Monday, December 31, 2007

Bacon Brittle, Baby!

Ahh, the magic of Christmas...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

On the Second Day of Christmas...

There's a lot of work to do here at the ol' homestead. Aside from the normal post-Christmas fallout to sort through, we also have a great big holiday extravaganza scheduled for this Saturday. It's always lots of fun, and since it's a pitch-in, no one person has to do a bunch of cooking. Generally, my kind of shindig.

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

Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra, ra-ra-ra-ra

It was a rowdy gang at the Lotus Garden Chinese restaurant for Christmas this year...

And they heard us exclaim as we drove out of sight...

Crispy rangoons to all, and to all a good night!

Monday, December 24, 2007

It's a JibJab-by Christmas!

Mark and I were very fortunate today to get to spend a lovely Sunday morning/afternoon with some of our favorite people - Mark's sister Patty and her wonderful husband, Kevin.

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...

Don't send a lame Starring You! eCard. Try JibJab Sendables!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Raymond Holidays!

Here's a cute little JibJab movie I made to send to Mark's dad for Christmas... It stars my wonderful husband and his siblings.

Merry Ho-Ho!

Don't send a lame Holiday eCard. Try JibJab Sendables!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Hero of the Week

A big round of applause for Democratic presidential hopeful Chris Dodd, who left the campaign trail yesterday to lead the charge against the proposed FISA legislation. Dodd has pledged to continue to filibuster the bill until provisions offering retroactive blanket immunity to telecom companies for warrentless wiretapping are removed. It's nice to see someone actually doing their job on Capitol Hill for a change...

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.)

Getting to Know You

I received a Christmas "Get to Know Your Friends" quiz by email today, and thought it might be fun to post my answers here:

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

Sunday Seven - Favorite Muppets

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.

Name your seven favorite Muppet characters.

Barbara's list:

  1. Gonzo the Great
  2. The Swedish Chef
  3. Fozzie Bear
  4. Rowlf
  5. Beaker
  6. Miss Piggy
  7. Kermit

Friday, December 14, 2007

Event TV

I just happened upon a description of tomorrow night's edition of Bill Moyers Journal, which you all know is one of my favorite shows. In fact, the only current events/news program I enjoy as much is Countdown with Keith Olbermann, which is Must-See TV around the Raymond household.

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

A Bit of Christmas Cheer

No matter how Christmas-y we feel, we never quite manage to get our outdoor decorations put up. There's always too much bad weather, or a plague like we had this year, that keeps us from having a festive outdoor display. Which is really too bad, because admiring Christmas lights is one of my favorite pastimes.

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

Sunday Seven

I thought it might be a fun change of pace to take part in the Sunday Seven at Patrick's Place. Hat tip to Saoirse Daily2 for the inspiration...


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!

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

How was your day?

Sometimes everything just seems to go right. The stars just line up and good luck follows you no matter where you go or what you do. Or so I've heard.

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

A Time to Give Thanks

As anyone who has followed my blog over the past month is aware, things have been a bit bleak around the old homestead. Every single person in my house has had a cold/flu bug which has taken us more than 2 weeks to shake. Fifty percent of us - my parents - ended up in the hospital from it, and my mom is still hooked up to an oxygen tank. Not a fun time.

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.