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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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As you know, yesterday I spent the 4th of July by myself.  I didn’t deal with it very well.  I mean, it’s not the same as being by yourself on Christmas, but it is a holiday that’s meant to be shared with people.  Laughing, bbqing, drinking, and celebrating our nation’s independence. Instead, I was reminded of my own independence and got a bit depressed and down about it all.

After I took a 30 minute walk, I felt much better about my singledom and decided to spend time reading and watching the last few episodes of The Wire, which I had gotten from Netlix. (How AMAZING was that show?!  I’ve now finished the series, and wow, I loved it.  Yes, it was hardcore, but it said so much about city politics, policing, and how easily people can fall between the cracks.  If you haven’t seen it, I’d highly recommend it).

Anyway, back to the real reason for this post.

My parents, my uncle, and I are getting together today to have our 4th of July BBQ, a day late.  I’m going to wear the shirt I found on Cafepress.com.  The one that I thought I would wear on the actual 4th of July (until the plans changed).  I figure that I might as well wear it today, since I spent the money on it and I don’t want to wait a whole year to wear it:

jitcrunch

I just love this shirt, and I think it captures the true spirit of this holiday.

As far as the food for the BBQ, we’re going all out – guacamole and chips (appetizers), turkey burger sliders, deviled eggs, pasta salad, and a green salad.  And for dessert?  Well, my mom found “the cutest recipe” in one of her online recipe websites (something along the lines of Family Circle, I’m sure).  It’s Rice Krispy Treats made to look like the American Flag.  Easy and adorable, right?  I said I’d make it, because it seemed easy, and I’m usually bringing some sort of appetizer to these events, so I wanted to change things up by bringing something for dessert.

I went grocery shopping on Friday and got the marshmallows and Rice Krispy cereal.  Then I went along the baking aisle to find some sort of icing that could be used for easy decorations.  I found “easy squeeze” frosting in red and blue ($4.85 each) and then I found an aerosol can of white frosting ($5.50).  This was going to be one expensive dessert.  But, convenience is something I don’t mind paying for.

I thought the easy squeeze packages had some sort of decorating tip on them.  They didn’t.  That was sold separately.  I should’ve gotten the aerosol can in all three colors (the aerosol can came with 4 different tips included.  I guess you do get what you pay for).  I imagined making the blue square in the upper left hand corner, then putting little white stars on it.  Then, I thought I’d make waves of red and white frosting for the rest of the flag.  Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans…

The blue frosting wouldn’t come out of the package!  Easy squeeze my ass!  I was using all of my muscle in both of my hands just to get the stuff out.  At one point I thought I was going to have to go to the store and buy the aerosol can of frosting, but then I told myself that I’d already spent way too much on this dumb dessert and tried to make it work.  I finally got the blue out.  Then I started on the red, giving as much force as I could – well, wouldn’t you know that the red came flying out?  In big red globs.  You would’ve thought someone was bleeding to death, from the looks of things around my kitchen.  Sigh.  Luckily, the aerosol can worked beautifully, and I used two different tips to decorate the stars and then the stripes.

With the creative use of a butter knife, I was able to salvage the look of the flag, but man, I am NEVER making this damn thing again in life.  There is a reason that I stick to savory cooking – I’m good at it.  Baking isn’t really my thing, and while I do make good cupcakes for my classes from time to time, anything that requires any level of real cake decorating skills just isn’t my thing.  Plus, I should’ve stayed away from any sort of recipe that would be featured in a middle America bake sale – Suzy Homemaker I’m not.

Anyway, here’s the finished product.  The camera wasn’t able to capture all of the mistakes.  Let’s just say that I hope it tastes better than it looks:

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july4thHappy 4th of July, everyone!

Usually I spend the 4th with friends and/or family at BBQs and beach parties.  There was the one year that Neece got married on the 4th of July, and I was in her bridal party.  There was another year that I went out on a first date with a guy I met online on the 4th.  And then there’s this year.

This year I am spending the 4th of July by myself.  And I don’t like it.

I don’t mean to sound full of self-pity at all.  My life is amazing and filled with wonderful people who show me how much I mean to them in thousands of ways throughout the year.  It just so happened that today all of those people have other plans. My parents are going wine tasting with friends so we’ve delayed our usual BBQ until tomorrow. LC is going to spend the day alone with her family.  Ish is off with her hubby for their annual 4th of July Reno trip.  Not sure what Neece is doing, but since it’s her anniversary, I’m sure it involves couple-time with her husband.  The rest of my friends all have boyfriends or husbands or families.

Spending the 4th of July alone really highlights for me that I am sick of being single.  If I were dating someone, he and I would be spending the 4th of July together, and no matter what we decided to do, even if it was just to stay home and watch movies, we’d be doing it together.

The question that’s come up a lot for me lately is how the heck am I going to meet someone?  I would never date another teacher at school because if things didn’t work out, it would be so awkward, plus can you imagine the field day the teenage girls would have with gossip like that?  I’ve tried the online dating website thing and never really met anyone worth knowing.  I’m fairly social, but it’s rare that anyone would come up to me in a bar or restaurant.  And I’m not really a member of any sort of social club or organization where I’d meet someone.  I guess my best bet is somehow being introduced to someone through a friend?

Yesterday I was thinking a lot about being 38.  About how it’s so close to 40, and am I really going to get married someday, or is that just a pipe dream?  Again, I’m not trying to sound down on myself or self-pitying, but it does weigh heavily on my mind sometimes.  Luckily, my family never puts any pressure on me to get married.  They know that I wish I were dating someone great.  They also know that I think my weight affects my ability to meet men.  Which I believe it does.  Whether or not it should, if I believe it does, than it must.  It’s like a self-fufilling prophecy of sorts.

I think I’ve come to the point in my life where I am really open to meeting a nice guy.  I’m not going to put a ton of effort into meeting someone, because they say that you find love when you’re least expecting it.   So, I’m saying I’m open to the possibility of meeting someone great.  I’m putting it out there in the universe.  And that’s all I’m going to do.

I’m going to keep living my life like I have been.  Enjoying time spent with friends and family.  Keeping active and losing weight.  Relishing who I am and what I’ve accomplished.  And if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.

And now I’m going for a walk to get outside of the house (and out of my own head) to enjoy the music on my iPod and the sights, sounds, and sun around my neighborhood.

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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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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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