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Archive for the ‘Exercise’ Category

Recently, I did something I’d never done before: I went to an exercise class.

Maybe saying “never” is inaccurate. First of all, it’s possible that I just don’t remember taking a class before. I recently talked to my dad about hiring someone to stretch the carpet in our upstairs hall and he said that I’d done that a few years ago and the person I’d asked said it wasn’t possible. Welp. Just blocked that right out of my head didn’t I. And then my husband referenced in an off-hand way the time he cut his finger so badly we had to go to the emergency room. Um. Whatnow? I have zero recollection of this supposed emergency injury. So I admit there could be an exercise class or two knocking around in my history somewhere.

Does this count? I know I went to a yoga class once, when my husband was in medical school. It was TERRIFYING because I was less outgoing then than I am now (not that I would ever in a million years describe myself as “outgoing”) and I went without a friend. And the instructor was very off-putting for reasons I cannot fully recall or articulate, but seem to be related to a) how clear it was he wasn’t wearing underpants and b) how he loudly declared that gas and other body noises were a common part of the practice, so let ’er rip and that was deeply unsettling to a Very Self-Conscious and Easily Embarrassed Twenty-Five-Year-Old. Also the class was crowded and I had no idea what I was doing and it was enough to put me off exercise classes of any sort for more than a decade.

ANYWAY. My friend asked if I would go to this class with her, so I automatically had a higher comfort level than with Yoga Gas Guy. Plus, I have done many a workout video in the intervening years and I feel more confident about my endurance and capability when it comes to exercise.

But it was a new experience, and I had to overcome a lot of internal resistance to say yes. So in case you are similarly curious about trying a class, but are deathly afraid of it, here’s my experience.

It was one of those barre classes, which is supposedly a combination of yoga, Pilates, and ballet. For years, I’ve heard about these barre classes and reacted with narrowed eyes and deep suspicion. Anything involving ballet should not involve me, is my general feeling. But I went online and read the website, which was very helpful: it explained exactly what to bring (water and sticky socks if I wanted them) and that all props would be provided. I didn’t know what “props” meant, so I asked my friend if I needed to bring a mat and it turned out that’s one of the props. (The other props turned out to be hand weights, a resistance band, and an exercise ball.)

I got there early and met the instructor and told her I was a newbie. She was super nice and told me things that went straight out of my head. Okay. Whatever. I used the bathroom, exchanged my shoes and normal socks for sticky socks (these are the ones I use; they are perfectly adequate and WAY less expensive than the $20-per-pair [!!!] socks you can buy at the barre place) (don’t buy these ones; the sticky spots don’t cover enough of the foot and I kept slipping when I wore them), and went into the room. Excuse me: studio.

It’s a big room with mirrors on three sides and a long ballet barre running along the mirror. We all got a couple of weights, a towel, and a resistance band, and went and picked a spot at the barre.  (The exercise balls were already tucked up on the barre all around the room.)

One of my worries about classes was that I would be the only one who didn’t know anyone. But that either wasn’t the case or didn’t matter. My friend had another friend there too, so they talked while I looked around and tried not to be too nervous. A lot of people seemed to know each other, but just as many seemed to be there by themselves. Some people chatted, some people just stood there silently.

One of my other worries was that I would be the only person with my body type. It doesn’t MATTER, of course, but I am self-conscious of my body and I was fretting that everyone would look like my friend, who has a more standard-of-current-beauty-trends body shape. I made myself go anyway. And it was okay. There were LOTS of different body types represented. The women were all different ages and races and shapes. That was a big relief.

When it came time for the class to start, the instructor put on a headset microphone and went to the front of the room – which turned out to NOT be the front of the room; any of the walls that had a mirror was fair game for being the “front,” so the only way to avoid being at the front was to stand in one of the far back corners, which I wouldn’t advise because it makes it so hard to see yourself in the mirror. She had all of us spread out all over the room and then she led us in a series of exercises. These were varied: yoga-type stretches, squats, modified burpees, 80s-style aerobics moves. It was fast paced and very hard, but she moved from exercise to exercise so quickly that it was still do able. And people were kind of doing their own thing. She would sometimes shout out a modification if you were having lower back pain or if your knees aren’t super great or if you are a beginner. And people were doing the modifications. Then she moved us to the barre, where we did some core and leg work with the exercise ball. This was SO HARD. My legs were shaking like crazy. But the instructor’s legs were shaking too, and so were my friend’s. So I figured it was just part of the deal. Then the instructor pulled out some yoga mats and we did floor work, some of it with the resistance band. And then we did some stretches and it was over. It went by surprisingly quickly. She played upbeat music at a nice loud volume the whole time, which I enjoyed.

One of the other things I was self-consious about was messing up and feeling stupid. But that quickly became a non-issue. I noticed what other people were doing, but more in a general sort of way. Like, I had the sense that some people were facing the barre for some of the thigh exercises while others had their backs to it, but it didn’t really register that Specific Woman was doing so, if that makes sense. So I don’t think anyone was looking at me, specifically, and critiquing my warrior pose or whatever.  Mainly, I was watching the instructor to see what I should be doing and to match her rhythm… or I was looking in the mirror at myself, trying to make sure my knees weren’t bending out over my toes or my back was straight.  And I figured that everyone else was doing the same. That helped me relax a little.

It was an hour-long class, and by the end of the hour, my legs were so weak that I literally could not walk down the stairs. Luckily, there was an escalator to the ground floor, but my friend walked down it and then had to stop and wait for me because my legs were no longer obeying my commands. And then I had to drive my stick-shift car home and it was nearly impossible.

But I really enjoyed the class. It was different from my normal workout video or treadmill routine. And I liked being pushed to do things I wouldn’t normally try on my own. So I signed up for another 10 classes, and I have been going about once or twice a week. I wouldn’t say that it’s fun, but it is very satisfying.

One of the things I hate about exercising is that the results aren’t immediate. Dieting is different: if I burn more calories than I take in, I see an immediate result on the scale. But exercise takes so much MORE than dieting – there’s all the time it takes, and the energy you have to put into running or barreing or whatever, not to mention the mental wheedling/cheerleading/bullying you have to do to get yourself to do it in the first place – and yet you have to wait for WEEKS, MONTHS EVEN before you see any difference at all. So I am not going to say that this class has in any way helped me lose weight. I haven’t really seen any body changes at all, but then again, I haven’t been going that long. But I think the class is enjoyable on its own. It’s challenging and a change of pace and all that.

I am not sure I will buy another block of classes when I’m done with this one; it’s very expensive and I have yet to decide whether it’s worth it. And I don’t know that I want to ask for it for Mother’s Day or something like that; that seems like a gift designed to make me feel irritated and sad, even if I ask for it specifically.

Oh! The other thing I wanted to tell you is that I have very sweaty palms. And feet, which is why I need the sticky socks. But my hands are also very slippery. I already owned a bunch of yoga gloves, and they are fine (and really inexpensive!). But they pull at the webbing between my fingers. So I got some yoga paws to try out and I like them much better.

The only problem with the yoga paws/gloves is that no one else wears them. Well, I think one woman – in her sixties, I would guess – does. But no one else does. And I know I shouldn’t care at ALL, but it does make me feel self-conscious. As does the fact that seemingly everyone in each class I’ve attended wears head to toe Lululemon. Great. Good for them. I am wholly intimidated by Lululemon, which seems geared to people with Not My Body Type. Plus, it seems to be Very Expensive, and my general feeling is that a legging is a legging. (Which is not to say that I’m right! Or that I think people shouldn’t buy Lululemon! If I had the budget for it and the confidence, I would be all over that shit!) (And I get that it is more like Investment Clothing and will probably last a LOT longer than my Cheapo exercise wear. But for me, right now, high-end athletic wear is a Startling ExpenseTM Swistle.) Anyway, the point is that I end up feeling really… left out? is that the word?… while wearing my Kirkland-brand leggings and my cheap Amazon sticky socks. It’s STUPID. And yet I still feel weirdly insecure. It’s the same way that I sometimes feel inferior when I’m driving my 2003 Honda in the school pickup line behind a chain of Mercedeses and Range Rovers and BMWs and Lexuses. I like my Honda. It’s a good car. It’s fully paid for. But when everyone around you has something that you don’t, it feels like you’re being singled out. Not that anyone has ever said anything, good or bad, about my car! Good ol’ peer pressure or the perception thereof! It’s so dumb! And yet such a powerful, irresistible force! Man, I really though that when I was Nearing Forty I wouldn’t care so much what other people think. And yet… SIGH. SO MANY INSECURITIES OMG.

Well, I am continuing to enjoy my classes despite my Costco leggings and yoga paws. I am hoping that I am giving off a No Fucks Given/Beat of My Own Drum kind of vibe rather than a Wildly Out of Place vibe. Not that anyone is even LOOKING at me long enough to even pick up a vibe; they are all too busy looking at their own form in the mirror and trying to keep up with the instructor and fretting over their own insecurities. It really DOESN’T matter, one single ounce. And it makes me super mad that I’m even thinking about it at all.

Maybe I need to scrap the exercise class, after all. My treadmill never makes me feel insecure about what I’m wearing!

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I did not think of it quickly enough to add to Friday’s post, but I am IN LOVE with this workout video:

Shape: Best-Ever Hollywood Workout

 

Shape best ever Hollywood

Photo from amazon.com. Every time I put this in my DVD player – EVERY TIME – I think about Paul Hollywood, of Great British Baking Show fame. I think I might prefer a Paul Hollywood exercise video. Especially if it involved cake.

I really hate going to the gym. Likewise, I hate exercise classes of any type. If I’m going to exercise, I’m going to do it in my own home where no one can hear me huffing and grunting or see how inflexible I am.

It took me… nearly 40 years to figure to this out, but my library has a lot of exercise videos that you can just… CHECK OUT! For FREE! So for the past six months or so, I have been adding two or three of them to my pile of books every time I go to the library. Some of them, as you may imagine, are terrible. Others are so good I plan on buying them.

The Shape: Best-Ever Hollywood Workout is my current favorite. It has lots of benefits:

  1. The “star” or “host” or “exercise guru” or whatever you want to call him is Gunnar Peterson, and he is not annoying at all. Some of the stars of these videos make me want to turn off the video. They can be too peppy or too aggressive. Jillian Michaels, for instance, is constantly reminding you that you have to WORK to see results. Don’t just sit there and eat ice cream while she’s working out. You have to DO THE EXERCISES. You want your abs to look like this backup exerciser right here? Well, you have to WORK to get them. Rock hard abs aren’t FREE. Sigh. It’s true and a good reminder and all that but it annoys the crap out of me. I’m DOING THE VIDEO, all right? Lay off me! Gunnar Peterson doesn’t really do any reminders like that. He basically says, “Do this exercise” and then he does some counting down to the last rep and then he moves on to the next exercise. Once in a while he’ll say, “Great job” or “Don’t let your arms gets sloppy” or something along those lines. That’s it.
  2. It has OPTIONS. There are two 20-minute workouts for the whole body and two 10-minute “targeted” workouts (one for your arms, one for your buns and thighs). I like to have options. It gets boring to do the same thing over and over, and so this allows me to rotate things.
  3. It’s FAST. You can do a whole workout in 20 minutes! Or 10 minutes, if you want to! And even in 20 minutes, I get my heart rate up and my muscles are noticeably sore the next day. I feel like it’s a worthwhile 20 minutes. And if you have 30 minutes, you can do one of the 20-minute workouts and then one of the 10-minute ones.
  4. It doesn’t really require special equipment. You can use hand weights, if you want. But usually one of the two backup exercisers isn’t using weights at all. You can use a yoga mat, if you want. Depends on how hard your floor is. But that’s really it. No exercise bands or balls or whatever else the kids are using these days.
  5. The exercises go by really quickly. If I’m doing a plank, I get to the point where I don’t think I can hold it much longer and it’s over. I’ve tried (vaguely, lazily) to count how many repetitions of each exercise you do, and it’s not many. Maybe 10, tops? It’s doable, is what I’m saying. So if there’s something you hate, you can get through it pretty quickly.
  6. It’s fairly low impact. I have bad knees, so I steer clear of anything high impact. One of the workouts has a small section of jumps, but it’s very fast and hasn’t bothered my knees at all. And you can skip it if you aren’t interested.
  7. There’s an option for “customizing” your workout – i.e., you go to a menu of all four workouts, and you can select which ones you want to do. And then they will play automatically. I feel like this should be #20 on the list, because it’s not really that great. I mean, it prevents you from having to press a couple of buttons on your remote, that’s all. But it’s a nice idea, I guess. I still end up fast forwarding through the cool-down of the first session and the warm-up of the second session. There’s only so much warming-up and cooling-down I can handle.

Disadvantages:

  1. This is a DVD, from 2010, which is nearly a DECADE ago. So if you don’t have a DVD player or a PlayStation that can play it, you are out of luck.
  2. Somehow, even though it’s a DVD, it’s still $14.98, which seems like a lot for a piece of near-defunct technology. I am still going to buy it, though. But maybe you could get it used, or check it out from your library. Or, for all I know, it exists in the ether in some digital form that you can access for free.

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Well. Two months just sped by bloglessly, didn’t they? I suppose that is a good indication of my current writing habits, which have been fruitful. Just not… blog-fruitful.

Anyway, let me ease back into blogging by posting about a few things that I am LOVING lately. If you have read this blog for any amount of time, I don’t think you’ll be surprised that most of them are food-related. What can I say? I love to eat.

Silicone Clip Strainer

Fave Things Clip Strainer Amazon

Photo from Amazon.com

You know how I love my kitchen gadgets! Well, one of my deep dark secrets is that I hate colanders. They are big and bulky. And, worse, I think they are kind of gross. I don’t like the idea of putting my just-cooked food into a sink that may have not been scrubbed since the previous evening. My colander – one of those big silver jobbers – even has a foot, so the food can’t touch the sink. But the drained water can rise up to above-foot level, or, even if it doesn’t, there’s always the risk that some sink-y water will drip into the pot when you pour your strained food back in. YES I KNOW I HAVE ISSUES. Anyway. My husband got this little guy for me for Christmas and I adore it. It clips on to any pot and allows you to pour out all the water without dumping your pasta/potatoes/broccoli/whatever in the sink. It’s very easy to use and I just throw it right in the dishwasher after I’m done with it. The one caveat I have is that the strainer is markedly smaller – covers less of the pot opening – than some of the Amazon photo options imply. It still works, though. Totally worth $7.99.

 

El Yucateco Chile Habanero Hot Sauce

Fave Things El Yucateco Walmart

Photo from Walmart.com

This is my (current) favorite hot sauce. I love hot sauce. It is my condiment of choice and when I use it, I use a LOT of it. My pantry has Sriracha, Cholula, La Victoria, and usually some fancy-dancy specialty hot sauces that my super romantic husband bought me as a surprise. (If you don’t consider getting surprise hot sauce super romantic, well, then, it’s good you didn’t marry me.) I fell in love with El Yucateco at our local Mexican restaurant – which is much too delicious, inexpensive, and close for my desired pants size. “Fell in love” is probably too mild a term. I became obsessed. In some ways, it feels like I am addicted to it: I think about it when I’m not eating it. I crave it. When I use it, I use wayyyyy more than is necessary. It makes my stomach hurt the next day, I consume so much. But it is wonderful. It’s got plenty of heat but it also has a nice, semi-fruity flavor. It goes really well with cheese enchiladas and burritos. I get it at my local grocery store for $4.99 an 8-ounce bottle, so it’s not an inexpensive habit. Apparently, you can get it at Wal-Not-Target for $1.84, but that’s for 4 ounces. Otherwise known as one meal. Or you can buy it by the case on the El Yucateco website. Which I am seriously considering.

 

Recipe Tin Eats

My husband and I eat a lot of chicken and pork, and it is exhausting trying to find new, delicious ways to mask the blandness that is a boneless skinless chicken breast, I tell you. Enter Recipe Tin Eats. Cue angels singing, champagne popping, balloons everywhere. I have tried maybe ten recipes that Nagi has posted, and man alive they are GOOD. She has such a great way with flavors! And the recipes are all very simple. And she includes very careful notes with each recipe, letting you know about substitutions and cooking variations and how to make it in advance.

Two that have become regulars in our rotation are her Oven Baked Pork Chops (I have been replacing the potatoes with green beans or broccoli lately), which has a marinade that I love so much I actively prevent myself from making it more than once a month so we won’t get sick of it, and her Asian Marinated Chicken, which has another super-easy, super-delicious marinade that I love. Other favorites that I see us making again and again include her One Pot Greek Chicken and Lemon Rice, her Chicken with Mushroom Gravy, her Lemon Garlic Marinated Pork Chops, and her Chicken Fajitas (the fajitas are on my meal plan for this week, in fact).

 

Trader Joe’s Green Goddess Dressing

This is a brand-new discovery (for me), and I am really excited about it. I enjoy a salad now and again, but I tend to avoid them because I really like dressing. A lot of dressing. And dressing isn’t usually worth it for me, in terms of calorie intake. But I spotted this Green Goddess dressing near the lettuce at our Trader Joe’s and snapped it up on a whim. Turns out it is delicious. Light and summery, not terribly avocado-y, and thicker than I expected it to be (almost the same texture/thickness of a restaurant-made salsa). I can’t remember how much it cost, but I think it was something like $4.99. Which is NOT inexpensive. But at 20 calories for a 2-tablespoon serving, it is totally worth it. Trader Joe’s makes a couple of other flavors, too – a carrot ginger miso dressing and an almond butter turmeric dressing – but I haven’t tried either of those.

 

New Adventures of Old Christine

Fave Things Christine Amazon

Photo from Amazon.com

My treadmill is somehow messing up the Internet in our house, which means that I can no longer watch Netflix or DVRed shows or even cable TV while I’m chipping away at my step goal for the day. So I have been making my way through old DVDs we bought in Ye Olden Times. I already churned through Arrested Development, which doesn’t stand up to the test of time in a lot of ways (some of the humor is centered around stuff that isn’t really funny these days). Okay, some of it is still REALLY funny. But it wasn’t as great as my memory of it. I also own the complete series of Ally McBeal, so I am forcing myself to watch that even though it’s driving me crazy. The music, the characters, the situations – I roll my eyes so hard I almost fall off the treadmill at least thirty times per episode. And I HATE BILLY. Well. That is a rant for another time.

But I have found a new, deep appreciation for the sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine. I had the first season already and have since ordered seasons two and three. Seasons three through five are much more expensive than I had hoped for years-old DVD sets, but I have some additional Amazon gift cards that make buying them more palatable. (I haven’t looked for this series at the library, but our library’s DVDs – especially ones that are a few years old – are notoriously scratched and beat up and I think I would cry if I had settled in for a long morning of treadmilling and my Christine DVD stopped working.) My realizations as I watch have been a) Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hamish Linklater, and Wanda Sykes are national treasures; and b) damn, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has incredible hair.

If you haven’t seen it, the show is a comedy about Christine Campbell and her life as a recently-divorced working mother. It centers around her relationships – with her ex-husband, his new girlfriend (also named Christine), her brother, her best friend slash business partner, the other parents at school, and a variety of men she dates. Her son is in there somewhere too, but he’s more of a plot device than a real character. I fear I am not describing this in an appealing way, but it’s really appealing! It’s funny and absurd and heartfelt at times but not in an over way. And it puts a hilarious twist on Mom-Type-Things (taking your kid to school, dealing with other moms, volunteering for school projects, balancing work and home life, etc.) and there’s also all the stuff about handling a divorce and dating and dealing with your ex’s new young girlfriend. It’s much more relatable to me, now that I’m a mom with a kid in school. I laugh – truly, heartily, out loud – a lot while I’m walking nowhere. And even though it’s a comedy – and much of it is really ridiculous – I find myself feeling deep empathy for Christine. It’s not perfect; again, humor has evolved over the past decade. But it’s making my treadmill time much more enjoyable and I would definitely recommend it.

 

Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Conditioning Spray

 

 

Fave Things Fairy Tales

Photo from Amazon.com

Kidwise, this spray is making life MUCH easier lately. For both me and Carla, I would say. Carla has long curly hair which means that every morning our neighbors pick up their phones and prepare to call the police and report a murder in progress. We’d been using the Johnson & Johnson conditioning spray, and it worked okay. But then a friend recommended the Fairy Tales spray and OUR LIVES HAVE FOREVER CHANGED. I can’t speak to the fact that this conditioning spray repels lice or not (we haven’t had any, but I’m not falling for confirmation bias) (if confirmation bias is the term I am looking for; I am not convinced that it is). But I can tell you that it makes combing Carla’s hair SO EASY. And if I comb it with the spray at night, her hair is much easier to brush in the morning, too. (The link above goes to a two-pack, because the single bottle of spray isn’t available. But I have, in the past, bought the single bottle of spray, so I hope it comes back.)

 

(By the way, no one paid me to say any of those things above. These are just some things I really enjoy lately.)

What’s making your life brighter/better/more fun these days?

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I am dreading this recap this year, for some reason. Yet I am still doing it because TRADITION. I think I may start liberally tossing questions out the window. So BE PREPARED FOR THAT.

(This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry. If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.)

Oh! And if YOU do this yearly recap, always or for the first time this year, send me a link in the comments won’t you? I love reading these.

  • What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

I quit my job to write a novel. (Which I have not yet completed, BLARGH.) (Prediction: I sense that the topic of the previous parenthetical may reappear below.)

  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year, I said:

This year, I want to prioritize my husband, quality time with my kid, balance in my life… and I also want to really work on personal fulfillment. That sounds… vague and a little frou-frou and a lot privileged, but I think it will honestly help with the first three priorities. At least, I hope so. And I’m going to try.

I do think I have made solid steps on all fronts, and I attribute all progress to leaving my job at the end of March. I feel very fortunate that I have this little pocket of time during which I can be part-time novelist/part-time stay-at-home-mom. The reduction in stress has helped me be more present with my husband and daughter, and helped me really focus on contributing to my family in new ways. It has not been easy, for me, to give up on being a financial contributor. That has altered the identity I always felt I had, and it has been a challenge to adapt. But I do think I’m contributing in new and different ways, or at least contributing more in areas where I wasn’t before.

This year, I am going to finish the novel. That’s my primary goal. It’s taking so much longer than I anticipated just to eke out a first draft. I need to find some way to speed up the process. Because the first draft is only the beginning.

  • Did anyone close to you give birth?
  • Did anyone close to you die?
  • What countries did you visit?

Same as last year: Not really a big year for travel. I visited three states besides my own: Illinois, Florida, and my home state. All with Carla.

I can’t really imagine the answers changing in a big way anytime soon.

  • What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

Better ability to prioritize my time. A fully drafted novel. Making my time with Carla richer, somehow, rather than making a bunch of slipshod and ultimately frustrating attempts at “activities.”

  • What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 31, which was my last day of working in the office.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Taking a leap of faith and quitting my office job. (OMG, broken record much?)

  • What was your biggest failure?

Not getting enough words on the page each day! I can trot out a 7,000-word blog post of a morning, but I seem to spend hours and hours coming up with a measly 200 for my manuscript! What gives? If I can do it elsewhere, why can’t I blather and drivel my way through a first draft?

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

I am currently enjoying a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, which is super fun. Other than that, nothing too crazy.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

Scrivener!!! It is a tool for writers and I loooooooove it.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?

This goes 100% to my husband. He is a rockstar. I can’t even express all the ways he’s shown up this year without drowning my keyboard in tears, so let’s move on.

  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I mean do you really have to ask, non-sentient Survey created years ago with no knowledge of our current times? I think I’m going to cross this one out because it makes me sad and bewildered and fearful and shaky.

  • Where did most of your money go?

This question sucks. I really want to say something fun like “a new ski lodge in Aspen!” or “a twelve-week trek around Europe!” I guess I could say my potential earnings went toward financing my lifelong dream but that makes me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach so MOVING ON.

  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Last year I said: The holidays this year. Carla is so excited about EVERYTHING, and it is so fun to see that.

As with last year, I didn’t even KNOW what excited was! She has been super over the moon about everything. And she gets stuff now. Like, she understood the little countdown-to-Christmas calendar I put in her room, and the last couple of days she switched the numbers all by herself before I even got to her room. She has been really gung-ho about Hanukkah, and has helped her dad light the menorah and say the prayers. She loved decorating the tree and every night for a week she would pick up a present that she knew was for her and squeeze it and hop up and down and say, “It’s so HARD to WAIT until Christmas to open my present!” I mean, a tree full of presents and she didn’t realize most of them were for her, and yet she got So Worked Up about this one tiny thing. She loved all the holiday books I pull out each year, and expressed interest in Santa and Baby Jesus and the Maccabees alike. She loved the stockings, and asked questions about how Santa could do such and such. She loved painting ornaments for her grandparents. She loved collecting the Amazon boxes from the front stoop and putting them in the guest room to await her grandmother’s arrival. She loved singing Christmas carols. Everything this year was just SO. MUCH. FUN. I hope we have at least a couple more years of this pure, unadulterated joy in the season. It’s a mood lifter for sure, and helps make all those I-want-them-to-be-fun-and-meaningful-but-are-really-kind-of-tedious projects seem worthwhile and enjoyable.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2016?

I have to say the Frozen soundtrack. Carla hadn’t seen a movie in her entire life until Christmas 2015, and once we started we couldn’t stop. As toddlers are wont to do, she fell in love with Frozen and we have watched it eleventy billion times. PLUS we bought the Frozen soundtrack (we call it “Carly Songs”) on CD (yes, I still use CDs in my car) and we have listened to THAT at least seventy gazillion times. Also: Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” and “Let Me Love You” by DJ Snake featuring The Beibs. “Waves” by Miguel (the Kacey Musgraves version). “One Dance” by Drake. Carla does a mean dance move to Drake, and sings along very sweetly to “Let Me Love You” and “Waves.” Also also, on the classical front, I have grown very attached to Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2. I have some fantasy that I will learn to play it. (HA.)

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
  1. a) happier or sadder? Happier but more fearful about the future, I think?
  2. b) thinner or fatter? Fatter. Which kind of sucks because I lost 12 pounds after I left my job. I have since gained it back. But I kind of hate this question because I just do. I am scowling at it.
  3. c) richer or poorer? I am skipping this question because math.

This is a question I don’t care to answer anymore, I think. Are these really the benchmarks by which I want to measure the year? No, no I don’t think so. MORE SCOWLING.

  • What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing. (Always.) Submitting my work for publication. Figuring out a better time management system.

  • What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying. Yelling. Procrastinating. Writing poor-quality apocalyptic poetry. Wasting time on my phone. Feeling too hot or too cold; that’s really annoying when the house maintains a stable temperature.

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Here at home, with my husband and Carla, and my husband’s parents. It was lovely and fun. Also lovely and fun was adding my sister and niece the day after Christmas, but that amped up the freneticism by several degrees. How does adding ONE additional child to the mix make things exponentially more crazy?

  • Did you fall in love in 2016?

Ugh. Every year this one makes me gag a little, but I definitely fell more in love with my husband. He has been supportive of me and my dreams in a way that shatters me. I hope I make him feel even half as loved and understood and… seen as he makes me feel.

And, as we allow the tears to dry a bit, I fall newly in love with Carla with each new stage in her life. Three has been challenging, but it has also been utterly delightful as she becomes more independent and imaginative and curious and affectionate and funny and fun and inquisitive. I just adore her.

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

What a year for TV! Standouts from the year include the OJ Simpson mini-series, The Night Of, Westward, and the Gilmore Girls revival (even though I hated GG as much as I loved it – many flaws, no?). I also loved the latest seasons of The Americans, The Great British Baking Competition, Shark Tank, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, The Middle, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. What can I say? I like feel-good shows to balance out the gritty stuff slash real life. Oh! And two series my husband and I watched and loved that were new to us this year were Master of None and Catastrophe. God, I love TV.

  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I can’t even. This question has got to go.

  • What was the best book you read?

I READ SO MANY BOOKS THIS YEAR! Contenders for best book include A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin. There have been others, but those are the standouts. For me, all had great stories with interesting, well-rounded characters, and truly beautiful language that enriched the story without getting in the way. Then sometime in November I fell into a Sue Grafton wormhole and have been reading my way through her Kinsey Millhone series (again) because it’s fun.

  • What did you want and get?

A chance to write a book. More time with my daughter. More time to exercise. More time in general, I guess. Less stress. And also this gorgeous green coat from Boden that unfortunately didn’t fit so BOO to that. My hips are not British enough, it seems. Oh! And I got the sheet music for Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, and have been painstakingly picking out the right hand notes. That’s really all I’ve managed.

  • What did you want and not get?

A finished first draft of my manuscript because I am SLOW.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Let’s see. My husband and I took a break from watching TV to watch all of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. That was fun, but I wasn’t as… enamored of the most recent (last?) film as I was of the earlier ones. (To be fair, Daniel Craig seemed less enamored of it as well.) Did I watch anything else? Of the (many) kids’ movies I’ve seen this year, Brave is my favorite, followed by Wall-E and then probably a tie between Tangled and Frozen. I did not care for Zootopia, and Robin Hood – a childhood favorite – sadly did not live up to my memory version. (Robin Hood himself is still by far the foxiest cartoon I’ve ever encountered, though. No pun intended.)

EDITED TO ADD: My husband and I watched Sicario just last night, right under the 2016 wire, and it was really well done. Dark and disturbing but a heart-thumping, thought provoking film.

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 35 this year, and I can’t really remember what I did. Which is a pattern at least a few years running, so I am getting rid of this question.

  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Same as every year (don’t I ever PROGRESS as a person?!?!):

Being able to just LET GO and not freak out about EVERYTHING.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

Same as last year: I have full-on embraced the leggings-as-pants “style” that I used to disdain. COMFORT IS KEY. In your face, Past Me!

Also, this year I started doing Fabletics (I joined Fabletics? I am not sure of the proper verbiage here. It’s just a subscription service in the vein of Stitch Fix. Sort of. Third cousins.), and so have added some very cute workout ensembles to my wardrobe, which means that sometimes I switch up my leggings with legging-like yoga pants. You can spot the difference because I wear tennis shoes with the yoga pants version.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. Being able to write every day most days.

  • Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I adore Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe. The characters they play are adorable and funny and in-your-face in a way I find charming. Sterling K. Brown. Constance Wu (her and her character as Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat) because she seems fearless and take-no-prisoners and also is hilarious and beautiful and talented. Kelly Bishop as Emily Gilmore. Okay, so maybe these are primarily TV CHARACTERS and not necessarily the actors themselves but whatever.

  • What political issue stirred you the most?

Nope. NOPE. Not even going to. CUT.

  • Who did you miss?

Same as last year, although – shocker – blogging more frequently myself has helped a teeny bit: I guess I most missed the bloggers I used to interact with regularly, back when I blogged frequently and they blogged frequently. I suppose I should figure out a way to do Twitter (which makes me uncomfortable for some reason).

  • Who was the best new person you met?

As last year, I don’t know that I met many new people this year. AM A HERMIT. Oh wait, that’s not true. I have made a couple of (tentative strides toward making) mom friends through Carla’s new school.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

Write it down, don’t write it right, for the love of all that is holey.

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

(I don’t know if the following makes sense as a lyric or as the answer to this question, but it’s in my head, so I’m going with it.)

Don’t you give up, nah nah nah / Never give up, nah nah nah / Let me love you.

Happy New Year, Internet! I hope 2017 goes a hell of a lot better than we fear!

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Perhaps you are looking for some last-minute Christmas gifts? Or maybe you just like reading about what other people enjoy. In either case, here are some things that I am loving lately (and just to be clear, I am not getting ANYTHING in return for recommending any of these; I either bought them myself or received them as gifts):

Chef’n ZipStrip Herb Zipper

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Photo from surlatable.com

Okay, I didn’t realize this had such a ridiculous name. But it’s awesome. I got a bunch for people as stocking stuffers last year – including myself – and I use it ALL the time. It’s on sale for $6.36 at Sur La Table, if you have any people who like to cook on your Christmas list. 

Anthurium Plant

 

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Photo from homedepot.com

This summer, I was looking for a red lamp to add to my new office and I could not for the life of me find one I liked. But I DID find a really pretty plant with red leaf-like flowers (in a red ceramic pot) at my local Home Depot. I know, a plant does not have the same functionality as a lamp. But if you think of the lamp as more of an accessory, you will see how the plant fit the bill. ANYWAY. It is an anthurium plant, which seems to be a type of orchid. And it’s super easy to care for: I just put a few ice cubes in it each Monday and it remains lovely and shiny all week long. If you have someone in your life who isn’t great at caring for plants but who loves them AND has easy access to ice cubes, this could be the perfect gift. Okay, I am giving the Home Depot site the side-eye because I did NOT pay $32.99 for my anthurium. I can’t imagine paying any more than $15 for it. Maybe $20. I kind of want to dig through my old receipts just to prove it. Perhaps it is seasonally more expensive. If so, it would make an excellent Christmas in July gift.

Kung Fu Girl Riesling

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Photo from kvintners.com

Riesling is my favorite type of white wine. My mantra used to be, the sweeter, the better. But my palate might be changing or maturing or something (unlikely) and I have gravitated to drier wines of late. Kung Fu Girl is my current go-to. It’s probably what I would call semi-dry, so there is a hint of sweetness there. But it’s crisp and clean and also, bonus, I can usually find it for $10.99 at my local grocery store. I’ve also seen it at World Market, if you have one near you.

Lands’ End Shimmer Down Long Coat

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Photo from landsend.com

We live in an area of the country whose winters include snow and cold temperatures. And I happen to possess the variety of child who loves snow more than anything in life. So last year, my husband bought me a down coat from Lands’ End.  It was longer than I wanted it to be – it came all the way down to the tops of my boots (also from Lands’ End). And I felt like a marshmallow. BUT. It is AMAZING. I can be wearing a t-shirt-weight shirt and jeans, and as long as I have that coat on, I feel NOTHING. I can play in the snow with Carla for hours (or until her face is red and I have to drag her inside). I can even lie down in the snow and make snow angels and feel NOTHING. It’s truly the best. And Lands’ End has really good sales on a regular basis. It’s a bit pricy at $199, but if you get a code for 40% off, you’re looking at a much more reasonable $119 for a really great, really warm coat. Oh. I just now “got” why it’s called “Shimmer Down.” I say “got” because you CAN make a pun on “simmer down” just because the coat is made of down doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

UGG Tasman Genuine Shearling Gloves

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Photo from amazon.com

Speaking of warm, these gloves are the softest, fuzziest, warmest gloves ever. Obviously, you can’t text with them on or anything. But I find they are perfect for driving before your car’s heater has kicked in. Or for, you know, being outside in general. They are pricey, at $140, but I looooooove mine so I think they might be worth it.

Bedford Cottage Eskimo Throw

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Photo from bedfordcottage.com

Perhaps you can tell that it is only 15 degrees here, based on these last three items. Well, I am in love with this faux fur throw, which is currently draped over my legs. It’s super soft and warm, but I also love it because it looks like it belongs on a chaise longue in some fancy catalog and makes me feel like the type of person you might refer to as “stylish” and “put together” and less like the type of person whose living room has seventy five Amazon boxes stacked in one corner and a bright blue toddler-height table with red, green, and yellow chairs in another corner and a giant bear from Costco behind the couch and the detritus of a Doc McStuffins vet station scattered across the hearth and pieces of a menorah puzzle strewn like tiny land mines about the carpet. You can buy it via the link above for $149, which I did not; I got it as a gift. But it’s possibly that you could find it elsewhere for less.

Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp 1.7-Liter Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle

 

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Photo from amazon.com

I drink tea every day, and this water boiler has made it very very very simple. Just fill and press a button. And there are all sorts of temperature variations, so you can set it to the proper temperature for green tea… or black tea… or oolong… or whatever.  My husband – a coffee drinker – uses it too; on weekend for pour-over coffee. I really like that it maintains a specific temperature, too – just in case a toddler suddenly urgently needs you to come help her find proper socks. It cost $73?!?! Sheesh. That seems… excessive. Although it DOES do a nice job. And I really have no concept for how much these things do/should cost. 

Carole Hochman Ladies’ 3 Pair Ribbed Lounge Sock

 

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Photo from costco.com

I grabbed a three-pack of these socks at Costco the last time we were there (what’s a trip to Costco without grabbing something that you simultaneously NEED URGENTLY and also had no idea you needed/didn’t need at all?) and they are sooooo soft and warm and cozy. They don’t look like much from the picture, but they are cushy and plush and I love them. Also: $5.99.

Laura Mercier Hand Crème Sampler

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Photo from amazon.com

Well, crud. I see this is either $51 through Amazon or not available. My husband got it for me last Christmas, and it was a PERFECT stocking stuffer. I wash my hands a bajillion times a day, so they get very dry. And there’s nothing less appealing than that powdery feeling of dry skin – well, I suppose cracked and bleeding finger webs are less appealing. I think it was, at one point, around $30 at Nordstrom. (And, keeping in mind that each of us is comfortable paying certain amounts for certain things and not for others, I find that $30 seems just on the high side of reasonable while $51 has me shaking my head emphatically NO.) I have just in the past month squeezed the very last glob of lotion from the very last sample and I would enjoy getting this again and again each year. Also, if you don’t want to gift someone ALL of the little lotions, you could certainly open up the box and give one sample to multiple people. Including, perhaps, yourself. Of course, all this is MOOT because it No Longer Exists. But I’m sure there are many other good hand lotion sets in the world.

Scrivener

10-scrivener

Photo from literatureandlatte.com

This may be a bit of a niche idea, but as a (would-be/trying-to-be/hopes-to-be) writer, I use this every single day. I never thought that I would like a writing platform more than I do plain old Microsoft Word. But I LOVE Scrivener. It’s very intuitive and user friendly AND it has a very simple tutorial on how to use it, just in case. It makes putting together your novel (or screenplay, I imagine) very simple. No more scrolling down in a long document, or opening multiple documents. You just create a new chapter or chapter-part inside an outline, and then you can move parts and pieces around with the flick of your mouse, OR read your entire manuscript in one flowing document. Plus, it allows you to assign (and customize) keywords to each bit of text, from which characters show up to things you need to research to plot points and dates – which you can then use to help you organize the manuscript in different ways, like, you can see at one glance every chapter featuring your villain. It’s fabulous and it’s only $45 and I love it so. If only it could do the writing for me…

Matymats Grippy Yoga Socks and Stargoods Yoga Gloves 

Photos from amazon.com

I have newly taken on yoga as part of my at-home exercise routine. Which means I have newly discovered that my feet and palms sweat when I do yoga. What can I say. The body is a mysterious wonderland. These socks and gloves help A LOT. No more sliding around while I’m trying to do downward facing dog or a triangle pose or other horrific contortion of limbs that my body is clearly not meant to perform. Both are about $15, but both come with multiple pairs of socks/gloves, which means I can match them to my sports bra. (No.)

 

Good luck with any last-minute shopping you are doing!

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  • I recently had an epiphany: While I really enjoy being active – walking, even on a treadmill – I really dislike exercising. I’m fine if the exercise is inherent in the activity, but I don’t like to purposefully encourage sweating and ragged breathing. Eh. Know thyself, right?
  • Carla is starting to lose the last remaining baby vernacular. She can now say “computer” correctly, rather than calling it a “com-POO-tuh” like a tiny Austrian. I am holding on very tightly to “lellow” instead of “yellow” and “collection” instead of “reflection.”
  • My in-laws donated a Crate and Barrel outdoor loveseat to us. It’s teak and sturdy and fits neatly on our back porch. But there’s no cushion and I cannot for the life of me find a cushion for it. The sizing is weird – leave it to Crate and Barrel to have custom sizes, right? – so none of the standard bench or loveseat cushions at Home Depot or Target or Bed Bath & Beyond will fit. Then I looked at Crate and Barrel for a replacement – they were having a sale – and the appropriate cushion would cost $500. On sale. I know we all have different categories of things we are willing to spend serious money on, and it turns out that an outdoor loveseat cushion is not one of mine.
  • I have made a career change, and I am LOVING it. I feel like I should acknowledge it here, but I don’t want to go into detail right now. So. That’s all.
  • My niece’s first birthday is next month, and I have no idea what to get her. Her parents always get Carla fun educational toys, so I suspect they might enjoy getting one of those… but they also live in a tiny apartment and I don’t want to send them anything that requires too much space. Clothes are out: not only does my niece get ALL of Carla’s hand-me-downs, but she also has the same grandmother that Carla does, which means she gets her own beautiful collection of clothing.
  • I just finished the third (and so far final) Cormoran Strike book by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). I found all of them thoroughly enjoyable, but now I’m looking for the Next Great Mystery Series to start. I like Sue Grafton and Tana French and Kate Atkinson and Sophie Hannah. But I haven’t really found any other series that have the kind of writing and characters and types of crimes that I like.
  • So in the meantime, I have finally begun A Little Life, because I’ve heard it’s a life-changing work of fiction. But I’m very apprehensive about it, because I’ve heard that it’s devastating.
  • We have lived in this house for nearly five years, and we are FINALLY getting to finish the office. We’ve re-organized the furniture and gotten rid of a bunch of junk and now just need to clean out the closet (old computers and cellphones dating back to COLLEGE and assorted other tangentially-office-related detritus) and put up artwork. We’re keeping an eye out for coupons at Michael’s, so we can finally frame my husband’s degrees, and we’ll hang those as well (my mom framed my college degree; I don’t think I ever got a physical diploma from my grad school, seeing as I absconded to Europe instead of attending my graduation ceremony).
  • Speaking of junk: we had inherited three mattresses and two bedframes from my in-laws that we finally got rid of. Alongside a massive, defunct television set, a DVD player, and some other piece of stereo equipment that is no longer compatible with modern TVs. I felt TERRIBLE sending these things off to the junk guy, but our local Goodwill had no interest and I am not holding a garage sale.
  • Carla and I planted a bunch of seeds last week. We used one of those big seed starter kits and I let her pick out a bunch of vegetable seeds. We had fun poking holes in the seed starter stuff and dropping in a seed at a time. (I was stunned when I asked her what she wanted to plant next and she said “cilantro” because I don’t recall teaching her what cilantro is.) Most of the veggies are already sprouting (which seems a little creepy to me – it’s been A WEEK) and Carla is So Excited. The first sprouts that appeared were the green beans we planted, and so she is CONVINCED that we are growing a beanstalk to rival Jack’s. I keep trying to manage her expectations but…
  • This seems worth remarking on: I had been saving, on my DVR, the final episode of House since it aired in 2012. I never watched it, because I don’t like things ending. (We still have the Parks & Rec finale, unwatched, on the DVR as well.) But we were running out of space on the DVR (wonder why?) so I finally deleted it. If I haven’t watched it in four years, it is unlikely I ever will.

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I did not make resolutions this year. This is not because I object to resolutions; I simply have difficulty KEEPING resolutions. So I’ve found that the solution to that perplexing problem is to refrain from making resolutions in the first place. Genius, I know.

But! I am not opposed to bogarting other people’s resolutions.

When my best friend from back home told me she was giving up sugar for January, I jumped right on board.

My logic: If I don’t make it through January, I only have HER to blame, for picking such an unreasonable resolution. Right? RIGHT?

Anyway, I need to take more initiative when it comes to my health, and abstaining from sugar for a month seemed like a good idea. I don’t expect to give up sugar forever. But I do think this will help re-calibrate my sugar-desire mechanism. Or whatever it is that one re-calibrates.

(And by sugar I mean sweets. I am still eating fruit and drinking juice [in moderation] and using products that may have sugar or a sugar derivative in them, like ketchup.)

(I’m not even TRYING to aim for perfection here, Internet.)

Since I will only be traveling once this month (woo!), I thought it would be a good idea to get into exercising. After all, my in-laws gave us an elliptical and a treadmill. So it’s rather stupid NOT to use them. Especially because they are set up very nicely in front of the basement TV.

So far this week, I’ve exercised every day AND I’ve steered clear of sugar.

But I do have Things to Report. (Yes! Already!)

Thing 1: I didn’t realize how much I was depending on sweet things. I never really cared about sweets – well, not THAT much – until I met my husband. But he has a MASSIVE sweet tooth, and he converted me to sweettoothism as well (although I’m nowhere near as devout as he is). But I always thought that I was so much more of a chips and cheese gal that sweets weren’t really a big part of my life.

Nonetheless, it turns out that I really MISS sweets. I guess they had become a bigger part of my life than I realized? (Although, thinking back, I do seem to remember lots of Reese’s eating going on this year.) I find myself prowling around the house, hungry, trying to figure out how to satisfy the gnawing sweet-hunger I’ve developed. Usually I stave it off with chips or alcohol.

Thing 2: But! Now I am giving up alcohol for January as well, just because my friend is. And because I am clearly a masochist. Now I will have to really load up on the chips to compensate!

Thing 3: I tried to use my computer on the treadmill the other day. I do a lot of reading (for work) and I figured I could walk and read at the same time. Of course, my treadmill doesn’t have a laptop holder. So I thought I would just hold the laptop in my arms. It would be a good workout for my arms, to hold it for 30 minutes whilst climbing an imaginary hill.

Then one of my clients IMed me. So I IMed her back.

And fell off the treadmill.

Don’t worry! I didn’t drop my computer!

Thing 4: Last night, I made a “milkshake” with orange juice, crushed ice, Greek yogurt, a dash of vanilla, and a little drizzle of honey.

I do not recommend it.

It was gritty and tasteless. But I made a LOT of it, so I drank three glasses.

Thing 5: My husband and I tried a new recipe – broiled salmon with Thai sweet chili glaze from Once Upon a Chef. It was delicious and SUPER EASY. We paired it with steamed broccoli.

I felt SO HEALTHY after eating it, too.

Thing 6: It feels very virtuous to say “I’ve exercised and abstained from sugar ALL YEAR LONG.”

It feels less virtuous to be reminded that the year, so far, is only 5 days old.

Thing 7: I have an urgent and inexplicable craving for Brie. Wrapped in phyllo dough and crisped in the oven until the Brie oozes out the sides.

My friend better not say she’s ALSO giving up cheese.

 

 

How are your resolutions – or non-resolutions – coming so far, Internet?

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