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.


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 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


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

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 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 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: 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!


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


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

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!