Ohhhh Christmas Tree

Now, usually I’m one of those people who take down the Christmas tree New Year’s weekend.  However, this year, for a number of reasons it has remained in our living room until Friday morning when our Ninja cat Haley decided it was ready to come down.  I like to think that all who live under our roof are independent, pro-active and helpful.  Well, at 5:45 a.m., Ninja cat Haley, started her independent, pro-active and helpful  disassembly of the ill-fated Christmas tree. 

Thankfully, I was up however dogs, husband and daughter were all nestled snug in their beds with visions of who knows what in their heads.  I’m sure it wasn’t a vision of the Christmas tree crashing down. 

Somehow I missed “Timber” before the loud crash.  I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter and there it was, our beautiful artificial tree looking helpless as if to say “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” to a vast and cold tile floor.  Buried under its limbs and strewn across the floor were ornaments, some of which didn’t make it, others that could be salvaged.  Then, from under the tree, there was running water.  Not just any running water, glittery water.  My poor tree was weeping or so it seemed.  For when it fell over, it not only broke a tree leg, a few snow globe ornaments had ruptured.  For a moment, it looked as though the tile floor was a shiny, glittery, frozen pond.  I was waiting for our dog Bubba to come over and start helping by licking glitter water off the floor.  Thankfully, he was shell shocked by what he was witnessing.  He and our other dog Penny had come out to see what happened but backed out to say “it wasn’t us.” 

Then, as we were taking the lights and arms off the tree, Ninja cat Haley decided to make an appearance from where she had been hiding behind the couch.  She looked proud and I think somehow she knew exactly what she had done.  

So, there we were at 5:45 a.m., my husband and me…taking down the Christmas tree.  As he held the tree up, I dashed around to pluck ornaments off the tree.  Then, row by row, the limbs and lights came off and we laughed and reminisced along the way.  Pretty soon, there it was, a naked pole.  We were done, in record time…it was only 6:00 a.m.  

“Here kitty, kitty,” I softly let out.  I wanted to congratulate and thank Ninja cat Haley.  In an instant, she had done, what I hadn’t accomplished in two weeks…taking down the Christmas tree.  Perhaps she can help with other housekeeping chores I thought.  Nahhh, she’s done her work and it’s off for her morning nap.

Finally, a nap

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The Cost of Sprinkles

One of my favorite things to do is get together with friends and have a “Fun Day.”   Not too long ago, we thought ice cream with all the trimmings and a few board games would be a fun time.  We rotate responsibilities for the “Fun Day” and it was my turn.  

So, off to the grocery store I went.  It was early in the morning and I thought “what kind of ice cream should I get with all the choices out there?” Not being much of an ice cream aficionado, I was toying with the exotic sorbets and fancy sounding crème’ this or that.  I’m a simple person and trying to figure out the minds of my friends’ on ice cream is admittedly not my expertise. Vanilla and Neapolitan were the winners…easy and kind of like wearing black…goes with pretty much anything. 

Then it was on to get whipped cream, bananas and other assorted toppings.  WOW!!!  Do you know the price of sprinkles?  $4.49 for a large (one size only) container of sprinkles.  Could I really justify sprinkles…they’re just sprinkles…no one would miss them right?  Just as I was about to leave the isle without sprinkles, I thought…..”oh heck no, I show up with everything BUT sprinkles and I’m dead.”  The fact that I had even thought about denying friends the joy of sprinkles was sad, embarrassing and downright horribly wrong.  Everyone will get sprinkles today whether they feel they deserve them or not. 

Back to the house and at our appointed 4:00, out came the goods, sprinkles and all.  There were the ooohs and ahhhs of whipped cream, bananas, and just about every topping.  Even the Neopolitan got good reviews as it’s a classic but overlooked choice.  But, the sprinkles sat there unopened as if nobody thought of sprinkles.  Was there no joy left in the world?  What was going on?  I took action and grabbed the sprinkles with the sole purpose of knowing I would deliver the joy that makes any ice cream bowl quiver with excitement.  Everyone responded with “cool, sprinkles…I never think about sprinkles” and  “what are sprinkles actually made of?” to “sprinkles? Do you have any maraschino cherries?”  or the best, “sprinkles, last time I had sprinkles I nearly choked to death.”  Really, someone could actually choke on a sprinkle? 

I was not defeated.  While not all took the sprinkles as seriously as I led myself to believe, they did prove to be a nice and thoughtful touch.  To this day, the bottle of sprinkles three quarters full still sits on the shelf.  Sad…it’s just sad.  A world without sprinkles is like a world without fun, without hope, without joy.  Ok, so I’m melodramatic, but trust me, they will make their way back out next “Fun Day” when ice cream is on the social calendar.

All this to say yes, the price of sprinkles may be $4.49 for a container BUT the cost of not having sprinkles would have been far more.  Spend the money and know that for the incredible low price of $4.49 you too can sprinkle some sunshine in to the mundane, sprinkle-less world. 

Happy New Year

Bringing In the New Year

My daughter and I went to New York City a couple of weeks ago.  What a marvelous time and perfect way to spend quality time with each other.  We enjoyed doing many of the typical touristy things and also found some exciting out of the way places to explore. 

The best was enjoying a Starbucks coffee (did you know there are some 190 or so in Manhattan alone?) and walking around Times Square.  For those of you who have been there, you understand the magnitude of the lights, the sounds, the smells.  For those of you who haven’t been there, words cannot describe it.  Spectacular to say the least, but not like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or other natural wonders of the world.  It was interesting to sit and watch the people, the billboards, the activity and know that in less than two weeks, millions would be on that very spot bringing in the New Year. 

I’m not sure what the allure is about making a pilgrimage to Times Square on New Year’s Eve but perhaps it is similar to the people who feel compelled to shop on Black Friday.  Pilgrimages to Mecca I get. Going to Times Square for New Year’s, I don’t.  Some might say it’s the crowd, the feeling of confinement or the fact there probably aren’t many bathrooms available.  Whatever it is, let’s just say I was most content being there when we were. 

So bringing in the New Year means resolutions.  Many have resolved not to have any resolutions.  According the Wikipedia “A New Year’s resolution is a commitment that a person makes to one or more lasting personal goals, projects, or the reforming of a habit. This goal must be reached by the Next New Year. Keep in mind that this is a goal, not a wish and should be something that you as a person could strive for.”  I think everyone should resolve to do something productive.  Most resolve to lose weight, spend more time with family and friends, quit smoking or drinking, reduce debt, go back to school or things like that.  Why people think it is easier at the beginning of the year than oh let’s say June 1st I don’t know.  Each day is a new beginning really. 

What are you resolving to do?  For me, it is taking each new day with a fresh perspective.  To continue doing nice things for people who will never find out it was me, to be more forgiving of myself, to appreciate those who genuinely care for me, and to ignore all the negative energy that people try to put off on me.   These are habits I could get used to and certainly goals that can be achieved by Next New Year. 

So, I’m off to watch a little of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve party (just not the same as it used to be) and as I sit there, I’m sure there will be moments of “we were there, right there…and, and, and.”  Bring on 2012, I’m ready.  Are you?

And, here are some facts about Times Square thanks to the UK Telegraph Publication

1. Formerly named Longacre Square, it was renamed in April 1904 after the New York Times moved its headquarters to the Times Building, now called One Times Square.

2. Nicknames include ‘The Crossroads of the World’ and ‘The Great White Way’, and reportedly ‘The Tenderloin’ because it was supposedly the most desirable location in Manhattan in the 1920s.

3. The 1929 stock market crash took its toll on the area, with many businesses moving out of the area to be replace with seedier forms of entertainment, including pornographic “peep shows”.

4. New York City began a slow but steady push to clean up Times Square in the 1990s led by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani – the process was referred to as the ‘Disneyfication’.

5. On New Year’s Eve, close to a million people congregate to celebrate the ‘Dropping of the Ball’.

6. The ball was replaced by an energy efficient ball in 2008.

7. In 1972, Dick Clark began hosting the half-hour special Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

8. The location has been used in numerous films, including Vanilla Sky when it is depicted as eerily quiet, and a post-apocalyptic version in I Am Legend.

9. Famous for its electric, neon and illuminated signs including Coca-Cola, Toshiba and the curved NASDAQ sign.

10. In February of 2011, Times Square became smoke free.

Happy Halloween

Family Halloween

My sisters and me in the late 60's

Halloween is really, almost over…two hours to go and nobody has rung the doorbell for at least 30 minutes.  So, Happy Halloween to all you spooks out in the world.  I’m not sure what it is about Halloween these days that make it the second most populous holiday as far as consumer spending but I sure would like to know.  I mean really, isn’t the world scary enough without having to emphasize it all the more? 

Between my 401K tanking, the rising cost of living, deciding what to fix for dinner, and driving on the 408 and I-4 everyday, I’m spooked enough.  Every morning I look in the mirror and worry that a zombie will be staring back due to my lack of sleep thanks to our animals keeping us up through the night.

Perhaps Halloween gives people a chance to actually BE scary on purpose.  Last Friday night, I went with my daughter to get a Halloween costume.  We walked in to the Halloween Spirit store and much to my surprise in the abandoned K-Mart space was wall-to-wall costumes, make-up, decorations, and more.  Seeing that the line to try on costumes was like being at a theme park I told my daughter, “I’ll wait in line while you find a costume.”  Moments later, she came back.  She got in that line and for me, I was off to wait in the line to pay. While in line, I walked past a Frankenstein that came to life when a button was pushed and then, there it was…Regan from the Exorcist.  WOW, that brought back some memories.  I couldn’t help myself, I pushed the button.  Well, some strange noise came out of the machine and then Regan’s head spun all the way around.  Pretty cool, but I was waiting for it to vomit pea soup or something as it did cost $200.  Nope, just the head spinning around.  Bummer.  

Next was watching the crowd.  Talk about scary.  Some of these people needed nothing as their everyday attire, attitude and general being were all pretty frightening.  And, talk about spending money…the lady behind me was ready to lay down nearly $500 for costumes for her kids and some decorations.  I’m thinking, how can people afford this stuff?   And, if they have that kind of money, why the heck are they spending it on THIS stuff?  Cheaply made costumes, overrated and overpriced decorations.  I mean, come on….Regan doesn’t, repeat DOESN’T vomit pea soup!  For $200, I want pea soup.

Now, I like a good time like many people.  Parties, neighborhood get-togethers, and all that.   When I was a kid, seems like we got creative with our costumes and decorations.  What ever happened to that sense of inspirational genius?  Making a coffin out of a refrigerator box, actually carving pumpkins,  dressing up as a hobo, clown, princess, angel, etc. without having to go out and spend a fortune?  I loved going out trick-or-treating.  Like many, my siblings and I would head out with the parents and go to the neighbors we knew.  It was “ok” because we weren’t getting candy from strangers.  Heck, we got homemade popcorn balls and other treats…no worries about razors, poison apples, or strange things. 

What I think is a little funny is all the churches that sell pumpkins and have “fall harvest festivals” and then have “trunk or treat” events in the parking lot.   For a Pagan holiday, it sure is getting the attention of the church. 

I’m glad my daughter is grown up now.  At lunch people were talking about sexual predators and saying “have you done a predator check for your area?”  Jeez, frighten me some more.  I know, it is a serious subject and knowing they live around the area on Halloween AND every day of the year is a little un-nerving. 

Well, it’s getting on past 9:00 and we still have a whole bag of chocolate.  For years, I spent good money on candy I hated…you know, the wax paper black and orange candies that pull out fillings and taste like peanut butter flavored silly putty?   I always bought it because I wouldn’t want it if there were leftovers.  What a waste, nobody likes it.  In fact, I don’t think they sell it anymore.  So, what are we to do with 40 pieces of Snickers, Three Musketeers, Twix and Milky Way bars?  Ok, so one piece has somewhere between 25 and 50 calories…not too bad.  But like the Lays potato chip, “who can eat just one?” 

Doomed I tell you, doomed.  If Halloween weren’t scary enough, the chocolate is calling….

The Mysterious McRib

What is it about a riblet-molded fused meat rectangle smothered in barbeque sauce that would have everyday food aficionados clamoring to their local McDonalds?  Yes, you guessed it, it’s a McRib.  I’m perplexed and quite amazed with the overwhelming urge that inspires so many.  Maybe it’s because it is the unofficial launch of fall or that it only comes out “for a limited time.” 

All in all, when it came out in 1981, it wasn’t a huge seller.  In fact, it was taken off the menu in 1985 and only reappeared for special promotions.  Then, in 2005 there was the “McRib Farewell Tour” as it was to be permanently removed from the menu.  Then there were sequels as the “Farewell Tour was had in 2006 and 2007.”  For a sandwich that wasn’t popular, it is, or seems to be.  So much so, that it is a permanent part of the German McDonald’s menu.  Go figure, they are the home to some great things like Bratwurst…and also home to blood sausage. 

Back in 1981, I was working at McDonald’s in Topeka, Kansas.  For some of you, McDonald’s may have been your employer of choice growing up.  As a college student, free food and getting paid to rustle burgers, manage 10-1 meat, and master the drive-thru was a good gig.  I learned back then “time to lean is time to clean.”  Mom loved that saying.  One day, we were introduced to “The McRib” and there, at 6:00 in the morning, next to the sausage, we were searing these pork patties made to look like ribs.  After a while on the grill, they were put in a barbeque bath for another five hours until lunch was served.  Now, some 30 years later, there is still a strange attraction to these imposters to their long lost cousins…real ribs laboriously smoked, cooked at low temps for what seems days. 

What is it about McRib?  The sauce, it’s accessories…onions, pickles, the bun?  Is it that it reminds us of life with all its messiness?    Is it the insatiable longing throughout the year for something that we can’t have that makes us want it even more when it is available?  Whatever the attraction, those of you who count down the days to the release know what I’m talking about….right?

There are other things that have a similar mystique and timeliness.  Take Pumpkin Spiced Latte’s and Peppermint Stick ice cream to name just a couple. 

If you’re thinking about a McRib right now, consider this…500 calories, 26 grams of fat, 44 grams of carbohydrates, and 980 mg of sodium.  However, that Starbucks 16 oz. Pumpkin Spiced Latte has 310 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 49 grams of carbohydrates.   And,  ½ cup serving of a popular Peppermint Stick ice cream has 140 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 18 grams of carbohydrates.  (and who really only has ½ cup of ice cream?)   So, to make the McRib a little more appetizing, consider SPAM, no not the kind that occupies your inbox.  But wait, a 2 oz serving of the all-American potted meat product only has 174 calories, 15 grams of fat, 2 grams of carbohydrates, and 767 grams of sodium.  Here’s the answer…give in to the annual temptation and just savor the succulently smothered, barbequed bathed fused pork product known as McRib at 10:30 a.m. for “brunch” and drop the bun.  Hit the gym and spend an extra hour on the treadmill, schedule your colonoscopy the next day therefore chasing your McRib with a delicious Golytely chaser (that’s the liquid that purges the stomach) and then call your cardiologist for a follow-up appointment. (that’s for the fries you know you will get) 

What can we learn from this “mystery meat called McRib?” 

  • Life is short, eat dessert first and when there is room, consider a McRib because we don’t really know if it will be back, ever again.  Ha.
  • Remember that you can talk yourself into many things “you can’t have” but in the end, is it worth it?  In the case of McRib, many would say yes.
  • Marketing, marketing, marketing can make even the most cultured taste buds “give in.”
  • It is a once a year thing in the U.S.  In Germany, it’s there year-round.  But, they’ve traded it in for vegemite on the menu in Australia.  You can order that on your breakfast English muffin there.

Dog Daze of Summer

Friends for Life

Bubba and Penny

My husband and I take our dogs Bubba and Penny to the dog park a couple times a week.  And, without fail the dogs just seem to have this “sixth sense” about when we are taking them.  Perhaps it is the tennis shoes or the words “dog park” that give it away.  Whatever it is, they work themselves into a frenzy.  The front door opens and there is a beeline to the car.  Up and in they go, tails wagging, excited barking as if to say “we’re going to the dog park, we’re going to the dog park.”

Once we arrive to the dog park, it becomes an automatic reunion.  Off go the leashes and they are free to run, run away.  They recognize old buddies and welcome the butt sniffs of new friends. Surprisingly, humans and their dogs get along.  When you look out across the dog park, it is like being in a different world…the world of dogs and we are the outsiders.  Dogs RULE the park!

Every trip to the dog park has moments that just fill my heart with joy.  There, represented is every type of person you could imagine…the young, the old, the fat, the skinny, the polished, the unkept, the subdued, the nervous, the aggressive, the excited.  Oh wait, sounds like the dogs.  Yes, I’ve come to think that people do look and act like their dogs in many cases.

Squirrel, did someone say “SQUIRREL?”  Ball, did someone say “BALL?”  Oh, and don’t forget the water.  What is it about the lake?  They won’t go near the pool at home, but lake…they are so there.  And why is it that after the water, it’s let’s go roll around in the sand pit?

The term “dog days of summer” comes from the ancient belief that Sirius, the Dog Star, and its close proximity to the sun was responsible for the hot weather two months out of the year.  Living in Florida, we experience the Dog DAZE of six months of summer.   But that to is coming to an end with fall weather right around the corner.  The dog park changes too.  The dogs are more frisky and their owners stick around a little more since it’s not so hot.

Both of our dogs are loving, faithful companions.  Mutts actually.  One from the pound and one from a homeless camp.  They are not famous dogs like Benji, Lassie or Astro from the Jetsons, but they certainly have the family paparazzi following them around and taking pictures all the time.   Speaking of dog celebrities, our family was trying to think of some good movies with dogs…here are our favorites.  Benji (of course), Homeward Bound, Lady & The Tramp, Beethoven, 101 Dalmatians, Snow Dogs, Cats & Dogs.

Something I found interesting and perhaps not too surprising is that Americans spend more than $50 billion on their pets.  That’s a lot of Snausages!  One look around PetSmart and I know why.  There is everything one would expect to see in a pet store, but then after looking again, there is stuff I never knew existed…doggie diapers and tablets to keep
your dogs from eating their own poop.  Really?  Truth be told, our Bubba needs something to keep from thinking the cat poop is a Tootsie Roll just made for him.  I did ask my vet about that and when he said his dog does the same thing I figured it was nature’s way of helping to clean the litter box.

If you don’t have a dog, borrow a friends’ or just show up and take a look around.  I would recommend Fleet Peeple’s park in Winter Park.  You won’t be disappointed.  What can we learn from dogs?

  • Tolerance.  Unconditional acceptance.  Color, gender, size, breed…don’t judge.  For us humans, take it a step further…race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc.  You get the drill.
  • Greet others with a sense of decency and curiosity. I know, I know…the butt sniffing thing is not a decent way to greet other humans.  A handshake and a smile is appropriate though.  And please, no fishy handshakes.
  • Exercise.  Whether it’s running, swimming, jumping around.  Just do it!
  • Enjoy the car ride.  Like dogs being thankful it’s not a trip to the vet. (or for us, the doctor)
  • Don’tbe intimidated by the size or stature of others.  Small dogs think they run the show and big dogs often think they are lap dogs.

And I will leave you with two of my favorite quotes as they relate to dogs and life…

“Be tuff, the dog days of summer can be wuff” and “If you’re not the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”

The Almighty Dollar

On a recent trip to visit with a friend, I had a slight detour that took me into a parking lot where I had to turn around.  Upon entering the parking lot, I noticed a familiar sight in an unfamiliar setting.  There it was, a half crumpled dollar bill sitting near the bushes.

At first I thought it might have been one of those papers that looks like a dollar but turns out to be a clever ad for saving money or joining a club.  Being curious, I put the car in park, opened the door and looked around to see if there might be a rightful owner.  No, nobody around so I picked it up and thought “possession is 9/10th of the law or finders keepers.”

Heck, it was only a dollar.  But what a dollar…crisp, clean, half crumpled and a story untold.  Where did it come from, who might it have belonged to, what path did it follow to get where I found it?

All questions I couldn’t begin to answer but I certainly thought about various possibilities throughout the day.  By the time I got home, there was more to uncover.  I had to know more about the “Almighty Dollar” that we all work so hard to make, but rarely take time to acknowledge.  Here are a few of the many facts I found about a buck, a single, a bone, a one, a bill.

  • The average life of a $1 bill in circulation is 42 months before it is replaced due to wear.
  • Approximately 42% of all U.S. currency produced in 2009 were one-dollar bills.
  • The first U.S. one-dollar bill was issued in 1862 with a portrait of Salmon Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury under President Abraham Lincoln.
  • It wasn’t until 1869 that the one-dollar bill was redesigned with George Washington’s picture on it.

Then I was off to the website www.wheresgeorge.com.  This is a website where you can put in information about any denomination and track it.  So, I plugged in all the data but sadly discovered there was no history on this greenback.

Our United States currency has gotten a bad reputation of late.  It doesn’t seem to have the value it once had.  Does that mean we work less hard for it?  Heck no!  For many of us, we are working harder thanks to inflation, pay cuts, and increases in everyday necessities.

Here’s something I had never heard of…the “Big Mac Index.”  It is “a good indication of the value of the US dollar versus other countries’ currencies” in what The Economist once termed the “Big Mac Index.” Since the McDonald’s Big Mac is ubiquitous these days, it was a perfect and, um, digestible way to measure the purchasing power of the dollar against other currencies. (www.airtreks.com)

That got me thinking about other currencies and other countries and what the dollar might mean.  In case you are wondering, here are some of the best places, as of 2010, to maximize your dollars according to www.airtreks.com:  India, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Bolivia, Honduras, Peru, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Argentina.    Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really fancy visiting most of those places and I wouldn’t even fathom ordering a Big Mac in most of those destinations.

The “Almighty Dollar” is what we work so hard for and rarely seem to appreciate.  In some ways this is truly an “Almighty” dollar in that I thought “why was it there for me to find? Was it a sign for something?  Am I supposed to do something amazing with it?”  Only time will tell, but I would enjoy hearing what you think I should do with it. Should I give it away to charity, to the man in the wheelchair who sits outside our grocery store, put it in the plate on Sunday, give it to a kid via a car wash, put it in the bank, or invest it in some other way?

While I consider your recommendations, it will remain in my possession. In the meantime, go count your own blessings and then your dollars.