Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wabbit Season...NO!...Duck Season!

It's been unseasonably warm here in NJ for the past week or so.  Temperatures should be in the high 40's/low 50's, and it's been 60 + since Thanksgiving.  Not that I'm complaining.  I greatly dislike the cold - so much so that I boycott visiting my in-laws, who live in Montreal, from November until May.  When Greg and I were still dating, we took a week off in January and went to Montreal and Quebec City for the Winter Carnival.  I have never been more cold in my life!  And, ever since that trip, I blatantly refuse to travel north of Woodbury Commons in the winter.  I was born to live in the tropics.  Or at least somewhere that doesn't get temperatures below 50 F.  Think San Diego.  That place has the perfect climate!

Based on this knowledge of myself, I am trying to plan (with Greg) a New Year's trip to somewhere not too far away (a few hours by plane at most) as our Christmas present to each other.  Greg came up with a great idea to go to Nashville, Tennessee.  Nashville's always been on my "places to see" list.  It's a mecca for music lovers, and lots of extremely talented people got their start in the tiny metropolis and made it to the big time (The Allman Brothers, Johnny Cash, Martina McBride, Charlie Daniels, you get the idea).  It's also home to the  "Music City Bowl" for college football.  If we go to Nashville to celebrate the new year, we are going to make sure we get tickets for the bowl game and make time to listen to tons of live music.  It should be an awesome time!  My only concern is that it will be cold-ish in Tennessee at the end of December/beginning of January.  The average lows are in the high 20's/low 30's, and the highs are only in the mid-40's.  Although this won't be as cold as the negative temps we experienced in Quebec City a few years ago, it's also not Caribbean-like "sit-on-the-beach" weather we'll be paying to stay in.  For roughly the same amount of money in airfare, we can probably get to Southern Florida or even one of the Caribbean islands for our trip.  But we've been to both places, and, though beautiful, the beaches all kind of start to look the same after a while.  It'd be great to have a truly warm weather vacation in December, but I think I'll have to just pack some warm layers and be ready to cheer on whatever team makes it to the Music City Bowl.

Hopefully we'll make a decision soon!  I started looking at hotels in Nashville to get an idea of how much money we'll be spending to sleep, and realized that many of the hotels downtown have absolutely no vacancy for New Year's weekend.  And I will not sleep in a Super 8 or a Red Roof Inn -- all part of my growing up and requiring certain creature comforts - especially when I'm travelling.  I need to be comfortable enough sleeping in a place that I can't hear what the people in the next room are doing or watching on television, and I also need a place that doesn't have mildew in the shower.  Small things, yes, but surprisingly not uncommon among the lower price hotels.  Hooray for being old!!!

Friday, November 25, 2011

We Survived!

Thanksgiving went off without a hitch!  Pretty much all of the food turned out awesome, and everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy the meal.  We even got to Skype with my sister Lindsay, who spent her Thanksgiving in the Middle East (where she lives) cooking chickens for a Thanksgiving meal with all her ex-pat friends.  It was an exhausting, but good, day.

In my tiny house, we had 16 people for dinner.  We literally used every single chair Greg and I own that is not upholstered, meant for camping, or part of an outdoor picnic set.  Here's a pic of the delicious and pretty cornucopia appetizer my sister, Adrea, and I made together.  It looked beautiful and made for a great conversation piece.  We made the actual cornucopia out of breadstick dough, so the whole thing was completely edible.  This picture was taken from above, but hopefully you get the idea.

We made enough food to feed about 100 people, so we'll be eating leftovers FOREVER!

Now that we survived Thanksgiving, it's time to start prepping for Christmas...which truly is my favorite holiday.  I think we'll be hanging up Christmas lights this weekend and getting ready to set up our tree, which is being delivered to us this year, thanks to an awesome deal I found on Groupon!  :) 

My house is kind of in shambles right now.  After so many people have lived, slept, eaten, and played in it for a few days it's in desparate need of deep cleaning.  Thankfully, Greg is awesome, and has already swept most of the rooms in the house.  Last night I kept getting grossed out by the feeling of so many unknown pieces of grime sticking to my toes while I was walking around barefoot.  It made me feel like I was in a college frat house.  Which was cool when I was 20...but is absolutely NOT cool now.

Since I have turned 30 (OK, it started even earlier than that) I have become grossly intolerant of dirt being in places that it doesn't belong.  I guess I always had some kind of OCD about cleanliness, but I used to be able to brush dirt off of my feet before putting on socks and heading out the door.  Now, if my feet have dirt on them that I can feel, I absolutely MUST take a shower before I even THINK about putting on a clean pair of socks.  Brushing it off just isn't an option anymore.  I want to be clean.  You can imagine how thankful I am to have a cleaning crew coming to our house this week to get our place back into truly clean shape!

I hope all of you had an awesome holiday, and, that you're ready for the madness of Christmas preparation that will be congesting shopping malls, roadways, and supermarkets, as well as turning every radio station into a 24/7 Burl Ives marathon for the next 4 weeks.  I'm bracing myself -- hope you are too!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Feel the Funk??

It's been a while since I've posted, and I think it's because I've been in quite a funk lately.  Work has been getting to me, and with Thanksgiving looming and my house being turned upside down, I'm kind of in a weird state of mind.  I've started drafting several new posts in the past week, but have decided that they're all too mean spirited to publish because they're full of complaints about people I'm close to, and my goal for this blog is to never write something that personally attacks anyone I care about.  Of course, random people I come across in my day to day life, who I have no personal connection with, are completely fair game :)

So, I'll talk about my own craziness here.

Last night, I woke up in a panic.  It was almost 3:30AM (a full 3 hours before I typically wake up) and I could not stop my mind from thinking about all of the things that need to be done for Thanksgiving.  Specifically, I was worrying about having enough room in my refrigerator and about making a turkey that isn't dry.  I understand the turkey fear because nobody likes a dry turkey - and it's something I have direct control over.  However, I can't figure out why my brain wouldn't stop running loops around the contents of my fridge and how everything is going to fit.  I mean, there's not much room to spare in there right now - I went grocery shopping last night, and the whole thing is full of supplies I'm going to need to feed everyone over the next few days.  My family is helping me out with side dishes, so I'll need room for them to store casseroles, pies, veggies, etc. from when they arrive on Wednesday until dinner on Thursday.  I'm seriously not sure how everything is going to fit. 

So, in the wee hours of the morning, I literally started having a panic attack.  I got really hot and started sweating, I couldn't close my eyes, and my heart was beating faster than the speed of the road runner trying to get away from the coyote in those looney tunes cartoons.  It was bizzare.  I've never really had panic attacks before - I've been nervous and stressed - but never to this degree.

I contemplated getting out of bed and going to read in the other room, but decided I'd just end up staying awake until it was time to get ready for work, and that would make for a very lousy Tuesday.  I did get out of bed to empty my bladder and to cool down.  Before getting back into bed, I took lots of super deep breaths to still my insanely fast heartbeat, then got back into bed and tried counting sheep.  That's right - I said counting sheep.

I've never counted sheep before.  To me, counting sheep was the same as just counting.  So I started just counting, and before I got to #3, my brain had started up on the mental refrigerator scanning again.  With one deep breath, I decided to actually count sheep - picturing them jumping over a fence, one by one.  My brain did try distracting me by changing my visualization of sheep between real sheep and the animated, fluffy ones that look like the ones used in some toilet paper commercial (I can't remember the brand).  I had to fight to keep my brain focused on the animated sheep - they looked lighter to me and, in my mind, that made it easier for those ones to jump over the fence.  Once I got a constant stream of fluffy, white, animated sheep jumping over my imaginary wooden fence, it was only a matter of about 15 counts before I was able to sleep again.  The last number I remember counting was somewhere in the 30s.  And, before I knew it, my alarm clock went off and it was time to get up for work.

Only 2 more days until my first Thanksgiving is here and done.  I want to enjoy the holiday, and I hope that, with patience with myself and with the people who will be descending on my home starting today, I will be able to see just how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family, a home to call my own, and to celebrate a holiday without having to worry about how we'll cover the expense of all the necessities.  There are many people in the US and elsewhere who don't have any of these things, and I am going to put a lot of effort into focusing on what I have to be thankful for.

I hope each and every one of you have a very Happy Thanksgiving.  If I remember to take them, I'll post some pics of how my table, turkey, and other things turn out for the holiday.  If you're hosting your first holiday, like me, I wish you luck!  And, if there's not enough room in the fridge, store stuff in coolers on the porch.  'Nuff said.

Monday, November 14, 2011

To Be or Not To Be...a Holy Roller

I was raised Catholic.  I attended CCD classes every Wednesday evening from the time I was in 1st grade until I "received the Holy Spirit" through the sacrament of Confirmation in 8th Grade.  OK, technically, at some point I think all CCD classes were changed to be held on Sundays instead of Wednesdays, but still, I had 8 solid years of weekly religious education classes that were supposed to make me understand all the practices and principals of Catholicism, which were required for me to be eligible to become an indoctrinated Catholic through receipt of several of the seven sacraments that "bind" my soul to the church.

If you're not Catholic or if you're just out of practice, the seven sacraments of Catholicism are:  Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.

I was baptised as a baby, because, being Catholic, my parents believed that having me baptised would save me from original sin.  That way, if I died before I reached an age when I understood right from wrong, I would be saved by God, and my soul would be sent to heaven as opposed to hell.

I can't remember if it was in first or second grade, but, for argument's sake, I'll say it was in second grade that I received both Reconciliation and Eucharist.  I was 7 years old in second grade.  At that time, I was taught how to confess my sins to a priest for forgiveness from God, and that God will forgive all of my sins, no matter how horrible they are, as long as I confess them and perform penance as dictated by the priest during confession.  As a 7 year old, I remember thinking this was the greatest thing ever.  Finally, I could fight with my sisters, talk back to my parents, and steal cookies from the snack drawer without repercussion, as long as I was able to confess those sins.  I'm pretty sure I put that confession rule to the test.  Every time I went to confession, I would have a list of sins a bit longer than the one I had during my last confession, and, usually, my penance didn't get much greater than saying a few Hail Mary's or a couple of Our Father's.  No matter how many sins I tacked on, my penance remained pretty constant. 

That same year, while I was still 7, I received my first holy communion (a.k.a. Eucharist).  Eucharist is a ritual where you witness bread and wine turned into the spiritual embodiment of Jesus Christ's body and blood, then eat and drink the same to bring yourself closer to our Savior.  The rule was that you couldn't receive the Eucharist until you had confessed all of your sins.  Since Eucharist is administered at least once per week at mass, for a while I was confessing my sins at least that often.  I remember witnessing some of my family members opting not to receive the Eucharist during mass.  At age 7, witnessing people, who I had always looked up to and admired, opting out of communion, was how I understood that some of my family members must have had some hefty sins to overcome.

From 2nd to 8th grade, religious education focused on having a healthy relationship with God, and with teachings about God being present as the holy trinity - God the Father, God the Son, and The Holy Spirit.  We talked about Mary and her role as the virgin Mother of God and about the miracles Jesus performed while he was a man on Earth.  We also talked about Joseph, who was, for all intents and purposes, Jesus' stepfather, who was called to be a true symbol of faith when he made the decision to wed Mary even after he discovered she was with child.  This type of information is very hard to understand as an adult, so you can imagine how my adolescent brain processed everything.  I questioned everything there was to question about all of the beliefs that I, as a Catholic, was supposed to have without doubt.  I fought with my parents, especially my Mom, about what we were being taught, because, when you get down to the nitty gritty of Catholicism, nothing is logical.  A lot of answers to my constant questions were simply about having faith and believing that the stories, miracles, and acts were true as stated.  I didn't buy those explanations.

By the time 8th grade rolled around, I was pretty sure that being a Catholic was not something I wanted.  However, to avoid massive fights at home, and because my parents still had control over my actions and choices, I went through with my Confirmation, and received my last sacrament as a Catholic thus far in life.  As soon as I went to college, I stopped going to church every weekend.  I still went on holidays because I would spend them at home with my family, and it wasn't worth the fight with my mom to not sit through one hour of church.  I always assumed that, at some point, I would go back to being a Catholic.  That I would have some miracle awakening about faith and decide that what they're dishing out doesn't taste so bad going down anymore. 

When Greg and I got engaged and started planning our wedding, I didn't even consider having our ceremony in a church.  First of all, Greg is Jewish, and wasn't planning to convert, so I was pretty sure our wedding wouldn't be recognized by the Catholic church at all.  Second of all, I had been on my own for almost 8 years by the time we were engaged, and at no point in those 8 years had I felt a need to return to my roots and take up practicing Catholicism again.  So, we were married on a beach with a ceremony that was put together by us and had very little religious attributes.

Now, here I am, a 30 year old adult, with a great family, a wonderful husband, a good job, a place I'm proud to call home, and regular day-to-day responsibilities.  However, somewhere in that mix of wonderfulness, I fear that I'm missing spirituality.  And I'm finding myself at a loss for what to do about that missing piece.  I think one of the problems is that Catholicism is all I know - and I know that it's not for me.  I often think about my other spiritual options - and usually I find myself thinking of other religions - because, I fear that without rules, it will be too easy for me to end up where I am right now - unsure of what I believe and fearful that I'm missing out on something bigger.  The problem for me is that understanding the premise of other religions takes time.  I don't want to spend the time it would take to properly understand the beliefs, customs, and general outlooks of other faiths.  But without that knowledge, how am I ever supposed to find a religion that works for me - one that makes sense - one that I can believe in?

One of my sisters, who had the same Catholic upbringing as me, started going to a different church a few years ago.  It's a Christian church, and that's about all I understand of what the church is about.  But, she's found a spiritual place where she can be on the same page as the teachings, and, in that, I believe she's found spiritual contentment.  I attended a mass at her church once, and was hoping that I'd like it enough to want to become part of it, or at least maybe attend additional masses to learn more about what they were teaching.  I was sadly disappointed.  The message I got from that mass was unclear, garbled, and seemed to be a mish-mosh of information with Christ's name thrown in a few times for good measure.  Whereas the Catholic church, to me, was so organized, detailed, and one-sided in their messages (to a fault), this church seemed to want to try to please everyone by talking about their beliefs on all different levels, so much so, that, to me, the message, if there was one, was totally lost.

I'm not sure what my next steps should be on my quest for spiritual awakening.  I guess that since I'm thinking about it at all, I'm in a good position to start learning.  I just wish it wasn't so overwhelming.  There seem to be a million types of religions out there, and figuring out which one is right for me feels more cumbersome that finding a bathing suit (which I avoid like the plague - yet I still own a few of them).  Maybe religion is like exercise - you just have to start going to get into the groove of what can become something normal.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Skinny Minny

Before you get disgusted and stop reading, I'd like to stop all of you from ignoring this post based on it's title.  This entry has nothing at all to do with losing weight, dieting, hating skinny people, or anything like that.  It's about skin types.  OK, OK, it's still a "girly-girl" topic, but I'm a girl, I have skin, I went shopping recently, and I had an experience that I just had to write about.  Plus, nobody is forcing you to read further - but if you decide to - I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday was a good day.  I attended a very interesting lunch meeting, got to network with some of my female colleagues from different facilities, and was able to leave work at a reasonable hour.  Since I had recently bought a Groupon for The Body Shop, I decided to stop at the mall on my way home to peruse the store to see what kind of yummy smelling bath/body products I could pick up for a reasonable amount of my hard earned cash.  I don't often buy products from The Body Shop, because it's expensive, and I don't love any of their products enough to justify the costs.  However, before I bought the Groupon, I did some research on Body Shop products (literally entered "best body shop products" into google) and was intrigued by their line of tea tree oil skin care products.  I am very fortunate to have inherited great skin from my mom.  However, I do occasionally get a pimple, and, when I do, I have an incessant need to pick/pop/scratch it - usually rendering my typically clear skin red, blotchy, and scabbed for at least a few days if not an entire week.  I have a whole facial routine which includes application of a salicylic acne treatment to prevent those unwanted break outs.  However, when I do get a pimple, the use of more salicylic acid usually doesn't clear the offensive red intruder fast enough to prevent the death of my willpower to not pick, pop, or scratch the blemish.  So...when I read about The Body Shop's pure tea tree oil as a great, natural, spot treatment for unwanted pimples, I decided I'd buy the Groupon, get on the tea tree bandwagon, and put this stuff to the test.

So, Tuesday afternoon I wander into my local Body Shop and head immediately to the Tea Tree Oil skincare section.  I was approached by an employee who asked me if I needed help.  Now, typically, when I'm asked by store associates if I need help, I immediately answer, "No, I'm just browsing" because I really dislike feeling pressured to purchase something before I've had a chance to look at EVERY SINGLE PRODUCT in the store.  I wish I was exxagerating.  But, like I said, Tuesday was a good day.  And I figured there was no way in hell that any store employee was going to make me feel pressured. After all, I had nowhere to be except home making dinner...and that just wasn't as appealing as smelling my way through the 500 square feet of bath and body bliss. 

So, I said, "Yes" and here's how the conversation went:

Me: "I do need help.  I'm looking for the pure tea tree oil - can you show me where it is and tell me how much it costs?" 
Employee: "What's your skin type?" 
I'm sorry...but in my book answering a question with another question that has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with my original question is not acceptable.  But, I responded anyway.
Me: "I have combination skin"
Employee: "Well, tea tree oil products are really for acne prone, oily skin.  You have clear skin, why do you need that?" 
Me: "Thank you, I am lucky to have clear skin.  But I do still get pimples once in a while and I've heard that the pure tea tree oil is great as a spot treater." 
Employee: "Oh, OK, that would work for you as a spot treater.  For combination skin you should use this (pointing to the pink shelf) line." 
Me: "I'm not here to buy a whole new set of skin care products, I'm happy with what I use now.  I just wanted to try the tea tree oil for spot treatement.  By the way, do I need to be concerned about irritation with the pure tea tree oil because, my skin is pretty sensitive and tends to break out when I use harsh products and chemical sunscreens." 
She looks at me like I have five heads
Employee: "WAIT!  You just told me you have combination skin.  Now you're telling me you're sensitive.  So which is is?" 
Me: "Both, I guess.  So, how much is the tea tree oil?"

At that point I had enough and just wanted to get my tea tree oil and get out of there. 

Seriously, can someone not have combination, oily, or dry skin that is also sensitive?  And sensitive shouldn't be a type of skin care product anyway because, in my experience, every person is sensitive to different things.  I can't use chemical sunscreens at all - I break out in hives within 5 minutes of sun exposure when I have chemical sunscreen applied.  And some "sensitive skin" moisturizers include chemical sunscreens.  On the other hand, fragrances usually don't bother my skin.  In fact, I like using products that smell fresh.  And pretty much all skin care products that are labeled for sensitive skin are fragrance free.  When I do break down and buy something labeled for sensitive skin, I feel I am missing out on a part of skin care that I actually enjoy.  One of my favorite face wash products is Neutrogena's grapefruit cleanser.  It smells so fresh, it's like a burst of citrus in your face, and it makes me think of sunshine.  If you've never tried it, you should!  Especially on a morning when you don't want to be out of bed.  This stuff will perk you right up!

Anyway - I guess my rant is about labeling and marketing of products that are so exclusive.  Despite the major marketing companies trying to fit us all into boxes that can be easily labeled into no more than a handful of categories, we are all unique, and it's sad to me when people stop realizing that YES, I can have combination skin that is also sensitive to some things.  That doesn't make me a bad person, and I shouldn't be criticized for wanting to purchase a product that isn't specifically meant for "my skin type" because "my skin type" doesn't exactly fit the mold created by these corporate giants.  I use skin care products from all "type" labels, and I've found that mixing and matching products works best for me.  That's not a crime, that's being an individual. 

I am woman, hear me roar!

OK, even I agree that my last sentence was a bit over the top.  But I will NOT delete it! 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Food and Football

Happy Sunday to all!  The weekend went by so quickly, and, as usual, I am pretty sure I didn't get nearly enough things accomplished.  One of the biggest things I have to do is get my butt in gear for Thanksgiving.  It's only 3 weeks away!  I did manage to put together some cool napkin rings using burlap...I'm going to put orange napkins in the burlap rings and tuck a piece of golden wheat into the burlap.  It should look very pretty and festive on the table.  It's just one more example of how seriously I'm taking my hostess duties for Thanksgiving. 

Today we're having our trees pruned by a professional tree climber - the guy literally climbs trees and walks on limbs, tight-rope style, to prune dead or damaged branches.  We had to have this done because the storm from last weekend destroyed such a large portion of our trees.  He's been here since 1:30 or so, and he's only just finished the front tree (2 hours later).  He'll be moving to the back after a small break.  The work this guy does should be showcased on TV -- it's really insane!  As Greg's friend John put it, the tree dude's work is like Ax Men meets Cirque du Soleil.

Ever since Greg and I met, and probably before me, Greg's been into fantasy football.  He has at least 2 fantasy leagues that I know of, and I'm sure he has others that are just for fun leagues that I know nothing about.  Needless to say, on Sundays in the fall, all he wants to do is drink beer and watch football.  So, that's what he's up to today.  I usually pop my head into our TV room once every couple of hours to check to see if the Eagles are playing and if they're winning.  That's the extent of my involvement.  It's kind of funny, though, because before I met Greg I actually did care somewhat about football - mostly about the Eagles - but I'd be able to sit and watch the game without a problem.  However, the year after we got married, my interest in football dwindled to practically non-existent.  Sometimes I wonder if my liking football had something to do with my desire to meet a man on a subconscious level.  Greg brings that up sometimes and asks why I all of a sudden stopped liking football.  And I have no great answer for him, I just stopped enjoying watching it.  I'm really not sure why.  It may have something to do with getting older and starting to really question to objective of a game where the sole purpose appears to be bashing in the skulls of your opponents running around a field with 15 other men chasing after a tiny ball.

So, while Greg watches the games, I try to distract myself with projects around the house.  Today has been a day of distraction in the kitchen.  I made meat sauce for pasta and kale chips.  I'm also considering making cookies for the crazy tree climber dude who really deserves some kind of treat for the work he did already today.  Sadly, it's only 4:15 and it's already getting dark outside.  Daylight savings time is depressing to say the least!  Hopefully it helps out the farmers or whoever else it was supposed to benefit when it was enacted.  I hope all of you are enjoying your Sunday! 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Won't You be my Neighbor?

Greg and I moved to suburbia in September 2009.  Our neighborhood is full of houses similar in size to ours - and most of the families on our street have children that we occasionally see outside.  As far as I can tell our neighbors are somewhat diverse.  We are friendly with one of our next door neighbors - they have two children - and they both work in public safety.  They're good people.  I'm pretty sure our other next door neighbor is illegally renting out rooms of his house.  He uses his back yard as a dump zone for his "business" which means that all kinds of scrap metal, old televisions, and beat up water heaters wind up sitting in his yard for weeks on end.  I'm not too sure that he's an upstanding citizen of our little town, and we only talk to him when he's in his driveway, delivering miscellaneous items to his self proclaimed dump - usually because we need to talk to him about replacing the fence between our properties or we want to trim some of his trees that hang over our driveway.  But other than that, we don't really know our neighbors.  It's pretty sad.

When I was growing up, we lived in a neighborhood where all the kids played together outside pretty much year-round.  When we'd all get in the car on Sunday mornings to head to church, we'd wave to all the neighbors who were outside doing lawn work.  My parents knew and were friends with pretty much all of our direct neighbors, and they even had a couple of neighborhood holiday parties with the group.  When we had parties at our house, we would invite all of our neighbors to come join in on the festivities.  When someone new moved to our street, we'd make cookies and bring them over to welcome the new family to the neighborhood.  It was a great neighborhood to grow up in, although I do remember not thinking so at one point, when one of our neighbors told my parents about me having friends over when my parents weren't home.  My teenage views on the priceless value of good neighbors were obviously skewed beacuse I was appropriately punished for actions I thought I had gotten away with.

When I first moved out of my parent's house and into an apartment building, I remember thinking that not knowing my neighbors was just an acceptable part of apartment living.  Afterall, there weren't really any common living areas for the building, so socializing, if it were to happen, would have to happen inside of someone's personal living space.  Not very conducive to starting a casual neighborly relationship.  So I didn't really know anyone.  It was the same when I moved to another apartment with a roommate, and again, the same when I moved into Greg's apartment after we were married.  When we moved to the burbs I was hoping we'd have a better opportunity to get to know our neighbors.  That hasn't really happened.  Greg is bent on trying to get together with the next door neighbors that we actually like, just to get to know them a bit better, but we haven't been able to settle on a date that works for all of us. 

I wonder if the neighbor issue is a result of living busier lives.  I leave my house to go to work around 7:00 AM and sometimes I'm not home until almost 7:00 PM.  Greg has a similar schedule.  And I'm sure during those times our neighbors are either inside with their families or running off to child-related activities like soccer games, band practice, etc.  We don't see our neighbors out and about very often.  On top of that, I think Greg and I may be the only people on our street who don't have professional landscapers take care of our yard.  So, on weekends when we're out raking leaves or mowing the lawn, we're typically all alone.  Maybe being a distant neighbor and giving others "their space" makes people feel less intrusive in other people's lives.  Greg and I got a letter in the mail a few weeks ago that informed us that a neighbor across the street is going to be renovating his house.  He is required to let us know because he requested a variance to the building code to get the renovation complete.  The letter was sent via registered mail.  The guy lives right across the street!  Why not just walk it over to us?  Why not explain to us in person, what you're doing to your house?  It was surreal to have to drive to the post office to get a letter from someone who's literally a two second walk away from our front door.

Anyway, I've decided that if I really want to get to know my neighbors, it's going to be up to me to get the conversation started.  I've contemplated the idea of throwing a block party...but that idea is very intimidating since I don't know what half of my neighbors even look like.  I need to come up with something small. Maybe just make cookies for everyone and walking around one weekend knocking on doors, saying hello, and introducing myself.  Again, that's intimidating.  Because, if the roles were reversed, I don't think I'd want cookies made by a complete stranger.  It's bizzare how easy it is to not trust people we know nothing about.

This weekend we're having all of the tree debris that fell in last week's storm removed from our property.  I'm hoping some of our neighbors will hear the chipper running at our place and run over to see if they can get in on the action - forcing a conversation between us and them.  We'll see how it goes.  Happy Friday everyone!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Food on the Brain

Why is it that when someone sends an e-mail to me with a mere mention of food - even if it is only in reference to a meal (i.e., "Hey, Sarah, what do you want to have for dinner tonight?") I can't seem to get my mind off of thinking about food of all kinds?  I LOVE to eat - I mean seriously, I think I might have a problem.  I get giddy thinking about eating a warm bowl of chilli, or a hot fudge brownie sundae.  But I'm picky also.  I only love food that's worth the calories.  So that hot fudge brownie sundae has to have a chewy, not cake-like, brownie, it has to be topped with vanilla ice cream of a superior quality (no store brand ice cream for this palette, thank you!), and it has to have real hot fudge, hershey's syrup will not do!  To really get me drooling, the brownie should be slightly warm and should not have anything inside other than warm chocolatey goodness. 

One of my pet peeves with simple desserts, like a brownie, is that people are always trying to make them more interesting - topping them with cream cheese, stirring chocolate chips or nuts into the batter, swirling peanut butter through them, etc.  When made right, brownies do not need anything extra.  And it doesn't take much to make them right, store bought boxed brownie mix usually delivers a pretty decent brownie, no additions necessary.  So why do we insist on complicating things?  It's no wonder we're never satisfied...we've become so used to what "type" of brownie we're eating that we forget that the brownie, in all it's naked glory, is something decidedly decadent all by itself.

Anyway, it just so happens that one of my sisters mentioned a cake in an e-mail between me, my mom, and my sisters today, and it now has all of us talking about how much we want cake, how much cake we've eaten today, and what kind of cake we're going to have for another sister's birthday in August (you're not crazy, it is November, and, yes, we're planning cake for August).  That's how we roll.  Food is our thing.  We go out of our way to center parties, holidays, special events, EVERYTHING around food.  When we all get together to spend a day at the beach, one of the first things we do is divvy up who's bringing what food.  Heaven forbid we go down the shore without a cooler fully stocked with tunafish, crackers, fresh fruit, pb&j's, and cookies.  It's like we wouldn't survive without these summer day essentials.

When I first met Greg and we started taking our own trips down the shore, I would go into panic mode the night before our trip, trying to decide what we had available in our apartment to make a suitable beach day lunch.  Greg thought I was nuts, and seemed perfectly content to partake of whatever the local concession stand had to offer.  I felt it was my duty to train him how to properly prepare a beach day feast that's totable and tasty, preventing the need to stand in line for greasy food while listening to all the whiny kids ask their parents for ice cream cones.  After five years or so, I think I have him convinced.

Anyway, I guess food is an essential part of life, and we need it in order to survive.  I just wonder why it often becomes such an all thought consuming necessity.  After all, air and water are also essential for life, and I don't find myself daydreaming about breathing or drinking.  Food is just on a whole different level for me.  Maybe it's because there is just so much variety, and great food is somewhat of an art that most people, with practice, can master.  I emphasize practice because I once made a fettuccini alfredo that I wouldn't serve to my worst enemies.  The pasta itself was the problem - it was all stuck together and half cooked so you'd bite into overly mushy parts that had rock solid centers.  It was a disaster...one that my sisters have a hard time letting me forget.  But, when I started living on my own, and was required to cook for myself on a somewhat regular basis, I actually discovered that I have the ability to be a decent cook.  I still mess up, but a good percentage of things I try in the kitchen turn out to be pretty tasty.  Like the meatloaf roll that I made last week, and the escarole, sundried tomato, and cannellini bean dinner I made last night, which I based off of one of my favorite dishes from a local restaurant.  Funny enough, I can't remember the last time I even tried to make fettuccini.  Maybe part of being a successful cook is knowing your limitations.  :)

Now I'm craving a brownie.