Sunday, December 31, 2006

"All in all it's just another brick in the wall." ~ Pink Floyd, The Wall, 1979

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As the end of 2006 rapidly approaches I've been doing what most people seem to do this time of the year before taking down the old calendar to replace it with a new one and that is to take a look back and try to take stock of the past 12 months.

Was it a good year? Was it a bad year? Was it any kind of year at all? Was it a year that I want to remember or was it one that I would rather file in the past and forget about as quickly
as possible? Not that it's easy to remember everything that has happened in the past year as, even though time seems to fly by quicker and quicker every year, last January was still a long time ago!

The year started out with the annual American Group holiday party in January where I ended my reign as the 2004 Employee of the Year and I gave over my coveted parking space in the front of the building to ... well, actually, the wrong person in my own somewhat biased opinion. Nothing against the guy who did get it but I was, well, surprised that it wasn't who I thought it was going to be.

On to better things when, in late April, Jen and I flew down to Orlando, Florida to attend the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch Navigators Conference. It was a terrific conference and learning experience and Jen and both came back with renewed enthusiasm for our jobs. While there we had the chance to spend some time at both Epcot and the Magic Kingdom so it wasn't exactly all work and no play but, I swear, if I ever, ever, ever have to go on The Small World ride again during the course of my life I am going to scream!

Amanda's 8th-grade graduation from Teachers' Memorial Middle School in June comes to mind as the next highlight of 2006. Along with her diploma she managed to snag not one but three different awards - not bad for a kid who transferred schools in late October!

I made two trips down to New York City this year - both of which were in the company of my friend Paula - once with the girls and once without. The trip without the girls saw a visit to Bobby Flay's Mesquite Grill for some damned fine food and I must say that even just the remembrance of the chipolte mayonnaise still makes my lips burn! We spent some time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on that venture. When the girls went down with us later in the summer we spent almost a full day exploring the Museum of Natural History and then followed it up with a subway trip out to Coney Island to ride the Cyclone rollercoaster and eat hot dogs at Nathan's Famous on the boardwalk.

The girls and I took another road-trip in July with Paula which led us to a great beach in Narragansett, Rhode Island on the perfect beach day. Unfortunately, that trip resulted in a subsequent trip to my local emergency room for treatment of a third degree sunburn and cellulitis on my left foot - ouch!! But we had a lot of fun and the seafood we ate out on Point Judith was well worth the rest of it! I just need to learn to more liberally apply sunblock and keep in mind that I do not come from ancestors whose skin would actually do more than freckle and burn and freckle and burn and freckle and ...
Of course one of the biggest things in 2006 was the wedding of my son Michael - a guy who swore he would never get married or have kids and who has done both! Gee, I think I told him to never say never but who listens to their mother? Apparently not my kids!


When thinking back on 2006 it was easier for me to remember the good things than it was the bad things which I think says a lot for the year as a whole. Like all years throughout the ages there were good times and bad times - funny times and sad times - memorable times and forgettable times but whatever they were, they were my times.

I'm not sure what sort of bricks 2007 will add to the wall of my life but whatever they are, I'm sure that they'll be interesting bricks upon which to build the rest of my life.

Happy New Year - I wish you all 'bricks' of happiness and joy throughout the coming year! Thank you for letting me share my life with you!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

"Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it." ~ Peter Drucker

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Disclaimer: The following is completely unsolicited praise for Zappos.com. In no way was the author compensated except via an exceptional product & service!

Despite the ease and convenience of shopping via the Internet, I'm not exactly the world's biggest fan of on-line shopping. Call me old-fashioned but I like to actually see and hold a product prior to purchasing it so that I know exactly just what it is that I'm spending my extremely hard-earned cash on. Just as
a person can be anyone they want to be on the Internet (Hello? On-line dating services? Yes, yes, I'm talking to you!), a product can be touted as the next best thing since sliced bread and then when it arrives at your mailbox it no more resembles what you thought you were buying than Pee-Wee Herman resembles Brad Pitt!

I, for one, would be extremely disappointed to find Peewee Herman sitting in my mailbox when I had ordered Brad Pitt and, for the most part, that's how I have viewed Internet shopping. Disappointments loom large on the horizon!

However, I have found an Internet company that not only has exactly what it says it has but backs it up with the best customer service I've seen in a very long time! Trust me, for me to go all gushy about anything that has anything to do with shopping is about as common as pigs flying so you've got to know that Zappos.com is all that it says it is and then some if I start singing their praises!

While visiting my friend Paula in the far reaches of Cante
rbury a few weeks back, we were talking about the upcoming annual holiday party that the American Group holds in late January. It's a semi-formal event and I was lamenting the fact that I can never seem to find shoes that I can wear to that sort of function that I'm physically capble of walking in. When you wear sneakers and jump-boots most of the time, like I do, heels of any sort are definitely foreign objects and could even be considered a form of deadly weapon if worn on the wrong feet - i.e., mine!

Being the good friend that she is, Paula punched up Zappos.com on her computer and - poof! - I had entered Shoe Heaven via the World Wide Web! Not only does this place have thousands of styles of shoes, boots, accessories, handbags, etc. but they offer FREE SHIPPING BOTH WAYS!! Customers can post reviews, the search parameters are more than flexible, and the prices are quite reasonable. They even have fashionable shoes in Sasquatch-size that would fit my darling big-footed daughter were I ever to coax her out of her Vans and into something - gasp! - feminine!

Being quite impressed, I ordered a nice pair of strappy sandals with heels that even a klutz like myself could walk in without turning an ankle and they arrived in an extremely prompt fashion. Due to extreme indecision on my part, shortly after the shoes arrived I decided that I wasn't going to wear the dress that I had originally
planned on and needed to change the color of the shoes. After looking over the website and not seeing any instructions for exchanging the shoes (though a return was quite easy) I decided to email their customer service department and ask if the shoes could be exchanged rather than returned and then reordered.

The next time I checked my email that very same day
I had a reply from Danielle, a Customer Loyalty Representative, who told me:

"Normally, you would need to return the shoes for a full refund and then place a new order for the size, color, or style that you need. Because we value you as a customer, we are willing to make an exception and provide you with an advanced exchange. Please let us know which size/color combination you would like in exchange, and if it's available, we will be more than happy to process your order!"
I emailed Danielle back directly with the details of the exchange and within an hour I had another email stating that the shoes I wanted had been ordered, shipped, and were already on their way to me. All I had to do was return the shoes I had already received within two weeks via the postage paid label you print out on your computer and it would all be good. As a matter of fact, the new shoes arrived before I even had the chance to send the old shoes back and this was all during a holiday week!

Now how can you NOT appreciate customer service - nay, loyalty - like that? By golly, if this website offered Brad Pitt for sale I would be willing to bet that HE would be the one you'd get in your mailbox and not Pee-Wee Herman!

Anyone want to guess where I'll be buying my shoes from now on?!

Friday, December 29, 2006

"Though you're someone in this world that I'll always choose to love, from now on you're only someone that I used to love." ~ Natalie Cole

Prior to April of 2000, when I moved into my current humble abode, I had done a lot of moving around. Sometimes I think it was because I had grown up in a military family that moved just about every two years and the idea of staying in one place for too long was foreign to me and sometimes I think it was just because I would get restless. Whatever the case may be, I will have been residing in the same place for a record seven years come April. Amazing. But not what I intended to write about today!

I guess the above just prefaces what I am going to write about which is that a lot of people have come and gone through my life over the years in one form or another - sometimes by my constant moving and sometimes not. To be honest there were some people that didn't upset me horribly to see go but more often there were others that I not only hated to see become a part of my past but truly hoped that they never would be.

However, life is a constantly changing process and change does bring about loss in many forms. It's ironic, though, that sometimes there are people in our lives who are as close to us as humanly possible, that we think will never not be an active part of our lives, that turn out to be nothing more than cherished memories and maybe even the occasional awkward silence when we run into them again.

I had such a run-in the other day while waiting at my doctor's office for my now bi-weekly iron infusion (yes, folks, my hemoglobin levels are slowly creeping towards normal!) I got to my appointment with plenty of time to spare with Amanda in tow as she had a Christmas gift card burning a hole in her pocket and we intended to go to Waterford afterwards so that she could make use of it but, as seems to often be the case with that particular office, I ended up sitting in the waiting room for awhile. Normally this particular waiting room is packed - very often it's standing room only - but on Tuesday afternoon it was just myself and Amanda and a lot of empty chairs.

While sitting there watching "Back to the Future II" and waiting to be called into the back to have a needle stuck in my arm, the door opened and in walked a guy I hadn't seen in over two years. He did a double-take in my direction and then stood there for a few seconds with his mouth opening and closing like the lobsters you see in the tanks at grocery stores when you're trying to pick out the best one to take home and throw in a pot of boiling water for dinner - looking for all the world like he wanted to say something but no words could come out. He eventually shut his mouth, turned, and went to the receptionist's desk without a backwards glance.

After my initial shock at seeing him, I managed to squeak out a very tiny "hi" - which I'm sure was at the subsonic hearing level only audible to dogs and dolphins! - and then I just sat there with what must have been the "oh wow, I just saw a ghost" look on my face. My astonished look was such that it caused Amanda to take off her earphones long enough to lean over to me and ask "what?" My answer? "Someone I used to work with". Lame, yes - but the best I could do given the circumstances.

Truth be told, the person standing and fidgeting at the reception desk less than ten feet away from where I was sitting, the guy who had done the marvelous lobster impression, was the last guy that I had given my heart to almost four years ago. He was one of those people that I had never wanted to become "nothing more than cherished memories and maybe even the occasional awkward silence when we run into them again" but he was. Big time.

Of all the doctor's offices in all the towns in all the world, he walks into mine ...


Well, okay, so I'm no Humphrey Bogart but neither was he any Lauren Bacall! However I'm sure you get the meaning! I haven't moved across the world and opened a cafe in Casablanca in order to escape my past, I've stayed right here in Norwich where chances are I'm occasionally going to run into my past - but who knew that running into said past could be so awkward that even the politeness of society is impossible? Obviously things didn't end well between us but you would think that after four years the man could have done more than stood there opening and closing his mouth like a lobster caught in a tank awaiting his boiled fate. Sigh ...

At any rate, the door had no sooner closed on his rapidly retreating figure when my nurse came out and summoned me into the back room. As one of those people who subscribes to the theory that "everything happens for a reason" I wondered what the reason behind that encounter might have been but, unlike I have been known to do in the past, I am not going to over analyze the situation. It was what it was.

Still - some good did come of this awkward encounter ... after he left I didn't feel like my heart had been ripped out of my chest, tossed on the floor, and stomped on like I felt the last time I ran into him at a grocery store two years ago and that's a good thing - a very good thing; I didn't feel like going home and having a good cry over woulda - coulda - shoulda's and that's a good thing - a very good thing; and I was able to laugh about it with my friends who were there four years ago and knew exactly the hell I had been through and that's not just a good thing - that's the best thing.

Amazing - time really does seem to heal all wounds ... go figure ... well, sort of ...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

"You know what I hate about rock? I hate tye-died t-shirts." ~ Kurt Cobain, late lead singer for Nirvana

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For one of her Christmas presents, I took Amanda to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts last night. As far as gifts go it appears to have been an excellent choice on my part as she hasn't stopped talking about the concert yet and I'm afraid that the t-shirt I bought her is going to be the main staple of her wardrobe for weeks to come!

This was my first time seeing TSO in person, though I've listened to their music for quite some time, and I've got to say that the concert was absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt one of the best I've ever been to. The music was terrific, the light show was equally so, and it made me almost feel like a teenager again (in other words, I yelled so much that my throat is quite sore today!). Of course, the first time I let out a loud "wooooooooo!" Amanda turned to me and said, "Was that you? Don't do that again!" but eventually she ended up screaming louder than her old mother whose voice gave out halfway through the impressive three-hour show! By the time we left the DCU Center I was partially deaf, blind, and mute - but in a good way!

It's been an extremely long time since I've been to a rock concert (my very first concert-going experience was Cheap Trick opening for Foghat in Philadelphia so that should give you a good idea how long a
go we're talking here!) and this was Amanda's very first concert so I'm glad that it was as good of a show as it was. She especially liked the pyrotechnics and laser show but she was equally impressed with the musicianship of everyone in the band.

Even though the first half of the show was very good - a rock opera of sorts about an angel looking to reunite a father and daughter on Christmas Eve - the second half of the show was ultra-fantastic. If you've never heard "Layla" performed by two guitarists, two keyboardists, a bass player, one heck of a drummer, a guy with his own personally invented electric violin, an eight-
piece orchestra, and at least eight back-up singers then you have never heard "Layla" performed! From there they segued into "The Flight of the Bumblebee" which turned into a duel between the two guitarists, bassist, and electric violinist. After that it just got better and better.

The only thing missing from last night's show was my youngest daughter, Jamie. I couldn't help but think during the entire con
cert how much she would have loved, loved, loved the show as she is a major rock-and-roll fan and this concert would have been made to order for her - long-haired rockers in long-tailed tuxes who nearly brought the roof of the DCU Center down with their showmanship and music.

Not fifteen minutes into last night's show I told Amanda "we are SO going again next year" and with any luck Jamie will be ther
e to head-bang, clap, and scream right along with us. I think I feel a Christmas tradition coming on!

Chris Caffrey of Trans-Siberian Orchestra at
the DCU Center in Worcester -
picture "illegally" taken by Amanda!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers."

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Gerald Rudolph Ford, the 38th President of the United States, died yesterday at the age of 93 and it seems only fitting and proper that I should write something here as the Presidential Election of 1976 was the very first election where I was able to cast a vote. I was attending Ground-to-Air Radio technical school at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi where I was stationed as an airman in the United States Air Force when I turned 18 and was old enough to be a registered voter.

Mostly what I knew about Gerald Ford, other than that he was my Commander-in-Chief, was that Chevy Chase had a great time portraying him on Saturday Night Live with one pratfall and bumbling move after another. I wasn't much into politics (and still am not) but I knew that a lot of people were against Ford due to his full pardon of the man he replaced as President, Richard M. Nixon. I'm sure I need not go into the entirety of the Watergate Scandal - that's a horse that's been pretty well beat to death over the years.

When Gerald Ford took office on August 9, 1974 he took over a mess - to say the least. He inherited not only the Watergate Scandal but a domestic policy full of inflation and recession and a foreign policy that saw the final troops being withdrawn from Vietnam and the subsequent fall of Saigon in 1975. During his time in Office he survived two assassination attempts - one by Charles Manson follower Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and another seventeen days later by Sara Jane Moore. He also had to deal with the Mayaguez Incident in which 41 servicemen were killed and another 50 injured during an operation involving the Cambodian Khmer-Rouge. It was not an easy two and a half years for a man who had never been elected Vice President or President but had "fallen" into both positions.

In 1976, Ford didn't particularly want to run for President in the National Elections but he reluctantly agreed and was nominated by his Party after Ronald Reagan withdrew from the race. The Democrats ran the virtually unknown Georgian, Jimmy Carter, who based his campaign mainly on the Watergate Scandal and pardon of former President Richard Nixon. In the end, Carter won with 50.1% of the popular vote and 297 electoral votes to Ford's 48.0% and 240 electoral votes - the closest race in Presidential history and the very first one in which I cast a vote - for Gerald R. Ford.

In spite of the fact that he was portrayed as a bumbling goof by Chevy Chase, in spite of the fact that a lot of people thought he "worked a deal" with Nixon to take over the Presidency in exchange for a pardon, and in spite of the fact that he initially seemed to be a reluctant President (and who wouldn't have been given what he had to deal with?) I voted for him because I felt that he was a good man who had the best interests of the country always at the foremost of his agenda. He was a good Commander-in-Chief to those of us who were in the military, a man who had served in the Navy during World War II, and understood what military service was all about. He seemed a decent man, an honest man, a good family man, and I thought he was a good President which is why I voted for him.

It goes without saying that his family will miss him but at age 93, I think that he has earned his eternal rest and the chance to go to wherever it is that former Presidents go to when they die. Perhaps he'll have the chance to meet up with the likes of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson and the other great men who initially made this country the great place that it once was. Lately - I'm not so sure how great it is ... but that's for another post.

May you rest in peace, Mr. President, and may the people of this country remember you with fondness and thanks for all of your service. I do.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"Before you wish for what you wish for there's a list for who's been naughty or nice but consider the price to an elf." ~ Elf's Lament

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Okay, so Christmas is officially over (and let us all heave a collective sigh of relief!) but I have decided that this song is one of my new favorite Christmas tunes and I wanted to share it. This isn't by any means a new song, it was on the album Barenaked For the Holidays which was released in 2004 by ~ duh ~ the Barenaked Ladies but I was obviously out of the loop as I had never even heard the song until I was driving down the road listening to a classic rock station last Thursday!

I was afraid that if I didn't post it now I would have completely forgotten the title by the time the next Christmas season rolled around. I've noticed that the older I get, the more my memory seems to take on distinct
Swiss cheese-type characteristics in that there are appear to be a lot of holes where thoughts used to reside but have disappeared completely. Given that, the chances of my remembering a somewhat obscure Christmas song about disgruntled elves some eleven months down the road is slim to none! But this is a song that I think I'd like to remember so now I'll just have to remember that it's in my blog archives!

Hope your holidays were happy!


Saturday, December 23, 2006

"But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!" ~ The Night Before Christmas, 1822

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'Twas two days before Christmas and I'm writing my blog

While my mind seems to be wandering & lost in a fog.
The cheesecake I'd baked was in the refrigerator o'er night
And I'd wrapped all my gifts - what a beautiful sight!
Amanda was downstairs and watching TV
While the cat snoozed beside me & in her sleep wheezed.
I sat at the keyboard - yearning for bed
While various blog topics danced through my head.
When what to my wandering mind should I think
If I rewrite this whole poem I'm on insanity's brink! ...

Okay, so much for waxing poetic - I don't
really think I'm up to rewriting the entirety of Clement Clarke Moore's epic The Night Before Christmas tonight - though I have done it in the past and it was kind of fun. Of course, that was the far distant past when I was a kid and had lots of free time and energy - neither of which I seem to have in great abundance anymore. Ah, the joys of growing old! Someone remind me again of what they are - please??

At any rate, I think I am going to take a few
days off from posting and wanted to let my faithful readers know that I haven't abandoned you - just that I figure that you won't be reading on the holidays as you'll have lots to do outside of sitting at your computer screen! At least I certainly hope that you do!
It is my fervent wish that you all have a very happy holiday season - that no matter what you celebrate this time of the year it b
e joyful and full of wonderful blessings; that you have the opportunity to spend time with family and friends both old and new; and that the spirit of the season enfold you in its warmth. May your heart's desires come true and "may you never forget what is worth remembering or remember what is best forgotten".

As they say in Ireland
'Nollaig faoi shéan is faoi shonas duit' or - translated - a prosperous and happy Christmas to you! "God bless us everyone!"


Friday, December 22, 2006

“May you have warmth in your igloo, oil in your lamp, and peace in your heart” ~ Eskimo Proverb

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It's beginning to feel like winter has finally descended upon us here in New England (though the uncharacteristically warm December has been a blessing to my fuel costs!) and, as such, I decided last night that it was time to break out the flannel sheets and put them on my bed.

I have no idea who the genius was that came up with the idea of making sheets out of flannel but I am forever grateful to whomever it was and couldn't sing his/her praises loud enough! As much as I like the 300-thread count sheets, there is nothing like crawling in between warm, cozy, flannel on a cold winter's night - especially when one sleeps alone like I do.

Growing up, I remember that my mother always had a sweater on and seemed to be cold and it appears that I have inherited that from her as I'm always chilly no matter what temperature I have the thermostat set for. We have two-zone heating in the house but for some unknown reason, the upstairs never seems to work so it gets pretty chilly in the bedrooms at night - especially considering I have the downstairs thermostat set to drop down to 56 degrees after 9:00 p.m. Were it not for flannel sheets I would probably be piling a half-dozen blankets and comforters on top of the bed just to maintain some sort of warmth!

The only drawback that I have found to flannel sheets is that you can't really wear flannel pajamas at the same time as it makes it hard to roll over but that's a small price to pay for NO cold spots when you stretch your feet out!

Now if I could just figure out a way to keep the bathroom floor warm for when I stumble across it in the morning, life would be almost perfect!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices ..." ~ O Holy Night, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, 1847

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Once again the Norwich Bulletin has presented us with its annual list of best-loved and most-disliked Christmas songs in an article entitled, "Timeless classics top local song lists in Eastern Connecticut" by Bulletin reporter Amy Lawson.

It was no surprise to me that "O Holy Night!" topped the list once again this year because - seriously - how you can top a Christmas song like that? The words were written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure who was a wine-seller by trade. Cappeau was asked by his parish priest to write a Christmas poem and after doing so, he approached his friend Adolphe Charles Adams, a composer and graduate of the Paris conservatoire, to put his poem to music. In 1855, Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight translated the hauntingly beautiful song into English and there you have it - instant holiday favorite.

Like "Blue Christmas" (subject of a previous post), "O Holy Night!" has been recorded by a veritable cornucopia of talent ranging from Jose Feliciano, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, Josh Groban (my personal favorite), NSYNC, Kelly Clarkson, Martina McBride, Luciano Pavarotti, Avril Lavigne, Il Divo, 98 Degrees, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and too many others to name. The song was also sung by lead character Eric Cartman on a Christmas-themed episode of "South Park". Not exactly one of MY top choices but apparently popular enough to receive air-play on some radio stations. Ewww ...

Also mentioned in Ms. Lawson's article was that the treacly sweet Christmas song, "Christmas Shoes", is considered one of the least liked songs in Eastern Connecticut among those having a preference for Christmas music. Faithful readers of this blog will remember that I did a post on that particular song (December 2nd) and in checking over my stats, it's interesting to see that queries for that song almost match the amount of queries I have for Rachel Lutzker (WFSB traffic-gal extraordinaire). Imagine that - there must be some people out there that like the song - apparently they just don't live in Eastern Connecticut!

As for the number one disliked song mentioned in the article, "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" I don't think it's any worse than "Dominick the Donkey", which was surprisingly not mentioned at all - awwww! Here's my thought - maybe the reindeer that ran over Grandma could go into exile with Dominick and they could live happily ever after somewhere out of earshot!

"... But as for me and Grandpa, we believe!"


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Crows everywhere are equally black." ~ Chinese Proverb

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Driving to work on winter mornings it's sometimes easy for me to forget that I'm actually in Norwich, Connecticut rather than Bodega Bay, California - setting of Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 masterpiece thriller "The Birds". Every winter, like clockwork, Norwich is invaded by thousands of crows that take up residency in the trees close to the Thames River which, incidentally, is right across the street from American Ambulance.

Driving down Washington Street and across the Thomas Sweeney Bridge, one can see hundreds upon hundreds of crows circling in the air and perched in every available tree branch along the way. If you put your car window down, what you will hear is a constant cawing - a noise that makes the skin on the back of my neck crawl while visions of the good people of Bodega Bay being pecked to death dance through my head.

It's creepy - just downright creepy - and it makes me look forward to Spring and the departure of these creepy winged creatures for greener pastures - or wherever the heck it is that they go. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure where they go during the day as they take off en-masse to Lord only knows where before the sun fully rises only to come winging back in a large, black, creepy cloud shortly after sunset.

And just to add to the "creepiness" factor - did you know that a group of crows is called a murder?? I bet Mr. Hitchcock knew!

Monday, December 18, 2006

"Christmas is the keeping-place for memories of our innocence." ~ Joan Mills

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This picture was taken on Christmas Day in 1999 when Amanda was 7 years old. Her favorite Christmas present that year was Josefina, the American Girl doll that my parents had gotten for her. This Christmas Amanda is 14 years old and you'd never know she was the same person as the one in this picture. Check back next week and you can see what I mean! Enjoy your holiday memories for the years they do go by quickly!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Where are you Christmas? Why can't I find you? Why have you gone away? ... " ~ Faith Hill

So, here it is just one week before Christmas and I have yet to do any Christmas shopping with the exception of only two things. I'm not sure whether I should be proud of that accomplishment or terrified by it!

Considering that I declared back in November - or was it October? - that I wasn't really planning on celebrating Christmas this year the lack of shopping on my end comes as no surprise whatsoever. I just haven't been able to get excited about the holiday season this year and that's probably the result of a couple of factors - first and foremost being the fact that Jamie is not coming home for the holidays this year and the other being my total disgust with the commercialism of Christmas. The combination of the two has just put me right out of the holiday spirit this year.

That's not to say that I haven't done a little decorating around the house - I hung garland, took my little 2-foot pre-illuminated tree out of its box & plugged it in, and set my favorite Christmas angels out on the entertainment center. I hung my blue & white icicle lights on the front porch and put the illuminated deer that bobs his head up and down in the front yard. From all appearances, if you were to look at my house, you would probably think that I was, in fact, celebrating Christmas this year but as they say "looks can be deceiving".

For the first time in probably 30 years I have not written out and mailed Christmas cards, with the exception of two to Jamie and one to my former grandmother-in-law in California; I've not baked a single Christmas cookie and I used to love to bake all types of Christmas cookies; and I don't believe that there is a smidgen of wrapping paper in the house should I actually break down and buy some gifts - which is still open for debate.

If someone had asked me even a short three years ago if I would ever NOT want to celebrate Christmas, I would have told them that they were crazy. I have always loved Christmas - I love the sights of lights on people's houses, I love the smells, I love the sounds of Christmas carols, I love the way that people seem to treat each other better, I love the foods that you can only get this time of year ... at least I used to. Now, I would just love for it to all go away but ... at the same time ... I miss Christmas ... I miss the Christmases that I used to know as a kid myself and the Christmases that I used to know when my own kids were younger. I just don't know where they went to.

Oh well, I've still got a week to find the magic of Christmas or for it to find me ...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"The inability to stay quiet is one of the conspicuous failings of mankind." ~ Walter Bagehot, 1870

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Today has been a long day following what was a very short night and I could really use some peace & quiet right now but Amanda has two of her friends over and "quiet" is apparently a word that not a single one of them possesses in their vocabulary. I've only been home for a little over an hour and I have already lost track of the number of times I have said "Amanda, you guys need to quiet down", "Amanda, you three need to keep it down a little bit", "Amanda, tone it down", etc., etc! If this keeps up, I have a feeling that tonight is going to go on and on even longer than the song from "Titanic"!

Of course, this may just be the payback that I get for having most of the dispatch/scheduling department over for a holiday get-together last night that had Amanda hiding in the computer room except for the times she came downstairs to grab something to eat or drink. Of course, Amanda is normally hiding in the computer room and comes down only long enough to grab something to eat or drink so it really wasn't out of the norm for her except that when she would come downstairs last night she got to see first-hand what an "interesting" group of people I work with! Never let it be said that EMS people are not a lively bunch!

Working in a high-stress job, it's nice to be able to get out of the dispatch center and relax around good food (Matt cooked and it was yummy!) and drink every great once in awhile. We don't do it often enough and really ought to make it a Standard Operating Procedure (just to preserve our sanity) but with everyone's schedule being way too busy it's hard to coordinate a time that is mutually agreeable to everyone. The holidays, of course, provide the perfect "reason" so last night was our second annual get-together at my humble abode.

Of course, whether we actually do this on an annual basis remains to be seen but considering that my house is still in one piece, the cops were here briefly but only because one of our schedulers is married to one, everyone seemed to have a good time, nobody stuck anything in the chocolate fountain they shouldn't have, and the neighbors didn't leave any notes on my doorstep offering to help me move there's a possibility that we might do it again next year. Of course if we do try this again next year, as I told Jen while we were both giggling way too much in dispatch this morning due to lack of sleep on both our parts, we need to pick a time when neither one of us are working the next day!

After the last person left and I got everything cleaned up and put away, it was almost midnight before I crawled into bed and couldn't. fall. asleep! As a veritable non-drinker, I would have thought that I had put away enough alcohol (Butter Shots and Caramel Bailey's - yum!) to sleep the sleep of the dead but oh no - not I! I distinctly remember seeing the clock change over to 1:00 a.m. before I finally drifted off to a fitful sleep. I actually managed to wake up at 5:43 before my alarm and, despite the lack of sleep, I had no trouble getting to work ... but before I could congratulate myself on those amazing feats I found myself having trouble differentiating between edema, enema, and anemia on my first 911 call of the day! Okay, maybe a little extra sleep would have been nice!

Coming home to a nice quiet house would have been nice, too, but Amanda felt it only fair that she get to have her friends over this evening so rather than get some much desired peace & quiet or maybe a little down-time on the couch in front of the TV, I am now hiding in the computer room except for when I go downstairs only long enough to grab something to eat or drink and I get to be reminded - yet again - just how much giggling 14-year-old kids can do when you get them in a group!

Ah well, as they say, "what goes around comes around"! I'm just hoping that perhaps some "peace & quiet" will come around tomorrow - please??

Friday, December 15, 2006

"There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy when they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie." ~ Sleigh Ride

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No doubt the following has made its way around the Internet more than Paris Hilton and Britney Spears have made their way around ... er, never mind! You get the point! But with holiday parties coming up (including one at my house tonight!) it bears repeating. Relax - enjoy the holidays - but just remember to not drink and drive - safe holidays are happy holidays!

1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door where they're serving rum balls!

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly; it's rare. You can't find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnog-aholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do NOT have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hello?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog!

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again.

8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Of if you don't like Mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories but avoid it at all cost! I mean, have some standards!

10. One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Re-read tips; start over, but hurry! January is just around the corner. Remember this motto to live by:

"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO-HOO what a ride!"

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Over their hallowed graves may the winds of heaven whisper hourly benedictions."

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For those who have not received the above picture in their email in one form or another, I wanted to post it here as I think it's a wonderful thing for someone to do at this time of year to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

This picture was taken in 2005 however the tradition of laying the wreaths began in 1992 and was carried out again today at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia just outside of Washington D.C. by both military and civilian volunteers.

The idea of laying the wreaths on the graves at Arlington began when Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company in Maine, had a surplus of 5,000 unsold balsam wreaths that he decided to place on the graves of the fallen heroes at Arlington, a place that he had visited as a child and had never forgotten. Arlington National Cemetery has over 260,000 graves and obviously there weren't enough wreaths for all of them so Worcester and his volunteers decided to place them on graves located in the oldest part of the cemetery - the section that gets the fewest visitors and would have less likelihood of anyone placing a remembrance on the graves.

Since then, Mr. Worcester has not relied on a surplus of wreaths but makes them especially for the occasion and he and volunteers place the wreaths on the graves each year on the second Thursday of December at 12 noon.
“We couldn’t do anything in this country if it wasn’t for the people who gave their lives to protect us,” Mr. Worcester said. “It’s a great honor to be able to come here and pay our respects.”
These are the things that make Christmas special ...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

“Where words fail, music speaks.” ~ Hans Christian Andersen

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I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Norwich Free Academy Instrumental Music Department's 2006 Holiday Concert earlier this evening and I must say that it was well worth the time I had to miss from work to be there.

One of the classes that Amanda took this year is Concert Band and participation in the concerts is a requirement of the course (gee, maybe that's why they call it Concert Band??). Tonight's program consisted of musical selections played by the Jazz Band, the Orchestra, the Concert Band, and the Wildcat Marching Band.

The Jazz Band performed first and did a very nice rendition of "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" to open the concert. They were followed by the Orchestra which played three selections and then the Concert Band took the stage. As I watched Amanda walk across the stage to take her place amongst the flutes, I couldn't help but be proud of her for being a member of something that I had never had the talent for. I remembered going to concerts when I was in high school to watch my friends who were in band or chorus but the feeling of watching friends perform is nothing compared to what one feels while watching their own flesh and blood perform - it's a pretty amazing thing.

The first number that the Concert Band performed was "Olympiada" by Samuel Hazo, a very stirring piece that I had heard Amanda practicing for several weeks. To hear it played by the entire Concert Band was enough to give me goosebumps! You could tell that Mr. Mac, their band director, was quite happy with their performance, too, as when the piece ended he was literally beaming. Amanda later told me that he was very, very happy with it and he should have been - it was marvelous!

Their next piece, "Fantasia on a Hymn by Praetorius", was also well played but wasn't the same type of stirring piece of music that "Olympiada" was. Still, to know that my daughter - who spends most of her time on the computer or drawing cartoons - was a part of such a terrific sounding band was quite mind-boggling (and no, Frank, I didn't shed any tears though it would have been easy to!). I kept wishing that I had someone with me to share the experience - someone that I could turn to during the performance and say "wow, can you believe Amanda is actually up there playing?!?" but unfortunately I was alone in the audience surrounded by other performers' families and friends. It's times like that when it really stinks that the ex and I couldn't make our marriage work so that we could have shared the moment together but alas and alack, such is not the case and it's his loss for not being here for these sorts of things.

After one more number, the Concert Band stepped down from the stage and, after a short intermission, the Wildcat Marching Band literally marched into the Slater Auditorium led by the awesome drum line. All I can say here is - wow! It was an excellent way to wrap up the evening and the kids were all treated to a standing ovation after the last note sounded.

While we were walking out to the car I told Amanda "she is SO joining marching band next year!" and she agreed with me. When you see and hear a performance like that, you can't help but want to be part of it. I could see the excitement in Amanda's face and hear it in her voice from knowing that they all did such a terrific job and put on such an awesome concert and I was very glad that I had been able to get the time out of work to go.

I'm sure that Mr. Mac was quite pleased with the show that his students put on and he should be as they were great - all of them - but especially the girl with the funky-colored hair that plays flute!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go." ~ Meredith Wilson, 1951

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In 2003, the first year that I was at American Ambulance, I decided that the dispatch center was in definite need of some holiday spirit and spent well over eight hours on one of my days off 'decking the halls'. I did the same thing the second year that I was there but somewhere before my third Christmas I lost my enthusiasm for the project and proclaimed that I was not going to decorate this year. I think it had something to do with the total destruction and consumption of a gingerbread house in just one day and the placement of the Christmas tree but whatever it was, I just wasn't going to decorate this year. I did, however, tell people that the decorations were in the radio room closet and that they were more than welcome to make use of them.

Around the beginning of the month I noticed that downstairs in the billing section they had done a very nice job of putting up a tree, hanging stockings, and even suspending some beautiful handmade three-dimensional snowflakes from the ceiling. Very festive - very nice! A week or so later I noticed that they had strung lights up around the crew lounge and that things were looking very holiday-like there, too. Very festive - very nice! That left dispatch looking eerily similar to the Grinch's moutain-top cave until last Friday when Matt put a very pretty red poinsettia on top of the dispatch console.

Apparently the arrival of that lone poinsettia was the impetus for someone else to finally decide that the place needed a little more holiday cheer as Baby Liz broke the boxes out of the radio room closet and began to decorate the room yesterday afternoon. When I came in this morning it definitely looked like Christmas had at last arrived in dispatch. Very festive - very nice!

We have floor to ceiling windows which look out over Thames Street and the Norwich Harbor and, as part of the decorations, Baby Liz had decided that each of us who works upstairs was going to cut out a snowflake to put on the windows which cover almost the entirety of one wall. She had already cut one out herself and it was quite pretty but at the same time quite intimidating to those of us who have no arts & crafts skills. However, Baby Liz can be quite persuasive and was not taking 'no' for an answer from any of us so with a little instruction we all soon found ourselves snipping away and laughing at the results.

Because I was spending the day training Rene, our latest dispatcher, I had a lot of free time to cut out more than the one requested snowflake and was actually having a pretty good time trying out different shapes and styles while keeping an eye on "my rookie". I was having such a good time, in fact, that I lost count of how many snowflakes I ended up finally producing but I want it made known that I was not decorating - just contributing!

It's nice to know that just because I am being a Christmas crab this year not everyone around me is being the same. Sometimes it's really nice just to be the one who gets to enjoy the decorations that someone else took the time to put up rather than be the one who put them up. Thank you, Baby Liz, and even though everyone made some great snowflakes I still think that yours are the most awesome of all!

Monday, December 11, 2006

"Judgements prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances." ~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

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Amanda recently decided to - yet again - do something different with her hair and though she was initially quite happy with the way it turned out she is now having doubts due to the reactions that she received from some of her friends at school today. Apparently one of her friends went so far as to give her a lecture on conformity and normalcy and, though she probably wouldn't admit it, I think that hurt her a little bit.

As an adult, I don't see the big attraction in styling one's hair like a cartoon character or coloring it in shades that are not in nature's palette but just because it's not something that I would do doesn't mean that it isn't something that other people do on a regular basis. A trip to Sally's Beauty Supply over on West Main Street offers up a veritable cornucopia of hair colors that almost blinds the eyes and, according to the clerk there, they sell a lot of them to a lot of people so it's not like Amanda is alone in the world of wild hair color schemes.

Yes - I would prefer that Amanda have a "normal" head of hair but I am also rather proud of the fact that she has the courage to want to be a little different from everyone else. And, as Baby Liz put it at work the other day, if she's going to have pink or green or purple or whatever color hair then what better time to do it then in high school? Well, yes and no because - lest we all forget - teenagers can be brutal to each other and high school can be four of the most angst-filled years that a person can go through just from peer pressure alone.

From what Amanda was telling me earlier this evening she has been dealing with some peer pressure regarding her new head of hair. I feel bad for her as I can see the disappointment in her eyes from learning that some of her friends are so judgemental that they would threaten to withdraw their friendship simply because of the way she looks. So what if her hair is a rather odd mix of red, purple, pink, and black right now? Does that change the person that she is inside? No - it doesn't but I can tell that the comments are making her doubt herself a little bit and that definitely saddens me because I see that light of independence dimming a little bit.

I can only tell her so much, I can only relate so many stories of "back when I was in high school" because no matter what I say, this is something that she has to deal with on her own. She has to be the one to decide whether her friends' opinions of what she looks like are more important than her own opinions of what she looks like. In the meantime, maybe she can take to heart a quotation that I always liked in high school ...

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Conclusion, 1854
I doubt that Henry David was talking about hairstyles but then again ... why not??

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"People don't change. Only their costumes do." ~ Gene Moore

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After a few months of looking like pretty much everybody else on Blogger, I decided that it was time for a "costume change" on my blog. As such I now present to you the one-of-a-kind, much-more-visually-stimulating version of "Are We There Yet?"

Call it a wish, call it a fantasy, call it a pipe-dream but I think that deep down inside we all want to be super heroes of a sort. We all want to be ...
"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! ... Yes, it's Superman ... strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman ... who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!"
But real life being what it is, we only attain super hero status in our minds. However, in my case, I have attained that status on my blog page thanks to the talents of Se7en from Blogs Gone Wild!

But I'm not really SuperMom, I'm just RegularMom, even though I'd like to be thought of as SuperMom every once in awhile! I am perhaps faster than a speeding wheelchair carrying a very heavy patient, more powerful than the zip-tabs that hold most packaged foods closed, and able to leap a small cat in a single bound (provided said small cat doesn't move and end up under my feet thereby causing me to trip and land unceremoniously on my behind!). Yes ... it's SuperMom ... single parent of two sometimes annoying teenage daughters with powers and abilities far beyond those of the average Mom! SuperMom who can change frozen food into tasty meals, wash dirty dishes with her bare hands, and who, disguised as Employee #829, a stressed-out 911 dispatcher for a commercial ambulance service, fights a never-ending battle for the completion of homework, a tidy house, and a decent paycheck!

Of course, the real reason I'd want to be a super hero is to have the ability to fly but sadly, SuperMom only seems to have the ability to drive, which of course comes in real handy when Amanda needs to go somewhere! Oh well, I just hope the rest of the costume includes a cape and a pair of those cool Wonder Woman-type boots!

If you get the chance, tell me what you think of my "new look" and - as always - be kind! Oh, and the drawings are merely representations and by no means depict any actual human beings - living or alive!

Friday, December 8, 2006

"Knowing others is wisdom, knowing the self is enlightenment ..." ~ Lao Tzu, Chinese Taoist, 600 BC - 531 BC

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Jen has definitely gotten into this blogging stuff big-time and as such she tagged myself and Amanda for a meme (which as you may or may not know is an idea, project, statement or even a question that is posted by one blog and responded to by other blogs). I've been tagged in the past by ECR who tagged Jen for this meme who then tagged me. And now without further ado ...

Five Things You May or May Not Know About ...

Me!

1. I hate clowns - any kind of clowns. I have never liked clowns, not since I can remember. I don't think they're funny in either looks or actions - they're just creepy. It's no wonder that Stephen King picked a clown to scare the beegeebers out of little kids in IT. Clowns are whack!

2. I cannot sleep in a room that is completely quiet because it's just, well, too quiet! I have one of those handy-dandy little gadgets that makes different kinds of background noises and I use it all the time. It's usually set on "thunderstorm" as I like that one the best.

3. Way back in the late 80's I briefly worked as a professional disc jockey at WINY-AM radio in the thriving metropolis of Putnam, Connecticut!

4. While attending San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California I was the co-editor-in-chief of my college newspaper at the same time that I was Program Director at my college radio station.

5. Before I became a police dispatcher at the Stockton Police Department, I worked in the automotive department at the local Sears doing tires, batteries, and oil changes. It was a hard job and I was the only female in the whole department but I was pretty good at it.

Amanda!

1. She is afraid of escalators - especially ones going in the 'up' direction. She said that she feels like she's always leaning forward and is going to fall down the stairs.

2. She has to sleep in a completely dark room as even just the moon shining in will keep her awake. She also has to have background noise and sleeps with her radio on.

3. She was born in Long Beach, California and shares her birthday with her grandmother. She and my mother also share the middle name of "Elizabeth".

4. She still watches Sponge-Bob and The Fairly Odd Parents on Nickelodeon from time to time.

5. She was once a member of the Griswold Young Marines.

So - there you have it - five completely useless facts about myself and my oldest daughter!

In keeping with the meme tradition, I now tag Erik and his daughter so as they say Boukie, "tag - you're it!"