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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The gift of giving

Growing up, most of us are taught that "'tis better to give than to receive." Children often struggle with this because they simply aren't mature enough to understand such selfless behavior. But as we get older, we learn to love the joy that comes from giving to others. Of course this can't be true for everyone. Some children do realize the joy of giving. Some adults don't. But in my experiences, I've found that for most people, generosity runs deep.

I've been blessed by many acts of generosity. Big or small, they mean so much to me. I don't ever feel deserving, but always feel grateful. And it's for that reason that I'm determined to always pay it forward.

I am a bad gift-giver. At least, I can never seem to come up with great ideas on my own. I have a friend who always has great ideas, so I tend to look for her for ideas when needed. But as terrible as I am at coming up with ideas, I do love giving gifts. I love seeing the smiles on their faces. I love making someone excited. I love giving them something completely surprising. But most of all, I love giving something to someone who gives me so much all year-round, material or not.

I don't think it's entirely selfish to wish for things for youself every now and then, too. It's human. And more than likely - you deserve it! But also take some time to think about others. I guarantee you'll find happiness in it!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Weekly Wednesday Top 10

It may be hard to believe that it’s Thanksgiving time already, but the bitter cold and messy weather is a sure sign that winter has arrived (and is here to stay).

A combination of things—the grey and dreary season, the sadness of the holidays without loved ones—can make it hard to put a smile on your face at times like these. But, especially on a day devoted to it, I’m trying extra hard to remember the blessings in my life and give thanks.

The top 10 things I’m thankful for this year:
  1. My family. Every one of them. My mom, my siblings, grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins, 2nd cousins, 4th cousins 3 times removed (ok, I may have made that one up). And even though we’re not married (*yet*), I very much consider Sean’s family to be like family to me. So I’m thankful for each and every one of them, too.
  2. My house. Even though being a homeowner has its challenges, I feel very blessed to have a roof over my head and a place to call home at the end of the day. I’m proud of the house that Sean and I bought together and the home it’s become in the last 7 months.
  3. My job. I have had jobs in the past where I absolutely dread going to work. For the past 4+ years, I’ve been lucky to have a job I love, a company I can stand behind, and co-workers who make my day-to-day life an absolute joy. It is work—so not every day feels like a blessing—but when it comes down to it, I’m very thankful for it. And knowing how many people who are out of work in these difficult times (my boyfriend included), I can’t help but see it as a blessing, too.
  4. Speaking of boyfriends - I’m thankful for him, too. I kind of covered it in the family section, but he deserves his own number. He has incredible patience. After all, he has put up with me for 6 years! He has a big heart and is incredibly loyal, not just to me but to his family and friends. I love him very much and absolutely give thanks for him!
  5. Friends. Like any friendship, we have our ups and downs, but it just shows the power of the love we have for each other. My friends are great companions, fearless partners in crime, devoted advocates, and hilarious sidekicks. I’m certainly blessed to have them in my life!
  6. Health. With the way things go wrong in my family, it’s a miracle I’ve avoided significant illness or injury! But seriously, I am very lucky to be in relatively good health. I’ve worked very hard over the last year and a half to get to a healthier place, and this year especially, I am thankful for giving gotten there.
  7. Oliver. Nothing better than coming home to see him so excited to see me, or to have him snuggled up next to me in the middle of the night. He knows when I’m sad and need a little extra attention. He is a great companion – even if he’s naughty sometimes.
  8. Days off work, be it weekends or vacation days. Waking up without an alarm. Spending the morning on the couch with my boys. A carefree day doing whatever I want or need. Love it!
  9. Faith. I have a long way to go to be the Christian I want to be, but I’m very thankful for freedom of religion and the role God plays in my life.
  10. Memories. I thrive on the incredible memories I have—of my childhood, my high school years, and even of just days ago. Memories in my mind and in photographs are beautiful reminders of the blessings that I’ve had before and make me excited for all those to come, too.
Happy Thanksgiving. I wish you and your families a safe, happy, blessed holiday!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I'm done!

I am officially done with my MBA and it feels great! Actually, it doesn't feel a whole lot different. But I'm sure as the days keep passing and I don't have homework to do, it will really start to set in.

It's Sunday already. Another weekend flew by. This time I'm not quite as annoyed because I only have to work 2 days this week! Tomorrow is like my Thursday. I can definitely get on board with that!

Friday night Sean and I went out to dinner with both of our moms to celebrate completing my MBA. The food was great and it was a very nice evening. Yesterday we saw a move (The Next 3 Days - I really enjoyed it!), but other than that, have done little else. It's been a very relaxing weekend. I just finished cleaning the whole house. I hate cleaning but LOVE the feeling when it's all said and done, so it was definitely worth it.

Thanksgiving is just a few days away. The holiday season is almost officially underway. I can't believe it. It really doesn't feel like long ago that we were doing this last year. To be honest, I like Thanksgiving but it's never been a huge holiday for us. I'm looking forward to good food, a relaxing day, some time off work, and not much else. And before we know it, it will be Christmas. Hard to believe!

There's little to report today so I'll leave it at that. Check back later this week for a Thanksgiving-themed Top 10!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Weekly Wednesday Top 10

This past week we got the season’s first snowfall. And what a snowfall it was. It seems to me that we got enough for it to probably stick around for the long-haul, which means we probably won’t be seeing our lawn again for quite a few months.

I’ve mentioned it before but I’m not a huge fan of winter. I don’t particularly enjoy putting on a coat every time I leave the house. And I certainly don’t like paying an arm and a leg in heating costs. And let’s not mention what the cold air does to my skin, my hair, and let’s be honest, my mood most days, too.

But, I live in Minnesota. In fact, I love Minnesota. I’ll probably never move out of the city limits of St. Paul, and that’s not just a prediction, it’s a dream. Since I’m not going to be relocating any time soon, it’s time to grin and bear it.

So I’m trying to start this winter season off on a positive note. What are the good things about winter?
  1. No yard work (except for shoveling). Who am I kidding? Sean is amazing and does 99% of the yard work anyway. But not having it looming over our heads is kind of nice anyway. 
  2.  Boots. I’ve not yet mastered the Uggs-over-the-jeans look, and my terrible balance makes for a bit of challenge when trying to slip my boots on before rushing out the door. But…their cozy warmth makes my feet very happy all winter long.
  3. My birthday! It falls in February, the perfect point to break up the winter months – shortly after Christmas and just before spring begins peaking through. I’m not quite to the age where I dread birthdays yet, so this stays on my winter positives list. Some day it will likely cross over to the other side.
  4. Christmas. For too many reasons that are far too complicated to explain, in the last few years Christmas has had a less-than-exciting feel to it for me sometimes. But, it’s always been my favorite time of year. So I try really hard to still get in the spirit every once in a while. And all it usually takes is some good Christmas music. Case in point: I was driving home from work last night and a good Christmas song was playing. Seeing the lights on the bare trees in our tiny little neighborhood “shopping village” made me feel a little cozy inside. It’s times like that when I feel excited about Christmas and winter.
  5. Hockey. I love to watch hockey – professional, high school, whatever. My brother and sister both play, so I get my fair share of hockey exposure all winter long.
  6. Comfy clothes. There’s nothing like coming home from a long day of work and putting on sweatpants and a baggy old sweatshirt. It instantly puts my mind at ease. And it’s certainly a lot less enjoyable in the warmer months.
  7. St. Patrick’s Day! It’s true that it comes at the end of winter, but it’s still technically winter, so it has to count. And what a great holiday it is!
  8. Candles. I L-O-V-E burning candles that fill the whole house with delicious, wintery aromas.
  9. I feel a little less guilty on nights when I decide to go to bed at 8:00, because hey—at least it’s dark outside (and with that reasoning, I could go to  bed at 5:00 if I wanted to!).
  10. When you really sit back and look at it, the snow is often really pretty. The way it falls lightly over the streets and dusts the tree tops. That is, when you’re not too busy cursing at the messy roads it creates and the shoveling it requires.
So there you have it – at least 10 reasons I can enjoy winter. What about you? What do you enjoy about this time of year?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Crunch time

I'm having a hard time believing it's Monday night already. Where exactly did this weekend go? And where did this day go?

I'm down to the wire on quite a few things this week, which is going to make for a stressful, busy, but hopefully FAST week. I was at the office for almost 10 hours today, and came home and put in a few more hours from the comfort of my couch. I like that kind of work much better, though if I had the choice I'd only do work at work. But, we're nearing the end of a big project our team has been working on so it's crunch time to get things ready for the final presentation.

It doesn't surprise me one bit that the busiest week of work would also fall on the final week of my entire MBA career. I'm glad that I was a bit of an over-achiever and got a lot of my work done for class early, but there's still quite a bit to be done. The deadling - 5 p.m. Friday - is looming and I can already imagine the weight that will magically lift from my shoulders as soon as it passes. I wonder how long it will take me to realize that it's officially over, and not just a break between classes? I can't wait to find out!

So needless to say, life is a bit crazy right now. There's a good chance I may also be getting sick, which again wouldn't surprise me given my luck and the stress I've been under as of late. If it could hold off just a few more days I'd be very grateful.

This past weekend was pretty enjoyable, despite the early season storm that blew through on Saturday. We were lucky to have avoided power outages or significant damage, but the cold, heavy, wet snow still did a number on the roads and our spirits. I guess it made it a little less odd to hear Christmas music playing 24/7 on a local radio station. I think we can officially say that winter is here to stay. Never my favorite season. But there's also not much I can do about it, short of uprooting to a warmer climate, so I'll make an effort to grin and bear it (who am I kidding, you know I'll complain all winter long about the cold temps, salt-stained jeans, having to wear coats, and the permanet state of static-cling that my hair inevitably falls into).

I promise to be back for my Weekly Wednesday check-in, but if I'm rather absent the rest of the week, at least you'll know why. See you when I come up for air!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veteran's Day

Today, many people are giving thanks and honoring past and present members of the military, and I feel compelled to do the same. Problem is I can’t seem to find the right words to express my appreciation for them. Their commitment, dedication, courage, bravery, and sacrifice is honorable.

I feel lucky to live in a country with people so proud to defend it. Regardless of your beliefs on war, politics, or anything of the like, today we should all salute the men and women who serve (and their families who support them). I honestly don’t know if it’s a way of life I would have the courage and stamina to lead, so I have the highest respect for those that do.  

Happy Veteran’s Day!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Weekly Wednesday Top 10

Hello migraine—I’ve missed you. I’m so glad you have paid me a visit today. Not.

It’s mid-afternoon and I’m aching to go home. No really, I’m aching. My head is killing me, I’m starting to see spots that suggest a massive migraine looming in my near future. And since I’m already complaining, I might as well throw a sore back, general crabbiness, and a touch of stress in there.

Ok, I’m done now.

Anyway, in the interest of sparing you any further rant and sparing me a few less minutes squinting at the computer screen, today’s top 10 is going to be a quick one.

Top 10 of my favorite places to shop

1.     Mall of America

The End.

Just kidding. But you can pretty much find anything at the Mall of America. And lucky for me it’s not too far from my house.

One thing you can’t find at MOA though, is my definite #1 on my real top 10 favorite places to shop list:
  1. Target (enough said)
  2. Banana Republic (Gorgeous clothes)
  3. Old Navy (cute and affordable – the best combination)
  4. Home Goods (Two words: a-ddicting)
  5. DSW (I love shoes. Yet somehow wear the same 2-3 pairs almost every day. Hmm.)
  6. IKEA (someday I will succeed in having a whole room that looks like it came straight from their catalog.
  7. Gap (apparently I keep this company in business, seeing as how 2 of their other stores are also on my list)
  8. iTunes (does that count? It has the word “store” in it, and I pay for things. So I’m going to say it counts!)
  9. Len (a store I recently discovered in the skyways with a coworker. Love it!)
  10. Barnes and noble (I love to read. I should really start visiting the library though.)
So there you have it. Over and out.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

Empathy

A couple of months ago we had a 2-day department retreat for work. One of the activities we did was a thinking preferences assessment. The exercise was designed to help us better understand ourselves, and how to work more effectively with others because of these different styles. It was definitely one of the highlights of the retreats for all of us; we still reference our thinking preferences on a regular basis.

I found it very interesting. Like most people, I was not terribly surprised by my own results. Before we were given our results, we went through the 4 main quadrants and were asked to write down which we thought sounded most like us. When it came time to open our sealed envelopes of results, almost all of us were right!

While I learned a lot of things, or reaffirmed a lot of things, through this exercise, there is one particular area I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. One of these quadrants shows people who tend to exhibit a lot of empathy. This quadrant was tied with another quadrant for my most significant preferences.

Empathy is most often a good thing. The trusty Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as:

the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this

Sounds great – being able to understand and relate to people around you and the feelings and experiences they are going through. Sometimes, I wonder if I can be empathetic to a fault.

I find myself compelled to take care of the people around me all of the time. I like helping others. But sometimes, especially when it comes to those closest to me, I feel like I can literally feel their pain. When they are hurting, stressed, or struggling with something, I take those feelings on so much so that you would think it were me experiencing them firsthand. Like the definition says above, “vicariously experiencing the feelings.” My goodness I couldn’t have said it better myself!

So how then do you find a balance? I enjoy being able to help others and express empathy when they’re going through tough times (and good times too!). But somewhere you have to draw a line. You can’t possibly take on everyone’s problems—everyone’s feelings—when you have your own authentic feelings, too. You can help them through them, and be a supporter when they need it, but you can’t do everything. Lord knows I would if I could, but I just don’t think it’s healthy—for them or for me.

So I’m making it a goal to try harder to recognize those differences—to let empathy be a part of me, but not consume me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stop drop and roll

It's good to know I still remember fire safety training I've learned over the years. Even if I don't actually need it.

This weekend Sean was staying with his brother while his mom was out of town, so Oliver and I (and the mice) were left to hold down the fort on our own. I tend to let my mind get the best of me in these situations, so every noise, every creak of this 100+ year-old house puts me on edge.

So when I woke up at 5 o'clock this morning to Oliver sitting on top of me, shaking like a leaf, I instantly panicked. It wasn't storming, and that's usually the only other time he gets like that, so I wasn't sure what he was sensing that I wasn't. Then I heard the smoke detector beep.

I shot straight up in bed and thought, "of course, the one night I'm alone the house would start on fire," as I pictured myself crawling out the tiny window of our second floor bedroom in my tank top and boxer shorts. If you haven't figured this out by now, I'm a huge over-reactor.

So I jumped out of bed and remembered learning at some point in life to always feel the door handle for heat to see if there is fire outside the door. Let me mention that I had only heard the smoke detector beep once. Obviously it would be a little more constant if there was a fire!

The handle was cold to the touch so I opened the door. Not seeing any smoke or hearing either of the 2 detectors going off, I thought it could be the carbon monoxide detector. I run downstairs and check that one, but there was nothing. Suddenly I hear the beep again, this time noticing the woman who politely shouts "battery low" after the beep. The smoke detector in the upstairs hallway was losing its backup battery (it's hard-wired, but insists on beeping if the battery doesn't work).

So at 5:00 I had to take the shaking dog, drive to Walgreens (thank God for 24/7!), buy batteries, and come home to try and replace the damn thing. It took me a while, again because it was hard wired and connected to active electrical wires in the ceiling, but I did it! Good to know that if it had been a fire, I remembered my fire safety and had prepared an escape route.

I finally fell back asleep sometime after 6, and woke up shivering around 7. Turns out I had forgotten to turn the heat on before going to bed, so the house was extremely cold. Hey, that's usually Sean's job :) What a morning!

I think we make a better team - I'm not so good at this house stuff on my own!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

This week we discovered a problem

Let me back up. A couple of weeks ago Sean pulled his work belt out of the closet in our first-floor spare bedroom and found that his mace case was full of dog food. It was very strange. We couldn't figure out how in the world the case, which had been in the closet for a few months, could possibly have been filled with food. We passed it off, thinking maybe some food had spilled in the closet or something.

Then, earlier this week, I noticed one morning that Oliver's food bowl was empty. I knew that it had been full when we went to bed the morning before. And Oliver sleeps with us, in our closed bedroom, so I also knew it was nearly impossible that he had time to eat it. When I brought it up to Sean, he thought it was weird, but figured there had to be some reason.

Then on Thursday night, I was watching TV in our bedroom when Sean came upstairs with his boots in hand. As I peared over the side of the bed, I noticed they were full - to the top - with dog food! We looked at each other in shock. We were completely perplexed. I instantly thought we had a ghost. And we don't even believe in ghosts!!

I called my mom and she agreed that it was strange, and said at least it was a funny ghost! Sean called his mom and she brought us back to our sanity with a much more logical explanation - we must have a critter. So I went downstairs and started pulling things out of that closet. Sure enough, I found another pair of shoes stuffed with dog food. And not far behind it? Mouse poop!


We had solved the mystery but instantly created a problem I absolutely dread! I hate mice. Hate them so much that every time I think about them a shiver goes down my spine. I am disgusted and not looking forward to getting rid of these critters. Busy critters at that! I don't even want to think about how many there could be.

Sometimes the "joys" of owning a home are more than I can handle!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Weekly Wednesday Top 10

It’s that time of the year again where most of us in the tundra of Minnesota start dreaming about warm places, fun vacations, or anything other than the depressingly long winter that is only starting.

There are no vacations in my near future. Unless you count a trip to Menard’s. Ahh the joys of being a homeowner!

So I may not be going anywhere fun anytime soon, but a girl can dream.

And that’s where this week’s Top 10 comes in.

Top 10 places I would really love to visit someday:
  1. Ireland – any or all counties are acceptable
  2. Italy – Venice, Rome, Milan, Lake Como—you name it I’ll be there
  3. Greece
  4. Hawaii
  5. Spain
  6. England
  7. Australia
  8. Cayman Islands (my grandpa used to own a house there. The land is still technically in our family, but we hear the house itself has been stripped to virtually nothing.)
  9. Alaska
  10. China
You’ll notice that more than half of my selections are outside the U.S. I’ve done plenty of travelling in my day, but I’m so far from a world traveler it’s not even funny. If it weren’t for the new laws that require a passport to go to Mexico, I probably wouldn’t even own a passport. I think we need to change that!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I'm sorry, did you say November?

It’s been nearly a week since I last posted, which can only mean that I’ve been terribly busy (or lazy, or both). I swear it’s mostly busy.

I’m full swing into my last MBA class EVER and it’s occupying the vast majority of my free time. In the past I’ve been able to get a lot of my course work done at work. Since I go to school at the same place I work, they’re great about letting us do this when our workload allows. In recent months work has just been too busy to do this. It’s fine. After all, homework is intended to be done at home. So understandably, I’ve spent much of my down time at home staying on top of homework. So hours writing in front of the computer at work, and hours writing papers in front of my computer at home, tends to stifle my desire most days to write anything else.

Excuses excuses. I’ve always been the queen of them. But fear not. In 2 and ½ weeks I will have my free time back, at least part of my sanity, and I assure you I will devote more time to this blog. This is the kind of writing I enjoy doing anyway!