Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Get Ready For Better Focused Pictures of Meals and Animals

It's almost too embarrassing to list everything Stella, D., and I got as Christmas gifts this year. We are blessed and spoiled in many ways. But allow me one tiny bit of exuberant gloating!


It's my Awesome Christmas Present! I don't really know how to make a picture look good other than point, focus, and shoot (evidence below)...but that's not gonna stop me!



The T-Shirt Says It All



Julie



Chicklet


It's going to take me about six years to learn how to do everything on this camera. I can't wait to get started!

Dark, Rainy, Cold, Quiet, And Filled With Love

Today is the sort of day in which, if I were at work, I would be miserably thinking, "Today is the perfect day to spend in an unwashed, lazy marathon of fire-stoking, internet perusing, and sandwich making."

Well, since I'm not one to let myself down (every time I get the chance), and since this is the first day of my holiday break that I haven't had at least four or five obligations, that is exactly what I've done.

By the way - turkey, goat cheese, roasted red peppers, cucumbers and salad mix make a TERRIFIC sandwich.

I am a lazy, gluttonous, spoiled person.

But that's not what I came here to write. I came here to write about the reason that 2007 was the best year of my life.

I have never written or said those words before, "This was the best year of my life." I'm not that old but I'm not that young either, so it feels pretty amazing to write it out.

Coincidentally, today marks 365 days since I first set eyes on D.

There is still sadness in the world, in the past, and in my family. But I'm not consumed by it, as I might have been at one time. I remember an exercise a yoga teacher would have us do. When we were lying in corpse pose, she would say, "If a concern or worry or stressful thought comes to you, don't deny it or try to make it go away - address it, acknowledge its existence, and then let it go." It's a good tool for stopping the destructive cycle of negative thought. It's also nearly impossible to do when you've been stuck in that cycle, oh, most of your life. However, this is what I'm able to do, for the most part, most of the time now. It started very slowly but gained in momentum and confidence, this new way of living. Stupid clichés like "one day at a time" become unavoidable when describing how one is able to do this. I never expected a path to mental health and clarity to feel so much like the path to physical health. Stupid, huh? Of course it should feel similar!

2007 was the year I felt stable. And I will never, ever take that for granted.

Thank you, D. for your patience, your quiet strength, your love, your friendship, and for my awesome Christmas present! I also sort of love the fact that our story begins with, "Well....I was in the bar the night after Christmas....."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Hell's House Band

I give you: Trans Siberian Orchestra.

A marriage of two of the the absolute worst subgenres EVER in music: Prog Rock and Christmas songs.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not Exactly The Holiday Spirit

I might not understand much about the way the world works - but I try.

I listen to the news on the radio and read several news sources so I try to get information from several sources.

And I'm frustrated and angry with our government. I even went so far as to write (er, email) my representatives in Congress last month. I told them that I wanted them to pay more attention to domestic issues, such as this SCHIP (Children's Health Insurance) bill and social causes. I told them that under no circumstances should they put a bill involving war(s) funding before the President without listing a timetable for withdrawal. I might as well scream into a black hole.

So what happens? Congress gives the President 70 million more dollars, no strings. SCHIP will run out of money around I think May for most states. I just use those two bills as examples because I've been following them closely. The SCHIP bill is of particular interest to me because my daughter was a recipient of the Arkansas version for several years and it was a (literal, in one case) lifesaver for us.

What else can I do? I'm seriously asking. What can I do when I realize I am not living in a country with a representative government. I mean....what do you, these readers think? Am I the only one who is angry about the course of events here? I know that one is a rhetorical question because I talk to people who feel the same way I do. Maybe I should talk to people who DON'T feel the same way. If any of you out there reading this think that the SCHIP bill's latest passage was right, or who fully support additional funding from here to god-knows-when for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, please explain why. Because what more can I do? I vote. I encourage others to vote. I glean information. I read. I discuss. And yet I am at the end of my (pardon) fucking rope.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Surprise!!

So for the better part of a year now I've been enjoying reading and commenting back and forth with the delightful Step Right Up.

And today she shocks the everliving daylights out of me by revealing that it's my longtime (I will never say "old") friend Stacey! And she's gettin' hitched! And she wants me to be a bridesmaid!

I'm over the moon. Thrilled, surprised, excited!!!!!

And I feel just a little dumb. Like, how could I not figure it out????

Best trick ever.

I'm so happy today.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Probably Why I Was Single For So Long

Picture this:
It's late-ish Friday night, a near-freezing rain has been pouring down for days. We're expecting snow possibly and ice certainly. After the obligatory Work Christmas Party, D. and I head to the one godforsaken place where we can get all of our necessary items (rock salt, shovel, dog food, comfort food fixin's, cigarettes) at once - yes, you know it - Wal-Mart.

We soldier on through the holiday crowds and are tantalizingly close being done, prepared for the worst and at home, sitting in front of the fire. We're waiting in the one Cigarette Line because my sweetie is (sadly...and not for much longer?) an addict. If you've ever been in a Wal-Mart, you know this line. It's the longest and crankiest.

So there we are. With our cart full of bad-weather provisions. The shifty-eyed guys in front of us are buying cigarettes (duh) but also three bottles of Robitussin apiece. Hm. That's some cough, guys. In other words, how sad and gross it must be, spending a terrible, cold, rainy night drinking cough syrup to get high and smoking cigarettes.

But back to us. The checkout guy, who I imagine has probably been on his feet for hours and hours dealing with holiday shoppers, scans everything very quickly because they all have UPC codes but then gets to the VERY LAST ITEM, a lone orange pepper. I specifically chose this pepper for the chili I planned to make because it was more than a dollar cheaper than the red pepper ($2 and 40 friggin' cents each). The guy puts it on the scale and punches in the code, I see it come up on the register as "Red Pepper - $2.40" and, before I could even stop myself, I burst out with, "No. That's an ORANGE pepper and it's a dollar twenty." And with those few words, thus began our descent into hell.

The guy tries to void the previous scan and ends up somehow charging us for four orange peppers instead (now well over $5). He keeps punching the same buttons and getting the same beeping error message. He tries again. Same thing. Again. Same beeps. The line behind us is growing. People are shifting their weight and starting to stare daggers into our eyeballs. I can't even look at D. because I'm afraid of what I might see in his expression - disbelief, frustration, and possibly fury." I can read his thoughts, though, "Alannah! ONE DOLLAR'S DIFFERENCE!!! We were almost out of here. Why, oh why couldn't you keep your trap shut? Just this one time?"

Checkout guy turns on the blinking light to call over a manager. She punches the very same buttons. Same beeping errors. She tries several more times. Mutiny in the cigarette aisle is imminent. D. is offering to pay the $5 extra, $10, whatever.... just get us the F out of there. In my weak attempt to make up for all this trouble, I run back to the frozen section to trade in D.'s halfway melted Ben and Jerry's for a new pint. The manager tells us we have to go to customer service to figure this out. By the time I come back with fresh, frozen ice cream, D. is walking back with four crisp dollars in his hand, and the comforting knowledge that he's got himself the craziest, cheapest, penny-pinchingest girlfriend in the world.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Think The Grindstone Has Ground Me To A Fine Dust

This has been a tough week. I guess no tougher than many, but maybe my coping mechanisms are a little faulty right now. Tensions always run higher around the holidays. I haven't had problems with anyone in my immediate life but I can feel that my patience is lower, and my tolerance isn't where it should be. So don't push me, is all I'm sayin'.

I had my first ever salon mishap, wherein my hairstylist (who is also a very dear friend I've known since we were 13) was touching up my roots and giving me a trim - no biggie, right? - but somehow, someway, dyed half my head a dark, drab brown. With my blond at the ends. We both tried not to freak out, but it was clearly something of a disaster. Of course, not on a global scale...but this was my hair! Women take their hair very seriously. She's fixed most of it and I'm going back in for a follow-up dye session on Saturday but whew, that kinda threw me.

Then that very same night (and I still can't figure out how, exactly, I managed to do this), I had some weird spastic reaction and jerked my arm and spilled red wine all over a.) my friend's new couch, b.) her new, pricey rug, and c.) my off-white skirt. There was a moment of "Oh shit! What do we do?" before we all scattered to grab rags and stain removers. But all the stains came out. I am a diligent stain-remover. You should know that about me.

So..this was a banner week for color and stain mishaps. I'm only drinking white wine and vodka from now until forever.

And I wouldn't even say those events were what made this week so tough. It's the undercurrent of stress that never goes away. I think I need a change. Not a drastic change, but a change.

No, you know what I REALLY need? I need that Christmas week break to hurry up and get here. EIGHT MORE DAYS!!!!!!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Weekend Blahgging

This week's Creepiest Christmas Find is a nativity scene starring a diverse group of Precious Moments-esque kids, currently selling for $9.97 in Wal-Mart..... KIDS!... IN A NATIVITY TABLEAU!... WTF?


I prepared brunch for 10 people today. It pretty much took all day long to prepare, clean up, and recover from. The menu:
  • Tray of cheese, crackers. sausage, and salmon dip
  • lemon blueberry corn muffins
  • ham, swiss, and crimini mushroom "quiche" on puff pastry
  • vegetable quiche with yellow squash and red peppers
  • scalloped potatoes
  • steamed asparagus
D. and I survived the families meeting for the first time. The tree is up and decorated. We accomplished a lot this weekend. Now I'm praying for this ice storm tonight to be bad enough that I can take the morning off tomorrow.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Are We Really This Kind of People?

The kind of people who walk, arm in arm, around the Square listening to piped in Christmas carols and looking at the lights?
The kind of people who take a ton of pictures of their kids riding camels around the Square?




And, worst of all...the kind of people who do THIS to their pets?



I guess we are. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Past Few Weeks

I finally took the time to empty out the ol' memory card.

Thanksgiving dinner table:




The Pies!

Coconut and Chocolate Cream


Pumpkin and Pecan Praline


Last Thursday we went to our friends' 10 Year Anniversary party. A whole house filled with love! Ten years is the aluminum anniversary, so one of the guests brought this amazing, unique, and beautiful arrangement made from painted sticks, aluminum foil and Hershey's kisses.

Kids: always a reliable source of entertainment.

The Enchanting Abbey and Kole Who Cannot Sit Still.

Robin - More beautiful today than her wedding day ten years ago.


Last weekend I took my students on our scheduled Social Justice-themed trip to Little Rock. Here we are in front of Central High School.



Dale Chihuly's breathtaking blown-glass tree, made for the Millenium Celebration at the White House, now on display at the Clinton Library & Museum.

We happened to be at the Clinton Library on World Aids Day. This year's largest display of the AIDS Quilt in the U.S. was spread out on the grounds.

I should have a semi-regular segment called "I ♥ The Internet." Because I do. I love how it connects me with people I should know already. This weekend I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at Stephanie's house. We "met" via Megan Chapman's blog and it turns out our kids go to school together and we have a ton in common. Sunday we worked on jewelry, ate yummy snacks, and "clicked." It was the best Friend First Date ever! When I saw that her boys were eating this for dinner, I knew we could totally relate to each other. There are just some nights when you look over and realize your child is eating Lucky Charms straight out of the box, topped off with shrimp and cocktail sauce, and you think, "Well..it does say it's made with Whole Grain...and shrimp...there's your protein!" Not to mention the fact that it was SO FUN to say, "I'm sorry, but I've got to take a picture of this for my blog" and know that she wouldn' t be totally creeped out by it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thoughts On: No Country for Old Men

I have this odd habit where I try not to read reviews of books, films, or music until I've experienced it firsthand. Then I go and find all the reviews I can and read them obsessively, curious to see what other people thought about it.

I gleaned enough about No Country for Old Men beforehand (adapted from a Cormac McCarthy book, written & directed by the Coen Brothers) that I knew it would definitely be worth seeing.

Watching the film in the theater was a completely nervewracking experience. It was one of the most suspenseful and unsettling films I've seen in a long time. I don't like scary movies and I hate gore and even though this film featured more than enough awful stuff, it somehow transcended its baser elements. It wasn't the blood and murder and fear that affected me. It was Tommy Lee Jones's craggy, heartbroken face at the end. His character was like our collective father, tired and disappointed with every choice we've made that led us to where we are now. I don't want to give anything away, but his face told the whole story and captured the title of the film so succinctly.

Most of the reviewers came to the same conclusion - the filmmaking was near perfect, the performances were spot-on...everything was exactly as it should be. It's thrilling to watch a film where every element is brought together in such an expert manner. The screen faded to black and we just sat there for a minute....taking it all in. I appreciate that the Coen Brothers sort of stepped back and let the film tell the story and the pace set itself. I know that doesn't really make sense, but they have a tendency to put their own humor into the film, particularly in making fun of characters they see as stupid. But here they stayed out of their own way and let the sparseness of the setting and storytelling be filled with our own unspoken fears.

I'm not sure I'm equipped to write film reviews.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Leftovers As Far As the Eye Can See

It's been a very full week, with more working, resting, eating, socializing, cooking, cleaning, activity, and sloth than I had anticipated.

I am grateful for a lot this Thanksgiving. No matter how tired and grumpy and bloated and overcaffeinated and hungover and stressed out I've been, I've never forgotten how truly blessed my life is right now.

Stella helped me make four pies - pumpkin, coconut cream, chocolate cream and perhaps the best pecan pie I've ever tasted....more like a praline, with lots of pecans.

Tonight my sweetie and I are going to see No Country For Old Men. I love that it's still only Saturday.

Only in Arkansas:
Last night I had to run to Wal-Mart. I know, I know. I hate it too. But what else am I supposed to do when I need dog food, toothpaste, tampons, firewood, snacks, and cheese all at once? I hate how convenient it can be. And of course it's not really all that convenient, even. So I'm pushing the cart down an aisle when I hear the Muzak stop and a voice comes over the store intercom announcing that the Hogs have beaten LSU in a third overtime score of 50-48. People cheered. Then went back to shopping. I got a kick out of it and later relayed this story to an old friend. "Oh that's nothing," She said, "One time we were having a very nice Italian dinner in Tontitown when dinner was interrupted for the same sort of reason. Only the entire restaurant then proceeded to call the hogs."

Hey, it's exciting - beating the #1 team!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Raindrops on Roses...

Today I watched this year's Oprah's Favorite Things episode.

Sigh.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you're lucky. It's her annual "stamp of approval" gift idea show and she gives one of everything to her studio audience.

It was completely obnoxious...not least of all because Oprah rushed through everything and brayed in her dramatic way and was talking in an affected, weird, southern accent. The show was annoying mostly because that stuff is outrageously impossible for the average non-Oprah. Who's going to buy a $3,000 refrigerator as a gift? Or nine cupcakes for $60 (plus shipping!)? It's stupid. And unrealistic. And not even that unique or cool. A KitchenAid mixer, Oprah? Really? Uggs? You can't be serious.

So I thought I might do an Alannah's Favorite Things post. These are just things I've run across that have caught my eye, made me pause and think, "That is SO CUTE." Do not feel obligated to buy me the following items, but please...if the urge strikes you, do not repress it. After all, nearly all of them are under $100! Buy them for your loved ones and wait for the gushing and "whereEVER did you find this?" to begin. So here we go:

THINGS FOR YOUR BODY
Fused glass belt buckles by Kiku Handmade. I love this grass one for $50.

I love everything I've tried from Lush. However, these handmade bath and body products are not for the scent-sensitive types! Everything is powerfully (but naturally!) perfumed with essential oils, and deliciously so. My all-time favorite product of theirs is the Butterball bath bomb, pictured above. They leave your skin so soft and yummy you'll be petting and sniffing yourself all night. Like a spoiled lapdog. Maybe I shouldn't try to write copy for this sort of thing. Moving on!


Handmade wooden circle earrings by Natalie Tischler. I love this combination of wood, gold, vintage, and handmade. Only $38!


My gorgeous and stylish colleague, Miranda, was wearing the cutest striped cotton tights last week, similar to these. Of course she got them when she lived in Europe, where they know how to decorate a leg. Thus began my journey of searching online for colorful, comfortable, well-made cotton tights. Sock Dreams call themselves the best sock store in the universe and they're not lying! The ones pictured above are half the price of the Italian tights, and every bit as cute.


Until I can find a suitable replacement for the now-defunct Lush ginger perfume, I'll have to stick with Kiehl's Coriander oil mixed with Kiehl's Grapefruit. The Coriander is spicy and sweet while the Grapefruit scent is fresh and light. Together they're neither too sweet, too spicy, or too fruity. I guess I like to smell like food. Surprise, surprise.


Back me up here, girls. Doesn't it seem to be getting harder and harder to find cute boots? I work on a college campus and the students all wear those godawful Uggs, moon boots or these huge faux-furred atrocities that look like they should be crossing the tundra instead of going to class. But these lovelies above are quite the exception. AND they're on sale! I really need these red boots. NEED.


This bracelet is one of the most expensive items on my list, but also one of the coolest and most unique. It's made from recycled vintage typewriter keys cast in sterling silver. This would be perfect for a design or font-obsessed girl in your life. The rings and earrings are also cute, but I like the look of several keys strung together.


FOR YOUR HOME


I am crazy about the organic shapes of these baskets. Burl wood is so beautiful. I imagine these filled with dinner rolls, fresh fruit, or even just the weird, random, totem items we collect throughout our lives. Or is it only me?



These cowgirl coasters would make a great stocking stuffer or White Elephant gift. Giddy up!



I've given Gorilla Glue as a stocking stuffer before. I love utilitarian stocking stuffers (batteries, memory sticks, nail files) mixed with more frivolous, fun things. This is an incredibly handy thing to have around. You never know when you'll need to fix a chair leg, or replace a dislodged rhinestone.


It would be nice to have all the Lingolook sets. I have no immediate travel plans, but I want to be prepared in case that last minute trip to Paris or Tokyo materializes.


All-purpose cleaner, Alannah? For a GIFT? Wasn't the Gorilla Glue bad enough? I can't help myself. This is a list of my favorite things and I love every single one of Meyer's geranium-scented products. And they're such expensive cleaning products that I'd be thrilled to receive any of them as a gift. Even the toilet-bowl cleaner. Well, maybe not "thrilled."


I love these oilcloth bags. They're colorful, sturdy, and cheap. I hope they get the rest of the colors in stock soon.



Did you know there was a luxury market for incense? Oh yes - it's not just for hippies and Catholics. Shoyeido Japanese incense is very clean-burning and subtle. If it's not already blatantly obvious, I really like for my surroundings to smell good.


This is the coolest lamp! It recharges in sunlight and comes on automatically when it gets dark. I want them for the patio, for camping trips, for the deck. I'm curious to see it work in person, too. I'm imagining and hoping it puts out a warm, cozy light.


FOR YOUR LIQUOR CABINET OR YOUR HOST


Prosecco is a different and tasty alternative to champagne (or "sparkling wine"). This Santa Margherita Prosecco is light and not too sweet. Perfect with appetizers.


Ang turned us on to this Cruz de Piedra rosé over the summer. It's one of our favorites. It's a tart and lush Spanish wine made from grenache grapes (please correct me, Ang, if I've got it all wrong). This would be great with poultry or lighter dinners. I'll drink it well into the winter.


I love this malbec. It's velvety and rich, very affordable and has an eye-catching drawing of thistles on the label. I'm a sucker for artsy wine labels.


First of all, how awesome is THIS bottle? Mee-yow! Put on some soft bow chicka bow bow music and bust this out after dinner and you're sure to get lucky. Mmmm.....a snifter of Meukow vanilla cognac next to a roaring fire? Oh yeah....Or better yet, include it with the item below:

Is this too much? I don't care. I am in love with this heart-shaped flask.


FOR YOUR KITCHEN

Who says utilitarian items can't also be pretty? This Culin knife with hibiscus flowers etched into the blade is calling my name. And again, it's very affordable.


This is kind of an odd little platter. That crest is bizarre, but I like it. And the crowns. I see it used for serving stout cheeses. Or little sausages. Something brutish.


These would also make a fun stocking stuffer. I didn't think cupcakes could get any more perfect until I saw these foil cups.


You really have to get these glasses together as a pair. One says "C'est la Vie" and the other "L'amour." Sickeningly adorable.



This lovely apron is not only a limited-edition handmade item, it's also 50% off! So hurry!


Okay, whew. I guess that's all. If I come across anything else I can't live without, I'll be sure to share it. I hope this list gave you some good gift ideas or at least got you looking for unique items. And you don't even have to go to the ma(u)ll!