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.