Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Master "Catch-Up" Post

I've been spending so much time focused on family and business that I haven't had much time to spend working on this blog! Well, here's what's happened in the last long while:

  • We had an incredible family Christmas holiday like nothing I've experienced in quite some time.
  • I had a catastrophic motherboard meltdown on a brand-new laptop and ended up going back home to Mac. I'm now the proud owner of MacBook Pro and am contemplating names for it.
  • I've traveled to London and back twice, am heading to L.A. shortly, and also have a trip to Uruguay in the spring. Plus, we're also looking at a Las Vegas weekend. It should be a busy spring.
  • We lost Lucky, the three-legged hamster on New Year's Eve and buried him the first day of the year. All of the other four hamsters are doing quite well and being spoiled.
  • I discovered and quickly became addicted to Pinterest (note my new "Connect with me" links on the right sidebar).
That's pretty much it. I'm working on launching Business in Blue Jeans Radio and getting my new web sites launched, and my annual, "It's cold so I need to make copious amounts of soups and stews and look at seed catalogs" sentiments are in full gear. 

Stay tuned for more updates and fun stuff as I get back into the groove of posting!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Introducing A New Guest Blogger: Raemie Baroncini

I've decided to do something I have never done before. I have invited a guest blogger to join me here on "Life in Blue Jeans." This is absolutely unprecedented (I haven't even invited a guest blogger on my business blog at Business in Blue Jeans!)

But here's the thing. My stepdaughter, Raemie, who's 12 (or, as she and her dad say, "Twelve-teen"), happens to be quite a talented writer. She's always had a gift for creativity, and I've always thought that her writing was beyond her years. She's already had some of her work published (most recently, the notable poem "Harry the Hamster"), and this morning when we were chatting on the phone, I offered her the very first guest blogger spot on my blog. Less than a half hour later, I had a story in my inbox. I honestly couldn't be more proud. So, without further ado, here's Raemie's first contribution to "Life in Blue Jeans":

By Raemie Baroncini

The sun beamed down on Rose like a spotlight. She wiped her sweat off her forehead and stared at the gleaming spade in her hand. Due to this she got back and ploughed the field as usual.

She sighed hopelessly and rushed to the next section to plough. Although the sweat formed a puddle around her, Rose did not notice and carried on with work. Rose had been working on the farm for 9 years now and still had not earned enough money to quit the job to have her normal life that she had always dreamt and never had! In addition to this, obviously, her life was about growth, gardening, animals and dirt.

“Hurry up Rose, you’ll have no tea if you don’t work hard enough for it!” belted her boss Mr. Green. 

Rose turned back while wiping both sweat and tears away.

“How much longer do I have to work? Please, can I get the ploughing machine out to quicken things up?” cried little 12 year old Rose. 

She knew if she ran away Mr. Green would always know where she would be hiding. Rose had become sensible over the years and had gained respect that if she was lazy, she wouldn’t even look at food! Despite that fact, she sometimes never even got one meal out of the day!

Rose became lonely as she grew into her teenage years, so she would sing herself the lullabies her mother use to sing her when she had her to hold and cling onto. 

“Ssshh little baby, go beddy bye, mommy’s gunna hold you though the night.”

Rose smiled at the thought of her mother. 

“Rose stop messing about and hurry up I need it done by half past five!” screamed Mr. Green. 

Stay tuned to find out more about Rose and to see more stories from my new guest blogger, Raemie Baroncini!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Bizarre Bazaar

I just got home from the St. Luke's UMC Holiday Bazaar, a local church holiday arts and crafts fair, also known in my home as "The Bizarre Bazaar," not because of any characteristic of the bazaar itself, but rather because of the bizarre notion that I would enjoy going to such an event. I love crafts and doing artsy stuff at home- heck, I even have a craft room. However, I tend to eschew anything with a "country" vibe to it, and most arts and crafts fairs tend to promote that old Midwestern country thing.

The St. Luke's Holiday Bazaar, though, is a little different from other crafty fairs. First,  the organizers require that everyone who has a booth offers only items that they have handmade. Thus, the quality level of the stuff for sale at the bazaar is higher than anywhere else I've seen. Second, they have a wide variety- you might see a couple of booths with similar ideas, but for the most part, every booth is different. Third, they have the cinnamon rolls. The cinnamon rolls are huge, plate-sized monsters that apparently are so good that they generate lines with ten-minute wait times. I confess, I've never actually had one of the legendary St. Luke's Holiday Bazaar Cinnamon Rolls (a fact that, whenever I reveal it to someone at the bazaar, evokes a reaction of shock and horror) but the aroma alone is enough to add ten pounds. It's not uncommon to see clusters of three or four well-dressed, normally well-mannered "ladies who lunch" hovering around a single styrofoam box, scarfing down mouthfuls of cinnamon roll as if they haven't eaten in weeks. So the cinnamon rolls are good for aromatherapy and entertainment value.

Finally, the most important reason I go to the St. Luke's Holiday Bazaar every year is because attending this event was something my sister and I did with our mom. We used to alternate years. I'd come home from grad school one year so I could go with Mom, and the next year, my sister would go. My mom loved the Bazaar. She'd see her friends there every year, scarf down a bit of a cinnamon roll, and buy jewelry, holiday decorations, and Christmas presents. 

When my mom passed away almost eight years ago, I started going to the Bazaar myself, which always made me a little sad. But then, my sister and I started taking my niece and making it an annual traditional pilgrimage. This new tradition turned the Bazaar back into something special. Most years, we also run into my dad and stepmom and other family members, and that makes it even nicer to go. 

My mom had some very specific strategies when she attended the Bazaar. She always went early, right when the Bazaar opened, she had a favorite entrance to the church and a favorite area in the parking lot where she could get the closest parking, and she always insisted that we leave our coats in the car, whether it was freezing or not. She said that we would get hot inside and we'd be carrying purchases and wouldn't want to carry our coats. My mom was like a shopping sensei. And in fact, when my sister and my niece and I go to the Bazaar, we do it the same way as we did with my mom, speed-walking into the church sans coats, shivering the entire way, and talking about how glad we are that we got good parking. It's the same every year.

One of the highlights at the Bizarre Bazaar (also so dubbed, by the way, because it's just fun to say) is the fact that there are quite a few repeat exhibitors who come back year after year. And even though sometimes they'll tell you they're probably not coming back next year (it's just occurred to me that this just might be a sales tactic), they're always there, in the same booth space as the year before. In particular, here are some of my favorites:

Cat Stuff: Camille has cat playtime down to a science. She has The Best of everything cat-related- beds that you can throw in the washer and dryer, kick toys that seem really simple, but have catnip at one end, so the cats grab one side and chew and kick at the other end...I don't know why, I just know my cats have gotten two of these every year for their entire lives and they love them. In fact, I actually wait all year to buy my cat toys from Camille. I don't even bother buying cat toys anywhere else.

Thelma's Stampin' Up Booth: Thelma is a Stampin' Up distributor. Stampin' Up is a network marketing company that has the coolest stamping and scrapbooking supplies, and Thelma takes it all to a whole new level. She always has the most beautiful cards, notepads, gift's just insane what she's capable of, and I always spend way too much on her stuff. 

Yawning Dog Designs: Denise used to just make knitting bags and in fact made a custom knitting bag for me last year (A million thank yous for the awesome pocket in my knitting bag, Denise!), but this year, Denise started making purses. Aaaaaah! They're gorgeous and simple and a really cool extension of what she was already doing.

Those are actually the only booths that I absolutely must visit each year, but there are tons of "regulars" that I look for whenever I go, and I've created dumb nicknames for them in my head. There are the "Raku Pottery Ladies," "The Soap With Stuff Inside It Lady," "The Christmas Tree People" (who didn't make it this year), and "That Amazing Lady Who Makes Such Happy Looking Ceramic Gingerbread Men and Stuff With Tiny Flowers." There's "The Carpet Hat Lady," "Honey Guy," "The Barbie Clothes Lady," "The Giant Booth That's In The Corner By The Bathrooms," "Wood Turning Guy," "Artsy Scarf Chick," "Knife Guy Who I Always Wonder If He Really Makes Those Knives Himself," and "The Church Ladies Baking Booth." Oh, and of course, "Cool Girly Girl Lady," who makes pretty little barrettes and purses that my niece raids every year (hey, I didn't say the names were particularly creative or impressive). Sadly, the hearing-impaired gentleman who always used to sell freshly-popped popcorn in the hallway, with a handwritten sign taped to his popcorn machine that read, "Deaf Popcorn," whose name  in my head was always "Deaf Popcorn Guy," hasn't been there for a couple of years. When a regular doesn't show up, I wonder what happened to them, but I wonder in particular about Deaf Popcorn Guy, because he seemed like a very nice man and because he made excellent popcorn.

This year, there were a couple of new booths and because I foolishly failed to get their cards, they've been given their own dumb nicknames. There was "Awesome Confused Jewelry Lady," who  told me she thinks her style is "all over the place and confusing" but who I bought a very cool bracelet from nevertheless, and "American Girl Doll Dress Lady" who supplied all of the gifts I'll be giving my niece for Christmas and birthday this year, and who said she is absolutely not coming back next year and will only be selling online (good job, me, for not getting her card- those clothes are usually crazy expensive, but her stuff was half the cost and twice the quality! Argh!). 

And then there was The Vintage Key, and that one I remember because I did get her card. She makes very cool Steampunk jewelry, and she made up a nifty vintage typewriter key necklace for me while I waited, and told me about how her stuff made it into the Emmy gift bags recently. 

The St. Luke's Holiday Bazaar is an Indianapolis institution and something I look forward to all year. It's more than an arts and crafts fair, it's a family tradition. And even though I just got home...I can't wait until next year.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Miracle Of A Good Pair Of Jeans

Recently, I had a revelation at The Gap. Think it can't happen? Think Gap isn't the place for a spiritual transformation? Think again.

Here's the situation: my jeans were too big and I needed to buy a smaller size. So I found myself in the "Curvy" jeans section, hunting through the stacks of perfectly-folded denim. As I searched for my size, an older saleswoman approached and asked if I needed help. 

I looked up, miserable, and said, "Mmph." 

She laughed and said, "Are you okay?" 

I shrugged and said, "Is any woman ever okay when shopping for jeans?" 

Then she asked if she could make a suggestion, which shocked me a little bit.

But that's the thing about this economy. Now when you shop you're no longer exclusively subjected to flip, insensitive teenagers who recommend Eddie Bauer to you, because, "That's where my mom shops." (Oh yes, that happened to me, and at the time, as I stared at this evil yet totally oblivious teen, it was of little comfort to me that one day, she would find herself staring in the mirror, wondering where the time- and her waistline- had gone. Karmic justice has little bearing when you've just been smacked in the face with the realization that, despite feeling quite similar to how you did when you were young, to a real teenager, you're old.) 

But these days, no matter where you go, you'll find older, displaced workers who have either lost their "real" jobs due to the economic downturn or those who've taken retail jobs part-time to help make ends meet. Regardless of the reason, the result is the same: a re-emerging breed of sales help that is actually helpful and even a bit sensitive to shopping stress. 

So the saleswoman asked if she could make a recommendation. 

I sneered a little and said, "You can try." Shopping for pants always makes me a little cranky, plus I can admit that I often think I know pretty much everything. Undaunted, the saleswoman picked up a pair of jeans from the "Skinny" line and said, "Try these."

I gaped at her like she had just sprouted two heads and stammered, "Um...but...I don't think you understand," I held my arms out and waved helplessly at the lower half of my body, "I'm a curvy girl." 

She shoved the jeans at me and said, "I know you think it doesn't make sense, but please at least try them. I swear, you'll thank me."

I rolled my eyes, prepared to protest more, but suddenly, I noticed a tiny glimmer of hope, just a little sparkly denim light, way in the back of my mind. I thought, "Well, she's older and wiser and maybe she knows something I don't."

I took the jeans. 

A few minutes later, I stood in the dressing room, gaping at the mirror. 

As soon as I'd gotten in the dressing room, I'd tried on the jeans she'd practically forced on me, assuming I'd feel that "Ha! I was right" kind of satisfaction (that kind of bittersweet self-satisfaction that's accompanied by a twinge of disappointment that there really are no miracles). I thought once I ruled out her foolishness, I could get on with the unpleasant business of finding the pair of curvy jeans that "sort of" fit. Instead, there I stood, staring dumbfounded at the reflection of myself...but at a version of me that actually appeared ten pounds lighter.

Anyone who tells you that there are no magic jeans has never tried on a really good pair. Anyone who tells you jeans can't make you look thinner than you are has never had someone wise tell them to try something new. And I'm telling you right now that these jeans, these perfect, skinny jeans, were suddenly my personal wardrobe miracle. 

I twisted around, preening in the mirror, so fascinated with the transformation that I had to pause to multi-text my husband and my friend, "Magic Jeans!" 

I was practically transfixed. I had walked into that store feeling bulky, tired, and dowdy, yanking up my too-big curvy jeans as I pawed through stacks of tiny size two jeans, looking for the jeans made for "normal-sized" women. 

Yet here I was, a mere ten minutes later, feeling practically giddy with the kind of "Eee!" that one feels when one steps on the scales to discover one has lost ten pounds. I was the same size as before...I just looked like I'd been dieting for three weeks.

And as much as I want to tell you that none of this really matters, as much as I want to say that it's what's in my head that counts and in my soul that matters most...I still have to confess this womanly truth: regardless of how important intelligence, honesty, integrity, and spirituality really's equally true that a good pair of jeans sure does make the day brighter.

Later, as the saleswoman handed me the plastic bag containing my new magical jeans, I told her she'd changed my life. I thanked her profusely and told her I'd be back to learn more. She smiled knowingly, like a Tibetan monk holding the secrets to a peaceful, content, denim-clad life.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Saying Goodbye To My Oldest Friend

This evening Leo and I said a tearful farewell to our sweet little calico cat, Kate. She was twenty years old and suffered from a variety of maladies, including a thyroid problem, heart murmur, and most lately, a tumor in her jaw. 

We didn't know we were taking Kate to the vet to say goodbye today. We thought we were taking her in for her regular bi-weekly antibiotic shot. The tumor in her jaw caused some infection, and these shots tended to keep the infection at bay. We had noticed that she'd been losing some energy and strength, and she was having trouble with the stairs and had all but stopped using her litterbox. We knew the time was coming, when we'd have to let her go, but I don't think you're ever really ready to say goodbye. But once the vet told us the tumor had caused so much damage that Kate was in real pain, we made the decision that it was time to let her go.

Kate came into my life as a rambunctious kitten twenty years ago. She was with me when I went to college and grad school, when I had my first apartment, got my first job, started my first company, when I was recovering from gall bladder surgery...she was with me through good times and bad. And she most certainly approved of Leo. One of her favorite things was to lay on Leo's chest, patting his face with her paws while he scratched her back.

What was most unique about Kate was that she was, as Leo dubbed her, a "cat-dog." She loved to fetch and would chase after a sponge ball for as long as you'd throw it. She had a stuffed animal all her own, a sheep named "Ewe" that would appear randomly throughout the house, wherever she left it after she'd dragged it around for awhile. She greeted us at the door when we came home and was extraordinarily affectionate. She never tired of playing and being cuddled. Kate was the softest cat I'd ever held- her coat was as soft as a rabbit's.

In the last few weeks, Kate wore a pretty pink-and-white striped sweater, which we gave her because we had to shave off quite a bit of her fur, as she'd lost the ability to clean herself and developed some mats in her fur. Yesterday, she changed into a pink sweatshirt with "Princess" across the back in rhinestones, which she really seemed to like.

Kate was around for so long that I honestly can't remember a single day of my adult life without her. I know Leo and I made the right decision in letting her go, but it feels strange to walk forward into my life without her by my side, weaving her way around my feet, leaving copious amounts of hair on the bottoms of my jeans. I can't quite wrap my mind around the fact that tomorrow morning, Kate and I won't have the same conversation we've had every morning for the last twenty years as I prepared her breakfast:

Kate: Rrrrowr?
Me: Good morning, Kate. Did you sleep well?
Kate: Rrrrrow!
Me: Ah, yes, well, what did you eat before you fell asleep?
Kate: Rrrrrrrowr.
Me: Hm. Maybe we should change your diet a little. What else happened last night?
Kate: Pddddddrowr!
Me: I guess we'll have to tell Leo to bait the traps with peanut butter again. Were there a lot of them?
Kate: Mrrrrowr.
Me: Well, that's not so bad. At least they didn't eat much of your food, right?
Kate: Rrrrrowr.
....and so on. How is it even possible that tomorrow morning, I won't trip over her a hundred times while cooking breakfast and demand that she stop trying to murder me in the cutest possible way? How is it possible that I'll never again push her away, complaining about her terrible breath? How is it possible that my oldest friend is gone? But saying goodbye this evening was the only choice that was fair to Kate, and the one thing that eases my hurt, even though just a little bit, is knowing that she's no longer in terrible pain and her end was quiet, gentle, peaceful, and very loving. 

Losing a pet is similar to losing a family member in many ways, but having lost my mother, I can say without doubt that it's not the same as losing a family member. It is, however, a substantial loss. And having had Kate in my life for so long and enjoying her as much as I did, I will really, really miss her a lot and I know Leo will, too. That's all I've got for tonight, folks.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Green Isn't Always Healthy...Did You Know?

Did you know that "green" and "eco-friendly" aren't always the same as "healthy?" We're in a time now when everybody's rushing to buy products that are sustainable and green, with the idea that surely what they're buying is better for the environment, and the assumption that these products are also healthier, too. But the truth is, green isn't always healthy.

Almost seven years ago, my mom succumbed to breast cancer. It was a recurrence of the cancer that she'd battled and defeated (we thought) almost five years before, and on March 5, 2004, we lost her. It was my mom's battle with cancer that made me wonder...what exactly was the cause? I've realized over time that it probably wasn't just one thing. I've done a fair bit of reading on potential carcinogens and causes of cancer, and as a result, I've taken action in my life to reduce my own exposure as much as possible without going overboard (I could go on and on about what "overboard" means, but suffice to say, I believe that enjoying life is just as important as taking care with your body and your environment).

Back to green and healthy...I learned a long time ago that sometimes green and sustainable products aren't the same as healthy products. For example, I could buy a nightstand for my bedroom that's made with reclaimed wood- this makes it a "green" product. But most of these tables are covered in polyurethane varnish, which typically offgasses toxic and carcinogenic particles for up to seven years. 

And since my bedroom has been on my mind lately, let's look more closely at that room in particular. You spend 7-8 hours a night sleeping in your bedroom. That's a lot of time, especially if you've painted the walls with regular paint, used an average carpet on the floor, have bedding you picked up at Bed, Bath & Beyond, bought regular furniture and a regular mattress, plus standard IKEA're in an offgassing nightmare with literally hundreds of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).  And on average, you're breathing on those toxins 2,758 hours per year that you're spending sleeping in that room.

But what if you went green? So you bought low-VOC paint. You bought bamboo flooring. You bought a natural latex mattress and organic cotton sheets. You bought reclaimed furniture for the bedroom and darn it, you're green.

Believe it or not, though, there are still hazards for you in that room. Your low-VOC paint is still offgassing VOCs, your bamboo flooring and reclaimed furniture are covered in polyurethane, your latex mattress just might be held together with glue and stabilizers, and your sheets are probably smooth because of chemical agents used in the processing. So you're still breathing in that stuff. Sure, you've reduced your carbon footprint and you can feel good about that. But you didn't really do much for yourself or for your health.

It's only in the last few months that I've seen green, sustainable, and eco-friendly manufacturers using words like "indoor air quality" and "non-toxic," words I used six years ago when I remodeled my house and befuddled my contractors by ordering my own materials, hardwood floor stain, and zero-VOC floor varnish and wall paint.So it certainly is easier to find both green and non-toxic products and materials now, but it's still a challenge...less so, if you've educated yourself.

As we move forward with a market of more and more green and sustainable products, keep your eyes open and pay attention to what you're investing in for your home. If your health is at all important to you, ask yourself if your cleaning products, your furniture, your clothes, your bedding, everything around you is both green and non-toxic. While you don't need to go overboard, it would serve most people well to at least question what's in the immediate household environment and ask, "Is this good for me?"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Leo!

On this day, my hubster turns 52! Now, I've planned a special day for him today, finished by a romantic dinner out, but in honor of his birthday, I wanted to share some photos of a recent trip we took to Target, where Leo was inspired by some of the home decor items (forgive the substandard camera work from my Sidekick, which is soon to be replaced). Enjoy!






A to Z...which confounded Leo
a bit, I think, with regard to expression.

Happy birthday to the best man I know!
I love you, Sweet Pea!

Monday, December 27, 2010

We Shaved Our Cat!

As some of you know, one of our cats, Kate, is twenty years old. Kate has lived a long and happy life, and is one of the most beautiful, friendly cats I've ever encountered. Well, sadly, we found out last month that Kate has a tumor in her jaw and probably won't be with us much longer. Currently she's not in pain and seems to be doing just fine, but we're keeping a close eye on her to see if there are any changes.

It's amazing what cats do when it comes to their own care, and Leo and I have discovered just how much they actually do, since Kate recently stopped being able to clean herself, and despite all attempts on our part, we can't do nearly as well as she did on her own. As a result, some of her hair on her back became matted and there was no real way to brush it out, so our vet suggested we shave the mats. 

This being winter, we thought she'd be too cold, but Leo said, "Why don't we get her a sweater?" I said, "There's no possible universe where Kate will wear a sweater. She'll wiggle out of it. No way." But Leo insisted she'd love it and we bought it.

Well, I'll be darned if Kate doesn't love her sweater. She absolutely adores it and so here I am, publicly announcing: I was wrong. You know...this time. LOL

The sweater fits her perfectly and she's just delighted with it, so now our poor little shaved cat is wandering around the house in a pink and white striped sweater. I never thought I'd see the day.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Latest Fave Avocado Treat

Lately, I've been working out first thing in the morning, and when I'm done, my body is hungry for something really healthy. I've always loved avocado, but never craved it in the morning until recently, when a vague memory of reading about spreading avocado on toast resurfaced. I happened to have a really nice whole wheat bread and an avocado and I thought, "Hm, that might be nice," and I tried it and it's unbelievable. It's delicious. Plus, it's better than butter because you're actually getting a health benefit from the fats you're consuming (avocado is a "good" fat) and it's better than dry toast because...well, unless you're hung over or sick, who really likes dry toast? ("Me," says my husband, Leo, who actually does eat dry toast occasionally, but frankly, he likes to dip dry toast into sunny-side-up eggs, so as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't count)

Now, I have a couple of tips for your avocado toast treat. First, use bread that's substantial. I'm currently in love with Nature's Pride Extra Fiber Whole Wheat bread because it doesn't have any of the weirdo partially-hydrogenated nonsense or creepy high-fructose corn syrup, and it has a nice flavor. 

Second, get an avocado that's ripe, but not too ripe. It should have a little give to it when you give it a gentle squeeze, but it shouldn't be mushy. If it's rock-solid when you squeeze it, you can put it next to some apples for a day or so to ripen it up. Apples give off a gas that makes other produce ripen faster. We have a three-tiered wire basket that hangs from our ceiling where we keep apples separate from other stuff, and it works great for ripening avocados, but you could also put an apple and an avocado in a paper bag overnight and it works even better.

Prepare your toast normally. While your bread is toasting, cut your avocado in half as in the photo. I use an avocado peeler (left) from Pampered Chef that I bought for $6.50 years ago. It's one of the best kitchen purchases I've made, because it's quite versatile. 

Once you've sliced your avocado, take the side that doesn't have the pit and use your avocado peeler (or a table knife or a butter knife) to sort of...scuff the top of the avocado. You're not slicing here- you're creating a spread. Then you just spread the avocado over your toast. I probably use 1/8 avocado for one piece of toast, if even that much. 

I save my avocado and use it daily until it's gone. If you're easily icked out, know that avocado changes color rapidly and will go from green to brown as it oxidizes. This doesn't mean anything about the quality of the avocado, but if it bothers you, squeeze a little lemon over the exposed part of the avocado. Alternatively, the next day you can just scuff off the icky brown part and underneath it'll be perfectly bright green. Enjoy!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Rocks!

I love Christmas. Love, love, love it. Aside from the spiritual implications of the holiday, I love nothing more than a warm, cozy Yuletide with family, so the second Thanksgiving is over, I'm ready to decorate the tree. 
Leo and I spend an evening with a roaring fire, eggnog (the real stuff!), and we decorate our tree together. I have stories about pretty much every ornament on our tree. There are some ornaments that are special because I've had them since I was a little girl, like the "Shrinky Dink" ones we made together. Others are important because they hung on my grandmother's tree. I have ornaments that were gifts- my stepmom used to give me an ornament every year, and each one was something totally different from anything I'd seen before- and ornaments that I made myself, like the satin ball I covered with beads from my great-grandmother's necklace. Then there are the "travel ornaments." Whenever Leo and I go on a trip together, we buy an ornament for our tree. And as we decorate, each ornament brings back memories and moments, creating one of the most pleasant nights of the year.

But it's not just the decorating that I love. It's the gifts. No, not receiving them (though I'm not going to lie...I do like receiving). It's the giving that I love. All year long, I'm like a spy, keeping my eyes and ears open and listening to my friends and family, trying to get some hints about what they want, thinking of what gifts might bring a smile to their faces. Sometimes I make gifts, sometimes I buy them online, but Leo and I always spend at least one afternoon out at the mall amongst the masses, enjoying the hustle and bustle.

The day before Christmas (or sometimes the morning of Christmas Day), I make my great-grandmother's persimmon pudding, a recipe that was passed down to my grandmother and my mother to me. As I read my Nana's handwriting, I think of her, and always laugh when I get to the part of the recipe that says, "Bake in a slow oven; 275 for an hour, then 300 for awhile, and 325 for a bit." It makes me giggle, wondering what "awhile" and "a bit" are supposed to mean, but Nana always made her pudding perfectly, and somehow, mine turns out just fine, too. Making the persimmon pudding is a special moment for me, as it really does connect me to the women in my family who I have loved and who are no longer with me. I feel like the keeper of a precious legacy that I will one day pass down to my children.

Christmas is a special day like no other. And though I don't get religious on that day and I haven't gone to church on Christmas Eve in years, there is a unique vibe in the air this time of year, something that's different from any other season.

Next year should be even bigger, warmer, and more exciting, as we'll have the whole family at our house for the big holiday dinner. Leo and I have already started planning. :)