Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve

Confession: I hate New Years Eve. Seriously. I read Nora's post about it earlier this month and thought - YES, that's exactly how I feel about this stupid holiday! I think it is such an over-rated holiday. I've had a couple of fun NYE nights, but most of them have been a bit lack luster. I'm not going to be all whiny and get into why I dislike this holiday and feel like it is a couple-centric holiday.

Instead, let me tell you how I will be spending it! Instead of going out and facing the crowd, prix fixe menus, and steep cover charges, I will be heading north to my parents' lake cabin. I can't wait to bring in the New Year with my parents and 2 of my 4 siblings. We are making a big family dinner and will probably play games and watch movies. It's going to be fan-freaking-tastic!

Last year I posted about resolutions, but this year I won't be doing that. Why? Well, in about 6 weeks, I will be posting a '30 before 30' list on or around my 29th birthday. It's going to be a challenge to tackle 30 things in 12 months, but being a list-lover, goal-oriented girl, I am confident I can accomplish everything on my list! So stay tuned for that...

I do have one resolution that doesn't fit into the whole '30 before 30' list, though. So my 2010 resolution is to cut down on the lattes. It's kind of getting out of control. Do I really need to drink a Large, ~$4 latte every day? No, I really don't. Yes, it makes me happy, but it went from being a treat to being part of my daily routine. If I keep up with this habit, I will spend close to $1,200 on coffee in 2010. So my goal for 2010 is to have a latte on Friday. It will be my treat for making it through the week. How will I survive Mon-Thur? I am going to make coffee at home and bring it to work. Much cheaper.

How about you? Are you making any New Years resolutions? How will you be celebrating tonight?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book Review: Traveling with Pomegranates

This book has been on my to-read list for awhile! I was drawn to it since it is a travel memoir that focuses on the dynamic between mothers and daughters. Then Mandy read it and told me how much she loved it, so I bumped it up on my to-read list and tackled it last month! You might recognize one of the authors - Sue Monk Kidd. She wrote the best-seller "The Secret Life of Bees," which has since been made into a movie. Sue and her daughter, Anne, took 3 trips Greece and France together and this book is the reflection of their journey through these countries - with emphasis on their own personal journey. Anne is in her early 20s and is struggling to find her place in the world. Sue is turning 50 and is struggling with the transition into becoming an older woman. Both are trying to define themselves in a new world, and are also trying to define their relationship.

Having gone through that "quarter-life crisis" that occurs in your early 20's, I could really relate to Anne's story. In the early part of the book, she really struggles with depression - which is something I have struggled with during my 20s. I slipped in and out of that depression from college graduation until about 12 months ago when I finally kicked it for good.

When I was struggling with depression, I became a shadow of who I am, and I know it did not go unnoticed by my family. Sue also noticed the shift in her daughter but hadn't really asked her daughter about it. On their flight over to Greece she says the following about her daughter:

"When I inquired, she said she was fine. But on the flight over, during the hours she sat next to me, she stared out the oval window, at the SkyMall catalog, at the movie playing on the monitor over our heads, and there was an emission of sadness around her, like the faint dots and dashes of Morse code blinking secret distress." (p. 7)

I can remember a trip to Chicago with my parents to attend a wedding - I don't remember what was going on in my life at the time, but I was miserable. I think I was radiating sadness. My mom tried to ask me what was wrong and how they could help, but I couldn't tell her what to do or say to make it better and I certainly wasn't able to help myself. When she asked me what was wrong, my typical response was always that I was fine. I think I so badly wanted that to be the case, I kept saying I was fine hoping that eventually it would be true.

A theme of this book is the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter. If you are interested, you can read about it here, but to sum it up, Persephone, the daughter, is abducted by Hades, lord of the dead, and falls into a hole in the earth. Demeter, the mother, abandons all of her responsibilities to search for her daughter. Eventually Persephone returns to her, but she is no longer the same innocent girl - she has been transfigured by her experience on the dark side. Demeter embraces her daughter and loves her for who she is, even if she is a slightly different woman. Sue feels like Demeter - the depression Anne experiences is similar to the abduction by Hades, and as Sue says at one point, she just wants her daughter back. (p. 11)

Throughout the course of the book, Anne figured out what sparked the depression. For her, the source of her depression was a grad school rejection letter. As she says, "I do realize the letter has become far more than a rejection letter. Somehow it has gotten attached to much deeper things, turning into a catchall for everything that seems wrong with me: 'Anne: the Official Document.'" (p. 82)

Anne does eventually find her way out of the darkness - as have I. I can see the changes in myself and my parents and siblings can see them as well. I've shaken the shadow of despair I felt. I don't think I will ever fully understand the source of my depression; I know part of it had to do with how my life was playing out compared to how I thought it would. My career wasn't fulfilling and while everyone else around me was finding their husbands and getting married, I kept going through difficult break-ups. Eventually I came to the point where I realized my worth as an individual wasn't about the job I had or whether I was married. Those things are, to some extent, out of my control, so basing my worth on them was a slippery slope.

I feel the same way as Anne does about the time I spent feeling depressed. As she says, "I think how my experience in the underworld has brought me to a new sense of myself, the way my self-rejection has turned into acceptance and a new way of valuing myself. As painful as that was, I wouldn't change any of it." (p.262)

I am very thankful that my mom and dad were there for me during those tough times and never stopped asking if I was ok. They didn't give up on me, and for that I am thankful. I've grown so much closer to my mom as a result.

I am going to close with one final quote from the book about the mother/daughter relationship:

"I've tried to understand what the embrace between Demeter and Persephone means. I have come to believe it's really about that aperture opening. It's the channel where the souls of a mother and a daughter open and flow as two separate adults, woman to woman. It is, I know now, a place created through necessary loss and necessary search, and a reinvention of the whole relationship."

This book was a wonderful read for me, but it was hard to write this review and bare my soul to all of you. For some reason, there is still a stigma around saying you have struggled with depression. I think our society is getting closer to thinking about depression as you would any other condition - such as hypertension, but we have a ways to go.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Scarf unveiling...

I bet you were expecting a Ten on Tuesday post, weren't you? ToT is taking a little holiday break, but I will be back with more random questions/answers next week!

So today I am going to show you the scarves that I made for my mom, sisters, and sisters-in-law. I started working on these back in April, I believe? It was so hard to keep them a secret. No one, besides my mom, really knew that I was doing this!!

Without further ado, here they are!

The first one is for my mom - we saw a scarf that was knit from this pattern when we were shopping for yarn in the town close to my parents' lake cabin. My mom just loved the scarf but the shop owner didn't have the pattern. Luckily I randomly stumbled upon it while browsing a pattern site this winter. There are probably thousands of patterns, so it's extremely odd that I found this! It looks difficult, but it's not too tricky. It does require a lot of concentration, though! Many of the patterns I do are kind of 'mindless' but this one definitely isn't!

Here's a close-up of it - the entire scarf has that wave pattern going on. My mom loved it and I think she has worn it every day so far!!

I made this one for my younger sister, Abby. She LOVES green so I chose this variegated green yarn and found a checkered pattern. The odd thing is that it matches her winter coat PERFECTLY. I seriously couldn't have found a better matching scarf! Granted, she probably won't get a whole lot of use out of it since she lives in Arizona, but it is definitely keeping her warm while she is home over the holidays!

Here's a close-up of the checkered pattern.

I made this one for my sister-in-law, Julie. This one was actually the most time consuming. I am going to guess it took about 20-25 hours? The reason is that I used pretty small needles. It turned out great, though! Ribbed scarves are my favorite!

I made this one for my older sister, Emily. She is a teacher and this scarf sort of struck me as an 'academic' scarf. No idea why - maybe because it sort of reminds me of Harry Potter's scarf? The colors are similar.

Last, but not least, I made this scarf for my sister-in-law, Emily. Yep, you read that right, I have a sister AND a SIL named Emily. Gets a bit confusing sometimes - we definitely have to use middle or last names when referring to them! Anyways, I knit this one out of a really, really thick yarn and huge needles. I basically felt like I was knitting with baseball bats since I knit this right after I made my SIL's scarf on smaller needles. It turned out great and features a diagonal pattern that switches direction.

Here's a close-up of the diagonal pattern. It's kind of hard to see it, but it's there. :) This was probably the most frustrating pattern. You had to use a certain set of stitches to get the diagonal to go the direction you wanted it to go. One night I freaking could NOT get it to go the right direction. I knit & undid the same 10-20 rows over. and over. and over. I finally gave up and went to bed. The next night I got it on my first try!

So there you have it! I really enjoyed making these scarves and the recipients all seemed to really like them! I am currently working on another gift - it's so fun to have a hobby that makes fun gifts that people usually enjoy receiving. I mean, who doesn't like scarves, right?

I've gotten some questions about how I got started on knitting so will put together a post on that in early January!

Which of the scarves I made do you like best?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas was..

Happy Monday! I can't believe Christmas has come and gone - it was such a fun weekend, but sort of a whirlwind! I was too tired/lazy to download any pictures and videos last night so here is my weekend in bullet points (photo post to come next week when I actually have some time in the evenings!)

Christmas was...
  • putting together a 500 piece puzzle with my grandma, cousin, and aunts.
  • being equally excited when my 4 1/2 year old nephew put together the 40 piece puzzle I got him as part of his Christmas present - he was so proud of himself!
  • hearing my 20 month old nephew say my name for the first time!! I tried getting him to call me "La La" all summer since I figured that would be easier, but he has now mastered "isa" as well as everyone else's names!
  • watching my sisters, sisters-in-law, and mom open the present with the scarf I had knitted them! I was so nervous that some maybe wouldn't like the pattern/color I chose but everyone seemed to love them!
  • getting my car stuck in the snow for the first time in like 10 years. We got hit with quite the blizzard.
  • celebrating with all of my dad's siblings - they haven't all been together on Christmas since 2000! My grandpa was definitely greatly missed but we all had a wonderful time together.
  • feeling a twinge of sadness when I looked at the wall that used to hold all our senior pictures which now holds all of my siblings' wedding photos... and my senior picture. I asked my mom to please take my photo down from what I refer to the 'wedding wall'. It just looks out of place.
  • feeling that same twinge of sadness when 'family photos' were taken the night of my parents anniversary dinner. I am so thankful that nobody asked me to pose by myself. I just kept myself entertained with my blackberry and tried not to think about how I was the only person in my family who didn't have someone to take a photo with.
  • nearly crying when I opening the gluten free recipe book that my sister-in-law compiled for me; I was so touched that she went to the work of gathering all these GF recipes and writing them out!
  • watching my 20 month-old nephew dance along to the song his Elmo doll sang - hilarious! I will be posting a video of this next week!
  • eating gluten free sugar and kiss cookies my aunt got for me - which taste EXACTLY like my mom's!
  • winning 4 games of bananagrams in a row. That game rocks!! Although I don't know if anyone in my family will want to play with me anymore after my winning streak!
  • having a mini-slumber party with my 4 1/2 year old nephew and waking up to him snuggled up against me! He is definitely a cuddler!
  • exactly what I needed. I feel refreshed after the long weekend with my family - I can't wait to see them again on New Years Eve!
How was your Christmas?

Oh, and a very special Happy Birthday goes out to my dear dad!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And the winner is...

Time to reveal the winner of my giveaway!

And the winner is....

Nicole from My Life with a Crazy Puppy! Nicole, please send me your address. I will try to get the hat & scarf made within the next month or so!

I am heading up to my parents' today at noon. I had originally planned to leave after work, but they are forecasting a storm so I decided to take a 1/2 day today. I am not crazy about driving in the dark by myself and REALLY don't like driving in the dark by myself when it's storming. So even though it kind of sucks to waste vacation time driving, it's totally worth the peace of mind of knowing I'll get to my hometown safe and sound!

I'll be at my parents' house through Friday and then we head to the cabin for the remainder of the weekend. I can't wait to spend the next 4 days with my family! I plan to sleep in tomorrow, soak up the time with my family, play the piano, and do some knitting.

I hope you all have a safe and fabulous weekend! I'll be back on Monday with some sort of recap! I can't wait to hear all about your holiday - and catch up on the posts from this week. I have not had time in the evenings to do much blog reading, but I promise to get caught up eventually!!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ten on Tuesdays

Time for a Christmas themed Ten on Tuesday!!

1. When do you put up and take down your Christmas decorations?
I put them up the 1st or 2nd weekend after Thanksgiving. I take them down after we celebrate Epiphany - which is usually about the 2nd weekend in January.

2. What do you do to simplify the holiday season?
What does simplify mean? Ha. Kidding. Um, I don't really do much to simplify the season, in my opinion. I put more and more stress on myself and expect myself to get way more done than I really have time for. I should work on that whole simplifying thing.

3. What do you do to remind yourself and your family what the Christmas season is all about?
Spend time with family and friends, read the Magnificat each day (Catholic publication with daily prayers/meditations), focus on the peace of this season. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle & bustle of the season, but I try my best to focus on what we are celebrating - the birth of Christ.

4. How do you spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?
Christmas Eve is spent with my immediate family. We have a huge seafood feast, open presents, and then have homemade ice cream for dessert. The homemade ice cream is to die for. If you've never had it, I feel very sorry for you because it is AMAZING.

Christmas Day is spent with my dad's side of the family. We have a meal that is similar to what you'd have on Thanksgiving. I always thought of it as a smaller gathering when I was growing up since my dad only has 3 siblings (doesn't seem like much since my mom has 7!). But this year, there are going to be about 40 of us! That is not a small gathering!!

5. What is your favorite Christmas tradition?
Our Christmas Eve meal. As I've gotten older, the evening is more about sharing an amazing meal with family. The present opening is fun, but the focus of the evening is definitely enjoying each others' company while preparing a meal.

6. Did you do the whole Santa thing growing up? What do you like/not like about continuing the tradition?
Yep, we did. He usually came while we were opening gifts. My parents were pretty clever. My dad would inevitably get a gift of clothing that he would just HAVE to try on immediately. So he'd go into their bedroom and on his way, he'd ring the doorbell (he was able to do this from the hall with some odd contraption we used to have where you could set your doorbell to be a song). So the doorbell would ring, us kids would all run down to the front door - no one would be there, and we'd get back upstairs and there would be a bag of gifts on the deck.

The Santa tradition is still alive and well in our family, but it's different now - Santa now comes at night for the kiddos and then us adults get fun stocking stuffers. I love that the tradition is alive - there is nothing that I don't like about it!

7. What is your favorite Christmas cookie?
This is a sensitive question for me. :( Now that I am gluten free, I can't have any of my favorites from the past - like sugar cookies, kiss cookies, or gingerbread men. But those peanut butter balls are pretty fantastic so they make a great substitute! But my heart does ache a little bit for my mom's sugar cookies. They are to DIE FOR. Well, anything she bakes is, but especially her cookies.

8. How do you take your egg nog?
Um, not at all. I am not a fan of the stuff!!

9. What is your favorite Christmas carol and why?
Probably Silent Night. It is a beautiful hymn and its an easy one to sing in harmony. I'm more of a harmony person v. a melody person. Some songs are easy to sing the harmony to, and this is one of them!

10. When was the last time you had a white Christmas?
I have never NOT had a white Christmas - at least not one that I could remember. And I am glad about that! Since I grew up with snow every Christmas, I think it'd be sad to not have it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas is Coming!

I cannot believe it is Christmas week. How in the heck did this holiday sneak up on me? I think back to my childhood year - it seemed like it took FOREVER for Christmas Eve to arrive. I guess back then I was all about the presents under the tree. I still enjoy the presents aspect, but that's not what I am most looking forward to. I am more looking forward to seeing all of my siblings, their spouses, and my nephews. We aren't all together under one roof often enough. Honestly, if my parents decided not to buy gifts anymore, I wouldn't even care! I am more excited about watching my nephews open their gifts! Having kids around definitely changes the focus of Christmas!

Here's some photos of things I've done to prepare for the holiday season:

My favorite Holiday treats are now off limits since I am Gluten Free, so I made something new that I could enjoy this year - peanut butter balls! They are to die for!!

I usually have a cookie decorating party - this year I changed it to a Gingerbread house decorating party. I've told you guys I have no artistic ability - here is the evidence. I kind of wanted to lie and say my 4 year old nephew decorated it. But honesty is the best policy. This is the handiwork of a 28 year old. If you could see a side shot of the house, you would notice that I actually put the roof on upside down so the shingles are going in the wrong direction. Oops.

This is what a gingerbread house decorated by an adult should look like! This was my friend Brooke's - she is so talented!!

There is a good reason why I shoddily put that Gingerbread house together. My friend Amanda was over with her baby. Stella was born on December 2nd and is such a beautiful baby! I rushed to get my Gingerbread house decorated so I could hold her and give Amanda a chance to do some decorating. There is nothing more relaxing than holding a baby and putting her to sleep. And don't you love the name Stella?? I know I do!!

Here is my Christmas tree, which I decorated on my own for the first time in years. I suck at all things crafty, but managed to not make it look too terrible!

If you celebrate Christmas, how will you be celebrating it this year? I am heading home on Wednesday after work and absolutely can't wait!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ode to Parents

Look at that beautiful couple! That is my dear mom and dad who will be celebrating 40 years of marriage on Sunday. So this blog post is dedicated to them.

40 years. Can you even wrap your mind around that? Tack on the 5 7 years they spent dating (thanks for the correction, mom!), and these two have been dedicated to each other for 45 47 years. They were high school sweethearts and voted Best Couple, senior year. It all started at a dance when someone told my dad that my mom wanted to dance to dance with him, and someone told my mom that my dad wanted to dance with her.

And the rest, as they say, is history. 5 children and 4 grandchildren later, they are still going strong. I've said it before and I will say it again - I'm so lucky to have grown up with such a wonderful example of what a marriage should be like.

Here are some things I've learned from observing my parents marriage:

1. Opposites can attract... - my parents are sort opposites. My mom is more high strung (I'm just like her) and my dad is a little bit more layed back. My mom likes things super tidy (you could eat off her floors) and my dad is ok with a little clutter here and there. Their differences compliment each other, though, and they make it work. I think it would be challenging for people like my mom & I to marry super high strung men - it would sort of be a recipe for disaster!

2. But you better have the important stuff in common - even though my parents have their share of differences, they have the same views on the important things that count. Like the values they want to instill in their children. They are definitely on the same page when it comes down to what's important to them.

3. Couples that pray together, stay together - Going to church as a family has always been a big part of our lives. We never missed a Sunday - even when we were on vacation. My parents have a strong prayer life and I know they have learned on each other & prayed together during tough times.

4. Communication is key - My dad has always said, "I don't have to ask your mother what she's thinking!" - and this is so true. It's so important to know how to communicate with each other. It requires trust and respect for one another. In addition, I have to say that my parents never seem to run out of things to talk about. It kind of amazes me. I've rode along with them on a couple of trips to Chicago, which is about an 8 hour drive from Minneapolis, and they can chat the entire trip. Blow my mind. You would think after that many years together, you'd run out of things to say - but they haven't. It's even more amazing when you consider the fact that they also run a business together - so it's not like they are living these separate lives 8 hours a day!

5. Don't stop dating - You are probably wondering what I mean by this! Although it was hard for my parents to go on dates since they had 5 kids, I still have memories of them going on dates when I was young. By that point, my older siblings were able to watch us younger kids, so I think it was a little easier for them to go on dates. They didn't go on a lot of dates, but I remember the occasional movie which was always followed by a trip to the super market. When my parents would come home at the end of the night, my mom would always come in my room and check on me and I'd ask her about their night and what they had for dinner. I remember thinking that it was so odd that they went to the grocery store together, but my mom always said it was really fun for them to be able to shop together - looking back, it was probably the fact that it was kid-free that made it so enjoyable!!

I could go on and on, but I'll stop there!

All 5 of us kids will be home for Christmas so we'll be celebrating their Anniversary over Christmas weekend.

Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad!! I love you both so much and can't wait to see you on Wednesday!!

PS - Don't my parent look young? That photo was taken at my sister's wedding in August - they are both 61!! I hope I age as well as they have!!

What have you learned from your parents' marriage?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Review: The Help

My Minneapolis book club met up earlier this month to discuss our 2nd book. I got to pick the book and the location. I had heard so many good things about The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, so that was my selection for the month. For the location, I picked Cafe Maude, a restaurant in the Armatage neighborhood of south Minneapolis (one of my favorite areas of south Minneapolis). I had been wanting to check that restaurant out for a long time - it's nice that this book club now gives us all an excuse to check out new places. If you live in the area or visit Minneapolis, I think it's a great place to check out. It's very cozy, the decor is awesome, and they often feature live music by local artists!!

Anyways, onto the book. The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. One of the main characters, Skeeter, has just moved home from college and is trying to figure out what to do with her life. She aspires to be an author but none of her book suggestions are appealing to a New York City book editor she contacts - the editor tells her she needs to come up with a topic that hasn't been written about.

Skeeter was essentially raised by their house keeper, Constantine, who mysteriously disappeared while Skeeter was away at college. In an effort to find out what happened to Constantine, she gets to know the other African American women in the area who worked as house keepers and nannies for affluent citizens of Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter then becomes inspired by their stories - some of the stories are very uplifting, but many of the stories are heart-breaking. She is so moved by the stories of these women, she decides to write a book, "The Help", that will tell the stories of these hard-working women who are so often treated unfairly.

Since racial tensions created a tenuous environment in Jackson, Mississippi during this time, she had to write the book in secret, make up the name of the city where the stories take place, and have it published anonymously. She risks her life and loses many friendships while writing this book, but the stories she has to tell are so moving and compelling, she knows the risks she is taking are worth it.

I thought this book was really well written. It was the first novel for Stockett, but I never would have guessed that had I not known. It was interesting to read a novel set during this time. It's weird to think that my parents were in their teens during this time. They of course were pretty far removed since they lived in North Dakota - one of the least racially diverse states in the country - but I am sure they were still shaped by the events that were going on at this time. It's pretty amazing to see how far our country has come since the 60s. This book definitely makes you think about the courage required to stand up for those who weren't able to speak for themselves. It's really easy to look back and think that you would have done the same, but this book definitely makes you think about the danger associated with speaking out and standing up for something that was unpopular at the time.

My only criticism of the book is that it ended very abruptly. It almost felt like the author had a page limit and realized she needed to wrap it up in about 20 pages. She could almost do a sequel to the book - I definitely finished the book wondering what would happen to a few of the main characters.

Our next book that we'll discuss in January is "Downtown Owl" by Chuck Klosterman. I am sure excited to read this book because Chuck Klosterman is from my tiny hometown -AND he was good friends with my brother. Have you heard of him? He's written some very popular books, has written for Spin magazine, and has even interviewed Britney Spears for Esquire magazine. So this small town boy has gone quite far! Oh, and Downtown Owl is loosely based on real events that took place in my tiny town back in the day. I can't wait to read it and figure out who he is referring to in the story!!

Have you read any good books lately? If so, do tell! I am always looking to expand my to-read list!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Giveaway Time!!

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

It's been awhile since I've done a giveaway. 'Tis the season for giving, so I thought now would be the perfect time to give something away!

So what will I be giving away?

Well, after your favorable response to the hat and scarf that I showed you last week, I've decided that would be a great giveaway. The best part (in my opinion) is that the winner gets to pick the color of the scarf/hat! They have to be the same color, but you can pick whatever color your heart desires. I'm kind of a yarn snob, so you'll have to pick a color offered by Malabrigo. Mine was done in Pearl, in case you were wondering.

There are a couple of ways you can enter this giveaway:
1. Leave a comment, telling me what color you would choose (click on the Malabrigo hyperlink and leave the name of the Malabrigo color).
2. Become a follower, and comment, telling me you are a follower. If you are already a follower, leave another comment letting me know you are a follower.
3. Blog about this giveaway and leave a comment with the link of your blog entry.

You have until 10 pm on Tuesday, December 22rd. I will then announce the winner on Wednesday, December 23rd.

Since the scarf & hat will be made to order, you'll probably have to wait about a month to receive it - but hopefully you'll understand since it will be made especially for you!!

PS - I have no affiliation with Malabrigo. It just happens to be one of my favorite brands of yarn!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ten on Tuesday

It's time for another installment of "Ten on Tuesday" - this week there are some bonus questions, so it's Fifteen on Tuesday instead!

1. If you could change anything about your physical appearance, what would it be?
I would change my complexion. I have the most temperamental skin. I break out when I am stressed, when my hormones spike at different times, when the seasons change. You name it. I would love to have a clear complexion more than anything. I have honestly done everything I can think of from seeing a dermatologist to getting regular facials, but I seemed to be doomed to problematic skin. I seriously look like I am going through puberty right now - I was super stressed last week and it's showing on my skin. :(

2. Is there a habit in others that you find annoying?
How much time do you have? Ha. I'm not even going to say just kidding. Here are a few: complaining about something that you have the power to change, being late, and sniffling over and over and over - just blow your dang nose!

3. What is your favorite recipe using ground beef?
Hmm, I am going to have to say chili. I actually don't have a fantastic chili recipe - I am still on the look out for one! Do you have one? Send it to me!

4. What was your favorite book as a kid?
I was apparently obsessed with "The Sorcerer's Apprentice". It's not a popular book, but dang did I love it. I guess I had it memorized. Now I read it to my nephews and I just don't understand why I loved it so much!

5. Did you work as a teenager and if so, where?
I sure did! I did quite a bit of babysitting and then when I was in 10th grade, I started teaching piano lessons. I had 10 adorable students!

6. Did you work while in college and if so, where?
Sure did! I had actually had as many as 3 jobs at a time. First I sold shoes at JC Penny's but then I quit after I was sexually harassed by the loss prevention guy. Gross. After that I got a job as a waitress and ended up working there all through college. My senior year I also worked at the newspaper, answering the phones and selling ads to on campus organizations. And I was also a T.A. for Applied Calculus. I proctored exams and then graded them. Thrilling work, let me tell you.

7. When you go to sleep do you like total darkness or semi? When you go to sleep do you need quiet or is some noise ok?
I need absolute silence. Ticking clocks drive me up the wall. I have to take the batteries out - otherwise I will not sleep. I am kind of flexible on the darkness thing because I actually wear a sleep mask! I don't wear it because I need it extra dark, I wear it because I have a hard time falling asleep and it helps me keep my eyes closed and relax. Bizarre, I know.

8. When doing laundry, fabric softener or not?
Fabric Softener! I love Downy!

9. Open toed or closed toed shoes?
Both! I do not discriminate when it comes to shoes!!

10. Would you rather be blind or deaf?
Oh jeez. That's tough. I'm going to have to say deaf - which is shocking because I absolutely love music. But I can't imagine getting around if I was blind.

11. Dangle or stud earrings?
Studs. I'm not much for big earrings. I think they look bizarre on me.

12. Bottled water or tap?
Either! Unless I am traveling, I rarely buy bottled water.

13. What do you put on pancakes?
I'm a traditionalist - maple syrup.

14. On a long trip would you rather drive or fly?
Fly. Unless I had all the time in the world and the trip would take me through a beautiful part of the country. Then I would probably say drive. But I'd need a fun co-pilot that liked the same music as I do!

15. Do you prefer classic old movies or new?
My favorite movies tend to be the classics, like Breakfast at Tiffany's or Casablanca. They had less to work with in terms of budgets and special effects, so the acting and plot had to be spot on!

Monday, December 14, 2009

This week HAS to be better

I'm just going to say it - last week was craptastic. I hope Webster adds that word to the dictionary soon. It such an effective way to describe when things don't go so hot.

Here's a selection of some of the things that didn't go so well last week:
  • I had computer issues on Tuesday. I had to restart my computer 5 TIMES. I lost at least 90 minutes of my day trying to get it figured out. I was dangerously close to throwing it out the window - no kidding. Sometimes I hate technology. My frustration level is increased when I think about how my 2 brothers make their livelihood by working with computer. Obviously I missed out on that gene pool.
  • I think the subzero temps must have frozen my brain on Wednesday night because I somehow managed to get on the wrong bus. I got on the 576 instead of the 578. Pretty pathetic when a math major can't tell the difference between a 6 & 8. I didn't even realize I was on the wrong bus until it was nearly at the end of its route. I had a complete 'oh sh*t' moment when I looked up and knew I was not on the right bus. I might have had a mini-panic attack because I honestly couldn't think of anyone I could have called to come and get me and bring me to my car. I guess I could have called a cab, but that would have sucked. Luckily, the bus stopped at a corner where I could catch another bus that would take me to my car. Dealing with all of this at the end of a 11 hour work day was less than enjoyable.
  • At 4 pm on Friday, I found an error in the assumptions of a financial model I've spent the last 2 months developing. I'm not going to bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that the error meant starting over. I needed to have the output of this model for a Tuesday deadline, which meant I got to work on the model over the weekend. I was able to re-create it much more quickly the 2nd time around, but it still sucked working this weekend. There were so many things I would have rather done. But a deadline is a deadline, so not working wasn't an option.
  • Luckily I can remote in from home so didn't need to physically go into the office - which is good because I somehow managed to lose my work ID, which I need to get into my office, on the 5 block walk from my office to my bus stop. Oh, and my metropass (the way I pay for my bus rides) was attached to my work ID. So that's gone, too. So I am hoping I can easily replace both of those today.
I'll stop there. I could go on, but then it's going to seem like I am making this up. I wish I was.

My mantra for this week is - 'things have to get better'. I really hope that is a self-actualizing prophecy.

Some days I think they could make a movie of my life. Or a crappy reality tv show. Do you ever feel that way?

Friday, December 11, 2009

I sure can pick 'em!

Football teams, that is. Certainly not men, but let's not get into that today.

Yep, you read that write. This blog post is about football. And it's dedicated to my former co-worker Pat, who religiously reads this blog. I think. He never comments. You know, he's one of those 'closet readers' that likes to stay under the radar. I DARE you to comment Pat.

Moving on.

I participate in this game called King of the Hills (KOTH). Each week, you pick a team that you think is going to win. You can not pick the same team more than once. If you pick a losing team, you get a strike. 3 strikes and you are out.

It's my 3rd year of participating - the first two years I got strikes the FIRST week. The first time, I made a rookie mistake and picked my boyfriend's favorite team, the Kansas City Chiefs. Bad decision. The 2nd year, I can't remember who I picked, maybe the Colts? Whoever I picked should not have lost, but they did.

This year, I have gone 13 weeks without a single strike! I'm one of the 7 strikeless people left - Pat and his son are also strikeless!

I could WIN this thing.

And I swear to God, if I get a strike this week, I am going to take this as a sign from God that I should never blog about things when I am ahead of the game - like when I am dating someone and it's going well or when I am strikeless in KOTH.

There's 4 weeks to go. 62 people are playing and at $5/person, that's $310!! 2-3 people usually tie each year, but hey - $100 would come in quite handy!

So cross your fingers that my good luck continues. It would be kind of funny if the girl who knows the least about football wins. And I do mean it when I say I know the least. Case and point: I met Kurt Warner's wife last winter while I was in Phoenix the weekend of the Superbowl (no, I wasn't there to attend the game) and had no idea who her husband was. She said he played for the Cardinals and I asked what position. Oh, what? He's the starting quarterback and an MVP? Whoopsies. My bad.

So who'd I pick this week? Tennessee over St. Louis. Sorry, Nora! Picking against your hometown team had served me well this season!

Do you watch football?? Do any of you participate in fantasy football leagues or pools like King of the Hill?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fruits of My Labor

Thank you all for your sweet comments yesterday! I really am feeling much better - it was therapeutic to blog about it and admit that sometimes I feel overwhelmed. I try so hard to give off the impression that balancing everything is effortless - but it's so not!

I have a weekend of fun things planned, which always helps! I'm babysitting for 2 of my nephews on Saturday which I am SO looking forward to. There is nothing better than spending time with these two little munchkins! They are usually pretty generous with the hugs and "I Love Yous" So I am sure that will really help me re-charge my battery.

Another thing I've been doing to re-charge my battery on the weekends is knit The repetitive nature of this hobby is just so calming and soothing for me. I usually knit the same type of scarves over and over but lately I gotten 'adventurous' and knit some new patterns. Yes I did just used adventurous and knitting in the same sentence.

Here's the scarf and hat that I recently made!

My apologies for the crappy self-photo - where's a personal photographer when I need one?

It was my first hat and I love how it turned out! I am always knitting things and giving them away as gifts but I have decided to keep these 2 projects for myself! I've already bought 2 other colors of yarn and plan to make 2 more sets of this scarf/hat combo to give as gifts in 2010.

This Christmas I will be giving 6 scarves as gifts! I hope the recipients like the scarves. They are all wrapped up under my tree. I took pictures before wrapping them so I will be posting them after Christmas. I can't post them now since all of the recipients read my blog!!

I am hoping to learn how to crochet in 2010. I really wish I lived closer to my Grandma - she is a master crocheter. I would love nothing more than to sit in her living room with her and crochet or knit, side-by-side, while catching up on life!

Do you have any hobbies that help you de-stress?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Treadmill of Life

I've been trying to focus on the happy things in my life lately. I truly think that life is all about perspective - so if you focus on the positive, you will feel more happy and have a better outlook on life.

But I also believe in being honest on this blog.

So here's the truth on how I have been feeling lately. I love my life and find it very fulfilling. But sometimes it feels like a lot to keep up with. An excerpt of the lyrics of "Whisper" by A Fine Frenzy (great artist, check her out if you haven't already!) really sums up how I've been feeling lately.

running the race
like a mouse in a cage
getting nowhere, but I’m trying
forging ahead
but I’m stuck in the bed
that I made,
so I’m lying

eager to please,
trying to be what they need
but I’m so very tired
I’ve stopped trying to find
any peace in my mind
‘cause it tangles the wires

Most days I feel like I am going along on the treadmill of life, running at a comfortable pace of about 6.5 miles per hour; but then, out of the blue, someone comes along and cranks the speed up to 8+ mph. As a result, I'm gasping for air and trying to figure out how to slow the treadmill back down to a sustainable pace.

Right now I'm trying my best to do it all - succeed at work, connect with friends, reach out to family, maintain my running mileage, etc. But sometimes it just seems like a lot for one person to keep up with and it's inevitable that I am going to disappoint someone and, in turn, feel disappointed in myself.

At this point, I don't really have a solution. Eventually I'll get the balancing act down and figure out how to adjust to my schedule.

In the mean time, I am trying to be a little bit more patient and a lot less hard on myself. It's easier said than done, but it's something I am working on.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ten on Tuesday

1. Cost aside, if you could go (back) to college for anything besides what you currently “do,” what would you study?

I'd probably get a degree in English. This blog has made me realize how much I enjoy writing! I would love to someday write a book but I think I have a ways to go before I can reach that goal, but a degree in English sure would help!

2. What do you do for a living? Do you love it/hate it?

I work as a Financial Analyst for a large retailer. I started this job in early October and really love what I do - I am challenged every day and am applying concepts I learned in my MBA program. I paid a pretty penny for that program so it's nice to see all those hours of studying paying off!

3. What is your favorite Christmas ornament? If you don’t celebrate Christmas, what is your favorite holiday tradition?

I don't have a specific ornament that I love - in general I love silver & white ornaments.

4. Name something you could literally do without for the rest of your life.

Pizza. I have never liked it - my mom can confirm this if you think that's impossible. I was the kid that got the salad bar when we'd go out for pizza!

5. If you were going to have any kind of “cosmetic procedure,” what would it be?

Hmm... that's tough. I really don't have anything I'd want to cosmetically alter. If I had to choose, I'd probably go for a tummy tuck or something. My stomach has always been my problem area. Even when I was at my thinnest when training for my marathon, I still had a little bit of a tummy.

6. Do you have any “collections”? (comic books, shoes, etc.)

Not really - unless books count, but they probably don't since I don't have any criteria when buying a book...

7. At what age did you get your first cell phone?

21!! How did I ever live that long without a cell phone. Like, oh my God, how did I survive! (said w/ sarcasm) I think it's ridiculous that elementary school children are getting cell phones.

8. What is currently in your purse (or pocket or backpack if you’re a guy)?

The question is - what isn't. Right now it has:
- wallet
- bag of jolly ranchers
- the book "Outlander"
- L'Occitane lotion (best lotion ever!0
- Bath & Body Works hand sanitizer
- cough drops
- mittens
- a hat I recently knitted
- toner I just bought after my facial

I'll just stop there. I often refer to my purse as Mary Poppin's Magic Carpet bag and joke that I could potentially pull a lamp out of it!

When I was young, I remember thinking my mom's purse was so huge and held so much unnecessary stuff. Now I totally get it now, mom!

9. Are you a neat-freak or a slob ? *this applies to house, office, car, etc.

I'm sort of in the middle. I can be really anal about certain things, but I let some things slide. Like my car - there is probably a 1/4" of dust on the dashboard.

10. What kind of parent do you think you will be? If you’re already a parent, what is your style?

That's a tough question to answer. I think I'll raise my kids with a good balance of having a routine, but also letting them 'be a kid'. That is how I was raised and I am so thankful for that. My life wasn't scheduled to the max and most nights I came home and just played in the yard or played piano, etc. I didn't have some place to be every night, which was great. I also was not a spoiled child. We never wanted for anything, but all of our demands and requests were certainly not met - and I am thankful for that!

Bottom line, I want to be there for my kids. Growing up, my parents were never too tired to talk to us or play with us or work on homework. Now that I am working, I am kind of amazed by that! How my parents worked all day and still had all that energy at the end of the way amazes. Oh, and I ate a ridiculously delicious meal every. single. day. No frozen meals, either. I'd like to do that for my kids too!

Your turn - answer some, all, or none!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sunday Night Dinner: Stir fry & a movie review

I'm back with another edition of Sunday night suppers - and I'll be doing a little movie review too!

When I went to my aunt & uncle's for Thanksgiving - they had a little treat for me:

A gluten free Thai Peanut sauce. I was stoked! I have had the hardest time finding gluten free cooking sauces. All the sauces I used to use when making stir fry are now off limits because they all contain wheat. I tried making stir fry the first week I went gluten free and it honestly SUCKED. And I haven't attempted to stir fry anything since.

I don't have a recipe to share with you tonight because the one I made did not turn out great, so it's not worth sharing. It was ok, and the thai peanut sauce definitely helped, but it just left me thinking - 'meh'. I'll still eat the leftovers this week at work because, well, it's my only option. I cook once a week and make enough to have meals at work for the week. So I guess I'll be eating this not-so-fabulous stir fry. But hey, lots of people in the world go hungry every day so I really cannot complain.

Here is the finished product, though!

It's a beef and asparagus stir fry made with round steak.

Speaking of round steak (how's that for a segue?) - where do you buy your meat (if you are a meat eater)? I grew up in a small town in North Dakota; in that area, it is pretty common for people to buy meat directly from a farmer who raises the cattle. At least that was the case for me growing up. Buying meat in a grocery store was a foreign concept for me.

When I graduated from college and had to start cooking for myself (I lived in a sorority in college so all my meals were made by a house mom!), I had to start shopping for meat in a grocery store. And honestly, I was disgusted by the quality of meat. It bothered me how the top layer of ground beef is always colored and then beneath that red layer, it is a sickly gray color. (sorry vegetarians).

I was so happy when my parents offered to split a 1/4 of beef with me this year (that means 1/4 of a cow). I know that might sound like alot of meat, but it's actually the perfect amount for a single girl. I like knowing where my meat came from. Our family knows the farmers who raised the cow and it was butchered at a local butcher shop.

So why am I talking about this? Well, it ties into the movie I watched on Sunday - Food, Inc. It is such a great movie - I highly recommend it. It features interviews by Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore's Dilemma (on my to read list) as well as interviews by farmers and others that raise the chickens, pigs, cows, and corn that feed our nation.

It's a quick, 90 minute film that is very thought provoking and I think it will make you think differently about where your food comes from. It certainly made me think about it differently - and it made me even more glad that I no longer buy my beef at a grocery store.

Have you seen the movie? If so, did you change your buying behaviors after watching it?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Happy 101

Good morning and Happy Friday! The lovely Becky of Love Everyday Life gave me this award!! Thank you, Becky! Her blog is so lovely - if you don't already read it, go check it out! She lives in the D.C. area - an area that I have yet to visit. It's on the list so I hope to some day visit. I can imagine us chatting about books over warm drinks at Starbucks, and hopping in and out of bookstores!

The rules of this award:

List 10 things that make you happy.
Try and do at least one of them today.
Tag 10 bloggers that brighten your day.
Link back to the person that tagged you.

1. Starbucks lattes and the friendly barristas that serve them to me - and the fact that they are all learning my name, one by one!
2. Waking up without an alarm clock.
3. Being with my nephews - especially playing games like Chutes & Ladders, Memory, and CandyLand. Confession: I enjoy the games as much as they do!!
4. Going to Bella Lana and buying new yarns & patterns.
5. Knitting! It's so relaxing and it makes me happy when I create beautiful things!
6. Running
7. Sitting on the dock at my parents' cabin. Especially if I am sipping a blender drink that my mom makes - she makes the best daiquiris and always uses fresh fruit! They are delish!
8. Playing cribbage with my Dad. It's "our game" and he never turns me down when I ask him to play!
9. Buying plane tickets to visit friends, family, or a new city.
10. Reading your blogs & getting comments from you!

And so much more! I like that I've been focusing more on what makes me happy and thankful. Life is really all about perspective. And sometimes happiness is a choice - you have to choose to focus on the good things in life and let go of the disappointments and things that bring you down.

Now for my 10 - dang this is tough!

1. Abby of The Adventures of Abby and Ryan
2. Nora of Walking Through the Rain
3. Amber of Girl with the Red Hair
4. Mandy of Just a Small Town Girl
5. Lisa-Marie of This Girl...
6. Heidi of Cherry Blossoms
7. Nicole of My Life with a Crazy Puppy
8. Emily Jane
9. Kyla Roma
10. One Little Fish

Oh, that was tough. I read and love so many blogs!!

Hope you all have a fantastic weekend! I'll be celebrating my best friend's birthday tonight! I can't wait!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sunday Night Dinners: Pork Adobo Chili

If you like the spicy, smokey flavor of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, you are going to love this recipe!! I actually have never cooked with pork before and I am really not sure why - it's not any more difficult than cooking with chicken. If you don't care for pork, I am sure you could sub chicken in this recipe.

Here is the recipe in photos!

Brown the pork in 1.5 tsp. of heated olive oil.

Remove pork and set aside. Add 1.5 tsp of olive oil and cook the onion, bell peppers, and garlic. Stir occasionally and cook until softened (about 5-7 min).

Stir in the tomatoes, chipotle, chili powder, cumin, and salt; bring to a boil.

Add kidney beans and pork.

Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the pork is tender (about 10-15 minutes).

I served mine over a 1/2 cup of brown rice and it was delicious!!

And like all of the recipes I've shared with you, this recipe yields A LOT!!

I've been enjoying the leftovers all week and they might be even better the 2nd time around.

Here are the ingredients:

1 T. of Olive Oil
1 lb. boneless pork loin, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 t. chopped canned chipotle en adobo
2 t. chili powder
2 t. ground cumin
3/4 t. salt
1 15.5 oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

What have you been cooking lately?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Book Review: Pride & Prejudice

November marked the second month of our blogger book club, hosted by The Many Thoughts of a Reader. This month we decided to read a classic - Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". I had actually read this before, but it was probably 5 years ago, so I figured it was worth re-reading it. I had attempted to read P&P when I was in high school but just couldn't get into it - I was actually inspired to read it when it was referenced in "You've Got Mail" (can you tell this is a favorite movie of mine!). When I attempted it 5 years ago, I had a much harder time compared to this time around. I would not say that it is an easy read - you have to really want to read it - but don't let yourself get intimidated by Austen. I've found that the end notes are worth reading as they give a lot of incite into things Austen mentions in passing, like rules of inheritance.

I am guessing that most of you have probably seen the movie, so I don't have to dance around what happens in this book. In the event that you haven't read it or seen the movie, read no further if you don't want the ending spoiled.

The book is basically about the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. If you read my guest post that I wrote earlier this month, you know that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy did not get off to a good start. Elizabeth overheard Mr. Darcy insulting her - she didn't have a great impression of him in the first place, so this didn't help and her impression of him was forever tarnished. Her impression of him got even worse after she spoke to a former friend of Mr. Darcy who had nothing but terrible things to say about him - which happened to be lies.

Throughout the book, Elizabeth realizes that Mr. Darcy is not the creep she thought he was. If she had listened to her level-headed sister, Jane, she would have figured this out sooner. But then Austen wouldn't have been able to go on and on about her misconceptions, like she did. This is Elizabeth's reflection after figuring out that she misjudged Mr. Darcy:

"Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself." (p. 205)

So what can we learn from Elizabeth Bennet? In my opinion, we should learn to not make rash judgment and don't believe everything you hear - especially if you barely know the source of your information.

I also think we can learn that love is not always linear. What do I mean by this? I think some of us have this fairy tale idea of love and think that if it's meant to be, there shouldn't be set-backs or miscommunications. But that's not always the case. Sometimes you misunderstand one another or sometimes you didn't have the best first impression - but that doesn't mean that a relationship isn't meant to be! I kind of struggle with this - part of me wants to give people the benefit of the doubt, but a bigger part of me buys into the "once someone shows you who they are, believe them" school of thought and wants to protect my heart. But it's good to read books like this that remind me that I don't have to pass judgment so quickly.

Click here to see what Pinkflipflops, author of The Many Thoughts of a Reader has to say!

And you should definitely join in next month! Anyone and everyone is welcome! The December book is The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Pinkflipflops is the host of this reading group - add her blog to your reader and watch for the book group related posts that go up throughout the month!

Happy reading!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ten on Tuesday

Y'all know the drill. Here goes:

1. What was the last concert you’ve been to?
I went to a Brandi Carlile concert in September and it was amazing!!

2. Is it easy to make you cry?
Oh yah. I cry very easily - always have, always will.

3. Do you ever feel like people underestimate you?
Hmm, I have never had to think about that - my gut instinct is no. Exception is running - I don't think ANYONE thought I'd ever run a marathon. And I did!

4. Name 7 completely random things that you like:
- Linen-scented wallflowers from Bath & Body Works
- Coffee table books - especially if they feature photographs of a city I've visited
- Cherry Pomegranate Crystal Light. I drink about a quart a day!
- Red, pointy toed shoes. I think every girl should own a pair!
- Kitchen twine - I love packages tied up with it. Gives it a vintage feel.
- Bananas on my corn chex. I used to eat them on Cheerios, but I can't have them anymore so tried putting them on my corn chex and it actually tastes great. I think you could probably put bananas on any cereal and it'd taste great!
- ironing - it's really calming for me

5. What’s your favorite reality TV show and why?
Project Runway. I am so impressed by what the designers are able to do in such a little amount of time! Plus I adore Tim Gunn!!

6. What is your favorite hair care product?
Probably this Aveda shine serum I use. Helps to keep the frizziness at bay. But really, there isn't a hair product that I use that I couldn't live without - I haven't found anything that spectacular!

7. What’s your favorite song at the moment?
Tough question! Maybe "Breakeven" by The Script?

8. What’s the number one thing on your Christmas wishlist?
Definitely a Garmin GPS. I get lost ALL. THE. TIME.

9. Have you ever lost your cell phone?
Yes. I lost it in Europe. Don't ask me why I brought a cell phone to Europe. It was 2004, so our cell phones didn't work there then. But I am going to cut myself some slack because I was ridiculously sick on this trip - maybe the sickest I've ever been in my life. So I was on a ton of cold meds and just not really functioning all that well so it's not surprising that I lost my cell phone during the trip.

10. Did you attack the hordes of shoppers for Black Friday?
Hells no. Even if they were giving stuff away for free I STILL wouldn't go out and shop at 5 in the morning. That just does not sound like fun to me.