Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fitness & Fun Projects for 2012


You didn't think I'd contemplate the new year without addressing this topic, did you?

Of course I have fitness plans. Very specific ones. The final kid has been grown and birthed and is now happily nursing away. I'm ready to whip this body back into shape once and for all and keep it there. I've been thinking back to the fittest times in my life, and I know what I need to do to get back there again.

1) The shedding of pounds. It's time to get realistic in this area. At least 20 need to go. Up to 35 could go, frankly. I'd settle for anything in that range. Yes, my friends, it's Weight Watchers time again. I almost hate to do it (I am better than that), but it's a necessary evil. Once the weight is gone, I will focus on a more realistic way of eating. But, truly, as far as eating plans go, WW can be done in a super-healthy, super-sustainable way.

2) Remember how buff and strong I was thanks to all those Body Pump classes I took before we moved from Kansas to Georgia? Yeah. I miss those muscles. I miss being freakishly strong. I need to work more strength and core training back into my routine.

3) I am dying, DYING to run the Rock N Roll Half Marathon here in Savannah in November 2012. This is a totally achievable goal. I can't wait to sit down with a calendar and my Hal Higdon training schedule and map it all out. I'm thinking the Army 10-miler might work in as a perfect long run? Having run a 5K on Thanksgiving morning, I've got my sights set on running a 10K as my immediate goal... can't wait to pick and choose and plan and schedule and TRAIN!

4) To help me through all this, I will be playing along with Cathy Zielske's Move More Eat Well class. Can't wait for tomorrow!


1) At the request of the Gutsy Dad, I will be committing to a full year of Cocktails of the Month. We've enjoyed this sporadically, and now it's time to get serious! Plus, my husband secretly loves chick drinks, I mean cocktails, so you can be sure the monthly choosing and testing will be a couple's endeavor.

2) Date night! Around the first of the month, each month, the Gutsy Dad and I are going to look over our calendars and pick a night. We've done this the last two months and it has made such a difference to have at least one night without the kiddos. It helps that we have several great babysitter options: my parents and a neighborhood family with 4 awesome teenagers.


I did it! My very own "December Daily." I posted something here every day this month. I didn't want to say it was my goal to do so--didn't want to jinx it--just wanted to do it. And I did! This bodes well for my laundry list of 2012 projects, no?

The GM

Friday, December 30, 2011

Letters with Madelyn

Since I'll have the one-on-one reading going on with Jillson in 2012, I figured I better set up something to do with Madelyn.

This wasn't hard to figure out.

Recently I have been following Karen Grunberg's blog. She is an amazing woman on many levels (her position with Google Chrome, for example, or her art therapy initiative, or the careful way she blends traditions from her Turkish upbringing with her current family's traditions, just for starters). But one thing that astounds me about her is the way she seems to make a plan (many, many plans, actually) and stick to it. And she documents it. And shares it. She has so many things going on at once. I'd love to see her calendar. 

In short, she is an inspiration.

So. In addition to stealing the "Us Right Now" idea from her, I will be stealing her "Letters with Nathaniel" project idea. I won't go into all the details here (you can read about it on Karen's site), but basically we will be focusing on a letter a week (or every two weeks). 

I think we'll eat foods that start with the letter, think of songs with the letter, do art projects with the letter, and--naturally--make a book about it: Madelyn's Big Book of Letters. Or Madelyn's Alphabet.

When I ran the idea by Madelyn, she was ecstatic. She said "Oh, Mommy! Oh, Mommy, YES! I LOVE letters. Can we do M? Can we please do M? I LOVE M."

I guess we'll start with M!

Anyway. We'll see how it goes. Karen's site has links to many other sites with game and craft and food ideas for the chosen letter, so I won't have to dig too far for ideas. I'm not sure what sort of notebook we'll use to collect our projects, but I will just figure that out as we go along.

Can't wait!

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Today, my sweet Maddie James turned three. THREE! I can't believe it.

(Today, also, my sweet husband had three surgical procedures done in his nose and sinus area, so we celebrated Madelyn's birthday yesterday.)

All she wanted was to invite a few neighbors over and to offer them cake and ice cream and--her favorite--candy canes. So that's exactly what we did.

Simple set-up:

Store-bought cake (as I was not about to try to produce the much-desired "Dora Fairy Princess" cake). Miraculously, Publix has no problem with this task. As it turned out, this cake was pretty darn tasty.

We did save a few birthday traditions for the "real" day. Madelyn got to use the red "You Are Special Today" plate all day with the birthday train, of course. She spent most of the day with Meme and Kiki and her sisters playing with her new toys, while the Gutsy Dad and I hung out at the hospital.

Time (like an ever-rolling stream) certainly has born these three years away rather swiftly. The magical birth experience we had in Germany seems like it occurred just the other day, and yet it feels like something out of ancient history, a different world, a completely different era as well. But it just happened. The crazy paradox of time in a mother's memory.


Three years ago today in Germany, our little hedgehog was born:

Two years ago today in Kansas, she turned one:

One year ago today in Kansas, she turned two:

And now, oh my word, she is THREE.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2012 Creative Projects

The new year is almost here, and I am getting pretty excited to embark on some year-long projects I have planned to fuel my creative spirit.

1. Take Twelve. I will be taking 12 pictures on the 12th of the month, for each of the 12 months of 2012. Each month I will make a two-page spread with that month's 12 photos.  (And yes, each page will measure 12x12.) I will be using the Take Twelve Guided Inspiration Kit from Ella Publishing to facilitate this project.

2. I will also be participating in Twelve, the new workshop from Stacy Julian over at Big Picture Classes. I am not exactly sure what will be happening in this workshop, but I've learned to just trust Stacy, follow her process, and bask in the resultant joy she inspires. I've made this bin with twelve dividers per her pre-class instructions. Can't wait to learn more about what we'll do with it.

3. Next. I'd like to take a family photo -- all 5 of us -- once a week a la Karen Grunberg's Us Right Now project. I may or may not be turning these into a simple photo album, or a slightly gussied up photo album (i.e. mini book). This will be the first year (of many, many, many I hope) in which we will be our full family of five. I think these would be fun to flip back through at the end of the year, with or without commentary, to see what we looked like once a week for 52 weeks. I think the key to success here will be setting up a photo-taking routine that is simple and quick. Karen appears to just sit at the kitchen table with a remote control on her camera. I'm thinking Sundays would be a good day for us...

4. I'm on the fence about what to do with my One Little Word for 2012. I am not ready to give up my word from 2011. I might just keep it for 2012, too. Then again, I might choose a new word. I am not certain whether I will make any pages or projects about my word this year. I loved what I started to create last year with my OLW. Perhaps I should just continue with that... Or I might just let it be my mental talisman. Hmph.

That's it and that's enough. I've got a few more plans in the works for 2012, but these are the ones related to creativity and/or memory keeping. If I am able to keep up with any of these projects, you can be sure I'll share the results with you here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Recap in Pictures

It has been a lovely, lovely few days. I feel so fortunate to report that our holiday together--as a couple, as parents, as a family, as an extended family--has been everything I hoped it would be. 

From soup to nuts.

But we can hardly declare the holidays over. With Madelyn's birthday, Mom's birthday, and New Year's Eve all coming up within the week, we are barely pausing. So in the midst of it all, I offer these pictorial highlights.

(Click any photo to see it larger.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Reading with Jillson

In addition to my own reading plans for 2012, I am cooking up a reading plan for Jillson and me.

For a while now I've been worried that Jillson is missing out on one-on-one reading time with her parents, since we combine story time for the girls at bedtime. I love our bedtime routine and don't want to mess with it, so if I want to read aloud with Jillson it has to happen at another time.

But when? Monday through Friday she gets home at 4pm. She is exhausted from school, and it is not as though I can ask Madelyn to take care of Bronwen while I have one-on-one time with Jills.  More often than not the time between Jillson coming home and dinner time slips away in the blink of an eye: snack time, going through the back pack, a little horsing around, and then it's time to start dinner.

Soooo... we will be carving out some time on the weekends during which we can escape into a good book together. We're starting of course with Little House.

I'm a little worried whether we'll be able to sustain the plot of a book from week to week, so maybe we'll sneak in a mid-week read here and there. We'll have to see.

We're getting a head start right now over Christmas vacation. The other day, I had the Gutsy Dad dig out a box of books from my childhood that we have been hauling around with us for ten years. (I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to finally be justifying that haul. And how lovely and comforting it is for me to see and touch and hold and smell the very books I loved as a child, that my mother held and read to me, too.)

As soon as we opened the box, Jillson saw the Little House books, snatched them up and--I kid you not--said "Oh, Mommy, Mommy, can you read this to me?" Be still my beating heart.

We've been reading a chapter a day since then, each time at Jillson's request. I love it. I absolutely love reading with her. I love the way she stares off into space and I can tell by her eyes that she is imagining it all. I love hearing the stories again myself. And I really love Garth Williams's illustrations. Man, am I in dork heaven or what?

I think that after we finish this first book we may start a notebook together. (Okay, we can call it a scrapbook.) We might just write down the title and a few sentences about how we each felt about the book.  Maybe draw some pictures? We'll have to see. Oh, the possibilities...

(Don't worry, I've got a plan for some one-on-one time with Madelyn, too.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, Y'all!

I wish you all a holy and merry Christmas.

 May you be surrounded by those you love, beautiful music, and good cheer.

 May you savor every moment you have together.

And--of course!--may your days be merry and bright.

Love, the GM

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cocktail of the Month: Cranberry-Lime Gin & Tonics

The kids have been out of school for a week. The presents are wrapped, the excitement level is ramping up, and we even survived yesterday's Christmas Pageant dress rehearsal and birthday party for Jesus. Awww yeah, baby. It's definitely cocktail time. 

You may recall that the Gutsy Dad and I are both fans of the good ol' G&T. Along with Pimm's Punch, it's our summertime quaff of choice. So it will come as no surprise that while I was surfing around looking for something to do with leftover cranberries, I became pretty excited when I found this recipe.

Pressing the cranberries through a sieve takes a few minutes, but it is so worth it. Don't let the preparation of the cranberries deter you from trying this recipe. You can do it, and you'll thank me later.

I halved this recipe since there were only two of us to enjoy it, and it made enough for each of us to have 2, almost 3 drinks. They were so yummy that we found this task to be a pleasure. If you are making these for 4 or more peeps, then I would definitely go with the full recipe, as below.

Cranberry-Lime Gin & Tonics
(adapted slightly from the original recipe, found here.)
makes 10 drinks

2 (12 oz) bags of fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3 1/3 cups chilled tonic water
1 1/4 cups gin
3 tbsp plus 1 tsp fresh lime juice

Bring cranberries, sugar, and water, to a simmer in a large saucepan. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the berries pop and the syrup begins to thicken slightly, about 5 minutes. Drain the cranberries through a fine-mesh sieve set over a 1-quart glass measuring cup (or a glass bowl), collecting the syrup in the glass. Working in batches, force the berries through the sieve into the syrup. (I used a full jar of jam to smoosh the berries through the sieve. You'll basically be left with the skins in the sieve, and a thick, gorgeously red, puree-like cranberry goop gathering in your glass below.) Toss the skins.

Transfer the strained cranberry goodness to a pitcher and chill until cold. (I stuck mine in the freezer for 20 minutes or so. The original recipe recommends allowing it to cool in the fridge for 2 hours. I was not willing to wait that long, but you could easily prep the cranberry goop in the morning and then just stick it in the fridge 'til you're ready to use it that evening. Juice your limes while you're at it, then all your "work" is done.) Anyway. 

When it is cocktail time, add the remaining ingredients (lime juice, gin, tonic--I used diet) to the syrup in your pitcher, stirring gently. Rim glasses with sugar (dip first in water, then in sugar to get it to stick), and add a slice of lime for a festive garnish if desired. Pour cocktails in, and enjoy!  

These would also be pretty over ice in a tall Tom Collins glass or such.

I'm also guessing these would be delicious as a non-alcoholic treat. Simply omit the gin and, if you don't care for tonic water, use sprite or ginger ale.
(Can you see who was helping me stage the photo? The girls are obsessed with the bowl of ornaments.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Not Exactly the Sugar Plum Fairy

I have got to get this kid signed up for ballet or gymnastics or something in the new year. She is so physical, so active. 

She is a maniac with the monkey moves (swinging on and off things, climbing, balancing) and prefers to wear a leotard and rehearsal skirt every single day. 

She learns real ballet moves and terminology from YouTube ballet videos on the iPad and from Angelina Ballerina on TV. 

She loves to make up her own moves. She gives incomprehensible "French" names to her moves and then tells us what they are in English, such as the "cat step" featured below.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reading in 2012

This is always an incredibly exciting time of year for me, the time when January is in sight and I begin planning projects and goals for the new year.  I love the process of it, the anticipation, the figuring out how it all will work. Let's be clear: these are not resolutions, they are plans. I like to bite off just enough to feel motivated.

I plan to read more in 2012. That is, I plan to read more intentionally. I recently stumbled upon Jim Trelease's advice on reading with your children in which he says "Don't continue reading a book once it is obvious that it was a poor choice." Preach it, brother.

I don't think I wasted much time reading duds in 2011, but I also think I didn't spend enough time consciously choosing delicious books. There are so many plums to be picked. Let's not fritter our reading time away on poor choices, or out of a sense of obligation that a book, once started, must be finished. Life's too short. Let's purposely pick the juiciest plums.

To this end, I would like to make 2012 the Year of the Classics. There are so many I have never read, especially ones that people assume I have read given my background. There are even ones that I assume I have read, because I talk about them as though I have.

So. I'm compiling a list. A list of good books, good-for-me books, classics I shouldn't skip over. I'd like to populate the list with 20 or 30 books, then pick one a month in 2012. If I read more than that, hooray for me (and the books). But I think given my current at-home constituency, one "real" book a month is a fair goal, especially when we know it will happen in addition to my usual lighter reading.

I'm starting my list of books to read. (See below; you'll notice I interpret the word classic fairly loosely.) And this is where I need your help. Can you help me compile my list? What classics do you love so much that you can't imagine a life without having read them?

I can't wait to hear from you, here or otherwise!

The GM

My Plum Tree for 2012
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Father & Daughter

"I'm gonna stand guard like a postcard of a golden retriever..."

Nothing more than this picture and this song needed to bliss out to today.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Family Time

We are enjoying a few days of family time, what with the Gutsy Dad home on vacation. We don't have a lot of plans, just enjoying each other's company. And sleep ins!

I am trying to relieve myself of the pressure of feeling we should be "doing something" with this time. I am trying to just "go with the flow," which Jillson informs me means: "don't worry about stuff, Mom."

Speaking of the kiddos, Madelyn recently informed me that the Baby Jesus loved nutella and that is why I should give her some nutella for breakfast. When I told her no, she told me the Baby Jesus was sad at me about that. Way to bring out the big guns, kid. But still, no nutella for you.

That is all for today. I need to hurry off to do nothing with my family.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Don't Say Anything to Yourself

I've been beating myself up lately. Maybe you know how it is. Do you mutter epithets at yourself when you do something silly? How about when you feel like you dropped the ball? Or let someone down? How about when you can't stop yourself from eating eight cookies in one sitting?

Lately I've noticed that I don't speak very kindly to myself (in my head).

Trust me, I recognize that there is a place in this world for "being real" with yourself.  I don't think there's a place for sugar-coating in self-talk.  I know, for example, that the reason I cannot fit into my smaller pants is that I ate eight cookies in one sitting. On multiple occasions.

But I've been catching myself (in my head) being much meaner. (You ate the cookies because you are a fat, useless moron with no self-control or sense of dignity.)  It's been making me feel pretty bad about myself.

And I will tell you this. Eventually, if you beat yourself up too much it makes you really grumpy because you start to believe all those things you say. You start saying them out loud about yourself. In front of others. This makes other people miserable, too.

So today, while I was reading about running, I came along this fabulous quotation:

"Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to a friend."

Would I tell my friend that she has a fat ass? Never!  Would I suggest that the reason she can't control herself around food is that she is a worthless being who has lost her way? Um, no.

I might, instead, kindly suggest that she walk away from the cookies. I might remember to compliment her efforts when she actually takes action to counteract that growing arse of hers. I might offer to meet her at the gym. I might remind her that while some people get into pre-preggo clothes 2 weeks post-partum, for her, it really is quite something that she was able to don her non-maternity jeans today, 3 months post-partum. (No need to beat yourself up that you couldn't do it sooner.)

Seriously. Why would I ever want to treat myself worse than I treat my friends?

So starting now, and of course for the new year (for which I have about 7 million ideas brewing), one resolution is:

I will speak more kindly to myself.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Decor That Means More

I love decorating for Christmas. I love coming home to a decorated home, and I love being surrounded by things that hold such happy memories for me. The Gutsy Dad and I have collected our holiday decor slowly and intentionally. Almost everything we put up for the season holds special meaning for us. This makes decorating a real pleasure instead of a chore.

Take this wreath for example:
I got that wreath at the German grocery store (the Edeka) while we lived there. I miss the random home goods that come and go in German markets. You pop in for some milk and come out with a Christmas wreath, a raincoat for your 3-year-old, and a new technical-fabric running shirt for yourself. Surprise! All for cheap.

These angel "jingle bells" (as the kids call them) are also from our time in Germany, purchased at one of the amazing Weihnachtsmarkts. (I need to reattach the bells on the bottom right.) When I hear these bells, I think of Christmas in Bavaria, of Gluhwein and Kartoffelpuffer and delicate ornaments made out of straw and red thread.

This mini quilt makes me smile every time I see it. It was a gift from the mother of a student who attended one of the schools at which I once worked. It reminds me that I was good at my job, that what I did there at that school mattered to at least one family. 

The mantle is an extremely cheerful place in our home. The stockings are a family tradition. Mine was knitted by my Nana (my dad's mom), and the others have been knitted from the same pattern by my mother as people have joined the family. (The dogs' stockings are mail-ordered needlepoint.) When we were putting up the hooks, Madelyn and Jillson were concerned that Meme might have forgotten that Bronwen did not yet have a stocking. Wouldn't you know that Bronwen's stocking appeared yesterday while the Gutsy Dad and I were out on our date. Meme never forgets.

Display of photos of Christmases past: 

In a meta-decor moment, I'd like to point out that the garland behind the photos on the shelf appears in many of the photos. (The garland is from our time in Gig Harbor and was assembled thanks to our proximity to IKEA.)

More decor pieces from the German grocery store. These make me smile while I do the dishes: