Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Am a BAD Environmentalist!

...or maybe just a CHEAP one...

So...I have this old 19 (or 21!) inch television set that I've had for about TWENTY years, and it's finally "unwatchable" (I'm SO tired of trying to figure out what's going on BETWEEN the wiggly lines and waves that are a regular part of the picture now)...SO, I need to get rid of it...

I'm all for recycling, and saving the environment, but, REALLY...$25.00 to recycle it? Isn't it easier to just toss it in a ditch somewhere, or throw it in a ravine near my townhouse??!! $25.00 will buy...well...a couple of things at the grocery store...or a really nice bottle of wine...or will pay my internet bill for a month...or...

I really DO care about the maybe I'm a CHEAP environmentalist...or an "only if it's convenient" environmentalist...(the truth is an UGLY thing!)...

Maybe it could be "repurposed", or I could use it as "art"?



I wonder...can you DECOUPAGE a television set???

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mid-January Resolutions!!!

Well...since I COMPLETELY missed the "New Year's Resolutions" thing this year (we were in North Carolina)... I'm now working on my "mid-January" resolutions (same thing as a "New Year's resolution", but there's LESS time to get to the goals...and it's VERY high pressure and intense...). I've been trying to figure out WHICH parts of my life need the most work, this is what I've "come up with" to work on this year...

1). Lower my cholesterol. I went to the doctor for a physical in JUNE, and found that my cholesterol was in the "should be concerned, and take steps to correct" zone. I was supposed to go back for a "follow up" blood test in August, but was in the process of moving, eating REALLY bad foods, and thought..."I'll put it off for awhile". STILL haven't gone back, but am starting the whole "oatmeal and cheerios" thing TODAY, so will schedule an appointment for April (time enough for the oatmeal and cheerios" to do their thing!).

2). Lose weight. Man...this one seems to be on my resolutions list EVERY YEAR. You'd think I'd have done it by now, but, I'm a little TOO FOND of fatty, salty, junky food. I've TRIED to lose weight, and have accomplished the goal, but then put it all back on when I get busy, or stressed, or bored. I'm starting the Weight Watchers "Points Chart" today. So far, I've only had a cup of coffee, but my REAL test is the two or three hours before bed...the PERFECT snacking time...ugh!

3). Get more exercise. I started the lifting weights, walking, and crunches rotation thing this summer, but, as school got started again, and mornings got earlier and earlier, dropped it. I picked it up again about a month before the holidays, but, again, got busy, and things got hectic, and that extra "sleep time" in the morning became more and more desirable. Duane and I went for a walk in the snow yesterday, and I started lifting weights again this morning, second resolution is to get back into fitness (plus, rehearsals for the play start Feb. 17th, and I'd like to be a little less TUBBY (since I'm NOT playing Horton), and a little more fit for whatever this is all going to evolve into.

4. Drink less wine. Okay...I admit that I'm a little too fond of wine. Not slobbery, staggery, drunk fond of it, but DEFINITELY "it helps me relax" fond of it. I'm HOPING that the whole "lose weight/get more exercise" thing will assist with this resolution. Wine is HIGH in calories, and will TOTALLY defeat losing weight, which I think I REALLY AM now committed to doing...

5. Work on my debt load. I'm HAPPY to say that this one is closer to becoming a reality than ever before (see previous blog entry on the whole "debt management" thing...). In June, I will have a credit card balance of $0.00!! I still have a HUGE student loan to pay off, and the monthly bills for heat, electricity, phone, etc. still keep coming, but this will be the first time in 15+ years that I don't have a STAGGERINGLY HEAVY credit card debt. I THINK I'm going to be taking on a mortgage in the next year or so, but, that will replace the "rent" category on my budget sheet (yeah I HAVE a budget sheet...), so HOPEFULLY the "income" will be a little less STRANGLINGLY TIGHT, and I can breathe a bit easier...

6). Swear less. Okay...I admit it (although if you know me AT ALL, you already know this)...I get EXTREMELY "potty mouthed" when I drive around the cities. It doesn't HELP that 98% of the drivers up here are COMPLETE and UTTER morons, but, in an effort to "detoxify" my commute, I am stating here, for the world (or at least the three people who read my blog) that I am vowing to curtail the "blue stream of trucker talk" that seem to pop so freely from my mouth. Enough said.

7). Spend MORE time with family and friends (said with a bit of irony, since I'll soon start being OVERWHELMINLY busy with rehearsals for "Seussical"...). I don't really need to elaborate on this one. I get too busy, and too wrapped up in things, and my personal relationships end up taking the brunt of it. No more (I hope). Family and friends are what it's all about, right? Why cut time from that for all of the "crap" that fills our days??

Okay...that's where I'll stop. I don't want to become TOO PERFECT too quickly (okay...even I'M laughing at that one). Honestly, I think that's MORE than a good start...maybe a bit too grandiose, but, that's kind of what New Years (or mid-January) resolutions are all about, right? The "stretch goals" that we make to become the person that we truly want to be??!!!

Wish me luck, and I hope that YOU are sticking to YOUR goals for 2009!!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I LOVE the Minneapolis Institute of Arts!!!

Of all the places to visit in the Twin Cities, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is DEFINITELY in my "Top Five Favorite Places to Go" (not sure what the others would be...except for the observation deck at the top of the Foshay Building, and maybe the Como Conservatory...).

I LOVE going to look at all of the amazing art, but NEVER make the time to go...too many things to do...too difficult to get many excuses...

This year, for Christmas, I decided to give Emilie and Abigail a "ticket" to be redeemed for a day at the museum with "Unc", including lunch at D'Amico and Sons (CONVENIENTLY located on the second floor of the MIA), and $20.00 to spend in the gift shop.

We were SUPPOSED to go over Christmas break, but, for one reason or another, it didn't happen. SO, we set today up as the day to go. All I can say is "WOW"! It was AWESOME! We had a GREAT time!

I picked the girls up at 9:30, and we got there early enough to get a spot in the parking ramp AND beat most of the Saturday crowd. Emilie wanted to spend time in the "Egypt room", and Abigial wanted to see the African artifacts. We started with those, then wandered through ancient Japan, Greece, Rome, then explored the "period rooms", the Dutch masterpieces, and (luckily) avoided the modern art (none of us were interested in that!).

After wandering around (and practicing our map reading skills with the museum map), and taking in all of the GORGEOUS, COOL, AMAZING works of art, we headed to D'Amico and Sons for lunch. To be honest, I couldn't really tell you what they have on the menu, because I ALWAYS get the Dried Cherry and Turkey salad (recipe posted at the end of this entry). It's SO GOOD, that I don't even bother looking to see what else they have. Emilie had the fettucini with pesto (a new favorite for her), and Abigail had pasta with butter and parmesan (her "usual").

After a LOVELY lunch, we headed back to the museum for one more "go round". It didn't take long, because we were a little "art-ed out", so spent about an hour trying to find THIS painting or THAT sculpture, then headed to the gift shop. LITTLE DID I KNOW that this would be the most "patience required" aspect of the trip...apparently, it's DIFFICULT for a 9 year old and an 11 year old to figure out WHAT to buy with a $20 dollar bill!

Emilie ended up with postcards of favorite artworks, and a "Flower Masterpieces" coloring book (and $10.00 in change to spend at another time), and Abigail found a Monet calendar (half price!), and a tiny blank notebook (COVERED with jewels!), and ended up with $5.00 to spend at another time.

We decided that we'd had SO much fun, that we are going to make the "trip to the MIA" an every other month event. We'll figure out a date in March to go back, and look at all of the stuff that we DIDN'T have time to see today (and look AGAIN at the stuff that we saw today that we REALLY want to look at again).

If you ever VISIT the Twin Cities, I HIGHLY recommend a checking out this AMAZING institution!!! The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is located at 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55404. It's FREE (except for special exhibits), and is open
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and July 4.

Here is a picture of the outside of the building, and one of my FAVORITE works of art...

The NORTH side of the building (old entrance)

" Dream Castle in the Sky", 1908, by Maxfield Parrish
(hung in the foyer of a mansion in Duluth, Minnesota) case you're interested, here's the recipe for that AMAZING D'Amico and Sons salad...

D’Amico and Sons Turkey and Dried Cherry Salad
1 lb. cooked Rotini Pasta
4 cups diced turkey
2 cups dried cherries
1 medium yellow onion
4 celery stalks, diced
1 cup whole toasted almonds
Combine all ingredients.
1 cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup powdered sugar
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 T. Champagne vinegar
1 T. cold water
1 T. poppy seeds
1 tsp. Kosher salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
Mix together and toss with salad ingredients.
They also recommend Marie’s Poppy Seed Dressing in place of theirs.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

HOW Much Longer???!!!

Although the title of this blog entry COULD be directed at this INTERMINABLY long, bleak, cold, miserable Minnesota winter (seriously....winters here last about TEN MONTHS, and it's only January!), I'm actually referring to the long, bleak, TEDIOUS duration of the debt management program I'm currently trying to survive...

I have FIVE MONTHS left, and I'm not sure I'm going to make it. FIVE years ago, I was DROWNING in credit card debt. It only took me EIGHT years (and several vacations, trips to buy groceries, mail orders, shopping sprees, etc.) to wrack up $48,000.00 on FIVE cards. I did an okay job of paying those "minimum monthly" charges, but wasn't GETTING anywhere with them.

Eventually, I topped out on TWO of the cards, made a few late payments, ended up paying SEVERAL "over limit" charges, and ended up with ONE card on which the interest was 24%!! I TRIED to stay on top of things. I TRIED to get the companies to lower the rates. I TRIED to transfer balances, but ended up in a complete, and UTTER mess.

After hitting ROCK BOTTOM, and spending MANY NIGHTS lying awake, tossing and turning, worrying about how I was going to pay my bills, I decided that I HAD to do something. LUCKILY, I had read about a company called Consumer Credit Counseling Services (a division of FamilyMeans) in "Good Housekeeping", or "McCall's" several years earlier, and did some searching on the internet to see if I could find them.

I called CCCS, and made an appointment to find out more. Duane went with me to the interview, and I remember him saying "don't commit to ANYTHING at the initial appointment, until we've had a chance to discuss this" (he's a cautious guy). By the end of the appointment, having asked a list of questions (including "what are your credentials?" and "what is your client success rate?"), he was sold on the program, and so was I (please...the counselor had ME at hello...).

Anyway...HUGE amounts have been taken out of my monthly paycheck for the last four and a half years, CCCS has been able to convince the credit card companies that my interest on all cards should be lowered (the 24% card was knocked down to 1%!!!), and that HORRENDOUS balance of $48,000.00 is now down to $4,000.00!

The HOW MUCH LONGER title now refers to the DIFFICULTY in staying within that HORRID budget for another five months...light at the end of the tunnel...and all that...yeah, yeah... I KNOW that I need to be more conscious than EVER about budgeting, so that I NEVER get into this mess again, but I'm having SUCH a hard time, knowing that I'll soon have it a little easier in the "monthly income" category!!!

Besides the fact that everything is falling apart (because I haven't been able to use a credit card for four years, and have had to pay CASH for everything), now I just want to BUY things! I NEED a new television set, since I'm now watching programs BETWEEN the wavy lines that are now PART of the picture that I see, whenever I turn it on. I NEED DSL because "dial up" on this computer is turning me into a CRAZY MAN. I NEED a new sofa, since I'm practically sitting on the floor in the current one (the cushions have sunk that low!).

The PROBLEM is that I don't just want ANY television set...I want a really big plasma one AND I want ALL of the cable channels AND I want TiVo! ALSO, if I get DSL, I want a really spiffy computer to use it with. AND, a new sofa could be JUST the beginning...what about a new chair, and a new desk, and a new on which you CAN'T see the "fiberboard" underneath the peeling fake woodgrain laminate...??!!

Ugh! Wish me luck. I REALLY am going to try to be more "budget conscious" after this ordeal is over... I DO still remember the COMPLETELY helpless/hopeless feeling I had when I didn't know WHAT to do next, and had exhausted all of my options...

If YOU are having financial issues, and think CCCS might be for you, check out their website:{1DBA86E0-5F63-4942-BB37-0015F2BCF6A0}. This link is for the organization here in Minnesota, but they have offices all over the country, and can direct you to where you need to go.

If this IS for you...good luck! It SUCKS to be in the program, but I'm only STARTING to get an idea of how AMAZING it's going to be to have a credit card balance of $0.00!!!

Now if my student loans from grad school would just GO AWAY...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Inner Diva is SHRIEKING!! luck (or lack thereof) appears to be holding steady in the "auditions in the Twin Cities" department. I've done exactly THREE auditions since moving up for "HONK!", for which I NEVER heard anything back from anyone after my initial audition; the second for "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in Eagan, where I got cast as Napthali (a brother) after having done the lead THREE times with other companies; and the third for "Seussical: The Musical", which you get to SUFFER through hearing about now...

Ashland Productions is doing "Seussical" as their spring show this year. This is the group that I did the Christmas show with a few weeks ago. I have to admit, I'm not that familiar with "Seussical", but I bought the CD and FELL IN LOVE with the character and songs of Horton the Elephant. So...I went to auditions with the INTENSE desire to get that part.

My friend Keri, who was also in the Christmas show (and who is responsible for getting me involved with Ashland...for which I may NEVER forgive her), had suggested that I audition, and, to be honest, the Christmas show really whetted my appetite for getting back on the stage. Kate and Janet from school also decided to audition, as well as my new friends Jameen, Kris, and Meg (also from the Christmas show).

I was SO nervous going into the initial audition, and TOTALLY SUCKED at the dance audition (I AM an old, out of shape man, after all...). I did well enough that I got called back...for Horton, it turns out, the next night. The director had four kids he was looking at for Jo-Jo, and me and another guy in to audition for Horton. I must say that I KICKED ASS at the call back, but, as my luck holds, DIDN'T get the part.

The WORST part is that this was one of those auditions where you fill out a form indicating which parts you are interested in playing. I, of course (being a TRUE diva), put "Horton", and "The Cat in the Hat", and even lowered myself to checking the box next to "Mayor of Whoville", to hedge my bets.

UNFORTUNATELY, when you do that, if they have someone that they've worked with before, who is fairly talented, and KNOWS everyone on the directorial staff...OF COURSE they are going to get the part. YOU, however, sit at home, by the phone, waiting for the call, hoping against hope, until that LAST SECOND, and then go to bed, and toss and turn ALL NIGHT LONG.

Okay...I've been wallowing in self-pity all day...time to get a grip. ANYWAY...I got to school today, totally dejected and deflated, and Keri, who also didn't get cast in the role she had hoped for, declared that she REALLY wanted me in this show (and I have to secretly admit, that I really wanted to work with this AWESOME GROUP). So...I told her that she could tell the director that I'd be open to "filling in", in case someone dropped out, or didn't accept their part. Unbeknownst to me, she went ahead and e-mailed the director, who replied IMMEDIATELY that he wanted me in the show.

So...long story "relatively short"...I'm in the show, but am, basically "3rd Who on the left"...this could POSSIBLY be the smallest role I've EVER had in a show, and, again, my inner diva is actually THROWING THINGS AROUND IN MY HEAD, and KICKING, and SCREAMING, and generally NOT happy. However...I really DO like this group (from what I saw during the Christmas show), and have heard GREAT THINGS about this director (and was impressed with him during the audition process), and will just have to consider this my "paying my dues" show.

This same director is slated to direct several shows next season as well, so hopefully the "lead slump" that I'm in will gradually go away. I'm a little concerned about all the mileage I'm going to be putting on my car (and the amount of gas I'm going to be going through), during the winter, in Minnesota, for a CHORUS part, but...that's what "paying your dues" is all about...right???!!!

So...I've HAD better weeks. Hope YOU did better in your "auditions" (theatrical or otherwise) this week...

Monday, January 5, 2009


AS USUAL, one of my "new year's resolutions" is to lose weight...UGH!

I tried a new recipe tonight that was REALLY, REALLY good, so I'm sharing it with you now. It's from the Weight Watchers recipe forum at, and it's REALLY quite tasty:

Bubble Up Pizza
8 servings
5 points per serving

1 lb. 96% lean ground beef
2 tsp. onion powder, or 1 onion, sliced
16 oz. tomato sauce (I used 2- 8 oz. cans of Hunts garlic, basil, and oregano tomato sauce)
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 clove garlic, minced (use 3 cloves if using regular tomato sauce)
1 tsp. Italian Seasoning
15 oz. refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (I used reduced fat buttermilk biscuits)
1 1/4 cups part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In skillet, brown meat over medium high heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in onion powder (or onion), tomato sauce, basil, garlic, and Italian Seasoning.

Add quartered biscuits; stir gently until biscuits are covered with sauce. Soon mixture into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese; bake an additional 10 minutes or until biscuits are done. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Asheville, North Carolina

Our Christmas break trip this year was to Asheville, North Carolina. I have to say that I wasn't THRILLED to be going to North Carolina (especially since Osaka, Japan; Paris, France; and Amsterdam, the Netherlands had also been "on the table" at one point or other in the "let's go somewhere" discussion).

Turns out, however, that North Carolina is pretty cool! Even better...they have sweet tea (which I THINK should be the national drink of America, or at least the official beverage of the south), and Waffle House (which, in three days, we managed to eat at FOUR times!).

We started our trip with a visit to Biltmore House...built and owned by George W. Vanderbilt as a getaway from the hubub of New York City. I believe I read somewhere that the house has 250 rooms, including a bowling alley, COUNTLESS guest rooms, a library, a swimming pool, a grand salon, multiple kitchens (depending on WHAT was being cooked), and an ENORMOUS banqueting hall (which, while we were there contained the BIGGEST live Christmas tree I've EVER seen!). The estate includes a botanical garden, conservatory, working farm, winery, and an inn...there are acres and acres of trails and woods and meadows, and it was TRULY amazing!

Here are some photos of the estate:

The front of the house

The vaulted glass ceiling over the entryway/fountain

Duane and me in the atrium

The tree in the banqueting hall

A statue of Pan on the side of the house

Another statue near the wisteria trellis

A view of the Blue Ridge Mountains through the courtyard wall

Me looking through the wall

Duane looking through the wall

The back of the house

Another view of the back of the house (through a cornfield)

The back of the house from a distance

After the Biltmore estate we went into Asheville for New Year's Eve. We found a restaurant that took "walk ins", and had a lovely, relaxing dinner. In our usual PARTY ANIMAL style, I was asleep by 10:00, and Duane by 10:30...PAR-TAY!!!

New Year's Day was cold, and uneventful. Most everything was closed, so we went downtown and looked around for awhile. Here are some photos of our "explorations":

Duane and statue

The Asheville "Flat Iron" building

Duane and a statue of a flat iron (it took me WAY too long to make the connection between THIS statue, and the Flat Iron building across the street...) (apparently, I needed WAY more sweet tea at this point...)

Me and the flat iron statue

After looking around downtown, we decided to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway during the afternoon. It was a GORGEOUS, 45 MPH road that wound up through the mountains. Here are a couple of shots along the way:

Hiking a trail along the parkway

Hiking a trial along the parkway II

A mountain view

Another mountain view

Yet another mountain view

Still yet another mountain view

After driving the parkway (part of was a LONG parkway!), we went back to the hotel for awhile, then headed to the Grove...a historic, cool, huge, hotel in the foothills outside of Asheville. The place was still GORGEOUSLY decorated for the holidays, and we were able to see the winners of a big gingerbread house contest that they have every year. The winning entries (and even the "runners up" were absolutely AMAZING (but my pictures of them all turned out blurry, so you'll have to use your imagination here...).
Here are a few photos of some of the decorations around the hotel:

The next day (Friday), we got up, went back downtown to look around one last time, hit a few antique stores, then headed to the airport to come home.

North Carolina is actually pretty cool. I'm not sure I'm in any big hurry to go back, but I think a spring or summer trip to see Biltmore in bloom, or the fall leaves on the parkway would be AMAZING!!!!!
Hope YOU were able to visit a new place during YOUR winter holiday!!!!