Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Taking A (Much Needed) Break

I'd like to take this time to say Merry Christmas. I'll be back to the blogging life next week, but for now, I'm TIRED. Moving and upacking and painting and organizing has worn me OUT.

So, before I drop from sheer exhaustion, I leave you my favorite part of my favorite Christmas movie.

Enjoy your holiday, hug your family, and eat cookies.

xoxo Kim

Friday, December 19, 2008

Doors and Windows

There is a saying, "When God closes a door, he opens a window."

This weekend, I will close the door to my old house. It's hard to explain how I feel about this. On the one hand, I'm looking forward to finally living in my new house (we've owned it for three weeks but haven't slept there yet). On the other hand, I'm leaving the house I can navigate in the dark, where I know what switch works what light, and where if I close my eyes and listen hard enough I can still hear the memories, both good and bad, of seven years gone by.

I'm not walking out forever, I still own it. I'm sure I'll be going back when the renters call about something going wonky (it's an 80 year old house, after all). But it won't be my furniture, or my pictures on the walls.

I'm glad I didn't sell it. I don't think I'm ready to let it go. Maddy even talks about living there when she's "growed up". If I still own it, and she still wants it, then I think it would fantastic.

Life is ever-changing and always evolving, but it's nice to have a piece of the past to hold on to while you're looking out the window toward your future.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Evil Big Eyed Creature

Tonight I have to pack up Kelli's room. I haven't been avoiding it, as much as I've just been busy with other stuff. However, with our move date coming this weekend, I can't put it off any longer.

The child was a packrat. A very neat and contained packrat. Like all children, her room was clean on the surface. Dig deeper and be amazed at what you find.

I gave her bed away, and when we moved the mattress and box springs, there was a treasure trove of junk under her bed. Oh look, Kelli, here are your green flip flops you couldn't find, along with broken pencils, your pink Nikes that you swore you left at someone's house, and an industrial size roll of toilet paper - I don't even want to know what your plans were with that.

I opened her dresser drawers, just to see what I was up against. Mostly socks and t-shirts, but in one drawer that were about a frillion notes passed among her and her friends. Those are pretty fun to read. I also found her headband with the Christmas reindeer antlers - I miss seeing her wear those around the house, shaking her head to make the bells jingle. She had a shamrock version and an Easter rabbit version as well. She loved the holidays.

I did take down her JoBros posters, and I felt horrible about doing it. Maddy salvaged some of them and made a collage.

What I like finding are the little random sketches she would make. She was so artistic and creative. Before I throw them out, I flip through her notebooks and school papers, hoping to find little doodles that make me smile. This is one of my favorites. When she made this, one of her favorite sayings was "What's the big idea, Bub?" which is written on there. I can hear her saying that to Maddy.






Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Because What Would I Do With All The Free Time?

I am happy to report that we kicked major butt over the weekend and managed to cross a lot of things off the Home To Do List, including a lot of electrical and plumbing work. (Thanks Brian!)Paint makes things pretty but if you have no lights to see it, what's the point?

On my DUNZO! list I can add Maddy's room and her bathroom. Her bedroom looks adorable - we painted three of the four walls green, with a pink wall behind her bed. Her turquoise/pink/brown bedding looks fabulous in there as well.

Her bathroom turned out just a bit pinker than the paint sample, but it's not as bright as her room. It's more a shell pink, just a little darker. But still lovely.

The kitchen wallpaper is history (thanks Lynn!) and I painted part of it last night, just to see how the paint is going to look. Maddy said it looks good, so that will be finished up tonight. One part is going to be difficult - I have staggered cabinets with crown molding in the corner, and I can barely reach the wall behind them. I'm going to have to use my square paint pad and a lot of patience to avoid nicking the ceiling, because of course you can see up there. Gah.

Now, to explain the title of today's missive - I stripped the top layer of the pink and white candy-striped-retina- searing wallpaper with floral border on Sunday night, thinking I'd strip the backing paper Monday night. Due to the weather yesterday, Maddy's school was closed. I was glad to get an extra full day to finish it and possibly even get it painted a day ahead of schedule. Could I really truly be this lucky?

As I was stripping off the backing paper, I noticed a faint outline of the floral border underneath it. Could it possibly be...nah, it couldn't...could it? Who does that? Well, they did. Yep, you guessed it, I discovered ANOTHER layer of the border paper. Which had been painted over with primer. What. The. Hell? (Actually, hell was probably the only obscenity that wasn't screamed when I discovered that).

Here's my theory on how this happened - the couple who built this house decided that the wife could decorate the master bedroom and bath (which would explain the the pink carpet, sink and wallpaper). The husband, having tolerated all the pink he could handle, saw the bathroom walls and said "no more pink flowers! I have to pee in here too!" The wife got huffy and said "If you don't like it, you take it down!" Then she stormed out and went shopping for more pink accessories.

The husband, seeing his chance, painted over the border while she was gone. When she came home and saw what he had done, she decided to hire a decorator to hang full length pink striped wallpaper, and, to add insult to injury, added the same border on top of the wallpaper, just to spite him.

When the husband came home, he saw the bathroom walls, went blind, and decided it didn't matter what was on the walls, as he could no longer see.

At least that's the scenario I came up with while steaming that *&^% off the wall. For THREE HOURS! The upside is that my complexion will be glowing from the moisture, and I am becoming a pro at wallpaper removal and I will not have to spackle chunks of drywall this time.

Hey, I take my victories where I can.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday, Finally

Finally, it's Friday. Not that I get any downtime over the weekend, but it will be nice to be able to start a home project without thinking "can I get this done before midnight so I can get some sleep?"

******

My Christmas shopping is about 95% finished. I need to get a few things for Maddy's stocking, but otherwise, DUNZO. Now, to wrap them all. Gah.

******

I'm making my Christmas dinner menu and shopping list. Are three kinds of potatoes too many? I usually make mashed, sweet and hash brown casserole. It just seems like a starch overload. I don't eat sweet potatoes, bleck. Although I did recently try sweet potato fries - now those were yummy!

*****

Craig has asked that I make Christmas cookies this year. Sugar cookies. With frosting. I've never made the kind that you refrigerate, then roll out and cut into shapes. My sugar cookie experience is limited to slice and bake with a squirt of tube icing. I'm a little intimadated by the process.

To facilitate his request, I suggested he get me this Kitchen Aid mixer as an early Christmas present. Something tells me it's a long shot.

*****

We're supposed to have an ice storm beginning late Sunday night/early Monday morning. If you live in the metro STL area, please proceed to your nearest grocery store and stock up on eggs, bread, and milk. Apparently when bad weather hits, we need french toast.

*****

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pick Up The Phone!

The house we just bought did not have a fenced yard. I have a greyhound. Greyhounds run. Faster than me (I know this from personal experience). We need a fence. We called a couple of fence companies. We got estimates. We chose Fence Company A - we liked their product and their price. Fence Company A said "sure, we can install it the first week of December." Fence Company A also said the deposit would be a certain amount, due when the work started. We said "yay, you're hired." We signed a contract to that effect.

Sounds simple, right? Well, no. We did not get our fence the first week of December, as promised. As we were a little pre-occupied with the moving and unpacking and wallpaper from hell, we didn't think about the fence until late Wednesday, when we realized we hadn't heard from them.

I called the company on Thursday, and left a message. I did not receive a call back.

On Friday I received a message on my house phone (not my cell phone, was the number listed on our contract). The message stated the manufacturer's shipment was late, and the fence should be installed on Tuesday of the following week. He also asked about getting the deposit, and when he said the amount, it was double the original quote. Uh, como say wha?

Of course they aren't open on Saturday, so I stewed about this until Monday. I called them at 8am on Monday morning, and again, left a message saying I understood about shipping companies, however, it would have been nice to get a call prior to Friday, and oh, about that deposit amount? You'll get the original amount you told us, kthxbai.

At 4:25 on Monday afternoon, I finally got a call back - the fence installation will start Tuesday afternoon, or Wednesday morning, and could they come by the house and pick up the deposit? Since I wouldn't be home until after 5, I suggested that the deposit just be given to the installer on Tuesday afternoon, since it was so late in the day already. She agreed. No problem.

No one showed up on Tuesday afternoon . As it was drizzling, we weren't surprised. Of course, we didn't get a phone call.

No one showed up on Wednesday, even though it was sunny. At 9:30 am I called and left a message - was someone coming today? At 11:30 am I called and left a message - Bueller, Bueller, anyone?

At 2:30 am I called and left a message - something to the effect of "am I going to get a fence this year? Because if not, let me know and I'll go to your competitor, who although more expensive than you, would have had this fence installed last week. We are taking time off work to be home for the installation and it's been almost two weeks what the hell?"

At 4:30 on Wednesday afternoon, guess who showed up? Again, no phone call. Although he was quite apologetic, and even said they'd work on Saturday if they had too, that cuts no ice with me. If you'd done what you said you were going to do last week, you wouldn't have to be working on the weekend.

The moral to this tirade? Answer your phone. If you are a small business and can't afford a receptionist, forward your business phone to your cell phone. Return phone calls in a timely manner. Even if you don't have an answer, call and say you're working on it. I'd rather get a "sorry, I don't know" response than radio silence. Heck, call me at 7:00 in the evening, I don't care. Just don't ignore your customer.

Also, don't jack up the deposit on me after we've signed the contract. That's just rude. I understand times are tight and you might need the cash flow, but again, had you done last week ago, you'd be paid in full by now.

The only reason we stayed with this company is because we'd be farther behind schedule on the installation if we went with someone else. Luckily we're not living into the house yet, but regardless of my ability to have a backup plan for my dog, a deal is a deal. December 1 means December 1, not December 12.

Suffice it to say I probably won't be recommending this company.

We have decided that we need to hire an electrician. Today I called three electricians, left messages for the first two, and on the third try, I got a live person. She said she'd call me back after checking the schedule. Within 10 minutes I had a return call. We set up a time for the guy to come look at what we need (which happens to be after 5:00, so I don't have to take off work - bonus!) When she asked how I was referred to her, I said I found them through Google, and also told her she was the only one that answered the phone.

I haven't met the guy yet, and I don't even know what he's going to charge. But I guarantee you that if even if he's a little more expensive that the other companies, I might feel more inclined to give him my business, because of his customer service.

/end rant

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday


Maddy lighting candles at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. She lit five - for her Grandma Blair, Grandpa Blair, my mom, Jessica and Kelli.
(Photography by Becky Loyet)


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Coming Home

My brother, as some of you may know, is in the Coast Guard. For the past year he has been stationed in/near/around Iraq, on a ship patrolling the offshore oil derricks. At least, that's what he can tell me. Lord knows what he really has done this past year.


He is coming home next week. I couldn't be happier. But wait, there's more!


Not only is he coming home, he is being reassigned to a Coast Guard station in Tennessee. Which is only about 4 hours from me, and about 5 hours from my dad. This is the closest he has been to us since he joined in 1997. We are, to say the least, thrilled.

I've always given him grief about having cushy assignments. In his eleven years, he has been stationed in Charleston, South Carolina; Tampa, Florida; Panama City, Florida; and San Diego, California. Not exactly harsh climates. Although it did give me some fun places to visit. Without him, I probably still wouldn't have gone to Florida or South Carolina.

He reports to Tennessee in January, and I told him he should come up here for Maddy's birthday and to see the new house. He said he just might do that. Then he said "You know, it's gonna be sweet living close - I can call you on Thursday and say hey, sis, we're having a bbq, come on down this weekend. Or I can say hey, we're going to Dad's, why don't you meet us there?" Instead of "I wish we could but it's just too much money to fly to California."

I'm jealous of people who have family just a few miles away. Although according to those people, sometimes having your family really close is a blessing, and sometimes you're thinking "gah, go away!"


I'm hoping that we can see each other more often, and make new memories.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Controlled Chaos

If you're a regular reader, then you know we bought a house, and we moved last weekend. Although we did not swear at each other, there were some swear words bandied about. Some memorable injuries I suffered included being poked in the eye with the wheel of a bed frame, having the wind knocked out of me when the corner of a box I was carrying met the wall - ooof! I fell up the steps, and I wrenched my back helping carry the sofa downstairs. Otherwise, it was a good time.

I am not completely out of my house yet - luckily I don't have to be out until January. So we've been doing the upgrades to the new house before we move in. I had a lovely schedule of "flooring on Monday, wallpaper removal on Tuesday, painting on Wednesday", and it was all organized and I thought I figured enough time to complete everything. Not so much.

The new bathroom floor took longer than anticipated to fully install, and we're still doing finishing work. The wallpaper border has proven to be the biggest pain in the ass to remove. Seriously - one half seemed liked it was held on with glue stick and the other half was some kind of NASA-approved adhesive. Not only did I remove the border, I also scraped off the top layer of the drywall. So I've got to skim coat and sand my "oh crap!" moments. Fantastic.

However, the full-wall floral and striped wallpaper in the bathrooms is coming off like a dream. I can only hope that this is the case in the kitchen as well. That's the next project.

On the upside, Uverse is installed so Maddy can watch TV downstairs, the living room furniture is set in place (kind of), the new carpet is gorgeous, our bedroom is painted, and the kitchen updates are on track (for the most part). While waiting for the wallpaper stripper to work, I switched out the kitchen cabinet knobs from bright gold brass to a brushed nickel pull and wow, did that make a huge difference. I like the kind of updates that have an immediate impact.

I've pitched my original schedule and am now doing what I can when I can. My dad is coming in for Christmas so that's my incentive to keep at it until I get it done. Tonight's schedule is skim coat the gouges, finish stripping the paper in Maddy's bathroom and start stripping the wallpaper in our bathroom.

At some point I will post before and after pictures, but until then, I'm covered in wallpaper paste and paint spatters and am afraid to touch anything.

Friday, December 5, 2008

19 Shopping Days Left

According to the media, the economy is in the toilet. Christmas lists have been slashed to the bone, and shoppers aren't as free with their money as they were last year. Although judging from the lack of parking places at WalMart, Target or the mall, not everyone got the memo.

Yes, times are tough and money is tight. At my last St. Louis Blogger's Guild meeting, we talked about composing blog posts for the Guild site about our favorite "off the radar" places to shop, best homemade gifts, and how to save money on your shopping.

Here are some of my best Christmas money-saving, time-saving and sanity-saving shopping tips. Hopefully they can put some jingle in your pocket this holiday season.

1. Online Shopping. I hear you - "What about the shipping charges when you shop online?" That's true but in my opinion, being able to browse from the comfort of my couch without having to brave the weather, waste gas driving all over, fight for parking, stand in long checkout lines, or deal with rude people, is totally worth the $10 or $15 I might pay in shipping.

You can probably score free shipping by going to a store's website and signing up for their email mailing list and rewards programs. You may wind up with a lot of spam, so set up a Gmail or Yahoo account dedicated just for this purpose. Check the coupons and watch for free shipping offers. Sometimes free shipping alone can save you $10 to $15 dollars.

I get, on average, about 15 emails a day from various retailers. As the holidays approach, discounts will be deeper and free shipping offers will be more prevalent. It's a little time-consuming to read through them, and sometimes the deals have short time periods in which to act, but you can run across some great savings if you're diligent.

Remember, free shipping is usually only ground shipping, so if you're waiting until the last-minute, you will have to pay for expedited shipping. Some retailers may offer upgraded shipping options as we get closer to the 25th, so keep an eye open for those deals.

Finally, if you're shopping online at store like Kohl's, JCPenney, Macy's, etc., you can return items purchased online to the store. Carefully read the return policy as you might only have 15-30 days in which to do so. That can save you some money instead of paying for return shipping.

2. Online Coupon Codes. There are several good sites to check for secret or insider coupon codes. Retailmenot.com and Ebates.com are my favorites. Simply enter the store's website and it will list the coupon codes. There are also comments from other users about the effectiveness or the restrictions on the coupons.

Be warned, not all online stores list their codes, sometimes expired codes are posted, or you need to meet certain requirements, such as a minimum order amount or you have to use a store's credit card. At the very least, you will probably find a code that offers free shipping or 10% off. It's better than nothing.

3. Store Credit Cards. This is a tricky one, and you have to be disciplined with them. However, if you can save 15% to 20% by opening a card, and you pay it off before the statement comes in, then the discount is probably worth it. However, most store cards have interest rates of around 21%, so if you carry a balance, you're probably wiping out your savings by paying interest.

Once you open a card, you will be listed on the store's mailing list. Read these for coupons, one-day only sales, and other promotions. And when you're done, throw it in your recycling bin. Or sign up for e-alerts and e-statements. Save money and save the planet.

Another benefit to using store credit cards is certain stores (Kohl's and Macy's, for example), offer discounts of up to 30% off if you use your store card. Again, make sure you're not saving 30% today and paying it back in interest over time.

Finally, read the coupon's fine print so you're not surprised at the checkout. Sometimes certain brands are excluded, or the discount is reduced in certain departments.

4. Ebay, Etsy, Etc. The world's biggest online garage sale, Ebay, can turn up some real bargains, and help you find that hard-to-locate item. Just watch the shipping and handling charges. Use the proxy bid feature, set a maximum bid (remember to factor in shipping), and then leave it alone. Believe me, you can get caught up in the online bidding war and wind up paying more than you budgeted.

Etsy and Strictlyhandmade.com are great sites for something a little less commercial. The craftsmanship and talent of these artists is amazing. Again, watch your shipping charges, as they will vary by seller.

Finally, some of your blogger friends may have Etsy shops as well. Why not patronize someone you already know (in a virtual sense.)

5. Restaurant Gift Cards. These are good gifts for that hard-to-buy for person, because everybody eats. Most chain restaurants offer deals on gift cards during the holidays. For example, when you buy a $50 Friday's gift card, you will also get a $10 one. If you need to buy a significant number, this could add up to a nice dinner for you. Also, according to Friday's website, there are no dormancy fees or an expiration date on their cards.

Check with each restaurant as to their terms and conditions for expiration and fees.

6. Store Gift Cards. Again, these can be handy for the hard-to-buy for person. Sometimes the stores also offer the buy one get one deal like restaurants. For example, you can get a $10 bonus card with the purchase of a $50 card at L.L. Bean. DSW Shoes offers a $10 card with the purchase of a $50 card.

JCPenney even delivers gift cards by email. Purchase it online and within 12 hours it arrives in your email inbox. Talk about last minute shopping!

Here is a link showing lots of different retailers and their gift card bonus programs.

With the downturn in the economy, however, keep in mind that a store in business today could be closed next month. Also read the terms and conditions for expiration dates and dormancy fees.

7. Google. If you find a deal, and you think you can find a better price, use Google. For example, a certain little red-headed girl I know wants Rock Band. Searching Google, the first hit was $99.99 at Amazon.com, with free shipping. Wal-Mart was $99.92, but no free shipping. Considering I need to buy laundry soap, I'll probably pick it up while I'm there this weekend.

However, Google can come in handy for large-ticket items. Just search the model number. You will also find reviews and possibly recalls or product bulletins as well.

This list is by no means the be-all and end-all. If you've got a tip to share, do so in the comments.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Perfect Christmas Tree, Part Two

As I mentioned before, I sponsored a tree for the Collinsville Festival of Trees. I had so many ornaments donated at the candlelight memorial, and mailed and given to me as well. Thank you so much for your kindness.
As I was going through the ornaments, looking at the handmade ones, reading the reasons why this particular ornament reminded them of Jessica or Kelli, and pretty much sobbing incoherently, I realized that I had to have this tree. No one else would appreciate it the way I would.

On Tuesday night, we decorated. We had a blast. I have to thank Becky, Erika, and Paul for helping to organize everything, decorate the tree and figure out how to keep the angels on top of the tree. I also want to thank everyone who donated ornaments. We filled in the blanks with pink and silver ornaments I found here.




Yep, I found the pink disco balls!

On Wednesday night, I put on pantyhose and a skirt, braved the rain and cold, and attended the Festival of Trees. I had no idea it was that big of an event. There were over 400 people there, and I knew probably four of them. I still had fun. Free beer and food = a good time.

I kept an eye on my bid sheet, and only had to outbid one person. Yay! And I paid less than what I had budgeted. Double Yay!

Later on in the evening, I was approached by a woman who asked if I had been able to buy my tree. I said I had won it, and she told me that the people at her table were all going to pitch in money to buy my tree if someone else had gotten it. I had to cry. The kindness of people amazes me still.

It will be our official Christmas tree this year, and next year, and the following years, we will put these ornaments on a tree for Jessica and Kelli. I am putting up two bookshelves which will have their collectibles, pictures and other things that remind me of them, and this tree will be by their shelves.

My tree didn't win any prizes, but it is priceless to me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Perfect Christmas Tree, Part One

Gregg, Jaelithe, and Rebecca started The Most Beautiful/Perfect Christmas Tree Ever stories, so here is my contribution.

In 1977, we moved from Wichita, Kansas to the Lake of the Ozarks. This was a bit of an adjustment for me. I had been used to paved streets, neighbors, and subdivisions that backed up to other houses. Now, we lived in a house that sat off a dirt road, surrounded by trees. The closest neighbor was about a quarter-mile down the road, and they were only around in the summertime. Suffice it to say, we were rural. We had plumbing and electricity, but it was kuntry, folks.

The house was gorgeous. It sat on a hill, overlooking the Lake. It had an open living area, with 18 foot ceilings. A room like that needed a big Christmas tree. Our six-foot artificial one just wasn't going to cut it.

So, one Saturday we piled in the station wagon and headed out to find a tree. And by "find a tree" I mean drive the back roads until we didn't see any houses and cut one down from a field. No going to a staffed, well-lit, pre-cut commercial tree lot for us, no sir. We had a chain saw, rope and determination. Perhaps a six-pack as well.

We drove for hours (okay, maybe not, but I was nine, it felt like it), and looked over the trees along the road. My mom would suggest one, and my dad would say "no, let's keep going." My mom would say "what about that one?" and my dad would keep driving.

Finally, we found The Tree. It was sitting about 50 yards off the road, set apart from the others. Was it majestic? Was it full, lush and deep green? Was it surrounded by a corona of holy light?

No. It was a juniper tree, dull greenish-gray and covered with little blue berries. It also smelled different than a pine tree. Later in life, whenver I ordered a Bombay Sapphire with tonic, I woudl remember this day, but that's another story.

"This one?" asked my mom, with lifted eyebrows. I recognized that face and tone - it was the one she used on me when I told her my room was clean.

"Do you see any others?" asked my dad. My mom began mumbling something about "four miles ago," but she was heading back to the car, so I wasn't sure if that's what she said.

My dad fired up the chain saw, cut it down, and tied it to the roof of the station wagon. We headed home, and I noticed it was a lot colder in the car. I looked to see if a window was open, but no, they were all shut tight. I started to lean forward over the front seat to ask my dad to turn up the heat, but then realized the cold was emanating from my mother in waves, directed at my dad. I slowly leaned back, having learned that sudden movements can draw unwanted attention to you.

We got home and my parents began dragging the tree through the front door. My mom and dad were in the house but there was still a lot of tree on the porch. And the sidewalk. This cannot be good.

The tree made it through the door, and they stood it up. Yep, you guessed it, it was too tall. Actually, about three foot of the top of the tree was bent under the ceiling.

My dad said "let's take it back out and I'll cut some off the trunk." However, my mom chose this time to go to the bathroom, therefore, I wound up helping my dad. She also took her gloves with her, so I grated the flesh off my hands. However, the open wounds were sealed with the tree sap, so I'm sure it protected me against infection.

As we wrestled the tree out the door, it was so wide that the berries were being shorn off and let me tell you, those berries may be small but have you ever been shot with a pellet gun? Those are small, too, but they sting.

He cut off about six inches from the trunk, and I thought (but did not say), that's not going to be enough. He was the grown-up, so maybe he knew something I didn't.

We wrestled it back through the door, stood it up and it was still too tall. My mom rolled her eyes, and started looking for the vodka.

We took it back outside, and he started cutting more off the bottom. My mom came to the door and said, "Bart, why don't you...." but I didn't hear the rest, as my dad was revving the chainsaw. In her direction. She mouthed something that I'm sure wasn't to be repeated in polite company and shut the door. I remember thinking, "I bet she locked it."

Apparently my dad either understood her intentions, or came up with the idea on his own, but he also decided to trim some of the width from the tree. Now, if you've ever seen a juniper tree, that aren't exactly the classic triangle Christmas tree shape. A juniper is more along the lines of the "fat cousin you don't want in your wedding party" of the pine tree. Pear shaped would be an apt description.

Also, my dad isn't exactly basketball player material. He's a bit on the short side, but for god's sake never tell him his legs are short. I did once and he shot back "my legs go from my butt to the floor, don't they?!?"

Anyway, I digress.

He shaved off the sides of the tree, cut more off the trunk and we shoved it back through the door. It was still pretty wide but we weren't being pelted by juniper berries anymore, which was an improvement.

Into the stand it went. I held my breath and prayed that my dad had cut off enough, or that our house had grown taller, or failing all else, my mom had passed out from the vodka she'd probably been drinking over the last few hours.

It was still too tall. By this point, there wasn't much left of the trunk, so what were we going to do now? Would we have a tree-less Christmas? Where would the presents go? Whatever shall we do?

My dad knew what to do. We took the tree out one more time (and by "took" I mean my mom glared at my dad, he glared at the tree, and the tree suddenly grew legs and slunk outside on its own).

With one swipe of the chain saw, he cut off two feet of the top of the tree. If the tree had been going into the Marines, it had the perfect flat-top cut. I was aghast.

Remember the pear-shaped description? Imagine taking off the top third of that pear. That was our tree. Where do you put a star or an angel on that? I'm not even kidding. It was the ugliest misshapen Christmas tree that you ever hope to see. Charlie Brown's tree looked like a million bucks compared to this.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, because so much of the trunk had been cut off, it no longer stood upright in the stand. We had to use fishing line tied to the ceiling beams to keep it from falling over.

My mom came downstairs and looked at it. I waited for the fallout, but to my surprise (and I'm sure my dad's as well), she started laughing. Hard. She might have even snorted, but I'm not sure. It also might have been the vodka.

We put the lights and ornaments on it, and it wasn't much of an improvement. I don't think we had company over that Christmas, either.

But it was our tree, the first tree in the new house. And we had a great story to tell.

The following year my mom went to the Optimist tree lot, paid $25, carried it in the house on her own, and we had it set up and decorated by the time my dad got home after work. He said it didn't have character.

We used the artificial one for many years after that. My dad and I even managed to put it together upside down one year. We thought briefly about leaving it that way, but then we remembered the flat-top tree year and decided not to incur the Wrath of Pat Khan.

And that, dear friends, is my story of the perfect Christmas tree. Until tomorrow, when I have a new perfect tree to tell you about. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Call Me Scrooge, But....

I might be considered a Scrooge after I make this confession - I don't like Christmas music when it's played all the ever-loving time. (Please to note the disclaimer).

I have a few favorite songs, and I don't mind listening to it when I'm at church, or opening gifts with family. However, every time I go in a retail establishment, it's playing overhead. It may be a marketing ploy but it does not put me in the holiday mood in early November. I know Christmas is coming, thank you for the reminder, but let's change the station, shall we?

My office mate has had her radio tuned to the all-Christmas station since before Thanksgiving. Ever day, 9 to 5, we've got it going on. It's annoying but she's nice, so I don't say anything. Or I stream Virgin UK radio on my PC. Nothing like British Top 40 to counter-act Barbra Striesand, swelling violins and jingly bells. Gah. Make it stop.

Flame me if you must for this anti-holiday sentiment, but be kind. And tell me your favorite holiday song while you're at it. Here is one of mine.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

We have a tradition at our Thanksgiving dinner. We go around the table and we say what we're thankful for. Last year, Kelli said "I'm thankful for Jessica." Jessica was sitting next to Kelli, and she was touched by Kelli's sentiment, so she leaned over, hugged her and said "Aw, I'm thankful for you too, you little cutie pie." I won't ever forget that.

This year, I am thankful for:

*My friends and family who have gotten me through this past year. No words will ever convey my gratitude.

*My Dad and Pat, for taking care of dinner this year, for planting trees, for coming to the benefit and vigil, and for raising me right.

*Maddy, for making me laugh, rubbing my back, and giving me a reason to get out of bed somedays.

*Craig, for loving me, standing by me, and hanging in there with me while I was going through hell.

*The Coast Guard, for deciding in their infinite wisdom, to station my brother at Kentucky Lake, so he can visit me and my dad more often. Woot!

What are you thankful for? Whatever it is, please take the time to say it.

Take nothing for granted.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Day After


We had over 200 people at the memorial last night. My box of 144 candles disappeared quickly, and the additional 24 someone brought me didn't last long either.

Again, we are overwhelmed by the support of the community. Although I saw many familiar faces, there were some I did not know. We were touched by how many people, friends and strangers, that came out to stand in the cold for Jessica and Kelli.

The policy amendments that the Illinois State Police are implementing are hopefully the first of many positive changes which result from their deaths. If they died so that others would be protected, then that's a great legacy that they leave for us.

Friday, November 21, 2008

One Year Later

These are posts written by Jessica and Kelli's dad, Brian, and stepmother, Wendy.

Where Were You When?

One Year

A Year Later

Jessica's last words to me were "I'm going to Jordan's." My last words to here were "Bye. Have fun, be young, drink Pepsi." She rolled her eyes, flashed me the peace sign. And she was gone.

Later Thanksgiving night, Maddy and I were watching Chicago in my bedroom. Kelli was upstairs, thumping around in Jessica's room to blow-dry and straighten her hair for the pictures the next day. Maddy was sending Kelli text message her on my phone, giggling at the responses. Kelli came downstairs, watched the Cell Block Tango scene, then said she was going to bed. I told her good night, and that her hair looked pretty.

I woke up early Friday morning to the sounds of Jessica and Kelli banging around in Jessica's room, which was above mine. I heard the two of them clatter down the stairs to go meet their dad for the family pictures. I didn't get up to say goodbye, I figured I'd talk to them when they got home.

I got up a little while later, and took my car to get my tire fixed. I came home, and turned on the TV. What Not to Wear was having a marathon, so I got sucked into that. I started getting out the Christmas decorations so we could start decorating when they got home that afternoon.

At 2:00 I started to wonder where they were. Jessica had to work at 3, so I expected them anytime. I figured they'd stopped by the mall for some after-Thanksgiving shopping.

At 2:30 I called her phone and left her a message. We'd had a bit of a tiff earlier in the week and I figured she was avoiding me, as a typical teenager would do.

At 3:30 I called Tan Rio but she wasn't there. They hadn't heard from her. I called her again, and left a message saying "call me please, I'm getting worried."

I called her dad and left him a message asking when they'd left.

At 4:00 I called again and told her to call me back, damn it.

At 4:45 Jordan called Kelli's phone. I ran upstairs to answer it, and he hadn't heard from them either. I told him to keep trying and once he got her to call me back.

At 5:15 the dogs started barking, and I went to the window expecting to see her car. I saw the police cars, the troopers with their serious faces, and the men in the green coroner's jackets.

The trooper asked if I owned a white Mazda 6 with license plate 147.... I interrupted, saying yes, I do, I don't know the plate number, what has happened?

He handed me Jessica's wallet, still intact, as if they'd just pulled it from her purse. He said there had been an accident.

He asked me who would have been in the car with her. I pointed to their pictures on my antique sewing machine and said "her sister, Kelli."

The look on his face told me they weren't coming back. Either of them.

I remember them asking if there was anyone they could call for me.

I remember telling Maddy that her sisters were dead.

I remember calling Mike, and him saying "I'm on my" and the phone disconnecting before he could say "way."

I remember calling my dad, and telling him. How his voice broke as he asked "both of them?"

I remember calling Lynn, telling her husband Brian, and her in the background screaming "NO! NO! NO!"

I remember feeling disconnected from myself, as if I was watching a movie.

I remember offering the troopers something to drink, and asking them to sit down. They were all very tall and I was feeling towered over.

I remember calling Jordan and telling him to come over. I hugged him and told him and held him as he cried.

I remember people coming over as the news spread. I remember getting sick of hearing the phone ring.

I remember the details of that day quite vividly. The days after are sometimes blurry, sometimes crystal clear.

I remember their laughs, their voices, the smell of their shampoo and perfume. I remember them as babies, as toddlers, graduating kindergarten, losing their teeth, growing up into beautiful young women. I remember bandaging scraped knees, putting the boo-boo bunny on bruises, nursing them through colic, upset tummies, earaches and broken hearts.

I look at their pictures every day and smile back, because I can't help it. They had such fabulous faces. Their pictures are on my desk at work, on my walls at home, on the shelves by the computer desk, in my room.

I miss them every day. My heart is healing, slowly. Time will help it heal, but I'll never be whole again.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In the News

I will be on tonight's KMOV 10:00pm news broadcast talking about the candlelight memorial this Sunday. There will also be an article in the Sunday Belleville News-Democrat about Jessica and Kelli and the one-year anniversary.

KSDK and KTVI will probably have camera crews on Sunday at the park as well.

I can't believe it's three days away.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rewind - Part Deux

I remember thinking about this day about a week later, thanking God that I'd had a chance to talk to Kelli for several hours that night. I hope she remembers what I told her that night, especially the part about loving her.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rewind

This week is going to be a little hard on me, I hope you understand. I may post something original, but in the meantime, I am posting links to my blogs from this time last year.

Here you go. Please to enjoy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Candlelight Memorial Update

Just a reminder - the candlelight memorial is November 23, 2008, at 6:00 pm at Woodland Park in Collinsville. I was briefly worried when the park district decided to start closing the parks at 6:00, but we have a permit, so we're good. That would be a nice headline, wouldn't it? "Mother of Uhl Sisters Arrested for Trespassing and Playing with Fire." I know they'd be up there, shaking their heads, saying "That's our mom. We're so proud." Then roll their eyes.

The candles have been ordered, they are pink, of course. No plain white boring candles for my girls, no sir. Mental note - put lighters on the list. That would be my luck, get all the way out there and have no fire. Again, they'd be shaking their heads.

This year, I am sponsoring a Christmas tree in their memory. The Collinsville Festival of Trees is a fundraiser for different beneficiaries in Collinsville. This year's recipient is the Miner's Theater. The trees are decorated by groups of individuals, or business, and are usually themed. Some of these, I've heard, go all out and spend LOTS of money. There are prizes awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd, and all the trees are auctioned off. I'm not in this to win prizes, I just want to do something in their memory. Our theme is pink, of course, and we decided to decorate it with ornaments given by friends and family that remind them of Jessica and Kelli. I'm going to find pink disco ball ornaments, because they both loved to dance, and loved to make fun of me when I'd play my disco CDs.

If you'd like to add to the decorations, please drop off your ornament at the memorial, or you can mail it to me (email me at lakegal180 at yahoo and I'll send you my mailing address).

Jessica and Kelli loved Christmas, and not just the presents. Decorating the tree was a huge deal for them. We usually did it the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving. I would haul all the boxes up from the basement, and then we'd put A Charlie Brown Christmas on the TV and start sorting out their individual ornaments. They each had a Baby's 1st through 5th Christmas series. They each hung the ornaments they made in school, and hung their ornaments they'd received as presents through the years. Once those were on the tree, we filled in the blanks with the glass ball ornaments I got from my mom.

We would frame the front windows in lights, and the girls would take lights to hang in their bedroom windows. Sometimes we'd put lights on the deck.

When we were done, we'd turn off the overhead lights and turn on the tree lights and admire our handiwork. We'd then go outside, stand on the sidewalk, and look at how pretty our house was all lit up. One year we put the big old fashioned glass bulbs on the outside of the house and it looked like a gingerbread house.

Last year, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I brought up the tree box and the ornament boxes. I also brought up the lights for the porch, but I didn't hang them. It was supposed to be reasonably nice that weekend, so I wanted to let Kelli help me with the outside. We were going to decorate the tree that night, after Jessica got home from work.

I finally pulled myself together long enough to put the tree up with Maddy the week before Christmas. We split Jessica and Kelli's ornaments between us and hung them up. We watched Charlie Brown, and we did the best we could. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have put one up.

We will be moving into our new house this December, so I'm trying to talk Craig into putting lights on the outside of the house. We will definitely put the tree up before Christmas, for Maddy.

I hope to see you next Sunday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Should Buy Stock in Kleenex

I have been sneezing and otherwise feeling yucky for the past few days now. It's that time of year when allergies and colds converge upon me to make me feel miserable.

The person who came up with the idea to put lotion in tissues should be given a medal. Why can't I think of these things?

When I get home after work, all I want to do is put on my flannel jammie pants and curl up on my couch under my fuzzy pink blanket that Maddy made me last Christmas. However, pending deadlines prevent me from doing this. Boo.

The upside is that our new house has a fireplace. I cannot wait to fire that sucker up (literally), to chase away the cold and dark that permeates this time of year. It's starting to wear me down. I will also have a garage, oh joy. I haven't had my car in a garage for, wow, ten years. The thought of not having to warm up my car or scrape my windows makes me giddy.

Now if I could just breathe, things would be just dandy.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Kickin' It Old School

Check this out. Actual Olan Mills (and other studios) photographs from the good ol' days I call the 70s and 80s. Pretty funny stuff.

So in that spirit, I give you my family's contributions to this retrospective. Didn't we look good?

A few notes about this montage - my mom's sweater was green, but it turned out beige in the pictures. I look stupid because I'm trying to smile and keep my eyes from squinting. My dad has the same pose in three of the four pictures. My parents did take the third picture and had it blown up into a 16x24 portrait. It hung in their bedroom until my dad sold that house. I have no idea where it went.


This is my brother and me. My mom was heavily into Dorothy Hamill haircuts, as were all my friends. Check out my brother's checked suit and collar-you-could-serve-drinks-on shirt. I have no words for the fashion faux pas I've got going on. My mom was generally pretty fashion-forward.



Go back through your family photographs this weekend and laugh at how goofy you look, and remember the fun times with your family.



























Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Have you Seen My Happy Place?

I can't find it anymore. I try casting my mind to places where houses aren't for sale, where mortgages and paperwork don't exist, where my sit-so-close-we-can-touch-each-other co-workers stop whinging about things that happened yesterday now deal and shut up, where lawsuits and looming trials don't overshadow me, where everyone is alive and well, and things go along just swimmingly, where it's sunshine and roses and life is good.

If you find it, send me the Mapquest link. I'll meet you there.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Democracy In Action

At O'Dark30 this morning, I woke up Maddy and we went to vote. She isn't easy to get out of bed, but this was like Christmas morning to her. She has been so into the election and candidates this year, which I'm happy to encourage. She may be 9 but it's not too early to learn about democracy.

Proof that it is dark at 5:49 am.



When we arrived at the polling place at 5:50, there were already about 15 people in line. I later saw on the news some polling places had lines 3-4 blocks long. A benefit to living in a smaller town - shorter lines.




Maddy had a good time, considering the early morning hour. She watched the sign-in process, waited patiently with me for a voting carrel to open up, then asked questions about the ballot, like why we have to mark the space for candidates who don't have opposition.


We took the ballot over to the reader, and she fed it in. (My phone doesn't do good action shots). We got our "I Voted" stickers, and headed out to the see the sunrise brightening the sky.




If a nine-year old can get out of bed at 5:45 am, you can stand in line for a little while. Vote.

That is all.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Moving Plan

It's official - we close on our new house on December 1. In keeping with my anal-retentative list-making tendencies, I have drafted The Moving Plan. Let me know what you think.

November 1-30 - pack our asses off, with intermittent bouts of yelling, panic and infighting.

December 1 - close on house, continue panic, fighting and general yelling.

Hahahahahaha!

Nah, seriously, here's the time line:

Nov 1-2 - start organized packing by room, neatly wrapping and labeling the boxes. Implement color-coding system: Red - unpack immediately; Blue - unpack next; Green - unpack when you can't find it in the red or blue box.

November 3 - continue packing in an organized manner. Congratulate self on being calm and serene. Get your first paper cut.

November 4 - attend inspection, get fence estimates and carpet measurements. Pass out at costs of fence and replacing lovely mauve carpet. Consider 30 foot leashes for the dogs and painting the carpet.

November 5-7 - continue packing. Realize that something important was packed on November 3 but can't remember where it is. Unpack four boxes, then discover it UNDER a box, not in a box. Swear because you've wasted $17 worth of tape. Scrap the color-coding plan. Receive a box lid cut. Swear because you realize you've packed the band-aids. Wrap finger in newspaper and tape.

November 9-15 - start calling utility companies to move and disconnect old utilities and make arrangements for new ones. Pray that the customer service rep doesn't misunderstand the dates and disconnect current service. Unpack candles and lantern, just in case.

November 17-22 - continue packing. Abandon organized plan and start writing on outsides of boxes what's in them. Realize you have two weeks left and begin to hyperventilate. Debate on whether to completely pack kitchen and eat out for two weeks, or just leave out the basics (paper plates, peanut butter, vodka).

November 23 - cry while packing up Jessica and Kelli's rooms. Start setting aside things to go on the bookcase dedicated solely to their collectibles which will be prominently displayed in the new house. Wish they were there.

November 24-26 - Begin to panic in earnest. Go to my dad's for Thanksgiving and have him reassure me everything will be okay, or at least have him buy me beer.

November 27 - eat, watch football, and drink beer. Enjoy being in a home where there are no boxes stacked to the ceiling.

November 28 - come home to Box Hell.

November 29 - rush around throwing everything that's left into a box. Realize a dog is barking from inside a box. Cut airholes, throw in some food, and put box on the porch. (KIDDING!)

November 30 - pick up moving truck, load furniture, swear at each other, drop something and break it. Blame the other.

December 1 - sign papers on new house, go into debt, unload truck, knock hole in wall of new house. Blame the other.

So? Is this plan a bit too ambitious?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

One of the perks of blogging is meeting new people. Another perk is getting free stuff. I'm so happy to have met all the lovely ladies and gents that blog around these parts, but free stuff is pretty cool too.
Maddy and I were invited a recent event at the Build a Bear store at the Galleria in St. Louis. To coincide with the opening of High School Musical 3 (which is pretty good), Maddy was able to build a HSM3 bear, complete with outfit. I was also given a $25 gift card to give away on my blog.



We had a great time. The Bear Builders were wonderful, they really made it fun for the kids. I also got to meet Maxine, the Chief Executive Bear, and I scored an autographed copy of her book! Bonus!






All the moms and kids with Maxine (she's in the red jacket in the center, Maddy is next to her on the right, and I'm above Maddy)




Maddy can now add Gabriella the HSM3 Bear to her ever-expanding collection. Gabriella joins Buddy the Army Bear, Scruffy, a Clydesdale (now dressed in soccer clothes), and two angel bears named Jessica and Kelli.




Now, I've been trying to figure out how to decide who wins. I could ask you to tell me a story about what you'd do with the gift card and pick the best story. I could ask you to send me a picture of you standing on your head and pick the one that was the straightest. I could ask you to tell me a joke and whoever makes me laugh the hardest gets it. If all else fails, we could resort to the random number drawing.



So, dear readers, here's the way to win: you tell me how you think I should award it. Whoever has the most original idea wins the card, and I'll use it to award any future giveaways, with proper credit, of course. It's a win-win!


The contest is open until Saturday, and I'll announce the winner on Monday.


Impress me....

UPDATE: Congratulations to Joy, who had the best idea (based on the commentor's comments, too). Enjoy, Joy! Let us know what you do with it, and how you pay it forward.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Week in Review

Monday was so long ago, I really don't remember if anything noteworthy happened. Craig came down with a cold. I made my prize-winning chili for dinner.

Tuesday seems like eons ago. Craig still had a cold, and I started to feel a little crappy. I made myself homemade cheese soup for dinner, and Maddy's godfather took her out for pizza and go-karts so I could have a little quiet time. Thanks Kevin, you're a doll.

Wednesday I woke up and felt like crap. I called in sick to work, and spent the day blowing my nose and feeling sorry for myself. I also further tortured myself by looking around my house and realizing all the things I could be doing while I was home, but decided to sit on the couch with my tissues and my blanket. I also took a 3 hour nap. Don't judge, I was tired.

Thursday I still felt crappy, so I stayed home again. I did accomplish a few things, so it wasn't a total waste. Maddy was off school and didn't feel like going to daycare, so she stayed home with me. We had breakfast for dinner - scrambled eggs, hashbrowns with cheese, bacon and biscuits. Only gravy would have made it perfect.

Today I feel a little better - the pounding in my head has been replaced by a dull ache. I can see out of one eye instead of being blinded from the pain. I'm only blowing my nose every 15 minutes instead of every 5 minutes. I think I've only sneezed 937 times today. It's an improvement.

How was your week?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Light Speed

Last Friday at 3:00, a couple looked at Craig's house. We faxed disclosures to them at 4:30, and by 7:30 they made an offer. At 7:31 we accepted. Holy. Hell. I was in shock all weekend. I kept saying "really? Did this happen?"


It finally sunk in on Saturday night. I went to Home Depot to find a Pergo color I liked that was also included in the kick-butt sale (which ends tomorrow - 20% off and free shipping). We ordered it Sunday. No going back now, I've got a pallet of Beech on its way. It's purty. Maddy and I are going to Lowe's tonight to get a price on countertops and an estimated delivery date. I've got my appliances picked out, we just need to make sure they can be delivered after we're in the house. I've got enough stuff to deal with - I don't need a stove in my front yard. We have paint for the kitchen and our bedroom picked out, Maddy needs to pick hers. Oh, carpet for the bedroom, I need to put that on my Lowe's list. Tile for the bathrooms - need to make sure they still have my color. Don't you hate when they discontinue a color?


I've been whinging about things being open-ended, woe is me, there's no hope in sight, let's just throw our hands up and go cry. I guess that's out the window now too. Speaking of windows, I need to look at drapes....


So, we shift from 1st gear to warp speed. We close in six weeks. It's a good thing I've been cleaning out rooms and closets, but it's been at a leisurely pace. Now? It's game on with the Hefty bags and the take-no-prisoners-scorched-earth policy. I'm tempted to tell Maddy she gets one box, and whatever toys/junk/Webkinz fit in it, she gets. Of course, she'd find the biggest box EVAH!


Maddy? Is totally stoked about moving. We ordered her new bedding set last night. We decided to use her current bedroom furniture in the guest room, so she will inherit Craig's totally cool queen size poster bed that sits up so high that you need steps to get in it. Last night when I put her to bed, she said "in a couple of months I'll be in a queen bed, so I'll be a queen, right? I said "you're the princess, I'm the queen, kid, and don't you forget it!" Then we decided Craig would be the court jester, and girls would rule this kingdom. (Sorry hon, it was Maddy's idea).


Speaking of girls, there are several that live in the neighborhood, and appear to be close to her age. She has a couple of boys she plays with now, but she is happy to see there are girls across the street. (Rumor has it they have a pool too).


We still have some minor details to work out - however, we do have a tentative plan in place, and we also have some variables included in that plan. Look at me with the flexibility! I'm such a grown up!

That was my weekend. What did you do?

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Letter to God

Hey, God! How's it going? I know, it has been a long time, hasn't it? And I'll tell You why. Well, You probably already know, being all-knowing and whatnot.

The fact is - You hurt me, God. I'm not going to let You off the hook for this one. You took away something that was priceless and precious to me. You took away two wonderful young women from this world. For what?

I've thought about this for almost a year. I still don't see a point. I really have tried to understand what the hell You're thinking. Oh, I know, You have a "plan," and "all will be revealed," and things will be done on "Your time," not mine. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get that. It still doesn't make it any easier to accept.

I'm not going to apologize for my past behavior. I would just ask that You understand my position, what with that omnipotent and all-forgiving thing you've got going on.

I think I'm ready to have a rational adult conversation with You. I admit, some of our past conversations have been a bit snippy on my part. Okay, snippy, snotty, pouty, accusatory, downright rude - pick a word. Oh, and one-sided - I seem to be the one doing all the screaming and railing and You just listen.

Anyway, I just wanted to write and tell you that I've decided I'm going to talk to You again. I can't guarantee that I won't still be angry and hurt and, well, pissed off, for lack of a better description. However, I have come to the conclusion that the only person who can answer my questions is You. So I better start paying attention again.

Tell Jessica and Kelli I said hi, I miss them, and I love them. Tell my mom and grandparents too.

See you Sunday.



Me

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Button Button, Who's Got The Button




Right-click on the image above to save the picture, then upload it to your blog, linking it to jessicaandkelliuhl.com.
If you use Blogger, you can post it as a picture with a link. Just go to your Layout menu, and click Add Gadget; then select picture, upload it, and put http://jessicaandkelliuhl.com/ in the Link box.

I don't know how to do it for Wordpress. I am not tech-savvy.

Still having problems? Let me know and I will email you the picture directly.




Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Candlelight Memorial Update

On November 23, 2008, please join us for a candlelight memorial to mark the one-year anniversary. Click the link for more information.

Also, feel free to post the button on your website. Isn't it fabulous? Jaelithe did it, she's so awesome.

Thanks for your support, prayers and cyber-hugs through this.

Like a Good Neighbor

A couple of months ago, I drove to my dad's house at the Lake of the Ozarks. On that trip I got not one, but two rock chips in my windshield. I called my insurance agent, filed a comprehensive claim, and got my windshield replaced.

About two weeks ago, I was involved in a fender-bender. Again, I called my agent, filed the collision claim, and got my car fixed. It took over a week, due to the body shop not ordering all the parts. Luckily I have rental car coverage on my insurance policy, so I'm not out any money. (Side note to Enterprise - please make your cars non-smoking. Although the Sirus radio is nice. Okthxbai.)

I went to my dad's this past weekend. As I was driving down the interstate, a tractor-trailer in front of me had a blowout, and the tire remnants flew into the grill and hood of my car, bending my license plate in half, and cracking the bumper. In addition to scaring the everloving crap out of me, I had to call my agent AGAIN, file a claim AGAIN, and do without my car for a few days AGAIN.

Luckily I have an awesome insurance agent. She has been my agent for over 15 years. When we moved here from Texas, we needed a local State Farm agent. I opened the phone book, picked her name because she was closest to where we lived, and the rest is insurance history.

When my daughters died, she brought me lasagna and changed her sign outside her office to ask for for prayers for our family. She's like family to me, and I'm glad to call her a friend.

Like a good neighbor, Elisa is there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Doctor is In


I've been dishing out advice to several people this week, and it occured to me that sometimes it's easier to solve other's problems instead of your own. Perhaps it's because I'm not directly involved, so I can look at it from a different perspective. Or perhaps it's because I'm a know-it-all.

I have posted lots of my issues and I have gotten great advice from my readers. (And by lots of issues, I mean if it wasn't for my issues, I'd have no blog.)

So I'm going to start a new thing - Free Advice Fridays. Unlike Lucy, I won't charge you a nickel. Nor will I yank the football out of from under you.

Post your problem or issue you're having in the comments and I'll give it my best shot. Relationships, difficult in-laws, problem co-workers, engine trouble, wardrobe questions - I'll try to help you.

Just remember, I am not a doctor, therapist, or mechanic, so if you take my advice, I am not responsible. Hell, I might have been called irresponsible once or twice.

So, what's your problem....?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

But Wait, There's More!

I am a sucker for infomercials. I love watching them, especially the really cheesy ones. Although Billy Mays does scare me sometimes. Do you think he talks to his family that way? "LOOK AT THIS!"

I've bought a few products over the years. Oxyclean does live up to some of its claims, Orange Glo does make hardwood shine like new, and I hear the Handy Switch is pretty cool.

When I saw this product, I did some research to see if it really did what it claimed. The internet reviews were favorable (because the internet don't lie, people), and after I found an online coupon, I ordered it.

It arrived within 3-4 days, in all its green jelly plastic glory. I don't look exactly like the picture (that model must be a freak of nature), but it does work, and it does what it claims on TV.

Oh, what is it, you ask?

YOGA TOES!







(See how her toes stick all the way out through the holes? Wowzers, she must climb trees with those.)

I wear heels all the time. I've worn heels since high school and I know one day I won't be able to anymore so I'm wearing them while I can. I admit it, I am a shoe addict, so what of it? There are worse things to be.

I put on my Yoga Toes at night for about 10-15 minutes and they really help stretch out my toes after being cramped up in my heels all day. Not that I wear uncomfortable shoes just to look good. Who does that?

So, if you wear heels or shoes that cramp your toes in the toe box, I highly recommend this product. Do an online coupon search - I found a coupon for $15 off. Some reviewers mentioned finding a 50% coupon, but I wasn't that lucky. However, if you and two friends order, then it's 3 for $99, a savings of $16.95 each.

I wonder how many calories these things burn?

This has been an unpaid message for Yoga Toes.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

200

200

As some of you may have noticed, my recent posts have been a bit dark. I'm doing okay, honestly. I just need to write it out. Thanks for bearing with me. Hopefully I'll do something stupid soon and we can lighten the mood.

200 posts ago, I started this blog. It was just for fun, an outlet for my thoughts and feelings. No one knew about it, and I wasn't telling people about it either. It was my own little online journal, just for me.

After Jessica and Kelli died, I made the decision to open it up, for me to share not only my grief, but my memories and stories about them, as well as my everyday adventures, such as birds in my house, worrying about my brother, meeting the JoBros, and going to airport jail.

Blogging has helped me immensely. I've met some great people in real life and correspond online with others that I can't wait to meet. It's amazing to me to read through my stat tracker and see the various places that my readers live. I've had others share their stories of grief and death, which make me remember that I'm not alone in this feeling.

I've been kicking around ideas of how to mark the one-year anniversary. I'm hoping that having something positive to look forward to will help. So, on Sunday, November 23, 2008 at 6:00 pm, I'm having a candlelight memorial and balloon release at Woodland Park in Collinsville.. I hope you can join us. If you can't make it, please light a candle and say a prayer on that day, not just for them, but for your own loved ones.

*I will have a button for the candlelight memorial soon - feel free to post it on your blog if you wish.*

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Countdown

Do you remember when you were younger, counting down the days until Christmas, or your birthday? When you got closer, every morning you would wake up and say "only x days left!"

I've got the reverse going right now. Today I woke up and thought "48 more days." This time last year I had 48 more days with them. It seems like a blink in time.

I can feel it stalking me - the pain, the heartache, the urge to run away. I can shut it out for a while, promising myself I'll deal with it when I can. I let the pain in when I'm alone, so I can go cry and throw things and wallow. It helps to relieve some of the pressure for a little while. I know it's going to get worse before it gets better.

I can get through this, I know I can. I survived this past year.

It's frustrating to know what is bothering me but yet I can't do a damn thing about it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mission: Put Together - Week 1

Maddy and I are participating in Mission: Put Together. Our goal is to make an effort in our appearance for 30 days. Not that we go out of the house looking disheveled. Ok, one time, but I was only going to get milk!

Here are our ensembles for the first week. More to come this week!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Almost Like Old Times

The dogs start barking and jumping on the front door about two seconds before the doorbell rings. That's my warning. I shoo the dogs out of the way while opening the door. "Hey girl! Come on in...Deedee, get down! Nolan, stop it! Have you had dinner? I've got plenty...okay, go on upstairs."

I hear laughing, cell phones going off, and "oh my god do you remember what we were doing when this picture was taken?" I hear "where is that one shirt?" and "this is such a cute tank."

It's almost like before, when her friends would come over and thump up and down the stairs.

Almost, but not quite.

A few of Jessica's friends came over last night, to take some of her clothes and pictures. It was nice to hear the noise again up there, but there was something huge missing. A distinct laugh, a particular voice, no one saying "Kelli! Did you wear my Abercrombie shirt? Maddy! Get out!"

As I cleaned up the dinner dishes, I realized I'd make one of Jessica's and Kelli's favorite dinners. We had roast, mashed potatoes, Velveeta macaroni and Hawaiian rolls. Of course, by favorite, I mean they would deign to take the smallest sliver of beef, but fill their plates with the rest. Kelli could eat two helpings of macaroni and all of those rolls if I let her. Jessica could polish off a huge bowl of potatoes by herself. I didn't make it intentionally, but maybe somehow they guided me.

I stayed downstairs while they went through her clothes, listening to the noise and feeling, for a little bit, like it was almost the same.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Always Kiss Me Goodnight

We all have regrets - we wish we'd said I love you one more time, or hugged just one second more. If only I had a nickel for every "if only."

If I had one more minute with my girls, I'd spend it hugging them and telling them how much I love them, how proud I am of them, how much they mean to me and how much I'm going to miss them.

I am going to buy this for Maddy's room. Words to live by.







Monday, September 29, 2008

Spinning Wheels

Did you ever have the feeling that you're running very fast but still stuck in one place? Yeah, me too.

There are so many things going on in my life right now and not one of them show any signs of being resolved any time soon. If you couple that feeling with the general stress of dealing with said scenarios, that explains why I'm short-tempered, pouty and generally in a bad mood.

I'm trying to shake it, by looking at the positive. For example, I've cleaned out my closet in anticipation of possibly moving, so now I can find things. Maddy has cleaned out piles of junk from her room. My kitchen has never been cleaner. My bathroom closet is organized. These are good things, proof that I have accomplished something. I feel better, thinking, yeah, I can do this.

Then I look around at all I still have to do and I get panicky. Wash the windows, clean the gutters, paint the deck, go through the junk in the basement, finish cleaning out Maddy's old room, go through the playroom - GAH!

My good mood is now completely undone.

I've tried deep breathing, I've tried going to my happy place, I've tried wine.

I know there are other bigger factors at work here, the biggest of which is that it's been nine months. In the time it took me to have my babies, that's how long they've been gone from me.

The holidays are looming around the corner. I wasn't a huge fan of them before, and now they are just another in-my-face reminder of happy families and fa la la effing la.

The next few months are going to be hard. I'm going to try to hang in there, but I can't do it alone.

So before I get too far gone in my pit of despair, I want to take a second to say thanks to those of you who help me get through every day by making me laugh, reminding me that I still do have blessings to count, and just being there.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Aargh Matey!

Last week was "Talk Like A Pirate Day." In related news, Maddy and I were seat pirates at the Cardinals game Wednesday night.


(That's us, saying "arrgh" and using our fingers to represent our hooks on our hands. Yes, we are dorks. What of it? )

We started out in our Pujols Pack seats in Section 268, Row 2. Not bad seats, but a little removed from the action, if you will. As the Cardinals had secured their non-playoff spot, the crowd was expected to be less than capacity. Maddy and I decided we'd take advantage of the open seats and see if we couldn't get a little closer.

Maddy's goal was the green seats. A lofty goal, but what good are dreams if you don't chase them? It wasn't totally out of the realm of possibility, so we decided to give it our best seat pirate shot.

We decided to work our way around the stadium, and not just gate crash right off the bat. Maddy and I scoped out a section in the bleachers that was a little closer to the field. We kept an eye on it from our perch high above.
In the third inning, we made our move. There was a reason these seats were empty. We managed to find the section containing a zealous fan. And by zealous I mean baseball was her religion, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. One chant she lead went something like "three up, three down, Jesus leads his flock and wears the crown." I've heard of baseball being like a religion but she was scaring us.
We moved on to greener pastures in Section 128, along the first base line. We hung out here for a while, chatted with a friend of mine who was in Section 127, and plotted our next move. We were closer to the field, but we could see better seats beckoning.

Next, we headed to Section 148, behind home plate. This was getting into "show a ticket for admittance beyond the barrier" territory. Lucky for us, the usher at that section apparently had chosen that time to answer a call of nature or just abanonded his post, because no one was guarding the gates to Baseball Heaven. We walked right in like we belonged, found a few open seats toward the back rows, and made ourselves at home.

A few rows up, more empty open seats tempted us. We watched and waited patiently, making sure their occupants weren't off on a beer run. Slowly, we advanced on our prey, pouncing when no one was expecting it. Well, not really, we just kind of sauntered down and acted casual.
By this time, it was the 8th inning and we were winning, so seats were emptying out. We wound up watching the last six outs from...the green seats.
Not really, but damn close. We were one row behind the green seats, the closest row the common folk can inhabit. (Thanks to Bob, the usher, for taking our picture to document our victory!)



Maddy's first pirate raid was a success. To celebrate, she got a pony. Because all pirates need a horse.




Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free* Lunch

Today, I bought my lunch from the cafe in my building. I got a side salad, big slice of pizza and 32 oz soda. Guess how much?



$5.00 even. Not $5 and some change. $5.00. And you could choose your pizza slice - cheese, pepperoni, supreme, whatever. It was very good, too. It wouldn't be a bargain if it tasted like crap.

Here is photographic proof.





*It's almost a free lunch, considering the price of everything else these days.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Wish

There is a bit of an age discrepancy between Craig and me. 10 years to be exact. Yes, I'm the older one.

Last Saturday, after the Inter:Play panels were over, we enjoyed the musical stylings of Fundamental Elements. They ended their set with a cover of a song by one of my favorite artists, Stevie Wonder.

I was 8 years old when Songs in the Key of Life came out. My hip and trendy music teacher introduced us to it. She would bring in various pop albums on Fridays. I remember her bringing in Kiss, Kansas, Donna Summer, Hall and Oates. She was tres cool.

One of her favorites was Songs in the Key of Life. This album has such great songs on it such as Sir Duke, Isn't She Lovely, As, and my favorite - the one the band covered.

When the band started the bass line, I immediately knew the song. However, Craig did not. Here's our conversation:

ME: OMG, I love this song! I was 8 when this came out.

Craig: Who is it?

ME: (A bit agog) Stevie Wonder.

Craig: Who?

Me: Seriously?

Craig: I wasn't even born when you were 8.

(I guess I should be glad he didn't say "Isn't that Will Smith's Wild Wild West?")

But by then the lyrics were starting and I sang along - every word. My favorite line - "smoking cigarettes and writing something nasty on the wall. (You nasty boy!)"

So I enjoyed myself, singing and grooving to the band. They did a great job on the cover. I don't have a video of it, but here's the original. Try to resist the jazz-infused funkaliciousness that is Stevie Wonder.

I wish those days could come back once more.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Guest Host

Today I am Isabel's guest host. Click over if you so desire.

Six Things

It's Friday! Yay!


My Life My Life My Life tagged me with this meme. I love memes.


Directions:


1. link the person who tagged you - (check!)
2. mention the rules on your blog - (uh, check!)
3. list 6 unspectacular things about you (okydoky - see below)
4. tag 6 other bloggers by linking them (consider yourself linked: Liz, Raquita, MaLeah, CB, MP, and Rebecca)


*******

1. I go to WalMart at least twice a week.


2. I must have popcorn at the movies. With fake butter.


3. Birds scare me if they get too close.


4. I believe the DH should be removed from baseball.

5. The opening credits of Monty Python's The Holy Grail crack me up, every time. "A moose once bit my sister." "Ralph the Wonder Llama" I'm easily amused.


6. I hate being cold. I'm cold now. Hating it.


There you go. 6 unspectacular things about me.


Enjoy your weekend! Come see us at the InterPlay festival!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mission: Put Together

Beginning October 1, I'm going to participate in "Mission: Put Together." For one month, weekends included, you make an effort to be put together in your appearance. You post pictures of your different outfits, and get to see how others have put themselves together. You can get fashion tips and see how ladies from other parts of the US are wearing the current trends. You don't have to post a picture every day, just when you feel put together. I have a feeling that once you start, you'll want to do it every day. My mom always said, no matter how bad you feel, wash your face and brush your hair. It's amazing how much better you'll feel after that.

This also is a chance for you to clean out your closets and help others. Give your gently used clothing to Dress for Success, a great organization that provides professional clothing to disadvantaged women so they can find jobs and stay employed. Donate to Goodwill, Salvation Army, your church, or Donatemydress.org, which takes donations of formal wear. I wish I'd know about them last week when I got rid of a couple of long dresses.

It's not about buying all new things (which isn't forbidden!), but also taking what you have already and mixing it up. Take the skirt from a suit you don't wear, and add a new top. Or take the jacket and pair it with jeans, a cami, and heels. Sometimes even a simple accessory, like a bold necklace or scarf, can really up the fashion quotient on a simple skirt and blouse ensemble.

I buy separates so I can mix and match. I do get in ruts, buying only certain colors. Jessica bought me three bright-colored turtlenecks one year for Christmas because all I wore were black pants and skirts with white shirts. She said I needed COLOR!

My office doesn't have a dress code, so I can wear jeans every day. Sometimes, I'm tired of wearing jeans, and want to glam it up a bit more. For this fall, I'm looking at trousers in blacks and greys that I can pair up with my existing wardrobe of tops.

I'm going to try to include Maddy in my postings, too. We cleaned out her closet and organized what I'd already bought her this year. The child is not lacking in the wardrobe department. For example, today she is wearing one of my favorite outfits.

Join us on the quest to be put together!





Baby doll dress and leggings - Limited Too.
Boots: Fincher's, Ft. Worth, TX

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

That's an Excellent Question

This Saturday I will be participating in InterPlay St. Louis, an interactive social media festival being held in University City. I am on two panels, both of which I'm very passionate about. (Note the "I'm Speaking" InterPlay button on your right, or your left, if you're standing on your head).

First, "Bloggers' Rights: Protecting Your Intellecutal Property." This panel will discuss the basics of trademark, copyright, and how to protect your work from misuse and theft. As I have worked with IP for oh, 15 or so years, I think I'm pretty well-versed on this topic. I'm very adamant about protection and enforcement of IP rights. I know of too many incidents where bloggers' work was blatantly used without permission of the owner. Whether you blog for fun or for profit, your work is YOURS - protect it.

Second, Cyberbullying. I am so looking forward to the Q&A in this panel. Missouri has passed the first law against cyberbullying, but is it enough, or is it a law that violates the First Amendment? What is cyberbullying? How do you protect your children in an age where most kids communicate electronically? How can adults protect themselves from cyberstalking?

If you're interested in attending these panels, or any of the other panels, covering photography, social media, political/activist blogging, podcasting, CSS, and lots of other information, click here for more info. As we are hosting our conference in connection with PLAY:STL 2008, there will be live music during and after the conference.

Make a point to stop by the Blogger's Guild tent, located by the Screenz tent, and sign up to be a member.

If you aren't able to attend, leave me some questions in the comments, and I'll do my best to get them presented to the panel. I'll also be posting a wrap-up of the sessions on here next week.

You can also Twitter your comments, by marking them #interplay, and they'll show up on the ToastedRav site here.

We'd also like to thank our rockin' sponsors.

Hope to see you there!