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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.)



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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.

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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.


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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.

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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).

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



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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.