Forcing Autumn via Food

It's mid-September, and officially the first day of Autumn. That said, in DC, it's still in the 80s. I'm wearing denim again, getting excited for hoodies and booties and sweaters, oh my! But the one way I can pretend it's Autumn is through cooking. I made stuffed acorn squash for dinner. An easy dish, it has all the flavors you need to pretend it's actually fall.

It's Autumn Dammit Acorn Squash

Ingredients

    • 2 medium acorn squash, halved down the middle, seeds removed
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • Olive oil cooking spray
    • 3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
    • 8 ounces hot Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
    • 1 large leek, white and light green parts only, halved and sliced
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • 4 cups tightly packed torn kale
    • 1/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
    • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
    • 2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan
    • 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs

Preparation

Heat oven to 375°. Cut a thin slice off round side of each squash half to create a stable base. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; coat with cooking spray. Place squash flesh side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil; bake until golden and tender, 30 minutes. Remove from oven; flip squash and set aside. Heat broiler. In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat 1 teaspoon oil. Add sausage; cook, breaking into coarse pieces, until brown, 6 minutes; transfer to a bowl. To same skillet, add remaining 2 teaspoons oil and leek; cook until leek is soft, 3 minutes. Add garlic; cook, 30 seconds. Add kale and toss; add broth. Cover and cook until kale is tender, 5 minutes; stir in sausage. Divide kale-sausage filling among squash. In a bowl, combine walnuts, Parmesan and panko; sprinkle evenly over squash bowls and coat with cooking spray. Broil until panko is golden, 2 minutes

Proust Questionnaire

I found this in my blog archives. I love Vanity Fair, and I must have answered the questions on the last page. I've updated them a bit, but not very much, surprising for five years later.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? A sunny warm Saturday with no agenda

What is your greatest fear? Fear of falling, or of great physical harm

Which historical figure do you most identify with? Bella Abzug, Eleanor Roosevelt, Prince

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? I'm a horrible know-it-all, which makes me judgmental

What is the trait you most deplore in others? Lack of curiosity, selfishness

What is your greatest extravagance? hotel room service breakfasts, or spending a morning reading in bed

On what occasion do you lie? To protect someone's feelings

What do you dislike most about your appearance? Resting Bitch Face

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? "perfect" or the eff word.

What is your greatest regret? Not having a traditional college or grad school experience

What or who is the greatest love of your life? My husband.  He's my best friend and favorite play mate. Reading is a close second

When and where were you happiest? Waking up in Vieques alone at a beautiful resort, with no plans for the day, and no responsibility, knowing I could arrange the day however I liked - and that most of it would be spent reading at a stunning beach, followed by a drink on my private veranda, then a wonderful meal

Which talent would you most like to have? I wish I had a gift for other languages

What is your current state of mind? Excited for the future

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? That I would be more patient

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be? That they would have more confidence in themselves and not be afraid to try new or big things

If you could choose to what to come back as, what would it be? My spoiled puppy Juno

What is your most treasured possession? My wedding ring

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Hopelessness

Where would you like to live? Chicago, Rome, Barcelona, Manhattan, San Francisco

What is your favorite occupation? Reading

What quality do you most like in a man? Kindness

What quality do you most like in a woman? Wit

What do you most value in your friends? Intelligence, creativity, they inspire me

Who are your favorite writers? Those that bring characters or perspectives to life

Who is your favorite hero of fiction? Scarlett O'Hara

Who are your heroes in real life? People who stand up for what is right or what they believe in

What is it that you most dislike? Stinginess, bread pudding, bad tipperse

How would you like to die? Quietly, at an old age, in my bed after finishing a wonderful book

 What is your motto? How bad could it be?

The importance of blogs and why women should do this

The lack of fit between women's lives and the words available for talking about experience present real difficulties for ordinary women's self-expression in their every day lives.  If words often do not quite fit, then women who want to talk of their experiences must 'translate,' either saying things that are not quite right, or working at using the language in non-standard ways. (Marjorie Devault, 1990)

So I realize that I use this blog as a less intimate journal, but I think I may have to try harder.  I am reading for class and came across this statement, and I cannot help feeling that this is correct.  This spoke to me because it explains what I have not been able to.

The Office Bully

I had the distinct pleasure of encountering a workplace bully yesterday and today. Over what isn't important, but Bully decided that the correct response to a miscommunication (on Bully's part, not on mine) was to attack and threaten. Even the medium used - a chat system - was used to intimidate, oh and to not leave a record. He could have easily called or emailed to ask, but instead it was in a medium that assumes a level of privacy and intimacy, leaving me no choice but to feel the full extent of this wrath. The best way to deal with him, as far as I can tell is to remain calm, and treat the situation like I do when T, my 2 and a half year old, has a meltdown over some equally important issue (missing bunny, doesn't want to go potty ever again, wants waffles, now doesn't want waffles, etc). However, with Bully, he then tends to escalate his rage to someone really important, and I find that I am just the stepping stone in the building anger pyramid.

What I find remarkable is that Bully seems to be consistent in his path to anger and his approach: Ask question that appears to be reasonable, freak out at answer he knew was coming, harass me on chat and threaten livelihood, then go yell at someone really important.  What I don't understand is that if Bully has this reputation, and it's growing, why everyone allows this behavior. I've taken to documenting Bully's chats just in case he actually does freak out and physically harm someone, as he threatens. Good times.

Fancy Lunch

Scallops and Orzo
Scallops and Orzo

In a renewed effort to eat well combined with a fit of organizational zeal, I hit up the Container Store for new food storage items. I recognize that I eat out constantly for lunch during work, and if I brought my lunch a few times, perhaps I could save a few bucks and eat better. On busy work days, I'll go get a salad, but then I also get a giant cookie, etc. I cook at home all the time, and mostly cook some type of Paleo/Low-carb meal, depending on what L is training for currently, but when I get to work all bets are off. Also, bringing lunch in a sad leftover Chinese take-out container does nothing to excite me at lunch time. I'd really rather not fight for space in the office fridge, when I can walk outside and get something someone else made. So in an attempt to change this, I purchased a fantastic lunch box that is making my lunch right now feel really fancy. I also have salt and pepper shakers on my desk. Really what is missing is a glass of wine with this elegant lunch, but alas. It's said that you eat first with your eyes, and this is certainly true. I am making my lunch experience - which is still being eaten in my office - feel lovely and special, and I haven't even told you what I'm eating!

Now, on to the recipe! This is from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Yummy Mummy (yes, I know). The herbs are from my garden. I feel like one of those lifestyle bloggers saying that!

Greek Orzo with Seared Scallops 

Serves 4

16 oz orzo pasta, cooked in salted water (reserve 1/4 cup pasta water)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (needs to be good quality because it flavors this simple pasta)

juice from 1/2 a lemon

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved 

1 yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup kalamata olives

2 cups arugula leaves

16 jumbo scallops 

garlic powder 

In a large bowl, toss warm pasta with lemon juice, tomatoes, bell pepper, olives, and arugula. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Feel free to add any fresh herbs you have (fresh oregano would be perfect!) - I didn't have any since this was a last-minute, clean out the fridge kind of dinner. Add a little pasta water and olive oil if too dry.

Heat olive oil in nonstick saute pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle scallops with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cook about 3 minutes per side. You can see mine didn't get a dark sear - that's because I moved them around the pan too much. Top orzo with scallops.

Happy New Year + Chickpeas!

I love Labor Day - it signals a fresh beginning, even though I'm not attending school this year. BUT my two and a half year old T is starting in the "big kids" class of his Montessori, which requires a new backpack and lunch box. Hard to believe my little one is growing up so quickly. So because I feel the creative juices flowing, the fall air (despite the 90 degree weather here in the District) creeping in, and the desire to purchase new fall boots edging in strong, I thought it is time to bring back my blog, and revamp this creative outlet. Will it be a dreaded (in name only) mommy blog? probably. Will I talk about politics? Likely. Will I share recipes? Definitely.

Shucking the chickpeas
Shucking the chickpeas

To start the Autumn out right, here is a recipe for my - and my family's new favorite snack. It's basically portable hummus. These were a huge hit during our 8 hour car trip to Grammy and Poppop's house

I mix it up and try new herb mixes, a lot like I might with popcorn. Tonight, instead of cinnamon, I used a packet of Ranch dressing mix, dried dill, a little garlic powder, and a bit of salt. I also make these in big batches, and will do 4-5 cans of chickpeas at a time. The shucking of the chickpeas takes forever, but it's a great time to catch up on phone calls or listen to music.

From Weelicious:

Ingredients

  • 115 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans)
  • 1/2 teaspoonground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespooncanola or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoonhoney

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Place the beans between two paper towels and pat dry, loosening the outer skin of the beans.
  3. Remove the outer skins of the beans and pat dry to remove any other excess liquid (removing the outer skin of the beans takes a few minutes, but it’s a great job for getting kids involved).
  4. Whisk the cinnamon and oil in a bowl to combine, add the beans stirring to coat and place on a baking sheet.
  5. Roast for 40 minutes.
  6. Remove the beans from the oven, place in a bowl and toss with 1 tbsp of honey.
  7. Place the beans back into the oven and roast an additional 7 minutes.
  8. Cool completely and serve.
  9. * Store in a covered container on your counter for up to 2 weeks

Happy Labor Day/Back to School/Autumn/New Year!

Kicking Carbs, More Tarragon

I'm taking the no-carb plunge and am spending 21 days (hello day 4!) eating under 40 grams of carbs daily. This isPoulet_al_Estragon the diet that L has done, which helped lead him to a 50-lb loss, and has helped with his Iron Man training. And while I don't have such ambitious end goals, I thought it wouldn't hurt to commit to a way of eating that tends to provide more energy, and a burning of body fat. To learn more about this, check out Diet Doctor, L's diet guru for the past year. BUT I have also re-discovered my love for cooking, I have had to balance these two often polar notions, as I am pretty sure that everything delicious has carbs. For this recipe, I just didn't make the rice, and I swapped in almond flour for the regular flour. Also, tarragon. This may be my very favorite herb. Anyway, after skipping the rice, the beans were the side to go with this already delicious dish. My grocery store didn't have yellow beans, but green were just lovely. However, Lynne Rossetto Kasper came through this past weekend on my favorite NPR show (The Splendid Table) with this recipe, adapted from Chef Daniel Boulard:

Ingredients
  • Salt 
  • 15 golf ball-size tomatoes 
  • 1 tablespoon butter 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 2 (2- to 3-pound) farm-raised chickens, each cut into 8 pieces 
  • Freshly ground white pepper 
  • 4 large shallots, sliced 
  • 10 ounces pearl onions 
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste 
  • 3 tablespoons flour 
  • 1/2 cup tarragon vinegar 
  • 2 cups Chicken Stock 
  • 1/2 bunch tarragon
Rice Pilaf 
  • 1 1/2 cups basmati rice 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 shallot, minced 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 2 1/2 cups Chicken Stock 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 2 sprigs thyme 
  • 2 sprigs tarragon
Yellow Wax Bean Fricassée 
  • Salt 
  • 1 pound yellow wax beans, trimmed 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • Freshly ground white pepper 
  • 1/2 bunch tarragon, leaves chopped
Directions for the Poulet à l'Estragon 
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and set a bowl of ice water on the side. Score an X on the bottoms of the tomatoes. 
  • Boil them for 5 seconds, or until the skins loosen on the bottoms. Strain and peel under cold running water; set aside. 
  • In a 5-quart braising pan over medium high heat, melt the butter with the oil. 
  • Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. 
  • Add the chicken to the pan skin side down and sear until golden brown on both sides, about 10 minutes total. 
  • Transfer the chicken to a platter, set aside, and strain all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pan. 
  • Reduce the heat to medium and add the shallots and onions to the pan. 
  • Cook, stirring, until the shallots are soft. 
  • Add the tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring, for another minute. 
  • Add the vinegar, bring to a simmer, then stir in the chicken stock. 
  • Bring to a simmer, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. 
  • Return the chicken to the pan with half of the tomatoes and the tarragon. 
  • Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Add the remaining tomatoes, cover, and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Directions for the Rice Pilaf 
  • Rinse the rice with cold water until it runs clear. 
  • Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. 
  • Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until translucent. 
  • Add the rice and stir to coat. 
  • Add the butter, chicken stock, salt, bay leaf, thyme, and tarragon and bring to a simmer. 
  • Cover and cook undisturbed over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. 
  • Turn off the heat and rest, covered, for 5 minutes. 
  • Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork.
Directions for the Yellow Wax Bean Fricassée 
  • Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. 
  • Add the beans and boil for 4 minutes, or until tender. 
  • Strain, return the beans to the pan over medium-low heat, and toss with the butter. 
  • Season with salt and pepper and toss in the tarragon leaves just before serving. 

Poulet A l'Estragon recipe from Daniel: My French Cuisine. Copyright © 2013 by Daniel Boulud. Used with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

Back to me

Rock Creek Park Here we are, in mid-October, during my very favorite time of year. The air is chilly, and the sky is gray and acts to insulate us all. Washington DC is beautiful and cozy before winter arrives. Autumn has always been a refresh for me. It's back to school season, even though I'm not going back. It's a time when I begin to feel creative and more like myself, and after a very challenging period, I can't be more glad that this wonderful time of year has arrived.

After being diagnosed with Post-Partum Depression, I allowed myself the summer to indulge in letting go. I took away the pressure to feel obligated to attend social events, to kill myself at work, to overbook, over scheduled, and really, do much more than spend weekends hanging out with Teddy at the pool. I allowed myself the time to read, and to begin to find the things that I enjoyed before becoming pregnant, but I didn't force it, and I didn't try to do it all at once. Little by little, I have found a new version of myself that makes sense for where I am in my life. For ten years as a professional, and as far back as high school, I was happy to work 60, 70 hours a week, to dig in, and to try to be more, be bigger, do better. For the first time in my life I'm actually focusing on the now, instead of the could be. Of all the things about parenthood I didn't anticipate, this might be one of the best discoveries.

Not this summer. L and I arranged our schedule so that we each had a sleep-in day on the weekend, where I could read the New York Times in bed - a pleasure that had moved passed sinful, to impossible only a few months ago.  I scaled back on my workouts and finally decided to not run the half marathon I am signed up for. This has led to a renewed sense of pleasure in running.  I'm working for the pure pleasure of it - which I know may sound crazy - but instead of killing myself and being irritated, I'm scaling back on my world-domination goals, and really focusing on my immediate tasks, and on being a really great manager. With downsized goals, I'm finding that a lot of the pressure I tended to put on myself is melting away. As the weather is cooling, I have rediscovered cooking - something that I greatly enjoy, but had put aside for the practicality of getting everyone fed. I am devouring books in the evening. Ladies and gentlemen, I have pulled out the beautiful sweater I started knitting before the 2012 election, and I am nearly finished! I'm staying up past 10pm to watch Top Chef again! I am writing. I am rediscovering the little pleasures that my days more rich.

And as I've found myself in a more grounded, balanced place, I find that it is enhancing my family life. I feel more connected to L, and I'm better able to be a good partner to him. I am engaged and feel enriched by watching Teddy learn and explore the world. I have a new-found patience that I'm not sure I would have discovered, had I not gone through the experiences of the past year. It's said that everything happens for a reason, and while I don't wish my depression on anyone, it has led to a renewed prioritization, and though it's not in my nature to think small, it might be that I needed to learn to live in the moment for this next phase of my life. I no longer see this as giving up, but as a time for growth and conserving of energy for what comes next.

I'm a mess: Updated.

May 24: I can finally admit it. I'm a mess. I do not have it all together all of the time. I am not superwoman. This comes as no surprise to most people, but as I find myself in treatment for depression for the first time in over a decade, I am admitting this to myself and to others. What's more is that I do not need to have it all together. I have been buying my own hype for so long that I really truly believed that if I let just one little ball drop, just slide out of orbit even a little, all of the globes I am balancing and tossing and mixing and choosing will come crashing to the floor. Well friends, they have. Here's the deal. In the past year and a half I have: Put an offer in on a house, had a child after a 48 hour labor, moved into the new house with a two week old, gotten used to a new not as cool neighborhood nowhere near my friends, survived maternity leave, gone back to work with a breast pump, gone through a time/emotion-sucking election, unceremoniously left a job I loved, was left unemployed before Christmas with a ten month old, went on a vacation alone to my favorite place as a way to recover while job hunting, started a new job in which I am still trying to keep my head above water. Also, I'm married, have friends, and a LOT of family drama. It's really quite amazing I didn't have this nervous breakdown I deserved earlier.

So now I have an expensive therapist, prescriptions for a few fantastic drugs, and a new playlist filled with Lana Del Ray dropping eff bombs constantly. I also have a laptop and a secret desire to write. I'm trying to get myself back to normal, and I think it will happen soon.

NOTE: (Sept 9) I'm publishing this now, because I have finally come to terms with where I have been, and I miss writing. I need a creative outlet once again, and I think that until I admitted to this - to postpartum depression - that I am able to move forward with my writing, and basically with my living. I wrote this in May, and I spent the summer taking care of myself, going easy, learning my new job, reacquainting myself with my current relationships and learning better how I want to move forward. I'm also admitting to this because I think depression, and in particular postpartum depression, are often not talked about out loud. I wanted to say something earlier but now I'm finally in a place where I can look at these things objectively.

I am still learning to be easier on myself, while not giving up on my larger professional goals. I'm learning how to better balance all aspects of my life, and how to give enough time to others and to myself. I'm not the first person to have these issues, and certainly not the last, but at least I find that I'm in a place where I can talk about it. Stay tuned...

 

In which I feel like a competent adult

This day has finally arrived!  This is a big deal as I am job hunting, and in DC, home of "and what do you do?" identity is quite tied up in where one spends 9 hours of their day. So I've been feeling a little bit like a lame-o, despite that I have two very strong leads (and one job offer on the table - yay!).  So I declare that today, I am actually a grown up. Today, when my husband discovered a weird leaky think happening in the basement bathroom, and declared that he might have to take the day off to fix it, I immediately called a plumber. Because this is our house, and we don't have a landlord anymore, and that means I have to do this stuff. The nice plumber came over and hacked into my kitchen wall, and declared I needed a new pipe that would cost $1200.  Instead of peeing myself and saying, "slap some duck tape on it and I'll see you in a year" we hacked into the "Surprise! Something broke" savings fund and I paid the stupidly large bill.  Yes, that bill completely sucks, but what sucked less was the fact that I was able to grin a little, and remember how many times my mother (an accountant) would tell my sisters and I to have a budget! Save! Put money away for emergencies! Well, I listened. And what could have been a disaster was not.

And then I ran a bunch of errands, went grocery shopping, started a pot roast for dinner in a crock pot (you can take the girl out of the Midwest...), and steamed carrots for my kid's meals. I rule.

Clearing it all out

IMG_2381Now that the holidays are over, and I find myself with unplanned free time, I'm using this time to figure out what I want - what I really want. Maybe other people do this regularly, but I find that often I get on a path and I just stay on that path and keep driving ahead on that path, and I don't give any thought to whether or not it's the right path. To have this time to figure out what I really want out of my life is a luxury, and one I do not want to waste. Spending my Day: Early conclusions are that I need to think carefully about what I will do for a living. I have been in a field that I love for the past 12 years, and now I have the time to consider if this is where I want to continue. What do I want my career to look like for the next decade? How much time will I spend on my work? What will I wear to work? How will this impact my relationships? How will it impact parenting (and the desire for a squid 2.o)? Will I focus on daily work or do I want to do something more long term? Where does education fit into this? I have long considered working towards my PhD.  Is this something I want to do in the next decade?  A lot of these are questions I didn't consider as a twenty-something starting out. I plowed ahead, looking for new, looking to learn, looking to travel, looking for more of everything. Now I think I might need less - in terms of fame, time, stress.  Some things will not change - I want to do good, challenging work that matters. I want to learn something new. I want to mentor and help the next generation of leaders develop into strong leaders themselves. I want to be compensated and appreciated for my time and dedication. I want to feel secure in my next roles, so that I can offer security to my family. I want L to be able to take a few risks, so that I might be able to take a few risks again.

Authentic, Inside and Out: I mentioned clothing, and I know this seems an odd thing to give thought to, but I think it does play a role in how I want to live my life. I'm cleaning out and organizing my closet as a way to determine how I want to move through the world, how I am viewed by others, and what type of statement I want to make to myself and others. It speaks to how much I need and makes me consider the fact that more is not more, but in fact, I can do more with less if I am thoughtful about the items I buy.  I have long relied on a book called Style Statement to help me make authentic choices, and it might be time to revisit this book while I am on vacation. Up until now, my statement has been "Genuine Flair" and I'd like to see if this still holds.  It certainly seems to apply to my home decorating (see: traditional craftsman living room, painted BM's chamomile).

Peace at Home: Which brings me to my home. I'm investing in more storage containers and trying to streamline our home. I think if we have less (yes, that means less Teddy stuff too), that we will be more satisfied with the things we do have, and can focus on a few important things. I find that when I focus on one or two hobbies, it's more fun than trying to do everything, making many hobbies into chores. Luckily we just moved in less than a year ago, so the organize the house project shouldn't be too impossible. And bonus, all this organizing speaks to my control-freak heart and makes me feel like I have a little more purpose to my days.

Mindful Dining: Finally, I'm clearing out the junk from my diet. I have been more conscious of what I've been eating since I started to run regularly, but I think I might up it a notch by trying out the Paleo challenge that my Crossfit gym is hosting. I'm not sure I'll love it, but I'm using it as a way to detox from sugars and Christmas cookies. I do love to cook, so perhaps this will just lead to more mindful food preparation.

These are just a few of the things I want to be more aware of in this new year. What are you doing?

That's enough, 2012.

Normally I have a theme for a year, instead of a resolution, but I cannot seem to find or remember what 2012's theme was supposed to be. I suspect that I didn't declare it would be the year of really big challenges, of endless obstacles, and of a lot of hard things, but that is what 2012 became. This has been one of the most challenging years I have ever experienced, and while I keep thinking about how hard it has been, I cannot ignore the great things that have resulted from these challenges. There have been unexpected twists, challenges I set and challenges put in front of me, and at the end of it all, I think that this has been a growing year, a dramatic year, and one I will be glad to put behind me. When I started writing this, I was about to list out all of the shit that I have faced, and when I was thinking about how hard this year has been, I just did not feel like re-living that part of it.

My husband and I had a son and bought a house in March. This has been a truly magical, awful, wonderful, impossible challenge. Overnight we went from renters in a cool neighborhood to an urban family in an older, more residential part of the city.  Our son grew from being this small creature that felt more like an odd demanding pet to a little person with a lot of determination and personality. This little adventure is only going to bring more struggles and joy, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

I also discovered peace in running. I never particularly enjoyed running, but it went from being a way to escape from the house to something I need to do to keep on an even keel. Following a really awful labor and scary (albeit ultimately okay) birth experience, I had something to prove to myself, and I needed to come to terms with my own mental and physical strength. I needed to prove to myself that my son's birth experience was not a fluke, and that I am stronger than I give myself credit for.  I needed a physical challenge of some kind, something a bit scary, but also something that I could do with others and alone, and I found that through running. The Tough Mudder was a team challenge that required help from friends and strangers, and I had to offer help throughout the 12 mile obstacle course. The Philly Half Marathon was something I wanted to see if I could do, and finishing that course was one of the most proud moments I've experienced in my life.

I did some great work during a harried election season, and am so proud of what I accomplished with some wonderful young women both at work and through organizations. And after what feels to me most like a break up, I now have the opportunity to give real thought to how I want to organize my career decisions moving forward and to determine what I really want to do and how I will approach my day's work.

This year seems to have been nothing more than a Phoenix year - good things arise from the bad, but during this year, it was hard to see this as a pattern. Apparently I had a number of lessons that the universe felt it was time for me to learn, and a year like this can wear out the strongest people.  But I have always believed we are never given more than we can handle, and that if faced with a challenge we have a responsibility to confront the challenge with gusto, do our very best to manage the experience, and then to learn from it. I believe that 2013 can only be an easier year, in which I will benefit from the lessons learned in 2012.

The theme for 2013 can only be one of reflections and streamlining. It's Simplicity, in all things. I have already started making lists to better organize and simply my home life. I have a getaway to my secret island hideout planned in 11 days to organize my psyche. I am clearing away the bad, and focusing on the things that really matter. Simplicity.  2013, I am ready for you.

Kindergartners were killed today

Today a person walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and fired what is believed to be over 100 bullets into the bodies of his mother, a kindergarten teacher, five other adults, and twenty little kids, between the age of 5-11. Kindergarteners to fifth graders attended this school. In an afternoon, this person, who then killed himself, changed this small town in ways that may never be quantified. This is the only news story on the radio today. I listened to a man who had lived in this town for 54 years tell how the city came to be in the 1700s, and how close-knit it is. The town has 28,000 people, making it a bit smaller than the town next door to my hometown. I listened to a kindergarden teacher discuss how she could hear the shots, but the kids obviously didn't know what that sound was, and how she wanted to stay quiet to hear what was happening, but also wanted the kids to make noise to show that they could think of other things. She just sounded so...tired. Like it hadn't set in, and it was just beyond what can be processed. I listened to another announcer tell a teacher's story, in which she asked all of the kids to close their eyes and hold hands on the way out - so that they wouldn't see anything else scary. Some of the kids were so matter of fact about it, and others just cried for parents. It's so much to process as an adult - I have no idea how a 7 year old processes such horror. One little boy who lost his sister, wanted to know who he would play with. I would never say that people without children cannot feel empathy for this situation, but I know that it has affected me much more that I could have predicted, now that I have a baby.  These babies killed were a little older than mine, but all of those parents watched these little people struggle to sleep a few hours in a row, to sit up on their own, to crawl across the floor, and to stand up on their own. My baby is tenacious in his attempts to stand and take a few steps on his own, at nine months old, and I can't say that I'm a little proud that he seems to already have my never give up attitude. Today I had to sign two boo-boo reports as my lil had two attempt-to-stand injuries - both just minor scratches and a little bruise. The director of the daycare wanted to know if I was freaking out, and, since I arrived nearly two hours earlier than normal, I barely paid attention to this issue. All I wanted to do was hold my son as close as he would let me, and just consider how lucky I was that I was able to pick up my healthy robust child that evening.

I finally gave up listening to the radio stories, and I stopped reading facebook. I don't want to hear from the people who insist that gun rights are more important than my child's right to attend a safe elementary school. The gunman, incidentally, had procured his gun legally. The second amendment allows for the formation of a militia to overturn a dictatorial government - most of the people in support of this couldn't form a running club, let alone a militia. These are the same people who scream that they are pro-life - they should just admit that what they are is anti-sex. More and more of the incidents occur, and this wasn't a worry I had as a child. I dread the day that my son fears going to the third grade because someone could shoot up the place with an NRA approved weapon meant to overturn a government in which one is too lazy to even vote for new leadership.

The President teared up - like so so many of us today - and I cannot help but wonder what the parents in Newtown Connecticut are doing during their bedtime routines this evening. My heart goes out to the parents of these babies killed for no reason, and to the teachers who did everything they could to protect these little kids, and most of all to all of us who have to live in a world that so many think is so terrible that they need guns to defend themselves from potential harms and do not see the harm they cause the community at large with this thinking.

Home for the Holidays

I love Christmas.  I have no idea how I became a complete and utter romantic about the season beginning the day after Thanksgiving through the end of the year. My hometown was snow-covered and decorated like something out of a movie set. Every year, the village decorates the lamp posts running up and down the main streets with wreaths, and white lights decorate all of the trees in public spaces. It really was a magical place to grow up, and I guess each year since I have moved away, I cannot help but to idolize this vision of Christmas. I moved away from Kohler to attend college in 1996, and for the next five years, I bounced back and forth, but always returned for the holidays. In 2002 I moved away for good. There is still a pull every year to go home, see the lights, walk along silent snow-covered streets, live the Christmas-movie fantasy.

I think of Christmases past, as one is wont to do. I remember the first year I couldn't afford to fly back to Wisconsin, and how I tried to act sophisticated but I was secretly heartbroken. The year I came home from spending a semester at American University (in 1999) and all I wanted were tall boots to wear with this very cool East-Coast outfit, and my mom let me open them early (by the way, I wasn't 8, I was over 21) and wear the new boots to mass. The year Luke and I decided to stay in DC together, and because I was blue about staying, he found a store with a 3-foot fake tree in the window, and convinced the owners to sell him the tree on Christmas Eve to cheer me up - the terrible angel from that tree is currently on top of this year's tree. I never had the heart to get rid or replace her. Orphan Christmas, when we invite all our friends who aren't traveling over for a fancy meal.  A tour of the White House at Christmas. Holiday work parties at various bars and labor unions. My annual boozy baking "cookies and cocktails" party - going on year 6! Christmas date dinner at Komi. So many memories, and these are just as an adult. I'm sure if I dug back into the younger years I would find more...like the year I was sick, and spent the entire day in bed, but then got to go with my dad to a Blackhawks game, forever solidifying my hockey loyalty to Chicago.

This year I have my own home to decorate. Sure, I have had an apartment that I adored for the past 6 years, and random places before then. I promise, I mostly bought this house for the fireplace and the future memories we would make during the holidays.  Currently I have stockings hung - one for each of us, including my doggie. I've already made the family venture to a farm in Maryland to find a Christmas tree.  I think it's a little on the small side, but I guess we didn't realize that a house has more height than our apartment. This year feels new and special. We have a baby, who won't actually appreciate Christmas just yet, but that hasn't stopped me from ordering him Christmas pajamas and socks (little known fact about me: I only own holiday or workout socks. My mother, also a Christmas junkie, has been sending them to me for years).  I can't resist buying new Christmas albums - my collection is amazing, and I began watching specific movies saved for this month the day after Thanksgiving. Every collection needs: Beautiful Girls, Elf, Love Actually, The Holiday, The Family Stone, and It's a Wonderful Life. I've added in Fred Claus and Four Christmases for a little bit of variety.

I wish I could pinpoint what exactly it is about Christmas that I love so much. It's not Santa, or gifts, or even the birth of Jesus, specifically, although I love all of these things. I love Christmas Mass, I love department stores decorated, I love lights on houses and people carrying wrapped packages. I love that everyone is a little bit nicer, and that everyone is a little bit more giving. I love the romance of the season. I love the feeling of family and nostalgia, and I really cannot get enough of Christmas music.  That might be my favorite part.

Here's to the best season! Pour yourself a glass of wine, get cozy with It's a Wonderful Life, and enjoy. Now if it would just snow in Mid-Atlantic hometown...