Friday, December 7, 2012

Rock 'n Roll Deja Vu

December 7, 2012

by Heather

If somebody would have told me as a teenager that I'd still be dancing to my family's rock and roll band as we eased into our retirement years, I'd have called them crazy.

In junior high,  I played tambourine periodically with my brother's band and, very occasionally, danced on stage as a "go-go dancer."  Fast forward two years: I'm 15 and dating Tom who is also in a rock and roll band (Tom and I went on to marry five years later).  In our twenties, both guys moved away from the band experience and my years as a band groupie/roadie were over, or so I thought.

About a year and a half ago, a conversation started about how much fun it would be to get together and form a garage band -- just to sit around, play instruments, and have some laughs.  I thought I could play the keyboard (hey, I played piano when I was eight after all), Tom would play lead guitar, brother Scott on bass, a biker buddy on rhythm guitar, and we could find a singer and drummer.  The band came together with the addition of a neighbor as lead singer, and the Maricopa County Public Defender as the the drummer (his first question, when asked if he wanted to join this band of bikers, was "Are the other members potential clients?"). 

At the first practice, I realized I was way out of my league.  The other members came with years of experience and they sounded pretty good right from the start.  I knew I couldn't keep up so I bowed out -- not entirely though.  I had a favorite song "Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf that I just had to play and my husband wanted me to play along to "Route 66," which he sings.  With some practice, I was able to master (is playing one-handed really "mastering"?) those two tunes.

A local biker bar has a jam night every Wednesday. People show up with their instruments -- everything from horns and harmonicas to guitars and keyboards -- and groups are put together to perform.  Scott and Tom had been playing there off and on for several months when they invited the other band members to come along. The guys played three songs together as a band and were good enough to get hired for a gig.  We were back in the band business!

Their band (called "Outside of Normal") now plays about once a month, most often at the El Dorado Bar and Grill.  What makes it really fun is that our friends and relatives come and rock out while the band is playing. We have a blast dancing and singing along to the songs we grew up with. I'm not the band's only guest artist -- friends, neighbors, relatives, work colleagues, and just about anybody who wants to perform on stage is invited up to do so.  Between the band and the audience, there's never a dull moment!

That's me playing the keyboard and lots of our wild friends dancing up a storm -- sure love that they come out and party with us!

Here's Ann, part of our trio of bloggers, taking a break from the dancing.

Sheila, the other third of our blogging team, is chatting with Edie, a member of our book club.

You should see Sheila and her husband, David, on the dance floor -- they're crazy good!  Behind them is Cathy, David's cousin (also from Scotland) and a member of our book club.  Hidden from view is her husband, Phil.

Everybody's a critic!  Rowan likes to watch his Pop-pop play the bass 
but sitting this close is a little too loud for him.

If you're in in the mood for a party, join us Saturday, December 15th, in south Scottsdale, AZ,
at the El Dorado Bar and Grill.
Starting time 8 p.m.; ending time midnight!

Keeping the Merry in Christmas!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Our Home for the Holidays

By Sheila
December 6, 2012

Around our house at the holidays I suspect we have a little more chaos going on than my girlfriends.  We have crazy work schedules (I will be flying to help you and yours get where you need to go to celebrate).  We have some of both of our families here and we'll also look forward to time with our own children, their spouses and of course they all need to cordinate with their in-laws schedules.  We have visiting children, grandchildren, and even the occasional grand-dog.  We have always had a revolving door where friends and family can feel free to stop by for a short visit, or to pull a chair up by the fire and stay awhile. 
That being said, it is good to be prepared for the unexpected.  A quick and fun treat I like to keep on hand is the makings for S’mores.  As soon as it cools off enough, I stock a basket with marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate, ready to go.  We like to use Ghirardelli squares and have experimented with some of their special flavors.  My favorite is Sea Salt and Caramel.  I just bought some S’mores “baskets” at Crate and Barrel.  They allow you to assemble your S’more and then get the chocolate nice and melty too.  What’s not to like about that?  I also keep a basket of small paper plates and napkins on my kitchen counter.  This is stocked all the time, ready to go to serve a small plate of cheese and crackers or other simple snack with a glass of wine.

This time of year, we spend a great deal of time outside enjoying the beautiful weather and our outdoor fireplace.  My red painted walls already look festive and we add lit garland and lots of candles to the mantle inside and out. Twinkle lights are up year-round on the patio for the softly lit ambiance.  (And lest you get the wrong idea here, I don’t do anything really outrageous like leave my Christmas lights up on the front of my house or my Christmas tree up year round.) Outdoor curtains make this “room” very cozy at night and keep the warmth in if we need it.  I purchased inexpensive curtains from IKEA; they come in extra long lengths and have held up in the Arizona sun for several years.  Of course, you can buy fabric made specifically for the outdoors, but be prepared to spend more money. We used conduit for the rods (from the hardware store electrical department) which can be cut any length and is really inexpensive.  Tool storage clips hold the rods in place and make it easy to remove them as needed.  I keep a stack of lap blankets in the basket by the door to keep the chill off in the evening.  This is the same basket that holds the pool towels in the summer time.  You can tell I like baskets for organizing!

Our home is casually festive and a place where we enjoy sharing the spirit of the season with our friends and family.  After all, there’s no place like home, especially for the holidays.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Travel Tips for the Holidays

By Sheila
December 5, 2012

It’s that time of year when many of us are traveling to spend time with loved ones during the holidays.   While that can be fun and exciting, for many people travel can be stressful too.  I am offering some tips here to help your holiday travel go as smoothly as possible, and in the end, save you money.   Although I don’t usually sell myself an authority on anything, I am a flight attendant for my day job.  I have logged lots of miles for fun and work, and seen both sides of the travel experience.  I could probably write a book on the crazy things I have witnessed, but for now, here are some suggestions to consider.  I know many of these are VERY basic, but it amazes me how often people are very ill-prepared for travel.  Much of this information is focused on flying, yet being prepared applies to all modes of travel and makes it more enjoyable for all parties involved. 
In no particular order, here you are:
1.       Allow plenty of time.  At this time of year, airport parking areas fill up quickly, and costs can vary greatly, so have a back-up parking plan if you know this to be the case in your area.  If you aren’t sure, call your local airport, or see if they have information regarding this on their website. Check-In and Security lines can be extra long as well.
2.       Have all your documents organized and readily accessible.  This will include your Government ID such as a driver’s license or passport, as well as your tickets or record locators.  Also any car rental or hotel information.  I like the app “Trip-It” which will organize all your info in one place. If you use a smart phone, this is a great opportunity to make it work for you.  I have a photocopy of this info, as well as my health insurance ID card in my checked bag as well, for long trips.
3.       Know your airline’s policy regarding checked bags.  If they charge additional for bags over a certain weight, you may be better off packing in 2 smaller bags.  Weigh your bag ahead of time at home.  These expenses can add up fast, so know what you will be paying for.
4.       Do not wrap presents in advance.  If TSA has any questions regarding a package they cannot inspect, they will unwrap it.
5.       Dress appropriately for travel.  Wear comfortable clothing and dress in layers so that you can moderate your own temperature.  Inevitably passengers are too warm/cold and this can vary greatly in different parts of the plane and many buildings not within our control. 
6.       Know your airline’s policy for carry-on bags.  Do not exceed this limit.  It is time-consuming for airline personnel to have to stop passengers and check bags at the last minute, and inconsiderate to other passengers.  Some airlines charge additional for this, as well. 
7.       In your carry-on bag you should have: 
a.       Any critical medications in original packaging (including your airsick meds if you need them).   Reading material and/or stuff to entertain you (and your kids).  Also, stick labels on your electronics, so if they do get left behind on the plane or security, you can be paged or notified.  Include your phone number.  Be prepared to take your laptop out and place it in a bin by itself to go through security.  No need to take your I-pad out.  If your stuff needs charged, do this ahead of time and don’t forget your chargers.  I keep all of mine in a small bag in my carry-on.  Don’t forget headphones for you and the little ones.  Please do not play music/games/movies without headphones.  This is guaranteed to annoy those seated around you. 
b.      Bring any critical food/wipes/diapers/formula/etc.  Bring extra in case of delays or re-routes. Most airplanes do not stock these items. If you are not sure, call and ask ahead of time.
c.       A wrap, sweater or blanket for the plane to keep warm, if needed.  I always travel with a very large scarf, which doubles as a sweater, blanket, picnic cloth, etc.  Airplanes ore often kept cooler so that anyone prone to being airsick is more comfortable.  Nothing worse than being nauseated and too warm! For long flights bring your neck pillow and ear plugs as well.
d.      Do not exceed the TSA limits on liquids, or you may be throwing away that expensive perfume you brought.  At this time it is 3.4 ounces per container, and all containers need to fit in a quart size (see-through) bag.  Check the TSA website for particulars regarding baby formula, medication, etc.  This includes lip balm, lotion, gels, etc.  You do not want to be the one that is pulled aside and have your luggage rifled while they pull stuff out that you now have to throw away because you are out of time.  Have this bagged separately, and have it readily accessible.  Also, people want to argue about things like toy guns, knives, etc.  Really?  Enough said.
e.      I often bring an empty water container and fill it on the inside of security at a fountain or self serve restaurant.  I always ask permission, but they don’t seem to mind.  Greener planet, more green in my wallet.  I hate paying $5 for a bottle of water.
Stay tuned for more travel-related posts in the future.  I have tips for wardrobe planning for various types of vacations, and I’ll be including them in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy this time with your family. Bon Voyage!

What do you always bring with you when you travel?  Anything special that always seems to make your trip more enjoyable or go more smoothly?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Holiday Cranberry Salsa

by Ann

In the southwest we love our food hot.  We love salsa.  We love fresh ingredients and big flavors.  I love anything Christmas, so the recipe that I am sharing with you today combines the best of all of these concepts! 

A couple of years ago the teacher who took my place as the Family and Consumer Sciences (formerly home economics) position at the high school where I previously taught gave me a great Holiday Cranberry Salsa; a gift that would be perfect if you find yourself in the position to give “something small” to co-workers, neighbors, or friends.

Cranberry Salsa
1 (12 oz) bag or three cups of fresh cranberries
¼ c minced green onions
2 small (approximately 2 T) jalapeƱos, cored, seeded, and mince
½ c granulated sugar
¼ c cilantro leaves, chopped
2 T finely grated fresh ginger root
2 T freshly squeezed orange juice
2 t fresh orange zest
1.       Rinse, drain, and pick through cranberries, discarding any that are soft or bruised.
2.       Process berries in a food processor, pulsing until finely chopped but not mushy.
3.       Mix cut berries with remaining ingredients and refrigerate for at least four hours for flavors to develop before serving.
Serve over cream cheese with crackers.
Be sure to rinse and sort the berries.  I discarded any that were too white or at all shriveled or mushy.

One of the keys to the end result being fabulous is to have the berries chopped not to small (or they'd get mushy) and not too big (too tart).  I have never done this without the food processor, but imagine you could.   Using the processor, I press the "pulse" button until berries are chopped into about eighths. 
When I recieved it as a gift, the Cranberry Salsa was presented in a canning jar with a pinking-sheared square of Christmas fabric over the flat part of the lid of a canning jar.   (See photo)  Attached to it was a holiday-themed index card tied with a pretty bow including the wonderful recipe which I will be sharing below.  I have since made this each holiday season, always resulting in rave reviews.  If you do make this as gifts, a jar with about ¾ - 1 cup would be enough because it is served over a block of cream cheese to be eaten with crackers.

Yum.  Just thinking about this makes me excited to make it again for this post.  It is fabulous, and is a nice treat to bring to potlucks or put out at cocktail parties.  It will stay fresh for four days or so in the fridge.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
You will need to create or print a card like the sample below if you want to use this as a gift idea.  Can you believe it's almost December?!  Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 3, 2012

All is Calm, All is...Black and Gold

This Week's Schedule of Posts
Monday - Fashion by Heather
Tueday - Food by Ann
Wednesday - Frugality by Sheila
Thursday - Furnishings by Ann
Friday - Fun by Heather

December 3, 2012

by Heather

I definitely have a favorite color scheme this season and it's black and gold.  My house is black and gold (with a few touches of silver) for the holiday, and most of my new clothing purchases are in the same color scheme.  I'd been looking for a black purse with gold hardware without much luck, and then I received an email from Michael Kors showing me the perfect leopard print small Hamilton purse with gold hardware and, even better, it was on sale!  Merry Christmas to me...

Michael Kors small Hamilton purse and gold watch; three gold bangles from Nordstroms; Chicos gold and clear stretch bracelet; Alexis Bittar gold earrings and two bangles 

Absolutely love my new purse, and it's just the right accessory to finish off several holiday outfits.  
Here's one of them:

Chicos gold sequined jacket and gold sequined scarf; White House Black Market wide-leg black slacks
Leopard heels from Target

 Are you finished yet with the holiday decorating? I'm done with the living room!  And some of the other rooms, too...but not the tree.  Maybe later tonight...after a glass or two of wine...
Anybody up for a trim-the-tree party?  

And the following is for my sister.  I told her that I had added gold glitter to the spines of some books and she wanted to see it. I found this idea in another blog (or Pinterest?) and would love to give credit 
but can't remember where I saw it.  Anyone else suffer from this problem?

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season!  Check in with Ann and Sheila this week, and I'll see you Friday when I talk about what I'm doing for "fun" these days.