Looking at the Past Year

So this is my obligatory retrospective of the past year. I considered doing a resolution post but I generally try to avoid making resolutions (though I do sometimes post goals). Instead I am doing a post-Christmas letter. Here goes:

This last year was filled with ups and downs. Sparky went full time at Lowe’s and was raking in the pennies. He decided in the last months of the year to look for a different job. He succeeded in finding 2 jobs. He is currently still employed at Lowe’s (part-time now) as well as working for the County library as a resource person for the computer lab, 3-D printing lab, and as a reference assistant (sort of the reference librarian without the title or pay) also part-time. He managed to score a job working at Indiana University – South Bend as a lecturer for the business computing classes. He will be working as an adjunct teaching the same classes he taught before. He is one busy guy in his retirement!

I settled down in my role as a Team Lead. I’m not going to lie and say it is a fun job. Being a Team Lead is exhausting and frustrating. I have managed to endure 3 inspections with minimal findings. Most safety and regulatory inspectors want to find something – anything! So far one inspection found a ladder missing an inspection date (fixed instantly). Another found an expired fire extinguisher (which turned out wasn’t expired at all). And the last one was a patch of chipped paint. We knew about the paint but the wall had been sealed with clear silicone caulk pending a repainting in the summer… I’ve been hugged and praised by graduate students, a post-doc told me she loved me. I saved another’s bacon (no details will be given), comforted another in tears, assisted still another on the verge of an emotional breakdown. But for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction… I’m seriously toying with the idea of retiring too! That however won’t entail working 3 jobs. I was considering going to work for the devil (Wal-mart hires in at $12/hr). It just might be a cushy job or at least one that would allow my OCD a little exercise.

Our sons are doing well. Son#1 is climbing (slowly) into a management position. He celebrated a 7 year work anniversary this last August. He had to buy a new-to-him car after a collision that totaled his car (my car on semi-permanent loan to him). He bought a new refrigerator. He had a little panic when his water softener died and he was thinking he’d need a new one AND his dryer went on the fritz. We came to the rescue – as soon as we turned off the water softener and unplugged it the breaker stayed on and the dryer worked!! He was very happy.

Son#2 graduated from IUSB with a degree in music – viola performance just last week. He is still working in the meat department part-time (10 year anniversary) and is taking after his father. Besides the job in the grocery, he is giving violin and viola lessons at a local music store. This summer he auditioned for the Elkhart Symphony and is now playing with them. He seems to really enjoy it. He won’t be able to give up any of his other jobs but he is having fun! When he has a free moment he is also still playing with the Silver Strings Quartet. They’ve done the Bridal Expo and had lots of weddings this last spring and summer.

The bigger picture is that we are thankful (in the words of Sparky just before Christmas) that we “have running water that we can turn on and off and have it hot or cold nearly instantly.” We are surrounded by friends that are like family and family that we’d choose as friends. Although we have experienced some medical issues (mostly in those we love) that have been resolved with wonderful outcomes, we still feel fortunate to have good health. Sixty is the new thirty right? I am looking forward to the new year and new experiences and perhaps some travels and adventures. What do you see in your future??

Looking at Legs

My species has two
Other animals have more
But mine look better

So we are at the beach and I’m wearing leggings. It is a little cold since the wind is coming off the water (it is December after all). Sparky has an arm over my shoulders supposedly to help keep me warm as we stroll just out of reach of the surf. He leans in and says, “I really like your cute chubby legs.”
*Sound of a phonograph needle scraping across the record*
What??!!?!?! I can’t believe he just committed suicide. I’m not sure if it was my exclamation or my stiffened posture that clued him. He immediately started backpedaling. He was joking, just kidding, it was a compliment, he loves my legs. I considered giving him the gypsy curse. Then I considered forgiveness. I finally settled on reparations.

He has no appreciation of LuLaRoe fashion. In fact he can’t differentiate one clothing brand from another unless it has the brand name emblazoned across the chest, shoulders, or back side. I generally do not have any strong brand loyalties. There are however certain designers who seem to have my number. Alfred Dunner puts out clothes in my color palate. Vera Wang has some dresses that speak to my heart. But LuLaRoe, well, this is a siren call to my Bohemian soul. I like ruanas, ponchos, pashminas, shawls and scarves. The longer tops with the flared hems scream my name. I like pattern and color. But it is the texture of certain fabrics that have an allure hard to resist. So I buy LuLaRoe at Goodwill because I am too frugal to shell out $40 – 70 for a piece of casual clothing. I buy all my leggings second hand (softer than butter) because leggings shouldn’t cost more than the rest of the outfit.

I’m pretty sure you can tell where this is headed. I’m thinking I’ll need to ask saintvi to help me get hooked up with the Brays (hey, hey!) so I can get a new dress and matching thingy – they have names for all these things and I just can’t remember them – a Carly with a Shirley… I think.

Looking at Rules

As you read this I am on an airplane soaring over fields and mountains, roads and rivers, on my way to Pensacola Beach, FL. I don’t mind flying. In fact it is rather a peaceful experience usually. That said, the rigmarole to finally get on the plane is one that turns off many people. The airlines have changed their rules so many times it is impossible to predict what is allowed and what is not. They keep changing the allowed size of the carry-on suitcase. The number and type of carry-ons is also in flux. And it also depends on the size of the plane! We are bringing Christmas gifts which ended up being less of an issue than I anticipated, mostly because I selected gifts that were easy to pack and I consulted the airline – twice. We will be gone for 7 days (a rare feat to get the whole family together at one time in one place). So we had to brush up on the rules:
1. No liquids over 3.4 oz. It changed from 2 oz to 3.4 oz and I’m not sure why but I suspect pressure was brought to bear by the manufacturers maintaining that they lost money on packaging. I never understood the little Avon purse sized spritzers. Now they make perfect sense!
2. No batteries. This is a tricky one. If the batteries are already in a device you don’t have to take them out unless you have a specific phone model that has an exploding battery. However you can’t bring extra loose batteries. Unless the ends are covered with thick tape – something like masking tape – to prevent them from being accidentally activated? to prevent airline personnel from sucking on them? to boost the revenue of tape manufacturers? This baffles me but I don’t make the rules.
3. One carry-on and one personal bag that will fit under the seat in front of you. OR One carry-on only. OR Two carry-ons and one personal bag. We are planning on a carry-on suitcase each and one personal bag each (that translates to backpacks. I think we’ll be fine. I hope. We are also checking one bag but it can’t weigh more than 50 pounds… We had to weigh the bag on the bathroom scale. That was a lot of fun.
4. All liquids, pastes, creams, gels, etc. must be in a 1 quart zip-lock plastic bag. This bag must be extracted from the carry-on and placed in a bin for examination and/or x-ray. You are allowed only 1 plastic bag. This adds the question – do I pack deodorant or not?
5. You must remove all objects from your pockets, all jewelry (except pierced earrings unless they are big, metal and dangly and weigh enough to stretch your earlobes to your shoulders, belts, jackets/sweaters, electronics, phones, computers, and any other suspicious items including shoes, and place them in gray totes on a conveyor belt to be passed through an x-ray tunnel. I’ve decided that I will not be wearing my jacket with all the metal grommets as decoration. I’m going to wear slip on shoes.
6. If you have any metal implants you should expect to be patted down – because it is difficult to determine if an artificial hip is a gun or not???
7. No smoking anywhere in the airport or airplane. And on my last flight they didn’t allow vaping either! This rule is not an issue for me or mine. It only becomes a problem when the twitchy guy in the next seat is going through nicotine withdrawal!
8. Gifts must comply with the liquids rule and if they are liquid, aerosol, or gel so you can’t bring that bottle of home brewed beer as a gift for your cousin. And be unwrapped – in case the inspector needs to examine them. Or if wrapped they won’t be by the time you finally board the aircraft!

These are the general rules – not counting the standard prohibitions against weapons, explosives, and firearms. On my last flight I got pulled out of line for extra scrutiny because my bat brooch looked like a throwing star. I had to open my bag and show them what I had in there… The TSA agent asked me if there was anything in my bag that might cut or poke her. I answered no BUT if the clasp on my bat pin is unsecured it could poke you…
Don’t get me started on the rules about flying with animals/pets! That is a whole other layer of complexity!!! I will not be bringing anything alive to or from Florida (except for the boys and Sparky of course)!

Good thing I’m a rule follower!

Looking at the Stadium

The big news around here is the 12 – 0 season that the Fighting Irish football team completed with a national ranking of #3. There is a hushed whisper that “this could be the year”. With all the superstition that sports engenders I’m not going to complete that sentence. Our friends are die-hard fans and were practically frothing at the mouth to find out the pairings for the College Football National Championship Playoff games. Notre Dame will play Clemson. There is joy (and it isn’t just the usual Christmas cheer). People are smiling more. Spontaneous conversations occur. Wearing Notre Dame attire results in thumbs up signs, a slap on the back and even a handshake with the comment that the team is looking great.

With that spirit in mind we decided (Actually Sparky decided and I am a good sport so I went along with the plan) to take our Christmas Card photo on campus with the Stadium in the background. We are outside the Leahy gate standing in ankle deep snow. You can’t tell from the photo but we are freezing cold and the wind was whipping. Still we were able to muster smiles just thinking about the possibility of a wonderful post season win…

A Merry Christmas to all my WP readers and all the former Xangans out there! I hope the New Year brings you Joy in abundance and Peace overflowing!

Looking for the Silver Lining

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray for slumber long and deep
If I find I’m wide awake
A sleeping pill I just might take
Twisted in my flannel sheets
Lulled by steady soft heart beats
Beckon dreams to fill my head
While I snuggle in the bed
Now I rise to take a pee
Stumble cause I’m so sleepy
Stub a toe and choke back tears
Curse hoping no one hears
Back in bed to find the spot
That’s warm but I find it not
Instead I stare into the dark
Listening to dogs that bark
Until a cramp forms in my leg
I gasp and pray and then I beg
To let it pass and give me rest
I want to sleep but I’m distressed
Insomnia has come to visit me
Sleep deprived is what I’ll be

I don’t often have insomnia but boy howdy when I do I really have it bad. This happens maybe once or twice a year. It is usually linked to high levels of stress. And so if I’m not sure I’m under pressure, I’ll get the not so subtle hint via insomnia that I’ve exceeded my stress tolerance. Why insomnia now? Hmm. Lets see if I can make a list (maybe if I give it an airing it will go away or at least be slightly tamed):
I have to work on Saturday (7:30 AM – 10:30 AM?).
I have to work on Christmas Eve (7:30 AM to when we get done – 1:30ish?).
I have to work on Christmas Day (again 7:30 AM – 10:30 AM?).
I haven’t packed for the vacation – leaving on the 26th.
I haven’t gotten the Christmas Day meal finalized (where there won’t be leftovers).
I have laundry that needs to be done.
I still have gifts to wrap.
I have to attend the traditional Christmas Eve Eve breakfast with friends (which is on Sunday but is going to be breakfast for lunch).
I need to arrange for mail and newspaper pick-up.
We have to visit with Sparky’s family for a Christmas celebration on Sunday afternoon and I need to bake a pie or two and make fruit salad….
We need to schedule the master bathroom remodel that hopefully will be done while we are out of town.
I have to plan out some Geocaches to find in Florida while we are there.
There are some more things – like picking up some prescriptions but I’m going to stop. I am yawning and my eyes are getting heavy so maybe I can go to sleep. And stay asleep. For more than 2 hours. Maybe. But because I’m kind I’ve scheduled this to post after 6 AM – hopefully I’ll be asleep when you read this…

Looking at Little Bites

Open box of chocolate candy
Search for the legend handy
Which one should I avoid
Maple coconut schadenfreude
Likewise the jelly belly beans
Is orange vomit or tangerines
The chart that came with the bag
Was hidden by a scalawag
With trembling heart and hand
I make a guess, a choice unplanned
A tentative taste, a little nibble
With relief it’s peanut brittle!

In this week leading up to Christmas there are a multitude of treats piling up in the break room at work. The boss set out a box of chocolate crepes. These are light and crispy and very tasty. The best part is that there are no surprises. What you see is what you get!

Now there are also 2 boxes of assorted chocolates. These are quite tempting to me. But there is a hitch. I am very cautious about sampling them because there is no diagram showing which is which! I think someone tossed it since I’m familiar with that company and they always include one. The other box, well, it is hard to say what is what because none of the chocolates match the picture in the lid. I hate maple and I will spit out coconut, then shudder and search for some water to rinse out my mouth… So I really don’t want to take a chance. I caught one of my coworkers moving chocolates. She reasoned that because there were spaces, she should remove the empty papers and slide things around to consolidate the candy and eventually get it all on one level and eventually into one box! I’ve resolved to avoid those chocolates. With my luck I’d get the double whammy of maple coconut!

Then there is the bottle of jelly beans. These are an assortment in a 3 pound plastic jar. I’ve seen this before last Christmas with Sparky’s family (because they like their candy). It came with a pictogram of the various colors/patterns on the back of the jar with the flavor listed. This jar is missing all labeling and instead has a Christmas bow for decoration. I figured I was savvy enough with my jelly beans to avoid the flavors that I dislike (cotton candy, bubble gum, coconut, buttered popcorn, cappuccino, mocha, coffee, root beer). What I didn’t count on was that this assortment was a custom mix. Not only were there the original flavors but it had the Harry Potter flavors, the BeanBoozled mix, Sours and the Cocktail Classics mixed in. It was an evil thing to do as a Christmas gift. As you might have guessed, I attempted to select some of my favorite flavors – licorice, cinnamon, peach, and juicy pear. Unfortunately in the perverse universe of Jelly Belly the peach is the same look as vomit, cinnamon is very similar to cherry or earthworm, and the pear is identical to booger. I can tell you without reservation that I do not like the taste of vomit, earthworm or booger. And yes I spit them out. And I will be avoiding that jar of (tainted) jelly beans from now to eternity!

Looking at My Checkbook

Gifting Cycle
Work overtime to save it
Spend time to buy it
Find time to wrap it
Make time to give it
No time to enjoy it

I have finished my shopping for Christmas. I am under budget and ahead of schedule. However I haven’t said anything to my coworkers because I don’t want to rub it in. There is a pervasive attitude that to really celebrate you need to spend money – lots of money. More importantly, you must spend money you don’t have! I suppose I’m fortunate to have enough money that I can buy gifts and not go into debt. Then again I’m not using the holiday as an excuse to purchase a luxury item that normally I wouldn’t dream of spending money on. For instance, I would never buy a car as a gift. Nor would I enjoy getting a present that would require severe belt tightening over the course of 5 years! But that is just what some folks do.

As you all know, I’m frugal. My gift budget was $300 for about 30 people. I managed to really save a bundle on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I’d tell you what I bought but there are people reading this who just might be on my gifting list. I will tell you about my steal from Kohl’s. I needed to buy a gift for the work “dirty Santa” exchange (which I hadn’t budgeted for). The cost limit was set between $15- $20. You can’t get a really WOW gift for that amount unless… I had a $10 off a $25 purchase, 25% off when I used my Kohl’s charge card and an extra 15% off for shopping Cyber Monday. They had a Rice Cooker/Vegetable Steamer regularly $49.99 on sale for $35.99 (you can probably see where this is going). The sales clerk took my 15% off first then she took the $10 off and finally took the 25% off giving me a total cost of $16.45 including taxes! It is a much nicer steamer than what I currently own. I always wonder, is it bad form to try to get the gift you bring?

Looking at Sundown

Dusk comes early
Casts long shadows
Ice crystals catch last light
Become diamonds in the grass

The above poem was inspired by the magic of the sunset. I usually work until 6:00 PM or later and with the dratted daylight savings time I never see daylight. So when I had to leave early, and by early I mean on time at 5:00 PM, I was surprised to walk out into day light. It was light but the day was fading fast. The sun was slanting down nearly behind the horizon. I looked down to avoid a puddle of water trying to freeze over and was struck by the beauty of the frost crystals on each blade of grass. I stopped and marveled at the masterpiece. I wanted to take a photo but there wasn’t enough light to capture the sparkle. The human eye sees so much more than the camera lens. I then shifted my attention to the sky. It was cloudy. The day had been typical, a winter day with a color palate of brown and gray. The sun had the last word as yellow and pink streaks illuminated the sky. I walked to my car as the sun went down. Once inside I sat there for a moment watching the last of the light fade away taking the sparkle and color from the world. It reminded me of the dreams I used to have as a child. In those dreams I drop something and have to search for it in the grass. As I’m parting the blades I’m amazed to find shiny coins of all denominations! There are fists full of money and the longer I search the more I find. Such was the astonishment and glee I felt when seeing the ice sparkling on the grass… I’m working hard this Advent to recapture the awe and wonder that the shepherds must have felt when the angels appeared and announced the birth of the Messiah!

Looking at Winter Driving

Two weeks ago we had snow. There was a fair amount – enough for there to be a snowman sentinel in nearly every yard on our street. There were no school delays or cancellations. The salt trucks and snow plows were everywhere. Everyone was driving cautiously. Then last week we had a fine dusting of snow. There was a 2 hour delay for many school districts. The drive into work was downright dangerous! The first cars on the road had turned the streets into a skating rink. Nearly every intersection was a death trap of intersecting sheets of ice. I was very thankful for my automatic anti-lock breaking system! I managed to get safely to work. It took me that moment backing out of the driveway to remember all my mad winter driving skills! For those who don’t live in the frozen sections of our country that translates to: leaving extra space between your front bumper and their rear bumper, driving more slowly, applying the brakes in a pumping fashion instead of stomping down, accelerating slowly from a stop, and using a little courtesy when someone looks like they can’t stop in time for the light and letting them slide through safely on yellow/pink/red.

A little haiku for your reading pleasure.

First freeze dangerous
Recall winter driving skills
Car skids to a stop

Looking My Best ( In Show)

Last Friday was the opening for the Student/Faculty Art Show. I had spent the day visiting a friend’s class to discuss different animal identification techniques. It was a full day and I was tired. When I got home I was cold. I considered putting on my cozy Star Wars BB8 pajamas and skipping the opening. Saintvi was feeling sub par due to her reaction to her shingles vaccination and wouldn’t be joining me. My husband, Sparky, had to work until 6:00 PM and I almost texted him to say he should just come home as I was going to skip the opening. But I decided not to ditch the opening hoopla. I instead put on a warmer dress and bundled up and made it to the museum at a little after 5:00 PM. I hung around the rotunda having a cookie and voting on the best gingerbread house while I waited for Sparky. (Sparky ended up voting for Candy Land and I’ll just let you guess which one got my vote!)
  

  

He contacted me and I told him I’d meet him in the gallery. As I walked into the exhibit, I enjoyed some spectacular paintings.
  
The watercolor of the birch trees was very good. I especially liked the flowers in the vase done in watercolor and pastels. The glare of the lights on the glass created a reflection but the background for the painting was just as good as the painting. A lot of people thought it was from the photography studio instead of a painting!

This one represented 10 seasonal paintings done of the same landscape from the same perspective (December – February doesn’t change much…). I thought it was good enough to make Best in Show. Besides it was big!

And of course some art that made me scratch my head.
The above piece was titled “Arcane Handjob”. I was not impressed. Especially since it was an instructor’s entry.

I threaded my way through the different displays and noticed some work by classmates.
  
These tiles are very well done. It is difficult to do tiles with a pressed surface. You can’t mess with them or you deform and blur your details – a very high technical difficulty score from me on this one! The Beauty and the Beast rose under glass was very complicated. She had to take crushed stained glass and fill the areas before sending it through the glaze kiln… It may look a little juvenile but it was a gift for a child’s room and very hard to do especially in porcelain!
  
The pierced form is spectacular and really made mine look heavy and clunky! The metallic bowl is very pretty and the glaze is a difficult and expensive one to make. It turned out fantastic (makes me wonder if human sacrifice to the kiln gods was involved – my glazes never turn out that good).

Then I spotted mine. And I nearly fainted!!

I don’t know if you can read the place card but it reads Melusine Sisters, 2018 BEST IN SHOW! I was a little taken aback! I mean, the best in show almost always goes to a painting and there were several outstanding pieces. I could hardly believe it! I read the juror’s statement and she teaches art at St. Mary’s College. She was looking for technical difficulty and originality with a sense of taking a chance on your art. Wow. I didn’t have a chance to post anything because by the time I’d accepted my award, and posed for the required photo, Sparky had already written TWO Facebook posts. So I’ve got a $100 gift card to spend and a nice letter from the museum. If this is a precursor for the rest of the month I think I’m going to have a great December!!