Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Note of Thanks

I realized, after I wrote my last post about the new blog template, that I forgot to give props to its designer. Matie Kay Creations has quite a few really nice-looking templates, and instructions on how to install them. For HTML-challenged bloggers (like me), the instructions are a huge help. Thanks!

Monday, December 29, 2008

This is What Happens When I Have Free Time

When I started this blog last summer, I made a vow that I would not use any pre-made templates or graphics. It would be my work, all the way. My "work," which consisted of a plain white background and a header that looked crummy, even though it took me a week to make it. When I signed in to the blog to check comments this morning, it just looked...shabby. Tired. Boring.

Looking at my boring blog made me think about my own wardrobe, and how much I love clothes. I love to dress up. I wear heels that would make a podiatrist flinch. Now, even though I have a sewing machine and the (rudimentary) skills to use it, I would never limit myself to wearing only clothes that I had made. So why was I limiting my blog to "wearing" only designs that I made?

Following that little epiphany, I decided to give my blog a makeover. I spent the morning looking at free blog templates and winnowing my choices down to a couple of decent ones. (I know; I could get a custom template, but "free" was a critical component here.) The early part of the afternoon was devoted to applying the template, futzing with all the settings, and trying to figure out some basic HTML editing. So far, I'm moderately pleased with the results.

I would still like to make a custom avatar or button or whatever you call that little thingy that can appear next to your profile information. Most of the bloggers I read have a photo of themselves, but I am just NOT into pictures of me. (They're all dreadful.) That will be my next project. For now, I have given myself a headache, and I believe I will lie on the sofa and watch Deadliest Catch.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

By Request

The praline cheesecake recipe:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 2 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 3 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, combine flour, 2/3 cup chopped pecans, and powdered sugar. Stir in melted butter.

2. Press mixture onto bottom of 13x9 baking pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until crust is set and lightly browned around edges.

3. Meanwhile, in large bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on low to medium speed until smooth. Add eggs; beat well. Beat in sweetened condensed milk, granulated sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Pour mixture over crust. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until set. Cool in pan on wire rack.

4. For topping: in medium saucepan, combine brown sugar and whipping cream. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

5. Stir in 1 cup chopped pecans and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Pour topping over cheesecake. Cover and chill for 2 to 24 hours. Cut into small bars.

The cookbook says to cut these really small, because they're so rich, but where's the fun in that? There's no dessert too rich for me--I cut mine into slabs. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas 2008 Roundup

It's over. All the gifts are opened. The relatives have been visited. The food has been eaten (or divided up and parceled out for leftovers, at least). Despite the exhaustion, it was a really good day, so I've decided to share some highlights:

My Family Behaved
Some of my family members (well, most of them) are known for their rather contentious personalities. They usually have at least one major dust-up during the holiday season. This year's came on Tuesday. I was not at all sure that it wouldn't continue today, but everyone behaved beautifully. We had a great dinner, and I laughed so much my face hurt.

The Husband Did a Beautiful Thing
My husband is an amateur photographer, and I think (no bias or anything) that he's pretty good. When we were with his family on Thanksgiving, he secretly took some photos of his brother's newborn daughter. He stayed up until 1 am this morning working on the photo, which was a tight close-up of her sweet little sleeping face, tinted in a really soft black and white. He printed it at 11x14, put it in a nice frame, and it was just beautiful. I could tell that Husband's brother and his wife were really touched. It was a nice moment.

We Have New Dog Toys
We love our dogs very much, but we don't really go overboard with "spoiling" them. They have sensitive tummies, so they don't get many varieties of treats. We don't give them new toys very often, because they can play happily with the shredded remnants of a toy for months. We have new toys for tonight, though. I think it's more fun for us than it is for the dogs.

Good Stuff to Watch
I got a boatload of good DVDS, not the least of which was TWO collections of Dirty Jobs episodes. That's hours and hours of Mike Rowe, to enjoy at my leisure. 'Nuff said.

Praline Cheesecake
I made the cheesecake, so I don't want to appear immodest. I think it's just a REALLY good recipe. This cheesecake is so awesome that I wanted to eat another piece, even though I felt like Monsieur Creosote already. I have leftovers, and it's probably a bad thing for me to be so excited about them.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! I need to go wake the Husband up so that New Dog Toy Funtime can begin. Makes me wish we had a video camera.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All I Want for Christmas is Some Nyquil and a Hot Bath

Ol' St. Nick has apparently decided that I needed a cold for Christmas. I hardly ever get sick, but when I do, it's always at the least opportune time. (Although there isn't really a good time to be sick, I guess.) Not only do we have the Christmas marathon to get through, but I didn't take any time off work this year. So, come Friday morn, it's back to the office for me. I asked myself this morning, when I awoke feeling crummy, why Santa would give me the physical equivalent of a giant lump of coal this year. And I think I've figured out the answer.

First, some backstory. I was a giant know-it-all when I was a kid. My mom had to explain to me, when I was about eight, that grown-ups didn't really like it when little girls corrected their grammar. If I knew something, I was going to tell you about it in great detail--and you were going to listen. It made me particularly happy to tell someone something they didn't know.

On Christmas Eve, 1976, my mom came home late from a party. She tiptoed into the room where I had climbed in bed with my grandmother to wait for Santa. Since I was quite proficient at faking sleep, she felt free to converse with Granny. And what did she say, you might be wondering? She said, "Where did we put the rest of the toys? We need to get all this stuff out so we can go to bed."

My little six-year-old mind was reeling. I had heard rumors, of course, that Santa wasn't real, but my faith was still pretty strong up to that point. But there it was: clear evidence that the whole thing was a hoax. I wasn't particularly sad (since I knew that I was still getting presents anyway), but I knew that I would explode if I didn't get to share the big news with someone, and soon.

Well, that "someone" was my two older cousins. I told them the next day when we went over to their house for Christmas dinner. They were both still firm believers, and I had to repeat what my mom said several times in order for it to sink in. You know what the worst part of the story is? It's not that I disavowed two of my family members of their notions of Santa--it's that I was filled with unholy glee at the prospect of sharing the information. That was kind of evil.

Now I'm not so sure that he's fake, though. I think he may actually be real, and he's paying me back for the Christmas of 1976. He decided not to keep the walking doll that I got that year (she was awesome!), but instead waited patiently, for 32 years, to exact his revenge. So, despite the jolly image and all the good press, it seems that he might have a bit of an evil streak, too.

Have a Merry Christmas, everyone! I'll be over here snuffling, hacking, downing cough medicine, and trying not to breathe on anyone.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A "Dear Dog" Letter

Dear Patches,

You know you're my little buddy. I let you sleep on my bed (and my lap); put your paws on the laptop trackpad AND the big-screen TV; tear around the house barking like a mad dog for no reason; jump on your sister's head to the point that she probably has brain damage; and sit under the kitchen table staring at me while I eat. It's pretty clear that your humans are crazy about you. But here's the thing: you barfed and/or asked to go outside SIX TIMES last night.

Don't get me wrong--I am sorry that your tummy was upset. But you are somewhat prone to "dietary indiscretions" as the vet calls them. When you eat things off the kitchen floor, and grass from the back yard, you have to expect that it's going to throw things off a bit, gut-wise. So please, for the next few days, refrain from eating things that aren't food, okay?

See, buddy, your humans need all the sleep they can get right now. They are right smack in the middle of the busiest season of the year. For weeks, they've been visiting, shopping, wrapping, cooking, performing in various productions, attending extra church services, and generally running themselves ragged. (In addition to their regular full-time jobs and household chores.) In three days, they are expected to attend another marathon round of visits, including several large meals. All the gifts must be wrapped, food must be prepared, and--this is the really tough part--your humans are supposed to be merry. It's really hard to be merry on three hours' sleep.

In conclusion, my furry little fella, I will repeat my request that you try to keep your wits about you when it comes to eating. Here's a good rule of thumb: if it's not in your food dish, don't eat it! That will make things much easier on all of us. No one wants your humans to be zombies on Christmas.

UPDATE: It hasn't even been 12 hours since I wrote this, and the Husband just found Patches eating the plastic wrapper from a slice of cheese. We have no idea where he found it. I'm starting to think that the dogs have developed really dexterous paws, and they're raiding the fridge the minute our backs are turned.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Do You Keep Your Blog Secret?

As I've written here before, I keep up with a fair number of blogs on a regular basis. Some of them are huge, with a massive readership; a couple are family blogs written by personal friends. As I was commenting on some blogs today, I started wondering: do most people tell their family members and "real world" friends about their blogs?

My husband knows that I have a blog, and he is free to read it anytime. I haven't, however, told any of my family members about it, and I don't plan to in the future. Some of my co-workers know, but they have never asked to see it, and I'm fine with that. None of my church friends know about my blog, nor does my closest buddy; the only friends who have ever read it are a couple of former co-workers whose blogs I follow.

I think I've figured out why I like "hiding" my blog. Writing gives me an opportunity to sort through some of the things that bug me (hopefully in a humorous fashion), and sometimes that includes family members or co-workers. It's like having someone to talk to who is completely objective. I like that. It's kind of therapeutic.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Challenging Some of the Conventions of the Holiday Season

Eleven days until Christmas. I'm not a total Grinch, but I don't really get too over-the-top about the Christmas season, either. I love the quiet side of the holiday, and the spiritual aspects: singing carols, candlelight services at church, enjoying the tree and the lights and a nice fire. It's the other stuff that gets to me...constant rushing, pot-luck lunches, family arguments, over-sugared shrieking kids, more family arguments, etc. And there are several other things that, even though they have become irrevocably bound to the Christmas tradition, still bug the heck out of me.

Sexy Mrs. Santa Outfits

You know, this just doesn't make sense to me. I've never pretended to understand men, but I can't even begin to imagine why a guy would want his lady friend to dress up like Santa's wife. For me, these outfits conjure up a couple of possible scenarios, and neither of them is very appetizing. Are we supposed to see Mrs. Claus as a vixen-ish, Desperate Housewives-type, just waiting for Santa to leave town on Christmas eve so that she can hook up with the sleigh repairman? Or should this kind of outfit lead us to believe that Santa and the Mrs. are both swingers, and he just puts on the jolly-old-elf persona for Christmas? Are all the elves traumatized by the things they've seen through the windows on the way to the workshop? Either way: ewwww. I prefer the traditional, matronly Mrs. Claus, with a stout figure, rosy cheeks, long dress, and housecap...and without visible cleavage.

Chestnuts Roasting

Oh, I'm not opposed to the song--it's beautiful. (Particularly the Nat King Cole version.) It's the actual chestnuts roasting that I have a problem with. I have a Turkish co-worker who travels home a couple of times a year. After each trip, she brings big bags of chestnuts in to the office and proceeds to roast them, not on an open fire, but on the stove burners in our breakroom. It stinks. Maybe it's because we're missing the whole open-fire thing, but one bag of chestnuts can funk up the office for days. I'm not one of those people who is super-sensitive to smells, but this odor is strong enough to make me nauseous. I propose that we keep the pretty song, but change that line to evoke an image that's not quite so smelly.

"A Christmas Carol"

I know it's Dickens, it's a classic...I don't care. I don't like it. The first time I read this story, I was probably in third or fourth grade. I was a pretty soft-hearted child, and the pathos of Tiny Tim was nearly too much for me. And then, just as I'm trying to deal with the thought of this poor, cold, lame, hungry kid whose dad has to work for a total jerk, you're gonna throw ghosts into the mix and scare the bejesus out of me, too?!? Thanks a lot, Mr. Dickens. I might be willing to make an exception for the Patrick Stewart version, though, because I love his voice and I think he's kind of hot.

"Twas the Night Before Christmas"

I actually love the poem itself. I get a warm fuzzy every time I hear it. But it brings back bad memories, too. Have you seen the commercial where the little girl is agonizing over trying to learn all the reindeer names for her Christmas pageant? That was me, Christmas 1978, except that my teacher decided I should recite the whole poem. I was a basket case for weeks--I said it in my head, over and over, all the time. I can't remember a single thing about that pageant, other than how hard my knees shook, and how sweaty my palms were. That, and the incredible sense of relief I felt when I finished my recitation. That was a lot of stress for an eight-year-old, and it was just pure luck that I didn't wet my pants from nervousness. If elementary school kids still recite "Twas the Night Before Christmas," teachers may want to consider breaking it up into manageable chunks. It could keep some poor kid from having a breakdown.

These are a few of my least favorite things, as the song (sort of) goes. Feel free to add any of your least favorite Christmas traditions in the comments, if you like. Grinch-itude is always welcome here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Random

So, I'm still alive. I just haven't felt very inclined to post anything, for a number of reasons. The Christmas season busy-ness has kicked into high gear, for one thing, and I have a ton of things to do (as does everyone else, I know). Also, there have been some changes at my job, none of which were pleasant, and they have left me more stressed and drained by work than I have been in years--I was asleep by 9 pm on at least three nights this past week. But I thought I would take a minute and post some of the tidbits that have been rattling around my head these past few days.

  • Normally, we have most (if not all) of our Christmas shopping finished by Thanksgiving. Not this year! We have completed exactly one (1) person's gift as of today. So I will be venturing out bright and early tomorrow morning with my shopping-hating, crowd-loathing, traffic-cussing, impatient Husband. TO DO ALL OF OUR SHOPPING IN ONE FREAKIN' DAY. We're going here. It will be a true Christmas miracle if we don't kill each other.
  • I am supposed to be in a living Nativity scene at church this weekend. Can I tell you how grateful I am that the forecast calls for temperatures in the 40s and 50s? We have been suffering through below-average temps for weeks, and I was not looking forward to wearing all of my clothing at once, under my angel robe and wings.
  • I've never had a dream about blogging, until last night. And it wasn't even my own blog! I've written several times about JD at I Do Things So You Don't Have to, and how I can always count on her blog to crack me up. Well, last night I dreamed that JD posted a "video riddle." It consisted of three YouTube videos. One was of George Michael in the 80s, singing "Father Figure". One was George Michael today, singing a new song, and wearing his hair in a little top-of-the-head ponytail like Tom Cruise had in The Last Samurai. The other video featured a group of Japanese teenagers who dress up like bats (!) and do a song-and-dance number. In this dreamworld blog post, JD wrote that anyone who could figure out the video riddle would win a prize. I had been working on the riddle for some time, watching the three videos over and over, and I neeearly had the answer...when I was abruptly awakened by a series of rafter-shattering barks. (Patches decided he just HAD to go out and poop at 3:40 am. Thanks, buddy.) I guess I'll never know the answer to the riddle now. Also, I probably should mention that I do not drink very often or very much; the only pharmaceutical I had in my system at the time was Tylenol PM, and only one of those. I just have incredibly weird, vivid dreams when I sleep on my back.
Now that everyone has conclusive proof that I'm nuts, I guess I should get back to the million and one things I have to do. If you live in the area and hear a news story about a couple who got arrested for assaulting each other at a shopping center, it may be us.