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Let the merriment begin

 

Now that Christmas is a mere few days away, and the major tasks of purchasing gifts, sending out our Christmas cards, wrapping the gifts, and sending them on their way to their hopefully delighted recipients is over, I’ve got myself a minute to reflect. To share my thoughts and feelings about this crazy and magical time of year and why I love it so. 

Baking Christmas cookies and related treats is one of the few traditions I have maintained over the years. Mind you, I am no Martha Stewart (unlike an old co-worker who brought snowflake cookies to our holiday potluck that were decorated so exquisitely it felt wrong to consume them not like I didn’t anyway). I focus on simple cookies. Actually, several of them are the “no bake” kind. I think that’s a wise choice as I make a fricking ton of them. I send these Christmas treats in holiday themed tins purchased at the Dollar Store or my local thrift store to friends and family from northern Minnesota to Missouri. I shan’t ever end this tradition as at this point our loved ones expect them each and every year. I kind of set myself up for that.

But it’s all good. Baking cookies while listening to my favorite Christmas tunes puts me in the spirit. For several years, while still living in Wisconsin, I hosted a cookie baking party with 3 of my closest co-workers. The wine flowed, the kitchen was essentially destroyed, and much fun was had by all. Good times. 

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Christmas cookies, circa 2008 ish

Then there’s the music of this season. I’m not the type to turn on the Christmas music as soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers are stored in the fridge, but I do enjoy it quite a bit. I am a traditionalist, as I mostly prefer the classics, sung by the original artists. Though there are a few exceptions. Like this version of “Baby it’s Cold Outside” by “She and Him” (I will admit the video is not exactly what I expected).  I’m not going to get into the controversy over this particular song and how it is “rape-y” (I don’t exactly see it that way). I was delighted when I first saw the movie “Elf” and heard Zooey Deschanel’s pure and beautiful singing voice.  I was even more delighted when I discovered that there was a “She and Him” and that they had produced a sweet little cd covering classic Christmas tunes. I of course purchased this cd and enjoy listening to it every single Christmas since then. The only other two Christmas cd’s on repeat in our house this time of year are Michael Buble’s “Christmas” and the Carpenter’s “Christmas Portrait”.  The songs “All I want for Christmas” by Mariah Carey, “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano, and Bing Crosby’s “Mele Kalikimaka” always put a smile on my face when I hear them this time of year.

I’m excited that Hubs is working on “Mele Kalikimaka” on his yuke these days. With any luck, he and I will collaborate on this one and may even perform it via video for our daughter and grandson via videochat yet this season. Or next Christmas, at least.

The most arduous tasks for me during the Christmas season are 1) purchasing gifts, 2) wrapping said gifts (not my forte; thankfully Hubs has my back on this one), and 3) shipping all the packages to hither and yon. Yet, there’s such a great joy I feel inside when I find just the right gift for the right person. I don’t know that I’ll ever in my livelong life, however, create such excitement with my Christmas gift-giving as my sweet Hubs did for me one Christmas about 7 years ago. I could not have been more surprised. 

Here’s the story: we are at my sister and brother in law’s house way up in northern Minnesota, where we have spent many Christmases. We are in the middle of opening all of our gifts, a tad liquored up and sitting in the cozy family room by the beautiful Christmas tree. I open the shirt sized box, assuming it’s a new sweater or some other practical piece of clothing (which I was totally fine with). However, it’s a fancy black dress. I look at Hubs a bit quizzically, and assume in my head that this is a dress I’ll be wearing for a nice dinner out with him on New Year’s Eve. Wow, I’m thinking. So thoughtful and how fun is it that he’s planning to take me out on New Year’s (that doesn’t happen every year, you see). Then I see there’s a sheet of paper underneath. I open it up and it’s an ITINERARY. An itinerary, no less, for a New Year’s weekend in Chicago! An itinerary mapping out our Amtrak train ride, dinner reservations at a very chi-chi seafood place in downtown Chicago, a fancy hotel, and tickets to see “The Adams Family Musical”. I was, for once in my life, utterly speechless. I think I actually cried with joy. It ended up being the best New Year’s Eve (weekend) of our entire married life despite the massive hangover I foolishly gifted myself. 

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Our New Year’s Eve in Chicago circa 2011 ish

 

This year, I was given the opportunity to shop for a little girl. I haven’t had the opportunity to partake in this activity since my spawn were youngins. You see, instead of doing the “Secret Santa” thing at work (you know the one-where you rack your brain to figure out what to buy for that one person you don’t know as well as all the others), someone came up with the brilliant idea of doing “Secret Santa” for the offspring of our co-workers. I grabbed a “wish list” for the daughter of one of my co-workers, and proceeded to have a ball at Target finding things for this kiddo. I suspect she will be pleased that Santa stuffed her new shiny star-shaped purse with Snickers and a $10 bill. I know I would be!

I wish each and every one of you a blessed, joyful, fun-filled holiday season. May your stockings be full with all your favorite goodies, may your travels be safe, and may your hearts be full. 

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Photo by Jameel Hassan on Pexels.com

What delights you?

This post is largely inspired by a great blog post penned by Caitlin Kelly  who has a wonderful way with words. I came up with my own title because I didn’t want to be too much of a copy-cat.

Now that the mid-term elections are over and we can all breathe a sigh of relief (if only because for the time being we have a respite from political ads on t.v. and all of that godforsaken political junk mail), I think it’s time to reflect inwards a bit.

Thanksgiving will be here before you know it, with Christmas shortly behind. I’m just not quite ready to start all the planning and shopping yet. Let’s take a minute or two to relax and consider those things in life which we may take for granted that give us pleasure. Those things that soothe us. Those things that give us a sense of contentment. Those things that simply delight us.

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Here’s but a few of mine:

The feel of my favorite fuzzy socks on my bare feet.

Peering out the window of our warm, cozy townhome at the magical, silent, slow-falling snow.

A solid cup of coffee with a bit of cinnamon sprinkled on top.

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The “P” is for Polly!

A heart to heart conversation via phone or in person with a good friend.

The mouth-watering aroma of a home-cooked meal in my crockpot at the end of a long work day. And the sense of self-satisfaction I feel for having the good sense to put it together in the morning before work.

Waking up naturally, without hearing that silly alarm coming from my cell phone. Ahhh…weekends!

Sipping a complex glass of merlot. Savoring the hints of dark cherry, chocolate, and spice.

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A good, long,  luxurious shower. The way those hot, wet, pellets of water feel on my tense shoulders.

Interacting with dogs in public. Petting and scratching them, telling them they are a “good girl” or “good boy”. Listening to their human parent or parents telling me about their breed, their adoption stories, their personality quirks.

At work: sharing a laugh or two with a senior client over the phone.

When just the right song comes on my Sirius XM, while I’m tooling around in my CRV. Like the Pina Colada song  song (don’t judge me, I realize the couple in the song has a completely f’d up relationship as both are willing to cheat on each other and escape to an exotic island with someone they just met at a bar called O’Malley’s). It’s just such a chilled out, easy-breezy, sing-a-long song though, right? Let’s not overthink this.

How a November day in Colorado reminds me of one of those sweet February days in Wisconsin when the sky is bright blue, dotted with a few fluffy clouds, the snow is melting on the pavement, the air is chilly but mild and there is no wind to speak of.

Glorious pictures of the sunrise in the foothills, taken by Hubs, when the moment strikes, upon his arrival at work.

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Please share in the comments what delights you, my delightful blogging community!

 

How do you do Community?

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Community is the glue that keeps our society together. I’ve been blessed in my life to have been a part of a variety of different communities. These experiences with community have shaped me. They have inspired me. They have taught me so very much. They have most certainly been a source of joy.

Like the community of church folks who came together back in Wisconsin a few years ago to fix up a single mom’s beautiful old house to get it ready to be sold. This was a days long process involving probably 24 of us. We painted. We put up curtains. Some of us did some electrical work and plumbing. While working on these tasks, we also got to know each other better. We ended with a shared experience that benefited not just the single mom and her kids, but all of us.

Like the community of friends, many of whom hadn’t officially met before, who came together to make a home accessible for a friend’s spouse who in her 30’s suffered a stroke while vacationing out of the country and was soon coming out of rehab. We organized closets, we built an accessible ramp, we updated the bathroom and re-arranged the bedroom to accommodate the spouse’s new way of moving through their day to day world.

Like the community at our local brew pub, 3 miles down the road from our townhome here in Colorado. If ever there was a “Cheers”  in real life, this would be that place. The owners and bartenders know our names. The owners regularly schedule events that build community.

And this sign is prominently featured, which I very much appreciate. This one hangs in the ladies’ restroom.

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Then there’s our current church community. Our major fundraiser each year is a lawn mower clinic, held in May. Hubs and I, along with probably 2-3 dozen other church folks came together on three Saturdays this past May to check the oil, change spark plugs, and clean those well used, clunky machines up so they would be in good working condition for their owners when the time came to get back to mowing their lawns again. Each of these Saturdays were nasty, weather-wise. Snow. Rain. Cloudy, cold, and breezy. From my perspective, only experiencing 2 years in Colorado, this weather was a-typical for the time of year. But yet we all bundled up, drank a lot of hot coffee, and got things done as a community.

The Facebook blogging community I’ve recently become a part of is another example of how I like to “do” community in my life. In this group, bloggers often lift each other up. They turn each other on to new ideas, new tricks to improve their writing and their blogs. They  We support each other as best we can. We seem to understand that while we all have our individual blogs, we’re in it (aka the Blogosphere) together. We all want to succeed at what we’re doing and we all love to write. We respect each other. There does not seem to be a sense of “my blog vs. your blog” competitive b.s. going on in this group. We all seem to engage with this group in an effort to build each other, and ourselves at the same time, up. I’m so glad I decided to join this community.

The bottom line, for me, is that being around others, especially with a clear goal in mind, energizes me. It appeals to my social and socially conscious nature. It opens up my world, teaches me things I didn’t know I needed to learn, both about myself and others. It helps me focus on the positive and reminds me that there is good in the world. That the number of good people in our universe far outweighs the number of bad people. It gives me hope.

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Seedlings and Randomness

Recently, I accidentally deleted all of the content in my “Seedlings” draft within my blog. I was innocently reviewing it for the millionth time, in an attempt to mine for some writing gold, and while going crazy with cutting and pasting content into other drafts I started, suddenly it was all gone. Blank as hell.

So now I’m sorta starting at square one. I do have a few little nuggets of the content from my “Seedlings” draft tucked into a few different other drafts, but the vast majority of it is gone. As if it never existed.

This means that I have to take a serious gander at the 15 other blog posts I’ve started and stopped. This is something I am starting to do at this moment in time. We’ll see where it goes.

But for now, let me get a few random things off my chest. A few (which is all I have left) “seedlings”, if you will. Thoughts and feelings that have been rattling about in my brain and in my heart.  Some things I want to expand upon on this blog when I’m feeling gutsy. Or overwhelmed. Or thoughtful and pensive.

  • Observation about myself: Negative people suck me dry. I need to find ways to fill up my soul and creative spirit directly after being immersed in their gloomy muck for more than 2 hours (give or take).
  • I ought to write a post about expressions. Ones I frequently use, ones I hate, and ones I ought to use more. Considering the times and all.
  • Why I almost titled my blog “Dumb Ass 2 Wise Swan”.
  • Sometimes I wonder if other bloggers tell people that they have a blog. I generally don’t. But why?
  • I hope that we can all agree that no one, regardless of political party, gender identity, sexual orientation, weight, economic status, or emoji preferences when texting friends or family should be judged for expressing their opinions or interacting with others in a manner authentic to themselves. With the exception of those who have committed a crime or were intentionally cruel to another human being. Then all bets are off, IMHO.
  • I have a very strong urge to pen a political post. I’ve been suppressing it for some time now. I’m feeling overwhelmed (I’m guessing I am in good company, right?) by the barrage of bad news lately. Overwhelmed by the seemingly never-ending joke of a presidency we are subjected to on the daily. However, I feel like if I did go hog-wild with my political opinions, 1) I’d for the most part be preaching to the choir, 2) it would not have a positive impact on the world at large, and 3) my Facebook blogger’s group might kick me out. So, at least for the time being, I will refrain from publishing purely political posts. The one thing I will say, which is of the utmost importance is this: VOTE! Our futures, as well as our children’s and their children’s futures, depend on this one simple thing.
  • In keeping with the random, unexpected, stream-of-consciousness theme I’ve got going here, I am publishing this post today. The day I started it and the day I finished it, instead of sticking with my regular Wednesday morning time slot.  I think I’ve only done that once or twice since I started blogging. So here’s to shaking things up a little!
I would love, love, love, to hear your random commentary today (or any day for that matter). What is it that you want to write about, but haven’t yet?

I’m not really that much of a couch potato

I recently wrote this piece  on my blog. I stand by my conviction that quantity vs. quality should apply to those of us who fancy ourselves writers. I also continue to stand by my conviction that quality ought to trump quantity when it comes to consuming television while lounging on a couch like a damned potato. Though, it should be noted that potatoes don’t actually lounge. It seems more fitting to refer to this state of being as sloth potato, right?!

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Bet you didn’t know you needed a pic of sloths in a hammock today!

While I have indeed been “slothing” it up this fall, enjoying some quality t.v. on my couch with and without the Hubs, I was entirely incorrect about the amount of time I wanted, or thought I actually had, for watching said quality t.v. My bad.

I actually said, in public (aka this blog) no less, that I had 14 hours per week to spend watching quality television. Geez Louise, I am such a silly goose sometimes.

It turns out that I have other, more valuable and indeed necessary, activities to accomplish in the evenings, which precludes me from having 14 hours to simply watch t.v. on my couch like a cute little sloth. Like chatting up my spawn. Like making food. Like checking my Twitter feed. Like reading blog posts and creating my own.

But I most certainly have found time to enjoy a handful of shows to enjoy in the evenings. The shows that, to me, are of the highest quality. The shows that enlighten and educate me, like “This is Life with Lisa Ling”, who recently featured the devastation that can be caused when people become addicted to technology.  How this addiction can change one’s personality and cause them to isolate and lose interest in the pursuits that once fueled them. I give big props to Lisa Ling for bringing to light issues that many of us had not been aware of.

Another t.v. show of high quality which I’ve been consistently watching with Hubs is “9-1-1”.  Actor Peter Krause, from one of my favorite-of-all-time-but-now-unfortunately-canceled shows, “Parenthood”, is one of the main characters. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is a fictional show about the Los Angeles Fire Department and their acts of heroism in the field, and the trials and tribulations of their personal lives. Some of the characters are police officers and some are 911 operators, and they are all connected to each other, whether it be through blood, friendship, or romance. It is exciting to watch and the acting is very good. I highly recommend it.

Then there’s “The Good Place”. Hubs and I have watched this since the very first episode and it never disappoints. In case you haven’t seen it yet, it is a one of a kind gem of a show. If I had to summarize it, I’d say it is a thought-provoking comedy featuring characters that all could be considered hot messes, who each die, go to “The Good Place”, learn that the “good place” is actually the opposite, try as a group in vain to get to the actual “good place”, then get to come back to earth, fully alive, where they have opportunities to make different life choices to redeem themselves so that when they die “for real” they will go to the for real “good place”. And this is all at the mercy of Michael, an “angel” played by Ted Danson. This show is a trip. It’s most definitely a show that you need to start from the very first episode, as Hubs and I did. Or it will make zero sense. Nevertheless, if you haven’t seen it, you should. It is epic.

Other high quality shows that I am making time for this fall include “This is Us”, another one that, if you haven’t watched it yet, must be watched starting from the first episode to make any sense. The relatability factor of the characters is incredible. It drew me in much like “Parenthood” did.

“Shameless” is the other high quality and for many, highly inappropriate show I make time for. Hubs and I started watching it, ironically, while sitting in a hotel room on a New Years getaway to Chicago (where the show is filmed), a few years ago. This was the last time I recall in my adult life I experienced the special hell that is being hungover. Binge-watching “Shameless” got me through that New Year’s Day. The acting on this show is incredible. The story lines are unpredictable. The show is pure dark comedy with heart.

I have continued to watch “Grey’s Anatomy” as well. I’ve watched this show since it started and I continue to watch it primarily because of the character Meredith. She’s such a good egg. She’s the character that we all want to be friends with. Unlike “9-1-1”, Grey’s Anatomy, to me, is much more about the characters as opposed to the medical emergencies they find themselves in the middle of.

I’ve essentially given up on watching “Dancing with the Stars”. Too much of a time commitment for me, as the first episode of the week is 2 hours long and the second episode of the week feels like it’s 2 hours long but I think it’s really just an hour. 

What with watching the news every night (God help us), in addition to Real Time with Bill Maher (thanks to 3 free months of HBO), and our weekly dose of Samantha Bee, these few shows above are the only ones I have time for.

What t.v. shows are you making time for these days, fellow couch sloths?

Life is Fragile, Be Gentle

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I don’t know the origin story for this sign. I can only imagine that it was something someone made back in the early 70’s and gave to my parents. I just remember it hanging on the fiberboard walls of my dad’s beloved garage while I was growing up. I can only assume that my mom couldn’t find quite the right place to display it in our house. Or she found it tacky.

But my dad had an appreciation for this sign. It meant something to him. It was hung on those fiberboard walls next to scribblings from family and friends from near and far who were visiting our house for one celebration or another. Dad got a big kick out of having guests sign the wall in the garage to commemorate various celebrations. He was quite the sentimental guy.

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Yes, I christened myself the cutest “chic” that ever came here.  I was a brat that apparently couldn’t spell.

I think first and foremost, this sentiment, these words, apply to the important concept of self-care. I think it’s easy to go through our days mentally haranguing ourselves about how we could have done “this”  better, or how we shouldn’t have said “that” to whomever, or that we should have reacted differently in a particular situation. Something I’m trying to do lately is to put my self-defeating thoughts on pause for a moment and ask myself if the negative thoughts about myself would be something I would actually say out loud (or even under my breath) to a close friend. The answer is always, emphatically, “no”.  I think this sign is an excellent reminder to be gentle (aka kind) to oneself.

I also believe if we have any hope of ushering in a kinder, less dysfunctional, society, not only for the benefit of  those of us living in the here and now, but for the generations coming up behind us, we should endeavor to heed these words in our day to day interactions with others, whether they be strangers or friends.

What does this look like for me? I think it’s more what it sounds like, in my case. When I am frustrated with another person because they are jumping on my last nerve, if I’m being honest, these not-so-positive feelings are evident in my tone of voice. If I can be cognizant of this fact, in the moment, I can hit the pause button for a hot second and make the necessary adjustments. I think one simple tool is to slap a smile on my face. Then when I open my mouth to speak again, the words cannot help but come out in a kinder, gentler way.

Tell me, kind and gentle readers, do you think this sentiment has value as I do? If so, what does it look like in your life?

All in for Fall

Fall has arrived here in Colorado. It seemed to happen almost overnight. Or maybe I’m just not as observant as I could be. The temps are now pretty steady in the 50’s at this point so the days of wearing sandals on the regular are gone, at least until March or April anyway.  The leaves are changing and as I’m driving around I’m treated to the sights of beautiful maples with rich hues of burgundy, gold, and orange.

Here’s what I am loving about this particular fall season:

  • Waking up to those dark mornings. I know, it sounds a little weird, but there’s a coziness I feel when I’m padding down the stairs in pursuit of a cup of hot coffee, of course, in the wee hours after a good night’s slumber and the house is shrouded in the quiet darkness. It’s peaceful and comforting. Though some mornings as a result I have to put up a pretty good internal argument against crawling back under those covers.
  • Cooking hearty meals and delectable, soul warming desserts. Recently, I made a recipe I’ve had forever and came up with a way to make it even more scrumptious. I will share that recipe at the end of this post. I also made my blogger friend CJ’s apple cake on Sunday and it was seriously the bomb! I highly recommend it! I got a lot of compliments from my co-workers when I brought it to work yesterday. It’s the perfect go-to for fall potlucks.
  • Bringing out the fall wardrobe. I was smart over the summer and picked up a few pieces while thrift store shopping to add to what I already had. My girly-girl side came out as I tried on different combinations of things to wear to work and when simply being out and about this fall.
  • Speaking of fall wardrobes, another thing I’m getting pretty psyched about is Halloween costumes. As I mentioned in my fall themed blog post last year, being empty-nesters has allowed us to re-claim this holiday for ourselves. I am currently pondering what costumes we will be donning this Halloween. Contenders are me as a good witch and Hubs as Johnny Cash (my version of super heroes for these times we are in) or “Blue Waves” (which we fervently hope come via our ballot boxes next month). Here’s us in our costumes last year…20171028_201957 (1)
  • Voting season: oh, so many reasons to be happy about this. Like perhaps there will be a surge in the number of Americans casting their ballots. Perhaps sane, rational, not geriatric and not all male candidates will be elected this time. Also that it-namely, the constant political ads and political junk mail-will be over on 11/7.

Now for that promised recipe:

French Dip Sandwiches

Disclaimer: I wrote down this recipe eons ago on a recipe card, and if I could credit the cook who I got it from I would, but I have no earthly idea who that would be.

Ingredients:

3 lbs. beef chuck roast

2 Cups water

1/2 cup Soy Sauce (I always use the low sodium kind)

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 bay leaf

3 whole peppercorns

French bread

Put the beef in the crockpot. Mix up all the other ingredients (minus the french bread of course) in a bowl. Pour it over the beef. Cook on high for 5-6 hours or low for 8 hours + if you like. Shred or slice (depending on the level of tenderness) the beef and put between two slices of crusty french bread.

My attempt at morphing the leftovers (which I froze last week and am thawing as I write this) into something even better is this: Slice yellow onions and saute them in butter. Drain the liquid from the beef and cook it in a saucepan, possibly adding additional water and beef bouillon. Heat up the slices of beef in the microwave. Put the broth in soup bowls and add the onions, then the beef. Top with shredded mozzarella. Cut up chunks of the french bread and toss it into the soup bowls. Voila! French onion soup, my way.

What are you jazzed about this fall season?