Thursday, January 31, 2013

How to Eat for Free (Or Cheap) on Your Birthday

Tomorrow's (February 1) is my birthday. I'm pretty sure you already knew that because I mentioned it earlier this week; plus, I love my birthday and usually celebrate for about a week. Oddly enough I share my birthday with the daughter of my college roomie, Melissa. I think Melissa's daughter will be six this year, but I've probably lost track and she can let us know in the comments. I also share my birthday with a girl I go to church with and she also lives down the street from me and went to the same school as me (only about 13 years after me). So, February 1 is a good day indeed.

I may have mentioned it before but am not sure I have ever gone into great detail about it and so today, I wanted to let you know how you can eat free for about a week just for having a birthday. One of the web sites I frequent and follow on the Twitter is Hey It's Free. This site lists all sorts of freebies from soap to dog treats and you can often get a lot of good loot if you follow the site often enough. The key is to register for items as soon as you can because those of us who like freebies swarm to the freebies and then the freebie is no more.

At any rate, Hey It's Free has a great page on their site which lists a slew of restaurants and other such establishments that will send you a coupon for a free something-or-other around the time of your birthday. You have anywhere from one to two weeks to redeem your freebie and they are often really great deals. For example, Monday night I had a small Schlotzsky's sandwich for dinner and paid nothing for it. Wednesday night I ate a free entree from Moe's Southwest Grill. I have also received coupons for $5 off at Jason's Deli and McAlister's Deli as well as a free bagel and cream cheese (with purchase of a drink) from Breugger's and a free cookie cake slice (with drink purchase) from Great American Cookie. There are lots of others as well. I also have a Panera card which has been loaded with a surprise. For my birthday last year I received a Starbucks card from some friends and I registered it online with Starbucks and I reload it from time to time and continue using it. That card has been loaded with a free drink which I plan to redeem quite soon. So, you see, you can load up on all kinds of great treats just because you are having a birthday.

For those of you interested in eating free (or on the cheap) for your birthday, check out the Birthday Freebie List on the Hey It's Free Web Site. Please note that you must click on each individual link for the restaurant/store to receive your birthday surprise. I had told a co-worker about this a few weeks ago and she thought you could just sign up for the Hey It's Free newsletter and you would automatically receive a birthday freebie from every place on the list. Um, no, that's not how it works. So, go to each web site and register. I would suggest using a junk email account because most of the places will send you random promotional emails throughout the year.

So, get out there and register for those birthday freebies and you too can eat free (or on the cheap) for a week when your birthday rolls around.

Don't forget you have until 11:59 p.m. tonight to enter the Fourth Blogiversary Giveaway!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Opinion on Thank You Notes

It seems like Erika had mentioned a while back that I should do a post on thank you notes and I don't think I ever got around to it... until today. You see, Erika and I are sticklers for thank you notes, but sadly, Erika and I are a dying breed. What got me thinking about writing on the subject was that I am writing the thank you notes for the food, flowers, etc. on behalf of my family for all the kind things people did for us after the passing of my grandfather; and so, since I am knee deep in thank you notes, I figured I might as well blog about them too.

I suppose these days thank you notes are most often written when someone receives a gift; most often a wedding or baby gift. Most web sites I've searched say to send a thank you note as soon as possible, within 48 hours if you can. I've been to a lot of wedding showers, weddings and baby showers were the guest of honor has received hundreds of gifts and let's face it, sending out 100 thank you notes within 48 hours is next to impossible. I know my hand starts cramping after just a few and I can only imagine the state of my hand after hundreds. Of course, with a wedding, the groom sometimes helps (I can hear you chuckling) but more often than not the bride is the one who does all the writing. In my opinion, for a large shower where a large number of gifts are received, all notes should be written within two weeks and thank you notes for gifts received at a wedding should be written upon return from the honeymoon and sent out as quickly as possible. The same applies for baby gifts as well. If you receive hundreds of gifts then I think a two week limit is appropriate. If you are receiving just a handful or gifts or one at a time, then write the note immediately.

You may think these are some strict rules for thank you notes, but to me it's just common courtesy. I, for one, get pretty upset when I don't receive a thank you note from someone for a wedding or baby gift and then I usually call Erika and say, "Can you believe I sent so-and-so a gift and it's been one month and I still have not received a thank you note". I don't know about the rest of you, but when I don't receive a thank you note, it makes me less inclined to buy that person a gift again in the future. I personally find it to be quite rude and thoughtless. In fact, I can give you a list of names of people for whom I bought a gift and never received a thank you note. It's not something I mentally try to track, it's just something that sticks out and leaves a less than favorable impression.

When someone in your family passes and you received food, flowers, etc., I think it is best to write the notes and send them out no later than a week after the funeral, which is why I am in a crunch this week to send out cards. I am mailing them as I get them completed and have done about 15 so far and have probably 20 or 30 more to do, or at least that's how it seems, I really haven't counted. It just seems like my list grows by the minute. I've had to track down a lot of people to get various addresses which has also slowed my process, but thank you notes are important to me and I want them done properly and sent out promptly.
Other times where thank you notes should be written are when you receive birthday gifts, when someone brings you food when you are sick, when someone volunteers to watch your children so you can go out to dinner with your spouse, etc. Use your best judgment - typically when someone does something nice for you, a thank you note is the best answer.

I was thinking this week, and I think this was mentioned in a grief seminar at church one time, that a really nice gift for families who have lost someone would be a basket of thank you notes and stamps. I hope to remember to provide this for people in the future because it would certainly have come in handy for us.
Now, there are times when I think you can skip the thank you notes. For example, at Christmas when you are exchanging gifts with family and friends, I think it's okay to skip a thank you note. However, if you receive a gift from someone unexpectedly, it's always nice to send a thank you note. You certainly don't want to appear ungrateful.

Over the weekend, or maybe it was one day last week, I had the Today Show on while I was getting ready and they had a gentleman on and he was discussing various topics of etiquette. His name was Philip Galanes and he writes an article for The New York Times called Social Q. Anyway, one of the topics he was discussing was thank you notes. Apparently he had interviewed some children for the piece and one of the children said something along the lines of "if I have to write a thank-you note I had rather not get a gift." I'm pretty sure I had to pick myself up off the floor after hearing that. I was so shocked and quite frankly appalled. Although with the state of our nation, it really should not have come as that much of a surprise. Clearly, thank you notes will soon be a thing of the past and Erika and I will be the only ones left writing them.

Y'all it really doesn't take that much effort to write a thank you note. Even with the cost of stamps rising, you can still send a thank you note for less than $2 (including the cost of the card) and a little time and it will bring the recipient a lot of joy and gratefulness that you took time out of your day to remember that you appreciate them taking time and spending money on you.

You can call me old fashioned or a stick in the mud but as long as I live I will be a stickler for the thank you note and I hope you will be as well. Vive le thank you note!

Reminder: You have until tomorrow night at 11:59 p.m. to enter the Fourth Blogiversary Giveaway. No thank you note required if you win. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

And Life Goes On

I'm attempting to get back in the swing of things, which for some reason makes our loss seem that much sadder. I spent much of the day Monday in tears and wished I had time to take off and stay home; but, I will probably wish that for a while and life must go on even when I think the world should hit pause.

The visitation for my grandfather was last Thursday night and over 250 people came. One of my cousins was counting and stopped counting (for whatever reason) after reaching 250. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that the faces and embraces of family and friends provided so much comfort to all of us. Before the visitation started, the family had a few minutes alone in the chapel where we watched the slide show that had been put together from pictures we provided. I think those few minutes together did us all a lot of good as we were able to laugh and have a few minutes of happiness before greeting those who came to pay their respects. The slide show was great. Since each family pulled together photos, there were many that others had not seen. The one that received the most comments was a photo of the whole family at Christmas in the early 1980s and I am picking my nose. We are supposed to receive a copy of the photos and slide show on a disc and once I do, I'll try to figure out how to post it so you can see it and perhaps laugh as well. By the time the night was over, we were all pretty exhausted and my feet and legs were extremely tired from standing for three straight hours.

The funeral was Friday and my dad, uncle, brother and cousin did the service and it was beautiful. I thought they each did a fantastic job and I am really proud of all four of them. I liked my dad's the best because he told some great stories that had everyone laughing and I think everyone needs a dose of laughter during sad times. My dad's stories never cease to make me laugh and all the people at the funeral enjoyed the stories as well. The church was packed and it was a blessing to be surrounded by the love of all the people there.

At the cemetery, my dad, aunt and grandmother did a dove release which seems to have become a tradition at our family funerals the past few years. The weather was overcast and misting rain and as a result, it was hard to follow the flight of the doves for more than just a few seconds. A small group of us stayed as they tore down the canopy and seats and waited for the dirt to be brought in. I wanted to shovel some dirt into the grave as did my dad and aunt and so we each did that and then my brother did as well. Once the grave was filled and the flowers were placed on top we left, which was really hard to do. I just felt like standing there forever.

On Saturday we had a celebration of my granddad's life with family and a handful of close friends. Apparently my granddad had told my dad that when he died he wanted us to have a big party to celebrate his life and that is exactly what we did. There were 30 or so people in attendance and we had steak, baked potato, salad and rolls and there was a hodgepodge of desserts brought by some of the people who came. We also did a balloon release which was very cool and kind of comforting in a way.

Afterwards people shared stories about my granddad and we were able to enjoy a few laughs together. While we were sitting around listening to and telling stories, my cousin Lauren's baby Greer, climbed up beside my dad and sat next to him and then got right in his face almost nose to nose. I think babies, much like dogs, probably know when we are hurting and it seemed like little Greer wanted to provide some comfort to my dad and it was one of the sweetest things I have seen in a long while.

Sunday we all went to church together as a family and then my dad's brother and his group went on home and so now we must adjust to this new normal, which is not very easy. Monday was difficult - for some reason getting back into a regular routine just didn't feel right. Instead I felt like the world should stop for a few days; but life goes on and so must we.

I want to say thanks to all of you for your prayers and support and outpouring of love over the last week. It has certainly helped us all through this difficult time and we are blessed and grateful to have such a wonderful network of friends.

On another note, don't forget you have until Thursday night to enter the Fourth Blogiversary Giveaway!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Blogiversary Number Four - And A Giveaway!

~~~ This Giveaway Is Now Closed  ~~~

Tomorrow, January 29, 2013, will be my four-year blogiversary! It's hard to believe that four years have passed since I started The Chronicles of Nat and even harder to believe that I've actually kept up with the writing. I want to thank all of you for hanging in there with me all these years. Thanks for stopping by and reading and thanks for your comments and words of encouragement. Your comments make me laugh and your questions often help me think of other things to write about. I haven't been the best blogger in 2013, but hopefully things will turn around soon and I'll be back to a normal blogging schedule soon.

I'm writing about my blogiversary a day early because I want to give everyone the whole week to enter this year's blogiversary giveaway. As a thank you for all the support you have given me these four years, I'll be giving away one copy of "Southern Living the Official SEC Tailgating Cookbook: Great Food Legendary Teams Cherished Traditions". I bought one of these at Christmas to give away for a round of dirty Santa but ended up keeping it for myself and giving away something else instead. This book has a lot of great recipes for sandwiches, appetizers, canapes, and beverages. It also includes photos and stories from all 14 SEC schools. Even if you don't like football or tailgating, I think you will enjoy this cookbook because it really has a lot of great recipes in it that can be used for any type of party.

I wish I had one to give each and every one of you, but, alas, I don't, I only splurged for one. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post. You can shout out happy blogiversary, or you can suggest a topic for me to write about, or say what you like best about stopping in here each week or just say hi; but, you must leave a comment to be entered. The contest will stay open through Thursday night at 11:59 p.m. and I will announce a winner on Friday, February 1, which also happens to be my birthday! The winner will be selected using

Thanks again for stopping by each week and good luck!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

An Unexpected Goodbye

As if I haven't already said it enough, 2013 is, so far, a less than stellar year. My Monday night certainly didn't go as I expected. the girls came over to watch the second and third episodes of Downton and also my friend Denny made an appearance at my request. Denny is a computer whiz and I needed some help with a new router and so he came over and solved my issue. Although now, bless him, I need him to come back because one of my computers won't connect to the internet and I am beyond perplexed as to how to solve it. Thank goodness for friends with computer smarts.

Denny left and the girls and I watched Downton although I was a bit unsettled throughout the night and was in and out of the room for various and sundry things. After the second episode, the girls left and I cleaned up a bit and then went to bed after reading for all of about 10 minutes. I had not slept well the previous two nights and had a feeling I was finally going to catch up on some much needed rest.

About 11:30, there was a knock on the door. I didn't even hear the knock, but The Tide did and she ferociously jumped out of the bed and went to the front door and barked and barked and barked. I thought to myself that she would eventually stop barking and just laid there wondering what had rattled her. Then I heard a voice say, "Natasha, it's your brother, Justin." I actually didn't hear what he said, just my name and I knew it was his voice. I finally got up and went to the door. He had a girl with him and I first thought it was Jackie, but couldn't tell and I wondered to myself, why is she with Justin and where are her children. Then I realized it wasn't her, but still couldn't tell who it was - all of this was taking place in about 10 seconds time of course, it seemed like minutes. Finally I realized it was my cousin, Brittany. My first thought was that Justin had fallen off the wagon and been kicked out of my parents house and was looking for a place of refuge. I opened the door and asked, "what?" and he said "Can we come in?" Still thinking that he was probably hammered I said, "no, what are you doing here?" Then he told me the news... my granddad had died.

My granddad, Ben Paul Parker, has not been in good health for a while. As my dad said, we have had him on borrowed time for quite a while now. We thought we were going to lose him on more than one occasion in the past few years, but the Lord saw fit to give us more time together. We are not sure what happened exactly - a heart attack, stroke, burst of an aneurysm - but, whatever it was, it happened quick and quite honestly, that is a bit of a blessing. 

In December we had family photos made. My cousin Alexandra took them for us and I know everyone feels very blessed to have these last family photos with my granddad. I hope to be able to put some thoughts down in the next day or two so that I can express to you how special my granddad was to me. We didn't always get along or see eye to eye, but he holds a special place in my heart and I will forever be grateful for having him in my life these (almost) 36 years.

I will try to remember to list the arrangements on here for you as well because I know some of you knew my granddad and might like to pay your respects. We appreciate your love and support at this time and above all else ask that you keep us all in your prayers.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Best of Weekends

Happy Monday y'all! I hope your weekend was as good as mine was because it was a really great weekend for me. I was kind of sad to see it go. Actually, I'm sad to see every weekend go.
Friday morning I arrived at work and after getting out of my car I realized that I had parked in a spot which contained a dead cat. (Sorry, but it's true.) Needless to say, that was a pretty gross way to start the day. I emailed maintenance and asked them to please remove the cat from the parking spot; thankfully they did and I didn't have to see it again. I put in a very long 10-hour day and was more than ready to go by the time I left the building.

I picked up some dinner on the way home because I did not feel like cooking a thing. When I got home, there was a note on my door from my neighbor Jeff. He had made some Pasta Fagioli and the note said if I wanted some to bring over a bowl and I did just that. I chatted with Jeff for a while since I don't ever see him in the winter - I always give him a hard time about this and when I left I said, "I'll see you in the spring!" Jeff does a lot of gardening, etc. and so I often see him out and about during the warm months, but in the winter, I never see him. While I was there I asked him if he was the one who brought my garbage can up from the street last week. He was not the one, so I'm guessing it was probably the girl who lives next door.

Saturday morning I set out with an agenda and I accomplished all of it in record time and had a really great day. I had a haircut scheduled for 8:00 a.m. and after my haircut I walked over to Brady's Shoe Repair to see if there was any hope for my beloved brown shoes. the man said, and I quote, "you know these are throw aways, right?" It was the news I suspected I would receive but was hoping I would not. Alas, there is no hope for the beloved browns and so I will forever be on a quest to find another pair that matches my love for this one.

After I left Brady's, I went and got a car wash. I mainly wanted to clean the inside of my car, but the outside was pretty disgusting as well. I got it cleaned up and I swear to you I think it started running better. Sometimes all an old car needs is some TLC. Next on the agenda was picking up some prescriptions from Publix which took all of five minutes. I also bought some candy for my next stop - the movie theater. I think I have mentioned my refillable popcorn bucket that I purchased from the theater in December. This past weekend was $1 refills (they are usually $3.50) so I was pretty excited about loading up on popcorn for a one whole American dollar. It doesn't get much better than that, folks.

The first movie on my agenda was Argo and it started at 10:10. I got my bucket of popcorn and my contraband diet coke (carried in my purse) and found a seat towards the top. I brought my Kindle along and did some reading before the previews started. This movie came out in the fall and I have had it on my "movies to see" list since it first came out, but it's not often that I make it to the movie theater during football season so I never found an opportunity to see it. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it was back on the slate for this past weekend and jumped at the chance to see it.

The movie got out at 12:15, which gave me what I thought was an hour and 15 minutes before the next movie, which I thought started at 1:30. So, I went over to Target and walked the aisles looking for nothing in particular. Apparently Target is getting ready to move in their spring and summer merchandise because they have a lot of items on clearance right now. I bought a set of flannel sheets for $7.48; they had originally been $24.99. I went back to the car to drive back to the theater and then realized that the side view mirror on my passenger side had fallen off - not the whole thing, just the glass portion of the mirror. I have no idea when or where it happened, but can only imagine it happened in the car wash and it took me that long to realize it was gone.

I got back to the movie theater about 1:17 and got in line to buy my ticket for Silver Linings Playbook. Much to my surprise, the movie started at 1:15, not 1:30 as I had thought. I have no idea where I got 1:30 from because after looking at my list I had indeed written down 1:15. The previews had already started when I walked in, but I found a seat towards the top and settled in for what was an absolutely hilarious and heartwarming movie. I loved it.

After the second movie, I headed home. I spent the rest of the day doing some cleaning and catching up on the DVR and I had Jeff's very delicious Pasta Fagioli for dinner. It was probably the best Saturday I've had in I don't know how long. In the middle of the night, I heard a car crash and as it turns out, the mailbox and trash can down the street were apparently the victims of someone's drunk driving (I assume). Thankfully, it was just a mailbox and trash can and not my car.

Sunday I ordered a replacement mirror for Blue. It comes with adhesive; so, hopefully I can repair it myself. Fingers crossed anyway.I'll be sure and let you all know how that goes.

P.S. I did make it to the funeral last week. I'll tell you about it tomorrow (if I don't forget).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Today I'm Bringing The Random

I'm stringing together another set of random thoughts for you today because, well, that's how I roll. You can thank me in the comments. So, it's not only raining today, but it's also sleeting, and snowing. In other words, it's still wet outside. As I'm typing this, folks are abandoning ship and heading home from work. I already had plans to leave early to attend a funeral, but at this point I'm not sure I'll be able to make it to the funeral, which makes me very sad. There is, however, hope on the horizon because according to the forecast I saw this morning, after today, there is no more rain in the forecast for the next seven days. It might be a modern day miracle.

Monday is my garbage collection day (I told you this was going to be a series of random thoughts) and when I got home Monday afternoon one of my very sweet neighbors had brought my garbage can up from the street and placed it on the side of my house in its resting place. I thought that was just the nicest thing. I have no idea which neighbor did it, but it really made my day and I was very grateful to not have to drag up the can in the pouring rain.

Jackie told me recently about a scam going on in town where people come door to door selling cleaning supplies and then they scope out your house and come back the next day and burglar you. I had not heard anything about it on the news, but then again, I hardly pay attention to anything in the news that doesn't involve Lance Armstrong or Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend. Anyway, on Tuesday night, the doorbell rang and there was some hoodlum outside the door. I didn't even give him a chance to say anything, I just yelled, "I'm not interested!" and slammed the door. The Tide acted like a ferocious beast so if this guy was part of the scam Jackie told me about, then maybe he won't come back for fear that he will be eaten alive by a dog that walks on three legs. So far, my house has not been broken in to and I hope it stays that way.

I remembered this week that I completely forgot to tell you about the best Christmas card I received this past Christmas. It was from The Tide. She really is talented! She signed it, mailed it and everything!

I have a sneaking suspicion something is about to be very wrong with my car. The last two mornings the power steering hasn't been so great when I first started the car and there have been a couple of high pitched squeals coming from under the hood like a belt was whining. I suspect it might be the alternator. I've had many experiences with a bad alternator and therefore this is my first inclination. I could be wrong. I mean, maybe the car has just been really cold. Whatever the problem is, I hope it won't cost me an arm and a leg to repair.

I think this is all the random bit of news I have for the moment. I'm soon about to brave the world of snow and ice and will report back as to whether or not I make it to the funeral. I sure hope I am able to make it because this gentleman was one of my favorite people and I would like to pay my respects, but it seems the weather may have another plan in store for me.
Stay safe and warm everyone!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Few Paragraphs for Wednesday

I got an email from my Aunt Linda today and she basically threatened to disown me if I didn't step up the blogging. Okay, she didn't really threaten to disown me, but she did encourage me to churn out some posts. She has been stuck at home with pneumonia and is living vicariously through my posts, bless her heart. So, in hopes of staying in her good graces, I'm just going to ramble on about nothing in particular today.

Another day in 2013, another death. I am not even kidding, y'all - one day after writing about knowing seven people to pass away in the last two weeks, an eighth person I know passed away and then my Aunt Linda told me about another person who I did not know directly, but I do know her father-in-law. I've never quite experience anything like this before. I am certainly hoping there is a break in this pattern soon.

In a completely random turn of events, Tony was in town this week and was at my place of employment on Tuesday as a customer. I won't go into all the gory details as to why he was here because that's boring and you probably wouldn't even know what I'm talking about. He had told me last week that he was coming in and as it turns out he had to interact with our old boss whom we both dislike. I did not see Tony while he was here, he was hoping to be able to stop by and say hello, but as a visitor, he has to be escorted and he wasn't able to shake his escort and I don't have access to the area he was in so we weren't able to say hello. I did, however, get a few emails and texts from people who were being nosey. I don't know if they were concerned I might stab Tony with a plastic fork from the cafeteria or burst into tears or what, but it cracked me up each time someone asked me about it. One guy said it was like seeing a ghost - that was by far the funniest comment of the day. I guess when you come back to your former place of employment it's like you're a rock star because Tony said he got stopped by a lot of different people and some people stopped by to say hello who he wasn't even close friends with. I think we have both gotten a laugh or two out of his visit.

In case you didn't know, it's raining again today. If I'm ever home during the hours of daylight, I will try to snap a photo of the house across the street from mine. It always floods in his backyard when it rains but this time it is more flooded than it has ever been before and honestly I can't even tell how bad it is, I've only seen the glistening water in the moonlight and am myself curious to see it during the day. I usually leave before the sun comes up and am home after the sun goes down so it will most likely be the weekend before I'm able to take a photo, if I remember.

Sunday night, my cousin Chris and his lovely wife Amy sat with me at church and when we left it was pouring rain. Chris was talking to someone and Amy said to me, "Chris will get your car for you." I told her that was okay because I'm single and used to it. Long story short, she had me wait around to see if he would offer and when he got done talking, he looked and her and said he was going to get the car and ran off which had us both laughing because clearly, he didn't offer to get mine. He did drive me to my car, which was nice. I'm not used to such first class service!

Today a work a girl asked me how much weight I had lost and I looked at her like she was crazy - um, none! Apparently I need to wear this same outfit every day because she kept going on and on about how nice I looked. I said, "Well, I sure am glad I ran into you today!" I need someone to light a fire under my backside and get me motivated to get back to the gym. I did really well the week I was on vacation and also the first week of the year but then with all the funeral visitations and hosting Bible studies, and going to the vet, etc. I just haven't had time to get back on a regular schedule. I had signed up for a Women on Weights class at the Y and paid for it a couple of weeks ago. It's a small group of women only that work with a personal trainer for six weeks. Then, on Monday, I got an email from the instructor and she is having foot surgery and will be in a cast for eight weeks and she could not find a substitute instructor. So, the class has been cancelled until she returns from surgery. I was really counting on these sessions to get me back in a regular routine and now I'm going to have to just count on myself. I always feel much better after being at the gym, getting there in the first place seems to be my problem and this weather sure isn't helping things.

I think this is all I have for today. Hopefully this will be okay for my Aunt Linda. Everyone stay warm and dry - it's an almost impossible feat these days!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

So Far, I'm Less Than Impressed With 2013

It's raining today... for what feels like the 100th day in a row. I know the Lord promised he would never flood the earth again, but I am beginning to wonder because it certainly seems like it is never going to stop raining. I, for one, am really tired of it. My yard is so muddy my feet sink into the ground when I walk out to the car. It would just be nice to have a little sunshine for a change. I don't know about the rest of you, but I have more appreciation for Noah now than ever before.

Another thing about the rain is that it makes driving difficult for me. The defroster in my car doesn't really work and I think the moisture seals around the door aren't holding up properly so it's basically a roll of the dice as to whether or not I'll be able to see driving down the road. It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't cold; but, it is cold and when my warm body gets in the car, well, it's all downhill from there. I would like to have it repaired, obviously, but money's not growing on trees these days and I just don't think I can swing it right now. I did manage to remember to bring a towel with me this morning and that helped a little bit.

I went to see Zero Dark Thirty over the weekend and I hope to have a review up for you soon, perhaps tomorrow provided I can find some time to write. Next weekend I want to go see The Impossible which looks riveting and two of my friends said it was indeed quite good. Plus, if you have a refillable popcorn bucket, refills are only $1 next weekend so I'm all about taking advantage of that opportunity.

The new season of Downton has started and it has been enthralling (I'm trying out some new verbs today)! Monday night Erika, Candy and Kendra came over and watched the first episode. I cooked chicken tettrazini for dinner and the girls brought salad, dessert and tea. Next week they will come again and watch episodes two and three. I always watch by myself and then watch with them as well because I cannot get enough of this gem of a show! The third season comes out on Blu-Ray and DVD in a couple of weeks and I'll be ordering it soon. I've saved the Amazon gift card I got for Christmas just for this occasion.

I had to take The Tide to the vet over the weekend. She has been hobbling around on three legs again and I wanted the doctor to check out her leg and make sure she had not snapped the string loose that is holding her ACL together. In fact, she has not. Her knee cap is a bit loose but she hasn't messed up the surgery, thank goodness. The doctor said she probably has just overdone it and I completely agree because that dog will not sit still for more than five seconds most of the time. He put her on another medicine in addition to the one she is already taking and I have to keep her on a leash for a while when she goes outside. This means when she goes outside so do I which is really awesome when it rains every day.

So far 2013 has been less than stellar. In the past two weeks, I know of seven people who have passed away, which can only lead one to wonder, "who's next?" I was talking with a lady that I went to church with at Chase Park and told her, see, the reason I left was because all my friends are dying. Then I told her not to die on me too. Last night I was talking to my dad about this and he recalled a time when he was a kid when for six straight weeks someone in the community died on Monday. He said folks started getting nervous when Monday rolled around. I guess so! I'm really hoping this most recent passing will be the last one for a while. I think we all could use a break from the sadness (and the rain).

Monday, January 14, 2013

A House Full of People

Happy Monday, loyal readers. It's a better late than never post today, I suppose. For whatever reason I'm having a difficult time getting back into a regular blogging routine. Perhaps by the end of the month things will be back to normal.

So, I promised at the end of last week that I would let you know how things went when I hosted my Sunday school class over for Bible study and that is precisely what I intend to tell you about today. First, a little background information - I'm now attending Mayfair Church of Christ, having left pretty much the only congregation I've ever known back in the fall. The class I attend, as well as Jackie and my cousins Alexandra and Anna (when she's in town) is the Young Professionals class and although I'm one of the oldest people in the class, it has been a nice change of events in my life. This group is involved in a lot of activities and they do a lot of things together so there is never a want for something to do. Justin has also been involved with the group on occasion and I think it has been a real encouragement to him as well, which has been nice to see.

On Thursdays, the group gets together for a Bible study and dinner and they call it Link - why, you may ask. Well, I have no idea. At any rate, back in the fall, I signed up to host on January 10. Justin and I went to the Link on January 3 to see how it was and there were around 20-15 people there and I began to get a little concerned. My house is right at 1,000 square feet and the rooms are small. I've had around 50 or so people at my house before, but it was my open house and people were inside, outside, milling about and not sitting down eating dinner; so, I was anxious to see who all would show up and where in the heck we would put everyone.

Justin came over around 5:00 to help me finish getting set up and then we waited on everyone to arrive. I made a double batch of taco soup and two chocolate cakes and prayed it would be enough food. Link started at 7:00 and my cousin Anna was the first to arrive about 10 minutes before 7:00. The three of us chatted while we waited on everyone else to show up and once everyone arrived, there were a total of 19 people (including me and Justin). Thankfully there was enough food for everyone and some people even had seconds. One girl thanked me for having enough food because apparently there has not been enough in times past. Only 3/4 of one cake was eaten so I took one and a fourth cake in to work the next day where it was quickly devoured.

Justin delivered the message for us and even used his "preacher voice" which gave me a good chuckle. I think everyone had a good time, despite the fact that we had to get up close and personal with each other. We made it through the night with only one accident when a stack of Bibles toppled over and knocked a coffee off the bookcase. Justin helped the damsel in distress and in his haste to be a rescuer, attempted to hand me a framed Bible verse that my aunt and uncle gave me for my house warming; but, instead of making sure there was a hand securely underneath, he let it just drop to the floor and it broke.

Some folks left when Justin was finished with his message of the night, but others stuck around for a while and the last people left around 10:00. I mopped the hardwoods in the den twice before going to bed and probably could have mopped them twice more; because it was raining the floors ended up quite dirty - and sticky thanks to the spilled coffee.

So, it was a good night - we were packed tight but there were no complaints and I think everyone enjoyed themselves; well, everyone but The Tide who was none to happy about being holed up in the spare bedroom. . I hope to host again with the weather warms up; that way we can grill hot dogs and hamburgers and everyone can bring a lawn chair and we won't be so cramped. The house survived, I survived, and most importantly, The Tide survived. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I Need Your Help

I don't really have much to chat about today; you know, as if I've had really interesting things to chat about every other day this week.What can I say? It's January and not much is going on.

Tonight (Thursday) I'm hosting my Sunday school class for our weekly Bible study and I'm both looking forward to it and dreading it. I have no idea how 20 or so people are going to fit in my house and I'm paranoid that I haven't cooked enough food. We're having taco soup and it I have made a really large batch; but, you just never know sometimes. Justin is leading the discussion tonight and coming early to help me get set up for which I am exceptionally grateful. Especially considering I was up late last night and earlier than normal this morning getting things done and am at this moment pooped, and it doesn't even start for four more hours! with any luck, it will all be fine and I'll survive to tell you all about it.

On a completely random note, I want to mention new cell phones - when you get a new cell phone, do you have the contacts from your old phone imported into your new one? You see, I do. It makes complete sense to me. I might order my new phone online but when it arrives, I take it down to Sprint and it takes them all of one minute or less to import my contacts from my old phone into my new one. Most people I know, however, do not seem to practice this method and then when I text them I get the reply, "Who is this?" and then when I tell them, "Oh, I got a new phone and don't have my contacts in it, I'll store your number." This baffles me every time because to me, it's worth it to drive down to Sprint and let them take care of the contact situation for me so I don't have to deal with it. So, I'm curious, do other providers not provide this service or are people just too lazy to take their phone to the whatever store and have Mr. Cell Service import their contacts. What do you do?

Today on Twiiter, one of the girls I follow tweeted a picture of the results of a new toy that her daughter received for her recently 6th birthday, although the girl I follow was the one playing with the toy. I took one look and immediately added it to my birthday list and promptly let my mom know I wanted one. I had one when I was a kid and loved it and am pretty sure I will love it again. It's the Spirograph. Does anyone remember it? They are selling it on Amazon and when I first looked there were nine  left and now there is only one. Oh, I sure hope my mom was one of the eight people who bought one today!

So, my blogiversary is coming up and I usually give away a cookbook or some other kind of book. I've got one in mind for this year but wanted to see if you all had any suggestions for what you might want to win. If you do, shout it out in the comments along with what you do about your cell phone contacts when you get a new phone. Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Conversations and My Take on Doughnuts

This might be the most random week of blogging and for that I apologize; but, then again, maybe you enjoy it, what do I know? Today I thought I would post a couple of conversations I had recently which I thought were kind of funny - maybe you will too.

This first one took place the Sunday before New Year's Eve in the parking lot of Wal-Mart in Hampton Cove. We were driving separate vehicles, but arrived at the same time:

My dad: I've failed as a parent
Me: Why do you say that?
My dad: Because I just watched you drive through this parking lot.
Me: Well, you taught me how to drive.
My dad: Exactly

This conversation took place at work this week while I was chatting with my friend David about the advancements in technology over the past few years:

Me: My first cell phone was a bag phone.
David: What's a bag phone?
Clearly, I am getting older.

On a completely random and unrelated note, Mr. Donut in Hampton Cove has closed. It actually closed a while ago, but I neglected to mention it, probably because it was so devastating. If you would observe a moment of silence for what was the best doughnut shop in Madison County.... Thank you.

In other doughnut related news, Dunkin' Donuts opened close to my house at the end of November. I have only been once. I went on a Friday night after a football game with my dad and brother and the place was packed. We got inside and not long after they locked the doors because they close at 10:00. By the time we got to the counter, the selection was slim to none and we were basically stuck with some glazed doughnuts that had probably been sitting there all day - they were stale and tasteless. I think my dad went back another time; but they hit up Krispy Kreme this past weekend so I guess they are back to the old faithful. Krispy Kreme just isn't as tasty after eating Mr. Donut, at least to me any way - not that I was a regular Krispy Kreme eater before Mr. Donut came to town. So, that's my take on doughnuts in Madison County. Maybe another gem like Mr. Donut will pop up soon, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The 2012 Parker Football Bowl Challenge

I haven't mentioned anything about our annual Football Bowl Challenge this year. I had planned to mention it at the end of last year along with about 40 other things; but, alas, time got away from me and I never wrote about it. The Parker Bowl Challenge is perhaps one of my favorite things about football season. I look forward to filling out my picks and turning them in before the bowl season starts and then tallying the records after each game.

You may recall that I won the Parker Football Bowl Challenge last year and was able to proudly and prominently display the trophy for a year at my house. I handed the trophy over to the family patriarch (my dad) on December 13 before the beginning of bowl season on December 15. Everyone turned their picks in by December 14 and we waited day-by-day with baited breath to see who would win. I had a the worst start of anyone and was 3-3 after the first six games - even my mother was ahead of me! Eventually I went ahead of my mother and then went on a six game winning streak to come from behind and tie my dad for the lead. My dad updated the chart about mid-way through the bowl games and had highlighted in green games where we all had the same pick; but, I found a couple of mistakes in that green highlighting and pointed them out and was then asked, "Are you trying to win?" Absolutely!

Then, my brother, in a weird pick, chose Northwestern over Mississippi State and it was a three-way tie for first place between me my dad and Justin, all with a record of 13-11. Since we had all picked Alabama to win the National Championship, the bowl challenge came down to the next to the last bowl game of the season on January 06 when Arkansas State faced Kent State in the Bowl down in Mobile. My dad picked Arkansas State and Justin and I had Kent State. If Arkansas State won then my dad would win and if Kent State won, then it would come down to the tiebreaker which was picking the score of the National Championship game.

Well, Arkansas State won and so did my dad. He has officially been crowned the 2012 Parker Bowl Challenge Champion and for the first time since we've had a trophy (this is the third year I think) he gets to proudly and prominently display the trophy in the spot of his choosing. This is also the first year the challenge has come down to the wire; usually there is a clear winner with about five or six games to go. The final standings are as follows:

Champion: Steve with a record of 23-12
Runners Up: Justin and Natasha, each with a record of 22-13
Last, but not least: Deb with a record of 17-18

Monday, January 7, 2013

Photos From My Phone - January 2013 Edition

I let Sunday get by without blogging one word and I've almost let Monday get away from me as well. I am stuck in a meeting at work, but remembered I have some photos on my phone that I took for various reasons and have not shared with you. So, I've downloaded them and will share them with you today so that you won't call me a total slacker when it comes to blogging.

 Here's a shot of The Tide's backside on the day I picked her up after having surgery on her ACL. Her backside was shaved and completely hair free. Most of it has grown back but you can still tell where it was shaved for her procedure.

 Here's an up close photo of The Tide's stitches from her ACL surgery. Surprisingly she did not try to pull them out. I guess after four surgeries, she realized that pulling out stitches isn't such a good idea.

 This photo is a bit blurry but is a photo of Justin from the semi-final playoff game at Madison Academy. When I blogged about us going to the game I completely forgot to mention that he and I went out onto the field for the spirit line so we could give the players a high five or a fist bump as they ran on the field. As you can probably imagine, this gave me a good laugh.

I made some caramel corn over Christmas break. I think my dad ate about 75% of it. 

 I packaged up some caramel corn and left it for the postman. 

My kitchen on Christmas Eve in the midst of cooking. 

The top of my Le Creuset Dutch Oven - So beautiful!

My dad and my cousin Sydney in their matching Christmas hats. I now have one too - love it and can't wait to wear it next Christmas!

 The Prime Rib my dad cooked for New Year's Eve dinner. Yummy!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey

As you probably know, I love, love, love, The Lord of the Rings films and watch them over and over and over again on a very regular basis. So, when I found out there was going to be a film version of The Hobbit I got pretty fired up and when I found out Peter Jackson was directing; well, I may have shed tears of joy. The first trailers for this movie were released in December 2011 and I watched it over and over and over again (are you detecting a pattern here?). I more or less circled the December 14 theatrical release date on my calendar and was so excited to see this film I could hardly stand it - and then I was so stinkin' busy that I never made it to the theater until two weeks later. Yes, folks for the first time in my life I did not go see a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit film on opening night.

I finally did manage to go see The Hobbit last Saturday afternoon. I had planned to see the 11:30 showing but for reasons even I can't remember ended up at the 3:00 showing. I got there about 2:45 and the theater was packed. Clearly, I am not the only person who loves this movie franchise or who waited two weeks after the release to go see it. I found a seat on the side of the theater in a row of two so that I was able to unload my coat, purse, etc. in the seat next to me. I would also like to take this moment to mention the new popcorn bucket they have at Carmike, formerly known as Rave. For $18.50 you get a bucket of popcorn and until December 31, 2013 you can bring the bucket back to the theater and have it filled for $3.50. This ultimately saves me money because instead of spending $6 on popcorn every time I got to the theater I only spend $3.50. It basically pays for itself after seven movies. So, if you aren't planning on seeing seven movies in a year's time, then it might not be a good investment; but, for me, it has worked out wonderfully.

The Hobbit, well, it was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped it would be and more so. the advancements in cinematography in the past 10 years never ceases to amaze me. The picture was absolutely amazing and was shot with more cameras than Lord of the Rings. There was even more detail (hard to believe, but true) and absolutely took my breath away on more than one occasion. I watched Lord of the Rings a few days after seeing The Hobbit and was surprised at how old it looked and that is the first time it has appeared to look old to me.

The acting was just as fantastic as you would expect from this movie franchise. Many of the same people return to their roles (Gandalf, Galadriel, Gollum, and some others that don't start with G) and did a great job reprising the characters we have come to love. The newer cast members were also fantastic and fit the roles of their characters splendidly.

The movie, which runs two hours and 46 minutes, did not seem long to me at all. At one point I looked at my phone just because I was curious as to the time. I figured maybe an hour at the most had passed and was surprised to find that actually two hours had passed. I could not believe it. It felt like I had only been sitting there for about 30 minutes. It could just be because I love these stories so much, I really don't know, but I got sucked into The Hobbit just the same if not more so than I did with Lord of the Rings. I had heard a lot of people mention that it seemed drawn out, but to me, it did not feel that way in the least. In fact, I was kind of sad when it ended and I think a lot of others were as well. The good thing for those of us who love these movies is that there are two more installations of this book coming our way in December of this year and in December of 2014. Of the four movies I saw the week I was on Christmas vacation, The Hobbit was by far my favorite, and my recommendation to you is to definitely go see it before it leaves the big screen. I will more likely than not take in a second showing.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Movie Review: Les Miserables

If you have read this blog for any amount of time or know me personally, then you probably know that one of the things I love most in this world is Les Miserables. I have seen a live performance at least eight times, probably more and will always jump at the opportunity to see it again. I've owned the original Broadway recording since the age of 16 and watch the 25th Anniversary Concert on Blu-Ray more times than should be admitted. So, when I heard that Hollywood was making a movie of my personal favorite musical, well, I was both thrilled and apprehensive.

I wasn't sure it could be properly done on the big screen and I wanted it to be done right. I've actually said (aloud even) that I would love for someone to actually do the musical as a film since, in my humble opinion, all the other film version pale in comparison to the drama and emotion that is portrayed on the stage. The movie opened on Christmas Day to mixed reviews, although everyone has praised Anne Hathaway's performance as Fantine, and rightly so; but, the soundtrack came out days in advance and I listened to a few sample songs and was not impressed. At the same time, I kept in mind that all the songs were shot live and weren't necessarily mixed with a sound board in a concert hall and so I gave the performers the benefit of the doubt and went to see the movie with a (somewhat) open mind. I went to an early afternoon viewing so in a theater that seats almost 500, there were probably 30 people, which was perfect as I did, in fact, turn into a weeping mess.

The movie was very well done, in fact, much better than I anticipated it being. Anne Hathaway, by far, had the best performance of the film. Her portrayal of Fantine will absolutely rip your heart out, and as is the case when I'm watching on the stage, this was also the point in the movie when I started sobbing like a baby. If she doesn't win and Oscar for this performance, then the Academy should just stop handing them out. Hugh Jackman was an okay Jean Valjean; after seeing the movie, I was actually kind of surprised that he was nominated for a Golden Globe as his voice wasn't as strong as I had hoped it would be. To me, Valjean needs to have a very strong voice and his at times seemed weak. As far as the acting of the character, he did a good job there, but the singing could have been stepped up a notch, especially from someone who has performed on the stage before. Of course, my favorite Valjean has always been and will always be Colm Wilkinson who made a surprise performance as the Bishop of Digne. Perhaps you may have already known he was going to be playing this role (my mother tells me he was on the Ellen show), but I had no idea and when he appeared on screen, I literally gasped with delight. To me, that was one of the best parts.

Another surprise to me was Russell Crowe - who knew the man could sing? I sure didn't. Again, he wasn't as booming of a Javert as I would have preferred, but he did a decent job, in fact, a much better job than I would have thought possible. Amanda Seyfried was really fantastic as Cosette. I wasn't sure she would be able to pull it off either, but again, I was quite surprised and thought she did an excellent job. Samantha Barks played Eponine, one of my favorite characters, and was brilliant, as I expected her to be. Barks also sang the role at the 25th Anniversary Concert and performed the role at London's West End so I had no doubt she would be every bit as wonderful as I wanted her to be. Eddie Redmayne did a nice job as Marius and Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, were hilarious as the Thenardiers. Another of my favorites was Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche. I think he was probably the best Gavroche I have ever heard - I loved him and his performance. The rest of the cast did a great job as well. Overall, a really great chorus and supporting characters.

The movie was also visually appealing and really brought the story to life. For people who may have a hard time visualizing stories from the stage, seeing this version of  Les Miserables would be beneficial. I would say, it's a must, but not everyone loves music, or stories about love, revenge, forgiveness, or the French Revolution for that matter. I will say, that to me the movie seemed a bit long, even though it's really no longer that the stage performance. I suppose the only difference is I'm used to an intermission and an opportunity to stop by the restroom and I didn't have that and really needed it (just being honest here). All in all, it was a spectacular rendition of the musical and very well done; however if given the choice between the film and the stage version, I would still choose the stage.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Back to the Grind

It was back to the grind for me today as I went back to work after 11 days off.  I've got to say, though, I was quite ready to get back to a regular routine as I was beginning to get quite bored being at home. We had inventory at work today and will continue it tomorrow which means we spent the day counting widgets in between checking emails and responding to customer requests. All in all, it was a nice first day back and the day went by rather quickly which was also nice.

New Year's Day was nothing to brag about. After staying up til midnight and then driving home and finally getting in bed around 12:30 a.m., I slept in until 8:15 or so which is exceptionally late for me. Then I spent the rest of the day watching football and sleeping and eating. I should probably be ashamed to admit that I did not even bother to shower the whole day. After being lazy and spending most of the day in a deep sleep, the next thing I knew it was early evening and I figured, what was the point. It's not like I was planning on leaving the house. This is what I hate most about New Year's Day - some people probably love the laziness of the day but I find the lack of productivity to be completely annoying. I had grand plans of taking down the Christmas decorations but it rained all day and I didn't want to drag things from the shed to the house and vice versa in the rain. So, the day was completely unproductive and wasted. I also didn't eat any black-eyed peas for the first New Year's Day in I don't know how long - hopefully I'll have a bit of good luck in spite of this mishap.

Our New Year's Eve dinner was a success and was enjoyed by all in attendance, with the exception of my brother who had a bit of a stomach bug. I was pretty pooped by the time midnight rolled around as I had been up since 6:30 and had no nap during the day. Midnight is not an hour I see on a regular basis. After the stroke of 12, The Tide and I hit the road home which always makes me nervous because undoubtedly there are a lot of drunks on the road leaving their respective parties. I did not see the first firework, but heard plenty, especially the ones downtown which when standing in the driveway of my parents' home sounded like bombs over Baghdad.

So far I have no grand plans for the next few days; as luck would have it, the first weekend of the new year will be spent at the funeral home. It sure seems like I spend more and more time there the older I get. I guess that's life's course though. So, if I can't think of much else to write about over the next couple of days I will try my best to put up a movie review or two because some of you might want to visit the theater over the weekend and there are definitely some films out now that you will not want to miss.

Hope your 2013 is off to a roaring start!

My dad and the late Coach Glen Nunley, one of my all time favorites!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year 2013!

Happy New Year! Is it just me or does a year ending in 13 seem strange? I once worked with a man who would not leave his home on the 13th of the month because he was superstitious. I'm wondering what he's going to do for this whole year? Will he stay in his house the whole year or will he dare face number 13 in the face? I guess I'll never know.

Here's to hoping 2013 will be a really memorable year for all of us! I certainly hope it brings you all the happiness you good fortune you deserve!