Ghost in the Machine, Life on the Balcony

Balcony is just two letters too many to spell, “bacon.” And bacon is yummy!

Now that I got your attention with bacon, I’ll share my ghost story.

A couple of weeks ago, I disconnected my phone from the charger in the kitchen to learn that a series of things had happened. A) a map app was open and on magnify, B) my music app had been entirely deleted, and C) my main browser had been moved from my home page to the back page of apps. Not only that but in the map app letters had been typed in.

It goes without saying, I had not opened the map app myself, I hadn’t moved my browser or deleted my music app (like serious d’uh), and I hadn’t typed anything. Everyone at home denied touching it. Even the cat. I’m no stranger to butt-dialing or -clicking, but this was pretty over the top even for that.

Really, my phone should have been locked in its normal, run-of-the-mill home page, plugged in & charging, and not much else. But that’s not at all how I found it. Because not only did all of what I already mentioned happen, but the letters that had been typed in to to the map app were the initials of someone I know who has passed on.

I’m normally pretty logical about this stuff. But that was a lot of stuff. All at once. I’m sure there’s a non-ghost explanation, right? Hackers? Super accidental-clicking? And the framed photo that spontaneously flew off my daughter’s shelf when nobody was near it probably had nothing to do with any of this. Right?

Well, ghost or not, such things have a way of making me think about life.

With my music app deleted. I had plenty of space to update the iOS on my phone. That was helpful. So I should update life more often.

And life goes on. School has been out for about three weeks now for my daughter. I managed to carefully avoid over scheduling her summer with summer camps. She finished her last dance recital for the year. She was beautiful! Now she’s relaxing. Doing yoga, science and math in Khan Academy, and generally enjoying the summer. Plus she’s learning to prepare more of her own food including cooking salmon and making beautiful yogurt parfaits which she’s happy to make for others too.

Still life with yogurt parfait and coffee goop

My balcony garden is slowly going strong.

I decided to plant only one or two tomato plants this year. They’re a lot of work. Growing a decent yield of full-size tomatoes is tricky in containers and especially so when you have to carry all the water. There’s no hose hookup on the balcony.

Balcony Garden 2018

The 2017-2018 winter was harsh which meant that a lot of plants that had come back year after year previous years gave up the ghost. So I had to replant several plants. But some hearty plants laughed in the face of winter’s sting and returned to warm in the beautiful summer sun. Some plants always need replanting anyway.

Growing strong are an orange variety of sumptuous cherry tomatoes. Hot peppers. Strawberries. And I have a lot of herbs. Basil is one of those herbs that really loses something in dried form. Fresh is amazing though! Three varieties in five different containers are growing strong. Plus there’s parsley, chives, sage, and oregano. Sweet mint (which came back from last year) and a tasty surprise called Strawberry Mint which has tiny leaves that smell fruity like minted strawberries.

The bee balm from last year popped back up and this year even sprouted a flower.

Strawberry mint blossoms with bee

Bee Balm flower without bee

I had to replant the curry plant (helichrysum italicum). Mine had been growing for years! But then winter. It’s not the kind of curry used for cooking, but I enjoy the smell when I run my fingers along the silvery leaves. Something about it is so soothing and healing. The comfrey shocked me by sprouting leaves out of what looked like a totally dead pot of soil and then sending up long stems dotted with buds that bloomed into clusters of jellyfish shaped, lilac colored flowers.

Lemon Balm grew back from last year too and it has tiny yellow and white flowers this year. As do the Japanese giant mustard greens which replanted themselves from seed.

Sweet basil and Thai basil

I love being able to grab a handful of fresh herbs and adding them to whatever dish I’m cooking or tea I’m steeping.

Ghosts are wild, but a flavorful life is living!

 

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Yo, February

You were here and then you … well you are here still. But you’re never here as long as other months, and you’ll be gone in the blink of an eye.

I had a big birthday. It was the biggest one yet. Which is the case with all birthdays, but ya know, I felt this one more.

My little family ordered me a birthday cake off Amazon. As you do. Or as they do anyway. Normal people may not. Because, cake.

We have a store with a nice bakery across the street. You can literally walk there in less than ten minutes and most of that is waiting for the stoplight. But instead, my cake was shipped frozen in dry ice. Kind of like shipping steaks only in chocolate form.

It was fulfilled by David’s Cookies and arrived with dry ice warnings. Dry ice is cool! [Really, did I just write that?] So I didn’t mind the dry ice except that nearly all had evaporated by the time the cake arrived. The last swirls of vapor gave my shrink-wrapped confection the mystique of having journeyed through time and space. Which, ya know, it did.

It was a somewhat rich and dense chocolate cake, a texture that probably holds up better for long distance travels. The entire cake including the frosting and “Happy Birthday!” decorations made it through surprisingly well. I have one small piece left, and it isn’t even totally gross. Pretty darn good still.

Cake!

We went out to eat yummy food with yummy dessert. I got two bouquets of orchids because last year when flowers were ordered from Amazon they arrived wilted. Lovely but wilted. The company sent replacements. This year backup orchids were ordered, so I got double. They’re still quite beautiful as I type this! Along with roses for Valentine’s Day, I’ve been awash with flowers. I can’t complain one iota. The roses even sprouted new leaves. I’ve seen roses do that before, and I always find it somewhat magical. That last spark of life trying to find a way.

I got a new computer! But no, I’m not typing on it right now. February’s schedule was pretty much a mad dash.  So I still have some setting up to do.

February and January my daughter stayed after school nearly every day and went back for more on Saturdays after her dance class to work with her team on their robot and preparations for First Robotics. I popped in to help where I could. Robots are cool! But my main job was mom-taxi.

Their first competition weekend is only a few days away. This team worked so hard for so long — not just January and February but since the beginning of the year. The team improved over last year on many levels including being further ahead in the robot building process, so they actually got to test their robot more and work out some problems before the competition.

I hope that all their hard work pays off and that they have a fun and successful competition season! I’m excited to see the robot in action!

This time last year I barely knew what the Robotics club was working on, and I had no idea what competition weekend was. I’d imagined a small robot the size of a toaster and competition to be a few hours on a Saturday. But no. The robot is bigger than a push lawn mower and competition weekend starts on Friday night and ends Sunday evening. It’s like a huge sporting event but with geeky people.

In the midst of this, I’ve been playing in our pinball league, not one but, two nights a week. Because that’s logical. Crazy busy mom with no time, so I’ll just add another thing. But it’s a fun thing!  So I’ve survived so far.

Last weekend was Science Olympiad because, perhaps like her mother, my daughter signed up for more than she probably had time for. So we spent last Saturday at that. I accidentally missed registration for Pinburgh, a pinball tournament. So now I’m on the waitlist. Again. Gah. Serves me right.

And here we are at the tail end of February marching on ahead. Wish us luck. The good kind, please. Thank you.

General-Leia Updates and Other Teas-es

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the passing of Carrie Fisher. She can be seen in her last big roll as General Leia Organa in the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. Jedi has been pulling in big bucks at the box office but has a hugely mixed reaction from Star Wars fans.  One thing is fore sure, it’s great to see Carrie Fisher in her roll of Princess Leia, now as General Leia Organa. I would have loved to know what she thought of this as her final roll.

The movie itself seems to spark love or hate reactions, and I’m feeling a little of both. Overall I really liked it and thought it was a fun movie. Lots of entertainment value there! Adam Driver goes shirtless and other stuff. There are really only a few scenes and plot twists that I have problems with. I can deal. (But I would fix those if I could.) Overall, I think it depends a little on which of the previous Star Wars movies are your favorite.  Folks who love Return of the Jedi probably really like The Last Jedi. Folks who love original Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back or even The Force Awakens may have a few problems with it. But it’s going to vary based on personal tastes and expectations, so just go see it for yourself.

I saw it on opening day, December 14, at an AMC Theater where we paid extra for the Fan Event. “Fan Event” really just translated to get-to-see-the-movie-one-hour-earlier-than-other-people, get a small popcorn, and a pack of three “collectible cards.”  Plus there was a few minutes of film on the music of John Williams in Star Wars. We didn’t know exactly what to expect. The description was pretty vague.

When we purchased these “special” tickets I really pictured this as being more of a fan event. Like perhaps they would have something special going on. And at the time of purchase we knew we’d get a “concession stand offer,” but didn’t know what it would be. Previous fan events have had large popcorns and drinks included. The John Williams film was advertised as “special content.” Plus I pictured something more substantial for the collectible cards. We’re used to Magic The Gathering card packs where you might get 15 cards in a pack plus a foil, etc. So overall, this Fan Event seemed more expensive than others we’ve read about and with fewer goodies. It felt like AMC was trying to take advantage of big Star Wars fans. I’ll think twice about doing another Fan Event with AMC and will explore other theaters in general for that matter. AMC grabbed enough of our movie money for a while thankyouverymuch.

That said we enjoyed the actual theater where the fan event was held. It was a Dolby Cinema theater with laser projectors, great sound, and comfy reclining seats. I would see a movie in a Dolby Cinema showing again. That part was nice and worth a few extra bucks. The only down side of the Dolby Cinema was that we had middle-of-the-row seats, so when everybody else was reclined with their feet up, it was nearly impossible to squeeze down the row to our seats. I let the family sit while I went back out to get our popcorn. There was a break in the rows right behind us, so I just climbed over the backs of the seats. It was faster and inconvenienced fewer people.

Fast forward a bit and Christmas 2017 has come and gone. I don’t know how it manages to come and go faster each year, but it does. We had a nice Christmas split between home and visiting my mom.

I got to see Santa very briefly as he exited an elevator I was entering. He’s our favorite mall Santa and was returning from his dinner break. A few minutes later I saw that he was saying “hello” to the kids standing in line. I waved and told him how many years of photos we have of him. He was kind enough to pose for a selfie with me, but my phone died before I could take the picture. Ugh.

I searched high and low for an Etch-A-Sketch for my daughter for Christmas. Ya know, red plastic rectangle and turn the white dials to draw a picture? One dial for vertical, one for horizontal. We had these as a kid. They could be fun and frustrating. It was super easy to draw a staircase! Not so easy to draw a circle. Modern kids can see Etch-A-Sketch featured in the Will Farrell movie, Elf. My daughter is one of them. So she wanted one for Christmas. I think everybody else must have felt this way too because I could not find one anywhere. I visited no fewer than six Targets! Walmart! Craft stores! And two regular toy stores and asked many questions of employees along the way.

But it was like gremlins visited each store right before I arrived. I searched online websites to see who might have them in stock before I visited each store, yet they disappeared by the time I got there. Amazon had them for a while, but reviews were mixed, so we worried about quality and cheap knock-offs. Yet I would have purchased from Amazon if I knew it would be so hard to find them in an actual store. In the end, I was only lucky enough to find two mini-Etch-A-Sketches that we’d have by Christmas. These will have to do. One is the “World’s Smallest” and one is a little larger with a clip that allows it to be attached to backpacks, etc. My daughter liked both and appreciated  tales of the Etch-A-quest. I braved traffic, quicksand, and the darkest asphalt jungles!

Along with a lot of other holiday shopping I visited a Teavana tea store a couple of times. If you like Teavana, then know that some stores will close by December 31, so they are having clearance sales. Those stores now have EVERYTHING in the store 75% OFF!  Tea and tea ware is selling very quickly at these prices! I got a great price on some really good Oolong a few other things.

Some Teavana locations will remain open into February and possibly March. Those locations may have some sale prices, but not everything 75% off. Those locations will, however, have a much larger selection of tea and tea ware for now. So if there’s a favorite that you really want then visit a location that is scheduled to remain open longer. You should be able to call stores to find this out. If nothing else, visit the closest Teavana and ask them questions. There are some great deals in tea! But I’m still a little sad to see Teavana leaving.

That’s it for now.

May The Force Be With You … Always! And Happy Holidays!

 

 

Summer 2017

In 2016, and all the years prior, the school year started the day after Labor Day. That would have been today if our county hadn’t changed the start date this year making it one week earlier. So today my daughter starts her second week of 10th grade.

I don’t know where the summer went. It was a good one! Just short. Really short. I really would have preferred longer.

We visited Pittsburgh twice — once for my cousin’s wedding and once for Pinburgh and ReplayFX.  Both were wonderful, amazing experiences (especially the wedding which was really a one-of-a-kind event). ReplayFX and Pinburgh, a pinball tournament, will be there again next year. But it was gobs of fun! Some people go to the beach, we go to Pittsburgh. (Okay, we like the beach too, we just didn’t fit that in quite yet. Hopefully it will still be there for a while.)

In August we visited South Carolina both to visit my dad and to witness the total solar eclipse.  My dad lives in an area that would have been about 99% eclipse but not quite total. We drove a little over an hour southwest landing us in a delightful town called Newberry, South Carolina. I am SO very glad we drove the extra distance to see the total eclipse. It is a different animal — the difference between a partial and total eclipse is literally like night and day. (Really literally.)

Partial eclipses aren’t that different from each other. Granted 99% is going to be more impressive than 85% but you still get a tremendous amount of light from a tiny sliver of the sun. We were impressed at how light it was even when the sun was almost entirely covered.

Moments before totality


During a partial eclipse, it still looks like daytime, but with a large enough occlusion it’s a dimmer daytime with sharper shadows. It looks strange, and it’s pretty wild!

Totality is like somebody hit a light switch and turned the world to night for a couple of minutes. The crickets chirp. The air cools. Some people can see stars and planets. We saw Venus! There is a glow around the entire horizon that looks like the last few glimmers of sunset before pitch blackness. But the sun itself is still overhead and covered by a black disk that is the moon.  The corona radiates from that sharp black disk. It is mind boggling! I want to do it again.

Totality – removing the eclipse glasses.


Between the fun out-of-town events, my daughter had several camps. Like many previous summers, this year I spent many a lunch hour driving her to or from camp and then drove back to the office. I love that she gets to do some fun and educational things like her orchestra camp and dance camp. But it makes for a busy, tiring day with less time than I’d like for things like eating or breathing. And there’s scant little time for blogging or even for visiting the pool. I want more summer! I guess it will be back next year.

So that’s about it for this update.

One more thing, I maybe had like 1.5 seconds of “fame.” Saturday, I went to a new eye doctor because I really needed new glasses (I haven’t gotten real, new glasses in YEARS), and I had some flex spending to use. When I gave the receptionist my email address she asked me if I blogged. Yes. So I asked if she’d just Googled me. She said, “no,” that her sister-in-law (or somebody like that) blogs, so she reads a lot of blogs and my email addy rang a bell (my email is similar to my blog name). So I guess that’s like a second and a half of fame, maybe, right? Though I’m still not convinced that she didn’t Google me or look me up on Yelp to see if I write reviews. Regardless, the eye doctor got me in that same day, I found frames I really liked and was able to get a reasonably okay deal after a little haggling. I’d have gladly gone to Walmart if their price was too high, so there’s that. Still waiting to get my new glasses… but I just had to share. It feels kind of weird, but maybe kind of good too.

The glow of the horizon during a total eclipse.

May the 4th be with you!

Somewhere … sometime … a long time ago … in a galaxy we’re in right now, somebody noticed that, “May the 4th,” sounded a lot like, “May the force,” and thus Star Wars day was born. So may the 4th be with you … always!

I have a lot of catching up to do on this blog. We’ve been busy. Sometimes super busy! And it meant that I had to lighten up on something or I’d just fall down exhausted and become a blob. Actually, I did become a blob and exhausted, so I guess I should say that I would have been a worse blob. So the blog got lightly set aside. Sorry, blog. Sorry, WordPress.

I’ll do some catch up in the coming days and weeks … things we’ve been doing … are doing now … and stuff that may be yet to come. Subjects covered with include Science, Robotics, Apatite, Salad Surprise, Dance, Balcony Gardening (Herbs and Plants that Survived the Winter), and more!

I hope you enjoyed the rainbow I posted on May 2. The photo was actually taken on May 1. Rainbows may be a little cliché in some ways, but they are still so amazing when they show up in all their spectacular glory. It was a really impressive start to May.

May the 4th be with you, and may it be a good one!

Mushroom Popcorn

This is a follow up to my post on types of popcorn.

I ordered and received a two-pound bag of mushroom popcorn.

Not having read my previous post on popcorn, my daughter thought I’d ordered mushroom-flavored popcorn. It is not. But mmm,  we might have to try that sometime. I’m not sure how I would add mushroom-flavor but it could be interesting.

It is also not some kind of 1960s psychedelic snack food.

The “mushroom” part refers to the shape of the popcorn when it’s popped. Butterfly or snowflake popcorn is the kind found in most grocery stores for popping at home. Mushroom popcorn is generally used by commercial poppers for caramel corn, kettle corn, or other kinds of popped popcorn that benefit from a rounder, more durable popped kernel (also called a flake).

I ordered JustPoppin’s Tru-Pop brand Mushroom popcorn from Amazon because it came in a 2-lb size — manageable for at-home consumption. Plus it had generally good reviews as well as popping tips and a hotline in case you had trouble achieving a mushroom-shaped flake with their kernels. It costs a little more than typical popcorn but is still pretty economical for snacking.

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Just-Poppin’s Tru-Pop Mushroom popcorn with instruction sheet and a hotline for help.

In the bag, it doesn’t look much different from standard yellow butterfly popcorn. But side-by-side unpopped kernels are a little larger.

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Clockwise from top: White kernels, standard yellow, and mushroom kernels.

The popping instructions said there’s a narrow temperature range for optimal results. We followed the recommendation of using a higher heat and adding the kernels only once the oil was hot enough. Readiness is determined by putting three kernels in the pot. Once they’ve popped, add the remaining kernels.

The oil used should be one that tolerates a higher cooking temperature like peanut or coconut. We like refined coconut oil — no coconut flavor, but a good cooking oil that tolerates high temperatures and may have some health benefits.

We use a three-to-one ratio of oil to kernels and cook it in a single layer in an ordinary medium-size stainless steel cooking pot with a lid. We love multitasking kitchen utensils, so we don’t have a specialty popcorn maker. (Except my daughter, she likes making it.)

Our results were excellent.

A bowl of mushroom popcorn, lightly seasoned.
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Mostly shaped like little balls.

As you can see, our flakes look rounder with fewer little blobs protruding. This looks a lot like the kettle corn or caramel corn we’ve purchased at fairs and festivals minus the carmel or sugar coating. We had very few unpopped kernels, on par with other quality varieties.

In the photo (below) the top flakes are white kernel popcorn that I purchased at a farmers’ market. It’s also available at many supermarkets. The bottom right flakes are standard yellow popcorn — the most common variety at grocery stores. The bottom left is Mushroom Popcorn with large, round flakes and a few that look like standard butterfly popcorn too. It’s available online and may be carried at some gourmet and specialty shops.

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Comparing three varieties. White (top) is a little smaller and brighter white. Yellow (bottom right) is typical size and shape, not quite as white. Mushroom (bottom left) is similar in color to yellow popcorn but larger, rounder, and with more noticeable husks.

As you can see, the mushroom popcorn has more husks attached to the flakes themselves as well as left behind in the bowl or pot. I included a few husks in the photo. The husks are pretty tough. You can shake out a lot of the larger pieces and/or let them collect at the bottom so you don’t get a mouthful of husk. But there are still little bits attached to the flakes themselves. In caramel corn, those husks will be masked by the sugary coating. The white and yellow flakes have fewer husks attached and left behind in the pot. The husks they do have don’t seem as tough.

Along with the difference in shape, the flakes themselves have a slightly different texture. As previously reported, the mushroom flakes are a little tougher. They have more of a crunch whereas the standard butterfly flakes have a lighter crispiness to them.

The flavor was better in the butterfly kernels. It’s a small difference, but if I was eating plain popcorn then I would definitely choose butterfly popcorn. It was a little sweeter and cornier tasting. The mushroom kernels had a slight styrofoam taste. That sounds terrible. But it wasn’t bad, just not as good — a little blander overall. Naturally, adding salt and a sugar coating will overcome a lot of the difference in taste. For now, we tried it with our usual salt and butter- and cheddar-flavored topping.

I can definitely see how the mushroom popcorn would work better for commercial popping purposes and even homemade caramel corn. The rounder shape allows for a thinner, more even coating of sugar. When I made kettle corn at home using standard popcorn, there were some fairly thick globs of sugary coating stuck in the deeper nooks and crannies of the butterfly shapes.

The mushroom popcorn includes a notice that it should only be used as intended — for eating — and that, while not GMO, it is a specially bread popcorn and is proprietary. So they don’t want you to use these as seeds to plant a crop. No worries for me, I don’t have room for growing corn on my balcony.

It was fun to try. We’ve made a couple of batches now and like mixing the two varieties. I would definitely suggest mushroom popcorn for homemade caramel corn and kettle corn. But if you just want a nice snack, butterfly popcorn is still the way to go.

Hidden Figures on MLK Day

This morning I saw the movie Hidden Figures with my daughter and her Girl Scout troop at a theater that had been rented to show it to a crowd of all Girl Scouts.

It was the perfect day to see it and a great bunch of girls to see it with.

I laughed. I cried. I felt shame and pride and joy.

Hidden Figures is a fantastic movie based on the even more amazing true story of three very special woman who changed a bit of the world as they made their mark on the U.S. space program (NACA which would later become NASA) in the 1960s and beyond.

Katherine G. Johnson,  Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson used their smarts to politely break down barriers, worked hard (I mean relentlessly hard, constantly, for years), and used their sharp, talented brains to the very best of their abilities.

It’s hard to imagine that less than 60 years ago women and men of different colors had to use separate bathrooms, separate drinking fountains, and were allowed such vastly different opportunities. That’s less than a single lifetime ago. It’s not some ancient fact from 300-plus years ago. People who lived that are still alive including Katherine Johnson (who is 98 as of this writing). On the other hand, some days I feel mankind should be so much further ahead in jettisoning antiquated ideas. There is still hope. 

I’ve seen other movies and read books portraying the space program — The Right Stuff, Apollo 13 … It’s a fascinating time in our history. (And I hope the space program remains a part of our world for a long time.) It’s hard to image how those stories could be told without these women. I’m glad their stories are finally being shared outside the small circle of people who have known about them for decades.

These women are truly inspirational.

It can be easy to think, “I can’t.” These women didn’t let that get in the way even with other people telling them they couldn’t. Even with laws that slowed them down. Even as working mothers. They educated themselves, worked smartly, and succeeded.

It was so nice to see the movie in a room full of Girl Scouts from so many walks of life as they got to hear the story of Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary at NASA. The Girl Scout troop that organized the movie planned it well. An engineer from modern-day NASA spoke to the crowd about how she got to be an engineer there with the help of education and summer internships.

I know, even today, it is still hard for a lot of women to break into male-dominated fields.

After the movie, I dropped off my daughter and went in to work for the remainder of the afternoon. Then I ran errands — dropped off some cookie forms, stopped by the grocery store, and went to a homeowners’ association meeting. I cooked and ate dinner with my family. (I probably should have let them do more cooking, but it was just quicker this way.) And I’m finally blogging a bit. It’s been a full day. And I’m very thankful that I didn’t have to run several buildings over, a quarter of a mile away, just to use the restroom. (I think that would have done me in.)

The movie stuck with me throughout the day. And I have a feeling it will stick for quite some time.

I hope everyone had a great Martin Luther King Day.

Oh Look, 2017!

It is 2017. I’m going to have to get used to that. 2016 is gone.

For part of my job, I work with text that will be sent out a month or two in the future. (Sometimes more than that.) As a result I’ve been using the numbers “2017” for a few months now. But having the actual year here is something else. It’s supposed to be 2017 in the future, not now. But it is now.

Since it’s the future, are we supposed to have flying cars and hover boards? We have “hover boards,” but they don’t actually hover. And cars may fly down the highway, but we sure don’t have flying cars. In fact, car technology hasn’t changed much in decades. Look at computers and phones. Big changes. Cars not so much. There are better computers in cars now, though, so I guess that’s something.

The holidays were busy here, and then just in time for Christmas I got sick. I’m not sure if it was a cold or the flu, but I had a fever one of the days so, maybe flu? I felt completely yucky.

I planned to blog and do many other things, but then all of a sudden I felt like doing absolutely nothing but sleeping and occasionally groaning about how terrible I felt. I felt bad for my family as plans got changed, and I became less fun and more blobby and possibly smelly too.

I’m feeling better now which is a good thing for all of us, I’m just a little bummed because it’s already 2017 and there were things I wanted to get done in 2016 that are still undone. 2016 is gone. I kind of want a do-over, but no not really. New year. New goals.

But a recap of the last bits of 2016:

We got a cute, fresh-cut tree. No artificial tree for us this year. But I nearly threw our beautiful little tree off the balcony as I tried to saw a bit off the trunk to keep it fresher. It was a challenge. I don’t think I used the right tool for the job. I tried to use a tiny saw that’s supposed to be used for PVC plumbing pipes. I should have asked for help, but at that point I was determined. I would not let that tree defeat me. I would do it myself. I finally got the job done, then asked Dave and Sara to help me get the tree into the tree stand. (I was short on patience at that point, and our metal tree stand is kind of a pain.) We got it all done, and we love our tree.

Tree trunk

Tree

I caught our squash-eating, balcony-visiting squirrel actually on our balcony. He’s a chubby little (not so little) critter. His girth is no surprise after all the pumpkin he ate.

After spotting me, Mr. Squirrel fled to the nearby tree which allowed me to see how exactly he’d been getting on the balcony in the first place. He was using one of the thin branches as a sort of bridge from the larger tree branches to our balcony railing.

So I trimmed that skinny little branch off the tree. (The saw was handy from the Christmas tree.)

Chubby Mr. Squirrel post-escape.

Now, I feel a little bad about sawing off Mr. Squirrel’s bridge. I hope he doesn’t run across it like it’s still in tact and then meet with an unfortunate accident when the former bridge ends before it gets to our balcony. I didn’t want to hurt him, just discourage his marauding… I’m going to assume he’s okay. Squirrels are smart, right?

For the first year since she was two years old, my daughter did not sit with Santa at the mall and get her photo taken. I’m a little sad about this. That little girl is gone. She’s a teenager now, so I can understand it’s probably not cool to do the Santa thing these days (especially since it ended up on TV last year).

Plus, I swear they gouge us more for photos every year. This year there’s a single package deal, and it costs $40 dollars. This seems excessive especially when I’d practically have to force my daughter to sit on a strange man’s lap to get the photos taken.  (Oh. That sounds bad. And, yes, she could have sat on the chair next to him. We did that one or two of the years.)

Anyway, it is still tradition and Santa. So in order to make myself feel better about the end of this chapter of our life for now, I took us to the mall to look at Santa. (That way my daughter could still change her mind too.)

When we got there Santa was on dinner break. So we shopped a little (or tried to) and then stood around waiting for Santa to get back. We were like Santa groupies waiting by the entrance. (Maybe not so much “we” as me.)

I wanted to see Santa and say “hi.” After 12 years of pictures with him he should know us, right? He should know us from all the other zillions of people who visit him, right? (Okay, no.) But he’s Santa. He knows when we are sleeping. He knows when we’re awake. He knows when we are at the mall, for goodness sake?

My daughter was much more logical about it. We saw Santa. She was done.

Deep down inside I really wanted one last photo of my daughter with Santa at the mall, but I didn’t want to wait in a line or take up any of Santa’s time or pay the $40 for a small pack of photos.

So while Santa was on the first floor, I guided us to the second floor where there was a nice view of Santa. (The second floor was also handy because then Santa’s security team was much less likely to see us.) I wasn’t really sure if we were allowed to take our own photos of Santa, but that’s just what I wanted. It seemed to solve a couple of problems, so I went for it.

I was able to take a photo of each of us with Santa in the background. Santa didn’t know I was taking a photo of him with us. (Or did he?). Does this seal my fate as a Santa groupie or worse yet, a Santa stalker?

To be fair, Santa is so far away in the photos that we can barely get away with saying it’s a photo of us with Santa. He’s tiny. He’s like the size of an earring. Here I am with my earring-sized Santa in the background. I will not further embarrass my daughter by posting the photo of her. She’s sweet for putting up with me.

Me and tiny Santa.

So next year, maybe we’ll just cut to the chase and take photos of ourselves wearing actual Santa earrings. That’s probably a better idea. I’m sure security won’t mind. I’m pretty sure my daughter will like this plan a lot better too.

Also at the mall, we spotted this lovely ensemble. I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to be. Are real women supposed to wear this? Women who have cold hands? Women who want to hatch ostrich eggs in their pockets? The greens behind her head just add to the strangeness. Hopefully, this is one of the things that will be left behind as we move forward into 2017.

Mystery outfit with small child hovering in the background (top right). Huh, maybe we do have hover boards now.

Just before the new year, we went to see Rogue One, the new Star Wars movie. In the past, I’ve often been one of those midnight/opening night moviegoers for Star Wars movies, so waiting was foreign to me.

Since we already waited to see the movie, we aimed for the early showing, so we could get a discount rate. We showed up on time and everything.

Then we waited and waited for the movie to start. Finally, about a half hour after the movie should have started, a theater employee told us that they wouldn’t be able to show our movie that morning. So then we had to wait at the service desk to get refunds or tickets to another showing that same day. It could have been sucky, but …

We really wanted to see the movie that morning if at all possible. We’d already purchased popcorn and the overpriced-oversized beverage to match.

It ended up working out well because we got tickets to the very next showing which happened to be 3D. And on top of it, we got free passes to an additional movie for our trouble. I can’t complain about how that worked out.

We even liked the movie! There are some fun nods to other Star Wars movies (blue milk, Obi-Wan, and more). It shed a new light on Star Wars: A New Hope. It was a tiny bit long, but overall moved along well, and all three of us enjoyed it.

I’m hoping for more experiences like this in 2017 — movies, time with family, blogging, writing, and so much more. (Maybe less Santa.)

Have a happy 2017!

 

I’ll also add that this can be for WordPress, Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Gone.

 

And copyright 2017 Deb L Kapke.

Checking In – 6 Days ’til

Okay, it is less than a week to Christmas. I’ve taken a vacation day today, so I can get some things done before Christmas. I’m going to blog a smidge because I haven’t in over a week. There is less time to Christmas than days since my last blog post. I feel like I should freak out now.

Though I have some shopping done, I’m not finished yet. We have partly decorated for Christmas, but aren’t finished yet.

We got an adorable tree from the tree lot where my daughter volunteered. It was one of the largest trees in the small-tree category. It is beautifully full and nicely shaped with a good top branch for the star.

I love the smell of fresh-cut trees. If I put my fingers into the tree water to check its depth, my fingers smell awesome. (I know, that sounds kind of weird, right? But it’s true.) The tree water is like some kind of beautiful fragrant, cold-brewed tea.

We have a smallish artificial tree that we purchased several years ago. We used that last year. It’s getting kind of sad looking. Some of the branches are a little droopy (because the cat likes to climb it) and the fake needles are falling off as much or more than any real needles. Plus it smells so not fresh. It smells like the storage area and old cardboard. Not really something that brings to mind the holiday spirit. I’d need some Glad spruce-scented spray or something to make that one a little more appealing. I should probably dig it out of storage and pitch it.

We went to a wonderful Christmas party on Saturday night where we got to see good friends and eat yummy food. I want to eat more yummy food and see more of our friends. Things get busy.

Sunday my daughter’s Girl Scout troop made and decorated Christmas cookies. More yum.

The past week had some extremely cold days, so if my tomato plants had any life in them at all before they are now completely done for the year. I rescued a few small plants from the balcony and brought them inside during the extreme temperatures. At least it felt like winter while we were thinking about Christmas.

I left one squash out on the balcony which froze rather solidly. It was like a big rock. I could probably take out zombies with that squash. Do not drop it. Once thawed it needs to be eaten or cooked quickly. So we made a large pot of squash soup for dinner yesterday. 

The good part of partially freezing is that once thawed, the squash softens up some, so it is much easier to cut than fresh and raw. 

But I think generally squash tastes better if it is cooked before being frozen. The squash soup makes a nice compromise. Plus it’s super healthy. Today I still have more squash to use up.

We’re still debating if we should see Santa at the mall this year. We’ve been every year since my daughter was tiny. Now that she’s a teenager, we almost didn’t go last year. But then we did and it was cute. Except that there was a TV crew filming the Santa at the mall. That turned out to be kind of fun and kind of embarrassing for my daughter.

Our mall has had the same man-in-the-red-suit for many many years. So he’s in all of our photos. It was only natural to go back there. I guess the TV crew had the same idea about Santa and was filming a piece on Santa at the mall since he’s been there so long. They didn’t want to use a small child in the piece, so they used my daughter. It was also timing — she just happened to be the next, older child in line when they were filming. It looked cute. She looked very nice on the local TV station.

But a couple of teachers saw her. So back at school they said, “hey, we saw you on the news with Santa!” So it got a little embarrassing for her. (Hey, the TV interviewer even sat on Santa’s lap. I thought there was a lot more potential for embarrassment in that.)

I have reassured my daughter that odds are extremely good that the same thing won’t happen again this year. My biggest hesitation is the line. It’s always massively huge. I hate to take up so much time just waiting. (Though I can bring electronic devices for playing games or writing, so it’s not that bad if I plan it right.) But we missed out on making a reservation since we weren’t sure if we were going. Now that we might go, we’ll have to wait in the line. Hopefully, we can go during a weekday when the line won’t be as long.

My daughter has been busy making lots of peppermint bark for gifts and dipping pretzels in chocolate too. We get to eat all the mistakes and “test” the non-mistakes too. We have very happy taste buds right now. She made more this morning. I need to go find a tin to put it in.

Hope folks are having a great week and enjoying lots of yummy things.

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World’s best peppermint bark. I could eat the whole tray myself.

 
 

Oh Look, A Saturday!

This has been one jam-packed week, and it’s not over yet.

Last Sunday evening my daughter volunteered for a late shift at a Christmas tree stand for her service club. We almost got a tree then, but I felt like I needed to get the car ready and a spot ready at home. Plus I couldn’t decide on a tree, and the stand was closing at that point.

Monday, my daughter had rehearsal for the orchestra winter concert. And later that evening I had to run some errands because I knew I wouldn’t be able to run any errands on Tuesday (or Wednesday either for that matter).

Tuesday was the Winter Orchestra Concert. Traffic around the mall was horrible. It’s extra bad this time of year. The mall is between my office and the school and home. Plus it was pouring rain which is always bad for traffic. It’s like we’re getting pre-melted snow. Traffic is instantly bad. I mean, worse. So I didn’t have time to pick up Dave to get him to the concert with me (he doesn’t drive). So I was there by myself, and he missed her first cello solo with the orchestra. Gah.

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Orchestra Concert

The concert was great! I only partly messed up the video. My phone doesn’t do well when taking long videos. Part of the video just freezes. Last time I tried to bring my iPad for recording. But I accidentally pressed the time-lapse button instead of the regular video button (and I almost dropped it on the floor). So the entire video plays back in fast forward and with no sound whatsoever. This time I have most of the sound and most of the motion too. That’s better.

The school always has wonderful concerts, but it was raining so it was all a little messy. I managed to buy the  CDs from both this winter concert and the fall concert. I keep forgetting to bring checks with me, but I had enough cash since I didn’t buy the Christmas tree on Sunday. Sometimes things work out that way.

Wednesday morning I was stressed I had so much to get done. Some of it done.

Wednesday evening my office had its annual Christmas party. It was very nice. We had a yummy buffet dinner with an assortment of proteins, salads, and pasta. Then, pumpkin cheesecake for dessert. We presented a plaque to the founder of the company who will be retiring from active consulting at the end of the month. He’s been doing this for 40 years! We finished up with a White Elephant gift exchange. I got a book called, “Infuse.” I’m going to have to try some of the suggestions. The most popular items exchanged were a bottle of Girlshine (like moonshine, but a kind of brandy) and a pair of messaging slippers that looked like giraffes. We had fun.

So by Thursday, I was still trying to get things done that I would rather have had done earlier. Plus my stomach was giving me trouble (maybe I’ve been drinking too much caffeine recently. I know I can’t do that).

By Thursday evening, I had playoffs in our pinball league. I only made it to D division this time, but I made the playoffs. So yay. And I came in second in the payoffs, so I got a nice prize pick. Double yay!

Friday was here before I knew it. Barnes & Noble bookstores were having a Harry Potter Holiday Ball from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Which I really wanted to go to, but apparently not badly enough to actually brave the cold and the traffic and parking at the mall this time of the year. Plus I was kind of tired.

We thought about getting a Christmas tree then too, but I still need to get the car ready (unless I want to tie the tree to the roof) and find a spot here at home. So the tree and Harry Potter Yule ball both got scrapped in favor of staying home and watching the movie, “Elf.” (I really know how to go wild.)

I carried a few more plants in off the balcony since the overnight temperatures were getting so low. Our balcony stays warmer than the average area temperatures, but once it gets into the 20s things start to freeze even there. I’m pretty sure most, if not all, of the tomato plants are toast at this point. Those are just too large to carry inside. Last year they lasted into early January. I picked some green tomatoes which may or may not ripen (or get fried or pickled).

Mostly frozen, tomato plant-cicles.
Rescued squash assortment plus green tomatoes and peppers.

 

Feeding the more adventurous of the area wildlife.

Mr. Squirrel has returned so many times that the pumpkin on the balcony looks like it exploded. I carried most of the other squash inside so they wouldn’t freeze.

There was a pigeon or dove on the balcony. He few away when I went outside. I think the bird was eating pumpkin seeds now that they’ve been released. I still think a squirrel has been our main nibbling culprit. He’s probably the American Ninja Warrior of squirrels and pumpkin is his reward for getting four floors up on a smooth-sided building.

Our balcony has become a popular feeding spot (I like it too). I should clean up the pumpkin. (And then hope the critters forget all about it in the Spring.)

Also on Friday, I started this blog post. But then I called it, “Oh Look, A Friday!”

I really miss blogging or writing every day that I don’t do any. I think I’m addicted. November was a better month in terms of actually getting writing done. I knew there would be times in December when it would be harder. This week was certainly one of them.

So here it is Saturday. Saturday! I don’t know how it got here already. It was just last weekend for cryin’ out loud!

Today, my daughter has a cyber security competition of some sort and will miss dance class. I’ll need to drive her one way or the other.

I really, really need to get my oil changed and my tired tires rotated.

Hopefully, I’ll get my blog post done for “Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony.” I’m working on the part covering herbs. But I’ve grown a lot of herbs, so the list is pretty long. It might be wise of me to make break that post into two parts.

Hopefully, we’ll get the Christmas tree today or tomorrow (whether I have a spot ready or not). And I got this blog post done, so that’s good! Yay! (Except when I went to save it, my WiFi went out so oops. Hopefully, I’ll actually get it posted. You’ll know one way or the other.)

I hope everybody had a good week, has a great Saturday and has a wonderful weekend overall.

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