Tuesday, August 15, 2017

a quiet birthday celebration and fun with cousins

(me, NC cousin, local cousin, sister)

A low-key and lovely birthday last week for moi...
The perfect new shoes for this Crazy Cat Lady - Bobs by Skechers and Pad Kee Mao at my favorite Thai restaurant. That was followed by a weekend of family togetherness...

Family from North Carolina were in town for a few days and we had a get-together at my sister's house. Is there anything cuter than a little girl (my second cousin) in a summer dress and cowboy boots playing cornhole? 

The next morning, I headed to downtown Chicago with my sister, our cousin who lives locally, and our cousin from NC. I hadn't seen my NC cousin in almost 19 years! The four of us sat at a table by the beach and talked and laughed for two hours. NC cousin couldn't get over the fact that buildings were right there at the beach. We had a perfect view of the John Hancock building from our table. After lunch and drinks and people watching (side note: thongs on middle aged women are not pretty), we walked around and made our way to Water Tower Place, which is basically a seven-story shopping mall. We eventually wound up on the seventh floor and found Garrett Popcorn - a Chicago must that I've never had! My sister warned me that it was very rich. I got the cheese-caramel mix and she wasn't kidding. A couple of handfuls and I was done. More walking around where we spotted Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago and were awed by its outside beauty amongst the highrises. We crossed the street to take a look and lucky us, the doors were open so we were able to go inside. Of course, my phone camera couldn't do the interior any justice, but wow. I was immediately struck by its reverence and beauty. 

I wish I could bottle up these long days and brilliant sunshine and family memories.

Monday, August 7, 2017

flea market ~ and a zippo update

 What a great time we had on Saturday! Me, Brian, my mom and aunt headed out to the flea market. We hadn't been there in several years. We didn't go with the intentions of buying anything...we just wanted to have a nice day outdoors together while the weather is still beautiful. This is probably the only picture you'll ever see of me in a hat. I am so not a hat person. Even when I was a kid, I hated hats. I don't even wear them through our brutal winters here in the Chicago area. I will put up the hood on my coat though. ;-) So, the only reason I wore a hat this day was to protect my hair color. I had just gotten my hair cut and colored the day before.

My mom and my aunt.

This is a huge flea market ~ we probably only covered half of it in a few hours. There are hundreds of vendors. I kept my phone in my purse and only took a couple of photos, so I borrowed the following ones from my aunt.

We loved these bourbon barrels. How cool would one of these be on a big patio or deck with a round glass top to make a table?

Lots of pretty bottles at this one vendor. These sure would be pretty lining a window.

I spent a whole fifty cents at the flea market. I was going through a box of vintage buttons and found one that said "Pip". Pip was my nickname for Phil. I had to have this button for his memory shelf.

On to news about my Zippo...

He saw the veterinary opthamologist last Thursday. Poor thing had all kinds of eye tests, a blood pressure test taken from his tail, and was put in a cat bag (like a little sleeping bag for cats...only his head was poking out) so that they could take blood from his jugular vein. He freaked out in the bag and peed in it...and all over the vet! She took it in stride and was laughing. She said she brings two changes of clothes to work with her every day. Of course, Zippo then had to have a bath. They didn't put him in a tub of water. They were able to wash him with a wet, soapy washcloth.

Turns out Zippo not only has secondary glaucoma, but cataracts and chronic uveitis. He's on three different medications. The pressure in his eye was 58. I believe the normal range is 10-20. 

Look how much better my fur baby's eye looks already! We went for an eye pressure re-check this morning and the news was very good. His pressure was down to 13! They also did what's called the "menace response" which tests the cat's blink reflex. The tech covered Zippo's good eye, then waved his hand in different directions in front of Zippo's right eye. He rated a weak-positive. Most of the blood tests have come back negative - but they're still waiting for a few more. The vet is trying to determine what caused Zippo's glaucoma in the first place (since it's secondary glaucoma). His urinalysis came back that he has borderline kidney disease, but the vet said for a cat his age, this wasn't bad at all. I have to follow up with Zippo's regular vet.

The vet also said with this good news today - so far - he doesn't need eye surgery. At the first visit last week, a shot in the eye or even removal of his eye was a possibility. I didn't say anything to the vet, but Brian and I discussed this and we decided if it came down to where Zippo needed his eye removed, we wouldn't do it. I know it's a very personal decision, but Zippo is 18 years old, has borderline kidney disease, and only weighs 8 lbs. To put him through the trauma of anesthesia and a major surgery would not be fair to him. He's had a long, loving, wonderful kitty life and we do not want him to suffer.

Happy Meowy Monday!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

guest post: keepin' it cozy ~ how to hygge like the danish

I have a delightful surprise for you today. For the first time, I'm doing a guest post. Welcome Jennifer Ullrich of A Life Designed! have known Jen since she was a baby. Our families attended church together and our parents were good friends. Jen moved to Maryland 14 years ago, but we've always kept in touch.

As an elementary school teacher, Jen was going through the motions, feeling like a hamster on a wheel, barely keeping up with her family, work and relationships. When she did have time to relax ~ she couldn't. On the outside, she had it all. On the inside, she was discontent and restless. An illness forced her to evaluate her priorities. She started to fantasize about a different kind of life: A life where she was present for the people she loved. A life with physical and mental space to think and create. A life where she decided to spend her time.

Jen learned to love the idea of less: less stuff, less busyness, less obligations. Instead, she sought more: more peace, more time, more space, more freedom. She's now an Online Education Instructor which offers flexibility in her work hours ~ and she loves what she does! Jen's here today to talk to us about 
"Keepin' it Cozy: How to Hygge like the Danish."

(Photo credit: Pedro Lopes)

The Danish word “hygge”, pronounced HOO-guh, has been getting a lot of attention.  It’s been called everything from a feeling to a lifestyle trend.  
Books and articles are popping up all over the place about hygge, so I did some investigating to see if I could find out a little more about why it’s being talked about so much.  
There’s no English word that’s equivalent to hygge, so defining it can be somewhat difficult.  Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, published a book last year titled, The Little Book of Hygge:  The Danish Way to Live Well.  He describes hygge like this: 

Hygge has been translated as everything from the art of creating intimacy to cosiness of the soul to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things. My personal favourite is cocoa by candlelight...
Cozy?  Candles? Cocoa?  I’m in!

Here’s what I’ve discovered about hygge.  It’s about being present, enjoying the little things, and the comforting feelings of warmth and coziness.  Hygge involves doing things that bring happiness and joy, practicing self-care, and enjoying both the indoors and outdoors on your own or with family and friends.  

Hygge is often equated with cold weather activities like snuggling by a fire with a warm drink, wearing thick, insulated socks, and eating comfort foods like stews and soups.  But hygge can also include outdoor activities like a taking a long, leisurely walk, bike riding, and appreciating nature.

So, how can you incorporate a little hygge into your everyday routine?  The Hygge Manifesto is a good place to start and encapsulates the elements of hygge.  The manifesto covers three main areas:  Environment, Connection, and Attitude.

It’s not about buying new furnishings or creating the perfect room.  It’s about using what you already have in your home to relax.   
Dim the lights or use candles to create a cozy feeling.  
Use pillows, blankets, soft fabrics, and comfortable furnishings.  
Build a fire in the fireplace to add warmth. 
Use fresh flowers and plants to bring nature indoors.
Indulge in comfort foods like soups, stews, hot cocoa, coffee, tea, and home-made desserts. 
Spend time in nature.

A big part of hygge is being present in order to build connections and share time with family and friends.  This connection time is used to relax, unwind from the day, and strengthen relationships.  Ways to connect and share include:
Cooking a meal together or baking a special treat.  Time in the kitchen is a shared activity, where conversation and togetherness is experienced.  
Snuggling up on the couch with a pet. 
Listening to music or reading books. 

Having positive conversations based on shared experiences and reminiscing.  Topics that are controversial, dramatic, or disagreeable are tabled for another time.  In other words, no drama, no conflict, no political discussions.
Technology is turned off.  That means no TV and no social media.  Respect family and friends by cherishing time together and keeping activities sequestered from the outside world.  Be with the people who are in front of you instead of your Twitter followers.

Hygge embodies an attitude of gratefulness, appreciating what you have and the people in your life.  A hygge attitude involves:
Accepting the people you’re with for who they are.  No judgment, no analysis.  Just love.
A focus on quality time.  You’re not getting things done.  You’re investing in relationships.  
Your actions are unhurried and leisurely, and create a feeling of peace and security.  
Feeling safe is valued and promoted.  

Hygge in Summer
If reading about hygge has you wishing for cooler nights, or even winter (gasp!), don’t worry.  You can practice hygge any time of year.  Here are some ideas for incorporating hygge into your routine right now:
Open up curtains and blinds to let in natural light, creating a connection with the outdoors.
Have a fire outside with s’mores and conversation.
Take a long walk in the woods.
Enjoy a glass of sangria or lemonade on the deck or patio before dinner.
Open the windows to air out your indoor space.
Catch fireflies at dusk.

Create a bouquet of fresh flowers from your garden or visit a local farmer’s market for some seasonal blooms.
Take mealtimes outside.  Sit on the front porch with a cup of coffee in the morning or have leisurely backyard barbeque with friends.
Spend time near water.  A pool, sprinkler, lake, or beach can help you feel relaxed and refreshed.

No matter how you choose to hygge, remember to enjoy the moment.  It’s a great way to practice mindfulness every day.  To get more articles like this one, visit me at www.alifedesigned.net and sign up to get emails sent directly to your inbox.  

An empty nester whose two children are away at college, Jennifer Ullrich lives in Maryland with her husband, Randy and their Golden Retriever, Charley. Jen loves playing the piano, yoga, reading and running.

Jen's blog - A Life Designed - is about purposefully creating the kind of life that's right for you. Won't you join her as she walks this path? You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, July 31, 2017

almost august already ~ and zippo

 I can't believe tomorrow brings the month of August already. This summer has flown by. I know I say that every year, but really and truly - this summer has seemed exceptionally quick. Only seven weeks left of this gorgeous season - boo, hiss! Just this weekend I was out and about by Lake Michigan, enjoying the beautiful (and windy!) weather. Oh, how I'll miss this.

Some of my flowers and perennials are thriving in the heat and overabundance of rain; others have died off or look just plain terrible...pansies, lobelia, bleeding heart, a poppy plant and bishop's cap. 

 I think cone flowers can take pretty much anything.

Same with phlox. In fact, this bunch of it is in the butterfly garden and it's overtaken the butterfly bush. Poor plant's branches are creeping along the ground instead of reaching for the sky. Evening update: Brian was going to dig up some of the phlox but it was too imbedded in-between the branches of the butterfly bush. We ended up using garden clippers to clip a lot of the phlox down as low as we could go. Now the butterfly bush has some breathing room.

The tiger lilies are pretty much done. This is the last of them.

 Russian Sage is another perennial that thrives no matter what the weather. Just like with the purple coneflower and the phlox, I've never watered this plant or done anything else. 

 Prairie Wild Onion in the ditch by our driveway is in full bloom right now. This is a native wildflower that we've divided a few times. 

In other news, I'm really worried about Zippo. He was 18 in May and has been doing well for his age. His right eye started getting cloudy over a year ago and the vet said he had glaucoma. This morning when I got up, I noticed Zippo's right eye was closed. I was hoping he just got a piece of dust in his eye. Then I went to feed the cats and Zippo wouldn't eat. Huge red flag - he's normally a chowhound. I tried sticking his bowl in front of his face several times and he finally ate his food by the front door.

He then jumped up on the blue chair in the living room and promptly went to sleep. Another sign that things weren't well. He's normally pretty active after breakfast. I called the vet and they were booked solid, but the receptionist said she could try to squeeze us in between appointments.

When Zippo woke up from his nap, I gave him his catnip bag to play with. Clementine came over to investigate and Zippo started washing her and continued for a couple of minutes. It was so sweet.

Zippo saw a different vet, as our regular vet (Dr C) wasn't in. They first took his weight and he only weighs 8 lbs. 2 oz. Not good. During his young, more healthy years, he weighed 16 lbs. And at his last vet checkup less than a year ago, he weighed 10 lbs. This vet asked if Zippo was  on any medication for his glaucoma and I said no. I asked, "Should he be?" The vet said, "Yes. Glaucoma is very painful." I said, "Then why didn't Dr. C ever give him anything?" I didn't get an answer. I am heartbroken that Zippo has been in pain this long and I didn't even know it. And I'm also mad Dr C. This isn't the first time that I've had problems with him. Needless to say, I'll be looking for a new vet. 

The tech wasn't able to get blood from Zippo today - he became very agitated and the tech told me his veins were very small and "rolly", which is normal for an elderly cat. They referred me to a veterinary eye specialist, whom Zippo will be seeing on Thursday. I had to make a down payment via credit card of $198 just to keep my appointment spot. This will cover just the general exam. I have a feeling this is going to be very expensive. But when you sign up to be a pet parent, this is the risk you take. Zippo has had other things happen to him in the past - two urinary blockages and injuries - that have also cost a lot of money. We nicknamed him our Million Dollar Kitty years ago.

(Zippo with his "good" eye)

Hope you all have a good week. 
Happy August!

Thursday, July 27, 2017


Brian had a birthday a couple of days ago and as he wished, we spent the day in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We went to the Milwaukee Public Market...

walked around the neighborhood, poking our heads into Anthropologie and Goodwill Restore, then we happened upon this new store called Mod Gen.

To me, it was like Anthro, only no clothing and a lot less expensive.
There were also plants everywhere you looked...

The Birthday Boy took a liking to this 1960's sofa.

We had lunch at a thai food restaurant and then did some more walking, stopping in a specialty market and an independent coffee shop. We should've had lunch at this restaurant on the rooftop deck. Doesn't it look like the  perfect lunch spot on a summer day? Oh well, perhaps next year.

Drinks, dessert, bacon...what more could you want?

Speaking of birthdays and dessert, here's a photo of my precious Philip back in 2003. He wasn't quite 15 yet. We were on a family vacation in Cancun, Mexico - the only "real" family vacation we ever had. His birthday was July 21st. He would've been 29 this year. Brian, Tim and I went out to dinner at an Italian place - Phil's favorite food - to celebrate his life.

 Since Phil passed away when he was 21, it's hard for us to imagine him at 29. We wonder what he'd look like, what job he'd have, who he'd be living with...would he have a girlfriend? A wife? Would he be a daddy? 

"The expression of love to another is not reserved for a single day or for a special event or occasion like an anniversary for a birthday. The celebration of love is more about how you live each day with the ones you love and care for. " 
(Byron Pulsifer)

Monday, July 24, 2017

what to do about those blank walls

Ever since we had some work done in our kitchen and it was repainted, I've been hesitant to hang anything on the walls. I didn't want to hang what we had there before, and I also didn't want to hang "just anything" for the sake of filling up blank wall space. I had shopped at a few places and brought wall art home with me, only to find it didn't look as good as I had hoped. I didn't find anything I was looking for online either.

One day, I was in the basement doing laundry, and was looking around at some of my home decor stash. I brought up this white frame and yellow tray, affixed it to the kitchen wall with Command strips, and stood back...

 I liked it!

Here's what the kitchen wall looks like in its entirety. You can see I still need something on the other side of the china cabinet. But here's the thing: I think I want to get rid of the china cabinet, the cart and stool and instead put a cube storage unit on that wall. I could then fill the cubes with cookbooks, large serving dishes, and small kitchen appliances that I have stored in the basement. But I don't think Brian's too keen on the idea of getting rid of the china cabinet. It has sentimental value. It was the first good piece of furniture that we bought in our early married days. We bought it at a beautiful vintage furniture store that is now out of business. There's nowhere else in the house to put it.

Here's what I had in mind: the IKEA Kallax cubes - turned on its side, of course. We could even put legs on the bottom of it to raise it up a bit. 

When I was in the basement rummaging around, I also brought up these two canvas pieces and again, used Command strips to hang them on an empty section of the living room wall. Command strips are a lifesaver in my house because I change things around all the time! Not to mention, no nail holes to deal with.

Where do you find unique ideas or art for blank walls?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

skeeters and water in my 'hood ~ and my latest book stack

In my last post, I mentioned that we hired a mosquito-spraying service for the summer. I said how the mosquitoes are rampant here due to all the trees and nearby water. I didn't elaborate that the mosquitoes were so bad, that friends and family that came to our house would complain that they were "eaten alive" just from walking from their car to our front door. Or, that every time we opened a door, mosquitoes would fly in - and that our kitchen and living room walls had dots of blood on them from smashing the skeeters. Or, that we couldn't do yard work or even water the outdoor plants without being doused in bug spray (which we'd immediately wash off when we came indoors) and/or wearing jeans and long-sleeved shirts. Not so much fun when it's sweltering out there.

Another blogger commented about trying alternative methods such as citronella candles, fans, and mosquito plants. We've tried all those things except for the fans - we don't have any electrical outlets near the patio - and more. If there's any natural treatment or remedy out there, we've tried it. Citronella candles didn't make one bit of difference - and we had them everywhere - even citronella torches lining the patio. Mosquito plants - also known as citronella plants - do NOT work! Contrary to what you might think (I did when I first saw them and bought a few last year) - the plant does not repel mosquitoes, nor does it even have any citronella oil in the leaves. It's a geranium! See HERE for more info. Save your money, folks. The plants aren't even pretty. ;-) 

So! I thought I'd show you what my area looks like, just a short walk down my street - the reason why we have so many mosquitoes here. This area is surrounded by trees, thick brush, bogs, ponds, lakes, creeks, and a State Park. Here's a walkway to one of the canals that lead to a lake by my house. Does it look like Mosquito Haven to you yet? Let's take a walk down the path to that canal...

Here we are. As you can see, the waterways here are stagnant. No motorized boats are allowed on the lake or these canals. 

Looking to the right. Pretty gross, eh?

You can even see how the surrounding area is marshy.
A mosquito's dream!

All this is not to say that I think commercial mosquito spray is safe. It's not the foggy DDT spray from the neighborhood trucks that we remember from the 1970's, but it's still a chemical. Just my humble opinion, but if I were pregnant or had little kids at home, I most likely wouldn't be doing this. I keep all the windows on my house closed when they spray. And they only spray the grass, trees and bushes surrounding our yard. They do not spray any flowering plants or vegetation. 

Speaking of water, you might have heard about the deluge of rain and consequent flooding we had here in northern Illinois last week. There are still road closures in my area and houses surrounded flood water. We were so lucky that we were spared - not even a flooded basement like we've had in the past. This is my friend's mother's house just 15 minutes away. My friend is having to travel around the house and neighborhood by kayak! She posts photos on Facebook every day - this was day one. Today is day six and my friend said the water is down about four inches. However, we're due for more rain tonight and into the weekend. Scary stuff.

Before I show you my new library book stack, I wanted to talk about this book from my last library stash. If you're the parent of a child who's getting ready to go away to college (or even within the next year or two); already have a child in college; are an educator; or, are a young adult in college yourself; this book is a must-read! Let me say that I already knew a little about the hook-up culture, especially in college, but I had no clue how rampant it was and all the details that go into it. Talk about eye-opening...and horrifying. From the inside jacket cover of the book:

"The hookup is now part of college life. Yet the drunken encounter we always hear about tells only a fraction of the story. Rising above misinformation and moralizing, Lisa Wade offers the definitive account of this new sexual culture and demonstrates that the truth is both more heartening and more harrowing than we thought.
Offering invaluable insights for parents, educators, and students, Wade situates hookup culture within the history of sexuality, the evolution of higher education, and the unfinished feminist revolution. Using new research, she maps out a punishing emotional landscape marked by unequal pleasures, competition for status, and sexual violence. She discovers that the most privileged students tend to like hookup culture the most, and she considers its effects on racial and sexual minorities, students who “opt out,” and those who participate ambivalently.
Accessible and open-minded, compassionate and brutally honest, American Hookup explains where we are and how we got here, asking not “How do we go back?” but “Where do we go from here?” "

One of my errands today was returning library books, and of course, I came home with another stack. You can probably tell that I read a lot of non-fiction.

Have you read any of these books? 
What are you reading now?
And...how are the mosquitoes where you live?