A blog about "nothing"!

Monday, December 30, 2013

2014--The Game Plan

Another year almost over--wow!  2013 went whizzing by, overall I think it went pretty well.  A few things didn't go quite as planned, a few things happened that I wish hadn't, but we made it through unscathed.  Bring on 2014!

I am one of those few people who actually enjoys the change in the year.  To me the New Year signifies a new start, a chance to change and improve.  I don't believe in resolutions as everyone tends to set ones that are hard to attain and set themselves up for failure.  I think that's why I love the "choose a word" thought.  It's akin to a lifestyle change as opposed to a diet.  Something you can live with in the long term.

My biggest thing this year is to continue moving forward with our plan to clean out our home of stuff we don't need or don't use.  Last year I started by going through one room top to bottom and it worked well.  Unfortunately part way through the year I kind of strayed from this plan, and as a result a couple of rooms didn't get cleaned out as well (or at all!) as I had hoped.  Those are the rooms I am going to start with.  The dining room is probably going to take me a while, we have a lot of expendable stuff in there.  Our entertaining routine has changed drastically over the last couple of years, and we simply do not need all these dishes, table cloths, etc.  I'd also like to paint in there and make some other changes, it would be a whole lot easier without all the extra stuff.

I'm also going to put myself on a thrift store "schedule"--no more spur of the moment shopping, but shopping with a plan instead.  It's going to be hard, I know that many of the best bargains I've found were from just popping in, but the truth is I NEED nothing, not a darned thing.  Perhaps a pair of jeans that fits better, but not even sure about that. 

Clothing has always been an issue for me, ever since I started working.  I love clothes, I won't deny it.  I did reduce the amount I had since my work situation changed, but I still have too many.  And now because I've been working on losing weight, I have some that don't fit--outta here!  I went back and re-read some of the Project 333 website, hoping it might inspire me.  The concept is great, but for a clothes horse like me a bit extreme, and I don't know that I could follow it to the letter, but I'm thinking perhaps a variation on it would work.  There was some excellent advice there that did steer me towards a direction in clothing reduction.  I do need to set out some bags this week, one for donation, one for consignment and one for trash, it's easier to do this as I do laundry. 

We have a lot of things planned for the coming year--a couple of trips, a bathroom remodel (eeek!), a wedding to attend.  That's just what we know about already!  I would also like to get back in to golfing, we keep talking about it but then it never happens, too many things get in the way.  We live in an area where golf is not expensive and we have a plethora of courses within a 30 minute drive, so there is no excuse.  Even if we just go once a month, it is a day out, exercise, and something we both enjoy.  I also want to try something "new"--not sure what it is yet, I have some ideas, but nothing concrete yet.  Stay tuned ;)

I hope you all have a wonderful New Year! 
 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Boxing Day! (or for those who don't celebrate that, Happy Day After Christmas!)

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!  We had a nice, low key celebration.  My husband and I decided several weeks ago that we weren't going to buy each other a bunch of stuff.  Truthfully, neither of us needs or wants a thing, we are truly fortunate to have a roof over our heads, food in our tummies and money in the bank, something that so many families are struggling with these days.  We opted instead to buy tickets to Cirque Du Soleil which is coming to our area in February.  To me, experiences are every bit (if not more) important sometimes than having a physical item in your hands. In all honesty, there aren't many things that I have received as gifts that have given me the same "wow" factor as much as seeing the hot air balloons at the ABQ festival, the sound of the engines at the Indy 500, seeing "Rent" live with two of the original actors, the chills up my spine hearing Michael Crawford sing "Gethsemane" in person--those are the things that will stick with me for the rest of my life.  Even having to hitch-hike to a Moody Blues concert in the rain has it's special memories for me (LONG story) that I will never forget.   Special times spent with children, family, pets--the list is endless.  Sometimes we forget that those kinds of experiences are what make us who we are, not the things that we own. 

This morning it all really hit home with me, even more so than usual, when a friend posted about her frustration with Christmas.  She's been struggling with the whole "Christmas spirit" thing all season.  It didn't help any when she went on Facebook and it seemed like all of the posts were people either bragging about what they got for gifts, or whining and complaining about what they didn't get, how spoiled this person or that person was, and just a general dissatisfaction overall.  Why?!?!?!  Where did things get so out of line, our thinking so messed up on the true feelings of the season?

I personally blame a lot of it on Madison Avenue and all of the advertising of what a "perfect" holiday is supposed to be like.  So many unachievable expectations of what the perfect gift is, the perfect meal and all of that crap presented to us in a barrage of advertising that now starts even before Halloween is over with.  ARGH!!!!  I can honestly say that I'm glad that the holiday is over with so I don't have to watch another stupid advertisement.  THIS ISN'T WHAT CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT FOLKS!!!  And we wonder why we are so stressed at this time of year?!?! 

When it comes to growing up and Christmas memories, I have some really awesome ones.  Christmas caroling with the church youth group, family get togethers, special school events, holiday parties--between Thanksgiving and New Year there was so much going on, but it didn't revolve around shopping.  It was more about getting together with friends and family, eating great food, enjoying the company of others and getting in to the spirit of Christmas.  One of my favorite memories was something our student council did every year when I was in high school.  Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh does a major fund raising push every year around the holidays and many of the schools in the area did a variety of things to contribute.  Our student council came up with a wide variety of ideas to raise money--a "sexy" legs competition, a candy cane sale, "slave" day where you could purchase one of the student council members and make them do a variety of things from cleaning out your locker to carrying your books.  They raised a ton of money, the students were so in to it, and it went to a terrific cause.  I doubt these days that they are even allowed to do this as we have become so politically correct, you can't even say the word Christmas in some of the schools for fear of offending someone.  Give me a break. 

I would be curious to know just how many children of the current generation even know what the true meaning of Christmas is?  "Peace on Earth, Good Will To Men" seems like such a foreign concept anymore, in this age of social media, war, celebrity and mass consumption.  We are always wanting more More MORE instead of being satisfied and happy with the blessings that we have.  And it just seems like it is getting worse every single day.  We've forgotten what is important, the difference between a need and a want, being thankful for our good fortune and how to be nice or gratious.  We are in a sad state of affairs.

That said, think about the true meaning of Christmas.  It isn't about perfection, it isn't about accumulating possessions.  It is about the ultimate gift, given to all of us who believe in the Christian faith, that gives us the ability to keep moving forward.  It's not a tangible, physical item, but something that resides in your heart.  We need to quit comparing ourselves to others and instead work on things to improve the quality of life for everyone, even in the smallest ways.  And we need to re-learn how to enjoy the holiday for what it is, not what the fat cats in media want us to think it is. 

Have a great weekend everyone, and I hope that we can all use the next few days to de-stress and refocus :)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

1 Week/2 Weeks

Yes, it's one week left to finish your Christmas shopping!   Are you done?  Is anyone ever totally done?  I've been mostly finished which is a good thing, I haven't had a car for a week and a half while the one that the tree branch attacked was being repaired.  Today I have to make up for lost time, I have a couple of things I need to pick up and then I am finished. 

Two weeks to the New Year--where did 2013 go?  Have you been thinking about resolutions?  Last year I didn't make any resolutions, I went with a word that I wanted to represent my thinking through the year.  I got the idea from someone else, but I thought it was a really great idea--my word was minimalism.  Lately I've been reflecting on how I did with that.  Some areas I did better than others, but overall I think I did pretty well, particularly later in the year.  I want to keep moving forward with that idea, so my word for 2014 is continue--continue to get rid of excess possessions, continue to work on losing weight, continue to move forward, continue to try new things. 

I've also been thinking about my strategies to accomplish these goals, particularly the getting rid of things.  I do have a bit of an advantage now with my Ebay selling, last year at this time I was just thinking about getting started.  I have a whole year of it under my belt, I've had time to try different things out and see what works.  I hope to hit the ground running in the New Year.  I'm already looking at things that can go, and I will probably have at least a box of stuff every month to donate to charity as well.  I truly think we could easily live with half of the items we currently have in our house right now.  Wish me luck!

Hard to believe the first day of winter hits this weekend, especially since we've already had snow for at least 3 weeks.  So what is it going to do here?  RAIN!!  Have a great weekend everyone and don't let the stress of the holiday get to you. 

"Oh no, it's almost here!!!!"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tech Update--6 months in

Over the summer I posted several times about our "cutting the cord" experience and some of the stuff that we were discovering in the process.  I thought it might be nice (and helpful) to update where we are on all of this.

One of the most common questions I get is "do you miss it?"  Not really.  Once in a while, usually on the weekends, we have to actually think about what we want to watch and instead of just flipping through the channels looking for something, we have to make a true decision.  Other than that, it really hasn't been an issue.  And I don't miss that $90 Directv bill every month!

We've hopped around from different services--when we started out we subscribed to Netflix and Hulu.  I cancelled the Hulu membership rather quickly when their service seemed to be subpar and included commercials.  I do have to say that Hulu has GREATLY improved their streaming feed over the past couple of months, but there is still plenty of free stuff for us to watch on Hulu without paying their fees.  Netflix was cancelled at the end of the summer, they really need to improve their library if they want to compete or they are going to find themselves in the same place as Blockbuster.

I have discovered that quite a few shows have their own websites, I was really excited to find Cook's Country and America's Test Kitchen online, I just stream those via a laptop.  Crackle is also completely free, they offer some different stuff from other places, and about the only place that I've found Seinfeld for free.  You don't get the entire series at a time, they select 10 episodes every month--but hey, if you can't find a good Seinfeld episode out of 10, you're not a Seinfeld fan!  And PBS offers a free feed via Roku and online.  Even QVC can be streamed if you are really bored and can't think of anything to watch. 

The winner (to me anyhow) in the streaming services that you pay for is Amazon Prime.  They have the biggest selection of both Television and Movies available, and it isn't all old stuff.  The only drawback is you can't buy it on a month to month subscription, you have to pay for an entire year at a time.  They do offer a month free to try it though, so by the time you pay for it, the price works out to $6.15/month--and if you are a regular Amazon shopper, you also benefit from free 2-day shipping on a huge selection of items they sell.  I am very impressed with how quickly they make some of the more popular movies available as part of the subscription, just this week Skyfall and The Hunger Games showed up.  Not the case with Netflix streaming.  And if there is something on the list that isn't part of the Prime subscription, you can still stream it for a fee.  I imagine if you are patient and wait, a lot of those items eventually end up part of Prime once the excitement wears off. 

I am still very impressed with the Mohu Leaf antenna, I was afraid once the weather got yucky and snowy it might not work as well, but not the case at all.  My father-in-law even commented on how clear our picture was on our TV.  It's nice to get true HDTV feeds without having to pay extra for it, I feel like we are using the TV to it's true potential.  The only times we seem to have an issue is when a large piece of equipment is in the area-ie. the helicopter coming in to land at the hospital, the snowplow, etc.   Reminds me of when I was a kid and the snowmobiles running around would create static on the screen.  Not a major issue by any means.  I consider the Mohu Leaf as one of the best purchases we've made all year.

VPN--well, I can't say it was a total disappointment since I got to watch Downton Abbey as it was being broadcast in the UK.  That was a definite plus.  As for the security, I'm still not 100% convinced it works via a subscription type service.  When I first subscribed I noticed a huge reduction in my spam e-mails, but over time that changed, and when I did virus scans and such on my computer, I saw absolutely no difference in what was found.  Needless to say, as soon as the last episode of DA was shown, I cancelled it.  It may just have been the particular company I went through, they came highly recommended, but this natural born skeptic wasn't totally sold on the whole idea before it was over with.  I think the only way to truly be absolutely safe is to have a private VPN, not one through a subscription service.  Oh well.

I am getting a chuckle out of Directv--they send us something on a regular basis, trying to lure us back.  "$200 towards cancelling your contract" and "$24.99 a month for 12 months" seem to be the offers lately.  How come they couldn't do this BEFORE we cancelled?  Wouldn't you think that it would be nice to reward your longtime customers before they got fed up?  Sorry guys, not falling for your line of crap.  Just keep wasting that postage money..................

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Winter.............blech.................

We had an early start to winter and it isn't giving up--we are under yet another winter storm warning for the weekend.  I'm just hopeful this isn't like other years when it started early and went on and on and on--clear in to April!  I came across this on Pinterest, and it pretty much sums up how I feel about now:

We woke up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit a few mornings ago (for those of you not in the US, that's -13 Celsius!).  YUCK!  It's supposed to be cold overnight again after the weekend.  Some areas are going to get some serious snow before the weekend is out too, luckily we aren't in that area.  Something to be thankful for.

Stay warm my friends!  Have a great weekend. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Merry Christmas To Me!

How are your Christmas plans coming along?  My shopping is mostly done, waiting for a few things to arrive so I can wrap them.  I need to concentrate on getting my Christmas cards finished up so I can mail them.  I'm not doing a lot of cooking this year, it seems like when I do, no one eats it anyhow and the hubby and I end up eating it instead.  Neither of us needs it, so I'm limiting what I make to two things.  It does seem a little weird, but our waistline and blood sugar numbers will thank us later.

I have my decorating all done--I don't do a ton of it, but I do have a couple of things that come out every single year.  This year I decided to really go through all of my decorations and weed out the things that we haven't used for a while.  I ended up taking a box full of decorations and ornaments to Goodwill over the weekend, and now I feel very organized.  I usually end up buying a couple of new things each year, this year I did really well and only bought three things.  The first--a Wedgewood ornament that I fell in love with.  I have several of these in the traditional blue, and one in a reddish tone, but I had never seen one in this color scheme before, I just had to have it!
The next item I blame on my friend Gwen--she has had this really neat wire tree that I have been coveting ever since she got it.  A couple weeks ago I got a text from her that she had noticed trees like this at Tuesday Morning where she lives.  I decided to go check at the one nearest us and success!!!  Not too long after that I was in Kmart and came across this cute little bird that I thought would look adorable beside it.  He kind of influenced my idea of decorating the tree with my collection of bird ornaments and glass pine cones/walnuts.

Gwen decorates hers for different seasons and has come up with so many clever ideas, I'm going to have to check out her pictures for more inspiration.
 
While Heather and I were on our girls day out, we stopped by the LLBean store.  We saw lots of nice stuff, but the only thing I bought was this adorable wellie keychain!  I haven't decided if I'm going to actually use it for my keys or not.............
 
Last but not least--a couple of nights ago I ran to TJMaxx to pick up make up remover wipes--yeah, you read that right.  They have the best prices on them, way cheaper than Walmart.  While I was there, I of course had to check out what else they had.  I couldn't believe my luck when I came across these:
Yes Lilly, there is a Santa Claus!  I've been wanting one of these interchangeable watch sets, but we don't have any Lilly Pulitzer stores or outlets near us.  I about fell over when I saw it--they actually had quite a few things, IPad covers, photo albums, etc--I could have gone bananas but I was good, just getting these two items.  I think the watch will be adorable for summer.  And it was only $10! 
 
Back to getting ready for Christmas, but I just had to share :)  Check out Gwen's metal tree decorating ideas at:
 

 
 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"What I'm Giving You For Christmas" by Garrison Keillor

I am a huge fan of Garrison Keillor, he can tell a story like nobody else.  I've listened to his radio show, read his books and whenever I come across something that he's written for something else, of course I read it.  About 10 years (or more) ago he wrote a wonderful piece for Lands End that both my mother and I got such a kick out of.  I was so excited today when I actually found a link to it, someone had actually scanned the old catalog pages and posted them on their website.  I thought I would share it here for others to enjoy! 

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thrift Store Finds/Girls Day Out

Heather and I had a shopping day planned for about a month and a half.  I kind of panicked after the incident with the car happened, I was afraid I might have to cancel.  Fortunately it all worked out and we were still able to go.  Our plans were to hit both Red White and Blue stores in Pittsburgh and maybe go somewhere else.  Best laid plans.....

We got to the first Red White and Blue about our usual time and it was already busy as all get out.  Crazy busy, although not as bad as a Saturday.  We both found a couple of nice bargains but agreed that it was more frustration than it was worth and skipped the second one, going to the mall instead.  As Heather said, it was nice to just get out, even if we didn't find the best bargains on the planet.  I have since found out that Wednesdays at that Red White and Blue are Senior Citizen appreciation days--combine that with the fact it was right after the 1st of the month, and that November had 5 Fridays (meaning some people got an extra paycheck)--it all made sense then.  Oh well.

What did I find?  Some nice tops for spring, and two other things I was looking for.  First, the tops:
A cute striped boatneck style top, Ralph Lauren, tags still on--$6.48 after the 50% off.  A pale blue cable knit top, Croft and Barrow, tags still on--$2.98 after the 50% off.
A lovely watermelon pink Tommy Hilfiger Polo shirt, maybe worn once--$2.98 after the 50% off.  Unfortunately the polo shirt is a bit on the tight side, but I'm going to hang it in my closet anyways, hopefully by the time spring or summer roll around, I will have lost enough weight to wear it.  Worst case scenario is I'll end up flipping it.  I'm trying not to buy any winter clothing as I'm noticing that I have lost enough that some of my stuff is starting to look kind of baggy.  I didn't realize how bad my jeans are fitting me until yesterday in a fitting room with a full length mirror--eeeek!  It was a combination of a good/bad feeling--good that I've lost the weight, but bad that I look like a slob.  I have a lot to go yet, so I'm not anxious to go out and buy some new stuff, I'm just going to try and figure out a way to either alter them or wear them differently so I can at least get them through until the spring, then I'll think about buying a new pair or two.  Another good reason to shop mostly at thrift stores!!!

My next find falls in the "something I was looking for" category--an entire bag of Christmas garland for $2.95.  YAY! 
The picture doesn't do it justice, the plastic bag kind of disguises just how pretty it is.  And it weighs a ton!  A couple of weeks ago I was at a thrift store and passed up some like it made from wooden beads, later kind of kicking myself that I did, so I was very happy to find this.  There is way more than I will need for our small tree, but I'm thinking maybe I can use it for decorating other places in the house as well--or even outside.  When you get it that cheap, you don't care if it gets damaged.  I was amazed at how many Christmas trees they had there too, it was like a friggin' forest.  That's one thing I definitely don't need, but good to know for future.
 
Last but not least--my favorite bargain of the day.  Towards the end of the summer I posted about a dollhouse project I was working on.  It sort of came to a screeching halt due to too many things going on.  I haven't forgotten about it though, and I actually have some pictures to share in some upcoming posts with stuff I have done towards it.  I'm still more in "think" mode at the moment on it.  I tend to do that so that when I'm ready to work on it, I turn in to an obsessed person and won't finish until it's done.  I've been researching/buying various things on Ebay so I had a pretty good idea of what this would sell for on there.  I just haven't been willing to part with the money, and so glad I didn't.  As I was perusing the kids toys, I found this for $4.95--less than just the shipping price for the same item would be on Ebay:
 


It's a Barbie fold up dollhouse--and it's in beautiful condition, it doesn't look like it was played with much.  The only issues it has is some of the stickers were poorly placed, are ripped, or coming off, but that is a non-issue to me, I will get my trusty bottle of UnDu out and remove them, replacing them with my own stuff anyhow.  It is just too cute for words, now I just have to decide exactly how I'm going to incorporate it in to my ideas.

We had a nice afternoon at the mall, neither of us bought much, just window shopped.  We also ate lunch at the food court.  I hadn't been to the food court at that mall in ages, so I was kind of excited to see that they had put in a Five Guys Burgers place there.  I've been wanting to try it for ages.  First, was impressed that on their sign it says "all burgers and dogs can be ordered without a bun".  As someone with wheat allergies, this is always a concern.  Then I was even more impressed when I placed my order, the girl taking my order even asked if it was because of an allergy.  No cross-contamination worries then, huzzah!  They cook everything fresh, so my order was nice and hot, hadn't been sitting there waiting for someone to order it.  As for the food--it was good, but it wasn't WOW--I can make a burger that tastes just about identical for a whole lot less.  I ordered fries with it, they give you an obscene amount, had I realized this I would have told Heather not to order anything else with her lunch.  Between the burger, the fries and the soda, I probably consumed an entire days worth of calories for one meal, but it was a treat, not a daily habit, so I'm not stressed about it.  I'm more stressed over how much it cost--lunch was over $13!!!!!!  But I got it out of my system, and had we gone to a sit down restaurant, I probably would have spent that easily.  It's just the idea I guess.  I can't help but wonder though, how do all of these people who take entire families shopping afford to do this?  My cheap roots are showing ;)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Crunch!

My last post was all about the snow.  Remember where I said to "be careful"?  First snows around here are always kind of dangerous because in that time where we don't have snow, people tend to forget how to drive in it and usually drive too fast.  Most insurance offices hate the first snow of the year as they are busier than usual due to people doing stupid things.  It's just a fact of life.  I consider myself to be a very good driver in the snow, I actually learned to drive in the snow, thanks to a completely insane (but very good) drivers education teacher.  (Her attitude was I was going to have to drive in it someday, why not with her in the car.)  It's everyone else I worry about!  I've always said that if I ever end up in jail, it will be because I beat the crap out of someone for causing an automobile accident by doing something utterly stupid.  I have no time for that at all. 

There are situations though that are completely out of your control, as my husband found out Wednesday morning.  He was on his way to an account and suddenly saw a tree branch, weighed down from all that heavy, wet snow, snap off a tree and heading straight for the car!  He hit the brakes, but couldn't get stopped in time--it hit the car, breaking the windshield, denting the hood, breaking the headlight assembly and taking out both side mirrors in the process-ugh.  $2200 worth of repairs, thank heavens for insurance.  The upside--my husband wasn't injured at all, just really shook up, and the guy who is going to do the repairs said that if it had hit just 6 or 7 inches further back on the roof instead of the hood, the car would have been un-repairable. 

All I have to say is I'm thankful that the 2002 Honda Accord was such a well built car, I think if it had been my station wagon instead, it might not have faired so well.  I don't know if you can see it, but where the windshield is broken, it isn't just cracked, it's smashed and those are pieces of wood embedded in it!  Surprisingly, the car is still drive-able, so we will only be out of a car the couple of days it will be in the shop for repairs.  The hood will have to be replaced as they can't take the creases out of it, it is a double reinforced style.  I'm not complaining, it's probably what saved the engine from any damage. 

Besides that little bit of excitement, it's been relatively calm this week.  We had a nice Thanksgiving dinner, probably one of the best turkeys I have ever cooked!  Last night we finished off the last of the leftovers, just enough turkey to make some turkey salad for lunch packing this week.  Now it's on to getting the holiday decorations up, Christmas cards started and shopping done and wrapped.  Less than a month to Christmas--eek!  I'd better get moving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Winter Wonderland

We got dumped on overnight, they are saying about 10 inches.  I feel sorry for anyone trying to get anywhere for the Thanksgiving holiday, it's turning in to a "Planes Trains and Automobiles" scenario up and down the eastern seaboard.  I'm glad I don't have to be out in it!
The house across the street last night
 
Some of the utility lines are so loaded with snow they look like ribbon!
The tree in our front yard--the same one I shared the picture of when it was in bloom.

Some pictures of our back yard and the neighbors behind us.
 
Drive carefully if you are in an area affected by this band of storms!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Black Friday--no thanks!

I'm not afraid to admit it, I'm not a big fan of the whole Black Friday shopping phenomenon.  I think part of it comes from working in retail for a couple of years, and the rest of it is a matter of just not liking the whole crowd and the "herd" mentality.  There is nothing that I want so bad at a supposed great price to go out in it.  Just not my thing at all.  And now many of the US retailers are trying to push it back, opening their doors on Thanksgiving.  I think that is a bit much.  Have we lost all sight of what is important? 

The one thing that puzzles me is when did it turn in to a riot-inducing, traffic jam creating mess?  And why?  Truthfully, when I worked in retail back in the mid 1980's, it was a busier than normal business day, but not crazy busy like it is now.  I think we opened a whole half hour earlier!  I can also remember going to the nearby outlet mall with a couple of friends one year at 7 in the morning, only some of the stores were open and many of the employees were rolling their eyes with boredom, wondering why they bothered and figuring it probably cost them more in overhead than they made.  That was only about 15 years ago.  The same mall just 7 or so years ago decided to open at midnight and insanity prevailed, some people never even got there the traffic was so bad.  What changed?

So while all of these people are out there, dealing with crowds in search of the eternal bargain, where will I be?  At home, sleeping in, then when I do finally crawl out of bed I'll finish cleaning up from Thanksgiving dinner.  I'm hoping to start wrapping some of the presents I've already purchased, start working on Christmas card stuff and watch something good on TV.  I might even start doing some decorating.  I may venture out to the grocery store to grab a few things--I figure that will be a great time to go as that will be the last thing anyone will be thinking about the day after Thanksgiving!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

No no, never never, uh uh uh!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I gave in..............

Remember a couple of months ago when I was contemplating what I wanted for my birthday?  One of those things was an Aran sweater.  I was hoping that I would come across one in my thrift store travels, but no such luck.  To make matters worse, I was shopping for Christmas gifts on one of my favorite Irish sites, only to discover that they were running a sale, then I found a $10 off coupon code online--I had to have it!  Do I regret it?  Absolutely not!  Truthfully, by the time I got all the discounts and so forth, it was cheaper than buying one on Ebay.  How often can you say that?

 
If you like wool sweaters (I know not everyone does) and you've never had a sweater made from Irish wool, you really don't know what you are missing.  It is the yummiest wool on the planet, soft, not scratchy and so so warm.  The biggest issue I had with buying this was trying to decide on a size, I probably could have gone a size smaller as the sleeves are rather long, but I'll live with it.  I'm happy with my splurge purchase, I've already worn it several times and probably will today as well.
 
I had actually looked at this particular style of sweater the last time we were in Ireland, but was out of room in my suitcase for anymore goodies.  I was very excited to see that Blarney Woollen Mills has a website where they sell several of my favorite items and with free shipping--whooohoooo!  The time to get it wasn't bad at all, took less than two weeks.  The only bad part is that now I get e-mails from them all the time telling me what sale is on, and this weekend it's all Aran style sweaters--yikes.  Look away....
 
The Aran sweater has a very interesting history behind it--click here if you would like to read more.  As for companies who make them, and who is the best--there are so many good companies out there, it's more a matter of preference in which color, style and pattern you would rather have.  This is my third sweater from Blarney (my previous two weren't Aran sweaters, but both held up beautifully), but I've also purchased Aran Craft, Carraig Donn, Glendalough Woolen Mills and I've been happy with all of those as well.  The key is to be certain it's Irish wool--there are companies out there making sweaters in the Aran style, but the wool may be from other sources.  I purchased one years ago that was of Scottish wool and while it was very pretty, it was itchy as all get out!  Good Irish wool wears like iron too, very little pilling (one of my pet peeves)--I have a pink Aran style sweater/coat that I've had for 7 or so years that still looks like new.  A trip now and then to the dry cleaners--some can even be machine washed on delicate--and you have a sweater that will last a very, very long time.   That's why I have a whole drawer full of Irish wool cardigans.............souvenirs, honest!  I don't have one in purple though, hmmmmmm......

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thanksgiving is next week?!?!?!

I don't know where November went, a few days ago it dawned on me that next week is the last week of the month and Thanksgiving is next Thursday.  What the heck?!  Luckily I have been buying stuff for dinner each time I went to the grocery store, so I'm not totally unprepared, just mentally not there yet.  I need to pick up a couple of things this week and I will be set.  I'm only cooking for 5 of us, not a huge deal, but there are certain things that have to be made--my nephew always tells me that I need to make a lot of mashed potatoes.  For me it's all about the turkey and the pumpkin mousse, my husband likes the stuffing.  My father-in-law is just glad he doesn't have to cook!

Have you ever gone out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner?  I've only done it once, one year there were only going to be three of us, and it seemed kind of silly to cook a huge dinner for three people.  Dinner out was nice, we didn't have to clean up a mess afterwards.  But then panic set in--no leftovers!!!  Before it was over with, my mom and I bought a turkey and cooked it a couple of days later because we both wanted the left over turkey dinner, turkey salad, etc.  Kind of counterproductive, eh?

What do you like best about Thanksgiving dinner? 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ebay find!!!

I don't do a ton of shopping on Ebay.  I've done more this year than I have in past years, probably because I'm on there selling quite a bit.  Most of what I've purchased are items that are no longer available at retail stores--a vintage Vera Bradley bag, a Barbour hat, the Sunshine Family dolls that I mentioned in a previous post.  Once in a while I will go looking for something just to see if I can get a deal, but not generally.  I have a couple of things I regularly look at just to see what's out there, and this time around it actually paid off.

I LOVE Lands End tote bags!  We have a rather large collection of them in a variety of sizes and colors.  They are so useful for so many things--an informal purse, toting groceries, carrying things back and forth to work--the list is endless.  I've had some other brands of this style of bag, and to me the Lands End one is the best made of the lot.  Laney even has her own that we use when we travel with her, or when she goes to the kennel to tote her dog food, toys, etc in.  I've gifted a few of these too because I think everyone needs to have one!  So it will come as no surprise that I regularly peruse these totes on Ebay.  Usually there aren't any great deals on them, especially if you are used to waiting for the sales at LE, but once in a while one shows up on there that is unique, perhaps a style or color that they no longer have on their website.  About a week ago I came across one that was different from anything I've ever seen:

First off, it's brown, a color you can't get in the regular retail section anymore.  (You can get it if you have a business account though, ?!?!)  The color caught my eye because I do like the combination, but look closely..............see the straps..............they are adjustable!  I have never seen that before on a Lands End tote, and I think it's an awesome idea.  I kept an eye on the auction and managed to snipe it for $17, yay. :)  It came yesterday and I love it, the idea of the adjustable straps is genius.  What is very interesting about it is it still has the tag on it.  I think it was sold at an outlet store, and what the tag says on it has me rather intrigued- "Sample Luggage".  So now I'm really curious, was this ever released to the public, or just an idea that never went any further?  Anyone else ever seen one like this? 
 
What am I going to use it for?  Good question!  Probably for the usual stuff, carrying odds and ends from here to there.  I am toying with the idea of making a padded insert for it to carry my camera in, wouldn't it make a great camera bag?  The canvas is a nice heavy weight, so it's not going to rip from the weight and will add just enough extra protection.  All I know for sure is I really like it and I'm tickled with my "find".  

My Take: Downton Abbey, S4, E8 (No Spoilers!)

The last episode for the season (the Christmas episode doesn’t count) was not a let down, it did tie up some loose ends and left just enough hanging that you want to watch more.  There are a few things though that bothered me with this season.  1) too many new characters.  A couple would have been sufficient to tell most of the story line, but Julian Fellowes introduced character upon character.  To the point that 2)character development/continuation of several interesting and key characters from previous seasons was pretty much non-existent.  I hope that the next season will bring back these older character storylines.  I was happy to see an increase in the appearances of both Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Moseley, they are two characters that previously were “wallpaper” who emerged as interesting characters as the story progressed.  Keeping my fingers crossed that next season doesn’t end up with them relegated to the background again (as happened this season with several of the major players from prior seasons).  The one thing I was very happy to see was the development of Lady Mary now that she is facing life without Matthew.  She has suitors, but she's not quick to make any decisions, becoming a bit of an independent woman.  I picture my grandmother (who would have been about the same age as Lady Mary) and her unconventional choices for the era--I'm hopeful that they won't relinquish Mary's newfound confidence/independence just to have a big wedding episode in the next season. 

I’ve also come to the conclusion that Julian Fellowes was a huge fan of the popular American prime-time soap operas that were popular during the 1980’s—Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing all seem to be “represented”.  I thought it would be fun to share some of the characters of those shows and their Downton “counterpart”:

1)      Dowager Countess:  Angela Channing (Falcon Crest)

2)      Rose MacClare:  Lucy Ewing (Dallas)

3)      Lady Mary:  Pamela Barnes Ewing (Dallas)

4)      Thomas Barrow:  Steven Carrington (Dynasty)

5)      Isobel Crawley:  Miss Ellie Ewing (Dallas)

6)      Tom Branson:  Michael Culhan (Dynasty)

7)      Sybil Crawley Branson:  Fallon Carrington (Dynasty)

8)      Matthew Crawley:  Chase Gioberty (Falcon Crest)

9)      Edith Crawley:  Julia Cumson (Falcon Crest)

10)   Lord Robert:  Bobby Ewing (Dallas)

We’ve even had a “whodunit” a’la “Who Shot JR”.  All that’s missing are shoulder pads and a good catfight!!! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Playing Catch Up

I feel like I'm lagging behind lately, and I hate it.  I'm still kind of run down from that cold/flu crud I had over a month ago, it really hit me hard.  It doesn't help that Mother Nature can't decide what to do with the weather, one day it's warm, the next cold.  We had no fall to speak of, and now it's cold--it even snowed yesterday, yuck!  All that up and down with the temperatures is wreaking havoc with my arthritis, I don't remember the last time I hurt this much, and that's even with my pain medications.  It makes it hard to keep up with things when you can hardly move.  I did manage over the weekend to get our bedroom cleaned from top to bottom, one of those take down the curtains and move the furniture kind of cleanings, so that made me feel a little better.  Look out living room, you're next!

Ebay has gone bananas lately, I've sold a ton of stuff which is terrific!  It doesn't look like it though, my house still has too much stuff LOL.  Someday I'll meet my goal.  I laugh when I think about last year at this time, I thought I would be able to keep this up for about a year--I've got at least another year or two's worth of stuff to sell.  The other thing is the more stuff you sell, the more you look at the other items in your house with an objective eye--"I could really do without that" or "it served it's purpose when I bought it, time to go!"  Unfortunately there are only so many hours in a day.  I did manage to clear out almost an entire set of dishes, just a few bowls left to sell.  We're getting there.

I think all of this selling and cleaning has kind of squelched my urge to shop much--both regular retail and thrift store.  We don't need anything, as long as I go to the grocery store on a regular basis, we are good.  Yesterday I caved though.  For some reason unbeknownst to me at the moment, I felt the need to go in our local Goodwill.  I had been contemplating a day of thrift store hopping, and yesterday was it.  Because I am being much pickier lately I only came out with one thing--but it was so worth it.  I really think it was sending me a telepathic message that lured me in:
A Longaberger tissue basket!!!  I've been wanting one of these for ages, but just couldn't see the ridiculous price for one.  (I'm thinking they were $50 - $60, they are now retired in this size).  $3.99 though and in perfect condition, I can do that.  Longaberger baskets are one of my favorites, but the prices are just more than I can justify.  I have quite a few Longaberger baskets, but I've bought them either from Ebay or from a local rep when she clears out her samples at significantly reduced prices.   It made my whole day to find this--the wood on the top is perfect, not a scratch on it.  I wonder if it was even used, although the bottom has some very minor wear on it.  It was very well cared for if it was used.
 
I stopped at a couple of other thrift stores in the area and didn't see anything I really wanted.  That's okay, Heather and I have a trip planned to go to Pittsburgh for a "Red White and Blue Tour" in a couple of weeks.  So today I'm just going to take it easy, get some more Ebay stuff shipped, catch up on Downton Abbey and (fingers crossed) enjoy the French Onion Soup I have cooking in the crock pot for dinner.  I hope it works, I've never made it that way before--I'll let you know how it turns out. 
 
Hope you are all having a great week.  I'm just wishing that we have no more snow.  At least for a while...............

Friday, November 8, 2013

My Take: Downton Abbey, S4, E7 (No spoilers!)

This episode had a lot going on, I'm sure leading up to the next episode which is the last for the season (not counting the Christmas episode).  Some crazy stuff going on for sure!  Should be an interesting finale if they address all the things that started over the last few episodes.

1)  "I've been married, I know everything!"

2)  Be careful Moseley, be very, very careful.

3)  "You're quite the plotter when you want to be."

4)  I really don't like the clothes from the 20's, especially the shoes--blech!

5)  Mud.   Lots and lots of mud.

6)  Mrs. Hughes--you go girl!!!

7)  Not enough of Thomas this episode (or the whole season for that matter).  I'm sure Rob James-Collier and Hugh Bonneville wondered why they showed up for work for this episode.

Till next time......................

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Look At How Pretty!!!

Laney went to the groomers today for a good bath and a haircut.  Doesn't she look pretty?


I love the bandana they gave her with the autumn leaves on it.  She also got a toy and a treat, talk about making out like a bandit!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Wool Overs Nordic Crew Neck Sweater

I didn't do much thrift store shopping in October, in fact, next to nothing.  I bought a red buffalo plaid throw, that's it!  I did do a bit of shopping for some new stuff for a change.  I also tried out a new to me company in the process.

I had never heard of Wool Overs until last year when Muffy over at The Daily Prep purchased some of their sweaters and wrote about her experience.  Based in the UK, they specialize in wool sweaters in all sorts of styles and colors.  I've been curious ever since, and a couple of weeks ago I decided to go for it.  I think the hardest part for me was trying to decide which sweater I liked the best.  I don't have a lot of wool sweaters anymore, the office I worked in was too warm to wear them in, so after some debate, I finally decided to get the Nordic Crew Neck Sweater.  It is very similar in appearance to the ones sold by LL Bean, but a fraction of the price, so I was very excited to see what the quality was like.

My sweater arrived in less than two weeks, not too bad considering their products are shipped from the UK.  I couldn't wait to rip the bag open to check it out and I was not disappointed.  The quality was very good, the color was great--unfortunately I had to wait about a week before it was cool enough for me to wear it.  Overall, it is a typical wool sweater in the itch/scratch department--not horrible, I was able to wear it without anything under, but I think I will prefer it with a turtleneck under it.  Sizing was good, my only complaint is that this sweater only comes as a Unisex size.  As a result curvier women like myself will find that it tends to be a bit snug around the hips, while baggy at the shoulders.  I could have ordered a size larger, but I'm afraid it would have looked really sloppy.  Hopefully if I lose a couple of more pounds it will look better.  I chose the French Navy/Cream color scheme and was thrilled with it, I had read the reviews and noticed that several people who had purchased it in the traditional Navy were critical of the fact that it was so dark, almost black. 



The price was MORE than reasonable for a sweater of this type--with shipping I ended up with a total of just under $43.  A sweater like this is $80 at it's cheapest from LL Bean, and not made of 100% wool anymore.  I lucked out, they were running this sweater on a special for $40 and Muffy had a link to get 10% off a first order, bringing the price down to $36.  Shipping to the US for this item was $6.95--definitely reasonable. 

Would I buy from this company again--more than likely.  I don't need a lot of wool sweaters, so it might be a while, but I can see myself at some point purchasing something else.  Now that I have purchased from them I get regular e-mails telling me what the special deals are, they frequently run free shipping specials or percent discounts.  Many times they run 2fer specials too.  You just have to keep an eye out as they change about once a week.  Another plus--many of their sweaters are machine washable on delicate in cold water.  Not something you find very often.  I also noticed after wearing the sweater for several hours, absolutely no pilling--yay!!  It will be interesting to see how it holds up in the long haul.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Well that sucked!

It was a crappy Halloween here, it rained.  Nothing worse than trick or treat in the rain.  I think we had all of seven kids show up at the door.  I took the leftover candy and made up two goodie bags for the little boys across the street and I guess we will be eating the rest in lunches and snacks.  At least I bought things we like.  So much for the diet!

Halloween has always been one of my favorite times of year, for as long as I can remember.  I have fond memories of some awesome costumes, parties, and "tricks" in our neighborhood.  My mom always looked forward to the toilet paper trees in bloom.  Most of the tricks were harmless enough, the usual window soaping and throwing corn at windows to scare people.  The funniest one was the time my mom snuck out and joined them, the kids didn't realize they had picked up an extra participant until they had walked about 1/2 mile into the neighborhood!  She laughed about that for years.

As time passed, the kids who came dressed became fewer and fewer, mostly because they all grew up and we had fewer kids in the neighborhood.  But also because of fear--kids being abducted, razor blades in candy, etc--it took a lot of the fun out of it.  Our last year living at the other house yielded a couple of kids and that was it.  So I was excited when we moved in to town.  I was looking forward to seeing kids in costume again.  Fortunately I didn't go overboard because it was a huge let down.  Very few people in our neighborhood participate for whatever reason, and the time that they have trick or treat is kind of stupid too, most people are still at work if October 31st falls on a weekday.  As a result, we don't get all that many kids, throw in bad weather, and well, we all know how that turned out.

I didn't decorate at all this year.  Not only did I not have a lot of time to do it, but my heart just wasn't in it.  We don't have any little persons coming to our house on a regular basis anymore, and trick or treat has been such a let down, it kind of took the wind out of my sails.  The extent of my Halloween decorating was the banner I made and the basket that the candy was in, that's it.  I used to go all out, I had multiple bins of decorations that ended up all over the house.  I probably should go through what I still have and put it on Ebay next year and let someone else enjoy it.  Maybe I'll get out of my Halloween funk, but not counting on it.

One thing I won't get rid of is my Dept 56 Halloween farm.  I started the collection about 10 or more years ago on a visit to Vermont.  I fell in love with the haunted house and over the years kept adding to it.  I haven't set it up since we moved, perhaps next year I should make it a point to put it up on my birthday and then leave it up until Halloween?



 
Here's hoping you had a better Halloween than we did in the Northeast US!  We have had high winds since last night and lots and lots of rain (although it is sunny out at the moment).  You would think it was March 1st, not November 1st! 
 
Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Selling on Ebay--More tips!

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about selling on Ebay and how to get set up.  I thought I would write another post with some things I've learned over time that might help someone out in regards to shipping your items after the sale.

Packaging is always an issue for someone selling on Ebay.  For those in the US you have several options.  First (and my favorite because it is recycling at its best) is to find someone you know that works somewhere that they get a variety of boxes in and that they aren't required to send them out for recycling.  My husband has been a great help in this as he is on the road to a variety of places and he just checks their garbage area while he is there to see if there are boxes that might come in handy.  Worst case scenario is you end up throwing them out yourself.  Another option is to go to the US Postal service website and order some of their free boxes.  The only downside to this is that they are always Priority Mail boxes which does cost a little more to ship.  The nice part is they will deliver them to your door, they have a variety of sizes, and you can order in bulk.  Worst case scenario is to have to purchase a box--I avoid this whenever possible, it cuts in to your profits and adds more garbage to the planet. 

Packing materials--always a bit of a hassle, but I've found a great way to make this sooooooo much easier.  I did have an out of pocket expense in a giant roll of bubble wrap at Walmart since I knew I was going to be shipping quite a few delicate items.  Buying the large roll is a huge money saver (as well as time saver), it was about $16 for an enormous roll of it that I bought over the summer and still have tons of it left.  Then I started saving every catalog or sale flyer that came in my mail--and ran them through our shredder, giving me great additional padding in my boxes.  I usually just have an afternoon of shredding to make up a bunch in advance, storing it in several large boxes I have (a trash bag would work great too).  When I get down to less than a full box of shredded material, I do it again.  Old phone books work great for this purpose as well.  And again, you are recycling instead of throwing those old catalogs and such in to the landfill.  I DO NOT use anything that might have sensitive information on it (statements, bills, etc) as you don't want something accidentally falling in to the wrong hands. 

Use the tools on Ebay to keep track of your progress--be sure to mark items that have been shipped and add tracking numbers.  This is not only helpful to the buyer to know when to expect the item to arrive, but also for you to be sure it made it to its destination.  Be sure to leave feedback for the buyer too.  I am surprised at the number of buyers who don't leave feedbackfor sellers though, I would say about 1/4 - 1/3 don't which kind of defeats the whole idea of this system.  It is meant to help buyers decide who best to buy from--and who to avoid like the plague. 

Another timesaver is to have return address labels printed in advance for putting on packages.  I just buy labels at Staples and preprint multiple sheets of them at a time so I have them readily available.  As for addressing the item for shipping--get yourself a good Sharpie marker, fine point.  You can get them for $1 at most dollar stores and it is worth every penny.  Sure, you can print your own labels, but unless you are 100% sure that your ink is safe from water, it's best not to use that.  Ebay also charges a small fee to print labels via their service.  I avoid this since I'm not shipping mass quantities, it only takes me a minute to write the address directly on to the box, reducing the chances of it running due to weather, or worse yet, falling off! 

Tape--buy good packing tape!  I've had some really crappy stuff, so be sure to get some quality stuff that not only sticks well, but isn't a nightmare to use.  You can also get free tape at some post offices--keep in mind it is also intended for Priority Mail packaging only.  The Priority Mail tape is awesome though, very sticky and for the most part weatherproof.  I actually used some of this tape when I broke my ankle to make a completely waterproof covering for my cast so I could shower, and it worked like a charm.  Took the hair off my legs along with a little skin, but a minor price to pay ;)

Monday, October 28, 2013

My Take: Downton Abbey, S4, E6 (No Spoilers!)

This season has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, one episode dull as heck, the next almost too much going on.  This episode had a lot going on in it, but not so much that you couldn't process it, and I'm sure a lot of it leading up to cliffhangers for the end of the season.  So far it's my favorite episode this season though, and one scene in particular I absolutely loved--Tom, Mary and Isobel, remembering their late spouses and talking about love. 

1) Tom and Mary should end up together (even though both actors have denied this happening).

2)  Well played Mrs. Hughes, well played!

3) "Only stupid people are fool hearty."

4)  Awww Daisy :(

5)  Sometimes it really does pay to know the right people.

6)  Edith--karma's a bitch, isn't it?!?!?!

7)  Get Carson the Xanax--NOW!

8) Rose really is a slut.  Or a tease.   Or a tart.  Take your pick.

Friday, October 25, 2013

BOO!!

I have wanted to make a Halloween banner for a while now, I had all sorts of fun ideas pinned from Pinterest.  It was just a matter of finding some time to actually make it.  Today was finally the day.  It didn't turn out exactly as I had hoped, but it's still cute.  Other than the basket that the Trick Or Treat candy will go in, this is the extent of my Halloween decorating for this year.  Just not in to it for some reason.......it doesn't help that we don't have many little persons that come to our house anymore, they have all grown up.  I've been contemplating selling some of my Halloween stuff on Ebay!


In case you are wondering, the main "body" of each piece was cut using the Big Shot Top Note die.  Most of the things were cut out by hand except for the smaller ornamentals, those were a sheet of stickers from Paper Bliss that I had in my stash, and the letters were cut using my Slice, "Spook Alley" disc.  My inspiration for this project came from this pin. 

Back on the wagon!

Now that I'm home again, I can concentrate on my weight loss plan.  I was doing well until the week of my birthday and it all fell apart.  First it was DQ on my birthday, and dinners out.  Then I got sick and due to changes in my blood sugar because of the illness, I was ravenously hungry for several days.  Add no energy to exercise (or time).  Toss in our wedding anniversary, the trip to Niagara Falls, Sweetest Day and lots and lots of chocolate--yikes!   Fortunately I only gained about 3 pounds back from the 15 I had lost, but it was still annoying.  The good part is that I officially went back to my way of eating yesterday and I really didn't notice being hungry or anything, so maybe it was a case of my body just needing a break.  Timing is everything.  I'm hoping maybe it will jump start me again.  I was at a plateau before that, keeping my fingers crossed that I am back on track again.  This time of year can be difficult for people to lose weight to begin with, particularly in cooler climates where the natural reaction is to eat to build up body fat for winter.  Toss in the holiday season and it can spell disaster for some people.  One of those times of year where I am actually grateful for food allergies!  Still shooting for the spring goal of none of my clothes fitting me right--I already noticed that some of the things are definitely loose, and a few pieces should probably be donated.  Still trying to think positive :)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Happy Girl

Today is my first official day of being at home again--Laney is one happy puppy right now.  At this moment she is sleeping by the front door, I'm sure she is glad not to have to be in her crate.  I have a zillion things I should be doing right now, but instead I'm playing with my blog, trying to change a few things.  Some successfully, some not.  Oh well, I'll figure it out.  Apologies if you encounter problems while I'm playing!

"I'm so happy mom is done working!"

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Take: Downton Abbey, S4, E5 (No Spoilers!)

This was an unusual episode, new characters introduced that I think will be around for a bit and a secret revealed that has major repercussions.  Some out of character behavior.  And some other dangling question marks that will hopefully be answered over the next several episodes and not just forgotten.  Hmmmm............

1) Mrs. Patmore really does not like new fangled things.

2)  "I made it up.  I thought it was rather good!"

3)  What is Thomas up to now?

4)  It sucks to be Bates.

5)  Rose is a waste of air time, send her back to Scotland.

6)  Carson!!!  That was just mean!!!!

Til next week.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

VPN--worth it???

I recently subscribed to a VPN (virtual private network) service.  I did it for two reasons--to watch "Downton Abbey" as it was being shown in the UK and for increased security.  I'm still trying it out, it has been an interesting experience to say the least.  As for the being able to watch UK television, it works great.  I'm still not 100% convinced on the increased security.

A VPN is a direct connection to another point in the internet--a "tunnel" so to speak.  Many companies use VPN technology to permit their employees access to their company computers without the risk of outside sources hacking in to their systems.  The company my husband works for uses one since most of their employees are on the road.  I was impressed with the way it works so I decided to try it myself.  I surfed around the net and did some reading and finally decided on one.  It charges a monthly service fee (currently $6.95 per month) but many of them offer a significant reduction if you subscribe for an entire year all at once.  There was some software to download and once I had my user ID and password, I logged in and I was pretty much ready to go.  I did have a little trouble getting logged in, but later found that the problem was on their end, not mine.  I hadn't picked the best time to decide to try it!  I haven't had any problems with it since though, the most complicated part was figuring out how to disconnect it or change locations, but once I learned how, it is easy peasy. 

The company I am using offers connection from several different countries as well as numerous connections in the US.  This is great for someone who travels a lot.  If you have a subscription to Netflix, Hulu or another streaming service, you will find that you can't access it from outside of the US.  With a VPN connection, you could be in Japan, but set it up through one of the US servers and now you can.  If this is what you are going to be using it for you will need to do a bit of research on the different companies to find out where their connection points are set up, I was amazed at the different ranges that were offered by various companies.  How does this work?  When you connect at a different point through a VPN, you are assigned a new ISP number for where that point is.  For example--if I don't connect via VPN, my ISP number says that I am in Pittsburgh, PA.  If I go through the VPN, I can connect through various points from other locations and my ISP number reflects that location.  If I want to watch UK programming I simply select a location in the UK to connect through and suddenly I'm "transported", giving me access to things that might have been blocked if I had been using an ISP based in the US.  Sounds complicated, but it's really pretty simple to use.  I do get a chuckle when I am connected via a UK location, suddenly all the ads and such are now for UK based companies and any money references are in pounds instead of dollars.  That took a bit of getting used to.  Keep in mind this works both ways too--some US sites will not permit you to log in from a foreign country, so you may have to change your connection point to a US based site if this happens.  This is why you need to do your homework on the connection points in advance and subscribe to the plan that best suits your needs. 

Now for the security point--since you are using a direct connection instead of bouncing all over the internet for the first available open spot, you are at a reduced risk of someone getting access to your information.  To me this is a great selling point for anyone who does any kinds of bill payment/banking transactions on the internet.  However, I am not convinced that this completely eliminates ANY risk, just reduces it.  I have noticed a significant reduction in the amount of SPAM emails that I am receiving.  Usually I get anywhere from 20 - 30 of them overnight in my one account, you can imagine how surprised I was when I only got 3!  You can also change your connection point every single time you log in to a banking location making it next to impossible for a hacker to track you, reducing your risk.  I'm still playing around with it to see what works best, but I have found this very interesting. 

So the big question--is it legal?  YES, a VPN connection in the US is perfectly legal.  There are the "hacker/geek" types who have the know how to set up a VPN connection to use it for illegal activities.  That isn't legal.  But subscribing to a VPN in the US is not illegal, in fact most of the subscription services have very strict rules as to what you can use the VPN for and if you violate them, you're out.  (and possibly the FBI or some other law enforcement agency may come to visit!)  Watching television in foreign countries via VPN currently is a gray area in the US.  The reason is that many countries outside of the US charge their residents an annual licensing fee (I know for a fact the UK does) and they have no way of collecting that from someone outside of the country.  I imagine they aren't thrilled about this technology being used this way, but as long as you aren't abusing it (ie. making copies and selling them) , I don't think they are really going to pursue doing away with it.  One thing I have noticed recently is that the time between shows being aired in the UK and the US are getting shorter, and several shows in particular are showing the newest season here within days of it being aired there.  Perhaps they have realized that there are ways around their technology and have adopted the "if you can't beat them, join them" philosophy. 

Right now I am doing the month to month fee, I am still not sure I want to continue with it.  If I do I will probably pay the annual fee and be done with it, you end up getting a whole year for just under half price that way.  I'm going to give it a couple of more weeks to see.  I haven't been home enough lately to use it to it's full potential.  I will keep you posted!  If you have had experience with a VPN, be sure to post in the comments section.   If you would like to learn more and understand geek-speak, there is a great explanation of VPN on Wikipedia.  I tried best to explain it in a black and white version.  :)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Take: Downton Abbey, S4, E4 (No spoilers!)

I was annoyed after I watched this episode--not that there was anything wrong with the episode itself, but I went online to see what others thought of it, and just by typing in "Downton Abbey" in a search engine, one of the very first articles that popped up gave away a major spoiler in the headline!  This ticked me off big time, they won't show the series in the US even close to when it is shown in the UK, but you can't safely even look something up online without accidentally stumbling across spoilers.  This happened to me last year and the main reason that I decided to spend the money to see it ASAP instead of waiting until January.  Grrrrr........................on to my thoughts. 

1.  "Don't be transparent mama, it doesn't suit you."

2.  Oh Tom, what were you thinking?!?!

3.  Daisy is going to punch someone before this is all over with.

4.  Mrs. Hughes knows EVERYTHING!

5.  Julian Fellows must have re-read "Pride & Prejudice" just before he wrote this episode.

6.  Isobel is a class act.

7.  The Thomas I love is back!!!!  (YEAH!!!!!)

Later..............

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Garden Update...............(really!)

I never dreamed that on October 13th I would still have any veggies coming off my plants--but I do!  The green beans are long gone and the lettuce too, but I still have some stragglers on the tomato plants, the onions are still doing well (I've used quite a few of them) and the peppers---oh my!  They don't seem to want to give up and with the mild temperatures we have been having, we managed to get another whole batch off of the plants so I could make another dish full of sausage stuffed peppers with several to spare.  And there are still quite a few on the plants in various stages from just past the bud stage to almost mature.  I never would have thought that I would still be getting peppers at this point in time.  Unfortunately cooler temperatures are coming, so I may have one more good harvest of them before the plants are ready to be pulled out for the season.  I am hopeful.  I really thought we were done a few weeks ago.

A couple of my surprise peppers!
 
 
One more week of working, timed that about perfectly, because I want to pull the onions that are left to dry out for storage.  Not really a lot of them left since I've been using them to make several recipes including fresh salsa.  I haven't bought onions since at least August though, so I would call that planting a success as well.   
 
Next year I don't think I will bother with the green beans for several reasons--we had a constant battle with the birds for all the more we got, and Lee accidentally broke the container.  For the expense involved I am probably just as far ahead to buy them from a local farmer.  Everything else though was a great success and I will be growing them again for sure.  Maybe I will try something new in the spring, not sure what yet.  'Til next year!



Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Take: Downton Abbey, S4, E3 (No Spoilers!)

Last week I was lamenting the boring episode--none of that this week.  It was an interesting episode the whole way around, with a very serious plot twist that NO ONE expected.  It makes a car wreck, the Titanic sinking, being gay and death from pre-eclampsia seem like little stuff.   I am curious to see how this plays out in the coming episodes.  I will advise you, if you are trying to avoid any accidental spoilers regarding this episode, avoid most things about Downton for a while, this episode drew more controversy than any episode previously and is being widely talked about in the British press.  You've been warned......

Back to my take:

1.  Jimmy needs to quit showing off.

2.  Mary is getting better at accepting reality.

3.  Poor Tom, such a fish out of water.

4.  I miss O'Brien and Thomas smoking/scheming together.

5.  "Am I the only member of this family who lives in the 20th century?"

6.  Alfred can cook?!?!

7.  If all this keeps up, Carson is going to need a Xanax.

Till next week!!!