Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sarah's Creative Energy

My daughter, Sarah, has a lot of creative energy - sorta like her Mom, but I am so impressed with the little things she does.  For a couple of years now, she has been making these "Picture Poems" as I call them, in Picnik and I wanted to share them with all of you! 

















Stay Cool!



Monday, June 14, 2010

Reagan's First Words in Monotone


Reagan's talking now.  She does not yet say Mama or Dada, although she is trying, she can, however, say "I can't do that."  Yes, you heard me right.  You see, her mother, my daughter, Kimberly, was filming Reagan playing and asked her to do that "head" thing again and Reagan apparently didn't want to do it again, so she said "I can't do that ... and I woooooon ..t" at which time she rolled over.  Imagine Kim's amazement when she answered Reagan with "Yes you can" only to take a double-take and no doubt think "did I just answer my 9 month old daughter?"  "Did Reagan just tell me that she can't do that?"  Of course, Kim, Zak, and all of us went a little nuts because you see - Reagan is only 9 months old!   So, Kiddo, what's the deal with that anyway?  

Don't believe me?  Listen for yourself ...

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

She Has My Heart


I think my granddaughter, Reagan, may just be the cutest baby girl on the face of the earth.  But, of course, I'm partial.  Then again, maybe she is - at least through my eyes.  I mean, she has the biggest sky blue eyes on the planet, and this strawberry blonde hair to die for.  She smiles so big it melts your heart and everywhere she goes she gets a lot of attention due to the "cuteness" factor she has goin' on.



And of course, she is already reading.  She has a few of her favorite hardcover books that she reads on a daily basis - with the help of Elmo too.



And that perfect little button nose that is a little orange is proof positive that our little sweetie is eating her carrots.



Among other things.



She is easily entertained as you can see here (and check out those 2 perfect pearls that popped out of her bottom gums.



There is no description that could possibly accurately describe the love I feel for this child, and I have not yet met her.



But she has my heart all tied up in knots and filled with joy.  



That face.  That perfect face ...



And those priceless expressions ...



Are enough to make me want to drop everything and drive 12 hours to see her.  To hold her in my arms and kiss her cheeks and hug her till we both have trouble breathing.



And of course, there'd be plenty of hugs and misses, love and kisses to go around because you see, I have the most beautiful daughters, and this beautiful daughter, Kimberly, is now a mother, and I can't think of anything that looks more wonderful on her than motherhood.  

Love, Grandma Susan

Now sit back, turn on your speakers, and make a new friend ...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reagan's Applesauce Adventure


"I don't want to try applesauce!!!"


"Okay, well MAYBE I'll try it"


"What the heck did you just feed me?! UGH!"



"Okay, well maybe applesauce isn't that bad!"


"Applesauce and fingers that is"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Pioneer Woman Comes to Charlotte


I've been blogging for a little over 2 years now and few have inspired me like Ree Drummond.  I really like her. She is funny, smart, a talented cook, photographer, and writer.  She is a good mother, a loving wife, and a good friend to many who have had the pleasure to get to know her.  She has her act together and keeps her readers, her family, and her friends smilin' and laughin'.

I read a number of blogs, but my favorite is by far is Ree's "Pioneer Woman." I wrote to her several times that I hoped she would come to Charlotte. I don't know if my emails made the difference, but I was so happy she chose our Queen City to visit last week.


Ree and I became acquainted after her precious Border Collie, Nell, was lost. I was so taken by her expression of loss and all the stories that she had written about Nell, that I painted an oil of Nell and shipped it to her. She loved the painting and wrote a very nice story about it on her blog. That story caused chaos at Six Apart who host my blog via TypePad. In less than 10 minutes after the story posted, my blog crashed. Fortunately, the down time was short-lived as TypePad contacted me and let me know that they would have my blog back up as soon as possible. That "up" time came about 15 minutes later. I had thousands of hits that day in October, 2008 and many of the visitors from that day have returned and become regular readers of Raisin Toast and distant friends.


Ree is so nice. We've talked on the phone twice since that day and I feel a real connection with this pioneer woman. She is as real as her blog portrays her to be. It just goes to show you don't need to be vulgar or over-the-top to have a successful blog. You just need to be honest, funny, real, and a good writer. In her case, she is all of the above and more, and I am proud to call her a blogging friend.



Well, last Friday, Ree came to Charlotte - solo, and I know that was difficult for her to be away from her family. I was looking forward to finally meeting her; so, my daughter, Sarah, and my Big Bear (hubby, Bob), went to Joseph-Beth Booksellers to meet Ree.



We waited 4 hours, but it wasn't so bad.  Joseph-Beth was very organized and courteous about how to manage the mobs of people.



We met a number of other very nice Charlotteans, like Carla here, who just started her own blog, The Country Diary of a Southern Lady.  She came with her daughter and hubby to meet this Pioneer of a woman - Ree. 



The place was packed. At 6pm, Ree walked out onto the 2nd level balcony of Joseph-Beth and addressed the crowd.



There were hundreds of people there and I was in the middle of it all. Bob was sitting down somewhere and Sarah was around the corner from me looking at books.



Ree was telling jokes and laughing, telling everyone how happy she was to be in Charlotte, when she surprised me from the balcony and said "Oh Hi Susan!" I looked around thinking "There must be another Susan here" when I realized she was looking right at me. I responded "Oh Hi Ree!" and for a moment wanted to hide behind a shelf of books. All eyes were momentarily on me - including Ree's. Then the questions began - "Do you know Ree?" and "How do you know Ree?"



Sarah was standing across the room and I noticed her as she put her hands on her cheeks and said "That's my Mom!" Sarah showed up by my side shortly thereafter and gave me a hug. Ree, for that brief moment, made me and Sarah both feel special. I was surprised that she was able to pick me out from the crowd. Must have been my blinding gray hair.


Even though Ree and I have spoken twice on the phone and emailed a couple of times, I never thought that she ever visited my blog. She is so busy with her ranch life, homeschooling, cooking, and writing, that I can't imagine she has much time for anything else.



But, when we met Ree, she gave me and Sarah, both, a big hug and told me how happy she was to finally meet me. I was telling Big Bear "this picture better not be blurry!"



She looked at Bob, who was taking the blurry pictures, and said "And that's Big Bear, right?" I laughed and said "yes."



She then looked at Sarah and said "My goodness, you are so grown up! I can't believe how grown up you are from the pictures I have seen of you!" I said "Ree, I think it's the haircut" and Ree gave me and Sarah a big hug and dimpled smile.



Dimples. Ree is definitely working those dimples. Sarah said to Ree "Ree, you are so beautiful" and Ree laughed. As we were leaving, Ree said "It was nice to meet you too, Big Bear" and then we drove home.



When Sarah told Ree she was beautiful, she meant it on many different levels as she explained to me in the car going home. Sarah said "Mom, Ree is so beautiful - on the outside and the inside. She is so gracious and funny and real. I am so happy I came with you tonight. I will never forget this."



We are looking forward to Ree's new book - Black Heels to Tractor Wheels! She wrote the last 49 words of her book in Charlotte. I certainly hope we meet again some day, this was a lot of fun!



Monday, May 10, 2010

Little Girl No More


I look at my baby girl, Sarah, and wonder where all the years have gone.  She is so grown up.  Responsible.  Hard working.  Very funny with an addictive laugh.  Witty.  Smart.  Beautiful.  Compassionate.  A bit stubborn at times.  But overall, the best daughter a mother could ever hope to have.  



We don't pick our children, God does.  He gives us our children, places them in our care, and entrusts us to raise them well, and to love, respect, and honor Him.  Our children - there is no greater gift in this world. 



Little girls are different from little boys.  Having had 3 daughters and 1 son, I know just how different they can be, however, I am a bit apprehensive to assume I know anything about raising a teenage boy going through puberty.  My son, Matthew, is just entering this stage and I am feeling a bit out of my element at times.  But, with Sarah, I have a better idea what to expect, not only from her 2 older sisters having troubled their way through their teenage years, but also from my own personal experience of having been a difficult teenage girl.



Sarah is everything I wish I had been when I was her age, and more. I have had many heart-to-heart talks with her about my own mistakes and growing up, and surprisingly she listens and learns.  Yes, she is only 16 and there are still many tough years ahead of her, but overall, I trust that she has a handle on her life, her goals, and her emotions at this time.  She is grounded - believe it or not.



Can you tell how proud I am of Sarah?  She knows that her grades and everything she does is a reflection of her character and work ethic.  She knows that her high school career and grades will be the foundation for the rest of her academic life and career choice.  We've drilled this into her psych.



Together, Big Bear and I have told her that her high school education is her "job" and her grades are her "paycheck."  We've told her this:

Every "A" on your report card is worth $10,000 in the bank.

Every "B" on your report card is worth $5,000 in the bank.

Every "C" on your report card is worth nothing.

Every "D" on your report card and you have to give back $10,000.

Get an "F" and you start over and lose it all.



In other words, if she were to keep a checkbook register of every grading period report card, every year, and were to calculate each grade as a deposit or deduction, it would probably round out to be about how much she qualifies for in scholarship funds from a college or university.  So, if Sarah wants to go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Duke, or University of Maryland (which are on her radar at the moment), she needs to understand how much it costs annually to attend these universities and what they expect of her "now" in her high school years to put her on their radar for a potential scholarship.


Yes, I am proud of Sarah.  She has gone from homeschooling to high school seamlessly.  I can't believe she will be starting 11th grade in just a few months.  Where has the time gone?


Well, just last week, Sarah got her hair cut.  I know, so what, right?  Well, let me tell ya, I sat outside in the truck while she got her hair done because I knew she wanted it shorter and more stylish than the long main of hair she grew up with.  But, she wanted this done and I thought it would be easier for her to care for too.  Her dad was in the salon with her.  An hour later (Tom, our stylist, takes his time) Sarah walks out of the salon and I took a double-take.


I started to cry.  She walked in a little girl and walked out looking like a young woman.  My heart was in my hands.  She was smiling from ear-to-ear and looked so beautiful.  I couldn't take my eyes off of her.


Well, just this past Friday, Sarah and I went to Charlotte's Joseph-Beth Booksellers to see Ree Drummond (Story tomorrow) - you all know her - The Pioneer Woman.  When we finally had an opportunity to talk to her, she said to Sarah "My goodness, you are so grown up!  I can't believe how grown up you are from the pictures I have seen of you!"  I said "Ree, I think it's the haircut" and Ree looked at Sarah and gave her a big smile and a hug.  Sarah was so happy that she finally met Ree, and will never forget what Ree said to her.  It was a special time for mother and daughter that day.


Still, my little girl has really grown up this past year - don't you think?


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Seeing the Everyday


What would it take to inspire you to see the beauty and the glory in everyday things?  I want you to reflect on that question for a bit while I tell you about someone who thought the everyday was so spectacular, that they designed an entire magazine about just that - Seeing the Everyday.  No advertisements.  No fluff.  No great gadgets.  Just the everyday - with family, friends, and God's creation.  Pretty amazing don't you think?  I sure do.



When I discovered this magazine, I became a subscriber and I do not regret it for one second.  I have never looked forward to any magazine coming in my mail more than I do this one.  Suddenly I just want to sit in my favorite big comfy chair and focus on the Everyday - and feel inspired to be a better person, a better mother, a better friend, and better at Seeing the Everyday things that make life so amazing.



I feel inclined to write this post because if any magazine is deserving of Kudos, it is this one.  Again, I ask you, What would it take to inspire you to see the beauty and the glory in everyday things?



Well, how about some inspiration for one thing. You'll find it in this wonderful magazine.  In many ways, I don't like calling it a magazine.  I want to call it something else, but I haven't a clue what else to call it.  To call it a "magazine" conjures up images of advertisements and gadgets galore, recipes and stories sprinkled in for good measure.  This isn't a magazine.  It is something much more. 



Somewhere between a magazine and a great book lies this work of art.  There are times I will pick up the magazine and think "you know, if God were to have published a magazine, this is the one it would be. This is what He would want us to see.  This is what He would want to share with us."



One of my favorite stories from "Seeing the Everyday" is a story called A Key to the Piano, by Steven Jensen.  He tells the story of how, as a young boy growing up, how his mother encouraged him to practice the piano and how he appreciates all that she did to give him the loving encouragement he needed every time he practiced.  However, his father did not give him that encouragement, necessarily, but rather one day, he heard his father humming Tchaikovsky's Opening Theme from Piano Concerto No. 1 which was the piece that he had been practicing.  Hearing his father hum that tune was the validation he needed most as a boy and the one that most affected him.  It changed his life.  Now, every time he hears that song he thinks of his Dad.  


It is stories like this that fills the pages of this "magabook."  There.  I've figured out what to call this wonderful work of writing and photographic art - a "Magabook?" or maybe a "Bookazine?"  You will find yourself engrossed in story after story and page after page of inspiration and joy in life's littlest pleasures.  The things we most often take for granted.



No matter what you call it, you will be inspired, uplifted, and enchanted by the stories, the images, and the encouragement it will bring to your life in "Seeing the Everyday."



I encourage my readers to subscribe to this magazine.  You won't regret it.  It is better than any coffee table book I've ever read.

To Subscribe to Seeing the Everyday, click the magazine below:




Then, answer this question in the comments below: What would it take to inspire you to see the beauty and the glory in everyday things?


Thursday, April 08, 2010

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?


I had a meeting last week with a professional in marketing and advertising, Marcia Merrill of Red Rover Communications.  I have so many things on my plate that I suppose I need someone in the business to help me find focus.  I had communicated with her via email a number of times and as she said, "you have so many things going I can understand why it would be difficult for any of them to find traction"  I realized that I really did need to sit down and have a conversation with her.

Big Bear said he would drive.  We hop in the Suburban and we are on our way down the road when he decides to interrogate me before this meeting.  

BB: So, let's discuss the conversation with Marcia before we get there.  

Me: I just want quiet.  Let's not.

BB: You need to have a plan.  For instance, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Me:  You're kidding right?  Bob, I don't want to talk right now.  Let's just enjoy the ride over - quietly.  

BB: Fine.  ... and then he proceeded to turn on the radio.  Thank goodness.

We met up with Marcia at Dean & DeLuca in Charlotte.  She was great, we had a donut and coffee and a very nice conversation about my goals, aspirations, and focus.  "focus?"  What's that?  I needed a definition.  (Just kidding!!!)  

She asked me about my artwork, about Red Easel, about Raisin Toast, about my Red Easel Master's Palettes, about my sewing and quilting, about homeschooling the children, about why I don't drink, and why I don't color my hair.  Okay, well, maybe she didn't ask all of those things, but she was probably thinking them nonetheless.  Then she dropped a bomb on my head - "So, what do you want to be when you grow up?"  I froze.  I don't wanna grow up!  Who said anything about growing up?!  I like being scatterbrained!  I enjoy having multiple tasks on my plate!  I prefer random bursts of focus on different projects!  That's how my brain works - so get over it!  Not.

I couldn't help but wonder - did she and Big Bear have a secret conversation before this meeting?  Were they in cahoots?  Or was it just that my Big Bear knew the ins and outs of these conversations and was more prepared than I was?  I think it was the latter.  He knew what to expect.  I didn't.  There - I admitted it.  Are ya-all happy now? hee haw.  

We had a lot of laughs and a very good conversation.  I learned a lot from her in that short time we met, and towards the end of the meeting I asked her if she would be my Mommy.  Really.  I really did ask her that.  She laughed.  Well, heck, I thought it was funny.

So what did I learn from this conversation with Marcia?  Well, let's see - I need to decide what takes precedent for my business focus. In other words, I need to decide what I want to focus most on - my artwork, my sewing, my personal blog, my professional blog, my palette?  All of the above?  I have way too much creative energy.  She said I was my own little Martha Stewart empire but without the money and the employees to run with every idea that pops out of my head.  I am an "idea" person.  I've always got too many ideas and not enough time and energy to make them all possible.  Martha is fortunate.  She just has to have the idea and then she can hand it over to someone else to make it happen.  Or better yet, she probably has an entire slew of people who come up with great ideas in addition to her own.  

That's it.  I want to be Martha Stewart when I grow up.  Question answered.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mike & Marcy go to Vegas


My brother Mike and his beautiful wife, Marcy, went to Vegas recently and I wanted to share some of their pictures with you.  Mike - he's such a happy guy.  He is married to the most wonderful gal - Marcela.  They are so in love and have been together for about 6 or 7 years now.  It makes me happy to see my brother so happy and in love.  We should all be so blessed.



My brother is a funny guy too.  He sends me stuff like this on a regular basis:

A Jack Daniels Fishing Story: 
I went fishing this morning but after a short time I ran out of worms.
 Then I saw a cottonmouth with a frog in his mouth. Frogs are good bass bait.
Knowing the snake couldn't bite me with the frog in his mouth I grabbed him right behind the head, took the frog, and put it in my bait bucket.
Now the dilemma was how to release the snake without getting bit. So, I grabbed my bottle of Jack Daniels and poured a little whiskey in it's mouth. His eyes rolled back, he went limp. I released him into the lake without incident and carried on fishing using the frog.
A little later, I felt a nudge on my foot. There was that same snake
 with two frogs in his mouth.
Life is good in the South.



I don't mind.  Well, maybe sometimes I do.  He used to inundate my email box with all sorts of crap, but then decided to only send me funny stuff or risk my wrath.  



They had a fun time in Vegas.  He didn't bring me back a souvenir - daggonit.  I'm his baby sister, and I can act like a baby if I wanna.  Mike - next time you go somewhere, please bring me back a souvenir. Maybe a plastic cup from some restaurant or a t-shirt or something.  I'm your baby sister, I'm allowed to whine.  It's my job.



Wow.  I want to go there too!!!  See this beautiful garden of flowers?  They're all fake.  



I gotta tell ya - this is too funny.  Imagine seeing Elvis!!  He's fake too.



For this picture I left Mike a comment on his Facebook photo: 

"I wish this was in focus. Mike - you really have got to learn to adjust the settings (ISO and WB) on your camera so that you get clear pictures at different times of the day and in different light situations. Still - as for this picture, the sky is so unbelievably gorgeous it almost doesn't look real. Now - learn to use your camera!"

Then Mike called me on the phone laughing his butt off.  "Susan - it's all fake.  That sky is painted on the ceiling.  You mean you didn't see the beams holding up the ceiling?"

Uh .... Nope, didn't see that, Mike. That's wild though, don't you think?  It looks so real!!

Can you tell I've never been to Vegas?

Now - Another funny email from my brother:

A couple was invited to a swanky costume party.  The Mrs. got a terrible headache and told her husband to go to the party alone. He, being a devoted husband, protested but she argued and said she was going to take some aspirin and go to bed and there was no need for his good time being spoiled by not going. 

So he took his costume and away he went. The wife, after sleeping soundly for about an hour, awakened without pain and, as it was still early, decided to go the party. 

Since her husband did not know what her costume was, she thought she would have some fun by watching her husband to see how he acted when she was not with him.

She joined the party and soon spotted her husband cavorting around on the dance floor, dancing with every nice woman he could, and copping a little feel here and a little kiss there.  His wife sidled up to him and being a rather seductive babe herself, he left his current partner high and dry and devoted his time to the new babe that had just arrived. She let him go as far as he wished naturally, since he was her husband.

Finally, he whispered a little proposition in her ear and she agreed. 

So off they went to one of the cars and had a quickie. Just before unmasking at midnight, she slipped away, went home, put the costume away and got into bed, wondering what kind of explanation he would make for his behavior.

She was sitting up reading when he came in, and she asked what kind of a time he had.  He said: "Oh, the same old thing. You know I never have a good time when you're not there."

"Did you dance much ?" I'll tell you, I didn't dance even one dance. When I got there, I met Pete, Bill Brown and some other guys, so we went into the den and played poker all evening. But you're not going to believe what happened to the guy I loaned my costume to......



Thursday, March 11, 2010

Friends, Freedom, and Fallen Heroes


I cannot even begin to know the pain that each mother, each wife, and each child experiences when a son, a husband, a father is lost in this war.  How do you react when a car pulls up in your driveway and you receive notification that a loved one will not be coming home?  It gives me great pain and I tear up trying to wrap my brain around it, but I've been fortunate not to have faced this loss due to war.  My friends have not been so fortunate.

I have a number of friends who have children fighting in this war and their worry is great and their prayers are powerful.  I have a high school friend, Helene Hatzes Paci, whose son, Tony, has been fighting the war in Afghanistan. He lost his life on March 4th in Afghanistan.  I believe that Tony knew the risks when he decided to fight for our country, our freedoms, and the freedoms of all nations.  He made the greatest sacrifice so that others, all of us, complete strangers, and his children and family, could continue to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear.


When I look at this picture of Tony, I see Helene.  I see her smile and her eyes.  I have not seen Helene since high school - and that was 32 years ago, yet if you were to see her high school picture, you would see Tony.  We had a number of classes together and the one thing I remember most about Helene was her sense of humor. I'll bet Tony had that same sense of humor.

Life really is amazing when you think about it.  When you're in high school, you don't glance over to your classmates or your friends and think "I wonder what life holds in store for them?"  We all eventually have our crosses to bear.  But this is the ultimate loss - I believe - the loss of a child, for any reason.  Still, Tony had a dangerous mission and he did his job with courage.  He will not be forgotten.  He is a hero.

When I look back on the last 32 years of my life since I graduated from high school, I could never have believed the adventure that laid before me.  It has been a roller coaster, this life, and yet, while I dig my nails into the seat restraint, I pray that none of my children fall out.  I pray they hold on and take this ride with me up every mountain, down every river, and over every cliff.  So how do you continue the roller coaster ride when someone so close to your heart exits or falls off the ride we call life? With great inner turmoil and pain and grief beyond measure.  My heart breaks for Helene, Erica, Tony's & Erica's babies, and the extended family and friends.

Helene recently wrote on her Facebook page:


This past Saturday, Helene wrote:

I can't even begin to to understand the universe right now, but what I do know is that I am blessed to be surrounded by God"s love through every single family member and friend that has expressed their sorrow for me and my family. I love you all sooooo much

* * * * *


We love you too, Helene.  We love Tony, Erica, and all those beautiful grandbabies too.  You are in our prayers and our deepest thoughts.


Tony had an interesting story of love, and his story was shared in the Washington Post:

Family mourns Bethesda native killed in Afghanistan

By Donna St. George

Washington Post Staff Writer 
Monday, March 8, 2010

Anthony Paci met his wife in cyberspace while he was on duty in Iraq, and during six months of e-mails, phone conversations and Skype calls, they fell in love. When Mother's Day rolled around, his gift was a spa day that would bring together, for the first time, his sweetheart, her mother and his mother. "He knew then that this was it, and that was how he arranged for us to meet," his mother, Helene, recalled.

Soon there was an engagement across the miles, then a wedding two days after Paci, an Army specialist who grew up in Bethesda, returned from the war zone and embraced Erica O'Beirne. It was all part of what his mother recalls as "a fairy-tale relationship" between two people who "just totally got each other."


On Sunday, Paci's mother and other relatives gathered around his wife near Tacoma, Wash., to mourn the loss of the dedicated soldier and family man, who was killed Thursday in Afghanistan at the age of 30. He was a father of three: Judah, 2 1/2 , Tallulah, 1 1/2 , and Mila, 3 months.

Paci was killed on his mother's 51st birthday in what military officials described as a vehicle rollover. Family members said they were told the crash happened after Paci, who was in the top position on a fast-moving Stryker in Gereshk, Afghanistan, yelled for his driver to swerve to avoid hitting an oncoming car filled with a family of Afghan civilians.


Helene Paci said that an Army general told the family that her son had done everything by the book in the crash that took his life. "He told us our son was a hero," she said.

On Sunday, Helene Paci looked back on her son's life, which recently revolved around his assignment to the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. "He loved his job," she said. "He hated to leave his wife and kids, but he loved his job."

Paci grew up playing combat video games that might have foreshadowed his career, but he arrived in the Army much later, at age 24, inspired partly by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and by the Marines who frequented the District restaurant where he was working as a waiter.

Helene Paci said that her son admired the camaraderie and trust among the Marines he got to know. "It sparked this desire to want to be in the military," she said.

Paci was born the day his great-grandfather died. "He left for boot camp on our wedding anniversary," Helene Paci recalls, a glint of humor penetrating the heartbreak. "He had a knack for doing things so we remembered them."

The son of a businessman and a longtime cashier and office assistant at Giant, Paci had attended Walt Whitman High School but left a month before graduation in 1997 and later earned a GED.

In the Army, he was a mortarman by training and served in Iraq for a year, from late 2005 to late 2006, marrying his wife upon his return to Fort Hood and taking joy in his children. "He was superdad," his mother said. "He loved his babies."

The youngest of his brood was born Nov. 29, and Paci came back for a two-week visit in December. He arrived in New Jersey, where his wife was staying with her mother temporarily. And when the December snows in Washington kept some people from traveling, Paci and his wife climbed in their car and drove to his childhood home in the Glen Echo Heights section of Bethesda.

"He said, 'Mom, I don't care how many inches of snow are on the ground,' " she recalled.

As she talked by phone, surrounded by her son's children, Helene Paci noted that they will still hear the sound of their father's voice in the "daddy dolls" they took to bed while he was in Afghanistan. The cloth dolls were made using Paci's photograph and when squeezed include his recorded voice. His eldest daughter's says: "I love you, and I miss you very much, and I can't wait to come home and see you and give you hugs and kisses."

* * * * *

I would just like to say to all of those mothers and wives and children out there who have a loved one in Iraq and Afghanistan  - you have our prayers and our deepest gratitude and I pray they all come home safely, alive, and in one piece.  

To Helene - there are no words. But I do have a song: (Just click on the image)


 Song "What Else Can I Do" written and performed by dear friend and artist, Karla Anderson.



Friday, February 26, 2010

This is Why We Have Children

My girl, Kathleen, has been living with a girlfriend in LakeWorth and working too.  She seems to be doing better and prefers being back in Florida.  My feet are cold, so I can't say that I blame her.  Anyway, this week I have been really bummed out for various reasons and so she sent me this:


Then she wrote: "A funny picture of Sarah, Matthew and Glen I think will cheer you up!"  

Of course it did.  Don't you just want to eat them up?


Then, Kathleen had all her twitter friends gang up on me and send me happy tweets.  

Alright guys!  I'm better now!  But hey, I sure appreciated the love.  I hate days that go by when I'm in this funk and can't seem to pull my brain out of it.  

But you know what pulls my head out of the dumps faster than a speeding bullet?  Super kids.  And I know of at least 4 out of the 5 in my life that can make me smile in 2 seconds flat.  They can also tick me off in about 10 seconds, but naaah - they can turn it all around in 2 seconds flat.  Now if that 5th child (#2) would just get her head out of the Sand ... she could turn this around in 2 seconds flat.

Grudges.  They're terrible.  And you know who it eats at - the person holding the grudge.  That grudge will hurt her heart faster than communication ever could. It's ridiculous if you ask me.  Anyway, while she hides and tries to pretend I don't exist, I think I'll just keep on praying for her and loving her and wishing good things for her, because that is what a mother does for her children.  She loves them no matter what. Sometimes they stray.  Sometimes they come back.  But no matter where they go in life, a mother's love is constant.

And I don't care who you are - every family has their problems.  Every family has their one difficult child. Every child fights with their parents at one point or another.  We all do it.  But the one thing that I hold dear is the unconditional love.  Family.  They will always be "blood."  They will always be "family."  No other woman will be able to take my place without a fight.  No other woman ever will - period.  Not as long as I am walking this earth.  Maternal love is deeper than any love imaginable.  It can make a mother feel so deep that she wants to move mountains.  I've tried more than a few times in my life too.  Exhaustively and unsuccessfully at times, but I never walked away without a helluva fight.

In the meantime - you know who I'm talking about - Kimberly: I love you baby doll.  I'm proud of you.  I know this was a tough mountain for you to climb to become a mother while struggling with a heart condition, but you did it.  You're strong.  You don't have to choose.  I will always be your mother. I will always love you - even when you are - difficult.  Learn to move on.  Tomorrow is a new day with new hopes and new dreams.  Your grudge will eat at your health.  Communicate.  It is the healthiest thing you can do next to forgiveness.  We're all human.  More importantly, we are all family.  The adults in this family are the ones who need to grow up - and now that also includes you.  The women just gotta stop being so dang emotional.  Maybe that's not possible - but at least we can write, and talk, and email and get past our disagreements.  We can agree to disagree and leave it at that.

I love you.  

And Kathleen - you picked me up out of my funk this week and had me laughing out loud.  Then I got a group hug from 2 teenagers and a pre-teen.  It was - uh - squishy. Love you sweetie.

And that is why we have children - the L O V E.  Isn't it wonderful?


And then you take them when they are babies to have their picture taken and you end up with this.  I think Kathleen was saying "Oh Lord, what have I done to deserve this?!!!"

- Mom



Sunday, February 21, 2010

Welcome to the World Baby Reagan McKenzie

KimZakReagan I have a grand-daughter.  Her name is Reagan McKenzie, born September 5, 2009.  She was a wee little one, only 4lbs 9.5oz, but she was born at 36 weeks gestation due to some complications in my daughter's pregnancy.  I don't speak much about Kimberly here because I respect her privacy, but I am bursting inside as a mother and a grandmother and I wanted to share.


I am proud of my daughter, Kimberly.  She has come a long way in her young life and has faced many struggles along the way.  Life is never easy, but hers was complicated from the start.  Kimberly was born with Ventricular Septal Defect - a hole in her heart, and it nearly cost her her life.  I was 21 and the mother of 2 daughters.  I was terrified.  I was naive.  I was emotional.  I'm still emotional.  Kimberly was the sweetest little baby.  I was so afraid of losing her, but I always thought it would be because of her heart condition - not her "heart" condition.  I suppose only Kimberly and I will truly understand that statement.



Still, she has had a hard road, and as a babe, I didn't make it easy for her to grow up.  I was not happy in my marriage to her father, Doug, and I was not happy with myself.  I felt as though I had thrown my youth away by having a family too young.  I was overwhelmed and over-emotional.  I really was a lost soul during those early years of my adult life.  I made mistakes.  Lots of mistakes.  But I loved my girls.  I never walked out on them.  I took care of them.  I read to them and tucked them in at night.  I also fought in front of them and I know that changed them and hurt them.  I know that frightened them too.  I guess that makes me a horrible mother.  I was not ready for marriage or children, and so my desire to make a life for myself and go to college was in constant conflict with being an Army wife living in roach-infested military quarters and crummy apartments.  I still had my oats to sow and I was one very selfish girl back then.  Don't get me wrong, Doug was not the perfect husband by any stretch, but he was young too and we both had a lot to learn about giving and raising a family.  Unfortunately, our children paid the biggest price for those lessons.



Have you ever felt like you were running a marathon in your life and afraid that the end of the road would take you over the edge of a cliff?  Well, that pretty much explains how I felt back then.  I was afraid of everything.  I still struggle with fears but not nearly as many as in my youth.  I think that is what drives my over-emotional self sometimes.  Fear.  It can be a debilitating emotion.  Fear of dying.  Fear of losing a child.  Fear of being hurt.  Fear of losing your husband.  Fear of losing a parent.  Fear of failing.



My father passed away when I was 5 months pregnant with Kimberly.  He was 55 years old and died suddenly.  I was very close to my father and his loss crushed me.  I didn't know if I could go on with my pregnancy.  I screamed and cried 24 hours a day for the next 4 months.  I didn't think I could go on living, and then my grandfather died.  I dropped the phone and felt this incredible pain.  The next day Kimberly was born and rushed to intensive care.  She almost didn't make it.  My temperature spiked in the recovery room and they swept my baby girl out of my arms and into an incubator.  She spent much of the next 3 months at Walter Reed Hospital as did I by her side breast feeding her and pumping every hour or so. The hospital became my home.



When Kimberly was at home, she would sleep in a bassinet next to my side of the bed and scratch so fiercely in her sleep that her skin would be raw and bloody.  I was exhausted.  I changed her sheets and put cream on her body every few hours or so.  I was scared she would die, so I would go to sleep with my hand on her back to feel her breathing.  As I said before, it was all a bit overwhelming.  



During that time, I hate to admit it, but Kathleen, then 2 years old, didn't get all that much attention from me.  Oh, I took care of her, but mostly said things like "don't touch Kim" or "don't get near your sister, she might get sick."  Looking back, I regret the effect this had on Kathleen.  She just wanted to play and be a toddler.  She grew up resenting her sister and they ultimately grew apart.

I still miss my Dad.  He would have adored my children.  I think my life would have been different had he lived.  Less troublesome.  I can't change any of that.  It is what it is.  Still, I lost myself when I became a mother.  That is difficult to admit but it is true.  I was still trying to figure out who I was when I, through my own actions, dove into a whirlwind of responsibility and maternal emotion.  My life was a roller-coaster of dirty diapers, trips to the hospital, pennies for milk and orange juice, sleepless nights, and constant crying.



Kimberly, in the first 15 years of her life, had 4 open-heart surgeries and multiple catheterizations.  She is almost 29 now, beautiful, and happily married, and she met the challenge of motherhood head-on despite her physical limitations and troubles.  



Now, she holds in her loving arms a beautiful baby girl looking up at her with the same adoring eyes that I looked at 29 years ago.  The only difference is that Kimberly is ready to be a mother.  She is settled.  She has made the right decisions and didn't dive into the deep end of the swimming pool of life with the blind gusto that I did more than once nearly 3 decades ago.  I envy people who go through life and make all the right decisions.  I'm just one of those gals, I suppose, who takes the bull by the horns, throws myself on the back of the bull, and then grabs them by the tail before they buck me face first into the dirt.  I went for the horns a few too many times in my life. My head still hurts.



What makes a good mother?  I've often pondered this question.  As a mother of 4, and now a grandmother of 2, I have often wondered what truly makes a good mother.  My own mother has made mistakes, or at the very least I think they were mistakes.  For instance, she rarely ever hugged me growing up.  If I hugged her, she would hug me back, but she has never thrown her arms around me with any degree of emotion if you know what I mean.  I craved that maternal closeness growing up and never got it from her.  In some ways I think that may have contributed to my being a mother at such a young age.  I wanted to be a mother.  A good mother. I had lots of love to give, but boy was I ever in for the ride of my life.

My mother has lived with me and my family for 12 years now and I can count only 3 times that I remember her hugging me without being hugged first.  Maybe I am still looking for that maternal validation.  My mother is who she is and I love her.  I know she loves me with all her heart.  Learning to accept her for who she is, her mistakes and all, has been the most validating and forgiving experience in my life.



She has never - and I mean "never," talked to me girl-to-girl talk, or shared with me much of her life as a young girl growing up.  I don't know why, she just was never much for talking I suppose.  Me? - I'm always talking to my children and sharing and laughing and carrying-on.  In many ways I think I am trying to over-compensate for something I feel I missed out on - including all the hugs.  I'm a big hugger.  I am always hugging and telling my kids I love them. That must also be why I married Big Bear 17 years ago.  For the bear hugs.

As I grew older, though, instead of being angry with my mother, which I was for most of my life, I began to reflect on what may have contributed to her distance and inability to make emotional attachments.  Then it hit me - the loss of her own mother when she was 11 years old.  My grandmother Margaret passed away from gall-bladder disease when my mother was a young girl and I cannot even imagine how devastating that was for her or how that changed her.  She had no one to turn to during her teen years and as she grew up and ultimately became a woman and married.  She had no one to share her own motherhood with.  She once told me that she was afraid of getting close to others, even her own children, because she was afraid she would lose them.  That was a profound moment in my life when I first understood my own mother.  

Mothers are a special breed of female.  They carry with them a deep attachment to their children, no matter how distant.  Not all mothers are good mothers.  Not all mothers are bad mothers.  I think most of us fall somewhere between good mothers and bad mothers.  None of us are perfect.  I'll bet "Mary," the mother of Jesus, as perfect as she was may have changed a few things along the way of her maternal experience.  She was the perfect virgin Mary, but was she a perfect mother?  Maybe so.  Jesus was the only perfect human being that ever walked the earth.  He wasn't a mother.  He was however, a father.  I believe I'm forgiven.

We should all forgive our mothers.  They are human.  They make mistakes.  They are entitled.  We should all forgive our children.  They are human too.  They make mistakes.  They are entitled.  First, though, we should forgive ourselves and ask the Lord to forgive us for our sins.  I've done this and it is healing.  It is extremely difficult, I will admit, to forgive myself for the errors of my youth.  If only my daughters could find it within their hearts to do the same.  Maybe someday they, too, will recognize that I was only human and very afraid and much too young and irresponsible to be a mother.  Maybe then they will forgive me.

I believe that through the error of my ways, that Kimberly may just have learned to be a terrific mother.  I am certain of it.  She knows, that no matter where she goes in this world, I love and adore her.  I care about her deeply.  I worry about her health and her heart.  She will always have my heart.  We may bicker and we may disagree, but I will always love my baby girl, and I think that is what a mother does best - love.


The truest blessing one can find within the mistakes of their life is the blessings that follow.  Many blessings have followed the bad experiences of my youth.  I am a much better mother.  It is unfortunate that it took 2 daughters very early on for me to learn many of the lessons that I pose here.  I have never given up on my children.  I am even raising my grandson.  I often wish I had been as settled, as strong, as informed, and as good a mother back then as I am now.  But, if I had been all of those things, or even some of those things, then I would not have the beautiful family I have now.  I would not have Sarah and Matthew and maybe not even Glen in my life.  And very possibly, Kim would not have found Zak.  You see, I was mad as hell that some loser dumped Kimberly on New Year's 2006 and stood her up and lied to her.  I stayed up and talked to her on the phone, through her tears, for hours.  I only wish she lived closer so that I could have hugged her and comforted her.



Kimberly said something to me that I completely understood, she said, "Mom, I don't want to be alone.  I don't want to spend my whole life alone.  Who is going to want me?"  I knew those feelings all too well - fear again played a role.  No matter what I said or how much I tried to encourage and comfort her, it didn't seem to make a difference.  The pain of the situation was too great.  Then I had an epiphany, what would change the situation was a fresh start, a new love, and I had an idea (Think the movie "Because I Said So" and think of me).  So, I stayed up the rest of the night and enrolled Kimberly on eHarmony and began to weave the love story for my daughter.  I filled out her profile and that alone took me 5 hours.  Let me tell ya, they don't mess around on eHarmony. 

KiminprettyoutfitThe next morning I called Kim and told her what I did, giving her the information to log on. She was like - "huh? You're kidding, right?"  It's the bull-by-the-horns mentality in me.  I play for keeps, and don't put up with any crap, especially where my children are involved.  After the shock wore off, she finally warmed up to the idea and started looking at her matches and we shared them together.  The first one was Zak.  I said "Now he looks like a winner." Kimberly agreed, and so began their communication and courtship for almost 2 years before they married in May, 2007.

None of us truly understand the course our life will take, and each of us will experience a different journey and unique lessons along the way.  Usually, and stubbornly, taking the wrong, frickin' road.  Some, like me for instance, had a great childhood (for the most part) and a difficult early adulthood.  Others, like Kimberly, have had a difficult childhood and a great adulthood.  I don't think anyone on earth slides through life without obstacles and challenges at some point - mother's included. It's taking those lessons with us in our heart and living out our best possible life going forward with forgiveness, compassion, and understanding that matters most.  

I think we all should reflect on our own mothers for a moment ...

What is it about her that makes her the woman she is today? 

What mistakes has she made in her life that has made her stronger? 

What good things has she done? 

How has she expressed to you "her love" in "your life?" 

I'd like for you to share your mother story.

In the meantime, I think I will just enjoy this beautiful picture of my daughter Kimberly, with her beautiful daughter - Reagan McKenzie.

Isn't she a sweetheart?  Congratulations Kimberly and Zak.  I am so happy for you I could burst - and I think I just did.



Friday, February 19, 2010

An Entrepreneurial Spirit for Dummies


About 3 years ago, I had a 3am moment.  The name "Red Easel" popped into my head and I wanted to do something with it.  And so began my blogging career.  My first experience with the internet on a personal level was selling on eBay.  I had become a PowerSeller at one point.  I had been selling a bunch of unnecessary "stuff" that Big Bear's parents had accumulated over 50+ years of marriage and was, at the time, stored in the basement of our home, making it impossible to move through the basement without scooting sideways.



Bob's parents had lived with us for almost 5 years and we also, during those years, completely remodeled and cleaned up their home in Olney of 34 years so that we could sell it for them.  You can't believe the stuff they had in that house.  Bob and I, together with Ken and Geneva, decided what we wanted to sell on eBay and what we wanted to keep for sentimental reasons and use.



So I got busy, and I started selling on eBay everything from toys and baby clothes to cars and appliances.  It was fun!  I wanted to go a step further, though, and after I had sold most of the massive mounds of "stuff" around the house I decided I wanted to open my own online baby boutique.  I did research and paid a designer to design the website for me.  I had envisioned it and put pencil to paper to sketch it out.  The web designer did this for me and I launched "La Bonne Vie Bebe" in late 2005.  It was a beautiful baby boutique and it was a success.  It received a lot of press, was mentioned and recognized in the Charlotte Observer and a number of great magazines including Parenting and Bride Magazine.  (The Bride Magazine was because I represented a designer of children's clothes that created the most beautiful gowns for little girls).  I had some wonderful designer relationships and promoted their wares with enthusiasm.  La Bonne Vie Bebe was also a part of the Oscar Gift Suite at the Academy Awards in 2006 and a few of my designers helped me to create a gift basket for the Stars.  Not that celebrities needed anything, but a lot of stars were pregnant that year and I was approached by a gifting company in LA to put together a gift basket.  I put together 50 baskets with the support of my designers.  It was a great promotional effort as well.



I loved my baby boutique and was proud of how successful it had become in a short time, however, it was taking up so much of my time that my children were not getting the attention they needed.  So, I decided to sell the boutique.  I posted "La Bonne Vie Bebe" on an online business "for sale" platform and sold it within 2 months to a nice lady in Virginia.  It was difficult for me to part with a business that I had put so much of my heart and energy into creating and growing.  As an entrepreneur, I knew quite well how a business can be a part of who you are.  Still, it was the right thing to do.  I was exhausted and my children needed me far more.  Besides, I was doing this for them, but when it started to cut into my time with them, it needed to go.



I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit I think.  I owned a business in South Florida "Real Estate Services of South Florida" back in the mid 80s whereby I assisted attorney's in preparing real estate settlements.  I was a paralegal for years and enjoyed preparing real estate settlements.  I had it down to a science. 

Then in the late 80s I opened a nail salon in Olney, Maryland - Armonds Nail Salon, and then moved it to another shopping center and renamed it NailWorks.  I moved back to Florida and opened another nail salon in Boca Raton - Altesse Nails.  It was a busy time and nearly broke my back and my spirit.  It was all consuming.  If you've ever owned your own business you know what I mean about it being all consuming.

A few months after I sold my baby boutique and the house was clean, the laundry was done, the kids were happy and getting "too much" time with Mom now on the schoolwork front, I spent my time reading blogs.  Mommy blogs and Art blogs.  And then it happened.  3am and I couldn't sleep.  I had ants in my pants and ideas in my head.  And so "Red Easel" was born.

That morning I sat up in bed with my Mac in my lap and I did some research - namely, I tried to figure out how some of my favorite blogs were "blogging."  I had never blogged before so I had a lot to learn, and being the perpetual student that I am, I found it challenging and exciting - and frustrating at times too.



In about 2 days I had opened an account with TypePad and had created "Red Easel."  My idea was to have a blog that covered everything from visual art tutorials and demonstrations, to art history, featured artists, and an online gallery.  I knew nothing about html, css, or javascript.  Absolutely, positively nothing.  TypePad's easy wizard and basic platform allowed me to take baby steps in the learning process and I was amazed at how simple and intuitive the process was to learn.  I didn't need to know any coding at all and it was as easy as drag-and-drop.



I was just learning Photoshop at the time too, so I created my first masthead in Photoshop and uploaded it to TypePad.  It was a great day for me, let me tell ya, when I created my first masthead.   I felt like I had crested the hill of web design and that I could do anything.  Well - almost.

I bought Dummie books on CSS, Javascript, and HTML.  I learned what I could online too.  I was determined that I was going to learn web design and design my own website myself.  I asked questions of TypePad and the folks at Six Apart were gracious and professional and excited about their product.  They were more than willing to help, answer questions, and teach me coding.



Red Easel was on a successful track.  In a little over a year I had almost 100 artists in the gallery and over 500 subscribers to my monthly newsletter.  I had interest in the content and Red Easel was growing and developing into what it is today.  Still, I wanted to do more.  It can be painful being a creative person.  A lot of pent-up creative energy just waiting to escape and not enough hours in the day to do all that I want to do.



One morning, while reading some of my favorite Mommy and family blogs, I decided that I wanted to also have a personal blog.  I wanted to share my family and stories with my family and friends scattered around the country, if for no other reason than to have a better platform to journal and post pictures other than using email.  I have grown to dread email.  And so, "Raisin Toast" was launched in June, 2007.

In the last 3 years, my professional life has changed dramatically.  I have learned so much about web design, Photoshop, TypePad, and coding I could probably write my own book, instead, I share it with you - my wonderful readers - when I can.  When I learn how to do something in Photoshop, for instance, I take pictures and write tutorials in my "In the Studio" section.  I like to share what I have learned with you and I am always thrilled when I get comments and emails from readers thanking me for the tutorials and telling me how easy it was to understand and grasp the concept.  Your comments and emails make my day.

Raisin Toast and Red Easel have received a lot of press and I am so grateful!  TypePad featured Raisin Toast and did a great story about my blog and beginnings in blogging last year.  Raisin Toast was also a Top 10 winner in the 2009 Bloggers Choice Awards in these categories: Best Blog About Stuff, Best Education Blog, Best Parenting Blog, and even - God only knows how this happened - Hottest Mommy Blogger.  Thank you all for your votes!  Your enthusiasm and support of my blog has been greatly appreciated!

I've learned a heckuva lot in the last 2 years and I have also become a TypePad Champion on "Get Satisfaction" for helping other TypePad users improve their experience - including my own!



Well, yesterday afternoon I heard Adolf going nuts (which simply meant that someone - namely the UPS guy - was in our driveway.  He didn't even come to the door.  He just ran up the sidewalk, staying a good 30 feet from the door and pitched the package to the front door so that he could make a be-line to his truck before Adolf jumped through the window.  Adolf is intimidating that way.  So after he left, I picked up the package and was so excited to find my complimentary copy of "TypePad for Dummies."  Why was this so exciting?  Well, I'll tell ya - because I'm in it!  Yep, your friend here at Raisin Toast is on pages 335 - 336 together with 9 other blogs that use TypePad well.  Isn't that exciting?!!!


I'm in a Dummie book!  Woohoo!  It really is exciting.  I love the Dummie books.  I have a bunch of them from Caregiving for Dummies to Wordpress for Dummies (of all things) and HTML - XHTML - and CSS for Dummies to Nikon D300 for Dummies, and Dreamweaver for Dummies.  I love the Dummie books!  I'm such a dummie.

Now I have the TypePad for Dummies book and to boot I'm in it!  I told you I was a dummie.  Of the thousands of blogs who are using TypePad, and using it "well,"  I was more than honored to be chosen as a featured blogger in this very informative book.  TypePad for Dummies is available on and also in Barnes & Noble and Borders and other bookstores around your town. 

Of course, you can also get it at the Dummies Store too. I am going to spend the weekend reading the book and then do a review next week.  From what I've read thus far and can see, it looks to be a great book, easy to understand and follow, and a great resource for any blogger who wants to create an awesome blog - using TypePad of course!

Thanks to "TypePad for Dummies" Authors Melanie Nelson ( and Shannon Lowe ( for contacting me about being a part of their book and for including me in the process.  I am honored. 



This has been an interesting journey.  From real estate settlements and nail salons to baby boutiques and blogging - at least my professional life hasn't been boring.  I still have a long way to go - a   l o n g   way.  Building a blog and a readership takes time, commitment, and years to develop.  It doesn't happen overnight, but there is something that I have learned through all the years that I have discovered - it is the journey - the creative journey.  The professional journey - that means the most.  Like most things in life I believe it is the journey that should be valued the most, no matter how difficult, how frustrating, or how treacherous, we should value the journey for the experience and the lessons.

I never thought of blogging as an experience that would change me, but it has in a positive way.  It is like writing my life book in pictures and stories on a regular basis.  It is recalling stories from the past, and daily experiences. I can't imagine not having Raisin Toast to share whatever is on my mind and being able to look back on those stories that were special to me. 

Like this story, I know it doesn't mean much to most, but for me it has been another step forward and another story to share with family and friends.  It's pretty cool being in a Dummie book. 

Do you have a blog?  Do you use, or have you tried TypePad?  I'd love to hear from you about your experiences in blogging!



TypePad Best Blogger

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sixteen Candles


Last Saturday was the beginning of a great weekend for Sarah.  She was having a special birthday celebration for her 16th Birthday. Friends, Cake, and Dad's special spaghetti dinner with Ceasar salad and lots of soda.


There were lots of Wii games, loads of laughter, and a terrific bunch of Sarah's friends all gathered together for a great time.


Of course, Matthew stayed to himself most of the day, playing war games on the computer.


And see this good-lookin' guy? This is Sarah's special someone. He likes spoiling our daughter - and we really like him too. They've been a couple for 5 months now. His name is "Walker" and he wants to be a neuro-surgeon when he finishes college.


And see this good-lookin' guy? This is Sarah's special friend, "Ryan." You might remember him from last Halloween. He is Sarah's best bud. He brought his "Guitar Hero" game to the party and a bunch of them made a lot of racket upstairs whipping out some tunes on his game.


Sarah played her composition for everyone and they loved it. Then a few of her friends sat down and played a few tunes of their own. It was great fun! This is Allyson and Blake. I think they were having a great time.


There was lotsa huggin' goin on, and ...


laughin' and eatin up all those goodies ...


And Big Dad - oops, I mean Big Bear, did all the cookin'.  He does a great job of it so I leave him to the kitchen and the cookin'.  I just do the cleaning up after all the festivities.


But then came the fun part for Sarah - opening all her gifts.  She got CDs from her friends...


Sydney and Emily ...


Her friend Caroline, sitting on the corner of the sofa, gave Sarah this great drawing of a horse.  She draws animals beautifully and Sarah loves her artwork, and she also gave Sarah a gift card to Barnes & Noble. Sarah's favorite place on earth to shop.


This is the part where I think all the guys get bored.  I mean, come on - they're guys. That is Ryan behind the chair, and Blake sitting in the chair.  Walker was sitting on the fireplace hearth right in front of Sarah.


Ryan gave Sarah ...


Some coconut shower gel and lotion.  I think his mother must have helped him choose this gift.  It really smells good.  Don't tell Sarah, but I absconded with it this morning.


And Blake gave her a gift card to use anywhere in the mall.  Sarah was so excited about her gifts that she ...


got tackled and pounced on by her friend, Nina, who, by the way, ...


gave Sarah a gift card to Target - and did a lot of huggin'.


I mean - a lot of huggin' and more huggin'.  I kinda like her green hair.  It's growing on me.


Sarah got another gift card from her friend Allyson to "Forever 21" and was so happy she had to put her head on the floor.  She was thinking "shopping .... shopping .... shopping .... I get to go shopping..."  


And check out these beautiful bracelets.  I think I might borrow them sometime too.  It is so great to have a daughter.  hee hee.


Her friend Julie O'Connor gave her the bracelets, some candy, and this fella with the pink nose and ears.


And see this Teddy bear?  This soft, cuddly, furry, Teddy bear with the red ribbon?  Oh, and the pearl bracelet ... these were her most special gifts I think.  Ya know why? ...


Because they came from her special guy - Walker.  And they gave each other a big Birthday hug.


Of course a lot more huggin' was goin' on afterwards.  Will it ever end?


Walker's cute when he blushes.  I won't tell you why.  Sarah would kill me.

Now, just for my baby girl - here are the lyrics to a song that my Dad played for me on my 16th Birthday.  I loved this song, and now, I'm going to play it for my girl in the video below.

Happy Sweet 16 Sarah!  I love you bunches XXOO



You come on like a dream, peaches and cream, Lips like strawberry wine. You're sixteen, you're beautiful, and you're mine.

You're all ribbons and curls, ooh, what a girl, Eyes that sparkle and shine. You're sixteen, you're beautiful and you're mine. (mine, all mine, mine, mine)

You're my baby, you're my pet, We fell in love on the night we met. You touched my hand, my heart went pop, Ooh, when we kissed, i could not stop. You walked out of my dreams, into my arms, Now you're my angel divine. You're sixteen, you're beautiful, and you're mine.

You're my baby, you're my pet, We fell in love on the night we met. You touched my hand, my heart went pop, Ooh, when we kissed, i could not stop. You walked out of my dreams, into my car, Now you're my angel divine. You're sixteen, you're beautiful, and you're mine. You're sixteen, you're beautiful, and you're mine. You're sixteen, you're beautiful, and you're mine. All mine, all mine, all mine. All mine, all mine, all mine. All mine, all mine, all mine, all mine, but i do. You are mine!





Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Joy of Snow Tubing


When we lived in Maryland, every winter was an exercise in not busting a snow tube for the entire winter season.  The kids were always soaring down the front yard at incredible downhill speeds.  I ventured out a number of times myself, as did Big Bear, to join in the fun of snowtubing down a foot of snow or more.  But here in Charlotte it's a little different.  We don't get snow that often, and when we do the kids go nuts.  Of course, most snowfalls don't accumulate to much of anything.  This past week, however, we got 4 inches.  Woohoo!  So, before it melted on us, Big Bear got out his tractor and mashed down several tubing paths for the kids, then he blew up their snow tubes for the first time in 5 years, and let them go at it.



From the wee hours of the morning to just before noon, the kids had loads of fun tubing down the front yard while I sat in the window upstairs and took about 200+ pictures.  What great fun the kids had.  The joy on their faces, the laughter - it makes my heart sing.



Of course, the snow began to melt in the afternoon, but the children made some memories Saturday morning, and I have lots of pictures to prove it.  



Sometimes I wish we were still living in Maryland, but then I get pictures like this from our friend and former neighbor, Lisa, and I think - Naaaah, I think I'll just stay here in Charlotte.  Poor Lisa - she can't get out for nothin'.  And to make matters worse, she had surgery on her foot and she is hobbling around on crutches.  



At least we had some fun in the snow here for once in 5 years.  The kids had a blast.  And isn't that what it's all about anyway?



That beautiful smile.  Sarah is so beautiful.  We are all so proud of her.  I can't believe she is Sweet 16 already!  Where have the years gone?



Of course, there is the silly side to Sarah too.


It's times like this that I wish I had had my video camera charged up.  Oh well, the animated gifs are the next best thing I suppose.



And then there are action shots like this that speak for themselves ...



And the smile that comes after the face plant in the snow.



Sibling Rivalry - Sarah and Matthew can't get enough of it - and they smile the entire time.



Thumbs up to Glen!




The kids had a great time and to tell you the truth, I had just as much fun watching them play in the snow.



It was a great start to a wonderful weekend.





Sarah had a busy day ahead too - she had about 15 friends come over and celebrate her 16th Birthday with her.  She had a sleepover too!  And that will be tomorrow's post.  Yep, it was a weekend to remember.



We are definitely snow people here.









See ya!

What fun things have you done in the snow this winter or in past winter snows?



Thursday, January 28, 2010

Memories of the Olney Inn


I have memories.  Memories from my teenage years when in 1974 my father purchased The Olney Inn in Olney, Maryland.  It was a wonderful place to dine and had been a staple of success in Olney since 1926 when Clara May Downey opened the restaurant with 3 tables.  Dignitaries, Congressman, and Presidents and their families dined in the beautiful Olney Inn.  The ambiance was spectacular and so were the rum buns.  You couldn't have a meal without sinking your teeth into our chef "Mr. Bill's" famous rum buns.  That wasn't the only meal that was famous.  And if you are lucky, I might share a recipe or two with you here.



I recall riding the school bus home from high school and being dropped off in front of the Inn where I would study in the Fireside room and then help out with the salad bar or the coat closet or seating guests.  It was how I earned a little extra money during my teen years.  I even helped my mother make the costumes that the waitresses wore.  My father and mother chose the pattern for the long historic dresses the waitresses wore.  My problem was that I liked them all and wanted a change of pattern.  I couldn't settle for one dress and be satisfied with it.  I had to have at least 5 dresses for a different change every day of the week.  I know - spoiled, but my mother taught me how to sew and then she helped me make my own dresses.  In some cases, I purchased my own fabric with my own money.  I think that was the moment I realized just how much I loved to sew.



The Olney Inn was the first place I went on my first date.  Oh, that was something.  I was worried and nervous about everything, from the way I looked to the way I ate in front of this boy I had an eye for.  I was 15 years old and the boy was Matthew K.  I discovered Matthew loading groceries at the Giant Food Store next door to the Inn.  I would make excuses to run to Giant to get something for the kitchen.  We had dinner at the Inn, and I recall spilling something onto my lap.  I was mortified, but he had a good dinner and we were treated by my father to the best table for two by the window in the main dining room. It was beautiful, but I was too nervous to notice.  That night, as Matthew drove me home, I squirmed.  He reached over and held my hand and I felt fire going through my veins and thought I would faint right there in his car.



He pulled up in front of our home in Brookeville, told me to stay seated, and he walked around the car and opened my door, treating me like a lady and making me feel special.  He walked me to my door and he kissed me.  I felt my knees go weak.  I had never been kissed before! 



Yes, the Olney Inn holds many memories for me.  Some good and some bad.  I did a bit of dating at the Olney Inn. That is where I met Alberto.  He played the accordion in the Fireside room and had a bit of a "thing" for me by the time I was 17.  He asked me out, but we both knew that my father would not approve, so we snuck a date here and there in private.  You see, Alberto was 17 years older than I.  But boy was he a hunk of burnin' love back then.  All the women swooned over Alberto.  I felt pretty incredible that he only wanted me.  When my father found out about me seeing Alberto, he was pissed, and every time he didn't know where I was he sought out Alberto.  Both of my brothers were after him too.  I can't say that I blame them, really, especially now that I am a parent too.  Eventually, Alberto sat down with my father in the main dining room of the Olney Inn and asked if he could marry me.  My father's response? - "You're Fired!"  Alberto left, and eventually we broke up.  I wasn't really dating him.  I just thought he was fun.  Would you believe that Alberto and I are still friends?  We are.  He lives in Virginia, and for a while there, while Big Bear and I were living in Woodbine, Maryland, he would visit and bring the children donut holes from Dunkin Donuts. 



I grew into a young woman during those family Olney Inn years.  I'll never forget them.  I had a favorite meal there too.  8oz Sirloin Steak on toast with french fries and rum buns.  To this day, when we go out and I order a steak, I order a sirloin steak (or NY Strip) with white toast unbuttered and fries.  It's the best ever.  You should try it.  Take a bite of steak and then take a bite of toast.  Yum.

The bad memories - there were a lot of bad memories. A lot of hanky panky goin' on at the Olney Inn.  A lot of oversexed employees I suppose spending way too much time together.  That's all I'll say about that thank you very much.



It was 1978.  My father was wanting to move on to other things in his life.  He had always been active in real estate and politics and had burned the bridges you might say of restaurant ownership.  He did a wonderful job of rebuilding the Olney Inn, but we couldn't really afford it any longer.  In March, 1978, my father was preparing to go to settlement to sell the Inn.  He hated doing it but knew that it was something we had to do.  He was devastated into a stroke after that tragic day and was never the same.  He died just a few years later in 1980 at the tender age of 55. 



The Inn burned down just an hour before settlement was to take place.  He wanted to make sure that the Inn would be preserved and he had had it placed on the Historical Society's preservation list.  The people who wanted to buy the Inn wanted to tear it down and my father flatly refused.  The day it burned down, 2 men in suits walked briskly into the Inn.  My brother, Mike, asked if he could help them and they didn't respond.  Instead, they walked into the Fireside room and looked around some more, saying nothing, they left as quickly as they had come into the Inn.  My brother thought that was odd.  An hour or so later, an employee at the Olney Barn Shop next to the Inn ran into the front door and exclaimed "The Inn is on fire!  Come quickly!  Call 911!"  My brother grabbed the fire extinguisher and ran outside only to see the entire side of the Inn in flames.  He quickly ran inside and called 911 and escorted the guests outside.  People helped gather antiques and all that could be saved and threw it onto the front lawn - all before the fire overtook the entire Inn.  My father stood on the front lawn in tears grasping his chest.  His insurance had lapsed an hour prior to the fire.  The insurance, instead, had been transferred to the people who were scheduled to purchase the Inn.  My father got nothing, but the people who were going to purchase the Inn walked away with over $700,000 dollars and decided not to buy the Inn - leaving my father, and our family in ruins.  It changed us forever. 

A few months later, we had a purchaser for the property where the Inn once stood.  Next thing we knew, the Sandy Spring Bank was building their main office onto the property.  For years, the Sandy Spring Bank had wanted to build where the Olney Inn stood.  I often wonder if the bank had something to do with the fire.  I'm only saying.  I'm not accusing.  It was arson. This is simply my opinion, that's all.

My father passed away in December, 1980.  He was 55 years old.  It was that fire that sent his health and blood pressure over the edge. 

Ultimately, it has been the good memories that I hold onto.  Memories of first dates and first kisses.  Memories of music and important guests.  Memories of seeing a boyfriend walk through the 2 sets of double-doors to my surprise.  I felt tingling up and down my spine every time I had an unexpected visitor and was working at the Inn.  Those were special times. Memories of rum buns and 8oz steak sandwiches.  Memories of Chef Mr. Bill.

I do feel sorry for the poor guy who was talking to me at the coat closet one evening.  His hair caught on fire from the candle sconce next to the coat closet.  We put out the fire to his hair, but I don't think he ever returned.  I can't say that I blame him really.

Well, that's my story and I'm stickin' with it.  My walk down memory lane.

Now for several of the Olney Inn recipes:




Serves approximately 6

4 cups canned sweet potatoes, mashed
1 orange, juice and zest of the rind
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet sherry
2 egg whites beaten stiff
1 orange for slicing
chopped walnuts for topping


Combine first 6 ingredients in a 2-quart bowl, add salt and pepper to taste and pour into a 10-inch square baking pan and dribble with melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and serve, topping each scoop with a thin orange slice and chopped walnuts.

Would you like to have this recipe?  Just click on the recipe box below and print it off for your favorite recipe collection:



* * * * *





In 1926, Clara May Downey opened the Maryland Olney Inn in Olney, Maryland in the original Farquhar home, with 3 tables. It soon became "the place to go and dine" and was frequented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It burned in 1978 in spite of 18 pieces of equipment and more than 100 firefighters. What remains are a few treasured items, some dishes and antiques, and some cherished recipes that are simple, elegant, and delicious.


40 min | 20 min prep







  1. Place crabmeat in large bowl, after removal of cartilage and shell.
  2. Mix mayonnaise, pimento, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and Tabasco together.
  3. Pour over crabmeat and toss GENTLY, not to break lumps.
  4. Divide crabmeat between 8 shell-shaped baking dishes.
  5. Top each shell with 1 tablespoon mayonnaise.
  6. Sprinkle with paprika.
  7. Place baking shells on shallow baking pan (jelly roll type).
  8. Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes.
  9. Garnish with sprig of parsley, or cross 2 strips of pimento.


Would you like to have this recipe?  Just click on the recipe box below and print it off for your favorite recipe collection:



* * * * *

And, saving the best for last ...


Rum buns with glaze


This will take about 5-6 hours to prepare and worth every minute.

This recipe will make enough for 24 people so ya better have a party!

The Olney Inn was famous for its Rum Buns.  Hogates and a few other flagship restaurants in Maryland adopted the famous rum buns for serving their guests.  This recipe for sweet rum-flavored buns with raisins and cinnamon and topped with a sugary glaze is taken from an old Olney Inn recipe book. This yields 2 dozen buns but you can cut the recipe in half if you want.  The best thing about it is that you can easily freeze the buns and then heat them up for a delicious breakfast with coffee.

3 hours | 2½ hours prep

SERVES 24 , 2 dozen



2 pounds all-purpose flour PLUS ...
1 ounce all-purpose flour
6 ounces granulated sugar
5 ounces raisins
4 ounces vegetable shortening
4 ounces butter (unsalted, room temperature)
2 tablespoons grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground bakers cinnamon
1 ounce table salt
1 cup water (100 degrees F)
4 ounces fresh yeast
1 cup pasteurized or fresh eggs
2 ounces rum extract
1 cup whole milk

***Cinnamon-Sugar Mix***

2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup sugar


1 cup water
1/2 cup rum extract
6 ounces granulated sugar


2 ounces rum extract
2 ounces light corn syrup
1 ounce unsalted butter (melted)
12 ounces confectioners sugar


In a mixing bowl fitted with a dough hook, combine all dough ingredients.

Mix for 20 minutes until dough is smooth, place on floured tray and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Then refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Flour work surface and roll dough out 4 inches by 20 inches. Brush with melted butter (not in above ingredients) and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mix as needed.

Roll dough strips tightly together. With knife, cut into sections three fingers wide and place in greased (not in above ingredients) muffin pans.

Place a towel over the buns and proof them (let them rise until double in size.takes between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the temperature of the room). Then bake in oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until done. Turn pans occasionally for even baking. Remove from oven and brush with glaze immediately. Cool for at least 10 minutes, then coat with icing before serving.

Would you like to have this recipe?  Just click on the recipe box below and print it off for your favorite recipe collection:


Enjoy!  Now go and make some memories of your own and cook up some good fixins' with these recipes!


Get the flash player here:





Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Take a Stroll with Me Through Charlotte

Have you ever just gotten in your car and driven around your city, or out in the country - enjoying the scenery?  Well, Big Bear and I did just that last weekend and we had a nice time driving around Charlotte.  Old Charlotte.  Historical Charlotte.  It was beautiful.  It reminded us of why we love living here.  The city of Charlotte is a clean city, unlike most of Baltimore that wasn't very pretty. 

Enjoy the drive with us as we share with you the homes of Charlotte, just on the outskirts of the city...



I love the homes.



And the mature trees.



And the beautiful tree-lined streets.  Even in winter they are beautiful.



The homes have character.



And charm.  Doesn't this look like a house where your grandmother might live?



On the other hand, we also saw homes like this.  I wouldn't want to have to clean the windows.  I do love the entrance though.



It was the community side streets throughout the city that caught my attention. 



And the homes of Charlotte that give it its character.



Southern charm.  Everything about the homes and their surroundings here speak of old Southern charm.



Just beautiful don't you think?  Those bands you see around the trees protect them from some kind of worms I think.



Even the smaller homes have multiple fireplaces and distinct Southern personality.



Big Bear really liked this house. 



Naaah.  This is more my style.



I do believe this house is for sale.  A bit too big and ostentatious for my taste.  I'll bet it is beautiful on the inside, though.



Big Bear had his eye on the English tudors throughout Charlotte.



I thought this house was really neat. 



All the streets had charm and distinction.



And big homes.



And Southern homes straight out of Gone with the Wind.



And homes that almost say "won't you come in and have a cup of coffee with me?"



And others that say "you won't get past the great danes hiding in the bushes so don't even try."



We really enjoyed the drive around Charlotte.



And looking at all the lovely homes.  They are all so well kept.



And the landscaping is inspiring too.



Isn't this gorgeous?  Now see... I just love this house.  There is just something about it I really like.



And as we were driving, we came up upon one of the largest homes in the communities surrounding Charlotte.



And on the front porch of that home, you can sit comfortably in the porch rocker and read the morning paper with your cup of coffee.



And roam the gorgeous gardens.



And that home is the Duke Mansion. Duke.  As in Duke University Duke.  Yeah, that Duke.  And yes, this is one big honker of a Southern Plantation.



And as we turned a few corners, we headed into downtown Charlotte.



With its high rise views



And clean city streets.  But then, I was tired, and all I wanted to do was ...



go home. 



Where the bluebirds visit.



And the deer roam freely.



And the Barred Owl in our back yard whoooots all night long.



Home - beautiful even without any landscaping across the front.



Beautiful in winter when we get the occasional snow that makes its way over the mountains and into our frontier.

Yes, I love Charlotte.  But the best part of living here is always - coming home.



Monday, January 25, 2010

Is there Hope for Haiti?


 "What Else Can I Do" by Karla Anderson

Add natural disaster to poverty, despair, homelessness, and hunger, disease, and being orphaned, and you might just get a twinge of the helplessness the world feels in trying to reach out to the people of Haiti.  What we have begun to feel as helplessness, though, is not hopeless.  The images are truly amazing and heart-wrenching - if not altogether miraculous.  A small child smiling and hurling his arms as wide as the world itself.  A teenage girl being pulled from the rubble after more than 8 days motionless and without food or water under a barrage of concrete.  A precious 15-day old baby crying and recovering from head injuries.  There is a God - a good and loving God, even in the quake of despair you feel His presence - as angels from around the world reach out, feed, hold, hug, cry, grasp, care for, and pray for the living, and the souls of those who lost their lives and were never afforded a proper burial.  It breaks my heart to pieces.

Haiti8This past week we have all been deluged with images that make us - to some degree - no matter how small or how large - take a deep breath, tense up our jaws, and want to catch the next plane to Haiti to help.  I have found myself overcome with grief for a people that I didn't give a second thought to before last week's earthquake, not so much because I didn't care because I do, but mostly because I, like many of us, found myself preoccupied with my family, our life, our own troubles.  What could I possibly do to make a difference in another part of this world?  And it brought me back in my mind to the images of the aftermath of the 2004 quake beneath the Indian Ocean that resulted in a Tsunami so devastating along the coastal communities of Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia as to have swept away over 250,000 lives in nearly a blink of an eye.  Or, more emotionally - to the images of September 11th that left nearly 3000 innocent souls at the gates of death, and thousands more grief-stricken and scarred for life.  However, 9/11 was created by evil and hatred, Satan himself showing his cunning presence in our world - not by natural disaster.  

Boy with ArmsWhat frightens me is knowing that the stories and images of war and natural disaster will desensitize our children by overexposing them to scenes of cruelty, violence, and suffering.  Should we feel shock and distress? Absolutely.  We are not expendable.  We are human.  In a world filled with so much negative, how can we find the positive?  Are human beings on the other side of the world or the other side of the street of such little significance when compared to an overall purpose as to be abandoned and ignored?

My friend, Charlie Pratt, recently wrote: "There are lots and lots of other pressing problems in the world. There are plenty of things to compare it to, reasons that will keep you from sharing your blessings with those who have less.  And yes, there are liars in the world, corrupt politicians, greedy businessmen, shady clergymen, drug dealers, thieves, and the rest. A sinner’s buffet, around us all the time. These things anger us, threaten to distract us from the fact that the helpless are dying.  Down in Haiti, right now, there teems the cruel result of the juxtaposition of extreme poverty, despair, and natural disaster. Insult to injury. A speedier death to those already dying. A fast-forward to a living hell.

Haiti7.jpgThis isn’t a guilt trip. This is a heaviness. It’s part of you too. Give yourself a moment to feel it. Allow yourself the gift of sharing the burden with them. It’s a heaviness there, crushing these people, these fellow humans into dust."

We do need to feel it - down to the core of our being.  We need to feel the grip of their suffering and let it grip at our heart so that we reach out and help.  Why?  Because there is an angel in all of us, and nothing in this world feels quite so remarkable as helping, giving, sharing, caring, and loving another with no thought of recompense.

Please give to the people of Haiti.  Please reach out to help.  And then, when you have done all you believe you can to help the people of Haiti, give something to your neighbor.  Reach out to a friend, a stranger, or a family member.  Live with a forgiving heart and a sensitive soul.  Our time on this earth is precious and short, and we should treasure each other who share this world with us.  Cleanse your soul of Haiti12  hate and regret, bitterness and judgment.  Find God's presence and goodness in your own heart and make a difference - today, tomorrow - this year and in this lifetime.  If we all, or even just a few more of us, tried to understand and care for our fellow man, this world would be a glorious heaven on earth in which to live for us all.

There is Hope for Haiti (and our world) - and it begins with you - and me, today.

Please Give.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Why Men Need Trucks


My brother Bill.  Oh, he's funny, very entertaining, and I miss him something awful since he lives in Florida and I live in North Carolina.  And, like my Big Bear, he has been out of work since September 2008, so they share a lot of stories, and have a bit more time on their hands to do yard work.  Unfortunately, Bill does not own a truck, so he wings it - those trips to the dump and so on that require a man's truck - leaving him no other choice but to use his car.

Just this past weekend, Bill decided to prune his palm trees, and as he wrote in his email to me ...

Susan -
The frick'n palm trees we inherited next to our house grow 3 feet a night in summer.
Attached is a photo of a few "palms" I needed to unload at the dump after
a light pruning on Saturday morning.....
Think I need a truck?
Your brother...

So, imagine how humored I was when I saw this picture:


Hey Bill - 

Nice ornamentation you got goin' on there.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Unemployment and my Mother


At breakfast this morning, we determined that my mother was single-handedly responsible for the current economic climate and unemployment. 

You see, during breakfast - Bob was cooking (isn't he a honey), and the rest of us were sitting around the table eating and getting on each other's nerves when the phone rang.  After digging through all the model airplanes strung across the kitchen table trying to find the portable phone, I answered the 1-800 number that was calling.  I have a rule - if I say "Hello" and they don't answer within 3 seconds, I hang up.  That began a family conversation ...



Bob said that he is sick of creditors calling and actually telling us to borrow money from a friend to pay our outstanding bills (you see, if you have been around here for long and reading my blog, you know that my Big Bear has been out of work since Sept. 2008 - in other words, we're broke).  



Well, my mother had the perfect solution ... she said "tell them that your friends are on their calling list too and are calling you asking you for money.  That'll shut 'em up."  We laughed so hard our sides were hurting.  I actually spit my orange juice when she said it.  My mother - the family comedian.



Thing is, she began to tell us this story about how, when she and my father first married (in her early 20s), she got a credit card from Sears.  It was her first credit card and she did not know much about them accept that she could go to Sears and purchase drapes for their apartment and other things.  Then the bills started rolling in and she paid them, until she couldn't - and they started calling her and Dad every day.  So, one day, after taking the phone number from the lady who was calling her, she decided to get even.  One day she called the number.  The lady answered.  My mother waited a few seconds and then hung up.  Then she waited about another 30 seconds and did the same thing.  Then again.  And again for about 4 more hours. A few days later Sears called, but this time my mother noticed she wasn't talking to the same person.  My mother asked what happened to the lady she was originally speaking to ... the new lady responded "She quit."



So Bob, in keeping with the conversation, said, "Well, you can't do that anymore, the systems are automated," and I responded "that explains it.  After my mother's escapade with the collection agency, they developed automated systems and laid off all the people working the phones, causing an unemployment crisis of epic proportions.  Next thing you know, to save money, big corporations begin outsourcing their customer service personnel to the overseas market to save money."  To which Bob replied "SO! That's why this country is such a mess.  Your mother is single-handedly responsible for the unemployment crisis - the automated systems that replaced American workers - and outsourcing!  All because of her unpaid Sears Card!"

The laughing at our breakfast table was priceless. 

Hope everyone has a great weekend!



Thursday, December 31, 2009

When Life Gives You Scraps - Make Quilts


Curling up with a good movie, a pillow, and a warm quilt - that is my idea of the perfect New Year's celebration with one exception - it would be perfectly perfect if, however, we had a fire roaring in our fireplace, but since we don't want to burn down our house, candles will have to do - temporarily.  I cannot wait to have our fireplace fixed.  This winter just hasn't been the same without the warmth of the fire and the crackling and the smell.  I love the smell.  I miss the smell.  I don't miss having the fire department show up in an attempt to put out 10 foot flames shooting from our chimney and raining sparks down on our roof.



Memories of 2009.  I'm still workin' on that video.  In the meantime I've been enjoying the holidays with my family and just hanging out around the house - in my jammies and reflecting on the past year and what I can do to make 2010 a better year for all of us.



It's been a really difficult year, but not so difficult that we couldn't smile, or laugh, or find fun things to do as a family now and then.  We have a beautiful home and we are all, for the most part, healthy and happy.  We've come through this past year mostly unscathed from the unemployment debacle. There have been a few blunders along the way - like the fall out from Kathleen, and nearly knocking out my teeth when I fell in the driveway from playing basketball.  What a mess that was! But we're doing well.  We're cloaked in the security of each other.



Sadly, Bob's mother passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer's.  She had faded so much that her passing was expected, although it was still painful.  What touched me was the tenderness my hubby showed in the caring of his mother to drive her home - to her final resting place - 600 miles North of us from North Carolina to Maryland.  I don't think Geneva would have had anyone else drive her home no matter how difficult it must have been on Bob knowing that his mother was in the back of the Suburban in a casket.



Thanksgiving and Christmas this year were spent quietly at home with the immediate family and that was fine with us.  We counted our blessings and prayed for a better year ahead.

I sold some paintings this year and enjoyed starting new ones.  I'm working on my largest painting to date - Maya - and I can't wait to show it to you.  36x54 of wind and sea and sailing.  One of my favorite subjects.



Tonight, we watched the movie Julie & Julia and loved every minute of it.  If you have not seen this movie, you really must get it.  It's great.  Even my mother found the strength to sit through the movie and enjoyed it.  Something that she rarely if ever is able to do.  



I still have lots to do to get ahead of myself in the New Year - I still have January mastheads to create, and stories to write.  Artists to add to Red Easel, and the newsletter to send out.  Bob and I are still trying to figure out how to start our own Rich Media company for artists and creative bloggers and we are discovering that it is a lot of work - but it might just be well worth it someday.  Hopefully something good will come of our efforts.



Thank you for stopping by my cozy little corner on the web.  I've made quite a few new friends here on Raisin Toast and I appreciate you all - especially when you comment!  At least when you comment I know that I am not just talking to myself.  What a shame that would be.



Happy New Year!  Here's a toast to you, (from my mug of hot cocoa to yours) and to a better year ahead, and that we may all find healthy resolutions to improve our lives and the world around us, and lots of scraps that we can weave together to create beautiful quilts to throw over each other's shoulders.



P.S. Don't you just love quilts?  I love to have them wrapped around me and I love making them too.  I'm even going to start off 2010 by making this beautiful quilt above called "French Roses."  As soon as I start it, I suppose I'll have to blog my way through the project - especially if I ever hope to finish it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Making the Season Brighter


It's been a rough week.  It started with a scratchy throat, then aches, chills, sweats, then my tonsils kicked in and have been giving me fits.  (Yep, I still have my tonsils).  Yesterday I thought I was starting to feel a bit better then not.  Last night I tossed and turned all night, got some hot tea and raisin toast at 3:30 in the morning, and watched the local news and weather forecast while blowing my nose and rapidly tossing tissues off the side of the bed.  I'm sure you can picture this miserable scenario in your head.  But rather than do that, why don't you just sit back and enjoy my beautiful holiday fireplace decorations.  Aren't they lovely?  Well, except that there is no real fire - yet - unless we want to burn down our house and I don't think we want to tempt fate again until our fireplace is fixed.  So, candles will have to do.  Pretty red ones at that!



Air hurts.  My bones ache.  I think I got about 2 hours sleep last night.  Big Bear slept downstairs so he wouldn't get what I've got.  At least he was sleeping - I could hear him thru the floorboards.  Somehow, though, I don't think he heard my constant coughing like I heard his snoring. 



Poor, sweet Glen.  We took him to the doctor 3 days ago with a bad cough and discovered he was on the verge of pneumonia.  He's on antibiotics seems to be feeling better.  He is now running around the house - a lot less coughing, a lot more decorating, and feeling better. 


Today is my son, Matthew's birthday, by the way.  He is 13 years old!  I can't believe my boy is a teenager. He's a great caroler too.  And Glen turned 10 on the 16th.  December birthdays abound.



Just wanted to let everyone know that I am taking some time off from blogging (maybe from 3-5 times a week to 1-3 times a week) until the first of the year, so that I can clean my home, do the mountainous laundry, finish a painting for my Big Bear for his Christmas present, finish binding a Christmas quilt I started 12 years ago but never finished, send out some last minute Christmas cards, and find some last minute gifts and stocking stuffers at Target.  But first I have to get over this cold or flu that has dragged me down this week and send a great big "Thank You" to my dear friend, Lisa, in Maryland, for this incredible collection of Christmas gifts you see under our family room tree.  She sent 4 big boxes full of clothes and gifts - we've had a hand-me-down thing goin' on for about 10 years now and let me tell ya, other than underwear, I will never have to buy my boys clothes until they're in college.

Here's hoping that everyone has a wonderful holiday!  I've got to get busy and do my house chores, turn on some Christmas music, finish a painting, and a hundred other things on my list ...



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Beth!


Sometimes you just have to embarrass your friends.  Well, maybe not, but there is one friend who laughs right along with me ... Beth.  Today is her birthday.  She is the only person I know who gets younger every year.  Can you believe she is 21,170 days old?!!!!  Or, somewhere there about.

So Beth - Happy Birthday girlfriend! I hope you have a singin' great day! 

Note: I don't know what's wrong with this ecard - sometimes it loads and sometimes it doesn't. Darn.  Oh well, if you can't see it here, you might be able to see it HERE.

 Luv, Me

Monday, December 14, 2009

Life with this Big Guy


To read the first part of this family saga - click HERE.

Just before Bob and I got married, he told his parents that he was going to make sure that every day of our life together would be an adventure.  His father waved his hand at us and said "Oh hell, you two haven't even had an argument yet, what do you know about adventure?"  I had been married before, so I knew that marriage wasn't always roses, nor would it be easy, but something inside my gut told me that he was the one.

* * * * *

I was lonely for Bob.  Here, I had promised myself that I was not, under any circumstances going to get myself involved in another relationship.  I had to focus on my studies regardless of what my hormones were telling me.  I just couldn't get him off my mind, though.

So, I bought a ticket to return to Maryland a week early and Bob was going to pick me up from the airport and we were going to go to dinner.  He was surprised and happy that I was coming home early.  During the 2 hour flight home I thought about what I wanted out of my life, and more than anything I knew that I wanted a family - a whole family - and a loving husband.  And I thought "what is love anyway?"  With numerous broken relationships in my past, I wasn't convinced I could answer that question with any degree of understanding.  I had been hurt before and I didn't want to get hurt again.

By the time the plane landed, I had made a decision.  It was a conscious decision mixed with many good emotions too.  It wasn't all love and lust is what I am trying to say, because in the case of this new man in my life, I knew him.  I felt comfortable with him.  I could be totally myself when I was with him.  Most importantly, when I was with Bob, I felt good about myself. 

That night Bob and I had dinner and talked and he asked me to marry him.  I said "yes."  Unlike any man who came before, Bob just felt "right."  I didn't have a doubt in my mind that this was what love was supposed to be - comfortable.  No fluff. 

I had grown up I suppose.  I had finally learned that love truly was something that needed to come from within.  That attraction needs to come from the heart and mind.  That although attraction on a physical level is very important, what 2 people share needs to go beyond the bedroom or it will never last.  Lust just doesn't last forever.  That puppy love of new can only go so far and then everything comes crashing down when true colors show up, when bills have to be paid, when you get sick or injured, when you're completely exhausted. 


Bob in family room

With Bob it went deeper.  When I looked at him, I saw the man I wanted to spend my life with.  He had a heart of gold.  He was thoughtful, intelligent, educated, loving.  Sure, he had his flaws, but who am I to judge?  I have quite a few flaws myself - and probably more than he does.   I had not only decided that I really did "love" Bob with all my heart, but that this time I was going to get this right.

Bob's mother was not happy.  I think she wanted to kill me.  I won't go into that.  Just suffice it to say that no woman was good enough for her son, and especially me.  I turned the other cheek.  I was looking straight at Bob and he was looking at no one but me.  We decided to get married on January 15th, 1993.  Just 6 weeks after the high school reunion, but what seemed a lifetime of "knowing."



In less than a week, Bob and I had made arrangements at our church, handmade and wrote our own wedding invitations, managed to get a friend to take the pictures, another friend to sing at the wedding, co-workers to help with the decorations, make the cake, and cook for the reception.  Bob, the doll that he is, took me to a wedding store and told me to pick the gown that I wanted.  He didn't want to see it until the wedding.  He shopped while I tried on gowns and I found a lovely ivory gown that made me feel like a princess.  I purchased a simple veil, then Bob took me to G-Street fabrics where I found some beautiful embellishments and created a beautiful veil to go with my gown by adding pearls and ribbon.  



On January 15th, 1993, at 7:30 in the evening, Bob and I married in a simple and elegant ceremony.  We had about 200 of our closest friends and family there to share in our beginning together.  



Well, Bob promised it would be an adventure, and here, 17 years later I have to agree that it has been an adventure.  Not all good.  Not all bad.  Not all warm and fuzzy and not all cold and clammy either.  We've had our ups and our downs, but together we've been riding this roller-coaster with our hands in the air screaming "yee-haw" the entire ride.



I can't imagine my life without this big guy.  He is my life.  He is the reason I get up in the morning.  He is the joy in my life.  He is the father of my children.  He has been good to my mother who has lived with us for 12 years.  He has been a brother to my brothers and a friend to my friends.  He has gone out of his way to provide us all with a good and loving home.  He is the security in my life. 



I've never known anyone who can do as much as he can.  He can do plumbing and electrical work.  He can do landscaping and irrigation.  He can build a deck, lay tile, and wire a house for wireless networks in a flash.  He cannot put in garbage disposals without cussing (so I do it).  He can bulid businesses, travel the world, make important decisions for big corporate organizations, and cook dinner too.  

Together we have laid wood floors, painted walls, caulked, laid tile, wallpapered, built fancy arched walls with columns, mowed acres and acres of grass, planted over 200 big, dang trees, purchased 3 homes, had 2 babies, added a grandson to the mix, cared for 3 elderly parents, and raised a family in a happy home.  Through the good times and the tough, it has been worth every minute. 

I think I made a good decision 17 years ago.



He's my Big Bear - my hunk of burnin' love - and a really good pillow too. (And yes, I will kiss him for a 20)

to be continued ... (for another 17 years at least)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Green Cay in December


My dear friend, Beth, as you all may know, is not only a wonderful cook and contributor here on Raisin Toast, but her real profession is that of a singer.  She sings professionally around South Florida.  Beth has such a beautiful voice.  Well, last night she made a movie about Green Cay.  She walks, I think, every morning through Green Cay.  It is her personal time and also her time to stay in shape.  I just wish I was there with her!  

In the meantime - she posted her first video on YouTube, and I wanted to post it here for you to enjoy too.  

Monday, December 07, 2009

Sarah Entertains at Queens University!


On November 21st, Sarah entertained the masses with her beautiful composition "Waterfall" with a few revisions to fit into the 4 minute time slot she had to perform.

Jazz Pianist and Composer, Claire Ritter, together with artist Takaaki Masuko from Boston on Percussion and Drums and Toni Naples on Accordion, were the master performers at this concert, playing original compositions inspired by the Outer Banks Crystal Coast to 1000 islands in Canada.

There were 9 student performers, and each performed their own composition inspired by the Spirit of Water. 

The concert took place at Queens University, in the Suzanne Little Recital Hall.  

In addition, Big Bear, Matthew, and I helped in the preparations for the concert.  Big Bear and Matthew set up the backdrop for the video inspired by water.  Big Bear helped to create the video and slide show during intermission, and I took care of the video from the back of the recital hall.  It was fun!  But not nearly as much fun as watching our little girl perform her own beautiful composition, Waterfall, to a grand applause.

I have made 2 videos, this video shares with you only Sarah's performance.  The other video, which will be posted later today to my Vimeo account, will include the entire concert for your enjoyment.

Hope you enjoyed Sarah's performance!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Facebook Friend-zied


For the last 3 days, I have been adding photos galore to my Facebook profile, and then to top it off, end up searching for random names from the past to see who I find.  I found friends from elementary school whom I haven't talked to in 40 years.  I found old boyfriends too.  Facebook is a bit of an obsession at the moment. 

Then, Big Bear got in on the fun and he started his own Facebook page.  Now he's collecting old friends like baseball cards.  We were both up until after 1am doing things on Facebook.  There is something terribly wrong with this.  Or maybe not.  I haven't decided yet.

I have to admit it is fun posting old photos.  It is even more fun finding old friends and attempting to catch up on life for the past 30-40 years.  It really is a fun place, this Facebook.  But boy does it ever take up a lot of valuable time I could be doing laundry or cleaning the kitchen.

Want to see some funny pictures?  Here ya go ...



Can you find me in this picture?  This is my First Grade class.  Jackson Road Elementary School in White Oak, Maryland.  I'm 2nd from the right in the gold and red dress.  Click on the picture to see a larger view.



Or how about this picture?  This is my Kindergarten class.  March, 1965.  I am in the front row, 2nd from the left in the stupid looking Miami Beach sweatshirt tucked into a blue plaid skirt.  My mother must have been asleep to have sent me to school dressed like this - especially on picture day.



Now this was definitely a picture from my wilder years in the early 90s.  And no, that is not a beer I am holding.  It's a Pepsi.  I was hanging out at some biker gathering in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 



Check this out.  This is John Thomas Hamilton.  The first guy that I ever dated at the Naval Academy.  I was 16 in this picture.  Clueless.  That's my dad making sure no hanky-panky was going on.  Tom got married in 1981 to Brenda, had a family, and now has grandchildren of his own.  He doesn't look a bit like he did back in 1976.  ...



1970s.  Tom Hamilton giving some Plebe a hard time.  I remember flying to Circleville, Ohio with him from Maryland so that I could meet his family and spend Thanksgiving with them.  I bought a dried flower arrangement and it sat on my lap the entire trip.  By the time we arrived, the entire arrangement had shed all over my clothes and looked a bit mushed.  Memories.  Priceless.



This is Tom Hamilton today.  Don't let the beard and the tattoos fool ya, he is a pastor of his own church: Sozo New Fellowship Covenant in Georgia.  A nice guy with a heart of gold.



Here's a picture of my daughter, Kimberly doing my hair for Thanksgiving 2005.



And a picture of me with my new 1977 Chevy Camaro that my dad bought me for my birthday.  I was a spoiled brat.  I'll admit it.  I wrecked this car driving down Bel Pre Road after work one day.  That's a story for another day.



Here I am at the tender age of 19, holding Kathleen.  A baby holding her baby.  Talk about clueless.

Anyway, these are just a few of the pictures I have posted on my Facebook page for your enjoyment. ha ha.  My life in pictures.



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'm A Silver Sage!


Maggie Crane, Author of that great book I read called "Amazing Grays" has posted my picture and story on her site.  Check it out HERE.

Pretty cool, ay?  I'm the worst procrastinator.  I sent her some pictures that Big Bear had taken of me several months ago (before I decided to be a basketball star and nearly knock out my teeth), but she wanted one of me smiling more.  I don't like the way I look smiling.  Never have.  I'm weird that way.  Anyway, Maggie must have gotten tired of waiting for me to smile for the camera, so she posted my sorta, kinda, well-maybe, uhhh, I suppose smiling picture on her site. 

And today she sent me this funny email:


* * * * *

Hey Susan~

Good news! You do not need to fix your hair or put on makeup for a new photo!  I used one of the pics you sent to me and posted your story at the Gallery of Silver Sages. ( you are the second story from the top)  Tell all all your friends to come visit you and leave whatever wise-ass comments they like. :)

You have inspired me to blog again. My blog is soooo much more sedate that yours - but at least I started again! Now it's all about attracting readers.

Hope things are opening up for you and yours. May you have a blessed Thanksgiving!


Maggie Rose Crane
Author of AMAZING GRAYS - A Woman's Guide to Making the Next 50 the Best 50 (Regardless of your hair color!)

* * * * *

I am so happy to know that I inspired Maggie to blog again - especially considering how she is such a great writer and so inspirational to women like me - who procrastinate - take naps - walk around every day in sweat pants and pajamas - and don't put on makeup unless it is absolutely necessary.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Basketball Can Be a Painful Sport


Bob and Matthew cleaned off the driveway and moved the basketball court around and naturally, after pumping up the basketballs, we all wanted to show our basketball prowess.  We were having a fun time when I decided to run after Matthew I went down hard.  Suddenly, my head, my eye, and my teeth were in contact with the pavement.  It was not a pleasant experience.  As a matter of fact, it was horrible.



Fortunately, I did not black out.  Unfortunately, I did a real number on my knees.



And my face.

And my teeth.  I broke my front lateral tooth and nearly knocked out my front tooth - which is now loose.



There is more good news I'll have you know - our dentist lives right next door.  Literally.  Bob ran over to his house and he came over immediately. 

He told me to put ice on my eye and head, which I did, and to disinfect my knees, which I did, and he looked at my teeth.  He said that I shouldn't worry about the chipped tooth, but that for the next 4 days - 2 weeks I need to eat soft foods and not to touch that tooth.  We'll know in about 10 days if the nerve of my front tooth was affected. 

Seems to me that just the other day I wrote a post - "Could my life get more complicated."  Well, duh.

I didn't feel it was bad enough to go to the hospital.  But just think of this - we don't have health insurance.  Nothing.  This could have been a whole lot worse.  Remind me again that I'm not a kid and shouldn't be running around with a basketball.  Obviously I didn't get the message the first time.  I have to admit, though, we were all having a fun time playing basketball until my head and knees hit the pavement. 

I suppose tonight I'll count my blessings rather than my injuries.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

I'm Diggin' Those Shoes

Beth, you look fan-tas-tic girlfriend.  I am really diggin those shoes.  Hope you had a fun night out.  You looked so good I just had to share your video with everyone.  I know - my bad.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Ding-Dong! It's the UPS Man!


Here I was with the boys sitting in my art studio (today is Art Day for our homeschooling schedule) and Adolf went nuts barking at the front window.  "What's ya barking at boy?"  I said as I got up from my chair.  I looked out the front window and saw the UPS truck backing into our driveway.  "Bob!  The UPS man is here, can you see what he has for us?" 



So Big Bear came downstairs and went outside.  At that point, Adolf went bananas.  He always gets upset if we're outside without him and a strange person is talking to us.   This is what he wants to do - take off an arm, or a leg, or a head.  He's such a good guard dog.  But inside - aw, he's a lush for a tummy rub.



The next thing I know I see 2 big boxes and for the life of me could not figure out what it could be.  Then I saw the tag "Lisa Davis" and immediately knew what the surprise was.  


You see, I have this great friend in Maryland, Lisa, who used to be our neighbor.  Her daughter, Alison, is Sarah's best friend, who visited her this past summer for almost 2 weeks.  They try to get together every summer.  It's a "best friend" kinda thing.  Lisa tries to visit too so that we can scoot on over and spend the day together at the spa. 


Yep, Lisa's a great friend, and she is always thinking of us and surprising us with little things - and big things too.  Last Christmas she sent a big box with a bunch of goodies for the kids and for us.  The summer before that, she sent a bunch of clothes for the boys that her son had outgrown.  This past summer she sent a big box of goodies and clothes for Sarah that Alison had outgrown.  Nearly everyday, Sarah is wearing something that are from her friend, Alison. 


Here we go again - a box of goodies!  The boys went nuts.


They looked at every article of clothing and some still had the tags on them!


They were so excited they threw the clothes in the air and jumped around the front hall full of happy-kid excitement.


I just shot picture after picture of my boys expressing their thrill over getting 2 big boxes of clothes, hats, socks, jeans, slacks, shirts, flannel shirts, sweat pants, pullovers, jackets, and pajamas.


Thank you Lisa.  Thank you for bringing a smile to my little boys' faces.  Thank you for thinking of us as you always do.  It is friend's like you that make the world a better place.


I can't wait to see you again girlfriend.  Hopefully, we'll have time to spend a day at the spa.


I think the pictures speak for themselves.


This is almost better than jumping in a pile of leaves!


It's raining jeans!


They smell so clean.


Wow, I really like these Spiderman boxers.


Time to clean up and put them away.


Thank you Lisa.  We Luv ya bunches,



Thursday, November 05, 2009

Could My Life Get More Complicated?


Well, I'm sure it could get a lot more complicated, but I'm not going to think about that right now.  For anyone who thinks I don't do much by being a stay-at-home mom - think again.  This week alone I have been so busy I have completely neglected my laundry and now it looks like Mount Rushmore at the entrance to my laundry room.  Not good.  I know what I am going to be doing this weekend.  I bet you can't guess.

The good news is that "Red Easel" is done.  Well, most of it anyway.  The design is now in stone.  I've put Photoshop through the ringer.  Have I told you how I would be completely useless without Photoshop?  It's true.  It seems like everything in my life revolves in some way around Photoshop - from web design to reference images for my paintings to photographing my artwork to creating business cards - Photoshop's the "bomb" man.  Even my brother sends me photos of himself to Photoshop - like removing pimples and whitening his teeth.  Too funny.  I really should charge for this service don't you think?

Anyway, Red Easel is my site for visual artists.  I launched it in 2007, then took a hiatus called "Raisin Toast" then got a lot of slack from my Big Bear for putting Red Easel on the back burner and finally took the time to redesign the site and relaunch it.  I did that this week and I am proud of the result. 

I still have some work to do on the site, but overall, it's lookin' really nice, thanks to Photoshop and TypePad that is.

I've also been working on those "Red Easel Master Palettes" all week too.  The sanding, staining, sanding, staining, sanding, lacquering, sanding, and lacquering has given my right arm a workout.  The rest of me is falling apart, but my right arm seems to be in ripe good shape.

The weather has been magnificent.  Sunny, cool, breezy, ... what's the name of that ad on television? Now I'm going to be thinking about that all day instead of doing what I'm supposed to be doing, and although laundry should be on my "to do" list - it isn't.  Naturally, I'll think of that "sunny, breezy, sleezy" ad at 3am.

I've got a lot to do today, not laundry (just trying to get the message across to my Big Bear) ... so I'm going to sign off for now - before my life gets more complicated. 


Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween, Spooky Nights, and Funny Faces


It was a spooky night last night.  The moon was full, the clouds were blowing by, and we could hear goblins in the dark just waiting to get their hands into our candy.



But first, a goblin had to show up.  His name is Ryan, and he is a goblin of Sarah's.  Oh, I mean a friend.  Or a goblin.  Whatever floats your boat.



Ryan came over and enjoyed pizza and coca cola with the rest of the goblins in our family.  He made lots of faces and scared off the spooky spirits that might be floating around our house.



Like the spooky spirit that was making Sarah make this nasty face at me.



This is a plastic pumpkin.  We were too lazy to go pumpkin picking (and too broke if you really want to know) and we didn't want the mess from carving out all the pumpkin guts.  So, we parked this plastic pumpkin in our front window.



And then all the goblins lined up in front of the fireplace for a photo-op.


Halloween 2003

Seems to me like the little goblins did that in 2003 too.



Even Adolf wanted to get in on the action.  He said "Dare me why don't ya - I'll take off your head if you goblins mess with me."  Yeah, Adolf - you tell 'em!



They were a scary bunch.  The neighborhood will never be the same.



And neither will our tractor.  Big Bear drove them around the neighborhood and you'll never guess what happened ... The tractor broke down and the Wicked Witch of the North had to go and save them in her carriage (aka 2005 Suburban). 



We put torches around the front of the house and waited for the neighborhood spooks to show up at the door for free candy.  Lotsa free candy.



And we waited ...


And we waited ...



And we waited.  But only 2 little spooks showed up.  So, when our goblins got home we gave them a bunch of candy - I mean a whole bunch.  They made out like the bandits that they are.

Hope everyone had a safe and fun halloween!



Thursday, October 22, 2009

Health Care Reform - It's About Time

 Before the shot-1958

Since health care reform is on everybody's mind these days, I thought I would share with my readers the black and white of it all.  Let me tell you why - because I am sick of all the political banter going on between the Republicans and the Democrats.  I don't know where the Republican's are coming up with all their scare tactics but they have no basis whatsoever with regards to the actual content of the Health Care Reform Bill.  As for the Democrats - they aren't much better as they have a tendency to sugar coat the content as well. 

Instead of listening to all the political banter, go online and read the bill for health care reform.  You'll find it is exactly what this country needs.  Politicians went through the same crap when Social Security and Medicare were on the table.  



In 1935, FDR signed the Social Security Act.  Under the 1935 law, what we now think of as Social Security only paid retirement benefits to the primary worker. A 1939 change in the law added survivors benefits and benefits for the retiree's spouse and children. In 1956 disability benefits were added.

Keep in mind, however, that the Social Security Act itself was much broader than just the program which today we commonly describe as "Social Security." The original 1935 law contained the first national unemployment compensation program, aid to the states for various health and welfare programs, and the Aid to Dependent Children program. 

Where would we be today if we had let the Republicans in Congress shoot it down like they tried to do, claiming the Democrats were Socialists?  Every time the Democrats create another Federal program, the Republicans call them Socialists.  Knock it off you guys - there's too much hot air in Washington and it's about time you start representing the interests of the people and get the party affiliations out of it entirely.



Harry Truman, who became President upon FDR's death in 1945, considered it his duty to perpetuate Roosevelt's legacy after his death. So, in 1945, he became the first president to propose national health insurance legislation. After Congress rebuffed his request, he reiterated his appeal after his surprising victory in the 1948 presidential elections.  Congress continued to oppose the measure. In 1950, he signed the Social Security Amendments, which provided federal funds to states for vendor payments for medical care of poor aged called old-Age Assistance; it became the foundation for the Medicaid program.



In 1965, President Johnson signed the Medicare program.  Where would we be if not for that? My mother could not afford healthcare if not for Medicare.

So here we are in 2009.  It's time.  Do NOT believe your representatives.  Do NOT believe what you hear on television or read in the newspaper.  Believe the black and white.  Now I know it is daunting to read the entire bill, but the summaries are worth reading.


Kids insurance

This country needs a federal health insurance program.  I am relieved that we finally have a President who has made this a priority.  It is important that the greedy insurance companies start having to own up, as well as the providers who commit insurance fraud.  It is precisely this behavior of greed and fraud that put this country in the position it is in today.

Just so you know, I don't believe what anyone says in the news.  I check it myself if for no other reason than to know that I am making an educated decision and can understand the argument.  It isn't always easy getting to the bottom of the issue, but it sure is worth the effort.  Another thing ... your Representatives know that 99.9% of the American people they represent are not going to check up on them, their voting record, or the bills that they submit before Congress.  They know that most people will listen to whatever they say on television, on YouTube videos, or in the newspaper and believe it all as "truth."  Because they know this, they lie, they twist the facts, they even throw in some crap for good measure.  Just remember that the next time you go to the polls, or argue an important issue with your friends, your neighbors, your family.  I banter back and forth with my Republican brother all the time.  I love him to pieces, and he is entitled to his opinion.  I'm just not agreeing with him as often as I used to.  Maybe that's because I am more informed.  Or, at least I think I am.  


Remember when you were a child and your teacher taught you about spreading rumors.  She would whisper something in the first child's ear, who would then tell the next child and so on and so on.  By the time the story got to the last child, it was completely different, sometimes containing bits and pieces that were never in the original story.  I never forgot that lesson.  



So, just because your representative says it's so, doesn't make it so.  Just because Pres. Obama says it's so, doesn't make it so.  Get to know your Representatives.  They are there for "You!"  Then, read the black and white yourself and then make your own decision.  That's what I do.



Read the bill by clicking HERE.

It is 2,324 pages of good information.  It is 2,324 pages of what this country needs in the way of health care reform.  It is 2,324 pages of help for those of us who do not have health care, cannot afford health care, and who need health care.  It is 2,324 pages of insurance for my family.  It is an "option" for those of us who otherwise have none.  It doesn't take over the current health care system.  It just becomes another option - and one that is necessary for families and individuals without health insurance.  It is a choice.  I support it completely.



Here is the Open Congress Summary

This is the House Democrats' big health care reform bill. Broadly, it seeks to expand health care coverage to the approximately 40 million Americans who are currently uninsured by lowering the cost of health care and making the system more efficient. To that end, it includes a new government-run insurance plan (a.k.a. a public option) to compete with the private companies, a requirement that all Americans have health insurance, a prohibition on denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions and, to pay for it all, a surtax on households with an income above $350,000.

Read the bill, or at the very least glance through it, and you will know why I support this bill from cover to cover.  Why?  Because every American deserves the right to good health.  Every American should have access to professionals who can help them live a healthier life and be healthy.  Every American deserves to be covered and not turned down because of pre-existing conditions.  Every American should be able to live their life without worry that a catastrophic illness or injury could devastate them financially for the rest of their lives.



Be active in your community.  Get involved.  Ask questions.  Piss off a few politicians.  Speak up.  But before you do - do the intelligent thing - understand the issues.  Understand how this bill relates to past bills like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.   Understand the arguments between our political parties and representatives during those times that the bills were before Congress.  You might be surprised to find that Democrats were called "Socialists" and Republicans were called "Pig headed" just like today.  Nothing's changed.  But, we can change things by being informed.  



Remember, I grew up in a very involved, very Republican family.  My father ran for U.S. Senate and Congress back in the 60s and he was very involved in politics.  My dad got us involved in the thick of every discussion and every argument.  It was his nature.  Maybe that is why I do my research, because I want to understand the issues.  When American's depend entirely on what they read in the paper or hear on the news, they are at a sore loss for the real and honest information.  



My father used to say to me "If it is important to you, check it.  Research it.  Understand it.  If you discover that anything I've told you is wrong, then you better come back and tell me so that I don't continue to make a fool of myself."  I used to laugh when my dad would say this to me, but I took it seriously and I am glad I did.  I sure do miss my dad.  He was a good man. 



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You Ended Up Here?


I gotta tell you, there are times I look at my stats and laugh at who ends up here.  Some of them I just can't figure out.  For instance, someone in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington DC wants to know how to make a shower curtain.  Now I wonder who this could be?  I wonder if my story on making shower curtains helped this person?  I wonder if they saw my colorful, spotted material and thought "Yes!  That is exactly what I want to make for my bathroom!"  Or, did they look at the fabric and think "You've got to be kidding, right?"  Who is this person?  Were they on their lunch break and looking for information on how to make a shower curtain?  Or maybe they were looking for shower curtains when they should have been typing up a bill on health care reform.  Maybe that's the problem with politicians.  They spend too much time on Google looking for instructions on how to make shower curtains and not enough time figuring out how to make the country a better place to live.


But here is the funny thing.  He or she is not the only person in the world who wants to know how to make shower curtains.  Apparently hundreds of people every day search Google for information on how to make shower curtains and they end up right here on good ol' Raisin Toast.  I can't believe how many people need shower curtains:

Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, doesn't just want to know how to make a shower curtain, this person wants to know how to make a "cool shower curtain."  

I had a visitor from Bronx, New York at the Albert Einstein College Of Medicine looking for information on how to make shower curtains too.  Someone from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution in Baltimore, Maryland also wants to know about making shower curtains.  Seems to me like there are a lot of medical professionals in search of shower curtains.  Why is that?  There seems to be a rush for information on how to make shower curtains in this country and I get the distinct impression from Google that they don't want to buy them.


And how about stripping wallpaper?  They want to know how to strip wallpaper in:

Royal Oak, Michigan
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
Reading, Pennsylvania
Auburn, Indiana
Southaven, Mississippi

and that is just on the first 2 pages of my stats.

Richmond, Virginia wants to know "How much does it cost to strip wallpaper?"  Well, Richmond, I'll tell ya - the cost of a spray bottle, some water from your spicket, a putty knife, 6 rolls of paper towels, a step stool or ladder, and enough time to pull your hair out.  Oh, and you'll need a radio to drown out the cussin' in the background.  You don't want to frighten off your neighbors.  They might end up having to drive somewhere and we all know how bad Virginia drivers are - about as mixed up as the chaotic roads.  I'm sure I'm going to get some hate mail about Virginia drivers now.  Oh dear.  You forget I used to live in the DC, Maryland, Metro area.  It seemed like every bad driver on the road had a Virginia license plate.  Sorry guys, but it's true.  That's part of the reason why I live in North Carolina now - so I can complain about the South Carolina drivers.  JUST KIDDING!  Anyway, did you strip your wallpaper?

Wellington, New Zealand just wants to know "how to strip."  I kind of would like to know that one myself.  If you find out, let me know.  On the other hand, maybe not.  Been there.  Done that.  It's not all it's cracked up to be.

And somebody in Stockton, California wants to know "What goes in a witches brew kids imagination." Hampton Park, Victoria, Australia, on the other hand, wants to know "What is a witches brew?"  Do I know?  I have no idea Hampton Park.  Sorry about that. 

Brooklyn, New York wants to know the recipe - "what do witches put in their magic brew?"  Don't know. Maybe "" would know.



Someone in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada wants to know how to publish their own cookbook.  Did my story on publishing a cookbook help you - person - in Medicine Hat?  

and someone in Cherokee, Oklahoma wants to know too.  And so does someone in Olympia, Washington. And Honolulu, Hawaii.


Some visitors I can't figure out.  This person was looking for "sketchbook elephant in the room" and ended up in my story about Pablo Picasso.  Did they find what they wanted? Probably not.  My story wasn't exactly about Pablo Picasso.  Well, sorta.  Well, maybe not. It wasn't about an elephant in the room either that I recall.


Memphis, Tennessee wanted to know what an oak tree leaf looks like.  Don't they have oak trees in Tennessee?



Someone in Olney, Maryland wants to know how to make storyboards in Photoshop.  My question to you is - Do I know you?  I know a lot of people in Olney, Maryland.  I grew up there.  Our restaurant burned down there in 1978.  I have memories from Olney.  Some good.  Some bad.  Some very bad.  Like the time some lady in a red car cut in front of me and stopped dead on Georgia Avenue.  I rammed right into her.  I was 8 months pregnant and I was not happy.  Instead of getting angry I think I passed out.  That was after the medic arrived.  I told the police to keep the bumper to my car but they didn't.  Memories of Olney.  How about this - the first guy I ever kissed used to work at the Olney Fire Station and the Giant Food too.  I was 15.  I was hormonal.  It was Olney, Maryland. Or how about the time that this first boyfriend turned the light red in front of the firehouse for 5 minutes just to back up traffic and show off for me?  And how about the time my brother was driving his car around the bend on Georgia Avenue in front of Tanterra and his car got struck by lightening.  Or the time I had a head-on collision with a 4-point buck and had green gunk all over my windshield and a caved in front end.  Just a few hours after the accident, somebody had already come along and cut off the deer's head.  What kind of person does that?  Someone in Olney no doubt.


Somebody in Saint Charles, Missouri wants black shutters with a yellow house.  I do too. 

A poor soul in Birmingham, Alabama is "afraid of getting their driver's license" and I suppose wanted to see if anyone else had the same dilemma.  

Los Angeles, California wants to know about "the best low luster polyurathane paint."  I wonder if he found the information he or she needed here on Raisin Toast?

In Louisville, Kentucky they're looking for a sunroom sofa.  Sorry Louisville, don't have one.


And in Pompano Beach, Florida - you there in Pompano - did you figure out how to $%#!! your Mac computer?  I'd really like to know.

Tampa, Florida wants to know about "racism in South Carolina in 1964" and they spent quite some time poking around Raisin Toast.  I wonder if they found out what they needed to know?  If you watch that movie "The Secret Life of Bees" or read the book, you'll find out what it must have been like back then. 


In Fort Lauderdale, Florida someone wants to know "what does big round orbs mean in a picture?"   

Stoke-on-trent, Stoke-on-trent, United Kingdom wants a picture of spaghetti on toast.  Okay, one order of spaghetti on toast comin' right up.

Kiev, Kyyivs'ka Oblast', Ukraine was looking for "House of my dreams."  Makes you wonder doesn't it?  I mean, Google can search the internet, but it can't read minds.  A little more information here.  Did you find the house of your dreams here?  If so, let me know.  Ours might be on the market soon.

Kochi, Kerala, India wants to know "wordings for raisin toast for marriage."  Don't you mean "how to give a toast at a marriage?" or something like that.  Wordings for raisin toast?  I'm so confused!

Central District, Hong Kong wants to know about "hammering a cookie dough."  

Charlotte, North Carolina wants to know "another word for high school."  How about - uh - "high school?"

Moscow, Moscow City, Russian Federation is looking for "my dream room"  I wonder if that was Vladimir Putin searching on Google for his dream room?  Ya think?


Red Deer, Alberta, Canada wants to know "does bootcamp screw up your mac?"  I don't know.  I really don't know.  But thanks for stopping by!

Newport, Michigan wants to know "How long should I wait to see the doctor if I think I have swine flu?" How about not wait at all.  My best advice to Newport is see your doctor, silly, if you think you have the swine flu.  By the time you figure it out you might otherwise be dead.  Hope that answers your question.

In Greenbrier, Tennessee they did a search for "wedding chest love never fails."  Hmm.  I'm still thinking about that one.

Ludvika, Dalarnas Lan, Sweden asks Google "What did you do to me?"  I don't know honey, you tell me.

Singapore, Singapore and Long Beach, California want to know "another word for visual."  How about:  adjective: visual defectsopticalopticoculareyevisionsight. Or, a visual indication that the alarm worksvisibleperceptibleperceivablediscernible. Noun: the speaker used excellent visualsgraphicvisual aidimageillustration,diagramdisplayshow and tell.  There you go Singapore and Long Beach.  If you need another word - look in a "Thesaurus." There are a bunch of them online, but maybe you knew that already.  Or, maybe you didn't.  Or maybe you just thought I was smarter than a thesaurus.

Bangalore, Karnataka, India wants some "crazy gals."  Yep, we've got at least one here.

Raleigh, North Carolina wants to know "what is needed to publish a cookbook?"  Well, I'll tell ya, Raleigh - I think you might need recipes.  Good recipes.  Lots of recipes.  Maybe some graphics or illustrations.  And a publisher or a printer.



Rosedale, Maryland wanted to find a "poem for mother in law passing."  I can show you mine. I wrote it for my mother-in-law just before she passed away this past May. 

Reykjavík, Gullbringusysla, Iceland did a search for "raisin toast."  Well, I have some good news, Iceland - you found me.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

R-E-S-P-E-C-T - Thumper's Way


Growing up, my father used to tell me "You lay down with dogs you'll get up with fleas.  Choose your friends wisely and stay away from the dogs."  Believe me when I tell you, I've gotten mixed up with quite a few dogs in my life, and I'm still itchin'.  It's difficult, I know, as a child especially, to feel completely isolated when just about everyone you meet is a "dog."  And that is the problem in this country.  Literally and figuratively.  Respect.  We don't teach our children respect, and if we do, we don't follow through by example.  Well, I am trying to teach mine, and it isn't easy.



I believe that we are born with an innate desire to be superior and to want to be noticed, even at the expense of others.  We've all done it.  We see someone on television, we hear about someone, meet someone, become "friends" with someone, or have a member of our own family who we feel is - well - you know what I'm getting at - stupid.  ill informed.  uneducated.  mean spirited.  vulgar to a fault.  dirty.  something.  And then the disrespect starts.  We start to talk to others about this person.  We might start by talking to our parents, or our siblings, or our best friend.  We might even start to spread rumors about that other person.  All in an attempt to elevate ourselves.  It is our way of saying to the world "I am not like this."  "I am okay."  "I do not have these issues."  "I find this behavior disgusting."  And we talk about others behind their back to massage our own ego, our own need to feel validated and "respected."  In many ways, talking disrespectfully about others is merely an attempt to scream out to the world "Please don't talk about me in that light."  "Please see me as something else better." 

It is human nature to want to be validated.  Recognized.  Respected.  That is why humility is so difficult for most of us.  We can't see past our own egos so that we "see" the other person for who they really are.  Our brother.  Our sister.  Our mother.  Our father.  Our friend.  Our neighbor.  A stranger on the street.  Even the bully around the corner.



When we go to the grocery store with our child and we see someone who looks disheveled, obese, different, do we talk to the person we are with and say "Look at that?"  "Can you believe that?"  Or do we try to pray for them?  Say hello?  Help them?  If you were to go shopping and you noticed a mother or father abusing their young child and the child was screaming and crying - would you go up to the parent and yell at them?  Shove them away?  Assault them too?  Walk away and talk about them? Or would you go up and calmly and respectfully say "I want to help," and then touch the parent on the shoulder and say "It's going to be okay, let me help you calm down" and then proceed to help that parent by understanding that they are human and probably have a lot going on in their life right now.  Really.  And then hug the child.  Smile.  Stroke the child's hair and tell them it's okay.  Would you do this?  I have.  Why?  Because as hard as it is to show it sometimes, I believe in the power of respect.  I believe in trying to understand others.  I believe in compassion.  I believe that we all deserve respect because we were given this life by God and we should respect it, not torment one another with abusive words and behavior.  

Let me say I am guilty of all the things I've written here.  I am guilty of them all.  I have said and done things in my life that I am not proud of.  I won't make excuses.  Ignorance is not bliss.  I learned.  I still make mistakes and errors in judgment. But I want to be remembered in this life for having been a good person, a good mother, wife, daughter, friend, neighbor, and stranger.  And, I want to be forgiven for the mistakes I've made, the errors in judgment that I've made, the times in my life I have tripped up.  We all deserve a chance to make good in this life.  I am trying my best to teach my children about respect, too, and I am starting by shutting them down when they talk disrespectfully about anyone else.  



For instance - take last night.  Sarah was doing her homework and Bob and I were helping her put together her Excel spreadsheet for a class she is taking.  Her teacher in this class is an accomplished woman and who doesn't take any crap off of anyone.  Sarah began to say things about her that were not very nice.  She was being a typical teenager.  I don't fault her for this, as most if not all of the kids in her school do it constantly, but I turned to her and I said "stop."  "Stop right there."  "Would you say that to her face?  Would you say to your teacher the very things you just said to me, and say them to her face?"  "Then hush.  Zip it up.  Your teacher has earned the right to be teaching your class.  She has earned her degree.  She has raised her children to be a doctor and a lawyer.  You are 15, and you have not earned the right to judge her.  Nobody has that right but God.  So you show her the respect she deserves and you keep your mouth shut.  You be a better person."  Sarah apologized and I hope she understood.  And then I thought of something my father used to always say to me, "Be a leader, not a follower."



Easier said than done I know.  We all want to be followers.  Why?  Because we all want to feel like we fit in.  We want to feel as though we aren't a square peg shoved into a round hole.  That's why.  We want to feel like others approve of us, so we go with the flow.  Funny, how when you come face to face with a rebellious soul who doesn't want to conform, rather than taking the high road with their behavior, they rebel and take the back road.  They fight.  They show disrespect to everyone and everything.  They treat others like trash.  Yep, that's their way of not "fitting in."  The problem is that they're going in the wrong direction.  If anyone really wants to rebel - be a good person.  That will stand tall right in the face of humanity.  Anyone can be a jerk, but how hard is it, really, to be a good person?

I've told my children over and over again.  "if what you want to say about someone else is something you won't say to their face - then keep your mouth shut.  Nobody said you couldn't think those things, but show some humanity and shut your trap."  And "even if you did say it their face, if it is meant to be nothing more than hurtful, and anything less than constructive criticism, then keep it to yourself."  I think this world would be a better place if more people kept their big mouths shut.  This world is filled with enough verbal vomit, and believe me, I've contributed my share, but at least "try" to be of value in this world.  Try to be a good person.  Try to keep your mouth closed if it will hurt others.  Try to be respectful of others.  Try to teach others by example how to reach out and lift up rather than tear down.



So there you have it.  Be a respectful person, not a back stabber.  Don't be the smile you give a friend only to trash them behind their back.  We can all be better than that.  Try to fill your space on this earth with song rather than verbal vacuous.  And if you do slip up, and we all will, at least have the humility to say you are sorry and stop.  If you have a friend who enjoys this kind of talk, then kindly say "let's talk about something else" and change the subject, or if you are bold, simply say "that really isn't very nice, let's talk about something else."  There are ways to express yourself without being ugly.  There are ways to elevate yourself without tearing others down.  And that is what we all need to learn.  Be aware of your words.  Be kind and thoughtful.  No matter what sludge you have behind you, plant flowers going forward.

We need to be conscious of our words and our actions.  We need to respect the lives of others regardless of what we think of them or they of us.  Michael Jackson wrote a song that said it all - Take a look at yourself and then make a change.  I think I will.  How about you?


Sunday, October 18, 2009

No More Dancin' Around


As you all may know, my Big Bear got laid off over a year ago, and life as we knew it kinda went ... how many ways can I say this and still sound decent?  You know what I mean.  And as a result, although my readership went up, my comments tanked - because you all can read me like a book and I think you know when my "voice" isn't my own anymore.  I just want to finally tell you what I've really been feeling this past 13 months.  No more dancin' around the issue.


Before September 15th, 2008, life was good.  For 16 years (that was our entire marriage) we had been financially secure, happy, grounded, and on an upward mobile career path - both of us.  Even as Bob was the main provider in our family, we were doing just fine.  We had made good, solid decisions about 5 years into our marriage that we were no longer going to depend on credit to purchase what we wanted.  We were going to pay off everything, right down to the automobiles and the mortgage, and eliminate anything that could possibly interfere with our security.  If we couldn't pay cash for it (with the exception of our home) we weren't going to buy it.  Isn't it funny (not really) how when you avoid credit, you ruin your credit score.  What kind of ridiculous system is that anyway?

We got close to achieving that goal.  It took years, but we got real close.  We paid off our credit card debt, we paid off our automobiles, and we paid off most all of that incidental debt as well.  Bob is in the tech industry - you know - the one that turns your computer into a dinosaur every 2 years as new technology emerges.  We have been on that roller coaster our entire marriage as Bob was laid off nearly every 2 years as companies changed their focus or there were acquisitions and mergers as in the case of Compaq and Hewlett Packard.  


Still, even as lay offs happened across the industry every 2 years or so, we moved on.  We were secure.  We had faith, and our faith proved to be good to us as Bob always found another position in an upward mobile career path the entire way.  I had faith in God.  I had faith in Bob.  Bob had faith in the industry and in his career path - and God too by the way.  

It's funny now that I think about it, but ever since Bob got laid off from Bell Atlantic Internet Solutions (his 2nd experience with company layoffs after our marriage, the first being with GE Information Services where he had been employed for 12 years), I have been telling him this ... "when you hit 20 months, it is time to start sprucing up your resume and sending it out.  Test the waters.  See what's out there."  Why? Because "every day over 2 years that you have your job is one day we're livin' on borrowed time."  And boy did that ever prove to be right on the money too.

Family picture on Easter 2003

Before we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, we lived in Woodbine, Maryland, and we had a neighbor who was riding that same tech wave.  In the 8 years that we lived in our home in Woodbine, Bob and Joel were laid off just about every 2 years or so (by different companies) but on the same 2 year cycle.  They kept their eye on each others career.  If Joel got laid off, Bob knew he would be next, and vice versa.  They networked together and within a few months, both were employed again and on another 2 year cycle.  And so the story goes.  Every day over 2 years was borrowed time.  We knew it was just a matter of time before the company would start laying off people.

Geneva2003 (7)

Nevertheless, we were doing well.  When Bob's parents moved in with us in November 2001 and we ended up being a family of 8 living in a 4-bedroom house, Bob got laid off about 4 months after they moved in with us.  But, we had a lot of savings and a lot of equity in our home, so Bob actually took 4 years off from looking for a permanent (if you want to call it that) job to help me in the care of his parents.  


Instead, we started a landscaping business "Vaughn Lawn and Landscapes" and we had ourselves 2 zero-turn radius Kabota mowers, a Kabota tractor, and a lot of landscaping equipment, trailer, the whole bit, to get the business off the ground - and we did.  Together, Bob and I mowed about 30 acres every week or so during the green season.  We'd put on our Boze headphones, attach it to our iPod, and we'd mow acre after acre.  We'd put down lime and grass seed.  We'd aerate and do pressure washing too.  We were proud of our little business and we had a good thing goin' there for a while.


Woodbine Home

Our plan was to build an addition onto our Woodbine home so that Bob's parents, and my mother, would have personal space and bedrooms and bathrooms on the main level.  Going up and down the stairs for all of them was becoming increasingly difficult.

So we paid to have plans drawn up for the addition, and let me tell ya, if we had been able to complete that addition, it would have been magnificent.  But life took a different turn.  God had other plans for us.  



Plans changed when we ended up fussin' with 2 of our neighbors over the location of the addition to the property line and it got ugly.  They didn't want our addition to block their view.  Their view of what? The countryside?  Our side yard?  You'd have to see where the fool behind us built his house (4 years after we had moved into our house) to appreciate that statement.  So we solved that problem after paying off thousands in attorney's fees.  We planted about 70 blue spruce and other variety type Christmas trees along our back property line.  We zigzagged them too when we planted them.  Oh, he has a view alright - a wall of trees.  No longer can he look out his front window and see all of the beautiful countryside.  The addition would have been a lot prettier.  I gotta tell ya, revenge can be sweet - if you do it in a clean, respectable way that is.


Bob's parent's health issues were getting worse year after year.  No need to get into all of that here, just suffice it to say that Bob's father (a serious stroke victim) was having a lot of trouble getting up and down and around, and Bob's mother's Alzheimer's condition was becoming far worse and more difficult to manage.  My mother was fine - or so I thought.



Our landscaping business was thriving quite well.  But then in 2005, just 6 weeks after Bob's mother failed to recognize her husband of 52 years and wondered who the strange man was in her bed, Bob's father passed away.  I suppose he knew that she didn't need him anymore.  It was sad, but the next time he got ill, he came down with pneumonia, and rather than fight, he passed away peacefully in the hospital, just 10 hours after I took this picture of him.  Bob's mother never knew he was gone.



Soon after we got our property tax bill.  Dang!  Put it this way, if you live in Montgomery or Howard County, Maryland, you are paying out the wazoo in real estate taxes.  We knew we had to make a decision because Bob's mother needed to go into a nursing home.  She had become way more than we could handle.  So, we decided to move to Charlotte, North Carolina.  We had friends in Charlotte and the cost of living was far less than where we were living in Maryland.  Where we had lived all our lives.

We put our house on the market and it sold in 9 weeks.   We found a beautiful home in the South Charlotte area that we loved and we found a good nursing home close by for Bob's mother.  Bob did not have a job when we bought this house either.  We had to stop our landscaping business as well when we moved because the requirements for landscapers were different in North Carolina than in Maryland.   I'll bet you can't buy a house without a job now!  



And this is where we made a mistake - I think.  I'm still thinking about this decision and wondering if we made a mistake.  We had made enough profit on the sale of our Maryland home to pay off this house when we bought it, but instead we decided to finance 50 percent of the cost so that we would have the tax write-off and use the rest of the savings for home improvements (of which there have been many).  Everybody told us to mortgage our home for the tax write-off.  I'm sorry, but I've always wondered what the logic is in having a mortgage.  I thought the dream was to own your home.  What's the deal with that anyway?

And that is exactly what we did.  We put 50% down and mortgaged the other 50%.   We put some money in the bank, Bob bought me a new car, (my little Beamer) and we used about a hundred grand for remodeling projects.  From re-plumbing the entire house, to new drainage systems and irrigation.  From new garage doors to new driveways and sidewalks.  From all new appliances to all new toilets and cabinetry and carpet - this house needed an overhaul.  But we loved it when we bought it and we still do.

We never would have believed we'd be facing such difficult times.  But here we are - together with millions plus other people in the US facing the same financial and career dilemma.  What next?  Where is this road taking us?

Together, Bob and I have worked hard to get where we are, and "NO" (I say that emphatically) we have not been living above our means!  We have always been careful with our finances, our home expenses, and our life & home choices throughout our marriage.  We've had fun along the way too, and yes, we've spent money on things we "want" along the way - because at the time, we could comfortably afford them without going into debt.  I don't owe anyone an explanation for how we live, but I will say this ...


I just wanted to get that message perfectly clear - we are not trying to keep up with anyone named Jones.  We have had every right to have lived a good "honest" life and make a good "honest" living.  (and that is more than I can say for many) And, we did it without stealing from Tom, Dick, or Harry or borrowing from Uncle Joe 2 states away.  We have had every right to provide our family, our children, our grandson, and our parents, with the most comfortable home possible.  We have every right to enjoy our hobbies and passions, like motorcycles, painting, and piano.  It makes me sick in my stomach when someone says that we are living above our means or that we are trying to keep up with anyone.  That is crap.  Someone ought to punch you in the mouth for even thinking such horrible things about us.  (And we all know why people do that anyway - to feel better about themselves.  People who mouth off do that for no other reason than to elevate their own ego).  Or that your tax dollars are supporting us.  "Listen up my fair-weather friend - We've paid more in taxes than you ever have earned in income in your lifetime.  Get real and get your head out of the sand."  And the person who said that - and you know who I am talking about - obviously doesn't know us very well and has serious issues of her own - every time you want attention you end up in the hospital.  It angers me terribly to think that anyone who knows us, or doesn't know us for that matter, would make a judgment call that is completely wrong.  People who judge others and then talk about them behind their back are shallow, simple minded, uneducated idiots.  I don't talk about people behind their back - I have enough integrity to tell you to your face that you make me sick.  People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.  There, I've said it.  I feel better now.



Well, in 2007, and long before Bob got laid off, I started this blog about my life and my family.  I've always been a bit of a comic and I love to write, so this was my comic relief among other topics (unlike that angry vent in the last paragraph) I had a strong readership.  I enjoyed all the comments.  I still do.  But something changed over the past year.  I tried to put on a smile and a positive face, but I think you all saw right through it.  Maybe it was my subject matter.  Maybe it was that my humor seemed to fly right out the window with Bob's job.  Maybe it was just that - well - life wasn't funny anymore and I wasn't either.  I don't know what it was, but whatever it was I miss myself. 



I have tried to stay strong this past year, and maybe I have in some ways, but I'll be completely honest here - it has been a painful year for me.  I either sleep way too much or not enough.  I spend most days in my pajamas unless I'm going somewhere.  I rarely smile anymore except at my children.  I rarely laugh, which is completely not like me.  I do, however, wake up every morning and thank the Lord for my blessings in this life, the lessons learned from the struggles and the heartache, and the future that I know will bring much to be thankful for.



I've aged and I can see it when I look in the mirror.  I'm tired all the time.  Sleep seems to be my best friend at the moment.  (And if that makes a particular person feel better about herself because I'm miserable at the moment - get help). 

I paint, but not with the same enthusiasm as before.  The only thing creative that I have done this year that has given me a pick-me-up has been my new palette.  Working with wood has been a nice change and fun too.   It doesn't hurt that I've sold a few too!


Still, I've been in a real slump and a bummer of a mood for about 5 months now.  Actually, I think it was the death of Bob's mother, Geneva, and spending our last dollar on her funeral expenses and driving her to Maryland in the back of the Suburban that sent me over the edge - and I think it shows - in the way I look, the way I feel, the way I write too.  Now, not all my stories have been bad, but I think my readers can tell that I haven't been myself.  I've tried!  It just isn't the same when we feel like our security and our home are at risk.  Our parents are dying, our friends have betrayed us, our eldest children upset us, and we don't know when it is going to end.  

We still have faith.  We still have prayer.  We still have each other.  We support one another totally.  We still have many, many, many blessings and yes, many honest, true friends - and that is my fuel.  That is our fuel.  That is what gets me up in the morning.  That's what takes my footsteps into my studio to paint or to make a few new palettes.



I don't think I am depressed, but I do think I am sad.  Not just for our situation either.  At least we have hope and we have each other. Honestly, I am terribly saddened by the families who have lost their homes, their children, their lives.  I am devastated by the innocent loss of life because of war.  I feel helpless by the needless crime around us, the lives that are hurt, abused, or lost as a result.  I cry when I hear of another child or person who has lost their battle with cancer like Beth's friend Deb.  I feel frightened when I hear of a child that was perfectly healthy one day and dead 5 days later from the swine flu.  I feel unable to reach out to the families who are living in tent cities across this nation.  I want to help.  I want to help a lot.  I want to do more to help those who are far worse off.  And believe me, I know that even in the worst of circumstances right now, we've got it good.



Yes, we are having a bad year.  Yes, we might have to sell a few things - soon - to pay another mortgage payment or to pay the utilities.  Yes, we may even have to move.  But I have faith, and by God I'm not going to crumble without a fight and I'll go down kicking.   I may look like hell, I may feel like hell, and well, that's just going to have to be the least of my worries.



Just know that I'm doing the best I can.  I'm sorry I haven't been the comic relief that I used to be.  I'm sorry that my posts seem to be bland; but they are a reflection of the things that are on my mind - and my frame of mind - no matter how hard I try to hide it.

I hope you won't leave me here alone.  I hope you will continue to comment and continue to be the virtual friend and support that I have really enjoyed these past few years.  One day - soon I hope - I will be back in full swing.  The pictures will be better, the prose will be too.  Promise.  I just didn't want to bring everybody down with me if you know what I mean.  But I suppose I should be honest with you.  I suppose I should let you know how I feel and stop worrying about how everyone else feels for once.  Every now and then I suppose I should look in the mirror and see "me,"  because lately, I don't know who that woman is looking back at me in the mirror. 



Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Raisin Bread - Toasted & Buttered - Yum


I received a nice little package in the mail from my dear friend Beth.  It was a surprise.  When I opened it, guess what I found?  Well, it's not that difficult to figure out because I've got it pictured here.  Yep, Beth sent me homemade Raisin Bread, directly from her kitchen to mine.  I wonder what gave her the idea that I like Raisin Bread?  Ya think? 


So, I admired her work of art.


And I sliced it.


And I sliced it some more. 


And then I toasted it.  Raisin Toast is my favorite. The aroma began to filter through the air ...


And it didn't take long before scavengers arrived in the kitchen.


And they wanted to have some raisin toast.  


They ate it up and they smiled.


And they laughed.


"Hey Mom, is there more?  This is so good." 


"Okay Mom, you know how I feel about eating crust, but I want more toast."

Thank you Beth! - The boys ate all the raisin bread with the exception of 3 pieces that I enjoyed with them.  You're just going to have to make some more and this time take pictures of how you make it.  It was delicious!  You're such a great friend.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Live. Laugh. Love. Repeat.


My sweetie-pie made this on her computer and sent it to me in an email.  Look at that sweetheart smile.  I agree with her message and especially the last one ...

Live, Laugh, Love, Repeat. :)

Hope everyone has a great weekend! 


and Sarah too!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Cat Girl Comes to Town


That's my Cat Girl I'll have you know!  Today was "costume day" at Sarah's high school and she made some silly cat ears with her headband, put on some crazy eyeliner, dressed in black, and headed off to school.  Does she look happy or what?


Peace.  Love.  Smile.  Meow.


I think she looks absolutely adorable.  To think she is wearing a pair of my old black leggin's and my black Harley boots.  Why do children have to grow up so fast?  She is already taller than I am. I might add that she looks a heck of a lot better in those leggin's than I ever did.


And smart, and funny, and cute as a button I might add.  I can brag - she's my baby girl!  And she sure is going to look cute this halloween too, but she isn't wearing this outfit - she's going to be the grim reeper I think and scare all the little kids in the community. 

By the way, please vote for me at Divine Caroline.  I really appreciate the love.

By Parenting

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What You Should Know About the Swine Flu


Being that this is the flu season and swine flu is on everybody's mind, I thought it was a good idea to highlight this recent story from WebMD and pass it on to my readers.  For those of you who do not receive the WebMD newsletter, I highly recommend it.  This article is long, but it answers your questions about the swine flu and what we can all do to prevent this virus from infecting us and our families.  I've added images throughout to make it more interesting and to help you get through it. 

Most importantly, stay safe, keep your hands washed regularly, and see your doctor if you think you may have the flu, any flu (but wear a face mask when you go to his office and out in public please) - Susan

Swine Flu FAQ

Answers to your questions about swine flu.

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

The swine flu virus in the U.S. is the same one causing a deadly epidemic in Mexico. What is swine flu? What can we do about it? WebMD answers your questions.

Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

Get the latest swine flu facts and information from WebMD, the CDC and other public health agencies.

Swine Flu Slideshow

Like people, pigs can get influenza (flu), but swine flu viruses aren't the same as human flu viruses. View the slideshow.


What is swine flu?

Like people, pigs can get influenza (flu), but swine flu viruses aren't the same as human flu viruses. Swine flu doesn't often infect people, and the rare human cases that have occurred in the past have mainly affected people who had direct contact with pigs. But the current "swine flu" outbreak is different. It's caused by a new swine flu virus that has changed in ways that allow it to spread from person to person -- and it's happening among people who haven't had any contact with pigs.

That makes it a human flu virus. To distinguish it both from flu viruses that infect mainly pigs and from the seasonal influenza A H1N1 viruses that have been in circulation for many years, the CDC calls the virus "novel influenza A (H1N1) virus" and the World Health Organization calls it "pandemic (H1N1) 2009." The CDC calls swine flu illness "H1N1 flu" and the World Health Organization calls it "pandemic influenza A (H1N1)."


What are swine flu symptoms?

Symptoms of swine flu are like regular flu symptoms and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Many people with swine flu have had diarrhea and vomiting.  Nearly everyone with flu has at least two of these symptoms. But these symptoms can also be caused by many other conditions. That means that you and your doctor can't know, just based on your symptoms, if you've got swine flu. Health care professionals may offer a rapid flu test, although a negative result doesn't necessarily mean you don't have the flu.

Like seasonal flu, pandemic swine flu can cause neurologic symptoms in children. These events are rare, but, as cases associated with seasonal flu have shown, they can be very severe and often fatal. Symptoms include seizures or changes in mental status (confusion or sudden cognitive or behavioral changes). It's not clear why these symptoms occur, although they may be caused by Reye's syndrome. Reye's syndrome usually occurs in children with a viral illness who have taken aspirin -- something that should always be avoided.

Only lab tests can definitively show whether you've got swine flu. State health departments can do these tests. But given the large volume of samples coming in to state labs, these tests are being reserved for patients with severe flu symptoms. Currently, doctors are reserving antiviral drugs for people with or at risk of severe influenza.


Who is at highest risk from H1N1 swine flu?

Most U.S. cases of H1N1 swine flu have been in older children and young adults. It's not clear why, and it's not clear whether this will change.

But certain groups are at particularly high risk of severe disease or bad outcomes if they get the flu:

  • Young children, especially those under 12 months of age
  • Elderly people are at high risk of severe flu disease. But relatively few swine flu cases have been seen in people over age 65.
  • People with cardiovascular conditions (except high blood pressure)
  • People with liver problems
  • People with kidney problems
  • People with blood disorders, including sickle cell disease
  • People with neurologic disorders
  • People with neuromuscular disorders
  • People with metabolic disorders, including diabetes
  • People with immune suppression, including HIV infection and medications that suppress the immune system, such as cancer chemotherapy or anti-rejection drugs for transplants
  • Residents of a nursing home or other chronic-care facility

People in these groups should seek medical care as soon as they get flu symptoms.

A striking number of adults who developed severe swine flu complications have been morbidly obese. However, obesity itself does not seem to be the issue. The vast majority of extremely obese people suffer respiratory problems and/or diabetes, which seem to be the underlying reason for their severe flu complications.


If I think I have swine flu, what should I do? When should I see my doctor?

If you have flu symptoms, stay home, and when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Afterward, throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands. That will help prevent your flu from spreading

If you have only mild flu symptoms, you do not need medical attention unless your illness gets worse. But if you are in one of the groups at high risk of severe disease, contact your doctor at the first sign of flu-like illness. In such cases, the CDC recommends that people call or email their doctor before rushing to an emergency room.

But there are emergency warning signs.

Children should be given urgent medical attention if they:

  • Have fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Have bluish or gray skin color
  • Are not drinking enough fluid
  • Are not waking up or not interacting
  • Have severe or persistent vomiting
  • Are so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Have flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and a worse cough
  • Have fever with a rash
  • Have a fever and then have a seizure or sudden mental or behavioral change.

Adults should seek urgent medical attention if they have:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve, but then come back with worsening fever or cough

Keep in mind that your doctor will not be able to determine whether you have swine flu, but he or she may take a sample from you and send it to a state health department lab for testing to see if it's swine flu. If your doctor suspects swine flu, he or she would be able to write you a prescription for Tamiflu or Relenza.

These antiviral medications aren't a question of life or death for the vast majority of people. Most U.S. swine flu patients have made a full recovery without antiviral drugs.


How does swine flu spread? Is it airborne?

The new swine flu virus apparently spreads just like regular flu. You could pick up germs directly from droplets from the cough or sneeze of an infected person, or by touching an object they recently touched, and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose, delivering their germs for your own infection. That's why you should make washing your hands a habit, even when you're not ill. Infected people can start spreading flu germs up to a day before symptoms start, and for up to seven days after getting sick, according to the CDC.

The swine flu virus can become airborne if you cough or sneeze without covering your nose and mouth, sending germs into the air. Ferret studies suggest that swine flu spreads less easily by small, airborne droplets than does seasonal flu. But it does spread by this route, and it may begin to spread even more readily as the new virus fully adapts to humans.

The new swine flu virus is a human virus spread by people and not by pigs. The only way to get the new swine flu is from another person.


How is swine flu treated?

Pandemic H1N1 swine flu virus is sensitive to the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza. These antiviral drugs are most effective when taken within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms.

Not everyone needs those drugs. Most people who come down with swine flu recover fully -- without antiviral treatment.

But the CDC strongly recommends antiviral treatment for people at risk of severe flu complications who come down with flu-like symptoms. Since it's very important to start these drugs soon after symptoms appear, doctors should offer treatment to at-risk patients if they suspect they have the flu. Doctors should not rely on rapid flu tests (they are too unreliable for definitive diagnosis) or wait for results of lab-based tests (because they take too long).

Early treatment is so important that the CDC suggests doctors offer a Tamiflu or Relenza prescription to at-risk patients. If these patients develop flu-like symptoms, they would call their doctor, and based on the doctor's clinical judgment, the patient could then simply fill the prescription.

Is there enough Tamiflu and Relenza to go around? Federal and state stockpiles are large enough to treat at-risk patients with flu symptoms. But there isn't enough to offer treatment to otherwise healthy people who may have the flu. And health officials have asked people not to hoard Tamiflu or Relenza.

Tamiflu and Relenza can prevent swine flu, but the CDC urges even at-risk people to try to avoid using the drugs in this way. Not only is supply insufficient for preventive use, but preventive use appears to be a major factor in the few cases of drug-resistant H1N1 swine flu that have appeared.

There are situations in which preventive use of Tamiflu or Relenza may be appropriate for an at-risk person who must come into close contact with someone who has the flu. But the CDC suggests that doctors consider a "watchful waiting" approach. In this case, the at-risk person would wait to fill the prescription only if she or he actually developed flu symptoms.


Is there a vaccine against the new swine flu virus?

It's in the works.  Vaccines are being made in large quantities. Clinical tests began in August 2009. Depending on how long federal officials wait for the results of these tests, millions of doses of swine flu vaccine could be ready as soon as September 2009, with more vaccine becoming available each month thereafter.

Although the decision to begin mass vaccinations has not yet been made, federal and state governments are looking at a mid-October launch. By then, 45 million vaccine doses should be available -- fewer than originally predicted, but enough to cover the highest risk groups. Each week after that, another 20 million doses a week will be delivered to states. The U.S. has purchased  a total of 195 million doses.

If swine flu vaccine is in short supply -- nationally or in local areas -- pregnant women and people caring for or living with infants will go to the front of the line. So would health care workers and first responders who have direct contact with patients, children 6 months to 4 years old, and kids 4 to 19 years old with medical conditions that put them at risk of severe flu disease. There are about 42 million Americans in these groups.

If the vaccine supply seems sufficient to meet initial demand, priority will extend to all young people aged six months to 24 years, to people 25 to 64 with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk of severe flu disease, and a larger group of health care workers and emergency medical technicians.

Once there's enough vaccine for these urgent groups, swine flu vaccine will be offered to healthy people 24 and older.

Many questions remain. It's not yet clear whether people will need one or two shots, given three weeks apart, or whether an immune-boosting substance called adjuvant will have to be used.

Spurred by the safety concerns that sank vaccination efforts during the 1976 swine flu scare, federal officials are increasing efforts to track the safety of a pandemic flu vaccine. In addition to beefing up the CDC's vaccine adverse-event surveillance system, health care organizations and the U.S. military will be helping track vaccine safety.


I had a flu vaccine this season. Am I protected against swine flu?

No. This season's flu vaccine does not protect against the new swine flu virus.

Whether or not there's a swine flu vaccine this winter, there will be a new seasonal flu vaccine in the fall. This year, it will be more important than ever to get a flu shot. It may not protect against swine flu -- but it will keep you and others from getting the seasonal flu viruses that kill some 36,000 Americans each year.


How can I prevent swine flu infection?

The CDC recommends taking these steps:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid close contact -- that is, being within 6 feet -- with people who have flu-like symptoms.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. That's not easy to do, so keep those hands clean.
  • If you have flu-like symptoms -- fever plus at least cough or sore throat or other flu symptoms -- stay home for seven days after symptoms begin or until you've been symptom-free for 24 hours -- whichever is longer.
  • Wear a face mask (consider using an N95 respirator) if you must come into close contact with a sick person. "Close contact" means within 6 feet. Note: There is no definitive proof that a face mask prevents flu transmission. Do not rely solely on a face mask to prevent infection.
  • Wear an N95 respirator if helping a sick person with a nebulizer, inhaler, or other respiratory treatment. Note: There is no definitive proof that a respirator prevents flu transmission. Do not rely solely on a respirator to prevent infection.
  • People who have or are suspected of having swine flu should wear a face mask, if available and tolerable, when sharing common spaces with other household members, when outside the home, or when near children or infants.
  • Breastfeeding mothers with swine flu symptoms should express their breast milk, and the child should be fed by someone else.


Should I wear a face mask or respirator?

Short answer: Maybe.  Face masks and respirators may very well offer extra protection, but should not be your first line of defense against either pandemic or seasonal flu. 

Every day, newspapers carry pictures of people wearing face masks to prevent swine flu transmission. But very little is known about whether face masks actually protect against the flu.

There's a difference between a face mask and a respirator. A face mask does not seal tightly to the face. Face masks include masks labeled as surgical, dental, medical procedure, isolation, or laser masks. Respirators are N95- or higher-rated filtering face pieces that fit snugly to the face. Respirators filter out virus particles when correctly adjusted -- which is not as simple as it sounds. But it's hard to breathe through them for extended periods, and they cannot be worn by children or by people with facial hair.

People who have flu-like symptoms should carry disposable tissues to cover their coughs and sneezes. When going out in public, or when sharing common spaces around the home with family members, they should put on a face mask -- if one is available and tolerable.

People not at risk of severe flu illness can best protect themselves from swine flu with frequent hand washing and by staying at least 6 feet away from people with flu symptoms. But if swine flu is circulating in the community, a face mask or respirator may be protective in crowded public places.

People at increased risk of severe flu illness -- pregnant women, for example -- should add a face mask to these tried-and-true precautions when providing assistance to a person with flu-like illness. And anyone else who cannot avoid close contact with someone who has swine flu (if you must hold a sick infant, for example) may try using a face mask or respirator.


How long does the flu virus survive on surfaces?

Flu bugs can survive for hours on surfaces. One study showed that flu viruses can live for up to 48 hours on hard, nonporous surfaces such as stainless steel and for up to 12 hours on cloth and tissues. The virus seems to survive for only minutes on your hands -- but that's plenty of time for you to transfer it to your mouth, nose, or eyes.


Can I still eat pork?

Yes. You can't get swine flu by eating pork, bacon, or other foods that come from pigs.


What else should I be doing during the swine flu pandemic?

Keep informed of what's going on in your community. Your state and local health departments may have important information if swine flu develops in your area. For instance, parents might want to consider what they would do if their child's school temporarily closed because of flu. Don't panic,  but a little planning wouldn't hurt.

Here's the advice from the U.S. government's web site:

To plan for a pandemic:

  • Store a two-week supply of water and food. During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters.
  • Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
  • Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
  • Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.
  • Volunteer with local groups to prepare and assist with emergency response.
  • Get involved in your community as it works to prepare for an influenza pandemic.

Items to have on hand for an extended stay at home:

Examples of food and non-perishables

Examples of medical, health, and emergency supplies

•         Ready-to-eat canned meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, and soups

•         Prescribed medical supplies such as glucose and blood-pressure monitoring equipment

•         Protein or fruit bars

•         Soap and water, or alcohol-based (60-95%) hand wash

•         Dry cereal or granola

•         Medicines for fever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen

•         Peanut butter or nuts

•         Thermometer

•         Dried fruit

•         Anti-diarrheal medication

•         Crackers

•         Vitamins

•         Canned juices

•         Fluids with electrolytes

•         Bottled water

•         Cleansing agent/soap

•         Canned or jarred baby food and formula

•         Flashlight

•         Pet food

•         Batteries

•         Other non-perishable items

•         Portable radio

•         Manual can opener

•         Garbage bags

•         Tissues, toilet paper, disposable diapers


How severe is swine flu?

The severity of cases in the current swine flu outbreak has varied widely, from mild cases to fatalities. Most U.S. cases have been mild, but there have been a number of deaths and hundreds of hospitalizations -- mostly in young people aged 5 to 24.

Like seasonal flu, children who get swine flu can have serious neurological complications such as seizures and Reye's syndrome. But as with seasonal flu, these complications fortunately are rare.

Studies of the swine flu virus show that it is more infectious to lung cells than are seasonal flu viruses. But studies also suggest that the swine flu virus is less well adapted to humans and may be harder to inhale deep into the lungs.

Flu viruses change all the time, and the way the pandemic swine flu virus evolved suggests that it is particularly liable to swap gene segments with other flu viruses. But so far the swine flu virus hasn't changed much. That's good news, as the vast majority of swine flu cases have been mild. And it's also good news for the swine flu vaccine, which is based on swine flu strains isolated early in the pandemic.

It's impossible to know whether the virus will become more deadly. Scientists are watching closely to see which way the new swine flu virus is heading -- but health experts warn that flu viruses are notoriously hard to predict.

But there's a lot of planning you can do. CDC officials predict that just about every U.S. community will have H1N1 swine flu cases. It's possible some schools in your community may temporarily close, or even that major gatherings may be canceled. So make contingency plans just in case you are affected. For more information on preparedness planning, see the U.S. government's web site.


Why has the swine flu infection been more severe in Mexico than in other countries?

That's not clear yet. Researchers around the world are investigating the differences between the cases in Mexico and those elsewhere. The data so far suggests that many more people in Mexico had mild swine flu infections than had originally been appreciated. So the disease now seems to have been no more severe in Mexico than elsewhere.


Have there been previous swine flu oubtreaks?

I was vaccinated against the 1976 swine flu virus. Am I still protected?

Probably not. The new swine flu virus is different from the 1976 virus. And it's not clear whether a vaccine given more than 30 years ago would still be effective.


How many people have swine flu?

That's no longer possible to answer, because so many people have become infected that most nations can no longer test everyone suspected of having H1N1 swine flu. The CDC counts hospitalizations and deaths. But instead of misleading case counts, the CDC offers a map showing where flu is widespread and charts showing whether unusual numbers of people are showing up in doctors' offices with flu-like symptoms and whether there are unusually high numbers of deaths from pneumonia and influenza.


How serious is the public health threat of a swine flu epidemic?

The U.S. government has declared swine flu to be a public health emergency. The World Health Organization considers it a global emergency.

It remains to be seen how severe swine flu will be in the U.S. and elsewhere, but countries worldwide are monitoring the situation closely and preparing for worst-case scenarios.

The World Health Organization has declared swine flu to be a pandemic. That means that all nations can expect to see swine flu infections -- and should prepare for them -- but does not mean the virus has become more severe.

The H1N1 swine flu outbreak came at the end of the U.S. flu season. The virus spread across the nation and around the globe in the spring and summer, seasons when flu usually ebbs to nearly undetectable levels in the Northern Hemisphere.

In the Southern Hemisphere, most nations have seen large numbers of H1N1 swine flu cases. Fortunately, there's no sign that the pandemic flu bug has become more deadly, more resistant to new flu drugs, or less likely to be stopped by the H1N1 swine flu vaccine now in production.

Nobody knows how bad the swine flu will be during the Northern Hemisphere flu season. But the CDC is warning Americans to prepare for a bad flu season this fall. It's better to over-prepare and look a little silly if nothing happens than to be unprepared for an emergency.

WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti contributed to this report.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Pride Runneth Over


My baby girl isn't a baby anymore.  She is growing up so fast, and I am so proud of her I could burst.  She started 10th grade this year and she is doing so well - beyond my expectations, but not beyond her own. 


So many 15 year old's lack the focus and commitment for their education and future.  Not Sarah.  She is totally committed to her future and her education.  She has high goals for herself.   We have always encouraged her to pursue her passions and reach for those dreams that are important to her, but I must admit I am surprised and inspired by her goals.  Well, maybe I'm not really all that surprised.  Sarah has always been a "winner."  From the time she was little, she viewed competition as a way to grow to have fun, to make new friends, and that is what I tried to teach her - that competition can be healthy and fun, it all depends on how you look at it.


Today in school, she was given a document to fill out about her college goals and when she got home she proceeded to tell me what she wrote...

Harvard Medical
Yale Law
Georgetown Medical or Law
University of North Carolina

I knew that she was investigating colleges online in her spare time, but - well - I had no idea she was aiming so high.  Thing is, though, is that I know she can do it.  There is nothing holding her back except maybe finances.  She has a healthy brain and a healthy body.  She is smart and articulate - and I think I've earned bragging rights here.  I mean, she's my baby girl - and so grown up. 


Sarah has been researching colleges since she was in 8th grade, but this list blew me away.  She is an "A" student with the occasional "B."  She takes Honors and Advanced Placement classes.  This semester she is taking Honors Biology, Honors Algebra II, French I, and Civics.  She has the highest grade in her class in Honors Biology with an average score of "97."  Now do you understand why I'm so proud?  Why "we" are so proud?


I homeschooled Sarah from the beginning until she started her high school years, and I am doing the same for our other 2 children.  Matthew and Glen are now in 7th and 4th grades, respectively, and doing very well.  But Sarah has validated, for me anyway, that her years of homeschooling were successful, and that she understands how important her high school years and her grades are in being able to pursue her college education.  For her, high school is not a game - it's her future.  It's her job.  We tell her to "Stay focused and keep her eye on the goal."  And, you know somethin'? - she is doing just that.


I have a strange way of explaining things sometimes, but I have told all of our children since 7th grade that they need to hone their study skills "now" and get into the mind-set of aiming for those "As."  They need to understand that as soon as they enter high school, they are in competition with every other student to garner the attention of the college they want to go to.  If they have a dream, nobody is going to hand it to them.  They have to earn it, earn it well, and work for it - every single day. They need to stay focused and before they can blink an eye, they will be living their dream.


We're talkin' scholarship money here, baby!  I've told our children that once they're in high school that every "A" is like being handed a check for a 1,000 dollars.  If you get a "B" that's like a check for one hundred dollars.  A "C" - you won't get anything.  If you get a "D" you have to give back 10,000 dollars. And if you fail, you have to give back everything you've earned thus far.  In other words, you might be going into some deep debt if you have poor grades. 

So, think about it - if you want to go to Harvard, for instance, and the annual tuition is, let's say, 100,000.  We've told Sarah she had better well have earned all, if not nearly all, "As" in her high school career.  Anything less, and they won't be interested in giving her squat, and we sure as heck can't afford to send her there otherwise, so she has to earn it on her own merits.  And thankfully, she takes that seriously.


Sarah understands this - clearly, too.  And she is busting her backside and her brain to earn those "As" and she bites her bottom lip every time she gets a "B."  I've never seen a teenager so committed to her future like Sarah and I am so proud of her for this.  When she sets her mind on something she does it - 102%.  Yep, 102%.  Why 102%?  Well, this is a funny story, but just last week she had a Biology test, and she came home and said "Mom, guess what I got on my Biology test?"  I responded "Uh, 90?"  (I always do that to her), she said "Nope."  Bob made a face and said "68?"  She looked at her dad and said "Dad! Good Grief!"  He smiled.  I said "Okay, what did you get?"  She said "102%."  "So how did you do that?"  "Well" Sarah said, "I got 100 on the test and an additional 2% on the extra credit question and I was the first one done in the class too." 

Funny thing is, is that this isn't the first time Sarah has earned additional points towards her grade over and above her already good grades.  It's like she is storing up for the winter just in case.  Just in case what? 


So, if my calculations are correct, she just earned 1,020 bucks towards the college of her choice.  I'm talking scholarship money here.  We want the colleges to be banging down her door.


And if this last year-and-a-half is any indication, Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, and UNC just might be banging down her door - and after her concert and performance of her composition "Waterfall" at Queen's University on November 21st, Juilliard just might be banging down her door too.

Then she can join Mensa like her Mom ...  to be continued semester by semester.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sometimes You Just Gotta Get Comfortable


Our doggies have their favorite chairs, and I'm convinced that there is psychology to the chosen chair.  Take Hannah for instance - I am convinced that she prefers this chair just so that she can keep an eye on me when I'm working on my laptop.  She'll jump up into the recliner and keep an eye out on all the activity in the family room.


Of course, if one of the children walk by, she'll pop her head up to see what's goin' on.


Then there is the occasional boredom.  Nothing to do, nobody to watch, nobody to play with, no feet to lick.


Poor Hannah.  Not even Adolf is playing with her at the moment.  Sarah's at school, the boys are doing their homework.  I'm painting, Dad's working on his computer, and Grandma is sleeping. 


What's a doggie to do?


Adolf has other ideas.  This is his favorite chair.  The big green chair in the music room, right by the window looking out onto the driveway and the front of the house.


You see, Adolf knows he is our guard dog, so he has to keep watch.  Of course, keeping watch is work, so he has to be comfortable at the same time.


Until he gets bored, and then he just hangs out and goes to sleep, and drools all over the chair.


And dreams about all the cats he can chase and bad guys he can intimidate.  And he drools all over the chair some more.


I suppose it isn't anything that upholstery cleaner won't cure.  And besides, he doesn't intimidate Mom... nope.  "Not Mom - naah - Mom's not intimidated at all.  She just wants me to make eyes at her and then come and lick her face." 

Now if only Adolf would learn not to bark at all the squirrels, we'd have a quieter household.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Accomplishments Feel So Grand


We are very proud of our girl!
Sarah has been invited to
Queen's University
to perform her "Waterfall" composition
in a winter concert at the University
on November 21st.  

The second half of the concert will include
a performance by
Jazz pianist and recording artist Claire Ritter
Boston Percussionist Takaaki Masuko

How exciting! 

More information about the time and location on
the University campus will be forthcoming.
Cost will be $10.00 at the door. 
Hope you can make it to this
wonderful performance in
beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina!

And, more good news ...

I received an email from the author of
"TypePad for Dummies"
which is being published in
February 2010
that my blog "Raisin Toast"
will be pictured and mentioned in her chapter
"Top 10 TypePad blogs!"

How great is that!

In the event you haven't heard Sarah's
beautiful composition ...


Monday, September 07, 2009

What Not To Do - Or...


This year has been so discouraging that I have been thinking seriously about what options and resources are available for opening a small business.  Having been a small business owner in the past, I carry with me a bungalow of optimism when it comes to starting a business, however, I know how much energy, time, and effort goes into the building, creating, and financing of a business as well.  It's a lot of work - and that's an understatement.

When I was in my early 20s and a single mother with 2 little girls, I started "Real Estate Services of South Florida."  I had worked as a legal secretary for a number of years and found myself specializing in Real Estate settlements.  I did such a great job of preparing documents, making calls, and organizing the process that other attorneys in the area who came to the law firm that I worked for asked me if I would help them with their settlements or train their legal secretary to do what I was doing.  And so, to make a little extra cash on the side, that is what I did for about 2 years, and then my life moved on to other things and in a completely different direction, but it was a great experience.

I was a dreamer in my 20s - in a big way.  My mind was always giving me new ideas and creative ways to change and grow, sometimes to my detriment, and other times to my success.  I flipped-flopped around a lot.  Not necessarily a good thing. 

While I had my real estate services business, and was raising 2 baby girls, I was also going to college.  And every other week I was getting my nails done, and back in the 80s that was a new and exciting business.  Nail salons were not something you find on every street corner like today, and incredibly, it cost more to get your nails done in the 80s than it does now!  Still, I was getting my nails done and thought "This sure would be a fun business." And, so, I started to ask questions and I got to know the owner of the salon I went to every other week. 

I moved back to Maryland (where I am from) from South Florida where I had been living for 5 years with my girls.  I love Maryland, although it is more expensive to live there than South Florida.  Still, I moved back to be with someone I had loved and dated back when I was in high school and to start a new life with my girls.  When I got there, the first thing I noticed was that there were no nail salons - anywhere.  So, you can imagine what big ideas started to circle through my brain.

So, with money from my guy (who is still a dear friend), my piddly savings, and a small bank loan, we, together, opened a nail salon in Olney, Maryland.  We called it "Armonds Nail Salon."  It was our first attempt at a brick & mortar retail / services business.  It was exhausting, but - and this is a big "but" - it was profitable, and in a very short time.  That is because as I said earlier, there were no nail salons.  My salon was the first nail salon in Montgomery County, Maryland and I had business coming out of the woodwork.  It wasn't long before we were turning a profit, so much so that Mike, my Naval Academy guy and Kathleen's daddy, quit his job and joined me in growing the business.  That turned out to be the death of our relationship.


We worked 14-16 hour days 6 days a week, and on our day off we cleaned the salon.  It became all consuming to the point that it affected the lives of my girls, my health, and our relationship.  Women were constantly flirting with Mike and I was upset.  Actually, I was an emotional, hormonal basketcase back then.  It wasn't fun.  Our salon was gorgeous, and Mike and I were both very proud of it, but it destroyed "us" and nearly buried me.  Was it worth it?  Well, no.  Not really.  Hindsight is 20/20.  There was no "balance" and I have learned over the years that we all need "balance" in everything we do.  Without balance, something is bound to suffer - whether it be the laundry or something more important like family - something will suffer.  I still struggle with finding the right balance in my life for all the things I do, and many days I fail at it miserably, but I try.  Back in the 80s I didn't have a clue what balance was all about and pretty much lived each day by the seat of my pants.  Let's just say I was "wingin it" most of the time.

Without getting into the ugly details, I will tell you this - I left Maryland, left Mike, and took the salon with me lock, stock, and barrell - to Florida, where I then promptly opened a new salon "Altesse Nails" (Altesse I think is French for a strong woman or something like that). Anyway,  I opened my new salon, with the help of my mother, in Boca Raton, Florida.  To decorate the walls, and instead of purchasing ridiculously expensive framed prints from Ethan Allen which is what Mike and I had done in Maryland, I purchased some large canvas, oil paints, medium, brushes, and an easel, and whipped me up some paintings to cover my walls.

Altesse Nails was beautiful (of course it was, because I have good taste), but although I must admit I ran a better business, was more balanced, and was better able to get a grip on reality and on the basics of business management, I still struggled.  By the time I opened Altesse Nails I was 29 years old with a 10 year old daughter and an 8 year old daughter.  I had painted about 20 canvases in 2 months and sold every one of them for profit.  So, somewhere in South Florida, my oil paintings are floating around.  Or maybe not.  Although they sold quickly, I tend to think they must have been crappy.  I knew nothing about oil painting and whipped up abstract stuff that complimented the colors in the salon.  No rhyme or reason to my paintings.  I didn't photograph them (wish I had) but I did sign them (Susan Smith).  Anybody out there have an abstract oil painting from Susan Smith? It is probably mine. I kept having to paint to keep my walls covered.

What killed that business was a nasty custody battle that ensued for the next 3 years.  As a result, I sold my business to pay my attorney's fees, and returned to college, majoring in International business and law.  See how my life came full circle?


Let's see if I can sum it up - up to that point anyway ...

Art (childhood stuff)
Child (Kathleen) - that's what you call putting the cart before the horse.
Child (Kim)
The Big "D"
Law (legal secretary)
Small Business (Real Estate Services of South Florida)
College (Law studies) (cart before the horse again)
Small Business (Armond's Nail Salon)
The Big "D"
Small Business (Altesse Nails)
College (Law studies)

It's amazing I still had my wits about me (I think I did anyway) although I was ready to kick someone's ass back then I did manage to maintain a 4.0 gpa with a full college load of courses and was accepted into Mensa.  That was my way of convincing myself that I was smart I think.  I'm still a proud member of Mensa and still trying to convince myself that there really is something to IQ.  I am 142 thank you very much.  Whatever that means.  What does that really mean anyway? 

Still, I sold Altesse Nails, Mike moved the Maryland salon to bigger and better things (and location) and we spent a couple of years getting past the mess we had made of our lives and our relationship. 

Things were looking up - finally - and believe it or not, that is when I decided to concentrate fully on finishing my college career and becoming a lawyer.  I was living with my mother and doing well.  Not settled mind you, but doing better anyway - between wrestling matches with my first husband and custody battles.

I continued to paint while going to college and even sold a few more paintings.  Somewhere in-between all the chaos, I bought a Harley (Oh, I remember now, that was after I sold my salon in Florida), and that became my main transportation back and forth from college.  I think it was at that time that I had an epiphany - that my harley made me feel strong, sexy, crazy, and in control - all at the same time.  No wonder I enjoyed that machine.  I was also over "men" and decided that I would rather throw my leg over that bike than over a man any day.  - I know, bad humor.  Bear with me.  My life does get better believe it or not.

This reminiscing is kinda fun! ha - - - ho - - - hum.

Mike and I decided to give it the ol' college try again.  He had changed (or so he said) and I had grown (or so I thought).  So, I transferred to Georgetown University and moved back to Maryland, got a job at a law firm as a paralegal, and worked in our old salon with Mike - again.  Kathleen was a teenager and wanted to stay in Florida with all her friends.  Kimberly was back and forth with her father and me.

You'd think I would have learned the first time wouldn't ya?

Anyway, I worked and went to school and things began to deteriorate again from there.  So, I moved to my own place, continued to go to school, and got a job in another salon across town.  Mike and I were still friends though - somehow - someway - we survived another carnage.

8 months later I get notification of my 15 yr. high school reunion.  Mike didn't want to go so I went with a girlfriend and her husband.  Upon entering I run head long into Bobby Vaughn who was an acquaintance in high school.  Friendly (as always) he asked me a few "lead" questions:

Are you living here now? (Yes)

Are you still married? (No)

You want to go to dinner? (Uh .... Sure, why not)

We had a blast, and 6 weeks later, in another "Susan style" we got married.  Only, this time, it has lasted 17 years and will last a lifetime.  He's my Big Bear! 

We had 2 wonderful children whom you know about here in all their glory and then my mother moved in with us.  Then we inherited the joys of our grandson too when he was just 2 weeks old.  Then Bob's parents moved in with us for 4 years.  Then a lot happened in between and we moved to North Carolina and believe it or not, MIke and I are still friends.  I think. 

Somewhere in that time I finished college, became an artist, ticked off my 2 oldest daughters, and went very gray. 

Here I sit. 

So, I'm thinkin' (sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes that's a bad thing) and I'm-a-sittin' and I'm-a-thinkin' that I'd like to open an art gallery.  One that would have a player baby grand piano and beautiful artwork (to start mine and Alison's), and a working studio on the side with lots of windows, that member artists could rent and use for workshops or just for painting.  Oh, and a little cafe too with pastries and coffee and tea and soda and hot cocoa too.  And there'd be music and fine art and artists and friends and relaxation and all the world would be good.

Or not.

But I'm thinkin' here and the last year has been terribly discouraging economically and, well, unemployment doesn't last forever.

So, should I start a new brick & mortar business?  Do I dare? I think it would be different this time.  A lot different.  And, I think it would be successful too.  But then again, I'm an optimist and a dreamer.  Most artists are to some degree.  And that's why I started writing this dang post in the first place - to be a discussion of opening a small business.  How on earth did I end up here?  Hell if I know.

Now that you've read my life story, you can leave now.  Probably never come back.  This has probably been more than you bargained for.  I'm chronicling these things so that in the event I keel over - for good - that at least I wrote it down somewhere so my children will know what "not" to do in their lifetime.

And, if I can find the pictures that chronicle this 50 year roller coaster, I'll add them to this post - bit by bit.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Time for the Festival


Just want you all to know that I am busting my butt at the Matthews Alive Festival through Monday evening.  They'll have to peel me off the ground before the weekend is out.  I have to say, I really hate doing these festivals.  The last time I did this 2 years ago I swore I would never do it again and here I am.  I must be crazy.

So, this will be the last post until Tuesday if I'm not laid up in a hospital somewhere.  Festivals are exhausting.  Tonight we have to set up the tent, the tables, the paintings, the guestbook, the chairs, the cooler, the easels, yada yada yada.  Then I will come home and cry till I have to get up early and be at the Festival before 9am on Sat. Sun, and Monday to open my tent.  


Fortunately, Alison is selling her artwork with me so I won't be alone in my misery.  We can both complain for exactly 29 hours of brutal heat, no air conditioning, no fan, and ... well, you get the picture.  I'll have pictures of our misery to post next week though.  I'll bet you can't wait.

Here is a link to all the Arts & Crafts booths at this year's festival:


I'm #96.


No, this is not me.

Here is the schedule of events:

Festival Hours:

Friday, Sep 4th - 6:30 PM - 10:30 PM (AC and Kid's Connection closed Friday)
All you can ride Arm Band night!! - $15

Saturday, Sep 5th - 9 AM - 9:00 PM
Labor Day Parade: 10 AM (Trade Street)
Parade Order | Parade Route | Parade Staging | Parade Closings
Arts & Crafts: 9 AM - 7:30 PM - Coming soon. Arts and Craft Map
Kid's Connection: 9 AM - 7:00 PM
Quilt Show & Artists of Matthews display: 12 PM - 6 PM – Community Center

Sunday, Sep 6th - 12 PM – 9:00 PM
Arts & Crafts: 12 PM - 7:30 PM
Kid's Connection: 12 PM - 7:00 PM
Quilt Show & Artists of Matthews display: 1 PM - 6 PM – Community Center

Monday, Sept. 7th - 10 AM - 5 PM
Kiwanis Race: 8 AM
Arts & Crafts: 10 AM - 5 PM
Kid's Connection: 10 AM - 4 PM
Quilt Show & Artists of Matthews display: 10 AM - 4 PM . Community Center

If you are in the Charlotte, North Carolina area of Matthews, stop by the tent at #96 in front of the school.  I will appreciate the diversion.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What's the One Thing?


To everyone who stops by today ... I have a random question for you ...

What is the one thing you wished for that you are glad you never got? 

This question was posed on TypePad and it got me thinkin.  So, what is the one thing that I wished for that I am glad I never got?  Actually, I think I may have a few things.

I am glad I never moved to New York right out of high school.

I am glad I never moved to California in my 20s.

I am glad I never bought that little rambler on New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland.

I am glad I don't look like Christy Brinkley.  I think.

I am glad I don't have more children.  I'm happy with the one's I have.

This is a biggie - I am glad I had a miscarriage in the early part of my pregnancy in February, 1996.  If I had not lost that baby, I would not have gotten pregnant 6 weeks later with my first and only son.  He is the light of my life.  God always has a plan.

I am glad I did not marry ... (let's see, there were a few who asked and I almost said "yes.")

I am glad I did not finish law school and instead married a wonderful man and was able to seek out my dreams and explore my creative goals while raising our children and taking care of our home.

Bottom line, I am happy that I am here today - flaws and all.  The path to get here has sometimes been paved with stones, and sometimes been paved with dirt, and a few times I got stuck in a rut on the side of the dirt road, but the view along the way has been agood one. 

TypePad posed this question today on their site and it stopped me in my tracks.  I sometimes wonder why we are having to struggle for the first time in our life, but we are struggling together and we are healthy - today - right now - we are all healthy and together and we have a home. We have soft, cool pillows to rest our weary heads.  We have orange juice, milk, and bread.  We have clean clothes and we can take a hot shower.  We have these silly computers in which to communicate and do our work. We have 2 of the most adorable dogs ever who lick our feet and nibble on our toes. 

Big Bear may have lost his job almost a year ago (Sept. 15, 2008) no thanks to Avaya's layoff, but we've pulled together, bit the bullet, and managed to survive - together.  I think there is a lesson to be learned here too, because although Bob "wished" he had not been laid off, maybe, just maybe, the best is yet to come.  I believe we all may have learned a difficult lesson in managing our pennies and valuing more the things we normally take for granted.  Like television.  We cut off our satellite television about 3 weeks ago and surprisingly, we haven't missed it all that much.  We've spent more time together as a family, the boys have found new ways to entertain themselves (lincoln logs, board games, and books), and I've gotten more paintings done.

I suppose around every cloud there is a silver lining. 

So tell me, What is the one thing you wished for that you are glad you never got? Or two ...


Monday, August 24, 2009

Visits with Vermeer


I've had one of those weeks.  I enjoyed being able to shut down my brain for the week and not have to think about getting a story out or pulling out my camera, although I love doing those things, I had other things that were pressing - like laundry, cleaning and organizing a home office, laundry, getting my mother settled back home in her own bed, laundry, and getting my daughter ready for school that starts tomorrow.  I'm still trying to reconcile in my head that my girl is learning to drive and has her learner's permit now.  I even let her drive my Beamer while I promptly dug my nails into the leather seats.

I napped.  I did a lot of napping this week ... and, I painted.  I did a few little paintings.  I continued to read this great book called "Amazing Grays" and I'll be writing a review about the book with a giveaway in the coming week.  It's a great book.  


I pounded my head against my easel in realization that my reference images never fail to give me bad information which might explain why I think portraiture is painful and trust that I JUST CAN'T DO THIS!  I called on my friend and mentor Karin Wells and poured my sorrows on her shoulders.  She tells me not to fret and to walk away from the painting for a year and do some master copy paintings from Vermeer.  That sounds real encouraging don't you think?  I will tell you this, Karin Wells, in my humble opinion, is the greatest living portrait artist in the world.  She is incredible - no - better than that.  Her precision, eye for detail and color and everything she does is remarkable.  Even her brushstrokes leave me speechless.  So, I've been communicating a lot with her this week for help.  She's a good dooby - and patient.  

Then there's my Big Bear who has been looking for work - still - and paying the bills with pennies, working miracles along the way.  He even drove to Florida and picked up my mother who had been visiting my brother Mike and his wife Marcella in West Palm Beach.  He drove her home taking a detour by Cape Canaveral so that the boys could see the rockets and take a tour of the Space Shuttle only to pull up to the entrance and discover that they now want 60 bucks a head to get in.  Matthew was in tears.  Devastated.  And, Bob was pissed.  I mean, our tax dollars pay for this place, the least they can do is let us in to see the dang thing!  But, nope, Big Bear had to turn around and head home with 2 very disappointed little boys in the back seat.  


I've been trying to get some paintings done for this Festival coming up this weekend and think that maybe I ought to just bag the whole thing.  I don't have enough paintings for sale, really, and while every other artist is selling copies of their paintings, I'm trying to sell my originals.  Unfortunately, all the people cruising through these festivals want copies - cheap copies.  


So, maybe I'll start looking through some of Vermeer's paintings and find one to copy, then another. 

By the way, please pray that my Big Bear finds a job soon.  Can you believe it has been a year already?  I can't either. 

Monday, August 10, 2009

I'm a Brazilian Nut

As you all may know, Beth and I have been friends, uh, forever, and since she hates to type (and glad she isn't a blogger), she has been making 30 second videos and sending them to me daily. They are so funny. So, Beth told me how to use Photobooth on my Mac (we both have Macs) to make these silly video emails. Well, I gotta tell ya, our videos are getting crazier every day. Our conversation this week ... (Oh, and I think you have to double-click on the image to get the videos to play if you don't see the controls. If you do see the controls, well, then you know what to do, right?)

As you can see, Beth spent a LOTTA money on that beautiful mane of HOT RED hair with a sexy haircut to boot. But I've gotta tell ya that Beth would look hot in a potato sack with a raccoon on her head. I thought it was an appropriate time to write the story about a conversation we have had a number of times about hair color and cancer. Then I tried to send her the stupid video of me and Alison, but that failed so I had to do things the hard way and post our 5 minute video on Vimeo and then on my blog because I didn't know how else to do it. After she saw that video, she sent me this ...

After she read my story she sent me this...

Of course, I had to send her this (unfortunately I forgot to turn off the fan hovering over my laptop making all the noise ...

Then Sarah wanted to get in on the action (and again I forgot to turn off the stinkin' fan, although I did hit my finger into it and it made a funny noise ...

But hold on...

Of course, Beth is right. I am a nut. A Brazil nut. My daughter Kimberly once said I was "f-ing nuts" to which I replied "Thank you, and I'm a happy nut too." I think I'll keep it that way. I'm enjoying myself too much. I hope TypePad doesn't explode from all these videos in one post.

And "no" I haven't been drinking. As a matter of fact I've never been a drinker. I think alcohol tastes like Nyquil. I'm just naturally nutty like this. I think it must be a genetic defect.

2 Crazy Gals and a Photobooth

Well, Beth has been sending me video emails and I still can't figure it all out, but I did make this video today (a collection of 3 bad videos with bad mouth and all, and this is the only way I could get the dang thing to Beth - why?  Because my stinkin' email wouldn't send it.  So Beth (and anyone else who is interested) here is a crazy, stupid, video made by 2 50-something ladies that had nothing better to do - well, that isn't entirely true because we were trying to finish the video so we could paint.  We finally got to the studio and I live streamed from my studio but forgot to record it.  I told you I stink at this.  Anyway, here's the stupid video - for Beth...

I hope my mother doesn't disown me for saying the "f" word. Sorry Mom. I'll try to keep the trash talk under wraps for all future videos.

Oh my, did I really say that?  God help me.  Alternative words.  I need alternative words.

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