Tuesday, November 30, 2010

T Minus Seven Days...

One week from today I will turn thirty. Wowza. Instead of getting all whine ass, pitiful, last-week-of-my-twenties mopey, I am going to see what else I can get crossed off of my list between now and then. A trip to the top of the Empire State Building seems unlikely, but making and flying a kite might just happen...

I am thankful that I have officially completed list item number twelve: write every day for a month. When I added that little goal to my list, I had intended for the daily writing to be of the private, journaling variety. When it was getting down to the wire and my birthday was just weeks away, I knew that I would need the public forum to keep me accountable. Self-discipline is not my forte... I require deadlines and oversight. Whatever the motivation, I am glad that I did it. Despite serious misgivings about the self-indulgence of it all, I have enjoyed the regular writing. There is something motivating about the public nature of it, even if the audience is limited primarily to people who are related to me. Sitting on the couch with the computer on my lap doesn't hold quite the same romantic appeal as my moleskin notebook and Tom's fancy pen, but it got the job done...

Today is the last day of November and so, the last day of my month of daily gratitude. I have saved my greatest thanks for last. Within the next few days, my brother will wrap up close to a year of service in Afghanistan and head home to the safety and comfort of his fiancĂ©e and home in Vermont. If all goes according to plan, my parents, sister, and brother-in-law-to-be will make our way to Burlington next Friday to welcome him home. My fingers are crossed, but despite the fact that they made the plan, it seems that the Army cares little for it. We will see how it all plays out. One thing is for sure - whether or not I can be there for his arrival, the best birthday/Christmas gift I will get this year will be knowing that Michael is no longer perched behind a machine gun in the middle of the desert halfway around the world, but is instead cozied up, enjoying a long Vermont winter with Erin and their dogs. 

{I can't wait to roll this puppy out for the last time.}

Monday, November 29, 2010

Decking the Halls

I have this problem with sitting still and just watching TV or a movie. Unless I'm in the theater or really tired (in which case I generally fall asleep anyway), I like to have something else to do in front of the TV. This weekend, since my nails were already done and grades were already done, my in-front-of-the-boob-tube activity was grade schools-style snowflake making. I'm cool like that.

Plus, I needed paper circles to make the snowflakes so that gave me an excuse to use the totally unnecessary circle cutter that I bought after Martha Stewart  and Oprah convinced me that I needed one.
{If you need perfect circles ranging from four to twelve inches in diameter, I am your girl.}

After I made an embarrassing number of snowflakes, I strung them on some invisible string and tested them out as a tree accessory.

This afternoon, I decided that they would be more at home hanging in the window. Plus, I had tons of school work to do and spending forty-five minutes taking the snowflakes off of the tree, rehanging them in the window, and then trying to take pictures of the newly hung snowflakes seemed like an ideal way to avoid said work.

The documentation part of the process was made extra difficult because of the looming reflection of the Vons parking lot across the street. Pros to having Vons less than thirty yards away: forgetting something at the store is no big deal, bottle redemption is a breeze, I'll never go hungry. Cons to having Vons less than thirty yards away: their parking lot is not the most inspiring of vistas, the easy, breezy bottle redemption center is a popular hangout for the twenty or so vagrants who roam the Canyon of Despair and other local canyons collecting recyclables, I'll never go hungry. But I digress.

{Don't the cars add a festive touch?}
{This is the best that I could do, but trust, the snowflakes are very merry.}
Now, finally, my daily dose of gratitude. It's an obvious one today. No searching for the small stuff, this one's a big, fat life moment... My sister got engaged! Mo and Buckley are officially betrothed, affianced, headed down the aisle, and what have you. So today, I am thankful that in the coming year(s), I will gain a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law. I am so grateful for Buckley and for Erin because they make my siblings so very happy. Hurrah for love and marriage and such!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Finishing Strong

Today I'm saying thanks for the Southern California sunshine that makes it possible to enjoy outdoor activities in the end of November. Yesterday was sunny and cool and perfect for hiking, so Tom and I headed to Cowles Mountain in Mission Trails Park. While not the most rigorous of hikes (there were chihuahuas and five year-olds scrambling up alongside us), it felt good to start the day with some exercise and fresh air.

The views were well worth the trek to the top.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last week and am so thankful that I have a job that offers such abundant vacation time. This past week had the perfect balance of activity and vegging and with another three-week vacation in sight, I will head back to school tomorrow with renewed energy.

With just three weeks to go in the semester, I am trying not to think about all of the things that we didn't get to and all of the things that my students still can't do and don't know. Instead, I am going to celebrate the small successes and bust my ass to keep the enthusiasm level up as the end of the semester looms to show the kids the importance of "finishing strong." One of the teachers at my last school used to ignore casual Fridays in favor of dressing in a full suit and tie at the end of the week. He told his kids that he dressed up on Fridays to remind them that that people won't remember that you got off to a rough start as long as you finish strong. Some times I think that my job is more about teaching life lessons than English lessons.

The truth is that my classroom is like a giant fun house mirror; the students' attitude is always a distorted or exaggerated reflection of mine. If I am tired and impatient, they are hyper and distracted; if I am enthusiastic and cheerful, they are cooperative and engaged. So instead of starting my usual end-of-vacation inner whinologue about how I don't want to go back to school tomorrow, I am going to go write an awesome lesson plan and get the week off to a kick-ass start. I know I've let my attention to lesson planning slide over the past month or so, but it's on now. Finish strong, baby, finish strong!

{I fear this picture gives the impression that I am going to awkwardly punch someone... That was supposed to be me flexing.}

For Home

I am thankful for traditions. Yesterday, Tom and I made our fifth annual trip to the Hotel Del for overpriced cocktails and a view of the tree. Word is, we'll be heading back on a chilly evening for s'mores by the fire pits; but yesterday, it was all about the tree.

{This year's theme is: The Sweetest Season}
We opted for salads in light of the previous day's overindulgence.

{What?! Bloody Marys are full of vitamins.}
Armed with the Del's Christmas inspiration, we went to pick out our own tree. I will admit that it's not quite as festive as a snowy evening at Kaigle's garage in Burlington, but a I'll accept a 20% decrease in festivity for an average of 263 days of sunshine a year...

Thanks again to the magical couponing wizards at Groupon, we got a beautiful Noble fir for half off...
{Our tree and my Christmas shoes}

After a trip to CVS for a new tree stand and a bread knife standing in for a hack saw, the tree was up. By the time Diana Krall's Christmas Songs and Ray Charles' The Spirit of Christmas had played through, all of the decorations were up.

Tonight I am incredibly thankful for my home, for the literal and figurative warmth that it provides. Now I'm going to work on upping the seasonal cheer even further (if that's possible) by whipping up some old school paper snowflakes.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Complete a Race? Have a Fabulous Thanksgiving? Check and Check.

Today, I'm giving thanks for the fact that I've crossed one more thing off of my list. In the week and a half that I have left, it's unlikely that I will complete everything on my list, and I'm okay with that. Still, crossing this particular item off is pretty satisfying. A month ago, I could barely jog a half mile, so finishing a 5K, even at my pitiful pace, feels like a success.

We were up and at 'em in Balboa Park by 7:30 Thanksgiving morning. My dad decided to run with me and Tom at the last minute, so we planned to meet at the end of the Laurel Street bridge. Turns out, that's also where 12,000 other people were lining up to start the race.

We saw Father Joe cruise by in his pseudo Pope-mobile...

Unfortunately, in all the chaos, we didn't manage to find my dad until right before we crossed the finish line...
All in all, it was a great way to start Thanksgiving. Plus, starting the day with a little exercise and fresh air helped to minimize the guilt incurred later by all the eating...

Later was lovely as well. I was bummed to miss my brother's call early in the afternoon, but I got to my parents' in time to Skype with Meghan.

It obviously pales in comparison to having the real, live version sitting at the table, but Skype has been a pretty great tool for keeping in touch with my siblings who are scattered across the globe. After Skype-ing, there were many hours of eating, and drinking, and Trivial Pursuit-playing. Tom and I won, just saying... Almost all of my pictures came out blurry and poorly composed, I'm choosing to see this as evidence of the fun I was having rather than a commentary on my photographic skills.

The pre-Thanksgiving moratorium on all things Christmas was officially lifted today, and I did not waste any time. As a result, tonight I am also thankful for my very patient husband who, if he had it his way, would probably not get into Christmas mode until December 20th or so. Despite his ambivalence about starting Christmas celebrations in late November, Tom put on a festive face and took me to the Del to see their tree and then to the lot to pick ours out. He then wrestled with the tree stand for a half hour, put the lights on the tree, found all of my Christmas music on the hard drive, and surprised me with the new Mariah Carey and Andrea Bocelli Christmas CDs despite his personal distaste for said music. I'm a very lucky girl. Pictures tomorrow.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanks for Giving

"I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver." -Maya Angelou

I wasn't always a huge fan of Thanksgiving. I can take or leave turkey, mashed potatoes don't really do it for me, and the gelatinous, wine-colored cylinder that slinks out of the can of cranberry "sauce" leaves me cold. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the festive atmosphere, but in the past, I thought of Thanksgiving as just the kick-off for Christmas. Recently, possibly in the last five minutes, I have gained a greater appreciation of Thanksgiving's many merits. First, I had to set aside the fact that our idea of Thanksgiving is largely a lovely myth that obscures the reality of how the Pilgrims stole Native American land and paid them in smallpox. Sorry, but let's just get that out there... Moving on.

While the story of how and why we came to celebrate this day has been glamorized, the end result is the same. Today is a day that people all across the country celebrate. Regardless of race or religion, Americans are taking time today to stop, give thanks, and break bread with loved ones. One of the things I love most about this country is its diversity. The number of cultures, races, and religions represented in the U.S. population is staggering, and that is a beautiful thing. It can, however, make navigating holiday greetings somewhat tricky. I don't assume that the checker at the grocery store or the receptionist at the gym celebrates Christmas, so I fumble around with an awkward, generic sounding, "Happy holidays!" And that's okay. Even though many of them were born in the States, a number of my students don't really celebrate the 4th of July, believing that it would somehow detract from their pride in their Mexican heritage. And that's okay too. Thanksgiving, for some reason, is different. The spirit of gratitude is something that everyone can embrace. As I'm writing this, I'm remembering one Jehovah's Witness student I had who answered my "Happy Thanksgiving!" with a rather morose, "We don't celebrate," but in general, I think a "Happy Thanksgiving" wish is a safe bet for just about anyone you happen to pass in the street today.

Wow, this post has gone in an entirely unexpected direction, and now it's past the time when I said I was going to head out the door to give thanks and break bread with my loved ones... When I sat down to write this, I had planned to talk about the second half of the word, the giving bit, because that is what I am thankful for today. I am grateful that I am in a position where I can afford to give a little, because really, nothing feels as good as giving. [This reminds me of a whole philosophical debate about whether or not it is possible to do something that is truly altruistic, and that reminds me of the Friends episode where Phoebe sets out to do something totally selfless, but like I said, I'm running late...]

Anyway, last year I had the idea/read somewhere about keeping care package type things in your car for when you run into the men and women who are asking for money at stoplights, the exit at the mall, etc. I thought that it was such a good idea, but it just wasn't feasible last year. This year, I decided to give it a go.

So I went to Target and bought this:

And I packaged it up like this:

I apologize for this somewhat haphazard post; I had hoped to write something more profound and less schizophrenic, but this is what you get because it's turkey time! Here's Adam Sandler for you...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Apple Butter - The Conclusion

Soooo...woke up this morning and checked on my apple deliciousness. I forgot to take a picture (I apologize for the deep disappointment you are likely feeling at this announcement), but they looked kind of gross anyway. I then pureed them with my magical new kitchen tool and then cooked them, uncovered, on high for another hour and a half. The apple butter is finished when it tastes like fall on a spoon and is thick enough to pull this off:

Next, because I was feeling ambitious and all Little House on the Prairie-ish, I decided to can (jar seems like a more accurate verb, but I digress) the apple butter. I pieced together a canning procedure from various websites, and as far as I can tell, it was a success.

The finished product and (spoiler alert, Mom and Dad) Thanksgiving gift:

Soooo, today I'm grateful for days off that allow me the time to try new (old-timey) things like canning. I'm also immensely grateful for police officers who decide to write me warning tickets to change my address with the DMV instead of writing me real tickets for making illegal turns...

Finally, I'm thankful for the fact that November is almost over because this daily writing thing is a lot of pressure...I needed to be in bed hours ago. Thankfully I'm not looking to break any records in tomorrow's race, six hours of sleep should be enough, right?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's Almost Here...

Today I'm thankful for the fact that, with Thanksgiving less than forty-eight hours away, the holiday season is officially upon us and the familiar sights and sounds of my favorite time of year are everywhere.

{Maybe if I had a crane, I would be allowed to start decorating early...}
I cannot officially break out the decorations and Christmas music until after Thanksgiving dinner, but I can crank up the cheer on an olfactory level by whipping up some apple butter. The smell of warm apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg creates an atmosphere so totally festive that if the Grinch walked into my apartment right now, he would be so overcome with holiday cheer that he would immediately double Bob Cratchit's salary. I realize I'm mixing my Christmas classics, but I think I've made my point.

I'm making the apple butter in the Crock Pot, so it's ridiculously easy, but because I did not do anything else exciting today, I'm documenting it for you.

If you too would like to make your home smell like Autumn invited Christmas over for a rager, you will need five Granny Smith and five Pink Ladies.

Those would be apples, not to be confused with these pink ladies....

You will also need brown sugar (1 cup), honey (1/2 cup), apple cider (1/4 cup), cinnamon (1 tablespoon), cloves (1/2 teaspoon), and mace (1/8 teaspoon). 

This is the only mace I had, so I substituted some nutmeg and extra cinnamon.
{Thanks, Lauren. Good lookin' out.}

Peeling and chopping the apples is kind of a pain in the ass, but just focus on the delightful smells in your future. Dump the apples in the slow cooker.

Add everything else, and stir.

Cover, set slow cooker to low for ten hours, and relax. Or, if you're me, make lame attempt at Thanksgiving leaf garland, give up, and watch Oprah instead.

{Lame attempt at Thanksgiving leaf garland}
Off to bed now. Apple Butter: The Conclusion to premiere tomorrow....

Fresh Starts

Today I'm thankful for the lazy woman's path to reinvention...a major haircut. I went in for a trim, and was flipping through People magazine as I am wont to do, and I came across this photograph of  Scarlett Johanssen. I'm trying not to focus on the fact that when I was looking for an online version of this picture, I came across an entire article about how stupid it was for Ms. Johanssen to get this haircut. I'm not kidding.

{She is lovely, but for some reason, I find her incredibly irritating... Sorry ScarJo.}
I think I'm going to regret putting the picture of the gorgeous movie star up in such close proximity to my own photo... Anyway I saw the picture, thought, It's been a while since I cut all my hair off, asked Amy, What do you think?, and before I had much time to think about it, there were several inches of hair on the floor.

Not too sure how I feel about this yet, especially since it's also darker than usual, but November's all about gratitude, so I'm just going to be thankful that I have hair on my head and the freedom to do with it as I see fit. 

{Eek. So short!}

Monday, November 22, 2010

Make a Photo Book of Pictures from India

Check it.
One more list item down. This took forever, but it was fun to relive the adventure.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Farmer's Market Firsts

Today I'm saying thanks for the sudden inspiration that struck at the farmer's market and led me to buy my first pomegranate.

They looked so fun and festive, and I showed up at the farmer's market only fifteen minutes before close, so they were half off. Seventy-five cents later, this "many-chambered globular fruit" (thank you dictionary.com) came home with me.

Look how pretty.

Turns out the fresh seeds are as weirdly delightful as the dried variety.

Such a festive fruit...hurrah for pomegranates!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Let it Rain!

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain. 
~Langston Hughes

Today I'm most thankful that I did not spend the day on the open sea being battered by the wind and rain. I woke up this morning and dressed in multiple layers because the sailing lesson people told us that we would sill have class if it was raining because it would make us "better sailors." Just as I was coming to terms with the fact that I would be spending the next five hours cold, wet, and trying to avoid a watery death, the sailing school called to break the "bad news" that the class had been canceled. Rainy day fun ensued!

There was a trip to the gym, a long nap, a trip to the mall with my day, cuddling on the couch with my husband, and pizza delivery for dinner. It was an all-around delightfully cozy rainy day. More of the same on the agenda for tomorrow. Hurrah!