Sunday, December 31, 2006

Resolving the Resolutions

It's almost time to bid adieu to 2006. At the beginning of the year, I, like many, made a set of resolutions. It's time to look back and see how I did with those.

1. Exercise Regularly. I have to say I failed at this one. We did a lot of active things. I got a new bike for my birthday, which I rode fairly frequently, only falling off of it once. We hiked pretty often, including one heck of a hike out of the Grand Canyon. We swam and ran on occasion. But I don't think any of it qualifies as regular exercise. Maybe this year?

2. Figure out what I want to do about my job. I think I accomplished this one about as well as I could have. I switched jobs in July, and now I really like what I do. I don't have the rest of my life figured out, but that would make things pretty boring if I did. I do, however, have some good ideas about where I want to go from here. That's good enough for me.

3. Take advantage of living in DC. I think we did fairly well with this one, although there's still a lot that I haven't done. We hit a number of outdoor sites this year that I hadn't hit before--gardens and hiking trails. We also made it back to a few of our favorite spots. There are still many museums I haven't yet made it to, but this will be an ongoing goal until we move away from here.

4. Learn something new. I ended up taking two classes this year, and I think I learned something in both of them. Early in the year, I took a one-day travel writing class sponsored by National Geographic Traveler, and during the fall semester, I was chosen to be a part of a writing class at George Washington University taught by novelist Tayari Jones. It was nice being back in a class with the structure that motivates you to learn and complete assignments. I want to continue taking classes. Maybe a language class this year? And hopefully another writing class. And then there's also scuba diving, history, etc.

5. Donate/Volunteer. Well we did do some donating this past year, but it wasn't quite what I had in mind as it wasn't really well-planned and not necessarily to the places I cared about most. But we've sat down and made a plan for 2007, already deciding how much we're donating and who we're donating to, so that's nice. As far as volunteering goes, I have been doing volunteer work for the Holocaust Museum, providing editing assistance on the Concentration Camp Encyclopedia project. This year, however, I'd like to add something that will help people more in "need." I'm thinking maybe some kind of literacy/ESL thing. I have to look into it more.

6. Write More. Thanks to the class I took at GW, I wrote a bit more than I did the year before. I again entered the Bethesda Literary Festival essay contest, and this year placed first, winning $500, which I guess satisfies my goal of getting paid to write. I also had an essay published in the Washington Post. I submitted a few articles to a variety of publications, but without anything panning out. At the very end of the year, I did, however, submit an article to a small, local paper and got a positive response from them. I've worked out a contract with them and am hoping the article appears soon (and I get paid for it). But there are no guarantees on that. The goal this year is to improve on the publishing record.

So that's that. I accomplished some of what I set out to do. I fell short in some areas. But all in all, 2006 was a good year. We traveled a lot. We had fun with family and friends. We learned new things. We grew. So resolutions resolved or not, I'm declaring 2006 a success. Here's to a 2007 that's just as good if not better.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

He's Gone...But Nothing Has Changed

Is it just me or does the death of Saddam Hussein seem rather anti-climactic? I expected it to seem bigger, more monumental. For those of my generation, Saddam Hussein was the biggest, baddest man out there. Sure, there was also Slobodan Milosevec and Augusto Pinochet, who were pretty bad men, but they weren't, for those of us growing up in America, on the same-scale as Hussein. The US tacitly supported Pinochet, and we turned our back on Yugoslavia, so neither of these other two men played much into our collective conscious. But Hussein, he was the definition of bad, an awakening to those of us who were just children in the early 90s that there were people in the world capable of horrific things.

I remember writing in my journal during the first Gulf War about Saddam Hussein. I butchered the heck out of his name--I think it must have been the first Arabic name I'd ever come across--but I wrote about him. He was big enough to me at age nine that he made his way into my journal.

It's been over sixteen years since then. And Saddam has never really left our consciousness. The toppling of the statue of him in Iraq was momentous. The discovery of him hiding in a hole in Tikrit seemed huge. His death should have been big. But it just doesn't seem that way. He might be gone, yet nothing has really changed. Evil remains.

Friday, December 29, 2006

It's Okay to Be Jealous

As I am a federal employee, I will, on the order of President Bush, be off on Tuesday to mourn the passing of President Ford. And today, I was let off work at 2:30 p.m. in observation of the New Years holiday, for which I am off all day Monday. So what all of this means is that I have a 4.5 day weekend. Not too shabby.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's Cookie Time

Wow, Christmas is only a week away. It's snuck up on me this year. I think part of the blame must be placed on the weather; when it's 70 degrees, it's hard to believe that Christmas is just around the corner. But to get in the mood, I did a little holiday baking this weekend. I scaled back from last year, and I can't match my mom's prodigious output, but I think I ended up with a nice little sample.

Premium Macadamia Macaroons

These are made with coconut, macadamia nuts, and whipped egg whites. The taste reminds me of a cookie Grandma Z. used to have at her house, although these are chewy and those were pretty crunchy. Macadamia and coconut are two of Jeff's favorite flavors, so I mainly made these for him.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe was originally for a chocolate cookie with white chocolate chunks. I'm not a big fan of white chocolate, so I made them chocolate chocolate.

Peanut Butter Kisses

How can something so good only require three ingredients: sugar, eggs, and peanut butter? I think they came out really well this year. Perfectly sized with the right amount of cracking and just-right melted chocolate kisses.

Cookie Dough Truffles

Although the balls taste just like chocolate chip dough, which I love, the recipe doesn't call for eggs, which makes the dough safe for raw consumption. Dipped in chocolate, they're pretty decadent. I started out trying to make them look beautiful, but it takes forever to dip them properly, so I just dunked them. Tastes just as good.

And a week ago, I made Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. I don't have a picture of these, but they were really good. I've always been a somewhat odd kid in that I don't really love chocolate chip cookies. I like the chocolate chips, but the cooked dough doesn't do much for me. And I never really liked oatmeal cookies because they usually came with raisins, which I don't like. But this cookie is perfect. The interesting texture of oatmeal cookies, the deliciousness of chocolate chips, and the delightful hint of cinnamon. Mmmm.

Let me know if you want any of the recipes. None were too complicated and they all taste great. Jeff's still trying to decide which is his favorite...which means he has to have a tasting every night.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

An Incomplete Education, For Sure

Did you know that Greenland is not really a country? In nearly 26 years of life, no one ever told me that. It's been under homerule since 1979, but it belongs to Denmark, with the Danish Monarch as the official head of state. Who knew?


Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Trimmed Tree

There are so many things I love about Christmas that it's hard to chose a favorite thing. I love listening to Christmas music, driving around and looking at Christmas lights, watching Christmas movies, baking and eating Christmas cookies, exchanging gifts, and spending time with family. But I think my absolute favorite thing about Christmas is getting and decorating a Christmas tree. When the tree is lit and trimmed and the smell of pine wafts through the house, I feel as if Christmas has finally arrived.

On Saturday, Jeff and I went to get our tree. It wasn't quite the adventure that it was last year. And it's turned out better than the year before that when our first Christmas tree fell over a day after it was decorated. We managed to pick out a tree--a lovely Scotch pine between 7 and 8 feet--and then get it home and set up without any drama. And it's now glowing beautifully in the corner of our living room.

It's lit with multi-colored lights and it has absolutely no noticeable theme to it, which is what I love about it so much. I see trees with themes all the time--all gold ornaments, silver and red balls, purple everything(eek), etc. I hear people wonder whether their tree matches their decor. But I can't understand. It's a Christmas tree...not a new couch. What I love about our Christmas tree--and the Christmas tree my family decorates in Louisville--is that it tells a story. There are ornaments commemorating my very first Christmas and my first married Christmas. There are ornaments made of felt and glitter glue or tissue paper and school photos that I made when I was much younger. All of the places I've traveled are recalled as I deck the tree with ornaments I picked up in Paris and Prague, Athens and Amsterdam. And friends are remembered as I pick out a branch on which to hang an ornament they gave to me. There's an ornament celebrating Jeff's experience at the College World Series and there an ornament to commemorate my former lives as a cheerleader and a piano student. The tree reflects who we are. As we trimmed the tree, Christmas music playing in the background, we remembered Christmas's past, we reflected on friends and family, we reminisced about trips we had taken, and we shared stories. Our tree is beautiful, but not because it matches our decor. (Although I think Christmas trees match everything!)

Here's a virtual tour of some of the ornaments on our tree.

This ornament was handmade by me in 1989, as it so clearly states in glitter. I made it at a holiday party at my then best friend's house. It's beautiful isn't it?

This ornament is from my Aunt Patricia. She gave it to me a few years ago so that there'd be a bit of Kentucky on my tree regardless of where it is or I am.

Jeff and I got this ornament this past January when we went to Niagara Falls so it's making its debut on our tree. It's a Canadian Mountie with a Canada Goose. How could I have not bought it?

Another ornament making its Christmas tree debut. Jeff and I got this one just last month when we were in Berlin. It's supposed to be a reflector (for a bike or something), but it makes a great ornament and looks awesome reflecting the lights on the tree.

Every year my mom gives me and my brothers a new ornament. The year I got this ornament, the gifts had a nativity theme. I got Mary, since that's my first name. Mark got Joseph since that's his middle name. And Matthew and Gregory got to fight over a shepherd and an angel. Too bad there wasn't a separate Jesus because then Gregory "Jesus" Dowell could have gotten that one and neither one of them would have had to be the angel.

It's hard to take pictures of ornaments on the tree. I can't get the lighting right. But I might post more later, since I love my tree so much.

P.S. Jeff thinks our tree needs a topper. I don't really like toppers, or at least I haven't found many that I like. I told him he could make something out of a toilet paper roll and I'd stick it up there, but so far I haven't seen anything. Your thoughts on toppers?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jolly Old St. Nick

Yesterday was St. Nick's Day, which I have a special affection for. It's not Christmas, and it's not your birthday. It's not even Easter. It's a holiday that everyone forgets about, which is what makes it so great. Although it's the same date every year--December 6--I still somehow manage to forget it. Like a first winter snow that falls deep in the night, St. Nick's Day sneaks up on you. Thus there are no expectations. No lists of things you want. No anxiety over what you'll get. No expectations and thus no disappointments. Only the joy of finding, on what you believed to be an ordinary day, a sweet or some other small treat waiting just for you. A gift that is completely unexpected and thus all the sweeter. Hooray for St. Nick's Day.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

He's Back

In 2 hours and 15 minutes, Jeff gets home. Yay! Although that does mean I'll have to share the couch again. Oh well, I guess that's just one of those sacrifices I'll have to make. I can't wait to have him back.