Saturday, November 29, 2008

Quick trip

Hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving. We were at our daughter Erin and Mike's and had a great time. While the grandkids napped, we played Uno, Unger's Rummy and then the guys bowled on the Wii with Emily after dinner. Great fun and very relaxing. Check out Erin's beautiful spread and her molten temperature probe on her blog (

We left early (5:45 am) on Friday morning to zip over to Michigan (about seven hours of driving and quick stops) for my second 40th class reunion.

I went to two different high schools because my parents decided we were moving in the early part of my junior year (just think how happy I was about THAT). We didn't move far - about 10 miles. Truthfully, I don't really know why to this day that we made that move but it probably had something to do with my dad's excessive drinking and losing his job. Perhaps the house was in foreclosure or something - I really never have had a clue and never thought to ask while either of them could have told me when they were still alive.

So we went to one reunion in August in Michigan and the other was yesterday (Friday) in the Detroit area. This reunion was a very relaxed event at an Italian restaurant for the bargain price of $15 apiece which included salad, pizza and dessert. Cash bar. Can't beat it. About 40 of our class and their spouses were there. Since I had only been with this class for roughly a year and a half, I didn't know many people -- at least not that I remember after 40 years for goodness sakes. I've never made it to any previous reunions because they couldn't find me. I've move enough times and changed my name enough that they didn't find me until I happened onto them via In any event, it was fun and we had a good time. I was able to make contact with the couple people I hung out with in high school and it was worth the trip.

It's not a bad drive from here to there and the weather mostly cooperated in both directions. We go along the NYS Thruway, cross at Niagara Falls and then cross into Michigan at Sarnia/Port Huron. Fairly painless. Lots of long stretches of highway with very little traffic. We (Johnnie and I) literally giggled and talked our way through the long rides. We read books to each other on repetitive trips where there's nothing really all that new to see. The latest is Diane Mott Davidson's Sweet Revenge, although it's not a new book.) The worst is getting across the borders with increased security and Thanksgiving weekend traffic. That's why we left so early in the morning on Friday and then left Michigan this morning at about 5:30 am.

The worst part about going to Michigan: they still allow smoking in restaurants! New York state has been smoke free in all restaurants, public buildings and bars for several years. So we're unprepared for smoking and it just stinks to high heaven. At the restaurant we were all seated in a banquet area and luckily there was no smoking at the tables. The room we stayed in at the nearby Motel 6 was billed as a non smoking room but the most tangible sign of that was an ashtray turned upside down on the bedside table with a no smoking symbol on the bottom. Oh yeah, and a disabled smoke detector showing that someone had obviously smoked in there recently (obvious in addition to the stench in the room).

Even Ireland, England and Scotland are now smoke free in its pubs and restaurants. But Italy was filled to the brim with smokers everywhere you turned.

So what's up with Michigan? How unenlightened can they be? Despite all the automotive industry problems and unstable economy in the downstate Michigan region, they should be eliminating smoking in public buildings.

Both Johnnie and I were smokers in our early years. I stopped in the early 1980s and he only smoked for a few years at about that time too (before we were together). We become more vigilant and outspoken as time goes on about other people's smoking and to our knowledge, no one in our family smokes (well, probably one niece does but we've never seen her). And my opinion of adults who I eventually discover smokes takes an automatic plummet. It's one habit that makes absolutely no sense in the midst of current health information about the hazards of smoking. It's just hard to reconcile the actions of otherwise intelligent people with their intent to kill themselves with cigarettes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The title should be said with Homer Simpson-like reverence.

Both Johnnie and I were chubby kids. He was called Johnnie Potato Chip by waiters at the country club his grandparents took him to as a youngster and I was Cheryl-Barrel during my elementary school days. We have always tried to eat sensibly and we do eat the right foods, just too much of them. We've each fought a valiant fight with weight over the years and we do MUCH better when we join forces to reduce our combined avoirdupois. We yo yo together.

We eliminated red meat from our diet years ago and don't miss it at all. He has borderline high blood pressure and cholesterol issues and his family has a history of heart disease and diabetes. My half sister and other relatives were diabetic and my dad was an alcoholic. So we have to be seriously careful and we mostly are.

A good friend of ours gave us a book a couple years ago called Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. We both read it and felt it had a great approach to reasonable eating. Effectively it eschews all meats, processed foods (sugars, flour) and animal products such as cow's milk, cheese, etc. in favor of plentiful vegetables and fruits. It advocates getting necessary fats from nuts and seeds such as sesame seeds, peanuts and so on. When we follow the principles of Eat to Live closely, we do well, feel great and lose weight. Johnnie is exceptionally good at following the general idea of the book and he has exceptional motivation to remain focused so he can avoid taking statins in favor of dietary control and exercise. Me? Not as much health-related motivation.

Big confession: I miss cheese and ham. I understand Dr. Fuhrman's premise that cheese is not healthy because it's loaded with animal fat and cholesterol. And ham is a no no because it's a processed meat -- in the same category as sausage and bologna. Sob. (In checking labels, we were surprised to discover that turkey sausage is actually higher in cholesterol than pork sausage. Seems somehow counter intuitive.)

So I depart from the plan occasionally and order cheese on my Eggbeater omelets or put a bit of blue cheese on my salad. We do use soy- or almond-based cheese and I try to embrace them but I can't always make the leap, especially if it's not buried in a burrito.

If we order pizza in, we get two: one made with no cheese and one with light cheese. I tried the no cheese one and it just doesn't deliver for me. I truly wish it did. Johnnie doesn't mind not having the mozzarella on it and uses a veggie-based Parmesan on top of the pizza.

I eat conscientiously most of the time but some things just aren't worth having without cheese as a critical ingredient. Ham has always been my favorite meat (our son-in-law would say it's a pork product and who can resist a good processed pork product -- he's from Nebraska, land of pig processing).

BTW, I'll be having a turkey leg for Thanksgiving while Johnnie eats veggies and stuffing.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Silliness around the bend

I think we have finally gone around the bend. As in getting a bit crazier and goofy as we get older. We have a print in our bedroom that is one of the She Said series by Leigh (sorry I wasn't able to find better attribution even on the Web).

It says:
"There is a direct correlation between the level of happiness in one's life and the amount of silliness they allow into it." SHE SAID "I know. I've done studies."

Last weekend Johnnie was telling me about an inflatable turkey that's on his school bus run and how cute it was. We took a drive past the people's house (literally a mansion on a street with million dollar homes - even here where housing prices are traditionally lower than in other parts of the country) and Johnnie went to the door and asked the woman who answered the door where she got the turkey. Online, couldn't remember where.

We embarked on a turkey hunt online and in local stores (Home Depot, Lowe's, Target, Big Lots, WallyWorld, you name it). He found the turkey on one site online (this was a very special inflated turkey, after all) and ordered it only to be notified on Monday that it was out of stock. Bummer. So he found a different, more common turkey on another site and ordered that. When I told Erin what we were getting, she merely said "your neighbors are gonna plotz." Possibly. Who cares?
It arrived last night. Johnnie went out and immediately set it up. The turkey's name is Gobble. Johnnie is thrilled. Erin and the granddaughters arrived while he was outside setting Gobble up and the Emily thought Gobble was pretty great (Lucy's too young to verbalize her delight quite yet). Erin? not so much but she humors us. After all, we're old (relatively speaking) and she doesn't want to be written out of the wills!

e know that we have not been inflatable ANYTHING people in the past. Our holiday decorations run to a few strands of Santa Claus lights around the front door, a grapevine star over the front door and a couple grapevine trees standing sentry on the porch. Quick and done.

(I asked for a small light up gnome for the back deck and a pink flamingo to stick in the flower bed a couple years ago and I seriously thought Erin was going to disown me for achieving a new level of tackiness and kitsch that she did not think I was capable of. It's a recently acquired fondness, possibly associated with getting older or maybe just more relaxed with being me. They're cute.)

During the day yesterday, Johnnie went to a Thanksgiving celebration at granddaughter Emily's preschool. He stopped at Lowe's on the way back to look at tools he might want for Christmas (to help those of us who play Santa for him) and he was smitten with yet another inflatable that he decided we needed. An inflatable nativity scene. Dear Lord, as Erin said when she saw the box last night.

The nativity is cute and will go up right after Thanksgiving when Gobble comes down. He (Gobble) is having a short season this year since Thanksgiving is next week but I'm sure he'll get a much longer season next year.

As you might suspect by now, we personify our decorations somewhat. We have the Great Pumpkin who starts coming upstairs in September because he's excited about Halloween. We have a small stuffed Santa Claus who has been known to sneak up the stairs early in November (for heaven's sake) to get an early start on the Christmas season. And they all rebel when they're sent back to the basement when their respective season is completed. I'm fearful that Gobble will be the same way. We are pretty sure they talk and compare notes during the remainder of the year while they're downstairs waiting for their season to arrive.

So we have achieved another benchmark in our silliness. Inflatables. Yikes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Worm Songs

You know those songs that get into your brain or subconscious and NEVER leave? I can wake up in the middle of the night and still have the same song going around and around. It's aggravating. And it doesn't have to be a new song although it is at the moment. Right now, it's Taylor Swift's Love Song. It is driving me frickin out of my mind. Of course it's not the whole song, just a couple lines of one of the verses. Over and over and over and over ...

We are also having the same phenomena with
Jennifer Juniper by Donovan. One of us will start humming it about Juniper (Juni) the puppy and then we're both tunelessly humming and singing the song. Johnnie has had trouble with Watching You by Rodney Atkins (obviously we listen to a country station most of the time). We've had to turn the radio off many times to avoid constant repetition of the chorus in that song in either one or both of our heads.

Our daughter Erin calls these worm songs because they worm their way into your head and refuse to leave at a decent interval - like three or four minutes later. And with the limited playlists on most popular stations (such as the subject country station) you are liable to hear the same song several times a day.

Furthermore, we're fairly sure that some old songs never die. For example, did Alabama EVER sing anything except Song of the South? Has Tracy Chapman ever done anything except Fast Cars? Seriously folks. While they're just fine songs, they are tiresome after a while. Give us a break so we can give our brains a break! How about Charlie Daniels' Devil Went Down to Georgia? OMG! And even though we've heard them a hundred thousand times, I still mindlessly find myself singing along. Argh!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Headlines from our house

An assortment of things I've been wanting to share.

Juni (18 week old chocolate lab puppy) ate a foam paintbrush on Friday. She's fine and deposited its remains on the lawn or in the flowerbed shortly thereafter. I was up on the ladder putting the finishing touches on the bathroom painting and heard her crunching on something. I didn't give it much of a thought since she has toys scattered everywhere and is pretty good about not getting into things she's not allowed to have (except tissue in the wastebaskets). I found the remnants later in the hallway.

Random exchanges with Emily (3 year old granddaughter):
Me: "I have a boo boo on my thumb," pointing to arthritis-aching thumb joint on my right hand - no blood or other visible problems). "Would you kiss it for me and make it better?"
Emily, considering: "No, it will get better all by itself."'

Me (as Emily and I walked through Aldi's yesterday): "You can't get any new toys now. You're going to see Santa Claus in a couple weeks and tell him what you want so he'll bring you toys."

Emily, looking up at me: "Here?" (concerned that Santa will be bringing her toys to Aldi's)

Measurable, slippery wet lake effect snowfall in western New York overnight and today. Big bummer. I was out driving early this morning and the sky was steel gray in all directions, and even deeper colored out over Lake Ontario. We're lucky in that we only have an inch or so of snow. Buffalo got two feet and other areas nearer the lake (in traditional lake effect snow belts) got 33 inches. Yuck. The forecast is for snow intermittently over the next five days. Happy happy joy joy.

In a related matter to the snowfall, I glanced into our third garage this morning as I was leaving at our cute summer car, a Toyota MR2 Spyder named SUNNNNY. (Johnnie and I had a mutual mid-life crisis in 2003 and bought her on my birthday while in Cleveland for a family wedding.) SUNNNNY was sitting there looking very forlorn and shivering in the four wheel equivalent of a tank top and short shorts - her top down and windows wide open. Johnnie drove her to work as recently as last week. How fickle the season! She will now be tucked into her official winter wardrobe and slumber peacefully until the weather turns for the better in the spring.

We finally had to turn the furnace on for the first time last week for a couple days. Then it warmed up and we were able to turn it off again. Alas, with this current bout of weather, I think it will be staying on for a while this time. Sigh.

After struggling with strange happenings, unexpected bootings and reluctant start ups for quite a while on the Windows XP computer and the new computer loaded with Windows Vista for the past couple months, we finally bit the bullet and went for a MAC. Yes, the clever ads on television helped us make that decision. Well, those and Johnnie's on-going love affair with his iTouch. The new MAC is a thing of beauty - a 24 inch display that feels as large as a football field and a teeny tiny keyboard that I'm still working to get used to. And within this wondermachine is my MAC desktop, a Vista desktop and an XP desktop and all my files. Wow. It's so wonderful that Johnnie is so skilled at this stuff. I'd be hosed without him (and the MAC)! With all that said, sometimes I think my head will explode trying to figure out how to move documents and applications among the desktops. But it's worth it.

Does any other area of the country have to select their energy supplier(s) every year? We've been doing it for natural gas (and can also do it for electricity) each year for the past several. It's the utility's way of having its customers play Let's Make a Deal for the following year and deciding which of four or five energy service companies to select, each of which has a fixed price and a variable price option. So you're trying to wager which company will have the lowest rates for the coming year and within that, whether to gamble on the rates or lock in to a fixed rate. Once your decision is made, there's no going back. Plus, looking at past year's results is very confusing so you're never sure if you made the right decision or if you should switch for the coming year. It has now become an end-of-the-year ritual but I am not sure if this is a prevalent practice in other areas of the country. If you have something similar, could you leave a comment and let me know? It seems ridiculous to me, truthfully.

I'm sure it's no surprise to many other people (and shouldn't have been a surprise to me) but exercise works at alleviating depression and lethargy. Eureka! Our friend Bridget and I have been getting together three or four times a week to walk for an hour or so (three to four miles) for the past couple weeks to fight off apathy and lethargy and it's working just great. I've read it, I've intellectually understood its effects but never applied it to myself until now. All of a sudden I discovered that I have energy and I am not sitting around waiting for life to happen for me. Try it, you'll like it!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Games we play

I imagine that most couples have games they play with each other. Although I don't remember having playful games with either of my former spouses but I think Johnnie and his former wife did somewhat. Johnnie and I have several games we play with each other. Just playful games and we're fully dressed so I'm not talking about that type of game.

The latest one is to see how far into the fall we can go without turning on the furnace. I think we're going to have to turn it on pretty soon. It was 34 degrees (F) this morning when we got up but it was still close to 60 in our bedroom. Even when the heat is on, the highest we set it is about 62 anyway. Overnight and
during the day it can get down to the mid 50s in here. Fairly chilly. But great for sleeping. We have a small space heater in the office that we can turn on if we need it but with two computers, a printer, two dogs and two humans in here, we often don't need to use it. We have a gas fireplace insert that we use in the evening when we're watching television and that heats the family room extremely well. Some of that heat will drift upstairs but it is usually much cooler upstairs. So we've made it to November 10th this year so far, pretty good, we'd say.

We also play a haircut game. The trick is to get a haircut without fibbing (about where you're going and when) and then see how long it takes the other to notice the haircut. We've gone days sometimes without the other noticing a haircut. Johnnie is now keeping his hair much shorter so it's easier to tell when he has a haircut because it goes from fairly shaggy (relatively speaking) to almost buzz cut. I've always admired him because he's not sensitive about his baldness. He used to save the few strands of long hair, comb them over and anchor them down with hairspray but now they're cropped short and he looks just as great to me. The shot here with Juni was taken in early October.
It's easier for me to get away with the haircut game as my hair generally only changes by an inch or so. So it's a bit unfair although usually my hair comes back from the salon far more coiffed than I do it on a daily basis.

We also play a waving game mostly on weekdays. It has evolved over the years from a single wave (when we both left the house to go to work at the same time in the morning) to multiple waves each day. It has actually become quite useful for each of us to remind each other of what meetings or obligations we have during a day since our schedules are unpredictable. For example this morning:

Wave wave wave
Old wave, old wave, old wave
New wave, new wave, new wave
Legacy wave, legacy wave, legacy wave
Monday wave, Monday wave
Chimba (that's me) and Bridgie goin for a walk wave, Chimba and Bridgie goin for a walk wave
Mode (that's Johnnie) getting a physical today wave, Mode getting a physical today wave
Chimba priming the bathroom today wave, Chimba priming the bathroom today wave
Erin, Mike, Emily and Lucy come for dinner today wave; Erin, Mike, Emily and Lucy come for dinner today wave.

After one of us (usually Johnnie) starts the waves, the other repeats them all back and adds more waves if there are things that have been forgotten. Nonsensical, yes, but it reminds us about what the other has going on during the day since our schedules can be vastly different from day to day.
I'm generally the keeper of the schedules and now with the new computer (a topic for another post) we haven't yet figured out how to share calendars. Not that that would solve the issue anyway as we've both had pcs for years and shared appointments, yet didn't necessarily remember each other's schedules.

We play word games almost constantly. We have silly names for each other, if that qualifies as a game. Mine is Chimba. Started as "I don't think so, Jim" from the old Tool Time show and morphed into Chim. When I/we finished my/our two years of agony in MBA school, I added the -mba part to Chim, hence Chimba. (I give Johnnie all the credit for getting me through MBA school since I was seriously close to losing my mind most of that time and existed in a fog of work-school-sleep - repeated endlessly. And just look how well I'm using that MBA -- glad we didn't pay the money for it, just the sweat and blood equity!)
Johnnie is Mode because he always called Elton John Elton Commode. So I asked him how he'd like being called Commode since his name is John. It was shortened to Mode almost immediately.

I'll let you know when we turn the furnace on!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Holidays already?

On her latest post, Courtney talked about Christmas traditions and getting amped up for the upcoming holidays. Mostly, for me, holidays are about being with our whole family. Our daughter and son-in-law come in every year from California, bless their hearts. It may not always be exactly on Christmas (usually it isn't) but they always come and for that we're extremely grateful.

I'm going to steal shamelessly from Courtney's post to create mine and, therefore, establish consistency. Thanks to Courtney and Cousin Jim for the helpful questions.

When is it okay to start listening to Christmas music? I think right around Thanksgiving is about right. Although it's weird because, as I was reading Courtney's post, O Holy Night by John Berry started playing on my husband's computer behind me and it sounded very timely. Of course, it is a wonderful version of that song. Still, it was sort of spooky as though someone was reading my mind!

What's your all-time favorite "it's not Christmas til I hear it" Christmas CD? For me, it's Stevie Wonder's Someday at Christmas. We played that on vinyl when the girls were growing up and a few years ago, our oldest daughter Holly found it on a CD and gave it to me for Christmas. I cried. Johnnie didn't care for the Steve Wonder CD at first but it's grown on him over time. Also George Winston's December is a timeless classic filled with beautiful piano and instrumental versions of traditional songs. Johnnie favors the song Father Christmas by Emerson Lake and Palmer, turned up at a deafening decibel level and standing in the exact center of the surround speakers. He grins like a Cheshire cat and I love to watch him listen to that song!

When is it okay to break out those Christmas specials and start watching them?
Again, around Thanksgiving time. We try to remember to listen to Alice's Restaurant on Thanksgiving and that paves the way for the Christmas music, specials and movies. By the time Christmas rolls around, I'm as tired of Christmas songs as I was of campaign ads on radio and TV this year.

What's your favorite Christmas movie AND Christmas special? I like all the hokey Christmas movies, like The Santa Clause but not the weird Tim Burton ones like Nightmare before Christmas. In terms of specials, Charlie Brown Christmas.

What is your favorite Christmas tradition from when you were younger that you try to do today? Having tacos, burritos and refries for Christmas Eve dinner. At the time we started that, it was my anti-tradition sentiments that pushed us that way. Plus our family loved that dinner and it was fun to have that on Christmas Eve. We still do it, but because of Holly and Mike's travel schedule, we'll have it on whatever we designate as Christmas Eve with them. Still fun. Otherwise I don't think we've maintained a lot of our early childhood traditions - either from Johnnie's family or mine. We discontinued making a gingerbread house as a group (mostly we all ate the candy and cookies and a few landed on the gingerbread house) a few years ago but may resurrect that when Emily and Lucy are a little older and can participate with us.

What is your new favorite Christmas tradition? Something started AFTER you left home? Well, the taco dinner thing is new since leaving my parents' home. Before Johnnie's mother passed away in 2001, we went to Cleveland to be with his brothers and mother for every Christmas. Since she is gone, we now have our own Christmas here at home. I like having the luxury of just the two of us doing something without pressure and time constraints; it's fun to laze around and savor the day. We don't travel other than to Erin's and Mike's, depending on what their schedule is for the actual day of Christmas.

What do you hope Santa brings this year? I don't really care as long as we're together. That sounds hokey but I have so few things I need. We're planning to do more charitable giving this year and giving more distant family members a note telling them that we've donated in their names. They don't need stuff either*. We have tried within our immediate family to emphasize made gifts rather than bought ones. Our daughters have adhered to it much better than we have. I claim parents' prerogative and we (Johnnie and I) get them/make them whatever we feel we can afford and want to get/make for them. We create and trade lists but in my mind, they're just guidelines. Sorry, girls!

Now, as Courtney said, it's your turn to blog about your holidays and what makes them special to you and your family.

* For my last birthday, Erin's stepmother and father gave me this plastic bag (grocery bag) of items including: a bar of scented soap, a small bottle of Purel, one magnetic picture frame from a package of more than one, foot cream, corn plasters and something else weird that I don't even remember. It was tough to thank them sincerely without asking "What the heck were you thinking?" I really think that she remembered at the last minute before they left to come here and thought, "Oh crap, it's her birthday. What do I have here in the drawer that I can give her?" Therefore, I am taking the hint that they don't really want to exchange gifts any more so we'll donate to a charity and let them know it's in their names. They also regifted a pair of gardening gloves to me a couple years ago. I thought it was very strange.