Saturday, December 31, 2011

On the Seventh Day of Christmas...101 in 1,001.

My Oh My. When the New Year rolls around every December-January, as it tends to do, I celebrate and let it pass by and then feel a nostalgic twinge; “I could have been more contemplative of the year that just ended”…”I could have come up with mindful goals for the commencing year”…things like that.

Now it’s December 31st and I haven’t done much concentrated thinking but something has been lurking in the back of my mind. My friend Rebecca has been planning to do a “101 in 1,001”. She got this idea from a friend of hers and I’m sure that gal got the idea from a friend as well. There’s a website, HERE, that explains the whole thing so someone actually “invented” this goal making/setting scheme.

I’m usually wary of resolutions because I’m the type of person who likes to make general goals {“be nicer”} instead of actual measurable ones {“pay for the person behind me in line at Starbucks”} and that makes it easy to not follow through so this year I’d like to be more mindful. I’d like to follow through more. I’d like to be a better person. Haha, get it? Anyway, to help me in this endeavor I’m going to do my own “101 in 1,001”. 

I’m actually making my list today but I’ve been tossing around ideas in my head the past few weeks. I’ll begin with parameters taken from the website mentioned above as well as my own rules then launch into my 101.

1} 101 in 1,001 is the chosen number because 1,001 days equals a bit under three years {2.75 to be exact} which allows for several weather seasons in which to accomplish the various tasks. and accommodates for weather changes and money saving and things like that. Aaaaaand101 just looks good next to/out of 1,001.

2} These must be measurable and quantifiable goals. See above: “be nicer” vs “pay for the person behind me in line at Starbucks once a year”.

3} My goals must require a bit of effort and cannot just be things that I do every year anyway {no “be a teacher” or “have a dog”}.

4} I’ll maintain a Google document for my own personal accountability and for y'all to be able to look at the whole dig-dang-thing.

5} The list will be divided into categories so as to break things up a bit…”Healthy”, “Literate”, “Family”, “Love”, “Homey”, “Thoughtful”, “Adventurous”, “Kind”, “Happy”…etc.

6} At the start of every month I’ll do a summary. What I accomplished the past month, What I’ve begun, What I have in progress, What I’d like to begin and/or accomplish in the next month.

7} I’ll post all 101 in this initial post but only the aforementioned categories {#6} in subsequent monthly updates.

8} Start Date: January 1, 2012 
    End Date: September 28, 2014 {2012 is a leap year so there’s an extra day} 
    Goals Completed: 0/101 
    Goals in Progress: 0/101 
    Last Updated: December 31, 2011

    Crossed out marks a completed item.
    Italics marks a partially completed or in-progress item.

Ready, Set, Here We Go!!!!

1.    Enjoy local nature {hiking, biking, etc.} {local = within a two hour car ride} once a month; 0/33
2.    Go backpacking.
3.    Climb a mountain.
4.    Visit six states I’ve never been to {an airport layover doesn’t count}; 0/6.
5.    Buy a lottery ticket.
6.    Travel somewhere by train.
7.    Go fishing.
8.    Go on a road trip
9.    Bowl over 50.
10. Go to an Olympic event.
11. Travel to Europe or South America.
12. Ski at least twice every winter/spring season; 0/6.
13. Go camping at least twice each summer season; 0/6.
14. Go on a vacation with each extended family; 0/2.
15. Take my mom and dad out on a date, separately; 0/2.
16. Talk to my parents once a week; 0/132.
17. Visit Death Valley.
18. Identify 132 things that make me happy {one a week}; 0/132.
19. Throw someone a surprise party!
20. Purchase a classic children’s Holiday book each Christmas; 0/2.
21. Purchase five of my favorite books from growing up; 0/5.
22. Go to Hawaii.
23. Wear a dress every day for a month.
24. Attend The Nutcracker each Christmas season; 0/2.
25. Get all of my documents and accounts switched over to my new name.
26. Apply to a graduate program.
27. Go one month without buying anything for myself that isn’t food related.
28. Donate to my Alma Maters once a year; 0/3 & 0/3.
29. Complete our taxes before March 1st; 0/3.
30. Back up our computers.
31. Begin saving towards a home.
Healthy {Mental and Physical Health}
32. Come up with a new way to be green every month; 0/33.
33. Be active 6 days a week for a month.
34. Take my vitamins everyday for a month.
35. Sign up for a produce delivery service.
36. Get a massage.
37. Make our own dinner every night for a month.
38. Qualify for the Boston Marathon.
39. Walk Guinness in the evenings at least once a week; 0/132.
40. Begin going to yoga and do so at least once a month for six months.
41. Take an exercise class or play a sport at least once a week for a month, one that isn’t running related.
42. Eat out no more than once a month for six months; 0/6.
43. Host a dinner party.
44. Celebrate Oktoberfest.
45. Cook risotto.
46. Make crème Brule.
47. Cook a turkey, on Thanksgiving or not, preferably fried.
48. Make something from something I’ve grown.
49. Bake cookies or breads once a month; 0/33.
50. Cook something new every month; 0/33.
51. Begin collecting a Willow Tree Nativity scene…initial purchase can be the main three but collect a new piece each year.
52. Frame and put up our college diplomas; 0/2.
53. Finish my long-ago-began t-shirt quilt.
54. Organize my race #s like Rebecca did.
55. Make a wreath.
56. Plant bulbs.
57. Begin to sew and create something that I can wear, something I can use around the house and something that I can give to someone else; 0/3.
58. Can/Jar my salsa.
59. Plant and nurture a garden, even if it’s a balcony one.
60. Make our own Advent Calendar that can be used from year to year.
61. Acquire a “big-girl” camera and use it instead of my phone at family/friend events.
62. Compliment someone once a day for a month.
63. Leave a nice and anonymous note for someone once a season; 0/11.
64. Pay the bill for someone behind me in the drive-through line.
65. Visit with an older/home-bound/sick person once every six months; 0/6.
66. Participate in a cookie exchange.
67. Learn how to play Bunco and have a Bunco night at our place.
68. Have an Academy Awards party.
69. Have an obscure holiday party {Bastille Day, etc.}.
70. Join a book club.
71. See my friends who live in other states once a year; 0/3.
Out & About
72. Go to the movies once a month; 0/33.
73. Visit the San Diego Zoo.
74. Visit a historical site.
75. Attend a professional sporting event.
76. Attend a concert.
77. Go out dancing.
78. Visit a museum once a season; 0/11.
79. Visit a national park every year; 0/3.
80. Take pictures in a photo booth.
81. Go apple picking in the fall.
82. Watch a movie series.
83. Watch a movie after reading the book it goes along with.
84. Watch “Gone With the Wind”.
85. Read twelve Classics; 0/12.
86. Celebrate our 1st, 2nd and 3rd anniversaries.
87. Exchange the traditional anniversary gifts on our anniversaries.
88. Make our Wedding Album {with or without outside assistance}.
89. Continue to uphold and develop our own traditions {birthdays, New Year, Thanksgiving, Halloween, anniversary, etc.}.
90. Blog once a day until June 2012.
91. Order race pictures of Mike & me.
92. Finish writing thank you notes.
93. Get our wedding quilt sent in and made.
94. Make an actual photo album for each year…print out the photos and put them into an album; 0/3.
95. Volunteer at an animal shelter/pound/Humane Society at least once.
96. Send a care package to a family member or friend who lives in another state.
97. Send out birthday cards to my friends/family before the actual birthday.
98. Send out all Christmas cards before December 20th 2012 & December 20 2013; 0/2.
99. Read through the “50 Questions That Will Free Your Mind” once a month; 0/33.
100. Begin a new 101 in 1,001 for 2015!
101. Donate $1 for every task not completed by September 28th 2014; recipient to be determined.

Tomorrow I'll begin with my first monthly update.

I didn't think I'd feel this way but after having read through my list I am just SO excited about this! I'm enlisting the help of friends and family to keep me accountable. Are you a resolution maker? Have you ever done a "101 in 1,001"? Again, I'm really looking forward to this and thank you in advance for reading through my journey!

xoxo, natty ♥

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Sixth Day of Christmas.

This is the day where I talk about being able to do things with family & friends. Yesterday we made pizza and bowled. Every time I get out and about and actually do things, I feel so silly because this question pops into my mind: why don't I/we do this sort of stuff all the time?!?! I let the ins and outs of my work week really get me down, I think that's why I'm not traipsing around town every other night. I've expounded upon this before, Reader, so I'll spare you the verbosity this post around, but maybe something I strive towards in the New Year will be a weekly or at least monthly social outing? 
Geez, having just read what I just wrote, I sound pathetic. Oh well, I ams what I ams but I'd like to branch out a bit.

Anyway, I forgot to take pictures of our finished products but I can tell you that the Brie and artichoke hearts pizza was the Best Thing Ever last night. Don't worry, though, we're definitely not gourmands, we got the inspiration from a Christmas Gift Pizza Cookbook.
Then we bowled. I got a 25. Yes, I'm that bad.
Mike made sure that we got matching shoes.
xoxo, natty ♥

On the 5th Day of Christmas...

My True Love gave to me...

Seventy duh-gree wea-thurr!
xoxo, natty ♥

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

4th Day of Christmas.

I'm forgoing the Wordless Wednesdayness of today in lieu of my current blog campaign. Click HERE to know what's up. Also, beware, here is "really long post in the span of only a few days # I've lost count".

Today, on my quest of thanks and appreciating time spent with loved ones, I enumerate the benefits of museums. I LOVE museums; I think I might be able to find something I like in any museum I visit. I really appreciate learning new and interesting things in an engaging manner. I was obsessed with "olden" things when I was young {I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder} and seeing the actual evidence that there was a past really played/plays into this fascination. I also really appreciate knowing that if I can't remember everything that I read/learned/saw in any given visit, the museum will always be there for me to go back to. 

Although I love me some beautiful artwork, I often have more fun at museums of a different variety, generally those which have a theme. Yesterday we went to the Musical Instrument Museum. I'm tone deaf. I love listening to music but have no talent in that field but this place has gotten rave reviews; I kept my mind open and was by no means disappointed. I think this may actually be one of my favorite museums ever.

I'll give a brief explanation of what it's all about and then launch into the pictures though I'll even put those into categories of a) cool things b) costumes/masks c) geographical-ness d) famous musicians and e) us playing with instruments.

This two story museum is a listening experience. It's touted as the most interesting museum you'll ever hear...or something like that. The very first thing you visit is a little gallery that has a short introductory video of the museum, a room full of guitars {which is wise since almost everyone knows what these are} and a room full of interesting instruments {large to tiny, varying mediums, musical oddities}.

Then we went upstairs which is divided by regions of the world. I think that every country is represented which is mind boggling because our world is dang big! The organization goes by continent and super large countries are divided by regions or styles of music. We started with Africa and moved onto the Middle East. Maybe because it was the first place we visited but I think those two were my favorite regions. And the United States. The Africa/Middle East was great because they had fabulous drum rhythms and costumes. The US was great because it covered Native American cultures {which I find exceptionally interesting} as well as some of the music that is most familiar to me as a child of this country {blue grass, traditional marching, Hip Hop, Country Western...}.

We ate a yummy lunch. Some museums have the best cafes and this was no exception. The emphasis was on local stuff and just plain old good stuff.
Post lunch we explored the rest of the downstairs which included two pretty cool areas; the notable musician section and the experiential room.

The notable musician room included little exhibits on exactly that, famous and influential music makers. John Lennon was prominent as were John Denver, Eric Clapton, Elvis Prestley, The Jonas Brothers and the Black Eyed Peas, though I overheard some grumbling among fellow patrons regarding the last two choices.
We capped off our visit by getting to play some instruments. We stuck to hitting things with sticks the various drum options. This room was loud and cacophonous considering that the many children present yesterday seemed to really enjoy getting their hands on things they'd been looking at all afternoon.

What makes this museum exceptional is that except for the very first two galleries {the guitars and unique instruments} everything has an audio component. Like I said, it's the most interesting museum you'll ever hear. Guests have this little box they carry around with them that's connected to earphones. Every exhibit has a TV playing one to six vignettes that relate to the country, style of music or musician it's describing; there's a very short written explanation of each scene that's shown {each is no longer than two minutes}; they're matched up by a letter that pops up when each new one begins. The little box that patrons carry uses some crazy magic to figure out which TV you're in front of and just picks up what's being broadcast. I had never heard the majority of what was played for me yesterday, obviously, but I loved matching audio to the visual. 

It was so poignant to hear familiar sounds; various songs and sounds {as well as scent but I haven't been the the Museum of Olfactory Oddities yet...maybe I don't want to?} can instantly transport me to what was happening when I first heard those tunes. I'm the type of music lover that will play something over and over again if I love it so various songs remind me really strongly of certain summers, school years, trips, etc. I think that this component of the museum and the fact that the sounds are piped directly into your own ears so as to have an extra visceral effect is what makes this museum so appealing. 

What songs or sounds are meaningful to you? Does music make a soundtrack to your life the way it has and continues to for me? Are you tone deaf like I am and just enjoy listening? Also, are you painfully unhip when it comes to music choices? I most definitely am and did not feel one bit intimidated yesterday which could also be another benefit of this place; all visitors are able to enjoy and relate.

Anyway, It was a fabulous visit that spanned about six hours. Thanks so much to my in-laws for taking us!

Aaaaaaaand some visuals:
a) Cool Things:
I think that this is a Thai instrument. Forgive me now for I may attribute the wrong countries but I'll try and get things as correct as possible and mean no offense to anyone out there.

This is Indian though I forget exactly what it's for.

A really big whistle!
All the languages spoken in Africa; pretty crazy!
I enjoyed these little lizards.
A pink saxophone!

Yuck! Cool!
Something Really Big.
This is a pretty case...
that holds this.
Something Really Small.
Beautiful Succulents in the cafe garden.
Photobucket       Photobucket 
I thought that this tiny electric piano was the funniest thing in the whole place; it's just so plain and simple...and meant for a child!
b) Costumes & Masks:
This guy greets you at the top of the stairs.
This guy is African.
I can't remember where this guy is from.
This is the costume of the Scissor Dance in Peru which is uh-may-zine. I watched the video twice.
Lamely, I also can't remember where he is from.
These guys are Indian.
c) My People!
d) I ♥ Toby Keith.
d) Gong!
xoxo, natty ♥

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On the Third Day of Christmas.

Ugh, Dear Reader, this is another doozy of a post so brace yourself!

Today I'm talking about Cookies. My feelings towards cookies is summed up in one word. A few years ago I had a plate of my Martha Stewart's favorite Cakey Chocolate Chip cookies laying around the kitchen. I had made them that day or the day before and in my grandmother's house, that's a long life for baked goods thanks to the daily revolving door of family and friends. I was hoping there would be a few waiting for me after my run and when I got home I was sorely disappointed. The culprit? My father. When I confronted him he quoted a famous loved one, the Cookie Monster. Dear old Dad looked contrite and said "Cooooooookies!". The apple doesn't fall far from the tree and those are my sentiments exactly.

I had been feeling not too involved in the season because we had been moving and running a marathon in Tucson {which will have it's day in these twelve} and working 40+ hours a week so my goal for the few free days before leaving for Arizona was to bake. And Bake I did. 

I started with the store-bought slices of sugar cookies that have a holiday design in the center. I did this because I LOVE the flavor of these little devils. I don't care about the food coloring or cop-out-ness of buying pre-sliced and ready-to-bake pieces of cookie dough; they just taste dang good. I didn't get any pictures of them, though. 

My second batch was said Cakey Chocolate Chippers and those were eaten before any pictures could be taken. Just kidding. They did go quickly though.
I moved onto another perennial favorite and quite possibly my father's love-language; the Hershey's Peanut Butter Blossoms.
At the store I once found a bag of the Kisses already peeled but that hasn't happened since and I kind of like sitting and taking off the wrappers. 
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
These are basically peanut butter cookies rolled in sugar. After you bake them you stick in a naked Hershey's Kiss in the center. The heat from the cookie makes the kiss melty so these need to cool for what feels like forever before they're ready for transport. Or you can just eat them right away. The real recipe is at the above link {the words in different colors}. Mikey-Wikey doesn't care for peanut butter so as long as my pops stays away these are mine to enjoy.

I then moved onto the Raspberry Thumbprints. The recipe I originally used years ago came from a book of my grandmother and I didn't have it with me so I looked up a few random ones and made my own changes here and there. This is what I kind of came up with.

Raspberry Jam Thumbprint Cookies. 
This is not a comprehensive recipe and has been written with the assumption that the Reader is aware of basic oven functioning and safety practices. If you are a youngin' please ask for adults to help you out.
1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
2. Cream a stick of butter {salted or unsalted; I've never been able to tell the difference though some people say only unsalted is appropriate} with 1/4 cup of sugar {the white stuff though I've seen recipes that ask for the brown stuff}; this means mix it together until it's, well, good and mixed. 
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
Butter and Sugar...SO GOOD!
I use my counter top standing mixer since it's strong like bull and mine weak arms can't git-er-done on their own but however you can do it, just do it. Don't melt the booder, though, that just won't work; I usually cut mine into one or two inch pieces and let it set out on the counter for the time when I'm getting out the rest of the ingredients and getting everything ready to soften it up. This is maybe five minutes total or a bit more/less.
3. Add in two egg yokes {save the whites in a separate bowl, you'll need them for later} and 1/2 a teaspoon {or a whole one depending on your taste preference} of vanilla {try to use the good stuff and not the fake stuff, no offense to those who do. The real stuff includes alcohol so some are hesitant to use it but the booze actually bakes off in the oven soooo...} and continue the creaming/mixing until it's even more good and mixed, about another minute.
4. With the mixer going-at-it-still, slowly add in 1.5 cups of flour and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. I use plain white flour and don't suggest experimenting with "healthy" flours {such as whole wheat, for example} unless you want a less cookie-like cookie.
5. At this point I create an assembly line of sorts that is, from left to right, the dough, a bowl of egg whites, a bowl of chopped up pecans {finer is better than chunkier though this year I bought the pre-chopped out of laziness; they're pretty big pieces and still worked well} and the cookie sheet; this picture is not accurate according to the order I mention above.
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
6. Make one inch balls of dough, roll them in the egg whites and then the pecans and place them two or so inches apart on the sheet {I left cookie sheets unlined though some use parchment paper [not to be confused with wax paper which doesn't bake well] or a baking mat like Silpat [mine doesn't fit on our old cookie sheet]; using something means your cookies might bake more evenly or not stick. Not using something, in my case, doesn't ruin the experience.
7. With your thumb {hence thumbprint cookies!} or the back of a spoon make an indentation in each cookie.
Some people bake the cookies for five or so minutes, take them out, fill the dent with some raspberry jam and then finish off the little dudes for another seven minutes. I just do the jam and bake them all at once {10 to 12 minutes} and my jam has never caramelized or anything bad like that.
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
8. Let the cookies cool on a rack for a while and then ENJOY!
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
Like I mentioned, my preferred combination is raspberry jam with chopped pecans but you can feel free to go hog wild and try all sorts of combinations. Apricot and almonds might be tasty and you could use almond extract in place of vanilla...any suggestions?
I finished off with snickerdoodles for my snickerdoodle; they're his favorites. These recipes and plentiful and abundant but I'll provide for you Ms. Maw-thuh's since I've enjoyed them before. Again with the assembly line but this time it's just a bowlful of sugar mixed with cinnamon {yum!} that comes between the dough and the cookie sheet. 
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
A well loved needs to be cleaned cookie sheet.
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
Watch yo self when it comes to these guys since they're most definitely not just sugar cookies rolled in cinnamon/sugar and they also NEED cream of tartar to give them that snickerdoodly taste and texture so don't skip out on that step just because you don't have that ingredient around the house; make the trip to the store because it's totally an essential part of the recipe. Or just buy some already made snickerdoodles.

I had intentions of making spritz cookies but that didn't happen due to time restraints, very sadly so since I love making these the most. An added challenge to the whole endeavor was that on my second day of baking the water in our building was shut off for repairs. I used a lot of paper towels and some bottled water, I can tell you that much! I'll explain the spritz cookies in another post on another day. 

All in all my baking had the desired effect and I definitely felt more a part of the season and ready to celebrate family and togetherness. I really was craving some down time for myself where I could get lost in something. Considering the time of year what I wanted to lose myself in was sugar, butter and flour in varying quantities and with a variety of adornments. I managed to gift a few containers of these sugar bombs to those around us {neighbors and some family} which not only lets others know we're thinking of and care for them but has the added benefit of preventing us from eating them all.
How did you get yourself festive this year? Are you prolonging the season like I'm trying to? What's your favorite holiday cookie or dish?
xoxo, natty ♥

Monday, December 26, 2011

On the Second Day of Christmas.

A quick Marvelous Monday and then on to the real post.
1. "The Polar Express" is on TV right now. I love this story and this movie. My grandmother and I saw it when it came out several years ago and it reminds me of that day as well as of the importance of Believing in whatever it is that speaks to your heart and soul.
2. My first Christmas away from home was a success! My new family always welcomes me so warmly and has always included me as if I were an "original", so to speak, and this holiday was no exception; it was great to see and experience new traditions with new loved ones. I do still miss the California contingent; it's a lot quieter in Arizona than it is in Golden State but Mike and I are really looking forward to celebrating la Navidad part II upon our return.
3. My dear Mother-in-law celebrated her birthday last night; Happy Birthday!!!
4. I still have a whole week of not setting my alarm!
5. I went on my first post-marathon run today and it was good. I'm a bit sore on my whole right side still but hopefully time and maybe a massage can cure that. My right side is feeling it because the majority of our race {18 miles out of 26.2, give or take a couple} was on the side of a highway going against traffic and the slight curve of the road over that much distance really took a toll on our {my and Mike's} joints.
On this second day of Christmas {refer to this post for a bit of an explanation} I want to talk about the little bit of winter joy that is the Amaryllis. The blooms of this flower are one of my favorite things of the cold months. I've always relied on my grandmother's plants to brighten my days and this was the first time I actually bought my own but I was sad because after a few days it was starting to bloom ever-so-slowly but we were set to leave for Arizona. Since we were driving Mikey suggested I just take it with us. A novel idea considering we drove and there aren't any rules about taking bulbs into your car across state lines so with us it went!!
I'm putting up pictures of things that possibly only I and my friend Rebecca might find interesting. To spare you, dear reader, while staying true to my desires, I compiled the shots into little collage thingies so you don't have to scroll down to infinity; you're welcome.
What I love about the Amaryllis is that it is a bulb. I'm no expert when it comes to gardening activities but I would like to eventually be handy around my future yard{s}. I do know that bulbs look like nothing more than a dried out and brown onion. They lay fallow in the ground and will all of a sudden grow green shoots that soon produce beautiful and sometimes, if you're lucky, fragrant blossoms. Bulbs flower from year to year without much upkeep though if you live in a colder climate you might need to dig up your bulbs and keep them warm for the winter. How cool is that? It's super cool, actually, especially since here's so much symbolism going on. I'm also definitely attracted to the glorious scents; narcissus! Hyacinth! Glorious...This one, unfortunately, doesn't perfume the air around it which I can deal with considering how beautiful it is.
My little guy came from Trader Joe's. The cool thing about the Amaryllis is that it can bloom indoors. Actually many bulbs can be "tricked" into blooming indoors which strikes me as funny; kind of like tricking a child into something like eating vegetables that have been cleverly hidden in cheese sauce.
Anyway, here are my memories of the Great Bloom of Christmas 2011, a bright reminder of the beauty of winter, a New Year, resurgence and New Life.
xoxo, natty ♥