Fourth Annual Blog Cookie Exchange

Two posts in a week? Yes, I’m working hard to get back on Santa’s Nice list. I hope it works! Welcome to the fourth annual blog cookie exchange party, sponsored by Ms. Susie Fairchild!

Vintagey stockings

Would you like a hot buttered rum? I haven’t actually tried these yet, but I think we may need a drink like this when we head to Minnesota this weekend. Yesterday’s high temperature there was 3 degrees. Recipe is courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, and all 19 reviewers gave it 5 stars. It must be good, right?!

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • Pinch salt
  • Bottle dark rum
  • Boiling water

Directions: In a bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Refrigerate until almost firm. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the butter mixture into 12 small mugs. Pour about 3 ounces of rum into each mug (filling about halfway). Top with boiling water (to fill the remaining half), stir well, and serve immediately.

My family has no shortage of traditions. See those stockings up there at the top of the post? I think mine is celebrating its 40th year. My grandma made it, and of course she also made them for my sister and my three cousins. When J.P. and I got married eight years ago, my mom decided that he needed one too. His looks considerably newer than mine, in both fabric and style. And of course, we can’t leave Maggie out. Hers isn’t handmade (it came from Target), but shhhhh . . . don’t tell her!

Here’s what they look like for reals:

The stockings were hung . . .

And I know I’ve written about this tradition before, but I ran across some photos the other day and decided to include them here. When I was in high school, my mom’s side of the family did a “goofy gift” exchange every year. But this wasn’t just any gift exchange—we always had a rule. In 1989, the gift had to be made of wood and it had to cost $5 or less.

Being an avid clarinet player, I had plenty of old reeds lying around. I happened to draw my aunt’s name, and I made her a pair of earrings using the reeds, paper clips, and curly ribbon. She loved them!

Clarinet reed earrings

CB drew my cousin’s name. I think he must’ve been about 10 at the time. Somehow, she got the idea to make him a sign:

His gift from my sister

Moments before he opened it, he proved that it was the perfect gift:

Proving that he deserves the sign

Rather than help him up, we all grabbed our cameras and started snapping. He’s 29 now and has a kid of his own. Where does the time go?

The Folly
Susie asked about our favorite gift to give. Do you remember the show Surprise by Design? It was a reality show where friends/family members would get their loved one to leave the house for the day, and then the show would come in and re-do a room in the house. When the person came home—surprise! Everything was done. Well somehow, my mom and I got the idea to do that for Character Builder and her husband five years ago, and my step-dad began calling it The Folly.

We planned for a couple months, and Mom snuck (is that a word?) over there during the day to measure their basement family room and take photos. We chose paint colors and fabric, and managed to come up with some lamps and a storage cabinet for their movies/video games. Of course, I was living in Pennsylvania, and Mom and CB are in Minnesota. So almost everything was done long-distance. When I arrived in MN a few days before Christmas, we upholstered the cornice boards that my step-dad had made, and we made some Roman shades for the windows.

J.P. and I were staying at CB’s house for the holidays, and I told her that I was getting up early on the 26th to go shopping with a friend. She woke me before she left for work, and as soon as she was gone my BIL loaded the kids in the car to take them to my dad’s house for the day. My mom, step-dad, and aunt arrived, and we started painting. The six of us (including J.P. and BIL) worked like crazy all day long. CB picked up the kids on her way home from work, and was surprised to learn that their dad made them get up “in the sevens” (Alex couldn’t really tell time yet, but his clock radio showed that the hour was 7:00) that morning after she’d told them the night before that they could sleep in.

I think she may have smelled the paint when she walked in the house, but she and the kids were pretty surprised to find a completely new family room when they came downstairs. And you know, I think we probably enjoyed doing the project as much as they enjoyed using the room.

And then they sold the house and moved away. The end! (Well not right away, but they did.)

Gay Apparel
No flashy earrings or gaudy themed socks for me, I’m afraid. But I do have two new sweaters to wear next week! They’re both cashmere, and I got incredible deals on them. One is already waiting for me in Minnesota. If only we could arrive there as quickly as it did! We’re loading up the car on Saturday and heading out for a week with Maggie. Somehow, I don’t think we’ll be allowing much of this in the sub-freezing temperatures:


Merry Christmas!


The day

In Catherine's room

You may remember a few months ago when I mentioned my niece’s surgery. As you can tell from the photo, it was today. (If you missed it, details are here and here.)

Everything went well. It took less than 90 minutes, and the doctors were pleased. She was pretty loopy when I saw her this afternoon, but when we went back tonight her IV was out and she’d been up walking around. And she ate and ate and ate!

There’s talk of letting her come home tomorrow. Character Builder‘s staying the night with her, and CB’s husband and I will probably head back to the hospital in the morning after we drop the chatterbox off at daycare.

Thanks, everyone, for your good thoughts and prayers today—we really appreciate them. If you have any left, send them up for the one-month-old with two bad kidneys who shared Catherine’s room in the PICU. One thing you learn from an experience like this . . . no matter how bad things seem, there’s always someone who’s going through something worse.

UPDATE: She’s home! Currently lying on the couch with a big blue Icee and some saltines.

What’s New

Birthday girl

I almost began this post with an image from a recent maternity session, but then realized that it—along with the title of this post—would probably give you the wrong idea. So I’ll save that photo for later.

Things are good and bad here in Sharkeyville. J.P. and I went to Disney World with Character Builder and her family recently. That’s CB’s daughter above—she turned five while we were there, and was very excited to wear her new Cinderella dress when we had breakfast with the princesses on her birthday.

Vacation was lots of fun. As you may know, WDW is J.P.’s favorite place on the face of the earth. And it was fun to experience it through the kids’ eyes. For a blow-by-blow recap (and tons of photos), click on over to J.P.’s place.

I’ve been experiencing a little flurry of activity with my photography biz. I did two maternity sessions in March, and have already completed one of the newborn sessions. Now I’m just waiting for the little girl below to arrive so I can go spend some time with her.

So that’s the good stuff. Unfortunately, there’s some not-so-good stuff too. I know Character Builder has been planning a post about this, so I *think* it’s okay to mention it here. Last month, her nine-year-old daughter went flying off her scooter and got a concussion. As part of the treatment and diagnosis process, they did a CT scan and discovered a cyst on her brain. It’s not life-threatening, but she will need surgery this summer to drain it. UPDATE: Read the full story over at CB’s.

And speaking of surgery, it sounds like my mom may be in for some more. We learned yesterday that her ovarian cancer has returned. We’re waiting for the results of her CT scan to know the full extent of it.

So if you have some extra good thoughts or prayers that you could send along on my family’s behalf, we’d really appreciate it.

Happy Thanksgiving

Elton John Pilgrim Pope Bride

Happy Thanksgiving from the Elton John Pilgrim Pope Bride!

Where to start?


As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been gone for a while. Oh, I’m still here, I just haven’t been here. I have no excuses, but hey, this is my blog—do I really need an excuse? The longer I stay away, the easier it is to stay away. And now I feel like I need a really big-deal post in order to return. If that’s what you’re expecting you might as well bail now, because there’s nothing too exciting here.

You may or may not wonder what I’ve been doing during my absence. Let’s see what I can remember . . . .

For some reason, I just love this one

I did a photo shoot for the daughter of one of my co-workers. She was a sweetheart, and she loved these beads. I even made the tutu—can you believe that? It was super easy (otherwise I would’ve had to outsource), and I may have to make some others in different colors.

My mom was in town for a few days, and we took her to the dump. She was begging us to take her there. Who wouldn’t want to visit a pile of trash? Well you see, this dump is just a little different. Oh, there’s trash there, of course. But on Sunday afternoons, they open the place up as a scenic overlook:

To the dump, to the dump, to the dump dump dump!

You can literally see for miles in all directions. They have those binocular thingies like Mount Rushmore or the Empire State Building (only these are free!). And believe it or not, there are picnic tables and playground equipment. At the dump! How cool is that? Even the local Amish families like to spend time there.

Sunday afternoon activity

Don’t worry about Mom—we did other fun things while she was here too. We took her to dinner, did lots of shopping, and she went with me to a camera club meeting. The speaker that night was Bob Caputo, who’s worked for National Geographic for 27 years. His photos were amazing, of course, but he also had great stories of how he goes about capturing them.

Speaking of camera club . . . we meet twice a a month, and one of the meetings is a competition. I entered my first competition last week, and I got third place! I was pleasantly surprised. Good ol’ Maggie!

Morning walk

Remember the Blessing of the Animals that I mentioned last year? It’s coming up again next weekend, and J.P. and I are taking portraits to help raise money for the rescue. Last year we used the blue backdrop as seen here:


Since we’re always going for repeat business, I like to mix things up a bit from year to year. But I didn’t want to shell out big bucks for a backdrop that dogs will most certainly pee on. So last weekend I bought a HUUUUGE paint drop cloth at Home Depot and painted it in the driveway using a couple colors from HD’s “oops bin” and a couple colors that were left over from projects around here. It didn’t turn out half bad! Maggie begrudgingly helped me test it out today. Since I probably won’t post again this week, she and I will just say it now: HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

Trick or Treat!


The Bud and The Bea

The call came at 5:50 last Monday morning. When the phone rings at that time of day, you know it’s not good. I knew who it was and what he was going to say before I looked at the caller ID or picked up the receiver. It was my dad calling to tell my that my 87-year-old grandpa had passed away.

His health had been going downhill for a while. Last spring he was admitted to the hospital where they determined that the muscles and nerves in his throat weren’t working correctly anymore, and he was aspirating food into his lungs. He hadn’t been getting the nutrition he needed, so they inserted a feeding tube to help him get stronger. When he was released from the hospital, he went into the nursing home and he couldn’t have anything to eat or drink—everything went in through the tube. He had always loved to eat—that was probably nearly enough to kill him, but he hung on and stayed with us for five more months.

J.P. and I flew back to see him at the end of March, and he was so small lying in that bed. But he was in good spirits, and very happy to see us. I clipped his fingernails for him, and I’ll never forget how soft his hands were. He hated that his body was failing him, and he was really unhappy. But that’s not the grandpa I want to remember.

I want to remember the grandpa who took us ice skating every winter. At the beginning of the season he’d gather me, my sister, and our three cousins and take an inventory of our skates. “Does this pair fit anyone this year? Character Builder, maybe you can wear the pair that T wore last year. How about these?” If anyone was left without skates at the end of the process, he’d take us to the sporting goods store to trade in the castoffs for other used pairs.

And then, of course, he’d take us skating. He’d get us all bundled up and laced up (always two pair of socks!), and send us out to skate. While he waited for us in the warming house, he’d help any other kid who needed it.

In the summer, there was camping. He had an old Ford truck with a topper, and he’d load up the tent and take the five of us to the next town over. It was only 15 minutes away and we usually only stayed one night, but we always had a great time. In the morning he’d fry bacon and then cook eggs in the leftover grease. Mmmmmmm . . . .

And I can still smell the corn that he roasted on the grill on hot summer evenings. The Twins game was always on in the background. Even now, baseball on the AM radio still says “summer” to me.

He and Grandma loved to have us kids stay overnight at their house. They’d let us do crazy things that our parents never would. I remember doing the Pepsi Challenge. He let us “build” things in the basement, which was basically just pounding nails into random scraps of wood. When I was about ten, I really wanted to mow the lawn (what was I thinking?) so he let me push the Lawn Boy around the yard. Only I didn’t go in a nice, neat pattern—I zigged and zagged all over the place. He and Grandma took pictures and laughed, and they still talked about it as recently as a year ago.

Every year, my grandparents spent the winter in South Padre Island, Texas. If we were lucky, we’d get to visit them for a week. Their two-room cottage was identical to every other one in the row of cottages, with either an orange or a turquoise front door. We’d walk on the beach and the dunes, collecting shells and feeding the seagulls. We’d cross into Matamoros (Mexico) and shop at the markets. He always liked to tell the story of how he sneezed one day while on the street, and a Mexican school girl walking in front of him turned around and said, “Gesundheit.”

Oh, the food he used to eat! Tomatoes with sugar sprinkled on top. Watermelon with salt. Limburger cheese. Popcorn. Cheese curds. Cottage cheese (“Have you tried this Old Home cottage cheese? Oh, is it ever good!”). Oyster stew (on Christmas Eve). In Texas, he’d get fresh shrimp and boil it in special seasonings. Talk about a distinctive smell! At the time I thought it was disgusting, but I bet I’d love it today.

I don’t want to forget his voice. Every time he answered the phone he’d say, “Bud Lastname” in his deep voice. And there were other things that he said to us over and over:

  • “How about a Hertz Donut?” (Hurts, don’t it?)
  • “I eat my peas with honey; I’ve done it all my life. It makes the peas taste funny, but it keeps them on my knife.”
  • “Daraus mit nieder geschnitten Hund!” (Don’t ask me what that means—he couldn’t even tell us. I’m just guessing at the spelling and the words themselves based on my knowledge of German. It has something to do with cutting and a dog.)
  • “Can I offer you a kanuper?” (I have no idea how to spell that one, but he was offering a drink.)

I always loved him as a grandpa, of course. But until we looked through old photo albums last week, I don’t think I really thought of him in his other roles—son, husband, father, friend. I wish I’d been old enough to appreciate him in those roles when he was younger and more alive, more himself.

I was so lucky to have him for 38 years. I wish it could’ve been more.

An update . . .

Capitol as viewed by a four year-old
Photo credit: the 40-pound furnace

So I know I need to write a post. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days, but don’t feel like I have much to say. How about a little travelogue?

On July 1, Character Builder and her family came for a visit. They flew into D.C., and J.P. and I drove down to meet them. For three days we traipsed around the city, visiting museums and monuments and memorials (oh my!). And for some of that time, I was carrying a 40-pound furnace named Lauren.

That mouth, it never stops moving
The mouth, it never stops moving.

Have you ever been to D.C. in the summer? Have you felt its oppressive heat and humidity? Do you know how miserable it can be? Well guess what? We didn’t have any of that! In fact, we couldn’t have had better weather if we’d paid for it. The temps were in the high 70s/low 80s, and there was absolutely no humidity. It was unbelievable.

So typical

I just love the expressions on their faces here—very typical and representative of their personalities. They did really well, considering how boring it must’ve been for them. They would’ve preferred it if we’d stayed at the hotel, where there was internet access (for Webkinz) and a swimming pool.

We got home Tuesday night, and had a very low-key day on the Fourth. It was overcast and rainy, and around dinnertime the storms started. So no fireworks this year. But we did have potato salad!

On Thursday, we took the kids to this place. We had a lot of fun in the obstacle course/ball shooting place, and of course the kids were all about the games where they could win tickets.

And Friday, we went to the NJ shore. Ocean City, to be exact. It was the perfect day (except for missing our exit on the way there and then trying to get where we wanted to be without having to backtrack). The water was absolutely FREEZING—it made my feet almost achy.

I know, I know—they’re not as cute as the kids.

But Lauren couldn’t have cared less about the water temperature. She had a great time standing at the water’s edge, waiting for the waves to come in and “get” her. Even when a bigger-than-expected wave got her in the face, she didn’t let it faze her. She simply turned around and started sticking out her butt to meet the waves. It was hilarious, but you’ll have to take my word for it for now. Character Builder took some photos and a video of the whole thing, but since they’re hers and the kids are hers I’ll let her post them if she wants (hint, hint!).

After they left on Saturday, it was like a ghost town around here. We wish they could come back every year!

**More photos on my Flickr site. If you’re one of my Flickr friends you’ll see more cute kid pics (some with kittens!). If you’re not one of my Flickr friends, you’ll have to settle for boring photos of buildings and monuments (but also kittens!). Let me know if you wanna be my friend.**