Friday, December 25, 2009

Bah humbug

Did you know stress and depression can ruin your holidays and your health?

Big duh!

Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves? Why does everything have to be done to perfection? Why do we have to spend so much, for so little pleasure?

This year we had some family health problems, and I decided I wasn't going to get out all my decorations. After our cruise we agreed not to spend as much. Since I had lots of stress getting everything ready for the church services, I told Dave he was in charge of Christmas dinner. And after trying to cope with laryngitis for almost three weeks, I finally called the doctor for an antibiotic.

And you know what? It worked.

No, it didn't alleviate all the stress of the season. But it did make things better.

Now the worst is over and I can just chill.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

S'no wonder

What is it about the first snowfall that excites us, that brings back that sense of childlike wonder? Even the most jaded, the most inured to snow has to admit to that little frisson of elation as those first frosty flakes fall.

I was thinking about that today as I drove up to my mom's. We only had some wet snow mixed in with the rain in South Jersey, and it melted the moment it hit the ground. But as soon as I headed north out of Philadelphia, the ground was white, and the foothills of the Pennsylvania mountains were a winter wonderland.

I can think of at least three reasons I love the snow. First, it's a silent surprise. Unlike rain or wind or other weather phenomena, the snow falls without sound. You can be sitting around reading or watching TV or doing whatever you like and all of a sudden you look out the window... OMG! It's snowing! Even when you're expecting it, it's still a thrill.

Second, it's pure, covering all the ugliness of reality with pristine whiteness. Yeah, I know, it probably picks up all kinds of pollutants from our tainted atmosphere, and it certainly isn't pretty after it's been sitting on the side of the road for a few days. But that initial fall of virginal white sparkling in the sun makes my heart swell.

Third, snow is beautiful.
Every snowflake is unique and wonderful, a lacy filigree of crystals forming a work of art. I realize it's science, a matter of chemistry, air currents, temperature, humidity and so on. Still, I can't help but imagine God looking down after creating the first snowflake and saying, "Oooh, pretty!"

Silent, pure, beautiful. That's what I think.

What do you think?

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Thanksgiving resolution

Anybody remember the book Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach? Subtitled A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, it's a book of daily readings designed to help you appreciate your life.

When the book was first published back in 1995, I joined a lot of people I know and read it daily. One of its recommendations is to keep a gratitude journal, listing every day five things you're thankful for. Focusing on what we have, rather than what we don't have, is a way of bringing contentment to our lives.

By nature I'm a bitcher, a whiner, a glass-half-empty kind of person. And I like it that way.

But then I look at my mother, a bitcher, and my mother-in-law, a whiner. They both drive me crazy. I don't want to drive people crazy. At least, not because I'm so annoying.

So, even though it's not the New Year yet, I'm making a resolution. No more bitching. No more whining. I'm going to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. When I really stop and think about it, my life is full of wonderful things--my family, my friends, my church family, my home, even my ten-year-old car, which runs great and gets terrific gas mileage.

My friends won't recognize me anymore. But maybe I'll find contentment.

How long do you think it'll be before I forget this Thanksgiving resolution and go back to bitching and whining? A month? A week? A day?

Five minutes?

I'm working on it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Back in the U.S., back in the U.S. of A.

Travel Diary Day 16
Saturday, November 7

Made it back to Newark and found the car there, safe and sound. Now at Molly's house, will probably spend the night here and head back to South Jersey tomorrow.

The pic on the right is one of the cool van taxis they have in Barcelona. Love the van--fits four big suitcases and four big adults plus driver. Some odd make, but I wish I could get one when I trade in my venerable old Camry.

I want to sum up the trip in some profound manner, but I'm just too tired. All I can do is quote Dorothy... There's no place like home.


Friday, November 6, 2009

License to kill?

Travel Diary Day 15
Friday, November 6

Okay, that's just a joke, because when we arrived at our hotel in Barcelona we found our rooms were numbered 001 and 002. We're just like Bond... James Bond.

We had another beautiful day in Barcelona,
perfect cloudless blue skies and clear air, though a little chilly. We headed straight for the Bus Tursitic and rode it to Montjuic, one of the mountains that borders the city. For about eight Euros each we got round trip tickets for the Teleferic, the cablecar that takes you up the mountain to Montjuic Castle.

The castle is more like a fort, with cannons and everything, and was built on the site of a former fort. We walked along the top of the walls and got amazing views of the c
ity and the port.

What a gorgeous city. My new plan is to move here and learn Spanish and just explore Barcelona. Of course I'd have to take up smoking, because everyone smokes here, and get skinny, because everyone is skinny here.

Hmm, maybe not such a great plan after all.

But I'm thinking about it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Land ho!

Travel Diary Day 14
Thursday, November 5

Bye bye Brilliance, Brilliance bye byyyye-eye-eye. Sorry, we had a Four Seasons tribute show last night and I can't get Bye Bye Baby out of my head. We're all packed up, suitcases outside the door and Spain is on the horizon as we prepare to go to bed for the last time on the Brilliance of the Seas.

It's been real, and in spite of all the missed ports it's been a great vacation. And Royal Caribbean is giving us a coupon worth 25% of what we paid for this cruise, good toward another cruise. So I expect we'll be going somewhere again next year.

Tonight's pictures show the 10th deck lounge, which has been my private place a lot of the time. It's the closest spot to our cabin that I can connect to the ship's wifi. So the top view is from across the Centrum (look real close for the blonde head in the middle), and then you have a closer picture of me and my netbook.

Tonight during the final show of the cruise, Gordon, our British cruise director, gave us the top ten stupid questions people ask the ship's staff. So here you have them:

10. Do these stairs go up or down? (They go whichever way you want them to.)
9. Does this elevator go to the front of the ship? (Only if you're already horizontal.)
8. How small does my face have to be for the mini-facial? (Just the right size.)
7. What do they do with the ice carvings after they melt? (Put them in the toilets.)
6. Is this island surrounded by water? (Duh... it's an island!)
5. What elevation are we? (Hmm, I didn't notice the ship climbing any mountains.)
4. Is the water in the toilets fresh or salt? (I never tasted them, but you go right ahead.)
3. Does the ship generate its own electricity? (No, they use a really long extension cord.)
2. If the photos in the photo gallery aren't marked, how do I know which are mine? (Don't you recognize yourself?)

And finally, the number one stupid question...

1. Does the staff sleep on board? (No, that's why there's a helipad.)

And so the cruise ends, but we still have one more day in Barcelona to look forward to.

Good night.

Critter quiz

Travel Diary Day 13Wednesday, November 4

If you've never been on a cruise, or haven't been on one lately, here are some examp
les of the towel critters the talented cabin stewards leave on our beds. It's obvious what some of them are, not so obvious for others.

So let's have a little opinion poll-- what do you think these towel critters are supposed to be? Leave your answers in the comments section by numbers. We've done our guessing, so it's your turn now.

Another sea day today, still windy but nowhere near as bad as yesterday. We were able to go up on the walking track and do our mile today, trying to keep the extra poundage to a minimum. Of course we just discovered snack time a few days ago, and that means we're going up and eating an extra meal around four p.m. to tide us over until nine o'clock dinner. But hey, if you don't gain weight on a cruise, how will everyone know what a great time you had?

And we may have missed Naples but we caught a little glimpse of Africa--Tunisia--in the distance today. How cool is that? Pretty cool.

Now go do the critter quiz!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Napoli interruptus

Travel Diary Day 12
Tuesday, November 3

Today was a sea day, and it was a rough one. Lots of wind. We couldn't go up on the walking track to do our mile walk, because the outer decks were closed on account of the weather. I even had to hold onto the grab bar when I was showering. Both girls were wearing those acu-pressure wrist bands to try to avoid seasickness.

We went to Chops Grille, one of the specialty restaurants on the ship. Filet mignon, rack of lamb, and extra special food, better than the main dining room.

While we were in the middle of dinner the captain came on the PA system. The weather is so bad that we weren't able to go through the Strait of Messina, so we're now out in the middle of the Med, trying to avoid heavy winds. This means our last port of call, Naples, is canceled. The captain isn't even positive we're going to make it back to Barcelona on time. Instead of the usual 20 knots, the ship can only manage 15.

They keep publishing these colored maps to show us how bad the weather is. According to the captain, there are hurricane-force winds, 80 mph, that are slowing us down and forcing us to circle around Sicily. So we're looking at two more sea days to get back. At least.

Disappointing. Four of our eight stops have been canceled, so we haven't seen nearly as much of Europe as we'd hoped to. Two bottles of wine with dinner (Robert Mondavi, one of my sister's companies) helped a little, but we're still pouting.

Mother Nature hates us.


Travel Diary Day 11
Monday, November 2

I hate to say it, but I was disappointed with Athens.

Our tour took us to the Acropolis, or "High City," home of the Parthenon and the ruins of several other ancient buildings. We had to climb up the hill to get to it, a rough and rocky trek, and it was really cold and windy. We had a crappy guide, a lecturer rather than a storyteller, and her voice through the headsets was almost unintelligible. And most of the ruins were covered with scaffolding because there's restoration in progress.

I was upset to find out that the remaining statues on the Acropolis are copies because the originals were all taken to other countries centuries ago. Apparently Greece hasn't had any luck in attempts to recover them. Sad.

The city itself was a jumble
of buildings and traffic. The dark, dreary day didn't do anything for it, although I must say the view from the top of the ship was impressive, with tree-covered mountains thrusting up between the populated areas crowded with pale-colored buildings. And the harbor at Piraeus buzzed with ferries and jet boats, tankers and tugs-- all kinds of interesting water traffic.

After visiting Rome and Ephesus, Athens was no biggie. But the drink of the day was an Olympic Torch, rum and fruit punch, so that helped, along with a bottle of wine with dinner.

Nothing like going to bed happy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mother Nature strikes again

Travel Diary Day 10
Sunday, November 1

Take a good look at the picture of Santorini Harbor. Seems kind of far away, doesn't it? Well, that's as close as we got to it.

We dragged ourselves out of bed to the alarm clock at six a.m. and down to breakfast so we could make our seven a.m. meet-up time for our day on Santorini. At seven the boat was still creeping forward, so we sent Dave down to see what was going on. They told him we weren't anchored yet, and to come back in an hour.

Half an hour later the captain came on the public address system with an announcement. He was very sorry, but due to high winds and heavy seas it wasn't safe to use the tenders to get off the ship. Therefore he was canceling our stop in Santorini.


So we went back down to the buffet and had second breakfast.

Drink of the day today is an Aegean Dream, mix of vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry and orange juice. And they're two-for-one during any show. I think we'll be attending every show and enjoying those Aegean Dreams.

And Santorini will remain a dream.

Goddess of the swoosh

Travel Diary Day 9
Saturday, October 31

Today we visited Turkey and toured ancient Ephesus. The extent of the ruins there is astounding, and the grandeur of the place must have been amazing in its day. A huge city, Ephesus was the
crossroads of the ancient world from about 600 BC to 400 AD. St. Paul spent several years there working to convert the citizens to Christianity.

Most of the ruins are from Roman times, and the picture to the right shows the girls with an image of Nike, Greek Goddess of Victory. You can see the Nike swoosh in the design if you look carefully. Who knew?

After viewing Turkish carpets, and even helping Molly
pick out a small one for her townhouse, we had lunch in Kusadasi and shopped for souvenirs. Walking down the streets was an experience in fighting off the merchants, all of whom had great deals and end-of-season sales. It took a firm "No" to convince them we weren't interested.

I'm hoping all the walking we've been doing will work off all the eating so we won't gain a lot of weight on this trip.

Yeah, right.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Whitewash and windmills

Travel Diary Day 8
Friday, October 30

Mykonos. One of the most inviting spots in Greece, this small island in the Cyclades group is the spot where Hercules slew the giants in Greek mythology. It's a place of breathtaking beauty, whitewashed stucco buildings clinging to stark hills, and churches with rounded domes, all trimmed in bright blue or dark red.

We anchored in the harbor and took tenders to Mykonos Town. The village is a maze of very narrow, winding stone streets, so narrow that we thought they were only for pedestrians. Until the van came barreling around a corner. I swear, I don't know how it was able to navigate those streets without scraping against the stucco walls.

There were four old windmills on a bluff overlooking the harbor, and we can certainly see why they were there. The wind was so strong it actually pushed us along up the hill. And in spite of the sunshine it was quite chilly, jacket weather for sure.

We wandered the streets and browsed in the many tiny shops. All the shopkeepers spoke English, so purchasing souvenirs wasn't a problem. And then we sat in a harbor-side cafe and enjoyed baklava and cappuccino.

The island is reputed to be a hot night spot, at least during the summer season, and we laughed at the t-shirt that read, "Good boys go to heaven. Bad boys go to Mykonos." Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any bad boys around.

Too bad.

Guess Dave's stuck with me.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's not just for lunch anymore

Travel Diary Day 7
Thursday, October 29

Stromboli! Yum! But it's not only food. Did you know Stromboli is an active volcano off the southwestern coast of Italy? The top was covered in clouds, so we couldn't tell if there was any smoke, but we got a good look at it from the ship while eating breakfast this morning.

First breakfast, that is. I fear we're turning into Hobbits, because this morning Dave and Molly and I had second breakfast. If hair starts growing from our feet I'm going to get really worried. And we sat at a big table with other people and actually socialized. You oughta be proud of me, Noel!

Later in the morning the whole family did a 1-mile "Wishes at Sea" walk to support Make-A-Wish Foundation. We all got t-shirts, as you can see from my picture of the day, though Betsy and I opted to keep our Phillies support showing while we walked. We were passing through the Strait of Messina at the time, between Sicily and the toe of Italy's boot, so behind us is Calabria, Italy. How cool is that?

Our dinner was at the ship's Mystery Theater, and we had fun trying to figure out whodunit in "The Curse of the Dark Star Diamond." The girls said the first half was lame, but then they gave us lots of wine so the second half was very entertaining.

We ended the evening singing karaoke, badly. But, hey, we'll never see any of these people again, right?


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

All roads lead to...

Travel Diary Day 6
Wednesday, October 28

Ahh, Rome, the eternal city. An amazing place, full of history. We spent the whole day on an excursion, tossing coins in the Trevi Fountain, walking through the ruins and climbing the steep steps to the top of the Colosseum. The Roman ruins aren't just a sight that you go and see. Rather, they're part of the city, new and old mingled together in harmony. The beauty and engineering of these ancient wonders, many 2,000 years old and more, are a marvel.

After lunch with wine AND champagne, we crossed the Tiber to Vatican City to view the Pieta and other masterful works of art in St. Peter's Basilica. Even though I'm not Roman Catholic, the wonders of St. Peter's were moving and touched my heart.

And the weather couldn't have been better.

Oh, yeah, and one more thing...


Tuesday cruiseday

Travel Diary Day 5
Tuesday, October 27

What a beautiful day! Sunshine and relaxation. Even though I was still a little pouty because we should have been in Florence, I ended up kind of glad we could take it easy.

And shopping! We got a $300 credit for the missed day of the cruise, and I've already spent it. Got a new digital camera in one of the ship's shops, a Canon Elph like my old one, but what an upgrade... ten megapixels! And it cost less than the old one did three years ago.

Tried to work off some of the delicious food by walking a mile around the walking track on the top deck and then we watched the sun set in glorious color over the sea. And we ended the evening with a formal dinner. Aren't we pretty?

Good day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Welcome aboard!

Travel Diary Day 4
Monday, October 26

We made it! We're now on the Brilliance of the Seas. Yay! And our "junior suite" is awesome! King bed, couch, chair, a huge walk-in closet and a full bath with a tub. And a nice big balcony with a chaise and two chairs.

The girls have a smaller room on the same deck. They're at the stern of the ship and their balcony is HUGE. We're all very happy with our accomodations.

We saw a show before dinner, Tenors Unlimited. Three guys, one American, two Brits, with voices like you wouldn't believe. They sang in Italian, Spanish, French and English. Very entertaining.

And the food... well, if you've ever been on a cruise, you know. Our dinner time is nine p.m., a bit late for us, but we have a terrific table, right beside a big window. Of course it was dark when we had dinner. But I'm sure some evenings there will be lights and sights.

Just an aside... today's my mom's birthday. 93. Happy birthday, Mom!

Anyway, we've left Barcelona and are on our way to Italy.

All right!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

F*cked by Mother Nature

Travel Diary Day 3
Sunday, October 25

Boarding of our cruise ship was to begin at 1:00 p.m. with sailing scheduled for 7:00 p.m. We arrived at the port at about 2:00 and the Royal Caribbean rep handed us a letter and pointed us to the end of a very long queue. We lined up with the other passengers and read the letter:

"Dear Brilliance of the Seas Guest,

"We are writing to provide you with important information regading a one-day delay in the departure of your cruise. While returning to Barcelona, Brilliance of the Seas encountered two weather systems with strong winds and high seas, which significantly slowed its sailing speed. Unfortunately, because of this the ship will arrive in Barcelona much later...

"Our boarding process has been delayed and will now begin Monday... Regrettably, because of the delayed departure, and the time and speed needed, the ship will be unable to make your first two ports of call--Nice (Villefranche) and Florence/Pisa (Livorno)..."

Need I say more?

The cruise line is, of course, paying for our hotel room tonight and giving us a credit to cover what we need to spend for meals. And the excursions we already booked and paid for will be credited to our account.

And the hotel we're in has free wifi... in the lobby, but at least I'm online for a few minutes.

But damn. I really wanted to see Florence.

Maybe next year. . .

Two bottles of wine later...

Travel Diary Day 2 continued
Saturday, October 24

Our dinner was awesome!

We asked the hotel clerk for a restaurant recommendation, somewhere close and he told us to go down two blocks to something-or-other Julia.

It was closed.

So we kept going and found ourselves on one of the main drags with a whole bunch of other people. There was a place... Cerveseria Catalana. It was already crowded and we were fairly early for dinner in Spain, about 7:30 p.m. But we said we'd wait and ordered a bottle of Spanish sauvignon blanc at the bar and an appetizer to share.

What a wonderful dinner! We had all kinds of tapas and flautas, appetizers and little bits of this and that. Eggplant, salmon, prawns, a "Greek" salad consisting of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, mini-baguette sandwiches, and a date-and egglplant concoction that was simply amazing. And a second bottle of wine.

We ended with "American" coffee for Dave, still more like espresso than what we think of as coffee, and three desserts to share.

I'm feeling a lot better.

Red eyes, blue skies

Travel Diary Day 2
Saturday, October 24

I learned a valuable lesson right at the beginning of this vacation. Never begin two weeks away with an overnight flight.

We arrived in Barcelona at nine in the morning, exhausted, none of us having been able to sleep more than a few minutes on the overnight flight. And of course we couldn't get into our hotel until one.

So fortified with coffee and other caffeinated beverages of choice we left our bags with the hotel clerk and set off to explore the city. We walked about 8 blocks to get to the Barcelona Bus Turistic: "Get to know Barcelona like nobody else." For 21 euros, which is quite a bit more in dollars, you can ride all day on three different routes that take you to many of the major attractions. You can get off and explore, and then get back on and ride to the next stop, or stay on for the entire day. The best part is that they give you headphones and you can plug in at your seat and hear about what you're seeing in eight different languages. We chose the union jack picture and got our travelogue in Brit-accented English.

The bus is a double-decker with an open top, and the weather was perfect for riding in the sunshine and seeing the lovely balconied buildings and palm tree, with the Pyrenees rising in the background. Of course it seemed that everyone else agreed. It took a half hour of standing in line to finally get on the bus. And then we got off at the first stop to marvel at Sagrada Familia, a church that has been under construction for hundreds of years and is still a wonderful work in progress.

Once we got back on the bus, we managed to get upper-deck seats and all dozed through the remaining almost two hours of the circuit. Then we dragged ourselves back to the hotel and collapsed into bed at mid-afternoon.

But what a lovely city Barcelona is. Next time I'm here I hope I'm awake.

They f*ck you at the limo service

Travel Diary Day 1
Friday, October 23

Our big vacation almost got off to a really bad start thanks to the limo service Molly booked to take us from her townhouse to Newark Liberty airport to catch our flight to Europe. Molly specifically told the service that there would be four people and four large bags.

They sent a mid-size sedan.

Even after ten minutes of shifting and piecing the luggage together like a puzzle, it wouldn't fit in the trunk. So we piled ourselves and our bags into Betsy's small SUV, Molly and I squashed into the backseat with the last suitcase.

Not only that, but experts that they are, the limo service allowed 45 minutes to get us to the airport two hours before our international flight.

It was rush hour.

So we crawled. Panic attack city.

And we had to park the car in the long-term parking lot and run to get the bus to the terminal. Still panicking.

We were required to check in no later than one hour before our flight. And of course the kiosk wouldn't read Betsy's passport, so we had to wait for the attendant to come over.

The Continental agent was a good-looking guy with a French accent. When we expressed a little of the anxiety we'd been feeling he glanced at the clock and said with a sexy grin, "Eh, ten whole minutes. No problem."

Once we were checked in, security was a breeze and we even had time to go to the bathroom before they started boarding our flight.

But we made it. Whew.

Sure hope the car's there when we get back.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Remember when?

Why is it that I'm so compelled to take pictures of everything? I carry a small digital camera in my bag, and whatever happens I'm ready to record it for posterity.

I kid myself that I have to have the camera with me for the newsletter pictures for my church and my woman's club. Because you can't do a decent newsletter without pictures, and you can't count on anyone else to take them. Thus camera always on me, spare battery, too.

But that's not the real reason I take so many pictures.

The fact is, I suffer from CRS disease. You know, can't remember shit? So I take pictures of everything that happens to help me remember. I'm so obsessed with recording my life that I even snap shots in the car. While I'm driving.

My memory is terrible, and I'm not that old. Really. If I'm this bad now, what's it going to be like when I'm 80?

According to the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), aging seems to cause the loss of neurotransmitters in the brain. This makes it harder to retain new matter. But once learned, older people retain as well as younger ones.

The AARP also says that forgetting may be almost as important as remembering, because "retaining every single bit of information you've been exposed to throughout your life would be catastrophic. For this reason, our brains sort out what will and what won't become long-term memories."

So my conclusion is that my CRS disease is just the result of a selective brain. Sounds more impressive than impairment of memory function, doesn't it? And I've got all my pictures to remind me of where I've been and what I've done.

So why did I take that picture from the car yesterday?

I forget...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Last boring bathroom update

Just a little fun example of what fifty dollars will buy you...

I had my first bath last night, and it was heavenly. I played with the controls, high bubbles, low bubbles and waves. Oh, and just fyi, the bubbler air is heated so as not to cool off the water. Sighing with appreciation for smart tub designers.

So it's finished, except for putting up the towel bar and finding a new soap dish and toothbrush holder. Oh yeah, and a wastebasket.

Thank you for your kind attention, gentle r
eader. There will be no more boring bathroom posts.

I promise.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sink sank sunk

For all my peeps who are eagerly anticipating my first bath in the new tub (all three of you), today's the day!

If I didn't have so much to do, I'd be in there right now. But I've got errands, and shopping, and choir practice, so my bubbling will have to wait.

But just so you aren't too disappointed, here's a picture taken while I was standing in the tub. It's our new vanity and medicine chest and light, a lovely cherry finish with a sink top that matches the tub surround. Note the 8"-center faucets, an example of how everything old is new again.

Still waiting for the crown molding that goes on top of the light bar, but all in all, it looks pretty good.

So the tub is still unchristened, but the sink and toilet are in use. And tonight, ahhh, tonight...

I can't wait!

Monday, October 12, 2009


The plumbers spent all day Friday working on our bathroom. I was thrilled, thinking I'd finally get to use my new tub. When they finished for the day, the picture on the left is what we had. The tub surround had to be propped in place until the adhesive dried.

I pouted all weekend while Dave was busy touching up paint and putting on floor molding.

Today the plumber came back and... voila!

The new tub is surrounded!

But still pouting... They put the soapdish in, duct tape holding it in place, and caulked all around everything. And they told me not to use the tub for at least 24 hours, 48 would be better.

I've been waiting forever, it seems like, to get this new bathtub. And still no bath for me.

Forty-eight more hours...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The place to be... NOT!

Be careful what you wear ... and how you do your hair.
Or you might end up on with a funny headline and funnier caption, both insulting.

For example, the picture on the left: Long Lost Brothers ... Is it just me, or do mullets look 10x better with camo? These two are like the Mario and Luigi of Walmart. --Texas and California

We never used to go to Walmart because the nearest one was a good half hour away, on busy roads. But in the past year or so they've opened two new Super Walmarts, one ten minutes from our house and one fifteen. And who can resist Super Walmart? Everything you need, groceries and all, at bargain prices. In this economy it's the place to shop.

I never used to worry about what I had on. Or pay attention to the other shoppers. But now every time I go to Walmart I have to stop and think about it.

I don't want to end up on

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Three cheers for the MVC

I remember the bad old days of bureaucracy in New Jersey. In order to renew your driver's license or register a car, you had to take a half day off from work and stand in line, shoulder-to-shoulder with other sweating, stinking riffraff at the Motor Vehicle Commission, all muttering and grousing, bonding in shared annoyance at the endless waiting. And God forbid you forgot to take a book or newspaper with you to read while you waited.

Maybe some of you from other states or other countries have the same problem. We can all band together in our disdain for government employees, the ones who don't give a crap about our time, who are just putting in the hours, counting the minutes until quitting time, collecting their paycheck and to hell with serving the public.

I just renewed my driver's license, and may I tell you, MVC, you're not getting older, you're getting better! It was, literally, 30 minutes from home to MVC and back home again, new license in hand, smile on my face.

Of course it helps that NJ built a new, modern facility five minutes from my house. And it helps that I knew about the multiple proof-of-identity requirements so had my passport, social security card and a credit card already in hand. And it helps that I waited until the mid-afternoon lull to go.

But really, NJ civil servants have come a long way, baby. They couldn't have been nicer or more efficient. And they even let me keep my four-years-younger, ten-pounds-lighter picture! Go, MVC!

All in all, a trip to the MVC has changed from an afternoon of hell to a few minutes of, well, not exactly pleasure, but certainly no pain.

Thanks, MVC. Thanks, New Jersey.

Now if only they could take those ten pounds off me for real...

Friday, October 2, 2009


The tile guy finished today, and the bathroom floor looks awesome!

Do you know how many millions of different kinds of floor tiles there are? Our guy sent us to a tile store, and there must have been a thousand different tiles there, plus all the optional borders and different sizes.

Lucky for me the whole store was tiled with different tiles and different patterns in room-sized sections. The pattern I liked is called "pinwheel," using 12- and 6-inch tiles. And the other lucky thing was we had a sample of the tub surround from the plumbing supplier, so I could make sure the colors were complementary.

Anyway, after agonies of indecision I finally made up my mind, and then yesterday the tile guy said, do you want straight or diagonal?

How the hell do I know?

I opted for diagonal, since that seems to be the trend, and there you have it. Anyway, it's all done and I just love the result.

What a relief.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Just add water and stir

I'm so excited! And I just can't hide it...

Oops, sorry, flashback to the '80s there for a moment.

But really, I'm thrilled to death! For the first time in a whole year we have a bathtub.

And what a tub it is--36" wide, plenty big enough for my ginormous ass. And it has bubblers! Yes, that's bubblers, thousands of tiny fingers massaging me all over...

Oops, sorry again. I have an active fantasy life.

So anyhow, now all we need is walls... and a floor... a sink... a toilet. Oh, yeah, and I almost forgot the most important part... faucets! And then I'll be in the water, bubbling away
, naked.

Don't expect a picture.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bye, bye, birdie

For three mornings in a row we got up to a freaking great blue heron trying to eat our fish.

The first morning he was sitting on the roof of the shed. He must have already dined in the pond, because the fish were all hiding for their desperate little lives and the bird left a huge trail of crap on the roof before taking off.

The second morning I hopped out of bed at 7:15 and pulled up the blind in the bedroom to find the bird standing on the beach staring at the water. He was HUGE, bigger even than the fake one that's supposed to scare him away. The koi were swimming around, but the goldfish were nowhere in sight. I pounded on the window and the bird took off.

The third morning Dave found the bird standing in the water, amongst the fishing line that we have strung across that's supposed to keep him out. Dave scared him away.

So yesterday afternoon instead of watching the Eagles get humiliated by the Saints in the second half, we put the net over the pond. It's a sad day when you can't even sit and enjoy your own fish and water lilies without the barrier of a net.

At least there was no bird there this morning.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Family ties

According to USA Today, becoming the parent of your parent is an emotionally wrenching process. Family ties, fraught with guilt and fear and uncertainty, tangle us up as we do our best to deal with the endless carousel of doctor appointments and legal matters, bills and paperwork, shopping and transportation for parents who can no longer do for themselves.

A poll showed that 41% of baby boomers with at least one living parent are providing care of some sort, financial or personal, and 8% have had parents move in with them. An estimated 34 million Americans devote an average of 21 unpaid hours a week caring for elderly relatives.

My 92-year old mom is happily settled in a partially-assisted senior apartment, with my sister keeping her supplied with necessities and handling her finances. I swoop up every 6-8 weeks to take her to the doctor and do a marathon of inventory, shopping and minor household chores. It's worked for us so far.

Now Dave's mom has reached the point where she can no longer live alone, at least in our opinion. She, of course, doesn't agree. It's one of those no-win situations. She spent all last winter shuttling between the homes of her three children, spending the majority of the time here with us. We have to find a more permanent solution.

Whatever happens, nobody's going to be happy.

I think Dylan Thomas got it wrong. My plan is to go gentle into that good night. I've already decided that I'll go cheerfully to the old folks' home when my time comes. I pray I'll keep enough of my marbles to know when, so that my daughters will never have to suffer the heartbreak of forcing me there, burning and raving, raging against the dying of the light.

And my vow to myself... no whining.

Starting tomorrow.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Men in tights

I just finished watching my beloved Philadelphia Eagles decimate the Carolina Panthers (go, birds!) and it got me thinking.

We Americans love our football. It inspires video games, fantasy leagues, and beer-guzzling, couch-slouching Sunday afternoons. And Sunday evenings. And Monday nights.

What is it about American football that's so... stimulating?

Is it the violence? Well, kind of. It's a very physical game, with powerful players pushing and pounding on each other. You gotta love a hit that's so hard it rattles your TV. But I don't think that's it.

Is it the athletes? Those mega-millionaires who, because of fortuitous genetics, have become our modern-day heroes? Some of them think they're above the law, and even after conviction and incarceration are still revered as long as they continue to perform on the playing field. Could that be the reason we love the game? No way.

Is it the attitude? That take-no-prisoners approach that pits brother against brother and even family against family in rooting for their favored franchise? Maybe a little, but that's not the real reason.

How about the complexity? Football is a convoluted melange of complicated plays, micro-managed coaching and consummate player specialization. But, no, it's not that, either.

For me, and I think for most fans, it comes down to emotion, a thrill-of-victory, agony-of-defeat kind of thing. The fervor of an action-packed competition between world-class athletes. The heart-swelling love for your home team. The shrieking, leaping joy of a touchdown and the gut-wrenching pain of viewing a season-ending injury. The pulse-pounding euphoria of a hard-earned win, and the dispiriting melancholy of a lost championship.

Every single facet of the game is filled with passion, and that's why I love it. And to top it off there's the spectacle of bulging muscles and sculpted butts in skintight pants.

Oops, is that the real reason I watch football? Nawwww, not me.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Confessions of a failed domestic goddess

Cooking isn't my thing. I don't like doing it and I'm not good at it. When I'm cooking, the family always knows when dinner's done... when the smoke alarm goes off.

The fact is, I tend to have tunnel vision, seeing only what I'm interested in at the moment. When I'm reading a book the house could fall down around me and I might not notice. My kids have perfected the art of getting my attention, a very loud "Earth to Denise!"

So for 36 years of marriage Dave and I have been going to restaurants. A lot. Not every night, mind you. Way back B.C. (before children) we used to eat out about 4 nights a week. Once the kids came we couldn't do that anymore, so for 20 years or so I managed to slap something on the table most nights.

If that sounds a little haphazard, well, duh! Cooking isn't one of my talents.

Now that the girls are grown and gone, we've kind of worked out a system. Dave and I each manage to make a meal about once a week, and the rest of the time we eat out, order in or have leftovers. Hey, it works for us.

But in the past 36 years I
have managed to find a few, very few, things I'm really good at cooking. Meatloaf is one. And stuffed peppers... ahhh! Made them last night and they were wonderful.

Hey, maybe I'm not such a failure as a domestic goddess after all.

Now if I could just learn to clean.


Dee's stuffed peppers

1 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 c. chopped onion
Salt/pepper/paprika to taste
1-1/2 c. cooked rice
1 lg. jar spaghetti sauce
6 lg. green peppers
A little cheddar cheese, shredded

Brown ground beef, add chopped onions & cook until clear. In a bowl (or right in your fry pan if it's big enough) mix ground beef with rice, add salt/ pepper/ paprika to taste, and stir in about 1 cup of spaghetti sauce.

Cut tops off peppers and clean out insides. Spray a large casserole or baking dish with non-stick spray and spread a small amount of the spaghetti sauce in the bottom. Stand the peppers up in the dish and loosely fill them with the beef mixture. Top with a little cheese if desired and pour the remainder of the spaghetti sauce over the top.

Cover and bake at 375 for about 50 minutes if they're warm, or about 1 hour 15 minutes if they've been refrigerated first.

Six servings of about 400 calories each.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I finally gave in and joined Facebook. I've been resisting for ages. I already spend way too much time online, and with all my Yahoo groups and fan fiction buddies, I figured I have all the friends I need.

Besides, I have two completely different identities. There's the serious, real-life Denise the church lady, who writes technical articles and does church newsletters and multimedia. And there's the dee-mented Dee the Plum fan fiction babe, who writes smutty stories, spends her nights in chatrooms and cusses like a sailor.

So when I joined Facebook a few days ago, I tried to keep it to the crazy Dee, my online persona.

But then for some insane reason, only God knows why, I went ahead and added my education information to my profile, including my high school. Within 12 hours I had a friend request from my childhood next-door neighbor, whom I haven't seen since, jeez, I don't know... maybe my wedding?

With a big sigh I accepted her as a friend and then found another high school friend, and then found one of my local friends and... well, you get the picture.

So if you know me as Denise the church lady or Denise the technical writer, well there's a little more to me than that. And if you know me as Dee the fan fiction writer, well there's a little more to me than that, too.

It probably won't be long before my nephews and nieces find me, and my neighbors, and my technical writing clients.

Shit, now I'm going to have to stop cursing. Damn it!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Congratulations, ma'am, it's a....... chapter!

I spent all yesterday morning struggling with chapter 1 of my original romance, and managed to produce a whopping 500 words. Wow.

So I ate a whole buncha lunch.

Then I spent all afternoon struggling and managed another 500 words.

Jeez, louise, I never had this kind of trouble writing fanfic.

But after dinner the muse suddenly cooperated. He's a hot Cuban Sex God (hereinafter referred to as my CSG), and when he permits, I can huff up a hurricane of hot wind.

I finished it off this morning and *trumpet flourish* I've got 4,000+ words! A complete Chapter 1! Yay me!

Now if I can just do this 11 more times I'll have a Harlequin!

Don't hold your breath...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Top 100 books

Gakked from my writing buddy Rosa.
According to the Big Read the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books listed here.
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list in your own blog so we can try and track down these people who've read 6 and force books upon them.

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare--A few of them, but not enough to bold
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll--Do kiddie versions count?
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34. Emma - Jane Austen
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis--Yeah, I know, it's part of the Chronicals. But eh...
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52. Dune - Frank Herbert--I struggled through it, but it was hard
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen--I'd underline this twice if I could!
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett--Loved the movie even more
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray--Does seeing the movie count?
80. Possession - AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte's Web - EB White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute--On the Beach was good
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl--I saw Willie Wonka...
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

*buffing nails on chest* That would be 37, and 10 of the top 11. Not bad at all, though I must admit that a number of them were forced reads in school. And even more humiliating... I can barely remember some of them. But now I'm inspired to search out digital copies of some of the classics I'd still like to read and put them on my Kindle.

Maybe I'm finally over my addiction to romance...