Friday, December 30, 2011

2012 Goals


And here we are on the cusp of the end of yet another year.  As I illustrated yesterday, 2011 was a fabulous year.  I am bound and determined to make 2012 just as wonderful.  I'm not one for making resolutions, but I do have some goals/items of focus for 2012...

1.  Pass Level II of the CFA.  I started studying on Monday, so am already working towards this goal.  I'll be talking more about that next week.  Level II has the same pass rate as Level I did (around 40%) and is harder than Level I so I have my work cut out for me!

2.  Run a sub-4:10 marathon.  Yep, I am back to marathoning, even though I swore I'd never do another one after Portland.  According to a pace calculator, I could run a 4:02 marathon, but I think 4:10 is a good goal.  That would shave 12 minutes off my last marathon.  I haven't decided on a race yet, but am leaning towards the DC Marine Corp marathon in the fall.  But I am open to suggestions - so if there is a fall race (preferably late October/early November) in your neck of the woods (wherever that may be), I'm all ears!

3.  Save, save, save.  I did a whole lot of traveling last year - and I do not regret a single trip, but this year needs to be a focused on saving.  I've got a sickening amount of student loan debt from my MBA program and a mortgage on a condo that I'd like to continue to chip away at so that eventually I can sell it and not have to bring a huge check to the closing table. I have set an aggressive student loan pay down goal - it's doable, but will definitely require me to adjust some spending habits.

4.  Abstain from buying books.  This pains me, but is one way I will focus on saving instead of spending.  I have 4 shelves of unread books.  I can borrow books from the library - either the physical version or I can download them on my nook.  There really isn't a great, justifiable reason for me to buy any books this year.  If I do get any B&N gift cards for my birthday, I will make an exception.  I have never gone a year without buying a single book, so this will be a challenge for me, to say the least. 

So those are some of my goals for 2012.  I feel that, with hard work, they are achievable!

This is my last post of 2011!  I hope that everyone has a safe and happy New Year!

What are some of your goals or resolutions for 2012?  How will you spend NYE?  I'll bring in the new year with my family - 4 of us 5 kids will be together with my parents so it should be a blast!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top 10 of 2011

'Tis the season to reflect on all of the things that happened in 2011.  Wow, it was a full year for me.  It will quite possibly go down as one of the best years of my life, and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to say that!

In true David Letterman style, here is my top 10 moments/events/experiences of 2011, in no particular order, with some pictures as illustrations!

1.  Getting my job offer in January  I whole-heartedly love my job.  It's challenging and rewarding and a great fit.  I also love my boss.  This week he used some of his frequent flier miles to upgrade me to first class on our trip to Charlotte next week.  This is just one example of the kind/thoughtful things my boss does for me. 

2.  My Paris trip.  It was truly the perfect way to celebrate my 30th birthday.  It was an amazing trip, and I will treasure that solo trip to Paris, and the memories I made during that trip, for the rest of my life.  And luckily, most of those memories are well-documented on my France blog

3.  The Paris-themed birthday party that my dear friends Brooke & Amanda threw for me. Celebrating my 30th surrounded by family, friends, and delicious French-inspired food was the perfect way to celebrate entering a new decade!

4.  Passing the Series 7 & 63 exam.  I needed to pass these exams for work so was relieved when I passed both on my first attempt.  Phew!

5.  Meeting my nephew Charlie & niece Anna for the first time.  I'm sure a proud aunt and was so excited to gain a niece and nephew this year - both of which are healthy and beautiful!

6.  Passing the Level I CFA exam.  I have never worked so hard for something and been so uncertain I would succeed, so I cannot really explain the joy and satisfaction of finding out I was one of the 39% who passed the level I CFA.  I cried tears of joy and have probably never felt so proud of myself.  But I definitely earned that pass as I was studied by butt off.

7.  Being asked to be a bridesmaid by both Amber and Nora.   I think the fact that I was asked to be in the weddings of two girls I met through blogging is a testament to the authenticity of relationships that can be formed through blogging.  I was honored and touched to be asked to be part of their special day and am so excited to stand up there next to both of them!

8.  Moving into my downtown condo.  This was probably the boldest decision I made in 2011, but is the decision that has had the biggest impact in my life.  This decision has made a HUGE improvement in my quality of life.  I couldn't be happier and have no desire to ever leave this condo - although I don't own it, so eventually I will have to buy it or move out...  but that is a decision for another time down the road.

9.  Julia Child Night.  The 3rd Annual Julia Child Night was simply amazing.  I absolutely love planning this event with my aunt and look forward to our 4th annual Julia Child night next fall!!  We have already discussed menu ideas! :)

10.  PR'ing my Victoria half and meeting my sub-2 hour goal.  I really did not think I would accomplish this goal.  I have my coaches to thank for this, they totally changed my approach to training and it made a world of difference!  In addition to PR'ing, this weekend was wonderful as I got to spend time with Amber, Lauren, and Leigh.  We had so much fun exploring Victoria together.  I would definitely do another trip with these girls in a heart beat!!

So there you have it - 2011 summed up in a selection of wonderful moments.  It feels a bit braggy to list them out like this, but dang it, 2010 was EPICALLY HORRIBLE.  Those closest to me know how hard that year was, so I think I earned a year full of wonderful accomplishments and memories.

What were your best moments of 2011?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best Books of 2011

Greetings and happy Wednesday to you all!  As I said my post a couple of weeks ago, I did quite a bit of reading in 2011 - 51 books as of today, actually!  I thought I'd share my 5 favorite books that I read in 2011!

Here they are, in no particular order!

 The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer - I discovered this book when I was perusing the Barnes & Noble "Best of 2010" list last December.  I was looking for books for my Paris trip and since part of this was set in Paris, it was an easy sell for me.  It did not disappoint.  It is a bit on a the long side, but it's such a great book.  It tells the stories of 3 Hungarian brothers whose lives were torn apart by WWII.  They are Jewish, and thus are subjected to such horrible cruelties, it was difficult to read at times.  However, I think it's important for us to read these kind of books that remind us of the horrors of WWII (and war in general).  Many WWII memorials say, 'Never Forget' - reading books like this is one way we can live out that mission.

 Secret Daughter by Shilip Somaya Gowda

 The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - This is another book that I read while I was in Paris.  It was neat to read about areas that I had explored. This book is difficult to read at times as it does deal with the issue of fidelity.  I usually can't handle books about infidelity, but this one was so well-written.  I recommend reading Hemingway's memoir, A Moveable Feast, before or after reading this, as Hemingway reflects on this same time period, but he writes about it at the end of his life.  He was a total and complete scoundrel in this book, but after reading A Moveable Feast, it made me wonder if, to some extent, he regretted his behavior as he writes about his Paris Wife with such tenderness - you would never have guess that he cheated on her...

 Every Last One by Anna Quindlen - Emily favorably reviewed this one, so I decided to check it out and I am so glad I did.  Wow.  At the beginning of the book, I thought I knew where the story line was going and then BAM - a tragedy that I did not see coming occurs and the book just carries you away from that point on.  Quindlen does an amazing job of writing from the perspective of a parent who has just experienced such a horrible loss.  She uses this sort of detached style of writing that makes you realize how in shock the parent is.  It's hard to describe, but it was so effective. 

The Art of Racing the Rain by Garth Stein - I did not expect to like this book.  It's about car racing and dogs.  I have zero interest in car racing and I am not a dog person.  But I ended up loving this book, which is a true testament to the author's ability to write!  This book is told from the perspective of a dog, which is such a rare narrative technique - but it works.  The owner experiences so many awful things, but the dog does a great job of explaining them and you definitely appreciate the relationship between an owner and their dog.  This book is one of the few books that made me cry in 2011. 

Have you read any of these books?  What were some of the best books you read this year?

PS - I'd like to wish a Happy Birthday to my dear dad!!  I wish I could celebrate with him, but know we will belatedly celebrate his birthday this weekend!  He's set the best example of what I should look for in a husband - he's kind hearted, hard working, devoted to his family, and he has this great quirky sense of humor.  So I wish him the happiest of birthdays!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Recap

Happy Tuesday everyone!  I hope you all had a great holiday weekend.  My Christmas was wonderful.  I was the only kid that stayed at my parents' house so I got them to myself quite a bit this weekend - which is a treat as in a family with 5 kids, I don't get a lot of alone time with them!

It was a weekend full of good, home cooked food and delicious holiday treats - many of which I could have, like peanut brittle, heath candy, and these new macaroon-type cookies my mom made!  I saw 4 of my 5 nephews, helped my mom out in the kitchen, and  my grandma kicked my butt at Scrabble - as I expected she would.  She is truly a master at that game!

The weekend was so busy and went by so fast, I barely took any pictures!  But here are a couple!

This is the only food picture I took, which is a shame as my mom fixed SO MUCH DELICIOUS food.  This is the appetizer course from Christmas Eve.  That platter at the bottom of the photo is our seafood platter - which probably disgusts most people, but is standard fare for our Christmas Eve celebration!

Charlie got quite a kick out of Matthew.  You can kind of see that Matthew is making a face in this photo - which is par for the course for him as he is our resident clown.

Charlie "found" his tongue last week!  He has changed so much since Thanksgiving.  Now he giggles and babbles.  His personality is really starting to show through!

And that is it for my holiday recap!  I was sad to leave on Sunday night, but luckily I get to see my family again this weekend as we are gathering at the lake for our New Years celebration! 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Homeward Bound


Greetings and Happy Friday!  First things first, isn't that tree awesome?  The lovely Nora found that picture and passed it along to me - it's so fitting for a book-obsessed person like me! I most definitely have enough books to create a tree like that!

After work today, I will head home for Christmas.  It still boggles my mind that it's Christmastime, but I am excited to celebrate with family, eat great food, challenge my grandma to a game of Scrabble (and inevitably lose, seriously she is a master at this game), play some board games, and sleep in a bit each day. 

I'll be heading back on Sunday evening as I need to use my day off on Monday as a study day for the CFA.  Yep, the studying commences.  I have 3 work trips in the first 6 weeks of the year + my sinus surgery so I really need to buckle down and get a solid start on the studying!  I'll be talking more about the CFA in January, so if you are curious about the test/study process, stay tuned! 

For those who celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas weekend!  I'll be back next week with a recap, and some 'best of 2011' lists! 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Baking

It seems like all around the blogosphere, many of you are getting together and baking with others.  What a great activity to share with others!  I didn't have an opportunity to bake with others this season, but I did do some baking on my own last weekend - which is a rare occurrence.  Gluten free baking is... well...  interesting.  You just never know how things are going to turn out.  In most cases, you can't just sub in gf flour for regular flour, as it just doesn't turn out.  And bottom line, I am actually not a big sweets person...  Most days, I'd much prefer some pickles or chips & salsa.

That said, I wanted to have some treats to enjoy this holiday season, so on Friday night, I made some banana bread - with chocolate chips.  'Tis the season to be indulgent.  Banana bread is not Christmasy, but it is a gluten free recipe that I can execute and I wanted to share some with my co-workers and my aunt & uncle. 

Sliced up and ready to share with my aunt & uncle

And then I made Mama Pea's gluten free dough balls!

Some of my friends made these last year and raved about them, so I had to give them a go.  They turned out great!  I brought them to my brother's to freeze as I was out of freezer space and I think this is a very good thing as I fear I would have consumed quite a few this week otherwise!

So since I didn't get a chance to have a baking get-together, I thought I'd ask you some questions that I would have asked had I hosted you in my home!

1.  What is your favorite holiday treat?
 * Mine is probably peanut butter blossoms, aka kiss cookies.  These are not gluten free so I usually go without, but my awesome aunt & uncle got me some from a gluten free bakery!  They are delish!

2.  Do you prefer to bake or cook or do you like them equally?
* I used to prefer baking because baking requires precision.  A recipe will never say, "salt to taste".  But, I don't love sweets, and I don't enjoy the inevitable disappointment of gluten free baking, so I now prefer cooking!

3.  How do you separate an egg (separate the yolk from the whites, or vice versa)?  Do you pass the yolk back and forth between the halves of the shell or do you crack it into your hand and let the egg whites fall between your fingers?
* I pass the yolk back and forth between the shell halves.  I see a lot of people on Food Network employ the other method and it sort of makes me twitch.  I do not like having 'messy' hands, so I so could not do that other method!

4.  Are you a clean as you go or wait until the end to clean up type?
* I am definitely a clean as I go.  I do not like chaos in the kitchen, so if possible, I try to rinse dishes/load the dishwater as I work on recipes.

I'd love it if you'd answer some/all of the questions in the comments!  Also - what have you baked this holiday season?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Confessions: The Holiday Edition

The lovely Nora does these confession posts occasionally (and just did one last week!) so I thought I would play along.  This is a holiday themed list of confessions:
  • I do not like eggnog.  At all.  
  • I adore cheesy ABC Family and Hallmark Christmas movies. 
  • I pretended to believe in Santa for YEARS after I knew he was not 'real'.  I continued to pretend because I thought the Santa gifts might be discontinued otherwise.  What can I say, Santa brought some really cool things.
  • I have the hardest time not telling people what I got them for Christmas.  I usually buy gifts close to Christmas to make it easier on myself.  I was terrible at keeping gifts a surprise as a child.  I remember one Christmas my mom made me swear not to tell dad what I got him.  I decided to use reverse psychology on my dad and said, "Do you know what you are getting for Christmas from me?  It's not a wallet!"  It was totally a wallet.  I am sure he fell for the reverse psychology.
  • I am not the "fun aunt" when it comes to gift giving as I do not give toys as gifts.  Instead, my nephews and niece get books from me.  They may not get that excited over books in comparison to the fun toys they receive, but I never see many of those toys again, but year after year, I read the books I gave them.
  • I love my in-laws for many reasons, but I especially love them on Christmas Eve because now my mom makes something besides oyster stew!  Now it's usually a seafood feast that includes crab and shrimp.  Mmm.  Granted,  there was always a cheese and cracker tray and veggie tray, and the stew isn't too bad if you load it up with oyster crackers, so it's not like I went hungry all those years.  I just enjoy the meal WAY MORE these days!  ;) This year we are celebrating with some of my dad's family so we'll have lasagna and some other casseroles like that (I made a gf lasagna to share).
I will close with something completely off-topic by wishing my Mom and Dad a very Happy Anniversary (they have been married for 42 years!!).  I'd also like to wish my cousin Suzanne a very Happy Birthday!!

Do you have any holiday-related confessions you'd like to share?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Week 4: Peace

And just like that, it's the last week of Advent!  The theme of the final week of advent is peace.  I think peace is something that we all strive for.  We want to live in a peaceful world, we seek peace in our relationships, and we want to be at peace with the decision we make in life.

I think about this week in comparison to last year, and am sort of blown away by how much more peaceful my life is.  A year ago today, I ended my relationship with the Barrister (my nickname for my last boyfriend for those of you who weren't reading along last year).  There is no great time to end a relationship, but the week of Christmas is especially bad.  Presents for him and his family were under my tree.  I had made plans to join his family on Christmas Day.  But there was such a lack of peace in that relationship, I could not stay in the relationship just because it was Christmas week.  Instead of peace, there was a horrible feeling of panic and anxiety when I thought about our future together as we had some major differences that I knew we'd never work through, regardless of how much we tried to talk through those differences.  It was difficult to end the relationship as I did really care for him, but I felt at peace with my decision.

Flash forward a year, and there is much more of a sense of peace.  This year, though, I have figured out that peace is a choice.  If something is coming between you and a sense of peace, then you make changes - whether it's ending a relationship, changing professions, or whatever other change is necessary to feel at peace with your life.
"Peace is not something you wish for; It's something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away." ~ Robert Fulghum

In closing, I'd like to thank you all for all the thought, interesting comments you've left on my advent series posts.  I have enjoyed reflecting on the season and advent and appreciate all the positive feedback I've received!

I'll close with my favorite scripture passage about peace:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phillipians 4:6-7)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Feliz Navidad & Gingerbread Party Recap

Last week, I had the opportunity to host 2 different gatherings - my Feliz Navidad holiday gathering and my annual gingerbread house decorating party  Both parties went really well!  I bravely tried 2 new recipes for Saturday's gathering (enchiladas and tres leches cake), and both turned out pretty well!

I'll let the pictures do the talking!

Or course I wore an apron, but I opted to wear a more practical, festive-colored one!  I did remove it once guests arrived.  I only wear an apron for the whole evening on Julia Child night!

I love my new dining room table - and my fiesta dishes.  A big shout out to Mandy for being my fiesta ware buyer!  One of the couples cancelled due to a sick baby, so there were just 5 of us!

The drinks and appetizer area.  We drank wine, beer, and margaritas, and ate chips, salsas, guacamole, and chili con queso (not all pictured here)
Besides serving shredded chicken tacos, I also made Mama Pea's Green and Red Enchiladas (except I couldn't find red lentils, so they are technically just green enchiladas!)

Dessert was tres leches cake with made-from-scratch whipped cream.  It tasted good, but the cake sort of 'dropped' a bit when cooling.  I must not have incorporated enough air into the egg mixture.  Oops.  Lesson learned. 


Now for the Gingerbread Party!  This is the 5th time we've gathered for some Holiday fun!  The first 2 years, we decorated sugar cookies & gingerbread men/women.  Then I found out about my gluten intolerance and we changed it up and started decorating gingerbread houses as I didn't want to make/decorate cookies I couldn't eat or make/decorate cookies that these girls wouldn't want to eat (GF baking is... interesting...)

To start things off, here is a picture of my tree - I love the Eiffel Tower tree topper my friend gave me!

Decorating requires intense concentration...

But we also have lots of fun.  Elliot was a BIG FAN of the frosting!

Eventually, he tired of the crafting and showed off his ability to do a plank on my couch.  Gosh I love this kid.

And voila!  Here are the houses!  Mine is the 2nd from the right.  It turned out pretty good this year!!
When is the last time you decorated a gingerbread house?  Mine has improved over the years.  The first year, we had to assemble them and I put my roof on upside down, so the shingles, well, didn't look right.  I've gotten a bit better, but mine never look as good as Amanda & Brooke's do!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Making Time for What You Love

On Sunday night, I met a goal that I had set for myself this year:  I finished my 48th book.  Last year I read 50, and I will likely read 2 more books this month, so will be on par with last year.  It's no secret that I read a lot of books.  You see my monthly recaps, which usually feature 3-4 books.

One of my pet peeves is when people say, "I wish I had time to read as much as you do."  Now, I do understand that my life is probably not as busy as those who have children, but despite that, I think I am pretty busy.  I pack a lot into each year - especially this past year when I spent the first 5 months of the year studying 5-6 days a week for the CFA.  Add in half marathon training, a demanding job, and business travel, and it makes for a busy life (no complaints, I like it that way!). 

When you love a hobby, like running or reading, you make time for it.  I try to be careful about not saying, "I do not have time for ____."  For instance, I read the blogs of many people who make amazing mid-week meals.  I am incredibly impressed by what they eat on a weeknight.  However, I do not say I do not have time to make those kinds of meals, I say, "I do not choose to spend my time making delicious, interesting meals."  Instead, I heat up leftovers, microwave a baked potato, or heat up a can of soup - because for me, it's not worth the effort required to make an interesting meal.

Bottom line - life is about choices.  Most nights, my tv does not get turned on - instead I opt to read.  For me, the best way to unwind from a long day is to either knit or open up book and get carried away by the author's story.  But for others, they may unwind by cooking, watching tv, or sewing.  To each their own!

So that is how I found time to read 48 books this year.  This post is best summed up with the following quote:

"Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”-- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

What do you make time for each day?  Every day, I make time for reading.  I also make time for knitting and playing the piano a couple of times each week as these are also stress-reducing activities.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Looking Forward

It's time for another looking forward post!

Today I am looking forward to hosting my annual gingerbread decorating party!  This year my friend is bringing her 5 year old son along.  Chances are, the house he decorates will look far better than mine (seriously, I missed the art gene).  We'll snack on veggies and hummus, drink hot cocoa with marshmallows, and do some decorating!

This week  I am going to Christmas Concert at my friend's church.  She is in the choir and they put on a huge concert every year, so I am excited to check it out.  It will be a great way to get into the spirit of the season!

This month I will return to North Dakota to celebrate Christmas with my family.  It's probably the last time we'll celebrate Christmas in North Dakota, as going forward we'll celebrate at my parents' lake home (which will be completed this summer).  I will also celebrate New Years Eve with my family, and Abby & Ryan will be home from Arizona!  NYE is totally a family holiday for me.  We play games, drink grasshoppers and other festive drinks, and we may go to bed before midnight.  I much prefer celebrating it with family versus going to a bar because let me tell - NYE is one of those nights when a single person feels ESPECIALLY single!!!

This year (meaning within the next twelve months) I will travel to the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia to witness Amber & Eric getting married, and will also travel to St. Louis, MO to witness Nora & Knight getting married.  I'll be a bridesmaid in both of their weddings and am so excited to be part of their special days!

What are you looking forward to?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Good-bye antibiotics, hello surgery... and accepting help...

Thank you for all the kind comments and suggestions on last week's wine & love post.  Since I mentioned that I had an appointment, I figured I would give you an update.  I saw my ENT on Friday, and as I suspected, he said surgery is our best option at this point.  It's just a day procedure and the recovery is allegedly not too bad, although my doctor did warn me that it's different for every person.  Some bounce back in a matter of days, some need a week.  I am hoping I am on the 'couple of days' end of the spectrum.  I do not have time to be out of commission for a week...

My surgery will be on January 20th as that is the earlier I could get it.  I had mentioned that I might need surgery at Thanksgiving and my sister-in-law kindly volunteered to help me out.  But when the scheduler told me I'd have to be the hospital at 6:15 am for pre-op my initial thought was:  "Yikes, that is early.  There's no way I can ask my SIL to be at my condo that early, I will just take a cab to the hospital."

After talking to my mom, it sounds like she'll be able to come down and take me to/from surgery and spend that first night with me, so I won't need to take a cab.  And really, I am sure my SIL would have taken me to there, I just HATE asking people to do things for me.  Especially when it's an extreme inconvenience to someone.  I just hate feeling like an 'obligation' to others, but this is something I need to work on, because we all need to ask for help now and then.  And the thing is, I have no problem helping others, and I don't see them as an 'obligation', so this is clearly a thought pattern I need to work on.  

I am actually really looking forward to surgery.  No, I would not choose to be in the position to need surgery, but I am tired of taking course after course of antibiotics and not seeing any results.  I'm tired of being sick.  When someone asks me how I feel, I want to be able to say I feel great.  But soon enough all of this will be behind me and I will be back on the road to full health!

Are you good at asking for and accepting help from others?  

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Week 3: Joy

As a child, my favorite week of advent was the 3rd week because we would get to light the pink candle on the advent wreath (the other 3 are purple).  The four themes of advent are hope, love, joy, and peace, and when you reflect on the meaning of the words, it makes sense that joy would get a different color candle as its meaning does stand out in comparison to the other words.  Hope, love, and peace are more often quietly expressed - but joy seems to be more outwardly professed. 

I think it's good to ask yourself whether you feel a sense of joy in your life or not.  I know that life is not all sunshine and rainbows and professions of joy - but if your life is completely void of joy, and has been for an extended period of time, it could be a signal that things are amiss. 

I remember having a conversation with a good friend a couple of years ago when I was in a serious relationship.  She talked about what it was like when she met and dated her husband.  She said the best way to describe the relationship was that she was filled with joy when they were together.  Now, it wasn't a non-stop sense of joy, but in general, her time spent with her husband brought her joy.  I remembered listening to her and thinking how much joy was lacking in my relationship with my boyfriend.  Actually, there really wasn't much joy at all, instead I would say there was a 'heaviness' to our interactions that is hard to explain and is something that can probably only be understood by a person who has found themselves in the wrong relationship. That relationship came to an end eventually, but that conversation about joy (and my reflection on the lack of it) was part of what prompted me to think about whether I wanted to stay in that relationship.

These days, I feel lucky that I have such a feeling of joy about my life.  It hasn't happened overnight and it hasn't been easy, but I've made changes in my life to bring myself more joy -  from ending a relationship to moving into a new home to finding a job that is fulfilling.  These changes have required courage, faith, and, to some extent, boldness, but the end result has been worth it.  The culmination of all of these changes have resulted in others saying that I seem like a different, happier person these days.  There is a spring in my step, I am more quick to laugh and smile, and I have shaken the tangible sense of 'heaviness' that I carried around with me for the first half of the year.

Now I find joy in the little things, like a hug from a nephew, cuddling with my niece, enjoying a latte, finishing a great run, or having coffee with a friend.  Life is not perfect, but I choose to focus on the things that bring me joy. 

"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."  (John 15:11)

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Party Time!

Wow, oh, wow, my calendar is filling up with parties!  I know it's that time of year, but it still always surprises me to see my calendar fill up.  My condo building had their Christmas party last Thursday, I had 2 birthday parties last weekend (one of which I had to miss because of the flu), I had a holiday service project gathering with my women's networking planning committee on Tuesday, last night I had my office Christmas party, and tomorrow night I am hosting my own little Christmas gathering with friends!  Phew.  That's just the last week or so!  I have one more party - my annual gingerbread house decorating party - and then life is quiet until Christmas! :)

On Saturday night, the theme of my holiday gathering will be "Feliz Navidad".  It's cheesy (no pun intended), I know, but Mexican food is so easy to make gluten free, and it's a cuisine that everyone tends to like.  It's a small, casual party with 3 other couples, and each couple will bring a dish to share.  I'll be making enchiladas (from the new Peas and Thank You cookbook that Amber got me!), tacos with all the fixings, and Tres Leches cake for dessert, which is naturally gluten free (yes, I will be treating myself to dairy tomorrow night!).  I am really excited to make the cake because a) it will introduce me to a new ingredient, masa harina and b) it gives me an excuse to use the double boiler I got for Christmas a couple of years ago!

I'm really excited to gather with friends, enjoy yummy food, play some games, and raise our margaritas glasses and cervezas in celebration of the many good things in life!

Do you  have many holiday parties to attend this year?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wine and Love

Time for another edition of wine and love, thought of by the lovely Nora!  You all know the drill by now!

- That sinus infection I've had since around mid-September?  Still has not gone away.  I started to feel better last week and then regressed after getting the stomach flu and actually feel worse than I have in weeks.  Boo.  I see my ENT on Friday and at this point, I am hoping to just have the surgery (apparently it's not too bad and can be very effective).  I have been on 5 rounds of antibiotics and 2 rounds of steroids.  It's not working!
- I haven't been able to drink coffee for the last 2 weeks (or any spicy or acidic foods) because my current antibiotic bugs my stomach so much.  :(
- Yesterday felt like Thursday.  So today should be Friday.  But it's Thursday.  Meh.

- We are still having really mild weather.  Last year at this time, we had had 3 blizzards!  This year?  Not so much - we just have a little bit of snow and the temps have not dropped below zero yet.  I am enjoying it while it lasts!
- I only have one gift left to purchase, and all the gifts I have purchased are wrapped!  I feel super ready for Christmas!  Shopping on Cyber Monday really helped.  I am NEVER done this early.
-   I am hosting a casual get together with friends on Saturday!  More on that tomorrow...
- I have read some great books lately, like "Secret Daughter," which Kelly recommended.  Since I haven't felt great lately, I have been staying in more and I spend many of my evening hours reading!

What is your wine/love for this week?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

More Love Letters

Happy Wednesday, everyone.  Remember on Monday when I said I would be participating in a project that tied in with this week's Advent theme?  Well, here is that project.

My friend Becky has been part of a project called "More Love Letters" for months now.  She has shared her experience both on her blog as well as the More Love Letters blog.  The project has gained momentum as the months have passed - so much so that the "write a letter to your latte maker" project was featured on Oprah's Blog!

All along I was so proud of what Becky, Hannah (the creator and founder of the project), and the other letter writers have done.  But truth be told, I was a bit reticent to participate in the project.  I actually haven't ever really wrote a love letter to someone I know, so how could I write one to a stranger? (post edit: actually, this is not technically true as I have sent many thinking of you cards and such to friends and family! I never thought of them as love letters, but that is really what they were.)

Then Becky told me about their 12 Days of Love Letter Writing project and I knew it was a good time for me to get involved.  I signed up to participate and received my letter request in late November.  It read as follows:

Elizabeth is in her early 20’s and got married a couple years back. Without warning, her husband recently decided to leave her.

Her close friend wrote, “Elizabeth was strong for a long while but has been shutting out all those who have been supporting her, loving her and trying to point her in the direction of God. Elizabeth is a highly creative individual who is multi-faceted and full of potential. She has been through the ringer and is resisting her true life callings.”

This love letter bundle will be a bit different. Instead of a giant bundle of love letters, Elizabeth’s friend plans to leave a love letter for her each day. She wants to leave them on her car, at work, send them to her house etc. “My prayer is that this bundle will change her life and bring healing from this situation.”

Over the last 1.5 weeks since I received the letter request, I have thought about what I could say to comfort this person that I have never met.  I was a little nervous at first, but then I thought about moments when the kindness of a stranger has brightened my day, and it didn't seem like such a daunting task anymore.

The first sentence was the hardest one to write.  But then the words flowed after that.  While I have not experienced the difficulties of a divorce, I have gone through difficult things in life and I reflected on the words from others that got me through.

Now here is your chance to get involved.  I encourage you and invite you to join me in writing a love letter to Elizabeth.  It can be a couple of sentences.  It can be paragraph upon paragraph.  Each love letter is as unique as its writer. 

If you want to participate, please send your letter to this following address within the next week:

More Love Letters
P.O. Box 2061
North Haven, CT  06473

It is my hope that through the love letters that Elizabeth receives, she will find some peace, comfort, and love during this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book Worms Recommend: The Christmas Edition

Greetings and Happy Tuesday!  This fall, my blogging-turned-real-life-best-friend Nora and I decided to do a regular 'blog swap' and recommend books we both love!  Our first posts can be found here and here.  This month we decided to recommend holiday books we both love!  Without further ado, here's Nora!!


Hi everyone! It’s Nora from Walking with Nora and I’m thrilled because it’s officially December which means I can unabashedly share my love for all things Christmas. Lisa and I are kindred spirits in many ways, loving both books and cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies so today I’m here to share a few of my favorite Christmas book recommendations, some literary works of art, others that are pure fluff but still fun to curl up with this time of year! 

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. There is no way that I could leave this book off my Christmas book list. As long as I can remember my family and I would gather around the fireplace or on the couch every night starting on December 1st to read this book. Once my brother and I were old enough, we took turns reading the book with my parents. The story of Scrooge is a tradition in our family; reminds us to be thankful, be honorable, and help those around us and along the way we’ve learned quite a bit about British culture and Dickens writing. (Yes, we purchased an annotated version one year that we read. It was very enlightening!) 

The Perfect Love Song: A Holiday Story, by Patti Callahan Henry. I picked this book up last holiday season on a whim at the library and I devoured it. It’s a love story about a young couple that fight differences and overcome their personal stubbornness as they explore their love for one another. It’s one part cheesy, one part romantic, one part holiday spirit and one part emotional. I totally cried at the end of this book. If you are looking for a happy, light, yet intelligent read, give this one a try! 

On Strike for Christmas, by Sheila Roberts. This has been made into a movie, likely for the Hallmark channel (I hope I can catch it). This book is perfect for anyone feeling a little less for wear during the Christmas season. It follows a group of women who all keep Christmas for their families: the decorating, the cooking, the parties, and their men who do very little to help them. The women decide to leave the Christmas and holiday work to their husbands for the seasons; there are lessons learned in their relationships, about themselves, and about their friendships. I laughed out loud throughout the book and am glad I had the opportunity to read it. 

The Wednesday Letters & The Wedding Letters, by Jason Wright. These books aren’t exactly holiday books but something about reading them makes me appreciate my family, my friends, my life, and all the bounty I’m fortunate to have. The writing is brilliant, the characters are addictive, and the books will make you want to go hug whoever you love in your life, friends and family alike. 

The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg. I know this is a book for kids (technically) but I grew up on this book too. Even as an adult I long to read the book, to look at the illustrations, to look behind my Christmas tree and find an anonymous present. I am tempted to purchase this book for my personal collection (and so Belle and Jolie can be exposed to it) because no matter how old I am, I still believe in the Miracle of Christmas. 

Do you have any favorite Christmas/holiday books that I should try to read before the end of the year? What’s your favorite Christmas/holiday book? 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent: Week 2: Love

Good Morning and happy Monday to everyone.  I hope you all had a great weekend.  Mine did not start out so great.  I got the stomach flu on Friday.  It was HORRIBLE.  I am a total and complete baby when I am sick and I was really wishing I could teleport my mom to my condo.  No one can take care of you like your mom can, in my opinion.  I think it's a combination of them knowing what you want/need when you are sick and loving you unconditionally.  So while many people would be disgusted by your illness, your mom's love for you looks past the grossness and just wants to comfort you.

What a lovely little segue into this week's Advent post, huh?  The theme for the 2nd week of Advent is Love.  In the immortal words of the Prime Minister's monologue (Hugh Grant's character) in Love Actually,

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion... love actually is all around."

I like this monologue because it addresses many of the forms of love.  It's a well-known fact that suicide rates increase during the holiday season.  Sadly, this "most wonderful time of year" can be a time of isolation and loneliness for some for a plethora of reasons.  As Mother Teresa said, "The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread."  I know it oversimplifies the issue of depression and suicide to sum it up and blame it on people hungering for love and personal connections, but I think that is a large part of the problem.

I feel very lucky and blessed as I most certainly do not feel an absence of love in my life.  Yes, I could focus on the fact that I am not married or dating anyone right now, but there is so much love in my life, I find it easier to overlook that a significant other is not part of my life right now.  Instead I focus on love from God, family, my nephews and niece (who fall into the family category, but warrant a special mention because they make me feel especially loved), and friends.

So this holiday season, I am choosing to focus on all of the love in my life, and I want to make a conscious effort to let the others in my life know they are loved and appreciated, through both my words and my actions.  I'll be sharing a little project later this week that ties in well with this message of spreading more love, so be sure to tune in on Wednesday to hear more about that.

I'll close with a scripture verse that emphasizes using actions, instead of words: 

"Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Wish List 2011

First off, I want to wish Kyria good luck this weekend - she is running her first marathon on Sunday!  Hop over to her blog and wish her luck!  She won't need luck, though, she is going to rock this marathon!!

Now onto the post at hand.  Ready or not, the Christmas Season is upon us!  I have enjoyed the other Christmas List posts I've seen around the blogosphere, so I thought I would share some items on mine!

1.  A New Anthropologie Apron - a girl can't have too many aprons in my opinion!  It's hard to pick a favorite, but this one is definitely towards the top of the list!

2.  Fun Prints!  I have a lot of blank wall space and have been eyeing these two prints for quite awhile!  Math and reading are two things I love and these prints are just so me!

3.  Silicone Potholders - Yes, some of my list is quite practical.  I have cloth potholders and I really don't like them because they get dirty very easily.  I like the silicone ones because you can just throw them in the dishwasher. 
4.  Chopper - I actually like slicing and dicing vegetables as it's really soothing for me, but sometimes I want a fast, efficient way to chop veggies for sauces and salsa and such.  My mom has this chopper and loves it!
5.  Penguin Clothbound Classics - I am hoping to eventually have all of the clothbound classics, so hopefully I will get more to add to the collection this holiday season.  So far, I have Jane Eyre, Little Women, and Alice in Wonderland!

6.  Peas & Thank You Cookbook - I bought this cookbook for Amber for her birthday and she RAVES about it, so I'd like to add it to my collection!

 7.  Paris Christmas Ornaments - Eventually, I would like to have a tree full of Paris-themed or travel-themed Christmas ornaments.  I know this will probably take years, but I have to start somewhere!  Here are a couple that I have seen!

8.  Point-and-shoot camera - I have had my camera for over 7 years now and it is on its last leg!  I've heard good things about the Canon Powershot.

What is on your holiday wish list this year?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Music, Books, Miles, and Looks of November

And just like that, it's December. Whoa.


Ghost by Ingrid Michaelson - Be still my heart, Ingrid Michaelson has a new album coming out!  This is the first single that has been released off that album, which will be released on January 24, 2012.  You can bet your bottom dollar I will be buying that album.  I have GOT to see her when she goes on tour next year.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  Now if only Becky lived close as I KNOW she would go with me.

Learning to Love Again by Mat Kearney - Be still my heart, take 2.  I love Mat Kearney. This is one of my favorite songs off his most recent CD.  Mat Kearney was here in November, I wanted to see him and tried to get tickets for a friend and I, but it was sold out.  Then I found a single ticket for sale on Craigslist and decided to go.  Yes, it is unconventional to go to a concert alone, but I figured if I could go to Paris alone, I could go to a concert alone.  It was AH-mazing.  He is so talented.  It was the last show of his tour, so I think they were especially good.  At one point, Mat jumped down into the crowd and walked around, going all the way to the back (it was a standing venue).  It was the coolest thing I have ever seen happen at a concert.  He's even more swoon-worthy in person. 


The Postmistress by Sarah Blake - I really, really liked this book, which was the November selection for the blogger book club.  It started slow but it was worth sticking with.  It is set during WWII and the story unfolds through the eyes of 3 different female characters.  My favorite narrator was Frankie, a female radio newscaster in London.

I'll Never be French by Mark Greenside - This book was recommended to me by Nora's mom.  She's well aware of my obsession for all things French, so she recommended this light read.  It's about a man who buys a cottage in Brittany.  It's a light, fun read!

By the Time You Read This by Lola Jaye - This was a light, mindless read.  I am not sure how I stumbled upon it.  It somehow ended up on my library book request list (but I totally do not remember requesting it... a sure sign I request a lot of books!).  It wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't amazing.  It's about a young girl whose father passes away when she is a child.  He leaves a journal for her with advice for how to live her life from her teens until age 30.

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani - I technically did not read this, I listened to it when I spent 18 hours driving across the states of Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota earlier this month.  I really, really enjoyed it and it made the drive go as fast as 18 hours in a car alone can go.  I have read another book by this author and I really enjoy her books.  They feature strong female characters.  And they make me want to be Italian.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton - My sister-in-law recommended this author to me and I finally got around to reading one of her books.  It tells the story of Nell, a child who traveled from England to Australia on a boat in the early 1900s - alone.  A dock worker takes her home and him and his wife raise her as their own.  On her 21st birthday, Nell's father tells her that she was not actually their child.  The book uncovers the mystery of her past. 


Another low mileage month for me.  I am still fighting the sinus infection I've had since mid-September.  I went on a new med this month which has a side effect of tendinitis or a ruptured tendon.  The doctor told me it's more prevalent with runners/athletes so he said to take it easy this month.  So I did.  I did run a strong 10k race on Thanksgiving, but that was the only noteworthy run.  The rest of my runs were short 3 milers.  I hope to increase my mileage in December, but I will have to see how the month goes as I am on yet another medication, as the other one I tried this month didn't work...  Fingers crossed in hopes that this 5th medication does the trick.  The next step is sinus surgery.  If that's what it takes, then so be it.  I just want to be well again. 


 This is a tiny, iPhone photo of me, but it's the best I can do.  I got this dress at Banana Republic for 1/2 off and wore it to a friend's wedding.  It was nice to wear something besides black for a change!

The lighting in this photo is horrible, but here is another favorite outfit from the month of November.  Of course, it involves stripes.  I also got this top & corduroy skirt half-priced at Banana.  I paired it with brown tights and brown boots. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving Recap - Part II

And now for the 2nd half of the Thanksgiving recap!  On Friday, we all gathered in the evening in my condo for another family dinner.  I had to work that day, so I decided to serve lasagnas to keep it as simple as possible!  This was my first time hosting a meal for my family and doing it 100% on my own, so I wanted to set myself up for success!

We started out the evening with appetizers - an antipasti platter, which my SIL provided and fresh veggies!

After filling up on appetizers and wine, a group of us walked into city center for the Holidazzle Parade.  I have lived in Minneapolis for 9 holiday seasons now, and this was my first time taking in the parade!  The weather was gorgeous - much warmer than I ever thought it would be!

L-R:  Andrew, Matthew, Me, Kolin, and James.  Matthew and Kolin are sitting on my knees and I am barely holding my balance, hence the reason I am so close to the ground in this photo!

The boys got light sabers and I think they might have been more excited about them than the actual parade!

After the parade, we walked home! 

Excuse the blurriness of this iPhone photo!  Here is the salad!

Another horribly blurry iPhone photo of one of the pans of lasagna - this one was the vegetarian one and I was really happy with how it turned out!

Here we all, all sitting around my table.

This post wouldn't be complete without a photo of a baby.  Here is Anna in her tutu and holiday shirt, stretching out!
 All in all, it was a wonderful night.  I have watched my mom entertain for large groups year after year and she makes it looks pretty darn effortless...  Well, it's not quite effortless for me, yet.  I was a bit stressed at various points, but it all came together and everyone went home full and happy! 

Are you a cool, calm, and collected host/hostess?  I really, really tried to be and I kept telling myself not to get stressed because it's my family and they don't expect perfection.  Looking back, I probably should have drank a little more wine.  ;)