Saturday, March 28, 2015

Just another reason why I don't fly...

I hate traveling, both long car rides and any length of a plane ride. I am fairly certain I have mentioned that here, back in the height of my blogging days. Time, money, inconvenience, and, most of all, fear are the reasons. Unfortunately, my family is not close by. One brother is in TX, a plane ride away, and the other brother is in NC, a nine-plus-hour drive away. So, when a brother invites us for a holiday or other gathering, I rarely say yes (it helps that they do come to this area several times a year).

About a month ago, my NC brother suggested the three of us and our families along with Mom get together over Easter to celebrate Mom's upcoming 75th birthday in NC. Of course, my first selfish thought was that either I was going to have to suffer through a long drive in my crappy car, or I was going to have to shell out money for some plane tickets. I could not use work as an excuse, as I did last year when one of them invited me (I did not have enough vacation time at that point). But since Mom will be 75 only once, and I have blown off the last couple of family gathers, I decided to bite the bullet and buy plane tickets for me and J (I am not sure our car would make it that far, sadly). The hubby will be at home with our insane dog.

I watched flights online for a few days, and stressed about if I was waiting too long or not long enough. When the prices went up a few bucks, I panicked and bought our tickets. They weren't cheap, but we weren't spending four figures, so I decided to be okay with it. I had already (mostly) gotten over my bitterness about our little income tax return, so I figured I might as well spend that money on these tickets. 

Since our trip is now just four days away, I was considering what to pack. Then, I wondered if we would have to pay for baggage. I assumed you got one suitcase per ticket. Well, you know what they say when you assume. Apparently, US Airways charges $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second, which I find to be insane. I am not sure how I can fit five days worth of clothes for two people in one suitcase, but you can bet I will sure as heck try. SIL, it looks as if I will be doing laundry at your house!

I realize there is not much I can do about, and I probably should have read things more carefully (I could have sworn that when I picked my carrier, I read US Airways did not charge for the first bag, but clearly I was mistaken). But you can bet I will not be flying again anytime soon.

Here's hoping it goes well!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Yes, mamms!

When I turned 35, my ob-gyn gave me a prescription to have a mammogram done. I ignored it, not for any one good reason. When I came back for my exam the next year, I sheepishly told her I would need another prescription since I neglected to have my mammogram done during that past year. Doc informed me the guidelines had changed, and I would not need to get it done until 40 now. I felt downright smug I had procrastinated.

A couple weeks shy of 41, I finally went. While there, I announced to the technician that it was my first time. She told me that they should give out stickers. I agreed. Regardless, the imaging did not take too long, and although it was not pleasant, it was not as bad as I had envisioned.

About two weeks ago, a friend posted about her mammogram experience. That served as a reminder that my mammogram was overdue; it had been more than two years. So I called the next day, and was actually able to get in, in just a few hours (the hospital is an 11-minute walk from my office). For some reason, this time seemed to be more awkward/painful/unpleasant than my first (I would not have thought a boob could have been stretched out so much, only to be somewhat flattened). But it was over quickly. I was told to call in two weeks to get my results.

Two days later, I got a follow-up call while at work, telling me that I would need to come back for additional testing. The woman on the phone assured me that it did not necessarily mean anything was wrong; they just needed to take more pictures. At first, I was not panicked; my mom has gone through this type of thing many times. Each time she would get worked up, and each time it turned out to be fine. But as soon as the woman on the phone told me that I would need to allow for 1.5 hours and that a radiologist would be present, panic ensued. I immediately started crying. Fortunately, I was sick, and my eyes had been watering and I had been blowing my nose a bit anyway, so no one really noticed anything.

After about an hour, I finally calmed down. I reasoned that because the woman said I should come back within four to six weeks, rather than ASAP, it probably was not a big deal. I managed to get through the next week feeling (mostly) pretty positive. 

Within a few days, I received a letter letting me know that the Breast Density Notification Act required that I be notified of my breast density. I discovered my mamms were heterogeneously dense. I was even able to chuckle about it. 

But two nights ago, the night before my appointment, I could not help feeling a little scared and tearing up. The thought of my only child being motherless kept playing out in my mind. It was almost too much to take. I also pictured myself showing up to some work and social functions in colorful bandanas to hide my balding head. I had gone there. In fact, I would not commit to going to a work conference in Baltimore in May because I was not sure how I would be. Many tears and fits later, I finally fell asleep.

I woke up yesterday, the day of my noonish appointment, to a crapload of snow. School was cancelled, so I was staying home with the kid, and the roads were a mess. But there was no way I was going to cancel the appointment. I had to know.

So I went, leaving myself plenty of time. When I got there, I was ushered to the dressing room pretty quickly. Then I went on to the gown waiting area. It was extremely crowded, and there was one seat. I made a joke about it being a popular place, and some woman said people came for the free coffee. A few of us laughed. I then said to the ladies nearest to me, “Come here often?” One lady said she tried not to. That helped break some of the tension, I think.

Unfortunately, I was in that area for almost 40 minutes. Too much time to worry. During this period, I heard a worker call a woman into a room. The worker’s beginning words, which now escape me, sounded serious. Sigh.

I eventually was brought back to another area, only to have to wait another 10 minutes. I continued to feel uneasy.

I finally was ushered into a room. My technician was the same, nice woman I had the previous week. This time was equally as unpleasant, but shorter, since only one of my mamms had an issue. When it was over, the woman said for me to wait outside and a doctor would talk to me.

Wait. That is all I could do is wait. Worse, my phone lost its internet connection, so I had no distraction, as I had read the one People magazine that was there. Sadly, I listened to a couple of ladies way down the hall talk about biopsies. Sigh.

Finally, after about 10 or 15 minutes, a woman called my name. My heart started to pound as I got up. Then she said such wonderful words: “You are free to go.” It tears me up just to type this. The woman handed me a paper that said my results were fine/negative and that they would see me back next year.

I walked back to the dressing room feeling inexplicably not only as if a weight had been lifted from me, but also as if I had been punched in the stomach. When I got back to the gown area and changed, I promptly burst into tears. Tears of relief, stress, I don’t know what else. Briefly, I felt for the woman who was talking about the biopsy. Mostly, I felt a little shaky.

During my walk back to my car, I walked as slowly as I can recall. I just felt drained.

But my heterogeneously dense mamms and I are okay. I hope you and yours are too. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Taxes, you hurt me real(ly) bad(ly).

As far as income tax refunds go, I know most financial planners will tell you that your goal should be to get nothing back, because otherwise the government is keeping your money. I agree with that sentiment for people who have credit card debt. It does seem silly not to not pay down more of that debt each month. But my feelings have changed (and changed again) over the years. 

About seven or eight years ago, I thought the hubby and I were getting too much money back in our tax refund. I decided I would rather have a larger paycheck and then be able to put more money into savings. So I changed my withholdings (or whatever that is called) from 0 or 1 to 3, plus I even had extra taken out each month. I figured/hoped we would end up with well under 1k in a refund, and I was cool with that.

But the funny thing was that for many years, we never got anywhere close to that small of a refund. Some years we did well enough that we were able to do some home improvements (windows one year, tub surround another year, and a new AC and furnace after that). Our best year was my second year of being unemployed. This dropped us to a lower tax bracket, and because we had gotten new widows that same year, we ended up getting a really nice chunk of change back.

Oddly enough (to me) was a couple of years ago, when I had earned a decent (but less than the rate of poverty) amount of money freelancing. I had not paid any federal taxes on it, so I was penalized in my tax return, but we still ended up with a nice-sized federal return. Honestly, I thought we would owe or get only a few hundred dollars back. I was shocked!

Last year, we ended up with more money, though I had expected even more than that since I had done no freelancing. I figured this year we would end up with about the same.

I was wrong.

It turns out, we have now re-entered what I consider the silliest tax bracket. We went from the 15 percent tax bracket to the giant leap of the 25 percent bracket, because last year was my first full year of employment. We are barely at the low (income) end of this tax bracket. I am 99 percent sure we will never earn enough to make it to the next bracket of 28 percent. Nonetheless, a married couple can make about 3.5 times what the hubby and I are making and yet pay only 3 percent more in taxes than we do. Sigh. And to be clear, I am not saying that the more money you make, the more you should be taxed. I am more of a flat or fair tax kind of gal. This is kind of driving that point home.

I can't help but be disappointed. I was counting on a decent refund that would allow me to pay off the hub's truck (yes, I have clearly come back to wanting a large refund). Looks as if that won't be happening anytime soon.

I have tried to make myself feel better by reminding myself that we are finally making roughly what we made before I was laid off. But that just ends up making me sad, because 1) it took us six years to get back to that point, 2) I now work full time (I was working only 4 days per week before I was laid off), and 3) we somehow ended up with so much less of a refund than what we had gotten back then. Don't get it.

But the worrier in me knows as tenuous as my husband's job is, we may very well end up back in the 15 percent bracket next year. So I am just going to shut up. And maybe treat the family to a nice dinner with our return. You know, while we still can.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

In defense of the pit bull

As regular blog readers know (and at this point, I think there might just be two of you), my family said goodbye to our beloved pit bull mix Sadie, a few months ago.

Since then, three months and almost two weeks later, I still miss her. I can honestly say that I probably have not gone more than a week without tearing up. But, to be fair, I cry over silly things.

When we adopted Sadie, we were not sure we were going to have kids, so the fact that Sadie was partially a pit bull did not concern me. And, honestly, when I first saw her, I did not know that was her dominant breed. But once we knew I was pregnant with J, I started to worry. Back then, there was not social media, but there was still the internet, so I did occasionally read about pit bull maulings.

I very clearly remember my first day home alone with J. She was a week old, and my mom, who had been staying with us, and my husband both headed back to work. I was freaking out to begin with, just being a new mother. But having a dog constantly jump on me while I was holding the baby made it even worse. And all the visions of what a pit bull could do were going through my mind.

Eventually, things calmed down, and I would let Sadie near baby J. But never alone. I repeat: Never alone. In fact, I am guessing that J was not alone with Sadie until she was at least 6, and probably even older. It really only was in the last few years, the two would snuggle on the couch, and J is 11 1/2 now. But the reality is that I rarely left my kid unattended regardless. Proof of this is when she was 5 1/2, and I was in the shower on my day off. J cut head her head, which resulted in a trip to Children's. I remember very clearly the husband asking why I had left her alone. And I remember, almost as clearly, my saying that I was in the shower, and what did he expect. But that was pretty much the only time she was out of my sight at that age. A little sad.

But to my point: Once again, I read about another pit bull attacking and killing a small child. This girl was 2. It is very tragic, and my heart breaks for the family. But, and this won't be popular with some people (luckily few people come here!), the parents have to take some responsibility. You should NEVER leave a child that young alone with a dog. Period. Even if that dog is a cocker spaniel, and even if that dog is your beloved family pet (they were at a friend's house).

Part of me thinks we were lucky that Sadie never did anything to Jordan. Another part of me knows that I have my overprotective parenting to thank for that. There is no possible way that J would have ever been alone with Sadie so young for that to have happened. But there is also this important factor: Not all pit bulls are bad. In fact, most family pit bulls are pretty good dogs: I know our Sadie sure was. I have come across people walking their pit bulls near some of the parks J and I have gone to, and I have not hesitated to ask to pet them. (But I am not going to lie: When I drive through a questionable neighborhood on my way home, one known for a high percentage of homicides, and I see men walking pit bulls, I would not want to ask to pet them, even though that is kind of contradicting what I am saying).

Pit bull ownership is not for everyone. But I would have adopted another pit bull after Sadie, had not so many people have been afraid of the breed. In fact, my older brother and his wife just did not feel comfortable coming to our house because of Sadie. I respected that, even though I knew they had nothing to worry about. But of course you never do know.

I leave you with this quote, which the Western PA Humane Society posted on its Facebook page. They said it better than I could have.
The Western PA Humane Society would like the express our sincerest condolences to the family who lost their 2-year-old daughter last evening after a tragic accident with a dog that belonged to a family member. Our thoughts are with them during this difficult time as they mourn her passing.
While we understand that there are dangerous dogs in the world, we would like to take a moment to remind the community that each dog is an individual – no matter their size, age, or breed. What does that mean? We think our friends at Animal Farm Foundation say it the best. “We owe it to all dogs to see them for who they really are, free of prejudice, stereotypes, and assumptions that are based on a known pedigree, a breed label guess, or physical appearance.” We hope that when hearing media reports of this tragic event, the public will remember that you can’t judge a book by its cover, or a dog by it’s breed. See the dog for who he/she really is; a beloved family member, a snuggle buddy, a fuzzy shoulder to cry on, a therapist with fur or just an overall best pal.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The hope and reminder of spring

Other than a couple of days here and there, I am convinced that snow has been on the ground for several months here in the Burgh. I am sure some statistician or weather person would tell me otherwise, but to me, it just seems as if we have had snow for a long time. However, I chose to live here; I could have moved slightly south, which was my intention about 22 years ago, so I try not to complain too much about it. And really, compared to many people around these parts, I rant very little about the weather (well, cold temps and snow, that is).

I just can't see myself living in a place where it never snows, and I particularly have no desire to live where it is hot and humid for many months. I appreciate the changing of the seasons. There is just something about the various colors and stages of growth we see throughout the year.

Sure, this time of year there is a lot of gray. Trees are bare. When you actually see the grass, most of it is brown. But a trip to Phipps, one of my favorite places, reminds me that spring is not too far away. I might not appreciate the spring and summer if it weren't for the (sometimes depressing) season we are in now. It gives me something to look forward to. And I can appreciate how beautiful snow can look.

So I leave you with a few photos of my hope springing eternally (or something like that). Stay warm and dry!

I forget what this flower is called, but it seems perfect for February.

My iPhone does not do this justice, but this was the first time I had seen mist coming off the water in this exhibit.

Hybrid azalea

During the winter show, there is a tree in the middle of the water. This was the first time I have seen this view and could appreciate the water and what is behind it.

Broderie Room

East Room (my favorite place)

Friday, February 13, 2015

On the bright side of education

So I see it has been over a month since I last blogged. As per usual, I wrote a couple of posts in my head. I am pretty sure I did not write a post after having a mini panic attack a few weeks ago. I woke up early a few Mondays ago and just started to fret about so many things. I was alternating between sobbing and something else. At one point, I was not even sure I could breath. I was quite upset. But strangely that feels like a lifetime ago, fortunately (you can't keep an optimistic down for too long, I guess).

I blame part of my blogging absence on the state of the world. There is just so much bad news. So many sad, frustrating, and/or anger-inducing stories out there. Particularly, there is too much violence and hatred. Sometimes within miles of where I live (see Monroeville Mall shooting).

But I wanted to share something that caused me to smile. Something that gives me hope.

A couple of weeks ago, a woman I went to grade school with posted on Facebook that she received a phone call from one of the teachers of her 16-year-old son. To praise him! The teacher told this woman that not only was her son doing well in class, but he was a joy to have in class due to his manners. How great for her, her husband, her son, and even the teacher. I know firsthand how much easier/nicer it is to tell a parent her child is doing well.

Then a couple of days ago, this same woman posted a picture of a letter addressed to her son from a different teacher who had equally high praise for the son.This teacher said that he saw him being inquisitive and caring about understanding how things work. Honestly, the letter almost brought tears to my eyes.

I have not seen this woman in about 30 years. I, probably obviously, don't know her son. But how great is it that teachers can take the time to praise the positive. Teachers get a lot of grief, and sometimes it is justified. But I think we should acknowledge the teachers who take the time to do this sort of thing. And, as important, let's here it for the kids who get the high praise. And behind those kids are good parents the vast majority of the time.

I took to FB this morning, to see if this was some kind of anomaly. It turns out, it actually does happen to some people. More than a dozen friends posted that they had received a call, email, or letter from a teacher acknowledging their child. A couple of teacher friends said they try (or have tried) to do it (I am not willing to give my HS French teacher as much credit since his were in the form of computerized progress reports).

That's all I have tonight. But it's enough.

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.