Wednesday, December 31, 2008



HooRay.........yeah baby.  New Years.....Times Square.........Whoooeeee Whooo.  It's 19 degrees.  Who's bright idea was it to come down here with no coat?  Look at this guy.  Hey dude, Big Brown is looking for his teeth.  Freak.  This place is crazy.  Sorry I'm late.  Kathy Griffin attacked me.  Thought I was limelight.  I could have stayed home and gone to Claudia's kid party.  I heard it was insane.  Claudia had three glasses of champagne.  I'm guessing she'll be out till tomorrow evening.........light weight.  

Since it's 2009, why don't you tell me nine things that you're looking forward to this year.  I'll start:

1.  Hair plugs
2.  An aspirin for my head and my 401k
3.  Change I can believe in
4.  A cute little incandescent thing
5.  My own show
6.  Shadowboxing
7.  Clapper parties
8.  The Shining 2
9.  A link between LEDs and cancer

Here's some shots of Claudia and the gang before she got her drink on.  That many kids amped up on sugar with noise makers would make anyone drink.  Give me Times Square every time.

Happy New Years.  HooRay   Out.

The Last Hoorah

Important announcement at the end.

What kind of sham would this blog be if I didn't use today to prompt one last reflection of this year's highs, lows, and ahas? Today, after all, we usher out 2008 and ring in the year 2009.

Newcomers... our blog is named Highlowaha, because of an underlying appreciation for the value of periodically stopping long enough to reflect on life's highs, lows, and life lessons. Normally we reserve this ritual for the 18th day of each month, but this month, in honor of New Year's Eve, we'll do it twice.

Today we will reflect on the year's highs, lows, and ahas. And, you don't have to reserve reflections for personal occurrences. Maybe your personal highs are dwarfed by the awe inspiring opening of the Olympics in Beijing, the election of a new U.S. president, or Big Brown's win at the 134th Kentucky Derby. Similarly, maybe you are fortunate enough not to have had a low as devastating as the fires in California, the recent avalanche in Canada, the earthquake in China, or the Super Tuesday tornadoes in southern states.

Maybe even a combination of personal, national, and international highs, lows, and ahas could work. I'll let you decide.

As for me...
  • Highs: making new friends; Jack turning one and letting us sleep through the night; visiting my parents in New York; my sister coming to visit twice; hosting Pen Pal weekend with Katie as my side kick; completing some home improvements; Getting HLA up and running; Heather moving to Texas; Richard's grand e-bay purchase of an industrial-sized espresso machine; opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics; and my new Honda Pilot.
  • Lows: My car dying, requiring me to get my new Honda Pilot; natural disasters; the death of Tim Russert; and the economy
  • Ahas: Eleven highs, four lows. I'm lucky!
Important Announcement
There is no Virtual Highlowaha New Year's Eve party tonight, but tune in at soon after midnight (beginning EST) and let us know how you spent the evening. There will be a short activity, sure to get 2009 off to a great start. See you then!

Signing off until later tonight...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

Tomorrow is New Year's eve. I don't really have time for dwelling on the thankless (12-hour) job of restoring some as semblance of order to my home, by packing away countless tubs of holiday decorations, lugged out once a year for what amounts to - in our case - 21 days, or should I say... 500 hours. Phew! But, who's bitter?

Onward and upward. Tomorrow is New Year's Eve and people around the world will be celebrating the start of a new year. Interestingly enough, while the idea of ringing in the new year is universal, the ways in which people do it is not. Here's what I mean...

Netherlands: Right after midnight, people in the Netherlands dive into freezing water to take a New Year's Swim. It is meant to bring good luck and health (of all things).

Greece: Greeks bake a St. Basil's Cake, baking into it a silver or gold coin. Whoever finds the coin is said to be especially lucky in the new year.

Dominican Republic: Cleaning is the name of the game in the Dominican Republic. People do a thorough cleaning of their homes before the new year and assure that all brooms and brushes are safely put away. No sweeping is permitted on New Year's Day, as it is believed you could sweep away the good things along with the bad.

Hungary: Hungarians burn straw replicas of a figure called Jack Straw. He is said to be the embodiment of the evil and misfortune of the past year.

Scotland: This might be one of my favorites. Shortly after midnight, people pay neighbors visits - called, "First Footing." Typically visitors present one another with coal or shortbread. You are considered especially lucky if a tall, dark, and handsome man is first to enter your your home in the new year.

Japan: At midnight in Japan, temples strike their gongs 108 times in an effort to expel the 108 types of human weakness. I'm not sure what the 108 weaknesses are, but I'm wondering if we could ring a bell 218 times in celebration of our 218 virtues?!?!

Spain: It is said Spanish people eat 12 grapes to secure 12 happy months in the coming year.

Beeny's: I realize we're not a country (though sometimes the goings-on in our house can seem somewhat foreign) , but still I thought it would be fun to share the one thing we seem to have done every year since 2000, when Richard and I rung in our first new year together. We got married in November of 1999 and spent our first Christmas in New York visiting my family. Our flight was to return home on New Year's Eve Day. Earlier in the week we were walking through the city and noticed vendors selling party glasses made in the shape of 2000. We bought a pair... and then I had an idea.

Wouldn't it be great to document each New Year's Eve, and what we did, by having our photo taken while sporting a pair of that year's glasses? The pairs of glasses we've needed to purchase each year has grown, as our family has gotten bigger, but it is always fun to put them on and pose for our annual New Year's Picture. Some years have been fun, spent with friends at a comedy club or out at dinner. Others have been more low key, with just our immediate family at home and asleep by 12:01. And still, others have been so quiet we needed to take our picture using the self-timing feature on our camera.

I'm always sure to take a few minutes to write a short paragraph summarizing what we did, as it is amazing how much can be forgotten in just a single year. The added fun to this is that Richard and I sealed a time capsule at our wedding. It is our intention to host a large party on our 25th wedding anniversary, in 2024. I fully expect to create a great display of all our New Year's photos for the party. It will be a great (and visual) stroll down memory lane.

Here's a preview of what's to come, but I'll post the official picture on Thursday morning.
How about you? Do you and your family have any New Year's traditions or rituals? Tell us about them.

Signing off until tomorrow...

P.S. If you are like I am and have no real knowledge of what the traditional New Year's song, "Auld Lang Syne" means, then take a second and find out. It's interesting and maybe this year you'll actually sing the correct words!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Maintenance Monday

It's been a while since our last Maintenance Monday. I think, May 12th to be exact.

Maybe it's the daunting task before me of "de-stringing" my tree of its 1,150 Christmas lights and hundreds of ornaments. Maybe it's my feudal attempt to straighten the house and to find a home for each new toy delivered by Santa. Maybe it's the mountain of laundry waiting for me or the excitement of a new (more organized) beginning that comes with the anticipation of a new year. Whatever the reason, today just feels like it ought to be a Maintenance Monday.

For Robin (WELCOME!) and other newcomers checking into our site for the first time, today's Maintenance Monday will give you a glimpse into this fun community and provide a long list of reasons you ought to check back in again tomorrow... and the next day... and the next... and the next. For returners and lurkers, it will jump start your brain in the event you took a short HLA hiatus for the holidays.

Those of you holding out for the agreed-upon creative idea of the day, have no fear. We will finish on that note.

As for maintenance. No particular order. Just a messy stream of consciousness.

Next Week's Secret Ingredient: Nicole and Maureen go head to head this week, battling with this week's secret ingredient - Parmesan Cheese. Mail snacks no later than Tuesday afternoon to assure entries get to Struble Suds by game time on Saturday, January 3.

First ever forfeit: We already knew that Richard had the first fumble of the season by not submitting his entry for brown sugar. It seems Tera's entry also did not make it to Struble Suds by yesterday's game time. If Tera's submission doesn't make it by this afternoon we will call a do-over and allow Tera and Richard to resubmit for the game on January 3. The turnaround is quick. Consider it a Hail Mary.

Candy bar names: Saturday's team builder was fun. If you didn't have time to visit, it's not too late. One of the things we did in honor of yesterday's celebration of National Chocolate Day was to submit our ideas for candy bar names. Check some of them out: Avalanche, Scrump-didile-umptious, Marvel, Rapture, Kraver Killer, Masterpiece, Gigglebar, Divine Delight, 10 (as in perfect), and Brain Freeze (to be eaten frozen), So You've Had a Bad Day, and Time Out. Have one to add or want to tell us which is your favorite? We'd love to hear.

Winner of the National Chocolate Day Prize: Speaking of National Chocolate Day... Peggy wins Saturday's prize by guessing 8 as the exact number of blue M&M's in my package. Look at what she wins...
Christmas Brain Bank: It's not too late. Last week on 12/22, we had a post titled, "Act II, Scene I." The purpose of that day's entry was to capture your thoughts on all the things you want to be sure and remember to do NEXT holiday season! I promised that if you contributed your ideas and tips, I would be sure to reintroduce them to you next year on the day after Thanksgiving. That will be plenty of time to make good on your ideas and the entire HLA community will benefit. If you haven't added something to our list, we'd love to hear what you have to say. Please make your post in the comment section of 12/22, so we can keep the ideas together.

Pregnant women: Our list of pregnant women who want to participate in January's virtual baby shower is growing. If you know someone, please pass their name along and we will send an official invitation. The party is scheduled to take place January 26-31. Send their name to me at

Drink Coke: We are a little more than a month away from our campaign to gather as many Coke Reward numbers as possible. Remember, we are collecting reward numbers for a friend of Heather's (loyal reader) who has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Coke remains one of her friend, Julie's, favorite vices and the reward numbers will allow Julie to purchase items she otherwise could not afford. Email reward numbers to

Helping Hand Project: Tera or Sue, we would love an update on how delivery of highlowaha items went to the family we adopted this holiday season. A final tally of money raised and gifts delivered would be fun to hear!

Help Me Shop Til I Drop: As many of you might have heard me mention, Matthew (my four year old) decided he wanted to invite Santa Claus to his birthday party in April. At first I dismissed the idea, but then I quickly fell in love with it. The possibilities are endless. Fake tree; lights; lawn art; Christmas plates; napkins; Christmas games such as pin the nose on Rudolph, musical chairs to Christmas carols, and a Green pickle scavenger hunt; crafts such as decorating Christmas cookies, and top the party off with a visit from Santa! I LOVE IT! Now. Here's what I need from you. Help me brainstorm. My days of 70% off are limited. What should I be sure to buy before holiday stuff disappears?

And now, for our agreed upon creative idea for the day. I am in the throws of packaging up our Christmas stuff (I am leaving for a week on Saturday). Here are a few Christmas decoration storage tips I've heard over time. Feel free to share whatever tricks you have up your sleeve!

If you are considering a Christmas in July this year, be sure to bear this in mind while packaging things up.
  • Package all the things you'll need at the start of the holiday season in a separate box. Items might include your advent calendar, tree stand, Christmas cards, Christmas CDs, or whatever else you might need.
  • Label your boxes 1 of 10, 2 of 10, 3 of 10, etc.... This assures you know how many you are looking for next year.
  • As Peggy suggested, take the extra time to make detailed lists of what is contained in each box. You will applaud your efforts next December.
  • Wrap candles in old socks or knee-high stockings to prevent scratching. Naturally, store in a cool place.
  • Store smaller ornaments in egg cartons.
  • Wrap garland around empty wrapping paper rolls.
  • We wrap our Christmas lights around old rolled up newspapers (which we reuse year after year). What I really love about this is reading what was happening around Christmas 7 or 10 years ago.
  • A few years ago, in preparation of our move to Texas, we ordered a box of packaging paper from U-Line. I love having it on hand for everything from crafts projects to rewrapping my Christmas ornaments.
How about you? What creative suggestions do you have for "wrapping up" this holiday season with a nice neat bow and all?

Signing off until tomorrow...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Just when you thought the fun was over...

Claudia announces that tomorrow - Sunday, December 28 - is National Chocolate Day!!!

Just when you might be feeling the disappointment of Christmas ending, comes this incredible proclamation of hope! Arguably, a miracle as worthy of celebration as the birth of Christ and unbelievably... the holidays are scheduled within three calendar days!?!?!? Come to think of it... maybe there's a connection???? That's a question too philosophical for me - especially at the hour this is being posted.

But there is no question that chocolate should be celebrated. Of that, I am certain! Today we will have a little chocolate fun. Interestingly enough, to do this we are going to feature a form of chocolate I cannot eat... M&Ms. I can't eat them because I am allergic to nuts and beans (all legumes) and yes, to set the record straight... plain m&ms have peanut traces in them, so they too are off limits.

A completely inconsequential side bar to all of this is that I LOVE the idea of M&Ms. This is going to sound weird, but I like to watch people eat them. You might not know this, but when you bite into an M&M (or, even better, a handful of M&Ms) the sound is cool. The hard outter shell, combined with chocolate on the inside makes it the perfect sounding candy! It's true. I get serious candy envy when watching someone eat a bag of m&ms. The closest I get are the Robin Eggs that Cadbury makes at Easter. Richard loads me up with them, because to me they are the closest thing to getting to eat an M&M. But, I digress.

To those aware of my other life, this will be of no surprise. Today we will use M&Ms to do some HLA team building. Whether you are a first time visitor, a lurker, or a regular, jump right in. Below is your virtual handful of M&Ms. Each color has been assigned a topic. For each M&M of the corresponding color, you will share a fun fact related to the topic. I'll go first so you can get the hang.
Green: Favorite chocolate vice
Red: Suggested name for new candy bar
Yellow: Things you like to dip in chocolate fondue
Brown: Idea for celebrating National Chocolate Day
Blue: Your guess of the number of blue M&M's in my regular sized bag of M&Ms
(a chocolate surprise to the person who comes the closest).
Orange: "Orange" you glad this one's a wild card?
For each orange m&m, tell us something you want us to know.

Here's mine...
Green: White chocolate mochas, hot fudge, brownies,
chocolate chip cookies, frozen chocolate custard
Red: Avalanche
Yellow: strawberries, graham crackers
Brown: Watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,
bake a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting
Blue: Place your number here (I won't... unfair advantage).
Orange: Today we are taking Matthew and a friend to see the musical, Annie. I am excited;
I have a lot of HLA packages to mail out; I'm on the hunt for a GREAT looking Christmas cookie jar; and I have literally hit crisis proportions with my laundry situation.

Your turn...
  • Give 'Em The Boot Award Winner: And the first person to get the HLA boot in the Annual "Give 'Em the Boot Award" is Cassie P's dad. Mr. P receives this year's award for his "in-line, out-of-line" indecisiveness (see yesterdays comment section). Receiving the award for this year's winner is our very own Traveling Debacle Survivor... Cassie P. Cassie will receive the coveted purple boot ornament to display proudly until December 26, 2009, when she must present it to our next most unfortunate winner.
  • Super Bowl Throw Down: Richard, whoever that shady character is, forfeits from this week's Super Bowl Throw Down, due to poor planning on his part. Or, as could very well be the case, fear of going up against Tera. Either way... Tera you reign supreme. Congratulations!
  • Next Secret Ingredient: We were supposed to vote yesterday for the next secret ingredient. So tell us... what should Nicole and Maureen battle over?
Paremesean Cheese or Onion
Signing off until tomorrow...

Friday, December 26, 2008

First Annual, "Give 'Em The Boot" Award

Sorry I'm so late today. I was having technology issues.

Today's creative idea is compliments of Kristen G.

But, first. On a serious note I want to say thank you. This holiday season has been extra fun for me. I've spent time thinking about why and I am convinced part of the reason is because I've gotten to share it with all of you. It's funny. We are spread out all over the country and each of us lives busy lives with lots of competing demands. But, each day - if only for a moment - we come together and share a small piece of ourselves (holiday traditions, childhood memories, anxieties). If you would have told me a year ago that I would have spent an evening admiring many of your Christmas trees, receiving holiday cards from you, or hanging ornaments on my tree from places I haven't been or people I didn't know, I would have said you are crazy. But what a difference a year and some spirited, willing, and committed people can make.

Again, thank you (lurkers and active readers) for entering my small corner of the world and making it richer.

Just as exciting as you entering my world is this... many of you contacted me, outside of the blog, asking for mailing addresses of fellow readers or asking questions about what he/she might like for a present. That pleases me beyond measure. It means we are truly a community, not bound together by me or anything I might post on a given day. It means, if I were to leave tomorrow, the spirit of this blog - the spirit of #218 - would continue without me. Pretty remarkable considering that less than a year ago we didn't exist. It ranks right up there, among the top reasons this Christmas was so merry.

Albeit sincere, enough mush.

Let's get busy talking trash. Per Kristen's suggestion, today we are going to start a new Highlowaha tradition. Today, one lucky (or unlucky, as the case may be) reader will win the "Give Them the Boot Award." This award will go to the person who has the funniest, most outrageous, or most hideous holiday story... about a family member or holiday guest! It could be anything from a crazy family feud, an aunt or uncle's distracting quirk, an office mates horrible display of table manners, and everything in between.

The winner receives a carefully selected and highly coveted purple boot ornament. He or she will keep the ornament through next December 26, when -after another year of stiff competition - it gets passed along to the next winner.

I wish I had some great story to kick us off. I wish I could tell you about my uncle who slurps soup, my aunt who mooned the neighbors, the drunk neighbor who got carried away with mistletoe, or the sister who managed to find the single most useless chatchka to wrap up and call a Christmas gift. But, I can't. I tout myself as creative and yet, I can't seem to twist, turn, or distort a single Christmas occurrence to fit the criterion.

Help me, before our first annual competition dies a quick death.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Thursday, December 25, 2008


"Jingle all the Ray"
Yeah, yeah, yeah,  I know.  I'm stuck.  "It'll be fun" she said.  "Come on, the kids will love it."  I knew I was going to get stuck.  Now, the kids are hysterical.   They think I chased Santa up the chimney to get his toys.  Claudia's trying to calm them down.  One of them was trying to hit me with the fire poker.    

I should be half way through my second Bloody Mary by now.  How does she rope me into these things?  Every holiday it's the same old story.....just five minutes here or an extra mile there.  I still have paper cuts from all the wrapping.

It all started out fine.  I'm on the roof, rope in hand.  I tie off the rope and start my descent.  I worry about scuffing my boots and lung cancer.  I'm making good progress and I actually believe that this time, everything is going to be OK.  Then it happens, I spot a big roach crawling down a brick after me.  I yell at it.  Unfazed, it leaps from the brick and floats downward, landing on my Santa beard.  I scream like a girl and thrash around trying to dislodge the roach.  I begin to fall and am grateful.  Then I stop falling.  Somehow my belt has gotten hooked on something.  I try chewing the beard loose.  I frantically chomp and spit and shake my head.  I hear's not me.  I've done it, the beard has fallen.  I'm free of the beard and the roach but the kids are horrified.  They'll need some kind of therapy after this one.  This is not my fault.

Anyone out there have a similar story?  What worked and what didn't this year?  What was hot and what was not?  Go on, let's hear it.  I've got all day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Show time...

It's here!

It must have been every hour on the hour yesterday that Matthew asked how much longer until Santa comes.

The irony.  For me, today will fly.  Minutes will tick away like seconds, as I race around hoping to beat the clock.  So many last minute details and so little time.  For Ricky and Matthew (Jack's still too little), who are filled with anticipation, each minute will feel like an hour and each hour will feel like an eternity.  Santa's sled is moving in slow motion and, in their minds it seems, might never touch down at 4012 Harvestwood Court.

So what's the feeling in your house?  Calm and relaxed?  Frenetic?  Anxious? Or, controlled chaos?

In the spirit of Highlowaha, let's have some fun with this today.  How about using the prompt below to let us know what you're up to and how you're feeling...

Twas the night before Christmas...

Here's my shot at it...  Don't over think it.  I'm not.  Just go for it.  Freewheeling.  No pressure.  

Twas the night before Christmas 
much left to do
Wrapping, assembling, and of course
some hot glue...

You're turn.

Oh, and one more thing.  While McDonalds, Wendy's, Target, and most other retailers are closing their doors tomorrow, Highlowaha is open for business.  Maybe you'll consider sharing your "presence."

Until then, signing off...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Act II, Scene I

Today we are going to fast forward to Christmas 2009.

There is a lot of collective knowledge and wisdom frequenting our blog site each day, so before the holidays pass and we - all to quickly - move on to New Years, Valentine's Day, and St. Patrick's Day, let's take a moment to answer this question...

If I know then what I know now, I will...


Based on your experience with Christmas 2008, is there an idea you saw or heard that you want to remember for next year?  A recipe you want to try, but that just ain't gonna happen in '08?  An outing or event you want to be sure to catch, but time just ran out?  A store you want to visit?  A gift idea you want to try?  A holiday decoration you want to make?  A wrapping tip or some insider information you want to be sure to remember? 

Today's the day.  

Brain dump all your "couldas," "wouldas," and "shouldas," right here at Idea Central and I will make sure they come right back atcha on Friday, November 27, 2009 - with plenty of time to make them happen next year.

Increase the value of this resource exponentially by getting as many people as you can to post their contribution.  The more people (newcomers, lurkers, and faithful veterans) who post today, the more helpful the information will be next year.

I'll start.  Last Friday, Matthew received a small treat from one of his classmates.  The festive cellophane party bag came half filled with oats, sprinkles, and sparkles.  Attached was this poem:

Magic Reindeer Dust
Come December 24, as Santa flies here from the North,
Here's what you do, it isn't hard.
Just sprinkle this stuff in your yard...
The sprinkles and sparkles draw old Santa near
and oats attract his 8 reindeer...
Then just you wait - they're on their way
P.S. Happy Holiday

There is no way I will keep track of this poem for the next 364 days, but I love the idea and want to be sure to use it next year (of course, adapted and with my own little twist).  The idea is great for a few reasons... (1) it's inexpensive, so it's doable for a class of 20 (or neighborhood kids, etc...), (2) it isn't junk food, (3) kids can help make and package the gift, and (4) it is practical.  We know exactly what to do with it and once we spread the dust tomorrow night, there will be no chatcka left behind.

As far as I am concerned, Magic Reindeer Dust is an idea worth keeping.  Now it's safely deposited in Highlowahas Brain Bank, ready to be withdrawn next Thanksgiving.  

Also, kudos to Mrs. Sampract who, if she didn't come up with the idea, kept track of it for a year until she could use it!

Now it's your turn.  Fill us up with countless comments about all the things you want to be sure and remember for the holidays in 2009!

Signing off until tomorrow...
P.S.  And since we seem to be on a movie kick... here are popcorn containers I found in the dollar bin at Target - packaged up and ready to go.  Each one only cost $2.20 to make (minus the $15.00 gift card attached to the four containers for Matthew and Jack's teachers).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lights, Camera, Action!

Announcements at the end.

When I was working as Director of New Student Programs at Southern Methodist University, I remember hiring a woman to do a training session for my orientation directors.  The woman was an event planner for Frito Lay and I wanted her to talk to my staff about lessons she had learned along the way.

My staff, after all, were also planning events (orientation for over a thousand people) and ours needed to go every bit as smoothly as what she was planning for her Frito Lay executives.

She said two things I will always remember.  The first is more of a visual.  She gave each of my students a rubber duck and told them that, often times being an event planner is like being a duck.  Ducks, after all, can be furiously paddling their feet under water while looking calm and perfectly still on top of the water.  I like the whole visual of that and I often times remind myself of her observation when I am feeling frenzied.  "Be the duck."  You know.

The other thing she said is that to be an effective event planner, one must practice the art of movie making.  Begin at Act One, Take One and work your way - detail by detail - through the entire movie until the last letter of the last credit has rolled.  Of course you do this with a pad of paper in hand, jotting down notes of even the the tiniest missing details.  

Today I am a movie director.  Maybe you will be too.  We'll title this movie, "Christmas 2008."  Act one. Christmas morning.  Wake up to excited kids jumping on our bed, in Christmas pajamas, begging to go see what Santa brought.  Christmas pajamas in hand?  Check.  Have Richard make us coffee while kids are opening presents.  Coffee in stock?  Check.  Mosey into the kitchen, still watching them "oooh" and "ahhh" over their presents, while getting breakfast going.


Breakfast.  With all the shopping, wrapping, planning, and hosting, I haven't given a single thought to what our family will eat in just four short days.  Some kind of breakfast casserole?  Pancakes?  French Toast? Omelets? Homemade coffee cake?

Yikes.  Help!  What creative or yummy dishes will you be featuring on Christmas morning?  Share your award winning recipes.

  • Sugar Ray:  Texas, Ohio, New York... next stop... Pennsylvania.  Kristen has generously offered to host Baking Ray next.  She will bake a batch of Ray cookies, share them (and HLA) with cookie-loving friends in her hometown, and then ship Ray off to his next destination.  Maureen, I will forward Kristen's address to you.
  • First Annual Holiday "Give 'em the Boot Award": Last Friday the suggestion was made that Highlowaha readers share their best holiday saga with the rest of us, in hopes of winning temporary ownership of the coveted HLA ornament.  The winner will hang the purple cowboy boot on his/her tree next year and then pass it along to the next unlucky winner for Christmas 2010.  Stories will be shared on Friday, December 26.  Get ready.
  • Still in Search of Pregnant Woman Wanting to Party:  Kristen has volunteered to host a Baby Shower for Michelle (where are you?) and six other pregnant woman, planning to deliver this spring.  Please forward us the names of anyone you might know, so we may extend fun and formal invitation to our next virtual party.
  • Live in Texas?: We are still looking for the names of anyone who lives in the North Texas area, who might be willing to help welcome one of our reader's sister in law to Texas.  She is putting together a Texas themed tree and would like to share contact information for anyone willing.  Post your interest in the comment section and Kristen will follow up with you to get the information she needs.
  • Drink Coke:  Tis the season for hosting friends and family.  If you purchase cases of any Coke product, please be sure to pass along the Reward Number to Heather at  Remember, we are trying to collect as many Reward numbers as we can between now and February 14, in order to help a terminally sick friend of our loyal reader, Heather.
I desperately need to report to "make-up," so signing off until tomorrow...  

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thank You Cards and... A Special Invitation

Tera and Richard... brown sugar is the secret ingredient with which you are working for this week's Throw Down.  Remember, the Green Bay game is Tuesday, December 30.  I recommend (due to the holidays) getting your item in the mail no later than Friday, December 26, in the a.m..  Christmas Eve could be better.  Good luck and may the best recipe win. 

Good morning, everyone.  This is the last weekend before Christmas, so for many of us it will be filled with last minute shopping (as shocking as that might seem to many of you), baking, and wrapping.
Free time is a hot commodity, so I'll be brief.

Today we're talking thank-you notes.  If you have kids, this is the perfect kind of project to do this weekend.  Set your kids at a table with paper, glitter, glue, and scissors and let them design their own thank you cards while you are in the kitchen baking.

Nan Anderson, an occasional visitor and "visiting craftswoman" on our blog, is the inspiration behind today's idea.  Nan also has three kids.  She is VERY creative and, on top of it all, she is an impressive photographer.  Which is to say... Nan aptly photographs many of her children's creations.  Earlier this season, she showed me how she uses her children's artwork to create fun stationary.

As if on cue, Matthew showed up at home today with an envelope of Christmas projects he made in school.  To be honest, none of them are so great (or truly original works of art) that I feel compelled to keep them.  Normally I would use them to decorate his bedroom door for the holidays and then get rid of them (yes, toss them in the garbage) at season's end.  Last night I did hang them on his door.  And, yes... I will thro
w them away at season's end.  

BUT... this year I also photographed the projects.  This year - in honor of Nan's suggestion - I will also use Matthew's Christmas decorations to create personalized thank-you cards.  Here they are before and sometime this weekend I will post the after (I learned my lesson about promptness last weekend).

Enough about thank you's.  Now let's talk invitations and then I'll be off for the day.

I love this.  I am so excited about this, I have to share it with someone.  If you love it too, feel free to steal it.

Yesterday - out of nowhere - Matthew said he was going to invite Santa Claus to his birthday party (in April)!  Did you hear me?  Matthew wants Santa Claus at his birthday party!  Then it hit me.  We can  do that!  Last year the beach.. this year the North Pole!  That's it!  This year, the theme for Matthew's birthday party will be a winter wonderland.  We will visit the North Pole.  Hot cocoa, snowman sundaes, scarves, Christmas invitations, holiday party plates, cups, decorations, a decorated Christmas tree, holiday games and a craft, and yes... Santa Claus will show up!  Surely I can hire a Santa Claus 
in April (what else are they doing?).

I love this idea and Matthew will think it is magical.  I'd love to sit and chat, but I have to go.  There are sales going on right now and I have to stock up for a birthday party in April!

Signing off until Monday... or actually until now, Sunday night at 9:23, when I return to post a picture of some of our homemade thank you notes.  They're kind of fun in person.  Don't get me wrong, we won't be putting Peggy out of business anytime soon, but Matthew loved seeing his "art" turned into real life cards.  We could have had a field day with lots more colored paper, glitter, and stickers.  Maybe next year.

Overall, I am a believer in the idea of transforming all kinds of my kid's artwork into thank you notes.
Now I'm signing off until Monday... for real.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Free For All Friday: Stockings Were Hung By the Chimney With Care

Announcements at the end, including voting for the next Secret Ingredient.

Recently Peggy, Maureen, and others exchanged memories (or lack thereof) of their Christmas stockings.  The exchange was particularly interesting to me, because my fire place growing up didn't have a mantle and consequently, stockings were never part of my family's holiday tradition.

Nonetheless, I am obsessed with Christmas Stockings.  If I could, our family's entire Christmas exchange would revolve around exchanging only gifts that fit in Christmas stockings.  Is it that I inherently want what I didn't have or is it the creativity required in finding meaningful treats that must fit within specified dimensions?  Whatever the reason... I love Christmas stockings!!!!!

For the many years I worked on college campuses, I would interrogate every student I could get my hands on about their Christmas stockings.  What was the best thing they ever got in their stocking?  Was there something they expected to find in their stocking every year?  When did they open their stockings?  Who filled their stockings - Santa, mom and dad, or various family members?  Coal or no coal?  Did they have one stocking they used their whole life or did stockings change with fashions?  Trust me, I could go on.  I love stockings.

So today, if it's ok with you, I would love to hear what you have to say.  What were/are you traditions around stockings?  Is there one thing in particular you love finding (or placing) in Christmas stockings?  I'll spend the rest of my life feeling like a "stocking-novice," because I grew up without the familiarity of them as a kid.  Help me get it "right," so my kids have sound Christmas stocking memories!    

Indulge me in a little story about our family's Christmas stockings.  
I'll try to be brief.
I spotted this Santa stocking in 1992 while living in Oxford, Ohio.  I LOVED it and (due to my compulsion with stockings) immediately decided to buy it for my boyfriend, Hunter.  He was living in North Carolina, so filling it with thoughtful treats would be the ultimate Christmas gift.

I bought his stocking in October.  In November I thought, "What if he's the one?  I love this stocking.  If he's "the one," I'll need the Mrs. Claus stocking too."  Off I went to the little boutique where I found it to buy Mrs. Claus.
I sent Hunter his stocking in December and in February we broke up.

Yikes, now I have Mrs. Claus, but no Santa.  Back to the boutique, where of course they have no more stockings.  I plead with the owner to help me track down another Santa, so when I get married, I can have (in my mind) the ultimate Christmas stockings.  In November of the following year I got my replacement Santa stocking.  In December I moved.

Eight years later, while living in Texas (the first time around), I meet Richard.  We went on our first date in November, got engaged in May, and got married in November. 

Finally I get to use the coveted Christmas stockings I've been lugging around the country with every move.

Oh no!  What about Ricky?  When I married Richard, I also became a mom.  Ricky was five turning six at the time.  He needs a stocking.  In July (just weeks after getting engaged) I contacted the talented mother of my friend Debbie to see if she would make me a Christmas stocking to match my Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
A walking angel on earth, Mrs. Barbara not only sent one stocking, she sent me THREE!  Three?  Is she crazy?  What the heck will I do with three (and all boy elfs, to boot)!?!

April 2004, elf #2 gets claimed.  Thankfully Matthew complied and was a boy.  A perfect match for his stocking.

July 2006, find out I am pregnant with Jack.  Contact Mrs. Barbara to put her on-call for a girl elf stocking - should it be necessary.

March 2007, Jack arrives and boy elf #3 gets claimed.

That's my great stocking story.  To the average eye, just a set of five stockings - no nicer than any other stockings.  To me... GOLD!  The only thing that could make this story better is a matching reindeer.  May Day, our dog, is patiently waiting.  Maybe I'll contact Mrs. Barbara in time for Christmas 2009.  Stay tuned until next year and see what happens.  

  • Super Bowl Snack Throw Down:   Today we start voting on the Playoffs - Tera vs. Richard.  What secret ingredient will they cook with this week?  Place your vote...
Cumin or Brown Sugar?
  • Winner of Ray's Ornament: I didn't forget about making this announcement, but I do try to limit the number of days we have a long list of housekeeping-related items.  Fridays seem appropriate.  The winner of Fun Family Story from Tuesday is Kristen and her fabulous rhyme.  The "mystery" reference is from his summer's Peanut and Shell game, where we learned that the peanut is a symbol of mystery and anticipation.  One more note about this.  This ornament was donated by a reader for the express purpose of sharing it with one of you.  Thank you all for your continued generosity and thoughtfulness.
  • Baker Ray is looking for his next destination: Baker Ray (or should we say Sugar Ray) has been hanging out in New York for the past couple of months.  He just finished spreading good cheer and is ready to move on.  Do we have another taker?  It means using all the supplies provided to bake a batch of Ray cookies to be shared with other people who we think might like learning about Highlowaha. Takers, takers?
Signing off until tomorrow...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We Interrupt Your Hustle and Bustle...

for this important message...

Today is the 18th of December.  

For newcomers to our community, let me explain.  Each month on the 18th, no matter how busy or how wrapped up we may be in the week's creative ideas, we stop what we are doing and reflect on our month's high (best thing that happened), low (worst thing that happened), and aha (something your learned).  We engage in the simplicity of this activity because it is, in fact, the origin of this blog's name (see post titled, "Ding, Ding, Ding, I Interrupt This Programming" from 4/29 for more details).  

We do it on the 18th because, in this community, the number 18 carries special significance.  The seed for HLA's first blog entry was planted on the 18th of February (2/18/08); the birthdays of both my parent's (of whom I am a reflection) falls on July and August 18th, respectively; and HLA's reminder to make time for life's little pleasures is summarized in our challenge to "Live the Spirit of 218." 

Today, I hope you will join me, and the rest of our community, in finding a moment of solitude amidst all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, to reflect on your highs, lows, and ahas of last month.  Lurkers and newcomers, jumping in and sharing on this day of this month would feel a little like getting a box with a big red bow on top - the ultimate gift.  Consider it, would you?  For added incentive, remember... we do a drawing of everyone who posts his/her HLA and send one lucky winner a Highlowaha t-shirt.

Now let me try to set the mood and then I'll go first.
  • High:  I want to say the excitement of the holidays, the outcome of our Helping Hands project,  or receiving greeting cards from friends I only hear from a couple of times a year.  BUT, if I'm being disciplined and only picking one...  it was a 30-minute, spontaneous coffee date with an acquaintance last week.  I see this woman only on occasion at the preschool my boys attend.  She saw me sitting in Starbucks one morning and asked if she could join me.  Naturally I said yes and we spent the next 30 minutes engrossed in great conversation.  She ended the conversation by giving me a very thoughtful compliment.  She shared with me, that a couple of weeks ago, on her day off, she changed all her plans so she could hand deliver an unexpected treat to a friend who was leaving on a trip.  She said, watching me inspired her to want to do it!  (I could go a very long time on that high).
  • Low:  My car is a pain.  My "Do" list is long.  And, I spent 3-4 days this month feeling under the weather.  My real low this month, however, has been the constant, low-grade worry I am feeling.  People in my sphere of friends and family have lost jobs, the cost of oil to heat homes is prohibitive for many (including people I know), and the ripple effect of a bad economy is putting strain on lots of the people we have daily interactions with.  I don't want to sound completely selfless or like the consummate humanitarian.  I'm not (but aspire to be).  I am, however, a worrier and it is hard to dismiss the hardships many are feeling.
  • Aha: Hanging around with all of you fills my months with more ahas than I might have had otherwise.  This month I learned a little about dueling in Paraguay, Mozart's childhood, the beauty of Zulu bead work, and the lasting impact of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address... among other things.  However, I measure this month's biggest "aha" as the thing I will carry with me the longest.  That being said, the single biggest "aha" I've had this month is the clarity with which we can see our worst shortcomings, simply by watching the imperfect behavior of our children.  I listen to my children get impatient with one another and, sadly, I recognize the tones in their voices all too well (I choose to believe this also applies to our best qualities)!
Now it's your turn.

Signing off until tomorrow... 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On a Scale of 1-5...

how stressed are you?

Laughter is a great way to manage stress.

I remember learning in college that there are two kinds of distress.  First is distress, the stress associated with negative life events such as a family member's death, divorce or losing a job.  The other is eustress, the stress associated with positive life events - things such as achieving a goal, falling in love, getting married, and yes... the holidays.  The interesting thing, I remember, is that the effects of stress on our body are the same, regardless of whether we are experiencing distress or eustress. 

While the past couple weeks on highlowaha have been centered on creative gift giving ideas, this week and next, I'd like to focus on topics related, but on the periphery of the holidays.  Monday ornaments, yesterday (thanks to HoliRay and Noel) wacky relatives who keep family gatherings interesting, and today... creative ways of managing holiday stress. 

I know a little about stress - distress and eustress.  As for distress... I have another unfortunate SAAB story.  Like my last SAAB story (in June when CSPgrad was visiting), which cost upward of $3,000, this one will do about the same.  Only difference?  This SAAB story necessitates us buying a new car - not something that was anywhere on our horizon.  Add to it friends and family who are losing jobs due to the economy, impending deadlines, and strained relationships, and I'd say I'm managing about the same amount of distress as all of you.

Eustress.  I have that too.  I have a few upcoming presentations/workshops I get to do and, of course, I want to make sure I am prepared and that I do a good job.  I have fun, big plans for Highlowaha in the next couple of months, but making it all happen will require a lot of work and planning.  I have an employment opportunity on the horizon, and while it seems an exciting position, accepting a job represents transition for the family.  Finally, I love the holidays and I have high hopes for helping make them feel magical for the friends and family around me.  That means making time to write notes, make small treats, wrap, mail packages, bake, decorate, and more.

That's the extent of what I know.  Managing stress?  On this I am no authority.  I noodled around a little on the internet and found a few things I thought constituted creative attempts at managing stress.  Check them out...

As I noted at the beginning of my blog.  Laughter is good.     
Here are a couple more sources of laughter... for your daily funny horoscope.  Or...
What do snowmen eat for breakfast?  Snow flakes!  Ha, ha, ha.

Take time to enjoy the scenery...

Take five and do a puzzle...

Or, pop bubble wrap - scientifically proven to reduce stress.

How about you?  On a scale of 1-5, how much stress are you feeling and what creative ideas might you have for managing it?  Do tell.

One more thing and then signing off until tomorrow...


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Psst... It's Me...

Claudia's stuck in her loaner car somewhere between here and Houston. Crazy Texas weather! Speaking of crazy...

Look who has decided to visit me after six's my cousin Noel. As you can imagine, this is her time of year. She's visiting from Brooklyn where apparently they still love big red X-mas lights. All I've been hearing for the last six hours is "One Italian family has 350,000 red lights... and that's just in the backyard" or "People just love me. It's not Christmas without red lights." "Why don't you just let me try......if you don't like it we can remove the red paint. I'm telling you, once you go red you'll never go back." Blah blah blah blah blah. Don't get me wrong, I love my cousin......just not in December. What was I thinking inviting her to visit?

Six years ago, I vowed never again. I decided to invite her to a party I was having. It was just supposed to be family. A quiet little affair. You know low wattage type of thing. She's shows up with 249 of her friends. They're all the, bright and loud. Those crazy c-16 bulbs scared the heck out of the minilight side of the family. One of the minis burned out and that was it......half the tree was in the dark. Then what do you do? It's impossible to figure out which one freaked out. Can't take the lights down. Can't fix the string. Nightmare. Then the big red ones think it's all funny and they try to scare the other minis. Half the neighborhood went down that night. Kids crying, dogs barking, I think they even caused a fire. Total bedlam. I vowed never again. Who knows what this visit will bring.

What about you? Who in your family is blacklisted? Give me some dirt. Help me feel better about myself. I'll tell you what, I'll read your whacky stories and for the one I like most......I send you a cool ornament for your tree. It's in the little red and white box under my you'll never guess what it is. It's a "mystery." For those of you who have been hanging around this joint for a while, that was a clue.

No chance of Claudia showing up anytime soon, but still I'm outta here. I need to find a stiff egg nog.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday Mania

It's a busy Monday. But, would we really have it any other way during the holiday season?

Wow! What fun we had last night, sipping cocoa, watching Survivor, and having a cut-throat -no-holds-barred-Ornament Exchange! All I have to say is... watch out for those Schnepp Sisters! They can play a mean game of... Pirate Ornaments. Last night's participants are anxiously waiting to see the unwrapped version of the ornaments for which they fought so hard. We won't make them wait another second. The ornaments are listed by number and the individual who won them. Drum roll, please...

Thanks, again to those of you who caught the Spirit of #218 and made time to do something outside your normal schedule. I had fun and hope you did too.

Santa Claus or Bust!
Today, Cassie P - one of our fun and loyal readers - is taking a road trip to Santa Claus, Indiana especially for us. She is road tripping with a friend (Samantha), so that they may hand deliver our letters to the post office for an authentic Santa Claus postmark. Along the way, I've presented Cassie and Samantha with some "challenges." Join me in rooting them on. Then, later today or tomorrow, look on Highlowaha for Cassie's account of their adventures. It will be posted as a separate blog entry. Cassie's tasks include:
  • Get a photograph in front of the cross streets, Kringle Way and Christmas Blvd.
  • Have one of the 25 flavors of hot cocoa served at the Silent Night Cafe
  • Select one of the over 100 candy canes from Santa's Candy Castle, home of the World's Largest Candy Cane Selection!
  • Find out one fun fact from the Santa Claus Museum
  • Volunteer to reply to one of over 15,000 letters mailed to Santa Claus this holiday season.
  • Get their picture in front of at least 3 Santa statues (ideally holding a sign saying, "Merry Christmas from Highlowaha."
  • Meet, and serve as HLA ambassador, to Melissa - our point of contact in Santa Claus.
  • Of course, mail our Christmas letters and cards!
  • Drive safely and have fun
Ornaments, Ornaments, Ornaments
As follow up to last nights Ornament Exchange, I thought we could spend today talking about some of our favorite and most prized ornaments. I've included one of our family favorites.
The story goes that Santa dropped this pocket watch in our living room one year while he was delivering presents to our house. That was the story we told Ricky when he was six years old and it still holds to this day. Ricky is, in fact, in charge of hanging the pocket watch on the tree each year. He's had fun sharing the story with Matthew and I'm sure he'll do it again when Jack is old enough. Ricky, of course, has made us promise that HE gets that ornament when he grows up and has his own family. I love that he's so adamant about having it. It means, in some small way, the tradition means something to him.

How about all of you? Do you have a favorite ornament or holiday decoration? Tell us about it? And, if you don't have one... how about sharing the favorite holiday ornament you've seen while out shopping this year.

As for me.. I am off to Houston for the day and won't be back until late tonight. I'll count on all of you to keep the community going and I'll look forward to reading what you had to say when I return.

Signing off until tomorrow...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Festival of Lights

Welcome to Highlowaha's 
First Annual Festival of Lights 

Tonight is an opportunity for us to spend a few minutes with new and old friends, made in our virtual community over the past ten months.  The Festival of Lights allows us to get a peak inside one another's homes and feel - if only for a moment - that we are part of each other's holiday traditions.  

Make yourself a cup of cocoa, sit back and enjoy the short slide show of your friends Christmas trees.  You might also take a second to view the slide show of wrapped Christmas ornaments, so you can identify the one you would most like to select.

Then, sign in by making a post and let us know you're out there.  At 8:15 p.m. (CST), after you've had time to "ooh" and "aahhh," everyone who submitted a photo of an ornament, will begin the Ornament Exchange.

Didn't submit a photo of your tree or an ornament?  No worries.  You can still join our party, by posting comments.

See you in a few... 

The How-tos of Tonight's Ornament Exchange
  • To participate in tonight's Exchange, you must have already submitted your photo to Katie.
  • Make sure you have posted a comment letting us know you are here.
  • View the slide show of ornaments to determine which you would most like to select.
  • You will be randomly assigned a number which will determine the order in which we will select ornaments.
  • Like Pirate Bingo, ornaments are allowed to be "stolen" three times by other participants, before the ornament becomes "out of play."
  • Person #1 will select the numbered ornament she wants (in tonight's case it is all "shes"), by making a post in the comment section.  You are deciding exclusively on packaging, which is one more reason we must accept that "packaging is everything."
  • Person #2 will decide if she wants to select a different package or if she wants the package you have.  She will post her choice in the comment section.
  • Refresh your screen periodically, so you can be sure you are a viewing the most up-to-date exchanges (Refresh button should be in the top left hand corner of your computer).
  • Remember, packaged ornaments may be stolen three times before they are out of play.
  • The Exchange will continue until all 9 of us has selected an ornament.
  • Tune in tomorrow morning for the final slide show, unveiling which ornament you won.
  • Click on the comment section now to see who goes first...
Let me say thanks ahead of time, everyone, for participating in tonight's event.  You're living the Spirit of #218 and, in the process, hopefully realizing the magic of making time for the life's little things. 

Let's play... 

Countdown to the Twelve Days of Christmas: Part I

Good morning.  Today's post will come in two parts.  First will come the sharing of today's creative idea.  Then, later in the day, will come our families finished product.

So today we make our Annual Twelve Days of Christmas Tree.  We cut it out of paper, paint it green, decorate paper ornaments, and then I write a daily activity on the  back of each.  Each day for the next twelve days we will do some small thing together to celebrate the holidays and to build the excitement and anticipation of Santa's arrival.

So that's it.  I'll report back later and show you a picture of the finished product.  In the meantime... how about sharing an idea or two of activities you might include.  Remember, the name of the game is simple.  In fact, I like to build the activities around things we already do each day (taking baths, eating dinner, reading our nightly book, getting dressed, etc...).

Remember, Katie might still accept your pictures of your Christmas tree and ornament!  It's not too late to get in the game!

Signing off until later today...

Twelve Days of Christmas: Part II:

Here it is.  More than a little later (Sunday at 7:30).  Sorry.  Last night got away from me and we were hosting an out of town visitor today. 

The beauty of this project was that there was it was totally Matthew and Jack's.  I cut out the ornaments and the tree and the boys went to town coloring and painting.  It might not win us any awards, but to us, Rockefeller Center has nothing on us.  The twelve activities I settled on - which are still a mystery to the boys - are...
  • Sing Christmas carols in the bathtub
  • Mail Santa his letter
  • Eat popcorn and watch a Christmas show
  • Read a Christmas book to the kids in your class
  • Wear red and green
  • Drive around looking at Christmas lights
  • Make snowman sundaes for dessert
  • Visit Santa
  • Make thank you cards
  • Solve a Christmas puzzle
  • Drink hot cocoa with a candy cane
  • Bake Santa his cookies
Thanks for your creative assistance...