Posted in Adventures with Brad, Creative Writing, Deep Thoughts, Empowerment, Home

Adventures with Brad – Starting out 2019 with a bang!

Hello dear readers! Happy 2019!

My apologies for being away. December was an insanely busy month – not only with the holidays and a visit to see the family, but also with an unexpected move!

That’s right, Jim and I found a house we instantly fell in love with, and jumped on the chance to take it. So, needless to say… December was a whirlwind. We were officially moved into the new house by mid-December, when we then left for the holidays. It feels like life goes fast forward so suddenly. What about you? Did you guys have an awesome Christmas? It was wonderful for us this year.

So much time has passed since I last wrote.

After moving into our new home, Jim and I decided to have our first group of friends over for dinner. We excitedly asked my coworkers (and friends) Tim and Kristen, and their adorable son Langston, over.

Jim and I carefully planned a menu. We love having people in our home and we love cooking, so this was exciting for us. Having friends check out the new place, enjoying dinner, and some wine sounds like a marvelous evening in my book.

Jim and I planned to make meatloaf, roasted Brussels sprouts, and cheesy mashed potatoes. I ran the menu by Tim and Kristen. Kristen exclaimed with a joy that transcends the English language indicating she loves Brussels sprouts. In her world, they are apparently better than sex.  Yay for us, bad for Tim.

A few days before our dinner, we made the grocery outing to prepare. This is where the Adventure begins… I always say my life should be filmed like a reality show.

We went to Safeway.  Jim has been feeling amazing lately, so we were strolling around the store picking up items we need. Going to the grocery store late in the evening with Jim is one of my favorite things to do. Yes, I know, nerd alert.

So, as we’re strolling through Safeway, and on the internal music system Whitney Houston’s (Rest in peace, Mama H!) “How Will I Know?” comes on. Before even looking at Jim’s face I started smirking, because Jim knows me so well. I finally look up at him and he just gives me his signature Jim blank stare… because he knows I will burst into song.

And, of course I do.

Best part of the night – Jim joins in. So we’re standing in the middle in the cereal and then coffee aisles just belting out “How will I know?” Some of the happiest moments happen when you least expect them. I feel so much joy in spending my life with Jim.

We swing by the produce section to get the rest of our groceries, and discover in horror that the Brussels sprouts bin is completely empty. This news is devastating. Who are we to deprive Kristen of Brussels sprouts goodness? Especially when her response to the mere idea of them was so … orgasmic.

Quickly, I offer, I’ll run to the store across the street on the way home and get them. Crisis averted.

So, we finish up the groceries and go to the check out. The cashier was fairly friendly. I’m my usual self, chatting it up with everyone I come into contact with. But here’s the weirdness… there’s a bagger at the end of the counter like usual. She was a younger woman, maybe high school aged.

She just stared blankly forward as she bagged. She had no expression, no eye contact, no human qualities whatsoever. She just blankly stared and bagged. It was staggering. It was … unsettling. Alarming. Disconcerting. And, well basically downright eerie. It’s hard to describe. I’ve never seen someone so robotic before.

I’m that person that pokes the dragon – I just can’t help it.

Picture it, this odd woman blankly bagging our groceries. I usually offer to help, but I couldn’t. All I could do is lean in and peer at her.

She didn’t even blink or respond.

I wanted to say “you sure seem to love your job” or something snarky, to at least begin a conversation… but I stopped. Just as I was about to say something, I thought, to myself “what is she’s blind, deaf, or mute?” I certainly wouldn’t want to make anyone feel bad for a limitation, so I tried to justify her unusual behavior, and then I felt supremely guilty.

I bit my tongue to force myself to say nothing.

But here’s the kicker… as we walked away, she mumbled, in the lowest volume possible without being silent, a half-assed “have a nice night”

It was weird.

Jim and I pushed our cart by her and just bust out into hysterical laughter.

The thought occurred to me, this is what would happen if Vicky from the 80’s TV show “Small Wonder” got a job.

Random side thought: Does the concept of “Small Wonder” ring off to anyone else? Inventor man creates a robot of a young girl and she sleeps in his closet? And he has to undo her dress to access her computer panel to program her? Maybe I’ve worked in prosecution for too long, but that sounds… alarming.

We leave and head across the street. To make it simple, I run into the store solo while Jim waits in the car.

And the adventure continues…

So I’m in store, it’s around 7:30 at night. The store is almost completely empty, just the way I like it. There were only 2 visible employees.

I briskly walk to the product section and horror of horrors, I step on a ketchup packet and it sprays all over the floor. If you know anything about me, you know that condiments horrify me. It’s the texture, the liquidness, the oiliness of them – the only words are blarrrggh.

Condiments – liquidy ewiness. Horrifying is the only word. Sour cream, mayonnaise, Miracle whip, ranch dressing, mustard. The concept of touching them, wading through them, it plagues me. I’d sooner die.

I’m aware that I’m in public and have to overcome  my horror,  but in my head I was screaming like the first victim to die in a horror movie.

Second crisis, there were no Brussels sprouts to be found. None. No sign, no empty bin, nothing.

I strolled to the cashier and said “so… am I just an idiot, or are there no Brussels sprouts?”

She responds with the loudest yell I’ve ever heard in a grocery store in my life. “We don’t have em? PETER! PETER! DO WE HAVE BRUSSELS SPROUTS?”

I was reacting with my eyes as if the camera from “The Office” is on me.

So, Peter appears and he walks around the produce section aimlessly and I follow him. I approach the ketchup packet murder scene and gingerly step over the spray. Suppressing a gag.

Again, I wish there was a camera crew following me sometimes.

He just stopped aimlessly searching and dryly said “I guess we have none”.

I politely thanked him for his “help” and walked out empty handed.

I walked back to the car in defeat, and the look on Jim’s face was so sad. No bag in my hand. We MUST have Brussels sprouts.

So, we stop at Walmart, the metaphorical scab on my knee.

I ninja style stealth it into the store, power walk to the produce, grab ALL of the Brussels they have, and high tail it to the self-checkout to get the f out of there.

Voila, we have Brussels sprouts.

It felt like Gulliver’s Travels. Worst part ever, when I close my eyes I envision the ketchup packet over and over again. I hope I can recover.

The dinner was a smashing success. I love my friends, and I’m looking forward to many, many more dinner and wine evenings together. Hopefully sans any more ketchup disasters. It’s a wonder I was able to eat again.

Posted in Bows, Christmas, Christmas Decor, Christmas Tree, DIY, Holidays, Home, Home Decor, Homo-made, Ornaments, Ribbon, Tips, Wooden Crates

What do I do with my extra ornaments?

After finishing my village and Christmas tree, I had a boat-load of extra “filler” ornaments that went unused. After watching the classic Christmas cartoon “Noel” as a child… I just can’t not use them. So, this evening, I came up with a really fun idea.

Read on to see how I did it!

Ornament Filled Wooden Crate

Step 1:
Use a wooden crate

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I purchased this skinny wooden crate for $5 at Michael’s. I’ve used it for a variety of purposes in my home decor, and tonight, I grabbed it for this new idea.

Crate painted brown

 

I had painted it a dull “blend-in-with-the-background-brown, previously.

Sorry for the crappy pic.

Step 2:
Choose a ribbon


I found this spool of ribbon for only $1 at… you guessed it, Dollar Tree. Cheap and easy. Just like your mom. Sorry… heh.

I used some hot glue and stretched it tight across the edges of the crate.

Step 3:
Make a bow

I used to same ribbon, with some red as a backing, and made a simple, small bow. If you don’t know how to make your own bow, check out step 2 of my Christmas Tree tutorial here.

I then used a spot of hot glue to fasten the bow to the wooden crate.

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Step 4:
Fill it up

Once the hot glue dried, I then filled up the crate. To cut down on the ornaments needed, I placed batting in the bottom. Then I filled it with assorted globe ornaments, and voila! You know have a simple and homemade, homo-made ornament basket with custom bow. I hope you love it!

The whole project took me less than 15 minutes. Let me know if you make one!

 

Posted in Bows, Christmas, Christmas Decor, Christmas Tree, Collection, Department 56, Disney, DIY, Holidays, Home, Home Decor, Homo-made, Jim, Make Your Own Bow, Ornaments, Reflections, Ribbon, Tips

How to PERFECTLY Decorate Your Christmas Tree!

Finished Christmas TreeEvery fall, as the holiday season approaches, I become more and more excited to decorate my home for Christmas! No, Scrooge, it’s not because of the commercialization of Christmas; rather, it’s because of the joy I get from opening, inspecting, and placing each of my decorations around the home. It adds a special warmth, a glow, and a happiness to my home each Christmas season, something that you just can’t describe. It’s a feeling that escapes words… a feeling of happiness and joy, remembrances of fond memories, promise of new memories & excitement, plus a dash of holiday magic.

I hear so many people complain as Christmas approaches “Oh God… I have to set up my tree”, or “It takes forevvveeerrr”, “I have to make time to decorate…”, etc. I decided to show a step by step guide to decorating my tree, my way. If you don’t like it my way, obviously, go seek out the thousands of other Christmas tree tutorials, but if you’re interested, read on to see how I do Christmas the Brad way.

Step 1:
YOU DON’T NEED A FANCY TREE!

Plain tree with white lights
I use an artificial tree for many reasons. We’ve had a real tree in the past, but it’s just kind of messy. I’ve found using an artificial tree is just a lot simpler. There are so, so, so many different kinds of artificial trees on the market, some very expensive and elaborate, and some simple. I live in a small apartment with limited space, so I chose an inexpensive ($50!) 6 foot tree.  It’s not pre-lit, but that’s ok with me because I’d rather light it myself and control all aspects. Think like bakers and cooks: It’s the equivalent of using unsalted butter. It just helps you control the final outcome better.

Once you open the tree, take the time to shape each branch. Pro tip: Put on some thin winter gloves to protect your hands if your skin gets dry in the winter. Once the tree is shaped how you’d like, add lights. I only used white this year, but use whichever color you love. Stand back from the tree and look for unlit spots. Make sure you light the tree as evenly as possible.

Step 2:
Add your Angel, Star, or Bow FIRST.

This is probably a controversial opinion. But, like I said, this is my way. Once my tree is shaped and the lights are added, I add my topper. If you choose a star, or an angel, put it on now. It helps you keep the tree organized, full, and helps you know exactly where to place each ornament. I like to place ornaments close to the topper, so when I’m adding them near the end, I won’t have to do any guess work. For my topper this year, I decided to make a bow out of some burlap ribbon. You don’t know how to make a bow? It’s easier than you think.

  1. First, use wire edged ribbon. It doesn’t have to be an expensive ribbon, but the cheaper stuff is a little harder to form into nice shape. I say go middle ground.
  2. Allow 3 or 4 inches of the ribbon to be the tail, and pinch the ribbon to gather it into a bunch like in pic 2.
  3. Create a loop at your desired length above the pinch and then add the end of the loop to the pinch spot held by your thumb and finger like in pic 3.
  4. Repeat step 3 again, as many times as you’d like, always gathering the pinch at the same place. Work slowly and if you mess up, it’s ok! It’s just ribbon. Pics 4 & 5.
  5. Then, use a zip tie. Lie it flat on your workspace (my couch, haha!) and place the bow over it. Pull tight with your other hand.
  6. Once the bow is held together tightly, adjust and shape each loop.

My bow this year was made out of the burlap ribbon, and I added a little classic red in to give it an extra pop.

Burlap Bow

Step 3:
Add your Garland or Ribbon.

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Probably the second of my controversial opinions – I add the garland or ribbon before ornaments. I think adding it first gives the ribbon or garland some room to breathe, and you can adjust it when adding ornaments if needed.

I used the same ribbon from the bow, and cut three tree lengths. Since my tree is small and in a corner, I ran one ribbon streamer down the front center, and one on each side. You can easily fasten the tops of the streamers to the tree with bent wire ornament hangers.

The secret is to gently tuck the ribbon into the tree branches naturally, and let it fall. I fastened when necessary with a bent ornament hanger. Don’t let it look too forced, and don’t keep it taught across the top of the tree. Weave it in and out. It’s part of the tree!

Step 4:
Add your Filler Ornaments.

Once the ribbon or garland is how you’d like it, then you add your filler ornaments. These are inexpensive ornaments that really “fill” up the tree, hide the blank spots, and make it look like a million bucks.

I use 8 larger ornaments and hang them from the inside of the tree or on the far edges, to make it look a lot fuller than it does. And then I add 40-50 smaller globe ornaments. I use a large selection of shiny, dull, and glittery to add a lot of dimension.

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As you add the filler ornaments, the tree begins to really get full and have an attractive shape. *I added a LOT more than this, but I’m missing the second photo. Sorry!*

Step 5:
Add your Theme Ornaments.

These are the ornaments that take your tree from looking like a department store tree to looking like your family’s tree. Use your favorite characters, your Hallmark ornaments, sentimental pieces passed down from family members that are gone, and any and every thing you find fun, interesting, or exciting for your tree.

I use TONS of Disney ornaments, plus Jim has a large selection of Simpsons and Christmas Vacation ornaments. We have ornaments for the 13 years we’ve been together with the year from each year, homemade ornaments from family members, and mementos from trips we’ve taken. Check out a selection below:

After filling the tree, next to it, I added filler ornaments to a glass bowl, and placed a few decorative items on a shelf. I displayed my classic Lenox Mickey ornaments Jim’s grandmother started (and his mom continued after Tutu passed). I also placed the wooden reindeer and snowman my parents made when I was a child, and Jim’s collection of snow globes he started with his grandmother.

And here is the final product. After a lot of work and planning, I’m incredibly proud of my Christmas tree for 2018. I think it makes our home incredibly warm and happy, and I think Jim really likes it, too.

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I hope you learned something in reading this blog post. Please let me know in the comments below what you do each year, and what you think!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone reading!

Posted in Christmas, Christmas Decor, Department 56, Disney, DIY, Holidays, Home, Home Decor, Homo-made, Tips

My 2018 Christmas Village

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Black Friday, as many people rush out early for door-busters, I continue my time honored tradition of setting up my North Pole & Disney Christmas Village.

It takes an entire day. This year I started at 9AM, and worked on it until 10PM, with a few brief interruptions. It takes a lot of time, but setting up the display is something I absolutely love doing.

It’s really challenging to photograph a village display in a way that allows the glow to show without the colors being too dark. In my opinion, the flash ruins the beauty. So, here in gallery form, is the entire village above my kitchen cabinets, at night, with no flash, from left to right. Plus, it starts with one panoramic view. Enjoy!

I put a tremedous amount of thought into my houses. If you’re interested in my process, read on:

My village consists primarily of the Department 56 North Pole Collection. I’ve mentioned my parents started me on the village. If you want to read about this, click here, here, and here. I have Disney houses from Mickey’s Christmas Village, also produced by Department 56, mixed in.

This year, I allowed my village to go double-decker and take over the entire top of my kitchen cabinets. I purchased 3 shelves from Menards to add height, and also to allow me to display all 57(!) of my lit houses. This new design allowed me to feature all of the Disney houses, together, on one side of the U shape.

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On another shelf, the “main” shelf that you can primarily see from the living room, I feature the classics. I started with the North Pole Palace, featuring Mr. and Mrs. Claus, The Elf Bunkhouse, Sleigh and 8 Tiny Reindeer, the Reindeer Barn, Rudolph’s Reindeer Stable featuring Rudolph and Clarice from the classic Rankin/Bass stop-motion cartoon, and Santa’s lookout tower. Those 5 lit houses and accessories seemed appropriate to feature on the main shelf. *Those of you with a keen eye may notice the two visitors next to the tower. They don’t match the wardrobe of the rest of the North Pole. When my grandmother passed away I took that little accessory from her hodge-podge village collection, and now it brings me comfort to think that my grandparents are watching over me, especially at Christmas. Is it silly, yes, but I just don’t care. I’m a sentimental man.*

Beneath the main shelf are other North pole “must haves” Santa’s Rooming House, The Hall of Records, The Glass Ornament Factory, The Weather Observatory, The Elfin Forge & Assembly Shop, and of course, the classic North Pole gate.

classics

I’m incredibly proud of my collection. Others may think it’s silly or childish, but to me, it feels incredibly rewarding. It does take an immense amount of money (I’ve collected for YEARS), time, effort, and planning, but the reward is immeasurable. The warm glow of my village can be seen from my living room, and from outside my main window for the random passerby.

I’ve included some other photos because I just couldn’t help myself:

At top left, Mr. and Mrs. Claus greet visitors. Top right, Santa checks his list in front of the Hall of Records. Middle right are two of my very favorite Mickey pieces. The first came from my parents and was my very first Department 56 house.

Bottom left shows the awesome glow the bubble light factory leaves on the ceiling. Bottom left center are two pieces from the Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Next is a beautiful winter scene with some classics, and the last, at bottom right, is the classic North Pole Gate with Mickey and Minnie in their Christmas best welcoming you to this magical land.

I could show hundreds of photos, but you get the idea. I’ve featured the best I could.

As I said, the display takes an entire day. Yes, it can be overwhelming. But, the important thing is to go in steps. You have to go slowly, and plan your way.

The first thing I do is clear the space where the houses are going. Then, I open each house and ready them.

Awaiting Placement

Then, I started with some of my risers for the scenes.

Shelves

After I am ready to get started, I place each house in it’s future home. I also add in random Christmas boxes and cookie tins for risers.

As you can see, it doesn’t start out looking beautiful. But, you start placing houses and setting the “story.”  I move them around, create collections, clusters, and then I move one again, and again, and again. If someone watched me, they’d think I was insane, but I want the “story” to be just right. It’s fun to pretend.

Then, you start plugging in each house. Yes, cords will be everywhere. Yes, it can be daunting, but just go with it. Luckily, a friend gave me a 20-bulb strand, and I had a couple of 6 bulb strands. But, I had to use many, many single lightbulbs. That’s a lot of plugs! But, once they are all in place and the lights are working, you just cover everything with batting to make it look like snow. Batting fixes everything! My hubbie set it up with a TP-Link Kasa Wi-Fi enabled outlet, so I can control the entire power strip from my phone, or through voice command on Google Home or Amazon Alexa. Isn’t technology great?! No need to get up and down from the cabinets to turn on a power strip.

Work in Progress

Once the batting is in place and all cords are hidden, I place my people and my trees. Most of my people/accessories have logical places, but some are more generic and I place them wherever works in my mind, and on my canvas. I use the trees to add height, dimension, and color. I have a variety of types, from inexpensive bottle brush style, to cold cast ceramic and hand painted. I even use some non-Department 56 trees, like some glass ones Jim picked up for me at Costco years ago. And I have 3 flat silhouette style cutouts of winter trees with glittery snow on them that I put at the back of each shelf. The variety adds a level of realness to the village.

It’s hard to believe it sounds so simple that it only takes a couple of paragraphs to explain. But, yes, I started at 9AM and put the finishing touches on at 10PM. Here’s the final product one more time:

The Finished Product

Do you collect a village? I’d love to hear about it. Comment below!

Posted in Anxiety, Deep Thoughts, Home, Reflections

A Visit to St. Louis

It’s hard to explain the emotional difficulty of traveling to visit “home” when you haven’t lived there for a number of years. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love seeing my friends, my family, and all of the people that I love. It’s not them. I’m thrilled to see them, to reminisce about old times, to catch up, tell jokes, and allow hilarity to ensue.

What I don’t love is this unsaid feeling of not belonging anymore. It’s this feeling, always floating there on the surface. You strive to get rid of the feeling, it just muddies up everything else. I equate it to skimming the fat and grease off the top of a delicious dinner that’s just about finished. It’s there, it doesn’t really ruin it, but it does successfully make it imperfect. If you’ve never moved from home, and then later visited, you’ll never understand this feeling. Everything feels different, but exactly the same, simultaneously. It’s like I’m watching a 3D movie in the theater, and enjoying it through the glasses, but I’m also peeking over the top of them and seeing the distorted not-quite-right video play.

I’m proud of my ability to make everywhere that Jim and I have moved feel like “home”. When we moved to Los Angeles, I was terrified. Terrified to leave home, to leave everything that I knew, was familiar with, and to step out into the unknown. I didn’t like change. But I adapted. I grew a lot. I found so much more strength in myself than I ever knew I had.

Later, we moved back to St. Louis, and settled back into our former life. And then when Jim’s medical disaster happened. It was a huge ordeal. It took a lot of emotional resources, a lot of patience, and a lot of energy from me. It changed me, forever. But again, I found so much more strength within me than I realized I had.

When the time came to move to South Dakota, I was ready to embrace change again. It felt good to metaphorically press the “reset” button on our life, again. It felt right to live somewhere where the “old” Brad and Jim had never existed. It’s hard to feel depressed about what happened to us, when our present situation never existed in the pre-medical disaster world. Starting over was hard. And scary. But, also, once more I found another well of strength deep within me.

So that leads up to today. We’ve lived in Rapid City for 3 years now. It feels like home. It is home.

When we visit St. Louis, though, the inevitable question is posed. By everyone. “When are you guys moving back home?” It’s hard to hear over and over again. And, trust me, I know it comes from a place of love. I understand that our friends and family want us there all the time. And I too, wish for that. That’s what makes it so hard to hear. I want it, but I also don’t. I know that we’ve established a life in South Dakota. I have a job I love that really matters, I feel really rewarded by it. My coworkers are amazing. Jim absolutely loves working at CVS – they have been so good to him. We have a small, close-knit group of wonderful friends. We live near so much natural beauty. The Black hills are natural mood enhancers. They existed long before big pharma mass marketed everything under the sun to solve the world’s emotional problems.

What sucks about moving isn’t the actual moving. While that is a challenge, it’s a finite amount of time. What sucks is that you split yourself in half, and then in half again. You establish, and grow in a new area. You find part of yourself that you didn’t know was buried within. It feels like the more easily you adapt, the more you are punished if it’s time to make a change again. I don’t want to move back to St. Louis, and leave the half of my life in South Dakota that I love. I also don’t want to live in South Dakota, and miss the half of my life that is still in St. Louis. It’s incredibly overwhelming, and I can’t please everyone. I’m at an emotional impasse. Jim and I discuss this so much, and we don’t know what to do. I can’t speak for Jim, this is obviously a personal blog, but I think he feels a lot of the same things.

I’m not looking for an answer from anyone, because there is no “right” answer. I just want to explain how overwhelming it is to feel this way.