Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Truth be told, I kind of hate New Years Eve. I think it is the most overrated holiday! Plus, to me, it's very much a couples holiday. I have gone out on NYE for the last couple of years, and without fail, the clock strikes midnight and everyone around me is kissing while I stand there, fidgeting and wishing I could sort of just disappear! It's not the best feeling in the world - kind of makes you feel more single than ever! So this year I am heading to my parents' cabin and will ring in the New Year with my parents, siblings, & nephews.
2008 was a big year for me! Here are some of the highlights:
- Became an aunt for the 4th time in April! Matthew was born on 4/2 and is a wonderful addition to the family!
- Traveled to France for 3 amazing weeks, which prompted me to start my first blog, which prompted me to do this blog since I enjoyed it so much!
- Abby got engaged and started planning a wedding for 8/8/09 - I'll be her maid of honor and have already started writing my speech!!!!
2009 is shaping up to be equally fabulous. I have lots to look forward to and countless things to be thankful for. While I don't particularly enjoy NYE, I do like how a New Year sort of forces you to reflect back on the past year and start thinking about goals for the following year. I'm not huge on resolutions but have a few goals for 2009:
1. Quit Mountain Dew for good!! Seriously, it is so bad for you... but it tastes so good and has always been a weakness for me. I am hoping to replace it with either coffee or Diet Coke... we'll see how this goes!
2. I want to try to cook at least one meal a week. I have gotten in the habit of eating things like a can of soup for dinner... which is fine, but not the most 'fulfilling' meal. I have lots of cookbooks so I need to start getting more adventurous. And I need to mentally prepare myself if it doesn't turn out perfectly!
3. I will be running a 1/2 marathon on May 3rd. I registered yesterday so need to start training for that. I used to run a ton. Even ran a marathon. Then I started grad school and running was something that just didn't work with the schedule! I need to start incorporating 2-3 runs/week into my week though, so hopefully it will help to have a goal to work towards.
4. The hugest focus of 2009 will be selling my condo & hopefully buying a house. I know this will be a huge undertaking, but I am ready for the responsibilty. I want a guest room for my parents to use when they are visiting. I want a dining room so I can host dinner parties. I want an area in the backyard where I can plant a small garden. And I actually sort of look forward to shoveling & mowing the lawn (ahem, you'll probably have to remind me that I said this if/when I complain about those chores down the road!)
That's it for now. I think those 4 goals are pretty realistic. I know #4 is sort of out of my hands. And #1 might just be impossible, but who knows. I wish there was a "Mountain Dew Addicts Annoymous" group to join. I need a sponsor or something! Maybe someone I could call when I am standing in front of the vending machine at work, trying to decide if I really need that Mt Dew.....
Happy New Year everyone!! I'll leave you with this great quote about New Years that I just found!
“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called ‘Opportunity’ and its first chapter is New Year's Day.” —Edith Lovejoy Pierce
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Since this blog is supposed to be about books and reading, I thought I'd start featuring books from my 'to-read' list each Tuesday. Lord knows the list stretches on and on, so I have plenty of books to suggest! I haven't read them, so can't speak on their quality, but they are books I hope to tackle in 2009!
Since it's cold & snowy here in Minnesota, today I am featuring two travel-related memoires that might help you "mentally escape" those frosty temps!
The Best of Friends: Two Women, Two Continents, and One Enduring Friendship by Sara James & Ginger Mauney - What can I say, I am a sucker for any book that involves travel. This books follows the 30-year friendship of the two authors. Sara is a NBC Network Correspondent who has covered stories in countries such as Sudan and Nicaragua, while balancing her career with a marriage and parenting. Ginger is a wildlife filmmaker who has raised her child in Southern Africa, but misses the USA, which she once called home. Sara and Ginger use the examples of their life to answer questions such as, When your heart is broken, how do you heal? How do you realize your dreams without compromising yourself? How do you tame ambition to make room for family & friends? And what does it mean as an adult to be a "best" friend?
Summer of my Greek Taverna: A Memoir by Tom Stone - The author, Tom Stone, travels to Greece for a summer to write a novel, and stays 22 years!! The book is the story of a man in love with a place, a woman, and a dream and also features a few of the authors recipes for Greek food such as Chicken Retsina and Moussaka.
* I had told myself that I couldn't buy any more books until I read the ones I have... but I am oh so tempted to purchase these today. It certainly doesn't help that Barnes & Noble is just a few blocks away and easily accessible through the skyway.....
Let me know if you check either of these books out!
Saturday, December 27, 2008
On Christmas Day, my parents and I went to Holy Family Catholic Church for Christmas Day Mass - it was gorgeous! I wish I had pictures! There were about 14 Christmas Trees on the altar, tons of red poinsettias, and a huge creche with near-life size figures!! My church's choir is amazing, so we really enjoyed Christmas Mass. My parents have also been to Easter Saturday Mass so knew they were in for a wonderful experience but were still blown away by the Mass. I usually go to church by myself so it was really nice to have my parents there with me.
After Mass, we headed back to my place, packed up, and headed to my Aunt Barb & Uncle Paul's house in Inver Grove Heights. This is the first Christmas my parents have come to Minneapolis - I usually go home, but since I am out of vacation time, they graciously agreed to come and stay with me. Which really worked out so well as my Aunt Mary Beth & Uncle Gary had flown back from sunny Florida to spend Christmas with my cousin & his 2 sons. So my mom & her 2 sisters would all be in Minneapolis for Christmas and Barb offered to host us. We haven't celebrated Christmas with my mom's side of the family for probably 15-20 years. It's been at least since my grandma passed away in 1992, but probably before that. We usually spend it with my dad's side, but my inability to go home for Christmas meant switching things up a bit!
Barb and Paul are recently retired and have chronicled their post-retirement travels on a fabulous blog. It's been so fun to read their blog - even though we live just 30 minutes apart, our schedules don't allow for us to get together as often as we'd like, so blogging is a great way to keep up on each others' lives!
After dinner I had a chance to talk to my cousin Suzanne about her experiences in Medical School. She came very close to making her slightly squeamish brother, Nick, lose his dinner while regaling us with tales from the trenches! Hearing her talk about some of things she's done sure make my job look pretty boring!! Suzanne found out this past year that she has Celiac Sprue. She also has a blog where she shares some of the glutten-free dishes she has made. I am hoping to try a few of her recipes as well - she is much more accomplished in the kitchen than I am!
Barb & Paul also experimented and made some 'sugar plums' - which were delicious. I had recited "The Night Before Christmas" many times and always wondered what the heck they were, so it was fun to sample them - they were delicious!!
They also made some Fruit Cake which was really, really delicious. Fruit Cake has gotten quite a bad reputation, but Barb & Paul proved it is actually a tasty treat when prepared right!
Mom brought some of her traditional Christmas treats, my favorite of which was the Heath Candy she makes!
It was an absolutely wonderful day! I am hoping that our families won't go another 10 years without celebrating Christmas together again. Perhaps I will have my own house and will be able to host some day! A formal dining room is on my list of "must haves" for my house search, so we'll see what 2009 brings!
Friday, December 26, 2008
And the hats the boys got from my parents!
Mom read to the boys
The boys loved them - they will definitely keep them warm when they speed countless hours outdoors! Andrew and Matty are so used to all the posing they have to do for pictures - we didn't even ask them to hold hands in this picture, they decided to do that on their own. Andrew is quite the sweet big brother!
while Kevin prepared the delicious appetizers we feasted upon.
followed by a 2nd course of squash... which he didn't seem to like nearly as much as the yummy, sweet yogurt!After a few hours, we had worked up an appetite for dinner so the preparation began. Mom showed Andrew (aka the next Bobby Flay) how to make our traditional Christmas dish of Oyster Stew.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Since I am out of vacation, I am working today but will be heading out at 2 pm for my brothers. I can't really extract much pity from people on the lack of vacation issue... after all, I did spend 3 weeks in France this year!
Tonight we'll have a small gathering at my brother Kevin's in Maple Grove. It'll just be my parents, Kevin, Julie, the boys, and I. My other 3 siblings are all with their in-laws this Christmas, so we will be celebrating with them in spirit!
Like many families, we have time-honored traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. Christmas Eve is one of those evenings of the year whose menu is heavily influenced by these wonderful traditions. Every Christmas Eve, our meal features 'Oyster Stew'.
I'll pause for the inevitable gasps of disgust & facial expressions that will undoubtedly follow that proclamation.
I know. It's not something you will come across very often, but is something that makes its appearance once a year in the Dotzenrod house. I can't say that I particularly enjoy it myself, but I like that our family has this unique tradition.
Most of my family enjoys it, with the exception of my little sister Abby & I. In our house, if you didn't like what was being served, TOUGH! You ate it or went hungry and I personally think this is the best way to raise kids. As a result, I am one of the least picky people you'll come across. So every Christmas Eve, I'd have a small bowl of Oyster Stew, sans the oysters, and load it up with handfuls of Oyster Crackers... so many crackers in fact that it was almost a solid you could chew. Gross, I know, but it then tasted more like crackers than the cream/butter base of the stew.
But there's no need to call "Child Protection Services" - I definitely didn't go hungry. In addition to the Stew, we also had other hor'doueves, such as a meat & cheese tray, relish tray, and a fish tray, which features 'delicacies' such as kipper snacks, pickled herring, sardines, and smoked oysters. I actually enjoy kipper snacks - I have no idea what it is & probably don't want to know. It comes from a can & probably has a shelf life equal to my age... but it takes pretty snacky!
About 10 years ago, when sister-in-laws started to come on the scene, my parents felt it was time to introduce another dining option on Christmas Eve. Afterall, they didn't want to get things off on the wrong foot for these young couples, celebrating their first Christmas together. While I was initially a bit bitter about the fact that an optional pasta dish was made for them when this is what I had been asking for all my life, I was just happy to be benefiting from their presence!
Tonight we gather at my brother's house - he is quite the 'foodie' so the meal will definitely not disappoint! Our menu is as follows:
- Stuffed Mushrooms
-Artichoke & crap dip with pita bread
-meat & cheese tray
-home-made icecream w/ fresh berries
I am confident that none of us will go hungry and that instead, we will all over indulge and retire to bed, a few stones heavier than we were at the beginning of the day! I'll be sure to post some photos of the food.
Oh, and if you read my post about the Christmas Ice Cream debacle - rest assured. I will not be manning the stove at any point this weekend! So it should be a cooking-crisis-free weekend for my family.
Merry Christmas to you & yours!!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
and my kitchen from this
Unfortunately, the pictures don't come close to doing the transformation justice! When I decided to change the flooring, I did it because I wanted to like my place better... but hopefully those changes will attract a buyer to check my little casa out.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Saw a tag on Lauren's tumblr page that I thought would be fun to do. The directions say, write a post on your blog telling your readers SEVEN things about yourself they are not very likely to know:
1. I am obsessed with Passport stamps. Seriously. When I was in Europe with Brooke, every time we took a train somewhere, I'd get excited and ask her, 'do you think we'll get our passports stamped when we cross the border?' Sometimes we didn't, but when we did, it absolutely made my day.
2. I usually start my day with a Mountain Dew. These days I am trying to watch my waist line since I'll be in my sister's wedding this summer, so I have switched over to Diet Coke. Which is so less fulfilling, but much less bad for me....
3. When I walk on a tiled floor, I try to step on every other tile. Yes, I realize this makes me similar to Jack Nicholson in "As Good As it Gets."
4. I love peanut butter, but HATE the smell of it if I am not eating it. It makes me nauseous actually.
5. I sit cross-legged (aka indian style) whenever possible. Like right now, at my desk at work. My legs are covered by blanket so no one can really tell. It's the most comfortable way for me to sit... I think I have funky hip joints or something.
6. I get major anxiety if I think I am going to be late for something. As a result, when meeting up with friends for lunch, I'm usually first there, and when traveling, I get to the airport super early since I'd prefer sitting at the gate for an hour vs. feeling rushed.
7. I think French Toast is disgusting. Soaking bread in an egg mixture & then cooking it on a griddle? Yeck. I actually just got the shivers thinking about it. I'll politely choke down a piece if that is what's being served for breakfast, but could go the rest of my life without ever eating this dish.
Although their economic conditions are as different as night and day, their lives intersect through a course of events which are revealed in the final chapters of the book. It's a great story and worth checking out, especially if you have any interestbook in that part of the world (as I do).
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Tonight I pause to reflect on the emphasis of the 4th week of Advent: Love. There are so many directions I could go with this post. Love, in my opinion, is the best gift you can give and receive. I am lucky to have been raised in a house filled with love. No conversation with a family member ends without an "I Love You," and my somewhat reserved father always says it when hugging me good-bye after a visit home.
This past year has taught me a lot about love. I went through a difficult break-up in January that left me feeling pretty hopeless. As the months passed by, I watched a couple of friends get married, celebrated a few friends' engagements, and learned that my baby sister was getting married next August. I was so happy for all of them but couldn't help but feel that while they were moving forward with their lives, I was standing completely still. There were a lot of tearful nights, phone calls to my mom and girlfriends, and some heavy conversations with my brother Kevin.
While I wouldn't wish to go through that break-up and its aftermath again, I have learned lessons that I wouldn't have learned otherwise. I have learned that I have a family that is truly there for me. I have grown closer to my brother Kevin, and his family, and now know that if I ever feel alone or lonely, I am always welcome there. I've learned that it's ok to reach out to family and friends and that I shouldn't feel guilty for needing to do so.
I don't know what path God has chosen for my life, but I know this past year has made me a stronger, healthier, happier individual. I'm so much happier and at peace than I was last year at this time.
The love and support I have experienced over the past year doesn't even compare to the love we receive from God. God's love is never-ending and He loves us for who we are, bad habits, sins, and all. I try to focus on that whenever I am feeling down. After all, through God, all things are possible. So I will continue to put my trust in Him and will remain hopeful that 2009 will be a blessed year for me.
I'll leave you with a line of scripture that sums up the meaning of the Advent season and God's love for us.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
Friday, December 19, 2008
In case any of you are having trouble getting into the Christmas Spirit, I have a few holiday books to highlight. They are short reads so are perfect for this time of year!
"Christmas Jars," by Jason Wright, is a quick, easy read. This is a book you could easily read over the span of 3-4 hours. The main character in the book, Reporter Hope Jensen, has fallen on hard times. Her adoptive mother has passed away from cancer and then her apartment is broken into and the thief steals all of her emergency cash. Hope opens her door one morning to find that someone has left a mason-jar, filled with with money, labeled "Christmas Jar." Using her well-honed investigative skills, she finds that many others have received a Christmas Jar in the past, so she begins to search for the origin of this tradition. Hope's search leads her to the Maxwell family... and also reveals some information about her birth mother. After reading this book, you will want to start your own Christmas Jar!
"The Christmas Box Collection" features 3 books written by Richard Paul Evans: The Christmas Box, Timepiece, and The Letter. This trilogy about the Parkins family is such a great read. The first book is about a young family that goes to live with a widow. Together, they rediscover the first gift of Christmas and are reminded what the holiday is all about. The other 2 books continue to follow the family and are so wonderful. One of the book talks about a family who has lost a young child. I discovered this book on a plane ride out to Denver when I was in college. I was sitting next to a middle-aged couple and the woman was reading this book. During the plane ride, the woman set the book down and was very noticeably crying... I am usually not one to make small talk with people on flights, but it was awful seeing her so upset, so I asked if everything was ok. She responded by saying that they had lost a young child and reading this book hit close to home since the couple in the book also lost a young child. She highly recommended the book so I had to check it out. I loved it so much, I gave it to my mom for Christmas the following year! I hope you enjoy!
I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas. I'll be celebrating Christmas Eve with my parents and my brother & his family. He sent me a preview of the menu yesterday and we are definitely going to eat like kings!! Can't hardly wait!
PS - If anyone would like to borrow these books, I of course own them and am more than willing to lend them out!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Background info: I've done some serious thinking. And I mean serious. I'm analytical so there's really no such thing as a snap decision in my world most of the time. (Unless it involves the purchase of books or shoes.) So I have decided that with the housing market being so down, now might be a good time to try to sell my condo and buy a house. Yes, this means taking a loss on my condo, but if I wait until the market improves to a point where I won't take a loss on my condo, I will have to pay much more for a house. I'll save more by buying now than I'll gain by waiting for the market to rebound; so from a net approach, I'll technically be 'gaining' at the end of the day, even though it's an unrecognized gain.
Makes sense, right? Well today our friend Ben Bernanke and his other buddies decided to drop rates 3/4 of a point, moving the Fed Funds Rate to .25%. That is crazy low. Which is good for people buying houses. Which means, if I can sell my condo, I can get a really nice rate on my mortgage, which I mentioned in passing to a co-worker, we'll call him Tim. To which he responded -
"Really? You want to buy a house? Are you sure? Do you realizeAnd so on and so on... I explained that although I don't do any yard work now, I'm already cleaning/doing laundry/etc, and actually look forward to having a yard so I can have a little garden, etc. My co-worker, Pat, that sits next me piped in & said, "Lisa's an independent woman, I don't think you have to worry about her handling all that."
you'll have to go home from work, clean the house, do the laundry, and also mow
the yard or shovel the snow on your own?"
Well, this didn't stop Tim from continuing to try to convince me that buying a house was a really horrible decision to make. He continued by saying,
"You do realize you'll be paying for water, sewage, heat, and garbage now,
right? And insurance and taxes and ..."
This is when I cut him off and curtly reminded him that I worked in the mortgage industry for 4 years and UNDERWROTE PEOPLE'S MORTGAGES. Seriously. I looked at people's income, assets, and expenses, and told them whether or not they could qualify for a loan. I know the ins and outs of the application process. I know about dti ratios. LTV. PMI. Hazard insurance premiums. I can explain why the bank collects a certain number of months for your escrow account. I know how it works. I might know more about how it works than the person that processes my loan.
I have a college education and will have an MBA in about 6 months. If I can't figure out whether or not I can afford a house, then I shouldn't be working in finance.
I am sure he is looking out for my well-being and just wants to make sure I don't make a mistakes, but I just wanted to shout I am not an idiot. Above all, the most frustrating thing is that chance are, if I was married, he wouldn't be grilling me. But because I am a single woman, I need some guy to tell me that I have to pay for water (what? it's not free?). Gee, thanks for the reminder, captain obvious. And that I need to pay taxes and insurance (which I am currently doing on my condo).
I don't know why I even let what he say get to me. I know I shouldn't care what people think or say, but seriously. I'm almost 28. I don't need unsolicited advice.
* phew * Ok, got that all off my chest. You know what I am thankful for, though? I am thankful for the fact that I talked about all of this with my mom last night after I got home from meeting w/ my awesome realtor. And she didn't verbally ambush me and ask me if I needed to get my head examined. She listened to me and agreed that it sounded like I was going about this the right way. And trust me, my parents are not the kind of parents that agree with everything I say or do. If they disagree, they tactfully do so and explain their reasoning.
But my mom didn't disagree. She listened and I got off the phone as excited as I was when I called her. If my condo sells, I am going to have a house in a neighborhood I'll love! I can finally have dinner parties. I can finally own a grill! I'll have a spare bedroom for visitors.
So all I can say is, thank God I have the kind of parents that raised me to be independent. And thank God they are so supportive and helpful and encouraging. Clearly there are enough buzz killers around. And next time, I guess I'll just have to tell them to 'buzz off'.
In "Body Surfing," we meet Sydney, a 29 year old woman who has already been divorced AND widowed. She spends the summer tutoring the daughter of a well-to-do couple that summers at a quaint Oceanside cottage. Sydney then meets the two older sons of the couple, both of which have feelings for her.... and so the plot thickens....
It was a pretty good book. The writing style was a lot different than her other books. The beginning of the book was sort of choppy. Lots of short sentences. Short paragraphs. Jumping around from thought to thought. But maybe her reason for using that style was to get the reader into the book easily (worked for me). I didn't want to like the book because of that writing style though, but I did read it over the course of 2-3 days, so I can't say it ruined the booked for me. The author's voice on this book was different. The whole book was written in 3rd person, but I kept thinking it was written in 1st person. I have never stopped and thought about the voice of the author, so something was a little different about this book. I can't exactly put my finger on what Shreve did, though, and I didn't really like it.
All in all, it was a good, quick read. I think the title of the book is representative of Sydney's life - body surfing can be a lot of fun, but like many adventure activities, there are risks involves and catching the wrong wave, or catching a wave at the wrong time can have some pretty painful outcomes.
As a side note - I have actually gone body surfing. When I was studying abroad in Australia, some of my Aussie friends encouraged me to give it a try. I dang near killed myself doing it. Ok, that might be an exaggeration, but it wasn't an enjoyable experience... My Aussie friend who was showing me how to do it neglected to tell me to arch my back when trying to catch a wave... Seems like a pretty insignificant detail, but trust me, it wasn't. Not arching my back resulted in now 'riding' the wave - instead I was slammed into the ocean floor each time. It was an interesting experience to say the least!
Monday, December 15, 2008
When meditating on what it means to be Joyful this week, the bible verse that first came to me is from the book of John:
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (John 15: 9-11)
I hope everyone is having a wonderful Advent Season!
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I'll stop there... My to-read list on goodreads.com (awesome website, btw) has 137 books on it, so I could obviously go on and on!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The Christmas season is upon us so I thought I'd talk about a few books I love! Tomorrow I'll do a post about some books I am hoping to receive from Santa this year!
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Brooke, my personal interior decorator, came over to