Finding rhythm

Time management and multitasking are two virtues I was not blessed to possess.  I often struggle with attaining a harmonious balance between work, family, school, writing, and all those nagging little commitments generally associated with everyday life.  To the frustration of my inner circle, I must take things as they come, one at a time – chronologically. Experience has taught me that if I don’t adhere to this rule of thumb, I will devolve into:  a)  anger-laced irrationality; or b) total despondency – or what I like to call, the “fuck it” syndrome. Couple the latter with my inclination toward introversion and it is safe to say some things aren’t afforded the attention they deserve, or would otherwise receive under less stressful circumstances.

My focus the last six months has been school.  I’m almost finished and what I thought would be an easy semester, turned into an avalanche of homework that took more time than anticipated, and certainly more than appreciated.  Add to the mix, my daughter’s fall band and robotics schedule, and well – something had to give.   That something – this blog.  And my novel. Both became victims of the aforementioned “F.I.” syndrome.

Now in the aftermath of the semester that seemed to never end, I find myself with a bit of free time on my hands.  That’s not to say there aren’t new commitments and challenges eager to step in to fill the void left by my schoolwork.  There are cookies to be baked, cards to be addressed, gifts to be bought, malls to be conquered, and good cheer to be spread.

Blah, blah, blah.

I have to be honest here.  I’m not a big fan of Christmas.  The season’s inflated commerciality and disingenuous propaganda give me heartburn, and I resent the additional obligations and expectations to varying degrees.   After several hectic months, the last thing I want to do is be bogged down by holiday sludge.   What I want to do is get back into the rhythm of writing.  Whether it’s this blog, or my WIP, or something new – it doesn’t matter.  I just want to sit in front of my computer and get lost in the glow of the written word.

My words.

So, I am faced with a bit of a dilemma.  Bake cookies and address stacks of Christmas cards or write?  Do what’s expected or what I want?

I say fuck it.

Today, I write.

Nobody reads Christmas cards anyway.  As for all those cookies I don’t plan to bake now – I’m sure my friends and family will understand.  And if they don’t – I have a long memory and will adjust my cookie recipient list accordingly.  

Write on.

Things I learned during the holidays – and an award

“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be.”

– George Carlin

I learned during the holidays…

…that snow on Christmas is nice.

Lingering snow the day after, is not.

I’m not a winter person.  If given a choice, I’d pick 105 degree summer heat over frozen precipitation any day of the week.  Unfortunately, the weather Gods don’t always take my preference into account when doling out snow days.   Such was the case on Christmas day.  It hit early in the afternoon, just as we were sitting down to lunch.  The flakes were big and fluffy, and set a pretty scene.  A bit of Christmas magic.  That’s never a bad thing.  However, I’m a big believer in the power of moderation.  A quick burst of snow, followed by a rapid melt is ideal.  That way by the time I have to get out – because it’s all about me – the white stuff is gone.  It’s not that I’m incapable of driving on it – I lived in Iowa one winter in the early 90s.  You learn to adapt or you don’t leave the house for 6 months.  No, I’m more concerned with the other guy’s driving ability.  Unfortunately, mother nature was not in a giving mood and the temperature the next day did not rise above freezing.  I left my house prepared to be overwhelmed by stupidity.  I was not disappointed.  Ten minutes into my commute some jackass in a super sized SUV swerved in front of me and slammed on his brakes just as we were about to pass over an ice-covered bridge.

These are the moments in life when I wish I had a real Bond car.

…that after whipping up nearly 25 dozen cookies, 50 mini pumpkin pies, and 6 batches of fudge I am so over baking.  Totally.  I may never bake again.  Ever.

On a bright note, I only gained back 3 of the 10 lbs I lost during the semester sampling all those baked goodies.

that Kim Kardashian has a little Kanye West cooking in the oven.  O.M.G.  Like, that is, like, so cool, you guys.

Oy.

I am always struck by the level of relevancy given to the K clan by mainstream media.  Call me a killjoy, but I think there are more important things going on in the world than what’s going on their collective uteri.

…that my daughter does not share my taste in Christmas music.  Most of my favorite songs were recorded during the early days of rock & roll, and it only makes sense that the holiday tunes I gravitate toward come from that era.  Number one on my list is Darlene Love’s Christmas (Baby, please come home).  I like to crank it up and sing it proud – from the gut, as loud as I can.

My daughter is not impressed.

Me:  The snows comin’ doowwwnnn/Christmaaasss/I’m watchin’ it faaallll/Christmaaasss/Lots of people aroooooounndd…

Megan:  Ew, Mom.  What are you singing?

Me:  Darlene Love.  Don’t you just love it?

Megan:  Um, no.

Me:  How can you not like Darlene Love.  She’s the queen of Christmas.

Megan:  No, she’s not.  Rock & roll Christmas music is so lame.  The classics are so much better.

Me:  This is the classics, baby.

Megan: <shrug>  Whatever.

Brat.

…that I’m getting too old to stay up drinking until midnight on New Year’s Eve – and that’s okay.  I was in bed by 10:30 pm, up at 4:30 am on New Year’s Day, and at the gym by 7:30.  A fabulous way to begin the year, I think.  Much better than sporting a hangover all day.

…that I’ve been nominated for a blogger awards – well three actually, but I’m only going to address one today.

I love blogger awards.  They make me smile.  It’s an ego thing.

This one comes from jmmcdowell, an archaeologist turned novelist – I think that may be the coolest thing ever.  She was gracious enough to pass along the Booker Award to me as a new follower of her blog.   Thank you, jmmcdowell!   Go check out  some of her excerpts from Buried Deeds.

The Booker Award dictates that I list five of my favorite books.  I was nominated for this award once before, but never came back to it.  I must say, there are so many books I love it is really hard to pick just five.

Here goes:

1. Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen.  I first read this novel in the ninth grade.  It was required, and I hated it.  I thought it was as tedious as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (which I also hated – and still do). When I was in my twenties, I picked it up again, and fell head over heels in love.  Since then, I’ve read it at least once a year.  My paperback copy is worn and faded, the pages dog-eared and water-logged from too many lazy summer days by the pool lost in Regency England.  Pride & Prejudice is a truly timeless love story whose colorful characters are as familiar to me as my own family.  And it is one of the few stories I love with a happy ending because there can be no other conclusion for Lizzy and Darcy.  I feel all warm and gooey just thinking about it.

2. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – John le Carre.  This is a new addition to my favorites list.  I only finished it a few weeks ago.  There are so many things that appeal to me in this book.  1. It’s a spy thriller; 2. It’s set during the early years of the Cold War when the wall was new and Khrushchev ruled the Soviets with an iron fist of oppression. 3. It is a tale of conflicting ideologies, and a race to outsmart a perceived enemy; 4. It has a complex main character – Alec Leamus – who struggles with his own morality and humanity while doing what he thinks is best for Queen and country; and 5.  There is no happy ending – because a man like Leamus can know no peace.  Brilliant.

3. Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank – This classic was also required reading in the ninth grade.  But unlike Pride & Prejudice, I was sucked in by the story and the characters from the opening scene to the telling last lines:

“We won it. We really clobbered ’em!” Hart’s eyes lowered and his arms drooped.

He said, “Not that it really matters.”

The engine started and Randy turned away to face the thousand-year night.”

– Alas, Babylon

I’ve always been fascinated by the Cold War and what life might have been like had that conflict turned hot.  Alas, Babylon is a fascinating study of the human condition and explores the what ifs of life after a nuclear apocalypse.  The raw devastation of this story scared the hell out of me when I was 14.  I love that.

4.  Little Women – Louisa May Alcott.  In 1974, my Nana gave me the entire Alcott series.  Of course, I was only two and didn’t appreciate the gift – and wouldn’t until around the sixth grade.  I’ve read them all, but Little Women is my favorite.  I loved Meg’s quiet resiliency, Jo’s wild spirit, Beth’s gentle heart, and Amy – well…I’m not sure I ever really liked Amy, spoiled brat that she was.  I cried when Beth died; fumed when Jo chose the Professor over Laurie even though it was for her own good; and rejoiced at the lives the March sisters carved out for themselves during such trying times.  I lost most of that series of books, including Little Women, in the house fire six years ago.  My heart still aches.

5. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck.  I love this novel.  I really do.  This was another required reading from early high school – sophomore year.  How do you describe Of Mice and Men?  Heartbreaking, disturbing, eye-opening.  Ultimately, it is a story of friendship and the deep love that comes with it.  No, there is no happy ending in this one either.  Yes, I like it that way.

Now to pay it forward.  I’m going to choose to pass this award onto a few writerly blogs I enjoy.  Of course, there is no obligation for any of my chosen recipients to participate.

Erin Elizabeth Long

Hot Pink Underwear

Be Not Afraid

4amWriter

that I have no awww moment of the week.  It’s been cold, maybe next week.

Things I learned this week…and more

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

– William Shakespeare (Hamlet)

I learned this week…

…that finding a link between Truman’s Cold War policies and the civil rights movement is easy.  Writing a paper arguing the connection is not.  I can’t remember the last time I wanted to bang my head against my desk….oh wait…yes, I do.   Last semester when I wrote that paper about Thomas Hobbes and absolute power.

…that waiting for my professor to grade the above-mentioned paper is excruciating.  Generally speaking, I am a pretty patient person.  I don’t get too worked up about things, and I’m far from someone who requires instant gratification.  Except when it comes to my writing.  I think, in part, this speaks to the level of insecurities I have about my own ability as a writer.  I worked hard to construct a meaningful work, and when I submitted it to my professor, I was confident I hit the mark.  Now, more than a week and a half later, I’m having doubts.  Did I take the topic in the right direction?  Is it in-depth enough?  Is it too detailed?  Have I made a persuasive argument? Should I have picked this particular subject matter knowing my professor is a Cold War enthusiast?

As you can see, the wait is killing me.  I have gnawed my fingernails to the quick and am currently resisting the overwhelming urge to drop by his office unannounced or send him a string of stalker emails with the following:

“Have you graded my paper yet?  Have you?  Have you? Have you?”

“Did you like it?  You liked it, right?  Say you liked it.  You didn’t like it, did you?  Damn it.”

“Please, please, please Dr. P, grade my paper.  I need to know.  Like, now.  Before I die from not knowing.”

“Ugh!  Tell me!”

…that despite my best efforts, I’m still prone to bouts of resentment.  I like to think that I have evolved enough to rise above the pettiness and spite that comes with disdain, but in truth, I have not.   I’ve complained ad nauseam about my group project.  It’s been the bane of my existence for weeks now.  Last Friday, we did our final presentation.  Two of us earned an A.  The rest of the group…well…frankly, got a free A to boost their lagging course grade.  And yes, that boasts of bitterness.   And no, I don’t care.  I’m not feeling overly charitable at the moment.   I have marked them all off my Christmas cookie list.

…that I’m going to have to take some sort of statistics class.  That really pisses me off.    So much so, that I can’t bring myself to find any humor in it.  Give me a week or two.

…that my spare bedroom furniture will soon be gone and I will be the proud new occupant of my very own home office space.  I’m over the moon about it.  My family is pretty stoked, too.  They will finally be able to venture into the kitchen without being leveled by my stink eye for disturbing my creative vibe.

…that I’ve lost ten pounds since the beginning of the semester.  Stress is a hell of a diet plan.  I don’t recommend it.  I’m a firm believer in healthy weight loss – i.e. eating rabbit food and sweating like a pig.  However, I’ve got to say, it’s kinda nice knowing I’m going into the holiday baking season with a little wiggle room.   Bring on the snicker doodles!  And the chocolate peanut butter fudge, and the peppermint almond bark, and the cocoa ginger crisps…

…that I think I am looking forward to the holidays.

I’ll give you a minute to absorb that.

Okay.  Are you good?  No one needs medical attention?

I’m not a big fan of this time of year.  I dislike the clutter, the crowds, and the commerciality of it all.  Yes, this makes me a jerk.  I’m alright with that.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (because it bears repeating) – my ideal holiday involves sun, white sandy beaches, and a margarita – or ten.  I make no apologies for myself.

I feel a little different this year.  I find myself wanting to drag out that damn tree and all its messy trimmings.  I’ve bought a half a dozen Christmas gifts, scoped out a few more, and ordered my Christmas cards.  I even R.S.V.P.’d to an annual Christmas party I have successfully avoided…well…always.  Of course, I’m not sure this last one counts.  It’s being held in the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and I’ll admit to an ulterior motive in accepting the invite.

I’m not sure what’s wrong with me.  I fear someone might have forgotten to wash their hands and has now infected me with the Christmas spirit.  Not cool, people.  Not. Cool.

…that Princess Kate is going to have a baby, and is suffering from a bad bout of morning sickness.  Okay, I love the romantic notion of the Royals as much as the next gal, but is this really front page, above-the-fold, news?  Call me a killjoy (it’s okay, I’ve been called worse), but I think the looming fiscal cliff, the UN recognition of a Palestinian state (and the Israeli reaction), the absence of good faith negotiations and compromise in government policy making,  the implication that the Syrian government may be contemplating the use of chemical weapons, the moving of Patriot missiles to Turkey, and…oh yes…the new Egyptian’s president’s move toward a totalitarian government just a tad more important than a Royal bun-in-the-oven.

But what do I know.

…that I do love a story without a happy ending.  Why?  Because life is messy, and happy endings are the stuff of legends and fairy tales.  Cynical?  No.  Realist.

I just finished John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.  It’s an early Cold War spy thriller set in 1963 when the Wall was new, Germany was divided, and Khrushchev ruled over the Soviet Union.  The thing I love about this story is that there is no clearly defined good guy or bad guy.  Certainly there is the fundamental clash of ideologies – individualism and democracy vs. totalitarian socialism, but what you see in this novel is a questioning of morality on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and the lengths each will go in order to advance their political belief systems.  I found it a fascinating study of human nature.

“A man who lives apart, not to others but alone, is exposed to obvious psychological dangers.  In itself, the practice of deception is not particularly exacting; it is a matter of experience, of professional expertise, it is a facility that most of us can acquire.” – John le Carre

“People who play this game take risks.  Fielder lost, Mundt won. London won – that’s the point.  It was a foul, foul operation.  But it’s paid off, and that’s the only rule.”  – Alec Leamas

And as always, I am amazed by le Carre’s ability to weave such an intricate story with arcing tension without the use gratuitous action.

…that this blog entry seems to be nothing more than one big negative rant-fest.  My inner rebellious self seems to be in a bad mood this week.  I shall have to work on that.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by my silly dog, Rocco.  I went a little snap-happy with the camera this week and he let me know it was not cool.  It’s the same look my daughter gives me.

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Things I learned this week

“We must have a pie.  Stress cannot exist in the presence of pie.” – David Mamet

…that sometimes it takes the intervention of a professor to get the attention of a wayward group of young people.  As I wrote in my last post, I’ve been having a bit of trouble getting my project group to focus, take the assignment serious, and produce an A worthy presentation.  This week I’d had enough.  I called in the big guns and arranged (along with another student) for an early morning heart to heart, or as my husband likes to say, “a coming to Jesus meeting.”  Hopefully, they have seen the light and by the weekend, I will be in possession of a well-written, cohesive presentation.

Think good thoughts for me, please.  I have a feeling I am going to need them.

…that there is a band from Norway called Katzenjammer and they make me want to dance a jig in a pirate’s den – dressed like a tavern wench.  What?

Thank you to cresting with words for posting a great blog about them and giving me something new to add to my playlist.  Check them out.

…that Selena Gomez appears to have dumped Justin Beiber.

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of millions of tweens all over the world, heaving a collective sigh of relief.

…that for the first time in years, I will have an empty house during the week of Thanksgiving.   It was hard for me to make the decision to opt out, but it had to be done.  I’m not going to bemoan my overburdened semester again.  I’m sure you all are totally over my incessant whining.  Hell, I’m tired of listening to it myself.    However, it doesn’t change the fact that I simply do not have time for Thanksgiving and all that goes along with it.  It breaks my heart, because the best part of the holiday for me is spending a week my nephews. They’ve been a fixture in my house every Thanksgiving since…well…forever.

I guess I shall have to be content to think of them as I sit at my desk, hammering away at my African-American history paper, eating cold pumpkin pie, and listening to the deafening sound of an empty house.  It’s just not Thanksgiving without hearing:

Them:  “Aunt Peggy, Cory won’t let Megan and I have a turn!”

Me:  “I don’t want to hear it.  Figure it out.”

Them:  “Aunt Peggy, Cody won’t agree to the movie Megan and I want to watch!”

Me:  “You know the rules.  No unanimous decision – no movie.  Work it out.”

Them: “Aunt Peggy, Justin just farted on us!”

Me:  “Justin, stop farting.”

Them: “Aunt Peggy, what are you going to make for breakfast?  Uncle Nolan told us to ask for biscuits and gravy.”

Me:  “Tell Uncle Nolan to come ask me himself.”

Them: “Aunt Peggy, can we have chicken tacos for dinner?”

Me:  “Really?  Don’t you think we should worry about that after breakfast?  Maybe even after lunch?  Certainly not before I’ve had coffee.”

Them: “Aunt Peggy, you’re our favorite.  Will you make us banana pudding?  Not the diet kind. The kind that tastes good.”

Me (feeling all warm and gooey inside):  “Of course.  Just for you.”

<sigh>

I’m going to miss those boys this year.

…that I am finally going to sell the bedroom set in my spare bedroom and make myself a proper office.   Why haven’t I utilized this unused space before, you ask?  I have absolutely no idea.  Now, who wants to buy a 5 piece twin bedroom set in near stellar condition?

Anyone? Please? My unfinished novels are begging you…

…that for the first time since September 25th, I had the itch (and the courage) to take a peek at my WIP, Retribution.  I’ll be honest, I have had no real desire to delve into it.  The problems run deep, and at the moment, I don’t have the time, nor the energy to sit and sift through the rubble to find the usable stories that lies buried there.   In spite of this, I couldn’t help but read through the first chapter.  I needed reacquainted myself with my beloved Anna.  She hasn’t changed.  She is just as I left her – a staunch realist, who holds no illusions about the harsh world in which she lives.  She understands all too well the battle between good and evil is one fought in the shadows, on the edge of civility, with an armory stocked with less than honorable tactics.  To survive, and to ensure the survival of the free world, one must let go of any idealistic notions of morality.  Sometimes it is necessary to do the unthinkable, the reprehensible – all in the name of the greater good.  Of course, these things come with a price.  They always do.

I want to sit and do nothing but write today.  Unfortunately, I have obligations that take me in several different directions and none of them involve a computer or a notebook.  Poor Anna.  Destined to ignored for another week…at least.

…that the Christmas shopping season has begun.  I’m sure it will come as no surprise to all of you, but I am annoyed by this.  I like to take things as they come – one at a time, and in chronological order.  Just once, I’d like to get through Halloween and Thanksgiving without being reminded that Christmas is looming in the wintery fog, ready to pounce.  I know it’s there.  I can see it’s beady little eyes glowing in the dark.  It is quite unnecessary to throw decorated trees and twinkling lights in my path, or blister my ears with tired carols and annoying jingles.  There will be plenty of time for that after the turkey and pumpkin pie have been properly devoured and digested.  And, really, there is no need to worry dear retailer giants, I’m not going to forget the real meaning of the modern season.  Cold hard cash.  I have every intention of spending plenty of my money down at the local mall.  But not until after December 1st.  So stop bugging me.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this beautiful little girl who is celebrating her first birthday this week.

Alright, everyone all together now –  awwwww….

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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.

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