Things I learned this week

“Lost a planet Master Obi-Wan has.  How embarrassing.”  – Yoda

I learned this week…

that Snoop Dogg has changed his name to Snoop Lion.  I’m so relieved.  I don’t know about you, but I was beginning to question the longevity of his career if he should continue on with such a moniker.

…that I should never be trusted to do two things:  dress myself or pick out eye glasses.   I think it’s a pretty well-known fact that if given a choice between a pair of respectable black slacks and a pair with obnoxious stripes, I will pick the stripes every single time – and wear them with a printed top.  I am a fashion failure.  I get it.  I embrace it.  A few years ago I got glasses.  I went down to my local optical mart, tried on a few dozen frames, ignored the annoying optician’s suggestions, and took home a set of glasses that would never leave their handy-dandy carry case.  I hated them.  This week, out of necessity – my eyes have decided to act their age – I went to get a new pair.  I opted to go back to my optometrist’s office because it was convenient – and I get a discount.   I chose a few frames, and asked the peppy little optician for advice.  She took one look at what I had chosen, said no, no, no, and promptly made me start the process over.  As it turns out, my taste in glasses is just as flawed as my taste in trousers.  I am now the proud owner of a pair of glasses that I like – and wear.  Yay for pushy, obnoxious optician lady who is immune to my stink eye and biting sarcasm.

…that I have the best writing group on the planet.  This week our meeting turned into an impromptu photo shoot when one of our members came dressed up in an anime costume.

IMG_7245

There’s a special place in my heart for this girl.

…that I won something.  I never win things, but this week I found out that I won a copy of Tania L. Ramos’ new book Be Still.  She is an independently published author who still maintains her day job as a registered nurse.  I admire her tenacity and dedication to her craft.  I can’t wait to read her book.  Go check her out her blog.  Oh, and while you’re at it, check out Nerdy Book Reviews. Some good stuff over there, too.

…that dress shopping with my daughter is going to be a test of my resolve.  She is entering 7th grade band and unlike last year when the required concert uniform consisted of a black embossed polo and khaki pants, this year she will have to wear a black dress.  Yes, my friends, a dress.  My daughter doesn’t wear dresses…or anything that might be construed as girly.  She is a jeans and t-shirt kinda gal.  If she ever feels the need to spice it up, she might go so far as to slap on a button up shirt and a pair of low top Converse sneakers.  But that’s where she draws the line.  We hit a few stores this week in search of this black band dress.  We didn’t find one, but I was rewarded for my efforts with lots of heavy sighs and eyes rolls.  Can’t wait to tell her that she won’t be able to wear her sneakers with the dress we’ve yet to find.  That ought to go over well.  The last time I got her in a pair of dress shoes was the last time she wore a dress – her brother’s wedding.  She cried over the dress, and exchanged the shoes for a pair of bright blue Crocs as soon as the ceremony was over.

…that IKEA on a Saturday is torture.  Two visits to IKEA on the same Saturday is a special kind of Hell that is beyond adequate description.

…this week’s awww moment isn’t an awww moment at all.  It’s just one of my Chihuly exhibit photos.  The reflection of the glass gives the appearance of paint bleeding through the water.  I think it’s kinda cool.

IMG_6862

Things I learned this week

“Knowledge is power.” – Sir Francis Bacon

…or was it Kim Kardashian who said that?

I learned this week…

…that Kristen Stewart cheated on Robert Pattinson, sending a shockwave of despair through the fanatical world of Twilight fans everywhere, shattering dreams of a sparkling vampire happily ever after.  I don’t think my faith in monogamy will ever be restored.

…that water yuppies do exist.  I know, right?  I was just as surprised as you, but my research doesn’t lie.  Until this week, it was a term that was wholly unfamiliar to me.  I stumbled across it while researching houseboats in Amsterdam – a perfect place to hide someone who doesn’t want to be found, by the way.  It’s one of those words that just struck my fancy.  I’m dying to use it in the course of a casual conversation.  I haven’t figured out how I’m going to manage that yet.  When I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

…that pumpkin patches are rarer than diamonds.  Or, so says my daughter to her friend while enthralled in a game of online Minecraft.   This is good information.

…that an orthodontist visit + a hormonal preteen entering 7thgrade + talks of a full set of braces = E.P.I.C. meltdown.  Take heed people.

…that the Cheer Moms at my daughter’s gym may have finally sacrificed their coach to the almighty Cheer God.   Their perky ponytails, color coordinated tees, and snarky, narcissistic chatter as been oddly absent from practice in recent weeks.  Now who am I going to sit and judge while I should be writing?

…that Jen Garner has made a warm and fuzzy Disney flick.  Excuse me while I bang my head on my desk.

(Pause)

Now that I’ve given myself a headache, I think I’ll go console my broken heart with an Aliasmarathon and a bag of Oreo’s.

that Donald J. Sobol died on July 11, 2012.  I’m not really sure how I missed this, but I did.  He is most noted for penning the Encyclopedia Brown seriesof kid’s books about a boy detective in high top sneakers.  I loved those books when I was young…um…younger.  RIP Mr. Sobol.

…that this week’s awww moment is brought to you by one of the bunnies I stumbled across during a recent early morning walk in the park.  I don’t believe he’s the criminal who has destroyed my flower beds, but I took his picture anyway.  You know, just in case I need to identify him in a line up.

IMG_6095

10 things I learned in my 30s

Yesterday, when I sat down at the computer, my intent was to write a new blog entry updating my outline revisions and finish last week’s “Things I learned.”

That didn’t happen.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  I was having one of those days when every neuron in my brain was misfiring.  Ideas banged around inside my head like jumping beans, but I was powerless to capture and harness them.

Eh, it happens sometimes.  So, I checked my email, trolled Facebook, hit a few entertainment sites, and wondered if Catholic school is really the best choice for Suri Cruise.

That’s when I noticed the date.

July 16.

Hmmm…it appears that I have survived the month since my 40th birthday without suffering any adverse side effects.  A stark contrast to a decade ago.  Turning 30 nearly did me in and I spent four years recovering.    However, the years that followed were a time of great personal growth for me.  I discovered a lot about myself, the world around me, and my place in that world.  Here are 10 things I learned in my 30s:

10.  Eating junk food makes you fat.  In my twenties, this was a foreign concept.  I ate what I wanted, drank what I wanted, and suffered very little in the way of consequences.  In my thirties, my body rebelled.  All of those excess calories translated into excess pounds and my jeans size suddenly expanded – from size 4 to size 14.

9.  Losing weight requires effort – and sweat.  With excess weight gain comes the desire to shed those pounds.  Of course, laziness and gluttony made me fat and my first instinct was to find a method to lose without exerting too much energy.  A quick fix.  I tried the Cookie diet, the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, the starvation diet, the “screw it I’ll just stay fat” diet.  I bought pills and potions and patches.  Nothing worked, and why would it?  The fact of the matter, and something I had to learn the hard way, is that if you want to lose weight, you have to change your lifestyle.  And by change your lifestyle, I mean you must put down the potato chips, get your ass up off the couch, and sweat – a lot.  Every single day for the rest of your life.

8.    Love the skin you’re in.  Cleanse, hydrate, and moisturize.  Do it twice a day, everyday and your skin will reward you with a healthy, youthful glow.  Trust me on this.

7.    Change is painful; change is good.  I’ve never been one to embrace change.   Early on in my thirties, I shied away from it, built a nice safe bubble around my life, and stared out as the world passed me by.  Then suddenly, that world shifted.  In the span of just a few months, I lost my home to fire, my father to cancer, and learned my mother had breast cancer.  In the blink of an eye, everything changed.  It was devastating, yet empowering.  I discovered through it all, that I am strong, capable, and resilient.

6.    Take heart in lessons learned.    Contrary to what I like to tell myself, I don’t know everything.   I have found that life is more than happy to fill in the blanks.  I just have to pay attention and take heed.

5.   A happy life begins with happiness within.   In Henry V, Shakespeare wrote, “Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin, as self-neglecting.”  I’ll admit, I’ve never completely comprehended the true meaning behind Shakespeare’s words, but I like the quote just the same.  To me, it embodies the struggle of self-acceptance I endured throughout my 30s.  I am a personality fraught with flaws and quirks and insecurities, and I have learned to like me just as I am.   After that, the rest came easy.

4.   Being a joiner is not a bad thing.  I am, by nature, an introvert.  I prefer to stand on the periphery – watching, assessing, judging.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that – most of the time.  However, to fully engage with life, I found that sometimes I have to step off of the sidelines and into the fray.   It’s scary, but the rewards are endless.

3.   The only way to conquer fear is to face it head on.  Anyone who knows me, or reads my blog, knows that I have a laundry list of phobias.  I am scared of flying, boating, drowning, camping, bears, sharks, brain-eating amoeba, and math.  If there is one thing that I learned in my 30s, it is that one can’t live their life defined by fear.  It stunts personal growth and makes for a boring existence.  So, in the last few years, I’ve gone whale watching in an inflatable raft (yikes), taken a sunset cruise into the shark infested waters off the Keys, flown a dozen or more times, and taken four semesters of math – back to back.  I’m still working up to camping with bears and swimming in a lake full of brain-eating amoeba.  I don’t feel the need to rush.

2.   Nurture healthy relationships, eliminate the bad.   Relationships are hard.  They are even harder when they don’t work.  It took a long time for me to accept that sometimes it is best to cut my losses and walk away.  Once I did, I was free to devote my energy to the relationships in my life that do work.

1.   Youth is relative.  If you perceive yourself as old, you are.

A trip to the country

I live in the city.  I’m pretty happy here in my concrete jungle surrounded by towering buildings, master plan housing developments, and jammed freeways.  But every now and then it’s nice to leave it all behind and go exploring.  My mother-in-law lives a couple of hours northwest of Dallas down a dusty farm to market road, in the middle of nowhere.  On a recent visit, I brought along my camera. 

IMG_5505

Cactus in bloom.

IMG_5516

IMG_5552

Grasshoppers – a real problem for local farmers; cooperative subject matter for me.

IMG_5600

IMG_5622

I’ll be honest, the Black Widow spiders creeped me out, but not enough to keep me from trying to get just the right shot.

IMG_5682

IMG_5723

Cake for everyone!

One year ago today, I posted my very first blog entry.  I did it in an effort to find out who I am in life and to find my creative voice.  I think I’ve largely succeeded, though I imagine with every passing day, every new entry, I grow and evolve, and will continue to do so.

If you’re up for a good laugh, you can read my first blog attempt here

Now, who wants cake?

IMG_2794

Things I learned this week

This week I learned…

…that sometimes being a responsible adult sucks.  It’s that time of year again when everything converges and there just isn’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.  There’s certainly no time to do the things I want to do – read, write, sacrifice a few brain cells sitting on my couch wearing holey pjs, eating ding dongs, and watching everything the Bravo channel can throw my way.   It’s just the nature of things, and usually I am very good at accepting that this is the journey I chose to embark upon – you know, that whole personal growth bullshit.  This year, however, my rebellious self seems to be having a little trouble keeping his eye on the prize.  Spring is warm, sunny, and intoxicating, and the allure of it all, is just so damned tempting.   So, what do you do when you have a nagging conformist on one shoulder and a mocking rebel on the other?  You lock the conformist in the closet, and you go out to play.  Duh.  Of course, these little bursts of self-indulgence are not without their consequences.   I’ve spent the last week or so digging out from a stack of homework so deep it surely rivals Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stouts’ garbage pile.

…that after sitting through a lecture on sleep deprivation, I realize that I should probably reevaluate my anti-napping ideology.  My husband will be relieved to hear this, and I’m sure he will take full advantage of it should I decide to change my stance.

…that just when I thought I might actually miss “yoga for a grade”, the instructor goes and does something that makes me want to roll up my mat, go home, and say screw the GPA.  From the onset, this class has been disorganized – and that, I feel, is being generous.  Goals and expectation were never established and we’ve had very little guidance in the actual fundamentals of yoga practice.  All of these shortcomings and failures could be overlooked, indeed forgiven, because for the most part, I enjoyed the physicality of the class.  We did, of course, have that little incident early on with the humiliating quiz – you remember, the one where we had to each perform a single pose at the front of the room for our classmates to guess. Charades for a grade.   Couldn’t get much worse than that, right?  Guess what?  I was wrong.  I should have seen it coming, but alas, I did not.  Two weeks before scheduled final exams, she dropped the ultimate bomb on us.  It was nuclear.   It seemed our final exam would require us to come up with a sequence of yoga poses, combine them into cohesive segments, and then teach them to the class.   But wait, there’s more.   We had just two class periods to get with a partners, choose the poses, arrange the poses, practice the poses, and choose our accompaniment music because she wanted to do our final a week early.  Oh, and by the way, our performances would be videotaped so that we could relive our most humiliating moment at the end of semester party she’d planned.  I’m sure I will see the humor in all this someday – when the scars have healed.

…that there are few things in life more enjoyable than sitting poolside with my BFF, a little drunk on wine, trading child rearing war stories.

…that Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys has died.  There have been a lot of notable deaths of late, but I find his to be one of the saddest.   I can’t say that I am an ardent fan of Beastie Boys’ entire body of work, but their first album brings back fond memories of my favorite summer.  It would be my last carefree summer; not long after, the reality of adulthood reached up and bitch slapped me.

…that the three seat belts in the backseat of my car are deceiving.  It is nearly impossible to fit three passengers back there.  Guess I should have considered that before I volunteered to carpool a Sunday field trip to Boyd.

…that I was nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award by my fellow writer Julie over at Word Flows.  It’s always so nice to receive an acknowledgement from one’s peers.  It is doubly nice when it comes from someone you admire and respect.  She, herself, is one inspiring lady.  Go check her out.

…that my work in progress, Retribution, has evolved into something quite different from my original vision.  I blame the outlining.

…that when you add a warm late spring day, a community swimming pool, and a tennis ball together with a group of twelve-year-old boys you will get stupidity to the ninth power.

…that last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this little creeper who has taken up residence on my back patio for the duration of the season.

IMG_4569

Things I learned this week

I learned this week…

…that Nadya Suleman has finally figured out that prolific reproduction is a costly endeavor.

…that my daughter is turning into a girl.  I know this may sound strange, but if you knew her, you would know exactly what I mean.  She is the epitome of tomboy.  So much so, that I often forget that she is indeed a girl.   It’s not a bad thing.  She is who she is, and we love her unconditionally.  It’s just that sometimes we catch a glimpse of her elusive femininity, and it leaves us speechless.  This week we were treated to a full moon.  My daughter loves the moon and in an effort to get a better look at it, she dragged her telescope out into the backyard.  She invited a couple of her friends to join her.  One of them was the boy she likes.  When she had confirmation that he would be stopping by, she barreled into the house and up the stairs announcing as she went that she only had a few minutes to change her clothes and brush her hair.   Exactly one minute later, she reappeared with her hair freshly coiffed, wearing a brand new pair of shorts, and her low top Converse sneakers – her idea of dressy.  As she disappeared out the backdoor, I was left feeling a little shell-shocked.  I don’t think I’m ready for what lurks right around the corner.

…that it seems I will never learn that studying just before bed will lead to strangely disjointed dreams that seem to mock my efforts.  I diligently studied for two tests, back to back, and was rewarded with a night filled with images of Stalin chopping off Trotsky’s head as Darwin preached of natural selection and social stratification with a finch perched upon his shoulder.   Otto von Bismarck stood atop a trench and expertly choreographed the slaughter at Verdun while Milgram and Durkheim argued the importance of imperialism as an innate function of society as a whole.  This dream was almost as strange as the one I had about Jen Garner and the lady in the orange overcoat.  Almost.

…that sitting poolside for three hours on a warm spring day will yield three things:  convincing conflict between Anna and her father, a crudely drawn map of cities Anna will have to visit during her crusade for vengeance, and sunburned knees.

…that some people have something to say about everything, even if they don’t really have anything to say at all.  This annoying habit will provoke me to say something that might be construed as snarky or spiteful.  I’m not proud of myself, but sometimes sarcasm is the only viable alternative to homicide.

…that the misuse of quotation marks is on the rise in social media.  I’m confused by this epidemic and wonder what makes this particular outlet so susceptible to ignorance.

…that last but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this cute little bunny.  I can’t help but wonder what he’s up to.  Is he bashful?  Did someone say something funny?  Oh…I know…he’s allergic to Easter eggs.  Somebody get this bunny a tissue.

tumblr_ls192f5Tje1qauhdao1_1280

Source:  http://v-o-g-u-e-i-s-a-r-t.tumblr.com/post/13590455052

Things I learned this week

I learned this week…

…that inversion poses are where it’s at in yoga, and the handstand is king.  A notch down from the handstand is a head stand.  I can do neither.  However, this week in “yoga for a grade” I learned a pose that serves as a stepping stone toward a true head stand.   Tripod balance pose.   It’s not the most comfortable pose, certainly not the most elegant, and I wasn’t able to hold it for very long, but I did it.  And that’s all that matters to me.

…that sometime when I wasn’t looking, my daughter discovered that she likes my t-shirts.  I’m not sure which I’m more upset about, the fact that she is borrowing my clothes or that they actually fit her.

…that traffic will invariably flow contradictory to my immediate needs.

…that my daughter has been asked to the Spring dance at her middle school – and she’s going to go!  Last time she was asked, she declined because she was going to have to – EGADS – wear a dress.  This time around there is a more relaxed dress code.  Good thing, too.  My daughter’s idea of dressing up is a white button up shirt and low top Converse sneakers.

…that as I age, the fit of a good tennis shoe trumps aesthetic.   Recently, I spent two days scouring athletic shoe stores looking for replacement sneakers.  It was a trying process – it always is.  I can’t just walk into a store and buy the first shoe that strikes my fancy.  There are important factors that must be considered.   Do my prescription orthotics fit?  Are they made from natural material or synthetic?  Are they lightweight?  Breathable?  Cross trainer or walker?  Is the tongue thick?  Does it ride too high?  Too low?  Are they narrow across the bridge?  Do my bunions cry out in agony with every step I take?  These are all valid questions that must be asked before committing to such an important purchase.  After torturing a half a dozen salespeople, I finally settled on a pair of Nikes.  I usually steer clear of that particular brand because of their tendency toward a narrow bridge and a thick tongue, but I found a pair that fits all my requirements.  Of course, they are neon pink, likely glow in the dark, and are perhaps the ugliest things I’ve ever put on my feet, but who gives a shit.  They adequately serve their purpose.

…that I didn’t win the Mega Millions Jackpot.  Bummer.

…that five little words of criticism – “not as complete as usual” – written on an in-class discussion assignment will cause me a great amount of internal suffering – indeed, eat at my very soul.  I will obsess over this negative review until it encapsulates my every thought and I’m left with no alternative but to email the professor in an effort to explain my shortcomings as a student.   Of course, the realization that he likely never gave the note a second thought just adds to my level of frustration and humiliation.  I need to learn to let these things go.

Yeah, right.  Who am I trying to kid?

…that I am becoming a photography junkie.  I want to take pictures of everything.  Here’s one I took a couple of days ago of the Knock Out roses in my backyard.

IMG_2169

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this little miniature schnauzer named Bear.  I had the pleasure of spending my Monday with him.  He was rescued from a puppy mill and is up for adoption through a local schnauzer rescue group.  Photograph is courtesy of Efrain Sain, a local photographer, attorney, and musician, who office shares with our law firm.

bear (3)

Things I learned this week…

I learned this week…

…that oral presentations aren’t all that bad.   (insert cheesy laugh track here)  I’m just kidding.  Oral presentations suck.  However, they do get easier.  And by easier, I mean that I only wanted to pass out once or twice and the uncontrollable shaking only lasted for half of the class period this time.  Progress.

…that middle school crushes are complicated.   My daughter likes a boy.  He likes her back.  Sounds simple so far – trust me it’s not.  Just getting to that admission was mind-blowing.  Now, as Valentine’s Day approaches, the question of what to give this boy in celebration of the Hallmark holiday has surfaced.  Card?  Stuffed bear? Box of chocolates.  This week, I quietly trailed behind her in the seasonal aisle of my favorite big box store as she grappled with this difficult decision.  After twenty minutes or so, she decided on an oversize Hersey Kiss.   I thought it was a good call.  Getting a boy something too affectionate or personal at this stage of the game is risky business.   Equally risky, I’ve discovered, is the mode of delivery.   She tells me that she can’t very well roll up to the park on her bike and hand him a giant Hersey Kiss in front of his friends.   That would be the kiss of death (har har).  No, she’s given this a lot of thought, consulted with many of her little girlfriends.  The general consensus among the great minds – she should most definitely drop, ring, and run.    This should prove interesting.

…that I am an introvert.  This is not a revelation,  I took the Myers-Brigg personality test years ago – several times, in fact, just in case I was doing it wrong.   I am a ISTJ and scored 1oo% introvert every single time.    As I age, I’ve learned to deal with it, and what I once viewed as a near crippling personality flaw, I’ve grown to accept and even, embrace.  This enlightenment, if you will, has aided in my journey of self-discovery, given me the courage to try new things, and overall, helped me grow comfortable in my own skin.  Susan Cain’s book Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking is a must read for introverts trying to find their place and purpose in this life.   I’ve got a list of folks who could use a copy of this book.  Maybe if they understood me a bit better they would stop bugging me to speak up and contribute to debates I find pointless and beneath me.  Yes, I know – I am an elitist introvert.  Or so my husband tells me.  Sue me.

that Nicholas Cage is not a vampire.  This is good information.  For a minute there, I was worried.

…that another great musical voice has been silenced.  I am saddened and aggrieved by the loss of Whitney Houston.  Premature death, no matter the circumstances, is a tragic thing and one that deserves a measure of understanding and compassion, if for no other reason, than for those who are left behind to grieve the unimaginable loss of a loved one.

…that four weeks into “Yoga for a Grade” I find myself looking forward to the class.  I still think the instructor is a flake, and that she has failed to read the college’s catalog description of the course.  There is no way this class is beginner level, but I’ve kept up, and though my hamstrings have not quite gotten with the program, I feel my core strengthening and my stamina increasing.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I enjoy this class, but I don’t dread it.  Now, that might change if she makes us do another elementary level art project.   That was just humiliating.

***Warning!  Pet Peeve of the Week***

…that nothing make me angrier (and this is a bold statement because there is a lot of things that make me angry) than being manipulated and threatened, no matter how veiled.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this adorable, and quite photogenic, kitty getting all spruced up for a night out.  I don’t know the source of this photo because my husband shared it with me.  If you don’t smile at this picture, then you need to see a doctor about that heartless whole in your chest.  Enjoy.

Best Friends

IMG_2604_c

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.

DSC01370

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.

DSC01401

DSC01385

DSC01409

Where’s my wine?

The funny thing about Thanksgiving, or any huge meal, is that you spend 12 hours shopping for it and then chopping and cooking and braising and blanching.  Then it takes 20 minutes to eat it and everybody sort of sits around in a food coma, and then it takes four hours to clean it up.  ~Ted Allen

I have strong doubts that the first Thanksgiving even remotely resembled the “history” I was told in second grade.  But considering that (when it comes to holidays) mainstream America’s traditions tend to be over-eating, shopping, or getting drunk, I suppose it’s a miracle that the concept of giving thanks even surfaces at all.  ~Ellen Orleans

Well, here I am again – standing at the gate.  Behind me, the joys of Halloween call to me, mocking me; in front of me, the holidays loom like Grendel’s mother.

Whether I am prepared for it or not, Thanksgiving is upon us.  Time to give thanks for a year of blessings.  Time to cook and consume copious amounts of food that will have no positive effect on my waistline.  Time to endure the company of family members who would otherwise be avoided.

Contrary to how it sounds, I don’t necessarily dislike Thanksgiving, though I will admit to being slightly annoyed by it.  Sure, I understand the importance of such a holiday to our national history.  I get that it is supposed to act as the adhesive that brings families together for a day of reflection. (Isn’t it ironic that this day of thanks occurs just before millions of Americans turn into greedy monsters consumed with the materialistic need to get a deal on the next “it” thing.  Just saying.) However, I am a person who does my very best to side step stress and drama.  Not something that is possible this time of year.  I think we can all agree that Thanksgiving, and the weeks that follow, are synonymous with stress.

Each year I swear it will be different.  I vow that I will channel my inner Martha Stewart and reduce my stress level by planning ahead, allowing a few extra hands in the kitchen, and forgiving myself a few missteps.  After all, it really doesn’t matter if the stuffing is soggy or the pumpkin pie is a little too brown around the edges.  What matters is the family who has gathered around the dinner table and I have a wonderful family.

My intentions are good.

But…what is it that Robert Burns says…

Oh yes,”…the best laid schemes of mice and men…”

My intentions are good, but they are doomed to failure.

It happens every year.

The problem?  Poor planning.  Plain and simple.  Yeah, I know…I know.  Total contradiction to my personality as a whole.  As one who favors structure and rules, it is odd to think that I am completely incapable of adequately preparing for upcoming events, but it’s true.  It’s not because I am a grand procrastinator.  Okay, maybe I do suffer from a small case procrastinatoritis, but my issue lies mostly in my inability to deal with more than one dire issue at a time.

In my head, next to the filing cabinet that holds my phobias, is a desk.  A very messy desk, kinda like the one in my office.  Piled high upon this desk are files, each containing an upcoming event or a to do that I must accomplish within a certain perimeter.  It’s a pile that grows exponential with every passing month, each file more important than the last.  None of them forgiving enough to permit me to give the next one the attention it deserves until a deadline is standing before me with an unpleasant consequence aimed at my head.  It is the story of my life.

And the very reason I wake up one morning only to find that it is the day before Thanksgiving, my relatives are beating down the door, my cupboards are bare, and I have absolutely no idea what I am going to feed anyone.

To make matters worse, there is absolutely no wine to be found anywhere in my house.  Not one stinking drop.

This year was no different.

With two major papers and an oral presentation due the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, who can really blame me for forgetting to plan.  Add a hard drive crash to that and you will understand there was no room in my poor brain fried mind for thoughts of turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie.  By Wednesday of this week, I was hovering between the need for a reschedule and full on denial of what was coming down the pike.  Sadly, there is no rescheduling Thanksgiving.

I blame the liberal media.

What?  Is that going too far?

In the end, it all came together, just as it always does.  Yes, I was cranky.  Yes, the roasted carrots burned and looked a lot like orange-colored turds.  Yes, the turkey was a smidgen dry.  Yes, I burned the pumpkin pies so bad that I had to start over.  Yes, I almost forgot to make my family’s favorite dessert – high calorie banana pudding.  But the homemade stuffing turned out fantastic and the gravy was free of lumps.

And I finally found my wine.

As for what the next file on my mental desk demands of me…

…well, I don’t know.  I don’t care.  It’s my day off.  Ask me again on Monday.

Things I learned this week (November 7 – November 13)

I learned this week…

…that snickerdoodles will be added to my holiday cookie line up this year.  I’ve made all sorts of cookies over the years – chocolate chip, pizzelles, peanut butter, spice cookies, etc. – but never snickerdoodles.  I made them for the first time this week.  I’m not really sure why I’ve excluded them in the past.  However, I will rectify this mistake as I delve into the my marathon of holiday baking in the coming weeks.  They were very tasty.

…that it is time to up the resistance on the elliptical to a solid 9.  I surpassed my best distance record this week.  I was able to cover 6.56 miles in one hour.  I think it’s safe to say that I’ve mastered the elliptical and am officially a convert.  I’m going to have to expand this thought into a blog entry.  I have a lot to say about it.

…that my little old kitty does not have lymphoma, after all.  Misdiagnosed.  She does have a slew of other health issues, but all of them manageable.  It’s always much easier to take a misdiagnosis when the error is in your favor.  Of course, this doesn’t alleviate the sting of the vet bills.  I’ve spent a fortune over the last month or two trying to find out what is wrong with my kitty and if it was time to make THE decision.

…that Shakespeare’s sonnets are much more entertaining than Petrarch’s sonnets.   Though, if I am to be completely honest, I probably only understand the meaning of one in three without prompting from dear Dr. W.  This sonnet, No. 130, I understood perfectly, however.  I’m sure you will, too.

An earlier version of Summer, 1563. Giuseppe Arcimboldo
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun
Coral is far more red, than her lips red
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head
 
I have seen roses damasked, red and white
But no such roses see I in her cheeks
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks
 
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground
And yet be heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
 

…that inexplicably, I will experience a surge of excitement when I stumble across Pride & Prejudice on the Oxygen channel.  It matters not that I own it on blue ray and can watch it whenever my little heart desires.  It seems I am too powerless to change the channel, and too lazy to get up and pop in the DVD.  So, here I sit typing away at this blog, watching my favorite movie in low resolution, and suffering through endless commercials.

…that crazy gymnastics moms + vendor selling racks and racks of bedazzled leotards = calamity + a near homicidal me, squared.  You would really think that after four years of twice weekly practice at the same gym, surrounded by a lot of the same people, I would be more tolerant of these magpies.  I’m not.  I don’t think this is any fault of my own, but rather the fact that these woman have had their brains sucked out by some unknown force.  I am convinced that I am the only person in the entire place who is somehow immune to this mystery brain sucking foe.  I wonder if this is how Ripley from Aliens felt.

…that ineptocracy is a fun, new word.  I wish I could take credit for this one, but I learned it from my fellow WCer, Bill.   [Click here to for more from Bill].

…that I don’t know squat about what a biochemical lab looks like, or what it may contain.  This poses a problem for me because I am currently writing a scene for my novel, Retribution, that is set in a biochemical lab.  Guess I am going to have to consult my friends over at Wikipedia and Google images.  If anyone wants to share some expertise…

…that my husband should not be allowed to “clean” the coffee pot.  For a few years now, we have had a couple of those dispensing pots.  You know, you stick your cup underneath the spout, press it against the big button, and coffee magically pours into your cup.  Every time my husband “cleans” it, the stream diminishes.  Last year, he decided to “fix” this little problem by taking the pot apart.  Needless to say, I picked up a new one on my way home from work the next day.  Yesterday, my husband decided to deep “clean” the pot again.  I am now the proud owner of a new Kitchen Aid 14 cup coffee pot.  It is not the dispensing kind.  Lesson learned.

…and lastly, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this adorable little piggy.  I have a soft spot in my heart for pigs.  I think they are freaking adorable and when all my kitties are gone, I’m going to get me one.  (Shhhh don’t tell Nolan.  He thinks we are getting a dog).  This little piglet has a story.  [Click here to read it].

Things I learned this week (October 16 – October 22)

I learned this week…

…that Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale is bawdy, raunchy, and not unlike a lot of off humor comedies in popular culture.  It’s not usually the kind of thing I find entertaining.  I mean, I think I am the only person on the planet who was offended by The Hangover.  Having said that, this particular sequence in The Miller’s Tale was so unexpected that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud – after I figured out what exactly Chaucer was referring to:

The night was pitch dark, coal-black all about.
Her rear end through the window she thrust out.
He got no better or worse, did Absolom,
Than to kiss her with his mouth on the bare bum
Before he had caught on, a smacking kiss.
 
He jumped back, thinking something was amiss.
A woman had no beard, he was well aware,
But what he felt was rough and had long hair.
 

The Canterbury Tales, The Miller’s Tale.  Geoffrey Chaucer.

O.M.G.

…that in-class group projects suck.  Not because I am so anti-social that I am loathed to interact with my classmates….huh?  Oh, shut up.

…that my daughter seems to be embroiled in a sort of love triangle – with brothers!  She has made friends with two brothers, one in 7th grade, the other in 5th. They live just around the corner from us and have become something of a fixture around the house.  I believe that she has a bit of a crush on the older boy, however, both boys appear to be quite smitten.  I see heartbreak, tears and a trip to Sonic for the consolatory M & M blast in our future.

…that I really hate chronic complainers.  So much so that I find that my favorite new past-time is complaining about their complaining.  The irony is not lost on me.  However, at this time, I am going to choose to ignore the hypocrisy and continue complaining about other people’s complaining.

…that it was time to decatify my house again.  It seems like I just did it, but the dust bunnies rolling out from beneath the couch told a different story.  I spent my Saturday moving furniture, vacuuming, dusting and polishing.  With five cats in the house, we will never be completely cat hair free but, at least for now, it is safe to sit in my favorite chair again.

…that I really hope the Libyans have a plan.

…that sometimes my sweet-natured daughter needs to be reminded that I am empress of my domain and this empire does not lean toward democracy.  Luckily, she usually only needs a small reminder and peace is quickly restored.

…that at first glance my Western Civ test study guide appeared harmless.  Boy, was I wrong.  We are closing in on ten pages and I’m not done yet.  I have a feeling this guide will be my constant companion until Thursday’s exam.  After that, I just might have a celebratory burning – and a swig of something potent.

…that my daughter is at the age where doctors begin to encourage the HPV vaccination.  At her annual well check this week, her doctor (who has treated her since she was born and knows me very well – deals with me very well) urged me to have it administered.  I declined.  I’ve done a lot of research on this – both for and against – for a series of papers last year.  I see both sides of the controversy, but do you know what my biggest issue is?  Rick Perry’s mandate.  I’m still pissed about that.  I will revisit the issue next year.  Maybe I will feel differently.

…and last but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by three little piggie bums.

Steffen Schmidt / EPA

Okay, not really.  But this picture did make me snort ever so slightly.  Please, no bacon jokes.  I have a little soft spot in my heart for piggies.

…Our real awww moment is brought to you by this baby Bornean orangutan born last month at the L.A. Zoo.  A true picture of maternal love:

Tad Motoyami / L.A. Zoo via AP