it would have been for him to see his grandmother's joy for himself. Now, he will never get that chance.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

HSM 3: a quick review


Took the girls to see High School Musical 3 this afternoon. My teenager went last night with her best friend, and they thought it was kinda lame, but my younger daughters loved it. I thought the movie was less of an ensemble piece, and focused much more heavily on Zac Efron this time around. Disney is definitely grooming him for bigger and better things.

Ashley Tilsdale's Sharpay character was like an afterthought in this sequel, and Gabriela was used purely as Troy's arm candy.

Nevertheless, it was a family-friendly film and the music was quite catchy. So, overall, a thumbs-up from me!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Farewell, Studs Terkel

Sad news this morning: Pulitzer Prize winning author Studs Terkel has died, at the age of 96.

In my college days, my journalism teacher held him up as an example of a great journalist. I read this book, "Working," and was blown away. Terkel was a master an interviewing "the common man", and understood that EVERYONE has a unique perspective and story to tell. All one has to do is ask a few questions, and then, really LISTEN to what people have to say. Sounds like a simple formula, but I was surprised at how few journalists are actually capable of doing it well.

Here, an excerpt from his AP obituary:

The tougher the subject, the harder Terkel took it on. He put out an oral history collection on race relations in 1992 called "Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About The American Obsession," and, in 1995, "Coming of Age," recollections of men and women 70 and older.

He cared about what divided us, and what united us: death — in his 2001 "Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith," and hope, in his 2003 "Hope Dies Last."

Terkel won a 1985 Pulitzer Prize for "The Good War," remembrances of World War II; contrasted rich and poor along the same Chicago street in "Division Street: America," 1966; limned the Depression in "Hard Times," 1970; and chronicled how people feel about their jobs in "Working," 1974.

"When the Chinese Wall was built, where did the masons go for lunch? When Caesar conquered Gall, was there not even a cook in the army? And here's the big one, when the Armada sank, you read that King Philip wept. Were there no other tears?" Terkel said upon receiving an honorary National Book Award medal in 1997. "And that's what I believe oral history is about. It's about those who shed those other tears, who on rare occasions of triumph laugh that other laugh."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hudson's tragedy

I can't stop thinking about the news regarding the tragedy that has occurred in the life of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson. Her sister's estranged husband is being held in connection with the shooting deaths of Hudson's mother and brother. Her 7-year-old nephew was reported missing on Friday, and this morning, the body of a young boy was found in the suspect's SUV. FBI officials have said they believe it is the boy they've been looking for. In all likelihood, we're looking at a case of triple homicide, all because of a domestic dispute.

The statistics from the American Institute on Domestic Violence are sobering and staggering:

* 85-95% of all domestic violence victims are female.

* Over 500,00 women are stalked by an intimate partner each year.

* 5.3 million women are abused each year.

* 1,232 women are killed each year by an intimate partner.

* Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women.

* Women are more likely to be attacked by someone they know rather than by a stranger.

And this, from Africana Voices Against Violence, Tufts University:

* The number one killer of African-American women ages 15 to 34 is homicide at the hands of a current or former intimate partner.

Unbelievable.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Jennifer Hudson, and most especially, to her sister. Losing a child is every parent's worst nightmare. I can only imagine the pain she's going through at this moment.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Osso Buco

Rich really outdid himself today, whipping up some recipes from Tyler Florence's "Ultimate" series. He made an Osso Buco and a Horseradish & Sour Cream mashed potatoes.

A feast for the eyes AND the palate:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Olbermann's rant

wow...this guy needs to switch to decaf.



Bonus points if you can get all the way through the entire seven and a half minutes.

This is an extraordinarily passionate and personal rant about divisiveness being nurtured by the McCain campaign. I'm not saying he doesn't make some excellent points, but after something like this, can anyone ever see Olbermann deliver the news as an "impartial journalist" again?

If he wants to become the left-wing answer to Bill O'Reilly, so be it. O'Reilly just inked a new $10 million contract with FOX, so I can certainly understand the appeal. But, a rant like this--with its tone of barely-contained rage--is not exactly unifying. Not that it was meant to be, of course, but I guess I'm just getting a little tired of all the drama from both sides.

This morning at breakfast, my eldest daughter noticed a quote on the back of a juice box that was left on the kitchen table from the night before. It said:

"He who throws mud only loses ground."
-- Fat Albert

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two weeks from today...

...I'll be glued to the television set, awaiting the results of the Presidential Election.

I cannot wait for it to be over, regardless of who wins. This election was the nastiest one I can ever recall having the displeasure to witness. Both candidates have lobbed nasty accusations against one another, but I think that one campaign has been far more negative than the other. Let's see....

* Obama ads have accused McCain of being erratic, out-of-touch, and just like George Bush.

* McCain ads have accused Obama of being anti-American, a racist, and befriending terrorists.

One is throwing tomatoes, the other is slinging huge, steaming bricks of fear-mongering crap.

Not all McCain supporters buy into the rhetoric, thank goodness, including my dear DH, and my blogger friend, The Chief. I know from my respectful discussions with both of them over the past several months that they have many well-thought-out reasons for choosing John McCain, and I can understand it, even though I disagree with them. I only wish there were more men (and women) out there like them.

Alas, for some, this nasty election has brought out the very worst in human nature--from BOTH parties. This Presidential election has proved irresistible for those who thrive on melodrama and angst, crave constant attention, or are so small-minded that they cannot resist any opportunity to put forth a mean-spirited jab. They've done their very best to be divisive. They appear on various news outlets, blogs and message boards, spouting their hateful propaganda, stirring the pot. When did examining the ISSUES, truly listening to the viewpoints of others, and simply agreeing to disagree become a lost art?

Only two more weeks to go. I truly cannot wait.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Weekend Wrapup

We didn't have much planned at the outset, but it ended up being a great weekend. On Saturday, Rich's sister Cathy came over for dinner with her husband, Angelo, to meet Scooter. They loved him, of course, and the feeling was mutual. They brought a dog bed for him, which he loves. He was a bit shy at first, but once they started feeding him cheese and crackers (against my wishes) they became fast friends.

Aunt Cathy & Scooter


Today, we had a nice quiet day at home, just chillin'. This morning, Rich took the pup to a nature preserve, where he met lots of other dogs. I stopped at Luke's Place to finalize the paperwork for Scooter, and to make the adoption official. He's all ours!

I think everyone is surprised at how well Scooter has fit in here, and how quickly. I was dreading all of the extra work that would be involved, but I'm happy to say, everyone in our family is pitching in and helping out, so it's been a real pleasure.

It has been a very busy time, but now that the back-to-school stuff is finally over and we're settling into more of a routine, I'm hoping to get back into editing my YA book. I've let it sit for far too long. I'm not planning to do NaNoWriMo again this year, but I'm going to do a "rewrite" boot camp for myself to get the book whipped into shape. I want to have it in shape for submission by the end of the year.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Dolphin Costume: A How-To


I've been getting quite a bit of email lately about the Dolphin Costume I made for my daughter in 2005, and blogged about last year, so I've decided to post detailed instructions on how to make the costume. I used a sewing machine to make mine, but I've also included alternative options for those of you who do not sew. Remember: a glue gun and safety pins are your friends!!

First, I started with a simple pattern from Butterick, #6695.


I already had this pattern in the house, because I made a dog costume for my eldest daughter a few years ago (the brown one shown on the top left). I realized that the dragon costume, shown on the bottom left, could be easily adjusted to make a dolphin costume. (*NOTE: If you're not much into sewing, you could purchase light blue fleece pajamas, hot glue an oval of white felt on the front for the belly, and bam!--instant dolphin body! Or, if you want to be able to wear the fleece shirt again, you could safety pin the white felt so that you can remove it later.)

I added a dorsal fin to the back of the costume. I free-handed a fin onto cardboard (honestly...if I can do it, ANYONE can...my drawing skills are pathetic) and used it as a pattern to cut two pieces of blue lightweight fleece. I stuffed it with batting, and sewed it into the left seam, before applying the velcro.


(*NOTE: for non-sewers, cover the cardboard with the felt using a glue gun, leaving about an inch of extra felt along the bottom, extending beyond the cardboard. Use that edge strip to safety-pin the fin to the back of the dolphin body.)

This part is optional, but I also added some crescent-shaped felt pieces to the bottom of the legs (front and back, joined at the corners), so that when my daughter stood with her feet together, it looked like she had a tail flipper. This is a bit difficult to describe, but I think it's self-explanatory from the pictures:


Now...for the more complicated part: the dolphin head. As I said to another blogger under the Comments section of my previous Dolphin Costume post, you could take a shortcut here and use a baseball cap for the basic shape. Cover it in blue felt, add a felt-covered piece of cardboard for the bottom jaw, and be done with it.

However, if you're even somewhat handy with sewing, you can do what I did, and use the basic head shape provided in the Butterick pattern to get started. I added black felt eyes with a touch of white (for eyeshine) to the sides, and added a top and bottom jaw to make the mouth.



For the jaw/mouth, I took two pieces of cardboard and cut them into U-shape. Then I wrapped them in thin cotton batting (the kind quilters use) and covered them in felt. The top piece was all blue, the bottom was blue on top and white on the bottom.


On the inside of the bottom piece, I hot-glued a piece of hot pink felt for the dolphin's tongue.



After it was all covered in felt, I bent each cardboard piece so that it was curved in the middle, like a dolphin's snout. I left a little extra felt at the end of each, and sewed them to the headpiece. Then I tacked them together with a few stitches, extending up 4 inches from the base of the mouth, so that it would hold its shape.


This next step I found necessary because my daughter had a small head, and the weight of the mouth kept making the headpiece fall over her eyes. I used some scrap felt to make a small, round, blue pillow, and sewed into the top of the headpiece, to hold it higher on her head. She found it very comfy, and it gave the top a nice roundness.


Gosh, folks, I hope these instructions help you. Please let me know if you have any further questions, and please post links to any pictures you have if you do decide to tackle this fun costume. Good luck!!

I hope you find these instructions helpful.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Scooter: Day 3

Just a quick update on the pooch: he's doing great! He loves the backyard, and has settled in nicely in our home. He hasn't met our cats yet....oh, you KNOW I'm going to be taking some video of THAT and posting it...but so far, he's been an absolute doll. He is so eager to please, and the training is going really well. He sits, stays, and does not jump up on people--or furniture! He has some chew toys that he adores, and the kids all take turns playing out in the yard with him and taking him for walks.

He's a keeper!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How much will you save with Obama-Biden?

I thought this was an interesting tool to figure out how much the Obama tax plan would help (or hurt) our family. I'm going to play with it to see if I can get it to show me a scenario that ISN'T better than the McCain plan.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gotcha Day

Allow me to introduce: Scooter!



He's a spaniel/terrier mix--that's the shelter's guess, anyway. We named him after one of our favorite New York Yankees, Phil Rizzuto. He looks like a mini-Rottweiler, and has a great personality. I've been using the tips and techniques I've seen on The Dog Whisperer, and he's been responding beautifully. Cesar Millan definitely knows what he's talking about!

He's about a year old, and since we don't know his exact birthday, the shelter said it's best to celebrate his "Gotcha Day"...the day we brought him home, which is today.

Happy Gotcha Day, Scooter!

Monday, October 13, 2008

C'mon Get Happy

I think my buddy Kristen must be psychic.

Last week, I blogged about my visit to the local animal shelter, where my daughter and I volunteered for the day. There was a dog there named Happy that totally captured our hearts, but he was already spoken for.

I just got word tonight that his adoptive family returned him, because "he was a little too happy for his new home." I spoke with the shelter owner, and she said that Happy is high energy...aka "hyper." He loves to run around outside, and the folks who adopted him just couldn't manage to wear him out enough on a daily basis. So, he's back at the shelter.

Waiting. For someone. To come and get him.



I'm picking him up tomorrow morning.

Happy Columbus Day



I find this painting so creepy. His fingers are wayyyy too long, and his head looks too small for his body.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ugliness

So much of it these days, particularly when it comes to politics. The human capacity for hatred and ugliness can be quite extraordinary.

At McCain/Palin rallies this weekend, there have been cries of "Liar" and "Terrorist" and even "Kill Him!" directed at Barack Obama. In one nauseating piece of video footage, you see an older man proudly showing off a stuffed monkey toy with an Obama sticker plastered to his forehead. "This is little Hussein," he taunts.

I'm sure if you ask these folks, they will tell you of their frustrations with the election process, as if this somehow justifies their myopic behavior. They will warn you of how anti-American Obama is, and how his links to Ayers and Wright demand further exploration.

Perhaps they do. But how can you listen to someone who spews hatred and divisiveness as easily as they breathe the air around them? Worse yet, in most cases, they don't even realize they're doing it.

A sad state of affairs, all around.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A pensive time

Yes, I know, I've been quiet lately. How unlike me. But then, these are strange times.

The economy is free falling down a seemingly bottomless hole.

I have two people in my life--one a good friend, the other a relative--both facing serious battles with cancer. I am powerless to help either of them.

The presidential campaign is getting uglier by the minute. I just want it to be over already. I'm sick of all the heated discussion, pitting friends against friends. It's tiresome, and it certainly does nothing to lift up this country.

Today, I went to visit my mother. It's been nearly two years since my father died, and I still can't get used to going to their house and not seeing him there. His favorite rocking chair is falling apart, and it's time to get rid of it. Just one more link to him, destined to disappear. When my mother called me the other day, I noticed that the name on the Caller ID was hers, not his. The phone company made her change it.

She still has the motorized scooter he used to get around in his final years. It was more fun than a wheelchair and carried less of a stigma, so he loved it. She can't bear to part with that, either, but it's starting to get run down, sitting idle. So, she asked my daughters to take it for a spin on the patio, to rev up the battery and keep it going. I watched as they drove the scooter in wide circles, laughing and smiling, enjoying the game. Every lap they did was a fresh reminder that my father isn't here anymore.

But time marches on. As the two-year anniversary of his death approaches, I wonder how he would have reacted to the times we live in now. He was a deep thinker, my Dad, and I'm sure he would have had some first-rate ideas on how to solve this mess.

Instead, I'm left to my own devices in trying to figure it all out. It's been nearly two years, and I still can't get used to that.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Happy Dog


Amy & Happy


Today, my middle daughter and I did some volunteer work for a local animal rescue group. They received a transport of about 15 dogs up from Mississippi. The dogs--about half of them puppies--were scheduled to be euthanized, so the group had them brought up here to be fostered/adopted.

When they arrive, the dogs need to be cleaned up, walked, fed, and socialized a bit before being turned over to their new families, so that's what Amy and I did. It was a long day, but very rewarding.

We loved all of the doggies, but one in particular really captured our hearts. His name was "Happy," and he was very aptly named. You would think a 25-hour ride in a tiny crate in the back of a tractor trailer truck would make the poor thing skittish and scared. Nope. Happy had a wonderful disposition, boundless energy, and already seemed quite well trained. He's going to make a wonderful addition to his new family.

We don't have a dog at the moment, but we have plenty of other pets: two cats, a hamster, and 4 fish tanks filled with tropical fish. I haven't had a dog since my sweet mutt, Columbo, died at the age of 17 years old back in 1988. Seeing those dogs today did give me that familiar dog-lover pang, but I'm not sure I'm ready to let another furry little baby into our lives just yet. The ones we have keep me plenty busy!

If you're thinking of getting a family pet, I encourage you to visit WWW.PETFINDER.COM, to view a list of adoptable pets available in your area.

Amy, holding a sleepy puppy



***UPDATE***
Well, Kristen's comment below was absolutely correct. Happy was returned by his adoptive family about a week later, and we adopted him immediately. His name is now "Scooter" and we adore him!

Biden's rough week

Poor Joe Biden. On Thursday, he had the tremendous pressure of performing well in the VP debate--a task which he proved to be MORE than ready for. I thought he did a fantastic job, and did a great deal bolstering his ticket.

Alas, the very next day, he had to attend a ceremony to bid farewell to his son, who will be leaving soon to fight in Iraq.

And today, his mother-in-law died.

Talk about a rough week.

I'm hoping that his MIL will pull some strings for Joe once she gets through the Pearly Gates. The poor guy sounds like he could really use a break right about now.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Speaking Up for Italian-Americans

I got an email today from a friend and fellow member of UNICO, an Italian American service organization that raises money for charity, awards scholarships to deserving students, performs community service, and promotes a positive image of Italian-American culture and values.

He recently came across this t-shirt, produced by the Lucky Brand:


He found the shirt very offensive to Italian-Americans. I'll be honest...at first, I couldn't understand what the fuss was all about. Then, I took a closer look at the back of the shirt:


It depicts three "organized crime" figures with mugshots at the top, and proclaims that their team will be breaking records "one leg at a time."

Nice. Italian-Americans = organized crime = a penchant for violence.

The good news: my friend wrote to Nordstrom's, the department store that was carrying this shirt, and they responded immediately. They agreed with him that the shirt crossed the line from "good spirited fun" to unacceptable stereotyping, and will no longer carry it in their stores or online. In fact, I checked their website today, and the item is listed as "not available."

I'm proud of my friend for speaking up. Even though it's upsetting, it's tempting to try and laugh off this kind of smear, or let it slide and look the other way. I'm glad he did something about it, and that the store was so responsive to his concerns. As a writer, I'm a big believer in freedom of expression, but I, too, believe that this shirt design was gratuitous and hurtful.

I know there are some bad apples out there that have given Italians a bad reputation, but the vast majority of Italian-Americans are hard-working, honest people who helped build up this country and make it great. My grandparents came here in 1920, with a dream for a better life. They immediately learned the language, worked hard at an honest living, and loved this country with fierceness and loyalty. They're long-since gone now, but their pride in this country and the opportunities it presents for those who are willing to devote themselves to America lives on. They deserve better than cheap-shot gangster jokes aimed at selling a few t-shirts.

Friday, October 3, 2008

MileyWorld.com: Miley Cyrus' website scam

**NOTE: There are now 3 updates added to the end of this post. The latest update occurred on January 26, 2009**

I'm pissed off.

Last September, my youngest daughter begged me to let her join up on Miley Cyrus' website, "Miley World." Membership allowed you access to games and newsletters and fan info about Miley, who plays the popular Hannah Montana. I relented, and within a couple of days, my daughter totally lost interest in the site.

In the months that followed, Cyrus was involved in a number of controversies that tainted her "wholesome" image, including a topless photo shoot for Vanity Fair, a pregnancy rumor, and a number of risque pictures leaked online that Cyrus snapped herself. I was glad that my daughter lost interest in the mediocre actress/singer, and didn't give the Miley World site another thought.

Until yesterday, that is, when I opened my credit card bill and found a charge for $29.95 from Miley World. It was labeled as an "Auto Renewal". I immediately went to the website to try and contact them, but--surprise!--there is no way to email them directly without logging in first. I had to request the Username and Password (long since forgotten) and finally managed to access the site and fill out a "customer service ticket" to ask for assistance.

They wrote back to inform me that they DO NOT GIVE REFUNDS. Supposedly, they send out an email 30 days before automatically renewing your membership, and if you don't go to the site, navigate through your profile and unclick "Auto Renew", they will hit your credit card.

The problem is: I never got any email from them, and was completely unaware of the charge until it hit my bill. Their response? Too bad. No refunds. No exceptions. Thanks for being a fan of Miley World!!

I am incredulous over this. The fact that they have such a staunch "no refunds" policy tells me that they must screw people over so often with the auto-renewal, they just don't give a crap anymore.

I am filing complaints with the FTC and the Internet Crime Complaint Center. This website is guilty of internet fraud, and must be stopped.

For anyone reading this who experienced a similar issue, I now have their direct email address: support@mileyworld.com Quite a misnomer there, since the LAST thing they do is support people.

I'll keep you updated as this unfolds. In the meantime, I'm calling the credit card company and putting the $29.95 in dispute, and reporting their sorry asses to the Powers That Be. Wish me luck!


Trashy Miley Cyrus, owner of a Scamming Website


*******************UPDATE #1*******************

As you can see in the comment section of this post, I have received many comments from folks who also fell victim to this Miley World auto-renewal scam. At the suggestion of one commenter (Peg), I opened a case file with the Better Business Bureau in Tennessee, which is the location handling the complaints for this company.

You can lodge your complaint quickly and easily ONLINE, and it only takes a few minutes of your time. Be sure to provide as much info as you can, including the dates of your correspondence, the amount you want refunded to you, and your account number at Miley World.

I will post an update if and when this matter gets resolved. Good luck, everyone!

TO LODGE A COMPLAINT, CALL OR VISIT THE WEBSITE BELOW:

BBB of Middle Tennessee
(Nashville, TN)
201 Fourth Ave. North, Ste. 100
Nashville, TN 37203-3984
Phone: (615)242-4222
Fax: (615)250-4245
Email: bbbnash@aol.com

Web: http://www.middletennessee.bbb.org



*******************UPDATE #2*******************
They agreed to issue me a full refund!

***************UPDATE#3*************************
Well, it's now January, 2009, and the comments and emails just keep pouring in from readers who have had similarly bad experiences with MileyWorld. The latest email comes from Leslie, regarding a photo contest hosted by the site. I told Leslie that I would relay her story here, in the event that others are having the same problem.

Leslie writes:

"My child begged to join MileyWorld to enter a contest to meet Miley. Once on the site we learned she would need to submit a 1 minute video. She spent her savings to purchase a camera to video record herself for the entry. By the terms listed on the site the contest was suppose to end Oct 31st and the winner was to be announced no later than Dec 31, 2008. The site never posted any information and continued to accept new entrants into the contest. My daughter contacted them by email as did I and the response was vague. They stated they were attempting to give everyone a chance to enter and did not know when the contest would end. They continued to have the same dates posted on the site and never posted that the contest had been extended. Just recently they revised the dates to end the contest Jan 2009. My daughter and I now feel that the contest is not legitimate. She is so crushed. I am upset I feel they took advantage of my daughter and tens of thousands of other children. She has not picked up that camera since. She wasted her money on a fraud.

I contacted the site with a more stern email and was told that the only thing they were willing to do is give my daughter 30 more days free membership to the site. "No thanks". I have contacted the BBB and the Consumer Protections Agency in Nashville with complaints."


Leslie is upset that the site did not inform subscribers of the change to the contest rules and deadlines. As the revised January 31st deadline approaches, we'll be keeping an eye on this to see if the contest closes, or is extended yet again. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

How to Steal an Emmy

In this bit from her recent appearance on Conan O'Brien, Julia Louis-Dreyfus makes a compelling case for why SHE deserved to nab the Best Actress Emmy, not rival Tina Fey.

Great sports all around. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Busy much?

Oofah, "busy" doesn't even begin to describe what this month has been like. The back-to-school chaos mixed in with waaaayyyyy too much volunteering (I must be stopped!) has kept me running like a hamster on a wheel.


Then of course, there's this little economic crisis you may have heard about. Scary stuff. Do yourself a favor: go to www.fdic.gov and read up on what your rights are in the event of a bank failure. Did you know that the stuff in your safe deposit box isn't insured? Neither did I.

Even the recent Presidential debate failed to capture my interest. If anything, it depressed me even further--neither one of those guys has the answer to what ails this country, and I don't see either one providing solutions. Watching Palin try to put together a cohesive sentence with Katie Couric was p-a-i-n-f-u-l, and Biden is blending into the background like an old piece of furniture you keep forgetting you have. I'm not sure I can stomach watching their debate later this week, but I suspect it'll be so awful, it might have some "sideshow" appeal.

It's times like these that I really identify with that Green Day song, "Wake Me Up When September Ends."

Here's hoping October brings us all some brighter days.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Sis!

Today is my sister's 20th wedding anniversary. I can't believe that much time has passed, until you consider that, on the day they married:

* Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States, and George H.W. Bush was the V.P.

* Bush was running for President himself, with a newcomer-from-nowhere named Dan Quayle. Everyone thought it was a crazy pick at the time. Until they won.

* A first class stamp cost 22 cents.

* Music CDs outsold vinyl records for the first time.


Lots of history between then and now. It's great to see a happy couple still going strong, two decades later.

Happy Anniversary, Laura & Curt!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Welcome Autumn 2008


My favorite season.

Cool breezes.
Warm sweaters.
Cushy blankets.
Fresh pressed cider.
Pumpkin pie.
Crockpot cooking.
Caramel apples.
Crackling logs in the fireplace.
Changing leaves.
Darker nights.
An extra hour when we turn the clocks back.
Nesting, hibernating, hunkering down for the cold to come.

I love the Fall.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More coffee than you can shake a stick at

Hello, my name is Lisa, and I'm a coffee addict. Ever since I got my Keurig Coffee machine in late 2006, I've been a java fanatic. I try to limit myself to ONE cup of caffeinated coffee a day, and two decaf, but will occasionally go for an extra boost in the mid-afternoon.

I love my coffee machine, because it brews one cup at a time, and I like my coffee piping hot. It reminds me of the scalding coffee my grandmother used to make in her old metal espresso pot. No matter what brand of coffee machine I had before, the coffee was NEVER hot enough, or if it was initially, it didn't stay that way. The Keurig, set at the maximum temperature, cranks out a cup of 192-degree fresh-brewed happiness. Ahhhhh....

So, the other day, I was at the supermarket purchasing some more of my little K-cups, and I met a guy who works for the company. He advised me that it's much less expensive to order the coffee directly from Keurig, or from one of their distributors, because they sell boxes of 24 cups, and the ones in the supermarket and Bed, Bath & Beyond only have 18 cups. I told him I had some problems ordering directly from Keurig (they started sending me coffees I didn't want/didn't order), so he told me about a website for one of their distributors: www.coffeewiz.com.

Oh my lord...the selection there was incredible. I temporarily lost my mind and placed a huge order. It arrived today. Behold, my new stash:


I ordered (from left to right, starting at the bottom): Dark Magic Decaf, Obama Blend (more on that later), Half-Caff, Newman's Own Special Blend Caffeinated, English Breakfast Tea, Parisian Nights, Newman's Own Special Blend DeCaf, White Hot Chocolate, Hot Cocoa, and Double Black Diamond.

My husband loves the Newman's Own, which is why I ordered two of those, and my eldest daughter likes to have Tea in the morning. My younger two kids are all about the Hot Cocoa, and the White Chocolate version sounded interesting, so I got that, too. I like the super-strong coffee, even if it's decaf, so I always have plenty of those, too. The first one I tried (just now!) was the Double Black Diamond, an extra bold coffee for those really tough days when I need a kick in the afternoon. There was another brand on the site called "Jet Fuel" that I must buy next time!

My favorite purchase, though, is the "Office Politics: Obama Blend" from Coffee People. I haven't even tasted it yet, but I'm really looking forward to trying it. They also had a "McCain Blend," which I did not buy, although I would, if and when my friends Michael Lee or The Chief ever stop by for coffee and donuts. According to the website, they're going to keep a running tally of the sales of both blends, and see who "wins." Pretty clever idea, eh? Go Obama!