Our Christmas Tree

Saturday night, after an enjoyable dinner with some friends, I put up our Christmas tree.  Dave had a lot of work to do, so I did it myself, and in a way, that way good because it allowed me to take my time and do some creative things instead of the same old gold-beads-and-balls that we've put up in past years.

Our white and silver themed tree

An ornament that we received the Christmas following our wedding

These bows were pulled from our excess wedding programs

And these bells were actually leftover from our wedding too

Some Pitt pride...

... and these little red boxes add some color.

And, well, there are obviously a lot more, but we'll save some of those for next year.

And seriously, the wedding "theme" was not planned... in fact, I just realized that now as I was posting these.  Basically we were just trying to use up things that we had leftover, and that somehow became the theme!

What favorite ornaments do you have?

Black Friday FAIL

Each and every year, I go out well before the sun rises with my father to shop on Black Friday.  Most years it's exciting and results in a great feeling of accomplishment when I've completed nearly all of my Christmas shopping before 8 a.m. the day after Thanksgivings.

Most people cringe when they think of Black Friday shopping, and honestly I don't blame them.  Waking up at 3:30 a.m. to stand in line for a store that opens at 4 a.m. is not for everyone. In fact, I'm not sure that it will be for me for much longer.  But there ARE some amazing deals out there, and when you can get them, you can really save a significant amount of money.

But this year, Black Friday shopping was a total FAIL.

Why?  Well, I'm not totally sure, but I have a few theories.

1. The Economy - People are more desperate than ever to save some money while still providing nice gifts for their family. If that means waking up at 2 a.m. to save that money, then so be it.  I think that a lot of people who perhaps used to shun the Black Friday shopping experience were out this year hoping to get some bargains.

2. The "Doorbusters" are really more limited than consumers realize - This was a theory implanted into my brain my the Today Show, but I think it has some merit.  Stores want to get you into their doors, so they advertised amazing deals but then only have 10, 8 or even 2 of that amazing advertised item.  We experienced that with our trip to Staples.  We were after a laptop, and even got in line at 5:15 a.m. for their 6 a.m. opening.  We were about the 30th people in line.  At 5:45 an employee started handing out vouchers for the hot items.  Well before he reached us, they announced that the laptops were gone.  There were at least 10 people still ahead of us, and we couldn't believe that they were already gone.  So we left to try another Staples.  They were also gone at this store, and I asked an employee how many laptops there were.  She said, "Umm... I'm not sure, but maybe only 15." 

Seriously? 15 laptops for hundreds - no, probably THOUSANDS - of customers!?!?!?  I was seriously peeved.

And what else did I notice?  Well, except for those amazing doorbusters, the deals weren't actually that great. So, even when Staples (and Office Depot) got me into the door for those amazing laptop deals, they couldn't sell me on a different laptop because they seemed ridiculously high priced.  I went online yesterday and ordered a laptop for about $100 more than the Black Friday special - still a great deal.  If stores want to make money this holiday season, they need to take a serious look at the economy and who their customers are when pricing things, or else they're going to end up in the red just like the last holiday season.

Why Dave should become an officiant

For our wedding over a year a half ago, we asked a close friend of ours to officiate at our wedding ceremony.  Neither of us belonged to a church, Dave wasn't really interested in the idea of a church ceremony, and I had been to enough to know that I was ok with forgoing what I considered to be the impersonal nature of most religious marriage ceremonies.

Dave suggested that we find someone close to us to do our ceremony, and a close friend of ours agreed.  In Pennsylvania, there are a number of ways to make a marriage legal, including the "self-uniting" marriage which is a marriage certificate that doesn't require an officiant at all, so it wasn't a problem to have someone who was "ordained" online to perform our ceremony. 

But it was definitely different.  After all, we had a non-religious woman marry us in a room that is typically used for meetings.   It was definitely a non-traditional and perhaps even somewhat controversial decision (although no one really said anything to our faces, at least.) 

But in more ways than one, it was perfect for us, and I wouldn't do it differently even if I could. 

We were able play an active role in writing the ceremony - we made it incredibly meaningful for us and there was definitely a lot of feeling and emotion put into it.  A lot of our guests had tears in their eyes during our ceremony, so I like to think that means that they found it touching as well.  Our officiant was someone that knew us really well, and who had been around since the very early days of our relationship.  When she spoke about us, she was speaking from extensive past knowledge of who we were, and not from a few brief meetings.  And even though the room we used was sort of drab, we were really able to spice it up with flowers and lighting and I think in the end it looked quite beautiful.

We were so happy to have someone that we knew do our ceremony.  But I know that there are a lot people out there who also don't want to have a religious ceremony but don't necessarily feel the need to have a close personal connection to their officiant.

Take this person, for example: http://citypaper.net/blogs/clog/2009/11/25/dept-of-personal-favors-i-need-your-help/.  Our dear friend and officiant (who currently lives in Philadelphia) was able to respond to this posting and will be officiating at their wedding this coming Sunday!  He's a prominent blogger, and may even be able to connect her with other couples who are looking for an officiant.

This is why I think that Dave should become a wedding officiant.  He's a tall, attractive man who looks great in a black suit (not that it's a requirement, but it helps, right?).  He's a public school teacher who teaches communication AND public speaking!  He's used to addressing a large group of people and he's good at it.  And we happen to know that there is a demand for non-denominational officiants in the Pittsburgh area.  Our florist - who knew our wedding wasn't in a church - mentioned that he had two other clients/brides having non-religious ceremonies who were looking for officiants, and asked if he could pass on the name of ours.  Unfortunately, she was making the trip to Pittsburgh specifically for our wedding, so that wouldn't really work out, but I realized then that officiating could be a really fun and meaningful side job!

Additionally, I have dreams of being his booking agent/manager and eventually offering out day-of-wedding coordinator services in conjunction with his officiating services! We could be the perfect husband and wife team! What do you think?!? Does it sound like a good business plan???

Robinson Market District

Today we decided to make a trip to the new Giant Eagle Market District store that opened in Robinson Township.  We had received some pretty decent coupons, and even though it's about a 20+ minute drive, we were intrigued by what we've heard.  Two stories, a cooking school, a restaurant, six-packs (at a grocery store!!!), and just fancy-pants everything that you could imagine. 

The is NOT the Robinson store - I couldn't get the picture off of the Market District website

We went during the third quarter of the Steeler's, the only time of day on a Sunday when our regular Giant Eagle is completely empty.  We love it - it's AMAZING to shop with on one there, and it makes it better than we didn't have to go at midnight to get that experience.

However, we knew it was going to be rough right off the bat when there was traffic just to get into the parking lot, and the parking lot was FILLED.  We couldn't believe it.  It was this busy during a Steeler's game, what was it like the rest of the time??? 

It was a montrous and impressive building, but unfortunately it was SO congested that after 10 minutes of trying to get through the produce department (which was very impressive, I will say) we were both ready to leave.  We didn't see the bakery, the restaurant, or the six-pack shop.  We didn't see the cheese section, which is supposed to be particularly impressive and where Dave usually picks up spinach dip, or the deli.  We didn't see the "crepes bar," which sounded delicious.  We didn't even find out how to get to the second floor, or what was up there.  We didn't see any of that, because it was too crowded to move and we were miserable. 

Fortunately, we were able to pick up enough to spend the $30 required for us to get $5 off, so at least we felt like the trip was worth it.  But we were sad that we didn't get to experience everything that we wanted to.  After years and years of living in the city, and dealing with long lines, congestion, and crowded grocery stores, we're starting to feel like true suburbanites when we get angry over crowded areas, or having to wait forever in a check-out line, even when we're experiencing this in a tried and true suburb.

I'm glad that the new store is doing well, because with a property that size, I imagine that they need to do quite a bit of business in order to remain successful, and they were certainly raking in a lot of cash.  We also realize that this was the weekend before Thanksgiving, so that might have had something to do with it.  But for now, I don't think we'll need to make the trip to the Robinson Market District again any time soon.

Leaves are the bane of my existence

Fall used to be my favorite season.  I loved the combination of cooler weather with blue skies and typically bright sun.  But since we moved to our current house, I dread fall because it means leaf raking.  I know that I've written about leaf raking in the past, so this post is going to let the pictures do most of the talking.

Here are two "before" pictures.  Notice how you can barely see the driveway or yard.

The driveway and front yard

The side yard

What's most amazing about these pictures is that we had just raked the week before.  Literally the next day everything was nearly covered again. This was the day that we started thinking seriously about getting a back-pack leaf blower, since our hand-held one just wasn't cutting it anymore.

Dave on the roof with the hand-held blower

So, we rented a commercial leaf blower from Home Depot to see if it actually was significantly better than the cheaper one we already had.

Looks better already, don't you think? AND, all he had to do was walk

Me working hard while Dave takes pictures

The back-pack blower was definitely better.  Although it was heavy, the weight was evenly distributed on your back, and it definitely moved more air than the smaller blower.  Two days after these pictures were taken, we went out and bought a $500 commercial grade leaf blower than is typically sold to landscapers.  We're just that cool.

What's amazing is that with the leaf blowers, we were able to finish our entire yard in 3 and a half hours.  That may seem like a lot of time to you, but keep in mind that when we were previously doing this with one hand-held blower and a rake, we would often spend up to 8 hours per weekend.  We felt like we still had our whole day ahead of us, even after all of this great work.

Here's the proof - the "after" pictures.

There was a driveway under there!

And grass!

Our beastly mountain of a backyard

How many years will it take before we can justify the cost of the blower? We're still not sure... but the mere fact that I wasn't crying to quit before the job was half-done made it worth it ten times over.

So much to watch, so little time

This fall I have been overwhelmed with the number of TV series on that I am interested in watching.  There are so many shows that I want to follow that I am struggling to keep up.  Even with the acquisition of a high-definition DVR, I simply CAN NOT keep up. 

Here's the current line-up.

Shows that I watch with Dave (usually while I exercise): 
- Heroes
- V
- Flash Forward
- Grey's Anatomy
- The Office

Shows that I watch by myself (either online at lunch or while exercising by myself): 
- Glee
- Private Practice
- Survivor
- The Amazing Race
- So You Think You Can Dance

Shows that I considered watching, but were abandoned because if I committed to them as well, I would watching TV every waking moment: 
- Three Rivers
- The Biggest Loser (this was a hard one for me to give up on...)
- 30 Rock

That's a LOT of shows, adding up to a minimum of 10 hours per week.  More if you consider that I watch the Today Show for 30 minutes each morning and usually have the Steeler's game on on Sunday's.  I feel overwhelmed just thinking about all of the catching up that I have to do.....

AND!!! Who knows if I'm missing any here?? Are there any amazing shows that I should be watching that aren't including on this list???

Pittsburgh Photo Shoot

Last weekend we had BEAUTIFUL weather!  If you live in Pennsylvania then chances are you had beautiful weather as well.  Our initial plan was to spend the day driving around Pittsburgh taking pictures with Dave's Nikon D-500 camera from school.  We wanted to see if we could get any frame worthy pictures. 

Unfortunately, a series of events throughout the day prohibited us from starting our journey until almost 4:30 p.m., which meant that the sun was already setting.  However, we were able to get a few good photos and I plan to post them over the next few days.

The first place that I took pictures was at Dave's rental property (because he had to respond to a call - yet another event that pushed us back.)  However, I didn't even have the good camera with me at the time, so these were taken with my good old Olympus FE-340.

A view of downtown from Frazier field

The sun setting so quickly even though we hadn't even begun yet

This next one is one of my favorites from the day.  It's a shot of the back of the houses in the neighborhood where Dave's rental properties are.  He lived here for years and I can't believe that I never really looked at it with a more critical eye.  I've only seen it with my "city eyes," which are the eyes that allow me to walk past homeless people without feeling bad for them, or to see someone on the sidewalk fall but not make a move to help them up.  Because if I allowed myself to "see" all of these things, I would quickly become overwhelmed.  City eyes prevents me (us) from becoming overwhelmed - it's helps us rationalize.  "That homeless person probably makes $100,000 a year," or "Someone else will help them."  It's sad really...

Anyway, I feel like you could find this picture in almost any city. Any run-down, dilapidated neighborhood surrounding by chain-link fence.  But it's Pittsburgh.  It's a street that Dave lived on, and now a street where he owns houses.  That's crazy to me...

Isn't it beautiful in a strange, sad way?

Jail Dog

I realize that Halloween has been over for weeks..  I have been very negligent recently in posting the past few weeks, but really wanted to post these anyway. 

I have quite a few posts all ready to go for later this week, so I promise that there will be more updates soon.

I the meantime, I present you with "Jail Dog."

It's not easy being a jail dog... 

And this hat doesn't help.... 

I've learned my lesson, I swear!!

Motorola Droid

This past Friday, Dave and I took a leap of faith and purchased the new Motorola Droid.  We had long been looking for a phone offered by Verizon that would be similar to the iPhone.  The Blackberry Storm was the closest option that we looked into, but I wasn't totally sold on it for a number of reasons.  We've been following the hype surrounding the Droid, and felt that we had  pretty solid range of opinions from online tech sites.

It's definitely not like us to make a major technology purchase on the first day that it's released, but sometimes taking chances can be a good thing.  So far, we are extremely happy with the phones. 

Here's my initial review....

1. Screen - Large and bright.  Love it.  And the touchscreen operates much like the iPhone. You can "flick" through your contacts or webpage and the touchscreen doesn't require you to depress the screen like on the Storm.

2. Apps - Although I haven't fully investigated all of the available apps, the ones that I have worked with seem to work fine.  Although the Droid has at least 50,000 fewer apps than the iPhone, I hardly think I'll notice.

3. Google - Dave and I are huge Google fans.  If Google took over the world, I'm pretty sure we'd be ok with that.  G-mail, google calendar, g-chat, etc, all work great with the Droid.

4. Keyboard - The Droid has three keyboards - one physical keyboard and two on-screen keyboards (one for vertical and one for horizontal orientation.)  Some reviewers have complained about the physical keyboard, but if you ask me, more options are always better.  I like having the choice, and I definitely the hard keyboard when typing in web addresses or addresses for the GPS.  Neither the iPhone nor the Storm have a physical keybaord.

5. GPS - Love, love, love, that it comes with free GPS.  The voice of the woman who gives you the turn-by-turn directions is awful, but it's still in beta, so hopefully later versions will improve this.

6. Bluetooth compatibility - By far, the biggest disappointment.  The specs of the phone claim that it's Bluetooth compatible.  In fact, the Verizon sales people tell you that it is as well.  But what they don't tell you is that the Droid does not allow for hands free dialing with a Bluetooth.  You have to make about 6 keystrokes to get your call in your headset - hardly hands free if you ask me.  On some boards that I've read they're saying that voice dialing will work with a wired headset, but really? Talk about going back to 2006.  I haven't used a wired headset in YEARS.  And with Motorola owning half of the Bluetooth devices on the market I can hardly believe that they wouldn't allow for voice dialing compatibility.  We went back to the Verizon store and the people there couldn't believe it either. They spent about 30 minutes trying to get it to work. This was almost a dealbreaker for me - I am soooooo opposed to people driving while holding a phone.  But I'm going to try to make it work - even if it means going back to a wired headset until Motorola and google can fix this.

7. Battery Life - Not so great, but in a way, that's to be expected with a phone that has such a large, bright display.  I don't use my phone too much, and yesterday I went from 100% to 70% of my battery life.  Not bad.. But Dave drained his phone in one day, although arguably he did use it a lot more than I did.  We both purchased car chargers and having the home and car charger always available is going to be important.

This is the first smart phone that I've owned, and I've only tested other phones for a few minutes at a time, so it's hard to really compare it to other phones. But in general, I think that it's a good phone, with a great web browser and it's really easy to use.  Dave - who's second wife is named "e-mail" - has already felt that it's changed his life.  He loves being connected to the world every waking minute.  I like it, but I'm not interested in knowing that Macy's e-mailed me a new coupon at 2 in the morning.  So for now, I'm leaving my alerts off, and just check my phone a few times a day. 

If I have any new revelations or updates, I'll let you all know!  And if you have any questions about the phone, feel free to ask!

It's back....

I wrote that post last night even though I didn't feel 100 percent better.  I still had an inkling of a headache, and I knew that.  But I definitely thought I was out of the woods.

However, that is not the case... I woke up this morning with yet another migraine (or, perhaps the same one that just came back.)  I drove to work even though I definitely thought twice about staying home.  Driving is already particularly difficult and usually exacerbates the pain.  That was true again today.  So, I took two of my pills and laid down on my couch in my office for 10 minutes.  I felt better almost instantly but then when I sat up it started coming back and when I sat at my computer and started reading things again it intensified. 

All I can say is "soooo saaad....."


Yesterday, I had a migraine.  It was awful.  It started in the morning, and I took one of my migraine pills and headed to work.  About mid-morning, I thought that I felt it subsiding, but by noon it was crippling.  I laid on my couch and closed my eyes for about 10 minutes, but I couldn't relax with all of the intense throbbing.

I don't understand why I've suddenly been getting migraines again.  I used to get them when I was in high school. Then, I was diagnosed with a bunch of food allergies, I stopped eating those foods, and the migraines literally went away.  I didn't have any problems during college (except for my freshman year when I was at a university where I'm pretty sure I was allergic to the grass) but then about a year ago, they started up again. It was a full year after we moved to this house, so I'm pretty sure it's not from a change in setting. 

Over the counter medications don't work, so I recently went to see a doctor and got prescription for a generic Imitrix.  It does work, but ONLY if I am able to lay down and relax for at least 30 to 40 minutes after taking it, and in most cases, I'm not able to do that.  What that means is that I suffer for hours upon hours and am incredibly unproductive, because I can't use a vacation day every time I have a migraine, or I won't have any days left.  It's so frustrating...

What's perhaps even more frightening is that I've found myself mentally going into a semi-conscious state when I'm in particular pain.  While in this state, I'm not thinking (about anything, really) so I don't think about the pain, which is nice.  But then my cell phone rings, and I nearly jump out of my skin, and I realize that I'm in my car and I don't remember getting from point A to point B, and I'm on the interstate going 60 miles per hour.  It's disconcerting, to say the least. 

I have been trying to pinpoint what might be causing these, but I can't figure it out.  I eat the same foods every day, and I haven't been able to tie one particular food to the instance of migraines.  I'm not under stress at work - in fact, this is the least stressful time of the year for me - so yesterday's migraine could not have been related to that.

I keep telling myself, "Next time that I get one, I'll go to the doctor again," but then each time I get one I can't remember what life was life without a migraine.  I'm not sure what else my doctor can do, and perhaps there isn't anything... but I am the kind of person that likes to investigate to the root of a problem, which makes these unexplainable headaches particularly frustrating.

Any suggestions?

Raking and Breaking

I'm reading a really fascinating book right now.  It's called "Dreaming in Hindi," and it's a memoir based on this woman's experience of moving to India and learning the Hindi language through immersion.  It's a language drastically different from English in every way possible (sentence structure, written form, etc), and she chronicles her struggles.  For example, early on she is living with a host family and they basically can't communicate at all because they don't speak English and she doesn't really speak Hindi, other than being able to say, "Yes, the rice and lentils were good," and other simple things like that. She can't sleep at night because her brain is rattling with unintelligible Hindi that she can't yet comprehend.  She writes about her personal experiences, but then ties them in with research done in the field of second language acquisition studies.

One such theory (and I'm going to be paraphrasing to a great extent) is that at some point, all second language learners (particularly those in immersion programs) reach this breaking point where they can't stand to speak the language anymore.  When individuals hit this breaking point they basically give up - stop speaking the language all together and convert back to their original language, in an almost obstinate way. You're just SO SICK of speaking this other language, and yet it's the only option that you have in this strange and foreign country that you're living in.

Where am I going with this?  Well, that "breaking point" theory really hits home with me when it comes to manual labor.  Dave notoriously chides me for always going "90 percent" but never quite finishing the job.  I - however - believe that this me simply hitting my "breaking point" and that it usually happens right around the 90% mark.

Yesterday we had to rake leaves.  We HAD to rake leaves.  We couldn't see the driveway.  Murph was slipping down the hill on the slick coat of leaves.  Enormous mushrooms that "pop" when you touch them and then spew bright green dust in the air were popping up everywhere from the excess moisture that was being held under the leaves. 

I dread leaf raking.  Dreading it in the way that I can see my breaking point before we even start.  But yesterday we rented a commercial leaf blower and not only did we finish the job in record time, but I kept going even after Dave had stopped.  That was remarkable. 

In language learning, once you reach this breaking point and overcome it (not everyone does - in many cases people give up around this point), by the time you come back to the language (in this case, Hindi), you're surprised to find that your knowledge in that language has increased by leaps and bounds even though you weren't actively trying to improve.  It just goes to show how stepping away from a project can actually create dramatic improvement. 

Maybe I should step away from leaf raking more often...

Halloween Pictures!

Happy Halloween everyone! Hope you had a lot of fun! Last night we attended the Halloween party of our friends Dan and Sara, and we had a great time. 

But, I'm going to put it out there right now - I am NOT a huge fan of Halloween.  I enjoy seeing everyone else's costumes, and I appreciate the time and thought and money that they put into them, but I don't have any interest in putting in those same energies for myself.  But, to avoid ridicule, I do dress up each and every year.  This year I put Dave in charge of our Halloween costume concept.  The result?

Can you guess who we are????

No? Ok, well here's a picture of us re-enacting our inspiration photo.

That's right! David Letterman and a female staffer (specifically, Stephanie Birkitt)

It was a cute idea, and I give Dave props for creating an easy and warm idea!  We felt warm and toasty in our costumes, versus the girls wearing tiny little costumes that weren't warm at all.  Another warm costume idea that we saw was a Snuggie clan - they looked like Druids or something, but were definitely warm!  Here are a few more pictures from last night.

Our hosts! Berger and Greene....

Dave with Berger...

If I see a dog, I pick it up!!!

Charlie, their dog pictured above, was the accident victim, but unfortunately wouldn't tolerate more than a bandage around his neck.

So, that was our Halloween!  I will leave you with one last picture...

Aren't we cute vampires?

Did you have a good Halloween?  Do you enjoy dressing up? Or do you often dread it like I do?