Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Birthday to my brown-eyed girl

Eleven years ago today, a baby girl snuck into the year as it was coming to a close. But more important, she snuck into our hearts. Perhaps it's because she arrived as the world was getting ready to party, but Emily sees something to celebrate in every day and in everything she does. We love you Em Girl!

Daddy's Girl

Little Sister

Animal lover



My Girl

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

Our Christmas Day was wonderful in every way. Time spent with family, lots of neat presents, tons of delicious food. I was delighted to be the first one up in our family -- after threats from the kids that they would have us up at the crack of dawn, I awoke at 7 a.m. to a very quiet house. I slipped downstairs to move the breakfast casserole from the fridge to the oven, and was beyond excited to see the snow falling and the back yard all ready covered in a blanket of snow. A white Christmas!
As wonderful as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day can be, over the years I have come to love the day after. In Australia, the UK, Canada, they call it Boxing Day. There are a variety of stories about how the name came to be, but the one I personally relate to is that it was for the servants of the manor. Because they had to work all Christmas Day, serving the lord and master and keeping the celebration going in the manor, they were given the day after Christmas to spend with their families, along with a box of leftover food. It works for me.
Personally, I think it's a glorious day. I finally get to sit down and go through my stocking and open my new perfume, snack on the feast from the day before that is actually hot because I've warmed my plate in the microwave, and I don't care if the house is a mess because the only ones here are the five of us and maybe a stray neighbor kid or two. Today I'll work at my desk and sneak a piece of pumpkin pie. I'll sort out all the receipts in my purse, write a few thank you notes and this afternoon I'll curl up with the new Jan Karon book, a gift from Joey.
Maybe I'll hit the stores tomorrow and maybe I won't. Dan is off the rest of the week and we have no plans and stockings full of movie passes! Life is good.
Happy Boxing Day to everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Be It Unto Me

By Liz Lemon Swindle (christcenteredart dot com)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Boomama is hosting a tour of homes for the holidays. I think it's a wonderful idea and have enjoyed popping in on a few of the homes on tour. However, at this point, I can't handle even the idea of company, so I will have to pass on having a formal open house of my own. (That's me, sprawled out on my front lawn to the left). But, as long as you've dropped by, I'm glad you're here, so come on in! Today, I managed to get some baking done. I started with the important things -- the fudge for my nephew, R.J., who will be home on leave this week, and the spritz Christmas trees that are a family favorite, especially for my psuedo-brother-in-law, Steve, who is really Kathy's husband, but he feels like a brother-in-law and since I only have one real one, I will claim him. Besides, since he has to put up with me for the rest of mine and Kathy's lives, the least I can do is bake him some of his favorite Christmas cookies each year (hi, Steve.) Here is the picture I promised of our decorated tree. It is the tallest tree we've ever had -- eleven feet! It looks like it's leaning in this photo, but truly it is not. It's straight and true and smells wonderful. If I were hosting an open house, I would probably show you my Nativity set. This one is from my childhood, the one we had growing up. I also have another, fancier one, but this is my favorite. See the little bird's nest in the rafters? My mom always added a touch of whimsy to things.

I would also show you my corner cupboard (that I bought at a garage sale for $25 and have yet to refinish it) with a few special Christmas things. The tea set is from a very dear friend, and the little angle is something my cousin made me years ago. The Christmas card was my uncle's as a baby, so it's probably about 80 years old.

This is my simple-Simon centerpiece which has yet to make it to the center of my dining room table, because it will be my workbench until minutes before Christmas dinner!

And, finally, a shot of one of my favorite ornaments. This was made by Joe when he was in preschool. There's a story behind why it is so special to me, but for now suffice it to say that it is one of those little things that tugs at a mom's heart. And this year, I can hardly look at it without getting teary. My firstborn is now a tall, lanky young man who will be graduating high school at the end of the week and heads off to college one month from today! Tomorrow, it's back to some more baking. I have wrapping to do and a menu to plan for Christmas Day (it's all in my head, but need to get it down on paper). Six more days, so I better get busy. So glad you popped in!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Covered in snow

It snowed all day yesterday and today our town looks like a Christmas card. The sun is shining, it's freezing cold out, and everthing is covered in soft mounds of snow. Little piles on the fence posts, tree branches holding soft little piles of the stuff, all powdery covering the ground and perfect for snow angels.
This morning I'm leaving to go back east for a few days for my uncle's funeral. He passed away very unexpectedly on Monday morning. He and and my aunt are two of the most dear people in the world to me, and I'm grateful that I can be there with her. My brother is going with me.
Forty-six years ago this month, my brother and I were the ring bearer and the flower girl in their wedding. He was five years old and I was three. It struck me as one of those circles in life as I was making plane reservations for the two of us yesterday. I have a fleeting memory of standing at the end of a long aisle in the church, being told to walk in front of my aunt and uncle. I remember the full white skirt of her gown and her smiling down at me. I was so scared, but my mom told me to take Mark's hand. I trusted him implicitly, and once I had his hand, I was fine.
I've traveled a lot on my own and have no qualms about it. But when I called him the other day and asked, will you go with me? and he'd already decided he would, I breathed a sigh of relief. He'll handle the details of getting the car, figuring out where to go. I guess you're never too old in life to depend on your big brother.
Dan will hold down the fort while I'm gone. I'll be back on Saturday and there will be presents to wrap and cookies to bake. But for now, I'm going to savor the moments with my aunt and her family and being with my brother for a few days.
Ya'll hold down the fort here, too.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

On a cold and snowy afternoon

The view in my kitchen window.

A good day to don an apron and bake some cookies.

To share with friends.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Friends who craft together. . .

Today was the day for Kathy and I to make our annual Christmas craft. It's a day when one of us picks the craft -- a very simple craft -- and we meet at her house where the Christmas music is playing and the dining room table is spread out with crafty stuff. We begin with a Starbuck's, craft a little, talk a lot, stop for a nice salad lunch, craft some more and talk some more. This candle with the peppermint sticks wrapped with ribbon is what we made last year.

This year I chose a project that I had a feeling might be a challenge, since I saw the picture in a magazine at least two years ago and would have to go from memory. I gathered up the supplies I had on hand, bought two wreath forms from Hobby Lobby and formulated the steps in my head. It all went south when I got up this morning and couldn't find either one of my glue guns. I called Kathy. "You have a glue gun, don't you?" Her response, "Bwah hahahhahahaha," told me no, she does not. Now you know what I'm up against. Crafting with a person who is so uncrafty she doesn't even own a gluegun.

In the midst of dealing with a teenager who was experiencing great angst this morning, I never could locate the glue guns, so I opted for Plan B, which was to do an entirely different craft. A couple of months ago I bought some of those little felt sequin kits that are so beautiful when finished and that Barb has perfected to an artform. My kits have little stockings that hold the silverware on your holiday table. Doesn't that sound nice? I imagine my table set for our traditional Christmas breakfast of cinnamon roles, fresh grapefruit and scrambled egg casserole. These little silverware holders would make it all so very festive.

Kits in hand, I was late rushing down to Kathy's house, but too early to pick up our salad lunches because McD's doesn't serve salad until 10:30. Did you know that? I rushed through Starbuck's drivethrough for a coffee . . . A coffee. And showed up at Kathy's door to be greeted with the sound of someone tearing out tile in a bathroom upstairs, and another preparing to tile the kitchen. The living room was completely empty of furniture as she was waiting for an entire new set to be delivered.

There was no Christmas music.

I was greeted with, "Where's the lunch you were supposed to pick up, and since you only have one coffee, I assume it's mine."

It all went down hill from there. My un-crafty friend not only doesn't own a glue gun, she also doesn't sew. But that's okay. She envies me because I have a glue gun and I envy her because she has a house that has a fireplace in her bedroom. After 37 years of friendship, we understand one another.

Eventually we set ourselves up at the dining room table, snacking on leftover peppermint sticks that were in her "craft bag" from last year's project. We didn't have to worry about the work people eavesdropping on our conversation because they couldn't hear us over tearing out the tile. And inspite of having to stop when the furniture was delivered, and then spending the next hour re-arranging the room a half dozen times -- which, by the way, involved moving her FULLY DECORATED 8-foot Christmas tree back and forth across the room at least six times -- I managed to get one sequined little sock done. Kathy got one cut out, and has 4 sequins sewn on it. But her living room looks great.

When it was time to go, I packed up both batches of our crafts. I apologized again for not bringing lunch. She said it was okay. I told her maybe we can meet monthly and by next year have all of our little sequined socks finished for Christmas 2008. She thought that was a good idea.

I have an idea for my next craft pick. You take candy canes. And brown pipe cleaners for antlers and little beady eyes. . . and a red pom-pom for the nose. . . and some Elmer's glue . . .

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Bringing home the Christmas tree. . .

Today we took a drive way up into the mountains to find our Christmas tree. It was cold, so we bundled up warm. We met a bear. He was quite friendly. The snow was powdery, but that didn't stop a couple of boys from having a snowball fight.
How 'bout this one?
Chopping down the tree. . .
Cleaning off the boughs and lower branches.
Hauling the tree out of the forest. . .
. . . and loading it in the truck
At home, ready to decorate. (It's a bit hazy, because someone got overzealous in mixing the glaze for his rum cakes.)
Next: Part two - Trimming the tree.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dreaming of a White Christmas. . .

So, if you're not a fan of White Christmas, you may want to just skip this and I'll forgive you. The musical yesterday at the Denver Center for Performing Arts was wonderful! It was everything I hoped it would be. I went with the expectation that it would be different from the movie, maybe some new songs and a slightly different story line. I was just so looking forward to listening to the songs and hearing the music in "real life." It was just that, and the story line was really sweet, the songs were wonderful and the cast did a superb job singing and dancing. Some of the characters had bigger parts than in the movie. For instance the housekeeper was a main character with singing and dancing parts, both of which she performed beautifully. As for the songs, Sisters was performed by first the female leads and was just like the movie, and then by the male leads and they were a hoot. The song Snow, which is performed by the main characters in the movie, was performed by the chorus and it had me wanting to sing along. The woman who played Rosemary Clooney's part did a wonderful rendition of Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me and wore a black sequined gown that was to die for, with elbow length gloves, just like Rosemary Clooney wore. I was delighted to see the satin red gowns, trimmed with white fur in the final number. The cast was all in red, with white, fur trimmed hats, and the back of the stage opened up to a scene of snow -- just like in the movie. For the finale, it "snowed" in the theatre, and the audience was asked to sing along to the final number, White Christmas. Honestly, I had tears in my eyes. I'm just that way. As a whole, the costuming wasn't quite as glamorous as in the movie. I don't think anything can top the glamour of the studios back then. And while the dancing was wonderful, the show didn't have the benefit of the large sets that the movie had or the incredible talent of Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen. I wonder if that kind of talent even exists anymore. I wasn't disappointed, but rather I think I will be in awe all over again of the original stars and their dancing, when I watch the DVD -- which I will do very soon! As we drove to dinner after the show, we listened to the CD (yes, I bought a CD), and the song The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing played. I thought, what a shame for the generations that didn't get to experience the romance in dancing , but instead were duped into the rock-n-roll style of the 50s and 60s. Call me old-fashioned, but there's nothing like dancing with a handsome guy who knows how to lead! I'm lucky to have married such a guy:)
All in all, it was a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season. Time to bring out the holly and deck the halls!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Getting the job done

This morning I woke up, ready to take on the challenge that had been weighing heavily on my mind for months. True, it's only three days until Thanksgiving and I have a gazillion things I could be doing. But sometimes, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. And the spirit was moving me, so I went for it. I painted the powder room. I started at 11:00 and by 4:30 had stripped off the old wallpaper border, been to Home Depot for paint, put the switch plate covers back on and cleaned up all the rollers and brushes. Hubs came home, took a big whiff and looked around. "What got painted?" He's used to this. It's something that we've become accustomed to in our marriage. You see, ours is a mixed marriage. He's an engineer. He specializes in quality processing. When he does a project it is well planned, carefully executed and usually turns out pretty darn near perfect. I, on the other hand, live by a motto that says, "Get 'er done and a blind man will be only too glad to see it." In 23 years, we've learned to compromise. Mostly, we don't do projects together. And when we do, whoever is the project leader calls the shots. For instance, last Saturday was Family Leaf Raking Day. There was much forethought that went into this activity (as you can tell it was his project), long before the day arrived. For several weeks, the trees in our yard were studied and evaluated to predict the optimum day for the most productive leaf raking. We want the trees as bare as possible -- but it has to be before the first snowfall, because. . .well, you know what it's like to rake wet leaves. It's really yucky. On the day of, my sun-sensitive, fearless Leaf Hunter was clad in his safari-style Tilly hat, armed with the leaf blower and the course of action was set. He would take charge of the perimeter of the yard and flush out the offending foliage. The rest of us, clad in gloves, sweatshirts and armed with rakes and bags would take the middle. As Hubs was working away to the din of the leaf blower and whistling to the tune played by his ipod, I was organizing the troops to rake, bag, rake, bag -- stop fighting -- rake, bag, rake. . .get busy! Wait. What's wrong with this picture? Dan! It's not working! You need to get over here and organize the troops! He's oblivious and I'm getting irritated. The back of my neck feels hot and prickly and I slowly edge my way to the back of the yard with a plan of escape. I'll hop the fence and run around the block to the front of the house and slip inside for a cup of tea. With that, I hear leaves crunching behind me, and my fearless Leaf Hunter is approaching, offering me one of the earbuds to his ipod. We both listen to Josh Turner singing Would You Go With Me. In his deep bass voice that is the first reason I fell in love with him, Hubs sings along . . . "If I gave you my hand would you take it and make me the happiest man in the world. . . " And, oh dang it, I can't be mad anymore. By the end of the afternoon, we filled 24 bags of leaves to take to recycling. The powder room is a beautiful shade called Bleached Denim and he swears he likes it. After 23 years, I think we work pretty darn well together.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Land of the Free, because of the Brave

Today was a beautiful, sunny day, a fitting day to see so many flags flying from front porch steps and from the tops of flag poles against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. It was hard not to remember that today is Veterans's Day. Listening to the radio, I was reminded of it constantly as my favorite country music station played patriotic songs and read tributes to veterans of America's armed forces througout the day. At church tonight, our mass was dedicated to the veterans of our country. My family, like so many in America, has it's share of heroes. My grandpa and his three sons were Navy. Another uncle was a Marine. My dad served in the Air Force. We've always been darn proud of all of them, and while I had an idea of the sacrifice that they made, leaving home and families and putting themselves in harm's way, I never experienced it first hand. But this Veterans Day has a whole new meaning. In a few short weeks, my brother Matt will begin his deployment to Iraq, as part of the Army National Guard. It's a bit surreal. I'm so dang proud of him I could just bust a button. And I'm going to miss him like heck. He's the youngest of my three brothers. I was five years old the night he was born, and I cried and cried. I cried because I was just sure that since I already had two brothers, God would certainly give me a sister. Little did I know that that pesky little brother with whom I was forced to share a room, would turn out to be one of my very best friends. We live within a mile of one another and I have come to cherish his counsel and friendship over the years. It's amazing how smart little brothers can grow up to be. So, if you wouldn't mind saying a prayer for Matt and his wife, Lois, and their boys Jason and Tommy, I know God will be listening. Matt will head out after the first of the year, and I know that the coming weeks will be quite full, emotionally and physically for him and his family. Please pray for his safety, and the safety of all of our soldiers, as they sacrifice time with their families to go out and guard the safety of others.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Looking on the bright side

Yesterday's post was about slowing down and savoring each moment. Ha. I'm such a big talker. It's so easy to live in the moment, when it's still early in the morning, my kids are off to school and it's just me, my cup of coffee, my computer, the dog, six loads of waiting laundry and an overflowing in-basket on my desk. At that point in the day, I'm thinkin' the day is managable. Three o-clock rolls around, and let the games begin. By 2:00, I had put in a good day's work and been to an appointment with the dermatologist, who froze another little spot on my nose. Boo Hoo. It's bad enough to be wrinkly and collecting age spots faster than my husband is collecting state quarters. But, now I have this scabby, ugly mark on my nose for the next 7 days. Before grabbing my daughter at my aunt's house, where she went after school, because I was at my appointment, and the boys don't get home until later, and besides she can't walk home because it's a mile and somebody might steal her on the way -- I decided to swing through the Starbuck's drive-through for some fortitude for the next few hours where I will be dropping kids, running to the grocery store and picking up kids and wading through homework. Drive up to the big menu with the speaker. This is where I remember why I don't like the drive-through at Starbuck's. My latte experience is already beginning to feel like McDonald's, and I'm supposed to be relaxing and enjoying this. Order an iced mocha. Pull up to the window and pay. Nicely thank the young guy and promptly drive away. It isn't until I'm across the mega shopping center parking lot that I realize -- I don't have my drink. Turn around, drive over six speed bumps, and drive up to the big menu with the speaker. May I help you? Yes, I'm back to get my iced mocha. We wondered where you went. I'm not embarrassed. I'm going to be 50 in April and I'm beyond being embarrassed about most things. And that feels good. It feels good to, finally, have an excuse for being scatter-brained and forgetful. I'm going to be 50 and I'm in a menopausal fog. So, today, that's what I'm giving thanks for.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Goblins, turkeys, teenagers

Oh dear, the Snickers and Milky Way supply has been depleted.
Now, we're back to this. . .
This also means that Halloween is over -- except for the candy that's still in the pillowcase, but it's the stuff none of us like, so we won't be sneaking into her room to raid the stash where it's hidden under her bed.
And the holiday season has unofficially begun. Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, and if you're cooking dinner like I am, that's not very long. I've put away the ghosts, witches and goblins decor, packed away the costume box, and the jack-o-lantern on the front porch went in the trash last weekend, much to the dismay of the squirrels who were feasting on the remnants. In my "spare time" (what's that?) this week, I'm cleaning and clearing out so that there will be room for Christmas decorations in a few weeks. Meantime, I'll set a few ceramic turkeys out, and keep lighting my fall candles each evening, because there's nothing that says fall like the smell of Yankee Candle's Harvest Festival scent. And as much as I love Christmas, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, so I don't want to rush past it. In fact, I don't want to rush anything these days. I want to savor each day, discovering new things that I'm thankful for, to add to my sidebar each day. Today I'm thankful for teenagers. Yes, teenagers. As maddening and crazy as life can be with them, it's like that toddler stage where you can see them growing and changing before your eyes. Granted, it's often three steps forward, two steps back. Sometimes it doesn't seem much different from toddlerhood except now instead of saying, "Are you sure you don't have to go potty?" I'm saying, "Are you sure you got your homework done?" I know, they're supposed to be learning self-discipline and consequences and all that stuff. But, once again they're at a stage where their bodies are changing faster than they can keep up with in their minds, and you still have to ride herd on them, so to speak.
So, how did I go from Halloween to turkeys to teenagers -- oh, there's the connection. Sorry, folks, I haven't had my coffee yet, can you tell?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Halloween shrapnel . . .

. . .seems to be all over the house.
Girl Child went trick-r-treating and came home with a pillowcase full of candy. Boy #2 was not allowed to go trick-r-treating, for reasons I shall not go into. So, the Girl Child has all the candy. She told me she's going to take this opportunity to "train him." This is what I've been hearing the last couple days.
"Luke, it's my turn on the computer."
"I need a couple more minutes."
"Do you want a Snicker's bar?". . . . . . . .
"Luke, can I watch my show on TV?"
"But the game isn't over yet."
"How many Milky Ways do you want?"
I call it bribery, but she thinks she training him. Whatever. . . there's been a lot less bickering around here lately, and I'm glad for that!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Left to Tell

Last night I had the privilege of meeting Immaculee Ilibagiza, the author of Left to Tell; Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. Immaculee's story is one that you never forget. I read her book a month ago, missed her first two appearances in the Denver area since then, and last night had the opportunity to see her at the University of Denver. Immaculee is a suvivor of the Rwandan genocide that occured in 1994. During a three month period, a million Tutsui people were slaughtered. Among them were Immaculee's parents and two brothers. She escaped by hiding in a tiny bathroom for 91 days, with six other women. Her survival and the atrocities that occurred are only half of the story. The rest of the story is her faith and belief in God, and that she has once again found joy in her life. She literally prayed her way through the 91 days, struggling with the line in the Our Father, "as we forgive those who trespass against us." She confessed that for a long time she skipped that part of the prayer! She felt she would never, ever be able to forgive. Her journey towards giving herself over to the power of love is an inspiration to every one of us, whether our trials have been large or small. For the first 30 minutes last night, we watched a documentary of Immaculee's story. Then, this tall, beautiful woman, whose face could adorn the cover of Bazaar Magazine, came on stage and for the next 45 minutes had us captivated with her words and her beautiful spirit. There were tears of sorrow, yes, but amazingly, there was more laughter. Her message was so clear. "What can we do?" is the question that she's always asked. Her answer is like that of Mother Teresa's when she was posed the same question. Just do what you can. Just love the person next to you. It may seem like a small thing, but it will be the start of something big. Today, Rwanda is a very peaceful country. But other places are in similar turmoil to what the country went through over a decade ago. When she was asked how she felt about the situation in Darfur and the lack of involvement by the U.S. she said that she is not one to point out blame, but one who will seek solutions. And that it's not just the U.S. who is responsible anyway. She works at the United Nations, as does her husband. Again, the question was raised, What can we do? Her reply was to be aware of what's going on in the world, read about it, educate yourself. She says the situation is so complicated that even those she communicates with in Darfur don't have a clear solution. But God's love is needed everywhere. Do what you can, where you are.

Now, when I think of Immaculee, I don't think of her as the "woman who survivied a genocide", but as a woman of immense faith and prayer. She is a powerful example of someone who sees the "gift" of everday.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween memories

Let's join Annie for Time Travel Tuesday. This week we're traveling back to our most memorable Halloween. Did you dress up and go door to door growing up? What was your favorite costume?
Halloween was always a lot of fun when I was growing up. It was a neighborhood activity with everyone dressing up and going out trick-r-treating as a big group. We always made our costumes, or I should say my mom made our costumes. I can remember one year I was the Flying Nun. My mom was so creative. She used a white sheet and made the dress, and then took white poster board and made the perfect hat with the "wings." Another year I was a pioneer girl. It wasn't your typical Halloween costume, but I loved that era and my mom made me a bonnet, a long skirt with an apron and a peasant blouse. One year, we were short on time so I was a "lady ghost" -- the old white sheet with the eyes cut out, and then I wore a fancy hat, pearls, high heels, and carried a pocket book. Dressing up was the best part, but going out for candy was a close second. We would go for blocks and blocks, then come home, sort everything out and start "trading." My favorites were the Mary Jane peanut butter taffy bites. Still are!
I don't remember doing much for Halloween as a teenager, but when I got into college it was always fun to dress up and go to parties. Dan and I used to go to Halloween parties when we first met. Now, it's all about the kids, and that's a lot of fun, too! Dan has taken over the pumpkin carving, which is fine with me. We usually go to the pumpkin farm nearby, but this year I picked one up at the grocery store. Tonight one of the neighbor kids came over to help carve, then she and Emily made caramel apples. Then we all feasted on them while watching Dancing With the Sta

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Code Red

That was the front page headline for the Rocky Mountain News this morning. I won't bore you all with the sordid details. But the 8th inning rally was not enough to pull the Rockies out of the hole that was dug earlier in the game. Last night's loss was a bitter pill to swallow.
However,seeing a World Series game played at Coors Field was still pretty exciting!
Opening ceremonies. Carrie Underwood sings the National Anthem No matter how it turns out, at least we got to go to the dance!
And who knows? Maybe the Rocks will be the first team in MLB history to lose the first three games and still win the series. Ya never know. . .

Friday, October 26, 2007

Chocolate anyone?

HUGE sigh of relief. This morning I finished assembling the class basket for my daughter's school carnival which will be held tomorrow night. I got suckered into doing this. I agreed to be the room parent, "because all you have to do is make a few phone calls now and then," said the teacher, "and I have a helper for you." After I agreed to do the job, he said, "Well, there is the class basket for the carnival. Could you coordinate that?" And the "helper" is a dad who travels.

This is what I came up with -- for our class and the class next door because, well, I guess they have really smart parents who know better than to volunteer because no one would step forward to do a basket for that class.

I got lots of stuff donated and some money to buy extra stuff, and I put my little 99 cent glue gun to work, learned how to use that shrink wrap plastic stuff to hold it all together, and this is what came out of it (before I wrapped it all up with the shrink wrap).

"Life's More Bear-able with Chocolate" -- packed with an adorable chocolate-colored bear named "Snickers", a cuddly cocoa-colored chenille throw, a chocolate fondue set, three cookbooks on chocolate, the DVD "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", cocoa mugs, a gift certificate to Godiva, chocolate syrup, chocolate cake mix, chocolate coffee, and enough chocolate bars to throw you into a diabetic coma. I have to admit, it was fun shopping for most of the stuff. And really tough to ignore the chocolate calling my name as it sat on my dining room table all week long. But now it's done! It felt so good to get that thing out of my house and over to the school.