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An Alien Adventure

Alien 07 Group

We’re missing one Adventurino because somebody had to take the picture. Thanks, Paula!

“We,” I declared one day not long ago, “are in danger of becoming boring.”

We were, too. Work, family issues, the daily trudge through activities with little to break the monotony…it was starting to wear down my little group of friends. So I declared one Saturday a month “Adventure Day.”

Seven Adventurinos signed on to the plan but only five were available for our first adventure on Saturday. The weather postponed Plan A (we’ll try to get to that next month) so we went with Plan B: Alien Adventure. With Martin Luther as our mascot, our intrepid team headed west to see the…site.

Alien 001 Martin

Alien 06 Sculpture1

It seems that back in 1897 a silver cigar-shaped alien ship collided with a windmill in Aurora, Texas. Neither the ship nor the pilot survived. Rather than getting too excited about it—calling in the government, doing any scientific study, putting the creature on display—the townsfolk of Aurora buried the unfortunate visitor from another world in their town cemetery. Neighborly of them, don’t you think?

Alien 01 Sign

And that pretty much was that. At the time, I doubt it occurred to the good people of Aurora that 120+ years later a group of women would drive from McKinney to see the alien’s final resting place. But how often do you get the opportunity to visit the grave of someone from another world?

Alien 02 Cemetery

The original tombstone was stolen a while back, but the spot is currently marked with a large stone and a wooden cross. It’s to the right of the entrance, under a tree near the front.

After paying our respects and having a good wander around the cemetery (we like a good cemetery), we set out for the next feature of interest.

Alien 09 winery2

TF Vineyard, where we enjoyed a little wine and conversation…

Alien 08 winery

Which led us to dinner at Go Go Gumbo in the, um, metropolis of Boyd.

Alien 18 GoGoSign

Our new friends at the winery assured us it would be fabulous—and it was!

Alien 10 GoGo

The entrees were all delicious and the desserts were the stuff dreams are made of.

Alien 16 DessertSign

Alien 17 Dessert

Sadly, I’m part of a Sugar-Free Challenge at work so I couldn’t have dessert (though I can neither confirm nor deny that I may have tried them…all).

It was a sweet ending to a delightful day. Hopefully it was just the first of a long string of adventures!

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Murder on the Orient Express


Orient Express 1

The much-ballyhooed, star-studded version of Agatha Christie’s classic is out.

What’s Good:

The cinematography is gorgeous. The use of light—interior and exterior—is stunning. So are the scenery and that glorious train. Sigh. We should all travel in such style.

Johnny Depp is so good as Ratchett, a slimy “exporter” of dubious goods, you forget he’s Johnny Depp. Josh Gad also has some nice moments as Ratchett’s beleaguered assistant. Michelle Pfeiffer is a little over the top, but so is her desperate, man-hungry character.

And hello: the story. Does anybody not know how this one ends? It doesn’t matter; the fun is in the journey, not the destination.

What’s Not So Good:

I don’t know who Kenneth Branagh thinks he’s playing, but he’s not Poirot. At least, he’s not any Poirot I know. He’s too tall, too gloomy, and much too athletic. It’s been a while since I read the original but I don’t recall Agatha Christie having her elderly, sedentary sleuth race after a suspect wielding his walking stick as a weapon. I’m not buying that bit with the poo on the shoe, either. Non. Non, mon ami, Poirot this is not he. Not even with that monumental double-decker moustache – which, btw, this “Poirot” never seems to notice is on his face. There’s no thoughtful smoothing of the facial hairs while the “leetle grey cells” are at work. He doesn’t talk about his little grey cells, either; another character has to bring them up. He does talk to the photo of his former girlfriend (what?) but whatever. If you don’t know Poirot, you may be fine with this version but I found it distracting.

As director, Branagh focuses so much on his own character that the rest of the star-studded cast barely has a chance to make an impact. It’s always tricky when there are so many people to follow, but one couple were such nonstarters we couldn’t even remember who they were supposed to be. And bless them, several seemed miscast. I’ll happily watch Judi Dench do pretty much anything, but just between us this was more of a Maggie Smith role. Penélope Cruz seemed like an odd choice, too…but as noted, the supporting cast didn’t have the chance to do much.

Go or No Go:

If you’re a mystery fan, especially a fan of British mysteries, then yes. If somehow you don’t know this story, then absolutely yes. There’s no need to rush, though—I expect this one will be in the dollar theater soon and that’s about all I’d be willing to spend.

Rating:  PG-13 for violence and thematic elements

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The convention center was wall-to-wall women ooh-ing and ah-ing over stickers, paper, stamps, and the latest in paper craft technology. Most of our group was wedged in the back of a booth, weighing the relative merits of border makers. Having already cast my vote, I explained to a hovering salesperson why I did not require her attentions.

“We shop as a group. We pay monthly dues and share supplies  . . .” Before I knew it I was surrounded by scrapbookers eager to know more. “That’s such a good idea!” “I would save so much money that way.” “My husband would LOVE that.”

It’s really not that complicated. Here’s a rundown on the Scrappy Bunch’s uber-efficient, cost-effective system for supporting our scrapbooking addiction.

The Characters:  The Scrappy Bunch has been meeting more or less monthly for over a decade. We make scrapbooks, we create cards or crafts, we engage in group therapy. Some months we knock out an impressive amount of work. Sometimes “scrapbooking” looks a lot like sitting on the couch eating junk food and watching movies. It’s all good.

The Setting:  These days we meet at Michelle’s house because she has room to store all our crap important supplies and she has a space big enough for all of us to work in the same area. We start noonish, often with a potluck lunch, and go until we decide to stop. The monthly calendar is set at our annual retreat so we can plan our lives around our scrappy days.

The Problem: For years we talked about going on a scrapbooking retreat but when it came time to pony up most of us were short on cash. Then there was all the fabulous scrapbooking paraphernalia available: fancy electronic cutters, embossers, stamps, and so on. Those things do not come cheap—but did that stop us from wanting them? Do you really have to ask?

The Solution:  Since we scrap together, it was redundant for each of us to have all the toys; it made so much more sense to share. After “I’ll buy this, you buy that” got too complicated we decided to pool our resources and pay monthly dues into a supply fund. Now when we find something we all want, we dip into the fund and purchase it for the team. We also use that money for basic paper, embellishments, tape runners, and the like. The end result is that we could probably open our own store out of Michelle’s craft room. (Since we scrap at her place our shared supplies live there too.)

In addition to the group stash, each of us keeps a basic set of equipment and supplies:  paper cutters, specialty pens and pencils, the all-important “MPT” (multi-purpose tool), and any unique papers or decorative bits only we will use.

But wait! It gets better:  As long as we were making monthly payments it was a no-brainer to kick in a little extra for a retreat fund. So we divided the retreat cost into twelve easy payments and now we enjoy annual getaways PLUS we’re the proud owners of any gadget our scrappy hearts desire, all for a low monthly fee. We picked up a few “retreat only” members along the way—they don’t live close enough to make the monthly gatherings—so they pay only the retreat portion of the dues.

Caveat: We’re able to do this because:

  1. We’ve been at this a while and we know we’re going to continue getting together to make things
  2. One of our members is meticulous at accounting so there is no concern our money will go astray

I wouldn’t recommend jumping in to the whole monthly dues/shared stuff model with people you just met, but if you have a Scrappy Bunch of your own you might want to try it out. We’ve been doing it this way for years and we love it.

Hey, this post includes Amazon affiliate links and if you click on one and buy the thing I’ll get a few pennies, which I will put toward my Scrappy Bunch dues. The links are all for things we actually use. Just wanted you to know.

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wonder woman 2

Photo by Clay Enos © 2015 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC

Finally, a female superhero with her own movie! Diana, princess of the Amazons, was raised on a secret island paradise and trained to be a warrior among warriors. When an American pilot crashes his plan in her harbor, Diana learns of a massive global conflict going on outside her island’s boundaries. (We know that conflict as WW1.) Believing that she can stop this war—and all future wars—Diana leaves her home to fight for truth, justice, and peace.

The preview was full of promise:  Great casting, rocking music, funny lines, a she-ro who can stand up to bad guys and look good doing it.  On paper, this movie had everything going for it. Gal Gadot for the title role: check. Chris Pine for adorable good guy: check. An interesting assortment of misfits to serve as sidekicks: check. Evil geniuses, nefarious plots, the fate of the world hanging in the balance: check.

wonder woman - steve

I mean, seriously. I’d follow him off the island.

It should have been fabulous, but it just . . . wasn’t. That’s not to say Wonder Woman is bad—it has many redeeming qualities. The scenes with Steve’s scrappy secretary, Etta (Lucy Davis) are worth the price of admission, as are the beautifully-choreographed fight scenes. Nice use of stop action and slow motion in those fights, too; just enough to show us moves we’d miss at full speed but not so much as to be silly. The costumes are gorgeous, the look and feel are appropriately epic. There’s a little humor sprinkled here and there.

wonder woman - ella

We need more Etta.

But for all that, Wonder Woman never manages to touch the heart. I blame the script: it had a been there, done that, worn out the t-shirt already feeling. One climactic moment was lifted out of the Captain America handbook. The humor was often more awkward than funny. In an effort to play up Diana’s naiveté—after all, she was brought up on an isolated island with nary a man in sight—she sometimes comes off as just plain dumb. About the third time she advanced on a villain with her sword raised, intoning, “I am Diana, princess of [whatever]” all I could think was “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…” The Princess Bride, this is not.

And that rocking music from the preview? That riff shows up occasionally but does not play well with the rest of the soundtrack. It’s as if they bought those few bars from one composer then sent out for a batch of generic music and tried to cobble the two together. No. Just no.

This is a DC Comic story, not Marvel, so don’t bother waiting through the credits. Just take your empty popcorn tub and go, glad that Diana lived to fight another day. That day will come in November, when Wonder Woman returns in Justice League. 

Rating:  PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content

Go or No Go:  Go, but I wouldn’t pay evening prices for this one. Opt for a matinee or wait for cable.


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Backsplash Redo

After surviving performances in seventeen (17!) Christmas concert events of one kind or another, I had to nap…but after a few days I crawled out and decided it was time to deal with my outdated kitchen backsplash. Here it was:ImageVery late 80’s/early 90’s, no? Ah, hunter green. I loved you then. But that was so very then.

Someday I’ll change several things about my kitchen, not least those horrid orange cabinets, the countertops, and of course, the boring tile backsplash. But until that day comes, I decided ditching the green would be a happy interim solution. What’s the worst that could happen? It could look atrocious and then I’d have to chip out that section of tile and replace it with mosaic or something. I figured that was worth a $6 gamble (cost of paint & brushes). And indeed it was. Here’s the after: ImageThat’s Martha Stewart’s multi-surface paint in Tartan Red. I cleaned the tiles, wiped them down with alcohol, then taped and painted. I found the best method was to get paint on the tile with a small foam brush, then run over it with a foam roller to smooth it out. Once dry I applied a coat of sealer and there you go. My Williamsburg pub sign is attached with those Contact adhesive strips, everything goes better with the new color, and I’m a happy camper.ImageWill it hold up to heavy cooking & cleaning? We’ll see. If not, well, that will be an excuse to do a little tiling.

Next project: writing down everyone’s phone number–you know, the old fashioned way, with pen and paper–just in case I lose my phone and want to talk to anyone ever again. What’s next on your project list?

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No, not toppings for your toast. Tops for your toaster. And therein lies a story . . .


One day Julie Condy saw her husband spraying down the kitchen counter with cleaner. He must have gotten a little carried away with the spraying part because the toaster was sitting on the counter and some of the spray went down inside the toaster slots. “Right after that,” Julie says, “I was getting ready to make some toast and thought that’s really gross.” (And, when you think about it, it is.)

 So Julie started looking for some kind of topper for her toaster. She didn’t want one of those granny fabric cozies; she was hoping for something a little more modern. But there didn’t seem to be anything out there . . . so Julie decided to make her own. She applied for a patent, found a manufacturer, and started making Toaster Tops.

Don’t you love that kind of attitude? How often have you had a great idea but let it die on the vine? I spoke to Julie the other day about her Toaster Top adventure and asked about her biggest challenge getting her concept off the ground. “The hardest thing at first was to find the right manufacturer for the plates,” she told me. “Because it was a new idea and obviously I wasn’t going to buy a lot to start with it was hard to get anybody to even return the phone call.” But she persevered and “now I have one I’m really happy with; they’re actually here in Garland.” Garland, Texas, that is, home to the Toaster Tops empire, which is currently taking over Julie’s house. “The whole dining room has been converted. We have a sign that says ‘Toaster Top Studio’ because it has tables all around with shelves and the garage and now the office…”


Not only are Toaster Tops functional, they’re adorable. Here’s the fun thing: the top itself is a metal plate that comes in various sizes so you can find one that fits your toaster. That part isn’t so adorable, but the knobs…they’re cute as all get out. They’re interchangeable, too, so you buy one plate then you can change out the knobs according to season, occasion, or mood. You get kitchen décor that doesn’t take up any extra space on your counter. Christmas shopping, anyone?


Now, I think the product is great but even more than that, I love hearing stories about people who saw a need and decided to fill it. Especially when they’re practically neighbors.


“It’s sort of a family affair,” Julie said. “My husband and I have a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old; they have been living and breathing this the whole time with us. Now my daughter is coming up with a whole line of clothing and starting her own business. It’s been great to see them getting so involved and learning so much from it.”  The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Texas!


 Quick Q&A w/Julie

How many toasters do you own? Nine.

Do you eat a lot of toast? I just went gluten-free so I’m trying to find gluten-free toast.

What’s next? We’re planning to open up a retail store then also sell toasters and wine stoppers—fun gift ideas.

Any plans to branch out into other appliances? We have so much we can do with the toasters right now.  We’re going to keep trying to make that work really well, then we’ll look at different areas. Maybe more decorative knobs, maybe get into wine stoppers. There are so many exciting things!


You can see the whole line and order a Toaster Top or two at http://www.shop.toastertops.com/main.sc


Keeping it legal: this is not a sponsored post, but after we spoke, Julie did send me a sample Toaster Top. The little cat knob looks just like my Henry, right down to the slightly worried expression. Love. Guess I’ll have to break down and replace my dead toaster now.

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Cook Off Today!

If you’ve been following our Spar for the Spurtle adventure (and really, isn’t everyone?) you may recall that I sadly, did not make the finals but, happily, Kerri did.

Well, peeps, the cook off is today. Kerri is in Portland touring Bob’s Red Mill (with Bob himself) and preparing to create her delicious dish this afternoon. She’s going to do some guest posts when she gets back, to give us an insider’s view of the competition.

But today, she’s cooking for the chance to go to Scotland and compete in the World Porridge Championship. So prayers and good wishes appreciated and when I find out the results I’ll let you all know!

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That’s what the bumper sticker on my car says and it speaks the truth. Last week I was involved in the Berlioz Te Deum. (We got excellent reviews, btw—but then it was mighty loud and we Texans do like loud. Five cymbals. Count ‘em. Five.)

This week it’s all about Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which we’re doing later this month. It’s a wonderful work, but it’s also quite long, in German, and my part alone has roughly a zillion notes. (Some of them are not quite what one might expect, either. Ol’ Johann was tricky like that.) I’ve about determined that my choir (there are two in this piece) is pretty much there to call down curses; it seems like we’re always spitting out German in a hostile manner. But the ending…ah, the ending. It’ll rip your heart out.

So I’d love to stay and chat and upload pics of my daffodils and tell you all about landscape school…but I can’t (right now). I have rehearsal.

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Charles Dickens would have been 200 today.

My first memory of Dickens’ work was reading Great Expectations in junior high English class. I hated it. (Pip was a loser, Estella was a mean girl, and Miss Haversham needed to suck it up and get on with her life. I was full of grace and forgiveness at twelve.)

It’s a wonder that I ever gave him another chance, but I’ll always remember reading A Christmas Carol for the first time. In the first page or so the author wanders off into a tangent about “why do we say ‘dead as a doornail’? Wouldn’t a coffin nail be more dead than a doornail?” and I realized I had discovered a kindred spirit.

Then there was the time I waded through A Tale of Two Cities only to find I could hardly read the last few pages through my tears. (When they’re going up the steps to the guillotine and Sydney Carton is so sweet to the doomed, innocent, little dressmaker in the face of his own imminent death. . . oh my.)

Mind you, such noble characters are kind of counteracted by that useless little twerp David Copperfield married (clearly I’m still working on that grace and forgiveness thing). But never mind. The point is that such characters (even the annoying ones)—and the talented author who created them—deserve to be celebrated.

So happy birthday, Mr. Dickens! You’ve provided many happy (and some irritated) hours of reading pleasure to millions. Thanks for sharing your work with us.

Do you have a favorite Dickens story? What is it and why do you like it?

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