Friday, December 30, 2011

Vacation progresses

Sleep (til NOON on Weds!)--CHECK
Two trips to the gym--CHECK
Visited friend for knitting, sewing, snacks and Lifetime movies--CHECK
Bake a new recipe--CHECK

Get rid of old futon--CHECK

Bought new couch--CHECK

Saw a Broadway show
Organized yarn baskets
Gathered yarn and needles for charity

Cleaned shower curtain with full-strength white vinegar

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Making my list and checking it (more than) twice

Happy vacation, y'all!!

I am so very thrilled to have this week off.

Recently I read this amusing Atlantic article about introverts: and this part struck me:

"Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring. Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge."

I don't think I am a true introvert, as apparently a hallmark of extroverts is their never-ending chatter (which I can often be guilty of), but that quote above hit home. I've often labeled myself as an introvert with extrovertist tendencies, and I think I'm right on.

I don't work eight hour days, but I "work" six days a week. And that tires me, because I want to just sit and be at home. (Because I have those kinds of white girl problems. And also because I am childless, so I have the luxury of feeling "off" when I'm home.) I love watching tv, reading, knitting, just being. I really enjoy hanging out with friends, but even sitting at someone else's house and talking, watching tv, knitting, doesn't feel as relaxing as being at my own home, you know?

All this to say again, I am really excited to have this week off. We'd originally thought of going somewhere warm for the holidays, but everything was too expensive. And thank goodness! For weeks I have been eagerly anticipating this week of nothing!

I did end up covering a shift of babies yesterday, and I guess we don't get New Year's Day off from babies either, so technically I don't have the entire week off. Happily we do get next Monday off. But I had two days off in a row--for maybe the fourth time in six months--and now I get five days off in a row! Five days of as little as possible!!!

Therefore, here, in random order, is my to-do list for the week:
--Sleep in as much as possible
--Go to the gym at least twice (one trip already done!)
--Visit a friend tomorrow for tv, knitting, and some sewing help
--Review my 2011 goals
--Create goals for 2012 (this time with Mister Melancholy's complicit help, instead of me conscripting him into it this year)
--Visit at least one museum (we're planning for two in case we wimp out on one of them)
--Shop for a new couch (we've had the Mister's college futon, and it is old and uncomfortable, not to mention un-grown-up)
--Skype with some friends and family

--Take my bag of donations to Goodwill
--Do some cleaning around the apartment
--Choose and bake a new recipe

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I hope you are having a wonderful time!

Monday, December 26, 2011

on holiday traditions

I love having traditions--things to look back on fondly, and anticipate joyfully. There are so many fun holiday traditions that each family has, and I love hearing about all of them. 

Growing up with a split family, part of my tradition was drama and anxiety. But there were things that parts of my families did that happened often. Because of the split custody, my mom always had us for Christmas eve. We would do presents and everything on Christmas Eve morning, and then in the evening, there was a family gathering. When I was little, it was at my grandparents' house in Seattle, and then when I was older, it moved to an aunt's house. In the evening, we'd leave the party early and go to my dad's. We each chose one present to open that night, then had the big presents and stockings on Christmas morning. We would eat those big cinnamon rolls for breakfast and go to church. Christmas morning was one of the only times I liked going to church, because we got to sing Christmas songs! Later there would be a big dinner and we always had what we called "kids' champagne"--sparkling apple cider. 

What else is neat is that I have two handmade Christmas stockings. My grandma on my dad's side knit every member of the family a stocking, as well as knit everyone a hat and mittens every year. My mom sewed these adorable stockings for all the members of our family, with contrasting colors for the letters of our names. She even scrounged up enough fabric to make one for Mister Melancholy last year! Both of my stockings are at their respective houses, though; it doesn't seem right to take them from home. Also, I wouldn't want to have to choose which one to use, and I figure that as an adult I should figure out a new stocking I make for myself somehow. 

This is my eighth Christmas in New York City. I think I've gone home for one or two of them, but I've also traveled abroad for many of them. Mister Melancholy always went home for Christmas (and a couple years ago I went with him). Last year was our first staying here together for the holidays, and we did that again this year. 

It's fun to start creating our own traditions. There aren't that many, since we're kind of new to it. But they're shaping up nicely. 

1. For the third year in a row, we made a gingerbread house and watching a Christmas movie. For two years, it was from a kit and Love, Actually, respectively. This year, we procrastinated and couldn't find a kit, so we engineered our own out of graham crackers. 

The spread:

We created load-bearing walls and an under-roof to make the house bigger and more stable.

The addition of a ridge made the roof easy.

We used three full batches of royal icing--almost a full batch just to glue the house together!

We added a small square shed in the corner of our "lot." And then proceeded to decorate as much as we could. 

The movie this year ended up being Santa Claus: The Movie. We watched that a ton when I was a kid. It's on Netflix instant now! I cracked up at John Lithgow, who played the villain. He really must have had a great time being evil--he vamps it up, and it's hilarious.

2. This was our second year with a real tree, and we will never go back to a fake only! The real thing just smells too good. Here is our tree on Christmas morning:

3. We decided two days before to make a "Christmas Feast." Not in the way that we'd have a heaping table full of dishes, but in that we'd make real food ourselves, from scratch as much as possible. It was tasty as well as fun!

Mister Melancholy decided to make a Moroccan spiced chicken recipe.


We also made rosemary-olive oil roasted potatoes. Yum! And I made a batch of buttermilk biscuits, using our Christmas cookie cutters to make them extra festive.

I whipped up a chocolate mousse dessert (from a box, but still counts.) 

Kids' champagne, but apple-peach. Crisp and refreshing!

Here is our full spread! (Potatoes in the glass dish)

The dessert mousse, in wine glasses, with celebratory bokeh dolphins!
We've never been great about making real meals from scratch, but this one was a success and we will surely make this a special tradition too!

What are your favorite or unique family traditions?

Friday, December 23, 2011

another goal--check!

This week I did something I have been meaning to do for some time: I used my AmeriCorps voucher to sign up for a class!

A few years ago I realized that I should probably learn Spanish (I have an unofficial minor in French). I never got around to it, it wasn't a priority, etc. However, my education award expires in June, which is a good motivator to use at least a little. So I registered for a short Spanish course at a CUNY school's continuing education program!

It's kind of a test to start with. Both to see if I like the class and can learn, and also if I can handle working with a twice-weekly evening class.

It's not a huge commitment, only a month or so, and it's not like I have high expectations. But it's exciting to have the prospect of working on a new skill, especially one that will be so useful in the real world.

If it goes well, there are more sessions in the semester that I'll take, as well as some kind of accounting short course for a possible photo business future.

This was on my list of goals for 2011, and one that I wasn't sure I'd follow through on. So I am proud of myself and excited for a new challenge!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

making a difference!

Wow, I loved your thoughtful comments!

I think it's good to re-assess every once in awhile, because I think that most of us mean well, but somehow we just don't always get around to doing what we know we can.

Teacher Gardener, I love that you get your students involved! I think it is so important to get kids involved early and often. They will surely remember your projects for years to come and become more worldly citizens!

Nancy, I know what you mean--finding time can be difficult! And I don't even have any kids. Right now I'm working six days a week...I'm not sure if I have much time either. But yes, if you find something fun, let me know! How about next week?

Rabi, it is that you give so much--that's incredible! Many of us (like me) don't often walk the walk, but you are. Way to go! Do you support one organization every year or have you been giving to the same charity for six whole years? Either way, that really does add up!

Also, the day after I posted that, I saw this book in the airport bookshop: Give a Little

The back blurb is a pretty much a direct answer to everything I said in that other post. :) I can't wait to read it!

Monday, December 12, 2011

does it make a difference?

(spoiler: YES!)

Last night I was semi-watching part of 60 Minutes while Mister Melancholy (that's what I'm going to call him from now on; "my husband" sounds too smug and weird, and the "DH" blogging custom is just icky) had it on. There was a short blurb saying that after a segment aired on a homeless family in Florida, viewer donations poured in, giving the family money, job offers, housing, and even college scholarships.

While it's good to know that this one family will be on their feet and much more comfortable, that after-segment still felt kind of gross to me.

This one family dealt with a lot of hardships, losing their jobs and home. Millions of families have dealt with just as many, or even more. Some families never even have jobs or homes to begin with. (Most homeless and people in poverty are women and children, by the way.)

So the fact that the viewers sent money to help one family (there may have been two or three featured?)--that is wonderful for that family and their future.

But I wonder how many viewers realized that the family portrayed was representative of untold numbers of people in similar or worse situations. I wonder how many people thought to donate to food banks, homeless shelters, shelters for battered women and children. I wonder if anyone was driven to get out and volunteer with one of those places. I wonder if anyone thought to write to their representatives in government to bring needed attention to the everyday life that so many people live in poverty (for years or just recently). I wonder how many people realized that helping this one family whose faces they saw is doing nothing to help the bigger problem. That it kind of seems like a selfish reaction, actually, to focus on the people on the screen, rather than all the people behind it. I also wonder if 60 Minutes did that thing at the end of the original segment where they say, "for more information about helping poverty-stricken or homeless people in your area, contact [food bank/charity navigator/national shelter information/something like that]."

This sparked an interesting debate between Mister M and me. I said all of this to him and then asked if he donates to charity. He said that he doesn't feel like him donating $50 or whatever really makes a difference; is he supposed to do that to feel good? That's a drop in a leaky bucket, or a raindrop in the ocean.

I stared at him. To me this sounded like he was implying there's no reason to give a little bit because it couldn't possibly solve anything. He clarified that writing a small check makes him depressed, because even if he donated his entire net worth, it still wouldn't do anything to solve a real problem. And that since he works in policy, he's kind of working to solve it that way.

I replied indignantly, You can't eat policy! If I were to donate $10 to a food bank, that would mean that one person or one family had dinner that night.

Him: Sure, but that's only 1/1000th of the problem for just the next year! 

Me: Right, exactly! Every little bit helps!

Him: I would rather start working out a way to fix it on a large scale so nobody's hungry.

Me: But people need to eat today!

It's interesting; I'm a textbook pessimist at times. But apparently when it comes to the concept of giving back, I'm a full-on optimist.

I spent ten solid months doing service projects around the United States, and then I volunteered regularly for several years after that. I saw for myself that giving back is easy, and it's such a win-win for everyone. Giving back to your community is so much bigger than whatever small project you do for a few hours. You meet new people, you become proof that people care about other people, and somehow that spreads to the ether of feel-good. AND you get things done!

He's heard this from me before, but I said that I wondered how many people volunteered or even donated money. In all my years of being involved with giving back, I was never joined by anyone. No one I knew thought it would be worthwhile to join me and some others for a few hours even for just one day. Now, sure, perhaps they did other volunteering on their own that I never heard about, but based on the reactions I got talking about it and inviting people, most people were confused or put off by the idea.

That makes me sad. Volunteering is a lot of fun. No matter what you're doing. I've done things as mundane as raking leaves in the forest, and as meaningful as constructing walls for Habitat for Humanity. It's all a great time! And it all makes a difference! I hope that if you've never volunteered, you take the next opportunity that comes up. It will be worth it, to you and to the organization, I promise!

(Also, I'd like to state for the record that I think teachers give back to the community in a MAJOR way. So do nurses, doctors, people who staff non-profits, etc.)

I don't have a lot of money to spare. Really I shouldn't be sparing any. But if I can bring myself to buy two books from a local bookstore, or buy a Twix PB at the drugstore, I can find ten to fifteen dollars a month at a minimum to help with a worthwhile cause. In the past I've donated to TrailBlazers, Save the Children, the Nature Conservancy, and Heifer International. I've volunteered many times with the Hands On Network, in Seattle, New York, and New Orleans. Last December I participated in Help Portrait (though I didn't participate this year; it was last weekend). Recently I found this great list from Spend a Little and Give a Lot. This year, I'd like to donate to the Food Bank of NYC, which is running a matching campaign for the holiday season.

I hope you will join me in helping the community--and not just because it's the holidays. I hope you'll join me in creating a culture of giving back. It's not about the amount, it's about the effort. Do you have causes you support, with volunteering or donation? I'd love to learn about new worthy organizations!