Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year-in-Review (warning: lots of words to follow!)

I’ve been sort of been MIA lately. Truth is, I don’t have a good excuse, especially considering I’m currently on day 7 of an 11-day break from work. I haven’t left town. I haven’t completed any big projects (unless you count cleaning my house and putting away Christmas presents, because in my opinion, that is a big project). Yet somehow I still haven’t found the time to blog. But I make no apologies. My un-plugged break was much needed, especially considering I’ve had a bit on my mind lately. I’ve sort of been stumped, stifled, dry. But today it’s come back to me. The inspiration, the motivation, the urge to write!

And I don't think I can let the end of December come and go without doing the quintessential “year-in-review” post. It’s quite crazy, when you really think about it, how much life can change in a single year. 365 days. 525,600 minutes (according to a song from one of my favorite plays. In fact, that song is so appropriate at this very minute – go listen to it!). One year ago and here I sit, a changed person in many ways but still very much the same.

Let’s review, shall we?

In January I was featured in Shape magazine and our local newspaper for my weight loss journey. Hard to believe that was already a year ago! Somedays the routine of working out and trying to eat “healthy” gets old. Then I re-read these things and remember why I do it, and it re-energizes me. Hoping for continued motivation and new ways to push myself in 2012!

February was an interesting month. I turned another year older, but my birthday coincided with a stressful time at work (layoffs, high workload, lots of fun stuff). I did start to write down my “love story” with Sean, which gave me a whole new appreciation for the relationship we have today. We can’t forget that the beloved Green Bay Packers also won the Super Bowl!

In March I took the trip of a lifetime with my mom to take care of some family business. We spent the week working hard, but it was an unforgettable experience for both my mom and me.

Who can forget the Royal Wedding in April? A fun experience to witness, even if it was from thousands of miles away, snuggled in bed in the wee hours of the morning. More notably, April marked the second anniversary of Sean’s dad’s death. It still feels like a punch in the stomach to say it, as though I’m learning it again for the first time. April will forever be marked by that memory, but hopefully one day it will get easier to bare.

And then there was May. The first 27 days were probably great in their own rights, but May 28 certainly steals the show. That was the day, after 6 and a half years together, Sean asked me to marry him. Still makes me smile just thinking about it!

June was jam-packed. Sean’s brothers graduated (we were only able to attend his youngest brother’s ceremony). We had a dessert-themed party for his youngest brother. We started making wedding plans. And we celebrated Sean’s birthday (along with our soon-to-be wedding date)!

In July we had a relaxing holiday weekend. Later that month we celebrated our engagement with our friends who threw us a lovely party!

We had our second-annual golf tournament in honor of Sean’s dad in August—another beautiful day and a wonderful event. We also took a trip to visit 2 of my favorite friends in Madison, followed by our (hopefully) annual trip to our friend’s cabin—one of my very favorite weekends of the entire year. We of course made our yearly trip to the Minnesota State Fair and closed out the month with a fun, co-ed baby shower for 2 of our dearest friends.

September was rather quiet, but good times were still had. The month also marked the 10-year anniversary of 9/11…very hard to believe.

My favorite moment of October has to be the birth of my best friend’s daughter. Charlotte’s much-anticipated arrival came a whole week late but not a minute too soon. She’s perfect in every way and I love her to pieces! October was busy in lots of other ways, too. We attended our marriage retreat, made our annual trip to the apple orchard and pumpkin patch, took our engagement photos, and spent a blissful weekend with family when Sean’s brother and his girlfriend came to town.

Of course November is known for Thanksgiving. I also celebrated post-Thanksgiving with a very memorable late-night/early-morning shopping trip with my mom and sister. Unfortunately, November also marked the second round of layoffs in a year at work. This time we lost even more friends and colleagues, a tough day with lasting effects for those of us still there.

And now there's December. We spent some quality time with family and friends, and decorated the house with Christmas spirit (and after all that work, no one even saw it but us!). I contemplated some significant changes, but in the end came to a decision that was difficult but felt entirely right. And then there was Christmas. I never got around to writing about it, but we had a wonderful holiday with lots of family time.

So here we are, teetering on the verge of a new year, with both wonderful and not-so-wonderful memories behind us in 2011. I think 2012 is going to be a good year. There will be challenges and obstacles for sure, but also joy and opportunity and love. I’m excited just thinking about everything that is ahead of us. I wonder what this post will look like this time next year?

Wishing all of you a safe and happy New Year—with a blessed 2012 to follow!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

From our family to yours, we wish you a very merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thinking about change

“Change is good.”

Not sure where exactly the phrase comes from but you hear it all the time. Whether it’s the truth or simply intended to be something you can repeat over and over again until you actually believe that change is indeed good, I’m not sure. Or maybe it’s both?

Regardless, it’s not my point here. In fact, I’m not sure I have a point. But let’s just go with it, see where this road is going.
So anyway. Change.

To be honest, it scares me sometimes. I tend to be a creature of habit. A lover of familiarity. A firm believer in, “if ain’t broke (meaning seriously shattered and unfixable), don’t fix it.”

But that isn’t always the best way to be, is it? Sometimes you have to take big risks to get big rewards. And sometimes you have to take big risks to learn big lessons (from big mistakes). Wouldn’t it be nice if you could tell the difference ahead of time?

I tend to be a worrier so I probably stress a little more about change—or the possibility of change—than I should. I’m trying to be better about having faith in my decisions, trusting my gut, and doing what feels right.

In the end, change will likely work out in its own way. It becomes the new routine, the new normal. Or it leads you to discover things you never knew about yourself. Or if you’re lucky, it does both.

Faith and hope, it’s all I can put into the potential change in my life these days. I guess I’ll leave the rest to the Big Guy upstairs.

How do you deal with change? Any words of wisdom about embracing change?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas cookies: Melting Moments

I wanted to share with you a recipe for one of our favorite Christmas-time cookies: Melting Moments. These tiny little treats are delicious(and melt-in-your-mouth good, hence the name!). Plus, they’re super easy to make.

Here’s what you’ll need (the recipe says it makes about 3 dozen. I doubled the info below and probably got about 4-5 dozen):
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup corn starch
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup (1 and ½ sticks) butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 tspn vanilla extract
And here’s what you do:
  1. Combine the flour, corn starch, and powdered sugar in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Put the butter in a large bowl and beat it with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.
  3. Add the flour mixture and the vanilla extract to the butter.
  4. Beat well until blended. (If the dough feels a little too sticky or soft, you can chill the dough in the fridge for a bit to firm it up a bit.)
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 and start rolling the dough into 1-inch balls.
  6. Place them on ungreased baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges start to get just slightly brown.
  8. Remove from the pan and let cool on parchment paper.
Some people stop here, but we like to frost ours (and add sprinkles). We use a basic frosting recipe – you can really do it any way you’d like. We use, roughly:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tspn milk
  • 2 tspn light corn syrup
  • ¼ tspn almond extract
Stir it all together (you can add food coloring if you want, too) and frost away! Sometimes you kind of have to add to the frosting as needed. If it’s not liquid enough, add a little more milk. If it gets too runny, add a little more powdered sugar. Pretty simple.

ENJOY! If you decide to try them out, let me know what you thought!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas has appeared in our house

It's beginning to look a lot more like Christmas in our house. We finally got the tree decorated. The Christmas box has been carefully unpacked and the trinkets are scattered throughout the house. We don't have people over all that often, so it's unlikely our Christmas cheer will be seen by many. But if nothing else, the season is alive for the two of us - and the dog, too, of course.

And, I can share it with all of you!

Here's a mini photo tour:
Oliver likes to be a helper (and he just looks so darn cute, doesn't he?)

Last year's ornament - our first home!
Our ornament for this year - engaged!

Just a little glimpse at our Christmas decorations. Do you decorate for the holidays? I'd say this is the first year we've really gone all out, meaning we've actually gone above and beyond the Christmas tree. It's actually a lot of fun (but you may want to ask me again when the time comes to take it all down).

Less than two weeks till Christmas now - can you believe it?!?

Friday, December 9, 2011

In my happy place

Today, for what feels like the first time in weeks, I've finally had a chance to catch my breath. I'm feeling a little on top of the world.
I had the day off from work, mostly because I had vacation time to burn but also just so I could get some things done. I am feeling productive and festive and refreshed - and it's only the BEGINNING of the weekend.

I started the day at the gym, followed by a trip to the grocery store (checked that task off my to-do list a whole day earlier than normal? Wahoo!). I came home to our disaster of a house and got to work trying to put it back together. Two hours later it was glistening clean AND the Christmas tree was finally decorated. It's currently glowing softly in the corner of the room. I'm pretty sure I feel a huge weight lift off my shoulders every time I look up and see it complete.

We had an appointment for a home energy audit, so they came this afternoon to weather-proof our doors, change our light bulbs to high efficiency ones, and check up on other energy sources in the house. We live in a really old house, so it gets pretty drafty. I swear I can already tell a difference near the doors. And we got the service for half-off through our local newspaper. One of the greatest investments yet!

I finished the afternoon baking some Christmas cookies. Have you heard of Melting Moments? They're a favorite around here, and super easy to whip up. I'll share the recipe next week.

On most other Fridays, I'd be just leaving work right about now. While I'm sure I would have been productive in other ways, there's something especially gratifying about everything I got done today - and I got to do it all in my own time. Since Christmas is 2 weeks away and I'm not done with my shopping, I can only hope this productivity carries into tomorrow.

Happy weekend friends!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sometimes and Always

Megan over at Mackey Madness started a fun link up called Sometimes & Always - and I'm excited to be joining in!

Sometimes: I get really excited about the holiday season.  
Always: I feel guilty for finding joy in it when it can be such a sad and difficult time, too.

Sometimes: I think seriously about a complete career change.
Always: I change my mind because it’d be too hard to start all over.

Sometimes: I have a potty mouth.
Always: I regret it the second I let it slip.

Sometimes: I think my dog is going to drive me literally C.R.A.Z.Y.
Always: I love him like he’s my actual child.

Sometimes: I get so excited for our wedding I can hardly contain myself.
Always: I get nervous (for both of us) about being the center of attention.
Sometimes: I think that money could solve a lot of problems.
Always: I know that the things that make me happiest in life don’t have a single thing to do with money.

Sometimes: I miss the days when hanging out with friends was a given—every day after school and on weekends.
Always: I marvel at the way our friendships have grown, even if we go weeks without seeing each other.

Thanks to Megan for such a fun idea!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Weekends like this

I live for weekends like this one. While I didn’t get as much accomplished as I had hoped last week, it was still wonderful.

Friday night we had dinner with my mom, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing. We also spent 2 hours working on our Christmas tree. In order to solve the mysterious problem with the lights on the pre-lit tree, we decided to just take them all off and start over. It was a great idea—at first. Turns out it took us much longer than we could have imagined. More on that in a minute.
Saturday we took care of our usual routine – the gym, the grocery store, errands, a nap. We also picked up the real tree that we get from our realtor every year and delivered it to my mom, since we decided to go the artificial route this year. We put in 4 more hours on the Christmas tree (2 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon). We had dinner at one of Sean’s favorite local delis, and amidst the snow that had been falling all day, it was the perfect comfort food. We finished the day by bowling with friends. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time – it was a great night!
I woke up Sunday determined to get the last of the lights of the tree. Two and a half hours later, the last strand was finally loose. Hoorah! That’s 8 ½ total hours, if you’re keeping track. Whew! Of course, I was a little Christmas-tree’d out so I haven’t had the motivation to decorate it yet, but we’ll get there soon. My body ached from being hunched over the tree all weekend, so Sean suggested I take a bath. Best. Idea. Ever. I practically fell asleep to the hum of the jets and the steam billowing around me.

We finished the day with a few of my favorite things. We had dinner with Sean’s family (I tried out a new recipe for baked spaghetti, and it was delicious!). When we got home, I had some hot chocolate while reading a couple magazines.

 Perfect end to a relaxing weekend!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Routine disorder

Meet our Christmas tree…
It’s been sitting in that very state since we brought it home Sunday afternoon (Sean's mom got a new artificial tree and gave us her old one, we just have to figure out why some of the lights aren't working). It taunts us, begging us, please fix me. It’s a sad state of affairs, really. Its branches all astray. Clumps of lights strewn wildly about. The bag carelessly tossed to the side, unmoved since the second the tree emerged.

Lazy, I tell ‘ya. That’s pretty much our only excuse. The house is full of clutter and a bit disorderly. And the giant, undecorated Christmas tree right smack in the middle of the room certainly isn’t helping.

It’s funny how every weekend we manage to restore the house to a glistening clean and we sigh and look at each other and say, “we should really try and keep it this way this week.” And then life gets in the way. We leave the house under the dark morning sky, and return—if we’re lucky—just early enough to see the last bit of dusk fade into the horizon. And since we go to bed earlier than most infants and geriatrics, the time in-between is excruciatingly brief.

So somewhere in the very little time we have to ourselves, I lose my motivation. I don’t want to scrub the dishes or empty the dishwasher. I have no patience for sorting the mail and organizing the recycling. I don’t always want to fold clothes or put things away in their carefully assigned places.

So we don’t. Five days a week we go to work and come home and just be. Sure the house is a little messier than either of us prefer it, and we don’t often have much to show for evening productivity. But the weekend will come around and order will be restored and all will be well. In the meantime, all week-long, we get to do things our way, even if that includes ignoring the broken Christmas tree in the middle of the room for days on end.

And I’m not sure I’d have it any other way.