Tuesday, December 23, 2008
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.
Friday, December 19, 2008
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
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
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
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
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.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
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
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
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.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
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
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
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.