Visa Update and Airport Observations

Wednesday, 29 December 2010
If you're wondering...

The US Embassy in London updated their list of cases on December 22, 2010 and ours didn't move up at all. In fact, we're farther down the list than we were before.  The web page says to not count the list as moving in a certain order but COME ON. We sent in our application on August 26th. Processing time is 3 to 6 months. It has been 4 months thus far and we've heard nothing. We're in the middle of the waiting madness. 

Really, though, I'll wait another month or two as long as the answer to our waiver application is YES.

Right now I'm at the Knoxville airport people watching. My flight has been delayed (of course) and I'm just killing time by blogging, tweeting and facebooking. 

Airport observations (if you are a regular reader, you know this is one of my favorite things to blog about)

People carry on huge bags now days and try to let three slide by the "carry on two bags only" rule.
3 out of 4 TSA agents (at least in this airport) are obese.
One of the Delta ticket agents I dealt with while checking in was condescending and rude. The other one was amazingly professional and kind. 
New books are outrageously over-priced. 
I can easily imagine what people would look like without all the extra fat. 
I need to make sure I stand/walk with my back straight and head up to look the world in the eyes.
Travel pillows (the ones you buy for $12.99 and go around your neck) aren't firm enough. 
So glad I decided to travel with my fur. Very warm.
Horizontal, wide, colorful stripes on a sweater? No.
Japanese women seem to have the most well-behaved children.

Blond Across the Pond 2010

Tuesday, 28 December 2010
"'Ello. Where's the loo, please?"
"Sorry, can you tell me which way to the tube?"
"I'll have a pint of Peroni, please."
"A'right. Have a go at getting a taxi, mate?"

These are the phrases I'm trying to remember heading over to London. Such a fascinating, busy, historical city. Everyone is polite to a fault and manners are expected even from drunkards on the streets. I haven't been back to London in more than a year. Kingsley and I spent a week there together just before our honeymoon in Barcelona in October 2009.

Our plans include an afternoon at the British Museum to see the new Buhddhist exhibits (showing some artifacts that haven't been on display before) before heading to Covent Garden for a pie/pasty. Kings and I will also eat Thai food at the restaurant he booked for our first date, The Blue Elephant. I was so enamored by the man, I barely remember the food or setting. We may also go to the Oyster Bar at Selfridges one day for champagne and oysters and our New Year's Eve plans with friends sound exciting.

Mostly, I cannot wait to put on our pajamas, cook together, sip wine, snuggle on the couch and watch movies. We're going to act like a "real" married couple without the bickering ... yet...

I'll be sure to update you here with pictures when I have time.

Italian Quiche - No Crust

Sunday, 26 December 2010
This is for Teri. I like to call this dish "quiche" because it is a mixture of eggs and milk, baked in the shape of a pie (9" round glass plate). However, it does not have a pastry or crust. So, for traditional cooks or real chefs, this likely falls into the "breakfast casserole" category.

4 large eggs
3 pieces thick bacon, microwave 4 minutes on high, blot with paper towel, chop into small pieces
1 can (12oz) Italian tomatoes with garlic and oregano, drained
1/2 cup onions, chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Cracked pepper to taste
1/2 milk or cream (I used skim milk)

Preheat oven 350 degrees

Heat olive oil and sautee onions until soft, set aside
Beat eggs and milk with wisk
Add bacon and onions, stir
Add tomatoes, gently stir
Sprinkle in salt (about 3/4 of a teaspoon) and cracked pepper into mixture (I did 5 turns of the grinder)
Spray pie plate with Canola oil

Pour in mixture, bake for 1 hour
Dish should be firm but not brown on top.

Top Blog Posts of 2010

I quickly read through my blog posts from 2010. How in the world did this year go by so quickly? While not easy, I narrowed down some of my favorites for you. Here's 5 of the best:

Post that drew a lot of comments: Weight Just a Minute (My opinion on obesity and what it takes to stay out of that category.)

Post about sex: Abstinence (Thoughts on Bristol Palin's campaign to encourage teens to wait until marriage to sleep together.)

Post where I admit I was wrong: Twilight and New Moon (Entertaining, good reads. Critics took themselves too seriously when they first reviewed this book. I bought into it until I actually read them.)

Post about an embarrassing situation: Most Embarrassing Moment #2 (Sometimes I do really strange things. This is the account of one of those occassions.)

Post about the busiest and most expensive day of my life: Quick Recap (Moved to another state, bought a car, bid on a house, all in the same day.)

Bonus post about being back in the South: Bible Belt (Stranger tries to pray the sinner's prayer with me in my back yard.)

Christmas Morning 2010

I had to work on Christmas so Violet and I were alone in the morning. Knoxville saw a light dusting of snow and she went outside to have a look.

I made quiche for breakfast consisting of eggs, bacon, onions and Italitan tomatoes with oregano and garlic. It turned out nicely. 350F for one hour. Use Canola oil in the pie plate before pouring in the mixture.

My wreath this year was made out of real materials and held the place of a tree. I decided not to put up a Christmas tree since my sweetie isn't here yet. 

Violet played Mrs. Santa Claus for a little while even though she didn't like her hat. 

Later in the day, my good friend Jamie invited me over to have dinner with her family. It was amazing! Sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, homemade mac and cheese, stuffing, turkey, ham, rolls and appetizers. Wowser.

Nice spread and such kind, considerate people. The kids had some awesome gifts and I fired Nerf guns and raced match box cars down a long, loopy track.

I could've been a little sad and lonely on Christmas but because of someone's generosity, this news orphan had a place to enjoy good food, great company and a new holiday experience. 

Mini Carson-Newman Reunion

Friday, 24 December 2010
When my besties Casey and Angelica were in town, I took them to my favorite "local." Crown and Goose is not only decorated to the nines this time of year, it is also spacious with great service. After much to-do, I was able to secure a reservation for the coveted "red sofas" and many of our friends from undergraduate school showed up to celebrate having Case and Angel in town.

We took a quick photo with some of the ladies that met during our days in Butler and Swan halls. We love our Perri and Amber! No one has aged a day in the 10 years since we went to school together (ahem, I'm sure you agree...).

Kelly was also there. Despite just having baby Lilly, she showed up with her charming husband, Eddie to have a drink and tell us about life with a new baby!

Other Knoxville besties, Adrian and Larsen also attended the soiree. They were out finishing last minute Christmas shopping and stopped to have a drink. Ace knows Casey from my wedding and Angelica from when she lived in Knoxville.

I miss having guests in town. Here's to friends and family visiting in 2011!

Facebook Family Christmas Wishes

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Image from Gail Pan Designs

I have a Facebook page that I use to connect with friends and viewers. Feel free to add me, Denae D'Arcy WATE. Today, I asked viewers and friends, "If you could have one thing this Christmas that isn't a material object, what would it be?" I received some heartfelt responses:

Donna said, "To celebrate Christmas with those special people who have passed on."

Dale shared, "To have my health back and to be with my family."

"Patience," said Samantha.

Melissa wants "A white Christmas!"

Miles said, "Better health and less weight."

Heather gave a funny but honest answer, "Does a husband count? I've been asking for one for years now. Maybe the chimney isn't wide enough."

Julie's answer was sweet. She wants "Love. I share love with family and friends but it's time to settle down (and I want to)."

Jessica would ask for "peace and happiness."

PerSempre said, "All the animals to have good forever homes. It would mean I wouldn't be doing rescue anymore but that would be a great thing."

Carrie wants "more time with family!"

Nicole was also thinking of family. She said, "My family all together!"

Valerie said, "I would love to have Jeremy pain free for Christmas and his kids here with us!!!"

Thank you to all who shared.

If I could have a Christmas wish that didn't include things it would be for my family to be together. Kingsley and I will be apart again this Christmas and his family is all in South Africa. How nice it would be to wake up on Christmas morning and all spend the day together!

What's your wish?

Repeal of DADT

Wednesday, 22 December 2010
I listened to a high-ranking military member interview today on the radio. Air Force Major Mike Almy said his entire career was spent dodging anything that had to do with his sexual orientation. He was terrified that one overheard conversation or email could get him fired for being gay. That eventually happened. He was discharged because of his sexual orientation. After today's repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" Almy is excited to reenlist and serve again.

Gays and lesbians can now be proud to serve a country that doesn't fire someone (or ban someone) because they are not "mainstream." This is a historic day in the United States. Many voters are thankful to President Obama for staying true to his campaign promise.

When a woman is fired for being pregnant or a top-boss-man is fired for having a brain tumor, they each have a legal recourse to get their job back. Gay military members did not have that protection before today.

Equality is imperative in a successful, intelligent, modern society. Now, perhaps the US military, one of the most powerful forces in the world, will gain an influx of new soldiers, sailors and airmen. We need them to replace those being killed and injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Christmas Eve" dinner out

My family moved to Columbus, Ohio when I was in college and our extended family is in Missouri. Since we haven't lived around family in quite sometime, we came up with the new tradition of having a nice dinner out on the town for Christmas Eve.

This year, my parents drove to Knoxville to spend time with me the weekend before Christmas. I have to work on Christmas day and eve and I felt very loved that they would drive 12 hours round-trip to visit me. We decided to go to Chez Liberty for our dinner on the town. I recently went there for brunch and wanted to give dinner a go because my experience was excellent.

My mom and I both have vintage mink furs (I would never buy a new fur product if that makes you feel better, ours are 'recycled') and wear them usually once a year. This was the perfect occasion because it has been in the 20s at night in Knoxville and if you have never worn a fur, they are surprisingly warm.

In my dreams, I am a true "foodie." Not necessarily someone who is a food snob, but a person who can take a bite of a dish and notice it was prepared using EVOO, white wine and cilantro without a second taste. I enjoy interesting taste combinations and a restaurant with a great wine list. Patrons will find that at Chez Liberty. We settled on a Spanish '05 Tempanillo from the winter wine menu. It was surprisingly delicious with a slight spicy aftertaste.

Dad doesn't drink wine but he did a bit of tasting with us. Our waiter brought out several Pinot Noir varieties for us to try including two amazing selections: DuMol and Clark and Telephone. I prefer DuMol, mom liked the Clark and Telephone.

For our appetizer, we ordered the Fall Provence Platter. Listen to this: pumpkin goat cheese pesto, cheese, balsamic arugula, sweet potato salad, honey balsamic reduction, herb and olive oil poached turnips, tatsoi (type of greens), and mustard greens.

My diet has changed drastically over the years and I rarely eat meat, although I'm not a vegetarian. This was a great opportunity to try something new and I enjoy dark meat poultry. Therefore, the seared duck breast was the perfect option. I couldn't resist the description: broccoli rabe, goat cheese grit cake, bourbon Clementine preserves. Wow. It was adorned with a Johnny-Jump-up (Viola).

I wish I would have taken a picture of dad's ribeye. It was served with red potatoes, grilled asparagus and garlic root. Also wonderful. Mom and I shared the duck. The portion was huge.

To add to the amazing food and wine, the head chef, Robert (trained at Le Cordon Bleu Atlanta) and the restaurant owner, Ross Young stopped by our table. Chez Liberty is a small restaurant and the two are very involved in the "community" of their space. Ross sent over a taste of a different Spanish wine and even dropped off biscotti for our coffee the next morning.

To top it all off, Johnny Swingette played jazz which increased the festive atmosphere. Young guys with an excellent, smooth sound.

Jamie's Holiday Jam

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Great idea for a holiday party - Jamie asked all the ladies to bring a wrapped ornament. We started out with the birthday closest to January 1. That person chose the first ornament, unwrapped it and birthdays after that could either chose one of those that had been unwrapped or a new package. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The food...

Ah yes... the food. The choices were amazing. Someone brought some type of ham-wrapped dill pickle dish. Amazing. Also, Jamie makes a fabulous pastry using crescent rolls, sausage pieces and cream cheese. She bakes them and WOW. They were delicious. I was also a big fan of the simple wasabi encrusted, dried peas. Tasty.

The drinks flowed, music pumped and there was lots of giggling from the all-ladies night. So much fun!

Imperfect Holidays

Friday, 17 December 2010
I read an article in a magazine about a mom who was so fed up with her sister doing everything "perfectly" over the holidays. Cards were out by Dec. 3rd, cookies were baked and iced without one smear, presents were wrapped with long, flowing, florist-like bows. She declared she was "giving up" on Christmas because she couldn't compete.

After talking to friends who discussed their "real" Christmas follies, the mom decided the holidays weren't about perfection but instead memories. In the spirit of that realization, I wanted to share some of my imperfect holiday memories. Please share yours too.

1. Christmas dinner at my dear friend Ace's house. All co-workers and TV news "orphans" were invited. Amy brought her little dog along and he lifted his leg and peed all over the Christmas tree and presents underneath. Priceless.

2. Kingsley and I invited 10 friends over for a holiday dinner. We put the pies and turkey in the oven and the power went out. After 45 minutes of no power, Kings walked to the store to get wood and matches. He was going to "braai" (grill) the turkey. Thank goodness the power came back on when he got home.

3. One of the first years I shipped presents to my grandparents, I literally sent them in flimsy a "shirt" box. I taped the edges and mailed them off. What was I thinking? They were so destroyed by the time they arrived that some of the presents had fallen out and the rest were sort of duct taped to the remains of the box. Ooops.

4. I was helping my mom bake Christmas goodies in her lovely designer kitchen in Columbus, Ohio. She is very good at everything and I tend to be a bit clumsy, especially around her. I placed walnuts in the small nut chopper device and started going to town on them. I whacked the plunger a couple of good times on the granite counter top and it took a flying leap off onto the floor shattering and scattering walnuts everywhere. After seeing my face crumble, my mom took pity on me and laughed. I bought her a new nut chopper and I always put a towel under it now for traction.

5. While living as a graduate student in student housing in Harrow, UK, I became attached to the resident cat. The Resident Assistants even made a Christmas card with his picture on the front. He was old but gorgeous. Sadly, on Christmas Eve, I went down to share a present with the big guy but he had passed away overnight. The moment was heartbreaking but I'll never forget how much comfort the International students got from that animal. Something loving and warm, so far from home.

6. Our flat in Putney was small but we wanted to have my best friend, Thabang over for dinner, have her spend the night and enjoy presents and Christmas brunch in the morning. We set up the air mattress in the "lounge" for her and it took up all the floor space. Instead of complaining about living in a match box, we all plopped down on the mattress and while it slowly deflated, we opened presents together. It was a special morning, albeit lacking in sophistication.

Brunch at Chez Liberty

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Give Chez Liberty a chance for great service and excellent food. Angelica, Casey and I enjoyed brunch there on Sunday. I tried the smoked salmon frittata with cream fraiche and dill (amazing!).

Angelica ordered the French omelet which she enjoyed and Casey tried the brunch specialty, chicken and waffles. The chicken was coated in corn flakes and served with soft triangles of waffle, all drizzled in pure maple syrup. The taste combination was surprising but delicious.

The atmosphere in Chez Liberty was nice and diners can wrap up in wool blankets while they eat and recline on down pillows. I also enjoyed the music and Mark, our server, made us feel special and important. Lovely experience!

Chef's Choice

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Over our girls' weekend Casey, Angelica and I took advantage of call ahead seating at Nama Sushi downtown and waited while one of the 6 booths cleared out.

Our server (wish I remembered her name) was attentive, knowledgeable and understood the menu. She suggested we choose 3 "Chef's Choice" sushi rolls among others and took note of our likes and dislikes before buzzing off to speak with the Chef.

One of the Chef's Choice rolls came out with kiwi, fresh tuna and cilantro oil drizzle... an amazing taste combination. This one had more of a "fruity" taste and had just a touch of ginger to give it some spice.

Our next Chef's Choice roll came out with a creamy cucumber relish and avocado topping fresh salmon ribbons. I especially liked this one because the rolls contained a little bit of cucumber as well which gave it a slightly crunchy texture.

Put your taste buds' trust in your Chef next time you are at a top-notch sushi joint. We were pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the mystery of discovering new taste sensations.

Condoleezza on her childhood

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

My father recommended Condoleezza Rice's book, Extraordinary, Ordinary People and let me borrow it when I was home over Thanksgiving. She writes about growing up in segregated Birmingham and overcoming the challenges of her parents' illnesses and her mother's early death from Cancer. Rice also talks about her rise to power and outstanding education.

Love her or hate her, Rice has an interesting story, is genuinely intelligent and has achieved more than most women at an early stage in life. She forfeited the stay-at-home-mom and wife role to earn a doctorate degree and become an expert on Soviet culture. Later, she earned tenure at Stanford and agreed to participate in political roles.

Rice began life with an excellent base. Both of her parents were educators and cared about culture and music. They raised their daughter to be an accomplished pianist, at times even sacrificing dreams such as owning a house to make sure she went to the best schools and had competent instructors. Rice was even pretty good on the ice rink. There's a funny yet deflating moment in this memoir where she admits to herself she's just too tall to be a competitive ice skater. (Did she ever try ice hockey?)

While the book is mostly void of overt political overtones, I'm still surprised that she became a fierce Republican. Most of the right leaders during her segregated childhood fought to keep "blacks and whites separate." Her father, clearly a strong influence throughout her life, was a conservative Christian and also voted as a Republican.

If you need a bit of inspiration in your own life for greater things, check out Extraordinary, Ordinary People. Rice's book is a quick, interesting read.

Hitting the Ice

Sunday, 12 December 2010

If you want some good, old-fashioned fun, try ice skating this winter. My girlfriends from undergraduate school were in town this weekend and Casey and I decided to slough off the wrinkles of maturity and get wet on the ice rink floor. Okay, luckily we didn't even fall down once but I wasn't so sure while we were waiting in line.

Casey is a good sport but I found out later this isn't her first whirl around the rink. Angelica, who you will meet in the next post, decided not to venture out on blades because she has a small child to care for (hard to do if you are in a body cast I assume). We waited for our skates and became increasingly aware of a gaggle of children running to and fro in front of us. The entire arena was full of tiny children. (Notice exhibit A below - children that are just a blur behind Casey.)

The skates were fairly new and not as uncomfortable as I remembered back in the day. Seems like skaters used to basically wear tight-fitting, wooden/leather shoes that sat atop butter knives of sorts. Ours were high-tech but alas, did not match our outfits.

Angelica stood outside the rink laughing but took cute pictures. I'm trying to pose without falling down while children perform death-defying moves all around us. Best $10 I've spent this week.

Girls Weekend

Casey and Angelica are in town and we are having a lovely time together. Friday night I made a great asparagus, mint and lemon risotto, pumpkin spice cheesecake and chocolate, walnut fudge. Yummy. The risotto turned out to be tasty - not too hard, not too mushy.

Saturday we went shopping on Market Square and ice skating on the Knoxville on ice rink. Nama Sushi for dinner Saturday evening and drinks at Crown and Goose. We had a great time and will post pictures soon. Now, we're getting ready to go to brunch at a French restaurant, Chez Liberty.

How was your weekend?


Wednesday, 8 December 2010
I am not being very good this year. I haven't even begun to order or address Christmas cards and it is already December 7th. I wanted to do a photo card but all of my recent pictures with Kingsley are in tropical locations and it just doesn't seem right to mail out cards of us wearing swimming suits.

Are you sending out cards this year? What do you think is the best kind of card to receive? My mother-in-law makes amazing cards every year with pictures of all the nieces with her and John.

I enjoy holiday "letters" that tell about what's going on with the family/person/couple for the past year.

Some people also send out Happy New Year's cards because they procrastinate just long enough to miss the holidays. Maybe we could do that...

Help Someone Out

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Image sourced from this site

I was lucky enough to be selected to be a part of the board for Friends of Literacy Knoxville this year. We're a charity that helps adults learn to read or get free tutoring so they can pass the GRE and get a job. I'm passionate about the cause because I can't imagine what my life would be like without the ability to read.

As a little girl, I would hide books under my pillow and stand on my bed at night (which was next to a window) so I could read by the light of the street lamp. Bed time meant reading time for me so after learning how to read, I wouldn't make a fuss at 9pm.

This holiday season, Friends of Literacy asked for a volunteer to host a book drive for one of the prisons we serve. I volunteered. We need paperback, non-fiction books in English and Spanish. If you would like to donate books (cleaning out your office?) or a small amount of money, please let me know and I'll pick them up. On the 3rd weekend of this month, all of the Goodwill stores have half-off shopping and I can purchase paperback books 6 for a $1. That goes a long way. I have a moderate goal, 50 books, would should be easy to gather.

Are you able to do something for someone this holiday season?

I usually buy items for the Empty Stocking Fund each year but decided to do the book drive instead. Our church usually sponsors a family in need with help from parishioners. You can also take part in an international program I heard about last night, Heifer International. For a fee, you can purchase a cow, goat, chickens... for a village in a 3rd world country. Interesting!

Disclaimer: Thoroughly research any charity you might donate to. Make sure the corporation stands for the values you subscribe to AND that it is legit.

The More Information the Better

Thursday, 2 December 2010
I am in support of Wikileaks publishing documents related to the United States government. As a journalist, I believe the more factual information we have access to, the more informed and therefore, educated we are.

When I worked at KVAL in Eugene, Oregon one of my major projects was to challenge Lane County judges on their refusal to allow cameras in the courts. Oregon state court rules clearly allow cameras in the courts in most situations. A few Lane Co. judges who were older and admitted they didn't even have TVs in their homes took it upon themselves to make up their own rules. This, in my opinion, hindered the justice process. Why? Lane County citizens could not witness what goes on inside the courtroom in major cases unless they were able to get a day off from work and sit in on it themselves.

After taking the refusal to the District Attorney and 6 months of hard work, we were finally allowed to bring our camera inside the court.

Should US Citizens know what their government is up to around the world? Should they know what happens in the depths of US-run prisons in Afghanistan? Our country has sacrificed lives, military stability and financial security for the war in Iraq. Why shouldn't we know what is happening?

It is trendy now to complain about "big government." Many people have rallied across the US to ask for less involvement from the government. Then, I wonder, why are people so angry when someone releases documents showing how the United States government conducts itself? Shouldn't there be a check and balance? Perhaps some of the statements from US diplomats about world leaders should be public anyway. Maybe they'll learn something when hearing of the impression they make on other countries.

In  modern day media, there is little privacy. Why should an entity supported financially by tax payer dollars be so protected from the public eye?

I plan to learn from the documents released and hope that in the course of disclosure, the efforts of the current administration to achieve diplomacy (a platform I support) will not be set back.

Disclaimer - my opinion is just that, my opinion. I know this is a controversial subject and respect your opinion as well.

TSA Checks

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Pat downs or body scans? Doesn't seem like travelers have that many choices while using our airlines to get from A to B. I've read some shocking stories from people with medical stories that say they were treated like any other Jane or Joe without medical problems during the body searches.

One man had to hold his hands over his head while an agent searched him in a private room (the agents gave him trouble for asking for privacy). Even though he warned of his urine bag, that didn't matter and the agent spilled it on the man. A woman with a prosthetic breast had to show it to another agent to prove what it was. The process needs to change. Security is not a one-size-fits-all situation.

Here's CNN's coverage of a 31 year old man who said to a TSA agent during a pat down, "If you touch my junk, I'm going to have you arrested."

When faced with the choice of going through a full body scanner or getting a pat down by a same-gender TSA agent, I will chose the body scanner. No way do I want a stranger intimately touching me, or touching me at all for that matter. I would rather suffer the supposed health risks of the body scanners (they are very low). Children are even subject to pat downs as listed on the TSA's website.

Where does the madness end? I was already annoyed at the sometimes senseless security measures at airports in the US (the only country that forces passengers to remove shoes during screening) before the new TSA measures came out.

Efficiency has not been mastered in United States airport security. If the system was invasive yet efficient, I'm willing to bet travelers wouldn't be so upset. This is just another rung on the ladder to miserable travel in our country. I feel sorry for the airlines.

What about you? Pat down or body scanner?


Saturday, 27 November 2010

This year on Thanksgiving, I paused to remember what I'm thankful for.
In no particular order --

My husband for his unfailing commitment to our relationship and our fight to be together.

A family that is loving, supportive and willing to share knowledge, hopes and dreams. Our network of relatives now reaches all the way around the world (US, UK and SA!).

Books, lots of non-fiction books that teach me what I want to learn.

My house. The ability to get dirty and accomplish something with my own two hands.

Violet. A cat with the sweetest disposition which loves me without fail.

An interesting job that keeps me challenged and offers opportunities for growth.

Friends that check in, know when you need a hug, and make me laugh.

What are you thankful for?

The Fence is Up

Sunday, 21 November 2010

I snapped this shot from up on the deck so yes, you can still see the neighbor's business but there's certainly a large amount of privacy now compared to before. Our properties are very close together and I spend a lot of time outdoors. The polls seem to be holding up thus far and with help from my friend Whitney, we were even able to make sure the cedar pre-constructed panels were level. (See the before pics here.)

I had to trade "up" drills 3 times during the project (thank you, Home Depot, for your amazing return policy and helpful staff). The Dewalt 3/8in Pistol Grip 7 amp drill did the trick nicely. It is hard to explain how fabulous it is to be able to zip a deck screw (star head) through a 2 x 4 and into a post without it grinding to a halt.

Because my budget for upgrades around the home is not endless, I schemed a way to save major money on the six panels, posts and labor. First, of course, I did all of the work myself (besides the hanging and drilling with Whitney and the panel arranging with Hillary). I also purchased the panels on Craigslist for $20 each ($38 at the hardware store) since they are odd pieces. I used the panels in an "every other" pattern but made sure they were all the same height at the top. For the "shorter" pieces, I want to plant boxwood bushes (Kingsley's clever idea) at the base or arrange landscaping stones.

Thanks again to Whitney who is in her early 20s, tiny, but STRONG. She was lifting the panels easily and never split one while drilling (which I did). 

There is still a bit of work to do on the last panel. It looks crooked to me and I need to secure the final post (it is wobbly now) but what you see in the first picture is the final product for that section. Exciting!

Unwind, Be Kind

I was stressed out yesterday at work. My story assignment changed when we were almost to the first story and I was kind of tired. We drove around rural East Tennessee trying to get interviews about and video of a dog that was shot 3 times and starved. A woman found the dog and took it to the vet and it is expected to live.

When we finally made it to the vet's office to do the interview, we had to wait in the lobby for 15 minutes. While waiting, 2 young children started hovering around me and asking 100 questions about being "on TV." They were loud, they would scream, jump up and down and run around and no one seemed to be watching them.

Internal dialog: I really wish we could just get video of the dog while the vet is busy so we can get out of here sooner. Why are these kids acting like crazy fools? If she steps on my boots one more time... No, I don't want your post-it note pen/highlighter picture. I can't even tell what that's a drawing of... Sunshine? That's original.

To the kids' faces, I smiled, answered questions but acted aloof.

Later, after the interview, I noticed the children (there was later a third one in the mix) were hanging all over one of the people who worked there. She was trying to give them hugs and reassure them while working, interacting with pet owners and dealing with a TV news crew.

While I waited for my photographer to get an extra shot of the dog going back into his crate, I sat back down in the lobby. My mood was lighter because the weight of getting the vet to interview had been lifted. The little girls scurried back over to me.

I said, "Is that your mom?" The little one said, "No, that's our Mamaw." "My mom is... well... I don't want to... tell you about my mom. She is not here and that's why my Mamaw watches us. My mom (this part she said whispering) is not a very nice person."

I took the time to look at the kids. They were healthy and dressed nicely but they weren't smiling. They had a hollow look in their eyes and needed attention. My heart sank thinking about the time I could have spent being nice to them (just a few minutes!) and giving them something positive to concentrate on.  I am ashamed of how I acted.

It was a good reminder to spend extra time using love and kindness to communicate - even with strangers. You never know what someone else is going through and how an unselfish gesture or extra effort to give a genuine smile can go a long way.

Vegetarian Chili and Corn Bread

Sunday, 14 November 2010

1 (12 oz) can northern beans (white beans)
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes with oregano and garlic
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 T vegetable oil
1 t dried oregano
1 t dried basil
1/2 t celery salt
1 t chili powder
2 squeezes of tomato ketchup

T = tablespoon
t = teaspoon

1 box Jiffy (or other) corn bread mix
If the recipe doesn't call for it, add 2 T of vegetable oil to the mix to make sure it is moist.

Put oil in a large pot over medium heat, add onions and garlic and saute for 10 minutes. I usually add a dash of water so I don't burn the garlic which I tend to do.

Add chili powder and celery salt, allow to heat with the onions and garlic

Add can of beans (including liquid).
Add can of tomatoes (including liquid).
Add basil, oregano, ketchup.
Bring to a boil.

Turn to low heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Serve with cornbread.

The Grapes of Wrath

Saturday, 13 November 2010
I'm going to blog about The Grapes of Wrath before I read the many online reviews. I don't know how I made it through 10 years of school without reading this. My copy was 50 cents at a thrift store and from the first page, I was hooked.

Image from Black Cat Books

The book is by John Steinbeck (his East of Eden is also a favorite). If you have never had the pleasure of reading one of his vintage treats, add it to your Christmas list.

The Grapes of Wrath is set in the 1930s during the migration to California but is eerily similar to current day events. The narrative follows the life of a farmer family from Oklahoma. They have to lease their long-owned land to the bank to afford to eat and eventually the bank comes in and forecloses. The land is worked over by "modern machines" and the Joad family stays until one of the tractors knocks their 100 year old house off its foundation.

Steinbeck is absolutely incredible in his use of descriptive language. As a wanna-be writer, I admire the way he makes a reader feel like she is in the scene he paints with words. I am also impressed how he captures the linguistics of the farmers.

Pa (talking about preparing a pig before they leave for California, Chapter 10): "We gotta figger when to start. Sooner the better. What we gotta do 'fore we go is get them pigs slaughtered an' in salt, an' pack our stuff an' go. Quicker the better, now."

One of the best monologues in the book comes from the Preacher in Chapter 8 (who has lost his religion). The family asks him to say grace over breakfast and after giving the disclaimer that he is no longer a preacher, they bow their heads and he says:

"I been in the hills, thinkin', almost you might say like Jesus went into the wilderness to think His way out of a mess of troubles..." "Seems like Jesus got all messed up with his troubles, and He couldn't figure nothin' out, an' He got to feelin' what the hell good is it all, an' what's the use fightin' an figurin'. Got tired, got good an' tired, an' His spirit all wore out. Jus' about come to the conclusion, the hell with it. An' so He went off into the wilderness..." "I ain't sayin' I'm like Jesus, but I got tired like Him, an' I got mixed up like Him, an' I went into the wilderness like Him, without no campin' stuff. Nighttime I'd lay on my back an' watch the sun come up; midday I'd look out from a hill at the rollin' dry country; evenin' I'd foller the sun down. Sometimes I'd pray like I always done. On'y I couldn' figure what I was prayin' to or for. There was the hills, an' there was me, an' we wasn't so separate no more. We was one thing. An' that one thing was holy..." "An' I got thinkin', on'y it wasn't thinkin', it was deeper down than thinkin'. I got thinkin' how we was holy when we was one thing, an' mankin' was holy when it was one thing. An'  it on'y got unholy when one mis'able little fella got the bit in his teeth an' run off his own way, kickin' an' draggin' an' fightin'. Fella like that bust the holiness. But when they're all workin' together, not one fella for another fella, but one fella kind of harnessed to the whole shebang- that's right, that's holy. An' then I got to thinkin' I don't even know what I mean by holy..." "I can't say no grace like I use' ta say. I'm glad of the holiness of breakfast. I'm glad there's love here. That's all."

The family fights a bitter battle across the country in one old truck. They believe they'll find green land and good jobs in California. When they arrive, they discover the truth -- men are paid as little as possible to pick fruit by big-time farmers and companies. There are more workers than jobs so they can be paid pennies because men will do anything to feed their families. People go hungry, they have no place to live, no jobs and a lack of sanitary conditions. The rich get richer and the poor die. Grandma and Grandpa Joad die on the journey and the 19 year old daughter Rose of Sharon who was happy loses her husband and her unborn child.

Why is this a good read you may wonder? It isn't a feel-good book, obviously, but the story seems bigger than just a novel. The story is the struggle of every family that doesn't have enough. For every couple that attempts to achieve the American dream the right way, Steinbeck's story gives the reality that it isn't always possible. He writes for the little guy. The man who had a farm, was trying to raise a family and lost everything. The man pushes on with hope and he reaches the end, the West coast and still cannot find work to feed his family. The corporations hate him. The powerful people call him an "Oakie" and offer no help when his son literally starves. Law enforcement hate the "Oakies" and arrest them and beat them for made up charges. How sad to get to that point as humans. (Reminds me of the immigration fight in the U.S. now.)

The ending is one I'll never forget. I puzzled over it all day. What does it mean that she "smiled mysteriously?" You'll have to read the book because I don't want to spoil it completely but here's what I think -- Rose of Sharon was unimportant the entire story. She had dreams and plans for herself. When she lost the baby, she was again on the back burner. She is the one needed at the end. She is able to save a life and she is pleased, proud of her power.

For Dinner

In my dream world, this is what I would have for dinner -- 

Image from

First course: Veuve Clicquot's La Grande Dame Champagne, Russian Sevruga Caviar on rye crackers with creme fraiche.

Second course: King Estate (Oregon, Willamette Valley) Chardonnay '07, Brie with blueberries and walnuts, dash of honey

Third course: Lucia (California) Pinot Noir '08, butternut squash soup, crusty, fresh, French bread with rosemary herb butter

Main course: Christian Moueix Encore (France, Bordeaux region) Merlot '05, (Grass-fed) filet mignon, medium, lobster tail with steamed brussel sprouts and smashed chestnuts

Dessert: Milk chocolate peanut butter fudge, decaffeinated coffee with sugar and cream 

The wine choices are not too creative but I'd love this menu to just appear. What do you fancy?

Privacy Fence update #1

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Here's the first hole I dug and the post, plumb and ready for concrete. The digging was extremely difficult but I think putting in the flagstone patio myself was harder than this project (so far).

I did cut corners while putting in the posts so I don't want you to think I'm completely amazing. I was only able to dig the posts down to 19" each (another 6" would have been ideal) but I used landscaping timbers rather than 4x4 posts. They will not stay up forever but for now, they are perfect.

Middle school science lessons about the earth came back to me while I was digging the 6 post holes. Top soil is easy to get through but it only about 2 inches deep (in Knoxville, Tennessee). Next, you hit sort of a gravely  subsoil which is 4 inches deep, then you're digging red dirt with rocks. Past that, you hit hard, red clay that sticks to the diggers.

It was slow going. I literally dug a couple of scoops with my post hole digger then used a maddock to break up what I could, scooped with a spade and stabbed the soil to break it up and then started the process again. It was tedious work and today my right wrist is killing me.

The picture is blurry, sorry, but you can see the progress. I put up 6 posts (the far one is down a little hill and in a bit on purpose) and the opposite side of the fence-to-be is the neighbor's property. I'm putting up 6 cedar panels and I hope they like how it looks. 

When you hang a privacy fence, keep in mind you are supposed to put the "nice" side out and the posts will be on your side as well.

Next, I prepared the concrete. I used my spade and put 15 scoops into a large bucket, added water and mixed with the spade. Then I dropped it into the holes (around back filling such as broken bricks) and used the level to make sure both the wide and the "in" sides of the posts were level.

(Supposedly you are supposed to mix concrete in a wheel barrow and while I do have one, I preferred to mix in a large bucket using smaller tools. My neighbor across the street came over to watch me working and said, "I've never seen anyone mix concrete in a bucket!" I was brave, smiled and said, "Well, that doesn't matter." He also asked, "Who dug the holes for you??" Grrrr.)

The concrete hasn't quite cured today (dried) so I'm going to wait until Sunday to put up the panels.

Privacy Fence

Tuesday, 9 November 2010
The houses in my neighborhood are very close together and the next door neighbors (on one side) have three large dogs and an above-ground pool. We could both use some privacy.

Lowe's came out and priced a privacy fence at $1,900. Another guy said he could do it for $2,300. That's beyond my budget but I'm not one to give up. 

6ft x 8ft fence panels at Home Depot are $38 but I found seven cedar panels on Craigslist for $20 each. The guy only charged $20 for delivery so I've saved $106 so far on materials.

The big news is:  I'm going to dig the holes and set the posts myself. Then, I'll just have to get someone to help me hold the panels and screw them in. Woo-hoo.

I have a post hole digger, level, spray paint to mark the ground, tape measure, shovel, wheel barrow, cement, water, string and posts. Project Day begins first thing in the morning. Thank goodness the forecast is sunny, 75F. Perfect.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Law of Attraction

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Kingsley suggested The Secret the other night and I rented it on iTunes. (Pretty cool feature... you can rent movies online!) The narrative is presented in a documentary format and the "experts" discuss the Law of Attraction. It basically works like this - you maintain positive thoughts, more positive things will come your way.

The Law of Attraction is based on a premise that humans emit energy while thinking, moving and interacting. Positive energy attracts positive energy (so they say). People who wish to take advantage of the Law of Attraction are to focus on joy, success and gratitude while imagining more of it in our lives.

Have you ever studied The Secret? I kind of remember when it was all the rage because of Oprah a few years ago. She had the author of the book on her show and so did Larry King. Here's a link to some "success stories" on The Secret website.

I am not one for gimmicks or quick fixes but I already believe a positive attitude makes things better through influencing others. Thoughts?

Mani Money

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Picture from These are not my nails!

Do you ever think, ladies, for one moment the reason men are so far ahead of us in this world has to do with their grooming habits?

I spend God knows how much on makeup, facials and hair maintenance each month and I guarantee it is much more than my male colleagues spend. Add fingernails to the equation and let's face it, ladies. We spend an exorbitant amount of hard earned cash trying to uphold some sort of standard set for us by the fashion and beauty industry. Remember, they are trying to make money off of our vanity.

Many women I know get a manicure each week. Many women I know also pay for a pedicure each week. I used to be one of those ladies. I preferred a French (white tip) manicure and pedicure. Years ago, I even had artificial nails.

What's changed? This. Men in my industry and yours too, I'm sure, do not paint their nails or toes and few of them get regular manicures and pedicures. I have stopped painting my nails and I likely will not take up the habit again. I will still get a manicure when I need one but it will be natural. Here's why: nail polish does not stay on. I absolutely hate looking down and seeing chipped polish. It is like nails on a chalk board (no pun intended) for me. I could get my nails painted and manicured every 5 days but I feel the money and time spent on this is a waste. I'd rather be saving $35 a week towards a vacation home or spending that extra hour working in the garden or learning something.

Will I stop wearing makeup and using conditioning treatment on my hair next? No. Will I stop paying a handful of hard cash for designer handbags? Maybe. I do enjoy being glamorous and spending money on my appearance but only when I have it to burn, which is rarely.

Manicure or pedicure anyone?