Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Oh The Joys of Christmas

 Joys of Christmas

I love this time of year for many reasons,but mostly because it reminds me (in the event I have forgotten) that the Lord has blessed our family immensely despite our struggles over the past year.  That our family is together and healthy and we all have a warm bed each night.  That through the difficulties, ours are truly insignificant in the big scheme of things.  And that we can continue to give to others and share our blessings with our friends, our family, and complete strangers.  We can give something as simple as a smile to a stranger if we like and know that it made their day a little brighter.  If only we could all live in peace.  

Memories are the makings of Christmas - and all year through for many of us too!  Happy memories are what remind us of the joys of having family and friends.  Well, I hope that this being the 2nd day of Christmas for our 21 days of Christmas giveaway - that the gift will make your holidays a little brighter.

Oh the joys of Christmas - especially if you have children.  My kids get so excited they can hardly wait for that special day, but to keep themselves busy, they do things like ...


Set up decorations that remind us of why we celebrate Christmas.  And we tell the story to our children every year so that they understand that we are celebrating the birth of Christ.



And set up Villages all around our family room like this one...



And this one.



And this one with that wonderful little boy of mine peeking up to show me how proud he is of his Village creation.  I'm so proud of my boy.  He loves setting up for Christmas.



Of course, their is the token Santa - courtesy of his sister who decided that the soap looked better on her brother's face than in the sink.

* * * * *

Now, what to do with all of these pictures?!!  And believe me when I tell you I've got thousands of pictures. I am a camera toting momma around here.  And, to display my pictures so that they look really nice in our family scrapbook, I use this ...



 Are you a scrapbooker?  Do you know what this is?  It's called a Cricut Create Electric Cutting Machine and it is really neat.



And handy too.



Here is the information for you:

The Cricut Create Electronic Cutting Machine combines the portability of the original Cricut machine with the functionality of the Cricut Expression machine.  This versatile crafting sensation allows you to create die-cuts for classroom decor, scrapbook layouts, signs, banners and much more.  It is an exciting way to cut letters, shapes and phrases in an array of impressive sizes from 1/4" up to 11-1/2" on the 6"L x 12"W cutting mat.

Cricut Create Electronic Cutting Machine Includes:

  • Cricut Create machine - measures approx. 9"L x 17"W x 11-1/2"H 
  • Cutting mat - measures approx. 6"L x 12"W
  • Don Juan cartridge
  • Keypad overlay 
  • Handbook
  • Blade assembly
  • Quick start guide
  • Power adaptor
  • Manual
  • Instructional DVD

Product Features: 

  • 8-way directional blade - blade navigation buttons - allow you to move the cutting blade so you can easily position it exactly where you want to start a cut
  • Paper-saving mode - rearranges amount of selections to take up the least space possible
  • Flip function - easily create a flipped or mirrored image cut of the shape you chose
  • Center point function - cuts your shapes centered on a designated point; use on photographs or patterned paper in the landscape mode
  • Fit-to-page function - Maximizes the size of the character on the page, overriding the size set with the Size Dial
  • Shadow option - creates a proportionately larger shadow image of each shape you select
  • Mix and match - make a variety of creative features within the same cuts; use the entire library of existing Cricut cartridges
  • Variety of sizes - cut in portrait or landscape page layout
  • Easy to use - no computer necessary; 4 languages: English, French, Spanish and German; metric options
  • Auto Fill mode - easily mass produce cuts
  • LCD screen - shows exactly what you're typing for your next cut; easy to view
  • UL listed
  • Comes with a manufacturer's 1-year limited warranty

It's a fancy device, and it makes scrapbooking fun.  Wouldn't you love to have this under your Christmas tree?  Wouldn't you love to be able to create pages that are as creative as the pictures you show off to family and friends?  

Well, here you go ...

All you have to do is answer the question below in the comments.  That's it!  The winner for today's prize will be chosen on Saturday.  One winner per contest will be chosen.

Here are the rules:

One comment per person please.

Comments will be closed Friday 10pm EST.

The "1" winner for today's prize will be chosen on Saturday.  Actually, the winner for each giveaway will be chosen the first Saturday following each contest.  

There is only one prize per day and one winner per contest.

Answer the following question in the comments below:

How do you make memories last after the holidays are over?

Note: I do not know anyone at Cricut.  I just love their scrapbook cutter and I purchased it thru HSN.  I do not know anyone at HSN either.  This makes a great holiday gift for the scrapbooker in your life and I enjoy passing these great things on to my readers.  So - I sponsored this giveaway (and Santa of course)

That's it! 



Congratulations Roxy!


There were 22 Comments. Winner is #18: Roxy

Merry Christmas Everyone!



Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It's The Month For Gift Giving


It is the month for shopping and dropping and crowds and economic upturns, and Raisin Toast wants to contribute to the holiday spirit!  The Christmas season of giving!  The joy of surprises and kisses and hugs! Susie Q here wants to give you an opportunity to win something for yourself or someone special in your life. It is my way of saying "Thank you!" for being a Raisin Toast reader!

Since I am so adorable, I have managed to finagle some very nice gifts from some very nice people for my very nice readers.  These are all gifts that I have myself and love and want to share with you. (Not the ones I've used, but new gifts for you).  You see, last year this time I didn't have to do much finagling.  We still had our retirement. ha ha.  This year, however, the only way I could continue the tradition of gift-giving this Christmas was to ask, politely, with whipped cream and a cherry on top for free stuff - for you.  Not me.  You. 

So, here's what I did.  I made a list.  I checked it twice.  I essentially found out who was naughty and who was nice.  And the nice won out.  The naughty had no time for my finagling.  The nice were very nice and let me finagle all I wanted.  Well - to a limit.  Just put it this way -- Every day this week (Monday - Friday) between now and December 21st, Raisin Toast is going to have a giveaway.  And all you have to do is answer the question in the comments below.  That's all you have to do - to finagle a free gift from me - and my very nice corporate friends.  There will only be "1" winner and "1" gift.  Now if only I could finagle a job for Bob out of one of these friends, we'd be all set.  Oh well, Bob isn't into the business of cookware and scrapbooking supplies, and cameras, and ... you get the picture, right?

Today is the first day of this exciting adventure on Raisin Toast.  I'm going to call it the "21 days of Christmas." 

On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me ....


A Nikon CoolPix L20 Digital Camera with 3.6 optical zoom and a 3 inch LCD screen in Deep Red.  Deep red because it's Christmas and I love Deep red, don't you?

Your gift will include:

♦ 1) Nikon Coolpix L20 Digital Camera
♦ 2) Precision Design 4 NiMH Batteries with Rapid Charger
♦ 3) Transcend 4GB HC SecureDigital Class 6 (SDHC) Card
♦ 4) Precision Design USB 2.0 High Speed SecureDigital (SD/SDHC) Card Reader
♦ 5) Image Recall Digital Image Recovery Software
♦ 6) Nikon Soft Camera Case
♦ 7) Precision Design Memory Card Storage Wallet
♦ 8) Precision Design Flexible Tabletop Mini Tripod
♦ 9) Cameta Microfiber Cleaning Cloth

This incredible Nikon Camera features a 10 megapixel resolution, 3.6x Zoom-Nikkor glass lens, plus several imaging innovations designed to encourage carefree shooting for the otherwise photographically challenged. It incorporates motion detection that automatically controls the shutter speed and ISO settings to compensate for camera shake and subject movement thereby reducing the chances of getting image blur.  I, particularly like this feature because I can't hold a camera steady to save me.

The L20 also incorporates a High ISO of ISO 1600 for capturing images in low-light situations - like when you have your Christmas tree all lit up and all the lights are out and it's dark, but boy does it ever feel like Christmas and you want to capture it on film - or in your camera - or on your computer.  


The Nikon Coolpix L20 also has a bright, high resolution 3.0-inch LCD monitor with an anti-reflective coating, easing the composition of photos, even in direct sunlight. You gotta love the big screen Santa baby.

Here are the rules:

One comment per person please.

Comments will be closed Friday 10pm EST.

The "1" winner for today's prize will be chosen on Saturday.  Actually, the winner for each giveaway will be chosen the first Saturday following each contest.  

There is only one prize per day and one winner per contest.

Answer the following question in the comments below:

What have you done this year for someone else that has made their life better, happier, healthier, brighter?  Tell me about that "one" thing that made you feel good inside ...

It doesn't have to have been anything extravagant.  I just love to hear stories of how good people step up and do for others without being asked - those gifts from the spirit that give us our faith back in humanity.  Big or small, or something as simple as a hug.  It can be something that you have done for another member of your family, or a friend, or a neighbor, or a complete stranger.

Note:  I do not know anyone at Nikon.  I just love their cameras! This makes a great holiday gift for the anyone in your life and I enjoy passing these great things on to my readers.  So - I sponsored this giveaway (and Santa of course).

That's it! 



Congratulations Michael Thoms!


There were 45 Comments. Winner is #23: Michael Thoms

Merry Christmas to all!  


Friday, October 16, 2009

Amazing Grays - Simply Amazing


We Have a Winner! 


Congratulations to Mountain Girl!

You've won a signed copy of "Amazing Grays" by Maggie Crane!
Send me an email with your address and I'll get this great book
out to you right away!  

I'm pretty darn lucky.  I love to read, and I get the most wonderful books as gifts in the mail from authors and publishers who know that I enjoy good books and will happily tell you, my readers and friends, all about it.  Nothing fills me up quite like a good book, a comfy chair, a favorite quilt in my lap, and a crackling fire.  Okay, I'm hoping we get our fireplace checked soon because I'm wantin' that crackling fire in a bad way, and I'm not interested in anymore attempts at burning down the house.  In the meantime, though, I've been reading the best book.  It is called "Amazing Grays - A Woman's Guide to Making the Next 50 the Best 50."  Sounds like my kind of book, if for no other reason than I just turned 50 and I am amazingly gray.  Need I say more?

Beautiful young people
are accidents of nature, but
beautiful old people are works of art
- Eleanor Roosevelt



So, I opened the big, padded envelope I received in the mail and I pulled out not one, but two "Amazing Grays" books by Maggie Crane.  One for me - and one for you.  Yes, you.  You - you there.  Yes - you.  And it's signed by the author, Maggie Crane too.  Are you lucky too, or what!  

Life is not a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty
and well preserved body;
but rather, to skid in broadside,
thoroughly used up, totally worn out,
and loudly proclaiming --
WOW! What a Ride!
- Unknown



You really are lucky and I'm about to tell you why.  You see, I immediately sat down and started reading Maggie's book, and I couldn't put it down.  It is a real page turner and worth every minute you invest in her wisdom, her honesty, her humility, her humor, and her advice.  You'll be digging out your yellow marker after page 1 to highlight all the good stuff.  I know I did.  Oh, and don't forget the sticky notes either.  When you're done, your book will look like something Oprah holds in her hands when interviewing authors on her show.  

If it weren't for the fact that the TV set
and the refrigerator are so far apart,
some of us wouldn't get any exercise at all.
- Joey Adams



Maggie starts ... "I am a Boomer, Proud to be part of a movement of amazing women who are redefining what it means to age well ... The dirt really hit the fan when I decided to allow my hair to go silver.  Life without hair dye brought me face to face with many of my fears, anxieties, and limiting beliefs about entering my ... (gulp) senior years."  Ditto, Maggie.  At some point, I believe every woman must face their fears about aging, and either accept who they are - all the gray hair, wrinkles, and body parts heading south that God gave us - or else age begrudgingly.

If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to
change costume and come back as a new character ...
Would you slow down?  Or speed up?
- Chuck Palahniuk



With every chapter in her book, I felt like Maggie was reading my mind, or else opening my mind up to the possibility that my own fears and anxieties about aging are the same as other women my age.  I think we all go through stages as we age, I know I did when I hit 30, then 40, then 50!  Now 30 seems so young and I wish I had appreciated my youth for what it was when it was right in front of me.  

Your outer world is at every moment mirroring
back to you your deepest feelings about yourself.
If you don't like what you see "out there," the
only place you can change it is within you.
- Debbie Ford



Even 40 brings back memories.  I recall thinking that I was 20 just yesterday, that I still felt like a 20 year old woman, (not anymore!) but somehow I just hit 40 like a brick wall.  I remember thinking "I'm not young anymore and yet, I'm not old either.  This is horrible!"  And, yes, it seemed like no sooner did I get comfortable with my 40s then I turned 50 last April, and the cruel cycle of denial and asking myself where my life is going comes crashing in again.

The first step to wisdom is silence;
the second is listening.
- unknown



I need a bulldozer and an extreme home makeover - of the body and mind type.  Maggie took care of the mind, now if only I could find someone like Oprah to give me a body makeover I'd really be set.  Then again, what I really need is motivation to get moving and stop living such a sedentary life day in and day out.  I want to feel that youthful energy and enthusiasm again! 

While reading her book, I have had the distinct pleasure of communicating with Maggie via email.  I feel as though I have found a new friend in this middle age of life, and if her book and her words are any indication, a good friend, indeed, she will be.  When you read her book you'll know why.

I don't know how you feel about old age ...
but in my case I didn't even see it coming.
It hit me from the rear.
- Phyllis Diller



If you ever felt like you were facing the aging process alone, think again.  Whether it be gray hair, menopause, men, children, divorce, or life - you will feel as if Maggie is a friend who just gave you the best advice you could ask for, hit you right between the eyes with comic relief, and did it without skipping a beat.  Throughout her book, she offers up little anecdotes and quotes to stimulate your reflective mind ... like this one:

Memory is like an orgasm.
It's a lot better if you don't have to fake it.
- Seymore Cray

and this one:

Our life is what our thoughts make it.
- Marcus Aurelius

and all the others throughout this post.



I've learned a great deal about myself, aging, being a woman, marriage and men, and discovering what is most important and what is real from having read Maggie's book.  You will too.  To enter the contest for a signed copy of Maggie's wonderful book "Amazing Grays" just answer this question in the comments:

This is your life ... how do you want to live it?

Twenty years from now you will be more
disappointed by the things that you didn't do
than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore.  Dream.  Discover.
- Mark Twain



Contest ends Tuesday, October 20th at 10pm EST.  Winner will be announced here on Wednesday afternoon.  Good Luck!  

If you would like to visit Maggie's website - click HERE.  Be sure and visit her gallery of Silver Sages too!


Note: All of the great contemporary, realist paintings throughout this post are by a favorite realist artist: Christopher Stott

Note again: Maggie Crane sponsored this giveaway.  She sent me her book and after reading it, I had to tell you about it.  She also sent me a signed copy as a giveaway on Raisin Toast.  Thank you Maggie!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fool Me Three Times

If you would like to add more suggestions for living a greener life and what you are doing to help the environment, please share in the comments below! 

Nothing is more frustrating than having to rebuild your life all over again once you get your computer back with a new harddrive.  Such is the case with me today - rebuilding everything from scratch.  All of my programs had to be reinstalled from scratch, then I had to update everything, then I had to make sure that I was able to find the emails with the action downloads that I use in Photoshop (thank God I didn't delete the emails!). Goodness, have I got a sore bottom from sitting all day and working on rebuilding my life.


I don't even want to think about all the documents and pictures I lost, much less all the passwords and license information in my password vault.  And to think that the entire time I had access to iDisk and could have saved myself a lot of grief.  Dang.  I also had an external harddrive to clone my MacBook to, and although I thought I had done this several months ago, when we looked at the drive it was empty.  Figures. 

As a result I have had to rebuild everything - my address book, my iTunes library, my password and license information, my calendar, my sanity.  Trust me when I say this is NOT fun.  If you don't have to go through this, don't.  And I am sure that in a matter of weeks or months I will need something or remember something that was on my old harddrive that crashed and I'll go hide under my covers and cry and beat my head against the wall.


Fool me once, shame on you.

Slowly but surely, my life on my computer is being rebuilt.  BUT this time I'm going to be smart.  You know what they say "Fool me once, shame on me.  Fool me twice, shame on you.  But, fool me three times, and you will reap a reward."  I know - huh?  Put it this way, I didn't back up my computer the first time around when it crashed 5 years ago.  Then I swore I would never let that happen again and I would back up regularly.  Well, that didn't last and then last week "Crash" "Bang!" "Sparks!" "Fire!" Then everything went dark.  Nothin'.  Nada.  Dead as a doornail.  Crap.


Fool me twice, shame on me. 

I scurried my lifeless MacBook to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store and as he put his stethoscope up to the heart of the laptop he announced that it had died.  No recovery.  No jolts to bring it back to life would work.  "Hand it over, lady - and we'll perform heart transplant surgery (oh, I mean harddrive replacement) on your computer."  "Waaaaaaaah!!!!  But ... but ... but.


Fool me three times - 

Answer this question and your comment will be your entry into this great contest.  Only one entry per person please.  Winner will be chosen at 5pm on Thursday. 

Question for you:  What steps are you taking to live a "greener" life this year?

You know, like lightbulbs and recycling.  That kinda thing.

And what can you win?  Something great.  How about a $50.00 gift certificate to the Apple Store ...


And this.  iLife will iWork if iYou backup your iMac iMonthly.  Got it.  Good.  Now do the Green thing and make a difference in our environment ...

This contest is only good for those who have Macs - and sponsored by Mwaaah. 


Note: I do not know anyone at Apple.  I love my MacBook (even when it breaks) and wouldn't go back to PC for anything.  So, if you have a Mac, this is your lucky day.  SusieQ sponsored this giveaway.

Apple Online Store

Thursday, January 01, 2009

10 Great Resolutions & 50 for you ...


So did you have enough time to reflect on those things you want to do in 2009 that will improve the quality of your life?  Did you take the time to maybe read some of the comments and be inspired?  I know I did!  I absolutely love anything - contest or not - that makes me think, reflect, improve.  Mental aerobics is what I call it.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your "10 Things" for 2009, and some of you even offered up more.  I didn't even think the goals and resolutions were unreasonable either.  I mean, with each one that I read, I thought that you were reasonable in your expectations for reaching those goals and resolutions successfully.  Now, you better be careful, because this time next year we are going to have to revisit this to see how we all did.  Deal?  Good.


I can't believe the year is over.  Unfortunately, my year is ending on a very sad note.  My  former father-in-law, someone who meant a great deal to me and will forever live in my heart, passed away this past Saturday at the tender age of 77.  The last few years have been extremely difficult for him as he has been suffering from one ailment after another.  I do want to tell you about Walter.  He was a great man and will be dearly missed.  This evening (Tuesday night) my Big Bear and I went to his family gathering at the funeral home and just like in this girl's true fashion - my knees went weak, my lips began to quiver as we stood in line for the greeting by the casket, and I had to excuse myself from the line to go have a good hearty cry.  Thank God for waterproof mascara or I would have been a complete mess. I loved this man and his voice and strength of character resonate with me deeply.

Jeneece, his beautiful wife of 55 years, was stoic and strong, despite the fact that she had a stroke the morning of this past Saturday, the same day that her dear husband passed away.  Jeneece is very much a mother to me.  I love them all dearly. 

I will tell you this story sometime soon.  I have a funeral to go to in the morning and I will post the winner by noon.  This isn't how I, or any of us, hoped to end 2008, but I know that Walter is in an entirely new dimension.  He is at peace now and is no longer suffering.  I know that his spirit was there with his family and friends this evening.  He knows we all loved him and respected him.  He was an honorable man, and a man of great integrity.

Thank you for letting me express this to you.  I hope that you will spend quality time with the loved ones in your life more so in 2009 than at any other time before. Cherish them.  Hug them.   Tell them you love them. 


Thank you to everyone who entered this contest.  I know that it will be $50 well spent on home and family in the coming year.

And now for the drumroll please ...

The winner is ...

Someone who had some great goals and resolutions for the new year. 


CONGRATULATIONS TO ERIKA!!!  You are the winner of the $50 giftcard to Target - infamously known as  Tar-jay in my part of town.

Now, I don't want you other readers to be disappointed.  I hear you out there going "Awwww, Darn!"  No disappointment allowed on Raisin Toast, ya hear?  I love making my readers happy.  I love making new friends.  I love writing.  I love - smiling.  I love making you - yeah, you - think and walk away with something good.

Oh, by the way, these were Erika's resolutions and goals for 2009:

Erika wrote:

my resolutions for 2009

1. Learn to cook healthier food for my family
2. organize my home office
3. walk at least 3 times a week
4. work out at least 3 times a week
5. get more involved in my child's activities
6. read 6 books
7. go camping twice this summer with my husband and son
8. donate to a charity
9. learn to play an instrument
10. call my mother daily

Great resolutions Erika!  Maybe you can find some good camping equipment at Target for that summer camping trip you want to take with your husband and son.  Or maybe you can find some solutions for organizing your home office.  I know you can find some good books at Target - I've found some good one's there myself at great deals too.

I believe you will reach all your resolutions and goals - and I believe that all my readers will as well.  And if you don't, then I'm just going to have to come your way and tickle you to you cry.

Now, if only I can get my butt in gear and start moving and exercising more, so that I can lose that 20+ pounds I promised myself I would lose this year.  I had better do something soon because I am running out of pants, skirts, and underwear that fit anymore.

That said - Happy New Year to all my wonderful readers!  Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to give me a read and to comment too.  Thank you for becoming a very important part of my life journey.

Blessings to you all!  Congratulations again to Erika!

Contact me at [email protected] to claim your prize!


Note: I do not know anyone at Target.  I just shop there on a regular basis and knew that my readers would enjoy a giftcard to one of my favorite places to shop.  So, this giveaway was sponsored by me - mwaah - SusieQ.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

10 Good Things - and 50 for You


Have you given much thought to this coming year?  Do you have a list of goals that you would like to reach in 2009?  Have you thought much about your 2008 resolutions and goals, and were you able to make them happen? 

Well, I'll tell ya, I'm a bit of a slug myself when it comes to reaching those goals and resolutions, but that only served to make my resolve even stronger because I will be 50 this year and daggone-it I really want to look good and feel good when I turn the big 5-0.  It doesn't seem possible.  I mean, I'm still 25 and I act like I'm 17.  So how is it that I'm almost 50?  The gray hair is a dead giveaway, though, and so is the need for a daily afternoon nap I suppose.


That said, I thought I would list my New Year resolutions and goals here for all the world to see.  Then, this time next year I won't have any good excuses for not reaching them, right?  Well, let's hope I don't have any excuses at all - good or otherwise.  Then, I want you to list your 10 things - goals and resolutions for the coming year, and if you do, you just might win a $50 giftcard to Tar-jay. Sound like a plan? 

So here is my list of 20:

1. Lose 20 lbs. 
2. Keep up with the laundry Scratch that
3. Give every member of my family a smile and a hug - daily.
4. Create at least 12 oil paintings.
5. Enter at least 1 visual arts contest for one new painting.
6. Teach someone to paint.
7. Exercise daily - somehow, someway, no excuses!!!
8. Inspire at least 1 person a week to be positive, learn something new, or find the good in their life and others.
9. Donate to at least 2 charities.
10. Keep my house clean and my beds made. Scratch that
11. Make at least one quilt - finished.
12. Teach my daughter to sew.
13. Help a friend in need.
14. Help a stranger in need.
15. Send at least 2 letters to a soldier in the Middle East.
16. Encourage my children to write a letter and draw a picture for a soldier.
17. Say "Yes" more often.
18. Learn to do something new. (Self improvement is always a good thing)
19. Laugh at something - daily.
20. Keep a daily journal of blessings by my bed and write in it every night.


Every year, I create a list of 20 things that I resolve to do, or goals that I hope to reach, and I put it in a journal I keep by my bed.  I started that journal several years ago and let me tell you - it works.  I am able to cross off 2 from the start, and every year it is always the same two - the impossible I call it.


Number 20 is especially important to me because it forces me to focus on the blessings rather than the hardships.  It is my time to snuggle up under my covers, reflect on the day, put on my glasses, and list at least 7 things every day that I am grateful for, and 7 things that I took notice of during the day that made me smile.  I have discovered that not a day goes by that I am not thankful and feel enormously blessed.  Not only has this been good for my soul, but it has been good for my state-of-mind and health as well.  I feel better and have been sick less in the last several years than at any other time in my life since I started this journal.  If nothing else, I have learned that there is a mind-body connection and we need to feed the mind with healthy thoughts, and exercise our mind with learning as much as we need to feed our bodies with healthy food and exercise our muscles.  You should try it!


So how about it?  Are you thinking about the coming year and what you hope it will mean to you and your family?  If not, and you are still cleaning up after the holidays (me too) that's okay!  Take time to think about it.  But, I want you to promise me you will come back and leave me a comment that reflects your list, and yes, I want it to include - well, how about 10 things?  Sound good?  Great.


So here is your assignment.  And, if you tell me your 10 good things - your resolutions and goals - I have a gift for you. 


How would you like a $50 Giftcard to Target?  Hey!  It's after Christmas and that's when all the deals really start!  I figure you can get more bang for your buck after Christmas when all the retailers are scrambling to deplete their inventory before January 1st.  So how about we help them? 

In other words, how about you think about it, sleep on it if you have to, start a journal, scratch your head, pick your nose, clip your toenails (vacuum them up please), take a shower, brush your teeth, don't forget to floss, kiss your pet, eat an apple - or two, and then comment (that's actually better than "call me" don't you think?) in the morning. Maybe you'll be able to spend less time at the doctor's office this year, too!


Oh, and you have to make hot cocoa sometime this year.  That's a requirement for reading my blog - you've got to make my hot cocoa.  Unless, of course you are lactose intolerant.  Then you're forgiven.

So get on it folks!  Write me your 10 things.  Inspire others with your goals and resolutions.  And you will be in the running for that $50 Target Giftcard courtesy of a sponsor from heaven above.

Winner will be chosen by mwaah (that's me) at 12 noon on Wednesday, December 31st.  What a great way to start the New Year! 


Note: I do not know anyone at Tar-get or Target for that matter.  I just shop there on a regular basis and wanted to pass on a good giftcard to you.  So, this giveaway was sponsored by me - SusieQ - regular Target shopper.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Starting the Day Off with Santa ... and a Jazzy Gift for You after the Concert!


Well, sorta.  It was the day that our children, Sarah and Matthew were going to be entertaining the masses (albeit small masses) at Claire Ritter Studios, and we thought it would be a good idea to start their day - and ours - off with a wonderful breakfast.  So, we went to one of our favorite breakfast spots - The Big Dog Cafe, in Waxhaw, NC - and who do you suppose was cooking up the eggs and bacon?  Santa, by golly!  And yes, that is really him.  He works hard doesn't he? And he's jolly too!  And that is also his real beard - and padding.  Yep, Santa whipped us up a super-duper breakfast at the Big Dog Cafe and he even posed so that I could take a picture.  Just in case you didn't believe that Santa really lives in North Carolina and has a real job between Christmas holidays. 


I have such a wonderful family.  They waited patiently for our server while trying to decide on chocolate milk or orange juice.  Glen, however, had his eye on Dad's iPhone and wanted to play one of the 400 games he had downloaded.  Sarah played table piano and Matthew made faces at everyone.  I took pictures - that's my job.  We were all excited about the concert.


Sarah looked so elegant in her dress and high heel shoes.  Such a beautiful young lady she is becoming.  Where did my little girl go?  Now she wears hosiery, heels, and makeup.  Matthew didn't want me to take his picture.  Typical boy.


The children practiced their pieces before the concert and were prepared, but boy were they nervous.  The drive through the country to get to the studio didn't help to calm their nerves either.  Of course, Tango, Claire's precious pooch, greeted us when we arrived, and she helped to calm the children.  I think Tango has us all figured out, though.  She knows we're going to bring her a treat.

Claire Ritter

Claire started the evening concert off with her rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" in the key of "E."  It was beautiful.  For those of you who are new here, Claire Ritter is a renowned Jazz musician and recording artist.  She is also an outstanding music teacher.  She has a surprise for one of our readers at the end ... so keep reading!


Matthew was one of the first up to the piano and he played beautifully.  He did not, however, pause between his 2 songs so that we could all applaud. He went straight from Prelude right into Brown Bag Boogie without missing a beat.  "Matthew - slow down darlin'!  You need to give us time to applaud silly!"  "Great Job!"


Sarah played Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" and then ...


Nocturne as a duet with Claire Ritter on her electric keyboard.  They struggled a bit through this song, but got through it just fine.  Sarah was so upset. Nerves and a duet that you haven't practiced together but once does not make for a flawless piece. We were all really proud of her, though, and honestly, I don't think anyone noticed but Sarah and us, since we had heard her play the song a hundred times flawlessly before the concert.


The joy of the evening was at the end, when Sarah played a piece that she had composed. Earlier in the year, Sarah composed a piece called "Spring Mystique" and you could hear the birds chirping, the rain falling, and the thunderstorms and lightening.  In this composition, "Tales of Autumn" you can envision the leaves falling and the cool breezes blowing.  Fortunately, though, for you, you don't have to settle for these pictures of the concert.  You know why?  Because I have shaky bad video and audio so you can see it and hear it for yourself ...

Recital 2008 from Susan Vaughn on Vimeo.


Of course, this concert would not be complete unless I offered you an opportunity to experience jazz from one of today's finest jazz musicians - Claire Ritter - and her cd "Waltzing the Splendor" by Zoning Recordings.


This is what "Jazz Review" has to say about the music of Claire Ritter and this cd:

CD Title: Waltzing The Splendor

Year: 2007

Record Label: Zoning Recordings

Style: Straight-Ahead / Classic

Musicians: Claire Ritter (piano), Jon Metzger (vibraphone), Jane Hart Brendle (violin), Ashima Scripp (cello), Dave Holland (bass on bonus track 16)


Pianist Claire Ritter has a reputation for creating American jazz, which could be why when you listen to her latest release Waltzing the Splendor, you may find yourself envisioning a ballroom ambience with the music accompanying the vocal stylizing of Bing Crosby as Grace Kelly glides across a low-lit stage.  Though Ritter’s songs are all instrumentals, the lyricism of her piano phrasings along with the whimsical patinas of vibraphonist Jon Metzger, violinist Jane Hart Brendle, cellist Ashima Scripp, and bassist Dave Holland, delivers an album with beautiful elocution liken to Crosby’s singing and Kelly’s dancing.  It will make you wonder what ever happened to the days of ballroom dance that honed the likes of Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby.  The turns in the phrases of Ritter’s music have traditional workings with a contemporary torque that gives ballroom jazz a current standing in today’s marketplace.

Maybe it is Ritter’s rendition of the classic tune “Over The Rainbow,” which has been famously sung by Judy Garland in the past that gives Ritter’s music its ballroom dance flavor, but many of her songs leave the listener with an impression of ballroom lifts and low-lit lounge music especially in “Valsa” and “Integrity.”  Ritter composed four tracks for the album that are etudes for the piece Four Jazz Serenades For Georgia O’Keefe, Opus 23.  These tracks range from lightly flowering piano keys and gently swinging motions in the strings for “Orange Red Yellow Gold” to whimsical pirouettes and long strides in “Painter’s Serenade” and slits of cascading piano keys knitted along “Waltzing The Splendor.”  The fluidity of the fly-by piano keys for “Echo Meadow” has optimistic hues, and the doddering keys of “Hot Pepper” produce a catchy trolley rhythm.  The angelic sonorous of the xylophone and piano keys for “Carolina Canto” resonate like a children’s lullaby, while the tenderly strolling keys of “Telepathy” are impressionistic of a leisurely walk through a picturesque vista.


Ritter delves into more abstract jamming sessions and loosely fitted piano keys on “Suppose” and “Funky Feet,” which brings her sojourn into the realm of avant angles and improvised creations, and the wiry bass grooves of “In Between” follows this approach.  Ritter does perform a series of flashy piano jumps for “Punch” and “Hot Pepper,” which gives these tunes a jazzy jingle vamp, but the album is dominant in sprinkling piano keys and lush silhouettes that may remind you of the music of Bing Crosby.  Even though it was not Bing Crosby who inspired Claire Ritter’s 9th studio album Waltzing the Splendor.

Ritter reveals in the liner notes about the making of the album, “After visiting New Mexico and ‘Ghost Ranch’ a few years ago, I became enthralled with Georgia O’Keefe’s independent spirit as an abstract artist.  Of course, all art is connected and the musical ideas started flowing.  I could see and feel the piano and strings in the desert…All I can figure is composer meets painter – let imagination and nature say the rest.”

Waltzing the Splendor is a sonic portrait of America’s natural landscape.  With a catch phrase like “Going Green” stuck in everyone’s thoughts today, Claire Ritter has sonically gone green interpreting the greenery of America’s pastures into music.  If you never thought of America’s natural landscapes as giant ballrooms, Waltzing the Splendor lets you realize it for yourself.

Tracks: Punch; Over the Rainbow; Integrity; Echo Meadow; Valsa; Four Jazz Serenades for Georgia O'Keefe, Opus 23: No. 1 - OrangeRedYellowGold, No. 2 - Painter's Serenade, No. 3 - Strings in the Desert, No. 4 - Waltzing the Splendor; Telepathy, Hot Pepper, Suppose, Funky Feet, Carolina Canto, Punch, In Between, Waltzing the Splendor, Hot Pepper

Record Label Website:

Artist's Website:

Listen or Buy:


But for my readers, Claire and I are giving away a cd to one reader who answers this question:

What style of music do you enjoy the most and why?

Note: I don't know how to play the piano anywhere near as jazzy as Claire Ritter.  I do, however, know how to finagle a sponsor now and then for a giveaway, and that is just what I did here.  ha ha.  Thank you to Claire Ritter (and Tango) for sponsoring this giveaway!  I love Claire Ritter and I know you will too.  She sure plays a jazzy piano!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Curious Bluebird - and a Contest too!

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Yes, this little guy is real.  My friend, Beth, is convinced he is a prop.  No, Beth, he really exists.  He really does try to get in my house on a regular basis. 

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It all started a couple years ago with us hearing him hit the window time after time after time.  The first time I heard this bird hit my window in the family room I thought, "Geez!  I'll bet he's got a serious head injury!"  But then he kept doing it - flying into my window.  It was then that I began to wonder if he was desperate or stupid. 

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It took a few visits, but he finally figured out how to hit the window without knocking himself out and land safely on a perch outside the windows.  So, that is exactly what he does.

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Now, when I hear a bird hitting a window - I say "a" window because he attempts this at numerous windows around my house - then I know it is our bluebird. 

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What's so funny, is that he lets me get right up next to him from the inside and look at him.  He'll look right back at me as if to say "Okay, buster, I dare ya to try to get me."  So we get into a staring match. 

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As soon as I realize it is our bluebird hitting the window,  I grab my camera and start taking his picture - like I did yesterday when I was in the family room doing all that horrible paperwork.  He started banging on the window in the sunroom which is right off of the family room. 

DSC_0007 by you.

I knew immediately that it had to be our bluebird, so I grabbed my camera.  I got a few good shots of him.  He just looks at me like I'm crazy.  Actually, I'm convinced he is checking out the progress in this house wondering if it is ever going to be finished.  He is probably wondering "When are these people going to get their act together and have this nest cleaned up and organized?" - "Never, Mr. Bluebird.  It's impossible with this bunch."

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So, there you go.  That's my story and I'm stickin' with it. 

We do, however, have other strange creatures visit from time to time.  How'd you like to to into your bathroom and find this on the toilet seat?

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I kid you not.  This little guy keeps trying to take up residence in our bathroom.

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I'm beginning to feel like Snow White - only this house in the forest has 3 little munchkins, 1 big bear, and 1 Momma bear (that's my mother).  I'm the beautiful princess that all the little creatures come to visit.  And I sing to them.  They just love my operatic voice.


They do, however, like my windows and my toilet seats.


PostScript: Naturalist John Burroughs once said that the Eastern Bluebird is the “bird that carries the sky on its back and the earth on its breast.”

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For those of you who would like to know the real story behind "The Mad Bluebird," click HERE.

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I have to say, though, that my bluebird doesn't look "mad."  He just looks "curious."  Anybody out there care to name my curious bluebird?

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To celebrate this glorious event - I am offering an original signed print of "The Mad Bluebird" to the reader whose name I choose to give my "Curious Bluebird." 


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CONGRATULATIONS to Kay L. who wrote: "

"How about "Peeper". He or she looks like a Peeper to me."

You are the proud owner of a signed 5x7 photograph of "The Mad Bluebird" signed by the photographer Michael L. Smith!  I hope you will frame him and give him a place in your home that will remind you of your blessings in life.

Email me at: [email protected] to claim your prize and thank you so much for entering!

After discussing this with my family and going over all the names that my readers suggested, it was a tough decision, but we all agreed that our bluebird definitely looks like a Peeper and should be appropriately named.

Thank you to all my readers for your hilarious comments and bluebird name suggestions.  Peeper will be back again, I am sure, and I will take more pictures when he visits.  Thank you Kay L. for that very appropriate name - Peeper - as that is exactly what he is (when he looks in my window and when he sings as well).

* * * * * * * * * *

Note: I do not know Michael L. Smith, although I do know a Michael W. Smith, but that's an entirely different story that we won't get into here.  As for this contest, I sponsored the whole dang thing and even finagled a signed picture of the mad bluebird from him.  It's an original signed print and I think that is pretty peepers.