Saturday, January 30, 2010

Warming up in winter

A few weeks ago, my friend Lisa posted on her blog that after the holiday decorations come down, she's anxious to put up some cute wintery decorations to keep the house from feeling cold and empty. She put out a call for pictures and inspiration, and I'm finally getting around to helping her out!

Graham comes from a home where decorations and small touches show up for every season/holiday. I love me some Halloween and Autumn decorations, and we always go on decoration overload for Christmas, but after The Holidays are over, I don't mind the lack of decorations. I think it's great that the house looks a little more streamlined and less cluttered in January. However, Graham thinks it looks cold and gets frustrated that I don't like to throw up more decorations after a bunch of them have just come down. So, we compromise. After the Christmas decorations come down and are all packed away, I get a week to keep the house feeling a little empty. It's a mental thing, and in addition to clearing out the decorations, I need to clear my mind and get myself out of "decoration mode". Once I've had that week, I'll bring out a few small items to help warm our home and make it feel a little more welcoming.

A year ago, Graham gave me two wind chimes. He knows how much I love a good wind chime, and I was so excited to finally be able to pull this one out to hear it cling and chime!

I like the snowman in the doorway. He's got a nice, cheery smile for me when I'm coming and going, and even though it's a snowman and it's -12 degrees outside, he does warm my heart.

I've also got a thing for penguins. It's kind of a sickness.

I found this penguin tealight holder at Hallmark a few seasons ago. How cute is he? It's the perfect size for our coffee table, too, so it's not cluttering up the table, and it's a cute little centerpiece for the season.

Another way I like to warm up the house, all year long, is by using candles. I think they add a nice touch and really add some visual warmth to a room.

A few months ago, I found some Febreeze candles at the grocery store. I fell in love with this one, "Winter Evening & Warmth". After 6 weeks of balsam, Christmas trees, sugar cookies, and other holiday scents, it's nice to go to a softer, more neutral candle to warm the house.

We always have an afghan on our couch, no matter what season. During winter, I like to throw out our cream colored afghans.

Both of these were wedding gifts, made by family members. I love setting them out because they're available if we get a little chilly (Well, one of them is. The other is more decorative than warming) and they make the couch look more inviting to our guests.

So, that's how I warm up the house after the tree and lights have come down. What do you do?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Meme? Sure, I like memes.

1. Who was your first prom date?
Graham was, actually. Doesn't that make you sick?

2. Do you still talk to your first love?
I like to think I married him. AGAIN with the sickness!! I'll stop now, I promise.

3. What was your first alcoholic drink?
A wine cooler at Kate Shine's house in high school. Her mom made us swear on our graves we wouldn't tell anyone that she plyed minors with alcohol on New Year's Eve. We were so badass.

4. What was your first job?
Oy. Technically, it was babysitting, but that counts as child labor. I'd say the rectory receptionist position at my church. I started when I was 15 and it was an easy job. I got to do my homework and had to answer the door and take messages. However, my supervisor Mrs. B took the job way too seriously and would rake you over the coals for sneezing at the wrong time. I like to think she needed a stiff drink.

5. What was your first car?
'93 Chevy Corsica. I loved that car!

6. Who was the first person to text you today?
I dunno. I think it was Jay replying to my text.

7. Who was the first person you thought of this morning?
I'm not sure. Maybe Graham? Morning was a long time ago.

8. Who was your first grade teacher?
Sister Nora. She was a large Irish nun with a short fuse and no room for screwing around. I loved her!

9. Where did you go on your first flight in a plane?
Washington D.C. I was in high school and I was flying with a group of students from school. I was convinced the plane would crash.

10. Who was your first best friend and do you still talk?
A girl named Kerry Hoffman. We were besties from first grade through fourth, and then she moved. I doubt we'd still talk, even if she hadn't moved. For a long time I was a pariah. Hanging out with me could have been social suicide!

11. Where was your first sleepover?
I don't completely remember. It was probably the Girl Scout sleepover in the gym at school.

12. Who was the first person you talked to today?
Graham and Matt Lauer, same as always.

13. Whose wedding were you in for the first time?
I think it was my cousin Kristen's, in 2004. July 3rd. Hottest day of the summer. Black dresses. Free drinks.

14. What was the first thing you did this morning?
Got all cranky that it was Monday.

15. What was the first concert you went to?
Don't laugh: Backstreet Boys at the Rosemont Horizon. Blech.

16. First tattoo?
I'm hoping it will be a celtic knot or cross. Gotta do that before I have kids!

17. First piercing?
My ears. My mom had them done when I was a baby.

18. First foreign country you went to?
England! January 2004.

19. First movie you remember seeing?
Either Land Before Time (the original) or Oliver and Company.

20. What state (province) did you first live in?
Illinois and so far only Illinois.

21. Who was your first roommate?
Samantha Wall from Palistine, IL. She was a bit strange. A neat freak with a love of naptime. We didn't room together for long.

22. When was your first detention?
I was in junior high school. I think it was for demerits.

23. When was your first kiss?
High school.

24. What is one thing you would learn, given the chance?
Another language. I'd like to improve my Spanish and learn Russian or French, just for the hell of it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I spell my name P-R-O-D-U-C-T-I-V-I-T-Y

Initially I had been hoping to do some service today, but with Graham's birthday this weekend and preparations for our upcoming 8th grade retreat, there just wasn't time to get everything in. That being said, I was of service to my family today.

Today, since I woke up...
  1. I folded and put away a lot of laundry.
  2. I cleaned out the fridge.
  3. I tidied up the living room.
  4. I cleaned up the dining room and unpacked a few more boxes (and put away a lot of random things).
  5. I finally unpacked and set up the china cabinet.
  6. I put away the last of the Christmas decorations that were hiding in the bedroom.
  7. I paid some bills.
  8. I did all my grades for the second quarter.
  9. I helped Graham with the dishes.

After this, I'm going to clean out our humidifier and sweep the kitchen floor, and I'll finally be done for the night. Hooray!

Our Living Room

This is the one room in our home that is used more often than any other. It's our gathering space when we have guests, and it's the first room everyone sees when they enter our home. Naturally, I do my best to keep it tidy and clean and welcoming, and now that our Christmas tree is down it's a lot easier to do that!

Here's our front room from the hallway outside our bedroom.

The view from the front door.

The view from the corner of the living room.

Some of our hopes and dreams and plans include tearing down the wood panels and painting the walls, ripping up the patterned carpet and laying down an area rug instead so we can show off the hardwood floors underneath, and replacing the funeral home drapes with panels and sheers. I also want to get some table lamps for our end tables to make it a little warmer in here.

The Great Panel Debate: My parents really liked it. My dad said he must have arrived at a point in his life where he'd keep it because it's "good enough". I've never been a big fan of it, and seeing our furniture in these pictures reinforces the idea that it just doesn't work--our furniture blends in! Of course, we could buy all new furniture, but I think our checking account would go on strike.

The Stairway

Our virtual tour of the first floor is almost finished, so I thought I'd give you a little peek at the in-between area of the house.

This is probably the one "room" that will give us a small headache in the road to redesign. Let me show you why.

Here's the entryway. As you can see, there's some lovely tile that greets you as you begin your climb to the second floor. I'd love to pull this up and cover it with something else, but I don't know what. Maybe carpet? Given the number of times I've fallen down these stairs (once for each week we've lived here) something with a little more grip might be in order.

As you look up, you're sufficiently creeped out. Ideally I'd like to fix the light fixture at the top of the stairs, and add one at the base of the stairs to get a little more light in there.

There are three mirrors along the top of the stairs. I like the added effect, but I'm not sure what to do with them. I want to get rid of the metal boarder the previous owners put up, and maybe even make them a little deeper so we can put things inside the ledge...small candles or something. As they are now they're not very big.

Hardwood floors at the top! Victory is mine!

Looking down. As you can see, there's no light at the base of the stairs. I'd like to install another light fixture to give the stairway some light. I'd also like to lower the banister a bit. It's too high and each time I fall and reach for the banister, it's just out of my reach. Not cool.

There's a delightful little glass-block window at the base of the stairs. This helps, but doesn't quite let in enough light. However, I like that I'm able to tuck away this candle. We installed a tap light for the time being, and that helps a lot, but we're both aware that it's a temporary fixture.

So...hopes/dreams/plans for this area:
  • Paint! It's a weird pinkish color that neither of us are too fond of.
  • Get rid of the stair tiles and replace them with something else.
  • Lower the banister
  • Do something with the mirrors on the side.
  • Remove chrome boarders from the mirrors!
  • Hang picture frames along the stairs so there's something lovely to look at as you go up.
  • Replace the light fixture at the top of the stairs.
  • Install a light fixture at the base of the stairs.

Ultimately it's not a long list, and they're small fixes. I think painting is going to be the biggest pain, and the light fixtures and flooring will probably be the most expensive. All that needs to be done is cosmetic, and I'm really thankful for that!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Our Christmas Tree

This was what our living room looked like from December 23rd until just this past Sunday. We were a little sad to take the tree down because it felt like we'd just put it up, but with Graham's birthday coming up we really had to take it down before we become the white trash neighbors on the block.

It was a pretty tree while it lasted, though! We're going to put our tree in the window next year, and with luck, it will be a real tree! Christmas hasn't quite felt the same without a real tree the last few years. The next one will be a good one, and we've got plenty of new ornaments to add to our collection!

Anniversary, Round 2

It's hard to believe that we've been married for two years already. In some ways, it feels like we've been married much longer, and in other ways it feels like we're just married and still getting used to one another.

There's the ease in which we fit together, the way my head just seems to find "my spot" on his shoulder.

And there's still the tickle of newness when we learn something surprising about one another.

There's the way my hand reaches for his across the car on the way to work each morning,

and there's the fear of opening up your heart, only to recieve grace and love and acceptance

There's the way he tells his corny jokes that makes me roll my eyes, and then there's the way he tells corny jokes that makes me crack up.

The last two years have gone by crazy fast. In 2010, we'll be married three years, but we'll have been together for ten. In the last two years, we've been camping in Indiana and Illinois, traveled all over the state, we drove through a snowstorm in Iowa and a rainstorm in Michigan. We've been to Hawaii, and trips to Maine, Ireland, and Florida are waiting for us in the future. We bought a home together, and we are figuring out our mid-to-late twenties and just enjoying the life we've been given. It doesn't get much better than this!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mom-in-law's birthday: The Big 5-0

My mom-in-law celebrated the end of 2009 by turning 50! What a way to say goodbye to the decade, huh?

Now that Graham and I have been together almost ten years (ACK!) I'll never forget that he told me after one of our first dates that his mom was about to turn 41. My jaw dropped because my own parents were in their mid-to-late 40s, and I couldn't believe how young his mom was! I didn't know at that time that we'd still be together 9 years later and celebrating his mom's next decade.

Because the whole family was in for the weekend, we made a bigger deal out of her birthday. Brian and Robyn came up to spend a late Christmas and Mom's birthday with us, so we all took Mom out to dinner at Chi Tung. If you're not from Chicago, let me say this: Chi Tung is the best Asian food you'll eat this side of China. That is a promise. It's deeeeelish.

Some photos of the evening:

Me enjoying a mai tai. Note the straightener fail.

The Fam.

Something was funny enough for me to make this face and for Graham to document the moment.

Discussing the finer points of....something.

Hokay, so after dinner we went back to the ILs' home for cake, gifts, and game playing. I had ONE BITE of a cookie. ONE. And yet, I still broke a dining room chair. Obliterated is more like it. If I hadn't planned on making a New Year's Resolution to lose weight, this would have sealed the deal:

We decided to play Seven Deadly Sins. Do NOT play this game with your church-going, Christ-y friends. Or your parents. Or your grandparents. Or your siblings. Or if you plan to run for public office someday. It's racy! (I can't believe Santa brought this for Brian! Santa's a perv.)

Game face: On.

To get a piece of Sinner Pie, I had to make a puppet show out of dirty sweat socks. We decided it was going to be about Mary's life after graduation. It was melodramatic at best.

On one of Brian's attempts for pie, he had to go into his host's closet and find the most revolting outfit they own. We knew it was going to be good when we heard him say, "JACKPOT!"

Graham got to impersonate the Wicked Witch of the West. He even found a monkey!

For reasons unbeknownst to me (thanks to Mr. Mai Tai, and later on Mr. and Mrs. Wine Cooler), everyone except me and Robyn got to be comatose until their next turn.

Brian doesn't make a good coma patient.

Thankfully, it didn't last long.

Still coma-ing.

Mom even had to play!

More coma.

Also comatose, but Pops wasn't playing the game.

Mary retreated to the hood. She really didn't want to play this game with her family.

We took a cake break.

Singing and caking.

And then there were presents! We got Mom a picture puzzle. Then she can frame a picture puzzle of all of us at Brian and Robyn's wedding.

Brobyn got her some nice, fluffy towels in earth tones. I rubbed my drunk face on one. (Sorry!)

Once we were done, Brian put his game face back on.

To get some Sinner Pie, Robyn let us give her a makeover.


I don't remember taking this photo.

Mom wanted an updated picture of us before we went away for the night. Mary wanted some companionship, too! It's a tough contest, really. Mary's partner loves to cuddle and keep your feet warm. Mine has better breath. The grass is always greener, right?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Gina's Graduation

I'm a little late in getting these pictures up, but December was crazy!

My kid sister graduated on December 19th after 5 1/2 years of college. It was...weird. I've never really looked at my kid sister as my equal or as an adult. She is, after all, my baby sister. My BABY sister. She's not supposed to grow up! But, as luck would have it, she did turn around and grow up when I wasn't looking, and here are the photos to prove it!

School hasn't always been easy for Gina. In that aspect, we're quite different. While school could have been easy for me, I usually chose to de-stress and take the middle road rather than the rough road. I made it harder on myself than it should have been. I was always a little impressed with myself and surprised when I got good grades on tests and assignments that I knew I didn't dedicate the best of my best to. Imagine what I would have been capable of had I actually been a Super Student!

My sister, on the other hand, always struggled a little more. While reading and writing came easy for me, Gina had to guess at where to put the apostrophes and commas. I didn't always understand it because it was so easy for me. Whenever she asked me to proofread an assignment for her, I'd respond with tactful, guiding comments like, "USE A PERIOD FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!" and "YOUR RUN ONS MAKE MY EYES BLEED!!!!"

Like I said, I'm the oldest. It's a control thing.

One area in which we both struggled was math. I'm admittedly math-dumb and eventually would just give up and draw pictures for my answers in math class. If I guessed, I could probably get the correct answer, but these days math is all about the process and knowing how to get to the right answer. I could give two and a half spits about HOW I got to the correct answer, just so long as I DID get the right answer. I had a GPA to protect, dammit!!

But Gina? She's a viking. She never, ever gave up on her education. She never gave anything less than her best. I really admire her for that. If I didn't study enough for a test, I'd go to class anyway, give it the ole college try, and when I got the grade I deserved I'd say, "Eh, I'll get 'em next time" while I sucked down another cup of coffee. My kid sister, on the other hand, would study her eyeballs off for a test and if she didn't perform well, she'd beat herself up about it. Literally. She'd call my crying and looking for comfort, I'd roll my eyes, tell her she was pissing me off and that she needed to grow a pair if she ever expected to graduate with her natural hair color. The child was stressing herself out waaaaaaaaaay too much.

Secretly, I was confused. Why didn't I get that broken up about a bad test grade? Why didn't I put that kind of effort into my assignments? Hell, even I knew that if I studied half as hard as my sister, I'd have earned a 4.0 gpa every semester of college. (Except for the summer I had to take math. I hate math.)

Bottom line: My kid sister is a lot tougher than I give her credit for. She worked her butt off to get into college, and once she was there she wanted to prove that she deserved to be there and deserved to stay. Writing was never something she excelled in, but she knew that and she chose to apply her talents elsewhere. Her dedication to getting the best education possible amazes me. She's the only student I know who showed up to class 90 minutes early in a blizzard. Once, she studied so long that she ended up getting sick and STILL wanted to go to class. Our parents--our slightly anal, guilt-trip-planning parents--had to convince her to skip class, and she did, but damn did she feel bad about it. Does anyone else know a student who works herself so hard that her own parents tell her to skip class?

No? No? Anyone? Bueller? ::tap tap:: Is this thing on?

I admire Gina's ability to persevere. She's tough, and she earned her college diploma. I'm really proud of her.

Hey Mom, I bet you're crying right now, aren't you? Stop crying, dammit! There's no crying in baseball!

Anyway, on to the photos!

The Sports Place, a.k.a. Shannon Center at St. Xavier University. They dress this place up for graduation! The last time I was here, I was 16 and trying to convince some college guys I was really a freshman. It didn't work.

There's my kid sister! She's the one trying not to laugh because she's nervous and knows I'm taking pictures of her. The kid needed to laugh. Otherwise she would have been worrying that she'd trip and fall on her face in her cute-but-not-sensible shoes.

Look! A bunch of smart people!

Gina's group gets ready to graduate. There were a billion Master's in Teaching and Education candidates. I'm glad my sister was in a smallish group.

Once again, my sister was looking a little too uptight (she's totally her mother's daughter). So, I took it upon myself to make her smile.

Yay! We bees koledge graduites. We is smrt now.

There was cake for the graduates. Being the responsible older sister, I felt it was my duty to test the cake and make sure it was safe for Gina to eat.

Gina: "Are we done taking pictures yet?"

Me: "No. Just keep staring at the bald spot on Dad's head."

In addition to cake, there were sandwiches.

Graham only takes the nicest pictures of me.

Graham, Gina, and The Fabulous One. Gina was proud to join the ranks of the diplomafied.

It was a fun day, and I'm glad we were there to share it. Gina worked hard, and she deserved the right to walk across the stage and accept her diploma book (Her actual diploma is in the mail).