This blog chronicles my life as I try to balance healthy lifestyle habits with my husband's penchant for pizza rolls and my daughter's desire to watch iCarly 8 hours a day. It contains a mostly humorous, kind, and somewhat spiritual look at everyday life and the people who live it.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

How much gratitude can I pack into one year?

The goal was 52 Graces. The reality is 36 (well 37, for those of you with careful reading you'll note I repeated one number twice). I think I can do better. I know I can do better. It is the last day of 2009. My last chance to review the year and decide what things have truly been a Grace in my life this year. There are so many, yet I find myself struggling to complete this post. Are my Graces good enough? Grace-worthy? Well, I suppose that would be in the Eye of the Beholder, right? Okay, in no particular order, here goes:

Grace #37 Coupons
My inbox has no less than 50 spam emails at any time on any day because I give out my email address like Santa hands out candy canes. My husband is appalled at the junk I get, but I love it and I'll tell you why: coupons. I get more discounts, coupons, special online offers, and rebates just by signing up, filling out all those reward card applications, and giving up my email address to every business who asks for it. This Christmas nearly every item I purchased was subsidized with a coupon, rebate, or at least free shipping. The spam price is high, but so are the discounts.

Grace #38 Benjamin Moore Paint
I've been looking around the old homestead lately and been thinking that I'm ready to take on the next project: my daughter's bathroom. The sophisticated burgundy/gray color scheme doesn't mesh well with the fuschia/orange/pink polka dot shower curtain picked out by a 10 yr old. I have been using Benjamin Moore paints for years and I really like the quality of the paint. I know that I'll have a lot of primer on the walls to cover that burgundy, but when it finally is time to put on the new color I'm glad I have a product that I know will look great.

Grace #39 Milton-Bradley and Parker Brothers
Our family loves to play games. I don't know exactly when board games became popular,but I do know that as a way to connect that doesn't involve dressing/undressing a Barbie or an American Girl doll, playing board games can't be beat. This year for Christmas I bought our family the new Clue game that involves spies, missions, undercover agents, and even text messages sent to your cell phone if you want to use them. I also bought the newest "boutique" Monopoly that uses cell phones, blow dryers, and handbags for tokens and has you owning properties like nail salons, cab companies, and coffee shops. Between those 2 games we have spent hours over Christmas break just hanging out as a family and enjoying each other's company.

Grace #40 Rankin/Bass Productions
Ever seen Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? Santa Claus is Comin' to Town? Twas the Night Before Christmas? They are all products of the talented team Rankin and Bass. I don't know where they got their inspiration, but I love it! I grew up in the 70s and clay-mation Christmas specials were the coolest most cutting edge form of holiday entertainment. Now, 30 years later I still look forward to those Christmas specials every year. I hope they never stop airing them. Whoever Rankin and Bass are (were?) they certainly knew good holiday entertainment and the songs and clay-mation never fail to take me back to being 9 years old, ecstatic for Christmas, sitting in front of the TV, hair still wet from my bath, in my flannel nightgown and waiting for the Christmas special to begin. Without cable, TiVo, remote controls, DVRs, VCRs, and the youtube we had to wait for something that only came on once a year. You had to actually watch the show when it was aired and you had to sit through commercials. It was a different world back then, but it was magical.

Grace #41 UPS
I don't care who you are, we as a human race get excited when the UPS truck pulls up to our homes. What's it going to be? Who will it be for? Is it something I ordered or something someone sent to me? And arriving home to see a big box on the front porch? Forgeddaboudit! That's hugely exciting! Who among us doesn't make it a priority to drag that box inside and check out the recipient name? I love UPS. I'm sure I'd love FedEx too but they never seem to bring me anything, perhaps I'm not cool enough.

Grace #42 My dad's Christmas gift to me
This year my dad sent me the best Christmas gift I have ever received: he painstakingly digitized every slide photo from my childhood and then sent me a flashdrive that contained, well, my childhood. That's right, my entire childhood was contained on a 4g flash drive and is now copied to my hard disk. Pictures of me napping when I was 2, dressed for Halloween at 10, and going to prom at 16 all jumbled together with family vacations (we seemed to visit a lot of cemeteries...), birthday parties, Christmases, Confirmations and graduations and everything in between. I always look forward to The Year in Photographs that CNN has on their website at the end of the year; this was like seeing My Life in Photographs. I didn't grow up with photo albums, scrapbooks, and framed pictures dominating the walls. I grew up with infrequent gatherings around the blank wall in the dining room with the projector set up on the table. I never got to see myself growing up as I was growing up. It's quite revealing, healing, and entertaining to see my developing body, changing hair colors/styles, and the fashions of the '70s and '80s all as captured by my dad. It's an amazing gift and I will always be Grateful.

Grace #43 Snow
Not much of a Grace to many people, I know, but snow is still magical to me. I suppose it's good to feel that way because as I sit here snug in my kitchen the snow is falling...hard. It's beautiful. The evergreens are coated, the bare branches are outlined, the street, grass, and sidewalks are all blanketed. I don't have anywhere I have to go today. I don't have anything I have to do. I can just enjoy the beauty of a New England winter. I can see it. If I go outside I can smell it. I can taste and touch it. And I am Grateful.

Grace #44 Chai Tea
I've never been a coffee drinker. I love the smell of coffee, so much so that I filled the glass votives around my candles with coffee beans so that my whole house has a subtle, warm coffee smell when the candles are lit. I first discovered chai tea when it was served to me at a Tastefully Simple party. I had a mug of Oh My Chai! and I was in love. Warm, spicy, aromatic, and comforting; I finally got what all the coffee-hype was about. Then when I discovered Cafe Escapes chai tea for the Keurig, I knew my world was complete. I feel pampered when I am sipping a mug of chai tea, flipping through a magazine, and relaxing. I feel trendy when I am running errands, driving around town with my Starbucks cup in the cupholder. I feel energized when I have had a long, busy day, I am exhausted and that hit of caffeine starts to work. I feel

Grace #45 Hoodies
I cannot think of any article of clothing that could be warmer, snugglier, or more versatile than a hoodie sweatshirt. I have a fleece hoodie from the Gap that Steve bought for me for Christmas in 1996. It's still in commission, still being worn, still adored, and still by-God-the-snuggliest-thing-I-own. I love wearing hoodies and I love hugging people wearing hoodies. Lately Steve has been adorning his body with Patriots, Bruins, and Red Sox hoodies. Hoodies make people huggable. When our daughter sits on my lap with one of her Aero hoodies, watch out! I don't want that child to ever leave. I sometimes even replace wearing my apron with the big front pocket by wearing a hoodie, also with a big front pocket! Front pockets, draw string hoods, oversized, and made of the softest fabrics on the planet: hoodies are great!

Grace #46 HGTV
I don't know exactly when HGTV was offered by my cable provider, but I do know that since then my life hasn't been the same. I watch HGTV to be inspired, to relax, to criticize, to learn, to make changes, and to laugh. There isn't another network that provides such a diversity of experiences for me or that I enjoy so regularly. My current favorite shows are Color Splash, Divine Design and Colour Confidential. I used to watch Designed to Sell and Get it Sold faithfully, but thankfully I am no longer trying to buy or sell a house so I don't feel as drawn to those shows right now. I have had the courage and know-how to take on more projects just because I've seen them on HGTV. And it's free with my basic cable service, what a Grace!

Grace #47 Granite countertops
In my lifetime of homes in which I have lived I have had formica countertops, butcher block countertops, tile countertops and granite countertops. Hands down the granite is my favorite. I love how my counter sparkles with these little reflective bits in the granite. I love the solidness. I love the easy clean-up when my daughter got Sharpie permanent marker on it. I love the pattern and color and the natural-ness of it. I know there are now more trendy counters: quartz, cement, and marble. I know that someday, in the not-too-distant future having granite counters will be like having formica counters: something that dates your house and is a turn-off for homebuyers. Trends come, trends go, I know that I may not always salivate over my own kitchen counters. I'll look back on this post though, and remember: my granite counters make me happy every single time I walk into my kitchen and that's a Grace.

Grace #48 Long-distance Friends
Somehow I have managed to connect with the 3 people in this world willing and able to keep up a long distance friendship. I know how rare the quality is because, having moved around a lot, there are a lot of "moving casualties" in my friendship circle. My Christmas card list bears testament to the number of people that I thought I'd always know, always have in my life, that are now mere names on a list: people about whom I know almost nothing and with whom I have very little contact. I appreciate each and every one of these people on a basic, visceral level. You have kept me sane when my life was crazy, kept me connected when I knew not a single soul within 1000 miles, kept me loved when I didn't care too much for myself. I cherish you, and I am Grateful.

Grace #49 Target
I love shopping at Target! I've never been much of a Kmart girl, and Wal-mart feels too controversial, but Target -- Target never lets me down. Need a fast, fairly inexpensive update for your living room? Target has your back: a few sparkly picture frames, some glittery throw pillows, a scented candle or two and your old, shabby place looks great. Sick of your bedroom? No worries: a new duvet cover, perhaps some decadent sheets, a few throw pillows, more candles, more picture frames and you're good as new. Lighting emergency? All the cool kids get their lamps from Target! Last minute gift? Emergency wine glasses? Trendy mirror or clock? I'm getting a little excited just thinking about where else can I buy gorgeous velvet cheetah-print gloves AND dishwashing liquid AND pick up a Starbucks chai latte as I walk out the door. Bliss.

Grace #50 Disney
I'll admit it, I am in the Disney fan-club. I still have fantastic memories from the trip we took to Disney World, almost 7 years ago, I still get excited when a new Disney or Pixar movie is coming out, I still regularly watch Phineas and Ferb, and I think that the High School Musical movies are sheer cinematic genius for the tween crowd. I miss having a child young enough to make a regular pilgrimage to the Disney store, and I fully intend to return to Disney World next year. I know it's a cliche and I don't care. I wear my mouse ears with pride and I'll never forget how much joy all of the toys, games, and movies have brought to our family. Disney sells magic and to those who are willing to believe, it's a great thing to buy.

Grace #51 Burt's Bees
I am currently wearing the Papaya Lip Shimmer. My hands smell faintly of almond from the almond hand creme, and my feet tingle in peppermint happiness from the foot creme. Burt's Bees provides the perfect balance of crunchy-granola-natural that I crave with the decadent smells, easy availability, and fairly reasonable prices that I need. Not as perfume-y as The Body Shop, not as expensive as Avalon Organics, not as hard to find as some other natural products, and adorable packaging to boot. Recently I had a rash (I could just leave you hanging there with all sorts of gross visions in your head) from my sports bra strap. I smoothed on some Burt's Bees Res Q Ointment and all was well. No dangerous chemicals, no environmental worries, no fake ingredients, just Burt and his bees and some herbs. Try that with a petroleum product!

Grace #52 This Blog
Not unlike my Life in Pictures that was gifted by my Dad, this blog is my gift to myself. A log, a chronicle of sorts of my life. A good barometer I can use to see if I'm moving forward, getting stuck, bitching too much, exercising too little, or having faith in God. I look back on posts made a year ago and I am astounded at the grumpy, Realtor-hating, no-faith-in-the-Universe person who was so worried about finding the right house. Where was my faith? Why did I eat so much sugar? Who was I? I hope to look back a year from now on this post and still feel grateful for all the things I've listed plus a thousand more. I don't have any resolutions, but I do have plans: plans to continue my much-reduced-sugar-intake; plans to continue blogging; plans to upload more pictures, decorate more rooms, reduce more clutter, and organize my life. I'll know how I'm doing, and so will you because of this blog. Deb made me start blogging, and I am Grateful.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Better Hair Days, Guaranteed!

I have had several weeks of really good hair days in a row, which is unusual for me because 1. I have very fine, wispy hair that curls up in back and on one side; and 2. my hair was so sensitive to "critical drying time" the time by which it must be blown dry or the whole style was lost that if the phone rang and I missed my drying time the hair day was a bust. I have not gotten a weave, clipped in extensions or even used a 'Bump-It', instead I believe I may have stumbled upon a tip for consistently good hair days so I am sharing my vast wealth of hair knowledge with you today:

(Keep in mind I only have experience with fine, wispy hair that curls up in the back and on one side so you may have different results!)

First I must rave again about the fantastic results I received when I tried New Stylist Lisa's home remedy for product buildup: wash hair, condition hair, while still in shower shake about a palmful of baking soda into your hand. Now for the critical part: very carefully add water to the baking soda to form a paste. The first time I tried this I simply backed up into the shower spray and quickly dissolved all my baking soda and thus had to start over again. Once you have a paste spread it all over your hair concentrating on the top (because let's face it, most of the product you use ends up on the top of your head), and smoothing down to the hair ends. Let that sit on your head while you finish washing and shave your legs, armpits, back, chin (oh, nevermind, you're probably not a Yettie like me...). Rinse thoroughly. Condition your hair again, but very lightly. Rinse. You're done. You only need to this step maybe once or twice a year.

Now for the crucial styling step: towel dry your hair and then blow it dry upside down just 'til its damp. Dampness is critical because if its too dry your gel will make your hair limp and look weighed down. If your hair is too wet the gel will get too watered down and not be effective enough. Once your hair is damp squeeze a dime-sized amount of gel in your palm and then mush your hands together 'til the gel is all over both palms. Now flip your head forward and run both hands through your hair from roots to ends starting at the front and working your way to the back. Now you're ready to blow dry/style your hair.

I love this method because I don't have to wait for my hair to "air dry" enough to be ready for gel, nor do I end up with my hair too wet for gel application. Blowing dry my hair the first time upside down adds volume but then adding the gel adds control.

To finish: spray the heck out of your hair with hairspray. This is no time to worry about fumes, the environment, or chemical exposure - just shellac that hair in place. I use an organic shampoo and conditioner figuring that my hair spray usage cancels out the lack of chemicals in my shampoo thus creating moderation.

And y'all know how much I love moderation...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

4 dinner parties, 1 cookie exchange, covered in hives, still no sugar

Well, still considerably less sugar, no more than 24 grams each day. The detox process is getting a little weird, might I say. I thought I would have a whopper of a headache and I really haven't had that, but today I am covered with hives that appear on my neck, go away, move to my back, go away, currently on my face and left elbow (?), but I trust they will go away soon. I had absolutely no idea how much sugar I was consuming until I started this little exercise because I didn't know that things like spaghetti sauce, salsa, ketchup, and salad dressing could have so much sugar!

I have based my 24 grams limit upon information I found on several websites, including this news article that suggests that for 1800 calories consumed only 6 teaspoons (or 24 grams) of sugar should be consumed. There was also a lot of information on websites catering to diabetes but the one I have linked says all the same stuff very concisely: eat less sugar.

I'm eating a lot of natural peanut butter and tuna fish, that's for sure. I still have a smoothie for breakfast and that takes up a total of 12 grams (6 grams of sugar for 1/2 c. blueberries and 6 grams for 1/2 a banana) so the rest of the day is pretty restricted. Counting the sugar has given me a lot more freedom than I would have thought because I feel like I can make choices: skip the smoothie and save 12 grams that I can then use for something else, OR have a smoothie for breakfast and another for lunch and that's all the sugar for the day but I only have dinner to get through and that's actually the easiest meal for me, OR drink two 1/2 smoothies for snack time and still have 12 grams for get the idea.

When I lived in Toledo I actually had this list posted to my pantry door: the article lists 76 ways sugar can ruin your health. I liked the list because it has scientific research backing it up, it is easy to read, and it listed a lot of things I hadn't realized could be affected by sugar such as sugar can cause a loss cellular elasticity (turkey waddle neck, anyone?), and sugar can cause nearsightedness, reduce collagen in skin, and contributes to accelerated aging! I just see myself with coke-bottle-thick-glasses, saggy skin, and looking about 65 when I'm only 40 all because of sugar! Not a pretty picture. Anyway, when we moved the list probably got thrown into a recycle bin because I hadn't seen it for awhile until I embarked on this new venture. Rereading the list was an excellent jolt for me and I will print it out again and re-post it once I buy ink for my printer...(As a note to all of you waiting for Christmas cards, the ink-buying-delay also applies).

(Also just to keep you informed, the hives have moved to my right calf and right pinkie finger...)

I became particularly interested in sugar's effect on the body when I was looking for ways to reduce my brain tumor. My neurologist and neurosurgeon, both extremely educated and fantastic men, basically said that there wasn't anything I could do but have surgery. I couldn't accept that. They also didn't recognize a link between nerve irritation and hormones but I knew for a fact that my symptoms were worse during my period than other times of the month. Armed with this limited info and a life-or-death-desire to not have brain surgery again, I began to research online "hormones" and "tumors." What I found is basically summed up in 2 facts: 1.tumors (cancer) feed on sugar; 2.sugar can throw your hormones out of whack.

Could there be a greater impetus to reduce sugar than that?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Diary of a Sugar Free Life (Volume 1)

I am addicted to sugar. I have admitted it, danced around it, justified it, resisted it, accepted it, and fought against it. I am finally doing something about it. I have gone "off sugar" before but never truly cold turkey. I have resisted cookies but still eaten yogurt (my Stonyfield Farm organic yogurt has an astounding 26 grams of sugar in a 6oz. serving!). I have refused cake and candy but still put jelly on my toast. And peanut butter sandwich. And bagel. And anything else that would hold jelly. I have been diligent in refusing soda but still used maple syrup on my pancakes. And waffles. And French toast. And oatmeal. And anything else that would hold maple syrup.

In other words I wasn't really ever "off sugar" before in my life. I have changed the source of my sugar but I never really gave it up. The food log that follows is exactly what I've eaten for 2 days. It's clearly not a diet plan or even very good nutrition but it's a realistic account of how much effort it's been to avoid sugar. It's been 2 days of eating foods that contain no more sugar than 4g/serving, here's how things are going:

Day One
Time to eat breakfast and I'm not even sure what to eat. I think about not even having fruit because of the fructose but decide that since my frozen blueberries are unsweetened and my smoothie contains almost every important vitamin, mineral, roughage, and supplement I get all day that I'd better not drop it yet. I have the smoothie: 4oz. plain soy milk, 4oz water, 1/2 scoop whey protein(unflavored), 1 scoop psyllium husk, 1 Omega 3 supplement packet, 1 vitamin E capsule (broken open), 1 royal jelly capsule (broken open), 1 banana, 1/2 c. blueberries. Blend. Drink.

Lunch was very difficult. I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich almost every day because I love peanut butter and jelly and I am lazy about cooking, especially for myself. If pb&j seems like too much trouble I have cold cereal. If even that is beyond me I have yogurt. If I'm going to be running errands I have a protein bar (Balance bar, cookie dough flavor: 17 grams sugar). I stood in the kitchen for a long time contemplating eating a pb&j without j. Could it be done? Would I survive? Would it be palatable? I decided to go ahead and try it and if I simply couldn't stomach it I would heat up some tomato soup. I was extremely surprised to find that I liked it! I put natural peanut butter on both pieces of whole grain bread and amazed myself by not really missing the jelly like I thought I would.

Snack: no snack. Unable to figure out what to eat I simply gave up.

Dinner: Steve wasn't home so my daughter talked me into macaroni & cheese and carrot sticks.

Dessert: sigh. No dessert. I did have a single sip of the pomegranate martini Steve made when he got home. The sip was very small and since I don't like martinis, was not satifsying.

Day Two:
Snow day, everyone home, I made oatmeal for breakfast and nearly wept as I sprinkled 2 bowls with brown sugar and one bowl with nothing. No brown sugar for me but I surprised myself again by not missing it because I had cooked the oats with cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of cloves. The resulting spices (combined with the butter I did put on the oatmeal) made the taste really good without being sweet. I didn't know food could be good without being sweet!

Lunchtime was easy because I had planned ahead and started thinking about lunch before I was really hungry and tempted to eat 'whatever.' I reheated leftover ravioli with tomato sauce (canned sauce, Organic Arrabiata, 4g sugar).

Snacktime was easy too because I once again had a plan: I had a few carrot sticks, a few walnuts, and a piece of Cracker Barrel sharp cheddar cheese. I don't usually eat the dairy but I can't be vegan, sugar free, and sane all at the same time.

Dinner was hamburgers and french fries but I made it all myself and only the bun contained sugar (Organic whole grain bun, 3g of sugar).

So that's where I am so far. I have been inspired by Chellie who for some reason continues to believe in me despite the fact that she has seen me off the wagon more than on. I am inspired by my neighbor who is healing from breast cancer and is looking to me to support her effort to not eat sugar. Mostly I am motivated by the fact that I don't have headaches, I don't have PMS, and my eye doesn't twitch when I don't' eat sugar. Coincidence?

I'm blogging this journey to keep me motivated, keep me honest, and remind me of my victories and maybe even my defeats. I can't believe I am embarking on this journey 3 weeks before Christmas but when is there really a good time to quit an addiction? I've put it off so many times for so many good reasons that even I don't believe myself anymore.

Do or do not, there is no try - Yoda

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Steve can't get wood...

Sounds a little raunchy doesn't it? Makes you think of those creepy Erectile Dysfunction commercials on TV where the guy keeps talking to his reflection about his "embarrassing little problem," right? Well rest assured, we're a family friendly blog here and I mean quite literally that despite contacting 2 different companies and allowing the delivery guys to choose the time and date for the delivery, still no one has shown up. All that talk about a tough economy, people being desperate for work, sad human interest stories on the news about families not having any money for Christmas presents because there is just no work: don't you believe it, my friends. I have heard these stories on the news all my life, yet of the 5 landscapers I contacted to give me an estimate on a complete re-landscaping of my yard (including 2 retaining walls) only 2 ever showed up. Of the 4 contractors I contacted to get estimates to paint the exterior of my house, only 2 showed up. Of the 4 contractors I contacted to get my kitchen renovated, only 1 showed up. Of the 3 contractors I contacted to get my basement finished, only 1 showed up. The carpet installer I contacted to get my bedroom carpet re-stretched never even called me back. Of the 3 realtors I contacted to list my home for sale, only 2 showed up. Of the 3 realtors I contacted to represent me as a buyer, only 2 ever called back.

Seeing a trend here?
And I'm supposed to believe that people are desperate for money? Where are these hardworking, diligent individuals and do they have a few cords of wood for sale?

So here I sit, waiting for a wood delivery that I fear won't be coming. Steve will be livid. He will be frustrated. He will be confused because he too has heard how tough times are for landscape companies with no new building, people not spending money on landscaping, and no snow to remove yet. Not too tough apparently, not tough enough to actually earn some money.

I better go hide Grandma's dining set because with no wood delivery, Steve will be looking for something to burn...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Where Have all the Graces Gone?

Somehow my 52 Graces have only amounted to 25 actual postings of things for which I am grateful. That's okay, I'm good at playing catch-up (though I don't know if even my grateful self can think of 24 things for which I am grateful right now...)

Grace #26 Air Travel
Air travel is quick, relatively efficient, and statistically the safest way to go. There is always something interesting going on at an airport and always someone interesting on the plane. When I want to go someplace I want to arrive NOW and air travel is my best bet to make that happen. Airplanes bring our loved ones to us and, perhaps more importantly, they take them back home when we are just DONE!

Grace #27 Warehouse Clubs
I recently had a party for a large group of people and warehouse club shopping made my life a lot easier. I know many jokes are made about cans of olives that contain 112 servings, but let's face it, when you have a lot of people it's easier to buy one large can and perhaps a few servings left over, than to buy 16 little cans. Better for the environment as well. Besides our warehouse club, BJs, doesn't just have food -- it has everything! It's a feast for the eyes everytime I walk in. TVs, jewelry, clothes, gadgets I didn't even know I needed, Oriental rugs, vats of shampoo -- they're all just waiting to be put into my extra-large cart. I am drawn to their book tables like a magnet then after spending oh, say 20 minutes perusing the books I like to move on to the clothes, which takes about another 15 or so. By the time I have finished with clothes Steve is just about done in TVs and computers so we meet up to look at gadgets and food. It's retail marital bonding at its finest. Beth and Steve plus BJs equals true love. See why I'm grateful?

Grace #27 Baking soda
Yes, I am that crunchy granola that baking soda has made it as a Grace. I have always used baking soda as a natural alternative to scouring powder, in the laundry, in a pinch as a deodorant, for baking, for volcano making, and as a poultice for bee stings. Recently my new stylist Lisa (we'll talk about her in our next Grace) even had me put baking soda in my hair. Cheap, environmentally friendly, safe for pets and kids, easy to use, and with no harmful side effects. (And available at BJs in a 5 pound bag!) I love baking soda!

Grace #28 Lisa, my new stylist
Stylist? Hairdresser? Salon Technician? Hair care professional? I'm never exactly sure what is the politically correct term, I just know that I love the way Lisa does my hair. As part of my year-long-quest to find a good stylist I have been to 6 different salons, including an at-home-in-the-basement-stylist-whose-towels-smelled-like-mildew, and I hadn't really found a fit. Lisa gave me my first haircut in over a year where I didn't emerge looking a little shorn and defenseless. Lisa is also the only stylist to tell me that with fine (read: thin) hair like mine I should make a paste with baking soda (!) and water and spread it on my hair 2 or 3 times a year to prevent product build up and increase shine. I have spent thousands of dollars on hair glazes, shine gels, and clarifying shampoos over the last two decades only to have a 22 cent home remedy actually work the best. Thank you Lisa, you rock at hair styling and I am grateful.

Grace #29 Facebook
I know my sister-in-law is having heart palpitations reading that Facebook has made it as a Grace (and I'm not even scraping the bottom-of-the-Grace-barrel yet!) but I had done something terrible and Facebook is enabling me to attempt to "make it (somewhat) all better." Almost a year ago a friend of mine in Colorado emailed me about a lump in her breast that turned out to be cancer. She ended up having a mastectomy. I was very worried for my friend and exchanged many emails with her prior to her surgery. I was very caught up in the drama of my own little house-finding-debt-reducing-new-friends-making life at the time and didn't send any flowers or cards to her during or after her surgery. I didn't get any follow-up emails from her after her surgery and time went by and I meant to email but didn't because I felt like an ass for not sending any flowers or cards and now look how much time has gone by and now I really feel like an ass and why isn't she sending me an email update and Dear Lord what if she died?

That's where I kept getting stuck. Next thing I knew it was July and I hadn't heard nor contacted my friend since her surgery in February and now I was afraid. What if something had gone wrong? What if she died? Do I send an email and her husband reads this email coming some 4 MONTHS AFTER her surgery from a "concerned" friend and now he has to explain how my concern is touching but just a little too freakin' late? Then one day in November inspiration struck me (yes, now a full 9 months after her surgery and I'm still angsting because I'm still behaving like a spineless ass) and I thought "what if I look her up on Facebook?" So I did. And God takes pity on spineless fools and so she happened to be on Facebook too and apparently has a very forgiving soul because she accepted my friend request and even asked for my address so she can send a Christmas card. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't been able to reconnect in such a cowardly way. I fear that I may have done nothing. I fear I may have let cowardice, fear, and procrastination take over and let 2 years, 5 years, a lifetime go by all because I felt bad for not sending a card. Flowers. An email for God's sake! Learn from my mistakes, grasshopper. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions but there also may be some technology redemption.

Grace #30 Keurig
Last year for Christmas Steve bought himself a new-fangled coffeemaker that used little individual sized serving cups to make fantastic coffee. He bought a Keurig. I balked at the price. I balked at him buying himself another Christmas gift. I balked at the environmental impact of creating all that waste. I balked at the precious counter space that would be taken up in our then-pint-sized-kitchen. (I use the term "balk" Steve uses the term "bitch", just so you know). In the past year I have since changed my mind about the Keurig. No longer is Steve buying coffee every morning, afternoon, and evening from Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks. No longer is he drinking coffee at home but complaining about it because it tastes burnt or bitter or old. No longer am I buying Chai Tea Lattes from Starbucks (which, located in Barnes&Noble, means I then have to buy a book or five...). Our ridiculous coffee-chai-book spending is reduced by 99% all because of that little Keurig. AND there is a re-usable stainless steal cup that totally environmentally friendly! What a Grace!

Grace #31 Aeropastale
How can an over-priced poorly made tween/teen clothing store make it to Grace status? Well I'll tell you: Aeropostale is not-overpriced if you're willing to give up your email address because they will send you coupons, coupons, and more coupons in addition to their regular, big sales. They are not poorly made compared to their competition and frankly in our new global economy I have changed my defnition of poorly made anyway. However, those reasons are not what elevated Aeropostale to Grace status: Aeropostale makes it as a Grace because Aeropostale is well-lit, the music volume is bearable, and they don't have half-naked salespeople hanging out the entrance trying to solicit, well I'm not even sure what they're trying to solicit. When our daughter graduated from Gymboree Steve and I were a little stuck as to where to buy her "special" outfits. We drifted in and out of Children's Place, Gap Kids, and Justice through her 8s, 9s, and 10s, but now, at almost 11, our daughter's taste is changing. She is closer to being a teenager than she is to being a little kid. I don't want her to rush her childhood. I don't want her dressing like a 16 yr-old when she's only 11. I also want her to have some freedom to choose her own style. Aeropostale is the perfect compromise. Aeropostale is trendy, hip, and they put their logo on everything so she looks cool to her peers. Abercrombie and Hollister are clearly out right now: they are too dark, the music is booming, the perfume is cloying, the unisex-extremely-dark dressing rooms are a little too suggestive for my taste, and the salesguys/girls that routinely stand just inside the doorway with (for the guys) their shirts completely unbuttoned or OFF and (for the girls) their 3 layers of button down shirts unbuttoned just 2 buttons too many and worn clearly without a bra -- well again, I'm not sure what they're selling, but I know I don't want my almost-11-year-old buying it. Thanks for turning up the lights and turning down the music Aeropostale, you earned yourself Grace status.

Grace #32 A wood burning fireplace
For the past decade I have lived the good life: I pushed a button on a remote control and like magic a beautiful fire appeared before me. No fuss. No dirty logs. No smoke. No matches. I didn't see a downside until we moved here and with our first properly-drawing-chimney I see what I was missing with gas: No sound. No connection. No woodsy-smell when you walk outside. Steve described it perfectly when he compared watching a gas fire to watching a football game on TV and watching a wood fire to being at the game. It's the connection. With our sealed-gas fireplaces we watched through a window. We were removed from the process of starting the fire. We were removed from the process of watching something burn. There is something buried deep within my DNA that just loves a real fire. Dirty logs, yep we have 'em being delivered on Tuesday. Bugs? Quite possible. Smoke, oh yeah, I'm not claiming to be "green" on this Grace. Still a Grace? Yeah, it is.

Grace #33 Snow
I am a little scared to drive in it. I am usually poorly dressed for walking in it. I don't always like the accompanying cold and I despise shoveling it. Yet I love snow. Snow is falling right now as I type and how can you ever have a Christmas in New England without snow? I hope it keeps on falling right through the holidays. Our mountains look beautiful, the trees are glistening, the Christmas lights look magical and our daughter is having the time of her life sledding down our backyard. I will probably be singing a different tune in January (perhaps I'll be "balking" a bit?) but for right now I'm in the spirit and I say Let it Snow!

Grace #34 It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
I am not cool so any reference to pop culture in my blog is always coincidental, probably not timely, and certain to have at least one error in it. With that being said, I have been harboring a private love for the show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia for years. The show is politically incorrect, the characters are even more shallow and neurotic than my favorites in Seinfeld, and the dialogue is liberally peppered with profanity and downright hilarious slang. It's one of the few shows on which Steve and I can agree and watch together so it's a marriage bonding experience every Friday night (the show is on Thursday but it's on late so we TiVo), and the show never fails to entertain. Warning label: you need a sick sense of humor and virtually no political correctness to fully appreciate this show. Something that makes me laugh every week with my husband, now that's a Grace.

Grace #35 Such a Pretty Fat
Jen Lancaster's book Such a Pretty Fat was the most fun read I've had in a year. The book arrived one day in a box of books sent to me by my devoted reading friend Deb (you remember Deb, made me do this blog?). I shouldn't have started the book when I did because I was supposed to be cleaning/preparing the house for a big dinner party I was hosting in 2 days, but it was on top in the box, the title immediately intrigued me, and once I started it I couldn't stop reading and I couldn't stop laughing. I kept making deals with myself: if I go to the 3 grocery stores necessary to buy all the supplies for the party I can read for 2 hours. If I do Jen justice and work out for 2 hours this morning I can read for 1 hour this afternoon. If I survive cooking for 10 people with my limited culinary skills, I can read 'til I finish the book.

The deals paid off, the party shopping was accomplished. I worked out on schedule. I survived the party. I finished the book. Jen shamelessly promotes her other 2 books (Bitter is the New Black and Bright Lights, Big Ass) throughout the footnotes of Such a Pretty Fat and so I of course feel it necessary to reward that behavior by going out and buying those books and her latest Pretty in Plaid (hey, at least I won't need to buy the chai latte!) because I want Jen to keep on writing. Don't have her books? Visit her blog at or your nearest bookseller and maybe even treat yourself to the chai latte, yes?

Be prepared to laugh until your abs hurt (which tones them!), a definite Grace.

Grace #36 Brie en Croute
It's hard to believe that a vegan who is allergic to dairy can wax poetic about an appetizer featuring brie, but I am a diverse blogger and besides since when have I truly "waxed poetic" about anything? Let us return to this "big dinner party" about which I have been hinting in several past Graces. Steve thought it would be nice to invite his 4 direct reports and their spouses to our home for a casual holiday party. I thought it would be nice too, until I realized that it was me that was expected to cook said dinner for said party. My culinary skills are somewhat limited, shall we say? Anyway, commence with invitations he did, so commence with decorating, angsting, cleaning, angsting, shopping, angsting, menu-creating, angsting, and cooking I did.

The menu I created was really a menu Deb created for me and I was going to present as my own and that was the menu I was sticking to until 3 days before the party when Steve casually mentioned that half the invitees were vegetarian. Armed with this new information I decided pork loin was out and fire roasted vegetable ravioli was in. I threw in a hodge-podge of appetizers, salad, and bread and called it dinner. Once again Deb was forced to wrestle my menu down to manageable (read: palatable) selections, and I was set. Amidst all this menu-wrestling my neighbor happened to mention that she makes a fantastic brie appetizer whose name I couldn't remember but she'd make it for me and deliver it on said night of party. Score!

Day before party: I go shop at BJs for said fire roasted vegetable raviolis. Uh-oh. They don't have them. I don't panic, remember how diverse I said I am?, I simply buy the butternut squash raviolis instead (and all of you stop being aghast that I am buying frozen ravioli in bulk for my main entree). I was planning on a simple red sauce but now with the butternut squash in stead of the fire roasted veggies I am thinking cream sauce. But what if people don't like cream sauce or aren't expecting a cream sauce knowing that I will break out in hives and probably soil myself should I consume the cream sauce? What about pesto? Does pesto go with butternut squash? Oh screw it, I buy all 3. Deb kept saying "keep it simple and classy" which sounded great on the phone the week before but wasn't translating well while I'm panic shopping at a warehouse club. I buy an olive tapenade. I buy a bag of holiday M&Ms. I buy a bag of Hershey's miniatures. I buy meatballs. I buy 10 whole cloves of garlic to roast. I buy spinach, cranberries, walnuts, mixed nuts, enough carrots and celery to feed the state of Massachusetts. I buy bagel chips, Wheat Thins, Sociables. I buy cream cheese, cranberry-orange chutney, Tuscan simmer sauce, olives, and cheese. Steve and I go out that night and buy enough alcohol to create 8 different martinis (our house signature drink, we decide), apertifs before dinner, and Irish coffee after.

Day of Party: I go to an Italian bakery and pick up the assorted pastries tray I have ordered for dessert. I get my face waxed. I work out at the gym. I come home. I panic. I clean. I panic. I arrange veggie trays, fruit bowls, cheese and olive trays, olive tapenades, chunks of bread, blocks of cream cheese smothered in cranberry-orange chutney. I liberally sprinkle the house with bowls of nuts, pretzels, M&Ms, and Hershey miniatures. I fill vases with cranberries and insert votive candles. I set the table complete with gold charger plates and the Pottery Barn reindeer napkin rings. The decorating has calmed me until I realize don't have enough wine glasses. I panic. I also realize I never started the Italian bread in the bread machine and now there isn't enough time. I call neighbor for wine glasses. I call Steve to pick up bread on the way home. I panic. I shower. I put on planned-for beautiful white blouse. I try to button blouse. Somehow my fat has re-distributed itself and now I am Chesty Laroue. Blouse won't button. I panic. I'm sweating. No Tom's of Maine natural deodorant for me today folks, I need Secret Platinum. I try on beautiful plum colored wrap shirt. My cleavage explodes out the top. I settle for plain green sweater and wear my apron over top (you know, the one with the big center pocket) trying to look more festive, or at least like I'm cooking instead of just re-heating. I use enough shimmer eye shadow to blind the unsuspecting and I go downstairs. People begin to arrive. No brie en croute yet. No wine glasses. I force everyone to go on a tour of my house. I reward them with alcohol and urge them to consume my 14 appetizers. People smile. People drink. People talk. They shuffle. No one looks comfortable. No one eats! Brie en croute arrives. Its arrival creates a little buzz but still no one eats. I eat. I have nervously consumed 2 glasses of wine and 1500 carrots. I am buzzing and slightly orange. No one eats. Finally I start proclaiming about how good this appetizer is and how glad I am that my neighbor made the Brie en croute and I cut it open. The brie oozes beautifully, the sugared cranberries glisten, pastry is flaky, the almonds flow out tantalizingly. I take a big scoop. Another guest, watching my over-the-top-blissful performance does the same. He raves. Then his wife takes a bite. She raves. Finally, after an hour and a half, my guests are eating! After they begin to eat the party begins to flow. The alcohol consumption is doubled, the laughter begins, the shuffling ceases and we have a great party. A great party, all because of Brie en Croute. See why it's a Grace?

Okay, 36 Graces. Not 49, like I should have to be perfect, but when have I been perfect? A good showing. Enough to illustrate that my life is full: full of laughter, love, mishaps, embarrassing moments, and frustrations. And I am Grateful.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Turkeys, mental illness, hypochondria, and decorating

What do turkeys, mental illness, hypochondria, and decorating all have in common? They have all been on the forefront of my mind for the past week.

I roasted my first turkey EVER this Thanksgiving. I was quite proud of the result because it looked good, it tasted good, there was enough of it, and all of the trimmings were done by the time the turkey was done. I can't believe how nervous I was about cooking this bird, but from the relief I felt when it was all done I guess I was angsting quite a bit. Luckily for me the guest list was very short this Thanksgiving: my immediate family and my brother Rob. Short and sweet you might say, though the sweet part was bitter. I haven't lived in the same house or town with my brother since 1987. I haven't spent more than a day with him in 22 years. He came to stay from Wednesday to Saturday. I was a little nervous about him coming - mostly the what am I going to do with a houseguest that will be easy enough for me but entertaining enough for them? kind of nervousness that I always feel when having extended-stay company. Ignorance truly was bliss because had I known what I was in for, I would have been terrified. I think my brother may have a mental illness. I don't use the term lightly, or in jest, I think the man may have a diagnosable-and-hopefully-treatable-mental illness. From the time I picked him up at the airport until the time I dropped him back off 3 and 1/2 days later he spoke almost constantly about his higher self that is really from another planet that chose this incarnation to fight the forces of good and evil and how this fight isn't going very well right now because the forces of darkness are trying to suppress his higher self and once he learns to levitate he will fly around the world at the speed of sound and do I think he'll need any special equipment to do that? 'cause he's thinking he may have to work out the physics of this and he's trying to lose some weight but the person inside him is trying to stay fat was quite scary. Sometime early Wednesday morning my eye began twitching and by Saturday it was twitching so much that the muscle felt heavy and it was hard for me to keep my eye fully open. I kept telling myself this was stress, just stress, relax Beth relax, but the eye just kept on twitching. The twitching eye was the first and earliest symptom of the Epidermoid brain tumor I had 5 years ago and so as the eye kept twitching I began to worry: what if the tumor has grown back? What if my eye doesn't stop twitching and I have to have brain surgery again? What if the tumor grows back more quickly and I lose the ability to swallow this time? The what-if scenarios my brain was creating were as scary as the words my brother was speaking.

It made for a rough Thanksgiving.

And just like the smell of turkey, the effects of Rob's visit are lingering: what, if anything, should I be doing for my brother? If someone thinks they are an alien incarnated to a human form does that make them crazy? And even if they are crazy, so what? Does going around thinking you're going to learn to levitate and then fly around the world make you a danger to yourself or anyone else? And if there is something I should be doing, how should I do it? He's a functioning adult. He seems happy. He is law abiding and tax paying and productive. Who am I to say he's not an alien?

The turkey is gone, the pies are eaten, the cranberry sauce discarded. My eye is still twitching. It is twitching less. The tightness in my face is gone. I know it was stress and I know that my lifelong challenge will be to find healthy and appropriate ways to deal with the stress that mostly seems to come (for me) from family. I made huge strides on Sunday and Monday by throwing my agitated, nervous energy into holiday decorating. The house looks festive and beautiful. Last night Steve made our first fire in the wood burning fireplace. The stockings are hung by the mantel with care. The tree is decorated. Everything sparkles. I felt at peace. I felt supported by my husband, my friends, and God. I felt like I could handle anything: odd brothers, tumors, life -- as long as I had a center to return to. The paradox is that I create the center, just as much as I create the stress by how I react to odd brothers, tumors, and life.

I am challenging myself this holiday season to break my old patterns and create new, healthier ways to deal with life's everyday stresses. I don't know if it will be exercise, meditation, music, or blogging (or maybe even a combination of all of the above) that will help me to create that "centered" feeling, but I know that I am thankful that this Thanksgiving showed me where I still need to do a lot of work on myself.

Learning to handle stress appropriately: what better gift could I give myself this holiday season?