Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Unboxed

Went over to Braz and Adin's last night so the kids could exchange their Christmas gifts.

Ripley tore into her with enthusiasm, and as soon as she got the paper off, she looked at the brown shipping box I'd put her presents into and gleefully exclaimed, "A box! It's what I always wanted!"


DUDE. The girl is six, but she delivered that line with perfect nuance. If it hadn't been, you know, a brown shipping box, I might have actually thought that she'd been jonesing for something just like it. Someone has either taught her very well how to act pleased even at disappointing results, or else she's going to be a Grand Master of sarcasm and the dry retort. (...Who am I kidding? It's the sarcasm one, of course.)

(She was eventually very happy with the FurReal toys Penny had picked out for her.)

Henry did not lose his mind over the draw-your-own-puzzle kits we got him, but he seemed happy enough. I think he'll like it better when he can actually, y'know, open them up and use them. Alex was likewise happy with the Imaginext airplane set he received. (Imaginext is apparently a theme for Alex this year; he also got a dinosaur set from our next-door neighbors, and there are another couple of sets waiting under the tree.)


Penny was a little nonplussed at first to find that her package contained CDs instead of toys. She tried to hide her disappointment, but it wasn't until she showed them to Ripley and Ripley got excited that Penny realized that these were a gift worth having. And then I put a nail in disappointment's coffin by Ooohing and Aaahing over the Selena Gomez CD and saying, "Oh, this is big girl music." The two girls all but raced up for Ripley's CD player to give it a listen. (They also gave her the Muppets soundtrack and a Disney songs CD. She was a little more "meh" about them last night, but this morning was excitedly telling me what songs were on all the discs.)

Success!

Tonight: a quiet (please o merciful gods) evening at home and with any luck, an early bedtime.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fourish

I had a lovely day off on Friday. I spent the morning at Panera, writing, and then Adin joined me for lunch, and after that we went shopping and got pedicures. We all met up again at Plaza Azteca for dinner, and then we went back to Adin's place so Alex could open his birthday present from them, which turned out to be an "I Spy" bingo game. (Like regular bingo, but with objects and letters of the alphabet, with a number of variations suggested by the rules, depending on how advanced the players are.) We played a few rounds of that, and then I went to my book club party.

For the first time this year, we decided to hold it at a restaurant instead of burdening anyone with the job of cleaning up and providing snacks. That turned out to be an awesome idea. We went to Food For Thought and had a fantastic time. As a clever holiday promotion, the manager was handing out what he called "Secret Santa cards" -- little envelopes that contained a surprise gift, ranging from a free glass of wine to a complete dinner for two on Valentine's Day. The catch was that we couldn't open them ourselves; we have to bring them in sometime in January and have a manager open them. So of course we decided that we have to have our January book club there, too!

Saturday was calmer -- we ran some errands in the morning (like taking a box of stuff to the post office so we can hope it gets to his mom's before we do), and Matt went to his monthly D&D game that evening. I took the kids out to dinner, and they were surprisingly good.

Sunday was a little crazier. We had the usual chores, and we exchanged presents with our next-door neighbors, and then Matt and Penny went to see a production of the Nutcracker ballet while Alex napped. After Alex woke up, I took him down to my parents', where Matt and Penny met up with us (they'd had a good time at the ballet, though as Matt said, it was a children's dance troupe, so the performances were a little uneven) for the family birthday party for Alex. Mom made her homemade mac-and-cheese, and Sam brought a gorgeous salad, and Alex seemed quite happy with all his presents. We all had big pieces of cake (except John and Sam, who were being good and making the rest of us look bad) and HOLY CRAP MY BABY IS (nearly) FOUR.

Who let that happen?

Speaking of crazier...

My office Christmas party holiday luncheon annual morale event is today. (Catered lunch, yum!) Tonight we're swapping gifts with the Hegemony. No plans yet for Tuesday, but I expect I'll spend a chunk of it packing, because. Wednesday morning has a doctor's appointment of some sort for everyone in the house except Matt, Penny has a half-day of school (if she goes at all, depending on how long her doctor appointment goes) and that evening, the Hickses are coming up to do the Christmas thing (and also so KT can give me my thirty-one gear and we can sequester ourselves in a corner and talk writer-stuff for a bit).

And then Thursday, we're off to Chicago for the holidays.

In the meantime, one of the gifts I ordered for Matt still hasn't come in, and I have to figure out a way to wrap another one. Details that I had thought long since established (like whether Santa wraps gifts) are being called into question, and since I haven't really been thinking past the Chicago trip, I was blindsided by the need to plan the events for New Year's Eve. I feel like my head isn't screwed on quite right; I'm dropping details right and left, and my body has reacted by making me drop into a drowse every time I stop moving for more than ten minutes.

But at least I finally remembered to load my holiday music onto my iPad!

WHEE!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Artistic

The last few days, Penny has finished her homework and begun embarking on what she's called her "Masterpiece of the Day." That is, she gets out construction paper and scissors and tape and glue and pens and constructs a picture.

This would be merely "cute" if I hadn't actually and honestly thought some of the pieces she's made have been fantastic. (Note: links go to my "Penny's Art" album on Facebook; if you're not a FB friend, you probably will not be able to get through.)


I was particularly impressed, on this one, that she made collected snow on a few branches and at the base of the tree. I also like the use of actual perspective -- I know at her age, I just drew trees appearing at the horizon line!


This one is a little more abstract, but it put me in mind of some really great still life paintings, especially with the loaf of bread in the foreground. The thing in the middle is a mug of hot chocolate, with marshmallows. I love that the candles have little auras of light around them! The weird-shaped thing at the top is a chandelier, and (possibly my favorite item in the picture) the stair-shaped thing on the upper right? Actually some stairs, in the background.

Can I just say that I'm impressed at what the child can do with only four colors of construction paper and some safety scissors?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Busy is Relative

Compared to the previous weekend, this last one was positively indolent.

Jenn and Brian came down on Friday instead of Saturday, so we took them with us over to the Hegemony for dinner and a round of Cards Against Humanity.

I'd meant to be productive Saturday, but Matt took Penny out to run some errands while Alex was napping, and I had a headache, so I went to lay down, too. I had to get up twice to answer the phone, but I crawled right back to bed and the next thing I knew, it was 5:00 and the whole afternoon was gone. So we ordered a huge order of Chinese and took it over to the Hegemony again. This time, we played Trivial Pursuit. I've always sucked at the game, but I got a fantastic selection of really ridiculously difficult questions, so eventually I gave up even really trying, and just enjoyed watching the other three jockey for the win.

Sunday made up for my indulgence Saturday, though. After I'd gotten up and done the grocery shopping, I set about clearing the kitchen of a wide assortment of items that need to be pre-prepared: I roasted five winter squash from our CSA box that have been waiting. I seeded a pomegranate. I peeled and roasted a whole bunch of root vegetables (sweet potatoes, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, and carrots). I made a batch of apple-pumpkin soup. The kitchen got cleaned not once, but a couple of times. So I felt pretty good about all that. The only things left to do on that front are another pomegranate and a batch of peanuts to be shelled and roasted.

I also took Penny out shopping to get some new "fancy" shoes to go with her Christmas dress, and I stopped by Target to pick up a new pair of jeans and a pair of leggings, and I found a couple of new shirts while I was at it. (Kudos to Penny for suffering through all my trying things on and bemoaning re-gained weight; she just sat on the floor in the dressing room with my phone and held the room while I ran back and forth getting things in various sizes.)

After our dinner of pumpkin soup and roasted vegetables, we had to drop Matt's car off at the dealership for some routine maintenance, so as long as we were all in the car anyway, we took the kids down to drive through the Newport News Park's Celebration in Lights. I was driving, so I didn't take any pictures, but Penny had her camera, and delighted in taking both videos and snapshots. (I'll be interested to see if any of them turned out at all.)

The timing worked out pretty well -- by the time we got home, we were only slightly late for Alex's bath and bedtime.

This coming weekend ramps things back up. My book club Christmas party is Friday night. Matt's D&D game is Saturday. Sunday, Matt is taking Penny to see the Nutcracker ballet, after which we'll convene at my parents' for Alex's birthday party.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Humpty

So, the Day Job's HR/benefits department is making changes to the schedule for our holidays which essentially is going to screw us out of a day of vacation next year. (Worse, they're moving it around so that we don't get our annual holiday pool until after the Christmas holidays, which completely sucks. I liked that they'd been giving it to us just before Christmas, because it ensured that we always had that time available. It's now essentially a gigantic sandpaper dildo for people who aren't good at planning a whole year in advance.) They're also changing how much vacation we're allowed to save up, but that's much less of an issue for me since I'm barely keeping my vacation balance above water right now, anyway.

***

Speaking of barely keeping things above water... the schedule probably could have a few more things crammed into it, but it would take a crowbar.

Penny has a half-day today, and tonight we'll probably do our usual Friday night shindig with the Hegemony. Tomorrow, Jenn and Brian are coming into town to do some shopping and then stopping to visit with us afterward. Matt has his D&D game, so he'll probably miss some of their visit, but that'll be okay. They can help me take the kids out to dinner and then we'll figure out something to do once the kids are in bed.

Sunday, so far, has no plans. I'm hoping against hope that the Christmas cards I ordered will arrive today or Saturday so that I can spend part of Sunday signing and addressing them and they can go in the mail on Monday. And I did kind of promise Penny that I'd take her out shopping to try to find some fancy shoes to go with her Christmas dress. I'm not sure when that will happen, but I'm betting on either Saturday or Sunday this weekend.

Next week, I have two doctor appointments on the books, plus I'll probably have to schedule a bloodletting so that my GP will refill my synthyroid prescription.

Then, next weekend, I've got my book club meeting/Christmas party on Friday night, and then nothing on Saturday (except probably doing Christmas cards, if they don't arrive in time to do them this weekend, and shipping those gifts that need to be shipped -- which means we should probably get a move on the last of our gift shopping -- and a box or two of stuff to Matt's mom in advance of our trip, like some presents for the gang there, and we can fill extra space in the box with some of our bulkier clothes), and then Sunday Matt's taking Penny to a local production of The Nutcracker ballet, followed by dinner at my folks' to celebrate Alex's birthday (for which I need to acquire a cake).

And the following Wednesday, Alex and I both have appointments with the ear/nose/throat doctor at the same time that Penny has her quarterly checkup with the endocrinologist, and then she has a half-day of school. We'll spend that night and Thursday morning packing stuff, and then pretty much right after lunch that Thursday, we're off to Richmond to catch our flight to Chicago. (Which should be a hoot, as the flight was already slam-packed full when I booked it in September, and I couldn't get ANY seats together. We'll be relying on the kindness of surrounding strangers to swap around so that the kids can sit with us.)

Matt has been trying to impose some level of organization on our time in Chicago, but my impression is that he's getting a lot of, "Oh, let's just wait and see" responses, so... not so much. I'm trying to stay out of it, for the most part. I'm just chalking those 9 days up to a blur of alternating running around and trying to keep the kids from getting so bored that they wreck his mom's house, and otherwise letting the chips fall as they may.

We're coming back from Chicago on the 30th (at least our seats are all together on that flight), and then on the 31st we'll "do" a mid-day Christmas with my family and end up at the Hegemony to ring in the New Year. (I've promised Penny she can try to stay up until midnight this year. We Shall See how that goes -- and whether I manage to stay awake that late, myself.)

And then I'll have the 1st and the 2nd of January to catch up on sleep, unpack our bags, try to figure out where all the new loot fits, and start un-decorating the house.

Somewhere in all that, we need to find a time to match schedules and meet up with KT and Kevin and Jess so we can give them their presents (and I can get the stuff I ordered from KT's thirty-one show). I need to get some occasional exercise, stay on top of everything at work, finish editing the story I'm working on, and gin up a couple of promotional blurbs for my publisher. I also need to do something with an assortment of vegetables and fruits in my kitchen before they start to go bad on me, and I'd really like to try out the all-edges brownie pan that Karen sent for my birthday. (Maybe Alex will get brownies in addition to cake for his birthday. Just 'cause.)

What I'm saying is -- if I miss a day or two of posting in the next couple of weeks, don't worry; I'm not dead, just insane. And between the 22nd and the 3rd, you probably shouldn't expect to hear from me at all, though I may manage a post or two via my phone. My twitter account is much more likely to see semi-regular posts, if you find yourself saddened by the silence here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Struggle

I'm struggling with apathy. Again.

Christmas used to be my favorite holiday of the year. I looked forward to it all year long, dragged out the decorations as soon as Thanksgiving had arrived, and buried myself in the planning and activities with joyous enthusiasm. I loved it all.

This year... I'm not feeling it. There's no excitement to balance out the schedule crunch; there's no delight to make the petty frustrations all worthwhile; there's no thrill to offset the whining. I'm not captivated by the lights or teary-eyed at the music or warmed by the acts of charity. I just. Don't. Care.

Don't care if the house is decorated. Don't care if the presents are all wrapped and under the tree. Don't care if we've got a present for everyone on our list. Don't care if we make it to all the events. Don't care if we see all the specials, read all the books, bake all the cookies, open all the advent doors.

But it's not just Christmas. It's everything. I don't care if I get my work done on time... or at all. Don't care if the bills get paid. Don't care if I finish the story I'm writing. Don't care if I participate in the promotional stuff. Don't care if there's dinner on the table. Don't care if the kids are bathed, don't care if I get a shower.

Don't know why. Am I just tired? Burned out on stress? Midlife crisis? Lack of introvert recharge time? Late-breaking cynicism onset? I don't know. Don't much care about that, either. All I know is that everything's gone grey on me again.

I'm trying to pretend it's all in color. For the kids' sakes, and Matt's, and everyone else. I'm doing my work (mostly on time) and making dinner and taking showers and making lunches and going to the gym. I put up the decorations and I'm lighting the candles and making the treats and opening the doors and listening to the music. Doing the shopping and making the plans and wrapping the presents and playing the games. Taking the pictures and making the cards and struggling with the technical issues.

It's going to blow over, eventually, and when it does, I'll want to know that I didn't screw up anyone else's holidays too badly. So I'm making the effort. As much as I can. But it's a struggle, and I don't know if I'm going to be able to keep it up all the way through the end of the month.

***

(I lied. It's not all grey. Alex has been eating oddly and complaining of thirst a lot lately and so for a few days there, the grey was tinged with terror, until I finally gave in and tested his blood sugar one morning before he'd eaten. It came up at 81. He's fine. I admit that returning to the grey after that was something of a relief.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Runaround

What an insanely busy weekend! And yet, loads of fun!

Let's see. Friday night, we took the kids out to see The Muppets. It wasn't a perfect movie, but it was a fitting homage to Henson and Oz and the original Muppets. The kids enjoyed it, though Alex was about to turn into a pumpkin on us by the time it ended.

Saturday morning we got up and got dressed right away and headed into town to watch the Christmas parade. Alex found it alternately boring and too loud, but Penny loved it -- her favorite parts were the middle school and high school bands.

Waiting for the parade


When that ended at 10:30, we walked a few blocks up the street and had an early lunch at Wasabi. (They were nice enough to let us in even though they were still setting up and weren't officially open until 11. They got drinks for us and we were grateful just to sit down until they were ready for us.)

After lunch, we got Alex down for a nap and then I ran up to the store for supplies for the moon cookie party, which started around 1:30 or so. It was a smaller group than usual this year (I can't believe KT and Kevin would rather go to Disney World for a week than come to the moon cookie party!) but we had a great time making cookies and chatting. Though for the record, I seriously need to get some more cookie sheets, next year. Waiting on cookies to bake is a huge hold-up!


When that was done, we all went out to eat at La Tolteca, where Adin's sister met up with us, and then we trooped over to Braz and Adin's to put the kids to bed and have a seven-player game of Cards Against Humanity. (Adin's sister is sweet and giggly and precious, and also? has an incredibly filthy mind. I approve. A lot.)

Sunday morning, Matt threatened the kids with mayhem so that I could sleep in until almost 9. Then we got everyone dressed in their new Christmas clothes (or in Matt's and my cases, our old Christmas clothes) and we went down to New Town to visit Santa and take pictures. They had a different guy playing Santa this year, but he was nearly as good with the kids. A new thing they've got going this year is that if there isn't a line (which there wasn't, for us -- I can never quite believe it) Santa would read a story to the kids. Which was pure awesome.

Santa and Penny peruse her list
Santa reading to the kids
After our visit with Santa, we went out for lunch at Ruby Tuesday, then went home so Alex could crash into a nap. While he was out, Penny and I wrapped a bunch of Christmas presents and put them under the tree (Alex woke up in time to help with the last few) and then we all piled in the car and went to Busch Gardens to see Christmastown, which I have missed for the last few years and was determined to see this time.

I have to say, I loved it. And the weather was perfect -- brisk enough to add to the "winter wonderland" atmosphere without being so cold that it was unpleasant to be outdoors. I do sort of wish that Matt and I could go back without the kids, because it would be nice to a) sample some of the tasty treats without having to worry about the diabetic in tow, b) stay at the park later than Alex's bedtime, and c) stroll along and look at everything at our own pace, without having to deal with assorted whines about being bored/hungry/tired and wanting to go right now to the favorite show or ride.


After all that standing and walking and picture-taking, my back and hips are killing me today, but it was totally worth it. I got lots of fun pictures to use for our Christmas cards and the calendar for next year, and the kids had a great time, even if they were both getting a little tired and out of sorts by the end of it. (I can relate, as I was getting a little tired and out of sorts as well...)

I'm hoping to recover some of my aplomb this week -- there's not much happening at work until Thursday, and I've got 7 hours of what my office calls discretionary/holiday time (I'd been saving it all year for the day after Thanksgiving, but wound up working most of that day, so I still have it left over) that I have to use-or-lose by the 16th. So I'm looking at taking some extra time off -- either two half-days or one full day -- to wrap up my Christmas shopping and work on my writing and generally try to relax and recoup my holiday spirit, which has been badly frazzled by my perception of the schedule, this year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Love Muffin

I've been aware of my not-so-slowly re-expanding waistline (and hips, and thighs) for a while, now. It's been on my "I should get around to that sometime" list. And on Monday, I actually started back up with my morning Wii Fit workouts -- it's not burning a ton of calories, but it helps my ankles and feet, and I do believe it at least helps get my metabolism moving for the day. And if I make it to the gym today, this will be the first week in I can't remember how long that I've gotten to the gym three times in a single week. I haven't started tracking food again yet, but I (mostly) put the kibosh on all the extra snacking that had crept into my day.

And according to this morning's Wii Fit weigh-in, I've lost about 2 pounds since Monday.

Go, me! Right?

Except that I put on my pair of "fat" jeans this morning. They've been slowly getting snugger over the past few months, but this morning, I actually had trouble getting them zipped, and when I looked in the mirror... Holy muffin tops, Batman! It's a good thing I'm wearing a baggy sweater, is what I'm saying.

And this weekend? Yeah. We're going to see the new Muppet movie tonight with the kids. And tomorrow is the Moon Cookie party. (And the local holiday parade, but that doesn't represent a danger to my diet.)

I am not. Not. Not going to miss out on moon cookies. So I guess I'm skipping the popcorn at the movie tonight, because this muffin? Not only is it unattractive, but it's also kind of uncomfortable. And I hate shopping for pants.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Treed

Sunday afternoon, amidst all my other errands and running around, I stopped at the storage unit and brought home the Christmas tree and a bunch of other boxes.

When I got home, I started plugging in the tree sections, to make sure they worked before I went to the effort of assembling them.

Good thing, too. Because they didn't. Well, the middle section worked okay. But neither the bottom nor the top sections lit up at all.

There were a number of paths I could have taken from there. My dad, for instance, once actually went over the entirety of a pre-lit tree, testing each and every one of over 600 bulbs, looking for the one(s) that had caused the tree to go out. Yike. My time -- and my fingertips -- are more valuable than that.

Another possible route would have been to just get some light strands and string them on the tree where the built-in lights were dead, ignoring the dead bulbs and hoping the ornaments covered them up. I'd actually done this a couple of years earlier, when one section of the tree went dead. It worked okay, mostly, as long as I kept that section turned toward the corner where it wouldn't be in high profile. But I didn't want to do that for two thirds of the entire tree -- for one thing, I get pre-lit trees for a reason, and that reason is that I hate stringing lights. For another, there would be no way to turn the section with all the dead bulbs toward the corner, and covering ornaments or not, it would've looked pretty skeezy.

So I went with the third option, which was to toss the whole thing out and plan a trip to the store for a new tree. We went looking at Target on Sunday evening, before Matt's birthday dinner, and we picked out a tree we liked -- but there was no way we were going to fit the box in the car with all four of us. I love our Priuses (Prii?) and they have a lot more trunk space than it looks like from the outside... but not that much.

I said something to Matt about possibly picking it up on my way home from work Monday, but then he wanted to do some comparison shopping elsewhere. (Why, when we'd have been ready to get the tree from Target on Sunday if not for the space issue, I'm not sure. Is it possible to have buyer's remorse before you've bought something?)

So on Tuesday, after I'd done my writing, I went over to Wal-Mart. That took a bit longer than it should have; the two trees that were roughly analogous in size and shape to the one we'd picked at Target were both -- of course -- sold out. I thought about going back to Target, but there had only been one tree left of the sort we'd picked out. The chances that it was still there were... slim. So I spent some time waffling over my remaining choices at Wal-Mart.

The box did not fit in the trunk of my car, as expected. It only barely fit in the back seat, stretched across both kids' seats -- closing the car door nudged the box pretty firmly.

But I got it home, and even managed to get it out of the box, light-tested, assembled, and fluffed before Matt and Penny got home. Penny helped me put one round of ornaments on it, and then when Alex came home later, we all put on the remaining ornaments together.



So now we have a lit, decorated tree. Christmas is a go.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Contest Winner!

Hey, it's Wednesday, which means it's usually my day to write over at the writing blog, but I wanted to stop in quickly and (finally) announce that the winner of the MyMemories software contest is Heidi, my diabetes-mom twin from D-Tales! Congrats, Heidi! I'll email you soon with the download code and instructions! :-)

For the rest of you, if you're interested in buying the software, I've got a $10 off coupon code that you can use -- check the sidebar for details!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanks-given

Thanksgiving went pretty well, despite having clogged the sink drain with vegetable peelings the night before and having to summon the emergency plumber for Thanksgiving morning to clear it out with the shop vac. But the food turned out great, and Penny had a good time helping me, and Alex was thrilled beyond measure to drink his milk out of one of my china teacups. I was only confused about the lack of drippings from the turkey -- if I'd known it was going to drop so little, I'd have poured in some chicken stock to add extra heat to the bottom and to give me something to work with when it was time to make gravy. My apple-and-chestnut stuffing turned out awesome, if I do say so myself.

I had to work Friday (and surprisingly, there was work to be done, so I didn't get to enact my plan, which was to check email every couple of hours and otherwise just relax), alas. But Friday evening we went over to Braz and Adin's, and after we got the kids to bed, we played through the entire Cards Against Humanity deck. (Best question/answer pair of the night, and possibly all time: "What do I like to think about when I'm having sex?" "Being a dinosaur.") We wrapped up the game well after 1:30 in the morning. Matt and I didn't get to bed until after 2...

And of course the cat woke me up at 6:30. And when I got up, thinking I would feed him and go back to bed, I found Alex sitting on the edge of his bed, waiting for someone to stir so he could get up. So I was up. Alas. Once we were all up, we went down to my parents' for a little while, and then after Alex's nap we went back to Braz and Adin's for Matt's birthday party. We had hot dogs and bratwurst and ice cream cake, and we played a couple of rounds of Taboo after the kids were tucked into bed, but didn't stay up nearly as late, thank goodness.

Sunday was Matt's birthday, and also something of a crazy runaround day. I got up with the kids so Matt could sleep in, and once he'd gotten up and opened his presents, I did the grocery shopping. Then I came home, put the groceries away, and got the kids started on their lunch. While they finished that up, I ran across town to pick up Matt's birthday pie. (Matt always gets pecan pie for his birthday, and the best pecan pie I've ever had comes from the Jamestown Pie Company.) On my way back from that, I stopped at the storage unit to pick up most of our Christmas boxes and the tree.

When I got back, I took advantage of the excellent weather (it was over 70 outside!) to start putting up the outdoor decorations, and then while I started to assemble the tree, I let the kids distribute the candles in the windows.

But when I tested it, it turned out that of the 3 major sections of tree, only one of them lit up. Now, my dad once actually pulled and tested every single bulb on a pre-lit tree to find out which one had gone bad. I am not that determined. I declared the tree dead (we've had it long enough to have gotten our money's worth out of it, at least) and piled its sections outside with the trash.

Matt had promised Penny he would take her to Sweet Frog for snack on Sunday, so we did that, and then we stopped at Target on the way home to look at new trees. We got one all picked out, but the box was going to be way too big to fit in the car with all of us in it, so we had to leave it there. I did pick up a new door wreath and some plastic ornaments to decorate the porch and bushes, and we got Alex his Christmas outfit. (He did not pick the one I liked best, but he picked my second-favorite. I was tempted to get him both, but he really doesn't need clothes, and the little sets are not cheap.) We still need to take Penny out to look for her Christmas dress, as well. Maybe one evening this week, we'll do that.

Once we got back home, we pretty much turned around and headed straight back out to meet my family at Outback for Matt's birthday dinner. That was fun (and delicious), and then my parents came back to our house to share in that pecan pie. (John and Sam were virtuous, and avoided the temptation.)

All in all, a really good weekend... but I didn't get nearly enough sleep.

With Christmas coming in less than four weeks, I don't expect to get caught up for a while, either.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Intervention

I had a dream last night. I was walking in the woods with some friends, and realized that Penny wasn't with us. We called, and fanned out to look for her, and I found her in a bed of leaves, unconscious. She didn't rouse, so I tested her blood sugar: 20. "I'll need the Glucagon," I said to whoever was standing behind me. "The big red box in her bag." In the dream, I was very calm. I explained to the person with me (it wasn't Matt, because he wouldn't need the explanation, having heard it before) that Penny was probably going to throw up when she woke up, and that as soon as I'd given her the shot, I would call 911 for an ambulance.

I woke up before I actually gave her the shot, much less calm than I had been in the dream. It was around 2:30 in the morning.

It was only a dream, I told myself. I got up and went into Penny's room. She stirred when I touched her arm. I didn't want to disturb her, so I kissed her cheek, then went to check on Alex (who was sleeping on his back with his hands tucked behind his head and his ankles crossed in the classic "lounging on summer grass" pose -- I had to giggle!) and then started to go back to bed. But as I sat down, I thought... it wouldn't hurt to actually check Penny's blood sugar. Just to be sure.

She'd been 138 when Matt checked her at 10:00 -- solidly in range. But except for Sunday evening and yesterday morning, when she was apparently fighting off the aftereffects of movie theater popcorn, she's been having a lot of lows lately. It was worth a check.

I had to fight her to get her hand out from under the blanket, but I finally got the drop of blood on the test strip... 54.

Crap.

I brought her a juice box, and by the time I'd got the wrapper off the straw, she was sitting up and ready for it. She sucked it down and then collapsed back into her nest of blankets.

I re-checked her fifteen minutes later, now approaching 3 am. She was at 108, a good solid number. I went back to bed, though it took me almost an hour to relax back into sleep.

This morning, when she checked her sugars before breakfast, she was at 58.

WTF, diabetes? WTF?

And what if I hadn't had that dream? Would she have bottomed out in the 50's anyway? Or continued her nosedive? Would we have woken this morning and realized Penny hadn't turned her alarm off, and had to scramble for the Glucagon for real?

It's almost enough to make me wonder if there's a higher power.

***

But lest we let diabetes take the upper hand and set the tone for the day, let me share something awesome with you instead. Penny's studying maps in school right now, and her big project, due today, was to make up her own map of a place, and write a paragraph to go with it. With help, she decided to map an island, and she filled it in, and then we thought about underwater movies we'd seen to help us add features to the surrounding ocean -- she put in caves and volcanoes and even a minefield (a la Finding Nemo). The map itself was very creative and imaginative, and I was pleased.

And then she wrote the paragraph to go with it. Matt swears she wrote this all at once, without a lot of pausing for thought (presented exactly as she wrote it, with our spelling corrections in brackets):

This Island is my secret hideout where my friends hang out. We also go on quests but of course we have to leave mine filds [fields] around our island to sink and stop our enmy's [enemies'] ships. We explore the water volcanos [volcanoes] to see what and when they explode. If our enmys [enemies] are near we hide in the caves. Also we find treasure on our island! If it's hot we run in the forest to cool off. My island is a safe place you can go. (Exept [Except] for the pirats [pirates].) And have fun!

When she read that to me, I just about fell over, I was so proud and happy and excited. How awesome is that?! The "(except for the pirates)" bit killed me! (The parentheses were her idea, even.) Volcanoes and treasure and minefields and pirates and sunken ships and forests and caves, and she managed to link it all together cohesively! Obviously, she's a born storyteller. Or possibly ready to start building her own D&D modules.

Either way... That's my girl.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wait, What?

There was a weekend, right?

I got up this morning and literally could not remember what I'd done on Saturday. At all. I wasn't sure the day had even happened until Matt jogged my memory: "You went to KT's thing."

Oh, right. KT threw a thirty-one show. And it's weird that I forgot it, because I've been looking forward to it. Because I bought way too many things at it. Because I signed up to host a show, myself, come spring (when hopefully the available patterns will be a little less... brown.)

And after that, I went over to Braz and Adin's to find my kids, and it looked for a while like I was going to leave both of them there overnight, but Penny only had 2 glucose test strips left in her kit, and Alex started whining at about 9 that he wanted to go home, so... we went home. (Good thing, too, because Penny had a persistent low blood sugar that kept me up until after midnight, and then Matt stayed up until nearly 2am trying to keep her in range.)

Sunday we met up with them again to take in Happy Feet Two, which turned out to be pretty good, though I'm distinctly disturbed that Mumble is still sporting his chick-feathers like he was at the end of the first movie. But it was funny (oh my goodness, the krill puns! I want a whole movie now that's just Bill and Will!) and the music adaptions were fun, and it kept the kids pretty well entertained.

This week promises to be nice and slow -- not too much to do at work, and I've got all my ingredients in place for the cooking/eating frenzy of Wednesday evening and Thursday. I do need to remember to put the Macy's parade on the TiVo so I can jump the commercials, and get Karen's birthday package to the post poffice. I'm technically working on Friday, but I don't think anyone else is, so I'm planning to work from home and probably just check email every so often to make sure nothing is happening.

So things will be quiet here. Some thankful contemplation, perhaps.

But hey! If you take digital pictures at all, go check out the contest I have running for free digital scrapbooking software! They're releasing the new version of the software next week, and the contest winner will get the new version, which fixes quite a few of my quibbles from the review, so for petesake enter the contest! Right now!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Memories - CONTEST!

The very kind folks at MyMemories offered me a copy of their digital scrapbooking software for review, and they offered up a second copy for some lucky winner of my contest -- I'll explain that after the review.

Reviewer's Caveats: 
Platform: The software is available for both Mac and PC, but of course my review is of the Mac software. Your mileage may vary, especially if you're on a PC.

Perspective: My previous experience with digital scrapbooking software is pretty limited, so what you're getting is my comparison of this software to: a) real scrapbooking, b) a very brief trial of the Creative Memories software several years ago, c) other software with graphic elements, and d) limited-use software, such as the iPhoto calendar maker and online card-making applications.

The Features and Functionality:
I have to admit, I'm very impressed. 

This took me less than 5 minutes
to make. Click to embiggen!
There are an impressive number of ways to share your albums: You can send pages directly to your printer, or you can export pages individually to JPG format in a variety of sizes. You can order printed and bound album books and calendars, for a price, of course (I haven't tested those options, but they're in the menu and I'm sure they're perfectly simple to do). And you can, with some additional (free) software, create slideshow movies or create an interactive DVD album.

The My Memories Suite software lets you select backgrounds, lay out photos and decorative elements, and provides lots of customization options. Elements (which is to say any photo or individual image) can be cropped in a variety of shapes, overlapped, rotated, flipped, mirrored, resized, stretched, and shadowed. You can change the opacity of elements to have some show through others. There are some basic photo manipulation options as well, like red-eye removal and some common filters and deformations, though you're probably better off doing your photo corrections and manipulations in your photo software before you import the picture into MyMemories Suite.

If you're planning on generating a slideshow or DVD album, there are some other options as well, like the inclusion of background music and the ability to add multimedia "hotspots" to include video or audio files, other files, and website links. It will also let you record your own narration. (The example below has background music, but not narration.)

video


The Ease of Use:
I thought the software was pretty easy to figure out, though I did have a few false starts and like any new software, there's a learning curve. (Worth noting is that their website has a fairly active blog and forum which includes links to demonstration videos with both basic and advanced tips and tricks.) It's got several "startup" options, including a number of automatic layouts and templates, but unless you've got a very clear idea straight from the beginning of what you want, including how many pictures you want on each page, I thought it was easier to just use a blank template and add elements as I thought of them. The software takes a little bit of time to load, but not an excessive amount. I got beachballed a few times (stuck in some sort of loop where memory locked up) but only once did I have to force-quit the application; the other times, it cleared up after a short wait. As far as speed goes, it's a huge improvement on the Creative Memories software trial, which started chewing up my system memory as soon as I had more than a handful of elements on a page.

The Quibbles:
I did have a few quibbles. Element show the standard graphic adjustment  tags on corners and side middles to resize and rotate, but if the tag you want to grab is underneath another element, you can't. There were some things that weren't intuitive (like how to crop without changing proportions -- turns out you hold the Shift key) and some things I don't think can be done at all ("snap to grid" and/or "align elements" functions would be nice). The resource gallery (essentially a mini file browser on the side of the screen that lets you easily select and place elements) doesn't refresh except on loading, so if you re-organize those folders, you have to quit and restart the MyMemories software to get it to show that. The software to make your album into a DVD or movie comes separately from the base package -- but it's free once you have a registered copy of the base package, so I'm not sure why they're not just bundled together. You can pick a different background music song for each page, if you like, but you can't choose an alternate starting point in the music files. When you generate a slideshow, every slide shows up for the same amount of time -- you can't have a page that shows for 5 seconds and then another page that shows up for 10.

The Applause:
I'm really impressed with how easy it is to use this software, catering to people who want to use existing templates to just pick pictures and get on with it, and people who want to lay their hands on every element. I'm also really pleased with the number of options for the completed project; the interactive DVD option, in particular, gave me some fun ideas!

The element files are mostly .PNG files, which makes browsing them fairly simple. And if you don't like the way those files are organized by default, you can rearrange the files in your file browser with impunity; each template and project makes a local copy of the files it uses, which could be a little problematic for hard drive space if you have a lot of very large projects, but guarantees that reorganizing won't break anything. (Another minor quibble -- it sure would be nice if the software had an in-app way to let you reorganize things.) 

Which is good, because the software comes with lots of base files to start with -- plenty of papers and decorations to make some very decent albums right from the get-go. (Very nice after the Creative Memories trial software, which admittedly was a trial version but had a very disappointing collection of starter elements.) And if that weren't enough, the MyMemories Suite software comes with a $10 credit toward purchased packages, and their website offers a fairly impressive collection of completely free download packages that gets updated, from what I can tell, at least a couple of times a week. Naturally, many of these are merely sample packs advertising the for-pay packages, but all my samples here were built with elements I downloaded for free. Items do rotate in and out of the free section, so your mileage may vary, but an occasional check of the website will have your collection built up in no time. I've been testing this software for two weeks, and in that time I've downloaded dozens of packages -- papers, pre-built frames and pages, and decorative elements -- and not even once have I given the MyMemories site my credit card number, because everything I've downloaded has either been free or "bought" on that $10 credit. (Did I mention the 99-cent discount packages?)

The Bottom Line:
Despite my minor frustrations and wishing for a few extra capabilities (which may well be addressed by the new version that's coming out next week!), it's very nice software, well worth the $40 price tag if you've been looking for a way to dump your traditional scrapbooking gear for something less cluttery, or if you've been dying to create digital, interactive scrapbooks that incorporate videos and other files that just don't fit into a traditional paper album. I'm already working on making several projects with it!


The CONTEST!
Now (finally!) for the contest! If you would like to win a complete free copy of this software, please visit the My Memories website and tell me in the comments here (or you can email me, if you'd rather not post publicly) the name of the scrapbooking kit package you're going to download first when you win! One entry per person, please! I'll give this until after Thanksgiving (mostly because up until then, I'm too busy to really mess with it) and then I'll put all the names in a hat and draw my lucky winner!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Quietude

The office is a little quiet today. I'm not quite sure why. Most people taking long vacations around Thanksgiving won't leave until this weekend. Some of the local schools have a teacher workday today, so a few people could be working from home, but it shouldn't count for that many. I know a couple of the managers are on the road for work.

I guess it just all adds up. And the result is that the office is a little quiet. We don't have any deliveries to do today. There's only one delivery for next week. Things in the office are... slow.

In direct contrast, things at home are heating up for the holidays. I've got shopping to do. Thanksgiving dinner to plan. And cook. Gifts to order and wrap and ship. Decorating to do. More shopping. Cleaning (and more cleaning, and more cleaning...)

Pictures to take, cards to lay out and order. Events to plan and host and attend. Notes to write.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not unhappy. I love this stuff. I love seeing the house decorated for Christmas; I love shopping; I love visiting with friends and family and doing fun things together. I even love planning and cooking big meals like Thanksgiving (occasionally). (The cleaning, not so much, I admit.)

But it does add a big helping of crazy and stress to my days.

Which makes me appreciate these quiet days at the office that much more. I can pause. Sip my coffee. Close my eyes and take a deep breath.

And then fire up the browser and get a jump on some of that shopping.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day Off

I took my "part-time" day off yesterday.

Took Penny down to Newport News to get some blood drawn for some tests -- she was a little scared, but did great -- and then after I signed her into school, I went to the Panera, bought a coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and started writing.

Usually on my day off, I get to Panera around 8:30 and leave around lunchtime. Yesterday, I got there at 9:30 and didn't leave until after 2:30. In that time, I drank six (or maybe seven?) cups of coffee, ate a breakfast sandwich, a bowl of soup (though they ran out of black bean before I was ready for lunch, boo), and a strawberry scone, and wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 4000 words. It felt great.

Then, since my sense of smell has finally recovered from my cold, I walked over to Bath and Body Works to check out their winter scents, and lo! the small holiday night lights were on sale! So I bought... a few. Shut up, I can quit any time I want.

Then I went to the bank to deposit birthday and royalty checks, and headed home. The evening was fairly normal and relaxed, which was perfect. I didn't do any more writing, but I did make some progress on another project, and read another chapter and a half in my bedside book.

All in all, just about the most perfect day off I could've asked for.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Slept

I have too many balls juggling at the same time, I think. In no particular order:

  • Two novels to be proof-read, both due before the end of November.
  • A novella to edit and its author to herd through all the assorted steps. (This involves a number of different deadlines, but the whole thing comes to fruition in early January.)
  • Keeping my own writing projects moving, however slowly.
  • Thanksgiving dinner to plan and prepare.
  • A friend's birthday package to wrap (not a trivial task, due to <SPOILER>) and box for shipping.
  • Matt's birthday to plan for.
  • Assorted social events and plans.
  • Christmas shopping to plan and put into effect.
  • The moon cookie party to plan and prepare for.
  • Other holiday activities, such as taking photos for the Christmas card (though I snapped up today's Groupon, so that's at least partly underway!) and figuring out the best time for us to go to Christmastown at Busch Gardens.
  • Getting to the gym at least twice (and preferably three times) a week.
  • The actual work at my actual job. (I know -- crazy!)
  • A million other things that may or may not be tangentially related to the above -- for instance, the usual day-to-day household tasks and chores.
I sat down last night to do a little writing, because I let it slack far too much last week. I got all of about four hundred words out, and for once it's wasn't a lack of inspiration that stopped me, but the fact that I could not, for the life of me, keep my eyes open. After about forty-five minutes, I switched from writing to reading... and then woke up half an hour later when Matt came in on his way to check Penny's blood sugar and found me sitting up in the bed and snoring, book propped on my chest.

I'm not sure if I'm actually sleep-deprived, in which case a few early nights might set me straight, or if it's a stress reaction to the holiday ramp-up.

Either way, I'm glad one of my friends gave me some caffeinated lip balm and soap for a birthday present!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Party Time

Saturday was my birthday party. I invited my family and closest, longest-known friends (and their families) to have dinner with me at the Center Street Grill. We had a room to ourselves and a separate table for the kids, and of the 25 who'd RSVPed, I only had one adult and one kid who had to cancel at the last minute (due to illness, so I'm grateful that she kept it home). Which meant that the room looked like this:

And the kids' table looked like this:

It was a great party. I'd brought little activity bags for the kids with pencils and crayons and notepads and notebooks and play jewelry to keep them occupied, and it worked surprisingly well -- we only had to turn around to tell the kids to get back in their seats about once every five minutes instead of the usual ninety seconds.

The adults had a great time eating and talking and eating some more; I thought there would be more drinking, but I never even got around to ordering anything other than iced tea. As dinner was winding up, there were some fireworks outside that completely wowed the kids -- apparently, they thought it was, in fact, part of the party, and they all ran to the window to look. (I have no idea what they were really for -- the general consensus was that it was probably a Veteran's Day thing.)

When I stood up to do a general introduction around the table and thank everyone for coming, I found myself completely overwhelmed with gratitude that I could count so many wonderful and interesting people among my friends. I did the introductions, and then got about as far as, "Thank you all for coming. I'm really happy you could all make it, and I'm just... Just..." And then my mom chimed in with "...Forty!" and we all cracked up with laughter.

And one benefit of having guests at your party who've known you for more than twenty years is that they bring perfect gifts. I'm just sayin'. A "writer's kit" (gorgeous feathered quill, chocolate, and wine). A gorgeous new coffee mug and a Barnes and Noble gift card nestled in a reusable little book-shaped box. A board game that appears to be the evil twin of the bastard child of Candyland and D&D. And that's just a few! Plus, most of the card were hysterically funny. Do these people know what I like, or what?

The only downer was poor Henry's stomach rebelling at the combination of corn dog and chocolate milk and Sprite and ice cream, and reversing engines, so the entire Hegemony set had to pack up and head out pretty much immediately after dessert, while the rest of us stuck around for another hour, just chatting.

At one point, I saw the waitress bring in the bill folder, and I started to reach for it... but she went around to the far side of the table and handed it to my dad. "Hey," I said, "that comes to me!"

My dad took his already-run credit card out of the folder and said, "Yes, that's what they told me." And that on top of the gift they'd given me -- that I hadn't been expecting, because they'd bought me some very nice jewelry while we were in Cancun as my early birthday present!!!

And to top it all off, despite Henry's mishap, the Hegemony took Alex home with them, and when we were all done at Center Street, Matt and I took Penny over to their place as well -- they kept both our kids (along with all four of theirs!) overnight, so that Matt and I could have a child-free date night.

We'd talked about catching Cabaret at William and Mary, but the party didn't break up until after the show had started, so we just went over to the Barnes and Noble and wandered around, relishing the ability to peruse at our own pace and not having to take turns remaining confined to the children's area to keep an eye on the kids. I bought some stuff with the B&N gift card I'd just received, and we also picked up some Christmas gifts for the kids. Then we went home and watched one of our Netflix (Casanova, which I was expecting to be a sexy drama, or perhaps a dramedy, but it turned out to be completely campy and stupid, alas). But we got to sleep in a bit the next morning, and we went out to breakfast and got to bask in a meal where we didn't have to tell anyone to be quiet and sit down, argue with Penny about volume or carbiness of her selections, or cut up Alex's food for him. Ah, bliss.

It had been Alex's first sleepover anywhere, and he had a fantastic time. He was all set to do it again Sunday night -- alas, we had to shoot that down, as it was a school night. But Braz and Adin promised that both our kids had been well-behaved and wonderful (they'd only had to tell Alex and Henry to shut up and go to sleep two or three times!), so it looks like another sleepover could well happen in the future! Whoo-hoo! (And now, if we can just get Ripley comfortable with the notion of sleeping over at our place, we could trade sleepovers with them and get more frequent kid-free nights!)

So all in all: doubleplus good, awesome, amazing, fantastic weekend. As KT and Kevin told me: Obviously, I need to have 40th birthday parties more often!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Weekender

Huzzah, it's Friday!

The office is quiet today -- it's Veteran's Day and some folks have kids out of school, and/or a lot of our veterans are taking the day off. And of course the government is on holiday, so most of our customers are out of touch. It makes for a quiet, productive day. Huzzah for that!

Matt is home with the kids today; I'm at work for a half day, or else until today's deliveries go out, whichever takes longer. Tonight will probably be the usual hanging out with the Hegemony, putting our kids to bed at their house so we can stay up late for adult play. (Though I think Braz has his girls this weekend, so Emma will be up with us until 10, which means my new Cards Against Humanity deck will probably have to wait. It's really, really not a game for 10-year-olds.)

Tomorrow is my birthday party, and I'm looking forward to that with manic glee. Though when I talked to my parents, they were both still recovering from assorted surgeries and procedures and are feeling a bit under the weather, so I hope they're feeling better for it.

Sometime this weekend, I need to do some serious shopping. Karen's birthday is in less than two weeks, and I need to get a serious move-on if I'm going to go with the notion I had for her gifts.

And when I don't have anything else going, I'm playing with some new software! Even though it's been a long time since I talked about scrapbooking (and almost as long since I actually did any, though I keep swearing I'm going to get back to it), the folks over at My Memories contacted me with an offer: two copies of their digital software suite -- one for evaluation, and one for a giveaway! Plus a code that anyone can use to buy their software or other stuff. I'm evaluating right now (so far, it's very cool, though there are a few things I wish it could do better). Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting my review, with links and pictures and stuff, and I'll have a contest or drawing for the other software key -- so scrapbookers and photo takers, be on the lookout!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lordy, Lordy

I had, quite possibly, the best possible 40th birthday. No lie.

I couldn't take the day off from work -- too much workstuff to do, alas -- but the day before my birthday was a school holiday for Penny, so I opted to work from home, which turned out to be a great decision, as Adin and Ripley were at loose ends for the day due to a cancellation from another friend, so they came over and hung out with us. We went out to lunch at Penny's favorite restaurant (Wasabi!) and then later in the afternoon, after I'd cleared a little more workstuff, we went out and had mani/pedis. (It was going to be just pedicures, but it turned out that the shop runs a combo special on Tuesdays. How do you pass that up?!) So I had freshly painted, gorgeous nails ready to go for my birthday!
 

That afternoon, Penny and Ripley did coloring and papercrafts while I did more work (see, I do actually get work done when I work from home!) and they both made me birthday cakes! Ripley's was a flat cutout of a gorgeously-decorated tiered cake (she snipped a hole at the top and tied a string in it so I could hang it up) and Penny managed to craft a 3-D paper cake, plain and smooth, decorated tastefully with a ribbon around the middle and a small sprig of fresh blueberries on top. Penny also made me a sign to hang on my office door at work, "just in case anyone doesn't know it's your birthday!"

I got up on my birthday morning to even more hugs and kisses than usual (which is really saying something, as Alex and Penny are always both very affectionate) and presents from Matt (the OOTS Dragon Tales collection, Leverage Season 3 DVDs, and an Amazon gift card!). After I took the kids to school, I went to work, where I had promised Caren that she could decorate my office and be as evil as she wanted.

Thanks to a picky customer and a snarl of workstuff and a bored kid in tow, she hadn't had time to decorate liberally, but when she came in, she brought me a little pot of very pretty peach-colored begonias, to which were attached two enormous balloons. Well, the pirate ship is enormous. The other one was only enormous in its evil, because she'd deliberately gotten one with the wrong age on it.

Diabolical! But then she went with me to meet Matt and Adin for lunch at Plaza Azteca, where we all had margaritas and tableside guacamole. We got a couple of appetizer-type things to split, because dessert was the plan! But when we got to dessert, we just couldn't narrow it down, and we were talking about all getting different things and sharing, and Matt said, "I only want to share if I can have two," and there were only six desserts on the menu anyway, so when the waiter came back for the order, I just said, "Bring us one of each!" The look on the man's face was priceless, and we all laughed when all six desserts came out and we arrayed them on the table in the middle to sample. It was awesome.

(I should have taken a picture, but I didn't think of it. Alas.)

When I got home, Matt had a final present for me, which was the completely brand new expansion pack for Cards Against Humanity that was just released on Monday! Squee! I perused the cards, and now I can't wait to give them a whirl! (Though I may just have to order the official CAH starter deck so all the cards are the same size...)

Penny made dinner -- a "sandwich salad" recipe of her own invention -- almost completely by herself (I helped her core the lettuce and I sliced carrots, but she made the rest of our salads entirely by herself, sharp knives and all!) And then Matt and Penny had picked out a coconut cake from Martin's/Ukrop's for me -- which is one of my very favorite cakes, from one of my very favorite bakeries, so 100% WIN on that! Matt and I were still full from all the guacamole and dessert we'd had at lunch, so we didn't have much cake... but that just means more leftovers!

(You know what one of the best things is about being 40 years and 1 day old? Birthday cake for breakfast.)

My parents called to wish me a happy, and throughout the day, I got a ton of well-wishes on Facebook, too, which was incredibly sweet and nice. KT "combarded" me with snarky e-cards that made me giggle, and Karen sent another e-card later in the day containing an awesome, punny joke. (Knock-knock! Who's there? Señor! Señor, who? Señor share of birthdays, haven't you?!) (Actually, there were multiple puns, and the first one was even off-color, which goes to prove that Karen understands my taste in jokes quite well. Well, of course she does; she's played Cards Against Humanity with me!)

After we got the kids to bed, Matt and I watched all the special features on the Leverage DVDs, and after Matt went to bed early to sleep off his coconut cake, I finally finished the last level of Gemcraft: Labyrinth. A fitting and perfect end to the day.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Emailed post

Work is busy today, so instead of posting this morning like usual, I spent my first hour and a half of the morning trying to untangle some scheduling issues. But now I'm stuck in a meeting to which I have to pay only minimal attention, so it seems like a good time to dash out an email post on my phone.

We had a good weekend, despite Alex's brush with the Uck Thursday night. We spent Friday at home, keeping our germs to ourselves. Saturday we hung out with Braz and Adin -- went to Coldstone for snack to cash in my birthday ice cream, and Applebee's for dinner, where we encountered our favorite gay waiter. Sunday was all about being domestic -- groceries and laundry and cooking (including a Hubbard squash, which is colored dark green and yellow like an acorn squash but in shape and size looks like a pumpkin; I had to quarter it to fit it in the oven!) When that was done, I put together a lasagna and we took it over to Braz and Adin's for dinner.

Also went shopping to Bath and Body Works on Saturday so I could check out the new seasonal scents, but I'm apparently still suffering some smell loss from my lingering cold, so the trip was a bit of a bust.

This week promises craziness, mostly good. Tuesday is Election Day, so Penny's school is closed and I'll be staying home with her, working from home. Wednesday is my birthday -- Matt and Penny are plotting a cake, there are plans for lunch out, and I promised a co-worker that she could decorate my office, so I expect that will be amusing. Thursday, Matt is WatchDOGging at Penny's school (which doesn't add to my crazy, but it does make Penny pretty excited once she spots him wearing that shirt). And then Friday is Veteran's Day, and both kids' schools are closed, so Matt and I will probably be splitting the day to stay home with them.

Whew! And then I'll have about a week and a half to recover and get my ducks lined up for Thanksgiving.

Which means I'm two weeks from having to launch Christmas decorating and planning. Everyone hold on to your hats!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Kids

"Mommy? Mom? Mom? Mom?"

It's 3:45 in the morning. Alex is standing beside my bed, his head nearly level with mine. "Mm. What is it, baby? What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I wanna snuggle." Without waiting for a response, he starts to climb up into the bed.

"No, honey. Snuggling is okay in the morning, but at night, we stay in our beds and sleep. Come on, let's get you tucked back in. When you hear my radio start playing in the morning, then you can come in and snuggle, okay?"

"Okay."

Two hours and fifteen minutes later, my alarm goes off. In the time it takes me to reach out an arm and smack it, there's a little blond boy scaling the side of the bed.

"Hey, sweetie. You like to snuggle in the morning, huh?"

"Yeah. I like to snuggle at night, too."

***

"Mom, what holidays are there in January?"

"Well, New Year's Day, of course. And there's Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but that doesn't have parties or gifts, it's just a day off from school."

"A day off school is like a gift!"

I hear ya, little girl. I hear ya.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Buggy

I know I don't usually post here on Writing Wednesday, but last night was pretty rough.

Penny had a persistent low at school and was complaining of a stomachache, so Matt brought her home early. The persistent low continued to persist, and Matt was feeling a bit under the weather as well, so instead of the planned dinner, I just made a couple of frozen pizzas. Penny ate three slices, I calculated the insulin, and we went on with the evening...

Right up until I sat down to read to Penny at bedtime. I got through exactly one sentence and then she jumped up, ran into the bathroom, and proceeded to puke her little guts up.

Here's a fun quiz: when you give someone insulin, but then they throw up all the food in their stomach before it can be digested, what happens? That's right! Low blood sugar! Whoo!

(In fact, I'm thinking that might have been the cause of that persistent low of the afternoon -- if the stomach bug was already beginning, it probably drastically slowed the rate of digestion, which meant her lunch insulin was going through her much faster than her food was.)

She was well within her range at bedtime, so Matt and I went about our evening routine, but alas, she thew up again around 9, and when Matt checked her blood sugar at 10, she was under 40 -- so low that she was groggy and unable to sit up on her own when Matt woke her up to treat it. So we skipped the candy remedies (that would probably only upset her stomach anyway) and went straight for a big old spoonful of honey. Half of it smeared on her face, but she opened her mouth for me to spoon it in, so we got a good teaspoon in her and waited.

Fifteen minutes later, she was up a bit but still in the 40s, so we woke her up again. This time, at least, she came alert relatively quickly and sat up on her own to eat another spoonful of honey, and washed it down with half a bottle of Gatorade, and then she remained upright until I'd gotten a washcloth to clean her face.

Another fifteen minutes or so, and she was up over 80, so we relaxed a bit. Matt and I stayed up another half hour or so and checked her again (over 100) before we went to bed.

This morning, her blood sugar was over 300, but rather than the usual frustration that causes me, I was relieved. (And unlike the "where the hell did that come from? highs, I knew exactly where this one came from: two spoonfuls of honey and half a bottle of Gatorade, duh!) The dangers of high blood sugar are slight but cumulative; low blood sugars are much more immediately terrifying. I hate it when she's so low she has trouble waking up. We have not yet ever had to break out the emergency Glucagon injection, and I do not ever want to. I probably don't even have to tell you what the Mutant Worrybrain was whispering when I first woke up this morning, do I?

She was feeling somewhat better on the stomach front, too -- she said her stomach didn't hurt any more, but she was Not Hungry. She ate a little cup of yogurt and drank some low-carb juice (I thought she should avoid milk) and I gave her a shot to bring her back down into range. She's staying home with Matt today, so here's hoping they're both feeling better by this evening.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Run Run Run

Yesterday was, to put it mildly, full.

I juggled two software deliveries at work, then left early and went to Penny's school for the annual teacher conference, where we were told that Penny scored very well, compared to the rest of her class, on their baseline/practice SOL reading test, and that her grade so far for math is 97.7% (that's my baby!) and that she has a solid B in reading (dragged down slightly by laziness during comprehension quizzes -- she can't be bothered to actually go look back at the material to find the answers). The teacher also said she thinks she can see some improvement in Penny's performance during science and social studies, but it's only been a couple of weeks, so we'll have to wait and see what's happening there.

Then I stopped off at the ABC store for grownup treats, and went home to find Adin and kids waiting for me. We went inside and they decorated their trick-or-treat bags while I got the candles for the front yard set up. By then, Matt and Penny and Alex had arrived, and we got all the kids in their costumes, fed them some hot dogs, and got them out the door to start trick-or-treating right at 6. (The eating and changing and decorating all happened in the space of about forty-five very busy minutes.)

The weather was threatening rain, so I guess a lot of kids that usually get carpooled into our neighborhood went to the mall instead, because we had only about half the kids I'm used to seeing. But the ones we did see were danged cute; I don't think I saw any teenagers who weren't even really trying this year, which was refreshing. Alex gave up the ghost earlier than Matt expected, but once he was home, he had a fantastic time jumping up to watch whenever Matt or I opened the door, so I guess it wasn't a wasted evening for him.

Penny got a good amount of candy and then went home with Adin and kids so she could do a little trick-or-treating in their neighborhood and also to see Emma and Sarah when they came over. Adin very generously volunteered to take her and bring her back, so once we got Alex put to bed, it turned into a nice, calm evening.

And now: November!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Packing It In

Crazy workstuff.

Picking Alex up from daycare and taking him to dinner and then back to daycare for their Fall Festival. Then over to Braz and Adin's for the usual Friday night hangout.

Saturday: Pumpkin carving. Pumpkin seed roasting. Butternut and acorn squash roasting and attendant soup making. Also, the weekly grocery shopping needs to happen a day earlier than usual, because...

Sunday: Craft fair with Penny and Adin and girls up in Richmond. Leaving town at 10, back probably mid/late afternoon.

November's weekends are already filling up. We don't have anything planned (yet) for the first weekend, but then after that there's a party on the 12th, two events on the 19th (one for me and one for Matt, but we'll need to juggle the overlap), and then Thanksgiving weekend.

I haven't laid out plans for December's weekends, but I only have to look at the list of Things To Do (family photo session for our cards, house decorating, Santa visit, moon cookie party, Christmastown, shopping, wrapping and mailing, 9 days in Illinois, some gathering with my family) to know already that it's going to be a busy month.

So basically, for most of the next two months, if I've got an entire half-day where I'm not doing something, I'm going to need to be finding some way to use it to make the following weeks less crazy, if at all possible. Early decorating, cooking/baking, planning, or shopping.

Which means I'm not waiting until after Thanksgiving to start my Christmas shopping. Those of you who might reasonably expect gifts from us this year, update your wishlists and then stay off of them, or else brace for potential duplicates, because I'm strongly considering trying to be at least close to done with my shopping by the first weekend of December. (Not counting stuff for the kids. I know myself well enough to know I'm going to keep buying stuff for them right up until the last possible minute.)

We're three days from Hallowe'en. Let the "holidays" begin.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Constant

My cold has dialed itself back to a persistent cough, so I'm trying to muddle through with it.

Despite feeling vaguely crappy and muzzy-headed most of the time, though, my last few days have been wildly productive, personally if not professionally. I got a short story submitted to a call, edited a novelette-length story for my brother, did the first pass on a novella edit for Torquere, cleaned up a novelette-length story of my own and sent it off to a couple of beta readers (anyone else want to volunteer?), did some planning for the weekend, and ran assorted errands.

On my list for today: catch up some workstuff, stop by the store for treats for Alex's class party tomorrow, place some calls for my birthday party (about time! chorus all my friends), start putting together Christmas lists for the kids (we got the first official relative request last night), and do some planning for Thanksgiving. Other things coming up in the near future: second-round edits for the two stories I'm editing, birthday shopping for Matt and Karen, baking some winter squash that are on the counter at home waiting on me before they go bad, digging out my Hallowe'en costume, and working on the holiday planning (gifts and gatherings and travel requiring some tight coordination).

This weekend is Alex's school Fall Festival, and the craft fair up in Richmond for me and Penny with Adin, and any last-minute Hallowe'en planning I need to do. In addition to, y'know, the usual weekend stuff.

It seems there's always something to do, and always something else I'd rather be doing...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Shoulda

It should have been a highly successful weekend. I got out of work early on Friday and took Alex to Busch Gardens for a couple of hours, and then we all met up with Braz and Adin for dinner. I finished up that story I started that morning at about 3300 words, which is crazy-fast work for me.

Saturday, the family took a short trip down to visit my parents -- we were only there for about an hour, as my dad is recovering from surgery and was in a lot of pain -- and then later, while Matt and Alex were napping, Penny and I went to the neighborhood Hallowe'en party. We did the limbo, played "Pin the Parent", and Penny painted a pumpkin and took a few whacks at a piñata. Then Jess came over and all three kids played together most happily right up until their assorted bedtimes. The girls went to bed and (eventually) to sleep, and no one woke me up before 6am, which is pretty much all I can ask for, with a sleepover.

The kids continued to play (mostly) nicely together all day Sunday, and while Matt and Penny were taking Jess home and Alex was napping, I made a few edits to that story and submitted it! Sunday evening had us back over at Braz and Adin's for dinner, with soup and grilled cheese -- yum! We got home only a little late for Alex's bedtime, and even had time to squeeze in one chapter of reading with Penny. I went to bed early and slept soundly until about 5:50, when Alex came in to tell me he was coughing and wanted to snuggle with me.

Sounds like a great weekend, doesn't it? And it would've been... if most of us (excepting Penny) hadn't spent it dogged by what I thought on Friday were allergies, but by Saturday afternoon knew was a full-blown cold, complete with headache and backache and a face so tender from sinus inflammation that it actually feels like my glasses are sitting on top of a bruise.

I'm at work today, but I'm pretty well doped up on Tylenol Cold remedy and sucking down tea by the gallon, and I've printed out a red X and taped it to my mostly-closed office door to warn others away from my germs.

I'm hoping for a fairly slow week at work, because I've got a lot of stuff I need to do, and this cold is slowing me down a lot. Everyone think healthy thoughts our way, would you?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Productive

I spent way too much time in meetings yesterday, but it ended up being eerily productive anyway. I pulled together a development plan for a new project, did some paperwork from a rushed delivery last week, created a corporate repository for the mini-audit we're about to do, attended four meetings (and mostly managed to keep my sarcasm to myself), and typed up some meeting minutes. I also went to the gym, edited a short story (someone else's), made soup for dinner (mm, soup), and wrote about a thousand new words for the story I'm writing.

All in all, a productive day, indeed.

Today, I need to gather up some artifacts for the mini-audit, do some more paperwork, review a delivery, work on editing another story (someone else's), and go to the chiropractor. I might go to the gym again, and I might swing by Target for more apples. (Honeycrisps -- my very favorite apples, only available for about 2 months out of the year -- are $6 for a bag of 10. I'm eating like five a day.)

(I might also hit Target for a smoothie blender to keep at the office, and ingredients. Better for me than the junk food in the snack bar, and Caren told me a couple of weeks ago they have a really nice little smoothie blender for only about $15.)

So that's my day. What're you up to, today?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Unpictured

Karen, in the state for a few days, came up to visit us on Friday night. We folded her into the usual Friday evening with Braz and Adin -- went out to dinner, then went back to their place and got the kids tucked into bed and settled in to drink and play Cards Against Humanity. There was much drinking and hilarity and a good time was had by all. Yay!

Saturday afternoon, I took Penny to the most awkward birthday party ever (we got there a few minutes late, and there was no one there but us, the birthday girl's mom, and the little brother. The birthday girl -- and most of the other guests -- didn't arrive until more than a half-hour after when we'd been told the party would start.) and then we spent the rest of the evening hanging out with Jenn and Brian. More eating out, a round of Pirate Fluxx, and another game of Cards Against Humanity, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite games.

Sunday, I roasted the pumpkin we'd got from our CSA and Penny and I made muffins with it, and then after Alex's nap (and a snack of pumpkin muffins) we all went up to Pumpkinville to pick out our Hallowe'en pumpkins. (I was mildly disappointed in the selection this year, though, especially with the pie pumpkins, and they've added additional "fun" things like a bounce house -- that you have to pay extra for, of course, causing the kids to whine and complain when we say 'no' -- so we may go elsewhere for our pumpkins next year.) I took pictures, but haven't gotten around to getting them off the camera yet.

We got home right at dinner time, so we had tacos for dinner, and then Penny and I started the next Little House book. (On the Shores of Silver Lake -- I'd forgotten what a downer it is, with the illness and blindness and lack of money and then the dog dies... yike.) After the kids were in bed, I wrote a little bit, then read a lot more. I'm not 100% positive, but I think I may have fallen asleep reading.

It wasn't my best sleep ever, though, I have to say. Between Alex getting me up to deal with a wet spot on his bed (his pullup wasn't even all that wet; I guess he was just laying on it wrong and it leaked) and the sinister and disturbing dreams that chased me all night (don't worry, no details) I'm still pretty logy this morning.

I need to figure out when I'm taking my part-time time off this week, and put it on my calendar so people don't schedule me for things. And I need to prep for a sort of mini-audit early next week. And the guy who usually takes notes at the Monday meeting isn't here, which means it'll be my job, yay.

This weekend is Penny's school's fall festival; Matt and I need to decide if the whole family is going or just one of us with her, so we can pre-order our tickets and dinner packages. And the neighborhood fall festival is this weekend, as well.

So apparently, we've entered the fall/holiday busy season without my having time to brace for impact.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Engaged


One of the buzzword phrases floating around the Day Job over the last couple of years is "employee engagement". That is, for those of you who aren't fluent in Corporatespeak, the extent to which employees are committed to their jobs and whether they're more likely to stay with this company than merely use it as a resume rung. The theory is that employees who are highly "engaged" are more likely to produce high-quality work, and to go above and beyond.

I find the whole thing vaguely disturbing and, frankly, a little insulting. Back in the 80s, when it became accepted practice for companies to simply lay off employees in order to get through lean times, rather than reserving such measures for drastic measures, the corporate structure lost its right to any kind of employee loyalty. If you're not going to take care of me, then there should be no reason for me to feel the need to care what happens to you, either.

But here we are: employee engagement. The way they determine employee engagement is by issuing a series of (supposedly) anonymous surveys. The surveys contain some questions which seem to make sense to me ("Do I know what is expected of me at work?" "Do I have the materials and resources needed to accomplish my tasks?") to the unnecessarily and creepily feelgoody ("Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?") and the utterly ridiculous ("Do I have a best friend at work?").

Let's be completely honest: It would be nice if I had a "best friend" at work, but while I sincerely like most of the people I work with, and while one or two of them might even qualify as friends, "best friend" is a social designation, not a business one, and I don't think the corporation should be privy to my social life. If my boss seems to care about me as a person, then that builds my personal loyalty to my boss, but it does nothing for my overall loyalty to the company -- because I know that, if profit margins dip, my boss's boss will tell him to reduce overhead with some layoffs, and my boss, whether he cares about me personally or not, will have to do it.

Oh, and one other thing. When they schedule an hour-long meeting to talk about how we can improve our engagement scores, and they schedule that meeting to run past 5pm? I am definitely not feeling engaged.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ass: Kicked!

Our farm box last week contained half a dozen persimmons, which is a fruit I don't use much. The flavor is a little too cantaloupe-y for my taste, and they're slightly high-maintenance, what with the spiny leaf and the inedible rind and the stealth seeds and the need to wait until they're completely ripe or else suffer tannin levels that make the flesh taste/feel like chewing on moist black tea leaves.

But they were in the box, and I like to at least try to use the stuff in the box -- we're paying for it, after all, and it can't hurt to help the kids vary their palates a little, either.

We'd eaten a couple of them raw the other night, but they weren't a big hit that way. So I experimented. Chopped a red bell pepper (also from the box) and about a pound of chicken breasts, and tossed them into some oil along with a teaspoon or so of curry powder. (Most curry recipes want tablespoons of the stuff, but my kids don't like it enough for that.) When the chicken was almost done, I threw in a can of diced tomatoes, two persimmons (diced to make sure the seeds had been found) and some frozen peas for color. When that had simmered a bit, I added about 2/3 of a cup of light coconut milk, and a tablespoon of granulated Truvia to accent the sweetness of... well, everything. I served the whole mess over couscous.

It was a hit! Penny and Matt and I loved it, and even Alex (who as a rule does not like cooked vegetables) managed to eat half his chicken along with the couscous.

Dinner/persimmon ass: kicked!

(Though now I have the rest of the can of coconut milk in the fridge and nothing to do with it. Hmm, bet it would make delicious smoothies...)

***

Once the kids were in bed, I sat down to write. I'd finished the previous session mid-scene (I've seen writing advice that you should stop mid-sentence, even, just so finishing the sentence will help you get moving a little, but I've never tried it) and I'd had a pretty clear idea of where it was going, so it was easy to drop back into the story and push forward. By the time I realized I was entering my "getting tired" taper, I checked my word-count and I'd written roughly 1700 words!

Not only that, but I still have a pretty clear idea of what comes next -- really, just the final chapter with its payoff sex and warmfuzzies -- and then I'll be ready to do my draft review and shoot it out to my beta readers. (Anyone interested in joining those ranks? Good feedback is hard to come by!)

Writer's block's ass: kicked!


***

I stayed up a smidge later than I'd intended, not because I was writing, but because after I finished writing, I went downstairs to plug in the iPad (the battery was sorely drained) and to start downloading the new iOS 5 update, and of course I had to fiddle with things for a while.

And then Alex woke me up at 5:30 with some incomprehensible complaint about noises in his room... and got up again at 5:40 to tell me the cat was in his room... and again at 5:50 to tell me he wanted a clean pullup...

My sleep's ass... kicked.