Rest in Peace, Riley

I wish I could have written this post earlier, but the hectic nature of the holiday season really prohibited me from getting much blogging in.  I started this post a week and a half ago, but didn't have pictures, so I wanted to wait.  Anyway..... 

Last Monday, my childhood pet went to doggie heaven.

He was old - probably 20 years based on our best estimate.  A mere 8 years younger than myself.

No one knows the true origins of Riley, but he first entered our family when my sister met him at a fraternity house at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  Whether it's true or not, my dad likes to joke that he grew up on french fries and beer.  My sister rescued him, but - as is the case with many college rental houses - she was not allowed to have pets.  Within a few weeks, she was caught with the dog and called my parents, begging them to take the dog.  I'm not sure exactly what transpired, but one day, there was a small brown dog at our house.

Personal photo

My sister and I, being somewhere around ages 9 and 11, naturally fell in love with this very ugle mutt.  He was still a puppy, and his ears were originally flopped down, but within a few weeks one popped up, followed soon by the other.  If you thought he was ugly before, you should have seen him now.  He was scrawny, with a tiny head and the biggest ears you can imagine standing straight up on his head. 

Riley and I in our younger years

But he was quickly our dog, and became an integral part of our family.  We took him on walks.  Surrounded him by stuffed animals to take pictures.  We dressed him up in Cabbage Patch doll clothes.  We loved when he slept with his stuck out for so long that it was dried and crispy - we would wake him up by touching it.

We grew up with Riley, and years after my sister and I both moved out of the house, he was still there.  A long time ago - so long ago that I don't know exactly when - he started losing his vision.  His teeth and his vision soon followed.  For years, he was this blind, deaf dog.  But he just kept moving.  He would walk in circles around our house.  Perhaps that's what kept him alive for so long. 

About a year or so ago he really started losing a lot of weight.  He was nearly all fur and bones.  But still, he kept moving.  It was only until really recently that things went downhill, and yesterday afternoon my parents decided that it was time for him to sleep. 

When my mom called me to tell me, I wasn't really surprised.  After all, I had mentally prepared myself for that moment over 5 years ago.  And in fact, I knew that it was for the best.  His quality of life wasn't so great anymore, and I knew that he had lived a long, loved, amazing life. 

But I could tell that she was choked up. And all of a sudden a big old tear dropped down my face.  My throat tightened but I kept talking, and shortly after got off the phone.  I tried to tell myself that all of the things that I had just told my mom, but it didn't help.  I arrived home a few minutes later and Dave was downstairs.  I still couldn't swallow and knew that I wouldn't be able to talk without being sad, so I blurted it out and the tears came again.

"I don't know why I'm crying!" I exclaimed to him, wiping my eyes. "I knew this moment would come years ago.  I thought I was prepared for it." 

Dave just gave me a hug - there wasn't really anything that he could say anyway.

Writing a blog post doesn't seem like much of a memorial for a pet that was such a big part of my life for so long.  But it's all that I can do to remember him. 

We'll miss you Riley.  I hope you loved your life and us as much as we loved you.

Happy Holidays!

Obviously I haven't been blogging much - traveling over 1300 miles in less than a week can cause that.  I will be working over the next few days to fill you in on all of our holiday antics.

In the meantime....


So, I decided to delete my post from Saturday night that was about the Hartman brother's crazy antics.  No one asked me to, but I realized that I wrote it very quickly and without much thought and I don't like to publish things that I write that way. 

Yes, it was dead-on true, and at the time I was a little frustrated, but the next day I felt bad, and didn't think it was fair. Yes, they were drunk and driving me crazy, but did the world really need to know the details?  Probably not....

Honesty in blogs is a sticky issue, and I definitely struggle with it.  On one hand, I want to be completely honest and open - all of my favorite blogs tend to be written by people who are waaaay more honest than I could ever be, and I love them for that.  On the other hand, I want to protect the people that I am writing about and don't want to hurt or upset anyone in the process. 

I am more than willing to criticize myself, my actions, analyze my thoughts, and totally make fun of myself.  But when it comes to other people, I want to make sure that I'm being fair when I write about them - after all, there's no reason to ruin the trust that someone has in you just for a blog article.

Dave, since he's my husband, sometimes gets dragged into my stories.  He usually has a very journalistic mind-set, but when it comes to reading my blog, he sometimes gets defensive, and I think it's because he's not used to reading about himself.  For example, he read post from a few weeks ago that described the rut (for lack of a better term) that our lives are in during the work week, and he was sad because he interpreted that as me saying that our lives are boring and/or that I was bored with the life that we have together.  Not so at all.  Monotony and routine are parts of nearly everyone's lives, and I was simply putting my version of it out there for others to know.  My guess is that nearly EVERYONE has a pretty standard routine each day and each week, but I'm willing to bet that you don't talk about it much, because people generally don't want to hear about (or talk about, for that matter) the mundane.

The journalist in Dave ordinarily might say, "freedom of the press, people have the right to know."  In fact, he said that a few years ago when a journalist was trying to get information out of me.  But I'm not so sure that he would say that about what I write in my blog, especially when it's about him.  He has a career to protect and it's my responsibility to make sure that I protect it as well.  When I second-guess something that I wrote that involved him, to me that means that it probably shouldn't be there.  That's why I decided to take Saturday's post down.   

It can be a fine line to walk, and it's one that I try to think about each and every time I post.  This is not to say that I am totally censoring what I write or that Dave is dictating what I can or can not post - after all, if that was the case, I'm pretty sure that the "my life during the work-week can be monotonous and routine" post wouldn't still be here.  Some people might criticize me for protecting him or for hiding some of the truth or lying by omission, and in some cases, that may be true.  But blogs don't necessarily have to be a spill-your-guts-for-all-to-see forum - sometimes they can be just be a way to chronicle life, to keep track of life's events in a venue that allows others to peek into.

So, while I cannot promise that I will always give "the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me god," I can promise that I will never write something that is NOT true. 


The Limo Ride

The pictures from our wedding that were taken in the limo were some of our favorites, and they weren't even taken by our photographer.  We love those pictures, and they are some of our fondest memories from that because it was JUST. SO. FUN.  It was at that point that we truly felt like we were floating on cloud 9 - the realization that we were married hit us, and here we were, packed into a limo with some of our closest friends who were cheering for us and pouring us drinks.  So much fun.

Try to tell me that this doesn't look like fun.  Just try - I DARE you!

What I'm getting at with all of this is that these are pictures that we truly value having.  Dave wanted to make sure that he had an opportunity to capture some of these memories for Lil' H and Happy P, even if they didn't necessarily ask for them.  As it turned out, nearly everyone in the bridal party had a camera, but Dave still got a few funny photos that perhaps they'll look back on in a year or two and fondly reminisce.

There's nothing like drinking champagne directly out of the bottle

Why yes, that IS a stripper pole in the middle of the bus

It's too bad that limo's aren't more affordable - if they were, I think I would find occasions to get one with a bunch of friends to just celebrate in.

The Ceremony

We arrived at the church with plenty of time to spare, although for some reason, it still felt rushed.  The church was packed, as they were expecting over 225 guests at their reception, and everyone was seated in the two middle sections of the church. 

First, the boys came out.

Then came the girls, but I don't have any pictures.  You see, even though I got a great end seat, I was near the middle of the aisle.  This was also where the photographer wanted to be, so she was always in my way, which meant that I could only get a picture right as the person was walking next to me.  Which didn't turn out so great - in fact, all of those pictures turned out blurry.  So, this is really the only picture of have of any of the girls walking down the aisle. But, for those of you who love looking at wedding dresses, this is a great view of the back of her dress!

Happy P with her dad

See that photographer in the lower left corner?  She was everywhere!

The ceremony was your traditional Catholic wedding mass, sans communion.  Even though it lasted for about 45 minutes, it didn't feel that long (except for my feet, who were in those 3 and 1/2 inch heels I mentioned earlier), which was nice.

And do you recognize the shot above from the one that I originally posted from the rehearsal?  Isn't the stained glass pretty when the light is shining through? It made for some tough lighting for my little point and shoot camera though, which is yet another reason I have very few pictures.

And then it was over!

Do you see what I mean about the lighting? That sun was blinding!

Happy P's dad had arranged for him and her to arrive to the church in a horse drawn carriage, and then after the ceremony - instead of doing a receiving line - they just went straight to the carriage for a "victory lap" of sorts, and then loaded into the limo bus to head to the reception site.

Let's get this show on the road!

As you can see, the weather was actually quite beautiful for it being the middle of December.  And while it was still quite brisk (in the low 40's, I think) the sun made it feel much warmer.  Compare to the horrible weather that we experience on our drive home the next day, this day felt like a July afternoon at the beach! But, that story is for another post.....

Wedding day - Getting ready

On Saturday morning it was wedding day, but since I was with the best man - and since men take almost no time at all to get ready - we didn't really have much to do in the morning.  That was fine, especially considering the fact that Dave needed to do some serious recovering from the festivities the night before.  I gave him my magical combination of Excedrin and Gatorade and within 3 hours, he was good to go.

We had breakfast at the hotel lobby restaurant with the groom-to-be, who was also hurting slightly from a late night (from what I understand, after breakfast he went right back to bed.)  The best men ran through their speech a few times and then Dave and I went to pool and hot tub for some relaxing before he had to start getting dressed.

I felt like I had all the time in the world, since I didn't have to be anywhere until 1:50 and it was only noon.  So, while Dave went upstairs to have lunch with the boys, I took a leisurely shower and then laid in bed and just relaxed.  Dave came back shortly after 1 p.m. to get ready and I started getting myself ready.

Doesn't he clean up nicely?

See that pocket square in Dave's tux jacket?  The thing came in a tiny bag, folded over a thousand times and wrinklier than you could imagine.  So I read the instructions that came with it and ironed and folded his pocket square and then sent him on his way.  At this point, it was about 1:15 and I started drying my hair so that I would be ready by 1:50.  At about 1:27 p.m., there was a knock on my door, and all 5 groomsmen and the groom were at my door, asking if I would iron their pocket squares as well.  Keep in mind that they were supposed to leave for the church at 1:30.

Apparently, when Dave showed up with an exquisitely ironed pocket square, everyone realized that their's should probably have been ironed as well.  Buuuut... they're guys, and guys stereotypically don't like to iron, so it quickly became my job.  After all, the best man couldn't have a nicer pocket square than the groom....

Lil' H saying, "Make mine look the best!"

I folded all of the pocket squares, but was definitely rushed, and so they weren't as good as I would have liked.  BUT, they were also probably far better than anything they would have done themselves, so I feel good about that.

So, at this point, it's 1:40 and as you can see in the picture above, I hadn't even straightened my hair yet OR put on my dress... Ugh... And I was supposed to ride with Dave's mom.  So, I let her know that I was running a few minutes late and frantically started straightening my hair.  I was ready at just before 2 p.m., and felt awful for making her wait just because I wasn't ready.  But we made it in the church in time.

And while I was frantically getting ready, this is what the boys were doing....

But at least those pocket squares look great, right?

Up next, the ceremony.

The rehearsal and dinner

I only have a few pictures of the rehearsal itself that came out ok - it was pretty dark in the church, so the picture quality was pretty low.  So for that reason, I'm only going to post one, since it was pretty much your everyday rehearsal and since I think people wondered why I was taking pictures.

Don't worry - We told Pink Shirt to make sure he wasn't blocking the groom for the actual ceremony

The rehearsal dinner, on the other hand, was a production.  And I literally mean - it was a production.  Dave prepared a Power Point presentation that would go along with a speech that he and his older brother would give after the dinner.  In addition to that, he and I put together a slideshow of pictures from Lil' S and Happy P's life that showcased them from childhood to present day, which Dave then set to music.

Happy P was more than a little concerned about their best man speech at the reception, and when she found out that there was going to be not one, but TWO speeches at their rehearsal dinner, I think she really started to worry.  You see, in addition to the Hartman's being very dedicated to quality multi-media presentations, they're also notorious for giving what some might call excessively long speeches.  It's not that they're bad speeches at all, but somewhere at the 8 minute mark, people tend to start wondering when this thing is going to be over.

I insisted that Dave keep this in mind when writing and creating all of the presentations, and while they were all still relatively lengthy to a normal human being, they were quite reasonable based on Hartman standards, and he made sure to keep them interesting and engaging. (For example, the "roast" presentation was originally 22+ minutes, cut down to about 12.  That's real progress, people....)

I was hoping that I would have the video version online by this time to post with this video, but there have been some delays, so you're going to have to wait.  But I promise that I will post it as soon as I can, and then it really is quite funny.  The first time that Dave watched it back, he made a comment that it sounded like a laugh track had been dubbed in, that's how much people were laughing (and it was true.)

So instead of a video, here's a picture of the presenters, after their (first) moment in the spotlight.

We did it! They loved us!

At this point the bride and groom-to-be started handing out their bridal party gifts and a bunch of people started to leave!  Dave quickly went up to the laptop and wrote a message, "Video to follow! Stay! Have a drink!!!" and then projected it onto the screen. I'm not sure if it convinced anyone to stay or not, but those who did had no idea what they were missing!

The saddest part of the rehearsal dinner for me was the dinner itself.  It was sort of a buffet, but there were restaurant employees serving the portions, so you could only get a little of each of the three things that were being served.  For most people this was probably fine, but one of the dishes had shrimp in it and was dairy based, and the other had tons of onions in it, which meant that the only dish I could really was the red sauce pasta with chicken and sausage.  They gave me a small scoop of that and I explained that I wasn't able to eat the other two thing, so could I please have a little more of the red sauce dish?  For some strange reason they were really hesitant and only gave me about 5 more noodles before handing my dish.  So, the food - while tasty - was very meager, which might explain why 6 beers gave me quite the hangover the next morning.  I feel like there was plenty to go around, so I'm not sure why they held out on me (plus, we were the second to last table to eat!) Oh well. C'est la vie!

So, before we get to the next morning, I'll leave you with one last picture of the rehearsal dinner after party. Yes, this was definitely a wedding full of drinkers....

Wedding weekend success

Well, the wedding weekend of Dave's little brother was a success.  The weather was beautiful and everything went off without a hitch.  I'm going to do a few posts throughout the week of "recaps" of the wedding, including some pictures and possibly a video or two!

In the meantime, here's a picture of the happy bride and groom, who will be referred to in future posts as "Lil H" and "Happy P," since I'm not sure how they feel about having their real names used.

And I'm sure you're ALL wondering.... after the huge debate, which dress did I wear? 

Yep - the brown one!  After losing two pounds and finding some amazing and inexpensive tights at Target that helped shaped my waist, the dress fit like a glove.  I was able to sit AND eat and drink without any discomfort.   And see that classy bruise there on my arm?  That is the bruise from the H1N1 vaccine that I got over 11 days ago!!!!  Can you believe that it's still that dark?  I was going to Photoshop it out for this picture, but decided to leave it in just to show you how dark it still was.   And also because it was a major focal point of the night - I don't think a single person spoke to me the entire day who didn't ask about that bruise (or rather, said jokingly something like, "Where'd you get that bruise? Is Dave hitting you again?).  It was a major conversation starter that I would rather have not had.

I initially wore the brown shoes that debuted in the original dress post at the hotel and to the ceremony. But after standing in them for nearly two hours, my feet were killing me and I knew that I would not be able to stand in them during the cocktail hour and dance for three hours.  So, between the ceremony and reception I went back to the hotel and traded in the 3 and 1/2 inch heels for a pair of more modest 2 and 1/2 inch brown wedges.  That one inch made all of the difference and I was able to dance in them the entire night.

In case you needed evidence of that...

So stay tuned! More wedding pictures coming soon!

Hacked! Update

The good news/update on the hacker situation is that my sister was able to regain access to her e-mail account.  Through a number of google searches on compromised g-mail accounts, I read a blog story that mentioned that if you knew your exact account creation date as well as 6 frequently e-mailed addresses, that g-mail could get you back into your account.  My sister had filled out this form with an estimated account creation date, and never heard anything.  I told her to fill it out again using the exact account creation date that I was able to pull up in my g-mail account (since I had invited her to g-mail) and it worked!!!

The sad news is that all of her contacts have been deleted, but it looks like the majority of her sent messages are still intact, so she should be able to put together a new address book without much trouble.

But even though she has her account back, she now has to decide whether or not she wants to consider using it.  You see, she had given up hope of ever getting it back, so she created a new e-mail address.  Now she has two, which is fine for some people (for example, I manage at least 5 personal e-mail accounts that I use for various purposes), she's not really the kind of person that needs that many.  While all of her friends and family know her old address, I don't know if I would be able to shake the feeling that a complete stranger had been rummaging through my personal life.  There's this weird feeling of being violated that might be hard to overcome, and a fear that it could happen again at any time.

Regardless of what she decides, I learned a lot about google and g-mail security from this process, and I want to share that information with all of you who might also have g-mail accounts. 

So, I present to you my 5 recommendations for operating a safer, more secure G-mail account:

1. If you haven't done so already, change your passwords. Make them hard to guess, and make them different for each account you have.

2. Check your "filters" setting.  There is a G-mail virus that creates a filter in your settings that forwards messages to a hacker containing certain words (such as password.)  If you ever forgot your password and needed a reminder, the hacker would receive the new temporary password and you would never receive it - thus giving the hacker full access to your account.  To make sure that you don't have any filters, so to "Settings," then "filters" and make sure that there aren't any filters there.  Check this regularly.

3. Check your "Forwarding" settings.  In my sister's case, we noticed that she wasn't receiving any of the e-mails that I sending to her as a test.   She was online, and I was able to g-chat with her, but she wasn't receiving messages.  She had checked her filters and those were clear, so I told her to check her forwarding setting.  Lo and behold there was a fowarding setting on her account that basically instructed the system to forward all new e-mails to the hackers address (YES! She now has the hackers e-mail address!) and then delete them from g-mail, effectively her from ever knowing that a message was sent.  Once she removed the forwarding setting, she started receiving messages again.  Check this regularly.

4. Use G-mail's secure server.  G-mail offers the option to use a secure https:// server, but you have to make this a setting if you want to use it all the time.  Basically, this encrypts data that you send so that it's not as easy to hack, especially when you're using a non-secured wirless connection.  To change this, again go to "setting" and select "Always use https."  Although this will slow down your g-mail slightly, the extra security is probably worth it.

5. Learn your "account created" date.  If your g-mail account is compromised and your secondary e-mail and cell phone settings have been changed by the hacker, all hope may not be lost if you know your account created date.  Basically, this is the exact date that your g-mail account was created.  If you know this date when you fill out the "my account is compromised" form, they will reset your password and send it to another account that you specify, effectively taking away control from the hacker.  The key is that the date you list must be EXACTLY the same as your account creation date, otherwise, they won't be able to verify that it's really you.  This is what you need to do:
    - Talk to the person that invited you to G-mail
    - Have them search their e-mail for messages sent "From" the "Gmail Team."  This will bring up all of the g-mail invitations that people have accepted.
    - Have them tell you the exact date that they received the "YOUR NAME has accepted your invitation to Gmail" message.  This is your account creation date.
    - Now, store this information in a safe place (NOT in your g-mail account, where a hacker could find it.) 

While I know that anyone can be a victim of fraud and identity theft, I hope that these tips help to prevent it from happening to you!  And if you know of any additional tips, please let me know and I'll add them to this list!


Earlier today we found out that my sister's g-mail account had been hacked into.  A bunch of us received an e-mail that went something like this:

"Hello, I'm sorry for this odd request because it might get to you too urgent but it's because of the situation of things right now, I'm stuck in London with family right now, i came down here on vacation , i was robbed, worse of it is that bags, cash and cards and my cell phone was stolen at GUN POINT, it's such a crazy experience for me, i need help flying back home, the authorities are not being 100% supportive but the good thing is i still have my passport but don't have enough money to get my flight ticket back home and l need to clear the hotel bills here , please i need you to loan me some money, will refund you as soon as I'm back home, i promise.Get back to me ASAP let me know what to do next."

Creepy, right? 

Not thinking, I immediately replied saying, "You better change your password because it seems like you're e-mail was hacked into."  Little did I know that the hacker had already changed her password and my sister no longer had access to her e-mail at all.  I got a phone call from her shortly thereafter, asking what she should do. 

I didn't really have any good suggestions.  Once your e-mail has been taken over, it's hard to get it back.  The hacker had changed the "secondary" e-mail address and the cell phone number that google uses in the even that you forget your password.  It's way to easy to make that change - you just go into a setting and change it.  Anyone could do it.  So it's a no-brainer that the hacker had already done that.

But what was even creepier that this particular hacker was very agressively trying to trick people and he/she (for some reason I think it's a he) spent a lot of time yesterday sending individualized e-mails to people who happened to respond to the e-mail or who were on g-chat.   Here is the response that I received:

"It's me.. this is for real, I'm doing everything i can to work my way out of here peacefully.. i have checked with the consulate but there is nothing really working out, most important is i don't have enough money on please, please i need you to loan me some, i can pay you back in couple of days."

I knew that this was a hoax because I had just spoken to my sister on her home phone the evening before, and knew without a doubt that she wasn't in London.  But others weren't so sure, especially since my sister and her husband travel a LOT (at least in my book they do.)  So it wasn't totally crazy to think that something like that had really happened.  My brother-in-law (BIL) - who had just returned to the country from Bolivia - was contacted via a g-chat session that the hacker initiated with him.  The hacker was casual enough that it took BIL a few minutes to realize that there was definitely something shady going on.  At which point he contacted me.

A few hours later we found out that her Facebook account had been taken over as well.  The hacker was trying to initiate chats with Facebook contacts, trying to convince people that "my sister" had had her cell phone stolen and then Facebook was the only way she could get in touch with anyone.  This hacker chatted with multiple people and had convinced my cousin enough that she actually called her mom to see if she knew anything because she was so concerned. 

Multiple other people had received responses from the hacker as well.  It seems like later on in the day, he became more aggressive, outrightly asking for $1500 to be wired through Western Union (in the e-mails that I received, money wasn't initially asked for - he was trying to garner up some sympathy first.)  I decided to see if I could learn anything from this hacker and responded (near the end of the day) to the second e-mail that I had received - "What are you doing in London? I didn't know you were going anywhere."  But that point, he must have known that I wasn't going to be tricked - I never received a response. 

So, this is my warning to everyone to CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS, NOW!  Make sure that it's not an obvious guess - avoid your birthday, address, pet's name, children's names.. anything that could easily be guessed and that is somewhat public information.  Use variations of capital and lowercase letters, use numbers, and random characters that don't have anything to do with a word.  Just make it hard..

I got my g-mail account back in mid-2004.  I have YEARS of e-mails, documents, photographs and memories in that account.   I also use Google Reader and would lose all of my blog links.  My Picasa albums would be gone.  And my Blogger account?  Gone as well.... It's easy to not realize how much I rely on google and their products each and every day - most mornings I check my e-mail on my phone right after I get out of the shower... If it was gone, I would be devastated, and would probably lose most of the contacts in my life.  All of those personal conversations - I would feel completely violated and sick with disgust, especially if I hadn't done everything that I could.

So, in addition to changing your password to something hard, I have one final tip.  Google offers a secure site that you can use that will encrypt your data before sending/submitting if you're using a public network or non-secured wireless connection.  Simply go to (notice the S in https?? That's the secure server) instead of your regular g-mail login location and you should be able to connect via their secure server. 

Google is NOT helpful once your account has been compromised.  From what I can tell, they offer no assistance at all, unless your secondary e-mail address or cell phone number are still intact and they can send a new password there.  But if your hacker is smarter than a second grader, they'll probably know to change this.  Which means that your account is gone.  Forever.....

Don't let this happen to you.

The Effect of My Butterfly

We have all heard about the "butterfly effect" - that a butterfly in the US flaps it's wings and sets into motion a tsunami that wipes out half of Thailand.  Or something along those lines...  Anyway, we all have our own little butterfly moments, each and every day, but it's not until the tsunami hits that we can really look back to see what set the events that led up to this moment into motion.  In fact, in many cases, it's not at all possible to even know that the butterfly ever flapped it's wings.  But sometimes, we are fortunate enough to have those moments, and I feel like I had one recently.

I'm not sure if I can trace it back as far as to the original butterfly flap, but I do know that something motivated me to take a Zumba class over the summer, and then again in the fall.  A few weeks into the fall class, I found myself humming and attempting to sing Zumba songs that are in Spanish.  I don't know Spanish, so I would just make up words, but that frustrated me.  Around that time I read a book review in my Budget Travel magazine for "Dreaming in Hindi," a book about linguistics and second-language acquisition told through the lens of a woman who moved to India for a year in early September 2001 to participate in a Hindi immersion program.  The concepts discussed in that book were fascinating to me, and I was once again inspired to learn Spanish.  After all, we were planning a vacation for next summer so why not go to Mexico and put some of that Spanish into use (I had taken a spanish class at Carnegie Mellon last year but after that semester, I didn't keep up with it and lost basically everything I had learned.)  So, now I am the proud owner of Drive Time Spanish discs, that supposedly teach you Spanish while you're in the car.  We'll see how that goes...

Anyway, this was a long way of saying that if I hadn't taken that one Zumba class in the summer, my life might be on a very different track right now.  Every decision that we make - every flap of the butterfly's wings - whether conscious or unconscious, sets into motion a series of events that culminates in an event, even if we're not able to see it as an even that we have been leading up to, and even if we are not able to consciously recognize the steps that brought us here.

On my own

As I write this, Dave is on the road to Baltimore, in preparation for attending a funeral tomorrow morning.  For various reasons - including a treadmill repair-man appointment, shopping plans with my mother, and no caretaker for the dog - I am staying home.  As is always the case with funerals, there was almost no notice and so now I suddenly find myself with a Friday night at home, by myself.  And I'm surprisingly ok with that.

Our lives have fallen into a relatively peaceful and yet sometimes dull routine.  We work, we come home, I cook, he washes dishes, I read, he goes on his computer and then at 8 p.m. we convene for a 1 hour work-out session before preparing for bed.   But tonight, I don't have to cook if I don't want to do, so I'm contemplating a big old spinach salad with croutons and nothing more.  One dish and one fork to wash.  Done and done.  Then I might go on the treadmill.  Or I might not.  I may make a mojito and veg out and catch up on the 5 DVR'd episodes of SYTYCD (So You Think You Can Dance, for those not in the "know").

The point is, I can do whatever I want.  The routine is by the wayside.  And although I will miss Dave, I'm probably going to see him tomorrow night, so it's not like I'm going to wallow in my sadness.  Instead I'm going to enjoy the peace and quiet and spend my evening with me, myself and this guy:

The other "man" in my life.


On Sunday we also put up on Christmas lights.  Know that this happened at my insistence, since if it was up to Dave we wouldn't have any lights at all.  But when I said that I would just do it myself, he quickly jumped in, since things that I do myself (with the exception of installing room-darkening blinds nearly two years ago) usually go poorly.

Putting up the lights became an adventure in itself since it included my first visit to the roof of our house.  While I would not consider myself to "be afraid of heights," I am also smart enough to not feel comfortable on a rickety wooden ladder that requires me to have to stand on the very top step (marked "DO NOT STAND ON THIS STEP!") and THEN to have to literally hoist myself using mostly sheer momentum.  Dave - who might be part billy-goat when it comes to navigating dangerous cliffs and heights - hopped up with confidence and was probably more afraid of my seemingly impending death than I was.

That being said, I have no pictures of my roof experience - I was definitely not climbing back down just to get a camera.

So, after a few disappointments (i.e. the first string of lights that worked when we tested them on the ground suddenly failed once on the roof) the lights were up, and we sad to see that the string didn't reach along the stretch of the house.  Oh well, we decided that people would just think that we only wanted to light the actual "house" part of the house (instead of including the porch as well.)

Sadly these pictures aren't very good

The pine tree with lights to the right of the house was the original object of our Christmas light affection.  It was so hard to get those lights in that tree that we just leave them in year-round now.  Yep, we're those people.  Each year we run the extension cord and cross our fingers that they'll light.  So far, so good.  In fact, those lights have held up better than the ones we've stored in our garage, which makes me think that maybe we should just leave ALL of our lights outside year round...

The ever-lit pine tree

And finally, a shot of the house from across the street. 

Oddly enough, it doesn't look that impressive in this picture.  But trust me - when you're driving down our dark and twisty tree-line road, our house seems like a beacon of bright light coming out of the fog!!!  As we are literally the only house with lights of any kind and one of the only houses that is directly on the road, we stand out like a light-house.

And while it was quite a bit of work, I love it.

Ok, Ladies (and guys!). Help me out!

So, I'm going to a wedding next wedding.  It's Dave's brother's wedding, where Dave is a co-best man.  I bought a dress for this event (ordered it online, non-returnable, will never do it again...) and it was too big.  So I paid more money to have it taken in and it's nearly too tight now (I'm hoping a week of running will fix that.)

Anyway, here is dress #1.

This was taken right after dinner (bad idea for an already tight dress), but can you see how it's sort of pulling above and below the bow?  It definitely feels tight there, although it's definitely manageable in an I'm-a-woman-and-will-always-sacrifice-comfort-for-fashion kind of way.

Most likely, I will wear the dress above.  Partly because I purchased it for this event, partly because I'm not sure where I'll ever wear it again anywhere else, and partly because the bridesmaids are wearing black and the bride did mention over the summer that she hoped not everyone would wear black.  I'm 99% sure she wouldn't care at all, but I would hate to create any extra stress. 

Which brings me to dress #2, which is black.  (Well, sort of....)

Dress #2 with a shrug

And without

Now, I really love this dress.  It's not too tight but it IS form fitting.  It feels sexy and fun and I just feel good when I'm wearing it.  Which is probably why I should not wear it to the wedding, right?  I mean, after all, I will definitely find other occasions to wear this dress.  For example, it would be a great New Year's Party dress! (We currently don't have any NYE's plans, hint, hint.)  Or, I could wear it to one of the other many weddings that we'll be going to the spring/summer where we would just be regular old guests and it wouldn't matter it the bridesmaids were wearing black or not. 

Dave - being a typical man - would not give an opinion.  I guess it's probably safer that way.

Soooo... here's where you come in.  Do you think I should just wear the brown dress?  Or is the black and white clearly much better?

And if I do wear the first dress, what color shoes should I wear?? Black? Or Brown?  The dress has both colors in it.  The first picture shows the brown shoes.  Here's a picture of that first dress with the black shoes.

What do you think? Does one color look better than the other?  Neither are clear winners to me, but after spending so much on the dress, I'm not willing to buy new shoes, so your opinion would be greatly appreciated!!!

The lure of eating out

Dave and I LOVE going out to eat.  We spend WAAAAY to much money at restaurants, especially lately.  We're trying to cut back, and it's oh-so-hard, but it's also good for a couple of reasons as well.

One of our all-time favorite places to eat.  (Source)

1. Cost - As mentioned above, we spend way too much money eating out.  We're talking hundreds of dollars a month. Seriously.  It's gotten out of control.

2. Health - When we eat out, we generally have a beer (or two), and we obviously are not counting our calories when we order chips and salsa in addition to our meals.  Even when you order something that seems reasonably healthy, if it's made in a restaurant it's probably not as healthy as you'd like to think.

Those are two pretty convincing reasons right there.  So why is going out to eat so damn attractive!?!?


1. No cooking - As the household chef, on nights that I'm tired or just don't feel like cooking, going out is the easy solution.  During particularly rough weeks, we might go out two or three times.

2. No dishes - No cooking equals no clean-up, and no one likes to clean up, right!?!? 

3. Tastier food - As much as I would like to convince myself that my food is as tasty as a restaurant's, I would be wrong.  Nearly everything that I eat in a restaurant seems to taste better than the stuff I make.  From fried chicken to burritos to soft pretzels. Everything tastes better when someone else makes it.

4. Human Interaction - Dave and I often feel very isolated from human interaction.  We no longer really have neighbors, and - except for when we're at work - we don't encounter any other human beings unless we go out.  Sometimes we just want to be around other people, even if we don't know them or have any intention of talking with them.  Just being in a room that's buzzing with the sound of other human beings is oftentimes very enjoyable to us.  Does this mean that we've lived in the "country" too long? 

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that for various reason - which I'll discuss in a future post - we are cutting back financially in many areas of our lives.  One of the most obvious ways to cut back is to stop going out to eat.  However, I don't think we can stop altogether, so we're planning on creating a budget - say, perhaps $100 per month for eating out - and we're going to try to stick to it.  It's only been a week now, but I'm already craving a Mad Mex burrito....