Sendoff to 2011

If someone would have told me when I was 16 years old that time would eventually fly by so quickly I could barely catch my breath, I would not have believed that person.

Here I am, trying to get in one last blog post before 2011 expires and after being on Christmas vacation for over a week. I have no idea how it is December 31st – none.

As each year passes, the days, weeks, and months speed past me at an alarming rate. Scarier still is that while I have much to live for and much to look forward to, I believe I could be living more fully. Does that make sense? Essentially, instead of putting down specific resolutions which I want to “stick to” (and probably wouldn’t (see last year’s list)), I’m keeping it simple for this coming year and for all my years to come: be present. Live in the now.

It is so easy to get caught up in the details of life which are unpleasing. That’s what I have done in 2011 and at the year’s end, today, the first things that come to mind when I look back are the hardships. I dealt with some health issues–sometimes alarming ones–which have made me sit up and pay more attention to what’s REALLY important.

So what IS really important? Love. Family. Real friendships. Personal fulfillment. Being in the moment. Appreciating those times of joy and laughter and cherishing them for their immeasurable value.

Kevin and I spent the morning with some family members and had some belly laughs, swapped stories, and ate some delicious food. It’s such a blessing to have so much love in both our families. That’s how I enter 2012: with a full heart and more clarity on how I want to be spending my time.

The “bad stuff” is unpredictable and will always happen when we can least afford to endure it. What I am making an effort to do is to not freak the hell out when something happens now, and yes, to even try to laugh at it. This is a particular challenge for me because I have a flair for freaking out. I can really mull something over and over and over questioning, “WHY ME?” quite a bit.

For example, I’m still in the middle of unpacking from Christmas vacation and figuring out the rest of my weekend. I’m sitting here at my computer, minding my own business, and the shelf which sits above my computer monitor suddenly gives way. I had to clear off everything from the shelf and now I wait for Kevin to repair it for me. I really wanted to whine and complain about it for a little while but I took a few deep breaths, focused on the fact that it didn’t come crashing down on my monitor while I was gone for a week, and now I  simply look forward to it being repaired.

That’s some serious pivotal behavior for a freak-outter like me! (Can you tell I’m patting myself on the back about it?)

I love the freshness that a new year brings. I always wish I can hold onto it as the months pass by but it seems inevitable that by the fall, the year has become as comfortable as a well worn pair of shoes. December never feels like a full month but a couple of weekends and we’re at Christmas and New Year’s.

2011 has seen a continuing passion for blogging and an expansion into another art form, that of photography. I am so appreciative for the gift of writing and sharing with you all and am thoroughly excited for another year ahead. I’m focusing on this sensation of brimming with enthusiasm and of course I’ll be sharing more exploits. (I thought of another driving post I could do!)

May 2012 bring you a tidal wave of happy moments, new adventures, and fulfillment until you burst.

See you on the flip of the calendar!

Last of the blooms

A top favorite photo from 2011.

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Cloudy With a Chance of Sexism

What I’m about to say will absolutely sound biased. But since I’m a woman and not a man and have not yet run into many men with this particular skill, I’m going to go ahead and make a blanket statement.

Ready?

When it comes to coordinating (as in schedules, calendar, appointments), women have men beat by a huge margin.

Coordinating schedules: confused man, smug woman.

If there were a competition or an Olympics of coordinating schedules/events, women would win hands down every time. Gold, silver, bronze. I invite men or women to correct me. However, I’m thinking that it’s going to be more of a “there are exceptions to every rule” kind of thing. (I worked with an exception to the rule at a former job – he’s top notch.)

When I did a Google Images search for “men coordination,” the first few images were of ties which coordinated with men’s dress shirts. Even when I typed in “male secretary,” I got a few stock images of men with headsets sitting at desks but that was all. (And as a woman who has been an assistant at many levels, I can tell you that being a “secretary” does not necessarily mean wearing a headset. There’s a lot more to assisting executives or offices than ringing phone lines.) So anyway, I think it’s fair to say that women are the general image of admins/secretaries (and to quote Seinfeld, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”).

I’m aware more men are in administrative roles nowadays, and that is wonderful, but I’m still sticking to my story.

In light of witnessing the hilarity that accompanies watching two or more men half-assedly coordinate a dinner or an outing, I finally got to a point where I came to this ultimate conclusion. Men just suck at planning shit out, plain and simple. Is there a “coordination” part of the brain? Or a gene which only women have? Because women make excellent schedule coordinators. I’m a crack shot myself. I’ve been paid to be one for years.

To strengthen my theory, I am citing just two examples from which I base my claim.

First instance. I have pretty much given up on asking my boyfriend to coordinate anything with anyone, including his own family members. They become exasperated after trying to reach him and failing, and so they call, text or email me, because they know I’ll respond immediately. When he wants to get together with his best friend for a round of golf, or if we’re all going to hang out together, the best friend’s wife and I just circumvent any communication between the two and we coordinate everything ourselves on behalf of our menfolk. It goes something like this:

Me: Hey, is your dude available for a hangout with Kevin in the near future? They need to get together.

Her: Sure, let me check our schedule and I’ll let you know.

And the thing gets planned with perfection. No fumbling, no taking a week. Date, time, place, and an answer to, “Can we bring anything?”

Second instance. Recently, I went to a meetup with some fellow photographers. The idea came up on Facebook from one of the guys in the group and I was the only woman out of four or five people who responded that yes, I could make it (and of course I was prompt about it). What ensued were sixty comments over the course of three or four days on where, when, and what time. The day and time were settled relatively quickly. But trying for the where was a laborious feat.

No one wanted to choose. I really, really, really, really wanted to cave in and just decide for the group but since I’d been the coordinator for previous meetups and this was someone else’s suggestion, I bit my tongue (er, my fingers, I guess?) and waited to see how long it would take for the decision to get made.

It was soooo painful, you guys!!

It was, “So and so, you choose,” and another guy saying, “I really don’t care,” and someone else saying, “Well I want to go to this place,” and me saying, “No that place sucks, let’s go back to Options 1 and 2,” and on and on and on. I was sort of like a shepherd guiding her flock to the pasture of decision making. Finally, after much back and forth, the original guy whose idea it was to meet up stated with finality where we were meeting. But it was slightly gray-hair-producing.

What else can I say?

I rest my case.

Ergo.

QED.

Underdog Holiday Favorite

Well hello there.

Are you not much of a “baker?” Are you looking for something completely mind-blowingly easy to make for the holidays to share with friends that will astound them with deliciousness?

Look no more, for I am about to share with you a classic favorite that has wowed many with whom I’ve shared this recipe.

It’s actually not even a recipe from my own family; it comes from one of my mom’s best friends.

But it is a HIT and you would never guess that these little babies would rock your world–but oh, they will.

There are four ingredients and about three easy steps. Sound good? Of course it does.

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Toasted Pecans à la Zoe Says

(This recipe can easily be doubled – and probably should be, since they’ll go fast.)

4 C. pecan halves     1/4 C. unsalted butter (same as 4T. or half a stick)
1 tsp. seasoned salt     1 tsp. aromatic bitters

If you’re wondering what the heck aromatic bitters are, it’s an elixir that can be found in most liquor aisles of a grocery store. Or you can go straight to a large liquor store, where they’ll probably have it. You can search high and low for bitters in the baking aisle but you will not find it – take it from me. It’s usually used in cocktails. And now, it’s also used to enhance toasted pecans.

Oh yeah, and if you have a nut allergy or are like my friend Meg who just thinks pecans look and taste gross (she says the wrinkles creep her out), then yeah, you won’t like these. But EVERYONE ELSE will.

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Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lay the pecans flat within a jelly roll pan or on a baking sheet that doesn’t have an open end on one side. Toast the pecan halves for 20 minutes. They will look slightly darker and your kitchen will smell awesome.

Gently melt the butter in a bowl in the microwave or over low heat on the stove until it’s liquified.

Mix together the butter, bitters and seasoned salt. Mix well! Drizzle this Magic Potion over the pecans. Toss the pecans to ensure they’re equally coated (using two spatulas is easiest).

Bake for another 15 minutes, tossing every 5-7 minutes until done.

Cool on paper towels. Amaze friends.

Note: If you are going to put these in a festive holiday tin, definitely line the tin with paper towels. It’ll prevent the tin from getting the salt and oil from the butter in it.

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Did I take illustrative photos? Naturally.

You know what melted butter looks like. I just like my little French bowl.

The festiveness is killing me.

The Lustre of Mid-Day (to Objects Below)

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas! I don’t know about you but before researching this a little bit, I had never seen a photo of St. Nick before. So here you go.

Bam!

The lean and holy Saint Nicholas (pre fat and jolly Santa).

If you want to read a very in-depth back story, click here where this other blogger has laid it out so nicely for us.

The real question is…did anyone receive any coins or chocolates in their shoes this morning?

I don’t know about you guys, but when I was a kid, December 6 helped to build up our anticipation of Christmas Day even more because my mom liked to have us participate in the ritual of putting a shoe out by the front door. In the morning, we’d run to check it and we’d usually have “gold” (chocolate) coins and a few other candies stuffed inside our shoes.

In our chocolate induced haze, we came to associate St. Nick with Santa Claus, though I never really understood the motivation behind having the mini Christmas (or “feast”) versus everything we did on Christmas Day. Wikipedia does a nice job of filling in some holes, though.

Now that I’m all grown up, I’m not currently celebrating the chocolate-in-the-shoe thing but I definitely reflected briefly with a hint of excitement that Christmas is getting closer and closer (and if I were a kid, I’d have enjoyed some chocolate with breakfast…or for breakfast).

Instead, I’m using the Feast of St. Nicholas to do a quick Zoe Recommends. I thought the St. Nick’s day thing would be a fun segue. Today’s Zoe Recommends is…a sunrise clock! It helps to make your room glow with “the lustre of mid-day to objects below,” a line I snagged from the classic poem Twas the Night Before Christmas, which features our boy St. Nick, just in case anyone hadn’t clued in on that.

What’s a sunrise clock, you say? It’s a lamp which you set to go off at a certain time in the morning and for about a half hour, the light goes from very dim to very bright (you set the highest bright setting) and the natural “rising” of the “sun” helps to wake you up more naturally than traditional alarm clocks that we all want to throw through a wall every morning.

Some sunrise clocks look like this:

And others look like this (including mine):

I don’t know if all sunrise lamps come with sounds but mine will not just use the light, it forces you to choose an ambient noise, such as birds chirping or meditation sounds or the radio. I choose the meditation sounds because they’re repetitive but not awful and between them and the light, I much more easily awaken in the morning, especially in the winter when the sun doesn’t come out until after 7 o’clock.

Both Kevin and I have found it sooo much easier to wake up in the mornings with this little baby. We’re in better moods upon getting out of bed (most of the time) and we’re not as aware of the pitch blackness going on outside.

Our sunrise clock is the gift that keeps on giving, year after year, day after day, Feast of St. Nicholas to Feast of St. Nicholas. It’s the new chocolate/gold coins in my shoe.

Paying Homage to Pretty

So even though I usually keep the photo posts over on my photo blog, I wanted to share a little bit over here because that’s how much I love staring at pretty, sparkly, lit up Christmas trees.

I think the pagans were right on the mark with this whole tree idea.

Even at this very moment, my tree is sitting lit behind me and I keep turning around to look at its pretty lights and the reflections on the ornaments. Having a beautifully decorated Christmas tree helps to make up for not having a fireplace or mantel, something I grew up with and adored. (Someday….!)

Below are one picture I slated for Zoe Says and another from Flickr that I’m linking here because I couldn’t decide which look I loved most. Ah, the magic of editing software.

However, if you want to see more, because obviously I took lots of different shots from different angles and processed them differently, go here or here.

What are your favorite holiday decorations? (We have stockings up, too, but they pale in comparison to the tree.)

Tree Triptych