Wednesday, December 28, 2005
I Have a New Kid!

This is Mwende, my new sponsored child. She is 5 years old, and lives in Nairobi, Kenya. Her family's annual income is $100. Yes, I said annual income. Mwende has one sister and both her parents are alive, but neither has a job. They try to eke out a living on a small piece of land.

Mwende will be able to go to school now, or as soon as she is old enough. She will get some medical care, some food, some hygiene instruction. I will be able to send her anything I can stuff in an envelope, and a little money two or three times a year. Not too much -- when the whole family survives on $100, $10 or $20 is a lot of money. That's not even the price of a video game!

I think she is adorable, and I already love to picture her eyes lighting up when the letters from America arrive.

I still sponsor M'Backe; in fact, I just received his "report card." I think I've mentioned that he is not much of a writer, but he loves math. He wants to be a math teacher. He just turned 15. I'll continue to sponsor him until he has enough education to support himself. I will never forget one of our guides in Kenya saying that Christian Children's Fund changed his life by allowing him to go to school. What a blessing it is to be able to be a part of that!

posted at 3:42 PM
Comments (14)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Okay, I'm Almost Ready for Christmas Now!!!
Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. I know I did. Having tried to squeeze so much into way too little time, and sleeping about 3 hours a night for weeks in a vain attempt to accomplish it all, made me a little schitzy, though. For example, I had found small bottles of Mexican vanilla to put in my daughters' and DIL's stockings. They were sitting on the island in my kitchen, and I noticed Guppyman snooping around them. I was afraid he would tell PresentStorm, so I took them out of the kitchen & hid them. Trouble was, on Christmas Eve I had no idea where I hid those bottles. I ransacked the house (which was pretty well ransacked even before I started) but could not find those bottles. So at dinner on Christmas Day, I told the girls about their missing bottles of Mexican vanilla, and assured them I would eventually find them. As we were opening presents, Stormii said "Oh look, there's a bottle of Mexican vanilla hidden in my stocking." All the bottles were in their proper place, but even now I have no memory of putting them there.

Unfotunately, today I did this same memory trick with my glasses. They are either in the dressing room at Foley's, or in the ski glove section of Academy, or possibly somewhere in my house where I never put them. I have searched all 3 places, and left my name & number at the stores, but I think tomorrow I will go get a new pair of glasses. Apparently I still have too much on my mind.

Yesterday we drove to Austin to deliver Christmas presents to the Professor's son & family. The little one was sick on Christmas Eve, so they couldn't be with us. We will be gone over New Year's weekend, and they will be gone the next two weekends, so it was now or never. We only got to stay about 40 minutes (which, considering the impossible mood the baby was in, was actually a lo-o-o-ong time) because we had to be in Lake Jackson for the Professor's grandson's birthday that evening. We drove about 500 miles yesterday, but, you know, after the marathon days I've been putting in, it was like a day of total rest.

This is the present I made for Dolphin.
11,897 pieces of yarn -- but who's counting.
She loved it, and that's what mattered. If it had been anyone else, I'm not sure I could have parted with it. She came by her love of nutcrackers honestly.

I did a little shopping today, tomorrow I have to clear up a bunch of paperwork that I sort of ignored before Christmas, plus I have customers calling and emailing even though we're "officially" not working between Christmas & New Year's. On Thursday I will have to take down all the decorations that I just finished putting up, and on Friday we're leaving for Switzerland to ski. We'll be back on the 4th; on the 10th I have to go to Baltimore, and on the 17th, to New Orleans, so it doesn't look like things will be slowing down anytime soon. Anyone know how to keep your memory working when your brain gets so overloaded?

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and will have a wonderful New Year.

posted at 6:53 PM
Comments (3)

Saturday, December 24, 2005
Money Trees & Merry Christmas!

I've been up since midnight doing the last of the baking and wrapping. It's a little too early to start cooking for tonight and tomorrow, and the Professor needs to pick up some of his mess (!) before I can clean, so I figured it was the perfect time to blog about money trees. They are so easy: a styrofoam cone, money, and some small Christmas decorations. Everyone seems to love them, and it's always interesting to see who takes the whole tree home and admires it for awhile, and who takes off with just the money, and leaves the cone, pins and decorations behind. The hardest part is figuring out how many bills it will take to cover the cone. Just in case you're ever stuck for a gift idea....

Off to enjoy my family and this wonderful Christmas holiday. I wish all of you a truly joyous Christmas.

posted at 6:37 AM
Comments (3)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005
We're on the Final Countdown

Three days to go, so much to do...

It's been pretty frantic lately. The trade show ended Thursday noon last week; I went Christmas shopping on Friday since I had put in three very long days. I think if I added up all the hours, they would still owe me a day or two -- but that's sales. Anyway, I got most of my shopping done, and am now working on stocking stuffers. I have a lot of stockings to stuff, as you can see.

The Little Angel had her Christmas pageant at church Saturday night and 3 services on Sunday. The Professor, my mother and I made the Saturday night program, along with most of the LA's relatives from her mother's side -- as one of them once commented, when LA gets up on stage, the whole family shows up. I tried to get some pictures Saturday night, but the lighting was very difficult and everything moved fast. I went back to the early service Sunday morning, this time with my video camera, and was able to get some good video. I don't have any pictures from the performance, but here are the LA, Guppy and my mother right afterwards.

Sunday afternoon the Professor & I tried to meet Guppy, Storm & the LA to see Narnia, but it was sold out by the time we got there. Driving home, I realized I was exhausted and lay down to take a nap. The next thing I knew, the Professor was waking me to talk to some strange woman standing in the middle of my living room. It wasn't until she sat down next to me that I realized it was my daughter, Dolphin! Did I mention I was sleeping really hard? Dolphin had a problem and all I could really do was listen. I hate more than anything to see my kids hurting. I'm cautiously optimistic that it will resolve itself. Anyway, she stayed until pretty late, and then when I had just fallen asleep I got a phone call.

I have been baking, baking, baking, and giving away plates of cookies to my customers. Yesterday I literally emptied all the cookie jars into a box and sent it off to the factory. Now I have to bake all the cookies one more time. But I have to keep those factory people happy; they can make or break me. I am also frantically making one more stocking -- too long and complicated a story to go into. I would show you the neat thing I made for Dolphin, but just in case she has this link, I will wait until after Christmas.

I'm still not sure of the head count, but it looks like about 18 for Christmas dinner. That is actually a smallish number for us, but it still takes a lot of cooking. I also make these sort of meat pies called pasties (that's pahs-ties, not pays-ties!) every Christmas Eve -- again, a lot of work, but they taste so good and it makes the kids feel so loved. (As well it should!) But even with all the work, I LOVE Christmas. This year was especially nice because I had a lot of opportunities to buy presents for people who weren't going to have a Christmas otherwise -- and it is so much more satisfying to buy things than to write a check to a charity. As I told the Professor a while back, we do-gooders are so happy when we can actually do good!

Not that I think anyone will be reading blogs in the next few days, but I'll try to do one more post to show you how I make money trees. I hate writing checks to people, it's way too impersonal, so I have given money inside balloons, tucked into stuffed animals, as coins made into sculptures -- but the money tree seems to be everyone's favorite. Although the first time I made one Guppy's comment was "And you always told me money didn't grow on trees!"

Just in case I don't get back here until after Christmas, I hope everyone has a wonderful, joyous holiday.

posted at 6:19 PM
Comments (4)

Thursday, December 15, 2005
End of a Tough Week
Oh, what a week it's been! I've been at our biggest trade show of the year, which had to be re-scheduled from September because the convention center was full of hurricane evacuees at the time. No one knew what attendance would be like in December. On the one hand, there are almost no plant turnarounds going on, freeing up people, but on the other hand, it's like -- December-- with kid's programs and Christmas shopping to do. There are also a lot of people who worked for two or three months without a day off, struggling to get their plants back up and running after the hurricane damage. As it turned out, attendance was very good. I can't recall a stretch of more than two minutes when there wasn't someone at our booth. Usually I get a chance to walk around and talk to people, but not this year. Then after standing all day at the booth, I had to go to the hospitality suites at night. I was so tired, I only drank ice water. I was afraid even one drink would wipe me out. I'm making this sound like an ordeal, and I guess in a way it is, at least physically, but it's also a lot of fun. I get a lot of leads, see people who are really hard to catch, get a lot of hugs and a couple of job offers, and occasionally even learn something new.

Last night I took some engineers from one of the refineries, and some people from our factory to dinner at the restaurant at the top of the new Hilton in downtown Houston. It was close enough to walk to, and the view was awesome. The food was pretty good, and the bill, for nine of us, came to $902. I tried to pretend like I had ever signed a dinner bill like that before! My boss is always on me to spend more money, and this bunch of engineers told me that whenever I need to run up my expense account, they'll be happy to help me out. See how nice they are?!

This morning was what we used to call "engineering student day" because the professors would bring their classes through to show them the different kinds of machinery. We don't see that much anymore, but we don't see many good leads, either. To liven things up, I wore fake reindeer antlers. They made everyone grin, and I explained to a few people that some days you just wake up horny. One guy was way ahead of me; he said "Nice rack!" It was only later that I realized that that was the first time in my entire life anyone has had reason to say that to me! Is that pathetic, or what!

I spent many years in inside sales/customer service, and I know what a difficult, unappreciated job it is. I try to do as many nice things for my factory people as I can. Every year I send a big box of homemade cookies. Last year, when they were struggling with the moldy carpet which couldn't be removed because it was glued to asbestos tile so they were strewn out all over the building with their files in boxes somewhere else [takes breath], I wrote them a poem very roughly in the style of The Night Before Christmas. This year the problem is orders, more orders than we have capacity for, more orders than we can ship on time, and still they keep flooding in. It called for another poem. This is not completely tweaked yet, but here's my close-to-being-the-final-draft:

Deck the halls with quotes and orders, Fa la la la la, la la la la.
We have had four booming quarters, Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Our shop is full, and how! Fa la la, la la la, la la la
All the customers want it NOW! Fa la la la la, la la la la.

We are making lots of stuff, Fa la la la la, la la la la.
But it never is enough, Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Expediting, tracing shipping, Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Deliveries just keep on slipping, Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Salesmen with weird applications, Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Drawings with new iterations, Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Change in speed and new bore sizes, Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
We need jobs with no surprises. Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Grow the business, do more with less, Fa la la la la, la la la la.
And some days, it's just a mess. Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Salesmen yelling, clients calling, Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
There are times we feel like bawling, Fa la la la la, la la la la.

We are short of inventory, Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Every day, the same old story, Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Santa, bring us this Noel, Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Bolts and steel and inconel, Fa la la la la, la la la la.

We have worked hard all this year, Fa la la la la, la la la la
Now it's time for Christmas cheer, Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Love and peace and joy to all, Fa la la, la la la, la la la,
And have a merry Christmas, y'all, Fa la la la la, la la la la.

posted at 10:06 PM
Comments (5)

Monday, December 12, 2005
Tough Week Ahead!
It's going to be one heck of a week. We have a big trade show which was originally scheduled for mid-September, but unfortunately the George R. Brown convention center was full of Katrina evacuees, and the show had to be re-scheduled. We are all laying bets: on the one hand, there are no plant turnarounds going on now, so there should be more people available to attend. On the other hand, a lot of the usual attendees are still dealing with problems caused by Katrina and Rita -- and, oh yeah, it's almost Christmas and they probably have things to do. It will be interesting to see how attendance is affected by the timing.

I have to pick up someone from the factory at 8:30 this morning, which means I have to leave my house by 7:30 to make it on time. We'll swing by a couple of customers on our way to the George R. where we'll make sure everything is set up properly. Then I promised a couple of people to meet them at a hospitality suite tonight. I'm hoping it's an early night and I can be home by 8:30 or 9:00. The next two days will be 7:30 AM to 11:30 PM. It's tough, but I can make the equivalent of 80 sales calls at this show.

I've been up since 1:30 AM, baking and wrapping and altering the shirts they sent me to wear in the booth. . I am taking 4 inches off the sleeve length, 6 inches off the body length, and 6 inches out of the width. It's that creepy-crawly fabric that slides all over the place, so it's taking forever. I hate doing this, but I would hate even more wearing a short sleeve shirt with sleeves that hang below my elbows!

The Nutcracker was terrific. We took my oldest grandson D-Man and his girlfriend along with the Little Angel. I took my camera but the batteries were dead, so I didn't get any pictures of the LA with the characters. She remembered the ropes from last year, though, and got autographs from the mice and toy soldiers between acts, and from the Snow Queen, Sugar Plum Fairy, Nutcracker, and Clara after the performance. D-Man surprised me by commenting that Cleopatra Williams, who danced Clara, was just a little kid in the corps the last time he saw her. I had no idea he paid that much attention! D-Man's girlfriend seemed to really enjoy it. It was her 1st ballet. I love introducing ballet to people. I bought them all nutcrackers as souvenirs. The LA was so cute -- when I drove her home, she buckled her nutcracker into the seat belt beside her. I really needed my camera.

Hope everyone has a great week.

posted at 5:59 AM
Comments (3)

Saturday, December 10, 2005
How I Know There Is a Santa Claus
It was three days before Christmas. Crabgirl was 3-1/2, Dolphin was almost 2. They had spent the day playing with their cousins. As I was tucking Crabgirl into bed that night, she said "Mama, I know what I want for Christmas. I want a doll house."

There was no doll house hidden in the closet. There was no money in the bank, no paycheck due before Christmas, and no credit card. Not wanting Crabgirl to be disappointed, I told her that Santa wouldn't know that was what she wanted since she hadn't told him. And with the innocent sincerity that only a child has, she answered "But he's watching me!"

I brooded all night long, knowing that Crabgirl's cousin was getting a dollhouse for Christmas. With her cousin's dollhouse right there before her, there was no hope that Crabgirl would forget her wish. Would she remember this all her life: the Christmas she didn't get what she wanted, but her cousin did? Her faith in Santa was so complete. Would this disappointment affect her ability to trust, her optimism, her faith?

The next day I left Crabgirl and Dolphin with my mother while I went to the Green Stamp Store to pick up the toys that I had ordered. The man in front of me in line finished his transaction, turned around and said to me "Could you use some stamps?" Well, of course I could, we were always broke and this was how I got extras. The man handed me a book about 3/4 full.

I gave my name to the woman at the counter. While she went to get my order from the back, I thumbed through the catalog in front of me. There was a doll house! With the pages of stamps I would have left from my transaction, plus most of what the stranger had just given me, I had enough stamps to buy it.

When the woman came back with my order, I asked if there were any doll houses left. She said "Oh no, we've been out of those for weeks." I no longer remember if I begged her, or if she simply saw something pathetic in my face, but she rather grudgingly said she would go look in the back, even though she knew it was a waste of time. I will never forget the look on her face as she returned with the doll house in her arms. She said "Someone must have returned this because I know it wasn't there this morning."

Christmas morning Crabgirl and Dolphin stood in the doorway to the living room, hugging each other and naming what they saw in awed voices. They would not take a step toward the Christmas tree until I coaxed them there. It was pure magic. They had believed whole heartedly, and their faith was rewarded.

I have told this story to each child and grandchild as they got to the age of no longer believing in Santa. There may not be a fat man in a red suit, but there certainly is a Santa Claus. He is busy arranging things behind the scenes, and we are part of his plans. So smile at a stranger, hold the door open for someone, contribute to charity, take cookies to your neighbors, or offer something you don't need to a total stranger. It may seem inconsequential to you, but it may be the very thing that gets a starry-eyed little girl her doll house.

posted at 3:54 AM
Comments (11)

Monday, December 05, 2005
Echanging Tickets
I had tickets for the Saturday night performance of the Nutcracker. Unfortunately, the Little Angel woke up with a fever, so I decided to change the tickets to the following Saturday. (At the time, I thought the way was clear for everyone else; later, I learned that Kritter had a conflict, but that's a whole different story.) I was told to fax my request by noon, and someone would call me. By 1:30, I was getting panicky -- are we going to the ballet tonight or not?? -- so I called again. The conversation went like this:

I have four tickets in will-call for tonight's performance, but we have a sick kid. I faxed my request to change my tickets from tonight to next Saturday, but I haven't heard anything.

I can help you with that. Hold, please. [Nutcracker music.] Okay, I can help you now. Name?

I spell both names.

Could it be under any other name?


Hold, please. [Nutcracker music] Do you have a confirmation number?


Hold, please. [Nutcracker music.] Do you have the tickets?

No, they're in will-call. I said this in my fax.

Oh, I see. Hold, please. [Nutcracker music]

Ma'am, the person who is working on this is on the phone. Could I get your name and I'll have her call you back?

My name is still the same as the one I just gave you.

They just handed me your form, and yes, you are confirmed for four tickets for tonight's performance. You can pick them up at....

As I said in my fax, and again in this call, I'm trying to exchange tonight's tickets for next week because we have a sick child.

Oh, I can help you with that. Hold, please. [Nutcracker music.]

Eventually, she did exchange the tickets, but it took 34 minutes on the phone to do it, and both my Christmas spirit and my love of The Nutcracker Suite were stretched pretty thin by the time we were through.

On the bright side, I now know that if I ever lose my job, I won't have to be a greeter at Wal-Mart. I'm pretty sure I can handle ticket sales at the Houston Ballet!

posted at 9:40 AM
Comments (7)

Mitey Mite

Texas, United States

I am older than dirt, but I still feel pretty young & some call me the Energizer Bunny. I share a house with the Professor & 3 cats. Between us we have 5 grown children, all of whom are productive members of society (!), and 10 grandchildren. I have a job I love, a little money for the 1st time in my life, and so many more things I want to do than I will ever have time for.

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