It’s the End of the World As We Know It

In a few short hours my daughter will officially turn 16 years old. As I have felt with increasing intensity for the past 15.9 years — time goes by so quickly!

Perhaps as nod to the compressed time I’m feeling, my daughter decided to have a time-travel-themed birthday party. It includes dinosaurs, space travel, swords, 50s-style diner baskets, and medieval goblets. Things you might encounter if you trapesed across time and space collecting random bits.

She and a group of friends have been stuffing themselves full of gummy dinosaurs, Star-shaped fruit, aged cheese and a classic dinner of baked descendant of dinosaur (aka chicken) with assorted side dishes. There’s astronaut ice cream. And banana split birthday cake! They’ll enjoy games and time-travel-themed movies as they discuss the thrills of starting their junior year of high school. And I overheard mention of the wonders and problems of thawing permafrost. Ancient viruses have been released. 

School began about two weeks ago. Like a broken record, I wonder where the time went? 

The summer flew by! 

I feel like it just began. I would like more! 

I grew peppers, tomatoes, and lots of basil in a balcony garden. I may have been visited by a ghost … at least twice. And I did a few things I haven’t done in years. 

This summer my daughter relaxed or studied instead of being carted to or from camps. We hung out, watched a few movies, played fun games including a great assortment of video games and pinball at ReplayFx in Pittsburgh. Talk about a blast from the past.

ReplayFx is a classic video game and pinball festival held at the David L. Lawrence convention center in the heart of Pittsburgh. I got to play hours and days of some of my favorite games, a few of which I haven’t played in forever (or in many cases since the last ReplyFx). And my daughter got to enjoy pinball and games like Centipede, Rampart, and Time Crisis that I played when I was her age or a little older. We even played a new board game. 

I stayed up late. Got up early. And basically ran myself ragged in the most enjoyable way possible. 

We ate Thai, assorted meatballs, fresh seafood, and some of the best tacos ever. We saw friends, family, and parts of Pittsburgh that were new to us like The Strip and Carnegie Mellon University. We stayed at a hotel that was once a federal reserve where we were offered complementary breakfast as well as evening drinks and dinner. There was a pool, a hot tub, and a rooftop terrace with a fantastic view of the sunset behind the city. Can I just stay there? Forever? Okay, no. 

Closer to home, we spent a weekend at the beach where we got to play in the sun, sand, and ocean. Zillions of baby jellyfish swam past us as we marveled at their clear bodies. Too young to sting, we caught a few of the strange critters in our hands and examined them close up. 

We spent time with friends and stuffed ourselves full of yummy food. I was especially happy to visit one of my favorite restaurants, the Hobbit, where we had delicious dip, exquisite entrees, and a dessert called Merry’s Delight. Next we scarfed down crispy Thrashers fries with vinegar — so yummy. Once again, can I just stay there? I would like to.

For all these reasons and more, there are most definitely days I would like a time machine. I could visit my favorite times and spots again and again. But now summer is winding down. High School is spinning up. And my little girl will be sweet 16. Happy birthday! 

We will have all-new good times ahead. 

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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.

Northern Girl in Nashville

Earlier this month I drove to Tennessee for a high school reunion. It was one of those x0th reunions. I won’t say which number. It was great to see friends, take in a few sights, and enjoy some southern cooking. I was nostalgic even before I hit the road.

Being born in Chicago, Illinois and living there until the age of 12 meant my tastebuds experienced childhood and early puberty in the up-north-and-Midwest then took an abrupt dive south as teen angst and adulthood hit me in the heart of Tennessee (and later the Carolinas and Virginia). 

Part Chicagoan and part Nashvillian, I am now 100% mishmash of north and south.

The flavors of the south sunk their roots deep in my soul and regularly give a little wiggle to make sure I’m paying attention. So when I crave comfort food, it is usually southern or country dishes. (Though, I will gladly accept pizza or sushi or tacos too.)

I love fried catfish and okra. Corn bread. And more recently pimento cheese spread (but it better be the good stuff). Tree-ripened peaches and homegrown strawberries…

While in the Nashville area (Lafayette, Mount Juliet, and Cookeville), I ate delicious, genuine southern biscuits and garden-grown corn-on-the-cob picked a few steps from the door and grown surrounded by a century farm (one in operation for over 100 years). I got to enjoy good food with dear friends. 

I drove a long way in a short amount of time (1300 miles crammed in to three days). But driving had its advantages.

Along the way there, I went through Sevierville, Tennessee. Sevier County is the original home of Dolly Parton. It has some beautiful land and views and is now filled with tourist attractions and outlet stores too. The one that caught my eye and pulled me off the interstate was the factory outlet store for Lodge Cast Iron.

I have long loved a good, well-seasoned cast iron skillet, and a cast iron Dutch Oven has been on my wish list for some time. The factory outlet store was filled with all these and more. I felt like a kid in a candy store with really heavy candy. I got a lid for my skillet at home and a very small Dutch oven. Just think of all the yummy food these heavy treasures can cook! 

I have a specific fondness for southern beverages too.

Iced tea is one of those. If you’re from the south you know that I mean sweet tea. Because in the south, if it isn’t sweet then it’s just a hot beverage gone cold.

So I’ve been on a mission this summer to make perfect ice tea and peach tea. Be in the lookout for a new Tea for Tuesday! 

My dialect is perhaps a bit more north than south, but it can jump almost all over the place. A little twang will pop out when I’m not expecting it (especially if I’ve talked to any southern friends recently).

It’s not just the drawl. In the south, for example, grown women can call each other “girl.” 

“Hey, girl!” “How y’all been, girl?” All sprinkled with a dash of twang that makes it seem perfectly okay to call somebody “honey” or “sweetheart” even if you just met and don’t even know their name.

Y’all are probably familiar with the term, “y’all.” In Chicago we said, “you guys.” It was unisex and if you had a strong Chicago accent it was pronounced, “youse guys.” Singular is “you” or “youse.”

I can say, “you,” or, “you guys,” just fine. And I occasionally say or write, “y’all,” too. (Maybe more times than I care to admit.)

But I have a hard time calling any grown woman, “girl.” Picture Arnold Schwarzenegger (as the terminator) saying, “hey, girl,” with a little southern twang. (Look at me! I’m trying to do slang!) Yep, that’s how I feel, and I’m pretty sure that’s how I sound too. It’s best if I just step away from the expression. 

But food is free game! My game. My tastebuds speak many languages.

My gracious hosts sent me on my way with an ample supply of yellow squash, tomatoes, pears, cucumbers, and corn too. 

Recipes ensued and there was much yummyness. 

There were happy memories too. I might have to go back again soon. (Or at the very least visit a Cracker Barrel.)


Cucumber and Tomato Salad (a mix of genuine southern-grown cucumbers and tomatoes with northern-Virginia, balcony-grown tomatoes, red peppers, and fresh herbs) – totally refreshing yummyness on a hot day.

Happy 4th of July!

It’s full of stars … Somewhere. Near us it was fairly full of raindrops and unusually cool. The temperature was actually really pleasant. Could have used a little less rain, but the plants are happy! We celebrated with hot dogs, corn on the cob, yummy pimento cheese spread, and lots & lots of flags as the neighborhood was dotted with them. We heard a bit about Juno and Jupiter and generally relaxed. Have a happy 5th of July, folks!
(Breaking the adverb rule with gusto! And added pimento cheese! That makes everything better I think.)

Happy Labor Day! 

This fine Labor Day we’re traveling back from South Carolina where we were visiting my dad. Visits like these invariably involve lots of yummy food, fun, and a good bit of driving. 

We bowled, saw a movie, relaxed with my dad and ate a lot of yummy food.

Southern food like real barbecue, chicken, and cornbread is a guilty pleasure I’ve learned to relish on trips like these. My years of living near Nashville primed my taste buds. Why oh why does grease, sugar, and salt taste so good?. 

My dad manages a stellar pulled pork, some of which we have frozen in a cooler in the back if the car. We’ll enjoy that at home. Yesterday we ate rotissery chicken that he cooked on the grill. Tender, juicy, and that awesome  browned crispy skin. I love the brown crispy skin!

Now I’m munching on fried catfish at the Cracker Barrel. I love those crispy edges! Second verse same as the first. Cracker Barrel actually manages an excellent fried catfish. My daughter had fried chicken salad which is like a hybrid of southern and contemporary eats.

We finished with pumpkin custard n’ ginger snaps. Also yummy and kind of an excellent way to welcome in the fall days ahead.



Summer’s Tail – Kicking and Screaming

It’s still hot like summer, but in many places kids have already gone back to school. Some as early as August 1. Summer is over for them. It’s the tail end for us, and I want to grab on to these last few weeks kicking and screaming as I lick the last bit of salt off my fingers before summer goes away again. My daughter can’t wait for school to start back up. She’s excited to experience her new classes and see more of her friends. I still have unfinished plans and goals and more tomatoes to grow!

We did some fun things this summer. We took a trip to Pittsburgh where I participated in Pinburgh, a pinball tournament. Pinburgh has been around a few years, but this year it was held at a huge new classic video game festival called Replay FX. I brought my daughter because, hello, video games and pinball! And they had other kids’ activities like a velcro wall, giant inflatable obstacle course, and slides. For a video game festival my daughter actually got a lot of exercise!

While Pittsburgh may not bring to mind the typical image of summer vacation paradise, there was much fun and our hotel room had extra niceties that kept us saying, “wow, cool!” This made for a fairly complete vacationy experience.

Our room had a motion sensor foot light (like a night light at the floor that turned on when we stepped out of bed), pull-down individual book lights on each headboard, and in the evening, when we returned exhausted from a full day of game play and activities, the hotel supplied milk and cookies (free of charge for kids 12 and under). It was great!

We had another very mini vacation this past Friday night when we slept over at the National Museum of American History as a Smithsonian Sleepover. Last summer we did this at the Natural History Museum and loved it. There are scads of activities and crafts centered around various exhibitions in the museum. Then folks get to roll out their sleeping bags and camp out under a whale or antique machinery as museum lights are dimmed. Continental breakfast is served in the morning. And it is all so way cool!

Next year my daughter will be too old to do either of these sleepovers (there’s an age limit), and we’re super glad to have done them. I’ve always loved the Natural History Museum with animals and minerals, but I forgot how much fun the American History Museum can be. I feel like we made the kind of memories that can last a lifetime, and I think (I hope) my daughter feels that way too.

Earlier this summer my daughter had camp, so most weeks I had to drop her off in the morning and then run out on my lunch hour to pick her up and drop her off either at home or somewhere else like another camp (from which I’d have to pick her up again later). Most of the camps have been wonderful! She’s learned more music and dance and even cooking.

For me, one or two days of driving at lunchtime isn’t a problem, but week after week gets tiring. Exhausting even. I need some down time, or I start to shut down. On top of it, I fell and injured my knee last March (for crying out loud) and it has been slowly healing. At the beginning of summer it was much better but still painful on a regular basis. Pain is exhausting. (I have much more empathy for folks who live with chronic pain.) I’ve been trying to fit physical therapy exercises into my daily schedule to help my knee heal. Here at the end of summer I finally feel like I can squat to take care of our balcony plants without groaning in pain at the same time.  Long and short of it, instead of writing and blogging more this summer I remained rather unproductive.

These last few morsels of summer I have no plans of driving anywhere at lunchtime — at least nothing major. I may still run occasional shopping errands or drop my daughter off at a friends house and such. But mainly I plan to eat lunch.  I plan to write.

I’ve set goals for myself.  I want more summer fun. Maybe a quick trip to the beach! Maybe tubing. Definitely more swimming. I want more tomatoes to grow! More peppers! I want to write regularly and am setting daily and weekly goals. Really, I want more summer!

Vacation, yummy stuff and Amtrak

On vacation and eating yummy food here in the Carolinas as is tradition here.

Took Amtrak ’cause sometimes I just don’t want to drive that far. Amtrak has wi-fi so we can play some games. We can stretch legs and snooze. Much better than the painful bottom and cramped legs I get from the long drive. We had a delay on our train ride in when our train hit a motorcycle as we neared the Durham Amtrak station. Supposedly the motorcycle exploded on impact and no body was injured. When I asked they said the guy let go/jumped off the bike before it collided with the train. Not much to see, hear or feel as far as we were concerned. The train is huge compared to a motorcycle. The only thing I noticed that was even remotely different was a slight strange smell like a little burning rubber mixed with gasoline fumes. We were delayed about 45 minutes as the police made a report and the conductors checked the train for damage. I’m not even sure who hit whom — did the train hit the motorcycle or did the motorcycle hit the train? Either way, it seems like it was one of those crossings that only have lights to indicate an oncoming train. Or something who knows. Just another weird thing while on Amtrak. Go figure.

Yesterday, we visited the Museum of York County which was pretty cool for a small Caroline museum. Maybe I’ll post some photos. There are lots of “stuffed” animals. Binks was worried about whether they were animals that were killed some other way or if they were killed and stuffed specifically for the museum. That would make her sad. Other fun exhibits there though and I think we’d definitely visit again.

Been eating yummy chicken, ribs and BBQ here which means I’m officially in a meat coma. Yum! But I don’t normally eat this much meat. Binks and I made yummy chocolate cake which we doctored a bit by adding an extra egg to the mix. We made homemade chocolate frosting (I’ll see if I can post that recipe). It was totally delish!

Lovely weather.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good day!

I seriously don’t know how the first 3/4 of December whizzed by so fast, but as it’s been increasing in speed each year, I shouldn’t be surprised.

I know. I know. It’s probably an age thing. When I was eight years old like my daughter is now, it took FOREVER for Christmas to arrive. Now I feel like I have about 30 seconds to get everything done between Thanksgiving and today. (Or for that matter two weeks between last Christmas and today.)

But. That said. Today was a rather nice Christmas morning. My little family is together. We got a cute picture with our favorite Santa. The tree is up. It looks lovely, and is in no danger of hitting anything too important if one of the cats should try to climb it again. My daughter loved all her gifts. Which makes me happy! I like one of her gifts, Club Penguin Air Hockey, more than I thought I would. I thought it was going to be another something that doesn’t work very well and takes up lots of space, but my daughter wanted it soooo much that Santa brought it. It’s actually somewhat functional and MUCH smaller than a standard-size air hockey table. So aside from bonking our knuckles into one another, we had a lot of fun! Adding to the plusses for today, I am surprised and thrilled with my goodies!

Now I just have to hope that the rest of the family likes their gifts and that our friends and family have a wonderful Christmas and happy 2011. That would be pretty much perfect. Happy Holidays!

Weekend Begins

Today is the first day of the long weekend before school starts for my daughter. It is also the weekend before her birthday, her birthday party and before her first Brownie meeting of the year. I’ll repeat the age-old parental lament of, “I don’t know where the time goes,” ’cause while part of me knows darn well where it goes, the rest of me is shaking my head in disbelief.

I’m also enjoying that bright happy feeling that is plentiful at the start of a long weekend, but my to-do list is filling quickly. I have high hopes of getting a lot done today, tomorrow and Monday. At the top of my list sits plans to get more organized at home. This is going to help with everything else that happens this week and possibly into the school year, so it’s a biggie. Also high on the list is having some fun. Because this is the last weekend for water parks and we so need another infusion of water park fun.

Soon it will be Tuesday, the weekend will be done and part of how I feel will be determined by those things I get done now… I will also be feeling overwhelmed at sending my daughter off to school because it won’t only be her first day of third grade, but will also be her first day at a new school and I have a zillion conflicting feelings about that. She will have more homework not just because it’s third grade, but also because the new school gives more homework. It should be more of a challenge for her, but I also don’t want it to be too much of a challenge. I want her to be a kid and have fun! I also have another strange feeling about the new school that I can’t put my finger on. I don’t know if I’m just getting old and less amicable to change or if there is something which genuinely bothers me about the new school. I guess I’ll find out.

Weekend begin! Time to get something done besides blog.

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