Some Things I’ve Learned On My Recent Cruise…

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(Photo – Carnival Pride – carnival.com)

This is the wonderful ship my family and I spent seven glorious days on recently – the Carnival Pride, docked in Baltimore, Maryland.  Last week’s cruise was the second I have taken, and my second time on this beautiful ship.

Though after only two cruises I cannot be considered a seasoned or veteran cruiser, I do feel as though I’ve learned a few things while on the high seas.  Some are common sense things, some are things you’ll only learn with time – and after making some mistakes.

The cruise line we took (Carnival) has food available virtually around the clock, and with that goes an endless supply of coffee, tea, lemonade, iced tea and water.  There are cups provided for your use – and while they are plentiful, they are small.  After my first cruise, I remembered to take a large plastic cup with a lid and straw.  This enabled me to have what I feel is enough to drink (and especially with my recent kidney issues, it was more important than ever for me to stay hydrated).  I was going to do the same with a reusable coffee cup – you know, one of those reusable ones.  I decided against that, but I saw quite a lot of people who had those with them.  I can’t speak for other cruise lines, but Carnival provided milk and half and half – but no flavored creamers.  If they’re essential for you, I’d suggest bringing a few of those little creamers you get from convenience stores – or getting a small bottle of the powdered kind.  I think they even sell boxes of the little liquid creamers.  I know they did a few years ago when I was hooked on a certain flavor and I had a trip planned.

As far as clothes go, don’t over pack.  Just don’t do it.  When we were waiting to disembark last year, I sat I made a list of what I’d needed on that cruise.  I looked at the list before packing for this year, and while I stuck to it for the most part – I went overboard again.  There are two elegant nights on the cruise when you need to dress up (if you don’t want to, that’s fine – these nights are just a little fancier than the other ones).  This time I brought two different dresses that each needed a different pair of shoes.  Next time I will bring two dresses that the same pair of shoes can be worn with.  We left out of Baltimore, so the first day and most of the second day it was still cool.  Coming back it would be the same thing – so for these days, one pair of jeans or pants on your body and one in your suitcase would be enough.  You can wear one long sleeve shirt and as long as you have a hoodie or sweater or sweatshirt, you’ll be fine.  Footwear – my recommendation is one pair of closed toe shoes (I wore flats), one pair of flip flops, one pair of nicer sandals and the heels to go with the dress.  That’s all you need.  As far as everything else goes, besides a bathing suit and cover up (they provide towels) you’ll need an outfit for each day – and no more than that.  Next time I am going to REALLY try to follow this advice.

Do not forget to bring extension cords.  The bathroom in our stateroom only had an outlet for a shaver, and there was only one electrical outlet by the desk/vanity area.  That clearly is not enough.  There were three of us in our room, so we plugged an extension cord in and then one into that – giving us access to five outlets.  That suited us just fine.  Check with your cruise line – Carnival prohibits using ones with surge protectors.  This meant that the plain, basic ones we had worked well.

If you want to attend the comedy shows, get there early.  The nightclub where the comedians appeared on our ship was sort of small – not tiny, but seating for the most part was limited.  Getting there early ensured we got a seat.  The comedians they bring in are usually hysterical, but after a long day of cruising we were tired – and just didn’t feel like standing.  You will probably have better luck with seating in the bigger theaters.  This is usually where the big shows take place.  Don’t miss them – they are fantastic!

Check out Facebook, and see if your specific cruise has a group dedicated to it.  Ours did, and all through the months planning and leading up to leaving we made great friends.  There were events that had been planned, different kinds of contests to enter – it was great fun.  One of our group members took it upon herself to order and sell (for a nominal cost) lanyards printed with our group name.  You know, the lanyards you carry your Sign and Sail card in.  It was a great bonding experience high fiving other “green lanyard people” even if you didn’t know who they were – you knew they were part of your group.

Get involved.  Step out of your comfort zone.  Dance with your waiters if they ask.  Sing (even just with a group) during trivia contests.  If you’re not brave enough to sing karaoke solo, sing along with whoever is on stage.  Smile at your fellow passengers, who undoubtedly will be smiling at you.  I swear, cruising is one of the few activities where EVERYONE seems happy.  And no matter what you do, even if you don’t participate in your ship’s version of the QUEST, by all means attend – you will be so happy you did.  The laughs are beyond compare!

Little things for your stateroom – bring magnets with hooks – they’ll stick to your walls, and will be convenient if you need to hang things.  Running a cord between two of them will give you an extra wash line of sorts.  There is not a lot of room for storage, though there is some.  I left most of my clothes in the suitcase under the bed (remember though we had three in the room).  Also, bring extra hangers.  The closet we had included a second bar we could put halfway up, to double the hanging space.  We never used it though.  A small pen flashlight might be a good idea for the middle of the night – those rooms get dark!  There are also no clocks on the wall, so if you need (or like) to see the time in the middle of the night, keep your phone close by – or bring a travel alarm clock.

Whatever you do, do it comfortably.  You will eat on the cruise – a LOT.  And eating a lot makes you feel bloated, big and uncomfortable.  Bring elastic waist garments – you’ll be glad you did.  One night after dinner we were planning to go to one of the comedy shows.  I knew I wouldn’t last through half of the first performance feeling the way I did.  So do you know what I did?  I went back to our Stateroom, and I put on my pajamas – well, just the pants.  I was so comfortable!  I had my nice blouse showing through the zippered sweatshirt I wore, and I had my black sparkly slippers on.  I can’t say that I noticed anyone else in pj’s, but I wasn’t really looking.  My pajama pants also didn’t scream out PAJAMAS – they kind of looked like sweat pants or jogging pants.  The funniest thing was that the comedian who came out first was a woman who had just turned 50.  Quite a bit of her act was saying how being 50 was great, because you’ve lived your life and you’re at the point when you don’t care what people think.  I thought to myself “wow, how true.  Here I sit in a nightclub, in pajama pants and slippers.  Guess I really don’t care what others are thinking!”

Food on a cruise – it should be an entire post by itself.  The amounts of food available and consumed on a cruise is unbelievable.  It is the perfect time for you to try something you’ve never had before, and to eat massive amounts of things you love.  You can have a buffet breakfast, or you can go to the restaurant for a sit down meal.  The buffets have made to order omelettes, and the restaurant has amazing offerings that are without a doubt very deluxe.  Everything is delicious.  There are plenty of buffets open from lunch until past dinner, offering sandwiches, salads, all different choices of different cuisine (Mexican, Chinese, etc.) and desserts to go along with it all.  There’s a great Burger Bar also that was really popular on our ship.  The fancy dinner at night is beyond compare – you can order whatever you want off of the menu, and however much you want of it.  You can get three appetizers and four portions of dinner – it’s ok. When dessert comes, you don’t have to decide on just one – you can have three if you just can’t choose.  The table you get is the same for all nights of the cruise – your wait staff gets to know you, and they make each meal fun – they make dining with them an experience you won’t ever forget.  A few of the nights they even do performances, and the guests get to participate.  The made to order Pizza station is open 24 hours a day, and so is the Ice Cream Station (though, besides bowls and cones we think they should include sprinkles).  Rest assured, you will never go hungry on a cruise.  And if you do, it’s no one’s fault but your own!  It’s not right to talk about food on a cruise without mentioning the drinks.  They are so good – they are fruity and strong and tropical and delicious!  The bartenders make sitting at their particular bar fun – they’ve usually got smiles on their faces – you can tell they enjoy being there.  You can have practically unlimited drinks if you purchase the CHEERS package, but if you do – everyone in your stateroom needs to get it as well.  That is the only drawback.  Of course, buying alcoholic drinks costs extra money.  If you decide to not drink alcohol and only have water, lemonade or iced tea, you don’t have to pay another cent for anything onboard (with the exception of small gratuities here and there – these workers really earn these tips).

Deciding to go on a cruise was one of the best travel decisions I have ever made.  The memories are wonderful, and the value – it can’t be beat.  In closing, I have a few more tidbits to help you enjoy the cruise I hope you take…

Stay in your departure city the night before you leave – there would be nothing worse than stressing out about if you’re going to miss the boat or not.  And while you’re at it, investigate and then stay at a hotel that offers parking and transportation to and from port.  Have a bunch of 1’s handy – you’ll want to (and you should) tip many of the wonderful workers who take care of you.  Put your phone on airplane mode as soon as you board – you want to avoid high charges.  Take Ziploc bags and Wal-Mart bags in your suitcase – you’ll never have enough of these, trust me.  If you like flavored water, bring a few of those packets for individual bottles along.  For your carry on, if you have one – use a backpack.  It will be especially helpful when you’re leaving to go home.  It’s sad enough when you leave, and everything will annoy you – best to be able to have your hands free if possible.  Be extra careful with your passport – losing that is not something you want to have happen.  Call your credit card company before you leave to inform them you’ll be away, and make sure your debit card is up to date.  Pack yourself a health kit – with anything you think you’ll need, like sea sickness tablets, bandages, cold pills, pain relief, especially something to treat potential sunburn.  Put your room key in a holder on a lanyard, around your neck.  If you’re a wine drinker, bring a corkscrew.  And last but not least, staterooms are not big – scents travel fast – bring room deodorizer spray (or poo-potpourri).  It will help, I promise you that.

Have a fun time on the high seas…

Thankful, and grateful…

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Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

I’ve been away awhile – I think some posts may have auto-posted, but for the most part – I have been out of commission for the last month or so.  I went in for kidney stone surgery, which went very well.  Fast forward a few days when I was then readmitted to the hospital for “gross hematuria” which, basically is…massive blood loss.  It was scary, and I am not a patient who gets frightened easily – but this, it spooked me.  And facing what-I-thought-could-be-my-own- mortality, I did a lot of thinking.  A lot.

I was hospitalized in the hospital that I work at, and/or in – it was wonderful.  The staff is beyond caring – I knew this.  They took care of me beautifully, almost like I was royalty.  I felt loved and cared for and knew I was in the absolute right place that I needed to be. I was released and then readmitted 4 1/2 days later.  This was something Jeff and I never thought would happen, mostly because I was healing good – with no problems.  My home health nurse guided me back to the hospital, and I stayed there for almost six more days.  But this time, when I left – I was done.  I was good, and healed.  And on my way to recovery.

All during this ordeal, the cruise we’d had planned for over a year was weighing on my mind.  At some point, I checked with the doctor and he said he didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t go on our cruise – but we needed to proceed with caution.  After staying for observation, antibiotics through an IV, a blood transfusion and an iron infusion – I was given the go ahead to go, to leave – we were going to be cruising!  My son and daughter in law drove over two hours to get me home and settle me in – they love me so much, and I love them.  A week later, we were all on our way – out of Baltimore, onto the Bahamas!

The cruise was wonderful – the perfect combination of rest, and fun.  We had a group of ten – it was me, Jeff and Ellie in our room – we had a Three’s Company theme!  My sister, John and my nephew Dan were across the hall, and Amanda and Kevin (my children) were down the hall.  My ex-husband and his girlfriend were a few floors up from us.  We all did our “thing” during the day for the most part, and we all met for dinner – we had the late session, at 8:15.  Once dinner was done, we all did activities together – whether it was a show, an interactive game, attending a comedy performance or just hanging out in the Night Club (which once it got a bit too “young” for us, we’d just leave!)  I am truly thankful and so very grateful I was able to be there.  I don’t get religious too much, but in this instance – God was good.

I am thankful that I have recovered from complications I never thought I would have.  I am grateful to all of the staff at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton, PA for taking care of me, and making me well.  I am thankful that I have the family I do – that after the hurting of years ago, we’ve all gotten past it and we’re good – it’s not the family dynamic we thought we’d have, but it is what it is.  I’m proud that the Ex and I have handled things like adults and we’ve remained friendly – the kids are happy about that, they see it.  It’s the right thing to do, and the right way to be.

Life is good right now.  And judging from recent events, there’s no reason to think that things won’t continue right down this highway line!

Love my family, love my friends.  Without a doubt 🙂

 

Save $$$ on Food

(Photos credit – nbc news and midwestcommunity.org)

In line with my renewed commitment to saving money (for things that really matter), I have re-read and re-familiarized myself with different ideas and strategies for saving money on something that we have to spend money on – food.  Obviously food is not something you can go without, but it is something you can and should be smart about when you are shopping and making your choices.  In no certain order below are my thoughts about spending your hard earned money on something that is absolutely necessary.

First of all, food choices are just that – choices.  You have to determine where your dollars go.  Are you satisfied with cheap white bread, or do you like (or require) more of a specialty kind?  Either way, whatever you decide – you should be smart about it.  If you know you’ll need some fresh bread for sandwiches, but maybe not the whole loaf – freeze what you won’t need.  Bread frozen in the freezer can be defrosted slice by slice – it does not have to be defrosted by the whole or even half loaf.  You can extend the life of your loaves this way.  You can put two slices in a ziploc bag and they’ll be ready for toast at your office.  And at home, you can toast frozen bread slices.  It works.  I’ve done it.  A reasonable breakfast that even includes a bit of protein is toast with peanut butter, a cup of coffee (or whatever you drink in the morning) and a piece of fruit.  Not too bad for the supposed most important meal of the day.  Eggs are not too shabby either, and they are economical – they are protein, and aren’t as restricted as they were years ago.  Scramble or fry one or two, pair them with some toast and your drink, have some fruit – and there you go, another reasonably priced and reasonably healthy breakfast.  The same can be done with instant oatmeal – make it to your specifications, grab a piece of fruit and your drink and you’ve got another choice.  If you want more choices, make some pancakes and some French toast – freeze them in separate ziploc bags.  For work breakfasts, have small size containers that you can put syrup in for taking with you.  Having frozen “go to’s” are good for home too, on the weekends – when the lure of donuts and coffee at your local favorite place is calling you.  Have fresh fruit (or even canned, which in many ways is just fine) on hand to pair with these choices and your morning drinks will always ensure a good way to start your day.

Lunches can be costly too – if you spend in your cafeteria at work, it can add up to a high amount before you even realize it.  If you have a refrigerator and a microwave at your job, that means no excuses as to why you can’t bring lunch from home.  Even if you don’t have these things, you can get freezer cold packs, and pack items that don’t have to be heated up or take things that are good at room temperature.  An obvious choice for lunches would be leftovers – either what is actually left over, or leftovers that are purposely made for having extras for other meals.  You can make sandwiches with your bread (frozen as stated above) or you can get wraps (of course, watching for sales).  Sandwich fillings do not have to be costly lunch meat purchased from a deli.  You can make egg salad with the above-mentioned reasonably priced eggs, or you can make tuna salad (watching for sales, I have gotten tuna for 67 cents a can).  You can put refried beans and shredded cheese in the wraps for Mexican Bean Rollups, which travel very well. Pre-made grilled cheese sandwiches can be cut into strips and made into a fun lunch.  With all the cooking I do at home, in our freezer there are always a few portions of soup that can be a good lunch meal.  And the standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich plus an apple (and your drink) is the perfect lunch – I was told this by my kids’ pediatrician many years ago.

Dinner can be more of a challenge, a more costly one – mainly because the meal tends to be bigger.  I have always shopped and bought what is on sale.  It always made sense to me unless we were in dire need of something for whatever dire reason – what that could be, I don’t know really – that is why planning ahead is so important.  Given the way I shop, I usually always have a decent variety of meats in the freezer.  I plan dinners more than I plan the other two meals (or snacks).  I always (if possible) try to buy meat for less than $1.99 per pound.  I can usually accomplish this with chicken legs, drumsticks and thighs, certain kinds of pork and on the rare occasion, ground beef.  Walmart has great little frozen “chubs” of frozen turkey, frozen turkey sausage and frozen Mexican turkey for $1.50 a pound.  I have gotten frozen tilapia for $5 a bag, and making that for some reason always feels like a sort-of gourmet meal to me.  For a treat once, we bought a box of New York Strip Steaks at Walmart.  Now we didn’t have great expectations, because they were $9.97 for a box of five.  They were surprisingly good!  They will be our food splurge, and once in a while we splurge on a bag of frozen shrimp for $5.  I stock up on pasta and sauce when other stores have them on sale, but you really can’t beat the 82 cents for pasta and 88 cents for sauce at Walmart.  I always have them on hand, and shredded mozzarella cheese as well.  I’m a pasta type person.  I enjoy it very much.  Recently I have started adding canned spinach to my pasta – not a whole lot, just enough to boost up the iron and vitamins, and to give the meal a different taste.  You can further add to a pasta dinner by putting in a chunk of cream cheese as the sauce and spinach cooks.  The key is to be creative.  Be creative with the lesser priced ingredients.  When you do this, you can turn these meals into something kind of special.

The way to really save money on food is to eat it at home.  Not out in restaurants.  That being said, sometimes it IS nice to go out and splurge.  If you value this, do not let others make you feel wrong for enjoying it.  You can have a nice romantic dinner at home, but to me – once in a while, if you’re not drowning in debt, and it’s worth it to you – go out.  Go out but be smart about it.  Go to your favorite restaurant on an off night, where they might be having specials.  Find coupons to different restaurants – maybe ones you have been to, maybe ones you would like to try.  Go earlier in the day, say…for lunch maybe.  Have drinks and appetizers at the bar area of a restaurant.  Sometimes it is nice to go out with your significant other.  Dress up and show each other off.  If this is something you enjoy, do it.  Go for it.  This is the point of being frugal and being smart with your money.

Yes, you want to be free from debt but you also need to enjoy life.  And enjoying life means doing the things you like.  It’s just all about planning.  That’s really the key in all of this – you have to be smart, you have to plan – and if you do, and you’re really honest about it all – you should start seeing success.  Remember, this is your life, your money, your debt or lack thereof – and let no one dictate how you need to handle things.  Again, though, be honest with yourself.  As they say, get real.  Get real with yourself and with what matters.

 

Fast. Cheap. Desserts.

(Photos courtesy of pixels)

Below you will find easy dessert ideas that will pack a punch, but will not punch you in your wallet.  I have mentioned versions of these before, but with entertaining, etc. always a constant (at least in our home) they are worth mentioning again.

Melt some chocolate in a double boiler or microwave it – whatever your method is for melting chocolate.  Dip half of a chocolate chip cookie into melted chocolate. Before it completely hardens, dip this chocolate part into something of your choosing – sprinkles, crushed cookies, crushed nuts, crushed candy bars. Lay on wax or parchment paper to avoid “cookie ruination.”

Prepare instant pudding – in the flavors you would like. I usually choose chocolate and vanilla. Have these ready in their own serving bowls. On the side, put out individual serving bowls. Offer add ins and mix ins – be creative. You can use sprinkles, chocolate chips, crushed candy (of whatever kind you’d like), mini marshmallows,nuts, M&M’s or even gummy bears. Have whipped cream handy.

Depending on the season or the party you’re celebrating, make appropriate color (and therefore, flavors) jello.  You can choose to float fruit inside the jello before you even set up it up.  Serve the jello in large bowls, having smaller ones available. You can be as elaborate or as simple as you want – have whipped cream ready to go along with sprinkle shaker bottles in corresponding and alternating colors. Pretty.

This costs about $2, give or take.  In advance, bake up a batch of cake-mix cupcakes. Have them on a serving platter, and put things out in a “decorate your own cupcake” bar. You can put pre-made frosting (or whatever you normally use) in small serving bowls, have whipped cream available. Offer sprinkles, crushed nuts, crushed candies – you can even put out peanut butter and powdered sugar for an almost in-the-moment peanut butter frosting.

Bake or buy a pound cake. Serve it on a platter in slices. On the side, have fruits and jams. This is a simple dessert, so simple that other add ons are not needed. Maybe include a shaker with powdered sugar.

This takes no time at all, and is always a hit. Offer a few different kinds of ice cream, have cones, bowls, cone bowls – and syrup, whipped cream, nuts, cherries and sprinkles. It is the always popular “Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundae Bar.” It’s fun to use ice cream-themed dishes, but truthfully – people like ice cream so much that it really won’t matter.

I have also bought a few of those small, 50-cent pies from Walmart – in all different kinds of flavors. Arranging them on a platter, there will be a sample of each flavor for everyone – depending on how many guests you have. It’s a good idea that has gone over very well in the past.

Again, for about $2 you can’t really beat this. Buy a cake mix and a container of frosting.  You can make it in a layer cake form, or in a sheet cake – it can be sprinkled with sprinkles or powdered sugar. If you want to perk up the mix, bake with milk instead of water, use melted butter instead of oil and add an extra egg or two. Is this deluxe or fancy? No, but rest assured it will taste very good.

For full disclosure here, the parties and get-togethers we have usually involve A LOT of food.  If your gatherings tend to be the same way, you could get away with one of these options, or two at the most.  If you have mega sweet-tooth attendees, you could do a few options, just in smaller quantities.  You know your guests best…enjoy!

Planning for Valentine’s Day…

three red heart balloons
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

Jeff and I are very lucky – this year, our Valentine’s Day is planned ahead for us – we will be on a cruise on that day.  And since we will be sharing a room with Ellie, plus a bunch of other family members will be there – it will be a nice holiday, yet it won’t be an intimate time.  That is more than ok – who in their right mind would complain about being on a cruise?  Certainly not us – that night is one of two elegant nights on the trip, so Jeff will dress up as will I – I will find something in Valentine’s red to wear.  It will be a nice night I am sure.

We will celebrate our own Valentine’s Day a week later.  We are going away on the night of February 21st – we will be seeing my favorite hockey player of all time (John Tonelli) have his jersey retired – finally!  Jeff will be going with me because he knows it will make me happy – and he always makes the best of things and has a fun time.  That’s what love is – doing what will make the other person happy, which ends up making you happy.  We will be attending the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony to see Derek Jeter inducted this summer – Jeff loves baseball and Jeter is one of his favorite players of all time.  I’m glad we will be able to be there – even though the only motel we could reserve is forty miles from Cooperstown!  That’s crazy, but it’s what is necessary if we want to be there.  That will also be a nice time away.

Yet as we are trying to save and get on a good, straight financial track – we still want to have fun, be silly and enjoy dates.  We’ve done a few things that haven’t cost much money but ended up being fun.  We made memories and took pictures, and looking back on these times – they were as nice as expensive dates, just in a different way.

One Saturday we took a walk around Scranton – around all the streets we drive past as we are going to work, running errands or whatever.   We got a cold slushy drink (they make good ones with alcohol at a market downtown) and walked around.  We went onto side streets with interesting looking buildings, and went into stores we really didn’t realize were there.  We walked all around Courthouse Square, and learned a lot about Scranton that we didn’t know before.  There was an interesting tribute wall/statue devoted to people who were reported missing in the city, yet never found.  Some of the sidewalk tiles around the County courthouse had quotes from and dates involving significant Lackawanna County residents.  Driving through the city, you never would know this stuff was there.  We learned a lot that day strolling through town.

It is a good idea to get a newspaper and check out events happening around town.  There are some High Schools who perform plays that are worthy of Broadway – really!  The bands from certain schools are amazing.  Of course, it is always more fun if you go to a play or a game from a school where you know some of the students.  But it is not always necessary.  These games, plays and concerts are minimal in cost, yet you get maximum entertainment for your dollars.

You can work out together – even if one of you doesn’t like it too much.  That would be Jeff and me – he loves it, and let’s just say I don’t.  But if we go together, it shows him that I am willing to do things with him that he likes.  And honestly, every time we do go to the gym, I am always glad I went – even if I didn’t want to go in the first place (and I never do).  It’s even nice to see others checking your significant other out – you can feel proud that he (or she) is yours!

A fun thing to do is an indoor picnic.  Have it complete with a blanket, and everything you’d take if you were outside.  Planning an indoor picnic is a good idea, because no matter what the weather, your plans won’t be affected.  A picnic, yet there won’t be any mosquitoes, flies or ants.  Yes!

What we’ve done and is always fun to do is to make some drinks, have some snacks and watch our favorite movie together.  We love Austin Powers Goldmember, and always laugh no matter how many times we’ve seen it.  Laughing is a good thing.  Yet if your favorite is suspense or horror, that’s ok too.  It is just important to watch something you will both enjoy.

Have a spa night together.  I did this with my sister and Christine when we had a girls weekend away.  It was a great success.  There is no reason why you can’t make a spa night a date night.  Currently, I have the world’s itchiest back – I carry a back scratcher in my purse, and I have one on each floor of our house.  Jeff and I plan on doing one of these nights soon – I need a back facial.  Yes, go online and look – there are instructions for this.

If you decide you do want to go out, try going for lunch or drinks and appetizers.  This in general will be more economical than dinner in most cases.  And coupons – always look for coupons, and use them whenever you can.  This doesn’t make you cheap, it makes you thrifty, it makes you smart – you’re getting more for your money.  And that is a really good thing.

Have a game night – if you’re into computer games, play them.  Or try playing board games.  You can even play cards.  The winner gets to choose the next game, the loser has to go along with that choice no matter what.  You can make up your own rules as you go along.  The main thing is to have fun.

Teach each other something, even if it is something minor. I frequently explain little things about wrestling to Jeff.  He appreciates knowing some of the moves and how the characters are related so that when he watches with me, he understands more of what’s going on.  He explains different things to me about baseball – about the players, who’s the current highest paid, why a certain player turned out to be a “bad deal” financial wise.  It is nice learning something you didn’t know before about something your significant other thinks is important.

Write little lists, little notes.  These notes don’t have to be very big or anything earth shattering.  It is just nice getting a note that says “five things you do that makes me feel special” or “five ways I know I’m lucky for having you.”  It’s a small little thing to do that can have a big impact.

Make a meal together, maybe a kind you’ve never cooked before – make it from appetizers to dessert.  Try an all Chinese meal or maybe something really outrageous, like Arabic food.  Christine’s son spent time in Korea with the Army.  After he came home, he cooked us an entire Korean dinner from beginning to end, and it was delicious.  It will be an experience you two can do together.  You won’t forget it, I promise.  Whether it was a success or a disaster.

Grab a drink and sit down – and make plans.  Make a plan for the weekend, make a monthly plan.  Make a 6 month plan, a one year plan and even make one for five years out.  It’s a great motivator to have things to look forward to.  Sometimes having things written down old school on paper gives you goals to aim for.  It’s not enough to say that “oh a year from now we want to take a trip to California.”  Make a plan and make it happen.  You know you’ll be planning together to be together.  And that can make you feel really excited for the future as well as feel really fortunate to have one another.

I feel like Michelle Duggar…almost.

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(Photo credit TLC Network)

I admit, I’ve always had an odd fascination for the Duggar family – you know, the ones with 19 kids, who now have spouses and children of their own.  Though my interest in them has waned in recent years as more scandals of theirs have come to light, I have maintained a curiosity about the big brood.  I thought a lot about how each child could maintain their individuality in a family so large.  And, in a way I understand it now.  I am the “mom” to seven cats.  I never intended to have so many felines, it just kind of happened that way.

Beavis and Stan were my first two.  At twelve years old, they are still perfect.  We had JB for a time – a time that wasn’t long enough.  We lost him in June.  Between December of 2018 and May of last year, we acquired five more – Nik, Lexi, Malenky, Boris and Tasha.  They had a sister who I named Anastasia.  My ex-husband and his girlfriend took her in and renamed her Gilly.  I like to refer to our brood as the Magnificent Seven.

Enjoying each cat and appreciating them for who they are is not hard.  That’s why I’m understanding Michelle Duggar more.  I know children and cats are not the same, obviously – but their unique personalities makes it easy to love them each exactly as they come.  Like people, each one is different – they have different moods and different tendencies.

Beavis was given to me by my ex-husband and children after I was mugged, and they didn’t know what to surprise me with at Christmas to make me perk up and feel better.  They found him in a pet shop, and he was a sweetie from the very first time they picked him up.  He’s a gorgeous tabby, and recently lost a lot of weight after being chubby for the past several years.  I think he is the only one of our cats who has never, ever gotten in trouble or yelled at for anything.  He turned twelve years old on October 10.

Stanley was originally my sister’s cat.  Due to a change in living situation for my Mom, my sister and I had to play musical cats, and he became ours.  My kids liked Stan right away, it took the ex and I a little longer.  For some reason, Stan has always been in love with me.  When I lived with my sister (I had the cats with me there) Stan would sit by the door every afternoon about a half hour before I was due home and cry for me until I got there.  He is a character, a cat who is always around.   He is always under foot, helping with every project he can get his hands on.  He is a gorgeous long-haired gray cat who is also twelve years old.

JB was our Florida cat.  He hung around outside the house I shared with my cousin until I was leaving for Pennsylvania.  He came with us.  He adjusted to life with us as an inside cat very well.  He always had an odd way of breathing, like he was snoring.  Long story short, he was older than the vet in Florida had said, and what he had wasn’t a breathing problem, it was nasal cancer.  He lived with that from January until June 2nd when, as they say, he crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.  JB went over that bridge knowing he was loved.

Going to a shelter to drop off some food that our cats didn’t like led me to Nik and Lexi.  They were a foster fail on our (well, my) part.  We took them in on December 29th.  That’s their “Gotcha Day.”  They are both cows – white with black splots.  Nik is rough and tough, and is a big boy.  Lexi is the perfect female – she really is a Queen.  Nik tries very hard to be the dominant male cat in the house – Beavis doesn’t mind, but Stan resists Nik’s effort and they do tend to fight.  Lexi is the perfect sister in addition to her being royalty.

Malenky was a total surprise.  Sitting on the living room couch, I heard a meowing in the basement.  I went down there, and saw and heard nothing. Of course, as soon as I went back upstairs I heard it again.  I went back down again, and issued an ultimatum – come out come out wherever you are, that kind of thing.  And then, out from underneath a dresser walked the smallest kitten I have ever seen.  A tiny, beautiful black and white kitten.  I fell in love with him at first sight, for sure.  He was no more than three weeks old.  His ears weren’t even fully extended.  I had no idea how to care for a kitten so small – thank God for the internet.  I taught him how to do everything – how to eat, drink, how to pee and how to poop.  He is a gorgeous Tuxedo boy, and he is my success story!

People were right when they said that where there was one, there would be siblings.  How right they were!  Three weeks later, we found the three siblings – two girls and a boy.  We toyed with the idea of what to do with them, when I think we’d really known all along.  My ex-husband took one of the Tuxedo girls, the cute one with the black splatch on her nose.  He renamed her Gilly.  We have kept the all black boy, Boris.  What a nut he is!  He keeps us laughing every day with his antics.  He chases his tail in many ways, like it is his own built in toy.  His sister is Natasha, and she is the perfect Princess.  She is a quiet, dignified Tuxedo girl.  She also is Beavis-like in not really doing anything wrong, though she can stick up for herself for sure when her siblings try to strong arm her away from food she thinks is hers!

So that’s our brood- – all different, all perfect.  We love them all the same, yet love them for different reasons.  They are each their own individuals – which I’m guessing is even more relevant (if that is even the right word) with the Duggars – no matter how many of them there are.  As much as I would love to have more, I realize we are full up.  Inside.  I do however feed some of the outside ferals of our West Scranton neighborhood.  Ginger, Gloria and Olga are well taken care of on N. Bromley Avenue…

Below, in order are Beavis, Stan, Nikita Adam and Alexi Eve, Malenky Lewis, Boris Alexander and Natasha Jean.

 

 

 

 

Why why why…

 

 

black and white business career close up
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I’ve been wondering a lot of odd things lately.  I don’t even know why these questions have run through my head, yet they have.  It’s random thoughts through a distracted mind.

Why do people always look up towards the floors an elevator is going to and coming from?  No one looks at each other, nor do they look down.  Everyone always seems to be looking up.

I tense up when I’m driving in bad weather, as if having stiff muscles is going to help me navigate rain, snow or ice.  It makes absolutely no sense, yet I do it all the time.

Why do people drive extra slow in a parking garage, as if driving like a snail will automatically make a good spot appear?

I always turn down the radio’s volume when I am feeling I’m about to be lost.  I’m not the only one who does this.  Why?

In my kitchen cabinets and in the refrigerator, I have to have the bottles, boxes and cans neatly arranged, and the labels always have to be facing front.  When I have a plastic bag secured by a clip tie, I always trim the plastic so it’s even and not all jagged.

Why does a great comeback come way later to a response you wish you’d given hours earlier?

I always arrange the bills in my wallet in worth order – 20s, 10s, 5s and then ones.  I don’t go as far as to arrange them by their serial numbers though.

Why do we smile awkwardly when we know we should be saying something and standing up for ourselves?

I check my flat iron a lot before I leave to go anywhere – even though I know I’ve unplugged it.

If I’m going out later on, and I’m taking a shower first – I never put my going out clothes right on.  I put on clean pajamas.

I hate it when a drawstring or hoodie string is uneven.

My son used to have two twin beds in his room, in case he had a sleep over.  When no one was there, he would always sleep in the bed furthest away from the door.  The reason?  So it would be harder for a bad guy to get him.  Seriously, Chris – you were only about two feet more safe.

I hate being “carded” when I’m buying beer.  It is obvious I am, well let’s just say…old enough.

I will shake the cats’ dry food around in their bowls to make it look evenly distributed.

So there I said it.  Odd, just weird.  Both me and others.  What weird quirks do you have?

 

3, 2, 1…Soup!

 

brown cooking pot
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Let me start by saying the past two days have been unusually warm, weather-wise – and I am loving it!  I know this warm-up can’t last, and it won’t – and for this reason I’ve been revisiting soup ideas in my mind.  Soup is a hearty meal.  The following three recipes are easy, taste good and make you feel good – good as if you’ve slaved for a long time, but you really haven’t.

My first easy soup is Italian Meatball Soup.  The easy part of this recipe is you can tailor it to how you like it, or by what you have on hand.  The amounts can be adjusted to however many people/servings you’re needing.  The ingredients are canned carrots, celery seed seasoning, an onion chopped into tiny pieces (or minced onion), sprinkles of Italian Seasoning.  You’ll need a 32 ounce container of beef broth, and a 24 ounce package of frozen Italian meatballs (again, adjust your amounts).  Use two cups of water and two cans of drained, chopped tomatoes.  Add a splash or two of dry red wine, and if you have it – a can of spinach.  Combine all of these and simmer – simmer for as long as you feel you want or need to.  While the soup is simmering, boil water and cook some ditalini (or other small pasta).  When you determine the soup is done, you can dish it into proper sized soup bowls, add the pasta – and before serving, sprinkle some grated cheese on top.  Done!

I also enjoy Easy Pea Soup.  You don’t have to put in too much effort to get yourself a delicious meal.  Again, like above – use your own discretion as to the quantity of ingredients (based on how many servings you will want).  Use a decent size pot.  Brown some chopped onion and minced garlic in oil, butter or margarine. As they cook up, add three cans of peas and two cups of chicken broth.  To this, add a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper.  Let this warm – let it bubble.  Transfer half of this mixture into a blender or food processor, and puree.  Put the puree into a different pot.  Repeat the pureeing and combine portions.  Simmer.  At this point, feel free to put some add ins in – you can add a can or two of sliced or diced carrots, or a chunk of ham cut into cubes.  Keep simmering, and before too long you’ll have a great bowl of soup!

A hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of soup is Creamy Baked Potato Soup.  This soup starts with some mashed potatoes – again, in the quantity you think you’ll need.  You can use fresh cooked potatoes, canned potatoes or instant potatoes – any kind you want.  Once they are mashed in a proper size pot, start adding milk, water and chicken broth, alternating small amounts of each.  The idea is to get this mixture to a soup like consistency.  As you’re adding and simmering, you can put in a dash of salt, pepper and garlic or onion powder.  Once you are satisfied that there is enough liquid with the consistency you like, you can simmer some more.  If the soup seems too thick, thin it out with more liquid.  If it is too thin, soup (or many broth based items) can be thickened with corn starch or my favorite, instant mashed potatoes.  Once your soup reaches what looks to you to be almost done, you can add shredded cheese, mushrooms, bacon bits – whatever sounds right to you.  I serve this soup like a baked potato – with a bit of sour cream on top.  It is so good!

You can freeze these soups too – though it may not be advisable with the Meatball soup, since it includes (previously) frozen meatballs.  I hope you enjoy all of these – I know that I do!

Ups and Downs, Good and Bad, Yes and No…

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I feel so very fortunate to be able to say that the Year 2019 was more good than bad.  Being on social media, I see that many others cannot say the same thing.  I did experience some downer moments but for the most part 2019 treated me pretty well.

The year started off great as we had just welcomed Nik and Lexi into our family right before 2018 ended.  What started out as a temporary arrangement turned permanent as we fell in love with them.  They have grown into happy, healthy and funny cats.  We couldn’t imagine our lives without them.  Lexi is our Queen, and except for the fact that she scratches where she shouldn’t she is absolutely perfect.  Nik is a big boy – big and masculine, yet he sleeps so funny – like a baby bunny rabbit or something.

Early to mid January we got news that we would have never expected.  After a few weeks of back and forth trips to the Vet, our JB was diagnosed with a form of nasal cancer.  I have never been so devastated and heartbroken in my life (as odd as that sounds, having lost both of my parents to cancer).  We were told in Florida that JB was around two years old, but during his cancer diagnosis the Vet here in Pennsylvania said he was closer to ten years old.  This was such an unexpected revelation.  The crying I did when I found out, I didn’t really realize it was possible to go through something that hurt so bad.  We were lucky enough to have him with us for almost five months after his diagnosis.  I loved that boy with my whole heart and soul and I miss him every day.  Still.

From good to bad to good – the day after my birthday in April, I was watching the news and I heard meowing.  I thought it was in the basement, so I went down to investigate.  Nothing.  (At this point, I should note that our basement isn’t exactly sealed – there are openings in the foundation, however small.) I then went back upstairs and heard it yet again.  I made a final trip to the basement, to the area where I thought the meowing might be coming from.  Issuing a last-ditch request to come out wherever you are, walking towards me was the smallest little kitten I had ever seen.  His ears weren’t even fully up.  He is my miracle boy – we learned together.  Kittens of three weeks old (that’s about how big he was) need help to do everything – to pee, to poop, to eat – all of it.  Besides being my miracle boy, he is my success story.  His name is Malenky, which means little one in Russian.  Though now at nine months he’s not so little anymore!  He’s black and white, and he is beautiful!

People said to me that where there’s one kitten there’s probably more.  They were right.  About three weeks later, I heard a noise when I was in the basement.  I didn’t think it was anything – this time there was no meowing.  Imagine our surprise when Jeff opened up a dresser drawer and three kittens were in there!  We were in shock!  Initially, the plan was to get these three new additions homes – I was able to find a home for one of the little girls – my ex husband and his girlfriend took a Tuxedo and named her Gilly.  That left us with two – all black Boris and black and white Tuxedo Tasha Jean.  There were no takers, so we kept them.  And I am so happy we did!  Boris is the crazy relative you’d meet at a wedding, acting the fool.  Tasha is quiet, laid back – the absolute perfect lady!  I love them so much, and it’s been great for Malenky to have siblings his own age.  The antics the three of them pull has us laughing each and every day.  Combined with Beavis and Stanley, seven cats seems to be the perfect number for us!

My cats and my family (friends are included in the family term) are everything to me.  Yet my interest in hockey is pretty strong.  The 2018-19 season was supposed to be THE year for my Tampa Bay Lightning.  They finished first overall in the entire league, and Nikita Kucherov (our Nik’s namesake) was on fire.  All the promises of this season ended when they lost in the FIRST round of the playoffs.  And they didn’t just lose – they lost BIG.  Four straight and it was terrible.  It was the worst buzz kill of any sports experience I think I’ve ever had.  For a year that had the promise of a potential Stanley Cup to end the way it did – I think the team is still suffering the after effects of that horrible loss.  I am a Bolts fan forever and for always – some things from last season should be remembered, but some – just no.  Not at all.

My hockey heart is pumped up as the New York Islanders announced they would FINALLY retire the number of my favorite player – John Tonelli.  It certainly has taken them long enough.  Better late than never though.  The banner with his name and number will no longer only be retired on my leg (as a tattoo) but will be raised to the rafters at the Barn – Nassau Coliseum, where SO many Tonelli milestones were achieved.  We have our tickets, and we will be there!  February 21st cannot come fast enough.

2019 brought some bad current events.  There were church shootings, school shootings and bombings.  We had fires and floods and mudslides.  There was a terrible attack that thankfully turned out to be something fraudulent and made up.  Jussie Smollett was a storyteller who caused time, money and resources to be wasted on a sham.  It’s fortunate that this was a farce and it wasn’t real – that something so awful never happened.  We lost many famous people, including Don Imus, Carol Spinney (the voice of Big Bird), Doris Day, Luke Perry, Valerie Harper, Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat.

Yet 2019 had some notable good things, too.  Speaking of Sesame Street (above), it turned fifty.  A 95 year old WWII Veteran in Oklahoma earned his High School diploma.  There is new technology that is able to possibly detect breast cancer five years sooner.  A man on his last day of chemotherapy in North Carolina hit the lottery for $200,000.  And we had little Baby Archie come into the world on May 6th.

It was good Jeff and I were finally able to get back to Florida.  Yet it was bad (if you could even say it) that we were only there from Thursday until Sunday.  I am so very happy to have gotten my old job back here at the hospital.  Yet I just wish Jeff and I had more time off together – it is hard when you work opposite shifts.  We worked on getting our bathroom up to date, yet we still have the rest of the place to go.  Patience, woman…patience!  I have to have my extra large kidney stone removed – surgically, sadly.  The good part of that is I will never get that kidney pain again.  My youngest son got engaged which is a very good thing, and my oldest son graduated from College, which is also a very good thing.  Our oldest cat, Beavis has lost a significant amount of weight.  This could be considered a good thing – since he had been pretty overweight at one time.  But it could also be bad, despite the fact that the Vet said all is ok – how can a living thing lose half of it’s body weight and have things be alright?  The good thing is that his mood and personality hasn’t changed – he’s the same old happy, laid back boy he has always been!

So we will bid farewell to 2019, and will be ready to welcome 2020 with open arms.  I’m lucky – life is good, and I don’t expect anything to change.  Still, though – fingers (and toes) crossed!  Happy New Year!

 

Merry Christmas…

photo of string lights
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..and Happy Holidays!  What a wonderful time of year.  And a stressful and tiring time of year, too.  We wouldn’t have it any other way though, right?  I say that now, but each and every night after work was spent doing Christmas-related things from November until yesterday afternoon.  All the hard work put in made the holiday great, but honestly – it will be nice to come home from work now and not HAVE to do something because an absolute time deadline was approaching.

Yesterday was our family’s Christmas get together.  As the boys have grown and gotten married and engaged (and have full time jobs in industries that don’t chiefly operate on a Monday-Friday nine to five schedule), it’s harder and harder to make the day and date decided on work for all of us.  Luckily, yesterday worked out for everyone.  We have certainly come full circle in our family.  When the ex and I separated in 2014, we never let our issues affect the kids and our Christmas traditions.  We have spent every holiday together since then.  It’s worked out very well for all of us.  Our get togethers have included the ex’s girlfriend Lorraine, and for the past two Christmases we’ve also been lucky enough to have Jeff with us.  Things changed as well, and we’ve come to include my sister, her boyfriend and her son.  It truly was a family Christmas.  Hosted by my youngest son and his fiancé, they did a wonderful job and a good time was had by all.

I’m so thankful for my family.  We are all very generous to each other.  Luckily none of us are really in need so the gifts were fun type presents.  Some were practical gifts that had a funny edge.  The kids Christmas stockings had things they enjoyed as little boys despite the fact that they are 31, 29 and 24.  Jeff and I went silly and got Bre and Chris a small wedding dress and tiny tuxedo along with a certificate – we are going to Build a Bear.  I never did that activity with the boys when they were little, so we’re going to do it now – and soon.  Between all the kids, my ex, and my sister (plus Christine and Keith who we will see on this coming weekend) I bought treats (and made gifts) for twenty three cats and three dogs – and that doesn’t even count our seven!

Jeff and I didn’t get each other all too much stuff – but we haven’t exchanged yet, so it remains to be seen how much we actually do have.  His gift to me was our recent long weekend away in Florida, which was wonderful.  I have made arrangements to go to Long Island to see my favorite hockey player’s number retired – finally!  We will have a February weekend away to celebrate this.  One of Jeff’s favorite baseball players is going to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, so a July weekend away will be planned for this time as well.  I have so many things around our house that I really don’t need much.  What we want to do now is make memories, and not buy things.

I hope everyone had, is having and will continue having a Holiday time that makes you and your loved ones happy.  Merry.  Happy.  Celebrate!