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Entries from December 2013

Sunday Stealing: Reflections On New Year's Eve

Link up here if you're playing along today!

Questions for a New Year’s Eve Reflection Meme

 1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?
I could say it was moving back to Miami, or Rob retiring from the Navy, or any number of things. But the absolute best-best thing was when we were seriously down-and-out over the summer and early fall, and dozens upon dozens of people stepped in to help us out in innumerable ways. We were struggling to pay our most basic bills and put food on the table for our three young'uns, and we were wowed by the impact of all those people banding together to support a Navy veteran and his family in need. It was incredible and really re-instilled my hope for humankind.

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?

Well, like I said, we really struggled for several months this past year, but the biggest challenge was when we lost our Odyssey, Penelope, in the midst of it. We could no longer pay the car payment, of course, and it got repossessed. I'm saddened when I think of it, but joyful now that we are out from under that car payment and have a somewhat-reliable vehicle, Miguel, which we were able to purchase with funds from the many donations we received.

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?


There were many, but the most recent one happened yesterday. My 10-year-old son, Jack, has had a huge escalator phobia for years. He'll cling to his father or me, desperately terrified, for the duration of the ride. Yesterday, he decided he was going to overcome that fear and stepped bravely - four separate times - onto and off an escalator while barely touching me, except for stability. I'm super-proud of my boy!

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?

In May or so, just as he was retiring and we were losing all our Navy income, outstanding insurance, and so forth, Rob's previously-diagnosed cerebellar cavernous angioma started acting up. It resulted in five Cyberknife surgeries to vaporize the tumor, but there were unexpected complications from that, too. He still struggles with those as well as side effects from the meds to treat them, and it's caused us to have to delay his plans to return to school for a nursing degree and pursue any kind of work.

5. Pick three words to describe 2013.  


Interesting. Stressful. Amazing.

6. What were the best books you read this year?  


Those are the books I want to read, but I only got to read ONE book this year, and it was not a good one. Here We Go Again by Jennifer Somebody is not one that I can recommend.

7. With whom were your most valuable relationships?  


That's me and Jack, 10.


That's Sophia, 8, on the left, and Chloë, 12, on the right.


And of course, that's me and Hubs. My family are my life; they mean everything to me.

8. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year? 

I continually struggle with making poor decisions, many of which only matter inside my own head, and then I dwell on them forever. I have got to learn, in 2014, to just let. things. go!

 9. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?  


I have long pursued an attitude of gratitude, and I think my appreciation for all that I have been blessed with has grown by leaps and bounds this year.

10. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?  


I have come to understand myself and my beliefs more clearly.

11. In what way(s) did you grow physically?  

Stealing this one from my friend Erica! I definitely added a few pounds this year. I'm working diligently to remove them, but it's proving to be a bigger challenge than I expected. I'm going to have to start, you know, exercising and stuff. (Well, I already started, but my motivation has flagged over these holidays...)

12. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?


I have long played the part of doormat in the family in which I grew up, and I stood up to those people when I felt like I was getting that same ol' treatment. It feels good, and now I feel like I have more of an equal footing with them.

13. What was the most enjoyable part of your work?  


I took a six-month hiatus from my "job," and now that I'm back, I realized just how much I enjoy the work! I really missed it in those latter months of my sabbatical.

14. What was the most challenging part of your work?


Walking away for those six months was really difficult, since I have been doing the same work diligently for 7½ years now. I needed the respite, but I felt like I was letting a lot of people down, including myself. In the end, though, I'm glad I took the break.

15. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year? 


The internet, of course. Sophia said I spend more time on the computer than anything else, and I vow to change that in 2014! (I don't necessarily think she's right, but I do spend a lot of time online, and I don't want that to be her main memory of Mom!)

16. What was the best way you used your time this past year? 

Absolutely, that would be homeschooling our trio of Odettelettes. They are so worth every second of time we have devoted to this endeavor!

17. What was biggest thing you learned this past year?

That quote about holding onto resentment meaning you're letting that person rent-free inside your head? It's so true. I've pretty much let it go. Almost.

18. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2013 for you.

Charles Dickens said it best!

* * * * *

This was a good one; I've enjoyed it. Cheers to all you thieves!




Saturday 9: Baby, It's Cold Outside

Link up here if you're playing along today!

1) How cold is it where you are? 
It's not! Right now, at 6:40 AM, it's 75ºF, and we'll get warmer...

2) This familiar song was introduced in a 1949 film called Neptune's Daughter. (watch a clip here). Name another movie song.
"Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid is the first thing to pop into my brain.

3) Who was the last person to call you "baby?" 
Hubs, I'm sure. It's rare for him to call me Melanie.

4) This time of year is important to college football fans. Have you watched/will you watch any bowl games
I would have watched my 'Canes play in their bowl game if I could, and the bigger bowl games, too, but we don't have TV service.

5)  Are you sad to see the holiday decorations begin to slowly disappear? Or do you think they should all come down right away?

We haven't yet taken ours down, but that will probably happen by New Year's Day. It doesn't make me sad, though I think they're fun and beautiful.
6) Did you tell the truth about your weight on your driver's license, or did you shave off a pound or two?
I told the truth, though I shaved off some weight the last time I donated blood! ;)

7) Crazy Sam swears that the Echinacea she takes every morning keeps her healthy. Her boyfriend tells her she's wasting her money. Do you take any herbal supplements

I take my vitamins, but I haven't taken anything herballish since my college days. They never helped me.
8) The average restaurant in the US tip is 18%. Are you a generous tipper?
I usually tip between 15-20% depending on service.

9) This is the last Saturday 9 of 2013. Do you know the lyrics to "Auld Lang Syne?"
Nope. I know those three words, and that's about it!
Happy New Year, 9-ers!

Christmas 2013 - Part The First


As has been our tradition since the beginning of our romance, we started opening presents well ahead of Christmas Day. Rob and I started doing Twelve Days of Christmas when we were dating in 2000, and we loved it so well that we continue all these years later. We couldn't find Sophia's stocking (since rectified), and we have no mantel, so I asked Rob to hang the stockings on a living room wall of our small bungalow south of Miami.


Twenty-thirteen was the year of the small appliance for me. Rob gifted me with a SodaStream, which I've already put to constant use, a BabyCakes cake pop maker that will show up later in the post, and this Cuisinart that I had to open early to make some hummus. Honestly, the Cuisinart is not the be-all-and-end-all that I thought it would be; I'm slightly disappointed. But, I don't think I know all that it can do, yet, so I shall reserve my final opinion on it for later.



I neglected to do another Team Odette tradition this year: create an Advent calendar full of activities that represent both the joy and the meaning of the season for us, so our Twelve Days of Christmas actually didn't start until the 19th. I know some of you will say that the days are actually supposed to begin on Christmas Day and continue into January, but that's never what we've done, and I'm not going to change anytime soon! So anyway, we started a week before Christmas Day, with the kids opening one present each per day.


On the second night, we gave Jack an Xploderz gun with it's liquidy-gel ammo, and the five of us had a blast (heh) taking it outside and shooting at each other. It's super-fun, though a difficult set-up for the smaller of the kids. When they're bigger (read: stronger, in Chloë's case) and have the arm length necessary to extend the trigger thingy to it's full potential, we may just have to add another weapon or two to the arsenal. Until then, maybe we'll just stick with NERF.


We didn't do a tree this year because of the small space constraints combined with inquisitive young kittens, so our presents piled up in front of the entertainment center. However, we did get a family gift of an inexpensive Netflix subscription, and I think Hunter, here, is the happiest with that decision. He loves watching all things pet on the Cute Overload videos, especially those with puppies! It's pretty funny to watch him come running whenever dogs start yapping on the telly!

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Of course, Christmas is baking season for me, so I started with these chocolate teddy bears that I used to make when I was a teenager in Central New York. I searched high and low for the recipe and finally found the necessary Hershey cookbook on eBay (of course), a year or two ago. Eureka! At last, I have come full circle and made my bears again. The only trouble was, I ran out of proper decorator bags and had to use Ziploc snack bags, which does not quite do the job justice. Meh. No matter. They still taste delish!

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For the girls, 2013 is the year of the Monster HIgh doll, and between them now they have collected more than 20. I kinda love them, myself. They're cool, interesting, and not Barbie-doll perfect in physical form.

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Between us and Rob's dad, the girls have been gifted with several bracelet-making looms that are the latest craze, and we are now all adorned with all manner of colorful rubber jewelry. They have yet to learn more than the most basic techniques, despite my encouragement to go on YouTube for further instruction, but that could have something to do with their Kindle Fires not wanting to accept a charge lately?

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A surprising last-minute Mom WIN was the gift of Melissa and Doug's "Suspend" game for Jack. The boy-child is all about LEGO City sets, and it's difficult to get him to want to play with much outside of that, but I just had a hunch he would enjoy Suspend. I was right! He has played it with everyone but me, every night since he received it. Of course, the fact that it's based on mechanics may have something to do with that, as he is a very mechanically-inclined laddie.

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The children anxiously awaited the arrival of Christmas Eve, since they knew that meant two things: Candlelight Service at church, and STOCKINGS! We ended up getting up wicked early on Tuesday morning and crashing well before church time in the evening, which rots, because it's the service we all look most forward to during the year. But stockings are a certainty on Christmas Eve for Team Odette, and finally it was time.

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There was more baking on Christmas Eve, too. I'm not even done, and it's 2200 on Christmas Day... but that's okay. My sister-in-law Gail gave me a Martha Stewart Cookie book a few years ago, and I still have fun discovering new recipes to make from it. However, these cocoa meringues have made before, and with good reason: they are a favorite of Sophia's and, I think, Chloë's, and so they're worth the two hours in a low-heat oven for my lady-babies.

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My coconut macaroons were just so-so, but that may have something to do with the fact that while they were in the oven, Rob and I got carried away with a smooch-fest that caused them to burn? Maybe. The choclate macaroons, on the other hand, were outstanding. I'll definitely have to make them again, especially if I desire to gain 20 pounds in a single sitting. 

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I used my BabyCakes cake pop maker to create some festive "birthday cake" for Jesus, and it was a slight learning curve but they turned out okay. Sophia has popped one in her mouth every time I look, so while they're not my thing (frosting = blech!), they were worth making.

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A large part of my ethnic heritage comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch culture, so I love to make at least one Dutch apple pie every year. This year, though, I couldn't find my favorite recipe, so I had to settle for next-best and hit up The girls have indulged and give it two thumbs up, so I guess I'm satisfied with that.

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The recipe for these lemon cream cheese bows also came from Martha's book, and they wowed me. I mean, literally, "WOW." You have to try them. They're not eat-ten-and-pass-out cookies, but they're definitely eat-one-and-swoon treats. So. Freaking. Yummy.

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We gave several of our neighbors gifts of boxed chocolates this year, so it was really fun when one of the kids discovered a return box of chocolates under the lighted Christmas tree on our porch last night. So sweet - literally! We have some really nice, friendly neighbors, and I'm grateful for that after the creepy neighborhood we came from in Portsmouth.

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At midnight, with the kids wide awake from their long and late naps on Christmas Eve, we made the decision to let them each open one present per hour until they were all opened. It was such a delight! I seriously adore this method of spreading out the joy over days and hours, instead of one quick rip-fest on Christmas morning, because it causes the children to slow down and enjoy each present in turn, rather than open, chuck over the shoulder, and move on to the next in a complete lack of gratitude and appreciation. I recommend it. Here, Muffin's curiosity got the best of her, and she arrived in front of me in an uncharacteristic display of The Nice.

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My cat, Tinkerbell (or as I have been calling her, "Tinky-Winky-Binky-Bean) looked on from her perch on the back of the couch with mild interest. This cat has gained far too much weight, and if it doesn't involve food or some serious lovin', she can't work up too much give-a-damn.

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Chloë's cat, Pepper, has been exiled to the bathroom until he gets neutered, since he pees inappropriately whenever he is left to run freely in the house. He got a reprieve this afternoon for some attention and adoration from his mama, but I'll be darned if I couldn't get a good shot of this otherwise-photogenic puss. As for the kittens, Lucky and Hunter, well, let's just say I need to keep working on my action photography skills to get a decent photograph of those two. I'm sure you don't mind.

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Chloë's Christmas

Christmas 2013

Jack's Christmas

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Sophia's Christmas

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Some of the Monster High dolls are in hiding, but here are the ladies with twenty of their closest friends. Not my best capture, but the sun was in their eyes, and Chloë's poor blocked tear glands were working overtime by the time I snapped this shot!


I took a lot of pictures on the beach today, and I'll share those with you in Part The Second. For now, I leave you with this, as I have to go call my pops back before he hits the hay.

Merry Christmas!


Sunday Stealing: A Christmas Meme

Link up here if you're playing along today!

1.The Christmas song I can listen to even in June is...

"The First Noel," which I actually probably do sing every month of the year!

2.Hot Chocolate, Egg Nog or Mulled wine?

Hm. Any of them, depending on the occasion and my mood.

3.When do you put your decorations up? 

I like to get started after Thanksgiving is over, but definitely by the first weekend in December.

4. What are you having for Christmas dinner? 

We usually just do a bunch of appetizers.

5.What is your favorite Christmas tradition? 

Ever since Hubs and I were dating, we've done Twelve Days of Christmas. We continue that with our kids to this day (though we kinda got a late start this year). I really like it, because it gives the children a chance to spend quality time with each present instead of just scrambling through all the presents and not savoring each one.

6. Have you ever gone carol singing? 

I have. I remember doing it a few times as a youth, with my family. I know we got caroled once or twice ourselves in Virginia Beach, too. That was fun.

7. When did you learn the truth about Santa? 

I remember learning when I was five or so, with my sister and friend Ursula, all at once one year. I don't remember being too devastated. My kids all know.

8. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? 

We usually make a big deal out of it, but we haven't put our tree up inside this year because the house is too small and it would take over, and we have kittens who would just knock it down. We put up a lighted tree on the front patio instead.

9. What's the best thing about Christmas? 

Peace and joy

10. All I want for Christmas is... 

Peace and joy! :D

* * * 

Back to baking cookies...!


Saturday 9: Happy Holidays


Chekkidout, kids, I'm actually on time for once. Mark your calendars and link up here!

1. As you can see, when Sam Winters was a little girl, she loved giving her annual wish list to Santa. If you could ask Santa for anything at all, right now, what would it be?

My children are happy, my husband loves me, and I have a cozy roof over my head. I would, therefore, ask for a fisheye lens for my Nikon. I mean, peace on Earth. Silly me.

2. Are you currently on the Naughty or Nice list? How did you get there?

I think I'm on the Naughty list at the moment, for my last post. Seems I ruffled some feathers. (But seriously, who needs a Duck Dynasty present for Christmas? What do you give them, a beard hat?)

3. Are you traveling this Christmas? If so, are you going by car, plane or train?

We're not going anywhere on Christmas Day itself, because we always stick close to home and hearth that day, but we are going up to friends' house in Ft. Lauderdale the day after for cookies and pressies. And we're going to Key West for New Year's Eve eve, on which day I will be doing two back-to-back bar shops in addition to several others. I think I'll be stumbling around Duval Street with the best of them that night!

4. Did you buy yourself a gift this year?

Yeah, I did. I confess. I bought the self a few things, actually. It's okay, I forgive me. I wrapped them, too, and informed Hubs when it was time to hand them over. Ha! (Don't be too upset with me, though. I spent a pretty nice chunk of change on his gift, and he quickly let the $%^&* cats ruin it. I'm still angry, but I've replaced it two-fold already!)

5. What's your favorite holiday-themed movie or TV special? Have you seen it yet this year?

My favorite Christmas flick is Miracle on 34th Street, but I haven't seen it in quite a few years. I have a goal this year: I've never seen either A Christmas Story or It's a Wonderful Life, and I aim to change that!

6. Which do you prefer: candy canes or gingerbread?

No. Hand over the chocolate, and no one gets hurt.

7. Close your eyes and tell us the first carol that comes to mind.

Jingle Bells

8. What's your favorite winter beverage?

I like 'nog, but I can't drink anything with dairy anymore, so maybe (sugar-free) apple cider. I would like to know who decided that every-dang-thing in December had to be peppermint flavored, and their November counterparts pumpkin?

9. What will you remember most about 2013?

Moving to Miami! 'Nuff said.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and have a happy Festivus for the rest of us!




The Reluctant Christian

[This blahg is my platform. Understand that this is MY space to express MY views, and I am exercising that right and privilege right now. If you want to disagree with me, feel free to do so, but do it in a respectful, intelligent manner. If you can't, please save your comments for another time, another place.]

* * * 

First, let me say this: I am Christian. I have always been Christian, and I will always be Christian.  Despite the fact that I have been through some pretty tough stuff over the course of my life, my faith in God and acceptance of Jesus the Christ as my Lord and Savior have never wavered.

Now, the title of this post is something of a misnomer. I'm not a reluctant Christian, truth be told. I will never deny my faith. Doing so would be wrong, and I hate being misunderstood.

What I am reluctant about, now and not infrequently, is associating myself with Christians who represent Christiandom so differently from the way I choose to do it. It is that reluctance that compels me to write what I am going to state here.

* * *

Second, I hate it when people say "Merry Christmas" in a negative manner, in a way that is meant to cause offense to those who they are intentionally trying to offend.

What? Huh?

Let me explain.

I don't have a problem saying "Merry Christmas," and I will say it on Christmas Day to anyone and everyone except those who I am sure do not celebrate that holy day.

However, I will not say it on other days, choosing instead to use the more lovingly inclusive, "Happy Holidays!"

I have no problem being wished a merry Christmas, and I have no problem with anyone saying it. What I do take issue with is being so in-your-face about it. There are posts and people everywhere who say things to the effect of, "You won't get a 'Happy Holidays' out of me! It's going to be 'Merry Christmas' for all, by gummit!"

Why? Why do we do this? Are we lacking sense? I think we must be, as Christians, to say and post such things, in light of the fact that one of the jobs we are commissioned to do is spread Christianity to those who do not know Jesus. 

I mean, really? It spews hatred and intolerance, it's exclusionary, and it serves no purpose other than to completely alienate those whom we are supposed to include. In short, such messages are counter-productive.

As an analogy, I will liken this "You'll take my 'Merry Christmas' and you'll LIKE it, too!" attitude to those who choose to spread the Word by preaching that if you don't accept Jesus as Lord, you're going to burn in Hell for all eternity. I'm not remarking on whether that is true because, honestly, I'm not God and I don't know His plans for anyone outside myself. What I am saying is, why not preach in a more positive, productive, promising way? Scare tactics do not work. I have never heard of anyone saying, "Holy shit, God sounds like a nightmare, so I better follow Him!"

No. It doesn't happen that way. Consider your methodology, fellow Christians. God is everlasting Life. He is Love. He is the supreme Soul, Spirit, Principle, Truth, and Mind. He is all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, universal love.

To me, that's a much more compelling, endearing message than, "Believe in me or you will burn!" to those we should seek to convert.

* * *

Third, there is this whole Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty scandal going on, with nearly the entirety of Facebook up in arms about the whole thing. Here, instead of on Facebook where I have decided not to post about it in light of this being Christmastime, I shall share my tuppence.

I have never watched this show. I haven't had the opportunity, because we haven't had cable service in years. I don't know the guy first-hand, second-hand, or any-hand. Nevertheless, I feel the need to contribute here to the discussion, in light of the theme of this post.

Here's a syllogism for you:

All sin is equal in the eyes of the Lord.

Not one of us without sin.

Therefore, all of us are equally sinful to God.

You get what I'm sayin'? Just in case, I'll explain it more fully:

If you're human, you sin. Period, point-blank, no-'bout-adoubt it, you are a sinner. It doesn't matter whether you snag a grape at the local market before paying for the bunch, or whether you have sexual intercourse with another consenting adult of your same sex. They are EQUAL. They are the same. One is not worse than the other. You may as well murder your fellow man, because guess what? Unless the Virgin Mary bore you over a couple thousand years ago, you are not blameless to the Lord. They are one and the same. [Note: I'm not saying you should consider killing people. Please don't do that.]

Now, you may be saying to yourself, okay, yes, that's true. So? He's entitled to say what he wants to say. Freedom of Speech and all, right?

The protection of free speech is a governmentally-regulated right. A&E is not the government. They are a privately held corporation. They therefore have rights, and they have exercised their rights, too. If you're going to be up-in-arms about Mr. Robertson's suspension, fine, but your raised hackles are puzzling to those of us who understand this.

{As long as I'm kvetching, I would like to say, too, that comparing homosexuality to bestiality is, well, stupid. Two consenting adults having sex is a completely different concept from what is essentially the rape of an animal outside our own species. If you don't get that, I am afraid I can't help you any further. Robertson also claims never to have seen or heard of the mistreatment of a black person in the South prior to the Civil Rights Movement, to which I can only say, "Really?!" Also, "Pfft."

* * *

Finally, I would like to close this post by saying that I include myself amongst the sinners. Please don't misunderstand that. Only when infinite love is felt and expressed can we push out the hatred in our hearts. Help, don't harm. Love, don't hate.

Happy holidays.


Wordless Wednesday: Self-Flagellation




{I've been a tad naughty on Facebook this morning, so I'm punishing myself: I'm extremely nauseous from migraine side-effects right now, so of course the last thing I want to see are alcoholic beverages and rich desserts! Ugh. On the other hand, mystery shopping ain't such a bad gig, as seen from these recent shots I 'grammed... ;)}

Link up here for more WW posts.


Music Monday: Gloria In Excelsis Deo!


Stacy from Stacy UncorkedXmas Dolly, Callie from JAmericanSpiceCathy from Cathy Kennedy’s Blogand Naila Moon at Just the Stuff Ya Know bring us Music Monday each week, with the current month's theme being, of course, Christmas music. I haven't played along regularly, but I'm trying to be more regular (and we're still talking about music here, folks), so here I am again!

Want to join in the fun? It’s easy – just find a tune that rocks your boat, post it and link up – don’t forget to grab Xmas Dolly's button at her place here. Check out Xmas Dolly’s sidebar for the random themes each week – and you can always ask for a specific theme of music you like, too. Check out the other music lovers on any of those pages (above), too!

So without further ado, I bring you my selections:


I've always loved "Santa Baby," and Eartha Kitt was the best... I can't believe there are still 9 days until Christmas. I've long since finished my shopping and have everything wrapped and ready to go. Nine more days?! Oh, Santa Baby, hurry down the (non-existent) chimney tonight!

When I was a kid, we had a big, old-fashioned jukebox in our dance floor basement area. The four of us girls would rock out while we danced, listening to all the tunes of the '80s. Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" was on that jukebox, and we played it ad nauseum every December. There weren't a lot of awesome things in that period of my life, but certainly this was one of the good things!

This one is for my eldest daughter, Chloë. "Silent Night" is her favorite Christmas song, and Taylor Swift is her favorite artist. Seems appropriate to combine the two, then!


When my mom was alive, we'd all gather around while she played the organ, singing Christmas carols. It would be me, my parents and sister, my uncle, and my grandparents (mom's parents). Mom had a beautiful singing voice, and my dad and grandpa always sang in harmony. It was wonderful. "The First Noel" was my favorite song she played and sang, and I adore Josh Groban immensely! What a voice!


Grandpa's favorite song to belt out in his rich baritone along with Mom's organ-playing was "Gloria in Excelsis Deo," and they would do a gorgeous duet of it. I can still hear it, though it's been 30 years since the last time my mother's hands played Christmas music. It's a lovely memory, that last Christmas she was alive and all the years before it, and I'll cherish it forever.

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Thanks for stopping by!


Double Whammy: Saturday 9 & Sunday Stealing

"Wow, I can't believe Smellyann is late with her memes," said no one ever. :\

Link up here if you're late on Saturday 9, like I am!

1) Sam has affection for this song because, when she was very young, she tap-danced to it for a Christmas recital. Her parents told her she was wonderful. Do you have any memories from a school/church program or pageant -- either as a child onstage or an adult in the audience?
I have lots of them. My first really big show was as the Caterpillar in a 5th grade production of Alice in Wonderland. My stepmother sewed me a kick-ass costume with lots of arms and legs (hey, no one is 100% evil), and I completely stole the show when I came out. I sang, I danced, I won over the crowd. It was awesome. I'll have to find a picture of that some day.

2) Ok, she admits it: After too many cups of holiday cheer, Sam did a few steps of her "Jingle Bell Rock" routine at last year's company Christmas party. Have you ever done anything at a co-worker get-together that you now regret?
I've never been to an office holiday party. However, I have done some things with my boss(es) at various jobs. I was unattached at the time, but... they weren't! :\ I think I will keep the rest of those stories to myself. For now.

3) Since that unfortunate Christmas 2012 incident, Sam can't even look at a cup of egg nog. How about you? Do you like egg nog?
I like egg nog, always have, but I've never had it spiked. I can no longer drink Goldschlager for a similar reason, however, after having to live with the smell of puked-up cinnamon schnapps outside my college dorm window (I didn't quite make it OUT the window and had no way to clean up the mess) for an entire semester! Blergh.

4) For special events, Sam slips on her favorite piece of jewelry: a charm bracelet that once belonged to her grandmother. Do you have a special treasure from a previous generation? 
I have all of my mom's vintage costume jewelry. My dad held onto it for over 25 years after she died and finally gave my sister her "good" jewelry and me the costume pieces. I can remember her wearing some of them, which is wonderful because I have so very few memories of her at all. ♥

5) The only Christmas card Sam has received so far in 2013 is from her insurance agent. How about you? Have any holiday cards arrived yet?
I just have one from Jafra HQ and one from the University of Miami Alumni Association. I sent out our cards early, knowing no one would have our new Miami address yet, but.. it doesn't seem to have mattered. It doesn't matter. I still love sending them to our loved ones!

6) Because of the chill in the air, Sam gave her dog his Christmas gift -- a sweater -- early this year. He's already gotten compliments on it. Are there any pets on your gift list?
Our three male cats need to get neutered, but I'm putting that off until 2014. Getting your nuts whacked off isn't much of a gift, after all. We did get our five cats some catnip treats, which we've already given them, and they went appropriately crazy for them!

7) Do you need snow to get "into the spirit?"
Fortunately, no, because it'll be a sad thing if we get snow down here! I do like the lights, trees, music and all o' that, though. Just no schnae, please. ;)

8) Are you going to get/have you gotten a flu shot this year?
I got one in September. I confess, I totally got it just so I could get a 20% off coupon for my entire shopping trip!

9) December is an important fundraising month for charities. Here's your chance to plug a worthy cause that means a lot to you.
We donated several dozen toys in our son's memory to U. Miami's Holtz Children's Hospital this year. We'll donate more for Robby's birthday in March, too. We also donated oodles of toiletries, along with coffees and sugars, to the local Ronald McDonald House, which I'm glad for because we stayed at the one in Pensacola when our oldest daughter, Chloë, was admitted to the NICU for ten days in 2001. And finally, I donated more toys to the Toys For Tots bin at a local retailer a couple weeks ago. All great charities. Thanks for the chance to plug them!
* * * * * * * *
And now, link up here if you're playing along with Kwizgiver and the gang today!
The Blerp Meme
from Lucy B.'s Surveys

When you get a headache do you take painkillers right away or try to wait it out?  
Generally, I treat as soon as I recognize an oncoming brain pain. If I don't, mine almost always turn into full-blown migraines. They almost never just go away on their own.

 Is there a really funny YouTube video you’d like to recommend to me?  
I'm not much of a YouTuber unless I need directions for a knitting or a baking technique or something. I rarely watch it just for kicks. 

Did you watch Sesame Street when you were little?  
I did, along with my sister and our then-BFF, Ursula. Her mom babysat us, and we watched it every morning!

What’s the last thing you touched, other than your computer?
I just put the plate from the cheese-and-onion omelet Hubs made me into the sink. Delishamus!

When was the last time you talked to your best friend?
We chat on Facebook more than on the phone anymore, except when I have a medical question and she's not online. Which isn't all that infrequent, but I don't think since Summer. I'll have to call her for Christmas and remedy that!

How often do you listen to music?
I always have the I Heart Radio playing on my iPhone while I'm sitting here at my desk, which is daily, and the same station on the car radio whenever I'm driving. Rob and I have a rule - whoever is driving gets to pick the station.

What color is your cell phone?  
It's white, but the Otter Box covering it is pink, because they were out of Orange and Green (go 'CANES!!), boo.

What is the last non-alcoholic beverage you drank?
I made a 7-Eleven run tonight with Chloë. I refilled my Enormous Gulp and my Super-Humongous Gulp with Diet Mt. Dew. It's better than Diet Coke, but not much... I drink the organic stuff when I can, but that shit's 'spensive, and I chug a LOT.

Do you like to wear sweatpants?  
I do, but you know what? Apparently it's not cool to wear them in public. I didn't really know that until the interwebs told me. And to think I wore them with Tevas, t-shirts and a ponytail in my college days, along with all my designer label-wearing co-eds. Heh. (Toldja I wasn't very cool.)

What song are you currently listening to? Who sings it?  
I've got Katy Perry singing "Hot N Cold" in my ear at the mo'.

Have you ever gotten a black eye? 
I have walked into my share of things, but I've never gotten them from a fist, fortunately!

What caused it?  
Oh. See, I never read ahead. I like each question to be a surprise. I did have an ex break my two front teeth, once. Smelly's no stranger to violence, but thank God it isn't something my children experience, let alone on a regular basis. The buck stopped here.

How many times have you checked up on your ex?  
The aforementioned chops-busting ex isn't even on my radar, even though a mutual friend informs me about his life on the regular. I really don't care to know. I did care, however, when I learned he was tracking me! I had to put a stop to that with some Facebook blockage. As for others, I'm still friends with several of them, and the few that aren't in my life aren't worth mentioning.

If you had to get a tattoo what would it be?  
I can't imagine a scenario other than being in a concentration camp where I would be required to get a tat, in which case I wouldn't have much of a choice, so I'll have to plead guilty to not understanding this question. HOWEVER, if I wanted to get a tattoo, it would probably be a sirrusly artistic rendering of my four children's initials.

How many tabs are open right now?  
On Chrome, I have three - this one, the Sunday Stealing one, and the Saturday 9 one. I also have three tabs open on Internet Explorer, which I prefer but which doesn't allow me to do everything blahg-related that Chrome does. I hate Chrome in most cases, though, which is why I refuse to use it most of the time. Don't even speak to me of Firefox!

Are you scared of needles?  
Nope. I have no qualms. Which is good for the Red Cross and the local bloodmobile, since I'm a proud donor of my O-neg blud, as often as I'm allowed. It took me months upon months to find a place to donate here in Homestead, but I'll be back every 56 days, like clockwork, now that I know where to go! (Okay, I admit, even I have to turn my head away while that big, fat needle is going in my arm.)

Do you believe love can last forever?  
Of course I do. Rob and I have been together 13 years now, and I know we're going to grow old together and turn into trees, rooted into the ground, with inseparable branches. Our grands and their grands will have picnics under our shade! ♥

Are good-byes easy or hard for you?
Oh, very hard. I suck at good-byes. Hellos are much more Smelly-friendly. I'm one who says, "So long, see ya later," rather than "Good-bye." :) 

Would you rather sing or dance?
I can do both fairly well, but I'd rather be exceptional at both - and frequently, I daydream that I am!
Here's to another fun week ahead! Tomorrow, I have to pretend I'm the richest of the super-rich, which should be fun, since the most expensive thing I own probably comes from Old Navy. Ha!

Blazing A Trail


Busy, busy, busy. That's what describes our life lately, and I'm nothing but pleased about it. What with the full-fledged return to mystery shopping - and believe you me, there is no shortage of work here - homeschooling, getting ready for Christmas, and keeping the house running, I guess it's no wonder that I'm exhausted lately. I feel like I've been catching up on a lifetime of lost sleep. Naps are my new BFF.

Last Thursday (I know, it's nearly a week later, but I'm tryin', y'all!), we stacked shops from morning to evening. School on-the-go is what it's about. I have a new book to read, about carschooling, to help support that need. Anyway. 


Here's Chloë, looking adorbs at one of the places we shopped. If you ever want to know the name of a good burger place that serves the best, healthiest and tastiest burgers - both beef and veggie, we can vouch - hit me up for the name. I hadn't heard of it before we moved to Miami, but I'm sure there have to be more somewhere out there.


We'd already fed the kids lunch at an Einstein Bagel (not for a shop) in Coral Gables, so they had ice cream while Rob had lunch. My lunch was next. That's how we do it without going way over budget: I'll take several meal shops and feed the kids or one or both of us in stages. It's not ideal, but we are used to it and it works for us.


I love this picture of Jacky. (Jack calls himself that most of the time, and Sophia calls herself Sophie. It doesn't bother me, but I do find it interesting the way we diminutize ourselves.) the twinkle of his eyes, the look of anticipation - was he thinking of his own ice cream cone, yet to be served, or Christmas, or...? Speaking of which, yesterday in South Miami, he talked all. day. long. about being excited for Christmas, and every time, he started running rather than walking. I thought of it, and then, as if voicing my thoughts, Chloë said aloud that it seemed he was running to make the holiday come faster. I love that she is so intuitive like that.


It must have been the ice cream he was anticipating. Look at that delight!


When the choice is Chocolate or Vanilla, I never know what Sophia will pick. She switches it up randomly, to keep us guessing. Before Halloween, I had bought three books of coupons for free Wendy's Frosty Jrs for them, and we stop regularly to use them up before they expire. Jack and Rob will always get Chocolate, but the girls, especially Sophia? One never knows.

By the way, at what age will this child stop getting her ice cream all over her face? She devours it so ardently, I imagine she'll always need a quick trip to the washroom after a frozen treat!


After the burger place, Jack hopped up on the platform for a jumping sesh with the girls. He was Grumpy McGrumpster beforehand, but the ice cream seriously pepped him up.


I don't claim to be a good photographer, not one bit, but I do try.  I think, in this case, my lighting was a fail. But still, she's cute, no?


My lunch followed Rob's, in downtown Coconut Grove. We love going there, so it wasn't without some disappointment that I had to tell the kids we didn't have time to wander around and window shop, people-watch, that sort of thing. Next time, next time.


I wasn't thrilled with the grilled artichoke, but the low-cal salmon rolls more than made up for them for me. It took me a while, but I managed to eat three of them. I can eat more these days, nearly five years out from gastric bypass, so I'm extremely conscious of everything I eat and drink. No sense undoing the surgery we went into the red for me to get!


After a long day of tagging along on my evaluations, the kids were seriously ready to let loose. I had a nice gift certificate to the Build-A-Bear Workshop across the street from the last shop, so after a whispered conference with Rob, we decided to go and let them spend it. But first, a few quarters plunked into the carousel there to get the party started...


Chloë is always in pose mode, even when I don't want her to be. She was born to model, I think. Too bad she's so petite!


It's rare to capture genuine happiness from this boy, and there is an abundance from this day's snaps. It would be wrong of me not to share!


What's that I was saying about my poseur?


Like their mom, these three can never resist a pretty fountain. Fortunately, I always have pennies for wishes!


Finally, we made it to Build-A-Bear. The kids had been there a time or two before, so they knew what to do. Sophia choose a white kitty, Chloë selected a polar bear, and Jack, a German Shepherd dog.


I love the posture here. Childlike enthusiasm at its best!


Jack, watching and waiting for his turn. [I just typed 'tern' first, which led me to remember another bird-related mix-up. Rob and I had an argument recently, and I meant to call him an @$$hole. Instead, my brain thought, "bad word," and my mouth interpreted that as "bird." "You BIRD!" I shouted. I do this sort of thing all the time, but that one had us really cracking up. Argument over, just like that.]


The kids love this part of the process. Stuffing her cat, almost finished, Soap was asked to make a wish on its heart. Who knows what she wished? They'll never tell.


Another wish, for another stuffy. 


Chloë and... Snowy? Argh, I forget. It matters to them that I know their loveys' names, so it matters to me.


I have a whole series of pictures of a smiling Jack, grinning from ear to ear, but I'll spare you most of them. He looks so much like my sister in the pictures, I think. I can really see it here.


Snowy was dressed in purple, complete with matching ear muffs. They never stay on, which annoys this girl, but she refused her father's offer to sew them on. "No," she sighed dramatically, "I'll just have to deal with it."


Jack needed help dressing Hunter, his dog, at first, but soon he took over. "I can do it!"


The picture didn't turn out well, I acknowledge, but I couldn't get it the way I wanted it anyway. Stuffies in their homes, happy kids, away we went.


The mall looked beautiful after we left the Workshop, and the kids oohed and ahhed appreciatively. I love Christmas lights. I must admit, though I'm a colored-light fan, there is a certain beauty you can only achieve with all-white lights, no?


Oh look, a selfie. No, an "usser?" I'll work on that.

Thanks for stopping by!


Sunday Stealing: I Amuse Myself Meme


So I'm late and it's Monday morning. What else is new?!

Link up here if you're a late bloomer like me. ;)

01. What is something that you have lost recently?: 

When we went out Sunday afternoon, I yelled at the kids, namely Sophia, for not putting my sunglasses back on the front door shelf like I asked them/her to.  I had to eat crow hours later, when I found them in my tote bag, where I had put them. Oops. (Of course, I apologized to them.)

02. Do you own any self-help books?

I try to avoid it. I don't think I do.

03. Do you live near the sea or ocean?

I live in Miami. You could say that!

04. Have you ever spent ages making/writing something on your computer when it suddenly crashed and you lost it all?: 

Of course I have. I remember the time I was writing my final Geology paper in college and didn't save as I went. Almost finished the paper and lost the entire thing when the power went out in my dorm's computer lab. Argh! It was due the next morning at 8 AM, and this was at, like, 9 PM. I had to type furiously just to get it done. I still got an A!

05. Do you enjoy food shopping?

Yeah, for the most part. We've renewed our zeal for eating organic foods, especially meat and dairy, for our growing kids' sakes. Not to get into it right now, let's just say I'm glad the Whole Foods isn't too terribly far from home... but it is fun to go in there, amiright?

06. What are you having for lunch?

I don't know yet. Before I lost weight, I used to think about my entire next day's eating plan. I'd get so excited about eating it, I couldn't sleep! Kinda sad. I don't do that anymore. But coincidental to our GMO heave-ho, I'm on a diet and fitness kick for myself. So maybe an egg-white omelet with organic cheese and sautéed Vidalias?

07. Are you one of those people who can sleep through anything?

I'm the person who struggles like crazy to GET to sleep, and often to STAY asleep, but once I do, mannnnn, I sure hope you don't need me for anything, 'cause I am OUT!

08. Do you like love letters?

I mean, I guess. Who doesn't? I would say I like an unexpected love letter more than anything, though!

09. Have you ever received or written one?

So, yeah, Rob and I used to write them to each other before we got married, and we still have those somewhere, I think. Maybe, or maybe I decided to get rid of them before the kids found them? They were pretty naughty. But one time, ages upon ages ago, I got a letter I didn't expect, from a friend-with-benefits, and he wrote, "You're not the girl OF my dreams, but you're the girl IN my dreams." I loved that line. Obviously. We're still friends (though no more benefits, of course); I sure hope he doesn't read this!

10. How far does your nearest relative live?

I live way down there at the tippy-tip of Florida, and my dad's up in western central South Carolina. It's far, but sometimes it's not quite far enough, you know what I mean?

11. Do you like velvet?

I suppose? Sure. It's fun to rub...? Silliness.

12. What kind of art do you like?

I'm a huge, huge fan of Romero Britto's work. the giclée above hangs on our living room wall. It symbolizes so much about our marriage.

13. If you went to London, where would you go first?

Call me cliché, but I'd have to go see Big Ben! Then I could go off the beaten track a bit more.

14. If you had to pick one friend who is the most interesting, who would you pick?

Maybe my friend Shana. She's an accomplished concert violinist who has played with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Josh Groban, and goodness knows who else. Her entire family is musical. Her dad fronted (fronts? I don't know) the band Todd Hobin and the Heat, and you may have heard some of the jingles he's written, too. Her mom used to sub in our choir in high school, and they're all just... amazingly talented. 

15. Can you think of the meanest thing you have ever done/said to someone?


Yeah. I think I've shared it here before? Maybe not. Ugh. I hate to even think about it, though it was 20 years ago.

My sister was the skinny and pretty one; I was the intellectual. She went to BOCES (New York-speak for trade school) for Cosmetology training in high school, and she came running up to me at my locker one day with her report card, all excited to tell me that she got all As and had the highest grade in her class. I immediately blurted out, "Try doing that with my classes," or something equally horrid. Her face fell, and she was completely crushed. I felt positively wicked, but there was no taking it back. Maybe she's forgiven me for that, but I don't know if I ever will.

16. What magazines do you read?

I guess sooo many magazines from free subscriptions, it's absurd. I barely have time to glance at most of them, but I do absorb every detail of People. It's my guilty pleasure.

17. What/who has been on your mind today?

For most of Saturday and all of Sunday (and, it seems, into Monday), I've had an agonizing migraine. It's entirely the reason why I didn't post here over the weekend, though I meant to. It was terrible - the puking, crying, everything. The worst one I've had in a very long time.

18. Would you be interested in ghost-hunting?


No, absolutely not. I've zero interest.

On that note...!




Saturday 9: Stand By Me

Link up here if you're playing along today!

Saturday 9: Stand by Me

1) "Stand by Me" is one of the songs John Lennon did at his last public performance back in 1975. First recorded by Ben E. King, "Stand by Me" was also covered by Mickey Gilley and Otis Redding, among others. Can you think of another song that has been recorded and then re-recorded by someone else?
Lauryn Hill sings the hell out of The Fugees' cover of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly." I've loved it since Day One!

2) The lyrics say, "Whenever you're in trouble, you can stand by me." Tell us about someone you know you can count on.
My BFF, Dr. Lisa, is someone I know I can always call on to be there for me, no matter what it is. And if it's medical, she doesn't even send me the bill! ;)

3) While "Stand by Me" was solo Lennon, John is best known as one of the Beatles. Which group do you listen to more often -- The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
Neither, really. I'm not much either an "oldies" or a classic rock fan. My tastes run with the Top 40 and Adult Contemporary crowd. It's not that I dislike The Beatles or the Stones, it's just that I'm not that cool.

4) Lennon liked to tell how, when he and Paul McCartney were teens, Paul's father used to discourage friendship between the boys. Paul ignored his dad's advice and the result is the most successful songwriting partnership of the 20th century. Tell us about a piece of advice you're glad you ignored.
Rob asked me to marry him weeks after we met, the first time I met him in person. I accepted, and we eloped two months into things, over everyone's protests. "But... but... but... what if he's an axe murderer?!!" my sister exclaimed. She's still pretending he's an axe murderer, these 13 years later - though I think she may like him more than she likes me!

5) John loved cats. When he was a teenager, he first met his favorite, a stray he named Tich, in the snow and gave the cat a safe, lifelong home. John was very proud that Tich lived to be 20 years old. Tell us about a pet who has a place in your heart.
When I was in college, I couldn't wait to get out of the dorm and get a dog. Once I graduated, I was so ready. I looked in the paper (one didn't really look through online ads in 1997 so much, after all) and found an elderly woman who took in rehomed dogs. I went to her place, and she trotted out mangy dog after matted, ratty-furred dog. They were all cute but dirty and smelly. I saw a couple of shih-tzus I liked the looks of, but I couldn't make up my mind. She decided to bring out one more, a long shot. Out came Johnny, and he was the scuzziest little dog! But this poodle/dachschund mix, who my later roommate Janet called "half a dog high and a dog and a half long" leapt OVER the tall fence where I waited, into my arms, and started licking my face as happily as could be. I knew he was the one. When I picked him up from her a week later, she'd gotten him neutered, bathed and groomed, and he was absolutely beautiful. He was my firstborn, my love, my darling, and I loved him every second from then until he died in 2005, just before Sophia was born. I miss him terribly!
6) John unsuccessfully tried hypnosis in his quest to stop smoking. Have you ever been hypnotized?
Yes, I have, also therapeutically. After my son Robby died, I was in very bad shape. To help get me through it, my therapist, Jeff, hypnotized me on several occasions. It's called EMDR, or Eye Movement Densensitization and Reprocessing Therapy. Basically, the goal was to replace traumatic thoughts and memories with better, more positive ones, while I trained my eyes on Jeff's gold thingamabobber. It worked, immediately. If you need it and can find a trained clinician, I highly recommend it.
7) John has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. What Hall of Fame would like to see yourself in? 
Is there a Mommy Hall of Fame?

8) John had a passion for slot cars and raced them on an elaborate track in his game room. What games or toys do you still enjoy?
My girls are currently collecting Monster High dolls, and I'm supportive of the habit. I think they're pretty cool. Jack collects LEGO, and I help him with that, too. As for me? Gimme some Silly Putty or a Slinky, and I'm all set. I adore card and board games as well. Call me old school.

9) John wrote about his jealous streak. What personality trait of yours do you wish you could change?
Sometimes my impulsivity has served me very well, but other times it's gotten me into deep, deep doo-doo. And I have no filter for my thoughts; I'm a blurter. I wish I could control myself better than I do.
Welp, that's that, then. Cheerio!

#GivingTuesday Donation Day!


Following Thanksgiving Thursday, Black Friday (which extends now from at least Thursday to Sunday), Cyber Monday (which is now Cyber WEEK according to my emails), there comes Giving Tuesday. 

So, many of you who read here regularly will know three things: 

(a) I used to run a charity, CARE Package, in memory of our son Robby.

(b) I am well-versed in the art of using coupons.

(c) I donated several toys recently to Toys For Tots.

I wanted to make a bigger impact. We have long donated presents for Christmas and birthdays each year in Robby's name, but we had gotten a little behind for a while there. I had tons and tons of rewards to use up from Walgreens, so when I saw that there was a good sale on toys there, I knew I could use up my rewards to buy up a bunch of toys to donate and make up for lost time.

In the photo above, there are 11 toys. Now, that may seem like a good amount, and it certainly covered the occasions when we had nothing to give for Robby's memory, but as a mathematicer, 11 just wasn't cutting the mustard. I needed a better number. And I still had lots more rewards.


I gathered up Rob and the kiddos and headed to another Walgreens down the way for more toys. I was able to get so many more, getting my total to two dozen. I had boy toys and girl toys, unisex toys, toddler toys and big-kid toys... I had my bases covered!

My next conundrum involved choosing the beneficiary. I thought about it for a while and eventually decided that, in keeping with donating in Robby's memory, the recipients should be sick children in the hospital. There is a Miami Children's Hospital here, and the University of Miami has a PICU. I made some calls and got through to the UM patient outreach coordinator first. 

It was meant to be. There's a Ronald McDonald House near that children's hospital, and since we had stayed in the RMH of Pensacola ourselves when Chloë was in the NICU 12 years ago, I knew what sort of needs there were.

I had a stockpile of more than just toys. I had all things necessary for the freshest of breath, deodorants, hair care products, and so much more. I had coffee and sweeteners. I had candy out the wazoo.

I called the coordinator back and asked if they could use all of this. "Will it fit on a stretcher?" she asked me. "You better bring two," I responded, and I was right.

When we got to the UM Hospital campus around 1530 on Tuesday afternoon, the coordinator and a NICU assistant were waiting, each with a stretcher. The kids waited in the car while Rob and I filled both beds with toys upon toys, toiletries galore, and sweets and coffees.

The hospital will be having a big holiday party on Christmas Eve, and the sick patients' parents will be able to go in and choose presents for them from what we brought and what others have donated. They'll also be able to pick toys for the siblings of those children, since it's difficult to go gift shopping when you have a child in the hospital for days or weeks or even months on end.

The coffee and toiletries will go over to the Ronald McDonald House. The residents there will be able to take whatever they need, which is great since there aren't too many stores around the hospital for getting such necessities. I plan to keep collecting these on my coupon adventures and bring them up to the hospital on the regular.

And finally, the candies will go in dishes for parents and nurses alike, and they'll also be used at the various holiday events that the staff will host this month. I even donated several dozen gift bags that they can fill with treats and smaller toys, out of my stash.

I can't tell you how elated I felt after pulling away from the hospital a half-hour later. The coordinator and I exchanged hugs and some tears, and I promised to make them the regular recipients of our in-kind donations in Robby's memory. I got my warm fuzzies for the day - no, the week - from that. The whole plan wasn't altruistic at all. I needed it. It felt great. I loved everything involved with it.


At home that evening, I set up the wreath I'd snagged from Walgreens, along with a little outdoor "tree." We can't put a tree up inside our house, because we just don't have the room for one and if we tried, surely the cats would knock it down and wreck everything. I'm still thinkering on what to do about that in the years to come, since we have a lovely ornament collection I'd like to display. Any thoughts on that are most welcome!

Did you participate in Giving Tuesday? What did you do? I'd love to hear.

'Tis the season...!


Gawking At Rich People's Houses


On Sunday, we went to downtown Miami, to Bayside Marketplace. I had taken another mystery shop up there and another nearby, so we all went and had some fun at the open-air market.


As with the first time we had gone, back in April, there was a salsa band playing lively music in the bandstand area. I can do a little merengue, but I can't salsa, so although my hips wanted to wiggle and shake as we walked past the band, I kept it all in my head. Others danced, though, and I enjoyed watching them!


I had gotten a Groupon for the five of us to take a boat tour around the bay, so Rob and Chloë went in search of the tour company while Jack, Sophie and I looked out at the water and the nearby ferries and other boats.


You can see the iconic flukes of a Carnival cruise ship there in the distance. Bayside is near the Port of Miami, from which the cruises set sail. I've sailed out of there twice on Carnival myself! When we saw these flukes, Jack started asking when we were going to take another cruise. Um, no plans, son...


Jack loves to look at any kind of vessel, whether it travels on land, by sea or in the air. Meanwhile, Sophia's hair is getting so long!


I was dying of thirst, but the only place I could find in the immediate vicinity of the bandstand was the "let's make a daiquiri" bar. So, okay, I got a virgin daiquiri for the kids to share, and a piña colada for Rob and myself to enjoy. So good. I love a piña colada when it's made correctly!


When Rob and Chloë returned, we went down to the Island Carousel to ride the horses. Chloë's using my older camera now that my Nikon DSLR has been replaced (the original was stolen from inside our house in Portsmouth, Virginia, much to my long-term dismay!), but I had to coax and cajole her into using it to take pictures. She seemed to think it was just a neck decoration. That, or it was just too complicated for her to figure out...


The Carousel, which was the original purpose of our visit there, was beautiful. There was one we frequented in Virginia Beach as well, so it was pretty interesting that we found one here, too. Always a fun time.


Jack didn't want a punching balloon, but the girls each got one. They're not that good at it, but as I posted on Facebook, I personally ROCK the punching balloon. If this were the Funger Games, I said, the punching balloon would be my weapon of choice. (I'm a wee bit Hunger Games obsessed at the moment!)


Chloë's hair is growing in nicely, and now at 12, she looks just like she did for her three-year-old portraits. It's the same length, and her face and smile are exactly the same. Every time she poses for me, I remember those pictures from nine years ago!


I keep looking at Rob now and thinking how unrecognizable he is compared to when he left the Navy back in March. He's a completely different man, between growing out his hair and beard and the extra weight from his brain tumor steroids. People keep saying how "healthy" he looks, which blows my mind a little bit as it's not a healthy weight gain, and he's super uncomfortable and in tons of pain. He walks with a cane! Not exactly healthy... but managing all right just the same.


We stopped and had a bite of pizza before boarding our tour cruise around the bay. When this crow landed nearby, the kids were exclaiming about it, and I saw it as an opportunity to fiddle with the new camera. This one was my favorite picture of said bird.


Finally, we headed over to the Miami Aqua Tours booth to redeem our Groupon and board the Island Princess. What surprised me the most about this ride was that the kids were so fearful and trembling at the beginning. They were scared of the boat and plank moving during boarding, and they were scared of sitting near the window. These are our kids?! By the time the ride ended some 90 minutes later, though, even Jack had to admit that it was worth the trip and he was glad we went!


I'm pretty sure this is the casino boat to the Bahamas that I keep hearing advertised on the radio. The fares are incredibly cheap, so maybe I'll take Rob sometime. Neither of us cares a lick about gambling, which is great, so we could just enjoy the ride and the views. We don't have a babysitter for the kiddos yet, though, so that's a back-burner plan for the time being.


Here comes that Carnival cruise, setting sail for points south of Miami. I thought they usually departed on Saturdays, but apparently I was mistaken. Bon voyage!


It was a grey, overcast day, but the harbor still looked beautiful full of boats and gentle waves as we started our tour.


Oops! It took me several tries to get the setting right so that I was taking pictures of the houses of the Rich and Famous, instead of my fellow passengers' heads and cameras. I'll have to skip ahead a few pictures so you don't have ten more of the same... which is fine, since I can scarcely remember who owns these first few houses and most of the rest anyway.


Bye-bye, Miami skyline!


I do remember this house with the large windows was owned by George Clooney. I'm sure there is much more than meets the eye, as these houses are on exclusive man-made isles, like Fisher Island, which can only be reached by boat.


I'm going to post more of the houses in case any of you out there are gawkers like me. I'm not generally in awe of stars and their riches, but I do appreciate gorgeous homes with the best of 'em!


I think our tour guide said this yellow one is owned by Will Smith. Or Hulk Hogan. I can't remember. Ugh. I tried committing them all to memory using mnemonic devices, but apparently they're failing me now. So much for that.


I think this is owned by Marc Anthony, the singer and former husband of Jennifer Lopez.


It's not really my fault I'm having trouble remembering, you know. Our tour guide spoke VERY fast in both English and Spanish to describe the back-to-back-to-back homes, and he kept passing the microphone back and forth to a Chinese man who was translating the tour into his own language for his large party. I could understand the tour guide better in Spanish than in English, which is not unusual for me since the accents are sometimes so strong, the English words make no sense to my ears.


Simply put, I adore the architecture of these expensive Miami homes, but I find most South Florida architecture appealing to my sensibilities. I just love everything about this place!


Argh. I can't remember the name, but I do recall the guide saying that the property here extended vastly beyond what you can see from water's edge. You can see a peek of it there on the left.


Anything looks good when surrounded by palm trees, in my opinion.


The beautiful Miami sunset


The Carnival ship, making its way out of the bay


There's nothing special about this dinghy; I just wanted to play with the camera and make a more artsy photo. I think it turned out well - do you?


Just... beautiful.


Like I said, I don't covet their wealth, but this sleek silver yacht certainly grabbed my attention!


Sophia and Jack, sitting on either side of me, kept jabbering in my ear while I was trying to listen intently to the tour guide's spiel. I wanted to get my money's worth, after all, so I had my camera lens trained on the celebs' houses the whole time. Except for this, when Sophia insisted I look at her, MOM!


I'm going to stop posting pictures of houses now that I can't remember a single one other than the Clooney property, but if you'd like to see the rest of the photos, please do let me know in the comments. I'm going to turn off the spam filters after posting this, since I'm getting hardly any comments anymore. People just hate the captchas!


As we re-approached the dock, the sun had gone down and the lights were ablaze across the skyline. Too bad it was raining; this could have been a lovely shot.


We were heading back to the parking garage after disembarking from our tour when I spied the Haagen-Dazs shop. Well, come on. Ice cream is ice cream, but Haagen-Dazs? Yes, please!


The kids each ordered a waffle cone, and I decided to go for the fat-free, sugar-free froyo twist. Rob didn't order anything, which was smart, because he knew he'd end up eating someone's ice cream. He was right.


Chloë and Sophia managed to eat their cones, but two bites into his and Jack was finished. Enter Rob. (Literally!) It wasn't that huge of a surprise moments later when Jack complained of an upset tummy, but he ended up moaning and crying all the way home - a long trip - and going straight to bed. Rob thought he'd eaten too much junk during the day, but I don't know; he seemed more in pain than nauseous. Regardless, he woke up just fine the next morning, which was a huge relief to his mama.


And that was our Sunday. How's your week going?


Product Review: Lancome #DreamTone Customized Skin Tone Correcting Serum #bareselfie


At the very beginning of November, I received a free full-size bottle of Lancome DreamTone Customized Skin Tone Correcting Serum from Lancome and SheSpeaks, in order to use and review it here on Ye Olde-Fashoned Blahg.

Here's my face at the start of November, before trying the DreamTone:


Ignore my hair; I was fresh out of the shower! As you can see, though, I have had some red blotchiness, especially around my nose and on my forehead - and I have tons of freckles that are harder to see. I was really interested in seeing what would happen to those after using the DreamTone for a month. I used to hate my freckles, but now I don't mind them so much unless I've been outside in the sun a lot. When I am, they all darken and connect together, leaving me looking dirty in my opinion. Hate that!

I used it nearly every day, as long as I had a bath or shower, each time I dried my face and before I put on any moisturizer. In my monthlong trial, the only other thing I ever used on my face was JAFRA Royal Jelly milk balm to moisturize, so that my results would completely pertain to the DreamTone.

So, how did it work?


Here I am, four weeks after starting the DreamTone. As I think you can tell, my freckles were not touched by the DreamTone, and I'm happy with that. The redness, though, seems to be gone! I love that. It also seems to have helped with the bit of darkness under my eyes, too. I have plenty of DreamTone left, so I'm going to continue using it to keep up with these results!

Someone even told me I looked way young in the last picture. What do you think? I'm interested in your opinion, too.

Full Disclosure: I received a free full-size bottle of DreamTone Customized Skin Tone Correcting Serum in exchange for my opinions and this blog post. I have not received any other compensation. All opinions expressed this post are, as always, completely my own.




Since Thanksgiving was this past Thursday, and I'm a delinquent blahgess, I'll just have to make a thankful post today. So, I'm six days late. You'll forgive me, and I'll thank you for that.

This palm frond came off one of our nearby trees during that awful storm I mentioned in the previous post about going down to Key West. I put Chloë in the picture so you could get an idea of how big the leaf is. They're huge, generally, and they slough off and crash down on whatever happens to be under there. I'm thankful, then, that it just landed on the sidewalk and not on one of my kiddos' heads! Not only are they big, but they're heavy and pointy-sharp, too.


This photo represents multi-part gratitude:

See Sophia in the middle, there? I'm thankful for my family. My children and husband are my world. I'm thankful for our extended family, too, and for my extensive support network of friends both online and off.

I'm thankful for work! Since I stopped mystery shopping so abruptly, we've been home a lot more. I mean, duh. But I've got a restless soul. I like to be busy-busy, going and doing and seeing all the time. Drives my father crazy, but that's the way I was built, so too bad. Now that I'm back in shop mode, we're going and doing and seeing again. I love it. LOVE it. There are plenty of assignments in our area, as you might expect, so I'm having to turn down requests left and right. (I think my schedulers are glad I'm back, too!)

And finally, I'm so very thankful that Rob's VA disability claim has been processed and we're now getting way more money in than his retirement pay. These last few months were exctremely excruciating, financially, and we can definitely relax now. Whew, whew, whew!


Rob and I usually share the Thanksgiving cooking duties, but I was not feeling well at all the whole day Thursday. Rob, then, took it upon himself to make our entire meal with nary a complaint. I felt terribly grateful for that. I love to cook the meal with him, so I was a little disappointed, but everything was delicious. We had a nice repast. Thanks, Bobby! ♥


So I'm not really thankful for alcohol, but we did have wine with our meal, and I did take a picture. It must be added, therefore, am I right? Actually, neither of us drank the wine. I had to leave the table early and lie down again, as I spent most of that day horizontal, and Rob also went to bed before having a single sip of his wine. So I'll say, I am thankful that it was left, untouched, at the table when I got up hours later. None of the kids touched them. Whew!


I know I already mentioned that I'm thankful for my family, but I love taking sleepy photos of my babies, so I'll just have to asy it again: I'm thankful for Rob and the kids! They are my life, my world, my everything.


In the very late evening, maybe around 2300 PM, the pain and discomfort I'd been feeling the entire day finally subsided. I got up to make a pie and felt fine, completely fine. I was grateful for that, and I was also grateful that Rob didn't mind a bit that we didn't have pie for Thanksgiving. He rarely complains, honestly, unlike myself!


While the pumpkin pie was cooling, first Sophia and then everyone else woke up to have a piece. I make pumpkin pie every single year, at least once, and every single year, I have always left out at least one ingredient. For some strange reason, this year I got it right! I'm glad for that and grateful for pie!

There have been innumerable blessings received by our family over the past year, and they are too many to count and list here. I couldn't possibly try. I'm thankful for all of them, and for each and every one of you reading this post.  

Happy holidays!!


Hemingway Slept Here


So, I've started mystery shopping again, as of last week. You may remember I stopped in about May or so when I applied for Social Security Disability... but I got denied, and I just don't have the mental fortitude to appeal. So, working is back on for me, and I'm back with a vengeance.

On Tuesday, the 26th of November (a week ago; I'm a naughty blogger!), I stacked a bunch of mystery shops in the Florida Keys together. We decided to take Thanksgiving week easy on schooling, so the plan was to work my way down and get the shops out of the way, and then play in downtown Key West. For once, all went according to plan. 

We stopped twice in Key Largo for mystery shops. They were quick and easy, and I was able to get us right back on the road according to schedule. We did have to make a few pit stops, naturally, since it's about a seven-hour round trip down to the Southernmost Point of the U.S. (in Key West), but we made good time. I had to buy the children a blanket on the way there - they were freezing in the air conditioning! I stopped, too, to get post cards for my gal pal who collects them, and also to get stamps and send one with a Keys postmark.

Then, of course, there was the stop at the Key Deer refuge and wildlife center in Big Pine Key. You know how some people love to travel by car with their families and make unexpected and unplanned detours when they come across places of interest? In theory, I am one of those people. In practice, I am more of a planner and scheduler. I like Theoretical Me a bit better, so when we were discussing the Key Deer, specificially, and all endangered species in general, with the kiddos, it was just serendipitous that - at just the right time - we came across the refuge.

So, we went.

Here's a tip, if you ever go there: don't expect the volunteers in the center/gift shop to know anything about... anything. Because they don't. The kids kept asking them various question about artifacts in the museum, and they would either provide incorrect information or hedge until Marine Biologist Mom or Outdoorsman Dad would jump in and drop some knowledge. Why, Rob even busted the two older, married vollies for having a pheasant feather from, what?, New Hampshire or somewhere they recently relocated from, in with the Keys fossils and such. Really? What?! Who does that? Nervy. Hopefully they'll remove it now that they've been discovered, because that's just wrong if you ask me.

Which you didn't, so on with our trip:


There's this gas station we've stopped at several times on our various runs to the Lower Keys, and each time, chickens were running amok in the parking lot. I do so love that. Do you know how hard it is to take a decent Instagram of the roosters while they're running away from you? 


After finishing my remaining three shops, one in Marathon and two in Key West itself, we were monstrously hungry. Of course, when one is in Key West and is of a certain age and not exactly a teetotaler, one expects there to be some alcohol paired with one's meals. I had a rum runner, one of my favorites, and Rob... I don't know. Maybe he had a beer. I can't remember. 

Also, of course, when one is in the Keys or any other coastal area, one generally partakes in the local seafood fare. We shared a plate of peel-and-eat shrimp (delicious), and Rob had one of his favorites, conch fritters. I've tried so hard to get back to total vegetarianism this year, but when my protein requirements are so high, it's difficult. And shrimp are some tasty, tasty people.

(The yummiest shrimp I have ever eaten, by the by, were at The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key in Sarasota. I worked in Catering there while doing my internship at Mote Marine Lab. I could wax poetic about the food we served there... but I digress, as I am wont to do.)


Chloë ordered her dinner - mac and cheese for my girl - and promptly fell asleep the minute our awesome server at Caroline's Café walked away from our table. She had fallen asleep the day before over her schoolwork, too, but I wasn't concerned since I'd gotten all three kiddos out of bed both mornings to get on with our day(s)! 


(Apologies for the darkness of these next few photos; I just now realized there is an option to turn the flash off on Instagram and I had utilized it at some point. Whoops.)

Anyway, we roused sleepy Chloë from her slumber and decided to walk around for a bit while time passed until I could finish the "Return" portion of one of my nearby mystery shops. It has long been a topic of conversation amongst the young trio of Odettelettes in our household that there are six-toed cats at the Hemingway house in Key West. Y'all know about that, right? So we decided to hot-foot it over to Hemingway's place and make a tiny dream come true for them.

The nearby residents must grow so weary of all the people meandering around, looking for that property. I'd been there in college, back in the 90s, but of course I didn't remember exactly how to get there since I was never in charge of directions. As it should be. I had Siri giving us walking directions while Rob looked around at the hilarious signage various Hemingway neighbors has posted, like the one above.


In the words of George Takei, "Oh, myyyy!"

(Side note: my nearly-14yo neice follows my instagramography, and she "liked" this picture. Kind of embarrassing.)


Thankfully, we arrived at Hemingway's home after 1700, so there was no need to explain to the children that I lacked desire to cough up the $44 it would have cost us to go in there to find cats that, naturally, you're not allowed to pick up or touch. We were left standing outside there on the sidewalk with the other author's pilgrims, peering through the wrought iron gates. Would a cat come see us, oh, would one please?


One would. Of course, by the time I got the iPhone raised and steady, the kids' clamoring and squealing had scared the poor thing off, so I didn't get a picture. No worries. You've seen one cat with an extra toe, you've seen 'em all. You get a glimpse of the house instead. Very Keys-y. Ernie loved him some Key West, he did.


We've been down to the Keys some three of four times during our 8+ months in southern Miami-Dade County, and we have yet to make it to the Southernmost Point that is the subject of so many pictures, postcards, and bumper stickers. (I've been there several times myself, but not with my little family.) So, too, is Mile Marker Zero a stopping point, so Rob pointed it out to me to snap when we happened on it. I don't know that I've ever captured a photo of it before, so here it is now. That's the end of the line for US1 (which comes out of I-95 South down the East Coast and is AKA South Dixie Highway in Miami and Overseas Highway in the Keys). You can't go any further than that, folks!


We followed Duval St back toward my remaining shop area and came across this giant cone prop for an ice cream parlor. Hello, photo op!


I left Rob with the kids after that, to go finish my requirements, and this is the scene to which I returned. Jack was still awake, but the girls were Knocked. Out. Cold. Passersby varied between amused and enamored of the girls' napping on a public bench! Good thing Rob didn't look TOO terribly homeless... ;)

On that note, we decided to make our way back up north to Homestead. Our homestead. The kids were all zonked out in the back of the truck SUV whatever-the-hell-a-Chevy-Trailblazer-is, so Rob and I kept each other company through the miserable storm that was blowing a deluge down upon us during the long, somewhat treacherous drive home. It never got quite to the point where I had to pull over and stop, but we came close a few times! 

One time, I stopped to pee and raced from the, er, vehicle to the store. Soaking wet, I stood there looking around until an employee came up and offered help. I asked if there was a bathroom, and she was torn between devilish laughter and sheepish apologies, having to tell me that the restroom was, in fact, outside. That's the first time I put the heat on since we've been in Florida!

Welp, speaking of being cold, I'm going to go soak in a warm bath. I have much more to post about this early morning, so I shall return. If things again go according to plan, at least...