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This was the first Thanksgiving that I’ve ever traveled, and what a whirlwind trip it was.  My uncle recently purchased a house in Niles, Michigan, and we wanted to go out and visit him before the weather turned too cold for us wimpy Californians.

His house is so cool, especially the 2-acre grounds.  I imagined huge garden parties in the summer, my nieces running with wild abandon in the backyard, and sipping cocktails in lounge chairs.  At least, that’s what I’d do with the place if I had it.  Not sure if my uncle has those same plans, but maybe I can convince him.

The city of Niles, Michigan is very quaint, especially the downtown area, which is peppered with funky stores, antique “malls,” and old-time businesses.  They city is so much smaller than the one we’re from, so it was very interesting.  My uncle seems to be making some friends which is good.  The main thing that I noticed is that the people are much more conservative there than they are in the Bay Area.  Then again, I think most small towns in middle America are much more conservative than the Bay Area.  😉  The one example I have is that we went to a converted mansion in South Bend, IN for Thanksgiving dinner.  When we arrived in the dining room we ordered two bottles of wine – one white and one red – for the table of four of us.  You should have seen the stares!  The woman at the table next to us nudged her husband and sat there agape, as if we were slugging back wine by the gallon.  I looked around and saw that every other table in the room had either iced tea or water – no alcohol of any kind. So weird!

After a day and a half in Niles, we left for Chicago.  I had seen pictures, heard stories, but nothing compares to actually being there.  Chicago is a stunning, immaculate, architecturally gorgeous city!  I still think San Francisco is more beautiful, but I do love Chicago.  I wish we had more than two days in this fun, lively city.  I’ll definitely be back.

I could fill many more paragraphs with all of our adventures in the two day trip, but for now, I think I’ll let my 200+ photos speak for themselves.  I tried to get some artsy shots, so I hope you enjoy them.

Thanksgiving 2009 – Michigan & Chicago
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It’s been a fun few days in Bellaland.  Lots of present giving and receiving, great food, good times, and a moment or two to realize how lucky I am.  Truly, very lucky.

I have amazing family and friends who love me and are always there to offer support, encouragement, and a kick in the ass, if necessary.  My life would be nothing without them. And as cliched as that sounds, that really is the best gift of all.

I’m looking forward to going to my great uncle’s house for dinner with all of the extended family – there are going to be over 50 of us there this year, and it will be so much fun to catch up with all those relatives I haven’t seen in a couple of years.

The rest of this week and the next is spread out before me, and I can’t wait to see what I make of it.  It’s so nice to have 2 weeks off with nothing in particular planned.  This way, it gives me the chance to do some things I’ve been wanting to do, but without a strict schedule.  Freedom!

Merry Christmas to All!!

merry_christmas

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the simple pleasures in life.  Relishing the little things in life that make it special or fill it with joy.

I just finished teaching my classes about Transcendentalism, which is one of my favorite units of the year.  I like teaching the students about philosophy, because most of them haven’t read any before this unit.  Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were masters in reminding us how to live a simple life, unfettered by materialism.

Yesterday was a day filled with simple pleasures for me, and although none were as profound as those espoused by Emerson or Thoreau, they still made me happy.

Comfy yoga pants. Ideally, I would’ve gone to a yoga class yesterday, but I guess I did the next best thing.  Last night I lounged in my new yoga pants that my sister gave me for Christmas. They’re soft, comfortable, and oh so cozy.  I love taking off my more restrictive clothing and putting these pants on.  They’re symbolic of relaxing to me.

Uggs boots. Along the lines of soft, warm, and comfortable, these boots are perfect for the wintry weather we’ve been having lately.  Again, these were a Christmas present from my parents.  Even though I asked for some knock-off brand, they splurged and bought me the real thing, and I couldn’t be more grateful.  It’s so nice to go out in the rainy, cold weather and know that my feet are completely warm and dry.  Cuz when your feet feel good, everything feels good, right?

Fresh, clean, high thread count sheets. I’m on a roll with these warm, cozy Christmas gifts, right?  My parents also gave me a new set of 620 thread count sheets for Christmas (don’t I have a generous family?).  I washed them yesterday and made my bed with them.  All day I was looking forward to climbing into bed and sleeping in these luxurious sheets.  Nothing is better.  Well, ok, maybe having someone to share the sheets with would be nice, but hey, I’m making the best of my singledom.

{If you’re wondering why I’m talking so much about Christmas presents and it’s only the 23rd, that’s because my family celebrated our “Christmas Eve” on Sunday night.  My sister and her husband thought they would stay home on the 24th and get things ready for Santa’s visit to my nieces.  It was nice to extend the holiday this way.  Oh, and in case you’re thinking, “You shouldn’t open presents until Christmas Day.”  We don’t do it that way in my family.  Well, of course we did when we were little and Santa brought the presents, but once we got older, we always opened them on Christmas Eve.  Late at night, after we returned from Midnight Mass.  It is a wonderful tradition that we continue today, minus the Midnight Mass part, most of the time}.

Listening to Christmas music. I know quite a few people who are so inundated with Christmas tunes that they can’t stand to listen to another song, but I am not one of these people.  I love Christmas music, and I think my playlist is awesome.  I have a nice mix of old standbys and newer, lounge music.  My favorite of the moment is Michael Buble singing Grown Up Christmas List.

What are your favorite simple pleasures?

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The past two weeks have been really busy for me.  I’m always busy at school, but the two weeks before break were CRAZY.

It just so happened that I had a journalism deadline AND a yearbook deadline within days of each other.  I’m really strict with my students about meeting the deadlines, no matter what.  In this case, “no matter what” meant staying in my room for the past two weeks, staying at school until 6:30 last Friday (Dec. 12), and going a little nuts when we ran into some technical difficulties.  But, I’m happy to report that both the newspaper and the yearbook deadline were met.  We got rave reviews on the paper, which always makes us feel good.

Couple these deadlines with the fact that I had a set of essays and 2 sets of research papers (think essays, but longer) to grade.  I was determined that I was going to grade these papers before I left for Christmas Break – no matter what.  There’s that phrase again.  This time “no matter what” meant staying up until 2:30AM on Thursday night, waking up at 5AM to continue grading, and still not finishing.  So, I stayed on Friday evening until 5;30 to get them done.  I may have been the last car in the parking lot (teachers clear out early when we have a long break like that), but I am so proud of myself for completely finishing all of the work I wanted to.

Which means I have two weeks off and ABSOLUTELY NO GRADING OR SCHOOL WORK OF ANY KIND TO DO!  (Ok, sorry for the ALL CAPS, but unless you teach high school English, I don’t think you can imagine the feeling of elation I have right now).

So, what am I going to do with myself?

  • Read books. For pleasure!  Books like Sundays at Tiffany’s, Pledged: The Secret Lives of Sororities, and A Lion Among Men.  Looking at those titles, I know they sound like quite an eclectic mix, and they are.  Recent books I’ve checked out of the library.  I’m a voracious reader even when life is hectic, but especially when I have some time on my hands.  To see more books that I’ve been reading, you can click on my Good Reads Shelf to the right.
  • Catch up on the stacks of magazines that are threatening to overtake my living room. That might be overstating it a bit, since the mags are all neatly placed in a magazine rack, but when I see 4 months worth of Vogue, Vanity Fair, Self, Real Simple, Prevention, and Women’s Health in front of me, I know it’s time to do some light reading.
  • Workout or “be active” everyday. Today’s activity was cleaning the house from top to bottom (electric broom and mop the kitchen and bathroom floors, empty the dishwasher, do two loads of laundry, change sheets, clean the bathroom, and vacuum the whole place).  Whew!  I know I probably didn’t burn too many calories, but I did all of that in under 3 hours, and I am sort of sore as I sit here tonight writing this.  It’s been cold and rainy here, so I’m afraid that most of my working out will have to take me to the gym, but that’s ok.  It gives me a chance to catch up on my elliptical and treadmill time.  I am going to start Couch to 5K and see how it goes.  I have a few other activities planned for the new year, but I’ll discuss that more on my weight loss blog.
  • Go to the movies. I love movies, but don’t find myself going to many lately.  I think part of it is that my schedule is so busy that I have to pick and choose which movies I have time to see.  There are two movies that I think look very interesting that I’m definitely making time for this vacation: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Seven Pounds Seven Pounds hasn’t gotten great reviews, but it intrigues me, and I think it’ll be worth $10 to find out what it’s about.
  • Spend time with family and friends. There are so many people I can’t wait to see and spend time with.  I’m sure I’ll post about all the fun ahead.
  • Go through my cookbooks. I have lots of healthy cookbooks that I’ve bought or been given in recent years, yet I find myself making my tried and true recipes more often than not.  I want to go through these cookbooks and mark several new recipes to try out in the new year.  I’m hoping to make at least one new recipe a week, just to keep things interesting.

So, there you have it.  Some rough plans for how I want to spend my Christmas Break.  I look forward to this 2-week vacation every year, and yet it always seems to fly by without very much getting accomplished.  I’m hoping that this year, I’ll make it a vacation to remember.

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Friday night my book club got together to discuss our most recent read – Twilight.  We finally gave in to the hype and decided to find out what all the fuss was about.  So many of my female students are ga-ga over this book, and told me how much I would LOVE it.  While I had my doubts, I didn’t want to miss out on reading what has become the Harry Potter of the teenage-girl set.

I read the book thinking that I might not like it.  Anytime anything is overly hyped, I tend to have my doubts.  And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.  I didn’t LOVE  the book, but it did capture my attention.  Plus, as many of my book club members pointed out, it did make me think back to my own high school days and how I felt when I had a huge crush on one boy or another.  I do admit that I got a bit tired of the “he’s a vampire and could kill me if he doesn’t control himself” theme that ran throughout.  In fact, at many points I wanted to scream out, “just bite Bella and make her a vampire, already!!!” I thought the plot was inventive and didn’t fall into many of the vampire legend traps that it easily could have.  I thought Meyer was imaginative in the way she described what happened to Edward and his “family” when they were in the sun.  Most of the book club members liked that it was an easy read, and we all decided we were probably going to read the subsequent books.

The book club usually meets at my house, but we decided to go to The Fairmont this time, to revive a tradition we started last year, even before we had created this book club.  A group of my friends met at The Fairmont Hotel’s lobby and had drinks and appetizers.  We chatted, laughed, and once the swing band started playing, danced.  Afterward we looked at Christmas in the Park.  It was a lovely evening.  So this year, we met at the Fairmont again, had some great wine and food, discussed the book, talked about what had been going on in our lives, and also talked about books that we loved.  We didn’t make it out to Christmas in the Park, but since we all live close, we will have plenty of opportunities to see it before the season ends.

One thing we didn’t decide on yet was what book we’re going to read for our next discussion.  Many of us threw out some suggestions, but we all decided we needed to do some research before deciding on a final book to read.  Do you have any suggestions for a good book club book?  Please leave them in the comments, if you do.

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This weekend I decided that it was time to decorate my house for Christmas.  Over the past couple of years I’ve grinched-out, not really doing much for the holidays, in terms of decorating around the home.

This year, I’ve been really in the spirit of the season, much earlier than usual.  I think it might have something to do with all of that online shopping I did last Friday.  🙂

I pulled out my holiday decorations, but didn’t find too much that I could work with.  Yes, I had some great ornaments, but I’d decided that I wasn’t going to go through the hassle of putting up a tree.  (Hey, I’m in the spirit, but not enough so to get pine needles all over the place).

Plus, I had these trees, that I bought on sale last year after Christmas:

img_0114 In this picture you’ll also see the hurricane and candle I found yesterday at Michael’s, but I’ll get to that in a minute.  Aren’t these trees beautiful?  I took this picture with my iPhone, so the quality isn’t great, but I think you get the idea.

Once I started looking at the few decorations I had to work with, I asked my mom to come over to help me figure out how I should display things.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that my mom should be an interior decorator – she has impecible taste, and has taught me a lot of decorating ideas that I am so thankful for.

After surveying items I had placed around the room, she gave me her stamp of approval, but said that I should probably hit a few stores to get some items with a bit more color.  For some reason, all of the stuff I had was silver and gold – no red or green anywhere to be found (except for the trees).

So, I hit this great marketplace near my house that has lots of stores to fit my holiday decorating needs, including Cost Plus and Michael’s.

At Cost Plus, I found these adorable reindeer: img_0111 They have little mosaic-like tiles of metallic material on them that glimmer when the candlelight hits them.

I didn’t see anything else I really liked at Cost Plus, which was surprising.  So, I headed to Michael’s to see if I could find a few more items.  Now, some people absolutely adore Michael’s.  I am not one of of those people.  Call me a snob, but I’ve always thought of it as cheesy, trite, and a bit too bargain basement for my taste.  Plus, I’m not all that crafty – creative, yes, but not very crafty.  But, boy was I wrong!  I found so many great things, and everything was at least 50% off; some of the items were 60% off or more. I got a set of 12 red and 12 green votive candles, a bunch of berries on stems to put in my Pottery Barn vases, and a red hurricane and two white pillar candles to go inside it (the 2nd one just in case the 1st doesn’t last too long).

After the marketplace, I went to Safeway to buy some poinsettieas, because my local nursery was already closed, and I didn’t want to wait.  Have I mentioned how impatient I can be?  I bought 1 variegated poinsettiea for inside the house and 2 small red ones for outside in my windowbox.

I think it all looks beautiful, and I’m definitely in the holiday spirit. In fact, last night I put on my Christmas music playlist and enjoyed a glass of red wine, while just taking it all in.

This morning my dad dropped by to put the lights up outside my house – something I’ve never done before, but makes such a difference!  I couldn’t wait for it to get dark today so I could turn the lights on and admire them.

One thing I’m sure of is that decorating for the holidays really does have a positive effect on me.  I’ve felt really happy and lighthearted all weekend.  There really is something to this holiday spirit thing!

Here are the rest of my pictures, enjoy!

The outside of the house, all aglow

The outside of the house, all aglow

The windowbox with the new poinsettieas

The windowbox with the new poinsettieas

Living room wall, with candles lit

Living room wall, with candles lit

Close-up of candles

Close-up of candles

The variegated poinsettiea

The variegated poinsettiea

My "mantle"/entertainment center

My "mantle"/entertainment center

Pottery Barn vases with "berries" from Michael's

Pottery Barn vases with "berries" from Michael's

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black-friday-cartoon

I had told myself that there was no way that I was going to go out with the masses yesterday to go shopping, no matter how good the deals were at the mall.  Instead, I stayed home, all warm and snuggly, and did some online shopping.

And by “some,” I mean A LOT!  I got gifts for everyone on my list except my parents.  I don’t know why, but those two are always the most difficult people to buy for.  I think part of it is that they’re always so generous with my sister and me, and I want to make sure to give them gifts they’ll really enjoy.  Of course, they’d appreciate any gift I give them, but I want to make sure to find them that special thing.

I don’t want to mention the gifts that I got, because most of the people I bought for read this blog, but let’s just say, I think they’ll all be pleased.

I feel so good to know that almost all of it is done already.  Now all I have to do is wait for the items to arrive and wrap them.

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