Fragrant florals

The lists are getting smaller and smaller!  This week it’s about the flowers.  As much as I love them, I have a problem with cut flowers for two reasons:  Allergies and expense.  I love cut flowers, but I prefer the ones that come in from a bush in the back yard to ones bought at the store.  Of course, if you chose to spend your money on flowers for moi, I shall not complain!

The Austin Family Diary

Two flowers:

  1. Look at my header on this webpage.  Hydrangeas cut from a friend’s garden.  Love ’em.  Love the fact that you can dump coffee grounds or some fertilizer around the base of it and change the color anywhere from white to pink to purple to blue.  A good bush in the backyard will yield flowers all summer.  So beautiful.
  2. Peonies.  Same thing.  Love them.  I used to work with someone who grew so many every summer she’d cut a ton and put them on everyone’s desk, and we had fresh flowers all summer.  It was beautiful.

Honorable mentions go to daffodils, tulips, day-lily, iris–all flowers without major scent issues for this allergy ridden girl!

What was I thinking????

I thought this list would be an easy one.  I was so incredibly wrong.  I don’t know if it’s because I am incredibly frugal and wait for sales (most of the time) or if it’s because I seldom have extra money to spend on things other than bills?  Or because when I get something home and realize it was a dumb purchase I go back to the store and return it?  Actually, that would be a pretty fun list.  10 THINGS I BOUGHT AND RETURNED ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AFTER RECOGNIZING SPUR OF THE MOMENT MADNESS HAD OCCURRED.  I bet that list would be a cinch to come up with.

So yeah, I actually struggled a bit with this one.  But it was an interesting discussion to be had at dinner with the girls last night.  I think about six answers came easy to me, but after that it was a stretch (as evidenced by the last two or three!)

10 dumb purchases

  1. When I got my KitchenAid mixer, I got a doozy of a deal on it.  So much so, that I also got a deal on the attachment kits.  I asked my brother if he wanted it, and he jumped at the opportunity.  So I figured why not?  I’d get it too.  The mixer?  Love it.  Use it all the time.  That attachment set?  Yep, still in the original paper wrapping.  And let’s be real–why on earth would I ever want to make my own sausage?
  2. About four years ago, I was determined to get a Wii with my Christmas bonus money.  I waited until there was a going out of business sale at Best Buy, I got games buy two get three free, I was a Nintendo deal finding machine.  Know what?  I think I’ve played with it about ten times.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it.  I truly do.  But I’ve determined that it’s more of a group thing, and my house is too small to have many group things in it.  Could I live without it?  Absolutely.  Was it a stupid purchase?  No question.  But you know what?  On the rare occasion I am sick it provides great entertainment.
  3. I think what I have determined is that I tend to participate in extra curricular in phases.   Watch every movie released in 2004?  Done.  Fly kites?  Love it.  Scrapbooking, reading, etc.  All have had their moment as my favorite pasttime.  Right now, it’s knitting/crocheting.  Might have something to do with the niece that I’ll get on my birthday this year (what a way to turn 40, right??)  But for the last year or two, I’ll come home, see a big box on my front porch every now and again, and think “what on earth did I do?”.  I mean seriously.  If you need $25 of stuff, and free shipping starts at $50, there is no need to order another $220 of items to make it work, is there?  So much yarn, so much pretty pretty yarn, and no idea what to do with it all.

    *please note: not my stash. Found image on Tumblr. I only WISH I had this much or were this organized!

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Blast from the past

Sunday Social 

Next Weeks Questions: Lets talk about those awkward years:

1. Biggest Middle school fashion mistake
Minidresses with legwarmers.  Hey, I’m an 80s child!
2. Who were your best friends in hs? Pics?
It was a regular revolving door.  Tanya, Kirsten, Christy, Tanya, Kim, Robbie, Ethan, Johnny, all great friends.  No photos, or at least not to post here!
3. What was a typical weekend like for you in hs?
Babysitting somewhere, I’m sure.  Football games and after game dances on Fridays into Junior/Senior year.  Church on Sundays.
4. Did you have any boyfriends/girlfriends? Tell us about that
I didn’t date much in high school.  The one guy I dated my senior year was, um, a bit older let’s say, and was from church, so we just hung out a lot because people didn’t approve very much.
5. Did you have any secret codes with your friends? Spill your secrets!
Secret codes, no.  But the girls shared notebooks that we passed back and forth between classes or folded up notes.  This was before the age of texting and email, y’all, it’s what we had to do.
6. If you could relive one day/moment/experience from middle school or high school, what would it be?
Not many, to tell you the truth.  I hated that time in my life, all seven years.  Well, maybe hate is a strong word, but there is certainly nothing in there I want to relive.  At All!

This is why I love working with kids

So a bit of background.  I work with the elementary kids at my church.  K-5.  I love this age–the young ones, who are just starting to get socialization skills and doing stuff away from mom; the fifth graders, who think they can take on the world.  The girls that are just starting to become girls, and the boys that are just such a boy.  It’s always a blessing to be able to work with them.  On Sunday mornings I teach every other week.  There is the main lesson, then we split into small groups.  I have a helper, her name is H, she is awesome.  She was actually one of my kids when I first started working with the group, and the last two years she’s been one of my leaders.  A ninth grader, she is fast growing up into such a beautiful girl.  On Wednesdays, I help with the kids choir.  This year, we have 119 registered to be in our production on March 3.  Yes, you read that right.  One hundred and nineteen children.  When they’re on, it’s amazing.  And working with them, while you sometimes want to smack them upside the head and tell them to get with the program, is usually an amazing thing as you see them filled with God’s grace.

So we’ve been bribing the kids the last few weeks.  Not a pretty way to put it, but it’s the truth.  We’ve been randomly handing out Airhead candy to the kids that are doing well.  They’re so funny–they know the rules.  The minute they get it, it goes under their seat and waits until 650 when choir is over to pull it out.  The first week that we did it, the kids asked me what my favorite flavor was.  I was honest–I’ve never had Airheads candy.  Didn’t know what it was.  Had to ask.  Not a big candy lover, I figured I wasn’t missing much.

There are two kids that try to see who can get there first to sit next to me on the top row.  Both are fifth graders.  One is a girl who is new to the group who I got to know during the Christmas production.  She’s really starting to joke around and lose the shyness, and is such fun.  The other is a boy who was grown in the church and who is from what I consider one of the finest families in the church.  His older sister is now in sixth grade, younger brother in second.  And this kid, wow.  All of them, really, but this one is what we call raised right.  Just like his sister.

Which is why I thought it odd the last few weeks.  He kept telling me, “Miss Kelly, I don’t understand.  I know all the words, I sing loud, I stand up when I’m supposed to, I don’t talk when Miss Lisa says not to talk.  How come I haven’t gotten an Airhead?”  I would answer I don’t know, J, they hand them out at random.  Keep doing well, and you might get one.  For three weeks he kept asking me.  Then tonight, he finally got one.  Orange flavored to boot.  As soon as he got it he turned and handed it to me.  I looked at him like he was off his rocker, he wanted it so badly.  I gave it back to him, and he said, “No, Miss Kelly.  That’s why I wanted one.  I wanted to give it to you because you’ve never had one before.”

Doesn’t that just melt your heart?  Have to admit, I felt a little shamed thinking he’d been complaining a bit much about not getting one.  Leave it to God to teach me a lesson at the most random of times.  Such a beautiful moment.

I didn’t take it, of course.  Gave it back to him and said it was all his, he worked hard for it, he could have it.  And he gave me a huge hug.  And I still have a giant smile on my face from this precious, precious child.  Love him.

Some hodge and some podge

I usually try and write at least a little something before getting straight to the questions, but today I just don’t feel like it.  So here’s the hodgepodge!

1. When were you last ‘on a mountaintop’?  You may answer in the literal or figurative sense.
I’m going with the literal on this.  Saturday.  Yes, less than a week ago.  I went to Charlottesville to see my almost 91-year-old Grandma.  We went to visit my grandfather (and great grandmother, great aunt/uncle, and a cousin I never knew I had).  They are all buried on Monticello mountain.  Actually, they’re all buried in the same ten foot section on Monticello mountain (yes, that same Monticello mentioned in last week’s Hodgepodge).  Yep, that’s right, in the light snow we took a not-very-mobile nonagenarian to climb down a mountainside in order to visit dead relatives.  I’m not much on the ‘come see me when I’m gone’ practice, but it means a lot to her, so we go when I am there to drive her.

2.  Do you establish and maintain a strict budget in your household?  What is one piece of financial advice you would offer someone just starting out on their own?
I’m trying to.  It’s hard when you live on $0.67 between paychecks.  Seriously.  It’s down to the penny.  But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I’m sure of it.  Just frugal living!

3.  Cherries-yay or nay?  Cherry pie, cherry cola, black forest cake, or a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s Cherries Garcia…pick one.
Yes!  Absolutely yes.  Bing cherries.  Ranier cherries.  Tart cherries.  Sweet cherries.  Dried cherries.  Sour cherry candy.  Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia FroYo.  But my two favorites are probably black cherry ice cream (reminds me of my Papa) and my nana’s recipe for Tart Cherry Cobbler.  Served warm with vanilla bean ice cream.  Every now and again I get a hankering and make it.  And can eat half of it in one sitting if I put forth a modicum of effort.

4.  Should you ever discuss religion or politics with people you don’t know?
That’s kind of a touchy subject, isn’t it?  I would say yes, but it depends on the people.  If I’m never going to see them again, then sure why not.  If you ask me about my faith, then absolutely I’ll tell you.  There are subjects that I don’t talk about often, even with people who I’m good friends with, because they’re hot button issues (does God love my gay friends?  yes, He does.  Do I think homosexuality is a sin?  No.  Do I think that women can be leaders in the church?  Yes.  Do I think that God loves Republicans and hates Democrats?  You must be kidding.  What a stupid question.)  Sadly enough, I think I’m more willing to be open and honest and lay it all on the line with someone I don’t know–and will probably not see again–than I am with those I know and love.  And when it comes to politics?  Well, that’s almost always a no.  Mostly because I work in a two person office and the other half, while on a whole different school of thought from me, loves to take every opportunity to knock our government, our leaders, our laws, and the failure of our society.  And I refuse to rise to the bait, participate in the conversation, or feed his soap box.  I love him dearly, but I can only take so much.  Trust me, on November 7, 2012, I did everything I could to make sure he was out of the office all day so that I wouldn’t have to hear his opinions, complaints, and predictions on the ruination of the country.  Let me put it this way–he still has a framed campaign poster from when Ronald Reagan campaigned hanging in his office.  Everyone that has come after has been out to ruin the world.  And heaven forbid you point out that Reagan was once an outspoken Democrat before switching sides . . . .  That’s blasphemy.

5.  When you take a road trip do you prefer to be the driver or the passenger?  Where were you headed on your last road trip?
Driver.  I get carsick too easy when I am passenger.  Come to find out it has to do with bad allergy/sinus issues.  Road trip?  Must have been my trip to Pennsylvania Memorial Day 2012.  Which means I need another!

6. If we peeked inside your closet, what color would we say is most prevalent?
Black.  I wear black pants every day Labor Day to Memorial Day, and then have the top half black as well at least three days a week.

7. Who’s your favorite senior citizen and why are they special?
Oh there are so many.  Even if I stick with the non-family, currently living variety.  I grew up with so many in the church that are a joy, an inspiration, and a delight to have known as a part of my life.  At the funeral that I was at two weeks ago, I was told before I sat down that I had to go hug Mrs. Walker.  She was my Acteens leader when I was ten, and still asks about me.  And remembers where I am attending, that I work with children, and makes my day when she shares love.  Growing up, going to church with my nana, I had to make sure I gave Mrs. She-Shepperson (don’t know why I added the She, but that’s what I called her) a hug.  She always had Smarties in her pocket, come to think of it.  There was Sylvia, who I also saw a few weeks ago who made sure to come hug me.  She’s got to be in her 80s now, and that beauty mark she paints on every day hasn’t changed a bit.  I feel so blessed that I was able to grow up with such influences in my life, and taught that there is nothing wrong with learning from and socializing with my elders.  It’s the one thing I truly wish I was able to do at the church that I currently attend.  I feel like there is a substantial division of the ages, and not much intermingling.  And it’s a shame for the younger generations.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.
Oh, I always have random thoughts.  SO MANY random thoughts.  Today’s sampling:  (1) I had my iPod on shuffle today.  Hold Me Now by the Thompson Twins played.  Love that song.  Never understood why they were the Thompson Twins when it was a trio.  (2) Had a birthday dinner for a friend at Plaza Azteca tonight.  It was just meh.  I’ve decided the homemade guacamole is the only thing worth eating there, the trots that come after everything else are not worth it.  TMI?  (3) Did anyone else watch Castle on Monday night?  Ho.Lee.Cow.   (4) For some reason, Levi is preferring to grab a towel from the dirty clothes hamper and dragging it to the back hallway for his lounging.  This instead of the sofa or his bed in the living room.  I guess he just wanted a change of scenery?  (5) Last night I didn’t fall asleep until after 4am.  Which made the 615 alarm truly a problem.  Here’s hoping I get a great night’s sleep . . . .  and finally, (6) I know I don’t know her personally, but can I tell you how excited I am about Robin Roberts returning to GMA on Wednesday morning?  I wrote a very personal story here about why I was so moved about her struggle with MDS and her fight.  And as I write this on Tuesday evening, on the one year anniversary of my friend’s passing from this same horrible thing, I celebrate the triumph that is Robin’s return, and know my friend is cheering her on from heaven.  And while she’s watching, she’s closing with the prayer that Robin says has led her family through the years every day:

The Light of God surrounds me.
The Love of God enfolds me.
The Power of God protects me.
The Presence of God watches over me.
Wherever I am, God is. 

When I have a spare dollar or two . . .

. . . I usually like to spend it at one of these stores.  Look, I’m not a big shopper.  I don’t like to do a lot of frivolous spending.  But given an empty visa and the chance to go crazy, well, then I might have some fun!  So right now, these are my favorites:

The Austin Family Diary

  1. Teaism.  I just wrote about it yesterday in fact.  I am, very slowly, going through the shelf of tea that I own.  Only problem is that you find favorites and want to replenish.  I am sworn not to until I drink a lot more of what I have!
  2. Knit Picks.  I recently found this store and I love their yarn.  So soft, so reasonably priced, and such great colors.  Only thing that stinks about it is that it’s an online store.  I wish they had a local location that I could get my hands on stuff prior to purchasing.  Then again, that might not be such a good idea . . . .
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  3. I know it’s probably a favorite of quite a few, but I’m going to have to say Best Buy.  I would say Amazon, but that doesn’t really count as it’s the marketplace for everyone.  Best Buy is one that I could max out my credit card with no problem.

There you have it.  The three stores that if you said “you have fifteen minutes, whatever you touch you can keep” and I would be in seventh heaven!

Small yet joyful things

I didn’t participate in last week’s Monday Listicles–not for lack of interest, just for lack of time.  So I wanted to try and make sure that I got this week’s topic covered and posted!  So for this week, it’s about the small stuff.  And it’s all the small stuff, right?  Isn’t that what the book said ages ago?  Anywho, without further ado, here are the:

10 tiny (or secret) things that bring you joy

  1. At this particular moment, Reese’s Miniature Peanut Butter Cups.  I don’t know what it is, but it has to be the minis.  I can’t have it in full size or the snack size, has to be the minis.  And as mentioned before on this post, has to be in multiples of four.
  2. Hammock sitting.  Nothing beats it.  Throw in a great big thing of sweet iced tea, my kindle, and an occasional fudge stick, and it’s wonderful.  Need to scrub the toilet?  Go sit outside.  Need to make dinner?  Go lay under a tree.  Bliss.
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    Napping outside

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    View from the hammock

  3. Still a sucker for the great MGM musicals.  I came home from Charlottesville and visiting my ailing 90 year old Grandmother, and Gigi was on TV.  I didn’t move for another two hours.  The world can disappear for awhile as you get lost in the romance and grandeur that was the golden era.

  4. A slight breeze, a bunch of nylon string, and some ripstop fabric.  What a combination.  Unlike most places on the east coast, where we fly is not on a beach–in fact it’s so close to the airport that there are flight height restrictions.  And it’s so much fun.
    Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 4.37.22 PM

  5. This is, without a doubt, my favorite tea store.  They have such wonderful tisanes, and the hands down best Chai blend that I have ever had.  Nothing like a fragrant pot brewing in the kitchen.

  6. Does my best friend know me or what?  We do not exchange Christmas gifts.  We instead do something each year.  This year we went to the Chihuly exhibit, had a fantastic lunch at Burger Bach, and went to see the movie Les Miserables.  And, crazy person that she is, she gave me a gift anyway.  I wish she hadn’t, because I got her nothing, but she did anyway.  Know what she gave me?  An animal puppet.  Awesomeness.  Yep, she gets me.  It’s currently perched on top of a candlestick holder on my entertainment center so I see it every day.
  7. The Hokie Pokie.  Because it is what it’s all about.  Besides, I dare you to find me another marching band that spotlights two dozen tuba players in a kick line.  I cannot imagine dancing while playing a tuba for two minutes.  Very physical!  Combined with Enter Sandman for the kickoff, it’s a perfect fall afternoon.  60,000 fans, jumping up and down.  I would have LOVED to have been in Lane Stadium the day that Metallica themselves filmed the order to start jumping.  Trivial fact:  The theme song was picked by an arm wrestling match, and the jumping started one fall day when the band was trying to stay warm!

  8. These guys.  No, they’re not mine.  They’re my best friends.  And I love them dearly.  Have a rotten day?  Go hold a kid.
    Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 4.37.37 PM
  9. It may be trivial, but good food.  When my brother was in the army, his roommate had a theory.  Wherever you are, if you find a restaurant that has Christmas lights up year round, it’s going to be the best food in town.  And if you think about it, that theory makes sense.  It’s usually local, usually a neighborhood or mom/pop place, and is always good.  We’ve abided by this this theory in California, Virginia, South Korea, Hawaii, Germany, DC, you name it.  Whenever we can’t decide on a place to go, we go on walkabout, and find a place with lights.
  10. These kids.  Oh, these kids.  This year our children’s program has 119 children registered to sing.  Our choir room only holds 90.  I’m so proud of them!!!

The other people holiday

Welcome to this week’s edition of Sunday Social.  This week’s theme is, not surprisingly, related to Valentine’s Day.  Being single on Valentine’s Day, as I have been the majority of my life, is something that just makes the holiday a bit more despicable to bear.  Doesn’t help that those lovey dovey people like to stretch it out.  My friend V texted me on Wednesday morning saying happy VDay with a monster face (it was awesome).  But a whole day early?  It’s bad enough it’s one day, don’t stretch it out!  All this to say that here is your advance notice.  If this sounds a bit bitter, I apologize! 🙂

Sunday Social1. Best Valentines Day you’ve ever had:
It’s been a long time.  Somehow I always seem to break up with people in January, so I’m usually single.  I  seem to fondly recall a Valentine’s Day in college where I was still dating JT, so that was fun.  But in the 20 years since I don’t recall any that were particularly memorable.  Mostly because I was working in a nice restaurant for ten years, so Valentine’s Day was always about hard work, trying to get home by midnight, and hopefully making bank.

2. Worst Valentines Day you’ve ever had:
There was a girl in college that tried to hook me up with a friend of her boyfriend.  We went to Outback Steakhouse for dinner. Only thing he said to me was “You like Blue Cheese Dressing?”.  Seriously.  All night.  Spoke to them, though.  Then he wanted to watch Cops when we got home.  And he wondered why I was not interested when he thought it went so well . . . .

3. What did you do for Valentines this year?
Work as usual.  Worked late, actually, until about 630.  Bought gas on the way home, and tried to find a place that sold Crabbie’s beer.  Got home around 730, and got my 2012 tax information together to send to my accountant (aka dad).  Real romantic, huh?

4. Best Valentines Idea if you’re single:
It’s a day like any other

5. Favorite Valentines Candy?
Chocolate covered strawberries.  Champagne!

6. Favorite Valentines Memory from your childhood:
We never made a big deal out of this one as a kid, either.  I should have seen it as a pattern–I used to babysit for others to go out and enjoy the day!

Sacrifice or Discipline?

So I struggled with what to sacrifice for Lent this year.  I’ve done sodas, sugar, sleep, various food products, etc.  Actually, when I first started giving up something for Lent (about 15 years ago) it was almost always a food item.  I think it was because anyone I had ever heard of giving up something for Lent had always given up food items–soda, chocolate, salt, meat–and I didn’t understand enough about it to get that it could be anything.  So this year I really struggled.  I gave up sodas about seven years ago, but now I don’t really drink them (almost as a direct result of that year).  I somehow felt that food’s were trivial.  That God was telling me that food wasn’t important enough to me to be a sacrifice, and then to focus that time in service.  I pondered this for weeks, trying to determine exactly what I was supposed to be sacrificing.

And then I figured it out.

I wasn’t too far off when I said time.  Granted, last time it was really more of the snooze bar, so that I could go to the gym.  But I just cancelled my gym membership effective March 1, so that’s not going to work.  Instead, I realized (well not really, I’ve known it for a long time) that if I come home and plop on the couch, I’m not going to get anything else done in that evening.  So I told myself that Monday through Friday, when I get home, the TV cannot turn on until 9pm or later.  This may prove to be particularly difficult on Fridays, as I get home by 115 in the afternoon, and Saturdays I have yet to determine the parameters (but trust me there will be some–I’m thinking no tv between 10 and 6) but so far this has actually made a difference.  Granted it’s only day 2, but it is.  Yesterday I finally got a bunch of laundry done and sorted my bills for the first time in five weeks.  Today I got my 2012 tax information together, cleaned out a cupboard, and kept going on my VHS to DVD project.

And yes, I prayed more.  I thought about what I was doing, and thought about why we do this thing called sacrifice.  And I think that this might be a worthy journey for me over the remaining 38 days.  Not to say that I don’t plan on purging after Easter (have you seen the 31 days of Oscar lineup on TCM?  I mean come on!), but it will be a valuable lesson and who knows–like my soda habit, maybe this will declare some new habits for me as well.

Day One of 40 . . . .

1.  This week marks the beginning of Lent…will you be giving something up or adding anything to your life during this season of the year?
I have given up things for Lent in the past, but the last two years lost track of time and we were two weeks from Easter before I realized it.  Among other things, I have given up sodas (and never really picked them up again), TV, and sleep.  Yes, sleep.  Or more accurately, giving up the snooze button.  I was trying to get to the gym every day before work, and it worked for a while, but then I got sick.  So not so much.  Besides, giving up sleep?  What was I thinking???  A few years ago (okay, more than a few) I was listening to NPR on my lunch break, and I heard a Catholic priest talk about how when he was in school, his roommates were trying to figure out the whole Lenten sacrifice thing.  They didn’t think it was right that he got to pick what he was giving up, because he’d pick things that were easy to do without.  So they decided they should pick his Lenten sacrifice for him.  And they have done this for over 20 years.  You can read the article on NPR here.  It really is a fascinating account of what it means to him and his friends to have this ritual every year.  Anyway, I’ve been trying to figure out what or if I’m giving up anything this year.  Refined sugar?  Lately chocolate cravings would really make this difficult.  I thought about TV again, but I’m also realistic.  Facebook?  I am not sure.  My mother doesn’t get why I agonize over this–we were raised Baptist, she says.  Baptists don’t do Lenten sacrifices, she says.  She doesn’t get that it’s an exercise in discipline for me, and a way to connect closer to God as I am still trying to decide . . . .   Edited to add:  This year the Father has to give up ginger (ale included), lollipops and donuts.  

2. The day before Lent is Shrove Tuesday… tradition states you eat pancakes on this day. In some parts of the world Shrove Tuesday is actually known as ‘pancake day’. How do you like your pancakes? Or don’t you?
I never heard about this!  How do I not know about this????  I love pancakes.  Haven’t made them in a while, but I do love them.  Must have lots of butter and a bit of real maple syrup.

3.  I’m sure there are many, but what’s one love song you really love?
“Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton.  I think I listened to that on repeat over and over and over again in college.  Second place would be “This Night” by Billy Joel.

4.  What are some things you do to let others know you love them?
Tell them.  Show them.  Pray for them.

5.  Roses…red, pink, or do you prefer another color? Can you recall the last time someone gave you flowers? Given your choice would you like to open the door and see a dozen red roses, a dozen purple tulips, or a dozen pink peonies?
My boss’s wife gave me flowers for my birthday last year.  Such a sweet lady.  Bright pink Gerber daisies.  I love live flowers of any kind.  Peonies are beautiful, tulips are fun every now and then, but I love yellow and orange roses too.

6.  President’s Day will be celebrated in America next Monday. Does US Presidential history and trivia interest you?  Many Presidential homes are open to the public and offer guided tours…Monticello (Jefferson’s home), Mount Vernon (Washington’s home), Montpelier (James Madison’s home), Hyde Park (FD Roosevelt’s home) and The White House (home to the sitting President) to name just a few. Of those listed which would you be most interested in touring?  Why?
Considering that four of the ones on your list are in my home state (well, if you count the White House) and three of them are within an hours drive, you couldn’t grow up in Virginia without having it crammed down your throat.  Plus if you add in Ash Lawn, home of James Monroe.  It is sort of fascinating.  Yes, I do enjoy it.  I haven’t been in decades though.  I should go again.  I could also go see Pine Knot, Teddy Roosevelt’s country hunting lodge, Woodrow Wilson’s  birthplace and library, and President Hoover’s camp at Rapidan.  I’m telling you, this area is a political history buff’s dream come true.

7.  Are you good at keeping secrets?
Sometimes.  Depends on the secret and my level of interest.  I don’t like to be the secret keeper for friends, as it’s usually a bitter and hateful kind of thing.  If it’s good news, that’s another story.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.
Hmmmm.  Random thought . . . random thought.  I really need to clean my house.  Like I REALLY need to clean.  And you know what?  I just don’t care. 

Happy Wednesday y’all!

The deep dark secrets . . . .

I’m falling behind in my linky parties.  I just got so busy!!!  But I liked this week’s Tuesday Topics, and considering how long I made last week’s entry, I know I need to keep this week’s list short!  Here we go:

The Austin Family Diary

  1. I was legally blind when I was 10 years old.  I got contacts at 13 because the weight and size of the bottles I had to wear was giving me migraine headaches.  At 20, my dad had to wear glasses for the first time ever.  He called me up saying “Good grief Kelly, this sucks!  If you could ever have that surgery that would fix your vision, I would totally pay for it”.  The week after I graduated from college I held him to that promise.  It’s been 18 years.  I still wear glasses at night, but it’s so worth it!
  2. I love to fly stunt kites.  One of these days I’ll get up the nerve to compete, but for now it’s just a heck of a lot of fun.
  3. I used to do costume work for the theater.  I was a union member (IATSE #55!) and worked backstage while in college for some great tours that came through–Les Mis, Cats, Roy Rogers Follies–and some not so great ones–Sesame Street Live, anyone??  Still I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.  What a fun time.  I almost joined a national tour of Oliver! but didn’t because I knew if I left college three weeks before graduation I’d never finish.  But I still love the theater.  I volunteered at a local theater at 15 years to see things for free, like Rent, Wicked, and The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee.
    spelling-bee
  4. I know there’s a fourth that’s interesting, but I can’t think of what it is.  So I’ll resort to my stupid body tricks.  I can make my eyeballs move independently of each other.  Kinda freaks the kiddos out! 🙂

It’s Elementary, my dear

Sunday Social
1. What was your first car?
1988 Toyota Corolla.  Granny’s grocery cart, bought at an auction, it only had 50000 miles on it when I got it in 1993. 
2. Who was your favorite childhood teacher?
Ms. McCreary.  She loved us so much she moved from first to third grade so she could keep teaching us! 
3. Were you involved in any sports/extracurricular activities? Share pictures if you can!
I used to swim.  I loved it.  Sucked at it, but loved it.  Still do.
4. What was your favorite birthday party?
When I turned 10 I was in 5th grade.  I had my first (and only) slumber party.  Ten girls all got to spend the night at my house.  It was awesome.
5. Who was your teen celebrity crush?
I don’t think I ever was the kind of girl to poster her walls with copies of Teen Beat or anything like that, instead I followed music.  I was obsessed with the early sixties rock groups, the Beatles, and yes I admit it, Duran Duran.
6. What show/movie did your parents not allow you to watch?
Sixteen Candles.  My mom’s then-boyfriend came in during the opening credits scene when there are two kids walking into school with their hands in each others back pockets.  He went and told my mom that I was watching porn.  Never was allowed to watch that movie in their house….

The loss of a beloved soul

Yesterday I had to go to a funeral.  I realize that’s a downer of a statement to start a blog posting with, but there you have it.  I went to a funeral.  For some reason, funeral attendance has been a common topic among some of my friends lately.  Maybe it’s because one of us is riddled with cancer in over half of her body.  Maybe it’s because an acquaintance passed away ten months ago and her loss is sorely felt every day.

Many of my friends have said that they have only been to a funeral, maybe two, in their lifetime.  I can’t say that.  I think I go to about three a year, and at least one (if not all three) are for family.  Y’all, my grandfather had 14 brothers and sisters.  My grandma, who came from the smallest family, had seven.  They all lived into their 80s, but lately we are losing a few every year.  And funerals, in my family, are not always a somber event.  They are frequently turned into parties, reunions, potluck picnics, and get-togethers.  When my Papa died seven years ago, my great-uncle (nana’s brother) left early because he had a headache.  Turned out to be brain cancer over 60% of his gray matter.  Three weeks later, my pseudo-grandma (and nana’s best friend) had a massive heart attack at her grandson’s football game and passed away.  Six weeks later, nana’s last remaining brother also passed away.  So in three months she lost her husband, two brothers and best friend.  That side of the family was thrilled we’d seen each other four times in three months, but hated the reason.  So we started planning a reunion every summer just because–and hopefully not having a funeral to see one another.

All that to say that funerals don’t faze me.  I consider it a matter of respect to the person that has passed to go to a ceremony or service that celebrates the person that lived, the soul and spirit of the departed, and to laugh and share memories of the loved one.  And bonus if they were a member of the church, looking down from the right hand of God and smiling at all of us remembering good times while he lived, knowing that one day we will be reunited.

Yesterday, I went to the funeral of a great, great man.  He was an elder in the church of my youth, and always good for a kiss, a hug, and a laugh.  His petite wife, a darling woman, was there by his side every day.  He’d been in hospice for almost two years, but only after having a stroke last week did the end seem near.  Blissfully, it was just a few days before he passed.  Married for 64 years, he had three children.  The boys went into the ministry, the youngest into the wilds of Africa with his second-generation missionary wife.  The service was a remembrance of the man, the father, the church elder, and the beloved man.

The service had a brass band playing.  No somber choir or soloist here.  The son-in-law of the deceased is a member of the orchestra (or something like that) and arranged to have the quintet playing.  Each of the nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren walked in a processional, carrying a long-stemmed red rose that was placed in a vase on the altar.  Then each of he three children got up to say some words about their father.

That’s when it started to get uncomfortable for me.  Not because of the words they said, in fact, I was envious of the things that they shared.  They had such a close relationship with their father and had the blessing of a man who was incredibly involved in their lives, a man who raised them and participated in their lives, and meant so much to them that they had small stories to share that had every one of us cracking up with hysterical laughter.

But the worst was when one of the ministers got up to read a letter that Cliff had written to his children.  It was the man I remembered.  To the point, it addressed each of the three kids, and said something specific to each of them that had all laughing.  It was full of advice, reminiscence, wisdom, and love.  It was absolutely beautiful.

And that’s what was so hard for me.  I have a relationship with my father.  He is 65 years old.  He isn’t the greatest father in the world (his own words), but he’s the only father that I have.  While each of Cliff’s children got up to speak about the joy that was life with their father, I kept thinking that the man I give that title to has been largely absent from my life, not really there when I need him, and rarely around to even speak to.  As I have gotten older, things have improved–mostly because he’s the king of text messaging.  It’s impersonal and brief.  Just like dad.

But more disturbingly, I don’t know of anyone that could say anything remotely close to that regarding my father after his demise.  He is not an easy guy to know.  He is not always nice.  He isn’t funny.  He’s not caring, nurturing, or loving.  He’s a cold-hearted, calculating, conniving soul if you want the truth.  And I hate to say it but I’m not even sure I would have a lot to say about the man in that sort of circumstance.  Would I be upset if he were to pass?  Of course.  He’s my father.  I might even be a bit more upset as he is also one that has walked away from the church, denying all faith.  So I know that when he dies, he is truly gone from me.  But I don’t know if I would truly have much of a loss to mourn, as any involvement he has in my life is restricted to conversations regarding his mother, quick conversations about the weather, and wondering if he is going to stop by my brother’s house for dinner when I’m in town.  We don’t talk much.  Not for lack of trying on my part, but there is only so many times you can hit your head against a concrete wall before you get a massive headache and stop.

I spent a lot of time last night upset about this.  I miss what my father could have been, had he only ever had an interest.  I miss the relationship we could have had, given the opportunity.  I miss the role he could have had in my life, if he only ever cared enough to take it.  He left my life over thirty years ago, and while he is present as a family member now that I’m an adult, it’s not as a parent.  More of a distant blood relative that I get along with on occasion.

So after witnessing the joy that was the service and celebration yesterday, I want to say this:  Lee, Craig, and Sharon: You are and were greatly blessed.  To have such a loving family surround you and support you all your life, and to recognize how special that was while you had the chance is a great gift.  I loved your father so very much, he was such a great man of God.  He did you all well, and you have made him so very, very proud.  I am so very sorry for your loss, but you know that somewhere he is waiting for you to join him.  In the meantime, he is finding a wig and using a funny voice to entertain hordes of children in heaven.  And if that doesn’t work, he’ll be there with a kiss, a hug, and a laugh.  God bless you all.

Tardy to the Hodgepodge Party

I’m so sorry!  I can’t believe that time got away from me and I didn’t get this typed up last night.  On the plus side, nine hours of sleep last night!  I was in bed by 930!  It was AWESOME!  Let’s not delay any longer, and instead answer the:
1.  Chinese New Year will be celebrated on February 10th, and 2013 is the year of the snake. When did you last see a snake?  Are you okay around snakes or do they give you the shivers?
Probably at the zoo a decade ago?  They’re not exactly prevalent in my back yard.  Voles, mice, chipmunks, and rabbits I’ve got.  Snakes? Not so much.  I’m not particularly fond of them, but I don’t mind them so much either.  Oddly enough it’s the little ones that freak me out.  Big fat boa constrictor or python?  So cool.  Little garden snake?  Eeewwww.
2. The color red in Chinese culture usually means good luck.  Do you believe in luck?
Excellent question.  I think probably no.  I think I believe in circumstances more than I believe in luck, and karma is certainly at play there.  But I also believe that your ‘luck’ is what you make of it.
3. sledding-ice skating-building a snowman…if given a choice, which activity would you choose?  Which of the three have you done most recently?
Sledding.  So much fun.  But I’ve probably ice skated more recently, as in the last ten years or so.  Or maybe even longer.  But nothing beats the feeling of racing down a hill with the ice cold prickles on your face!
4.  Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited as saying, “The years teach much which the days never knew.”  Where have you seen this quote played out in your own life?
Are you trying to get all deep and philosophical on me?  I guess the experience of learning over time and looking back and saying “if I only knew then”, right?
5. When was the last time you ate a cupcake?
Maybe last month?  I had just cake instead of the cupcake yesterday for a birthday at the office.  But now I want the real thing.  Dang, I’m going to have to stop by my local bakery . . . .
6. What’s something you can’t say no to?
Ice cream.  Family guilt.  New experiences.  My grandmother.  And so on.
7.  Are you a doodler?
Sometimes.  Especially during conference calls.  But lately, not so much.
8.  Insert your own random thought here.
I’m in the midst of homemade soup week.  Sunday was Split Pea and Smoked Ham.  Eh, needed more salt and to soften the celery/onions up prior to cooking.  Monday was Asparagus with Mushrooms and Wild Rice.  It was awesome.  Tuesday was spinach with vegetables.  Very good, but even better today for lunch after the flavors melded a bit.  I’m trying to figure out what I want to do tonight.  Unplanned I’ve had a green soup three days in a row.  So tonight I’m trying to figure out if I want to make Mulligatawny, Posole, Chicken & Orzo, or Pork Noodle.  Moroccan Vegetable will wait until the weekend I think. Which gets your vote for tonight?
(Full disclosure: I realize it’s so late in the day that
I might be getting an answer for Friday’s supper! :))

RVA Represent!

I am going to cheat.  I will freely, unabashedly, and totally say so up front.  There is no way I can list only five items, so I’m listing five generalities so I can get particular in the list!  Yay for cheating!

First, your history lesson.  Richmond City is the capital of Virginia.  Richmond County is about 50 miles outside of town and no relation whatsoever.   Virginia is unique in that its cities are not part of a surrounding county.  With the exception of Baltimore, Carson City, and St. Louis, the remaining 39 independent cities found in the US are in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Like many urban areas, the city itself has either a high income or low income population, with very little in between. Most of those that work in the city live in surrounding counties.  Yet we all call ourselves part of the RVA.

Home to four colleges–VCU, UR, VUU, and VC, two seminaries, and two more colleges within 20 miles (Randolph Macon and Virginia State), the city has a large loyalty factor.  Former seat of the Confederacy, it’s proud of its Southern heritage, but also recognizes its role in the founding of the country during the Revolution as well.  All elementary school children have field trips an hour east to see the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria in Jamestown, to Williamsburg, and downtown to see reenactments of Patrick Henry saying “Give me liberty, or give me death!”.  Located at the fall of the James River, it’s also 75 miles from Charlottesville and the Appalachian Trail and two hours (give or take) from both Virginia Beach and from Washington, DC.

And y’all?  When it comes to the people here?  We’re all crazy.  Just ask native Shirley MacLaine.  Other natives by birth (or those that we claim anyway due to proximity)?  Warren Beatty.  Arthur Ashe.  Blair Underwood (well, Petersburg.  Close enough).  Patricia Cornwell.  David Baldacci.  Leslie Bibb.  GWAR.  Corey Reynolds (used to play poker in my costume shop after his show finished for the day at a nearby theme park, long before his days on The Closer).  D’Angelo.  Robert Lanham (or Robbie, as I knew him from the youth group days before he wrote The Hipster Handbook).  Jason Mraz. Emily Skinner.  Aimee Mann.  Edgar Allen Poe (maybe not born, but certainly bred.  Has the museum in town to prove it.  We share him with Baltimore). Eric Cantor (though many of us try to forget).  Ray Easterling (may he rest in peace at last).  Tons of good people that we love to claim at every turn.

On the rare occasion I get out to actually enjoy my hometown it’s a whole lotta fun.  So here’s my cheater’s version of Tuesday Topics!

The Austin Family Diary

Five things to do in RVA:

  1. Enjoy the history.  It’s not just the trips to DC, Jamestown, and Williamsburg; Mount Vernon, Monticello, or Ash Lawn.  We have a ton of history right here.  Hollywood Cemetery has two presidents (three, if you count Jefferson Davis), a wonderful gothic architecture, and plenty of tours and ghost stories to share.  Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 10.01.44 PM
    We also have Monument Avenue.  Home to more Civil War heroes as well as Arthur Ashe.  And more beautiful architecture.  The Avenue itself is on the register of historic places.  (more on that later)
    File:Monument Ave Robert E. Lee.jpgIn case you’re not a history buff and are more into the arts, we have that too.  In a historical fashion, of course.  My favorite is the Byrd Theater, a $2 movie theater that is in a 1928 movie house with a chandelier that had to be assembled inside the theater itself.  On Saturday nights, before the show, the Wurlitzer organ rises from the floor and you get a concert.  There are no previews, just the anti-litter PSA that was filmed in the 1980s, and that’s our own cult favorite.  My brother came home from the army and went to the theater for the first time in a decade on a Friday night.  Sold out crowd, and we’re all quoting along with our favorite part of the clip.  He was blown away.

    I think I’m there at least twice a month.  Great way to see movies, and it’s in a part of town that is about six blocks long full of great restaurants and shops.  http://www.byrdtheater.com.
    Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 10.10.08 PM
  2. Go to the Festivals. Y’all, we’re all about the festival.  Find a Saturday on the calendar, and we’ve got something going on.  Especially if it has something to do with food.  Watermelon Festival.  Kite Festival.  Arts in the Park.  Dragon Boat Festival.  Greek Festival.  Lebanese Food Festival.  Chili Cookoff.  Strawberry Festival.  Not to be confused with the Strawberry Street Festival.  Hanover Tomato Festival.  French Film Festival.  Brunswick Stew Festival.  Vegetarian Festival.  The now defunct World Beer Festival.  The Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Festival.  Italian Food Festival.  2nd Street Festival.  Yes, that’s right, we close down and celebrate a street.  Why not.  Better yet, there is the Easter Parade when they close down Monument Avenue and we all parade in our homemade hats.  The parade is the people.  And oh, what people.  Young.  Old.  Tall.  Small.  Drag Queens.  Costumed.  Activists.  And the homemade hats.  Best part.  These in the photo are slightly tame by comparison.  I may or may not have one I made almost 20 years ago hiding in an Ariat boot box in the closet of my living room.
  3. Experience nature.  We’re at the falls of the James River, so you can either ride the rapids or lay out on river rocks.  Pocahontas State Park is beautiful.  And yes, it’s named for that Pocahontas.  She’s from here too, you know.  If you prefer your nature more refined, there’s the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.   Developed to show the best of all four seasons, it also has a phenomenal light show at Christmas.
    Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 10.38.09 PM
  4. Become one of the best of.  Thankfully, we’re no longer the murder capital of the USA.  The mid-90s were not a good time for us.  But in the last few years we’ve become known for other things.  We’re the third most tattooed city in the US. LOTS of people watching opportunity there.  We’re the 2nd most obese city in the country.  Might have something to do with all those food festivals.  We also have the Monument Avenue 10K.  If you have to be athletic, might as well make it on one of the most beautiful streets in town in the 4th largest 10K in the country and one of the top ten most beautiful races in the US.  We’re also the town to go to for minor league sports.  Baseball.  Football.  Arena Racing.  We have it all.
    Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 10.44.26 PM
  5. The sanctioned voyeurism.  I never knew it wasn’t okay to just walk into people’s houses and look around until I lived somewhere else.  There are at least a half-dozen tours that I can think of each year.  The Fan (historic district).  People just randomly throw open the doors and let others walk in.  From the centuries old row houses downtown at Christmas, the museum district at Mothers Day, Garden Week twice a year to admire the green thumb that I’ll never have from those with more money than I’ll ever earn, and even those stuck in ordinary neighborhoods, like the Virginia House and Agecroft Hall–which was built in England in the 1400s, dismantled in the 1920’s, reassembled on our side of the ocean and is now open to visitors and Shakespeare in the Garden during the summer.

So that’s my cheaters list!  Next time you’re in the neighborhood (loosely defined as within a hundred miles or so) come on in!  Have some sweet tea and sit a spell.

And if that’s not good enough for you?  There’s always the people watching when NASCAR is over at RIR. . . .