Sunday, November 30, 2008

My First Opera

It's strange - I live in "America's Premier Cultural Resort" and have never been to an opera. But, I've finally taken the plunge - sort of. A group of us went to see a filmed version of a live performance of Verdi's "Otello" at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. (First, a quick stop for a cuppa at the Ultraviolet Cafe next door!)

Fortunately, I know the story. I read it in high school, but also directed and performed a modern-day version while at college. Our play had a female lead (Othella) who was a high-powered executive in corporate America, her husband (Desmond), and I was the villanous Iaga, Othella's Administrative Assistant...quite fun.

Knowing the characters and plot line was helpful, as the entire opera was in Italian (but had subtitles). I must say, I don't think I'm really an opera fan. It might make a difference to see a live performance, but I found myself nodding off every now and then!

Here's my layperson's perspective of the show:
  • The main characters had fabulous voices and looked their parts.
  • The music was heavenly.
  • Costumes were gorgeous.
  • The sets and lighting were to me the least pleasant, in fact jarring, parts of the performance. The harsh blue lighting, then a switch to harsh yellow, was disconcerting and unbecoming to the performers. And the strange, hard-edged steel and glass stage platform, along with the hard-edged rusted steel buildings stage backdrop, were just so unpleasant. I suppose this was some type of artistic expression that I just didn't understand.

Well, I like to try new things, so I'm glad I went. I think I won't cross "See an opera" off my list of things to do until I see a live one, though.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Decorating

Now that Thanksgiving is past, it's time to decorate the house for Christmas.

This means bringing all of those boxes up from the basement. It's odd - I don't mind bringing them up at all because I'm so excited about setting everything out. But bringing them back down after Christmas is over - that's just not fun.

Some of my favorite decorations are the ones my daughter made in elementary school. I always hang these in the kitchen, where we'll see them every day. The wreath made from her little hand cutouts is just the best.

Then, there are the "interesting" gifts she's given me over the years as a little girl. There's the papier mache Santa, who looks like he's doing the splits after slipping on the ice. And the big Boston Bruins stocking - we're not necessarily Bruins fans, but she liked the big "B" since that's what OUR last name starts with. I treasure these and put them out every year.

One thing I love to do as we put up the Christmas tree is to remember where each ornament came from as I hang it on the tree. If my daughter is in the room, I usually tell her the stories, too. In fact, she's seen me do this so many times, that one Christmas she gave me a scrapbook and called it "Ornament Origins" so I can put a photo and story on each page about each ornament. That way, the stories won't get lost. What a great kid!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pajama Day

Everyone once in a while, we get to have a Pajama Day. Here's what we do on these few and far between days...
  • Wake up whenever we feel like it.
  • Leave our pajamas on ALL day.
  • Eat leftovers whenever we get hungry - no official "cooking" going on here!
  • Do whatever we feel like - read the paper, watch a movie, blog, surf the internet, do crafts, play a board game - whatever strikes our fancy.

That's all there is to it. It's such a relaxing thing to do after several hectic days of preparing for Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

It's just amazing how long it takes to prepare for Thanksgiving, and just how quickly it's all over!

I'd have to say - I think this was our best one yet. All of the dishes turned out perfectly (brining the turkey is absolutely the way to go), everyone had a leftovers plate to take home, there were no heated political debates, no catastrophes of any kind, and the house was neat and orderly before bedtime. A success in my book.

And, of course, there is so much for all of us to be thankful for. We have jobs and homes, we're healthy, and the country's future is hopeful. I also think my entire family is thankful that I didn't make them do any of the corny table games I usually try - like passing around a basket of interesting questions they have to answer while we dine (it really IS fun, even if they DO groan about it).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shopping for Thanksgiving Dinner

Well, it looks like we'll have about 14 for Thanksgiving dinner this year.

By now, we've hosted this dinner so many times that it's not really hard at all. And, since the menu doesn't change much, it's that much easier. Here's what we'll be feasting on:

  • Sparkling Juices (Apple, Pomegranate)
  • Turkey (brined)
  • Stuffing (bread, giblets, celery and onion)
  • Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
  • Rolls & Butter (snowflake rolls)
  • Sweet Potato Casserole (yes, with Marshmallows!)
  • Vegetable Casseroles (brought by guests)
  • Cranberry Sauce (our family's recipe, cooked with chopped orange and walnuts)
  • Cranberry Jello (our family's recipe includes diced red delicious apples)
  • Pickles (Sweet Midgets) & Olives (Black)
  • Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream
  • Apple Pie with Ice Cream
  • Coffe & Tea & Hot Spiced Cider
The photo shows the groceries it will take to feed 14 people. Total cost this year, including pretty napkins and hot cups: $124.60.
This week will be busy with getting the table extended and set up, bringing chairs up from the basement, baking pies, and other preparations. It's all part of the fun!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Marketing With Social Media

I attended an online webinar today about Marketing With Social Media (or Inbound Marketing), presented by Hubspot. They did a really great job, and spoke mostly about how Facebook factors into the Social Media + Marketing equation.

To start us off, the speakers (Ellie Mirman and Mike Volpe) told us that social media sites like Facebook are a lot like business cocktail parties, but without the restrictions of time or space. Our goal with virtual social networking sites is the same as real business networking events - meet people, make connections, offer input, and seek advice from experts. The slogan on the login page is: "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life."

Some of the tips I learned about Facebook include:

  • It's an active and growing community; there are over 120 million users this year as opposed to half that only a year ago, making Facebook the 4th most trafficed website on the Internet.
  • To get started as a business on Facebook, we first need to get started as individuals. (Hmmm...I was thinking I was a little old for Facebook, but Ellie and Mike say it's not just for college kids anymore!)
  • We can edit a Facebook profile all we want before it's viewed by others; it only goes live when we hit "publish."
  • Once we've set up a personal page, we can control how much of our personal information is seen by others by adjusting the privacy settings.
  • Our goal with a Facebook page is to build a community through attracting fans, joining groups, participating in discussions, etc.

A couple of success stories we heard about were TripAdvisor, which offers a Where Have You Been interactive travel map for users, and Pizza Hut, which allows users to order their pizza through Facebook, with fabulous results.

Definitely food for thought.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Parent / Teacher Conferences

Parent / Teacher conferences are quite a bit different for parents of high school-age kids.

By the time a student is in 10th grade, they are fairly self-directed and really don't need the same type of help and guidance from a parent as they needed when they were younger kids. So, the discussion with the teacher is much different from those we had in elementary and middle school, especially if the student is a high-performer.

However, my daughter's dad and I feel that it's important to provide parental oversight and support regardless of our daughter's age, so we attend all of these conferences. We had 4 meetings with teachers tonight, all of whom had glowing reports of our fabulous daughter, I'm happy to say!

In fact, one wonderful teacher provided us with a new possibility for our daughter's future that we hadn't considered before! We'll have to explore this idea more to find out as much as we can about it, but it's so terrific when a teacher takes a keen and meaningful interest in a child's potential - insight like this is so helpful to parents, who are trying their best to guide their children toward a bright future.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rainy Saturday

I know this sounds nuts, but I am a huge fan of rainy days!

I love the sound of the rain on the roof, the warm glow of lights on inside (especially in the kitchen), the cozy feeling of being indoors and warm while it's chilly and wet outside, and the homey smells of something comforting and delicious cooking.

Today, we're just hanging around, doing not much of anything. My daughter's at the kitchen table making window art. I'll get the menus ready for the next two weeks so I can get the grocery shopping done tomorrow, do a few loads of laundry, and put some meatballs into the crockpot to simmer for hours until they're soft and fabulous. Then, it's probably time to pet the cats and watch a Charlie Chan movie. Later, I think I'll bake another loaf of Pumpkin Bread.

Here's a great Pumpkin Bread recipe that I found once in the Sunday newspaper's USA Weekend flyer. It comes out moist and perfect EVERY time (why we have to cook the pumpkin, I don't know, but I do it anyway since the bread is the best ever):

1/2 15 oz. can pumpkin (1 C minus 2 T / you can also substitute mashed bananas or apple butter, which I haven't tried yet)
1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves
3/4 C water
1 3/4 C dark brown sugar
1/2 C vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten
1 3/4 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Grease metal loaf pan. Heat pumpkin and spices in small saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Stirring continuously, cook until pumpkin is stiff and starts to stick to the pan (about 3 minutes). Transfer to medium bowl and whisk in water, sugar, oil, and eggs. In another bowl, combine dry ingredients and fold into pumpkin mixture. Bake about 70 minutes. Remove from pan after about 15 minutes. Cool, cut and devour.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Embed YouTube Video in Blog Post

Okay, I just learned how to do this, and thought I'd better write it down so I can remember for the next time I want to do it...

To embed a YouTube video into a blog post (to embed is to have a video screen appear in the body of your post, rather than just pasting in a link to a video in your here to see an example), follow these steps:

  1. Find the YouTube video you want to embed.
  2. To the right of the video on YouTube, you'll see two codes, one called "URL" and one called "embed." Copy the "embed" code.
  3. If you want a border on your video, before you copy the "embed" code, click on the asterisk icon to the right of the code. A drop down menu appears, giving you various border color options. Click the color you want, make sure you check the box that says "Show Border," then copy the "embed" code.
  4. On your blog, start a new post. Write whatever text you want to appear before and after the video you'll be embedding.
  5. Click on the "Edit Html" tab of the post.
  6. Paste the code you copied where you want the video to appear in your post text.
  7. Publish post.

Pretty fancy and pretty easy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fitness and Retirement Funds

As I was viewing my 401(k) balance the other day, I began to realize that retirement funds or other long-term savings accounts are very much like fitness. You can work and work at it and still feel like you're not getting anywhere when viewed on a daily basis, but it's the long haul that counts.

With working out, I come home thinking that I MUST be buff by now. But when I look in the mirror, I don't look much different, if at all, from yesterday. How could that be? I've been sweating, my muscles ache? Why haven't I dropped a size yet. Why is the scale still showing me that horrible number?

With saving, I look at my balance and think, I must have a sizable chunk saved up by now. But when I view my account, it doesn't look much different, if at all, from last month. Why is my balance not huge by now. What has happened to all the money that's been deposited directly from my paycheck?

I've finally concluded that these two processes are very much the same. If we look at our bodies or our balances on a day-to-day basis and make comparisons, we won't see much that's changed. However, if we look at ourselves or our accounts at the beginning of the year, do our work during the year, and then look again at the end of the year - that's when we see the real progress.

The secret to savvy workouts or savvy saving is to do it with purpose, but give it time to take shape. Then, after a good amount of time has passed, check again. That's when things should be looking pretty good.

So, I'll continue to just buck up, save up, and work out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Things I've Learned in the Blogosphere

While bloghopping, I come across sites from all over the world. I see some trends, some similarities, and I also learn about new things. Here's what I've discovered:
  • Etsy Store: I'd never heard of this before, but kept seeing it on blogs. I googled it and found out that it's an online store that allows individuals to post handmade items for sale. Great idea, and what a terrific place to find special gifts for people. Many bloggers show the items they're working on that are for sale at Etsy.
  • Family & Friends Update: many people use a blog to keep family and friends updated about their life, the growing kids (or new ones!), new marriage, new house, etc. It's a terrific way to let people know what's going on and to see the related pictures. People also use these update sites when they've moved to a new place, and want to let the family back home know what life is like in, say, Alaska (some of my favorite blogs show life in this interesting part of the US).
  • Practice, Practice, Practice: photographers and writers use the blogosphere to practice their writing, practice their photography skills, and learn the concepts of posting effectively to a blog, find their "theme," try layouts and templates, etc. This is where I fit in.

Overall, here are blogging words of wisdom from my point of view:

  • Short posts are best, because they don't seem too daunting to read.
  • Bullets or numbered lists are nice because they break up the text and allow for quick browsing of content.
  • Photos are especially appealing because they give us a window into a world different from our own. Interestingly, a blog with just photos and no text isn't quite as much fun because we don't get to learn about the writer or the subject of the photos.
  • Updating photos on a fairly regular basis is good so the look of the site doesn't get stale.
  • Conversely, blogs with just text with no photos aren't quite as enticing to read, no matter how great the writing (and there are some VERY clever writers out there!).
  • It's nice when the blogger leaves the Navbar in the layout, so we can easily get to the next blog.
  • The interaction of getting a comment from someone, someone voting on my poll, or having a blog follower is part of the fun of blogging.
  • Advertising blogs are just so wrong.

Well, I'll keep practicing my blogging, bloghopping to see how others do it, and tweaking my site as I learn from all of the experts out there!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Creating "I Like" Books

Writing the post on "The Wish List" reminded me of the "I Like" books my daughter and I decided to create.

We wanted to make sure we focused on the things we really enjoyed about daily life, including all of the little things which sometimes get overlooked. So, based on the format of "The Wish List," we bought journals that appealed to our own personalities (mine is on the right), and began to list things we like.

We started just about a year ago, and in my journal, I'm up to 599 things! The items we include on our lists are really any little thing we enjoy, or remember enjoying in the past. And, these are the things that usually don't carry a big pricetag. Then, when we need a refresher on how many great things are going on in our lives, we just read our lists.

It's also quite interesting to view another's personality be viewing their list. My daughter's list is very different from mine, and I really get to see the different facets of her personality as I read her "I Like" book.

My list includes things like:
  • Wading down the Green River at Mount Hope Farm in Williamstown (and skipping rocks with all of the flat stones on the bottom)
  • Sitting on a bench at Provincetown's Town Hall and watching the activity around us
  • Learning how to do something new
  • Walking down Elm Street to Jilly's for ice cream on a summer evening (mine will probably be a root beer float)
  • A clean car - inside and out
  • Wearing funny glasses and fake teeth and surprising people
  • Tahiti Restaurant's pu-pu platter, with plenty of duck sauce and the little black flaming kettle
  • Wind chimes
  • The way Maude lived in the movie "Harold and Maude"
  • Oscar night (it's our super bowl!)

Our lists continue to grow, as there are so many little things we like that happen every day.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

NY State Museum

A friend and I visited the New York State Museum in Albany today. I toured the museum years ago, but so much has changed since then. It seems like many other people thought a museum visit was the perfect way to spend a drizzly November day!

In addition to the terrific regular exhibits of natural and cultural history, they have a World Trade Center exhibit right now which is incredible. I really need to go back when I have more time to spend - there are so many audio and video facets to the exhibit that we just didn't have time for.

I had goosebumps as I viewed part of the jet engine that had been found in a nearby street. There is an entire firetruck that was pulled from the rubble, a battered door from a police car, bent and crumpled steel from the exterior of the building, and a steel beam that's pitted and scarred. One display case shows blackened gift shop trinkets featuring images of the towers, that must have been sold in an onsite tourist shop. There is an unusual, and heartbreaking, display of the many keys found at the site - keys that must have opened places of business throughout the buildings. Looking at the pile of keys...this ordinary detail of daily life...somehow felt so poignant.

I'm glad we went, and I definitely want to go back so I have a chance to listen to the stories in those audio displays.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Wish List

I came across this book a few years ago while shopping in Barnes & Noble. It's just a really long list of possible things to do in life. I like it because it gives me ideas I might not think of on my own, like:
  • Eating at restaurants I didn't know existed, but would love to try.
  • Visiting cool places I've never heard of.
  • Trying a new hobby or sport, just for the heck of it.
To use the book, I put an X next to everything I'd like to try and I highlight the things I've already done. Some of the things I've already done include:
  • Milk a cow (at my Uncle Marcel's dairy farm in Vermont)
  • Buy my own house
  • Have my "letter to the editor" published
  • Host a Fresh Air child (Eternity has visited us for the past 2 summers)
  • Drive through a dust storm in the desert (a dust devil in Buckeye, Arizona)
  • Drive 1-80 from New York to San Francisco
  • Do the Sunday crossword in ink
  • Ride a helicopter to work (in a medevac helicopter when I was an Army medic - scary...we flew with the doors open!)
  • Paint a portrait (I was an art major...long, long ago)

And, here are some things that are still on my list to try:

  • Visit the Eiffel Tower
  • Write a best seller
  • Pay it forward
  • Take up fencing
  • Have 20/20 vision
  • Calculate with an abacus
  • Float down the Amazon
  • Walk across the Golden Gate bridge (we visited San Francisco earlier this year, but just didn't have time to fit this one in!)
  • Learn to kayak
  • Make my own pickles (I've made jam and chutney, but no pickles yet)
My copy is rather battered, as I've read and re-read The Wish List so many times. It always goes with me on vacation and whenever I travel - it's great airplane reading. I like to remind myself of all the wonderful adventures waiting to be experienced. It's so easy to forget these things while dealing with all the details of day-to-day life.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting Day

This is the big day we've been waiting for! We'll be staying up late tonight to hear the final results, with our fingers crossed. ABC has terrific election coverage, and great commentary, with Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer, and George Stephanopolous.

My polling station is at nearby All Soul's Church. My daughter and I will be heading over there as soon as she gets home from school today. We usually go later, after I get home from work in the evening, but I'm home today so we can go while it's still light out!

My daughter has been going to vote with me ever since she was born. She's been following this election very closely, and even did some campaign work this last weekend! (What a great kid.)

After voting, we're doing a little Retail Therapy, since it will be several hours before election results are final. She's going to the Semi (semi-formal dance) next week and we still need shoes. She has a gorgeous black dress with a white bodice covered with spangles. We wanted some type of cover-up, and last night we found a sweater that ties with a bow in front, which she can wear over the dress to keep warm until she gets to the dance. So, now we just need shoes and jewelry (although if she needs to, she can wear the jewelry she wore to the prom in June; her prom sandals are gorgeous and the right color, but a bit too strappy for November). We've already been to TJ Maxx and Walmart. Tonight we'll try Marshalls - they have a great new shoe department.

Then, it's home to watch the voting results come in! She can work on homework while we await the big news! I hope there is great rejoicing in our home this evening!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Spring Ahead - Fall Back

Yahoo - an extra hour of sleep last night. That sure felt great.

Next, of course, comes the Updating of the Clocks ritual. Which brings me to an intersting topic - Radio Controlled Clocks.

When we redid our kitchen, we needed a clock that was about 12" in diameter, and that would go with the oak and white decor. I did an extensive internet search and finally found one by LaCrosse Technologies - right size, right color, right price.

I placed the order and when it arrived, I read the directions. I had somehow purchased what was called a Radio Controlled Clock! I'd never heard of such a thing and didn't know anything about it.

According to the instructions, I was to insert batteries, choose my time zone, and point the clock toward Colorado! True. Well, I was a bit hesitant (sounded like a lot of hocus pocus), but I did what it said. To my amazement, after a minute or so, the hands of the clock just started going around and around and stopped on the correct time. I'm not kidding.

So, this morning when I got up and did a quick survey of clocks that needed changing, I noticed that the kitchen clock is already all set. Not only does it reset itself twice per year, but it maintains the correct time throughout the year.

I also bought a Spacemaker clock/CD player that mounts under the kitchen cabinet (got to be able to play Edith Piaf or the Buena Vista Social Club while I'm cooking!), which has a nice feature - when we switch to or from Daylight Savings Time, I just press a little button on the side and it resets the clock to the correct time. So, overall, my clock-changing ritual isn't really so bad.

Ayup - Maine Road Trip

Today was a perfect day to see the coast of Maine before the really cold weather sets in...

From our house, it's about 3 hours across Massachusetts, up across the edge of New Hampshire, and into Maine. (You know you're a New Englander when you measure distance in hours!) Scenic Highway 1 wends its way all along Maine's craggy coastline.

If you go on your own road trip to Maine, here is my advice:
  • Find out ahead of time how to get to any beaches you're interested in exploring; Highway 1 does go along the coast, but you'll have better luck if you have specific directions to a specific beach. A detailed map of the area would work better than a generic Atlas. And, in some instances, the smaller roads get you a bit closer to the water than Route 1. (Does anyone know where all of those gorgeous ROCKY beaches are - maybe up near Mount Desert Island???)

  • Plan on lots of driving along quiet highways; very picturesque, but it does take some time to get to where you're going, especially if there is no passing!

  • Give yourself a couple of days to explore so you have a chance to find all those scenic spots. Maine is HUGE (at least compared to Massachusetts!) and because the highway winds back and forth so much, it takes extra time to travel.
  • You'll be without cell phone service for much of the time, but Maine's very nice Visitor Centers offer public phones.

Now, the question is, where to go next...


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