Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Frivolity

Click Image to Play Video

As we inch inevitably closer to New Year's Eve, perhaps the most alcohol connected of all holidays (save, perhaps St. Patrick's Day?), I thought I'd search out a video of a twisted little song we discovered on XM Radio's "Twisted Christmas" channel last year (alas the channel disappeared this year) ... The Twelve Drinks of Christmas. Now, the version we first heard (and like the best) was originally recorded by Frankie Ford (a somewhat famous 50's R&B and pop star, I guess?), who does such a hilarious rendition of boozing it up that you can hear him clinking ice cubes in the glass. Alas, I can't find a complete version (though I did download it from Amazon for .99), but you can hear a snippet of his classic version here. But, as I looked around, I found that others have recorded various versions of the song, some (much) better than others. This one I quite like, though it's a far cry from Frankie's original ... it's by Jean Shepherd (NO, not that Jean Shepherd of Christmas Story fame), a country singer with whom I'm totally unacquainted, but she does belt out a very fun version of the song! She gives a nice twist to Frankie's version, complete with wry commentary on her alcohol fueled trajectory to the cemetery....

A confession of sorts: ever since I was a kid I've disliked the 12 Days of Christmas, mostly because for me, the novelty wore off after the first time and now there are so many positively interminable versions out there that it's become downright tiresome and annoying (e.g. who could ever forget that never ending version Dinah Shore sang in the Pee Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special? Even he fled the room!).

In any case, whatever your thoughts about this song, this should provide an amusing end of season diversion as we approach the arrival of the New Year 2009, which many of us hope will usher in better days and the beginning of a new era. We are hopeful for many things in the New Year, not the least of which is the eventual adoption of a new puppy into our family ... we'd like to think that Pepa and Rolly are working on that for us right now, nudging a worthy successor to their huge paw prints gently our way until we realize who she will be (thanks, Janet, for the beautiful thought expressed in your recent email!) ... We're in no hurry at this point, but anticipate she may arrive in or near spring....

So what are your New Year's Eve plans? We've never liked the ridiculous energy spent on "having a wild time" that many people expend (not to mention the hangovers and dangers of driving inebriated), so we always spend it quietly at home alone or with a few close friends. This year it will just be us two ... we'll have a special meal, special treats and beverages and a bottle of champagne to top it off. Nothing fancy, just a little out of the ordinary as we choose a few good movies to watch while we take it easy on the countdown to midnight. I should have more details on which ones are up for this year, but Woody Allen's Stardust Memories has always been one of my New Year's favorites for some odd reason ... and then there are the new DVDs I got for Christmas to watch (No Country For Old Men, Baz Luhrman's Red Curtain Trilogy, and Better Off Dead), so who knows what we'll pick! It has been a long while since I put on Moulin Rouge! though, so I may be lobbying hard for that one! That one always energizes me and leaves me breathless ...then there's Strictly Ballroom! Oh, so many choices! Feel free to weigh in with your suggestions and/or favorites....

So how do you ring in the New Year? There are a lot of traditions out there, and I'm always curious to learn how others celebrate (or don't) ... I know it's got to be different from my childhood when it was all Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians, some shrimp cocktail and cheese along with unlimited soda (champagne was unknown in our house in those days!) and whatever Christmas cookies were left over.... I always skipped the sardines in mustard sauce ... those were the exclusive domain of my Dad!!!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dog Shoplifts Own Christmas Present

Click on Image to Play Video

I just thought I'd post this fun little video I ran across tonight ... it made me smile, even with the generalized miserableness I'm experiencing with this cold that hit me on Christmas Eve ... at this point I'm just taking cough medicine, cold remedies and trying to ride this thing out before I'm back to the regular work insanity on Monday. I've been getting lots of rest, fluids and just generally vegging in front of the TV to Food Network and a couple of movies (I have to admit that Bubble Boy was a pleasant surprise! And 30 Days of Night wasn't as awful as I thought it would be, but then I'm sick and not so picky...) But this short video really made me chuckle (in between coughs) and shows just how ingenious our doggie buddies can be when they really focus on something they want.

Watch this one, you'll be glad you did! Now I'm off to one last dose of cough syrup and then to bed, hoping to feel better in the morning!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël! Feliz Navidad!






























Well the big day officially arrived here quietly tonight, as we were watching A Christmas Story, one of our annual holiday rituals, after we exchanged (per family tradition) one gift early ... Fernymoss got a microplush fleece blanket for those chilly times watching movies, and I got a 2009 Welsh Corgi calendar (yay!). As my year of Jack Russell Terriers winds to an end, thanks to Fernymoss I'm back to a Corgi calendar again, and there are some really handsome dogs in this one. I think it's safe to say we both liked these gifts, small tokens of promises for tomorrow morning.


All in all, it was a very relaxing (if a bit cold outside!) and warm evening spent with my sister and her boyfriend for our annual Nosh Fest and small gift exchange, after which I introduced them to the marvelous short film by Australian filmmaker, Adam Elliot, Harvie Krumpet, the 2003 Academy Award winner for best animated short subject. It's a very funny and poignant claymation short about a rather odd Polish man who emigrates to Australia where his life story is told from start to finish, alternately humorous and sad.... If you happen to have the Sundance Channel on your cable/satellite, keep an eye on the "Short Films" feature to see if this shows up (and they've been showing it again a bit recently) and give it a chance. You'll be glad you did....

Here's the spread I had prepared for tonight, nothing complicated, though I did putz around in the kitchen most of the afternoon preparing everything, but I managed to get two loads of laundry done and take frequent breaks to watch segments of the Food Network in between tasks, so it wasn't really a lot of work per se (unlike previous years ... I just wasn't up for that). So here's what we had ... from the left you can see the relish tray of Picholine olives, black olives and French cornichons, marinated artichoke hearts, shrimp cocktail and sauce, my (in)famous ham, cream cheese and green onion rollups, two baguettes I baked fresh just a few hours earlier, smoked salmon from Washington, and several of our favorite soft cheeses, Saga Blue, Italian Cambozola and a slice of Brie. I also had a crock pot of meatballs in marinara in the kitchen that didn't quite make it to the serving table in our dining room. And last, but not least, two bottles of this year's vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau, another of our Thanksgiving/Christmas traditions. This year's cuvée turned out quite nicely after a rather disappointing vintage last year, so we were all pleased with it and it went rather quickly. I didn't even end up doing the fancy hors d'oeuvre I had bought (crab cakes, mushroom and cheese turnovers and mini cheese soufflés) because everyone was content with making multiple trips to the serving table. Even though this looks like an incredible amount of work, compared to what I've been doing in the "real world of work" lately, this was a pleasure to prepare, especially for some of the people who matter most in my life.... We really enjoy having my sister and her friend over each year, because it's a very low key affair with no high expectations set, so we can just enjoy each other's company ... just what we were hoping for in this rather sad transitional phase at our house.

In any case, such was our quiet evening at home with family and friends ... And for you visitors and regular visitors, I hope you passed an equally enjoyable evening however you chose to mark it.... In this ultra consumerist environment of over inflated expectations (rarely met), we hope you found time to focus on the fundamental reasons why we gather together at this time of year and rediscovered the bonds that bring us all together, even if only briefly, due to life circumstances. Whatever the case may be, both Fernymoss and I send out our warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season over the next few days, from our house to yours! It may be very cold outside (not to mention the way too regular snows!), but ultimately, the warmth comes from within, and that's where I've always thought it should come from!

IVG and Fernymoss

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A View From the Top

Tonight, let's take a look at what's going on at the top of the tree, and as you can see, there's quite a bit! In fact, the tops of our trees are always really densely packed with all sorts of stuff ... faux fruit and berries and dried plants and whatever else strikes Fernymoss' fancy. He's fully in charge of the top, since I can't reach up that far anyway, so I just let him go wild....
Now, I'm sure you're wondering what on earth a witch is doing at the top of our tree ... it's simple, she's flying by the Blue Moon seen just to her left in this shot. Of course the witch has her story ... several years ago we were shopping at World Market near Christmas and Fernymoss spotted this one and immediately fell in love with her. He was, however, daunted by the price (I think it was about $15 or so), feeling a bit tapped out, so I convinced him to pass it by. Then, while he wasn't looking, I snuck back and concealed it in my cart so he wouldn't see it. Later, during the same trip, he decided to go back and spring for it, but alas, she was gone! (They only had one on display.) So he was a bit disappointed, but resigned to missing his chance ... I gave him my best 'Maybe we'll find one next year' (or some such subterfuge) and that settled that. All the rest of time in the store I was sure he'd spot it in the cart, but fortunately he didn't see her, even when I checked out in a separate lane from him.

So, I wrapped her up and saved her for Christmas Eve, when we allow each other to open one gift early ... when he got through the wrapping and found her, he was overjoyed to have her on board, but wondered how I'd managed to pull this off without him noticing (same reaction I had!) ... so now, she always has her place of honor flying by our Blue Moon for a few weeks every year. What was odd, was that year, World Market had all sorts of Halloween themed ornaments, such as Jack O'Lanterns, Pumpkin Scarecrows and Ghosts ... I didn't quite get it, but thought they were fun. This is, however, the only one who got to come home with us and we hope she'll stay for many years!

This shot is a view slightly down from where the witch is, and of course the mushroom commands all the attention here, but you can also get a good idea of what other organic sorts of ornaments we have packed in there.... That bit of feather you can see is the butt end of one of our many birds, in case you were wondering! We should get some better shots of the birds because I could do a whole post alone on the several types of birds that land in our tree ... that might still happen, but time is getting short and I can't be ornament blogging all the way into January, lol. Later tonight I'll have some more shots of the tree and the loot underneath it, as well as what we're having for our Christmas Eve Nosh-Fest ... maybe even a recipe if I still have any energy left after a day of cooking and baking!

In years past, I spent days baking
cookies and making candy to give to friends and neighbors as gifts, but this year, I just don't have the energy or motivation, and since we've dialed down and have been strictly controlling our spending, we just decided to skip it this year. I feel a bit guilty about that, but I'll still struggle with the cookie press to make a batch of buttery Spritz cookies (the best!) and a batch of "Snowballs" (aka: Mexican Wedding Cakes), because I do like making them, but just not in the usual mega quantities I have in the past, so I'm hoping it will be fun this year. We're hopinig that 2009 will be a better year for us, less dark and unsettling than 2008, and when Christmas rolls around next year, with any luck I'll be in a better state of mind and energy to go back to my older, more generous ways.... And, with any luck, we'll also have a new, lovable pup in our lives come next December to bring joy and spirit to the season ... I'd be lying if I didn't say that is something that is sorely missing this year, the first time in 11 years together we haven't had dogs celebrating with us at Christmas. So, we'll mark this transitional period as best we can this year and look forward to the coming year, where at some point, the scurrying pitter pat of little paws will be heard in the house again....

More snow on the way tonight, after last night's new snow, so if predictions are correct, we should have over 6" on the ground by Christmas ... not a huge amount by Iowa standards, but these little storms have just been too regular of late that they've been wearing us down with all the shoveling taking time away from the more enjoyable holiday preparations. But, as I constantly remind myself, that's winter in Iowa!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Little of This and That Ornament Blogging

I really intended to organize my ornament blogging thematically this year!
But after all that's been going on at work and on the home front, it just hasn't worked out like I planned. Something about the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley comes to mind...! Anyway here are today's offerings, a bit of this and that, each with its own story to tell....

This shot showcases another of Fernymoss' new finds ... the gold fish with blue stripes, who's swimming through a veritable sea of assorted companion ornaments, including my precious Eiffel Tower (I got that one about three years ago), various bauble type ornaments and one of the strawberries from our collection of fruit ornaments. In fact, this strawberry (and the others in the set) was among the ornaments we bought the year we got our first tree, way back in 1998 (the year we moved here to Casa IVG). Over the ensuing years, we've built up quite a collection of fruit/veggie ornaments, and are always on the lookout for new additions. So far we have strawberries, oranges, apples, grapes, and pears, but the artichoke and carrot ornaments still elude my efforts. You can also spot a few of our glass icicle ornaments, a gift from Fernymoss' mom from a couple of years back. She spotted them on a day trip one summer (of all times!) and they just begged her to get them for us, so here they are now; we think they're quite lovely and are great at catching the color from the surrounding lights....
Here's our frosty pickle, another of the ornaments I got in the Denver airport several years back during that long delay I mentioned in a previous post. Someone had told me it was traditional to have a pickle ornament on the tree ... there was some folklore associated with this, but it has long since escaped my memory. Something about an old poor woman or some such lore, I think? If anyone knows the precise tale, let me know! To the left you can get a backside glimpse of my Pink Flamingo, an absolute necessity for any diehard John Waters fan such as myself! It took me a few years to find it, but now it's got a front and center spot on the tree every year ... You can also spy one of our (many) decorated glass egg ornaments we went gaga over a few years back. They reminded us of the famous Fabergé eggs so popular during the reign of the Czars in imperial Russia ... these hardly rival their famous heritage, but they are quite pretty and add a lot of sparkle to the tree. We gave a lot of these as gifts the year we found them, and it's always fun to see somone else's tree sporting something that came from us originally....





























Finally, these "teardrop" reflective center ornaments are very old fashioned, I think, and I can remember when I was a kid my parents had a bunch of these type of ornaments that they considered out of fashion, so they rarely got put on the tree unless I insisted I be allowed to hang one or two. We've found that they're definitely back in style, and we have several types and colors of them all around the tree, because we love the way they flash from the reflection of nearby lights, and in fact, they positively glow! Both Fernymoss and I have a fondness for retro looking ornaments in general, I guess because they remind us of our childhood memories of how beautiful and magical the family Christmas Tree seemed in our young eyes. So that's what we try to recreate in our trees every year ... a bit of magic, a lot of flash and sparkle to cheer us up in the dark of winter. Some of our ornamental traditions date back to the Pagan Yule (such as placing edible items or simulacra thereof on the tree), while others are purely reminders of childhood. It's all one big eclectic mix of course, but that's a perfect reflection of who we both are ... amalgams of all sorts of traditions and tastes and interests that all compete for attention at this time of year while they go on display on the tree for a few short weeks. It's always a bittersweet process to have to pack them all up and put them away till the following year ... but we enjoy it while we can and usually stretch out the season a while beyond New Year's just so we can continue to bask in the colorful glow just a little while longer....

Tomorrow we'll focus on the top of the tree, and you may be surprised to see some of what's lurking up there! So stop back and see what you think....

Monday, December 22, 2008

Monday Dog Ornament Blogging

It's hard to believe, but here we are, just a few days before Christmas, and fortunately, in the gifting department ... both of us are almost finished shopping (at least I am) and for me, only the wrapping remains and preparing and shopping for the Christmas Eve nosh fest we have planned. I tell you, if cold weather puts people in the spirit of the holiday, they should have been delighted, but for the rest of us who are less fond of dangerous wind chills, high winds and blowing snow, it was a miserable weekend weather wise. My sister took me on our annual final shopping blitz and when we set out, it wasn't too bad out --a bit chilly but not brutal-- but by the time we emerged from Target not long later, the wind had kicked up and was blowing snow all over and just plain chilling us to the bone! But since this has become an annual outing for us (which allows me to finish up without Fernymoss around), we decided to brave it and also stop by Big Lots and see what was left there, just for fun. I ended up finding quite a few fun little stocking stuffer items (mostly food items and fun doodads for Fernymoss) ... I also splurged and bought myself an electric warming throw blanket to have when we're watching TV after the heat has cycled down for the night. I tried it out last while we were watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and it's a welcome addition for lounging around! I'm glad I broke our rule (e.g. no personal purchases of potential gifts after Thanksgiving) and got the usual scolding from Fernymoss, but I just couldn't pass it by!

On Sunday, our high temperature was -2F with a windchill of -17-20F due to the high winds, which also undid all the sidewalk shoveling Fernymoss had slaved to accomplish on Friday after our most recent sleet-ice-snow event ... So Sunday he set out to clear them again, only to discover that due to the cold, it was impossible to get all the way down to the walk due to refreezing. So at least they're not slippery and are passable again, and we just hope we get a bit warmer so that we can put the ice melt down and let it do its work.... But that looks to be (from the forecast) no earlier than Thursday (+27 predicted or Friday, +31), so here we are still in the deep deep freeze. Needless to say, we only ventured out Sunday to go to our nearby supermarket to stock up on what we need for the Christmas Eve get together with my sister and her boyfriend, a very small family gathering at which we exchange a few gifts, have some good food and wine and mark a very low key celebration. I'll have more details on that Wednesday night, so check back later in the week

Now, on to the dog ornament blogging! The two ornaments featured in this post are new this year, and Fernymoss picked them up a while back where he works now ... we had vowed no new ornaments this year (we have way more than will fit on the tree!), but he couldn't resist these and a couple more you'll see soon. I call this first shot "Terrier Ensemble," because though it features a clearly terrier breed (we think it's supposed to be a wirehair Jack Russell), you can also get a nice view of some of her neighboring ornaments ... namely, one of our (many) blown glass old fashioned baubles, one of our set of golden pine cones and one of my favorites, our cuckoo clock ornament. There are always stories about how we acquired certain ornaments, and this one is no exception.

Back in 2005, on December 22 or 23 (I don't remember which) during one of my many trips for work, I got delayed for several hours in the Denver airport ... due to a snow delay (no surprise!). So I was reduced to wandering through some shops to try to while away the time before my flight ... Now if you've ever been in the Denver airport, there are a fair amount of shops, though most are ones I'd rarely (if ever) enter, but happily I spotted a Discovery Channel Store, which kept me entertained for the better part of an hour or so. Also fortuitously, they had marked down their glass ornaments by 50% (sounded great until I saw the original price points!), so I picked up a few that I found particularly pretty and worthy to go on the tree. That little shopping spree ended up with a rather pricey total (I think it was like $30-40 for about 5 ornaments), but now we're glad these are in our collection, because I've never seen comparable ones since. That's where the cuckoo clock, our smooth hair Jack Russell Terrier (not pictured here, but to come), our frosted pickle, our peacock and a moon/star combo which has since gotten broken. So, in the pure sense of a souvenir ("memory" in French), I'll always remember when and where I got these and they always get a prominent spot on the tree!

It's easy to see why this particular little girl came home to our house, isn't it? It clearly reminds me of times when Pepa would be working a favorite bone, put her paws over it to guard it, and took a little snooze in that position. So, short of finding another ornament that is closer to a more realistic depiction of our dear departed Pepa, this will have to do for now. Close enough for me, though and we'll always remember Pepa in future years when we hang this ornament in its prominent place....

I'm sure that all of you reading have ornaments of which you are --for one reason or another-- particularly fond, and if you'd like to share a story or two in the comments, we'd be delighted to read them! As I said in a recent previous post, we are firm believers in the idea that the decorations on the Christmas Tree are a form of very personal expression, and probably tell a lot about the person who chooses them. As much as I admire Martha Stewart (and other designer types), I can recall looking at her Macy's trees in the past, and frankly, they left me feeling a bit cold ... very artistic --indeed gorgeous-- constructions, but oh, so clearly designerly. I guess that's fine for folks with a lot of money and no time to indulge their own creativity in decorating, but for something that comes around but once a year, we are traditionalists and prefer the more clearly personal --even eclectic-- touch. Call me old fashioned or even a curmudgeon, but the finished tree should reflect the people who decorated it in the house, because after all, that's the fun part of having a Christmas Tree in the first place ... at least as far as we are concerned! So, from here on this week, look forward to more of our collection yet to appear here.... On Christmas Eve, I'll post our menu for our little get together and more of the decorations we have up (which are far less numerous than in previous years, due to our "dial down" approach to the holiday this year).

I'll confess for both of us, that due to the events of the past couple of weeks, we're much less excited and enthusiastic this year than in the past, but we're also vowing to make the best of it and try to enjoy at least a special couple of days together ... I hope we'll manage to pull that off despite it all.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Almost Finished Tree

Well here we are, less than a week away from Christmas, just digging out from the latest storm that's apparently lumbering northeast now, with much of the country expected to get blasted in the next few days. Around our part of the state, this system was much hyped for several days as a significant ice-sleet-rain-snow event, but when it finally arrived last night, pelting us with sleet and ice pellets, then eventually snow, it was somehow disappointing .... There was a lot of sizzle about this system before it arrived and in comparison with winter storms we've had in the last couple of years, it was more of a fizzle. Not that we weren't affected (we did have about 2 inches of sleet, snow and ice pellets to clean up), but we were expecting much worse. It's just Iowa winter weather, and we don't even mark the solstice officially until Sunday ... a harbinger of a long, deary winter I feel.

Fernymoss more or less completed
the tree on Tuesday (12/16), as I labored away late (yet again) upstairs ... these past few weeks have been beyond daunting with all the work demands I've had lately, thus my inactivity around these parts. Anyway, here's the tree as it currently stands (we still have to get the tree skirt taken care of), and in this flash shot you can get an overall impression of what the whole tree looks like at this point.
Here's the corresponding ambient light view --less focused, yes-- but much more colorful, giving an approximate impression of what it really looks like in typical evening lighting in the living room. As you can see, it's heavy on the blue, but that's just the luck of the draw with how the lights ended up on the tree, and that's fine by us! By the end of this weekend we'll have gotten the skirt issue resolved and there will be some gifts appearing there in the next few days....
And here we are at the rather gift barren base of the tree with Santa and Mushy and Pipey just waiting to hand out those gifts that haven't quite arrived yet. All three of these pieces were "inherited" in rather odd and indirect ways (though my sister sent Mushy and Pipey our way a few years ago when she was clearing out a bunch of *stuff*), but they're valued members of our holiday entourage around the tree. Of course we'll have updated photos the closer we get to Christmas (huh? less than a week?!), and in the interim I'll focus on the more individual and diverse ornaments we have on the tree. When we were talking earlier tonight about the ornaments we wanted to highlight, we realized tonight that they do fall into rough thematic categories, so I plan on several posts showing off the sorts of things that appear on our tree ... so stay tuned, as they say.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Robert Greenwald's Santa Bush

Click image above to view video at YouTube

I'm on Robert Greenwald's email list and received this from his BraveNew Films project earlier tonight, so I thought it would be fun (as well as somewhat depressing) to post their new Holiday greeting video. I've admired many of his political documentaries over the years, so I was happy to give him some free (if limited) publicity here. If you're not familiar with his work, he's the man behind such excellent films as Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers and Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism and those are just the ones I've seen over the past few years. Yes, he's an unabashed librul, but his films are meticulously researched and constructed and if you see any of the ones mentioned above, they will definitely challenge your perspectives about their topics. They will likely enlighten you, outrage you and give you enough material to be discussing them for days on end ... The one that really got to me was Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price and if you watch it, you will definitely shed more than a few tears when he chronicles the everyday lives of two young Chinese factory workers who produce some of the cheap crap that Wal-Mart foists off on the bargain hungry American public.

I've boycotted that *store* for over 20 years once I fully realized the impact they were having on rural communities, where they have literally wiped out of existence the traditional small town stores. For example, in the small town (here in Iowa) where my mother lives, the opening of a *store* in a nearby larger town virtually wiped out her home town's long standing collection of town square stores ... so much so that even the struggling JC Penney couldn't make it, not to mention the decades old "Mom and Pop" stores. To this day, that once vibrant town square is but a shell of itself and full of empty, long unused spaces ...That's not retail "progress," it's literally genocide for the hard working folks who toiled for years in those stores to eke out a decent living. Nevermore, I quoted the Raven, will I spend one thin dime in those places and I haven't ever since.

But back to the Santa Bush video ... it's a parody of The Night Before Christmas, cleverly written to chronicle some of the $hrub's final affronts to various sorts of regulatory rules that he has managed to nullify with the stroke of his hard hearted pen, all to the benefit of his gang of cronies who have controlled this country and economy for the last eight years. Yes, it will make you laugh, it will make you cringe, it will likely make you angry (unless you don't believe in environmental issues, climate change or reproductive rights for women) ... but most of all, it's a call to action. People need to wake up and demand so much essential fundamental change from their government if we're to survive as a democratic nation. I know the nation has been suffering a bad case of scandal fatigue, constitutional rape and utter disrespect for the rule of law for the last eight years, but if we're to pull ourselves out the hole that this "fictitious president" (thanks, Michael Moore) has dug us into, we're going to have to shake off our bad case of Stockholm Syndrome and get to work to help goad our new President elect in the right direction. As Greenwald urges, it's time to do something!

I'll get down from my soapbox now and conclude with a quote from one of my journalistic heroes, the late, great and much missed Molly Ivins:
"The first rule of holes: when you're in one, stop digging."

Too bad the $hrub ignored her wise advice... Bless you Molly, tears still come to my eyes when I invoke the wonderful person and writer you were!

Ornament blogging will resume sometime this weekend, so do stop back again soon....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Champagne For FARfetched

FAR, my friend, this one's for you!

It was another long night tonight, when work overwhelmed my 'free time' again, after yet another frigid day with more snow ... and more snow and an ice storm are in the forecast for Thursday as well. It doesn't look like we'll get above freezing again anytime soon, either ... This feels like January already! Looks like the long harsh winter has settled in for good now....

Of course there's a story behind why I dedicate this to FARfetched. You see, he has a favorite six-pack ornament that he tries to hang on the tree every year, only to have it plucked off by his wife or daughter, no matter how many times he puts it back on. Personally, I think that's a bit mean, because we consider Christmas ornaments a form of personal expression that we exhume from storage every year for the holidays to enjoy during this brief season. Lord knows, we have enough oddities to cover several trees and we enjoy reveling in their kitschy glory! After all, for us that's a big part of the fun we have decorating the tree. Thus this little number to officially initiate the ornament blogging season here at Urban Oasis.

I bought several of these Champagne Fountains a few years ago at a Seasonal Concepts store at the bargain price of one dollar ... It was a totally coincidental find, given that we were on the hunt for English Christmas Crackers (World Market was sold out!), so I ventured into a store I would normally avoid because of its foo-foo merchandise and outrageous prices. But lo and behold, I found these on clearance and just had to buy several to give as fun gifts and keep one for us. I usually post this one on New Year's Eve --when I spring for a bottle of the really good French stuff-- but I'm posting it early this year in solidarity with FAR, in honor of his constantly disappearing six-pack ornament.

Yes, it's kitschy, but that's why we love it ... you'll see more in the coming days (yes, I have a Pink Flamingo ornament too, lol) and I'll post these when I get some spare moments late at night before I go to bed. I could probably do this well into January, but I'll spare my readers that much and try to feature several at a time. While I was toiling away tonight, Fernymoss took a ton of shots of the tree and ornaments, so I've got plenty to work with, bless his heart. He took a lot in ambient lighting (the flash really doesn't do justice to shiny stuff) and many turned out really well. So if you are an afficionado of offbeat (as well as traditional) ornaments, keep checking back from now until Christmas. And if you also have odd, but personal, favorites, please let me know in the comments ... We love to hear about the oddities other people feel compelled to put on the tree for reasons sentimental or other!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In Memoriam: Rolly the Smiler 1991-2008

Rolly the Smiler 1991-2008

The house is now empty, there is no more plodding patter of paws nor clatter of toenails to be heard ... just the creaking and settling of our old house as the winter winds blow outside. A mere week ago we had our two geriatric dog friends still with us, but now they are both gone, hopefully having reunited again and enjoying their relationship as it once was, frolicking in the peaceful fields surrounding the Rainbow Bridge....

Rolly had to be put to sleep yesterday, after a long period of serious decline that began earlier this year ... we knew the inevitable was coming, and as his arthritis worsened and his dementia descended into the end-stage, it was just a matter of time. We should have done this sooner, but neither of us had the heart to do it just yet ... then Pepa's death signaled that we had waited far too long and Fernymoss set the date for Sunday. Even though Rolly didn't know me anymore and barely knew Fernymoss toward the end, he seemed to rally a bit after Pepa went and seemed to realize his faithful mate was gone. He also seemed to know that his time was nigh, and when it came time to leave yesterday to go to the Vet's, he actually acted as if he were ready and wanted to go. The end was peaceful and immediate. Now he has left the shell of what he had become due to age and illness and will no longer feel pain nor frightened confusion....Fernymoss got Rolly 17 years ago when he was a very young puppy and he spent his entire life with his devoted human, and when he was six Pepa and I came into the picture and the happy family was completed, only to be parted most recently. He was a dog of great beauty, gracious temperament, loving, funny (he really did smile a lot!), maybe not the brightest penny in the pocket, but always ready to play, accompany us anywhere and keep an eye on us ... literally! (Fernymoss used to jokingly refer to him as "laser eyes" because he always had to have us in sight or he wasn't content.) If you look closely at this second photo, you'll see that his tail was in full wag mode ... And Rolly didn't just wag his tail, he did a full body wag when he was excited or happy, leaning into you attempting the most affectionate hugs he could give.

Though he was born a hunting dog (a Brittany-Collie-Whatever mix farm dog), he was never formally trained as such, but still had very strong instincts in that direction that emerged at suprising moments throughout his life. He loathed squirrels with a fierce passion, and Fernymoss often recounts the time when, as a young dog he caught one, killed it and proceeded to toss it into the air multiple times, barking at it when it fell again, until he was sure it was properly dispatched. Then there was the time not that long ago (probably about the time this photo was taken in Summer 2003) when we were all out in the back yard and he literally plucked a sparrow out of the air in mid-flight, unfortunately frightening the poor thing to death. We'd have preferred that kill to involve a squirrel or rabbit, but something deep inside him told him that was the thing to do....

We have already been missing our gentle loving furry friend for quite some time since the dementia took hold, but now he's at peace at last. Pepa's ashes came home yesterday and Rolly's will likely do the same sometime later this week. They will be with us inside throughout the winter and in Spring they will both go to their final resting places among the peonies in the corner of the yard bordering the sidewalk, one of their favorite places. I think Rolly would appreciate this ... though he always misunderstood peonies as pee on me's and just couldn't resist them, no matter where they were....

Now, as we approach the high holidays, we will honor them with a place under the tree with their bowls filled with some of their favorite treats, so at least their spirits can come back to join us on Christmas and know that they were both dearly loved and are missed

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Tree is Up Now ...

After spending all week in a bucket of water, we finally brought the tree inside last night (complete with the icy disk that had frozen at its base!) and got it set up in the stand. Soon after, Fernymoss started working his magic by stringing the 350 new LED lights we have switched over to this year for the tree. We're really liking them: they're bright, take very little electricity and don't heat up at all. And by all accounts, they last much longer than traditional bulbs and rarely burn out ... they're winners on all those accounts. Though they're currently more expensive than traditional ones, we got these back in October when they had a pre-Christmas sale at Big Lots for not a bad price at all compared to other retailers (sorry, Target).

Tonight we finally located the glass bead garland and set out to get it strung in preparation for the great ornament hanging over the next few days, but here's how it looked about an hour or so ago. This was a flash shot (obviously) so it doesn't quite capture the lights, but it does give a clearer, detailed view of the overall tree so far....

This one was taken in ambient light, so for capturing the overall glow effect, this shot works really well, but the focus leaves much to be desired ... still, for pure appreciation of the warm glow the lights give the tree, it's one we ended up liking.
video
Amazing Color Morphing Tree
Here's a fun little video I took of one of our color morphing trees ... we tried still shots of it last year, but were disappointed in the results, so I got the idea of trying a quick video using the S700. I think it turned out pretty well for a single take ... definitely better than our previous stills. We got two of these fun little knick knacks from Fernymoss' Great Aunt a couple of years ago (she always gives us two of something each Christmas, lol), and we've really enjoyed having them out to brighten up the table in the dining room. By the way, that's Ella Fitzgerald in the background on the XM holiday channel we have playing while we decorate. A happy coincidence I happened to take this while she was on!

We're still unpacking a lot of the ornaments, but we've located almost all of the really nice ones so far, so we're on the way to getting them placed just so.... Ornament blogging will happen as I'm able to post for the next couple of weeks ... I'm completely swamped at work, and with the sad event of this week, so my time and motivation have taken a big hit. I'll do my best though to share our Holiday décor through the rest of season, so keeping stopping by, friends and occasional readers.


On another note, we're going to pick up Pepa's ashes sometime on Sunday, so she'll be coming home to stay one last time....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In Memorium: Pepa's Good Life 1994-2008

As you obviously know now if you're a reader of this blog, our little girl, Ms. Queen Pepa (Approximately) left us early this morning. I'm in no condition to try to begin to do a proper retrospective or her life right now, so I thought I'd just post a couple of favorite shots from the past that always make me smile. These are both from September 1, 2003. I like to call the first one "Did you say Puppy Cone? That always got her immediate attention....
I don't really have a title for this one, but it's a shot that I think really shows off her personality for the world to see. To me, she's saying, I'm smart as a whip, bursting with energy and boundless happiness, even when my Dad's not at his best! How about tossing that ball for me for a little while, huh? HUH?

I do believe her spirit will remain or at least revisit her home here again ... I know Pepa, and she's always been such a nosy dog, she won't be able to resist....

UPDATE: 11:20 pm. December 10
Well, our little girl took her penultimate ride in the car today when Fernymoss took her to the clinic to arrange for the cremation. In a week or so, she'll ride home in the car one last time to come back to us in a different form. We're not quite sure yet where she will rest in the back yard, but there will be a marker with her name on it or a piece of statuary ... we haven't decided just what that will be, but there will be a permanent reminder where we decide to bury her ashes.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's Coming on Christmas ...

Click Image Above For Audio

They're cutting down trees, they're putting up reindeer, and singing songs of joy and peace ... oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on. But it don't snow here, stays pretty green, I'm gonna make a lot of money and then I'm gonna quit this crazy scene, oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on....

I've admired Joni Mitchell's music for many years (even before college where I really became a hardcore fan) and I've always considered Blue one of her finest albums. For me, this often sad and heartbreaking collection of songs is pure emotion in poetry and music and if I could only own one of her many fine discs, this would definitely be my choice.... And River is perhaps my favorite of the many favorites I have on this disc (Little Green, Carey, California, A Case of You, I could go on and on). I realized today (while trying to leave a coherent message about Pepa on my sister's answering machine) just how very close to the surface my emotions currently are ... and lo and behold, River popped into my mind. So I decided I'd post the YouTube audio tonight.

Yes, the connection to Christmas is obvious, and it's not really "Christmas Music" per se, but it's always one I think of at this time of year, especially when we trek out into the frequently cold and stormy weather to pick out our own tree, which we did tonight, amidst the misty damp cold of an approaching ice-snow storm making its way to our area. We figured that with an additional 5-8 inches of snow on the way tonight and tomorrow and very cold temperatures forecast for the rest of the week, that it was now or never tonight ... so off we went.

In the 10 years we've lived here, we've always gotten our Christmas trees from a family run tree farm business in northern Wisconsin, and have become quite fond of the people who sell them. They're real Wisconsinites from up north (complete with accent and all), salt of the earth, hard working people who provide great trees at a more than reasonable price. So we set off to where they always set up this time of year, in a vacant lot across from an old (now closed) Target store on the north side of the city. As soon as we got close, I began to worry ... there was no giant illuminated snowman or Santa as in past years, and it looked ominously dark as we got closer to the lot. Then our worst fears were confirmed ... they're not there this year. I started wondering about why, after over 10 years, they had suddenly disappeared ... had the business failed? Did they not make enough money here last year and decided it wasn't worth it this time, with the economy faltering? Did they lose their lease on the lot for the season? All sorts of theories swirled around in my mind, and I suppose I'll probably never know for sure....

But we were on a mission (interrupted yesterday for obvious reasons explained in the previous post), so I got to thinking where I had seen other small lots popping up around the city yesterday ... then it came to me, we had passed one in the old Beaverdale neighborhood (where I lived when I first came to Des Moines in 1994). So we drove back, found the lot and pulled in as the weather really started to get a bit nasty (windy, cold, freezing mist) ... as we were the only customers there at the time, we got lots of attention from the very eager guy selling the trees. I asked him where the Scotch Pines were (that's what we've always gotten in the past) and he said they only had Fraser Firs and Balsams (which I'm not very fond of), so we started having him show us the Firs. He had a lot of really nice trees, but most were bigger than we had in mind until he showed us one that was about 6.5 ft tall, and we decided that one would do quite nicely because it was very full and well shaped. So I asked the price. $60. I gulped, because we had never paid more than $30 in the past, so it was one of those situations where we had to decide quickly, not only because we were on a mission, but also because the weather was chilling us both to the bone! So I said, we'll take it, pulled out my $60 and a couple of minutes later, he had it bagged and loaded into the back of the Vibe (we didn't have to strap it to the roof this year, lol). And to sweeten the deal, he even threw in one of those clean up/disposal bags that you just put under the stand and pull over the tree when it's time to take it down. That should help eliminate the never ending vacuuming up of fallen needles this year, so that's a good thing. In all likelihood, if the bag isn't damaged too much taking it out in January, we'll just empty it in the compost and save it for next year, because the city collects the trees for composting, and of course, we're the composting kind of guys after all!

We came home and got it into a bucket of fresh water on the porch for the night, and we'll probably bring it in tomorrow night and get it set up in its stand, and if we both still have enough energy left at that point, we may start getting the lights on it. Once that's done, the real fun will begin ... hauling out our enormous glass ornament collection and decorating it! Though we vowed not to buy any new ornaments this year, Fernymoss has fallen off the wagon a few times and brought home some very nice new additions (such are the perils of working in a crafts store!). So Ornament Blogging should start very soon here at Casa IVG ... I hope you will enjoy it as much as we like showing off our rather eclectic-traditional collection! So stay tuned ...

Brief Pepa update: Today she showed some improvement over the past few days, so we're cautiously hopeful that she'll make it through these next critical couple of weeks. The Lasix appears to be working and helping to eliminate some of the accumulated fluid and her belly is visibly less distended than it has been over the past several days. She rested comfortably and slept a lot on the futon couch in my office most of the afternoon until it was time for her dinner and evening meds. Her eyes are brighter, her ears are perkier and the tail wagging is starting to come back more frequently than before. I hope we can notice improvement a bit every day until she goes back to the vet next Monday ... I know it's going to take time to get her stabilized, but we remain hopeful she'll pull through!

LATE UPDATE: 11:30 a.m. 12/09/08
Pepa came to my side of the bed about 5:30 this morning, saying goodbye, I believe. Sometime between then and 8:15 she passed over and I found her at rest in the kitchen. I am giving her and myself today as a wake, and we will take her into the vet's tomorrow, where they have arranged for a cremation. We are already missing her grievously, and it's going to take a while to pass. I'll post an obituary sometime tonight or tomorrow.

Thanks again for all the kind words of support and love offered in this very sad time.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Pepa is a Very Sick Pup...

Today was the day we were to go pick out our Christmas tree, but instead we had a hard slap of reality and a tough reminder of the fragility of mortality as far as it concerns one of the great furry loves of our lives, Queen Pepa.

Part of the reason why I haven't been posting for the past several days was due to excessive work demands, but the more worrisome part I've not wanted to acknowledge just yet was that Pepa became very ill Wednesday night. We kept her under close observation from Thursday through last night, when we called Fernymoss' brother (who is a vet) for a consult as to what we should do. She had started acting oddly Wednesday night, becoming very lethargic and having difficulty breathing. Since it was long after Vet's hours when this began, we had little choice but to keep her under observation for the time being. Because she was obviously in distress in the stomach region, we at first thought that she must have gotten into something that had made her sick (after all, she has been known to scrounge from the compost pile) and hoped that it might just "pass" (so to speak) in a day or so.

Since neither of us was able to get her in to see a vet due to work on Friday and Saturday (and we haven't had a "regular" vet since Aaron got his degree several years ago because he examines the dogs when he's in town every 6 months or so), we knew we had to find a new "regular" vet who could deal with an obviously acute situation. So, we called Aaron last night and described the situation: Pepa was refusing food (but still drinking water), she was frequently gasping for air and coughing harshly and her stomach was distended and working very hard. She was in such pain that she couldn't find a comfy place to lie down and relax, so she spent most of her time on her feet, that is, until she became exhausted and just fell down. We knew this must be something pretty serious, so we sought Aaron's advice. Of course, I was more than beside myself with worry, because she is almost 15 years old, and I imagined all the worst case scenarios, the sum total of which equaled her imminent death. After talking with Aaron, he cautiously reassured us, but recommended we get her in to see a vet ASAP today (since we both had it off) to get advice based on a hands on exam.

So Fernymoss spent the morning combing the Yellow Pages looking for a vet or clinic that actually has Sunday hours, of which, surprisingly enough, there was only one, even in a city the size of Des Moines. Since I was essentially a basket case of worry, stress and nerves, Fernymoss called to inquire if they would take an emergency walk in. Our hearts dropped when the woman on the other end said no. When he asked how soon we could get her in for an exam, fortunately she replied 3:20 p.m. this afternoon. So from then on, we fretted and discussed various theories as to what the cause could be. At 2:40, off we went, hoping that they wouldn't be very busy and could get us in a little early....

Once we got to the clinic (in West Des Moines), they weighed her, took down some information and very quickly got us in to see the vet on duty. As soon as the vet listened to her heart, she asked me, "How long has she had this heart murmur?" I was dumbstruck, because she had never had this condition diagnosed before. She explained to us that Pepa has a quite severe heart murmur --on a scale of 1-6, she said this was a 5-- then my heart sank, and I began to lose it a bit. The vet did explain that heart murmurs can show up later in life in older dogs, and often with no warning, then she explained that she might be suffering from Congestive Heart Failure, but without x-rays and a blood work up, she couldn't be certain. So, once I consented to the tests, a vet tech took our dear pup away from us for about a half hour, one of the longest and most tearful I've had in quite some time.

When the vet returned, she said she was sad to confirm the initial CHF diagnosis and proceeded to show us the x-rays taken from 4 different positions. It turns out that Pepa has a frightening amount of fluid being retained ... from the esophagus all the way down into her abdomen. This is what was/is causing the difficulty in her breathing and has also resulted in a collapsed lung, thus the gasping and trying to breathe from her stomach, rather than her diaphragm. I thought then and there that she would recommend putting her down and started to lose it again.... Fortunately, that was not her recommendation and she explained that we could start her on a treatment that is often successful at managing CHF in dogs, though eliminating the excess fluid was the first, and most crucial, thing we had to address in her current sad state. So there was the glimmer of hope in her diagnosis, and hopefully, since this came on rather suddenly, we're hoping that her heart is strong enough to benefit from the CHF medicine (she prescribed Vetmedin for this) once the fluid retention is under control. She also explained the blood test results: Pepa is anemic, has some elevated liver enzymes, both likely due to the acute stress she is currently under, though her kidney function is very good, so that's a good sign for her being able to excrete the fluid she's retaining.

All in all, the prognosis is cautiously optimistic at this point, and given what a strong spirit Pepa has (not to mention her past excellent health --this is the first serious problem she has had), we're hopeful she will pull through this current acute crisis and we'll be able to stabilize her and manage the CHF from then on, through the use of diuretics (she's on Lasix now, just like many humans) and the Vetmedin. They gave her an injection of the Lasix to get her started (it's faster acting, of course) and instructed us to start her on the Vetmedin tonight and the oral Lasix tomorrow morning. They also gave us a couple of cans of a prescription very nutrient dense food to help her start getting her strength back to combat the anemia. We're to take her back in on the 15th for follow up, at which point the vet will re-assess her condition and see where we go from there with regard to further treatment. We're hopeful that the fluid will be greatly reduced by then (Lasix is apparently a very powerful diuretic) and that she will have gotten through this acute phase, but only time will tell....

Before we even left the clinic, we thought Pepa looked perkier and more alert than when she came in, but we were of course desperately looking for any sign of improvement compared to the last few days. To accomplish one of today's errands (and to take my mind off the situation a little bit), we made a quick visit to Big Lots to stock up on some food items (they have had some real deals on Campbell's Chunky soups lately) and other stuff we knew we'd find there. I was a bit worried about leaving her in the car for a half hour or so (it was chilly today), but we had an old comforter in there for her to lie on, and when we came back, we found her sitting up, checking things out, and best of all alert, with her ears up where they haven't been the past few days. Then back home to get her started on the Vetmedin and the new food ... happily, she was all "Oh yes!" on the food that I mixed in with her regular dry food, and probably would have eaten the whole can, but I was instructed to start her on half a can with the dry for the time being. Then I gave her the pill, concealed in a "Greenie" (a stinky play doughy type stuff) which she wolfed down eagerly.

Then we called Aaron to give him the report ... he was relieved to know that we had found a good vet who gave a comprehensive and thorough diagnosis and said that many dogs are very successfully managed on this regimen and that the injectable Lasix has excellent results in decreasing fluids in even just a few hours in dogs he has seen with CHF. He also echoed what our new vet said, that the next few weeks will be crucial to the eventual outcome ... if Pepa responds well to the medication, she may well have a few more good years with us. That's all and more than I wished for when I got up this morning, when I feared that she wouldn't still be with us tonight.

Of course, where diuretics are involved, there is a great deal of thirst and peeing involved, but I care little about that, as long as Pepa is able to get that excess fluid out of her lungs and body cavity so that we can work on getting her heart function improved. I can say that we have already seen some promising signs tonight ... her breathing is much less labored (though far from normal) and she has taken a few quick naps from which she has woken up more alert and interested in things around her. She's even started going back to some of her old ways such as scrounging around in the kitchen for anything that may have fallen on the floor while we were making dinner ... a small sign, sure, but something we haven't seen her exhibit since she started refusing food on Thursday. Baby Pepa steps, I know, but we've both decided that we have to focus positive energy on her so that she doesn't pick up on too much worry (that's going to be tough for me, less so for Fernymoss).

Interestingly, one of the questions on the form I had to fill out today was something to the effect of "Where animals are concerned, do you think 'a pet is just a pet' or do you think 'my pet is a very loved member of the family?'" Of course, you all know how I answered that one ... Pepa is my little girl and has been for the past 13+ years since she came home with me from the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, near the end of my previous dog Coco's life in 1995. We've had our ups and downs over those 13+ years, but we both cherish her as much as any human child we could have had during that time (and didn't have to go through puberty!) and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that her time left with us is as good as it can be. With any luck, as soon as this acute phase is stabilized, the prognosis on Quality of Life will be positive, but again, only time will tell. I feel much better at this point about that issue than I have in days, and I instinctively feel that Pepa has the fighting spirit to get over this hurdle so that she can remain with us for some time to come.... I really hope that I can see her help us celebrate the now even more meager (I'm $530 poorer today) holidays to come, and believe you me, she's going to be pampered and treated royally as befits her status as the one and only Queen Pepa (approximately).

A final note: I apologize for the length of this post, but there was a lot to report to explain what has happened recently with Pepa, and though I know there are some real Pepa fans out there, I didn't want this to become a maudlin plea for sympathy, at least that's not how I intended what I just wrote. I deliberately did not include a photo at this point because she really does look sad at this point, and that's not the Pepa we all know and love ... when she starts to improve and demonstrate her usual peppy attitude, I'll update with those pictures, but for now, she needs her rest and time to start recuperating. I'm sure you'll all understand.

Thanks so much for reading and understanding where I am emotionally right now. It means a lot to us.