Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Christmas Blues: Three Tips for Survival


The holidays are among us. Personally, at this time in my life, I love the holidays!  I have spent the past several weeks decorating my home trying to make it look as festive and cozy as possible for my family and loved ones.  However, if I am being super honest, I have not always appreciated this time of year. There was a point in my life when I was getting divorced and my father was dying of lung cancer that I honestly dreaded this time of year.

I do not think I am alone. For many people, the time between November and January is a very difficult time to get through. Some may call it the bah humbugs or seasonal depression, or even just a funky ole mood but it is common to encounter someone with the Christmas Blues whose goal is just to survive the holidays. 

There is something very emotional about the holiday season. It could be simply societal pressure of purchasing gifts and spreading ourselves too thin.  Maybe it is that a new year is upon us and staring us in the face, offering a time of reflection or taking stock of where we are in life and were we have failed or come up short. During my divorce, I felt like the biggest failure who would never find happiness again. The holiday's served as a reminder of all the things that I had lost and did not have. It was such a cycle of grief: I was sad to be alone, but when I was around everyone else, I was reminded of what a failure I felt like that I just wanted to be alone.

 Many of my friends really struggle during this time of the year.  Many have a relationship, or even relationships, they are not content with. They are experiencing rifts between their siblings or emotional distant from their parents, contemplating divorce with their spouse, or even have an estranged relationship with their child. These relationship challenges often are the basis for the Christmas Blues felt during this time of the year,

If you struggle during this time of the year, try keeping these three tips in mind.

1. Be Present in the Moment

There is a saying that Rome was not built in a day. Neither were our relationship challenges.  Christmas dinner is not the time to engage in an argument over Grandma's funeral or the business deal that failed. Despite all the holiday movies that find a solution and make the family perfect; in real life a solution will not just magically appear. Lessen your expectations. Instead of expecting the relationship to instantly be repaired,  make a plan to enjoy the short time you are together. Leave the "baggage" at the door and be present in the moment you are sharing.

2. Do What You Can

Work parities, school parties, family gatherings, social events with friends: it seems like the invitations are endless during this time of the year. You do not have to say yes to every single in invite you receive.  You can pick and chose. You also get to decide the depth that you enter. Some may enter up to their ankles, where others may wade into to their hips. No one expects you to be the life of the party and you should not expect that of yourself either. When I was at my lowest, I had a small child that did not understand my struggles. I did what I could for him and let the rest go. You know what, he still had a perfect time. As he has moved into adulthood, he looks back on the collection of holidays and hardly remembers my down times.

3. Forgiveness

I believe that we all are generally trying to do our best in life. I think we are all making life choices while weighing the pros and cons of our decisions. Some decisions we make seem like good ones in one moment and we learn later that they were not the best or they had consequences that we did not foresee. These are moments that can haunt us.  They make us feel unworthy. Forgiveness is critical to moving on. I would suggest that we have to start by forgiving ourselves before we can begin to seek forgiveness of others. Saying, "I am sorry, I made a mistake," is such a powerful message. Why not start with yourself.

My wish for you this holiday season is for peace. Take care of yourself and remember sometimes getting through is the best we can hope for. So, even if you chose to stay in bed all day on December 25, I promise the next day is a mere twenty-four hours away. 

Christmas Cookie Exchange: Lemon Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread

Cookies.

I think we all might have a touch of Cookie Monster in us when it comes to our love of cookies. I mean, really, who does not love cookies?

One of my favorite holiday traditions is an old fashioned cookie exchanges. You bring in a couple dozen cookies and swap with your friends. You leave with a sampling of cookies; maybe an old favorite or maybe even something new.


My cookie of the year is a Lemon Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread. The red cranberries and the green pistachio's just look like Christmas in a cookie.  The lemon just gives the cookie an extra pop of flavor.

Lemon Cranberry Pistachio Shortbread Cookies

2 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unsalted pistachio's coarsely chopped
1 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
zest from 1 lemon

Mix the flour and salt together in a separate bowl. In your mixer beast the butter until smooth.  Add the sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest. Gently stir in the flour mixture just till incorporated. Fold in the pistachio'sand dried cranberries.

Divide dough in half. Roll into a log and and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least three hours or up to three days.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Use a sharp knife, slice the logs into 1/3 inch thick cookies. Place on a prepared cookie sheet (one lined with parchment) and bake for 15-20 minutes. You want the edges to be just beginning to brown.



My work life has been rather busy lately. Our agency is kicking off a new approach to engaging with families to help partner to keep children safe. We had a huge kick off in St. Louis, Missouri, four hours from my home. I arrived home late in the evening the night before our cookie exchange. What I appreciated most was this dough was able cool in the refrigerator the two days I was gone.  One word of advice, I should have let the dough sit at room temperature for a moment before I started slicing. 


My girlfriend sent me a text after trying the cookie. She is not very adventurous in her culinary life. She wanted me to know that the pistachio's scared her but she really liked the cookie. I love it when you try something new and learn it is yummy! 

Thank you coworkers for inviting me to the cookie exchange. I came home with some super yummy cookies. The family wolfed down the peanut butter cookies. I loved the molasses spice cookies and the applesauce cookies! They both reminded me so much of my childhood. My mom used molasses a lot when I was growing up. Mom also used to make an applesauce cake and those cookies felt so familiar! 

I hope you all are enjoying the most wonderful time of the year ! Don't forget to slow down from the hustle and bustle of shopping to enjoy a small pleasure. Have a cookie! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Worldess Wednesday: Oh Christmas Tree!

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree such please you do bring me!

So much that I keep adding them to my home. Right now I have five in my home. By the time Ole Saint Nick arrives I may be up to six.



This year we changed things up a bit. I added mesh garland to the main tree in the house. I even made my own topper. The family tree in the basement got a new Frosty hat topper and some cute Elf legs.

My dining room tree is a rustic burlap, white, crystal, gold and bronze.  The star is a giant wooden star I found at Pier One last year.

This year in honor of our 2015 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals, I created a small Royals themed tree. All the ornaments are salt dough and hand painted by myself. I made a gold crown for the topper out of sculpey clay.

The final tree is a small fuschia colored tree with pink lights and a pink star. This tree finds its home in The Short Chic's bedroom. She decorated it herself this year.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hosting A Glow Party



Recently, we hosted a Glow Party for our friends at our annual family camp-out. We had over 50 people attend ranging in age from a year old to 65 years old.  I am not kidding for one second, it was a blast! Somewhere between black lights, glow sticks, and killer play list every guest let go, relaxed, and had a great time.

Creating a Glow Party is actually pretty easy. Here are my 6 simple steps to follow to help you create a Successful Glow Party! 

1. Venue

We had our glow party outside at a local state park. You may have your party in a house, or basement or even a party room.  The size of your venue will determine the type of size of your black lights.  

2. Black Lights

Black Lights are almost a necessity for a successful Glow Party. Small venue's need small lights but if you have a larger space, you will need larger lights. Imagine the disappointment if you are trying to use black light-bulbs in a large area. They will be too small to have an impact.  If you do have a small space, try using these Clip Lights. We layered lights using both big and small.                      HDX 75-Watt Incandescent Clamp Light

I found a few large black-lights at the Halloween Store. They ranged in price from $20-$30. Maybe that does not sound expensive to you, I found a cheaper solution that worked for me. We had two old florescent light fixtures laying around from a recent update to our rental house. We painted them black and added light bulbs.  We attached them to our camper awning and they provided great coverage that ran the length of our 35 foot camper. 

If you do not have old light fixtures laying around, you can purchase florescent light fixtures from the home improvement store for less than the Halloween Store sells them. 

                                        Lithonia Lighting 2-Light White T12 Fluorescent Shop Light

After securing fixtures, you will need light bulbs for those fixtures. The Home Improvement Store sold black lights but the packaging said Aqua Lights (for fish tanks).  The florescent light fixtures we used held two Black Lights per fixture.  We also used smaller light bulbs and you can find those at many stores or easily on Amazon. 

                                         Philips 18 in. T8 15-Watt Linear Fluorescent Light Bulb - Black
3. Accessories

Accessories are what bring this Glow Party alive. I would look for anything that said Glow-in-the-Dark or even Neon worked well.  Hands down the favorite accessory at our Glow Party was the Neon Glow-in-the-Dark body paint purchased from Amazon.  A few hours before the party started one of our guest started painting designs on other guest faces.

Other cool accessories included: Glow-in-the-Dark fingernail polish, lipstick, crayons, Glow sticks, glow rings, glow teeth, bouncy balls, hair clips, drinking cupsballoons, and even paper products.

You know those plastic shapes you stick on a child's ceiling? Those would make amazing decorations at a Glow Party. If your party is indoor or if you have a way of hanging them, You can most often find them at the dollar store.

4. Clothing

When planning a Glow Party it is important to not forget to plan your own outfit for the night. Glow-in-the-dark tutu's are fun and easy to make. I found neon tulle at a fabric store and for under $20 purchased enough tulle to make two tutu's.

Not a tutu kind of person? That is okay too. I also found Glow-in-the-Dark fabric paint and created my own Glow T-shirt.  Adding fabric paint to any old item of clothing will bring it new life under a black light.  Remember, even a simple white t-shirt glows well under a black light.




5. Food

Every party needs refreshments. Did you know that Tonic Water is made with a fluorescent molecule called quinine? This makes it a perfect to use in food preparation to help get your food glowing. Mountain Dew, Energy Drinks, Milk, and Club Soda also have ingredients that make them glow. Add Tonic Water to a punch recipe (adult beverage or not) or whip up some Glow-in-the-Dark frosting for cupcakes. You can even make Jell-O parfaits that will glow all night long.  Let your food have just as much fun at the Glow-in-the-Dark party as your guest.


6. Music

The final touch to a Glow Party is music. A good dance play list will turn this party into a rave in an instant! Find out what the teens in your life are listening to and compile a play list to keep your party going all night long!


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Exotics -R-Us


I have known Jenn K for a while now but I recently discovered a passion of hers. She loves educating people about animals and loves to share her passion for animals with others. Jenn K is a Wildlife Education Exhibitor and owns and operates Exotics-R-Us. She has a crew existing of  human helpers as well as phenomenal animals that make up Exotics-R-Us.

Exotics-R-Us has been showing animals for a decade. You might have seen them at many local schools, hospitals, 4-H camps, local businesses, training's, retirement facilities, Boy Scout events, Girls Scout events, as well as fairs and festivals. They are even regulars at Mid-Continent Public Library educating young crowds about these animals and their care.

I recently caught up with Jenn and her Exotics-R-Us crew at a private birthday party. At this party Exotics-R-Us brought nine different species of animals and ten total animals to the party.


The animals are just as involved as the staff at Exotics-R-Us when deciding who will or won't go to an event. Jenn reports that some of her animals are natural "hams" and love to show off. Others are not. On the day of the event, if one of the animals does not want to "crate-up" she respects their need for an off day.



The crowd at the party I was at was made up of a group of young children. They loved the next animal as much as the last. Everyone got to run their hands down the back of a the Three Banded Brazillian Armadillo (photo above) as well as down the tail of the Ringtail Cat.  I enjoyed petting the Chinchilla, I don't think I have ever felt anything as soft as his fur. 




At this point you might be looking past the cute factor and wondering some very real questions. So, in case you are were wondering, yes, Exotics-R-Us is fully licensed and insured. The staff were extremely cautious in controlling the animals during the entire show and allowed the guest to interact when it was safe for the animals as well as the staff. You can find specific guidelines on their website to help create the best environment for human/animal interaction. 




This Vervet Monkey was one of the funniest creatures to watch. He absolutely reminded me of Marcel (any other Friend's fans out there?). Yes, I do realize he is not the same species Marcel but it was enough of a similarity. This little guy was as curious about the audience as much as they were about him. It was feeding time for several of the animals and we were able to watch them drink bottles, eat carrots, or sweet potatoes. 


Every animal has their own story. Some of the animals are born on site at the Exotics-R-Us facility, while others come as a re-home. Some have been donated to help support Exotics-R-Us role in education.  Jenn also works with other licensed zoo's and exhibitors and they often share animals amongst each other.


Exotics-R-Us is currently caring for a baby Wallaby. This is one of the animals that will only stay with Jenn and her crew a short time. As he grows, his need for larger space will dictate that he move on to live at one of the other places that Exotics-R-Us have arrangements with.


Several of the animals at Exotics-R-Us are special needs animals. Currently, they are caring for a three-footed fox, a blind prairie dog, a one eyed dog and a three legged, two hoofed Myotonic goat (photo later in this post).  These special needs animals have a story to tell as well. Children with special needs can especially relate to animals special needs. 
                       

                               

Some of the parties that Exotics-R-Us work at are designed for educational purposes. Scouts, both boy and girl, may need to learn about a specific animal to earn a merit badge. Others are just for fun. Recently, Exotics-R-Us were the main attraction at a baby shower. The organizers had made a special request to have only baby animals to match the theme of their shower. Pending arrival of a baby mixed with the super cuteness of baby animals. I can't hardly stand it!



Hopefully you are now considering a party with these cute animals as the star of the show. Jenn does have some suggestions for making the party go smoothly. She does ask that all food and drinks be withheld until the animals have made their appearance.  She also says a respectful audience is one of the most important elements to a successful party involving animals. 

         
              
Loud noises, sudden movements, and even eager guest rushing an animal can send an otherwise scare a timid animal. She also ask that if you plan to have side activities or conversations that you have enough space to separate out the animals from the other activities. Exotics-R-Us wants everyone to have a fun learning experience that develops into positive attitudes toward animals and nature.



As far as size of the group, Jenn leaves that to the party planner. Of course the smaller the group, the more intimate the setting. A group of 15 guest will have more time for interaction than say a larger group of 50. Exotics-R-Us does parties for all ages...even adults. 


At this birthday party, I would say the animals that stole the show were new born Serval kittens. Serval's are a species of wild cats native to Africa. They are cousins to the African Golden Cat and look very similar.  They have very long legs and large ears, both which help them hunt. They also have white markings on the back of their ears giving the appearance they have eyes in the back of their heads. 


Are you wondering if this type of party is within your budget? Jenn assured me that it is. A one hour party with 6-9 different species typically cost less than $300.00.  As an added bonus, Exotics-R-Us has decided to give a 10% discount to readers of this blog.  So if you are looking for something a little different and totally adorable then please consider hiring Exotics-R-Us for your next party. 



As far as this specific party, I think the birthday girl had a great time.



Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Victory Parade for the Champions


The Kansas City Royals won The World Series this past weekend.

The Kansas City Royals celebrate after defeating the New York Mets 7-2 to win the World Series in New York on Monday, November 2.

Yes. They. Did.

We were proud last year when our last place Royals came back and clinched a wild card ticket. They were the Cinderella story of baseball last year and fought their way to the World Series only to lose out in Game 7 to the San Francisco Giants.  We did not get discouraged. If you would have asked any Royals fan in Kansas City, we would have told you on Opening Day this past Spring that this was going to be our year. We had unfinished business.


We took care of that business last weekend by finishing The World Series in five games and defeating The New York Mets. On Tuesday of this week, our city threw an amazing victory parade that an estimated 800,000 people attended. Schools closed for the day, employers allowed long lunches, college students missed classes, and even government offices closed.


This championship has given something more than a giant trophy and bragging rights to our city. It has given us memories that will last a lifetime. It has given us shared experiences to talk about. We have united in ways past winners may not understand. For these things, I am thankful to the Kansas City Royals. As you glance through my Victory Parade photos, I will give you some of my favorite moments from this years road to reclaiming the crown.


If you are a sci-fi fan, this was the year the Chicago Cubs were suppose to win the World Series. Royal's fan just quietly smiled at all of the Back to the Future hype because we knew the screenwriters got it wrong. This was our year.



In terms of highly memorable moments: Game 4 of the American League Division Series ranks up there! Eighth inning and the Royals are down 6 to 2 Houston Astro fans (and a few KC Royals fan according to my Facebook news-feed) prematurely gave The Astro's the win. Even the Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted his congratulations to the Houston Astro's for advancing to the American League Champion Series.  However, Royal's fans have learned that our team takes advantage of every single inning in baseball and sometimes just sometimes our best baseball is played in the 8th or even 9th innings. We came back and won that game 9-6 and tied the series up. Two days later we were moving on to the American League Championship Series.


 Blue Jay's Outfielder, Jose Bautista (former Royal by the way) became the second most disliked person to Royals fan's when he fake threw a ball at Kauffman Stadium to Royal's fans. We will all remember how good it felt to head into Toronto Canada leading the series with the Blue Jays 2-0? We hardly blinked an eye when The Royal's lost game three of that series. We ended that series 4 wins to 2 after six games.


Wondering who the most disliked person is to Royal's fans? Joe Buck. Need I say anymore. Two seasons of listening to Joe Buck's inability to say a single positive thing about The Royal's and then he goes on the MLB Network on the morning of Game 5 of the World Series and says we might be the best team he has covered in 18 years. Anyone else confused? Do I dare ask, too little too late?


I am blessed to have watched so many games with friends during this post season play. Game One of the World Series Championship I watched with three co-workers in a hotel lobby during a business trip. We took a lot of razzing from locals. We were in the middle of St. Louis Cardinal's Country. (MO is a very decisively split state and red fans have no use for blue.) Despite the razzing, we held strong in our faith and wore our blue proudly. We also showed up to work the next day super tired, with red eyes, and big smiles after staying up for all 14 innings. Our heads were high because we had been victorious!


Game 4 of the World Series was held on Halloween Night. Trick-or-Treating started early in my neighborhood, everyone wanted to be home before first pitch. We watched the game on a big screen in our driveway with our neighborhood friends and our camping buddies. Another 8th inning rally occurred and we walked away with a win and leading the series 3 to 1.


Game 5 of the World Series, the Royals are trailing The New York Mets. I never once got worried. As I have stated before, we come alive in the 8th and sure enough, the team did not disappoint. We tied that game up in the 9th and sent The Mets into extra innings.  Christian Colon got the hit that drove Dyson home giving us the lead. We went on to put up a few extra "insurance" runs that we ended up not needing. The Royals shut the Mets down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 12th.


From the comfort of my own bed, weary eyes, The Husband and I heard the fireworks go off in our neighborhood as strike three was called. We woke The Short Chic up. We did not want her to miss the excitement. We called The Boy in college.  We went to bed with smiles on our faces knowing we had just won our second World Series Championship.


We knew a lot of people would attend the Victory Parade. In 1985 there was an estimated 350,000 in attendance. My work was two blocks off the parade route and since I have secured parking I knew I would have very little difficulty getting to the parade. I invited my Momma to come up and watch it with me. Then The Short Chic's school cancelled and she came along as well.


The camaraderie in the city has been unbelievable throughout the playoff season. Everyone is so nice to each other. So patient. That is what I saw at the parade. I watched a Kansas City Police Officer deliver cotton candy to a group of people because they were on the opposite side of the street.


Elected Kansas City officials started the parade off. I was happy to see Mayor Sly James. I followed many of his tweets during the playoffs with great amusement. Some might have felt we needed a little less public officials but I know how much work public officials put into making these things happen. This is there city too. We can wait another minute or two to see the Champions.


George Brett and Frank White have been baseball royalty in this town for more than three decades. It was very nice to have them at the parade to hand that torch over to new baseball royalty.  Team mascot, Sluggeerr, and Mr. W himself were a part of the parade.  Two people I felt should have been there that were not, TechNine and The Marlin's Man. They have become such a staple of the crowd behind home-plate, it would have been natural to have included them.


The Royal's players rode in the back of Chevy Silverado's. Lo Cain was the first player.  Alex Rios followed behind him and then Alex Gordon completely surrounded by his family. Of course, Christian Colon received a loud crowd welcome. So did Eric Hosmer. I am still not sure if the young ladies that were standing near me have recovered from the near Hosmer experience.



Some players rode alone, others with their families, some with their parents, and even Moose rode with his dog. They all had banners and shirts that said "Thanks Kansas City".


Pitchers, catchers, infielders or outfielders. Everyone has their favorite Royal and I think they were each given a Royal greeting in the Victory Parade. I think they were saying thank to us but we were also saying "Thank You"  to them. They brought this excitement here. To our city. To Kansas City.


The little part of the parade we were in was crowded. But we were not uncomfortable. Not at all. In fact, my cousin arrived from out of town and he was able to find us using a drop pin. The Husband attempted to go to the Rally. He said it was so crowded he left shortly after he arrived.  The total route was 2.5 miles long. In the end 800,000 people jammed that route. There were only 3 arrest that day. There was no looting. No destruction. It was in fact a day as perfect as a day involving nearly a million people could be.


I don't say it was perfect to ignore that we had some hiccups. From my work window I could see the interstates back up as soon as they shut down the downtown streets. There was not enough parking.  On my way home, I joked because it looked like the Zombie Apocalypse had occurred. Vehicles were left anywhere people could find a spot to park. That meant the shoulders of interstates or even the grassy areas between highways. People were encouraged to take mass transportation but there was not enough buses to meet the demand.

Cell service could not keep up with the amount of people in one location. I saw one photo on my news feed that a fan held a sign that said, "Cell Service like it's 1985. It might have been edited after the fact, but the sentiment was true. No one was accessing cellular data while at the parade!

There was not any food.  Parade attenders had been encouraged to not bring anything to the parade; backpacks, coolers, or even chairs. People stood in line for up to three/four hours before the parade started and the parade was scheduled right over the lunch hour. I really wish Kansas City would have reached out to the multitude of food trucks in this area and had them park on the shut down streets to serve the crowd. I know The Short Chic would have done about anything for a hot dog vendor! The Sprint Center finally sent out a cotton candy vendor, so you can imagine how happy the fans were to see bags of sugar hitting the streets.




The parade ended with the last two big stars. Salvador Perez was the series MVP. The crowd chanted SALVY, SALVY as he drove past.

Ned Yost effectively ended the parade. He held onto the World Series Championship trophy. Not the replica the parade started off with but the actual trophy.


I went back to work after the parade past me. I was not going to fight the crowds to the rally site. I watched highlights on the news that night. I will watch the entire rally in re-air this weekend. Some have criticized but Jonny Gomez but he made me smile as he commanded the stage. Jeremy Guthrie showed us first hand one of the ways this team went from last place to Champions by focusing on positive moments.


 Thank you, Kansas City Royals.  Thank you,  Kansas City, Thank you fans. Now, if you are like me you will use this off season time to catch up on the sleep we missed during this post season play!