Saturday, December 31, 2011

It's the Little Things

On the last day of the year, it's natural to reflect back on the year behind us.

Two-thousand eleven.  What to say?

Well, I'm sorry to do this, but in order to assess the past year, I have to go back and put it in context among the past decade.

See, the thing is, pretty much every single year of the 2000s, I experienced some major life-changing event.  Such as:
  • 2000: Graduated from college, and within 48 hours I had moved back in with my parents and started attending a teaching credential program.  Started 3-year long-distance relationship when Bill went to law school in Chicago and I stayed in California. 
  • 2001: Did my student teaching, finished my credential, got a job teaching 5th grade.  On the second day of school, 9/11 happened. 
  • 2002: Finished a really emotionally gut-wrenching first year of teaching, changed grades to teaching 2/3 multi-age the following September. 
  • 2003: Moved out of my parents' house and lived alone for the first time.  Got engaged. 
  • 2004: Got married, moved across country.
  • 2005: Began the year with a really bad teaching job, quit that and changed careers to be an editor in the educational publishing field. 
  • 2006: Got pregnant.
  • 2007: Had a baby, switched to working part-time, bought our first home. 
  • 2008: Experienced episode of major depression, switched to full-time at work, finally quit to be a stay-at-home mom.  
By 2009, I needed things to slow down.  And they did.  I remember at the end of 2009, I reflected on what a great year it had been, not because of the exciting things that happened, but because of the things that didn't.

In 2010, though, things began to feel stagnant.  I began to think I needed something big to happen again.  Have another baby!  Go back to work!  Make it big as a blogger!

And yet, none of that felt right.  Every possible life path felt wrong.

I didn't get it right until 2011, when I realized that the answer lay not in giant leaps, but in baby steps.

So the best way I can sum up 2011 is to say that it was the year of baby steps.

I didn't go back to work full-time, but I did do some freelance work and found out I loved it.  I didn't make it big as a blogger, but I did make money off my blog for the first time.  I got a lot of free stuff, had some great bloggy experiences, attended my first BlogHer, made some great friends, and built up my readership. 

I learned how much I love participating in community theater.  I completed an indoor triathlon.  I went on vacation by myself. 

It was a lot of little, but really great, experiences.

As for 2012, who knows?  I like to make resolutions like everybody else, but those are about specific behaviors, not about the bigger plan or theme or picture.

As always, the new year is a blank slate.  See you there. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Penultimate Post

Looks Like We Didn't Make It

I mean I didn't make it.  To 365 posts, that is.  This will be Post #343 for 2011, and I do have one in the pipeline for the last day of the year, a sort of reflective, summing up sort of thing.  So that's a total of 344 posts for 2011.

21 posts short.

If only I had another 3 weeks in the year ... well, I'd probably still come up short.  It's hard to post every single day. 

I also said I would make it to Babble's Top 50 Mom Blogs of 2011.  And even though they upped it to the Top 100 Mom Blogs, I still didn't make the list.  (I mean duh, that was a long shot to begin with, but still, it's great to aim high.) 

BUT in 2011 I actually met and/or Facebook friended some of the people on the list, and some of them actually read my blog.  So I guess that's sort of like saying, "You know, Jennifer Aniston knows I exist," which is kind of a lame thing to get excited about, but I like to think it means I'm moving up in the world. 

As further evidence of my improved status as a blogger, I will note that this year I got invited to several really fun company blogger events, and got some cool free stuff for myself and my readers. 

Also, I met a lot of great new friends.  And I became more aware of who I am, as a blogger and as a person, and why I write this blog in the first place.  I do it because I like it.  I like to write, and I like to share my writing, which means I also like all of you for your willingness to let me share it with you. 

So, in conclusion, although I didn't achieve my ridiculous goals, I did achieve so much more.  And isn't that how it always is, you ending up finding something you weren't even looking for in the first place? 

The Beach in December

We were busy yesterday taking in the finer sights of Orange County.

We went to a super cool park:

Sat on a turtle:

Performed some "obstacles":

Rode a carousel:

And decorated a cupcake with blue frosting, gummi worms, and Starburst:

So by the time we got done with all that, we barely had an hour to go to our favorite place, the beach! 

It was not what you'd call the ideal beach day.  The fog had rolled in, and the weather was cool. 

But I just like to hear the waves crashing, and Nathan just likes to dig in the sand, so it was fine. 

Did you know I used to live close enough to the beach in college that I could hear the waves crashing when I went to sleep?  Did you know I didn't appreciate that opportunity enough? 

I just love the beach.  I have found the following to be true about the beach:

1) All food tastes better when eaten on the beach.
2) All books are better when read on the beach.
3) All photos taken on the beach are automatically awesome.  (Exception: Photos featuring me in my bathing suit.) 

Well, we didn't have any food or books, and luckily it wasn't really bathing suit weather, so I was able to take the following awesome pictures:

I don't know why, but I like to take pictures of our feet on the beach.  I guess because I like to have some part of myself or somebody I know in the picture to prove we were there. 

Perhaps because I used to go to the beach to reflect during my brooding college years, going to the beach always makes me all weirdly philosophical.  The ocean is so big and powerful, so perfect and beautiful. 

No doubt Nathan was also pondering life's deeper questions:

And even though it doesn't include any body parts belonging to myself or my family, I took this picture to help me remember the moment:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Favorites: Books, Movies, Television


I don't think 2011 was my best reading year.  First of all, I only read 31 books, which was significantly lower than my 2010 total of 43.  I think I had less time to read because I spent my free time blogging, writing scripts, and working on my freelance projects.  I realize that no one of those activities took up all that much time, but they kind of tended to absorb those pockets of time where I would have previously picked up a book.

But in addition to, or perhaps because of, the small quantity of books I read, I just didn't think I read a lot of books of great quality this year.

Still, there were some gems, and I have determined a favorite:

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh is the story of a young woman who ages out of the foster system, and is able to eke out an existence through her own floral business.  The book deals with the Language of Flowers, a secret code used in the Victorian era to convey messages through the exchange of specific flowers.  Obviously this book appealed to me because of my interest in flower-arranging, but I also thought it was an interesting, well-written story. 

Favorite book runners-up:
  • The Sisters by Nancy Jensen: Two BFF sisters become estranged after a misunderstanding.  One of those books that follows different characters through many decades. 
  • If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman: This is a two-part YA series about a young girl who is the sole survivor of a car accident that kills the rest of her family.  The characterization is just wonderful.
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey: As everybody knows, this is Tina Fey's humorous memoir.  It perfectly blends interesting peeks into the world of celebrity with humorous Everyday Jane sort of observations. 
  • Left Neglected by Lisa Genova: A harried have-it-all working mother is forced to re-examine her priorities after a head injury leaves her with a condition where she can't perceive the left side of anything. 

I saw more movies in the theater this year than I did the previous 3 years combined.  I saw two with Nathan: Cars 2 and The Muppets.  I loved The Muppets so, so much, it's like I never wanted it to end.  Cars 2 was sort of a drag for me, and I thought the plot was weirdly complicated, but it appealed to young children's love of watching cars race around.  I will say I loved the purple car, Holly, and she was so cute that I considered buying a toy version of her just for myself.

Bill and I saw two movies, and they were both superhero films.  I didn't really like Thor.  Vikings just aren't my thing, and I didn't think the lead character was at all good-looking.  X-Men: Beginnings, on the other hand, was jam-packed with hot actors, and had an interesting storyline.   

I Don't Know How She Does It was sort of a meh chick-flick that I saw with my friends.  I enjoyed going out with my friends and eating movie snacks, but the movie itself was just so-so. 

Oh, and we saw Tin Tin with my parents yesterday.  Loved the campy 30s feel to it, and loved the dog.  Mostly enjoyable, although a bit too long. 

I'm declaring my favorite seen-in-the-theater film of 2011 to be:

The Help, which I saw with Katie in August.  Not a surprising choice, since The Help was my favorite book of 2009.  I got the DVD for Christmas.


I only watched the following shows regularly in 2011:
  • Community: Joel McHale's hotness makes the show worth watching, but it's getting super weird, and I'm not at all devastated that the show has been put on hiatus.
  • Parks and Recreation: Solidly funny, not my all-time favorite but still consistently good.  
  • Modern Family: This show gets better and better as they get a bigger budget/win more awards.  What I like is that each character is quirky, but never over-the-top.  
  • 30 Rock: Always awesome, always the best, except I missed it this fall during Tina Fey's (obviously well-deserved) maternity leave.  Looking forward to the season premiere on my birthday. 
  • The Daily Show: Every episode is clever and hilarious.  And I am willing to admit I'm one of those people who gets most of my news from Jon Stewart.  
As a final note, I know many people might include Music as a category on a post like this, but I don't consider myself interested and/or hip enough to write about music. 

My Best Posts of 2011, According to Me

The Serious
  • January 10: Mom Blog: A post attempting to sum up my thoughts on motherhood. 
  • January 20: Let's Go on With the Show: The very moment I realized how much I loved performing in community theater, because it gave me an identity outside of motherhood.  Chosen for this list because I cried cathartic tears the entire time I typed the post. 
  • March 15: Crazy Camp, 3 Years Later: This is by far the most-read, most-commented about post I've ever written.  It's a look back on the three years since my time in an outpatient mental health program for depression. 
  • June 29: The One Thing I'm Not Worried About: I'm including this one on my list because I think it sums up my views on education. 
  • August 6: On Being a Writer vs. a Blogger vs. a Schlub: My inaugural trip to the BlogHer conference inspired me to write this post that violates the number 1 rule of blogging: Do not blog about blogging.  
  • September 11: September 11, 2011: Well, my mom called this Sept. 11 post my best ever.  
  • September 25: Crazy Camp, The Reunion: This was seriously one of the most poignant moments of the year for me, when I ran into a woman from my depression program and realized that we were both doing okay. 
The Funny

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Various Christmas Celebrations

Before I begin, a note to my family and friends: I love you all.  If you or your child(ren) do not appear on my blog, it is not because I don't love you.  Either I can't post your picture because it violates my policy against posting pictures of other people's children (and in some cases it's hard and/or weird to edit a kid out), or maybe the one picture I have of you is blurry.  Or maybe I didn't get a picture of you because I was distracted.  Whatever the reason, do not interpret your absence on my blog as a personal slight.  

Now, onto Christmas. 

When I left off, it was December 24 and we'd just had a celebration with Bill's extended family. 

My sister-in-law Venessa and I had a nice Mexican lunch on the 24th, as part of our pact to have experiences together instead of exchanging material goods. 

Then on the evening of the 24th, we went out to dinner with my mother-in-law.  I forget what the place was called, but they had old-fashioned furniture there for decor, and they had the BEST roll-top desk.  If I didn't live in Illinois, I would probably offer to buy it off of them (except I'm not really the kind of person who does that anyway). 

We went to church on Christmas Eve at my in-laws' church.

Nathan left some cookies for Santa, as well as a carrot for his reindeer.  Santa wrote a thank-you note:

And Santa also filled everybody's stockings:

One of the more talked-about stocking stuffers were these laser lights that you put on your fingers:

Here's Nathan with his magnetic Cars set:

Now, at this point, Christmas took a bit of a turn.  Bill's family had been passing around a stomach virus, and right after opening stockings Bill announced he had been felled by the bug.  So I had to drive us to my mom's house, then Bill spent the rest of the day in bed. 

Meanwhile, Nathan and family friend John opened up their traditional British holiday crackers, which always contain paper crowns:

Another guest at my mom's Christmas dinner was my grandma's lifelong friend Liz.  Grandma and Liz met in kindergarten, were born 11 days apart, and are still BFFs at age 89.  Sweet, right?

This is my brother Tyler, his wife Kasumi, and their baby girl Syndey (obscured by an ornament per my photo policy regarding children):

I scored a major win on the gift I got my stepdad, a t-shirt depicting his favorite You Tube video:

This is my stepdad and my grandpa on the day after Christmas.  My family traditionally goes out to breakfast to celebrate my grandparents' anniversary, which is December 26. 

They have been married 69 years.  They are cute:

Later on the 26th, we drove south to my dad and stepmom's house.  We always do the celebration with them after Christmas.  This year we did it on the 27th. 

One of Nathan's gifts at that celebration was the Wack-a-Mole game.  Here are Nathan and my stepmom whacking various moles:

This is my brother Brian and sister-in-law Laurin, looking festive.  Their baby Sam is sleeping in the stroller on the left:

My dad and stepmom brought them back a ukelele from their recent travels in Tahiti:

And that's all I have for now. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

West Coast Trip Week 1 Highlight Reel

Awhile back my blog friend Melissa pinned a quote to Pinterest that has been on my mind ever since:

This quote sums up perfectly what I think a lot of us struggle with when our only glimpses of other people's lives come through Facebook or blogs or the annual Christmas letter.  In those contexts, everybody's lives look perfect.  In contrast, our own lives in the harsh, cluttered reality of day-to-day existence, pale in comparison. 

I mention the quote in this post because I want to make it clear that what follows is my highlight reel.  We've been in California for about a week now, and I haven't blogged a thing about it, so naturally it only makes sense to catch up with a quick summary, highlight reel kind of post. 

Make no mistake, there have been plenty of outtakes.  Nathan has had approximately 75 meltdowns, most of them related to us having the audacity to make him eat a meal.  Furthermore, I have lost my shit multiple times over the over-commercialization of the holidays, the futility of buying gifts, the hassles of travel, airport security, etc., etc., etc.  

But this post is not about all that.  This post is the highlight reel.  

Of course, the first part of the trip was the flight.  I will say that, truthfully, that flight is going on my own personal highlight reel, because there was not one single glitch.  The lines were long at every stage of the airport, but we made it through with perfect timing.  I brought our own lunches from home to eat at the gate, as opposed to my usual waiting in another long line at the airport McDonald's.  I was also really pleased to see that the airport had installed water bottle refill stations, so we were properly hydrated.  

Once on the plane, Nathan entertained himself by reading the safety information card, making him the only passenger on the flight to actually do so: 

I don't know why, but he has a sort of morbid fascination with the picture of the people evacuating on the wing after a water landing.  

The plane had Wi-Fi for $5, so I bought it for the iPad, which allowed me to purchase the hugely popular app "Where's My Water?" for Nathan mid-flight.  The other awesome thing about the Wi-Fi was that the home screen had a countdown to the landing.  This countdown eliminated the guesswork of trying to calculate how much more time was left in the flight, taking into account time changes and whatnot.  Somehow knowing exactly how much longer you have makes the flight go by faster. 

Despite several interruptions to solve tricky levels of Where's My Water?, I was able to read 5% of this really awesome new Stephen King novel, 11/22/63.  I'm not a huge Stephen King fan because I'm easily spooked, but this book is about time travel, and the Kennedys, which are two of my interests. 

The flight landed early, we got our one suitcase quickly, and my mom and stepdad picked us up at LAX. 

The next day we went here:

Here's Nathan beginning the day at Disneyland, filled with childlike wonder:

Jungle Cruise:

The Pooh ride:

We saw real reindeer:

Nathan's favorite ride, the Buzz Lightyear one:

He also liked the Casey Jones circus train (modeled after the one in Dumbo), which I liked because my kid rode in a cage:

A highlight for all of us was It's a Small World decorated for the holidays.  Here are my mom and stepdad in front of the ride's exterior:

Nathan on the ride:

Nathan with an appropriate expression when we got stuck on It's a Small World:

The following two days, we hung out with my brother Tyler, sister-in-law Kasumi, and baby niece Sydney.  I have no pictures of it because I'm kind of bad about taking pictures of everyday life, but I promise to take pictures of that branch of the family during the actual Christmas celebration. 

On Thursday my mom and stepdad drove us to the high desert to hang out with my in-laws.  Nathan has spent hours and hours playing cooperatively with his cousins (I'm serious), with minimal conflict. 

That branch of the family decided to do a Christmas Eve Eve celebration on December 23, which is also the Seinfeldian holiday of Festivus

Because Festivus is about the frustration with the commercialism and pressure of other December holidays, the relatives decided to forgo a gift exchange and do a cookie exchange instead.  This is my mother-in-law Diana and nephew Johnny (obscured per my photo policy regarding children) in front of the initial cookie spread: 

Food close-ups!

This is my mother-in-law Diana and her sister Connie, looking festive:

I like this ornament they have, which is made to look like a postcard featuring the holiday tree at Marshall Field's department store in 1953:

They have the Christmas pickle ornament, which is supposed to be based on a German custom (whoever finds the pickle on the tree gets an extra gift), but which a quick Google search revealed may be a completely fabricated backstory

The pickle in context:

And what Festivus celebration would be complete without the Feats of Strength? In this case the Feats of Strength was a game of soccer keep-away, Nathan and his cousin William (not pictured) against older cousin Johnny (obscured with Rudolph graphic).  At one point two neighbor dogs joined in the game, and William said, "All right, we have a dog on our team!" 

Those wooden posts holiday up fledgling trees are the closest thing we had to the Festivus aluminum pole.  Also, Nathan is wearing his pajamas in this, making it a questionable entry for the highlight reel.

Now it's Christmas Eve, and tonight we're going to my in-laws' church.  Tomorrow we do the gifts with the in-laws and then head back to my mom's house for her extended family celebration.  On the 26th we're going to my dad and stepmom's house for a belated holiday celebration with them.  So, look for more highlight reels to come.  

And, for all who celebrate such things, have a very Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

14 Days of Festivity: Day 14

Wrapping It Up

I spent Thursday (14 days of Festivity: Day 14) and Friday (Unofficial Festive Day 15) wrapping all the gifts in my possession, which was maybe about a third of the gifts we were giving.  (Another third will be transported in Bill's suitcase, and airport security dictates that gifts not be wrapped. The final third of the gifts were ordered online and shipped directly out to my mom's house in California.) 

Let me start with what I feel is my most exciting wrapping.  I got the idea to make boxes out of board game boards from a Pinterest pin that Melisa pinned recently.  It was the perfect idea to wrap the gift for the "green elephant" exchange my mom/stepdad's family is having.  Green elephant is sort of like white elephant, in that you bring something that you already have, but there's less emphasis on giving something hilariously tacky.  Also you are encouraged to wrap the gift in an eco-friendly way. 

I figured that since my husband has tons of board games, he could possibly part with one old one to be recycled into a gift box.  I was incorrect in that assumption, and he sent me over to the Salvation Army to purchase used board games specifically to be cut up for the box-making project.  So when I went to the Salvation Army to drop off some of Nathan's old toys, I then parked and went into the store to acquire more stuff. 

Luckily they had the original Trivial Pursuit, which I should point out that we also own, along with several other updated editions that I find more enjoyable to play than the version with questions from 1983, but which Bill insists upon keeping because apparently someday there will be some situation where we're all just sitting around dying to play a 30-year-old trivia game. 

I also got a backgammon game, which is pleasantly 70s retro. 

Then I found what I really wanted: Old-school Candy Land.  The set had a board and five cards, and no game pieces for the players to march around the board.  But I just wanted the board, so I was happy to pay $1.00 for it.  Which just goes to show you, no matter what crap you're donating to charity, there's always somebody who wants it.  But usually that somebody isn't me. 

I put my green elephant gift in a box made of Candy Land, then made gift boxes for specific people's gifts out of Trivial Pursuit and backgammon:

I wrapped our second green elephant gift in a paper grocery bag, which I embellished with a strip of scrapbook paper and a felt decoration reused from a box of chocolates:

The third green elephant wrapping was another Pinterest find, a gift bag made from a newspaper.  I made a tag out of a cut-up Christmas card from Trainer Jill, which is two kittens in a Santa hat, but sort of looks more like a chicken drumstick:

So I wrapped those and a bunch of other packages, and I packed them all up to ship to California in advance of my visit.  Let's keep in mind this was a third of the gifts we purchased, and this was in a year where we made concerted efforts to cut back.  How does this happen? 

Also, orange Duck-brand duct tape is the best.