Sunday, May 31, 2009

spring fling 30 may 2009

Yesterday was the 2009 Spring Fling.  This is my EC brother's annual pre-summer bash. It's always a good time.  The Spring Fling evolved from a belated birthday party for his youngest little one, whose birthday is in March. It's just too cold in Philly to have an outdoor party in March, so they always kicked it back a few weeks.  Now that the little one is old enough to know about birthday parties and such, she gets to have her special day in March and the rest of us get the Spring Fling.

His parties are like bookends to the summer.  Historically they have the Spring party and then one in August (to celebrate their oldest daughter's birth).  I suppose that may be revamped as the Summer Fling or Fall Fling this year. We'll have to wait and see.

I was solo for this year's party.  Countrymouse had another obligation and stayed home. That opened the door for the pups to do things locally. It is always a little different when I travel alone. I am usually with Countrymouse or one of the pups or my EC sister. I actually like being alone like that. (Probably because it's the exception rather than the norm.)

I drove the Jeep up to Philly. It was perfect Jeep weather this weekend. The truth about driving a Jeep is that there is only a narrow window in the early summer and early fall where there is nothing better than driving around in your Jeep with the doors and windows off.  The rest of the year, it's still fun, but not magical. My favorite things about driving this time of year are when you can feel the change in temperature as you go through the woods and when you can smell the wildflowers growing on the side of the road.  The whole wind in your face thing is pretty cool too.  I have my motorcycle license and drove one for a few years, but since getting my Jeep, I haven't been on one.  All the reasons I enjoy driving a motorcycle are satisfied by the Jeep and I am safer and have a backseat!

I have been to enough of my brother's parties over the years that I know a lot of their friends. It's always nice catching up and chatting with them.  They have a really nice core group of friends.  You can always count on some or all of the core being there, as well as some new faces and some faces you haven't seen in years.  

This year a friend of my brother's showed up that I hadn't seen in 8 years or so. I think even ECB was surprised to see him.  That was awesome.  The parties are a good mix of adult fun and kiddie fun.  My pups are much older than the small ones at these parties, but I still enjoy the laid back family atmosphere.  It's all good and that is how a party should be.

Of course, there is always a little one to snuggle or play with, which is a sweet time.

The main thing I like about my brother's parties is the chance to be together.  My family is spread out enough that even those of us on the same coast don't spend much time together.  It takes a little effort to get there sometimes and the drive can be enough to make you think twice (just think I-95 on a Saturday during the beach season) but ultimately, I know it's always worth it.  This party was no exception.

Friday, May 29, 2009

photo friday: folly beach

Photo Friday= an opportunity to share some of what is beautiful and wonderful about life.

Many people love the beach, but I love a specific beach.  Folly Beach.  It's in kissing distance to Charleston, South Carolina.  (Another place I love.)  The word folly is an Old English word meaning dense foliage.  For me, I prefer to think about it meaning a frolic or caper.  I have so many awesome memories of Folly Beach.  I've been there several times but it's been about 4 years since the last time.  I am not sure when I'll be back there next but it won't be soon enough!

For me Folly Beach represents a life without cares and concerns.  Every day is truly a vacation. Countrymouse and I entertain thoughts of retiring there.  I suppose time will tell.  So even though I won't be visiting Folly this summer, I can look at pictures like the one above and sigh a little sigh as I picture myself there.  

Thursday, May 28, 2009

graduation day 20 may 2009

Okay, so this is a little late, but it was too important not to post on.

Pup #1 graduated with his Associate of Arts degree last week.  He actually finished his course work back in December and at that time decided not to "walk" during the ceremony.

This spring he ran into one of the professors from the college; she was disappointed he wasn't planning on taking part in the graduation ceremony.  Her take on things was that there are only so many days in your life that you are the center of attention, that your accomplishments are celebrated.  After mulling that over, it made sense to him.  It was definitely the right move.  He was beaming all night.

It took the Pup some time to figure things out, but he did.  He actually still doesn't know what career he will eventually end up in, but his degree is in Business.  He has such a passion for music and artistic media, I'd love to see him move in that direction.  His plan is to go on and finish his college education with a bachleor's degree.

He'll have a little time to consider what path to follow.  This Fall, Pup #1 will be taking part in a 6-month outreach program sponsored by our Biblical ministry. Countrymouse and I are extremely proud of him and the incredible man he is becoming.  I am excited for all the wonderful things that lay ahead for him this year.

Monday, May 25, 2009

memorial day 25 may 2009

The unofficial start of summer... a long weekend... family barbecues... an excuse to shop some great sales... Memorial Day means different things to different people. But the true significance of this day is to honor and remember those who have given all to protect our country and our freedoms. Regardless of one's political bent, it does our country a great disservice when we forget the blood of our patriots.

Ronald Reagan once said, "
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free".

I am especially aware of Memorial Day this year. My own son will soon be shoulder-to-shoulder with other brave men who have made a commitment to oppose evil and oppression and defend all that is good and free. His courage and ardor both warm my heart and amaze me. I see a grown man before me... not the little boy who once played with army men in the sandbox. These soldiers deserve our support each and every day and our prayers each and every night. There is only one brief moment between Veteran's Day and Memorial Day.

Friday, May 22, 2009

photo friday: sisters

Photo Friday= an opportunity to share some of what is beautiful and wonderful about life.

Sisters are a mysterious union. I am a sister times two and I have 4 sisters-in-law, so I know a little about sisters.

I think the most wonderful part about being a sister is the ability to let it all hang out. My sisters are my two best friends. I would trust them with my children and with my life. As you get older, you realize the significance of that. There aren't too many people you can (or will) say that about.

One of my sisters lives far away so most of our relationship is over the phone or on the Internet these days. The other one is busy pursuing a new career, so our time is limited. I miss spending time with them. I have been blessed with awesome sisters-in-law, but even most of them lives far away.

In spite of distance, I think the fact that each of these women hold a special place in my heart makes the difference. I don't know what I would do without the

Sunday, May 17, 2009

london 17 may 2009

This is our last day in England and we are going out with a bang. We've been all over the place today. Our day started out at Windsor Castle.

The castle dates back to William the Conqueror and is one of the official residences of Queen Elizabeth.

From there we toured the Roman Baths at Bath. There is archaeological evidence that shows that main spring of the baths was treated by the Celts as a shrine to the god Sulis. The Romans associated Sulis with Minerva (Athena in Greek mythology). They named the town Aquae Sulis. ( Sulis... Sewell... do you think there's a connection? ... Nah.)

Finishing this trifecta of sites was Stonehenge.

There has been a lot written about Stonehenge. Some think it was some kind of shine, others a monument, or a burial ground. The blue stones are thought to have healing powers. Really, Stonehenge is probably one of the most recognizable sites in the world and one of the most mysterious.

Stonehenge is found in the English countryside about 85 miles west of London. It's actually a pleasant 2 hour drive. Here you are, driving along and all of sudden... bam... there it is. It sits on a grassy mound just off a major highway and has a chain link fence around it. Our visit to Stonehenge was certainly no pilgrimage (more curiosity than anything) but somehow I thought it'd be a treated with a little more reverence. The big thing in the requisite gift shop were tee shirts and magnets that say "Stonehenge Rocks". Sorta cute, I suppose, but still a detraction from any greatness Stonehenge holds.

All in all, it's been a good day filled with centuries of history. Coming from America, it's very hard for me to fathom that I could be walking on and touching anything so old. I guess I really am a product of the New World!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

london 16 may 2009

Our adventure today included a trip to the Tower of London.  The Tower of London is the embodiment of what I always envisioned a castle looking like when I was a little girl.  I think the Pup was impressed.

It is always a little surreal to think about people you've read about or studied actually living and functioning in such a setting.  

The Tower of London is hosting a brilliant exhibit on Henry VIII. I think many of us find old King Henry an intriguing fellow.  My last foray with Henry was in the movie The Other Boleyn Girl, based on the book by Philipa Gregory.  The movie starred Eric Bana as Henry. 

While Bana plays a dreamy King Henry, the real one was not quite so yummy.

However, no doubt about it, Henry's life was filled with the stuff movies are made of!

Friday, May 15, 2009

london 15 may 2009

Today was filled with tons of walking. I think Pup #2 is as worn out as I am! We started the day by watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

This, of course, is a big tourist attraction. Generally, I like to avoid looking like a tourist, but there are some things you just have to do/see when you visit a place. I have seen this before, but the Pup hadn't and this trip is about him. The Guards are an awesome sight. There is a lot of ceremony involved and they take their roles very seriously. It reminds me of the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Washington, DC. (Although, I find the Unknown Solider ceremony much more moving.)

We spent some time in Victoria, and then headed for the Notting Hill/Chelsea area. There is an awesome outdoor market in Notting Hill called the Portobello Road Market. I love this market. I have been there on every trip I've made to London. I could spend the whole day there, but Pup #2 doesn't share my love of antiques and baubles. It was a good time anyway.

I've really had a good time hanging out with Pup #2. We walk for a while and pop in a pub for a beer every so often and then start the next leg of our adventure. I know we are making memories we'll both keep forever.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

london 14 May 2009

Pup #2 and I are in London. I will post some photos once I pay the extortion price my hotel is asking for Internet access. For now, I am happily typing away in a cheap Internet cafe (£1.50 for 75 minutes).

My niece Ani's new fave song is Kiss's I want to Rock-n-Roll All Night. (She thinks it's by the "Kisses" and that the lyric is "and go to birthday parties every day".) Let me tell you, after traveling and being up all night, my ability to party every day is somewhat limited! I am always amazed how a 7-hour flight actually takes 17-hours and that's without the 5-hour time difference! I really just chalk that up to the price you pay to travel internationally, but it does boggle my mind.

We spent a good chunk of our day touring London on the open upper deck of a double decker bus. As I said, I don't have any photos of my own to share, but here's a close one.

Even though the weather was very similar to how it looks in the photo, I think I got a little sunburn. I love these buses. The non-tour buses are all two levels as well. It's just fun.

The other very *British* thing we did was share a few pints. I had Greene King IPA (which I thought I remembered liking from other trips, but didn't really dig it today) and Pup #2 had the Fuller's London Pride, which was much nicer (and higher in alcohol, I might add). I think the plan is to have dinner later and have a couple of more. The truth is, I think we'll both be hitting the hay a little early tonight, so we'll see.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Dorothy Jerling Villabona
09 May 1909 - 02 September 2006

Countrymouse's grandmother would have celebrated her 100th birthday today. She lived to the wonderful age of 97 and got to see children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even her first great-great grandson. It didn't matter who you were, everyone called her Nana.

I had the privilege of knowing Nana for 25 years. I didn't always agree with her views on things, but I always admired and respected her. She had seen and lived through so many things and most importantly, was truly the bedrock of the family.

The only daughter of a Swedish immigrant and his first generation wife, as a young woman Nana met and married a dashing Colombian. Looking for a better life, they moved their family away from the city to the bucolic Eastern Shore. This is where she called home most of her days. The old homestead is still in the family, but it has lost it's shine in the past few years. There are many, many memories there, yet the days are just not as bright without Nana there.

She would have really enjoyed this birthday. She was a spunky old girl and achieving this milestone would have made her proud. She will always live on in our hearts and memories and in the love she shared with us all and we continue to share with each other.

national train day 09 May 2009

Happy National Train Day!

The US celebrates the birth of the First Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869 when the "golden spike" was driven into the ground at Promontory Summit, Utah, connecting the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railways.

The Transcontinental Railroad revolutionized our country. It established a link between the East and West Coasts and essentially opened up the West for commerce and migration. It's construction is considered one of the greatest American technological feats of the 19th century.

The development of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950's and 1960's and government interference brought about the demise of the US passenger rail system. The primary use for trains in the US these days is to move freight. There continues to be pockets of heavy passenger train use, mainly in the Northeast in major cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston, but unless you travel or live in an urban area, it's possible that you may never ride on a train.

Train travel in Europe and the UK is far more commonplace. I vacationed throughout England and Scotland a couple of years ago exclusively by train and have had the pleasure of riding on the Eurostar through the Chunnel to Paris.

Movies like Harry Potter have romanticized train travel for a whole new generation.

Countrymouse is a huge HP fan, but more so of the books. His favorite train scenes are probably from Back to the Future 3 and the Jules Vern train crafted by Doc Brown.

For me, it's the scene at the end of the first Thin Man movie, when Myra Loy and William Powell share a very tame 1930's kiss aboard the westbound Transcontinental Railroad on their way back to California. You can't help but smile.

The good news is train travel is having a bit of a renaissance as more railroads privatize. Train travel will never relive it's heyday, but who knows what a good dose of capitalism will do for the industry?

In celebration of National Train Day, here's a playlist of some groovy train songs. I've left off the first one I ever learned, I've Been Working on the Railroad (thanks Mom), but I think you'll see a few other goodies here.

Train Songs (aka The John Galt Line)

Johnny Cash: Folsom prison Blues
REM: Driver 8
The Decemberists: The Engine Driver
Rosanne Cash: Runaway Train
Ozzy Osbourne: Crazy Train
Grateful Dead: Casey Jones
Magnetic Fields: Born on a Train
Porcupine Tree: Trains
The Beatles: One After 909
Billy Strayhorn: Take the A Train (just because I love Billy)
Chris Isaak: 5:15
Crosby, Stills and Nash: Marrakesh Express
The Monkees: Last Train to Clarksville
Bruce Springsteen: Downtown Train
Feist & Ben Gibbard: Train Song
Michelle Shocked: If Love Was a Train
Counting Crows: Ghost Train
Amos Lee: Night Train
John Mayer: Stop This Train
John Denver: Jenny Dreamed of Trains
Josh Turner: Long Black Train
Soggy Bottom Boys: (I am a) Man of Constant Sorrows
MFSB: TSOP (Soul Train theme)

And one last one, Kraftwerk: Trans Europe Express, because it makes me think of my youth...

Friday, May 8, 2009

photo friday: venice

Photo Friday= an opportunity to share some of what is beautiful and wonderful about life.

I love Venice. If I ever run away from home, look for me there. While it is true that I am an Italianophile, I can honestly say that I find Venice to be the most beautiful and richest Italian city. It is brimming with culture, art and history. The food is to die for and the people are friendly. There is something magical about being in a city that refuses to allow vehicles of any kind on its streets... what a sharp contrast to Florence or Rome. I have been there with Countrymouse and without Countrymouse, in winter and in summer. My love for Venice never waivers.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

good deeds

Okay, so this is not a blog about Liberty Mutual ads. But I do love these commercials. If I catch them on the right day, they make me cry. There is something moving about seeing people step up and do the right thing. It's the world we all wished we lived in.

I had an incident happen yesterday that was unexpected and unwelcomed. (Now this may not sound like a big deal to you, but it was to me.) I've exclusively used the same stylist for the past seven years, with the exception of one haircut when he was away on vacation. I found out last night that he's been out sick and the salon (of which he is co-owner) made the executive decision to reassign all his clients until he returns. I might have been disappointed, but I usually roll with things, so that's what I would have done. That is, if someone had had the decency to let me know more than 23 hours before my appointment. I found out when the receptionist said she was calling to confirm my appointment with Lady M. If I hadn't been listening I would have missed it altogether. Needless to say, this did not sit well and the poor lady on the other end of the phone heard all about it.

I ranted and stewed the night away. My biggest concern was that I was unsure who Lady M was, so how was I supposed to feel confident that she'd do a good job? Of all the stylists in the salon, there was one girl I knew I didn't want Lady M to be. Guess what? Of all the stylists in the salon, that was who she was!

The other owner, Bill, had undoubtedly heard about my phone meltdown. When I got there he sat down beside me for a chat. I was honest about how I was feeling (unappreciated and unimportant). When I found out who Lady M was, I apologized but told him I wouldn't be getting my hair done.

I share all this not as another venue for my diatribe, but to share something good. The unexpected and happy ending is that Bill listened. He wanted to make things right; he stepped up and did the right thing. While I am thankful for the awesome haircut/color, I am really touched by Bill's actions. I was distressed and it was in his power to fix it and he was pleasant and friendly throughout. (Thanks Bill, for being so wonderful.)

That makes me think about the Liberty Mutual commercials. The people in the commercials have it within their power to step up and do the right thing, to fix things. Maybe it's naive of me or maybe it's unrealistic, but if everyone tried to do something good each day, life would be so much sweeter.

Before I go, I have to add, part of what makes these ads so effective is the amazing voice of Sally Ellyson of the group Hem. Such a wonderful choice.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

cinco de mayo

Today is Cinco de Mayo. It is a Mexican holiday that celebrates the Mexican victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Granted we have plenty of Mexicans living in the US, but I think we *celebrate* here in the US because we like to party. It's the same mentality as St. Patrick's Day. While there are plenty of Irish descendants celebrating on March 17th, I'd venture to say that most partiers are not Irish in any way, shape or form.

So on May 5th, my thoughts turn to my two favorite Mexican treats: tequila and guacamole. I could eat avocados every single day. Guacamole is probably my favorite way to prepare avocados, but I will eat them straight out of their skins with some salt and lime juice. Yum-o! And tequila... shots are always good, but a good a├▒ejo is a drink worth sipping.

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I share a basic guacamole recipe. I always add extra garlic and cilantro, because I love it that way, but I realize most people don't. Mix and add to suit your own tastes.

Homemade Guacamole

2 ripe avocados
2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
1/4 red onion, finely diced
4 Tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 jalapeno, finely diced
coarse salt

Split avocados, discard the pits, and empty contents into a medium bowl. Add garlic, onion and cilantro. Mash with a fork until smooth but still chunky. Add lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chips or use as a topping on grilled chicken or steak.

And in homage to the drink that when it's good, it's very, very good and when it's bad, it's very, very bad (it's not called to-kill-ya for nothin'), a little Pee Wee Herman.... Ole'!

in the night kitchen

The older I get, the more challenged I am to get a good night's sleep. Tonight (or should I say morning) is one of those times. I woke up at 12:30 and tried to will myself back to sleep. When I rolled over and looked at the clock again, it was 1:30 and I knew the sweet embrace of sleep would elude me till the sun had risen and set once again.

So what do you do at 1:30 in the morning with 6 sleeping mice under your roof? You set up camp in the kitchen. I've done two loads of laundry, cooked up some chicken innards for my cats, chatted with a friend on facebook, downloaded a new CD, Venice is Sinking, and now I am baking a Sock-It-To-Me cake. (I think it's basically a coffee cake. I am using a recipe on the side of the Duncan Hines box.)

This made me think about the wonderful Maurice Sendak book, In the Night Kitchen.

Any self-respecting child of the 70s read this book, along with Sendak's most popular work, Where the Wild Things Are (although it was written in 1963). I have continued to be a fan of Sendak's art my whole life.

In the Night Kitchen is a story about Mickey and his late night dream-adventure with a trio of bakers (who look scarily like Oliver Hardy) in the kitchen. The book has met with some controversy because young Mickey is shown naked (oh my!). I personally don't believe in censorship, and think the artwork in this book is hardly offensive. The fact that Sendak wrote and illustrated it in 1970 makes it even less so.

For a generation raised before the shadow of 24/7 cartoons, we were like puppies waiting for a treat when it came to animated features. Weston Woods gave life to many of our favorite stories. Here is the video of In the Night Kitchen. It's seven minutes long, but worth it if you haven't seen it in a while. It was a nice diversion for me on this early, early morning.

I won't be making any Mickey cakes this morning but hopefully the mice will be pleased with fresh cake for breakfast!