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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hanging in there

Just a quick note here to wish everyone a happy holiday season and blessings of health, happiness, and love in the coming year.


Gregg and I are hanging in there.   After getting over the initial shock of the diagnosis, somehow we managed to have a quiet, sweet Christmas together.  We put aside the fear for a couple of days and stayed at home with each other.  We took walks at night with Ginger to look at the stars (so bright in the cold winter sky!) and the neighborhood decorations.   We ate lots of junk food, and spent afternoons watching old John Wayne movies in our pjs.  On Christmas Eve I lit beeswax candles on the mantle (I love their warm light and faint smell of honey) and we sat together and enjoyed the quiet and the peace of the holiday.


Now the tough part begins.


This week Gregg will begin a series of doctor's appointments and tests to find out more about his cancer diagnosis, and what the next few months will hold in terms of treatment.  We are frightened about getting the full diagnosis, but not knowing and imagining the worst isn't a good position to be in.


Today is his first consultation.   We are extremely fortunate to have the head of the pulmonary department at a local hospital as a personal friend.  We have been close to him and his wife for years and he is the first person Gregg is meeting with to see what needs to happen first.  He is not only a very good doctor (and a lung specialist) but he is young, serious, and has advanced very rapidly in his field.  I know that he will help us assemble a great team to fight this. And most importantly, Gregg feels comfortable with him.  I know he will do everything in his power to help us.


Please everyone hold us in your thoughts this week.  Any and all prayers, thoughts, messages, and love sent our way are greatly appreciated.


I wanted to include one of my favorite pictures of my husband here, taken last summer during our trip to Virginia.  He was studying a small creek and the native aquatic plants growing in it.  It was a beautiful path we were standing on, as you can see.   We were celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary:



I intend to get this wonderful man well and strong again. That is all that matters to me for the coming year, and all I can hope for in 2012.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Scared

Dear friends and followers:

This past Monday I got the most devastating news of my life. My husband Gregg has lung cancer.

We don't really know anything beyond that. The CAT scan they did of his lungs shows two spots in his left lung. It looks (at least initially) like it has not spread to his lymph nodes. Next week, after the holiday, he's going to see a specialist to find out more about it, and where we go from here.

I am still in shock, and I feel very frightened and alone. We have not told his family yet (he wants to wait until after Christmas) but I have told my parents and a couple of close friends. My boss at the bookstore is a breast cancer survivor, and has assured me she will do anything in her power to support me with my job.

I am trying to hold myself together, and to be strong for Gregg, but I feel so weak. He is much calmer than me, or at least he appears to be. I have never been so scared in my life. I don't know what the next few months will hold, but we are going to fight this.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Forgive me if my posts here are irregular and/or don't make much sense. I will try to update as I am able.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's beginning to look....nothing like Christmas

So, true to form, December is rolling up it's sleeves and preparing to have it's way with me.

I've posted before about how bad stuff always seems to happen to me around Christmastime. Well, yesterday my husband finally went to the doctor after almost a month of having a "chest cold" that he couldn't shake. It kept getting worse and worse until I insisted he go get it checked out. He is the kind of guy that will try to "tough it out" and get better on his own. Sometimes that isn't such a good idea.

Turns out he has a bad case of pneumonia. They almost admitted him to the hospital. As it is, they sent him home with lots of drugs and a breathing machine and instructions to come back in a few days for a CAT scan.  The initial x-rays they did showed a lot of fluid in his lungs and they have to make sure it responds to treatment.  I think the doctor scared him a little, which may be a good thing.


He hates going to the doctor.  He's also very suspicious of drugs, and rarely will take so much as an aspirin unless he really, really has to.  I've been nagging him for two weeks to go get this "cold" checked out.  He finally gave in after a full month of being sick.  I wish  he would take better care of himself and make his health a priority.  He works too much, for one thing, and when he gets sick he will rarely take time off .  I appreciate his strong work ethic and good intentions, but it's foolish to ignore or try to "tough out" illness.  And it scares me that he does so!

So this December I'm hoping we don't have to spend the holidays at the hospital.  The doctor gave him a big shot of an antibiotic on the spot, and four prescriptions to fill.  The CAT scan of his lungs in a few days will determine whether or not he can stay at home to recover.  Even if he can stay at home, it's going to be a while before he's fully well.  So.....

.......I'm beginning to think this will be the year we skip the whole holiday celebration.  I just haven't had the time or energy to do anything, unless you count stringing two strands of white lights on a houseplant! (Seriously, that is the whole extent of my holiday decorating.)  We had already discussed not exchanging gifts this year with our families due to some members having financial hardships, so we haven't done any shopping.  Between busy retail jobs and GB being sick,  there has hardly been a thought given to anything like that in our house this year. I am surprised to find that (at least at this point) I don't really care much.

 I know this is a time of great fun and excitement for most people, and I hope I don't sound like Scrooge. I will continue to try to post little bits of holiday stuff here and there for the blog party.  I hope everyone reading is having a wonderful Yule/Christmas/Hanukkah/holiday. I've been enjoying all the holiday blog posts out there. They add a bit of holiday sparkle to my moments of free time. And holiday sparkle is something I seem to be lacking this year!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Winter flowers, winter reading

Today I picked the first camellia blossoms of the winter. I love these flowers simply because they bloom and thrive during the deepest darkest part of the year. I made a small arrangement for our main bathroom.


There have been a lot of new books purchased around our house recently. I have ordered a copy of The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper and am excited to read this again after many years. It was recently recommended by Cate at  http://www.beyondthefieldsweknow.org/ as a good yule/midwinter read. I had forgotten about these books, which I read when I was about 12, and loved. I am excited about reading them again!

In the meantime, I found this little gem buried in the Cultural Studies section of the bookstore where I work. I had to bring it home with me:


I am interested in native plants, and the use of them by early peoples as medicine. This is a nice little reference book to have and I'm sure I will refer back to it often.

Books and flowers--those are the simple things making me happy today.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Full Cold Moon

There is a beautiful full moon outside tonight. In the wee hours of the morning there was a lunar eclipse, which wasn't visible to those of us here on the east coast. The rest of the country should have had a good view of it, though. With or without an eclipse, each full moon of the year is special and worth honoring.

December's full moon is traditionally called the Full Cold Moon, or Long Nights Moon. Hal Borland, one of my favorite nature writers, wrote about the many hours this full moon has "to rule in cold splendor". It's really winter now; the trees are bare as bones, the cold air stings, the night seems endless. The human instinct is to draw closer to hearth and home and loved ones, to keep the dark at bay.

I like to give my own names to full moons, to reflect what is happening in my part of the world. In addition to Moon of Long Nights and Cold Nights Moon, I like: Solstice Moon, Storytelling Moon, Moon of Short Days, and Midwinter Moon.

Whatever you call it, tonight's full moon marks another turning point on the great wheel of time. A short walk outside after dark was my way to do a bit of midwinter moon gazing. Tonight's full moon is cold, distant, and absolutely majestic.

Here is a link to a beautiful picture of a midwinter moon I found:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/greg_foster/6486368867/

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday lights on a winter night

Tonight after dinner I took a quick walk around the neighborhood and snapped a few pictures of holiday decorations.  It's really cold tonight, with an icy wind blowing, so I didn't stay out long. Some of the people with really wildly decorated houses weren't at home, so the best lights weren't even on. I also had trouble getting good shots since it was so dark out.  I think I'll try again tomorrow, just before sunset, and see if the photos turn out better. 


That being said, here are a few of the pictures I took tonight. It's a very small sample of what's out there:






This is the porch and front driveway of a house two doors down from me. The glowing orb "gifts" are hanging from two bare crepe myrtle trees. This is also the house that has the racing green and red lights winding up and around the basketball goal. Unfortunately, my cheapo digital camera wouldn't take even a passable picture of that.



close up


Next up: Mickey Santa! Note the size of it in relation to the front door and the second story! There is also a smaller penguin to Mickey's left, and the obligatory lighted deer on the other side of the yard (this is the South).  And yes, children live at this house.  Ginger occasionally stops and visits with the toddler that lives there:



Look! It's the holy family! (And right behind them is a fence with blinking blue lights. Again, I  couldn't get a decent shot of it, but trust me, it looks like a disco. And what is it with random blue lights this year, anyway?!)



Most of the neighbors go for a more conservative, traditional look. Approximately 60% of the houses within a mile of us look something like this:





















And finally, nothing says "too much time on my hands" quite like a decorated tree under the carport.





More tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Over the top (and possibly blinking)

I'm not sure what's gotten into my neighbors this year, but the holiday lights and yard decorations are so over the top that I am almost speechless!

I took a walk with GB and Ginger after dark tonight to try and take it all in. There is a giant inflated Mickey Mouse Santa in one yard, fully illuminated and waving in the breeze. One house has lights on the eaves, the doorways and windows, the bushes, the fence line, the garage, the storage shed, even the dog house...and none of them match!!! Some of them blink, too.

Then there is a house with racing blinking lights (red and green) winding up and around a basketball goal in the driveway. Oddly enough, though, the front door is covered with blue lights, and there are candy cane stakes in the yard that at first glance look like glowing green mushrooms! (This house may be my favorite so far.)

There must be at least a dozen yards with spotlights carefully aimed at whatever is considered the focal point of the masterpiece. There are manger scenes (complete with shepherds, animals, and angels), Santa and Rudolph mailbox flags, gift wrapped front doors, and all manner of Christmas lights in trees and bushes. My neighbors seem to be filled with some crazy Christmas spirit this year!

I will be taking pictures of all this holiday craziness and posting them here for everyone to enjoy. You can't help but smile at all the merriment!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Keeping it simple

December is here, and the holiday season is well underway....except at my house.

I haven't done one single bit of decorating at this point. I keep meaning to dig through the closet and pull out a few items to make the house look festive, but I haven't had very much motivation to do so. We're also on the fence about putting up a tree this year. We don't own a fake one, and a real one just seems like a lot of trouble. Last year I was trying to straighten our tree,a large Frasier Fir that kept leaning at odd angles as it sucked up water, and it fell over--breaking several glass ornaments and spilling about a gallon of water on the carpet. I was alone at home and had to call a neighbor to come help me get it upright again. One of us had to hold it up and the other had to re-screw the pins in the trunk to keep it standing. Then there was the water, needles, and broken glass to get out of the carpet! Needless to say, a live tree doesn't seem quite so appealing this year!

I am trying to decide if I should buy a small fake prelit tree, possibly just a table-top size. Something that could be easily decorated and easily taken down, with only a handful of ornaments on it. I was very fortunate last year when the tree fell that none of our most cherished ornaments were broken, but I did lose several cut glass icicles that I have been collecting for years. I'm thinking it would be nice to have a small, easy, pretty little fake tree with decorations that I wouldn't have to worry about. The ornaments that have strong sentimental value could remain packed away except on years when we have a tree worthy of displaying them.

I will almost certainly put out some holiday candles, and will decorate the mantle with sprays of holly (we have a holly tree in our backyard) but that may end up being the extent of our decorations. GB and I have been discussing having a very low key holiday this year. We have family members that are struggling financially (unemployment, health problems, etc) and we've decided to approach them about not exchanging gifts this year. We would like to find ways to spend time together instead, like sharing festive meals and driving around looking at decorations. We don't need presents to unwrap to enjoy spending time with our families, and we don't want anyone trying to spend money they can't afford to buy us gifts.

We'll see how these conversations go! Hopefully we'll be making the season easier on some of our loved ones.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving ease

I had a very quiet Thanksgiving at home this year. I roasted a small turkey for my husband, who loves turkey sandwiches.  He's not crazy about the traditional holiday side dishes, such as dressing and casseroles, so I didn't bother cooking anything like that.  I did make the bread for the sandwiches in my bread machine, so it was fresh and delicious.  And we both love homemade cranberry sauce, so I made some!  It is my own special recipe, which includes the cranberries (of course), fresh squeezed pomegranate juice (in place of the water called for in the basic sauce recipe) raw sugar,  mandarin oranges, chopped toasted walnuts, and a pinch of cinnamon. It's basically a cranberry fruit salad, and it tastes best if allowed to hang out in the refrigerator overnight.  Even when you're just eating turkey sandwiches (and not the whole meal) you must have cranberry sauce on the side!  For dessert, we had a store bought pecan pie.

The whole day was easy, quiet, and relaxing. We raked leaves, took Ginger for a couple of walks, and watched movies. The weather was perfect--chilly first thing in the morning, warm and sunny throughout the afternoon, then cold again once the sun went down. I tried to capture the nice weather in pictures, taken at the park and in our backyard:

The trees at the park still have lots of green, since they are mostly oak and pine



Our blueberry bushes are just now getting their autumn color.



A young tree in our backyard, one of my favorites.

I love the mixed red and green colors.


Autumn is a long, slow season here in the south. Although our leaf change is well past it's peak, there is still plenty of lingering color to enjoy . It's also really nice to have such perfect temperatures and sunny skies so late in the year!

I'm really glad I spent Thanksgiving quietly enjoying it all, instead of doing what so many women do: stressing out, driving long distances, cooking/cleaning/entertaining for hours, and then finally overeating lots of heavy food.  I actually had the time (and energy!) to look around and appreciate all the things I have to be thankful for.  It was a nice way to kick off the busy holiday season, too.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Knitting up a mystery

Last night I got together with my friend C. and had a little SnB (stitch 'n bitch, for the non-knitters). We had not had a chance to catch up in a month or so. It was so good to see her!

She is also a great knitting buddy. We both subscribe to the "gauge swatch? I don't need no stinkin' gauge swatch!" school of knitting. For her it usually works out fine in the end. Me, not so much! I am not as meticulous as she is, and I don't have the same patience for frogging and restarting that she does. I have a pile of half knit projects in need of intervention collecting dust to prove it!

So I started a hat for my husband last week and it's beginning to look a little....large.  It may end up being a cowl for me!  Or maybe I can felt it slightly to make it smaller.  The yarn is partially alpaca so it should be somewhat felt-able.  So at least I have backup plans if this hat continues to look as big as I think it's turning out to be....

C. is the kind of knitter friend (enabler!) that cheers on this kind of thinking.  Basically, it's "screw it! It'll fit somebody! I'm not starting over!"  So she's a lot of fun to knit with.  And I'm probably going to need help soon with this hat/cowl/tent that's currently on the needles! As soon as I get a few more inches along, I'll post pictures. The yarn is buttery-soft gray alpaca. If it turns out to be a cowl for me instead of a hat for GB...well, that might just be alright!  Right now, it's a still a mystery.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's that time of the year again

It has been difficult for me to blog daily about gratitude this week. As always, this time of year rolls around and my life slowly fills with gloom. I associate the weeks between Halloween and New Year's with bad luck and trouble, especially the week after Christmas. Year after year, bad things happen to me during that week and now I have an almost superstitious dread of it. Things usually start going wrong around now, and the last week of the year is the climax. I realise this sounds melodramatic, but just consider a small sample of  things that have gone wrong for me during past holiday seasons:

1. GB and I blew a transmission on I-95 one year while driving to Raleigh, NC to visit family. We were stranded by the interstate for HOURS that day (a Saturday afternoon) with no idea how we were going to get home. It was awful. I cried.

2. Our last dog, an almost 16 year old beloved cocker spaniel named Nicky, got very sick and was in horrible pain the week after Christmas. He had to be put to sleep on Dec. 28. It remains one of the hardest things I ever had to deal with.

3. Last year, I got the news that I (and a handful of people I cared about) would be losing our jobs--also on Dec. 28.

4. My grandfather died unexpectedly on Christmas Day when I was 14. He literally just dropped dead that afternoon, after walking upstairs to get something. It was a heart attack. The doctors said he was dead as soon as he hit the floor.

5. On Thanksgiving a couple of years ago my dad got very sick and had to be admitted to the hospital. They found a blood clot in his leg and had to monitor his condition very closely, since he had/has some serious health problems to begin with. I spent the next few weeks scared that something was going to happen to him.

This is just a small sample of what my holiday seasons have been like throughout my life. There are many, many more things that have happened this time of year that aren't so dramatic. Those were just some of the highlights.

I wonder why certain periods of time are unlucky like this. I know plenty of people who feel the same way about other months or seasons. I wonder if it somehow becomes a self fulfilling prophecy? You get what you expect? I don't know. I sure wish I could find a way to change it if it's within my power!  That was one of my reasons for trying to focus on gratitude for the days leading up to Thanksgiving. I was giving it my best shot--focusing on my blessings and what is going right in my life--and hoping that the final weeks of this year would be uneventful and (dare I say it?) happy.

Then yesterday I got a call that my dad was sick and at a doctor's office here in town. I went to sit and wait with him. He had an abscess behind a tooth, near his sinus cavity, that had to be lanced. I know that ordinarily something like that wouldn't be a huge deal (although he felt awful) but for someone with heart problems and problems healing, almost any medical procedure can be risky. I was frightened, and trying not to show it to him or my mom. I kept thinking that if anything did happen to him, with my luck, it would be just this time of year.

Thank goodness, he seemed to be OK after it was over, and his mouth felt better. I spoke to my mom later and she said he was much better, to my great relief. I worry about my dad, especially when some new health issue comes up. So today, this is what I am thankful for: my dad, and the fact that he doesn't seem to be in any serious trouble this time. I'm still having a hard time shaking the nagging fear and worry, though.  Especially with the holidays looming.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Morning brew

Today, as I get ready to go to work, I am simply grateful that there is good coffee in the world. I have a fresh, fragrant pot brewing right now. The smell alone makes getting out of bed seem worthwhile!

Friday, November 18, 2011

For the love of fur and feathers

Today I am thankful for my pets and the love they bring into my life.

Even though Marco wakes us up too early most mornings, and can be as demanding as a toddler, he is the funniest, sweetest little guy. Just this morning he looked at me and said (in the saddest little voice), "I gotta go to work." It made me literally laugh at loud.



My dog, Ginger, is truly one of my best friends. She is a wonderful walking partner. With her for company I have worked my way up to walking 2-3 miles a day, as opposed to being a total coach potato. She is smart and loving and a fierce protector of our home and of me. When GB isn't at home, she will not let strange men (like the plumber or salesmen) get too close to me.  She will sit down in front of my legs, raise the fur on her neck, and growl menacingly at them unless I insist that everything is ok.  She only does it with strange men, and with me.  I don't know where she learned such a thing, but she seems to consider it her duty to defend me (GB, not so much. I guess she thinks guys can look out for themselves!)  Otherwise, she is totally sweet. She is gentle with children, affectionate to our friends (and she never forgets them, even if we don't see them for months) and she never barks unless there is a good reason. Ginger is also the most naturally obedient dog I've ever seen.  She will almost always stop on a dime and do exactly what you tell her to, even though we've never formally trained her.  What a great dog she has turned out to be!




Ginger and Marco make my life so much happier, and so much more fun! I love those two!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Catching up on gratitude

Yesterday I meant to write a blog post continuing with my theme of Gratitude. Unfortunately, I had a really rough day at work, and fell asleep early last night. So today I will write the post I meant to write yesterday.

I am grateful for my job.  Is it perfect?  Far from it!  In fact, I have been somewhat disappointed in it.  I always wanted to work in a bookstore or library, but it turns out that a retail job is pretty much the same no matter what you're selling.  And some of the people I work with are mean, backbiting, gossipy, and difficult.  This has been a tough thing for me to adjust to since there is not the same spirit of teamwork and camaraderie as at my last job, which I had for almost 8 years.  When we went out of business at the beginning of the year, it was sad and scary.  Most of the people there felt like family to me, and even though we had the normal stresses of working in retail, pretty much everyone got along and liked each other.  Now there is the retail stress, like always, but the people at my new job don't like each other, for the most part.  There is also a tendency for several of them to slack off, then look for others to criticise and blame for the results.  My boss is a wonderful, decent, caring person, but she does not like confrontation and tends to ignore behavior that really hurts morale and should be addressed.

So why am I thankful for the job?  Well, to begin with, I was able to start the job two days after my last one ended.  Although I took a pay cut (I went from being a store manager to one of three merchandise managers) it was not too severe, and my pay is adequate for my simple lifestyle.  Most importantly, I was able to get health coverage for myself and my husband.  He works for a small business that doesn't offer it, and is also partially self-employed, so I have always carried insurance for us. That was one of my main concerns when I found out I was losing my job at the beginning of the year--losing our access to health care.  For those readers that don't live in the USA, let me just tell you.....our health care costs are astronomical, and if you don't have coverage (and coverage is expensive, even when you have an employer's group plan) you are going to be royally screwed if anything happens that requires any sort of hospital care.  And drugs are terribly, terribly expensive...even maintenance drugs that you need to take on an ongoing basis.   Health care in the US is a nightmare, but again, that's a rant for another day. I was able to get both of us covered at my new job within 60 days of starting.  I was really grateful for that.

Another reason I am thankful for the job: our economy is in the toilet. So many people are out of work, and have been out of work for months. I was so fortunate to find a job right away when so many other people have lost jobs and have been unable to find another. I also got about 2 months salary as severance pay, and was able to put it all in savings. That gives us a tiny bit of extra security, and I know how fortunate that makes us. 

So even though I don't love my job, even though some days are so stressful I leave in tears, even though I would like to do something that speaks to my soul.....I know that I am blessed to be able to pay my bills, to be reasonably comfortable financially, to have some small savings to fall back on...and of course, health care coverage. I am doing my best to remember these things when I feel sorry for myself for not liking my job.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

10 Days of Gratitude

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice." - Meister Eckhart


Since the countdown to Halloween blog party is over, I've found myself lost as to what to write about. It's not that I don't have ideas for blog posts, it's just that it was easier when I had a definite focus in mind.  That being said, I've decided that from now until Thanksgiving I will try to post daily about things I am thankful for. 

Although I don't care much for Thanksgiving as a national holiday (and it's all founded on lies, but that's a rant for another day) I do love the idea of being thankful for the blessings in my life.  It's so easy to spend my days worrying about problems, focused on things that aren't going right in my life, thinking how I don't measure up to other people, and brooding about bad stuff that may happen that I have no control over anyway.  This time of year, in particular, seems to lend itself to sadness and anxiety for me.  The gloom won't fully go away until the days start lengthening again and the holiday season is firmly behind us.  Mid November is the time when I really find my mood turning dark and my worries multiplying.  I don't want it to be this way this year!

So today I will start a two week series of blog posts all about the things (big and small) that I am thankful for.  The things that make life good.  If anyone out there would like to do the same, please join me, and welcome! I'm calling this my 10 Days of Gratitude.   Posts need not be fancy, even a line or two a day of things to be thankful for will do!  Here goes day one for me:

I am grateful today for my home.  It is in a terribly messy state right now, and I'll be cleaning for a few hours. This may not be a fun way to spend a day off (and earlier I was feeling pissy about it) but how lucky am I to have a safe, spacious, comfortable home full of all the junk I could afford to accumlate? The pile of science-fair worthy leftovers that need cleaning in my refrigerator and the dirty dishes in the sink are all clear signs that the people who live here never go hungry!  What a wonderful thing that is, when you stop and think about it!  When I go grocery shopping later (another chore I was dreading) I will go about it with a grateful heart, and remember those who don't have enough to eat. And when the clerk checks me out, I'll throw in a couple of the $5 food boxes the store is donating to the local food bank.   Then I'll come home and remember that it's a blessing to have groceries to put away and dinner to cook, and a nice home to do both in!

So that is what I am grateful for today: my home,  no matter how messy and imperfect it may be, and all it's comforts.  I am one very lucky woman, indeed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The fastest week of the year

My five days off are almost over. I wish there was some way to slow down time when you're on vacation. This week has gone by like Amtrack.

It's been a nice break, although it seems like I did a whole lot of work. I was behind on getting gifts ready for GB's birthday, so I spent the first couple of days doing that. I made him a photo collage of our pets to hang at his work. I also got him a new warm hoodie (his old one was worn out!). For his main gift I dropped off a painting for custom framing that we have been meaning to frame and hang for years. Unfortunately, I didn't realise it would take 3 weeks to get it back! So the gift I'm most excited about won't be here until the day after Thanksgiving. I was so disappointed! But my dear husband will just get a very belated birthday present--he didn't want to know what it was. He said another surprise will be welcome at the end of the month!

We went up to Raleigh, NC on Tuesday to see his mom, stepfather, sister, niece, and nephew. His sister and her kids just moved back to Raleigh from Virginia. We had not seen them in a couple of years, and I couldn't believe how much the kids have changed in that amount of time. The girl is nearly 16, and the boy will be 18 in March. All of a sudden (or so it seems to me) they went from looking like kids to looking like young adults. It made me feel odd, and I sometimes didn't know what to say to them. (I'm pretty sure they felt the same way!) It was good to see them again,though, and my dear sister in law too. It ended up feeling like a long day, with an almost 3 hour drive on each end of it, but we're glad we went.

Yesterday, for GB's birthday dinner I made something we never have--homemade fried chicken! It was so good! I also made mashed potatoes and gravy to go with it...mmm! For dessert, we had homemade pineapple upside down cake, made from a 1940s recipe I found in an old cookbook. It is a moist, yummy cake! Here is a picture:


It was/is truly yummy! I will be glad to share the recipe if anyone is interested!

Well, I'm off to heat up some leftovers for tonight's dinner. We're going to watch a movie and then it will be time to go to bed and get ready for my return to work tomorrow. Ugh! Why do vacations go by so darn fast?

Monday, November 7, 2011

vacation!

Finally, finally....I have vacation time!!

I have earned a few days vacation at the bookstore, and am using some of them this week to celebrate my wonderful husband's birthday (he's off too!).  I really, really need a break from all the stress I've been under these last few weeks.  This is the first time I've had consecutive days off in over a year!  It feels great, although I am so behind on household chores/errands/family obligations/etc etc that I'm having a hard time relaxing.

I am also trying to do all the last minute shopping/prep for GB's birthday on Wednesday.  I am ordering prints for a photo collage of Ginger and Marco, and also having two paintings by an artist friend of his framed (something we've been putting off for years now).   He's going to be thrilled to finally have them ready for hanging!  I also have to shop for ingredients for his birthday dinner, which is going to include a homemade pineapple upside-down cake!  This will be my first attempt at such a cake--I hope it turns out well.  I have a collection of old vintage cookbooks and several have recipes for pineapple cake.  One of them, a cookbook from the 40's, says of the recipe "delicious, but surely will increase the girth"!   That means only a small piece for me--GB can eat as much as he likes. That man never gains weight!  I keep telling him what a gift that is, but I don't think he really gets it!

Tomorrow we may be going up to Raleigh, NC to see GB's mom and sister.  We plan to drive up early, spend a few hours (they want to see him for his birthday, naturally) and then we will drive home tomorrow night.  I'm  happy to be going to see his family, but it takes away my last day to get ready for the birthday festivities I have planned.  Which means that I have to get everything done today.

So I continue to be busy, busy, busy although I am technically on vacation. At least I'm busy with fun stuff...and at home! That's always nice.  I'll post pictures of the cake and the paintings on Thursday.

What is everyone else up to this first week of November?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween 2011, in pictures:


This is a "before" shot of the pumpkins my friend M. and I carved. She was the only one able to come to my house for a carving party. One other friend had tickets to a football game in Charlotte and the other had to attend her little niece's birthday party. Still, M. and I had a great time Sunday afternoon even if it was just a party of two! We drank hot mulled cider with rum while we worked, and carved two pumpkins each.



The Tiki god pumpkin is mine. I drew a stencil with a picture from "7 Tiki" brand rum as my inspiration. The rum comes with a little booklet around the handle that has pictures and descriptons of seven gods from the South Pacific. I tried to recreate "Kalougata Atua", "The Spirit of Unknown Fates".  This god, according to South Pacific legend, is the master of all our fates.  He decides our fortunes, good or bad.  He is also believed to be a talisman of good luck, and the wisest of the gods.  Well, I hope he's not offended that he ended up looking like a cat thanks to my superfly mad carving skills! hahahah. I didn't quite mean for that to happen!


I originally intended to have some pumpkins carved like skulls around him, as well as a bowl of dried apple shrunken heads. As usual, my ambition was beyond what my free time allowed. Maybe next year. The rest of the pumpkins we carved from store bought stencils (and we used the really safe cheapo tools that came with them--no use taking any chances while drinking rum punch!).



These guys were just hanging out in my dining room. Boo!



This little dude made the mantle above our fireplace cheerful!!



My friend M.'s beautiful little girl!  They surprised us by stopping by. When I heard the doorbell ring and found this little fairy standing there I had to grab the camera and capture the moment! Isn't she adorable?  She was by far my favorite trick or treater of the night! Overall we had a poor turnout of kids--only about a dozen showed up--but it was pouring rain all afternoon up until 5:00, and was also very cold. I heard that the trick or treat event at the mall was a big success. I guess people were looking for a warm, dry place to take their kids! Still, the handful we did see were awesome, there were some really good costumes this year. And I had big treat bags stuffed full of Reese's cups, Nerds, Laffy Taffy, Twix bars, and puffy foam stickers of pumpkins and ghosts to reward the ones that braved the weather and came out.  It was lots of fun!  I have too much candy left over, though. I'm planning to take it to work today to get rid of it.  I know what will happen if I don't!


I had a great time on Halloween.  Earlier I worked at the information desk at the bookstore, and I wore my homemade witch hat all day!  M. helped me trim it Sunday night after we carved pumpkins.  It was a plain black hat from Target (the only hat that fit my big head!) so we added a ribbon of dangling bats and purple beads to the brim, and a filmy veil with purple sparkles in back.  I got several compliments on it, and it was fun to make!







The witch is in!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, filled with magic and fun!  I can't wait to catch up on all the final countdown posts I have yet to read, and big thanks to Danni over at http://thewhimsicalcottage.blogspot.com/  for hosting the 2011 Countdown to Halloween blog party. It's been a blast!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!!!




More pictures to follow later today: more pumpkins, a homemade witches hat, spooky decorations, treats, and more!  Happy Halloween Everyone!!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Day 30--It's Halloween Eve!

It's 2am on Halloween Eve and I just finished decorating cupcakes and stuffing treat bags. Time for bed! I just wanted to jump in and say Happy Halloween Eve to you all!

I will be posting lots of pictures of the celebrations at my house over the next few days. And I am looking forward to reading about/seeing pictures of everyone else's fun!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Busy weekend coming up!

All of a sudden, we are mere days away from Halloween and I have a ton of things left to do!  The next few days are going to be really busy for me.  Among other things, I need to clean my messy house and buy a few last minute items for my Sunday afternoon pumpkin carving party.  I will have to do both before and after work today and tomorrow, since I'm not off again until Sunday.  

It's going to be a fast, busy weekend!  How are my fellow Halloween-heads' preparations going? Is everyone organized, ready, and calm, or are you more like me--racing around doing all kinds of last minute tasks like a headless chicken?!  One day I will (maybe) (haha) learn to manage my time better so that holidays didn't always find me in this situation!

Oh, and I'm eating too much Halloween candy. Again.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

South Carolina ghosts part 2: The Gray Man

There is a ghost story that comes from Pawley's Island,SC that I grew up hearing. My dad and his family moved to Pawley's from Chicago when he was five, and he lived there until he started high school. Naturally he heard this ghost story many times in those years, and he told it to me when I was a kid.

There is supposed to be a ghost around Pawley's Island called the Gray Man. He appears on the beach whenever a hurricane is coming, and seeing him is a warning to take cover inland. They say that anyone that sees him will have their property left untouched by the storm, even if their neighbors lose everything. Back in the old days before modern storm tracking the Gray Man is supposed to have been kind of like a visiting angel, doing a good deed for the locals.

Here is a great link I found that goes into more detail than I remember hearing about the Gray Man's story:

http://www.hauntedlowcountry.com/index.php?/hauntlow/south_carolina/the_gray_man/

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ghosts of South Carolina part 1

I have been eager to share some of the ghost stories I grew up with in my part of the world. I grew up in a tiny town about about a 40 minute drive from the coast, so I identify with more of the "lowcountry" legends and tales than some from other parts of the state. Here is a good link to one I remember hearing about as a kid. It's about a young woman buried alive on an Edisto Island plantation in the 1800s. People say you can go see the vault with the scratch marks on the door...and that the unfortunate girl haunts the property to this day:

http://www.gothichorrorstories.com/behind-urban-legends/a-southern-gothic-ghost-story-from-edisto-island-south-carolinas-low-country

It's tougher than I thought...

....taking pictures of my neighbors' Halloween decorations!

It feels incredibly awkward to point a camera at someone's front door, and I kept losing my nerve. I expected at any moment for someone to come out and and ask me what the hell I was doing! Had any of them been outside, I could have asked permission, but none were. And I certainly felt too shy to knock on anyone's door to ask if I could take pictures of their house. So my plan to post a picture tour of my neighborhood didn't exactly work out.

Halloween preparations continue, however. I'm planning a little pumpkin carving party next Sunday, Oct.30, with some friends. It's going to be BYOP, but I will provide the stencils, tools, and other materials needed. I plan to make hot spiced cider with rum, roasted pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin muffins for munchies.

I bought a cheap witches hat to wear to work on Halloween morning and when handing out candy later. It's a basic, cheap black hat (the only one I could find that fits my ginormous head!) but I'm thinking about hitting up the craft store today for materials to jazz it up a bit! Of course, I will post pictures as soon as I've done it.

I bought my Halloween candy the other day. Last year I bought my candy two weeks ahead of time and ate it all which meant another trip out to buy more. Oh, and there was that lovely 4 pound weight gain too! I will try to have more self control this year, although it's hard when my favorite candies are in the house (a rare thing). There are Reese's cups and Nerds, so far, and I love both!

I'll probably be picking up a couple more bags of some other types of candy later this week--no use doing it too early and having that much more temptation in the house! I give out generous handfuls to all the trick or treaters who visit. I love seeing their faces when they get a bunch of "good" candy, plus I feel the need to make up for some of my neighbors that don't give out candy at all. It's sad. When I was a kid it seemed like it was a rare house that didn't participate, but these days it's at least 50% (I blame the Southern Baptists). So I'm extra generous, and it's so much fun to see the delight on the kids' faces. I love it!

Those are the holiday preparations going on at my house right now. We're exactly one week away from the big day! Halloween is almost here!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pumpkins to frighten the neighbors

For the enjoyment of all the pumpkin carvers out there:

"At what point did the carving of pumpkins turn into a "cute" event? When did boys stop carving pumpkins and moms start? Where did we lose touch with one of the years coolest events?

Today we will seize back this ritual. Today is the day we throw away those safe, cute carving tools. Today we will buy a big, ugly, pumpkin so large one man cannot lift or move it. Today. We will carve that sumbitch into something ugly and plop it on the front porch. October 31st we will light it brightly enough to give visiting children suntans.

Pumpkin carving is reborn."

-Extreme Pumpkin.com

http://www.extremepumpkins.com/

Warning: you must have a sense of humor and/or cannot be too easily grossed out or offended to enjoy this site!  I think it's a load of fun, but then, I'm weird.

Tomorrow, a picture tour of my neighborhood Halloween decor!





Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Here comes the color!

We are finally beginning to get some autumn color here in my part of the world. Our peak will not occur for another couple of weeks, but it's definitely starting to look like fall:








These photos were actually taken last October in my neighborhood. I have had such a busy schedule that I have not gotten any new ones this year. Thursday I plan to change all that; I have the day off (Friday too) and I will take the camera when Ginger and I go for our morning walks. Not only are the trees beautiful this time of year, but lots of my neighbors have fall and Halloween decorations up. I will be posting a photo tour of my neighborhood to kick off the weekend!

Monday, October 17, 2011

For all the gothic crafters out there...

I still haven't gotten back on the ball with my Halloween Countdown posts.  I've had an incredibly stressful couple of weeks at work, and have been feeling generally demoralized and uninspired when at home.  I'm determined to pull myself out of this funk this week! There is no reason that work stress should spoil my time at home, and I am resolved to somehow learn to leave it behind when I leave work each day.

So getting back into the spirit of the season, I wanted to share a link to one of my favorite crafting websites. The archives will make great reading for anyone who loves gothic, unusual crafts...or just has an oddball sense of humor! I love these guys:

http://www.theanticraft.com/index.htm

Check out the archives. They have some really wonderful, fun projects for crafters of every skill level. My favorite issue is #13 Samhain: Broken Bones. I am dying (haha) to make a "Conmemoracion" and this might be the year I begin one. It will be a good deal of work, but the results are so lovely!

For a much easier, cheaper, less work intensive project (from the same issue) I like "Dollar Store Death".  I'm considering having some friends over for a little pre-Halloween craft party, and how much fun would this be?! Maybe we could even go on a dollar store excursion early in the day to gather supplies.  I think it would be a blast!

There are several other Samhain issues of The Anticraft. I suggest grabbing a cup of coffee, tea, cider (any cozy, autumn-y brew!) and spending some time wandering through the archives. There is lots of fun reading there even for the non-crafty sort!

That is my offering for today, the 17th of the Countdown.  More fun and goodies tomorrow!  Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In search of a hat....

A witches hat, that is.

I have been looking all over the internet for either a nice ready-made hat that comes in specific sizes or else a tutorial for making my own. The problem I'm having is that all the hats for sale say "one size fits most" and well....I have a big head! And as far as making my own...I am really more interested in decorating a hat than attempting to make one totally from scratch.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Ideas? Websites or retailers to recommend? I'm running out of time here!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Day 10 and falling behind!

It's day 10 of the Halloween Countdown blog party and I feel bad that I've missed a few days. I originally intended to try to blog every day during the month of October, but I realize now that was a bit ambitious. My job has been tiresome and stressful lately, and now GB is sick with some flu-like bug. I am crossing my (sanitized) fingers that I don't catch whatever he has. So I will still try to blog every day, but if I miss a few I'm not going to beat myself up about it.

That being said, here are some pictures I took yesterday and today to show some of my ongoing preparations for Halloween (and fall in general):


These are some little artificial flowers, leaves, and berries I stuck in the glass mosaic jars that live on my kitchen windowsill.


These are the pumpkins I bought on Friday afternoon. I love the tiny one with the long stem!


I tried and tried to get a picture of Ginger posing in front of the pumpkins. She refused to cooperate. She finally laid down beside them, looking irritated at me for trying to get her stay still and look at the camera. This was the best I could get!

I'm so over that camera thing.

Another way I am getting in the spirit of fall is by cooking big batches of chili and soup, and then freezing half. So far I have made pots of vegetarian black bean chili and vegetable beef soup, and I have several quarts of both stored in the freezer. Today I am making chicken soup for my sick sweetheart. So far a stock is simmering with local/organic/free range chicken pieces, garlic, bay leaves, rosemary, sea salt, and pepper. Here is a picture taken as I was starting:


I will continue to work on building a flavorful stock for a day or two, then strain it and add back some deboned chicken, carrots, peas, celery, shallots, more garlic, and egg noodles. It should be just the thing for my sick guy!

Those are my seasonal activities this week. Happy Day 10!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Getting ready

I finally got my pumpkins for this year! Three nice ones from a church sale in my neighborhood. I spent a ridiculously long time making up my mind which three to buy. I have a definite motif in mind this year for my jack o'lanterns, and the pumpkins I picked had to be just right.  I think I got good ones!

I also spent some time yesterday stringing orange lights outside our front door, and assembling various decorations for our house. I will post pictures of everything tomorrow. For now, here is a picture of last year's pumpkins:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The return of Dark Shadows

I have vague memories of watching reruns of the 1960's soap opera Dark Shadows as a kid.  It seemed so delightfully creepy when I was little!  Actually, it was probably a low budget campy kind of deal, but I was young (and it was in reruns then). Although it probably wasn't all that great, you have to admire the kind of creativity that makes a gothic vampire soap opera!  I love lots of shows from that era, especially the corny ones like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.  Nothing is more boring to me than the kind of shows that we have today: reality tv.

I read recently that Dark Shadow is being made into a movie now.  It is going to be directed by Tim Burton and stars Johnny Depp.  I am not a big JD fan (his characters are so over the top and overdone sometimes it puts me off--I feel the same way about Jim Carrey) but this looks good!  Apparently JD and TB both have fond memories of watching the show at young ages, just like me.  And when I saw this article (and it's just-released first cast photo) I got kind of excited!  Unfortunately, it won't be released until May.  I think it would make a better movie for autumn!

Here is a link to the article:

Dark Shadows press release

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Favorite books for Halloween reading

I am a seriously avid reader, and I thought it might be fun to pull together a list of some of my favorite Halloween books. I am not a huge fan of horror as a genre (I got the whole Stephen King thing out of my system as a teenager) but there are lots of books that I enjoy reading this time of year that aren't necessarily "horror" novels. Or if they are, then they're classsic horror. Here is a short list of some of my seasonal favorites:

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman. He seems so very hip to me (being British helps, I love British writers) and I love the way his imagination works. I think Fragile Things is my favorite of his books. It is composed of short stories and poems, most of which could be considered appropriate with Halloween approaching. My favorite story is "October in the Chair" which is dedicated to Ray Bradbury. My first experience with the book was with the audio version (read by Gaiman!) played in my car during my work commute two years ago. It took me a week to finish listening to it, and it was early October. It was really enjoyable to have Halloween stories read to me again--something that I hadn't experienced since I was a kid in grade school! It really set the mood for the season, too. Best of all, I had checked the audio book out from the public library, so it didn't cost me anything! My favorite story was (and is) "October in the Chair" which is dedicated to Ray Bradbury. Other favorites were "Fifteen Painted Cards From a Vampire Tarot", "The Fairy Reel", and "The Monarch of the Glen". Dreamy, surreal, and sometimes grim, it's definitely a favorite of mine for Halloween.

I also like classic authors who wrote horror and suspense: Wilkie Collins, Daphne Du Maurier ("Rebecca" is my favorite story by her..it's creepy any time of year! Did anyone else want the narrator to just kill that awful Mrs. Danvers already?!) Washington Irving, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Edgar Allen Poe. I am just beginning to read HP Lovecraft...and so far I am not a fan. Though to be fair, I've only read a few tiny snippets of his work here and there one day on my lunch break at work. So I will have to give it a serious chance before I pass judgment. Lots of people that I consider to have good taste really like Lovecraft. We shall see.

One more book I thought of that seems appropriate for Halloween (you may have seen the movie) is Midnight In the Garden Of Good and Evil by John Berendt. It involves a murder in Savannah (it is based on a true story) and there are several scenes that involve an old black woman practicing voodoo in a graveyard and casting spells. Her character was based on a living person, that was married to a voodoo "doctor" from Beaufort, South Carolina. I grew up reading stories about them, so the book feels somewhat local to me. It is listed as a true crime novel, but it gets a bit spooky with the murder, the murder trial, and the voodoo lady. A fun read, too.

Those are all of the books I have come up with for now. I think Halloween reading/book suggestions will be a regular part of my Blog Party posts...maybe once a week? It seems like a fun topic to explore for the month of October!

What do you like to read this time of year?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Beverages for October

I couldn't resist this case of beer at the grocery store...the artwork lured me in!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Welcome October!

I am so happy that October is here! September was most decidedly not my month, and this last week has been especially bad. I am ready for a fresh new start!

Today is the beginning of the Countdown to Halloween blog party hosted by http://thewhimsicalcottage.blogspot.com/ Yesterday I attended the opening of our farmers' market annual fall festival. I planned to begin this party by posting pictures taken there, but alas, I forgot my camera. There were so many inspiring sights: heaps of pumpkins, gourds, late summer produce, bales of hay, crates of NC mountain apples, scarecrows, fair-food vendors, herb and perennial plants for sale, crafts, mums in all colors, jams, jellies, locally produced wines, piles of fragrant muscadine and scuppernong grapes, huge stalks of sugar cane as thick as my forearm...oh, all sorts of things! It was also a beautiful day outside. All that, and I forgot my camera. I was so mad! I did take pictures of the stuff I brought home. I only bought a few things, since money is tight at my house right now:

The first fall decorations to make an appearance in my den.

More fall decorations



The last of the heirloom tomatoes at the farmer's market.
These lovelies came from the NC mountains.

Tonight there is a chill in the air, and the sky is full of bright stars. It definitely feels like fall has arrived!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Autumn Equinox

Today is the autumn equinox. I couldn't let the day pass without a post to mark the occasion and the change in seasons. Here in South Carolina, the weather has cooled down quite a bit and the trees are just beginnning to change color. It is wonderful to go out for walks in the morning now that the heat and humidity are mostly gone!

It will be another month before our leaf color peaks, but the trees are getting small splashes of color. Red and yellow and orange leaves really pop against the still mostly green backgrounds. There are a few trees at our neighborhood park that are already dropping leaves. On a windy day earlier this week I tried to catch one as it fell. I have heard that the first falling leaf you catch is lucky, and should be kept for the duration of the season. I have not been able to get one yet. It is surprisingly difficult to catch a leaf as it flutters down to the ground. Try it sometime and you will see what I mean!




One sure sign of fall around here are the clumps of spider lilies popping up almost overnight in the yard. I love these weird little flowers! The latin name is Lycoris radiata, and these Japanese natives are perennials here in the south. All parts of the plant are poisonous. They really do resemble spiders with their long thin anthers. Here is a patch that comes back every year in our back yard. They are blooming right now.







Today has been cool and rainy. I have spent the whole thing reading, napping, and drinking hot tea. It has been a perfect fall day!

Happy Autumn Equinox to all!