Bay's Travel Blog

I don't travel much, but blogging is trippy.

Friday, December 30, 2005

A Year of Lessons



Thank you, thank you ver' much. Elvis has left the building. But I -- yes, I -- am still here, playin' the lounge.

I've been trying to think of some clever and entertaining way to do a year-end wrap up. Since nothing particularly fabulous came to mind, we'll go with the lessons I learned in 2005, month by month. Think of them as the last little presents left under the Christmas tree. It's my gift to you!

January
Lesson #1: Don't pray for snow. It's a waste of a prayer, especially when you live in the South and the world is warming up.

February
Lesson #2: Get the flu shot. Or you'll get the flu just when you're supposed to be going to the biggest trade show in the crafts industry, miss half of the show, and then be so exhausted and worn out for the two days that you are there that you'll get lost in Atlanta every time you try to drive to the convention center from your outer-limits hotel.

March
Lesson #3: Do not accept 6 artwork/article assignments at once. You will go crazy trying to meet all your deadlines.

April
Lesson #4: When someone says there are violets blooming, do not hesitate. Go roll in them. They will fade before you know it.

May
Lesson #5: Do not accept a huge, major, gargantuan assignment just because it's an honor. Hold out for money.
Lesson #6: Some artists are pure souls. Love them. This is art for art's sake.

June
Lesson #7: Clip your parrot's wings regularly. Or he will take off for a four-night adventure that leaves you exhausted, worried, and literally out of tears.

July
Lesson #8: Fireworks are good -- if you are sensible and take the necessary precautions.
Lesson #9: Old friends are the best friends. Keep your eyes open for long-lost friends.

August
Lesson #10: Keep an open mind. The art technique that scares you the most may be the most rewarding.
Lesson #11: Wisconsin lakes are much warmer than Tennessee lakes!
Lesson #12: Vacation is more for the spirit than for the body.

September
Lesson #13: After accepting huge, gargantuan assignment, don't hold a protest in the hopes of getting more money. It's futile.

October
Lesson #14: The best birthday celebration involves happy family members. And Mexican food. I'm just sayin'. Is all.

November
Lesson #15: Don't think that cooking is the solution. The food may be fabulous, but the soul needs good company to make a happy Thanksgiving.

December
Lesson #16: Don't sweat the small stuff.
Lesson #17: Don't ask for gift cards. Or spend them too quickly.

Tah dah! It may not be profound, but it's what I learned in 2005. Now if only I could learn how to change my blog template. I'm bored! I want pink! Or... something!

Regardless, I hope you all have fabulous and fruitful 2006's. It's going to be a better year, I just know it!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ahhhhh-choo!



'Scuse me. I don't think it's a new cold -- I think it's the old one. But man, I'm sneezing a lot this morning!

I don't think I ever posted my "new" headshot. Tah dah! Here I am in my new, extra-plush size. You may not be able to tell by my headshot, but trust me, I have more cleavage than I have ever had in my entire life -- and every bit of it is *natural*. Cleavage is amazing stuff. I could've used more of it when I was younger.

Emily took the picture. She's so disgusting. I agonize over every frame, and I still delete more than half of the ones I take. Not Em -- she's gifted or something. Boogerhead. Anyway, this headshot is going to be in at least two publications this winter. I'll let you know when they hit newsstands.

Now, here's something I can't sneeze at -- high-speed internet. Oooooo! Things are soooooo fast! I'm watching video online! I watch some videos that no one in their right mind would watch. Just because I can! I can aspire to being a cool kid now!

Here's a shout out to my scrapbookin' homeys -- when the technology of high-speed internet and wireless networking was the *most* frustrating and the *most* confusing, I turned off the computers and the phones, grabbed my December Club Stamp kit, and made a piano-hinge book. There is nothing like paper -- nothing in the world. I love this stuff. It's the perfect cure for the techno-blues. Once I had a book made, I was able to redress the computer stuff, and as you can see it worked -- because I am, indeed, online!

What else can I write about this morning? Let me think. (My brain is careering wildly from one thought to another.... ) Well, I overheard my caveman -- er, I mean, husband -- telling his father to go see "The Producers." I've never heard Wesley recommend a movie that wasn't a Western or a mob movie to his dad! I'm in shock. Even more shocking -- he suggested we all go to see the movie again today.

However, the more I sneeze my way through typing this post, I wonder if maybe I really did catch a whole new cold. Dang.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A "Productive" Christmas



I got a tripod for Christmas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So it wasn't all gift cards, after all. Eeeeee!

Seriously, Christmas day was very nice, if a little hectic. I had so much food -- and parts were so late -- that no one even touched the spinach dip. The old-fashioned cheese ball (snort) was rock-hard, even after it had been sitting out for three hours. I broke several crackers trying to spread that cheese. Next year I'll slice the cheese ball.

Martha looooooves her little cockatiel, and she has named her Baby. Well, it's an easy name to remember, isn't it? That part of Christmas was definitely the most successful and gratifying. I'm sure that one of my rotten kids spoiled the secret -- it was no surprise -- but the reality of Martha meeting the bird was still nice. If *I* can't keep that little bird, then I know that my oldest sister will love her as much as I would have.

Yesterday was the *best*. We all went to see "The Producers" together. Amy and I went to NYC in October, 2001, and we saw the original Broadway cast of that spectacular show, and my kids and I memorized the original cast recording *before* I went to NYC to see it. So we have all been on tenterhooks to see the movie, even though TPTB made the stunning mistake of miscasting the roles of Ulla and Franz Liebkind. (I'm a biiiiiiiig Cady Huffman and Brad Oscar fan.)

Wesley, of course, being a manly man (or a caveman, whatever), had absolutely no interest whatsoever in seeing the movie, but when he came home from work, the kids and I were getting ready to leave, and he's an extrovert, so he decided to go with us.

Well. Let me just make this perfectly clear: Even the guy who didn't want to see the movie now wants "The Producers" when it's on DVD.

I love it so much that I literally cannot wait for DVD -- I have every intention of going back to see it again on the big screen. And I don't think I have *ever* watched a movie twice in a theater. I am a cheapskate and an introvert -- I usually *prefer* movies on DVD. But not this one.

We were a row of six people -- Paul, Amy, Woodrow, me, Emily, and Wesley -- and we sat there guffawing until tears streamed down our cheeks. We weren't the only ones, either. The other people in the audience shrieked with laughter, and we all applauded at the end of musical numbers as if it were a live show. Woodrow was admittedly shocked by the dirtier jokes, but honestly, it is a magnificent movie, as good as the Broadway show in some ways, better in others (Matthew Broderick is much better on film), and the weak casting of Uma Thurman and Will Farrell is overshadowed by the brilliance of Nathan Lane, Roger Bart, and Gary Beach. Those three gentlemen truly make the movie fabulous.

I cannot recommend it highly enough. Run, do not walk. See "The Producers." It's that good.

I have to go now -- my sister is coming over before going to the airport, and the cable guy is supposed to come install high-speed internet for me. Eeeeeee! I'm finally joining the rest of the world in the 21st century! Thanks entirely to Amy. She's way too nice to me.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Shhhh... it's Christmas!

It's the middle of the night, and I finished stuffing the stockings an hour ago. The strata is bubbling in my spiffy new Crock Pot (that's "Big Ass Crock Pot" to me), the coffee pot is set for Wesley. He'll get up in an hour to go to work.

I'm exhausted from the massive effort necessary to get ready for the holiday. For days and days, I've been baking or pre-assembling food to serve on Christmas day to my sisters and my brother-in-law. We have champagne chilling in the fridge, and the kids have sparkling cider to drink a toast to the goodies they got this year.

Yamy confessed to feeling something of a letdown this year. I know how she feels. I hope that she will enjoy the day more once she gets to my house and spends several hours with us. We do so adore her; we fight over who gets to sit with her to chat.

I did a rotten job of shopping this year -- I'm giving everyone gift cards. *Everyone*. Except Martha, who gets the world's cutest'n'sweetest cockatiel. Our nephew Christopher got cash -- so much that he actually hugged us at my mother-in-law's house tonight -- right there in front of his way-too-serious-for-his-age girlfriend.

(Whoops -- I just realized I can't remember her name. It might be Marnie. But don't count on it.) (She's very cute.) (I just didn't expect to meet a *girlfriend*. Christopher is 11 months younger than Emily.)

Emily made a box to wrap Christopher's cash in -- I'll have to upload the picture tomorrow during a lull in the day... if there is such a thing as a lull!

Anyway, the thing is -- we weren't terribly inspired in the gift-giving department this year. Of course, that made the shopping and wrapping duties lighter than usual. And that's a good thing. But I feel guilty because -- well -- I *asked* for gift cards, and I *got* gift cards, but darn it, I didn't get the kind of gift cards I really wanted. I have three gift cards for Lane Bryant, which is great, because I'll be able to get something spiffy to wear. But I only got a $25 card for Starbucks, and really, I wanted *more*. At least for Starbucks. Isn't that awful of me to be greedy like that? And when it was time to come home from Louise's house, I packed up my loot in one hand. Seriously. It's hard to feel very festive if you aren't loaded down with parcels.

So -- if *I* feel this letdown from getting gift cards that I *wanted* -- then how do my in-laws feel about the gift cards they got from me?

Oh, well, the food was good. My sister-in-law Cheryl made little weenies in grape-jelly-and-mustard barbecue sauce. That was a new-old treat. (I remember those from the 70's!!! ROFL!!! Talk about comfort food!) And my MIL makes the most sublime mulled cider in the world. I swear, that's the one thing I look forward to most at her house!

The biggest disappointment/letdown, of course, is my kids. I honestly, sincerely, really couldn't shop for them. Emily's wish list was too extravagant and wild; Woodrow's wish list was too short and puny. We got stocking stuffers and cash for the kids. It's been great, because I kept telling the kids that I didn't buy them anything. "You were bad, bad kids," I tell them, "I didn't buy anything for you, and Santa isn't going to give you anything, either." This has led to *hours* of entertainment while they berated me and insisted that *of course* I bought them stuff. And they no longer *believe* in Santa Claus.

When I made my to-do list for Dec. 24th, I even had an item called "Wrap kids' empty boxes." We put the cash in pizza boxes and wrapped those. I encourage the kids to shake and rattle those presents. They are mystified by the seemingly empty presents, festively wrapped, beautifully bowed, and sitting under the tree with their names on them.

But -- now it's Christmas Eve -- well, Christmas day, 3:30 or so in the morning -- and, dagnabbit, I feel I should have gone to more trouble. I should have figured out some way to buy an X Box for them or something. They're good kids. I like 'em a little. They *deserve* extravagant gifts that they wouldn't think of asking for.

When the kids were little, I learned to start assembling toys *days* before Christmas. (A single Christmas Eve spent assembling presents taught me that valuable lesson.) Back then, toys were cheap and plentiful and big and plastic and garish. Once I made a huge pink Barbie yacht for Emily and a gargantuan blue HotWheels garage for Woodrow. *That* was a crowded Christmas.

This year, the stockings look so lonely without piles of toys under them.

It's days like this that I actually look forward to being a grandparent. Yeah, I said it. I look forward to having grandkids to spoil.

Oh, well. It's Christmas. At least the food will be great. Maybe the Harry & David Royal Riviera Pears will make up for the nonexistent mountains of wrapping paper and the noise of toddlers running around breaking brand-new toys.

And if that doesn't work, I could always try to talk my sister Martha into letting me keep her cockatiel. ROFL!!!!

Merry, merry, y'all, and happy, happy. Don't forget to take pictures. Your kids are going to be 17 and 13 before you know it.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas catastrophe in the making


OK, everyone, make me a promise: If you know my oldest sister Martha, then this blog post is just between us, got it? Martha doesn't surf the 'Net, so my post won't spoil the surprise, but if you read and run off to tell her, then it *will* spoil it. So no tattling! Got it? Good.

My sister Amy and I both own birds. We love 'em. It's taken only, what, 9 years to convince Martha that birds are the *best* pets. (Other than, of course, dogs and cats and turtles and fish and tarantulas and whatever kind of pet *you* like best.) She wants a bird. When my daughter Emily goes to spend the night, she usually takes her cockatiel Lilo with her, so Martha has gotten acquainted with the mechanics of bird-keeping. She also kept Lilo while we were on vacation last August.

So Amy and I are giving Martha a cockatiel for Christmas.

Yesterday I went to the best bird store in the area, Strictly Feathers. Strictly Feathers is at least an hour away when traffic is at its best. I trust Strictly Feathers more than any other bird breeder with which I'm acquainted -- they're extremely conscientious and careful, and their birds are healthy.

On the way there, I got stuck behind a multiple-vehicle wreck on I-40 in the middle of West Knoxville -- in holiday traffic. We literally sat there for more than an hour, not moving at all. Priuses are built to take advantage of stop-and-go traffic, but this was STOPPED traffic. I was so worried the batteries were going to just punk out! And Emily and I both got pretty hungry while sitting there. When the cars started moving again, Emily wanted to just get off the intersate -- we still had more than a half hour to get to Strictly Feathers -- but I pressed on.

They had about 30 cockatiels ready for purchase, in all colors. The plain greys cost only $70; the white-faced nearly white ones were more than twice as expensive. But I don't buy birds based on color or their proclivity for talking -- I buy based on personality. It's the only way to get a great bird, and it takes some time and care. I asked a salesperson which bird was the sweetest, and she steered me toward one batch, reached her hand in, and was promptly bitten by one of them. "OK, not that one," she said, and picked up the other normal grey 'tiel in the same cube.

I held that bird for quite a while, trying to get acquainted and figure out if *this* was the bird for Martha. It was actually a very nervous little bird, and every time I moved it would startle and flap to the floor. While I was holding that bird, Emily reached her hand into another cube, and a little bird promptly stepped up for her. Within about, oh, .23 seconds, I knew that the bird Emily held was *much* steadier and less nervous than the one I held. I picked it up -- it's already getting accustomed to the idea of "step up" -- and she calmly looked me in the eye. When I kissed at her, she bent her sweet little head over for a tickle.

Seductress!

The final test. I held both birds at eye level, and started whistling at them. The normal grey [nervous] bird almost fell off my hand. The newer one's crest stood up at rapt attention, and she started gurgling happily.

That was it. I bought that baby bird!!! She's a cinnamon pied, and she is as gorgeous as she is sweet and calm. She's poised and elegant. She's cuddly. She already kisses. This bird is... *fabulous*.

Now here's the Christmas catastrophe in the making. I am falling *madly* in love with this bird. Already I'm trying to figure out a way to keep this bird and find another one to give Martha. But lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice, and I'm afraid it will be a long time before another such fabulous cockatiel comes along. So the sweet little cinnamon pied cockatiel will go home with Martha in a couple of days, and I'm going to be stuck here with my same old Amazon.
Wait a second -- I do love Cosmo, too! And he already knows how to sing "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles." Who needs a cockatiel ... ? OK, yeah, I do. But this is for Martha's Christmas wish. So I'm going to be a very good stister and give her the best cockatiel I've seen since *my* first cockatiel Alberto was given to me by my stister Yamy more than 9 years ago.

By the way, in an effort not to name this little bird, I'm calling her Birdo. ROFL!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas chaos


It's hitting! Here it is! The proverbial substance is hitting the fan!!!!!

How did this happen? I had lists. I had lists of lists. I had a timetable and a schedule and a *plan*. How could it all fall apart without any warning? Why me? WHY MEEEEEEEE?????

It's OK. It's all right. I'll just buy storebought Chex Mix and a chocolate pie or something. I don't need real homemade stuff. It doesn't matter if my big roasting pan has grown legs and walked out of my kitchen -- sometime *since* Thanksgiving, since I used that bugger to roast a [many expletive deleted] turkey. Who needs homemade Chex Mix? Who needs a Christmas breakfast strata? Why do I need to have homemade goodies? It isn't like my kids are young enough to be leaving treats for Santa.....

Did you ever go to Target for wrapping paper on December 21st? Did you know there could be that many people in one place at one time? Did you know that little old ladies would just as gladly run you over with their electric wheelchairs as *look* at you in order to get to the last roll of dark red wrapping paper?

Did you know that adolescent boys think it's hilarious to knock things out of your arms while you're standing in the four-hour-long line at the cash register?

Did you know that just when you need it THE MOST, your Starbucks card will disappear into thin air?

Right now, I would like to go to bed. And stay there. For, oh, five or six weeks. I mean, nothing really wild. Just a few dozen days, that's all.

I would love to write more, but I have to go bake something. What? I don't know. I'm so far off schedule, I might be baking a coconut cake for an Independence Day fete for all I know!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Most wonderful time



It's the most wonderful time of the year.

And dang it, it's the most stressful, too. Why is that?

I'm holding it together -- last night I went to the grocery store and bought tons of baking necessities. I do so love Christmas goodies. Here's what I plan to make and serve this year:
- Homemade Chex mix
- Hot spinach dip and chips
- Ham & cheese crescents (my sister Amy requested this)
- Sausage cheese balls (mmmmmmm!!!!)
- Egg nog cake
- Pumpkin cranberry bread
- Jerome bars

Yamy's bringing a shrimp ring and a veggie tray. YUMMERS!!!!!!!

I've never tried the pumpkin cranberry bread, but I came across a recipe that makes four 5x9" loaves in one baking batch. Now, that's a large yield! And the recipe sounds faaaaabulous. I don't even like pumpkin, but hey, I don't like egg nog, either, and egg nog cake is faaaaaaaabulous.

If y'all want any recipes, I would be happy to share. I'm not a big one for keepin' secrets. ;)

I'm thinking about making a pot of Brunswick stew to go with all of the above. I don't know why, exactly -- it just sounds right.

If my Harry & David pears arrive, it'll be a great Christmas just in terms of food! (I forgot to order the pears until last weekend. Fingers crossed!)

Now, in other exciting news, a contest I entered has postponed their choosing a winner until the end of January. So I can stop biting my nails or worrying. Now that I know for a fact that the response was *literally* overwhelming, I'm sure I lost. And that's actually a relief! Now I don't have to worry *or* be depressed through Christmas!

And the Sarah Bettens show that I saw Sunday night? Well.... the show was great. It turned out that it was part of a live radio show in Nashville. (Who knew Nashville has an alternative radio station?) The sound system was *incredible*, the guys running the board were miracle-workers. I did meet Sarah and she signed my CD, but... it was one of my more disappointing "meet the artist" moments. She was probably tired and overwhelmed by the crush of humanity. But she sang and played flawlessly, and I cried off all my make-up.

Then someone in the parking lot backed into my Prius, bent my Mickey license plate and smashed my Donald Duck license plate frame to smithereens. I'm just lucky they didn't crunch the bumper, too.

Today, I have to make green beans and horseradish glop for Wesley to take to a work party, and maybe I'll get very productive and crank out an egg nog cake. Emily wants to go to the mall. I would rather eat ground glass than drive to Knoxville, but hey, I could do with a couple more little things, anyway.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.... right?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Spoiler alert

My goodness gracious, sakes alive, heavens above -- it's been a wild few weeks since my birthday. So many ups, so many downs. I feel like an elevator.

This corner of a layout has been picked up by a magazine for publishing later in 2006. Contractual obligations and all, I can't upload the layout in its entirety here. I know you understand. But consider this a teaser, if you will -- I'm going to have something published that makes me incredibly proud and happy, and I do so hope it leads to bigger and better things out there.

Of course, the experience was not without catastrophes. The corner of a layout that you see here was the original layout, which I sent via USPS, Priority Mail, with "Delivery Confirmation," in order for it to arrive in Iowa without incident. I've never had any difficulty with this method before.

A week after the package was placed in the care of the U.S. Postal Service, I received a note from the editor-in-chief of the magazine, asking its whereabouts. A trace and a heart attack later, we reconciled ourselves to the fact that the post office had lost my artwork, and I would have to make a second layout and FedEx it to Iowa.

The stress of trying to re-create the lightning strike of original artwork was nearly my undoing. I could not procure some of the materials I had used on the first layout, so I had to go to the nearest scrapbook store -- some thirty miles away and in holiday traffic -- to buy replacements. Most of which simply did not work. Twenty-four hours after the editor's note, I desperately wanted to throw a massive hissy fit, complete with screaming and throwing things. I did not, in fact, throw that fit. I walked around my yard twice and simply redoubled my efforts to finish the replacement layout. Then I drove to Knoxville and found the very large FedEx depot -- the only locale that accepts shipments after 5:30 -- on a very dark and winding road.

Once the replacement artwork was safely in the hands of trustworthy FedEx (and, I might add, I paid dearly for that trust), I was finally able to relax -- sorta. Wouldn't you know it? The original layout arrived at the magazine the same morning as the replacement. So at least they get to pick their favorite version. I hope they go with the original. It's a little more elegant and subtle.

Now I'm deep into holiday preparations. I'm later than ever this year -- the tree went up only yesterday, and Woodrow is still decorating it. Not too many years ago, the unreasonable perfectionist in me would never have allowed him to decorate the tree. Not so this year -- as long as the ornaments go on it in some fashion, then all's well.

I'm collecting recipes and hoping to get a little baking done before Christmas this year. I did the big Thanksgiving dinner in November -- kind of stressful, and then kind of a downer -- my sister Amy wasn't here for Thanksgiving. Now she's coming for Christmas, and I know she's hoping I'll reprise that massive menu for her. But I don't think of Christmas as an opportunity for a big meal. To me, Christmas is for tasty snacks. Sausage & cheese balls, Chex mix, my famous hot spinach dip and chips, with egg nog cake and Jerome bars. This year I'm hoping to add pumpkin cranberry bread -- I can't resist the recipe, and man, I don't even *like* pumpkin!

I suppose we could have ham, mashed pototoes, and green beans, though. That's a meal I could pull off without too much stress...

I hope.

By the way, tonight Wesley and I are making the journey to Nashville to see Sarah Bettens play live at a bar. I am still utterly flummoxed as to why she isn't a huge star. I think they play her music on XM Radio's channel called The Loft. Just another reason to get satellite radio, huh?

While waiting to hear about some queries and contests and such, some lyrics from one of Sarah's songs stands out today:
"Someone keeps saying I could be a star
I'm never quite sure what that means
It sounds like there's something I'm missing so far
I'm not who they think I could be
All that I'm missing is you, my love
Come find me whenever you can
I'll be the one looking up at the sun
With a picture of you in my head."

Dang, y'all, that makes me cry!!!! But crying is good -- it's cathartic. I hope to have a good cry and get some pictures of someone who *should* be a star tonight in Nashville.