Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Prepping for New Year's Eve

Well, we're in the holiday home stretch!

We have our final party tonight...a New Year's Eve Open House. We've invited family, friends and neighbors, and here's the plan:

  • An easy spaghetti dinner at 6, with slow-cooked meatballs, salad and homemade garlic bread. I usually make the meatballs in a crockpot, but it's still at someone's house from a party! I'll have to use the stove top - hope they come out right!

  • LOTS of board games: DDR, Clue FX (sooooo fun), Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Scrabble, Sorry, Jenga, Probe, Boggle, Yahtzee, Battleship. We have different games going on in each room. And, the dining room table is also extended so we can have a game at each end.

  • 4,000 Questions: I once found a book called "4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone." We LOVE this book and use it often. I put the questions on little slips of paper and leave them out in baskets. Then, anyone can pull out a question to ask anyone else any time. The questions are interesting and usually lead to discovering some interesting tidbit about someone that we didn't previously know - we even discover new things about family members!

  • Cheese Fondue with bread cubes, potato chunks, broccoli spears, and apple slices.

  • Chocolate Fondue later, with marshmallows, pretzels, pound cake, and orange segments.

  • Cupcakes: I was inspired by A Baked Creation blog to make New Year cupcakes - yellow cake with chocolate frosting, and "2009" standing up in the frosting, made from piped white chocolate.
And, of course, we'll have a midnight toast with champagne and sparkling juice as we watch the ball drop in Times Square.

Then, my daughter will have 4 friends sleeping over! And, New Year's Day will be spent cleaning up and getting organized for 2009 (I, right?).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Putting Away Christmas

Oh, that sad, sad day...when Christmas gets put away...

Yes, this is the weekend officially designated for getting everything "Christmas" put back into old cardboard boxes and stored on the shelves in the basement.

But, I did manage to have my annual viewing of "A Christmas Carol," when I was reminded to keep Christmas in my heart throughout the year, even if it is "put away," which I will sincerely try to do.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Dinner Review

Well, everyone liked Christmas Dinner quite a lot, but I tend to be a tough critic when I'm the cook. Here's my review of the recipes and how they turned out:

(PS - photo at right is a random holiday photo of the kitchen - I didn't have any shots of Christmas Dinner to use!)

Roast Pork Loin with Cider & Apples: I added apples to this recipe, even though it didn't call for them - I put them in with the roast 1/2 hour before it was supposed to be done, and we liked the addition very much. Otherwise, I followed the recipe and cooking time, but not the roast internal temp directions, which I think was a mistake, as the meat was good but just a bit dry. Also, the cider burns in the oven! I ended up adding water to stop the burning smell, and this also didn't help the pan drippings taste as great as they might have. Otherwise, not bad.

Potatoes Au Gratin: I've made this before, and it's a very simple but tasty way to have potatoes done a little differently. However, these were a bit dry...not sure why as they usually come out great? I think I should have saved just a bit of the potato water and added it once the potatoes were mashed up.

Sauteed Greens with Garlic: Just a fabulous taste for a vegetable...the browned garlic chips are wonderful with the tangy greens.

Cranberry Pudding with Butter Sauce: Okay - this is to die for! This was definitely the star of the show. The pudding is moist and dense, as steamed puddings are, and not sweet at all. The delectable butter sauce adds the sweetness. This is so moist and dense and delicious that it's really hard to stop eating. If I were making it again, I think I'd reduce the sugar a bit, as none of us are into really sweet desserts, but overall, just a fabulous end to a holiday meal, along with a nice hot cup of tea.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Dinner

We're trying all new recipes for Christmas Dinner this year (surprise, surprise!). Here's the menu:

Crackers, Cheese & Pepperoni
Cider & Eggnog

Roasted Pork Loin with Rosemary, Apples, & Cider
Potatoes Au Gratin
Sauteed Greens with Garlic
Rolls & Butter

Cranberry Pudding with Butter Sauce
Coffe & Tea

The recipes came from a recent newspaper insert called Relish. Surprisingly, I often find really great recipes in these inserts that I save and use over and over.

(Note: photos in this post are courtesy of Relish.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Must-Read

If you haven't already read it, I highly recommmend adding "A Cup of Christmas Tea," by Tom Hegg, to your holiday book collection.

I read this every year, as we get very close to Christmas. It's a story about a guy who reluctantly decides to visit his elderly and infirm aunt during the holidays.

As he visits, he remembers all of the things that were once important when he was younger, through his chat with his aunt and the holiday decorations she has everywhere.

My favorite lines from the book, and the ones that usually sets me to crying, are:

We went inside and then before
I knew how to react
Before my eyes and ears and nose
Was Christmas past, alive, intact!

I haven't read it yet this year, but will any moment now, with a warming cup of tea beside the glow of the Christmas tree, as snow falls quietly outside.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cookies ala Martha

The Featured Cookie in this year's holiday edition of Martha Stewart is a Chocolate Peppermint Cookie.

I usually try one new cookie every Christmas, which I give as gifts to my neighbors. So, I decided to try this one this year, as it was so pretty!

Here's how it went for me (not too hard, but a bit time consuming...I don't think I would do them again, although they are festive.)

First, I made the chocolate inner wafer (not too difficult - just takes time to chill the dough, roll it, cut it, freeze it, then bake it).

Second, I melted the white chips in a double boiler and crushed the candy canes.

Third, that's me on the right, coating the cookies and sprinkling with candy. The recipe said it made 6 dozen, although I ended up with 5 dozen. Pretty and tasty, and very nice gifts for my good neighbors.

PS - A special thank you to my daughter, the ace action photographer!

Don't Count Your OWN Blog Visits

Ever since I added a BlogPatrol visitor counter to my blog, which I love, I've still been a bit frustrated with the counter...

Every time I visit my own blog, which can sometimes be multiple times a day if I'm editing, changing photos, etc, I add another count to my visitor counter. Which means I'm not really counting just visitors (since I'm the most frequent visitor!!).

Then, one day, I was helping my daughter add a visitor counter to her own blog, and as I was helping her through the various BlogPatrol screens, I noticed something I'd missed before:

You can "Ban Home IP" on your counter, which means visits from your own computer will not be counted. Wooo-hooo - great news. If I turn this on, then my own visits to my own blog won't be counted.

But, wait a do I know what my IP adress is? Ah, there is another thing I never noticed before...a handy dandy "Get My IP" button, which automatically detects the IP address of the computer I'm working on.

Well, now both of these buttons have been activated, and my visitor counter should be much more accurate. (I know that's a huge relief to everyone!)


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Under The Weather

Wow - the snow hasn't stopped and my cold just wouldn't quit either!

I've been feeling too blue to blog lately. Much of the past several days has been spent sprawled on the sofa with a box of tissues (thank you, Kleenex, for making lotion tissues!), hot tea, Alka-Seltzer Cold, and lots of blankets and pillows. This seems to be the cold that just doesn't want to quit, although I do feel the internal storm might be clearing.

And, the storm outside has been just as relentless. From my sofa vantage point, I can see the snow falling endlessly outside. We've been shoveling for what seems like days. Every time we get the sidewalks cleared, we know we'll be heading back out again in a few hours to do the exact same thing again.

Our total snowfall for the past few days is about 12 inches, although it seems like more, just because it doesn't seem to stop. Even as I write, it's still a-fallin'.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Make Your Own Snowflake

Ooh - very cool!

I happened upon a blog recently and discovered a fun online game / gadget / tool? It allows you to create your own virtual snowflake!

It's easy to do (once you get the hang of the "scissors"), and you just click to start over. I've discovered that it's actually kind of addicting, because I'm always hoping to cut one that's just a little better than the one before.

(Thanks for the idea, Currently Purring!)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hallmark Ornaments

You know, I can't say that I was ever a dedicated fan of Hallmark, or its ornaments. That is, until one year when I saw one advertised in our local paper that suited either me or my daughter to a tee; I really can't even remember which ornament it was, but I DO recall that the ad is what got me into the store and over to the ornament area.

After that one trip, it was all over for me.I've been hooked on Hallmark Christmas ornaments ever since, and set aside a momentous shopping day to make my pilgrimage to choose the new annual ornament.

Pictured on the right is my absolute favorite, a miniature refrigerator. It's as cute as could be on the outside, with the calendar on the side, a checked dishcloth hanging on the front, and children's artwork and alphabet letters on the door.

But it's the inside that is the real star of the show. First of all, when you open up the bottom of the fridge, the light comes on! (You have to be very careful to close the door snugly or the batteries die and the light goes out; last Christmas all our visitors were looking inside the fridge, and someone must have left it slightly ajar.)

Inside is an entire holiday meal, including a roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, a casserole, jello(!), apple and pumkin pie, egg nog and champagne. There's also milk, cream, and butter, and something that could be jellied cranberry sauce.

Then in the freezer, along with the freezer paper-wrapped bundles, ice cube trays, and ice build-up, is an adorable miniature snowman! He has a black top hat, carrot nose, coal eyes, and a red scarf.

I have other favorites - sometime I'll tell you about my miniature airstream, complete with pull-out canopy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Joys of Electricity

Three cheers for County Electrical Contractors, who were able to come first thing this morning to figure out what was wrong with our upstairs electricity.

The very pleasant electrician, who had to drive down from icy Peru, discovered that the affected breaker had "gone bad," which is apparently unusual. He replaced it quickly, and voila - we have lights and working outlets upstairs! I'm so thankful that it wasn't a complex and expensive problem.

Electricity is one of those things that you appreciate more than ever when you have to go without it for awhile.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No Lights Upstairs!

(I mean this literally, not figuratively...)

We came home tonight at 5:00 and noticed that the upstairs window candle, which should turn on automatically at 4:00, wasn't on? Hmmmm. I went upstairs and flipped on the light switch in my daughter's room, where the candle is in the window, and her light didn't come on.

Well, I figured we somehow blew a fuse, although not sure when that could have happened - everything was fine when we left the house this morning.

Anyway, I made a beeline for the breaker box in the basement, clambering over various items in my path along the way. Breaker #14 says it's for the upstairs lights. That switch didn't look like it was in a different position from any of the others? Well, I tried clicking it full off, then full on, but it didn't "click" like it normally would. It felt kind of "soft"?

End result - we currently don't have electricity upstairs at all! This affects the lights in our rooms, closets, and the bathroom, the alarm clocks, the iron, blow dryer, and straightener. Aaaaggghh - how will we get ready in the morning! Well, let's hope I can find the number for the electrician and see if someone can come SOON!

Follow up note: Click here to read "the rest of the story."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Woodward Lecture at MCLA

Tonight, a friend and I went to hear Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, speak at MCLA (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts) in North Adams. (That's an old photo of Bernstein and Woodward at The Washington Post back in 1976 - love the hair and neckties!).

Tonight's lecture was a kickoff of the college's new Political Science major and Woodward delivered the first official Public Policy Lecture for the program. Interestingly enough, I learned that he has authored or co-authored more #1 best selling non-fiction books than any other contemporary American writer! I think it was really a feather in MCLA's cap to have a speaker of such stature and capability come to lecture.

The Church Street Center was filled to capacity and Woodward did not disappoint! (Is it just me, or does he have a striking similarity to George Segal?) As I listened to him talk, several thoughts flowed through my mind:
  • Wow - why isn't he hosting a Sunday morning political talk show, like "This Week" or "Face the Nation"? He certainly knows all the players (and then some!), he has the intellect and perception to ask the pointed questions, and the personal presence to come accross well on TV.
  • Wow - his keen awareness of the people, the politics, and what's going on with our country really inspired me to keep myself in the know a little better.
  • Wow - I'd like to take a page or two from his book (I mean his MANY books!) and challenge my own writing to include topics of greater importance.

I also liked hearing Woodward talk about Katharine Graham and her leadership of The Post. He said that she had what he considered the best management style one could have - Mind On, Hands Off. This is definitely something to aspire to as a manager myself.

Overall, what a terrific event; my mind was stretched, I was personally inspired, and feel motivated to think and write about more challenging topics than I currently do.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Going to Inauguration

Yay - we're so excited!

Ever since election night, we've been thinking about attending the inauguration. My daughter has asked if that could be her birthday gift for her sweet sixteenth, and I've really been hoping I could make it happen.

Well, I'm happy to report, we finally found a hotel in DC! I've been searching online forever, and was only finding hotels at $1,000 a night and up, but I somehow stumbled upon a site that featured a Motel 6 on Georgia Ave. (It's very close to Walter Reed, where I was stationed during my Army Medic training many years ago.) The price isn't toooo bad, and there really doesn't seem to be anything else available and affordable, so we decided to book it!

So, here's the plan:
  • Sunday, 1/18 - drive to DC. We've done this before - we visited there a few years ago for our summer vacation, but it's been a while. Mapquest says it should take about 7 hours or so. It will be interesting to see what kind of traffic we hit. This day should be fun, since Road Trips are one of our favorite things. (Reminder to self - have car serviced!)
  • Monday, 1/19 - learn how to us the metro system. plan our route to the inauguration site, and scope out the scene at the national mall. We've seen most of the museums and monuments, but it might be nice to visit the Lincoln Memorial again. And, the Washington Monument was closed for repairs the last time we were there. I've been up it, but my daughter hasn't, so we could see if it's open this time.
  • Tuesday, 1/20 - the metro will have special inauguration hours on this day, starting at 4 am. I don't know that we'll get up THAT early, but I am thinking we'd like to take it around 5 or 6 am, just to avoid being in crushing crowds during the ride, if at all possible. I've also ordered good binoculars, since I'm guessing it will be difficult to see anything. And, we're bringing lots of hand warmers. There are restrictions on the types of bags we can carry and the items we can bring, but we're hoping to bring water, snacks, cameras and maybe the camcorder - I'd like to interview random strangers and create my own iReport (my daughter isn't wild about this idea!). We're expecting that prices for food and water will be through the roof. Then, our plan is to let the crowds disperse a bit before taking the metro back to the hotel late in the day.
  • Wednesday, 1/21 - drive back home, hoping that outbound traffic isn't toooooo horrible; maybe we'll leave early in the am before all of the hotel checkout times go into effect!

So, that's the plan. I do think this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that the crowds and cold will be a challenge, and that it will be fun to part of the excitement and the event.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Increasing Blog Hits

My main goal with my blog is not to increase hits. It's to:
  • Learn how to manage a blog.
  • Learn how to work with gadgets and other technical aspects of blogging.
  • Build a base of writing, and try to post often to keep my writing skills at least active.
  • Discover what type of content is of interest to others out in the world.

That being said, it's still fun when I get a visit from a new state or country, or when I all of a sudden experience an incredible number of hits all at once.

Here's what I discovered about blog hits...New Ideas Welcome averages about 15 visits per day (I know this from my use of Google Analytics - click this link for directions on getting your own FREE account; that's a sample of my Analytics "dashboard" above.) Recently, though, I unwittingly created two blog posts that created an extreme spike in hits. One post referenced Facebook and social media and the other post discussed a prank bomb threat. On each of those days, my visits spiked to an average of 46 hits! That's an increase of 215%!!!! Just from using certain words.

What's also interesting is that the hits didn't come from people searching those terms. I know that from my Feedjit tracking tool, which helps me know if someone found my blog by using a search phrase, arrived directly through bookmarking, or happened upon it by clicking Next Blog. On the days when my hits were off the charts (at least MY charts), visitors found me by clicking Next Blog.

My conclusion from all of this is that certain popular or current words and phrases cause a blog to pop up more frequently during blog browsing. Since I again used those key words in this blog content, it will be interesting to see if I again have such a spike. I'll let you know...

(12/7/08 Follow up note: use of the keywords in this blog post did NOT increase hits. Hmmm...that means it's not the words themselves; it must be something else that I haven't figured out yet.)


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