Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Was a Senior Hottie: Some Girls Have All the Hair

Liz, of a belle, a bean, and a chicago dog, runs a high school senior photo link-up each year. I admired from afar last year and was asked to create one of the prizes this year. Of course, it was my absolute honor to participate because a) I think Liz is the cat's meow and a bag of Hint of Lime Tostitos all rolled into one and b) what's more fun than creating things that sparkle? And so, the earring bases have arrived from Turkey and I'm just *patiently* awaiting the announcement of winners. In the meantime, I do have my very own #SeniorHottie pictures to share. This blast from the past is brought to you by AquaNet and the color red.

(I've chopped all non-essential personnel out of these photos to protect the identity of the innocent. Just because you were associated with me in high school, shouldn't mark you for all of eternity.) This was the French Honor Society senior banquet. Berets were optional.

Nothing spells special like a 20-lb Prom dress. Completely covered in sequins, front and back, with long sleeves and a hem that brushed the floor. Yes, I nearly melted that night. But not before I spilled an entire cup of Everclear down the front and broke the clasp at the top while doing the Watermelon Crawl.

The first few days after Graduation were filled with rolling in the bills I raked in from the family and chillin' at the boyfriend's house. This was taken in his bedroom as he was cleaning out his closet. Yes, those are mallard ducks in a border in his bedroom. No, we didn't last much longer after that. No, it didn't have anything to do with the ducks. He, tragically, got dumped for my first ex-fiance. But trust me, he got the better end of that deal....in the long run.

If these photos look all fancy to you, it's because I actually scrapbooked some of my senior year. I'm sure the future generations will be pleased.

The contest has closed, but you can still enjoy the many #SeniorHottie photos from bloggers who have linked up with Liz. Click on over and take a stroll down Memory Lane...preferably with a little Aerosmith or TLC cranked in the background.

Some things never change. Still rockin' the red.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Thoughts on Bonding

...or more specifically, corporate retreats.

When Neal and I got married, he had already worked for the state of Kentucky for about 12 years. And once or twice every year, the state would pay for the entire technology department to spend a week at one of the state's parks on a retreat. There would be brainstorming and lots of drawing on the dry erase board, as well as some "team exercises" and dinners together.

I thought it was the most absurd thing I had ever heard.

When they returned, they weren't any more cohesive as a department and rarely did these week-long escapes to the woods result in any sort of tangible plan for the forseeable future. It was a week or two each year set aside for everyone to get a free pass to not do any real work and instead make a bunch of plans and then celebrate with beer and s'mores. And then, when the realization was made that the state was deeply in debt, all retreats came to a screeching halt. Coincidentally, one year later, Neal (after 15 years of dedicated and selfless service) was deemed no longer needed and escorted from the building with his copier paper box full of picture frames and whatever he had in the fridge. Was he let go because they didn't have a chance that year to hold hands around the campfire and give warm fuzzies to the person to their left? Or is it really that, at the end of the day, the workplace is all about money and it doesn't matter how many hours you've spent catching people in trust falls...when someone feels her job is being threatened, she will sing Kum Ba Yah while throwing your ass right under the bus?

Fifteen years of corporate retreats didn't result in anyone coming to Neal's aid. It was just a bunch of tax dollars spent in the name of team building and when Neal turned around for support during his darkest hour, his team was nowhere to be found. I would call that a profound waste of time and money. Kentuckians, you should be pissed.

Neal came home tonight and said that he has to attend a "bonding" trip to conclude a colonel's command this month. And my first reaction? Well, that's a total waste of time. You are going to go spend more time with people that you just spent a year in Iraq with? Was that 24-7 for 10 months not quite enough? But of course, the colonel wasn't in Iraq and he's the one who wants to go play in bouncy castles or go on a hayride or roast s'mores while singing the Army fight song ....or whatever the hell is on the agenda.

Y'know what builds a team's morale more than anything? Extra vacation days. Time spent with their families. Retreats WITH the families. Because by the time you become a working adult, you have created a family...whether with a spouse, a partner, or close friends. And that family will always outrank the job. Pulling time away from the family to spend more time at the job (and under the guise of "fun") not only annoys the employee, it pisses off the family. I can't think of a single work-related retreat that I've ever been on where, when it was all said and done, I said, "That was time well-spent! I really feel like I have connected with my co-workers on a whole new level and we will now exist peacefully and produce high-quality, squabble-free, final products." Not one. I went to Hurricane Katrina-devastated Mississippi once with staff from other YMCAs around the country and we worked like dogs all day and then bonded at night. But the bonding was incidental...not the main purpose. I did connect on a whole new level with those people, but then we were sleeping on the floor of the Y's karate room and walking past tent cities everyday.

I think retreats have their place. Youth retreats and camps are excellent because there are classes to attend and friendships to be made that have nothing to do with salaries or promotions or parking spaces (or retaining the right to be senior rater for an officer's evaluation). And family retreats are nearly necessary because we live such scattered and chaotic lives that we need something, after the work commitments and soccer seasons, to get us back on the same page. And if I'm going to invest time getting on the same page as anyone, it's going to be for my family.

My rant doesn't change the fact that this colonel is going to get his way and that Neal is going to pack his bags to fly to some yet-to-be-determined location to bond with other Soldiers who are either leaving the unit this month or within the next 6 months. And these plane tickets will be bought with money from an Army that is reducing its force and looking for ways to make severe budget cuts. It makes total sense, right? I hope they don't char their weenies.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What I'm Reading: In the Garden of Beasts

First of all, if you haven't read anything by Erik Larson up to this point, let me recommend The Devil in the White City as a starting point. I enjoyed In the Garden of Beasts, but it's not his best work. If you begin with this book, I fear you will never come back around to the excellent tale of the Chicago World's Fair (and co-occurring rampage of a sadistic murderer running amok during the chaos) in 1893. But Devil hooked me and so here we are.

This is the true account, based on journals, letters, and telegraphs kept and sent by Ambassador Dodd, of life in Germany during the rise of Hitler. I'm sure I'm not the only one of my generation who has ever said, "How in the HELL did they let this happen?" And by they, I mean our president, our secretary of state, our world as a whole. How did no one foresee the way this was all going to play out? But after reading In the Garden of Beasts, I get it.

Ambassador William E. Dodd was appointed by President Roosevelt to fill the position in Berlin in 1933. Dodd, who at the time, was serving as a college professor while he wrote his multi-volume historical account of the south in his free time, was looking for an ambassador role...preferably in Austria or...really, anywhere quiet that would allow him to focus the majority of his time on his writing. And Roosevelt had procrastinated filling the Berlin position after he had been turned down by everyone he asked. At last, someone at a dinner party mentioned Dodd and he, having no clue what awaited him just one year down the road, took it.

Dodd moved his family, including his wife, son, and party-girl daughter Martha, to Berlin soon after the appointment. Martha was separated from her husband at the time and saw the trip as one of infinite opportunities. Dodd and his wife saw it as a chance to impact world politics and impart on the German people what a level-headed bunch they were. They refused all standard ambassador treatment, including a luxurious house with countless staff and a fleet of cars at their disposal. They, instead, rented the upstairs portion of a house located just outside the gates of the Tiergarten (the park, loosely translated to "Garden of Beasts" from its days as a zoo, located in the middle of Berlin). During any other moment in time, any other regime, this modest living would have been respected and perhaps even admired, but Hitler's Germany equated power with wealth...or at least the appearance of wealth. Dodd refused to let his appointment (and the debt these appointments incurred on the American people) become a burden for an already taxed U.S. economy. He vowed to live within the salary he was given (and forgo the extravagant dinner parties that ambassadors were expected to host). The end result was Hitler's Germany dismissing him as a respectable authority representing the interests of the United States.

The entire Dodd family missed the importance of the rise of Hitler as it was happening. Ambassador Dodd saw Hitler as quiet and even cowardly and Martha saw only the exciting adventures that this new Germany offered. Even as Dodd began to catch glimpses of Hitler's true intentions and the power behind them (as Jews were forced out of jobs and housing and laws directly affecting Jews were being enacted everyday), Martha courted disaster as she carried on romantic affairs with the Gestapo leader, Rudolf Diels and the Soviet attache/secret NKVD agent, Boris Vinogradov. The men of the Third Reich were dashingly handsome and infectiously enthusiastic about The New Germany. Against her father's better judgment, she found herself singing right along with the Third Reich's anthem at a dinner party and even giving the Heil Hilter arm salute.

It was not until a road trip to a village outside of Berlin, where Martha and her traveling companions witnessed a Jewish woman and her Aryan lover being paraded through the streets after being severely beaten, that she began to question her unwavering support of the New Germany. Ambassador Dodd had long since been warning the State Department back in D.C., as well as President Roosevelt, of increasing unrest in Berlin. But it was all falling on deaf ears. And Dodd, never one to become too demanding or loud, pushed where he could and let the rest fall where it may.

The novel concludes with the day Hitler rose to ultimate power and all of the violence and death that accompanied that moment. The fear the Dodds felt is tangible in those pages and you get a real sense of how Berlin went from inhabitable to Hell overnight. Especially if you were Jewish. Or had sympathies towards the Jewish people.

The Dodds hurried home shortly thereafter and pretty much fell apart. Martha and her brother separated ways and Ambassador Dodd and his wife split their time between D.C. and a Virgina farm. And as we all know...then there was war.

While I was quick to mention that this is not Larson's most engaging novel, it certainly paints a vivid picture of Berlin in the months before Hitler's rise. The Gestapo and the police and the military...all fighting for power over the city's citizens...and Hitler calling the shots from his director's chair. He was not seen as fearsome or loathsome. At one point, one of Martha's close friends even sets her up on a date with Hitler, but neither seemed interested (although Hitler did admit to Diels later that he remembered meeting her). And that is how it happened. Under the cover of night, so slowly at first that anyone really noticed, and with the help of devoted followers who believed in their cause and in their leader.

I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a historical account of Germany. It gets thick with names and associations at times and I think some of it interferes with the underlying story. While it is, for the most part, an engrossing story, there are small bits of boring sections that I skipped. Ambassador Dodd's wife and son are mentioned, but the spotlight remains on the ambassador and Martha through most of the book. Martha's exploits with the men of the Third Reich makes for juicy reading and Ambassador Dodd's view of the New Germany makes you sympathize while also shaking your fists. There's a little bit of a love story, as Martha truly felt herself in love with Soviet agent Vinogradov and there is tons of violence towards the end, if that's your thing. But mostly, it's a well-researched and easily understood account of the months leading up to a time of impenetrable darkness. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Small Business Saturday: T-shirt Quilts!

Just like many of you, I was very active as a wee-Ally and later as a young adult. My only-child status afforded me more opportunities than my friends with siblings and with every opportunity, came a t-shirt. Basketball camps, drama club, church camps, tennis team, theater productions, etc, etc...it all came with a shirt. Some of them I discarded simply because they didn't fit or were too ugly even for around-the-house wear. But that still left a pretty hefty stack of shirts that I wanted to hold on to, and yet had no place to store. I've been wanting a t-shirt quilt for years and my hints at Thanksgiving each year fell on deaf ears, especially Neal's deaf ears. But this past Christmas, I handed the project over to Mama Virgo, along with the contact information of the woman I had found to do it (who just happens to live and work in Louisville...an hour away). T-shirt quilts (and their corresponding how-to pins on Pinterest) look so easy. You cut up some t-shirts, sew them together, throw a little backing on there and VOILA! Instant memory lane! Except, that is not the the case at all.

The kit that Mama Virgo brought with her on their first visit south after the holidays, was extensive. We had to lay the t-shirts out in the order that we wanted them in, making sure the total number of shirts matched the queen size quilt that I had chosen. Then we had to number them and stack them accordingly. Although the quilt-maker, Marie, is also happy to complete this process in the best way she sees fit, both Mama Virgo and I are a little too OCD to let someone else do this for us. Yes, I know...shocking. Then I chose a corresponding fabric color for the sections around each shirt (not a necessary step, but the banding does create a cleaner look for the quilt), and the fabric color for the back of the quilt. Then it all got boxed up and dropped back off at the quilt-maker's (or shipped if you aren't within driving distance of Louisville). The result? Was this...

Awesome, yes? When we were choosing a banding color, we decided to choose one that was not the main color in any of the t-shirts, but would accentuate or coordinate with all of them. I don't have a picture of the back of the quilt, but it's a lovely charcoal gray. Also, let me point out the swirly stitching throughout the quilt. You can see it really well on the gray Transylvania Basketball Camp tshirt that's hanging from this side (yes, we have a college in Lexington that is named Transylvania University. And yes, you basically have to be as wealthy as Dracula to attend. But their basketball camps are fairly reasonable). Here are a couple more pictures from different angles:

I adore the way it turned out. I also adore that I had completely forgotten this shirt was in the mix:

It's the original Kentucky wildcat logo...penis tongue and all. I've had this shirt for years...I don't remember a time when I didn't have this shirt. So it's only natural that it should be on this quilt, I had just forgotten about it.

So...long story, short? If you're jonesing for a t-shirt quilt, it's best to let the professionals handle it. This could easily be one of those projects that starts out with the best of intentions and ends in a pile of scraps and thread. Unless, of course, you actually quilt...then by all means, knock yourself out. But I don't do anything with thread or needle and I know that I could never create something so beautiful and so detailed without years of practice and frustration. I create jewelry so that you don't have to, and when I want accessories for my house, I tend to hire those out so I don't have to.

On her website, Marie says, "Our T-shirt Quilts are fully quilted with high loft batting instead of just tacked in the corners like most t-shirt quilts. We only use the highest quality material and take special care in making your t-shirt quilt." Also, you can use the front and back of a shirt, any material of shirt, and your quilt will be finished within 2-4 weeks of her receiving your t-shirts. If you have questions about the materials or processes she uses, she has included a FAQ link on her website. And, of course, you can find dozens of well-earned and satisfied customer reviews.

The Bottom Line:

The shop: The Quilt Loft
Website: http://www.tshirtquilt.com/index.htm
Price: I'm not sure since it was a gift, but she does list prices on her website.
Lead time: 3-4 weeks (longer at Christmas) from the time she receives the t-shirts with instructions and fabric choices until the quilt is finished
Location: Louisville, KY
How happy am I? LOVE it! And I'm openly recommending her to anyone who wants a t-shirt quilt. When a Virgo tells you that her attention to detail is flawless, you know you can take that to the bank.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Random Musings Friday

Y'know...the week just zooms by when you spend the first half of it at the beach. Amazing how that happens. I'm again linking up with Shana for Random Musings Friday. If you want to play along, grab the button and click on Shana to share your post. If we can get to 10 links, I'll buy everyone a puppy. Or a photo of a puppy.

1. So, yes...we kind of played hooky from all things adult and fled to Hilton Head for 3 days in the sand, sun, and surf. I asked one of my clients this week if it was possible to completely rejuvenate with only 1 full day at the beach. She said, without hesitation, "Absolutely." And now...I agree.

We hit the beach each morning for a 1-2 mile walk, coffee in hand and sunblock slathered all over. The tide was the highest I've ever seen it and we've all decided to blame it on the Super Moon (as well as the overall moodiness that everyone seems to have felt this week. And they say our behaviors aren't affected by the moon. I call "BS" on that).

Also, we packed away crab cakes, fried green tomatoes, coconut shrimp, seafood gumbo, lobster bisque, shrimp and grits, Derby pie, bourbon balls, and homemade waffles. And then....we waddled back home.

2. A local 10-year old boy ran away from home this week. I missed most of the coverage since we were out of town, but I follow our local television station on Facebook and was seeing the daily updates. It wasn't until this morning that I had a chance to watch the news reports on their website. Apparently, according to the reporter who had interviewed the boy's father earlier in the day, the boy's favorite video game was Call to Duty and he had beaten it at the age of 8. His father told the reporter that he was unconcerned about the safety and whereabouts of his son because he believed his son was just playing out a real-life version of Call to Duty. Also, the father said he was pretty sure the boy was getting water from people's hoses and that when he got hungry, he would return home.

There was so much wrong with that 30 seconds of reporting that I don't even know where to start. Even Neal, a trained Soldier, doesn't play Call to Duty. Also, if our son ever went missing, I'm fairly certain Neal wouldn't even pause his search to give a TV interview. I wouldn't wish the disappearance of a child on anyone, but sometimes I wonder if maybe parents create an environment where it becomes more likely.

3. My horse, Gemologist, lost the Kentucky Derby last Saturday, as did Neal's horse, Bodemeister, which ran the entire race in the front (as evidenced by his shiny clean, non mud-caked coat). Dane Cook's Baby Daddy actually won the pool of money with her horse, I'll Take Another, which I continuously mistook for her command to pour her another drink. It's only fair that she won, though...especially after I accidentally poured lemonade on her 7-month old's head. Apparently, lemonade stings when it gets in the eye.

4. Although Neal has out-smarted the squirrels, he still needs to train the birds not to waste food. They burn through a feeder full of food every 3 days. Hey birds...there are starving aviary populations in Africa, y'know...

5. And this week, the Infant Loss community welcomed a handsome and healthy baby boy into the world. When you witness a dear friend lose 20-week twins while her husband is deployed to Afghanistan and then another baby after his return, it makes you do a lot of uncharacteristic things...like shake your fist at God, question His plan, and doubt His existence in general. And you begin to think that life can never be good again. But then, through the marvels of modern medicine and the sheer willpower of one of the most inspirational women I know, a baby is born and 2 finally becomes 3. Every baby born is a gift from God and an absolute miracle and while we don't particularly think of a woman as "earning" or "deserving" a baby, this new mommy has both. I know that we will be reunited with our baby angels one day, but until then, it sure is a blessing to have one on Earth, too. Congratulations to W's mom and dad!

Cheers to you and here's a toast to a lovely weekend! (albeit landlocked...)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Random Musings Friday

Well, here we are again...another Friday and I am not sitting at Thumbs Up Diner in the ghetto-ish section of Atlanta, enjoying a goat cheese/onion/mushroom/spinach/tomato omelette, cheese grits, and delightful conversation with Shana (as well as the occasional big hair sighting...I mean big). I'm splitting my time this morning between tying up loose ends on a ton of custom orders and preparing for my Kentucky Derby party that I will be hosting tomorrow for all of my Georgia peaches and packing the car for a mini-vacay to the beach. I have to say, I wish it was last Friday, but this one ain't half-bad, either. So, I'm parked for a minute to share some Random from the week and then it's on to the next task!

1. I finally sat down about 3 weeks ago and finished my business taxes (mostly because I file within our personal taxes and Neal was getting really itchy for that tax return...and also because there's a deadline). I owed $100 for my business license fee. No surprise there. That happens every year. But I also owed public school taxes because I made a profit in 2011. How much did I owe, you may ask?

Two pennies.

But I am not one to screw the US government (or the county) out of even one penny. So, I wrote a check, hesitantly because I had never written one for under $1.00, for 2 pennies. And guess what? They cashed it. As Mama Virgo said, I hope that helps keep them afloat for another year.

2. The skyrocketing temperatures here in the deep south have caused the girls to start shedding their winter coats. All over the house. Fur tumbleweeds blow down the hallway and petting them causing the fur to fly. I try to keep them brushed but it's sort of like cleaning up the kitchen during a party. What's the point? Except that Lulu has started puking hairballs every morning. This is an event that only a cat-lover can appreciate as dogs don't make this lovely gagging sound, followed by a projectile chunk of semi-digested fur. And because Poppy is a bit....rotund...Lulu often cleans her, too, because Poppy can't reach a lot of the parts of her body. So, it only makes the whole situation worse.

Also, she has started sleeping under the ottoman. Probably because it's cooler. But it calls to mind the comment Neal made once that when the girls die, they will probably go hide somewhere to do it...so that it takes me awhile to find them. I poked her for about 5 seconds yesterday before she finally moved under there. I am almost certain that my heart stopped, thinking that my beloved cat had died under the ottoman after vomiting hairballs for 3 consecutive days. Thanks, Neal.

3. Tomorrow is the Kentucky Derby. If you live in Kentucky, it's kind of a big deal. If you are from Kentucky, it's kind of a big deal. While I've never had the patience to make my own Derby hat, I do love an excuse to gather friends, eat Derby pie (basically pecan pie with walnuts and chocolate chips, but...um...without the pecans), drink mojitos, and bet on the horsies. So, tomorrow I will be doing just that. All my rowdy friends will come over and we'll make friendly wagers amongst ourselves while gorging on Kentucky foods and drinking minty cocktails. And so the preparations have begun...

I realized this morning that my Kentucky B&B cookbook is actually in Kentucky, so "Catering to Charleston" will have to work. It's basically the same thing.

4. Finally, I went to the commissary last night for some milk and noticed that a Lincoln towncar with a sticker that said, "Warning: No Smoking. Oxygen in Use" was parked in the "Expectant Mother" parking space. There are 2 "Expectant Mother" parking spaces and about a dozen handicapped spaces at the commissary. My first thought was, "Oh yeah, I'm SO sure the woman driving that car is an expectant mother." But my second thought was, "HEY! Don't be so judgy! Her life may be really hard...she's 8 months pregnant and having to chauffeur her very ill, oxygen-dependent mother to the commissary for some eggs and bacon! At least you don't have that going on!"

The owner of the O2-mobile happened to be at the trunk, watching the bagger load his groceries, as I walked by. He was not expectant, nor a mother. I am both the daughter and the wife of Rule Followers. (I am also the daughter of a Rules-Are-Merely-Suggestions thinker. As in "speed limits are suggestions of how fast you should be going.") So, I gave the unoxygenated, non-expectant, non-mother the stink eye and managed to not ask him when he's due as I walked by. I'm sorry dude but if all of the handicapped spaces are taken (for the record, I've never seen that happen), and you don't have a handicapped parking sticker or tag anyway, "Expectant Mother" parking is not your plan B.

I hope you all have lovely rain-free, sunshine-filled, relaxing weekends. And if you happen to be home around 6ish tomorrow, tune in to the Derby and pick a horse. It really is the most exciting 2 minutes in sports!

Got your own random goin' on? Grab the button and link up with Shana. She's all about a good party, so the more, the merrier!