Sunday, January 11, 2015

Punxy Phil told me that it's winter and it will snow and be cold.

Almost two weeks ago J and I spent a few days at my mom's while my older brother and his family (as well as my little brother's oldest) were there. My older brother is all about doing something fun and/or different when we are together, whereas I am just happy to hang out, since I tend to see him about three times a year. His suggestion this time was a trip to the Punxsutawney Weather Discover Center, which was about 45 minutes from Mom's.

It was a small, but neat, place, and I learned a few things (nothing that I can remember, unfortunately). The kids, who ranged in age from almost 7 to 11, were mostly enthralled with a slide that ended in a bunch of foam blocks; the idea is to feel as if you are in a tornado.

I thought doing a mock weather forecast was kind of cool, but the kids were less impressed.
Representing my two favorite Pittsburgh sports teams while on air


When were finished, a woman working there gave us a directions to see Punxy Phil. Even though I grew up about an hour and 10 minutes from Punxy, I had never seen Phil, so this intrigued me, and we made the short drive there. I was surprised Phil lives in what I can best describe as a storefront, complete with awning proclaiming his dwelling place.

 

mmm, granola bars



When we finished watching him (and on 4:15 the Monday between Christmas and New Year's, we were one of several groups who had the same idea), we headed to Gobbler's Knob, where all the excitement occurs every February 2nd.


The entrance
   


The stage

Where, presumably, Phil's handler pulls him out to check for shadowing

I find it odd that thousands make the trek to Punxy every February 2nd, to stand shoulder to shoulder with many people in (what is typically) the freezing cold. I am just happy to have saved myself the crowds.

Oh, and here is a sign that talks about the movie. I was too cold at this point to get out and read it. I think the five minutes we spent at Gobbler's Knob was plenty.


By the way, Punxy Phil told me that it is winter and we can expect cold and snow. I did not ask him how many more delays J's school can expect, but I am pretty sure when you are delayed 4/5 days of the first week back, you can safely bet that we've only just begun. :-)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

This too shall pass.

I am a worrier. Many nights I purposefully stay up late in the hopes I will be too tired to think. Some worries are small, some are big, and most I have little to no control of. But worry, ponder, and debate I do.

During my nice Christmas break, I spent more money than I should have. I am normally careful about my spending, but I decided to let loose a little, and not feel guilty for every dime I spent. (That is not to say I did not feel guilty for many of the dimes I spent.) And in the back of my mind, I pondered the what-ifs. What if our old roof went? What if one of our vehicles needed a major repair (I did replace four tires on NY's Eve)? And what if one of us lost our job?

I think I can go ahead and make this generalization: Once you have been laid off, you know it can happen again, so it never leaves your mind completely. It may be tucked away, under some older memories or perhaps next to a to-do list. But it is there. And when your husband has had two pay cuts and no raises in six years, and neither a holiday party nor any type of gift the past few Decembers, you wonder how much longer that company will last.

Well, I think we are getting closer to an answer there. No one got paid last week. 

When one of the hub's coworkers realized his direct deposit did not go through, he emailed the sort-of HR guy about it, and was told he was not sure when it would happen, because the PT payroll person was let go. The fact that that PT person and another were laid off sent a slight panic through me, but anytime she had taken off in the past, their paychecks were inevitably late, so I was not too worried. 

The next day or so when there was still no paycheck, the same coworker sent an email to the owner, who replied (just to him) that things were not good, and although some things were in the works, he did not know when paychecks would come, but hopefully soon. My husband, however, received no email about this. If he had not talked to this coworker, he would have had no clue how bad things were (are!); husband, the coworker who sent the email, and one more guy work from home; the other 10 or so employees work out of the office several hours from Pittsburgh. Maybe they were told something.

I am trying not to panic, but I am not entirely succeeding. When you get laid off, you can at least collect UC. But I have no idea what you do in this situation. I like to think I would be on the phone or sending multiple emails to the owner, but the hub thinks there is little point. Yes, I know it would not change anything, and I would not expect much from a guy who could not even buy his in-house employees a pizza on Christmas Eve or send a (free) email thanking his employees for their work or wishing them a happy holiday. But I just don't think I could accept the complete lack of communication in a situation like this. 

In the meantime, I will try to take some deep breaths and be glad we have some cushion in the bank. I will, however, probably continue to worry and be angry (in case you could not tell from my previous paragraph, I am pretty peeved). 

And I will remind myself that like so many other things, this too shall pass.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Neither a year in review nor a bunch of resolutions

Happy 2015, everyone! I wrote my first check of the year just two minutes ago, and I used the correct year. Already 2015 is off to a good start! :-)

Regarding the check, I have to give a shout-out to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. For only $13, I can get 52 weeks of the Sunday paper. Yes, the Trib leans right. So do I, sometimes (I lean left about as often nowadays, much to the disappointment of my family and a few friends). Regardless, once the P-G raised its rates to something like $60 every quarter to get the Sunday and Thursday papers, I bailed. I do think the PG has a good product, but I could think of many other things I would rather spend that money on. With the great Trib price, I can tip my carrier, donate to the NIE, and save myself several hundred dollars a year.

As is typical, I did nothing for New Year's Eve. Well, I did get a lot done during the day. I dropped the kid off at a friend's house. I got four new tires (my third replacement set since I bought the car almost 8 years ago) and an alignment. While waiting for that, I did about 1.5 hours of work. (Since we are on winter recess, I will get credit for any work I do, and I will be able to leave early one day.).

I got my glasses adjusted and wasted an additional 15 minutes at Lens Crafters because two different people told me I could get free sunglasses lenses (and just pay for the frames) with a birthday coupon I had. Did not find out until the woman rang me up that I would also have to pay for part of the lenses. I left. I plan to write a complain email about that. 

I spent another chunk of change on our crazy dog Bailey. Apparently she is immune to the no-biting spray (it just makes us gag), but I decided to try a third, more natural brand. I also replaced the Kong that Sadie had for 12 years which Bailey managed to destroy in two weeks. Sigh.

After picking up J from the friend's house, we did some grocery shopping, then had a nice dinner (minus the bacon that went up in flames on the grill), and I enjoyed a margarita for dinner and chocolate egg nog for dessert. The Pens finally won a game; I like to think my wearing of the third jersey (Recchi) helped, but that article of clothing has been inconsistent at best.

I was in bed by 11:30, still trying to make up for three nights of little sleep at my mom's. But I did awake at midnight to the sound of distant fireworks. Or maybe gunshots. :-)

I have no expectations for 2015, other than I resolve not to spend to spend much money on my car. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago my new mechanic passed my car for inspection without my needing new brakes. Since I typically replace those every other year, and this was the year to do it, I am guessing new brakes (and probably rotors) are in my 2015.

I would love for a couple of my teams to come away with some post-season victories, but I can't do much about that. I will just try to enjoy whatever ride they take me on.

Here's hoping 2015 is a good ride for all of you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A tale of two Christmases

As of 12 p.m. yesterday, I am off until 1/5, without having to take any vacation days. Ah, the perks of working for a university. :-)

This year, our actual Christmas Eve/Day celebration(s) will be about the least eventful I can recall. The hub's mom and grandma were to come down just this afternoon, and then we would head to 5 p.m. mass, for which J and the children's choir would be singing. But unfortunately the MIL came down with the flu or something, so here we are on Christmas Eve, with nothing much to do. My mom has been in TX visiting with my little brother and his family for almost four weeks now. She should be back this weekend, so we will celebrate, just after the fact. But it is just weird for me not to be around my family (besides my immediate family) during these few days.

I am pretty sure the kid still believes in Santa, so there is that, but I am also pretty sure I will tell her what is what afterwards (or maybe tonight, if she brings up putting out milk and cookies, and I, the terrible liar that I am, won't be able to go along with it). Until then I will enjoy following Santa on NORAD's app/site.

I finally mailed my Christmas cards this morning, which was an accomplishment for me. I was not in the mood to create (i.e., select pictures), write, or send any out this year. Sadie's death affected me so much more than I thought. And I still miss her terribly. Bailey, the new dog, is driving me crazy. I am glad we have her, as it is helping at this time of year, but the amount of things that have been destroyed in our house (not to mention our constantly bitten hands) tempers the excitement. 

But back to the cards. Every year, it seems that fewer and fewer people send cards (at least to us), but knowing that this is the only connection I have to some people, I could not give it up. I tried to put a card together online last weekend, but at that last minute, did not submit my order. I bought some cards on Sunday night, but did not feel like writing anything. Then yesterday, since I was home by early afternoon, I decided to, once again, try to put something together via Walgreen's website, as they can print your cards for store pick up in an hour. I sent our fewer this year myself, mostly just to those who sent us ones, plus another half dozen. But in the end, I am glad I did so.

Here it is, including Jordan and both dogs: Sadie, lower left-hand corner, because she was with us for over 11 months of 2014; and Bailey, upper right-hand corner, because she is our dog now.


I want to end this with a few pictures of one of my favorite places, Phipps.Wishing all of you out there a merry Christmas. May your days be merry and bright.










Sunday, December 14, 2014

Trying to keep the fading magic from fading

J is in sixth grade. She is of an age when most kids do not believe in Santa. In fact, I would guess in her class pretty much no one does; most kids gave that up in fourth grade, some as late as fifth grade. But J? Well, on my birthday last week, after she found out there was no elf that flew away each night and came back every morning (because she straight-out asked me, and I will not lie), I figured she might have stopped believing in the fat guy in the red suit. But she is my daughter, so I knew there was an even better chance that she figured that just because one thing was not true, that did not necessarily mean the other mythical creatures were not real. [When, sometime between fourth and fifth grade, I found out there was no Santa, I refused to ask my parents about the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy. Even though I knew they probably were not real either, I decided to hold onto hope and get one more holiday out of it.]

Yesterday, I took J to the Santa breakfast at our church because good friends of ours were going. J loves their toddler and preschooler, and those two pretty much worship her, so J was only too happy to go. She went up with the kids as they sat on Santa's lap, and she stood next to Santa while the two told Santa what they wanted. Later, I told J that I thought Santa was kind of pushy when our friends' little girl said she wanted an Elsa doll, and Santa kept asking her what else she wanted. Then J said to me, "It's not like he's the real Santa"

So that comment leads me to believe that she still is holding out a little glimmer of hope that just because an elf does not go back and forth to the North Pole nightly that does not mean that Santa can't pull off his feat of visiting the houses of millions in one night. I thought about coming clean, and I always said I would never lie to J about it. But unless she directly asks me, I think I will keep quiet. Worth noting is that last year (or maybe it was the year before) she asked if there was a Santa. I replied in my best teacher answer, "What do you think?" J answered that she wanted to believe. And I told her then that she should believe, and that I believe in the magic of Christmas. I threw in something about the "Yes, Virginia" story, and that was that. I did not lie, so I could live with that.

I realize there is a chance that she could talk about it at school, and someone could tease her, and I do not want that to happen. And maybe she does not even believe still.

But I guess I just want to hang on to that last little bit of magic, because I know there are a lot of years in between the wonder and belief you have during childhood until you get to the grown-up version of magic, if you even get there at all.

Here's hoping you can find some magic!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The birthday celebration (dog included)

So I turned Troy Polamalu years old last Friday. If I owned his jersey, I would have worn it, to proudly display my age. :-)

I had a great few days (I try to celebrate for two or three). It started on Thursday with my traditional birthday lunch at Mad Mex with a couple of friends/former coworkers. Mmm, shrimp-mushroom-spinach burrito. 

Friday included wearing of the birthday pin (for the 19th year) and a coworker-made hat (by the coworker who shares my birthday), lunch at Hems with coworkers, early work exit, dinner at Roman Bistro (best of the three meals) with family, Penguins and Pirates shirts as presents, and watching "Girl Meets World" with my kid to end the evening. 

But the biggest part of my birthday weekend was our adopting a dog from the Humane Society!

Since J and I will be off for almost two weeks for Christmas, and the hubby shares about half of those days (plus a few before our break starts), we figured it made sense to get a dog soon. J had fallen in love with Evie, this kind of crazy-looking rat-bull terrier, via the website a week or so prior. And as luck would have it, she was still there on Saturday morning when we finally made it to the shelter. I, on the other hand, was enamored with a black pit bull-lab puppy. Elvis was calm and complacent; Evie was wild and barky. But one look at Elvis's giant paws deterred me. Plus, I know some people were afraid of our pittie mix, which was kind of crazy. 

Anyway, we got Evie, whom we renamed Bailey after a few hours (that was her name at one point, and she responded to it). And life has been crazy ever since! The energy level on this 10ish-month old puppy is, well, crazy. She goes from 0 to 60 in about five seconds, and then right back to calm. Yesterday, she jumped down the last four steps to fetch a ball, and today, she was several feet in the air, spinning around, trying to grab a toy.

The hub has left her downstairs for a few hours while he was out the past couple of days. The toll? A slipper, a dress shoe, the top of a plastic stapler, the lid to a bottle of hand sanitizer, and part of a Scooby hat. Sigh.

Oh, Bailey, what have we gotten ourselves into?! :-)


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Looking on the bright side

I decided a couple of days ago to do a "bright side of December" thing for Facebook. Last year, so many people did 30 days (or however many days there were until Thanksgiving) of thankfulness. No one I knew did that this year, and I realized I kind of missed it. So I figured I, who am often optimistic, would put my own spin on something.

On Monday, I had to get my windshield replaced. This was the second time in five years (almost to the day), and in between I had some cracks/nicks replaced. Having to spend $100 (deductible) on something like that so close to Christmas does not make me happy. But the shop ended up doing it in only 20 minutes, and it cost $80 instead. So I decided to think of it as saving $20, not spending $80. Bright side! Oh, and I no longer have to look at the cracks in my windshield.

Yesterday, even though I left work 10 minutes early, it took me longer than usual to get home. But I decided that morning to put in a CD of my music ministry's Lessons and Carols service we did a couple of years ago. Listening to that in the morning really calmed my usual cranky-because-I-am-in-traffic self down, and it had the same effect on me last evening.

One of the things I like most about the holidays (and I am considering the holidays as beginning on Thanksgiving and ending New Year's Day night, with my birthday in between!) is the music. I am a singer (not a great one, but I can hold my own), and I can plunk a few songs out on the piano. And there is just something about a lot of the Christmas songs, particularly some of the slower ones.

I also very much enjoy lights and decorations. Some of my best (but briefest) childhood holiday memories are of our tree and looking at the decorations of others around our neighborhood. Every evening when I look out our back window and see houses below us with their lights, I can't help but smile.

And I will soon be headed to Phipps to experience their Winter Flower Show. I was so mesmerized by it last year that I joined a week later. I have been there at least eight times since. It was the best $85 I spent this year. I have to imagine even the most anti-holiday, hardened person would be moved by what they see there.

For today's bright side of December, I am thinking it is the fact that I am home taking a sick day. I woke up with an upset stomach and for the second night in a row got about 5 hours of sleep. But being home allowed me to take a long nap this morning, get in a load of laundry, and not put on any makeup or do my hair. Bright side!

Here is hoping you can find a bright side to things. I am pretty sure I am going to have to look long and hard when I get my tires replaced this week. My guess is that my brakes will also need to be replaced and something else will come up when I get my car inspected on Monday. So I better really take this to heart. :-)


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankfulness

As I get ready to head over a river (well, a man-made lake) and through some woods, I wish all of who still happen by these parts a happy thanksgiving. May your day be a good one, and may you not be alone, unless that is what you want. And most of all, I hope you can find at least one thing to be thankful for. I know I get down at times, frustrated by various things. But I am thankful that I can be thankful. 


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Jagoffs are everywhere and perception is reality.

Last night I watched, on live TV, some jagoffs smash the windows of several businesses in Ferguson. I saw even more people steal bottles of liquor. My suspicion is that most of those thugs don't care about Michael Brown or his family. Some of those same criminals would have probably at least vandalized businesses even if the grand jury reached a different conclusion.

So thanks to those idiots (and I really want to use a stronger noun), people are painting the entire town and/or supporters of Brown with the same brush. And perhaps as unfortunate, their actions may discourage peaceful protesters. And most unfortunate, there will be those who say (and have already done so on social media) that the actions of those criminals somehow prove that Michael Brown was a thug and that his killing was justified and/or the officer who killed him did so with reason. 

All of this because some goons committed multiple crimes. And I bet if you asked them if they felt bad for what they did and how it tainted perceptions, most would not care. 

It makes me so sad, how the actions of a few can have such far-reaching effects and so greatly affect perceptions. You go to WVU? You must like to burn couches! You are a Ravens fan? You must think it is okay to hit a woman. You are a Republican? You must hate the poor. You are a Catholic? You must think it is okay that priests molest boys.

Racism and discrimination are still happening. Police brutality still exists. People commit crimes. And sometimes people get it wrong.

Be thankful if you are not on the giving or receiving of end of any of the above.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

I may hate furniture shopping even more than I hate going to Walmart!

Our couch and leather recliner in the den are pretty much destroyed, thanks to Sadie, who never met a piece of furniture or carpet that she did not want to dig at. I never much cared for the couch anyway, and it is almost 13 year old, so we decided to replace both of them.

The hubs had this brilliant idea of getting a sectional with a cup holder feature in between one of the love seats. I am not a fan of those, but I gave in, mostly because he had me sold on the chaise. Yesterday, while J and I were at my mom's, he went to a furniture store, found a set he liked, and emailed me a pic of it, which included a chaise. I liked it okay, so the three of us went to see it today.

I was expecting to be in and out of there within 30 minutes. We went over to the set, and I liked it  better in person (though still did not love it). But once he sat on the chaise for a couple of minutes, the hubs realized it was not as comfortable as he thought. Worse was when you reclined the chaise (which I thought was cool), you were left with a gap in the cushion where the small of your back would be.

So we looked at many other sets and pieces of furniture. J and I found a nice one, with a chaise large enough to fit both of us. I was sold, and even willing to spend more money, until the hubs measured it. Unfortunately, our den is an odd shape and quite small; we basically have 8'x8' to fit furniture. This long chaise would pretty much give us a foot between the end of that and the TV. Maybe. So we examined many other possibilities, and we still could not come to a decision.

I suggested going to another, typically more expensive, store, against everyone else's wishes. Turns out they were right: This store was advertising prices of 50% off. But with that discount, most sectionals were still between $1,500 and 3,000. Which means they were regularly priced between $3,000 and $6,000. Who would pay $3,000 for a loveseat?! (Unless you were wealthy, of course.)

By this time, we had been gone for close to two hours, so we stopped at a local Mexican restaurant for lunch. That was our third and last time at that place, let me tell you. Over 30 minutes into our being there, when our drinks were empty and there was no sign of our lunch arriving, the server apologized for the slow service because of a large party. That info would have been nice from the get-go, or at least 15 minutes earlier. Once we got our meals, he never came back to check on us. And when we got our bill, I almost choked--the guacamole and sour cream I had asked for on the side/as an extra cost $5.50. That was more than half the cost of my lunch. When I gave the server our credit card, I told him that I wish he would have told me the cost of those things when I asked for them, as I never would have gotten them (I did not notice them as an upcharge on the menu; Mad Mex, which I love, charges $1.50 for guacamole; sour cream is free upon request).

Not particularly happy, the three of us tried another furniture store, which was just about as expensive as the second one. So we headed back to store number 1. We decided to get a reclining loveseat with the console/drink holder, and then find a coordinating second love seat. After about 15 or 20 minutes, we thought we knew what we wanted. Then the hubs explained to me that the second loveseat would actually be in front of the "fancy" love seat; the two pieces would not be shaped like an L, as I had envisioned. Thinking about how silly that would look, I said to forget it. Then hubs had another idea: What if we got the reclining loveseat and then just a chair and ottoman perpendicular to that? At this point, close to four hours after we had left home, I did not care if we bought bean bags. So we found a red (!) reclining leather chair with ottoman, that would at least not be in front of the loveseat, and we ordered it and the fancy loveseat.

I don't love either of them. What is worse (for me) is that we can now seat fewer people (two on the loveseat, because it has the console in between, and one person on the chair) as compared to the four or even five we fit on our couch and recliner before. And I would have loved to have spent that money on five other things.

But I just could not stand it anymore. I had to get out of there, and we had spent so much time that I hated to come away with nothing.

Walmart: You are looking better and better.