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Sunday, May 31, 2009

How sweet it is.

Lovely macarons.

Except it isn't, but I'll get to that. This past week was a bit of a downer, so I thought, why not post about something else that's sweet? You can't have enough sweet in your life, right (Plus, I still have a backlog of photos to upload)?

And there's nothing sweeter than macarons (Except for Daisy.). Not macarOOns, although those are quite good too. Coconut macaroons were my grandfather's favorite cookie. They're quite prevalent in this area.

Macarons, on the other hand, are not. That is because they are a decandent French cookie that's fairly challenging to make. I've been searching for them literally for years. They are also the most photogenic cookie on the face of the earth, and if you search Flickr, you'll return pages and pages of images filled with these lovely cookies. Anyway, the best ones to be had are found at specialty stores in Paris, but there are some bakeries in the U.S. that make them. Of course, being that Pittsburgh is several years behind the times (Sorry Pittsburgers, but we are!), none were to be found here. For my last birthday, Mark, bless his heart, even called the local French bakery to see if they sold them. He was told, "Jean Marc does not make those any longer." Hmmph.

Fast forward to a little over a month ago, when we went to Oakmont Bakery to order Lauren's birthday cake. Oakmont Bakery is the only bakery that I have visited that has several plasma TV's hanging above their display cases. As we were choosing Lauren's cake, my eyes were drawn to the screen right across from the door.

There they were - the elusive macarons. I started pointing and jumping up and down excitedly, so much that people started to stare.

We left with a half dozen of them. And they were as heavenly as everyone made them out to me. They resemble gobs, but they're nothing like them. With macarons, it's as much about the texture as it is about the taste. They are crisp on the outside, followed by chewy, then creamy in the center. They come in all sorts of flavors - fruits like lemon, strawberry and lime, as well as rich flavors like chocolate and almond. They also come in fancier flavors such as green tea and rose hips, but Pittsburgh isn't quite there yet. Baby steps.

When she picked up Lauren's birthday cake, Aunt Phyllis was nice enough to bring over an assorted dozen:

Assorted macarons in a bakery box.

I would have taken better photos, but these were gobbled up pretty quickly.

***Begin American Idol blabbering***

Speaking of sweet, I always thought it would be sweet to have someone completely unexpected win American Idol. Someone who, through the sheer strength of their talent, would beat out the judges / producers favorite.

Wouldn't it figure that the year that it happens, the favorite is the one that I wanted to win?

The funny thing is, I had no idea how much I wanted Adam Lambert to win until Seacrest proclaimed Kris Allen as the American Idol. Adam pretty much owned Season 8, and to have him not take the crown just didn't seem right. So why did America "get it wrong"? Was it because people were tired of being told week after week that we were in the presence of greatness and that no one else really mattered? Was it because the entire state of Arkansas texted for Kris for four hours straight? Was it because Adam is Jewish and know.

I've come to the conclusion that in the end, people just preferred Kris. And that's okay. Kris is super talented in his own right, and AI doesn't have anyone like him in their stable of winners. I hope that they give him lots of support because I think he could be very successful.

As for Adam, I'd like to think that, despite all this, he's going to be a star. Actually, I think I've grown to like him even more now that the show is over. He's so effortless in his handling of everything that is thrown at him, you just can't help but like him. Hopefully all the attention he's been getting regarding his sexuality will be put to rest soon, as he's supposed to address the matter directly in next week's Rolling Stone. I love how the media has been trying to present it as if he's been hiding something. Adam was out well before the show even began. I myself knew he was gay even before I saw him for the first time on my television screen. So how can you possibly out someone who was never in? And as for him making a statement to confirm it, is there really a need, especially in the context of a singing competition? Over the course of my life, I've been close friends with several gays, and never once did any of them explicitly tell me that they were gay. It was simply understood. I certainly didn't require a confession in exchange for friendship. So why should we require Adam to do so in exchange for our appreciation of his talent?

At least he seems to having fun at the expense of the busy bodies. I for one am grateful to him for the tip on the proper handling of ambroisia salad.

Until next year...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A sweet little lady.

Enjoying "clean the slipcovers day".

I realized when I published the last post that the next one would mark the 300th blog entry. And since Daisy was featured in the 200th entry, it only made sense to have another all-Daisy post. Photos were taken by Mark immediately after she received her summer shave which occurred during "Clean the Slipcovers Day." As you can see, Daisy really enjoyed it.

It's hard to believe that Daisy is ten years old. That is, if you believe the Animal Rescue League. You see, Daisy was a shelter dog. When she was found, she was expecting puppies (The shelter believed that Daisy got herself "in the family way" during her first heat). After she had her own litter, she was foster-mom to two more litters of pups. To this day, Daisy loves to lay on her side and have her belly rubbed, probably because it reminds her of all those pups snuggled up against her.

We adopted Daisy at the end of August 2000. At the time, Samantha's (Or Sammie as she became known to us) owner hadn't relinquished custody to us. I suppose we were dog sitting "indefinitely." We had become super attached to her and were going to be very sad when and if her owner came back for her. So I suggested to Mark that we get a dog of our own to soften the blow.

One day on his way home from work, Mark had stopped at the Animal Rescue League and saw a dog that he thought might be nice. After dinner, we headed back there so I could check him out. At the time, when you walked into the dog room, the puppies were the front and center. As I went over to check them out, I saw out of the corner of my eye this dog jumping around in her cage, desperately trying to get my attention. I left the puppies to see why this crazy dog was carrying on so much. As I pet her through the cage, I read her bio:

Name: Samantha
Gender: Female
Breed: Shepherd Mix
Description: "A sweet little lady"

Looking for the bunny.

There was something about this dog. Maybe it was because she coincidentally shared the same name as the Border Collie that was staying with us. Maybe she was so happy to have someone pay her some attention. Maybe because she really seemed to be "a sweet little lady." After ten minutes or so had past, Mark came over to find me. I never did see the dog that we had came there to see because I didn't make it past the sweet little lady's cage. It was getting late, so we headed home.

Thus began "Operation Convince Mark that Sweet Little Lady is the Dog for Us." Mark was a little skeptical. He likes his dogs big. He's always wanted a Great Dane or a German Shepherd. Eventually he came around, and the very next day we went back to the Animal Rescue League to pick her up. When we arrived, she was in the middle of her cage curled up like a little brown donut. I'll never forget that.

Of course, we couldn't call her Samantha, because we already had one living with us. I came up with "Daisy," a name that, to this day, Mark says is not suited to her, because she's a little rough around the edges. Still, the name has stuck. And we really couldn't have picked a sweeter dog.

Daisy's summer shave, 2009.

Perhaps for our 400th post, I'll tell the story about when Daisy at a whole bag of Sno-caps. How's that for sweet?

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Lauren watching Daddy clean up.

In an effort to blog about events as they are occurring rather than several days later (American Idol Season 8 finale - I know, I know), I'm writing today about the third (Yes, that would be THREE) tree that we've had to cut down. This one was a maple. Mark hired a tree climber, which is a lot cheaper than hiring say, an arborist, that will use fancy equipment to deal with your tree. However, a tree climber will not remove the tree once it's down, so Mark spent the time prior to dinner cutting and hauling as much as he could. Given the size of the tree, this was not a easy feat.

Very tall.

See what I mean?

Lauren just likes to sit and watch. I don't blame her. I just stand and take photos.

Sittin' on a log.

Here's the rest of it.

What's left.

Bonus photo - we have this bush / tree in our garden that has the sweetest smelling flowers on the face of the earth. Our whole backyard is scented right now. I believe we had the same tree in my backyard growing up, but I don't know what it is. It's smell always reminds me of the start of summer.

Mystery sweet smelling flower.

Lastly, I dare anyone to watch this interview with Adam Lambert and not become a fan. It's long, but so very worth the time.

"I'm kinda ridiculous. I know that!"

Oh, Adam! *facepalm*

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tony & Dolores.

Today, we got word of the passing of a dear friend of our family, Mr. Tony Cervone.

My favorite memory of Tony occurred during my brother-in-law's wedding. Tony and his wife Dolores had traveled all the way from California to attend our wedding the previous year, so this was their second trip to Pittsburgh in a row. After the ceremony, the photographer had us pose for the usual wedding party portraits at the church. It had been a long day, and we were all plenty hungry. During one of the breaks in the action, I sat in the pew behind Tony. Rather than go immediately to the reception, he and Dolores had stayed to take their own snapshots (They too had a passion for taking photos.). I began lamenting that dinner at the reception would come none too soon because I was close to gnawing on one of the hymnals.

Before I knew it, Tony was motioning towards Dolores who was pulling a plastic bag out her purse. Inside the bag was Italian bread, cheese and prosciutto. The two of them were avid travelers and knew how to prepare for a long wait. I tried to politely refuse, as I knew that these were some of the treasures that they had picked up at the local Italian store, foods which couldn't be easily found in California. Of course, he insisted. So we took the bag of goodies with us and enjoyed them on the limo ride to the next shooting location.

Tony was that kind of guy. And this poor starving bridesmaid will never forget it.

Tony & Dolores.

But even more than the prosciutto, I remember how he and Dolores were so much in love.

Here's to you, Tony.

To Dolores: We share in your sorrow. May you find strength and comfort in those who love you.

Much love,

Mark, Melissa and Lauren

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

Here we are at the end of another long weekend. Once again, I had grandiose plans to work on some projects, but it wasn't meant to be. I really don't know where all my time goes. I did, however, take some photographs (Noah's birthday party, the photos in this post and some still life / decorative stuff), so the weekend wasn't completely devoid of creativity. And then there's the new blog banner that I made tonight, which pretty much exhausted every shred that was left. Staring at that color green for a long period of time can be very hard on the eyes. I also have to mention that over the years I've gotten some serious mileage out of that Flower Ornaments font. It's very versatile!

You know, sometimes I actually think that I'm going to run out of things to photograph. And then right when I least expect it, a photo opportunity presents itself. My parents gave Lauren a bubble gun in her Easter basket. I had forgotten about it until this weekend when we were outside and I needed a break from the swing on the swings, play hide and seek, feed the fish circuit (Wait - maybe that's where all my time goes. I think I'm on to something...).

Well, the bubble gun is Lauren's new favorite thing. She played with it for hours. She shot bubbles into the sky, at the house, at me, at Daddy, at the dog. Lucky for Beavis, she's a house cat, or else she may have gotten a puss full of bubbles too. In total, we went through three bottles of bubbles.


As you can see, she is very serious about her bubbles. Very serious. This one makes me want to change the title of this entry to "Go ahead. Make my day."


But then, she can be very sweet too. I got this shot by pure luck. It happened so fast - the bubble literally popped just as I pressed the shutter release. I wish that I could have gotten more of her face in the shot, but I didn't have time to recompose.

(Note: I know that I am overdo in commenting on the American Idol finale. I figured since I would be experiencing withdrawl tomorrow night that it would be the perfect time to put my thoughts down. Maybe there will be more blog posts now that I'm free on Tuesday and Wednesday nights!)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Noah and the Beanstalk.

Noah's 2nd Birthday: Cake

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Noah. Noah had just turned two and was celebrating the event with his family.

Noah's 2nd Birthday:  Noah and the giant.

Like most birthday parties, there were plenty of presents and a big birthday cake with candles. But unlike most birthday parties, a giant had arrived on the scene! Noah could not believe his eyes. He never imagined that anyone could grow so tall! Before he knew what was happening, the giant took his hand and lead him down the street away from the party.

Noah's 2nd Birthday:  Playoff madness.

Noah's father cried out, "Help! Help! A giant has taken my son! By the way, did you know that the Penguins just scored? They're up 2-1!"

What would become of Noah? Would the giant make himself a tasty batch of Two Year Old Stew?

Noah's 2nd Birthday:  Giants aren't so bad afterall.

Lucky for him, the giant turned out to be friendly afterall. (All together now, "Awww.")

Noah's 2nd Birthday:  Lauren and her new friends.

When they realized that the giant was good and would do no harm to Noah, the crowd cheered, "Hooray!" Or maybe that was because the Penguins had won the game.

The End.

(Author's Note: Lauren stated that her favorite part of the party was playing with that girl (Aunt Linda) and those two boys (Cousin Steve and Cousin Sam).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hello my name is Lauren, and I like to do drawings.

Mother's Day gift.

It's amazing how Lauren has changed in the last month. We continue to be stunned by the things that she come out her mouth, but now her drawings are becoming more and more detailed. In just the last couple of weeks, she's begun to draw stick figures. That's her in the picture above, holding an elephant.


Speaking of elephants, this is the best one yet. It really looks like an elephant!

Family portrait.

And this is all of us holding elephants while standing under a rainbow.

While my daughter's artistry (TM Kara Dioguardi) is on the upswing, my creative energy has been ebbing. I have a couple vacation days scheduled this week leading up to Memorial Day, so hopefully I'll have a chance to work on some projects, as well as clean out my closet, find some furniture for our addition, organize my photos, find some new recipes to try, and write some long overdue e-mails. Oh, I did make some animals out of pipe cleaners this weekend. I picked up a Martha Stewart Crafts kit at Wal-Mart a couple of months ago and saved it for a rainy day. Yesterday was appropriately rainy, so out came the kit. They were a lot harder to make than they looked though - I was too weary to make the zebras. Lauren really likes them, so that's all that counts.

Pipe cleaner safari.

***Begin American Idol blabbering***

I admit it. It was me. I voted for three weeks straight. Many times. Yes, I am the one responsible for Kris Allen making the finale.

And I couldn't be more THRILLED!

Here's the deal. I love Adam Lambert. There aren't enough words to describe his awesomeness, so I'm not even going to try. I've purchased almost every one of his studio recordings from iTunes. I think he should win. However, I feel that Kris is what this show is all about. The guy who came out of nowhere, who kept plugging away week after week bringing solid performances. He didn't have a sympathetic back story like Scott, Lil and Danny. He didn't have the judges brain washing the audience week after week after week proclaiming that he would in finals. He had little to no exposure in the eariler rounds and on average poor placement during the performance rounds (Usually singing early). He made it here on his own merits and hard work. Kris is the story that Jason Castro should have been last year, if Jason wouldn't have ran out of steam. So it's only natural that I'm drawn to him - I love an underdog.

Kris caught my attention during the Top 13 round when he sang a very catchy version of "Remember the Time," but the only time I voted for him was when he stumbled during the week he sang "All She Wants to Do is Dance." That changed three weeks ago because he might as well have been wearing a sign that said, "Dead Man Walking" around his neck. On Rat Pack night, he didn't deliver the best vocal (Everyone but Matt Giraud pretty much outsang him), but his performance of "The Way You Look Tonight" was my favorite. That week, he survived a bottom 3 scare (with Adam), and went on to stand once again on shaky ground during Rock Week. I thought that the judges gave him a raw deal on "Come Together," especially when he pulled off that snazzy acapella interlude in the middle of the song.

This is off the subject of Kris, but we can't move past Rock Week without mention of Danny's "Dream On." When he unleashed that scream at the end of the song with the strobe lights flashing on his face like crazy - I was literally rolling on the floor laughing. It was just so silly and over-the-top. Poor Danny - even after that performance, the judges were very kind to him (With the exception of Simon, but it's his job to be the mean one.). Overall, Danny was a consistant performer, but the judges rarely called him on any of his weaknesses, and because of that, he wasn't given the opportunity to understand his limitations (Hence the scream from the bowels of hell). And that's the problem with the emphasis on the sympathetic back stories. How could the judges criticize a man who lost his wife without coming off as being a bunch of meanies?

Which brings us to Top 3 night. Now Kris is wearing a sign in flashing Adam Lambert Neon Pink letters - "I AM GOING HOME TOMORROW." Except, nobody told Kris that. Instead, he comes out onto stage all by his lonesome with nothing but his guitar, and sings a rap song. THAT took some guts, especially when the two guys he's competing against have such big voices. Kris's "Heartless" was definitely one of the "moments" of the season, and he pulled if off just in time. The only problem is, how can he possibly top that during the Finale?

So suffice to say that I will be pleased with whoever wins American Idol Season 8. I may just let the chips fall as they qill, but I do feel guilty that I've never voted for Adam. Maybe I'll vote once for each of them.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Very special thanks.

Fluffed bow.

One last birthday related post and I promise I will move on to other topics. I wanted to devote an entry to our friends who, while they live out of town in far away places, were with Lauren in spirit on her birthday. We are grateful for your thoughtfulness!

As always, Cousin Noreen came through with a special care package for Lauren. She also enclosed a note:

Note from Noreen.

LOL - you are a girl after my own heart, as I too take my bows very seriously! At Christmas, when I often make my own bows, I take special care to stack my gifts in such a way under the tree as to not smoosh any of them. How did I do, Noreen? I hope my fluffing skills are adequate! :D

Inside was the absolutely CUTEST peasant top and denim capri set (Again, I wish it came in adult size), along with a special story book. Photos will be forthcoming (This outfit may call for a "special" photoshoot!).

Lauren also received cards and money from our friends in Napa, California:

Tony & Dolores card.

From Tony and Dolores

Aunt Dolly dollar.

And from Aunt Dolly...Dollar Tree, here she comes!

Thank you one and all!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

B is for Birthday.

B is for birthday.

Lauren started her birthday wearing her Boston Red Sox cap (hence the "B") and opening some presents from Mommy and Daddy.

Opening presents.

As Mark tells it, the story goes that Mommy spent all this time shopping for cool toys for Lauren, but in the end, she declared that her favorite present was...

Her favorite gift.

A framed elephant drawing made by Daddy.

Craig feeling up Mel C with pot holders.

Then, it was time for party guests to arrive. For the children's party, I might add. AHEM.

Amber and Ashley.

See? There are the children. Amber and Ashley are part of Lauren's posse. She loves playing with them more than opening presents.

Lauren opening presents.

But open presents she did - lots and lots of them.

Green elephant.

Oh, look - another elephant. You can't have enough of those.

Lauren and Deluxe Elephant.

And what do you know - yet ANOTHER elephant. And scientists wonder why the elephant population is decreasing. It's really not cause they're all at our house.

Lt. Geordi LaForge and Commander William Riker.

Now, here's what I call a birthday present. Uncle Mike gave Lauren genuine collectible figures of Lieutenant Georgi LaForge and Commander William Riker from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Lauren loves to watch ST: TNG. I can't imagine who could have influenced that interest.

Mel C models several ensembles.

Mel C. models for us some of Lauren's new ensembles.

Mark models shirt.

And Mark models for the girls.

Noah in bouncy chair.

Our nephew Noah has a May birthday too. He'll have his turn on May 21st when he turns two.

Noah and Beth.

Noah and his mommy.

Grandma Pinky, Mike and Noah.

Noah with his daddy and grandma.

My fam.

And lastly, my family: Aunt Phyllis, Crazy Uncle Craig, Mom and Dad. I will most certainly hear about this one.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Garden Party

Okay, I was a little bit aggressive in declaring I would have all the photos up yesterday. It was Tuesday afterall. I was otherwise engaged.

Fourth birthday invitation.

Since Lauren isn't really into any particular characters, it's hard for me to come up with "themes" for Lauren's parties. When we went to the bakery to pick out a cake, she was pretty underwhelmed by the choices. I couldn't even get her to commit to Scooby Doo, which she loves to watch. In fact, as soon as she saw the cake that she had last year, she wouldn't give up asking for it. Luckily, the girl at the bakery was very helpful and found the elephant, lion and giraffe design in the baby shower book.

Garden party theme.

Outside of the cake, the decorations just came together on their own, and in the end, we ended up with what I'm calling a garden party theme. Mark had the brilliant idea of planting flowers inside the pail and using it as a centerpiece.

Paper lanterns.

I bought the paper lanterns at the dollar store about a month ago. I always wanted to decorate with paper lanterns.

Butterfly banner.

Lauren loves butterflies. I made this banner by tracing a cookie cutter onto paper and cardstock. The letters are rub-ons.

Curly straws.

Bought some curly straws as well from the ol' dollar store. They were a big hit with the kids. There is a shot glass inside the pitcher actually holding the straws - don't wany anyone getting lock jaw from the rust! I also found the butterfly blow outs (Or "party flutes" as Lauren calls them) at, you guessed it, the dollar store.

More photos to come tomorrow, when there's no Idol to watch.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Wishful thinking.

Make a wish.

This past Saturday, Lauren turned four. I couldn't help but thinking back to last year at this time. I had a "big thing" going on at work, so I had to work the weekend of her birthday party. I was very stressed, and on top of that, we had gloomy, rainy weather that made getting a decent photo practically impossible. Thankfully, this year was much, much different. I was relaxed (Sort of - entertaining in and of itself can be a little stressful) and the lighting was great. I took a bazillion photos which more than made up for last year.

I've gone through and edited my favorites, but it's going to take multiple posts to get through them all. I'll try to get as many as I can posted tomorrow.

In the meantime, let it be known that this was the first year that Lauren blew out the candles all by herself. And don't fret - while it appears that her hair is on fire in this photo, she experienced nary a singe. That is because you can't hear everyone in the background yelling "WATCH YOUR HAIR! WATCH YOUR HAIR!" I was too busy snapping away to notice that my daughter was about to pull a Michael Jackson.

Birthday cake.

I'd also like to report that, as requested, she got to eat the part of the cake with the elephant on it. Unlike my fourth birthday, when I was refused Raggedy Ann's head.

More to come tomorrow!