Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year in Review - 2008

I first did this last year, and it’s a good way to summarize the year, so I’m doing it again this year. These are the first sentences of the first post I did for each month in 2008. In 2007, my overall theme was clearly work and remodeling. In 2008 it was more work and politics. Here’s hoping 2009 brings better topics!

January - I can't believe it's 2008.

February - I went to Home Depot looking for a new light for the guest bath shower.

March - I went to work - of course.

April - Driving home tonight, listening to NPR, I heard a great story about a guy named Lance Allred, a 27 year old guy who's been trying to get into the NBA.

May – Yesterday afternoon, I drove to Louisiana to celebrate my brother and sister-in-law's 50th wedding anniversary with them.

June - Well, shoot.

July - So Saturday evening I bit the bullet and bought a new car.

August Lisa has written an excellent post on the pros and cons of religion.

September - I almost never write about politics, but I'm going to make an exception.

October - There are a lot of things to be depressed about right now.

November - In your own blog, are you more likely to discuss personal relationships, religion or politics?

December - For a number of reasons, work is exceptionally mind-numbing and depressing right now, so I was really happy to find something creative to do to free up my mind a bit.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Punk'd at Christmas - REDUX

I'm having fun, hanging out with my family...and so rather than write something new, I'm re-posting a favorite, my 2005 Christmas post. I hope everyone who reads this is having as good a time as I'm having. Merry Christmas everyone!

As a kid, my Christmases were lean: the orange in the toe of my Christmas stocking a coveted treasure each year. And for many reasons when I was a kid, Christmas was a time of tension and anxiety for my family. That’s my excuse, as an adult, for viewing Christmas as one of the best opportunities all year to exercise my revenge on the past; a time to lavish gifts, affection and fun on friends and family. At Christmas, less is not more, more is more, and bah, humbug to everyone who thinks this somehow makes Christmas commercial. Quantity has always been appealing, but the gifts can be modest, and so Christmas has always been a time when I gave my kids gift-wrapped packages of pajamas, socks and mittens in addition to toys, books, and games.

When my kids were still young, we began writing clues on the tags. Originally, the clues were helpful (e.g., “Merry Christmas, Christo - the cat’s ______s” was the clue for a pair of pajamas). But eventually, we realized that it was even more fun to have the clues either obscure (“What rhymes with devotion but is not a love potion and didn’t come from the ocean” - scented lotion...) or downright misleading (“Merry Christmas, Mike - you don’t think earmuffs are dorky, do you?” for a video game he’d been coveting).

Christmas Eve has always found us sitting in front of the fireplace, passing out gifts, one at a time, and reading clues and trying to guess what’s in the package before it’s opened. We always begin with the youngest and go on up through the oldest. It takes hours to open all the gifts in this way, but even after getting divorced I’ve kept up this tradition, because it’s a lot of fun.

Somewhere along the way, long before the show, "You've been punked", we began coming up with one “punked” gift each year. I think it began the year that Alex wanted a Swatch wristwatch, and didn’t expect to get it. That year, I got her a Swatch guard to put on her regular watch. She accepted this modest gift with remarkable grace. A couple of hours later, after every gift had been opened, I suddenly “remembered” a gift still stashed in my bedroom closet - the coveted Swatch.

We all enjoyed her reaction so much that it became a tradition for us to punk an immediate family member each Christmas. The punked gift always has an element of spontaneity, in that the punking is never consciously assigned or rotated among family members, it just evolves, depending on circumstances. One year, as the punked gift, I gave Christopher a magician’s straight jacket...but that’s another story.

This year, with everyone grown, for the first time ever we drew names. To be accurate, we drew names for everyone except Xander, who at age 3 still has many years ahead of him of hauling in a full load of loot each Christmas in this family. Still, everyone was more than a little concerned about how it would all work; going from hours of opening gifts on Christmas Eve to opening just one or two gifts per person. This year, there were 10 of us at my house on Christmas Eve: Anthony, me, Alex, her fiancĂ© Chris, Katharine, Brenden, Xander, Melanie (Brenden’s mom), Mike, and Christopher. Katharine had issued an evite for the drawing, so none of us knew whose names anyone other than ourselves had drawn.

Nevertheless, shortly after I returned from Chicago, where I’d spent Thanksgiving with Alex and Chris, Katharine and Mike contacted me and told me they’d drawn Chris and Alex’s names and needed gift suggestions for them. I suggested Lyric Opera tickets, as I knew that was a luxury Alex and Chris would enjoy that simply isn’t in their graduate student budget.

Kath and Mike both agreed it was a good idea, and here is where the fun began. Katharine is younger than Alex by almost 3 years, and there’s always been a certain amount of sibling rivalry between the two, with Katharine feeling that Alex discounts many of her ideas in an older/younger sibling sort of way. Given that history, Katharine said that she wanted to think up bogus tickets to something awful, with the idea that Alex and Chris would think it was Katharine’s flawed idea of a good time. Mike and I loved the idea, and proceeded to let it stew in the back of our minds.

A couple of nights before Alex and Chris flew into town, I met Kath and Mike for a quick bite to eat. “I’ve got an idea for an AWFUL show,” I said. In response to Katharine’s, “What is it?” I said, “Hamlet on Ice.” :) Understand, there is no such show, and probably for very good reason. Kath came up with the idea of saying she’d heard about the show by listening to the end of a review on NPR (“Dunno whether they thought it was good or bad, because I tuned in too late, but they reviewed it!”). We also came up with the idea that the show was conceived when a group of actors who’d been performing Hamlet in Denmark went ice skating one night, after the show, and decided it would be a natural idea to perform Hamlet on ice. It sounded believable and incredibly awful. Katharine was immediately having fun punning:
“Something’s rotten in the SKATE of Denmark”.

Mike spent all day Christmas Eve designing and producing the bogus tickets. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a visual arts major at UA. He issued the tickets for Allstate Arena, a real arena north of O’Hare airport in Chicago. He dated the tickets for an incredibly inconvenient 7 PM Wednesday night performance. Among other things, Alex tutors on Wednesdays, and this meant she’d not only have to miss tutoring (which is frowned upon) but she’d have to come up with a substitute tutor (no easy task). He priced the bogus tickets at $58.00 each (slightly over our limit of $50 per person) and issued them not only for separate seats, but for separate ROWS (thank you, Sara, for reminding Mike to do that). Katharine bought card stock on which to print the tickets, and she also bought a perforating machine at Staples, who questioned the legality of what we were doing (but sold Kath the perforating machine, nevertheless).

The tickets look and feel like real tickets. Kath, Brenden, Mike and I were the only people who knew these tickets were bogus. Alex and Chris were nothing short of amazed when they opened the envelope containing them. They thanked Kath and Mike profusely, and insisted they were thrilled with receiving tickets to Hamlet on Ice on a Wednesday night at an arena so far from their apartment that they’d have to leave by 4:00 to get there by 7:00, only to be sitting three rows and several seats apart from each other. Kath pouted, “I don’t think you really like them!” and they protested, “No, we DO, it’s just that we’ve never heard of Hamlet on Ice...” They did have to take a cigarette break by themselves on the patio to process this “gift”.

As usual, gift opening continued in an orderly fashion for another 45 minutes or so, at which time Kath, Mike and I descended upon Alex and Chris and exclaimed loudly: “Merry Christmas! You’ve been PUNKED!” and proceeded to give them the real tickets:

Two seats, together, to a Friday night Lyric Opera performance
of Verdi's Rigoletto.

They were incredulous. Everyone was incredulous. The bar’s been raised very high this year, and in spite of the big change in the number of gifts, once again, a good time was had by all. Merry Christmas everyone, and I hope you all had as happy a Christmas as I did.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the sky is filled with stars, invisible by day...

Xander, who is six and off school this week, came over for the day today. As usual, I had a terrific time temporarily viewing the world through the eyes of a six year old. For starters, while I did some work on my laptop in the kitchen, Xander eased himself into the day by curling up on the couch in the gameroom with Uncle Mike, whom he adores. They watched The Grinch and Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and then played with legos for awhile after that. Eventually, we got into my car, whereupon Xander immediately announced that he preferred the convertible (yeah, me too!). We picked up Grandpa Anthony, and drove to have lunch with Katharina.

“My Mom, Judi!”

“No, my daughter, Xander!”



After lunch we stopped by the grocery store, where we picked up ingredients for Rice Krispie treats. Back at my house, we made Rice Krispie treats, and decorated them with red hots. Mike and Xander then retired to the gameroom, where they built more elaborate lego structures. They also played cards: “Guy stuff, Judi!” Xander announced. Uh-huh.

Call me twisted, but part of the fun with kids, always, is talking age and relationships. As we hung ornaments on the tree, I casually announced that Mike is my Grandma.

Xander rolled his eyes. “You’re the Grandma, Judi!”

“No, Mike is my Grandma!”

Xander sighed. “Look, I’m six,” he said, and then he asked politely: “How old are you Mike?”

Mike, who is 23, said without missing a beat: “35”.

Xander accepted this lie as gospel. "My Mom is 30, she just had a birthday," he announced, "and my Dad is 31". Then he looked at me. “And how old are you, Judi?” he asked pointedly.

I sighed. “37”, I lied.

Xander beamed.

“See?” he said sweetly, “I told you, Judi, you’re the Grandma!”

I smiled. You can't argue with that logic, and by the way, yes, I am!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


So I went out to run a couple of errands tonight and as is my habit at this time of year, I stopped in at Crate & Barrel. It was about 6:30 in the evening, and Christmas Day is exactly two weeks from today, so imagine my surprise to see that except for holiday staff, Crate & Barrel at the Galleria was practically deserted. I have never seen it so empty in the evening, so close to Christmas. Out of curiosity, I stopped in at Pier I, a little over a block away. Same story there. On the way, I passed the brightly lit Container Store, and that, too, was strangely empty of shoppers. I also passed Restoration Hardware, but I didn't have to look inside to know RH is in major trouble. They've been holding their annual linen sale monthly, and I've stopped counting the number of emails I've received from them, imploring me to shop there. To be fair, these stores are across the street from the actual mall, and I didn't go into the mall, so I have no idea how crowded or not that was, but the absence of shoppers in these four stores, in this neighborhood, with less than 14 shopping days until Christmas, is depressing and ominous.

Not that I was about to spend lavishly myself. There's apparently some sort of weird inverse relationship between home values, homeowner's insurance, and real estate taxes that I wasn't aware of until now. Although my house is worth less than ever, my real estate taxes and homeowner's insurance have increased dramatically this year, a fact reflected grimly on my latest mortgage statement, which shows the increased payment that I'll need to make into the escrow account. And don't get me started on energy costs. I love my house, but for the first time in a very long time, I am seriously considering whether or not it's worth it to me to stay here. On the other hand, I would hardly make money selling it in this market, and I don't know where I'd move.

I'm not writing about this to elicit sympathy; I'm writing about it because this is happening all over America. I'm luckier than many people in that I have a job, and that job provides me with a good salary and decent, affordable health insurance for Mike and least it does for now. But what about all the people who don't have that? To turn this economy, and this country, around is going to take time and work. I spent childhood Decembers impatiently waiting for Christmas, but this December all I can think is that January 20th can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


There were threats of sleet this afternoon, so I took my laptop and left work at 4:00, making it home by 5:30. So far, the sleet has not made an appearance, but my house is cozy as houses can only be when there's weather outside.

The tree is up in the living room, and I've put the garland on the upper stairs, but not the lower. I have a cache of gifts, being a person who shops year 'round, but I've yet to wrap anything. When my four were little, every single one of these days before Christmas was filled with terrific excitement. I used to begin to prepare the kids for Christmas by having us sing carols together, beginning Thanksgiving night, and we did this pretty much every night, for half an hour or so, right up until Christmas. We'd snuggle up together on the couch with this wonderful book, Take Joy! The Tasha Tudor Christmas Book, and make our way through the carols. This worked so well that when Alex started preschool, her tired bus driver dropped her off one hot September afternoon and said, with a bewildered look on his face, that he had no idea that there were several verses to Jingle Bells, and that three year old Alex knew all the words to every one!
Advent Calendar

I sewed an advent calendar that we always hung above the fireplace, and I spent endless hours embroidering 25 small felt ornaments for that tree, happily anticipating the pleasure we'd take in it. And we did; the kids took turns putting up an ornament each day. They'd argue about who got to put up which one, and where was the best place to hang it, and so on. We baked and decorated cookies, and there were tons of presents to be wrapped, and tags to be written with elaborate clues. I remember the look on Alex's face when she got the pink Swatch she wanted but didn't think she'd get, and the look on Chris' face when he finally got his strait-jacket...but that's a topic for another post (Hey! He was into magic as a kid, OK?!?!). There were never enough minutes in the day to accomplish everything that had to be done to ensure a wonderful Christmas.

But these days my house is quiet. Even with work and the commute, there's plenty of time to do the few things I need to do to get ready for Christmas...but the urge to do them isn't what it was, and so most of them remain undone. I'm not giving in to this general malaise, though. This Friday I'm flying up to Chicago to see Alex and Chris. I especially want to see Alex, who is pregnant and due in January. I'll fly back to Dallas on Monday, and then Wednesday night Mike will fly in from Tucson, and that will liven things up a bit. I can't wait.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Monday night thoughts...

I was sick this weekend, and wouldn't have gone in to work today except that I had promised to do a presentation this morning. So I went in and did the presentation and made it through the day. Food was out of the question, and as that had been the case since Saturday night, by tonight I was fairly hungry, but my stomach kept reminding me not to consider anything exotic.

When I got home I immediately fed Ike. Yeah, he's still with me, and as he's not sick, and as he jumped off the bed and accompanied me to the bathroom each of the uncountable times I made that trip on Saturday night/Sunday morning, looking deep into my eyes with apparent concern each time (but no doubt thinking "Stop! I'm trying to SLEEP! And how can you possibly feed me if you spend all your time doing THIS?!?!?!")...well, Ike gets fed first no matter what. After holding my breath to keep from gagging while I dispensed one of his favorites, Whiskas Grilled Chicken Dinner in Gravy, with a fresh bowl of water on the side, I changed from work clothes into some comfortable sweats. I exchanged my contacts for reading glasses; my shoes for slippers, and made my way to my kitchen, where I had a little plain Fage yogurt and then, from out of nowhere, suddenly felt a mad craving for rice pudding. Central Market has a perfectly decent rice pudding, but I didn't feel like driving to Central Market. I knew I had all the ingredients at home, and I have a terrific recipe, so I decided I'd make it. It takes a while to make rice pudding, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I turned on the lights on the Christmas tree, put on a little Handel, and puttered around in my kitchen, which shortly smelled pleasantly of vanilla and apricots and cinnamon and eventually...voila...I had a bowl of homemade rice pudding, which my stomach seems to have grudingly accepted. And there are leftovers. Sometimes slow is a good thing...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Midnight Special / Odetta

Odetta died on Tuesday. I was sad to hear of her passing. I was a huge fan, and hoped she'd sing in Washington on January 20. I heard her live once, in Chicago, a couple of light years ago. She was doing a small, informal concert for kids, and I took Alex, who was maybe 4 at the time. No one can listen to her rendition of The Fox without breaking into a smile, but I'm also posting a video of her powerful, beautiful voice singing The Midnight Special. Listen and enjoy. She will be missed by so many.

The Fox/Odetta

Monday, December 01, 2008

Monday Photo Shoot #14: Autumn Sunsets

Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot#14: AUTUMN SUNSETS.

For a number of reasons, work is exceptionally mind-numbing and depressing right now, so I was really happy to find something creative to do to free up my mind a bit. The theme of Carly's Monday Photo Shoot this week is Autumn Sunsets, and I shot this pic of the sun setting over the creek that runs through my neighborhood. Looking at the sun setting on the water in this photo makes me feel good. If you want to play too, click HERE:

reflections in the water IMG_3557