Monday, December 31, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
But I'm starting to have ominous warning signs that all may not go as smoothly as I'd hoped... None of us have been very energetic since our bout with the uber-virus last month, but it seems to have been particularly draining for me. Last Saturday we went out for a yummy Chinese pre-Christmas dinner, then opened presents with my sister's family. On Sunday, Mark & I had breakfast with his sister, then after a long winter's nap, I went out with my cousins to look at Christmas lights in the evening.
None of this was particularly strenuous - I didn't even have to drive much. All I did was bathe, dress & eat, really. But it was apparently too much for my delicate system to handle. I awoke on Christmas Eve at about 1 in the afternoon, to find all the glands on the left side of my body swollen & tender. I ate some cereal, took my meds, then went back to sleep until about 5pm. Poor Mark had worked his cute little patootie off all weekend to have some free time on Christmas Eve, only to spend it watching me sleep. We did have a delicious ham dinner that evening, courtesy of Dad, but it was clear that Midnight Mass was no longer an option for me. So we tucked back up in bed & watched some TiVo to ring in the holiday.
Since then, I've had difficulty dragging my sorry carcass out of bed. I did manage to make an appearance at the Raymond family Christmas festivities on Tuesday, but I spent the majority of the holiday in bed. And the past 2 days haven't been much better. My glands do seem much less swollen today (yay!), but I'm still about as energetic as a ragmop.
And I awoke early this morning to an exciting new symptom: the good news is that it only affects one organ this time; the bad news is that it's my skin, which is... well, everywhere. I've had sore spots before, but they usually only affect one or two small areas at a time. But today, my ankles are screaming from the elastic band in my socks, the loose threads in my shirt tormented me until I just ditched it for a plush bathrobe, and I couldn't even stand it for Mark to touch me long enough to help me back upstairs after dinner (he often has to stand behind me & push, much as you would to get an elephant into a trailer).
Needless to say, this turn of events makes me feel less than optimistic about the impending Christmas party. At best, there's going to be a lot of last minute scrambling on my part to get my food prepared & to make the house presentable. Quite possibly, the whole thing may have to go on without me - which, to be fair, would probably only be a bummer to me for missing it. As guilty as I may feel for not helping enough, it wouldn't likely make much of a real difference in the amount of work everyone else has to do. My party-preparing capabilities have dwindled over the years to a point where Dad, Mark and the visiting team of Laura & John are usually responsible for the lion's share of the work, anyway. All I'd really need to do is give John my coveted Cheesy Potato recipe, and everything else should go along fine without me, I'd wager.
But it sure won't be very much fun for me... Of course, my girls would be excited to have the company, even if I'm too sore or tired to play with them. They're usually banished to our bedroom with the door locked during our parties, since much of the extended family is allergic to cats. So they're always stuck behind that closed door, listening to all the fun just outside & wishing they could be out there in the middle of the excitement, surrounded with laughter and merriment.
Unfortunately, this year it looks like I may find out for myself just how that feels.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Monday, December 24, 2007
As usual, we had a great time, along with lots of great food and even better company. It's been hard for us to really get into the holiday spirit this year, but after our morning visit with the Pings, I think Mark & I are both feeling a lot more holly jolly.
So, as a symbol of our gratitude, I made this lovely little JibJab movie just for our breakfast hosts. As I did with the Christmas movie I made yesterday, I thought I'd also share this one here. It's pretty funny...
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Here's Dodd's interview about the filibuster from MSNBC's Countdown:
So, where were frontrunners Hillary and Barack? Campaigning in Iowa, naturally. Sorry, guys, but press releases supporting the filibuster just don't cut it. We needed your votes and your help on the Senate floor, not just your good wishes. Sure, campaign season is hectic, but why should we choose to elect you as president when you can't even fulfill your senatorial obligations? To his credit, Joe Biden did take out time to cast his vote - unfortunately, to his detriment, he only voted "present". Not much help there.
And why was it even necessary for Dodd to stage a filibuster when his own party is (theoretically) in power in both chambers of Congress? Ask Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who not only allowed this flawed, unconstitutional legislation to even come to a vote, but actually encouraged other Senate Democrats to vote for it. Baffling.
So, in attempting to thwart passage of a thoroughly un-American bill, Chris Dodd stood up to not only the Senate Republicans and the administration, but also to his own party leadership. Gee, a politician with principles, integrity and guts... Almost forgot those existed.
(Video courtesy of Crooks and Liars.)
1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? While I fall back on gift bags for most occasions, I really like to use wrapping paper for Christmas as much as possible. It seems more festive, and I always enjoy my Christmas gift-wrapping sessions, with holiday music in the background. While it's a bit more physically exhausting than using bags, I find it far more mentally relaxing.
2. Real or fake tree? Nothing but the best artificial tree for this family! Real trees have so much upkeep, and finding a good size can be tricky. Plus, with 4 cats in the house, a real tree is just asking for trouble!
3. When do you put up the tree? Right after Thanksgiving, usually... Alas, this year, we're still working on it. We've got the tree with lights & garland, but no ornaments yet. *sigh!*
4. When do you take the tree down? I always aim for Epiphany (January 6th), but I've been known to leave it up until February... A few years ago, I couldn't find the boxes for the ornaments, so I left my bedroom tree up all year! I kinda liked it... I used it for a nightlight. :>)
5. Do you like eggnog? Um, yeah. As a kid, I think I was the only one who liked it, so Grandpa Don would let me help him mix in the bourbon and god knows what else... So, while I appreciate the eggnog-flavored shakes & blizzards of the season, it's just not quite right unless it's swimming with booze. And while I, like my grandfather before me, always use bottled pre-prepared eggnog, I can now mix a pretty killer nog myself. Mark doesn't even like eggnog, but he'll drink mine... Some fresh nutmeg & cinnamon, bourbon, usually some rum, maybe some of whatever else is in the liquor cabinet. Mmmm... tasty.
6. Favorite gift received as a child? That's a hard one... I always got lots of good gifts, but I can't think of any one that stood out as the best.
7. Do you have a nativity scene? Several, actually.
8. Hardest person to buy for? Probably Dad. It's hard to get him to admit that he needs or wants anything specific.
9. Easiest person to buy for? Mark. I guess that's what happens when you've been with someone for 16 years...
10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Oh, it's so hard to pick... Is it one of the many cases of Christmas strep throat? Or the holiday bronchitis? No, probably the shingles I came down with on Christmas Eve a few years ago. Not very festive!
11. Mail or email Christmas cards? Mail, if I get to them at all.
12. Favorite Christmas Movie? Well, the best Christmas special of all time is John Denver & The Muppets: A Christmas Together, but that's not really a movie. So I guess I'd say the original Miracle on 34th Street. In the less-traditional vein, I'd pick Die Hard and Lethal Weapon - laugh if you must, but they are both set at Christmas, so they're Christmas movies.
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Sometime after Black Friday usually, although I often pick up a few things here or there before then. Usually, I order a lot of things online, especially this year. I don't think I even set foot in a store this year...
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? I don't think so.
15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Archway Christmas cookies - Bells, Stars or Trees will do, but I also like the fancier ones. Candy canes are pretty sweet, too.
16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Clear on my bedroom tree, but always colored on the main tree in the family room. It just looks more festive that way.
17. Favorite Christmas song? I really like most of them, but for the past few years I've been hooked on "Feliz Navidad".
18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Stay home. It's best for the rest of the family to come unto me... I don't travel well these days.
19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeers? On Donder, on Blitzen, on Chuy, on Tavo - come on, Berto! Oh, wait, that's Cheech & Chong... Let's see: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner/Donder and Blitzen. And Rudolph, of course.
20. Angel on the tree top or a star? I like a star, but our tree is too limp at the top to support one. We usually have a ribbon bow instead.
21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Santa always came to our house fairly early on Christmas Eve - I think he went in alphabetical order, so we were near the top of the list since our name started with a B. So we always opened our presents on christmas Eve. Then the next day we would go to Grandma Jeanne's & open presents again. These days, though, we usually open our presents whenever the Memmers can be here - this year it will be on the 22nd. We have Christmas Day with Mark's family, but we don't do presents anymore - there are too many of us, and no little kids.
22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? I would say traffic and crowds, but as I said before, I haven't been out to shop this year, so it hasn't been an issue. So instead I would say annoying commercials.
23. What I love most about Christmas? Just about everything... I love the lights & decorations, wrapping & unwrapping presents, spending time with family & friends. And I always dig some Christmas tunes.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
In the early 1960’s the legendary Jim Henson began creating characters that would come to be known as Muppets.
He liked to tell reporters that he combined the words marionette and puppet to come up with his own name, but it would later be revealed that he just liked the name and rolled with it.
There are plenty of Muppet characters to choose from, but this week’s question only asks for seven.
THIS WEEK’S QUESTION:
Name your seven favorite Muppet characters.
- Gonzo the Great
- The Swedish Chef
- Fozzie Bear
- Miss Piggy
Friday, December 14, 2007
Imagine my delight, then, to discover that tomorrow's episode of BMJ will feature an interview with the man himself, Mr. Keith Olbermann. It's like a wonky liberal's wet dream... I have to admit, I'm drooling a bit in an uncontrollable Pavlovian response to the mere thought of the juicy tidbits to come. For me, it's a bit like getting to see the Beatles play with Springsteen. Sad, I know, but it's true.
In a strange coincidence, I rated Olbermann and Moyers as numbers 1 and 2 respectively in a meme post just 4 days ago, in which the task was to list your 7 Most Trusted news anchors/reporters. Of course, now I've become suspicious that I have magical powers over time and space which somehow brought on this wonderful confluence of events...
You see, this isn't the first time that I've caused something to happen on my TV by sheer force of will. Just ask Mark - he says I'm not allowed to speak anymore during serial dramas like Heroes, 24 or The Sopranos because I keep killing off characters.
It's not that I claim responsibility for every fictional TV death I witness - there are plenty that I don't see coming. But from time to time, for some inexplicable reason, I feel the uncontrollable urge to point at the screen and say "He/she is going to die RIGHT NOW", at which point the character in question inevitably expires within seconds. Several times it has happened immediately, before I even finished my sentence, and it always happens before I can put my hand down. I'm not sure if it's the pointing or the words that do the deed - possibly it's a combination of the two.
As if that weren't disturbing enough, I've also pinpointed the cause of the death in every case - i.e. assassin's bullet, heart attack, poison gas. Sometimes these are a gimme (when Fox runs commercials for a week about a poison gas attack on the next episode of 24, it's not exactly rocket science to figure out that someone will die), but in several cases the deaths were "Big Surprise" plot points which I somehow anticipated.
I would be more specific, but I hate spoilers, so I don't want to ruin any plot points for people who may not have seen the shows in question. Suffice to say that, while I just find the whole thing amusing, Mark is convinced that I have some sort of supernatural power over the life and death of fictional characters. I think maybe he just watches too much Heroes.
Anyway, I'm tingling in anticipation for Keith on BMJ tomorrow night. Just to be on the safe side, though, I'd better sit on hands throughout the show... I'd hate to accidentally assassinate one of the Most Trusted men in news.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I do have lots of ideas, though - you know, for when we're millionaires and can afford to buy whatever we want & hire someone else to install & remove it each year. If that ever happened, I have a feeling we might end up with something like this:
Monday, December 10, 2007
Years ago, Walter Cronkite was known as the most trusted man in America.
But these days, when it comes to national newscasters, who do you trust most? Which ones are the most likely to give you the straight dope on what’s really going on in the world? Start thinking now, because that’s this week’s topic. And note that I’m specifying national (or network) newscasters so that everyone can immediately have an idea of who you’re talking about without getting lost in the list of local-only anchor/reporters.
On to this week’s question!
THIS WEEK’S QUESTION:
Name seven of the living national (or network) anchors you trust the most.
Either answer the question in a comment or answer it in your journal and include the link in a comment. (To be considered “first to play,” a link must be to the specific entry in which you answered the question.) You may include this link in the URL space when leaving your comment, or in the comment itself. As long as it’s there in one spot or the other.
1.) Keith Olbermann (no surprise there)
2.) Bill Moyers
3.) Jon Stewart (perhaps a sad comment on the state of American media, but there you have it)
4.) Christiane Amanpour
5.) Tim Russert
6.) Bob Schieffer
7.) Anderson Cooper
Sunday, December 9, 2007
This was not one of those days.
I set my alarm this morning, so I'd be sure to have plenty of time to get ready for one of my favorite traditions: the Raymond family Young Ladies' Tea, which is scheduled once a year around Christmastime. My lovely and talented sister-in-law Patty arranges this awesome event each year, and it's always a ton of girly fun.
This year's tea took place at 1:00 in the afternoon, so the fact that I had to set my alarm to be ready should give you some idea of how pitiful my life is on a day-to-day basis. Anytime I need to be up before noon, I always have to set my alarm. It's possible that I might wake up before that, but I can't count on it.
But this morning, I was awake for several hours before my alarm went off...which should be a good thing. Unfortunately, the reason why I was awake on this occasion was that I was curled up in the fetal position, wracked with pain. I'm not exactly sure why - usually I can trace my most severe fibromyalgia flares back to instances of physical exertion or unusual stress. For example, I had some nasty muscle cramps & pain in my right arm starting this past Tuesday night, which were easily explained by the potato peeling & mashing I had done earlier in the evening for our post-Thanksgiving turkey feast. Not exactly weight lifting or anything, but for me, that's a lot of exercise.
But I was feeling much better by Friday, and didn't do anything else strenuous all weekend. I was itching to finally put up the Christmas tree, but I purposely didn't so I'd have a better chance of feeling well enough to party with the ladies on Sunday afternoon. I've learned to plan out my life in this fashion, trying not to schedule activities too close together so I have plenty of time to rest & recuperate between events. I did everything I could to ensure that I'd be feeling up to the 40-minute drive to Patty's and the frivolity that would ensue.
So, back to this morning... It took me about 40 minutes to unclench myself, and then I was faced with the trickiest task of the day - trying to get out of bed and into the bathroom without falling or otherwise hurting myself. When this happens to me on weekdays, my usual plan of action involves as much stretching while still in bed as my bladder can tolerate, and then a lot of trial & error. Sometimes leaning on the bedpost helps; other times my arms are far too sore to bear my weight. I have to make a few trial attempts at standing, until I'm satisfied that I've at least got a chance at holding myself upright. If I succeed, and I can manage to make it the 6 steps to the bathroom door, I'm usually good.
Other times, though, like this morning, I'm lucky enough to have Mark nearby when I'm trying to get up. I usually don't even have to ask for help - I think it's the soft sobbing & whimpering noises that tip him off. It typically takes about 10 minutes or so for him to gently extract me from the bed and guide me to the bathroom - this morning, I almost fell when I stepped on a piece of stray cellophane wrapping on the floor. I couldn't see it, since it was clear, but it felt like I had stepped on a jagged rock or some broken glass. That's pretty common with fibromyalgia, I understand - my pain threshold is just completely out of whack. A few tiny crumbs in the bed feels like sleeping on pebbles to me. I call it the "Princess and the Pea" factor. Whatever the cause, it gets really annoying sometimes, especially when I'm trying to concentrate on something important, like remaining upright. Luckily, Mark was standing by to catch me this time.
After I made my way to the bathroom & took care of business, I pulled myself back upright using the countertop, and turned to see myself in the mirror. I looked about as good as I felt: wan, unkempt, cheeks bright red from exertion, eyes bright red from tears. I looked at my hair, which was particularly askew from all my tossing & turning. I picked up my hairbrush, only to release it almost immediately with the realization that I couldn't lift my arm above my shoulder, so brushing my hair would be impossible.
It had already occurred to me that it would be unlikely that I'd be able to drive myself to the tea party, between the restricted motion and the muscle relaxers & pain meds I'd need just to get dressed. This is a common problem for me, so I had already made contingency plans for Mark to drive me if this happened. But it wasn't until I was staring at my reflection in the mirror that it dawned on me that I would never be able to get myself dressed & presentable in time for the party, regardless of whether or not I was in too much pain to have fun.
That's when I lost it. It's not unusual for my pain to cause a few tears, as it already had earlier this morning, but it's never so bad that it makes me sob uncontrollably. As Mark commented knowingly when he came to check on me, it's always the frustration that really brings the tears. And he's absolutely right. There was also sadness & disappointment that I would once again miss a family function, particularly one that is always so enjoyable. But the overwhelming feeling is always frustration: at myself, at circumstances, but mostly at this disease that has robbed me of so many things in my life. I think that, for the most part, I handle my condition and it's consequences & limitations with considerable aplomb. But days like today, which luckily only occur every so often, just push me a bit too far.
As if I didn't feel useless enough, I was unable to stop crying long enough to phone Patty to tell her I couldn't make it to the party. Every time I calmed myself down & picked up the phone, the tears would start all over again. Like I wasn't already embarrassed enough at having to cancel plans yet again - now I couldn't even pull myself together long enough to speak for myself. I finally asked Mark to call her for me, which he was happy to do. Needless to say, dignity was in short supply around here this morning.
Of course, Patty was very gracious about my cancellation and expressed her concerned for me, and I'm sure she knows that I had my heart set on spending time with her & the rest of the girls today. This is not the first time I've had to cancel plans with Patty, so I don't think she was too surprised to get the call. I just wish I had been able to express my regrets personally. Well, more than anything, I wish I had been able to actually attend in the first place, but it just wasn't in the cards today.
This is the part where I say that I'm really not feeling that sorry for myself, and that I know things aren't as bad as they sometimes seem. I had a bad day, and it was upsetting, but I still have so many blessings in my life, not the least of which is the love & support of a wonderful, caring husband. Mark was right by my side to help me up, both literally and figuratively, and I would never take that for granted. Within moments of my morning meltdown, he had me laughing and smiling, which was no mean feat. There are a million reasons why I love him, and days like this make me love him just a little bit more.
I could go on, but I think I need to stop typing for awhile & rest my arms. It starts all over again in the morning, and I'd like it to be a better morning than I had today.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Luckily, we are all feeling a bit better now, which is truly incredible considering that my mother, who has smoked gleefully and faithfully for over 40 years, was informed this past weekend that she had a rather advanced case of COPD and would need to stop smoking immediately.
I remember how tough it was to quit, and I only smoked for less than 10 years. I also had the luxury of setting my own timetable and game plan for quitting. Needless to say, I was expecting Mom to be a bit of a crankypants for at least the next few weeks - and understandably so. Imagine my surprise to instead find her in what I would call an extraordinarily good mood since she's been home from the hospital. I would say that she's actually in higher spirits than I've seen her in years.
Mom has become increasingly depressive over the past decade, as her neurological disability has slowly yet steadily robbed her of her freedom, her ability to walk and drive, and her plans for being an active, helpful participant in the lives of her grandchildren. Each passing day seems to bring a new limitation on what she can safely do on her own, which must certainly be extremely difficult to handle emotionally. So any upswing in her mood is cause for celebration. That this has coincided with the end of her smoking (hopefully for good) is nothing short of a miracle.
We have all been a bit bummed by the fact that we were so sick that we completely missed Thanksgiving this year, so Mom's pleasant demeanor over the past few days has jumpstarted a bit of the festive mood that had so far eluded us this holiday season. It occurred to me yesterday that Mark had purchased a turkey for us for Thanksgiving, which had been languishing forgotten in the fridge ever since he succumbed to the family plague. If we were going to salvage it, we would need to cook it up ASAP.
So, with the addition of a few cans of green beans, mushroom soup & french fried onions, we had a holiday meal in the making. Throw in some Stovetop stuffing, mashed potatoes & gravy, cranberry sauce and a can of crescent rolls and voila! Thanksgiving was joyfully resurrected for our little family unit. Nothing fancy, but no hours of cooking and cleaning were necessary either, which suited us fine this year. I just popped that turkey in the oven & waited for the timer to ring.
And I think we were all happy to have this opportunity, belated as it was, to celebrate and to give thanks. It's been a tough road, but we're all glad to be on the road to recovery. After Mom's breathing scare, we're all keenly aware of how lucky we are to be together around the table at all, much less around a table filled with our favorite foods. While it is easy to get bogged down in negativity when the going gets rough, the truth is that we are each of us blessed every day in a multitude of ways.
And for that, we give thanks.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Bottom of a dark Scottish lake..."
It... is... alive! Barely, but I think that still counts.
Finishing out Day 9 of the plague that has taken over my family, and I'm finally starting to feel a little bit human again. I'm still completely wiped out, but the fever, chills, nausea and even some of the cold symptoms have begun to pass.
I know it will be days or even weeks before I'm back to normal (whatever that means), but I rejoice in any sign, however small, that the pestilence that has been visited upon us is finally lifting.
Thanks to everyone for being so patient with me & sticking around here even without any recent updates. Thanks also for your kind get-well messages - I really appreciate all the warm wishes. I hope to get back in the swing of blogging by the end of this week, assuming that my health continues to improve (knock wood). I really miss it & I can't wait to get started.
I'll check in again soon. Until then, it's back to bed for me. Hopefully I'll be up & around before New Years... ;>)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
The first distraction from my normal blogginess was the big surprise party we've been planning for my Mom's 60th birthday, which took place this past Saturday. We had a turnout of almost 50 people, which is officially the biggest party we've ever had at our house. It went really well, but took a lot of planning and setting up by all of us: Dad, Laura, John and Mark all brought their "A" game in a big way. I'm pretty sure we managed to surprise Mom, at least mostly. She knew my grandparents were coming, and I think she may have figured out that we had invited a few more people than we had admitted to, like her brother & his family. But she was not expecting the deluge of well-wishers that we had lined up for her, and I know she was very pleasantly surprised to see everyone.
After all that hard work and the loads of fun we had at the party, we planned nothing for Sunday except relaxing & catching up on our TiVo'd programs. But alas, it seems the party gods demanded a sacrifice for blessing our party with so much good food & drink and great company. I awoke Sunday morning with what I believed to be a nasty cold, but have since discovered is actually an even nastier flu, complete with fever, chills and a bit of vomiting. And as of yesterday, the pandemic has spread to both my parents, as well. Somehow (miraculously) Mark has managed to avoid the plague that has been set upon us, at least so far. And believe me, I'm knocking on wood as I type this, 'cause the last thing we need is our only wage-earner (and my personal choice for Favorite Housemate) brought low for days by this miserable flu bug.
So I am currently in Day 4 of my illness, and it has yet to get any better. Some symptoms have come and gone, only to be replaced by others. But I'm hanging in there, and I'm sure I'll be back to my blogging soon. We're all pretty certain to miss Thanksgiving, though, which bites. I'll probably ship Mark off to his sister's house, so at least he can have a semi-normal holiday. He deserves much more than that, with all the extra hours he's been putting in lately. And who knows - maybe we'll have a big Thanksgiving-y meal here at home in a week or two, when everyone's had a chance to recover.
I have lots of photos and some video from the birthday party, which I plan to share here when I'm feeling a bit better. My personal favorite is the show all the kids put on for us - what a hoot! But it's a really long clip that will need some editing to upload, and I'm just not up for that yet. So, until I'm back in the blogging saddle, I leave you with this - a short video clip from Mom's party, primarily featuring my cousin's daughter Rebekah and her mad dancing skills:
Rebekah Shakes Her Booty from Barbara Raymond on Vimeo.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The promos make the show seem a bit dry, and sometimes it is, but I'm always pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy the Journal. Bill Moyers has long been one of my heroes, and this clip illustrates some of the reasons why.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
This was definitely cause for celebration, so we planned a short road trip to one of our favorite places to unwind, particularly in the fall. It's not fancy, and there's nothing much exciting to do in the immediate area, but one thing the small town of Spencer, Indiana has to recommend it is a great little eatery called Hilltop Restaurant.
The origins of the moniker become clear immediately as you approach the Hilltop which, as the name suggests, is indeed atop a rather steep hill. I remember that years ago they used to close every winter, since the long twisty driveway would become particularly treacherous with snow or ice involved. I understand that they are now open yearlong, one would assume with the aid of a good snowplow and lots of road salt. But the delights that await you are well worth snaking your way up the incline, no matter what the weather.
The restaurant has been open under various names for almost 60 years, and it shows. I mean this in both positive and negative ways. The building shows its age, with some uneven floorboards and such, although it appears to have had some remodeling and updating over the past few years. The menu is also quite old-fashioned and somewhat limited, with your basic local staples of Hoosier fried chicken, baked ham or turkey, and the specialty Spencer Steak comprising the bulk of your choices. (Choices you make, oddly enough, in the quaint lobby before you are seated in the dining room.)
But variety is not the point at the Hilltop - you come here for an affordable, comfortable family-style meal with all the trimmings, and that is what you get. The entrees are fixed portion (i.e. 4 pcs. of chicken per diner - not exactly skimpy!), but everything else is shared by the table and is refilled as often as you like. And "everything else" here includes a lettuce salad - which is, quite literally, just lettuce tossed with a very light, sweet dressing made in-house - pickled beets, usually some raw veggies, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans (the yummy kind with lots of pork), creamy gravy and some tasty rolls accompanied by a fabulous orange marmalade.
I'm not much of a marmalade person, but this stuff is addictive. Unlike most marmalades I've had elsewhere, Hilltop's is not full of chunky bits of fruit and rind - it's almost creamy, with only a few visible flecks of finely shaved orange. It's an interesting and unexpected choice, as Southern Indiana is typically apple butter country, particularly in the autumn. But it does set Hilltop apart from other area restaurants, and as much as I like some fresh Brown County apple butter, I have to admit that I prefer the Hilltop marmalade.
Another thing that sets the Hilltop apart is its prices. We didn't even look at the menu on Saturday, as we knew what we wanted before we left home, but at last check the fried chicken dinner cost around $7-8 per adult. Drive just a few minutes east to the touristy Nashville area and you will likely pay significantly more for a comparable meal. Last time we were there, a fried chicken dinner at Nashville House cost more like $18 per person, and only included 3 pieces instead of 4. And while my family used to frequent the Nashville House back in the day, the chicken is sadly nowhere near as good as it used to be - and certainly nowhere near as good as the Hilltop's. You'd be much better served to order your Nashville House fried biscuits (their specialty, which are always excellent) to go, and make the short drive to Spencer for your chicken.
While Spencer may not have the picturesque Hoosier National Forest to recommend it (although it is right around the corner from McCormick's Creek State Park, which ain't too shabby), it is still quite scenic like most of Southern Indiana, and the area surrounding the Hilltop is almost picture-postcard perfect in the fall. The wrap-around walkway and back garden are beautiful in springtime, too, with lots of colorful flowers, but I always prefer the autumn colors - which are still stunning this year due to the late arrival of fall weather (notice I didn't say global warming... I was just thinking it).
We picked the perfect day for the trip, with sunny skies and beautiful fall colors all along the drive. As always, our meal was exceptional - the chicken was fresh, crispy and delicious, and the rolls with marmalade were heavenly. And afterwards, we enjoyed our traditional stroll around the building and through the garden. It was a perfect day, with perfect company.
I always get a little sentimental when we visit the Hilltop. Aside from the many terrific meals and memories Mark & I have shared there, it's also one of those magical places that can instantly transport me to my childhood. Nearly every Sunday of my youth, right after church, my grandparents would announce that they were going for a drive, and ask us kids if we wanted to come along - and we always did. My sister, my cousins & I must have traveled every highway and back road of Indiana (and some in Ohio, Illinois & Michigan, too) with Grandpa Don & Grandma Jeanne, usually with no destination in mind other than an off-the-beaten-path restaurant or perhaps a good antique store. Looking back, I now realize that the primary goal was almost certainly to keep us occupied & give our weary parents a much-needed break.
But these trips were a huge part of my childhood, and many of my fondest memories began with a Sunday drive with Grandma & Grandpa. I never understood how lucky we were to have that opportunity until I met my husband, whose family traditions were significantly different from mine. I always just assumed that every family went on Sunday drives to remote and interesting destinations. I thought all the kids my age had been to the Duesenberg museum in Auburn and the courthouse with the tree growing through the roof in Greensburg. One of my very first dates with Mark was a Sunday drive with Grandpa Don (this was sadly after Grandma Jeanne had passed away) to Lima, Ohio to check on his booth in the local antique mall. A lot of my personal history is wrapped up in these day trips, many of which included a stop at the Hilltop.
So as long as they'll keep serving up the tasty vittles and warm Hoosier hospitality, the Raymonds will keep coming to Spencer to soak it all in. A cherished childhood memory has become a treasured family tradition, and I think that's a wonderful thing. But even if I had never set foot in the place before yesterday, I would still recommend the Hilltop to anyone. Do yourself a favor, and let the kind folks at the Hilltop create some special memories and traditions for you, too.
Now playing: Barenaked Ladies - Light Up My Room
Friday, November 9, 2007
Annie has the sniffles. Actually, she has the full-blown, snot-filled sneezes. It's not attractive at all. It's probably really uncomfortable for her, too, since she reflexively shakes her entire monstrous head with each sneeze. She must have quite a case of kitty whiplash by now.
But it does make her very cuddly, which is unusual. She typically only likes to sit with me about once a week, in the middle of the night when it's very quiet. And she's usually done with me within about 10 minutes. If I didn't know better, I'd think she were a man.
But when she's feeling under the weather, I'm her favorite person, and it's kinda hard to get her off my lap. I'm sure it's mostly for the warmth, but she actually seems to enjoy being with me & all the attention she gets. Which is very sweet, but it makes it a bit tricky to use my laptop Keith when there's already something fat & furry in my lap.
I startled her a bit by starting to play some music, as her head was nestled up against the speaker. I thought that might shoo her away, but it turns out that she likes most of it. I did finally get rid of her with some Toadies, but she seemed to dig all my emo, and she was particulary fond of James Taylor. "Sweet Baby James" made her purr like crazy. Weird.
Her counterpart Blackie, on the other hand, is currently avoiding me. This could be because I yelled at her this morning when, in an attempt to wake me up (for no other reason than her own entertainment, mind you), she decided it would be a good idea to nibble on my face. She was mistaken, obviously.
Or, she could still be a bit skittish from yesterday, when I expressed my displeasure at having torn my bedroom apart for 6 hours, only to find that she had stolen my wedding ring. To be fair, I don't think she stole it on purpose, so I don't think we need to break out the cat handcuffs. Blackie, due to her unfortunate size, tends to... well, absorb things without realizing it, kinda like the Blob. I'm not sure if these things just become hopelessly trapped in her belly fat, or if maybe they can't escape her gravitational pull. But we always check there first when anything smaller than a breadbox is missing.
I'm not even exaggerating for effect here. She sucks up my TiVo remote all the time, sometimes changing channels inadvertently when she breathes. (And those things are pretty big - you can see it in the above Annie picture, laying on Mark's left shoulder). She once assimilated my cell phone, and let me tell you: you haven't lived until you've seen a 25 lb. scaredy-cat try to figure out why her tummy is vibrating and playing Flight of the Conchords songs. She kept trying to run away from it, but the phone was so firmly lodged in her fat rolls that she had made several circuits of the house before it finally escaped. Kinda pitiful, really.
So, you may ask, why did I not look there for my ring in the first place? Ah, but I did. I gave her belly as thorough an investigation as I could, until she finally protested & hunkered off into the corner to her favorite non-people-furniture cozy spot: a fluffy, folded fleece blanket next to her cat tower. From there she observed as I methodically destroyed my bedroom, tearing apart my freshly-made bed, crawling under all the furniture with a flashlight, and performing a few less rational searches, as well (refrigerator? toaster oven? boxes still sealed from our last move 5 years ago? Surprisingly, no luck).
Then, after a nice long nap, Blackie decided it was time for a nosh and got up to eat. She was still standing on her fluffy blanket, stretching, when the ring finally became dislodged from her generous gut. As it landed with a gentle "plop", she looked at it for a moment with her head cocked sideways, then continued on to the food bowls. And while a huge wave of relief washed over me at the sight, the first words out of my mouth were: "BITCH CAT! You watched me look for that ring for HOURS!" Which, in retrospect, may have been a bit of an overreaction...
So that may be part of the reason why I'm being avoided today. Or she might just be wedged in a doorway somewhere, waiting to be rescued, like one of those 1000 lb. people who can't get out of their own house without knocking down a wall.
I'd better go check, just in case.
Now playing: Toadies - Possum Kingdom
While this clip includes only the opening lines of his answer, be sure to check out the transcript excerpt below for all of Bushie's Words of Wisdom on Iraq, including the latest installment of The President Goofus Mysteries. I call this one "The Case of the Disappearing French Foreign Minister".
Idiot. I am continually surprised that this man was ever promoted past the fourth grade. I guess money can buy just about anything.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. My question is on Iraq. Mr. President, this morning you talked at length about Afghanistan, Iran, but not Iraq. And I wanted to ask both of you, is France reconciled with the United States, the United States is reconciled with France? So what about Iraq? Can France, for instance, help to get out of the Iraqi quagmire? And President Bush, where do you stand on Iraq and your domestic debate on Iraq? Do you have a timetable for withdrawing troops?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I don't -- you know, "quagmire" is an interesting word. If you lived in Iraq and had lived under a tyranny, you'd be saying, god, I love freedom -- because that's what's happened. And there are killers and radicals and murderers who kill the innocent to stop the advance of freedom. But freedom is happening in Iraq. And we're making progress.
And I can't thank the President enough for sending his Foreign Minister to Baghdad. It's a clear message that freedom matters; that when people are struggling to live in freedom, that those of us who have comfort -- the comfort of a free society ought to help them.
We had a difference of opinion with your great country over whether or not I should have used military force to enforce U.N. demands. I reminded a TV reporter -- I don't know if the person is here or not -- but I said, I just want to remind you that 1441 was supported by France and the United States, which clearly said to the dictator, you will disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. Now, I'm the kind of person that when somebody says something, I take them for their word.
Having said that, we had a difference of opinion. But I don't sense any difference of opinion now that a struggling democracy wants help from those of us who live in the comfort of free societies. And, Mr. President, the strong gesture of sending your Foreign Minister there wasn't a message to the United States, because we're good friends; it was message to the Iraqi citizens, that said, we hear your cries for freedom, we want you to succeed -- because one of the lessons of history is, free societies yield peace.
And so I appreciate your leadership on that issue and I want to thank your Foreign Minister for -- I don't see your Foreign Minister. Look, the guy was here. (Laughter.) Oh, there he is, yeah, next to -- look, the President was blocking; next to Madam Rice. Anyway, thank you, sir.
Now playing: Barenaked Ladies - Lovers In A Dangerous Time
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Monday, November 5, 2007
This is Annie.
Annie is one of my two kitty-babies, and has been with us for over 2 years. She fears nothing except dogs, and is sure that the entire house is her domain, even though Mark & I pretty much keep to the top floor of the house. Our other kitty, Blackie, sticks close to us, but Annie is the adventurous sort.
This is Alfie.
Alfie is one of my parents' two cats, and has been with them for many years - ever since his Auntie Laura saved him from some mean neighborhood boys who were beating him with chunks of winter ice. Alfie is at least 4 years older than Annie, and had been in our home for a good 3 years + before we ever got Annie & Blackie. He should be the alpha male in this abode.
You notice I emphasized the should. While he is every bit as intrepid as Annie, which is commendable at his advanced age, he becomes inexplicably timid around both my girls. He actively seeks them out - as he is doing fruitlessly in the above picture - yet the best he's been able to manage when he actually gets their attention is to become a white furry punching bag. Annie enjoys this immensely, while Blackie takes the whole thing very seriously, and gets all worked up about it. Blackie views Alfie the same way Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan view illegal Mexican immigrants. No laughing matter for her... But I digress.
Annie has developed the habit of wandering downstairs to where Alfie spends most of his time, and just loitering provocatively until he notices her. I like to call it "kitty entrapment". All he has to do is wander a bit too close to her and WHAM! The typical attack is characterized by a flurry of blows to Alfie's face, until he loses his balance or cowers in fear. Usually, this is the end of it, at least until he comes back for more (which he always does).
On a few occasions, though, Annie has chosen to deliver a parting shot to Alfie as he tries to escape her wrath. And this is the truly interesting part: as Mark has witnessed several times, Annie will wait until Alfie has turned his back on her to run away, then she advances to deliver an uppercut to his most sensitive of areas.
Yep, that's right. My darling little Annie has mastered the feline nut punch. And with a true uppercut motion, too, which almost seems impossible. And yet we've all seen it. And, sadder still, Alfie keeps coming back for more.
Maybe it's his history of abuse as a child - I mean, kitten - that has caused him enough self-esteem issues to allow him to live in such an abusive situation. But he keeps going back.
I guess you can't help everyone. And if you have male genitalia and are ever invited to Casa de Raymond, be on guard for Annie the Nut-Punching Supercat. She starts out sweet, but I make no guarantees. It's every man for himself around here, baby!
As always, it's just for fun - there are no actual prizes. I think the trial is its own reward, don't you?
Maybe not. But this is a pretty fun piece of trivia to have anyway.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
So I suppose it's fitting that the Indiana autumn provided the backdrop for one of the best days I've had in a long time. Not that I haven't had some good days this year - we had lots of fun on our triple-date in September, for example, and I've had some great times with Mark. I think that this day stands out from those only in the sense that it was unexpectedly good.
The evolution of my special Saturday was typical: Mark has been working through the weekends for the past few weeks, and I thought a girls-day-out might be beneficial for my best friend who, as you may recall, has had several recent health scares regarding her husband. Providentially, I received an invitation last week to attend an Open House for Vista Massage Therapy Group, a local spa which I had been meaning to try out for quite some time.
Massages are generally a bit out of my price range, and I actually noticed the last time I had one (probably 5 or 6 years ago) that I felt worse afterwards than I had before. I've since learned that this is very common with fibromyalgia patients - not that massage techniques can't be helpful, but the standard Swedish or deep tissue massages can be too harsh and make symptoms worse. The reason Vista had me on their mailing list in the first place was because I had been doing some research on any local masseuses that do specialized bodywork for fibromyalgia, such as trigger point therapy and myofascial release. They do, but the time has just never seemed right to go in & try an appointment. Plus, we were trying to cut our budget to the bone over the past 6 months or so, just to be cautious, until Mark felt happy & stable in his new position. So it was hard for me to justify a luxury like this, even though it is for pain management more than relaxation...
But things are pretty positive right now on the job front for Mark - he even felt confident enough to pay off our entire credit card debt, which tells me that he's pretty sure he'll be bringing in some steady money for now. So he encouraged me to go to the Open House and ask all my questions, and find out if they would be able to help me without being prohibitively expensive. As long as he didn't have to go, he was all for it.
Never having been to this place, I was a bit leery of what we would find. They invitation mentioned demonstrations of various techniques, vendors selling things like Mary Kay, crafts, air purifiers, and personal training. They also promised refreshments, which I figured would be a tray of vegetables and some cookies. Serena & I made a game plan before we went in, deciding to give it 15 minutes and then bolt if it was boring or if they started to put on the full press.
I will summarize the experience: Serena had a free foot massage and a free chair massage; I also had the foot massage, plus a free blended massage, with trigger point therapy included. So awesome! Add in some free wine and cheese, tiny chicken salad sandwiches, apple cake, pumpkin cake, and apple cider, and the novelty of getting to watch an ear candling in progress, and you've got quite a fiesta. We never made it to the free tarot readings or tuning fork therapy (??) - we were too busy being buffed to a shiny glow.
Follow this free relaxation event with lunch at the new Greenwood Cheesecake Factory, and you've got yourself a pretty remarkable day in progress. One pumpkin-pecan cheesecake and a mojito later, and life seems very good, indeed.
To top it off, we went to Bed, Bath & Beyond and Kohl's to do some girly shopping. For once, a day that was both fun and relaxing at the same time....I don't usually get that. I tend to either be relaxed but bored, or have fun but be pushing myself too hard.
They say that high on the list of therapeutic benefits of massage for fibromyalgia patients is the fact that it promotes and enhances healthy sleep. That's huge, because poor sleep is a major contributor - some even think it's the cause - to fibromyalgia symptoms. A restful sleep can change a lot for a fibro patient.
Serena brought me home around 5:30, and I was completely relaxed... So much so that I was counting sheep by 6:30, and slept most of the evening. I'm actually still really tired, but I thought I should try to stay up at least a bit so that I'll sleep through the night (for once). Anyway, if the goal of therapeutic massage is to promote sound sleep, I'd have to say "check" on that one!
All in all, a very fun, different, and educational outing. I signed up for a follow-up massage next week, so I can try the full experience & decide if it's something I want (& can afford) to do regularly. This first appointment should cost about $50 for an hour, which is pretty reasonable, I think. If it can make me feel as good as I did when I left there today, it's worth every penny.
If you live in the Indy/Greenwood area, I highly recommend giving Vista a try if you find you need some relaxation in your life. I also recommend that you check out their MySpace page & add them as a friend: they send occasional bulletins with specials and event notifications (that's how I knew about the Open House today) to keep you up to date on all their news & deals.
Now I'm off to another 10 hours or so of blissful sleep. Ahhh, sweet relaxation! ;)
Now playing: The Cure - Just Like Heaven
Friday, November 2, 2007
Aside from obsessing about my blog template issues (which I think are all worked out now, thank God) and all the Halloween hi-jinks (see previous post), I've also been elbow-deep in lots of other shenanigans. Such as:
- Planning & executing a super-secret 60th birthday party with (potentially) 60 guests for a woman who not only lives in my house, but has also never made it to any function on time - including her children's weddings, her husband's open-heart surgery, her own surgeries, and numerous parties in her own home.
- Gathering & arranging photographs for a collage, a personalized calendar and a 30-minute slideshow with music & effects for the above-mentioned birthday girl.
- Learning far more than I ever wanted to know about the differences between a C corporation and an S corporation, and the tax ramifications of each. Apparently my position as Secret Assistant to the Regional Manager of Ghost In The Machine, Inc. comes with some unsavory duties. To be fair, Mark warned me about that, but I thought he was just talking about sex stuff. Lesson learned...
- Setting plans in motion (scheduling, budgeting, shopping, etc.) for the other upcoming festivities: Thanksgiving, Alex's birthday, Christmas (which includes 2 small family gatherings and the yearly huge bash) & New Year's.
So, I may be spending a bit less time with my blogging, at least for awhile. Real life beckons, and I must heed the call. But I will undoubtedly still be lurking around, and I'll do my best to check in as often as I can.
I learned while having breakfast that singer/performer extraordinaire Robert Goulet had died. Right around lunchtime, I found out that my sister's kitty had just been put to sleep. (Poor Ty-Kitty!) And I was chopping vegetables for dinner when I got the call from my best friend, telling me to meet her at the emergency room. Her husband passed out at work, banged his head on something, and had to be rushed to the hospital.
I think perhaps the moral of this story is to avoid me around mealtimes, at least on Halloween.
Since I spent most of the afternoon and evening in the ER, I missed this:
And, as usual, the 2 and 1/2 hour driving distance meant that I also missed this:
*sigh!* I think my uterus is aching.
As always after a day like that, I have to stop and count my blessings, which are numerous. Except for poor Ty-Kitty & Bob Goulet, everyone I love is (reasonably) healthy and happy. I have a wonderful, supportive husband who would do anything for me and family that loves me enough to send me all these adorable pictures. Yes, despite everything, life is good.
But Halloween still sucked.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I did keep the new template, though - just changed the colors & header. And I still have the new blue & silver caipirinha look on my entertainment blog, if you care to compare & contrast.
I've been too distracted by the appearance of my blog to actually post anything for the past week or so, but hopefully this will put an end to that. Of course, I've still got a bunch of things I want to change here... *Sigh!* My life is so hard.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
As before, my header is homemade, although the photo is not mine this time. I have also upgraded to some fancy lettering. It may not look like it, but the photo is actually a picture of my new favorite cocktail, a lime caipirinha. So tasty!
The most important aspect of the new template is the blog post section which, as you may have noticed, only displays one post at a time. This means that the whole page loads much faster, and any videos I post should run much more smoothly.
If you want to read the previous posts - and I hope you do! - just click on a title in the "Previous Posts" section. The requested post will then appear in this section without reloading the rest of the page. It's pretty cool, really. The 30 most recent posts are listed here, but you can go even further back using the "Older" button or through the Blog Archive. Or, you can click on a label from the "Labels" list & the titles of all posts with that label will appear in the "Previous Posts" list, also without reloading the entire page.
I'd love to know what you think of the new template - how it looks & feels, and how it performs. I've had some difficulties in the past watching my posted videos on my trusty (yet not too powerful) laptop Keith, but so far everything is running much better for me with this template. I hope it will make things easier for all of you, too.
I should be back to blogging here real soon. I'm sure I'll continue to tinker with fonts & colors over the next few days, too, but that shouldn't keep me from posting. So stay tuned!
(If you like the new layout, you can get the Neo template for yourself for free at Hackosphere, along with tips for installation & lots of other nifty Blogger hacks. Thanks, Ramani!)
Friday, October 26, 2007
So FEMA faked a press conference. And, wonder of wonders, Fox News played right along. It was all done so smoothly that one has to wonder if this is just business as usual...Call a press conference with as little notice as possible (in this case, 15 minutes), then infiltrate the press corps with FEMA employees who will ask all the easy questions. Brilliant!
Not that the real press would have dug much deeper, unfortunately, given their track record over the past 6 years. Honestly, I'm surprised the administration would bother with stacking the deck in this case, given the softballs they usually get from the American press. Makes me wonder what they're really trying to hide...
Let freedom ring!
Thursday, October 25, 2007
I'm actually spending most of my free time - which, let's face it, is all of my time - looking for new & better ways to present my blog. I've got a bunch of new nifty utilities which should allow me to post pretty much any video I choose, and we all know I'll use the hell out of those.
Now I'm experimenting with new templates & Blogger hacks, which could take awhile. If I were able, I'd just create my own template, but there's not much chance of that happening anytime this century. I'm satisfied with the appearance of my blog the way it is, but I'm looking for ways to improve its performance. Right now, I'm experimenting with the Neo template, but I still have a long way to go before I make a switch.
Hopefully, I'll be back in the blogging saddle soon.