A Year in Review

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Poof!  Another year gone, just like that – in a flash – never to be heard from again.  It seems the closer I get to 40, the faster this ride goes.  I don’t really like fast rides, they make me nauseous.  It’s why I’ve lived in the Dallas area for some 12 years and have never stepped foot on the grounds of Six Flags Over Texas.

But that is a blog for another day, isn’t it?  Perhaps I will try to conquer my fear of amusement park rides by making a trip over to Arlington in 2012.

Yeah, right.

Anyway, with 2011 coming to a close, and a new year looming on the horizon, I thought it would be fun to take a look back and reflect upon what I’ve learned this year.

This year I learned…

…that Cabo San Lucas, Mexico is beautiful and romantic.  The ideal place to celebrate 15 amazing years of marriage, with the love of my life.  The “two shots of tequila + 5 beers for $5.00” specials made it all the better.  At least, I think so…I don’t remember much after…wait…we went to Mexico, right?

…that whale watching in the Pacific Ocean is surreal and terrifying.  I’m glad I stood up to my fear of water/boats and went on the excursion.  I can mark it off my bucket list with a big fat black Sharpie (with a notation in the margin that reads: never, ever try this again).

…that sometimes it is necessary to stubbornly take a stand, even if it means alienation from family you love.  Things tend to work themselves out in the end.  And, well, if they don’t then, so be it.

…that marking the four-year anniversary of my father’s death was just as painful as year three.

…that the weatherman on my local NBC channel either has a sick sense of humor, or his degree in meteorology is just an honorary one. The snow event captured below was only supposed to be a light dusting.    As in, not going to stick, or cause any trouble on the roads.  We ended up with a foot total. Epic. Fail.  Why is this a problem, you ask?  It’s only snow.  Well, down here in Texas, measurable snowfall is a sign of the coming apocalypse.  I didn’t leave my house until it melted.  It’s just better that way.

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…that with three or four inches of ice coating everything (in a separate, unrelated winter weather event – another epic weatherman fail), including the street, I can survive an entire week without leaving my house.  On day two, I did attempt to check the mail.  My mailbox is across the street.  I made it to the middle of the road, fell on my ass, promptly got up, dusted off my pride and went back into the house.  There was nothing I needed in that mailbox, I was sure of it. Well, except for those two Netflix movies, but I made my husband go get those for me.  Have I mentioned that he is the most awesomest dude ever?

…that even at my age, a little recognition and validation can put a spring in my step.  In April, I received a scholar award from my favorite professor, in my favorite subject (history).  It might not mean much outside the confines of my campus and academic world, but it certainly went a long way to helping me feel like I wasn’t wasting my time.  Though I’m sure my family would tell you that my ego was so inflated from this unprecedented honor, that they had to keep reminding me that I did not, in fact, win a Pulitzer.

…that just when I thought I was getting the hang of this aging nonsense, I get the call informing me that I could expect to be a grandmother by the end of the year.  Let the months of denial begin!

…that even though I swore I had absolutely no interest in the British Royal wedding; that I scoffed at the crazy people who were planning to get up in the middle of the night to catch every tantalizing second of it, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized.  No, I didn’t get up in the middle of the night.  That would be ridiculous.  I got up at my normal time, switched on the television, and there it was.  I couldn’t get away from it, and I happened to catch it at the precise moment that she entered the church.  I watched every stinking minute of it and was nearly late for work.  Damn you, England!

…that I’ve lived in the Dallas area for a long time and this was the first year we have braved Scarborough Faire in Waxahachie.  I’m ashamed at our stuffiness.  So much fun.  Maybe next year we will dress up.  Don’t tell Nolan.  It’ll be my surprise.

…that turning 39 this year wasn’t all that bad.  Of course, a gift of diamonds goes a long way in making the aging process bearable.  Oh, and an a Happy Birthday wake up call and an afternoon visit from my nephews didn’t hurt, either.

…that a girls only trip to Key West is quite the adventure.  I learned a lot, made some new friends, discovered mojitos, and the wonders of drag queens.  If you’re interested, you can read more about my adventures [here].

…that cursing Mother Nature for bitch slapping us this winter only resulted in several summertime bitch slaps.  I think I might even classify it as a beating.  I’ve been through hot, dry, miserable summers before, but this year was by far, the worst.  Wish I had known this little bit of trivia in February.  I might have been a little nicer to that fickle whore.

…that middle school parents are all bugger eating morons who wouldn’t understand a rule if it slapped them upside the head and introduced itself.

…that having my granddaughter born on Thanksgiving Day was certainly a surprise.  She was a few weeks early.  I will be completely honest, I was emotionally unprepared.  Mostly, because I am a realist and don’t look at the ooey gooey side of things.  I see the cold hard fact that becoming a parent in your early twenties, is tough stuff.  I became a parent at the tender age of 18.  I know of what I speak.  However, after much thought and reflection, I was able to remove myself from that side of the equation.  Grandparents, after all, are meant to be the fun ones – it is not our job to dwell on the struggles of first time parenthood. Instead, as reward for the years we spent rearing our irrational and, at times, ungrateful children, we are allowed to bask in the splendor of a child we can spoil, fill with excessive sugar products, and send home to torture their parents.  Acceptance grows out of denial.  But be warned, call me Granny and I will gut you like a pig.  My willingness to accept such a position only goes so far.

…that I don’t completely hate the holiday season.  I discovered that I like Christmas music, baking cookies, and long walks on sandy beaches sipping fruity drinks with little umbrellas…oh wait…that last one was just my holiday happy place.  My bad.

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…that saying goodbye to a kitty I’ve had for 16 years is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a very long time.  We will miss you and your sweet, quirkiness, Pistachio.

…that my daughter becomes more and more like me every day.  In some ways I think this is a good thing – I am independent, dedicated, and emotionally tough.  Good traits.  On the other hand, I am sarcastic, snarky, and bitchy.   Not traits one strives to pass along to their children.

The other day, my daughter and I were standing in line at the Gap, in front us were a mother with a young girl.  When they reached the counter, the woman at the counter said to the child:

“Oh, I love your Hello Kitty shirt!  Do you know what my name is?”

The woman moves her sweater and shows the girl her name tag.  Her name was Kitty.  My daughter rolled her eyes and, in a voice laced with sarcasm, said:

“Oh Jeez!  That’s what I want to do when I grow up.  Name my daughter Kitty.  Wonder if her last name is Cat.”

Of course, being the responsible parent that I am, I admonished her for saying such a thing – after I was able to stopping myself from laughing hysterically.

All in all, I think 2011 was a pretty good year for the Isaacs family.  I’ve had worse.  Much, much worse.  I have high hopes for 2012.  It is the year I will finish my novel.

Seriously.

Stop laughing.

Screw you.

Happy New Year!

An award? For me?

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My morning began like so many these days – with the sound of a howling cat.  One who is increasingly convinced that he might starve to death, if not fed by 5:30 a.m.  I stumbled out of bed, spewing an impressive collection of words that would make George Carlin proud, as I went.  It is at this point in my day that I question the decision to rescue this 20lb flea bag from the animal shelter, commiserate with his previous owners for putting up with such an obnoxious beast, for as long as they did, and threaten to toss his ass out the back door to fend for himself against the coyotes who live just beyond the railroad tracks.

(I may get up before the roosters and the sun, but I am far from what one would consider a jolly morning person).

My coffee was already made, courtesy of a husband who I want to believe pre-sets the coffee pot out of undying devotion to my eternal happiness; but alas, that would be a falsehood of epic proportions.  I make crappy coffee.  Or so he says. In an effort to ensure that he is not subjected to my alleged swill, he makes it every night before bed and sets the timer.  I should be insulted by this – I am not.

With a steaming cup of my husband’s coffee in hand, I began my morning ritual of sifting through emails, blogs, and Facebook nonsense.  I shuffled through the list of new and freshly pressed WordPress entries, then hopped over to the blogs I follow regularly, and began to read.  There was a lot to read this morning.  Seems everyone is back at it, after the holiday craziness.

About twenty minutes later, I find myself reading The Food and Wine Hedonist’s latest offering.  It seems he was nominated for some sort of award.  Good for him.  I like him.  He’s funny and his apt descriptions of the Top Chef contestants have been known to cause me to produce a laugh induced snot bubble or two.   As I neared the bottom of the page, I see that part of the rules in accepting such a nomination is to pay it forward.  I shuffle through his list of worthy recipients, click on a few, then – what is this?  Peggy Isaacs?  Wait…that’s me.

Someone likes me…they really, really, like me!

Okay, well maybe that is pushing the intent of this honor to the brink of exaggeration; however, I must say that every writer, blogger, or whatever one might call themselves, finds the acknowledgement of a peer rewarding.  I certainly do.  It’s the narcissist in me, I can’t help myself.

Well, anyway, on to the business at hand:

The Liebster Blog Award. It’s given to up-and-coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. Liebster is German and means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kindly, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.

liebster-blog-awardThe rules for the Liebster Blog Award are:

  1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
  2. Link back to the blogger who awarded you.
  3. Copy & paste the blog award on your blog.
  4. Reveal your 5 blog picks.
  5. Let them know you chose them by posting on their blog.

So, much thanks to The Food and Wine Hedonist for this; I am humbled.

Now on to the matter of paying this forward.  I will say this is probably the hardest thing to do, not because I don’t follow some very worthy bloggers – I do.  It’s just the most of them have more followers than the allotted 200, or don’t have the total number of followers listed.  I think I don’t care about this little rule (look at me, bucking the system).  I am going to nominate who I choose based on how I feel about their content.

I hereby nominate the following blogs for The Liebster Blog Award:

Bill Chance:  His blog is lots of fun, filled with his travels, his perspective on life, his love for food, writing, and photography.  There is never a dull moment over at www.billchance.org.

It’s Just One Workout:  Her outlook on food and exercise reminds me that I’m not alone in my struggle to maintain a certain level of health and fitness.  She also reminds me that it’s okay to laugh at myself when I do fall of the wagon – as long as I get my ass back up, and moving.

Kim the FanGirl:  She hasn’t written anything in a month or so, and that makes me sad.  She has a wonderful way with words.  Her review of Florence + the Machine’s latest album, Ceremonials, left me breathless.

The Illiterate Scribe:  He gives some interesting writing advice.  A must read if you are a struggling writer, such as myself.

Novel Girl:  She gives some great writing advice, as well.  Another must read for those writers who need a little encouragement.  Like me.

Hope you enjoy.

Now, does anybody want a cat?  He’s about 12 years old.  Really fat.  Seriously obnoxious…

…anyone?

Just Write

Easier said than done.

Lately, I’ve had a lot problems finding my writing groove.  Frustration has been the word of the day for a several weeks and over the weekend, became just too much to bear.  In my darkest moment, I contemplated a bonfire in the back yard –  a cleansing burn – to end my misery.

But then, these words helped walk me back from the brink:

– The War of Art
Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential… Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work. (Steven Pressfield)

Thank you, Bill Chance.

I’ve decided that maybe I need a bit of accountability with regard to writing this novel that seems to have become the bane of my existence.  I am going to begin to document my progress here, on this blog.  If nothing else it will shame me into writing, and there by, force me to overcome the resistance that is blocking my path.

So here we go:

Novel:                            Retribution

Current Word Count:      24,001

Number of Pages:          124

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Things I learned this week…

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“Que sais-je?”
Michel de Montaigne

I learned this week…

…that it is necessary, from a quality control standpoint, to sample all of the treats I bake before giving them out to my friends and family.  Unfortunately, my stomach did not get the memo that we would be ingesting such a large amount of sugar and fat.  He was not amused.

…that baking and writing don’t mix.  The other morning, I packed my daughter off to school, made a mental list of the things I needed to get done and set a short-term goal for myself.  I wanted to accomplish at least two things before the sun went down: 1) finish baking cookies and fudge for my coworkers; 2) write between 2,000 and 4,000 words for my novel, Retribution.  I arranged a makeshift writing space at the kitchen table with my laptop, steaming cup of coffee, plot diagram, and research notebook – all within easy reach.

(Why is Robert Burns whispering in my ear…again?)

I finished the cookies.  I did not, however, write the intended number of words.  I eked out a grand total of 157 of them.  Disappointing, but I learned a valuable lesson.  I can either bake or I can write, but I cannot do both.

…that there is just something about logging onto the college website to find my grades staring back at me, on the homepage.  I get all gooey inside from the tremendous sense of accomplishment I feel at successfully completely another semester, with a near perfect GPA intact.  Good thing, too.  I’m paying a butt load of money, out-of-pocket, for this education; all in the name of “finding myself.”  (Cue eye roll from my dear, supportive husband).

…that sitting next to the Christmas tree at my daughter’s gymnastics practice is a bad idea.  A very, very bad idea.  You would think that I would remember this from years of past experience.  After all, we’ve been going to the same sport’s center for the last four years.  But alas, no.  I am a creature of habit.  I have a favorite chair and when it is unoccupied, I will sit there every time, without fail. Unfortunately, during this time of year, the chair sits right next to the Christmas tree.  Needless to say, because of my inability to adapt, I spend most of practice shooting the stink eye at small children for nearly toppling the tree, in their attempts to reach the candy canes that are scattered among the branches.  The candy canes they are forbidden from touching.   I’d love to have a nice long heart to heart with the genius who thought up that decorating idea.

…that the movie Hanna is probably the worst film I have ever seen.  I don’t even know where to begin with this one.  But considering the fact that I’ve just spent the better part of two hours watching it – two hours of my life I will never get back – I think I will pass on a more detailed review.  I’ve wasted enough time on it already.  Now I’ve wasted your time by telling you that I’m not going to waste my time.  I feel better now.  Misery loves company.

…that the mall on the last full shopping weekend before Christmas is a frightening place.

…that Hollister is not a store, it’s my worst nightmare come to life.  Before this weekend, I had never stepped foot in that store.  I’ve always been put off by the sounds and smells wafting from it’s cloaked interior.  However, it is Christmas and there is someone on my list who requested a gift card from this establishment.  Upon entering, and after my senses adjusted to the loud music and overwhelming stench of cologne, I was struck by how very dark it was in there.  Indeed, so dark that I nearly tripped over several small children and a salesperson.  I’m not sure I understand their marketing strategy.  How the hell do they expect customers to buy a product they can’t see?  Seems pretty fishy to me, like maybe they don’t really want you to know what you’re buying.  Or maybe the store is secretly a front for a special black ops division of the CIA.  That must be it, and now that I think about it, I’m sure I caught a glimpse of Sydney Bristow, disguised as a college student, just before she slipped into one of the “dressing rooms.”

…last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this touching tribute to the brilliance of Bill Waterson.  Enjoy.

Best Friends

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Let the baking begin!

DSC01382Christmas is not my favorite time of year.  Don’t worry.  I’m not going to launch into a tirade about how commercially motivated our society has become, or goad anyone into a theology debate.  No, I made a promise to myself that I would leave my cynicism at the door.  I vowed to make an extra effort to avoid allowing my negativity to overshadow the holidays or bleed into my blog entries.

Not an easy promise to keep, especially after dipping my toes into the pool of Christmas shoppers down at the mall.  I barely escaped with my life.  I will refrain from recounting the whole grim tale.  Doing so would only set me down a path of no return and then I will have broken my vow to be, if not cheery, at least, civil.

Finding Christmas related activities or events that don’t leave me wanting to chug the nearest carton of laced eggnog is a pretty tall order, but not an impossibility.  After all, I have discovered that I like Christmas music.  Granted, the playlist is minimal, but I’m a firm believer that all good things should be moderated.

There is another thing that I like about Christmas.  It’s the perfect excuse to bake an exuberant amount of goodies.  Of course, I don’t want them in the house because sweets are counterproductive in the whole healthy living lifestyle thing I’ve got going on, but I’ve come up with a solution.  I’ve devised a way to make them essentially guilt-free.  I bake them, pack them in cute bags adorned with curly ribbon and a festive candy cane, and give them to all my friends, family, and coworkers. They seem to like the gesture and it always leaves me with the warm, gooey satisfaction of having put a smile on their faces.  If I were a humane person, I might feel a twinge of remorse for having sabotaged their holiday diet plan, but I’m not, and I don’t.

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I usually try to make a variety of treats including some old favorites, such as chocolate chip and peanut butter.  I also try to incorporate cookies with a little spice.  Some of my favorite cookies aren’t sweet at all.  This is the fault of my little Italian grandmother who used to let me help her make batch after batch of pizzelle cookies.  For those who have never experienced these anise-flavored Italian cookies, I’m truly sorry for they are wonderfully yummy.   My grandmother made the best – my mother runs a close second  – and she used to let me lick the bowl until my tongue went numb.  My mother never let me do that.  You know, that whole Salmonella thing and all.  I miss my grandma.

This year, I have brought back my chocolate ginger spice cookies that are rolled in raw sugar, giving them a nice crunchy texture on the outside which contrasts nicely to the soft, moist middle.  To complement this offering, I have added a Chai flavor inspired cookie.  This one is definitely one to be enjoyed with a tall glass of milk, and while the dense cookie itself is more spicy than sweet, the white chocolate coating drizzled with melted milk chocolate gives it a nice balance.  They are considerably more work than just the basic chocolate chip, but I think they are worth it.  If for no other reason than they are a nice change of pace.

DSC01351While I am a pretty decent baker, a confectioner I am not.  Over the years, I have tried my hand at a lot of different candies: peanut brittle, almond bark, peppermint almond bark.  None of them resulted in anything edible.  In spite of this, I do try to add a bit of fudge to every bag.  Of course, fudge can be as frustrating to make as peanut brittle, especially when one has no idea the difference between those very technical candy making terms: hard-crack stage and soft-crack stage.  However, I’ve found a no fuss recipe that takes all of 20 minutes from the second the sugar hits the sauce pan until I pop the finished product into the fridge to set up.  Everyone seems to like it, and I wouldn’t dream of leaving it out.

The past two years, due to circumstances beyond my control, life has made this task overwhelming.  I just didn’t have the time to bake enough goodies for everyone on my list.  This year is different.  My school semester is finished, there are no obligatory family functions looming that require an ounce of my attention, and I have a couple of days off a week until mid-January.  More importantly, because there are no outside pressures, I feel that I am going to enjoy this year’s baking marathon much more than I have in a good long while.  That makes me happy.  Perhaps even instills a smidgen of holiday cheer into my Scrooge-filled heart.  Anything is possible, right?  I mean, I voluntarily put up the Christmas tree on the 10th of the month.  Much sooner than usual, and with minimal grumbling.  Perhaps Christmas miracles do happen.

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Things I learned in the last two weeks

Yes, yet again, I am running behind with my weekly blog entries.  I always have the greatest of intentions.  I really do want to get them finished and posted in a timely manner, but sometimes that nagging little thing called responsibility screws up everything.  However, I think I have myself back on track – at least until classes start again in mid-January.  Then I will try to think up new, more creative excuses for my tardiness.

In the last two weeks, I’ve learned…

…that there is some unknown force that seems to have invaded the brains of the parents at my daughter’s middle school and sucked out all of their common sense.  Or perhaps, they are just booger eating morons.  I don’t know.  Of course, if I had to choose, while the former is more visually pleasing to the writer in me, the latter is likely the most obvious conclusion.  I can tell you, though, that it does not require a doctorate in civil engineering to know that there is only one way in and one way out when navigating the carpool lane.  School administrators have even been kind enough to paint brightly colored directional arrows on the concrete for those among us who are visual learners.  Even so, day after day, these parents just don’t understand that parking in the out lane is counterintuitive to the overall spirit of the intended process.

John Calvin - Unknown source…that studying for my Western Civilization final too close to bedtime will result in dreams of John Calvin and Martin Luther with a side of Petrarch and Machiavelli.  Needless to say, the resulting Renaissance/Reformation mash-up did not leave me feeling well rested at all.

…that the office manager in my former dentist’s office is evil.  I’ve never liked her, or the dentist for that matter, but I tend to suffer through such things out of convenience.  However, I do enjoy getting back at her in my own passive/aggressive way.  She’s a stalker.  By this I mean, she will run you down to confirm an appointment or make you that appointment for the 6 month check up you don’t need but they want you to think you need.  I like to dodge her calls.  It’s become a sport to me.  You know, to see how many times she really will call before she gives up.  Mature, huh?  Well, it backfired on me this week.  I dodged all of her “please confirm your appointment” calls and when I showed up for my appointment, she informed me that she had given the slot to someone else.  What?  Oh, the agony of defeat…

…that the little elf thing parents have resorted to using, in an effort to incite good behavior in their unruly children, is creepy. Really, really creepy.  If my parents had done that to me as a child, I would have ended up in therapy, at the very least.  With my overactive imagination, I might have even ended up locked in a padded room for insisting that the elf was hiding a big butcher’s knife beneath his pointy hat and had been sent by Santa to murder me in my bed.  After all, I did think that there were cobras living under my bed for the better part of a year after seeing a certain Disney movie when I was six.  I’m still traumatized by that experience.

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…that Asian tacos are pretty tasty even though they look strange with all that pickled cabbage stuff.  Thai coconut soup, on the other hand, not to so tasty.

…that it’s just weird to have the FedEx guy ring your doorbell and hand you Styrofoam cooler with a ham in it.  For a minute, I thought I’d received someone’s transplant organ by mistake.

…that Rick Perry is a…um…well…hmmm…I find that I have no words to adequately describe my feelings toward the governor of my fair state.  Until now, I have remained largely indifferent to him.  Well, I say that, but I still hate his guts for that whole HPV mandate debacle.  Aside from that, by and large, and though I do like to ridicule his backwater way, I’ve not allowed myself to be bothered by him too much.  Most of the nonsense he spews does not amount to much, in the grand scheme of things.  Now, I am mortified that he has been unleashed on the nation.  It’s kind of like when your crazy cousin Larry shows up uninvited to your wedding and spends the entire night reminding you why he has been permanently banned from all family functions.

…that conquering the elliptical has become an obsession for me now.  Let’s face it.  Working out can be boring.  To stave off the boredom,  I set goals for myself.  Like:  I am going to do X amount of miles today in X amount of time; or I will go until the indicator tells me I’ve burned X amount of calories.  One of the biggest challenges with the elliptical is resistance.  It’s easy to truck along at a low setting, but I don’t want easy.  Up until now, I’ve played it safe and stayed within the level 8 range.  This week, I kicked it up a few notches.  I started out at level 10.  I did a good steady pace for 5 minutes, then raised the level by 2 to 12 and did that for 4 minutes.  For the final one minute, I raised the level even further, to 14.  Then I started over.  I did this for 6 repetitions for a total of an hour.  It was awesome.  Of course, the next day my body bitch slapped me and reminded me that I am staring down the business end of 40.  But it’s nothing a little over-the-counter pain reliever can’t fix.

…that there are 22 days left until the end of the holiday season.  Just sayin’.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this amazing photograph of two baby chameleons.  It is, of course, altered but still…

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Source:   http://takacica.deviantart.com/art/A-Tree-Branch-Separates-Us-189658504