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Monday, December 31, 2007

Putting it all away

I'm back! I wasn't planning to be computer-free while we traveled to visit family...but I filled my time with friends, family, and familiar places and it was great!

Now we're home, in time for the New Year, to put all of our goods and memories away for safe keeping and easy access.

::

The New Year provides us with a calendared opportunity to stop what isn't working and start what might. It's like a blank sheet of paper: it tastes, smells, feels, and sees like a fresh start. And who doesn't love a fresh start.

But the truth is that every day is a fresh start. (Every day!) And while I certainly spend the days leading up to and after the New Year reflecting on personal and professional accomplishments and planning for ones to come, I also spend time throughout the year (and on a smaller scale, throughout the day) to reflect on what's working and what's not-- within me and outside of me.

I'll share some of the little strategies I use (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to do that and get things done in the New Year.

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As on-going as my internal maintenance is, there is some external maintenance that only happens once a year that I (and by extension Pete) will be tending to in the coming days:
  • Change the batteries in our fire detectors
  • Defragment and clean out files on my computer
  • Clean out hard copy files
  • Organize my 2007 journal writings
  • Update friends, family, and client addresses
  • Create a file for the tax-related mail that will start to arrive
::

Finally...

Happy Birthday to our dear friend Duke. Call us if you're reading this. We don't have a new phone number!

and...

Happy, Healthy, Lovely New Year. Hope it's full of spectacular splashes and ordinary ones, with room for splurges short and tall.

::
Splurge of the Year

I would have to say that our splurge of the year was our vacations. We traveled to Garden City Beach in South Carolina with my family to run on the sand and swim in the early May ocean (brrr!) and then to Florida with Pete's family to visit a grandma and a grandpa, aunts and uncles, cousins and killer whales...



and to have breakfast with some good pals from Sesame Street
.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Wishing you peace, and magic, and never-ending hope. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Favorite Things

video

Click on play to hear a sweet little "Merry Christmas" from a little sweet.

::

I might never have realized it unless I started to think about some of my favorite things at Christmas time, which then led me to think about some of Pete's favorite things, and, of course, Ava's.

What I realized was that many of the gifts that we selected for our family all had something in common: they were associated (directly or indirectly) with all of our favorite things. I know, it seems like that should be obvious. But I'm not sure that it often is.

I'm glad I made the realization, though, because it reinforced that (hopefully) most of what we do is somehow connected to people or passions that are important to us. It just took a little quiet time to recognize it.

So, in a few short lists, here are some of our favorite things. I hope it doesn't give anything away....

Ava's Favorite Things

1. Birds ("Tweet tweet")
2. Paper ("Draw picture?")
3. Crocs ("'em on?, as in, "Put them on?")
4. Walnuts (almonds, really, but she calls them walnuts)
5. Pictures (she'll look at pictures all day long)

Pete's Favorite Things (about Christmas)

1. Christmas Cookies
2. Nat King Cole
3. Bing Crosby
4. Emett Otter's Jugband Christmas
5. Christmas Trees

Maureen's Favorite Things (about Christmas)

1. Being with family
2. Christmas carols and hymns
3. The Yule Log
4. Lights on trees and in windows
5. Around-the-clock Christmas music on the radio
6. Mistletoe
7. Candles that smell like pine trees
8. Watching Ava watch the lights
9. Hearing Ava say, "Rudolph"
10. Hearing her say (when I ask her why we give gifts at Christmas) "Baby Jesus Born"
11. Pete singing "I'm Dreaming (of a White Christmas) and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

Two-days Til Christmas Splurge:


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

from tips to tots


Real Simple publishes a holiday tipping guide every year and every year I find it extremely helpful. Maybe you will too! (Although I'm still not sure how anyone can afford to pay a hairstylist the cost of what one visit costs around here! Yikes!)

Mid-week Splurge:

It's been a busy week full of unexpected meetings, report writing, toddler chasing, and traffic jamming. I have bills to pay, pots to scrub, gifts to wrap, favorite things to list, memories to record, and strategic planning to plan--but once I sign off here, I'm going to shut off the computer, turn on the Christmas lights, make some tea and do absolutely NOTHING for about 15 minutes. And I won't decide what to do after that fifteen minutes... until after that fifteen minutes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sunday-Monday Wrap Up



Anticipating a snow storm that never came, I anchored down in the kitchen this weekend with an old cookbook and new ingredients. The result? Six different types of cookies, five of which I will never make again...

and that no one but "Claus" will probably ever taste.

That's right--the baking soda was too strong in some and the sugar too sweet in others (I know, I didn't think it was possible either).

But I didn't just end up with a mess. I ended up with a lot of laughs, money that didn't get spent somewhere else, and a very well-developed sense for knowing when sugar and water reach 280 degrees without using a thermometer.

HOWEVER, the gingerbread men were a big hit--in sight, taste, and swing. (Thanks to my friend Jenny and her mom who shared the recipe.)



::

If you haven't done any baking yet this season but want to, it's not too late and you should definitely make some time for it. If I had baked with the intention of perfection, it probably would've been a miserable waste of time. But I baked with the intention of baking: cinching an apron around my waste, piping carols through the kitchen, and sprinkling flour everywhere it wasn't already.

If you only have chunks of time, then gingerbread cookies or sugar cookies are the perfect choice. You can make the dough in 20 minutes and then refrigerate it until you have another 60 minutes to cut and bake them.

::

Ava has claimed her seat at our new kitchen table. Without saying a word, she bypassed her high chair yesterday and climbed right up onto this bench. We haven't gotten a booster seat yet, so we made do with the yellow pages.


::
Splurge of the Season:

I splurged on this snow globe for lots of different reasons and don't regret a penny of it. Besides, if it goes on sale within 14 days (which it is likely to do) then I can bring in my receipt and get the sale price!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pocket full of Posies

Cleaning, baking, running to the store for overlooked ingredients, and delightful interruptions that sound like, "Mommy, hold her?" (translation: Mommy, hold me) have stolen from the bits of time I normally spend writing. I suspect that will be the case for at least the next week, so posting may be spotty.

::

We had Ava's friends over Saturday morning to do some ornament-making activities. Pete and I had the arsenal of furniture and floor protector materials ready, but I should have known that Jacob's smart-thinking mommy Ilana would fine some non-mess materials to make a mess out of.



The little one's had a good time with it for a bit, but you can see, they had other things on their agenda.

Like eating.



And napping.



And ring around the rosy.



Deep conversations....



That were sometimes serious.



It was great fun and and one more thing to add to my list of favorite things (coming soon).

::

Well, an overwhelming majority of poll respondents love gift cards. And to back them up, last week at Pete's office party, a $10 Target gift card was the hot item in the round robin gift exchange (you know, the one where you can't fall in love with anything you get because the next person will rip it out of your hands, even if you are only 20-months old!) If you are ever looking for an alternative, this article offers a few suggestions--but chances are, you can't go wrong with a gift card!

::

New poll: Did you find the one gift that you just can't wait to give?

::

Splurge of the day:

Everyone is still asleep and normally, I'd use this time on a Sunday morning to run, to work, or to clean. But instead, I'm going to spend it knitting. I've gotten back into it lately and am loving this book my mom-in-law picked up for me. It almost reads like a novel and I'd highly highly recommend it whether you're a novice knitter or an expert!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

planning ahead

Ellen still hasn't called, despite my daily entry to win her "12 Days of Christmas Giveaway." There's always tomorrow.

::

I wanted to share a little organizational tip that my friend uses and I've always admired but haven't yet gotten around to doing. She created a database with all the addresses of her friends and family. In the database are fields to include their birthday, anniversary, whether or not they are a Christmas card recipient, and on and on.

Every January, she filters the database for each month of the year, prints it, and files it by month. So for example, if her brother has a birthday and an anniversary in September, two labels print out for him on September's sheet. (I think she even has the cards picked out and filed with the labels, but I'm not sure. And besides, that might be borderline disordered--and we certainly don't want to promote any more compulsive tendencies than most of us already possess).

This might just be the year I give that little trick a shot.

::

Ava Francey pants is exerting independence every step of the way these days. Today, for instance, when we fetched my splurge (below) she let go of my hand and declared, "Up-a-stairs by self."

And up she went.
Splurge of the Day:

Large large large extra hot hot hot peppermint mint mint mocha.



Wednesday, December 12, 2007

how it's going


Christmas Carols have been playing throughout our house for two weeks now, almost non-stop. In fact, Ava noticed this morning when they weren't on, requesting: "My dreams, mommy? Red-nose?" Translation: I'll Be Home For Christmas (if only in my dreams) and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer...can we listen to them, please?

Mistletoes and bright red bows are shaping up around here, though sloppily. We're out a kitchen table right now, waiting for a new one to arrive--which leaves me without some critical "pile" space. I'm on pace to tidy up shopping and cards by Thursday (tomorrow!) so that on Saturday we can focus on having some "little friends" over to make ornaments and the following week to bake cookies!

On my list of things to take care of in and out of those events:
  • Visit the local Red Cross for a blood donation
  • Drop off some toys and clothes to the Salvation Army
  • Hang some garland up the stairwell
  • Wrap presents!
  • Finish my knitting project
  • Print out some of these to color with Ava
  • Pick up some fabric for my sew-off with friend Jenny
  • Mail packages to far away friends and family
  • Wander around the quaint shops of Fells Point with husband and daughter
  • Walk around magical 34th Street of Baltimore
::

It's easy to feel overwhelmed and frantic in the days leading up to Christmas, "I haven't gotten enough" or, "I forgot to pick up something for...." But in those moments, try and resist the urge to react and instead, sit quietly and remember one thing or one person--past or present--that made this time of year so special for you. The frantic feeling will pass and the space in your mind and your heart will make room for other things special to come.
Splurge-away

We were talking about Christmas traditions with our favorite coffee shop friends, Howard and Monica. Monica asks her mom to make her Chex Mix every year for herChristmas present. It reminded me of how much I love my mom's Chex Mix (I can never get it quite right)--and so mom, if you're reading, that's what I'd like for Christmas, too.

Monday, December 10, 2007

dinner's in the freezer update...




I am pleased to report that we are into day four of "dinner is in the freezer (or the cupboard)"--and I'd say that a $25 grocery bill on Sunday screams, "Success!"

So, here's what I've come up with (I know the names are corny, but I had fun making them up):


  • Popeye and Bocelli
  • Turkey Burgers and Butternut Squash
  • Green Beans and Goulash
  • G-rice n' Garbanzo (pronounced G-reece)
  • Chicken Spiedies with a side of Thai'd Broccoli
  • Sucatosh Salad with Chicken
I've listed the directions here, if you want to give them a try. I didn't include exact measurements because I didn't really take any. If you have questions though, don't hesitate to ask.

Startin' off with a Splurge:

I started shopping for my daughter's Christmas presents online this morning at 6:30 am--and was finished by 7:15am. It's probably not a great idea to start off the week in a splurge-frenzy, but I feel a whole lot better now that I've done it.

Here's my favorite gift that we picked out for her even though she seems to make music out of most anything...


Sunday, December 9, 2007

just a while longer...

The clock reads 8pm but my body and my mind are screaming bedtime! I've got some water on the stove for tea, the Christmas lights are on, the TV is off, and I'm looking at a stack of books that are pleading, "pick me! pick me!"

I hope that you had a relaxing weekend and that you find a way to squeeze 10 more minutes out of it to do something that you don't often get the time to do.

Today's Splurge:

I didn't splurge on it (yet) but Pete and I have our eye on this cinnamon roll at our new coffee shop. It looks like cinnamon and lots of butter rolled up in pie crust. Some people crush on people, I crush on pastries. :)

Friday, December 7, 2007

RED

I have been spending a lot of money at the grocery store lately. A lot.

And I could get away with using the "higher gas prices" excuse for a little while, but this has gone on for far too long. Especially since I really don't have much to show for it except overcrowded cabinets and refrigerator shelves.

So, I've extended my effort to simplify and surrender this Christmas season to the kitchen. For the next three weeks, I have challenged myself to resist a big grocery shop and instead, use every last frozen vegetable that is taking up space in my not-enough-space freezer and every canned good that has collected crumbs from the toaster that rests above them. That's right--let's see how creative this writing business has really made me.

I've dusted off this cookbook that I picked up for Pete years and years ago, and if you have any recipes to add, please send them along!

Splurge on RED:

I went to the store to buy my little girl some black patent leather shoes for her black and white Christmas dress.

They didn't have black in her size...

So I bought her red. Cherry red. They are adorable and besides, every little girl ought to have a pair of fancy red shoes. Actually, every big girl ought to as well!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Let it snow...



December only made us wait five days for its first snowfall here in Maryland.

It started falling at about 8am...just before Ava woke up. When I pulled her shades to show her the snow she said, "Claus?" I guess she's hoping for a white Christmas too.

We had some fun out in it and jingled all the way to the mailbox.


Then we tried to catch some flakes with our tongue.



We took advantage of other people's snow fears and got most of our errands accomplished in record time. We even stopped at a "Shebop" for a coffee and a "treat" and watched the snow fall a while. On those kinds of days, all you should have is time.



::

Today's Splurge:

I've written about magazines in the past and the gobs and gobs that I receive in the mail. But there was a time when receiving a magazine in the mail was a really special thing. The New York State Conservationist is my earliest memory --my dear Uncle Owen gifted a subscription to my dad every year for Christmas until he passed.

And then there were the "puts you right there" photos in the National Geographic that we'd spend hours pouring over--when your imagination was still yours and not infiltrated by computers or television and at-your-finger-tips news and information.

Those two magazines, together with the compassion for people and animals instilled in me through nature and nurture, makes me someone who can open my heart and my wallet without pause when their health or safety is compromised through no doing of their own.

My splurge of the day is supporting the African Wildlife Foundation's Elephant Conservation Research Project. There you will also find lots of information about just how special these animals are--and just how endangered.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

news making

I would never have recognized the relationship between two events I recently attended had they not occurred just days apart and had I not written about them independently. (And for the record, I think I might have stumbled upon the next big thing.)

Event #1: Open house at The White House

Event #2: Bringing Ava to the mall's new indoor playground (still gaygound to her)

If you're jumping ahead and figuring that the relationship has something to do with people, possibly even crowds, you're right--but that's about where the obvious nature of it ends.

Looking back, I am certain that Event #1, the open house at The White House, was attended by well-dressed but very discreet agents whose job it was to protect important people or places from harm or ill-will. To do so, they mingled amongst the rest of us, unknowingly, unobtrusively, uneverything. They are, afterall, the SECRET service. The point is, I am certain they were there not because I saw them but because I watch television programs, like Chuck.

Skip ahead to today, inside the mall but outside the entrance to JC Penny's, where a new we'll-give-your-kid-every-chance-to-break-her-neck playground was constructed just in time for this joyous shopping season--a favor, they claim, to parents. You know, a "break"...because letting your toddler stumble loose among a million other "let's see how many times I can make my mom's heart stop" toddlers is so relaxing.

On the drive home from Event #2 I was reflecting on how OBVIOUS (okay, ridiculous) my presence at the playground must have looked. If I wasn't tripping over my own feet trying to "protect" my daughter chances are I was tripping over a two-year olds feet or possibly his dad's. The more I tried not to hover, the more I hovered. The more I tried to get out of the way, the more I got in the way. I could not figure out where to stand, when to sit, where to look, when to act. To the trained eye, I was a train wreck.

And there were at least 20 more of me (maybe even 30, I'm horrible at gauging)--which almost makes the train wreck national, maybe international news.

I would pay good money for an hour of Secret Service agent training--and I bet there are a hundred more mom's and dad's who would join me. Imagine, not just feeling but BEING discreet, at peace, (at home!?) at the next playground experience, the next library story time, the next two-year old birthday party, the next...

That's it. I'm starting this business. Are you in?

::

Considering I've invested a small fortune in lotions and creams that do everything from helping you shave less to creating a natural glisten on your skin, you'd think I'd have found "the one" or at least "the combination of ones" that would alleviate cracked, dry, and so sore hands (mostly knuckles and in-between fingers skin) and hold up against at least one (two would be great) washings. If you have any suggestions, please pass them along.

::

There's a new poll today. This one is on gift cards, with all the attention they seem to be receiving this year, I thought I'd conduct a splash and splurge investigation of my own.

By the way, 50 percent of respondents (six) in the last poll indicated that they'd rather hang by their toenails than shop on Black Friday.

::
Splurge-a-la-la-la-La-la-la-la

I'm going to lay off the mint for tonight, but not the soy. This is so close to the real thing, especially with a little shake of nutmeg on top, that I'm pretty sure it would be bad for you not to try it.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

stragglers





On Friday morning I was feeling a little bit preoccupied by the stragglers--the little things near and far that needed some attention--without a clear sense of exactly what they were and in what order to attend to them. These stragglers ranged from housekeeping tasks (spices that need structure, holes that need spackle) to Christmas decisions (cards? no cards? if cards, pictures? no pictures?) to work-related must-do's to I'm not sure what.

I desired a quiet place--somewhere to write down the "stragglers" and see exactly whether the urgency that had taken up residence in my brain was justified or undue. But I also wanted to make sure that the desire to escape wasn't a symptom of the Avoidance Disorder that I had recently managed to manage.

After a little bit of contemplation (but not too much) I went with what "felt right" and ended up at an empty table with a full cup of coffee looking out upon books upon books upon books.

Ahhh. The bookstore.

When I uncapped my pen and started to write, I didn't go straight for the stragglers. I took a different approach. I went for the completers. Those things I had done that week--big and small, personal and professional. It only took me four minutes to get it down, but...

Turns out, I did quite a lot.

And I bet, if we took a few more minutes at the end of a day or, maybe more realistically, at the end of a week, to jot down what we accomplished, we'd surprise ourselves each and every time.

I don't think we need to pat ourselves on the back for being productive, maybe just get off our back a time or two when we think we aren't.

After all, the best productions were once just stragglers in someone's quiet mind.

::

My discovery on Friday left me pretty peaceful with many of the stragglers...but the magazine thing is definitely out of control.

After the bookstore, I stopped at Target to pick up a $3 egg timer to set for 20 minutes every day while I sorted through those glossy paper traps. I have decided, with the help of an article by Peter something (a professional "organizer" though not to be confused with Peter my husband who is not a professional organizer but maybe a pathological one) that when we hold onto stuff we aren't making room (in our minds or our homes) for the future. Since I'm planning on a whole lot of future, I've got some things to get rid of.

Starting with magazines and catalogs.

Anyway, I had the egg timer in my hand when I realized what a wasteful purchase it would be. Afterall, I have a timer on my phone, a timer on my stove, I have playlists with Christmas music that are 20 minutes long! I don't need to "buy more"--that kind of defeats the purpose. I need to figure out how to use what I've got!

So, the iPod is queued up. Tomorrow from 1:15-1:35, I'll be sorting and singing.

::

The last splash of the night: we went in search of our Christmas tree today. Despite the cold (though still no snow) we scrutinized every tree, every pine cone, and especially Santa Claus before making any decisions.

I've posted a couple of pictures from last year (Ava's first Christmas tree outing) also. "Year-to-year" now fills up quickly with so much change and a mountain of meaning , that's for sure.
Splurge in the Season

I never get tired of hearing old songs in old ways and new ways. Even better when new ways and old ways collide.



Saturday, December 1, 2007

skip skip skip to my lou, all on a saturday night

It's been a busy weekend and there is still one whole day left!

We decorated our tree today.


Just kidding. This is actually a picture of Pete in front of "The" White House tree. Friends of ours invited us as their guests to a holiday open house in its East Wing today. The history and significance conceived, maintained, and preserved in that house (in sight and in sense) was as manifest as the light that poured through the glass of its windows--you felt its presence but could not touch it. I've posted some additional pictures, which I hope are scrolling along the left hand-side of this blog.

By the way, the white chocolate replica of The White House was made with three hundred pounds of white chocolate. Everything that isn't white was made with marzipan.

::

We made our Advent Calendar last night. You can see some of the latter stages of its development--the camera was charging for the first few stages. We haven't quite completed the bell yet, but the chain is made and it works very well as a scarf, by the way. We like to "fly" it through the air, too.



::

Daily Splurge

Today I almost spent about $25 on something for someone that I knew they'd probably never use. So instead, I spent $25 at www.mytwofrontteeth.org on something I knew a little someone would love.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

short but so sweet

This morning when I went in to get Ava, I picked her up out of her crib and asked, "How are you this morning?"

Her reply (no joke), "Wet. Soaked."

And she wasn't kidding.

Splurge on Soy:

I have only had soy milk maybe once or twice in my life, but I might just have to make the switch. VitaSoy has come up with Peppermint Chocolate Soy Milk. I think I'd even put it on Cheerios.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

a little bit of everything


I am so excited about this new website that I found, I'm going to keep this post short so that you can spend your time checking it out.

TasteBook.com combines two of my favorite things: books and food; and another thing that I admire but am still working to achieve: organization.

A glimpse:
  • An easy way to organize and display all of your favorite recipes (including those you're sure to find at TasteBook)
  • Personalization that makes it the perfect GIFT (timely!), the perfect CHRONICLE (legacy!), and the perfect SENTIMENT (a little bit of you!)
I prefer handmade efforts and artifacts, but this product will more than do in a pinch. It's definitely worth a look--and even if you don't buy, you'll have fun designing and delighting in all the options--taste, sight, and touch alike!

::

I've been meaning to post a yoga update for a bit (because I know you're just so interested in my progress): I am pretty much a proficient headstander. On demand. Give me carpet, give me a yoga mat, give me grass--I'll give you a wall-free headstand. Really. I don't know what that has to do with stretching but I can do it. I swear.

And if I can do that, then the rest of you can pretty much do anything. So pick it...whatever you want to do and with little steps and a little sweat, you'll be doing it in no time. I promise.

::

Splurge-not, waste-not:

Charity Navigator has posted its highest and lowest rated charities making it easy to give--and guaranteeing that others will get.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Traditions


When I was little, the Christmas season didn't begin the day after Thanksgiving--or even two days after Thanksgiving. It didn't begin 12 days before Christmas or two days before Christmas.

Christmas season began 25 days before Christmas--the very first day of December. December 1.

And to honor it, I would make a red or a green bell out of construction paper and cut 25 strips out of paper--12 red and 13 green (or maybe 13 green and 12 red) and turn them into 25 chained circles using one of the greatest inventions ever after duct tape: glue stick.

Once the chain was complete, I'd staple it to the bell and hang the custom-made Advent calendar to my wall. Every night before bed but after a prayer, I'd nearly squeal in excitement as I slowly and methodically removed the next circle. Christmas was coming, it was coming, it was coming!

I'm not sure when I stopped making it--but I can tell you when I'll start again. I have a date with my daughter on Friday, November 30th--and it involves music and cookies, red paper, green paper, a pair of scissors, and you guessed it, glue stick.

::

Thanks to all who participated in the Turkey survey. We had 15 votes (that's three basketball teams, yeah!)--12 voted for turkey; 2 voted for both ham and turkey; 1 voted neither; and 1 voted other.

Check out our new survey on day-after-Thanksgiving shopping! Go ahead, tell us how you REALLY feel!

::

I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to formalize traditions with my new family. Like if we didn't have something "meaningful" to do on Thanksgiving we'd just sit around and think about how wasteful we were being on such a thankful day. But I've started to realize that traditions fall into place naturally, the way they are meant to. It's kind of like how when Ava was a week old, I convinced myself that if I didn't turn 12 circles, hop on one foot for 2 minutes, and blink my eyes for three, then she somehow wouldn't figure out how to fall asleep on her own. (Of course, I'm being dramatic). But what I've learned (or am learning) is that with a little effort, a lot of love, and right-sized intentions, everything falls into place exactly as it's supposed to and exactly when it's supposed to--and that even though it feels like eternities are passing while you're trying to figure it out, it's only seconds--and fast seconds at that.

And besides, if her sleep habits are any indication of the meaning and memories we're going to build throughout the years, then there isn't a skyscraper tall enough to hold them all.

25 days of Splurge-ness

If I could get with the program and move beyond my comfort zone of scarves, two sweaters, and an unfinished pair of socks, I'd knit this.

But I'm not holding my breath and I wouldn't recommend any of you hold yours either.

Monday, November 26, 2007

who knew

Maybe it's just coincidence, but writing everyday has sparked creativity in other ways.

For example, if you showed up at my house for dinner on any given night a few months ago, you would have sat down to one of the following four options on rotation:
  • Egg sandwiches (that is, scrambled egg with Morningstar Farms veggie sausage patties, and a slice of reduced fat swiss cheese on toasted English muffins);
  • Turkey chili thawed out from the freezer; (which is delicious, by the way!)
  • Green Giant stir fry with tofu; or
  • Turkey burgers
Not much variety but at least it was healthy. And not take out.

But if you showed up within the last couple of weeks, you'd sit down to:
And our house! Within the last few weeks, I've been inspired with vision, vision, vision (which means my husband has been tasked with work, work, work):
  • Completely rearranged the kitchen and great room (pantry is still in holding pattern)
  • Installed new lighting in the kitchen, which in and of itself made a jaw-dropping difference to the coziness of that big room!
  • Spruced things up with new, vibrant curtains
  • Completely reorganized and refurnished my office area (for less than $350, pictures to come)
  • Put all of our clothes away (hey, we want credit for that!)
And so many other ways...which I'll save for another day.

So, my "splash" to you during this busy time...whether it's writing or singing, playing music or composing it, thinking up recipes or fleshing out an idea--find a little bit of time every day to do something creative. Even better if it's something new to you.

::

If you're a TV watcher then even more reason to indulge your creative side: if your show isn't already in rerun mode, it's likely heading there.


::
Splurges and crumpets:
I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to resist this adorable (and so crafty!) tea set. Especially since I introduced the fake tea party concept to Ava yesterday (you know, with invisible tea cups) and she caught right on. She had her daddy sipping at the same time he was seething over the Baltimore Raven's fifth straight loss!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

less is more

I think this song and these pictures communicate how we spent our day better than any words I could write:
















Splurge-ometer:

I knew that my "basically a professional chef" friend Melissa would know what type of oven Ina Garten (aka Barefoot Contessa) uses in her house--but she also passed along a recent splurge of her own, which she rated high on the splurge-ometer: a convection oven roaster.

In case you didn't see Melissa's comment, she reports:

"...the turkey was never better! Moist, and didn't take any of my precious oven space. I cooked ribs a couple of weeks ago...and again...perfection!"



Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Leftovers


I happen to think that food tastes better when it is on someone else's plate. I should clarify, just so new friends never want to eat with me: I happen to think that food tastes better when it is on a family member's plate--like my mom's, my husband's, and now, my daughter's.

Similar to what I've learned about food in general over the years (by my own account and many others'): it just tastes better when someone else cooks it.

My pick-from-other-plates tendency annoys every one whose plate I pick. They call it rude, I call it grazing. And interested! I am interested in what they're eating! Isn't that thoughtful?

To be completely honest, most of the time I don't even realize I'm doing it. (Does that make it eat-walking? A term I prefer to "mindless eating".)

So you have to imagine my (delight?) yesterday at Thanksgiving dinner, which included my husband, my daughter, and me feasting on turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and asparagus. After just a few bites of turkey, a fistful of stuffing, and sweet potatoes that I swear were coming out of her ears, my daughter proclaimed, as she does, "All done."

I wiped her face, cleaned her hands, and helped her out of her chair. I didn't return to mine but instead cleaned up some dishes and began to put some extras away. I heard my husband laugh and when I looked to see at what, Ava had climbed up in my chair, pointed at my plate and said, "Mommy's" and proceeded to eat the rest of the turkey off of my plate.

Apparently, she thinks food tastes better when it is on someone else's plate too (though I'll make sure that the clarification I apply to myself applies to her as well).

::

I was very thankful for my mom and my mom-in-law who provided in-a-pinch cooking advice "from a distance" on Thanksgiving Day--especially as they were preparing their own scrumptious meals.

::

Finally, I'd love to know what oven Barefoot Contessa uses to cook her turkey in. She reports her stuffed 12 pound turkey to take about 2.5 hours. Fortunately, it was just the three of us for dinner because my stuffed 11 pound turkey took four (though I planned on 2.5!)

Splurge-ilicious:

On a day when the "traffic and weather on the 5's" report in the Baltimore-Washington area has nothing to do with the highways and everything to do with the parking lots, I'm going to reduce my splurge of the day to one word: LEFTOVERS

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

The stuffing is in the turkey; the turkey is in the oven. The potatoes are next in line; the line is dwindling down.

It's Thanksgiving.

And there sure is plenty of thanks to give.

Hope your day is full of good food, pleasant conversation, and the presence of loved ones--in body or in spirit.

Today's Splurge:

On Thanksgiving, what isn't a splurge?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Loud Reminders

Early this morning, I was in the kitchen getting ready for the day. To be precise, I was standing in front of the refrigerator (don't worry, dad--door was closed) trying to remember what I went over to it for in the first place.

I was distracted first by the sound of screeching tires and then almost immediately the impact of metal on metal. No horn warning.

I ran outside, looked to the dark street and saw a garbage truck's flashing lights. Then I noticed the car that had plowed into the back of it. When I got closer, I saw an unharmed but clearly shaken woman emerge from the car. The garbage collectors and she huddled on a neighbors front porch.

She said she just "wasn't paying attention." Too distracted by something other than what was immediately in front of her (in this case, a garbage truck).

Fortunately, everyone was okay. But it was a screeching reminder that we're at the start of a season when to-do lists and haven't-done lists are huge distractions--at the risk of creating a permanent will-never-do list (for ourself or for someone else). So I'm going to work really hard on staying in the moment every moment, but especially when I'm behind the wheel of my car.

Be Safe!

Splurge-away

Today I'm blowing off some work and a little bit of Thanksgiving preparation to meet a friend and her baby at the park for a run, then, hopefully, a peppermint mocha afterwards.

Monday, November 19, 2007

La la la

I listened to my first Christmas Carol of the season today--"Oh Holy Night"--and for some reason, when Josh Groban sings it, I feel like it's Oh Holy Day, Night, Morning, whenever. It's Holy just because he's singing it. (Though I must admit, I prefer listening to him sing it rather than watching him sing it.) Some people (like my husband) aren't particularly fond of him--in fact, come to think about it, I can almost generalize and say that most men I know aren't particularly fond of him. But that's alright--I doubt Josh Groban is short on fondness.

::

It's a little presumptuous of me to put a survey on this blog, considering I know of only about six people who actually read it regularly...but every one of you six count and I'm counting on every one of you to participate! If you haven't noticed it already, the survey is located in the sidebar--we'll start off with something easy and see how it goes.

Today's Splurge:

Listening to Christmas Carols before Thanksgiving has passed.

I will be the first to admit that there was a time when "Christmas in July" was a fun but outlandish thought and that more an more, it's becoming an irritating but widely applied practice. We're "getting ready for Christmas" earlier than I get my one year old ready for bed (and that's pretty early).

But singing along with those Christmas Carols today made my daughter happy. For that, I'll splurge on just about anything, even if it means a hint of Christmas even though it is still November.




Sunday, November 18, 2007

taste while you waste...

Not that any of us need to waste another minute at the computer, but I've got to share my latest find.

www.tastespotting.com has inspiration for each of the senses. I'd like to think I'll try one of these recipes, but dreaming about them is probably as good as it will get for me.

:: Odds In End

There are many qualities I admire in my husband. But he reminded me of one this morning while at a new coffee shop we're "taste spotting." Pete knows exactly what he's doing while he's doing it. If he is drinking a cup of coffee he is drinking a cup of coffee. He isn't (often) putting dishes away or thinking about what's next on the agenda or what was already skipped over.

Slowing down is a benefit in and of itself. But there are others, too. I realized that Pete knew exactly what he was doing when he was doing it (in this case, drinking coffee) because he commented that the coffee tasted a little bitter. I, on the other hand, not only didn't notice the bitter taste of the coffee, I almost didn't hear Pete say it was bitter.

And so I stopped to think about other things I don't stop to think about. Could I EVER recall a time when coffee tasted bitter? Could I ever recall a time when it didn't? I'm not sure.

I recently wrote about how I pay attention to things...but I think I need to clarify that a little bit in light of my realization this morning. I pay attention to people--which I think is really important. But I'm not sure how often I pay attention to how or when I experience the not-so-obvious things in life, like drinking a cup of coffee. I know exactly what an obviously bright full moon in a big dark sky looks like. I could even describe what it feels like.

And from now on, I'm going to try and know exactly when I am drinking a great cup of coffee. And when I'm not.

Splurge of the weekend:

The one thing I couldn't resist this weekend was the one thing I was actually in search of: a new doormat.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cartwheels and Candy Canes

It doesn't take a whole lot to get me excited. Surprise me with an ice-cream cone or a peppermint mocha once a year and you'll get a glimpse of Christmas morning at my house.

So you can imagine how over the moon I was when I learned about the no-call registry a few years back. My phone rarely rings anymore--and when it does, I know it's either family, a few friends, or the Red Cross. Bank of America was getting a little too comfortable for awhile, but I put an end to that.

Now that unwanted phone calls are taken care of, I've moved onto mail. This time of year, the stack of catalogs that fill up my counter space in a day could wall paper my entire house. So when I heard about this, I nearly turned a cartwheel--and I haven't done that in close to 10 years!

Seriously, Catalog Choice lets you opt out of paper catalogs that you no longer want (or ever wanted) to receive. And it's FREE. So sign up today and use the time you'd spend sorting them (or perusing them) to do something you REALLY want to do. Like turn a cartwheel!

Splurge-out

I don't know, maybe it's the season that's being forced down my throat everywhere I turn (yes, I'm talking about Christmas). But I can't get enough of peppermint and chocolate. Together.

And whoever thought that someone could ever come up with an idea to rival Altoids dark chocolate covered peppermint and cinnamon mints.? (Not me).

Well, someone at Trader Joe's obviously did. Talk about excited--I can't go a minute without thinking about these things. And when I do, they bring one of those deep and wide grins to my face (the one that you can't get rid of and look ridiculous trying to).

So, here's the deal. If you can't get to a Trader Joe's or don't have one where you live, I will send you a box. The first five requests are on me, shipping included. There's only one catch: You have to send me a list of your choice. (I'll post it anonymously if that is your wish).

Now that's a splurge you can't resist.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

old words and new ways

The interest and intention is there to read all of the books that I've collected over the past years, months, weeks, even days. But the time is not.

I've been known to spend full days in the bookstore, pouring over each and every shelf in search of the book with all the answers. And while I've figured out that that book doesn't exist (I may just have to write it) I'm a sucker for old words placed on new pages in all different kinds of ways. I approach a new book like I approached the first day of school as a kid: a blank notepad to write down the thoughts the adventure is sure to inspire, freshly sharpened pencils topped with brightly colored erasures, and neat as a pin desktops (or clutter free couches) that protect from mental distractions.

I'm still collecting the books, I'm just not reading them. (Maybe it also has something to do with the thrill of anticipation I wrote about in little treasures).

But I am reading great children's books. And what I'm finding (or maybe remembering) is that it doesn't take big words (or many or any words at all) to feel a shift--in thinking, in doing, in stopping, in starting. In fact, these little books are changing me in big ways.

For example, right now Ava and I can't get enough of "The Gift of Nothing."

It tells the story of Mooch the cat who is desperate to find the perfect gift for his friend, Earl the dog. Of course, the perfect gift for Earl who has everything eludes Mooch. So, Mooch wraps up a great big box full of "nothing" and gives it to Earl. When Earl opens the box, he says to Mooch, "But there is nothing in here." To which Mooch replies, "I know. Nothing but you and me."

Then, there is "The Nose Book." Now, on its face (no pun intended) it's a fun rhyme about noses. Dig a little deeper and it prepares kids for all of the different kinds of noses that "they'll meet"--all shapes, sizes, and colors (maybe helps to develop a little tolerance and sensitivity?) and even encourages them to stretch their imagination and consider what would happen if we had "no nose!" (Just think of it!)

I'm not sure that any of the grown-up books that are waiting in my in-box would have shed light on two practices that I've started doing since my return to children's books (at least as succinctly or efficiently):
  1. To do nothing more often with those who already have everything and especially with those who mean everything.
  2. To wear my glasses more often because I should and because I can, thanks to my nose!
Discovering these children's books and the weight they carry feels kind of like discovering a secret that you want to share with the world--and it's not even cheating! I can't begin to count the blessings that Ava has brought into my life, but I do count getting reacquainted with the children's section of the bookstore among them.
The Splurge of Nothing:

When you're feeling the itch to buy (or are desperate for the perfect gift) instead, pull this off the shelf--to calm, to remind, or to give.

Better yet, when you're feeling the itch to buy (or are desperate for the perfect gift) instead, find someone you love and together, don't do a thing.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Odds that don't End (or shouldn't, anyway)

Here is what I love most about early early mornings:

1. Cool floors against bare feet
2. Getting big thinking out of the way while most are still in the midst of big dreaming
3. The light of my computer screen against the dark of everything else
4. The sound of an occasional car passing by...
5. And then daydreaming about where it's headed
6. The quiet wide open space early morning creates and then...
7. Thinking about how I will fill it up with the rest of the day

:: Ripple Effects

We were all excited for my family to visit this past weekend. Ava jumped her way through life each of the days they were here. We spent yesterday in Washington, DC, honoring Veteran's from a distance at a number of ceremonies and at other times, smiling at them as we passed on the street. My dad was one of those Veteran's, having served our country in Vietnam as a Medic with the 101st Airborne. Two of his closest friends that he served with also made the trip. What makes them, and most all Veteran's, so special is the gratitude, respect, and admiration they hold for one another (mostly conveyed through silent understanding rather than composed and precise words) and the humility they apply to themselves. It is a remarkable relationship to witness; a humbling example to follow.

Today's Splurge:

Nothing that costs money today. Just ten minutes tonight to file my nails, write down a few things that have been swirling around searching for a place to land, and enjoy some peppermint tea. I don't know if I'll add honey; I'm going to decide last minute (I know, a real dare devil).






Sunday, November 11, 2007

Everyday Thanks


Dedicating a day to honor soldiers and veterans is important for traditions and ceremonies and for reminding us that we should be honoring them everyday, not just one day.

Following my parents' example, I go out of my way, sometimes foolishly, to thank a uniformed man or woman for their service, for protecting my country, for protecting my family, my daughter, our freedom. The smile (and sometimes tears) that they respond with soars well above any insecurity or awkwardness I might have felt approaching them.

So today and everyday as we sip our coffee or fetch the paper, let's quietly thank the men and women who have served our country so that when we pass them on the street or stand behind them in the grocery store line, we are prepared to thank them out loud.

Splurge of Thanks

Visit this site to find a charitable organization to support. Today, Charity Navigator is highlighting top performing charities that support veterans, such as Fisher House, which offers housing at military bases around the world to families whose loved one has been injured or hospitalized; and Freedom Alliance, which awards educational scholarships to children whose parents were killed or permanently disabled in service
.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Shoulder to Sigh On


Tonight I am going to write about my favorite subject. I hope you don't mind reading about her.

Even though she's come down with a cold that would knock me off my feet, Ava hasn't stopped moving hers all day. The only thing that's different is that she's a little more cuddly. Tonight at dinner she was sitting in her high chair and she said to her daddy, "Shoulder?" (Which means, can I see yours?) So, he bent down to lend his shoulder, she laid her head on it, sighed, and after a minute said, "All done."

The only attention I've been paying to shoulders lately has to do with yoga: mostly that I can't do much at all with mine.

But Ava reminded me of how wrong I am. When it's all a one year old wants, it feels like a shoulder can do everything. I'm going to find one to rest my head on a little more often, too.

Another tid-bit:

:: We have a big stainless steel pot in one of the cupboards that Ava is allowed in. It's underneath the counter top and where we keep her CDs and a few other make-shift musical items (lids, tupper ware, old oatmeal containers). About a week or two ago, I noticed her as far into that cupboard as she could get, carrying on a conversation like she was with friends in a coffee shop.

That someone was the little reflection in the steel pot, who I'm sure appeared to be talking just as animatedly to her as she was to it (wink, wink).

She's gone in to say hello just about every night since. And before she backs herself out, I hear a little smooch and then, "bye bye." I know I'm supposed to be her "first teacher," but I swear, that little girl is my best teacher.

Thursday Splurge-day

I don't do this often, but I had to do it. Hanna Andersson was having a great sale a couple of weeks ago and I couldn't resist this adorable little outfit for Ava. She wears the "sippers" around the house and I am trying not to "save" the outfit for a special occasion because isn't everyday is a special occasion?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

little treasures


I've just always paid attention.

I could probably tell you how many people passed by wearing a hat; how many wear a collar up or wear it down. I notice if people cover their mouth when they laugh or tap their knee to not cry.

I try to pay attention everyday because I just don't want to miss a minute of it--even if the highlight consists of three dozen run-throughs of Kippy Koala or Humpty Dumpty (pronounced Hump-et-ee Dump-et-eee).

I have also always been a leading-up-to-an-event kind of person--savoring the months, weeks, days, and minutes leading up to an event as much as I do the event itself. In fact, when I was probably seven or eight, I joined the local swim team and never missed a practice; I also never made a meet.

And somehow, I think these things--attention and anticipation--are related.

Apart from anything that has ever been created because of or by my daughter, the things (to distinguish from people) I treasure most are things that come from everyday life..the little details that fill in the bigger picture. For example:
  • A poem that my husband wrote for me when we were dating.
  • Memories of a journal that my grandfather kept when he was young and courting my grandmother.
  • Letters that my dad wrote to his parents as a soldier in Vietnam.
  • A note from my mother written on a paper plate letting me know she'd gone to the store but would be back soon.
  • An old journal entry written with a broken heart about the joy that would soon come from a mended one (and it did!)
So rather than ask any of you to send a list or read another one, maybe just take a couple minutes to jot down what you noticed today--because it might become someone else's treasure tomorrow.

Splurge-worthy Wednesday:

I need to clean out my refrigerator, which is stocked full of Greek Pizza ingredients. Here's what I've got:
  • whole wheat pizza dough (of course, regular old dough will work too)
  • artichoke hearts
  • sundried tomatoes
  • kalamata olives
  • feta cheese
  • roasted red peppers
1. I let the dough sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes, so it's easier to toss (well, I don't really toss it, I roll it, but toss sounds better).

2. Preheat oven to 425°

3. Chop all of the above ingredients that can be chopped

4. Roll the dough and bake it in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes (so that it gets a little crispy before the toppings are added)

3. Spread with olive oil

4. Sprinkle everything chopped on top


5. Sprinkle the feta (if I have shredded or grated Romano or Parmesan, I might add that too)


Bake for another 8-10 minutes...

and yum. You're in the Mediterranean. How's that for a Wednesday night splurge?