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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Catching up on Christmas

 I'm so happy that the holiday season is drawing to a close! I enjoyed it, for the most part, but things were hectic at times!

Whatever possessed me to think that homemade cookies and cakes would be easy, inexpensive gifts to give? I worked my butt off, and the fruitcakes and cookies and other treats ended up costing an arm and a leg. BUT, everything turned out great....especially the fruitcakes! I still have a whole one and half of another left for our enjoyment, and the people who received one raved about them. Since I ended up winging it in regards to the actual recipe, I was certainly relieved that they ended up tasting fantastic! There were also lots (and lots!) of homemade sugar cookies.....




My favorites were the cutout snowflakes, even though they were the most time consuming to make and decorate.
 
While I'm on the subject of holiday baking, I'd like to give a shout out to Liz over at The Vintage Inn for sending me a lovely Christmas cookbook published in 1958 for my vintage secret Santa gift! I adore vintage cookbooks, and have a growing collection of them. In fact, all sorts of vintage items from the 1930's through the 1950's fascinate me, but housekeeping, cooking, and etiquette books top the items I look for whenever I'm scouring thrift stores. Thank you, Liz! The book was perfect. And thanks again to dear Jessica over at Chronically Vintage for coming up with the secret Santa idea in the first place, and then making it happen. It sure was fun!

Despite the hectic days leading up to Christmas, the actual day itself was peaceful and relaxing. It was just me, my dear husband, and our animal companions. Santa left bird toys and dog bones at our house.....


 

Messy George takes EVERYTHING
back to the dog bed, even sticky bones.
 
Ginger takes hers outside,
like the polite, mannerly girl she is!
 
 ....which kept Marco, George, and Ginger occupied for the first part of the day.
 
GB and I had lots of good food. I'd bought a nice (miniature) honey baked ham, and King's Hawaiian bread for making delicious sandwiches with it. We had raw veggies with dip, three cheeses, assorted crackers and nuts, tangerines, homemade fruitcake saturated with brandy and rum, and sugar cookies.
 
We took two long walks with the dogs in the afternoon. Several neighbors were out and about, and a few called out "Merry Christmas!" as we passed. I love that kind of neighborly interaction. The sun was out and the temperature was only cool enough for a light jacket. A great day for walking.
 
 
 
 
 
 I hope everyone had a good holiday, too. Now onward into the New Year!


  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Midwinter Nights

I know several other bloggers have shared the following poem, but it's one of my favorites this time of year and I wanted to post it here for those who may not be familiar with it. It's from my one of my very favorite midwinter reads, Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising".

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!
~ The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
 
 
These days and night surrounding the solstice have been appropriately dark, cold, and wet. Brooding, chilly fog has been hovering over the area every day, and it's been perfect for lighting the fireplace to chase away the chill. Holiday lights glow warmly in the gloom. Our house smells of cookies and cakes baking, spices, and oranges. We're grateful for all of our comforts and the love of family and friends during these short, dark days while we wait for the light to return.
 
Peace.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tipsy fruits!

After searching for weeks for the perfect traditional fruitcake recipe, I ended up feeling overwhelmed with all the possible variations in methods and ingredients.  Since no one recipe seemed just right, I finally decided to wing it and come up with my own version, with a little help from my vintage (40's and 50's era) cookbooks. I don't know yet how it's all going to pan out (pan out! ha!) but I've got about 6 pounds of good quality dried fruits and nuts marinating in brandy. I'll be baking the cakes tomorrow, and I sure hope they're not failures. If they are, they'll be expensive failures.

Soaking up the holiday spirit!

The dried fruits and nuts I chose:

Tart cherries, golden raisins, cranberries, apricots, dates, pineapple, candied lemon peel, figs, pecans, and walnuts.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tis the season (to be busy!)

Christmas is only thirteen days away. Thirteen! I can't believe how this month is flying by!

The last of the Christmas cards were filled out this morning and will be mailed later today. The ingredients for the cookies, cakes, and other treats I'll be making for gifts have been purchased and are ready to go. A few small gifts for family and friends have been purchased, but nothing over the top or too expensive. I'm still trying very, very hard to keep the holidays simple.

Yesterday I found the cutest little gifts to give to a couple of lady coworkers of mine......


They're glass globes with a bit of moss in the bottom and tiny little "air plants" (Tillandsia, a kind of bromeliad) inside. They are meant for hanging in a windowsill. Aren't they pretty? I'll also include small boxes of homemade sugar cookies for the ladies. For the guys, I plan to buy craft beers to be given alongside homemade cheese wafers and Chex mix.

I'm also taking part in a secret Santa gift exchange my friend Jessica over at Chronically Vintage is hosting, and I finally found the gifts I want to send to the person assigned to me, and will be shipping those out (to Alaska!) this weekend as well. I'll post photos of the package I'm sending as soon as Christmas gets here. Although I'm almost certain the recipient doesn't read my blog, I'd hate to ruin a surprise. And I'm eagerly waiting to see who got my name and what they will choose to send to me! Jessica is a dear for coming up with this idea and making it happen. It's been a lot of fun!

Well, I'm off to swing by the dollar store before work to look for some gift wrapping, ribbons, and bows, as well as goodie boxes and tins. Then comes another busy Friday night at the bookstore!

How are your holiday preparations coming?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Catching back up, and keeping Christmas simple

Where the heck did November go???

It's December 1st already, and despite my best intentions these last couple of months to sit down and give this blog more attention, I keep finding myself too busy to do it. Part of the reason, of course, is that old ball and chain, work.

 Retail management is pure drudgery during the holidays, and preparing for them begins in earnest in October. My job, while never happy, has been particularly difficult this year. We have a couple of members of the management team that have completely gone off the rails in their personal lives, including some serious drug addiction issues. As you can imagine, that leaves the rest of us forced to cover their absenteeism and neglect of their job duties. The rest of the store team is demoralized, which has led to calling out, bad attitudes, loss of productivity, and a whole lot of turnover. The atmosphere is so negative and things are so bad that the turnover has included several of our most dependable, long-term employees. Slowly but surely they're finding other jobs without all the dysfunction. And who could blame them?

I was so hopeful at the start of this year that I'd be one of the lucky ones with a new job by the time the holidays rolled around! It was my one and only resolution for 2014, and I have to admit I'm disappointed. The local economy isn't good, and competition for the kind of job I want is high. I was very discouraged for a while, but now that I've resigned myself to the fact that it's not going to happen as quickly as I'd hoped, I'm feeling better about continuing to search. In the meantime, I'm putting in extra hours and coming home extra tired, and that's put a damper on lots of things, not just blogging. Days off have been spent doing the necessary housework, chores, and caring for our feathered and furry housemates.

I've also been trying, during odd moments, to prepare for the upcoming holiday. I'm keeping gifts simple and inexpensive this year. Homemade food items, like flavored vinegars, vanilla extract, and Christmas cookies, and homemade (but simple to make) filled candles will constitute a majority of the gifts we'll be giving this year, with a few books or small items thrown in here and there. I can't take the crowded stores, the mad rush of shopping, the feeling like nothing you buy is ever enough this year. I despise it all, including the fact that the Christmas machine starts up earlier and earlier every year, and then really kicks off with the travesty known, appropriately, as Black Friday. No thanks. This year, I want to try to take it easier and find some small portion of the holiday to enjoy.

Stay tuned for photos of the gift projects I've finished so far, as well as some knitting I've been working on. I'm also still looking for a good, traditional fruit cake recipe and deciding on what kinds of Christmas cookies to make, so if anyone has suggestions I would love to hear them! Anyone else out there making or baking gifts this year? Or finding other ways to keep the holidays simple and inexpensive? Please share!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Frigid weather, first fires

It's cold out today, unusually so for this time of year. From the very beginning, this month has been setting records for winter weather. On Nov 1 a city an hour west of my home got snow---the earliest snowfall in something like 150 years. There has been frost almost every night since. Then, night before last, the temperature dropped to 18°F, breaking records for this time of year. Nights that cold rarely happen in January, much less November.

On frigid nights like these, I'm grateful this house has a fireplace. Nothing makes you toasty warm and comfortable like a good fire, and the flames always seem cheerful. Being able to have fires this early in the year has been one advantage of the cold, cold weather. Any extra cheer on these long winter nights is most welcome. I've found that a small glass of rum laced eggnog sipped in front of the fire doesn't hurt either!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Candy Mischief

Halloween was a bit of a bust. I bought candy and small toys, lit up the plastic jack-o-lanterns, and rushed home from work to be here in time to welcome any kids that showed up. Unfortunately, not a single trick or treater rang the bell. I wasn't altogether surprised, since our neighborhood runs mostly to retired couples. We never see very many, but none at all was a letdown. The only good part of that was all the leftover candy.

A bowl of which we had on our kitchen counter, beside Marco's cage.

And he's a little terrorist that lives for trouble and sneaking around. We should have known better.

I got home from work the other night and my husband met me at the door to tell me that Marco had raided the candy bowl. He had been playing happily on top of his cage for an hour, and so my husband forgot he was out and went to the other room to mess around on the computer. When he finally remembered and went to check on Marco, that crazy bird had eaten most of a miniature Heath chocolate bar! We were worried about the chocolate, but he seemed fine afterwards, and so we threw away the bowl of (half-chewed) candies and forgot about it. Until the next morning.

Once again, Mr. Man was playing on top of his cage. I went to the bathroom, and then made a couple of phone calls. When I went back to check on him, he was gone. After searching the house, I finally found him in the dining room. Somehow, he had figured out that we still had some candy left in a plastic bag on the dining room table. This is how I found him:


Enjoying a Whopper malted milk ball, and making a chocolatey mess on my grandmother's lace tablecloth.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

This is how you grow

Despite the fact that I've lived my whole life within 30 miles of where I was born, I've always been really interested in and curious about people from all over the world. I'm grateful to be an adult at this point in time, where the world is literally at your fingertips via the internet and people can share information instantly. Discovering blogs and blogging has been a real delight, as it gives me a chance to indulge my love of learning about everyday life in far flung places. I've also been working to learn Spanish this year, and in my clumsy attempts to practice speaking it I've met and gotten to know some really interesting people.


I love this.....

And speaking of meeting interesting people, and clumsy attempts at speaking Spanish.....

A nice older couple visit the bookstore where I work almost every evening to sip espressos and share a dessert. They're distinguished looking people, the owners of one of the nicer jewelry stores in the area, and originally from Colombia. The husband has a big, warm smile and is unfailingly friendly and courteous, so I finally got up the nerve to tell him I'm trying to learn Spanish. His response was "Wonderful! Don't be ashamed to practice or afraid of making mistakes. It's how you learn!" Which is true, and so we began practicing a little whenever he comes in. One subject I can usually do really well talking about in Spanish is my dogs, so I decided to tell him about Ginger and George. It was going fairly well at first, but I tend to get nervous and a bit tongue tied after awhile when a native speaker is listening. So after going on about how wild George is, and how much extra energy he has, I said, (or meant to say) "We walk our dogs every day." The man looked at me funny for a minute, and then started laughing. And I, totally clueless, kept saying "What? What did I say?" while he laughed and laughed.

Unfortunately for me, the verb for "we walk" and "we eat" sound similar. I had just told this nice gentleman that we eat our dogs everyday! Nice!

Yo no come mis perros!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Flowers in October

I've decided that I love geraniums.

I bought two pots bright red geraniums at the beginning of the summer. I had never had any before, and I was very impressed with them. They were inexpensive, bright and cheerful, and bloomed profusely for months with very little care. The plants were utterly exhausted last month and I considered throwing them out, but then I remembered Cro from Magnon's Meanderings once mentioned successfully overwintering geraniums. So instead of trashing them, I cut off the dead foliage and spent flower heads, potted them up with fresh soil, and left them alone. Now it's mid October, and there are fresh, bright green leaves and a few flowers blooming! It's nice to have some summer flowers left at this time of year. We have long autumns and mild winters here, and the first frost typically doesn't happen until around mid November. I think there's a good chance I can overwinter the plants, but even if I can't, they've been a really great value for the money.




Thursday, October 2, 2014

October in the chair *

It's difficult to believe September is done and already we're entering the home stretch of 2014. October is usually a nice month here. The days are pleasantly warm, the nights are refreshingly cool, and leaves are just beginning to change color. We won't have our first frost for about a month yet. It's a great time to plant bulbs and perennials for next year, and the perfect time for transplanting almost anything. Speaking of which, here is my market impulse buy from yesterday:


It's a miniature potted rose bush that was on sale for only $15. It's large and covered in buds, and should continue to bloom for the rest of this month. I potted it up into a nice, roomy container and now it's brightening up our patio. The latter half of September seemed full of gloom and angst for me (probably partly due to the rapidly shortening days) and I felt I could use a small spot of color and cheer. The tiny, blood-red blossoms are just perfect, and they make me happy every time I enter or leave the house. Not a bad deal for $15!

Inside, I've done a little bit of fall decorating. It's been mostly easy stuff, like candleholders with fall motifs and changing out the "summer" kitchen linens (dish cloths with sunflowers) for the "autumn" ones (leaves, pumpkins, fall colors). I also added some seasonal decorations to our dining room table, just to pretty it up a little. We hardly ever eat there.




It's truly hard to believe that it's October, and Halloween is right around the corner. I love the cooler weather, but the short days really dampen my spirit. And of course, October means the winter months are almost here, which I always dread (for a variety of reasons). So I try to enjoy October, and Halloween, partly for that reason--it will be January before I feel like things are back to normal and I'm my usual cheerful self. In the meantime, there are some nice seasonal distractions to be had: knitting, hot tea, the fireplace lit in the evenings (soon, but not yet), movies, and books books books. It's the best season for serious reading.

And a good season for walking, too. I've been walking the dogs more now that the weather is cool. Not only are we going for more walks, but they're longer than they were in the sweltering heat of summer. It's been really, really good for George. The more he exercises the better he behaves. Ginger, of course, is always perfect.

 
Somebody loves cool, sunny days.
 
 
 
We often walk George with a weighted
backpack to help him burn a little more excess energy.



Happy October to all!


* Today's blog title is from my favorite short story by Neil Gaiman.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My twisted sense of humor....

As I may have mentioned here before, I'm trying to learn Spanish. For more than 6 months now, I've been working my way through a set of lessons on cd (there are accompanying workbooks, as well). Considering that my main study time is while driving the 4 miles to work and back each day, and how few people I have to practice with, I think I'm coming along fairly well. I recently graduated to the "Intermediate" part of the course, and I look for ways to practice all the time.

The bookstore where I work is having a big clearance sale right now, and while going through the boxes of deeply discounted titles I found a little gem called Street Spanish. It contains the curse words, slang, and vulgarities you won't find in textbooks. Of course, I had to have it. And I've had so much fun with it so far!

For example, yesterday in response to a question about how my day was going, I was able to tell my Venezuelan friend (from another store in the mall) that I was "having a sh*t day" in his native tongue! (I was, too.) He thought that was pretty funny, and I enjoyed watching the look on his face when I said it! Hehehe. So anyway....

Last night after work, I opened up my copy of Street Spanish to a random spot and looked down. This is the sentence my eyes landed on:

Que asco! Creo que huelo un mal aire!

*translation: Yuck! I think I smelled a fart!

I laughed so hard my husband appeared from the other room to see if I'd lost my mind. When I told him what was funny I laughed even harder. Then I imagined the look on my Mexican co-worker Maria's face if I went to work and just said that to her one day, out of the blue. I ended up with tears streaming down my face. Yeah, I crack myself up sometimes.

My husband just shook his head. What fun it must be to be married to a 39 year old woman who sometimes has the sense of humor of a 10 year old boy!


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

That Dog!

The other day, while in the process of cleaning the dogs' bedding, I found this buried under their covers.



It can only be the work of George. That dog!!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

September Staycation

Today is a good day for me, because it's the first of nine I'm taking off work. I've been saving up my paid time off all year, so now I'm using it before October arrives and the holiday season "no vacation time" ban is put into place. I'm extra excited because my husband is taking the week off too!

It was a very busy summer for both of us. I had to help plan and pull off lots of events at the bookstore, which meant extra hours, more work, and more stress. My husband's aquarium design/maintenance business has done well this year with the addition of some new and bigger accounts, but he's lost some of his free time. He works super hard, and rarely allows himself to take a break, and so it will be especially good for him.

We may take a couple of day trips in the upcoming week, and if so I'll take pictures and share them here on the blog. We'll definitely spend lots of time with Ginger, George, and Marco. And I have about a dozen half-finished craft projects I'd like to work on, and recipes I want to try, etc. It's going to be a nice break from the daily grind.

Party lights to celebrate!


Friday, August 29, 2014

Feeling Lucky Today

It's a lovely, golden, late summer afternoon here.

The dogs are playing in the backyard.

There is a pitcher of homemade peach sangria in the fridge. (Peaches are still wonderful right now.)

A chicken is roasting in the oven, surrounded by small ,new, redskin potatoes and tender, tiny cloves of garlic.

Marco is preening in the beams of sunshine coming in the west facing windows. He's one of the few contented parrots I've ever known.

After one more week of work, my sweetheart and I will have a full week off together.

I'm feeling lucky!

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Dog Days of Summer

"the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies."  Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, 1813.[1]

Summer 2014 is finally winding down, and I have to say that it's been a most unpleasant one, both for me personally and the world at large. This last half has been particularly bad. The news is full of violence, death, riots, war, and despair. It's hot here in South Carolina, hot enough to make tempers flair and electricity bills soar. Yesterday reached 102F, with high humidity, and today promises to be another scorcher. All you can do is stay inside as much as possible and wait out the heat wave.

Bad luck and trouble seem to be hovering over my house this month. For instance, a neighborhood cat apparently wandered into our backyard the other day, and our dogs killed it. I felt terrible about it, but since our dogs are inside a fence (and it happened when we weren't home) there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. Our kitchen was infested (briefly) with tiny black ants, prompting a call to the pest control people. My husband is terribly allergic to ant bites so we had to deal with that problem immediately. Next up? George (el destructo dog) chewed holes in the walls of our garage and laundry room, and we have to find someone to fix them at our own expense, since we don't want our landlord to know that our dog is systematically destroying every part of the house he has access to. This is why, with the exception of the garage and laundry room, he's an "outside" dog right now. My job is as thankless as ever, and the coworkers I dislike the most have really been outdoing themselves with rude behavior recently. The job search continues, but although I've applied for several positions nothing has come of it (yet).

So I'll be happy to see this summer wind down. The only thing I'll miss will be the wonderful summer produce we've been enjoying. I've managed to lose 25 pounds since March, mostly by buying and preparing lots of fresh fruits and vegetables at the market. I had hoped to do some canning/freezing/preserving this summer, but time to do it has been scarce. I did make a few jars of hot cayenne pepper vinegar with garlic......


...and I bought a giant basket of peaches yesterday which I plan to freeze for later use. They smell wonderful.....


.....and next week, on my next day off, I plan to buy a box of mixed heirloom tomatoes to make sauce with, which I will either can or freeze. These tomatoes are so delicious, and they won't be around much longer.


The food has been the best part of this summer so far.

Now I'm ready to see the dog days wind down and the arrival of autumn.

Friday, August 15, 2014

When the world is too much with you.....

This is from Connie Sun, and it's just too good not to share.

I often seek refuge from the news (or my disgust with my fellow humans) by going outside and playing with my dogs. Somehow the world always seems a little better afterwards.

http://www.conniewonnie.com/2014/08/antidepressant-puppy.html

If you're not familiar with this blog, I recommend that you take some time to browse while you're there. The gentle humor and the drawings of animals are comforting on stressful days.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hard week, heavy heart

It's been rough week.

The suicide of Robin Williams makes me so sad. He was a brilliant comic that brought joy and laughter to so many people, but underneath the extroverted, wildly funny exterior he struggled with many demons. Depression, bipolar disorder, and addiction eventually led him to the desperate act of suicide. It breaks my heart to think of anyone in that much pain. And to the people who say it's a "selfish" act, I say nonsense. Mental illness and addiction can be a private living hell. Until you've experienced that kind of suffering, you don't have the right to sit in judgment.

You just never know what kind of burden someone else has to bear underneath a smiling exterior. If anything, we should all strive to be a little kinder to each other. You never know how much something as simple as a smile or taking the time to really listen to someone might mean. It could even save a life.

Then there are the situations in the news. The Gaza strip. The riots in Missouri. Why can't people treat each other with humanity and understanding? Why can't humans live in peace?

Heavy thoughts for a Thursday morning to match my heavy heart.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Absolutely Red

I have a new car! And it's really, really red....

Toyota Scion XB
Two weeks ago I traded in my old car (a Toyota Corolla) for this. I love it! I didn't expect to buy a fire engine red car, but the salesman talked me into it. It was the only Scion he had on the lot, and someone had ordered some special features on it and then never followed through on buying it. He offered us the extras for free (fog lights, spoiler, clear coat paint protector thingamajigs, a better stereo) if we bought that particular one. For the first few days I felt terribly conspicuous driving such a red car, but then I got used to it, and now I kind of like it. The red seems cheerful and fun to me now!

The official color is "Absolutely Red"

The car we traded in was only two years old, and had just passed the 12,000 mile mark. Corollas get great gas mileage, and are very reliable, but the car was never very comfortable to sit in for long periods of time. It certainly wasn't made for things like road trips or going camping. We bought it when my husband was just finishing up chemotherapy, and at the time we weren't sure that things like camping trips would ever be possible again. We bought a car that made sense at the time, but now that life is back to normal, our needs have changed. Now a bit more space and cargo room is important to us. Especially since we've added a fourth member to our family this year!

George

The Scion will be perfect for hauling our two big dogs around in. The inside of it is surprisingly roomy, with ample space for legs and plenty of overhead clearance, even for tall people in the back seat. The small cargo area and the back seats will lay down flat when we want to take the dogs somewhere, and we've bought a canvas tarp to put down to save the seats from damage. The hatch and doors open close to the ground, just right for the mutts to climb in and out easily. Even with two dogs traveling with us, there will still be enough room for luggage and/or gear. The car isn't really all that big; it just seems like it because it's designed well. The gas mileage should be fairly good, and it has great reliability ratings. It's been much more comfortable to sit in than the old car (my back didn't like those seats at all) and I've had fun driving it. Best of all, now we can plan a family vacation!

The ones we really bought the car for.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

George, six months later.

We have had our George for six months now, and what a crazy six months it's been. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to add a second dog to our family. Especially a dog like him. There was, at the very least, a lot of neglect in his former life, and possibly some abuse. He was surrendered to the shelter where he lived for two months, a rural shelter in the next county that is seriously underfunded and staffed entirely by volunteers. He had to share a kennel with several other dogs, which had to be seriously stressful for him. He had also arrived at the shelter with some sort of nasty wound on his right side that was just starting to scar over. No one was ever clear on what, exactly, had happened to him. George weighed 41 pounds when we adopted him. The shelter staff said he was a "terrier mix" and around a year old. I took their word on the terrier thing and also figured he had mostly stopped growing (being a year old).

Turns out he was definitely younger than a year, and yes, he's a terrier mix....a Pit Bull Terrier mix! (That's one breed I never expected to own.) We think there's some Lab mixed in, too. And done growing? Hardly.

George had to go the vet last month, exactly six months after we had adopted him. He now weighs 65 pounds and isn't quite done yet. Just look at the difference:

October, 2013. Newly arrived at the shelter, skinny,
scared, and with a mysterious wound on his right side. We
adopted him two months later, right before Christmas.


6 months, 24 pounds,
and plenty of love later...
 So life with George has been an adventure, to say the least. A young pit  bull terrier/lab mix would be a challenge to raise under most circumstances, but George has been a whole other story. He came with a bunch of issues, some more worrisome than others. Add to that his natural extra high energy level, his bulldog stubbornness, his physical strength, and his over-the-top playful/destructive personality, and you have a recipe for trouble. It's been a challenge to say the least. I won't even mention all of our stuff he's destroyed while we're trying to teach him to be civilized. If I listed it all I'd have to go have a little cry and a lie-down. Trust me, it's a lot of stuff.

So in the end, was it worth it.....?


 Just look at those eyes.
Yes, it's been worth it. Despite all his problems, and amid the wreckage that used to be our carport, laundry room, and backyard, George is beginning to display a very loving temperament. He has a big heart, and loves to be loved. Ginger tolerates him fairly well (they established her dominant position early on) and even seems to like him sometimes. All in all, I think that eventually, when the puppy wears off for good, he's going to be a great dog. I'm hoping so, anyway!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Surpise Tiger Lily!

I got up this morning, poured myself a cup of coffee, and stood sipping it while looking out of the kitchen window. A spot of bright orange beside the driveway caught my eye, and it turned out to be a Tiger Lily! We've lived in this house for four summers now, but a few scattered daylilies are the only kind that ever bloomed here. Of course I ran and grabbed the camera.






This is actually a Turk's Caps Lily (Lilium superbum) but one of it's common names is the American Tiger Lily. That's the name I grew up with. They are a species of true lily, native to eastern and central North America, and are only available on a limited basis in nurseries. My grandma grew them a long time ago, but you rarely seem to see them these days. They've always been a particular favorite of mine.

I thought that after four years, I'd seen all of the flowers left over from the days when a little old lady owned the house. What a happy surprise this was to wake up to!


Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day


Although there are a lot of things about this country I would change if I could, it's still home and I love it. Happy Birthday USA!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Homemade Summer Fruit Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing

With a heat wave bearing down on the area, heavy foods and any recipes that require standing over a hot stove are intolerable. I got the idea for a yummy honey-lime fruit salad from Pinterest yesterday, and since I had a lot of fruit on hand (including a fresh pineapple)  I decided to make my own version along with homemade cinnamon sugar tortilla crisps. It was just the thing for dessert after a sweltering summer day. And the handful of blueberries came from my backyard--the first ones of the year! This recipe is so simple, light, and refreshing, and it tastes like summer in a bowl.



Jennifer's Summer Fruit Salad with Cinnamon Crisps

Fruit Salad

1/2 fresh pineapple, cut into bite sized chunks.
3 ripe black plums, sliced
2 cups of strawberries, sliced
2 kiwis, cut in small chunks
1 cup of blueberries

Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup honey

Mix the fruits in a large bowl. Wisk together the lime juice and honey (poppy seeds would be a nice addition as well!) and pour it over the fruit. Stir the fruit gently to coat with the dressing, then cover and sit in refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour.

Cinnamon Crisps

6 (6inch) flour tortillas
softened butter
1/2 cup sugar/cinnamon mixture

Coat the tortillas with soft butter on both sides, stack, and cut in small triangles (like a pizza). Arrange on a buttered cookie sheet in a single layer, sprinkle the tops generously with cinnamon sugar, and put in a hot oven for 5-10 minutes. Remove when crispy and allow them to cool before eating.

Super simple, and so good! Of course, almost any combination of fruit would be equally delicious, so I recommend using whatever is in season, inexpensive, and at it's peak of flavor in your area.

 Enjoy!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Little Creature Come To Call

The Carolina anole, Anolis carolinensis

This little guy was hanging out by my doorstep last week, soaking up the sun and attempting to attract a girlfriend. Forgive the quality of this next picture; I tried my best to get a good photo of him sticking out his dewlap, but all of them were blurry. I still wanted to share the best one of him "showing his money" as my grandma used to say!


He quickly got tired of having a camera stuck in his face by a crazy human woman. He crept over to the bushes after awhile and disappeared.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Summer Respite

These last three weeks have been wonderful. I thought about it the other day, and realized that I haven't had three weeks off work all at once for about 18 years now! It's been great to spend all this time at home. The surgery wasn't too bad. The first three days or so were rough, but after that it was just a matter of some soreness around the incisions. After the first week, I was able to begin to enjoy my time off. 

I've barely spoken to anyone (besides my husband and pets) for the past three weeks and I have to say--I've loved it! My inner introvert has been delighted with the break from other people. I can be outgoing and engaging at work (when I need to be) but I forget how very draining all that contact with other people can be.

The dogs have been in heaven. Marco has suddenly started talking more and seems happy to have so much out-of-cage time. I've cooked, cleaned, organized long neglected parts of our house (closets and such), and got caught up on a lot of odd and end sort of tasks. 

I've read several new books. The most noteworthy have been by an author from the past that I've just recently discovered, Elizabeth von Arnim. She is perhaps best known for writing The Enchanted April, but I discovered her after reading a recommendation for Elizabeth and her German Garden on the NPR books website. I loved this novel. It's loosely autobiographical, and the author's love of her garden (even with all of her mistakes in it and failures), her wry observations of German society and women's place in it (she was an English woman unhappily married to an older German count, humorously referred to in her books as the "Man of Wrath") and her subtle wit all made me feel like I had looked back into the past and discovered a kindred spirit. Elizabeth and her German Garden is available free at project Gutenberg, along with most of her other books. Here is a link to it if anyone is interested:

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1327/1327-h/1327-h.htm

(Project Gutenberg is a great site for poor readers like myself! There are thousands of free books to choose from!)

I'm also reading a new (to me) mystery series. The first book is The Novice's Tale, by Margaret Frazier. I don't normally read mysteries, but I like novels about convent and monastery life (goodness knows why, pagan-leaning atheist that I am) and these books look like fun. I downloaded the first on onto my Nook, and will let you all know how it is.

I still have three days off, and plan to spend them reading, idling around, cooking, drinking wine, and generally goofing off. Real life starts back up on Monday, and I plan to make the best of my last few days of freedom. Summer is in full swing outside, and it's just a wonderful time of year to take a rest and remember what it's like to simply enjoy life. I hope you all are having a similarly nice beginning to the summer!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Crazy Dog Video

While there's not much going on as I heal from surgery, I thought I'd share some pet stuff I've been meaning to post.

Here is a link to a video of my two crazy dogs playing in the back yard. This was about a month ago, before the heat set in, so they were still feeling feisty during the day. What a life!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Afterwards.

It's all over! I had my surgery yesterday. They said it went well; I got to come home late in the afternoon, an hour or two after waking up. I was nauseous and in some pain when I first woke up, but they got it under control pretty fast. I was happy I didn't have to spend the night.

 I'm very grateful for pain pills right now. My abdomin is terribly sore. Getting up and down from a sitting or lying positon is difficult even taking narcotics every four hours along with an 800mg Motrin every eight hours

(Continued next day) What a morning I've had--vomiting, pain, nausea, and a sore throat. Ughhh....uncomfortable sleep, nightmares, all likely side effects of the pain meds and other drugs I've been given. This sucks.

More later. I'm blogging from my tablet, in bed, and will likely be complaining sometimes until the worst is over. The surgeon said having the operation was a wise decsion, not only was my gallbladder full of stones, but it was inflammed and covered in scar tissue. Could have turned into a very serious situation. So I am glad I did it, however much I may complain.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Well, here it is.

Tomorrow's the day: I'll be having surgery to remove my gallbladder. I'm glad it'll be over with soon.

The surgeon, bless his heart, offered to excuse me from work for 3-4 weeks when he found out that I will be getting paid for my time away. Since the surgery will be laparoscopic, that much time off should be more than adequate for complete healing.

The house is clean, the pantry is stocked, and new soft pajamas and slippers have been purchased. After tomorrow I won't have to do a thing but rest and recover. I plan to download some new books onto my Nook, and will probably end up reading a lot for the first few days. This morning I had to go to the hospital for pre-op stuff: blood samples taken, an EKG to make sure my heart was working right, and a chest x-ray to see if my lungs were clear. Apparently all that stuff is necessary prior to being put to sleep.

Other than a few last minute tasks I need to do tonight, I'm pretty well set. I expect I'll be blogging a bit more in the next 3 weeks thanks to a combination of free time and narcotic pain relievers! Stay tuned..

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April round up: Scotch eggs, neighborhood mischief, and surgery

The end of April has certainly been eventful around here!

Easter, besides being very late this year, was extremely wet. The trip to the park I had hoped to have was out of the question. I still cooked a big meal, ham and fresh new potatoes, green beans, and strawberries for dessert. And I finally made (and got to taste) Scotch eggs. Somehow I didn't expect them to be as big as they were:

Scotch eggs!




The verdict? I thought they were very tasty. My husband loved them, and finished them off one by one over the next few days. I used a super-mild sausage, and next time will try a spicier one. (I thought they were just a tad bland). They're too much trouble to make very often, and it's really just as well. It's not exactly health food. I only ate one, because I've been having stomach issues for months now and a big chunk of meat and egg like that could really cause me some pain (more about that later).

Easter would have been a fun, cozy day spent at home with good food and movies--except we had and incident in the neighborhood that soured the rest of the afternoon. A sweet lady that lives across the street from us had her house broken into while she was at church Easter morning. Someone kicked open her door, ransacked her house, and stole some valuables. This occurred in broad daylight! If we (or any of the other close neighbors) had happened to look out of a window at the right time, we would have seen it happening. It makes me so angry. The lady is a widow and lives alone, and she's now afraid to stay in her house. She's been staying with one of her adult daughters since it happened, and I don't really blame her. Seeing her house swarming with police cars, and then finding out what had happened, was a real downer on a holiday morning. I surely hope it was only an isolated incident.

Back to the stomach pain I mentioned earlier. In March I had an upper GI endoscopy which revealed a hiatal hernia and acid reflux. I also had an ultrasound of my gallbladder. The ultrasound revealed lots of gallstones and apparently that's responsible for the intense pain I would have from time to time. Both the ultrasound technician and the surgeon noted that I have extreme tenderness on my right side directly under my ribcage. This indicated some inflammation of the gallbladder, due to the stones inside.

So, lucky me. I have to have my gallbladder removed on May 14th. This will be the first surgery of my life, and while I'm not scared, I dread the inconvenience of it all. Not to mention the added medical expenses. But there's one silver lining to the cloud: my work will pay me short-term disability while I'm out, and the surgeon says that even though it will the easier form of the surgery, that he prefers that I stay out of work for 3 to 4 weeks. So I will get a bit of a vacation from work, without having to use up vacation or sick hours.

That's it for April!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to all of my blog friends out there! I hope everyone is enjoying the arrival of spring and all the wonderful things that go along with it.

I'll be cooking a big meal tomorrow, even though it's just the two of us. Hams were on sale at the grocery store this week, so I'm cooking a small one. It's going to have the Coca-Cola/brown sugar glaze I used on the Christmas ham. I'll also be cooking fresh little red new potatoes and green beans purchased at the market yesterday, and there will be deviled eggs, as always. (It's not Easter without deviled eggs). Speaking of eggs....

I'm finally going to attempt to make Scotch Eggs! Are you reading this, John Gray?! I've never had one, and no one around here has ever heard of them, so I had to find a recipe online. I'm quite excited to see how they turn out. Photos and a recipe review will be forthcoming early next week!

To finish off our holiday meal, I picked up some of the first local strawberries and a coconut cake from the bakery down the road. Perfect festive spring desserts!

The best part of Easter, for me, will be spending time with my husband. Our days off don't align very often, and it's going to be nice to spend the holiday hanging out together.

Wishing everyone a joyous day!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Still around!

I quick hi and an update before I dash off to work this afternoon.

I interviewed for the job I mentioned in my last post, and although the interview went well and I was offered the job, I turned it down.

The funding for my potential salary would come from a grant that must be renewed every third year. It has one year left before it must be renewed again, and the last time they cut the salary and hours some, so who knows if--and for how much money--it would be renewed next time. I'm looking for a more stable situation than that.

Another reason I declined the offer was my potential new boss. She gave the interview, and I saw right away there would be problems. She kept fishing to find out what church I might attend, for one thing. That made me extremely uncomfortable. After the second "hint" I dodged, she admitted religion is a personal topic, but said that I could "recruit volunteers from among your church family" so that's why she was bringing it up. Sheesh.  Surely she knows that it's illegal to ask questions about religious affiliations in a job interview...but we're overrun with evangelical Baptists around here and there would be no consequences for her if anyone were offended enough to report it. I'm used to this sort of thing, sadly. Another thing-- Ms. Church Lady Executive Director kept receiving (and sending!) text messages during the interview! Unbelievable.

So the job search is back on. I'm disappointed, but imagine I will have to sit through a few more interviews before the right job appears.

Meanwhile, the whole world outside my window is exploding with soft Easter-egg colors. A thousand shades of green, as well as purple, pink, yellow, white mark the arrival of full-on, wonderful spring. I'm enjoying every minute of being outdoors right now!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Yes!!! A bit of luck!

I'm so excited folks.....after months of looking for a job, I finally have an interview this week!

This is the first "bite" I've gotten, and it's for a job that I would dearly love to get.

It's for a position as Director of Volunteer Services with our county branch of the Senior Citizens Association. I would be in charge of recruiting, placing, and scheduling elderly/retired folks in volunteer positions around the county that match their skills and interests. Some of the agencies that accept volunteers from the SCA are hospitals, the literacy council, the domestic violence/child abuse coalition, the humane society, and there are many, many more. I would also get the opportunity to write grants for new programs for the SCA.  I would finally be using my degree in Human Services, and making a real difference in the lives of people in need as well as in the quality of life of our area seniors. It sounds wonderful, and I think I would be very, very happy with it.

Although I've barely used my degree since falling in to retail management over the last several years, I've kept a toe in the field by doing volunteer work. The thought of finally getting a paid job in the helping field thrills me. And best of all, it's a Monday through Friday, 9-5, salaried position. It would mean no more weekend, night, and holiday work, and no more being forced to sell things for a living. And never having to see my current (hateful) co-workers again? That's would be the icing on the cake!

My interview is at 3pm on Thursday. Please, everyone, wish me luck! I'll take any and all good thoughts, wishes, prayers, etc!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Just what the doctor ordered!

I just finished up my short (5 day) vacation, and I feel about so much better! Apparently the stress in my life has been weighing on me more heavily than I knew. A week away from work, the job search, and social media has made an amazing difference in my mood and outlook. I can't believe how much more relaxed and happy I am!

My birthday was Sunday, so I spent my days off doing whatever I wanted. There were several meals eaten out, including lunch (and margaritas) with a friend at a new Mexican restaurant, and lunch at a new seafood restaurant with my mom and dad. The seafood place is a real find: it was initially a small market where fishermen from the coast sold fresh seafood. The market was thriving, so much so that just last month a couple of the guys opened the restaurant. It's been a smashing success, on a very modest budget, and has gotten great reviews from locals on social media. It's just down the street from my house, too. I love seafood, so I was excited to try it out. Plus, the menu includes one of my all-time favorite dishes:


Shrimp and grits. It was delicious.

 I also had lots of good food at home during my vacation. Grilled salmon and steaks, early strawberries, and an Italian Cream cake. Yes, eating was definitely one of the best parts of my time off!

Another great thing about being at home was spending a whole lot of time with Ginger and George. I bought some new dog toys Saturday afternoon, which George in particular loves. I've never seen a dog appreciate new toys as much as him. Ginger has always been somewhat indifferent to toys.

George seemed to thrive on all the extra attention he got in the last week. I spent over half my time playing with the dogs, taking them for walks, and working on simple commands with George. He's gotten somewhat calmer, more affectionate, and seems to be trying harder to learn what we want of him. He's such a handsome, lovable guy, and he's forever doing funny things.







All in all, it was a very nice break. Just what I needed!


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring happiness

Spring equinox has arrived! It's been a long, cold, dreary winter and I'll be glad to see the last of it.
March has been so chilly and overcast this year that everything is blooming and budding on a slightly delayed schedule.






Daffodils are still going strong, and the ornamental pear trees that line our street seem to be holding on to their blossoms longer than usual. It's nice when spring takes it's time arriving.

The lengthening days make me happy. I love the new young grass, the flowering trees, and the smell outside after it rains. The wild birds are getting the nesting season underway in earnest these days. There are new sparrow babies in the old birdhouse outside our kitchen window.



Goldfinches only stop here briefly in the early
 spring. They like to spend their summers further north.

My birthday is Sunday, and I'm giving myself the best gift ever: I'm taking almost a week off work! Five whole days, to do whatever I want and to enjoy myself. The plan is to take a little break from the Internet during this vacation, to avoid wasting any of the precious hours. I want to hang out with the dogs, and spend time outside enjoying the beautiful weather, and maybe work on some craft projects I haven't had time for recently. It's going to be great!

I'll be catching back up with everyone at the end of the month. In the meantime, I hope you all are enjoying the arrival of spring and having a happy month of March!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Well at least I know I'm not crazy

My endoscopy was this morning and the procedure was easy as pie. The only painful part was getting stuck about a dozen times (by two different nurses) when they had to start an IV. My veins have never been cooperative when getting pierced by needles. Thankfully I'm resigned to the fact that getting blood drawn or IVs started will mean several failed attempts almost every time. I felt sorry for the nurses though. They were getting visibly stressed after a few failed attempts. When they finally got the line started I think they were more relieved than I was!

So the verdict: I have a hiatal hernia and "significant" acid reflux. I also have to go back tomorrow for a gallbladder ultrasound. The doctor thinks I may have some issues there as well.

At least I know now that all of the pain I've had in the last few months wasn't all in my head. The last few tests and exams had not resulted in any answers, so I was beginning to der. Maybe now I will have not just answers, but also some relief.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Procedure in the morning

Tomorrow morning I go in to the hospital to have an upper GI endoscopy. I'm surprised at how nervous I am about it. Until today I didn't think of it as any big deal. It's only an outpatient procedure, and maybe I will finally find out what's been causing my constant stomach aches. But the thought of being put to sleep frightens me. At least it will be a short procedure and I should be awake and back home by mid morning.

Time to turn in and try to get some sleep. I have to be at the hospital at 6:30am. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March is here!

March is here, and the weather has taken a turn back towards winter. It's barely above the freezing mark today, and last night there were reports of sleet. This winter weather is getting old. This is the South. The month of March should be warmer and nicer than this!


No flower seems more iconic of this month than the lovely daffodil. They're beginning to bloom already despite the cold weather. (This photo was taken several years ago, but somewhat later in the season. No trees are leafing out here yet!) I've already picked two bunches from our yard to make our dining room table pretty. I love daffodils, since they're always in bloom when my birthday rolls around. Later this month I will be 39 years old. Yikes!

I've been super busy lately, and have had a hard time finding chances to blog. There have been doctor's appointments for my ongoing stomach issues--and I have to have an endoscopy of my upper digestive system in two weeks--and I'm hoping they finally figure out what's going on in there. I've been working a lot, and also job hunting (still), and did I mention that I'm learning Spanish? I've been studying diligently in my spare time. I want to be able to put basic Spanish on my resume by the time summer rolls around. I have a friend from Venezuela that works in the mall where my bookstore is located, and whenever I see him I get to practice having simple conversations. It's been lots of fun, and I have someone to go to with questions. He says I'm progressing very nicely! I've also been spending a lot of my free time working with George. He's finally coming along with learning basic commands and walking properly on a leash, but it's been a good deal of work. All of that together adds up to less time in front of the computer. I have been keeping up with all of my friends' blogs, though, even if I don't always have time to leave comments much lately.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Buds and Birds

Today has been gloriously sunny and warm! It's hard to believe that exactly one week ago we were trapped indoors after an ice storm. Today's high was 80F, with blue skies and warm breezes. Spring seems to be on it's way!

With the lengthening days, we've begun to notice the birds outside are thinking about nesting. The house sparrows are already adding straw and grass to the old bird house, and the feeder activity is picking up. Our neighborhood has several pairs of bluebirds, and several of them visit our suet feeders throughout the day. They are such beautiful birds! I would love to put up nesting boxes for them in our back yard, but a huge flock of house sparrows live there and would quickly take over. Feeding the adult bluebirds is the next best thing, though. We've also seen lots of woodpeckers, mourning doves, robins, and Carolina wrens. And the squirrels are already raising this year's first babies. A friend of my husband's rescued a nest of infant squirrels whose nest had blown down in last week's ice storm. Apparently the friend has a female Chihuahua that has taken on the role of mother to the babies. He said the pictures of them curled up together were just adorable!

There are other signs of spring, too. The trees that flower earliest are beginning to bud. Just this week I've noticed buds popping out on the ornamental pears, the tulip magnolias, and the redbud trees. And on my way to the grocery store today I saw my first daffodils of the year in a neighbor's yard. What a great time of year!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ice storm

Happy Valentine's Day! We're just emerging from the grip of a rare ice storm that descended on the area Tuesday afternoon. We ended up getting over an inch of ice, as well as a couple of inches of snow, and a large part of the state has been in a state of emergency. There are many thousands of people without power still, and crews from neighboring states are working night and day to try and restore electricity. With so many downed trees and power lines, especially in rural areas, it will probably be next week before everything is cleaned up and back to normal.

We were lucky; we only lost power for about 12 hours, and with our gas log fireplace we were able to stay warm and comfortable. The temperatures finally rose a bit above freezing yesterday afternoon and some of the ice melted, although it re-froze overnight. Today is sunny and with temperatures expected to rise into the 50's, we should see the last of the ice. Although it was beautiful, it caused so many problems that I'll be glad to see it gone. I've had enough of winter weather. Hurry up, Spring!

I hope everyone has a nice (and warm!) Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Enough!

I'm ready to run away from home.

Sigh.

If it's not one thing, it's another.

My car is in the shop for at least a week. My husband accidentally backed up against a big concrete planter in a parking lot, and there are deep scratches down the entire passenger side. It's going to require lots of replacement parts (bumper, side panels, etc etc.) We also have a $500 deductible to pay before the insurance will pick up the additional $2000. Then we discovered that the insurance we have doesn't cover a rental. Thank goodness my mom offered to let me use her car until mine is back. We certainly couldn't afford a rental on top of the $500 and sharing one vehicle (with very different working schedules) would have been a major headache.

My stomach hurts. I've been putting off seeing the doctor since my ER visit last October, hoping things would resolve themselves if I was careful about what I ate. No good. So I'm finally seeing the doctor tomorrow, and will probably have to have a whole lot of tests to see what's going on in there. I could barely sleep last night.

And yesterday, the heat in our house quit working. Actually, it works a little bit, but something inside the vents is making a horrible clanging noise whenever it's on that will slowly drive you crazy. In order to sleep last night, we had to turn it off and depend on the fireplace in the den. Which of course means that the rest of the house is frigid. The repair guys are supposed to be on their way today.

And work, as usual, sucks. I dread going in today. Although at least it's warm there.

I hope everyone is having a better week than me!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow day!

A winter storm blew through the area yesterday and last night, covering everything with a layer of ice first, then a couple of inches of snow. The entire state has been mostly shut down since yesterday afternoon, as the roads are icy and dangerous. The temperatures won't rise above freezing today, and tonight the forecast low is around 12F. Schools, government offices, and most non-essential stores are closed until further notice. The bookstore didn't open today, and I'm scheduled off tomorrow, so I don't have to venture out in this mess. I'm very thankful to be able to stay in my cozy house for the next couple of days! Husband had to go in to work, but not until noon and he'll be leaving after a few hours. I worry about him driving with ice on the road (the little bit of snow isn't a problem). Thank goodness he only has to go 4 miles, on two main roads which got treated with salt yesterday. He should be fine, but I do wish he was at home enjoying the day with me instead.

The dogs love the snow and have been going out to play in it all morning. I knew from past experience that Ginger liked it, but I wasn't sure if George would. Turns out, he seems to think snow is great fun!


 
 
 

A snow day is a special thing in this area. I plan to spend the rest of it baking banana bread, knitting, taking the dogs for a walk, and sipping vodka by the fireplace later on. Life is good!