Thursday, December 31, 2009
Ten years ago, I was in California, home on Christmas break, and would go out for a wild New Year’s Eve with a group of girlfriends from high school, as was my tradition then. I was entering my junior in college. My boyfriend, Andrew, and I had just broken up (for the first of many times) because he was moving to Italy. He still called me everyday though.
Six years ago, I was living in China. I had a big party in my apartment with lots of people from all over the world. It was fun, but I was single and I missed having someone to kiss at midnight.
Four years ago, Chuk and I celebrated our first New Year’s Eve together. We had been dating for less than a month and I went to a party at his house. That night was the first time he ever told me he loved me and, funnily enough, the first time I ever got mad at him.
Today is my first New Year’s Eve as a wife. Over the last two or three days, Chuk has thrown together an impromptu party at our place for tonight. I hope to spend the afternoon at Ikea while Chuk finishes cleaning up for the party. (Our houseguests just left this morning.) I expect it all, the rest of the day and tonight, to be relaxed and low-key.
These last ten years have encompassed the best and worst times of my life. I’ve experienced a lot of loss, but a lot of growth too. I spent my 20s figuring out who I am and what I want and I hope that this next decade, my 30s, I’ll figure out how to get it.
A very happy New Year’s Eve to all of you out there in cyberspace. I’m so glad Y2K didn’t wipe out all the computers because it allowed us to meet. I look forward to sharing this next year with you all.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Sorry for the picture quality and the grey rectangles. I don't know what the deal is with my camera phone.
Alas, this is not a perfect world. The homemade stockings for Chuk and me will have to wait until next year. In the meantime, we'll use our mis-matched ones that we brought into the marriage. For our guests, I bought $0.99 stockings at Target. I still needed to be able to tell which was for whom though, so instead of building a snowman on Monday, I monogrammed their stockings. The job isn't perfect, my embroidery skills aren't great and I didn't have any red floss so I had to use green, but I think it adds some much needed chic-ness to otherwise cheap stockings.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Of course I want lots of intangible things like an end to hunger and thirst, eradication of malaria, world peace, inner peace, a better temperament, a solution the climate crisis, etc. For my list of what I want for Christmas, I'm going to stick to material items. And because I don't want to bore you with all 36 items on my Amazon list, I'll tell you the things I don't think I'm going to get. These are in no particular order.
1. A butler bag because I hate having to dig around in my purse to find things.
2. A Wii. I seriously love the boxing game and I think it would increase my exercise level from zero to some.
3. A forget me knot ring because I love thin rings and also I think it is super cute and unique.
4. This comforter set. I might buy it for myself after Christmas if it goes on sale. Little known fact: I'm obsessed with bedding. Getting into clean sheets and shopping for bedding are like my favorite things in the world.
5. Rolls of satin ribbon. I have had a ribbon obsession (apparently I have a lot of obsessions...hmm...) that stems from my infancy. Throughout my childhood, I couldn't fall asleep unless I was rubbing a ribbon. Even now I love to rub ribbons, or even satiny tags on clothes. Um, this post is starting to dissolve from "Friend Makin' Monday" into "psychoanalyze what a weirdo Meghan is" pretty quickly.
6. These super-cute embroidery patterns, which I would embroider on a set of dishtowels.
7. A Craftsman bungalow.
8. A job in my chosen profession.
9. A trip to Ireland. We were supposed to go for my birthday, but that didn't work out for a variety of reasons. We're hoping to go sometime this year though, probably in the spring. Paradoxically, if I get a job, it's unlikely we'll go because it will be hard for me to accrue enough vacation time.
Now that you've seen my motley assortment, what are you lusting for this Christmas? Alternatively, what gift are most excited to give?
I myself was in that situation last Christmas. I wanted to get Chuk a bike, because his had been stolen, but I knew he wanted a very specific kind. I asked lots of questions about what kind of bike he wanted, but I didn't want him to know I was getting him a bike, so I was asking in a conversational way, rather than getting a list of specs. Well, it was too technical and too complicated for me to understand the exact type of bike he wanted and I didn't want to blow a bunch of money on something that wasn't going to be what he needed. (I've since learned bikes are kind of like shoes; you have to "try them on" to make sure they fit your body type.) Long story short, I decided to give him the money to buy a bike himself.
I still wanted the gift to be special though because it's a little weird to hand your fiance a check and say, "Merry Christmas." Inspired by this post, I made him a pop-up money holder. I used a file folder, pictures cut out from magazines, and a photo I printed out on regular paper of Chuk to make a collage of him with a bike outdoors. Please notice the only picture of a bike I could find was a child's orange bike with training wheels and that the picture of road I had wasn't big enough, so I colored an extension with crayon. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be thoughtful. On the back, I pasted a heart-shaped leaf, leaving the top open to slide the money in.
He loved the bike. He loved the collage, especially that it was three-dimensional. And I love that he kept the collage displayed on his dresser for almost a year now. If you have to give a gift card or money, you might as well do it with style.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Chuk has a snow day today too. It's a good thing because our weekend to-do list was too long and we didn't come close to finishing everything. Now we have a whole extra day to finish our chores, which is great since my aunt, her husband and my cousin are now coming to see us a day early.
I'm hoping we finish quickly so I can make a snowman. I've never made one before in my life and I'm dying to try it. We have the perfect kind of snow for it.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
There's still more baking and cleaning left to do, but that's why we have tomorrow.
Friday, December 18, 2009
On the other hand, with the holidays coming up so soon, this was the least perfect time to get a job; there is much to do as we prepare for our guests who are arriving next week. Though I am incredibly grateful for this assignment (in addition to the money, it just feels so good to say, "I'm going to work"), it has made me appreciate my time at home more. I think it has made Chuk appreciate my time at home more too. Now that he has to do more chores, I think he realizes how much I do when I'm at home during the day, when previously my contributions were invisible.
Each night, I've come home exhausted and hungry. There is housework yet to do and nothing is ready for dinner. Without sitting down, I start washing dishes (or putting away clean dishes) and start dinner. By the time my work is finished, I'm getting six hours of sleep a night, or less. It is hard to remember the time when this used to be my life every night. How did I do it? I was working full-time and going to graduate school at night too. I can't imagine going to classes and doing homework now.
Though I'm tired, it is a good tired. I lie my head on the pillow each night with a sense of accomplishment--I did a lot that day. I know most of the difficulty is in the fact that I'm out of practice for this schedule and that I didn't have enough notice to set up the systems I need to make things run more smoothly at home.
Despite all this, this little job has reignited my drive to work outside the home. I know the workplace is where I need to be. I feel I have so much I want to contribute to the world and being at home is unfulfilling for me. (Note to all of you who stay at home and want to: I'm not judging you; I'm talking about what feels right for me personally.) Though I know these things about myself, I now also know that if I do have to go back to being a housewife, I will find renewed contentment in that. The pay was lousy, but the schedule and benefits were great.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Here's the cheater's cider that's been working for me. Pour apple cider (or even apple juice) into a mug. Microwave for 90 seconds. Dunk in a chai tea bag. Let steep for a couple of minutes and voila, hot apple cider.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The first time I went, the post office was closed for lunch. (I'm still trying to figure that out.) The second trip was to a different post office. The line was out-the-door long, so I stood in the automated postal machine line, which only took about ten minutes. (If you haven't tried these machines at the post office yet, you should. They're great.) But, when I went to enter my brother's zip code, the machine didn't recognize it. My brother, who has recently moved, told me the wrong zip code. As Charlie Brown would say, Good Grief! I mailed my sister's package and got stamps for all my pictorial holiday newsletters (or "Christmas cards") though. I went home, looked up the zip code, changed the address on his package and "card" and made my third trip to the post office to finally get that mailed. What a relief. It's another big thing crossed off my to-do list.
Have you checked out the post office's website lately? It's full of interesting information. Did you know you can get your Christmas cards postmarked from the North Pole? You can also find out the cut-off dates by which you need to get things mailed to have them arrive by Christmas.
Even though the lines are long, I have been so impressed by the post office this year. I'm getting my mail SO quickly. The ink I ordered very late Thursday night got to my door yesterday even though it was shipping to Virginia from San Diego. Even things that aren't being sent priority mail are taking about 2-3 days to ship cross-country. I think that's impressive.
Monday, December 14, 2009
We finally have an “after”. (We’ve had it for a while now, but I neglected to post about it.) We planned to take two days to “do” our Christmas tree; it actually was more like a week, and took three sessions of working on it. Day one: Pick it out, bring it home, get it in the stand. Day two: Get the lights on. Day three: Get the ornaments on. Here’s the miraculous part of doing it this way: NO FIGHTING. I don’t know about you, but we’ve never done a tree before without at least a dirty look, but more often than not a tense word (or twelve).
I’ve done more Christmas decorating this year than ever before. Other than having a tree and making our own wreaths, growing up my mom never decorated our house for Christmas, and certainly not for any other holidays, so I didn’t really have a model for it. (Her mother was an immigrant, so she didn't have a model either.) Additionally, theme decorating is not really my style either in my regular décor or seasonal décor.
However, in the last six years, I’ve lost both of my paternal grandparents, my maternal grandmother, and my dad so I’ve inherited a lot of stuff, particularly from my paternal grandparents who lived through the Depression and never threw anything away. I got lots of little figurines and decorations my grandma made, and I can’t bear to part with them. So I’ve decided just to go with it and use them to decorate this year.
Other than the tree, I haven’t bought any decorations this year except a $4 poinsettia from the grocery store and $2 worth of candy canes for the tree. I’ve stayed true to my style by containing the decorations in our open concept living/dining area. None of the rest of the apartment is decorated.
Without further ado, here's what our decorations look like.
You've seen these wreaths before, but I finally decided to hang them in front of our windows. It works.
These little figurines are actually bells. They sit on a shelf in front of ceremic decanters made by my grandfather and steins he and Chuk collected from around the world.
More figurines from my paternal grandparents, lying on a shelf in front of a photo of my maternal grandparents on their 60th wedding anniversary.
I blatently stole this candle in snow idea from Melissa at the Inspired Room.
I used Scrabble tiles to write holiday words and phrases.
We're currently using our gingerbread houses as our table decoration with a grocery store poinsettia stuck in a green striped pot I already had. Our table decorations rotate though.
My paternal grandmother was an avid crocheter. She made the large angel and I paired it with a vintage angel that also came from her house.
I'm linking to the holiday tour of homes at The Nesting Place, AE Filkins and The Inspired Room.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Yesterday, we threw a party that was different from anything we’ve ever done before. We called it a Gingerbread House Party…emphasis on the House Party part. The main premise was childlike in that we were going to make “gingerbread” houses out of graham crackers and decorate them with candy, but it was fun for a group of 20 and 30-something adults.
I think the reason it was fun was that none of us has children, so we didn’t have any associations with it, other than our old childhood memories. We encouraged non-traditional and got it in the form of a snow plow, Soviet bloc housing, and a graffiti-strewn YumYum (DC-area food establishment that sells Chinese food, fried chicken and pizza that is open late at night.) In fact, mine was the only traditional house.
We provided graham crackers, icing, four types of candy, marshmallows and coconut and asked each guest to bring a candy to share. Normally I don’t ask guests to bring things, but nobody minded and doing it ensured a wide variety of candy, which made it more fun. The amount of icing made from two pounds of powdered sugar wasn’t enough for seven people. Next time I will do three pounds. Three boxes of graham crackers was the right amount.
We served warm artichoke dip with crackers, homemade cranberry scones, and Krispy Kreme donuts. (The donuts were because it was the first day of Hanukkah and we had a Jewish friend over. In the future I would do either the donuts or the scones, not both.) To drink, we offered hot apple cider (kept warm in a Crockpot) and eggnog, both with optional dark rum, beer, and soda. We didn’t need the soda and only a couple of people drank eggnog, so we could have probably done without that too. The cider was the biggest hit.
(I’m sorry if this is boring to read about the details, but it helps me plan future parties when I have a record of what worked and what didn’t.)
They look like a bunch of five year olds made them, but I often find there's more fun in imperfection.
Other side of my house. The path leads to a swimming pool. There is a boulder by the pool covered with ice and a lifesaver nearby for safety. There is a snowman on the other side of the boulder.
Chuk's Soviet bloc house. It wasn't going to have the pitched roof initially. It has rooms inside that are not visible from the exterior.
Larry's house. He chose not to adorn it, but it does have a hinged door, which I think is quite impressive.
The snow plow buillt by my upstairs neighbors.
Friday, December 11, 2009
The first point is totally and completely my fault. I made a major miscalculation. We knew we wanted to send out holiday cards this year because we had skipped it last year, but I came up with an idea for a pictorial newsletter that tells everyone about our year through photographs rather than through words. I thought it would be cheaper than buying cards and more appreciated since it is more personal than a card and different from the standard holiday newsletter. Well, after using up a colored ink cartridge printing the first side of the first half of the total number we need (in essence, only 25% of the way through the print job) I have learned that this is not going to be cheaper than buying cards. I knew it would use a lot of ink; I just didn’t think it would be this much. But that’s the point…I just didn’t think. The new ink isn’t going to arrive until next week, so our “cards” might be late which makes me feel lazy and stupid.
The second thing that’s come up is that the number of guests we’re expecting for Christmas has doubled. This will be our first time ever hosting a holiday. We were expecting just my mom and her husband to come, because everyone else told us they weren’t coming, but then my aunt called me last night and said she and her husband and daughter are going to come too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled they’ll be here, but now I have to buy three more presents and figure out how to fit seven people around my four-seat table that will not hold more than six people.
And finally, and this is the real issue, I’m just having a crappy week. I know neither of the above things would be so bad if I was in the right frame of mind, but I’m not. I’ve been upset for the past week and keeping afloat in my everyday life is enough, I don’t want to deal with any extra problems.
So if you ever get discouraged because everyone in blog-land acts like their life is happy and perfect, know that I do too. If you ever feel like quitting, know that I do too. If you ever have crappy weeks, know that I do too.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Chicks: A Good Choice
A flock of chicks can help families from Cameroon to the Caribbean add nourishing, life-sustaining eggs to their inadequate diets. The protein in just one egg is a nutritious gift for a hungry child. Protein-packed eggs from even a single chicken can make a life-saving difference.
Heifer helps many hungry families with a starter flock of 10 to 50 chicks. A good hen can lay up to 200 eggs a year - plenty to eat, share or sell. With Heifer recipients' commitment to pass on the offspring and training, the exponential impact of adding chickens to communities in poverty is truly a model that helps end hunger and poverty.
Because chickens require little space and can thrive on readily available food scraps, families can make money from the birds without spending much. And chickens help control insects and fertilize gardens.
In Tanzania, Omari and Kulwa were struggling to raise a family on just 50 cents a day. With the training and chicks they received from Heifer, egg sales have boosted their daily income to $2, so they can now buy food and still pay school fees. Now, through passing on the gift, all of the children in their village are going to school.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
This has made it so much easier. We can hold the bottle upside down without any leaks. We're able to get the spout closer to the tree so we have fewer spills. Our aim doesn't have to be as perfect. Using a water bottle to water our Christmas tree definitely works for me.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
With that in mind, I’ve come up with some ideas that I think would be good for friends and parents/grandparents/elderly, who I think are harder to shop for than anybody because they already have everything. Most of them are the gift of your time, which is a gift of yourself; I can't think of anything more personal. Because I had a father and grandparents who were disabled, a lot of the ideas are geared towards working around (or with) their handicap. You may not have those issues in your family. As with everything, keep the ideas you can use and forget the rest.
For Friends (or close neighbors)
-Delivering a complete dinner for whole family is one less thing a harried parent has to do during this busy time of year, and unlike a cookie tray doesn’t require dieting in January. (Learn how to do it right here, here, and here.)
-Breakfast basket with healthy muffins or scones, a pound of fancy Irish butter and freshly squeezed juice. If doing this for Christmas morning, let them know ahead of time otherwise they’ll likely already have something planned. Make enough for their guests too. If doing it for any old morning, give unbaked, frozen scones with baking directions, Irish butter and hot chocolate. This is better than giving a baking mix because it doesn't require them to do anything other than shove something in their oven; no ingredients and no mixing are required.
-Watch their kids for two evenings so mom and dad can Christmas shop. Two nights allows them to compare prices at different stores and not feel so rushed that they have to get it all done in just a few hours.
-Watch kids for weekend so parents can get away after the holidays…Valentine’s weekend or their anniversary are some of the best times.
-Movie tickets. My Costco sells two tickets to any Regal Theater for $15 that are good for any show and day any time. To ensure they get used, avoid tickets with lots of restrictions and choose a chain that is popular in your area.
-Year of lawn mowing. Best for a neighbor who lives very close to you and you know you mow your lawn as frequently (or more) than they do. Let them know well in advance of vacations or other times you won’t be able to follow through. (Also works for leaf raking and snow blowing.)
-Mix CDs by activity (workout, bathtub relax, dinner, dance party, bad day, good day)
-Monogrammed dishtowels (Monogram them yourself either by hand or on a sewing machine. Remember, wonky is good.)
-Dinner (your treat) once a month for a year. Could be in your home, their home, restaurant, or mix it up each month. Never miss a month!
-Offer to decorate their home for the holidays. Make sure you have similar aesthetic senses. If they do not regularly gush over your home, assume you do not have similar taste.
-Take down their Christmas tree ornaments and lights and haul the tree out to the curb. Many older people don’t put up a tree because it is too physically taxing, but would actually love to have one. If they're on a fixed income, you might offer to buy them one too.
-If you’re spending several days together over the holidays, offer to do daily massages. I did this for my arthritic grandmother one year and she loved it. A week of twice daily foot massages was much more appreciated than anything I could have bought from the store. It was served as wonderful, quality time for us, so it was like a gift to me too.
-Deep clean their whole house. Make sure they won’t be offended by an offer like this. It is often hard for older people to shampoo their carpets, clean windows and rid corners of spider webs. My dad had a hard time scrubbing his bathtub.
-Wrap their Christmas presents. Good gift for people with big families and arthritis in their hands.
-Stuff, seal, address, and mail their Christmas cards.
-Netflix subscription for one year, especially if they don’t have cable and you're far away.
-Magazine subscription. If it's a magazine you get too, you can talk to them about interesting articles.
Monday, December 7, 2009
When you get home, all you need are clippers and wire. I used 22 gauge silver wire because that’s all I had, but if I was buying something new, 24 gauge green wire is better. It costs less than $5 at the hardware store and is enough to make dozens of wreaths. It is also helpful to have needlenose pliers, but I couldn’t find mine, so I can attest that it’s definitely possible without them. Start wiring your branches together and when you get a long-ish garland (about three branches) loop it around to make a circle (or in my case a triangle and an oval.) Tie on a ribbon from your stash. That’s it. You just made a wreath for free.
We’re still trying to figure out where to hang our’s. Right now they’re just on random closet doors, but hopefully in the next day or two, as we’re putting out our other decorations, we’ll get it sorted out.
Linked to DIY Day.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Chuk and I have been really into learning more about Australia lately since listening to Bill Bryson’s brilliant In a Sunburned Country on one of our road trips this fall. So Saturday we headed off to Chuk’s alma mater, American University, to see a gallery exhibit of contemporary Australian art and a film festival, both solely made by indigenous Australians (which is what I think, based on usage, is the P.C. term for Aborigines.)
primitive style, which, though I generally like modern art, is not one of my favorite art movements.
a documentary about her parents, an interracial couple who have fought for the rights of indigenous Australians since the 1960s. It was very interesting.
Then there was a reception, which was awesome. The food was great (very fancy too) and there was an open bar. Chuk and I turned it into our dinner. All of it was free! Parking, the gallery show, the film festival, the food and drinks.
We went from the university to Old Town Alexandria to watch the Potomac River parade. It was still snowing, but we stayed out for a while and watched all the boats decorated with lights. Then we went home and I made scones and apple cider. It was so cozy.
Today, we headed back to Old Town to watch an a cappella show (also free!) with our friend. I just love a cappella music. The performance wasn’t the best I’ve ever been to, but it was also the youngest group of a cappella singers I had ever seen, and as our friend pointed out, their voices probably hadn’t fully matured yet. Then all three of us came back to our house for more scones and apple cider and lots of gossip.
It was the best weekend I had in a long time. I got to do lots of fun things, but it was still relaxed and casual. I love this time of year when there are lots of free cultural activities going on.
*Forgive the picture quality. I took them with my phone. I don't know what's up with the white spaces on the sides of the pictures.