Saturday, December 31, 2011

NYE 2011 into 2012...

It always has confused me. Is this NYE 2012? I guess it is.  It wouldn't be 2011, because that's old year's eve.

Long and the short of it is, in the famous words of Adam and Counting Crows, "A Long December, and there's reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last." This time last year we got a lawyer so we could go up against Bank of America. That battle still continues. I had hoped it would be resolved during this year, but ... no.

So here's the new year upcoming, and let's hope that we can get this all put to bed in this year upcoming. It hangs heavy over my head and heart, and makes me feel less like me.

Cheers to you all, those I know and those I have not met. Take a cup of kindness yet, and I wish a happier new year to each of us...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Slacker Christmas

It is Christmas and I have literally no desire to go nuts and do. And to be honest, that's a perfectly fine thing.

With a missing wallet, I had no way to go shopping so I was at the mercy of Doug and cash that I could pull out of the bank. I bought our tree by myself (no one wanted to go out, and Doug was sick for a week and a half) so I just got one and brought it home on Monday. We set it up on Tuesday and it stood naked in the living room until Thursday night. I honestly don't think we've ever set the dang thing up this late in the season. I usually like to have everything set up by the 15th, not the 22nd.

Doug and I went out shopping for a gift on Wednesday night after he got home from work. We spent hardly any money compared to years past.... the one big ticket item we bought under "Geoff's"  name, a PS3 to replace our PS2 which was slowly fading and causing all kinds of difficulties. We got him two games, and his birthday is in 2 weeks so I'll get him another one and he's got his family Christmas money, so there will be fun to be had in the pink room for months to come.

Yesterday, I bought Jess some gift certificates, at a comic book store and at the Converse sneaker store, some socks. It seems like nothing compared to a PS3, but it was what she wanted.

Doug and I exchanged no gifts.

But we sank a good deal of money into our Christmas meal. a 3 bone standing rib roast, of which 1/3 of it is now in the fridge waiting to be made into sammitches tomorrow, and a really nice cheesecake from the masters at Alden Merrill.

We did our church's Christmas Eve candle light service and it was incredibly well attended and the music was lovely. We were home by 8pm, with a light dinner and Geoff went straight to bed. I went to wrap the two boxes, and couldn't find the scotch tape anywhere in the house. I knew where I saw the roll last, but hell if I could find it. So the boxes went under the Christmas tree unwrapped, with Jess' name written on the one box so Geoff wouldn't rip it open thinking it was his.

Never have I had an easier Christmas Eve. Slacker Christmas wins.

Having gotten in my jammies at 9pm last night, I find I'm still in them almost 24 hours later. three bottles of wine between Doug and myself, dinner was great and Geoff is in the playstation room, the house is quiet, Jazz is streaming on the TV, the dogs have each had one of the bones from the roast so they got their once a year treat....

Even though I got nothing, I've got everything. Happy Christmas to everyone. Cheers.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In Which Your Humble Narrator Loses Her Wallet

We're home from getting Jess. It was an uneventful trip overall, but one also devoid of side trip shenanigans. But not devoid of some fun and special times.

On the way out, we were in Southwestern Connecticut and "Do They Know It's Christmas Time" came on the radio.  Geoff asked about the song, who it was about, who the band was, and what was going on with the story. I filled him in on Band Aid, and Africa back in the early 80s (to whit he responded "So, not a lot has changed there over the decades since this recording was made.") We talked about Africa's politics, the history of Liberia, friends that I have who live in Kenya and South Africa. We talked about Warlords and Missionaries. We talked about Sun City and well meaning 80s pop stars who refused to play there until things changed in South Africa. We talked about Biko and Mandela.

Geoff moved on to North Korea, and we ended up talking about "Animal Farm" and Communism, and how authors use inanimate objects to tell human tales. We watched the sun setting in the southwest while talking about Gulag Archipelago and other tales of life inside Post WWII Russia. We talked about the Eastern Front and the Western Front. He was confused that Russia was an ally in WWII and then not so much after that.

"Woah, we're in New York? When did that happen?" He asked me. Actually, we were one exit away from Pennsylvania at that point.

It made that stretch of the trip go very quickly to have a one on one discussion partner by my side. We got gas and made it to our friends' Chris and Chrissy's house in the Scranton area and had a nice dinner.

The following morning they had to go to a pitchfork and torch meeting at their place of work, even though they were on vacation, so we hit the road and motored west. We stopped in Ebensburg, which is East of Pittsburgh by about 90 minutes or so and I realized I didn't know where my wallet was.

Long time readers and good friends know I misplace things often. Especially in the summer time. Many pants, many pockets, much confusion.

I tore the car apart looking for the little purse that I carry, which fits my cell phone, camera and wallet very nicely. The cell phone was up front with me, the camera was on the back seat, and the purse itself was not to be found.

Perhaps I left it at Chris and Chrissy's. I had paid for dinner at the restaurant the night before and had the purse with me there. I recalled seeing it in the living room while we were watching American Horror Story, because I got out my Carmex and used it.

They tore their house apart and it wasn't anywhere to be found. They tore their car apart, checked rooms I hadn't even entered, and looked into the driveway to see if I dropped it there. Nothing.


Well, I had cash in my front pocket so I got the tank filled up and knew I had enough to get BACK to Scranton but not enough to get all the way home. Geoff had about $30 in his wallet so that would get us home. We headed to Jess' without talking about it any more...

I was woefully disappointed in myself, because without my wallet I didn't have enough money to go to the Carnegie Museum and see the Christmas display that I love so very much. I fumed the whole way to her front door. We loaded up quickly, two trips and the back was full. She was unregistered, finished, done. We had to swing by so she could drop off some paperwork to the German professor's office, and then we were on our way.

My father in law had made hotel reservations for us, and pre-paid it (thank God) so we checked right in and met him and my MIL for dinner. I broke it to them that I'd lost my wallet, suffered a 20 minute lecture about how much work I'd have to do to replace everything (LIKE I DON'T KNOW THIS. How about a little sympathy or something please?)

They came back to the hotel with us for a little while. My father in law informed me that I am (in his opinion) the Christmas Police because I'm rather opinionated about things like the Baby Jesus doesn't go in the manger in your nativity set until Christmas Day, and there should never be a polar bear and a penguin in your front lawn display because they don't live on the same poles, and more than one Santa in your yard should get you shot. He was a step away from calling me a Christmas Nazi, which I suppose is true to some extent.

My father in law filled my gas tank for me and handed me sixty bucks. We now had enough money for gas to get home, and lunch, and maybe dinner. Crisis averted money-wise. Now I just had to make sure I didn't get pulled over on the highway...

When they left we all went to bed. I think it wasn't even 10pm. But we were all utterly exhausted at this point.  Geoff  initially tried to sleep on the couch, but it was a foot and a half too short for him. Jess was smack dab in the center of her bed sleeping diagonally, so I knew there was no way I could get in there if I wanted to be kind and offer Geoff the bed I was in... I told him he should come up and sleep on the bed with me, that it wasn't gross or perverted (which is what he said it was... kids. Jeesh).

He finally decided that I was right and he should. 

Sleeping with Geoff in the bed was something I don't think I've done for over a decade. He's not the small person who used to end up with his feet in my ribcage. He was too long for the bed, so his feet were hanging off the end (how do I have such giant tall kids?) He is like a Mexican Jumping Bean and wouldn't be still. I think he woke me up eleven times in the night.

He slept well, he said. Glad for that.

We left at 9am and planned to stop for lunch only...I wanted to get as much travel done before we hit some city at rush hour.

Between State College and Scranton we had another great marathon discussion of early memories. Before Geoff was born my husband tried to get Jessica to do something and told her about the elves that would be watching her and reporting to Santa. She FLIPPED OUT screaming "why should I bother even trying to be good. I'll never be good enough!" and tried to throw her bed over, and all sorts of other things while I curled up on the couch crying about the disaster Doug had caused in the other room. Jess had no recollection of this event. Geoff found it horribly entertaining and Jess howled and said "well, this explains a lot about who I am even though I don't remember it." We talked about how Geoff tried to bungee jump out of a tree, how he had these Leap Pad books that he used to make up songs to, and Jess and I could only remember one of them. I wish I knew the others... He has vivid and joyful recollections of our vacations to Arizona and to North Carolina.

Before we knew it we were in New York State. Stuck in traffic all the way to Hartford and beyond. We got home at 8pm and I was exhausted.

I'm not as young as I used to be where this 12 hour trip never bothered me. But now... twice in a month and I'm done.

We need to unload the car, get our tree, and make it look like Christmas here. Seeing as I've lost my wallet, I have to replace my license, social security card, and my 2 credit cards, my Sam's Club card (I was going to do all my Christmas Shopping on that) and our insurance cards. Monday will be a busy day.

Until then though, I'm happy we're home safe, even though first thing this morning Geoff decided to play the drums as loudly as he could.

Welcome home Jess.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Geoff's unplanned vacation

I am off to Pittsburgh this morning.

Well, halfway. I'm off to Kellyburgh (a term that has confused some friends and my mother in the past when I've used it. It is the home of our friends Chris and Chrissy and their last name combined with Pittsburgh gives you Kellyburgh). It is a good halfway point between here and there. And I love visiting with them.

Tomorrow morning at this time I hope to be underway to Pittsburgh and to Jess and her stuff. We'll pack up the car, she'll check out of the dorm. We'll spend the night at a hotel up by Doug's parents and then in the morning on Friday get up and motor out.

I am taking Geoff with me.

He has an unplanned vacation from school. I had toyed with the idea of taking him with me anyway, and dismissed it because I know he gets upset if I take him out of school for a couple hours for a doctor's appointment. I knew he'd freak out if I said that he was coming with me for three days. What kid does that? Honestly? Don't most kids LOVE a day off from school? Mine never did. Weirdos.

Anyway, his vacation is unplanned because he got in trouble in gym yesterday after a kid hit him (hard) in the face with a ball. The kid says he didn't mean it, but Geoff thought it was intentional and actually wrapped his hands around the kid's through (a la Homer and Bart Simpson). The kid is fine, Geoff's got a sore nose and cheek but not discernible black eye or anything. The punishment for aggressive choking of a kid (punching him would have gotten a one day, for a first offense) is a five day suspension but the Assistant Principal has known Geoff since he was in 5th grade with the youth football league, and realizes that Geoff over reacted, and gave him three days.

Exactly the amount of time that I wanted to (but didn't) take him out of school.

When I told the Assistant Principal of my plan (that I'd abandoned) he said "Hey, you got what you wanted in a round about way. Do me a favor, don't wish anything that has to do with me."

You know, lest HE get suspended or something.

So yeah. Getting ready ... we should be outta here in like an hour or so. I'm letting Geoff sleep because he is very angry in general, and doesn't even want to go with me, so I'm giving him wide berth today until it is time to go. He never sleeps past 8am and it is nigh unto 10 at this point. I'm wondering if he is just awake, and curled up with sullen self-loathing in his bed.

I'm willing to give him that self-loathing time, if it is what he wants.

We have to tidy the car up, I may have him clean the upstairs study a bit before we go since Doug works there on Thursdays and it is a super mess. I want to burn some CDs so we aren't stuck listening to crap across Central Pennsylvania.

More than anything in this trip, I actually hope we have time on Thursday to go to the Carneige Museum and see the Christmas Trees and the Presepio. It is the highlight of Christmas in Pittsburgh to me.

And I'm not sure when we'll get back there, if Jess will end up going back there to study next fall or no... So I want to soak it in. Just a little. I think of all the things right now that bum me out most in life, my living vicariously through my daughter's inner city Pittsburgh experience  coming to an end bums me out the most.

So, as we depart, here is a picture of some angels and junk. This is what I want to see in Pittsburgh. I'll let you know if I make it there. If you want to see a closer up version, click here, and you can also look at all the pictures I took last winter in that set.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Drive-by Compliment

After we left the last of the three giant mansions, we were driving up the road to get to the restaurant, and outside of Chateau-sur-Mar was this couple having their portrait taken.

The photographer was across the street, and he was waving cars on. Doug asked "should I beep?" and I said "oh yes."

I rolled the window down and grabbed my camera. I yelled CONGRATULATIONS and Geoff hooted and wooted from the back seat.

Doug accelerated a little too much, but I did actually manage to catch them in the shot. And they look absolutely delightful.

Whoever you are - may your lives be filled with joy. May you revel in one another, and not know the misery that Consuelo the Duchess knew in hers.

May you always know that giant mansions filled with stuff are meaningless if your hearts are not also giant and filled with love.

And know it is so much more environmentally responsible to heat a small house than a 70 room marble palace.

The Cottages of Newport RI - how the original 1% lived

This weekend, we had a date to go down and drop wreaths off at my mom's house, but Doug wanted to parlay a visit over to Newport to see the famous "cottages" built by the wealthiest of Americans in the early 1900s, all decked out for Christmas.

Now, for those of you who know me, or think you know me, you're right in thinking I'm not a huge fan of watching "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" or any of those shows. I do not care who has a G6, what kind of castle they bought, if they own a small island, or if Luxembourg is their personal playground. Excessive wealth and display aren't that interesting to me. But I do like art and architecture, and I was sure that seeing how the buildings were displayed for the holidays was going to be nice, so I agreed that it would be fun to do.

We bought a three house tour, and went to see The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms. Essentially, it was two houses too many when it came right down to it, but we had a really nice day.

Let me get my complaints out of the way right off the bat.

First, I was horribly disappointed when we got there that absolutely no photography allowed indoors, to "preserve the integrity of the collections for future generations." Really? How does making a policy of not allowing pictures protect the integrity of stuff hanging on walls and staircases and pianos and sculptures? If it is an old carry over about flash photography, that's stupid - just tell people not to use flash. I have a great low light camera, and in all honesty the places were brightly lit by the SUN, which totally damages stuff far more than a camera flash can.

What the hell. I wanted pictures of the trees and poinsettias and the halls all decked out. I don't want to buy a 30 dollar high definition DVD, or book, or postcards. I want my own photographs of stuff I see.
 This is an absolute bullshit rule right off the bat. I find I enjoy looking at things if I study them with my eyes and then also through the camera lens later. My brain processes things better, I retain more information if I have photos that I've taken myself.

Thanks for denying me that enjoyment, Newport Mansions CEO, board of directors and Controlling Freaks.

Second, there were people taking photos the whole way through all three houses. So nice to make that a policy, and then do nothing about it. The "staff" in most areas were dullards, slack-jawed and disinterested. At Marble House, there was a guy with a camera under his jacket, and it was like he was some Nazi Spy or something sneaking shots, and then laughing about it with his wife. I wanted to ask him who the hell he thought he was, that rules don't apply to him, thanks buddy. But then I lost any sort of righteous indignation because I'm one who follows rules and he is one who thumbs his nose at them. Whatever.

It still pissed me off.

I took some nice exterior shots of each of the buildings. The weather was delightful, so it made for being outside very nice. And that made up for the stupid inside rules.

Third big complaint was the whole take a tour with the audio headset thing. So impersonal, and also ... so creepy. To be walking through a building with hundreds of other people and not have a shared experience really bothered me. People walk into a room and stop in the doorway to press buttons and press their kids' buttons and try and figure out what audio track they're supposed to be hearing. Uh, please MOVE INTO THE ROOM because there are 20 people behind you. The creepy quiet of having people in their own little headspaces, in the same physical space, but having a totally non-connected experience was a bit unsettling. I felt uncomfortable when Doug and I whispered to each other and people looked at us disparagingly.

How hard is it to get students from Salve Regina to intern and do real guided tours? And on some of the audio track systems, I lost my place and had to just start over at the beginning, and that was just a freaking waste of time. There were all these peripheral branch-off discussions that you could listen to, but I only listened to one or two because they honestly went on and on. It took us four hours to tour three houses.

It felt so impersonal, and so "here, guide yourself. Whatever." Again, thanks CEO, board people and control freaks.

On the flip side of that, Geoff LOVED the MP3 player tour and went through at his own pace. If he was in a room that he didn't care to learn more about, he skipped to the next track and walked into the next room. When I tried to talk to him at one point he shusshed me and said "I AM LISTENING TO THE TOUR!"

So we all obviously process things differently.

Okay, so my two major gripes are out of the way. Did they ruin my day? Not quite. Did they make my day slightly less enjoyable? Yeah. Will I survive? You bet.

For those of you who do not know, the Breakers and Marble House were owned by Vanderbilts and The Elms belonged to the Berwinds. All three sets of families made millions on the backs of hard working men and women who never saw anything close to the beauty they were all exposed to, being inspired by the arts of France, Italy and England. Filthy coal mines and long hot days in the sun driving spikes into the railroad beds to hold the rails down were the "art" and "literature" these employees saw.

Alright. Back to stuff that isn't whiny and bitchy. The houses were lovely and amazing. I loved the concept that you could have hot and cold running pure water and ocean water for your bath. I loved that the toilets had wicker seats all around them. I loved the art and the furniture, and the flowers and decorations for Christmas. They had these GIANT poinsettia balls hanging from the ceilings that were just outstanding. Trees of poinsettias and gorgeous arrangements of lilies and roses grown in the greenhouses on the properties.

I found that listening to the story of Alva Vanderbilt and her daughter Consuelo to be fascinating. They lived in the Marble House, and Alva was a suffragette, a crusader, in her own words a "knight" leading women to their liberty. If they want to divorce, why shouldn't they! SHE will get a divorce and SHOW them that it is possible! You may know her from her famous quote "Well behaved women rarely make history."

Meanwhile, she denied her daughter any life choices of her own.

Alva controlled every aspect of Consuelo's life, from her hairbrushes to her bed sheets, denying her any opportunity to develop her own style. Consuelo was rigorously home schooled while her brothers sailed boats. They were schooled as well, but ... Alva was on a mission with Consuelo.

Fluent in three languages, forced to wear a brace to keep her back poker straight, she was engineered by her mother to be the perfect woman. After all, Alva was an "artist," and her daughter would be her finest work, her best and most beautiful creation.

Alva orchestrated Consuelo's marriage to the Ninth Duke of Marlborough, the cousin of Winston Churchill, and of course Consuelo was miserable. She wanted to be married to the man of her choice, not used as a pawn to get into higher society, or give her mother bragging rights such as "My daughter, the Duchess..."

Eventually, after two children and a number of years in her marriage, Consuelo did exactly what her mother did -- she got a divorce. Her mother was an advocate for women making such decisions for themselves so what could she say? Consuelo eventually did marry the man of her heart, while her mother continued to fight for the right for women to vote, and held giant soirees in her mansions with plates bearing the words "Votes for Women" on them...

which her maids and female dishwashers scrubbed after each meal.

I found we actually have a tie to the Marble House. In the gothic room, which looked more like a church than a sitting room, there are beautiful stained glass windows along two of the walls. Doug immediately recognized them while I simply found them as "familiar."

After the Vanderbilts owned the Marble House, Frederick Prince owned it. And he was the man who donated the estate and building that became Gordon College. The windows in the gothic room are almost the same as the windows in Prince Chapel, where Doug and I got married. I found some nice articles online about the connection between Prince Chapel and the Marble House windows. Knowing that while Consuelo was proposed to under the same windows that Doug and I were married under, and realizing her misery in her marriage is nothing like my happiness in mine gives me deep pause.

I discovered that in all of the three houses, my favorite rooms were the kitchens, the butler's pantries, and the places that the tony socialite women would never dare tread. I especially loved the kitchen in the Marble House, with its nearly floor to ceiling windows, even though it was in the basement. The deep delivery "holes" of stone out the window crowned with trees and sky would have been beautiful in the mornings.  Being drawn to these kinds of spaces means I most likely wouldn't make a good socialite. Not that I ever thought I would.

We wrapped our visit to Newport up with dinner at a little place called Pour Judgement, which I picked off a list on Foursquare just because of the funny name. It was fantastic, and a wonderful way to end our day, with the 99% and some good beer. I wrote it up in the Shenanigans blog if you're looking for more blather to read to get you through your day.  And... of course, the pictures from the exterior that I was allowed to take. Enjoy...

The Breakers

Marble House

 The Elms

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Ohio Shenanigans

I totally forgot to cross post to this, but back in November I went to Ohio and enjoyed a beer trip, but also a visit with Stacey and Bill from "Nothing But Love." We've had mutual admiration for years.

So click here and go read about my Cleveland Adventures.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Football Banquet

Last night was the football banquet for Geoff's high school. All 4 years and all 3 teams (Freshmen, JV and Varsity) were represented, not all the players were there (about half of Geoff's team didn't show) but it was still a fun time for the guys to get together and be dressed up and receive their certificates of accomplishments.

I loved Geoff's coach this year and hopefully he'll be moving up the chain to JV). There were two freshmen this year who actually were elevated to Varsity. I think it would have been wiser and more fair if they stayed with their brethren, but I'm not the athletics director.

That said, the kids were so good to Geoff this year, and there are two or three that I would nominate for sainthood, and one that I would prefer we never cross paths with again but I've felt that way since Geoff was in fifth grade. It was nice to see him with his buddies, he was holding court at one point, I'm not sure what they were getting him to say or talk about but they were ROARING with laughter. And it wasn't "at" him, it was "because of" him. If you know the difference.

He's wearing Doug's shirt, jacket and tie because nothing that he owns fits him anymore. Last time he dressed semi-decently was about a year ago, so I'm glad my husband's stuff fits him.  It isn't often that I get Geoff in pants that aren't ripped up the leg or sneakers that are falling apart. I offer to buy him clothes, but he likes the rag-a-muffin look. So I took the opportunity to get him to stand still and not scowl at me long enough to get a picture. I wanted one of the three of us (Geoff, Doug and myself) but he wasn't having any of it.

Geoff says he'll be playing next year, so I'm looking forward to that. And some of these guys. For sure. In three more years, I look forward to another one of these pictures.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

December Beach Dogs

Yesterday, Doug told me to put down the laptop and stop updating websites for free for other people, get dressed, and get in the car. He wanted to go to the beach and run the dogs.

It is December, but it was 45 degrees with no wind whatsoever. What a perfect day, and why burn the opportunity. Right?

I was grumpy because I had a lot to do and just felt like all he does is stop me from doing things all the damn time... when the reality is I had all week to do things and picked yesterday morning to get them done. But he was right. I needed to get out. I got dressed. I found a hat. I found a winter coat.

We went to Salisbury Beach and no one was there. That's usually not the case. There are always dogs and people and more dogs and more people this time of year, especially on a stellar day like yesterday.  We let them off leash and they exploded all over the place, running to the water, away from the water, into the water, rolling in the sand, chasing seagulls. We walked and walked and I took pictures, like the above, which is my very favorite because of the movement. The paw prints to the water, the waves coming forward, and the dogs running north. So many directions, so much movement.

A couple with a dog showed up on the beach and their dog was on leash which always makes Brodie a little aggressive... so we had to round them up and hold them back while the couple got down the beach a ways. I need to get her some training. She is getting a little weird with strange dogs and I do not like that. With her brothers, she's an angel. But out in the world or when we have guest dogs, not so much.

We wrapped things up after about two hours when more people showed up to enjoy the last light of the day as the sunset would be coming soon. We took an extended drive through Seabrook, Hampton, Exeter, all sorts of spots. We got home and had to lift Jack out of the car. He's getting too old for running and running for hours.

Today he and Gonzo are horizontal. Jack is about 9 and Gonzo is 10 or 11. I promise them we'll enjoy as many runs on the beach or in the woods as we can before they cannot do it at all anymore.

And that's a promise to myself as well.