Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Promise Me This One Thing Please!!!!

On Christmas morning at about 10:45 am, approximately half of our house burnt down.
It was not electrical, stove fire or even sparks from the fire place. No, it was a small ember from a a small match that broke in half after it didn't light from Mike was trying to light at least five feet away from a live Christmas tree. The ember managed to hit the tree (remember this ember was not ever a flame) and within seconds, the tree was on fire. My daughter immediately yelled 'the tree is on fire' and I walked about 7 feet to grab the fire extinguisher. When I turned around, the tree was completely ablaze and the flames were curling and licking the kitchen ceiling (Mike had managed to move the tree a couple of feet trying to get it out the back kitchen door.).

I heard the fire roar, yes it really roared(!), and I just grabbed a kid and ran (side note: if you ever wonder what you want to grab in a fire, I can tell you right now the only things you will grab are people, nothing else will even be on your mind---not your cell phone, not your pictures, not even your wedding rings--just your family!). We all got out without a scratch but the home is unlivable right now.

Later the firefighters told us that it is common for a live Christmas to burst into flames from the smallest thing--a spark from a fireplace, anything. Even if you constantly water and feed the tree, like we did. Mike found this video on You Tube. This is really how it is. And again, I want to stress we watered our tree, gave it Super Thrive and made sure it was not 'dry'.

So I want you to promise me you won't put a live Christmas tree inside your house. If you buy one keep it outside, away from the house. Now is a great time to buy a fake tree by the way (dirt cheap).

Take care and God bless all of you!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Music Old School Cool

Like I may have mentioned (wink), I have a great deal of Christmas music--just about everything (well not really the 'pop' stuff) but when it comes down to it, the music the kids and I listen to over and over again usually features Bing, Dean or Frank. Total old school.

So if you are adding some tunes to the playlist, be sure to check out these lesser known favorites:

"The Christmas Waltz" Frank Sinatra

"Christmas in Killarney" Bing Crosby

"Greensleeves" (very cool instrumental jazz version) Vince Guaraldi Trio

"Mrs. Santa Claus" Nat King Cole

"We Wish You the Merriest" Frank Sinatra

"A Marshmallow World" Dean Martin (Dino loves singing this one!)

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" Bing Crosby

"Away in a Manager" Nat King Cole

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" Dean Martin (no one does this song better!)

"Mele Kalikimaka" Bing Crosby

Saturday, December 19, 2009

No idea what to buy for Christmas for kids? These are toys they will play with for years!

Throughout my 12 years of buying Christmas gifts, I have spent tons of money of toys that are less enjoyed than the boxes they came in, toys they love for about a week and then they quickly collect dust in a basket and toys that are handed down from child to child and enjoyed by friends of all ages for years!

This post is about the latter of these toys. So if you are at a loss as to what your children will really want this Christmas, get out your list and copy these ideas.

1. Wooden Blocks

I bought this set of wooden blocks with the wagon for my oldest daughter's first Christmas 11 years ago. It is currently being played with by three of my children as I type this. It rarely sits on a shelf. My older kids, the girls, love to build things with the blocks--my oldest likes to make castle type things for her dolls; and the boys, the younger kids, love making towers and smashing them down. We also like to put the blocks in alphabetical order. I know wood blocks seem so simple but I am amazed how many people just never thought of buying this imaginative toy!

2. Little People

I played with Little People as a child so I made sure my kids got them as gifts early on! The 6th grader will not admit this but even she has fun putting together different towns. The third grader and the boys still do lots of play acting and from the barn I bought 11 years ago to the new addition to the Christmas Village I bought this year, all the toys see plenty of play time. True they are plastic but they are made well, not like most plastics. Kids really get to create and make up stories and towns. And because they are using their hands, the little muscles in those hands get a great work-out (those who homeschool or work with hand writing understand how important this is!).

3. Automoblox

My mom introduced these toys to my family when Dino was little. I love these little cars. You can build them by fitting in the right shapes. The kids play with them for hours because 1. they're cars (even girls love cars--they have pink ones) and 2. they can create different cars from different parts. (Glancing at the website, I see they now have hot rods---oh my I think I have birthday presents ready now!)

4. Pattern Blocks

I love these blocks because they build up by the level--from pre-k to middle school. I suggest pattern sheets to help make pictures but you can also make your own designs like my Sarah loves to do. These pattern blocks are always taken out and played with when we have friends over. I am not sure why they love them so much but they just do. They have been an active part of the playroom for almost ten years!

5. Dress Up Trunk
This may be the simplest of all!! Gather old dresses, hats, shoes, ties and sport jackets to create a dress up trunk. All kids love dress up---my 6th grader and her friends only recently slowed down on playing dress-up but the others are still dress-up fans! Get creative--old towels can be a super cape, old jewelry can be fixed up to make a crown. Hit the good will stores and find some very cool items that will keep them busy for hours!

This year, my kids are getting what I like to call "Zhu-Zhu Land" from the grandparents--only time will tell if they are as much as a hit of the above five items :)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This will happen before your company arrives.....

There's not many guarantees in life but these things are bond to happen before your big party or out of town guests arrive.

1. Your toddler will cram toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper and cotton down the sink, clogging it. He will walk away and you will discover the mess as you step into the hallway near the bathroom and notice your new (or just cleaned) carpet it soaked. The cabinets in the bathroom will also have water.

2. Your kids will be continuously hungry and desire pain-in-the-butt messy foods to prepare and they will decide to eat it anywhere you just cleaned.

3. Your husband will add water to the wrong part of the coffee maker (the grinder) and will pull it apart blowing coffee grinds everywhere. On the plus side, you will be able to clean it out and quickly fix it. Negative side, there will be little black coffee grind specks everywhere that you will continue to find when you host the 4th of July bar-b-q.

4. Your kids will again be 'starving'.

5. You will force the kids to stop the imaginative play of taking every pillow in the house to create a 'jumping pit' and make them watch television non-stop so they will not destroy everything in the house.

6. A door, drawer cover or chair will break. No matter how new it is. On extra special visits, the oven door might even fall off ;)

7. Your kids will watch you mop and scrub down the kitchen floor. Then they will say they are once again 'hungry'.

8. The cat will have a hair ball issue and throw up wherever the carpet is not soaked.

9. Your husband will have to run to the office to pick something up when you are in the middle of scrubbing the shower.

10. You will be ready for your guests, the house again spotless and then discover your toddler found the chocolate and got it all over him, the walls, the floor and the busted door.

11. You will be so happy to see your guests' smiles, you will forget all about the first ten items on the list.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

For Your Viewing Pleasure--One of the Best Dance Scenes in one of our favorite movies

My kids really love the old classics, like mom. Think 'Fiddler on the Roof', 'Sound of Music' and 'A Christmas Carol (c. 1938)'. That old.

When it comes to Christmas, of course we love 'It's a Wonderful Life' and that movie I saw the world premier of with the stars 'A Christmas Story'; but a movie that really has the kids' hearts in 'Holiday Inn' with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Now I was going to share with you the clip of Bing singing 'White Christmas' (it came from this film, not 'White Christmas' oddly enough). You can find that anywhere.

No, what you are about to see is Fred Astaire doing what he does best, doing what even contestants on 'So You Think Can Dance' don't even think of doing, this well. It's a scene where he is upset and drunk. And I mean drunk. See, Fred was so good, they had to give him a half dozen shots (or possibly more) to really look drunk. Really. Check out this scene and I am betting you will want to see the whole movie :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Looking for a Way to Entertain Kids in the Car This Christmas--There's an App for That!

One of the perks of bragging about your obsession on Christmas music is getting to check out a Christmas music product---this week I got to add the iCaroler app to my iPhone if I could write a review about it.

ICaroler is a really cute app that shows little cartoon people singing a few popular Christmas carols. You can tap on the figures to mute them, move them around or just enjoy the song. You can also carol with fellow iPhone friends. I didn't have time to do this but did find a video of someone did do it.

For 99 cents, I thought it was cute but nothing to really go nuts over, but then I handed it to my two girls (8 and 11). They absolutely love this thing! They aren't networking but they love figuring out the different chorale parts--muting some,moving the characters around. And Santa even flies by every now and then--they go crazy when that happens.

As a matter a fact, I handed them the iPhone after homeschool work to see what they would do. They giggled and sang and giggled more for a good hour! A quote from Miley (11), "this is the coolest thing ever!". Now that is totally worth 99 cents!

You can find the app by clicking here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

No One Puts the Orange Shirt Guy in the Corner

There is one scene in the Charlie Brown Christmas that gets our entire family off the sofa. This one.

I love to be the girl in pink, the girls are the twins and Mike is the guy in the green. The boys are usually Linus but switch to the guy in green.

We have all tried to dance like Orange Shirt Man but to no avail. We don't have those mad skills. Do you? And if you can, tell me how--I am sure I'd be the talk of our next Christmas party if I can pull that off ;)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why We Missed Jazz Class Today

Dear Sweet Jazz Teacher,

Yes, Sarah did miss class today but I have a very good reason.

See when we woke up this morning, we were shocked to find snow, actual snow on the ground. I am sure you noticed. But that's not why we are missing class.

No, see my kids have no mittens (because we are in Dallas and we usually don't see snow til January or never!) so they raided my sock drawer and took all my socks for double and triple protection. When all was done, I had no socks and I spent the early morning with cold feet. I was not pleased.

They came in from the snow soaked, especially their shoes. Miley actually discovered she had a hole (a big hole) in her uniform shoes.

So I did what a good mother is supposed to do. I took all four of them on a mission to find warm mittens, scarves and shoes.

Our first stop, we found uniform shoes along with cute boots, light up super hero shoes and lots and lots of fun socks.

Then we stopped by Belks for mittens and other fun stuff. We found none but we did find Santa (shhhhh, we aren't supposed to tell to many people we saw him) shopping for gifts for Mrs. Clause (seriously it was Santa in a leather jacker, boots and cowboy jeans).

So off to Old Navy to pick from the remaining hats, scarves, and of course mittens. And I managed to grab a hoodie and some of those cute warm and fuzzy house socks.

When we got home, I realized Sarah had to do a book report on 'The Man in the Iron Mask', a tough read for a third grader even if it is abridged, Miley still needed to work on her 'to scale' map of the world, and I was tired.

So we are taking a pass from class today--beside my feet are loving these cozy socks and I'd rather not take them off ;)

Thanks for understanding!


Monday, November 30, 2009

International Christmas

Sarah has always loved watching people speaking in different languages. And she loves to imitate them.

When she was three years old, she was in a singing group. At the start of the season, they got to try-out for a solo part. I started playing songs from the CD they gave us 'Christmas Around the World'. Luckily most songs were American--'Up on the Housetop', 'Sleigh Ride', 'What Child is This?' and I worked tirelessly with her...but she showed little interest. Then I was searching through the tunes and 'Mele Kalikimaka' started (you know...'Mele Kalimaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day'). She sang it almost right away, again and again.

On the day of try-outs, my little three year competed with kids double her age to solo that particular song. I waited nervously outside wondering how she did. Her leader came out and told me she really sang up there in front of everyone. I smiled, not knowing if she was just being nice or if my very shy Sarah belted out the tune.

Two days later, I got word that she would SOLO that song for the troop for the entire Christmas season. And yes, she sang it everywhere!

I thought it might just be the tune but then noticed she favored all the songs in anything but English.

Fast forward to this year. She finally gets to study a language (beside English), Latin. It is officially her favorite course. And for Christmas, they are learning different songs. Almost all of course in English but one, 'Panis Angelicus'. I cannot even pronounce the title, much less sing the lyrics. But Sarah, Sarah has managed to sing every word flawlessly.

And she loves to sing it over and over again.

I may need to introduce her to 'Petit Papa Noel' for some variety.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

For Your Viewing Pleasure--The Christmas Story as told by Muppets

One of my very favorite Christmas shows is "John Denver and the Muppets--A Christmas Together". I have two copies of the CD plus the music is downloaded to my iphone. I tried for years to get the video. Last year, my sister found a copy and sent it to me.

And tonight I found one of my very favorite scenes from the TV show. The scene that actually tells you what Christmas is all about.

Enjoy and welcome the Christmas season with this quick clip!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Overheard on Thanksgiving

"Can I just have one, two, three marshmallows?" Sarah when helping with the baked yams.

"Maybe the parade is a little better in person." Miley after watching the fourth interview of the latest NBC 'star'.

"Has the parade gotten bad or is it my memory?" Me watching the parade.

"There's a little boy running down the street" Random neighbor who walked into house to alert us Spanky had walked out the front door and taken off.

"There's too much food on this day." Dino seated at the table staring at the numerous gluten-free dishes.

"I still have more blessings." Spanky after saying his three blessings (we base blessings we say on age).

"I know what I'm getting you for Christmas, a shrink!" Husband to me after spending the whole day with us!

Hoping you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Praise God for all His blessings!

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Favorite Things

Unless you've been under a rock, you know Oprah will be ending her show in 2011 and this brings the big question---what will you know to buy without the Favorite Things List?

I am here to help! Below I am listing gifts your friends and family will love just like Oprah, and with a budget in mind, not like Oprah :) (oh and I don't get paid or free samples from the mentioned products so you know my thoughts are real!)

For the Cook:

This is Jamie Oliver's newest book and like all the rest, amazing!

Yes, this does have a big price tag and is therefore a very special gift but I promise this cookware investment is worth every penny. I have had 9 pieces in the collection for over 9 years and they are still as good as new. They cannot be beat when it comes to browning, poaching, simmering---they will make you want to cook!

For the Fashionista:

This is such a fun store! Every section is divided by color. Clothes, shoes, purses and of course jewelry are perfectly matched and ready to take home. And the prices let you get completely different sets without breaking the bank!

I am a big fan on Michael Stars tees--they can dress up the blandest jeans for a hot date yet are cozy enough to wear from pre-school drop off, to coffee with friends, to the park and everywhere in between! I am loving this new tunic. I am betting it would go great with long strand necklace from Charming Charlie's!

For the Fitness Buff:

Picture Wii Fit on steroids! This is loaded with games to keep you and the whole family fit on those cold winter nights! Much better than just crashing in front of the TV with a bow of chips!

I have mentioned this before. if you have dreams of running a 5k or even a marathon one day, this is a great place to get started! You will be a success with this one!

For the Music Lover:

I have a ton of Christmas music and this is by far the best CD of all of them! Not only do you get the fun Christmas tunes like "Here Comes Santa Claus", you also get the religious "Peace in the Valley" and the bluesy "Santa Claus is Back in Town". Buy this CD--I promise you will not regret it. No one does Christmas like the king!

For the Gadget Lover:

This is truly the gift of peace and quiet. On the pricey side, this is a gift the receiver will cherish along with be amazed at how easy it is to take a mental break from the rest of the world!

For the Young at Heart:

This movie was dedicated to the young at heart and still speaks to us 70 years later. Digitally remastered, this movie will take you back to a more simple time. When good and evil was clear and home was the best place on earth!

For the Teacher:

I love buying these boxes of 'cake' bread for my kids' teachers. Inexpensive yet yummy and unique. Give the bread with a print out of recipe in a fancy font. Teachers will love it!

And there you have it a few of my favorite things!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Encountering Angels

I firmly believe God places angels around us from time to time, and if they aren't angels in the whole 'eternal' sense, He fills some of our hearts with such joy and love, they may as well as be in that moment.

I will never forget my encounter when my third child, Dino, was a mere 10 months old. I had dropped the girls off at pre-school and first grade. I was tired and needed a break. Sadly items like milk, turkey and bread were more needed than my break that day. So I spent my precious time to 'relax' in our favorite grocery store (and still is if you can believe that ;) ).

Dino was in the cart strapped to his fancy cart cover I found on Ebay and he began to cry. He wanted to be helped, nursed and loved. I just wanted to get out of the grocery store.

Quickly he decided to distract himself with items in the cart. One of these items was the peppers inside the plastic bag.

Scurrying between aisles, grabbing the items from the list, Dino continued playing with the bag. I didn't know how long the bliss would last so I rushed.

An older woman stopped my cart and began to shake her finger at me saying my son should not be playing with a plastic produce bag.

"You know what, "I snapped bag. "At this moment, I really don't care. I have exactly 40 minutes to pick up my two daughters and this keeps him quiet."

She gave me a look of pity and I started to cry, really cry.

"I am so tired, "I sobbed. "He won't sleep. I have so much to take care of. I do love him and I don't want him to get hurt. I am just tired."

She put her cart to the side and hugged me. She began talking with Dino and then suggested we walk over to the bakery case and get him a roll. She found a big tough Kaiser roll and gave it to him. The plastic bag was gone and he was happily gumming a giant roll.

I thanked her and apologized for being so terrible earlier.

She hugged me again and told me she completely understood.

She explained, "Helping you just made my day. I just came back from doctor's and my cancer has spread. They are giving me 3 months."

My world froze when she said this. I didn't know what to say. She was dealing with the most tragic news a person can get and I here I was whining about my lack of sleep.

I hugged her and told her how sorry I was. She told me she was unafraid and eager to meet the Lord.

We soon parted ways but our chance meeting made a huge impact on my life.

The rest of the day I savored every scream, whine, fight and traffic jam. It was life and I was honored to be involved.

I never saw my friend again, even though I tried looking for her every time I shopped.

She has also made my grocery shopping sane, if not fun. The second I get in the store, even the kids know, we head straight for the bakery for a roll or baked treat of their choice. And every time they pick something, I smile and remember the lady who put everything into perspective.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Gluten Free Thanksgiving for All

I have always loved Thanksgiving. I love switching out dishes, trying new things. Thanksgiving is usually just as all family lives somewhere else and our girls are usually in 'The Nutcracker'.

This year, I am facing the issue of gluten. Gluten is in so many of my Thanksgiving favorites---the stuffing, the rolls, the gravy, the desserts. But the good news is many of the big dishes can get away with none--thankfully turkey is not usually wrapped in bread!

I have been scouring the internet looking for just the right recipe. I have decided to forgo the traditional 'pie' dessert and switch to creme brulee--simple, easy delicious and already gluten free!

I am also doing most of my favorites that I have put on my website, Whatsfordinnermommy.com. But many are still puzzling me. I usually do 'trial runs' of my dishes but to be honest gluten free bread crumbs are so expensive I don't think that will be happening. I did read of one blogger who uses toasted gluten free waffles for the stuffing but I am not sure still. It sounds interesting but I just don't want to chance it. I purchased some gluten free croutons from Whole Foods and noticed they had a stuffing recipe. Because I have had great luck with their recipes, I am going to give it a go :)

Anyway, here is my gluten free Thanksgiving menu.


Baked brie with a cranberry chutney (served with gluten free crackers)


Spinach salad with dried cranberries and walnuts (no dressing)

Main Meal:

Sauteed brocollini with garlic slices

Creme brulee

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Possible Clarity

Thank you so much for your kind words the other day on my last post. I know your prayers helped us!

I am not sure exactly what direction God wants us to go right now. My feeling is He wants us to work harder, to persevere (oddly, my daily bible title for the day after I wrote my post!). We are very happy with kids' present school situation. We love the school and also love getting to have them home for the homeschool days.

Mike and I are working with the children to create some real goals. We are talking with other parents, many of whom with the same issues, and setting up 'study' groups. And of course we are praying, a lot!

I wish I could just know what the future is, to know God's plan but then where what would be the fun in that? ;)

So for now, the word is 'persevere' and meet our challenges with hope and joy.

I hope you all have an amazing weekend. I am off to start trying recipes for our very first gluten free Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bending to the Wind

Tree branches, and even big tree trunks, tend to bend when faced with large gusts. The ones that are too old and rigid refuse to budge and end up breaking in half.

I am near a breaking point.

As I have mentioned a couple of times, my children go to a half-homeschool Christian school. They have classes two days a week, study at home two days a week and have electives one day a week. On the days home, work is planned by the teachers and we are there to carry out reviews, studies and projects.

I have always enjoyed it but this year has been a challenge.

The earlier years at the school, basics are pushed and pushed and pushed. I honestly think the school is slower than other schools because they just keep engraining the basics over and over and over again. Slowly, the studies pick up and this year Miley is in sixth grade doing the material most high school freshman are tackling.

She has a math book three courses above her grade level, a history and geography book I personally need to read twice just to understand, literature that includes King Arthur and Homer, Latin, and for bible, 'Pilgrim's Progress'.

It's not easy and she's not doing well, at all.

Yesterday, we worked for 10 solid hours, not including the work she did over the weekend. I'm still not sure we did a 'satisfactory' job. By 8 pm, I was about to just do the King Arthur questions for her but forgot why Sir Gareth was good and which examples from text to site.

Now if I just had Miley, I'd be OK. It would be very hectic, but we'd live.

But I have Sarah. Sarah is just starting to face to the tougher grades. She needs my help, desperately but I am trying to figure out just how oceanic and continental crust converge. Her grades are suffering too.

Then there's Dino. Dino is in the pre-k. Basics, basics, basics. Not too intense but he has some learning issues and getting him to put numbers in order from 1-10 is still a challenge. He really needs me.

Let's not forget Spanky. Spanky the busy, busy, happy, loud boy who wants to play and find anyway for us to drop what we are doing and laugh at his antics. My wild thing needs me too.

So what is a mom to do? We can't go on this path anymore. I have been talking with full-time home school moms asking for tips, and I have gotten a ton. The obvious tip is slow down but we can't do that because I don't make the schedule. Next tip, get up with Miley around 5:30 am so you can work with her in peace and then focus on the others during the day. Early morning is my God time and my exercising. Late night is when I spend time with my husband and relax. Work some after school and one weekends? I would do that if we weren't so booked with theater, ballet and music. Find ways to keep the younger ones busy with special games. Hmmmm...Spanky's favorite game when no one is around is 'empty the pantry, drawer or whatever happens to be open'.

I'm not sure what I am going to do. I know God is pushing us to make some sort of change. A more strict schedule the kids have to respect completely (even Spanky). A switch to complete homeschool so we can actually slow down (however I could lose my mind). Get up with Miley and find a new time to exercise or work with Miley at night and give up time with Mike. Dumping the extra activities so we would spend every waking minute on school (and driving the girls nuts). Spend a ton of money on crafts and new toys to keep little ones busy.

I don't know. I just pray for an answer soon!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dining Out Gluten Free

One of the hardest things about not having a very common food allowed in your diet is the all popular past time, dining out.

I panicked at first wondering where the heck we would go--do you know how many sauces are thickened with flour? And asking a waitress if something had gluten in it? Most chefs can't answer as gluten is in some of the oddest spots.

I did what just about everyone does--googled "gluten free and dining out". I was shocked at just how many gluten free spots there are out there!

I found a gluten free restaurant awareness site that listed many spots, I found a site that listed popular chains (did you know PF Changs has its own gluten free menu or that Olive Garden now has gluten free pasta available?), and then the best luck of all--a local pizza place near me has a gluten free option!

So it turns out dining out and avoiding gluten can be done, quite easily--you just have to google first :)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Buyer Beware

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I am not observant enough at the stores. Maybe no one else has these issues. Since I have been on a cash-only basis, I have noticed many prices are not the same as I feel they are labeled in the 'racks'.

There is a clothing store I tend to buy a lot of items at once and they have great sales. Last week, I decided to take advantage of one of the sales, 2 pants for $12.99. Yet when they were rung up, the pants were $10 each.

I got out my cash and was embarrassed. I didn't have enough. I asked how much the pants were and told the cashier I thought they were two for $12.99. The cashier calls someone from the back who looks at the pants and explains those particular pants are not part of the sale; it clearly states 'select styles' under the sale sign; it just doesn't tell you what styles.

I put both pants back.

Today I was looking at dishes on the clearance rack (hey, I have four kids that tend to drop things, I don't care to spend big buck on china right now). Two styles were side by side. One was bright red flowers and a pretty white background. The description 'cherry blossom' was overhead along with small discounted prices. Beside it were dark blue dishes with pretty black designs and white flowers and the description 'indigo (something, I forget)'. These dishes were really marked down--we are talking $2.99 for a nice bowl. I counted out my cash and headed to the register.

The cashier began ringing up the items and I noticed 'cherry blossom' showing on the register screen and the bigger price to go with it. I commented that it wasn't right. These were indigo. She called for help. Another lady came back and said these were the 'cherry blossom' design'. The 'indigo' dish was a plain striped one--I saw no dishes like this.

I told the cashier to remove the items from my bill, even though it annoyed the 'in a big hurry' person behind me, bought my cheap spoons (we always seem to be out of) and left.

So I am wondering---does this happen to anyone else? Is this some sort of buying trick or should I possibly leave all the shopping to my husband? And who thinks of dark blue and black when they think of cherry blossoms?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What Do You Eat When You Can't Eat Wheat?

This question baffled me when I made my first weekly menu after taking Dino off gluten. No pasta, no sandwiches, no panninis, lots of potatoes.

That was how it started.

Then I noticed all the 'gluten free' products out on the market. There is pasta--Pasta Joy is excellent. There is bread--not the normal 'fluffy' bread but a thick dense bread that makes great panninis. And there is so much you can do with potatoes.

I decided to focus my meal plan on all we could eat and avoid the items we just could not eat.

Breakfast has almost always been eggs, salsa and chicken sausage. That was all gluten free. I mourned the loss of pancake day but quickly discovered some Van's frozen waffles that are wheat free-- the apple cinnamon are the best choice.

Lunch I learned to get a bit more creative. We have embraced the Tex-mex spirit of the state and have had more taco salads and nacho meals than I can count. Luckily, the kids are bigger fans of Tex-mex than Italian. We also became very big fans of fruit and cheese plates without any crackers. It took a while but I think the kids are not missing too much.

Dinner was very easy thanks to all the gluten free pastas and the 'low carb' meals so popular these days!

Following is this week's dinner plan:

Monday: Mike's b-day so we ordering out (I will post gluten free restaurants next week)

Tuesday: Chipolte with dried cherry sausage and roasted potatoes with a green salad

Wednesday: Taco Salad (tortilla chips, spinach, bison meat seasoned with taco seasoning (gluten free), and freshly shredded Mammoth cheddar) On the side, salsa and guac (gluten-free)

Thursday: Butternut squash with Kale Casserole (quite possibly my favorite fall dish using gluten-free brown rice pasta and no bread crumbs)

Friday: Sweet Chicken Soup (rather than noodles, I added peeled, diced sweet potato with the veggies in the beginning)

Saturday: Pizza (the crust is already pre-made courtesy of Whole Foods and only $4.95!)

Sunday: Chicken Curry Soup with a salad

Next week, I will be discussing learning how to eat out and being gluten free--it's not as hard as it sounds!

For more menu ideas, check out Jen at Chive Talkin'

National Novel Writing Month

Because I seem to have so much free time (ha!), I am going to join the NaNoWriMo for November and write a 50,000 word novel. Really.

Before I had kids, I used to love to write. I was writing stuff all the time. I even put together a writing group at a local book store. It was my form of relaxation.

Then I had kids, um 4 kids to be exact. And my primary form of relaxation was sleep. Any sleep!

I got more involved in my kids' lives. More involved in how to help them, feed them and shelter them. There is nothing wrong with that. I will continue to focus most of my energy on my children but I need a little 'me' time.

I am going to devote one full hour everyday to doing something that brought me so much joy before kids. I am going to write.

I know I will be rusty. I know most of my writing will not be Pulitizer Prize worthy. I know most of it will not even be worthy of publishing. But it will mine.

And it will give me joy. Joy I can share with my family.

Anyone else doing NaNoWriMo out there?

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Greatest Night of the Year (It's not about candy or ghosts)

If you've read me for even a week, you know I love Christmas--my favorite time of the year but there is one specific night I dream about every year.

This night is heaven for me.

Yes, I do love taking the kids out in their little costumes, meeting neighbors and watching their excitement as they dump all their candy on the fireplace for the Great Big Pumpkin, but that is not what I am dreaming about.

No, I am dreaming of that magical night where daylight saving time ends. That silly tradition started to give us more daylight in the summer. And the night I get an entire, extra hour of sleep.

Sleep is one my favorite things to do these days and since children, I don't get as much of it. That is what makes this night so special. A whole extra hour.

When I first had Miley, I didn't know how to handle the extra hour. She was up anyway so it didn't matter and the whole thing completely messed with her day. I completely cursed dst until the next year when she slept through the night and I knew to get her ready for 'the big day'

This year, I have spent the last few weeks prepping the kids for the change. Up a little later at night, sleeping in a bit longer in the morning. Just to make sure this change goes off without kids waking up far too early on Sunday (or any day after that!).

So tomorrow while the kids are giddy with joy over Halloween, I will have my own giddiness over an extra hour of sleep!

Thank you dst---you are forgiven for causing me to lose an extra hour of sleep last spring--just don't do it again ;)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How to Get Your Kids to Give Away Their Halloween Candy

This is a repost from last year---I am on a mission to make the Great Big Pumpkin a household name ;)

Halloween is a huge event in my kids lives' --I am betting in almost all kids lives (except those who do not celebrate which seems to be more common than you'd think in Texas). My kids love to dress up--this year Miley wants to be Nancy Drew so Sara wants to be Nancy Drew; Dino plans to be Michael Phelps and Spanky may very well be Spanky from 'Our Gang' if I can find the right golf hat and pants. And then they love to trick'r'treat and bring back bags and bags of candy.

After they trick 'r' treat, we go through the bags and they tell me what their favorite ones are. They each eat one piece of candy. And then they take their entire bag of candy, dump it on the foot of the fire place and excitedly run to bed.

The next morning, the candy, except for a few of the favorites, is gone and replaced with a toy.

Confused? Let me explain. We have more than Santa, the Easter Bunny (they never fell for her), and the tooth fairy. We also have the Great Big Pumpkin.

The Great Big Pumpkin as you Peanuts fans might remember, lives in the Great Pumpkin Patch. He comes out on Halloween and searches for candy. If you leave a little bit of candy for him, he leaves a little gift. If you leave all your candy, he leaves the gift you asked for in a letter earlier that month. (Naturally, the gift has to be in reason--he is not allowed to upstage Santa so nothing to be big or special. Santa gets mad when the Great Big Pumpkin gets more attention.)

And that candy? Well, it turns out The Great Big Pumpkin has access to the conference room at a real estate office. He leaves it there. And the Very Busy House with 4 is almost candy free on November 1.

So does the Great Big Pumpkin visit you?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's Gluten Free for This Family

In August, I was commenting on Dino's learning issues and got an email from a friend who commented that his issues sounded like auto-immune issues, specifically gluten issues (aka Celiac).

I was curious and remembered reading how dyspraxia patients had amazing results cutting wheat out of their diets. So I decided to give it a try.

He started holding his pencil with the correct grip. He spoke more in class. He began conversations (that weren't about cars!).

I was impressed and thrilled. One day, he slipped and had some cake at a party. This followed severe stomach pains and Dino now refuses any sort of cake at a gathering. I am guessing it hurt pretty bad.

At the same time Dino went off gluten, Mike did too. Within one week, the arthritis in his hands were gone along with IBS issues he had dealt with for years. I began to suspect Celiac and did some research on it.

It amazingly quite common and if a parent has it, there is a 25% chance offspring will also have it. It made perfect sense for Dino to have it. It also appears to have a major effect on muscles--this would effect Dino's muscle tone for writing and speech.

But I still wasn't sure if it was what helped his learning. When I took Dino off gluten, I also started a more intense home school day routine, he began taking fish oil every morning and he was growing up. Maybe the gluten didn't matter on the learning end.

Well a few weeks ago, Mike took Dino to the neighborhood block party. In a momentary lapse of reason, both ate mac and cheese thinking about the cheese part of the dish not the gluten heavy pasta!

Within two hours, Mike was in pain and Dino literally spiked a fever and threw up. After that, Dino felt better (no fever, no vomit) but Mike was still in pain.

I sat down with Dino the next day to do a little work. The pencil grip he mastered so well was now a struggle. Simple letter writing led to tears and Dino spoke little the entire day.

I'm not a doctor but I know my son. He was not the same son the day before the block party. Dino struggled for almost a week with his speech and learning but slowly got better. The gluten did something to him. Something that hindered him, big time.

Gluten free is anything but easy but I am determined to make it work. I believe it is truly making a difference!

I am getting a lot of help from friends. I am finding more and more gluten free products including a special gluten free area at my grocery story. I just discovered a local pizza joint with very overpriced gluten free pizza. And ya know what, it is worth every penny :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Most Controversial Post--It is All about the Food

This summer I heard a radio personality mention he lost all his weight via diet and without any real 'exercise'. He went on to point out an article that said the same thing. The writer had spent countless hours and money with personal trainers but saw little actual fat loss; now there was some muscle gain and overall heath but not much else. So he really watched his food intake and then magic happened.

So during September, I ran. I ran all the time. And when I ran really well, I let myself have those cheddar fries with bacon and jalepenos. I felt great and felt more muscle but not much change in my jeans or my scale.

Then for the past two weeks during my kids' crazy production schedule of the Halloween play I had zero time to exercise. I decided to test the diet theory and ate very carefully. Annoying myself looking at calories, fat content and making sure a portion was a correct portion.

I have to admit, the food lover in me hated doing this. I did have a very small treat every three days so I wouldn't go crazy but overall, I stuck to whole grains, protein and very little fat and of course plenty of fruits and veggies. I quit snacking and cut out most my coffee.

Two weeks after the show, three pounds lost and loser jeans.

So as much I dread writing it, diet, at least for me, plays a bigger role in weight loss.

But does this mean no more running? Absolutely not! Exercise is invaluable for the heart, mind and soul. I truly believe that. It also gives your body muscle which in turn gives a better shape, even if you do have a few pounds of that high volume fat on your butt!

I just won't use a long run to justify a hot fudge sundae.

Diet and exercise work together to make a more fit you. Diet just has a bigger say in your pant size.

At least for this girl ;)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Randomness by Spanky

Every morning, Spanky asks for breakfast. His siblings ask for bacon, sausage, eggs or waffles. Spanky tends to wake up and say 'how about pizza?' or 'do we have french fries?' and my favorite 'we have hot dogs' --uh no honey we don't 'oh, but we have hot dogs'--no hot dogs all gone 'OK. Can I have one (puts up a little finger) hot dog?'

I am pretty sure he thinks if he says asks for it enough, we will suddenly have it. Wish it worked that way.

And then just yesterday at dinner, we were talking about the day and after we asked him about his, he said 'I'm going to be Spider Man and then go to Whole Foods and get a brownie.'

OK then.

And I said 'Spanky, can I have a million dollars? We have a million dollars. Can I have just one million dollars.'

He said, NO.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Can't Sleep

I am not usually the type who can't fall asleep. Seriously, I am that person who falls asleep before my head hits the pillow.

But not tonight.

And I don't have a clue why.

I had my last cup of coffee around 2 pm so I can't blame caffeine.

I had a full day. I should be tired.

I am tired. I just can't sleep.

Anyone else ever get this? And if you do, how do you fall asleep?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Weekend Story Part 4 (A Couple Whipper Snappers)

Start from the beginning.....

So all in all, London was perfect, amazing and everything else :) We did as many touristy things as we could. Riding the top of the double decker tour bus, visiting the Tower, Big Ben, Scotland Yard, Harods and a dozen other things.

And then it was time to move on to our tour. Before we got married, Mike and I met with a travel agent that convinced us joining a tour was the way to go for our first (and so far only) European adventure. We wanted to see the castles, specifically the castles of King Ludwig. There was a tour that featured the castles and visited Munich during Oktoberfest. We thought this would be perfect.

We landed in Zurich, Switzerland and immediately noticed a distinct difference no other city could compare. It was clean and by clean, I mean you could lick the trash cans clean. Even the toilets were spotless; after you flushed a mechanical arm attached to the seat and cleaned it. I was a very relaxed germaphob.

The hotel was nothing too special. It was incredibly modern with a giant life size chess board at the entrance (yes, we did play a game!). We looked around the hotel and then waited on the rest of the tour group.

I was a bit nervous. The hotel was almost empty, save a few older people with canes and us.

"What do you think the tour group will be like?" I asked Mike over a traditional fondue meal.

"I'm guessing honeymooners like us. Maybe some just married couples," Mike shrugged his shoulders and cracked some fresh pepper over the cheese pot.

I popped some bread covered in cheese in my mouth and nodded.

"Yeah, I bet it will be fun."

"I wonder if all of Europe is this clean?" Mike mumbled.


The next morning, we packed up and got ready to visit our tour group in the clean, sleek , lobby. As we got out of the elevator, we noticed a sharp contrast to the modern surroundings. Approximately 35 'older' people we congregated on the sofas and chairs. Was this our tour group?

I scanned to crowd and noticed a younger than high school boy calling a woman next to hime grandmum and then a younger couple with the buttons given to us in the tour guide. Were we supposed to wear those?

Naturally, we went beside the younger couple.

"Are you with the INSIGHT tour?" the girl from the couple asked us.

We nodded and introduced ourselves.

"Thank God, you're here," began Scott, the boy from the couple. "Everyone here is OLD. I mean dinosaur old."

Tracy, the girl, nodded. "If we didn't put on these stupid buttons, we would have left."

"It can't be that bad, hee, hee" I giggled looking around knowing it could be that bad.

Suddenly a younger, like in his thirties, man stood up and spoke. His name was Lars from Norway and he would be our tour guide. He briefly discussed the tour and then asked if anyone would need handicap assistance. Half the group rose their hands.

Mike and I slowly began to realize we would be spending the majority of our honeymoon on a giant bus with people almost four times our age.

I turned to our new friends. Our best friends for the next two weeks.

"Want to get a drink before we get on the bus?"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Will Spanky Be Where the Wild Things Are?

For the past year, Spanky has religiously asked for one book to be read to him throughout the day, Where the Wild Things Are. We read the book about seven times a day to him.

To say he loves the book is an understatement. He lives for the book. Every line, every illustration. He laughs as Max makes mischief of one kind or another and chases the puppy with the fork.

Spanky saw an ad for the Wild Things movie and has since been begging us to 'play it' on our TV. I was all ready to take him to the movie until I noticed the PG rating.

Why on earth would my son's very favorite book be PG? I asked Twitter. Everyone who responded said it looked too scary for a three year-old. I asked Facebook. Almost everyone thought it wasn't right for Spanky.

But Spanky still wanted to see it.

So I took the boys to see the Sleepy Hollow play the girls were in. Dino got scared and had to be taken out but Spanky...Spanky laughed. He imitated the 'evil' laugh of the headless horseman and called him 'the funny guy with no head'. He even wanted to meet him after the show.

Surely he could handle Wild Things.

And then just last night I heard a blood curdling scream from Sarah in the other room followed by cries of Spanky. It seemed Spanky decided to play Max and stabbed his sister right under the eye with a fork.

He got in the biggest trouble of his life. Since he was playing Max, I sent him off to bed with out eating anything.

Now I don't know what mischief Max makes in the movie but I know I don't need it in our house.

So the Wild Things may have to roar their terrible roars alone while we wave 'good bye'.

Oh and don't worry about Spanky. When he woke up, he found a bowl of steel cut oats waiting for him. And it was still hot.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Challenge for Today

We do not wear our hearts on our sleeves. As a means of protection, pride or something else, we keep our wounds hidden.

But we all have them, especially these days in the midst of ahem 'jobless recovery'.

The good news is the bad times never last forever. We know this yet they can be so hard to get through.

One thing that helps is a random act of kindness.

You may or may not know someone who might need a friend right now. But I can promise you, you ran into someone that would love to sit and chat with you. To do something fun. There may even be someone who needs help putting food on the table next door.

So here's a challenge. Do something for someone. If a neighbor just lost a job, drop off a plate of cookies or invite her over for some coffee. Laugh and bring some joy into a rather grim mood. Better yet, have your neighbor for coffee and send her home with cookies because 'you just can't have those things around the house or you'll eat them all' ;)

(One note: Never ever act like you are doing something out of pity. Honestly, they'd rather have nothing than that!)

Maybe there's a mom you see a pre-school drop off that looks kind of sad. Invite her to a local coffee shop and treat her to a danish and your company. A conversation with a caring friend can brighten anyone's day!

If you home school and don't get to see many people, call an old friend to see how she is.

And if you are just too busy or your current needs are too great, do the best thing possible. pray for them! Keep a list by your bed and make sure to pray for their welfare every day. It will help more than you know!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Weekend Story Part 3 (Beyond the Velvet Rope)

Need to catch-up?

Martin Miller greeted us at the door. Inside, we saw a small yet tastefully decorated hall. A young girl appeared out of of nowhere and offered to get our bags.

"Welcome," began the girl. "I'm afraid our suites are taken so you will need to stay at the Byron room. It's right on the second level."

I was holding tight to Mike's hand. The out of the way bed and breakfast without a sign was small and looked more like a humble home than a place that provided accommedations for strangers.

Martin broke in, "We have cocktails in the main room tonight at seven."

We glanced to out left and saw the main room and pretty much gasped. I am not sure how I would describe this room. It was like looking at a well preserved room from the seventeenth century in a museum but without the velvet rope to keep you out. It turned out Martin Miller was involved in the world of beautiful antiques. My fear of being robbed or kidnapped was quickly replaced with the fear of breaking a hundred year old vase.

Martin quickly disappeared as the young girl checked us and filled us with the details of the bed and breakfast. She also asked how we found the bed and breakfast--we mentioned Captain Bucko, and we climbed the tiny stairs to our room.

The Byron room was yellow and blue and once again, tiny. The difference, just about every item in the room was a lovely antique. Even the giant quilt on the bed looked different. The one weird thing--the bathtub was also antique. Clawfooted and stand-alone, the tub was beautiful but I was more concerned as to how I was going to shower--dragging bags through the Tube is a workout, trust me.

When the girl left the room, we began to unload our bags.

"See, "Mike grinned. "I told you."

"Yeah, yeah," I smiled and gave him a kiss.

After finding a way to clean up in the tub, we got dressed and decided to check out the cocktails downstairs. We were expecting one or two people, but let me tell you the place was packed. And these folks were dressed. We walked in and were handed wine. Really, really really, good French wine.

My ever social new husband began to introduce himself to the various guests, almost all good friends of Martin stopping by before hitting the town. In about 20 minutes, we met a publisher, author, artist, professor and other incredibly interesting people. At moments I felt like we were in a different world, sitting on a chair more than likely 200 years old, drinking some awesome wine and speaking with truly successful Londoners. We were beyond the infamous velvet rope. There was no other place we wanted to be but then we were hungry.

We ended up bidding farewell to the guests as checked out the Brazillian Meat restaurant next to the b and b. When we arrived, we were a bit nervous. The place was fairly empty and it was 7:30 pm. Our fears were reduced when we saw the food. Maybe Britain wasn't into the big stick of meat. But by nine, the place was standing room only with a line out the door. Again, we noticed the lingering diners that were engrossed in their conversations-not their plates. We decided to do as they did and lingered at our table soaking in the atmosphere and our own conversation.

Back at the b and b, cocktail hour was still going strong with new guests. After our long trk through London and knowing we wanted to hit lots of sights the following day, we opted to head to our room.

By midnight, I am pretty sure every actor and actress who performed on London's West Side was in the main room. There was singing (incredible singing even if I was tired), laughing and crashing of empty bottles dumped in the trash. We both fell asleep to the sounds, almost like a lullaby.

In the morning, we saw empty bottles everywhere as I young boy was setting up for breakfast. The breakfast room was sadly nothing special but they had some quick meals and we were pleased. (Side note--the website shows a breakfast room now--we did not have this; guess we need to go back). Our breakfast companion was a younger man from Colorado. He was on business regarding an internet start up he was working on.

"Can you believe you found this place?" he began as he took a swig of his coffee (the coffee was in beautiful tea cups).

"No, "Mike laughed. "how did you hear about it?"

"My boss has a friend who knows the guy. And you?"

So we told our new friend the tale of Captain Bucko. He listened and then stood up, grinning.

"That's so cool," he shook our hands and left. He was in a hurry to get to a flight.

I looked over at Mike and noticed he had yellow streaks in his hair. Apparently, antique pillows should not be laid on after a shower.

After cleaning off some fabric bleeds, we headed off for a day of site seeing. We had to see as much as possible--we would be joining our tour in Zurich tomorrow. And who knows who else we might meet?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Guessing Game Answer

We love a parade! Especially when it's for the the local high school football team!
Yes, it was the small town high school homecoming parade. And if you've ever seen the show 'Friday Night Lights', you know just how big of a deal this is in our town!

The main streets are shut down for a couple of hours and all the neighbors come out to cheer on the team, see the court, listen to the band, and oh, get some candy the football players and others pelt us with :)

We've been doing this since Miley was born 11 years ago! The parades are always fun, festive and full of treats---one year we got so many treats, we just passed them out for Halloween :0

And now, time to get ready for the big game. It is Friday afterall ;)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Guessing Game -- What Are They Waiting For?

Here's a couple hints:

1. It is not Halloween but does involve candy.

2. It is associated with something that is a very big deal in small town Texas.

Got it? Go ahead and guess.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Staying Healthy During the Cold and Flu Season

Yes, it's that time of year again. A time of sniffling, sneezing, fevers and coughs.


But it doesn't have to be that way or at least not for the entire 6 months.

When You Aren't Sick at All

This is the time to make sure your immunity is strong. Take in as much fresh fruits and veggies and possible. Limit sugar intake---sugar can reduce your immunity for up to 24 hours. According to Dr. Sears, the busiest time of the year is the week after Halloween. There is a link.

Keep your stress as low as possible too. Stress is also an immunity killer. Relax, give your problems to God. Don't try to do it all. Give others a chance to help :)

Wash hands in public, especially before eating. I am a big fan of this spray (Cleanwell) for on the go (much better than the alcohol based hand sanitizer).

When You Feel You Might Be Coming Down With Something

If you do catch something, it is a big signal from your body to rest. We come into contact with thousands of germs everyday. When one makes you sick, quite often, it's your body saying slow down. Take the hint and do.

Put 1-2 drops of hydrogen peroxide in your ears. If you hear 'popping', it means it's killing germs. If you still hear popping after 5 minutes do it again. Repeat for up to 20 minutes. This has stopped a virus in our family's systems more times than I can count!

Bulk up on some herbs and vitamin C. I give our family Umcka at the first sign of a cold every few hours. I have had amazing luck with it! I also like Emergen-C.

If you have a really sore throat, chew on some raw minced garlic. It tastes awful but it can really help your throat and kill those germs.

Most importantly, rest. Rest. Rest.

When You are Really Sick

Hot baths are wonderful along with hot showers. The steam and water help with congestion.

Chicken noodle soup and clear liquids are required at this point. You need to stay hydrated or you get even worse.

Use a Neti-pot to help with the congestion.

Drink Mother's Milk tea. It contains fenugreek which also loosens congestion. You can take straight fenugreek but drinking the tea helps with the fluid intake! Please ask a doctor's advice if you are pregnant.

For a really bad cough, try eating some high quality bitter sweet chocolate. Actually proven to work!

Again, most important thing. REST. The world can carry on without you for a few days. Stay home until you feel ready to take on the world. Your immune system will be down after your cold/flu so take it easy or you'll end up sick again!

I am personally not a fan of OTC meds. I do not think they help; I think they only prolong a cold/flu. Once Mike and I got sick at the same time. I did the stuff above. He took OTC meds. I was better within 48 hours. he was sick for 10 days.

I hope this helps you get through the cold/flu season!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Weekend Story Part 2 (The dollar is not a heavy as a pound)

e landed in London, late morning (London time). We began to walk through mazes and were truly lost puppies looking for home. Mike turned to a guy next to him that looked like he rode Harleys for a living.

"You're new to this, aren't you, " he smiled.

"Yes, could we follow you?" Mike the ever trusting husband said.

"Sure," he nodded us through a gate and began to explain the whole customs process.

Mike, being his usual chatty self asked if our new friend would care to join us for coffee to thank him for his help. He would be delighted to.

So sitting down, I learned our friend, Captain Bucko, was a truly interesting individual. According to him, the good captain, he had been abroad several times and had visited many countries we were going to see.

"So where are you staying?" he inquired.

"This place called The Athenaeum," Mike answered as he pulled out the itineary the travel agent gave us.

The captain rubbed his chin, "Don't know anything about that place."

"According to our travel agent it's somewhere between a Hilton and say the Ritz--nice but not too nice, we're not the Trumps, "I was getting into the conversation.

"And it's really not too pricy, "Mike chimmed in. "It's only 380 pounds a night so that's what $185 or so?"

Captain Bucko started to laugh, "My friend, you are confusing your math. As you will quickly learn, two dollars is worth one pound, not two dollars per pound. "
Mike and I were speechless. He continued.

"The room is actually more like $760 a night. A bit OTT as they say here."

Mike and I both looked at each and mouthed 'Oh my goodness'.

I turned to Captain Bucko, "Maybe it's a mistake on this sheet. Maybe it's really dollars. A little too high but."

"We are staying there for four nights--that's like three grand," Mike blurted out.

"Well," Captain Bucko scratched his beard. "I do have some friends, the Millers. They are into antiques and have a little bed and breakfast. Let me write down their info for you. The guy who runs it is a great fella. I wouldn't be surprised if you called him and he came and picked you up himself in his land rover and took you about town."

"That would be great, "Mike was smiling. I was unsure.

"Well honey, "I began. "Why don't we see if it's a mixup at the hotel and take it from there?"

"But this seems..."

"I want to try the hotel, "I forced a smile. I was going to play the bride card and he knew it. Mike nodded and we got up from our chairs.

"Well the travel agent said we need to catch a train to the other airport because it's closer to our location and take a cab from there."

Captain Bucko nodded and got up. "I understand. Now when you get to the other airport, you exit to the left and find a que, that's a line, for cabs called blackies. Blackies are great cabs but they again are OTT."

"Oh great," Mike smiled.

"It was great meeting you again," I shook the captain's hand.

"Yes and thank for your help," Mike said pulling out his wallet.

Captian Bucko, pulled out his wallet and motioned Mike to put his away and paid for our coffee and pasteries. "You're own your honeymoon, allow me," he smiled. "And remember if you call the Millers, tell them Captain Bucko sent you they'll give you a good rate. And you can't get in without a referral."

Captain Bucko went back to the plane to catch his connection to France and we proceeded to take off for our train. Before boarding we exchanged our dollars for a small sum of pounds. Mike went to buy the tickets for the train, coach again.

"I don't know about that bed and breakfast, "I said as we were waiting.

"He seemed nice and come on three grand is going to kill us. We'll be broke."

"I'd rather be broke than on the British news as a serial killer victim, "I mumbled. "The whole thing seems like a scam. I mean who is really that nice?"

Mike sighed, "I guess you have a point. It did seem a bit odd that he knew about bed and breakfast. Well here's out train."

We got on the train and saw it was bumper to bumper people. I mean pressed to the glass so many people. There was no way we could even fit. I looked to my left and saw the other car was almost empty.

I grabbed Mike's sleeve.

"Come on, looks like no one saw this side," I was very eager to sit on one of the cushy benches I saw.

We got in and sat down across from an older man, a professor at Duke we later learned, and gave each other subtle high fives. We could not understand how the people in the other car were so well stupid to be all crammed like they were.

As the train began to roll, I was mesmorized by the beautiful countryside. It was truly lovely, The green was amazing and the little home adorable. I was getting really excited to soak in this new land.

"Tickets," the polite (and by the way, all British are polite--very polite) conductor asked our table.

The professor pulled out his ticket and then Mike pulled out his.

"Sir, "polite conductor addressed Mike. "These are for coach. You are unfortunetly in first class."

I glanced back at the crammed car behind us, and then I gave Mike my please don't-make-me-go-there look.

"Um, "Mike began. "I am so sorry. Is there anyway I can pay you the additional fee now."

Surely it's only a few bucks.

"Of course sir. That will five pounds, each."

Mike sighed and took out the wallet. Our pounds were dropping faster than a weight watcher meeting.

I smiled and continued to enjoy the countryside.

We arrived at the station and true to Captain Bucko's words, found the Blackies. We looked for the que but found nothing. We began to walk right up to the cabs when I noticed a rather large line way behind us. Our first lesson in England. You don't stand right up at the cabs for que. You poiltely wait well back. Now no one said anything as we walked straight to the front (very polite remember) but felt uneasy stares so Mike and quickly ran to the back of the que.

We got in the Blackie and drove for about a block to our hotel. Five pounds.

The Athenaeum was pretty, I will admit that. A door man went straight to our cab and grabbed our bags. He scanned our luggage tag and greeted us by Mr and Mrs last name and then led us to the lobby where he introduced us to the front desk by name and began our registration. I was impressed but not $780 a night impressed.

Will we stay at the hotel or trust Captian Bucko? Will we go see the queen? All these questions and more will be answered next week!

****Quick Update: I was reviewing old stuff and I am about 100 pounds off on the hotel room--it was 280 pounds. I thought $780 seemed too high :0****