Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

I should stop playing around and unpack.

I considered doing a number of different wrap-up style posts for 2011, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I'm still tired from all of the train travel and stuff. Plus, there's some celebrating to do. I'll be back in the new year. I hope you all are able to ring in the new year with style and grace!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Catching up on some #31DDD

Breakfast of Champions #decdaily Grain-fed outside of Fort Worth
Chicago dog Portal
A few photos from my trip to Texas. 

I fell behind on my #31DDD prompts over the holidays, so I'm taking a cheat day to knock a few out.

What was the last real, personal piece of mail you received? Who was it from?
The last piece of personal mail I received was a surprise cookbook from my mom. She saw me mention it on the blog and mailed it to me. :-) She's putting me to shame in the mail department!

If you could have chosen your own name, what would it be? Why? 
You know, when I was little I remember wanting a different name, but I can't remember for the life of me what it was. I'm pretty sure I even lied a told a couple of people my fake name.

What dish do people wish you would make all the time?
I don't share my cooking enough with other people for me to know what people would request. Is that weird? I bring people food, but I never seem to bring the same thing. I guess you could say I don't have a signature dish that I'm known for.

How old were your parents when they had you? What were you doing or hope to be doing at that age?
My mom was 26 when she had me. When I turned 26, I had just started at my current job a few months before. I took a huge cut in pay to work for a non-profit, so I was also moonlighting for an environmental group called Clean Water Action. Essentially, I was working my tail off when I turned 26. That birthday, in particular, hit me pretty hard. I think it was a combination of crossing over that mid-twenties hump and because I knew it was how old my mom was when she had me.

What's your dream job, no holds barred?
I'm still like a little kid who wants to be a fireman and a doctor and a baseball player. My dream job would be able to do everything I've always wanted and not just one. Can I run a gallery, write novels, and travel to Africa doing humanitarian work? Want to know a secret? I'm pretty sure I still can ;-)

Will you have resolutions for 2012? If yes, what are some of them? If no, why not?
I'll likely pull together some resolutions for 2012. I always set new goals around my birthday and try to think of tackling loftier life changes around the new year. It's an important tradition and kind of neat how we all band together in pursuit of betterment. Maybe I'll post a few once I figure out what they should be.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On gifts and giving

Christmas 2011 #decdaily

My goal was to post this leading up to Christmas, but life has a way of changing the best laid plans. Still, as we bask in the post-family/present/gluttonous food* haze, the train of thought below may be even more relevant.

As you can see from the photo above, we were pretty darned blessed this Christmas. However, as I was putting together the list of wants Santa requested, I couldn't help but think about how I should be giving something back. I like doing stuff for other folks and have dabbled in volunteering and giving (from candy striper to teen hotline volunteer to giving circle member) for pretty much my entire life. I know that probably sounds like a humble brag, but it really isn't meant to be. I just want to provide some context for where I'm coming from. The fact of the matter is that I've stopped doing those type things the past few years and have instead largely focused only on me. I could give you excuses, but that just continues the whole "all about me" theme.

Anyway, the point I keep dancing around is that there are some amazing organizations out there that have reignited my enthusiasm for giving. I've already pledged to support at least one of these in the new year and thought that, with all of the resolutions being made, someone else might also be on the lookout for a good organization to support. 

Can you spare a few dollars a month/year? If so, do it.

Compassion International - I stumbled across this organization in much the way I stumble across any number of things online. I was looking for podcasts and found myself listening to an episode of the Simple Mom podcast where they discussed their recent trip to the Philippines on behalf of Compassion. [Don't even ask why I was listening to a podcast geared toward moms. I'll never tell.] Listening to the story of their trip and the children they sponsor, I was hooked. I ended up spending some time reading blogs from other Compassion participants and researching their rating on Charity Navigator. Nothing I found scared me away. In fact, I found myself even more impressed with the commitment this organization makes to children and to the real impact they have.

Girls Write Now - I was always encouraged growing up, but what if no one had been there to tell me I could do it? What if I hadn't been prodded and challenged? I'd like to think an organization like Girls Write Now would have found me and given me that structure. Maybe not. As someone who works for a nonprofit, I know organizations like this can't thrive only because folks think they are peachy. Money talks. Girls Write Now is in the final stretch of an end-of-the-year drive to raise $80,000. They're close and could use all the help they can get.

*The most sinful thing I ate this holiday season may have been during a late-night dinner Christmas evening at an Austin Dennys. I had a burger with a hashbrown and cheese sauce on it!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A salad for Christmas

Pretty sure there's no way to make this look good.

I'm pretty sure I don't possess the skills to make the above dish look appetizing, but let me assure you that it is damn good.

For the past three or four years, I've taken charge of cooking Christmas dinner (really lunch in our house). I always tend to try out one new dish on the masses. Last year, I experimented with acorn squash and fell in love. This year, in my quest to lighten up the meal, I tried Homesick Texan's tomato and cucumber salad with cornbread croutons.

Okay, so perhaps the addition of cornbread takes something away from my attempts at a healthier side. I don't care. This salad was refreshing and contained just the right amount of kick. The cornbread croutons were spot on. I might have to make it more often once summer rolls around.

Btw, my version didn't include the red onion or the cilantro, and it tasted just fine. Also, I think all of you need to run out and buy the Homesick Texan cookbook. This is the third recipe of hers that I've tried, and they all have pretty much knocked my socks off.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

UNO tourney

Merry Christmas, everyone!

We wrapped up a lovely celebration tonight with Super 8 and a few intense rounds of Uno. Getting to spend time with my family is the best part of the holidays. I hope everyone gets to spend it with someone they love.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

whoa (#31DDD)


We passed this sign on the way to dinner last night, and I immediately knew we needed to take a photo there. I also wanted an excuse to wear the new vintage hat I scored. It's turquoise with satin and velvet bows, some of my favorite things. Plus, a cold front moved in last night, and temps were actually in the 30s this morning!

Today's #31DDD urges us to brag a little. I really don't like outright bragging and would prefer to slide in the regular humble brag. Ha! That said, you should probably know that I have a talent for finding "what I wore" shoot locations. It kind of sucks because taking outfit shots isn't something I do on the regular. Instead, I need to be able to transport these location ideas to folks around the web.

Can you tell how excited I am about this sign?


Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday DIY: how to wrap a gift

One of my Christmas/birthday superpowers* is my ability to wrap presents. I'm not talking about super cute embellishments or unique boxes. I'm referring to the simple act of neatly creased corners, hidden seams, and tightly bundled paper. While I've seen plenty of inspiration on the web for livening up your gifts, no one really shares how to get the actual gift wrap to look good.

So, as my gift to you, I'll share how you can claim this superpower for yourself!

step 1: gather your materials step 2: crease and tape

1. Gather your supplies.
2. Take the bottom of your wrapping paper, and use your fingers to create a crease. Tape it down (location doesn't matter, since this part will be covered up).

step 3: fold over and crease step 4: fold under and tape

3. Take the top of your wrapping paper, and fold it over the top. Create a crease along the seam.
4. Fold the wrapping paper under, along the crease you created. Tape down.

step 5: trim excess step 6: fold sides in

5. Trim any excess paper off each end.
6. Fold the wrapping paper along lateral edge in toward the box. This will form a triangle or point with the wrapping paper. Repeat on all remaining sides.

step 7: fold point down step 8: fold other corner over, crease and tape

7. Take your first triangle and fold it down, creasing it as you go. Tape it down. Make sure the first triangle you fold down points away from where your one taped seam is.
8. Fold the other triangle down. If the point hangs over the edge, crease it and fold it under before taping. This taped seam should be on the same side of the package as the seam on the long side. Repeat these steps on the other side of the gift.

step 9: put a bow on it

9. Put a bow on it.

By the way, I'm totally using this for my #31DDD and what I was doing 5 minutes prior to reading the prompt. Of course, if I'm being totally honest, I first saw the prompt in the morning, right after I had a breakfast burrito from Julio's. Have I mentioned before how awesome breakfast burritos and tacos are in Texas? I've found nothing similar in Virginia.

*I spent one holiday season in college wrapping gifts at a department store. I had to watch a training video on wrapping gifts, and it stuck. :-)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday DIY: Quill's Brush Bottle Trees

bleached trees, drying

I've had fun over the past couple of days creating some fun vintage-looking brush bottle trees with my mom. I discovered Kristin's DIY for taking newer trees available at craft stores and bleaching and dying them for a more colorful, vintage feel. The shot above are my trees post-bleach.

Step 2

I'm thrilled with how they turned out! These pink and blue trees are going to turn my lovely forest fabulous.

final dye job

#31DDD: Unusual family traditions/eat only three things

I'm struggling to complete these last few prompts. I gave serious thought to skipping today's, but knowing that I missed a day would drive me crazy. I also struggled to think of any weird traditions my family has. These may not be all that unusual, but in honor of the season, I offer up an inside look at S.O.P. at the Dennis-McClain house.
  • We open presents on Christmas Eve. Always have, always will.
  • Saturdays growing up almost always followed the same schedule: grocery shopping, the mall, lunch at the mall, Wal-Mart.
  • The tea towels and potholders changed with every holiday or season.
enchiladas verdas

Moving ahead to today's prompt, could I choose three things to survive on for the rest of my life? Yep. I could easily live on Mexican rice, refried beans, and flour tortillas. If you are what you eat, I'm not sure I want to know what that says about me. All I can say is that I'm hoping salsa is considered a spice and not one of my three ;-)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

#31DDD: Best story about New York City

bleached trees, drying
Bleaching and dying brush bottle trees, today's DIY project 

I first moved to the DC area in June 1998, about a month after I graduated from college. My friend Michael and I loaded all of our possessions into his car and, roughly 36 hours later, landed just north of Baltimore. Some of my fondest memories of those early days were our Sundays spent in New York.

We were young and having so many major cities within a four-hour radius felt like an amazing gift to two kids from West Texas. A quick roadtrip to the city shortly after we moved was all it took. We were hooked; she had her claws in us. Shortly thereafter, we started driving to New York almost every Sunday. Did I mention we would drive back later that same night?

Our days didn't even involve anything all that exciting. Many, many evenings were spent simply hanging out in a couple of different cafes in Greenwich Village, people watching and pretending this was our city. New York pizza and browsing the Strand. Jazz in a dark cafe. Our weekly tithe was the sleep we never claimed for ourselves.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

#31DDD: Where to find the best fried chicken

quaker chicken

I grew up with chickens. When I was in kindergarten, we had some (one or two...I don't remember how many) that lived in a pen in our front yard. These were the brief days we lived in Sterling City, TX in a mobile home. Clerks who called me "Heidi", Reagan getting shot, a grasshopper plague, and those damn chickens, these are the things I remember.

Walking outside in my long, flannel nightgown without shoes when feeding the chickens was a mistake. They pecked my toes, and I hated those chickens. It's nice to type this while sitting by my mom because she can fill in the gaps in my memory. Evidently these were baby chicks we received for Easter some months before.

Not that the two are connected, but I can't write about where to find the best fried chicken because I don't really care for fried chicken. Blame a toe-pecking pet. Blame the fact that I don't like eating meat served in its original form. Either way, I'm leaving this one to my resident southerners.

#31DDD: Post one of your favorite cell phone pics

puppet master

I have a confession. This isn't my favorite photo on my cell phone right now. I don't really want to tell you about that photo, preferring to keep the girly feelings that picture gives me to myself.

The photo of these vintage German puppets certainly counts as one of the recent photos I'm quite fond of though. I find myself drawn to these haunting figures. Maybe it's just me, but I find puppets of any kind incredibly creepy. These were hanging around a German antique store in Leesburg, awaiting their next gig. If you managed to tear your eyes away from Christmas ornaments from 1920s Germany littering the table in the center of the room, you would have noticed an old puppet theater in the opposing corner. A whole world was for sale in that little room.

If you ever find yourself in old Leesburg, stop into German Favorite Antiques. So many beautiful (and creepy) things are tucked into its crevices and cabinets.

Friday, December 16, 2011

#31DDD: The Ramen Chronicles

Illustrations by Mike Houston for Lucky Peach magazine, via Hyperallergic

Today's prompt via April: If there was a book entitled, The Ramen Chronicles, what would its first line be? How does it end?

First line:
He ducked mere seconds before the noodles hit the wall, evidence of his failure flecked across his left shoulder. 

The opening scene of the The Ramen Chronicles throws you right into the behind-the-scenes action in the kitchen of one of Japan's hottest ramen spots. As the story unfolds, we follow young Daigo-kun as he struggles to become the newest ramen rockstar.

Last lines:
Daigo-san pauses, inhaling evidence of the myriad of activities buzzing around his stall. These are his people and this his place.

By the way, have you been keeping up with the other #31DDDers? If not, here's your chance.
Patty, April, Donna, Ravena, Jonah, Scarlet, and Maria...give 'em a read!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

#31DDD: What song encapsulates how you feel today?

DMX - Ya'll Gonna Make Me Lose My Mind

Such a great song for so many different occasions. This is definitely one of my go-to songs when I'm feeling frustrated. Guess what. The new slate of passengers surrounding me on the train from Chicago to Texas are inspiring me to pull this out today.

Let me give you an idea of mentally what I'm up against. Sitting across the aisle is a gentleman smacker. If you know me at all, you know noises made while eating will break me into a thousand pieces. Even my own noises drive me crazy. To add insult to injury, he was eating a combination of Funions, tuna, and chili cheese dip.

I soon discovered that food noises were the least of my worries. I'm surrounded by a group of late teens/early twenty-somethings who are simply obnoxious. I curse. I've confessed here that I curse. However, it isn't every word out of my mouth in a public setting. Add to that drinking and the fact that I swear I heard one of them ask another if they were still high, and I was ready to pull my hair out.

The straw that broke this camel's back was the playing of music, loudly and with no headphones. When I politely asked if he had headphones, I was informed that he didn't. How am I going to survive 30 hours of this? Seriously? If you don't believe in Jesus, you should because he's certainly my only hope.

Lest you think I'm typing this from a prison cell, my prayers were answered in the form of available seats in the observation car. I'm camped out here for the time being and couldn't be happier. I think people forget that, when traveling, you have to tone down the extreme versions of yourself. I'm 100% for authenticity and self-expression, but many situations put us in close quarters with a wide variety of people. Sometimes, in order to all get along, we have to place common courtesy higher than our own wants.

My watching year, 2011

saving seats
Saving seats back in 2008 for our 48 Film Fest premiere! 

Inspired by this post from Austin Kleon, I decided to post my own list of movies watched in 2011. To be honest, I didn't expect the list to be quite this long. I originally intended to just list out my favorite movies viewed this year, but when I saw the list, I couldn't help but post everything. All the fame, all the shame right here before you.

Caveat: I've said it before, but it bears repeating. I have been known to readily embrace crappy flicks. Judge all you want. If you want to see me get snooty, we'll have to talk books.

Movies that I loved (i.e., own or would like to own)
 Midnight in Paris
Bill Cunningham New York
Beautiful Losers
Herb and Dorothy
Black Swan
Real Steel

Movies I enjoyed a heckuva lot
Fast five
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Super 8
Fright Night

Pretty entertaining
The Hangover 2
Tower Heist
Captain America
X-Men: First Class

Tree of Life
Horrible Bosses
Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon
I am number 4
Bride Wars
Gnomeo and Juliet

Save your money, save your brain
Sucker Punch

Movies were listed in no particular order. Thanks to all my cohorts who ventured out or shared a couch with me to watch these. Of course, quite a few of my favorites I happened to see alone.

What have you been watching this year?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#31DDD: draw your picture on a post-it


Right now I'm on a train barreling through West Virginia, headed to Chicago (and eventually San Antonio). As such, I'm fresh out of post-it notes. Still, writers always manage to have a notebook with them, right?

Do you know what I forgot about train travel? It's extremely bumpy. Just four hours into my trip and I am the best shaken martini on the block. I'm super thankful I don't get motion sickness, but it does hamper my ability to snap a non-blurry shot.

The second part of today's prompt asks me to talk about my facial expression in the drawing. If you can't tell, I'm giving the side eye to a fellow passenger. While this gentleman is perfectly nice, his lungs, blackened with tar, are in the process of giving up the fight. My dear smoker can't seem to quit coughing and hacking (and asking when the next smoke stop is).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

#31DDD: one of the recipes you're willing to share


Since I'm not really one to create recipes, I have no problem sharing a few every now and then that have been working for me. One of my favorites I discovered this summer comes via fresh356.

Now, while I'm not to the point where I whip things up from scratch, I am quite the tinkerer. Rarely do I meet a recipe that I'll make exactly as it's written. This is usually because (1) I'm being lazy, (2) I don't like a certain ingredient, or (3) I don't want to spend the money on a particular ingredient. So, without further ado, I present to you the bastardized version of Erin's black bean and sweet potato quesadillas. These are amazing!

Black Bean & Sweet Potato Quesadilla

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
2 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 small jalapenos, finely chopped (no thanks!)
14-oz can diced tomatoes
15.5-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
juice of 1 lime
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1 large handful fresh cilantro, leaves chopped (I really dislike cilantro.)
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped (Shudder.)
1 c crumbled feta goat cheese
8 whole-wheat tortillas
1 c salsa (I use Wegman's pineapple salsa or TJ's peach salsa.)

If I'm feeling extra fun, I'll throw in some corn or another veggie.

Preheat oven to 400F. Toss your chopped sweet potatoes on a baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, until tender. Set these aside when done.

In a large pan, heat olive oil, over medium heat, and add garlic. Sauté 1-2 minutes, until garlic just begins to brown. I usually burn the garlic (accidentally). Add diced tomatoes, black beans, lime juice, salt, and pepper. If you're adding corn or another veggie. Add them here. Seriously, don't skimp on the lime juice. It makes it awesome. Cook 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until well heated. Turn off heat, stir in goat cheese and sweet potato. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I usually let it cook, then package the mixture up for future meals. I just place the mixture between two tortillas, add some of my favorite salsa, and pop it in the microwave for about a minute.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday crafting

The ugly Christmas sweater I created :-) #decdaily

Last night I took one of my cardigans and attempted to whip up an over-the-top Christmas sweater (that I'd wear ironically, of course), and this is what I came up with. I actually went in search of one to purchase a couple of weeks ago but just couldn't find anything crazy enough. I didn't realize I had to be in Texas to experience the crazy. We even have fancy Christmas sweatshirts with faux polo collars back home.

raw materials

You, too, can make your own holiday sweater. Grab an old cardigan and go to town. Writing DIYs really aren't my thing because I tend to just grab supplies and make it up as I go. I did use Elizabeth's tutorial for making felt poms and then just cut out some circles and a top hat.

In progress

Sew them on and embellish to your heart's content.


As for today's #31DDD topic (your thoughts on Beyonce), all I can say is that he finally put a ring on it. ;-) Go read about Patty's engagement this weekend.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Simply Sunday

Lunch at Pho Bistro

Today was simply a Sunday. After a late Saturday at Steven's band Christmas concert (apparently I'm a local band/orchestra groupie) and bubble tea-filled conversation, I spent much of today doing chores around the house. I did sneak out for lunch at Pho Bistro with a friend.

Sure wish Sundays could be longer.

#31DDD: Keebler elves or Santa's workshop elves

family portrait take 1
My obsession with Elf led me to whip up some elf hats for Christmas photos one year. I laugh so 
hard every time I see this photo. The only thing I managed to capture is the tip of Charlie's head.

Santa's workshop elves rule the roost! This is particularly true when the elf is Will Ferrell.

Elf has quickly become one of my favorite Christmas movies. It goes beyond being able to laugh at a grown man in yellow tights. It's the childlike joy with which he experiences Christmas and life. Don't you wish more people would remember what that was like? Plus, the snowflake-filled winter wonderland he created at the department store is all kinds of fabulous.

While we're on the subject, last night we happened upon the topic of favorite Christmas movies, and I once again confessed my love for Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas. Have you seen it? Jim Henson puppets with good old-fashioned class struggle mixed in...what more could you want? It really isn't as depressing as it sounds. It's chock full of uplifting moments and heartwarming songs, too. :-)

What's your favorite Christmas movie?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

#31DDD: two


Two. It's the number of togetherness. It's the land of pairs, other halves, opposites, and winners and losers. Two may be the least lonely number in the world. Think about it. Once you hit three, there exists the possibility for overcrowding and being left out.

In honor of the #2 (and being forbid from using any scatalogical humor), I give you some link love inspired by this lovely number.
  • These felt baby shoes. Quite the pair! I have two little babies sort of in my life that I want to make these for. Thanks, Purl Bee!
  • Two frolicking, baby goats. If it is indeed possible to die from cuteness, you may want to have a doctor handy. via @cyprinellaj
  • A Christmas Duel by Cyndi Lauper and the Hives, which also happens to be #2 in my playlist. Thanks, Danny Brito!
  • Two if By Sea. Doesn't this Nova Scotia coffeehouse and bakery look adorable?

Friday, December 09, 2011

#31DDD: which celebrity is living the life you were supposed to lead?

stage door

Can I write instead about how I feel so blessed to have the life that I do? I realize that sounds incredibly cheesy and much less fun than a little celeb talk, but it's true.

Sure, there are many, many things I want that celebrity funds would make easier. I could envy hot husbands, exotic travel destinations, and creative endeavors. I guess maybe I'm cocky, though, because I feel like those things are all within reach and in my future.

I know one day I'll have that husband who rocks my socks. 

I've been to exotic places, and there's nothing really stopping me from going to more. All those obstacles I complain about in my head (no time, too expensive)? They're all mine and pretty surmountable when you think about it. 

And those creative endeavors? I love my career and know that I have plenty of years to make my creative dreams come true, too. 

This message has been brought to you by a mother who never stopped telling me the sky was the limit and that I could do anything I put my mind to. I believed her.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

#31DDD: tell me about your first crush

eye contact

Michael Gaines was a ginger with a bowl cut. Ruddy freckles ran amuck across his face and arms. It was the early '80s, and I was smitten. We were both in elementary school and had swim lessons at the municipal pool in the summer. It was during those blazing summer days that I started envisioning our life together.  Do you ever wonder if guys do this, too?

He was tall, a bit gangly, and seriously dorky. True to type...even from the start.

Honestly, my first crush was so long ago that the only memories left are a couple of fleeting images at the pool and knowledge of those faint flutters finding a special boy on which to focus my attention.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

#31DDD: take a picture of your fridge

fridge #31DDD

This fridge was an accident. Once I started I just couldn't stop. It isn't completely full, but I haven't used my polaroid camera since they stopped making film. I've been watching the progression of the Impossible Project from afar and secretly stalk these polaroid giants. Perhaps I'll treat myself to a package or two for Christmas. It just may be worth it for the lovely, square memories.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

#31DDD: most embarrassing moment ever in life

hug etiquette

I believe storytelling is such an important part of life and is one of the reasons I was first drawn to blogging. Do any of you listen to The Moth podcast? On one of their most recent episodes, the host tells a poignant story as part of his bit, and in that story he quotes from Stephen Weeks on what the speaker later coins the law of anecdotal value.

"...sometimes I think the best way to live your life is to choose the experience that will have the most anecdotal value."

Now, this has nothing to do with why I feel storytelling is so important, but it does speak to a part of me that was touched by that simple sentence. Collecting experiences, leaping into the void, pushing your own boundaries.

Like Jonah mentioned on twitter, I have way too many embarrassing moments to choose from. Because I subscribe to the above storytelling philosophy and the sharing of life's funnier anecdotes, I've shared a few embarrassing stories before. What I haven't talked about are hugs, specifically hug etiquette.

I suppose I should start with the fact that I'm not a natural hugger. Don't get me wrong, I like a good hug; however, I'm rarely a hug initiator and feel uncomfortable at the thought of even having to make that decision. Many of my teammates are huggers though. I chalk this up to the fact that all of them work out of state, so a hug is more natural when you see each other.

A couple of years ago, I had one of the most awkward hug events. Over the period of three or four months, my working relationship had progressed with this one particular Fish and Wildlife Service employee. There were periodic meetings, and we eventually discovered we shared a commute after crossing paths on the orange line. One evening he happened to come into Barnes & Noble back when I was moonlighting there. We chatted briefly and then (WHY?) I leaned in and hugged him goodbye!

I'm fairly confident that the secret to the space-time continuum lies in those awkward moments when time stands still. I don't hug! I especially don't hug federal employees I work with and have developed no real friendship with. We both played it off, but needless to say, I was mortified. In every subsequent meeting, I couldn't even make myself go in for the handshake, preferring instead to proffer the slightly more casual distant wave.

Help a girl out. What's your hug etiquette?

Walking in a winter wonderland

Decorating for Christmas #decdaily

I finally sprinkled some Christmas cheer around my apartment on Sunday. Because I'm leaving for Texas in less than two weeks, I decided to not put up my tree. Instead, I had visions of a white winter wonderland. I've been slowly amassing a collection of brush bottle trees and got it in my head that my apartment needed a forest scene. Who needs a kitchen island?

north pole
Christmas tree

I also ended up wrapping lights around my tripod to create a more modern tree. I'm kind of a fan. How did you decorate for the holidays?

Monday, December 05, 2011

#31DDD: last song/album you bought

The last song I purchased was Brand New Key by Melanie (the song from the HP commercial). I was hanging out in Texas between conferences last November, preparing for an 8-hour road trip to Galveston with my mom. I was making a mix CD for our trip and snagged this one after my mom told me how much she liked it.

Saturday at the Old Lucketts Store

Red door

Saturday morning I went with Ravena to Lucketts, VA to pop into one of my favorite antique stores. They have such a well-curated, repurposed collection that it's difficult to not want everything. I'll admit I walk around in a bit of a daze when there.

Christmas house birds of a feather

I was on the hunt for brush bottle trees for my winter forest (pics in the next post) and found it difficult to maintain my focus. Sometimes it's such a struggle to differentiate between want versus need. Little ballerina cake toppers and majestic headbands? So tempting.

adorable covered houses

I did manage to steal away with a miniature house for my forest and a tiny bell jar. For more pictures of their offerings, check out Flickr.

festive taxidermy

Sunday, December 04, 2011

#31DDD: best experience you've had in another country

Taipei Dinner2 Taipei2
Mtn View2 Dam2
Excuse the pictures. These were in 2004 (i.e., pre-digital in my world) on an old 35mm.

I've written about my time in Taiwan earlier on the blog*, but it really does represent one of the best experiences I've had traveling in a foreign country. Over the years, I've developed a recipe--largely centered around avoiding tourist traps and making sure you follow the locals--for my own successful travel. My time in Taiwan had all the right ingredients.

I actually found myself in Taiwan for work reasons, so I was automatically positioned to experience it in a way that many others wouldn't. I was the only American (practically the only English speaker) on each leg of my trip, determined to throw myself into the culture in hopes of really living it and avoiding, in any way, being thought an Ugly American. From the moment I stepped off the plane and my first host offered me a betel nut** to visiting with local fishing families who had been devastated by cancer from dioxin-laden water, I was consistently blown away by how much of themselves people were willing to share. I went places your Fodor's wouldn't send you and didn't have to worry about standing in line at tourist attractions, surrounded by everyone but locals.

My resolve to avoid acting like a typical American was pushed to the limits as I popped open the white styrofoam container that held lunch that first day. Resting on a bed of rice, staring up at me with its milky eye, was fish. This was no salmon filet but rather a whole fish, replete with coral scales, fins, and that damn eye. Day after day mysterious fish, gelatinous molds, and tiny plates of insects would appear before me. While I can't claim to have gone at them rapatiously, I did make sure to try everything. I developed quite the close relationship with rice during this trip. By the time I arrived in Tainan, I hit my stride and really enjoyed taro and stinky tofu from roadside shops***, chicken (finally...without the claws and beak!), and pearl cream tea (well before it was called bubble tea and sold all over the US...yeah, I went there).

I was blessed enough to have gracious hosts eager to show me the best and worst of their island. I spent my last day exploring more of Taiwan's natural beauty in the Meishan-Yakou Recreation Area. If you check out my original post, you'll see photos of the earthquake damage we traversed from earlier that same week.

I'm firm believer that travel should change you, not necessarily in an all-encompassing, Eat Pray Love kind of way but perhaps small changes blossoming in you. I like to think Taiwan allowed me to shine a little brighter and fight a little harder once I got home.

*Holy crap...2004?! Hard to believe I've been writing here that long. Thankfully someone invented Twitter because many of my early posts are akin to a twitter rant.
**Taking an unknown substance in a foreign country probably wasn't the smartest move in the book, but it's all about the experience, right? 
***Shout out to Foodie and the Beatz.