"I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere beyond the morning." - J.B. Priestly

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Prep

I totally screwed up Christmas last year.  Not sure why I felt it necessary to pick up 2 seasonal jobs, but it occupied all of my time and I didn't enjoy the season nor did I do any baking, etc.  I find it interesting that, working at Kohl's in a retail environment, we're inundated with Christmas well before Halloween.  The merchandise starts coming in September and, of course, we get the Christmas music during every work shift.  Last year, I was 'Christmas'd' out before the day even got here.

This year, I'm enjoying it considerably more; my work hours are much less and I'm enjoying the shopping (mostly done online) and also doing a lot of baking, etc.  That said, I can't believe how badly I'm doing with the treats.

I made fudge several days ago and decided to double the recipe.  However, I only doubled the sugar so it heated up really fast and I overcooked it.  It hardened in the pan before I could get it out and I seriously thought I'd lose my good Calphalon pan.  So, I made a second batch -- and I doubled only the sugar part AGAIN.  This time, it did turn out like fudge but a bit sweeter.  Still, I decided to keep it and I've been eating it.

Today, I decided to make caramels and had just started it when Susie called.  While talking to her on the phone, I was stirring the pot but the temperature got away from me so, once again, I had to throw out the entire mess as we would have been cracking our teeth on it.  **Sigh!**

On the plus side, I was able to make the peanut butter blossom cookies, peanut clusters, about 6 dozen cut-out cookies, and some interesting things with sugar cookie dough and jam today.  I also put together what looks to be an awesome lasagna!  Also, for the first time in many years I also put together a batch of Brandy Slush.

Tomorrow, I'm hoping to decorate the cookies, make some of those little Swedish sandwich cookies, put together some of those cornflake wreath things -- and I need to run to Olive Garden to pick up our salad dressing and some last minute things at the grocery store.  With luck, I may be able to squeeze in a pedicure, too!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Family Reunion

Things just get harder to schedule as your kids get older and they have kids with schedules of their own....  Last year, we didn't have our annual summer family reunion since we had just lost my Dad at the end of January and none of us felt like planning it.  This year, though, I thought it would be good to get things started early so I checked some calendars and found that our usual date in August is already scheduled for the Tornio family reunion.  Two weeks later, Mom, Susie, and I will be in Alaska so that meant that August was out.  (Note:  because Scott only has Ian on alternating weekends, we really only get 2 weekends per month to plan).  Steve will be in Vegas one of the weekends in July and the Gall family reunion is another of the weekends and the other weekend in July is immediately following the 4th.  June seems to be too early for a lot of swimming so.....

Anyway, it was decided to go back to the original 2nd weekend in August and the kids can hit both the Carter and Tornio family reunions in the same weekend.  We also thought it would be nice to invite the extended family so I sent Facebook invitations to everyone for August 10 & 11 at Currier's Lakeview Lodge in Rice Lake.

Tonight, I went on Currier's website to book a room for us for that weekend and they appear to be full on the Thursday and Friday nights of two consecutive weeks (including the week that we want).  Saturday may be available.  It wouldn't be the end of the world -- I suppose we could stay at some local motel on Friday night and move to Currier's for Saturday night, but it would be annoying.  Not everyone stays Friday night anyway; many come for the day Saturday and leave, others come on Saturday and stay overnight.  It's really those of us coming in from elsewhere that would have to move.  On the plus side, staying at a motel on Friday night would give us a swimming pool before moving to the lake on Saturday.

Anyway, I'm going to call there tomorrow and get the scoop.

[Side note:  when we were in Rice Lake Thanksgiving weekend, Steve and Stacy stayed at the motel with the nice pool (I forget the name) so the kids could swim.  They hadn't been in the pool very long when some other little kid threw a water-soaked nerf ball and hit a light fixture, which broke and sent glass all over the floor.  It didn't take very long before they decided to close the pool.]

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Getting into the Season

It has only snowed once so far this season -- several weeks ago and it melted quickly.  The weather has actually been pretty nice to we were able to get the decorations up outside and, working only one job instead of two this year, I've been able to get my shopping done.

December 1 means that it's time to start watching the seasonal specials and movies so tonight I'm watching "White Christmas" for the first time this season.  I usually watch it several times -- we'll see how many times I watch it this year.  Several years ago, the stage version of "White Christmas" was part of my season package at the PAC and I was really excited.  I traded Jeff's ticket for a Sunday afternoon ticket so I could go twice.  Unfortunately, the stage version just doesn't compare to the movie for me.  Then, last year, I bought the CD (supposedly from the movie), but the music isn't the same.  There's just no comparison to the real thing!  [Note:  love seeing a really young George Chakiris as a dancer at The Carousel Club.]

My shopping is almost complete and it's only the first of the month.  Christmas will be smaller than past years, although it probably won't look like it.  I'm spending less but there still seem to be a lot of packages!  I think I can chalk that up to being a good shopper and the great discounts that I get at Kohl's.  There's always an extra challenge in having so many birthdays at Christmas-time.  Anna's was just before Thanksgiving.  Then, we'll have Maggie and Steve before Christmas plus Jeff, Stacy, and Ian right after Christmas in early January.  It makes sense to do that shopping right along with the Christmas shopping.

Jeff was hunting during the first part of November out West and brought home a bunch of pheasants -- frozen and in bags -- that he stuffed in the freezer downstairs.  As a result of those, coupled with a lot of freezer jam, my freezer space is severely limited.  That bothers me quite a bit this time of year as I'd like to do some baking for Christmas, but don't really have a place to put everything.  Maybe I can count on the weather staying cold and my "cold room" (the hot tub room) will be available.  That's where I usually keep things after baking every year, and I can get a real jump-start on it this year.

The Appleton Boy Choir had a short recital at a church here in town last week, and this Saturday is the annual holiday concert at Lawrence Chapel.  Steve and Jack are coming up for the day so I think we're going to have a fun weekend.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reading Goals

In the remake of "Sabrina" (the one with Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear), there's a part where Sabrina is talking to her father (the chauffeur for the family) as he sits in a comfy wing chair surrounded by piles of books on every surface in the room and another in his hand.  She says that she loves the fact that he took a job as a chauffeur so he'd have time to read.  That is my favorite inspirational moment from almost any movie I can think of.

I, too, have piles of books sitting everywhere and really love to pick up a new book -- there is such a sense of anticipation.  I generally have one or two books that I'm reading at any given time, and often another in audio format in my car.  Not sure how I came across it, but I found a site to keep track of reading (Goodreads) and love the ability to track what I've read and when, as well as keeping a quick rating of what I thought of it.  Additionally, I've been keeping an excel spreadsheet list of my reading since 2005.  I just track what I read and note whether it was fiction or non-fiction, when I read it, whether it was audio, and whether or not it was in condensed or abridged format.

The last couple of years, I've actually set goals:  this year I wanted to read 100 books, but I don't think I'll make it.  I did so much reading this year, but it was a lot of magazines and informational pieces about gardening -- both during my Master Gardener class and afterward.  I also read gardening books and did count those, but not the magazines or web articles.  Still, with all of that side reading and my volunteer work, I'm still doing pretty well.  As of today, I'm at 50 books for the year and I still have three months to go.

2005 - 50 (but I didn't start keeping track until May)
2006 - 58
2007 - 99
2008 - 89
2009 - 105
2010 - 76

I guess the goal of 100 was pretty ambitious considering the past years.  I also had a lot of condensed books in 2005 and 2006, quite a lot of condensed and audio in 2007, and a lot of Nancy Drew in 2009.  Those are really short and easy reads so maybe that number is a bit padded.  This year, so far, I have a ton of audio and that has really made the difference for me.

Well, we'll see how the next three months progress.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


It has been almost a full year since I retired.  Since that time, I decided to get some part-time jobs on a seasonal basis (Kohls and Target), and take on volunteer work.  The seasonal jobs were a bit much during the Christmas season last year so I dropped the day job at Target, but decided to retain the night job at Kohls.  I still work one or two nights a week and, now with Christmas once again approaching, that may increase to up to 3 nights per week (which is the maximum that I want to work).

Ian got the first strike at the Book 'N' Bowl fundraiser
Volunteering is the thing that has really started to consume my time.  I had to be cleared by the City of Appleton in order to work at the Library, and I also started doing some volunteer work at the Gardens of the Fox Cities (in conjunction with needing volunteer hours to maintain my Master Gardener status).  Working periodically at the library wasn't too bad, until I was recruited to work on a fundraising committee.  Since July, we've had periodic committee meetings to put together the Book 'N' Bowl fundraiser.  The event was held this past Saturday at Super Bowl and we all attended and had a good time, but I'm also glad that the event is now over.  We'll need to have another meeting or two to assess our success in raising money, and we'll need to determine what steps need to be closed out (thank you notes, etc.).  However, the bulk of the work is done and I'm glad that's behind us.  We started with a fairly large committee (maybe 12 people), but it ended up being only 6 of us doing everything at the end.

At the event this past Saturday, I was approached and asked to also work on the next fundraiser:  the Used Book Sale that takes place in November.  I agreed immediately because it looks like fun -- working in the library "dungeon" organizing books that we'll be putting up for sale, and then working the sale itself.  That, too, will have a reasonably short shelf life as the book sale is in November.  After that, I'm guessing that any work associated with that committee will be intermittent and involve sorting and shelving books to be sold at the next sale.

Then, there is the periodic monitoring at the free movie screenings held at the Library.  Those are my favorite volunteer activities:  show up and get the room ready, then sit and watch a movie for two hours -- counting people as they come in so we have an accurate count of the participants.

With cold weather on the way, I'll also want to start spending days at the Library shelving books since it's nice and warm there and it means I won't have to turn the heat up at home.

I was also doing volunteer work at the Gardens of the Fox Cities:  helping with various craft and educational classes, and helping out at social functions held at the Gardens or supplying food for volunteers that are working all day.  I also ended up on a Marketing Committee that will now meet every few months during the winter.  Again, with winter on the way, I'm guessing that work at the Gardens will taper off considerably.

Also, for my Master Gardeners group, they were looking for someone to manage the Facebook page so I took that on a while back.  It is definitely the easiest of all of my volunteer jobs -- maybe 15 minutes a day on those days that I do any posting.  The work at the Gardens and the work for the Facebook page are both counted toward the 20 hours per year that I need for my Master Gardeners status.


Our Master Gardener group has determined that we need to create a new website and I thought I might be able to help with that.  I've spent many, many hours the past few days reviewing our current website and comparing it to other websites, looking into hosting sites, and playing with the creation of a template for a new website for our group.  I don't think there is any way that I'd be able to put this together -- certainly not in any reasonable time frame.  I had no idea how really complicated it is to build a website!

One final organization that has come to my attention:  Saving Paws Animal Shelter.  I provided a monetary donation (recurring 12 month donation totaling $250), and got a nice sweatshirt, t-shirt, and tote bag from them.  I've been advised that they also need volunteer help so I'm going to keep them in mind in case I have time this winter.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Working on Photo Albums

Wow!  It is so easy to take thousands of pictures with a digital camera -- and really quite difficult to sort through them to create a great album when the time comes.  I want to organize my photos from England into albums and maybe even enlarge a couple of them.  I had no idea how many pictures I had -- and how many are too valuable to discard!  They all remind me of little things on the trip so I want to include all of them.

Additionally, I never really finished my blog.  Once Steve got to England, I guess I stopped posting so my trip to Westminster Abbey, our soccer game, the trip to Paris, and the wedding never made it to the blog.  I eventually want to have the blog printed into book format so I can put it with the rest of my trip memorabilia, but I need to finish it first.

Then, there's the trip we took out to Utah in May with the wonderful visits to Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore.  Again, there are a ton of pictures to go through and organize into an album.

Additionally, I want to keep a photo album of my gardens showing the various stages of growth and bloom throughout the season.  I think it will really help with future planting and, because I put so much work into it, why shouldn't I have it in an album?! 

I can see what I'll be doing this winter.  We also have trips coming up in January (Caribbean), possibly May (Mexico), and August (Alaska) so I'd like to get somewhat current before I start adding more.  I also need to backup my photos onto CDs as I've fallen behind with that, too.

Oh yeah, this is a whole winter project!

[Note:  maybe I'll also get inspired to get back to my scrapbooks for the kids, which are waaaaay behind.]

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Phantom of the Opera

To celebrate 25 years on the stage, a special production of Phantom of the Opera was performed at Royal Albert Hall in London today.  Scheduled for 7 p.m. London time, it was broadcast live into movie theatres around the globe -- including one in Appleton.  Marcus Theatres brings these productions in all the time:  concerts, opera, live theatre, etc, but this is the first time that I've ever been available to attend one that I really wanted to see.

The cast consisted of entirely unknowns to me, but they were all splendid and the production was as lavish as ever.  One really good part about watching a broadcast is the fact that the camera zooms in on the cast, allowing you to lip-read some of the lyrics that might otherwise be lost.  This particular musical contains a lot of music where cast members sing over the top of one another -- not unlike an opera.  Although the cast consisted of unknowns, the definitely more well-known past performers were introduced at the end and sang some songs.  There was Colm Wilkinson, Sarah Brightman, John Owen-Jones, and Michael Crawford (although Michael Crawford did not sing).

What a really fun time it was, and I've discovered some heretofore unknowns that I can now follow.  Turns out that a lot of these people have appeared both in Phantom and in Les Miz rather consistently and with great reviews (Colm Wilkinson, of course, but also John Owen-Jones and Hadley Fraser).  I believe the whole thing will be available on DVD so I'll have to add it to my collection.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Update on Sunflowers

All of my new cultivars (except 'Mammoth') have been blooming with astonishing brilliance and beauty for many weeks now and I want to update the photographs.

'Aurora Gold'

'Autumn Beauty'

'Italian White'

'Japanese Silverleaf'

'Red Courtesan'

Sure hope I can gather seeds that I can plant and raise them again next year.  The 'Red Courtesan' is over 7 feet tall.  All have multiple blooms.  Beautiful!!!

Monday, August 1, 2011


Not sure if it's because of the weather or my extraordinary gardening abilities, but I have the loveliest crop of sunflowers this year!

For Mother's Day, Steve and Stacy sent me 7 different cultivars of unique sunflowers which I planted around the garden in various places.  Additionally, the birds did a really good job of "planting" the black oil sunflower seeds that were in the bird feeder.  As a result, I have a lovely display of bright yellow blooms with three of the unique cultivars yet to bloom.

First, these are the ones planted by the birds and coming up in such abundance that I can scarcely walk down the path any more!
A bit later in the season, the sunflowers look beautiful next to the yarrow and the purple coneflowers.  I'm really quite proud of my rain barrel and I've gotten a lot of use from it this summer.  The sunflower heads are really pretty large and I'm hoping to get some seeds for replanting.

'Autumn Beauty'

The new cultivars have multiple heads instead of single blooms so I'm really looking forward to seeing them in full glory this fall.

'Autumn Beauty' now stands about 5 feet high with multiple heads, but only one has bloomed so far.

'Italian White'

'Italian White' has already bloomed multiple times with the very palest of yellow flowers on multiple stems.  The plant, though, is rather short at about 3 1/2 feet.


'Shine' is peaking over the chain-link fence that divides us from the neighbors and currently has only one small bloom.  I'm expecting more, however.

The other three cultivars (Japanese Silverleaf, Red Courtesan, and Mammoth) are already sturdy plants with multiple blooms and all are growing extremely tall.  I have every intention of gathering many seeds this fall in the hope of further expanding these lovely plants next year.

Hate Titles

The worst thing about writing a daily blog is the need to come up with a title every day.  Sometimes you just want to have some random thoughts or capture whatever you're thinking about at the moment, and there's this huge pause as you sit and try to come up with a title.  Whatever!

It is the first of August and hard to believe that the summer is going so fast.  I'd have to say that it has been a pretty bad summer so far.  June was quite cool and unpleasant, and a great deal of July was dreadfully humid.  Can't really count the number of simple beautiful summer days that we've had.  On the plus side, I guess, is the fact that my gardens are growing pretty well.  I have a ton of tomatoes on the vine and a lot of zucchini starting, but nothing "pickable" yet.  I need to get things in the ground sooner next year.  Also need to either come up with a magical remedy to spray on things that the rabbits hate, or change what's in the ground.  Very discouraging to plant lovely little flowers and have the rabbits eat them down to the ground.

I've been struggling with intense dizziness for the past 4 or 5 days, which I was attributing to the weather.  However, it occurs to me that I stopped taking one of my medications cold turkey a while back and I'm wondering if I'm not suffering side effects of the loss of that medication daily.  With any luck, I'll work through the problem in the next week or so.

Our August weekends will be nice and busy with the kids coming to the lake for several of the weekends, and a wedding one weekend, and Jack & Anna coming to stay for a week, and maybe Dean & Carol coming up from Florida.  I expect my work load will start picking up at Kohl's as we get closer to school opening (and all of those back-to-school sales that will take place).  I almost have all of my volunteer hours for Master Gardeners so I should be good to go for that; thinking about whether I want to put in continuing education hours to keep my insurance license alive.  I probably will as it's much easier to do CE than to go back and get the license again.

Final thought for today:  I think I might go back to England next year for another 3 or 4 weeks.  Considering going on another Jane Austen tour, and maybe go to Paris for a couple of days.  Looking at the maps, I could also go to Wales, Scotland, Belgium, and/or Ireland.  Seems to me this is just about the time of year when I decided that I'd take the last trip -- and spent the whole next year planning it.  There would be far less research needed this time since I already know many of the things that I didn't before.  I'd definitely like to rent a car this time and drive north into Scotland.  Well, we'll see.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Boys & Baseball

Alex and Jack both got into baseball this summer.  Alex (at 5 yrs old), joined t-ball and played on Tuesday evenings in Appleton.  We're fortunate to live close and could attend almost all of his games.  Most of the time he really enjoyed it (especially at the end when the two teams form the "Good Game" hand-slapping lines), and mainly liked to be the catcher, which is a glorified position since the kids hit off tees, but the catcher gets to touch the ball a lot so he liked that.

Early in the season, Uncle Steve gave Alex a bat that had been Jack's and he felt pretty special having his own bat at all of the games.

Early in the summer, Jack was playing soccer but was able to start playing baseball as the summer progressed.  He was chosen to represent his team (the Cardinals) in the All-Star game, which I attended earlier today.  He did really great with some good plays and good batting.  It was a hot day, but he played hard and we went for ice cream after the game.  Even though his team lost by two runs, he was able to hit in one of his team's runs and he scored the last run for his team.

Prior to the game, Jack and Dad did some shopping and Jack got his own batting helmet and he selected an orange one that really stands out!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Unbelievable Weather

Mini sunflowers "planted" by the birds
This has been the worst summer (for people and animals).  June was very chilly and rainy most of the time; July has been extremely hot and humid.  My tomatoes and other hot-loving plants are going crazy -- which is really great.  Also, the high humidity brings rain almost every day in some fashion or another.  My hydrangeas are big and beautiful, but tend to wither in the late afternoon sun; apparently, they don't like it any better than we do.  The butterfly garden is growing like crazy and something really cool:  all of those sunflower seeds dropped by the birds have sprung into mini-sunflowers (about 2-3 feet high).  Today, they're in bloom.
One of my pink hydrangeas.

The special sunflower cultivars that Steve & Stacy sent for Mother's Day are at heights from 2 1/2 feet up to over 5 feet high right now.  They all have blooms (some have multiple blooms!), and I'm just waiting for them to open.

Overall, I'm really pleased with my gardening success so far this summer.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Front Page News!

Last week I was able to attend a Harry Potter marathon at the local theatre -- showing the first three movies on Wednesday, and the next 5 on Thursday culminating with the midnight showing of the newest movie.  It was a lot of fun, and I didn't realize it but I was actually photographed by the Post Crescent while I was coming into the theatre to get my bracelet.  Then, I was interviewed and the whole thing ended up on the front page of the paper.  Ian in particular got a kick out of it.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hello Again

Going to get back to blogging on a regular basis, but tonight my left hand isn't working very well so typing is a problem. I've had arthritis for a long time, but this summer has been really bad for some reason - perhaps it's the high humidity we've been experiencing.

Anyway, I love the background of my blog page as we're in the middle of garden season. My tomatoes must have grown a foot over the past week with the high heat and humidity. All of them (4 regular and 3 cherry plants) have flowers or small tomatoes. I'll also gave zucchini and cucumbers if everything goes ok this summer.

Not sure what it is but I cannot get things to grow in those "strawberry pots". The things I started from seed sprouted, but then died. Then I put very healthy transplants in there and they died. If I really want something to grow, I think I need to dump the dirt and sterilize the container and start over.

More thoughts when my fingers are working better...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Trying to Get Back to Normal

This has been a really lousy year so far:  my Dad was very sick through the month of January, the funeral was in early February and I also spent some time with my Mom working through details.  By mid-February when we went to Vegas, I thought I could use the time away but I really didn't have a very good time.  Then I had all of the kids through the end of the month, during which time Tom started having strokes -- one right after another.  So, early March I took a trip to see him in the Cities and keep waiting for a good news report. 

During the month of March, I also started back to work at Kohl's at night.  Because the store is going through remodeling, I was being scheduled for a LOT of hours:  40 hours per week.  I really don't want to work that many nights and lose my days, especially now that Spring is coming (eventually).  I've been spending a lot of time learning about gardening and planning my gardens for this year.  So, I had a talk with the HR person at Kohl's and indicated that they shouldn't schedule me for more than 3 nights per week.  I'm headed into my last non-24 hour/week schedule this week (I'll have 4 nights this week), after which I'll be working only 3 nights and off 4 nights.  I also told them no weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Over the past couple of weeks, I took Alex to a school field trip, attended an all-day garden seminar, and took Ian to a movie -- all on very little sleep.  It really ruins my home life to be working too many nights.  I do like the discount, though, and the friendship of the people I work with so I don't want to give it up entirely.

Jeff was in Vegas for work all of last week (when we got the big blizzard on my birthday!) and he'll be in Oklahoma this week.  I have tickets to Beauty and the Beast at the PAC that I'll have to trade for a couple of singles since the show is pretty much sold out.  I also have my Master Gardeners class, and I started doing some volunteer work at the library again last week.  Not sure if I'll continue to donate plasma at BioLife as I'm having trouble squeezing that in.  The house could use a good cleaning, but I just can't get too excited about that right now.  Everything feels like it's in a holding pattern while this final snow and cold weather are here.  I need to plant all of my garden seeds so I'm ready to move them outdoors when the time finally gets here.

One point of good news:  sounds like Tom will finally be going home from St. Paul after being there for a whole month.  He'll need to be in a hospital closer to home for convalescence and therapy, but at least he's making forward progress.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

No Iron Chef

My culinary skills are pretty limited due to a lack of interest in cooking. Still, sometimes I try to make something and once in a while it actually turns out ok. Other times - not so much! On Monday of this week, I decided to bake bread. Now this isn't exactly rocket science for me as I have a nice bread machine. Assuming I put the ingredients in properly and the yeast is fresh, I usually get a nice loaf of bread. Such was the case this week: golden brown, perfectly shaped, and smelling Heavenly.  My problem came with slicing the bread; as the blades slid on the smooth, rounded loaf they encountered my finger. A small cut but, two days later, really sore.

Yesterday was a busy day. As previously mentioned, I have the Grandkids this week so I tend to lose track of things. After dropping Alex at school, I went to do my grocery shopping for the balance of the week. Knowing I'd have little time to make dinner, I bought one of those beautiful roast chickens at the store. When I got home, I stuck it in the oven to keep it out of the way and to retain some of the heat. In it's plastic container in a sealed oven, I thought it would be fine for the couple of hours 'til dinner. Then, I went to get Alex, took care of the mail, finished the laundry and, as the end of the day approached, decided that I should make some potatoes and veggies to go with the chicken.

Now keep in mind -I was making these things To Go With The Chicken. We have some beautiful stuffed baked potatoes from Omaha Steaks in the freezer that I thought would be perfect. I lined a pan with foil, turned on the oven to preheat it, got the potatoes in the pan and, when the oven was ready, opened it to find the chicken in a melted plastic container! Fortunately, they use pretty sturdy plastic because I was able to use the jaws of life (scissors) to remove the chicken and it was perfectly fine (and delicious).

Today I'm baking cookies. With any luck, I won't burn down the house or cut off a leg or something!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Week with the Grandkids

Kids are off on cruises this week so I get to have the little kids for a whole week!  Unfortunately, Ian won't be part of the group because his Mom is also on vacation this week, but he's in school most of the time anyway so we'll pick another time to have him here for some special days.  During this early part of the week, it's just Alex here but Jack and Anna will be joining us on Wednesday night.

We were in Rice Lake over the weekend, and we just hung around the house yesterday because there had been quite a blizzard on Sunday and more snow yesterday.  Today, we ventured out to Kohl's (so I could check on my work schedule) and we did quite a bit of shopping while we were there.  I have a 30% off card right now (on top of my employee discount) and I'm picking up lots of clothes for the kids from the 70 and 80% off racks.  Alex also managed to talk me into a Monster Truck toy while we were there.  Then, we went to the library, and to lunch at Tom's Drive-In, and to the grocery store.  All-in-all, quite a productive day.  He's playing good by himself downstairs while I'm catching up on bills and emails, etc.  I need to do quite a bit of reading shortly, though, because my Master Gardener class is tonight. 

A couple of personal asides:  I'm having a problem with a muscle or tendon or something in my right leg in the inner thigh.  It's unbelievably sore and seems to be worse every day -- that makes me think that it's a tendon that keeps tightening up.  Makes it hard to sleep.  The other thing is how really sad I am in the background of my day.  I realized how sad today at lunch with Alex when, with no warning at all, I just started sobbing.  I didn't have as much fun in Vegas last week as I would normally have done -- something I was aware of at the time, but this really took me by surprise today. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hurrying Toward Spring

On the heels of our second big blizzard, I find myself longing for spring.  It's not because of the cold or snow, though, it's because I want to get working on my gardens!  Not sure if it's the Master Gardener classes, or because I visited all of the beautiful gardens in England, or whether it's because I'm now retired and can enjoy working in the gardens.  No matter the reason, I find myself reading gardening articles in magazines, reviewing the current lay-out of my gardens with an eye toward improvement, and reviewing garden catalogs with the same interest that was once reserved for clothing and shoes.

I have only a very small raised plot for veggies -- maybe 4'x6' -- and find it to be perfectly adequate since I don't cook.  Just enough space for tomatoes and herbs.  Maybe I'll add to that this year, but not sure yet.  My real passion is flowers and flowering shrubs.  I have huge  flower beds in front and back, and a butterfly garden on the side of the house.  This Spring, I want to enlarge the butterfly garden to extend the entire width of the house, with a fence and arbor so I can have a climbing plant like wisteria or clematis.  My black-eyed susans and purple coneflowers need to be thinned, so those will be natural additions within the extension.  Then, I'll need to pick some additional plants for the space.

Thinking seriously about replacing the chain link fence on the north side of the yard, along with extensions on either side.  I'd love a white vinyl picket fence, but I'll need to get estimates to see if we need to mortgage the house just to pay for a fence!  If it's affordable, I'd like to add some fence sections in the front near the public sidewalk to highlight special flower beds.  I'm thinking that one will be for roses -- not sure about the other one yet; gotta check out ideas for a flower bed that will be mostly in the shade, I think.  Don't want to get too close to the driveway or it will be destroyed in the winter by the snowblower and salt.

So, I've been reading past issues of Birds and Blooms, and I found an old issue of Backyard Living (a former Reiman publication that I miss), plus some gardening catalogs to get ideas for my gardens and for container gardens.  I also want to do some planting on the hillside at the cottage since that area will be tough to mow, and will have lovely sunshine all day all summer.  The cottage is 4a growing zone and is sandy soil in full sunlight.  Home is 4b growing zone and is mostly clay.  I have sunny areas and areas that are in partial to mostly shady areas.  Requires a lot of planning and note-taking.  Add to that the fact that I've now added houseplants.

Based on the blizzard we had yesterday, I think I'm going to have plenty of time to get it all planned.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Las Vegas

Up $235 so far on my first day in Vegas -- good luck at Blackjack. Headed to a dinner theatre: "Marriage Can Be Murder".

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, February 11, 2011

It's FebruaryAlready

I'm struggling a little to understand where the past few months went.  It seems like it was just a week ago or so that I was suddenly retired from HNI and looking for something to occupy my time.  I applied for seasonal jobs, got two, went through training and hit the ground running with them.  Then, it was Thanksgiving and Black Friday -- and the last time that we went out to eat with my Dad.  I hate hindsight; I look back now and realize that eating at the Family Restaurant is not the last eating out memory with my Dad that I would have chosen.  There was really no hint that things would change so drastically over the month of December.

December is always a busy month due to Christmas -- and I was happily oblivious to the fact that my Dad was deteriorating and my Mom was struggling.  When we went to visit over New Year's weekend I was shocked.

January was the worst month of my life.  I went back and forth to Rice Lake every week during the month to help my Mom care for my Dad, so I watched him deteriorate day-by-day.  It's still so difficult to accept the speed at which everything happened.  On New Year's weekend, he could still sit and feed himself (with difficulty), and was sleeping in his own room and able to make it to the bathroom.  Jeff and Doug installed handrails in the hallway to make it easier for him to walk.  Over the next week, it became harder and harder for him to walk and he needed to be led down the hallway.  Additionally, he had very little appetite so his weight and strength continued to drop.

By mid-January, we moved the furniture around to put his bed in the living room and walking down the hallway to the bathroom was no longer possible.  We had to lift him quite a lot in and out of bed, which became more difficult as his strength continued to decline and he couldn't assist with his own movement.  On Monday, January 24 he went to the hospice room of the Convalescent Center and died on Saturday, January 29 -- only 4 weeks from New Year's weekend when I first learned of his condition.

Writing this has been helpful as I'm still in shock at the rapidity of losing my father.  We all knew he had lung cancer and, when he decided not to have further treatment, that the condition would progress.  Still, he was fine at Thanksgiving -- not great but ok -- and 2 months later he was gone.  January is still kind of a blur -- it just went and now it's February and I'm still reeling.  None of it seems real.  I was in Rice Lake for the past few days moving furniture back where it belongs, writing out thank you cards, shopping, watching TV, etc, but I still expected to see my Dad sitting at the table with Sandy at his feet.

When I come back to Appleton, I get a break from that reality as I go about my daily tasks, etc.  I'm making a point of staying away from photographs of my Dad because then I have to accept that he's gone.  Tears are very near the surface all the time and I need to be careful.  My Mom doesn't get to escape the reality, though.  She's in the house all the time and soon she'll be there alone as Dean goes back to Florida tomorrow.  We'll go back next weekend, but she'll be alone starting on Saturday for the first time in her 79 years.  Almost 63 of those were with my Dad.  I can't even begin to imagine her pain.

The outpouring of love and support from family and friends has been comforting -- and a wonderful tribute to how much people loved my Dad and Mom.  I'm grateful that she has her church family for support and friendship, and she's hoping to go back to work next week at least part-time.  Carving out a new direction for her life is going to be hard, but I know she's strong enough to do it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Dad

Intellectually, I know I'm getting older (I certainly can feel the difference on most days), and I'm aware that everyone around me is aging.  However, it doesn't necessarily sink in and affect me emotionally unless something happens.  For instance, in December I was aware that my oldest son was turning 38.  Surely not!  He's still a child -- nevermind that he has two children on his own.  If he's almost 40, then my baby must not be a baby any more.  Sure enough:  Scott is going to be 36 this year.  I really can't absorb either of those realities.

Now I'm struggling to accept the worst reality of all:  the mortality of someone that I dearly love.  My Dad has been my best hero and boyfriend my whole life, and he's now leaving me.  There's nothing that he couldn't or wouldn't do when I was little -- and I've never changed that opinion.  When I was almost 30 years old and had just been divorced, he gave me a package for Christmas that included a flashlight, jumper cables, and other safety equipment because he was worried about me driving by myself.  Even through Thanksgiving of this year, he made sure that I called to let him know that we had gotten home safely after visiting for the weekend.  During the multitude of years that I traveled by air continuously for work, I had to check in to make sure he knew I had landed safely.  I'm 58 years old and still call him Daddy -- because he'll always be my Daddy in my heart.  With him around, I always felt safe and confident, and I was raised with ultimate self-confidence because he approved of everything that I did and thought.

His love for his grandchildren and great-granchildren was enormous; nothing made him happier than having the whole family around and listening to the squabbling and laughter -- while drinking pot after pot of coffee, and always offering it to the little kids (much to their horror and delight).  All of the kids knew that they could just run to Grandpa and he'd always be on their side.  He felt almost the same way about the "grand dogs"; he'd always have a treat in his hand. 

Dad touching the tree where Lincoln touched it
I'm grateful for so many things in my life, but my greatest blessings are my family members.  We're a large, loving, supportive family due to the influence of our parents, and the strong example set by my Dad.  I can't imagine life without my Dad...I don't want to imagine life without my Dad, but I'll need to find the strength to do just that.  However, I know he'll always be part of my life.  Whenever I have a happy moment or success, I'll remember how pleased he would have been.  Whenever the kids say or do something funny, I'll recall how tickled he always was with them.  I'll never look at a cannon without laughing at how many times he said he wanted one in his front yard.  I won't be able to smell Old Spice without recalling the big hugs.  I've seen almost every Western movie ever made sitting by my Dad and I know almost every cowboy (and actor) in the genre.  The same applies to classic Country music -- I know my artists and the words to almost all of the songs!   My Dad's interest in the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln finally culminated in two trips to Gettysburg over the past few years, and I'm grateful that we had those experiences together.  Those are memories that I'll hold close to my heart with the hope that, eventually, they'll bring me comfort -- rather than the intense sadness and pain that I'm feeling now. 

Again, intellectually, I know that time heals, but I just can't believe there's enough time left in my life to heal the pain that I'm now feeling.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Screwed up Sleep Cycle

I've always been a night person -- just don't like calling it quits at the end of the day.  Even if I'm physically tired, I'll go to bed and just lay there thinking about things that I want to do or things that I should have done or whatever.  Now, though, my body is completely confused.  During that phase of working days and nights, I'd fall into bed exhausted and sleep for 14 or 16 hours straight.  Now, I only work nights once in a while and it's pretty physical labor.  I try to stay up when I get home with the idea of going to bed that evening to get back on track; doesn't work though.  I fall into bed when I get home and sleep for all or part of the day.  Then, it's difficult to sleep that night.  I've fallen into a bad habit of relying on caffeine to help me, and it's really interfering with the sleep process.

For instance, I worked Saturday night after not getting much sleep during the week in Rice Lake and spending part of the day bowling at Ian's party.  When I got home Sunday morning, then, I was pretty tired and went to bed right away and slept 'til half-time of the Packer game.  Back to bed, then, 'til that evening when I got back up again for a few hours.  Back to sleep for the night until about 10 a.m. Monday morning when I got up finally feeling totally ready to get some work done.  My Christmas decorations had to come down!  So, I tackled that job and it took all day and well into the evening, during which time I drank 3 cans of diet Coke (partly because of a sore throat and that helped).  Tried to go to sleep with no success so I read my book, took a warm bath and, finally, at 4 a.m. managed to go to sleep.  However, not surprisingly, I slept until 11 a.m. this morning, then.

Now, it's getting close to midnight and I've been trying since 9:30 to go to sleep since I'm driving to Rice Lake tomorrow.  No luck despite the fact that my eyes feel like they've been sandpapered -- just can't shut off the brain.  Fortunately, I don't work at Kohl's again until Saturday, the 29th so maybe I'll get back to some regularity by then although I'm not hopeful because I'm a night person and I just hate to let go of the day!

No More Decorations

January 17 and I've finally gotten the Christmas decorations down.  Things have been pretty hectic so I haven't had a lot of free time since the end of the year -- or, at least, free time when I wasn't sleeping.  I slept a lot again over the weekend and felt pretty energized when I got up today.  Jeff left early this morning for work in Minnesota and it was snowing pretty hard so I cancelled the one appointment I had for today (plasma donation) and kept my eye on the goal of getting as much done as possible.  Three cans of diet Coke helped and I got all of the decorations down, boxed up, and ready to put away.  While I went along, I also cleaned the house so I'm pretty happy with the day as a whole.

I went out to clean the pretty heavy accumulation from the driveway earlier, planning to take an hour or so to do it and the sidewalk with the shovel.  I just can't use our snow blower -- maybe I need to practice, but I have never been able to manage it.  Anyway, I had barely started when our neighbor came along with his snow blower and did it for me.  Somehow, I twisted my knee this weekend, so I really appreciated the help with the snow.  I'm going to bake some cookies and take them over tomorrow as a thank you.

Now, Jeff will have to deal with putting away the Christmas tree and the boxes that need to go above the garage.  Then we should be set for a while.  Feels pretty good.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Catching Up with Harry Potter

The first half of the final Harry Potter movie opened in mid-November, but I had just started working my two seasonal jobs so I didn't get there right away.  Then, I started wondering whether I wanted to see it when the second half doesn't come out until June or July.  Would it be a big disappointment?  Is it a cliff-hanger (even though I've read the book repeatedly)?  Anyway, I decided to go see it today while it's still in the theatres in case it isn't re-released prior to the second half coming out.  I do love to see a movie on the big screen while eating popcorn.  Result:  I really enjoyed the movie.  It ended at a perfect spot -- no big cliffhanger to keep you in suspense for 6 months.  Once again, though, I'm sure the movie is much more enjoyable to those who have read the book and understand everything going on.

When I got home, I changed my clothes and popcorn fell everywhere!  Apparently, I was enjoying the movie so much that I didn't realize that I had been dropping the popcorn and my hoodie sweatshirt was catching the kernels.  Regal Cinemas used to own and operate the theatre, but it was bought by Marcus a while back and this was my first visit since the change.  Very disappointing that they removed the Coke products and replaced them with Pepsi, but I kind of expected it to happen.  At least the popcorn is still good!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Slip Slidin' Away

I'm down 13 pounds since Thanksgiving, which is pretty good when considering the multiple holidays that occurred during that time period!  Working nights, I think, has been a help as it's very physical and, then, I sleep a lot so I'm not eating.  Not a diet that I'd necessarily recommend, but it seems to be working for me.  Maybe 30 pounds to go, I think, to get back to where I'd like to be for summer.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 Start

This has been an incredibly unsettling year already -- and it's only 3 days old! 

I was asked to stay with Kohl's (part-time) and I'm pretty pleased about that -- even though it may only be one night a week.  [Tonight will be my one night this week.]  Working one night a week actually ends up with a little more income (Kohl's pay + unemployment) than if I was just getting unemployment.  Plus, I get to keep my employee discount.  Started going back to BioLife today to donate plasma; if I can go twice a week, I'll get $50 each week for that and it takes an hour to an hour-and-a-half out of the day.  Pretty good.  I went in to do some volunteer work at the library last week and to remember how to do everything since I hadn't been in there since November.

The weather has been kind of mild so most of the snow is gone.  Wish it had been really warm so we could get the outdoor Christmas lights down.  Packers made the wild-card spot so Jeff will be watching football this weekend, but maybe he can get the decorations in at some point.  I haven't even begun to put things away inside.

We spent the weekend in Rice Lake.  Mom has had to quit her job entirely to be home to take care of Dad -- that's a job that she really loves with people that are friends.  Having gone through it, I understand how wrenching that can be.  My Dad contracted pneumonia again this year, but it has had an incredibly debilitating affect on his health this time.  He has lost quite a lot of weight because he just doesn't eat, is very weak, and needs constant care.  Then, his tooth started hurting so bad that he can't chew!  There were good moments and bad moments over the weekend as the antibiotics kicked in and the pain medication wore off.  It is impossible to even describe the feelings as I watched him struggle to eat or walk.  This is the man who fed me and helped me learn to walk and would have scaled mountains if I had asked.  I'm planning to go back over for another visit on Thursday and maybe Mom and I can do some organizing projects!