Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Weekly Wednesday Top 10

Last year at this time I was enjoying 75+ degree temperatures under the California sun. So far this week I’ve run some errands and spent significant amounts of time curled on the couch under my new blanket watching my new favorite show (both Christmas gifts). It’s far from the sandy beaches of Manhattan Beach, California, but I’ll still take it.

Unfortunately it won’t be too long before I have to come back to reality. We’ll start a new year in just a couple of days, and I’ll be back to work a couple days after that.

I like the refreshing feeling of getting to “start over” as a new year begins, but admittedly that can get a bit cliché at times. As December 31st approaches every year, there’s always so much talk about what has happened in the previous year and what “resolutions” you’re setting for the year ahead. When you think about it, is there really any sort of dramatic shift when you wake up on January 1st? Just because the year changed doesn’t mean that everything that was going on in life yesterday did, too.  

But, if celebrating a new year is what it takes to gain a new perspective, to find inspiration or motivation to do things you have your heart set on, then I guess that’s as good a reason as any!

I’m not going into 2011 with too many goals, plans, or expectations, but in the spirit of the season, I’ll try and come up with a few (or 10).
  1. Turn another year older. There’s no avoiding it; it happens every year. This year, it’s an odd number—not my favorite—but honestly, I’m ok with it. So far, my age doesn’t scare me. Ask me again in 3 years.
  2. Graduate! Technically, I did this in 2010. But in 2011, I’ll get to attend our commencement ceremony, so it will feel a little more real that I finally finished my MBA.
  3. Step up my workouts. I’m getting to the point where my standard workouts don’t always challenge me the way I want them to. Hoping to be a little more bold in 2011 and maybe try some classes or run a 5K.
  4. Go back to school? This is a big question mark, but I’m seriously considering getting my real estate license in 2011. Or at least taking the first class. We’ll see!
  5. Write. I’ve got lots to say. Now that I’m done with graduate school, next year would be a great time to focus on my hobby of writing (in addition to the obligatory writing I do everyday for my job).
  6. Try skiing…again. My first attempt at skiing was sad, to say the least. I’m eager to give it another shot though. With how much snow we’ve had already, I’d say it’s a good time to get out there and try.
  7. Plan a vacation? I won’t likely be going on a vacation in 2011, but maybe I can plan ahead!
  8. Plant a garden. Since we bought this house in the spring, and we were busy getting settled most of the summer, we missed out on a chance to liven up our landscaping. Hoping 2011 will be a great time to spice up the yard!
  9. Shop early. Every Christmas I swear I'm gong to start my shopping early, and every year I'm undoubtedly among the crowds two days before the holiday. Next year - I am determined to change that! 
  10. Win the lottery. Hey – it could happen! Hah!
Nothing too exciting, but I’m trying to be realistic here. What are you hoping for in 2011?

Monday, December 27, 2010

A shy girl goes public

A few months back I was sitting at home paging through the latest issue of Shape magazine. As a subscriber, it’s been a longtime favorite of mine, especially as I’ve gotten more in shape (no pun intended) in recent years. So when that issue had a tiny little call for real weight loss success stories, I decided to throw my story out there, just for fun.

See I tend to be a pretty shy person, so it surprises me still today that I even submitted my information, but I apparently discovered some confidence that day. I thought very little of it as time passed. But then, about a month later, I got an email from an editorial assistant at the magazine. They requested some more info and I obliged. Over the next couple of weeks I continued to communicate back and forth with various people on their editorial staff. They asked if I would be part of a 6-person feature story they were going to run in their January issue.

I grew more and more nervous but agreed, and things progressed pretty quickly. Within 2 weeks they had interviewed me and had sent a photographer and makeup/hairstylist to my house. Then, just last week, the magazine hit newsstands. It’s very strange to see my face—and my “before” picture—in a magazine as widely known as Shape. I was honored to be featured in it. I almost feel like a fraud sometimes, like my story isn’t worthy. But it is real. And looking back at before pictures reminds me of how far I’ve come, especially on days when I start to doubt it.

Their PR staff also pitches stories like those in their January issue to local news outlets, so our neighborhood paper ran a small story recapping the Shape article. And tomorrow, I’m having my photo taken for a story they’re planning to run in the Star Tribune. For whatever reason, the pictures make me the most nervous. So to be honest – I’m most looking forward to having that part over with.

But shy or not – I got myself into this. And people have been so nice about it. No one looks at it with as critical an eye as myself. Most people are simply happy for me, proud of me, and excited for me. So thank you to everyone who has done that. You made this experience much more enjoyable, because you showed me that putting yourself out there for the world to see isn’t as scary as it seems. And maybe that’s a good trial run for seeing my name in print more often in the future (maybe behind the words this time). A girl can dream!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Weekly Wednesday Top 10: Christmas Break!

My 11 day vacation from work starts right now. Cue the huge sigh of relief.

I really love my job. I’ve said it before. But it’s still exciting to have some time away to do absolutely nothing. Unlike last year, there’s no warm destination in store, but I’m sure I’ll still find plenty of relaxation and relief in these next 11 days nonetheless.

And that’s why today’s top 10 covers the top things I’m hoping to accomplish during my stay-cation.

  1. Give the house a deep clean. Put the clutter away—not just hidden but in its rightful place!
  2. Work out at times other than the crack of dawn. And because I won’t have to rush off to work when I’m done, I’m hoping to stretch those workouts a little longer, too.
  3. Spend time with family. One of my favorite parts of the holidays! And my mom and I both have next week off, so there’s plenty of time for that.
  4. See a movie, or a few. Doesn’t matter if it’s in a theater or rented, but I’ve been craving a great flick—preferably one I haven’t seen.
  5. Do some shopping. Part of this is due to my procrastination and need to get some last minute Christmas gifts, but I also hope to browse some after-Christmas sales next week.
  6. Sleep. There’s nothing like waking up without an alarm!
  7. Finish a photo shoot. This story is coming later – I’ve been meaning to post about it for a while, and now that it’s official, I guess it’s ok to do so (watch for it in the next couple days). Anyway, it involves having my picture taken one last time. Quite frankly, I’m more excited to get this over with than actually do it.
  8. Catch up on things I’ve needed to do for a while. Oliver needs a haircut. The car needs an oil change. I finally scheduled my 6-month dentist appointment. Being off work makes all of this much easier!
  9. Get organized. Want to start 2011 off on the right foot, so hoping to get everything in order to make that possible.
  10. And finally—just relax!

I hope you all have a great holiday!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Daydream believer

I’m a bit of a daydreamer sometimes. I enjoy thinking about things that make me happy—even if at times they’re unrealistic. Isn’t that what daydreaming is all about anyway?

So forgive me if I like to stop for a second and envision myself traipsing around Europe or some other foreign country for weeks on end with money as no object.

Yesterday it was a song on the radio that prompted my latest session. It was a song I’ve always envisioned being part of my wedding. Suddenly I pictured our brothers all dressed up in tuxes, Sean surrounded by them and his closest friends. Me with my closest friends huddled in the very room in the church basement where my mom and my best friend got ready for their own weddings. I was overcome with excitement—and not even just about getting married but about seeing our closest loved ones all together to help us celebrate. It’s funny how something as simple as music can set something like that off.

Did I mention that I’m not engaged, and that I’m not getting married anytime soon? (Thus the reason for this being defined as a daydream.) It could even be considered a little crazy—me picking out music for a wedding I don’t have permission to plan yet.

But might I add: most girls do dream about their wedding day at some point, so I’d like to think I’m not that far off my rocker. And I’d liiiikeee to think this daydream isn’t in the completely unrealistic category either. Someday. Unlike endless amounts of cash at my disposal to spend on luxurious vacations for weeks at a time? We know that one’s not happening anytime soon.

What do you daydream about?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sometimes, it's the small things in life!

I’ve always considered myself lucky that on days where I just can’t will myself to put on dress pants, I can slap on a casual day sticker and wear jeans to work. Even when those days occur more than once a week.

So while we already have a good amount of freedom in what we wear to work—at least in our department—I still find myself overjoyed when HR announces extended casual dress. We get casual dress all summer long. And now, they’re giving us casual dress for the rest of the year. Granted, it’s only about a week and a half (and for me 3 days, since I’m out the week after Christmas), but it still makes me extremely happy.

What is it about wearing jeans, or not wearing jeans, that makes such a difference? Honestly…I can’t answer that question. But I will say that our company sure knows a few simple ways to make their employees happy! And it's much appreciated!

So a pleasant surprise on this Friday morning as we near the end of a very long week. I'm very happy to have the weekend upon us. We have our annual Christmas party with our friends tonight, my friend Amy’s wedding tomorrow (and my extended family Christmas in between), and some final Christmas shopping on Sunday. Followed by a 3-day work week and then 11 days off – I think I can handle it.

So here’s where I am: Trying to think positive thoughts. Sending prayers for good news for many people anxiously awaiting it. And hoping for a happy, healthy, and safe Christmas for everyone. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Weekly Wednesday Top 10 - Won't you be my neighbor?

There is something just so comforting about having good neighbors. When we bought our house in April, we learned that someone Sean knew lived across the street with his wife and son. As time went on, the weather warmed up and people began emerging from their houses, so we got to know them and meet some of our other neighbors. Many are younger families—all very sweet and welcoming. I told Sean right away that I thought we had lucked out with a great neighborhood.

The block party was a great time to really meet people and get to know them a little better. They’re always so nice to invite us to neighborhood parties, or even just wave hello as we’re passing each other in the alley.

And last night, we had two of our neighbors (and their son) over for dinner. Sean has known the husband and his family for many years—their parents were friends, among other connections. But I just got to know them after moving to the neighborhood. But after last night, it just reaffirmed what I had thought all along – we have great neighbors!

And there’s something to be said about the difference that can make. When Sean and I looked at buying a house, the neighborhood was important to us. Having both grown up in relatively the same area, we wanted the same experience for our first house together. We knew that buying in St. Paul would probably mean “less house for our money,” but the location topped our list of “must haves.”  So when we found this house, we were excited to have gotten the best of both worlds—a great house to start out in and a great location, too. Little did we know the location was even better than we thought, because we’re surrounded by people who make living on this block an absolute joy!

So needless to say, last night was fun. They’re incredibly nice people, and really fun to be around. They are just 1 household of the many who have become great friends on this block, and I look forward to getting to know them all even more. It certainly helps to overshadow the not-so-fun parts of owning this house (like mice and a wet basement).

So with “location, location, location” on the brain – here are the top 10 things I love about living in St. Paul (or our neighborhood in particular):
  1. The great neighbors (and people in general) – duh!
  2. Convenience. I can run to the local grocery store, or the Super Target, in a matter of minutes! And it’s very centrally located to surrounding cities – easy to get to the suburbs and lots of other fun places in and around the Twin Cities.
  3. St. Small – everywhere you go you’ll run into someone you know or discover a connection between two strangers brought on by living in (or being from) St. Paul.
  4. Memories. I grew up here. Sean grew up here. I drive by my high school every day. I run into my elementary school teachers at the grocery store. Everywhere I go I remember living here all my life, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
  5. Family. My mom lives 6 blocks away. And right in the middle of us, is my grandma. Sean’s family is less than 10 minutes away, just on the other side of the neighborhood. I love being so close to family.
  6. Safety. You’ll find crime in almost any city and St. Paul is no exception. But I still feel relatively safe in my neighborhood, and well protected by our public servants J
  7. It’s a fun city. Examples: the Wild (hockey) play in St. Paul, we’ve got lots of great restaurants, lots to see and do!
  8. It’s the best of both worlds. I can go to the “big-box” retailers or a “mom-and-pop” shop. I can live in a quiet neighborhood but still be minutes from downtown. I get small-town living in the big city!
  9. Camaraderie. People are always there to help you dig your car out from under 3 feet of snow or push you through an intersection when you’re stuck in snow ruts. And when the popular neighborhood burger joint is destroyed by fire, they organize a fundraiser for staff who will be out of work over the holidays – in a matter of days! Minnesota nice right here in St. Paul!  
  10. And finally, it feels like home. Plain and simple. I drive around town and feel completely, 100% at home. I come back from vacation and breathe a big sigh of relief at the familiar surroundings. I love that feeling!
As a disclaimer, I am not saying you wouldn’t find any of these reasons in any other city in Minnesota. These are just the reasons that I (having done it for 25+ years) find living in St. Paul enjoyable.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Let it snow?

They warned us on the news – a big winter storm was coming. I mostly brushed it off. The third one of the season—and it’s only the middle of December? I’ve got to be used to it by now.

Boy was I wrong!

This was THE storm of the century (hey, we're only 10 years in, so we can say that). They say we haven’t seen this much snow since the infamous Halloween blizzard of ’91. I barely remember that one. And let’s face it, as a kid you don’t have to worry about driving in it, shoveling it, or any other fun snow-related responsibility.

But this one? Oh this one I’m going to remember!

When I let Oliver out to go potty early Saturday morning, there was already quite a bit of snow on our deck, and the screen door was starting to get difficult to open. Sean and I went out and did round 1 of snow removal, with him on the snowblower and me on the shovel. Now that I think about it, how did I get the short end of that stick?

More than an hour later we were somewhat cleared out, but the snow was falling fast and quickly covering up the work we’d already accomplished. We later decided to brave the roads and made it safely to his parents’ house with our snowblower. We hung out there most of the afternoon, and did a round of snowblowing and shoveling there, too. When we got home around 7, we decided we better tackle our sidewalks again because it was going to be bitterly cold by morning.

Somewhere in the middle of this third round, I remember Sean smiling at me as I shouted “I blame you for this, you know! You wished for this!”  See, he loves snow, and always gets excited when the forecast shows lots of it. I guess this was his dream come true. For some reason I wasn’t overjoyed for him at 8 o’clock at night in the blistering wind as I moved shovel-full after shovel-full of snow and still barely made a dent! I wonder why?

But in reality, I was so glad that we put in all that work on Saturday, because the below zero temps and wind chills on Sunday not only made the snow harder to move, but also made it terribly unpleasant to be outside in.

I joke that I got the short end of the stick by having to shovel, but Sean probably got the short end of the stick by having me as his helper. I didn’t have much to cover—the back walkway, the deck, the front stairs—but it took me plenty of time to do it. And when I struggled, Sean gladly took hold and cleared it much faster than me. He even was so sweet to clear the paths for many of our neighbors, including our sweet neighbor who on Saturday had to attend her 99-year-old brother’s funeral. She adores Sean. It’s cute! So really, I tease but I’m insanely lucky to have him!

So it seems as though it’s going to take quite some time for the cities to dig out from this blizzard. I honestly wonder if we will do it before the spring thaw! The snow has swelled to enormous heights in our backyard, so I’m not sure where we’re going to put the rest of it if we get anymore this winter. Chances are we won’t be getting any snow-melting temperatures before the next snowfall, so I guess we’ll have to find a way.

(One side of the back yard - the deck is under part of it, somewhere) 

(Look how high up to the fence the snow goes!)

(View from the garage - and this was already after shoveling once!)

(The front stairs - looks more like a sledding hill)
Oh the joys of living in Minnesota!

And on a side note: I don't think Uggs were made for shoveling 2 feet of snow. Good thing I found my snow boots AFTER we were done with this storm!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Loving memory

I haven’t written much this week, but not for lack of interest. To be honest, I just haven’t been able to find the right words to say. This week I’m just sad.

Nearly 3 years ago, we lost one of the most unique, compassionate, remarkable women I have ever known. My aunt Morning died on Dec. 9, 2007. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long, because I can still remember fondly her laugh, her smell, her warm embrace. Every time I talked to her she called me “honey” or “sweetie” throughout the conversation. But it wasn’t just with me. It was like that with everyone. She was so personable and friendly. At her funeral, my uncle’s eulogy (read by one of my cousins) recounted different stories about how she became instant friends with almost anyone—including a Verizon customer service rep and a grocery store clerk. That’s exactly how she was.

And I hate—with a fiery anger and deep sadness—that I have to say that’s how she was.

I miss her all the time. Like it is with anyone I’ve lost, I find myself suddenly “remembering” she’s gone (as though I could ever forget) and feeling as though I’ve had the wind knocked out of me.

Morning was beyond beautiful, more tender and loving than anyone else could ever hope to be. She was someone you couldn’t help but love—deeply and unconditionally. She had an amazing ability to wrap you up in warmth and laughter, to make you feel as though you were the most important person in the world. And I truly believe that to Morning, you were. She found the ultimate joy in the simple pleasures of conversation, of companionship, of love.

I miss those moments with her. Growing up, she was like a second mother to me. Her kids and I—especially her son Andrew, with whom I was only 3 months apart—were nearly inseparable. I spent as much time with them as I did with my own family. And as I got older, our relationship grew into a friendship, too. She was special to me. She was special to everyone.

Devastation does not begin to describe what it was like to lose her, not only for me but surely for our entire family. I can’t pretend to imagine even a little bit what it’s like for her husband and children. I can’t pretend to have the right words to say. I can’t pretend to do justice in describing how incredible she was to the very people who knew her best. And I certainly can’t pretend to verbalize what it’s like to lose that. I can only hope they know that we all share in their grief and remember her for the incredible person she was. As often as I think about her, I think about them too, and pray for them as they deal with this tremendous loss every day for the rest of their lives.

The other night I was looking through the photos I have of her. I must have gone through them 10 times. I sat there and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I stared in her eyes and ached for the longing just to talk to her one more time. To hug her. To have her back with us.

The cruel truth is that it’s impossible to change the past. If it weren’t, the deaths of our loved ones would top my list of things to undo. Instead, we have to find the strength and courage to go on despite the tragedies, the hardships, the pain. To be honest, some days this feels impossible. But as I wrote in an earlier post, I want to try my hardest to fight through it:

I want, for me and for anyone who has lost a loved one, to know that just because a person is gone, their legacy and the imprint they’ve had on our lives goes on. I want to remember them fondly. I want to cry every once in a while (or more than that). I want to get angry sometimes and ask “why.” I want to be sad when they can’t be here to share in life’s most important moments. I want to smile when I think of them. I want to tell my kids and grandkids about them and how special they were. I want to do good, even big, things with my life. I want to make them proud. I want to remember that they’re with God, a belief I truly couldn’t get through such pain without.

I want to find a way to let grief be a part of me, but not all of me. Some days it feels like it is all of me. That’s ok, too, because I don’t want it to go away either. As much as our loved ones were a part of our life, the grief will be, too.

So this week, I’m remembering her. I’m trying not to remember the horrible day our whole world turned upside down. Instead, I’m trying to focus on that beautiful smile. Her goofy sense of humor. Her deep love for everyone—especially her husband, children, and grandchildren. In that I find hope. In the beauty of her grandchildren, the incredible grace and strength of her husband and children, I find inspiration. In our family, I find comfort. In our memories, I find wisdom. And in God, I find faith.

I am truly blessed to be a part of my big, crazy family. I know that our family will never be the same, and in many ways, that makes me sad, too. But I still cherish every part of it—the ups and the downs—because I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wouldn’t trade a single thing for the blessing that is my family, especially the blessing that was Morning. And though I’ve rambled on much longer than I planned, it all comes down to this:  I miss her. I love her. I wish she was here.

Here’s a link to her memorial video, if you’re interested.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Weekly Wednesday Top 10

The thermometer may say it’s 19 degrees out, but the wind makes it feel much colder. When I was leaving the grocery store tonight, the cashier wished me a good night and said, “Go home and hug a radiator.” If I had a radiator—I probably would have done it. It’s cold out there.

So I’m happy to be home, snuggled up on my couch, blanket draped over my lap, PJs on, and a full tummy!

Which brings me to this week’s Top 10. My favorite weekday dinners.

I am so far from a good cook that my idea of an elaborate dinner is anything that requires a stove or an oven. But I’m trying. I actually really like to cook—I’m just not that great at it. So most of our weekly dinners around here are much of the same and are certainly nothing to brag about. But they fulfill our picky-eater tastes, are usually relatively reasonable in terms of nutrition, and best of all, they’re easy!

Our favorites as of late:
  1. Whole wheat pasta with pesto sauce and chicken (we probably have this at least once a week)
  2. Homemade pizzas with tortilla shells as the crust (one of Sean's dad's famous recipes - delish!)
  3. Breakfast (nothing like a.m. food to fill you up in the p.m.)
  4. "Grandma's Chicken" (not from either of our grandmas, but from a friend's grandma. Chicken breast covered in swiss cheese, cream of chicken soup, and bread crumbs served over brown rice)
  5. Tacos (made with ground turkey instead--a common substitute for lots of typically ground beef dishes in this house)
  6. Turkey burgers on the grill (though this is more of a warmer-season meal)
  7. Mrs. Grass Soup (with dumplings and saltines, and sometimes a grilled cheese...mmmmm)
  8. Pot roast (anything I can put in a crockpot and leave alone for 8 hours is high on my list)
  9. Quesadillas (compliments of our nifty quesadilla-maker: a black Friday '09 steal!)
  10. Ravioli (so simple, so good)
So there you have it. We probably have these things 95% of the time, so if you have great recipes to share - please do!